Goliath Killed by 100 Jar Handles.

As happens regularly, the field of archeology again caught my eye this morning.  As a study of the past, we’re always pushing back the boundaries of what we know of ancient times.  This time, we now have an even earlier example of a Hebrew text from the time of King David.  Of course, we assume there were many texts and a full written history existing at that time, but this is our earliest direct physical proof of that writing.

Of course, as the pottery shard where the writing is preserved is just recently discovered, no through analysis or translation has been made.  I can accept that.  However, as usual, that leaves reporters with a desperate need to say something about the discovery when nothing has yet been researched.  So they give us a few details.  Within the text, the roots of the words judge, king, and slave have been found.  The words themselves may or may not be present in the text, but probably something vaguely related to each is present in the text.  Profound.  Even more stunning is the assertion that the text was clearly written by a trained scribe.  Really?  As opposed to the random scratchings of the illiterate masses of the time?  I mean, I knew there was a problem with graffiti back then, but really?

Of course, even though only 4% of the site has been excavated, most of the information they do have is terribly interesting.  It’s very near the supposed site of the fight between David and Goliath, and contains at least 100 jar handles of a type similar to ‘royal’ jars of the time.  The site is the oldest known fortified city of that period (meaning the other places we knew existed at that time we haven’t physically pinpointed yet).  It’s one of the few places where King David can be archaeologically investigated for that reason.  And as a city where people would be more concentrated, it has obvious potential as a means of exploring daily life at the time.

Personally, I favor an alternative translation to the Goliath myth.  A bunch of Philistines were threatening this fortified Judean city, see.  And so the local inhabitants, being fresh out of river stones, dropped jars on their heads until they left.  This, of course, was not a very noble battle, so they substituted the river story someplace outside the city.  And made the king a champion.  What’s a people without a champion, and what’s a king without great deeds?


King Solomon’s Copper.

I’m not really up on my Biblical history.  This could be a flaw in my education, or perhaps just in my interest.  Somehow, the lineages of the Kingdom of Edom and when the Israelites were where don’t really pique my interest.  Despite this, occasionally I wish I knew a little bit more about the timeline, mostly in places where it would improve my knowledge of certain stories or would help in trivia games.

One of the areas where I have limited knowledge is about the ‘real’ reign of King Solomon.  This is probably partially due to H. Rider Haggard and various associated movies.  Why did the king bury bunches of treasure in a mine?  Who ends up dying as they leave?  Was there a previous lost love?  Is it a friend who is taken in the unfairness of African life?  Does a safari end in melancholy?

Well, archeology is trying to answer some of those questions.  A copper mine has recently been dated to the time of King Solomon.  It is possible that this mine, therefore, had some connection to the king and may even have been one of ‘King Solomon’s Mines’.  However, both the Bible (which is one of few written sources we have) and early archeologist linked the area to the Edomites at the time the site was dated to.  So to me this indicates that despite it being during Solomon’s rule, it was probably not under his direct control.  Edom was basically a vassal state, but I’m guessing that any mines in question would have been the governor of Edom’s, rather than Solomon’s.

However, that’s niether here nor there.  The real question is, how far will fact follow fiction?  In this particualr set of mines (which are probably not the only ones for an entire kingdom), is there any ‘buried treasure’?  or was that all relegated to other mines?  is there romance, or monumental loss, or ideal friendship that is about to unfold in this story of rediscovery?  And what about the Queen of Sheba?

The Pirates of the Rhone

Perhaps because I was born in the Midwest, I have always been fascinated by the sea an those who live on or near it.  While I know, at some level, that the romance of pirates, buccaneers, whalers, and even fishermen is largely unwarranted, that a sea life is an ugly, harsh one, I am still attracted to it.  The idea of loneliness, the flat plane of water extending in all directions, the dullness of endless days under the sun broken only by the fear of storms, the gentle comforting rock of the waves at night and the deep inner sense of those who have no one to face but themselves on most days all intrigue me.  But perhaps it’s all perception, not reality.

But all of the stories I know of life at sea have a hidden, secret side.  There’s sunken treasure there, secrets and lost lives and a tangle of the past we all sometimes try to escape.  There’s the wash of waves over land that once was shore, and the odd hollows of cliffs that are caves above water only half the time.  In this shallowness, this wash between land and sea, lies a great deal of our unknown past.  It is here that our origins lie largely unexplored.  It is here that we will find the truth of the first Americans, of the wars of ancient cities, of who we were and the way we lived in the past.

Yet there are those who remain amazed at what we discover in the newer field of underwater archeology.  There are those still surprised at the wonders that lurked offshore at Alexandria, or at the damp caves of Lescaux, or at the new finds in the Rhone near Arles.  For myself, I am more amazed at the comment by Michel L’Hour, who heads the Department of Subaquatic Archaeological Research, in that researchers are trying to determine “in what context these statues were thrown into the river”.  Hm.  I was unaware that we could tell someone intentionally threw them in just by the situation in which they were found.  But I don’t have all the details.  Perhaps the time period of the city was well-enough known that researchers are sure there wasn’t a flood or storm or battle or other natural or political disaster that would’ve led to the disbursement or abandonment of goods.  I suppose it could’ve been the famed Rhone river pirates, up to no good or about to be caught and dumping their loot.

Under the Sea.

Ariel’s voice from the Little Mermaid was always too high pitched for me.  I’m just not a soprano – I wasn’t even as a child.  Sebastian’s range fit me better, which is probably why my younger sisters ended up enjoying the movie (and its music) more than I did.  I think another part of it has to do with the happy ending of all Disney movies – even as a child, I appreciated the melancholy of the original Hans Christian Anderson tale.  Still, I did find a certain joy in the Caribbean beats of some of the songs.

The sea always has a certain draw, whether from the energy and sound of the waves, or the simple experience of a world different than our own.  There is a certain romance about sailors and the maritime tradition, perhaps now in part due to the nostalgia of a time before our own – modern fisherman often fail to evoke the same feeling.  It is this sense, perhaps, that has drawn frequent visitors to recent unearthings along the Northwest Coast.   Due to intense storms and unusually drastic shifts in the coastline, many of the markers of our former history have been revealed – shipwrecks and associated  goods, the stumps of old coastal forests, and even iron formations that are not quite understood.  Though some of them have even now been reconsumed by the sands and beaches, what is most interesting to me is the large numbers of visitors to these sites.  Despite bad weather and the speed of coastal change, one wreck has already boasted at least 3,000 visitors.

Further off this same coast lie many of the mysteries of North America’s human past.  In those coastal waters lie the best bet for discoveries concerning the migration of peoples from Asia to North America.  It is in these areas, with the help of underwater archeology, that theories regarding coastal migrations, either by land or by boat or some combination of the two, might one day be confirmed.   It is here, that we might learn who we are first, and perhaps better understand who we have become.