Sunday, December 30, 2007

Zahi Hawass claims reproductions of antiquities are violation of copyright?!!

Well, it looks like the ever zealous Dr. Zawai Hawass is not satisfied with just tracking down looted antiquities. He apparently wants to pass laws making the reproduction of an antiquity a violation of copyright. I find this absolutely ludicrous since these antiquities are thousands of years old and therefore far beyond the time period prescribed by most countries for works falling under protective copyright provisions. Copyright is designed to protect the creator of a work as an encouragement to continue producing creative works. It is not intended to be used as a tool to generate government revenue which occurs when antiquities that cannot be traced to a modern descendant revert to the government). Such a law would, in effect, make everything ever made copyrighted essentially forever. I'm sure the MPAA and RIAA would jump for joy if that ever happened in this country!

"The head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities is a large man with a short temper, and things may get nasty.

When not leading excavations, opening exhibitions, or belabouring the British Museum for not sending him the Rosetta Stone to display in one of the clutch of new museums he's building in Cairo, he has now pledged to go after anyone, anywhere in the world, in search of copyright payments for replicas of Egypt's ancient monuments or museum pieces.

Although such a provision is apparently likely to become law, as so often with Dr Hawass's pronouncements it's not clear how much any of this is serious, and how much a display of public huffing and puffing.

The logistics of such an operation would be as mind boggling as the construction of the Great Pyramid itself. Since the historians, antiquarians, artists and classical scholars from the French academy slogged across the Egyptian desert in the wake of Napoleon, and published their findings in a scores of beautiful volumes, a craze for all things pyramidal and serpentine has regularly convulsed the west."

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Extensive Taino Indian site unearthed in Puerto Rico

"An Atlanta-area archaeology firm working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has uncovered the outlines of a very large Taino ball court and ceremonial site, complete with human graves, trash mounds, building imprints and a few carved petroglyphs that are among the most intricate and detailed ever discovered in the region.

'Suddenly it went from a very good site to an extraordinary site,' said Chris Espenshade, who led a team of local archaeologists and workers from New South Associates of Stone Mountain, Ga. at the dig this past summer and fall. "Part of what makes it extraordinary is that we have everything here, the midden (refuse) mound, the batey (ceremonial site), the house patterns, the burials and the rock art.'

The Taino Indians were part of the Arawak people who settled the Caribbean, most likely venturing from the northern coast of South America, their canoes carried by ocean currents onto the string of islands that curve like an arc through the tropical sea.

Several indigenous villages have been uncovered on Puerto Rico and other islands, but the recent find by the banks of the Portugues River appears to be one of the most extensive ever unearthed.

The size and importance of the site wasn't known until this fall, when the flood control project finally near construction. Espenshade's team worked through the summer, but only in the past few months unearthed enough to determine the major scope of the site.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime find," said David McCullough, a Corps archaeologist from the agency's Jacksonville office, who said preliminary estimates show the site dates to around 600 A.D. "The petroglyph carvings are outstanding, with various human-looking faces and bodies. Another remarkable thing is the site is so well preserved. It was covered by the river's flooding and wasn't looted or cleared for farming."

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Elamite-era artifacts languishing in vermin-infested Shush Castle

How terrible! This is a prime example of a cache of ancient art that needs to be at least photographed and indexed before these priceless items are lost to the world forever!

"About 90,000 archaeological artifacts are being stored in appalling conditions in the underground storerooms of Shush Castle which is located in Shush, near the ancient sites of Susa in Khuzestan Province.

“The storerooms are not only humid but are inhabited by snakes, scorpions, and insects such as termites,” an informed source, who preferred to remain anonymous, told the Persian service of IRNA on Tuesday. “The artifacts belong to various periods of Iran’s history,” the informer added. According to the report, many of the items have never been on public display.

Artifacts which were discovered by the French archaeologist Roman Ghirshman in the 1940s are among the relics languishing in the gloomy cellars. A large number of the secreted objects had been carefully salvaged from the Elamite-era sites of Khuzestan over the past decades. The only action that has been taken for the protection of the relics was carried out by ancient inscriptions expert Abdolmajid Arfaei, who sprayed the storerooms with insecticide last year. "

Image: Kneeling Bull Figure, Proto-Elamite, 3000-2800 BCE, southwest Iran (Courtesy Bostonia, Summer 2004, Boston University)
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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Afghan Art Exhibit begins trip around the world in Amsterdam

The article says this wonderful exhibition of Afghanistan Art will be travelling to other locations in Europe then on to the U.S. I hope it comes to a museum I can visit!

Some of Afghanistan's rich history is temporarily on display in Amsterdam. Hundreds of archaeological treasures provide clear proof that the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Chinese and the Indians all put their mark on this region. For years, these treasures were hidden to keep them out of the hands of the Russians and the Taliban. But now they are on display for the whole world to see.

New Church Director Ernst Veen shows us a few of the hundreds of artefacts.

"Here you can clearly see influences from the Roman and Greek era. And this coloured glass is unique. And so is this: a painted goblet, also from the first century A.D".
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Iraqi loot saved from Ebay

The looters are really active in Iraq too!

A 4,000-year-old clay tablet authorities suspect was smuggled illegally from Iraq was pulled from eBay just minutes before the close of the online auction, authorities said Tuesday.

A German archaeologist had spotted the tablet bearing wedge-shaped cuneiform script on the online auctioneer's Swiss web site, a government official said.

The archaeologist alerted German authorities, who passed the tip onto their Swiss counterparts, said Yves Fischer, who directs the Swiss Federal Office of Culture's department on commerce in cultural objects.

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"Private Collectors" of Thracian art denying cultural history to the world

This kind of article just breaks my heart to think of all of the beautiful artifacts just stored and jealously hoarded by a single collector.

According to a new study conducted by the Bulgarian Center for the Study of Democracy, as many as 250,000 people may be involved in illegal racketeering. Some are even brazen enough to put their pieces on show. The most controversial is casino king Vassil Bozhkov, 51, nicknamed "The Skull", who, in addition to countless gambling houses in Sofia, also runs the popular betting agency Eurofootball. He has already survived one assassination attempt, while one of his closest business partners was killed by a gunman.

In his private life, the millionaire indulges in a very specialized passion: He has collected hundreds of Roman, Greek and Thracian works of art and his coin collection is one of the most extensive in the country.

To coincide with Bulgaria's admission into the EU, Bozhkov was invited to exhibit a number of examples of his collection in the EU Parliament in Brussels; he even obtained funding for the exhibition from the Bulgarian Culture Ministry. In the eyes of Vassil Nikolov, the Bozhkov exhibition was "the fruit of grave-robbing." Nikolov was not only the long-time director of the Institute of Archaeology and Museum in Sofia, but was also president of the state committee responsible for every single archaeological dig that took place in the country. Without his signature, not even the smallest shovelful of historical earth could be moved -- or at least not officially.

But unofficially is a different story: "There is not a single dig site or historical monument in the country," says Nikolov, "that has never been looted."

"The looters have the most up-to-date technology and good off-road vehicles. They are very mobile and extremely well informed," says Sofian archaeologist Nikolai Markov. "Our rivals are certainly no amateurs and their modus operandi points to criminal gangs at work."

Volodia Velkov heads a 30-person specialist unit responsible for the fight against the organized robbery and trafficking of archaeological treasures. "In the area surrounding ancient settlements, local crews are hired for a few Lev to dig up whatever's there. It's a well-paid job for anyone who would otherwise be living in poverty," explains Velkov. Anything they find is then given to middlemen who try to get the valuable booty across the border as quickly as possible.

Velkov says that most buyers of the ancient treasures are abroad, for instance in Germany or Austria. According to German investigators, a battery of shady antique dealers who also deal in stolen goods from the Balkans has set up shop in Munich in recent years. Bulgaria, even more than Italy or Greece, is currently the most important supplier of valuable artifacts from the ancient world, says Neil Brodie, Research Director of the Illicit Antiquities Research Center in Cambridge, England.

Bulgarian experts have even on occasion discovered suspected stolen goods in the catalogs of international auction houses. Last year, for example, Christie's in London had a rare Byzantine silver bowl from the 12th century, richly decorated with striking hunting motifs, on sale. The piece was valued at $645,000. "
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Monday, December 17, 2007

Jordan Valley excavation team sought

With their findings on the mountain Tall adh-Dhahab (West) in the Jabbok Valley the archeologist Thomas Pola could substantiate one assumption: everything points to the fact that the building remains from the Hellenistic and Roman era, found in 2006, were part of a yet unknown monumental building of Herod the Great (73-4 BC).

This assumption is based on the floors of one of the discovered peristyle yards (yards enclosed by continuous columns) which the archeologists were able to excavate. Prof. Pola sees the parallels with the architecture of Herod’s West Jordan Alexandreion as prove that there also was a monumental building of Herod the Great on the plateau of the mountain Tall adh-Dhahab. That would mean that in addition to his reign over the West Jordan Land, the Jewish king had a security system with which he could have controlled the ancient long-distance traffic in the middle Jordan Valley and the access ways to the plateau of the East Jordan Land.

Above that, the team of Prof. Pola for the first time discovered a layer from the late Bronze Age or the Early Iron Age on a natural terrace directly underneath the plateau. The ruins of a tower from the city wall at least show three building phases. “On the level of the oldest building phase we took samples from a burnt layer. A C14-analysis carried out by Prof. Manfred Bayer (Physics at TU Dortmund) showed that the charcoal originates from the time 1300 to 1000 BC. At this location we will continue to work in 2008.”

Finally Prof. Pola’s team discovered the purpose of the monumental military facility half way up the mountain: it is a casemate wall. It is supposed to have been finished in Roman times. This is yet another argument for the identification of the mountain with the stronghold Amathous mentioned in the ancient world. The historian Josephus (37 to 100 AD) described Amathous as the biggest stronghold in the East Jordan Land.

Even reworking the campaign 2006 revealed a sensation: the carve-drawings which had been discovered by Dr. Batereau-Neumann, a sponsor of the project, at that time, were dated to the ninth or tenth century by the internationally renowned specialist for Middle East iconography, Prof. Othmar Keel (Universität Freiburg). According to him the two pictures, the head of a lioness and the fragment of a cultural scene, belong together. The sensation: they point to the existence of a temple on the mountain plateau in the New-Assyrian time.
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Remnants of Glass Factory Found in Amarna

A team of archaeologists have demonstrated that Ancient Egyptian glassmaking methods were much more superior than previously believed, by reconstructing a 3,000-year-old glass. The Egypt Exploration Society team, led by Dr Paul Nicholson, of Cardiff University's School of History and Archaeology, is working on the earliest fully excavated glassmaking site in the world.

The site, at Amarna, on the banks of the Nile, dates back to the reign of Akhanaten (1352 - 1336 B.C.), just a few years before the rule of Tutankhamun.

The team has challenged earlier claims that the Ancient Egyptians may have imported their glass from the Near East at around this time.

They believe that the evidence from Amarna shows they were making glass themselves, possibly in a single stage operation.

Dr Nicholson and his colleague Dr Caroline Jackson showed that this was possible, using local sand to produce a glass ingot from their own experimental reconstruction of a furnace near the site.

The team also discovered that the glassworks was part of an industrial complex, which involved a number of other high temperature manufacturing processes.

The site also contained a potter's workshop and facilities for making blue pigment and faience - a material used in amulets and architectural inlays. The site was near one of the main temples at Amarna and may have been used to produce materials in state buildings.
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Newly Reopened Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts showcases Priam's Gold and masterworks by Cranach and Tiepolo

The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts is hauling hidden masterworks by Cranach and Tiepolo out of storage and dusting off the golden treasures of Troy to mark tonight's gala re-opening of its main Moscow exhibition space.

Over the past year, the museum, the Russian capital's leading collection of Western European art, has revamped the display of its permanent collection -- modern lighting has been installed, artworks have been better arranged on walls and rarely seen masterpieces spruced up and put on display.

The project ties in with plans by U.K. architect Norman Foster, approved on Nov. 22, to add 110,000 square meters (1.2 million square feet) to the museum's current 40,000 square meters. The Pushkin aims to mark its centenary in 2012 with four new buildings on adjacent land within sight of the Kremlin, and the renovation of several decrepit czarist-era structures.

``The role of the museum in the world is changing,'' said museum director Irina Antonova, 85, in an interview in her office last week. ``The collection is growing, the number of personnel is growing, as is the number of visitors. The lack of space for exhibits and storage is an enormous problem.''

The remodeled permanent exhibition includes paintings never before displayed by the museum, such as ``Calvary'' (1515) by Lucas Cranach the Elder, and ``The Madonna Attended by St. Anthony, St. Louis, and St. Francis of Assisi'' by 18th-century Italian artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.

Rembrandt and his school now have their own room, as does the gold of Troy dug up by German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, which was looted by Soviet troops in 1945. There's a new room for Ancient Greece, including items excavated in the Crimea by the Pushkin's own archaeologists.

Restored Works

Experts have skillfully restored many European paintings to reveal their original bright blues and reds, including ``The Virgin Suckling the Child Jesus,'' by 17th-century Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbaran. Two works by 17th-century French artist Claude Lorrain also have been returned to their original bright colors.

The Pushkin, which owns about 650,000 items and is visited by about 1 million people a year, has one of the finest collections of French Impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, with works by Monet, Van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso. These have their own gallery, opened in August 2006, next to the museum's central building.

The new space planned by Foster will go toward conservation laboratories, state-of-the-art storage, more exhibition space, a library and rooms for classical-music concerts.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Tests show crystalline structure of 15th century Italian monument genuine artifact

Science News Online: An Italian marble tomb, long suspected by critics of being an art fake palmed off on America, has been proved an authentic treasure, after 9 years of scientific testing.

At the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where the tomb aroused such violent controversy that it was removed from public exhibition, the case is settled.

Reporting its verdict, the museum calls the tomb a fifteenth-century monument of Tuscan workmanship, later restored in minor ways. A beautiful figure of a woman lying with folded hands is a feature of the monument.

Scientific tests included making paper-thin slices of samples from all 14 pieces of marble in the tomb. These samples were studied under the microscope and compared with similar samples of known kinds of marble. This test, like that of human fingerprints, is consider unmistakable. The tomb is of two kinds of marble, the famous Carrara marble and some from Olympia. Chisel marks were also examined by microscope, and ultraviolet tests were made.

The crystalline structure of the marble's surface was also studied, because scientists have learned that old marbles "breathe," that is, take in and give out air. In long years, this process leaves evidence in dark bands on the marble surface, visible through the microscope. This evidence of time and weathering was found on all parts of the tomb except where a new inscription was added, and a few restorations made.

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Early Islamic Water Reservoirs Discovered near Ardebil, Iran

The city of Ardebil reveals another treasure to Iranian archeologists in the form of buildings dating back to the early Islamic era.

Digs at the Boyni Yogun castle led to the discovery of a group of historical structures including a guardroom and four “Ab Anbars” (literally water storehouse) which were traditional reservoirs of drinking water in ancient Persia.

Ab Anbars are a fascinating innovation; they were made using a special mortar called “sarooj” which consisted of sand, clay, egg whites, lime and goats hair. These structures are subterranean, which made them highly resistant to massive earthquakes in the region.

The city of Ardebil is located in northwestern Iran about 70 km from the Caspian Sea and is thought to date back to the Achaemenid era (2500 BCE).
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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Study of Ancient Indian Sphnixes Reveals Trade Routes

Indian scholar, Raja Deekshithar M.A. Managing Trustee Shri Sabhanayaka Temple (Shri Shiva Nataraja Temple) emailed me about his fascinating research into the origins of sphinxes in Indian art.

"The earliest textual reference to the sphinx of India is found in the Yajur Veda. The earliest known depictions in stone of sphinxes are found in central and north-west India and date to the 1st century BCE till the 2nd century CE. They are found among the decorations of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain shrines. And they show distinct Hellenistic influences especially in that they often have wings of the type typical of Greek sphinxes.

The earliest dated example of a sphinx in southern India is found among the sculpture in Mamalapuram. In the 6th and 7th century kings of the Pallava dynasty experimented in the vicinity of this ancient port with various architectural and sculptural forms.

The domination of the Pallavas was eclipsed in the 9th century by the Chola kings, whose centre of power lay in the delta of the Kaveri river. The Cholas dominated southern India for over four centuries and made generous contributions towards the temples and towards the arts, generating some of the greatest treasures of human civilization. It was in the temples constructed and supported by them that we find many of the early sphinx sculptures.

In this period the main characteristics of the purushamriga are lion bodies, with mane, and only a human face, with elongated ears. A few are depicted crouching, and in pairs. Most are striding or jumping. During this period we also see occasionally purushamriga that have the lower body of a lion, with the upper body of a human being, and are shown half up-right. Often they are engaged in the worship of the Shiva Linga with a lamp and a bell. Many of the depictions are narrative panels relating the story of the chase of Bhima by the purushamriga from the Mahabharata.

After the fall of the Chola dynasty various dynasties dominated different parts of Southern India, till the kings of Vijayanagara, modern Hampi in Karnataka, became the emperors of the South. In temple architecture of this period we also find many depictions of the purushamriga. By this time most scultures show the Indian sphinx with the lower body of a lion and the upper body of a human being. They are depicted as rishis or seers, as described in the Mahabharata story. With long matted hair knotted on top of their head. Moustaches and long beards, elongated ears with disks. Many are shown worshipping the Shiva Linga.

The final phase of artistic development in southern India took place under the Nayakas. This was a dynasty that owed alliance to the emperors in Vijayanagara, but ruled from Madurai. Their sculptors developed the concept of the sphinx-human beast into a fully upright man with lion’s hips, legs and claws. These imposing life-size sphinxes are also depicted as rishis. "

I have always found sphinxes to be marvelous depictions of beings with muliple aspects. I found similarities in the Indian sphinxes depicted on this website and those I have seen of ancient Greece quite unmistakable. Obviously these cultures exchanged trade goods and the influence of Alexander The Great's conquest is quite apparent as well.
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Monday, November 05, 2007

Oldest UK skeleton even older than previously thought

Scientists say more accurate tests date the earliest human burial found in the UK to just over 29,000 years ago.

The skeleton of the Red Lady - actually a young male - was discovered at Goat's Hole Cave at Paviland on Gower in 1823 by William Buckland, then a geology professor at Oxford University. It owes its name to the red ochre covering the bones. When discovered the bones were thought to be around 18,000 years old, but were later redated to between 25,000 and 26,000. The remains were found along with a number of artefacts including ivory wands, bracelets and periwinkle shells.

"The remains and artefacts were previously difficult to date accurately," said Dr Higham.

"Many of the bones were treated with preservations in the 19th Century and some of this contamination is often difficult to remove."

He said their analysis was the bones were "just over" 29,000 years old.

It would mean The Red Lady lived in an age when the climate was much warmer than it would have been 4,000 years later.

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Search continues for temple of Artemis Amarysia

"Near Amarynthos (Euboea, Greece), a joint excavation by the Swiss School and the 11th Greek Ephorate brought to light the foundations of a large building, possibly belonging to the renowned sanctuary of Artemis Amarysia.

In September, a team of Swiss and Greek archaeologists led by Denis Knoepfler and Amalia Karapaschalidou discovered the massive foundation of an edifice that could belong to the most renowned -yet still unlocated- sanctuary on the island of Euboea, dedicated to Artemis Amarysia.

Deep trenches opened at the foot of the Paleoekklisies hill, near modern Amarynthos (10 kilometres east of Eretria), unearthed a foundation composed of two courses of large tuff blocks. Excavated on a length of 6 meters, the line of the wall extends in the neighbouring fields, making impossible at this stage to ascertain the exact shape and function of the building to which it belonged. Hundreds of crushed fragments of marble were also recovered; they once belonged to the elevation of the buidling, whose marble parts were later used for lime production. This is confirmed by the discovery of an old limekiln just a few meters from the foundation. The preliminary study of the stratigraphy and the pottery suggests that the first course of blocks was laid in the second half of the fourth century BC; the second course belongs to a later phase, dated to the second century BC.

The foundation cuts a large wall from the Late Geometric period (around 700 BC), excavated at a depth of 3 meters from the surface."

"ARTEMIS was the goddess of hunting, wild animals and wilderness, and the protectress of girls and women.

She was widely worshipped in ancient Greece, with numerous shrines and temples throughout the countryside. This page describes her cult in the southern and eastern regions of the Peloponnese. Here her most celebrated shrines were that of the bear-goddess of Brauron in Attika, and the Lakedaimonian shrine of Artemis Karyai (of the Walnut-Trees).

Artemis was portrayed in classical Greek sculpture as a young woman or girl, with her hair tied back, and usually armed with bow and arrows. Sometimes she was attended by a hunting dog or stag, the so-called Artemis Agrotera (Huntress) type...Artemis Cult

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Tuareg exhibition blends old and new

"The Tuareg of northeastern Africa present an apparition. Suddenly you see: a billowy and shimmery intimidating vision; ripplings of cloth; glints of bladed weapons, slender leaf-thin spears, silver-studded daggers; calmly watching eyes. What you don't see is whole faces. Among the Tuareg it's the men, not the women, who go veiled. Hardened Tuareg warriors, knowing with precision how fabulous they look, arise out of the desert on their tall, swift cloud-white camels looking arrogant and elegant and dangerous and blue.

An exhibition at the National Museum of African Art looks at the culture of the Tuareg people, a semi-nomadic group from West Africa.
'The Art of Being Tuareg'
An exhibition at the National Museum of African Art looks at the culture of the Tuareg people, a semi-nomadic group from West Africa.

In "Art of Being Tuareg: Sahara Nomads in a Modern World" at the National Museum of African Art you get to meet the modern Tuareg, who aren't all that modern.

The Tuareg who inhabit parts of Algeria, Libya, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger are sometimes called by travelers the "Blue Men" of the Sahara. The blue that stains their skin comes from the dark indigo that dyes the tagulmust -- the 15-foot-long cloth, part turban and part veil, that the best-dressed Tuareg noblemen still wrap around their heads.

Their tent poles look like the standards borne by the Roman legions. The patterns of their amulets have antecedents in Carthage. The Cross of Agadez, the chief emblem of the Tuareg, appears to be descended from the ankh of ancient Egypt. There are marks on Tuareg bracelets that are identical to those seen in Libyan inscriptions of the 2nd century B.C.

Most Tuareg men are lean. Their movements, by intent, suggest both elegance and arrogance. Their leanness isn't seen as much as it's suggested by the way their loose and flowing robes move about their limbs.

All in all, the Tuareg don't look much like Parisians. When 19th-century French imperialists first came upon the Tuareg in the wastes of the Sahara, they reacted as they might have when meeting men from Mars.

The Tuareg were, to French eyes, menacing, imposing, alien and exotic. Their beauty was undeniable, as was their ferocity (it took more than 20 years before imperialist French armies felt confident in entering traditional Tuareg lands), as was their ability to navigate the desert. The Tuareg didn't just raid French colonialists. They raided each other. Sometimes 20,000 camels would be gathered for the long and risky Tuareg-guarded caravans that carried loads of salt south to Timbuktu.

It is still easy to see why the beauty of the Tuareg, and other desert peoples, sent a shiver through French art, tinting with strange hues the otherworldly Orientalism of painters as diverse as Eug¿ne Delacroix, Jean-Leon Gerome and Henri Matisse.

The African Museum's thoughtful exhibition -- a joint product of the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University and the Fowler Museum at UCLA -- is far too self-aware to indulge in overcooked stereotypical Orientalism. But its leather bags and hand-forged swords, its camel saddles and sugar shears, share this with the ripe paintings of Delacroix and Matisse. Both intentionally conflate, as does most of Tuareg art, the wholly up-to-date with the very old indeed.

The Tuareg's written language, Tifnar, also points one toward antiquity. Modern is what it isn't. Tifnar can be written vertically or horizontally, and from left to right or from right to left. Its script is composed of lines and dots and circles. Its characters are shared with the cuneiforms of Babylon and the alphabet of the Phoenicians.

Judaism, too, has a place in Tuareg art, almost all of which is made by a people called the inadan -- an admired and despised class of Tuareg artisans (and diplomats, censors, clowns and spies) who believe themselves related to the House of David, and are thought to be descended from enslaved Moroccan Jews.

Tuareg nobles rule by right. Commanding is their duty, as is guarding family honor -- always showing, through their bearing, proper dignity and reserve. Unlike the inadan beneath them, they don't soil themselves with soot, or muck about with blacksmithing, or produce things to use.

"The blacksmith," observed one Tuareg informant in the 1940s, "is always a born traitor; he's fit to do anything. . . . His mendacity is proverbial; moreover it would be dangerous to offend him, for he is skillful at satire and if need be will spout couplets of his own devising about anyone who brushes him off; thus, no one wishes to risk his taunts. In return for this, no one is as ill-esteemed as the blacksmith."

The disdain is almost palpable. It feels ancient, too."

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Carnarvon photographs discovered

How exciting!

"Hundreds of unpublished photographs taken by the amateur Egyptologist George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, as he helped to bring the lost tomb of King Tutankhamun to light, have been discovered in the family’s private collection.

Approximately 900 photographs, taken mostly between 1907-14, convey the enormous scale of excavations that Lord Carnavon and the archaeologist Howard Carter conducted in the decade before their most sensational discovery, which was first announced to the world by The Times.

Fiona, 8th Countess of Carnarvon, found the photographs recently inside three ordinary-looking albums in the archives of the family home, Highclere Castle, Berkshire. She spoke of the thrill of discovering the photographs, saying it was “like going back in time”. John Taylor, an assistant keeper in the British Museum’s Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, described the images as “important historically . . . very evocative of what it was like to be an Egyptologist in 1910 and 1920”.

He said: “Lord Carnarvon was a photographer. He took a lot of very good shots of the excavations, mainly before the Tutankhamun discovery. He was working with Carter for a number of years before that and they found a lot of intereresting things. These photos show the work going on.

“They give an idea of the scale of it. Nowadays, Egyptologists are concerned with quite small areas, with small numbers of workers digging. In those days, there were dozens and dozens of workers clearing large areas.

“These photographs show them carrying baskets, the dust flying up, the hive of activity. You see them bringing objects out of the tombs, including mummy cases. You wouldn’t see that kind of thing happening today.”

There are also images of Carnarvon and Carter directing the operation, wearing three-piece suits despite the intense heat of the Egyptian sun. The Earl is shown in shots from 1911 at the cobra-infested Tel el Balamun site in the Delta, and at a tomb discovery in 1910 at Thebes. Carter can be seen staffing a desk as he supervises the workers’ pay day.

Some of the treasures went to Carvarvon’s collection, which is today open to visitors at Highclere Castle. Others were transported to Cairo and the Metropolitan in New York.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Ancient Koran headed for private collection

It looks like another beautiful example of Islamic culture is headed to a private collector!#@!

"An 800-year-old copy of the Muslim holy book, the Koran, has sold for a world record price of £1,140,500 at an auction in London.

The Koran, which has been dated to 1203, is believed to be the oldest known complete copy written in gold.

The calligraphy has marginal notes written in silver.

Auction house Christie's said it was a world record for both a Koran and an Islamic manuscript. It was expected to sell for between £500,000 and £750,000.

A second Koran, a nearly-complete text from the 10th century, was sold for almost £916,500.

Both were sold on behalf of the Hispanic Society of America, and were bought by British trade buyers."

I know museums need to raise money and often prune their collections for space considerations, I just wish there was a way such objects could be limited to purchase by other public institutions.

I see the Hispanic Society of America has a free museum and reference library for the study of the arts and cultures of Spain, Portugal, and Latin America in New York City. With such wonderful artifacts, I guess I need to add it to my list of must see sites in New York the next time I visit there.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Controversial Incantation Bowls from Iraq subject of Science Article

After my post about the controversy over a collection of "allegedly" looted incantation bowls, I was contacted by Michael Balter, Contributing Editor to Science Magazine. He provided a copy of his article about the controversy with his permission to distribute it to my readers. Here is his full article that appeared in the October 26 issue of Science:

University Suppresses Report on Provenance of Iraqi Antiquities

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Looted Bowls from Iraq subject of Science Article

After my post about the controversy over a collection of "allegedly" looted incantation bowls, I was contacted by Michael Balter, Contributing Editor to Science Magazine. He provided a copy of his article about the controversy with his permission to distribute it to my readers. Here is his full article that appeared in the October 26 issue of Science:

University Suppresses Report on Provenance of Iraqi Antiquities

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More protests over looted antiquities - this time from Iraq

"One of Britain's leading universities is embroiled in an embarrassing row over hundreds of treasures looted from Iraq.

Found scattered around ancient Mesopotamia, the Aramaic incantation or devil bowls were placed upside down in homes during the sixth to eighth centuries to trap evil spirits. The spells, and information such as the names of the home owners, are not found in any other source. One collection contains the earliest examples of the Bible in Hebrew.

Since the first Gulf War in 1990, Iraq has been a looters' paradise... So when University College London came into possession of 654 "devil" bowls, the biggest collection in the world, loaned from a private collector, suspicions were raised.

The bowls belong to Martin Schoyen, a Norwegian collector of ancient scripts. He bought them in London from a Jordanian who claimed they had been in his family for generations.

UCL set up a committee of inquiry which found that "on the balance of probability" the bowls had, somewhere along the line, been looted from Iraq.

At this point Mr Schoyen sued UCL for their return. Legally his claim is sound, because he has held title for seven years. What has dismayed academics, however, is that the inquiry report was suppressed as part of the out-of-court settlement.

Professor Colin Renfrew, a fellow at Cambridge University and a member of UCL's committee of inquiry, is angry that the settlement said the report should be withheld. A world expert in ancient treasures, Lord Renfrew said UCL had no choice but to return the collection.

"Even if the bowls were looted it is likely that Mr Schoyen, as a good-faith buyer, could have good title to them. Even so there is a good ethical case for their return to Iraq," he said.

"UCL tried to do the right and ethical thing by setting up a committee of inquiry. Then, when threatened with a lawsuit, in my view, it gave way under pressure. How has the largest known collection of incantation bowls been in Jordan for 70 years and nobody knew about it?"

Once again, it looks like politics and capitalism have triumphed over academics and moral responsibility.

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Silbury Hill Found to be "Sterile"

"The dank chill tunnel slopes down through 4,400 years of history into the heart of a mystery. The ground is slippery underfoot with sodden chalk dug as the pyramids were rising in Egypt. Archaeologists have reached the core of Silbury Hill in Wiltshire - and still have no idea what the most enigmatic prehistoric monument in Europe was for.

They know now there is no burial chamber for a Celtic king, no treasure hoard, nothing but a shallow bed of gravel, over which three ever larger mounds were raised until 35m baskets of chalk later, the monument stood 40 metres high, dominating the surrounding landscape, the largest artificial hill in Europe...

What they have found is treasure only to archaeologists: blades of grass still green after almost 5,000 years from the turf sods which covered the original mound, evidence of a pit which may have been the earliest ritual activity on the site, the chalk boulders used to strengthen the heaps of chalk rubble, and a huge ditch which was carefully filled before the final phase was built. The most enigmatic find is sarsen stones, the same stone as in nearby Avebury and Stonehenge, carefully incorporated in every stage, some which would have taken two men to drag up to the very top of the mound.

The distinctive flat top of the hill has led to some of the wildest theories, that it was an observatory or a platform for ritual sacrifice. In fact it now appears to be comparatively modern, carved flat to take a massive timber Saxon or Norman building - one posthole was a metre in diameter - presumed to be a military lookout."
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Political Agenda Appears to be Behind Attempts to Block Tenure of Palestinian-American Professor

I found this article very interesting and quite disturbing from an academic viewpoint. It sounds to me like a number of people who are attempting to block the tenure of a Palestinian-American Professor at Barnard College are using misquotes and innuendo rather than legitimate criticism to try to derail the tenure process for a scholar who chose a very controversial topic for her dissertation. I thought the tenure process was created to protect such scholarship from political pressure.

"Barnard alumna Paula Stern, who now lives in an Israeli settlement community on the West Bank, acknowledged Tuesday that her petition —signed now by more than 2,500 people — incorrectly quotes from Nadia Abu El-Haj’s book in charging she is grossly ignorant of Jerusalem geography.

Stern also conceded attributing to Abu El-Haj a viewpoint that Abu El-Haj does not voice as her own in her book. The petition does so by taking a quote fragment from a section in which Abu El-Haj describes others as having the opposite viewpoint.

In addition, despite Abu El-Haj’s frequent citation of Hebrew language sources and an acknowledgment on her book’s first page thanking her Hebrew tutor, Stern’s petition asserts, “Abu El Haj does not speak or read Hebrew ... We fail to understand how a scholar can pretend to study the attitudes of a people whose language she does not know.”

Stern's excuse: "“It was written very quickly,” Stern said of her petition, whose signatories include many Barnard and Columbia University alumni. “But there is a clear pattern in her book of attempting to undermine the historical connection of the Jewish people to the land.”

In response to repeated attempts to have Stern support her charges with accurate quotations from the text she replies "“I’ve spoken to many newspapers, no one has done what you’ve [The Jewish Week News] done,” said Stern, presumably displeased with questions asking her to square her charges against the book with its text. [I find this revelation very upsetting - why didn't other newspapers ask for supporting quotations!]

She says the overall “trend” of the book [Facts On The Ground,] is to deny a Jewish connection to the land and that “no matter whether it’s accurate or not, my petition is not on trial here."

Unfortunately, Stern is not alone in attacking the work without substantiated criticism.

"William Dever, a well-known retired professor of Near East archaeology at the University of Arizona, dismissed it as “a piece of shoddy work as historical research. She doesn’t quote a single Israeli archaeologist. She doesn’t show she’s read their work.”

"Aren Maeir, an archaeologist based at Bar Ilan, denounced it as “replete with inaccuracies [and] faulty research.”

Come on people! If you are as scholarly as your titles imply, you should be able to criticize the findings or interpretations in the book with solid references not fall back on vague generalities!

At least her dissertation committee members come to her defense:

"Eric Meyers, a biblical archaeology professor at Duke University and member of her dissertation committee, pointed out that, in fact, Abu El-Haj went deep into the archaeological archives to quote directly from dusty reports and field notes of Israeli archaeologists from the 1950’s and early 1960’s."

Others are actually recommending the book:

"Prof. Rafael Greenberg, senior lecturer in archaeology at Tel Aviv University, called the work an “eye-opener,” adding, “I recommend it.”
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Iran objects to Christie's plans to auction Persepolis bas relief

"Following Christie's announcement regarding its intention to sell a Persepolis artifact, the [Iranian] embassy voiced its objection in an official letter.

The letter says the bas-relief is a part of Iran's cultural heritage, and was stolen from Persepolis 30 years before the Islamic Revolution.

All Persepolis artifacts are part of the national cultural heritage of Iran; international conventions have banned stealing or illegally transferring items of a country's cultural heritage to other nations, the letter adds.

The Iranian embassy in London called on Christie's managers not to auction the Achaemenid bas-relief and to negotiate with Iran on the subject.

A stone carving of the head of a soldier belonging to ancient Persia's Apadana palace in Persepolis was scheduled to be auctioned in London on October 25th with the estimated value of 800,000 British pounds."


Initial investigations revealed that the relief is part of the stairway of Apadana Palace in Persepolis complex which was sold in 1974 in an auction in New York and was bought by a private owner and kept for 30 years in her private collection in France. Later Iran was asked to provide the Court with the mold of the exact location of the Achamenid soldier bas-relief of Persepolis.

Yet in its latest session, the Court of London was not convinced by the documents presented by Iran and referred the case to the Appeal Court for a final verdict. " - Persian Journal

I think the refusal of the British court to recognize Iran's claim to the artifact is quite inappropriate. I guess I should have expected as much since the British are steadfastly refusing to return the Elgin Marbles to the Greeks either. The Persepolis relief is very much a part of Iran's cultural heritage and I would hate to see it sold again to another wealthy private collector to be used only to impress their friends!

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Epipalaeolithic mural found in Syria

"Deep in the heart of northern Syria, close to the banks of the Euphrates River, archaeologists have uncovered a series of startling 11,000-year-old wall paintings and artifacts. "The wall paintings date back to the 9th millennium BC. They were discovered last month on the wall of a house standing 2 meters high at Djade," said Frenchman Eric Coqueugniot, who has been leading the excavations on the west bank of the river at Djade, in an area famous for its rich tradition of prehistoric treasures.

The etchings are "polychrome paintings in black, white and red. The designs are solely geometric, and only figurative. The composition is made up of a system [of] cross-hatched lines, alternating between the three colors," said Coqueugniot.

They were found in a circular building, around 7.5 meters in diameter. The excavated house features three solid blocks where the paintings were located.

The main pillar has been completely excavated and stands almost 2 meters high displaying the new murals, said Coqueugniot, a researcher for the Paris-based National Centre for Scientific Research.

The remains of the building, much larger than the small and rectangular domestic dwellings of the period, "must have been used as a meeting place for the whole village or for a clan," Coqueugniot added.

Apart from the organic artifacts, which have decomposed over time, the site has provided many well-preserved treasures.

Carved stone tools, flints, seed-grinding implements and brick-grinding stones have been recovered. Many bone objects were also found - both remnants of the animals that made up part of the daily diet and intricately fashioned tools.

The dig also uncovered several figurines made of gypsum, chalk, bone and clay. The most recent discovery, an 11,000-year-old statue of a man is "particularly important and well preserved," Coqueugniot said.

This item will allow comparisons with other similar sculptures found on sites in the Urfa region of southern Turkey, added the French scientist, who has overseen archaeological projects at Djade for 15 years.

"The figures could have had religious significance. The female statuettes could also have been fertility symbols. But they could have had entirely different ritual meanings," Coqueugniot said.

"We can only offer hypotheses," he added. "It is still very difficult to [determine] the significance of this 11,000-year-old statue of the woman."

The latest discoveries date back to the start of the Neolithic era, in a period known as the Epipalaeolithic. Many artifacts from this period have been discovered in northern Syria, in particular at Jerf al-Ahmar"

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Egyptian God Anubis Sails Into London

I see London is welcoming the latest King Tut exhibit in grand style. I saw the exhibit when it was in Los Angeles and found several of the items displayed particularly interesting, especially one of King Tut's diadems and one of his ceremonial daggers. I must admit, however, to being a bit disappointed as the exhibit was advertised as being roughly equivalent to the first King Tut exhibit in the US back in the 1960s. However, this exhibit was composed mostly of artifacts belonging to the pharaoh's extended family and few items actually came from the famous tomb. I thought it was particularly misleading to advertise the exhibit with huge images of the famous gold death mask when the mask is not part of the exhibit. Oh well, maybe someday I'll get to see the original in the Cairo Museum.

"Londoners welcomed a 25ft Egyptian god to the capital today. Passers-by watched the extraordinary sight of the enormous, five-tonne
golden Anubis statue travelling up the Thames on the back of a cargo ship.

Tower Bridge was raised to make way for the ancient Egyptian jackal-headed God of the Dead as it was transported to its new position in Trafalgar Square.

The statue travelled from the US, where a three-year touring exhibition of Tutankhamun's treasures has recently closed. The Anubis installation in central London marks the forthcoming opening of Tutankhamun And The Golden Age Of The Pharaohs at the O2 Bubble, the first
exhibition to be held at the venue.

Some 265,000 tickets have already been sold or reserved. The exhibition, which will include more than 130 treasures that are all between 3,000 and 5,000 years old, opens on November 15 and continues until August 30, 2008."

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The Trauma of Macedonian Resettlement in Turkey in 1924

I came across this article about a documentary film that sounded quite compelling. As the article says, the story finds echoes in all the displaced communities of the world today:

"Last weekend a documentary film had its premiere in Mustafapaşa. Emine Yıldırım’s “Yastığım Taş, Yorgunum Taş” (My Pillow was a Stone, My Quilt was a Stone) tells the story of the arrival of the Macedonians in what was once the small Cappadocian town of Sinasos. It was 1924, the year of the population exchange, when all the “Greeks” in Turkey and the “Turks” in Greece were forced to change places. However, some of the so-called Greeks were really Macedonians, caught up in a politics that saw them as no more than pawns in a settling of ancient scores.

The film was shown in a 19th century medrese which had recently become a vocational high school. The conference room was filled to capacity and there was a buzz of anticipation as people took their seats, clutching their cups of tea and plates of dry biscuits. Then the lights were dimmed and suddenly the locals were coming face-to-face with themselves on the big screen.

It was a magical experience to watch and listen to their reactions. “Our mahalle (neighborhood),” I heard people whisper, and “Look, that’s so-and-so.” One particular woman, who played a big part in the film, was sitting immediately in front of me. In her şalvar and yemeni, she was the sort of country woman who would not normally expect people to pay her much attention and yet here she was, with the camera caressing her every gesture, her every word. Her face, as she watched herself, was a picture.

Of course the story unfolding on the screen was equally gripping. It was the tale of a group of people forced to sail all the way down the Aegean and around the Mediterranean to Mersin, knowing only that they were going to Anatolia but not what that was going to mean. On arrival they found themselves abandoned in a rocky landscape where, as one woman so poignantly put it, the stones even served as their bedding. An audible gasp ran round the room when one man explained how, with winter coming and no money or means to make any, the newcomers were forced to rip down the magnificent wooden ceilings of the old Greek houses and burn them as firewood.

We saw a list of the names of the incomers, we saw their children starting school without a word of Turkish and, later, we saw one man laboriously compiling a Turkish-Macedonian dictionary while his neighbors explained how the third generation of Macedonian Mustafapaşalıs no longer understood what their parents were saying if they reverted to the old language.

It was the thought-provoking story of one community’s struggle to make a new life in a strange country, but at the same time it was a story which finds echoes in all the displaced communities of the world today."

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King Tut's Tomb Yields a Few More Discoveries

"A team of Egyptian archaeologists, led by antiquities supremo Zahi Hawass, made the discovery in the Valley of the Kings in the ancient city of Thebes, the modern-day Luxor, in southern Egypt.

"The eight baskets contained large quantities of doum fruits, which have been well preserved," Mr Hawass said in a statement.

The fruit baskets are each 50 centimetres high, the antiquities department said.

The sweet orange-red fruit, also known as the gingerbread fruit, comes from the doum palm, a native of southern Egypt, and was traditionally offered at funerals.

Twenty pear-shaped containers, one metre in height and bearing Tutankhamun's official seal were also discovered."

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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.

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."
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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.

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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.
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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."

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Theseus and the Minotaur retold with Machinima Software iClone 2.1

I've been exploring Machinima Software, which is software to produce 3D animated films on just a consumer-grade computer, and found this excellent example of using animation software to retell a classic story of Greek mythology - Theseus and the Minotaur.

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Whole Villages in Bulgaria Turn To Tomb Raiding

This is really heartbreaking. Perhaps Bulgaria should adopt England's approach to rewarding amateur artifact hunters with a share of the value of their finds.

Sofia News Agency, "Tens of thousands of tomb raiders are systematically stripping Bulgaria. In some parts of the country, whole villages have taken up tomb-raiding and many of the digs are organised by the local mafia.

Volodia Velkov, the head of the police unit that combats organised crime, said tomb-raiding was now generating about £4 billion a year for the crime syndicates.

Mr Velkov and a team of 30 officers are trying to track looted antiquities and stop them leaving the country.

"Since last October, when we started the new department, we have seized 16,000 artefacts," he said.

"More than 30,000 people are involved in tomb-raiding. The business is very well-organized and the expeditions are financed by rich Bulgarians living in the US, Britain and Germany."

Last Friday, a 43-year-old man was caught trying to smuggle more than 100 items into Germany in special compartments within the floor of a lorry. Police found antiquities dating back to 300BC, worth £345,000.

"The main route is through Germany, where there are huge warehouses full of our antiquities," said Mr Velkov.
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Friday, August 17, 2007

27th Dynasty Noblewoman found in Saqqara

"An ancient Egyptian noblewoman's large stone coffin has been found in a tomb near the pyramid of Unas, experts announced yesterday Archaeologists were digging near the crumbling pyramid in Saqqâra, 15 miles (25 kilometers) south of Cairo, when they discovered the tomb, which had been built more than 600 years before the noblewoman's death.

El-Aguizy said the coffin of the noblewoman, named Sekhemet Nefret, was the first from Egypt's 27th dynasty (525 to 402 B.C.) to be found in this part of Saqqâra, an ancient royal burial ground.

The walls of the burial shaft were made in part with carved stone slabs, known as stelae. The stone dates from the even earlier reign of the pharaoh Djoser.

Like other burial grounds near Egypt's ancient capital Memphis, the site was abandoned for centuries and then came back into use after the Persian conquest of Egypt in 525 B.C. At that time, nearby temples were renovated and religious cults flourished. Noblewoman Nefret's family had a direct role in that conquest.

She was related to Udja Hor Resenet, a physician and scribe. Resenet helped the Persian king Cambyses II conquer Egypt and later tutored the new ruler in Egyptian religion and rituals."
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Ecological disaster being reconsidered as cause of Angkor's collapse

"Excavations are planned at Angkor to scour for more clues about ecological problems which led to the demise of Cambodia's great ancient city, an Australian archaeologist said Thursday.

"We have clear evidence now that Angkor was big enough to have caused environmental problems," Damian Evans said.

"But we need finer-grained detail to determine for sure how severe those problems were, and whether or not the local population was able to deal with them or not," said Evans, deputy director of the Greater Angkor Project at the University of Sydney.

His group published its findings in this week's online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

They reveal that Angkor, during its zenith between the 9th and 14th centuries, was "the world's most extensive preindustrial low-density complex" and far larger than previously thought. It included an elaborate water management network encompassing nearly 1,000 square kilometers (390 square miles).

Extending rice fields to support a population of more than 1 million resulted in serious ecological problems, including deforestation, topsoil degradation and erosion.

The study's conclusions supported a theory in the early 1950s by Bernard-Philippe Groslier, a prominent French archaeologist, that the collapse of Angkor stemmed from over-exploitation of the environment.

The study produced a comprehensive digital mapping database detailing tens of thousands of individual features across nearly 3,000 square kilometers (1,160 square miles).

Previously, there were around 800 known temple sites in the mapped area, Evans said in an e-mail, adding that the number will likely be between 950 and 1,000 once results from the excavations have been verified on the ground."

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Greek archaeologists to excavate Alexander's outpost in Kuwait

"Greek government experts are going to Failaka - a Gulf outpost of Alexander's army, now governed by Kuwait.

The island's bullet-holed buildings tell of a conflict still fresh in people's memories - Saddam Hussein's brief occupation of Kuwait in the early 1990s.

Beneath the sun-baked sands of Failaka, archaeologists hope to unearth the secrets of an earlier conquest - a settlement established by Alexander's general, Nearchus, in the 4th Century BC.

The excavations will focus on the ruins of an ancient citadel and cemetery, the general secretary of the Greek culture ministry, Christos Zahopoulos, told the BBC News website.

Earlier work by French archaeologists has uncovered the remnants of a temple to Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting, as well as several Greek coins and idols." - BBC News

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Tomb of Ancient Athlete Found In Bulgaria

"A team of Bulgarian archaeologists unearthed Tuesday an ancient stone tomb, dated back to the 4th century BC, Darik News reported.

The team, lead by Krastina Panayotova, stumbled upon the tomb during the annual archaeological excavations on the Harmani beach of the Black Sea town of Sozopol.

A man, probably an athlete, had been buried in the tomb because the team found an object used by athletes in antiquity.

Just a day earlier the archaeologists came upon the grave of another man, probably a gambler. The grave was full of dice, backgammon pieces and coins.

Last week the same team unearthed a tomb of a citizen, who lived in the ancient city of Apollonia, which is today's Sozopol.

The team of Krastina Panayotova is working on the Harmani beach of Sozopol, a site which archaeologist have been exploring for many years now.

Sozopol is one of the oldest towns on Bulgarian Thrace's Black Sea coast. The first settlement on the site dates back to the Bronze Age. Undersea explorations in the region of the port reveal relics of dwellings, ceramic pottery, stone and bone tools from that era. Many anchors from the second and first millennium BC have been discovered in the town's bay, a proof of active shipping since ancient times.

The town, at first called Antheia, was colonized by Anaximander. The name was soon changed to Apollonia, on account of a temple dedicated to Apollo in the town, containing a famous colossal statue of the god by Calamis, 30 cubits high, transported later to Rome by Lucullus and placed in the Capitol. At various times, Apollonia was known as Apollonia Pontica (that is, Apollonia on the Black Sea, the ancient Pontus Euxinus) and Apollonia Magna."
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Monday, August 13, 2007

Field Musicians of the Civil War

I was searching for Civil War music to use as a soundtrack for my podcast about the Living History Festival that was held recently here in Springfield and I came across this exceelent presentation. I like the way the creator took a collection of photographs and focused on a particular aspect of the conflict.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

First Royal Aztec Tomb Discovered

Mexican archaeologists using ground-penetrating radar have detected underground chambers they believe contain the remains of Emperor Ahuizotl, who ruled the Aztecs when Columbus landed in the New World. It would be the first tomb of an Aztec ruler ever found.

The find could provide an extraordinary window into Aztec civilization at its apogee. Ahuizotl (ah-WEE-zoh-tuhl), an empire-builder who extended the Aztecs' reach as far as Guatemala, was the last emperor to complete his rule before the Spanish Conquest.

Accounts written by Spanish priests suggest the area was used by the Aztecs to cremate and bury their rulers. But no tomb of an Aztec ruler has ever been found, in part because the Spanish conquerors built their own city atop the Aztec's ceremonial center, leaving behind colonial structures too historically valuable to remove for excavations.

One of those colonial buildings was so damaged in a 1985 earthquake that it had to be torn down, eventually giving experts their first chance to examine the site off Mexico City's Zocalo plaza, between the Metropolitan Cathedral and the ruins of the Templo Mayor pyramid.

Archaeologists told The Associated Press that they have located what appears to be a six-foot-by-six-foot entryway into the tomb about 15 feet below ground. The passage is filled with water, rocks and mud, forcing workers to dig delicately while suspended from slings. Pumps work to keep the water level down.

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Citizen of Ancient Apollonia discovered in Sozopol Bulgaria Archaeologists from the Bulgaria's National History Museum have unearthed a tomb of a citizen, who lived in the ancient city of Apollonia, which is today's Black Sea town of Sozopol.

The team of Krastina Panayotova is working on the Harmani beach of Sozopol, a site which archaeologist have been exploring for many years now. During regular excavations Panayotova's team stumbled upon the tomb.

When the scientist opened it they found many pottery, the skeleton of a man, who lived some 2,500 years ago and a huge ceramic bowl with an inscription in ancient Greek.

The bowl has been already taken for a thorough expertise and a team of linguists was called to decipher the inscription. When this is done, the Head of the Museum Bozhidar Dimitrov hopes the scientists will get a further understanding of Apollonia Pontica - the first democratic state in the lands of today's Bulgaria.

The interesting thing for this artefact is that it was unearthed in the family part of the necropolis, where Histiyani, the tyrant of Milet, was buried.
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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Museums in Izmir, Turkey drawing thousands of tourists

With the rising popularity of cruise line tourism, more people are visiting the archeological, ethnographical, historical arts and Atatürk museums in İzmir.

The İzmir Archeology Museum was established on a 500-square-meter area in Bahribaba Park in 1984. In this four-floor museum, the exhibition is organized in sections. Ceramic and precious artifacts are on the upper floor, stone statues, busts and portraits are on the middle floor, and while the ground floor is reserved for the administration, the basement is used as a storage room. There are 58,788 items on display in the museum and in its garden.

The Ethnography Museum is also located in Bahribaba Park. The museum building was constructed in the 19th century in neoclassical style on a sloped terrace. The building was used as the St. Roch Hospital in 1983, and was converted into a care-house for poor Christian families by the French in 1845.

The Selçuk Museum is another notable museum in İzmir. Museum officials point out that many tourists, especially those who come to the region on cruise line tours, have been visiting the Ephesus Museum, St. John’s Basilica and the ancient city of Ephesus in greater numbers since April 2007.

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Cairo toe earliest fake body part

BBC NEWS : "An artificial big toe found on the foot of an ancient Egyptian mummy could be the world's earliest functional fake body part, UK experts believe. A Manchester University team hope to prove that the leather and wood 'Cairo toe' not only looked the part but also helped its owner walk.

They will test a replica in volunteers whose right big toe is missing. If true, the toe will predate the currently considered earliest practical prosthesis - a fake leg from 300BC. The Roman Capua Leg, made of bronze, was held at the Royal College of Surgeons in London but was destroyed by Luftwaffe bombs during the Second World War.

Lead researcher Jacky Finch said: 'The toe dates from between 1069 and 664BC, so if we can prove it was functional then we will have pushed back prosthetic medicine by as much as 700 years.'"
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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Japan Donates Money for Building of Thracian Art Museum in Bulgaria

This is wonderful news. I wonder when the projected opening date will be. I'd love to schedule a visit when this new museum opens.

"Japan's government has granted USD 2,860,000 to Bulgaria for the founding and building of a museum of the Thracian art in the eastern Rodopi Mountains.

The Japanese Ambassador to Bulgaria Koichiro Fukui and Bulgaria's Foreign Minister exchanged notes on Tuesday for the donation.

The Thracian art Museum is a joint project of the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture, the Haskovo Municipality and Japan. The idea is to build a whole museum complex around the Thracian tomb near the village of Alexandrovo."
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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Hidden City Found Beneath Alexandria | LiveScience

Hidden City Found Beneath Alexandria: "The legendary city of Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great as he swept through Egypt in his quest to conquer the known world.

Now scientists have discovered hidden underwater traces of a city that existed at Alexandria at least seven centuries before Alexander the Great arrived, findings hinted at in Homer's Odyssey and that could shed light on the ancient world.

Alexandria was known to have developed from a settlement known as Rhakotis, or Râ-Kedet, vaguely alluded to as a modest fishing village of little significance by some historians. Seven rod-shaped samples of dirt gathered from the seafloor of Alexandria's harbor now suggest there may have been a flourishing urban center there as far back at 1000 B.C."
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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Trove of Ancient Mariner's Tools found off the coast of Cyprus

University of Colgate’s Albert Ammerman, Olive B. O’Connor Professor in the humanities, and a team of nine researchers recently discovered a trove of ancient mariner tools while excavating a seabed near Cyprus. Divers found the pre-Neolithic artifacts — which included chipped stone tools and ground stone implements — in water about 33 feet deep and about 330 feet offshore of Aspros, an archaeological site discovered in 2004.

Ammerman and his archaeologist colleagues believe the find — which they said consists of the oldest materials found off the island’s coast — could provide significant insight on the early history of Cyprus and Mediterranean seafaring.

According to the article, experts believe the discoveries indicate that ancient Aspros was much larger than the landward section visible today.

“All of what we see on the land is just a tip of the iceberg of what is in the water,” said Ammerman, who served as the director of the survey.

The tools he and his team found are believed to be used by mariners more than 10,000 years ago, before the island had permanent settlers. “These are the people who are the pioneers; without their knowledge, people who came later maybe would not have had it that good,” explained Ammerman

The researchers discovered the implements in aeolianite, a coastal formation of old cemented sand dunes, and are in the process of completing radiocarbon tests to determine their precise age.

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Jinsha excavation continues to yield relics

"The construction site in the western suburbs of Chengdu, in Sichuan Province, looked much like any other. It all started when a bulldozer driver heard a scraping sound as his machine bit deep into the ground: he struck a collection of golden, jade and bronze objects. Workers and passersby snapped up the treasures and scurrying off. Those too late to get anything, disgruntled, report the find to the police. And that''s how, in February 2001, the world learned about the relics of a mysterious 3,000-year-old Jinsha kingdom in the mountains of southwest China.

"Jinsha culture is unique, quite different from cultures in other parts of China, but is scarcely mentioned by Chinese historians," said Zhu Zhangyi, a veteran archaeologist in Sichuan and deputy-curator of the Jinsha Museum. "The harsh geography made it difficult for outsiders to enter the kingdom and so it was able to preserve its endemic culture."

Police have been able to recover most of the relics purloined from the construction site -- about 100 items in all, but no one can confidently claim that they have recovered everything.

In the past six years, the site has yielded up about 6,000 gold, jade, bronze and stone artifacts, tens of thousands of pottery items and also hundreds of elephant tusks. Gold fever

Jinsha means ''gold sand''. True to its name, the site has proved extraordinarily rich in gold relics.

"Chinese people typically use gold as jewellery -- earrings, bracelets or necklaces -- but Jinsha people used gold for sacrificial purposes. They made gold masks, gold headware and strange, horn-shaped objects in finely worked gold," said Sun Hua, an archaeologist from Beijing University.

Two relics in particular showcase their technical prowess.

One is a round foil bearing images of the Sun and of four flying birds. The gold foil is only about 0.02 cm thick, the width of a piece of paper, 12.5 cm in diameter and 94 percent pure. Some people have speculated that the twelve lights around the Sun represent the twelve months and the four flying birds the four seasons. "It''s just speculation. No one can say for sure what the pictures really mean," Zhu said, "but we do know that the ancient kingdom worshipped the Sun and birds."

Others have said that ancient Chinese may have believed that the Sun is carried from east to west on the backs of birds. The sun and birds appear on many Jinsha relics. The piece, dubbed the Sun and the Immortal Birds, has since become a logo for Chinese cultural heritage protection.

Another important piece of gold ware is a gold mask, discovered in February 2007. The mask was probably worn by sorcerers who communicated with divine forces.

It is 19.5 cm wide, 11 cm long, 0.04 cm thick and weighs 46 grams.
Gold masks were not common in China at that time, but widely used in Egypt and the Middle East.
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