Friday, June 6, 2014

Cumaean Sibyl

The Cumaean Sibyl – A Priestess

Cumaean Sibyl 1
Cumae, an ancient city of Magna Graecia situated on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea was the first Greek colony on the mainland of Italy. It was the seat of the Cumaean Sibyl which was founded by Euboean Greeks.

These Greeks used a local variant of the Greek alphabet; the Euboean alphabet which later developed into the Latin alphabet and became the world’s most widely used phonemic script. It was first adopted and modified by the Etruscans in 800 to 100 BC and later by the Romans in 300 -100 BC.

 The Cumaeon Sibyl was known to be a priestess who presided over the Apollonian oracle at Cumae, the first Greek colony situated near Naples, Italy. Sibyl word is derived from the ancient Greek word sibylla which means prophetess.

It is said that there are many sibyls in different areas throughout the ancient world and due to the importance of the Cumaean Sibyl in the legend of early Rome as in Virgil’s Aeneid VI and also due to her proximity to Rome, the Cumaean Sibyl came to be very popular among the Romans.

Powerful Dominating Presence

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The Cumaean Sibyl is perhaps one of the four sibyls painted by Raphael at Santa Maria della Pace and was painted by Andrea del Castagno and also in the Sistine Ceiling of Michelangelo. Her powerful presences dominates every other sibyl even her more beautiful and younger sisters like the Delphic Sibyl.

There are several other names for the Cumaean Sibyl besides the Herophile of Pausania and Lacantius or the Aeneid’s Deiphobe, daughter of Glaucus, Amaltheia, Demophile or Taraxandra which are all portrayed in different references.

Rock/Sanctuary Carved from Huge Rock

According to Herodotus, the Erythraean Sibyls from modern day Turkey was famed among the Greeks and was the oldest Hellenic oracle while the Sibyls of Dodona most probably dating to the second millennium BC was favoured in the east.

Cumaean Sibyl 3
Cumae was considered to be one of the major oracles of the ancient Greeks and Romans.The cave of the popular prophetess, the Cumaean Sibyl had been carved from a huge rock along the seaside. Along with the description of archaeological excavations discovered there are impressive quotations from Virgil’s Aeneid which are carved on marble tables.

According to the epic, these ancient texts relate about what the Aeneas and the men accompanying him felt and what the ancient people felt when they approached the cave of the prophetess.

Owned Nine Books of Prophecies

The earliest of the Sibyls was believed to be residing at Cumae and according to traditions, owned nine books of prophecies. When the Roman King Targuin was interested in purchasing her books, he was hesitant due to her high price she had quoted.

Cumaean Cave
It was said the Sibyl threw three of these books into the fire and double the price which was once again not accepted and she ended throwing in three more books into the fire. Finally the king was forced to buy the remaining left over three books from her at a price four times high as the original nine.

 The Cumae is most famous as the seat of the Cumaean Sibyl and her sanctuary is presently open for tourist.

Ancient Coin-Operated Holy Water Dispensing Machine

Hero of Alexandria – Inventor of the first Vending Machine

Hero of Alexandria
The evolution of the most common vending machine since it was invented is incredible and the most ancient known vending machine is the work of Hero of Alexandria who was a first century engineer and mathematician. He invented the first coin operated vending machine, an urn which then dispensed holy water when a coin was inserted and the same is described by Hero of Alexandria in his book `Pneumatic’.

Hero was the Da Vinci of his time who came up with ideas for all types of inventions like the pneumatic steam powered system which would open large temple door when a fire would be lit on the altar.

Coin-Operated Holy Water Dispensing Machine
It was said that he had flair in creating various types of special effects which were dramatic. He also set his mind to practical problems like the Greeks who took too much holy water and invented a holy water dispensing machine wherein when a coin was dropped into its slot at the top, it would fall onto a tray on a lever which would pull the stopper out of a bottle of the holy water and drain out of a spout in the front.

The pan or the tray would continue to tilt under the weight of the coin till it would move to the end and the lever would snap back stopping the flow of water. This same system of mechanism was used in modern vending machines later on before electricity came into use.

Dispensed Holy Water in Egyptian temples

Coin-Operated Holy Water Dispensing Machine 2
The coin operated holy water dispenser, designed by the Greek inventor, Hero, was used in Egyptian temples to dispense water for ritual washing where worshippers would place a coin on the machine to receive holy water to bathe before they could enter the temple.

Towards the end of the day, the slot machine would be refilled with holy water and emptied of the coins that were filled in preparation for the next day worshippers. Hero who lived in Roman ruled Egypt invented many gadgets and also wrote about them. In his book he has described at length on the early vending machine which dispensed holy water on inserting a coin into it.

Hero’s coin operated vending machines was found in temples all over the land which enabled each members to obtain an equal quantity of holy water without the presence of a priest. These machines operated on an open valve system when a coin was inserted into the slot of the vending machine which was rested on a platform.

Hero’s Invention, an inspiration to others

 Coin-Operated Holy Water Dispensing Machine 3
Hero’s invention of the coin operated vending machine inspired the creation of several other vending machines which lead to financial gains to many. It also kick started the vending industry enabling a large number of vending machine operators in making a great income without the need of being physical present at an outlet.

Hero send the ball rolling in 215 BC on inventing the holy water vending machine in Egyptian temples which soon lead to vending machines offering several items like cigars, stamps, and much more. His invention also gave rise to a completely coin operated restaurant, in Philadelphia known as Horn & Hardartwhich was operational in 1902 and stayed on till 1962.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Baghdad Battery

Baghdad Battery also known as Parthian Battery

Baghdad Battery 1
While excavating the ruins of a 2000 year old village near Bagdad, some workers discovered mysterious small vase, a six inch high pot of bright yellow clay which dates back two millennia, containing a cylinder of sheet copper five inches by 1.5 inches.

The edge of the copper cylinder seemed to be soldered with a sixty to forty lead tin alloy compared to our present day solder while the bottom of the cylinder was capped with crimped in copper disk, sealed with bitumen or asphalt.

Baghdad Battery 2
Another insulating layer of asphalt also sealed the top holding in place an iron rod which was suspended into the centre of the copper cylinder and the rod indicated of having been corroded with an acidic agent.

The Baghdad Battery also referred as the Parthian Battery, is the common name for a number of artifacts which were created in Mesopotamia during the Parthian or Sassanid or Persian Empire period and was discovered in 1936 in the village of Khuyut Rabbou’s near Baghdad, Iraq.

Wilhelm Konig – Discovered the battery in 1938

Baghdad Battery 5
Known as the Baghdad Battery, the jar was first described in 1938 by Wilhelm Konig, the German director of the National Museum in Iraq when he found the collection of objects in the museum. Konig published a paper in 1940 thinking that they may have been galvanic cells which were perhaps used for electroplating gold onto silver object and this interpretation is far from having widespread acceptance though it continues to be at least a hypothetical possibility by some of the scientist.

 It is not entirely clear that the jar could have been used as a battery though it had an asphalt stopper, an iron bar and a copper cylinder which was filled with some kind of unknown liquid and according to the Unmuseum, the battery could have been used for electroplating.

Capabilities of generating small Current

Baghdad Battery 4
When the jar is filled with an acidic liquid like vinegar or fermented grape juice, it is capable of generating a small current where the acidic liquid permits a flow of electrons from the copper tube to the iron rod when the two metal terminals get connected. This is the same principle which was discovered by Galvani 2000 years later and which Volta successfully harnessed in the first modern battery some years later.

According to some, the voltic pile or electric battery was invented in 1800 by Count Alassandro Volta. His observation was that when two dissimilar metal probes were placed against frog tissue, a weak electric current was generated which he thought could be reproduced outside living tissue by placing of the metals in certain chemical solution.

For this as well as his other work with electricity, his name is commemorated in the measurement of electric potential known as the volt. The jar at Bagdad indicates that Volta did not invent the battery on the contrary, he reinvented it. Some of the scientist did not accept the electric battery description for the jar white others suggested that they were simply containers which were used to hold papyrus scrolls which had rotted away leaving just the jars.

Baghdad Battery 3
Speculations were on that if they were batteries then who could have made them and what was the purpose of its existence.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Antikythera Mechanism – An Ancient Computer

Antikythera Mechanism
The Antikythera Mechanism, an ancient analog computer was designed to calculate astronomical positions and was recovered in 1900 – 1901 from the Antikythera wreck, though its significance and complexity were not understood and it is thought to be one of the most complicated antiques in existence.

Towards the twentieth century, diver, Jacques Cousteau visited the wreckage site in 1978, dived off the island of Antikythera and discovered the clocklike mechanism which is presumed to be around 2,000 years old, found in the wreckage of a cargo ship. Though he found the new dating evidence, he did not find any other additional remains of the said mechanism.

The device was very thin which was made of bronze and was mounted in a wooden frame having more than 2,000 characters inscribed all over it. There has not been a publication of the full text of the inscription though almost ninety five percent of the same has been deciphered by experts.

Calculate Movement of Stars and Planets

It is believed to be an mechanical instrument which could have be used to calculate the movements of stars and planets in astronomy and has been estimated to have been built around 87 BC and was lost in 76 BC.

No one seems to be aware of its existence on the ill-fated cargo ship which was a Roman ship while the Antikythera mechanism was developed in Greece. Some were of the opinion that it could have been on the Roman ship since the instrument was among the spoils of war derived by the Roman emperor Julius Caesar at that time.

From the x-ray it was revealed that there are at least 30 various gears present in it. Extensive researches have been done by British historian Derek Price,on the purpose of the antikythera mechanism what it could have been used for. It was only towards 1959 that he put forth his theory that the device had been used in astronomy to make calculations and predictions.

Price presented a model of how the antikythera mechanism could have functioned in 1974 in which past and future dates were entered into the device where it calculated the astronomical information related to the Sun, Moon as well as the other planets.

Some Confirmed Discoveries 

Antikythera Mechanism 1
Some of his discoveries have been confirmed by more recent researches done by various other scholars and scientist though the full extent of the device’s function yet remains a mystery. Price was also of the opinion that the device could have been on public display in a museum or a public hall while others have also come up with their variants of the ancient computer based on the discovered model.

A joint project is also in progress to study further on this amazing device for the advancement of technology of ancient times. Known as the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project, the same is in collaboration between Cardiff University, the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, the AristotleUniversity of Thessaloniki, the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, X-Tek Systems, UK and Hewlett-Packard, USA.

The project is being funded by the Lever Hulme Trust with the support of the Cultural Foundation of the National Bank of Greece and since the study, great progress has been made with more than eighty fragments of the mechanism that have been discovered.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Gateway of Hades

Gateway of Hades – Ancient Legend

Gateway of Hell
Gateway to Hades is an ancient legend which is located in various areas of the Earth openings, gates and doorways according to Daniel Schowalter, professor of religion and classics at Carthage College in Wisconsin.

According to him, he states that even if rituals were carried on at the site associated with the underworld, people probably knew that it was only a cave. Much has been written about some mysterious and menacing dark world of the dead which has brought about a lot of speculation about it and most of the people are unable to comprehend the difference between the terms hell and Hades.

According to him, it is called the realm of Hades, where Hades is considered to be the king. In Roman and Greek conceptions, there is a different conception than what the Christians developed later with regards to hell as a place of final punishment.

Hades - World of the Dead

Hades was considered as the world of the dead and was a place where the dead finally lived which was expected when one died and passed into a different form of life. Schowalter is also the co-director of an excavation site of a Roman temple in northern Israel where he goes on to explain that the early belief of when one died, they would live in the place of the dead which was the underworld.

It was a shadowy place which did not involve punishment and one was not sent there because one had not led a good life but was a place where dead people went.

Famous Twin Caves

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Researchers who have explored the famous Twins Cave on the outskirts of Jerusalem have discovered evidence of some pagan rituals which dates back to the Roman Empire suggesting that most of the people believed that the cave was some sort of a gateway to the underworld.

The archaeologist of Bar Ilan University found around 42 lamps of clay which dates back to the late Roman era in a 70 foot long vertical shaft in the interior of the cave and is presumed that the lamps could have been used in ancient rituals during the second to the fourth century CE. This could have been to guide the Greek goddess Demeter into Hades in search of her missing daughter.

Site of Pagan Rituals 

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There are various versions to the Gateway of Hell, where some Italian archaeologist claims to have uncovered the gateway to Hades, the underworld from classical Greek mythology in southern western Turkey.

A cave in the ancient Phrygian city of Hierapolis which is presently Pamukkale was considered to be the site of pagan rituals where sacrifice of bulls was done by the priests, to the gods of the underworld, Hades, also known as Pluto to the Romans.

One would find birds lying on the ground which were dead from the poisonous gases the came from the entrance of Pluto’s gate. As reported to Discovery News, by excavation leader Francesco D’Andria, professor of classic archaeology at the University of Salento, he states that people would watch the sacred rites from the steps though they could not get near the entrance of the opening during these rituals where only the priest would stand in front of the opening.

Plutonium/Pluto’s Gate

A temple was also found among the ancient ruins with a pool and steps above the cave which corresponds with the description of the gateways from ancient text. Besides this, they also found columns with inscriptions to Hades and Persephone – Kore to the Romans who was the queen of the underworld.

gate way of hell 4
According to Book VI of the Aeneid, the priestess Sibyl escorted the Trojan hero Aeneas to the underworld. The opening which is known as Plutonium or Pluto’s Gate is known to have lethal vapours with noxious odour and pilgrims it is said would expose birds to the mysterious portal to test the deadly gas emanating from this opening.

The area here is full of vapour and misty that one can hardly see the floor and it is said that if any animal strays in this area is instantly dead, as stated by Strobo, a Greek geographer and historian. The entrance to the grotto of Pluto was covered with the wall of Ionic columns.

Mysterious Noxious Gas – Carbon Dioxide

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Modern belief reveals that the mysterious presence of noxious gas is merely carbon dioxide. During D’Andria’s excavation, he discovered the cave’s lethal properties and believed that the birds died when they tried to get near the warm opening which would kill them instantly by the carbon dioxide fumes.

The Plutonium was destroyed by the Christians during the sixth century and whatever was left of it was completely destroyed by earthquake.

Presently D’Andria together with his team is working on reconstructing this historic site digitally as reported by Discovery News. Historian Alister Filippini states that this seems to be an exceptional discovery since it confirms as well as clarifies the information found from the ancient literary and historic sources.