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The Palace Of Knossos

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Photo Credit: www.asiahotels.gr

When we think about the birth of western civilization, we recall Knossos and its stunning palace. Crete is called the cradle of Europe, after all, and Knossos, the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete, is reputed to be Europe’s oldest city!

Knossos is thought to be the first settlement in the Neolithic period, though it is in fact, one of many Neolithic remains scattered across Crete. The site of Knossos is multi-layered, revealing inhabitation for many, many years. From humble origins as an encampment, it eventually became the location of the most famous palace on the island, the Palace of Knossos.

Founding A Civilization

The Palace at Knossos flourished between 2700-1100BC when the Minoans shone as a prime example of Bronze Age Aegean civilization, both on the island of Crete and on other smaller Aegean islands. This palace, as well as the one at Phaistos, is remarkable due to the magnitude of its construction.

At the height of its power, the Palace of Knossos boasted the skills and resources of its inhabitants. These included oil, wine, and wool. Another source of revenue for the palace was the expansion of trade; the island of Crete was a humming hub of international import and export, with goods being shipped between Egypt, Italy, and the islands of the Cyclades.

Minoan fresco, showing a fleet and settlement.
The Beginning Of Knossos

What happened to Knossos, and why is it a ruin now? Well, the first Neolithic palace site dates around 7,000BC; these were wattle and daub structures and would have created a small village like enclosure.

The inhabitants of the hill-site eventually began using mud-bricks that were set upon stone bases. These houses usually had several rooms, with walls at right angles and cantered doorways. They also had huge stones supporting areas that were under the greatest stress. The inner walls were smoothed over with mud-plaster, and flat roofs of interwoven branches were covered in mud. Inside, the rooms had earthen-hearths that were usually located in the centre of the room.

Millennia-old amphorae in Knossos that have been pieced back together. (Ioannis Syrigos)

By the Middle Neolithic period, 5,000-4,000BC, the settlement housed between 500-1000 people. At this point, wood was being used in construction and houses became more family-oriented. Cretan family-life and society had arrived.

The Height Of The Palace Of Knossos

Around this time the first signs of the palace began to emerge. This ‘Great House’, as it’s known, was 100m2, built from stone, and had five rooms. Given the size and layout, it was more likely to be for public use rather than private/domestic occupation.

The new palace made extensive use of colonnades. (Ioannis Syrigos)

Fast-forward a few centuries to around the second millennium BC and you’ll see the construction of first Cretan palaces that we might recognize. Earthquakes destroyed these palaces around 1,700BC, but they were soon rebuilt even grander than before.

At its height, Knossos covered a massive 3-acre site. It had an enormous staircase, staterooms on the top floor, sixteen storage rooms for pithoi (large earthenware containers), and an impressive plumbing system that included bathrooms, toilets, and drainage!

The palace’s construction included both stonework and timber, the rooms were lit with light-wells, and the wooden columns were ornate, not just structural. Adding to the majesty of the palace were brightly colored frescoes that depicted everyday Minoan life, some of which are still visible today.

All this splendour was attributed to the mighty sea empire that King Minos developed. According to Herodotus, this powerful empire lasted for hundreds of years, reaching its peak around 1,450BC before a series of events began its steady decline.

Throne Room, Palace of Knossos, Crete, Greece. Ed Freeman / Getty Images
The Decline Of The Palace Of Knossos

Much like the story of Pompeii, Knossos fell victim to a cataclysmic event; the volcanic eruption on the island of Thira (Santorini) c. 1,370BC. At the time, mainland Greeks had begun to inhabit the island, bringing with them their influences, both artistic and military.

The famous Ladies in Blue fresco that once adorned the walls of Knossos palace. (Ioannis Syrigos)

After the eruption, it’s thought that successive invasions by the Mycenaeans brought about the final blows. Soon, as with much of the island, the palace lay in ruins. The site was abandoned and it passed into the dusty pages of history. That is, until the early 20th century when a man named Sir Arthur Evans, inspired by stories of a Minotaur and fabled kings, began exploring. The rest, as they say, is history.

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Sources:

www.ancient.eu
www.britannica.com

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18,000-Year-Old Puppy Frozen In Permafrost Puzzles Scientists

Was this 18,000-year-old puppy frozen in Siberian permafrost the ancestor of wolves, dogs or both?

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18000 Year Old Puppy Frozen In Permafrost Puzzles Scientists
Photo Credit: Sergey Fedorov

Meet Dogor, an 18,000-year-old pup recently unearthed in Siberian permafrost whose name means ‘friend’ in the Yakut language. The remains of the prehistoric pup are baffling researchers because genetic testing shows it’s not a wolf or a dog, meaning it could be an elusive ancestor of both.

Locals found the creature’s remains in the summer of 2018 in a frozen lump of ground near the Indigirka River, according to the North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk. The puppy’s full body, thick hair, muzzle, and even whiskers and eyelashes had been preserved by permafrost, so much so that researchers at the Centre for Palaeogenetics in Sweden were able to sequence the animal’s DNA using a piece of rib bone. According to the results, Dogor was male, but even after two rounds of analysis the team could not determine whether he was a dog or a wolf.

Image credit: Sergey Fedorov

It’s normally relatively easy to tell the difference between the two,’ David Stanton, a Centre for Palaeogenetics research fellow, told Amy Woodyatt at CNN. ‘We have a lot of data from it already, and with that amount of data, you’d expect to tell if it was one or the other. The fact that we can’t might suggest that it’s from a population that was ancestral to both to dogs and wolves.

So the reason why scientists cannot determine the exact species could be that the find comes from the point where dogs were domesticated. According to Stanton, Dogor comes from an interesting time in canine evolution, when wolf species were dying out and early dogs were beginning to emerge.

‘As you go back in time, as you get closer to the point that dogs and wolves converge, [it becomes] harder to tell between the two,’ Stanton noted.

Image credits: Sergey Fedorov
Image credit: Sergey Fedorov
Image credits: Sergey Fedorov
Image credit: Sergey Fedorov

The history of just how and when dogs split from wolves is unclear. There’s a general agreement among scientists that modern gray wolves and dogs split from a common ancestor 15,000 to 40,000 years ago, explains Brian Handwerk previously for Smithsonian.com. How dogs became dogs, however, is contested. Some research suggests that dogs were domesticated by humans once, while other studies have found dogs were domesticated multiple times. Exactly where in the world wild canines became man’s best friend is also disputed. The origin of the human-animal bond has been traced to Mongolia, China and Europe.

Scientists disagree about how dogs ended up paired with people, too. Some suspect humans captured wolf pups and actively domesticated them. Others suggest that a strain of “friendly,” less aggressive wolves more or less domesticated themselves by hanging out near humans, gaining access to their leftover food.

Dorgor’s DNA could help unravel these mysteries. The team plans to do a third round of DNA testing that may help definitively place Dogor in the canine family tree. At the same time, since climate change is affecting the Siberian permafrost, people will be finding more and more ancient creatures unthawing.

Image credit: Sergey Fedorov
Image credits: Sergey Fedorov
Image credit: Sergey Fedorov

This article (18000 Year Old Puppy Frozen In Permafrost Puzzles Scientists) was originally created for Earthly Mission and is published here under Creative Commons.

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Batman Existed In Mesoamerican Mythology And His Name Was Camazotz

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Batman Existed in Mesoamerican Mythology and His Name Was Camazotz
Photo Credit: Camazotz Maya style Batman suit created by Mexican designer Kimbal, Batman Exhabition, 2015.

As social media is abuzz with who might be cast in the next Batman movie, with concerns that some of the candidates might not be menacing enough to fill those big black boots, it might be time to look again at one of the bat figures that featured as an imposing power in Mesoamerican mythology – Camazotz.

Camazotz, (meaning ‘death bat’ in the Kʼiche’ Mayan language of Guatemala) originated deep in Mesoamerican mythology as a dangerous cave-dwelling bat creature. A cult following for the creature began amongst the Zapotec Indians of Oaxaca, Mexico and the figure was later adopted into the pantheon of the Maya Quiche tribe and the legends of the bat god were later recorded in Maya literature.

Bats are considered to be menacing creatures in many cultures. They are nocturnal and thus associated with the night, which is also often associated with death. Many common species also have a relatively bizarre appearance, which makes them all the more off-putting for humans. It doesn’t help that there is a species that actually sucks blood (the vampire bat, Desmodus Rotundus ).

In the Maya culture, the bat god Camazotz is linked to death. Camazotz is also the name of a monstrous creature which inhabited a cave called “the house of bats” in the Popol Vuh. Most scholars believe that Camazotz was inspired by the common vampire bat, but others have suggested that it was based on a giant vampire bat that (probably) went extinct sometime during the Pleistocene or Holocene periods.

Camazotz, bat God. ( CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 )
Camazotz, bat God. ( CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 )
A Monster Bat

In the Popol Vuh, an ancient Mayan mythological text, Zotzilaha was the name of a cave inhabited by the Camazotz, a monster with a roughly humanoid body, the head of a bat, and a nose that resembled a flint knife. The monster was said to attack victims by the neck and decapitate them. In the Popol Vuh, it is recorded that this creature decapitated the Maya hero Hunahpu. Camazotz is also one of the four animal demons responsible for wiping out mankind during the age of the first sun.

Maya hero Hunahpu about to be attacked by Camazotz. ( The Commons )
Maya hero Hunahpu about to be attacked by Camazotz. ( The Commons )

Bat-like demons and monsters are common in South America and Central America. Another example of such a story is the Chonchon in Peru and Chile, which is thought to be created when a sorcerer, known as a kaku, performs a magical rite causing his severed head to sprout giant ears and talons at death. The giant ears become wings.

This ubiquity of giant bat monster legends leads many archaeologists to propose that the monsters have a basis in encounters with a real animal – such as the vampire bat. The vampire bat is favoured because of its historical association with bloodletting and sacrifice, It is, however, possible that the legends could be derived from a giant bat that was present during the Pleistocene or early Holocene – one which may still exist today.

Artist’s illustration of a Chonchon. ( CC-BY-SA)
Giant Vampire Bats

In 1988, a fossil of a vampire bat was discovered in the Mongas province of Venezuela. The bat was larger than the modern vampire bat by 25% and was dubbed Desmodus Draculae. It is more popularly known as the giant vampire bat.

Sites containing examples of it have been found in the Yucatan, Belize, northern Brazil, and Venezuela. In 2000, a tooth from D. Draculae was found in Argentina – much farther south of the modern range of the Desmodus genus. It is difficult to date exactly when D. Draculae went extinct, or if it went extinct at all. All of the sites have been dated so far to between the Late Pleistocene and Late Holocene.

Desmodus Draculae. ( CC-BY-SA)
Desmodus Draculae. ( CC-BY-SA)

The latest age found for a D. Draculae site is 300 BP (circa 1650 AD). The latest age in central America is hard to ascertain, but it is probably either Late Pleistocene or Holocene. These dates make it very possible that D. Draculae coexisted with humans in South America and Central America, and humans could have come into contact with D. Draculae, though towards the Late Holocene they would have been vanishingly rare.

D. Draculae Sightings

In addition to this evidence, there have been mysterious sightings of giant bats or bat-like creatures. One of the earliest sightings dates to 1947 when J. Harrison claimed to have seen several large flying creatures which were described as giant bats (though some people also claimed that they were living pterosaurs).

In the early 1950s, a Brazilian couple claimed that they encountered a bat-like creature in the same valley that fossils of D. Draculae were discovered in Brazil. Another incident occurred in 1975 when an outbreak of animal mutilations hit Puerto Rico. A farmer said that he was repeatedly attack by two grey bird-like creatures. These creatures were also seen by others throughout the mutilation outbreak. Another sighting occurred in the mid-1970s in Texas, when a farmer asserted that he had encountered bald bat or pterosaur-like creatures with short beaks and gorilla-like faces. Three toed prints of this creature were also said to have been found.

Bat God from Zapotec Period IIIA. (Mary Harrsch/ CC BY NC SA 2.0 )
Bat God from Zapotec Period IIIA. (Mary Harrsch/ CC BY NC SA 2.0 )
Did D. Draculae Inspire the Story of Camazotz?

The common vampire bat, D. Rotundus has an eight-inch (20.32 cm) wingspan. Since D. Draculae was 25% larger, it would have required more blood and probably would have attacked larger animals – and possibly even humans. It is uncountable that an attack by a rare giant bat would give rise to legends of supernatural monsters.

Comparisons of the fossil skulls of Desmodus draculae (left) with the Common Vampire Bat, Desmodus rotundus . (Illustrations by Jan Freedman , based on the Figures in Morgan et al. 1988)
Comparisons of the fossil skulls of Desmodus draculae (left) with the Common Vampire Bat, Desmodus rotundus . (Illustrations by Jan Freedman , based on the Figures in Morgan et al. 1988)

Despite the tantalizing fossil evidence, and the strange stories about encounters with giant bats, there isn’t any indisputable evidence at the moment that D. Draculae was common enough to be encountered by ancient inhabitants of South America and Central America on a regular basis, or that the giant vampire bat is still alive today and could thus be the creature reported in giant bat sightings.

Nonetheless, the fact that the fossil evidence suggests that D. Draculae may have coexisted with humans for thousands of years in the Americas and the ubiquitous legends of bat-like monsters all over south and central America does make it a plausible connection.

This article (Batman Existed in Mesoamerican Mythology And His Name Was Camazotz) was originally created for Ancient Origins and is published here under Creative Commons.

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Lost Languages Discovered In One Of The World’s Oldest Libraries

Researchers discovered ancient texts hidden beneath years of writing in the manuscripts at St. Catherine’s Monastery.

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Photo Credit: JTB Photo /UIG via Getty Images

At the foot of Mount Sinai, the mountain atop which God is said to have given Moses the Ten Commandments, lies St. Catherine’s Monastery, one of the world’s oldest continuously running libraries. St. Catherine’s is home to some of the world’s oldest and most valuable books and manuscripts, and the monks that watch over them.

These texts are largely manuscripts and are filled with mostly Greek and Latin. However, recently scientists have uncovered new languages in the manuscripts — and some that haven’t been used since the Dark Ages.

The only catch: the languages can’t be seen with the naked eye.

When the texts were originally written, the monks only wrote in ancient languages. However, the parchment they were written on at the time was valuable, and often subject to reuse.

Texts deemed less important were scrubbed clean from the parchment, which was then reused for more important information, often written in other more universal or modern languages. These texts with multiple layers of writing are known as palimpsests.

Cloister of St. Catherine of Alexandria monastery, 14th century, Cittaducale, Lazio, Italy.
Cloister of St. Catherine of Alexandria monastery, 14th century, Cittaducale, Lazio, Italy.

Now, using new technology, a team of researchers has developed a way to uncover the ancient writings in the palimpsests at St. Catherine’s and have discovered languages thought to be long lost. One such language, Caucasian Albanian, hasn’t been used since the 8th century. Other languages include Christian Palestinian Aramaic, which is a mix of Syriac and Greek.

To uncover the hidden writings, the scientists photographed the manuscripts using different parts of the light spectrum and run the images through an electronic algorithm. This allowed them to see the first writing put down on the pages.

Michael Phelps, a researcher at the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library in California, calls this development the beginning of a “new golden age of discovery.

The age of discovery is not over,” he said. “In the 20th century, new manuscripts were discovered in caves. In the 21st century, we will apply new techniques to manuscripts that have been under our noses. We will recover lost voices from our history.”

Phelps went on to praise the monastery for their record keeping and devotion to the preservation of history.

I don’t know of any library in the world that parallels it,” he said. “The monastery is an institution from the Roman Empire that continues operating according to its original mission.”

However, he notes that though the monks deserve praise for recording history, they are also to blame for erasing the parchment that held it.

“At some point, the material the manuscript was on became more valuable than what was written on it,” Phelps said. “So it was deemed worthy of being recycled.”

Besides the discovery of the Caucasian Albanian language texts, the researchers also uncovered what is thought to be the first-known copy of the Bible written in Arabic, as well as the earliest examples of writings from the Greek philosopher Hippocrates.

This article (Lost Languages Discovered In One Of The World’s Oldest Libraries) was originally created for All That Interesting and is published here under Creative Commons.

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New Evidence Reveals Antarctica Was A Swampy Rainforest Full Of Dinosaurs 90 Million Years Ago

A new study paints a picture of a very different prehistoric Antarctica, one that was warmer and teeming with life.

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New Evidence Reveals Antarctica Was A Swampy Rainforest
Photo Credit: TMU

(TMU) — Antarctica has always tantalized researchers and scientists with its mysterious ice-covered lands.

A newly published study about the climate of the mid-Cretaceous period is adding stunning new questions to the mix as researchers claim to have discovered evidence of a 90-million-year-old temperate rainforest that once existed in the South Pole region. The study paints a picture of a very different prehistoric Antarctica, one that was much warmer and teeming with life.

An international team of geoscience researchers acquired their evidence while aboard the research icebreaker RV Polarstern in the Amundsen Sea near the Pine Island Glacier. Their drill rig descended to ocean depths of 3,300 feet and then penetrated through to 90 feet beneath the seafloor to extract a perfectly preserved sample of forest soil with a sediment core composed of fine-grained silt and clay.

In their paper, recently published in Nature, the scientists wrote:

“A sedimentary sequence recovered from the West Antarctic shelf—the southernmost Cretaceous record reported so far—and show that a temperate lowland rainforest environment existed at a palaeolatitude of about 82° S during the Turonian–Santonian age (92 to 83 million years ago).”

A CT scan of the dark-brownish gray soil revealed densely packed fossil roots, pollen, and spores of at least 65 types of vegetation including conifers, ferns, and flowering plants. No animal fossils were recovered but the soil was dated to about 90 million years ago, which was the golden age of the dinosaurs. With average annual temperatures of about 53-55 degrees Fahrenheit (12-13 Celsius)—68-77 Fahrenheit (20-25 Celsius) during the warmest summer months—scientists say this region, 560 miles from the South Pole, would have been a swampy rainforest full of dinosaurs, flying pterosaurs, and insects.

“The preservation of this 90-million-year-old forest is exceptional, but even more surprising is the world it reveals,” said the study’s co-author Professor Tina van de Flierdt, from the Department of Earth Science & Engineering at Imperial. “Even during months of darkness, swampy temperate rainforests were able to grow close to the South Pole, revealing an even warmer climate than we expected.” 

The region would have been like an entirely different world from the frigid, glacier-encrusted South Pole we see today. Despite the region experiencing an annual four-month polar night, marine geologist Johann Klages of the Alfred Wegener Institute’s Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research in Germany says the estimated temperatures would be analogous to modern-day New York City.

Other scientists compared the temps to those found in New Zealand. The annual mean air temperature was only two degrees warmer than contemporary Germany. River and swamp water would have reached up to 20 degrees Celsius and annual rainfall volume was equal to contemporary Wales.

The study also has ramifications for climate research as the work suggests much higher atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels than previous climate models showed for the mid-Cretaceous period.

In addition to the stunning revelation of dense vegetation and flourishing life in pre-historic Antarctica, the research provides a new window into how climate conditions and COlevels dramatically shape life on Earth.

By Jake Anderson | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com

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