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Science: Diggers

5 minute read

The Present is Earth’s front parlor. . . . Archeologists and paleontologists pick the locks of the dim cellars of the Past, where Earth keeps the shadows of her fabulous beasts and speechless half-men, the ghosts of her once-glorious rulers. . . . Recent doings of diggers:

Ireland. By 2000 B. C. the uncouth men who lived along the River Bann, in what is now County Londonderry, had learned to catch fish in such quantities that they and their families could not eat them all at once. Accordingly they set up what must have been an extremely malodorous fish-drying centre. This was excavated last season by a Harvard group under Hallam Leonard Movius Jr. About this time the Irish were learning from contact with the Mediterranean civilizations to build huge mausoleums. In County Sligo another Harvard party under Hugh O’Neill Hencken unearthed a mound of stone 180 ft. long, covering five burial chambers and enclosing a sort of courtyard where funerals were probably held. The dead were cremated and buried with pottery bowls and stone tools.

The diggers explored a fort called Cahercommaun, a ruin of massive masonry on the brink of a precipice, built about 900 A. D. Inside this were walled compartments into which livestock could have been driven to safety when marauders approached. In the citadel was a silver and gold brooch, and a skull impaled on an iron hook, as if the head had been on display after being cut off. Another find of this period was a gaming board, with rows of holes to receive pegs, a circle marking the centre hole. A long, quizzical face was carved on one of the board’s handles.

Harvard expeditions visiting Ireland every season since 1932 have enriched its ancient history, traced the outlines of its prehistory. Ireland was not inhabited in Pleistocene times, as Britain and Europe were. Settlers arrived from Britain about 7000 B. C., bringing Stone Age implements some 10,000 of which the Harvardmen found. In geological strata of this period pollen grains of elm, alder, beech and oak and fossil shellfish reveal a warm climate. The Bronze Age began about 1800 B. C., the Iron Age not until 100 A. D. From then until the Anglo-Norman conquests (12th Century) the Irish lived in wicker huts, wooden houses or crannogs—lake dwellings. Still being explored is a royal crannog where Irish kings held court for two centuries. To get a complete picture of Irishmen old & new, Harvard scientists are making anthropological measurements and sociological observations of thousands of living inhabitants. The whole project is directed by Anthropologist Ernest Albert Hooton (TIME, March 30 et ante).

Irak. On a plain beside the muddy Tigris lies Tepe Gawra (“Great Mound”) in which trial trenches have indicated 20 or more settlements extending far back into the Stone Age. After clearing the Eleventh Level with gratifying results (TIME, March 18, 1935), Digger Charles Bache proceeded with the Twelfth Level, dated at 4000 B. C. Here were massive walls coated with plaster, earliest known use of lime, and much pottery decorated with reddish geometrical designs, presumably left by “The Painted Pottery Peoples” who first overran India, Persia and Mesopotamia about 6000 B. C. A sharply emerging concept of personal property was indicated by clay seals. One seal portrayed a huge, vulture-like bird hovering over a stag, another a man and woman cowering before a serpent, no doubt a local variant of the Adam & Eve story. A seal found on Level Eleven depicted two men stirring a vat with long poles; the diggers took it to be the earliest known representation of a brewery.

In Philadelphia last week Digger Bache and Director Ephraim A. Speiser of the American School of Oriental Research announced the discovery, between Levels Eleven and Twelve, of a temple-fortress built 3,000 years before the earliest mention of such structures in the Old Testament, and which they called “unique in prehistory.” The building was circular and its walls, of sun-dried brick, were more than a yard thick. Twelve rooms were laid out around the circle, and across it were three rectangular rooms in series. The diggers believed that the largest was a cult-room and that a small anteroom was a sanctum. Mysterious bell-shaped objects made of polished marble may have served either as weights or as cult paraphernalia.

Persia. I, Xerxes, the great king, the king of kings, the king of the lands of many tribes, the king on this wide, far-stretching earth, the son of Darius the king . . , a Persian son of a Persian, an Aryan of Aryan lineage.

These and other resounding words were inscribed in cuneiform characters on seven stone tablets, each two feet square, some 2,420 years ago. Lately diggers of University of Chicago’s rich Oriental Institute unearthed them at Persepolis, not in the palace but in the ruins of an army garrison where they had been stored. Three of the inscriptions contain matter new to scholars.

Xerxes relates that he had difficulties with some of his subjects who worshipped forbidden gods, but that he “sapped the foundations” of the outlaw temples, restored the cult of the Zoroastrian god Ahuramazda. The Institute’s Orientalists took this to mean that Xerxes’ father, Darius, who probably heard the preaching of Zoroaster himself, enforced the new religion on unwilling priests and they, at Darius’ death, tried to return to their old ways.

Xerxes listed among his vassals “the Ionians that dwell in the Sea and those that dwell beyond the Sea.” This indicates that the tablets were written between 485 B. C., when he mounted the throne, and 480 when, bamboozled by Themistocles, he sent his fleet to be soundly whipped by the Greeks at Salamis. After that his empire fell stagnant and he was finally murdered by a vizier.

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