Category Archives: Archeology

Review of Sumerian Mythology by Samuel Kramer

I’ve done more reading on ancient Egypt than Sumer and so picked this up wanting to get more background on another equally ancient civilization. I’m sure this book is dated at this point since it was published in the 1960s, nevertheless it was interesting learning about Kramer’s work piecing together myths from different parts of tablets. I especially liked the pictures of the tablets with some transliteration, translation, and introductory commentary about the myths. The repetitive nature of Sumerian poetry reminded me a bit of classical Hebrew. I found the most interesting myth to be the Sumerian flood story. I’ve linked an image from Wikipedia below. Perhaps because of the academic writing style I found this collection a little less engaging than others I’ve read recently, but all-in-all worth the time to review.

Tablet XI or the Flood Tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh, currently housed in the British Museum in London.jpg
By Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg)Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

A Review of Stories from Ancient Canaan by Michael David Coogan

This accessible and entertaining book recounts several important mythic stories from ancient Ugarit. Ugarit was a Canaanite city state on the coast of the Mediterranean across from Crete in modern Syria. This book introduced me to several interesting concepts. The first was that Ugaritic was a Semetic language like Biblical Hebrew but written with a cuniaform alphabet. Second, the world did not know much about Ugarit until the 1920s when the tablets from this city were found. Third that the many quotes in the Old Testament reflect the competing religion of the Canaanites and cultural exchange backwards and forwards between the Canaanites and Israelites. In this collection you will read the story of Aqat, Kirta, and Baal. The introductions before the translations are especially helpful. The myths while using repetitive langue are helpful in getting a sense for how the stories may have sounded to people steeped in an oral culture. Worth your time if you are interested in the ancient Near East.

Review of Cuneiform by Irving Finkel and Jonathan Taylor

This is a great book that provides a nice overview of the history of the cuneiform script. I learned that the script was used for at least three different languages. Sumerian, Babylonian (a Semitic language), and Akkadian (a Semitic language). The book describes how the script conveyed consonants and vowels and provides a helpful table of signs so you can write your own. While reading this book I had a chance to go see the Assyrian (Akkadian) Bas-Reliefs at the Bowdoin College of Art. These are from Nimrud and were created for king Assurnasirpal 2 who is described in the book as a soldier and scholar, who added extensive labels called “colophons” to his tablets (p. 54). If you are looking for a brief, well-written introduction to the topic this is the place to start.

A few pictures from Bowdoin

Osteobiography: Solve the Mystery 1

I’m really enjoying Osteoarchaeology: The Truth in Our Bones by Universiteit Leiden. It is an intense class but I’m learning a lot about a subject that is new to me and fascinating.

1) Estimate the individual’s age-at-death.
From the ectrocranial suture obliteration scores on the vault sites, I had a composite score of 18. Using the tables of Meindl and Lovejoy (1985) this composite score indicated a mean age of 48.8 (SD=10.5). For the laternal-anterior sites, I had a composite score of 11 which according to the table gives the mean age of 56.2 (SD= 8.5). These two mean scores suggest a skeleton of a middle or old adult. Using the information provided on the pubic symphesis the skeleton suggests a Phase V morphology (mean age 45.6 SD =10.4). I decided this because in the table provided “Breakdown may occur on superior ventral border.” The photo and the description said “The rim is completely formed and shows the beginning of breakdown on the superior- ventral edge.” Since Dr. Waters-Rist says that this is the most common method of dating, I gave this estimate the most weight making this skeleton a middle adult age.

Auricular Surface: From the data provided on the auricular surface this skeleton yielded a composite score of 17. This score based of Buckberry and Chamberlain (2002) estimates suggest an age of 72.25 (SD 12.72). This age range would suggest an old adult. Given that two of my data sources suggest a middle adult and that pubic symphesis information carries the most weight, I estimate this skeleton belongs to a middle adult.

2) Estimate the individual’s sex.

Using the information provided for the cranium and given that three out of the five characteristics I have studied seem to be more masculine, I’ve concluded that this skull belonged to a probable male (PM) individual. Even though I’ve rated the mental eminence as a two (female) based on the superior view, looking at the scores for the mandible it seems two of the three areas we have studied are male or probable male. According to Dr. Waters-Rist the area with the “highest amount of consistent differences” is the pelvis. For the nine areas of the pelvis that we have a score for, six areas indicate the skeleton is male. Comparing the pelvis to the scale for the greater sciatic notch, I rated it as a 5 since the notch looked like more of an acute angle. Given this data I’ve concluded that this skeleton is male.

3) Estimate the individual’s stature (height) using the long bone length and regression equation provided.

Stature estimation based on femur length. Using the regression equation provided in the materials I calculated the following results for the height of a white male: 2.38 x 45.4+ 61.41 = 168.554 cm (+/-3.27)

Osteoarchaeology: The Truth in Our Bones

The amount of time needed to complete an assignment is something I think about a lot as a curriculum designer. I’m really loving this first module of the course. There are five total modules. This first module is taking me several hours to complete. Unlike a traditional class I do this work when I can and it means taking time to review the videos and then look at the mystery cases. I spent an hour tonight just working on estimating age using ectocrainial suture closure and pubic symphysis face analysis. Unlike other recent classes I’ve taken on Coursera this one is pretty rigorous. I’m impressed but I think it may be helpful to give learners an estimate of time they should expect to spend. Not having a lot of pre-req knowledge I wonder if this is impacting my time.