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History Saved! Jenolan Caves Defended As Australian Fires Rage On

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History Saved! Jenolan Caves Defended as Australian Fires Rage On
Photo Credit: Ancient Origins

Joanna Gillan, Ancient Origins

Australia’s World Heritage Listed heritage site, the Jenolan Caves Reserve, which has the world’s oldest known and open cave systems, has been protected from the raging fires which are tearing across the country. Dozens of volunteer fire fighters worked around the clock to protect property of historical significance as the fires surrounded them on three sides. Jenolan Caves House and facilities were saved, although four structures, including the local fire service station, were lost.

Located 110 miles west of Sydney in the Blue Mountains, the Jenolan Caves are regarded as Australia’s most outstanding cave system, with crystal clear underground rivers and amazing limestone crystal formations. The stalactite and stalagmite formations are among the finest in the world.

Limestone formations in the Imperial Cave at Jenolan Caves, NSW, Australia ( CC by SA 3.0 / Toby Hudson )
Limestone formations in the Imperial Cave at Jenolan Caves, NSW, Australia ( CC by SA 3.0 / Toby Hudson )

According to the official Jenolan Caves website, the caves have been known to the local Aboriginal people for thousands of years. They called them Binoomea, “Dark places”. The Gundungurra Aboriginal people used to carry sick people into the caves to be bathed in the underground waters, which they believed to have curative powers.

The caves were first formed 340 million years ago and consist of more than 40 kilometres (25 miles) of multi-level passages with over 300 entrances. The complex is still being explored. Eleven illuminated show caves are open to visitors.

The Steep and Winding Ladders of the Chifley Cave at Jenolan Caves. Credit: Paul / Adobe Stock

The Central Western Daily reported that Jenolan Caves Reserve was threatened by a massive blaze formed by the merging of the Ruined Castle bushfire (17,058 hectares) and the Wattle Creek fire   (262,729 hectares), which has been burning for weeks.

The fire had surrounded the Jenolan Caves on three sides and was tearing towards the 124-year-old Jenolan Caves House. The historic building was constructed in 1896 as a wilderness retreat for the wealthy. The NSW State Heritage listed building is a 4-storey hotel complex designed in an ‘English Domestic Revival’ style. It is regarded as an icon of the Blue Mountains and one of the finest guest houses still functioning as accommodation in Australia.

Raging fires tear towards Jenolan Caves Reserve. Credit: Jenolan Caves RFS Facebook page
Raging fires tear towards Jenolan Caves Reserve. Credit: Jenolan Caves RFS Facebook page

Reporting on the operations that saved historic structures around Jenolan Caves, the Fire and Rescue NSW Station 256 Cobar wrote on their Facebook page :

“The terrain there is very challenging and dangerous with lots of dense bushland and rocky walls: but with the combined forces of a great team we were able to save a lot of structures.

We put a lot of protective measures in place as the fire was literally surrounding the house and we employed a range of techniques combined with a number of services working together to keep it as safe as possible.

As of yesterday, we were successful in saving the house and many of the surrounding buildings. Sadly we were unable to save a number of structures (including an RFS shed). However, we can report ZERO loss of life and all fire-fighters remained safe. We were also able to take many of the beautiful animals that were displaced and provide food and water for them. Brown snakes, tiger snakes & black snakes were amongst the creatures seeking refuge and came in many – however we were a little less cuddly with these ones!”

Fire engines line up inside the entrance to Jenolan Caves. Credit: Jenolan Caves RFS Facebook page
Fire engines line up inside the entrance to Jenolan Caves. Credit: Jenolan Caves RFS Facebook page

The below video shows Jenolan Caves RFS Crew evacuating along Jenolan Caves Road on New Year’s Eve. They write: “We were surrounded by intense flames on both sides as we were defending some of the cottages and had no choice but to evacuate to safety.”

According to Jenolan Caves, the structures that were destroyed in the fire include a vacant staff cottage, the cavers’ cottage and cottage 11, described as a building of local heritage significance.

All activities at Jenolan Caves, including tours and accommodation, remain suspended until the area is deemed safe.

The 2019–20 Australian bushfires have burned an estimated 6.3 million hectares (16 million acres), destroyed over 2,500 buildings (including over 1,300 houses) and killed 25 people as of 5 January 2020, with a further six missing in the state of Victoria. The bushfires are regarded by some as one of the worst bushfire seasons in memory. It has been estimated that close to half a billion animals have been killed in the ongoing fires so far.

Top image: Jenolan region on fire. Credit: Jenolan Caves RFS Facebook page

This article (History Saved! Jenolan Caves Defended As Australian Fires Rage On) was originally published at Ancient Origins and is re-posted here under Creative Commons.

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Tomb Of Romulus, King Raised By A Wolf, Possibly Found In Roman Forum!

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The tomb of Romulus, the legendary king who was raised by a she-wolf with his twin brother Remus and went on to found Rome, may have been discovered in the Roman Forum, according to archaeologists.
Photo Credit: Ivan Kurmyshov / Adobe Stock

Ashley Cowie, Ancient Origins

Archaeologists have unearthed a tomb beneath the Roman Forum that they think, might be the resting place of the legendary Romulus, founder of Rome.

In Roman mythology, Romulus and his twin brother Remus were sons of Rhea Silvia, but Amulius, king of Alba Longa, ordered that the infants, twin grandnephews, be murdered. Their mother placed her twins in a basket on the River Tiber and under a fig tree, a she-wolf suckled and raised the brothers.

When the boys grew up and learned of their true ancestry they overthrew Amulius but Romulus later killed Remus in a fight on what became Palatine Hill in 753 BC. And now, archaeologists think they might have found the burial place of Romulus , the founder and first king of Rome.

An Extraordinary Discovery For Rome

The ancient tomb was discovered in an underground temple buried beneath the entrance stairway to the curia in the Roman Forum in an area that archaeologists know was devoted to the legendary 6th century BC king, Romulus. The rock sarcophagus measures 4.6 feet (1.4 meters) long and the director of the Colosseum Archaeological Park  Alfonsina Russo told  The Times that the discovery was “extraordinary.

The rock sarcophagus found in what is believed to be Romulus’ tomb was discovered buried beneath the entrance stairway to the curia. ( Noppasinw / Adobe Stock)
The rock sarcophagus found in what is believed to be Romulus’ tomb was discovered buried beneath the entrance stairway to the curia. ( Noppasinw / Adobe Stock)

According to Fox News , Mayor Virginia Raggi was so impressed with the discovery that she thanked the team of scientists who conducted the research in a Tweet reading:

“Rome always marvels with its treasures. Inside the Roman Forum new exciting archaeological discovery: a hypogeum with a tuff sarcophagus from the 6th century BC. Thanks to a team of scholars who conducted the research.”

The discovery will be officially unveiled by the Colosseum Archaeological Park this coming Friday however, no human remains were discovered inside the coffin making it difficult to verify the claims that it was the burial tomb of the founder and first king of Rome – Romulus.

Peeling Back The Forum’s Layers

The Roman Forum is situated between  Palatine Hill and Capitoline Hill and this vast rectangular plaza was surrounded by important ancient government buildings at the center of the city of Rome. According to Horace Marucchi’s 1906 work,  The Roman Forum and the Palatine According to the Latest Discoveries , the forum began with an alliance between Romulus, the first king of Rome controlling the Palatine Hill, and his rival Titus Tatius who occupied the  Capitoline Hill .

Rendering of the Roman Forum as it may have appeared during the Late Empire. (Angerdan / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Rendering of the Roman Forum as it may have appeared during the Late Empire. (Angerdan / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Historians believe people first began meeting in the forum around 500 BC when the Roman Republic was founded and the grandest building is the Temple of Julius Caesar which was built in the years after this legendary leader was murdered in 44 BC. According to Andreas Steiner, editor of the magazine Archeo, the newly discovered underground temple was found buried near “the Lapis Niger”, which is an ancient black shrine in the Roman Forum beneath the entrance stairway to the curia.

Beneath The Black Shrine Of The Ancient Occultists

The curia housed assemblies, councils, and courts in which public, official, and religious issues were discussed, especially by the senate. Ms. Russo told press that the temple’s altar had been positioned where “ancient Romans believed Romulus was buried”, but no bones were found inside the coffin to verify if the tomb belonged to King Romulus.

The Lapis Niger (Black Stone) shrine in the Roman Forum was rediscovered and excavated from 1899 to 1905 by Italian archaeologist Giacomo Boni and this ancient shrine is the only surviving remnants of the old Comitium, an early archaic cult site of the 7th or 8th century BC, predating the forum. The location is mentioned in the earliest writings as a suggestum where the early kings of Rome communicated with crowds at the forum and to the senate.

Drawing of the excavated Lapis Niger in the Roman Forum. (Vittalio / Public Domain )
Drawing of the excavated Lapis Niger in the Roman Forum. (Vittalio / Public Domain )

An ancient altar and stone block holds one of the earliest known Latin inscriptions (c. 570–550 BC) and includes the word rex: meaning either “a king” or to the rex sacrorum, a high religious official, and a Greek inscription stating the sacred ground “must not be disturbed”. According to De Verborum Significatione, ancient Romans believed the Lapis Niger marked either the grave of the first king of Rome, Romulus, or the spot where he was slain by the senate, or the location where Faustulus, the foster father of Romulus fell in battle.

Reproduction of the Lapis Niger stone block with the inscription in Old Latin. (Sailko / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Reproduction of the Lapis Niger stone block with the inscription in Old Latin. (Sailko / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

This article (Tomb of Romulus, King Raised By A Wolf, Possibly Found in Roman Forum!) was originally created for Ancient Origins and is published here under Creative Commons.

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Ghost DNA Shows Human Ancestors Interbred With Mysterious Unknown Hominins

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Ghost DNA Shows Human Ancestors Interbred With Mysterious Unknown Hominins
Photo Credit: Mint Press News

Paul SeaburnMysterious Universe

DNA ancestry tests were a popular Christmas gift in 2018 but not so much during the 2019 holidays, according to the latest reports. While the general public (at least in the U.S.) have moved on to the next shiny object (concerned about the privacy and lack of real usefulness of the tests), a group of West Africans who participated in a worldwide genome project searching for evidence of ancient ancestors in modern humans learned that they possess a “ghost DNA” of a mysterious, ancient hominin … one who apparently had a lot of interbreeding relations with the ancestors of modern humans. Could this explain everything? Anything? Will it help sales of DNA tests?

“While introgression from Neanderthals and Denisovans has been documented in modern humans outside Africa, the contribution of archaic hominins to the genetic variation of present-day Africans remains poorly understood. We provide complementary lines of evidence for archaic introgression into four West African populations. Our analyses of site frequency spectra indicate that these populations derive 2 to 19% of their genetic ancestry from an archaic population that diverged before the split of Neanderthals and modern humans.”

In a study published in the journal Science Advances, Sriram Sankararaman, an assistant professor at UCLA in the Computer Science and Human Genetics departments, explains how he and his team examined the genomes of 405 West Africans currently living in Nigeria, Gambia, and Sierra Leone using DNA in collected between 2008 and 2015 as part of the 1,000 Genomes project to find genetic variants with frequencies of at least 1% in the populations studied. While they knew that modern West Africans do not have any Neanderthal or Denisovan ancestry, they were shocked to find a single mysterious ancient hominin whose DNA made up as much as 19% of the genes of those tested.

“We don’t have a clear identity for this archaic group. That’s why we use the term ‘ghost.’ It doesn’t seem to be particularly closely related to the groups from which we have genome sequences from.”

Sankararaman told NPR this interbreeding occurred about 50,000 years ago, after humans and Neanderthals split and the latter left for Europe. The ghost group then split off from humans and did some interbreeding before they disappeared, either becoming extinct or being completely assimilated into the human group. Some of the West Africans tested showed minute percentages of Neanderthal DNA, but the researchers believe this came from later Neanderthals who moved back to Africa or modern humans who have interbred with Neanderthals in Europe and then returned to Africa. That’s a LOT of interbreeding. Does it mean anything?

“Are they just randomly floating in our genomes? Do they have any kind of adaptive benefits? Do they have deleterious consequences? Those are all questions which would be fantastic to start thinking about.”

According to his interview in Inverse, Sankararaman isn’t sure. In fact, he’s uncertain if this was one ghost group or many, nor does he know what happened to them. Unlike the Neanderthals and Denisovans, fossil evidence of these species has not been found – even in fossil-rich Africa where so many remnants of ancient human ancestors have been discovered.

A skull would help
A skull would help

What’s known for certain from this ghost DNA Is that this mysterious group played a big part in the early history of at least four groups of modern West Africans. That’s the kind of information that made DNA testing interesting to begin with.

Would you want to find out your ancestors were a mysterious group that liked to play the ancient field?

About the Author

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as “The Tonight Show”, “Politically Incorrect” and an award-winning children’s program. He’s been published in “The New York Times” and “Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn’t always have to be serious.   

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Newly Discovered Older Cousin Of T. Rex Is So Badass It’s Been Named After Death Itself

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Newly Discovered Older Cousin Of T. Rex Is So Badass It’s Been Named After Death Itself
Photo Credit: Live Science

Scientists said Monday they had discovered a new species of dinosaur closely related to Tyrannosaurus Rex that strode the plain of North America some 80 million years ago.

Thanatotheristes Degrootorum – Greek for “Reaper of Death” – is thought to be the oldest member of the T. Rex family yet discovered in northern North America, and would have grown to around eight metres (26 feet) in length.

We chose a name that embodies what this Tyrannosaur was as the only known large apex predator of its time in Canada, the reaper of death,” Darla Zelenitsky, assistant professor of Dinosaur Palaeobiology at Canada’s University of Calgary.

The nickname has come to be Thanatos,” she told AFP.

Whereas T. Rex – the most famous of all dinosaur species, immortalised in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 epic Jurassic Park – stalked its prey around 66 million years ago, Thanatos dates back at least 79 million years, the team said.

The specimen was discovered by Jared Voris, a PhD student at Calgary, and is the first new Tyrannosaur species found for 50 years in Canada.

There are very few species of Tyrannosaurids, relatively speaking,” said Zelenitsky, co-author of the study that appeared in the journal Cretaceous Research.

“Because of the nature of the food chain these large apex predators were rare compared to herbivorous or plant-eating dinosaurs.”

Artist's impression of Thanatos's head. (Julius Csotonyi/The University of Calgary/Royal Tyrrell Museum/AFP)
Artist’s impression of Thanatos’s head. (Julius Csotonyi/The University of Calgary/Royal Tyrrell Museum/AFP)

The study found that Thanatos had a long, deep snout, similar to more primitive Tyrannosaurs that lived in the southern United States.

The researchers suggested that the difference in Tyrannosaur skull shapes between regions could have been down to differences in diet, and dependant on the prey available at the time.

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The Legendary Tower Of Babel: What Does It Mean?

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Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Ḏḥwty, Ancient Origins

One of the many fantastic stories in the Book of Genesis is the Tower of Babel, a tall construction made in Babylonia after the Deluge. The gist of the story is: All human beings used to speak the same language. As they came to settle in Mesopotamia, they decided to build a city with a tower to reach the heavens. Through this endeavour, mankind intended to create a name for himself. God, however, had other plans. Mankind’s language was confused, and they were scattered over the earth. As a result, the city and the tower were never completed. Regardless of whether you believe this story actually took place, there are several interesting ways of looking at it.

A Literal Approach to the Tower of Babel Story

One way of approaching the story is the literal approach. If one accepts that the Tower of Babel was a historical fact, then it would be expected that some sort of remains or ruins of the tower would exist. This, however, has not been identified by archaeology. The closest candidate for the Tower of Babel may perhaps be the Etemenanki of Babylon. This was a ziggurat dedicated to Marduk, the patron god of Babylon. It has been claimed that this structure was the inspiration for the Tower of Babel. Given that ziggurats were found in Mesopotamia, the setting of the story, and that they were monumental structures, it is not too difficult to see how they may have been used in the story of the Tower of Babel.

Did the Tower of Babel Exist?

In 2017, Andrew George, a professor of Babylonia at the University of London, reported that he believes he has found solid evidence for the Tower of Babel in an ancient baked tablet from the city of Babylon. The baked clay tablet shows what the ziggurat looked like, with its seven steps. It shows the king with his conical hat and staff. And below is text that describes the commissioning of the tower’s construction.

Dr. George said:

“This is a very strong piece of evidence that the tower of Babel story was inspired by this real building. At the top … there is a relief depicting a step tower and … a figure of a human being carrying a staff with a conical hat on. Below that relief is a text which has been chiseled into the monument, and the label is easily read. It reads: Etemenanki, Ziggurat Babel. And that means ‘the Ziggurat or Temple Tower of the City of Babylon.’ The building and its builder on the same relief.”

The people enlisted to construct the tower, are translated by Dr. George as, “From the Upper Sea [Mediterranean] to the Lower Sea [Persian Gulf] the Far-Flung Lands and Teeming Peoples of the Habitations.”

Experts had already thought King Nebuchadnezzar II actually did build a ziggurat in Babylonia after he established the city as his capital. The tablet provides more evidence. Archaeologists also think the tower of Babel was 300 feet (91 meters) along the sides and 300 feet (91 meters) tall. Only a fraction of the building remains, scattered and broken.

What Does the Tower of Babel Symbolize?

Regardless of the question of the tower’s existence, another way to examine the Tower of Babel story is through the symbolic approach. The context of the story, i.e. the story of the Tower of Babel being recorded in the Book of Genesis, would make it reasonable to expect a religious message behind it. It has been suggested that the Tower of Babel is a symbol for humanity’s vanity. For instance, the use of brick and mortar represent pride in man-made materials. Thus, the use of these materials over stone and tar, which are natural and more durable materials, may be read as mankind’s misplaced confidence in his own abilities.

Thus, the Tower of Babel may be seen as a monument to mankind’s ability and achievement. Man is promptly reminded of his frailty when God decides to confuse their languages and scatter them. While some regard this story as a warning against the sin of pride, others would prefer to question the kind of God that is being portrayed in the story. Regardless, the story seems to convey a notion of doom and gloom for humanity.

Gustave Dore's depiction of the Tower of Babel according to the biblical interpretation. ( Public Domain )
Gustave Dore’s depiction of the Tower of Babel according to the biblical interpretation. ( Public Domain )
Can the Tower of Babel Explain Worldwide Diversity?

Another way of viewing this story, however, may shine a more positive light on the Tower of Babel. Instead of being a lesson against pride, this may be a tool to explain the diversity of peoples in the world. After all, the chapter preceding the story of the Tower of Babel deals with the various nations that descended from the sons of Noah. This etiological approach, in which myths are used to explain human conditions, is visible in many other cultures. For instance, in the mythology of the Blackfoot Indians; Old Man, the creator, gave different colored water to people to drink. As a result, different peoples began to speak different languages. Without the knowledge that we possess today, these myths would have served to throw light on the great mysteries of life. Besides, they make pretty good camp-fire stories.

Although language was confused, and mankind scattered across the world, I can’t help but think that we’ve come full circle, almost at least. Take this article as an example. It will probably be read by people from different parts of the world. In that sense, we are connected, rather than scattered. Also, through translations, we are able to overcome language barriers. Moreover, at times we may even communicate through empathy, without the need for speech.

Yet, there’s one part of the story we have not achieved. The people in the story of the Tower of Babel were working together to build a monument. Sadly, human beings aren’t quite doing that today. Wars, the exploitation of the poor, and human trafficking are just some examples of the ways in which we are destroying our fellow man/woman, instead of cooperating with him/her.

Perhaps it’s time we finish building the Tower of Babel.

This article (The Legendary Tower of Babel: What Does It Mean?) was originally created for Ancient Origins and is published here under Creative Commons.

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