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Now, a meal with 8,500 years old ingredients? July 5, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece, Culture History Mythology, Food Greece.
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A good meal is worth the wait. But what if you’re served up with a bowl of acorns, peas and flat bread. Oh, and lentils?

Archaeologists sat down to taste recipes based on ingredients eaten as long as 8,500 years ago in northern Greece – distant millennia before tomatoes, oranges and tobacco appeared to become undisputed Greek favorites.

The cook-up was held late on Friday at an annual archaeology conference, where researchers presented evidence of ancient and late prehistoric diets, gleaned from chemical analysis of skeletal remains and storage pots.

“The main items on the menu included berries, grains and pulses – especially lentils – and also acorns, grapes and a type of vegetable oil,” Soultana-Maria Valamoti, a lecturer at the University of Thessaloniki’s Department of Archaeology, said.

“This data comes from analysis of plant material, human remains and vessels from the Neolithic and Bronze Age eras.” Valamoti, a researcher in archaeobotany, the study of ancient plant life, said that by far the most commonly found food was the lentil, the hardy oval-shaped pulse still widely used – but hardly considered a specialty – in Mediterranean countries and across the Middle East.

Ancient Greek cooking has enjoyed renewed interest here in recent years, following the publication of studies and cookbooks on what is billed as the original Mediterranean diet.

Two restaurants serving dishes inspired from inscriptions as old as 2,500 years do a busy trade in Athens today.

But Friday’s feast comes from before the age of wine and beer. No distinctively Greek yoghurt and honey either.

About 150 people attended Friday’s buffet dinner, tucking into colorless bulgur wheat salads and pasted pulses.

Dishes were displayed on two benches, beside clay bowls filled with acorns and grains for the more bold to nibble on. Event organizers said recipes were based on the ancient ingredients, but acknowledged that some of the dishes had been “enhanced” with more contemporary ingredients. They did not give any details – though traces of tomato were spotted. “The food tasted pretty good,” said Tella, a Greek archaeology student, who did not want to give her last name and looked slightly surprised at the result.

“They managed to use prehistoric ingredients and prepare them using Greek traditional recipes.”

War made a mockery of democracy in Greece July 5, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Culture History Mythology.
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Wondering if democracies of the past ever fared any better during wartime than ours is doing today, I started thumbing through my old college copy of Thucydides’ history of the Peloponnesian War that occurred in the latter part of the fifth century B.C. While the war between Athens and Sparta lasted 27 years, Thucydides’ account is only of a 20-year period.
 
The takeover of Athens’ democratic assembly by a repressive elite called The Four Hundred that followed the disastrous failure of Athens’ invasion of Sicily comes as the climax of Thucydides’ book. While this suspension of democracy did not last even a single year, it signaled that representative government in war-wracked Athens was on thin ice, which proved to be the case seven years later when Athens’ conquest by Sparta resulted in installation of a ruthless dictatorship known as The Thirty, in 404 B.C.
 
Thucydides shows that the world’s first democracy, the Greek city-state of Athens, simply unraveled, both as a world power and internally, during an extended period of warfare against a succession of Mediterranean neighbors, all the while becoming a society in which citizens feared to raise a dissenting call for peace. During the 160-year heyday of ancient Greece from 498 to 338 B.C. the city of Athens was at war for two out of every three years. War was considered the natural order of things.

According to historian Thucydides, what seemed like sanity and patriotism back then was to give blind, unthinking support to battles in which navies with 100 or more ships apiece would simply ram each other, then their crewmen board each other’s vessels to engage in hand-to-hand battles with knives, spears, and battle axes in the same way as land armies.
 
The purpose of all this warmaking was simple: to seize neighboring cities, plunder their citizens’ stores of food, resources, treasuries, and personal possessions, and put surviving citizens to work for the conquering country.
 
In vain, one of the Athenian generals, named Nicias, pleaded with his countrymen to hold back from what he thought was the idiotic course they seemed determined to pursue in waging war on two fronts, Syracuse and the rest of Sicily, at the same time. He warned that the Athenians would find themselves outnumbered and trapped in a land far away from home and that Sicily posed absolutely no military danger to Athens. He pleaded for the planned war against Sicily to be put to a vote of the citizens, “to allow the Athenians to debate the matter once again.”
 
But then as now, the momentum for war was impossible to stop, and ultimately Nicias himself lost his life, killed after being taken prisoner in what turned out to be a hideous and total defeat for the Athenians. One of the Athenian generals, Alcibiades, defects to the Sicilian side and reveals to them that the Athenians had a master plan to conquer literally the whole of the Mediterranean world. An enormous alliance against the attacking Athenians is formed, and the Athenians, overextended just as Nicias predicted, are totally humiliated.
 
It’s hard to read the words of Thucydides, himself a former Athenian general who had been exiled from the city as punishment for a battle lost, without suspecting that his motive in writing his history was to hold the defeat of his countrymen up to their face and say “I told you so!” He makes sure you see the irony that the defeated Athenians had once embarked on their mission in “splendour and pride” and that “they had set out to enslave others, but now they were going away frightened of being enslaved themselves.”
 
This is how Thucydides described the war’s chilling effect on the democratic freedoms of Athenians who suffered ridicule and intimidation if they tried to use the language of common sense against their fellow-Athenians’ delusion of invincibility as they marched to a war that was to bring them doom:
 
“To think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward; any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one’s unmanly character; ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action. Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man, … Anyone who held violent opinions could always be trusted, and anyone who objected to them became a suspect. … As a result … there was a general deterioration of character throughout the Greek world. The plain way of looking at things, which is so much the mark of a noble nature, was regarded as a ridiculous quality and soon ceased to exist. Society became divided into camps in which no man trusted his fellow.”  

Cypriots took wine to the world > I July 5, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Cyprus.
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The ancient Greeks took wine to the masses, the Romans to the world. But it was the innovation of Cypriots that showed them how, say archaeologists.

Italian experts claim to have unearthed evidence suggesting not only did Cyprus  introduce clay drinking goblets and wine jars for transportation further afield, but it had at least a 1,500 year head start on any of its Mediterranean cousins on the art of making wine.

“It’s an amazing discovery,” says research head Maria Rosaria Belgiorno.

“The most ancient wine seems to have been found in a 5,000-5,500 BC vase in Ajjii Firuz Tepe in Iran but in the Mediterranean, the earliest examples of wine-making have been in Cyprus.”

With a tradition steeped in history, the quality of the “honey flavoured” Cypriot wines was praised by the ancient Greek poet Homer, and, subject however to some scholarly debate, by King Solomon.

Historians say Commandaria, a sweet dessert wine introduced to Europe by the Crusaders, has been made on the island since at least 1,000 BC. In fact, Richard the Lionhearted, on his return from the crusades, he held his wedding at the Kolossi castle (near Limassol, Cyprus) and according to the tradition, he offered Commandaria wine to his guests. It is thought to be the world’s oldest wine still in production.

LAB BREAKTHROUGH > Belgiorno, of the Italian Institute of Technologies Applied to Cultural Heritage, said testing on pottery fragments showed winemaking was thriving up to 5,500 years ago. The earliest examples of winemaking discovered in the Greek island of Crete are about 3,600 years old.

“We discovered remains of tartaric acid, a key component of wine,” she said.

The pottery fragments, found at the wine-producing region of Erimi some 100 km southwest of the Cypriot capital Nicosia, are the oldest evidence available of “nipple base” storage jars used throughout the ancient world for transporting wine. They have a narrow mouth, wide body and taper off at the bottom, designed on earlier goat skin sacks used to carry wine.

Such jars bear an uncanny resemblance to storage containers found on later Egyptian hieroglyphs.

“The same vases were adopted by the Egyptians, and portrayed together with their system to make wine,” said Belgiorno.

With their expertise in pottery, Cypriots also created drinking containers, modelled on cattle horns which was believed to be the first “glass”.

“The tradition of re-making the cattle horn in clay started in Cyprus,” she said.

Lauded as a gift of the Gods, a must-have by Egyptians on their spiritual journey to the afterworld and just plain good for you by modern-day science, wine had humble beginnings.

An ancient Persian legend speaks of a princess, who having lost favour with the king, attempted to poison herself by eating spoiled table grapes. She became intoxicated instead.

“It was certainly after grapes were accidentally left to ferment,” says Belgiorno. “How it became a product is a completely different story.”

Archaeologists have also discovered a representation of wine production on Cypriot pottery which is 4,000 years old.

“This is unique worldwide,” said Pavlos Flourentzos, Director of the Cyprus Antiquities Department.

Flourentzos said the type of wine was impossible to determine, but it was probably a full-bodied red rather than a white, and unpalatable by today’s standards.

“The wine they drank then was different. It was thick and extremely potent, so had to be diluted in water,” Flourentzos said.

Some in ancient Greek mythology believed wine could bring people to an elevated state of consciousness. But ancient Cypriots left another testament to at least one effect of over-imbibing.

Ancient Roman mosaics in the House of Dionysus, the mythological Greek God of wine and mischief, gives a display of Cyprus’s “First Wine Drinkers” from the second century AD in the western region of Paphos. One of the men is slumped on the floor, thought to be drunk.

Cyprus Produced First Mediterranean Wine July 5, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Cyprus.
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The Mediterranean’s first wine was made in Cyprus some 5,500 years ago, according to Italian archaeologists who unearthed evidence that predates winemaking by ancient Greeks by at least 1,500 years.
 
Digging in Pyrgos, in southern Cyprus, Maria Rosaria Belgiorno, of the Italian Institute of Technologies Applied to Cultural Heritage, found two jugs used for wine that date back to the fourth millennium B.C.
 
“Inside, we even found the seeds of the grapes. Their size shows clearly that they are from cultivated grapes,” Belgiorno said.

Further evidence came from analysis on jars from the same period kept at the Archaeological Museum in the Cypriot capital of Nicosia.
 
Coming from archaeological work in the settlement of Erimi, some 62 miles southwest of Nicosia, the vases were found by Cypriot archaeologist Porphyrios Dikaios in the early 1930s, and then spent the next several decades in storage.
 
“They were still earth-covered, as they were just dug up and placed in the boxes,” Belgiorno said.
 
Researchers examined chemical signatures in 18 of the Erimi jars. A dozen showed traces of tartaric acid, a key component of wine, proving, according to Belgiorno, that the 5,500-year-old vases were used for wine. With a narrow mouth, a wide body and a pointed “nipple base,” the jars, which could hold 22 to 25 litres (six to seven gallons) of wine, are the oldest of their kind.
 
“Interestingly, their shape is very similar to the Roman amphora transport vase. These Cypriot jars were very handy to carry wine. To invent such vases, great experience is needed, which means that on the island wine making and wine storage was already established some centuries before these vases were produced,” Belgiorno said.
 
According to the archaeologist, the jars probably contained a full-bodied red. Very sweet and thick, it was likely diluted with water.
 
The earliest evidence of wine was found in a 5000 to 5500 B.C. vase from Hajji Firuz Tepe in the Zagros Mountains of Iran.
 
However, Cyprus still produces the world’s oldest wine, Commandaria. According to historians, this sweet dessert wine has been made on the island since at least 1000 B.C.
 
Pavlos Flourentzos, Director of the Cyprus Antiquities Department, said that Belgiorno’s findings are very interesting and promising because they indicate that Cyprus was the site of an advanced civilization before the Greeks.
 
“I’m sure new important discoveries will be made in the near future at the sites where her team is working,” he told a news conference in Nicosia.
 
Indeed, digging at the Pyrgos-Mavroraki site near Nicosia, Belgiorno discovered in March the world’s oldest known perfumery, with fragrances produced and exported some 4,000 years ago.

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Flints give Cyprus oldest seafaring link in Med July 5, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Cyprus.
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Archaeologists have discovered what they believe is the earliest evidence yet of long distance seafaring in the eastern Mediterranean, undermining beliefs that ancient mariners never ventured into open seas.

Fragments of stone implements believed to be up to 12,000 years old have been found at two sites of Cyprus, suggesting roving mariners used the areas as temporary camp sites after forays from what is today Syria and Turkey.

The flints are unlike anything found in the geological make-up of Cyprus, and more than 1,000 years older than the timing of the first permanent settlers to the island.

The discovery adds to a body of evidence contradicting the widespread belief that ancient mariners would never venture out of sight of land or had limited navigational capabilities.

“If this is verified this would be the earliest evidence of seafaring in the East Mediterranean,” said Pavlos Flourentzos, Director of Cyprus’s Department of Antiquities.

Cyprus, lying at least 30 miles away from any other land mass, was not settled by man 12,000 years ago, but there is evidence it was populated by pygmy elephants and hippopotamuses. Its earliest inhabitants, dated from the 9th millennium BC, are believed to be from the land mass which now rings it north and east.

Flint fragments were found at sites on the southeast and the west of the island by Albert J. Ammerman, an archaeologist at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York.

The site on the southeast is a hilly outcrop overlooking Nissi Beach, one of the most popular beaches on the island.

“Its a rock where they now do bungee jumping,” Flourentzos said. “Ammerman was with his children on this particular beach when he found the fragments.”

The disclosures were contained in an archaeological paper Ammerman released at a conference in Philadelphia in the United States in mid-November.

“They have yielded good evidence for the earliest voyaging in the Mediterranean and for the increased mobility of people at the end of the ice age and the beginning of agriculture,” Ammerman was quoted as saying in a recent edition of the New York Times.

Archaeologists on the uninhabited July 5, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece.
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Archaeologists on the uninhabited islet of Despotiko near the Cycladic island of Antiparos have uncovered the remnants of ancient dwellings dating back to the Archaic era, which they described as ‘exceptional.’

The Culture Ministry said that fragments of kouroi statues and pillars, dating from 750 to 500 BC, have been found at the site, which has been operating since May.

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Greek relics to be shown in Athens July 5, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece, Culture History Mythology.
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Thousands of ancient artifacts from the Acropolis never seen by the public will be showcased at a new Athens museum expected to open next year.
 
The exhibition area will contain more than 4,000 works, 10 times the number on display at a cramped museum on the Acropolis.
 
These will include bronze and pottery artifacts from the slopes of the fortified hill, while all the 2,500-year-old Parthenon sculptures in Greek possession will be displayed in their original positions on a full-size model of the temple.
 
Missing will be the Elgin Marbles, works removed from the Parthenon 200 years ago and now in London’s British Museum.

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