New Evidence of Human Sacrifices to Zeus

For almost 2,000 years, the rumours of human sacrifices to the Greek God Zeus, atop Mount Lykaion have been flying around archaeological, and historical circles. now, there may be proof that the human sacrifices, are not rumours at all.

Reports of human sacrifices to Zeus, atop Mount Lykaion began in the 2nd century A.D. when ancient traveller Pausanias climbed Mount Lykaion, where he discovered a mount of earth, and Doric columns, topped by golden eagles. “On this altar they sacrifice in secret to Lykaion Zeus,” he reported. “I was reluctant to pry into the details of the sacrifice; let them be as they are and were from the beginning.” Although reluctant Pausanias recorded a fascinating (but also gruesome) tale passed through generation since antiquity, when a King sacrificed a human baby on the altar, before becoming a wolf, after pouring the baby’s blood on the shrine.

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Above: Mount Lykaion; the site of thousands of sacrifices to Zeus.

Pausanias was not the only person to report the happenings; with other Greeks, including Plato, documenting Mount Lykaion as the location of human sacrifices honouring Zeus. It is believed Mount Lykaion was chosen, as it is the birthplace of Zeus, in Greek mythology.

The stories had been dismissed as legends, for centuries, but an announcement by the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports has reignited belief that the tales of human sacrifices may be true.

A human skeleton, believed to belong to a teenage male, was discovered among the ashes, of animals sacrificed at the Mount Lykaion altar. The remains were discovered with the upper half of the skull missing, and stone slabs covering the pelvis. The body was found in a 100-foot broad ash altar, adjacent to a stone platform. The alignment of the bones was also interesting. The body was face up, on an east-west parallel, aligned to two lines of stones. Archaeologists have dated the skeleton, using pottery found in close proximity to the 11th Century B.C. placing it at the end of Mycenaean era, and making it some 3,100 years old.

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Above: Human remaians found atop Mount Lykaion.

The discovery, among others, was made by a team archaeologists made up of a partnership between the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports, and the University of Arizona; known as the “Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project”.

David Gilman Romano, professor of Greek archaeology at the University of Arizona and part of the research team explained, when speaking to Associated Press – “Several ancient literary sources mention rumours that human sacrifices took place at the altar, but up until a few weeks ago there has been no trace whatsoever of human bones discovered at the site,” he continued “Whether it’s a sacrifice or not, this is a sacrificial altar … so it’s not a place where you would bury an individual. It’s not a cemetery.”

Mount Lykaion, is documented as the earliest site where the ancient Greeks worshipped Zeus. The cult of Zeus had tens of thousands of animals sacrificed over the course of 1,000 years (beginning in the 16th Century B.C.).

Although archaeologists are cautious to jump to conclusions, and warn that it is still early in the process (only 7 percent of the altar has been excavated), the burial location of the body is anomalous, and suggests special significance.

The team have also uncovered fragments of both human and animal figurines, vases, cups and coins, with work at the site expected to continue, through until at least 2020. As mentioned earlier, only 7 percent of the altar has been excavated to date, so there is far more that will be revealed over the coming years, with more mysteries solved along the way.

By Edward Bourke

The Voynich Manuscript – Hoax, Code, or Unknown Language?

The Voynich Manuscript has fascinated cryptographers and antiquaries, both amateur and professional alike. But the question that has divided all those who have studied the manuscript is – is it a hoax or is it real? To answer the question, one must look at what is known about the mysterious book.

Let’s look at its origins. Radiocarbon dating by the University of Arizona, places the book’s creation between 1404 and 1438, this is a great start to unveiling its history. The first approximately 100-150 years after it’s creation is unknown, but perhaps it was passed to the creators son, and then grandson, or a private buyer; this, however, is merely speculation at this point. The manuscript, as reported by a letter accompanying it, when sent by Jan Marek Marci, to Athanasius Kircher, belonged to Emperor Rudolf II of Germany, who paid 600 gold ducats for it. The manuscript then passed into the possession of Rudolf II’s head of botanical gardens in Prague, Jacobus Horcicky de Tepenecz, who most likely received it as part of the debt owed by Rudolf II.

After de Tepenecz we do not know whose ownership the manuscript was in, until it is documented in the possession of Georg Baresch, an alchemist, who had been puzzled by the book, also unable to decode its contents. After hearing of Athanasius Kircher (a Jesuit scholar), who had recently published a dictionary “deciphering” the Egyptian hieroglyphs, Baresch decided to send him several sample copies. It is not known if Kircher agreed to decipher the text, but the manuscript clearly interested him enough to attempt to purchase it, an attempt which Baresch resisted. On his death the book passed to Baresch’s close friend Jan Marek Marci. Marci was a close friend, and correspondent of Kircher, to whom he sent the manuscript.

The manuscript disappeared from record for 200 years after it was given to Kircher, but it was most likely stored with the rest of Kircher’s correspondence in the Collegio Romano library, remaining there until the troops of Victor Emmanuel II of Italy captured the city in 1870. The manuscript was spirited away before the library contents was seized by the new Italian Government; with the manuscript then kept in the personal collection of Peter Jan Beckx, who was the University Rector and head of the Jesuit Order, at the time. Beckx’s collection was later moved to the country palace, Villa Mondragone, which had been purchased by the Jesuits in 1866. The Jesuits at the Villa Mondragone suffered financially in 1912, and were forced to sell some of their collection, which included the Voynich Manuscript. It was purchased by Wilfred Voynich, and antique book dealer from which the manuscript takes its name. On his death, he book passed to his widow, Ethel, who died in 1960, passing it to her friend Anne Nill. Nill sold the manuscript in 1961, to Hans P. Kraus, who, unable to find a buyer, donated it to Yale University; where it now resides.

“That is all well and good, but outside the radiocarbon dating, all that illustrious history can be faked,” you might say; well that is where analysis of the language used in the book comes into play.

Although there is some dispute whether all the characters are distinct from others, it appears to be a script made up of about 37 ‘letters’, much like common modern languages, such as English. There is also paragraph division, and word separation. Further analysis reveals that there is no evidence of errors/corrections made throughout the document, and the text flows without the hesitation that would be seen in a deliberate encipherment. Perhaps the most conclusive proof, however, that it is indeed a genuine language, is that nine words have recently been deciphered. In 2014, professor of applied linguistics at the University of Bedfordshire, Stephen Bax, deciphered 10 words, and 14 characters present in the Voynich Manuscript. Bax was able to identify some of the plants, by analysing the meticulous drawing in the manuscript, and cross-reference letters to match the word; in English and the Unknown Voynich language. “I hit on the idea of identifying proper names in the text, following historic approaches which successfully deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphs and other mystery scripts, and I then used those names to work out part of the script,” Bax said. “The manuscript has a lot of illustrations of stars and plants,” Bax explained, “I was able to identify some of these, with their names, by looking at mediaeval herbal manuscripts in Arabic and other languages, and I then made a start on a decoding, with some exciting results.” Bax concluded that the manuscript is “probably a treatise on nature, perhaps in a Near Eastern or Asian language.”

My personal opinion, is that the Voynich Manuscript is not a hoax, but a genuine document, most likely not deliberately encoded. As Professor Bax stated, the book is perhaps in a Near Eastern or Asian language, a language I believe, that was perhaps lost with the extinction of particular civilisation, or population. However, many languages are based on a variety of languages from other neighbouring nations/civilisations, or populations; so we may be able, as Bax did, to decipher the entire manuscript based on known languages. A far less likely solution, is that we uncover a Rosetta Stone type artifact, allowing us to translate the entire text; this, however, is extremely unlikely, but would be an amazing turning point in our understanding. 898 exact replicas of the manuscript have now been authorised, with many hoping that a copy (which will sell for between $7,900 and $9,000) will come into the possession of the person who will finally solve the centuries long mystery.

By Edward Bourke

Mummy of the Year

In the 21st century, it is not uncommon to see people covered in tattoos; but what about 3,300 years ago? Well, a recent discovery has shed light on the tattoo culture of ancient Egypt.

Quebec based Archaeologist Cédric Gobeil has been leading a team of researchers, exploring Egypt since 2013; now all his hard work has paid off, yielding amazing results. After realising what he had discovered, he was brought to tears; elaborately tattooed mummified remains, becoming one of just 12 ever found. This one, however, was special. The tattoos discovered were different, and not mirrored on other remains; they were, however, mirrored by ancient depictions, of what was previously thought to be priestesses painted with symbols.

“It’s so striking. You don’t search for that and once you see it you can’t even imagine.” Gobeil said when asked about his discovery. Previous tattooed remains have featured tattoos around the womb area, as it as believed to protect the woman during her pregnancy. These remains however, feature a myriad of tattoos on different parts of the body (as shown below), with more than 30 images of animals appearing on the torso and arms.

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The mummy itself, is of a woman aged between 24 and 35 years old, but the tattoos have enabled researchers to determine something even more fascinating…the woman’s occupation. The tattoos discovered on the remains, due to the large number of snakes, other animals and symbols, when seen together, Gobeil says, links the mummy to the goddess Hathor; meaning the woman was most likely a high priestess to the same goddess.

The discovery also eliminates the commonly held belief among Egyptologists, that priestesses were painted with imagery. This belief rested on depictions, painted onto tomb was. “Now we have clear proof,”  Gobeil said, that they were, in fact, tattooed.

By Edward Bourke

The Hidden Story of Codex Selden

Featured Image: Two pages of Codex Selden, glyphs added later, covering original depictions.

First reported by Sci News, the confirmation that Codex Selden is indeed a palimpsest, and the unveiling of the uncovered, original text (glyphs), is truly amazing, and likely a game changer for the history of pre-Hispanic Mixtec.

A team of international scientists at Leiden University used “hyperspectral imaging” to reach final conformation, that Codex Selden is a palimpsest, and begin to examine the images that lie beneath the layer of plaster and chalk. The codex, which dates from around 1560 CE, underwent invasive examinations in the 1950’s, when researches stripped two pages of the codex, revealing hints of earlier paint beneath. Since the 1950’s the Codex’s original text has remained unknown, until the advent of hyperspectral imaging, allowing for non-invasive examination. The recent discovery, has shown an earlier text depicting scenes that do not directly mirror other early examples.

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Above: Glyphs unveiled under the layer of plaster, chalk, and later depictions, on Codex Selden.

Dr. Snijders, the first author of a report documenting the find, commented on the unusual nature of the original text, saying “what’s interesting is that the text we’ve found doesn’t match that of other early Mixtec manuscripts”. Some pages of the revealed Codex show more than 20 characters sitting or standing in the same direction. In other early manuscripts this represents a King and his Council. However, in Codex Selden both male and female figures are depicted in this position. This may suggest one of two things, in this area (modern-day Oaxaca, Mexico) the images represent an entirely different situation, or alternatively, both male and females were welcome as members of the Council of the local ruler. Both theories have merit, however I personally, favour the theory that both male and females were present in the Royal council, depicted in the Codex; as it is unlikely that images depicting such key situations, would vary so wildly between regions.

The Codex has also thrown up fascinating questions, about an individual (represented by a large glyph consisting of a twisted cord and a flint knife), who appears prominently in the genealogies depicted by the uncovered text, and previously known Mexican Codexes; such as, Codex Bodley and Codex Zouche-Nuttall. The figure has already been identified as an important ancestor for two lineages, connected to the important archaeological sites of Zaachila and Teozacualco (both in Mexico). No explanation for the figure has yet been confirmed, but it is my feeling, that the figure may be much like William the Conqueror, ie. a prominent historical figure who is present in many royal, and noble lineages.

This is just the beginning of the questions the Codex has revealed, with Dr. Snijders and other researchers also uncovering glyphs depicting people walking with sticks, and spears, women with red hair or headdresses, and location signs containing the glyphs for rivers. The team continues to analyse the document, with only seven pages examined so far, and there is no doubt in my mind, that the mysteries contained in the Codex will continue to be revealed for many years to come.

By Edward Bourke