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Historic map may lead to further discoveries at James Fort

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A map known as the Zuñiga Map may lead to further discoveries at James Fort, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas.

The Zuñiga Map is a manuscript depicting the Chesapeake Bay and Tidewater Virginia, which is a copy of a map probably drawn by Captain John Smith, who played an important role in the establishment of the colony at Jamestown.

The map is named after Don Pedro de Zúñiga, a Spanish ambassador to England who sent the map to Philip III of Spain in 1608. The map is significant for noting the location of native villages, the location of Jamestown, and the architecture of James Fort, which is used in the logo for the Jamestown Rediscovery Project.

A letter from Zuñiga to Philip III, housed in the British Library, reads: “I have thought proper to send Y.M. a plan of Virginia and another of the Fort which the English have erected there, together with a report given to me by a person who has been there. Still, I am trying to learn more, and I shall report about it.”

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Company

A closer examination of the map shows a feature that looks like a flag extending from the north bulwark of the fort, which has led to new excavations on a previously unexplored area of Jamestown Island.

According to former Jamestown curator, Bly Straube, the flag may have been incorrectly interpreted and could indicate an enclosure or garden that supported the fort inhabitants.

Back in 2019, researchers from the Jamestown Rediscovery Project conducted a ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey on the area indicated by the flag. The survey revealed a large ditch that archaeologists believe dates to 1608.

Excavations in 2022 found a Confederate moat from 1861 which cut into the ditch, in addition to a brick-lined well from 1617 north of what was once Fort Pocahontas. Fort Pocahontas was a Civil War-era Confederate fort that was built on top of James Fort shortly after Confederate troops arrived at the island in 1861.

Excavations are planned in the autumn of 2023 to reveal the entirety of the well and further investigate the area indicated by the flag feature on the Zuñiga Map. John Smith wrote of more than 50 houses at Jamestown in 1608, and archaeologists have yet to uncover any of these houses in the vicinity of the fort.

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Archaeology

2,000 ram heads uncovered at Temple of Rameses II in Abydos

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An archaeological mission led by the University of York has uncovered 2,000 ram heads at the Temple of Rameses II in Abydos, Egypt.

Abydos is one of the oldest cities of Ancient Egypt following Upper Egypt becoming unified under Abydos rulers during the Naqada III period (3200–3000 BC).

The city was the site of many ancient temples, including Umm el-Qa’ab, a royal necropolis where early pharaohs were entombed, and the temple of Seti I, which contains an inscription known as the Abydos King List (a chronology of dynastic pharaohs of Ancient Egypt from Menes until Seti I’s father, Ramesses I).

During the 19th dynasty, Ramesses II, also known as Ramesses the Great, constructed a temple complex in dedication primarily to Osiris and Seti I. Ramesses II is often regarded as the most celebrated pharaoh of the New Kingdom, which itself was the most powerful period of Ancient Egypt.

The temple is decorated with several achievements from his rule, including scenes of the Battle of Kadesh where the forces of the New Kingdom of Egypt under Ramesses II, and the Hittite Empire under Muwatalli II, fought near the modern Lebanon–Syria border around 1274 BC.

Excavations at the temple complex by archaeologists from the University of York have uncovered 2,000 ram heads dating from the Ptolemaic period. The team also found the remains of ewes, wild goats, dogs, cows, gazelles and mongooses within a room in the temple complex, which are thought to be votive offerings in reverence to Ramses II 1,000 years after his death.

Image Credit : Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

A large palatial structure was also discovered from the Old Kingdom’s 6th Dynasty, containing several statues, papyri, ancient tree remains, leather garments and shoes, in addition to parts of the northern wall that surrounded the Temple of Rameses II.

According to the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the palace will greatly contribute to a new interpretation of how the site looked during the Old Kingdom and the activities that took place there.

Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

Header Image Credit : Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

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The “Stonehenge calendar” shown to be a modern construct

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Stonehenge is an astonishingly complex monument, which attracts attention mostly for its spectacular megalithic circle and “horseshoe”, built around 2600 BC.

Over the years, several theories have been put forward about Stonehenge’s meaning and function. Today, however, archaeologists have a rather clear picture of this monument as a “place for the ancestors”, located within a complex ancient landscape which included several other elements.

Archaeoastronomy has a key role in this interpretation since Stonehenge exhibits an astronomical alignment to the sun which, due to the flatness of the horizon, refers both to the summer solstice sunrise and to the winter solstice sunset. This accounts for a symbolic interest of the builders in the solar cycle, most probably related to the connections between the afterlife and winter solstice in Neolithic societies

This is, of course, very far from saying that the monument was used as a giant calendrical device, as instead has been proposed in a new theory published in the renewed Archaeology Journal Antiquity.  According to this theory, the monument represents a calendar based on 365 days per year divided into 12 months of 30 days plus five epagomenal days, with the addition of a leap year every four. This calendar is identical to the Alexandrian one, introduced more than two millennia later, at the end of the first century BC as a combination of the Julian calendar and the Egyptian civil calendar.

To justify this “calendar in stone”, the number of the days is obtained by multiplying the 30 sarsen lintels (probably) present in the original project by 12 and adding to 360 the number of the standing trilithons of the Horseshoe, which is five.

The addition of a leap year every four is related to the number of the “station stones”, which is, indeed, four. This machinery was allegedly kept in operation using the solstice alignment of the axis and was supposedly taken from Egypt, much refining, however, the Egyptian calendar, which was of 365 days (the leap year correction was not present until Roman times).

This is the admittedly fascinating theory that has been subjected to a severe stress test by two renewed experts of  Archaeoastronomy, Juan Antonio Belmonte (Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias and Universidad de La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain) and Giulio Magli (Politecnico of Milan). In their paper, which is going to be published on Antiquity as well, the authors show that the theory is based on a series of forced interpretations of the astronomical connections of the monument, as well as on debatable numerology and unsupported analogies.

First of all, astronomy. Although the solstice alignment is quite accurate, Magli and Belmonte show that the slow movement of the sun at the horizon in the days close to solstices makes it impossible to control the correct working of the alleged calendar, as the device (remember: composed by huge stones) should be able to distinguish positions as accurate as a few arc minutes, that is, less than 1/10 of one degree.  So, while the existence of the axis does show interest in the solar cycle in a broad sense, it provides no proof whatsoever for inferring the number of days of the year conceived by the builders.

Second, is numerology. Attributing meanings to “numbers” in a monument is always a risky procedure. In this case, a “key number” of the alleged calendar, 12, is not recognizable anywhere, as well as any means of taking into account the additional epagomenal day every four years, while other “numbers” are simply ignored (for instance, the Stonehenge portal was made of two stones). Thus, the theory suffers also from the so-called “selection effect”, a procedure in which only the elements favourable to a desired interpretation are extracted from the material records.

Finally, cultural paragons. The first elaboration of the 365 plus 1-day calendar is documented in Egypt only two millennia later than Stonehenge (and entered into use further centuries later). Thus, even if the builders took the calendar from Egypt, they refined it on their own. In addition, they invented on their own also a building to control time, since nothing of this kind ever existed in ancient Egypt – probably the Egyptians reflected the drift of their 365-day

calendar through the seasons in their architecture but this is far different. Besides, a transfer and elaboration of notions with Egypt occurred around 2600 BC and has no archaeological basis.

All in all, the alleged “Neolithic” solar-precise Stonehenge calendar is shown to be a purely modern construct whose archaeoastronomical and calendrical bases are flawed.

As occurred many times in the past – for instance, for the claims (shown untenable by modern research) that Stonehenge was used to predict eclipses – the monument returns to its role of the silent witness of the sacred landscape of its builders, a role which – as Magli and Belmonte stress – does not take anything away from his extraordinary fascination and importance.

Antiquity

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