Archive for the ‘Archaeology’ Category

The Copernicun grave mystery

July 29, 2009

A must-read piece from the latest PNAS:

When in 2005 Polish archaeologists led by Jerzy Gassowski found fragments of a skeleton tentatively identified as the remains of the 16th-century astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, some doubts remained. Now, in this issue of PNAS (1), these issues are resolved with high confidence through DNA analysis.

Take a look!

Brain as a sexual organ

May 20, 2009

Chat speculates!

Thirty-five thousand years ago is about the time that our direct Cro-Magnon ancestors were displacing Neanderthals in Europe. They had something going for them — more agile minds? language? imagination? Maybe the source of their success was not reproductive efficiency, as such, but eroticism. That is to say, maybe the conceptualization of sex was a driving engine of cerebral facility and language. The Playboy bunny. The Harlequin romance. Foreplay. Dirty dancing. Maybe sexual fantasy prepared the way for art and religion and technological innovation. Maybe the brain evolved as a sexual organ, and then found other things to do.

A couple of articles on Delhi Iron Pillar

September 28, 2008

Prof. Bala is no stranger to this blog; nor are his pieces on archaeometallurgy; he alerts me about a couple of papers on Delhi Iron Pilalr that he published, recently, in Current Science.

The first one is about the materials science aspects of cannon ball impact on iron pillar (pdf):

The Delhi Iron Pillar was struck by a cannon ball with the specific aim of breaking the pillar into two. The history of the cannon ball strike has been traced briefly. The trajectory of the cannon ball has been established from the surface features of cannon ball indentation area as well as from the direction of shock wave propagation. The materials science aspects related to the pillar’s response to the cannon ball strike have been explained. The nature and origin of cracks surrounding the cannon ball indentation area have been analysed. Visual evidences have been provided to support the sequence of events that followed the cannon ball impact, in a time period of about a microsecond. These included intense plastic deformation leading to creation and propagation of plastic shock wave, initiation of crack at the rear, spallation of material, horizontal propagation of the main crack, and finally branching of the main crack along lump-lump interfaces. The analysis concludes that the fracture of the pillar was avoided by deflection of the propagating horizontal crack that originated from the rear end, diametrically opposite the cannon impact area, along the axial direction of the Pillar through the lump-lump interfaces.

As you might have guessed from the abstract, it might be of interest to the materials science oriented readers of this blog.

The second paper is on a sort of dimensional analysis of the Delhi Iron Pillar and the ratios of some of the numbers that appear in such an analysis (pdf):

The dimensions of the 1600-year-old Delhi Iron Pillar have been re-analysed in light of new scholarship on the traditional Indian unit of measurement. The dimensions of the pillar can be well reconciled considering the basic unit of measurement as 17.63mm. The low percentage errors between the theoretical and actual measurements provide further support to this analysis. The significant mathematical ratios embedded in the relative dimensions of the pillar have also been set forth. The close association of the basic unit of measurement and the mathematical ratios with those of the Harappan civilization offers evidence for continuity of scientific ideas and traditions from the Harappan civilization to the Ganga civilization. Analysis of the dimensions of the characters of the Gupta-Brahmi inscription revealed the possible use of the decimal system.

This paper might be of more general interest, and some of the reported results are very intriguing, to say the least.

Have fun!

What does Indiana Jones carry in his shoulder bag?

May 29, 2008

That is what some archaeologists are wondering about!

Unbelievable: Being Caught Without a Pencil

OK, the scene where Indy tore into a mummy with his bare hands raised an eyebrow, but I almost fell out of my seat when he turned to his sidekick Mutt and asked to borrow a knife. Not even completely incompetent archaeologists go anywhere without a multi-purpose knife and a pen and paper (and maybe even a measuring tape) to at least make a basic record of what they find. It got even worse in a later scene when the archaeologist had to borrow a freakin’ pencil. What’s Indy carrying in his shoulder bag — a change of undies and some trail mix?

A prince who was mistaken for a female temple dancer

March 15, 2008

One of the quotes I like about historians goes something like this: God cannot alter the past, but historians can. That was what I was reminded of when I read this report of a misidentification of a mummy:

An Egyptian mummy kept on display in a provincial museum for nearly 80 years has been identified as a son of the powerful pharaoh Ramesses II.

The 3,000-year-old relic was thought to have been a female temple dancer, but a hospital CT scan showed features so reminiscent of the Egyptian royal family that experts are 90 per cent sure it is one of the 110 children Ramesses is thought to have fathered.

A very interesting piece, if only for the information it provides about the tests that are carried out and the results which indicate that the mummy might be that of a prince:

Tests showed that the mummy had a pronounced over-bite and misaligned eyes, akin to members of the 19th Dynasty, and his facial measurements were found to be almost identical to those of Ramesses himself.

Experts believe that the mummified man died in his thirties between 1295 and 1186 BC of a wasting disease, likely to be cancer.

Chemical analysis also showed that the body had been embalmed using expensive materials, including pistachio resin and thyme, the preserve of priests and royalty. The story of the royal mummy was uncovered by a team from York University who were filmed carrying out the tests for History Channel series Mummy Forensics.

Gillian Mosely, the producer, said: “When the mummy was taken away for analysis we thought we were looking at a female temple dancer, we certainly didn’t expect to make a significant discovery like this. It has been a very exciting and ground-breaking process.

Take a look!

PS: Link via Philobiblon.

A book on Indian cannons

February 22, 2008

Bala — book on cannons

Prof. Bala alerts me, via an email, to a recent publication of his–a book on Indian cannons. From the flyer:

The science of gunpowder and the technology of cannons, from their introduction in the Indian subcontinent in the middle of the fifteenth century up to the pre-modern period, have been illustrated using Mughal miniature paintings and analysis of extant cannon pieces. The massive and wonderful forge welded iron cannons and cast bronze cannons of medieval India have been presented, some for the first time, in this book. The mighty cannons that established Mughal, Maratha, Sikh and Deccan powers have been described. Indian innovations in cannon technology like shaturnal (cannons fired from the back of camels), composite cannons (of inner wrought iron bore and outer bronze casting), and bans (battlefield rockets) offer sufficient proof of Indian ingenuity in science and technology.

I remember a conversation with him on this topic in the coffee house at IISc, and in his usual, vigorous style he explained to me his visit to Bishnupur (if I remember correct) in Bengal in search of some of these cannons. The book certainly looks very interesting; I will update this post with links to any reviews I might come across. However, the price (Rs. 4500) makes it unaffordable for individuals like me, but it is a book that I would like to borrow from the library. I understand that the book is published and distributed by Aryan Books International (aryanbooks-at-gmail-com) in case any of you need more information.

Indian art

August 17, 2007

Here is the first part of a 25-part series on Indian art in the Frontline: there are some wonderful photographs too, of Bodhisattva, preaching Buddha, Parvati, Mahishasuramardini, and Dakshinamurti, to accompany the write-up. Take a look!

The art of Chola paintings and the feat of photographing them

July 10, 2007

After talking about Chola bronzes, it is time to talk about Chola murals. Recently, Frontline published an article describing the photographic feat achieved by two officers of Archaeological Survey of India and an young photographer:

In a remarkable feat performed in the face of overwhelming odds, two officers of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and a young photographer have photographed in minute detail four huge frescoes found in the Brihadisvara temple in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu. What makes their work all the more creditable is the difficult location of the murals, their enormous size and their reflecting surface, all of which posed big challenges.

The murals, each 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide (4.5 metres x 3 metres), are about 1,000 years old. They are located in the narrow and dark passage around the temple’s sanctum sanctorium. The great Chola king Raja Raja I built the Brihadisvara temple between AD 1000 and AD 1008 and the paintings were done between AD 1008 and AD 1012.

The article, while giving the technical details of the photographing, also has plenty of photographs of the murals themselves.

Don’t miss the accompanying article describing the history of the murals and their artistic merits too:

These Chola masterpieces differ vastly from the Ajanta murals. The Ajanta artists used the easier tempera technique whereas the Chola artists opted for the difficult fresco technique, covering some 7,200 square feet of wall area. The themes were carefully selected from Saivite mythology. Without doubt, every theme and form was approved by Raja Raja himself, who was a devotee of Siva: his pet epithet was Sivapathasekaran.

The themes depicted in the panels exposed (1,200 sq ft) so far are Siva as Dakshinamurthy, the story of Sundarar, Raja Raja and his three queens worshipping Nataraja (Siva) at Chidmabaram, Tripurantaka, the marriage of Siva and Parvati, Raja Raja worshipping the Linga to be enshrined in the temple, and Ravana at Kailasa. The Nayaka palimpsest covers the rest of the area.

The banyan tree behind Dakshinamurthy is testimony to the imagination of the Chola artists. There are playful monkeys and birds such as peacocks, swans and owls. Enters a ferocious cobra and there is a sudden change in the mood. A monkey rushes away while another stares at the new entrant. Another, on a faraway branch, is not yet aware of the danger. A few sensitive swans flutter their wings in fear. The owls do not react as the whole thing happens in daylight. A peacock bends his long neck to watch. A squirrel, unmindful of all this, happily bites into a nut.

Below the tree is a herd of elephants; one ferociously breaks a branch and another runs uphill with its trunk coiled around the branch. Another one calmly enjoys the peaceful surroundings.

Happy reading!

When Mahavira becomes Aadhali Amman!

July 5, 2007

The transformation happened some 20 years ago when people belonging to nearby Kottur village found the sculpture in the rock shelter. They were clearly not aware that it was a Mahavira image, Mr. Gandhirajan clarified. They brought a sculptor from Palani who set about transforming the damaged sculpture into a Hindu female deity. The damaged visage of Mahavira was repaired and female features were created in cement.

Ornaments were added and the eyes painted to make it look like that of a Hindu female deity, and trishuls were planted behind it. It was wrapped in a sari. People started calling it Aadhali Amman or Aakali Amman. A priest conducts pujas before it every day.

From here; via Abi.

A library, a scholar, a writer and a movie

June 30, 2007

Those are some of the interesting stuff from the latest Magazine and Literary Review editions of the Hindu. Happy reading!