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Roman Temple of Mithras May Align with Sun on ‘Jesus’ Birthday’

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 05:40 PM PST

By Owen Jarus, Live Science Contributor | 

An 1,800-year-old temple in northern England that is dedicated to the god Mithras was built to align with the rising sun on Dec. 25, a physics professor has found.

The temple is located beside a Roman fort in Carrawburgh, near Hadrian’s Wall, which served as the most northerly frontier to the Roman Empire, beginning around A.D. 122.

Some modern-day scholars believe that the Romans celebrated Mithras’ birthday on Dec. 25 — the same day eventually chosen by Christians to celebrate the birth of Christ. (Scholars don’t really think Jesus was born on that day.)

Using satellite imagery and astronomical software that shows the direction of the sunrises and sunsets, “we can easily see that the building is in good alignment along the sunrise on December 25,” wrote Amelia Carolina Sparavigna, a physics professor at the Politecnico di Torino in Italy, in a paper published online recently in the journal Philica. The paper has not been peer reviewed.

“It means that, probably, the orientation of the temple was chosen to recall the birth of Mithras on December 25,” Sparavigna added in the paper.

Scholars know that Mithras was popular among soldiers who served in the Roman army, because temples dedicated to the god are sometimes found near Roman forts.

“Mithras is the god of light, the new light which bursts forth each morning from the vault of heaven behind the mountains and whose birthday is celebrated on 25 December,” wrote Manfred Clauss, a history professor at Goethe University Frankfurt, in his book “The Roman Cult of Mithras: The God and His Mysteries” (Routledge, 2001).

There is also an alignment between the Mithras temple and the rising sun on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, Sparavigna said. The winter solstice occurs on Dec. 21 during 2017.

A physics professor has found that this 1,800-year-old Roman temple dedicated to the god Mithras is aligned so that it faces the direction of sunrise on Dec. 25.

A physics professor has found that this 1,800-year-old Roman temple dedicated to the god Mithras is aligned so that it faces the direction of sunrise on Dec. 25.

Credit: Amelia Carolina Sparavigna

Roger Beck, an emeritus professor of Classics at the University of Toronto, who has written extensively on the cult of Mithras, said that he hypothesized that such an alignment existed in a paper published in 1984 in the journal Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen. In that 1984 paper, he speculated that the rays of the sun might have illuminated a statue and altar within the Mithras temple on the winter solstice. After reviewing Sparavigna’s research article, Beck commented that “the main point about alignment to the winter solstice I think stands, though not to the level of detail that I then proposed,” regarding the statue and altar.

In his 1984 paper, Beck did not propose that the reason for such an alignment was to celebrate the birthday of the god Mithras on Dec. 25, and he’s skeptical that the Romans celebrated the god’s birth on that day.

While ancient texts indicate that the birthday of Sol Invictus — a sun god who became popular in the Roman Empire during the reign of Emperor Aurelian (reign A.D. 270 to 275) — was celebrated on Dec. 25, there is little evidence that the Romans believed that Mithras was also born on that day, Beck argued in a paper published in 1987 in the journal Phoenix.

Other temples dedicated to Mithras exist throughout the Roman Empire, and more research is needed to determine whether any of them align with the rising sun on the winter solstice or on Dec. 25, Sparavigna said.

In a separate paperpublished recently in the journal Philica, Sparavigna proposed that another Mithras temple near a Roman fort in Rudchester, in northern England, may be aligned like the temple at Carrawburgh.

Vance Tiede, an archaeologist with the company Astro-Archaeology Surveys, is in the process of researching astronomical alignments of Mithras temples, and he presented some preliminary results in September at the Joint 17th Conference of the Italian Society for Archaeoastronomy.

Original article on Live Science.




The First Americans: Ancient DNA Rewrites Settlement Story

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 05:04 PM PST

By Mindy Weisberger, Senior Writer | 

A genetic analysis of a baby’s remains dating back 11,500 years suggests that a previously unknown human population was among the first to settle in the Americas.

Scientists recovered the DNA from an infant — only a few weeks old when she died — buried at the Upward Sun River archaeological site in the interior of Alaska. Their data indicated that the baby belonged to a group of people who were genetically distinct from humans in northeastern Asia, the region that launched a migration into North America over a now-submerged land bridge across the Bering Strait.

However, the data also showed that this group differed genetically from the two known branches of ancestral Native Americans. The unexpected discovery of this Alaskan population offers a new perspective on the first people to settle in the Americas and presents a more detailed view of their migratory path, researchers explained in a new study.

Many thousands of years ago, the site where the infant lived — albeit briefly — and died was a residential camp with three tent-like structures. The baby, a girl, was buried beneath one of them, along with another female infant who was likely stillborn; later, a third child, who was about 3 years old when he or she died, was cremated in a hearth at the same spot, study co-author Ben Potter, a professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, told Live Science.

A burial deep in a pit below the frozen surface helped to preserve the infant’s remains — along with viable samples of the baby’s DNA and partial DNA from the younger infant. The two were named Xach’itee’aanenh t’eede gaay (“sunrise child-girl”) and Yełkaanenh t’eede gaay (“dawn twilight child-girl”) by the local indigenous community, according to the study. The researchers worked closely with native representatives while recovering and examining the remains and the rest of the archaeological site, Potter said.

Reconstruction of the Upward Sun River base camp

Reconstruction of the Upward Sun River base camp

Credit: Eric S. Carlson in collaboration with Ben Potter


The remains of ice age humans are exceptionally scarce. Populations were highly mobile foragers; people generally didn’t settle together in permanent villages or create burial grounds, and finding a site where someone had died and was buried was typically a matter of luck, Potter explained.

“It’s really rare to encounter hunter-gatherer burials — period,” he told Live Science.

“Another issue is that we’re dealing with some of the earliest people in the Americas, and so there’s an even smaller population to deal with. All of these factors make it difficult to find these [remains], so these are really rare and priceless windows into the past,” he said.

Previous explanations of humans’ arrival in the Americas suggested that about 15,000 years ago, during the latter part of the icy Pleistocene epoch (2.6 million to 11,700 years ago), people crossed Beringia — the Bering land bridge — in a single migratory wave, then dispersed to North America and later to South America. More-recent findings showed that founding populations of Native Americans diverged genetically from their Asian ancestors about 25,000 years ago, introducing the idea that humans settled in Beringia for 10,000 years before reaching North America.

This newfound Alaskan group — now dubbed ancient Beringians — appeared about 20,000 years ago, while the Native American ancestral branches showed up between 17,000 and 14,000 years ago, the study authors reported.

The Upward Sun River discovery site

The Upward Sun River discovery site

Credit: Ben Potter


The new DNA data — among the oldest genomic material from ice age humans to date — bolsters the notion of an extended stay in Beringia. But the surprising discovery of the previously unknown population in Alaska, which has its own distinct genetic makeup, adds a new twist to the human migration story, suggesting two scenarios for the transition from Beringia into the New World, Potter said.

The most likely possibility is that the genetic “split” between the ancient Beringians and ancestral Native Americans occurred in Eurasia, with the groups arriving independently in North America, the study said. The populations arrived either at the same time through different geographic areas or one after the other following the same general route, according to the study.

“This scenario is most consistent with the archaeological record, which to date lacks secure evidence of human occupation in Beringia and the Americas” dating to more than 20,000 years ago, the scientists wrote.

But it is also possible that the split occurred after a single population was established in eastern Beringia, the researchers added.

The far north was one of the last places on Earth to be populated by modern humans, a species that evolved in Africa. And there is much to be learned by examining how our species migrated and then adapted along the way to survive and thrive in vastly different ecosystems — particularly in the north, where this group of ancient Beringians persisted from 12,000 to 6,000 years ago, weathering dramatic environmental shifts along the way, such as climate change, large extinctions of animal species and the emergence of evergreen forests, Potter told Live Science.

And the Beringians managed to do it without significantly changing their technology, centered on a unique type of stone tool called a microblade, he said. This tool was commonly seen in ancient hunter-gatherer societies in Asia but was not found anywhere else in North or South America, Potter said.

“Understanding the adaptive strategies that made that possible — the innovations, the social organization, how people cooperated and how they made their tools — is really a profound way to understand our species,” Potter said.

The findings were published online today (Jan. 3) in the journal Nature.

Original article on Live Science.