Greek Origins

The first signs of human civilisation in Europe are from Thera, on the Aegean island of Akrotiri, now called Santorini.
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Excavations have revealed early Minoan settlements and a golden ibis, remains from a catastrophic volcanic eruption there, now dated as 1590BC. Some say that Plato’s description of Atlantis was based on this eruption.
The catastrophe led to the beginning of the Mycenaean civilisation of Ancient Greece, lasting from 1590 to 1100BC
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In the 1300BC citadel at Mycenae there are frescoes of two chariots typical of these times.
Online, August 2 2017AD, Nature magazine published I. Lazaridis et al’s evidence for the Genetic Origins of the Minoans and Mycenaeans. They studied genome data from 19 ancient individuals including Minoans from Crete, Mycenaeans from mainland Greece, and their eastern neighbours from southwestern Anatolia.

The work shows that Minoans and Mycenaeans were genetically similar, having at least three-quarters of their ancestry from the first Neolithic farmers of western Anatolia and the Aegean, and most of the remainder from ancient populations related to those of the Caucasus and Iran. Their abstract continues: The Mycenaeans differed from Minoans in deriving additional ancestry from an ultimate source related to the hunter–gatherers of eastern Europe and Siberia, introduced via a proximal source related to the inhabitants of either the Eurasian steppe or Armenia. Modern Greeks resemble the Mycenaeans, but with some additional dilution of the Early Neolithic ancestry. Lazaridis’s work supports the idea of continuity but not isolation in the history of populations of the Aegean, before and after the time of its earliest civilizations.

Cats

Nature, June 22 p 480 reports that C. Ottoni et al have recently found two evolutionary lineages of cats through the Neolithic, 10,000 to 5,000 years ago.

They analysed DNA from more than 200 specimens of cat remains from Asia and Africa, from two separate lineages.

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One of these first appeared in sw Asia and had spread into Europe by 4400BC. The other began in Egypt, home of the Bastet goddess culture that spread north into Greece.

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It is unlikely that cats were domesticated in these early stages of cat migration. But they did live in human communities to control vermin and other pests, as they still do in modern Greece.

Old Prickly

Adrian Coles (1930-2017) was fascinated by hedgehogs, like a character from AE Houseman’s A Shropshire Lad.

Hedgehog numbers in that part of England are falling. Pesticides poison them, cars run over them, and fences stop them.

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Hedgehogs featured in Beatrix Potter’s tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, the tiny lady who stole handkerchiefs. Major Coles founded the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. It had 11,00 members, including 700 carers who looked after injured animals. They put out water and food in dry weather and promoted gaps in garden fences. They also lobbied parliament and brewed ale.

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The BHPS held its tenth anniversary at the Golden Cross pub in Clee Hill, Shropshire. The pub was renamed The Cross Hedgehog for the occasion and brewed Old Prickly.

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Fake Demons

Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable is at the Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana, Venice, 9 April – 3 December. The show is from the same artist who put a tiger shark in a glass tank of formaldehyde.

Detail from Demon with Bowl
Demon with Bowl D Hirst  (Prudence Cuming Associates © Damien Hirst)
Hirst now claims a role of archaeological impresario. In 2008 the wreck of a treasure ship called the Apistos (Unbelievable) was found on the seabed off east Africa. According to the myth, it sank about 2,000 years ago. This is its cargo and Hirst has assembled an underwater grotto in his mind where artefacts and monsters live.

Sphinx by Damien Hirst.

Sphinx by Damien Hirst (Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images)

Calendar Stone by Damien Hirst.

Calendar Stone by Damien Hirst (Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images)
Detail from Hydra and Kali by Damien Hirst.
Detail from Hydra and Kali by Damien Hirst (Andrea Merola/AP)
Skull of a Cyclops and Skull of a Cyclops Examined by a Diver.
Skull of a Cyclops and Skull of a Cyclops (Prudence Cuming Associates © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd.)

Aspect of Katie Ishtar ¥o-landi.

Aspect of Katie Ishtar ¥o-landi (Prudence Cuming Associates © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd)

Brexit

About half a million years ago, in the midst of an Ice Age, a land bridge connected Dover in the South of England to Calais in northern France.

Immediately to the north of it, was a huge glacial lake, which had formed at the edge of the ice sheet that covered much of Europe.

When it started to overflow, vast amounts of water crashed over the land bridge, forming a series of very large waterfalls.

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The lake overflowed 450,000 years ago, damaging the land link. Then a later flood fully opened the Dover Strait.

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The scars of these events have recently been found on the seabed of the English Channel. The study is published in the journal Nature Communications by S. Gupta et al. on 04 April 2017.

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Decades ago, engineers who were surveying the seabed for the Channel Tunnel, discovered a series of mysterious large underwater holes (fosse) between Dover and Calais, caused by the lake overspill (black regions on the map above)  The fosse are now in-filled with sediment and show up as a line of isolated depressions 100m-deep carved into the bedrock and hundreds of metres to several kilometres in diameter.

450,000 years ago, the glacial lake water plunged over the rock ridge as a series of waterfalls from Dover to Calais, which then eroded and carved out these depressions.

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A second catastrophic flood took place about 150,000 years ago forming a huge valley about 10km wide with a lot of features suggesting flood erosion. Perhaps an ice sheet broke off, collapsing into the lake, causing a surge that carved a path for the water to cascade off the chalk ridge. As the channel floor slowly eroded by these torrential floods, seawater from the Atlantic Ocean rushed into the resulting channel, isolating the British Isles from the mainland.

 

Dark Age

An article by S Guillet et al in this month’s Nature Geoscience relates an interval of global climate cooling to the Samalas volcanic eruption in 1257.

The Indonesian island of Lombok remains from that eruption:

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In Europe that year, text and illustrations from the Annals of Speyer record the bad weather and harvest. Grapes and other fruit were unavailable. The dark winter was even given a proper name by peasants: the munkeliar –

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There was smoke and heavy cloud elsewhere and it is now thought that the event may have triggered the Little Ice Age starting in the early fourteenth century:300px-2000_Year_Temperature_Comparison.png

Black Sea Treasure

Archaeologists have found more than 40 vessels in the Black Sea, some more than a millennium old, shedding light on early empires and trade routes.

00SHIPWRECKS4-superJumbo.jpgWJ. Broad reported in the NY Times, Nov 11th 2016, that one medieval ship lay more than a half-mile down at the bottom of the Black Sea, offshore Bulgaria. The masts, timbers and planking have been undisturbed for seven or eight centuries. Lack of oxygen in the icy depths had prevented bacteria and fungi attacking the wet wood.

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Last month a team of explorers lowered a robot on a long tether, lit up the wreck with bright lights and took thousands of high-resolution photos. A computer then merged the images into a detailed portrait.

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Archaeologists date the discovery to the 13th or 14th century when the ship probably served the Venetian empire, which had many Aegean and Black Sea outposts.

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Never before had this type of ship been found in such complete form. The breakthrough was the quarterdeck, from which the captain would have directed a crew of perhaps 20 sailors.

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