Archive for June, 2007

Sardinia’s Nuraghe (gehzunteit?) – (ca. 1500 BC)

By: The Scribe on June, 2007


Sometime between 1800 and 1200 BC, a group of settlers arrived on the island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean, and proceeded to build over 30,000 stone towers across the landscape. Although only around 8,000 of these structures survive to date, it appears that the network of towers – called Nuraghe – was constructed so that each tower had a line of visibility to the next, forming a strategic chain of visual communication.

Nuraghe were built in a beehive or truncated cone shape, and relied on the weight of the stones – instead of a typical building foundation – to keep the structures in place. Standing up to 20 meters in height, it remains unknown as to what exactly these structures were used for. Suggestions have been made, such as: chieftain dwellings, religious structures, military strongholds, or place of assembly for local governors. While all ideas are certainly credible, it should be considered that the Nuraghe are all placed in strategic locations across the island – not only did each tower have visual contact with its neighbor, but they were also placed along important passages on the island.


The most important Nuraghe in Sardinia is at the site of Barumini, where an entire complex was constructed about 1500 BC around a three-story tower. Now considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Barumini was once a fortified village with a number of smaller Nuraghe centered around the three-story one, containing many corridors as well as a cache of small, bronze statues.

Although little is known about the so-called “Nuragici people”, they left behind some other small pieces of art, such as stone carvings and statues of female goddesses, and bronze representations of chieftains, hunting men, warriors and animals.

It is also speculated that the Nuragici had contact with the Mycenaean and Phoenician cultures during the height of their cultural development, which may have had some influence on Nuragici art and architecture. The Mycenaeans, renowned for their megalithic defensive architecture, may have provided inspiration for the strategically located, giant Nuraghe towers, while Phoenician skill at bronzeworking may have influenced the Nuragici’s use of bronze for their artistic statues.

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Tomorrow: Down with Dowsing

Who Wants Some 2,100-Year-Old Fruit Salad? (ca. 100 BC)

By: The Scribe on June, 2007

2100 year old fruit

Archaeologists working in the Shimonogo ruins of Western Japan’s Moriyama, about 200 miles from Tokyo, uncovered what is believed to be a piece of the world’s oldest melon! Radiocarbon analysis dated the melon to around 2,100 years old, making it the oldest piece of melon found with fruit on the rind – a very rare find.

It is thought that the melon flesh was preserved due to where the fruit was located in the ruins, which was about one meter underground in a moisture-rich soil that seems to have acted like a vacuum-sealing. Since it was not exposed to the air, the fruit was kept in a soil layer unsupportive to the micro-organisms that typically break down organic remains.

The piece of ancient fruit is about 10.5 centimeters long, and the rind has been discolored to a deep brown. Chemical analysis has also identified the species of melon as native to Africa, suggesting that it probably made its way to Japan via India and Middle Eastern traders. Previous to this find, the oldest melon piece in the world was a found in China and dated to around the 4th century AD.

The Shimonogo settlement was surrounded by moats during Japan’s Yayoi period, which spanned around 300 BC – 300 AD. This could account for the kind of soil in the area and the prime conditions for preservation. While this find is rather limited in its practical use, it can certainly help to shed some light on the potential trade relationships between Japan and the Middle East during this period in history – as well as provide a bit of insight into the dining habits of the settlement’s people.

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Tomorrow: Sardinia’s Nuraghe (gehzunteit?)

Lines in the Desert – Part 4/4: Maybe Not Aliens After All…? (300 BC – 800 AD)

By: The Scribe on June, 2007

Nazca spider line drawing

A specialist by the name of David Johnson has done some work of his own on the Nazca lines, and has come up with a theory that is considered somewhat more plausible than some of the previously suggested ideas. Because the region is one of the driest in the world, the Nazca people actually created known underground waterways that made use of some of the excellent reservoirs located below the desert surface.

Through a somewhat controversial method known as dowsing, Johnson tracked the water tunnels, in order to determine whether the areas of the ground around the images contain water or not, and it is his belief that the pictures lie in correlation to water sources. The images were thus created as large-scale maps so that inhabitants of the area could find water, no matter where in the desert they were located. The glyphs themselves were then depictions of water gods, or religious figures that the Nazcans believed to represent each water source.

In 1985, archaeologist Johan Reinhard published a report using archaeological, topographical, ethnographic and historical data to demonstrate that Nazca religion and ritual was greatly centered around the worship of mountains and water sources. It was his belief that the figures were a part of Nazcan religious practices involving crop fertility and water provision, wherein the Nazca lines were used as sacred paths that led to places where each deity could be worshiped. The gods could see the images on the ground that honored them, and thus act benevolently toward the people, knowing they were being venerated. The various figures were thus symbolic of the gods and their attributes, though the specific meaning of each image has yet to be deciphered.

Reinhard’s theory built on the work of Johnson, and has since become the most accepted explanation for the Nazca lines, due to the ethnographic information that compared what archaeologists know of the ancient Nazca people with the modern religious habits and practices of some Andean cultures.

Nazca hummingbird line drawing

Although Reinhard’s theory is widely understood as the most logical explanation for the Nazca lines, they still present a fascinating visual wonder along the Peruvian coast, and will continue to serve as objects of wonder about this ancient culture and their curious but fascinating drawings on the desert floor.

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Tomorrow: Who’s up for a 2000 year old bowl of fruit salad?

Lines in the Desert – Part 3/4: It Was The Aliens, Obviously… (300 BC – 800 AD)

By: The Scribe on June, 2007

Nazca cactus drawing

Why did the Nazca people make these pictures? It’s a good question, and one that actually hasn’t received a satisfactory answer yet. But for the sake of entertainment, here’s a list of the various theories that have popped up over the past few decades since the lines’ discovery. Who knows…maybe one of these ideas will spark a conspiracy theory of your own!

Maria Reiche (1903-1998): a German mathematician and archaeologist, Reiche believed the Nazca lines were an astronomical calendar that determined planetary events like solstices and when important stars rose. She associated certain drawings with known constellations, and thought the lines could be used as observatories. She completed a lot of work and managed to have the lines declared a World Heritage Site in 1995, though she was never able to prove her own theories.

Erich von Daniken (born 1935): Daniken was the first to suggest seriously that the geometric Nazca lines were built by alien astronauts as a landing strip for their UFOs. His 1968 book, Arrival of the Gods, made the claim that the soft soil and layer of desert rocks were blown away by the spaceships’ rocket propulsion systems, so they left, dissatisfied with the landing space. The people of the area then apparently tried to call the aliens back by drawing their own images in the desert.

an alien astronaut?

Simone Waisbard: Waisbard was also convinced of the lines’ purpose as an astronomical calendar, though she added the idea that the lines were part of a system that could be used to measure precipitation in the area. She thought that some of the figures, such as the seabirds, had a place in Nazcan meteorological prophesy. She also believed that the geometric figures were places for animals to be kept before sacrifice or places for ritual ceremonies of different Nazca clans.

Robert Bast: an Australian author, Bast has suggested that all the plant, animal and human figures lying together randomly on the ground appear like corpses after a catastrophic flood. In his book Memory of the Deluge, Bast explains that the Nazca plateau might be a memorial place of the ‘Big Flood’.

Jim Woodmann: making a balloon out of Peruvian cotton and a reed basket, Woodmann created himself what he thought could be a replica ‘ancient hot-air balloon’, believing this method could have been used to direct the creation of the images… though he didn’t quite explain how the directions could have been communicated to those on the ground. The test flight was nearly fatal for Woodmann, however – without proper equipment, his balloon began to rise too quickly, and both he and his co-pilot barely jumped to safety before the balloon flew off into the desert, uncontrolled!

Nazca condor drawing

These are just a few of the theories on the Nazca lines that have developed over the decades… but what do the more recent – and less controversial – archaeologists have to say on the matter?

…to be continued…

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Tomorrow: Okay, probably not really Aliens…

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