Showing posts with label early civilizations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label early civilizations. Show all posts

Sunday, February 9, 2014

History mystery: Olmec Civilization

The Olmecs were the first people in the Americas who developed monumental architecture of sophisticated style stone sculpture. The Olmec civilization originated in the lowlands of south eastern Mexico between 1500 and 400 BC, it’s heartland lying on the Gulf Coast of Mexico, an area measuring around 275 km east to west and extending about 100 km inland from the coast within the states of Veracruz and Tabasco.

This civilization was considered to be the first civilization which developed in Mesoamerica with its heartland being one of the six cradles civilizations worldwide, while the others were Chavin culture of South America, the Shang culture of China, the civilization of Ancient Egypt, the Indus Valley Civilization of South Asia and the Sumerian civilization of ancient Iraq.

It was only the Olmec civilization which developed in the setting of lowland tropical forest. Evidence of Olmec writing was found in the first decade of 21st century with the earliest findings of Olmec hieroglyphs dating around 650 BC. Some script has also been found on roller stamps as well as stone artifacts where the text was short and partially deciphered based on the similarity of other Mesoamerican scripts.

Moreover the evidence found on complex society developed in the Olmec heartland has given rise to the belief that the Olmec were regarded as the Mother Culture of Mesoamerica though this remains to be controversial The Olmecs developed cities as early as 1200 BC which were defined as population centers with political and cultural influence and significance. The major urban area of the Olmec in early times was San Lorenzo, the largest city in Mesoamerica at that time and was probably a political and a ritual place which housed thousands of inhabitants with elaborate drainage and water systems.

The influence of talented traders and artists are seen in later cultures of Aztec and the Maya. The Olmec cultures which developed in the 1200 BC and declined around 400 BC have very few written records relating about their culture. The Olmec artifacts at first were thought to be Mayan where they were presumed to be the first great culture in that area. They also had very talented artists portrayed through their colossal heads which are intriguing, leaving behind a lasting artistic legacy.

These colossal heads indicate the head and face of a helmeted man having indigenous features with most of the heads taller than an average human man. The biggest colossal head found at La Cobata stands around 10 feet tall weighing around 40 tons and while the heads are flattened at the back, they are not carved all around indicating that they could be viewed from the sides and the front. Evidence of some plaster and pigments on one such head at San Lorenzo indicate that some paint could have been used on them. A total of seventeen Olmec Colossal heads have been located, with ten such heads discovered at San Lorenzo, four at La Venta, two in the area of Tres Zapotes, and one in the vicinity of La Cobata.

The Olmecs carved stone, jade and volcanic rock basalt and these were quarried as well as imported. Basalt boulders and blocks which were located around 50 miles away were used to carve the heads and archaeologists suggest that it was a tedious process of moving the stones slowly with the combination of manpower, sledges and the possibility of rafts on rivers. When the stones reached a work place, they were usually carved with the help of crude tools like stone hammers since they did not have any metal tools, making this sculpture all the more intriguing and unique.

Once the head reached completion, they were moved into position though there were possibilities of them being occasionally moved around for creating scenes with other Olmec sculptures. The exact meaning of the heads is unknown though there have been several theories related to them. The size and majesty suggest that they could have represented gods but this seemed invalid since Mesoamerican gods in general were depicted more gruesome than human beings.

Moreover the head dress or the helmet portrayed in their carvings suggest that they could be ball players but archaeologist believe that they represented individual rulers since there is some evidence on the faces with distinct look and personality indicating individuals of great power and importance. The ancient Olmec is often remembered due to the massive stone heads that have been found and they developed many things culturally as well as religiously which were later used by the Aztecs and Mayan as well as other cultures.

They had a rich society, ate a variety of food and traded with far away people. The most accepted presumption is that the culture rose from people in that area though some believe that the Olmecs may have come from Africa.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

History Mystery: Mari The Lost City Of Mesopotamia! -1

      When a large, headless statue was unearthed in Syria early in the 20th century, it turned out to be the first of startling series of archaeological discoveries. A palace and temples followed and soon an entire city was brought to light. TELL HARIRI lies on the west bank of the river Euphrates in Syria, 12 Km from the border with Iraq. In the early 20th century, the ruins at the site were considered to be to little interest there were scores of similar sites, or tells, throughout the lands of the Middle East. But in the 1930s, while Syria was a French mandate, a Bedouin foraging among the ruins for a suitable gravestone discovered a headless statue. The statue bore an inscription in cuneiform ancient, wedge shaped writing. Casual digging at the site was hurriedly stopped by the local authorities, and the French archaeologist Andre Parrot was sent to explore the tell. Parrot unearthed a large number of alabaster statues of the period known as early Dynastic III, most of them priests. One bearing a dedication to the goddess Ishtar was inscribed with the name of the king of Mari- a find that unlocked the secrets of the site. Tell Hariri stood on the ruins of the lost city of Mari. The name Mari had already cropped up in the records of the great Mesopotamian civilization of Sumer, discovered by earlier archaeologists. Sumer was centered on the delta of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, where great cities such as Uruk, Nippur, Eridu, and Ur flourished some 3000 years before the birth of Christ.

      Its people invented writing, and in early texts now known as the king list, they named Mari as one of the dozen or so city states struggling for supremacy between about 3000 and 2300 BC. But Tell Hariri was a long way from the known centers of Sumerian civilization and its discovery revolutionized thinking about ancient Mesopotamia. Clearly its culture had been shared by other peoples living much farther up the Euphrates than had been imagined. While working on the site in 1934, Parrot was visited by Henri Frankfort, a Duch archaeologist then exploring Tell Asmar and Khafajeh, some 400 Km to the east. His findings were strikingly similar to Parrot’s, suggesting that a single civilization spanned the entire breadth of Mesopotamia. Parrot went on to reveal the true grandeur of the ancient Mari. He discovered two royal palaces, one on which fated back to 2500 BC – the time of the Early Dynastic Period- and a haul of inscribed tablets, which helped to build up a vivid picture of the city’s history.

     Mari’s importance stemmed from its key position on the trade route linking Mesopotamia with Syria to the North West. The Sumerian settlements of the delta were rich in agricultural produce, but they needed crucial raw materials from Syria to sustain their city culture. Sumer exported corn, leather, and wool in exchange for scarce building materials such as tone and timber. Silver and lead were brought down fromm the Syrian hills to supply Sumerian metal workers. Copper came from as far away as the Taurus Mountains in Asia Minor, and from Magan in the Persian Gulf. As trade expanded, military and diplomatic missions were sent to Mari to maintain links with its supply lines. During excavations of the Early Dynastic places, Andre Parrot discovered a cache of objects, including several cylindrical seals, presented to the local ruler by Mesannepadda, king of the Sumerian city of Ur. The evidence indicated that an important diplomatic mission was sent to Mari in around 2500 BC.

       Mesannepadda’s envoy was a scribe, with him, the king sent a message of friendship to Mari’s ruler, an offer of alliance, and rich gifts, including a magnificent blue Anzu bird pendant of lapis lazli imported from beyond the Iranian plateau and inscribed with the royal sender’s name. The Journey was not difficult, for Ur at that time dominated many of the other Sumerian cities and nobody would have obstructed the Caravan’s progress. As it made its way up the valley of the Euphrates, the envoy would have noticed linguistic changes. But understanding the Semitic tongue was not a problem to Sumerian scholar: Bedouin herdsmen often drove their cattle up and down the valley, and mixed freely with the city dwellers in south. Their language was understood in Ur.

     In the dry uplands of the Euphrates, Mari loomed like an oasis, irrigated by networks of canals leading off the great river. A dyke protected the city from flooding, and ramparts of unbaked brick fortified its walls. The envoy was greeted at the gates by royal officials and conducted to the newly erected palace. In the great visitors’ courtyard, the envoy awaited an audience. At the appointed time, a grouped of dignitaries arrived scribes, army officers, and relatives of the king- followed by the king himself. The king’s costume was no different from that of his entourage, consisting mainly of goatskin from waist to ankle, but he was distinguished by the arrangement of his long hair, plaited in a diadem around his head with a double bun above the nape of the neck.