Wednesday, December 28, 2005

New finds unleash debate in Ethiopia


The Seattle Times: Nation & World: Obelisk, new finds unleash debate in Ethiopia: "While investigating a proposed site to erect the Aksum obelisk, archaeologists using high-tech imaging discovered a network of underground royal tombs. The discovery of more ancient artifacts has launched renewed interest in Aksum, a powerful kingdom that ruled the Horn of Africa from the 1st to the 6th century A.D. and was one of the four great civilizations at that time, alongside Rome, China and Persia.

But the historical finds have led to a confrontation with modern community concerns. In recent weeks, community meetings have been held in which residents were asked whether they would agree to vacate their property so historians could dig under their huts and through their farms.

Ethiopia, one of the world's poorest and least developed nations, is believed to contain some of civilization's oldest archaeological troves under its rocky soil. Experts estimate that less than 7 percent of these artifacts have been found, meaning that Ethiopia could be on the brink of the same kind of major archaeological discoveries that began in late 19th-century Greece or 1920s Egypt."

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Stucco decorations discovered in Khuzestan

Iran News: "Archaeological excavations resulted in the discovery of 2000-year-old stucco decoration on a wall belonging to the end of the Parthian and beginning of the Sassanid era in the historical city of Shooshtar in Khuzestan province.

Archaeologists believe that the moldings belonged to the aristocrats of Dastva city, said CHN.

"Ornamentations on the walls are roundel shape with toothed edges," said Mehdi Rahbar, head of archaeological excavation team in Dastva.

According to Rahbar, this stucco decoration was in the hallway, and includes geometric patterns and animal designs, most probably the shapes of two lions."

A Mystery, Locked in Timeless Embrace


New York Times: "It was back in 1964, outside Cairo, near the famous Step Pyramid in the necropolis of Saqqara and a short drive from the Sphinx and the breathtaking pyramids at Giza. The newfound tomb yielded no royal mummies or dazzling jewels. But the explorers stopped in their tracks when the light of their kerosene lamp shined on the wall art in the most sacred chamber.

There, carved in stone, were the images of two men embracing. Their names were inscribed above: Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep. Though not of the nobility, they were highly esteemed in the palace as the chief manicurists of the king, sometime from 2380 to 2320 B.C., in the time known as the fifth dynasty of the Old Kingdom. Grooming the king was an honored occupation.

Archaeologists were taken aback. It was extremely rare in ancient Egypt for an elite tomb to be shared by two men of apparently equal standing. The usual practice was for such mortuary temples to be the resting place of one prominent man, his wife and children.

And it was most unusual for a couple of the same sex to be depicted locked in an embrace. In other scenes, they are also shown holding hands and nose-kissing, the favored form of kissing in ancient Egypt. What were scholars to make of their intimate relationship?"

Over the years, the tomb's wall art has been subjected to learned analysis, inspiring considerable speculation. One interpretation is that the two men are brothers, probably identical twins, and this may be the earliest known depiction of twins. Another is that the men had a homosexual relationship, a more recent view that has gained support among gay advocates.

Now, an Egyptologist at New York University has stepped into the debate with a third interpretation. He has marshaled circumstantial evidence that the two menmay have been conjoined twins, popularly known as Siamese twins. The expert, David O'Connor, a professor of ancient Egyptian art at the N.Y.U. Institute of Fine Arts, said: "My suggestion is that Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep were indeed twins, but of a very special sort. They were conjoined twins, and it was this physical peculiarity that prompted the many depictions of them hand-holding or embracing in their tomb-chapel.

Most Egyptologists accept the normal-twins interpretation advanced most prominently by John Baines, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford in England.

And he noted that the gay-couple hypothesis had become the popular idea in the last decade. The gay argument leans on the analogy with depictions of married heterosexual couples in Egyptian art, which was first suggested by Nadine Cherpion, a French archaeologist.

When Dr. O'Connor looked into the matter, he was struck by a comparison of the images of the two men with pictures of Chang and Eng, the famous conjoined twins born in 1811 in Siam. They were seen close together, arm in arm. They and a number of documented conjoined twins also had wives and children and engaged in strenuous activities, much like the hunting and fishing of the two Egyptians.

Their names, Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep suggest another clue, Dr. O'Connor said. Both names refer to the god Khnum, the deity who fashions the form of a child in the womb. Though not an uncommon part of Egyptian names, in this case it might be a play on words to signify their paired lives.

David Silverman, an Egyptologist at the University of Pennsylvania, and his student Joshua Robinson pointed out to Dr. O'Connor that the name Khnum was also similar to the ancient Egyptian word khenem, which means "to unite" or "be united.""

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak now open to the public


UNESCO World Heritage Centre: The Bulgarian government has announced that the Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak, a World Heritage Site, is now open to the public for an admission price of 10 Euros. I have been fascinated by the breathtaking artifacts that have been unearthed in Bulgaria and hope to visit some of the tombs. This is wonderful news.

"Discovered in 1944, this tomb dates from the Hellenistic period, around the end of the 4th century B.C. It is located near Seutopolis, the capital city of the Thracian king Seutes III, and is part of a large Thracian necropolis. The tholos has a narrow corridor and a round burial chamber, both decorated with murals representing Thracian burial rituals and culture. These paintings are Bulgaria's best-preserved artistic masterpieces from the Hellenistic period."

See also: The Beehive Tomb of Kazanlak

Possible Ceremonial Center Found in Kermanshah


CHN : "Archaeological excavations in the back of Shian Dam in Kemanshah province resulted in the finding of a silver coin which dates back to 597 A.D. Archaeologists believe that this coin should have belonged to Khosrow Parviz, the Sassanid king.

An intact jar, the jaw of an animal, and the remains of earthenware belonging to the Sassanid and Parthian era have also been unearthed in the area so far, which triggered the idea that an unknown traditional ceremony must have been held in the region during the ancient times.

?A jar which is remained intact and a jaw belonging to a goat or a calf have also been discovered near this coin among the mass of broken earthenware which date back to the Sassanid era. Taking into account that the region was considered as a religious area in the ancient times, the existence of so much earthenware in the region indicates a traditional ceremony among the residences of the region. More studies are still needed to reach a definite conclusion,? said Hassan Rezvani, head of archeological excavation team of Shian Dam.

Prior to this, a temple dating back to the Parthian era as well as a big fire temple, which is supposed to be one of the biggest fire temples belonging to the Sassanid era were discovered during the archaeological excavations behind the Shian Dam."

Oldest Known Maya Mural, Tomb Reveal Story of Ancient King


National Geographic: "Archaeologists today revealed the final section of the earliest known Maya mural ever found, saying that the find upends everything they thought they knew about the origins of Maya art, writing, and rule.

The painting was the last wall of a room-size mural to be excavated. The site was discovered in 2001 at the ancient Maya city of San Bartolo in the lowlands of northeastern Guatemala.

'It is really breathtaking how beautiful this is,' said William Saturno, an archaeologist with the University of New Hampshire and the Harvard Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

The mural was painted by skilled artisans and reads like a Maya book, telling the story of creation, the mythology of kingship, and the divine right of a king, according to Saturno, who leads the San Bartolo excavation project.

The painted wall dates to 100 B.C., proving that these stories of creation and kings?and the use of elaborate art and writing to tell them?were well established more than 2,000 years ago ago, centuries earlier than previously believed."

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Meet the ancient kings of Persia at the Fars Museum


Iran News - Fars Museum, a maze of Ancient Persia: "The Fars Museum in Shiraz, Iran, has been renovated to house an extensive collection of artifacts signifying the glory of Ancient Persia. The museum itself somewhat resembles the famous Madame Tussaud's Waxworks in London, reported CHN.

As one goes downstairs, one can see several inter-connected halls filled with artifacts from different eras of Iranian history from the ancient times to the present.

The first relics one encounters are the capitals of Takht-e Jamshid (Persepolis) with a statue of a man holding a lotus. The figure is surrounded by several attendants.

He stares at you in a way that you seem to hear a voice saying: "I am Darius the Great, King of kings, King of Persia, son of Hystaspes, nephew of Achaemenian Arsham. Monarchy runs in our family."

Behind Darius, stands Xerxes saying, "I am a Persian. I delivered this land from the wicked by the favor of Ahura-Mazda."

Around Darius, there are other replicas from Persepolis including the one of Cyrus, founder of the Achaemenid dynasty: "I am the Persian Cyrus. I liberated Babylon and allowed the people to keep their religions."

The Charter of Cyrus is also on display beside a replica featuring Pasargad's famed winged human."

Legendary Musician's palace unearthed near Agra

Nether Malhar : outlookindia.com: "A gardener's shovel has helped unearth a hidden piece of the past at Fatehpur Sikri, Mughal emperor Akbar's magnificent capital near Agra?now a World Heritage site.

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has stumbled upon the buried remnants of a palace in the sprawling 16th-century complex that may have been the home of legendary musician Tansen, one of the 'nine jewels' of Akbar's court.

The palace has a number of big hamaams and a sophisticated system of water management, which according to Dr D. Dayalan, superintending archaeologist, are clear signs that it belonged to someone who really mattered. While Dayalan and his team are yet to unearth firm evidence that this is indeed Tansen's palace, its location adjacent to the Tansen Baradari?a beautiful red sandstone pleasure pavilion with twelve arches that local tradition has always associated with the court musician?leads archaeologists to believe the newly revealed building was, in all probability, Tansen's abode. 'There are steps leading from the Tansen Baradari to this palace."

Parthian site may have wrongly been identified as Ecbatana

Parthian site may have wrongly been identified as Ecbatana:Having read so much about Alexander the Great I can't help but perk up when I hear anything about the city of Ecbatana.

"Archaeologists? latest excavations at the historical site in Hamedan which had up to now been identified as Hegmataneh (Ecbatana), the ancient capital of the Medes, show that it was probably constructed during the Parthian era, the Persian service of the Cultural Heritage News (CHN) agency reported on Friday.

According to history books, Ecbatana became the capital of the Medes in the late 8th century BC, but the recent studies show that the site identified as Ecbatana was inhabited during the Parthian era and was probably built in that time or slightly earlier, team director Masud Azarnush said.



?Several remains of earthenware as well as brass coins from the Parthian era were discovered during the recent excavations in an area covering 100 square meters,? he noted.



The architectural structures of the city were probably constructed in the Parthian era as well, he said.



According to Azarnush, the new structures were built on the previous walls and foundations during different eras in the city, that is, the Sassanid layer was built on the Parthian layer. The last layers belong to the Qajar and Pahlavi dynasties.



He noted that further studies must be carried out at other parts of the site to reveal more of the history of the region.



Azarnush believes that one of the other nearby ancient mounds in Hamedan may be the real Ecbatana of the Medes. None of these mounds has been excavated yet."

Stela depicting Mayan "queen" unearthed

University of Calgary archaeologist and her international team of researchers have discovered the earliest known portrait of a woman that the Maya carved into stone, demonstrating that women held positions of authority very early in Maya history ? either as queens or patron deities.

The discovery was made earlier this year in Guatemala at the site of Naachtun, a Maya city located
some 90 kilometres through dense jungle north of the more famous Maya city of Tikal. The woman?s face, carved on a stone monument called a stela [STEE-la] ? and in an artistic style never before seen ? suggests women played significant roles in early Maya politics.

?I?ve worked in the Maya area a long time and I?ve never seen anything like it,? says Dr. Kathryn Reese-Taylor, the director of the U of C-led Naachtun project. ?We have images of queens, who ruled both singly and with their husbands or sons, depicted on stelae later in Maya history beginning in the early 6th century AD. But this stela is completely unique in style and likely dates to the 4th century AD.?


The woman could be a figure from Maya history, but researchers are tantalized by the possibility she might be a mythical figure. Hieroglyphic inscriptions of the Late Classic period (600-900 AD) mention female deities, but none have ever been discovered on a stela. ?If this is a patron deity, then it is extremely rare,? Reese-Taylor says. ?When hieroglyphic texts do mention women, it is usually in the context of being either someone?s mother or someone?s wife.?

The stela measures two metres in height, one metre in width, and 50 centimetres in depth. It was buried by the Maya inside an ancient building after their city was attacked and the inscriptions on the stela were hacked off by the invading forces. The burial was a reverential act meant to honour the individual whose image was carved on the monument. An infant?s burial accompanied the stela.


DRAWING OF STELA. Image courtesy of THE UNIVERSITY OF CALGARY

Monday, November 21, 2005

Women and Marriage in Sassanid Era

CHN | News: "Women from the lower classes of society were deprived of many rights during the Sassanid era, a deprivation that can be traced in the rules of marriage and divorce at the time.

Sassanids wedded their daughters when they reached the age of 9 and their sons when they reached 15. Those ages were considered the perfect time of life, and it was believed that people would live at those when they were resurrected in heavens.

Noble women could reach the highest governmental positions.? As such were Denak, mother of Yazdgerd II and mother of Hormoz III, Pouran and Azarmidokht, daughters of Khosro Parviz, were all among women who ruled as Queen of the Queens (lady of the ladies).

Traditionally, however, women from lower social classes were considered as some kind of possession, worth as much as a slave. Even that amount is believed to have been paid as a marriage payment.

There was no obligation for women to receive religious teachings. Women who opposed getting married were sentenced to death, a fate never considered for men in the same situation.

Divorce had its own regulations at the time: if a woman carried out sorcery rituals, her husband could divorce her; the same was true if the woman was infertile, had sexual relations with another man, did not carry out her responsibilities properly, or did not wish to sleep with her husband. If the girl just reached her puberty and left her husband, she deserved nothing but death. "

Friday, November 18, 2005

Archaeologists Uncover Evidence of Female Brewers in Ancient Peru


Science & Technology at Scientific American.com: "The remains of a brewery in the southernmost settlement of an ancient Peruvian empire appears to provide proof that women of high rank crafted chicha, a beerlike beverage made from corn and spicy berries that was treasured by the Wari people of old as well as their modern day descendants. Decorative shawl pins, worn exclusively by high caste women, littered the floor of the brewery, which was capable of producing more than 475 gallons of the potent brew a week.

'The brewers were not only women, but elite women,' says Donna Nash of the Field Museum in Chicago, a member of the archaeology team studying the Cerro Ba?l site where the ruins were found. 'They weren't slaves and they weren't people of low status. So the fact that they made the beer probably made it even more special.'

More than a decade of research into Cerro Baúl led to this finding, which supports Spanish accounts of Incan women--a successor culture of the Wari--as master brewers and weavers. The team's analysis is being published online this week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."

Iran's Kerman dwarf turned out premature baby

Iran News: "Anthropological studies of a 25 cm mummy discovered in Shahdad city of Kerman province have proved it to belong to a premature infant mummified under natural processes instead of a dwarf adult as had been previously claimed.

"The skeleton was found next to a cemetery belonging to the Seljuk era (900 years ago), but archaeologists believe that it should date back to the late Islamic period. People lived in the region up to the Safavid era, but as there is no article or inscription alongside the mummy, determining the exact date of his burial is impossible," said Nader Alidadi Soliemani, archaeologist of the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization of Kerman province.

Mass murder mystery of Maya kingdom


United Press International: "Archaeologists have been unearthing the ancient city of Cancu?n and while draining a sacred pool that led to the elaborate channels of the city, found about 50 dismembered skeletons, The New York Times reports.

This murder mystery is believed to have happened around 800 A.D., around the time of the drastic decline of the Maya civilization. The reason behind the fall of that empire is still not known.

What archaeologists believe in this discovery is that the entire royal court was rounded up and killed, their bones buried in the pool.

This led to the inhabitants of the city leaving, as did others in the area.

The king and queen were found about 80 yards from the rest of the bones, buried with royal garb.

Despite the violent deaths -- researchers believe they were speared or hit in the neck with an axe -- the bodies were all buried with fine robes and other nice clothes as a sign of respect."

Monday, November 07, 2005

3000-year-old warrior still fighting at Gohar-Tappeh


A team of archaeologists working at the 3000-year-old site of Gohar-Tappeh in Iran's northern province of Mazandaran have recently unearthed a skeleton of a warrior buried in an attacking pose with a dagger in his hands.


"He is holding a 26-centimeter dagger and appears to be making a forward thrust. The evidence shows that he was originally buried in this pose," the director of the team, Ali Mahforuzi, said.

This is the first burial of this kind to be discovered in Iran. The archaeologists have not yet been able to determine why the man was buried in this exact position.

"Beside the skeleton, a number of dishes have also been found which seem to have been presented to the warrior. One of the dishes has some holes in it containing the remains of coal. Archaeologists had discovered such dishes before, but they could not determine the practical application, but the traces of coal indicate that the dish has been used for burning agalloch or other types of incense. The skeleton was also wearing a beautiful coiled shell necklace,"

Friday, October 28, 2005

Tebtunis Papyri excavated a century ago finally arrives at UC Berkeley

Just a few weeks ago, three tins of ancient papyri belonging to the University of California, Berkeley, finally arrived home, shipped across the Atlantic more than a century after they were collected in Egypt.

British archaeologists Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt excavated the temple, town and cemetery of Tebtunis, Egypt, in an expedition for UC Berkeley in the winter of 1899-1900 at the behest of university benefactress Phoebe Apperson Hearst. After uncovering a treasure trove of papyri and artifacts, they brought them to their home base at Oxford for study and publication of selected pieces.

Fragments of papyrus wrapped in pages from the Oxford University Gazette
Fragments of papyrus rest in pages from back issues of the Oxford University Gazette (in this instance, the 15 July 1931 edition) in which they were shipped back from England.

Print-quality image available for download

After the first two volumes were published, further publication was slowed by the illness and death of the two scholars, so the papyri remained at Oxford for longer than expected, said Todd Hickey, a papyrologist and curator of the Center for Tebtunis Papyri at UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library.

Although much of the material was eventually sent to the campus from the late 1930s through the '50s, additional containers remained overlooked, Hickey said.

But a couple of years ago, Hickey noted that an inventory of the numbering applied by Grenfell and Hunt to many pieces in the center's more than 30,000-piece collection showed many gaps in the sequence. The newly hired curator also noted that a research paper published by a University of Toronto scholar cited pieces of papyri that he studied at Oxford; they contained excavation numbers that identified them as part of UC Berkeley's Tebtunis collection.

"So, we had a pretty good idea there was material at Oxford that belonged to us," Hickey said.

Next, Donald Mastronarde, a UC Berkeley professor of classics and director of the Tebtunis Center, wrote to the chief of Oxford's Oxyrhynchus Center, which houses an extensive papyri collection assembled from a community north of Tebtunis, through the Egyptian Exploration Society.

Oxford University acknowledged possession of some pieces of the Tebtunis papyri collection, said Hickey, and efforts began in earnest to bring them home.

Some of the papers went on display today (Tuesday, Oct. 18) at UC Berkeley in a ceremony at the Morrison Library within Doe Library to celebrate the largest papyri collection in the United States.

Among the new materials are fragments of Euripides' "Phoenician Women," Homer's "Odyssey," an ancient medical handbook, and papers from an influential prophetess of the local crocodile god, as well as a family priest's writings that trace that a family's history over eight generations.

"There remains unknown and potentially blockbuster items in these boxes of mummy cartonnage," said Hickey.

New Digs Decoding Mexico's "Pyramids of Fire"

New Digs Decoding Mexico's "Pyramids of Fire": "The largest unanswered questions about Teotihuacan concern its demise. Why, for example, was the city largely abandoned around A.D. 650?

The recent excavations are revealing new bits of information that help piece together an answer.

Spence has found evidence that the health of Teotihuacán's population declined in the city's final century. Residents' teeth have tell-tale lines that form in childhood during episodes of severe stress, such as malnutrition or infection.

"Basically growth stops as the body concentrates on survival and repair," he said. "Then as the stress passes, the growth continues again. But there's a line left in the tooth that represents the stress episode."

Because teeth only grow during childhood, scientists can put a general age to when the stress happened. These signatures of bodily stress remain in adult teeth.

"We have shown that in the last century of the city there is a growing problem of some sort. We get more and more indications showing up in adult teeth," he said.

'We don't know exactly what happened at the final stage, but we know certainly the city was destroyed by man, not by natural disaster,' Sugiyama said.

Researchers are uncertain whether insiders or outsiders caused the destruction, Sugiyama said, but they do know that the instrument was fire, particularly on Teotihuac?n's monuments.

The archaeologist says an invading army could have set fires to the monuments as a signature of their conquest.

Spence, however, says the evidence suggests to him the fires were set during an internal revolt.

According to his theory, the deteriorating health of the city's poor was likely exacerbated by a drought or a disruption to the food supply. This spurred a revolution against the ruling elite and their symbols of power?temples, pyramids, and palaces.

'The destruction seems to have skipped the vast majority of the city and focused on the elite and punished the elite. That suggests a revolt to me,' he said."

Divers unveil exquisite treasure pulled from depths of Java Sea


Yahoo! News: "An ornately sculpted mirror of polished bronze is one masterpiece among the 250,000 artefacts recovered over the last 18 months from a boat that sank off Indonesia's shores in the 10th century.

On a small mould is written the word 'Allah' in beautiful Arabic script, on top of a lid sits a delicately chiseled doe.

Tiny perfume flasks accompany jars made of baked clay, while slender-necked vases fill the shelves of the hangar along with brightly colored glassware from the Fatimides dynasty that once ruled ancient Egypt.

A team of divers, among them three Australians, two Britons, three French, three Belgians and two Germans, excavated the vessel laden with rare ceramics which sank more than 1,000 years ago some 130 nautical miles from Jakarta.

Their finds, including artefacts from China's Five Dynasties period from 907 to 960 AD and ancient Egypt, are already causing a stir among archaeologists who say the cargo sheds new light on how ancient merchant routes were forged.

"A 10th century wreck is very rare, there are only a few," says Jean-Paul Desroches, a curator at the Guimet Museum in Paris, after seeing photographs of the early hauls.

He says the wreck and its cargo offers clues to how traders using the Silk Road linking China to Europe and the Middle East, used alternative sea routes as China's merchants moved south because of invasions from the north."

New Director of Chicago Oriental Institute strives to make the ancient world meaningful to a modern audience

Harvard Magazine:

"In a glass case stand a dozen carved statues of gypsum alabaster ? male figurines with their hands folded at their chests and their shell-and-lapis-lazuli eyes wide open. Dating to around 2500 B.C., the statues were commissioned by wealthy Mesopotamians as proxy worshippers, to stand in the temples of gods and pray in their owners? absence. ?The Mesopotamians saw gods as present all around us,? explains new Oriental Institute Museum director Geoff Emberling ?87. The gods were also believed to reside in their cult statues, he says, ?so the idea that a person could be present in a statue is not so far removed.? The figurines and their role fascinate him because ?they take us out of our way of seeing,? he explains, and provide ?a good example of how, with a little understanding, we can glimpse? another world. Emberling, who has studied the ancient Near East for more than 20 years, has always tried to connect with that world.

The museum had closed its galleries in 1996, so workers could install climate-control systems. Since then, the refurbished, redesigned galleries have reopened, one at a time ? Egyptian (1999), Persian (2000), and Mesopotamian (2003). When Emberling arrived, planning was well underway for the Assyrian, Syro-Anatolian, and Megiddo galleries, which opened last January. His museum knowledge proved valuable: Stein credits him with engaging a design consultant ?to give a similar look and feel to all of our galleries? and with saving the institute $100,000 by suggesting that a wall to hold Assyrian reliefs be built in-house.

Emberling is also linking the museum more closely to the contemporary world. The final exhibit hall, on Nubia (today part of modern Egypt and Sudan), opens in February. Highlighting Nubia?s ties to African Americans, Emberling has secured a Joyce Foundation grant to help local schoolchildren visit the museum to make their own Nubian ?artifacts? and learn to give tours to classmates and parents. ?The idea is to make local kids feel some ownership of the museum,? he explains. ?I?m very excited about it.?

In addition, he has booked rotating exhibits ? a new concept for the OI ? through 2009; they include one on traditional Palestinian dress and another on printed maps of the Ottoman Empire. From here the job could move in several directions. He may focus on curating: the OI has thousands of objects in basement drawers that its registrar has estimated would take six people five years to document. "

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Mysterious grave found in Gohar Tepe, Iran

Iran News: "Discovery of a 3000-year-old skeleton with a bronze strap and a semicircle bronze horseshoe from under its head has raised a lot of questions for archaeologists.

Archaeologists believe that the articles inside this grave are indication of changes and new eras in the life of the people of Gohar Tepe 3000 years ago.

The skeleton is wearing a dagger at its waist, on which after some 3500 years, traces of wood and cloth can be seen. A bronze bracelet, a lapis bead necklace, and some delicate clay dishes were also found in the grave."

Chinese Archaeologists Find 1,700-Year-Old Tomb

VOA News: "Archaeologists have unearthed a 1,700-year-old complex of tombs in eastern China's Zheijiang Province. The tombs were first discovered by a forklift operator at a construction site near the port city of Ningbo.

Inscriptions in the tombs indicate they were built in 256-AD, and are the best-preserved ancient tombs ever discovered in the region.

Figures of fish, beasts, dragons and phoenixes are etched in the walls. Other objects discovered at the site include porcelain vessels, copper money and bronze mirrors."

Monday, October 10, 2005

More grave goods found with women in Kharand cemetary


Culture Heritage News Agency:

"Studying the artifacts buried with female corpses in Kharand ancient graveyard, archaeologists have come to the conclusion that the more buried items alongside the women, compared to the graves of men, show the women's privileged status in ancient times.

"The burial ceremonies gifts were a part of death rituals in ancient times. The number of gifts, which are mostly tiles, was higher in the graves of women," said Abdolmotaleb Sharifian, head of the excavation project in the Kharand archeological site.

The ancient Kharand graveyard is located in a 51 kilometer distance of Semnan. The archaeological site belongs to the Iron Age (3450 to 2550 years ago).

"The big difference in the number of gifts in men's and women's graves can imply many things, including that the in the ancient Persia women were considered the privileged," he indicated.

According to Sharifi, the only signet found in the site belonged to a woman, which shows that women held the key status in the families and were responsible for economic matters.

The difference in number of the gifts in the graves is so huge that the archaeologists can discover the sex of the corpse even before checking out the body."

Aerial photography reveals new secrets about Kublai Khan's Capital

The Statesman: "Aerial photography has helped Chinese archaeologists shed new light on the capital of Kublai Khan?s empire, also known as Xanadu in Marco Polo?s Travel Notes, state media reported today.
Director of centre of remote sensing and aerial photography of China?s National Museum Mr Yang Lin said: ?We can see the spectacular city with its scale and the density of buildings.?
The ruins have been overgrown with grass for more than 600 years. Archaeologists have taken a large number of photos of the site in Zhenglan Banner in north China?s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region from planes flying at low altitudes in recent years."

Friday, October 07, 2005

Excavation of Ecbatana to Resume

Description of Selected News: "A team of Iranian archaeologists are excavating a stratum of the ancient site of Ecbatana which they believe dates back to the Sassanid or Parthian era.

Covering an area of 35 hectares, the site of Ecbatana is located in the northern section of the western Iranian city of Hamedan. Ruins from various historical periods have been unearthed during previous excavations at the site which indicate that the ancient inhabitants practiced progressive urban planning.

?The new phase of the excavations aims to shed light on the lifestyles during various periods. Thus we don?t expect to unearth important artifacts,? archaeological team director Masud Azarnush told the Persian service of the Cultural Heritage News (CHN) agency on Saturday.

Ecbatana was the capital of ancient Media and later the summer residence of Achaemenid and Parthian dynasty kings. It is beautifully situated at the foot of Mount Alvand, northeast of Bisotun. In 549 B.C., it was captured by Cyrus the Great. It had a royal treasury which was plundered in turn by Alexander, Seleucus, and Antiochus III.

Also called Hegmatana, the site has never been thoroughly excavated since it is mostly covered by the modern city of Hamedan."

Although the article said that the excavation team expected to uncover few artifacts, as a Philalexandros I am still excited. It would be wonderful is some remnants of Alexander's occupation were found.

Iran: Female Gambler Skeleton Comes out of Grave

Tehran, 4 October 2005 (CHN) ? Archaeologists excavating the ancient cemetery of Gohar Tepe of Mazandaran, north of Iran, discovered some 600 pieces of bone used in a gambling game inside the tomb of a woman.

Gohar Tepe is one of the key archaeological sites of Mazandaran province, providing experts with surprising ancient evidence in the last four seasons of work there. People resided in the region since 5000 years ago to the first millennium BC, enjoying a civilization and urban life characteristics.

The game pieces found in the tomb belong to a traditional Persian game called "Ghap" which is played with the bone remains of sheep foot knuckle.

As head of the excavation team of Gohar Tepe, Ali Mahforouzi, explained to CHN, potsherds discovered alongside the woman and the game bones show her to date back to the first millennium BC.

"So many pieces have never been found from one single grave; moreover, with the large number of potsherds found in the tomb, we assume the woman to have had a special social status," Mahforouzi said.

The interesting point about the game pieces is that they are all in the same size which puts forward the hypothesis of them belonging to a collection maybe gathered by the woman; some of the bones are also pierced which make experts believe that the woman should have used them as for a necklace.

Mayan panel points to lost city

International Herald Tribune: "Forty years ago, the antiquities market in Europe and the United States was flooded with looted artifacts from the Pet?n rain forest of Guatemala. Their artistic style and inscriptions suggested to scholars that the monumental stones came from an abandoned seventh-century Mayan city at some unidentified remote place, which became known as Site Q.

Now, archaeologists think the mystery has been solved in the little-known ruins of a place called La Corona. They reported last week finding a well-preserved stone monument in two sections carved with more than 140 hieroglyphs that bear dates and tell stories of two kings mentioned prominently in the Site Q texts.

The discovery was made in April by Marcello Canuto, a Yale archaeologist who was exploring La Corona. The site is inside the Laguna del Tigre National Park in northwestern Guatemala, less than 32 kilometers, or about 20 miles, from the temple ruins of Waka, called El Peru today by local people."

Did Iranian warriors surrender in Kharand cemetery?

The ancient cemetery of Kharand is the burial place of the people who were living in the Semnan Plain 3000 years ago. Archaeological evidence shows its residents were nomads who repeatedly migrated between the Caspian Sea coast and Semnan Plain.

"This season, we found 5 graves which contain 5 warriors with their daggers and spearheads. The graves are juxtaposed so we think their deaths were simultaneous," said Abdolmotaleb Sharifi, head of Kharand ancient graveyard excavation team.

"The five men who must have been warriors," he added, "as each were buried with a dagger and spearhead on their right side, while their heads are leaned on their right shoulders. This indicates that they must have been buried with a ritual that is unknown to us."

Among the issues Kharand archaeologists are still surveying are the squatting graves. These kinds of graves which were excavated in an exploration 2 years ago in Gandab region, located in a 3-km distance from Kharand, suggest the outbreak of a war in the region. Archaeologists hope to find other examples of those kinds of graves in Kharand.

According to Sharifi, the buried corpses in squatting graves in Gandab were completely armed, and this implies that in the second Iron Age (1250- 850 B.C), Semnan valley was the realm of wars and struggles which gradually ended in peace in the third Iron Age (850-550 B.C).

The corpses in the 5 newly found graves in Kharand lie in a supine position, however, their military tools indicate that some local struggles still existed in the region in which these men were killed, believes Sharifi.

It is worth noting that the five daggers found are different in style from the other daggers which have been previoulsy found in Kharand. This kind of burial is also rare in other archaeological sites.

The inhabitants of Kharand were using special vessels as gifts buried inside the tombs. Some sheep meat was also found in the ceramic vessels in the graves which prove that the inhabitants believed in life after death. The different kinds of burial styles depict the existence of different cultures in the region."

Friday, September 30, 2005

Statues of Athena and Hera discovered near Iraklion

The life-sized marble statues of two ancient Greek goddesses have emerged during excavations of a 5,000-year-old town on the island of Crete, archaeologists said Friday.

The works, representing the goddesses Athena and Hera, date to between the second and fourth centuries during the period of Roman rule in Greece and originally decorated the Roman theater in the town of Gortyn, archaeologist Anna Micheli from the Italian School of Archaeology told The Associated Press.

"They are in very good condition," she said, adding that the statue of Athena, goddess of wisdom, was complete, while Hera long-suffering wife of Zeus, the philandering king of gods was headless.

Standing six feet high with their bases, the works were discovered Tuesday by a team of Italian and Greek archaeologists excavating the ruined theater of Gortyn, about 27 miles south of Iraklion in central Crete.

Micheli said the goddesses were toppled from their plinths by a powerful earthquake around A.D. 367 that destroyed the theater and much of the town."

Ithaca location to be revealed by British Management Consultant


Here's another example of accessible satellite imagery being used by non-credentialed enthusiasts to make important scientific discoveries.

EiTB24.com: "Robert Bittlestone, a management consultant, spent two years searching for a rocky island that matched Homer's description of Ithaca, the homeland of legendary hero Odysseus. Some experts have argued that the island of Ithaki, sometimes called Ithaca in English, in southwest Greece does not match Homer's description.

Bittlestone used satellite imagery and 3D global visualization techniques developed by NASA to look for clues in the Greek landscape. He showed his findings to experts who said they were likely to be correct.

He planned to announce his conclusions at a news conference in central London. Bittlestone's book 'Odysseus Unbound - The Search for Homer's Ithaca' is co-written by James Diggle, a professor of Greek and Latin at Cambridge University, and John Underhill, professor of stratigraphy, or the science of studying the layers of rocks in the earth's crust, at Edinburgh University."

Smugglers threatening Zahak Castle in Iran


From every side Zahak Castle is surrounded by mountains and long plains bedecked with wild red anemones. At a distance one can see the railway and the railway station. At the depth of the valley like a snake a twisting river comes from west, makes a circle and follows the railway towards east. As if the mountain underneath is like a giant statue of Arab Zahak and the two banks of the river are the dreadful snakes growing from the monsters shoulders. This is the landscape of a mountain which has preserved one of the Iranian ancient sites for thousands of years.

This mountain has housed different civilizations from the second millennium B.C. up to several centuries A.D. If you walk towards the northern mound from the middle cavity you will see a layer of stone walls without mortar. These walls in fact used to serve as the prehistoric battlements of Zahak Fort and date back to the second millennium B.C. The prominent rectangular brow on the battlement is still visible. The entrance gate is located at the end of the western wing and near the valley slope. Remnants of this ancient wall is visible here and there at the northern wing of the castle and where no such walls can be traced the mountain or a sharp slope serves as a wall. Near the prehistoric stone fence earthenwares as old as the second millennium B.C. have been discovered which are related to Median and Achamenid periods. Many of these wares meanwhile belong to the Parthian Dynasty, but few Sassanian earthenware have been unearthed.

Archaeologists excavating the site have found that smugglers have looted the site so there are plans to establish a permanent research facility and guard house in order to protect the cemetery after current excavations are completed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Stela depicting Cleopatra as male pharaoh discovered in China


PRAVDA.Ru:
In Beijing, an international joint research group from the Catholic University in Leuven and Beijing University discovered a collection of Egyptian art that was believed lost. A Chinese ambassador to Cairo compiled the collection in 1906; when he died the items of the collection were distributed between the Beijing University Museum, the Arts Museum in Beijing and Beijing National Library.

Chinese Ambassador Duan Fang who took keen interest in Egyptian culture, wanted to exhibit the collection in Europe, but he was killed in 1911. After his death, the collection was scattered about various museums and some items were even lost.

A year ago, Professor Willy Clarysse from the University of Leuven agreed to study a stela kept at the Beijing University Museum that allegedly belonged to Duan Fang collection. The study gave rise to recording the inventory of the entire unique collection.

The collection consists of over 50 stelae and 60 rubbings made with coal on paper. A special find is a stela which depicts Cleopatra as a male pharaoh. This is only the second known example of such a depiction in the world."

Monday, September 12, 2005

Unique statue of Persian goddess uncovered near Prague

Prague Daily Monitor:Czech archaeologists have uncovered a unique seal shaped as the Persian fertility Goddess Anahita from the period of the Migration of the Nations near Prague, archaeologist Petr Charvat told CTK today.

'It is a completely unique finding,' Charvat, an expert in oriental cultures, said, adding that it can be compared to the renowned ancient statue of 'Venus of Vestonice' from south Moravia or the bronze bull statue found in the cave Byci skala at Adamov, south Moravia.

Archaeologist David Danicek found the Anahita statue on the same spot where he uncovered an ancient burial ground from the period of the Migration of the Nations (4th-5th centuries A.D) during his research. He said that a grave of a woman 'of higher social rank' can be hidden there as well.

'It is a sitting or half-kneeling woman's figure in a long green coat with a golden hook and probably a golden necklace who is hiding her face behind a book or a codex or maybe a couple of ivory plates. The lower part of the statue, which is apparently formed as a seal, is decorated with an erotic motive,' Charvat said, describing the statue."

Church Pulpit Unearthed in Thracian Sanctuary of Perperikon



Church Pulpit Unearthed in Thracian Sanctuary of Perperikon: .

Archaeologists have found a church pulpit at the peak of the Thracian rock sanctuary Perperikon.

This is the first of the kind finding in Bulgaria, the team's chief Nikolay Ovcharov said. According to him, the pulpit was built at the end of the 4th century AD or the early 5th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Honorius and coincided with the period of the christening the Thracians in the Rhodopes area.

It has the form of one-ship basilica of 16.5 m length, which is the most typical form of an early christen religious temple.

The pulpit, which is almost untouched by time, is richly decorated with stone-carved ornaments. An eagle with largely spread wings is clearly seen on the rock."

Michelangelo's Source for David Marble Identified


"In a study carried out for the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence, where Michelangelo's naked David attracts 1.2 million visitors a year, Donato Attanasio, head of the research team at the Istituto di Struttura della Materia in Rome, analyzed three tiny samples from the second toe of David's left foot.

The fragments were retrieved in 1991, when the statue was damaged in act of vandalism.

It emerged that fine grain size is the most distinct property of David's marble, Attanasio and colleagues report in the current issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The researchers then compared the fragments with samples from a database that included all the quarrying sites known to yield fine-grained marbles.

The comparison involved samples from the Turkish marbles of Afyon and Altintas, the Greek marbles of Mt. Hymettos and Mt. Pentelicon, and Italian marbles from Serravezza and Carrara, where more than one hundred quarries produce over one million tons of marble blocks per year.

Spectroscopic, isotopic and petrographic analysis narrowed down the search to the Fantiscritti site in Carrara, ruling out a previous theory that the David's marble might have come from a quarry in Seravezza, in the Apuan Alps.

"Finding the precise origin of David's marble block can help greatly in the conservation and restoration work," Attanasio observed."

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

New artifacts from the intermediate Philistine period unearthed in Israel

"An important archaeological discovery made in Israel could shed more light on the ancient culture of the Philistines, a seafaring people that left the area of Greece in about 1200 BCE and landed on Israel's shores. At a dig in late July at Tell es-Safi, a site approximately halfway between Jerusalem and Ashkelon, a young woman found a pottery shard inscribed with what appear to be ancient Hebrew letters, though it also records a Greek name.

While the initial stage and later stage of Philistine settlements are well-represented in the field of archaeology, the middle stages - in which the Grecian Philistines began to assimilate with the local Semitic people and customs - remain more of a mystery. The find at Tell es-Safi may illuminate that intermediary period."

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Balloons help spot ancient sites



Archaeologists are to take to the skies above north Wales in hot air balloons in an attempt to spot long-lost ancient sites.

Balloonists preparing for the weekend's Llangollen Balloon Festival will take archaeologists up in their craft to allow them to take aerial photographs.

Many ancient sites can only be spotted from the air with slow-flying balloons ideal for landscape photography.

Top of the airborne archaeologists' list to photograph is Dinas Bran Castle in Llangollen and the string of Iron Age hill forts that stretch along the Clwydian Range."

Friday, August 26, 2005

'Henry VIII hunting whistle' unearthed

Telegraph : "A silver huntsman's whistle, which may have belonged to Henry VIII, has been unearthed during a metal detectors' club gathering. The whistle is engraved with motifs that appear to link it to the king's first wife, Catherine of Aragon. It is being studied at the British Museum.

The finder, Keith Stuart, 62, was taking part in the club event in a field on the Isle of Wight and is now waiting to be told the whistle's value after having it declared treasure by a coroner's court.

Archaeologists have dated it to the 16th Century and have told Mr Stuart that it will fetch many thousands of pounds. The whistle, 2?in long, is engraved with roses and pomegranates, the latter being the emblem of Catherine of Aragon, Henry is believed to have hunted on the Isle of Wight and the whistle may have been dropped during a visit."

Punic, Mauretanian, Roman and Islamic remains found in Moroccan excavation


MoroccoTimes.com: "An archeological site which dates from the Phoenician era (6th century BC), has recently been discovered near Ksar Sghir, reported MAP. The site which held four civilizations was discovered accidentally in the region of Dhar Sakfane during work on the motorway section in Tangier ?Oued R'mel. An archeological team is at present carrying out an emergency excavation.

After the first observations, the team from the National Institute for Archeological Sciences and Heritage ( INSAP) affirmed that the site was unusual in having been occupied four successive civilizations: Punic, Mauretanian, Roman and Islamic. It overlooked a marshy zone a few kilometers near the Mediterranean, a typical location for Phoenician sites.

The Phoenicians probably occupied the 1.5 ha site in the 6th century BC. The local people, Mauretanians, followed in the fifth to 2nd century BC, while the Romans settled in the site from 40 BC to 5th century AD. A few archeological remains show an Islamic presence from the 12th to 13th centuries."

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Hunt for William Wallace


Wallace emerged from obscurity with the brutal murder of William Heselrig, the English sheriff of Lanark, in May 1297. Tradition ascribes this act to revenge for Heselrig?s treatment of Wallace?s lover, Marion Braidfute: the truth is more likely to be found in the political situation in Scotland. In the previous year, Edward I had invaded Scotland when defied by John Balliol King of Scots over the matter of suzerainty. Edward defeated and imprisoned Balliol and imposed his own government on Scotland under Earl Warenne and Hugh Cressingham, the treasurer, whom the Scots came to know as ?the treacherer?. Edward then left for the Continent, believing that Scotland was pacified.

In this, he was quickly shown to be mistaken. Rebellion against English rule broke out across the country. In the north, Andrew Murray led the rebels in a series of attacks on centres of English power. Further south, Wallace became the focal point of resistance. His murder of Heselrig, whether motivated by patriotism or passion, drew the disaffected to him. If not previously an outlaw, he was certainly one now.

At once, he demonstrated the vigour and military skill which were his trademarks. Soon after Lanark, we find him at Scone, eighty miles to the north, where he almost captured William Ormsby, Edward?s justiciar. He then swept the English out of Perthshire and Fife, and by August had laid siege to Dundee. In the vicinity of Stirling, he joined forces with Andrew Murray at the head of what the English called ?a very large body of rogues?.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Treasure Rivaling Schliemann's Trojan Gold unearthed in Bulgaria

Bnn, Bulgarian news network: "Bulgarian archeologists have discovered more than 15,000 gold jewellery items, which likely belonged to Thracian rulers, who reigned on the Balkans in the third millennium B.C., an official said Wednesday.

'The golden objects unearthed near the village of Dabene in
central Bulgaria are not just pieces of Thracian jewellery. They are objects of exquisite regal ornamentation,' National Museum of History Director Bozhidar Dimitrov told the AFP.

Some of the rings are so finely crafted that the point where the ring is welded is invisible with an ordinary microscope.

The archaeologists started the excavations near Dabene a year ago after seeing a local woman wearing a necklace of golden rings. She said her husband found them on his farm."

The objects were found in the tomb of a "proto-Thracian" man. His people were "ancestors of the Thracians, who lived in what is now Bulgaria and parts of modern Greece, Romania, Macedonia and Turkey until the 8th century C.E., when they were assimilated by invading Slavs."

Friday, August 12, 2005

Ancient Labrys Unearthed in Bulgaria

Ancient Labrys Unearthed in Bulgaria: "Bulgarian archeologists accidentally unearthed a bronze labrys, a double headed ritual axe, symbol of the King's authority in the history of the Thracian tribes.

The labrys was found during rescue opearions at the Ada Tepe hill, near Krumovgrad. The archaeologists say that the finding dates back to the Bronze era and is unique for Bulgaria.

The bronze labrys is 15cm long and proves Ada Tepe's links to the Minoan culture."

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The "Goatscape" of the Mediterranean Basin



Ecoscience: The Greek and The Romans Did It Too: "The ancient Greeks took an essentially scientific view of their environment, and some Grecian writers saw that their land was deteriorating under human stewardship. Four centuries before Christ, Plato described Attica (the region around Athens), saying: 'What now remains compared with what then existed is like the skeleton of a sick man, all the fat and soft earth having wasted away, and only the bare framework of the land being left.' The description is even more apt today.

Soil erosion on the slopes of the rugged Greek hills helped prevent reforestation . . . as did grazing and browsing animals, which killed the seedlings before they could establish themselves. Especially prominent in the latter role were goats . . . the "horned locusts" that have destroyed so much of the vegetation of the Mediterranean region and other areas where they've been introduced. (In fact it's not unfair, today, to describe much of that territory as a "goatscape". )

The Romans, in contrast, took a strictly utilitarian view of their environment: The land was there to be exploited by Homo Sapiens. The trend toward deforestation started in Greece and spread?during the Roman Empire?from the hills of Galilee in Palestine and the Taurus Mountains of Turkey in the east, to the mountains of Spain in the west. Various features of the Roman agricultural economy greatly encouraged this process . . . and their society had no counterbalancing conservation ethic."

Friday, August 05, 2005

Electronic Tools and Ancient Near Eastern Archives

A colleague of mine recently brought this fascinating website to my attention:

Electronic Tools and Ancient Near Eastern Archives http://www.etana.org/

"A number of interesting digital projects have recently been sponsored
by the National Science Foundation, and the Electronic Tools and
Ancient Near Eastern Archives (ETANA) is one such project. With the
support and primary documents of a number of important institutions,
such as the Society of Biblical Literature and Case Western Reserve
University, the mission of ETANA is to "develop and maintain a
comprehensive Internet site for the student of the ancient Near East."
While the project is still in development, the site's creators have
added numerous helpful resources so far to the archive, including the
ETANA Core Texts. In this section, visitors can view digitized texts
related to scholarship on the ancient Near East, such as James
Breasted's monumental work, "Ancient Records of Egypt", along with 171
other key documents. Visitors will also want to take a look at ABZU,
which is another database collection that contains items relevant to
the study of the ancient Near East that are available online."

Monday, August 01, 2005

Zoroaster's Kaba a solar observatory?

Iran News: I see that ann Iranian archaeologist, Reza Moradi Ghiasabadi, has rejected the theory describing the Achaemenid era monument, Zoroaster's Kaba, near the ancient Persian capital of Persepolis, as an ancient government archive, saying that the monument is the world's most unique calendrical and astronomical building.

"At the end of Shahrivar (the sixth month of the Iranian calendar, August 23-September 22) we can determine exactly the day of the month by the light shed by the sun on Zoroaster's Kaba. It has been used for daily needs, determining the time of cultivating crops, and collecting taxes," Ghiasabadi explained.

There are various theories on the original purpose of Zoroaster's Kaba. Some experts believe that the monument was the home of a complete copy of the Avesta which had been written on 12,000 cow hides. Some Orientalists also believe that Zoroaster's Kaba was a place where the Zoroastrians' sacred fire was kept burning eternally.

A number of other researchers say that the monument is the tomb of Smerdis, the son of Cyrus the Great, who was murdered by his brother Cambyses (king of Persia 530?522 BC).

Zoroaster's Kaba bears a Sassanid era inscription explaining the historical events during the reign of the Sassanid king Shapur I (241-272 CE).

The trilingual inscription, written in the Sassanid and Parthian dialects of Middle Persian and ancient Greek, describes the war between Persia and Rome in which Shapur I defeated the Roman emperor Valerian, who was captured in June 260 and died in captivity.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

New King Tut exhibit explores Tut's lineage



I visited the new King Tut exhibit while I was there. I read that the major artifacts from his tomb would not be there but I felt a little sorry for some of the visitors who expected to see the spectacular golden death mask that was, of course, only being used to promote the exhibit but not really in it. Much of the exhibit was not from Tut's tomb but were funerary objects from his grandmother, grandfather, etc. However, some of the pieces I did enjoy viewing closely was Queen Tiye's carved golden sarcophagus, one of Queen Tiye's beautifully carved chairs, Tut's exquisite ceremonial dagger that was wrapped with his mummy, and one of his beautifully inlaid diadems.

I was also gratified to note that the replicas of some of the artifacts I had seen in Las Vegas at the Luxor Hotel looked nearly identical to the real things - the double-handled alabaster lotus cup pictured at left, a tall alabaster unguent vase, and a cartouche-shaped storage chest among them.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Caravan Kingdoms: Yemen and the Ancient Incense Trade comes to the Smithsonian

Caravan Kingdoms: Yemen and the Ancient Incense Trade: "For over a thousand years, from around 800 B.C.E. to 600 C.E., the kingdoms of Qataban, Saba (biblical Sheba), and Himyar grew fabulously wealthy from their control over the caravan routes of the southern Arabian peninsula and, in particular, from the international trade in frankincense and myrrh. Excavations at the capitals of these ancient kingdoms have yielded spectacular examples of architecture, distinctive stone funerary sculpture, elaborate inscriptions on stone, bronze, and wood, and sophisticated metalwork.

For the first and only time in North America, Yemen's stunning artistic heritage will be examined in a major international exhibition organized by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Drawn from the collections of the Republic of Yemen, the American Foundation for the Study of Man, the British Museum, and Dumbarton Oaks, this exhibition of approximately 200 objects explores the unique cultural traditions of these ancient kingdoms. It gives special emphasis to the rich artistic interaction that resulted from overland and maritime contacts linking the southern Arabian peninsula with the eastern Mediterranean, northeastern Africa, and south and southwest Asia."

Ancient Greek Writings Inscribed In Stone Digitized By Case Classicist

Ancient Greek Writings Inscribed In Stone, Digitized By Case Classicist: "Finding information about ancient Greek inscriptions used to take years of research and countless hours tracking down answers in the library. Through contributions by Case classicist Paul Iversen's work with the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI) Greek Epigraphy Project, classics scholars now can access and search more than 150,000 inscriptions through a comprehensive digitized database in a matter of minutes.

Through contributions by Case classicist Paul Iversen's work with the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI) Greek Epigraphy Project, classics scholars now can access and search more than 150,000 inscriptions through a comprehensive digitized database in a matter of minutes.

Information is currently available in CD-ROM form, but the project will shortly launch a Web site that can be updated regularly as new research surfaces. "Once the web site is available to the public, the search for information on inscriptions will be as short as a blink of the eye," says Iversen, an assistant professor in the Department of Classics.

Archaic era Kouroi statues found on Antiparos

ekathimerini.com | Archaeologists on the uninhabited...: "Archaeologists on the uninhabited islet of Despotiko near the Cycladic island of Antiparos have uncovered the remnants of ancient dwellings dating back to the Archaic era, which they described as ?exceptional.? The Culture Ministry said yesterday that fragments of kouroi statues (photo) and pillars, dating from 750 to 500 BC, have been found at the site"

Iranian archaeologists says cuneiform may predate Darius I

CHN - News: "All historians and experts in Iran, believe that the Persian Cuneiform was invented during Darius reign.

It is widely believed that the invention of this script was due to the order of Darius the great, the third king in line from the beginning of the Dynasty. Most of Achaemenid historical texts support the same hypothesis as well but just recently, Dr. Badr-ol-zaman Gharib, delivering her speech, titled Emergence and Changes in Ancient Persian Script in a forum on Achaemanid tablets, claimed that the Persian cuneiform predates Darius.

She said, ?I believe that this script predates Darius and improved in his reign. Persian cuneiform consists of 36 signs for three vowels and syllables which are consisted of a single consonant and a vowel, 8 ideograms for 4 concepts regarding king, land, country, and Ahoora Mazda (the great god of ancient Persians), 1 divider (a diagonal wedged-shape sign to separate words), and 22 figures for numbers. All of these items and especially the divider and the construction of syllable script prove that this script was much more ancient.?"

Statue of Orpheus unearthed

Guardian Unlimited: "A rare statue of the ancient Thracian hero Orpheus has been unearthed in Bulgaria, near a place archaeologists say might house the hero's tomb, the leader of excavations said.

The 9cm (3.5in) bronze statue, dating from the 1st or 2nd century AD, was found in the village of Tatul, 200 miles south-east of Sofia, an archaeologist, Nikolai Ovcharov, said."

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Classical sea battle at Salamis inspires epic search

smh.com.au: "The Persians' defeat at Salamis is seen as one of the first victories of democracy over tyranny, a crucial moment in Western history. Without it, say scholars, there would have been no golden age and the world would have been a very different place.

All of which makes a new week-long mission to locate one of the Greek triremes involved in the struggle more poignant as experts try to discover how the Greeks managed to defeat a much bigger and better-equipped enemy.

Although archaeologists have discovered ancient Greek and Persian ships, they have always been cargo vessels."

Friday, June 17, 2005

Ancient statue returned to Samos

MSNBC.com: "Authorities cheered the return of a tiny, 2,600-year-old statue stolen during World War II, and said the news should offer hope to antiquity officials in Iraq as well.

A British ancient art dealer returned the tiny statue of a smiling, long-haired youth after realizing the piece had been stolen from the Aegean Sea island of Samos during World War II. Greece was occupied by forces from Germany, Italy and Bulgaria during the war.

James Ede, chairman of the London-based International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art, bought the 4?-inch (11-centimeter) bronze figure from the widow of a Greek art collector who lived in Switzerland. He turned it over to the Greek Embassy in London and accompanied the statue on its flight home.

The piece will be displayed at the archaeological museum of Samos."

Descendants of Alexander's army struggle to survive modern incursions

Guardian Unlimited: "Reputed to have descended from the armies of Alexander, the Kalasha have lived for thousands of years in a nest of idyllic valleys near the Afghan border. But their identity is being threatened by Muslim missionaries, tourism and neglect by central government.

The Kalasha are the last remnants of the population of Kafiristan, the ancient 'land of infidels' that straddled the borders of present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan. About 4,000 of them survive in three majestic valleys that awe visitors as a sort of paradise lost.

Turquoise streams rush through leafy glades of giant walnut trees and swaying crops. Clusters of simple houses cling to steep forested slopes. Compared with many compatriots beyond their valleys, the Kalasha are charmingly liberal: drinking wine, holding dancing festivals and worshipping a variety of gods. Women wear intricately beaded headdresses, not burkas, and may choose their husband.

But, a new community centre financed by the Greeks, which aims to provide everything from schooling to surgery, has reignited debate about how best to save the Kalasha way of life. Some community leaders feel the Greek initiative is good-hearted, but wrong-headed. 'I don't blame them for wanting to help, but that help could damage us,' said Saifullah Jan in Rumbur valley. 'There is too much interference. Our people are getting spoilt. They should just let us be.'

Theories of ancestry with Alexander the Great are fuelled by some Kalashas' fair skin and Caucasian features, but ethnologists say the link remains unproven."

Michelangelo's "anatomy code"

CNN.com : "Completed nearly 500 years ago, the brightly colored frescoes painted on the Vatican's famous sanctuary are considered some of the world's greatest works of art. They depict Biblical scenes such as the 'Creation of Adam' in which God reaches out to touch Adam's finger.

But Gilson Barreto and Marcelo de Oliveira believe Michelangelo also scattered his detailed knowledge of internal anatomy across 34 of the ceiling's 38 panels. The way they see it, a tree trunk is not just a tree trunk, but also a bronchial tube. And a green bag in one scene is really a human heart.

Barreto and his friend Oliveira are not the first physicians to see depictions of human organs in the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican church where popes are elected.

Fifteen years ago, U.S. doctor Frank Meshberger pointed out the figure of God and his surrounding angels in the "Creation of Adam" panel resembled a cross-section of the human brain.

He believes Michelangelo was equating God's gift of a soul for Adam with the divine gift of intelligence for mankind.

Packing up his desk as he prepared to move houses, Barreto came across Meshberger's theory.

"I said to myself, 'If there's a brain, he surely didn't just paint a brain. There have to be others,"' Barreto said."

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The origin of the mirror

The Hindu: "The origin of the mirror, the most widely used object in all homes, rich or poor, is lost in antiquity. The earliest mirrors date back to 2000 years. They belonged to Etruscans, Greeks and Romans and consisted of a thin convex disc of a metal, mostly bronze, which was polished on one side. Mirrors were made from glass and coated with tin or silver. It has been mentioned by Pliny in his "Natural History" that these were made at Sidon in the second century C.E..

Greek mirrors dating back to 400 B.C. have been unearthed in Corinth with wooden frames and handles carved with the figure of Greek goddess of Love - Aphrodite."

How Egypt turned dust into treasures of glass

MSNBC.com: "Archaeologists have uncovered for the first time the remains of a Bronze Age glass factory, where skilled artisans made glass from its raw materials. Surprisingly, this factory, which was bustling around 1250 B.C., is in Egypt rather than Mesopotamia, which is generally thought to be where glass was first made.

The oldest-known glass artifacts of consistently high quality date back to approximately 1500 B.C. These may have been made in Mesopotamia.

The most common glass objects made during this time period were glass beads and vessels with narrow necks, which may have held perfume or other valuable liquids. They were often made of blue glass, colored to emulate precious stones like turquoise and lapis lazuli, inlaid with white and yellow lines.

Most of these objects have been found in Egypt and the region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that was once Mesopotamia. They were made in two separate stages.

In the primary production stage, glass was made from plant ash and crushed quartz dust into round disks or ?ingots.? In the secondary stage, the ingots were melted down and re-formed into specific objects. Many clues - such as a Late Bronze Age shipwreck off the coast of Turkey that contained a cache of cobalt-blue glass ingots - indicate that the ingots could have been made in one location and then exported to distant locations for the second stage."

Monday, June 13, 2005

American Archaeologist Authenticates Afghanistan?s Recovered National Treasures

American Archaeologist Authenticates Afghanistan?s Recovered National Treasures: "Miraculously, fewer than 100 objects are now missing from the Kabul Museum?s original display collection. The museum had gained notoriety for its collection of more than 21,000 primarily gold objects of the Bactrian culture recovered in 1978 at Tilya Tepe (Mountain of Gold) by Russian archaeologist Viktor Sarianidi. Exquisitely carved ivory plaques from the Kushan culture, cast bronze busts of the classical Roman style, Chinese lacquer bowls, Buddhist bodhisattva sculptures, first century glassware and a crystal vase engraved with the image of Alexandria?s Pharos lighthouse were withdrawn from battered containers used to safeguard the treasure during the Taliban regime in an inventory witnessed by American archaeologist Fredrik Hiebert earlier this year."

Thursday, May 12, 2005

How Art Made the World

BBC NEWS: In art, "...human bodies hardly ever look realistic.

They are invariably exaggerated, distorted and twisted into un-realistic representations. The Venus of Willendorf is a very early representation of the human body.

It's a 30,000-year-old statuette which was discovered in a remote valley in Austria. It has a huge stomach and breasts, but almost non-existent arms and face - a body shape that no one in prehistoric Europe would have possessed.

A detail from one of the Riace Bronzes, BBC
The Riace Bronzes show how the Greeks discovered realism and then abandoned it. Similarly, the Greeks, having discovered how to create images of the human form that looked realistic had, within a generation, abandoned realism.

Take the The Riace Bronzes, a pair of bronze statues, discovered by a diver at the bottom of the Bay of Naples in 1974. At first glance they appear to be realistic, beautiful representations of two Greek athletes.

But when art historians looked closer they noticed their chests were too symmetrical, their spines too deep, their coccyx too small to be realistic.

Greek sculptors had exaggerated their bodies to try to make them look like their gods.

It was a bizarre mystery. Why do we have this hardwired human instinct to exaggerate images of the human body? To find the answer, we threw ourselves into the exploration not just of art history but of the human mind.

We talked to brain scientists and psychologists and filmed bizarre experiments with other animals, such as seagulls. And we discovered the remarkable fact that all human beings have an in-built predisposition to exaggerate the body, to take what is valued in our culture and accentuate it in a deliberately unrealistic way."

Bronze Age Blade center of new exhibition

Leeds Today: "A Bronze Age sword, possibly cast away 3,000 years ago as a tribute to the Gods, has been returned to its Yorkshire home.
The ancient blade is the centrepiece of an exciting new exhibition at Scarborough Castle following a ?250,000 investment by English Heritage to transform the 12th century fortress into a world class tourist attraction.
Many other artefacts are also being displayed for the first time in the newly-refurbished Master Gunner's House ? itself a unique survivor of the post medieval period. The mass development has also included the launch of new interpretation panels, tea room and an interactive display for less mobile folk.
The blade was originally discovered in 1980 by archaeologist Tony Pacitto, who stumbled across the find on the final day of a dig to investigate a medieval hall at the castle.
Ritual
The subdued glint of bronze in a muddy pit turned a routine shift into the find of a lifetime.
Although no one can be certain, experts believe the blade may have been a ritual offering."

Artists wax poetic about encaustics

The Daily Times: "Encaustic art is one of the oldest art forms, dating to the time of the ancient Egyptians for use in their elaborate burial tombs, whichhave survived for centuries.

An encaustic art surface is very durable because beeswax, the basic ingredient, is impervious to moisture and most environmental changes.

Despite its durability, encaustic art lost favor during the Renaissance due to what was thought to be cumbersome requirements, considering the technology of the time. Modern advances have made using encaustics a lot easier."

I found this resurgence in interest in encaustic techniques very exciting. Some of my favorite ancient portraits are the Greco-Roman portraits of Faiyum, Egypt. These mummy portraits illustrate the durability of the art form, having survived since the second century C.E. I just wish I was closer and able to attend this conference.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Tut Was Not Such a Handsome Golden Youth, After All

New York Times: "Teams of artists and scientists, using computer scans to reconstruct the face of King Tut, say he had buck teeth and a long skull.

The reconstructions were based on the most thorough examination yet of Tut's mummy, including 1,700 three-dimensional images taken in January with computed tomography, or CT scans. The pictures of the skull, bones and soft tissues, more revealing than ordinary X-rays, were the latest of the Tut mummy's encounters with curious scientists and their modern technology since its discovery in 1922."

Friday, May 06, 2005

Trousers tell why Napoleon died

BBC NEWS : "A study of Napoleon Bonaparte's trousers could put an end to the theory that the French Emperor was poisoned.

Napoleon died aged 52 on St Helena in the south Atlantic where he had been banished after his defeat at Waterloo.

His post mortem showed he died of stomach cancer, but it has been suggested arsenic poisoning or over-zealous treatment was to blame.

Now Swiss researchers say his trousers show he lost weight prior his death, confirming he had cancer.


We are sure that the autopsy report speaks clearly in favour of gastric [stomach] cancer
Alessandro Lugli, University Hospital Basel

The research, by scientists from the anatomical pathology department of the University Hospital in Basel and the Institute of Medical History at the University of Zurich, looked at 12 pairs of Napoleon's trousers.

Four were from before his exile and eight were pairs he wore during the six years he spent in exile on St Helena, including the pair he wore while dying.

The researchers also collated information from post mortems on the weights of patients who had died of stomach cancer.

They then measured the waists of healthy people to work out the correlation between that measurement and their actual weight.

This information was then used to calculate Napoleon's weight in the months leading up to his death.

The largest pair of trousers Napoleon wore had a waist measurement of 110cm; those he wore just before his death measured 98cm.

This, they say, shows he lost between 11 and 15kg over the last six months of his life."

Thursday, May 05, 2005

1200-year-old Bronze Axe Discovered in Yorkshire

Yorkshire Post Today: News, Sport, Jobs, Property, Cars, Entertainments & More: "The palstave axe ? dating from about 1,200BC ? was discovered on farmland north of Whitby by metal detector enthusiast Shaughan Tyreman.
Mr Tyreman, a service engineer on cranes, who has been metal detecting for 21 years, said: 'It is the first one I have found. I have an 1862 book which is written in French, but has excellent illustrations.
'I recognised what it was straight away. It is a very similar in style to the axe head with the man they found in the ice in the Alps.'
Mr Tyreman and his daughter, Saskia, 11, brought several items from their home in Whitby to be examined at the Yorkshire Museum, in York, during one of the Fabulous Finds Days held across England.
Mr Tyreman said: 'In its day the axe would be an extremely expensive object. Few people would have one. All the rest would be using flint axes and if you had a bronze one it would be like owning a BMW. Probably 20 trees would have to be felled to smelt the ore to make it.'
The axe and part of a mould, which has a floral pattern on one side and possibly a human face, will now be taken to the British Museum in London for specialist examination before being returned"

Skeletons found to be Dutch siege warriors

Expatica - Living in, moving to, or working in the Netherlands, plus Dutch news in English: "Nine skeletons found on 4 May last year in Maastricht are of Dutch origin and were probably members of the Staatse leger (State army), Maastricht City Council has revealed.

Research by police and the municipal's archaeological service has indicated that the soldiers were killed and buried during a siege of Maastricht, either in 1592 (with Prince Maurits) or in 1594 or 1632 (with Prince Frederik Hendrik).

The skeletons are currently being stored at the anatomy department of the Leiden University, but later this month they will be transferred to the archaeological department in Maastricht.

The small cemetery was probably dug at the end of the 16th century. The
skeletons are in separate burial pits next to each other with an aspect to the south-east. It is not a mass grave and none of the graves contain clothing or footwear. "

Friday, April 29, 2005

Niyaz musical group combines ancient poetry with 21st century musical interpretation

"The word niyaz, in both the Persian language of Farsi and the Indo-Pakistani language of Urdu, means 'yearning' -- and it was the diasporic yearning of three musicians that helped bring this group together. Their self-titled outing, Niyaz's first, seeks to revere the past and revel in the present, and it succeeds on both counts.

Niyaz presents traditional melodies and ancient Urdu/Farsi poetry, enhancing them with electronic flourishes and 21st century musical sensibilities. The result is a highly accessible, cross-cultural portrait of a region across centuries."

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Guggenheim Fellowship to be used to produce history of Mesopotamia

Berkeley: "Niek Veldhuis, 44, assistant professor of Assyriology in the department of Near Eastern Studies at UC Berkeley and curator of the ancient Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets at the campus's Phoebe Apperson Hearst Museum of Anthropology, has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Veldhuis will use the award to write a monograph on the intellectual history of Mesopotamia using ancient writings - known as cuneiform - of the Sumerians, who lived on the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates in what is now Iraq. The Sumerian language died out around 2,000 B.C.

The professor said his monograph will add a crucial chapter to the world's understanding of intellectual history.

'Intellectual history traditionally begins with the Greeks,' he said. 'What I can show is that, long before the Greeks, there was a very different intellectual tradition going on two and a half millennia before Greeks even started to write.'"

Achaemenid conference to be held at the British Museum

"A conference will be held on the Persian Achaemenid empire from 29th of September to 1st of October in the British Museum, in conjunction with the exhibition of the ?Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia? held there from 8th of September 2005 till 8th of January 2006.

The conference is organized by the British Museum and the Iran Heritage Foundation and will discuss different issues of the Achaemenid era of Persia.

According to the website of Iran Heritage Foundation issues covered in the three-day conference include:

1. Problems with Achaemenid History - There are many unresolved issues in the history of the Achaemenid period and many areas for possible investigation. Topics that have been the focus of recent attention include the ethnicity of Cyrus, the significance of Gaumata?s rebellion, and the genealogy of Darius. Amongst subjects for future discussion might be the transition between the Median and Achaemenid periods and the apparent ease with which the empire was overthrown in 334-331 BC.

2. Kingship - In this section we will tackle royal imagery, the status of the king and religious symbolism.

3. Functions of Administration - There will be an opportunity here to discuss administrative texts, seals and sealings, coins, and other matters pertaining to administration.

4. Gender, Society and Ethnicity - In Achaemenid art representations of women are rare, but there are many references to women in the administrative texts and other sources. We hope to consider this phenomenon and look at the place of women in the Achaemenid court and in society, as well as looking at other socio-economic groups that may not feature largely in the exhibition.

5. Religion and Burial - Whether the Achaemenid kings were Zoroastrians, or whether they were simply believers in Ahuramazda, or whether they respected various gods, are still subjects that are hotly debated. Some scholars point to the various gods listed in the Elamite tablets from Persepolis, while others believe that important clues can be found in the religious ceremonies listed in the archives. Equally enigmatic is the diversity of burial customs attested in the Achaemenid Empire, none of which conform to orthodox Zoroastrian practice.

6. Army - In building and maintaining one of the largest empires in antiquity, the Persian army (and to a lesser extent the navy) played a key role. There have been a number of recent studies on these subjects and the conference will present an opportunity to review the current state of research.

7. Empire - There will be scope here to discuss the history, art and archaeology of outlying parts of the Empire.

8. Art and Material Culture - Papers will be welcomed on all aspects of Achaemenid art such as the reliefs and glazed brick decoration and on groups of small finds such as the controversial discoveries at Kalma-kareh.

9. Interface between Persia and Greece - This would be a particularly appropriate subject for discussion in the British Museum where it will be possible to contrast the objects in the special exhibition with the extensive collection of sculpture from Asia Minor (particularly Xanthos and Halicarnassus) and from Greece itself (notably the Parthenon). Subjects for discussion might include cultural interaction and biased Greek perceptions of Persia that still persist in the west.

10. Power and Politics - The Persian Empire is often characterised as being tyrannical and despotic in contrast to enlightened western-style democracy. It would be interesting to take a fresh look at this traditional stereotype particularly in the light of recent events in the Middle East.

11. Legacy - A good deal has been written about the ?discovery? of Ancient Persia by western travellers and we would like to redress the balance by concentrating on the continuation of the tradition in Parthian and Sasanian times and in Islamic period sources, and on the revival in the Qajar and Pahlavi periods.

The conference is held simultaneously with the largest ever exhibition on the Achaemenid era held form 8th of September 2005 to 8th of January 2006 in the British Museum, entitled ?Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia?. The items to be showcased in the exhibition include some of the finest pieces from the collections of The National Museum of Iran, many of which have not been seen outside Tehran before, as well as key pieces from the Louvre in Paris, the Vorderasiatisches (Ancient Near East Antiquities) Museum in Berlin and the British Museum?s own significant collections.

The conference committee is calling for papers on the 11 themes proposed above, and the prospective speakers are to send a 250-300 word abstract by 15th of May 2005."