Saturday, November 29, 2014

Minimax Decision Theory

Minimax – Decision Rule 

Minimax is referred to a decision rule which is used in decision theory, statistics, game theory and philosophy, in reducing the possible loss for a worst case scenario. It is a principle for decision making when presented with two various and conflicting strategies with the use of logic and determine using the strategy which will minimize the maximum loss that may occur.

Formulated earlier for two players zero sum game theory covers both cases wherein players make alternate moves. Those that make simultaneous moves have been extended to more complex games with general decision in the presence of uncertainty. In the case of theory of simultaneous games, a minimax strategy is considered to be a mixed strategy that is part of the solution to a zero sum and in zero sum games; the minimax solution is the similar to the Nash equilibrium.

There is a minimax algorithm for game solutions in combinatorial game theory. With games like tic-tac-toe, simple version of the minimax algorithm is used where individual player can win, lose or end up in a draw. Minimax algorithm is considered to be a recursive algorithm in choosing the next move in a game which usually has two players participating in a game.

Combinatorial Game Theory

It is associated with a value for each position or state of the game and the value is computed by a position evaluation function, indicating how good it would be for a player to reach a particular position. The player on his part tends to make the maximum moves thereby minimizing the value of the position from the opponent’s following moves.

 An allocation method comprises of assigning a certain win for one play as +1 and for the other player as -1 which leads to combinatorial game theory developed by John Horton Conway. Using a rule is an alternative if the result of a move is an immediate win for one player, it is considered positive infinity and if it is an immediate win for the other player, then it is a negative infinity. Value of the first player of any other move is the minimum values resulting from each of the second players possible moves. Due to this the first player is called the maximizing player while the second player is called the minimizing player; hence it is given the name minimax algorithm.

Heuristic Evaluation Function 

This algorithm assigns a value of positive as well as negative infinity to any position since the value of every position will be the value of some final winning or losing position. Generally this is often possible at the end of a complicated game like chess because it is not feasible to know about the result before the completion of the game which could lead to one of the player winning.

We could extend this if we supply a heuristic evaluation function which gives values to non final game status without taking into account all possible following complete sequences and then limit the minimax algorithm to note only a certain number of moves coming up. The number is known the `look-ahead’, which is measured in `plies’. For instance, the chess computer `Deep Blue’ looked forward to at least 12 plies and then applied a heuristic evaluation function.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Western Wall Tunnel

Western Wall Tunnel
Western Wall Tunnel – Underground Tunnel 

The Western Wall Tunnel is an underground tunnel portraying the full length of the Western Wall and the tunnel is adjacent to the Western Wall, located under the buildings of the Old City of Jerusalem.

It is Judaism’s most sacred site and revered as the last remnant of the Second Temple and because of the invitation for everyone by King Solomon, visitors of all faith and cultures can come here and pray and experience specialpeace.

 The open air area of the Western Wall is around 60 metres long while the major part of its original length seems to be hidden underground and the tunnel enables access to an additional 485 metres of the wall. Day and night one will find worshippers here though on Bar Mitzvah days which is Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays; families around the world and from Israel assemble at this place to celebrate their son’s first public Bible reading which is at the age of 13 together with the Jews from every destination.

Each of them assembles with their own respective customs, dress, music and liturgy creating a colourful as well as an unforgettable cultural event. Placing a traditional prayer within the ancient stones by the visitors is a memorable incident.

Western Wall Tunnel 2
Image Credit:
Various Arches Side by Side 

The tunnels have been created by various arches side by side which supports staircases going to the Temple Mount from the city and in ancient times had shallow valley known as the Tyropaean running along the Western area of the Temple Mount which is now filled because of the constant demolition and rebuilding.

This separates the rich Herodian quarter from the Temple and the need to bridge it gave rise to the building of the arches. While the pathways continue to hold up the streets presently, the tunnel goes directly underneath the Muslim quarter.

King Herod had come up with a project to double the area of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, in 19 BC by incorporating a portion of the hill on the Northwest and in order to do so; four retaining walls were constructed while the Temple Mount was expanded on top. The retaining walls were left standing, together with the platform after the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.

Western Wall Tunnel 3
Western Stone – Largest and Heaviest Stone 

The tunnel besides exposing the 485 metre of wall also reveals the system of construction together with the various activities within the Temple Mount.

The excavations comprises of several archaeological discoveries from the Herodian period like the streets, monumental masonry, with parts of reconstruction of the Western Wall which dates to the Umayyad era together with variety of structures dating back to the Ayyubid, Hasmonean and Mamluke periods which were constructed to support the buildings in the vicinity of the Temple Mount.

The largest stone in the Western Wall called the Western Stone is also exposed within the tunnel, ranking as one of the heaviest piece ever lifted by anyone without the help of powered machinery. Its length is 13.6 metres, 3 metres high and the width is estimated between 3.5 and 4.5 metres while estimated weight is 570 short tons

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Kadal-Katti – Shark Charmers of Ancient South India as Observed by Marco Polo

Shark Charmers
Image credit:1990 Painting by Kozyndan
Shark Charmers – Main feature of Fisheries

Till 1885, the main feature of fisheries in Asia was the services of the shark charmers or binders of sharks and their presences were considered essential by the superstition of Indian divers. The fishermen relied on the supernatural powers of these imposters and would refrain from diving without their supervision. It is not known which period influenced this idea but in 1294 when Marco Polo paid a visit, they were in full bloom of their authority and received one twentieth of the total catch of oyster amounting to a very considerable sum of money.

Being a very alert observer, Marco Polo had related some interesting details with regards to Tamil customs of his contemporary times. It seems that he was in South India on two occasions and the second time was during his journey to Persia on the way back to Venice. He mentioned about the charming of sharks by the use of mantras. He states`and they must also pay those men who charm the great fishes, to prevent them from injuring the divers, whilst engaged in seeking pearls under water, one twentieth part all that they take. Their charm hold good for that day only, for at night they dissolve the charm so that the fishes can work mischief at their will’.

Sharks – Dangers to Divers 

These shark charmers existed till about fifty years ago and were known as `kadal-katti. Sharks were the main occupational dangers to divers and being superstitious the divers would consult the shark charmers before starting their expedition underwater.

Marco Polo
The divers would not venture out at sea till they would receive an assurance from the shark charmers that the mouth of the sharks remains close at their command.At every fishery, there were at least two or three shark charmers in attendance where one would go out at sea with the fleet while the other would recite mantras, performing some rituals on the shore.

The shark charmer would lock himself in a closed room and would sit before a brass basin which would be filled with magic water obtained from a secret well in which were silver replicas of male and female sharks. With this the shark charmer would get to know if there would be shark attack on a diver for one shark in the basin would bite the other.

By midday a signal would be made to stop work and the boats would head for the coast lining up close to the shore in front of a huge enclosure which was called as the kottu or oyster store.

Pearl harvesting
Three Equal Heaps – Division of Ancient Origin

This comprised of nine open huts which were divided into compartments where the divers carried their catch into them depositing them in the compartment in three equal heaps which was a division of ancient origin.

Two heaps were chosen by the British official as the Government’s share while the third was left for the diver. While the divers took their oysters to sell or open, the Government’s share was counted and auctioned to the merchants.

Thereafter the oysters were placed in small pits along the sea and allowed to decompose where the final remains were rinsed and the pearls were picked out and graded, The haul of the pearls which were of great value for their golden hue made their way to Bombay where they were perforated and tied into ropes and later on sent to dealers and brokers all across the globe.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ball Lightning

Ball Lightning
Ball Lightning – Rare Weather Phenomenon

A rare weather phenomenon known as ball lightning has been observed for the first time in nature by Chinese scientists. Ball lightning is an unexplained electrical phenomenon which occurs during thunderstorm, is unpredictable and is the reason why the researchers do not know much regarding it. It tends to last for more than a second that is considered long lived for lightning but hard to capture and study.

Some reports state that the ball would explode sometimes with fatal consequences and would leave behind the odour of sulphur. Several scientific hypotheses have been proposed down the centuries about the ball lightning. A report published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry, last year, has made researchers at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado, to figure out how to reproduce ball lightning in the lab. Electrodes were used partially submerged in electrolyte solution in order to create high power electric sparks which resulted in bright white plasmoid balls.

According to layman’s term, ball lightning seems to be a big flash of light which looks circular and appears during a storm in the sky. Sometimes it tends to have a blue glow and emanates from objects like lightning rods or ship masts.

Ball Lightning 1
Few Scientific Data – Infrequency/Unpredictability

Till 1960, several scientists debated that ball lightning was not a real phenomenon inspite of numerous sighting throughout the world and laboratory experiments could produce effects which seemed to be visually similar to the reports of ball lightning.

 Many are speculating whether these were related to the natural phenomenon. The scientific data with regards to ball lightning are few due to its infrequency as well as unpredictability. Its existence is presumed on basis of reported public sightings which has produced some inconsistent findings. Based on inconsistencies and the lack of reliable data, the true nature of ball lightning is yet unknown.

The first optical spectrum which appears to be a ball lightning event was published and included a video at high frame rate in January 2014.According to historical account it is considered that the ball lightning to be the source of the legends which describe luminous balls like the Mapuche Anchimayen of mythology and some have claimed that it is harmless and small while others state that it is dangerous and large.

Ball Lightning 1
Mike Lindsay/US Air Force Academy
Various Theories

A study done in 1960 shows that 5% of the population of the Earth witnessed ball lightning while another study analysed reports of around 10,000 cases. One such description was reported on 21st October 1638, during the Great Thunderstorm near a church in Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Devon, England, where four people died with around 60 injured during a severe storm when an 8 foot ball of fire struck, entered the church and destroyed it.

The huge stones from the walls of the church were hurled to the ground and through the large wooden beams and the ball of fire smashed the pews as well as several windows filling the church with the odour of sulphur and dark thick smoke. It was reported that the ball of fire had been divided into two parts with one exiting from the window by smashing it open while the other disappeared in some area in the church.

The conclusion at the time was that the ball of fire was the `devil’ or the `flames of hell’ and the fire had sulphur smell. Others blamed it on two people who had been playing cards in the pew during the service which aroused God’s wrath.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Fringe Theory

Fringe Theory
Fringe theory - Viewpoint of Idea 

Fringe theory is a viewpoint or an idea held by a small group of supporters and includes the theories as well as the models of fringe science together with identical ideas in different areas of scholarship like humanities. It is used in a sense as a pejorative which is synonymous with pseudo-scholarship. Exact definition which classifies between the viewpoints, fringe theories and pseudo-scholarship may not be easy to construct due to the demarcation problems and issue of false balance could occur when these theories are presented as being same to the already accepted theories. Fringe theories are considered to be ideas which depart significantly from the existing or mainstream view in a specific field of study and are not the majority opinion or of the respected minority.

 According to Alexander Davidson, Financial journalist, he states that `such ideas as peddled by small band of staunch supporters’ though not necessarily without any merit. The theories tend to meet with varying levels of academic acceptance.

According to Daniel N, Robinson’s description he considered it as occupying `a limbo between the decisive dead end with the ultimately credible productive theory and though some fringe theories may comprise of work done to the much needed level of scholarship in respective field or study, the general term is close to the popular meaning of the word `theory’.

Discussed in Diverse Areas of Scholarship

Margaret Wertheim recommend that they should be considered in a manner which is similar to outsider art, curated at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, an 2003 exhibition which was dedicated to the work of Jim Carter, a fringe physicist.

 Fringe theories are discussed in diverse areas of scholarship including Biblical criticism, history, law, finance, medicine and politics, when the phrase is used in the context of fringe science. The theories also exist relative to fields of study which are beyond the mainstream like the cryptozoology.

Some ideas which were considered as fringe theories pejoratively were dismissed as out of touch with reality, cranks or crackpots by their advocates and are also at times considered to be interchangeable with or overlap, more disparaging categories like pseudoarchaeology, pseudohistory or pseudoscience.

Besides this, the term also describes conspiracy theories in derogatory sense and according to Richard Hofstadter, isan explanations of historical as well as political events for accomplishments of unrealistically powerful, secretive groups, `a vast insidious preternaturally effective conspiratorial international network.

Part of Established Scholarship

As described by Esther Webman it could also be conspirators of all superhuman power and cunning though the naming ideas as fringe could be less pejorative than to describe them as pseudo-scholarship and it is unlikely that it would identified as their own work as pseudoscience by anyone.

Most of the fringe theories tend to be part of an established scholarship and rejected ideas could help to refine mainstream thought. However external theories do not attempt it and they tend to be incorrect though some of the ideas tend to gradually receive wider acceptance till they are no longer considered as fringe theories and at times these theories tend to become the mainstream view and the known examples is Alfred Wegener’s theory of continental drift which served as the basis for a model of plate tectonics.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Vulgate Manuscripts

Vulgate Manuscripts
The Vulgate – Latin Version of the Holy Bible

The Vulgate is the most famous name given to the Latin version of the Holy Bible which is a translation attributed to Jerome who was appointed by Pope Damasus I in 382 AD in order to make a revision of the old Latin translation.

Before Jerome, since the number of Latin speaking Christians grew, the Bible was translated to Latin. This helped the Christians of the time to understand the Bible better and it is believed that the first Latin translation was completed by 200 AD though no manuscripts of this era are traceable.

The first Latin manuscript was created in North Africa presuming that the church in North Africa was Latin speaking from the beginning when compared to the predominantly Greek speaking churches in Europe and Asia.

Towards the 13th century the revision came to be known as `versio vulgate’, which is the `commonly used translation’ and eventually it became the definitive as well as the officially promulgated Latin version of the Holy Bible of the Catholic Church.

Jerome Commissioned by Pope Damasus I

Pope Damasus I had commissioned Jerome to produce one standard Latin text since there were several different Latin versions of the Bible with different forms of text. He wanted the church to have one standard version in order to promote a universal doctrine and Jerome completed the translation by 400 AD.

Vulgate Manuscripts 1
His version was called the edition vulgate – the current text of Holy Scripture since he used the common or vulgar language of the early medieval era. Jerome began revising the Gospels by using Greek manuscripts that were available and at the same time he also began revising the Old Testament using Septuagint – a Greek version of the Old Testament.

 He also translated the Old Testament to Latin using the Hebrew text which he did without ecclesiastical sanction. The current Vulgate comprises of elements that belong to every period of its development which include:

An unrevised Old Latin text of the Book of Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, 1 & 2 Maccabees and Baruch

An old Latin form of the Psalter, which was corrected by Jerome from the Septuagint

Jerome’s free translation of the books of Job and Judith

Jerome’s translation from the Hebrew Old Testament excluding the Psalter

An Old Latin revision of the Gospels from Greek manuscripts

An old Latin New Testament which was revised.

Vulgate – First Translation of the Old Testament 

After the death of the Pope, Jerome who was the Pope’s secretary made his base in Bethlehem and produced a new version of the Psalms, which was translated from the Hexaplar revision of the Septuagint though from 390 to 405 AD he translated afresh, all 39 books in the Hebrew Bible with a third version of the Psalms that survived in a few Vulgate manuscript.

This new translation of the Psalms was known as `iuxta Hebraeos’ by him, though it was not used in the Vulgate and the translations of the other 38 books were used. The Vulgate is credited as the first translation of the Old Testament in Latin directly from the Hebrew Tanakh instead of the Greek Septuagint.

As Jerome completed the translation of each book of the Bible, he also recorded his comments and observations with other scholars in an extensive correspondence where they were subsequently collected and appended as prologues to the Vulgate text for the books where they exist.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Rockall – The Secret Island

Rockall is a small, uninhabited, remote islet located around 300 miles on the west coast of mainland Scotland. It is situated at the rough distances from the closest large island – 430 km North West of Ireland, 460 km west of Great Britain and 700 km south of Iceland.

 It lies within the United Kingdom’s exclusive economic zone and the nearest permanently inhabited place is the island of North Uist in the Scottish Outer Hebrids, 370 km towards the east. The islet measures over 80 feet wide at the base with a little over 70 feet in height and is the rocky peak of an extinct volcano.

Its earliest record was in 1810 which was made by Basil Hall, an officer who was stationed on HMS Endymion who is reported to have made the first recorded landing on Rockall though its actual position did not seem to be recorded till the year 1831, when chartered by Captain ATE Vidal, a Royal Navy surveyor. Rockall is the eroded core of an extinct volcano and is one of the few pinnacles of the surrounding area of Helen’s Reef.

Rockall – Marine Protected Area

The meaning and origin of Rockall is uncertain. The name of the islet, Old Norse could contain the element `fiall’, which means `mountain’. Moreover it has also been recommended that the name is from the Norse `rok’ which means `foaming sea’ and kollr, meaning `balk head, a word that seems to appear in other places in Scandinavian speaking areas.

Another presumption is that it is derives from Gaelic Sgeir Rocail which means `skerry of roaring’, or `sea rock of roaring’. Cold water coral mounds are found in the region which is presently being studied. These corals are slow in growth and long lived, a justification for designating Rockall and its waters as a Marine Protected Area of the micronation.

Towards late 16th century, the rock had been recorded though it is likely that some northern Atlantic fishermen already knew about the rock before its historical accounts surfaced. In the 20th century, the location of the island drew much interest due to the potential oil as well as fishing rights bringing about continuous debate between several European nations.

Peralkaline Granite – Rich in Sodium & Potassium

The island had also been of interest for adventurers as well as amateur radio operators who had landed briefly on various occasions and occupied the islet. Less than 20 individuals have confirmed landing on Rockall but the longest continuous stay of 42 days was by an individual. Rockall comprises of a type of peralkaline granite which is rich in sodium as well as potassium and within the granite are darker bands which are richer in the alkali pyroxene mineral, aegirine and the alkali amphibole mineral riebeckite.

While the dark bands could be a kind of granite which geologist terms it as rockallite, the use of this term has now been discouraged. Towards 1975, a new mineral surfaced on Rockall which was called bazirite that was named after the element, barium and zirconium.

The island forms part of the deeply eroded Rockall Igneous Centre which was formed as a part of the North Atlantic Igneous Province around 55 million years back when the ancient continent of Laurasia had been divided apart by plate tectonic. Europe and Greenland got separated while the northeast Atlantic Ocean was formed between them.

Marine Molluscs & Common Periwinkles

Common periwinkles and other marine molluscs are the islands’ only permanent macro-organism inhabitants.

Few seabird, like fulmars, northern gannet, black legged kittiwakes and common guillemots, make use of the rock to rest during summer while gannets and guillemots tend to successfully breed occasionally if the summer is calm without any storm waves washing over the rocks.

Overall there have been over twenty species of seabird and six other animal species identified on or near the islet. Surveys conducted in December 2013 by Marine Scotland brought to light four new species of animal in the sea surrounding Rockall and are believed to live in areas where hydrocarbons are released from the sea bed which is known as cold seep.

This discovery has led to the issue of restricting some forms of fishery in order to protect the seabed. Some of the species are Volutopsius scotiae Frussen, McKay & Drewery, 2013, a kind of sea snail around 10 cm long, Thyasira scotiana Zelaya2009, a clam and Isorropodon mackayi, a clam and Antonbruunia sp, a marine worm.

UK & Ireland Published EEZ – Resolved Disputes

United Kingdom had claimed Rockall in the year 1955 and had also claimed previously for an extended exclusive economic zone based on it. The extended zone claim was dropped due to ratifying UNCLOS in 1997 since rocks or islet like Rockall cannot sustain human habitation or even economic life which is not entitled to exclusive economic zone under the Convention.

Moreover these features are entitled to a territorial sea which extends 12 nautical miles and the UK’s claim to territorial water with Rockall was earlier disputed by Ireland based on uncertain ownership of the rock. Effective from March 31, 2014, the UK and Ireland published EEZ limits which helped to resolve any disputes with regards to ownership of the islet.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Giant Bible of Mainz

Giant Bible of Mainz
Giant Bible of Mainz – Last Handwritten Giant Bible 

The Giant Bible of Mainz is one of the last handwritten giant Bible in Europe representing the culmination of hundreds years of transmission of text through handwritten manuscript. It is a very huge manuscript that was produced in 1452-3, most probably in Mainz or the neighbouring place and was noted for its beauty which was written before the invention of printing in the West with possible connections with the Gutenberg Bible.

The Giant Bible comprises of 459 vellum skin leaves, where each measures about 22 x 16 inches and the pages are ruled fully in faint brown ink serving as guides for the scribe who wrote the text. The text on the other hand are organized in two columns of sixty lines on each page while the letter forms used by the scribe are erect, large laterally compressed black letter type which were common in manuscripts used in the middle and lower regions of the Rhine River though was not exclusive to Mainz.

Tones of two forms of black ink were used for the text while the chapter headings as well as paragraphs were highlighted with alternating red and blue ink in both volumes and the manuscript was bound in full contemporary pigskin, without making it decorative.

Illumination Embellish the Text

Giant Bible of Mainz 1
Text blocks has been secured by nine cords which have head and tail bands of red, white and green silk and the scribe who wrote the manuscript recorded the progress by writing the specific date when it started and finished a particular section of the Bible.

Moreover, he also began his work on April 4, 1452 and completed it on July 9, 1453 which was fifteen month on beginning the project, Another amazing characteristic of the Giant Bible are the illumination which embellish the text where the two volumes are decorated with patterned initial letters, with large letter containing an identifiable scene or figures and gilt-burnished initials.

Moreover finely crafted decorative borders are also seen on five pages of the first volume and while the borders are adorned with a branch, vine and floral patterns it acts as a framework with artistic images of bears, hunters, rabbits, stags, princesses and many more which are all exquisitely designed and painted in bright primary colours.

The border designs indicates evidence that link the Giant Bible to the city of Mainz which are being studied continuously on medieval illuminated manuscripts by experts.

Gifted to the Library of Congress 

The Giant Bible of Mainz was gifted to the Library of Congress on April 4, 1952 which was purchased by Lessing J. Rosenwald, about five hundred year after the manuscript was started. It originally belonged to a curator at the Cathedral of Mainz, Heinrich von Stockheim where his inscription is seen on the first leaf of the manuscript and the same remained in the Cathedral of Mainz till 1631.

Thereafter the Bible was seized by King Gustavus Adolphus II of Sweden as a means of prize of war who gave the Bible to Bernhard, Duke of Saxe-Weimar. The Bible then was passed down through members of the duke’s family till 1951 when Rosenwald purchased the same from the bookseller H.P. Kraus for Library of Congress.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Chi Rho monogram from the Book of Kells

The Chi Rho monogram

Chi Rho – Two Letters of the Greek Alphabet

The Chi Rho monogram 4
Chi and Rho are two letters of the Greek alphabet wherein the first two letters of `Christ’, “Chi” gives a hard Ch sound while Rho is a R. Chi is written as an X while Rho is roughly written as a P. The Chi Rho is considered to be one of the earliest forms of christogram used by some Christian and is formed by superimposing the first two capital letters Chi and Rho – XP of the Greek work ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ – Christ in a way to produce the monogram.

Though not a Christian cross technically, the Chi Rho refers the crucifixion of Jesus and symbolises status as Christ. The symbol was also used by pagan Greeks which was inscribed to mark a particular valuable or relevant passage in the margin, wherein the combine letters Chi and Rho stand for chreston which means good.

 There are some coins of Ptolemy II Euergets which are marked with a Chi Rho. The symbols of Chi-Rho was used by the Roman emperor Constantine as military standard and Constantine’s standard was known as the Labarum while the early symbols similar to the Chi Rho were Staurogram ( ) and the IX monogram.

Book of Kells – An Illuminated Manuscript Gospel Book

The Chi Rho monogram 1
The Book of Kells also known as the Book of Columba is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book which is in Latin and contains the four Gospel of the New Testament along with a variety of prefatory text as well as tables which was created in a Columban monastery, either in Ireland or Britain or it could have had contributions from several Columban institutions from Ireland and Britain.

It is presumed to have been created around 800 AD and the text of the Gospels seems to be drawn from the Vulgate though it includes many passages from the earlier versions of the Bible called the Vetus Latina.

It was designed as a treasure and a wonder. An old chronicle called it the chief relic of the Western world. It represents the pinnacle of Insular illumination and is a masterwork of Western calligraphy. Since 1953, it has been bound in four volumes and as of date, the manuscript consists of 340 folios while the leaves are of high quality calf vellum and the elaborate ornamentation which covers them include ten full page illustrations with text pages that are vibrant with decorated initials.

Chi Rho Displayed at Trinity College Library, Dublin 

The Chi Rho monogram 2
The interlinear are miniatures which mark the extension of the anti-classical as well as energetic qualities of Insular art. The Insular majuscule script of the text seems to be the work of at least three different scribes while the lettering is in iron gall ink, the colour used were derived from a wide range of substance which were imported from distant lands.

The name of the manuscript is taken from the Abbey of Kells that was its home for centuries and presently is on permanent display at the Trinity College Library, at Dublin. The Library displays two of the present four volumes at a time where one shows a major illustration while the other shows typical text pages and the complete manuscript can be seen on the Library’s Digital Collections.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Gospel of Judas

Gospel of Judas
The Gospel Of Judas – Gnostic Gospel

The Gospel of Judas, the contents of which are a Gnostic gospel, comprises of the conversation between the Apostle Judas Iscariot and Jesus Christ. All are aware of the story of Jesus Christ’s disciple, one of the 12 Apostles who betrayed him for 30 pieces of silver, with a kiss and later on filled with guilt and grief hanged himself. He was the ultimate symbol of treachery. The gospel is said to have been written by gnostic followers of Jesus and not by Judas.

 It contains the late 2nd century theology which probably dates not earlier than the 2nd century and the only copy of the Gospel of Judas known to exist is a Coptic language text which has been carbon dated to 280 AD. National Geographic society first published the translation of the text, in the early 2006.

When compared to the canonical gospels that portrays Judas as the betrayer of Christ and delivered him to be crucified in exchange for money, it indicate Judas’s actions followed according to the scriptures.

The Gospel of Judas does not indicated that the other apostles were aware of Jesus’s teachings but it claims that they had not learned the true gospel which Jesus had taught only to Judas Iscariot who seemed to be the sole follower of the `holy generati’.

Leather Bound Coptic Papyrus Documents

Towards 1970, leather bound Coptic language papyrus evidence came to light near Beni Masar, Egypt which was named the Codex Tchacos after Frieda Nussberger Tchacos an antiquities dealer who seemed to be concerned over the deteriorating condition of the manuscript. The codex text which appeared to be from the late 2nd century AD was first translated in the early 2000 and included the self-titled `Gospel of Judas’ which claimed to be the story of Jesus’s death connected to Judas.

The papyrus documents were radiocarbon by Timothy Jull, a carbon dating expert at the University of Arizona’s physics centre, which dated between the third and the fourth century. Presently the manuscript seems to be over a thousand pieces with several sections missing due to poor upkeep of the same.

 Some of the passages seem to be scattered words while others contained several lines and according to Rodolphe Kasser, the codex originally comprised of 31 pages which had writings on both sides though it came to the market with only 13 pages in 1999. It is presumed that the missing pages could have been removed or sold.

Comprises of 16 Chapters 

Based on textual analysis with regards to the features of dialect and Greek loan words, it is presumed that the Coptic text contained in the codexcould have been a translation from an older Greek manuscript at the time of around 130 – 180 AD.

The Gospel of Judas comprises of 16 chapters which tells about the teachings of Jesus, about spiritual matter and cosmology. Judas seems to be the only one of Jesus’s disciple who seems to understand the words of his master. The Gospel contains some narrative elements and records how Judas was taught the true meaning of the message of Jesus.

According to A. J. Levine, belonging to a team of scholars responsible in unveiling the work, indicates that the Gospel of Judas does not contain any new historical information related to Jesus or Judas though the text seems to be helpful in reconstructing the history of Gnosticism particularly in the Coptic areas.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Mysterious Roman Tunnels of Baiae

The MysteriousRoman Tunnels of Baiae
Image Credit: smithsonianMag
There are several mythical stories attached to many mysterious places, one being the Roman tunnels of Baiae, located at the ancient Roman resort of Baiae which is placed in the Southern Italian region of Campania. It is situated on the Bay of Naples and was a seaside resort for most of the wealthy people of Rome.

 Later on, Baiae became notorious for the hedonistic style of its patrons and in the course of time, local volcanic activity resulted in underwater submersion of the ancient resort. Though the ruins can be seen in the Baiae Archaeological Park, an underwater tour needs to be taken to get to know the beauty of Baiae. Besides being a great getaway for the super-rich Romans, the hot springs also attracted the patrons of Baiae giving it a mythical attachment.

The opening of an unknown chamber was discovered in 1932 by Amedeo Maiuri, an Italian archaeologist. Since Maiuri and his team did not carry on with their exploration on penetrating the tunnel a few feet, the mysterious tunnel was not explored further.

 It was only in 1960s that the chamber was noticed again and Robert Paget, a British amateur archaeologist, explored the antrum or chamber further. He along with Keith Jones, an American colleague together with a small group of volunteers began a decade long excavation of the antrum and discovered a complex system of tunnels.

Tunnels of Baiae Speculated to be `Cave of the Sibyl’

 Tunnels of Baiae
According to Paget, he speculated that this could be the legendary `Cave of the Sibyl’, which had been recorded by several ancient authors and the Cumaean Sibyl, which meant prophetess, by the name Amalthaea, happened to live in acave in the Phlegraean Fields.

This happened to be the area where the tunnel was found. As per legend, she seemed to have the power of prophesy who scribbled the future on oak leaves scattering them at the entrance of the cave. The Phlegraean Fields is a plateau which is part of an ancient volcano near Mount Vesuvius.

 The volcano is known for laying waste to the great city of Pompeii and the heavily volcanic location is spitted with steaming vents, flaming holes in the ground, sulphur spewing crevasses, well known in Greek and Roman myth and associated with stores of prophesy and magic.

Tunnels of Baiae:  Constructed to Mimic Visits to Mythical Underworld of Greeks 

The features of the tunnel as per Paget indicate that it could have been constructed to mimic visits to the mythical Underworld of the Greeks, like the underground stream of sulphurous water which represented the River Styx where the dead had to traverse to enter Hades.

Since a landing stage was present towards one end of the stream, Paget was of the opinion that a boat could have been kept waiting to transport visitors across and at the end of the stream was a flight of stairs which led to a hidden sanctuary. Paget speculated that the sanctuary could have accommodated someone posing as the Cumaean Sibyl.

Together with other observations, he thought that the tunnel system could have been utilised for ritual purpose for the ancient Romans though there is a lot of debate with regards to this theory which still remains unsolved.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Lady of the Spiked Throne, A Mysterious Artefact of Indus civilization

The Lady of the Spiked Throne
The mysterious artefact from the Indus Saraswati civilization which dates back to 2700 BC is very complex and unique artefact which is called `The lady of the spiked throne’.Records with regards to the objects’ archaeological context, makes it difficult to determine the true origin and the purpose of its existence.

The artefact was first researched by Massimo Vidale, an Italian archaeologist to accidently discovered it. He had been invited by a private collector to identify the item in 2009 and found that the relic was unique though puzzling.

This urged him to research it further and make an extensive study, and write about the artefact which was very significant and share the same with the others. He also carried out a thermo luminescence test to ensure that the same was not a fake piece of art and the analysis confirmed that the piece was authenticand a very ancient artefact.

The artefact depicts a vehicle of some type having a bull’s head at the front, accommodating around 15 people, in what seems to be an official procession while at the back of the vehicle a woman is seen seated on a spiked throne and is guarded by four men.

Women in Position of Power

The Lady of the Spiked Throne 1
Photo credit: Federica Aghadian
It portrays a woman in a position of power on the spiked throne and she together with her crew have unusual features which include large almond shaped eyes, elongated heads or it could be headdresses with beak shaped nose.

With the absence of any information pertaining to the artefacts’ provenance as well as archaeological content has made it more intriguing and difficult to determine its known origin and purpose. According to Vidale in his report – `The Lady of the Spiked Throne: The Power of a Lost Ritual’, has referred the artefact informally as a cow boat though he acknowledges that it can also be a chariot or a cart.

He explains that this is made complicated by the fact that `a boat would be without oars, keel and helm while the cart without wheels and oddly soldered to its draught animals’.

 He states that if the vehicle seems to be a chariot, represented as a supernatural hybrid between animal and cart, then it could be the earliest evidence of the `monumental chariots in the Hindu traditions that moved major divinities on the occasion of important religious festive ceremonies.

Representation of the Indus Valley Era

Bull Head
Photo credit: Federica Aghadian
The bull towards the front of the chariot is one of the most impressive representations of the Indus Valley era while the forehead of the animal has a solar symbol which is a thick, small circle filled will a big dot with its rays extending outwards.

The most amazing feature of the boat or chariot is the crew who are placed in an alternate row of men and women and is headed by two standing female figurines while the men have a type of a turban with short conical gown.

The women who seem to be larger are placed on a higher stool look to be semi-nude and are distinguished by their high foreheads and a tall, flat headdress. Vidale states further that the `flat head, long beak like nose together with round eyes drawn together portrays the female figurines as unnatural when compared to the more realistic feature of the males.

Moreover, the eyes are also in the form of deep hemispherical cavities with slightly raised edges which could probably be filled with a blackish substance or pigment