Israeli Scientists Use a New Technique to Unveil Lost Letters

June 19 2017

For archaeologists studying the ancient Near East, ostraca—potsherds on which notes and letters were written in ink—provide a crucial source of information. While ostraca are far more durable than papyrus, scholars have long been aware that the ink on clay can fade easily. A group of applied mathematicians, physicists, and archaeologists at Tel Aviv University have devised a form of multispectral imaging that can detect such faded writing. And unlike similar techniques already in use, this one does not require advanced or expensive equipment. Amanda Borschel-Dan writes:

A corpus of 91 ostraca written on the eve of the kingdom of Judah’s destruction by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE was unearthed at Tel Arad, west of the Dead Sea, in the 1960s. . . . Containing lists of supplies and orders from military quartermasters, the shards were of immeasurable value to the study of the Hebrew language and the sociology and economy of the time period.

Now, though, with the discovery of previously invisible words and even sentences on the “blank” reverse side of one of the first shards to be examined with the new technology, the pieces have become still more important. . . . [M]any shards previously thought of as blank have been summarily disposed of at digs or during artifact recording. . . .

[The decoded ostracon] is a letter sent to Elyashiv, [thought to be the quartermaster of a military fortress], from one Ḥananyahu—the team speculates he was a quartermaster in Beersheba—and discusses the transfer of silver. [The] newly discovered text shows that Ḥananyahu also asked for wine.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, History & Ideas, Israeli technology

 

If Handled Correctly, the Quarrel between Qatar and Its Neighbors Presents an Opportunity

June 29 2017

Last week, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt sent Qatar a list of demands, some quite extravagant, as preconditions for the restoration of relations. The U.S., John Hannah argues, must get these countries to temper some of their demands, especially because America has a crucial airbase in Qatar, even while helping them to curb some of the Gulf emirate’s bad behavior:

The fact is that among the thirteen demands contained in the Saudi-led list are several items that, properly reformulated, Washington should absolutely be insisting on if it’s serious about winning the war against jihadism. That includes an end to Qatari support for the radical Islamist agenda across the region—politically, financially, militarily, and ideologically (read: a dramatic revamping of Al Jazeera’s systematic campaigns of Islamist incitement and regional subversion). No more safe haven for U.S.-designated terrorists or operatives from extremist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Taliban [and Hamas] that seek to undermine key U.S. partners and overturn the region’s American-led order.

[Other musts include a] curtailment in Qatar’s dalliance with the Iranians to the bare minimum necessary to safeguard Doha’s vital economic equities—[the two countries share the world’s largest natural-gas reserve]—while forgoing any significant military or intelligence ties; reversing the decision to let an Islamist-leaning, America-bashing Turkey deploy several thousand troops to the Arabian Peninsula for the first time since the Ottoman Empire’s demise; and a strict but fair-minded monitoring regime that ensures Qatar’s commitments are actually implemented and sustained.

All of these changes are self-evidently in U.S. interests. All of them can be culled from the Saudi-led list of demands and appropriately recast by a serious mediation effort. This crisis presents a unique opportunity to achieve many of them and score a seminal victory for the United States in its battle against radical Islamism. The Trump administration should not let it go to waste. . . .

The longer the crisis drags on, [however], the greater the risks that bad actors will be able to take advantage. An extended, all-consuming conflict that leaves critical U.S. partners preoccupied with battling each other rather than Iran and other common adversaries is not a scenario that’s likely to favor U.S. interests over time.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Egypt, Iran, Middle East, Persian Gulf, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy, War on Terror