Ziggurats (multi-platform temples around 4,900 years ago; likely emerging from Tell al-`Ubaid)
Pyramids (multi-platform tombs around 4,700 years ago; likely emerging from Gisr el-Mudir)
Ziggurats (multi-platform temples: 4,900 years old)
Mesopotamians revolved around their gods and so, naturally, the homes of the gods on earth: the temples. During the Ubaid Period (7,000 to 6,000 years ago), the movement towards urbanization began, based upon the analysis of grave goods, was one of increasingly polarised social stratification and decreasing egalitarianism, which has been described as a phase of “Trans-egalitarian” competitive households, in which some fall behind as a result of downward social mobility. Moreover, it has been hypothesized that Ubaid culture saw the rise of an elite class of hereditary chieftains, perhaps heads of kin groups linked in some way to the administration of the temple shrines and their granaries, responsible for mediating intra-group conflict and maintaining social order. a temple to Ninhursag, a Sumerian mother goddess. Like the temple at Kafahje, this too was surrounded by an oval-shaped enclosure wall. Tell al-‘Ubaid a low, relatively small tell (settlement mound) site of a prosperous Sumerian town lying on the Euphrates River about 4 miles northwest of the larger nearby city of Ur in southern Iraq‘s Dhi Qar Governorate. The majority of the remains are from the Ubaid period, for which Tell al-‘Ubaid is the type site, with an Early Dynastic temple at the highest point. The Early Dynastic temple is located on the northern edge of the site. The temple of Ninhursag goddess of childbirth and divine protector of wild animals. Erected in a time when the Sumerian cities were nearing their height of power and influence, the temple featured eight large copper-sheathed lions guarding its entrance. The insides of the structure were decorated with elegant reliefs inlaid with red limestone and mother-of-pearl.at the summit was on a cleared oval similar to that at Khafajah. The wall surrounding the temple was built by Shulgi of the Ur III Empire. Also found at Tell al-‘Ubaid was that the lower levels of the tell held smaller houses made from reeds that dated from an earlier period with similar huts, along with primitive pottery, at the lowest levels of the Ur site. The Early Dynastic period is an archaeological culture in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) that is generally dated around 4,900 to 4,350 years ago, involving multiple city-states: small states with a relatively simple structure that developed and solidified over time. It was preceded by the Uruk and Jemdet Nasr periods, and saw the invention of writing and the formation of the first cities and states. This development ultimately led to the unification of much of Mesopotamia under the rule of Sargon, the first monarch of the Akkadian Empire. Despite this political fragmentation, such city-states shared a relatively homogeneous material culture. The Early Dynastic period (abbreviated ED period or ED) is an archaeological culture in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) that is generally dated to c. 2900–2350 BC. It was preceded by the Uruk and Jemdet Nasr periods and saw the invention of writing and the formation of the first cities and states. The ED itself was characterized by the existence of multiple city-states: small states with a relatively simple structure that developed and solidified over time. This development ultimately led to the unification of much of Mesopotamia under the rule of Sargon, the first monarch of the Akkadian Empire. Despite this political fragmentation, the ED city-states shared a relatively homogeneous material culture. Sumerian cities like Uruk, Ur, Lagash, Umma and Nippur, located in Lower Mesopotamia, were very powerful and influential. To the north and west stretched states centered on cities such as Kish, Mari, Nagar and Ebla. The ED was preceded by the Jemdet Nasr and then succeeded by the Akkadian period, during which, for the first time in history, large parts of Mesopotamia were united under a single ruler. The entirety of the ED is now generally dated to approximately 2900–2350 BC according to the middle chronology, or 2800–2230 BC according to the short chronology. The ED was divided into the ED I, ED II, ED IIIa, and ED IIIb sub-periods. ED I–III were more or less contemporary with the Early Jezirah (EJ) I–III in Upper Mesopotamia. The exact dating of the ED sub-periods varies between scholars: with some abandoning ED II and using only Early ED and Late ED instead, and others extending ED I while allowing ED III begin earlier so that ED III were to begin immediately after ED I, with no gap between the two. The ED I (2900–2750/2700 BC) is poorly known. In Lower Mesopotamia, it shared characteristics with the final stretches of the Uruk (c. 3300–3100 BC) and Jemdet Nasr (c. 3100–2900 BC) periods. ED I is contemporary with the culture of the Scarlet Ware pottery typical of sites along the Diyala in Lower Mesopotamia, the Ninevite V Culture in Upper Mesopotamia, and the Proto-Elamite Culture in southwestern Iran. New artistic traditions developed in Lower Mesopotamia during the ED II (2750/2700–2600 BC). These traditions influenced the surrounding regions. According to later Mesopotamian historical tradition, this was the time when famous kings such as Lugalbanda, Enmerkar, Gilgamesh, and Aga ruled over Mesopotamia. Archaeologically, this sub-period has not been well-attested to in excavations of Lower Mesopotamia, leading some researchers to abandon it altogether. The ED III (2600–2350 BC) saw an expansion in the use of writing and increasing social inequality. Larger political entities developed in Upper Mesopotamia and Southwestern Iran. ED III is usually further subdivided into the ED IIIa (2600–2500/2450 BC) and ED IIIb (2500/2450–2350 BC). The Royal Cemetery at Ur and the archives of Fara and Abu Salabikh date back to ED IIIa. The ED IIIb is especially well-known through the archives of Girsu (part of Lagash) in Iraq and Ebla in Syria. The end of the ED is not defined archaeologically, but politically. The conquests of Sargon and his successors upset the political equilibrium throughout Iraq, Syria, and Iran. The conquests lasted many years into the reign of Naram-Sin of Akkad and built on ongoing conquests during the ED. The transition is much harder to pinpoint within an archaeological context. It is virtually impossible to date a site to either ED III or Akkadian period based on ceramic or architectural evidence alone. In southwestern Iran, the first half of the Early Dynastic period corresponds with the Proto-Elamite period. This culture disappears toward the middle of the third millennium, to be replaced by a less sedentary way of life. Due to the absence of written evidence and a lack of archaeological excavations targeting this period, the socio-political situation of Proto-Elamite southwestern Iran is not well understood. Iran’s Pyramid the Ziggurat of Choghazanbil, Built by the Elamites in approximately 1250 BCE, it resembles the architecture employed in the Egyptian pyramids and Mayan edifices. Iran’s Pyramid originally five stories high, but at present only three floors remain. The Elamite Dynasty built many such edifices in ancient Persia, the most important of which is the ziggurat of Choghazanbil in Khuzestan province. The Choghazanbil edifice is the only surviving ziggurat in Iran and one of the most important remnants of the Elamite civilization, which thrived in Iran. The earliest known presence of Elamites has been recorded at Awan (now called Shoushtar, a town in Khouzestan province). Choghazanbil is located in Khouzestan province 30 km southwest of Shoush (Susa), the famous capital of Elam near Dez River which bifurcates from the large Karoun River. The original name of this town and its ziggurat was Dur-Untash which, according to the inscriptions discovered at the foundations of the ruined building in that town, derived its name from Untash-Gal, the Elamite king (1275-1240 BCE) who was the founder of that town. This name has been repeatedly mentioned in Elamite and Assyrian inscriptions. The word `Dur’ in the Akkadian and Elamite languages means a town or an enclosed and distinct region. Ziggurat in Sumerian language means ascending to heaven and has its root in the Elamite word Zagratu. The highest story of the ziggurat was called Kukunnu or Kizzum which name was ascribed to all the stories.
Choghazanbil means a hill-like basket (Zanbil), because in the Dezfouli or Lori dialect Chogha means a hill. Recently, an Iranian archeologist said evidence indicates the existence of a ziggurat older than the 3,000-year-old counterpart at Choghazanbil and Haft-Tappeh in Khuzestan province. Choga-Zanbil means ‘basket mound.’ It was built around 3,250 years ago by the king Untash-Napirisha, mainly to honor the great god Inshushinak. Choghazanbil is an example of a stepped pyramidal monument Its original name was Dur Untash, which means ‘town of Untash’, but it is unlikely that many people, besides priests and servants, ever lived there. The complex is protected by three concentric walls which define the main areas of the ‘town’. The inner area is wholly taken up with a great ziggurat dedicated to the main god, which was built over an earlier square temple with storage rooms also built by Untash-Napirisha. The middle area holds eleven temples for lesser gods. It is believed that twenty-two temples were originally planned, but the king died before they could be finished, and his successors discontinued the building work. In the outer area are royal palaces, a funerary palace containing five subterranean royal tombs. The site was occupied until it was destroyed by the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal in 640 BC. Some scholars speculate, based on the large number of temples and sanctuaries at Chogha Zanbil, that Untash-Napirisha attempted to create a new religious center (possibly intended to replace Susa) which would unite the gods of both highland and lowland Elam at one site. The main building materials in Chogha Zanbil were mud bricks and occasionally baked bricks. The monuments were decorated with glazed baked bricks, gypsum and ornaments of faïence and glass. Ornamenting the most important buildings were thousands of baked bricks bearing inscriptions with Elamite cuneiform characters were all inscribed by hand. Glazed terracotta statues such as bulls and winged griffins guarded the entrances to the ziggurat. Near the temples of Kiririsha and Hishmitik-Ruhuratir, kilns were found that were probably used for the production of baked bricks and decorative materials. It is believed that the ziggurat was built in two stages. It took its multi-layered form in the second phase. Knowledge of Elamite history remains largely fragmentary, reconstruction being based on mainly Mesopotamian (Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian) sources. The history of Elam is conventionally divided into three periods, spanning more than two millennia. The period before the first Elamite period is known as the proto-Elamite period: Proto-Elamite: c. 3200 – c. 2700 BC (Proto-Elamite script in Susa); Old Elamite period: c. 2700 – c. 1600 BC (earliest documents until the Eparti dynasty); Middle Elamite period: c. 1500 – c. 1100 BC (Anzanite dynasty until the Babylonian invasion of Susa); and Neo-Elamite period: c. 1100 – 540 BC (characterized Assyrian and Median influence. 539 BC marks the beginning of the Achaemenid period.). The Elamites practised polytheism. Knowledge about their religion is scant, but, according to Cambridge Ancient History, at one time they had a pantheon headed by the goddess Kiririsha/Pinikir. Other deities included In-shushinak and Jabru, lord of the underworld. According to Cambridge Ancient History, “this predominance of a supreme goddess is probably a reflexion from the practice of matriarchy which at all times characterized Elamite civilization to a greater or lesser degree.” The Sialk ziggurat, in Kashan, Iran, is the oldest known ziggurat, dating to the early 3rd millennium BC. Ziggurat designs ranged from simple bases upon which a temple sat, to marvels of mathematics and construction which spanned several terraced stories and were topped with a temple. An example of a simple ziggurat is the White Temple of Uruk, in ancient Sumer. The ziggurat itself is the base on which the White Temple is set. Its purpose is to get the temple closer to the heavens, and provide access from the ground to it via steps. The Mesopotamians believed that these pyramid temples connected heaven and earth. In fact, the ziggurat at Babylon was known as Etemenankia or “House of the Platform between Heaven and Earth”. An example of an extensive and massive ziggurat is the Marduk ziggurat, or Etemenanki, of ancient Babylon. The date of its original construction is unknown, with suggested dates ranging from the fourteenth to the ninth century BC, with textual evidence suggesting it existed in the second millennium. The cultures of Mesopotamia had a polytheistic belief system, which means that the people believed in multiple gods instead of just one. They also believed in demons created by the gods, which could be good or evil. Each city had its own patron deity, some of which were connected to specialized occupations. There were also gods and goddess, the rulers of the sky, air, and more, which received more attention from worshipers. To worship the gods and goddesses, the people of Mesopotamia built large structures, called Ziggurats that served as temples. Inside the worshiping area of the Ziggurat people would place carved stone human figures with wide eyes and clasped hands, praying on behalf of the people of Mesopotamia. This area was also where people could make offerings to please the deities or regain their favor. Some of the most important deities of ancient Mesopotamia were: An (Anu) – Sky god, as well as father of the gods, An was the king of all the gods. There was no art depicting him, all information about this god was translated from ancient texts. Enki (Ea) – God of fresh water, known for his wisdom. He was depicted as a bearded man with water flowing around him. Inanna (Ishtar) – Goddess of love, fertility, and war. She was the most important of the female deities. Nanna (Sin) – God of the moon and the son of Enlil and Ninlil. He travels across the sky in his small boat of woven twigs, surrounded by the planets and stars. Utu (Shamash) – God of the sun and of justice. Between the time when the sun sets in the west and rises in the east he is in the underworld, where he decrees the fate of the dead. The civilizations of southern Mesopotamia—Sumer and Babylonia—built ziggurats in what is considered the classic form. The ziggurat was situated in a walled courtyard that was entered by means of gateways. A large platform covering an area of about an acre formed the base of the structure. The corners of the platform were aligned with the four major points of the compass. This lower platform, like the ones above it, was a solid structure made of clay and sun-dried mud brick* . Unlike the pyramids, ziggurats had no interior passageways or chambers. Most ziggurats had three staircases that led from the ground to the lower level. All the staircases were on one side of the building. Two of them ran along the outside wall, and the third was perpendicular to the wall face and extended some distance away from the base of the ziggurat. Remains of a ziggurat at Ur indicate that only one staircase led to the top of the building. At the top of the ziggurat was a “high temple” to the local god. A “lower temple” for other gods was usually located at the base of the ziggurat. Although impressively designed and built, ziggurats were not very durable. During heavy rain, water penetrated the mud brick interiors and caused them to soften. Over time, the weight of the upper levels would cause the lower walls to bulge and eventually collapse. Several texts from ancient Mesopotamia indicate that the rulers expected this to happen. To try to preserve the structure as long as possible, all ziggurats incorporated features such as internal drainpipes to drain water away from the building. Some ziggurats also contained layers of reeds and bitumen (tarlike substance used for waterproofing) between each level to absorb extra moisture. Notwithstanding these precautions, many ziggurats had to be rebuilt every 100 years or less. The ziggurats in northern Mesopotamia were similar in design and construction to southern ones, but with a few differences. Assyrian ziggurats were typically square, not rectangular like the ones in the south. The four corners were not always aligned to the points of the compass, nor were the external stairways the only means of reaching the temple at the top. However, the most important difference between the two types of ziggurats was their physical surroundings. Sumerian and Babylonian ziggurats stood alone on a site, while the Assyrians incorporated their ziggurats into larger temple complexes that contained other buildings. These temple complexes were constructed on three platforms. The first, or lowest, platform was simply a courtyard surrounding the buildings on the site. The second platform contained the main temple of the god. The ziggurat was the third, and highest, platform in the group. The ancient Mesopotamians believed that the ziggurats served as a link between humans and the gods. Every important city contained a ziggurat dedicated to its local god. The structure rose to the sky, enabling the deities* to descend from heaven to visit their subjects. The high temple on top of the ziggurat received the god when he or she first descended from the sky. The lower temple at the base received the deity upon reaching the earth. The names given to many ziggurats express the idea that ziggurats were the stairways of the gods. The name of the ziggurat in the city of Sippar meant “the staircase to holy heaven,” while the great ziggurat in Babylon was called “the temple which is the foundation of heaven and earth.” In some ziggurats, the high temple had a bedchamber in which sacred marriage ceremonies took place. In these ceremonies, the king would enact a ritual with a priestess of the temple to ensure the fertility and prosperity of the kingdom. 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Pyramids (multi-platform tombs: 4,700 years old)
The earliest known Egyptian pyramids are found at Saqqara, northwest of Memphis. The earliest among these is the Pyramid of Djoser and this first Egyptian pyramid consisted of six mastabas (of decreasing size) built atop one another. The Pyramid of Djoser is a step pyramid (or proto-pyramid) with seven levels high and four-sided. “The step pyramid is the only pyramid in the Old Kingdom that 11 of the king’s daughters were buried inside,” said Egyptologist Zahi Hawass, former minister of state for antiquities. The Pyramid of Djoser was built for the burial of Pharaoh Djoser intended to hold his mummified body. These were the earliest type of Egyptian pyramids and were the predecessors of the “true pyramids” built with smooth sides. What defines a step pyramid is the use of a series of flat platforms on top of one another where they gradually get smaller as they get to the top. It was the largest building of its time, planned by Imhotep “the one who comes in peace”, architect of the Step Pyramid, who was a polymath, poet, judge, engineer, magician, scribe, astronomer, astrologer, physician, high priest and was chancellor to the pharaoh Djoser. The Step Pyramid complex was enclosed by a 30-foot (10-meter) wall and included courtyards, temples, and chapels covering nearly 40 acres (16 hectares)—the size of a large town in the third millennium B.C. As in earlier mastaba tombs, the Step Pyramid’s burial chambers are underground, hidden in a maze of tunnels, probably to discourage grave robbers. The tomb was nevertheless plundered, and all that remains of Djoser, the third king of Egypt’s 3rd dynasty (time line), is his mummified left foot. The Pyramid of Djoser was initially a mastaba tomb, a flat-roofed monument with sloping sides. Through a series of later expansions, the structure evolved into a 62-meter high Pyramid with six layers built on top of each other. The ‘first’ pyramid of the ancient Egyptians was built with a staggering 11.6 million cubic feet of stone and clay. The Pyramid of Djoser was constructed around 4,667 to 4,648 years ago (3rd dynasty) and the nearby enclosure known as Gisr el-mudir would seem to predate the complex do to pottery shards in the filling of the walls date to the Second Dynasty and indicated that the structure was constructed at the end of the Second Dynasty (end of the 28th century BC). Thus, Gisr el-Mudir is the oldest known Egyptian construction for which worked stone was used as a building material. There may be a connection between this enclosure and the two gallery tombs of the Second Dynasty located to the south of the Step Pyramid complex, which has been attributed to Hotepsekhemwy and Nebra or Ninetjer. Possibly, the empty rectangular structure interacted with the graves similarly to how the valley areas interacted with the graves at Abydos. Furthermore, the structure seemingly could also be attributed to Khasekhemwy, on account of similarities to his enclosure at Abydos, Shunet el-Zebib, and also because the erection of a stone building called Men-Netjeret is attributed to him in the Palermo stone which seems to fit chronologically with the construction of Gisr el-Mudir. The rectangular structure probably represents a transitional stage between the enclosures at Abydos and the Step Pyramid complex of Djoser. Abydos one of the oldest cities of ancient Egypt was occupied by the rulers of the Predynastic period, whose town, temple and tombs have been found there. The temple and town continued to be rebuilt at intervals down to the times of the thirtieth dynasty, and the cemetery was used continuously. The pharaohs of the first dynasty were buried in Abydos, including Narmer, who is regarded as founder of the first dynasty, and his successor, Aha. It was in this time period that the Abydos boats were constructed. Some pharaohs of the second dynasty were also buried in Abydos. The temple was renewed and enlarged by these pharaohs as well. Shunet El Zebib (lit. “raisin barn” or “storage of the raisins”), alternatively named Shuneh and Middle Fort, is a large mudbrick structure located at Abydos in Upper Egypt. The edifice dates to the 2nd dynasty (ca 2700 BC.), and was built by the Ancient Egyptian king (pharaoh) Khasekhemwy. Shunet El Zebib is made of hardened mud bricks. It consists of two rectangular surrounding walls built as a so-called funerary enclosure, a place where the deceased king was worshipped and memorized. Such a place was named “house of the Ka” or “Ka-house” by the Egyptians and it was some kind of forerunner to the later mortuary temples known from the Old Kingdom period. As usual for the Early Kingdom, abydene rulers had their own mastaba tomb with a separated funerary enclosure close by. Because Khasekhemwy and his predecessor Peribsen were buried at Abydos and had their funerary enclosures at the same location, some Egyptologists believe that both kings belonged to a royal dynasty line named Thinite Dynasty. This could indeed explain Peribsen’s and Khasekhemwy’s choice of place. However, it is unknown how long the mortuary enclosure of Khasekhemwy was in use, neither its Ancient Egyptian name is known. Because of its thick and interlaced walls, it was long time thought that Shunet El Zebib was a military fortress, which led to its alternative designation as “Middle Fort”. But archaeological findings provide only cultic and religious activities and a location so close to cemeteries speaks rather against any military use. Khasekhemwy’s enclosure domain is now evaluated as the most advanced and most massive version of a Ka-house. Because of the stunning architectural similarities between Shunet El Zebib and the Pyramid complex of 3rd dynasty king Djoser, archaeologists and egyptologists often describe the “Middle Fort” as a direct forerunner of the step pyramid complexes. The flat, stepped inner mount of the Shunet El Zebib is even named “proto-pyramid”. Egyptian step pyramids were created to serve as elaborate burial grounds for royalty. After the famous Egyptian step pyramid that King Djoser had created, no other Egyptian Step pyramid was fully completed. The era of Egyptian step pyramids came to an end when true pyramids began being built in their place during the 4th dynasty. However, there is a 4,600-year-old Egyptian step pyramid in Edfu, seemingly constructed (3rd Dynasty) is older than the Great Pyramid in Giza. The Edfu South Pyramid is part of a group of seven very similar small step pyramids which were all built far from the main centres of Egypt and about which very little is known, along with the pyramids of Elephantine, el-Kula, Naqada, Saujet el-Meitin, Sinkiand Seila. The builder and purpose of the pyramid and unknown. There is some thinking that it and the other pyramids were part of a single building project of Pharaoh Huni, the last ruler of the Third Dynasty. Though it has also been suggested that Huni’s successor, Sneferu (4,670 to 4,630 years ago) the founder of the Fourth Dynasty, was the builder. Speculation about the function of the pyramids ranges from a representation of the king, a depiction of the benben, or a symbol of the political and religious unity of the land to a cenotaph for a royal wife. Egyptian provincial step Pyramid facts show that the step pyramid in Edfu is part of the group of pyramids called provincial pyramids that were likely either built by the pharaoh Huni or Snefru. The provincial pyramids are a group of seven step-pyramids that have very similar characteristics and dimensions and were built in settlements throughout central and southern Egypt around the same time period. No one knows the exact reason for the provincial pyramids creation but some experts speculate that they may have been created as symbolic monuments. The Great Pyramid 4,580 to 4,560 years ago (4th dynasty) a (True pyramid) in Giza, is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids in the Giza pyramid complex bordering what is now El Giza, Egypt. There are three known chambers inside the Great Pyramid. The lowest chamber is cut into the bedrock upon which the pyramid was built and was unfinished. The so-called Queen’s Chamber and King’s Chamber are higher up within the pyramid structure. The main part of the Giza complex is a setting of buildings that included two mortuary temples in honour of Khufu (one close to the pyramid and one near the Nile), three smaller pyramids for Khufu’s wives, an even smaller “satellite” pyramid, a raised causeway connecting the two temples, and small mastaba tombs surrounding the pyramid for nobles. Although succeeding pyramids were smaller than the Great Pyramid, pyramid building continued until the end of the Middle Kingdom. The Middle Kingdom of Egypt is the period in the history of ancient Egypt between circa 4,050 to 3,800 years ago, stretching from the reunification of Egypt under the impulse of Mentuhotep II of the Eleventh Dynasty to the end of the Twelfth Dynasty. During the Middle Kingdom period, Osiris became the most important deity in popular religion. Overall, Pyramids were built to be tombs for pharaohs and their queens. These ancient people went through great effort to ensure their souls would survive after death. Sometimes the individual’s body was put in the pyramid but sometimes the pyramid was just meant as a place for the soul of the deceased to reside in the afterlife. And seemingly why were built with a pyramid shape is most likely some connected importance of the sun in their religion, that a pyramid’s shape was believed to depict descending sun rays. Nubian pyramids are pyramids that were built by the rulers of the ancient Kushite kingdoms. Sudan has more than twice the number of pyramids you’ll find in Egypt relatively more than 200 pyramids, grouped across mainly three sites. The physical proportions of Nubian pyramids differ markedly from the Egyptian edifices: they are built of stepped courses of horizontally positioned stone blocks and range from approximately 6–30 metres (20–98 ft) in height, but rise from fairly small foundation footprints that rarely exceed 8 metres (26 ft) in width, resulting in tall, narrow structures inclined at approximately 70°. Most also have offering temple structures abutting their base with unique Kushite characteristics. By comparison, Egyptian pyramids of similar height generally had foundation footprints that were at least five times larger and were inclined at angles between 40–50°. From 5,100 to 4,890 years ago, Egyptian pharaohs sent their army south along the Nile in search of gold, granite for statues, ostrich feathers, and slaves. Reaching as far south as Jebel Barkal – a small mountain north of Khartoum – they built forts, and later temples, along the route to demonstrate their dominance over the Nubians. The conquered region came to be known as the Kush and the Kushites adopted all aspects of Egyptian culture, from gods to glyphs. But when the Egyptian empire collapsed in 3,070 years ago, the Nubians were free. However, the religion of Amun ran deep and 300 years later Alara, King of the Kush, spearheaded a renaissance of Egyptian culture, including the construction of their own pyramids. Now believing themselves the true sons of the God Amun, Alara’s grandson Piye invaded the north to rebuild the great temples, and for nearly 100 years Egypt was ruled by the “Black Pharaohs”. At the peak of their reign, under the command of famous Kushite King Taharqa, their territories stretched all the way to Libya and Palestine. The crown of the king bore two cobras: one for Nubia, the other for Egypt. At the peak of their reign, under the command of famous Kushite King Taharqa, their territories stretched all the way to Libya and Palestine. The crown of the king bore two cobras: one for Nubia, the other for Egypt. The last great burial site of these royal Black Pharaohs was at Meroë, an ancient city on the east bank of the Nile. By 300 AD the Kush Empire was in decline. Dwindling agriculture and increasing raids from Ethiopia and Rome spelled the end of their rule. Christianity and Islam followed, and prayers to Egyptian God Amun faded from memory. The first Kushite kingdom had its capital at Kerma (4,600 to 3,520 years ago). The second was centered on Napata (3,000 to 2,300 years ago). Kerma was Nubia’s first centralized state with its own indigenous forms of architecture and burial customs. The last two kingdoms, Napata and Meroë, were heavily influenced by ancient Egypt culturally, economically, politically, and militarily. The Kushite kingdoms in turn competed strongly with Egypt economically and militarily. 2,751 years ago, the Kushite king Piankhi overthrew the 24th Dynasty and united the entire Nile valley from the delta to the city of Napata under his rule. Piankhi and his descendants ruled as the pharaohs of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty. The Napatan domination of Egypt ended with the Assyrian conquest of Egypt in 2,656 years ago. The beginning of Dynasties 22 and 23 witnessed political stability, during which Libyan pharaohs ruled from the Delta, first in Tanis and then Bubastis. The Libyan kings were able to maintain control from the Delta over the High Priests of Amen by placing their children in high positions in the clerical hierarchy. They carried out various building works at Karnak and throughout Egypt. The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines mentioned various tribes with similar names living in Greater “Libya” (North Africa) in the areas where Berbers were later found. The presence of proto-Berber peoples from prehistory is evident in Saharan caves, where rock paintings depicting diverse megafaunal life point to evidence that before the desertification of the Sahara, northern Africa was a lush and resource-rich region populated by hunter-gatherer societies. The basal two deities of Berber cosmology – a solar figure and a lunar one – are loosely analogous to those of the Egyptians, suggesting a common cultural origin. According to Herodotus, who in his Histories wrote of the Berbers in 2,430 years ago, “They sacrifice to the Sun and Moon, but not to any other god. This worship is common to all the Libyans.” (IV, 198). In common with pre-Abrahamic Middle Eastern peoples, the importance of rocks was a major theme in Berber tradition. Some stone-cut mausoleums, such as the Roman-era Royal Mausoleum of Mauritania, built by Berber kings in traditional style, remain intact today. The Berber veneration of stone structures, which included the burial of the dead under outcroppings or erected monuments, was akin to such practices as the Nabatean pilgrimage to the Black Stone at Mecca’s Kaaba and the Arabian Hutaymi people’s worship of the great boulder Al-Weli abu Ruzuma. Similarities in tradition and language point to an ancient proto-Afroasiatic cultural center from which these groups dispersed. Libya was an unknown territory to the Egyptians: it was the land of the spirits. There were many Berber tribes in ancient Libya, including the now extinct Psylli, with the Libu being the most prominent. The Libyan script that was used in Libya was mostly a funerary script. North Africa has megalithic remains, which occur in a great variety of form and in vast numbers dolmens and circles like Stonehenge, cairns, underground cells excavated in rock, barrows topped with huge slabs, and step-pyramid-like mounds. Most remarkable are the trilithons, some still standing, some fallen, which occur isolated or in rows, and consist of two squared uprights standing on a common pedestal that supports a huge transverse beam. Berbers are an ethnic group encompasses the entire history and geography of North Africa. The name Berber derives from an ancient Egyptian language term meaning “outlander” or variations thereof. The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines mentioned various tribes with similar names living in Greater “Libya” (North Africa) in the areas where Berbers were later found. Around 7,000 years ago, the Berber populations of North Africa were primarily descended from the makers of the Iberomaurusian and Capsian cultures, as well as Eurasian and Near Eastern. The proto-Berber tribes evolved from these prehistoric communities during the Late Bronze to Early Iron Age. Uniparental DNA analysis has established ties between Berbers and other Afro-Asiatic speakers in Africas, linguistically related to that of the Egyptians, Kushites, Arabs, Syrians, Levantine tribes, and Somalis. Most of these populations belong to the E1b1b paternal haplogroup, with Berber speakers having among the highest frequencies of this lineage. Additionally, genomic analysis has found that Berber and other Maghreb communities are defined by a shared ancestral component. Prehistoric tombs in the Maghreb shows that the bodies of the dead were painted with ochre. While this practice was known to the Iberomaurusians, this culture seems to have been primarily a Capsian industry. The dead were also sometimes buried with shells of ostrich eggs, jewelry, and weapons. Bodies were usually buried in a fetal position. Pomponius Mela reported that the Augilae (Modern Awjila in Libya) considered the spirits of their ancestors to be gods. They swore by them and consulted them. After making requests, they slept in their tombs to await responses in dreams. Herodotus (2,484 to 2,425 years ago) noted the same practice among the Nasamones, who inhabited the deserts around Siwa and Augila. He wrote: [..]They swear by the men among themselves who are reported to have been the most righteous and brave, by these, I say, laying hands upon their tombs; and they divine by visiting the sepulchral mounds of their ancestors and lying down to sleep upon them after having prayed; and whatsoever thing the man sees in his dream, this he accepts. The Berbers worshiped their kings, too. The tombs of the Numidian kings are among the most notable monuments left by the Classical Berbers. Unlike the majority of mainland Berbers, the Guanches mummified the dead; a Libyan mummy at the Uan Muhuggiag site in Libya where the Tashwinat Mummy was found, which was dated to around 5,600 years ago, at a comparable age to the oldest found in Ancient Egyptian mummy dating to around 5,600-year-old tomb with a mummy (Predynastic Egypt), predates the unification of Egypt. This ancient Egyptian mummy (thought to be a teanager) was also buried with grave goods, including an ivory statue of a bearded man. The tomb is located in the ancient city of Hierakonpolis located between Luxor and Aswan, which was the dominant pre-dynastic urban settlement. The tomb was built before the rule of King Narmer, the founder of the First Dynasty who unified Upper and Lower Egypt in the around 5,100 years ago. Narmer was an ancient Egyptian king of the Early Dynastic Period. He probably was the successor to the Protodynastic king Ka, or possibly Scorpion. Narmer’s tomb in Umm el-Qa’ab near Abydos in Upper Egypt consists of two joined chambers, lined in mud brick. Narmer’s tomb is located next to the tombs of Ka, who likely ruled Upper Egypt just before Narmer, and Hor-Aha, who was his immediate successor. As the tomb dates back more than 5,000 years, and has been pillaged, repeatedly, from antiquity to modern times, it is amazing that anything useful could be discovered in it. Because of the repeated disturbances in Umm el-Qa’ab, many articles of Narmer’s were found in other graves, and objects of other kings, were recovered in Narmer’s grave. Narmer is well attested throughout Egypt, southern Canaan and Sinai: altogether 98 inscriptions at 26 sites.[k] At Abydos and Hierakonpolis Narmer’s name appears both within a serekh and without reference to a serekh. At every other site except Coptos, Narmer’s name appears in a serekh.In Egypt, his name has been found at 17 sites: 4 in Upper Egypt (Hierakonpolis, Naqada, Abydos, and Coptos); ten in Lower Egypt (Tarkhan, Helwan, Zawyet el’Aryan, Tell Ibrahim Awad, Ezbet el-Tell, Minshat Abu Omar, Saqqara, Buto, Tell el-Farkha, and Kafr Hassan Dawood); one in the Eastern Desert (Wadi el-Qaash); and two in the Western Desert (Kharga Oasis and Gebel Tjauti). During Narmer’s reign, Egypt had an active economic presence in southern Canaan. Pottery sherds have been discovered at several sites, both from pots made in Egypt and imported to Canaan and others made in the Egyptian style out of local materials. Researchers wrung genetic material from 151 Egyptian mummies, radiocarbon dated between Egypt’s New Kingdom (the oldest at 3,388 years) to the Roman Period (the youngest at 426 A.D.), ancient Egyptians showed little genetic change as well as finding not much sub-Saharan African ancestry as reported in the journal Nature Communications. Ancient Egyptians were closely related to people who lived along the eastern Mediterranean, the analysis showed. And the DNA of 93 Egyptian mummies from their study reveals a surprising close relation to ancient people of the Near East such as Armenians. They also shared genetic material with residents of the Turkish peninsula at the time and Europe. Given Egypt’s location at the intersection of Africa, Europe and Asia, and the influx of foreign rulers, Krause said he was surprised at how stable the genetics seemed to be over this period. It was not until relatively recently, last 1,500 years, Egypt became more African and that sub-Saharan genetic influences became more pronounced. However, a study performed on ancient mummies of the 12th Dynasty, identified multiple lines of descent, some of which originated in Sub-Saharan Africa. Complete mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences were obtained for 90 of the mummies and were compared with each other and with several other ancient and modern datasets. Modern Egyptians generally shared this maternal haplogroup pattern, but also carried more Sub-Saharan African clades. However, analysis of the mummies’ mtDNA haplogroups found that they shared greater mitochondrial affinities with modern populations from the Near East and the Levant compared to modern Egyptians. Additionally, three of the ancient Egyptian individuals were analyzed for Y-DNA, and were observed to bear paternal lineages that are common in both the Middle East and North Africa. The genetic history of Egypt‘s demographics reflects that Berber and other Maghreb communities are defined by a shared ancestral component. This Maghrebi element peaks among Tunisian Berbers. North Moroccans as well as Libyans and Egyptians carry higher proportions of European and Middle Eastern ancestral components, respectively, whereas Tunisian Berbers and Saharawi are those populations with the highest autochthonous North African component. According to Y-DNA analysis show around 45% of Copts in Sudan carry the haplogroup J. The remainder mainly belong to the E1b1b clade (21%). Both paternal lineages are common among other local Afro-Asiatic-speaking populations (Beja, Ethiopians, Sudanese Arabs), as well as many Nubians. E1b1b/E3b reaches its highest frequencies among Berbers and Somalis. Copts in Sudan exclusively carry various descendants of the macrohaplogroup N. This mtDNA clade is likewise closely associated with local Afro-Asiatic-speaking populations, including Berbers and Ethiopic peoples. An ancestral autosomal component of West Eurasian origin that is common to many modern Afroasiatic-speaking populations in Northeast Africa. Known as the Coptic component, it peaks among Egyptian Copts who settled in Sudan over the past two centuries. Copts also formed a separated group in PCA, a close outlier to other Egyptians, Afro-Asiatic-speaking Northeast Africans and Middle East populations. The Coptic component evolved out of a main Northeast African and Middle Eastern ancestral component that is shared by other Egyptians and also found at high frequencies among other Afro-Asiatic-speaking populations in Northeast Africa (~70%). The scientists suggest that this points to a common origin for the general population of Egypt. They also associate the Coptic component with Ancient Egyptian ancestry, without the later Arabian influence that is present among other Egyptians. Among other significant finds at Uan Muhuggiag are elaborate rock paintings, mostly attributed to the later occupation period of around 5,000 years ago. There are more than 100 rock paintings on the shelter’s walls and ceiling. The most notable of these are the Round Head paintings. They were named as such because the heads depicted were quite large, out of proportion to the rest of the body, and also very round with a distinct lack of features. Additionally, there was a painting depicting these figures inside a boat, which may have had a ritual or religious significance. One particular figure inside the boat was upside-down, whom Mori had interpreted as being dead. Some rock art depicted cattle with herders and running hunters. There was also a painting of two oxen that was found on a rock which had detached from the wall above. The stratigraphic layer confirmed the painting to date from about 4700 BP. This provided conclusive evidence that the inhabitants of Uan Muhuggiag at that time were pastoralists. A pyramidion is the uppermost piece or capstone of an Egyptian pyramid or obelisk, in archaeological parlance. They were called benbenet in the Ancient Egyptian language, which associated the pyramid as a whole with the sacred benben stone. During Egypt’s Old Kingdom, pyramidia were generally made of diorite, granite, or fine limestone, which were then covered in gold or electrum; during the Middle Kingdom and through the end of the pyramid-building era, they were built from granite. A pyramidion was “covered in gold leaf to reflect the rays of the sun”; during Egypt’s Middle Kingdom, they were often “inscribed with royal titles and religious symbols.” Very few pyramidia have survived into modern times. Most of those that have are made of polished black granite, inscribed with the name of the pyramid’s owner. Four pyramidia – the world’s largest collection – are housed in the main hall of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Among them are the pyramidia from the so-called Black Pyramid of Amenemhat III at Dahshur and of the Pyramid of Khendjer at Saqqara. The pyramidion of the scribe Moses (mes,s, New Kingdom, 19th Dynasty, 3,250 years ago) depicts himself making an offering, with his name on two opposite faces. The adjacent opposite faces feature a baboon: “Screeching upon the rising of the Sun, and the Day”. (The baboon is also the god-scribe representation of the Scribe, for the god Thoth.) ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref
Pyramids in China (pyramidal shaped tomb structures: 5,000 years old)
In the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in northern China, Chinese archeologists have discovered a pyramid which they have dated to be more than 5,000 years old. Archaeologist Guo Dashun stated that the three-stepped pyramid belongs to the Hongshan culture period of 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, during the Stone Age. At the top of the pyramid, the archeologists found seven tombs and the ruins of an altar. Also found were many fragments of broken pottery carved with the Chinese character mi (rice). They also discovered a bone flute, a stone ring, and a life-sized sculpture of a goddess. The term Chinese pyramids refers to pyramidal shaped structures in China, most of which are ancient mausoleums and burial mounds built to house the remains of several early emperors of China and their imperial relatives. About 38 of them are located around 16 to 22 mi) north-west of Xi’an, on the Guanzhong Plains in Shaanxi Province. The most famous is the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, northeast of Xi’an and 1.7 km west of where the Terracotta Warriors were found. The earliest tombs in China are found just north of Beijing in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and in Liaoning. They belong to the Neolithic Hongshan culture (6,700 to 2,900 years ago) a culture in northeastern China. The site of Niuheliang in Liaoning contains a pyramidal structure.culture in northeastern China. Hongshan burial artifacts include some of the earliest known examples of jade working. The Hongshan culture is known for its jade pig dragons and embryo dragons. Clay figurines, including figurines of pregnant women, are also found throughout Hongshan sites. Small copper rings were also excavated. Origin of the mysterious Yin-Shang bronzes in China indicate they contain lead with puzzlingly highly radiogenic isotopic compositions appeared suddenly in the alluvial plain of the Yellow River around 3,400 years ago. Excavators have discovered an underground temple complex—which included an altar—and also cairns in Niuheliang. The temple was constructed of stone platforms, with painted walls. Archaeologists have given it the name Goddess Temple due to the discovery of a clay female head with jade inlaid eyes. It was an underground structure, 1m deep. Included on its walls are mural paintings. Housed inside the Goddess Temple are clay figurines as large as three times the size of real-life humans. The exceedingly large figurines are possibly deities, but for a religion not reflective in any other Chinese culture. The existence of complex trading networks and monumental architecture (such as pyramids and the Goddess Temple) point to the existence of a “chiefdom“ in these prehistoric communities. Painted pottery was also discovered within the temple. Over 60 nearby tombs have been unearthed, all constructed of stone and covered by stone mounds, frequently including jade artifacts. Cairns were discovered atop two nearby two hills, with either round or square stepped tombs, made of piled limestone. Entombed inside were sculptures of dragons and tortoises. It has been suggested that religious sacrifice might have been performed within the Hongshan culture. In northeast China, Hongshan culture was preceded by Xinglongwa culture (6200–5400 BC), Xinle culture (5300–4800 BC), and Zhaobaogou culture, which may be contemporary with Xinle and a little later. Yangshao culture was in the larger area and contemporary with Hongshan culture (see map). These two cultures interacted with each other. Just as suggested by evidence found at early Yangshao culture sites, Hongshan culture sites also provide the earliest evidence for feng shui. The presence of both round and square shapes at Hongshan culture ceremonial centers suggests an early presence of the gaitian cosmography (“round heaven, square earth”). The three exceptional pyramids around Xi’an, constructed using three different methods:
1. The Qian Shi Huang pyramid (Qin Dynasty) constructed of clay bricks
The first and largest “burial pyramid” is thought to be that of the first Emperor Qin Shi Huang, who unified China as a country and founded the Qin Dynasty. It lies in the huge mausoleum at the foot of the Qing Ling Shan Mountains, 80 km southwest of Xi’an. He began construction as soon as he ascended the throne at the tender age of 13 in 246 BC. It was to be of tremendous dimensions – its base was 354 x 357 meters, and its original height was 200 meters, making it the largest “pyramid” in the world (for comparison, the great pyramid in Giza is 230 x 230 meters and 147 meters high). For the 36 years that work went on, up to 700,000 people were employed at the site at a time to construct the pyramid and the subterranean complexes over an area of several thousand square meters. Construction was completed in 210 BC.
2. Qian Ling pyramid (Tang Dynasty), formed from a hill
This pyramid and the burial complexes are located on the slopes of Mount Liang, 6 km north of Quianling, the county seat, 80 km northwest of Xi’an. It is the mausoleum of the third Tang emperor, Gaozong (650-683 AD) and his wife, who became the Empress Wu Zetian (684-704, seventh daughter of Emperor Zhongzong (Li Xian), who was buried there in 684 or 706. The “pyramid” was not made by piling up material, however, but by shaping an existing hill (resulting in a “shaped pyramid”) which is not square and has large differences in its base lengths. What is special is the emperor’s subterranean burial chambers, which belie influences that are atypical for early China (see Fig. ??). Of the 18 Tang emperor burial sites in the Guanzhong Plain, it is the only complex that was not found and plundered by grave robbers. The enormous stairway access is almost 2 km long with two bulwark towers in front of the “pyramid” and is flanked by figures of animals and people that are up to 4 meters high and by monolithic stone pillars. Among these are armed guards, winged horses (yima), stone lions (shishi) and the Shusheng Tablets and Uncharactered Stele (wuzibei).
3. Earthen Pyramid of Princess Yongtai (Tang Dynasty)
Princess Yongtai (Huang Ti) was the granddaughter of Emperor Gaozong and Empress Wu Zetian, and died in 701 AD at only 17 years of age. She was buried near the Qianling Mausoleum in 706, together with Prince Duwei Wu Yanhin, a nephew of Wu Zetian who had died one year earlier (this delayed burial was possible because the bodies had been mummified). Yongtai‘s grave is surrounded by strong, 3-meters-tall walls, oriented to the four cardinal directions. They are 275 meters long from north to south and 220 meters wide from east to west. The pyramidal hill is located in the middle of the mausoleum. Today, it is only 14 meters high, with a respectable side length of 56 meters. An arched corridor 88 meters long, almost 4 meters wide and 6 meters high leads from the southern entrance to an antechamber and from there to the actual burial chamber. This one impressed and surprised me even more than that of Emperor Gaozong; it corresponds almost exactly to the Egyptian construction method. These similarities are not limited to the long corridors leading below the pyramid, but also include the chamber‘s shape and especially the outer sarcophagus. It is made of black basalt and is almost identical to the 24 sarcophagi in the Serapeum of Sakkara (see page 92). The frescoes are also exceptionally well preserved. The burial chamber‘s east and west walls are covered with depictions of black dragons, white tigers and an honor guard, and the ceiling features astronomical motifs. The antechamber‘s east and west walls bear depictions of waiting servants. This tomb is believed to have been plundered very early. Nevertheless, more than 1,300 items have been discovered in the vicinity during the past 50 years, including gold- and silverware, glazed figurines, porcelain and copperware.
3. Earthen Pyramid of Mao Ling (Han Dynasty)
This burial site is located 40 km from Xi‘an, near the village of Maoling, northeast of the city of Xingping. The mausoleum of Mao Ling, the burial pyramid of Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty (141-87 BC) is the largest of the five mausoleums built during the Western Han Dynasty and is also called the “Pyramid of the East”. Its construction is thought to have begun in 139 BC and lasted 53 years. It was surrounded by a square bulwark wall almost 6 meters thick, 431 meters long east to west and 415 meters long north to south. There was one gate in the middle of each section of the wall, one for every cardinal point. The central burial mound is a truncated pyramid, eroded to a height of 46.5 meters, with a base of about 217 x 222 meters. Around the central mausoleum are over 20 other tombs for Wudi’s family, ministers and generals, such as the burial pyramid of generals Huo Qubing, Wei Qing and Jin Midi, located between 1 and 2 km east of the emperor‘s tomb. Today, the complex also features the Mao Ling Museum, where splendid burial objects are displayed; historical records claim that the emperor spent one third of all tax income for several decades on the mausoleum‘s construction and his family’s burial goods.
Finding feng shui?
Early feng shui relied on astronomy to find correlations between humans and the universe. The culture may also have contributed to the development of settlements in ancient Korea. A group called “Qiang” were mentioned in ancient Chinese texts as well as in inscriptions on oracle bones 3000 years ago. The Qiang people who practice Qiang folk religion are an ethnic group in Chin mainly in a mountainous region in the northwestern part of Sichuan on the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau. It is possible that the modern Qiang might be descendants of one of the groups referred to as Qiang in ancient times. Many of the peoples formerly designated as “Qiang” were gradually removed from this category in Chinese texts as they become sinicized or reclassified, and by the Ming and Qing dynasties, the term “Qiang” denoted only non-Han people living in the upper Min River Valley and Beichuan area, the area now occupied by the modern Qiang. Qiang territory lies between the Han Chinese and historical Tibet, and the Qiang would fall under the domination of both. Each village may have one or more stone towers in the past, and the Himalayan Towers remains a distinctive feature of some Qiang villages. Himalayan Towers are also called Stone star-shaped towers, are a series of stone towers located mostly in Kham, a province of premodern Tibet, and in Sichuan. The towers are located principally in the Changtang and Kongpo regions of Tibet as well as in the area inhabited by the modern Qiang people and in the historical region inhabited by the Western Xia. These towers can be found both in cities and in uninhabited regions. Many of the towers use a star pattern of walls as opposed to a strictly rectangular method and heights can exceed 200 ft. The Qiang worship five major gods, twelve lesser gods, some tree gods, and numerous stones were also worshiped as representatives of gods. A special god is also worshiped in every village and locality, who are mentioned by name in the sacred chants of the Qiang priests. Mubyasei, also known Abba Chi, is the supreme god of the universe and the same name is also used to refer to a male ancestor god, Abba Sei. In certain places, Shanwang, the mountain god, is considered to represent the supreme god. Archaeologists have released a photograph of a skull found in an ancient tomb in Alaer (Aral) in Southern Xinjiang, China. The skull shows an unusual characteristic in which the teeth are vertically oriented instead of horizontally. In addition, the researchers have revealed that the skeleton recovered from the tomb measured a massive 2.3 metres (7 feet 6 inches) which researchers have said that skeleton is 4,000 years old and belonged to the Qiang people. The Qiang people have been recognized as a ‘first ancestor’ culture due to their ancient roots – they were mentioned in ancient Chinese texts as well as inscriptions on the oracle bones of 3,000 years ago. However, the ancient Qiang people referred to in these ancient texts were a broad group of nomadic people and the ancestors of the modern Tibeto-Burman speakers, they are therefore not the equivalent of the modern Qiang people who are a small branch of the ancient Qiangs. The Qiangs were also not a single distinctive ethnic group in the past. According to historical records, a clan group made their homes in what is today’s Sichuan Province. During 600 to 900 AD when the Tibetan Regime gradually expanded its rule over the region, some Qiangs were assimilated by the Tibetans and others by the Hans, leaving a small number unassimilated. These developed into the distinctive ethnic group of today. Prehistoric transport and trade nvolved migrations out of the Fertile Crescent would carry early agricultural practices to neighboring regions—westward to Europe and North Africa, northward to Crimea, and eastward to Mongolia. Interestingly, the region where the tomb was uncovered is in the same region where the well-known Tarim mummies with Caucasoid features were recovered. The mummies were found to have typical Europoid body features (elongated bodies, angular faces, recessed eyes), and many of them have their hair physically intact, ranging in color from blond to red to deep brown. Like the Qiang skeleton, the Tarim mummies were also found to be very tall. Could there be a link between them? The ancient people of the Sahara imported domesticated animals from Asia between 6000 and 4000 BCE. In Nabta Playa by the end of the 7th millennium BCE, prehistoric Egyptians had imported goats and sheep from Southwest Asia. Foreign artifacts dating to the 5th millennium BCE in the Badarian culture in Egypt indicate contact with distant Syria. In predynastic Egypt, by the beginning of the 4th millennium BCE, ancient Egyptians in Maadi were importing pottery as well as construction ideas from Canaan. By the 4th millennium BCE shipping was well established, and the donkey and possibly the dromedary had been domesticated. Domestication of the Bactrian camel and use of the horse for transport then followed. Charcoal samples found in the tombs of Nekhen, which were dated to the Naqada I and II periods, have been identified as cedar from Lebanon. Predynastic Egyptians of the Naqada I period also imported obsidian from Ethiopia, used to shape blades and other objects from flakes. The Naqadans traded with Nubia to the south, the oases of the western desert to the west, and the cultures of the eastern Mediterranean to the east. Pottery and other artifacts from the Levant that date to the Naqadan era have been found in ancient Egypt. Egyptian artifacts dating to this era have been found in Canaan and other regions of the Near East, including Tell Brak and Uruk and Susa in Mesopotamia. By the second half of the 4th millennium BCE, the gemstone lapis lazuli was being traded from its only known source in the ancient world—Badakhshan, in what is now northeastern Afghanistan—as far as Mesopotamia and Egypt. By the 3rd millennium BCE, the lapis lazuli trade was extended to Harappa, Lothal and Mohenjo-daro in the Indus Valley Civilization (Ancient India) of modern-day Pakistan and northwestern India. The Indus Valley was also known as Meluhha, the earliest maritime trading partner of the Sumerians and Akkadians in Mesopotamia. The ancient harbor constructed in Lothal, India, around 2,400 years ago is the oldest seafaring harbor known. Ancient Egyptian trade consisted of the gradual creation of land and sea trade routes connecting the Ancient Egyptian civilization with the Fertile Crescent, Arabia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and India. are circular and stepped and were made of clay. structures of Igbo culture was the Nsude Pyramids, at the Nigerian town of Nsude, northern Igboland. Ten pyramidal structures were built of clay/mud. The first base section was 60 ft. in circumference and 3 ft. in height. The next stack was 45 ft. in circumference. Circular stacks continued, till it reached the top. The structures were temples for the god Ala/Uto, who was believed to reside at the top. A stick was placed at the top to represent the god’s residence. The structures were laid in groups of five parallel to each other. Because it was built of clay/mud like the Deffufa of Nubia, time has taken its toll requiring periodic reconstruction. These pyramids bear a different but somewhat similar resemblance to the Step Pyramid of Saqqara, in Egypt and could have possibly, derive from the same cultural/religious/philosophical tradition that inspired this ancient Egyptian monument also similar to Nubian-like pyramids thousands of miles away from the Nubian area in the heart of Igboland. Evidence like this could show some correlation between the ancient Egyptians and the ancient Igbo. There is an existing ideology amongst the Yorubas of Nigeria and other writers of Yoruba history that the original ancestors of the Yorubas originated in ancient Egypt hence there was migration between Egypt and Yorubaland. This researcher contends that even if there was migration between Egypt and Nigeria, such migration did not take place during the predynastic and dynastic period as speculated by some scholars. No one knows precisely the origins of the methods of specialized bronze and brass castings in Nigeria, and the reasons for the similarities between the Nok terracottas (as old as 2,500 years), the art from Igbo-Ukwu near Enugu, and the Yoruba art that produced the famous Ife bronze heads and those of ancient Egyptians. These arts found in Nigeria might have been produced independently of any foreign culture. The ancient Egyptians were not known to be too keen about traveling and to adapt so much to foreign cultures. Trade, adventure, and escape from wars might have led some of them to travel to other parts of the world, but traveling to stay in other countries seemed not to be one of their preferences. Furthermore, the absence of a known and generally acceptable descendant of Egyptians in Nigeria suggests that the Egyptians did
not live in Nigeria permanently. The Nubian dynasty of Egypt (the 25th Dynasty of Egypt) saw the first widespread construction of pyramids (many in modern Sudan) since the Middle Kingdom. Amongst the Yorubas of Nigeria, are of the opinion that there were migrations between Egypt and Yorubaland. There is some thinking that there is some linkage between the Egyptians to the Yorubas, like the various forms of spirits, gods and ancestors worshipped. A royal pyramidal tomb, located in Ji’an, Jilin, was built by the Goguryeo Kingdom. The site includes archaeological remains of 40 tombs which were built by Goguryeo, which was founded by Jumong in a region called Jolbon Buyeo, thought to be located in the middle Amrok River and Tongjia River basin, overlapping the current China–North Korea border located in and around the city of Ji’an in China. Some of the tombs have elaborate ceilings designed to roof wide spaces without columns and carry the heavy load of a stone or earth tumulus (mound) was placed above them. The paintings in the tombs, while showing artistic skills and specific style, are also an example of strong influence from various cultures. located in and around the city of Ji’an in China. Koguryo (or Goguryeo, 2,037 years ago to 668 CE) was an ancient kingdom located in what is now Manchuria and the northern Korean Peninsula. Goguryeo was a Korean kingdom with a religion makeup of Buddhism, Taoism, and Shamanism. In the geographic monographs of the Book of Han, the word Goguryeo was first mentioned around 2,113 to 1,349 years ago, as a region under the jurisdiction of the Xuantu Commandery, page 33. Capital Cities and Tombs of the Ancient Goguryo Kingdom located in and around the city of Ji’an in China and located in the northern and central parts of the Korean Peninsula and the southern and central parts of inner and outer Manchuria. Goguryeo was an active participant in the power struggle for control of the Korean peninsula and was also associated with the foreign affairs of neighboring polities in China and Japan. Jumong, the founder of Goguryeo, was worshipped and respected among the people. There was even a temple in Pyongyang dedicated to Jumong. At the annual Dongmaeng Festival, a religious rite was performed for Jumong, ancestors, and gods. Other pyramids in China, built using different construction methods, and not simply made of piled-up earth. What may deserve more attention than the earthen pyramids of Xi’an, as they are actual layered stone block pyramids, much like those in South America.
Layered stone pyramid of Jian/Zangkunchong (Goguryeo Dynasty)
There are two isolated layered pyramids near the city of Ji’an in Jangxi province in southeastern China. The perfectly preserved Ji’an pyramid is built of precisely cut stone blocks and contains a large burial chamber. Each base has a length of exactly 31.60 meters on every side, and the height is 12.4 meters. It is made up of seven layers, the first of four layers of stone, and all others of three. This layout is surprisingly similar to that of the layered pyramids in South America. The twelve monoliths that were placed so as to lean against the outer walls’ lower layers – the largest of which is 2.7 meters wide and 4.5 meters high – also set this one apart from other Chinese pyramids. Of these twelve monoliths, four are so-called guardian stones, but only “Paechong” (Korean for “warden‘s tomb”) is still intact. Interestingly, the pyramid is oriented to the cardinal points, while the heads of the stone sarcophagi in the chamber pointed precisely to the mystical volcanic crater of Paektusan (Mount Paektu) on the horizon with its beautiful crater lake at an altitude of 2,500 meters. There are three hypotheses about who built it: The first hypothesis suggests that it was built during the ancient Goguryeo empire, which briefly ruled Korea and parts of eastern China, as a stone mausoleum for King Kwangkaeto the Great (Gwangaeto, 374-413 AD). He is also credited with the construction of the nearby stone pyramid that is almost completely destroyed. The foundation walls, with their base lengths of almost 40 meters, are all that remain of that pyramid, which is thought to be his tomb. The second hypothesis posits that the remaining pyramid is the tomb of King Zangsu (Jangsu), which is why it is called “Zangkunchong”. It is also called Juni Ten (the general’s tomb) and “Pyramid of the East”. This name comes from the 20th regent of Goguryeo, the northernmost of the three Korean kingdoms, whose capital was Ji’an. Historical documents state that king Jansu was crowned king in 413 AD at the young age of 19 and went on to lead the kingdom, stretching from Korea to Mongolia, to its golden age. He died in 491 AD. But how did the Goguryeo Dynasty acquire the knowledge necessary for the construction of such flawless layered pyramids, the likes of which had never been seen in the area, and were not seen there again? The third hypothesis posits that the pyramids were built during the Kokuryo period, around 500 AD. That theory does not name the ruler who is buried there.
Xia Pyramids (Xia Dynasty), made of clay bricks
The Xia pyramids are located in western China, on the eastern slope of the Helan mountains, about 35 kilometers west of Yinchuan, the capital of the autonomous region of Ningxia Hui. They consist of pyramidal mausoleums for the imperial family with heights of between 9 and 20 meters, and 207 documented stone tombs for nobles and higher magistrates, all scattered over an area of 40 km2. Chinese researchers have conducted archaeological and scientific analyses on these tombs since the 1980s, but the sudden rise and fall of the western Xia dynasty (also referred to as the Tangut Empire, 1038-1227) remains a mystery. One theory suggests that they were overrun and largely eradicated by invading Mongols under Genghis Khan. The best-preserved burial pyramid (Mausoleum No. 3) is the only one to have been excavated and explored. It was attributed to the first Xia emperor, Jingzong (1003-1048), whose birth name was Li Yuanhao. The pyramids were built with clay tiles, and the construction method used combines elements from the construction of pyramids, towers and traditional temple-mausoleums, while the chambers feature Buddhist elements and paintings, although these might have been added later.
Stone and earth Xituanshan Pyramid near Jiaohe
The ruins of Xituanshan, near the city of Jiaohe, on the border of the Taklamakan Desert, were excavated in 1950 after water erosion exposed the first two tombs (see sunken desert cities on page 586). The entire complex spans an area of 1,000 meters x 500 meters for a total area of 500,000 m2. Historical accounts state that it was the capital of the Chesi Empire from about 108 BC to 450 AD. But in 2006, Chinese archaeologists dug deeper and uncovered a group of six much older tombs that are thought to date back to the Bronze Age, or 1,000 BC, making them 3,000 years old, or almost 1,000 years older than the Chesi empire. For five of the pyramidal structures, only parts of the foundations and first layers remain, but these still reveal their original shape and size. The largest pyramidal tomb has been clearly identified as a three-layered pyramid made of stones and earth. It has a square base of 50 meters x 30 meters and an oval platform of 15 meters x 10 meters at its apex, on which stood a stone sarcophagus covered with a granite plate and surrounded by four engraved stone tablets. This mysterious sarcophagus and the pyramidal tombs were attributed to the “king of an earlier tribe”. I am certain that this complex was built by the legendary Sand People.
Stone and earth Hongshan Pyramids near Sijiazi
In the autonomous province of Inner Mongolia in northeastern China, a 5,000-year-old, three-tiered pyramid was discovered on a shaped-hill pyramid north of the city of Sijiazi in Aohan County. Even Chinese archaeologists immediately recognized it as a man-made pyramid, specifically as a burial complex from the Hongshan Culture (4,500-2,250 BC). The tiered pyramid is said to be about 30 meters long and 15 meters wide, and an altar and seven graves were found on its platform. In the graves, besides the remains, were various vaults containing a bone flute, a stone ring and the stone statue of a goddess. The archaeologists also discovered clay fragments with small stars scratched into their interiors which they believed to indicate either an early culture’s astronomical knowledge or a mythology that indicated that they would one day return to the stars.
What is the oldest Chinese dynasty?
The Shang dynasty is the oldest Chinese dynasty whose existence is supported by archaeological finds, but more evidence for the existence of the Xia dynasty may yet emerge.central China Henan province notable as the ancient Shang dynasty capital, whose earthen walls still stand in the city center. Shang, along with other ancient Chinese cities, had two city walls—one inner and one outer wall. The common residents could live within the outer wall, but could not go past the inner wall, which enclosed a temple area, cemetery sites, bronze foundries, bronze casting areas, and bone workshops. The inner walls thus encircled an area of political elite and craft specialists, who together were the engineers of the important ritual performances. In this way, the architecture of these cities was designed to separate different social classes. However, it seems that there were many capitals aside from this one, and rulers may have moved from one to the other because of religious rituals, military strategy, or food requirements. That suggests that the power of the dynasty was concentrated in the king, whose political authority was reinforced by the Shang religion. Anyang, another Shang capital, also in modern-day Henan Province, is another important—but slightly later—Shang city that has been excavated. It was located at the intersection between lowland agricultural areas of the North China Plain and mountains which acted as a defensive border. This site yielded large numbers of oracle bones that describe the travels of eleven named kings. The names and timeframes of these kings match traditional lists of Shang kings. Anyang was a huge city, with an extensive cemetery of thousands of graves and 11 large tombs—evidence of the city’s labor force, which may have belonged to the 11 Shang kings. Cities were crucial to political and religious affairs, and they were the seats of administrative affairs, royal tombs, palaces, and shrines. Common people were concentrated in the agricultural areas outside the cities. The border territories of Shang rule were led by chieftains who gained the right to govern through connections with royalty. Shang relied heavily on neighboring fiefs for raw materials, much of which was devoted to ceremonial performances. The Shang enacted a feudal system, a system in which duties are tied to land ownership, with sharp class divisions based on clan birthright. The aristocracy were centered around Anyang, which was the seat of governmental affairs for the surrounding areas. Regional territories farther from the capital were also controlled by the wealthy. There were many local rulers who held hereditary titles. In this imperial system, elite classes benefitted from the production of peasants and large-scale projects under elite control, usually operated using various forms of unfree labor. There is also evidence of a class of proto-bureaucrats, many of whom were titled officials, who had managerial roles and kept extensive records. Shang religion was incredibly important, and it extended into the political and economic spheres. The Shang religion and state power were closely connected; state power was consolidated through a sense of reverence for royal Shang ancestors. Further, by the end of the Shang dynasty, the king was the only one who could interpret the oracle bones, thereby making him the head shaman. The Shang religion was characterized by a combination of animism, the idea that everything has a soul; shamanism, the belief in shamans who have the ability to communicate with the spiritual world; ancestor worship; and divination. Different gods represented natural and mythological symbols, such as the moon, the sun, the wind, the rain, the dragon, and the phoenix. Peasants prayed to these gods for bountiful harvests. Festivals to celebrate gods were also common. In particular, the Shang kings, who considered themselves divine rulers, consulted the great god Shangdi—the Supreme Being who ruled over humanity and nature—for advice and wisdom. The Shang believed that the ancestors could also confer good fortune; the Shang would consult ancestors through oracle bones in order to seek approval for any major decision, and to learn about future success in harvesting, hunting, or battle. It appears that there was belief in the afterlife during the Shang dynasty. Archaeologists have found Shang tombs surrounded by the skulls and bodies of human sacrifices. Some of these contain jade, which was thought to protect against decay and grant immortality. Archaeologists believe that Shang tombs were very similar to those found in the Egyptian pyramids in that they buried servants with them. Chinese archaeologists theorize that the Shang, like the ancient Egyptians, believed their servants would continue to serve them in the afterlife. Because of this belief, aristocrats’ servants would be killed and buried with them when they died. Another interpretation is that these were enemy warriors captured in battle. One elaborate tomb which has been unearthed was that of Lady Hao, a consort of a Shang king who reigned around 1200 BCE. The artifacts found in her tomb indicate that she had a high social status and a great deal of power in Shang society, which makes historians speculate about the role of women in the Shang dynasty. Based on the artifacts found in Lady Hao’s tomb, it seems that she had her own wealth and political influence, and it is possible that she also had a prominent role in the military, as many bronze weapons were found buried with her. The 16 other skeletons in Fu Hao’s tomb are believed to have been slaves, who were buried alive in order to serve her in the afterlife. The Chinese Bronze Age had begun by 3,700 years ago in the kingdom of the Shang dynasty and ancient DNA reveals a migration of the ancient Di-qiang populations into Xinjiang as early as the early Bronze Age. Moreover, in the Chinese Bronze Age it was believed the king’s right to rule was based on his good relations with the spirits of his ancestors who controlled the destiny of the domain. The king continually posed questions to his ancestors about policy. He did this by instructing his scribe to write the question on an “oracle bone” — that is, an animal shoulder blade or the breast bone of a turtle. A priest then held a hot rod to the bone until it cracked and interpreted the pattern of the cracks for the answer. It was also the king’s duty to please the great forces of nature — the sun and rain gods — who controlled the outcome of the harvest. So that these gods and his ancestor spirits would look favorably on his kingdom, the king made regular sacrifices of wine and cereals, which were placed in elaborate bronze vessels and heated over the fires on the temple altar. During the Shang dynasty bronze vessels were the symbol of royalty. At times the Shang kings make animal and human sacrifices as well; and when the king and powerful members of the royal court died, it was not unusual that their wives, servants, bodyguards, horses and dogs were killed and buried with them. During the Zhou Dynasty people gradually turned away from this custom and substituted clay figures for real people and animals. The Zhou Dynasty (Chinese folk religion, Ancestor worship, and Heaven worship) lasted longer than any other dynasty in Chinese history with capitals in Fenghao (3,046 to 2,771 years ago), Luoyang (2,510 to 314 years ago). The Zhou emulated extensively Shang cultural practices, perhaps to legitimize their own rule, and became the successors to Shang culture. At the same time, the Zhou may also have been connected to the Xirong, a broadly defined cultural group to the west of the Shang, which the Shang regarded as tributaries. In about 1050 BC the Shang dynasty was defeated in battle by armies from Zhou, a rival state to the west, which seems both to have inherited cultural traditions from the Neolithic cultures of the northwest and to have absorbed most of the material culture of the Shang. The conquerors retained their homeland in the Wei River valley in present-day Shaanxi province and portioned out the rest of their territory among their relatives and local chiefs, creating a number of local courts or principalities. The culture of the early Zhou is known to us not solely through archaeological evidence, but also through transmitted texts, such as the Book of Documents (Shujing), which describes the Zhou conquest of the Shang as the victory of just and noble warriors over a decadent and dissolute king. In these texts and bronze inscriptions alike, the rule of the Zhou kings was linked to heaven, conceived of as the sacred moral power of the cosmos. A king and a dynasty could rule only so long as they retained heaven’s favor. Zhou rulers introduced what was to prove one of East Asia’s most enduring political doctrines. The concept of the “Mandate of Heaven”. They did this so by asserting that their moral superiority justified taking over Shang wealth and territories, also that heaven had imposed a moral mandate on them to replace the Shang and return good governance to the people. The Mandate of Heaven was presented as a religious compact between the Zhou people and their supreme god in heaven (literally the ‘sky god’). The Zhou agreed that since worldly affairs were supposed to align with those of the heavens, the heavens conferred legitimate power only one person, the Zhou ruler. In return, the ruler was duty-bound to uphold heaven’s principles of harmony and honor. Any ruler who failed in this duty, who let instability creep into earthly affairs, or who let his people suffer, would lose the mandate. Under this system, it was the prerogative of spiritual authority to withdraw support from any wayward ruler and to find another, more worthy one. In this way, the Zhou sky god legitimated regime change. In using this ccreed, nthe Zhou rulers had to acknowledge that any group of rulers, even they themselves could be ousted if they lost the mandate of haven because of improper practices. The book of odes, written during the Zhou period clearly intoned this caution. The early Zhou kings contended that heaven favored their triumph because the last Shang kings had been evil men whose policies brought pain to the people through waste and corruption. After the Zhou came to power, the mandate became a political tool. Like in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Indus River valley, civilization in China developed around a great river. The Yellow River carried floodwater and sediment to the land around it, making the area incredibly fertile, and thus an excellent place for the Stone Age inhabitants of the area to experiment with agriculture. While the Yellow River was the main cradle of Chinese civilization, people also settled around other rivers, such as the Huai and the Yangtze. By around 4000 BC, villages began to appear. They cultivated a number of crops, but most important was a grain called millet (two types of millet: proso and foxtail millet). The Chinese, even up to modern times, revere the Wǔgǔ, the Five Sacred Grains, which are traditionally considered soybeans, wheat, hemp, and the two types of millet. Rice was also cultivated in this period, but it was not yet the important staple that it would later become in the Chinese diet. The Neolithic Chinese domesticated animals such as pigs, dogs, and chickens. Silk production, through the domestication of silk worms, probably also began in this early period. During the Neolithic period in China, there were multiple groups of people, mostly around the Yellow River, with separate emerging cultures. Some of these various cultures include the Yangshao culture (ca. 4800 – ca. 3000 BC), the Majiayao culture (ca. 3800 – ca. 2000 BC), the Dawenkou culture (ca. 4300 – ca. 2400 BC), the Qijia culture (ca. 2200 – ca. 1800 BC), and the Longshan culture (ca. 2600 – ca. 2000 BC). Over time, they influenced each other more and more, and pottery, art, and artifacts recovered by archaeologists show greater homogenization as time went on. By 2000 BC a more unified Chinese culture was developing, and there is also evidence of urbanism and the use of early writing among the Chinese. Archaeologists have discovered advanced Bronze Age culture in China, which they call the Erlitou culture. Its capital, Erlitou, was a huge city around 2000 BC, with two possible palaces, a drainage system, and what seems to have been a very high population. This may be the people referred to in Chinese mythology as the Xia. ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, refstart superscript, 1, end superscript It’s estimated that the Shang ruled the Yellow River Valley of China for most of the second millennium BCE—so about 1766 to 1046 BCE. For centuries, people found what they called dragon bones—bones and shells with mysterious inscriptions—in many parts of China. Excavations of the ancient city of Anyang in the early twentieth century revealed tens of thousands of these bone fragments and bronze vessels, many of which had inscriptions in proto-Chinese characters. start superscript, 2, end superscript These artifacts contained records dating back to the Shang dynasty, allowing scholars to learn much about Shang life, such as their agricultural methods, medical treatments, legal system, and craft making styles. The Shang built huge cities with strong social class divisions, expanded earlier irrigation systems, excelled in the use of bronze, and developed a writing system. Shang kings fulfilled a sacred, not political, role, while a council of chosen advisers and bureaucrats—official administrators—organized and ran the government. The oldest surviving form of Chinese writing is found as inscriptions of divination records on the bones or shells of animals, called oracle bones; oracle, from a similar Latin root as the English word orator, means holy messenger or speaker. The writing found on oracle bones shows complexity, indicating that this language had existed for a long time. Writing allowed science in the Shang dynasty to advance, as observations could be recorded more accurately. The Oracle Scripts are accounts of eclipses and other celestial events written by astronomers of the Shang period. Shang astronomers’ works also showed advances in mathematics, the development of odd and even numbers, and principles of accounting. The I-Ching—also known as The Book of Changes—was either written or compiled at this same time, around 3,250 to 3,150 years ago. The I-Ching is a book of divination with roots going back to the fortune tellers of the rural areas and their oracle bones. Musical instruments were also developed by the Shang. At Yin Xu, near Angyang, excavations have revealed instruments from the Shang period such as the ocarina—a wind instrument—drums, and cymbals. Bells, chimes, and bone flutes have been discovered elsewhere. The Shang created a lunar calendar, based on the cycles of the moon, that was used to predict and record important events, especially planting and harvesting of crops. Because lunar years are shorter than solar years, which are based on the Earth’s orbit of the sun, Shang kings employed specially-trained astronomers who made adjustments and maintained the precision of the calendar. Bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, was a hugely important metal during the Shang period. Shang metal workers developed a highly sophisticated method for casting bronze and used it to make ceremonial objects and weapons. Bronze swords and spearheads were stronger than other available metals, giving Shang soldiers an advantage in battle. The influence of the Early Shang extended hundreds of kilometers away from the capital, and many of the Shang bronze techniques diffused over large areas. The Shang in turn adopted skills, ideas, and even crops from some neighboring societies, such as wheat and axes, which may have come from Western Asia. However—because natural barriers like the ocean, mountain ranges, deserts, and steppes kept the Shang in relative isolation—the Shang dynasty as well as later dynasties evolved in unique and insular ways. The first Shang ruler supposedly founded a new capital for his dynasty at a town called Shang, near modern-day Zhengzhou on the Yellow River, is in east-
Lastly, the pyramids of Mesoamerica follow this precise design even though there is no clear evidence of cultural exchange between Egypt and cities such as Chichen Itza or Tikal or the great city of Tenochtitlan. The Americas actually contain more pyramid structures than the rest of the planet combined. Pre-Olmec cultures had flourished in the area since about 4.500 years ago, but by around 3,600 to 2,500 years ago, Early Olmec culture had emerged. Civilizations like the Olmec, Maya, Aztec and Inca all built pyramids to house their deities, as well as to bury their kings. Generally speaking, Mesoamerican peoples built pyramids dating to around 3,000 years ago, up until the time of the Spanish conquest in the early 16th century. The Great Olmec Pyramid is one of the earliest pyramids known in Mesoamerica. By 2,900 years ago the centre of San Lorenzo is destroyed and monuments are defaced and La Venta becomes the Olmec capital but by around 2,300 to 2,400 years ago La Venta is destroyed, monuments are defaced and the Olmec civilization ends. Maya Temple 1 around 2,600 years ago at Comalcalco Mexico. The city’s buildings were made from fired-clay bricks held together with mortar made from oyster shells. The use of bricks at Comalcalco was unique among Maya sites, and many of them are decorated with iconography and/or hieroglyphs. The west side platform at the Monte Alban pyramid complex around 2,500 years ago, is a large pre-Columbian archaeological site in the Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán Municipality in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca located on a low mountainous range rising above the plain in the central section of the Valley of Oaxaca where the latter’s northern Etla, eastern Tlacolula, and southern Zimatlán & Ocotlán (or Valle Grande) branches meet. The present-day state capital Oaxaca City is located approximately 9 km (6 mi) east of Monte Albán. The partially excavated civic-ceremonial center of the Monte Albán site is situated atop an artificially-leveled ridge, which with an elevation of about 6,400 ft above mean sea level rises some 1,300 ft from the valley floor, in an easily defensible location. In addition to the monumental core, the site is characterized by several hundred artificial terraces, and a dozen clusters of mounded architecture covering the entire ridgeline and surrounding flanks. Besides being one of the earliest cities of Mesoamerica, Monte Albán’s importance stems also from its role as the pre-eminent Zapotec socio-political and economic center for close to a thousand years. Generally, Mesoamerican peoples built pyramids date to around 3,000 years ago up until the time of the Spanish conquest in the early 16th century. The Great Olmec Pyramid is one of the earliest pyramids known in Mesoamerica. The best known Latin American pyramids include the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacán in central Mexico, the Castillo at Chichén Itzá in the Yucatan, the Great Pyramid in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, the Pyramid at Cholula and the Inca’s great temple at Cuzco in Peru. The Aztecs, who lived in the Mexican valley between the 12th and 16th centuries, also built pyramids in order to house and honor their deities. The elaborate nature of Aztec pyramids and other architecture was also connected to the Aztec’s warrior culture: The Aztec symbol for conquest was a burning pyramid, with a conqueror destroying the temple at its top. Tenochtitlan, the great Aztec capital, housed the Great Pyramid, a four-stepped structure some 60 meters high. At its top, two shrines honored Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of sun and war, and Tlaloc, god of rain and fertility. The Great Pyramid was destroyed along with the rest of the Aztec civilization by the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes and his army in 1521. Underneath its ruins, the remains of six earlier pyramids were later found, evidence of the constant rebuilding process common to the Mesoamerican pyramids. More pyramids can be found in South America, which was home to indigenous populations like the Moche, Chimú and Incas. The Moche, who lived along the northern coast of what is now Peru, built their pyramids of adobe, or sun-dried mud-bricks. The Huaca del Sol (or Holy Place of the Sun) was almost 100 feet tall and built of more than 143 million bricks, while the Huaca de la Luna (dedicated to the moon) was rebuilt multiple times over a 600-year period. Some 80 years before the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro arrived in the Andes, the Inca ruler Pachacuti Yupanqui (A.D. 1438 to 1471) began the construction of a great temple-pyramid, Sascahuamán, in the capital city of Cuzco. It took 20,000 workers 50 years to build the pyramid, constructed from huge stones fitted together without mortar. The Incas, Latin America’s last great indigenous civilization to survive, used the same building techniques to construct their marvelous stone city, Machu Picchu, high in the Andes. Archaeologists discover an around 2,500 to 2,700 year-old tomb of a dignitary inside a pyramid in southern Mexico may be oldest such burial documented in Mesoamerica, seeming to express one of the earliest discoveries of the use of a pyramid as a tomb, not only as a religious site or temple. It may be almost 1,000 years older than the better-known pyramid tomb of the Mayan ruler Pakal at the Palenque archaeological site, also in Chiapas. The man – probably a high priest or ruler of Chiapa de Corzo, a prominent settlement at the time – was buried in a stone chamber. Marks in the wall indicate wooden roof supports were used to create the tomb, but the wood long ago collapsed under the weight of the pyramid built above. Archaeologists began digging into the pyramid mound in April to study the internal structure – pyramids were often built in layers, one atop another – when they happened on a wall whose finished stones appeared to face inward. They uncovered the 4 x 3 metre tomb chamber about 6 or 7 metres beneath what had been the pyramid’s peak. The body of a one-year-old child was laid carefully over the man’s body inside the tomb, while that of a 20-year-old male was tossed into the chamber with less care, perhaps sacrificed at the time of burial. The older man was buried with jade and amber collars and bracelets and pearl ornaments. His face was covered with what may have been a funeral mask with obsidian eyes. Nearby, the tomb of a woman (left), also about 50, contained similar ornaments. The ornaments – some imported from as far away as Guatemala and central Mexico – and some of the 15 ceramic vessels found in the tomb show influences from the Olmec culture, long considered the “mother culture” of the region. The find raised the possibility that Olmec pyramids might contain similar tombs of dignitaries, especially at sites such as La Venta. Olmec pyramids, while well-known, have not been excavated, in part because the high water table and humidity of their Gulf coast sites are not as conducive to preserving buried human remains. Despite the Chiapa de Corzo tomb’s location, relates to Olmec, there is no tie to Maya at this time and it is not clear the later Maya culture learned or inherited the practice of pyramid burials from the Zoques, or Olmecs. Furthermore, while it’s clear that Egyptian pyramids have the purpose of being more of a tomb while pyramids found in Mesoamerica seem to be more ceremonial. Mesoamerican pyramid-shaped structures form a prominent part of ancient Mesoamerican architecture. Although similar in shape or form, these structures bear only a very weak architectural resemblance to Egyptian pyramids. The Mesoamerican examples are usually step pyramids with temples on top – more akin to the ziggurats of Mesopotamia than to the pyramids of Ancient Egypt. Shipbuilding was known to the Ancient Egyptians as early as 3000 BCE, and perhaps earlier. Ancient Egyptians knew how to assemble planks of wood into a ship hull, with woven straps used to lash the planks together, and reeds or grass stuffed between the planks helped to seal the seams. The Archaeological Institute of America reports that the earliest dated ship—75 feet long, dating to 3000 BCE—may have possibly belonged to Pharaoh Aha. The oldest known civilization in Mesoamerica was known as the Olmec, dating roughly from as early as 1500 BCE to about 400 BCE. Pre-Olmec cultures had flourished in the area since about 4,500 years ago. They were the first Mesoamerican civilization and laid many of the foundations for the civilizations that followed. Among other “firsts”, the Olmec appeared to practice ritual bloodletting and played the Mesoamerican ballgame, hallmarks of nearly all subsequent Mesoamerican societies. The aspect of the Olmecs most familiar now is their artwork, particularly the aptly named “colossal stone heads“. This environment may be compared to that of other ancient centers of civilization: the Nile, Indus, and Yellow River valleys, and Mesopotamia. This highly productive environment encouraged a densely concentrated population, which in turn triggered the rise of an elite class. The elite class created the demand for the production of the symbolic and sophisticated luxury artifacts that define Olmec culture. Many of these luxury artifacts were made from materials such as jade, obsidian, and magnetite, which came from distant locations and suggest that early Olmec elites had access to an extensive trading network in Mesoamerica. The source of the most valued jade Motagua River valley in eastern Guatemala, and Olmec obsidian has been traced to sources in the Guatemala highlands, such as El Chayal and San Martín Jilotepeque, or in Puebla, distances ranging from 200 to 400 km (120–250 miles) away, respectively. The first Olmec center, San Lorenzo, was all but abandoned around 900 BCE at about the same time that La Venta rose to prominence. A wholesale destruction of many San Lorenzo monuments also occurred circa 950 BCE, which may indicate an internal uprising or, less likely, an invasion. the Olmecs are credited, or speculatively credited, with many “firsts”, including the bloodletting and perhaps human sacrifice, writing and epigraphy, and the invention of popcorn, zero and the Mesoamerican calendar, and the Mesoamerican ballgame, as well as perhaps the compass. Some researchers, including artist and art historian Miguel Covarrubias, even postulate that the Olmecs formulated the forerunners of many of the later Mesoamerican deities. The wide diffusion of Olmec artifacts and “Olmecoid” iconography throughout much of Mesoamerica indicates the existence of extensive long-distance trade networks. The Olmec may have been the first civilization in the Western Hemisphere to develop a writing system. Symbols found in 2002 and 2006 date from 650 BCE and 900 BCE respectively, preceding the oldest Zapotec writing found so far, which dates from about 500 BCE. The 2002 find at the San Andrés site shows a bird, speech scrolls, and glyphs that are similar to the later Mayan hieroglyphs. Known as the Cascajal Block, and dated between 1100 BCE and 900 BCE, the 2006 find from a site near San Lorenzo shows a set of 62 symbols, 28 of which are unique, carved on a serpentine block. A large number of prominent archaeologists have hailed this find as the “earliest pre-Columbian writing”. Others are skeptical because of the stone’s singularity, the fact that it had been removed from any archaeological context, and because it bears no apparent resemblance to any other Mesoamerican writing system. Olmec religious activities were performed by a combination of rulers, full-time priests, and shamans. The rulers seem to have been the most important religious figures, with their links to the Olmec deities or supernaturals providing legitimacy for their rule. There is also considerable evidence for shamans in the Olmec archaeological record, particularly in the so-called “transformation figures“. As Olmec mythology has left no documents comparable to the Popul Vuh from Maya mythology, any exposition of Olmec mythology must be based on interpretations of surviving monumental and portable art (such as the Las Limas figure at right), and comparisons with other Mesoamerican mythologies. Olmec art shows that such deities as the Feathered Serpent and a rain supernatural were already in the Mesoamerican pantheon in Olmec times. There are also well-documented later hieroglyphs known as “Epi-Olmec“, and while there are some who believe that Epi-Olmec may represent a transitional script between an earlier Olmec writing system and Mayan writing, the matter remains unsettled. The name “Olmec” means “rubber people” in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec, and was the Aztec name for the people who lived in the Gulf Lowlands in the 15th and 16th centuries, some 2000 years after the Olmec culture died out. The term “rubber people” refers to the ancient practice, spanning from ancient Olmecs to Aztecs, of extracting latex from Castilla elastica, a rubber tree in the area. There does seem to be many baffling and unsolved similarities link the ancient Egyptians and the ancient pre-Incas/Incas ― even though both cultures evolved on opposite sides of the planet, separated by oceans. BOTH THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS AND INCAS / PRE-INCAS…built stone pyramids and stepped pyramids in the desert along rivers and aligned with cardinal points. In both cases, deceased were interred within. BOTH THE EGYPTIANS AND INCAS / PRE-INCAS…Mummified their dead, which symbolized life beyond death. Mummies were interred inside pyramids, often with food offerings and personal belongings. Both cultures believed in life beyond death. BOTH THE EGYPTIANS AND INCAS / PRE-INCAS…Crossed the arms of their mummified dead. This was to show the “balance” state that one entered in death, as one lived a balanced life. The two arms denote opposites in balance, a left side and a right side crossed. BOTH THE EGYPTIANS AND INCAS / PRE-INCAS…Placed gold masks upon their dead, symbolizing their entering back into eternity, the “other side” of the veil, the higher home in the heavens, which is eternal and spiritual, unlike earth, which is temporary and physical. It also conveys in an alchemical sense the idea that, while they were here, these eternal souls took on the lead of human form and turned it into gold. BOTH THE EGYPTIANS AND INCAS / PRE-INCAS…Adorned their dead with gold necklaces the ends of which are formed by twin animal heads facing outward, symbolizing our human/animal powers balanced and in an equal peaceful state and place of power and eternity. This “balance” state is how the alchemical transformation is achieved, hence the gold. BOTH THE EGYPTIANS AND INCAS / PRE-INCAS…built very similar looking stonemasonry, even down to the detail of carving bulges or “bumps” in the stones. BOTH THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS AND INCAS / PRE-INCAS…created precision-like stone cuts in their masonry, such that a piece of paper can barely fit between stones. Often no mortar was used. This symbolizes the quest to gain perfection, or nearness to perfection, which leads one closer to our spiritual and heavenly home and eternal source. BOTH THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS AND INCAS / PRE-INCAS…built trapezoid doorways, signifying spiritual advancement upward. The trapezoid is similar to a triangle, which denotes ascension and spiritual transcendence. The trapezoid doorway is used by many ancient cultures. It relates a kind of futuristic state of humanity that occurred in the distant past, when people were calm and had attained nirvana; this doorway is the symbol of the high wisdom once possessed by our ancient ancestors. BOTH THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS AND INCAS / PRE-INCAS…designed twin symmetrical serpents above the trapezoidal doorway entrance to their temples. The idea of balancing the opposing energies is certainly presented here, via these twin animals in symmetrical balanced poses. This “balanced opposites” image seems to be the “ideal” that is taught within the building that is entered through these doors. BOTH THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS AND INCAS / PRE-INCAS…elongated the skulls of their children to sharpen senses and improve spiritual insight. This seemingly-bizarre practice has not truly raised the eyebrows of modern scholars, not nearly as much as it should. BOTH THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS AND INCAS / PRE-INCAS…built and erected sacred obelisks as devices of profound male power, fertility, birth, longevity, strength. Great reverence was given to obelisks; they were among the most revered landmarks. BOTH THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS AND INCAS / PRE-INCAS…used solar symbolism as a definitive part of their religion, which was identical. In Egypt the solar deity was Ra, in Peru the solar deity was Inti. In both cultures, you are the solar deity; the sun is a symbol of you, of your soul. You are a sol. You are an eternal divine sun. You have voluntarily Incarnated in matter, but now have amnesia of your true spiritual Self, you’ve lost your way home. BOTH THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS AND INCAS / PRE-INCAS…used animal deities in symmetrical poses flanking a central solar emblem. Just as the sun strikes a perfect balance between Winter and Summer, the extreme Cold and extreme Hot seasons…so it is vital for our own inner suns (the sun symbolizes our eternal soul or Self) to balance our own positive and negative twin animal energies, urges, instincts, appetites, etc. in order to stay in balance and in harmony with nature. BOTH THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS AND INCAS / PRE-INCAS…used the “animal on the forehead motif” to evoke the power of the Third Eye. Both cultures understood that we can create a trancelike state where we “awaken” our so-called “Mind’s Eye,” “Inner Eye,” or “Third Eye,” a symbol of spiritual illumination thought of as existing near the forehead above and between the two eyes―exactly where the animal is placed. BOTH THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS AND INCAS / PRE-INCAS…built the same identical Triptych temples. The Triptych design is a worldwide architectural phenomenon that graces the facades of temples, and that symbolizes the same Universal Religion practiced all over the ancient world. The religion is based on the same “balance of opposites” formula described above. The twin outer doors symbolize opposites (the left-side / right-side of our lower temporary self) while the middle door symbolizes the central point of eternity (the centered higher eternal Self). In part because the Olmecs developed the first Mesoamerican civilization and in part because little is known of the Olmecs (relative, for example, to the Maya or Aztec), a number of Olmec alternative origin speculations have been put forth. Although several of these speculations, particularly the theory that the Olmecs were of African origin popularized by Ivan van Sertima‘s book They Came Before Columbus, have become well-known within popular culture, they are not considered credible by the vast majority of Mesoamerican researchers and scientists, who discard it as pop-culture pseudo-science.
SO ONE WOULD THINK THAT THERE IS NO CONNECTION WITH ANCIENT EGYPT BUT COULD THERE BE A MIDDLE EAST DNA CONNECTION OR NOT?
Nearly one-third of Native American genes come from west Eurasian people linked to the Middle East and Europe, rather than entirely from East Asians as previously thought, according to a newly sequenced genome. DNA from the remains revealed genes found today in western Eurasians in the Middle East and Europe, as well as other aspects unique to Native Americans, but no evidence of any relation to modern East Asians. (Related: “Is This Russian Landscape the Birthplace of Native Americans?”) A second individual genome sequenced from material found at the site and dated to 17,000 years ago revealed a similar genetic structure. It also provided evidence that humans occupied this region of Siberia throughout the entire brutally cold period of the Last Glacial Maximum, which ended about 13,000 years ago. Prevailing theories suggest that Native Americans are descended from a group of East Asians who crossed the Bering Sea via a land bridge perhaps 16,500 years ago, though some sites may evidence an earlier arrival. (See “Siberian, Native American Languages Linked—A First .”) At approximately one-third of the genome, adds to the land bridge theories still formed as the gateway to America, but it seems this study now portrays Native Americans as a group derived from the meeting of two different populations, one ancestral to East Asians and the other related to western Eurasians acording to research was published in the November 20 edition of the journal Nature. “The meeting of those two groups is what formed Native Americans as we know them.” (Learn more about National Geographic’s Genographic Project.) What does this mean? Well, the discovery provides simpler and more likely explanations to long-standing controversies related to the peopling of the Americas. The findings could also allow a reinterpretation of archaeological and anthropological evidence. “Maybe, if he looks like something else, it’s because a third of his ancestry isn’t coming from East Asia but from something like the western Eurasians.” (Read about history’s great migration mysteries.) Many questions remain unanswered, including where and when the mixing of west Eurasian and East Asian populations occurred. “It could have been somewhere in Siberia or potentially in the New World, but much more likely that it occurred in the Old World. Intriguing questions also exist about the nature of the advanced Upper Paleolithic Mal’ta society that now appears to figure in Native American genomes. The Siberian child “was found buried with all kinds of cultural items, including Venus figurines, which have been found from Lake Baikal west all the way to Europe. “So now we know that the individual represented with this culture is a western Eurasian, even though he was found very far east. It’s an interesting question how closely related this individual might have been to the individuals carving these figurines at the same time in Europe and elsewhere.”
MOREOVER, WHILE ONE WOULD THINK THAT THERE IS NO CONNECTION WITH ANCIENT EGYPT BUT COULD THERE BE A DRUG CONNECTION OR NOT?
Now the use of drugs by ancient populations is not particularly controversial and has been well documented. However, in 1992 a new study of nine mummies from Ancient Egypt created quite a stir when it announced the discovery of traces of nicotine and cocaine in their hair. Both of these chemicals come from plants found only in South America and this research has since been touted as evidence of pre-Columbian contact between America and Africa; something thought to be impossible based on the rest of the archaeological record. So what’s going on? Let us start by looking at the evidence all dated to between 3,070-2,395 years ago. The study focused on hair samples which are often used to assess drug concentrations in the body and have been used many times successfully in archaeological research. What they discovered was that all the mummies tested positive for cocaine and hashish (cannabis) while all but one mummy tested positive for traces of nicotine. These results caused an immediate stir because it seemed to suggest that at some point in the very distant past there was contact between Egypt and the civilizations of South America. For one thing, why is it that despite this contact Egypt declined to share their own food crops with South America? Also, why did only tobacco and cocaine make the transition from New World to Old, why didn’t maize or potatoes, which both became extremely important crops plants once they were ‘officially’ introduced many, many centuries later. This doesn’t mean it was impossible but it shows why many historians are reluctant to embrace the idea. That said even if we don’t automatically assume that everything we, thought we knew about Ancient Egypt is wrong we are still left with a puzzle; how did these South American drugs end up in mummies on the other side of the world? Of these findings the hashish is the easiest to explain because cannabis is indigenous to the Middle East and it is thought that the Ancient Egyptians often used other, local, mind-altering drugs such as poppy extracts. It isn’t too much of a stretch to suggest they also imported cannabis-derivatives given their known trade routes. However nicotine and cocaine are a different issue entirely. Both come from South American plants not thought to have existed in Africa or Europe until recent times, but over the years other researchers have come up with some very good explanations for where these traces might have come from. Scientists are typically split between two theories on the subject: Either the Maya developed directly from an older “mother culture” known as the Olmec, or they sprang into existence independently. The Maya are a people of southern Mexico and northern Central America (Guatemala, Belize, western Honduras, and El Salvador) with some 3,000 years of history. Archaeological evidence shows the Maya started to build ceremonial architecture approximately 3,000 years ago. The earliest monuments consisted of simple burial mounds, the precursors to the spectacular stepped pyramids from the Terminal Pre-classic period and beyond. These pyramids relied on intricate carved stone in order to create a stair-stepped design. Many of these structures featured a top platform upon which a smaller dedicatory building was constructed, associated with a particular Maya deity. Maya pyramid-like structures were also erected to serve as a place of interment for powerful rulers. Maya pyramidal structures occur in a great variety of forms and functions, bounded by regional and periodical differences. The Tarascan state was a precolumbian culture located in the modern day Mexican state of Michoacán. The region is currently inhabited by the modern descendants of the Purépecha. Purépechan architecture is noted for “T”-shaped step pyramids known as yácatas. The Maya civilization, far more advanced and taking cues from the Olmec. They were highly developed people, and noted for its hieroglyphic script—the only known fully developed writing system of the pre-Columbian Americas—as well as for its art, architecture, mathematics, calendar, and astronomical system. The Maya civilization developed in an area that encompasses south-eastern Mexico, all of Guatemala and Belize, and the western portions of Honduras and El Salvador. The first Maya cities developed around 750 BC, and by 500 BC these cities possessed monumental architecture, including large temples with elaborate stucco façades. Hieroglyphic writing was being used in the Maya region by the 2,300 years ago. For many reasons, including wars the Mayans soon disappeared and the Aztecs and Inca took rise in the 1400’s. The Aztecs mainly populated the the far south into Mesoamerica conquering cities as far south as Chiapas and Guatemala and spanning from the Pacific to the Atlantic oceans. The Maya are usually associated with monumental architecture. Massive pyramids and immense plazas testify to a complex and fascinating culture.One can hardly hear the word “Maya” without imagining elaborately decorated kings and priests climbing the long, steep stairs of pyramids like those at Tikal. But pyramids don’t just spring out of the jungle overnight, nor does a complex culture merely appear. Inomata and his team dug below the monumental architecture at Ceibal to see how such structures began. Inomata assumed that the now iconic classic architecture probably stood on earlier sites used for similar purposes. His assumption turned out to be correct. He found smaller platforms built of earth beneath the pyramids of stone, signaling a formal ritual complex at Ceibal dating to around 1000 B.C. The presence of ritual architecture early in the development of the Maya is an indication of a settled lifestyle with complex agriculture, religion, and a stratified society—all of which add up to a unified culture and the beginnings of a larger civilization. Experts have traditionally believed that when the Olmec were busy building their civilization at large sites such as La Venta, near the Gulf coast in modern Mexico, the people who would become the Maya were living in loosely associated nomadic groups in the jungles to the east and southeast. This theory holds that the Maya derived their entire society—including their architecture and social structure—directly from the Olmec. But Inomata’s work has revealed that the Olmec is not an older civilization. In fact, Ceibal pre-dates La Venta by as long as two centuries. And although some Olmec cities are indeed older than both La Venta and Ceibal, they likely did not interact with the Maya. “This does not mean that the Maya developed independently,” Inomata says. Instead, he believes, the influence flowed both ways. La Venta and Ceibal appear to have developed in tandem in a great cultural shift throughout the region. “It seems more likely that there was a broad history of interactions across these regions, and through these interactions, a new form of society developed.”evidence doesn’t show clear distinctions between the Olmec and Maya at the preclassic stage. The two civilizations are easy to differentiate during the classic period, since the Maya had by then developed a distinct language and culture. But the period between 1000 and 700 B.C. is more transitional. With La Venta and Ceibal freely trading ideas, technologies, cultural elements, and perhaps even population, it’s difficult to call one Olmec and the other Maya. “Determining labels for these early people is quite a tricky question—we’re not sure if residents of early Ceibal were wholly Mayan,” says Inomata. “We have decided to take a much more flexible approach, avoiding fixed labels in favor of looking at patterns of interaction and how more stable identities developed.” Instead of dwellings, La Venta is dominated by a restricted sacred area (Complex A), the Great Pyramid (Complex C), and the large plaza to their south. As a ceremonial center, La Venta contains an elaborate series of buried offerings and tombs, as well as monumental sculptures. These stone monuments, stelae, and “altars” were carefully distributed amongst the mounds and platforms. The mounds and platforms were built largely from local sands and clays. It is assumed that many of these platforms were once topped with wooden structures, which have long since disappeared. Complex A is a mound and plaza group located just to the north of the Great Pyramid (Complex C). The centerline of Complex A originally oriented to Polaris (true north) which indicates the Olmec had some knowledge of astronomy. Surrounded by a series of basalt columns, which likely restricted access to the elite, it was erected in a period of four construction phases that span over four centuries (1000 – 600 BCE). Beneath the mounds and plazas were found a vast array of offerings and other buried objects, more than 50 separate caches by one count, including buried jade, polished mirrors made of iron-ores, and five large “Massive Offerings” of serpentine blocks. It is estimated that Massive Offering 3 contains 50 tons of carefully finished serpentine blocks, covered by 4,000 tons of clay fill. Also unearthed in Complex A were three rectangular mosaics (also known as “Pavements”) each roughly 4.5 by 6 metres (15 by 20 feet) and each consisting of up to 485 blocks of serpentine. These blocks were arranged horizontally to form what has been variously interpreted as an ornate Olmec bar-and-four-dots motif, the Olmec Dragon, a very abstract jaguar mask, a cosmogram, or a symbolic map of La Venta and environs. Not intended for display, soon after completion these pavements were covered over with colored clay and then many feet of earth. Five formal tombs were discovered within Complex A, one with a sandstone sarcophagus carved with what seemed to be an crocodilian earth monster. Diehl states that these tombs “are so elaborate and so integrated to the architecture that it seems clear that Complex A really was a mortuary complex dedicated to the spirits of deceased rulers”. Other notable artifacts within Complex A include: Monument 19. This relief sculpture is the earliest known example of the feathered serpent in Mesoamerica. Offering 4. Sixteen figurines and six celts form a strange. South of the Great Pyramid lies Complex B. Whereas Complex A was apparently restricted to the elite, the plaza of Complex B seems to be built specifically for large public gatherings. This plaza is just south of the Great Pyramid, east of the Complex B platforms, and west of the huge raised platform referred to as the Stirling Acropolis. This plaza is nearly 400 metres (440 yards) long and over 100 metres (110 yards) wide. A small platform is situated in the center of the plaza. This layout has led researchers to propose that the platforms surrounding the plaza functioned as stages where ritual drama was enacted for viewers within the plaza. These rituals were likely related to the “altars”, monuments, and the stelae surrounding and within the plaza. These monuments, including Colossal Head 1 (Monument 1), were of such a large size and were placed in such a position that they could convey their messages to many viewers at once. Complex C, “The Great Pyramid,” is the central building in the city layout, is constructed almost entirely out of clay, and is easily seen from far away. The structure is built on top of a closed-in platform—this is where Blom and La Farge discovered Altars 2 and 3, thereby discovering La Venta and the Olmec civilization. A carbon sample from a burned area of the Structure C-1’s surface resulted in the date of 394 ± 30 BCE. Certainly the most famous of the La Venta monumental artifacts are the four colossal heads. Seventeen colossal heads have been unearthed in the Olmec area, four of them at La Venta, officially named Monuments 1 through 4. Three of the heads—Monuments 2, 3, & 4—were found roughly 150 meters north of Complex A, which is itself just north of the Great Pyramid. These heads were in a slightly irregular row, facing north. The other colossal head—Monument 1 is a few dozen meters south of the Great Pyramid. The La Venta heads are thought to have been carved by 700 BCE, but possibly as early as 850 BCE, while the San Lorenzo heads are credited to an earlier period. The colossal heads can measure up to 9 feet 4 inches (2.84 m) in height and weigh several tons. The sheer size of the stones causes a great deal of speculation on how the Olmec were able to move them. The major basalt quarry for the colossal heads at La Venta was found at Cerro Cintepec in the Tuxtla Mountains, over 80 km away. One of the earliest pyramids known in Mesoamerica, the Great Pyramid is 110 ft (34 m) high and contains an estimated 100,000 cubic meters of earth fill. The current conical shape of the pyramid was once thought to represent nearby volcanoes or mountains, but recent work by Rebecca Gonzalez Lauck has shown that the pyramid was in fact a rectangular pyramid with stepped sides and inset corners, and the current shape is most likely due to 2500 years of erosion. The pyramid itself has never been excavated, but a magnetometer survey in 1967 found an anomaly high on the south side of the pyramid. Speculation ranges from a section of burned clay to a cache of buried offerings to a tomb. An Agricultural Revolution: peripheral areas, separated from the ritual plazas and temples, could hold more keys to the origins of the Maya. Inomata believes that the residential and agricultural areas are particularly important. Around 3,000 years ago the previously nomadic groups that became the Maya began to build urban ritual areas. “Instead of starting with villages,” they seem to have made a ceremonial center.” The idea for that may have come from the people who later created La Venta. A radical shift in agriculture at that time may also have played an important role in the move to a more settled lifestyle. Corn, the principal crop of the Maya, “became much more productive,” says Inomata. “And then it made sense to cut down forests and increase agriculture.” Inomata believes this agricultural revolution may have been rooted in genetic changes in the corn plant itself. But this, like so many other ideas about the rise and fall of the Maya civilization, still requires much more evidence to prove. While the Inca incorporated a large portion of western South America, centered on the Andean Mountains, Peru and where Machu Picchu can be found. However all of that changed with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores in late 1500’s and both cultures became scarce to the point that Inca became the last great civilization in South America. The great pyramids of the Mayan civilization, and other indigenous tribes of the region, are thought to represent mountains which symbolized man’s attempt to reach closer to the realm of the gods. The pyramid known as El Castillo, at Chichen Itza, was specifically designed to welcome the great god Kukulkan back to earth at the spring and autumn equinoxes. On those dates, the sun casts a shadow which, owing to the construction of the pyramid, appears to be the serpent god descending down the stairs of the pyramid to the ground. Several burials have been found at La Venta, especially in Mound A, but none have skeletal remains as the environment is too humid for organic preservation. “Organic materials do not preserve well in the acidic soils of La Venta. The only organics recovered at the site include traces of long bones, a burned skullcap, a few milk teeth, a shark’s tooth, and stingray spines—all found in the basalt tomb [Structure A-2].” Offerings of jade celts and figures seem to be commonplace and were likely concentrated in burials (though this cannot be confirmed because there are no human remains still present). Artifacts, such as jade earspools, beads, pendants, spangles, plaques, and other jewelry, were found in plenty at burial sites; however it is difficult to tell if they were worn or placed in the grave as burial goods. Structure A-2 (Mound A) is an earthen platform thought to be a burial site (a “funerary chamber”). Inside the platform, researchers discovered badly preserved bones covered in a red pigment, cinnabar, a substance used in similar Mesoamerican cultures to denote status. Also found were jade artifacts, figurines and masks, as well as polished obsidian mirrors. Mirrors are also suspected to be a mark of rank among the Olmec, as stelae and other monuments display leaders and priests wearing them on their chest and on their foreheads. “Throughout the layer [uncovered by Stirling in 1942] were copious unrestorable traces of organic material. The red cinnabar lay in a fashion which gave the impression that it had been inside of wrapped bundles. Probably the bodies had been thus wrapped before interment.” “Urn burials” in Complex E (residential area) where fragments of bone and teeth were buried in clay pots. “The fill immediately around this large urn was clean, yellow sand, and the urn was covered with an inverted fine-paste orange bowl with flaring walls; the bowl’s interior was painted red and incised with the double-line-break pattern on the inside rim.” Five radiocarbon samples (from the stratigraphy at Complex A) that have the average age of 2770 ± 134 years old. “For decades, certain scholars have used shamanism as an explanatory paradigm for considering the monuments of La Venta… one of the most important ceremonial-civic centers of the Middle Formative era. Most of what is known about Olmec religion is speculative, but certain patterns do emerge at La Venta that are certainly symbolic and might have ritual meaning. For example, the crossed bands symbol, an X in a rectangular box, is often repeated in stone at La Venta, other Olmec sites, and continued to have significance to the cultures inspired by the Olmec. It often appears in conjunction with the maize deity and so might have connection with subsistence. The artifacts discovered at La Venta have been crucial to starting to understand Olmec religion and ideology. For example, hematite and iron-ore mirror fragments have been discovered in abundance at La Venta. Mirrors were an incredibly important part of Olmec society, used in both rituals and daily life. Celts, or “pseudo-axes,” are extremely common in both burials and offerings. It is unclear whether these artifacts were actually used in any practical way or if their meaning is ritual or symbolic. Most are smooth, but quite a few are decorated with what has been interpreted as representing religious symbolism. Such celts and other jade artifacts were offered to deities during ceremonies at La Venta and the belief in supernatural beings is evidenced in Olmec artifacts. However, it is difficult to tell which important figures remaining on the stone monuments and artifacts are gods and which are human leaders. In fact, there might have been little difference between the divine and the Olmec king, in their ideology. Structures at La Venta show that “various architectural-sculptural canons were firmly established—canons that were, in essence, used in civic-ceremonial constructions throughout the cultural history of ancient Middle America.” In other words, most of what we know about the Olmec, from La Venta, comes from the architecture and artifacts left behind and from these clues it can be discerned that Maya and Aztec culture and ideology was heavily influenced by the Olmec “mother culture.” There is a definite connection between animals and spirituality among the Olmec, especially with animal characteristics combined with human features. This is represented in Olmec “art” and those with elite status would have worn elaborate headdresses of feathers and other animal forms. Ocean creatures were also sacred to the Olmec—Pohl (2005) found shark teeth and sting ray remains at feasting sites at San Andres and it is clear that those at La Venta shared in the same ideology. “Zoomorphic forms reference sharks and birds, and both collections contain representations of the quincunx symbol, a conceptualization of the cosmos in Mesoamerican thought.” “Given the lack of written documents in Formative Mesoamerica, there is no foolproof strategy for interpreting Olmec visual culture.” However, it is almost certain that the Olmec had some form of a writing system that utilized symbols, as evidenced in the cylinder seal and other forms of writing found at nearby elite-center, San Andres. ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref, ref
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