Tuesday, October 31, 2006


After a year of restoration, Pompeii proudly opened Lupanare, a two story brothel that recreates ancient Pompeii's intriguing and elegant house of prostitution. Lup = Roman name for prostitute. This was Pompeii's biggest and best planned brothel; richly decorated and restored for the tourist trade.

Sunday, October 29, 2006


It's hard to understand why anyone would want to vandalize a wonderful, ancient Indian rock art panel near Vernal, Utah. This panel was in the Barrier Canyon-style rock art that has ghostly-looking human-sized figures with no legs.

Bureau of Land Managment(BLM) officials are puzzling out whether this particular site was on government or private property which will dictate which agency investigates the vandalism. If on Federal Land, the vandalism is in violation of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) and there will be an agressive investigation. Utah also has similar legislation. Anyone who has information about the vandalism should contact the BLM's Vernal field office at (435) 781-4400.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


As the author, with Caroline Malone, of Stonehenge in the "Digging for the Past" Series (Oxford University Press), I'm delighted to keep reading about new finds at Stonehenge.

The latest is: nine Neolithic-era buildings have been excavated in the Stonehenge world heritage site, according to a report in the journal British Archaeology.

The structures, which appear to have been homes, date to 2,600-2,500 B.C. and were contemporary with the earliest stone settings at the site's famous megalith. They are the first house-like structures discovered there.

What seems to be happening, is that now that Stonehenge is being looked at as an ancient landscape, more and more information will be unearthed.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


I had the pleasure of hearing Professor Michael Rogers of Southern Connecticut State University last week about the work he and his team are doing in Ethiopia.

His site is called Gona -- its between Hadar and Dikliki (the latter where the newest 3 year old find of the little australopithecus and the former where Lucy were found). They have found 600-700 lithics, that is worked, stone age tools. The site is well dated (by potassium argon method) to 2.6 mya -- volcanic ash above it is 2.53 mya.

The stone tools are made of volcanic material. They are well-struck flakes and there was a selection of material. In other words, whoever was making them, used the most fracturable stones to make these tools. Telltale signs of ripples and a bulb of percussion on the tools show so they are notjust naturally chipped. Bones of animals have been found with these lithics (but no human bones so far).

The very narrow site is now high on a mountain side but was once by the bank of a river. It was probably a wooded area at that time. Australopthicus Garhi dated to 2.5 mya was found a few miles away. [See: http://www.msu.edu/~heslipst/contents/ANP440/garhi.htm] The question is could this creature be the tool maker of Gona? Garhi is not a homo habilis as has a slight crest. And there are still questions about where Garhi fits in the scheme of early australopicines.

Of course, as is often the case, the team ran out of time but hopes to go back to Ethiopia next year. Stay tuned...

Monday, October 16, 2006


Evidence is just in that people have been slurping up yogurt since at least as far back as the Neolithic. How do we know? Food particles found embedded in ancient cooking pots reveal that Britain's first farmers boiled milk and processed it to make foods such as cheese, butter and yogurt.

The find adds to the growing body of evidence that many Neolithic Europeans who lived 3,000 to 6,000 years ago were dairymen as well as farmers. In other part of the world, yogurt-eating appears to have begun even earlier. Earlier this year, another team of researchers found similar evidence dating to 8,000 years ago from Romania, Hungary and Switzerland.

Where exactly does the old tale that yogurt eating middle-Europeans live longer than anyone? I'm not sure.


New research to be published in the November 2006 issue of Anatomical Record convincingly makes the case that the small skull discovered in Flores, Indonesia in 2003 is not a new species of hominid as was claimed in a study published in Nature in 2004. Rather, the skull is most likely that of a small-bodied modern human who suffered from a genetic condition known as microcephaly. The condition is characterized by a small head.

This is the most wide-ranging and multidisciplinary assessment of the problems associated with the 18,000 year old Flores hominid yet to be published. Significantly, one of the authors of another new study in the September 5 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences includes a co-author who was also a co-author of the original publication in Nature.

Also, the stone tools discovered in association with the Flores fossils are typical of advanced prepared-core technique that has only been used by Neaderthals and modern humans.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Bulgarian Archaeologists Fight to Save the Past from Gangsters!

Luck is only sometimes on the side of Bulgaria's archaeologists, as
they race gangsters to unearth the treasure of the ancient Thracians.
It was with Daniela Agre last month when she came across a Black Sea
hotel owner flattening a 2,000-year-old burial mound and found a
horde of gold and silver jewellery that she thinks belonged to a
Thracian priestess. Another archaeologist was served in a remote
rural shop by a woman wearing a string of 5,000-year-old gold beads,
found by her husband in sunflower fields where a large Thracian
treasure trove was later discovered.

Famed for their ferocity and horsemanship, the Thracians - who
lived between modern-day Ukraine and Turkey - were long considered a
barbarian race whose greatest contribution to history was Spartacus,
the slave who rebelled against Rome. But just as a series of
spectacular finds is deepening their understanding, academics fear
the violent mafia are beating them to vital pieces of the historical

Gavrail Lazov, head of archaeology at Bulgaria's National
History Museum, is celebrating another remarkable find while
lamenting his country's failure to crush crime. Last month, his
colleagues unearthed 20,000 Thracian ornaments, one a dagger made of
platinum and gold. "It is 5,000 years old and still so sharp a man
could shave with it. Perhaps it belonged to a king, but it is too
early to be sure," Lazov said.

Indeed the riches of Thracia may rival those of ancient Troy.
The most spectacular find is the 2,500-year-old burial mask of a
Thracian ruler, a solid gold visage more than 10 times heavier than
the Mask of Agamemnon, which is the centerpiece of the National
Archaeological Museum in Athens. "Bulgaria has more ancient artifacts
than any European country except Greece and Italy," said Lazov. "We
have 15,000 Thracian burial mounds, and 400 ancient settlements - but
it is terribly hard to protect them all. Looting has boomed since the
end of communism 15 years ago."

Under pressure from Brussels, Bulgaria has tightened border
controls and pledged to crack down on crime. But in a country where
the average monthly wage is £120, Lazov fears the criminals will
always prosper.

Monday, October 02, 2006


At least Israelis and Syrians can report archaeological finds! See below:

Neolithic temple discovered in northern Syria

Associated Press, THE JERUSALEM POST Sep. 30, 2006


Archaeologists have discovered a temple in northern Syria that could be the oldest in the Middle East, Syria's official news agency reported Saturday.

The discovery of the Neolithic temple, dating to the ninth century B.C., was made by a joint Syrian-French archaeological team at Jaadet al-Maghara on the Euphrates river some 450 kilometers north of Damascus, the agency said. It did not say when the temple was unearthed.

Objects made of stone and bone instruments were found in the large temple, whose walls bore geometric designs and a drawing of a bull's head in vivid red, black and white colors - further evidence that bulls where worshipped in that period, the report said.

The agency quoted Syria's minister of culture, Riyad Neisan Agha, as saying that "this is a unique discovery that could lead to re-reading culture."


For those who don't see the NY Times, this appeared on Saturday, Sept. 30.

Pirates of the Mediterranean
Kintbury, England

IN the autumn of 68 B.C. the world’s only military superpower was dealt a profound psychological blow by a daring terrorist attack on its very heart. Rome’s port at Ostia was set on fire, the consular war fleet destroyed, and two prominent senators, together with their bodyguards and staff, kidnapped.

The incident, dramatic though it was, has not attracted much attention from modern historians. But history is mutable. An event that was merely a footnote five years ago has now, in our post-9/11 world, assumed a fresh and ominous significance. For in the panicky aftermath of the attack, the Roman people made decisions that set them on the path to the destruction of their Constitution, their democracy and their liberty. One cannot help wondering if history is repeating itself.

Consider the parallels. The perpetrators of this spectacular assault were not in the pay of any foreign power: no nation would have dared to attack Rome so provocatively. They were, rather, the disaffected of the earth: “The ruined men of all nations,” in the words of the great 19th-century German historian Theodor Mommsen, “a piratical state with a peculiar esprit de corps.”

Like Al Qaeda, these pirates were loosely organized, but able to spread a disproportionate amount of fear among citizens who had believed themselves immune from attack. To quote Mommsen again: “The Latin husbandman, the traveler on the Appian highway, the genteel bathing visitor at the terrestrial paradise of Baiae were no longer secure of their property or their life for a single moment.”

What was to be done? Over the preceding centuries, the Constitution of ancient Rome had developed an intricate series of checks and balances intended to prevent the concentration of power in the hands of a single individual. The consulship, elected annually, was jointly held by two men. Military commands were of limited duration and subject to regular renewal. Ordinary citizens were accustomed to a remarkable degree of liberty: the cry of “Civis Romanus sum” — “I am a Roman citizen” — was a guarantee of safety throughout the world.

But such was the panic that ensued after Ostia that the people were willing to compromise these rights. The greatest soldier in Rome, the 38-year-old Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (better known to posterity as Pompey the Great) arranged for a lieutenant of his, the tribune Aulus Gabinius, to rise in the Roman Forum and propose an astonishing new law.

“Pompey was to be given not only the supreme naval command but what amounted in fact to an absolute authority and uncontrolled power over everyone,” the Greek historian Plutarch wrote. “There were not many places in the Roman world that were not included within these limits.”

Pompey eventually received almost the entire contents of the Roman Treasury — 144 million sesterces — to pay for his “war on terror,” which included building a fleet of 500 ships and raising an army of 120,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry. Such an accumulation of power was unprecedented, and there was literally a riot in the Senate when the bill was debated.

Nevertheless, at a tumultuous mass meeting in the center of Rome, Pompey’s opponents were cowed into submission, the Lex Gabinia passed (illegally), and he was given his power. In the end, once he put to sea, it took less than three months to sweep the pirates from the entire Mediterranean. Even allowing for Pompey’s genius as a military strategist, the suspicion arises that if the pirates could be defeated so swiftly, they could hardly have been such a grievous threat in the first place.

But it was too late to raise such questions. By the oldest trick in the political book — the whipping up of a panic, in which any dissenting voice could be dismissed as “soft” or even “traitorous” — powers had been ceded by the people that would never be returned. Pompey stayed in the Middle East for six years, establishing puppet regimes throughout the region, and turning himself into the richest man in the empire.

Those of us who are not Americans can only look on in wonder at the similar ease with which the ancient rights and liberties of the individual are being surrendered in the United States in the wake of 9/11. The vote by the Senate on Thursday to suspend the right of habeas corpus for terrorism detainees, denying them their right to challenge their detention in court; the careful wording about torture, which forbids only the inducement of “serious” physical and mental suffering to obtain information; the admissibility of evidence obtained in the United States without a search warrant; the licensing of the president to declare a legal resident of the United States an enemy combatant — all this represents an historic shift in the balance of power between the citizen and the executive.

An intelligent, skeptical American would no doubt scoff at the thought that what has happened since 9/11 could presage the destruction of a centuries-old constitution; but then, I suppose, an intelligent, skeptical Roman in 68 B.C. might well have done the same.

In truth, however, the Lex Gabinia was the beginning of the end of the Roman republic. It set a precedent. Less than a decade later, Julius Caesar — the only man, according to Plutarch, who spoke out in favor of Pompey’s special command during the Senate debate — was awarded similar, extended military sovereignty in Gaul. Previously, the state, through the Senate, largely had direction of its armed forces; now the armed forces began to assume direction of the state.

It also brought a flood of money into an electoral system that had been designed for a simpler, non-imperial era. Caesar, like Pompey, with all the resources of Gaul at his disposal, became immensely wealthy, and used his treasure to fund his own political faction. Henceforth, the result of elections was determined largely by which candidate had the most money to bribe the electorate. In 49 B.C., the system collapsed completely, Caesar crossed the Rubicon — and the rest, as they say, is ancient history.

It may be that the Roman republic was doomed in any case. But the disproportionate reaction to the raid on Ostia unquestionably hastened the process, weakening the restraints on military adventurism and corrupting the political process. It was to be more than 1,800 years before anything remotely comparable to Rome’s democracy — imperfect though it was — rose again.

The Lex Gabinia was a classic illustration of the law of unintended consequences: it fatally subverted the institution it was supposed to protect. Let us hope that vote in the United States Senate does not have the same result.

Robert Harris is the author, most recently, of “Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome.”