Wednesday, July 19, 2006

To excavate or not to excavate?

Xinhua - English: "Many experts have confirmed that the Qianling Mausoleum is truly one of China's most outstanding examples of an imperial tomb.

It is so special because it was carved out of a mountainside, and is estimated to contain about 500 tons of cultural relics including jewels, calligraphy, paintings, silk and ceramics. And it is virtually unique because it has never been robbed.

Given its virtually incomparable nature, any proposal to excavate the site is bound to spark controversy.

With their plan to investigate the site, archaeologists from Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, where the mausoleum is located, have kick-started the latest debate on this thorny issue.

Those in favour of the excavation have repeatedly stated that technologies are advanced enough to preserve any cultural relics unearthed from the mausoleum, adding that these cultural relics will give a clearer picture of life 1,300 years ago during the Tang Dynasty.

However, financial gain is another important reason behind their call for the site to be excavated. A local archaeologist predicted that if the mausoleum is excavated and opened as a museum exhibiting the unearthed cultural relics, it would attract at least 5 million tourists annually and would give local economic development a great fillip.

The contents of this mausoleum, where the legendary Tang Empress Wu Zetian and her husband Emperor Gaozong were buried together, may shed more light on these mysterious figures. It is also believed that a famous work by well-known calligrapher Wang Xizhi may also be buried in the tomb. It is quite probable that the excavation may create a sensation, which will undoubtedly attract tourists in their droves."

I, myself, have mixed feelings about this controversy. Although silk and paper items are extremely fragile and have disintegrated in past excavations, their presence in this fabulous cache of cultural art should not be the deciding factor in sanctioning its excavation. I fear that waiting to excavate a major site like this will merely increase the probability that much more careless tomb robbers will find a way to hijack the contents that can be salvaged. I would rather have the bulk of the artifacts preserved and made available for study and appreciation than wait for the possibility that more advanced preservation techniques will be developed.
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Culture Ministry aims to build a museum in every city in Egypt

The Culture Ministry aims to build a museum in every city in Egypt to preserve its heritage and raise cultural and archaeological awareness among residents and visitors.

High-profile developments underway include the building of the Grand Egyptian Museum, National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation and Al Arish National Museum, and renovation of the Rashid National Museum, Coptic Museum and Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria.

The $350 million Grand Egyptian Museum, expected to attract five million visitors annually, will be the world's largest with around 150,000 artefacts when it opens in 2010 - making it larger than the Metropolitan in New York or British Museum in London.

Work on the showpiece museum is due to start next year on a 50-hectare area of land two kilometres from the Pyramids - near enough for Pyramid-bound tourists to make a combined visit, but far enough away to preserve the area's historical ambience.

The National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation will display and interpret artefacts that are unique to Egyptian culture and history, from the Pharaohs era to the present day. This major project is being undertaken in co-operation with UNESCO.
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Friday, July 14, 2006

Terrorism litigation threatens loaned antiquities

I find the following article very troubling! This type of court ruling could eliminate the willingness of countries to loan cultural exhibits to institutions in the United States and severely restrict the access of American scholars to "Old World" historical artifacts. Cultural heritage should not be used as a political pawn between nations. World history is a heritage we all share so historical artifacts should be treated as items in the public trust not subject to ownership and sale by private individuals.

Antiquities Stuck in Legal Limbo - Los Angeles Times: "For decades, scholars at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute have painstakingly pieced together ancient clay tablets they had on loan from the government of Iran ? deciphering the cuneiform writings and studying what these thousands of fragments revealed about the history of Persia.

But now, this treasure trove sits in the middle of a politically charged legal battle that has museum professionals worried about the willingness of other countries to loan artifacts to the U.S.

A federal court last month upheld a decision to seize and sell off the collection, in order to raise funds to compensate Americans injured in a terrorist attack in the Middle East. The reasoning, according to court documents, is that the Islamic Republic of Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism.

The lawsuit dates back to a 1997 attack in Israel, when suicide bombers attacked the Ben Yehuda mall in downtown Jerusalem. Five people were killed and more than 190 were injured. Hamas, the party that controls the current Palestinian government and has received some support from Iran, claimed responsibility for the bombing.

Some of the survivors were Americans, who filed suit in federal court in Chicago against Iran in 2001. They said that the country was responsible for their injuries because of its support of Hamas.

A federal judge in 2003 ruled in their favor and, when Iran didn't appear in court to fight the claim, awarded the survivors more than $400 million.

That opened the way for the plaintiffs to go after Iran's assets in America ? including the collection of ancient Persian tablets.

Patty Gerstenblith, a professor of cultural property law at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago, said this was believed to be the first case to link cultural artifacts on loan to terrorism litigation."
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Frescoed Liao Dynasty Tomb discovered

Xinhua - English: "Chinese archeologists have uncovered a frescoed tomb of a man and his wife who must have lived in today's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region about 1,000 years ago.

The tomb, found in Horinger county, 45 km south of the regional capital Hohhot, has more than 20 square meters of frescoes on the walls of its chamber, said Chen Yongzhi, vice director of the Inner Mongolia Cultural Heritage Institute.

Chen said most of the frescoes depicted the tomb owners' life with scenes of hunting and cattle herding, while the rest included the 12 animals of the Chinese birth sign system, namely: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.

He said the couple must have been born in the years of pig and snake respectively, as there is a picture showing the two animals embracing each other.

archaeologists have also uncovered valuable sacrificial offerings in the tomb, including 18 sets of dainty chinaware and a miniature pagoda.

From the high standards of the tomb and the outfit of the man on the frescoes, Chen assumed the tomb owner must have been someone of high status. 'The man must have been a top official of the county.'

He said the couple lived in the Liao Dynasty (916-1125 AD), a state founded by the Khitan ethnic group."
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Friday, July 07, 2006

Ancient Statue of Artemis unearthed near Larissa

Unique ancient statue of Artemis unearthed

A unique ancient statue of the goddess Artemis, considered one of the most exquisite artifacts found in the Thessaly province of central Greece, was unearthed on Thursday by archaeologists at the site of an ancient theater near the modern city of Larissa, where restoration works are underway, it was announced on Friday.

The 80cm-tall statue -- only the torso was found -- depicts Artemis, in Greek mythology (Diana in Roman mythology) the virgin goddess of the hunt and the moon, and the twin sister of Apollo. The artifact is tentatively dated back to the mid 1st Century BC. "
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