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Posted on Friday, November 25 - 2005

Nubian Sphinx - A five-foot-high ram statue graces the entrance of the Amun temple at Jebel Barkal. "For unknown reasons, the ram became an animal sacred to the Nubians. Sometimes Amun is shown as a man with the head of a ram," says Tim Kendall.

On a cloudless morning in northern Sudan, the first rays of the sun cast a glow on Jebel Barkal, a small tabletop mountain perched near the Nile River. Jebel Barkal rises barely 320 feet above the surrounding desert but is distinguished by one prominent feature: a pinnacle jutting out from its southwestern cliff face.If your imagination is keen enough, the isolated butte might resemble a crown or an altar, and the pinnacle an unfinished colossal statue—perhaps arearing serpent, its body poised to strike.Striding toward an excavation near the base of the pinnacle, archaeologist Tim Kendall pauses momentarily to admire what he calls the "little mountain with big secrets." Thousands of years ago, Jebel Barkal and Napata, the town that grew up around it, served as the spiritual center of ancient Nubia, one of Africa's earliest civilizations.  The mountain was also considered a holy site by neighboring Egypt, whose pharaohs plundered and tyrannized Nubia for 400 years. But in the eighth century B.C., Nubia turned the tables on its former colonizers.

Its armies marched 700 miles north from Jebel Barkal to Thebes, the spiritual capital of Egypt. There the Nubian king Piye became the first of a succession of five "black pharaohs" who ruled Egypt for six decades with the blessing ofthe Egyptian priesthood. What happened? asks Kendall. How did the Nubians, overrun by Egypt for centuries, crush their colonizers? And why did the priests of Thebes decide the black pharaohs had a mandate from heaven? Kendall has been searching for those answers for 20 years. They can be revealed, he believes, by cracking a code of geomorphological symbols at Jebel Barkal and by parsing hieroglyphic texts that refer to the mountain as Dju-wa'ab, or "Pure Mountain." "I feel as if I'm deciphering a mythological puzzle," Kendall says. "It's a real mystery story."
Kendall is convinced that the physical form of Jebel Barkal is a clue. His research suggests that when Egypt's warrior-pharaoh Thutmose I set out to conquer the far reaches of Nubia in 1500 B.C., priests accompanying the armies took one look at Jebel Barkal and its pinnacle and believedthey......

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Posted on Monday, October 31 - 2005


The spiritual practices of indigenous people have existed around the globe since prehistoric times. What wisdom do they offer us in the modern world?I asked Tom Pinkson, a psychologist in San Rafael who has studied the rituals of indigenous tribes up close for more than 30 years, to share what he has learned. Pinkson, an expert on the psychology of death and dying, is a clinical consultant to the Center for Attitudinal Healing in Sausalito, where he works with children and families with life-threatening illnesses.Seeking deeper truths about the mysteries of life and death, Pinkson began studying with shamanic medicine teachers in the Amazon jungle, the Andes and elsewherewho initiated him into their ancient ways.

He wrote a book, "The Flowers of Wiricuta," and founded WAKAN, a spiritual community based on his 11-year apprenticeship with a group of Huichol Indian shamans in the Sierra Madre of Mexico.

You've been studying and participating in the ceremonial practices of indigenous groups since the early 1970s. What led you to that work?My path of exploration began before my fourth birthday, when my father died and I was forcefully thrust into what the Buddhists call the "teachings of impermanence." I learned at a young age that death has the power to take away your loved ones whenever it wants.

That's a difficult lesson for anyone, let alone a four-year-old. How did you cope with that loss?Basically,my unresolved grief imploded and I had a health crisis -- I came down with life-threatening asthma and severe allergies that required a host of weekly shots and medication. As I got older and the testosterone of adolescence hit, my pain from the loss burst forth in the form of acting-out through juvenile delinquency.

What sort of trouble did you get into?I was in a street gang -- so I was getting into fights, destroying property, stealing cars and burglarizing homes. It was really by the grace of God that I didn't end up dead or in jail.

Eventually you got your life on track. You went to school and became a psychologist. How did you turn things around?The forced confrontation with death as a child raised the question in my mind: Given that life can be taken......

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Posted on Monday, October 24 - 2005

Sahara Desert

Archaeologists have excavated a trove of Stone Age human skeletons and artifacts on the shores of an ancient lake in the Sahara.The seven nearby sites include an extensive cemetery and represent one of the largest and best preserved concentrations of ancient skeletons and artifacts ever found in the region, researchers say. Harpoons, fishhooks, pottery, jewelry, stone tools, and other artifacts pepper the ancient lakeside settlement. The objects were left by early communities that once thrived on the former lake's abundant fish and shellfish."They were living on a diet rich in catfish, mollusks, and shells," said Paul Sereno, aUniversity of Chicago paleontologist and National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence. It was a place you could walk out the door of your hut amid the sand dunes and perhaps see hippos, elephants, giraffes, and crocodiles," he added. Sereno led a team of dinosaur fossil hunters that first discovered the archaeological site in 2000. The paleontologist returned to the site this September with an expedition co-led by Italian archaeologist Elena Garcea. The researchers found shells scattered on the dry lakebed and thousands of fossilized vertebrae from catfish that likely grew six feet (two meters) in length. The remains "indicate that here were perennial waters in the area, and that certainly must have been one of the reasons so many people were attractedto it," said Garcea, speaking by telephone from her office at Cassino University in Italy. "I think that the area was a paradise on Earth for the people who were living there," she added. But just who were those people? Garcea says there is no single answer. From Hunting to Herds "This site doesn't represent a single period but a long period of time," she said. The team's radiometric analysis is not yet complete.

But based on artifacts at the site, Garcea made a preliminary estimate that the area was occupied "between 10,000 and 5,000 or 4,000 years ago."
The site may not have been continuously occupied. But it was likely inhabited for much of that time, which was a crucial one in early humanhistory.......

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Posted on Thursday, August 25 - 2005

by Jill Stuckwisch

The four creation myths found on the internet, "An African Cosmogony," "An African Story of the Creation of Man," "Egyptian Cosmogony and Theogony," and the Yoruba creation myth found under "The Minneapolis Institute of Arts," have similar elements and incorporate values and norms common across many African Ethnic groups. One of the dominant values common to many ethnic groups is the value of the family and group. All four myths directly illustrate the belief that a person is described in terms of his or her family and lineage. "An African Cosmogony" and the Yoruba creation myth specifically emphasize this attention to lineage. The former, after creation is complete, refers to the creator as the "First Ancestor" from which "came forth all the wonders that we see and hold and use" (Leach). The latter symbolically describes the lineage through a palm nut, sent down to earth by the creator, that eventually grows into a tree with sixteen branches. The deity then created sixteen sons and grandsons for each of the branches to go off and establish kingdoms ("Cirriculum"). These two myths, as well as the other two, reveal the importance of the ancestors and has probably lead to the great amount of respect given to them.

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