Child Burials – Carthage, Tunisia

A team led by University of Pittsburgh physical anthropologist Jeffrey Schwartz has refuted the long-held claim that the Carthaginians carried out large-scale child sacrifice from the eighth to second centuries B.C. The researchers announced their results this year after spending decades examining the cremated remains of 540 children from 348 burial urns excavated in the Tophet, a cemetery outside Carthage’s main burial ground.
Schwartz determined that about half the children were prenatal or would not have survived more than a few days beyond birth, and the rest died between one month and several years after birth. Only a very few children were between five and six years old, the age at which they begin to be buried in the main cemetery. The mortality rates represented in the cemetery are consistent with prenatal and infant mortality figures found in present-day societies. “There is a credible medically and biologically consistent explanation of the Tophet burials that offers an alternative to sacrifice,” says Schwartz. “While it is possible that the Carthaginians may have occasionally sacrificed humans, as did their contemporaries, the extreme youth of the Tophet burials suggests [the cemetery] was not only for the sacrificed, but also for the unborn and very young, however they died. And since at least 20 percent of them weren’t even born when they were buried, they clearly weren’t sacrificed.”
Schwartz also has another type of evidence to support his claim that the Tophet children died of natural causes. “In many societies newborns and very young children are not treated as individuals as older children and adults are,” he says, suggesting that they wouldn’t be considered appropriate for sacrifice. A clue that the Carthaginians didn’t view these children as distinct entities comes from Schwartz’s analysis, which shows that in many urns, there are remains of several different individuals. “There can be four or five of the same right or left cranial bone in the same urn, but there would not be enough other bones to reconstruct the same number of individuals,” says Schwartz. “The remains of multiple children were gathered up, perhaps even from different cremations, and sometimes mixed in with charcoal from the small branches of olive trees used for the funeral pyre.” 
by Jarrett A. Lobell 

Insider: Phoenix’s Looming Water Crisis

Could the solution be under the city itself in the vast and ancient irrigation networks of the Hohokam people? At a time when water is still relatively inexpensive and abundant, at least in the industrialized world, it is easy to forget that controlling water was a necessary first step to feed and quench the thirst of the people who built the first cities. Brian Fagan’s soon-to-be-released book Elixir: A History of Water and Humankind, provides an in-depth examination of the history of water control. For thousands of years, societies have found inventive ways to provide water for their fields and their people in spite of fickle climates. It is no exaggeration to say that civilization itself is built on a foundation of water. This excerpt from Fagan’s book centers on the Hohokam people, who used an elaborate network of canals to support a society that flourished in the area around Phoenix, Arizona, until about 550 years ago.
October 2008. The propjet’s engine slowed and I woke abruptly, watching an almost surreal urban landscape come into view as we descended. The sun was setting behind us, casting long shadows, but Phoenix shimmered beneath us. Broad streets led into the far distance, and huddled apartment buildings and carefully ordered subdivisions were scattered over arid terrain. High-rise office buildings towered incongruously over the desert. Everything was yellow or buff-colored except for occasional splashes of green—golf courses, parks, and irrigated farms seemed to have sprung up without notice from the dry landscape. Dozens of blue swimming pools adorned suburban yards. Over to the left, the long, straight line of an aqueduct ran to the distant horizon.
All of this urban sprawl depends on finite water supplies pumped from deep beneath the earth or delivered from afar. Coming from a California in the midst of a multiyear drought, I wondered just how long it would be before promiscuously expanding Phoenix imploded in the face of chronic water shortages triggered in part by a culture of urban excess and waste.
The statistics are daunting: More than 1.8 million people live in Phoenix itself, and a further 22 cities surround it in the Valley of the Sun, forming the largest metropolitan landscape by area in the United States. Each year the valley receives about seven inches of rainfall. Average temperatures exceed 100 degrees for three months a year, with peaks as high as 120 degrees.
We descended gradually, bumping gently in the late afternoon turbulence, and passed over the meandering Salt River, its waters yellow-brown in the hazy sunlight. Once this was the land of the Huhugam, meaning “something that is all gone” in the O’odham language. To archaeologists they are known as the Hohokam, an ancient people who faced the challenges of this dry and changeable environment for more than a thousand years and turned this inhospitable desert into a thriving urban and agricultural landscape. In some ways the story of the Hohokam offers an example of how to live sustainably in this landscape, but it also reveals what a difficult balancing act it is.
Phoenix and its surrounding communities have paved over much of the Hohokam world. But the long-vanished farmers reappear with persistent frequency, under the foundations of modern buildings razed for new development, in the pathways of expanding interstates, even in backyard gardens. For the most part, the traces of their presence are inconspicuous, requiring careful dissection with spade and trowel. Only a few notable adobe structures still stand above ground, making it hard to believe that the Salt River Valley was the most populous and agriculturally productive valley in the Southwest before A.D. 1500. The land looks barren and utterly dry, yet it has fertile soils and lies near major river drainages. Between A.D. 450 and 1500, the Hohokam living near the Salt River adapted brilliantly to this seemingly desolate environment, refining their agriculture and water management from one generation to the next. Over more than 10 centuries, they built vast canal networks up to 22 miles long and irrigated tracts of arid land up to 70,000 acres in size.
Archaeologists identify the Hohokam from their buff- to brown-colored potsherds that abound in the river basin floors of southern Arizona. If we use such vessels as a criterion, then we can trace the extent of the Hohokam over more than 30,000 square miles of southern Arizona—an area larger than South Carolina. In general terms, Hohokam groups shared a common ingenuity as farmers, a superb ability at irrigation agriculture, and a common architecture of adobe dwellings. There were none of the elaborate, multistory pueblos of Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde here, but a distinctive ceremonial architecture based on adobe platform mounds and ball courts, the latter apparently an import from Mexico.
Hohokam canals flow outward from the Salt River like the tentacles of a giant octopus. They split and split again, once full of gently flowing water transported for mile after mile by the forces of gravity. Omar Turney, a city engineer for Phoenix, mapped the ancient Hohokam irrigation systems during the 1920s. He walked over the river basin and consulted old maps and historical records to reveal what he called “the largest single body of land irrigated in prehistoric times in North or South America.” The lower Salt River Valley, where downtown Phoenix now stands, supported miles of irrigated fields and dozens of farming communities. The scale of the irrigation works boggles the imagination. In the downtown metropolitan area alone, 300 miles of canals formed 14 irrigation networks that watered 256,000 acres of fertile river basin soils. The Gila River Valley to the south, with its four irrigation networks, watered nearly 19,000 acres of closely packed fields a thousand years ago. In the heart of this carefully engineered landscape, stood the 250-acre Snaketown site, with its ceremonial ball court. Six miles of irrigated land and smaller settlements lay along the river upstream and downstream of Snaketown. The dense cultivation extended as much as two miles from the riverbanks.
The Gila and Salt rivers received their water from highland watersheds. The river flow varied from season to season and year to year, but provided generally reliable water supplies for the Hohokam’s fields. Away from the great rivers, farmers relied on both summer and winter rainfall. They would trap the occasional tributary flood, use terraces and small dams to trap water, and place their crops with meticulous care to avoid extremes of heat or cold. There was nothing the Hohokam did not know about farming in arid landscapes, and they supplemented their crops by hunting and gathering plant foods.
The canal systems began at the river, where a weir raised the water level and directed it into the canal. A head gate regulated the amount of water passing into the system. From there, the water flowed along large distribution canals that were up to 85 feet across and 20 feet deep. The size of the canal diminished away from the river, a technique that ensured an even water flow. A steady flow ensured that too rapid a current did not erode the earthen sides. If, however, the current was too slow, it would deposit silt and clog the defile. Control gates lay at intervals along the main canals. When closed, they caused the current to back up, creating a head of water and allowing the farmers to regulate the flow down-canal. Feeder channels carried water through wicker and stone gates along long branches of the main canals, in turn leading to much smaller defiles that fed gridlike field systems, each with their own water supplies constrained within banks like a crowded chess board.
The amount of communal labor required to construct and maintain these irrigation works was enormous. Reconstructions of ancient canals suggest that as much as 28.25 million cubic feet of dirt may have been excavated to construct one major canal system alone. If a single worker removed 106 cubic feet of soil a day, it would have taken more than 25,000 person-days to build many of the canals.
Hohokam culture as archaeologists know it appeared around A.D. 500, at the moment when the plazas were first built, at a time when new pottery forms came into being and improvements in grinding technology made food preparation somewhat easier. More diverse cooking vessels allowed mothers to wean their children earlier and feed them soft foods. At this time new varieties of maize also appeared in Hohokam fields.
Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport lies on the Salt River floodplain. When archaeologists surveyed the land under the runways and airport buildings, they found extensive tracts of once-irrigated land and large and small houses built alongside the fields. Here, people camped during the growing season. The larger structures with hearths were the places where farmers cooked and slept, the smaller ones used for storage and other purposes. These were casual, temporary structures, rebuilt again and again over the centuries. But this very rebuilding confirms that the same households farmed the same plots of land over many generations.
Early permanent villages founded along the Gila and Salt rivers coincide with the construction of the first large-scale canal system. If the O’odham people, who followed the Hohokam in this area, are any guide, those who participated in canal construction had the first pick of the best land. Later arrivals would have occupied less desirable acreage. Over time, the first comers, who enjoyed the best access to prime irrigated land, would have acquired wealth and status, in part because of their more productive fields. In later times, Hohokam communities varied greatly in size. Some, like those on the Gila River south of Phoenix, ranged along single canals that lay parallel to the river on either bank. Such communities may have covered 15 square miles and contained as many as 2,550 irrigated acres. Salt River communities lived amid branching canal networks that traversed the Phoenix Basin. Suzanne Fish, who has studied Basin communities of A.D. 1100 and later, estimates that community territories averaged 15 square miles, a figure similar to that from the Gila.
The household lay at the core of Hohokam irrigation works and of society as a whole. Their members built and maintained a sophisticated canal network. They provided the demanding labor needed to sustain an intensive agricultural regimen for nearly a thousand years. How did this system work, with all the close cooperation that it required? Judging from historical practice among the O’odham, individual households held claims to plots of land that passed from one generation to the next. However, rights to irrigation water belonged to the community as a whole, the water being allocated to each household according to the amount of land they cultivated. Households shared water rights. Thus, they had an interest in protecting these rights and protecting their investment in the canal works that brought water to their fields.
Some archaeologists believe that there must have been a dynamic tension between individual interests of the households and collective ones. The two tension points were always in play, balancing one another out over years, generations, and centuries. The resulting balance enhanced the long-term stability of a society that depended heavily on canals to bring water to soils that were otherwise useless.
On this wider scale, we can think of Hohokam society as a series of what the archaeologist David Doyel once called “irrigation communities.” He imagined Hohokam irrigation in terms of canal networks branching from a single river intake. These networks connected an array of interdependent villages, whose households shared the labor of canal construction, maintenance, and management in a peaceful manner. Doyel identified at least six such irrigation communities along the longest Phoenix Basin canal network. By A.D. 1100, these larger settlements comprised a prominent village with communal structures such as a ball court, a plaza, or a platform mound, with outlying smaller settlements and farms, the whole surrounded by carefully laid out and intensely cultivated farmland. A web of secular and ritual relationships united every individual in Hohokam society to a wider world.
Between 1150 and 1450, after almost a millennium of relative stability, profound changes occurred in Hohokam society. These three centuries were a time of unstable environmental conditions. The instability coincided in part with the major droughts of the Medieval Warm Period that descended on the Southwest and contributed to the abandonment of Chaco Canyon and its great houses and, later, large pueblos at Mesa Verde and in the nearby Moctezuma Valley. In the desert, this same period may have been a time of floods that altered river channels and undermined canal systems, as well as sometimes prolonged droughts that caused water shortages. We know little of these environmental perturbations, but we do know that Snaketown on the Gila River lost population. Meanwhile, other communities such as Casa Grande consolidated formerly separate canal systems into a single irrigation network based on a 21-mile canal that watered 15,000 acres. Five villages, each with their own platform mounds, lay along the canal. Another irrigation community in present-day Mesa had 21 miles of canals that watered 14,000 acres of fields. By any standards, this was irrigation on a large scale, with the largest Phoenix Basin communities each supporting between six and 10 thousand people.
As the social order changed, so environmental pressures appear to have intensified. Just how, we don’t know, but the massive irrigation systems no longer produced the food surpluses necessary to support the now much more elaborate Hohokam society. The collapse came around 1450, probably a rapid dispersal, household by household, as people moved away to settle with kin or farmed on a much smaller scale. Their successors were the Akimel O’odham, probably their direct descendants, who built more modest irrigation works atop those of earlier times.
In 1882, 400 years after the Hohokam dispersed, Smithsonian anthropologist Frank Hamilton Cushing came to the Salt River Valley. He climbed to the top of an earthen monument and was astonished to find himself in the heart of a long-abandoned Indian settlement. He wrote: “It was one of the most extensive ancient settlements we had yet seen. Before us, to the north, east, and south, a long series of…house mounds lay stretched out in seemingly endless succession.”
Cushing was by no means the first outsider to explore the valley. In 1865, the United States Cavalry had established Camp McDowell in what is now Maricopa County. Enterprising visitors observed not only the eroded mounds of what were once adobe structures, but also the remains of extensive irrigation canals that had once brought water from the Salt River to wide tracts of now-abandoned maize fields. In 1867, Jack Swilling, a former soldier, established the Swilling Irrigating and Canal Company. The company flourished, for its canals often followed those of the ancient farmers, and the farms prospered despite the extremely hot summers. On October 20, 1871, a mass meeting of settlers appointed a committee to select a town site. After considerable debate, committee member Darrell Duppa proposed the name Phoenix, for a city rising Phoenix-like on the ruins of an ancient civilization.
Farther north, Mormon settlers arrived at the Great Salt Lake. Brigham Young himself declared that this was their new homeland. Within days, the brethren had a small dam and ditches irrigating a five-acre field of potatoes. Their tools were simple, their dams scraped together from earth and stones, but their willpower was inexhaustible. The pioneers lived in a close-knit society in which the church decided where to capture water and how to distribute it. Mirroring the Hohokam system, the water from the nearby Wasatch Mountains belonged not to individuals but to everyone, resulting in small communities that were sustainable over many generations. By 1910, small-scale farmers in Utah irrigated nearly 1 million acres.
Small groups of farmers living in sustainable communities: The idea appealed strongly to John Wesley Powell of Colorado River fame, who spent time among the Mormons and acquired a profound knowledge of the desert West at a time when few Easterners had been there. On the face of it, the obvious thing to do was to leave most of the West unpopulated except for isolated, better-watered enclaves. However, such thinking ran contrary to doctrines of progress, western expansion, and proper use of the land for agriculture. Besides, America would become two lands separated by desert. Only one weapon would suffice to master the arid lands—water. The dream was a glorious vision of fertility and prosperous farms, and a wonderful concept for ambitious politicians looking to deliver jobs in the form of water engineering projects to their constituents.
Today, the southwestern U.S. faces a variety of pressures on its water supply. Temperatures are rising, while rainfall and river flows are dropping. The area is in the middle of a drought that is as severe as any that has struck in the past 100 years. At the same time, the Southwest is experiencing rapid population growth. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by the year 2030 the population of Arizona will grow by five million people. Glen MacDonald, a geography professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, writing in the December 14, 2010, edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, makes the point that engineering projects designed to transfer and store water cannot completely supply the increased need for water. Industrial and agricultural water use must become more efficient, and residential water use must decrease dramatically by limiting the amount of water used for swimming pools and landscaping.
Humans have managed water successfully for thousands of years in ways that are often ignored by history. But their experiences tell us that it is the simple and ingenious approaches that often work best—local water schemes, decisions about sharing and management made by kin, family, and small communities. These experiences teach us that self-sustainability is attainable.
Brian Fagan is a contributing editor to ARCHAEOLOGY.

নিবেদিতপ্রাণ শিক্ষক ও প্রত্নতাত্ত্বিক অধ্যাপক ড. আইয়ুব খান

প্রত্নতাত্ত্বিক, গবেষক, ইতিহাসবিদ ও প্রত্নতত্ত্ব বিভাগ জাহাঙ্গীরনগর বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের সম্মানিত চেয়ারম্যান অধ্যাপক ড. আইয়ুব খান আর নেই।  বছর খানিক পূর্বে ছিনতাইকারীদের গুলিতে আহত হয়ে দীর্ঘদিন রোগভোগের পর অবশেষে বিভাগে ক্লাস নেয়া শুরু করেছিলেন। কিছুদিন পূর্বে বিভাগের চেয়ারম্যান হিসেবে দায়িত্বভার গ্রহণ করেন। চিকিৎসাধীন অবস্থায় গত ২৫ অক্টোবর, মঙ্গলবার রাত ১০:৩০টায় ঢাকায় হার্ট ফাউণ্ডেশন হাসপাতালে তিনি ইন্তিকাল করেন। (ইন্নালিল্লাহে ওয়া ইন্নাইলাইহি রাজিউন) মৃত্যুর আগে তিনি হৃদরোগে আক্রান্ত হয়েছিলেন। অধ্যাপক ড. আইয়ুব খান ১৯৬৪ সালের ৩০ সেপ্টেম্বর টাঙ্গাইল জেলার কালিহাতী উপজেলার পাইকরা ইউনিয়নের গোলরা গ্রামে জন্মগ্রহণ করেন। ১৯৭৯ সালে Continue reading নিবেদিতপ্রাণ শিক্ষক ও প্রত্নতাত্ত্বিক অধ্যাপক ড. আইয়ুব খান

Shiva temple with rare inscriptions in

For many, the mention of Kovalam, on the way to Mahabalipuram on East Coast Road would conjure up images of a vast expanse of beach and luxurious resorts made popular by foreigners. But the place is also where a 1200-year-old temple dedicated to Lord Kailasanathar exists unattended and uncared for — a silent testimony to our rich cultural heritage. 

The Kailasanather Temple [Credit: M. Karunakaran]

The Sri Kailasanathar Temple, tucked away in a quiet street branching off from the main road — hardly 300 metres from the seashore — dates back to the Eighth Century A.D., according to Archaeology Department sources. They say that there is proof in the form of inscriptions on the Aavudaiyar (Lingam) and on the surrounding walls to show that the temple was built centuries ago. 

Speaking to Downtown, K. Sridharan, former Deputy Superintending Archaeologist, Excavation Section, says that Kovalam served as an important sea port for 600 years from the 10 th Century B.C. to 16 th Century B.C. It was during this period that the Kailasathanar Temple was built and maintained by the traders’ guild. “There is proof in the form of inscriptions in the temple to show that the Lingam was installed in Eighth – Ninth Century. The Aavudiayar bears an inscription ‘Sri Satheruman Murthiper’. ‘Sat’ means a trade guild and ‘Satheruman’ refers to the Lord. This, along with other inscriptions engraved in the ‘Adishtanam’ (base) of the ‘Maha Mandapam (Inner Mandapam on the eastern side) were discovered by the State Department of Archaeology in 2000 during Epigraphical survey,” he states. 

Mr. Sridharan says that the traders exported many items, including cotton and arecanut from Kovalam for which they levied tax. This revenue was gifted to the temple for worship and maintenance. Successive generations renovated, extended and modified the temple structure. This continued till the Vijayanagar Period (16th Century) for which there is evidence and is also recorded in the department’s ’Kalvettu’ magazine,” he adds. 

Padmavathy A, who retired as a Senior Epigraphist in the Archaeology Department, and who had visited the temple during her tenure, says that the Aavudaiyar bears inscription in Palaeography Script that is very rare. “The inscription dates back to the Eighth Century A.D. and is proof that the Lingam was sculpted during that period.” 

She says that the Sanctum Santorum and the Outer Mandapam were built in the 13th Century A.D. “In fact, an inscription dating to this period is found on the Dakshinamurthy idol. The inscription states the name of the merchant who installed the idol. There are also other stone sculptures and inscriptions belonging to the 16 th century in the temple,” she adds. 

Besides the presiding deity, the temple has separate sannidhis for the Lord’s consort Kanaka Valli and Subramanya with his consorts Valli and Deivanai. A unique feature of the temple is the presence of thee Ganesa sannidhis — Kubera Ganapathi, Vijaya Ganapathi and Siva Sakthi Ganapathi. 

The nearly 200 sq ft Mandapam on the northern side of the temple has deities of Lord Venkateswara flanked by Bhuma Devi and Surya, a huge Lingam, Kalikambal and Swarna Bhairavar. The pillars bear sculptures depicting scenes from the Ramayana. There is also one sculpture that shows Siva pushing Yama with his foot to save Markandeya. 

However, the temple gopuram, the walls of the sanctum sanctorum and the outer walls have developed cracks that show that the structure has withstood the ravages of time. The growth of weeds and plants on the gopuram, with their roots making their way inside the sanctum sanctorum through the roof is testimony to the neglect of the centuries-old place of worship and the threat to its very existence. 

T. Kripa Sankar, Managing Trustee of Shantha Kripa Sankar Trust, who is spearheading a one-man campaign to restore the historical temple to its pristine glory, says: “It was by accident that I chanced upon this temple in 2000. When the bus I was travelling to Mahabalipuram broke down in Kovalam, I went round the seaside town and discovered this temple which was in utter mess. I learnt from the local people that it was under the care of the local fishermen. The premises had an overgrowth of vegetation and the gopuram, praharam and the vast stone-pillared mandapam were in a bad state.” 

He says that he wrote to the then DMK Government seeking assistance to save the temple from ruin. “Till date, there has been no action in this regard, except for the fact that the temple was brought under the control of the HR and CE Department in 2005.” 

Mr. Kripa Sankar, through his trust that is engaged in many social services, has refurbished the stone mandapam and given it a fresh coat of paint. Rubble and wild growth can be seen all round the cobbled pathway leading through the praharam. 

Yet, an octogenarian priest, M. Subramaniam, has been performing a one-time puja to the deities daily for the last 20 years. “The temple was in a bad condition and infested with snakes till a decade ago. It is only with the help and care of Mr. Kripa Sankar’s trust that we have been able to clean up this place a bit,” he says. 

The temple is now administered by three trustees. But paucity of funds is a major drawback. Earlier, the temple was administered by the EO of the Thiruvidanthai Temple. Under the Government’s scheme in which funds from revenue-earning temples are given to those with poor revenue, a sum of Rs. Two lakhs was sanctioned for this temple from the Thiruverkadu temple, according to Devarajan, former EO of the Thiruvidanthai temple. He says there is a proposal to renovate the temple by retaining its main structure and carrying out repair works on the vimanams and laying a new weathering course and flooring. 

Mr. Kripa Sankar says that the temple is in dire need of renovation if it is to be preserved for posterity. “At a time when new temples are mushrooming in every street corner, it is pathetic that ancient temples that hold within them our rich cultural heritage are languishing in anonymity or even being ignored,” he says. 

“The Government should act at the earliest to save this treasure. Many people outside this locality are not even aware of the existence of such a temple. It is up to the authorities to take up repair work, restore the temple to its original glory and popularise it among the masses,” he adds.  

Author: Saraswathy Srinivasan | Source: The Hindu [July 21, 2011]

Ancient bunker in Sri Lanka’s Galle Dutch Fort

Galle Heritage Foundation and the Archeological Unit of the Galle city had discovered a very old hitherto unseen bunker inside the famous Galle Dutch Fort. The bunker situated under the pedestal of the clock tower had remained closed for centuries. 

The archaeologists believe it was used as a prison cell or an armory. The bunker has two cells and the walls are made of coral, lime and clay, says the head of the exploration team. The team has observed a crack on one side of the bunker. 

There are 14 other bunkers in Galle Dutch Fort and they were renovated during the British period. However the newly discovered bunker has remained intact, the archaeologists say. 

They expect to excavate the ground of the bunker that is filled with soil to the height of about one to two feet. 

The Galle Dutch Fort has been inscribed as a cultural heritage UNESCO World Heritage Site under criteria IV.  

Source: Colombo Page [August 02, 2011]

ndia’s oldest sunken garden

Restoration work on a lesser known tomb in the heart of the city has led to the discovery of the country’s oldest “sunken garden”, a serendipity that will put the history of the Mughal gardens in a new perspective. 

Isa Khan’s garden tomb in the precincts of Humayun’s Tomb World Heritage Site in the Capital can now be considered the earliest example of a sunken garden in India – attached to a tomb – a concept later developed at Akbar’s Tomb and at the Taj Mahal [Credit: The Hindu]

Restorers at the Isa Khan’s tomb in the precincts of the Humayun’s Tomb World Heritage Site have discovered that the Isa Khan’s tomb stood within a hitherto unknown sunken garden that predates the famed gardens that the Mughals built and popularised. Also uncovered at site are pieces of underlying archaeology. 

And with this discovery, the country now has a new chapter added to the history of the Mughal gardens. 

“It is an important discovery as the Isa Khan’s Tomb garden predates the Humanyun’s Tomb garden by two decades. It is also very significant as Isa Khan’s garden tomb can now be considered the earliest example of a sunken garden in India – attached to a tomb – a concept later developed at Akbar’s Tomb and at the Taj Mahal,” said Ratish Nanda, Project Director of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, that has been undertaking an urban renewal project in the Humanyun’s Tomb Nizamuddin Basti area. 

“We were not expecting to discover that the earth levels in the enclosure were over a metre lower than the existing levels, when we began the restoration of the Isa Khan tomb. We realised that the level of the garden, as was designed originally was much lower than its existing level. So we began the work of restoring the garden to its original design,” he added. 

The restoration work of the Isa Khan’s Tomb is being carried out by the AKTC in partnership with the Archaeological Survey of India and with co-funding from the World Monuments Fund. 

The ongoing restoration work has thrown up underlying archaeology, including building elements such as finials of the dome and canopies and terracotta toys, all of which have immense historical relevance. 

Referring to the work that has been underway for the past eight months, he said: “Once we discovered that the garden was much lower than what it had risen to, we had to begin earth moving work. And since we were operating in an area rich with underlying archaeology, we could not use machines, and everything had to be done manually. Over 3000 cubic metre of earth was removed to restore the garden to its original level.” 

Over 20,000 man-hours later, the AKTC team today is in the middle of restoring the garden and the tomb that it circumferences to its original glory. 

After a peer review, with national and international experts, before the onset of works from July – December 2010, restoration work began with test pits being created that revealed the original levels to be 1m lower than existing levels. Restorers also found parts of building elements such as columns of the tomb’s dome and finials buried in the garden that are now being used for its restoration. 

“It is an exciting and a wonderful discovery. The sunken garden here has revealed how the gardens have risen over the years, just as layers are added to history; layers have been added to the gardens as well. Over the years gardens have come up at the level of the monuments, but this garden has revealed that here it was originally three to four feet below the monument with the tomb sitting high,” said Amita Beg of the WMF. 

The discovery has also shed light on the grandeur of the tombs, rising above the gardens and overlooking the trees and the landscaping. “By placing the tomb higher than the garden, not only was the magnificence of the tomb enhanced, but it would also allow visitors to the tomb to be at eye level with the surrounding tree species such as citrus varieties popularly used by the Mughals,” said Mr. Nanda. 

Isa Khan finds mention in history as a brave and valiant noble under Sher Shah Suri, the Afghan ruler who had overthrown Humayun. The tomb built in 1547 is octagonal in shape and has exceptional decorative detailing. 

Author: Smriti Kak Ramachandran | Source: The Hindu [August 05, 2011]

Restoration of Gulbarga fort

The Bahmani dynasty, which ruled Gulbarga 600 years ago, left many monuments in Gulbarga region especially fort. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which earlier neglected the fort, has now initiated development works on the 600-year-old structure to turn it into a tourist attraction. 

The fort, occupying an area of 200 acres of land and 3km, consists of two circular fortifications. The height of the outer wall is lower than the inner wall, with a 30 feet deep moat in between. In some areas, both walls have portions that have turned to rubble, which is now being repaired. 

Many monuments like Jamia Mosque, Ranamandal, are located inside the fort. But these monuments are also dilapidated and damaged by miscreants. 

Speaking to ‘The Times of India’ ASI conservation assistant Mouneshwar Kuravatti said 195 families have encroached upon the monument area and built houses inside the fort. Gulbarga Urban Development Authority is rehabilitating these families outside the fort and in city.
A grass lawn has been installed inside the fort, while repairs are being undertaken on the mosque meant for women, which collapsed. 

The ASI is undertaking repair using traditional equipment without using cement, lam and sand to maintain a uniform look with the monuments, said Mouneshwar, However, a concrete bed is being built surrounding the Jamia Mosque. 

Former secretary of Hyderabad-Karnataka Development Board Shalini Rajanish has sent a proposal of Rs 50 crore proposal to the Union tourism ministry to connect the three districts — Bidar, Gulbarga and Bijapur — from Hyderabad airport to turn it into a tourist spot. 

Source: The Times of India [September 20, 2011]

Natural selection and the driving of female orgasms

Women orgasm more readily during sex with a handsome partner, a study of heterosexual couples has found, with researchers concluding the female orgasm may be linked to an evolutionary urge to produce ‘quality’ offspring. However, other experts in the field say that the jury is still out on the evolutionary function of the female orgasm. In a joint study by anthropologists and psychologists at Pennsylvania State University, 110 heterosexual couples were asked to report details about their sex lives, who orgasmed and how often. Women with partners who rated high on the handsome scale reported orgasming more frequently than their less fortunate sisters. “We found that objective measures of the quality of women’s mates — men’s attractiveness and masculinity — significantly predicted the women’s orgasms,” the researchers wrote in their paper, which was published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior. 

Passing on healthy genes 

Assuming that female orgasm aids in conception, the researchers concluded that women may have evolved to orgasm more readily with attractive partners so as to pass on their healthy genes to offspring. 

“Thus, possible conception-promoting correlates of female orgasm may be especially effective and/or likely when copulation occurs with masculine males,” the authors wrote. 

Brendan Zietsch, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at University of Queensland who has researched the female orgasm, said the study provided strong evidence that sexy men were more likely to produce orgasms in their female mates – but that this was not necessarily linked to natural selection. 

“I do not find it compelling support for this evolutionary function of female orgasm. I would guess that men also orgasm more readily having intercourse with an especially sexy woman, but few would argue that this indicates that the function of male orgasm is to choose the best mate,” he said. 

“My point is that arousal being related to both partner sexiness and orgasm frequency is compatible with numerous possible evolutionary explanations of female orgasm.” 

He pointed out that the study also found no link between frequency of female orgasm and the man’s facial structure in cases of non-reproductive sex – such as orgasm during foreplay – but that this may be because more masculine, dominant men might spend less time on non-coital sex than other men. 

“I think we are a long way from understanding the evolutionary function of female orgasm, if indeed it has a function,” he said. 

Coital orgasm not constant

Dr Maciej Henneberg, Professor of Anthropological and Comparative Anatomy at the University of Adelaide and an expert on evolution, said the study relied too heavily on self-reporting. 

“The authors’ own findings are that only about half of women (52%) experience coital orgasm. This means it is not a constant feature. Their measures of “genetic quality” of males are purely speculative (appearance, facial asymmetry),“ he said, pointing out that the study may have underestimated other features women may find attractive in men, such as their social or psychological qualities. 

One cannot assume that function of female orgasm is to aid conception nor place too much emphasis on the idea that the human libido is driven by the urge to procreate, he said. 

“Most of human sexual intercourse is for reasons unrelated to fertility. Moreover, the ability to conceive in humans is low. It takes a persistent copulation every other day for three months to achieve conception, on the average.” 

“All this leads to the conclusion that humans use sexual intercourse for bonding and pleasure, rarely for conception,” said Dr Henneberg. 

“We are unusual amongst animals in this respect. Only dolphins, pygmy chimpanzees and maybe chimpanzees use sex for social contacts. Other mammals copulate only when a female is fecund (can conceive) and the intercourse takes a short time. We can do it for hours!” 

Author: Sunanda Creagh | Source: The Conversation [July 20, 2011

Appearence of Human being in Asia

Stone artifacts unearthed at Georgia’s Dmanisi archaeological site, 90 kilometers southwest of Tbilisi, suggest that early man may have gotten his start in Eurasia and then migrated to Africa, an international team of scientists contends. 

The team’s findings, published in the June 6, 2011 print edition of the Washington, DC-based scientific journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), hold that “Eurasia was probably occupied [by early humans] before Homo erectus [the species from which a straight line of evolution to modern humans begins — ed] appears in the East African fossil record.” 

The sediment in which the artifacts, crude stone tools, were found is “almost 70,000 years older “ than the 1.85 million-year-old early human fossils, also found at Dmanisi, that date as Eurasia’s earliest homo erectus, Reid Ferring, a professor of geoarcheology at the University of North Texas and a member of the research team, told The sediment is located “several meters below” that earlier find, he said. 

No human fossils have been found next to the tools, but the researchers believe that the artifacts — stones sharpened for cutting — belonged to humans more primitive or from the same era as Dmanisi’s 1.85-million-year-old homo erectus (known as “homo georgicus”). The artifacts will be kept at the Georgian National Museum run by team member Davit Lordkipanidze, a prominent archaeologist-anthropologist who discovered homo georgicus. 

The evidence has prompted the Dmanisi researchers to consider the strong possibility that some more primitive form of human evolved in Africa, came to Eurasia, and there evolved into homo erectus. 

“For a long time, everyone assumed that homo erectus evolved from homo habilis [1.44 million to 2.3 million years], but later it appeared that homo erectus and homo habilis lived side by side in Africa for hundreds of thousands of years, so one cannot evolve into another and both survive,” Ferring said. “That raises the question where homo erectus came from.” 

“Very importantly, the Dmanisi fossils are just barely homo erectus. They are the most primitive of homo erectus . . . very small-brained, very short people,” he continued. “Most of the skulls in Dmanisi have a brain size of 600 cubic centimeters, while the first homo erectus found in Africa is almost 850 cubic centimeters; more than one-third bigger.” 

Researchers on the ground in Dmanisi also do not rule out the possibility that Eurasia’s homo erectus may have evolved in parallel with homo erectus in Africa. 

Ferring describes homo erectus as the “first cosmopolitan” human, with an apparent penchant to travel. The hominid is believed to have spread quickly from Eurasia to China, Southeast Asia and Europe. 

The possible reasons for such a move may not be immediately clear, but, to the homo erectus of the time, territory was territory, one American anthropologist noted. 

“Remember, it would not have been obvious to the hominins they were leaving Africa. There were no signs saying ‘You are leaving Africa now — come and visit us again!'” George Washington University Professor of Human Origins Bernard Wood joked to the weekly journal Nature. 

While few doubt the importance of the Dmanisi find for the study of human evolution, some observers caution that only new human fossils could warrant a conclusion in favor of the hypotheses of the Dmanisi team. Ferring acknowledges that “very aggressive surveys” are needed to find “even older fossils,” but underlines Georgia’s potential role in providing answers to key questions about human evolution. 

“Once again the answers may come from the Caucasus, “ he said. “We may even say maybe from Georgia.” 

Author: Giorgi Lomadze | Source: Eurasianet [June 10, 2011]

Does climate change seriously threaten to wipe out the human species if left unchecked?

Countdown to doomsday 

On January 14 of this year, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the hands of its Doomsday Clock one minute further from midnight (it’s now six minutes to midnight), encouraged, it was announced, by the “progress seen around globe in both key threat areas: nuclear weapons and climate change”. 

First published in 1947, the bulletin was founded by scientists, engineers and other experts involved in the Manhattan Project. The clock continues to serve as a metaphorical countdown to the apocalypse – the annihilation of humanity – set for midnight. 

Today, the bulletin’s Board of Sponsors, comprising no less than 18 Nobel Laureates, almost every one of them a physicist or chemist, sets the hands of the clock based on their reading of “threats to the survival and development of humanity from nuclear weapons, climate change, and emerging technologies in the life sciences”. 

They’ve a much wider brief now, a longer list of threats, and, I guess, more reasons to be pessimistic. 

Extinction-prone apes 

Around 500 million years ago, animal life was almost non-existent on Earth. Today, biologists recognise up to 6 million animal species. 

Humanity – Homo sapiens – is just one among the 4,500 living mammal species; and some understanding of where we might be headed can be gleaned from where we’ve been – our evolutionary journey. 

Our starting point as a group of two-footed, small-toothed, weakly-muscled, brainy “have-a-chat” apes is the ancestor we share with living chimpanzees some 7 million years ago. 

(The two chimpanzee species are endangered, incidentally, because of the environmental destruction caused by us, their closest cousin). 

Our evolutionary group – the hominins – diversified quickly after the split from the human-chimp ancestor, and through its multiple evolutionary iterations natural selection produced 25 or 30 two-footed ape species – undoubtedly with more to be found as anthropologists discover more fossils.

All of these are now extinct, except us. 

Those 7 million years represent only the last couple of minutes on a 24-hour clock of Earth’s 5 billion year history. The culling of 30 species to 1 in this short timeframe, or a more than 95% loss of hominin biodiversity, is worse than the worst mass extinction episode recorded in the fossil record: the Permian event some 250 million years ago. 

But these mass events obscure the fact that, in the history of life, extinction has been a dominant theme, a continuous process. Evidence from the last 600 million years shows roughly one-third of existing animal species going extinct every 10 million years. 

Seen in this context, the rate of extinction in the human evolutionary tree is striking, about three times faster than normal. This strongly suggests that we hominins are a highly extinction-prone mammal. 

The blame game 

Why the dramatic loss of hominin diversity? What caused all these species to disappear? These are difficult and complex questions, but the answer may in part centre on the dramatic changes in climate that provided the backdrop for much of our evolution. 

The last half million years or so in particular represent an episode of especially severe climate fluctuation, with intensely cold periods followed by warm phases, flip-flopping between the two on timescales of hundreds or thousands of years – in short, the worst bit of the 2.6 million-year Ice Age or Pleistocene Epoch. 

The archaeological record of Europe suggests that vast areas were largely emptied of hominins during cold phases only to be recolonised during warm periods. 

Hominins, pre-dating our own species, were living in Europe at latitudes as high as 53° north by 700,000 years ago. 

The 53rd parallel runs from the United Kingdom east through the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan, China (Inner Mongolia), United States (Alaska), Canada and Ireland.
Many places at this latitude today experience temperatures as low as -40° Celsius. But the climate at that time was Mediterranean in character. Soon after, the planet plunged into another cold phase lasting 100,000 years, with vast areas of Europe covered by ice. 

The tyranny of chance 

Biologists have identified various intrinsic features of mammal species that increase their chances of extinction. They include traits such as: 

  • large body size
  •  narrow ecological breadth (i.e. specialist feeders)
  •  low abundance, or sparse numbers of individuals, in the landscape as well as fluctuation in population over time. 

Hominins are large mammals. Estimates of mass and stature for many Ice Age species would easily qualify them for spots on the front row of a rugby team … and that’s just the females! 

Large mammals are slow to mature and reproduce, and normally have one offspring at a time. While many extinct hominins were, like our own species, omnivorous, those living in cold climates relied heavily on animal food, as have recent hunter-gatherers such as the Inuit. This represents a narrowing of dietary niche on a par with many carnivores. 

Estimates of population size from this period are remarkably low, with perhaps only 5,000 individuals in warm phases, plummeting to 1,000 or less during the cold stages, probably for the whole of Europe. 

If around today, these individuals would be part of an endangered species, vulnerable to rapid extinction. And all of this applied to our own species as well for all but the last little bit of our brief evolutionary history. 

Evolutionary game-changer 

Around 10,000 years ago, something unprecedented occurred that altered the course of our evolution: we invented farming. This massive change in dietary, social and economic behavior, a cultural shift known as the Neolithic Revolution, shaped the future course of our own, and the planet’s, evolution in remarkable and unpredictable ways. 

It resulted in anatomical, physiological and genetic changes that massively altered our evolution. 

Our domestication of plants and animals, and the large-scale clearing of land, altered the history of many others as well. It paved the way for a rise in infectious disease, and social changes such as occupational specialisation, writing, standing armies and empires, long distance trade, money and markets. 

But the most profound shift of all was an explosion in human population, the result of greatly improved food security resulting in a dramatic lowering of infant and childhood mortality. 

In Europe, from a base of perhaps only 5,000 Ice Age hunter-gatherers, the take-up of farming from approximately 8,000 years ago sharply increased population growth to an estimated rate of 3% per annum, from a long-term average of zero. 

This is roughly three times today’s global annual growth rate. From a population of less than 100,000 people worldwide, we have grown in less than 10,000 years to almost 7 billion. 

Moments lost in time 

Seen in its broadest context, the history of life on Earth soberly demonstrates that the vast majority of organisms that ever lived, perhaps 99% of them, no longer do. It also shows that mammal species normally last 1-2 million years before extinction inevitably bumps them off. 

Yet, unlike most mammals, including our dozens of extinct hominin cousins, we have escaped the vulnerabilities of a small and massively fluctuating population. 

The simple, but profound act, of growing our own food delivered us the food security that ensured most of our children survived and our population grew. 

In effect, farming gave our species level assurance that the biological isn’t always inevitable. The odds have shifted to such a degree that we may now be, with or without climate change, extinction-proof. 

Author: Darren Curnoe | Source: The Conversation [June 06, 2011]