Not-So-Old News

Donovan Maudsley - 3B Mechanical
Posted on: March 11, 2017

I’m going to break from tradition this issue and talk about recent finds in early human history rather than beasts of pre-history. There have been multiple significant archaeological discoveries in the past few weeks. American archaeologists recently published a report on evidence of human life in Arkansas intermittently dating back 10,000 years. A cave system in Britain is now believed to be a refuge for the Knights Templar. Even more recently a team in Cairo pulled a new (old) statue out of a Cairo slum. I’m going to talk about the latter two discoveries.

In a very Alice In Wonderland-ian turn of events, an unassuming rabbit hole has turned out to be much more. Less than a metre below the surface of a farmer’s field in England lies a recently discovered temple which has been connected to the legendary Knights Templar. An ancient monastic order of knights, the Templars fought crusades in the Holy Land and are largely considered one of the first international organizations. The Knights Templar had centers in many major European countries in the 1100s to the 1300s, with each region having its own Master of the Order. These Masters reported only to the Grand Master of the Templars, who was appointed for life.

The rabbit hole in question lies in a farmer’s field in Shropshire, which is near the England-Wales border. The cave system underneath the field is very obviously man made, and historians have actually dated it to the 18th or 19th century. The cave system is currently open to the public, and definitely worth the visit if you’re over there. The ceiling of the temple is around 6 feet in height making it a little snug for most people, but it’s extremely well preserved. Local authorities also think that the cave system has been used recently for “black magic” ceremonies, which is why they were closed in recent years.

On to the Egyptian statue: the team who made the discovery think that the colossal quartzite work of art depicts Pharaoh Ramses the Second. Ramses II was a fairly prototypical Pharaoh; he had about 162 children (no, not all from the same wife), waged a bunch of wars, and founded the temple city of Heliopolis which stood for many, many years. Heliopolis was eventually absorbed by Cairo’s expansion, and the site where the statue was found used to lie within its limits. The location and general features of the statue lead the team to their decision about its origins. Ramses II is often lauded as the most powerful ruler of Ancient Egypt.

Ramses II, also known as Ramses the Great or Ozymandias, was one of the longest reigning Pharaohs of Egypt. He ascended to power around age 30 and ruled for 66 years, which was around twice the average lifespan of his citizens. Grandparents would likely have told stories of his ascension to power. Ramses the Great would have appeared to be a god to his people, similar to Augustus Caesar of Rome. Historians and archaeologists actually have a pretty good idea of what Ozymandias looked like (or at least his ideal version of himself). When you’re the most powerful man on the continent for over 60 years you end up with a lot of depictions of yourself just hanging around.

Like I touched on earlier, Ramses fought his fair share of wars. Other kingdoms typically tried to capitalize on the first few years of a new King’s reign and snag some primo Egyptian land, but the King of Kings wasn’t having any of that. Within the first five years of his reign he was off fighting the Hittites in modern day Syria as a display of force.  Unfortunately Ramses’ skills as a military leader weren’t fully developed yet, and he fell into what Wikipedia has titled “The First Ever Military Ambush.” Poor guy. Fortunately the Egyptian forces were considerably larger than the Hittites’. The two sides fought to a standstill, signed a peace treaty and exchanged no land. So much for that display of force…

Back to his enormous statue though. A full reconstruction has not been completed yet, but the team believes the colossus will stand around 8 metres tall. So far the team has recovered the majority of the head, the crown and the bust of the statue. They are still digging deeper to try and locate the rest of the statue. Along with the colossal statue they found the upper half of a smaller statue of Ozymandias’ grandson, the Pharaoh Seti II. This statue appears to be life sized. Egypt’s ministers of tourism are hopeful that these discoveries will help restart the currently sluggish industry once they are fully excavated and displayed.

So there you have it. Archaeology is still advancing in leaps and bounds, and we’re still learning more and more about the societies which lead to our own. I’m hopeful that one day I can see one, if not both, of these recent discoveries.