Ancient news stories
The English word eclipse comes from the Greek ekleípō meaning disappearance, abandonment. A solar eclipse is the moment in which the sun disappears, abandoning the world. It’s like being forsaken by a god. The ancient Greeks thought of a solar eclipse as an act of abandonment, a terrible crisis and an existential threat. It meant that the king would fall, that terrible misfortunes would rain down on the world, or that demons had swallowed the sun. Yet not everyone thought of the eclipse as a horrible threat. For some cultures, the eclipse was an act of creation: The sun and moon were coupling, and would create more stars. For others, it was a random and chaotic act by a trickster or a mischievous boy, causing trouble just for the sake of it.
While millions around the world will flock to view the upcoming total solar eclipse, many who are smack in the middle of its shadowy path will avert their eyes. Eclipses are a bad omen in much of Indian country, and the indigenous world in general, from the Navajo to the Maya. It’s not easy to obtain information about astronomy from the Navajo this time of year; such things belong to storytelling season, during the winter months, according to cultural resource specialists. People with telescopes, especially outsiders, are being denied entry to sacred lands.
Many ancient cultures worshipped the sun and the moon, or at the very least saw them as supernatural beings. Their movement in the sky proceeded with a constancy and regularity that gave people a sense of order in the universe. In these societies, which universally imparted great significance to the activities of these heavenly bodies, a violent and sudden darkening of the sun was a cause for alarm and foreboding.
NPR special series video explores the history of eclipse science, from the earliest astronomers who began to take the measurements of the solar system, to the great thinkers who saw their wildest theories proven, to the modern scientists who still rely on eclipses to probe the sun’s secrets.
In 1937, a National Geographic Society/US Navy expedition consisting of 13 scientists and officers and 13 sailor assistants headed to Canton Island in the South Pacific. That eclipse would create a shadow approximately 150 miles wide and follow a path of 8,800 miles from northeast Australia to Peru. At the center of this path, the moon blocked the sun for seven minutes and four seconds. The men traveled 6,500 miles to the far western end of the path to view the eclipse, which lasted 213 seconds at their location. Watch the historic footage they filmed during that event.
Xochimilco is an idyllic network of lakes, canals and artificial islands improbably tucked into the urban sprawl of Mexico City, and it is a green lung vital to the health of smog-choked Mexico City. Without fishermen the whole ecosystem would collapse. One little salamander, whose name means “water monster” in the native Nahuatl language, was considered sacred by the Aztecs, who believed it was the last incarnation of their god Xolotl. According to local legend, the day those aoxolotl salamanders disappear would be the end of Xochimilco.
More than 2,000 years before the Great American Solar Eclipse, which will darken the skies over the U.S. on August 21, astronomers in ancient Greece developed their own “supercomputer” to predict eclipses just like this one which was discovered on a shipwreck by sponge divers. The ancient gearbox called the Antikythera mechanism was used to identify astronomical events that could anchor their calendar.
Americans need not look too far to find evidence of their country’s own early history. In fact, the remains of mounds built by Native American cultures almost 5,000 years ago can still be found today. The exhibit “Moundbuilders: Ancient Architects of North America,” which is on view at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia through July 2018, explores this lesser-known history, tracing the similarities and differences found among America’s very own ancient monuments—some of which even predate Stonehenge.
Five-thousand-year-old rock art is tucked into an outcropping 40 miles northeast of Hargeisa, the capital of this breakaway region of Somalia. But its ambiguous political status has made protecting the site especially challenging.
A geophysical survey of the site near Beacon Hill Lane carried out in 2015 revealed a hexagonal shaped temple structure which is very rare in Roman Britain. This year the plan has been to extend both the main and extension trenches to the east, as well as the excavation of the main site. The work has also led to an adjacent room believed to be a bathhouse, as well as artifacts from the Roman period and Iron Age, some of which predate the temple’s construction by a couple centuries.
A team of archaeologists, students, and local volunteers have been investigating prehistoric mounds in the fields of the village of Kirk Michael for the past 12 months. The Isle of Man is home to about 60 round barrows – human burial sites found throughout the British Isles and Europe, which first appeared around 3800-3600 BCE in the Neolithic and late Bronze Age. Finds so far include parts of a burial urn, flint tools, and a hide scraper with beveled edges. The team hopes that modern techniques will reveal more glimpses of Manx prehistory.
An archaeological treasury – the voluminous collection of papers, slides, research notes, recordings, jokey postcards, and miscellaneous bits of long-dead human beings collected by the late paleopathologist Calvin Wells – is to be digitized to make it available in its eccentric entirety to scholars for the first time.
Humans have been alternatively amused, puzzled, bewildered and sometimes even terrified at the sight of this celestial phenomenon. A range of social and cultural reactions accompanies the observation of an eclipse. In ancient Mesopotamia (roughly modern Iraq), eclipses were in fact regarded as omens, as signs of things to come. This article covers historical material on both solar and lunar eclipses.
Archaeological excavations conducted in the Bat Cave in Balangoda have unearthed approximate 10 stone tools and hunting implements used by mature homo sapiens who lived in the inland parts of Sri Lanka about 4,000 to 6,000 years ago, and 35 varieties of burnt edible crop seeds used by them as food. There was also evidence about the shared cultural habits among people living in different caves.
Lidar imaging has been used to help preservation groups uncover several hidden historic sites in New England. Remote-sensing technology cannot put a date on those finds, but has great potential to advance the field of space archaeology by providing a sense of historic geography. Lidar, coupled with geospatial analysis, provides the ability to answer a whole range of questions that just cannot be done by traditional fieldwork alone.
A collection of sarcophagi of different shapes and sizes as well as clay fragments that date the tombs between the 27th Dynasty and the Greco-Roman era were found inside the three graves. The head of the archaeological mission that discovered the tombs explained that they have a different architecture design than the previously discovered ones. The first tomb is composed of a perpendicular burial shaft engraved in the rock and leads to a burial chamber containing four sarcophagi with anthropoid lids. The second tomb contains a perpendicular burial shaft and two burial chambers. The first chamber is located in the north, where remains of two sarcophagi are found suggesting that it was the burial of two people. A collection of six holes for burial were also found, among them one was the burial of a small child.