Monday, November 26, 2007

The Baghdad Museum Opening -- Propaganda?

The following story reported in late November, 2007, is to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. According to the report, after five years the Iraq museum in Baghdad is about to open its doors again.

The museum, famous for priceless antiquities representing the world’s earliest civilization, is scheduled to open next month, according to its acting director, Amira Emiran. Its former director Donny George who is quoted later in the story, left because his life was threatened.

The story continues: visits will be confined to just two galleries on the ground floor containing Assyrian and Islamic treasures that are too large and heavy to be easily removed. The remaining 16 galleries will remain empty and closed and security will be tight. Nevertheless, Iraqi and American officials are keen to portray the opening as a sign that security in Baghdad has improved after the chaos of the past few years. Now, isn't this propaganda? This doesn't mean the museum is REALLY opening.

Read on:

A Unesco official said: “Dr Emiran announced that the museum would be opening in December. But even if she says it is going to open, this has to be treated with some circumspection. The situation is so volatile.”

The Assyrian Hall has monumental sculptures, including stone panels from the royal palace at Khorsabad and two winged bulls. The other large gallery that is opening, the Islamic Hall, has the eighth century mihrab from the Al-Mansur mosque in Baghdad. It is also hoped to display 10 monumental Parthian sculptures from Hatra in the courtyard which links the two galleries and through which visitors will pass.

About 10,000 pieces remain missing despite a worldwide hunt; they include the 8BC ivory plaque of a lioness attacking a Nubian, which is inlaid with lapis and carnelian and overlaid with gold.

The museum was founded by Gertrude Bell, the legendary British archaeologist and explorer, in 1923. It was considered one of the finest in the Middle East but was rarely open to the public during most of the last 20 years of Saddam Hussein’s rule.

George, the renowned director, who is a Christian, fled Iraq following death threats in August last year. Before he left he sealed the museum entrance with a 3ft-thick wall of bricks and concrete to keep out thieves.

George yesterday questioned whether it was the right time to reopen the museum. “If it was me I would not open it,” he said. “The priceless artifacts inside are safe from theft or destruction so long as the museum remains sealed.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


As the co-author of Stonehenge with Caroline Malone (2002), I'm excited to report what we did not know when we wrote the book only five years ago. This information casts a whole new look on Stonehenge and how it was built. I've been to Durrington Walls as well but one would never know there were surprises beneath the surface. So read on...

Archaeologists working near Stonehenge have uncovered what they believe is the largest Neolithic settlement ever discovered in Northern Europe. Remains of an estimated 300 houses are thought to survive under earthworks 3km (2 miles) from the famous stone rings,
and 10 have been excavated so far. But there could have been double that total according to the archaeologist leading the work. "What is really exciting is realizing just how big the village for the Stonehenge builders was," says Professor Mike Parker Pearson of Sheffield University. Allowing four per house, he estimates there could have been room for more than 2,000 people.

Analysis of the houses has also showed that some were higher status than others. This is the first evidence for social difference and hierarchy at the time of Stonehenge, indicating that the
organization of labor for moving and raising the stones was not egalitarian.

The settlement is buried beneath the bank of Durrington Walls, a great circular ditched enclosure. Geophysical survey and excavation work have revealed that the ditch and bank had been constructed in large sections, probably by separate work gangs. A find of dozens of
antler picks in one section of ditch gives some idea of the size of these work parties.

"From the number of antler picks left in the bottom of one section - 57 - if you allow two people with one pick plus a team of basketeers carrying the rubble away and you've got to have the sandwich makers as well. "This suggests a minimum team size of 200. If the 22 sections of Durrington's ditch were all dug at the same time, that's a work force of thousands."

The team has also found a tantalizing artifact: a piece of chalk with cut marks that Parker Pearson believes was made by a copper axe. He is not surprised at the evidence - as copper working in neighboring parts of mainland Europe dates back to 3000 BCE - but it would be the first evidence from Britain before 2400 BCE. The theory is also supported by the almost total absence of evidence of stone or flint axes in the village. The current excavations at Stonehenge
began four years ago and are part of a 10-year project.

Source: BBC News (5 November 2007)

Sunday, November 18, 2007


The Egyptians have announced that they will restrict the number of visitors to the tomb of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings to 400 a day beginning in December, 2007. They also plan to close the tomb to visitors indefinitely in May, 2008, in order to carry out restoration work, Supreme Council for Antiquities secretary general Zahi Hawass announced in a statement.

In another recent news story, the face of ancient Egypt's boy king was revealed to the public for the first time since he died more than 3,000 years ago. The pharaoh's mummy was moved from its ornate sarcophagus in the tomb where its 1922 discovery caused an international sensation to a nearby climate-controlled case where experts say it will be better preserved.

Every day hundreds of visitors file through his tomb in the Valley of the Kings on the west bank of the Nile in the southern city of Luxor, bringing with them bacteria, humidity and other pollutants. "The mummy risked being reduced to dust because of the rising levels of humidity due to the visitors," Hawass said when the face was revealed.

Tutankhamun, the 12th pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, reigned for about 10 years c. 1360 BC.


The remains of an ancient terraced street dating back to the Roman Period, 2,000 years ago, have been uncovered in the Western Wall tunnels, the Israel Antiquities Authority recently announced.

The site, which was uncovered in archeological excavations over the past year, is a side street connecting two major roads in the area, said Jon Seligman, the Antiquities Authority Jerusalem regional archeologist.

The ancient street is paved with large flagstones and is amazingly well-preserved. It is demarcated on both sides by walls built of ashlar stones. In 2000, when I visited Jerusalem, we were shown another Roman street outside the tunnels that must have been part of this roadway.

The recent finding is the latest indication that even after they destroyed the Second Temple in 70 CE, the Romans continued to value the Temple Mount as one of the main urban focal points of activity in the city. Various artifacts were discovered in the excavations, including pottery, glass vessels and dozens of coins that all date to the construction of the street and the period after it was abandoned.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Chinese archaeologists said they have found fossilized remains of a primitive human species that lived about 2.04 million years ago in the Three Gorges Area in Southwest China, the earliest ever found in the country.

The findings, including a lower jawbone fragment, an incisor and more than 230 pieces of stone tools, prove that what is called Wushan man was more than 300,000 years older than Yuanmou man, which was discovered in southwestern Yunnan Province in the 1960s and previously recognized as China's earliest human species.

An expert team led by Huang Wanbo, a professor with the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, reached the conclusion after more than two decades of excavation at the Longgupo Site in Wushan County in Chongqing Municipality.

Huang said his team unearthed the human fossils during their first excavation, from 1985 to 1988. In the same stratigraphic interval, they also discovered fossils of 120 species of vertebrates, including 116 mammals, and a large number of stone artifacts. Huang's team conducted two excavations from 1997 to 1999 and from 2003 to 2006 at the Longgupo Site with partners from Britain, Canada and France.

They found more stone tools and animal fossils dating back 2 million years in the same stratigraphic interval in which Wushan Man fossils were found before, and also in the upper layers.

The Three Gorges area was once an expanse of hilly land with luxuriant vegetation and a warm, humid climate in which various vertebrates and mammals lived and thrived. "It was just in such a natural environment that Wushan Man led a primitive life by hunting and gathering. When night fell, the inhabitants returned to the Longgupo Cave, enjoying the fruits of their day's labor," said Huang.

Monday, November 12, 2007


A 4,000-year-old temple filled with murals has been unearthed on the northern coast of Peru, making it one of the oldest finds in the Americas, Walter Alva, a leading archaeologist has announced. The temple, inside a larger ruin, includes a staircase that leads up to an altar used for fire worship at a site scientists have called Ventarron. It sits in the Lambayeque valley, near the ancient Sipan complex that Alva unearthed in the 1980s. Ventarron was built long before Sipan, about 2,000 years before Christ, he said.

"What's surprising are the construction methods, the architectural design and most of all the existence of murals that could be the oldest in the Americas," Alva said.

Lambayeque is 472 miles from Lima, Peru's capital. Discoveries at Sipan, an administrative and religious center of the Moche culture, have included a gold-filled tomb built 1,700 years ago for a pre- Incan king. "The discovery of this temple reveals evidence suggesting the region of
Lambayeque was one of great cultural exchange between the Pacific coast and the rest of Peru," said Alva.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


By 164,000 years ago, Homo sapiens had developed a taste for shellfish — much earlier than previously thought, scientists reported recently in the journal Nature — as the species was adapting to life in caves on the craggy coast of southern Africa.

Exploring a cave in a steep cliff overlooking the ocean, an international team of scientists found deposits of shellfish remains, hearths, small stone blades and fragments of hematite, some of which, the scientists believe, had been ground for use as the coloring agent red ochre that sometimes had symbolic meaning.

“The shellfish,” the researchers concluded, “may have been crucial to the survival of these early humans as they expanded their home ranges” in response to the cooler and drier conditions that had prevailed for thousands of years in the interior of Africa. The discovery was made in a cave at Pinnacle Point near Mossel Bay on the southern coast of South Africa, about 200 miles east of Cape Town.

Curtis W. Marean, the team leader and a paleoanthropologist with the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University, said, “Shellfish was one of the last additions to the human diet before domesticated plants and animals were introduced.”

Previous research had indicated that human ancestors had for ages depended solely on terrestrial plants and animals. Both fossil and genetic data show that modern humans evolved 150,000 to 200,000 years ago, but archaeological evidence for the emergence of modern behavior in technology, creativity, symbolic thinking and lifestyles is sparse.

But six years ago, at Blombos Cave, near Pinnacle Point, archaeologists uncovered 77,000-year-old tools along with pigments and engraved stones suggesting symbolic behavior, a sign of early creativity. Now, at the Pinnacle Point cave site, the shellfish remains reveal another important innovation.

The presence of red ochre at Pinnacle Point, Dr. Marean’s team also reported, indicated that at this time humans already “inhabited a cognitive world enriched by symbols.” The researchers said the material had both symbolic and utilitarian functions and was probably used for body painting and for coloring artifacts.

The search for early human use of marine resources, supported by the National Science Foundation, centered on the cave at Pinnacle Point because of its position high on a cliff. Other seashore sites of early human occupation had been inundated by the rise in sea level, beginning about 115,000 years ago at the end of Africa’s long arid conditions. Forced to seek new sources of food, some of the people migrated to the shore in search of “famine food.” At Pinnacle Point, the discovery team reported, they feasted on a variety of marine life, brown mussels, giant periwinkles and whelks.

So on the southern shore of Africa, Dr. Marean said in a statement issued by Arizona State, a small population of cave-dwelling modern humans struggled and survived through the prevailing cold, eating shellfish and developing somewhat advanced technologies.

Temple Mount Controversy in Jerusalem

Archaeologists overseeing contested Islamic infrastructure work on Jerusalem's Temple Mount have stumbled upon a sealed archeological level dating back to the First Temple period, the Israel Antiquities Authority has announced. The find marks the first time that archaeological remains dating back to the First Temple period have been found on the contested holy site, the state-run archeological body said.

No archaeological excavations have ever been carried out on the Temple Mount, which is Judaism's holiest and Islam's third-holiest site, due to opposition from religious leaders.

The sealed archaeological level, dated from the eighth to the sixth centuries BCE, was exposed at the end of August in the area close to the southeastern corner of the raised platform surrounding the Dome of the Rock, and includes fragments of ceramic tableware and animal bone. "The layer is a closed, sealed archeological layer that has been untouched since as early as the eighth century BCE," said Yuval Baruch, the Jerusalem District archeologist for the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The archaeologists said the maintenance work, which was carried out with a tractor, had left a 100-meter-long and roughly 1-1.5-meter-deep trench and had badly damaged antiquities at the site.

According to decades-old regulations in place at the Temple Mount, Israel maintains overall security control at the site, while the Wakf, or Islamic Trust, is charged with day-to-day administration of the ancient compound, which is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute over control of Jerusalem.