‘Male’ Viking warrior turns out to be woman


This is how the grave on Birka might have looked like where the female warrior was buried. Illustration by Evald Hansen based on the original plan of grave Bj 581 from Hjalmar Stolpe's excavations at Birka in the late 19th century. (Stolpe 1889)

From Stockholm University in Sweden:

An officer and a gentlewoman from the Viking army in Birka

War was not an activity exclusive to males in the Viking world. A new study conducted by researchers at Stockholm and Uppsala Universities shows that women could be found in the higher ranks at the battlefield.

September 8, 2017

Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, who led the study, explains: “What we have studied was not a Valkyrie [war goddess] from the sagas but a real life military leader, that happens to be a woman”.

The study was conducted on one of the most iconic graves from the Viking Age. It holds the remains of a warrior surrounded by weapons, including a sword, armour-piercing arrows, and two horses. There were also a full set of gaming pieces and a gaming board. “The gaming set indicates that she was an officer”, says Charlotte, “someone who worked with tactics and strategy and could lead troops in battle”. The warrior was buried in the Viking town of Birka during the mid-10th century. Isotope analyses confirm an itinerant life style, well in tune with the martial society that dominated 8th to 10th century northern Europe.

Anna Kjellström, who also participated in the study, has taken an interest in the burial previously. “The morphology of some skeletal traits strongly suggests that she was a woman, but this has been the type specimen for a Viking warrior for over a century why we needed to confirm the sex in any way we could.”

And this is why the archaeologists turned to genetics, to retrieve a molecular sex identification based on X and Y chromosomes. Such analyses can be quite useful according to Maja Krezwinska: “Using ancient DNA for sex identification is useful when working with children for example, but can also help to resolve controversial cases such as this one”. Maja was thus able to confirm the morphological sex identification with the presence of X chromosomes but the lack of a Y chromosome.

Jan Storå, who holds the senior position on this study, reflects over the history of the material: “This burial was excavated in the 1880s and has served as a model of a professional Viking warrior ever since. Especially, the grave-goods cemented an interpretation for over a century”. It was just assumed she was a man through all these years. “The utilization of new techniques, methods, but also renewed critical perspectives, again, shows the research potential and scientific value of our museum collections”.

The study is a part of the ongoing ATLAS project, which is a joint effort by Stockholm University and Uppsala University, supported by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (The Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences) and Vetenskapsrådet (The Swedish Research Council), to investigate the genetic history of Scandinavia.

See also here.

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Babylonians, world’s oldest trigonometrists discovery


This video says about itself:

Ancient Babylonian tablet – world’s first trig table

24 August 2017

UNSW Sydney scientists have discovered the purpose of a famous 3700-year old Babylonian clay tablet, revealing it is the world’s oldest and most accurate trigonometric table, most likely used by ancient mathematical scribes to calculate how to construct palaces, temples and stepped pyramids.

Read more here.

Plimpton 322, the most famous of Old Babylonian tablets (1900-1600 BC), is the world’s oldest trigonometric table, possibly used by Babylonian scholars to calculate how to construct stepped pyramids, palaces and temples, according to a duo of researchers from the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney, Australia: here.

Dutch children learning nationalism, forgetting about slavery?


This music video is called “O la folle entreprise du Prince de Condé“, a song from 1568. It is the original version of the Dutch national anthem (the Wilhelmus), by Spanish soldiers mocking their Protestant enemies. Its original lyrics were in French. In 1568, these Roman Catholic Spanish soldiers fought Protestant enemies in the Netherlands as well, as the Dutch revolt against the king of Spain started.

Before the Dutch general election in March this year, the conservative Christian CDA party proposed that Dutch children should start their school days standing at attention to sing the Wilhelmus. People widely saw that CDA proposal as a concession to the nationalism of Geert Wilders‘ xenophobic PVV party. It was also similar to Shinzo Abe’s right-wing nationalist and World War II revanchist government in Japan’s policy on schoolchildren; even on 3-year-old nursery school toddlers.

Ever since the Dutch general election in March this year, political parties are trying to form a new coalition government. To have a majority in parliament, at least four parties are needed.

At present, four parties are negotiating, the CDA; the VVD (pro-big business, the party of Mark Rutte, prime minister in the outgoing government); the Christian Union (even more conservative than the CDA on women’s and LGBTQ issues, but not so pro-big business on the environment); and D66 (secular, pro-big business, but critical of xenophobic tendencies in CDA and VVD). A coalition of these four parties would have a majority of just one seat in parliament.

Today, Dutch NOS TV reports that the four parties have agreed on mandatory lessons at schools on the national anthem. That in itself may not be wrong, IF these lessons are critical and historically accurate. However, there is the danger of nationalist indoctrination; if one reads further in the NOS report:

According to the Algemeen Dagblad daily, the parties also want young people to get a booklet about the history of the Netherlands on their eighteenth birthday. A D66 plan for lessons about colonialism and slavery is said to not have made it [into the coalition government plans].

D66 is not really a left-wing party. Still, they are the most leftist in the proposed right-wing coalition government. Apparently, they acquiesced in the nationalist history lessons plans omitting slavery and colonialism of the three other parties. When Indonesia was still a Dutch colony, Dutch schoolchildren used to learn a lot about colonialism. They were taught that it was supposedly something to have national pride about. After Indonesia stopped being a Dutch colony, declaring independence, Dutch children stopped learning about colonialism. The cruel reality of slavery has never been part of the Dutch education curriculum.

Rembrandt’s drawings online


Rembrandt, The Pancake Woman, from the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam collection

From the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands:

Drawings by Rembrandt

Biblical and genre scenes, figure and animal studies, landscapes and portraits: an impressive selection of 64 drawings by the master that demonstrate his profound skill and penetrating psychological insight.

See all the works included in this catalogue.

Each entry can be found by scrolling down on the artwork page and clicking on ‘Catalogue entry’ below the image.

This online catalogue, an update of Peter Schatborn’s 1985 collection catalogue Tekeningen van Rembrandt, zijn onbekende leerlingen en navolgers/Drawings by Rembrandt, his Anonymous Pupils and Followers, features 58 sheets now considered genuine drawings by Rembrandt (1606–1669) in the Rijksprentenkabinet; with autograph versos, the tally comes to 64 drawings. If our holdings constitute only a fraction of Rembrandt’s surviving drawings, they provide a representative selection from his whole career.

The first seven drawings by Rembrandt to enter our collection – including the genre masterpiece The Pancake Woman – came through the Vereniging Rembrandt, a society founded by private individuals to save works for the nation from the 1883 sale of Jacob de Vos Jbzn. Nearly half of the collection comes from the 1906 donation of Dr Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, briefly director of the Rijksprentenkabinet, whose comprehensive catalogue of Rembrandt drawings appeared in the same 300th anniversary year. His bequest includes Three Scribes (a study for the artist’s most important early painting) on the verso of the beautiful Study of a Woman’s Legs. The rare early Self-portrait belongs to another major gift, the bequest of Mr and Mrs I. de Bruijn-van de Leeuw, which arrived in 1961. Outstanding purchases in recent decades are the Studies for the Sick Woman in the ‘Hundred Guilder Print’ and the Cottage with White Paling among Trees, both connected to etchings by the artist. The only acquisition to post-date Schatborn’s 1985 catalogue, Portrait of the Actor Willem Bartholsz Ruyter, was completely unknown before a photocopy of it was sent to him for his opinion in 1995.

In the coming months, this online catalogue will be augmented with texts on drawings by named artists from the school of Rembrandt, as well as those by anonymous pupils and followers.

See also here.

‘Philistines were not European invaders’


This video from the USA says about itself:

Aren Maeir | New Light on the Biblical Philistines: Recent Study on the Frenemies of Ancient Israel

9 May 2014

Aren M. Maeir, Professor, The Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, Bar-Ilan University and Director, The Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project, The Institute of Archaeology

The Philistines are well-known from biblical texts as one of the main adversaries of the ancient Israelites. At the same time, the biblical narrative indicates that other types of interactions also were the norm. Recent excavations in Philistia, and in particular those at Tell es-Safi, biblical Gath of the Philistines, hometown of Goliath, have provided exciting evidence of the very complex interaction between these two cultures, revealing the multi-layered facets of what could be termed a Frenemy relationship between the Philistines and Israelites. In addition, recent finds have very much changed our understanding of who the Philistines were, where they came from, and how their culture formed, transformed, and eventually disappeared. These topics will be addressed in this lecture.

That was three years ago. Now, there is a new theory.

From Haaretz daily in Israel:

Ancient Egyptian Records Indicate Philistines Weren’t Aegean Pirates After All

New study of 3,200-year-old documents from Ramses III suggests the much-reviled Philistines were not alien belligerents but native Middle Easterners.

By Ariel David, Jul 23, 2017

Research into ancient Egyptian records from the 12th century B.C.E. is shedding new light on a mystery archaeologists have been debating for decades: the origin of the Philistines and other marauding “Sea Peoples” that appeared in the Levant during the late Bronze Age.

The research, and other recent discoveries, suggest the enigmatic Philistines may have been a native Middle Eastern population, rather than invading pirates from the Aegean islands, as traditional scholarship holds.

The Philistines may also have played a much less nefarious role than previously thought in the sudden and unexplained collapse of great civilizations – including the Hittite empire, Egypt and Mycenae – that occurred around the 12th century BCE.

“We shouldn’t think of the Philistines and the other Sea Peoples as this huge coalition of Mediterranean fighters who whoosh through the land and destroy everything in their way,” says Shirly Ben-Dor Evian, the curator of Egyptian archaeology at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, whose doctoral research at Tel Aviv University resulted in the article published last week in the Oxford Journal of Archaeology.

Biblical influences

The study reinterprets ancient Egyptian records from the reign of Pharaoh Ramses III, which have long been known to researchers and have formed the basis of what we know about the early history of the Sea Peoples, of which the Philistines were just one group.

The so-called Harris Papyrus, a biography of Ramses III written under his son and successor Ramses IV, tells us that the pharaoh defeated the “Peleset” – as the Egyptians called the Philistines and other Sea Peoples early in his reign (around 1190 B.C.E.) and brought them back as captives to his lands.

Historians have used this document to explain how the Philistines first settled on the southern coastal plain of Canaan: They were brought there as prisoners and then gained independence when Egyptian control over Canaan waned a few decades later, just in time to become the wicked archenemies of the Israelites described in the Bible.

But there is a problem with that interpretation, Ben-Dor Evian notes. The papyrus literally says the defeated foes were “brought as captives to Egypt,” not Canaan, and “settled in strongholds” there.

Previous generations of scholars may have been too eager to interpret Egyptian texts to fit the Biblical narrative, she says.

“We know from the Bible that the Philistines lived in five main cities – Gaza, Ekron, Gath, Ashkelon and Ashdod, and we know that Gaza used to be an Egyptian fortress so we put two and two together and say: ‘Aha, Ramses settled them in Gaza,’” Ben-Dor Evian explains. “But this papyrus was written in the 12th century B.C.E., while the Bible, most scholars today agree, was probably written much later.”

Resettling prisoners in the heartland of the empire, rather than in peripheral areas like Canaan, was common Egyptian practice, Ben-Dor Evian says (and the Israelites would experience similar treatment at the hands of the Babylonians centuries later).

There is evidence that the captives “from the Great Green” – one of the terms with which the Egyptians referred to the Sea Peoples – were probably resettled in the west of the Nile Delta region, and may have even been pressed into military service. A different papyrus from Ramses’ time tells us that the pharaoh mobilized 100 Philistines and 200 Sherden (another of the Sea Peoples) to help deal with a Libyan rebellion to the west of Egypt. This would only make sense if the warriors were close at hand – rather than far off to the east in Canaan, Ben-Dor Evian argues.

A vicious enemy, or embellishment by Ramses?

But where did those defeated Philistines originally hail from?

The answer may come from inscriptions and reliefs found at Medinet Habu, Ramses’ funerary temple, which describe the pharaoh’s campaigns against the Sea Peoples, depicting two large battles, one at land and one at sea. The reliefs do not give names for their locations, and traditional scholarship held the battles were coordinated assaults that occurred almost at the same time in northern Sinai and the mouths of the Nile. But not all agree.

“There was this vision of a coordinated attack from land and sea,” Ben-Dor Evian says. “It’s part of the allure of the Sea Peoples: they were so good that they could coordinate their attacks on Egypt on land and sea at a time when there was no instant communication.”

But the battle reliefs at Medinet Habu are not connected; they are interrupted by a scene of Ramses hunting lions, suggesting the two encounters probably happened at very different places and times. Furthermore, the land battle scene is accompanied by depictions of humped oxen and carts carrying women and children.

These images, previously interpreted as further evidence of a mass migration of the Sea Peoples from foreign lands, are actually standard iconography used to identify locations in Syria and the northern Levant, Ben-Dor Evian says.

“Egyptian war reliefs don’t contain a location for a battle, because the reliefs are on the outside of the temple, and most people can’t read so there’s no point in writing,” she told Haaretz in an interview. “They used artistic conventions, icons, just like we do.”

Further confirming the northern context of the land battle is an inscription at the temple, describing the Sea Peoples as a scourge that had made a camp in Amurru after laying waste to Hatti (the Hittite empire), Alashiya, Carchemish and Arzawa.

All these kingdoms – except for Alashiya, which was in Cyprus – were located between modern-day southeast Turkey and northern Syria.

This list of terrifying deeds is likely historically inaccurate, Ben-Dor Evian notes: the Hittite empire had already fallen decades before Ramses’ campaign, while Carchemish is one of the few cities that was not destroyed during the Bronze Age collapse.

Perhaps Ramses was trying to justify his decision to go to war, or was making his foes look more powerful than they were to aggrandize his victory. If so, his propaganda effort worked so well that thousands of years later this inscription is still the basis for viewing the Sea Peoples as an all-powerful military machine that swept, barbarian-invasion-style, through the entire Mediterranean.

As the Hittites fell

Ben-Dor Evian suggests that while piracy by the Sea Peoples and warfare may have contributed to weaken the great empires of the age, we need to look elsewhere for the main causes of the Bronze Age collapse, such as the increasing complexity of those civilizations and the difficulties centralized powers faced in sustaining them. In 2013, a study by Tel Aviv University added climate fluctuation to the list of possible culprits, showing a long period of drought in the late Bronze Age that may have driven mass migration and conflict.

As for the origins of the Philistines, Ben-Dor Evian says it seems likely the people Ramses III defeated may have been simply locals from Syria or Anatolia who filled the vacuum created by the fall of the Hittite empire.

A Levantine origin for the Philistines is further supported, she says, by the fact that the Medinet Habu inscriptions identify the Sea Peoples as teher – the same term reserved to describe Syrian or Anatolian warriors allied with the Hittites during the battle of Kadesh, the great clash that Ramses II had won against his northern foes around 1274 B.C.E., nearly a century earlier.

“So, they were not this unknown group that suddenly appeared out of nowhere,” Ben-Dor Evian concludes.

The Aegean hypothesis fights back

Some archeological discoveries also seem to support this view. The presence at Philistine sites of Aegean-style pottery, long seen as evidence of their Greek origin, has now been shown to be a local imitation of Cypriot earthenware.

Meanwhile, the discovery at Tel Tayinat, in southeastern Turkey, of several inscriptions referring to the kingdom of “Palastin” or “Palasatini” also suggests the Philistines may have started as a neo-Hittite power in the northern Levant and later migrated south as the Egyptians lost control of Canaan in the mid 12th century.

That does not mean that the Aegean hypothesis has completely lost steam. Archeologists who last year uncovered the first Philistine cemetery ever found, in ancient Ashkelon, have described the burials there as typically Aegean.

It is likely that the Philistine culture that emerged in southern Canaan was the result of various influences and migratory waves from different locations across the Mediterranean, says Aren Maeir, a professor of archaeology at Bar-Ilan University who heads the excavation at Tell es-Safi, the site of ancient Gath.

“In the material culture of the early Philistines we see something from Greece, from Cyprus, from Crete, from western Anatolia,” Maeir told Haaretz in a telephone interview.

The archaeologist does agree with Ben-Dor Evian that the Philistines appeared earlier than previously thought and have been unfairly characterized as particularly warlike invaders.

“We see many people of different origins who settled aside the Canaanite inhabitants,” he said. “Despite some localized destruction, most of the Canaanite sites continue to exist peacefully alongside the Philistine ones.”

Thousands of years ago, the Canaanite people lived in a part of the world we now recognize as Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, establishing a culture that became influential in the Middle East and beyond. The Canaanites created the first alphabet, established colonies throughout the Mediterranean, and were mentioned many times in the Bible. But who were they and what ultimately happened to them? Were they annihilated like the Bible says? Here.

17th century pirate song rediscovered


This October 2009 music video from Dokkum town in Friesland province in the Netherlands is about the local shanty choir De Admiraliteitssjongers (the Admiralty Singers, in the Frisian language). They sing the song Bloody Mary. Which is not about the alcoholic drink of that name. Also not about the English Queen Mary I, nicknamed Bloody Mary for her bloody persecution of Protestants.

The song is about a female pirate captain, who died by drowning. It is a Dutch 1969 song.

Now, a much older song about pirates has been rediscovered.

Translated from Frisian regional broadcaster Omrop Fryslân:

Dokkum 1630 pirate song recovered in London

19 July 2017 – 16:03

A Dokkum pirate song from 1630 has been found again in the British Library via the National Library of Songs of the [Amsterdam] Meertens Institute. The historical text has been found by maritime historian Nykle Dykstra of the historic association Northeast Fryslân. The song is about arresting a Dunkirk privateer crew during the 80 year war.

War of the Dutch republic to become independent of the Spanish monarchy. The Dutch republic regarded the Dunkirk privateers, who were on the Spanish side, as pirates.

The privateers sailed across the Wadden Sea while they robbed until they were arrested by a strategem by two Dokkum captains. Five of the pirates were later hanged in Dokkum.

The song – with customized text and a new melody – is now rehearsed by shanty choir De Admiraliteitssjongers. They will sing it for the first time during the Admiralty Days on September 9th. The organization of the Admiralty Days is so enthusiastic about the discovery that it is already referred to as the Admiralty Song. Nykle Dykstra enjoys the warm welcome to the pirate song. The song deserves that too, because it tells an important historical story. The new version of the song follows as much as possible the original text. The song was made a bit faster, because in the 17th century it was still song on the melody of a psalm.

De Admiraliteitssjongers rehearsing the newly rediscovered song