Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Evidence for Cao Cao burial in Anyang Tomb Convincing


The Chinese National Cultrual Relics Bureau presented overwhelming evidence that an ancient tomb discovered in Anyang, Henan Province must have contained the remains of third century warlord Cao Cao.

[Image: Cao Cao in the 84-episode television serial Romance of the Three Kingdoms played by Bao Guoan. Courtesy of  Wikipedia.]


Cao Cao was born in 155 CE to the foster son of one of Emperor Huan's favorite eunuchs.  A gifted but precocious child, he was frequently at odds with his family for engaging in hunting and musical pursuits with the son of one of the household maids, Yuan Shao.  As fate would have it, both boys would grow up to become fierce generals who fought for control of the crumbling Eastern Han Dynasty.

At the age of 20, Cao Cao became first a district captain of Luoyang then governor of  Dunqiu County.  However, when the Yellow Turban Rebellion broke out, he got a chance to demonstrate his natural military skills when he was appointed as a cavalry commander and sent to Yingchuan to suppress the rebels.  His success brought yet another promotion to Governor of Dong Commandery.

During this period, the rule of China went through a series of puppet emperors while the real power lay with the Dowager Empress He supported by an imperial court full of powerful eunuchs. (If you're interested in reading more about women and power politics in the Han Dynasty check out my article, Mad, Bad and Dangerous Women of the Han Dynasty at Heritage Key!) Cao Cao's childhood friend, Yuan Shao, now a nobleman because his mother had become a court concubine, joined forces with another powerful aristocrat, He Jin, in an attempt to rid the court of the eunuchs and wrest power from the Dowager Empress.  He Jin summoned yet another powerful governor, Dong Zhuo, for assistance but before the armies of Dong Zhuo arrived, the eunuchs succeeded in assassinating He Jin, leaving the imperial court in chaos and Yuan Shao fighting for his life.

When Dong Zhuo's armies arrived, they quickly defeated the opposition and Dong Zhuo placed his own puppet emperor on the throne.  But Dong Zhuo had a reputation for cruelty and outrageous behavior, including the audacity to sleep in the emperor's own bed and forcing himself on palace maids.  He was prone to temper tantrums and threw weapons even at his own adoptive son who served as his personal bodyguard.

Cao Cao could not abide the tyrant and refused a court appointment, choosing instead to raise an army near his hometown and join with Yuan Shao to root out the new cancer in the imperial court.  In 192 CE, the adoptive son of Dong Zhuo couldn't bear the abuse any longer and assassinated his father.  This act plunged the country into civil war that raged for over four years.  In 196 CE, Cao Cao, who had continued to expand his power, convinced then Emperor Xian to move the capital to Xuchang, a city under Cao Cao's military control.  Cao Cao was appointed to the post of Chancellor then Commander-In-Chief.  But this appointment infuriated Cao Cao's old friend, Yuan Shao.  In an effort to keep the peace between them, Cao Cao offered his position as Commander-In-Chief to Yuan Shao who accepted it.  But, Yuan Shao's ambition would not be subdued and in 200 CE, Yuan Shao raised an army of 100,000 men and marched on the capital to "rescue" the emperor from the clutches of his old friend Cao Cao.

Cao Cao responded, although fielding a force of only 20,000 men. He carefully selected the battlefield, though, at a strategic point on the Yellow River named Guandu where Yuan Shao would be unable to engage all of his manpower in a frontal assault.  The result was a standoff for a time until a deserter from Yuan Shao's forces told Cao Cao of the location of Yuan Shao's supply depot.  Cao Cao ordered a clandestine attack on the depot that destroyed most of Yuan Shao's supplies and delivered a nearly impossible victory to Cao Cao.  Shortly after, Yuan Shao sickened and died.  His two sons carried on his battle against Cao Cao but Yuan Shao had named his younger son rather than his older son as his clan successor, causing the two to feud incessantly.  Cao Cao was able to eventually defeat them without much effort, making Cao Cao the de facto ruler of northern China.  His armies also subdued Northern Korea and lands south to the Han River.

Cao Cao's military brilliance along with his talent for administration and literary achievements reminded me of Julius Caesar, especially since, like Caesar, his life was played out against a backdrop of civil war. Although unlike Caesar, Cao Cao was a short, rather plain looking man.  I smiled when I read the following anecdote:

"Once when Cao Cao was to receive an envoy from the Huns, he had some misgivings lest his short stature and rather plain features would cause the Huns to despise the State of Wei. So he had a handsome-looking minister with a long beard and a deep resounding voice sit on the throne in his place, while he himself stood by the side of the "emperor" with a broad sword in hand. After the reception, Cao Cao secretly sent someone to ask the Hun envoy, "What do you think of the King of Wei?" The envoy replied, "He looks distinguished indeed, but the man who stood beside him seems to be a true hero!" - The Three Kingdoms, Chinavoc.com

This apparent lack of self esteem seemed to have plagued Cao Cao all of his life.  Despite being urged by others within the imperial court, Cao Cao repeatedly refused to usurp the throne, considering it a point of honor.  I was also impressed that he tried to reconcile with his childhood friend, Yuan Shao, offering him Cao Cao's own position as Commander-In-Chief.  He even instructed his subjects stationed on the frontiers not to abandon their posts just to attend his funeral when death overtook him.

Therefore, I am puzzled why Cao Cao was so vilified in the classic Chinese novel "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" written by Luo Guanzhong in the 14th century.  Yes, I know Cao Cao allegedly ordered the massacre of thousands of people (including their dogs and poultry!) to avenge his father's death.  But he also instituted far-reaching agricultural programs to stabilize the food supply after a famine so severe, following a locust infestation, that the people had turned to cannibalism.  He also promoted education and established a system to identify and develop gifted students.

One website pointed to Confucianists blaming Cao Cao's character flaws for his inability to unite all of China.  But, the more likely reason was it was more politically correct during the Ming dynasty of the 14th century to glorify Liu Bei, King of Hanzhong, than acknowledge legitimacy of the Wei dynasty, founded when Cao Cao's son usurped the throne after Cao Cao's death.

Perhaps someday, Cao Cao's reputation will be restored.  At least the evidence found in his tomb seemed to support the sources that claimed Cao Cao requested a relatively modest burial.  Although the tomb was large, it was unsealed with earth and unadorned.  Cao Cao had asked to be buried in normal clothes without precious jewels and the items found within the tomb were typical items for daily use. Skeptics could raise the issue that the tomb had been looted but looters would not have been able to destroy evidence of any elaborate murals if they had been present.  It's as if the tomb itself bears testament to a man no more evil than the next and ultimately worthy of a respectful place in Chinese history.

 Three Kingdoms (I, II, III)   Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon   The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han (History of Imperial China)

   

Sunday, December 20, 2009

U.N. to assist Egypt with planning for underwater museum in Alexandria


I see the United Nations has offered to assist Egypt with its plans for an underwater museum in Alexandria to showcase the remnants of the palace of Cleopatra found just offshore there.

From the artists' conceptions of the new facility it looks like it will be an architectural marvel in its own right! Architect Jacques Rougerie explained that the architectural elements are meant to evoke images of Nile feluccas and the maritime importance of the famous lighthouse that once stood here.  The museum will be situation near the new Library of Alexandria, a facilitiy that is projected to one day recapture the title of largest repository of knowledge in the world.

[Image courtesy of Jacques Rougerie Architect]

 Just this week they have raised a massive red granite pylon  weighing nine tons that formed part of the temple of Isis.  The temple complex stood right next to Cleopatra's mausoleum in the year 30 BC. Scholars think Cleopatra was not buried there though.  She was reportedly buried inland beside her husband Marc Antony.  There had been speculation earlier this year that their burial had been found but I haven't heard anything more about that excavation lately.


I wish the museum would be open when I visit Egypt but I don't think it will be finished by February 2011 when I plan to go there.  For more wonderful photos of the project, check out the National Geographic feature about it!

Cleopatra's Alexandria          Cleopatra's Palace:: In Search of a Legend

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gold, Silver and Bronze Vessels found in burial near chariot discovery


Marvelous discoveries of ancient Thracian treasures continue in Bulgaria. I truly hope I can see some of these finds some day. Apparently these antiquities were uncovered close to the site where a completely intact bronze-embellished Thracian chariot was found in September 2007.

While looking for an image of the finds I stumbled across this marvelous blog about ancient Bulgaria that provided a number of images of the chariot excavation including this one.

"In October and November 2009, archaeologist Veselin Ignatov’s team found a burial tomb of dated back to the end of 1st century and beginning of 2nd century AD, located outside of the village of Karanovo, in southern Bulgaria.

The finds at the lavish Thracian tomb include gold rings, silver cups and vessels coated with gold and clay vessels. Those include two silver cups with images of love god Eros, and a number of other ornate silver and bronze vessels." - More: Sofia News Agency

The precious items once belonged to an aristocrat descended from the ruling elite of the Odrysian Kingdom (5th -3rd century BCE).

According to the Greek historians Herodotus and Thucydides, a royal dynasty emerged from among the Odrysian tribe in Thrace around the end of the 5th century BCE, which came to dominate much of the area and peoples between the Danube and the Aegean for the next century. Later writers, royal coin issues, and inscriptions indicate the survival of this dynasty into the early first century CE, although its overt political influence declined progressively first under Persian, Macedonian, later Roman, encroachment. Despite their demise, the period of Odrysian rule was of decisive importance for the future character of south-eastern Europe, under the Roman Empire and beyond. - Wikipedia
[Image - Golden mask of 4th century BCE Thracian King discovered near Topolchene in 2007. Courtesy of News.bg]

The Odrysians built roads to develop trade and built a powerful army, at one point numbering over 150,000 men.

Under the Odrysians Greek became the language of administrators and of nobility and the Greek Alphabet was adopted; Greek customs and fashions contributed to the recasting of east Balkan society.The nobility adopted Greek fashions in dress, ornament and military equipment, spreading it to the other tribes.

In the 4th century BC, the kingdom split itself in three smaller kingdoms, of which one, with the capital at Seuthopolis survived the longest. During the Hellenistic era it was subject at various times to Alexander the Great, Lysimachus, Ptolemy II, and Philip V, and was at one time overrun by the Celts, but usually maintained its own kings. During the Roman era its Sapaean rulers were clients of Rome until Thrace was annexed as a Roman province in 46 AD. - Wikipedia


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cambyses Lost Persian Army Found In The Sahara!


What a wonderful discovery! Two Italian archaeologist have found what appears to be the lost army of Persian King Cambyses in the Sahara desert. I learned about this cataclysmic event when I listened to Professor Elizabeth VanDiver's Teaching Company lecture series on Herodotus: The Father of History. It was the first lecture series from the Teaching Company that I had ever heard and I was mesmerized! I now have dozens of their lectures under my belt and about a dozen on my "to be heard" shelf in my library.

[Image: Gold ornaments from the Oxus Treasure depicting Persian warrior 5th-4th century BCE. Photographed at the British Museum by Mary Harrsch]

The article compared the discovery with Schlieman's discovery of Troy and I would have to agree and it is so exciting to have it occur in my own lifetime! How gratifying to culminate 13 years of research with such a marvelous discovery!

"A pair of Italian archaeologists have uncovered bronze weapons, a silver bracelet, an earring and hundreds of human bones in the vast desolate wilderness of the Sahara desert. Twin brothers Angelo and Alfredo Castiglioni are hopeful that they've finally found the lost army of Persian King Cambyses II.

According to the Greek historian Herodotus, Cambyses II and his armies were buried by a cataclysmic sandstorm in 525 B.C. He wrote, "a wind arose from the south, strong and deadly, bringing with it vast columns of whirling sand, which entirely covered up the troops and caused them wholly to disappear."

Now the discovery of these artifacts points towards an answer to this millennias-old mystery: The Castiglioni brothers studied ancient maps and came to the conclusion that Cambyses' army did not take the caravan route most archaeologists believe they used." - More: New American

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fighting Crickets and other imperial activities in the virtual Forbidden City


Last week I spent an entire day exploring the virtual Forbidden City that was created as a joint project between IBM and the Palace Museum in Rome. I found the rendered architecture breathtaking and learned a great deal about Chinese history and court life during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

[My avatar dressed as a woman of the Qing dynasty imperial court will help an Imperial Guard with his archery practice]

In addition to the environment itself, there were objects that could be examined like the golden "Dragon Throne" in the Hall of Supreme Harmony and the magnificent bronze guardian lions and xiehi, mythical beasts who understand human language and will impale the evil with their single horn.

I also enjoyed observing scenes of court life like the emperor reviewing petitions (referred to as memorials), eating a 20-course meal with a eunuch taster standing by with a silver spoon, and posing for a portrait that was being rendered by a court artist while the emperor's children played about him.

[Image: Learning to play weiqi from a wise master of the game]

Program developers even included interactive activities like helping an Imperial guardsman practice archery, training and fighting crickets and learning to play weiqi (GO).

The environment could be expanded even further to encompass a wealth of additional history-learning activities. I went up on the accompaying website and posted suggestions for a Chinese cooking module that could be added to the hall where visitors watch the emperor eating a meal. I think it would be fun for visitors to be able to challenge each other to a game of weiqi. I also think it would be interesting to add an application similar to the iPhone's "Brushes" program that would let visitors try their own hand at painting the emperor or scenes or people they see within the virtual palace. A "Brushes" like application could also be used in a caligraphy lesson or writing poetry.

[Image: Imperial Gardens in the virtual Forbidden City]

I also suggested having more animated scenes of other cultural activities like presentations of plays, music recitals or poetry readings or a hall where visitors can go and listen to Chinese philosophers. My editor at Heritage Key asked me if I could suggest a topic for a machinama presentation using the virtual environment and I told him I thought it would be really fascinating for visitors to watch an imperial wedding using the Hall of Supreme Harmony as the backdrop as this is the building where imperial weddings were held during the Ming dynasty.

I would encourage everyone to visit the virtual Forbidden City for yourselves. You will need to download a client that interacts with the server-based virtual environment. The system requirements are 2 Gb of Ram Memory and a Pentium 4 2.4GHz+ or AMD 2400xp+ processor and 2 Gb of free space on your hard drive. It requires a minimum Network Speed of 768 Kbits/sec and is designed for a minimum resolution of 1280x1024, 32-bit True Color. Of course you'll also need a video card capable of 3D.

I actually ran the environment with a workstation with only 1 Gb of Ram and it worked fine. My biggest problem was with my network speed. I live in the country and only have a DSL connection with a maximum of 1.5 Mps. This would appear on the surface to be satisfactory but in reality I must not have been getting the maximum speed as I had problems with my machine freezing for a few seconds while the data was buffered. I read in the troubleshooting guide that there is a way to configure your local client so it only renders surrounding buildings based on your current location but I didn't experiment with that.

I actually wrote a full review of my experience for Heritage Key illustrated with a series of screen shots. If you are particularly interested in Chinese history, I also wrote an article for Heritage Key entitled Conspiring Concubines and Desperate Divas: Women and Power Politics in the Han Dynasty as well.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Han Dynasty Mawangdui Excavation Exhibit Makes Last Stop in Santa Barbara

I wish this exhibit had been open when I was down in Los Angeles last month. Although Lady Dai, one of the best preserved mummies in the world and the Mwangdui tomb's famous occupant won't be on display (she is carefully conserved and housed at the Hunan Provincial Museum in Changsha), 70 objects of exquisite lacquerware, a 2,000 year-old silk robe worn by Lady Dai, a medical text written on delicate silk fabric and finely detailed figurines of household servants and muscians found among more than 3,000 artifacts discovered when the tomb was originally unearthed in 1971 are showcased in the exhibit.

[Image - Wooden figurines of musicans playing reed wind instruments called yus and plucked-string zithers (178-145 BCE). Image courtesy of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art]

The Han Dynasty period, 206 BCE - 220CE, considered one of the most important periods in Chinese history, included the invention of paper and construction of the Silk Road that eventually would lead to trade with the Roman Empire. It was founded by a rebel peasant leader named Liu Bang, who would become the Emperor Gaozu.

Reading the records of the grand historian of the Han Dynasty, I couldn't help but notice a parallel between the relationship of Liu Bang and Xiao He, a local man of letters, who would later become his prime minister, and Octavian (Caesar Augustus) and his general Marcus Agrippa, although the roles were somewhat reversed. In the case of the Han emperor Liu Bang (Gaozu), the emperor was the military strategist while his minister, Xiao He, was the man behind the scenes who raised money and recruits. In the case of Augustus, his general/admiral Marcus Agrippa was the military mind who engineered Octavian's victories while Octavian supplied the money and recruits. In each case, however, neither Xiao He nor Marcus Agrippa ever moved to challenge their liege lord. Each became wealthy and powerful in their own right and their support was crucial to the success of each emperor's reign. But each man seemed to be satisfied to be the man behind the scenes rather than the man holding the wolf's ears (so to speak).

Liu Bang, the only emperor besides Zhu Yanzhang, the founder of the Ming Dynasty, that rose from a modest background, also possessed a healthy dose of common sense that served him well in the administration of a contentious collection of fiefdoms formed after the fragmentation of the Qin empire. I particularly like the story related by the grand historian about how Liu Bang handled an angry mob of his generals who were dismayed by Liu Bang's promotion of his minister, Xiao He, to the first position in his court.

"The king of Han, now emperor, considered that Xiao He had achieved the highest merit and hence enfeoffed him [gave him a fief] as marquis of Zan with the revenue from a large number of towns. But the other distinguished officials objected, saying, “We have alI buckled on armour and taken up our weapons, some of us fighting as many as I00 or more engagements, the least of us fighting twenty or thirty. Each, to a greater or lesser degree, has engaged in attacks upon cities or seizures of of territory. And yet Xiao He, who has never campaigned on the sweaty steeds of battle, but only sat here with brush and ink deliberating on questions of state instead of fighting, is awarded a position above us. How can this be?"
'Gentlemen,' the emperor asked, 'do you know anything about hunting?'
'We do,' they replied.
'And do you know anything about hunting dogs?' 
'We do.'
'Now in a hunt,' the emperor said, 'it is the dog who is sent to pursue and kill the beast but the one who unleashes the dog and points out the place where the beast is hiding is the huntsman. You, gentlemen, have only succeeded in capturing the beast, and so your achievement is that of hunting dogs. But it is Xiao He who unleashed you and polnted out the place,and his achievement is that of the huntsman.' - Records of the grand historian: Han dynasty by Ch’ien Ssu-Ma, Burton Watson

If you have a chance to see the Han exhibit in Santa Barbara, don't forget to explore the museum's excellent permanent Asian art exhibit. It, too, contains some beautiful artifacts from the Han period like this figurine of a female dancer and musician playing a Qin zither from Sichuan province (25 -220 CE) that I photographed there.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Early Mosques Without Minarets surveyed on Abu Dhabi Islands


I found this article very interesting. I didn't realize that mosques have not always had minarets. According to Dr. Geoffrey King, an expert in Islamic art and archaeology at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London and now academic director of the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey, early mosques, in many cases, were simple structures of natural materials pointed towards Mecca.

[Image - Muraykhi mosque, dating back to the 1930s, is one of the 45 studied by the archaeological team. It has been restored as a heritage museum. Image courtesy of The National Centre for Documentation and Research]

“The minaret is a northern development out of Syria,” he says. “The first minarets were introduced when the Muslims got to Damascus and built the Great Mosque, using the old temple there and utilising the old Roman corner towers, making them into what became minarets. All the places that were influenced by the very old Arabian tradition have none; that means east Africa and Oman and those on Delma are the same.”

In all, Dr. King's team surveyed 45 mosques found on the islands.

"The simplest remains, built from small stones or slabs of beach rock, without roof or wall and ranging from one metre to 30 metres long, are impossible to date. Little more than defined spaces facing Mecca, they contained no dateable material – kept clean and certainly not used as sites for cooking or other household chores, they yielded none of the detritus of daily life.

What is certain, however, Dr King said, is that these sites echo the oldest Islamic tradition, dating back to the reported provisions for prayer made during the Prophet’s military expedition to Tabuk, in present-day north-west Saudi Arabia, in 630: “When they prayed, they just laid out some stones to face Mecca.” - More: The National

Monday, August 31, 2009

Did Editha, queen of Otto I, suffer a genetic disorder? Remains centerpiece of Magdeburg exhibit


This modest exhibit of artifacts unearthed by archaeologist Rainer Kuhn at Magdeburg Cathedral sounds fascinating. Of course I was particularly interested in the remains of Queen Editha, an English woman who became the beloved of German King Otto the Great. Unlike Henry VIII's disdain for his Germanic queen, Anne of Cleves, centuries later, Otto reportedly adored Editha, daughter of Edward the Elder and sister of reigning English King Athelstan.

[Image - Sculpture of Otto I and his queen, Editha (Eadgyth) of England in Magdeburg Cathedral. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

Unfortunately, Editha, sometimes spelled Ædgyth, died between the ages of 33 to 37, so their love was rather short-lived. The article says she bore only two children but I found a genealogy record online that says she gave birth to two girls, Luitgarde Liudolfing and Richilde Richeza Liudolfing Princess of Germany, and one boy, Heinrich Liudolfing Duke of Bavaria.

After Editha's death, Otto married Adelaide, young widow of King Lothar of Italy, to save her from a forced marriage to Adalbert, son of Berengar of Ivrea, an old rival of King Lothar who had seized power upon Lothar's death. Berengar had also seized Pope John XII. In 960 CE the Pope appealed to Otto for help. Subsequently, Otto invaded Italy and defeated Berengar, seizing the iron crown of the Lombards for himself. In 962 he was proclaimed Emperor of the Romans.

Although Otto's son by Editha, Liudolfing, had been named Otto's successor in 946, Liudolfing feared for his position in the succession after his father's marriage to Adelaide produced a son as well. So, he formed an alliance with other German dukes and rose up against his father. When the Magyars invaded, Liudolfing even attempted an alliance with them which cost him much of his political support. With his alliances crumbling around him, Liudolfing surrendered formally to his father. Although his life was spared and he retained his estates, his duchy was not restored to him. The Magyars, however, fought on and in 955 Otto defeated them on the Plain of Lechfeld. Liudolfing died just two years later in 957 at the approximate age of only 27.

Editha's daughter, Luitgarde Liudolfing, ended up marrying Konrad II von Carinthia Duke of Franconia. Although she died at the tender age of 22, she did have one son, Duke Otto II von Carinthia.

Editha's second daughter, Richilde Richeza Liudolfing Princess of Germany, was the only one of her offspring that led a relatively long life. She lived to the age of 67, having married twice. But, she, too, did not have many children - only two boys.

Since almost a quarter of Editha's skeleton has survived in the lead sarcophagus that entombed it, researchers are hoping to find clues as to why the queen had relatively few children in a marriage that spanned 18 years presumably without birth control. Whatever the condition was, it appears to have been somewhat genetic as even her daughter that lived to 67 had only two children and they subsequently had only one child each in their marriages.

“We discovered the sarcophagus [of Queen Editha] with a miniature camera,” Kuhn said. “We opened it in November [2008]. Astonishingly, it was full. Full of bones, textiles and mould. All this is being analyzed in the coming months. Of the skeleton, about a quarter has survived, I would guess. As far as the textiles are concerned, it is clear that in 1510, whoever reburied her used a new cloth and put everything found in the old grave into that.”

“She died early, between the ages of 33 and 36. When we analyze her bones, we will know more about her. Was she big, small? Why did she only have two children? It’s not many for this period. How did she live? Did she suffer diseases? What did she eat?” - More: Bloomberg.com

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Youtube video of Thracian treasures of Bulgaria breathtaking!

While I was on YouTube looking for a video about Macedonian tombs I came across this video that gives a wonderful overview of the spectacular Thracian treasures that have been unearthed in Bulgaria. I hope to visit Bulgaria one day and see these wonders for myself!

Seventeen 5th century BCE tombs unearthed in Macedonia

This discovery sounds exciting and very unique. I wish the article had included some pictures. The discovery of the gold chest plate embossed with a sun is particularly interesting. I wonder if the sun resembles the so-called Vergina sun found on a gold casket in the royal tombs discovered by Manolis Andronikos.

This YouTube video includes images of several Macedonian tomb sites and artifacts discovered within them including the gold casket embossed with the Vergina sun. It gets a little political towards the end though. My inclusion of it here is merely for illustrative purposes and does not imply any agreement with any political statements made within it.



Macedonian archaeologists have discovered 17 tombs dating from the 5th century BC in Ohrid, southwestern Macedonia, local media reported Monday. In one tomb, archaeologists found bones of a 15-year-old girl with a unique funeral mask made up of thin gold eye-covers, gold plate for the mouth and a plaque with an engraved sun placed on her chest. "This kind of a mask is unique for the Balkans. Several gold plates were found in Aegean region, but this kind of combination in one grave is unknown," Pasko Kuzman, head of the Macedonian Department for Cultural Heritage, was quoted as saying. Jewelry, golden chains and objects made from amber were also found in the graves. - More: EarthTimes

Monday, July 20, 2009

Neanderthal wound from thrown spear points to Cro- Magnon homicide


For years the debate has raged over whether modern humans may have actually killed off Neanderthals. Finally, it looks like, at least in this one case, scientists may have come up with enough evidence to conclude that the remains of a Neanderthal known to the scholarly community as Shanidar 3, discovered in the Zagros mountains of northeastern Iraq in the late 1950s, was the victim of an attack by a spear-throwing Cro-Magnon rather than a hunting accident or intratribal dispute.

[Image - Model of Neanderthal at the Museum of Man, San Diego, California. Photo by Mary Harrsch]

The wound that ultimately killed a Neanderthal man between 50,000 and 75,000 years was most likely caused by a thrown spear, the kind modern humans used but Neanderthals did not, according to Duke University-led research.

Drawing from studies aimed at improving police and prison guard protection, the researchers concluded that the downward sweep of a knife could have the correct trajectory to produce Shanidar 3's rib injury. "Knife attacks generally involve a relatively higher kinetic energy," the report said. However, "whatever created that puncture was carrying fairly low kinetic energy at a low momentum," said Steven Churchill, an associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke. "That's consistent with a spear-thrower delivered spear."

The investigators rigged up a special crossbow to fire stone-age projectiles, using calibration marks on the crossbow to tell them how much force they were delivering with each launch.

Those tests revealed the delivered energy needed to create similar wounds in the ribs of pig carcasses, which the researchers used as an approximation of a Neanderthal's body.

The researchers also used measurements from a 2003 study to estimate the impact of using a thrusted rather than thrown spear, the kind of jabbing that Neanderthals are thought to have employed. That produced higher kinetic energies and caused more massive rib damage than Shanidar 3 sustained.

Another clue was the angle of the wound. Whatever nicked his rib entered the Neanderthal's body at about 45 degrees downward angle. That's consistent with the "ballistic trajectory" of a thrown weapon, assuming that Shanidar 3 -- who was about 5 feet, 6 inches tall -- was standing, Churchill said. - More: ScienceBlog.com


Monday, June 29, 2009

Joseon Dynasty structures worthy of UNESCO World Heritage Status


I see that UNESCO has added forty royal tombs of Korea's Joseon Dynasty to the World Heritage List. The Joseon Dynasty ruled Korea from 1392 to 1910.

[Image - The tomb of King Sejong the Great exemplifies the general style of Joseon Dynasty royal tombs. Photo by Kai Hendry, courtesy of Wikipedia]

It's founder, Yi Seong-gye,was a powerful general who seized power and had the Goryeo King U and his 8-year-old son, King Chang, executed then declared himself king, taking the name King Taejo.

King Taejo founded the city of Hanseong which became the modern city of Seoul. In it, he constructed Gyeongbuk Palace, completed in 1395, and the Changdeok Palace in 1405. Surprisingly, I noticed that although the Changdeok Palace was added to the World Heritage List in 1997, the Gyeongbuk Palace does not appear to be on the list. Upon further research I see that the original Gyeongbuk Palace was destroyed during the Japanese invasions of 1592. It was rebuilt in 1867 but again burned in 1876. King GoJong restored it in 1888 but it was dismantled by the Japanese in 1920 to restore the Huijeongdang of Changdeokgung Palace that had been destroyed by fire in 1917. Fortunately for all of us, Gyeongbuk Palace was reconstructed in 1994, meticulously replicated using the original specifications and design.

Joseon architects were truly masterful. Looking at pictures of the palace complex in Wikipedia, I find the Queen's Quarters especially beautiful.

[Image: KyoTaeJeon in Gyeongbokgung (Queen's Quarters), Seoul, Korea. Photo by Joon-Young, Kim. Courtesy of Wikipedia]

I was also touched when I read that King Sejong, Taejo's great-grandson, had the structure built to provide privacy to his Queen because Sejong suffered from frail health and often had to conduct business within the walls of his official residence in Gangnyeongjeon Hall. Behind the Queen's Quarters this sensitive ruler built a beautiful garden named Amisan. It's four hexagonal chimneys, constructed around 1869 in orange brick and decorative roof tiles, are renowned for their artistry that obscures their utilitarian function.

Sejong's reign was considered the pinnacle of the Joseon Dynasty. This interesting leader invented the Korean script, hanguel, "which is considered much easier to learn than Chinese characters. He also revolutionized agriculture and sponsored the invention of the rain gauge and sundial. Sejong was so wise, even as a young man, that his two older brothers stepped aside so he could be king." - More: About.com

[Image: Sejong The Great. Courtesy of The Korea Herald]


The Joseon Dynasty also fostered an acclaimed admiral, Yi Sun-sin, who, through the use of "turtle ships", the world's first ironclads, defeated the fearsome Japanese warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi at the battle of Battle of Hansan-do in 1592.

[Image right - The Statue of Yi Sunsin, Sejongro, Jongrogu, Seoul, S.Korea. Courtesy of Wikipedia]

Although Korea escaped domination by Japan at that point, the Joseon Dynasty eventually sucuumbed to the Manchu Dynasty after most of central Korea was ravaged by Manchu forces in 1637. When the Japanese returned to Korea during the Sino-Japanese War in 1894-95, Qing forces were defeated, leaving the Joseon Dynasty to its fate.

"When Emperor Gojong sent an emissary to The Hauge in June 1907 to protest Japan's aggressive posture, the Japanese Resident-General in Korea forced the monarch to abdicate his throne.

Japan installed its own officials in the executive and judicial branches of the Korean Imperial government, disbanded the Korean military, and gained control of the police and prisons. Soon, Korea would become Japanese in name as well as in fact.

In 1910, the Joseon Dynasty fell, and Japan formally occupied the Korean Peninsula." - More: About.com

Learn more about it:


Friday, June 26, 2009

Intact Canaanite Tomb Found in Bethlehem


It is always exciting when an ancient intact tact tomb is discovered, especially one over 4,000 years old like this Canaanite tomb unearthed in Bethlehem.

[Image - Although not specifically Canaanite, this Early Dynastic Period figurine of a woman, discovered at Tell Asmar, part of the collection of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, is only a few centuries older than the discovered tomb and probably reflects the dress and hairstyle of women from this period in the ancient Near East. Photo by Mary Harrsch.]

Workers renovating a house in the traditional town of Jesus’ birth accidentally discovered an untouched ancient tomb containing clay pots, plates, beads and the bones of two humans, a Palestinian antiquities official said Tuesday.

The 4,000-year-old tomb provides a glimpse of the burial customs of the area’s inhabitants during the Canaanite period, said Mohammed Ghayyada, director of the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

Workers in a house near the Church of the Nativity uncovered a hole leading to the grave, which was about one meter (yard) below ground, he said. They dated the grave to the Early Bronze Age, between 1,900 B.C. and 2,200 B.C. - More: Azstarnet.com


This last statement is a little confusing as the Canaanite Middle Bronze Age I encompasses the dates indicated. Perhaps different scholarly groups name the periods differently. Anyway, this shaft tomb appears to be a typical semi-nomadic burial of a nuclear family.

The EB IV [Early Bronze Age IV Period] should be seen as the phase during which the process of the desertion of the towns [of Canaan] reached its peak; some of the towns had been abandoned during the EB III b, and others were abandoned during this phase. By the end of the EB IV, there were no urban settlements left in Canaan (Gophna 1992: 126 ff.). What were the motives of the decline of urban culture? Three different approaches of the events in Canaan during this period have been proposed. Some scholars consider that a wave of northern invaders (part of the Amorite migration to his area) or a campaign of Egyptian Fifth Dynasty kings was responsible for the destruction of the towns. The undestroyed sites would have been abandoned in terror.The second approach prefers an ecological point of view, pointing to data indicating a decrease in rainfall and a lowering of the water level, which would have doomed many settlements.Finally, others see the city-state system destroyed by friction and disagreement, a result of the constant warfare between the city-states evidenced in the repeated destructions and reconstructions visible in the EB II-III layers.Presently, it seems that an approach integrating the three explanations, along with additional reasons (trade, symbiosis, and cooperation), should be preferred in explaining the end of urban culture. - More: Sociedad De Estudios De Historia Antigua


I couldn't tell from the description, though, if this was a primary or secondary burial as the article did not state whether the bones were found "collected" or in an extended or flexed position as has been the case in primary burials excavated previously. The modest grave goods were consistent with a burial of this period.

The burial gifts interred in the Intermediate Bronze Age tombs do not excel in wealth. The typical offering consists of personal ornaments (metal pins, bracelets, and beads), pottery vessels, metal (copper) tools and weapons (a dagger or a spear). - More: Sociedad De Estudios De Historia Antigua

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Islamic Art showcased in new exhibit in Madrid


This exhibit sounds fascinating. Unfortunately, I don't have time this year to travel to Spain to see it. But, I was excited to read that many of the items in it will be eventually housed in a new museum in Toronto, Canada! Some years ago I attended an exhibit of items from the Ottoman Empire at the Portland Art Museum. It was comprised mostly of ornamental weapons and manuscripts. This exhibit includes figural items to help refute the widespread misconception that animal or human motifs are prohibited in Islamic art. Although figural art is prohibited in buildings or objects related to religion, they were used profusely to adorn administrative or private structures or objects.

[Image - although not in the Madrid exhibit, this cast bronze lion in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York demonstrates a blending of Islamic, Byzantine and western artistic traditions. Originally gilded and inlaid, the lion was cast in 1000-1100 CE probably in South Italy. It is inscribed in Arabic in Kufic script. Photo by Mary Harrsch.]

I was particularly interested in the inclusion of art from the Mogul Empire. I watched an excellent program about the Moguls on the History Channel and have been reading quite a bit lately about the conquests of Genghis Khan and his successors. I also enjoyed the film, "Mongol". It is supposed to be the first installment of a trilogy and I look forward to the sequels. I regret that when I was in England again last summer I didn't have time to travel to Leeds to view the only remaining complete set of Mogul elephant armor in the world. Maybe it will be included in a traveling exhibit someday!

I encourage you to click on the link to the full article below. It is quite extensive and most informative!

The art, the history, the traditions and the geographies of the Islamic world from the Far East to the Iberian Peninsula are the subjects of the exhibition The Worlds of Islam in the Aga Khan Museum Collection. Organised by ”la Caixa” Social and Cultural Outreach Projects in association with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, it contains some of the finest productions, not only of the Islamic sphere, but of universal art, with the common denominator of the Arabic language and the Muslim religion. The Aga Khan Museum Collection includes valuable and important pieces from the historical dynasties of the Muslim world. They describe the magnificence of the courts of the Abassids, Fatimids, Safavids or Moguls and show the ductility of Islamic art, capable of conveying a message, not always a religious one, adopting different styles and combining elements from different cultural traditions: from Roman to Persian, from Turkish to Chinese, from Mahgrebi to Hindu, transforming what it imitated and giving it a personality of its own.

The exhibition, which can be seen at CaixaForum Madrid until 6 September, presents a set of 190 objects spanning 1400 years of history and summarizing, in wood, stone, gold, bronze, ivory, glass, ceramic, fabric, parchment and paper, the finest artistic accomplishments of a world that stretched from ancient al-Andalus to India.

The exhibition presents the different Islamic dynasties, with their radiuses of territorial influence, which appeared in the wake of the dismembering of the Abbasid caliphate in the late 9th century: the Omeyas (al-Andalus), the Fatimids and the Mamelukes (Egypt), the Ottomans (Turkey), the Safavids and Qajars (Iran) and the Moguls (India). The Fatimid court was outstanding for its opulence, as some of the pieces of jewelry on show bear witness. The essential features of Islamic court culture are traced through a generic portrait of the profile of their sovereigns. Emphasis is placed on the high cultural level of the Islamic courts that were responsible for spreading knowledge of Ancient Greece to the West through their Arabic translations.

The exhibition also reflects some of the fundamental features of Islamic architecture, such as a capital in the Roman tradition with Islamic ornamental motifs, as well as carved wooden beams and doors. The outstanding examples of painting are to be found in the books illustrated with miniatures and the portraits of kings and sultans. - More: Artdaily.org

Archaeologists uncover worker structures in Persepolis


A joint Iranian-Italian archeological mission in Iran have found remains of the dwellings of some of the common people living in Persepolis. Persepolis was one of the five capitals of the Achaemenid Empire in ancient Persia. Its construction began in 520 BC under the Emperor Darius the Great. It was destroyed by fire during its occupation by the Macedonian forces of Alexander the Great two centuries later.

[Image - bas relief from the palace of Darius in Persepolis. Photo by Mary Harrsch]

In an interview with the “Tehran Times”, translated by the magazine “Archeologia Viva” (Giunti Editore), the Italian director of the mission, Pierfrancesco Callieri, professor of Archeology and Iranian Art History at the University of Bologna, affirmed that the new findings at the Persepolis site have furnished initial information on the city and on the neighborhoods where the common people lived. During the course of the excavations of the flat area at the foot of the Great Achaemenid Terrace and about 1 km from here, the team led by Professor Callieri discovered the first traces of a residential area which could correspond to the city of Mattezish, mentioned in the Elamite tablets in Persepolis. During the Achaemenid period (6th- 4th century BC), all the people working for the Imperial Court lived here, from functionaries to workers. Professor Callieri said that in one of the two excavation sites, “we localized a noteworthy structure, probably the walls of one of the building complexes of the city” instead in the other sites the archeologists localized “an artisan area with an oven and various waste ditches, surely connected to the work activities of the area as we found various ceramic pieces but also fragments of animal bones”. - Adnkronos.com

Midstone Project sheds light on construction of Alexandria's Pharos Lighthouse



The Midstone Project has released information it has compiled about the construction materials used in the building of the Pharos Lighthouse of Alexandria. The research team has even traced the materials to their quarries of origin. This lengthy article also provides an excellent overview of the history of the lighthouse and descriptions of it provided by ancient travelers and scholars.

Since that time every archaeologist has dreamed of the resurrection of such a great monument. But can Alexandria's Pharos really be reconstructed in its original, glorious form?

This question has perplexed archaeologists and scientists. They do not really know the materials used in construction, nor the exact shape and height.

Three years ago, however, answers to these questions were made possible when Egypt participated in a three-year-long European Union project called the MIDSTONE. This project aimed at preserving ancient Mediterranean sites in terms of their ornamental and building stone through determining stone provenance to proposing conservation and restoration techniques. The MIDSTONE project proposes to contribute to the knowledge and conservation of three of the most important ancient sites in North Africa: Voluble in Morocco, Djemila in Algeria and the Alexandria lighthouse in Egypt. An atlas of the stones of every site will be also provided within the project.

This year the Atlas of the Stones of Alexandria Lighthouse is being presented in a three-day conference at Cairo University and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

Amr El-Tibi, the project coordinator, says the scientific objective of the project is to identify the stones of the lighthouse and determine their provenance in terms of the geographical area. The data and results obtained are being presented in an accessible form including photographs and maps, i.e. the Atlas.

El-Tibi explained that a detailed study of the blocks was performed to categorise megascopically the main types of stones related to the Pharos, and a first series of 32 samples was collected. As most of the stones related to the lighthouse were still under water, a second series of 35 samples was collected by divers from submerged architectonic blocks. The whole of the 67 archaeological samples were described megascopically and categorised in the laboratory in terms of their petrographic type of stone and physical chemical properties. Studies revealed that the Pharos was indeed composed of granite, greywacke limestone, fine to coarse-grained sandstones, marble and sandstones with dolomitic cement to sandy dolostone found at the basement of Qaitbay fort.

The stones derived from two quarries not far from Alexandria at Mexx and Abusir, as well as from quarries in Moqattam near Cairo; Samalut; Minya; and Drunka in Assiut; Serai and Tarawan.

Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities )SCA), told Al-Ahram Weekly that he was very happy to introduce the results of this important project on the study of the stones of the Alexandria lighthouse. "This outstanding cooperative effort between the SCA and the European Union brought together teams from Egypt, France, Italy, Greece and Germany to identify and study remains of the lighthouse that are still at the site today," Hawass said.

He added that with the help of Empereur, who drew the attention to the location of the pieces lying submerged in the harbour of Alexandria, the team was able to classify the stone blocks that made up the remains of the lighthouse. One of the most interesting results, he said, was the identification of stones that they were able to match with the quarries from which they came. The provenance of the coarse-grained pink and grey granite blocks was from the quarries of Aswan, while pieces of greywacke were confirmed to have come from Wadi Hammamat. They also, Hawass said, succeeded in identifying the quarry in Greece from where the marble used in the lighthouse was obtained. - More: Al-Ahram Weekly Online




Sunday, May 24, 2009

Will Underwater Excavation of Pavlopetri Provide Clues to Greek Dark Ages?

When I read about the underwater excavation and survey of Pavlopetri, a Mycenaen village submerged off the southern tip of Greece, I wondered if the team might find some clues to the Greek Dark Ages in the remnants of this Mycenaen settlement.

[Image: Terracotta chariot krater Helladic Mycenaean Late Helladic IIIB 1300-1230 BCE in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by Mary Harrsch]

The article says pottery dates abruptly stop at 1180 BCE which is significant as this marks the boundary period between the late Bronze Age and the period referred to as the Greek Dark Ages. Evidence that the city was not rebuilt would point to some kind of natural cataclysm of tremendous proportions. I immediately thought about the eruption of Thera but two studies reported in 2006 seem to support a much older date for that particular catastrophe:

"One study, led by archaeologist Sturt Manning at Cornell University, dated wood and seed samples collected from Akrotiri.

Another study, led by geologist Walter Friedrich of the University of Aarhus in Denmark, uses a single branch to pinpoint the time of death for an olive tree believed to have been buried alive during the eruption.

Together, the two studies strongly suggest an eruption date of somewhere between 1660 and 1600 B.C. - More: Fox News

This later cataclysm, however, could have been part of an earthquake "storm" that rippled along the Mediterranean's eastern plate boundary in subsequent centuries.

The BBC seems to dismiss the possibility that earthquake storms could have been that devastating:

Most controversial is the theory that an earthquake storm may have been responsible for the abrupt physical and political collapse of Aegean Bronze Age world around 1200 BC. Some geologists and archaeologists point out that most of the ancient cities that fell at that time lie along the plate-boundary of the eastern Mediterranean and show signs of destruction typical of earthquakes. It supports a view that a storm of earthquakes successively ‘unzipped’ the plate boundary, so weakening the cities along the way that they were left vulnerable militarily, inviting attacks from opportunistic neighbours.

Earthquakes have frequently been used by historians and archaeologists as convenient explanations for cataclysmic destructions and abandonments. But earthquakes rarely wipe out entire cities, let alone entire regions. More often, seismic shocks leave cities as jumbles of ruined, damaged and intact buildings, encouraging their inhabitants not to flee but to stay and rebuild their houses and livelihoods. It is a pattern that we see in modern earthquake disasters, and there is little sign that human nature was any different in the past. - More: Journeys From The Centre of the Earth, BBC, Open2.net

However, this generalization does not seem to take into account the evidence from Pavlopetri that its people did not rebuild in the 12th century BCE or evidence from excavations at Sagalassos that their citizens abandoned their city after Arab raids and a catastophic quake in the 7th century CE (As coincidence would have it, I just viewed a film about the excavations at Sagalassos at the Archaeology Channel International Film Festival two days ago). On the contrary, these examples from the archaeological record seem to lend substance to the "earthquake and subsequent military vulnerability" theory as a reasonable causal hypothesis for such epochs of cultural decline.

The researchers are using a new sonar scanning technique that sounds like it will yield as detailed of images as a laser scanner.

"'We're using scanning sonar', which has been developed by an offshore engineering company [Kongsberg Mesotech in Vancouver, Canada, a subsidiary of Kongsberg Maritime, headquartered in Norway]. Their equipment does the same thing a terrestrial laser scanner would do, only using acoustic signals. It can take thousands of points over a couple of minutes and also take photorealistic impressions, so we could produce three-dimensional models using this equipment. Until now, sonar hasn't been able to produce as accurate a survey as terrestrial techniques. But if it does deliver everything it is supposed to, it could completely revolutionize underwater archaeology. Getting decent plans quickly is often a problem, and we often use measuring tapes and lines — which is effective, but time-consuming." - More: NatureNews

Friday, May 22, 2009

Film "Agora" Profiles Female Mathematician and Pagan Martyr Hypatia


The new film "Agora" starring Rachel Weisz as 4th century CE female scholar, Hypatia, sounds almost like the antithesis of Ben Hur.

"The heart of the film is Hypatia (Rachel Weisz in an unfaltering performance), the fourth century AD philosopher and teacher who lived in Alexandria during the Roman Empire. Married only to her unquenchable intellect and passion for mathematics and astronomy, she is loved by two men: her slave, Davus (Max Minghella), and her student, Orestes (Oscar Isaac).

Politics in the film are weakest during the overtly political speeches and monologues, and best captured in the details. Like many, Davus seeks not spiritual salvation in the Christian uprising but freedom from slavery, despite the bloodshed. His first attempt at prayer is brilliant: Unable to remember the Lord's Prayer, he quickly falls into a mantra to God to keep Hypatia away from Orestes. For his part, Orestes will renounce paganism and convert to Christianity during his rise in Roman politics." - More: Reuter

Hypatia was the daughter of Theon, who was her teacher and the last known mathematician associated with the museum of Alexandria. She traveled to both Athens and Italy to study, before becoming head of the Platonist school at Alexandria in approximately 400 AD . According to the 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia the Suda, she worked as teacher of philosophy, teaching the works of Plato and Aristotle. - More: Wikipedia

"Hypatia corresponded with and hosted scholars from others cities. Synesius, Bishop of Ptolemais, was one of her correspondents and he visited her frequently. Hypatia was a popular lecturer, drawing students from many parts of the empire.

From the little historical information about Hypatia that survives, it appears that she invented the plane astrolabe, the graduated brass hydrometer and the hydroscope, with Synesius of Greece, who was her student and later colleague.

Hypatia dressed in the clothing of a scholar or teacher, rather than in women's clothing. She moved about freely, driving her own chariot, contrary to the norm for women's public behavior. She exerted considerable political influence in the city."

"...[The local Christian bishop Cyril incited] a mob led by fanatical Christian monks in 415 to attack Hypatia as she drove her chariot through Alexandria. They dragged her from her chariot and, according to accounts from that time, stripped her, killed her, stripped her flesh from her bones, scattered her body parts through the streets, and burned some remaining parts of her body in the library of Caesareum." - More: About.com

So much for compassion and tolerance!

Update: 7/7/09: Agora trailer has been released. Apparently, the film is set to premiere in December!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Nefertiti: A Fake with Two Faces?

I was catching up on some of my news alerts after returning from Italy and noticed two fascinating articles about the famed bust of Nefertiti. The first headline to startle me was a claim that the Nefertiti bust is a fake. Apparently, Swiss historian Henri Stierlin says, after studying the records surrounding the discovery of the bust, that it was produced in 1912 in efforts to study ancient pigments. He even names the artist - Gerardt Marks, who supposedly produced the work at the request of archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt.

[Image - a documented replica of the bust of Nefertiti displayed at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, California. Photo by Mary Harrsch]

However, Stierlin's "evidence" seems a little thin to me. First, he claims that the statue was never designed to have a left eye - it just isn't simply missing. "This is an insult for an ancient Egyptian who believed the statue was the person themself," Stierlin says. Perhaps he describes how he arrived at this conclusion in his paper.

Stierlin also observes that the shoulders of the work are cut vertically in the Art Nouveau-style of the early 20th century, not horizontally as is usually portrayed in ancient Egyptian art. Although this is an interesting observation, I can't help but wonder if the difference in style was the result of the shift in Egyptian art that occurred during the Amarna period and not a reflection of later art styles.

I thought his more compelling argument was the lack of documentation of the find by the original excavation team. Stierlin says this exquisite object was not mentioned at all in dig records. "[They] didn't even bother to supply a description, which is amazing for an exceptional work found intact!" he exclaimed.

He does admit, though, that the pigments have tested out as appropriately ancient.

From a political viewpoint, I can't help but wonder about the timing of this report. Egypt is demanding the return of the bust. If its authenticity is questioned, this would present a substantial legal obstacle to repatriation efforts. If it is, in fact, a German 20th-century sculpture, Egypt has no claim to it. The bust is so famous, though, the public will continue to flock to see it anyway - especially since dating of the stone underneath is not possible at this time - and its the tourist dollars the two governments are actually after.

Speaking of the stone underneath brings me to the next article about the bust I found quite interesting. A CT scan has revealed that the plaster features of the bust vary slightly from the actual carved stone bust within. I think she still ranks as one of the most beautiful profiles in the world though!

"Researchers in Germany have used a modern medical procedure to uncover a secret within one of ancient Egypt's most treasured artworks -- the bust of Nefertiti has two faces.

A team led by Dr. Alexander Huppertz, director of the Imaging Science Institute at Berlin's Charite hospital and medical school, discovered a detailed stone carving that differs from the external stucco face when they performed a computed tomography, or CT, scan on the bust.

The findings, published Tuesday in the monthly journal Radiology, are the first to show that the stone core of the statue is a highly detailed sculpture of the queen, Huppertz said.

"Until we did this scan, how deep the stucco was and whether a second face was underneath it was unknown," he said. "The hypothesis was that the stone underneath was just a support." - More: The Discovery Channel News

Update - It seems another researcher is questioning the authenticity of the Nefertiti bust based upon the content of the pigments used to adorn it:

The sculpture is composed of the so-called Amarna-mix, a blend of gypsum anhydride plaster applied on top of a limestone base. The material is named after Tel el-Amarna, a small city in central Egypt founded by Pharaoh Akhenaton in the 14th century B.C. That is also where the bust of his queen would be found in 1912.

"This special blend was unknown before 1912," said Simon says, which would mean that Borchardt and his contemporaries could not have known its exact composition. Currently, researchers are comparing material used in the Nefertiti bust with that utilized in statues of her husband, Akhenaton, and other artifacts from the Amarna period. A model of her husband is also currently in Berlin -- lying in storage in much worse condition. - More: Spiegel Online International

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Ancient selective breeding reveals intelligent design?


The headline for an article in New Science really caught my eye - "Ancient Breeders Show Intelligent Design". With all of the excitement over the 200th anniversary of the publication of the "Origin of Species" and after watching a program on PBS about the recent legal battle between proponents of Intelligent Design and biology teachers in New Jersey, I couldn't help but do a double take, fearing a political coup at the headquarters of this online scholarly publication. As it turns out it was just a writer's effort to garner attention, as the piece was quite scientific.

Researchers have shown that, in the case of horses, DNA evidence points to coat coloration manipulation through breeding practices after the horse was domesticated about 5500 years ago. The study involved 89 equine fossils ranging in age from 42,000 years ago to medieval times and in location from Spain to China.

A similar study of ancient sheep fossils by researchers at the University of Glasgow showed that ancient sheepherders in Iraq and Iran began selecting sheep who shed their coats less often and developed shorter horns about 6,000 years ago.

When I was in high school my science project focused on genetic coloration in mice so I always find this kind of thing fascinating.

[Image: The Gute sheep originate from the horned sheep that have been kept in open pasture on the island of Gotland from ancient times. The population was almost extinct in the beginning of the 1940´s, after which the remaining horned sheep were collected and the flock started to increase in numbers. The sheep are hardy and well adapted to the island climate. Traditional use is for production of both meat and wool. The colour varies from light grey to nearly black. Both the rams and ewes are horned with short tails. The wool is double coated with underwool and guard hair and is mostly used for making carpets and souvenirs. The average live weight of rams is 75 kg and of ewes 50 kg. The mean litter size is 1.4 lambs at birth. The present population size is around 5,500 sheep and is increasing (year 2000).
See also Breeds of Livestock, sheep breeds.

Local name: Gutefår
References:
Sven Jeppsson, Jordbruksverket, 551 82, Jönköping, Sweden.
Photographs:
Jordbruksverket, 551 82, Jönköping, Sweden.

Courtesy of North Shed website]

Luwian hieroglyphs near ancient Antioch shed light on "Dark Age"


I have been intrigued by the so-called "Dark Age" that engulfed the eastern Mediterranean since I first learned about it in Archaeology 101 many years ago. I know there has been much speculation about the cause of the collapse of many Bronze Age cultures like the Mycenaeans and the Minoans ranging from the effects of volcanic eruptions and resulting tsunamis to pandemics and marauding tribal societies from the Asian steppes. But researchers involved in the Tayinat Archaeological Project say their findings indicate a continuity of many civilizations across this cultural chasm.

An ancient temple in Turkey has been found filled with broken metal, ivory carvings, and stone slabs engraved with a dead language [Luwian]. The find is casting new light on the "dark age" that was thought to have engulfed the region from 1200 to 900 B.C.

Written sources from the era—including the Old Testament of the Bible, Greek Homeric epics, and texts from Egyptian pharaoh Ramses III—record the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age as a turbulent period of cultural collapse, famine, and violence.

But the newfound temple suggests that may not have been the case, say archaeologists from the University of Toronto's Tayinat Archaeological Project, led by Timothy Harrison.

"We're beginning to find new archaeological evidence that there was a continuation of writing traditions, as well as cultural and political continuity from the Bronze Age into this Iron Age period," Harrison said.- More: National Geographic News

Like the early University of Chicago excavations in 1935 & 1938, the largest number of inscriptions have been Luwian hieroglyphs.

The Chicago excavations produced an extensive corpus of Akkadian, Aramaic and Neo-Hittite (or Luwian) inscriptions. Luwian hieroglyphic inscriptions accounted for the largest number, a total of 85 fragments, 32 of which have been shown to come from seven distinct monumental inscriptions. One of these, comprised of six basalt fragments, had formed part of a colossal statue of a figure seated on a throne. Although the precise provenience of the statue remains unclear, the inscription makes reference to Halpa-runta-a-s(a), very possibly the same Neo-Hittite ruler who is listed as having paid tribute to Shalmaneser III in the mid-9th century BCE.

If this historical correlation is correct, it provides a possible date for the remainder of the Luwian hieroglyphic inscriptions found at the site, and raises the possibility of isolating the Building Period, and cultural horizon, in which these monumental objects were erected.

With only a few exceptions, all of the fragments appear to have been found in the fill or foundation trenches of structures dating to the Second Building Period; in other words, in secondary and tertiary contexts. Moreover, all but one of the inscriptions (an altar piece in obvious secondary reuse in Building II) clearly had been smashed and destroyed intentionally before being discarded. The Halparuntas inscription, therefore, would appear to date the Luwian epigraphic remains at Tell Ta‘yinat to the mid-ninth century or earlier, while their stratigraphic context places this material in the First Building Period.

The Tayinat Archaeological Project’s primary aim is to assemble archaeological data from the central settlement at Tell Ta’yinat of a succession of prominent, historically-attested Bronze and Iron Age polities for comparison with existing data sets from comparable contexts (e.g. domestic, residential, administrative, or public) at rural village sites in the region. This explicitly regional approach, still relatively rare in Near Eastern Archaeology, is designed to facilitate multiple levels of analysis, and to produce the multivariate data needed to engage in more systematic investigations of the complex social, economic and political institutions developed by the first urban communities to emerge in this part of the world.

Tell Ta’yinat forms a large low-lying mound located 45 kilometres west of Antakya (ancient Antioch) in Southeastern Turkey. The Chicago excavations uncovered the remains of several large palaces (called bit hilani), a temple (famously compared with Solomon's temple), and numerous beautifully carved stone reliefs and sculptures demonstrated that the site preserves a lengthy settlement history that spans the Early Bronze (ca 3000 2000 BCE) and Iron Age(ca. 1200 550 BCE) periods. In addition, the Expedition discovered numerous inscriptions (in Luwian/Neo Hittite, Neo-Assyrian and Aramaic), which helped to identify the site as ancient Kunulua, capital of the Neo Hittite/Aramaean Kingdom of Patina/Unqi. - More: Tayinat Archaeological Project.

[Image: Tayinat Lions - Hittite, courtesy http://www.anadolugizemi.com/]

Digitized Persepolis tablets now online


In another example of application of HP's Polynomial Texture Mapping technology, the University of Chicago is digitizing thousands of cuneiform tablets from the Persian fortress at Persepolis. Apparently, hundreds of the images are now available online. The article includes a video but it must be HD as it was so choppy it was difficult to watch. I only have a 1.5 Mps DSL connection as I live out in the countryside.

High-resolution images of about 200 Persepolis Fortification texts are available on InscriptiFact, on the Web site of the West Semitic Research Project, http://www.inscriptifact.com. Several hundred more will be available soon.

Images of about 150 more Persepolis tablets, along with editions and analytical tools, will soon be released on the On-Line Cultural Research Environment, the archaeological and textual database and presentation application developed at the Oriental Institute and maintained by the Library (http://ochre.lib.uchicago.edu/index.htm).

These ancient tablets from the palaces of Persepolis include pieces of language and art from the center of the Persian Empire, all made when it extended from India and Central Asia to Egypt and the Mediterranean.

The tablets being digitized come from the Persepolis Fortification Archive, some 30,000 administrative tablets and fragments that Oriental Institute archaeologists recovered in 1933 at Persepolis, the ruined palaces where the kings of the ancient Persian Empire held court. Since 1936, they have been on loan from Iran to the Oriental Institute for analysis and recording.

“They were written, sealed and filed in a short span of time, between 509 and 493 B.C., in the middle of the reign of the Achaemenid Persian king Darius I,” Gil Stein, Director of the Oriental Institute, said. “The oldest Greek tragedy of Aeschylus, and the first Greek history of Herodotus tell us about the reign of Darius, but they don’t tell us anything like this. The administration that these documents record touched every level of society, from lowly workers through bureaucrats and governors to the royal family itself,” he said. - More: University of Chicago Chronicle