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Monthly Archives: January 2018

Biblical king’s palace uncovered beneath shrine destroyed by ISIS

The remains of the Tomb of Prophet Yunus, destroyed by Islamic State militants, in Mosul, Iraq, January 28, 2017. (REUTERS/Azad Lashkari)

The remains of the Tomb of Prophet Yunus, destroyed by Islamic State militants, in Mosul, Iraq, January 28, 2017. (REUTERS/Azad Lashkari)

Archaeologists in Mosul have made a stunning find beneath the Tomb of the Prophet Jonah that was destroyed by Islamic State militants in 2014: the long-hidden palace of ancient Assyrian King Sennacherib.

Experts were documenting the jihadists’ destruction of the tomb’s ruins when they located the palace, which dates back to 600 B.C. ISIS had dug tunnels into the site in a search for ancient artifacts to plunder, according to media reports.

The Telegraph reports that Iraqi archaeologist Layla Salih found a marble cuneiform inscription of Assyrian King Esarhaddon inside one of the tunnels. The inscription is believed to date to 672 B.C. when the palace was part of the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh.

One of the earliest forms of writing, cuneiform harnesses wedge-shaped marks and was widely used in ancient Mesopotamian civilizations.

The palace was built for the Assyrian King Sennarcherib, expanded by his son Esarhaddon, and renovated by his grandson King Ashurbanipal, according to the Telegraph, which notes that the palace was partly destroyed during the sack of Nineveh in 612 B.C. Sennacherib’s invasion of the ancient kingdom of Judah is extensively documented in the Bible. Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal are also mentioned in scripture, although feature less prominently.

Elsewhere in the tunnel, archaeologists found ancient Assyrian stone sculptures of a demi-goddess, the Telegraph reports.

The Tomb of Jonah, or Nebi Yunus in Arabic, is located on a hill in Eastern Mosul. The site was recaptured from ISIS by the Iraqi army last month during its Mosul offensive.

Jonah is revered in Christian, Muslim, and Jewish traditions. The Prophet’s tomb, which was located within a Sunni mosque, was destroyed by ISIS militants in July 2014.

Dr. Paul Collins, Chair of The British Institute for the Study of Iraq, which is working with the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage and UNESCO to protect Iraq’s cultural heritage, told Fox News that there could be more damage at the site. “The tunnels, probably dug for looting, are in imminent danger of collapse,” he explained, via email. “If this happens the result will be even more destruction at a site that had already been devastated by the explosions that destroyed the ancient Shrine of Jonah – in effect we will lose a place where Iraq’s ancient, medieval and modern cultural heritage rests one above the other.”

Archaeologists have been aware since the nineteenth century that ancient Assyrian royal buildings are beneath the shrine, according to Collins, who notes that inscriptions and a relief from a dig in the 1870s are now in the British Museum. “Iraqi excavations in the 1950s revealed an entrance to an Assyrian royal arsenal and in 1990 a large Assyrian building to the east of the mosque guarded by colossal human-headed winged bulls was excavated, but this work came to an end with the Iraq/Kuwait war,” he said.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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15th-century manuscript with ‘alien’ characters finally decoded

Scientists have harnessed the power of artificial intelligence to unlock the secrets of an ancient manuscript that has baffled experts.

Discovered in the 19th century, the Voynich manuscript uses “alien” characters that have long puzzled cryptographers and historians. Now, however, computing scientists at the University of Alberta say they are decoding the mysterious 15th-century text.

Computing science Professor Greg Kondrak and graduate student Bradley Hauer applied artificial intelligence to find ambiguities in the text’s human language.

The first stage of the research was working out the manuscript’s language. The experts used 400 different language translations from the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” to identify the language used in the text. Initially, it seemed like the text was written in Arabic, but the researcher’s algorithms revealed that the manuscript is written in Hebrew.

“That was surprising,” said Kondrak, in a statement. “And just saying ‘this is Hebrew’ is the first step. The next step is how do we decipher it.”

Kondrak and Hauer worked out that Voynich manuscript was created using ‘alphagrams’ that use one phrase to define another so built an algorithm to unscramble the text. “It turned out that over 80 per cent of the words were in a Hebrew dictionary, but we didn’t know if they made sense together,” said Kondrak.

The initial part of the text was then run through Google Translate. “It came up with a sentence that is grammatical, and you can interpret it,” Kondrak explained.

The sentence was: “She made recommendations to the priest, man of the house and me and people.”

The full meaning of the text will need the involvement of historians of ancient Hebrew. The vellum, or animal skin, on which the codex is written has been dated to the early 15th century.

The research study is published in Volume 4 ofTransactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics.

There have been multiple attempts to decode the Voynich manuscript. In 2014, for example, researchers argued that the illustrations of plants in the manuscript could help decode the text’s strange characters. In 2011, a self-proclaimed “prophet of God” claimed that he had decoded the book.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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Comic book convention bans Kevin Sorbo over friendship with Sean Hannity

The founder of a popular New Jersey comic book convention reportedly banned famed actor Kevin Sorbo because of his friendship with Sean Hannity.

“I turned down Kevin Sorbo for East Coast Comicon,” founder Cliff Galbraith wrote on Facebook. “He’s pals with Sean Hannity. I just can’t do it.”

Sorbo is a popular figure at comic conventions – known for starring in “Hercules.” He is also a devout Christian. And he also happens to be a friend of Hannity.

Hannity was the executive producer and financed “Let There Be Light,” a hugely successful faith-based film that starred Sorbo.

“I’ve never even heard of the East Coast Comicon,” Sorbo told the Todd Starnes Radio Show. “They don’t have any A-Listers attending. I think they are looking for free publicity.”

I reached out to the East Coast Comicon but they did not respond to my inquiries.

Hannity told the “Todd Starnes Radio Show” that Galbraith is “just mad that comic book movies are just boring formulaic Hollywood drivel that people are tired of.”

“And ‘Let There Be Light’ was a breakout hit without any Hollywood support,” Hannity said.

“Let There Be Light was the fourth highest-grossing faith-based film in 2017 and they were second in box office receipts against Thor’s opening weekend.

“I’ll pity the poor insecure guy who cannot escape his comic book world, and handle a little real world truth and reality and an opposing viewpoint,” Hannity told the Todd Starnes Radio Show. “Take that Batman.”

Sorbo said he was not terribly surprised to learn about Galbraith’s snub.

“The Left always screams about tolerance and freedom of speech, but it’s a one-way street for them,” he said. “I don’t get upset with someone having a different point of view.”

A poster for last year’s comic book convention featured the Statue of Liberty cloaked in terms like homophobia, misogyny, racism, xenophobia, voter suppression – well, you get the point.

Galbraith’s Twitter feed is filled with all sorts of anti-Trump rantings – including this one:

“Who was stupid enough to buy a condo from Trump? You supported him years ago by buying a condo from him. His name should be branded on your forehead.”

This guy sounds like a cross between Lex Luthor and the Joker.

“The Left gets so angry and they go crazy,” Sorbo told the Todd Starnes Radio Show. “What are you going to do? It is what they are.”

From a business standpoint, it would make sense for the East Coast Comicon to invite Sorbo. He’s a successful movie actor with a massive fan base.

But if a businessman wants to put politics in front of profits, so be it.

The East Coast Comicon is under no constitutional mandate to invite Kevin Sorbo. Likewise, freedom-loving comic book fans are under no constitutional obligation to attend the East Coast Comicon.

By the way, the “Let There Be Light DVD launches on Feb. 27th.

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Terrifying shark with extendable jaws like the ‘Alien’ monster is dragged from the deep

Scientists were left baffled after catching a rare shark that can extend its jaws beyond its mouth – just like the monster from sci-fi hit “Alien.”

It seizes its pray with its rapidly extending jaws – which can be used to swallow large fish with one bite.

The glow-in-the-dark beast is so incredibly rare that only a handful have been caught since they were first discovered in 1986.

Describing them, it said: “The most obvious feature are the needle-shaped teeth, like snake-like fangs; this is also the origin of viper shark name.”

Because they are so seldom seen, little is known about viper sharks =- but they’re believed to migrate from 300m-400m deep during the day to 150m deep at night.

Of the latest specimens – which were caught at a depth of 350m – four were dead and the living shark was immersed in cool seawater, but died a day later.

The viper shark diet comprises crustaceans and bony fishes, including lanternfishes – perhaps attracted by the predator’s glowing body.

The species was first discovered in 1986 off the coast of Shikoku Island, Japan, by the bottom-trawler, Seiryo-Maru.

Its scientific name Trigonognathus kabeyai honours the fishing vessel’s captain, Hiromichi Kabeya.

This story originally appeared in The Sun.

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Prehistoric ‘paradise’ with trove of flint axes discovered in Israel

Archaeologists in Israel have uncovered a prehistoric ‘paradise’ dating back half a million years.

Experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University have been excavating the site at Jaljulia in Central Israel in recent months, unearthing hundreds of flint hand axes.

“The site of Jaljulia is unique and very special,” explained Professor Ron Barkai, head of the archaeology department at Tel Aviv University, in a video posted to YouTube. “It was used by people half a million years ago, it was covered rapidly by sediment – nobody knew that it was here.”

Archaeologists say that the site, which is on the banks of an ancient stream (now flowing about a third of a mile to the south), was rich in vegetation and herding animals. In a statement, Barkai and Maayan Shemer, who directed the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities authority, described the site as a “green spot” in the landscape.

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The excavation at Jaljulia. (Samuel Magal, Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

The excavation offers a fascinating glimpse into the lives of prehistoric humans living during the Lower Paleolithic period. Specifically, the haul of teardrop-shaped flint hand axes is evidence of activity by Homo Erectus, a direct ancestor of modern humans.

“A river was running here, running from East to West, bringing with it a lot of flint nodules,” explained Barkai, noting that the nodules were used to create flint tools and butcher animals. “Animals came here because of the water, so for people it was like a paradise, so they came here again and again.”

“The findings are amazing, both in their preservation state and in their implications about our understanding of this ancient material culture,” Shemer added in the statement. “We see here a wide technological variety, and there is no doubt that researching these finds in-depth will contribute greatly to the understanding of the lifestyle and human behavior during the period in which Homo Erectus inhabited our area.”

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Maayan Shemer, excavation director for the Israel Antiquities Authority, showing a half-million year-old hand axe. (Samuel Magal, Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

The discovery is the latest fascinating prehistoric find in Israel. In 2016, experts found the remains of 780,000-year-old edible plants, shedding light on the diet of early humans.

In 2014, a 300,000-year-old hearth was discovered in the Qesem Cave near the town of Rosh Ha’ayin in Central Israel. The Qesem Cave is about 3 miles to the south of the Jaljulia excavation site.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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