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Clues to lost prehistoric code discovered in Mesopotamia

Clues to lost prehistoric code discovered in Mesopotamia

By Owen Jarus

Published October 11, 2013

LiveScience
  • 1-prehistoric-code

    Archaeologists are using CT scanning and 3D modelling to crack a lost prehistoric code hidden inside clay balls, dating to some 5,500 years ago, found in Mesopotamia. (ANNA RESSMAN/COURTESY ORIENTAL INSTITUTE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO.)

Researchers studying clay balls from Mesopotamia have discovered clues to a lost code that was used for record-keeping about 200 years before writing was invented.

The clay balls may represent the world’s “very first data storage system,” at least the first that scientists know of, said Christopher Woods, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, in a lecture at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum, where he presented initial findings.

The balls, often called “envelopes” by researchers, were sealed and contain tokens in a variety of geometric shapes the balls varying from golf ball-size to baseball-size. Only about 150 intact examples survive worldwide today. [See Photos of the Clay Balls & Lost Code]

The researchers used high-resolution CT scans and 3D modeling to look inside more than 20 examples that were excavated at the site of Choga Mish, in western Iran, in the late 1960s. They were created about 5,500 years ago at a time when early cities were flourishing in Mesopotamia.

Researchers have long believed these clay balls were used to record economic transactions. That interpretation is based on an analysis of a 3,300-year-old clay ball found at a site in Mesopotamia named Nuzi that had 49 pebbles and a cuneiform text containing a contract commanding a shepherd to care for 49 sheep and goats.

How these devices would have worked in prehistoric times, before the invention of writing, is a mystery. Researchers now face the question of how people recorded the number and type of a commodity being exchanged without the help of writing.

Peering inside
The CT scans revealed that some of the balls have tiny channels, 1-2 millimeters (less than one-tenth of an inch) across, crisscrossing them. Woods said he’s not certain what they were used for, but speculates the balls contained fine threads that connected together on the outside. These threads could have held labels, perhaps made out of wax, which reflected the tokens within the clay balls.

The tokens within the balls come in 14 different shapes, including spheres, pyramids, ovoids, lenses and cones, the researchers found. Rather than representing whole words, these shapes would have conveyed numbers connected to a variety of metrological systems used in counting different types of commodities, Woods suggested. One ovoid, for instance, might mean a certain unit, say 10, which was used while counting a certain type of commodity.

The researchers, however, were perplexed when their CT scans found one clay ball containing tokens made of a low-density material, likely bitumen, a petroleum substance. “When we make a three-dimensional model of the cavity you get this very strange amoeba like-looking shape,” Woods said during the lecture.

The tokens, in this instance, had air bubbles around them, suggesting they were wrapped in cloth before being put in the ball, the cloth disintegrating over time. In addition, it appears that a liquid, likely liquid bitumen, was poured over the tokens after they were inserted into the balls. What someone was trying to communicate by creating such tokens is unknown.

“That’s a mystery,” Woods told LiveScience in an interview. “I don’t really have a good answer for that,” he said, adding that the bitumen tokens may represent a divergent accounting practice, or, perhaps even, that the transaction recorded involved bitumen.

In ancient Mesopotamia bitumen was used as an adhesive and to waterproof things like baskets, boats and the foundations of buildings, Woods said. [In Photos: Treasures from Mesopotamia]

Cracking the prehistoric code
All of the clay balls contain, on the outside, one “equatorial” seal (running through the middle) and quite often two “polar” seals, running above and below.

The equatorial seals tend to be unique and more complex containing what appear to be mythological motifs; for instance a ball from the Louvre Museum shows human figures fighting what appear to be serpents. The polar seals, on the other hand, are repeated more often and tend to have simpler geometric motifs.

Based on this evidence, Woods hypothesizes the seal in the middle represents the “buyer” or recipient; the polar seals would represent the “seller” or distributor and perhaps third parties who would have participated in the transaction or acted as witnesses.

Many people would have acted as the buyers, but only a limited number of sellers or distributors would have been around to transact business with, explaining why the polar seals are repeated more often.

After a transaction of some importance was complete, one of these clay devices was created to serve as a “receipt” of sorts for the seller, as a record of what was expended. “There’s a greater necessity to keep track of things that have been expended than things that are on hand,” Woods said in the lecture.

Deciphering what transaction each clay ball represented is a trickier problem. Woods suspects the tokens represent numbers and metrical units. It’s possible that, through the different token shapes, people in prehistoric times communicated numbers and units in a way similar to how the first scribes did 200 years later when writing was invented. If that’s the case, Woods and other scientists may be able, in time, to crack the code by uncovering how token types cluster and vary.

“If they are, then there is at least some hope of deciphering the envelopes and with it uncovering the earliest evidence for complex numerical literacy,” Woods said.

Technological achievement
The amount of detail the scientists gleaned from the CT scans and 3D modeling was extraordinary, Woods said during the lecture. “We can learn more about these artifacts by non-destructive testing than we could by physically opening the envelopes,” he said.

Woods will publish the full research results in the future and plans to put the images and 3D models online.

To peer inside the balls Woods worked with Jeffrey Diehm, who arranged for them to be CT scanned on a state-of-the-art industrial scanner (which is better suited for this work than a medical version), and Jim Topich, who had the CT images converted into detailed, dissectible, 3D models. Diehm was with North Star Imaging in Minnesota at the time the scans were done in 2011 (he is now the managing director of Avonix Imaging) and Topich is director of engineering and design at Kinetic Vision in Cincinnati.

The Royal Ontario Museum has a special exhibition on Mesopotamia that runs to Jan. 5, 2014. Woods’ presentation is part of a lecture series that is appearing along with it.

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Ancient Alien Skulls?

Ancient, deformed skulls fuel ‘alien’ theories

By Benjamin Radford

Digging History

Published December 20, 2012

Discovery News

Archaeologists digging near Mexico’s Sonora desert have discovered what appears to be the burial ground of an early Mesoamerican society, including signs of deformed skulls.

According to a story at Past Horizons Archaeology,

The burial ground consists of 25 individuals; 13 have intentional cranial deformation and five also have dental mutilation, cultural practices which are similar to those of pre-Hispanic groups in southern Sinaloa and northern Nayarit, but until now, have not been seen in Sonora…. Archaeologist Cristina Garcia Moreno, director of the research project…said that, “Cranial deformation in Mesoamerican cultures was used to differentiate one social group from another and for ritual purposes, while the dental mutilation in cultures such as the Nayarit was seen as a rite of passage into adolescence. This is confirmed by the findings at the Sonora cemetery where the five bodies with dental mutilation are all over 12 years in age.”

The main significance to archaeologists is that the discovery suggests the presence (or influence) of Mesoamerican societies much farther north than previously believed.

PHOTOS: Top 10 Places To Find Alien Life

 

‘Cranial deformation in Mesoamerican cultures was used to differentiate one social group from another.’

– Past Horizons Archaeology

However for many UFO buffs, the discovery suggests something else entirely: that extraterrestrials (or their half-human hybrid offspring) may have been buried there. Of course the Internet being what it is, it didn’t take long for alien conspiracy theories to raise their oblong heads.

This is not the first time that weird skulls found in Mexico have been offered as evidence for ancient extraterrestrial visitation.

A child’s deformed skull — later dubbed the “Starchild skull” — was found in the early 1930s in the arid region around Chihuahua. It was later sold to a UFO researcher who has exhibited the artifact at UFO and paranormal-themed conferences for many years, claiming that it is too unusual to be fully human and is the offspring of an extraterrestrial male and a human female.

ANALYSIS: How Do Alien Worlds Reveal Themselves?

Scientists, however, are skeptical; two sets of DNA tests (one in 1999 and another in 2003) confirmed that the skull was in fact human: a Native American or Mesoamerican male child who likely suffered from hydrocephalus, a condition which leads to skull elongation and deformation.

A common theme pervades mystery-mongering circles: Anything not immediately explainable or obvious is interpreted as a baffling mystery, often with paranormal connotations.

Thus a strange object in the sky becomes a flying saucer; a mangy dead coyote becomes a chupacabra; and a deformed or sick child’s skull becomes an alien hybrid. Science fiction speculation is fun, but should not eclipse the real science and significance of these stories; truth is often stranger — and more interesting — than fiction.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2012/12/20/ancient-deformed-skulls-fuel-alien-theories/?intcmp=features#ixzz2GnaMYKf3

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Ancient Mysteries

Reprinted from PlanetX

The 10 Most Puzzling Ancient Artifacts

The Grooved Spheres

Over the last few decades, miners in South Africa have been digging up mysterious metal spheres. Origin unknown, these spheres measure approximately an inch or so in diameter, and some are etched with three parallel grooves running around the equator. Two types of spheres have been found: one is composed of a solid bluish metal with flecks of white; the other is hollowed out and filled with a spongy white substance. The kicker is that the rock in which they where found is Precambrian – and dated to 2.8 billion years old! Who made them and for what purpose is unknown.

The Dropa Stones
In 1938, an archeological expedition led by Dr. Chi Pu Tei into the Baian-Kara-Ula mountains of China made an astonishing discovery in some caves that had apparently been occupied by some ancient culture. Buried in the dust of ages on the cave floor were hundreds of stone disks. Measuring about nine inches in diameter, each had a circle cut into the center and was etched with a spiral groove, making it look for all the world like some ancient phonograph record some 10,000 to 12,000 years old. The spiral groove, it turns out, is actually composed of tiny hieroglyphics that tell the incredible story of spaceships from some distant world that crash-landed in the mountains. The ships were piloted by people who called themselves the Dropa, and the remains of whose descendents, possibly, were found in the cave.


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The Ica Stones
Beginning in the 1930s, the father of Dr. Javier Cabrera, Cultural Anthropologist for Ica, Peru, discovered many hundreds of ceremonial burial stones in the tombs of the ancient Incas. Dr. Cabrera, carrying on his father’s work, has collected more than 1,100 of these andesite stones, which are estimated to be between 500 and 1,500 years old and have become known collectively as the Ica Stones. The stones bear etchings, many of which are sexually graphic (which was common to the culture), some picture idols and others depict such practices as open-heart surgery and brain transplants. The most astonishing etchings, however, clearly represent dinosaurs – brontosaurs, triceratops (see photo), stegosaurus and pterosaurs. While skeptics consider the Ica Stones a hoax, their authenticity has neither been proved or disproved.


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The Antikythera Mechanism
A perplexing artifact was recovered by sponge-divers from a shipwreck in 1900 off the coast of Antikythera, a small island that lies northwest of Crete. The divers brought up from the wreck a great many marble and and bronze statues that had apparently been the ship’s cargo. Among the findings was a hunk of corroded bronze that contained some kind of mechanism composed of many gears and wheels. Writing on the case indicated that it was made in 80 B.C., and many experts at first thought it was an astrolabe, an astronomer’s tool. An x-ray of the mechanism, however, revealed it to be far more complex, containing a sophisticated system of differential gears. Gearing of this complexity was not known to exist until 1575! It is still unknown who constructed this amazing instrument 2,000 years ago or how the technology was lost.


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The Baghdad Battery
Today batteries can be found in any grocery, drug, convenience and department store you come across. Well, here’s a battery that’s 2,000 years old! Known as the Baghdad Battery, this curiosity was found in the ruins of a Parthian village believed to date back to between 248 B.C. and 226 A.D. The device consists of a 5-1/2-inch high clay vessel inside of which was a copper cylinder held in place by asphalt, and inside of that was an oxidized iron rod. Experts who examined it concluded that the device needed only to be filled with an acid or alkaline liquid to produce an electric charge. It is believed that this ancient battery might have been used for electroplating objects with gold. If so, how was this technology lost… and the battery not rediscovered for another 1,800 years?


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The Coso Artifact
While mineral hunting in the mountains of California near Olancha during the winter of 1961, Wallace Lane, Virginia Maxey and Mike Mikesell found a rock, among many others, that they thought was a geode – a good addition for their gem shop. Upon cutting it open, however, Mikesell found an object inside that seemed to be made of white porcelain. In the center was a shaft of shiny metal. Experts estimated that it should have taken about 500,000 years for this fossil-encrusted nodule to form, yet the object inside was obviously of sophisticated human manufacture. Further investigation revealed that the porcelain was surround by a hexagonal casing, and an x-ray revealed a tiny spring at one end. Some who have examined the evidence say it looks very much like a modern-day spark plug. How did it get inside a 500,000-year-old rock?

Ancient Model Aircraft
There are artifacts belonging to ancient Egyptian and Central American cultures that look amazingly like modern-day aircraft. The Egyptian artifact, found in a tomb at Saqquara, Egypt in 1898, is a six-inch wooden object that strongly resembles a model airplane, with fuselage, wings and tail. Experts believe the object is so aerodynamic that it is actually able to glide. The small object discovered in Central America (shown at right), and estimated to be 1,000 years old, is made of gold and could easily be mistaken for a model of a delta-wing aircraft – or even the Space Shuttle. It even features what looks like a pilot’s seat.


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Giant Stone Balls of Costa Rica
Workmen hacking and burning their way through the dense jungle of Costa Rica to clear an area for banana plantations in the 1930s stumbled upon some incredible objects: dozens of stone balls, many of which were perfectly spherical. They varied in size from as small as a tennis ball to an astonishing 8 feet in diameter and weighing 16 tons! Although the great stone balls are clearly man-made, it is unknown who made them, for what purpose and, most puzzling, how they achieved such spherical precision.

Impossible Fossils
Fossils, as we learned in grade school, appear in rocks that were formed many thousands of years ago. Yet there are a number of fossils that just don’t make geological or historical sense. A fossil of ahuman handprint, for example, was found in limestone estimated to be 110 million years old. What appears to be a fossilizedhuman finger found in the Canadian Arctic also dates back 100 to 110 million years ago. And what appears to be the fossil of ahuman footprint, possibly wearing a sandal, was found near Delta, Utah in a shale deposit estimated to be 300 million to 600 million years old.

Out-of-Place Metal Objects
Humans were not even around 65 million years ago, never mind people who could work metal. So then how does science explain semi-ovoid metallic tubes dug out of 65-million-year-old Cretaceous chalk in France? In 1885, a block of coal was broken open to find a metal cube obviously worked by intelligent hands. In 1912, employees at an electric plant broke apart a large chunk of coal out of which fell an iron pot! A nail was found embedded in a sandstone block from the Mesozoic Era. And there are many, many more such anomalies.

What are we to make of these finds? There are several possibilities:

  • Intelligent humans date back much, much further than we realize.
  • Other intelligent beings and civilizations existed on earth far beyond our recorded history.
  • Our dating methods are completely inaccurate, and that stone, coal and fossils form much more rapidly than we now estimate.

In any case, these examples – and there are many more – should prompt any curious and open-minded scientist to reexamine and rethink the true history of life on earth.

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