Ancient Astronomical Calendar Discovered in Scotland Predates Stonehenge by 6,000 Years

Ancient Astronomical Calendar Discovered in Scotland Predates Stonehenge by 6,000 Years

A wintertime rising gibbous Moon. (Image credit: Art Explosion).

A wintertime rising gibbous Moon. (Image credit: Art Explosion).

A team from the University of Birmingham recently announced an astronomical discovery in Scotland marking the beginnings of recorded time.

Announced last month in the Journal of Internet Archaeology, the Mesolithic monument consists of a series of pits near Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Estimated to date from 8,000 B.C., this 10,000 year old structure would pre-date calendars discovered in the Fertile Crescent region of the Middle East by over 5,000 years.

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But this is no ordinary wall calendar.

Originally unearthed by the National Trust for Scotland in 2004, the site is designated as Warren Field near the town of Crathes. It consists of 12 pits in an arc 54 metres long that seem to correspond with 12 lunar months, plus an added correction to bring the calendar back into sync with the solar year on the date of the winter solstice.

A diagram of the Warren Field site, showing the 12 pits (below) and the alignment with the phases of the Moon plus the rising of the winter solstice Sun. Note: the scale should read “0-10  metres.” (Credit: The University of Birmingham).

A diagram of the Warren Field site, showing the 12 pits (below) and the alignment with the phases of the Moon plus the rising of the winter solstice Sun. Note: the scale should read “0-10 metres.” (Credit: The University of Birmingham).

“The evidence suggests that hunter-gatherer societies in Scotland had both the need and sophistication to track time across the years, to correct for seasonal drift of the lunar year” said team leader and professor of Landscape Archaeology at the University of Birmingham Vince Gaffney.

We talked last week about the necessity of timekeeping as cultures moved from a hunter-gatherer to agrarian lifestyle. Such abilities as marking the passage of the lunar cycles or the heliacal rising of the star Sirius gave cultures the edge needed to dominate in their day.

For context, the pyramids on the plains of Giza date from around 2500 B.C., The Ice Man on display in Bolzano Italy dates from 3,300 B.C., and the end of the last Ice Age was around 20,000 to 10,000 years ago, about the time that the calendar was constructed.

“We have been taking photographs of the Scottish landscape for nearly 40 years, recording thousands of archaeological sites that would never have been detected from the ground,” said manager of Aerial projects of the Royal Commission of Aerial Survey Projects Dave Cowley. “It’s remarkable to think that our aerial survey may have helped to find the place where time was invented.”

The site at Warren Field was initially discovered during an aerial survey of the region.

Vince Gaffney, professor of Landscape and Archaeology at University of Birmingham in Warren Field, Crathes, Aberdeenshire where the discovery was made. (Credit: The University of Birmingham).

Vince Gaffney, professor of Landscape and Archaeology at University of Birmingham in Warren Field, Crathes, Aberdeenshire where the discovery was made. (Credit: The University of Birmingham).

The use of such a complex calendar by an ancient society also came as a revelation to researchers. Emeritus Professor of Archaeoastronomy at the University of Leicester Clive Ruggles notes that the site “represents a combination of several different cycles which can be used to track time symbolically and practically.”

The lunar synodic period, or the span of time that it takes for the Moon to return to the same phase (i.e., New-to-New, Full-to-Full, etc) is approximately 29.5 days. Many cultures used a strictly lunar-based calendar composed of 12 synodic months. The Islamic calendar is an example of this sort of timekeeping still in use today.

However, a 12 month lunar calendar also falls out of sync with our modern Gregorian calendar by 11 days (12 on leap years) per year.

The familiar Gregorian calendar is at the other extreme, a calendar that is strictly solar-based.  The Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1582 and is still in use today. This reconciled the 11 minute per year difference between the Julian calendar and the mean solar year, which by the time of Pope Gregory’s reform had already caused the calendar to “drift” by 10 days since the 1st Council of Nicaea 325 AD.

rtist’s conception of the Warren Field site during the winter solstice. (Credit: The University of Birmingham). Credit: The University of Birmingham

rtist’s conception of the Warren Field site during the winter solstice. (Credit: The University of Birmingham). Credit: The University of Birmingham

Surprisingly, the calendar discovered at Warren Field may be of a third and more complex variety, a luni-solar calendar. This employs the use of intercalary periods, also known as embolismic months to bring the lunar and solar calendar back into sync.

The modern Jewish calendar is an example of a luni-solar hybrid, which adds an extra month (known as the 2nd Adar or Adar Sheni) every 2-3 years. This will next occur in March 2014.

The Greek astronomer Meton of Athens noted in 5th century B.C. that 235 synodic periods very nearly add up to 19 years, to within a few hours. Today, this period bears his name, and is known as a metonic cycle. The Babylonian astronomers were aware of this as well, and with the discovery at Warren Field, it seems that ancient astronomers in Scotland may have been moving in this direction of advanced understanding as well.

It’s interesting to note that the site at Warren Field also predates Stonehenge, the most famous ancient structure in the United Kingdom by about 6,000 years. 10,000 years ago would have also seen the Earth’s rotational north celestial pole pointed near the +3.9th magnitude star Rukbalgethi Shemali (Tau Herculis) in the modern day constellation of Hercules. This is due to the 26,000 year wobble of our planet’s axis known as the precession of the equinoxes.

The precession of the north celestial pole over millennia. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons graphic under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license. Author: Tau’olunga).

The precession of the north celestial pole over millennia. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons graphic under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license. Author: Tau’olunga).

The Full Moon nearest the winter solstice also marks the “Long Nights Moon,” when the Full Moon occupies a space where the Sun resides during the summer months and  rides high above the horizon for northern observers all night. The ancients knew of the five degree tilt that our Moon has in relation to the ecliptic and how it can ride exceptionally high in the sky every 18.6 years. We’re currently headed towards a ‘shallow year’ in 2015, where the Moon rides low in relation to the ecliptic. From there, the Moon’s path in the sky will get progressively higher each year, peaking again in 2024.

Who built the Warren Field ruins along the scenic Dee Valley of Scotland? What other surprises are in store as researchers excavate the site? One thing is for certain: the ancients were astute students of the sky. It’s fascinating to realize how much of our own history has yet to be told!

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Article by David Dickinson originally posted on Universe Today

Kings of Cannabis (Full Length Documentary)

Kings of Cannabis (Full Length Documentary)

You might not know who Arjan Roskam is, but you’ve probably smoked his weed. Arjan’s been breeding some of the most famous marijuana strains in the world—like White Widow, Super Silver Haze, and many others—for over 20 years.

In 1992 he opened his first coffee shop in Amsterdam and has since crafted his marijuana-breeding skills into a market-savvy empire known as Green House Seed Company, which rakes in millions of dollars a year.

He’s won 38 Cannabis Cups and has dubbed himself the King of Cannabis.

VICE joins Arjan and his crew of strain hunters in Colombia to look for three of the country’s rarest types of weed, strains that have remained genetically pure for decades. In grower’s terms, these are called landraces. We trudge up mountains and crisscross military checkpoints in the country’s still-violent south, and then head north to the breathtaking Caribbean coast. As the dominoes of criminalization fall throughout the world, Arjan is positioned to be at the forefront of the legitimate international seed trade.

“Black Mamba”
Performed by Cut Hands
Written and produced by William Bennett
Courtesy of Susan Lawly
Used with permission

“Nine-Night”
Performed by Cut Hands
Written and produced by William Bennett
Courtesy of Susan Lawly
Used with permission

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Inca Children Were Drugged With Coca and Alcohol Before Sacrifice

Inca Children Were Drugged With Coca and Alcohol Before Sacrifice

INCA RITUALS

Scientists from the Department of Forensic Medicine at the University of Copenhagen have examined the bodies of three 500-year-old Inca children along with scientists from Bradford University in England. This has given new, detailed knowledge about the old Ince ritual ‘capacocha’ which also involved sacrificing humans. The results were published recently in the journal PNAS.

One of the examined mummies is the 13-year-old girl, ’The Llullaillaco Maiden’, named after the 6,379 meters tall volcanic mountain, Llullaillaco, where she was found frozen close to the mountain’s top. The two other bodies are a boy and a girl around 4 or 5 years old found in separate graves near The Maiden. The mummified bodies are all remarkably well-preserved and have been frozen for nearly 500 years near the top of the mountain, which is found on the border between Chile and Argentina.

“Now we know more precisely what happened in an Inca sacrifice, for example to what extent coca and alcohol were used as part of the Inca ritual in the months and weeks preceding a sacrifice. It is very satisfactory that we with our scientific methods can help uncover the unique circumstances regarding a number of very central aspects of ancient Inca culture,” says Professor Niels Lynnerup from The Department of Forensic Medicine, who, along with PhD student Chiara Villa, has analysed a number of CT scans of the mummies.

New light on Inca child sacrifice

What we have known so far about the religious capacocha ritual from the Inca Empire, was derived from written sources from the Spanish colonial power in South America. The new analyses of the frozen bodies give new knowledge about the practice of the rituals, for example the child sacrifices.

T scans performed at The Department of Forensic Medicine show that the 13-year-old girl, dubbed ’The Llullaillaco Maiden’, died with a clot of coca leaves in her mouth cavity. (Credit: The Maiden: Johan Reinhard. CT scans: The Department of Forensic Medicine, University of Copenhagen)

T scans performed at The Department of Forensic Medicine show that the 13-year-old girl, dubbed ’The Llullaillaco Maiden’, died with a clot of coca leaves in her mouth cavity. (Credit: The Maiden: Johan Reinhard. CT scans: The Department of Forensic Medicine, University of Copenhagen)

The scientists’ analyses show that the three mummified children had all ingested both coca and alcohol prior to their death. The girl, ‘The Maiden’, was even found with chewed coca leaves in her mouth, and the analyses show that her consumption of coca increased sharply twelve months before her death, and then peaked six months later. The analyses also show that her alcohol consumption peaked during the last few weeks before her death.
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“We made CT analyses and have produced three-dimensional visualisations of the mummified girl’s organs and the contents of her mouth cavity. From that we could establish her age relatively precisely just as the coca leaf stuck between her teeth and in her cheek also could be identified. Finally, because of the amazing preservation we could also determine the contents of the intestines, and thereby establish a reasonable time of her final meal,” explains Niels Lynnerup.

The other examinations show a significant consumption of cocaine from coca leaves and alcohol in the time leading to the sacrifice. Compared to analyses of her hair this creates a good picture of her life in the two years before her death.

“We can see that the ritual sacrifice has been prepared for a long time and that sustained consumption of drugs apparently was a part of the preparations prior to the sacrifice itself,” says Niels Lynnerup.

Ritual use of cocaine and alcohol

Dr. Andrew Wilson is an associate professor at the Department for Forensic and Archaeological Sciences at University of Bradford. He compares in value the new research results with the historic accounts from the Spanish colonial time.

The scientists can with some certainty say that ‘The Maiden’ was selected as sacrifice twelve months before her death. Also, she was most likely implicated in a number of rituals involving use of coca and alcohol, and both drugs were given to her under supervision for some time.

There was apparently no indication of physical violence against the children, but coca and alcohol have most likely precipitated their death, which was inevitable in the altitudes where they were found.

The circumstances during her final few weeks with ‘The Maiden’ showing consistently increased levels of coca and alcohol consumption compared the younger children show that there must have been a need to sedate her in the last weeks of her life.

This conclusion is verified by the position in which ‘The Maiden’ was found. Hun was found sitting cross-legged with her head sloping forward and her arms resting loosely on her lap. Her head piece was intact and the objects surrounding her were undisturbed. This leads the scientists to believe that she was placed in the tomb, heavily influenced by drugs.

The article, “Archaeological, radiological, and biological evidence offer insight into Inca child sacrifice”, is published in the journal PNAS.

Editors note: Original article can be found here.

Credit: The University of Copenhagen 

 

The Truth According To Wikipedia

The Truth According To Wikipedia

Google or Wikipedia? Those of us who search online — and who doesn’t? — are getting referred more and more to Wikipedia. For the past two years, this free online “encyclopedia of the people” has been topping the lists of the world’s most popular websites. But do we really know what we’re using? Backlight plunges into the story behind Wikipedia and explores the wonderful world of Web 2.0. Is it a revolution, or pure hype?

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Director IJsbrand van Veelen goes looking for the truth behind Wikipedia. Only five people are employed by the company, and all its activities are financed by donations and subsidies. The online encyclopedia that everyone can contribute to and revise is now even bigger than the illustrious Encyclopedia Britannica. Does this spell the end for traditional institutions of knowledge such as Britannica? And should we applaud this development as progress or mourn it as a loss? How reliable is Wikipedia? Do “the people” really hold the lease on wisdom? And since when do we believe that information should be free for all? In this film, “Wikipedians,” the folks who spend their days writing and editing articles, explain how the online encyclopedia works. In addition, the parties involved discuss Wikipedia’s ethics and quality of content. It quickly becomes clear that there are camps of both believers and critics. Wiki’s Truth introduces us to the main players in the debate: Jimmy Wales (founder and head Wikipedian), Larry Sanger (co-founder of Wikipedia, now head of Wiki spin-off Citizendium), Andrew Keen (author of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture and Assaulting Our Economy), Phoebe Ayers (a Wikipedian in California), Ndesanjo Macha (Swahili Wikipedia, digital activist), Tim O’Reilly (CEO of O’Reilly Media, the “inventor” of Web 2.0), Charles Leadbeater (philosopher and author of We Think, about crowdsourcing), and Robert McHenry (former editor-in-chief of Encyclopedia Britannica). Opening is a video by Chris Pirillo.

The questions surrounding Wikipedia lead to a bigger discussion of Web 2.0, a phenomenon in which the user determines the content. Examples include YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, and Wikipedia. These sites would appear to provide new freedom and opportunities for undiscovered talent and unheard voices, but just where does the boundary lie between expert and amateur? Who will survive according to the laws of this new “digital Darwinism”? Are equality and truth really reconcilable ideals? And most importantly, has the Internet brought us wisdom and truth, or is it high time for a cultural counterrevolution?

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