Wednesday, 31 May 2017

The Lighthouse of Alexandria

The Lighthouse of Alexandria, sometimes called the Pharos of Alexandria, was a lighthouse built by the Ptolemaic Kingdom between 280 and 247 BC which was between 120 and 137 m (394 and 449 ft) tall.

One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, for many centuries it was one of the tallest man-made structures in the world. Badly damaged by three earthquakes between AD 956 and 1323, it then became an abandoned ruin.
Pharos was a small island located on the western edge of the Nile Delta. In 332 BC Alexander the Great founded the city of Alexandria on an isthmus opposite Pharos. Alexandria and Pharos were later connected by a mole spanning more than 1200 metres. The lighthouse was constructed in the 3rd century BC. After Alexander the Great died at age 32, the first Ptolemy (Ptolemy I Soter) announced himself king in 305 BC, and commissioned its construction shortly thereafter. The building was finished during the reign of his son, the second Ptolemy (Ptolemy II Philadelphus). It took twelve years to complete, at a total cost of 800 talents. The light was produced by a furnace at the top, and the tower was said to have been built mostly with solid blocks of limestone.
The lighthouse was badly damaged in the earthquake of 956, and then again in 1303 and 1323. Finally the stubby remnant disappeared in 1480. Archaeologists re-discovered the physical remains of the lighthouse in late 1994 on the floor of Alexandria's Eastern Harbour.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Charon's Obol

Charon's obol is a term for the coin placed in the mouth of a dead person before burial. Literary sources specify the coin as an obol, and explain it as a payment or bribe for Charon, the ferryman who conveyed souls across the river that divided the world of the living from the world of the dead. Archaeological examples of these coins, of various denominations in practice, have been called "the most famous grave goods from antiquity."

Charon and Psyche (1883)

The custom is primarily associated with the ancient Greeks and Romans, though it is also found in the ancient Near East. In Western Europe, a similar usage of coins in burials occurs in regions inhabited by Celts of the Gallo-Roman, Hispano-Roman and Romano-British cultures, and among the Germanic peoples of late antiquity and the early Christian era, with sporadic examples into the early 20th century.

In Latin, Charon’s obol is sometimes called a viaticum, which in everyday usage means "provision for a journey"

Greek and Roman literary sources from the 5th century BC through the 2nd century AD are consistent in attributing four characteristics to Charon’s obol: it is a single, low-denomination coin; it is placed in the mouth; the placement occurs at the time of death; it represents a boat fare.

Roman skull with an obol in the mouth.
In Greek mythology, Charon is the ferryman of Hades who carries souls of the newly deceased across the rivers Styx and Acheron that divided the world of the living from the world of the dead. Those who could not pay the fee, or those whose bodies were left unburied, had to wander the shores for one hundred years.

Charon is depicted frequently in the art of ancient Greece, usually holding his ferryman's pole in his right hand and using his left hand to receive the dead.


Sunday, 28 May 2017

Mapungubwe: South Africa’s lost city of gold

A thousand years ago, Mapungubwe in Limpopo province was the center of the largest kingdom in Africa, where a sophisticated people traded gold and ivory with China, India and Egypt.

The Iron Age site was declared a World Heritage site by Unesco in July 2003. Mapungubwe is an area of open savannah at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe Rivers and abutting the northern border of South Africa and the borders of Zimbabwe and Botswana. It thrived from around 1220 to 1300.
Twenty-three graves have been excavated so far with the bodies in three of these graves buried in the upright seated position associated with royalty, with a variety of gold and copper items, and exotic glass beads. The finds provide evidence not only of the early smithing of gold in southern Africa, but of the extensive wealth and social differentiation of the people.

Mapungubwe’s fortune only lasted until about 1300, after which climate changes, resulting in the area becoming colder and drier, led to migrations further north.
Between 1200 and 1300 AD, the Mapungubwe region was the center of trade in southern Africa. Wealth came to the region from ivory and later from gold deposits that were found in Zimbabwe. The area was also agriculturally rich. The wealth in the area led to differences between rich and poor.
Golden rhino, Mapungubwe National Park

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Salt Mining


Halite rock salt
Salt (NaCl) is a mineral made up of white cube-shaped crystals composed of two elements, sodium and chlorine. It is translucent, colourless, and odourless.

For centuries salt has had a permanent place in the life of human beings. Salt was considered sacred, a gift from the Gods; it was used to confirm oaths and sacrifices. Salt served as money at various times and places, and the quest for salt has been the cause of bitter warfare. Offering bread and salt to visitors is, in many cultures, a traditional sign of hospitality.
Prior to industrialization, it was expensive, dangerous, and labor intensive to harvest the mass quantities of salt necessary for food preservation and seasoning. Mining salt caused rapid dehydration. Other problems related to accidental excessive sodium intake.

This made salt an extremely valuable commodity throughout history. Entire economies were based solely on salt production and trade.

Inca ancient salt production farm in Peru.
The World's oldest salt mine. The “Man in Salt” greets visitors on their journey through time at the Salzwelten Hallstatt Mine, Austria.

In 1734 a corpse preserved in salt was discovered in the deposit.

The Dachstein-Hallst├Ąttersee region has been appointed a UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage Site.
At the Chehrabad Salt Mine, Iranian miners recently uncovered the sixth "salt man" to be found in the last fifteen years. Salt men are ancient corpses killed or crushed in the cave and mummified by the extreme conditions. Hair, flesh and bone are all preserved by the dry salinity of the cave, and even internal organs have been found intact.

The first salt man, dated to 300 A.D., was discovered in 1993, sporting a long white beard, iron knives and a single gold earring. In 2004 another mummy was discovered 50 feet away, followed by another in 2005 and a "teenage" boy later that year. The oldest of the salt men found is truly ancient and has been carbon dated to 9550 B.C.
Egyptians may have been the first civilization to preserve fish and meat with salt. Food that could be preserved was highly valuable. Recognizing the worth of preserving food, Egyptians turned to trade. The Egyptians did not export salt by itself, it was bulky and difficult to transport, but rather food that was salted, which transported easily without spoiling and had a value added per pound.

Ancient Egypt's trade started a 4000 year-long history of trade and export involving salt and food.

Ancient method of boiling brine into pure salt in China.
In the Iron Age, the British evaporated salt by boiling seawater or brine from salt spri­ngs in small clay pots over open fires.

Roman salt-making entailed boiling the seawater in large lead-lined pans. In ancient Rome, salt on the table was a mark of a very rich patron; those who sat nearer the host were "above the salt," and those less favored were "below the salt".

Malta Roman salt flats

Ancient Roman Glass Salt Dishes
Roman salt mining was often done by slave or prison labor, and life expectancy was low. The Roman historian Pliny the Elder stated as an aside in his Natural History's discussion of sea water, that "[I]n Rome ... the soldier's pay was originally salt and the word 'salary' derives from it ..."

Roman Salt Pans in Hortales.

A salt waterfall in the Nemocon salt mine, Colombia. The mine is a popular tourist attraction.

Salar de Uyuni, the world’s biggest salt desert, in southwestern Bolivia.

The Maras salt mines in Cuzco, Peru. The Maras mines have been a source of salt since ancient pre-Incan civilizations and comprise about 3,000 small pools constructed on the slope of a mountain at the Urubamba valley in the Andean region of Cuzco.

Pools of mineral-colored water gathered on salt flats in holes dug by salt collectors on the Senegalese coastline. Women collect salt by hand into 50kg (110lbs) sacks, which sell for about $2. The salt is mainly used for preserving fish in areas without electricity

A truck drives between ponds at Rio Tinto’s Dampier Salt Limited’s facility at Port Hedland, about 1,600 km (960 mi) north of Perth, Australia.

A laborer works at a salt production factory in Nangqian county, northwest China’s Qinghai province.

Workers collect blocks of salt from the salt pan of Ethiopia’s Danakil depression. Generations of Afar salt merchants have hauled blocks of salt along camel caravan routes from the depression to the Tigray highlands.

The Saint Kinga’s Chapel in the Wieliczka Salt Mine near Krakow, Poland. The historic mine extends for a total of about 300 km (186 miles) and functioned continuously since the Middle Ages until 1996, when it was finally depleted.

Rock salt moves along a conveyor belt towards a crushing unit at the Sifto Salt-Compass Minerals mine in Goderich, Ont