Friday, April 27, 2007


And in contrast to the story about the late Professor giving back some small antiquities. Here's the newest in the long standing dispute between Britain and Greece regarding the Elgin Marbles.

Talks in two weeks' time will be the first serious negotiations after years of resistance by the British Museum.

The BBC's Malcolm Brabant said the director of the museum - holders of the sculptures for nearly 200 years - had hinted of a possible six-month loan.

One option may be for the marbles to be held in a British Museum annex of a new museum due to open in Athens this summer. This way London could maintain ownership while the priceless sculptures, which once adorned the Parthenon temple, could be enjoyed by Greeks and their visitors.

The idea has been described as "excellent" by Andrew George, the Liberal Democrat MP, who is campaigning in Parliament for the Marbles to be returned to the place where they were created more than 2,000 years ago.

Greece has long campaigned for their return. But the British Museum says the Marbles are better off in London, safe from pollution damage in Athens.

Greek Pottery Pieces left by British Scholar to Greece

I thought this was a rather touching story.

Stephen Robertson, the son of eminnent British scholar Professor Martin Robertson, recently returned six ancient ceramic artifacts, ceremonial pottery minatures, to Athens.

Following his father's death, Stephen discovered that his father's will said that he wished to return the six small artifacts to his "beloved Greece." Professor Robertson was a British expert on Greek art and antiquities who was the author of several texts on ancient Greece. He had worked for the British Museum and taught at the Universities of London and Oxford.

Robertson had received the artifacts as a gift from U.S. archaeologist Lucy Talcott during the American team's excavations of the ancient Agora in the 1930s and 1940s. Talcott had purchased the items from an antiques store in Greece. In a final irony, the pieces will be added to the display at the city's Ancient Agora Museum. For those of you who have visited this beautiful museum, this is the proper venue for the ancient pieces.


There is a wonderful site on the web that is called "The Dead Sea Scrolls and Why They Matter."
Its set up by the Biblical Archaeology Society and is excellent.

check it out!

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Looters using mechanical diggers and protected by their own private armies are destroying Iraq's ancient archeological sites - shattering priceless artefacts from the dawn of civilisation - despite a pledge by Britain to protect them. Leading historians say the British Government has backtracked on a promise made four years ago to prevent 5,000-year-old cities such as Umma from being turned into "lunar landscapes" by thieves. Satellite images show that archaeological sites equivalent in size to 3,000 football pitches have been dug up and plundered by teams of Iraqi looters bussed in by antiquities dealers.

"A country's past is disappearing while we stand and watch," said Professor Roger Matthews, chairman of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq. "Archaeological sites including entire ancient cities are being destroyed by illicit digging." The television historian Michael Wood added: "What has happened is a catastrophe. Umma is one of the great sites. Some of their libraries include law and literature going back to 3000 BC. But it has become a vast, pockmarked lunar landscape."

Four years ago Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, promised £15m to protect the ancient sites in what was Mesopotamia, historians claim. They argue the failure to guard the sites flouts the Hague Convention requiring cultural sites of occupied states to be protected. The Department of Culture now says this money was part of general reconstruction funds and no specific pledge to protect ancient sites was made.

Professor Elizabeth Stone, professor of anthropology at Stony Brook University, New York, has analysed satellite images of 2,000 sites in Iraq. She found looting over an area of six square miles - ranging from small areas to entire buried ancient cities. "In the big sites there is organised looting where people are bussed by the antiquities dealers," she said. "Police who tried to sort out the looters at Umma were outgunned. The looters came with their own guards. The illegal antiquities trade is no different form the illegal drugs trade. There are major cities being totally destroyed."

Artefacts including ancient Babylonian seals and irreplaceable cuneiform tablets are disappearing before they can be examined by archaeologists. They are believed to be stored in warehouses and smuggled out of Iraq to America and European markets. Fragments of tablets that may seem worthless are being discarded by treasure seekers who are unaware they are throwing away secrets to the shared heritage of east and west. The city of Bad-Tibira has been wiped out and Isin, which was partially excavated in the early 1970s, has also been extensively plundered.

Professor Matthews added: "Since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime the occupying powers in Iraq have signally failed to invest the funds and energies needed to protect the cultural heritage of Iraq which is ultimately under their guardianship." Babylon was damaged during the occupation by American troops who landed helicopters on top of it. Uniquely among the ancient cities, it is now being guarded by Iraqis.

Before Saddam was deposed the sites were protected by guards and looting was punished by death. Now when Italian troops tried to stop looting at one site they were driven back by private soldiers. When the Italians succeeded in seizing some looted artefacts the lorry containing them was hijacked and the drivers were found dead beside the empty lorry.

Ms Jowell's pledge to protect Iraqi heritage came after the much-publicised looting of Iraq's national museum. Archaeologists say the money never materialised. Recently the Department of Culture rolled back from the commitment and said it was up to Iraqis to protect their sites.

A spokesman said: "Tessa Jowell's announcement on 29 April 2003 about the £15m did not imply that this money was to be spent on culture but rather that it was a central pot earmarked by the Government for reconstruction efforts in Iraq which departments could bid for. In the event, no cultural projects were supported through this fund."


Several prominent scholars who were interviewed in a bitterly contested documentary that suggests that Jesus and his family members were buried in a nondescript ancient Jerusalem burial cave have now revised their conclusions, including the statistician who claimed that the odds were 600:1 in favor of the tomb being the family burial cave of Jesus of Nazareth, a new study on the fallout from the popular documentary shows.

The dramatic clarifications, compiled by epigrapher Stephen Pfann of the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem in a paper titled "Cracks in the Foundation: How the Lost Tomb of Jesus story is losing its scholarly support," come two months after the screening of "The Lost Tomb of Christ" that attracted widespread public interest, despite the concomitant scholarly ridicule.

The film, made by Oscar-winning director James Cameron and Emmy-winning Canadian filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, prompted major criticism from both a leading Israeli archeologist involved in the original dig at the site as well as Christian leaders, who were angered over the documentary's contradictions of main tenets of Christianity.

But now, even some of the scholars who were interviewed for and appeared in the film are questioning some of its basic claims. The most startling change of opinion featured in the 16-page paper is that of University of Toronto statistician Professor Andrey Feuerverger, who stated those 600 to one odds in the film. Feuerverger now says that these referred to the probability of a cluster of such names appearing together.

Another sentence on the same Web site stating that Feuerverger had concluded it was highly probable that the tomb, located in the southeastern residential Jerusalem neighborhood of Talpiot, was the Jesus family tomb - the central point of the film - has also been changed. It now reads: "It is unlikely that an equally surprising cluster of names would have arisen by chance under purely random sampling."

Israeli archeologists have said that the similarity of the names found inscribed on the ossuaries in the cave to the members of Jesus's family was coincidental, since many of those names were commonplace in the first century CE.

The film argues that 10 ancient ossuaries - burial boxes used to store bones - that were discovered in Talpiot in 1980 contained the bones of Jesus and his family. The filmmakers attempt to explain some of the inscriptions on the ossuaries by suggesting that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, and that the couple had a son, Judah.

But Shimon Gibson, who was part of the team that excavated the tomb two and half decades ago and who appeared in the film, is quoted in Pfann's report as saying he doubted the site was the tomb of Jesus and his family.


I'm delighted to come across this article about Professor Jodi Magness. Jodi has spoken twice to our Archaeological Associates of Greenwich. It's a pleasure to come across a teacher such as Jodi. Watch for her on TV -- possibly on the Discovery Channel -- if you can't hear her at the University of North Carolina.

While some people have a hard time memorizing a five-minute speech, professor Jodi Magness can talk passionately about religious studies for more than an hour - without using so much as a note card. Recently about 200 students, some of whom resorted to sitting on the floor listened intently as Magness narrated a tale about the Roman siege of Masada.

"You constantly want to know what she's going to say next," said freshman Ben Liebtag, who is taking 'New Testament Archaeology' with Magness. Magness, who has been teaching at the University for five years, said she knew she wanted to become an archaeologist at age 12 and dedicates all of her spare time to learning about the subject.

"That's pretty much what I do 24/7," said Magness, who has a bachelor's degree in archaeology and ancient history from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a doctorate degree in classical archaeology from the University of Pennsylvania. She said she hopes to retire doing exactly what she does now - digging for ancient artifacts and writing and teaching about archaeology.

Magness, who has written four books about archaeology, spends her summers in Israel digging for ancient artifacts. Students said she is so passionate and knowledgeable about the subject that they sometimes have a trouble keeping up while taking notes.

And her credentials make her class a one-of-a-kind experience. Magness said she is the only person in the U.S. with a doctorate degree in classical archaeology who has a full-time appointment in a religious studies department. Magness gained most of her teaching experience as a professor at Tufts University for 10 years. Although she said coming to UNC from Boston was a big transition, it didn't take long for her to adjust.

"Jodi Magness is wonderful in every shape and form," said one student. "She's on the Discovery Channel every other day. It's a privilege being in the same room with her."

Saturday, April 14, 2007


A French architect says he has cracked a 4,500-year-old mystery surrounding Egypt's Great Pyramid, claiming that it was built from the inside out.

Previous theories have suggested that the tomb of Pharaoh Cheops (Khufu), (consisting of 3 million stone blocks, each weighng about 2.5 tons) was built using either a frontal ramp or a ramp in a corkscrew shape around the exterior to haul up the stonework.

But flouting previous wisdom, Jean-Pierre Houdin said advanced 3-D technology has shown that the main ramp used to haul the massive stones to the apex was contained 30 to 50 feet (10 to 15 meters) beneath the outer skin, tracing a pyramid within a pyramid.

According to his theory - shown in a computer model available on the Internet - the builders put up an outer ramp for the first 140 feet (40 meters), then constructed an inner ramp in a corkscrew shape to complete the 450-foot-high (137-meter-high) structure. He unveiled his hypotheses in a lavish ceremony using 3-D computer simulation

To prove his case, Houdin teamed up with a French company that builds 3-D models for auto and airplane design, Dassault Systemes, which put 14 engineers on the project for two years. Now an international team is being assembled to probe the pyramid using radars and heat-detecting cameras supplied by a French defense firm, assuming that Egyptian authorities will agree.

"This goes against both main existing theories. I've been teaching them myself for 20 years, but deep down I know they're wrong," Egyptologist Bob Brier told Reuters at the unveiling. "Houdin's vision is credible, but right now this is just a theory. Everybody thinks it has got to be taken seriously," said Brier, a senior research fellow at Long Island University.

Houdin found that a frontal, mile-long ramp would have used up as much stone as the pyramid, while being too steep near the top. He believes an external ramp was used only to supply the base. An external corkscrew ramp would have blocked the sight lines needed to build an accurate pyramid and would been difficult to fix to the surface, while leaving little room to work.

"What characterized the Egyptians was their sense of perfection and economy. We talk of durable development now, but it was the Egyptians who invented it. They didn't waste a single stone. They relied purely on intelligence," Houdin said.

Houdin thinks that no more than 4,000 people could have built the pyramid using these techniques, rather than the 100,000 or so assigned by past historians to the task of burying the pharaoh.

This report includes information from Reuters and The Associated Press.
© 2007 MSNBC Interactive