Thanks to sophisticated scanning technology that penetrated layers of chalk and plaster, storytelling images on a hidden manuscript from Mexico have been seen for the first time in 500 years.
The Codex Selden, from the pre-colonial Mixtec town of Anute, is one of just five surviving codices from the area, now Oaxaca state in the south of the country.
It was long suspected the Codex Selden, housed at Oxford University’s Bodleian Libraries, was hiding another document beneath its superficial layer of plaster and chalk.
This image shows pages 10 and 11 of the back of Codex Selden. The top image shows the pages as they appear to the naked eye. The lower image has been created using hyperspectral imaging to show the hidden pictographic scenes that lie underneath a layer of plaster and chalk on the back of Codex Selden. (Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford)
But using cutting-edge ‘hyperspectral’ imaging equipment, researchers have been able to view the older pictures for the first time.
Ludo Snijders from Leiden University took part in the research.
“There was quite a scream when I saw the images,” he told The Independent.
“After four or five years of trying different techniques, we’ve been able to reveal an abundance of images without damaging this extremely vulnerable item.”
The find is significant because the figures that feature in the layer beneath have been drawn in a pre-colonial style, while the text on top is “very much” written in a post-colonial style and heavily features European influences, according to Mr Snijders.
Thermal imaging used to show the hidden imagery (Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford)
Other glyphs showed the combination of a flint knife and a twisted cord, which the researchers believe represented a person’s name. That individual, they explained, could belong to a person who also appears in other codices – an ancestor of two lineages connected to the archaeological sites of Zaachila and Teozacualco in Mexico, according to the Daily Mail – but further research is needed to prove whether or not this is indeed the case.
A statue of a sitting Buddha that came from China to Netherlands, shocked the scientists after CT scan when it revealed a mummified Buddhist monk sitting in a lotus position inside the statue.
After the CT scan, the scientists found out that Liuquan’s internal organs had been removed, and they still don’t know how this was done.
Erik Bruijn, who’s a Buddhist expert, determined that the mummy was for a Buddhist Master called Liuquan, who belonged to the Chinese Meditation School, and lived around the year 1100.
The name Liuquan means “Six Perfections” according to Erik who also stated that It refers to the virtues perfected by a being who seeks buddhahood through the systematic practice of the six perfect virtues but renounces complete entry into nirvana until all beings are saved.
This practice was mainly in Japan, the monk had to follow a very strict diet eating just nuts and seeds to strip the body from fat, then he will follow another diet eating only tree bark and roots.
At the end of this diet, the monk began drinking a poisonous tea made from the sap of the Japanese varnish tree. The tea caused profuse vomiting as well as a rapid loss of bodily fluids, possibly making the body too poisonous to be eaten by bacteria and insects.
The monk was then placed in a stone tomb a bit larger than his body, which was equipped with an air tube and a bell. The will stay in lotus position and he would ring the bell each day to let those outside know that he was still alive. When the bell stops ringing, the monk was presumed dead so they remove the air tube seal the tomb.
Many practicing Buddhists believe that mummies like that of Buddhist master Liuquan aren’t actually dead,but are rather in an advanced state of meditation.
When they found her in 1999 on an Argentinian volcano they were incredibly surprised by her appearance. Although she had been dead for the past 500 years, she still looked alive. Scientists call her ‘The Maiden’ and she is an Inca girl that was only 15 years old when she passed away. Very low temperatures helped her body to be conserved in perfect conditions. She was unfortunately chosen by the Incas as a sacrifice to their gods, current investigations suggest they took her to the top of a mountain and left her so she would freeze to death.
But here’s what’s really cool about her discovery, when she died, she contracted a bacterial infection very similar to modern tuberculosis. The study of this bacteria could potentially help fight new illnesses, even after 500 years, her sacrifice has the potential to cure modern diseases affecting people today. That is truly fascinating.
The race for the next spectacular artifact is on. Ancient bone boxes, lost manuscripts encoded with secret messages about Jesus, even fragments of crumbled papyrus—some no bigger than the receipts we stuff in our pockets—promise hope of a brave new world in Biblical studies. The assumption seems to be that if we just look a little harder, if we just dig a little bit deeper, one day we’ll find the one piece of evidence that will take us back to the earliest age of Jesus and his followers. To many, it’s an urgent archaeological mission with profound implications for the history of faith.
A melange of animals—some real, others exotic—populate the upper registers of a tomb at the Hellenistic city of Maresha. The paintings on site are restored versions of the originals, which dated to the third and second centuries B.C. Photo: Douglas Boin.
Just don’t hold your breath. For almost two hundred years after the crucifixion, Roman cities are entirely devoid of any trace of early Christians; to date, no one has ever found any object that’s been plausibly connected to them. As an archaeologist and a historian, I think it’s time we start taking this silence seriously and stop trying to fill it with any more sensational “discoveries.” Many of Jesus’ followers—men and women who lived in the first, second and even third century Roman Mediterranean—simply didn’t want to be found.
That’s not exactly the first thing that usually comes to mind when we think about early Christians, but the evidence is insurmountable at this point. For almost four hundred years, there were no manger scenes anywhere in the Roman world. There were no crucifixes displayed in homes or schools. There weren’t even any bound Bibles tucked into church pews. In fact, we actually don’t even know what “churches” looked like, at least, not until the middle of the third century. For a community that would later come to remember its earliest history as a time of vicious persecution, answered with outspoken acts of martyrdom, this archaeological silence poses a slight problem. Where are these people?
There are two assumptions people usually rely upon to explain the silence. The first is that Scripture, which is to say, the Second Commandment of the Hebrew Bible, prohibited Jesus’ followers from dabbling in anything artistic. The second is that early Christians were too poor and disenfranchised to leave anything noticeable behind. New archaeological and historical research suggests that neither of these traditional explanations are adequate. This post is the first in a two-part series that will explore each of these issues, charting some new directions in the study of early Christianity.
So let’s tackle the first question. Did the Mosaic commandment forbidding the creation of graven images (Deuteronomy 5:8) really prohibit Jesus’ earliest followers from pursuing their own artistic talents? Recent work on Jewish material culture during the late Second Temple period has shed new light on this topic. At the center of this picture is a twenty-year-old boy, Alexander the Great, and the legacy he left behind in the eastern Mediterranean in the third, second and first centuries B.C.
By the time of Alexander’s successors—the Seleucid family in Asia Minor and the northern Levant, the Ptolemies in Egypt and the southern Levant—sounds of Hellenistic art and craftsmanship were beginning to echo on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean. A visit to two cities makes that clear. At the city of Hellenistic Marisa (today known as Maresha, a site near Bethlehem), archaeologists found tomb chambers with paintings of animals and landscapes that are stylistically similar to those seen at sites like Vergina, Greece, an important site for the Macedonian kings. The animals depicted at Maresha may even have been inspired by a famous Hellenistic zoo, organized by the Ptolemies at Alexandria. The paintings at Maresha have been dated to the third and second centuries B.C. (see image above).
Doric and Ionic columns, friezes, even an Egyptian pyramid shape provided the architectural vocabulary for these two tombs in Jerusalem in the late Second Temple period. These are located east of the Temple Platform, in the Kidron Valley of Jerusalem. Photo: Douglas Boin.
Evidence in Jerusalem reveals similar examples of cultural exchange during this time. Representations of ships and anchors appear in many Jerusalem tombs during the late Second Temple period. Some monumental tombs built in the Kidron Valley, in the shadow of the Second Temple, incorporate architectural styles that were also widely popular. Both the tomb of the sons of Hezir, dated to the second century B.C, and the so-called Tomb of Absalom, dated to the first century A.D., draw upon Greek columns, capitals, friezes—even Egyptian pyramid forms (see image right).
Jewish individuals and groups during the late Second Temple period may have been waging fierce debates amongst themselves about the role of Hellenistic customs in the formation of their Jewish identity—debates we pick up in our textual sources, like 2 Maccabees—but the archaeological evidence is clear: The Second Commandment given to Moses did not prevent Jews from making images. It prevented them from making idols. Appreciating this nuance in the history of Jewish art and archaeology is an important first step to seeing early Christian archaeology in a new light, too.
For years, archaeologists have been puzzled by a 492-foot-long structure near the Sea of Galilee. While some believed it to be the remnants of a wall, new findings indicate that no city was nearby. Instead, an archaeologist says it was a monument built in the shape of a crescent moon between 3050 B.C. and 2650 B.C.
That means the structure predates the Old Testament, the Egyptian pyramids and possibly Stonehenge.
Ido Wachtel, a doctoral student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, estimated the age of the monument by dating pottery fragments that were excavated at the site. He believes it was constructed to “mark possession and to assert authority and rights over natural resources by a local rural or pastoral population.”
The shape may have had symbolic importance, since the lunar crescent is a symbol of an ancient Mesopotamian moon god named Sin. Furthermore, an ancient town called Bet Yerah (which translates to “house of the moon god”) is located only a day’s walk away. While that’s too far to have been an effective fortification, it may have helped mark the town’s borders.
The structure is about 150 meters (492 feet) long and 20 m (66 feet) wide at its base, and is preserved to a height of 7 m (23 feet), Wachtel’s research found.
“The estimation of working days invested in the construction [of] the site is between 35,000 days in the lower estimate [and] 50,000 in the higher,” Wachtel said in an email.
If the lower estimate is correct, it means a team of 200 ancient workers would have needed more than five months to construct the monument, a task that would be difficult for people who depended on crops for their livelihood. “We need to remember that people were [obligated] most of the year to agriculture,” Wachtel said.
Other large rock structures have been found not far from the crescent-shaped monument. One structure, called Rujum el-Hiri, isin the Golan Heights (an area to the east of the Sea of Galilee) and has four circles with a cairn at its center. The date of this structure is a matter of debate; recent research by Mike Freikman, an archaeologist with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, suggests it may predate the crescent-shaped structure by several centuries.
Another stone monument, a giant cairn that weighs more than 60,000 tons, was discovered recently beneath the waters of the Sea of Galilee. Its date is unknown, but like the crescent-shaped structure, it is located close to Bet Yerah.
Today, people living in the area call the monument by its Arabic name, Rujum en-Nabi Shua’ayb, and it is sometimes referred to as the “Jethro Cairn,” a reference to the Druze prophet Jethro, who plays an important role in local folklore.
This nearly complete mammoth skeleton was found by the McEwen family in a gravel pit in Ellis County, North Texas. The family donated the potentially 40,000 year old find to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.
Experts say the skelton is almost perfectly preserved and somehow has remained in pristine condition for the tens of thousands of years since it died.
The ancient bones were found by the McEwen family on their land in Ellis County south of Dallas, the family has decided to donate it to the city’s Perot Museum of Nature and Science. Estimiates put it at anywhere from 20-40 or even 60,000 years old.
“We were very excited to discover the mammoth in our sand pit and realize it was 90 percent complete. One of the greatest joys in this whole thing was to meet and see the excitement on the faces of the many volunteers,” said Wayne McEwen via a news release.
McEwen’s son and grandson made the amazing discovery during a regular day’s work back in May, according to a news release from the Perot Museum. The pair were operating a dump track when the digger came to a sudden halt after hitting what turned out to be a massive tusk.
“Having been found in our own backyard, this stunning example of a mammoth skeleton is especially meaningful because it’s a part of our heritage and the natural history of North Texas,” said Colleen Walker, the Museum’s Eugene McDermott Chief Executive Officer, in a news release.
“The Perot Museum is truly grateful to the McEwen family for their enormous generosity in sharing this discovery with us and the world.”
The mammoth is believed to be a female, which would have stood 8-9 feet high and weighed about the same as a modern day Asian elephant.
Bones show the animal fell on its left side and died, the shape is so clear even an untrained eye can make out the different parts of the skeleton. The skull, lower jaw, various neck and back vertebrae, two shoulder blades, limbs plus ribs and pelvis are clear.
“I am extremely excited about this outstanding find. It’s very unique for North Central Texas,” said paleontologist and project director, Tom Vance in the news release. “What is so meaningful is to know that this animal walked through our backyard thousands of years ago.”
The mammoth is due to take its place at the Perot museum some time in September.