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Dawn of the Maya

The early years of Maya history had long been dismissed as a primitive era, lost in myth, before the Maya’s rise to greatness. Now, with support from National Geographic and astounding discoveries by experts in the field – several never documented on television until now – that idea is being turned on its head. Exciting excavations reveal a sophisticated Pre-classic Maya world thriving up to 2,000 years before Spanish conquistadores landed on American shores.


Episode Length: 00:50:00

Year: 2004

Episode: 1


Image by Wolfgang Sauber is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2,0 Generic and 1.0 Generic

Inca Mummies: The Secret Of The Lost World

Famous high-altitude archaeologist, Johan Reinhard makes his most exciting discovery yet, three perfectly preserved Inca mummies at the top of the 22,000-foot peak of Argentina`s Mount Lullaillaco volcano. These 500-year-old mummies and the artefacts found with them hold many clues to the ancient Inca rites of human sacrifice. National Geographic`s The Ice Mummies follows Johan to the highest archaeological site in the world to witness this remarkable discovery and the painstaking process of moving these mummies down the volcano for study.


Episode Length: 00:50:00

Year: 2003

Episode: 1


Image by Lion Hirth

Inside 9/11 – Osama Rising

INSIDE 9/11: Hour One begins to trace the road to 9/11. It attempts to distil the mosaic of people, places, ideology and events that lead up to the day through the use of specific, pivotal vignettes. This hour’s arc begins with Soviet Afghanistan, 1979 and leaves off in al Qaeda’s Afghanistan, 1996. Pakistani bombmaker Ramzi Yousef was not a member of the al Qaeda, the group which executed the September 11th attack; he was the mastermind behind the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. His aim was to hit at the country whose policies in the Middle East angered him. Other radical Muslims shared his aim, but their beginning stretches back to 1979, when Afghan rebels, mujahedin, waged jihad, or holy war, to fend off invading Soviet troops. The jihad to save oppressed Muslims became a lightning rod for radical Muslims around the world, and outsiders who joined the jihad would appropriate the term for aims that exceeded the Afghans’ intent. Among those drawn to the region in the name of jihad was a wealthy young Saudi, Osama bin Laden. By the end of the Soviet-Afghan war, bin Laden had positioned himself as the Robin Hood of jihad. He helped develop the wider jihad network, had co-founded a group named al Qaeda, or “the base,” that would make use of this network and had usurped power from his mentor to control the network.


Episode Length: 00:50:00

Year: 2003

Episode: 1


Image by NOAA

Inside 9/11 – Countdown to Terror

September 2001. As the clock ticks down to zero hour, seemingly random and isolated events begin to coalesce and form a tapestry of what will become known as 9/11. The 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The African Embassy bombings. Black Hawk Down. The USS Cole. All orchestrated by an obscure Saudi millionaire that few Americans have even heard of – a man who has declared war on the western world from a remote base in Afghanistan. And while these attacks occur around the globe, four men gradually insinuate themselves into the western world, learning to fly aircraft, living amongst us, blending into a culture they have sworn to destroy. American intelligence knows that something is coming; they’ve monitored communications, successfully prevented some attacks, failed to identify others, and even tracked some of the men who are planning the most deadly terror assault in history – but it is too little, too late. As dawn breaks on a beautiful early September morning, the world is about to change horribly in ways only a few have dreamed possible.


Episode Length: 00:50:00

Year: 2003

Episode: 2


Image by National Park Service

Inside 9/11 – End Game

In INSIDE 9/11: Hour Four, the last and perhaps most intense portion of the series, begins in the midst of several crises. Two commercial airliners have already smashed into the Twin Towers, resulting in a treacherous rescue mission and a rising panic in New York and beyond. Meanwhile, the third team of hijackers takes control and descends on America’s centre of military power, the Pentagon. And on United Airlines Flight 93, which is headed for the nation’s capital, passengers fought hijackers for control of the plane, sacrificing their lives as they crash into a field in rural Pennsylvania, but saving hundreds of others. The hope of salvaging those trapped in the Towers diminishes when the two great buildings collapse, killing and injuring countless victims. As the day progresses, the magnitude of the destruction comes into focus, leaving Americans traumatized and rescue teams overwhelmed. And by that afternoon, U.S. intelligence has already identified al Qaeda’s culpability in the tragedy, bringing the series back to where it began: Afghanistan.


Episode Length: 00:50:00

Year: 2003

Episode: 4


Image by JO1 MARK D.FARAM, USN

Lost Treasures of Afghanistan

Lost Treasures of Afghanistan highlights the efforts of heroic Afghans who have refused to allow their culture to be destroyed. It tells the story of priceless treasures that have re-emerged, of people who risked death to defy extremists threatening to obliterate Afghanistan’s past, and of others with deep roots in the country who can finally come home now that the conflict has subsided.


Episode Length: 00:50:00

Year: 2004

Episode: 1


Image by خودم

Egypt Eternal: the Question for the Lost Tombs

French Archaeologist Dr. Alain Zivrie takes us under the sand to unearth mysteries of the great tombs at Bahariya and Saqqara and paint a new picture of a 3000-year-old society.


Episode Length: 00:50:00

Year: 2004

Episode: 1


Image by Nikola Smolenski is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Serbia

Swiss archaeologist discovers the earliest tomb of a Scythian prince

Deep in a swamp in the Russian republic of Tuva, SNSF-funded archaeologist Gino Caspari has discovered an undisturbed Scythian burial mound.

All the evidence suggests that this is not only the largest Scythian princely tomb in South Siberia, but also the earliest .

Gino Caspari made the most significant find in his career to date not with a shovel, but at a computer. A recipient of Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) funding, archaeologist Caspari discovered a circular structure on high-resolution satellite images of the Uyuk River valley (Siberia) on his computer screen. An initial trial dig carried out this summer by the Bern University scientist together with the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Hermitage Museum confirmed his suspicion: the structure is a kurgan, a Scythian princely tomb.

Looking back at the beginnings

Working with a Swiss-Russian team, Caspari was able to prove that the burial mound – referred to as Tunnug 1 (or Arzhan 0) – was similar in construction to the kurgan Arzhan 1 located only ten kilometres away to the northeast. Arzhan 1 had long been regarded as the earliest Scythian princely tomb in the region, which is also known as the “Siberian Valley of Kings” owing to the numerous kurgans found there. The earliest princely tombs consist of a stone packing with a circular arrangement of chambers. The walls of the chambers are made of larch logs. Scythian burial objects typically include weapons, horse’s harnesses and objects decorated in the so-called animal style.

Wooden beams found by Caspari during the test excavation date back to the 9th century BC, predating Arzhan 1, which was built at the turn of the 9th to the 8th century BC and excavated in the 1970s. “We have a great opportunity here,” says a delighted Caspari, commenting on the results of the trial dig published in the current issue of Archaeological Research in Asia (*).

“Archaeological methods have become considerably more sophisticated since the 1970s. Today we have completely different ways of examining material to find out more about the transition from the Late Bronze Age to the Iron Age,” remarks the SNSF-funded researcher.  He also stresses that the way we look at prehistoric times is changing radically thanks to genetics, isotope analysis and geophysical methods as well as developments in geographic information systems and remote sensing.

Protective armour of ice

The Arzhan 0 burial mound is in an inaccessible location amid swampy terrain, which also makes it harder for grave robbers to reach. “The kurgan is five arduous hours by off-road vehicle from the nearest settlement,” Caspari points out. As it may never have been disturbed, it could contain similar treasures to Arzhan 2. Between 2001 and 2004, a German team of archaeologists discovered an undisturbed burial chamber in Arzhan 2 containing the richest collection of burial artefacts ever found in the Eurasian steppe. Over a thousand gold objects had been placed with the two corpses in the tomb’s main chamber, in addition to magnificently adorned weapons, pots and horses with exquisite harnesses. Made of solid gold, the necklace of the Scythian prince from Arzhan 2 weighs 2 kilos alone. But the date of the burial is put at the 7th century BC, i.e. well into the Iron Age.

The climatic characteristics of the Siberian soil add to Caspari’s hopes. In the Uyuk Valley, the permafrost layer largely begins just a few metres below the surface. Everything above that thaws in summer, and organic material rots. However, beneath the thick stone packing of the kurgans, the rays of sunlight are unable to thaw out the soil.

“Very rarely ice lenses form directly beneath the kurgans,” explains Caspari. The ice prevents the decay of organic matter and preserves sensitive material. Caspari is expecting further finds to be unearthed in the course of the project: “If we’re lucky, we might even find some well-preserved wood carvings or carpets under the stones, or perhaps an ice mummy.”

Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)

Geophysicists uncover new evidence for an alternative style of plate tectonics

When renowned University of Toronto (U of T) geophysicist J. Tuzo Wilson cemented concepts in the emerging field of plate tectonics in the 1960s, he revolutionized the study of Earth’s physical characteristics and behaviours.

Decades later, successor researchers at U of T and Istanbul Technical University have determined that a series of volcanoes and a mountain plateau across central Turkey formed not solely by the collision of tectonic plates, but instead by a massive drip and then detachment of the lower tectonic plate beneath Earth’s surface.

The researchers propose that the reason the Central Anatolian (Turkish) Plateau has risen by as much as one kilometre over the past 10 million years is because the planet’s crust and upper mantle – the lithosphere – has thickened and dripped below the region. As the lithosphere sank into the lower mantle, it first formed a basin at the surface, which later sprang up when the weight below broke off and sank further into the deeper depths of the mantle.

“It seems the heavy base of the tectonic plate has ‘dripped’ off into the mantle, leaving a massive gap in the plate beneath Central Anatolia. Essentially, by dropping this dense lithospheric anchor, there has been an upward bobbing of the entire land mass across hundreds of kilometres,” said Professor Oğuz H. Göğüş of the Eurasia Institute of Earth Sciences at Istanbul Technical University (ITU), lead author of a study reporting the findings published in Nature Communications this month.

Time slices of the computational geodynamic model showing dripping continental root and eventual surface uplift over a 4.5 million year period across Turkey’s Central Anatolian Plateau. CREDIT : University of Toronto handout

It’s a new idea where plate shortening initially squeezed and folded a mountain belt, triggering the thickening and dripping of the deep lithosphere, and then increasing the elevation of most of central Turkey. Puzzled by the presence of such a process at a significant distance away from regular plate tectonic boundaries, the research team set about identifying why, in an area of high heating and high elevation, is the lithosphere below completely gone – something that was recently discovered from seismology.

They tested high-performance computational models against known geological and geophysical observations of the Central Anatolian Plateau, and demonstrated that a drip of lithospheric material below the surface can account for the measured elevation changes across the region.

“It’s a new variation on the fundamental concepts of plate tectonics,” said Professor Russell Pysklywec, chair of the Department of Earth Sciences at U of T and one of the study’s coauthors. “It gives us some insight into the connection between the slow circulation of near-solid rock in Earth’s mantle caused by convection currents carrying heat upwards from the planet’s interior, and observed active plate tectonics at the surface.

“This is part of the holy grail of plate tectonics – linking the two processes to understand how the crust responds to the mantle thermal engine of the planet.”

Pysklywec carried out the study with Göğüş, who received his PhD from U of T in 2010, and fellow researchers at ITU including Professor A. M. C. Şengör, and Erkan Gün of the Eurasia Institute of Earth Sciences at Istanbul Technical Institute. Gün is also now a current graduate student at U of T, supervised by Pysklywec. The research adds to decades of groundbreaking work in plate tectonics at U of T, and builds on Wilson’s seminal work.

“Tuzo Wilson is a towering figure in geophysics internationally and the person most responsible for pioneering the ideas of plate tectonics in the 1960s,” said Pysklywec. “I am pleased that we are continuing his legacy in geophysics with our work.”

While Pysklywec notes there are many locations on Earth missing its lithosphere below, he is quick to reassure that no place is in imminent danger of sinking into the mantle or boosting upwards overnight. “Our results show that the Central Anatolian Plateau rose over a period of millions of years. We’re talking about mantle fluid motions and uplift at the pace at which fingernails grow.”

Göğüş highlights the links of the tectonics with human history saying, “The findings are exciting also because of the link with the remarkable historical human activity of Central Anatolia where some of the earliest known civilizations have existed. For example, Central Anatolia is described as an elevated, dry, cold plain of Lycaonia in Strabo’s Geographika in 7 BC, and even cave paintings in the region dating to approximately 7000 BC record active volcanic eruptions on the plateau.”

UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO

3000-year-old graves found under new E6 highway in central Norway

Bronze Age graves have been unearthed ahead of planned road construction in Melhus municipality in mid-Norway. These are some of the oldest burial sites ever discovered in the region.

Bronze Age graves are rare in Norway. Now 3000-year-old graves in good condition have been discovered in Trøndelag county.

Archaeologists from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) University Museum made the gravesite discovery at Sandbrauta in Melhus municipality. They’re working on the site in connection with the planned construction of the new E6 highway between the towns of Melhus and Ulsberg.

“We don’t often make a find like this,” says Project Manager Merete Moe Henriksen at the NTNU University Museum.

Numerous graves

Three smaller stone chambers typical of the period lie to the side of a larger stone ring. The stone ring is part of a burial mound that contains numerous graves.

Local conditions have preserved the site remarkably well. Up to two metres of clay from a landslide covered the area. This mass of earth provides traces of a mudslide that may have taken place already in prehistoric times, perhaps just after people were laid in the graves.

Landowner had no clue

The clay settled like a lid over the graves, sealing the site and keeping it in good condition. This is a good farmland, but the ploughing activity hasn’t gone deep enough to disturb anything.

That 3000-year-old objects could be buried in his fields came as a big surprise to landower Oddvar Narve Langørgen. “I had no clue that anything like this was here. I couldn’t have dreamt it up, either,” he said.

Langørgen says there is good topsoil in the area, which might have offered good growing conditions for people who might have lived here at that time.

Found bones and charcoal

According to the museum, the find represents an invaluable source of knowledge of the Bronze Age’s burial traditions in central Norway.

“We found charcoal and burned bones in the graves,” says project manager Henriksen.

The custom seems to have been to burn the dead before they were laid in the graves. The remains may have been placed in some material that decomposed over the course of the 3000 years.

Archaeologists have known that there could be exciting discoveries here since 2014, when they conducted a pre-roadwork investigation in conjunction with the county’s cultural heritage council. They found signs of human activity from earlier times.

The mould on the right was found at Sandbrauta. On the left is an example of an axe that might have been made in this kind of mould. Photo: Julie Gloppe Solem, NTNU

Site mapping

“It’s incredibly exciting,” said Anne-Lise Bratsberg, who is an advisor and project manager for Nye Veier AS (New Roads Ltd), which is responsible for planning, construction, operation and maintenance of major highways in Norway.

She says she feels awestruck by the find of graves that no one has seen in 3000 years.

Museum Director Reidar Andersen praises Nye Veier and commends the cooperation between the builders and the museum. Andersen hopes that some of the discoveries from the site will be exhibited at a later date. He believes the potential is great for an exhibit.

However, the area will become inexorably changed with the planned roadwork.

“Archaeology is a destructive science, after all. We have to dig to make discoveries,” Hanne Bryn says. She is the field leader for the excavations at Sandbrauta.

The way Bryn sees it is that no one has known about this place for the past 3000 years. Now they can at least map a site that contains valuable scientific finds.

Exciting rock slab

Close to the big burial mound, the museum found part of a rock slab with indented figures, shaped like bowl depressions and a foot. These are motifs that have been found on other rock carvings from this time, but the foot figure is distinct because, unlike most others, it is portrayed with toes rather than as a foot with a shoe on.

The archaeologists believe that the slab may have been part of a burial chamber in the mound.

So far, no finds have been made that would confirm the presence of a settlement at the site. Postholes could indicate this, but might also have been part of a structure connected to the graveyard.

Casting moulds

A casting mould for bronze axe heads was found on the same site. The mould might have been deposited as grave goods, but might also show that casting of bronze objects took place in the region.

The mould may have been used to cast axe heads of the same type as were discovered at Hegra in Stjørdal municipality earlier this year. It’s conceivable that contact between Stjørdal and Melhus – 40 kilometres apart as the crow flies – might have existed in prehistoric times.

Both the carvings on the rock and on the mould suggest that the gravesite was probably used in the Late Nordic Bronze Age, between 1100 and 500 BCE.

This dating makes it the oldest burial site discovered to date in Melhus municipality, and also one of the oldest in central Norway. Several other interesting finds have been made nearby.

The information from the dig, combined with previous finds, allows archaeologists to form a picture of a region where people lived, worked and died over a long period of time.

The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)

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