Have you noticed how many web stories have titles like “17 Life Hacks for Girls,” “10 Foods You Should Never Eat,” or “8 Places You Must See Before You Die”? They often include subtitles like “You won’t believe number four!”
Articles are written and pitched that way for several reasons, I think. They’re easy to write (no real development of an article or essay is required), for one thing, and easy to read — appealing to the short attention spans of many web surfers.
They’re also ideally designed for maximum ad content, whether between each numbered entry or on the side. Often one must click to see each element, bringing a new page with new ads. And they’re all tagged to be easily shared on social media sites.
Those are all good reasons to dislike the format, so there’s an admitted bit of sarcasm in my adopting it here. But, a number of interesting articles have come across my screen recently, and I thought I’d share a few highlights.
1. A group of tour guides in Jerusalem claim they’ve found a 740-foot ancient water tunnel beneath east Jerusalem that dates back to the pre-exilic period, before 586 BCE. We’ve long known about the quarter-mile-long Hezekiah’s tunnel and an older tunnel beside it, both designed to bring water from the Gihon Spring into the city. The discovery of another tunnel is bound to stir excitement among those who want to know more about the history of Jerusalem.
2. Animal dung played a key role in a recent excavation designed to discover how a substantial city managed to survive deep in the Negev about 5,000 years ago. The land, a mountainous region in the southernmost part of Israel, is a wilderness then as it is now, but several large settlements rose and fell during the Intermediate Bronze age. How did they make a living? At a site called Mashaabe Sadeh, excavators sifted a large urban site for coprolites — fossilized animal dung — as evidence that residents relied on farming and animal husbandry. Finds of fossil feces were few, however, suggesting that the economy must have been based on something else, such as trade or mining.
3. Google Earth helped one researcher establish trade routes and to measure the economic influence of ancient Antioch, in Syria. Kristina Neumann took data about locally minted coins found in excavations of surrounding areas and plugged it into Google Earth, creating a map that shows how the coins were distributed, indicating Antioch’s reach in terms of commerce.
4. An Israeli scholar claims to have discovered the remains of an ancient palace that may date as far back as King David. Binyamin Tropper says the discovery of a massive proto-aeolic capital (a type of column) indicates that an unexcavated monumental building could lie beneath it. He asserts that the Israeli Antiquities Authority has known about the site for some time, and told him to keep quiet about it. Stay tuned for further developments.
5. An international research group is studying mummies for evidence of atherosclerosis, the primary cause of heart disease. In a project known as the Horus study, researchers are attempting to do whole-body CT scans on as many mummies as possible, looking for evidence of arterial calcification. So far, mummies from a variety of sites around the world have been studied, and most of them show some level of calcified arteries, leading researchers to question whether humans are genetically disposed to atherosclerosis, regardless of diet. The team has scanned 137 mummies thus far and hopes to scan many more, but the study has been delayed by political instability in Egypt. Don’t go back to the full-fat diet just yet.
6. Egypt’s King Tut suffered a number of indignities after his death. Not only was his mummy and its case covered with a thick layer of black ooze that may have spontaneously combusted, but he was also buried without a heart or a replacement heart scarab. In addition, he was mummified with his penis in an erect position, at a 90 degree angle to his body (not surprisingly, it broke off). A recent paper by Salima Ikram, a professor at the American University in Cairo, proposes that the priests who prepared his body wanted to portray the boy king as the personification of Osiris in order to combat his father Akhenaten’s attempt to introduce a monotheistic system that worshiped only Aten, the solar deity. Osiris, among other things, was sometimes portrayed as the dark god of the underworld, known for his fertility. Now you know.
7. An Israeli team of scientists has analyzed core samples drilled from the bottom of the Sea of Galilee, counting various types of pollen grains embedded in the sediment. By analyzing the amount and types of pollen as clues to changes in vegetation at different periods, they were able to demonstrate that a severe drought more than 3,000 years ago (about 1250-1100 BCE) may be the prime cause behind the collapse of several major civilizations during that period. Fascinating stuff!
But the one most readers will remember is number six.
Some things never change.