Monday, March 29, 2004

Bannockburn Artefacts Debated

"The battle of Bannockburn was undoubtedly one of the most spectacular conflicts of the Scottish Wars of Independence (1291-1320). Although the struggle against the English was to continue for another 13 years, the Scottish victory secured the throne for Bruce.

Edward II gathered an army of 40,000 men to march north and fight for Stirling Castle, which was under siege by the Scots.

The army was an enormous one, even by medieval standards, and very well armed and supplied.

Following this army north was a huge train of equipment and supplies, which included weaponry, siege engines, food and wine.

Meanwhile, the Scots forces gathering in Stirling numbered only 13,000. Many feared the worse and the end of the Scottish struggle for independence.

The main battle took place on June 24, 1314. However, disorganisation in the superior English ranks was exploited by Robert the Bruce's tactical nous and courage of his soldiers.

The expected English victory turned into a rout and Edward II escaped to England by sea from Dunbar."

Until recently, this monumental struggle yielded only three sharp wooden stakes, long regarded as the only known artefacts recovered from the battlefield. They are said to have been among those planted in shallow, covered pits with the intention of impaling English cavalry horses and their riders and have been proudly displayed by The Smith Art Gallery and Museum in Stirling since their discovery in 1923. But carbon-dating tests of the spikes carried out during the making of the BBC archaeological programme Two Men in a Trench has produced a shock: they are more than 8,000 years old. That means the 'stakes' were in existence around 7,300 years before Robert the Bruce’s 1314 rout of the army of King Edward II.

Rubbing salt into the wound, archaeologist Dr Tony Pollard claims the television investigation found the only genuine artefacts from the bloody, two-day battle - a pair of riding stirrups once worn by a medieval knight.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Remains of Ancient Civilization discovered in North Sea

"While some scientists spend all their time and efforts in search of Atlantis, others have already discovered remains of an ancient civilization that had existed on the same territory as present-day Northern sea. With the help of modern technology, archaeologists were able to get a better glimpse of the ancient world.
Approximately 10 000 years ago the entire bottom of the Northern sea had been a blossoming valley, inhabited by ancestors of modern-day Europeans. Scientists from the Birmingham University were able to reach such conclusion after reconstructing local landscape by means of computers. Archaeologists analyzed data of earth's crust's fluctuations and using a specially designed program managed to come up with a 3D image of the area. The region connects today's British Isles with continental Europe."

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Korfmann Excavation Substantiates More of Troy Legend

An excavation team led by Professor Manfred Korfmann of Tubingen University uncovered part of a wide ditch cut into the rock and has traced its path for 700 metres. It's from the late Bronze Age, the time of the legend. He believes it was designed to stop enemy chariots, and so marked the outer limit of the lower city.

He estimates the population of the city that lay behind the outer defences in the late Bronze Age as between 4,000 and 8,000. Troy was more than just a citadel of a few hundred people. "People who think there was a Homeric Troy - a city of substantial size and population - will be happy with this result," he says.

In the myth, Troy is razed by the army of Agamemnon. The early archaeologists believed the city might have been destroyed between 1200 and 1300 BC either by fighting or by an earthquake. Now, with access to the lost lower city, Prof Korfmann has discovered evidence that it suffered a catastrophe at around 1200 BC.

"There are skeletons. We found for example a girl, I think 16 years old, half buried. The feet were burnt by fire and half of the corpse was buried underground. This is strange, so rapid a burial within a public space within the city."

He also found arrowheads, which suggested close-quarter fighting. But a key clue to the fate of Troy came from collections of slingshots that he discovered. These were an important weapon of the time, used to keep enemy archers at bay. Korfmann believes that finding them in piles is significant. If the defenders had won the battle they would have taken the slingshots to be used elsewhere, for example by shepherds in the fields.

Hence, Korfmann believes, the Trojans must have lost the battle. "It was a city that was besieged. It was a city that defended itself. They lost the war and were obviously defeated."

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Evidence of 1st Dynasty Human Sacrifice Unearthed At Abydos

The practice of human sacrificial burials in Egypt, presumably to coincide with the pharaoh's own funeral, had long been suspected but never substantiated. Now it has been for the first time, and Dr. David O'Connor of New York University's Institute of Fine Arts said the discovery was 'dramatic proof of the great increase in the prestige and power of both kings and the elite' as early as the first dynasty of the Egyptian civilization, beginning about 2950 B.C.

A discovery team, organized by N.Y.U., Yale and the University of Pennsylvania, found six graves next to the ruins of a mortuary ritual site dedicated to the departed Aha, the first pharaoh of the first dynasty, and not far from his tomb. Five of the graves have been excavated, yielding skeletons of court officials, servants and artisans that appear to have been sacrificed to meet the king's needs in the afterlife.

Although the graves at the Aha site were separate, their wooden roofs were covered by a continuous mud plaster layer applied at about the same time that the adjacent mortuary ritual structure was erected. "This makes a strong case," Dr. O'Connor said, "that all these people died and were put in the graves at the same time."

Friday, March 05, 2004

Sculpting Cleisthenes - Democracy Personified

Columbus, Ohio artist and sculptor Anna Christoforidis has been given a daunting assignment. Aristotle Hutras, a proud Greek-American who has spent much of his adult life around the Ohio Statehouse was watching a PBS documentary on the early Greeks featuring Cleisthenes and decided that this relatively unknown founder of democracy should be immortalized in a sculpture enshrined at the local statehouse.

Hutras contacted Christoforidis about "his Cleisthenes Project". But, upon telephoning Athens, Christoforidis learned that there were no portraits or busts of Cleisthenes on record in the ancient collections. She called art historians she knew around the world. No images to be found.

Jim McGlew, a professor of classical studies at Iowa State University and a specialist in ancient Greek democracy, was not surprised to hear Cleisthenes had never been memorialized in art.

"Cleisthenes' fundamental aim was to deny his personal existence. He taught people that through their interconnections and their daily lives, and who they were, that they really were the demos, which is where the word democracy comes from," said McGlew, author of "Tyranny and Political Culture in Ancient Greece."

So, Christoforidis envisioned an Everyman, placed in the dress and artistic style of his period, the late 6th century B.C. - and looking distinctly Greek. She began to sculpt democracy personified, she said, an image of stability and permanence with touches of personality lent by her four sons - one each modeling the eyes, ears, nose and lips.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Mt. Sinai Monastery Digitizes Some of World's Oldest Manuscripts

"Working in an eight-by-eight-foot plastic tent, Rev. Justin Sinaites, using a special 75 megapixel digital camera, shoots images that practically replicate the original manuscripts from the 3,300 work collection of St. Catherine's monastery. St. Catherine's is the world's oldest continuously inhabited Christian monastic community. The collection includes some of the world's oldest Bibles, dating from the fifth century, and books in 11 languages, including Greek, Latin, Arabic, Persian and Slavonic.

With the specially designed camera produced by Swiss company Sinar, a 64-exposure image of a 10th-century manuscript of the Gospels, written in gold leaf, reveals a luster on the Greek letters that seems as realistic as if one were viewing the actual book, and in a close-up the uneven texture of the gold leaf is crystal clear.

At a cost of around $50,000, donated by European and American institutions and individuals, digitizing the manuscripts is part of a comprehensive conservation program that involves conservators' approving all manuscripts before they are photographed. Eventually some of the work may also be put online. The ultimate goal of St. Catherine's digitization project is to photograph all 1.8 million pages in the monastery's manuscript collection.