Tuesday, November 24, 2009
The concept of a great southern continent surrounding the South Pole derived from the ancient Greek view that the landmass of Europe and Asia and North Africa (their known world) must be balanced by a large continent in the southern hemisphere in order to provide the required equilibrium and so prevent the Earth hurtling into space. This theory was consolidated by Ptolemy in his treatise Geographica, a manuscript copy of which came to light in early-15th-century Italy. Subsequent maps, based on the Geographica, depicted the southern tip of Africa stretching as far as latitude 20º South where it joined a west-to-east coastline extending to the Asian continent, thus enclosing the Indian Ocean. Across the bottom of the map, behind this long coastline, was a vast continent known to contemporary cartographers as Terra Incognita (the unknown land).
The Portuguese maritime expansion at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries, during which they pioneered a route round the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean in 1488, dispelled the Ptolemaic theory of a landlocked ocean, but the concept of a southern continent was to remain for almost 300 years. Speculation that it extended to the South Atlantic region was seemingly given substance by Amerigo Vespucci’s claim to have reached 52º South latitude and to have sighted an unknown land on his 1501–1502 voyage down the coast of South America. When Ferdinand Magellan penetrated even further south to pass through the strait that now bears his name and reported seeing campfires on a land to the south, which he appropriately named Tierra del Fuego, a vast southern continent became even more imprinted on the minds and maps of European cartographers.
Following Magellan’s voyage across the Pacific, the southern continent’s configuration was amended to an irregular and roughly circular landmass, surrounded by a continuous southern ocean, which appears on the 1531 map drawn by Oronce Finé, Nova Et Integra Universi Orbis Descriptio (A New and Complete Description of the World) on which the continent is designated “Terra Australis Recenter inventa sed nondum plene cognita” (The South Land recently discovered but not yet well known).
Gerard Mercator’s famous 1569 world map outlined Terra Australis’s coastline running continuously and diagonally from Tierra del Fuego to New Guinea. On the promontory closest to New Guinea is the legend “Haec continentem Australem nonnulli Magellanicum regionem ab eius inventore non cupant” (this southern continent some call Magellanica after its discoverer). The name Magellanica continued to appear on maps in tandem with Terra Australis until the 17th century when Terra Australis Incognita (The Unknown Southern Land) was favored by the leading Dutch cartographers.
Mercator’s continental coastline descended into a wide gulf (Gulf of Carpentaria?) containing two islands (Groote Eylandt?) whose western shore was formed by another promontory reaching almost to Java. This was the furthest extent of the imaginary continent in the Pacific region; the coastline now dropped away to the southwest until it completed the circle back to Tierra del Fuego. Abraham Ortelius’s 1571 atlas Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theater of the Lands of the World) included a map showing a southern continent similar to Mercator’s.
By the beginning of the 17th century, not only was Terra Australis believed to be a geographical certainty just waiting to be discovered but also, because of its location in the tropics, a vast, untapped source of gold, precious stones, grain, and spices. It was even linked to the distant biblical land of Ophir, which had sent its riches to King Solomon. Not for nothing were the islands discovered by Alvaro de Mendaña and Pedro Fernandez de Quirós named after the Old Testament king.
Brief details of Terra Australis occur in Cornelis Wytfliet’s Descriptionis Ptolemaicae Augmentum (Supplement to Ptolemy’s Descriptions) published in an English-language edition in Louvain in 1598: “The terra Australis is therefore the southernmost of all other lands, directly beneath the Antarctic circle; extending beyond the tropic of Capricorn to the West, it ends almost at the equator itself, and separated by a narrow strait lies on the East opposite to New Guinea, only known so far by a few shores because after one voyage and another that route has been given up and unless sailors are forced and driven by stress of winds it is seldom visited. The terra Australis begins at two or three degrees below the equator and it is said by some to be of such magnitude that if at any time it is fully discovered they think it will be the fifth part of the world.” Vague though this description might be, the passage possesses an intrinsic interest insofar as it mentions a narrow strait separating New Guinea from Terra Australis, eight years before Luis Vaez de Torres sailed through it, giving rise to further speculation regarding a prior discovery by the Portuguese.
Terra Australis continued to bewitch and bewilder cartographers until the latter half of the 18th century when men like Charles de Brosses and Alexander Dalrymple still urged its merits as a source of immense wealth, as a colony, and as a strategic base dominating the Indian and Pacific Ocean sea routes. For a time Abel Tasman’s discovery of New Zealand seemed to confirm Mercator’s northwest-tending Pacific shoreline but, eventually, the voyages of Louis-Antoine, Comte de Bougainville and James Cook crisscrossed the ocean, finding deep waters where Terra Australis was to be found. Eventually this rich and mythical continent shrank into the reality that was Australia, but the one bore virtually no relation to the other.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Have chisel will chip!
Before recoiling in absolute incredulity that, deep in antiquity, oceangoing mariners from ancient Egypt landed on Australian shores, the evidence unearthed by Michael Terry, the veteran explorer of the Australian interior, should be investigated.
In 1961, on a mining exploration west of Alice Springs, near the Western Australian border, he spotted a carving of a rhinoceros-type animal, with short stumpy legs, a long upswept tail, and a curved back and horn. A short distance away, further search “revealed a horizontal human figure about seven feet long on a cliff face. . . . It seemed to have some kind of headdress, or helmet. There was a proper outline of anatomy. Whereas Aborigines are content to represent legs and arms by straight lines, this figure possessed ankles, calves, thighs and so on” (“Did Ptolemy Know of Australia?” Walkabout, August 1965). Six examples of a “ram’s head” symbol were also found nearby. Both the “rhinoceros” and the horizontal figure were 30 feet above the present ground level, suggesting that the platform used by the carver had eroded away, testifying to their great age. Intrigued by this discovery, Terry embarked on further research into the whole question of pre-16th-century sightings and even landings on the southern continent. He reported that in 1891, Joseph Bradshaw found rock paintings in a cave near the Prince Regent River in Western Australia and quoted him as stating: “the most remarkable fact is that wherever a profile face in shown the features are of a most pronounced aquiline type, quite different from those of the natives we encountered. One might imagine himself viewing the painted walls of an ancient Egyptian temple.”
Terry also documents the finding of a 2,200-year-old coin of Pharaoh Ptolemy IV (221–204 B.C.) by Andy Henderson in 1910, discovered while he was sinking a line of post holes across an Aboriginal track. The coin was two feet below the surface of a gravel ridge in a rain forest, inland from Taylor’s Bay, 10 miles north of Cairns, a location that positively invites enticing speculation because the bay “is an obvious shelter from the south-east monsoon. I hazard that ancient mariners anchored there, and that some of the crew went ashore to explore the tableland, by way of the sole access, the Aboriginal walking-track. Possibly one carried a bag of coins which broke, or in some other way dropped the coin that Henderson retrieved” (“Australia’s Unwritten History.” Walkabout, August 1967).
Of course, it is always pleasant and diverting to indulge in flights of fancy but the impartial observer might conclude that Terry offers a sufficient core of hard facts to warrant further academic research.
A reproduction of a 1566 world map by Nicolas Desliens. With south orientated at the top, the top left corner has a large land mass that is claimed to be Australia, charted from Chinese voyages.
Speculation that Chinese seamen discovered a south land at the beginning of the 15th century is based on the large-scale military and trading expeditions into the Indian Ocean, commanded by Zheng-He, which extended to Sri Lanka in 1406; to Calicut, on the Malabar Coast, in 1407; to Hormuz and Aden 1413 through 1415; and to the east coast of Africa in 1417. These voyages are well documented in Chinese records and confirm that Chinese fleets possessed an oceangoing capacity. Significantly, the records relate that of 700 ships that sailed for Sri Lanka in 1406, only 620 reached port there. Some ships were lost in a storm, others are reported to have broken away from the fleet and sailed southward.
The discovery in Beijing in 1932 of an early map, dated 1426, including a representation of the south land, which bears little apparent resemblance to Australia but that was remarkably similar to European maps of this early period, suggests that the Chinese had certain knowledge of the configuration of Australia and the Pacific Ocean.
Early-14th-century Chinese coins and pottery, uncovered in Western Australia, Tasmania, and New South Wales, have also been cited as evidence of early Chinese contact with Australia, possibly by the ships that had been diverted south on the 1406 voyage and that had reached Western Australia, sailed to Tasmania, and then continued up the east coast of the continent. Additionally, the name of the township, Nimbin, in northern New South Wales, occurs in Chinese records. Opposing theories consider Nimbin to derive from either a legendary Aborigine hero or to translate from an Aborigine term denoting a little hairy man.
A figurine of a man clothed in a long flowing robe, sitting astride an antelope, found lodged in the roots of a banyan tree near Darwin in 1879, seemingly provided further evidence of an early Chinese presence in Australia. Almost 50 years later, this was identified as a medieval jade figure of Shou Lao, a Taoist divine. From its position when found, it was deemed unlikely that it had been dropped or planted in modern times and had, in fact, been deliberately placed there. Moreover, Taoism had always remained a distinctively Chinese religion confined to China. So, the argument ran, it was probably conveyed to Australia in a Chinese ship.
Alas, late-20th-century opinion was that the figurine belonged not to the medieval period but to the early 19th century and was thus discredited as supporting evidence of a Chinese discovery of Australia a good century before the earliest European contact. But that was not the end of the story. Principally based on the author’s detailed scrutiny and interpretation of early Portuguese maritime cartography, and also on his own knowledge and experience of navigation, Gavin Menzies’s 1421: The Year China Discovered the World (2002) threatens to revolutionize the study of overseas discovery and exploration.
Early in March 1421, so the story runs, a huge armada set off from Beijing. Comprising 250 gigantic, 9-masted junks, each divided into 16 internal watertight compartments, accompanied by 400 grain-transporting freighters and escorted by squadrons of fast and maneuverable warships, this unprecedentedly powerful armada had two main aims. First, to return the kings and envoys who had attended the inauguration of China’s new capital, The Walled City, in Beijing and, second, to create a vast maritime trading empire widening across the oceans of the world.
In recognition of his long service to China’s overseas trade, the supreme command of this imposing manifestation of Chinese maritime power was given to Zheng-He. At sea, anchored off Sumatra, his command was divided into four separate fleets. Two, under Hong Bao and Zhou Man, Menzies contends, discovered Australia.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
The map of Chinese Kingdom from the «Drawing book of Siberia», 1699-1703
For more than three hundred years Russian travelers, merchants, diplomats, military agents and geographers created geographical descriptions and maps of the various regions of China. All their data was highly required by the government. As the Russian settlements moved far to the East from Ural in XVI – XVII centuries, government striven to extend the sphere of its influence to the Asia, promote Russian trade and oppose similar efforts from other European states. Several regions were subjects of the military interest, several – as potential trade and transport corridors. The pure academic interest to the nature, inhabitants, economy and natural resources was also great.
In Medieval time all maps of China came to Russia from Europe. First original and reliable data on China was received during the colonization of Siberia in XVI-XVII. It is considered that they came from Cossacks, sent by Ioann IV in 1567 «in order to find out new countries» (Popov, I.I., 1862). Only in the middle of the XVII century 9 diplomatic missions to the Jungarian khanate in Western Mongolia. were sent. The mission of Baikov started from Tobolsk to Pekin in 1654-1658 (Postnikov, 2001). Government sent expeditions to the Inner China to check rumors about gold sands, find short route
To India, collect strategic military information about Northern and Western China. Military reconnaissance data became of great interest especially after the Qinq Empire conquered the Eastern Turkestan and Jungaria in the mid-XVIII century. At this time historical sources do not contain exact and detailed information about places and geographical objects, but mainly unverified geographical narratives. One of the most interesting sources of the end of XVII is the geographical atlas of Siberia known as “Book of charts for Siberia (1699-1703)” by S.U. Remezov, studied in details by L.A. Goldenberg (1965, 1990). It is based on the medieval Siberian land cadastre.
Early maps and charts.
This detailed and accurate data describing geography and demography of Siberia was not available for the European cartographers. The book includes several charts of Central Asia and China (as far as Tibet). The most interesting is the combination of the Russian data on Siberia unknown for the West and data on China borrowed from the Western sources. It shows the zone where Russian and Chinese cultures met. This atlas was considered so much valuable for border demarcation, that even in 1980s during the Soviet-Chinese boundary disputes the Soviet Foreign Ministry restricted access to it, and till now it still remains unpublished for this reason.
One of the most universal monster myths is that of the dragon. The awesome, reptile-like beasts appear in the folklore of nearly every country. And the fact that the creature was truly regarded as an actual monster rather than a myth can be demonstrated in several writings of the day. Edward Topsell, writing in his Historie of Serpents (1608), commented that among all the kinds of serpents, there is none comparable to the Dragon, or that afforded and yielded “so much plentiful matter in history for the ample discovery of the nature thereof.”
While examining the “true accounts” of dragons in the folklore and records of several cultures, one cannot help wondering if there really were dragon-like monsters prowling the earth, devouring hapless villagers, receiving periodic sacrifices of young maidens, spreading terror into the hearts of all, and being thwarted only by courageous knights. For years, children have been read tales, seen motion pictures, and heard songs of reluctant dragons, kindly dragons, affectionate dragons, magic dragons, and timid dragons.
Behind every myth smolders some spark of truth and reality. A few scientists hold the theory that a number of dinosaurs might have survived into the Age of Man. Pick up any book on dinosaurs and it is apparent that a Tyrannosaurus Rex would have made a terrific dragon in anyone’s legend. Such a huge reptile thudding about the countryside of early Europe or Asia could certainly fit even the most dramatic descriptions of a dragon.
No theorist favoring the surviving dinosaur solution to dragons claims that the great reptiles existed in anything approaching abundance. But even a handful of such ancient monsters existing in isolated lakes and forested valleys would not have gone unnoticed, even in the sparsely populated Europe of the Dark Ages. The discovery of even just a few of these great reptiles would have given rise to a far-reaching legend.
A more palatable theory is that the ancient historians were actually describing huge snakes such as the python, which often reaches a length of more than 30 feet. A number of dragon stories from the Middle Ages tell how the dragon wound itself about its prey and slowly crushed it.
The giant snake theory does not account for descriptions of the dragon’s feet or its ability to walk on all fours, but some species of giant lizard, such as the Komodo dragon, attains a length of 10–12 feet. The Komodo presently resides in the East Indies, but in ancient times, it is possible that St. George and his fellow dragon-killers might have fought some unknown species of monster lizard in Europe and Asia.
A third, more believable theory has an adventurer of the Middle Ages coming upon a cave filled with the bones of a giant cave bear and mistaking them for the skeletal remains of a dragon. Workmen excavating earth for a cathedral might even have unearthed the fossil remains of a dinosaur. It was not until the nineteenth century that scientists realized that the age of fossil bones often ran into millions of years. Previously, the skeletons were considered to have been the remains of some giant creature only recently dead. If, at the time the dragon legend was flourishing in Europe, a discovery of fossil remains was unearthed or sighted in a cave, the find would seem to offer conclusive proof for the existence of dragons. It is likely that the bones of the mammoth, the woolly rhinoceros, and the giant cave bear were not that uncommon in early Europe. The tusk of the mammoth was often called for in the recipes of medieval love potions.
In the marketplace of the Austrian city of Klagenfurt, there is a statue of a giant killing a dragon. The dragon’s head has quite obviously been modeled on the skull of a woolly rhinoceros. The connection can be proven by the fact that old records note the discovery of a “dragon’s skull” in Klagenfurt in the sixteenth century, 30 years before the statue was constructed. The skull has been preserved all these years by the city fathers and can be identified today as that of the Ice Age rhinoceros.
Carrington, Richard. Mermaids and Mastodons. London: Arrow Books, 1960.
Heuvelmans, Bernard. On the Track of Unknown Animals. New York: Hill and Wang, 1958.
Mackal, Roy P. A Living Dinosaur? In Search of Mokele-Mbembe. New York: E. J. Brill, 1987.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Were the Dark Ages Triggered by Volcano-Related Climate Changes in the 6th Century?(If so, was Krakatau volcano the culprit?)
by Ken Wohletz
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Copyright 2000 UC
Modern history has its origins in the tumultuous 6th and 7th centuries. During this period agricultural failures and the emergence of the plague contributed to: (1) the demise of ancient super cities, old Persia, Indonesian civilizations, the Nasca culture of South America, and southern Arabian civilizations; (2) the schism of the Roman Empire with the conception of many nation states and the re-birth of a united China; and (3) the origin and spread of Islam while Arian Christianity disappeared. In his book, Catastrophe An Investigation into the Origins of the Modern World, author David Keys explores history and archaeology to link all of these human upheavals to climate destabilization brought on by a natural catastrophe, with strong evidence from tree-ring and ice-core data that it occurred in 535 AD.
via Were the Dark Ages Triggered by Volcano.
Monday, November 9, 2009
The Russians call a silvan spirit Lešiy, Lesovik (cf. Russian lesu, "forest, wood"), and such a being shows himself either in human or in animal guise. When he appears in the former shape, he is an old man with long hair and beard, with flashing green eyes, and with his body covered by a thick coat of hair. His stature depends on the height of the tree, etc., which he inhabits: in the forests he may attain the size of high trees; in the fields he is no taller than grass. In the woods the Lešiye frequently appear to travelers as ordinary people or as their friends; but at other times they take the shapes of bears, wolves, hares, etc. They live in deep woods and in fields; forests, fields, and meadows are the realm over which they rule. Usually there is only one Lešiy in each wood; but if there are several, a "silvan czar" is their lord. Some Lešiye remain alone by themselves in forest solitudes and in caves, while others are fond of society and build in the woods spacious dwellings where they live with their wives and children.
The principal business of the silvan spirits is to guard the forest. They do not allow people to whistle or to shout there; they drive away thieves, frightening them by their cries and playing pranks upon them. The deer and the birds enjoy their protection; but their favorite is the bear, with whom they feast and revel.
When the Lešiy walks through the forest to look after his property, a rustling of the trees accompanies him; he roams through the woods, rocks upon the boughs, whistles, laughs, claps his hands, cracks his whip, neighs like a horse, lows like a cow, barks like a dog, and mews like a cat. The echo is his work; and since a strong wind constantly blows around him, no man has ever seen his footsteps either in sand or in snow.
He is of a mocking and teasing disposition, and is fond of misleading those who have lost their way, removing boundary stones and signposts, or taking the shape of a wanderer's friend to confuse him and lure him into thickets and morasses. He also entices girls and children into his copses, where he keeps them until, long afterward, they escape with their honor lost; and he likewise substitutes his own offspring for human children, such a changeling being ugly, stupid, and voracious, but strong as a horse. If a man suddenly falls ill while in the forest, he believes that this affliction has been sent upon him by the Lešiy; to recover his health he wraps a slice of salted bread in linen and lays it in the woods as a present for the silvan spirit.
Shepherds and huntsmen gain the Lešiy's favor by presents. The former make him an offering in the shape of a cow and thus secure his protection for their flocks; while the latter place a piece of salted bread on the stump of a tree and leave for him the first game which they take. Moreover, the recitation of certain formulae secures his services, and there are many ways to obviate the danger of being led astray by him as by turning one's garments inside out, putting the right shoe on the left foot, bending down to look between one's legs, etc.
Nymphs and dryads likewise show themselves in the woods, and are pictured as beautiful girls, wearing a white or green gown, and with golden or green hair. In the evening, when stillness reigns in nature, they divert themselves by dancing and singing; and they also dance at noon, when it is dangerous to approach their circles, since they dance or tickle to death those who allow themselves to be attracted by their songs. They are most perilous to young lads, whereas they often feel pity for girls and richly reward them.
The dryads punish children who shout in the woods while gathering mushrooms; but, on the other hand, if they are courteously asked, they show where these fungi grow in abundance The forest where they live usually contains a magic well whose waters cure all diseases. Sometimes they marry country lads, but they will not permit themselves to be insulted or reminded of their descent.
Woods and mountains are the home of "Wild Women" (Bohemian Divoženky, Lusatian Džiwje Žony, Polish Dziwozony, Sluveoian Divje Devojke, Bulgarian Divi-te Leni), good-looking: beings with large square heads, long, thick hair (ruddy. or black in color), hairy bodies, and long fingers. They lived in underground burrows and had houseluo; is like mankind. They either gathered ears in the fields or picked them from the sheaves, and having ground the grain on a stone, they baked bread which spread its odor throughout the wood. Besides bread they ate the root of the liquorices and caught game and fish. They were fond of combing hemp, which they wove into frocks and shirts.
The "Wild Women" knew the secret forces of nature, and from plants and roots they prepared unguents with which they anointed themselves, thus becoming light and invisible. They were fond of music and singing; and storms were believed to be caused by their wild frolicking. Lads and lasses were invited to dance with them and afterward reaped rich rewards. They maintained a friendly intercourse with human beings, frequently entering their villages and borrowing kneading-troughs and other necessaries. Those who did not forget to reserve some dish for them were well repaid, for the "Wild Women" kept their houses in order, swept their rooms and courtyards, cleared their firesides of ashes, and took care of their children; in the fields they reaped the corn, and gathering up the grain, tied it Into sheaves; for the women they not only spun hemp, but also gave them crops that never diminished. Many stories are told about their marriages with country lads. They were model wives and housekeepers, but they vanished if any one called them "Wild Women," and untidy firesides or dirty kneading-troughs were also apt to drive them away.
They were dangerous to any person, whom they might meet alone in the forest, turning him round and round until he lost his way. They lay in wait especially for women who had just become mothers and substituted their own offspring for the human children, these changelings, called Divous ("Wild Brats") or Premien ("Changelings"), being ugly, squalling, and unshapely. The "Wild Women" did much harm to avaricious and greedy persons, dragging their corn along fields, bewitching their cows, acid afflicting their children with whooping-cough, or even killing them. It was during Midsummer Night that they were most powerful.
The Lusatian Serbs believe that the Džiwje Žony ("Wild Women") are white beings who reveal themselves at noon or at evening. They like to spin hemp; and if a girl spins or combs it for them, they reward her by leaves that become gold.
In Polish superstition the Dziwožony are superhuman females with cold and callous hearts and filled with passionate sensuality. They are tall in stature, their faces are thin, and their hair is long and disheveled. They fling their breasts over their shoulders, since otherwise they would be hindered in running; and their garments are always disarranged. Groups of them go about woods and fields, and if they chance upon human beings, they tickle the adults to death, but take the young folk with them to be their lovers and playmates. For this reason young people never go to the woods alone, but only in groups. In the belief of the Slovenians the Divje Devojke, or Dekle, dwell in the forests; at harvest-time they come down to the fields to reap the corn, and the "Wild Men" bind it into sheaves, the farmers' wives bringing them food in return. Where they came from no one can tell, and the cracking of whips has driven them away at last. The Divja Žena is a woman of tall figure, with an enormously large head and long black hair, but very short feet; site dwells in mountain caves. If a woman does not nurse her child properly, the "Wild Woman" comes and either substitutes a changeling for it or carries it away.
The Bulgarian Diva-ta Žena lives in the woods anti is covered with a thick coat of hair; she throws her long breasts over her shoulders and thus nurses her children. She is strong and savage, and her enunciation is defective.
More rarely mention is made of "Wild Men." They live in forests, and their entire bodies are covered with hair or moss, while a tuft of ferns adorns their heads. If they catch a young girl, they take her to wife; and if she runs away from them, they tear her child to pieces. They appear to lonely wanderers and, accompanied by terrible gusts of wind, they frighten them and lead them into morasses. The "Wild Men" like to tease gamekeepers and forest-rangers by imitating the hewing, sawing, and felling of trees; and they chase deer in the woods, hooting horribly all the while. In Slovenian tradition the Divji Mož ("Wild Man") lived in a deep forest cave and was possessed of terrible strength. The peasants of tie neighborhood who wished to avoid being harmed by him had to carry food to the cottage that was nearest his cave; but he was well disposed toward the peasants who cooked their meals in his hut and advised them how to set to work.
Besides these silvan spirits there are similar beings of various names. The ancient Czechs were familiar with Jeze and Jezenky ("Lamias"), who were said to have the faces of women, the bodies of sows, and the legs of horses, People still believe in Jezinky who, living in caves, put out the eyes of human beings after lulling them to sleep, and who kidnap small children, whom they feed on dainty morsels, in their caverns. The ancient Poles, too, knew of them and still tell stories of Jendzyna, who figures in popular fairy-tales as Jaga-baba, Ježibaba, Jendžibaba, etc.
In Moravia the "Wild Beings" are small and ungainly, live in fields, and may transform themselves into all sorts of animals. Since their own children are ugly, they steal those of mankind and treat them very well; but the changelings whom they foist on human beings are hideous and bald, with huge heads and stomachs; they neither grow nor talk, but eat a great deal, whining and whimpering constantly. The Slovaks have their Zruty, or Ozruti, who are wild and gigantic beings, living in the wildernesses of the Tatra Mountains.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Download high-resolution image
(please include photo credit)
(please include photo credit)
Download high-resolution image
(please include photo credit)
(please include photo credit)
Geologists Show that Seafloor Dynamics Are at Work in Splitting African Continent
In 2005, a gigantic, 35-mile-long rift broke open the desert ground in Ethiopia. At the time, some geologists believed the rift was the beginning of a new ocean as two parts of the African continent pulled apart, but the claim was controversial.
Now, scientists from several countries have confirmed that the volcanic processes at work beneath the Ethiopian rift are nearly identical to those at the bottom of the world's oceans, and the rift is indeed likely the beginning of a new sea.
The new study, published in the latest issue of Geophysical Research Letters, suggests that the highly active volcanic boundaries along the edges of tectonic ocean plates may suddenly break apart in large sections, instead of little by little as has been predominantly believed. In addition, such sudden large-scale events on land pose a much more serious hazard to populations living near the rift than would several smaller events, says Cindy Ebinger, professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Rochester and co-author of the study.
"This work is a breakthrough in our understanding of continental rifting leading to the creation of new ocean basins," says Ken Macdonald, professor emeritus in the Department of Earth Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and who is not affiliated with the research. "For the first time they demonstrate that activity on one rift segment can trigger a major episode of magma injection and associated deformation on a neighboring segment. Careful study of the 2005 mega-dike intrusion and its aftermath will continue to provide extraordinary opportunities for learning about continental rifts and mid-ocean ridges."
"The whole point of this study is to learn whether what is happening in Ethiopia is like what is happening at the bottom of the ocean where it's almost impossible for us to go," says Ebinger. "We knew that if we could establish that, then Ethiopia would essentially be a unique and superb ocean-ridge laboratory for us. Because of the unprecedented cross-border collaboration behind this research, we now know that the answer is yes, it is analogous."
Atalay Ayele, professor at the Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, led the investigation, painstakingly gathering seismic data surrounding the 2005 event that led to the giant rift opening more than 20 feet in width in just days. Along with the seismic information from Ethiopia, Ayele combined data from neighboring Eritrea with the help of Ghebrebrhan Ogubazghi, professor at the Eritrea Institute of Technology, and from Yemen with the help of Jamal Sholan of the National Yemen Seismological Observatory Center. The map he drew of when and where earthquakes happened in the region fit tremendously well with the more detailed analyses Ebinger has conducted in more recent years.
Ayele's reconstruction of events showed that the rift did not open in a series of small earthquakes over an extended period of time, but tore open along its entire 35-mile length in just days. A volcano called Dabbahu at the northern end of the rift erupted first, then magma pushed up through the middle of the rift area and began "unzipping" the rift in both directions, says Ebinger.
Since the 2005 event, Ebinger and her colleagues have installed seismometers and measured 12 similar—though dramatically less intense—events.
"We know that seafloor ridges are created by a similar intrusion of magma into a rift, but we never knew that a huge length of the ridge could break open at once like this," says Ebinger. She explains that since the areas where the seafloor is spreading are almost always situated under miles of ocean, it's nearly impossible to monitor more than a small section of the ridge at once so there's no way for geologists to know how much of the ridge may break open and spread at any one time. "Seafloor ridges are made up of sections, each of which can be hundreds of miles long. Because of this study, we now know that each one of those segments can tear open in a just a few days."
Ebinger and her colleagues are continuing to monitor the area in Ethiopia to learn more about how the magma system beneath the rift evolves as the rift continues to grow.
Additional authors of the study include Derek Keir, Tim Wright, and Graham Stuart, professors of earth and environment at the University of Leeds, U.K.; Roger Buck, professor at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, N.Y.; and Eric Jacques, professor at the Institute de Physique du Globe de Paris, France.
About the University of Rochester
The University of Rochester (www.rochester.edu) is one of the nation’s leading private universities. Located in Rochester, N.Y., the University gives students exceptional opportunities for interdisciplinary study and close collaboration with faculty through its unique cluster-based curriculum. Its College, School of Arts and Sciences, and Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences are complemented by the Eastman School of Music, Simon School of Business, Warner School of Education, Laboratory for Laser Energetics, Schools of Medicine and Nursing, and the Memorial Art Gallery.
PR 3486, MS 1975
The civilization disappeared mysteriously around 1,500 years ago, after apparently prospering during the first half of the first millennium A.D. in the valleys of south coastal Peru. Scientists have previously suggested a massive El Niño event disrupted the climate and caused the Nasca's demise, but new research suggests that deforestation may have also played an important role.
The Nasca are best known for leaving behind large geoglyphs called Nazca lines carved into the surface of the vast, empty desert plain that lies between the Peruvian towns of Nazca and Palpa. Though the lines have spawned many interpretations, including the suggestion that they were created by aliens, most scholars now think they were sacred pathways that Nasca people followed during their ancient rituals.
The enigmatic society that once flourished apparently collapsed around 500 A.D. after a bloody resource war. To investigate this event a team of archaeologists led by David Beresford-Jones from the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the U.K.'s Cambridge University gathered plant remains in the lower Ica Valley. Based on this evidence and pollen samples collected by co-researcher Alex Chepstow-Lusty of the French Institute of Andean Studies in Lima, the scientists found that the Nasca cleared huge areas of forest to make way for agriculture. The native huarango tree, which once covered what is now a desert area, was gradually replaced by crops such as cotton and maize.
This vital tree was a crucial part of the desert's fragile ecosystem, serving to enhance soil fertility and moisture and help hold the Nasca's narrow, vulnerable irrigation channels in place.
Eventually, the people cut down so many trees that they reached a tipping point at which the arid ecosystem was irreversibly damaged, the researchers found. At this point a major El Niño event likely occurred, triggering floods made much worse by the lack of forests that used to protect the delicate desert ecology.
"These were very particular forests," Beresford-Jones said. "The huarango is a remarkable nitrogen-fixing tree and it was an important source of food, forage, timber and fuel for the local people. Furthermore, it is the ecological 'keystone' species in this desert zone, enhancing soil fertility and moisture, ameliorating desert extremes in the microclimate beneath its canopy and underpinning the floodplain with one of the deepest root systems of any tree known. In time, gradual woodland clearance crossed an ecological threshold - sharply defined in such desert environments - exposing the landscape to the region's extraordinary desert winds and the effects of El Niño floods."
Without the huarango cover, when El Niño did strike, the river down-cut into its floodplain, Nasca irrigation systems were damaged and the area became unworkable for agriculture. This finding fits with other evidence that shows that the generations that came afterwards did not fare as well as their predecessors: infant mortality rose, while average adult life expectancy fell. The crops cultivated by their ancestors disappeared in the lower Ica Valley and the area was probably afflicted by a severe drought.
The research also stresses the importance of huarango woodlands for sustaining livelihoods and creating fertile areas in these environments. There are now no undisturbed ecosystems in the region and what remains of the old-growth huarango forests is being destroyed in illegal charcoal-burning operations.
"The mistakes of prehistory offer us important lessons for our management of fragile, arid areas in the present," said co-author Oliver Whaley of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England.
By Doug Caruso
Jim Krehbiel was up past midnight making a piece of art by layering maps and field notes onto photos he had taken of an ancient ritual site high on a cliff ledge in the desert Southwest.
He looked at the image of the kiva and remembered how the ruins were nearly inaccessible. Krehbiel had to lower himself on a rope to reach them.
Why, he wondered that night in the fall of 2007, would anyone build something so important in such a remote spot among the canyons and mesas?
It was then that the chairman of Ohio Wesleyan University's art department found himself at the conjunction of archaeology and astronomy.
Perhaps, he thought, the site was an observatory; a place to help religious leaders keep track of the solstices, time rituals and plantings.
"Their world around them is absolute, total chaos," Krehbiel said. "They were really at the mercy of the elements.
"So where do they go for something that's predictable, that remains the same, that you can count on: The sky and the relationship of those things on the horizon."
A discussion with Barbara Andereck, a professor of astronomy and physics at Ohio Wesleyan, put Krehbiel on a path that would help him test his ideas about the remote kivas he visited each summer.
Krehbiel was stepping into archeo-astronomy, the study of the ways ancient cultures tracked the sky's movements. The science has been gaining acceptance as a branch of archaeology since the 1970s.
England's Stonehenge, for example, is well known for its alignments with astronomical phenomena. In Ohio, archaeologists agree that ancient mound builders lined up some works with the movements of the sun and the moon.
In the Southwest, the most famous site is the Chaco Sun Dagger. The sun and moon shine through the spaces between slabs of rock to make slashes of light on a spiral carving in conjunction with the solstices and the movements of the moon.
But no one had identified such alignments at hundreds of remote ruins that dot the canyons of southeastern Utah.
One of Andereck's students, Natalie Cunningham, was looking for a senior project in 2008 and agreed to help Krehbiel.
"I had to do a lot of math to go back into the past and see where the sun and moon were," said Cunningham, who was studying English and astrophysics.
In the summer of 2008, Krehbiel took Cunningham to Utah to take readings.
Back at the kiva he'd pondered on that fall night, Krehbiel set up his transit and sighted in on a gap in the opposite canyon rim where he thought the winter solstice sun might rise.
Instead, he found that the moon rises there during an event called the major lunar standstill, which occurs every 18.6 years.
The major standstill occurs when the moon rises and sets in its longest arc across the horizon -- the lunar version of the annual summer solstice when the sun makes its longest arc across the sky.
But they also found that the calculations Cunningham made in relatively flat Ohio only went so far in the canyons of Utah.
The cliff-top kiva is on a relatively flat plane with the features on the opposite canyon rim and with the horizon, so the calculations were close enough to work there. But they didn't work for kivas deep inside a canyon.Because the canyon rim is high above, the sun and moon don't appear to observers at those sites until they're far above the true horizon. Since they cross the sky in an arc, the sun and moon appeared in a different spot than Cunningham had calculated.
"I said 'Oh, crap, it's not nearly good enough,' " said Cunningham, who is now at the University of Arizona pursuing a graduate degree in nonfiction writing.
She found a better model that summer in a book published in 1942 by the U.S. Navy: Spherical Trigonometry with Naval and Military Applications.
Now she could derive an equation that took the arc of the sky into consideration.
"We went back out in October of 2008 and re-examined the sites," Krehbiel said. "We had the spherical trig charts in hand, and everything just fell into place."
They have found alignments for solstices, equinoxes and major and minor lunar standstills at 29 sites so far.
Krehbiel takes sightings only from spots where the cliff-dwellers left a sign, such as a spiral carving or a basin chipped out of the rock.
He doesn't always find alignments with distinct features on the horizon. About 30 percent of the sites he's checked showed none, he said.
Jeff Dean, a professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson, has spent decades using tree-ring data to fix when archaeological sites throughout the Southwest were built. He took a look at Krehbiel's work recently and said it makes sense to him.
"I don't know of anybody that actually measured these things to the extent that he and his colleagues are doing," Dean said.
"He picks plausible places to set up the equipment, they're making calculations based on certain techniques and they're also concerned about any variation put in place by the date."
Noreen Fritz, an archaeologist with the National Park Service, has asked Krehbiel to write reports on his findings on seven sites in the parks she oversees in southeastern Utah.
"He's looking at these sites with fresh eyes," she said. "One was a site we work at regularly. You always walk by these upright stones, but it turns out they're sighting stones."
In June, Cunningham hiked up to a kiva with Krehbiel to watch the sun set on the summer solstice. She calculated that they'd see it set through a rock window if they set up near a handprint marking.
They arrived about a half an hour early, but the position of the sun worried them.
"It was pretty far to the left," Cunningham said. "We kept saying 'It's not going to hit that window.' We were in a bit of a panic."
Still, they set up the camera and the tripod. Then, just at the right time, the sun blazed through the rock window, shining onto the shrine.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
"The Ark of the Covenant" and the "Holy Grail" are the most famous lost artefacts in history, but everything from armies and cities, to plays and poems, have been swallowed up by the sands and seas of history, leaving behind only legends to tantalise and inspire archaeologists and treaure hunters alike. Is there any evidence of El Dorado and Sodom and Gommorah? Have we really lost plays by Shakespeare and dialogue from Aristotle? Will divers ever find the Golden Hide or Columbus' fleet? And where are the resting places of a host of bodies, from Ghengis Khan to George Mallory?
About the AuthorJoel Levy is a writer on science, psychology, history and the paranormal, and the author of several books, including: - Really Useful - the history and science of everyday things. - Secret History - hidden forces that shaped the past - Boost Your Brain Power - a guide to testing and improving your mental abilities, from memory and problem solving to creativity and emotional intelligence. - How 'Perfect' is Your Partner? - co-author of a comprehensive guide to testing whether you and your partner are compatible. - KISS Guide to the Unexplained - a beginner's guide to historical secrets and mysteries, the paranormal and supernatural. - Fabulous Creatures - about creatures of myth and folklore. - The Universe in Your Pocket - a pocket compendium of essential facts. - Technocreatures - a guide to the exciting new science of biomorphic and biomimetic robots - robots modelled on animals.
Joel Levy's "Lost Histories" is an interesting survey of a whole range of ancient and historical mysteries. The mysteries involve people or treasures or cities that went missing, but Levy is pretty skeptical in his approach. If you buy the book expecting that the mysteries will be solved by appeals to supernatural or extraterrestrial forces, you'll be disappointed. On the other hand, if you are looking for a book that nicely recaps the mysteries and summarizes modern thinking about them (as I was), you'll really enjoy "Lost Histories".
|By||William Holmes "semloh2287" (Portland, OR USA) |
Levy covers many topics in fairly short chapters--some of the stories will be familiar to those who enjoy tales of historical mysteries, but others (like the lost army of Cambyses, the lost Persian Fleet, the fate of King John's crown jewels and the tragic loss of the White Ship) seem fresh, at least to me. The book is divided into several sections, each of which includes several chapters. The section on "Lost Places" discusses Atlantis, The Temple of Solomon, The Library at Alexandria, Camelot and El Dorado; the section on "Lost Artefacts, Works and Relics" covers the Ark of the Covenant, the lost dialogues of Artistole, the Holy Grail (whatever it was), and Shakepeare's "lost" plays; "Lost Treasures" deals with the Dead Sea scrolls, King John's jewels, treasures of the Knights Templar, Montezuma's treasure, the buried pirate treasure of Captain Kidd, and the Oak Island Money Pit; "Lost People" explores the lost Persian army of Cambyses (swallowed up by the Egyptian desert), the location of Boudicca's grave, The Lost Colony of Roanoke, and, of course, the disappearance of Amelia Earhart; finally, the section on "Lost Wrecks" seeks the location of the Persian invasion fleets lost during the wars with Greece, the White Ship, Spanish treasure galleons and Lord Franklin's ill fated expedition to find the Northwest Passage.
I found Levy's book to be quite readable, although the number of topics covered means that he doesn't get into any of them in great detail. Each chapter comes with a list of references, which will help the reader who wants to dive more deeply into the topics that Levy surveys.
All in all, this is a fun, entertaining little book, and one of the better expositions of historical mysteries that I've encountered. Based on my experience with this volume, I ordered up Levy's "Secret History" and "The Doomsday Book" and look forward to some more enjoyable reading.
Buy at AMAZON
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Your Fabulous Singing Mongoose - Cobras beware, who a mongoose dare.
WHEN IS A GHOST not a ghost? When it is a talking mongoose! In 1931 the Irving family started hearing strange sounds coming from the attic and walls of their farm in Dalby on the Isle of Man. James Irving, his wife Margaret and their daughter Voirrey were sure a large animal was scampering around the house out of sight. The noises it made were so loud, plates fall and hanging pictures moved. Over time, it began making bizarre hissing and crying sounds. James Irving decided to make animal noises at it, and, to his astonishment, the creature started doing these impressions back at him.
He decided to teach the beast a few words, and within weeks the creature could speak perfectly. It said its name was Gef, and it was a mongoose born on 7th June 1852 in Delhi, India. Gef refused to appear in front of the Irvings, and was known to be quite rude. When the Irvings threatened to leave him, he calmed down. The family and the mongoose grew close, and he even let them stroke him through a hole in the wall.
Eventually, the story of Gef spread, although when reporters came from the mainland, many were unimpressed with the phenomenon. They believed it was actually Voirrey who was creating the voice. In 1937 the Irvings sold the farm and were believed to have taken Gef with them. However, in 1947, the new owner claimed to have shot a strange, mongoose-like animal outside the house.
The idea of a mongoose in the Isle of Man is not quite as bizarre as it first appears. In 1912 a local farmer did import a group of the animals to kill rabbits on his land. However, most present-day researchers believe if Gef was anything, then he was probably a poltergeist. But there is one last interesting fact; in India they have a strange old legend. They say that over time, and with the right teacher, the mongoose can learn to speak.
Posted by Mitch Williamson at 12:03 PM
JESUS CHRIST himself referred to ‘The Flood’ but it is not only Christians who believe in the story. Jews believe in accounts of the disaster described in the Holy Torah whilst Muslims have references in the Koran. The first historical record of the disaster appeared in eighteenth century BC Babylonian writings, whilst the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh is also concerned with a great flood. ‘Flood’ traditions and references exist in 300 different cultures around the world; Ancient Greeks, Romans and Native Americans all have fables of a terrible flood that left only a few survivors. There are suggestions that the Noah flood may have been the same event that destroyed Atlantis. Although tradition and mythology has often represented strong circumstantial evidence, recent provable scientific knowledge has been crucial in helping to support the ‘Great Flood’ theory.
The scientific approach began in the 1990s when two geologists from Columbia University, William Ryan and Walter Pitman, pieced together clues that they believed suggested a great ancient flood actually did occur. Ryan and Pitman formulated a theory which proposed that the European ice sheets melted about 7,500 years ago as the world rapidly grew warmer following the last Ice Age. The excess water caused the Mediterranean to overflow into the Black Sea which Ryan and Pitman believe was initially a shallow, land-locked fresh water lake with river-fed fertile plains surrounding it. They suggest that it was a heavily populated area which was completely drowned by the rising sea levels.
Ryan and Pitman suggest that as the ice melted, the Black Sea rose by as much as six inches per day, with water rushing in at 200 times the rate of Niagara Falls. Within a year, 60,000 square miles of land was lost under water, and the fresh water basin became a salt-water extension of the ocean. The farmers and settlers who had relied on the natural environment of the area were forced away, not only by rising water levels, but also by the loss of their fresh water resources. Ryan and Pitman believe the ancient lake shoreline now lies around 5,000 feet below the present water level. Sediment core samples take from the centre of the Black Sea have provided fascinating evidence. Plant roots and mud cracks in these samples suggest a dry riverbed covered in a layer of mud, which indicates a great flood.
As a continuation of Ryan and Pitman’s work, the underwater explorer Robert Ballard decided to study the area in 1999. Ballard was the man who discovered remains of the Titanic and, using highly technological equipment, he and his team found a previous coastline 550 feet deep and 20 miles out into the Black Sea. They took samples which included freshwater and saltwater molluscs from the ancient seabed. Apart from the well-preserved geographical and oceanographic features of the underwater area which pointed to a coastline flooding gradually, the freshwater molluscs species were carbon dated at an age older than the saltwater molluscs. Scientists also discovered that the fresh water molluscs all seemed to die at the same time, suggesting an immediate change in environment for them. The youngest freshwater shells were found to be 7,460 years old, whereas the oldest saltwater creatures dated from 6,820 years ago. This suggests the flood happened somewhere between those two dates, confirming Ryan and Pitman’s original theory.
Ballard returned to the area in September 2000, and discovered some even more fascinating revelations. They found ancient tools and rubbish sites, and crucially, what may be a prehistoric dwelling. The wooden beamed man-made structure contained ceramic vessels and stone tools and was found 300 feet down. The team referred to it as ‘Noah’s House’, although radiocarbon dating has proved it was too young to be from Noah’s time. However, it did provide real evidence that the area was inhabited before the ‘Great Flood’ and would have produced witnesses to the catastrophic event. The condition of the house also showed that the flood had happened at such a speed that surface waves had not had time to batter the building before consuming it.
These theories and discoveries offer many fascinating avenues for further study. Anthropologists are interested to see how population movements are caused by terrible disasters and how ancient races have passed on their great tales using only word of mouth. Geologists and oceanographers are fascinated by immense sea-level changes and flood lands, particularly with the looming threat of global warming. For scholars, historians and the religious alike, the confirmation of an amazing Biblical story is a welcome change in an age of legend destroying scientific discovery.