Did the Greeks Get a Building from an Ancient IKEA?

Pretty awesome!

Italian archeologists have unearthed the remains of a Greek temple-like structure dating back to 6th century B.C. They also found details on how to build it. Written in detailed codes, the collection of how-to instructions was found among the remains.

It says “Product is not covered under warranty.” Damn you, IKEA!

Much like the instruction booklets of the Swedish home furnishings company, IKEA, various sections of the elaborate structure were inscribed with coded symbols showing how the pieces slotted together. Shown here is one of the coded slabs. “So far we have uncovered 100 inscribed fragments, all related to the roof assembly system. The inscriptions also reveal that the palace was built by Greek artisans coming from the Spartan colony of Taranto in Puglia,” Massimo Osanna, director of the archaeology school at Basilicata University, told Discovery News.

Check out more photos and information here: Ancient Building Comes with Assembly Instructions : Discovery News.

Returning to (the Question of the Historicity of) Troy

With thanks to David Meadows for directing me to this:

The new expedition will be led by University of Wisconsin-Madison classics Professor William Aylward, an archaeologist with long experience of excavating the ruins of classical antiquity, including what is currently accepted as the site of Troy itself.

In ancient Greek it was called Ἴλιον, Ilion, or Ἴλιος, Ilios; and Τροία, Troia; Latin: Trōia and Īlium; Hittite: Wilusa or Truwisa and still grips the imagination over 3200 years after the events described in Homer’s epic poem the Iliad. Troy VII has been identified as the Hittite Wilusa, which gives the probable origin of the Greek version Ilion and is generally (but not conclusively) accepted to be the Homeric Troy.

via Archaeologists return to Troy : Past Horizons Archaeology.

I’ve written on the question of the historicity of Troy recently, and what I said then remains just as relevant:

That the narrative of the Odyssey fits more in line with the current events of the Archaic-early Persian periods, with the joining of previously warring poleis into alliances and leagues, with the idealization of the Hellenics vs. the Persians, where the narrative takes root and makes a stand.  And even then, these narratives function only within a set of functional guidelines (that is to say, within the setting by which our most current version of the Odyssey comes to us)–as history they fail to meet any guidelines since the narrative no doubt would have changed depending on the patron deities of the individual cities and the role of the heroes (again lending to the fact that what we have isn’t ‘what happened’ but ‘what the Greeks at that time and that place wanted to believe happened).  We’re not dealing with history, but cultural memory.  These tales are the products of the ancient mythic mind, not our modern rationalistic mind.

My understanding is that there are simply too many challenges that the purveyors of a historical Troy must overcome: too many inconsistencies, too much wishful thinking, too great a chance of forcing the data to fit into preconceived notions.  The links between the modern excavations at Wilusa and the Homeric Troy are weak at best.  The dating of the settlements to various periods (i.e., is it Troy VIIa or Troy VI that is supposedly the historical Troy?) and the discussion of a conquest of the region (that the walls show signs of a fire, sure, but also earthquake damage from the same time!) are tentative and perhaps are based on questionable methods (i.e., the pottery dating used by some of the earlier excavators in the beginning of the twentieth century).

The geographical links are drawn from ancient sources, though all of them late and written after the group of texts were collected into what is now known as the Illiad (like Strabo, who lived around the turn of the first century CE–hundreds of years after the composition of the Homeric epics).   And how many ‘Troy’s’ were there in antiquity?  Livy recounts several ‘Troy’s’ popping up after the fall of the ‘original’ (which is not placed geographically) and notes that the settlers (those who escaped the destruction) were called ‘Trojans’ to his day.  So it is highly specious, in my opinion, to trust the accounts of any ancient author on the whereabouts of Troy, since it is clear that it was fashionable at various times and locales to link ones history with that of the Homeric epics.  And why not those who live off the Aegean Sea?  Of course those settlements would be counted amongst the Trojans!  It is all circular.  A settlement along the Aegean Sea region is associated with Homer and considered Trojan because the Trojans were from a settlement along the Aegean Sea region according to Homer.

There are serious implications to doing history in this fashion.  I again direct the readers to read my earlier post on this subject (linked above).

Religion and Politics in the Blogosphere and Beyond

This is the blog post you deserve, but not the one you need right now.

Lately there is a lot of commotion in the community concerning a plethora of subjects.  First, some Tea-Party-Backed-Republicans are making some rather obnoxious claims about rape and abortion which are beyond ignorant.  These claims stem from their particular religious convictions and clearly even god is mad at them because he is sending a hurricane named after the son of Abraham (who incidentally was blind and a deceiver and was fond of digging holes for himself) to soak the region where they plan to have their convention.

Also, it seems that some evangelical Christians have become the victims of a ponzi scheme, like this one, where a man took them for over $2 million.  This isn’t new and for some reason Christian evangelicals seem to be the most susceptible towards these sorts of schemes.

In related news but not necessarily to that of Biblical Studies, Sioux tribes are trying to raise money to buy back land that is a part of their creation story.  Before you ask, no, there is no expedition to locate the shell of Turtle like there is for Noah’s Ark.  However, someone on eBay thinks that the Hebrew word chai is a “Vintage Navajo Moose” as reported by John Byron.

Chris Rollston shared this amusing video today comparing archaeology and paleontology.

A(nother) Roman lead curse tablet has been found.  These are the real deal, unlike those fakes peddled by the Elkington and others.  Speaking of curses, Cracked.com has a great roundup of some of the odder curses in the Bible.

Also, donkey’s with fricken WiFi attached to their backs!

Giorgio Tsoukalos on the Preston and Steve Show

As a former resident of Philadelphia, WMMR is my all time favorite radio station, and the Preston and Steve Show is my favorite morning radio show.  I listen to it every morning on my way to work and, while I sometimes may disagree with what they say, often I find they are fair and rational and funny–very, very funny.  But when I heard this morning that Giorgio Tsoukalos was going to be on the program, I was curious because (a) he is either a charlatan or an idiot and (b) his hypotheses are ridiculous and I don’t think respectable radio shows like the Preston and Steve Show should be giving this guy any legitimacy.  More on this below.

So I tuned in during work hours (with permission) so I could listen to the interview.  And lo and behold, Preston and Steve (and everyone else on the program) were giving this guy all sorts of validation.  As someone who is working towards becoming a historian, as someone who spends countless hours fact-checking and researching and learning ancient languages to better understand the social and cultural evolution and development of these civilizations, Giorgio Tsoukalos is an affront to it all.  And people actually buy into his trash.  They buy his filth and eat it up like it were some gourmet meal.

I took some notes and I’d like to share them with you, my readers, below, and then I’d like to say a few more things about this interview.

1. Nazca Lines

Tsoukalos brought up the Nazca lines.  And while he is talking about this he is saying things like ‘well who did they make these images for?’ and ‘they didn’t have balloons to go up there and see these things’ and other nonsense like that.  The stench of this man’s bullscat is sickening.  First, just because we don’t know how something happened doesn’t mean we can just leap to the conclusion ‘therefore aliens’. This is not how historians and archaeologists find answers.  Making this incredible leap it is how we substitute fiction and myth for answers.   It is no different than when a fundamentalist Christian will say ‘we don’t know, therefore god did it.’  It is intellectually lazy because it basically suggests that we should just stop looking for answers and blindly accept the ‘aliens guided the process’ argument based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever.

What is worse, however, is that we do know something about the Nazca lines and who made them: they were made by people.  Humans who have the ability to conceptualize, plan, and execute an idea.  What Tsoukalos is actually saying is that they don’t believe humans could have conceptualized such a feat and put it to action without some exterior force guiding them.  But again this is silly.

We know that ancient civilizations–even primitive ones–were full of smart people who were both mathematically inclined (i.e., they started to develop an aptitude for advanced math, which of course was part of their evolutionary processes, both culturally and physically, which made them more apt at engineering these great feats).  And we know that they used a large manual labor force to build.  The Nazca lines took years to make with a large labor force and quite likely the engineers behind the process used grid layouts to create them (much like how crop circles are made today).  There is no need to fabricate an alien authority or overlord, when humans are more than capable of developing and using these tools themselves, probably for religious purposes (based on the archaeological and anthropological findings in the area, it seems like this area was a religious  mecca for the Nazca).  This is discussed in more detail below.

2. Cultural Explosion:

Another falsity that Tsoukalos brings up is that there was this supposed cultural explosion around the world.  But he is grossly misinformed (or he is just lying).  Despite what he says, cultures around the world were not ‘jump started’; real archaeologists and historians see a gradual progression of development. Culture did not just spring forth from the ground ex nihilo, but had humble beginnings and took thousands of years.

Again, Tsoukalos is just inventing things here or he doesn’t actually know the facts.  Not only did there exist a gradual progression of development but this development happened at different times, in different ways, through a series of different evolutionary processes.  Let’s just take one example (of the many I could provide), the pyramids.

He has been quoted as saying that the alien astronauts ‘gave us the nudge’ we needed to build them.  But in fact this is just more speculation.  Anyone with a background in Egyptian engineering can show a direct linear progression from what were essentially burial mounds to more complex structures, all the way to the pyramids.

Starting from the top left to the bottom right, the progression of the pyramid was a slow one, taking hundreds of years. Originally, just a simple burial mound was the custom. But as the culture grew and civilization expanded, they built mastabas over them. These mastabas became more complex and grew taller, with step-pyramids and finally the bent pyramid, ending with the pyramid design we are familiar with today.

Again, the slightest bit of research is all it takes to discount his entire theory!  In fact the construction of the great pyramids used the engineering features that worked in earlier pyramid types (like the function of building a wide base at the bottom to a narrow base on top, or using the ‘step’ pattern from the ‘stepped-pyramid’ design to construct the bent-pyramids and great pyramids).  See below:

You can see the ‘stepped’ features in this Bent-Pyramid design, under the smoothed finish.

Again, the same construction features, except with that final ‘pyramid’ shape.

The unfortunate thing about Tsoukalos’ perspective is it essentially presupposes that humans are incapable of cultural evolution which flies in the face of all known human history, which rests entirely upon the development of culture and social groups.  It presupposes that we needed another being (instead of ‘Ra’, Tsoukalos uses ‘alien’, but one might as well use ‘leprechaun’ or ‘fairy’ or ‘snarfwidget’ because they are all speculative, intellectually lazy examples of people just inventing an outside intelligence to take credit for human evolutionary processes).

But then he and his ilk take it to the next level by suggesting that, since pyramids exist on different continents, built by different people, then there must have been some ancient alien presence guiding it all.  But they don’t take into account the various differences in cultural stages throughout every continent.  They presume that since the end result is ‘pyramids’ they all were built around the same time, which is simply false.

Take into account the largest pyramid in the world, the Great Pyramid of Cholula.  Initial construction began in the 3rd century BCE (about 2200 years ago), and was built over the course of hundreds of years, with various phases of construction occurring throughout, finally completed in the 9th century CE (1200 years ago).   This is a relatively late pyramid, despite its magnitude, when compared to the Great Pyramid of Giza which was constructed over 4500 years ago, which is over 2300 years before construction began in Cholula!   And subsequently the majority of other ‘pyramid-types’ from around the world came later and later.  The only exception are the ziggurats of many ancient Near Eastern civilizations, some of which were built as early as the fourth millennium BCE.

But Tsoukalos, et al, will not tell you about the problem of dating; they want you to falsely believe that the pyramids were comfortably built by civilizations across the globe all around the same time.  This is the trouble with these sorts of crazy hypotheses.  They suggest the exact opposite of what is archaeologically known about these structures.

Tsoukalos likes to use the word ‘primitive’; we were just too ‘primitive’ to do anything right.  They insist that we were so unsophisticated and backwards that we couldn’t possibly have built these amazing structures ourselves.  However the record suggests the opposite is true. Indeed, one has to wonder where Tsoukalos learned the English language.  ‘Primitive’ has a lot of definitions, but all of them are fairly technical and specific.  At the point when we started building pyramids, during the 3rd millennium BCE, the Bronze Age, man was far from primitive.  ‘Primitive’ humans may be those humans who lived during the stone age or before.  But at the time of the 3rd millennium BCE, man had already developed a strong cultural structure for themselves.  Written language, beer, agriculture, metalwork, advanced conceptual thinking and story telling, laws, mathematics (base 60), astronomy, and so on.  And perhaps most important, we did not just suddenly ‘appear’ like this.  Man didn’t one day gain these skills sui generis, that is to say, humanity hadn’t just started to gain culture, it was entrenched in it.   That we gained this sophistication over a long period of time and built these structures after a steady, but noticeable, cultural progression is nothing new to anyone who has done the slightest bit of research.

This is most obvious when looking at archaeological discoveries.  We didn’t go from the stone age to the iron age over the course of a few generations–it took thousands of years, mainly with the innovation of new ore smelting techniques (going from the Copper Age, to the Bronze Age, to the Iron Age).  And within these ages are various sub-phases of cultural development.  For example the ancient Near Eastern bronze Age spans as thus: Early Bronze Age I – Late Bronze Age IIB took 2100 years and the progression, while slow, was noticeable enough to determine which stage of cultural evolution occurred at which point and belonged to which designation within said age.  And throughout the world, these stages happened at different times, at different rates, all of which depended upon a variety of factors (there is no such thing as a ‘universal bronze age/iron age’).

This absolutely destroys the case for ancient astronaut theory as laid out by Tsoukalos.  If there had been an alien hand guiding us, you would see something completely different.  The archaeological record would show a universal change at the same time rather than a series of slow progressions over time in various locations.  One would expect exactly what these people are claiming; one would expect to find pyramids being built at the same time, in the exact same manner, in the exact same way, functioning exactly the same way.  But we don’t.  The pyramids in South America don’t at all resemble the pyramids in Egypt; nor do they serve the same function (i.e., Mesoamerican pyramids functioned as step-pyramids with a temple at the top, whereas Egyptian pyramids were burial structures for royalty).  Why?  Because they were not constructed by aliens nor were they built by humans with the guided hand of aliens.  They were constructed by various types of peoples, from all over the world, at different times, for different reasons, to serve different purposes.

3. Ancient Astronaut ‘Reasoning’

During the interview, Tsoukalos states that he is giving us ‘his facts’.  It may be that Tsoukalos is giving us his approximation of facts, within his own delusional worldview, but in reality he doesn’t have ‘facts’.  What Tsoukalos has is a series of speculative claims based upon pseudo-correlations between poor understandings of the past.  His case is so terrible that he has no factual grounding to stand on.  It is just all fiction.

Worse, he doesn’t seem to realize this or he is intentionally being dishonest.  The way Tsoukalos forms his conclusions is quite similar to other pseudoscholarship, like the absurd Hold Blood, Holy Grail people, or the Zeitgeist mythers who draw crazy correlations with limited (or without any) supporting data and then propose these bizarre special-case scenarios and claim, after they are done, that what they have is a ‘fact’.  Bob Price breaks this down beautifully while engaging all the flaws and fallacies of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, in his The Da Vinci Fraud: Why the Truth is Stranger than Fiction (New York: Prometheus, 2005), 23-4:

Despite their indefatigable research, motivated no doubt by true scholarly zeal, these authors seem unacquainted with inductive historical method.  They proceed instead, as they themselves recount the evolution of their hypothesis, more in a novelistic fashion, just like their recent disciple Dan Brown.  That is, Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln constantly connect the dots of data provided by medieval chronicles and such, linking them with the cheap Scotch tape of one speculation after another: “What if A were really B?”  “What if B were really C?”  “It is not impossible that…”  “If so-and-so were the case, this would certainly explain this and that.”  These are the flashes of imaginative inspiration that allow fiction writers like Dan Brown to trace out intriguing plots.  It is essentially a creative enterprise, not one of historical reconstruction.

Indeed, Price hits the nail on the head (even if you don’t agree with everything else he says).  The same should be said for Tsoukalos and his ilk on the History Channel who produce shows like Ancient Aliens.  Tsoukalos’ points seem cogent and reasonable if you have absolutely no background knowledge of the past, if you do no followup research, if you let him guide you along his fictional narrative.  And it is a narrative, don’t let his flashy hair distract you from this.  Case in point:

His whole position is based on ‘possibility’ but ‘possibility’ is a lose term to use when you have no supporting data, and your position instead contradicts every other known fact or data point out there.  Then such a thing is not possible.  Then you’re just wrong.

Tsoukalos and others like him also seem to suffer from extreme cases of pareidolia where they see images that resemble, artificially, modern objects or modern concepts and then presume, from that point, that these must be depictions of modern technology in antiquity.  And they argue, much in the way Price demonstrates above, that since modern technology couldn’t exist in antiquity, these must be depictions of alien technology that the ancient ‘primitives’ simply didn’t grasp.  See the problem with such an argument?

Here are some more ‘arguments’ from Tsoukalos:

Anyone who suggests that ‘we were building pyramids’ at the time that Sumeria was ‘being created’ (even if he meant ‘was being settled’, this would still be wrong since the region of Sumer was settled at least 1300 years prior to the first pyramids) should not be talking about history.

4. Conclusions: Caveat Emptor

I have always felt as though the Preston and Steve Show did their best to weed out the trash from the lot.  Of course I know that ratings come first, and yes Ancient Aliens is a ratings-grabber because, like most bunk controversial hypotheses, they sell.  But I was incredibly disappointed today in the overall thrust of the show.  I was expecting some hard-hitting questions.  I wanted to hear someone go, ‘Ok, come on!  You cannot be serious!  Aliens?!’  Instead I heard a lot of parroted agreements from the team.

Sensibility died a little today.  And the tragedy here is that real historians, who work in museums, or educate our students in academic institutions, or who spend time in far away countries (or even this one) doing digs to discover the truth, are completely ignored by the Preston and Steve show.  Did they bother inviting on a credible scholar of ancient Near Eastern history (like anyone at ASOR?! ) to participate in the conversation?  It isn’t like there aren’t a handful of excellent universities in the area (Rutgers, UPenn, Temple, Ursinus, etc…); they could have invited any number of experts on the show with which to discuss this issue.  Did they invite Bob Cargill onto the program?  Cargill, for those who don’t know, is a scholar who not only opposes ‘Ancient Astronaut theory’ but also appeared in the first season of Ancient Aliens but was cut out of following seasons because, I can only assume, he made more sense than Tsoukalos who produces the show.

I will still listen to Preston and Steve, that won’t stop over this.  Everyone makes mistakes.  But I wish they would do something to make amends for this error.  They should bring on someone to set the record straight.  Thousands of listeners tuned in to listen to Tsoukalos spout his bullscat and many probably will believe what he said without question, because in our society most people don’t bother fact-checking their sources (which is why there are still people out there who think The Onion is a real news source–seriously).  Tsoukalos had a free pass to spread his fiction to those listeners and I believe that Preston and Steve have a duty, an ethical obligation, to rectify this.

And to those who are yet unconvinced of my opinions on ‘Ancient Astronaut Theory’, I issue this caveat emptor: believe what you want, it is a free country.  But history is not a boring subject you fell asleep in during High School.  History the the chronicle of all of society’s memories.  It is a compendium of humanity–what it means to be ‘human’.  As a historian, one is tasked with maintaining these memories–just as your brain is tasked with keeping your memories intact, undamaged, available for use–for your future survival.  History may not repeat itself, but people who fail to heed the past are doomed to repeat it.  What Tsoukalos is doing, what he is suggesting you do, is replace that humanity.  To remove what it means to be human and substitute it with ‘Alien’.  His version of the past will destroy the substance of humanity, and in its place will be little green men.  Think I’m being overzealous here?   Maybe.  But let the buyer beware.

Further Resources:

Life and Death of an Etruscan Settlement : Past Horizons Archaeology

Chris Rollston passed along this great article.  Really fascinating stuff (if you’re into this sort of thing like ). It follows right along with my current book review (writing up my review of Chapter 2) of Ostler’s Ad Infinitum.  Take a look:

Long pre-dating the Roman Empire, Italy was once inhabited by an advanced civilisation which greatly influenced the culture of Rome, the power that would eventually conquer them in the 3rd century and lead to the civilisation’s decline. With their origins shrouded in mystery, little evidence remains to tell the Etruscan story.

However, the area of Banditella near modern-day Marsiliana offers some hope for Etruscan scholars, and has been associated politically and economically with the influential Etruscan city of Vulci. Excavations were first carried out in the area in 1908 by Prince Tommaso Corsini who successfully excavated over one hundred graves, and the discovery of the Marsiliana d’ Albegna tablet has been confirmed as the earliest abecedarian helping shed light on the language of these ancient people.

Focussing on the land surrounding the resort of Maremma, the Marsiliana d’Albegna project – one of the largest archaeological excavations and research activities in Italy – is now entering its ninth season and aims to contribute to the knowledge and understanding of this important historic site and the people who inhabited it. Located near Grosseto in Tuscany, fieldwork is being undertaken under the direction of the Superintendent of Cultural Heritage of Tuscany, the Department of Archaeology and History of Arts at the University of Siena, and non-profit organisation Etruria Nova. This successful collaboration has led to the establishment of an international field school (see below), and has already produced extensive scientific data confirming the importance of the settlement.

via Life and Death of an Etruscan Settlement : Past Horizons Archaeology.


Having risen to prosperity and power, the disappearance of the Etruscan civilisation has left many questions within archaeology and academia regarding its origins and culture. The few examples of Etruscan writing left behind consist primarily of short tomb epigrams and genealogical information, and no works of Etruscan literature survived, if they even existed.

Give it a read.

Earliest Music Instruments Found!

This is just awesome.  It shows that even tens of thousands of years ago, man had a fascination with music.   And today we try to close up music programs and fire music teachers; this is such an important part of our social and biological heritage.  We should be saving it.

The flutes, made from bird bone and mammoth ivory, come from a cave in southern Germany which contains early evidence for the occupation of Europe by modern humans – Homo sapiens.

Scientists used carbon dating to show that the flutes were between 42,000 and 43,000 years old.

The findings are described in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Prof Nick Conard, the Tuebingen University researcher who identified the previous record-holder for oldest instrument in 2009, was excavator at the site.

He said: “These results are consistent with a hypothesis we made several years ago that the Danube River was a key corridor for the movement of humans and technological innovations into central Europe between 40,000-45,000 years ago.

“Geissenkloesterle is one of several caves in the region that has produced important examples of personal ornaments, figurative art, mythical imagery and musical instruments.”

Musical instruments may have been used in recreation or for religious ritual, experts say.

via BBC News – Earliest music instruments found.

Great Photos of Vinkovci’s Roman Vessels

From Current World Archaeology:

More pictures of the Roman silver vessels recently discovered in Vinkovci, Croatia, have been sent to CWA by Geoarheo, the commercial unit that excavated the hoard.

‘The location of the silver hoard itself was fortunate as it was found in the few square meters of the entire site that remained untouched by recent construction and infrastructure work,’ Project Manager Goran Skelac said. ‘Although investigations revealed only minor remains of Roman architecture nearby, the most likely probability is that the owner of the vessels buried them near his home, perhaps in the garden or yard.’

via New photos of Vinkovci’s Roman vessels — World Archaeology.


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