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