Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Media Review corner

We would like to say we disagree with the Archaeology.com review of Rameses: Wrath of God or Man? on The Discovery Channel. But, that review pretty much covers it. The bottom line is that the entire story could have been told in a single hour and we would have been spared the constant repetitions of the individual dramatizations. Really, how many times do we need to see a wispy cloud hovering above the pharoah's son? We counted at least 10 which is approximately nine more than would be necessary. This was the central problem with the whole program: Overdramatization and far, far too much lead-in to really rather trival points. For example, after a long and convoluted segment touching on the presumed age of the first-born son of pharoah that was killed by the Israelite God, we finally get less than a minute of Caroline Wilkinson simply showing that the cranial sutures indicate the skull in question belonged to a 30-ish year old male. That could have been cleared up in 3 minutes.

Otherwise, the program was largely about the Exodus and whether it "really happened" or not, with the Egyptian evidence as little more than background to show how it could have been true. This often followed the by-now cliché formula of changing 'coulds' to 'dids'. After a rather long segment on the battle of Kadesh (a nice topic, but rather shallowly done in this case) we are told, for instance, that what was really a military draw was presented as a grand victory at home. The implication is that if something bad happened, they wouldn't write it down as such, if at all. Thus, if we find no written evidence for the Exodus, it might be because Ramesses didn't want anyone to know about it. The narrator then describes the lack-of-Exodus-evidence as a "cover-up'. Ergo, absence of evidence becomes evidence of presence!

There were also some trivial goofs. The narrator mispronounced Amarna as 'Armana' a couple of times before getting it right (editors!).

So we'll give it two skulls. One skull would have been plenty but we appreciated the attractiveness of the ancient Egyptians in the dramatizations. Otherwise, if you want the Exodus, rent The Ten Commandments.

Neolithic boozers Scientists: China may have been first winemakers

Neolithic people in China may have been the first in the world to make wine, according to scientists who have found the earliest evidence of winemaking from pottery shards dating from 7,000 BC in northern China.

Previously the oldest evidence of fermented beverages was dated to 5400 B.C. and was found at the Neolithic site of Hajji Firuz Tepe, in Iran.

But in a study published in the science journal PNAS on Monday, Dr Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania said laboratory tests on pottery jars from the village of Jiahu in Henan province had shown traces of a mixed fermented drink of rice, honey, and either grapes or hawthorne fruit.

Fight! Fight! (continuing) Elgin Marbles Dispute Takes New Twist

One of the oldest international cultural disputes, the battle over the Elgin Marbles, has taken another turn as a distinguished Cambridge scholar says the sculptures would have been just fine if Lord Elgin had left them in Athens.

Following a sophisticated 11-year conservation program in Athens, the 14 slabs that Lord Elgin did not manage to remove are now showing surprisingly bright original details.

(Don't) let sleeping buddhas lie Find stirs Sleeping Buddha talk

French archeologists searching for the colossal Sleeping Buddha in Bamiyan province have uncovered what could be the long-missing statue's foot, raising hopes of a major new discovery from Afghanistan's ancient Buddhist past.
Ever since the fundamentalist Taliban destroyed Bamiyan's 1,500-year-old Standing Buddhas in 2001 because they were "un-Islamic," attention has been focused on the hunt for the much larger Sleeping Buddha, described in the travel diary of the seventh-century Chinese monk Xuan Zang and depicted in cave paintings at the historic site in the Hindu Kush mountains west of Kabul.

Related story here.

Bones Suggest Women Went to War in Ancient Iran

These days Iranian women are not even allowed to watch men compete on the football field, but 2,000 years ago they could have been carving the boys to pieces on the battlefield.

DNA tests on the 2,000-year-old bones of a sword-wielding Iranian warrior have revealed the broad-framed skeleton belonged to woman, an archaeologist working in the northwestern city of Tabriz said on Saturday.

"Despite earlier comments that the warrior was a man because of the metal sword, DNA tests showed the skeleton inside the tomb belonged to a female warrior," Alireza Hojabri-Nobari told the Hambastegi newspaper.

He added that the tomb, which had all the trappings of a warrior's final resting place, was one of 109 and that DNA tests were being carried out on the other skeletons.

Hambastegi said other ancient tombs believed to belong to women warriors have been unearthed close to the Caspian Sea.