Archive for April, 2012

Archaeologists Getting A-Head with Buddha

By: The Scribe on April, 2012

Photograph by Sun Zifa, Imaginechina/APHow’d you like to be the archaeologist responsible for finding over 3,000 Buddha heads & statues on your excavation? Or part of the team that has to put the thousands of broken ones back together?

As daunting as the task sounds, this discovery in Handan, China, is so exciting that doubtless the archaeological team from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences doesn’t mind one bit. The discovery of the Buddha statues is thought to be the largest since 1949, when the People’s Republic of China was founded.

While many of the statues are broken, the majority are made from limestone and white marble, range from eight inches to several feet long, and are believed to be around 1,500 years old, dating back to 534-577 A.D. (Northern Qi / Eastern Wei Dynasties). They were found outside of the ancient capital city Ye, and one early theory is that the statues were buried after the fall of the Northern Qi dynasty, during a period where the rulers attempted to purge Buddhism from the country.

Photograph by Sun Zifa, Imaginechina/APBut rough treatment of Buddhist art wasn’t completely typical of the period, as other sites appear to contain respectful statue burials. Katherine Tsiang, director of the Center for the Art of East Asia (University of Chicago), commented that “it may have been that some of the ruins and broken sculptures from the past were gathered from old temple sites and buried in a pit… in other sites, there are inscriptions that suggest that old damaged sculptures were not just dumped in a pit, but respectfully buried in an orderly way.”

The Kordax: Not a DC Character After All!

By: The Scribe on April, 2012

Not this kind of Kordax!That’s right—Kordax of DC Comics fame, while possessing a cool name and a backstory based on pseudo-Ancient-Greek history (er, he is Atlantean, after all), was not originally a comic book character.

Oh my, the shock!

No, in fact, the term kordax refers to something completely different… something which may make you look a little differently upon Aquaman’s ancestor the next time you pick up a copy of The Atlantis Chronicles.

The kordax, in Ancient Greek history, was a dance performed by men during comedic plays, such as those written by playwright Aristophanes.

The dance itself was… less of a piece of “choreographed movement” than other Greek dances performed by choruses. Those other dances were taught to young soldiers as part of their military training in formation and strategic movement. The kordax? Well, it was more like… drunken frat party carousing.

Scholars have referred to the kordax as “lascivious”, “vulgar”, “obscene”, and “lewd”. There is some debate over whether the dance had received this kind of connotation during the 6th-century when it was performed, or whether that’s a more recent development. Either way, the depictions of the dance on Ancient Greek vases show men with certain “enhancements” in “unique” poses (Scribe’s note: We’re trying to keep this family friendly, here…) that are believed to be artistic depictions of the men in costume and performing the kordax.

Possible kordax dancers on a Corinthian vase.There are also some who believe the kordax was a masked solo performance, which makes it very unlike the large-group chorus dances performed during tragedies and other plays. From what scholars can interpret based on artistic and written information, it was a vigorous, acrobatic dance that relied mostly on leg movements, with padding placed around the belly and buttocks (ie. the “enhancements” previously mentioned…).

It’s thought to have originated as a fertility dance, which makes an odd sort of sense, considering the ties of comedy to Dionysus, drinking, and grapes (which were all symbolic of fertility in one way or another).

And while we don’t have Ancient Greek YouTube videos to show us exactly how the dance was done, at least we have DC Comics, who likely didn’t expect anyone to put the originally meaning of “kordax” together with their character’s name… talk about an awkward moment, hmm?

Of Viking Mice and Men

By: The Scribe on April, 2012

(Credit: © kyslynskyy / Fotolia)Picture, if you will, a ship full of fierce, angry Vikings. They’ve spent countless days at sea, and they’re ready for some serious pillaging. They drop anchor, heave their axes, and burst upon the land with a wave of destruction that gains them a fearsome reputation for generations to come…

…and as the men sweep through villages and plunder women and livestock, another invader quietly slips down the ropes of the docked ship, or hides in sacks and crates until reaching the shore, where they creep off into dark corners or small holes, infiltrating the land in a way only they know how.

Ah, yes. Rodents. Mice, in particular. Perhaps the cleverest of invaders, or we might say in this case, colonizers. The mice didn’t just arrive with the Vikings to eat food and take over land, but rather, they looked around, thought the place seemed like a decent enough neighborhood to raise kids, and stuck around.

Between the late 8th and mid-10th centuries AD, Viking invaders took over land and settled their own people in many regions, including France, Scotland, England, Ireland, Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland. While house mice are known to have lived alongside humans from as early as 8,000 B.C. in the Ancient Near East, they evidently did more than that—they traveled and moved with humans at the same time.

To learn this, scientists compared the DNA of modern mice with that of mouse remains found on archaeological sites at these Viking-settled locations. It turns out that the mice hitched a ride on Viking ships from Norway or the northern British Isles (which were settled early by Vikings). DNA samples of ancient Viking house mice were found at nine sites in Iceland and several in Greenland, though surprisingly none seem to have made it over to Newfoundland.

It’s thought that the mice hid in hay bales and other crates of food supplies. study’s leader, Dr. Eleanor Jones (University of York and Uppsala University), says that "human settlement history over the last 1,000 years is reflected in the genetic sequence of mouse mitochondrial DNA. We can match the pattern of human populations to that of the house mice." In other words? House mice did just as much raping and plundering of the land as the Vikings did, “mirroring” their invasions!

However, the Viking mice in Greenland were eventually ousted by a Danish mouse species (brought by other human colonisers), and are now extinct.

As for the strange lack of Viking house mice in Newfoundland? Cornell University’s Professor Jeremy Searle postulates that the “absence of traces of ancestral DNA in modern mice can be just as important. We found no evidence of house mice from the Viking period in Newfoundland. If mice did arrive in Newfoundland, then like the Vikings, their presence was fleeting and we found no genetic evidence of it."

Makes you think twice about setting down that mouse trap, hmm?