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Ancient

Ancient ‘Texas Serengeti’ is Filled With Strange Fossils

From 1935 to 1943, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) employed millions of (mostly) men unemployed by the Great Depression for public works projects such as building roads, bridges and schools. The WPA also employed musicians, writers and actors in arts and literacy projects. One little known activity in Texas involved hunting for and collecting fossils across the state. Those fossils – tens of thousands of them – were taken to a storage facility at the University of Texas and, once the Depression was over, forgotten … until now. A researcher found them and traced many of the most unusual fossils to an area in Beeville that had such a diverse animal population, it has been given a new name: the Texas Serengeti.

“It’s the most representative collection of life from this time period of Earth history along the Texas Coastal Plain.”

Steven May is the research associate at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences who found and studied the fossils and traced them to four dig sites, including one in Bee County in southern Texas. According to a press release by UT, finding where they came from was necessary because, while the collection was huge, there were many missing pieces.

“They collected the big, obvious stuff. But that doesn’t fully represent the incredible diversity of the Miocene environment along the Texas Coastal Plain.”

Did Texas once look like this?

Using aerial photography and notes from the WPA program stored in the university’s archives, May and his team found the exact location of one of the dig sites along a creek on a private ranch near Beeviille, the Bee country seat. In his paper, “The Lapara Creek Fauna: Early Clarendonian of south Texas, USA,” published in Palaeontologia Electronica, May describes the breadth of the diversity that earned the spot the title of “Texas Serengeti.”

“Of the 50 species of fossil vertebrates, five species are fish, seven are reptiles, two are birds and 36 are mammals. The 36 species of mammals represent 31 genera of which four are rodents, five are carnivores, two are proboscideans, 10 are artiodactyls and 10 are perissodactyls.”

For those not up on their Clarendonian age animals, proboscideans are elephant ancestors, artiodactyls are hoofed animals that bear their weight on two of their five toes (cattle, sheep, llamas, etc.) and perissodactyls are hoofed animals that bear their weight on one toe (horses, rhinos, etc.). If that’s not enough to get you excited and yelling “Go Texas” and “Hook ‘em Horns,” May points out that the collection includes new genus of gomphothere, an extinct relative of elephants, an extinct cousin of modern dogs and the oldest fossils of the American alligator.

Don’t mess with Texas. Go do your business in Oklahoma.

After being kept in the dark for 80 years at UT and about 10,000 years in Beeville dirt before that, the Texas Serengeti fossils are moving around more now than they did on the Texas plain. They’re being used in UT classes to teach archeology students how to carefully find and remove fossils so they can resume the work started in the 1930s when it was just an activity to keep people whole, active and earning a decent wage until the Depression ended. These students will have the advantage of better equipment, computerized analysis tools and educators who won’t forget where the bones are.

The Texas Serengeti … an archeological Lone Star goldmine or a new adventure movie starring Matthew McConaughey?

Can we have both?

Source: Mysterious Universe

Ancient

Oldest human skull found outside Africa

Image Credit: NPS – PD

Our ancestors ventured out of Africa much earlier than thought. 

Scientists have identified the earliest known evidence of modern humans outside of the African continent.

The skull, which was discovered in Apidima Cave in Greece back in the 1970s, was so damaged and incomplete that at the time palaeontologists struggled to make sense of it.

More recently however, a new study using modern tomography scanning and uranium-series dating has revealed that the skull is not only that of a modern human, but also dates back 210,000 years to a time long before our ancestors were thought to have migrated out of Africa.

The find adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting that modern humans made several forays in to Eurasia long before they started to colonize the continent around 60,000 years ago.

Other evidence of this has previously been found in Israel and China.

“Now our scenario was that there was an early modern group in Greece by 210,000 years ago, perhaps related to comparable populations in the Levant, but it was subsequently replaced by a Neanderthal population (represented by Apidima 2) by about 170,000 years ago,” said study co-author Prof Chris Stringer of the London Natural History Museum.

Source: BBC News

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Ancient

Palace From Mysterious Ancient Empire Exposed by Drought in Iraq

From 1475 BCE to 1275 BCE, the Mitanni Empire ruled over the northern Euphrates-Tigris region in what is now Iraq. It’s only rival at that time was Egypt, but when the Hittite Empire began gaining power, they joined together against it. That wasn’t enough, and Mitanni was eventually defeated by the Hittite and assimilated so completely that very little is known of the dynasty. That may change with the discovery of a MIttani palace in Iraqi Kurdistan after drought exposed it in a reservoir.

“The find is one of the most important archaeological discoveries in the region in recent decades and illustrates the success of the Kurdish-German cooperation.”

Cooperation is always a good thing, especially at archeological sites in areas of political strife. Kurdish archaeologist Hasan Ahmed Qasim was working with Dr. Hasan Ahmed Qasim and Dr. Ivana Puljiz on a joint research project between the University of Tübingen and the Kurdistan Archaeology Organization (KAO) in cooperation with the Duhok Directorate of Antiquities after a drought caused the water level of the Mosul Reservoir in northern Iraq to drop unexpectedly and substantially, revealing the remains of a Bronze Age palace which is believed to have once stood on the edge of the Tigris River valley in the Mitanni town of Kemune. The site was first discovered in 2010, but the recent drop in water level was the first change archeologists had to do some serious digging.

According to the press release by the University of Tübingen, the palace was a solid structure with two-meters thick mud walls, some standing over two meters high. A number of rooms were identified and those contained items that may finally shed some light on the Mitanni empire. One contained ten cuneiform clay tablets which suggest that Kemune may have once be the ancient city of Zachiku, which was thought to have existed in that area 400 years before. (Photos of the site here.) However, it’s what was on the walls that got the archeologists most excited, according to Puljiz.

“We also found remnants of murals in bright shades of red and blue. Mural paintings may have been a typical feature of palaces in the 2nd millennium BC, but they have seldom been preserved. Therefore, the discovery of murals in Kemune is an archaeological sensation.”

This is yet another important archeological site covered by the waters of a dam – in this case, the Mosul Reservoir of the Mosul Dam, the largest dam in Iraq. Completed in 1986, provides electricity to the 1.7 million residents of Mosul … and also some anxiety. The dam was briefly taken over by ISIS in 2014 and it has required constant maintenance and repairs due to being built on top of gypsum, a soft mineral that dissolves in contact with water. Whose bright idea was this? Saddam Hussein.

Mosul Dam hydro power plant

“The Mittani empire is one of the least-explored ancient Near Eastern empires. So far, information about the palaces of the Mittani period has only been found in Tell Brak in Syria and in the cities of Nuzi and Alalach on the outskirts of the empire.”

Saddam may be gone, but instability remains – both in the dam and the region. This appears to be an important central palace of the Mittani Empire, and could help locate its capital, which has remained a mystery in an empire of mysteries.

Will the researchers be able to uncover the secrets of the Mittani Empire and outrace the instability of the governments and the dam? Cooperation will help. So will luck. And don’t forget the climate change that caused the drought.

Archeology is a complicated science.

Source: Mysterious Universe

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Ancient

Ashur – First Capital And Powerful Religious Center Of The Assyrian Empire

A. Sutherland  – AncientPages.com – The beginnings of the city of Ashur, (also known as Assur) date back to the third millennium. The city was located about sixty miles to the south of the city of Mosul, Iraq, where today, there is a small village named Shergat (or Qalat Shergat), built of stones and bricks taken from the ruins of the city of Ashur (Asshur).

Ruins of the Assyrian city of AshurRuins of the Assyrian city, Ashur. Image source

From the 14th to the 9th century BC, Ashur was a thriving city. It developed fast and became an important trade center with trade routes leading to Anatolia (modern Turkey). The city exported tin from western Iran, textiles in return for copper, and provided transport of timber from Syria. Many merchants frequently visited the city, and the inhabitants of Ashur themselves began to deal with trade, who even founded their own trade colonies.

Around 1800 BC, the Amorite ruler Shamshi-Adad I included Ashur into his domain, where it became a ceremonial center and the first imperial capital of the Assyrian Empire, unquestionably, one of the greatest of the ancient world.

In Genesis 10:11 we read: “Out of that land came forth Asshur and built Nineveh, and the city Rehoboth, and Kalah…”  Asshur was the second son of Shem and a grandson of Noah, however, in this case, the name Asshur is often used to refer to the place where his descendants dwelled (Ezekiel 27:23, Numbers 24:22, 24).

Ashur (its name was at the same time, the name of a god) was not particularly large city; it had probably no more than 15,000 inhabitants and was situated south of Nineveh and on the western bank of the river Tigris, in northern Mesopotamia, corresponding to modern country of Iraq, northeastern Syria northwestern Iran and southeastern Turkey.

Assyrian’s Vulnerable Location

Assyria had a vulnerable location in the vicinity of the major trading and raiding routes connecting north and east and stretching from Anatolia in the north to Babylon in the south. All cities near Ashur, located on the eastern side of the Tigris valley, in the foothills of Zagros, were easily accessible to foreign intrusions or armed invasions of mountain tribes, so the Assyrians still had to be ready for combat.

Ashur, the chief god of the Assyrian pantheon in Mesopotamian religion, worshipped mainly in the northern half of Mesopotamia, and parts of north-east Syria and south-east Asia Minor (old Assyria Ashur, the chief god of the Assyrian pantheon in Mesopotamian religion, worshipped mainly in the northern half of Mesopotamia, and parts of north-east Syria and south-east Asia Minor (old Assyria).

It was crucial to build a perfectly functioned self-defense in order to survive both in cities and within the borders of the empire. And yet, the city of Ashur was better situated strategically and easier to defend.

Fortifications were massive and the strongest of them were built on the southern part of the city as it was definitely its most vulnerable point. From one side, the city was well-protected by the cliffs and later in front by an immense high wall with eight huge gates and a 15-meter-wide moat.

On the other three sites, the first capital of Assyria was almost invincible.

Ashur – Important Religious Center

The city was Assyria’s oldest capital, which was already known during Akkadian and Sumerian times. It was also an important religious center for worship of the supreme god Ashur, who became the national god of Assyria and protected the Assyrian kings. He was venerated along with Enlil and Ninurta, god of agriculture, scribes, hunting, and war. Several Assyrian kings had the god Ashur’s protection in their names.

Ziggurat at AshurRuins of ziggurat at Ashur. source

In the city, there was an early cult of the gods Adad, Assur and the goddess Ishtar. Ashur contained a large number of important religious buildings, and a handful of palaces (more exactly three of them and thirty four temples, based on ancient sources dated to 7th century BC).

Many ruined structures (many of them had never been excavated) include several major buildings such as the double-temple of Anu and Adad (the god of storms), another was that of Bel, the lord and of the Sumerian goddess of love and war, Ishtar, known to the Hebrews as Ashtaroth and the Starte of the Greeks. There are also ruins of the Old Palace with its royal tombs and several living quarters scattered across the city.

However, the most striking construction among the ruins of Ashur is the ziggurat, built of backed bricks on the top of a rectangular platform composed of several layers, dedicated to the god Ashur, as well as the ground temple nearby devoted to the same god and called “Temple of the Universe”. There are also temples devoted to the gods of the sun and the moon, and one with two towers sacred to Anu, god of the sky, and Adad, god of storms. Assyrian rulers were buried in vaulted tombs beneath palaces, ancient records say, but these places were already robbed in antiquity.

Mesopotamia in 2nd millennium BC

Mesopotamia in 2nd millennium BC. source

Many clay tablets and bricks, covered with cuneiform inscriptions about historical events, conquests, eulogies of rulers, were discovered in the excavated ruins of Ashur.

When Assyria’s strategical value increased in the region, the capital of the empire was transferred from Ashur to Kalah and later to Nineveh about 880 BC, but Ashur still remained a highly prestigious city for a long time.

Civil wars tormented and significantly weakened the region, including  the city of Ashur, especially under the reign of Shamshi Adad (824-811 BC). Later, under the next kings who followed including Tiglath Pileser III (745-727 BC) and Ashurbanipal (668-627 BC), the city was rebuilt and its walls strengthened.

Ashur was finally captured and destroyed by the Babylonians in 614 BC and did not fully recover until the Parthian Empire controlled the city from the 1st century AD until the Romans sacked it in 257. Then, the city was populated again until the 14th century before Timur (1336-1405), the founder of the Timurid Empire (1370-1507) sacked the city and murdered its inhabitants.

The city today serves as an important example of the past Assyrian Empire.

Written by – A. Sutherland  – AncientPages.com Senior Staff Writer

Copyright © AncientPages.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or part without the express written permission of AncientPages.com

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References:

Kriwaczek, P. Babylon: Mesopotamia and the Birth of Civilization

Claude Hermann Walter Johns, Ancient Assyria

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