Saturday, January 27, 2007

Smashed Statues Deepen Mystery of Cycladic Civilization


"Unlike its larger, postcard-perfect neighbors in the Aegean Sea, Keros is a tiny rocky dump inhabited by a single goatherd.

But the barren islet was of major importance to the mysterious Cycladic people, a sophisticated pre-Greek civilization with no written language that flourished 4,500 years ago and produced strikingly modern-looking artwork.

A few miles from the resorts of Mykonos and Santorini, Keros is a repository of art from the seafaring culture whose flat-faced marble statues inspired the work of 20th century masters Pablo Picasso and Henry Moore.

Indeed, more than half of all documented Cycladic figurines in museums and collections worldwide were found on Keros.

Excavations by a Greek-British archaeology team have now unearthed a cache of prehistoric statues — all deliberately broken — that they hope will help solve the Keros riddle.

When they were unearthed, the white marble shards were jumbled close together like a pile of bleached bones, an elbow here, a leg there, occasionally a head.

British excavation leader Colin Renfrew now believes Keros was a hugely important religious site where the smashed artwork was ceremoniously deposited.

"What we do have clearly is what must be recognized as the earliest regional ritual center in the Aegean," he said.

This could put it on a par with the sacred islet of Delos — also in the Cyclades — revered from early antiquity until Christian times as the birthplace of Apollo, god of music and light.

The finds on Keros date to about 1,500 years before the cult of Apollo started on Delos.

There is no evidence the Cycladic culture worshipped the Greek gods of Mount Olympus, who first appeared in the 2nd millennium B.C., and their beliefs are shrouded in mystery as no sanctuaries dating to before 2000 B.C. have been excavated.

However, some experts think the islanders' religion was probably built round a fertility cult tied to the mother-goddess of Neolithic times, whose worship survived in various forms until Christian times in the Greco-Roman world.

The Cycladic statues, many depicting pregnant women, may have played a part in such beliefs, and their deliberate destruction would have been a ritual act."

Evidence of Ancient 'Last Stand' Found in Lost Syrian City


It was the ancient version of a last stand: Twelve clay bullets lined up and ready to be shot from slings in a desperate attempt to stop fierce invaders who soon would reduce much of the city to rubble.

The discovery was made in the ruins of Hamoukar, an ancient settlement in northeastern Syria located just miles from the border with Iraq.

Thought to be one of the world's earliest cities and located in northern Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, it is the site of joint excavations by the University of Chicago and the Syrian Department of Antiquities.

Excavations have been going on at the site since 1999, but in digs conducted this past fall, researchers uncovered new evidence of the city's end and more clues about how urban life there may have begun. The University of Chicago was to announce the findings Tuesday.

The archaeologists have previously detailed how they believe Hamoukar's independence was ended by a battle that caused its buildings and walls to collapse and burn.

This past fall, the team found more traces of that battle. For example, there was a shallow pit containing a water basin normally used to soften clay sealings for reuse. The clay sealings were used on bags, jars and baskets to help ensure that the valuables or food inside had not been tampered with.

But along this basin, the researchers found neatly lined up along its edge 12 "sling bullets," oval-shaped weapons made of clay that were fired using slings. More than 1,000 of the bullets were found in debris of collapsed walls in 2005.

Reichel theorizes someone who usually worked with the clay sealings was trying to contribute to the war effort and fashioned bullets from the clay instead.

"You imagine the despair the people were in. They were using everything they could to throw back at the attacker," he said. "It looks like a desperate last attempt."

But the roof collapsed before the bullets could be used, and the researchers believe they were the first to see the scene since that fateful day.

Egyptian Tomb Inscription May Bear Oldest Proto-Hebrew Text Yet

A magic spell to keep snakes away from the tombs of Egyptian kings, adopted from the Canaanites almost 5,000 years ago, could be the oldest Semitic text yet discovered, experts said Tuesday.

The phrases, interspersed throughout religious texts in Egyptian characters in the underground chambers of a pyramid south of Cairo, stumped Egyptian experts for about a century, until the Semitic connection was found.

In 2002 one of the Egyptologists e-mailed the undeciphered part of the inscription to Richard Steiner, a professor of Semitic languages at Yeshiva University in New York.

Steiner discovered that the phrases are the transcription of a language used by Canaanites at some point in the period from the 30th to the 25th centuries B.C.

"This is the oldest connected text that we have in any Semitic language," Steiner said in a telephone interview while visiting Israel to present his findings in a lecture sponsored by the

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Canopic Jars labeled Ramses II Do Not Contain Remains of the Pharaoh


For over 100 years, four blue-glazed jars bearing the nametag of Rameses II (1302-1213 B.C.) were believed to contain the Egyptian pharaoh's bodily organs. But analysis of organic residues scraped from the jars has determined one actually contained an aromatic salve, while a second jar held the organs of an entirely different person who lived around 760 years later.

Now the question is, who was this individual?

"We do believe that the unknown person was of importance for at least two reasons," said Jacques Connan, one of the study’s authors. "First, he or she had access to the famous jars and secondly, his or her organs were embalmed with pure Pistacia resin, which is uncommon according to our present chemical knowledge on balms of Egyptian mummies, especially during the Roman period."

The mystery concerning the jars began in 1905, when they were brought to Paris’ Louvre Museum, where they are still housed. Shortly after that time, researchers cut into a packet inside one of the jars and plucked out a piece of heart. The packet is now lost, but from that point on, the containers were labeled as "the canopic jars of Rameses II."

Connan, a professor in the bio-organic geochemistry laboratory at Louis Pasteur University in Strasbourg, and his colleagues questioned the description, especially as the heart of Rameses II was later found inside his mummy. The scientists recently radiocarbon dated residue from two of the four jars and used molecular biomarkers to identify the contents.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Ancient 'warrior' found in permafrost

"RUSSIAN archaeologists have uncovered the 2000-year-old remains of a warrior preserved intact in permafrost in the Altai mountains region, the official Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily says.

The warrior was blond had tattoos on his body. He was wearing a felt coat with sable fur trimmings and was buried in a wooden frame containing drawings of mythological creatures with an icepick beside him, the paper said.

Local archaeologists believe the man was part of the ruling elite of a local nomadic tribe known as the Pazyryk. Numerous other Pazyryk tombs have been found in the area."

What a spectacular find! Hopefully, we'll get a look at him soon.

Sculptor's Cave scene of mourning or child sacrifice?

I know we always like to think the best of our ancestors, I couldn't help but wonder if the evidence of child decapitation at Sculptor's Cave in Scotland perhaps indicated a cult of child sacrifice not a strange burial ritual. I wish I could watch the program. I've asked Dish Network several times about the possibility of adding British TV channels to a new International Tier but they have not indicated any plans to do so. I wonder if a tier of British TV channels would reduce the viewership of such mainstays as the "Discovery Channel" since it frequently reruns programs produced by the BBC.

Ian Shepherd, an archaeologist, has carried out numerous excavations in the remote [Sculptor's] cave [in Scotland]. Uncovering skeletal parts from six children, his work brought to light skull parts in the cave's entrance, which from the way they lay, indicated there had at one time been fleshy heads on poles.

"From what we can tell, these were simply people mourning their dead children," Mr Shepherd said. Prior to his discovery of the skull parts in 1979, a previous excavation 50 years before by classical archaeologist Sylvia Benton found thousands of bone parts - largely from juveniles.

Called the Sculptor's Cave because of ancient inscriptions at the entrance, the location of the cave has been known since Victorian times, but it is very remote.

It can only be accessed from the land at low tide along a mile of shingle beach or by scaling the cliff face. The BBC Scotland production team accessed it from the water by boat. Three thousand years ago, it might even have been an island, which would have reinforced its spiritual status.

Using computer graphics, the series, Art & Soul, will bring the cave back to life, showing the indicators of its religious significance and delving into its dark interior, a sacred pool strewn with Bronze Age treasures."

Did ancient Egyptians have direct contact with Malta?

"Two members of the Egyptological Society of Malta are promoting the theory that the many ancient Egyptian artefacts unearthed in Malta were brought over by the Egyptians themselves, and not, as commonly thought, by traders.

In an article titled Did The Ancient Egyptians Ever Reach Malta?, published in the Egyptian Egyptological journal, Anton Mifsud and Marta Farrugia analysed Egyptian artefacts found here and went through old and recently published material on which to base their conclusions.

Dr Mifsud and Ms Farrugia argue that because of their beliefs in afterlife, the ancient Egyptians were extremely reluctant to leave their country to live and possibly die miles away from home. However, war and trade with the Eastern Mediterranean nations and islands lured the Egyptians out of their homeland.

The authors note that though it has always been assumed that it was the Phoenicians who brought the earliest Egyptian artefacts to Malta, the items found here span a time frame that pre-dates the arrival of the Phoenicians in the eighth century BC.

The earliest Egyptian artefacts date to the end of the third millennium BC, 400 years before the arrival of the Phoenicians, and one continues to find artefacts from various Egyptian civilisations until after the eighth century BC.

Four funerary Egyptian stone slabs, known as Egyptian steles, were found in 1829 beneath the foundations of a mid-17th century villa on a promontory in Grand Harbour. These funerary slabs were later investigated by renowned Egyptologist Margaret Murray who concluded that they dated from the 12th dynasty (1991-1802 BC) and that the position they had been excavated from showed they must have been brought to the island "at some remote antiquity".

Dr Murray also mentioned other analogies between ancient Malta and Egypt, such as "the spiral decoration so common in the early temples of Malta that is equally common on scarabs of the 12th dynasty in Egypt".

Dr Murray also carried out excavations at various sites in Malta, and in her report of 1928, she identified several other Egyptian artefacts that were found in rock tombs in various localities. The most significant find was a ring with a scarab bearing the name of Sebek-hetel, dating to the 13th Dynasty (around 1,700 BC)."

Jiroft:lost link of chain of civilization

Iranian archaeologist Yusef Majidzadeh believes that Jiroft is the lost link of the chain of civilization and says it has such a significant civilization that he would be proud to be named an honorary citizen of the ancient site.

In a seminar entitled “Jiroft, the Cradle of Oriental Civilization” held in Kerman on Thursday, he said, “The history of civilization in Jiroft dates back to 2700 BC and the third millennium civilization is the lost link of the chain of civilization which archaeologists have long sought.

“We do not deny the Mesopotamian civilization, but we believe that the Jiroft civilization is of equal importance to the Mesopotamian. The only difference is that the Mesopotamian civilization had cultural continuity while the Jiroft civilization suffered from ups and downs for natural reasons. Thus it emerged in a certain period and was buried at a later time.”

Located next to the Halil-Rud River in the southern province of Kerman, Jiroft came into the spotlight nearly five years ago when reports of extensive illegal excavations and plundering of the priceless historical items of the area by local people surfaced.

Since 2002, five excavation seasons have been carried out at the Jiroft site under the supervision of Professor Majidzadeh, leading to the discovery of a ziggurat made of more than four million mud bricks dating back to about 2200 BC.

Many ancient ruins and interesting artifacts have been excavated by archaeologists at the Jiroft ancient site, which is known as the “archeologists’ lost heaven”.

After the numerous unique discoveries in the region, Majidzadeh declared Jiroft to be the cradle of art. Many scholars questioned the theory due to the fact that no writings had yet been discovered at the site, but shortly afterwards his team discovered inscriptions at Konar-Sandal Ziggurat, which caused experts to reconsider their views on Jiroft.

Scientists recreate Dante's face


"Meet Dante. Not the best looking man in the world, but certainly better-looking than he has often been depicted in famous paintings.

Scientists believe this face is the closest match to the poet's skull found in his tomb. And for Dante scholars it has thrown up a few surprises. They always imagined him to have a long aquiline nose. But the team from the University of Bologna, who remodelled this face, believe it was bent and crooked. He looks as if he had been punched.

"We all had our ideas of what Dante looked like," said Professor Giorgio Gruppioni, the anthropologist behind the project.

"But if this is right, it shows his face was quite different from what we had envisaged."

'Psychological renditions'

The popular conception of what Dante looked like came from classical portraits. Professor Gruppioni said most were done by Renaissance artists after he had died. They are what he calls "psychological renditions" - impressions artists had formed of Dante, from his work they had read. A number of death masks also exist but historians believe these, too, were sculpted after his death."


I saw a sculpture of Dante in the piazza outside of the Uffitzi Gallery in Florence when I visited Italy a couple of years ago. I think it was a modern sculpture but it didn't look all that different from the image above.

Monday, January 08, 2007

View of Ancient Thrace Continues to Evolve with New Archaeological Finds

By Prof. Ivan Marazov
New Bulgarian University

"The biggest people after the Indians,? as Herodotus referred to the Thracians, inhabited the enormous territory from the Aegean Sea in the south to the Carpathian Mountains in the north during the antiquity. It is not known with certainty when these tribes came to the Balkans. The most recent and extremely rich finds of magnificent gold jewellery in the tumuli from Dubene (Central Bulgaria), which were excavated by Martin Hristov, are dated to the end of the second millennium BC. Maybe they were left by the first Indo-European settlers in these lands.


In this context, the appearance of the splendid vessels of the Vulchitrun gold treasure six or seven centuries later does not seem unexpected. These finds mark the gold history of the Thracians ? a people which had disappeared, but which continues to amaze the world more and more with the wealth of its culture.

In the past 50 years, archaeological excavations and accidental finds in Bulgaria made us change radically our notions about the customs, way of life, mythology, architecture and art of the Thracians. Thousands of tumuli conceal under their embankments splendid tombs built of stone or brick, and often decorated with frescoes. A tomb decorated with frescoes made by a local artist during the second half of the 4th century BC was discovered in 2001 near the village of Alexandrovo (Southeastern Bulgaria).
The frescoes present the hero?s royal trials: hunting and military heroic deeds. Most tombs in the ?Valley of the Thracian Kings? in Central Bulgaria were plundered already back in ancient times, but some of them have nevertheless preserved rich funerary offerings. In the summer of 2003, Georgi Kitov excavated a stone tomb in which he discovered a brilliant gold mask from the second half of the 4th century BC, in addition to weapons, silver, bronze and ceramic vessels. During the next season that archaeologist discovered the tomb of the Odrysian ruler Seuthes III, which is dated to the beginning of the 3rd century BC, unplundered and full of precious vessels, articles of adornment, ornamentation to horse trappings, etc.

The images of Medusa and Helios on the marble doors of the tomb show the way to the darkness of the kingdom in the world beyond and the light of eternal life. A bronze head was found in front of the entrance to the tomb, probably a portrait of the king himself, a magnificent work of art of a talented Hellenistic sculptor. One year later, Daniela Agre excavated a big tumulus near Yambol (Southeastern Bulgaria) and found an untouched burial of another Thracian ruler. And there was again a sensation: in addition to the beautiful Greek silver rhytons with scenes on the horn, a silver greave with the mask of a goddess on the knee and mythological scenes around it, made by a local artist, was also found in the grave.
Until then we believed that this type of parade protective weaponry was characteristic only of the northern regions of ancient Thrace. Treasures are the second source, after burials, for studying Thracian art. They are deposits of precious objects belonging to the same or similar types that had been buried in the ground outside any archaeological context. The number of treasures increased dramatically in the 4th century BC ? a time of flourishing and of tumultuous political events that shook the Thracian kingdoms. When the silver treasure from Rogozen (Northwestern Bulgaria) was discovered in 1986, it became clear that such a wealth (165 silver vessels with gilt weighing 20 kilogrammes!) was hardly buried during a flight from an invading enemy. A new ?ritual? hypothesis emerged: the buried treasure marked and guarded the borders of the state territory. This explains why the Thracian word for this ritual deposit has been preserved: pitye, ?buried, sunk.?

The Thracians remained true to that custom until the end of the Roman period, trying to protect their lands against the barbarians invading from the north."

I hope to visit Bulgaria and see these magnificent treasures for myself.