Archaeological Discoveries Are Occurring Faster Than Ever

Archaeological Discoveries Are Occurring Faster Than Ever

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In 1924, a 3-year-old child’s skull found in South Africa forever changed how people think about human origins.

The Taung Child, our first encounter with an ancient group of proto-humans or hominins called australopithecines, was a turning point in the study of human evolution. This discovery shifted the focus of human origins research from Europe and Asia onto Africa, setting the stage for the last century of research on the continent and into its “ Cradles of Humankind.”

Few people back then would’ve been able to predict what scientists know about evolution today, and now the pace of discovery is faster than ever. Even since the turn of the 21st century, human origins textbooks have been rewritten over and over again. Just 20 years ago, no one could have imagined what scientists know two decades later about humanity’s deep past, let alone how much knowledge could be extracted from a thimble of dirt, a scrape of dental plaque or satellites in space.

Human fossils are outgrowing the family tree earliest hominin

In Africa, there are now several fossil candidates for the earliest hominin dated to between 5 and 7 million years ago, when we know humans likely split off from other Great Apes based on differences in our DNA.

Although discovered in the 1990s, publication of the 4.4 million year old skeleton nicknamed “Ardi” in 2009 changed scientists’ views on how hominins began walking.

Rounding out our new relatives are a few australopithecines, including Australopithecus deryiremeda and Australopithecus sediba , as well as a potentially late-surviving species of early Homo that reignited debate about when humans first began burying their dead.

Fossils like that of Australopithecus sediba, discovered in South Africa by a 9-year-old boy, are reshaping the human family tree. Photo by Brett Eloff. Courtesy Prof Berger and Wits University, (CC BY-SA / The Conversation )

Perspectives on our own species have also changed. Archaeologists previously thought Homo sapiens evolved in Africa around 200,000 years ago , but the story has become more complicated. Fossils discovered in Morocco have pushed that date back to 300,000 years ago , consistent with ancient DNA evidence. This raises doubts that our species emerged in any single place .

This century has also brought unexpected discoveries from Europe and Asia. From enigmatic “hobbits” on the Indonesian island of Flores to the Denisovans in Siberia, our ancestors may have encountered a variety of other hominins when they spread out of Africa . Just this year, researchers reported a new species from the Philippines .

Anthropologists are realizing that our Homo sapiens ancestors had much more contact with other human species than previously thought. Today, human evolution looks less like Darwin’s tree and more like a muddy, braided stream.

The rise of biomolecular archaeology means new opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration among field- and lab-based scientists. Christina Warinner, CC BY-ND / The Conversation

Ancient DNA reveals old relationships

Many recent discoveries have been made possible by the new science of ancient DNA .

Since scientists fully sequenced the first ancient human genome in 2010, data from thousands of individuals have shed new insights on our species’ origins and early history.

One shocking discovery is that although our lineages split up to 800,000 years ago, modern humans and Neanderthals mated a number of times during the last Ice Age. This is why many people today possess some Neanderthal DNA .

The 2010 excavation in the East Gallery of Denisova Cave, where the ancient hominin species known as the Denisovans were discovered. Bence Viola. Dept. of Anthropology, University of Toronto, CC BY-ND

Ancient DNA is how researchers first identified the mysterious Denisovans, who interbred with us and Neanderthals. And while most studies are still conducted on bones and teeth, it is now possible to extract ancient DNA from other sources like cave dirt and 6,000-year-old chewing gum .

Genetic methods are also reconstructing individual and family relationships, and connecting ancient individuals to living peoples to end decades long debates.

The applications go far beyond humans. Paleogenomics is yielding surprising discoveries about plants and animals from ancient seeds and skeletons hidden in the backrooms of museums.

Natural history museums hold a wealth of information, some of which can only be tapped through new biomolecular methods. Scientists analyze modern and fossil animal skeletons to ask questions about the past using ancient proteins. Mary Prendergast at National Museums of Kenya, CC BY-ND / The Conversation

Biomolecules are making the invisible visible

DNA is not the only molecule revolutionizing studies of the past.

Paleoproteomics, the study of ancient proteins, can determine the species of a fossil and recently linked a 9-foot tall, 1,300-pound extinct ape that lived nearly 2 million years ago to today’s orangutans.

Dental calculus – the hardened plaque that your dentist scrapes off your teeth – is particularly informative, revealing everything from who was drinking milk 6,000 years ago to the surprising diversity of plants, some likely medicinal, in Neanderthal diets. Calculus can help scientists understand ancient diseases and how the human gut microbiome has changed over time. Researchers even find cultural clues – bright blue lapis lazuli trapped in a medieval nun’s calculus led historians to reconsider who penned illuminated manuscripts.

Scientists unexpectedly found lazurite pigment in calcified plaque clinging to a 11th- to 12th-century woman’s tooth, challenging the assumption that male monks were the primary makers of medieval manuscripts. Christina Warinner,( CC BY-ND / The Conversation

Lipid residues trapped in pottery have revealed the origins of milk consumption in the Sahara and showed that oddly shaped pots found throughout Bronze and Iron Age Europe were ancient baby bottles .

Researchers use collagen-based “barcodes” of different animal species to answer questions ranging from when Asian rats arrived as castaways on Africa-bound ships to what animals were used to produce medieval parchment or even to detect microbes left by a monk’s kiss on a page.

Big data is revealing big patterns

While biomolecules help researchers zoom into microscopic detail, other approaches let them zoom out. Archaeologists have used aerial photography since the 1930s, but widely available satellite imagery now enables researchers to discover new sites and monitor existing ones at risk. Drones flying over sites help investigate how and why they were made and combat looting.

Archaeologists increasingly use technology to understand how sites fit into their environment and to document sites at risk. Here, a drone captured a tell (a mound indicating build-up of ancient settlements) in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Jason Ur, CC BY-ND / The Conversation

Originally developed for space applications, scientists now use LIDAR – a remote sensing technique that uses lasers to measure distance – to map 3D surfaces and visualize landscapes here on Earth. As a result, ancient cities are emerging from dense vegetation in places like Mexico, Cambodia and South Africa .

Technologies that can peer underground from the surface, such as Ground Penetrating Radar, are also revolutionizing the field – for example, revealing previously unknown structures at Stonehenge. More and more, archaeologists are able to do their work without even digging a hole.

  • Five Things We Learned About Our Human Origins in 2018
  • Were Other Humans the First Victims of the Sixth Mass Extinction?
  • World’s First Human-Monkey Hybrid Created In China

Geophysical survey methods enable archaeologists to detect buried features without digging large holes, maximizing knowledge while minimizing destruction. Mary Prendergast and Thomas Fitton, CC BY-ND / The Conversation

Teams of archaeologists are combining big datasets in new ways to understand large-scale processes. In 2019, over 250 archaeologists pooled their findings to show that humans have altered the planet for thousands of years, for example, with a 2,000-year-old irrigation system in China. This echoes other studies that challenge the idea that the Anthropocene, the current period defined by human influences on the planet, only began in the 20th century.

New connections are raising new possibilities

These advances bring researchers together in exciting new ways. Over 140 new Nazca Lines , ancient images carved into a Peruvian desert, were discovered using artificial intelligence to sift through drone and satellite imagery. With the wealth of high-resolution satellite imagery online, teams are also turning to crowdsourcing to find new archaeological sites.

Although new partnerships among archaeologists and scientific specialists are not always tension-free, there is growing consensus that studying the past means reaching across fields.

The Open Science movement aims to make this work accessible to all. Scientists including archaeologists are sharing data more freely within and beyond the academy. Public archaeology programs, community digs and digital museum collections are becoming common. You can even print your own copy of famous fossils from freely available 3D scans, or an archaeological coloring book in more than 30 languages.

Archaeologists are increasingly reaching out to communities to share their findings, for example at this school presentation in Tanzania. Agness Gidna, CC BY-ND / The Conversation

Efforts to make archaeology and museums more equitable and engage indigenous research partners are gaining momentum as archaeologists consider whose past is being revealed. Telling the human story requires a community of voices to do things right.

Studying the past to change our present

As new methods enable profound insight into humanity’s shared history, a challenge is to ensure that these insights are relevant and beneficial in the present and future.

In a year marked by youth-led climate strikes and heightened awareness of a planet in crisis, it may seem counterproductive to look back in time.

Yet in so doing, archaeologists are providing empirical support for climate change and revealing how ancient peoples coped with challenging environments.

As one example, studies show that while industrial meat production has serious environmental costs, transhumance – a traditional practice of seasonally moving livestock, now recognized by UNESCO as intangible cultural heritage – is not only light on the land today, but helped promote biodiversity and healthy landscapes in the past.

Archaeologists today are contributing their methods, data and perspectives toward a vision for a less damaged, more just planet. While it’s difficult to predict exactly what the next century holds in terms of archaeological discoveries, a new focus on “ usable pasts ” points in a positive direction.

Top 10 Discoveries That Surprised Geologists

If you have watched The Big Bang Theory and seen the guys make fun of Bert the geologist, you may think that geology is the science of boring people staring at boring rocks. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Geology is the history of our Earth written in rock and chemical. It is a language that still humbles experts with its immensity and truth. In a heartbeat, new discoveries can dismiss long-supported beliefs and, in their place, offer the strange, the unknown, and the mind-bending changes that Earth has experienced.

There are surprises and mysteries everywhere&mdashfrom the core of our planet to an offspring in space.

Why Did Human History Unfold Differently On Different Continents For The Last 13,000 Years?

The biggest question that Jared Diamond is asking himself is how to turn the study of history into a science. He notes the distinction between the "hard sciences" such as physics, biology, and astronomy — and what we sometimes call the "social sciences," which includes history, economics, government. The social sciences are often thought of as a pejorative. In particular many of the so-called hard scientists such as physicists or biologists, don't consider history to be a science. The situation is even more extreme because, he points out, even historians themselves don't consider history to be a science. Historians don't get training in the scientific methods they don't get training in statistics they don't get training in the experimental method or problems of doing experiments on historical subjects and they'll often say that history is not a science, history is closer to an art.

Jared comes to this question as one who is accomplished in two scientific areas: physiology and evolutionary biology. The first is a laboratory science the second, is never far from history. "Biology is the science," he says. "Evolution is the concept that makes biology unique."

In his new theories of human development, he brings together history and biology in presenting a global account of the rise of civilization. In so doing he takes on race-based theories of human development.

"Most people are explicitly racists," he says. "In parts of the world — so called educated, so-called western society — we've learned that it is not polite to be racist, and so often we don't express racist views, but nevertheless I've given lectures on this subject, and members of the National Academy of Sciences come up to me afterwards and say, but native Australians, they're so primitive. Racism is one of the big issues in the world today. Racism is the big social problem in the United States."

So why are people racists? According to Jared, racism involves the belief that other people are not capable of being educated. Or being human — that they're different from us, and they're less than human. It was through his work in New Guinea for the last 30 years that convinced him that it's not true. "'They' are smarter than we are," he says. But perhaps the main reason why people resort to racist explanations, he notes, is that they don't have another answer. Until there's a convincing answer why history really took the course that it did, people are going to fall back on the racist explanation. Jared believes that the big world impact of his ideas may being in demolishing the basis for racist theories of history and racist views.

Why Did Human History Unfold Differently On Different Continents For The Last 13,000 Years?

[JARED DIAMOND:] I've set myself the modest task of trying to explain the broad pattern of human history, on all the continents, for the last 13,000 years. Why did history take such different evolutionary courses for peoples of different continents? This problem has fascinated me for a long time, but it's now ripe for a new synthesis because of recent advances in many fields seemingly remote from history, including molecular biology, plant and animal genetics and biogeography, archaeology, and linguistics.

As we all know, Eurasians, especially peoples of Europe and eastern Asia, have spread around the globe, to dominate the modern world in wealth and power. Other peoples, including most Africans, survived, and have thrown off European domination but remain behind in wealth and power. Still other peoples, including the original inhabitants of Australia, the Americas, and southern Africa, are no longer even masters of their own lands but have been decimated, subjugated, or exterminated by European colonialists. Why did history turn out that way, instead of the opposite way? Why weren't Native Americans, Africans, and Aboriginal Australians the ones who conquered or exterminated Europeans and Asians?

This big question can easily be pushed back one step further. By the year A.D. 1500, the approximate year when Europe's overseas expansion was just beginning, peoples of the different continents already differed greatly in technology and political organization. Much of Eurasia and North Africa was occupied then by Iron Age states and empires, some of them on the verge of industrialization. Two Native American peoples, the Incas and Aztecs, ruled over empires with stone tools and were just starting to experiment with bronze. Parts of sub-Saharan Africa were divided among small indigenous Iron Age states or chiefdoms. But all peoples of Australia, New Guinea, and the Pacific islands, and many peoples of the Americas and sub-Saharan Africa, were still living as farmers or even still as hunter/ gatherers with stone tools.

Obviously, those differences as of A.D. 1500 were the immediate cause of the modern world's inequalities. Empires with iron tools conquered or exterminated tribes with stone tools. But how did the world evolve to be the way that it was in the year A.D. 1500?

This question, too can be easily pushed back a further step, with the help of written histories and archaeological discoveries. Until the end of the last Ice Age around 11,000 B.C., all humans on all continents were still living as Stone Age hunter/gatherers. Different rates of development on different continents, from 11,000 B.C. to A.D. 1500, were what produced the inequalities of A.D. 1500. While Aboriginal Australians and many Native American peoples remained Stone Age hunter/gatherers, most Eurasian peoples, and many peoples of the Americas and sub-Saharan Africa, gradually developed agriculture, herding, metallurgy, and complex political organization. Parts of Eurasia, and one small area of the Americas, developed indigenous writing as well. But each of these new developments appeared earlier in Eurasia than elsewhere.

So, we can finally rephrase our question about the evolution of the modern world's inequalities as follows. Why did human development proceed at such different rates on different continents for the last 13,000 years? Those differing rates constitute the broadest pattern of history, the biggest unsolved problem of history, and my subject today.

Historians tend to avoid this subject like the plague, because of its apparently racist overtones. Many people, or even most people, assume that the answer involves biological differences in average IQ among the world's populations, despite the fact that there is no evidence for the existence of such IQ differences. Even to ask the question why different peoples had different histories strikes some of us as evil, because it appears to be justifying what happened in history. In fact, we study the injustices of history for the same reason that we study genocide, and for the same reason that psychologists study the minds of murderers and rapists: not in order to justify history, genocide, murder, and rape, but instead to understand how those evil things came about, and then to use that understanding so as to prevent their happening again. In case the stink of racism still makes you feel uncomfortable about exploring this subject, just reflect on the underlying reason why so many people accept racist explanations of history's broad pattern: we don't have a convincing alternative explanation. Until we do, people will continue to gravitate by default to racist theories. That leaves us with a huge moral gap, which constitutes the strongest reason for tackling this uncomfortable subject.

Let's proceed continent-by-continent. As our first continental comparison, let's consider the collision of the Old World and the New World that began with Christopher Columbus's voyage in A.D. 1492, because the proximate factors involved in that outcome are well understood. I'll now give you a summary and interpretation of the histories of North America, South America, Europe, and Asia from my perspective as a biogeographer and evolutionary biologist ÷ all that in ten minutes 2_ minutes per continent. Here we go:

Most of us are familiar with the stories of how a few hundred Spaniards under CortŽs and Pizarro overthrew the Aztec and Inca Empires. The populations of each of those empires numbered tens of millions. We're also familiar with the gruesome details of how other Europeans conquered other parts of the New World. The result is that Europeans came to settle and dominate most of the New World, while the Native American population declined drastically from its level as of A.D. 1492. Why did it happen that way? Why didn't it instead happen that the Emperors Montezuma or Atahuallpa led the Aztecs or Incas to conquer Europe?

The proximate reasons are obvious. Invading Europeans had steel swords, guns, and horses, while Native Americans had only stone and wooden weapons and no animals that could be ridden. Those military advantages repeatedly enabled troops of a few dozen mounted Spaniards to defeat Indian armies numbering in the thousands.

Nevertheless, steel swords, guns, and horses weren't the sole proximate factors behind the European conquest of the New World. Infectious diseases introduced with Europeans, like smallpox and measles, spread from one Indian tribe to another, far in advance of Europeans themselves, and killed an estimated 95% of the New World's Indian population. Those diseases were endemic in Europe, and Europeans had had time to develop both genetic and immune resistance to them, but Indians initially had no such resistance. That role played by infectious diseases in the European conquest of the New World was duplicated in many other parts of the world, including Aboriginal Australia, southern Africa, and many Pacific islands.

Finally, there is still another set of proximate factors to consider. How is it that Pizarro and CortŽs reached the New World at all, before Aztec and Inca conquistadors could reach Europe? That outcome depended partly on technology in the form of oceangoing ships. Europeans had such ships, while the Aztecs and Incas did not. Also, those European ships were backed by the centralized political organization that enabled Spain and other European countries to build and staff the ships. Equally crucial was the role of European writing in permitting the quick spread of accurate detailed information, including maps, sailing directions, and accounts by earlier explorers, back to Europe, to motivate later explorers.

So far, we've identified a series of proximate factors behind European colonization of the New World: namely, ships, political organization, and writing that brought Europeans to the New World European germs that killed most Indians before they could reach the battlefield and guns, steel swords, and horses that gave Europeans a big advantage on the battlefield. Now, let's try to push the chain of causation back further. Why did these proximate advantages go to the Old World rather than to the New World? Theoretically, Native Americans might have been the ones to develop steel swords and guns first, to develop oceangoing ships and empires and writing first, to be mounted on domestic animals more terrifying than horses, and to bear germs worse than smallpox.

The part of that question that's easiest to answer concerns the reasons why Eurasia evolved the nastiest germs. It's striking that Native Americans evolved no devastating epidemic diseases to give to Europeans, in return for the many devastating epidemic diseases that Indians received from the Old World. There are two straightforward reasons for this gross imbalance. First, most of our familiar epidemic diseases can sustain themselves only in large dense human populations concentrated into villages and cities, which arose much earlier in the Old World than in the New World. Second, recent studies of microbes, by molecular biologists, have shown that most human epidemic diseases evolved from similar epidemic diseases of the dense populations of Old World domestic animals with which we came into close contact. For example, measles and TB evolved from diseases of our cattle, influenza from a disease of pigs, and smallpox possibly from a disease of camels. The Americas had very few native domesticated animal species from which humans could acquire such diseases.

Let's now push the chain of reasoning back one step further. Why were there far more species of domesticated animals in Eurasia than in the Americas? The Americas harbor over a thousand native wild mammal species, so you might initially suppose that the Americas offered plenty of starting material for domestication.

In fact, only a tiny fraction of wild mammal species has been successfully domesticated, because domestication requires that a wild animal fulfill many prerequisites: the animal has to have a diet that humans can supply a rapid growth rate a willingness to breed in captivity a tractable disposition a social structure involving submissive behavior towards dominant animals and humans and lack of a tendency to panic when fenced in. Thousands of years ago, humans domesticated every possible large wild mammal species fulfilling all those criteria and worth domesticating, with the result that there have been no valuable additions of domestic animals in recent times, despite the efforts of modern science.

Eurasia ended up with the most domesticated animal species in part because it's the world's largest land mass and offered the most wild species to begin with. That preexisting difference was magnified 13,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age, when most of the large mammal species of North and South America became extinct, perhaps exterminated by the first arriving Indians. As a result, Native Americans inherited far fewer species of big wild mammals than did Eurasians, leaving them only with the llama and alpaca as a domesticate. Differences between the Old and New Worlds in domesticated plants, especially in large-seeded cereals, are qualitatively similar to t hese differences in domesticated mammals, though the difference is not so extreme.

Another reason for the higher local diversity of domesticated plants and animals in Eurasia than in the Americas is that Eurasia's main axis is east/west, whereas the main axis of the Americas is north/south. Eurasia's east/west axis meant that species domesticated in one part of Eurasia could easily spread thousands of miles at the same latitude, encountering the same day-length and climate to which they were already adapted. As a result, chickens and citrus fruit domesticated in Southeast Asia quickly spread westward to Europe horses domesticated in the Ukraine quickly spread eastward to China and the sheep, goats, cattle, wheat, and barley of the Fertile Crescent quickly spread both west and east.

In contrast, the north/south axis of the Americas meant that species domesticated in one area couldn't spread far without encountering day-lengths and climates to which they were not adapted. As a result, the turkey never spread from its site of domestication in Mexico to the Andes llamas and alpacas never spread from the Andes to Mexico, so that the Indian civilizations of Central and North America remained entirely without pack animals and it took thousands of years for the corn that evolved in Mexico's climate to become modified into a corn adapted to the short growing season and seasonally changing day-length of North America.

Eurasia's domesticated plants and animals were important for several other reasons besides letting Europeans develop nasty germs. Domesticated plants and animals yield far more calories per acre than do wild habitats, in which most species are inedible to humans. As a result, population densities of farmers and herders are typically ten to a hundred times greater than those of hunter/gatherers. That fact alone explains why farmers and herders everywhere in the world have been able to push hunter/gatherers out of land suitable for farming and herding. Domestic animals revolutionized land transport. They also revolutionized agriculture, by letting one farmer plough and manure much more land than the farmer could till or manure by the farmer's own efforts. Also, hunter/gatherer societies tend to be egalitarian and to have no political organization beyond the level of the band or tribe, whereas the food surpluses and storage made possible by agriculture permitted the development of stratified, politically centralized societies with governing elites. Those food surpluses also accelerated the development of technology, by supporting craftspeople who didn't raise their own food and who could instead devote themselves to developing metallurgy, writing, swords, and guns.

Thus, we began by identifying a series of proximate explanations ÷ guns, germs, and so on ÷ for the conquest of the Americas by Europeans. Those proximate factors seem to me ultimately traceable in large part to the Old World's greater number of domesticated plants, much greater number of domesticated animals, and east/west axis. The chain of causation is most direct in explaining the Old World's advantages of horses and nasty germs. But domesticated plants and animals also led more indirectly to Eurasia's advantage in guns, swords, oceangoing ships, political organization, and writing, all of which were products of the large, dense, sedentary, stratified societies made possible by agriculture.

Let's next examine whether this scheme, derived from the collision of Europeans with Native Americans, helps us understand the broadest pattern of African history, which I'll summarize in five minutes. I'll concentrate on the history of sub-Saharan Africa, because it was much more isolated from Eurasia by distance and climate than was North Africa, whose history is closely linked to Eurasia's history. Here we go again:

Just as we asked why CortŽs invaded Mexico before Montezuma could invade Europe, we can similarly ask why Europeans colonized sub-Saharan Africa before sub-Saharans could colonize Europe. The proximate factors were the same familiar ones of guns, steel, oceangoing ships, political organization, and writing. But again, we can ask why guns and ships and so on ended up being developed in Europe rather than in sub-Saharan Africa. To the student of human evolution, that question is particularly puzzling, because humans have been evolving for millions of years longer in Africa than in Europe, and even anatomically modern Homo sapiens may have reached Europe from Africa only within the last 50,000 years. If time were a critical factor in the development of human societies, Africa should have enjoyed an enormous head start and advantage over Europe.

Again, that outcome largely reflects biogeographic differences in the availability of domesticable wild animal and plant species. Taking first domestic animals, it's striking that the sole animal domesticated within sub-Saharan Africa was [you guess] a bird, the Guinea fowl. All of Africa's mammalian domesticates ÷ cattle, sheep, goats, horses, even dogs ÷ entered sub-Saharan Africa from the north, from Eurasia or North Africa. At first that sounds astonishing, since we now think of Africa as the continent of big wild mammals. In fact, none of those famous big wild mammal species of Africa proved domesticable. They were all disqualified by one or another problem such as: unsuitable social organization intractable behavior slow growth rate, and so on. Just think what the course of world history might have been like if Africa's rhinos and hippos had lent themselves to domestication! If that had been possible, African cavalry mounted on rhinos or hippos would have made mincemeat of European cavalry mounted on horses. But it couldn't happen.

Instead, as I mentioned, the livestock adopted in Africa were Eurasian species that came in from the north. Africa's long axis, like that of the Americas, is north/south rather than east/west. Those Eurasian domestic mammals spread southward very slowly in Africa, because they had to adapt to different climate zones and different animal diseases.

The difficulties posed by a north/south axis to the spread of domesticated species are even more striking for African crops than they are for livestock. Remember that the food staples of ancient Egypt were Fertile Crescent and Mediterranean crops like wheat and barley, which require winter rains and seasonal variation in day length for their germination. Those crops couldn't spread south in Africa beyond Ethiopia, beyond which the rains come in the summer and there's little or no seasonal variation in day length. Instead, the development of agriculture in the sub-Sahara had to await the domestication of native African plant species like sorghum and millet, adapted to Central Africa's summer rains and relatively constant day length.

Ironically, those crops of Central Africa were for the same reason then unable to spread south to the Mediterranean zone of South Africa, where once again winter rains and big seasonal variations in day length prevailed. The southward advance of native African farmers with Central African crops halted in Natal, beyond which Central African crops couldn't grow ÷ with enormous consequences for the recent history of South Africa.

In short, a north/south axis, and a paucity of wild plant and animal species suitable for domestication, were decisive in African history, just as they were in Native American history. Although native Africans domesticated some plants in the Sahel and in Ethiopia and in tropical West Africa, they acquired valuable domestic animals only later, from the north. The resulting advantages of Europeans in guns, ships, political organization, and writing permitted Europeans to colonize Africa, rather than Africans to colonize Europe.

Let's now conclude our whirlwind tour around the globe by devoting five minutes to the last continent, Australia. Here we go again, for the last time.

In modern times, Australia was the sole continent still inhabited only by hunter/gatherers. That makes Australia a critical test of any theory about continental differences in the evolution of human societies. Native Australia had no farmers or herders, no writing, no metal tools, and no political organization beyond the level of the tribe or band. Those, of course, are the reasons why European guns and germs destroyed Aboriginal Australian society. But why had all Native Australians remained hunter/gatherers?

There are three obvious reasons. First, even to this day no native Australian animal species and only one plant species (the macadamia nut) have proved suitable for domestication. There still are no domestic kangaroos.

Second, Australia is the smallest continent, and most of it can support only small human populations because of low rainfall and productivity. Hence the total number of Australian hunter/gatherers was only about 300,000.

Finally, Australia is the most isolated continent. The sole outside contacts of Aboriginal Australians were tenuous overwater contacts with New Guineans and Indonesians.

To get an idea of the significance of that small population size and isolation for the pace of development in Australia, consider the Australian island of Tasmania, which had the most extraordinary human society in the modern world. Tasmania is just an island of modest size, but it was the most extreme outpost of the most extreme continent, and it illuminates a big issue in the evolution of all human societies. Tasmania lies 130 miles southeast of Australia. When it was first visited by Europeans in 1642, Tasmania was occupied by 4,000 hunter/gatherers related to mainland Australians, but with the simplest technology of any recent people on Earth. Unlike mainland Aboriginal Australians, Tasmanians couldn't start a fire they had no boomerangs, spear throwers, or shields they had no bone tools, no specialized stone tools, and no compound tools like an axe head mounted on a handle they couldn't cut down a tree or hollow out a canoe they lacked sewing to make sewn clothing, despite Tasmania's cold winter climate with snow and, incredibly, though they lived mostly on the sea coast, the Tasmanians didn't catch or eat fish. How did those enormous gaps in Tasmanian material culture arise?

The answer stems from the fact that Tasmania used to be joined to the southern Australian mainland at Pleistocene times of low sea level, until that land bridge was severed by rising sea level 10,000 years ago. People walked out to Tasmania tens of thousands of years ago, when it was still part of Australia. Once that land bridge was severed, though, there was absolutely no further contact of Tasmanians with mainland Australians or with any other people on Earth until European arrival in 1642, because both Tasmanians and mainland Australians lacked watercraft capable of crossing those 130-mile straits between Tasmania and Australia. Tasmanian history is thus a study of human isolation unprecedented except in science fiction ÷ namely, complete isolation from other humans for 10,000 years. Tasmania had the smallest and most isolated human population in the world. If population size and isolation have any effect on accumulation of inventions, we should expect to see that effect in Tasmania.

If all those technologies that I mentioned, absent from Tasmania but present on the opposite Australian mainland, were invented by Australians within the last 10,000 years, we can surely conclude at least that Tasmania's tiny population didn't invent them independently. Astonishingly, the archaeological record demonstrates something further: Tasmanians actually abandoned some technologies that they brought with them from Australia and that persisted on the Australian mainland. For example, bone tools and the practice of fishing were both present in Tasmania at the time that the land bridge was severed, and both disappeared from Tasmania by around 1500 B.C. That represents the loss of valuable technologies: fish could have been smoked to provide a winter food supply, and bone needles could have been used to sew warm clothes.

What sense can we make of these cultural losses?

The only interpretation that makes sense to me goes as follows. First, technology has to be invented or adopted. Human societies vary in lots of independent factors affecting their openness to innovation. Hence the higher the human population and the more societies there are on an island or continent, the greater the chance of any given invention being conceived and adopted somewhere there.

Second, for all human societies except those of totally-isolated Tasmania, most technological innovations diffuse in from the outside, instead of being invented locally, so one expects the evolution of technology to proceed most rapidly in societies most closely connected with outside societies.

Finally, technology not only has to be adopted it also has to be maintained. All human societies go through fads in which they temporarily either adopt practices of little use or else abandon practices of considerable use. Whenever such economically senseless taboos arise in an area with many competing human societies, only some societies will adopt the taboo at a given time. Other societies will retain the useful practice, and will either outcompete the societies that lost it, or else will be there as a model for the societies with the taboos to repent their error and reacquire the practice. If Tasmanians had remained in contact with mainland Australians, they could have rediscovered the value and techniques of fishing and making bone tools that they had lost. But that couldn't happen in the complete isolation of Tasmania, where cultural losses became irreversible.

In short, the message of the differences between Tasmanian and mainland Australian societies seems to be the following. All other things being equal, the rate of human invention is faster, and the rate of cultural loss is slower, i n areas occupied by many competing societies with many individuals and in contact with societies elsewhere. If this interpretation is correct, then it's likely to be of much broader significance. It probably provides part of the explanation why native Australians, on the world's smallest and most isolated continent, remained Stone Age hunter/ gatherers, while people of other continents were adopting agriculture and metal. It's also likely to contribute to the differences that I already discussed between the farmers of sub-Saharan Africa, the farmers of the much larger Americas, and the farmers of the still larger Eurasia.

Naturally, there are many important factors in world history that I haven't had time to discuss in 40 minutes, and that I do discuss in my book. For example, I've said little or nothing about the distribution of domesticable plants (3 chapters) about the precise way in which complex political institutions and the development of writing and technology and organized religion depend on agriculture and herding about the fascinating reasons for the differences within Eurasia between China, India, the Near East, and Europe and about the effects of individuals, and of cultural differences unrelated to the environment, on history. But it's now time to summarize the overall meaning of this whirlwind tour through human history, with its unequally distributed guns and germs.

The broadest pattern of history ÷ namely, the differences between human societies on different continents ÷ seems to me to be attributable to differences among continental environments, and not to biological differences among peoples themselves. In particular, the availability of wild plant and animal species suitable for domestication, and the ease with which those species could spread without encountering unsuitable climates, contributed decisively to the varying rates of rise of agriculture and herding, which in turn contributed decisively to the rise of human population numbers, population densities, and food surpluses, which in turn contributed decisively to the development of epidemic infectious diseases, writing, technology, and political organization. In addition, the histories of Tasmania and Australia warn us that the differing areas and isolations of the continents, by determining the number of competing societies, may have been another important factor in human development.

As a biologist practicing laboratory experimental science, I'm aware that some scientists may be inclined to dismiss these historical interpretations as unprovable speculation, because they're not founded on replicated laboratory experiments. The same objection can be raised against any of the historical sciences, including astronomy, evolutionary biology, geology, and paleontology. The objection can of course be raised against the whole field of history, and most of the other social sciences. That's the reason why we're uncomfortable about considering history as a science. It's classified as a social science, which is considered not quite scientific.

But remember that the word "science" isn't derived from the Latin word for "replicated laboratory experiment," but instead from the Latin word "scientia" for "knowledge." In science, we seek knowledge by whatever methodologies are available and appropriate. There are many fields that no one hesitates to consider sciences even though replicated laboratory experiments in those fields would be immoral, illegal, or impossible. We can't manipulate some stars while maintaining other stars as controls we can't start and stop ice ages, and we can't experiment with designing and evolving dinosaurs. Nevertheless, we can still gain considerable insight into these historical fields by other means. Then we should surely be able to understand human history, because introspection and preserved writings give us far more insight into the ways of past humans than we have into the ways of past dinosaurs. For that reason I'm optimistic that we can eventually arrive at convincing explanations for these broadest patterns of human history.

Washakie County, Wyoming

Washakie County lies in Wyoming’s southern Bighorn Basin cupped by mountains: the Absarokas on the west, the Owl Creeks to the south and the Bighorns to the east. These mountains, however, are not included in the county, except for a small portion of the Bighorn Range. The terrain is comparatively flat. The main stream is the Bighorn River, flowing north to the Yellowstone. Significant tributaries within the county are the Nowood River, Nowater Creek, Gooseberry Creek and Fifteenmile Creek.

The elevation is approximately 4,000 feet, which allows a longer growing season for agriculture than is common in much of Wyoming. Little rain falls, however, so farming depends on irrigation. Native vegetation is grass and sagebrush on the plains and timber along the creeks and in the mountains.

The Colby Mammoth Site, located on private land close to the Bighorn River, was excavated by archaeologist George Frison in the 1970s. The site contained three Clovis projectile points and the remains of several mammoths that dated to approximately 11,000 years before the present. The Clovis people were among the earliest inhabitants of the region. Frison states that they lived in small wandering bands, making use of sand dunes and gullies to aid their hunts for the mammoths and bison that were their main food source.

Several American Indian tribes lived in the future Washakie County by the time European settlers reached it, including Arapaho, Shoshone, Crow and Cheyenne. Many of these bands moved into Wyoming from lands to the east as European settlement progressed in the 1700s and 1800s. Most of them claimed rights to winter in the valley of the Nowood River, a favorable place because of the shelter, timber and game there. Disputes over territory were common.

Several of the first explorers of what’s now Washakie County were trappers, but fur was never of great importance to the area's economy. In 1825, trapper William Ashley took his furs to market in bullboats made of buffalo hides stretched over light wooden frames on the north-flowing Bighorn River and along the Yellowstone, instead of following the more usual route by land down the Sweetwater and North Platte. Others followed his example, but water levels were highly unpredictable and the route down the Bighorn was never widely used. In 1829, employees of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company made one of the few serious attempts to trap beaver in the area, but they achieved nothing spectacular. By 1850, trapping in the area had all but ended.

In 1859, members of a U.S. Army expedition searching for routes between the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers to the north and the Oregon Trail to the south reported traces of gold in the streams of the Bighorn Basin. Longtime resident David Wasden wrote more than a century later that prospectors remained certain that immense discoveries were just ahead, but Indians interfered with such efforts and no major discoveries were made. The area was crossed, however, by the Bridger Trail, which led across the Owl Creek Mountains and along the Bighorn River toward Virginia City, Mont. Gold was discovered there in large quantities in the early 1860s. The route was named for mountain man Jim Bridger, but Chief Washakie, of the Eastern Shoshone tribe, supposedly showed him the way.

Chief Washakie

The county's name comes from Chief Washakie, whose tribe often wintered in the Bighorn Basin, especially after 1868 when a reservation was established for them on Wind River. After 1863, Washakie saw it in his band’s interest to remain at peace with the whites, and he was often called "the white man's friend" by the settlers and the U.S. Army.

In 1874 the tribe cooperated with U.S. Army troops under Capt. Alfred Bates on a raid against the Arapaho, traditional Shoshone enemies camped at the time on the headwaters of the Nowood River. The battle was the only major Indian-white conflict in the region that would become Washakie County.

Cattle and sheep ranching both arrived in the future Washakie County around 1880. The first cattle rancher was Charles Carter from Oregon, soon followed by Henry Belknap and Otto Franc. Charlie "Dad" Worland brought in the first flock of sheep, but they died in the winter of 1886. Dave Dickie, who planned to settle in Canada with his sheep, homesteaded near the Owl Creek Mountains after cattlemen forbade him to pass the present-day site of Worland.

Beginning in the 1880s, flocks belonging to Lucy Morrison Moore, based on Copper Mountain, and to J.B. Okie, based at Lost Cabin, also grazed parts of what’s now Washakie County.

At first, cattle dominated, but by the mid 1890s, sheep outnumbered cattle. Until the early years of the 20th century, stockmen let their herds use the open range, turning the animals out year-round with little supervision and often allowing them to graze where they chose. This practice was common. Ranches operated from headquarters on small homestead parcels, near water, but the cattle roamed over thousands of acres of unclaimed land. Cattle ranchers worked together on roundups every spring to brand that year's calves, and again in the fall to divide the animals to be trailed to market from the ones that would winter over.

Various stories from early Territorial days tell of pioneers who abandoned failing cattle in the fall and returned to find the animals thriving in the spring. It's said that this inspired open-range ranching in any case, the winters were mild enough for a time to allow it to work. The winter of 1886-87, however, was much more severe, and by then much of the territory had become badly overgrazed. Washakie County resident Ray Pendergraft, whose father endured that event, recalled in his 1972 county history:

The storms started early that winter, and by the 17th of November a high wind brought in a six-inch snowfall. . . . A second and more severe storm struck the entire country on December 8, bringing with it another 4 inches of snow and an icy wind. . . .The writer's father. . . .was building up his own cattleherd [sic]. The unprecedented fury of that winter cost him every hoof of cattle he had acquired, many froze to death standing and were drifted over with snow in that position. He got out of the cattle business much faster than he got into it.

Following this winter, many ranches throughout Wyoming Territory, including the Bighorn Basin, gradually changed to smaller operations with fewer cattle that might be fed native hay grown on the premises if necessary during the winter. Ranchers whose operations were too small, however, risked suspicion of cattle rustling. (Ranchers with large holdings were often suspected of rustling, too, but generally had more resources to deflect such accusations.)

Two small-operation ranchers in the area, Dab Burch and Jack Bedford, were arrested in 1892 by range detectives, and tied to their horses for the trip to Buffalo for trial. On the way, though, they were shot and killed by their captors. When murder charges were brought against the detectives two months later, they had disappeared.

Meanwhile, sheep ranching expanded steadily. Cattlemen began enforcing “dead lines” in the Bighorn Basin and other parts of Wyoming, range boundaries that sheep herders and their flocks were forbidden to cross, while cattle might pass freely.

By 1909, a drought year, the range was being heavily grazed by both cattle and sheep. Water and forage ran low, and tensions between sheepmen and cattle ranchers continued rising.

Three sheep herders crossed a dead line with their flock, and were subsequently murdered on Spring Creek, seven miles south of Ten Sleep, Wyo.

This crime became known as the Spring Creek Raid. Similar attacks—many involving the killing of sheep and sheepdogs, a few involving killing of men—had been occurring for more than a decade, and no one had ever been convicted of the crimes.

This time was different: of seven attackers, two turned state’s evidence. The other five were convicted and imprisoned. Raids quickly declined after 1909 there were only two minor raids in the entire state, and no one was injured in either.

Ten Sleep, Worland and Washakie County

The area near present-day Ten Sleep, at the confluence of Tensleep Creek and the Nowood River in the southeastern Bighorn Basin, was one of the first places in the future county to be settled by white people. Its attractions included water and good forage for animals. Settlement began during the 1880s and 1890s, and several small stores or post offices were established as adjuncts to ranch headquarters at that time. Although more settlers arrived and started more businesses throughout the years, the town of Ten Sleep was not officially established until 1932.

In 1900, homesteader Charlie “Dad” Worland, living by the west bank of the Bighorn River, opened a small bar and general store for travelers. Within a few years, a second store opened, a post office appeared and a surveying crew came into the area. Settlers were attracted and by 1906, when the Burlington Railroad was being constructed south from Montana, a small town, "Worland's," had appeared on the spot.

The railroad passed close to the town, but on the east side of the river. Residents decided to move the town. They used horses to slide the buildings across the frozen river in January and February 1906. One structure, the hotel, says Pendergraft, spent several days stuck on the river’s bank and leaning to one side while business inside continued. Once the railroad arrived, even more settlers came to Worland.

As population grew in the southern Bighorn Basin, residents voted for Big Horn County to be divided. On Feb. 9, 1911, The Wyoming Legislature passed the law creating Washakie County, with Worland as the county seat. The new county became the only one in the state to be named for an Indian.

Irrigation and farming

Irrigation projects in Washakie County began to be constructed in 1902. Prior to this time, farmers were dependent on seasonal creeks. Now, water from the larger and more reliable Bighorn River was available. The first significant man-made waterway, the Hanover Canal, was constructed by crews working by hand and using horses to pull the equipment. The plan was to bring water from the Bighorn River to higher ground that was fertile but too dry for crops. The work was hard: Pendergraft estimates that two horses died for every mile of ditch dug.

As more irrigation and drainage projects were developed, farming grew in importance in the county economy. Beans, alfalfa, corn and sugar beets were the main crops. In 1912, an alfalfa mill opened in Worland. The Holly Sugar Company opened a beet-sugar factory there in 1917. Both these businesses helped assure farmers a market for their crops.

Sugar beets were one of the most important crops in Washakie County, especially after the factory opened. Caring for beets required large crews to thin the rows with hoes and by hand so that the beets would be properly spaced for efficient growth. Many workers were needed again to harvest beets in the fall. This work brought new groups of people to the county—initially Germans and Russians and later, Mexicans. Some newcomers stayed in the area and established their own farms or businesses.

In 1912, oil discoveries were made along the southwest margin of the Bighorn Basin, just outside the boundaries of Washakie County. Some Washakie residents were involved in the strikes, as owners or investors in exploration companies. In 1914, oil was found in Washakie County itself.

Initial discoveries were generally kept as secret as possible. A 1915 issue of the Worland Grit announced the discovery of "a monster gusher, although many details are lacking as the drillers . . . have maintained great secrecy as to what is going on." The amount of equipment shipped through Worland that was necessary for significant drilling on any new find often made keeping such secrets impossible.

World War I, meanwhile, briefly tripled oil prices. They were "as high," writes Pendergraft, "as $3.10 per barrel," and this motivated extensive exploration. The high prices brought even more disorder into the oil fields.

Before Congress passed the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920, each discovery prompted a scramble to claim and drill as much nearby land as possible. Claim jumping was chronic incentives in the earlier law encouraged oilmen to produce as much oil as fast as they could, often draining the oil from neighboring tracts in the process. The new law brought order in the form of a leasing and royalty system on public lands, which continues today.

After the war, crop, wool and beef prices plunged, and Wyoming spun into an agricultural depression. Oil prices stayed relatively high, however, and the oil boom continued through much of the decade.

In Washakie County, the oil industry conflicted sometimes with established ranching and farming. One farmer’s beet field became the site of a road and an oil well before the beets were harvested later he was compensated for the damage.

The Great Depression

This oil boom, however, died down as the Great Depression hit the nation after the stock market crash of 1929. Miners, drilling crews, factory workers and others were laid off. County and city employees who remained took pay cuts. Ranchers and farmers made tiny profits or none as prices of meat, corn, beets, wool and other agricultural products continued to fall.

Local governments stepped in to provide some jobs and other relief. They hired local men to oil and gravel existing roads, or build new roads and bridges.

Bootlegging was another source of income. It had been pursued since Prohibition began in 1919, but expanded with the disappearance of other jobs. "You should get busy," Pendergraft was advised by "an upright and well regarded individual," "and establish yourself a good bootlegging business and win the respect of this community." Repeal of the 18th amendment in 1933, however, shut down this profession.

Under President Franklin Roosevelt's policies, farmers were paid not to plant part of their land, and ranchers were paid for not raising livestock. The industrial work day was shortened to 8 hours, and minimum wage set at 32.5 cents per hour.

Fresh oil discoveries were made in Washakie county during the 1930s, but prosperity did not return until World War II.

World War II and after

With the start of war, prices began to rise, helping farmers and ranchers. Many men enlisted in the armed services, leaving vacant jobs. For the first time, women were hired at the Holly Sugar Company factory in Worland.

After the war, Washakie County moved with the rest of Wyoming in becoming more modernized. ("The various sections of the state are not isolated," boasted the 1966 edition of the Wyoming Guide. "Few of the settlements of 100 or more population are more than 10 miles away from an oiled highway.")

Agriculture, perhaps, changed more than any of the other Washakie County industries. In beet growing, for example, new seeds were developed to make thinning easier, machines replaced workers for thinning and harvesting, and chemical sprays replaced hand weeding.

New businesses started in Worland, including the Admiral Beverage Company that Newell and Mabel Sargent opened in 1945. Beginning as Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company with a staff of four people, the company eventually acquired plants in 5 states and hired more than 1,000 workers. It has provided many jobs in Worland over the years.

Modern times

The industries established between 1880 and World War I—ranching, farming and energy production—remain the foundation of Washakie County's economy.

Ranching is important but no longer central to the economy. Agriculture is almost completely mechanized and involves fewer family farms and more corporations than in previous years. Sugar beets are still an important crop, as are beans, corn and alfalfa. The energy industry has carried the county's economy on its boom and bust cycles since World War II.

Current state figures show that people who work for the federal, state and local governments in Washakie County make up by far the largest employment sector, followed by people who work in health care and social assistance, and third by people who work in retail sales.

8 Amazing Things Uncovered by Melting Glaciers and Ice

As the climate warms, ice patches, glaciers, and permafrosts across the world have begun to give up their hidden history. As a result, glacial archaeology—the study of objects retrieved from glaciers and ice patches—has recently come into its own. Ötzi the iceman, uncovered in the Alps in 1991, is one of the most famous and important such archaeological finds, but there are plenty of other examples of bodies, artifacts, landscapes, and even deadly pathogens found beneath the ice.


On August 15, 1942, Marcelin and Francine Dumoulin went to milk their cows high in an alpine field near Chandolin in southwestern Switzerland. They were never seen alive again. The couple's seven children were left wondering what had happened to their parents, and as the search for the missing couple continued the siblings were split up and placed with several local families. In July 2017 the mystery was finally solved when ski workers uncovered the perfectly preserved bodies of the Dumoulins on the receding Tsanfleuron glacier. It was immediately obvious that the bodies were from the 1940s due to the clothes they were wearing, and identity papers allowed police to identify the couple. Police speculated that they must have fallen down a crevasse, snow and ice enveloping their bodies, until the warming air on the shrinking glacier finally uncovered their resting place almost 75 years later. Their youngest daughter, Marceline Udry-Dumoulin, 75, said that her siblings never gave up looking for their parents, adding: “I can say that after 75 years of waiting this news gives me a deep sense of calm.”


Jasperdo, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

As the Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, Alaska (seen above), was advancing over 1000 years ago, a flow of glacial melt—icy water and gravel—preceded its path, covering an ancient forest with gravel. This gravel acted as a sort of cushion, so that when the glacier itself enveloped the forest the majority of the trees weren't crushed, and some even remained standing. Over the last 50 years, as the glacier has receded, the trees and stumps have slowly been uncovered, and in recent years as the melt has sped up—shrinking at a rate of 170 feet per year since 2005—more and more of this ancient woodland has been revealed. Archaeologists have been working to identify and age the trees, some of which retain their bark, and thus far tests by University of Alaska Southeast Professor of Geology and Environmental Science Program Coordinator Cathy Connor have revealed that they range from 1200 to an astonishing 2350 years old.


In September 2013, bones from an Iron Age horse were uncovered from a site over 6500 feet high in the mountains of Norway. The horse, found alongside perfectly preserved manure and a horseshoe, indicates to archaeologists that Iron Age peoples were using these animals to carry cargo at high altitude over the mountains near Oppland in Norway. Archaeologists working in the region are increasingly finding new artifacts revealed by melting glaciers and ice patches, but they're working in a race against time—the artifacts remain perfectly preserved while locked in the ice, but as soon as the ice melts, they are in danger of degradation from contact with the open air. Earlier in 2013, an amazingly well-preserved 1700-year-old woollen tunic was also rescued from melting ice in the region—two patches on the garment showed that it had been carefully mended by its Iron Age owner.


School children look at one of the mummies found in the Llullaillaco volcano, on display at the High Mountain Archaeology Museum in Salta, Argentina. Juan Mabromata/Getty Images

The extremely well-preserved frozen bodies of three Incan child sacrifice victims were found entombed on the Llullaillaco volcano in Argentina in 1999. The bodies of a 13-year-old girl, plus a boy and girl both about four or five years old, were found at 22,000 feet up, and are considered the best-preserved ice mummies in the world. They have allowed scientists to carry out a number of tests that have increased our knowledge of capacocha—the Incan tradition of child sacrifice.

Spanish chronicles indicated that the Incas would select especially talented or beautiful children to be sacrificed to the gods to celebrate important milestones or in response to natural disasters. By analyzing hair from the 13-year-old, known as the “Llullaillaco maiden” due to her serene expression, researchers discovered that she had been heavily drugged with coca leaves (from which cocaine is derived) and alcohol. She was dressed in expensive clothes, was well-nourished, and had beautifully braided hair, which historians think indicates she was very well looked after during the year before her death. Traces from the hair of all three victims shows that they were heavily sedated with drugs before being taken up to their lofty tombs on the volcano, where they likely died of hypothermia about 500 years ago. Nearby residents have concluded that the mummies were found just in time, before higher summer temperatures would have damaged them.


As the highest settlement of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the small village of Peio in modern-day northern Italy was dragged into the conflict of World War I in 1915. Here, at altitudes over 6500 feet, intrepid soldiers fought in what became known as the White War. Due to the inhospitable conditions and the freezing weather, specialist mountain soldiers were recruited—the Italians had the Alpini, who sported distinctive feathered caps, and the Austrians had the Kaiserschützen. The fierce conflict high in the mountains went largely unnoticed by the rest of the world at the time but today, as the region's ice melts, archaeologists and historians are learning more about the amazing feats of bravery of those involved.

A variety of artifacts have been uncovered from the melting glacier, including a poignant unmailed love letter to a girl named Maria, soldiers’ helmets and guns, and, of course, bodies. In 2012, the mummified bodies of two blond and blue-eyed Austrian soldiers, aged just 17 and 18 years old, were uncovered from the ice—both had been shot through the head and buried in a crevasse on the Presena glacier by their comrades. Locals held a funeral for the pair in 2013, and 200 people from around Peio attended.


The mummified bodies of an adult and child were recently excavated from the melting permafrost near Salekhard, Siberia, inside the Arctic Circle. The bodies were found in Zelenyy Yar, an ancient necropolis that has since 1997 been an ongoing archaeological site. Researchers have uncovered more than 100 burials in the area. These latest mummies are of an adult at least 5 foot 7 in height, covered in canvas and birch bark overlaid with copper strips, and a small baby, thought to be about 6 months old. Archaeologists think that the bodies date from the Medieval period, and hope that further analysis will reveal more about these little-known Arctic peoples.


Atyana Makeyeva/AFP/Getty Images

A 2016 hot spell with temperatures reaching 86˚F exacerbated the melting permafrost in the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia, unleashing some unwelcome pathogens back into the environment. The body of a reindeer infected with anthrax was uncovered by the melting permafrost, releasing the reanimated spores into the atmosphere. The disease, which had not been seen in the region for 75 years, infected local herds of reindeer and then at least 20 people, causing serious illness and the death of a 12-year-old boy.

Scientists are also concerned about other dormant pathogens being re-introduced as further warming unlocks them from their frozen state in the permafrost. Spanish flu, smallpox, and bubonic plague could all be released in the future as the shallow graves holding victims of past epidemics slowly melt.


Researchers studying the Steenstrup and Kier Glaciers in northwest Greenland noted the emergence of several new islands from the ice between 1999 and 2014. In the last 60 years, the Steenstrup Glacier has retreated some 6.21 miles, uncovering islands dotted around the coast, and requiring maps to be redrawn. Over time glaciers naturally retreat and advance in a cyclical fashion, but according to glacier researcher Mauri Pelto of Nichols College, the recent pace and extent of the retreat has suggested an acceleration due to global warming. If the ice continues to recede, more landmasses that have lain hidden in the ice for thousands of years could be exposed.

Ancient DNA Reveals the Oldest Domesticated Dog in the Americas

For more than a decade, archaeologists thought they were looking at a bear. Known to experts as PP-00128, the fragment of bone found in a southeastern Alaskan cave seemed to be from some large mammal that lived in the area thousands of years ago. But ancient DNA evidence has given this unassuming shard of bone a new identity. The sliver did not belong to a bear, but at 10,150 years old, the most ancient dog yet found in the Americas.

The surprising realization was published today in a study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. While looking for Ice Age bear bones to examine, University of Buffalo geneticist Charlotte Lindqvist set about analyzing PP-00128. Perhaps the DNA would reveal what sort of bear the bone came from and how it was related to other ursids. But when Lindqvist and colleagues analyzed the DNA extracted from the bone, they found something very different. This “bear” was a dog.

“Ten or twenty years ago, we would have looked through a pile of bone fragments and not seen this,” says Durham University archaeologist Angela Perri, who was not involved in the new study. “This is a nice example of what can be done with some of these advanced methods,” she adds, noting that mass screening of archaeological material can turn up new clues that might otherwise be missed. Advances in how ancient DNA is extracted, corrected for any modern contaminants and sequenced have allowed researchers to quickly assess the genetics of organisms much faster than ever before, building a growing database that can be used to detect broader patterns. The more ancient DNA that’s recovered, analyzed and placed in the database, the bigger the sample researchers have to work from when trying to understand how organisms—be it dogs or humans— relate to each other.

The bone fragment, held here by study coauthor Flavio Augusto da Silva Coelho, is very small. (Douglas Levere / University at Buffalo)

Dogs have been with humans for a very long time. Around 23,000 years ago, in what’s now Siberia, humans and gray wolves were hemmed in by the encroaching glaciers of the last Ice Age. No one knows for sure exactly how the two species started their relationship, with the leading hypothesis being that the friendlier wolves got used to people who gave them scraps or let them raid garbage piles, but that was the crucible in which the first domesticated dogs were born.

From there, the history of people and dogs was intertwined. Genetic evidence of both humans and dogs, published earlier this year by Perri and colleagues, suggest that they left Eurasia together as people and their pooches crossed the Bering Land Bridge to the ancient Americas together. Now, hot on the heels of that discovery, Lindqvist and colleagues have identified PP-00128 as a genetic cousin of those first Siberian dogs.

In this particular case, the happenstance discovery helps bring some resolution to a disjunction in the archaeological record. “The archaeological evidence for humans and dogs in the New World is sparse and there is a gap in time between archaeological evidence and genetic estimates when it comes to both the entrance of humans and dogs to the Americas south of the ice sheets,” Lindqvist says. The genetics seemed to suggest earlier arrivals for both dogs and people, but the archaeological evidence was often much younger than what the genetics suggested. But by looking at both where PP-00128 existed in time, as well as its genetic connections to both Eurasian and American dogs, a new perspective is starting to come together.

The bone comes from a critical time. Its age is a shade older than other early dog bones found in current-day Illinois, indicating that dogs domesticated in Eurasia spread with people through the Americas. The dogs from the Midwest form a genetic group together with others from places like Alabama and Missouri, part of the dispersal of people through the continent. What makes PP-00128 distinct is that it’s from an earlier group of dogs with ties to Siberia, and its location is especially important. The bone fragment was uncovered in a cave that is close to another archaeological site containing human remains of similar age along the Alaskan coast.

Archaeologists and anthropologists have long debated when and how people traveled from Eurasia across the Bering Land Bridge to the Americas. For decades, the prevailing thought was that migrating groups took advantage of receding ice sheets to take a central corridor between the continents, going through the middle of what’s now Alaska before venturing further south. But the discovery of a domesticated dog along Alaska’s Blake Channel points to a growing body of evidence that people traveled between the continents by moving along the coast, perhaps using early watercraft to move across the wetter stretches. Ice retreated from the coast before the interior, with estimates suggesting that people could have traveled through the area as early as 17,000 years ago and certainly by 15,000 years ago. “I think that their paper most importantly makes a strong case for coastal migration into the Americas,” Perri says, with the peopling of the continent starting with the coasts and later expanding more inland as the ice continued to withdraw.

Additional finds and analysis will test the idea—Perri notes that even earlier dogs are likely to be found along the route between Siberia and Alaska. But the close association between people and dogs so far back in time underscores an important point. “The movement and locations of ancient dogs are proxies to the movement of people, and vice versa, because our histories are closely linked,” Lindqvist says. Not far from where the 10,150-year-old dog bone was found, archaeologists have found 10,300-year-old human remains in a cave called Shuká Káa on nearby Prince of Wales Island, underscoring that people and dogs were here together. As Perri notes, “Where people go, dogs go.”

The emerging picture doesn’t rest on any single discovery, but many different threads. The location, time and genetics of PP-00128 lined up with new hypotheses about when and where both dogs and people arrived in the Americas. Encroaching ice may have brought people and the ancestors of dogs together in Siberia, but when the ice thawed they could begin to travel together. “Sometimes in science it is very exciting when multiple different pieces of evidence come together,” Lindqvist says.

About Riley Black

Riley Black is a freelance science writer specializing in evolution, paleontology and natural history who blogs regularly for Scientific American.

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In The Vikings Uncovered Dan Snow tracks their expansion west, first as raiders and then as settlers and traders. He travels through Britain, to Iceland, Greenland and Canada to see what could be the most westerly Viking settlement ever discovered. The programme will be on BBC One on Monday 4 April at 20:30.

In 1960, a site on the very northernmost tip of Newfoundland in Canada, Lɺnse aux Meadows, was investigated and archaeologists were convinced that it was a Viking settlement. The world woke up to the fact that the Vikings had reached North America before any other Europeans. But no other site has been identified, the search for Viking America stalled. Until now.

Sarah Parcak uses satellite imagery to look for irregularities in the soil, potentially caused by man-made structures which lie beneath. She has used this technique to find ancient sites in Egypt and a few years ago she scoured the Roman Empire where she identified the site of the great lighthouse at Portus near Rome and several other buildings, from a fort in Tunisia to ramparts in Romania. Last year, she decided to search for the Vikings.

It wasn't easy. They travelled light and left nothing behind. No massive stone theatres for them. They voyaged in longships with a strong oak keel, and thin overlapping planks fanning out to form the iconic, graceful hull - the gaps between the planks stuffed with animal hair and tar. The rudder was fixed on with a twisted birch sapling. Sails spun from wool. Food was pickled herring, lamb smoked using reindeer droppings, fermented salmon. Almost everything on a Viking ship would get recycled or rot away. But they did leave a trace, and Parcak's team were determined to pick it up, however faint.

They scanned satellite pictures from across the east coast of America. Several sites appeared worth following up, but they had to decide on one for a dig. In the end they opted for a headland, almost the very western tip of Newfoundland, 400 miles further south and west than the only known Viking site in North America.

It overlooked two bays, offering protection for ships from any wind direction. Parcak saw oddities in the soil that stood out - patterns and discolourations that suggested artificial, man-made structures, possibly even Viking longhouses, once stood there.

It was time to leave the lab, and head out into the field. For a couple of weeks Parcak led the team as they carefully probed the ground that she had first spotted thanks to a satellite hundreds of miles away in space.

Newfoundland's climate is as brutal as ours in the British Isles with hail, gales, sweltering sun and driving rain. Exploratory trenches were flooded, equipment blew away, but they toughed it out and found something tantalising.

Months before, in her lab, Sarah had shown me an image that she thought might be the site of burning or metalwork. Sure enough, when she started to dig on the exact spot, she found something. Something that might prove to be a breakthrough. Carefully peeling back the layers of earth, she found what seemed to be a hearth.

A blackened rock testified to intense temperatures. Beneath it were piles of charcoal mixed with cooked bog iron - an iron deposit that needs to be baked to drive off impurities and allow the iron to be extracted for smelting. Surrounding the hearth appeared to be a turf wall of the kind built by Viking settlers across the North Atlantic.

"I am absolutely thrilled," says Parcak. "Typically in archaeology, you only ever get to write a footnote in the history books, but what we seem to have at Point Rosee may be the beginning of an entirely new chapter.

"This new site could unravel more secrets about the Vikings, whether they were the first Europeans to 'occupy' briefly in North America, and reveal that the Vikings dared to explore much further into the New World than we ever thought."

She immediately checked that there could be no other explanation for these deposits. Newfoundland historian Olaf Janzen was certain, no other groups of settlers roasted bog iron in Newfoundland. Nothing has been proven yet, but it looks like Parcak might have found evidence for Viking exploration in North America that goes much further than just that one site discovered in the 60s.

This find "has the potential to change history" says Douglas Bolender, an expert on Viking settlement who has spent 15 years tracking the Vikings across the north Atlantic. "Right now the simplest answer is that it looks like a small activity area, maybe connected to a larger farm that is Norse." He is excited and can't wait to see what further excavation reveals. He's hoping that seeds or other organic matter that can be carbon dated will be unearthed.

If Parcak has found evidence of another Viking site, it will ignite a new search for Viking settlements across eastern Canada and New England, perhaps as far south as New York and even beyond. Technology has unlocked long forgotten stories from our past, and that technology is getting ever more sophisticated. For those of us who are fascinated by the travels of the intrepid Norsemen, the next few years will provide ever more inspiration.


Today, forensic anthropology is a well-established discipline within the forensic field. Anthropologists are called upon to investigate remains and to help identify individuals from bones when other physical characteristics that could be used to identify a body no longer exist. Forensic anthropologists work in conjunction with forensic pathologists to identify remains based on their skeletal characteristics. If the victim is not found for a lengthy period or has been eaten by scavengers, flesh markers used for identification would be destroyed, making normal identification difficult if not impossible. Forensic anthropologists can provide physical characteristics of the person to input into missing person databases such as that of the National Crime Information Center in the US [2] or INTERPOL's yellow notice database. [3]

In addition to these duties, forensic anthropologists often assist in the investigation of war crimes and mass fatality investigations. Anthropologists have been tasked with helping to identify victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, [4] as well as plane crashes such as the Arrow Air Flight 1285 disaster [5] and the USAir Flight 427 disaster where the flesh had been vaporized or so badly mangled that normal identification was impossible. [6] Anthropologists have also helped identify victims of genocide in countries around the world, often long after the actual event. War crimes anthropologists have helped investigate include the Rwandan genocide [7] and the Srebrenica Genocide. [8] Organizations such as the Forensic Anthropology Society of Europe, the British Association for Forensic Anthropology, and the American Society of Forensic Anthropologists continue to provide guidelines for the improvement of forensic anthropology and the development of standards within the discipline.

Early history Edit

The use of anthropology in the forensic investigation of remains grew out of the recognition of anthropology as a distinct scientific discipline and the growth of physical anthropology. The field of anthropology began in the United States and struggled to obtain recognition as a legitimate science during the early years of the twentieth century. [9] Earnest Hooton pioneered the field of physical anthropology and became the first physical anthropologist to hold a full-time teaching position in the United States. [10] He was an organizing committee member of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists along with its founder Aleš Hrdlička. Hooton's students created some of the first doctoral programs in physical anthropology during the early 20th century. [11] In addition to physical anthropology, Hooton was a proponent of criminal anthropology. [12] Now considered a pseudoscience, criminal anthropologists believed that phrenology and physiognomy could link a person's behavior to specific physical characteristics. The use of criminal anthropology to try to explain certain criminal behaviors arose out of the eugenics movement, popular at the time. [13] It is because of these ideas that skeletal differences were measured in earnest eventually leading to the development of anthropometry and the Bertillon method of skeletal measurement by Alphonse Bertillon. The study of this information helped shape anthropologists' understanding of the human skeleton and the multiple skeletal differences that can occur.

Another prominent early anthropologist, Thomas Wingate Todd, was primarily responsible for the creation of the first large collection of human skeletons in 1912. In total, Todd acquired 3,300 human skulls and skeletons, 600 anthropoid skulls and skeletons, and 3,000 mammalian skulls and skeletons. [13] Todd's contributions to the field of anthropology remain in use in the modern era and include various studies regarding suture closures on the skull and timing of teeth eruption in the mandible. Todd also developed age estimates based on physical characteristics of the pubic symphysis. Though the standards have been updated, these estimates are still used by forensic anthropologists to narrow down an age range of skeletonized remains. [14] These early pioneers legitimized the field of anthropology, but it was not until the 1940s, with the help of Todd's student, Wilton M. Krogman, that forensic anthropology gained recognition as a legitimate subdiscipline.

The growth of forensic anthropology Edit

During the 1940s, Krogman was the first anthropologist to actively publicize anthropologists' potential forensic value, going as far as placing advertisements in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin informing agencies of the ability of anthropologists to assist in the identification of skeletal remains. This period saw the first official use of anthropologists by federal agencies including the FBI. During the 1950s, the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps employed forensic anthropologists in the identification of war casualties during the Korean War. [12] It was at this time that forensic anthropology officially began. The sudden influx of available skeletons for anthropologists to study, whose identities were eventually confirmed, allowed for the creation of more accurate formulas for the identification of sex, age, [15] and stature [16] based solely on skeletal characteristics. These formulas, developed in the 1940s and refined by war, are still in use by modern forensic anthropologists.

The professionalization of the field began soon after, during the 1950s and 1960s. This move coincided with the replacement of coroners with medical examiners in many locations around the country. [12] It was during this time that the field of forensic anthropology gained recognition as a separate field within the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and the first forensic anthropology research facility and body farm was opened by William M. Bass. [17] Public attention and interest in forensic anthropology began to increase around this time as forensic anthropologists started working on more high-profile cases. One of the major cases of the era involved anthropologist Charles Merbs who helped identify the victims murdered by Ed Gein. [18]

One of the main tools forensic anthropologists use in the identification of remains is their knowledge of osteology and the differences that occur within the human skeleton. During an investigation, anthropologists are often tasked with helping to determinate an individual's sex, stature, age, and ancestry. To do this, anthropologists must be aware of how the human skeleton can differ between individuals.

Determination of sex Edit

Depending on which bones are present, sex can be determined by looking for distinctive sexual dimorphisms. When available, the pelvis is extremely useful in the determination of sex and when properly examined can achieve sex determination with a great level of accuracy. [19] The examination of the pubic arch and the location of the sacrum can help determine sex.

However, the pelvis is not always present, so forensic anthropologists must be aware of other areas on the skeleton that have distinct characteristics between sexes. The skull also contains multiple markers that can be used to determine sex. Specific markers on the skull include the temporal line, the eye sockets, the supraorbital ridge, [20] as well as the nuchal lines, and the mastoid process. [21] In general, male skulls tend to be larger and thicker than female skulls, and to have more pronounced ridges. [22]

Forensic anthropologists need to take into account all available markers in the determination of sex due to the differences that can occur between individuals of the same sex. For example, a female may have a slightly more narrow than a normal pubic arch. It is for this reason that anthropologists usually classify sex as one of five possibilities: male, maybe male, indeterminate, maybe female, or female. [23] In addition, forensic anthropologists are generally unable to make a sex determination unless the individual was an adult at the time of death. The sexual dimorphisms present in the skeleton begin to occur during puberty and are not fully pronounced until after sexual maturation. [24]

Consequently, there is currently no reliable method of sex determination of juvenile remains from cranial or post-cranial skeletal elements since dimorphic traits only become apparent after puberty, and this represents a fundamental problem in archaeological and forensic investigations. However, teeth may assist in estimating sex since both sets of teeth are formed well before puberty. Sexual dimorphism has been observed in both deciduous and permanent dentition, although it is much less in deciduous teeth. [25] [26] [27] On average, male teeth are slightly larger than female teeth, with the greatest difference observed in the canine teeth. [28] [29] [30] Examination of internal dental tissues has also shown that male teeth consist of absolutely and proportionately greater quantities of dentine than females. Such differences in dental tissue proportions could also be useful in sex determination. [31] [32]

Determination of stature Edit

The estimation of stature by anthropologists is based on a series of formulas that have been developed over time by the examination of multiple different skeletons from a multitude of different regions and backgrounds. Stature is given as a range of possible values, in centimeters, and typically computed by measuring the bones of the leg. The three bones that are used are the femur, the tibia, and the fibula. [33] In addition to the leg bones, the bones of the arm, the humerus, ulna, and radius can be used. [34] The formulas that are used to determine stature rely on various information regarding the individual. Sex, ancestry, and age should be determined before attempting to ascertain height, if possible. This is due to the differences that occur between populations, sexes, and age groups. [35] By knowing all the variables associated with height, a more accurate estimate can be made. For example, a male formula for stature estimation using the femur is 2.32 × femur length + 65.53 ± 3.94 cm . A female of the same ancestry would use the formula, 2.47 × femur length + 54.10 ± 3.72 cm . [36] It is also important to note an individual's approximate age when determining stature. This is due to the shrinkage of the skeleton that naturally occurs as a person ages. After age 30, a person loses approximately one centimeter of their height every decade. [33]

Determination of age Edit

The determination of an individual's age by anthropologists depends on whether or not the individual was an adult or a child. The determination of the age of children, under the age of 21, is usually performed by examining the teeth. [37] When teeth are not available, children can be aged based on which growth plates are sealed. The tibia plate seals around age 16 or 17 in girls and around 18 or 19 in boys. The clavicle is the last bone to complete growth and the plate is sealed around age 25. [38] In addition, if a complete skeleton is available anthropologists can count the number of bones. While adults have 206 bones, the bones of a child have not yet fused resulting in a much higher number.

The aging of adult skeletons is not as straightforward as aging a child's skeleton as the skeleton changes little once adulthood is reached. [39] One possible way to estimate the age of an adult skeleton is to look at bone osteons under a microscope. New osteons are constantly formed by bone marrow even after the bones stop growing. Younger adults have fewer and larger osteons while older adults have smaller and more osteon fragments. [38] Another potential method for determining the age of an adult skeleton is to look for arthritis indicators on the bones. Arthritis will cause noticeable rounding of the bones. [40] The degree of rounding from arthritis coupled with the size and number of osteons can help an anthropologist narrow down a potential age range for the individual.

Determination of ancestry Edit

The determination of an individual's ancestry is typically grouped into three historical groups, Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Negroid. However, the use of these classifications is becoming much harder as the rate of interancestrial marriages increases and markers become less defined. [41] By measuring distances between landmarks on the skull as well as the size and shape of specific bones anthropologists can use a series of equations to estimate ancestry. Typically, the maxilla is used to help anthropologists determine an individual's ancestry due to the three basic shapes, hyperbolic, parabolic, and rounded, belonging to the three historical ancestries, Negroid, Caucasoid, and Mongoloid respectively. [42] In addition to the maxilla, the zygomatic arch and the nasal opening have been used to narrow down possible ancestry. [43] A program called FORDISC has been created that will calculate the most likely ancestry using complex mathematical formulas. [44] This program is continually updated with new information from known individuals to maintain a database of current populations and their respective measurements. Determination of ancestry is incredibly controversial but often needed for police investigations to narrow down subject pool.

Other markers Edit

Anthropologists are also able to see other markers present on the bones. Past fractures will be evident by the presence of bone remodeling but only for a certain amount of time. After around seven years, bone remodelling should make the presence of a fracture impossible to see. The examination of any fractures on the bones can potentially help determine the type of trauma they may have experienced. Cause of death is not determined by the forensic anthropologist, as they are not qualified to do so. However, they are able to determine the type of trauma experienced such as gun shot wound, blunt force, sharp force, or a mixture thereof. It is also possible to determine if a fracture occurred ante-mortem (before death), peri-mortem (at the time of death), or post-mortem (after death). Ante-mortem fractures will show signs of healing (depending on how long before death the fracture occurred) while peri- and post-mortem fractures will not. Peri-mortem fractures can incorporate quite a large range of time, as ante-mortem trauma that is unrelated directly to death may not have had time to begin the healing process. Peri-mortem fractures will usually appear clean with rounded margins and equal discolouration after death, while post-mortem breaks will appear brittle. [45] Post-mortem breaks will often be a different colour to the surrounding bone i.e. whiter as they have been exposed to taphonomic processes for a different amount of time. However, depending on how long there is between a post-mortem break and removal this may not be obvious i.e. through re-interment by a killer. Diseases such as bone cancer might be present in bone marrow samples and can help narrow down the list of possible identifications.

Forensic archaeology Edit

The term "forensic archaeology" is not defined uniformly around the world, and is therefore practiced in a variety of ways. [46]

Forensic archaeologists employ their knowledge of proper excavation techniques to ensure that remains are recovered in a controlled and forensically acceptable manner. [47] When remains are found partially or completely buried the proper excavation of the remains will ensure that any evidence present on the bones will remain intact. The difference between forensic archaeologists and forensic anthropologists is that where forensic anthropologists are trained specifically in human osteology and recovery of human remains, forensic archaeologists specialize more broadly in the processes of search and discovery. [48] In addition to remains, archaeologists are trained to look for objects contained in and around the excavation area. These objects can include anything from wedding rings to potentially probative evidence such as cigarette butts or shoe prints. [49] Their training extends further to observing context, association and significance of objects in a crime scene and drawing conclusions that may be useful for locating a victim or suspect. [50] A forensic archaeologist must also be able to utilize a degree of creativity and adaptability during times when crime scenes can not be excavated using traditional archaeological techniques. For example, one particular case study was conducted on the search and recovery of the remains of a missing girl who was found in a septic tank underground. This instance required unique methods unlike those of a typical archeological excavation in order to exhume and preserve the contents of the tank. [48]

Forensic archaeologists are involved within three main areas. Assisting with crime scene research, investigation, and recovery of evidence and/or skeletal remains is only one aspect.

Processing scenes of mass fatality or incidents of terrorism (i.e. homicide, mass graves and war crimes, and other violations of human rights) is a branch of work that forensic archaeologists are involved with as well. [48]

Forensic archaeologists can help determine potential grave sites that might have been overlooked. Differences in the soil can help forensic archaeologists locate these sites. During the burial of a body, a small mound of soil will form from the filling of the grave. The loose soil and increasing nutrients from the decomposing body encourages different kinds of plant growth than surrounding areas. Typically, grave sites will have looser, darker, more organic soil than areas around it. [51] The search for additional grave sites can be useful during the investigation of genocide and mass graves to search for additional burial locations.

One other implement to the career of a forensic archaeologist is teaching and research. Educating law enforcement, crime scene technicians and investigators, as well as undergraduate and graduate students is a critical part of a forensic archaeologist's career in order to spread knowledge of proper excavation techniques to other forensic personnel and to increase awareness of the field in general. Crime scene evidence in the past has been compromised due to improper excavation and recovery by untrained personnel. Forensic anthropologists are then unable to provide meaningful analyses on retrieved skeletal remains due to damage or contamination. [52] Research conducted to improve archaeological field methods, particularly to advance nondestructive methods of search and recovery are also important for the advancement and recognition of the field.

There is an ethical component that must be considered. The capability to uncover information about victims of war crimes or homicide may present a conflict in cases that involve competing interests. Forensic archaeologists are often contracted to assist with the processing of mass graves by larger organisations that have motives related to exposure and prosecution rather than providing peace of mind to families and communities. These projects are at times opposed by smaller, human rights groups who wish to avoid overshadowing memories of the individuals with their violent manner(s) of death. In cases like these, forensic archaeologists must practice caution and recognize the implications behind their work and the information they uncover. [53]

Forensic taphonomy Edit

The examination of skeletal remains often takes into account environmental factors that affect decomposition. Forensic taphonomy is the study of these postmortem changes to human remains caused by soil, water, and the interaction with plants, insects, and other animals. [54] In order to study these effects, body farms have been set up by multiple universities. Students and faculty study various environmental effects on the decomposition of donated cadavers. At these locations, cadavers are placed in various situations and their rate of decomposition along with any other factors related to the decomposition process are studied. Potential research projects can include whether black plastic causes decomposition to occur faster than clear plastic or the effects freezing can have on a dumped body. [55]

Forensic taphonomy is divided into two separate sections, biotaphonomy and geotaphonomy. Biotaphonomy is the study of how the environment affects the decomposition of the body. Specifically it is the examination of biological remains in order to ascertain how decomposition or destruction occurred. [56] This can include factors such as animal scavenging, climate, as well as the size and age of the individual at the time of death. Biotaphonomy must also take into account common mortuary services such as embalming and their effects on decomposition. [57]

Geotaphonomy is the examination of how the decomposition of the body affects the environment. Geotaphonomy examinations can include how the soil was disturbed, pH alteration of the surrounding area, and either the acceleration or deceleration of plant growth around the body. [56] By examining these characteristics, examiners can begin to piece together a timeline of the events during and after death. This can potentially help determine the time since death, whether or not trauma on the skeleton was a result of perimortem or postmortem activity, as well as if scattered remains were the result of scavengers or a deliberate attempt to conceal the remains by an assailant. [57]

Individuals looking to become forensic anthropologists first obtain a bachelor's degree in anthropology from an accredited university. During their studies they should focus on physical anthropology as well as osteology. In addition it is recommended that individuals take courses in a wide range of sciences such as biology, chemistry, anatomy, and genetics. [58]

Once undergraduate education is completed the individual should proceed to graduate level courses. Typically, forensic anthropologists obtain doctorates in physical anthropology and have completed coursework in osteology, forensics, and archaeology. It is also recommended that individuals looking to pursue a forensic anthropology profession get experience in dissection usually through a gross anatomy class as well as useful internships with investigative agencies or practicing anthropologists. [1] Once educational requirements are complete one can become certified by the forensic anthropology society in the region. This can include the IALM exam given by the Forensic Anthropology Society of Europe [59] or the certification exam given by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology. [60]

Typically, most forensic anthropologists perform forensic casework on a part-time basis, however there are individuals who work in the field full-time usually with federal or international agencies. Forensic anthropologists are usually employed in academia either at a university or a research facility. [61]

Like other forensic fields, forensic anthropologists are held to a high level of ethical standards due to their work in the legal system. Individuals who purposefully misrepresent themselves or any piece of evidence can be sanctioned, fined, or imprisoned by the appropriate authorities depending on the severity of the violation. Individuals who fail to disclose any conflict of interests or who fail to report all of their findings, regardless of what they may be, can face disciplinary actions. [62] It is important that forensic anthropologists remain impartial during the course of an investigation. Any perceived bias during an investigation could hamper efforts in court to bring the responsible parties to justice. [63]

In addition to the evidentiary guidelines forensic anthropologists should always keep in mind that the remains they are working with were once a person. If possible, local customs regarding dealing with the dead should be observed and all remains should be treated with respect and dignity.

Archaeological Dating

“It is a religion of science that Darwinism chiefly held, and holds men’s minds. ” —*Encounter, November p. 48 (1959).

“Therefore, a grotesque account of a period some thousands of years ago is taken seriously though it be built by piling special assumptions on special assumptions, ad hoc hypothesis [invented for a purpose] on ad hoc hypothesis, and tearing apart the fabric of science whenever it appears convenient. The result is a fantasia which is neither history nor science.” —*James Conant, quoted in Origins Research, Vol. S, no. 2, 1982, p. 2. [Chemist and former president, Harvard University.]

“The doctrine of evolution is a newly invented system, a newly conceived doctrine, a newly formed dogma, a new rising belief, which places itself over against the Christian faith, and can only found its temple on the ruins of our Christian confession.” —Dr. Abraham Kuyper, “Evolution, ” speech delivered in 1899.

Creationist books are deeply concerned with vindicating the Genesis 1 six-day Creation of our world, and the Genesis 6-9 Flood and its effects. Throughout this set of books, we have consistently observed that the scientific evidence abundantly confirms both of those great historic facts.

But there is another aspect which is generally neglected: the historic dating of the centuries which followed the Flood. Although it is not well known, secular humanists have ignored or misinterpreted evidence in order to push ancient history back thousands of years. The objective has been to contradict Biblical dating in order to undermine confidence in all that the Scriptures have to say.

The key lies in Near Eastern dating, for after the Flood people first multiplied in the Fertile Crescent, and from there migrated to Egypt. The earliest dates in history are found in Egypt. All archaeological dating is based on certain conclusions made about Egyptian dates.

In this study, we will examine the field of Near Eastern and archaeological dating, and in the process will find that an immense cover-up has taken place. As a result, the archaeological discoveries made in Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and the Mediterranean Islands an misdated and misinterpreted. Because secular humanists control a majority of the exploratory funds, the research digs, and the written reports summarizing conclusions drawn from those digs, archaeological evidence since the mid-20th century is being used to undermine confidence in Biblical facts!

Obviously, this is a topic you will want to understand more clearly. Although we will not be directly discussing evolution or creation, yet we will be concerned with a close ramification of the larger humanist cover-up of scientific facts, carried out to annihilate confidence in the Bible, and in its statements about the Flood and Creation.


IMPORTANCE OF ARCHAEOLOGY—Over the years, archaeology has provided us with remarkable insights into the past. In 1748 Italian farmers discovered the site of Pompeii. In 1799 during Napoleon’s occupation of Egypt, a French officer found the Rosette Stone containing a lengthy message in three ancient languages. In 1842 Paul Botta began excavations at Nineveh and Khorsabad. In 1871 Heinrich Schliemann found the site of Troy. In 1876 Schliemann discovered the royal tombs at Mycenae in the Mediterranean. In 1894 Sir Flinders Petrie excavated the first predynastic cemetery in Egypt. In 1990 Sir Arthur Evans began work at Knossos, capital of the ancient Minoan civilization on the island of Crete. In 1922 Howard Carter found the tomb of King Tut (Tutankhamon) in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. In 1926 Sir Leonard Wooley uncovered the royal cemetery at Ur in Iraq (ancient Babylonia). In 1947 an Arab shepherd found the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls in a cave near Jericho.

In chapter Ancient Man, we dealt at length on evidence indicating that the earliest instances of human civilization always occurred in the Near East. Such evidence is mute testimony to the fact that the Ark came to rest near there. (The “mountains of Ararat” of Genesis 8:4, 16 were but a short distance northwest of the Fertile Crescent.) Experts in the study of ancient writings have found that the earliest king lists are also to be found in that general area, which includes Egypt.

However, we will find in this study that a systematic misinterpretation of Near Eastern dating has played a key roll in the present archaeological problem. Discoveries are applied to incorrect time periods.

“If there is a major error in Egyptian chronology, it is obvious that the archaeological record of Biblical history has been misinterpreted. A notable link between Egyptian and Israelite histories is at the time of the Exodus and, significantly, difficulties in interpreting the archaeological evidence have been recognized for years.

“The Encyclopedia of Christianity has an article on ‘Biblical Archaeology’ which indicates that the positive evidences of the Exodus and the settlement of the Israelites in Palestine are totally lacking. Summarizing the Egyptian evidence [for the Exodus and Conquest]:’.. we cannot be certain’ and ‘when we look at the evidence from Palestine, it is again inconclusive.’ Professor MacRae concludes this section of his article with these words: ‘Some new discovery may make the matter absolutely final, but up to the present, it must be considered a question on which we do not have sufficient light.’ However, this absence of any solid, positive evidence is incompatible with the Biblical record. The Exodus was a catastrophe for Egypt: economically, politically and militarily. The Scriptures declare it to be a judgment upon that nation.” —David J. Tyler, “Radio Calibration—Revised, ” in Creation Research Society Quarterly, June 1978, p. 21. [Quotation from A.A. MacRae, “Biblical Archaeology,” in Encyclopedia of Christianity, Vol. 2 (167).J

Archaeological facts do indeed fit Scripture when the right dating is used the problem is the insidious way in which the humanists have taken over Near Eastern archaeological work—and have carefully altered the dating system so events in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia will not fit the Old Testament account.

ANDREW WHITE—The attempt to wed archaeology to the Darwinist attack began in earnest with Andrew Dixon White in 1896. A fervent Darwinist, he had spent years collecting data in an effort to disprove Christian beliefs in a variety of areas. In that year he published his large two-volume work, History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. Vol. 1, chapter 6 was entitled, “The Antiquity of Man, Egyptology, and Assyriology.” This marked the first forceful effort to link the Darwinist biological attack, with an attempt to show that human civilizations reach back beyond the dates given in Genesis for the Flood and Creation.

But even before Andrew White’s time, other men had suggested older dates for the earliest civilization known: Egypt, in spite of this, it is of interest that, with the passing of time, the estimated earliest dates have gradually lowered.

—The very earliest Egyptian date would be the one assigned to the beginning of its first dynasty. Menes was the first king. Cerem, in his Gods, Graves, and Scholars, tells us that the date assigned to that earliest Egyptian event, as estimated by several scholars, has gradually lowered with the passing of time: Champollian – 5867 B.C. / Lesueur -5770 B.C. / Bokh – 5702 B.C. / Unger – 5613 B.C. / Mariette – 5004 B.C. / Brugsch – 4455 B.C. / Lauth – 4157 B.C. / Chabas – 4000 B.C. / Lapsius – 3890 B.C. / Bunsen – 3623 B.C. / Breasted – 3400 B.C. / George Steindorff – 3200 B.C. / Eduard Meyer – 3180 B.C. / Wilkinson -2320 B.C. / Palmer – 2224 B.C.

At the present time that earliest of Egyptian dates is considered to be c. 3100 B.C., with some considering 2900 B.C. still better.

“In the course of a single century’s research, the earliest date in Egyptian history—that of Egypt’s unification under King Menes—has plummeted from 5876 to 2900 B.C. and not even the latter year has been established beyond doubt. Do we, in fact, have any firm dates at all?” —Johannes Lehmann, The Hittites (1977), p. 204.

DATE OF CREATION AND THE FLOOD—It should be mentioned at this point that the date of the six-day Creation Week is variously estimated by creationists as somewhere between 4000 and 8000 B.C. As a result of the evidence presented in this series of books, the present writer places it at approximately 4000 B.C. 4004 B.C. would make it 4,000 years before the birth of Christ.

The date of the Flood is variously set at 2300 to 4500 B.C. As a result of the evidence presented in this book, the present writer places It at 2348 B.C.

Admittedly, both dates are very conservative yet they are in harmony both with the evidence and the Bible, which is the most accurate ancient historical record known to mankind. 2348 B.C. would be equivalent to 1656 A.M. (anno mundo, or about 1,656 years after Creation.

Within a century after the Flood ended, Egypt could have been entered and its first kingdom established.

IN THE HANDS OF HUMANISTS—As we shall learn later in this study, the entire structure of Egyptian dating continues to be based on a few assumptions that place those dates too far into the past. Because nearly all Near Eastern archaeological findings are keyed to a system of assumed Egyptian dates, those archaeological conclusions lack the historical veracity they ought to have.

“Scholars have been compelled, because of more recent evidence, to revise the date for the beginning of the dynastic period to dates in the era 3300-2850 B.C. The error in the earlier dating of Mena [Menes, the first king of Egypt] and the beginning of the dynastic period amounts to something over 2,000 years . .

“Worthy of note is the fact that all of the 2,000-year correction of the date for Mena was made by condensing the period previously allotted to the first eleven Egyptian dynasties. This strange type of correction was necessary because of the assumed ‘fixity’ of the date for the beginning of Dynasty XII.

“But if an error of 2,000 years or more was made in assigning elapsed time for the first eleven dynasties, then what confidence is to be placed in a chronology for the subsequent period for which no error was recognized? This error is greater than for the total period of Egypt’s history from the XIIth Dynasty to the fall of Egypt to the Persians in 525 B.C.

“In point of fact, the currently accepted date, c. 2000 B.C., for the beginning of Dynasty XII is not fixed, astronomically or by any other means! The combined inability of modern scholars to devise a satisfactory chronology of antiquity may be traced to this error of assumed fixation of certain dates. This ‘fixation’ is on the same level as is the assumed ‘factual’ nature of evolution.” —D.A. Courville, “Evolution and Archaeological Interpretation,” in Creation Research Society Quarterly, June 1974, pp. 49-50.

You may not know it, but it is no secret to the experts that modern archaeology is in the hands of secular humanists. A statement issued by a prominent archaeological society spelled it out clearly enough. By mutual agreement, their minds are closed:

“The basic dilemma in “historical Jesus” research is not any complexus of technical problems but rather the seeming incompatibility between intellectual honesty and traditional Christian belief.” —Statement issued by the Society of Biblical Literature, 1969.

The Bible, as a genuine historical book containing correct facts, is frequently denied by such organizations.

—In reality, the Bible is the oldest historical book in the world and archaeologists ought to value its insights. The limitations that the field of archaeology labors under are such that archaeologists need all the help they can obtain from literary sources. Here are eleven fundamental problems of modern archaeology:

(1) Excavations are time consuming. At the present rate of accomplishment, the excavation of just one important Biblical site, Hazor, will require 800 years to complete.

(2) Normally only a very small section of an entire site can be excavated, and very little of that is dug down to the bedrock.

(3) The findings are lopsided. The most important discoveries are never made—because they have burned or rotted away.

(4) Even those rare discoveries of documents are often not openable or in languages not readable.

(5) Even generously assuming that one-fourth of the sites have been excavated, and one-fourth of their findings published,—we have less than one-twentieth of the potential archaeological evidence that could be had. But, in reality, hardly more than 200 of the more than 5,000 sites in Israel and Jordan have been excavated, and less than 50 of these can be considered to have been major digs. Less than one percent of the sites in Mesopotamia have been excavated, and only two sites in Israel have been totally excavated (Masada and Zumrun).

(6) Sometimes archaeologists do not know where they are digging and thus misinterpret the results (note Heshbon).

(7) At other times, preconceived opinions keep the archaeologists from the truth. Because it was assumed that Moab and Ammon could not have existed as early as the time of the Exodus/Conquest, all digs in those areas were misinterpreted. (More recent investigations have concluded that sites in those areas may be much older than formerly believed).

(8) Then there is the problem of publication and argumentation! One only need subscribe for a short time to Biblical Archaeology Review to learn two important facts: [1] Less than 5 percent of the excavated documents are published within 10 years time most will never meet printer’s ink. [2] The experts spend far too much time belittling one another’s achievements, arguing over conclusions, and even verbally attacking one another’s workmanship and character!

(9) Uniformitarian thinking prevails in archaeological digs. It has been theorized that a layer of sediment four feet think must have taken twice as long to lay down as a layer two feet thick.

(10) Anyone conversant with archaeology knows about the extreme importance to archaeology of pottery dating, but what is not generally realized is that pottery dates are based on Egyptian dating—and those dates, in turn, are based on erroneous assumptions. Yet, publicly, it is said with deep assurance that pottery can pinpoint Near Eastern dates to within 50 to 100 years. (Some say 10 to 20 years.) But this assumes arbitrary time schedules for pottery style changes, that they change infrequently, and, as soon as they change, are found throughout most of the Near East.

“Since Egyptian chronology is now fixed within a decade a two for the Middle Bronze and Late Bronze Ages, our dates are approximately certain wherever we can establish a good correlation with Egyptian cultural history . . thanks to [Egyptian] scarabs and inscriptional evidence.” —William F. Allbright, The Archaeology of Palestine (1984), p. 84.

Dr. Adnan Hadidi, Director of Antiquities of Jordan, made the following statement in 1970:

“It is a strange anomaly that pottery of the Middle and Late Bronze Ages, can in Palestine at any rate be dated by its contexts to within 25 or 50 years with reasonable accuracy, whereas as soon as the [later and] far better-known Roman period is reached, a couple of centuries seems to be the closest limit one can hope for.” —Adnan Hadidi, Annual of Department of Antiquities, XV (1970).

(11) Last, but not least, it is the director of the dig and those funding him that decide what the conclusions will be.

“There would be many different interpretations of a 5-meter square [the standard unit of excavation at a dig], if the director did not always have the final say in the excavation report.” —J. Maxwell Miller, Approaches to the Bible Through History and Archaeology (1982), p. 213.

One reason for this is the need to agree with the ideology of the funding organization. Another is to present a single conclusion in the hope that it will less likely be controverted. But frequently that hope is in vain, for controverted it will be anyway by archaeologists in other universities.

“I decided that it was a disgraceful situations reflection on our much-vaunted modern methods—to allow a major, well-published city wall system [at Gezar] to remain in such dispute that authorities could vary by as much as twelve hundred years on the question of its date, not to mention its interpretation.” —William G. Dever, quoted in “The Sad Case of Tell Gazer, ” Biblical Archaeology Review, 9(4):42 (1983), p. 42.

This terrible clash of expertise over such matters as Gezer continues on, with no unanimity in sight. Yet, in the case of Gezer, the walls of that ancient city were almost entirely excavated to their base! Lots of pottery was found, and a wealth of other finds. But opinions as to the dating of its wall system varies by as much as a thousand years!

THE WALLS OF JERICHO—What does that have to say about the walls of Jericho? Garstang’s earlier excavation of Jericho discovered they had “fallen flat outward.” He dated them to the time of Joshua’s attack of the city as recorded in Joshua 6. Garstang also found that that level of Jericho, when the wall fell flat, was thicker than usual and burned. What obviously happened was that, instead of looting the city, it had been set afire. This would make a larger tell level than normal (you will recall that Achan was the only one who took some of the loot). Thus, the excavation of Jericho perfectly fitted the Biblical record in every way.

But then the humanists gained control of archaeological digs.

When Kathleen Kenyon began her dig at Jericho in the 1950s, she dug a small slice—and authoritatively announced that Garstang was wrong the walls dated to a time that could not possibly fit the Bible account. But Kenyon’s dates were based on Egyptian dating assumptions. Why do scholars accept Kenyon’s opinion of Jericho’s wall dates as so very accurate, when the issue of Gezer’s walls continues on in such disarray?

“I have personally heard one of Kenyon’s students (now a world-recognized scholar in archaeology) openly scoff at Kenyon’s highly subjective decisions during the Jericho excavations. Thus, the interpretation is not as conclusive as many writers would have us believe, but it fits very well into a humanist conception of the Jericho story.” —Erech A. von Fange, “A Review of Problems Confronting Biblical Archaeology,” in Creation Research Society Quarterly, December 1986, p. 95.

An excavated mud brick wall in the city of Jericho

“Kathleen Kenyon, the founder of modern scientific archaeology around the mid-20th century, was characterized by Mendenhall (1981) as one who gathered infinite amounts of useless detail, and who ignored the value of texts in shedding light on the past. Her excavations covered too tiny a slice, carried out endless elaboration, and never got to any real results or relationships. She was blinded by the trees and never saw the forest. This rather unkind critique stemmed from his work under her supervision at Jericho, the excavation that won for her top rank in scientific archaeology!” —Op. cit., p. 94.

LOCATION AND DATING OF SODOM—When it came to the excavation of a tell on the south end of the Dead Sea, there was great anxiety regarding whether or not it should be identified as ancient Sodom. The implications of that particular Biblical story being true would not be good for our liberal modern world, with its acceptance of practices such as those conducted in Sodom.

“I personally cannot free myself from the suspicion that the dating of some of Bab edh-dhra pottery [the possible site of ancient Sodom] was a result of wishful thinking rather than real fact finding. The ‘Cities of the Plain’ had to be found in a certain era in a certain area . . The weakness [of the argument] is not the biblical patriarchs, but the assumed chronology in which the archaeological facts are made to fit one way or another.” —William C. van Hattem, “Once Again: Sodom and Gomorrah, ” in Biblical Archaeology (1981), p. 87.

Biblical history is strong enough to stand alone, without archaeological corroboration. But it would be useful if it could have it. Mendenhall expresses his concern:

“Unless Biblical history is to be relegated to the domain of unreality and myth, the Biblical and the archaeological must be correlated.” —George Mendenhall, The Tenth Generation (1974), p. 4.

It is clear from what we have already said that Egyptian chronology is a key to the whole problem. Let us now turn our attention to it.


It all began with Manetho. The history of ancient Egypt was first arranged in 31 dynasties by a third century A.D. Egyptian priest named Manetho (c. 300-250 B.C.). Manetho wrote at a time when the Greeks ruled the world and Egypt was a subjugated nation. In preparing his extensive king lists, Manetho determined to prove that Egypt, too, had greatness. In fact, his lists indicated that Egyptian history reached back farther than any other nation.

All that we have from Manetho are those king lists. His other writings have only been preserved in a few quotations in other ancient documents. The fact that there are two conflicting copies of his king lists only adds to the problem. Barton of the University of Pennsylvania discusses the vexing puzzle:

“The number of years assigned to each [Egyptian] king, and consequently the length of time covered by the dynasties, differ in these two copies, so that, while the work of Manetho forms the backbone of our chronology, it gives us no absolutely reliable chronology.” —George A. Barton, Archaeology and the Bible, p. 11.

Two copies that do not agree with one another is problem enough. Another is Manetho’s concern to show the greatness of Egypt. We have reason to believe that he stretched the lists out to indicate more time than should be assigned to them. Whether or not he invented a few kings cannot be known, but, assuming they are all genuine, a number of Egyptologists think that Manetho’s lists dealt not with a single dynasty—but with two different ones that reigned simultaneously in upper and lower Egypt. This would markedly reduce the Manetho dates.

IS MANETHO RELIABLE?—Manetho’s king lists supply us with dates that are older than those of any other dating records anywhere in the world. But there are a number of scholars who believe that

1. the lists deal with two simultaneously-reigning sets of kings,
2. that they are not numerically accurate, and
3. that Manetho fabricated names, events, numbers, and history, as did many other ancient Egyptian Pharoahs and historians.

It is an interesting fact that ancient Egyptian writers always tended to slant information in a way to magnify the greatness of their rulers and nation. For example, it is well-known among archaeologists and Egyptologists that ancient Egyptian monuments and records invariably gloated over military victories and never mentioned defeats.

With such a background, can Manetho be trusted to provide us with the basic keystone chronology that all modern archaeological excavation is based upon?

It is of interest that Manetho, living about 250 B.C., prepared a king list that apparently no one else had made beforehand. At least, his is the only such complete Egyptian king list that has been recovered. We would hope that he had an unusually accurate grasp of history to have prepared such a document. One of his other statements dealt with an event that occurred earlier in Egyptian history. We can observe from it that Manetho either had no clear understanding of historical facts, or he prevaricated in order to heighten the glory of Egypt’s past.

“Manetho, an Egyptian historian of the third century B.C., as reported by Josephus, tells us that the Exodus was due to the desire of the Egyptians to protect themselves from a plague that had broken out among the destitute and enslaved Jews, and that Moses was an Egyptian priest who went as a missionary among the Jewish ‘lepers.’ ” —Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage (1935), pp. 301-302.

Was there anything that Manetho was right about?

“The little town of Jebus, the ‘Salem’ of Genesis 14, and the ‘Urusalim’ (City of Peace) of the letters of Ebed-Hapi, its governor, to his overlord, Amenophis IV, Pharoah of Egypt, which were found among the Tellel-Amarna tablets, had been a military stronghold from time immemorial. Manetho, the Egyptian priest-historian, who lived in the third century B.C., claimed that Jebus was founded by the Hyksos when they were driven out of Egypt. Excavations at Jerusalem, however, prove Manetho in error, as there was evidently a town there as early as 2000 B.C., or at least four hundred years before the Hyksos were driven out of Egypt . . The Jebusites were of Amorite-Hittite extraction, taking their name from the ‘jebus’ (threshing floor) that loomed above their tiny town [to the north, on what later became the Temple site]. Ezekiel, upbraiding Jerusalem, tells her: ‘Thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite.’ Ezekiel 16:3.” —James C. Muir, His Truth Endweth (1937), p. 127.

One of the most fundamental assumptions of modern Egyptologists is that the 31 dynasties of Manetho (with one exception) are consecutive and non-overlapping. Two men challenged that theory, but in different ways.


VELIKOVSKY’S STUDIES—Born in Russian in 1895, Immanuel Velikovsky received a medical degree from the University of Moscow and studied psychoanalysis in Vienna under Wilhelm Stikel, one of Freud’s disciples. After practicing psychoanalysis from 1924 to 1939, Velikovsky became interested in ancient history and spent the rest of his life studying into Egyptian and Near Eastern history. A brilliant researcher, Velikovsky wanted to solve the puzzle of ancient dating.

Famed Egyptologist James Breasted wrote in 1927 about Manetho’s list:

“[The chronology of Manetho was] a late, careless, and uncritical compilation, the dynastic totals of which can be proven wrong from the contemporary monuments in the vast majority of cases, where such monuments have survived. Its dynastic totals are so absurdly high throughout, that they are not worthy of a moment’s credence, being often nearly or quite double the maximum drawn from contemporary monuments, and they will not stand the slightest careful criticism. Their accuracy is now maintained only by a small and constantly decreasing number of modern scholars.” —*James H. Breasted. History of Ancient Egyptians (1927), p. 26.

That statement was made by one of the leading Egyptologists of his time,—but before the humanists took over the fields of Egyptology and archaeology a decade later, and used Manetho’s king lists as a handy means of rejecting Biblical chronology. As a result of his own studies, Velikovsky spoke even more strongly about Manetho’s list, calling it “a most confused and deliberately extended and misleading list” (I. Velikovsky, Ramses II and His Time (1978), p. 26). He also said this:

“In composing his history of Egypt and putting together a register of its dynasties, Manetho was guided by the desire to prove to the Greeks, the masters of his land, that the Egyptian people and culture were much older than theirs and also older than the Babylonian nation and civilization.” —I. Velikovsky, Peoples of the Sea (1977), p. 207.

THE BIBLE INSTEAD OF MANETHO—Instead of slavishly patterning his dating studies to match those of Manetho, Velikovsky turned instead to the largest and oldest ancient history book in the world—the Bible. Fortunately, there are so many thousands of partial or complete early copies of this book that we can compare the various manuscripts and know that we have essentially the very words that were originally written in that volume of 66 books. We have both strong internal as well as external evidence that the Bible is extremely trustworthy.

Very early in his research, Velikovsky notice a strange oddity: Although the Bible recorded many contacts between Egypt and Israel, yet modern mid-20th century historical and archaeological students could not locate any of them! This was indeed peculiar. Checking further, Velikovsky discovered that the problem centered on Manetho’s king lists history was being rewritten to fit Manetho, and in the process, dates were pushed centuries into the past. The result was that, with one exception, Bible events and chronologies were hopeless out of step with the scholars who keyed their timing to Manetho. (That one exception, by the way was the 22nd-24th (Lybian) dynasties, extending down into the 25th (Ethiopian) dynasty. A primary reason for that was that Tirhakah, the third Pharoah of the 25th dynasty, is mentioned, not only in the Bible (2 Kings 19 Isaiah 37), but also in eighth century Assyrian inscriptions. Once again, a non-Biblical source—in this case an Assyrian inscription—was assumed to have more accuracy than a Biblical source. Because an Assyrian said it, the scholars could therefore accept it as true.

Disgusted with the problems in Manetho, Velikovsky struck out on his own and used the Bible as the basis for rewriting the dates of history. He eventually published three major books (Ages in Chaos [1952], Peoples of the Sea [1977], and Ramses II and His Time [1978]). We do not have time here to detail his conclusions but you will find them of interest.

COURVILLE’S STUDIES—In 1956, a biochemist professor at Loma Linda University in southern California, Donovan A. Courville, read Ages in Chaos, and began researching into ancient history also. Fifteen years later he published his monumental Exodus Problem and Its Ramifications (1971).

Velikovsky’s reconstructed datings began at the close of the Middle Kingdom in Egypt. Courville agreed with Velikovsky that the Exodus occurred at the end of the Middle Kingdom (about 1450 B.C.) In fact, both concluded that it was the catastrophe of the ten plagues that brought about an end to the Middle Kingdom and ushered in the Second Intermediate Period, when Egypt was ruled for a time by foreigners—the Hyksos.

Courville also agreed with Velikovsky in his dating of the 18th dynasty, but there were differences between them for some of the later periods. Both agreed that the end of the Middle Kingdom was closer to the present by about 350 years.

But Courville went back beyond Velikovsky in his chronological analysis, all the way back, in fact, to Egypt’s first dynasty. As mentioned earlier, one of the fundamental assumptions of modern Near Eastern scholars is that the 31 dynasties of Manetho (with one exception) are consecutive and non-overlapping. Courville spent years in research, and in his book presented a wealth of evidence showing that many of those dynasties occurred simultaneously with one another, and only represented contemporary rulers over different parts of Egypt. Courville’s research studies provide us with one of the best ancient chronologies available. It is also in very close agreement with that book which contains the oldest and most accurate historical records available to mankind: the Bible. Here are a few of his conclusions regarding the Egyptian dynasties:

Dynasties 1-2 and 3-5 were both consecutive and represented two different local Egyptian kings ruling at the same time as the other. Dynasties 7-10 and 14-17 were also contemporaneous so also were 20-23 and 24-26.

The result is that the “Old Kingdom” occurred at the same time as the “Middle Kingdom, ” rather than preceding it by 400-500 years. Thus, the “First Intermediate Period” and the “Second Intermediate Period” were also contemporary with one another.

Courville’s careful analysis produced a major reduction in the duration of Egypt’s dynastic history, and a placement of its first double-ruler dynasty at around 2150 B.C., which would be approximately 200-350 years after the Flood, according to whichever date one would wish to apply to that event. (From his own studies, the present writer would place the Flood at c. 2348 B.C.)

Let us now consider events after the Flood which led to the founding of Egypt:


DESCENT TO MESOPOTAMIA—According to the evidence we now have, at the termination of the Flood (Genesis ti-9), the eight occupants of the Ark descended from “the mountains of Ararat” (Genesis 8:4,16) in what is now eastern Turkey, to the lower altitude and warmer plains of Mesopotamia. We find there the earliest records of animal husbandry, farming, mining, metalworking, cities, and written records. (See chapter Age of the Earth, and chapter Ancient Man, for supportive quotations.) Here is one scholar’s view of that early time in Mesopotamia when—suddenly and dramatically with no degenerate culture leading up to it, highly intelligent and active agricultural, animal husbandry, and small-city culture flowered rapidly there:

“Consider these comments taken passim [here and there] from Reed (1977) in Origins of Agriculture: . . If village life is to be correlated with an increase in population as I believe we must accept, then the arc of hills from western Iran through northern Iraq, and southwestern Turkey, down through Palestine and western Jordan almost to the Red Sea was sprouting villages. In each such village a group would depart and found a new village. Whatever the factors, plant agriculture did arrive in the Near East, and with such a rush and such a rapid spread that we are amazed.” —Erech von Fange, Creation Research Society Quarterly, December 1986, p. 97.

THE TOWER OF BABEL—Some time after that, the Tower of Babel incident (Genesis 11) would have occurred in Mesopotamia. Here is how a Near Eastern text describes it:

“. . Babylon corruptly to sin went and small and great mingled on the mound . . . Their [work] all day they founded, to their stronghold in the night entirely an end he made. In his anger also the secret counsel he poured out to scatter [abroad] his face he set, he gave a command to make strange their speech . . Violently they wept for Babylon, very much they wept.” —Ancient Babylonian text, quoted in A.H. Sayce, Records of the Past (1948), p. 131.

That ancient record is describing the archtypical “fall of Babylon”—the first fall—when on the Babylonian plains the Tower of Babel was destroyed.

The “division” mentioned in Genesis 10:25 may well have referred to the world-wide dispersion after the tower was shattered. This would date that event about one century after the Flood. Would that have been enough time for a sizable population to result? Courville suggests that the descendents of the eight who left the Ark could have produced 10 million inhabitants within two centuries.

“On the basis of the stated rapid increase in population [Genesis 9:1.7], on the basis that three generations may be allowed to a century [Genesis 12:11 ff], and on the basis of the stated longevity of life in that era [Genesis 12:11ff], multiplication of the population by a factor of ten per generation is not at all improbable. The population could increase to 10,000,000 during a period of two centuries.” —Donovan A. Courville, “Evolution and Archaeological Interpretation,” in Creation Research Society Quarterly, June 1974, pp. 50-51.

On that basis, one century leading down to the “division” of Genesis 10:25 could have produced a sizable population.

MIGRATION TO EGYPT—The large number of people, gathered to make the tower the heart of a major world center, scattered when it was destroyed. Immediately a sizable migration into Egypt occurred—and that brought with it something that astounds modern students of ancient Egyptian history: a full-blown civilization suddenly sprang up in Egypt with next to no human activity really there beforehand.

“One of the issues that concerns modern Egyptologists is the origin of Egypt’s dynastic civilization. Walter Emery, professor of Egyptology at the University of London, makes the following three points:

“(1) The cultural connection between Egypt and Mesopotamia at the [very] beginning of Egypt’s dynastic history is beyond dispute and is generally accepted by scholars. One example is the Narmer Palette from Egypt’s first dynasty which displays unmistakable Mesopotamian influence.

“(2) Dynastic civilization appeared suddenly in Egypt. There is no [gradual] development from a more primitive pre-dynastic culture to the highly developed dynastic culture.

“(3) In contrast to Egypt, there is a period of cultural development in Mesopotamia from a prehistoric culture to a dynastic type of civilization.

“These three points suggest that the beginning of Egypt’s dynastic history is due to a population movement from Mesopotamia to the Nile valley which carried with it the more advanced culture.” —Stan F. Vaninger, “Archaeology and the Antiquity of Ancient Civilization-Part 1” in Creation Research Society Quarterly, June 1985, p. 38.

The Tower of Babel event is not dated in the Bible record, but it is clear that it came after the Flood and before the birth of Abraham. Speaking of the sudden, immense cultural activity that sprouted up out of nowhere in Mesopotamia, and the consequent, sudden migration to Egypt, Albright said this:

“There must have been an exceedingly intensive transfusion of culture going on in the Near and Middle East. Syria and Palestine naturally became the cultural intermediaries through which Mesopotamian influences streamed into Egypt in the period before the first dynasty.” —William F. Albright, Archaeology of Palestine (1971), pp. 7172.

Here is archaeological data on this dramatic migration that occurred at that time:

“That there occurred, late in the predynastic period, an extensive migration of peoples out of Mesopotamia into the surrounding areas of Anatolia, Syrophoenicia, Palestine, Egypt and even into the islands of the Mediterranean is clearly detectable archaeologically. The migration can be dated to the so-called Jemdet Nasr cultured of Mesopotamia, a culture that had but a brief duration.

“The migration is evidenced by the appearance of this culture in widely scattered areas. This wide-spread cultural change is taken as the basis for marking the beginning of the Early Bronze Age just before the beginning of the [Egyptian] dynastic period . .

“It is at this very point that the evidences, of an intensive migration from Mesopotamia into surrounding areas are to be found . . According to archaeological evidence, at this time, the beginnings of numerous cities in Palestine are a reflection of an extensive migration:

“‘And there can be little doubt but that the new city [Jericho] was founded and fortified by a people migrating either from further north in response to pressure from beyond, or from Mesopotamia itself.’ ” —Donovan A. Courville, “Evolution and Archaeological Interpretation,” in Creation Research Society Quarterly, June 1974, pp. 54.

New evidence has surfaced that when those initial migrations occurred after the Flood, the group that went down into Africa stayed there, while the other migrants spread out to all the other continents. That is no earthshaking news, but here is the evidence for it:

It has been discovered that the genetic blueprint, the DNA in the cell nucleus, is inherited 50/50 from the mother and father, but there is some non-genetic DNA outside the nucleus, within the cell mitochondria. That DNA is inherited only from the mother. Analysis of mitochondrial DNA from women on various locations in the world indicate that women in Africa have one type, and all other women have a slightly different type. It appears that mitochondrial DNA mutates ten times faster than nuclear DNA.

TROPICAL NEAR EAST—As the Flood ended, there was so much volcanic action from the breakup of the earth as its water geysered out (Genesis a:11), that dust in the air brought rapid cooling and an ice age in northern areas. (See chapter Effects of the Flood.) For this reason, those leaving the Ark went, not northward, but southward to what was then a sub-tropical, well-watered and fertile paradise: Mesopotamia, and thence into Egypt. We now know that at some earlier time tropical fruits and plants grew all over the Near East and most of North Africa. Centuries later, as the climate warmed, sands blew in and crowded Egypt to within a few miles of the edge of the Nile River.

NAMES OF NOAH’S DESCENDENTS—It is of interest that, although much of the population scattered outward in every direction after the tower incident, they left behind the names of those first descendents of Noah’s son, Shem:

“In Upper Mesopotamia, remnants of occupational sites have been found that bear names that are recognizably derived from the names Peleg, Arphaxad, Serug, Torah, Haran and Nahor [Genesis 10:10-32]. All these names occur in the lineage of Noah to the time of Abraham.” —Ibid. (See also G.E. Mendenhall, “Marl and the Patriarchs, ” in Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 11, p. 16 [1948].)

In addition, another descendent of Noah is said to have been the founder of Egypt, and possibly its first king:

“According to the Genesis accounts, Mizraim [Genesis 10:13-14] was a grandson of Noah and hence of the same generation as Arphaxad who was also a grandson of Noah. While the age of Mizraim at death is not given, Arphaxad is stated to have lived to an age of 402 years. Granting even half this age to Mizraim, he could have been alive still at the time of the dispersion into Egypt, just before the dynastic period. Egypt and the Egyptians were named by the Hebrews after Mizraim, and legendary evidence, cited by early historians of the Christian era, has been used to identity Mena as the Mizraim of Scripture:

” ‘ . . Mestraim was indeed the founder of the Egyptian race, and from him the first Egyptian dynasty must be held to spring . . The memory also of the Mesraites is preserved in their name for we, who inhabit this country [Palestine], called Egypt Mestre, and the Egyptians Mestraeans.’

“Whether the identification is correct or not, it would seem that Mizraim did not belong to an era ending millenniums before the dynastic period.” —Op. cit., pp. 54-55. (Quoting Flavius Josephus, Book 1, Chapter 8: see also Manetho’s statement quoted in W.G. Waddell, Manetho (1958), p. 9.1


THE RADIOCARBON COVER-UP—There are additional important facets of the problem in Egyptian dating that need to be discussed, but for a moment we shall turn our attention to one aspect which, by itself, has become a massive cover-up operation: the C-14 problem. However, we should recognize there is a special reason for the cover-up: As long as ancient Near Eastern chronology is kept out-of-step with Biblical chronology, the scholarly world can be taught that all Biblical history is little better than worthless.

“As prehistory is made continuous with [preceding that of] recorded history, a problem of ancient chronology exerts a crippling effect on both the study of the Old Testament and on ancient history in general. Evidence is accumulating rapidly that Egyptian chronology is off by as much as 500-600 years. Since most scholars calibrate Old Testament events and the history of other ancient cultures by Egyptian dates, the effect is devastating, crippling, and stifling.” —Erech von Fange, “Time Upside Down” in Creation Research Society Quarterly, June 1974, p. 26

In the late 1940s, Willard F. Libby developed his radiocarbon dating method. (“Radiocarbon dating,” “carbon 14 dating,” and “C14 dating” all mean the same thing.) We will not go into detail on how it works. The technique and serious flaws in carbon 14 assumptions and dating were discussed in an earlier chapter (chapter 7, Dating Methods). At any rate, living organisms absorb radiocarbon from the atmosphere. After they die, the carbon disintegrates at what is thought to be a known rate. By measuring the amount remaining in a sample of organic material, such as wood, charcoal, or bone, technicians try to determine how long ago the plant or animal died.

—Because of atmospheric conditions immediately following the Flood, carbon 14 dating, when applied to samples which died closer to the deluge, tends to give inaccurate, lengthened-out date readings which extend too far into the past. But dates from about 600 B.C. on down to A.D. 200 tend to be closer to reality—and far more accurate than radiodating methods (such as uranium or thorium dating). C-14 dates from A.D. 200 on down to the present are generally still more reliable.

Thus, radiocarbon is able to provide us with more accurate dates than uranium, thorium, potassium-argon, etc., for several centuries prior to the birth of Christ. In fact, even carbon 14 dates closer to the Flood are still far more accurate than is radiodating methods.

—Upon learning of Libby’s new radiocarbon dating method, Velikovsky immediately determined that it needed to be applied to Near Eastern materials—especially in Egypt and Palestine. Velikovsky was no timid soul, and he spent years urging that this be done. In 1953, he sent Libby a copy of his newly-printed, Ages in Chaos, and asked that he perform tests on 18th and 19th dynasty materials. Shortly thereafter, Libby returned the book and said he could not conduct such sample C-14 tests. The reason given: he knew nothing about Egyptology or archaeology! A strange reply indeed Libby knew little about anatomy or botany, yet he regularly radiodated bones and wood.

In 1963, Libby wrote an article in Science, in which he said that C-14 dates needed to be separated into two broad categories: Egyptian and non-Egyptian dates. The reason for this dichotomy, Libby explained, was that Egyptian chronology was not fully understood, was subject to possible errors—and that radiocarbon dating on many Egyptian materials yielded dates that were too young by as much as 500 years) That was quite an admission.

Such a statement was the result of a ten-year letter-writing campaign by Velikovsky and scientific acquaintances. They wrote museums and C14 laboratories all over Europe and North America, in an effort to obtain radiocarbon datings of material from the New Kingdom dynasties of Egypt.

Velikovsky had done his homework. He had learned what is more generally known today in creationist circles, that catastrophes which greatly affect the atmosphere, such as the Flood, damage the C-14 balance. He felt that, in later centuries, dating of Egyptian articles would yield more accurate results, even though not in the earlier ones just after the Flood.

In Velikovsky’s books you wilt find accounts of some of the strange responses he received to those letters. For example, in 1960 Dr. Klaus Borer, Assistant Professor of Egyptology at the University of California, replied that, to his knowledge, no published datings of any objects from the New Kingdom existed, and that they would not be necessary (1) since Egyptian dating had already been confirmed in other ways.

By that time, Velikovsky had good reason to suspect that such tests had already been made, but had produced results that were not wanted: dates which, if published, would have connected Egyptian history with those in the Bible.

A year before, in 1959, Dr. Froelich Rainey of the University of Pennsylvania revealed that its C-14 laboratory had, in fact, dated samples from every period of Egypt’s history including the New Kingdom, and concluded his statement by admitting that “there are many serious problems in the C-14 method.”

A later 1961 reply to Velikovsky from New York City was revealing. A curatorial assistant in the Department of Egyptian Art of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City mentioned that in 1947 Libby had requested from their department New Kingdom samples. Libby afterward reported back that the samples had been judged to be contaminated. This meant that those samples had been tested and that the results were not as expected.

Then the breakthrough came in 1962. A scientist, Dr. David Baker, who had carefully read Velikovsky’s book, Ages In Chaos, went to the C 14 lab at the University of Pennsylvania and had a lengthy visit with two scientists at the laboratory: Dr. Froelich Rainey and Dr. Elizabeth K. Ralph, director of the Radiocarbon Laboratory.

Following the visit he summarized it in a letter which he sent to Velikovsky.

“Mutual friends secured for me a most favorable introduction to Dr. Froelich Rainey, Director of the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Rainey is a vigorous, enthusiastic, obviously very well informed, courteous gentleman in his late middle years. At no time was your name brought up by me or by anyone else at the University. I told Dr. Rainey that I was interested in the latest findings that have bearing on the date of the Exodus. My position as a professor of religion in Ursinus College and a long-time interest in the matter had prompted my quest for information in this area . .

” `The dating of Egyptian history,’ said Dr. Rainey, ‘is one of the most controversial matters in the whole realm of archaeology today. On the basis of radiocarbon dating we have come up with a vary serious difference of 600 years between the old chronology and the radiocarbon evidence! We do not know how to account for it. It seems to extend throughout Egyptian history, but the earlier dates are off more than more recent ones. Fortunately we have an astronomical fix in the time of Seti I, so we are pretty sure of his date, but before him we are in real trouble. Right now our Museum, the British Museum, and the University of Leiden are working furiously to try to find out the cause of the discrepancy.” . .

” `Is it your opinion than,’ I asked Dr. Rainey, `that we may expect some vary drastic changes In the dates of early Egyptian history in the next few years?’ He replied, `Yes. And not only in Egypt but in the dating of the entire Ancient World, especially the Near East.’

“Dr. Rainey then called Miss Elizabeth K. Ralph who is in charge of the Radiocarbon Laboratory of the University of Pennsylvania. This laboratory is located in marvelous quarters in the basement of the new Physics Building. A special guide took me to Miss Ralph.

“..Miss Ralph is a deeply serious, dedicated scientist, whose whole life is bound up with her work. She received me most kindly, was in no wise hurried in answering my inquiries, and most willingly answered all my questions and gave me access to all the information she had!

“In addition to confirming everything that Dr. Rainey told me, she furnished me a wealth of other information . . Miss Ralph was insistent on the wide gap between the so-called archaeological dates of Egyptian history and those derived from radiocarbon dated materials. In almost every case the radiocarbon dates are significantly younger. Today, they feel they can date to within an accuracy of 25 years in some instances. I found her working on a huge graph on which she had entered every reported item of radiocarbon Egyptian evidence, plotted against the archaeologically determined dates for the same material. This graph shows a very unmistakable trend throughout Egyptian history in the interest of younger dates. She is trying to ascertain what the cause may be.” —David Baker letter dated 1963 to I. Velikovsky, in “Letters,” Ash Pensee 4(1):14 (1973) [emphasis ours].

In 1964 Velikovsky wrote to Elizabeth Ralph, expressing his view that Tutankhamun (“King Tut”) did not live in the 14th—but 9th-century B.C., and that if tomb samples were analyzed by carbon 14, those samples should date to about 840 B.C. A test made in 1971 corroborated his conclusions. In that year, L.E.S. Edwards of the British Museum forwarded the conclusions of two Tutankhamun tests to the University of Pennsylvania C-14 lab. One test dated at 846 B.C. and the other at 899 B.C.

Always prodding people, Velikovsky wrote to the director of the British Museum C-14 laboratory and inquired when those test results would be published, and if not, why not. In reply, the director wrote back that test results which deviate substantially from what is expected are often discarded and never published.

That is science? Throw away the facts which do not fit the theories?

In 1972, G.W. Oosterhout of the Delft University of Technology of the Netherlands wrote the British Museum about those same two test results. He asked for a written statement of some kind in regard to the test and its results. In reply, he received a letter stating that the lab at the British Museum had made no radiocarbon measurements on any material from the tomb of Tutankhamun.

David Baker (quoted above) had been told in 1962 that the major universities and museums of the world were “working furiously to try to find out the cause of the discrepancy,” and that “some very drastic changes in the. . dating of the entire Ancient Word, especially the Near East” could be expected shortly.

But that has not happened and it will not happen. To do so would be to admit that Biblical documents are reliable—and this the humanists will never admit. As with everything else, the evolutionists seek to strike from the record all data which is not favorable to their cause.

“If a C-14 date supports our theories, we put it in the main text. If it does not entirely contradict them, we put it in a footnote. And if it is completely ‘out of date,’ we just drop it.” —Professor Brew, quoted by J.O.D. Johnston, “Problems of Radiocarbon Dating, ” in Palestine Exploration Quarterly 105, p. 13 (1973).

MORE ON RADIOCARBON DATING—Frederick Johnson, a coworker with Willard Libby, made this important statement on radiocarbon dating:

“This [radiodating verification by actual historical dates] is not true of geological and archaeological measurements, except in relatively rare instances. Measurements of time in these fields are inferred from processes, the rates of change or progress of which are not consistent and which are, as yet, quite unpredictable. There is no known standard rate for any one of these processes, and measurements of time for one process are invariably relative to rates of progress in other processes.” —Frederick Johnson, quoted in H. M. Morris, W. W. Boardman, and R. F. Koontz, Science and Creation (1971), p. 85.

Carbon 14 produced a date of 200 B.C., when archaeological dating theories had fixed it at 600 B.C.

“The book, Gears from the Greeks, about an ancient astronomical device found in an ancient wreck off the Greek Island of Antikithera early in this century, has provided a piece of information [about radiocarbon dating] . . During additional investigation recently, wood from the wreck was dated by radioactive carbon in the usual way. The result was an indicated date of about 220 B.C. But on archaeological grounds, the date of the wreck has been set at about 800 B.C.” —News note, Creation Research Society Quarterly, June 1978, p. 87.

Yet we must keep in mind that not even carbon 14 dating is reliable. J.G. Ogden III, director of a radiocarbon dating laboratory, lists reasons why carbon 14 is unreliable. He explains that too many unknown factors stand in the way of successful dating. Then he gives a revealing statement:

“It may come as a shock to some, but fewer than 50 percent of the radiocarbon dates from geological and archaeological samples in northeastern North America have been opted as ‘acceptable’ by investigators.” —*J. Gordon Ogden III, “Use and Abuse of Radiocarbon Dates, ” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 288:187 (1977).

Not even radiocarbon dating is fully reliable. We dare not entrust Near Eastern dating to its conclusions.

“A last difficulty, and at the moment one of the most frustrating, is the failure of the radiocarbon technique to yield dates of certain dependability. Although it was hailed as the answer to the prehistorian’s prayer when it was first announced, there has been increasing disillusion with the method because of the chronological uncertainties (in some cases, absurdities) that would follow a strict adherence to published C14 dates. This is not to question the physical laws underlying the principle used, or the accuracy of the counters now in operation around the world the unsolved problem, instead, seems to lie in the difficulty of securing samples completely free from either older or younger adherent carbon.

“At least to the present, no kind or degree of chemical cleaning can guarantee one-age carbon, typical only of the time of the site from which it was excavated. What bids to become a classic example of C14 irresponsibility is the 6,000-year spread of 11 determinations for Jarmo, a prehistoric village in northeastern Iraq, which, on the basis of all archaeological evidence, was not occupied for more than 500 consecutive years.” —*Charles A. Reed, “Animal Domestication in the Prehistoric Near East, ” Science, 130:1830 (1959).


ASTRONOMICAL DATING—In a previous quotation, mention was made that archaeologists claim that Egyptian dating is based on “astronomical dating.” That has an awesome sound. Astronomical measurements are generally considered to be very firm and solid. Who dares resist the fixity of astronomy, and we are told that “astronomical dating” is the basis of Egyptian dating, which in turn is the reference point for all other Near Eastern dating. And since Near Eastern history is the oldest in the world, Egyptian dating becomes very important.

To set the record straight, Egyptian dating is neither an extension of astronomical dating nor is it based on it. Egyptian dating is based on a theory, not on astronomy.

Please understand: there are astronomically fixed Near Eastern dates, but they are not Egyptian dates. Two separate Babylonian cuneiform tablets were written, each one filled with astronomical data covering a whole year. One lists a Babylonian date and the other a Persian.

The first tablet is about the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar, and contains a series of observations from Nisan 1 (which is the Babylonian New Year’s Day) of year 37, on through to Nisan 1, year 38. A single astronomical observation could be suspect, and not necessarily reliable for fixing a date, but a combination of records such are found on this tablet, relating to the positions of sun, moon, and planets, all of which move in different cycles, can be located exactly in only one year. Therefore we can know with certainty that Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th year was beyond doubt the Babylonian lunar-calendar year extending from April 12, 568 B.C. through April 12, 567 B.C. This places the first official year (that is, the first full year) of Nebuchadnezzar at 604/03 B.C., spring to spring, and similarly fixes all the years of his reign.

The second tablet of astronomical data fixes a year in the reign of Cambyses, a Persian ruler. It fixes the 7th year of Cambyses, in accordance with the Babylonian calendar which they also used, as dating from April 7, 523 to March 26, 522 B.C.

THE EGYPTIAN ECLIPSES—But in the case of Egyptian dating, we have something far different: An eclipse is mentioned, and, due to a lack of corroborative data, it could apply to a number of different dates spanning over a thousand years. The Egyptologists have arbitrarily selected the one they wish to use, and call the result “astronomical dating of the Egyptian calendar.”

Unfortunately, in addition, there is the problem of partial eclipses. These are also called “eclipses” by the ancients, and such partial eclipses occur fairly frequently. Were these full or partial eclipses? No one knows. Were they solar or lunar eclipses? The texts frequently do not provide clarity. Even a total or near-total eclipse with sun can occur within a century or less in any given area.

Major eclipses of the moon are even more frequent. Filmer, in his Chronology of the Reign of Herod the Great, notes that three different eclipses of the moon, separated by only four years, cause problems in locating the birth of Christ.

Ptolemy, an Egyptian historian provided a series of eclipses, which have been dated to 791 to 491 B.C. But recent re-analysis reveals that Ptolemy did some hedging in some of the related data he provided. If he did that, how can we rely on his eclipse dates? The eclipse date assigned to the 10th year of Assur Dan III, king of Assyria, can be applied either to 763 B.C. or to a lesser eclipse in 791 B.C. We do not have here the certainties of planetary motions, but the vagueries of observations of events which keep repeating themselves.

Prior to the 8th century B.C., we have no clear-cut event which can be corrolated with a calculated eclipse. Yes, there are possibilities, but none are more than speculative theories. A key problem is often the vague wording of the ancient text in describing something that might or might not be an eclipse.

Eclipse data cannot provide confirmation of a possible date unless (1) a definite eclipse is mentioned, and (2) enough information is given to fix that eclipse, so that it can only apply to that one date. Ideally, this additional information should be further astronomical data fixing that same calendar year.

With Egyptian dating, as with everything else, one cannot arrive at definite conclusions when he uses uncertain factors as the basis of the proof.


Egyptian dating is keyed both to the king list of Manetho and to the sothic cycle. This entire chapter on Egyptian dating should have begun—instead of ended—with the sothic cycle. But it has been saved for the last. If you find it is too deep for comfort, just skip this section. You have already read the most important conclusions.

“The currently-accepted absolute chronologies of the Near Eastern civilizations in the second and third millennia B.C. rely ultimately upon the Sothic dating method. Egyptian chronology stands alone as being ‘independently derived,’ and the other contemporary civilizations are dated by cross-reference to it. Powerful arguments against the validity of the Sothic dating method have been presented by Courville and Velikovsky.” —David J. Tyler, “Radiocarbon Calibration: Revised,” in Creation Research Society Quarterly, June 1978, p. 20.

Mark it well: “Egyptian chronology stands alone as being `Independently derived,’ and the other contemporary civilizations are dated by cross-reference to it.” Egyptian chronology has been made the touchstone of all other dating, yet it is proudly declared to be “independently derived,” that is, this dating system is totally based on the Manetho/sothic theory, and not on anything else! This peculiar theory, full of holes as experts have shown it to be, ranks in the same category with stratigraphic dating—the 19th century theory which also stands “in glorious isolation,” judging all evidence and being judged by none of it, declaring that certain million-fold year dates have been arbitrarily assigned to all the sedimentary strata and their fossils, because of certain undatable marine creatures (“index fossils”) found in them!


THE SOTHIC CALENDAR—The “astronomically fixed” Egyptian dates are not tied to astronomy, but to a theory about the sothic cycle. To call those dates “astronomically fixed” is deceptive. Astronomical data are made use of, but they are used in a way dictated by a theory, not by the motions of heavenly bodies.

What is this “sothic cycle”?

It is thought by some that a certain calendar was used in ancient Egypt. This calendar is conjectured to have been composed of 12 months of 360 days, with 5 additional days added at the end to bring it to 365. Since the solar year is closer to 365.25 days in length, we today add an extra day every fourth year (February 29, making it a “leap year’. Without that extra day every fourth year, the calendar would wander backward through the seasons at the rate of one day every four years. New Year’s Day would return to the original position after 365 x 4, or 1,460 years. This conjectured 1,460 years is the sothic period, or sothic cycle, also called the sothic year.

If such a calendar actually was used in Egypt, and if it was used for at least one full cycle of 1,460 years, then it would be possible to date backward through it from later known dates to earlier ones. Two “ifs,” but there are actually six in all.

THE SIX IF’S—As with eclipse dating, certain requirements must be met to use the sothic calendar as a dating tool:

1. It must be clearly established that, as far as Egypt was concerned, such a calendar was ever actually used. We have no certainty of that in fact, since our only evidence for it is one statement in one ancient text, it is only a faint possibility.
2. We must have definite evidence that it was used throughout a 1,460-year cycle. Such information is also lacking.
3. The beginning date of the 1,460 sothlc cycle must be known with certainty. We do not know that.
4. It is not clearly known that the extra 5 days were invariably a part of the Egyptian calendar. Without that feature, the Egyptian calendar would not be a 365-day calendar. The earliest scholars assumed this to be so, and later Egyptologists followed on in their assumption. But assumptions are not facts.
5. It is known that at least one other type of Egyptian calendar was In use at the same time as this proposed sothic calendar, therefore each date reference in an Egyptian text or on an Egyptian monument should explain which calendar is referred to.
6. The dates based on this theoretical sothic year should be relatively free of internal inconsistencies and external conflicts.

If one or more of those six points is in doubt, then we cannot say that the sothic calendar is fixed or even dependable. For example, if you did not know when the year began, how could you date events today? You would have a sliding calendar any day of the year could be called March 15. Likewise, if you do not have certainty about item 3, above, you cannot date backward through a 1,460-year sothic calendar.

In reality, we have here the same problem of faulty theories piled on theories in support of “fixed Egyptian dating,” that we find all through evolutionary theory in regard to stellar origins, primitive environment, beginnings and development of life-forms, fossil-dating theories, “man/ape” bones, mutational “improvements” and all the rest. It is all a house of cards, and the slightest touch of serious investigation knocks it over.

Interestingly enough, ancient Egyptians had no word for “calendar” they gave dates and let it go at that. We believe that their year wandered through our 365.25-day calendar, but the speed of wandering is not known, and that is crucial.

THE RISING OF SOTHIS—”The rising of Sothis” is mentioned one time in Egyptian literature. It may have been an event that wandered through their vague calendar along with their New Year’s Day, or it may have been a one-time event. But what does “rising of Sothis” mean? It is thought that “Sothis” was the bright star Sirius, and early Egyptologists decided that it may have referred to when the star Sirius arose each year at the same time as the sun on the wandering New Year’s day. This concern over Sothis is due to an effort to fix the beginning of the 1,460-year Sothic cycle. It is conjectured that at the beginning of the cycle, Sothis (Sirius) arose at the same time as the sun on New Year’s Day. But is “Sothis” the star Sirius? No one can really know. The Egyptian texts just do not tell us. That is simply another conjecture!

SIX PROBLEMS WITH THE RISING—There are difficult problems with the “sothic cycle” theory:

(1) Sirius could not be seen if it arose at the same time as the sun. It would have to arise a minimum of 9 degrees or 36 minutes of time earlier than the sun to be seen. With the discovery of that fact alone, the major part of the theory falls through the floor.

(2) In 1851, R.S. Poole, an astronomer, calculated the viewing positions of Sirius from the latitude of Thebes and Memphis on the “fixed beginning” of the 1,460 sothic cycle—which is supposed to be 1320 B.C. He found that Sirius would have been, not 16 minutes high, as the sun rose on that New Year’s Day, but 1 hour, 16 minutes high at Thebes and a little over 1 hour further north at Memphis. Using Poole’s data, the astronomer MacNaughton concluded that Sothis could not be Sirius. Instead, he suggested the less-bright star, Spica. But most Egyptologists were not interested they already had a comfortable theory to explain all dating mysteries.

(3) The accepted sothic cycle went from 1320 B.C. to 141 A.D. Knowledgeable astronomers and Egyptologists have suggested a variety of alternate explanations which one are we to accept? Lockyer, a modern astronomer, said the cycle began 4 centuries earlier than 1320 B.C. Theon, an earlier astronomer, proposed 26 B.C. as its terminal date. Ingham suggested 1312 B.C. to 141 A.D. (a cycle eight years shorter).

(4) Disgusted with the futility of theories piled on theories, a number of Egyptologists have rejected the sothic cycle outright.

(5) Adding to the hazards of trying to locate the initial date is the problem that the ancients did not know the proper solar length. They thought it was 365 days, whereas it is closer to 365.25. In fact, it is really 365.2422. A true solar year would change the calculation from 1,460 to 1,507 years. But here is the mathematical catch: should an extra 46 years be added to the end of the ancient cycle, or should the beginning be started 47 years later?

(6) The usually-accepted cycles would begin in 1320, 2780, and 4240 B.C. A century ago it was thought that the first sothic cycle began in 4240 or 4241 B.C., and that the first dynasty of Egypt began in the 6th or 7th millennium B.C. But carbon 14 dating has shrunk that starting date down to somewhere in 3300-3000 B.C. Scharff shortly thereafter reduced the first dynasty to c. 2850 B.C. But, if that should be accepted as the dating standard,—then the sothic cycle did not begin at the beginning of a sothic cycle! Was the scheme introduced within the cycle that should have begun in 2780 B.C., or could it have been within the cycle which ought to have begun in 1320 B.C.? A number of scholars have accepted this possibility. But such a conclusion would make the whole system even more ridiculous.

Oddly enough, the scholarly name for the remarkably uncertain and little understood Egyptian year has, for over a century, been annus vague, which is Latin for “vague year.” Modern archaeologists base all Near Eastern dating on what they themselves call the “vague year” (the vague calendar system) of Egypt) That nebulous calendar, with almost nothing known about it, is made the standard by which all other Near Eastern dates are measured and assigned) Why? The answer is simple enough: The theory that the humanists have piled up around the 12th dynasty “rising of sothis” statement and the 3rd century Manetho king list—provides them with a stretched-out dating system the only one in all the Near East which, if accepted, could annihilate Biblical dates and events.

With such an objective as the grand prize, they are willing to call dates “astronomically fixed,” and prevaricate regarding the extensive radiocarbon tests they have applied to Egyptian samples. We can be certain that, if they could have obtained a few test samples which corroborated their Manetho/sothis theory, they would have published the news with trumpeting. But, lacking the discovery of such evidence, they have instead said that such testing is not needed and has therefore not been made.

In his book, Bickerman provides an excellent one-paragraph summary of all that is really known about that ancient Egyptian calendar:

“All conjectures about the date of the introduction of the annus vague are premature. We can only state that there is evidence of the use of a variable year from the V dynasty on, that [in Egypt] the rising of Sirius was observed as early as 1900, and that the celebration of this event was, from the Middle Kingdom, a change date in the civil year.” —E.J. Bickerman, Chronology of the Ancient World (1968), p. 42.

Where in those facts does a 365-day calendar fit in? It doesn’t. We have no data that the Egyptians actually did use a 365-day calendar we only think they may have done so. We do not know that they had a “sothic cycle” or that Sirius had anything to do with it. The single mention of a “sothic rising” in the 12th dynasty, dated to the 16th day of the 8th month, is no key to anything.

THE THREE SEASONS—When was the Egyptian “New Year’s Day”? When did their yearly cycle begin? No one knows! The fact is that no consistent Egyptian calendar existed. We have thousands of Egyptian engraved inscriptions, but not one calendar is on them. The Egyptians ought to have left us large numbers of calendar inscriptions, if they had a definite calendar. Hundreds of thousands of papyrus writings have been found. Large numbers of these papers were stuffed inside their animal gods when they were buried by their Egyptian worshipers. Journal accounts, love letters, current news reports, business memos—all kinds of things but no calendars.

Why not? Probably because they only had a simplistic calendar, and not the “elaborate sothic system” the archaeologists attribute to them.

Where in the three seasons did the Egyptian yearly calendar begin? Scholars recognize that there were three parts to the Egyptian year, the Summer or hot season, the Season of Waters, or Nile flood time, and the Winter Season or season of growing crops. It has been suggested that the “rising of Sothis” may have had something to do with the yearly rising of the Nile waters. But that would only add to the problem, for who can know the exact day on which the Nile waters arose each year? (Apparently the event generally occurred sometime during the second week in August, but the exact time varied.) Still other scholars thought that the Egyptian year would begin with the Winter Season. There is also the possibility that it began during the winter solstice.

It is significant that the flooding of the Nile was the one yearly event upon which the lives of the Egyptians depended, and it always began in late summer. Yet if the yearly calendar began with that event, then it would NOT be a wandering calendar) And if it was not a wandering calendar, then the whole theory of a “sothic cycle” of 1,460 years would be worthless.

THE SECOND CALENDAR—A second calendar used by government officials was also known to exist. It was a lunar calendar of alternating months of 29 and 30 days, which apparently was used from c. 1900 B.C. down to about 235 B.C. This calendar was used for religious gatherings, and somewhat for daily life. But the beginning and termination of each year is not known, and such a calendar would in no way match a solar calendar of 365 days.

CONCLUSION—The Egyptian so-called “astronomical calendar” is used as the referrent dating standard for all other events worldwide. How did archaeologists decide what it was?

First, Manetho: Manetho’s king list is accepted as completely truthful, totally accurate, and entirely sequential with no doubling of kingly reigns. We have already considered a variety of reasons why Manetho and his list cannot be trusted.

Second, eclipse: an eclipse that could apply to a number of different dates is arbitrarily assigned to one. Along with it, several others are used also. Most or all may have referred to frequently-occurring partial eclipses. This forms the basis for the so-called “astronomically-fixed Egyptian calendar.” An indefinite eclipse is used to make it all “astronomical.” We earlier discussed the flaws in such thinking.

Third, Sothis: a single strange passage in a letter—which even the Egyptologists cannot figure out—is used as the basis for an elaborate framework of speculation, the outcome of which they call the “sothic calendar.” (Egyptologists cannot figure it out, because they have not one other inscription or ancient text which refers to the “rising of Sothis” and could explain this single, mysterious passage.) Here is what that single ancient text says:

“You ought to know that the rising of Sothis takes place on the 16th of the 8th month. Announce it to the priests of the town of Sekhem Usertasen and of Anubis on the mountain and of Suchos . . and have this letter filed in the temple records.” —Part of a papyrus inscription found at Kahun, Egypt, and addressed to the priest Papihotep, quoted in Duncan MacNaughton, Scheme of Egyptian Chronology (1932), p. 146

You have just read the keystone in the so-called “sothic cycle calendar” of the Egyptians. What did we learn from that ancient Egyptian text? Next to nothing.

But, specifically, what DID we learn? (1) The “rising of Sothis” would be on the 16th day of the 8th month. That year or every year? we are not told—and that omission is a glaring fact. Is the “rising of Sothis” supposed to refer to a local or national holiday, midway point in the year, end of the year what?

(2) Did it only apply to just those three towns? We are not told. If it applied to all Egypt, why were only the priests at three insignificant towns to be told about it? If it applied to all Egypt, it would have been worded, “publish it in all the cities and towns, tell all the priests about it, and file it in all the temples!

(3) If it applied to a nation-wide calendar which continued on as is, or with adjustments, year after year—many copies of it would have been stored in temples all over the land and recovered by archaeologists. If the Egyptian calendar wandered from year to year and if the “rising of Sothis” continually applied to every year in a 1,460 year cycle (rather than a local event dealing with just one year),—then newly revised copies of the “rising of Sothis” date would be issued every year for a thousand years or more! Multiplied thousands of copies of the yearly-revised “rising of Sothis” text sheet would be found. You think not? Of course it would, for it is said to have been the key date governing the beginning of each year’s calendar each year, every year—for over a thousand years!

(4) What was “Sothis”? No one knows. How can anybody know from one text statement. It could be the sun, the moon, a planet, a star, a constellation, the Pleiades, etc. It could relate to the Nile, or one of the (literally) thousands of Egyptian gods (crocodile gods, hawk gods, snake gods, beetle gods, fish gods, etc.)

(5) What does the word “rising” mean? Rising over the horizon, rising to full height overhead (zenith), initial rise of the river, rise to its fullest height, a lifting up of an Egyptian god for a ceremonial procession, the date when Pharoah would come through those three towns in a grand lifted-up procession, carried by servants in his palanquin?

There are thousands of possibilities. We simply do not know what that single text, speaking about a “rising of Sothis” means. Anyone who says he does know is only fooling himself and anyone else who chooses to believe him.

This “rising of Sothis” text is used as a pretext for an elaborate theory which could be used to date forward and backward from a very few later known dates to all the other ones in Egyptian history, and thence as the absolute, unequivical standard by which all other dates in the Near East, and Near Eastern records (including the Bible), must agree with—or be changed!