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Archaeologists Uncover Ancient Maritime Spice Route Between India, Egypt
Popular Science ^ | 2-8-2004

Posted on 02/08/2004 12:57:17 PM PST by blam

Archaeologists Uncover Ancient Maritime Spice Route Between India, Egypt

Archaeologists from UCLA and the University of Delaware have unearthed the most extensive remains to date from sea trade between India and Egypt during the Roman Empire, adding to mounting evidence that spices and other exotic cargo traveled into Europe over sea as well as land.

"These findings go a long way toward improving our understanding of the way in which a whole range of exotic cargo moved into Europe during antiquity," said Willeke Wendrich, an assistant professor of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at UCLA and co-director of the project. "When cost and political conflict prevented overland transport, ancient mariners took to the Red Sea, and the route between India and Egypt appears to have been even more productive than we ever thought."

"The Silk Road gets a lot of attention as a trade route, but we've found a wealth of evidence indicating that sea trade between Egypt and India was also important for transporting exotic cargo, and it may have even served as a link with the Far East," added fellow co-director Steven E. Sidebotham, a history professor at the University of Delaware.

Wendrich and Sidebotham report their findings in the July issue of the scholarly journal Sahara.

For the past eight years, the researchers have led an international team of archaeologists who have excavated Berenike, a long-abandoned Egyptian port on the Red Sea near the border with Sudan.

Among the buried ruins of buildings that date back to Roman rule, the team discovered vast quantities of teak, a wood indigenous to India and today's Myanmar, but not capable of growing in Egypt, Africa or Europe. Researchers believe the teak, which dates to the first century, came to the desert port as hulls of shipping vessels. When the ships became worn out or damaged beyond repair, Berenike residents recycled the wood for building materials, the researchers said. The team also found materials consistent with ship-patching activities, including copper nails and metal sheeting.

"You'd expect to find woods native to Egypt like mangrove and acacia," Sidebotham said. "But the largest amount of wood we found at Berenike was teak."

In addition to this evidence of seafaring activities between India and Egypt, the archaeologists uncovered the largest array of ancient Indian goods ever found along the Red Sea, including the largest single cache of black pepper from antiquity - 16 pounds - ever excavated in the former Roman Empire. The team dates these peppercorns, which were grown only in South India during antiquity, to the first century. Peppercorns of the same vintage have been excavated as far away as Germany.

"Spices used in Europe during antiquity may have passed through this port," Wendrich said.

In some cases, Egypt's dry climate even preserved organic material from India that has never been found in the more humid subcontinent, including sailcloth dated to between A.D. 30 and 70, as well as basketry and matting from the first and second centuries.

In a dump that dates back to Roman times, the team also found Indian coconuts and batik cloth from the first century, as well as an array of exotic gems, including sapphires and glass beads that appear to come from Sri Lanka, and carnelian beads that appear to come from India.

Three beads found on the surface of excavation sites in Berenike suggested even more exotic origins. One may have come from eastern Java, while the other two appear to have come either from Vietnam or Thailand, but the team has been unable to date any of them.

While the researchers say it is unlikely that Berenike traded directly with eastern Java, Vietnam or Thailand, they say their discoveries raise the possibility that cargo was finding its way to the Egyptian port from the Far East, probably via India.

The team also found the remains of cereal and animals indigenous to sub-Saharan Africa, pointing to the possibility of a three-point trade route that took goods from southern Africa to India and then back across the Indian Ocean to Egypt.

"We talk today about globalism as if it were the latest thing, but trade was going on in antiquity at a scale and scope that is truly impressive," said Wendrich, who made most of her contributions as a post-doctoral fellow at Leiden University in the Netherlands. "These people were taking incredible risks with their lives and fortune to make money."

Along with the rest of Egypt, Berenike was controlled by the Roman Empire during the first and second centuries. During the same period, the overland route to Europe from India through Pakistan, Iran and Mesopotamia (today's Iraq) was controlled by adversaries of the Roman Empire, making overland roads difficult for Roman merchants. Meanwhile, Roman texts that address the relative costs of different shipping methods describe overland transport as at least 20 times more expensive than sea trade.

"Overland transport was incredibly expensive, so whenever possible people in antiquity preferred shipping, which was vastly cheaper," Sidebotham said.

With such obstacles to overland transport, the town at the southernmost tip of the Roman Empire flourished as a "transfer port," accepting cargo from India that was later moved overland and up the Nile to Alexandria, the researchers contend. Poised on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, Alexandria has a well-documented history of trade with Europe going back to antiquity.

Over the course of the grueling project, the researchers retraced a route that they believe would have moved cargo from Berenike into Europe. Wendrich and Sidebotham contend cargo was shipped across the Indian Ocean and north through the Red Sea to Berenike, which is located about 160 miles east of today's Aswan Dam. They believe the goods were then carried by camels or donkeys some 240 miles northeast to the Nile River, where smaller boats waited to transport the cargo north to Alexandria. Cargo is known to have moved during antiquity from Alexandria across the Mediterranean to a dozen major Roman ports and hundreds of minor ones.

The team believes that Berenike was the biggest and most active of six ports in the Red Sea until some point after A.D. 500, when shipping activities mysteriously stopped.

Shipping activities at Berenike were mentioned in ancient texts that were rediscovered in the Middle Ages, but the port's precise location eluded explorers until the early 19th century. The former port's proximity to an Egyptian military base kept archaeologists at bay until 1994, when Wendrich and Sidebotham made the first successful appeal for a large-scale excavation. At the time, Egyptian officials, eager to develop the Red Sea as a tourist destination, had started to relax prohibitions against foreign access to the region. But the area's isolation remains a challenge for the team, which has to truck in food and water, and to power computers and microscopes with solar panels.

"The logistics are really tough there," said Wendrich, who is affiliated with the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA.

TOPICS: Egypt; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: ancientnavigation; anthropology; archaeologists; archaeology; catastrophism; economic; egypt; fell; ggg; godsgravesglyphs; heyerdahl; history; india; navigation; romanempire; route; silkroute; spice; spicetrade; uncover
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To: Little Ray
There seem to be two different traditions about Prester John, one putting him in Africa and one in Asia. Both seem to be rooted in the existence of Christian communities, Copts in Africa and Nestorians in Asia.
21 posted on 02/09/2004 6:30:41 AM PST by VadeRetro
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To: Cronos
In saying there was no reference to Asia or its trade in Columbus' contract with the Monarchs, which is the best evidence of what he intended to find, and why...

I by no means meant anything so trivial as that the WORD "Asia" did not appear in it, which of course did often mean Anatolia in those days. I meant, of course, that there was no reference under any name to any part of what we call Asia, nor any evidence that any such hope was any significant part of the reason for his trip.

Indeed, since this contract was intended to make Columbus and all of his descendants rich, and titled nobility, forever... had any such possibility as the trade with rich Asia [modern sense] been seriously entertained, it surely would have been mentioned. Nearly all serious Europeans, including Columbus, understood where China was and how far west of Seville it did in fact lie.

Again, it alluded only to "certain islands and mainlands in the Ocean Sea," i.e. the western Atlantic.

It was only upon finding the inhabitants to be Asian, and the lands to resemble the Spice Islands, that the small-world hypothesis for a time, came to be entertained by him and any serious others.
22 posted on 02/09/2004 7:02:49 AM PST by Chris Talk (What Earth now is, Mars once was. What Mars now is, Earth will become.)
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To: Little Ray
Don't forget, he was also looking for the Kingdom of Prester John and a route to attack the Ottoman Empire from behind

Wasn't "Prester John" just a bastardization of "Genghis Kahn?" IIRC, the Crusaders heard stories of a great warrier who was smiting the Muslims in the 13th century and put together a bunch of rumors and wild stories and concluded that there was a Christian king coming to their rescue.

23 posted on 02/09/2004 10:43:44 AM PST by Modernman ("When you want to fool the world, tell the truth." -Otto von Bismarck)
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To: Modernman
Per the Catholic Encyclopedia entry, you've mentioned one particular stage of a five-stage legend.
24 posted on 02/09/2004 1:06:37 PM PST by VadeRetro
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To: Modernman
I thought Prester John was to do with the Ethiopian Emperors -- the ancestors of Haile Selassie.
25 posted on 02/09/2004 2:43:00 PM PST by Cronos (W2004!)
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To: Modernman
Historical foundation of the origin of the legend.
Otto von Freising does not mention the exact year of the battle between the Eastern conqueror and the Persian sultan; he only remarks that in 1145 it had taken place "ante non multos annos". On the other hand, there is found in the Annals of Admont (1181), part of which, as far as 1141, are a continuation of Otto's chronicle, the following note: "Johannes presbyter rex Armeniae et Indiae cum duobus regibus fratribus Persarum et Medorum pugnavit et vicit". Minute research has shown that in that year the Persian Sultan Sanjar was completely vanquished by a conqueror from the east, not very far from the ancient Ecbatana. The Arabic historian Ibn-el-Athir (1160-1233) says that, in the year of the Hegira of 536 (1141), Sanjar, the most powerful of the Seljuk princes, had mortally offended his vassal the Shah of Kharezm. The latter called to his assistance Ku Khan, or Korkhan of China (Chinese, Yeliutasche), who had come in 1122 from Northern China at the head of a mighty army. Korkhan killed Sanjar and l00,000 of his men. The Arabic versions are substantially corroborated by other Asiatic historians of that epoch: by the Syrian writer Abulfaradsch (on account of his Jewish descent called Bar Hebraeus, 1226-86), by the Arabic Abulfeda (1273-1331), the Persian Mirkhond (1432-89) etc. It is not certain whether the Spanish Jew, Benjamin of Tudela, who travelled in Central Asia in 1171, refers to this event. If so, the hypothesis based on the researches of d'Avezac, Oppert, Zarncke, and Yule becomes a certainty, i.e. the land of this uncertain and shifting legend is the kingdom of Karakhitai (1141-1218), founded in Central Asia by the priest-king of the tale. The disputed points are the name, the religion, and the priestly character of the mysterious personage.

Independently of the much earlier work of d Avezac, Oppert thinks that Ku-Khan, Korkhan or Corchan (Coirchan), as the East-Asian conqueror is called in the chronicles, could easily have become Jorchan, Jochanan, or in Western parlance, John; this name was then very popular, and was often given to Christian and Mohammedan princes (Zarncke). History knows nothing about the Christianity of Yeliutasche. Yet it is clear that the league of the West against the Mohammedans stirred up the oppressed Christians on the borders of Tatar Asia to look for a deliverer. The sacerdotal character of the legendary king still offers an unsolved riddle.
26 posted on 02/10/2004 7:07:59 AM PST by Little Ray (Why settle for a Lesser Evil? Vote Cthuhlu for President!)
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To: blam
Not a ping, just a GGG update.
Please FREEPMAIL me if you want on, off, or alter the "Gods, Graves, Glyphs" PING list --
Archaeology/Anthropology/Ancient Cultures/Artifacts/Antiquities, etc.
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27 posted on 01/01/2005 1:12:05 AM PST by SunkenCiv (the US population in the year 2100 will exceed a billion, perhaps even three billion.)
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To: SunkenCiv

You found it. Thanks...Happy New Year.

28 posted on 01/01/2005 11:54:47 AM PST by blam
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Just updating the GGG information, not sending a general distribution.

To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list. Thanks.
Please FREEPMAIL me if you want on or off the
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29 posted on 03/19/2006 10:08:39 PM PST by SunkenCiv (Yes indeed, Civ updated his profile and links pages again, on Monday, March 6, 2006.)
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Astronomy & Geophysics
Volume 45 Issue 1 Page 1.23 - February 2004
Volume 45 Issue 1

Comet impact
A comet impact in AD 536?
Emma Rigby1, Melissa Symonds2 and Derek Ward-Thompson2

Emma Rigby, Melissa Symonds and Derek Ward-Thompson review the evidence for the possibility that a comet may have impacted the Earth in historical times, and discuss the size of the putative comet.


A global climatic downturn has previously been observed in tree-ring data associated with the years AD 536–545. We review the evidence for the explanation of this event which involves a comet fragment impacting the Earth and exploding in the upper atmosphere. The explosion would create a plume, such as was seen during the impact of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter. The resulting debris deposited by the plume on to the top of the atmosphere would increase the opacity and lower the temperature. We calculate the size of the comet required, and find that a relatively small fragment of only about half a kilometre in diameter could be consistent with the data. We conclude that plume formation is a by-product of small comet impacts that must be added to the list of significant global hazards posed by near-Earth objects.

Article published online 28 Jan 2004


1Cardiff University, UK (now at Edinburgh University, UK)2Cardiff University

The authors thank Mike Baillie, Mark Bailey, Martin Johnson, Ted Johnson-South and David Williams for interesting and helpful discussions.

To cite this article
Rigby, Emma, Symonds, Melissa & Ward-Thompson, Derek (2004)
A comet impact in AD 536?.
Astronomy & Geophysics 45 (1), 1.23-1.26.
doi: 10.1046/

Blackwell Synergy® is a Blackwell Publishing, Inc. registered trademark

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30 posted on 01/11/2007 9:19:57 AM PST by SunkenCiv ("I've learned to live with not knowing." -- Richard Feynman
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Just updating the GGG info, not sending a general distribution.

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GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother, and Ernest_at_the_Beach

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31 posted on 07/10/2009 10:02:21 AM PDT by SunkenCiv ( Jan 3, 2004__Profile updated Monday, January 12, 2009)
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32 posted on 07/10/2009 10:03:01 AM PDT by SunkenCiv ( Jan 3, 2004__Profile updated Monday, January 12, 2009)
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33 posted on 03/26/2011 5:48:39 AM PDT by SunkenCiv (Thanks Cincinna for this link --
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To: blam

——We talk today about globalism as if it were the latest thing——

We trade today using rules and laws dating back into the unknown. The marine insurance and letters of credit are truly ancient relics that still protect and promote the interests of traders who never see each other but get along well with the intervention of middlemen and contracts that both parties accept.

The process certainly precede the Romans, and goes back to at least the sailors and traders of Crete who owned the Med

The introduction of e mail and instant transmission of every kind of document and video presentation into the trade communications has allowed elimination of the middleman. Direct access to a trading pardner allows the development of trust or mistrust one on one. Global trade can only grow. To ignore and impede is detrimental to one’s well being

34 posted on 03/26/2011 6:05:53 AM PDT by bert (K.E. N.P. N.C. D.E. +12 ....( History is a process, not an event ))
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35 posted on 06/20/2015 11:54:14 AM PDT by SunkenCiv (What do we want? REGIME CHANGE! When do we want it? NOW)
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