Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Garamentes tunnel system watered early Libya

"Sometime before 1000 BCE, a group of nomads looked south of the narrow coastal strip and decided that if no one else was going to claim the desert, they would. They recognized that the sands and sun would kill anyone who deviated from a proscribed path of oases, and so determined that there was no need to use their resources in trying to defend a desert border; all they need to do was garrison the watering holes. In this manner – along a string of oases about 400 km long – the Garamentes were able to control the routes between Sudan and the Mediterranean coast, west to Mauritania, south to the Niger River, and eastward as far as Egypt.

Recent archaeology has shown the Garamentes from being far more than Herodotus' description of a tribe of numerous barbarians who were good at raising cattle; indeed, they became the Sahara's first culture to develop an urban civilization absent a perennial river – by 150 BCE, their capitol, Gerna (the modern Jarma Oasis) had a population or perhaps 4000, with another 6000 living in the immediate vicinity. Eight more major towns and numerous smaller settlements dotted their realm, and a decidedly city-based culture developed to exploit transiting caravans. According to some estimates, over 50,000 of their pyramidical stone tombs dot the landscape of their former territory.

Weird Historical Sidenote: For a glimpse into what the territory of the Garamedes looks like nowadays, check out this guy's photologue of a trip to Tassili National Park in Algeria. See if you can spot the petrified elephant.

img
They were able to accomplish all this by means of an ingenious system of more than 1600 kilometers of foggares (tunnels), dug down to subterranean aquifers and used to supply irrigation systems on the surface, and through an effective means of written communication. The Garamendes' Phoenecian-based alphabet is still in use by some Tarureg tribes today, have largely been preserved through the good offices of multiple generations of desert-dwelling women.

Their elaborate tunnel system made the Garamedes overly reliant upon slaves, which led to the old conquer-or-perish motif that we see played out so often through history. They warred for control of trade (and for profit) with the kingdoms surrounding them, be they Nubian, Egyptian, Carthaginian, Greek, or Roman. These latter sent several punitive expeditions into the lands of the Garamedes, but the desert proved unconquerable; finally, the Romans gave up and signed a lasting commercial and military agreement with them at the end of the 1st century CE."

Film adds "technicolor" to Parthenon Marbles


The Elgin Marbles in the British Museum are marvellous - but they're a bit, well, colourless, aren't they?

That isn't how it was for the ancient Greeks. The sculptures were painted in vivid colour. High up on the sides of the Parthenon temple in Athens, they had to be.

Now a new film on permanent show in the room next to the Marbles adds the colour - and the fear and the violence.

"When we started to apply the colour it brought a lot of the emotion to life," says Dyfri Williams, Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum.

The film reconstructs one of the metopes - the 92 carved fight scenes that ran around the outside wall - using computer technology.

The restored metope is part of this process. The project began with three-dimensional laser scanning of the metope in the BM, and of casts of the two Copenhagen heads, by the National Museums Conservation centre in Liverpool and fitting the images together.

More can be added from a drawing done by the Frenchman Jacques Carrey in 1674. But still a lot of details are entirely lost.

Dyfri Williams's department developed a story board for the film, which Mark Timson of the British Museum's New Media Unit translated into a series of computer-generated models.

Drawings of the missing pieces were developed based on other metopes in the museum.

Fixing-holes in the sculptures show that metal pieces were once included - for this metope, a headband and sword for the boy were added.

The 3-D scanning enabled some things about the carving to be understood which had been a mystery before, says Mri Williams.

Centaur's head before and after reconstruction (pics: Danish National Museum; British Museum)
Centaur's head in Copenhagen and (right) after reconstruction

Since the scanning, some ridges of the youth's thigh are now thought to mark the folds of his cloak. The museum now thinks the cloak was finished off in plaster, probably after some accident in the carving of the marble.

One Third Maltese share Phoenician DNA


A Lebanese genetic scientist who has been following the genetic footprint of the ancient Phoenician civilisation across the Mediterranean for the last five years has found that close to one-third of modern-day Maltese share a genetic link with the ancient Phoenicians.

Thirty per cent of DNA samples taken from Malta have been found to share a common and ancient genetic marker, known as the J2 haplogroup, with the Phoenician civilisation, which had colonised Malta for much of the first millennium BC.

Research carried out by Lebanese geneticist Dr Pierre Zalloua has shown that while a relatively high degree of Spaniards and Tunisians also share the marker, the Maltese population had a predominantly high proportion.

The research project, funded by a $1 million grant from National Geographic’s Committee for Research and Exploration, issued its preliminary results in October 2004 and was famously the subject of a National Geographic Magazine focus that year.

The project, led by Dr Zalloua and research partner National Geographic Emerging Explorer Spencer Wells, has been under way for some five years.

The Phoenicians, who occupied the narrow coastal strip in the Levant today known as Lebanon, created the first trade routes circumnavigating the Mediterranean, and colonised Malta and Gozo – naming them “Melita” and “Gaulos” respectively.

The genetic marker identifying individuals as descendants of the ancient Levantines has also been found in Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian samples – in and near the Phoenician homeland – as well as in other areas colonised by the Phoenicians such as the Iberian Peninsula and Tunisia.

The J2 haplogroup genetic marker, according to dating techniques used by Dr Zalloua, is approximately 12,000 years old, give or take 5,000 years, and researchers are confident it originates in the Levant.

Gadafy Announces Sustainable Development Plan for Cyrene


"On Monday, in the ruins of the Green Mountain's ancient city of Cyrene, Gadafy's second eldest son, the bookish Saif al-Islam Gadafy, nervously announced the ambitious scheme to a crowd of VIPs, local dignitaries and journalists. "We must build our own societies in a way that minimises the release of greenhouse gases, while allowing every citizen to share in the social and economic benefits of well-planned development," he said in halting English, before signing the extremely important-sounding Cyrene Declaration.

The declaration basically says everything the world would want to hear: sustainable development; archaeological conservation; eco-tourism; renewable energy; environmentally responsible town planning; micro-banking; education; biofuels; even production of "the finest quality organic food and drink". In essence, it was a declaration that Libya are now more interested in saving the planet than bankrolling terrorists, and that one day soon the Green Mountain region would be a very nice place to come on holiday - a sort of cross between St Tropez, the garden of Eden, and Waitrose.

To achieve these daunting ambitions, Saif al-Islam has created the Green Mountain Conservation and Development Authority, a curious coalition of international experts in green technology, conservation, agriculture, architecture and whatever else, with responsibility for a 5,500 sq km area littered with Greek, Roman and Byzantine ruins and with 220km of largely unspoilt coast. And leading the whole plan is Britain's ubiquitous architectural troubleshooter, Norman Foster.

To give the bewildered onlookers a sense of Gadafy Jnr's vision, Foster and Partners had put up a small exhibition within the ruins, with diagrams and photographs and models, many of which showcased previous Foster projects such as the Carré d'Art in Nimes, their wind turbine design from the early 1990s, and even the Reichstag in Berlin. Presumably, this was to demonstrate that the architect's high-tech oeuvre worked well against more classical styles, but onlookers could be forgiven for wondering if Foster wasn't thinking of putting a giant glass dome over Cyrene's Temple of Zeus.

Foster and Partners had only been on the project six weeks or so, admits Norman's right-hand man, Spencer de Grey. "These are just illustrations of the potential and aims of ambition of the big picture," he says. "We met [Saif al-Islam] three or four years ago in London, and Norman and I made a visit here after that. This decision is more recent, but we were then asked to help in his vision, with a regional masterplan strategy and some pilot projects. I think sustainability is absolutely at the root of all of this. It is a wonderful opportunity for Libya to leapfrog everybody and show the world how ecological tourism can be integrated with the local community."

The pilot projects turn out to be three luxury hotels - though they do at least adhere to green design principles. The Cyrene Grand Hotel, close to the ruined city, will be built on the footprint of an existing hotel built by the occupying Italians during the 1930s (and later bombed by the British). The other two are spa and holiday resorts in the hills. The designs are purely preliminary, but Foster's people are taking pains to tick all the sustainable design boxes: utilising natural ventilation, passive solar strategies, natural local materials and minimal impact on the landscape. One of the resorts is set into the rim of a dramatic canyon, for example, and adopts a camouflage strategy, with low-rise stone-clad buildings nestled among the scrubby vegetation. Even the windows will be deeply recessed so that they do not glint in the sun. Guests will still, though, have a fine view from their cliff-edge infinity pools, if the brochure is anything to go by."