Archive for the ‘History in the News’ Category

Folks who read my website and this blog know I’m a bit two-faced. Like the Roman god Janus I peer both into the past and the future. I read science fiction/fact with the same fervor I read (and write) historical fiction/fact. I love it when science meets history in such passions as archaeology, palentology and geology. This post is a tribute from my science self to a remarkable woman who made history in my lifetime. Sally Ride was a hero of mine and an inspiration to a generation of girls. From the Sally Ride Science website:

Sally Ride NASA picture

Dr. Sally Kristen Ride in 1984.

Sally Ride died peacefully on July 23rd, 2012 after a courageous 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Sally lived her life to the fullest, with boundless energy, curiosity, intelligence, passion, joy, and love. Her integrity was absolute; her spirit was immeasurable; her approach to life was fearless.

Sally was a physicist, the first American woman to fly in space, a science writer, and the president and CEO of Sally Ride Science. She had the rare ability to understand the essence of things and to inspire those around her to join her pursuits.

Sally’s historic flight into space captured the nation’s imagination and made her a household name. She became a symbol of the ability of women to break barriers and a hero to generations of adventurous young girls. After retiring from NASA, Sally used her high profile to champion a cause she believed in passionately—inspiring young people, especially girls, to stick with their interest in science, to become scientifically literate, and to consider pursuing careers in science and engineering.

In addition to Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years, Sally is survived by her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear; her niece, Caitlin, and nephew, Whitney; her staff of 40 at Sally Ride Science; and many friends and colleagues around the country.

“Ride, Sally Ride!”

I wanted to be an astronaut since I was little. I followed all the MercuryGemini and Apollo launches; clipping news items and storing them in a banana box I got from the local grocery. I noticed there were no female US astronauts, but the Russians sent up Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova in 1963 to become the first woman and first civilian in space. The US couldn’t be far behind, right? Then NASA scrubbed the Mercury 13 project (First Lady Astronaut Trainees or FLATs.) It was clear that no woman need apply to that boys’ club. Disappointed, I still hoped. I was only eleven, still time to change the boys’ minds and let me play. (more…)

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weary herakles

A bust of Herakles returned to Turkey.

You can’t kick a stone in the Middle East without uncovering an artifact. It’s an archaeologist’s paradise and a diplomat’s nightmare. When it comes to biblical-related stories, there’s always a furor. Does this artifact “prove” Jesus lived or does this inscription substantiate the story of David and Goliath? The past couple of months provided several stories touching on biblical narratives. The trend in returning looted artifacts to their rightful home is continuing with a couple of good news stories. Finally, it’s been thirty years since Indiana Jones made archaeology sexy in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” But Dr. Jones preferred a bull whip and pistol to scientific methods. We’ll see what scientific innovations have evolved since Indy’s time. First story in our lineup: the city of Shekhem; supposedly the final burial site of Joseph of the many-colored coat. (more…)

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Leptis Magna, Libya

Arch of Roman Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus at UNESCO World Heritage Site: Leptis Magna, Libya

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is calling on all sides in the Libya conflict to protect North Africa’s wealth of ancient treasures. Five Libyan sites are on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, including the Roman ruins of Leptis Magna and the ancient Phoenician trading post of Sabratha, close to the capital Tripoli. In the rebel-held eastern section, the ancient mountain city of Cyrene is vulnerable. (Map of threatened areas. Link to original story.)

Under the Qaddafi regime, the ancient Roman and Greek cities dotting the Mediterranean coast have suffered from neglect. Qaddafi preferred to develop the oil of his country (Libya has about 2% of the world’s reserves) and little money was spent on developing the tourist industry or protecting important archaeological sites. Sheep are penned in the Greek theater at Cyrene and goats roam the ruins. Locals are hoping that tourism will bring some prosperity to their area when hostilities cease.  (Link to original story.) (more…)

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Ramesses II statue. Photo courtesy of Dr. Hawass' site.

Several weeks ago, I posted about the chaos in Cairo and Alexandria and what was being done to protect the museums. The Egyptian people rose to the occasion and protected their heritage in the cities. But things are looking grim at the more remote archaeological sites. Here’s the latest report from Dr. Hawass: (more…)

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Gilded image of Tutankhamun damaged at Cairo Museum

The boards were buzzing. “What’s happening in Egypt? Are there riots? Are the museums being looted? Is the Library at Alexandria burning…again? Are the archaeological teams okay? WHAT’S HAPPENING?”

With the internet down and Twitter blocked, we had to rely on second hand reports from friends of  friends or relatives in Egypt with land lines. Western papers speculated on rumors. Al Jazeera posted a series of scary photos on Flickr showing damaged items from the Cairo Museum. I’m sure visions of the criminal looting of the Baghdad Museum in Iraq, while U.S. troops guarded the Oil Ministry, flashed through more than one person’s mind. (more…)

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Cleopatra's Needle, 1901

Cleopatra's Needle, 1901

One of the delights of living in NYC is Central Park. It’s not only a green space and refuge for weary urbanites, it’s the site of many monuments; some are gifts from other countries. One of the most magnificent is the 3,500-year-old granite obelisk commemorating King Thutmose III, commonly known as Cleopatra’s Needle, situated on a rise in back of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This ancient artifact is one of a pair originally situated in Heliopolis, Egypt. The Romans moved them in 12 B.C. to adorn a temple in Alexandria. In 1877, the Khedive of Egypt gave one of the obelisks to the US. It was erected in Central Park in 1881 after an epic two and half year journey. It has sat in the New York climate ever since.  Zahi Hawass, the secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, recently posted on his blog a letter he sent to the Central Park Conservancy and Mayor Bloomberg, complaining about lack of proper care for the monument. He said, “I will take the necessary steps to bring this precious artifact home and save it from ruin.” The hieroglyphics are significantly eroded and many people believe the weathering occurred during the last century. The Conservancy denies that the monument has been neglected.  This blog post uses photos to show the obelisk was already in poor shape when it arrived.  Dr. Hawass is probably in error about when the erosion happened, but his complaint may spur the city and the Conservancy to make sure it doesn’t deteriorate further. I’ll update this post if the controversy continues. (Link to original article.) (more…)

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The Gates of Nineveh

The Gates of Nineveh

The recession is hitting our historical heritage hard. Governments all over the world are cutting back on staff, delaying maintenance on existing sites, allowing sites to “disappear” in the name of progress or jobs. National Geographic has a slide show of twelve ancient landmarks on the verge of vanishing. Many of the stories in this round-up are touched by the money factor. We’ll start with Italy’s woes. (more…)

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