Saturday, 30 November 2013

Discovery of 'Cultic' Temple, 10,000-Year-Old house in Israel

This image shows the 10,000-year-old house, the oldest dwelling to be unearthed to date

Archaeologists say they've uncovered some stunning finds while digging at a construction site in Israel, including stone axes, a "cultic" temple and traces of a 10,000-year-old house. The discoveries provide a "broad picture" of human development over thousands of years, from the time when people first started settling in homes to the early days of urban planning, officials with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said. The excavation took place at Eshtaol, located about 15 miles (25 kilometers) west of Jerusalem, in preparation of the widening of an Israeli road. The oldest discovery at the site was a building from the eighth millennium BC, during the Neolithic period. 

"This is the first time that such an ancient structure has been discovered in the Judean Shephelah," archaeologists with the IAA said. The building seems to have undergone a number of renovations and represents a time when humans were first starting to live in permanent settlements rather than constantly migrating in search of food. Near this house, the team found a cluster of abandoned flint and limestone axes. "Here we have evidence of man's transition to permanent dwellings and that in fact is the beginning of the domestication of animals and plants; instead of searching out wild sheep, ancient man started raising them near the house," the archaeologists said.

The excavators also say that they found the remains of a possible "cultic" temple which is more than 6,000 years old. The researchers think this structure, built in the second half of the fifth millennium BC, was used for ritual purposes, because it contains a heavy, 4-foot-tall (1.3 meters) standing stone that is smoothed on all six of its sides and was erected facing east. "The large excavation affords us a broad picture of the progression and development of the society in the settlement throughout the ages," said Amir Golani, one of the excavation directors for the IAA. Golani added there is evidence at Eshtaol of the rural society making the transition to an urban one during the early Bronze Age, 5,000 years ago.

"We can see distinctly a settlement that gradually became planned, which included alleys and buildings that were extremely impressive from the standpoint of their size and the manner of their construction," Golani explained. "We can clearly trace the urban planning and see the guiding hand of the settlement's leadership that chose to regulate the construction in the crowded regions in the center of the settlement and allowed less planning along its periphery." The buildings and artifacts were discovered ahead of the widening of Highway 38, which runs north-south through the city of Beit Shemesh.

Throughout Israel, construction projects often lead to new archaeological discoveries. For example, during recent expansions of Highway 1, the main road connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, excavators discovered 9,500-year-old animal figurines, a carving of a phallus from the Stone Age and a ritual building from the First Temple era.

Launch of low-cost SpaceX delayed

The entry of Space Exploration Technologies into the business of launching commercial satellites was delayed by technical glitch that sidelined the firm's Falcon 9 rocket. Launch of the rocket, which will carry a $100 million communications satellite owned by Luxembourg-based SES SA, was rescheduled for no earlier than Thursday, Falcon9 product manager John Insprucker said.

Previous SES satellites were launched primarily aboard Russian Proton and European Ariane rockets, which cost far more than the approximately $55 million. The company is paying for its ride on SpaceX's Falcon booster, Martin Halliwell, chief technology officer of SES, said at Cocoa Beach, Florida. He would not say exactly how much SpaceX undercut the competition but did note that SES received a bit of a discount by agreeing to fly on Falcon 9's first mission to the high altitudes that communication satellites require.

The rocket had been slated to blast off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 5:37 pm EST (2237 GMT) on Monday, but delays, including a problem that cropped up less than four minutes before a final attempt to lift off, caused the mission to miss its 66-minute launch window. That prompted officials to call off the launch attempt. SpaceX has successfully flown its Falcon 9 rocket six times previously, including on Sept. 29, when it test-launched an upgraded Falcon 9. Three SpaceX rockets carried cargo capsules for NASA to the International Space Station, a $100 billion research complex that flies about 250 miles (about 400 km) above Earth. The first two Falcon 9 mission were test flights.

The company needs three successful launches of its upgraded Falcon rocket before it will be eligible to compete to carry the US military's largest and most expensive satellites, a market now monopolized by United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Privately held SpaceX is aiming for a much higher altitude with the SES launch, its first stab at breaking into a global satellite industry worth nearly $190 billion a year. The satellite, known as SES-8, is expected to be positioned in an elliptical orbit that reaches more than 50,000 miles(80,000 km) from Earth.

This altitude requires less fuel for SES-8 to fly itself into its 22,369-mile (36,000-km) high operational orbit, thereby extending its service life. SES has options for three more Falcon flights, including one on the firm's heavy-lift rocket that is under development and expected to debut next year. SpaceX's launch manifest includes nearly 50 other launches, worth about $4 billion. About 75 percent of the flights are for commercial customers. "Our prices are the most competitive of any in the world,"said Elon Musk, SpaceX's founder and chief executive. "We willforce other rocket companies to either develop new technologythat's a lot better or they have to exit the launch market."

SES's Halliwell said SpaceX competitors were "shaking in their shoes. There are a lot of people who hope that SpaceX is going tofail," he said. "This is really rocking the industry." The global satellite industry had revenues of nearly $190 billion in 2012, including nearly $90 billion from television services alone, the Satellite Industry Association trade group reported. The US share of the market is 45 percent.

 Important Facts

Rocket carries communications satellite owned by SES

Launch delayed due to Falcon 9 technical problem

SpaceX has backlog of nearly 50 launches, worth $4 billion

Difficult times for everyone