Sunday, June 8, 2014

The World's Oldest Pants [Thus Far] Discovered

Call it a hunch, but my bet is that females were the first pants-wearing horseback riders. 

Here's why.  Women are credited with taming wolves (dogs), boars (pigs), bovines (cows) -- and eqquines (horses), too.  The dudes were too busy hunting to worry about "taming" animals; it was the women who came into close contact with these animals on a day-in and day-out basis as they went about gathering eggs (but always being careful to leave some behind), wild rice, fish, berries, grains, roots, tender stalks and other assorted shoots, herbs and greens, the origins of which lay the ancient artcraft of medicine. I cannot imagine that most women would be able to resist trying to tend to infant animals found alone in a nest or a den.

Let us hoe that because the trousers (pants) were recovered from two ancient male burials in the Tarim Basin, it is NOT automatically assumed that all pants-wears MUST have been male.  Such a gender biased assumption makes for bad science.


First pants worn by horse riders 3,000 years ago

Oldest known trousers originated in Central Asia

"Secret Codes" Embedded in Anglo-Saxon Art

Interesting.  I wonder what linguists of the future will make of our use of words such as "sick" to express awesomeness, approval and acclaim -- you know, the old "cool" that I and millions of others still use (it surely dates us, but I don't give a hoot).  Will the break the "code?"

At Slate Online

British Museum Curator Reveals the Secret Codes Embedded in Ancient Artifacts

By Rosie Weetch

The recently reopened Sir Paul and Lady Ruddock Gallery in room 41 of the British Museum covers Europe A.D. 300-1100, and includes many artifacts excavated at an Anglo-Saxon burial mound in Sutton Hoo, England. To mark the new display, curator Rosie Weetch offers an illuminating primer on how to decode the symbols and stories in a piece of Anglo-Saxon metalwork that might otherwise look like mere decoration. Here at The Eye, she shares a recent post from the British Museum blog.

One of the most enjoyable things about working with the British Museum’s Anglo-Saxon collection is having the opportunity to study the intricate designs of the many brooches, buckles, and other pieces of decorative metalwork. This is because in Anglo-Saxon art there is always more than meets the eye.

The objects invite careful contemplation, and you can find yourself spending hours puzzling over their designs, finding new beasts and images. The dense animal patterns that cover many Anglo-Saxon objects are not just pretty decoration; they have multilayered symbolic meanings and tell stories. Anglo-Saxons, who had a love of riddles and puzzles of all kinds, would have been able to "read" the stories embedded in the decoration. But for us it is trickier as we are not fluent in the language of Anglo-Saxon art.

Illustration by Craig Williams, courtesy of the British Museum.
Anglo-Saxon art went through many changes between the 5th and 11th centuries, but puzzles and storytelling remained central. The early art style of the Anglo-Saxon period is known as Style I and was popular in the late 5th and 6th centuries. It is characterised by what seems to be a dizzying jumble of animal limbs and face masks, which has led some scholars to describe the style as an "animal salad." Close scrutiny shows that Style I is not as abstract as first appears, and through carefully following the decoration in stages we can unpick the details and begin to get a sense for what the design might mean.

One of the most exquisite examples of Style I animal art is a silver-gilt square-headed brooch from a female grave on the Isle of Wight. Its surface is covered with at least 24 different beasts: a mix of birds’ heads, human masks, animals, and hybrids. Some of them are quite clear, like the faces in the circular lobes projecting from the bottom of the brooch. Others are harder to spot, such as the faces in profile that only emerge when the brooch is turned upside down. Some of the images can be read in multiple ways, and this ambiguity is central to Style I art.

Top part of brooch (above) turned upside down.  Image from British Museum. 
Once we have identified the creatures on the brooch, we can begin to decode its meaning. In the lozenge-shaped field at the foot of the brooch is a bearded face with a helmet underneath two birds that may represent the Germanic god Woden/Odin with his two companion ravens (see the first image in this post). The image of a god alongside other powerful animals may have offered symbolic protection to the wearer like a talisman or amulet.

Illustration by Craig Williams, courtesy of the British Museum.
The great gold buckle from Sutton Hoo is decorated in this style. From the thicket of interlace that fills the buckle’s surface 13 different animals emerge. These animals are easier to spot: The ring-and-dot eyes, the birds’ hooked beaks, and the four-toed feet of the animals are good starting points. At the tip of the buckle, two animals grip a small doglike creature in their jaws and on the circular plate, two snakes intertwine and bite their own bodies. Such designs reveal the importance of the natural world, and it is likely that different animals were thought to hold different properties and characteristics that could be transferred to the objects they decorated. The fearsome snakes, with their shape-shifting qualities, demand respect and confer authority, and were suitable symbols for a buckle that adorned a high-status man, or even an Anglo-Saxon king.

Animal art continued to be popular on Anglo-Saxon metalwork throughout the later period, when it went through further transformations into the Mercian Style (defined by sinuous animal interlace) in the 8th century and then into the lively Trewhiddle Style in the 9th century. Trewhiddle-style animals feature in the roundels of the Fuller Brooch, but all other aspects of its decoration are unique within Anglo-Saxon art. Again, through a careful unpicking of its complex imagery we can understand its visual messages. At the center is a man with staring eyes holding two plants. Around him are four other men striking poses: one, with his hands behind his back, sniffs a leaf; another rubs his two hands together; the third holds his hand up to his ear; and the final one has his whole hand inserted into his mouth. Together these strange poses form the earliest personification of the five senses: Sight, Smell, Touch, Hearing, and Taste. Surrounding these central motifs are roundels depicting animals, humans, and plants that perhaps represent God’s Creation.

Fuller brooch.  Illustration by Craig Williams, courtesy of the British Museum.
This iconography can best be understood in the context of the scholarly writings of King Alfred the Great (died 899), which emphasized sight and the “mind’s eye” as the principal way in which wisdom was acquired along with the other senses. Given this connection, perhaps it was made at Alfred the Great’s court workshop and designed to be worn by one of his courtiers?

Throughout the period, the Anglo-Saxons expressed a love of riddles and puzzles in their metalwork. Behind the nonreflective glass in the newly opened Sir Paul and Lady Ruddock Gallery of Sutton Hoo and Europe A.D. 300-1100, you can do like the Anglo-Saxons and get up close to these and many other objects to decode the messages yourself.

Viking Era Amulet Found at Revninge, Denmark by Metal Detectorist

An interesting find, and the experts are quite excited about it because of the exquisite detailing of the costume dressing the figurine.  Is it Freya?  To keep this in perspective, 4.6 cm (the size of the figurine) is 1.81102362 inches!  She is very tiny, not even two inches long -- and so finely wrought and detailed. 

At Past Horizons

Viking Age Revninge woman: an exceptional find

5000 Year Old Water System Discovered in Iran

Archaeological teams in Iran have been racing against the clock to excavate and rescue (or prepare for submersion and rescue at some later time) at least 100 ancient sites discovered around the site of the Seimareh Dam reservoir area in western Iran.  Several pictures of the intriguing water system piping are at the Payvand Iran News website:

Photos: 5000-year-old water system discovered in western Iran
Source: Tehran Times; photos by CHN
A 5000-year-old water system has been unearthed during the second season of a rescue excavation project at the Farash ancient historical site at the Seimareh Dam reservoir area in western Iran.

An archaeological team led by Leili Niakan has been carrying out a second season of rescue excavation since March after the Seimareh Dam came on stream, the Persian service of CHN reported on Monday.

The team plans to save ancients artifacts and gather information about the ancient sites, which are being submerged by the dam that became operational in early March.

This system, which comprises a small pool and an earthenware pipeline, was discovered on the eastern beach of the dam on the border between Ilam Province and Lorestan Province, Niakan said.
Part of the water system has been submerged as the water level has risen. However, the team covered that part of the system beforehand to save it for more archaeological excavations while the dam is out of commission.

Each earthenware conduit measures about one meter in length and it is likely that they were made and baked in this region, Niakan stated.  The team is still working on the site to unearth the rest of pipeline, which may lead the archaeologists to the source of pipeline, she added.

Over 100 sites dating back to the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Copper Age, Stone Age, Parthian, Sassanid, and early Islamic periods were identified at the dam's reservoir in 2007. Afterwards, 40 archaeological teams from the Iranian Center for Archaeological Research (ICAR) were assigned to carry out Iran's largest rescue excavation operation on the 40 ancient sites at the reservoirs of the dam in the first season.

Signs of the Mesopotamians' influence in the region were also identified by studies carried out on the ancient strata at the reservoir.

Most of the sites have been flooded by the dam and the rest will go under water after the filling of the dam is completed.
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