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  • Paul Bader
    News sources last month were saturated with headlines pertaining to ancient Egypt. The most significant finds were the ships by the Red Sea and the secret
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 31, 2005

      News sources last month were saturated with headlines pertaining to ancient Egypt.  The most significant finds were the ships by the Red Sea and the secret tomb at Saqqara.  Please also have a look at the link to the jewelry from the Roman period on display at the Cairo museum; though relatively "recent" they are very beautiful works!  If these links fail to open please see the articles' text quoted below. -PB-














      16:02 23 March 2005
      NewScientist.com news service
      Emma Young

      The first remains of ancient Egyptian seagoing ships ever to be recovered have been found in two caves on Egypt's Red Sea coast, according to a team at Boston University in the US.
      The team also found fragments of pottery at the site, which could help resolve controversies about the extent of ancient Egyptian trade voyages. But details of the newly disclosed finds remain sketchy.
      Kathryn Bard, who co-led the dig with Italian archaeologists in December 2004, has revealed to the Boston University weekly community newsletter that the team found a range of items - including timbers and riggings - inside the man-made caves, located at the coastal Pharaonic site of Wadi Gawasis.
      According to the report, pottery in the caves could date at least some of the artefacts to a famous 15th century BC naval expedition by Queen Hatshepsut to the mysterious, incense-producing land of Punt. This voyage is depicted in detailed reliefs on Queen Hatshepsut's temple on the west bank of the Nile, near modern-day Luxor.
      Bard declined to speak to New Scientist. But the find is exciting, says John Baines, professor of Egyptology at the University of Oxford, UK, who has been in contact with Bard. "These finds put flesh on what we might have imagined," he says.
      Gold and ebony
      The pottery finds include items the Italian researchers think could be from Yemen - a potential candidate for the modern identity of Punt. The ancient Egyptians sourced a variety of exotic wares in Punt, including gold, ebony and incense.
      "The Yemeni pottery is very interesting because it was suspected that there were contacts across the Red Sea - and this proves that there were," Baines says.
      The naval artefacts included two curved cedar planks which might have been parts of steering oars. But linking these to Queen Hatshepsut's famous voyage might be a little too specific, he says.
      "Kathryn [Bard] has told me the pottery is early New Kingdom, and we know of no other expedition to Punt in that period, so it is a reasonable guess. But we also have to bear in mind that almost everything from antiquity is lost, so there could well have been other voyages."
      It is not clear exactly why the artefacts were sealed up inside the caves. But it is possible that they were offerings to the Egyptian gods. "That sounds very plausible to me, not least because previous excavations found a structure made of stone anchors that could again be some sort of thanks-offering," says Baines.
      The team plans to return to the caves in December 2005 to continue their excavations.

      Medical tests will be run to reveal clues to health, lifestyle
      March 3, 2005

      SAQQARA, Egypt -- Archaeologists uncovered three coffins and "maybe one of the best mummies ever preserved," Egypt's chief archaeologist said Wednesday.
      The Australian team that made the find was exploring a tomb when they moved a pair of statues and discovered a door that led to a burial chamber with three coffins, each with a mummy, said Zahi Hawass, Egypt's top antiquities official.
      "Inside one coffin was maybe one of the best mummies ever preserved," Hawass told reporters at the excavation site in the cemetery of Saqqara, a barren hillside pocked with ancient graves about 15 miles south of Cairo.
      "The chest of the mummy is covered with beads. Most of the mummies of this period -- about 500 B.C. -- the beads are completely gone, but this mummy has them all," he said, standing over one of the mummies that was swathed in turquoise blue beads and bound in strips of black linen.
      The names of the mummies have not been determined, but the tomb is thought to be that of a middle-class official.
      Hawass said the wooden coffins, called anthropoids because they were in the shape of human beings, bore inscriptions dating to the 26th Dynasty and were found with a statue of a deity called Petah Sakar. Petah was the god of artisans, Hawass said, while Sakar was the god of the cemetery.
      Archaeologists will begin tests on the mummies to learn more about their medical conditions, including running CT scans, as they are doing on King Tutankhamen, Hawass said. He said the results of Tut's scans will be announced next week.

       March 21,2005

          An Egyptian-Canadian mission unearthed a Fort from the Old Kingdom in Fairuz area in South Sinai.
          The mission, which is represented by experts from Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiquities and Toronto University, was conducting digging operations in Sahl El Markha site, 160 kilometers south of Suez, on the Western Coast of Sinai.
          Dr. Mohamad Abdel Maqsoud, director-general of the Lower Egypt and Sinai monuments, said the unearthed stone fort rose three to Four metres high.
          "The Fort was discovered inside turquoise and copper mines in the area.

      March 14 2005 at 06:12PM

      Cairo - Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiquities (SCA) has allocated 12-million Egyptian pounds (about R12,3-million) to renovate a twelfth dynasty Pharaonic temple in Egypt's southern Sinai, an official said on Monday.

      SCA Secretary-General Zahi Hawass announced that the project to renovate the Sarabit el-Khadim temple is expected to be complete and open to tourists in May.

      Built upon a 755m-high summit reached by a tortuous path, the temple consists of open courts and sanctuaries dedicated to the goddess Hathor.

      The temple was built as grounds for the different mining expeditions in the mountain to extract turquoise and is considered the only Pharaonic temple to include names of anyone other than the royalty or gods.

      The temple is known as "the people's place" because inscribed on its walls are the names of 387 leaders of mining expeditions.

      Hawass said the renovation will include paving a more accessible route for tourists to reach the temple as well as building a fence to protect the inscribed walls.

      Resting and recreation areas will also be set up for tourists, he added. - Sapa-dpa

      Thu Mar 10,12:14 PM ET

      CAIRO (AFP) - Experts may have recently established that Tutankhamun was not assassinated after all but his death remains a mystery and his "curse" continues to hang over the head of late British archeologist Howard Carter who discovered the legendary pharaoh's sarcophagus.
      "The one and true curse of the Pharaohs was Carter's greed and covetousness," the head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities charged last week.
      Sabri Abdelaziz accused Carter, who first uncovered the boy king's sepulcher in 1922, of having damaged the 3,300-year-old mummy.
      After spending 10 years emptying Tutankhamun's burial chamber of its fabulous treasure in Egypt's Valley of the Kings, Carter died a mysterious death without ever managing to publish the complete list of his trove.
      The legend has it that he was struck by "the curse of the Pharaohs" which also allegedly afflicted all those who dared open their burial vaults.
      Abdelaziz also charged that Carter "pillaged" Tutankhamun's sepulcher, used white-hot metal bars to tear out his famous gold mortuary mask, now on display in Cairo Museum, and mishandled the mummy which, as a result, was fractured in several places.
      A scan of the mummy, whose findings were revealed Tuesday, dispelled previous theories that King Tut, who died at the age 19, had been murdered.
      "The team of scientists found no evidence that he had been struck in the head and no other indication he was killed, as has been said before," a statement by Egypt's chief archeologist Zahi Hawass said Tuesday.
      The research team, which included Egyptian and European scientists, said a fracture in the king's left leg could not have caused his death, even by infection, and established that the crushed bones in his chest had been broken after his death.
      The sarcophagus of the legendary pharaoh, who is thought to have been the 12th ruler of the 18th dynasty and died some 3,300 years ago, has only been opened four times since its discovery by Carter.
      The most recent examination, using computed tomography (CT), produced digital pictures of the boy king's face, giving the most accurate depiction of his features ever, according to Abdelaziz.
      The 17,000 pictures "show that Tutankhamun was not assassinated and that the fractures on the mummy were first and foremost caused by Carter and then by embalmers," according to the team's report.
      It said that the fractures on the lower end of Tutankhamun's thighbone, attributed to the morticians' mishandling of the corpse, "could not have caused his death considering the fact that he was young and vigorous, had doctors regularly checking on him and did not suffer from chronic diseases or malnutrition."
      The widespread belief that the king pharaoh was poisoned stems from the fact that he was the last ruler of his dynasty.
      The high priest Aye succeeded Tutankhamum for four years. General and Great Commander Horemhab went on to rule for 26 years before stepping down to let his vizier Ramses assume power and found the 19th dynasty.

      Friday 1 April 2005
      By Hassan Saadallah

      The SCA is collaborating with a Polish team to transform the archaeological city of Marina into an 'archaeological site museum'. It is the first Roman resort uncovered in the north of Egypt.
      Excavations on the site have led to the unearthing of 28 houses and 200 tombs, some of which are carved in the rock up to l0 metres deep.
      According to Dr Zahi Hawas, secretary-general of the SCA, Marina is one of the most important Greco-Roman cities found intact on the Mediterranean coast. It includes villas, temples, palaces, cisterns, baths and tombs that include a memorial of the Roman emperor, Caesar Commodus. Because of its historic and archaeological significance, measures have been taken to protect it from the creeping urbanisation of modern summer resorts on the coast.
      The Director of Lower Egypt Antiquities, Dr Mohamed Abdul Maqsoud, explains that Marina dates to the third century AD and was uncovered by chance in l986 when a Chinese company was engaged in construction work. Bulldozers digging on the site exposed parts of columns and baths. A survey, conducted to probe the area, has revealed that a city as large as l.5km lies underground. The city apparently abounds in unique architectural structures.
      The team of excavators have managed to outline the features of the city and the roads that link it to a harbour, in addition to the numerous tombs. Remains of the harbour were found underwater, including quays and breakwaters. Several archaeological pieces - known as the 'Fayyoum Faces' - were found in good condition. It is unusual for similar items to be found undamaged in coastal areas. The villas found show finesse and elegance typical of houses on the coast. Items used for everyday life such as lamps, spoons, glasses and chairs were also found. A statue of the goddess of beauty, Afrodite, sitting on a white marble rock was among the excavated items. Stables have been located alongside villas and the city was surprisingly found to have had an advanced sewerage system. So far the walls of some of the structures, along with tombs and memorials, have been restored. Yet a lot more work is still needed t reveal the whole city.

      T�te-�-t�te with the French explorers
      Nevine El-Aref previews the Egyptian Museum's exhibition highlighting the work of French Egyptologists George Legrain and Jean Fran�ois Champollion

      Today at sunset Culture Minister Farouk Hosni, Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) Secretary-General Zahi Hawass, French Cultural Attach� Denis Louche and senior French and Egyptian officials and archaeologists are schudled to attend the opening of the special exhibition "Champollion, Legrain... Treading the Land of Egypt" at the centennial hall of the Egyptian Museum.
      The exhibition has come to Cairo after six months in the capital of the French Alps, Grenoble, where it marked the centenary of Egyptologist George Legrain's famous discovery of the Karnak Cachet. It also coincides with the ninth International Congress of Egyptologists.
      Through the achievements of the eminent French Egyptologists Legrain and Jean Fran�ois Champollion Cairenes will experience a fresh glimpse of the magic and mystery of ancient Egypt. The exhibition will stay at the Egyptian Museum for two months.
      "This is an important exhibition reflecting the longstanding and strong bilateral cultural and diplomatic relations between Egypt and France and Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and his counterpart Jack Chirac, especially in the field of archaeology," Hosni told Al-Ahram Weekly. He said that for the last five years several Pharaonic, Coptic and Islamic exhibitions had been held in France, the last being "The Glory of the Pharaohs", which was opened by both presidents of state last October at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris.
      Twenty-five granite and limestone statues -- just a few of the 779 objects discovered by George Legrain in 1904 in the Hypostyle Hall of the temple of Amun-Re at Karnak -- lie here in an atmosphere of divinity and serenity. Black and white photographic illustrations show workmen in action during the 1904 excavations; removing limestone blocks, brushing the sand off a statue which is half-buried in sand; or pulling a thick rope with a huge granite object attached. A portrait of Legrain along with a short biography flashes on one wall.
      According to Hawass, the 25 beautifully carved statues feature the various echelons of ancient Egyptian society from the beginning of the Middle Kingdom (2011BC) through to the Roman invasion of Egypt in 30BC.
      "They are a testimony to the ordinary life of the ancient Egyptian since they reveal details of clothes, hair and fashion as well as common tradition," Hawass said.
      Among the most significant items on display are a fine limestone statue of Psammetik I, founder of the 26th dynasty, in the shape of a sphinx; a dark gray diorite statue of Shapenoupet II, daughter of the 25th- dynasty Pharaoh Piankhi, in the shape of a female sphinx holding a bust of a bull; a white limestone statuette of Amun's musician Taheret with curly hair; and a yellow quartzite statue of the high priest of Memphis, Khaemouset, son of Ramses II.
      Egyptian Museum director Wafaa El- Saddiq told the Weekly that some of the objects illuminated an important Egyptian religious tradition of "the Divine Wives of Amun", or royal princesses who gave their lives to serve the god. "This is similar to Coptic monotheism," El-Saddiq said.
      In the second half of the exhibition are displayed some of Champollion's personal objects, which in their own way illustrate his long path to breaking the mystery code of hieroglyphics.
      According to Gihan Zaki, professor of Egyptology at the faculty of hotels and tourism at Helwan University, who also helped organise the exhibition, the French Institute for Oriental Studies (IFAO) had loaned the museum a collection of Champollion's original manuscripts showing his first attempts at drawing and understanding the hieroglyphs in order that they could be compared with other ancient Egyptian scripts such as hieratic and Coptic. A copy of the first hieroglyphic reference book, La Grammaire Egyptienne (Egyptian Grammar) is also among the exhibits, along with the letter written by Champollion himself to Dacier, head of Belle Lettres Acad�mie in Paris, stating that he had succeeded in deciphering the language of ancient Egypt.
      The town of Figeac, birthplace of Champollion, lent the exhibition Champollion's passport, birth and baptism certificates and his identification card while he was a student in the department of Oriental Studies.
      Grenoble, the city where Champollion spent his youth with his archaeologist brother Jacques Joseph Figeac, and where he developed his early taste for ancient languages and his interest in Egypt, lent photographs of his family house in Vif, on the outskirts of Grenoble. These show the famous Egyptologist's desk, bedroom and library, as well as family souvenirs and a portrait of the man himself and members of his family. Copies of his original manuscripts, documents and papers are also on display.
      Exhibition organiser Inji Fayed told the Weekly that Christiane Desroches- Noblecourt would be honoured by the minister of culture for her contribution to Egyptology. Desroches-Noblecourt was head of the department of Egyptian antiquities at the Louvre Museum, as well as a teacher of Egyptology. She also played an important role during the Nubian salvage operation in the 1960s and worked tirelessly to protect Nubian and Egyptian monuments.


      SANTA ANA, CA.- On April 7, 2005 at 11 a.m. at the Bowers Museum, a team of radiologists and curators will conduct computed tomography (CT) scans of six ancient Egyptian mummies from the renowned collections of the British Museum. The mummies are the focus of the Bowers� upcoming landmark exhibition, Mummies: Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt, which opens April 17, 2005.

      This is the largest collection of CT scans ever performed on Egyptian mummies utilizing the newest, state of the art technology. This historic event, a first in Southern California, will occur in cooperation with the British Museum; Moran, Rowen & Dorsey, Inc. (MRD), a radiology group that provides cutting edge diagnostic medical imaging in Orange County; General Electric, a leading medical technology company; and Mobile Interim Solutions, an industry leader in boost diagnostic imaging capacity at medical facilities.

      Whole body scans of the six mummies will be acquired and MRD Radiologists and British Museum curators will review and interpret the images to reveal findings about the ancient treasures. MRD Radiologists Daniel Weissberg, M.D., Chairman of the Board and Medical Director of Radiology for MRD, and M. Linda Sutherland, M.D., Fellow of the Bowers Museum and Member of the Board of Directors and Partner of MRD, will be present at the Bowers Museum for the CT scans, along with British Museum curators John Taylor and Nigel Strudwick, curators of Mummies: Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt.

      Advances in computed tomography (CT) imaging have enabled researchers to learn details about mummies never before available without destroying the priceless remains. CT scans and X-rays have been performed on mummies in the past, yet none have employed the advanced technology that will be utilized April 7 at the Bowers Museum. CT scanning and virtual reality imaging involves acquiring a number of cross-sectional images, or "slices" of the body, and feeding the images into a 3D workstation. Post-processing of the images by the 3D workstation will enable radiologists to gather specific information about the mummies.

      The CT scans should reveal much more detail than ever before. Drs. Weissberg and Sutherland and curators Taylor and Strudwick hope to discover valuable information, including findings about the mummies' skulls, some of which may contain molten resin, an embalming fluid reserved only for a person of royal status. CT images of the mummies' chests and abdomens may reveal such discoveries as incisions and replacement of organs with tightly rolled linen packs, a mummification technique practiced 3,000 years ago in Egypt.

      �We hope to provide advanced technological information that will help experts in the field learn more about the mummification process,� Dr. Weissberg said. �We also hope the scan of the pediatric mummy will provide enhanced knowledge of the children from ancient Egypt.�
      Exhibit launches fruits of museum's excavation of its own hallways
      The Associated Press
      Updated: 6:07 p.m. ET March 15, 2005

      CAIRO, Egypt - A collection of Roman-era gold treasures has spent centuries hidden from view, either concealed by thieves in a clay jar, buried under the desert or languishing in a dusty corner of Cairo's rambling Egyptian Museum.
      On Tuesday, the set of magnificent gold necklaces, crowns and coins dating back to the second century were put under the spotlight when Cairo's 102-year-old museum launched a program to give prominence to many of its neglected exhibits in new monthly displays.
      The pieces being exhibited were discovered in 1989 by a French archaeology team digging in Cairo's vast Western Desert.
      "These golden treasures will be the first of many other exhibits in the Egyptian Museum that will be 'excavated' from its corridors and halls and put on display with various educational tools explaining their significance," Zahi Hawass, chief of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said at the exhibit opening. 
      Egyptian antiquities officials acknowledge that one of the museum's greatest flaws has been the poor manner in which its thousands of artifacts have been exhibited in its building in downtown Cairo.
      "Like our vast desert, the Egyptian Museum has thousands of hidden treasures that people don't know about," Hawass said.
      Attempts have been made to improve a visit to the museum by offering hand-held digital guides. Lots more space will be made available once 60 percent of the exhibits are transferred to the new $350 million Grand Museum near the Giza pyramids, where construction is to finish in 2008.
      The lack of space in the existing museum � designed to exhibit about 5,000 artifacts � has consigned many of the more than 100,000 pharaonic, Coptic, Greco-Roman and Islamic objects in basements and warehouses.
      "The Golden Jewelry of Dush" exhibit will be the first monthly display of "lost" pieces to be polished and exhibited in a main gallery, Hawass said. 
      The display includes several necklaces of various sizes and a stunning crown made of multiple pieces of gold fashioned into the shape of leaves. One necklace weighs more than 17 ounces and comprises 77 individual golden pendants bearing the image of the Greek-Egyptian god Serapis. A composite, Serapis was formed by the merger of the lesser gods Osiris and Apis during the Ptolemaic Period, which ran for about 300 years before 30 B.C.
      The museum's director-general, Wafaa El-Sediq, said thieves stole the second century treasures from a temple built by the Romans in Dush, an area south of Kharga Oasis, about 370 miles southwest of Cairo.
      "The robbers dismantled the items and hid them in a clay jar which they placed into a wall of a building," El-Sediq said. "But, thanks to God, the deserts later covered the treasures and the robbers could not find them again."
      Egypt's western and southern deserts are some of the country's most neglected in terms of archaeological excavations, El-Sediq said. They are believed to conceal many more treasures.
      By Ben Hoyle

      LONG before Shakespeare portrayed her as history�s most exotic femme fatale, Cleopatra was revered throughout the Arab world � for her brain.
      Medieval Arab scholars never referred to the Egyptian queen�s appearance, and they made no mention of the dangerous sensuality which supposedly corrupted Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Instead they marvelled at her intellectual accomplishments: from alchemy and medicine to philosophy, mathematics and town planning, a new book has claimed.
      Even Elizabeth Taylor, who famously played the title role in the 1963 epic Cleopatra, would have struggled to inject sex appeal into this queen. Arab writers depict Cleopatra�s court as a place of intellectual seminars and scholarship rather than the more traditional vision of kohl-rimmed eyes and hedonistic intrigue.
      �They admired her scientific knowledge and her administrative ability,� the book�s author Okasha el-Daly, who is based at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology at University College London, said.
      In Egyptology: The Missing Millennium he writes that �Arabic sources often refer to Cleopatra as �the virtuous scholar� and cite scientific books written by her as the definitive works in their field�. She was also regarded as a great builder, he claims, responsible among other things for a canal to supply Alexandria with Nile water.
      Cleopatra was born in 69BC, the last of the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty that ruled Egypt after Alexander the Great�s invasion in 332BC. The few images of her that survive suggest that she was not a great beauty by modern standards. Despite this she succeeded in seducing Caesar and his former ally Mark Antony, who left his Roman wife Octavia for her.
      European scholars finally learned to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics in 1822 with the help of the Rosetta Stone. But Dr el-Daly believes that a ninth-century Arabian alchemist, Ibn Wahshiyah, got there first, opening up original Egyptian sources to medieval Arab writers.
      �There has always been a snobbery which suggested that medieval Arab scholars only cared about science and engineering,� he said. �They wrote about everything they found interesting. I even found one medieval scholar who had written a book on sex.�
      Kate Spence, a lecturer in Egyptology at Cambridge University�s Faculty of Oriental Studies, described Dr el-Daly�s work as very important.
      �Everybody has known that these Arab sources were around for ages.� she said, �but most of us working in this field don�t know enough Arabic to use them properly.�

      Mon Mar 7,10:55 AM ET

      CAIRO (Reuters) - The Egyptian government Monday unveiled plans for the delicate task of moving a granite statue of the Pharaoh Ramses II, 3,200 years old and weighing 83 tons, from central Cairo to a new site near the Pyramids.
      The statue has stood in a square outside Cairo's main railway station for 50 years but with the growth of the city the square has become increasingly noisy and polluted.
      Raised pedestrian walkways make it hard to see the 11-meter (35-foot) statue from some angles.
      Culture Minister Farouk Hosni told a news conference that after lengthy studies and debate the government had decided to saw through the plinth and move the statue upright and in one piece to the site of a new museum southwest of the city center.
      The Egyptian construction company Arab Contractors will build a special vehicle to carry the statue, which will be slung in a gyroscopically mounted cage and wrapped in foam rubber.
      Moving through the streets of Cairo from the early hours of a Friday, when the city is quietest, the vehicle will take the best part of a day to make the 30-km (18-mile) journey.
      The Cairo municipality will have to dismantle and then rebuild one pedestrian bridge to make way for the statue of Ramses, a powerful imperial ruler and prolific temple builder who ruled Egypt from about 1304 to 1237 BC.
      Hosni said the engineers would do a dry run with an object of similar weight in about two months and might move the statue itself in about a year. The operation will cost six million pounds ($1 million), he added.
      The statue was discovered, horizontal and buried, near the ancient city of Memphis, south of Cairo

      17 March 2005

      Thieves have taken �15,000 worth of ancient Egyptian figurines and a human skull from Bagshaw Museum, Wilton Park.
      The figurines, known as Shabtis, are carved from stone and jade.

      They are small statuettes which were buried with the dead to work as servants in the afterlife.
      A Kirklees community history service spokesman said: "Staff and visitors to the museum are very upset that objects which have been a part of our displays for many years are no longer accessible to the public.
      "The Egyptian figures were very popular with visitors and were enjoyed by schoolchildren taking part in our education programme.
      "Historic items are unique and irreplaceable, and that link with the past is gone forever."

      The break-in happened overnight on Friday, between 5.45pm and 9.55am.
      The burglars smashed a double-glazed window and broke through shutters to reach the religious artefacts.
      The thieves also broke two glass display cases.
      Kirklees are now reviewing security at the museum.

      [March 19, 2005, 15:45:59]

      In Cairo will be held a scientific conference devoted to pharaoh�s music, reported Egyptian news agency MENA.

      Zahi Havas, head of the Egyptian Supreme Council on ancient monuments, announced that conference has been organized on the special program basis which is includes knowledges about a difference areas of the Ancient Egypt. There were a reports of the historians and musicians about folk, the women�s role in musical life of the Ancient Egypt, inheritance of the musical traditions and national musical instruments.

      As noted scientist, last year there is great interest from Egyptians to the ancient history of this country. For example, the ancient Egyptian language courses were opened at the Alexandrine library. Besides, one of the political parties have considered a proposal to forcedly study an ancient egyptian language an history, reported MENA.

      'At a snail's pace'

      By Tony Fitzpatrick
      Feb. 2, 2005 � Earth and planetary scientists at Washington University in St. Louis are studying snail fossils to understand the climate of northern Africa 130,000 years ago.
      While that might sound a bit like relying on wooly bear caterpillars to predict the severity of winter, the snails actually reveal clues about the climate and environment of western Egypt, lo those many years ago. They also could shed light on the possible role weather and climate played in the dispersal of humans "out of Africa" and into Europe and Asia. Periods of substantially increased rainfall compared to the present are known to have occurred in the Sahara throughout the last million years, but their duration, intensity, and frequency remain somewhat unconstrained.
      Jennifer R. Smith, Ph.D., Washington University assistant professor of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences, and her doctoral student Johanna M. Kieniewicz, are using stable isotope and minor element analyses of the freshwater gastropod Melanoides tuberculata and carbonate silts from a small lake (now dry) in the Kharga Oasis of western Egypt to reconstruct climatic conditions during the lifetime of the lake. Their analyses support a surprising picture of arid Egypt: 130,000 years ago, what everyone considers an eternal desert was actually a thriving savannah, complete with humans, rhinos, giraffes and other wild life.
      Evidence for the hominin presence abounds near the lake in the form of Middle Stone Age artifacts such as stone scrapers and blades.
      "The artifacts provide a record that people were coming to the lake," said Smith. "Genetic evidence suggests that 100,000 to 400,000 years ago was a critical time in the evolution and dispersal of African hominins. Our climate data from this 130,000-year-old humid event suggest that this would have been a particularly good time for a northward migration through Africa following reliable water resources, since it seems to be the strongest humid phase in this region over the past 400,000 years. We're also testing the hypothesis that humid events were more frequent than previously thought, which would have allowed for greater mobility throughout the region."
      The researchers noted that the silt thickness at the lake exceeds five yards, an indication that the humid phase lasted at least several thousand years. Normal rainfall in the area they study is a minuscule 0.7 of a millimeter per year, but there is evidence that the rainfall amounts in the region have gotten up to as much as 600 millimeters per year, "not enough to make it a paradise," Smith said, "but enough to turn a barren environment into a classic savannah."
      Kieniewicz performed isotopic analyses of about 20 snails, all of them dating to the humid phase, which occurred approximately 130,000 years ago. These particular snails have a life span of between one and two years, and build their shells in a classic spiral with whatever water is available that day. The snails were preserved in calcium carbonate deposits throughout the lake.
      "We're using the chemistry of the water over the course of a year or two, as revealed by isotopic analyses and minor element analyses of the snail shells to determine information about the climate then," Kieniewicz said. "The shell is an archive of the snail's life. The analyses give us snapshots of what the conditions were like in that lake basin."
      The geochemical analyses confirmed that the water was a stable standing body for many years. "Strong evaporation of the lake, enough to shrink it substantially in volume and make it more saline would have been expected to result in large excursions in δ18O and minor element concentrations," Kieniewicz said. "However, throughout the stratigraphy, the δ18O values of the silts remain isotopically light and the minor elements do not show intense evaporative trends, suggesting that the lake remained stable and fresh."
      Smith and Kieniewicz attended the 116th annual meeting of the Geological Society of America, held Nov. 7-10 in Denver. Kieniewicz presented a paper there on their findings.
      Smith's specialty is geoarchaeology, which uses classic earth science methods and concepts to address questions of archaeological interest.
      "In this particular study, we're interested in building a history of climate change through time to understand how people would have responded to dramatic shifts in climate," said Smith. "This is a major theme of our work, and we hope that some of our findings can give us perspective on what we're facing in the coming centuries."

      Neolithic find shows UAE desert site was once green:
       Monday, March 21, 2005

      Abu Dhabi, Excavations of a human settlement in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) dating back to around 7,000 years ago reveal that the area - now a desert - was once lush green with vegetation and plentiful supply of water, reports Xinhua.
      The flint tools and remains of small buildings in Al Ain in Abu Dhabi dating back to the Neolithic period will help in understanding the early history of the emirates, Peter Hellyer, executive director of Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey (ADIAS), was quoted as saying by the Gulf News daily.
      According to the ADIAS, during the Neolithic period, the climate in the UAE was much wetter than today, and the plains may have been lakes.
      There would have been much more vegetation and wildlife than today, providing inhabitants with ample pasture for grazing their sheep and goats as well as opportunities for hunting such animals like gazelle and oryx.
      Further studies of the excavation sites are underway. Archaeologists are making surveys of other plains to see whether the Neolithic settlements extended over a wider area, according to the report.


      Warmest Regards,
      Paul Bader
      Atlantean Records

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