Sunday, September 26, 2010


More than 600 ancient artifacts that were smuggled out of Iraq, recovered and lost again have been found misplaced among kitchen supplies in storage at the prime minister's office, the antiquities minister has announced.

The 638 items include pieces of jewelry, bronze figurines and cylindrical seals from the world's most ancient civilizations that were looted from the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. After their recovery, the U.S. military delivered them last year to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office, where they were misplaced and forgotten about.

The artifacts, packed in sealed boxes, were misplaced because of poor coordination between the Iraqi government ministries in charge of recovering and handling archaeological treasures, said Tourism and Antiquities Minister Qahtan al-Jabouri.

Thieves carted off thousands of artifacts from Iraqi museums and archaeological sites in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion and in earlier years of war and upheaval. Many items ended up abroad. Collections that were stolen or destroyed at the National Museum chronicled some 7,000 years of civilization in Mesopotamia, including the ancient Babylonians, Sumerians and Assyrians.

Authorities only realized the items misplaced at the prime minister's office were missing when they began putting together a public display of recently recovered artifacts in Baghdad on Sept. 7. The prime minister's office investigated, located the items and handed them over to the Antiquities Ministry on Sunday, al-Jabouri said.

So far, 5,000 items stolen since 2003 have been recovered. More than 15,000 pieces from the National Museum are still missing.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Archeologists have found thousands of artifacts at the Finch site on Highway 26 north of Milton (Wisconsin, USA). Archaeologists say a two-acre strip of wooded hills holds 160 identified pits where prehistoric Native American people dumped everything from deer bones to weapon shards to burnt and broken clay cookware.

Experts believe this site may contain, at the very minimum, 100,000 Native American artifacts which scientists believe date from 5000 BCE to 1200 CE. However, the Finch site soon will be buried by a state highway.

Archaeologists who've been digging at the site since late last year have nearly wrapped up contract work for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Their charge: To excavate 25 percent of the site and identify its contents before the state purchases and paves over most of it with the planned Highway 26 expansion in 2013.

"What we've found here suggests extremely intense, long-term use of this site," said Ricky Kubicek, an archaeologist from the Great Lakes Archaeological Research Center, the Milwaukee-based research group the Wisconsin DOT hired for the excavation. "We're not necessarily sure that there were villages or settlements here, but it's clear that throughout time, different groups of people kept coming back over and over," Kubicek said.

Many of the items crews unearthed at the site came from the Woodland Era, a period in prehistoric Native American history 2,500 to 800 years ago. Other items, including some knife and arrow points, come from the Mississippian Era and would have been used by native hunters in southern Wisconsin 1,200 to 500 years ago, crews at the dig said. To find such a concentrated and varied cache of ancient human materials is rare, Kubicek said, and was only possible because the hilly, wooded site was left undisturbed by modern plows.

Earlier this year, while Archaeologist Katie Cera was dumping rocks that sifted to the bottom of her water tub, she found a big surprise - an 8,000-year-old spearhead known as a Folsom point. It's a rare find and one that doesn't match the chronology of other items at the dig site. Archaeologists at the dig say it's not clear how the weapon found its way there.

The items, all of which now belong to the state of Wisconsin, could end up in museums or at state-supported historical societies as part of an agreement between the state, Native American groups and scientists involved in the dig, officials said. Meanwhile, Great Lakes Archaeological Research Center plans to continue work at the site through 2012, but at a slower pace.

Now that excavation work has slowed, Kubicek said his group is considering occasional public outreaches, which could include supervised digs at some of the site's existing excavation areas. To learn more about the chance to work as a volunteer alongside professional archaeologists at the Finch Site archaeological area, email the Great Lakes Archaeological Research Center at

Edited from Gazette (4 September 2010), Wisconsin State Journal (12 September 2010)
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Archaeologists have recently finished excavating one of the oldest inhabited sights in southern Utah (USA). The site, known as the North Creek Shelter Site, was first investigated in 2003. The dig commenced in earnest in 2004, under the auspices of Brigham Young University.

The lowest layer studied dated to 9,000 years BC, placing it in the Paleoarchaic era. Later layers gave evidence of artifacts from other time periods and groups, include the Anasazi, Fremont and Paiute peoples.

Joel Janetski, an emeritus archaeologist from BYU states that the site shows how the earliest Americans hunted such animals as elk, deer and bighorn sheep. There is also evidence for pottery making and agriculture. Metates (grinding stones) and other hand tools made from stone were also discovered. Interestingly, it was found that these ancients made a type of flour from the ground seeds of sagebrush and grasses.

North Creek Shelter Site also provided archaeologists with significant evidence of climate change around 10,000 years ago, as indicated by changes in the types of animal remains and plants. Pottery shards most likely indicate trade with the pre-Puebloan cultures of the 4 Corners area (the juncture of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado) to the east.

There are petroglyphs and pictographs at the site and a small human figurine has been found. The figurine is now on display in the lobby of the Slot Canyons Inn that shares the property with the site.

Edited from The Salt Lake Tribune (6 September 2010)
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An archaeological dig currently under way at Jackson Hole (Wyoming, USA) has discovered evidence of Early Archaic (3,500 to 6,000 BCE) visitors. The area was a good one to visit for early man as it had a good habitat for elk, bison and other wildlife as well as being a major source, together with the surrounding area, of obsidian, which was the main raw material for tool and weapon production.

The site was first discovered in 2001 when the Wyoming Department of Transportation had plans to widen the main road. The current dig is being lead by the Office of the Wyoming State Archaeologist. In one area a 2 meter deep trench is providing clear evidence of the strata in the area, with the remains of a roasting pit at a depth of 1 meter (1,000 - 3,000 BC) and ice age river cobbles exposed in the base.

Tools made from obsidian, sourced from five different areas, have been found, which is allowing the archaeologists to map the routes and distances that the prehistoric hunters traveled, in some cases this amounts to thousands of miles on foot. Obsidian projectile points have also been found, dating from 3,500 BC to 7,500 BC but these need to be confirmed by radiocarbon dating.

The most excitement for the archaeologists is being caused by the finds from the Early Archaic (3,500 - 6,000 BC) period, where a period of high temperatures (known as the Altithermal), lasting approximately 2,500 years, forced hunters into the mountains around Jackson Hole, as the plains and low lying areas became more arid.

Skulls with full sets of teeth have been found which suggests that a good healthy lifestyle. The dig is expected to last another two years, at which time it will become buried under the new road.

Edited from The Jackson Hole News & Guide (15 September 2010)
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Sunday, September 12, 2010


ATHENS, Greece -- After a decade-long facelift, the ancient Greek temple of Athena Nike is back up, patched up and unfettered on the Acropolis.

Built between 427-424 B.C., while Athens was fighting Sparta for control of the Greek world, the building was dedicated to the city's patron goddess Athena in her revered capacity to bring victory in battle. The Athenians lost the war. But the compact little temple survived intact until the late 17th century, when it was demolished to provide material for a gun emplacement. It was rebuilt after Greece's independence from Ottoman rule in 1829.

The slender marble building was unburdened of its scaffolding in recent days - 10 years after being completely dismantled for repairs.

Unlike other ancient monuments battered by war or natural disaster, the four-columned temple near the entrance of the world-renowned Athens citadel fell prey to the best of intentions: Previous restorations simply hadn't stood the tests of time.

Athena Nike had two dates with restoration crews over the last two centuries - one in 1935, another in the 1830s - and the latest top-to-bottom refurbishment was aimed to fix mistakes from previous restoration efforts for good.

"We have used the latest technology, following successful experimentation with stress and aging," project head Dionysia Mihalopoulou told The Associated Press on the Acropolis on Tuesday. "The choice and use of materials was the best possible, they will not corrode."

Starting in 2000, workers took down 315 marble sections weighing up to 2-1/2 tons, laying bare a concrete foundation slab that was replaced by a stainless steel grid. Crews replaced the concrete additions with sections of new marble from ancient quarry sites - whose brilliant white contrasts with the old stone's patina in places like the walls and columns to make clear they are modern additions.

Every block was returned to the original position selected by the temple's ancient architects.

The repairs were part of an Acropolis conservation and restoration project begun in the 1970s for all three of the site's temples, using funds from the Greek government and European Union. Work has already finished on the Erechtheion temple and the citadel's monumental gate, while scaffolding will remain on the Parthenon - the best-known of the three - for several years.


The task of bringing one of northern Europe's most important Roman sites into the 21st century without turning it into a theme park is a delicate one. Today a five-year, £5.5m project to reinvigorate the Roman baths in Bath was showcased for the first time.

Shabby Roman and Victorian stonework has been rubbed, scraped and cleaned with lasers. The most photogenic area, the Great Bath, has been "de-cluttered" to make it easier to imagine what it would have looked like to a Roman 2,000 years ago.

New models, physical and virtual, help visitors understand what they are seeing, while there is a dizzying selection of audio guides in various languages.

Almost 900,000 people visit the baths every year, putting an estimated £92m into the economy. The council-run attraction made a profit of £3.3m last financial year – and so it was considered impossible to close the baths down entirely for restoration. Instead it was closed section by section.

The restoration may prove controversial for including a cast of characters aimed at bringing the baths to life. Some, like the chubby Roman, appear as projected images. Others are actors playing characters such as the Roman lady, Flavia Tiberina, and the stonemason, Sulinus, who mingle with visitors telling their story to anyone who cares to listen.

One of the first tasks of the restoration was to clear out centuries of clutter. Chunks of Roman stone that had been crammed into alcoves and nooks have been moved out. "We've tried to strip it back," Bird said. "You get the same view a Roman would have had for the first time in a few generations."

But those who liked the higgledy-piggledy and grimy nature of the baths need not fear. Some underground areas are as gloomy and dank as ever and the ankle-endangering Roman pavement around the Great Bath remains.

On a sunny day most visitors seemed impressed. "I loved talking to some of those characters," said Stevie Groom, from the US. "I've had my picture taken with a Roman – I'm happy."


Archaeologists in Jordan have unearthed a 3,000-year-old Iron Age temple with a trove of figurines of ancient deities and circular clay vessels used for religious rituals, officials said this week.

The head of the Jordanian Antiquities Department, Ziad al-Saad, said the sanctuary dates to the eighth century BC and was discovered at Khirbat Aataroz, near the town of Mabada, some 32 kilometers southwest of the capital.

Saad said the complex boasts a main room that measures 36 square meters, as well as two antechambers and an open courtyard.

He said the sanctuary and its artifacts – hewn from limestone and basalt or molded from clay and bronze – show the complex religious rituals of Jordan’s biblical Moabite kingdom.

The Moabites, whose kingdom ran along present-day Jordan’s eastern shore of the Dead Sea, were closely related to the Israelites and the two were in frequent conflict. The Babylonians eventually conquered the Moabites in 582 BC.

Archaeologists also unearthed some 300 pots, figurines of deities and sacred vessels used for worship at the site. Saad said it was rare to discover so many Iron Age items in one place.

Excavations began in Khirbat Aataroz in 2000 in cooperation with the California-based La Sierra University, but the majority of the items were only discovered in the past few months.

Among the items on display was a four-legged animal god Hadad, as well as delicate circular clay vessels used in holy rites. Saad said the objects indicate the Moabites worshiped many deities and had a highly organized ritual use of temples.


In the practice of what they call desert-road archaeology, the Darnells, husband and wife team from Yale, have found pottery and ruins where soldiers, merchants and other travelers camped in the time of the pharaohs. On a limestone cliff at a crossroads, they came upon a tableau of scenes and symbols, some of the earliest documentation of Egyptian history. Elsewhere, they discovered inscriptions considered to be one of the first examples of alphabetic writing.

The explorations of the Theban Desert Road Survey, a Yale University project co-directed by the Darnells, called attention to the previously under-appreciated significance of caravan routes and oasis settlements in Egyptian antiquity. And two weeks ago, the Egyptian government announced what may be the survey’s most spectacular find.

Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the archaeologists had uncovered extensive remains of a settlement — apparently an administrative, economic and military center — that flourished more than 3,500 years ago in the western desert 110 miles west of Luxor and 300 miles south of Cairo. No such urban center so early in history had ever been found in the forbidding desert.

Dr. John Darnell, a professor of Egyptology at Yale, said in an interview last week that the discovery could rewrite the history of a little-known period in Egypt’s past and the role played by desert oases, those islands of springs and palms and fertility, in the civilization’s revival from a dark crisis.

The 218-acre site is at Kharga Oasis, a string of well-watered areas in a 60-mile-long north-south depression in the limestone plateau that spreads across the desert. The oasis is at the terminus of the ancient Girga Road from Thebes and its intersection with other roads from the north and the south.

A decade ago, the Darnells spotted hints of an outpost from the time of Persian rule in the sixth century B.C. at the oasis in the vicinity of a temple. “A temple wouldn’t be where it was if this area hadn’t been of some strategic importance,” Ms. Darnell, also trained in Egyptology, said in an interview.

Then she began picking up pieces of pottery predating the temple. Some ceramics were imports from the Nile Valley or as far away as Nubia, south of Egypt, but many were local products. Evidence of “really large-scale ceramic production,” Ms. Darnell noted, “is something you wouldn’t find unless there was a settlement here with a permanent population, not just seasonal and temporary.”

It was in 2005 that the Darnells and their team began collecting the evidence that they were on to an important discovery: remains of mud-brick walls, grindstones, baking ovens and heaps of fire ash and broken bread molds.

Describing the half-ton of bakery artifacts that has been collected, as well as signs of a military garrison, Dr. Darnell said the settlement was “baking enough bread to feed an army, literally.” This inspired the name for the site, Umm Mawagir. The Arabic phrase means “mother of bread molds.”

In addition, Dr. Darnell said, the team found traces of what is probably an administrative building, grain silos, storerooms and artisan workshops and the foundations of many unidentified structures. The inhabitants, probably a few thousand people, presumably grew their own grain, and the variety of pottery attested to trade relations over a wide region. Umm Mawagir’s heyday apparently extended from 1650 B.C. to 1550 B.C., nearly a thousand years after the construction of the Great Pyramid at Giza and another thousand before any previously known major occupation at Kharga Oasis.

“Now we know there’s something big at Kharga, and it’s really exciting,” Dr. Darnell said. “The desert was not a no man’s land, not the wild west. It was wild, but it wasn’t disorganized. If you wanted to engage in trade in the western desert, you had to deal with the people at Kharga Oasis.”

Finding an apparently robust community as a hub of major caravan routes, Dr. Darnell said, should “help us reconstruct a more elaborate and detailed picture of Egypt during an intermediate period” after the so-called Middle Kingdom and just before the rise of the New Kingdom.

At this time, Egypt was in turmoil. The Hyksos invaders from southwest Asia held the Nile Delta and much of the north, and a wealthy Nubian kingdom at Kerma, on the Upper Nile, encroached from the south. Caught in the middle, the rulers at Thebes struggled to hold on and eventually prevail. They were succeeded by some of Egypt’s most celebrated pharaohs, such notables as Hatshepsut, Amenhotep III and Ramses II.

The new research, Dr. Darnell said, “completely explains the rise and importance of Thebes.” From there rulers commanded the shortest route from the Nile west to desert oases and also the shortest eastern road to the Red Sea. Inscriptions from about 2000 B.C. show that a Theban ruler, most likely Mentuhotep II, annexed both the western oasis region and northern Nubia.

With further investigations at Umm Mawagir, Dr. Darnell said, scholars may recognize the desert as a kind of fourth power, in addition to the Hyksos, Nubians and Thebans, in the political equation in those uncertain times. It was perhaps their control of desert roads and alliance with vibrant oasis communities that gave the Thebans an edge in the struggle to control Egypt’s future.