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History News of the Week – Minoan ‘Masterpiece’ Unearthed

The biggest history news stories of the last seven days, including a Minoan stone that could rewrite the history of Ancient Greek art, the pinpointing of a Biblical eclipse, and a fascinating revelation about the early life of Adolf Hitler.

Discovery of Minoan Sealstone Could ‘Rewrite’ History of Ancient Greek Art

Researchers working at the tomb of 3,500 year old Bronze Age warrior in the southwest of Greece have unearthed an ‘intricately carved’ sealstone which University of Cincinnati (UC) archaeologists are heralding as one of the finest works of prehistoric Greek art ever discovered.

Depicting an intense hand-to-hand battle, the artefact has been dubbed the ‘Pylos Combat Agate’.

“Looking at the image for the first time was a very moving experience, and it still is,” said Shari Stocker, a senior research associate in UC’s Department of Classics “It’s brought some people to tears.”

“What is fascinating is that the representation of the human body is at a level of detail and musculature that one doesn’t find again until the classical period of Greek art 1,000 years later,” explained Jack Davis, the university’s Carl W. Blegen professor of Greek archaeology and department head, in a statement from UC.

Davis and Stocker have been leading a dig at the tomb of the Bronze Age warrior, which was first discovered in 2015. The tomb’s occupant has been dubbed the ‘Griffin Warrior’, and his final resting place has already yielded a wealth of fascinating artefacts, including four gold signet rings.

The size of the hand carved stone is perhaps the most remarkable thing about it, measuring just 3.6cm in length. Many of its details can only be viewed with a powerful camera lens and photomicroscopy.

“Some of the details on this are only a half-millimetre big,” said Davis. “They’re incomprehensibly small.”

The dramatic image of a warrior plunging a sword into a shielded enemy’s neck is reminiscent of the kinds of scenes described in Homer’s Iliad. Although the researchers can’t say if the image reflects a Homeric epic, they’re confident it would be from a legend familiar to Minoans and Mycenaeans.

“It would have been a valuable and prized possession, which certainly is representative of the Griffin Warrior’s role in Mycenaean society,” Stocker explained. “I think he would have certainly identified himself with the hero depicted on the seal.”

The sheer skill that would have been needed to create the sealstone is causing a re-evaluation of the history and development of Ancient Greek art.

“It seems that the Minoans were producing art of the sort that no one ever imagined they were capable of producing,” explained Davis. “It shows that their ability and interest in representational art, particularly movement and human anatomy, is beyond what it was imagined to be. Combined with the stylised features, that itself is just extraordinary.”

“This seal should be included in all forthcoming art history texts, and will change the way that prehistoric art is viewed,” said Stocker.

Date of Biblical Eclipse Pinpointed

Researchers have determined the date of an ancient eclipse which is referred to in the Bible. They believe it could be the oldest date of a solar eclipse yet recorded.

The researchers used a combination of the Bible and Ancient Egyptian texts to pinpoint the date of the eclipse to 30th October 1207 BCE. From this information they’ve been able to refine the dates of Egypt’s ancient pharaohs, particularly the reign of Ramesses the Great.

Biblical scholars have long been perplexed by the book of Joshua, which describes Joshua leading the people of Israel in Canaan, a region which covers modern day Israel and Palestine. According to the Biblical text, Joshua prayed “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and Moon, in the Valley of Aijalon. And the Sun stood still, and the Moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.”

“If these words are describing a real observation, then a major astronomical event was taking place – the question for us to figure out is what the text actually means,” said paper co-author Professor Sir Colin Humphreys from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy.

“Modern English translations, which follow the King James translation of 1611, usually interpret this text to mean that the sun and moon stopped moving,” said Humphreys, who is also a Fellow of Selwyn College. “But going back to the original Hebrew text, we determined that an alternative meaning could be that the sun and moon just stopped doing what they normally do: they stopped shining. In this context, the Hebrew words could be referring to a solar eclipse, when the moon passes between the earth and the sun, and the sun appears to stop shining. This interpretation is supported by the fact that the Hebrew word translated ‘stand still’ has the same root as a Babylonian word used in ancient astronomical texts to describe eclipses.”

Evidence that the Israelites were in Canaan between 1500 and 1050 BCE can be found in the Merneptah Stele, an Egyptian text dating from the reign of the Pharaoh Merneptah, son of Ramesses the Great. The large granite block, held in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, says that it was carved in the fifth year of Merneptah’s reign and mentions a campaign in Canaan in which he defeated the people of Israel.

Using an innovative eclipse code, one which considers variations in the planet’s rotation, the team determined that the only annular eclipse visible from Canaan between 1500 and 1050 BCE was on 30 October 1207 BCE, in the afternoon.

If the team’s calculations, which have been published in the Journal of Astronomy and Geophysics, are correct, then it is possible to date the reign of both Ramesses and his son to within a year.

“Solar eclipses are often used as a fixed point to date events in the ancient world, Humphreys said. If Humphreys et al’s results of accepted, then the reign of Merneptah began in 1210 or 1209 BCE. As it is known from Egyptian texts how long he and his father reigned for, it would mean that Ramesses the Great reigned from 1276-1210 BCE, with a precision of plus or minus one year, the most accurate dates available.

Hitler Only Joined the Nazis After Being Rejected by Another Far-Right Group

Adolf Hitler only joined the Nazi Party after being rejected by another far right group, a historian at Aberdeen University is claiming.

According to the Independent, historian Dr Thomas Weber unearthed an unpublished document which reveals that the German Socialist party told Hitler in 1919 they did not want him in their party nor to write for their newspaper.

Weber argues that this rejection by the German Socialist Party should be seen as a crucial historic event, a turning point which ultimately led to Hitler joining the Nazi party and becoming its leader. Weber suggests that Hitler would have found it much more difficult to rise to the leadership of the much larger German Socialist Party.

“I can only speculate why they did not let him join but one would imagine it had something to do with the fact Hitler was opinionated and they did not want to have someone there who was telling them what to do,” he told the Independent.

He added: “If he had been accepted into the German Socialist party he would have almost certainly remained on the sidelines. Hitler managed to push over the established leadership of Nazi party but that would have been very unlikely to have happened if he had joined the German Socialist party.”

The document Weber has discovered is from the testimony of Hans Georg Grassinger, the founding chairman of the German Socialist party, reports the Guardian. It describes how, in 1919, Hitler approached Grassinger to join the Party. Hitler also asked Grassinger to borrow money. Hitler, who was 30 at the time, was informed that the party did not him in their ranks.

Featured image: The tiny sealstone depicting warriors in battle measures just 1.4 inches across but contains incredible detail. Credit: University of Cincinnati