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Monday, August 5, 2013

Ancient Feathered Shield And Supernatural Murals Discovered In Peruvian Temple

ancient shield 1

Hidden in a sealed part of an ancient Peruvian temple, archaeologists have discovered a feathered shield dating back around 1,300 years.

Made by the Moche people, the rare artifact was found face down on a sloped surface that had been turned into a bench or altar at the site of Pañamarca. Located near two ancient murals, one of which depicts a supernatural monster, the shield measures about 10 inches (25 centimeters) in diameter and has a base made of carefully woven basketry with a handle.

Its surface is covered with red-and-brown textiles along with about a dozen yellow feathers that were sewn on and appear to be from the body of a macaw. The shield would have served a ritualistic rather than a practical use, and the placement of the shield on the bench or altar appears to have been the last act carried out before this space was sealed and a new, larger, temple built on top of it. [See Photos of the Shield & Ancient Murals]

The discovery of this small shield, combined with the discovery of other small Moche shields and depictions of them in art, may also shed light on Moche combat. Their shields may have been used in ceremonial performances or ritualized battles similar to gladiatorial combat, Lisa Trever, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, told LiveScience.

Trever and her colleagues, Jorge Gamboa, Ricardo Toribio and Flannery Surette, describe the shield in the most recent edition of Ñawpa Pacha: Journal of Andean Archaeology.

Macaw feathers

Though only about a dozen feathers now remain on the shield, in ancient times it may have had a more feathered appearance. "I suspect that originally it had at least 100 feathers sewn on the surface" in two or more concentric circles, Trever said.

The Moche people, who lived on the desert coasts and irrigated valleys of the Pacific side of the Andes Mountains, likely had to import the feathers, as macaws resided on the eastern side of the Andes, closer to the Amazon.

What symbolic meaning the macaw had for the Moche is a mystery. "We know that the Moche used many animal metaphors in their art and visual culture," Trever said. "They may have had a specific symbolic meaning to the macaw, but because the Moche didn't leave us any written records we don't know precisely what they thought."

Ancient murals

The shield was found close to two ancient murals, one of which depicts a "Strombus Monster," a supernatural beast with both snail and feline characteristics, and the other an iguanalike creature. The researchers note in their paper that the monster is often shown in Moche art battling a fanged humanlike character called "Wrinkle Face" by some scholars. The iguana in turn is often shown as an attendant accompanying Wrinkle Face on his journeys. [Top 10 Beasts & Dragons: How Reality Made Myth]

Although a depiction of Wrinkle Face has yet to be found in the sealed area where the shield is located he may yet turn up in future excavations. "What the exact relationship is between the deposition of the shield and the adjacent pictorial narrative is an active question," Trever said.

Moche gladiatorial combat?

It appears as if the Moche liked to keep their shields small, bringing up the question of whether they were meant for something like gladiatorial combat or some other type of fighting.

Whereas the newly discovered shield was meant for ritual and not for combat, the researchers note that another small Moche shield, this one found at the site of Huaca de la Luna, was likely meant for combat, being made of woven cane and leather, but measuring only 17 inches (43 cm) in diameter. In addition, depictions of Moche shields in ceramic art show people wearing small circular or square shields on their forearm.

It's "more like a small shield that's used to protect the forearm and maybe held over the face in hand-to-hand combat with clubs," she said of the Moche shields. "They apparently didn't need, or didn't use, large shields to protect themselves from volleys of arrows or spears that were thrown."

We "have to think about the style of hand-to-hand combat" they were used for, she added. "Is it something that is more ritual in nature, more of a ritual combat, gladiatorial combat," Trever said.

Jeffrey Quilter, director of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University, has proposed another idea as to why Moche shields were so small. He points out that the Moche used a two-handed club that gave them great reach and could land a lethal blow.

"The power of such weapons may have been so great as to render shields effectively useless, perhaps resulting in their diminished size over time, becoming more useful as arm guards or to ward off the occasional sling stone or dart than as true shields for body protection," he writes in a paper published in the book "The Art and Archaeology of the Moche" (University of Texas Press, 2008). He notes that the Moche do appear to have used some long-range weapons in combat such as sling stones and darts.

Regardless of why the Moche preferred small shields, their repeated depiction indicates the shields served their purpose well. They "did seem to use very small shields compared to what we know of from other parts of the world, but they seemed to have served for the style of battle that they performed," Trever said.

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EL-ERIAN: Don't Be Fooled By Europe's 'Fake Normal'

angela merkel

NEWPORT BEACH – August is traditionally Europe’s holiday month, with many government officials taking several weeks off. In the process, important initiatives are put on hold until the “great return” at the beginning of September.

This year, there is another reason why Europe has pressed the pause button for August. With a looming election in Germany, few wish to undermine Chancellor Angela Merkel’s likely victory. After all, Germany is central to Europe’s well-being, and Merkel’s steady hand has allowed the continent to overcome a series of challenges over the last few years. As a result, many are eager to postpone any controversial policy decisions rather than rock the German political boat.

Some of the recent economic news has seemed to justify this approach. At the end of July, the widely watched indicator of European manufacturing activity crossed the threshold signaling expansion for only the second time in 23 months.

Adding to the sense of comforting normality, several European officials have taken to the airwaves with optimistic pronouncements. Whereas the euro and the eurozone were “under threat just nine months ago,” European Council President Herman Van Rompuy recently declared, “this isn’t the case anymore.”

All of this has underpinned a much-welcome calm in financial markets. Sovereign interest-rate spreads have been well-behaved, the euro has strengthened, and equity markets have risen robustly.

Yet no one should be fooled. This summer’s sense of normality is neither natural nor necessarily tenable in the long term. It is the result of temporary and – if Europe is not attentive – potentially reversible factors. If officials do not return quickly to addressing economic challenges in a more comprehensive manner, the current calm may give way to renewed turmoil.

The task for Europe is not just a matter of restarting and completing the economic and political initiatives, whether regional or domestic, that have been put on hold until after the German election. In fact, these top-down decisions, while admittedly complex and certainly consequential, may be the least of Europe’s challenges.

Europe must also counter and reverse micro-level challenges that are becoming more deeply embedded in its economic and financial structure. Each day that passes complicates the design and implementation of lasting solutions to four problems in particular.

First, joblessness continues to spread. The overall unemployment rate (12%) has yet to peak, led by an alarming lack of jobs among the young (24% joblessness in the eurozone as a whole, with highs of 59% and 56% in Greece and Spain, respectively).

Second, adjustment fatigue is widespread and becoming more acute. Long-struggling European citizens – especially the long-term unemployed – have yet to gain any sustained benefit from the austerity measures to which they have been subjected. And the result is not just general disappointment and worrisome social unrest. In the last few weeks, political stability in Greece and Portugal has been threatened as governments struggle with declining credibility and a rising popular backlash.

Third, bailout fatigue is apparent. Citizens in the stronger European economies are increasingly unwilling to provide financial support to their struggling neighbors; and their elected representatives will find it hard to ignore growing resentment of repeated diversion of national tax revenues, which has yielded only disappointing outcomes. Meanwhile, high levels of past exposure and weakening creditor coordination are undermining the availability of external funding, including from the International Monetary Fund.

Finally, little oxygen is flowing to the private sector. While Europe has succeeded in stabilizing its sovereign-bond markets, financial intermediation for small and medium-size enterprises remains highly disrupted. With most credit pipelines already partly blocked, the shortage of corporate credit will become more severe as regulators finally force banks to embark on a proper mobilization of prudential capital and shrink balance sheets to less risky levels.

All of this adds up to a sad reality for Europe. Despite hopeful blips in an economic indicator here and there, too many countries lack both immediate growth and longer-term growth engines. As a result, debt overhangs will remain problematic. Owners of private capital that could be allocated to productive investment will remain hesitant. And societies will continue to lack the jobs and capital investment that are essential for durable prosperity and general well-being.

Europe’s external environment is not helping, either. On the demand side, the ongoing economic slowdown in China is starting to affect companies’ orders and revenues, adding to the challenges stemming from the persistently sluggish US economy. Meanwhile, the euro’s recent appreciation (particularly against the Japanese yen) limits Europe’s ability to compensate for anemic global demand by capturing greater market share.

These developments point to a much larger phenomenon: because of delayed awareness of the complex challenges (and the related slow and partial policy responses) facing much of the West, the low-equilibrium growth pattern that has prevailed in recent years (what has been called the “new normal”) is becoming less stable. And Europe is a leading indicator of this.

In essence, Europe (and the West more generally) owes its recent tranquility to a series of experimental measures by central banks to offset the troubling combination of too little demand to generate sufficient job creation, inadequate structural reforms to revamp growth engines, debt overhangs that undermine productive investment, and insufficient policy coordination. Consequently, the resulting surface calm masks still-worrisome economic and financial fundamentals.

Let us hope that European policymakers return well rested from their August break. They will need all the energy and dedication they can muster to pivot quickly from Europe’s forced normality to a more durable strategy for recovery, or at least to stop drivers of renewed prosperity from slipping farther away before they can be harnessed.

SEE ALSO: ANALYST: European Stocks May Be Poised To Take Off Like US Stocks Did A Few Years Ago

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