Fun With The Past

My interests are catholic, and among them are Archeology and Paleontology. I find that studying the past reminds me not to get too upset about the present.

Recently there are advances in finding the “oldest” — aided by technology, but with the caveat that as science progresses and wealthy nations have more people in the field, new discoveries will find still more “oldest.”

I have recently read an article in Archeology about the oldest discovered “computer” — a brass, hand-cranked celestial computer with at least 40 gears that showed ancient Greeks the alignment of stars, moon, sun and planets. This computer was found in a Roman wreck between Greece and Crete — it was probably booty from the Greek occupation by the Roman conquest of Greece a couple of centuries before Christ. Even though the wreck and the Celestial Calculator were discovered in 1900, newly Canadian-invented Exosuit diving suits will now permit divers to descend to the ancient wreck and pour over it for more parts to the device, and possibly even new devices. With the Exosuit, divers can descend to almost 500 feet and work for hours without nitrogen intoxication.

(Of some historical interest, the island nearest the wreck has a current population of only 44, but back in the day it was a seaport for Mediterranean pirates, and it was they who captured a young Julius Caesar — who subsequently had them crucified.)

Siberian researchers have found the oldest (so far) human DNA — from a human bone found in 2008. The bone contained recoverable DNA because of the Siberian climate and a peat bog, and that bone belonged to a man from 52,000 to 58,000 years old. (28 Scientists from 19 countries worked on the project.) His DNA does not have descendants among current populations, and it does have strong Neanderthal traces, although the bone belonged to a homo sapiens. Yes, our ancestors did have sexual relations with our cousins!

The general study of bodies in peat bogs is fascinating! These bogs, composed of water and rotting vegetation, cover as much as 5% of the earth’s land masses, were dried and lit to provide ancient heat — but also used to dispose of human bodies. Depending upon the society, bodies were submerged in bogs either as a sign of respect, or disrespect (criminals) and although their bodies have a leathery look, if one was your friend you would instantly recognize them today.

And, while not necessarily the oldest, I have recently read the story of a man buried in a British Church in the late 1300s, who, because he died violently and far from home, was encased in clay and then wrapped in a lead casing for transportation to his burial. Consequently, his innards remained red until turned brown by the exposure to air, his pupils are still visible, and his blood was present! It is not certain who he was, or how he died. At that time there were Hatfield and McCoy style land disputes, Scottish tribe revolts and even the Crusades — any one of which could have caused his demise far from home, necessitating the preservation of the body.

How about the oldest wooden statue? Once 15 feet tall when discovered in the Ural Mountains, only about nine feet remain of a carved statue discovered (again) in a peat bog and currently dated at 9,500 years old — twice as old as the Pyramids!

How about the world’s oldest footprints. Those would be from a Rumanian cave, discovered in 1965. Originally there were 400 footprints, but fewer than 60 survive the scientists, cave explorers and visitors. Those footprints from seven people, and made just after a rainstorm were dated from 36,500 years ago. (There are unpublished reports of footprints from Tanzania’s Engare Sero that MAY be 120,000 years old, but we will see when it is published.)

Finally, a non-bog story, and not an “oldest” either, just something that interested me. More than 700 Roman Villas have been found in Britain, dating from the Roman occupation beginning just after the death of Christ, until about 400 A.D. Even with 700 Villas, no graves associated with the Villas has been found — until recently when a gravesite near a Villa in Britain was discovered. Again the use of technology, particularly ground-reading radar, is playing a role.

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