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."