Archive for the ‘Archeology’ Category

Have You Seen St. Nick? I Have

December 11th, 2013 6 comments

Here is the fascinating story of how scientists used St. Nicholas’ skull to do a reconstruction of his face, and the results look identical to an ancient icon of Nicholas of Myra. Read the story here. Here is what Nicholas looked like, first the reconstruction of his head and face based on the analysis of his skull, then below it, an ancient icon of Nicholas:



Categories: Archeology

The World Will End in 2012 … Or Maybe Not, the Mayan Calendar Myth

December 9th, 2012 8 comments

Remember the media frenzy around the alleged Mayan calendar declaring that 2012 the world would end. It kind of went away but it has come back again, apparently many people in Russia and China are going kind of nuts.

I actually even had a couple pastors kind of hitting the panic button, begging for resources they could use to set their people’s minds at ease. Well, turns out this was all pretty much of a bunch of baloney. You read why here. Here’s the article:

Did you know that the whole thing about the Mayan calendar predicting the end of the world in 2012 was based on one broken and eroded tablet of glyphs? The idea is that in the Mayan Long Count calendar, our current era (the 13-Bak’tun cycle) ends on the 23rd of December 2012 and that this end date isn’t just the end of a historical era and the beginning of a new one, but rather the end of all eras. The sole reference to the 2012 apocalypse, however, is a highly nebulous line on a 1300-year-old stone tablet found in Monument 6 in the Tortuguero archaeological site in the southern state of Tabasco.

Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History and Mayan experts in general have not been big fans of the Mayan apocalypse theory because they say it projects a Western obsession with eschatology onto Mayan culture. Nor have they found the various translations of that one line of hard to read glyphs particularly persuasive.

Or that’s what they said in public anyway. The Mexican government has been holding out on us, for the Tortuguero tablet is not the sole reference to 2012. There is a second one engraved on the face of one of the bricks in the nearby Comalcalco temple.

Arturo Mendez, a spokesman for the institute, said the fragment of inscription had been discovered years ago and has been subject to thorough study. It is not on display and is being kept in storage at the institute.

WHAT ARE THEY TRYING TO HIDE? Oh sure, a handful of scholars knew about this brick, but they’re obviously in on it.

[University of Texas at Austin Mayan epigraphy expert David] Stuart said the date inscribed on the brick “‘is a ‘Calendar Round,’ a combination of a day and month position that will repeat every 52 years.”

The brick date does coincide with the end of the 13th Baktun; Baktuns were roughly 394-year periods, and 13 was a significant, sacred number for the Mayas. The Mayan Long Count calendar begins in 3114 B.C., and the 13th Baktun ends around Dec. 21, 2012.
But the date on the brick could also correspond to similar dates in the past, Stuart said.

“There’s no reason it couldn’t be also a date in ancient times, describing some important historical event in the Classic period. In fact, the third glyph on the brick seems to read as the verb huli, ‘he/she/it arrives,’” Stuart wrote. “There’s no future tense marking (unlike the Tortuguero phrase), which in my mind points more to the Comalcalco date being more historical than prophetic.”

A likely story, Mr. “Stuart”, if that’s your real name.

In order to continue to pull the wool over out eyes until it’s too late, the National Institute of Anthropology and History will hold a round table of 60 Mayan experts next week at the Palenque archaeological site where they will “explain” the Mayan Long Count calendar’s vision of historical cycles. Doubtless those 60 experts will be paid with third class berths on the top secret giant arks being built in underground shipyards to save the privileged few from the extinction of our species.

Categories: Archeology

Unearthing One of Largest Roman Mosaics in an Unexpected Place

September 18th, 2012 1 comment

New insights into the extent of the “Romanization” of Turkey/Asia Minor, the very stomping grounds, as it were, of many of the first Christians and, of course, the Apostle St. Paul. Here is how the archeologist who discovered this huge mosaic describes the find:

Here is the story from the History Blog:

1,600-square-foot Roman mosaic unearthed in Turkey

A team of archaeologists and students from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Atatürk University and local workers have uncovered a massive 1600-square-foot Roman mosaic in the ancient town of Antiochia ad Cragum near modern-day Guney on the southern coast of Turkey. The geometric black-and-white mosaic dates to the third or fourth century B.C. and is in excellent condition.

Its condition is particularly impressive given that it was first discovered in 2001 after a farmer turned up some ancient mosaic tiles (tesserae) while plowing the land. Purdue University classics professor Nick Rauh, director of an archaeological survey of the ancient standing architecture in the region, saw the tesserae when he walked through the plowed field. He alerted his team members and experts from the archeological museum in Alanya, 40 miles up the coast.

Although the find was certainly intriguing, located as it was adjacent to the standing remains of a Roman bath structure, the Alanya Museum did not have the funds to excavate further at that time. They returned two years later and revealed a small sliver of the mosaic, then stopped again.

In 2005, the University of Nebraska team under director Michael Hoff began a new research project focusing on the Roman Antiochia ad Cragum. Hoff had been a member of Nick Rauh’s survey team in 2001, so he personally remembered the discovery of the tiles but this project was focused on surveying the third-century Northeast Temple. In 2008 they were granted a full permit by the Archaeological Directorate of the Turkish Ministry of Culture to excavate the temple and the rest of the city, but excavations on the temple didn’t begin until 2009.

Last year the Alanya Museum secured a permit to explore the mosaic further. They invited Michael Hoff’s team to fully excavate the mosaic, clean it and conserve it so tourists and scholars can see it in all its glory. This year’s large team — in addition to the experts from three universities there are 35 students from diverse disciplines like journalism and art participating in the 2012 field school — began to uncover the rest of the mosaic this July.

The more soil they removed, the more mosaic they found, ultimately revealing an entire floor decorated with modular square after modular square of different geometric themes done in black and white opus tessellatum (large marble tesserae) style. With an estimated 40% of the mosaic uncovered, 1600 square feet have been revealed. The curved edge of a 25-foot-long marble-lined bath has also been revealed. The mosaic leads right up to it, so it was a formal poolside pavement.

The pool was uncovered, open to the sun and elements, but piers that once held a roof over the mosaic pavement are still in place. Mosaics in this style were often created to reflect roof elements, so for example each large square with one geometric design could have had a section of roof above it that was the same dimension. By the peak of the Roman Empire, this was the most popular style of mosaics all over Roman territory. It was easier to create than figurative mosaic and the larger tesserae were easier and faster to install.

However, this particular example is exceptionally high quality. It size and detail is not the kind of thing you’d expect to see in a small town in the far reaches of empire. Antiochia ad Cragum was fully Romanized and was very well-appointed with baths, temples, markets, but it was hardly a great capital and it was in a region called Rough Cilicia, best known as the home base for the much-dreaded Cilician pirates who found the profusion of coastal coves and inlets created by the meeting of the Cragus mountains and the Mediterranean Sea congenial to their needs.

With Rome in a panic after pirates sacked the Roman port at Ostia, burning down the port, destroying the consular fleet and killing two senators in 68 B.C., the next year Pompey Magnus was given a blank check by the controversial Lex Gabinia to wage war on piracy. It took him a mere three months to shock and awe the Mediterranean into submission with his fleet of 500 warships, defeating the Cilician pirates with a conclusive naval victory at Alanya. So he claimed, at any rate. There’s some debate as to whether the Cilician pirates really settled down to farm as he said they had or just went back to privateering on the seas only in a more circumspect fashion.

At that time the area was still independently held by Hellenistic rulers. By the first century A.D., though, Rome held sway over the entire region. Caligula gave Rough Cilicia to client king and personal friend Antiochus IV of Commagene in 38 A.D. He lost it for a bit then got it back courtesy of Claudius in 41 A.D. He held it for the next 31 years, and somewhere during that time he built the Roman city of Antiochia ad Cragum, possibly on the site of a previous Hellenistic town founded by Seleucid (meaning the Greek part of Alexander’s empire gobbled up after his death by his former general Seleucus) Emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes is personally responsible for an idiom still very much in use today. In 170 B.C., he launched an attack on Ptolemaic Egypt. It was successful; he captured Ptolemy VI then reinstalled him on the throne to act as his puppet.

When Ptolemy VI and his brother Ptolemy VIII Euergetes agreed amongst themselves to be co-rulers, Antiochus was displeased. This was not the puppetry he was looking for. He launched a second attack on Egypt in 168 B.C., but when his armies were just about to reach Alexandria, he was met by a Roman consular delegation led by one Gaius Popillius Laenas.

I’ll let my homie Livy take it from here.

After crossing the river at Eleusis, about four miles from Alexandria, he was met by the Roman commissioners, to whom he gave a friendly greeting and held out his hand to Popilius. Popilius, however, placed in his hand the tablets on which was written the decree of the senate and told him first of all to read that. After reading it through he said he would call his friends into council and consider what he ought to do. Popilius, stern and imperious as ever, drew a circle round the king with the stick he was carrying and said, “Before you step out of that circle give me a reply to lay before the senate.” For a few moments he hesitated, astounded at such a peremptory order, and at last replied, “I will do what the senate thinks right.” Not till then did Popilius extend his hand to the king as to a friend and ally.

And that, boys and girls, is where the expression “to draw a line in the sand” comes from.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes is also responsible for Hannukah, since as ruler of a Judea in revolt against his deputies in 167 B.C. he sided with Hellenized Jews, made traditional Jewish worship illegal, killed a few tens of thousands of people and instigated the Maccabean revolt.

Antiochus IV of Commagene was finally deposed by Vespasian in 72 A.D. After that, Antiochia, Rough Cilicia and Cilicia as a whole became a directly governed province of Rome. There hasn’t been a great deal of archaeology in the region, but we do know that by the third century A.D., Antiochia had indeed become a prosperous exporter of agricultural goods and timber. The gigantic mosaic indicates that it was perhaps more than that, regionally significant in a way we hadn’t realized.

The field work is done for the season, but next year the UNL team will be back to uncover the second half of the mosaic. They plan to build a roof over it again to help protect it from the elements and keep it safe for future generations.

Categories: Archeology

Archeology and the Bible’s Big Picture

August 21st, 2012 Comments off


Eric Metaxas summarizes some recent findings in Middle Eastern archaeology, ones that confirm not just isolated facts in the Bible but the “big picture” of the Biblical narrative:

Israeli archaeologists recently discovered a coin, dating from the 11th century before Christ. It depicted “a man with long hair fighting a large animal with a feline tail.” Ring any Old Testament bells?

The coin was found near the Sorek River, which was the border between the ancient Israelite and Philistine territories 3,100 years ago. Sound vaguely familiar?

The archaeologists thought so, too. While Shlomo Bunimovitz and Zvi Lederman of Tel Aviv University don’t claim that the figure depicted on the coin is proof that Samson actually existed, they do see the coin as proof that stories about a Samson-like man existed independently of the Bible.

Stated differently, the story of Samson was not the literary invention of a sixth-century B.C. scribe living in Babylon, as has commonly been assumed by mainstream biblical scholarship.

Bunimovitz and Lederman made another interesting discovery: the Philistine side of the river was littered with pig bones, while there were none on the Israelite side. . . .

The findings at Sorek are only the latest in a series of archaeological discoveries that are changing the way modern historians look at biblical narratives. It’s becoming more difficult for them to maintain that the narratives are pious fictions invented long after the era being depicted.

The most famous of these discoveries is the 1994 discovery of a stele in Tel Dan bearing an inscription that contained the words “House of David.” It was the first extra-biblical evidence of the Davidic dynasty. Prior to the discovery, many scholars doubted that David ever existed, much less founded a dynasty. The discovery was so out-of-line with expectations that more than a few insisted it must be a forgery.

Today, it is clear to even the most skeptical scholar that-surprise!-there really was a David who founded a ruling dynasty. That dynasty included his son, Solomon, and evidence of Solomon’s building projects described in Second Samuel have been found by archaeologists as well.

Some of the discoveries go beyond history and tell us about Israel’s sense of what it meant to be God’s chosen people. Sites dating to before the Exile are littered with Canaanite idols, evidence of the apostasy the prophets denounced and warned would lead to disaster.

Yet there has never been a single idol found in sites dating after the Exile. Clearly, the Jews who returned from the Exile had finally, truly learned that “the Lord our God is one.”

via Archaeology and the Bible.

HT: Gene Edward Veith.

Categories: Archeology

The Great Garum Debate

July 25th, 2012 Comments off

If you are into this kind of thing, like I am, you will enjoy this article about the scholarly debate over the question: “Was kosher garum available in Pompei?”

Read this for more details. 

Categories: Archeology

Oldest Extra-Biblical Evidence for Bethlehem Found

June 4th, 2012 1 comment

By Judith Sudilovsky
Jerusalem, 4 June (ENInews)–Israeli archaeologists have said they have unearthed in Jerusalem the earliest artifact containing the name of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus according to the New Testament, in the form of a clay seal called a bulla.
It’s significant because it confirms the biblical narrative of the existence of a village of Bethlehem within the Kingdom of Judah, said Eli Shukron, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, which announced the discovery in late May.
“This is the first time the name Bethlehem appears outside the Bible, in an inscription from the First Temple period, which proves that Bethlehem was indeed a city in the Kingdom of Judah, and possibly also in earlier periods,” Shukron said.
The seal, dating from the 7th or 8th centuries B.C., was found just outside the Old City of Jerusalem. Bethlehem is first mentioned in Genesis in the Old Testament in connection with the burial place of the matriarch Rachel. It is also the city where David was anointed king in Samuel I.
In ancient times bullae were impressed with the seal of the person who sent the document or object and were used much like a modern-day wax seal to prove the document or object was not opened by an unauthorized person.
The inscription on the recently discovered bulla includes three clear lines of ancient Hebrew script consisting of the words “Bishv’at,” “Bat Lechem” and “Lemelech” which translate to “seventh,”  “Bethlehem,” and “king” respectively.
Shukron said the bulla likely belongs to a group of administrative bullae used to seal tax shipments remitted to the taxation system of the Kingdom of Judah.
Shukron said that it appears that “in the seventh year of the reign of a king a shipment was dispatched from Bethlehem to the king in Jerusalem,” although it is unclear if the king referred to on the bulla is Hezekiah, Manasseh or Josiah, all kings during that period.
Although there is mention of a Bethlehem in a set of clay tablets found in Egypt from the 14th century B.C. known as the Amarna Letters, Shukron said there is no way of knowing if that Bethlehem is the Bethlehem referred to in the Bible located near Jerusalem.
The Hebrew and ancient Aramaic translation of Bethlehem means “house of bread” while in Arabic it means “house of meat” and there could have been various settlements with that name in the region and indeed there was another Bethlehem in Galilee.
“The Armana Letters were written 400 years before the Bible and we don’t know where that Bethlehem was,” said Shukron. “Here we can read [the word Bethlehem] in a clear Hebrew inscription from the First Temple period on a bulla found in Israel that arrived from Bethlehem to Jerusalem maybe to pay some tax. This is the Bethlehem next to Jerusalem referred to in the Bible.”
“Any extra bit of evidence is wonderful,” said the Rev. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, a Dominican priest and professor at the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem.
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Categories: Archeology

An Insight into Emperor Augustus

May 10th, 2012 Comments off

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus…”

What do we know about Caesar Augustus? Or, should I say, what do I know about him? Not too much, but…this research is certainly quite fascinating. Augustus reformed all of Rome and his legacy on Roman culture and society far outlasted his lifetime, and echos down to this day. Here is a really interesting summary of recent research on Augustine’s reforming work in Rome, and it was solidly grounded in Roman religion. Read this blog post and you will find a link to the whole paper.

The Domus Augusti (the house of Augusti) built on the Palatine Hill, is the best surviving example of Early Augustan painting and art and is a testament to the Emperor himself.

Categories: Archeology

Biblical Archeology Audio Series Available for Free

May 9th, 2012 Comments off


Dear Friend of Issues, Etc.,

How does the science of archaeology confirm the facts recorded in the New Testament Gospels? What has archaeology discovered about the world and time of Jesus’ public ministry, death and resurrection?

We answer these questions in our recent in-depth series “Biblical Archaeology” with New Testament authority Dr. Craig Evans.  You can listen to this five part series here.

Thanks for listening.

Wir sind alle Bettler,


Wilken signature

Todd Wilken, host

Issues, Etc.

Categories: Archeology

The Christian Art of the Catacombs

April 13th, 2011 1 comment

An interesting story about a new book that has been published The Paintings of the Roman Catacombs. Here is a web site devoted to the Roman catacombs.

Categories: Archeology

Most Important Archeological Find in Christian History Ever! Or Not.

March 31st, 2011 11 comments

You may have heard about the “discovery” of a document that is being hyped by the media and opportunistic “scholars” as being the “greatest find” ever in the history of archeology related to Christianity, with claims that this find is akin to the Dead Sea scrolls in its importance for Christianity. The best response at this point is simply to tell people that there is, at present, very little actual information about the discovery and the document itself is written in some sort of Hebrew based code-language. It is also very important for people to keep in mind that there were swirling about in the days after Christ’s life a number of heretical sects and groups that combined elements of Christianity and Judaism with various pagan philosophies and religious opinions. There is nothing surprising therefore to find that there may be a document produced by one of these sects. What it contains remains unknown. It may be a wonderful discovery providing yet more extra-Biblical evidence confirming the historicity of the canonical Scripture. Or it may not be. At this point, it is best to ignore the media hype and chatter and wait for some sober-minded evaluation and judgment. I remain disgusted by so-called “scholars” who literally bank on the general public’s ignorance about things that have been well know for many years. Here is but one example of the media-hype over this set of metal plates.

Oldest Known Portraits of Andrew and John Found Along With Peter and Paul—No Indication of Petrine Supremacy

June 22nd, 2010 4 comments

An interesting news story has appeared documenting the discovery of the oldest known portraits of Andrew and John found, in Rome. They were discovered, or perhaps better, uncovered using new laser technology that allowed crustations to be removed without harming the underlying paint. And, what caught my eye in this story is that St. Peter is portrayed as being simple one of the four apostles portrayed, no indication of Peter being supreme or chief of the Apostles. I find this very interesting, considering the portraits date from the late fourth century. So, for what it is worth, here is the story, and you can find see pictures of the various images as well. Here are copies below:

St. John

St. Andrew

St. Paul

St. Peter

Categories: Archeology

Seventeenth Century Collector’s Box in Augmented Reality

May 24th, 2010 2 comments

This is completely fascinating! From The History Blog. Because there are no images of Mary or the saints on this box, I think the likelihood that it was owned by a wealthy Lutheran is very high.

The J. Paul Getty Museum has utilized a technology called Augmented Reality to display the details of a collector’s cabinet from Augsburg, Germany, (made ca. 1630). The cabinet is an incredibly complex piece of furniture that was designed to showcase its owners’ most precious collectibles. It opens on four sides to expose a bewildering array of drawers, cubbies and richly decorated surfaces.

Visitors aren’t allowed to touch it, of course — it’s a delicate piece — so the Getty decided to provide a virtual experience of the cabinet’s wonders both for the museum visitors and for visitors to its website.

“We are always looking for ways in which we can enhance the viewer’s experience,” says Erin Coburn, head of the museum’s Collection Information & Access department. During a discussion about the pavilion’s reopening, she says, “A curator suggested we do something to help people understand the Augsberg cabinet in a way other than just staring at it.”

Coburn and her colleagues created an “interactive” — a virtual model that computer users can spin, open and reassemble. This model is accessible via two touch screens in the gallery and on the Getty’s website at

The Getty also has enabled online computer users to view and interact with a floating 3-D simulation of the cabinet, thanks to Augmented Reality technology, which combines the real and the virtual in real time.

There’s a wee delay while it loads, but nothing dramatic. Not only can you move all the way around it and zoom in to every section, but there are explanatory details on the most salient features of each side. Click on the “Overview” button for an awesome animation of the whole cabinet spinning around with its drawers pulled out. When you click “Show Structure” the outer walls go transparent and you can see the guts of the piece, exploring all kinds of drawers and pull-out trays in annotated detail.

I love it when technology makes history accessible. No more roped off velvet chairs and plexiglass walls keeping our collective grubby hands off of beautiful, fascinating objects.

Protip: It plays a little better in Firefox than it does in Internet Explorer. Mainly the browsers both handle it fine, but IE gave me trouble when I tried to click on the drawers and pull-outs in the “Show Structure” mode.

Categories: Archeology

Oldest Hebrew Inscription Ever Found

November 14th, 2008 3 comments

Talk about your once-in-a-lifetime archeological moments. Please read this note my colleague, Dr. Christopher Mitchell, shared with a number of us at CPH last night. Exciting!

You may have heard that this summer (2008) an important Hebrew inscription from ca. 1,000 BC (reign of King David) was found at a military outpost called Khirbet Qeiyafa in Judah where the hills meet the Shephelah. The archaeological team included David Adams from Concordia Seminary, who said he was only the third person to hold the ostracon since it was buried 3,000 years ago. It is the oldest Hebrew inscription ever found by at least 500 years.

It, and the archaeological site, confirm aspects of the biblical record about David and the kingdom of Israel. This is a hot topic because the biblical "minimalists" think King David was only a tribal chieftan and the nation of Israel did not exist until centuries later. The inscription is scheduled to be published in the January 2009 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, although David Adams said it might be delayed to the next issue after that.

The official web site for the excavation is maintained by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem; however, it does not have any information about this inscription. Their web page with photos includes one at the bottom of David Adams:

I understand that this inscription will receive great attention at the SBL annual meeting and ASOR meeting in Boston in about two weeks.

Categories: Archeology