Monday, December 20, 2010


In the early 1900s, Machu Picchu — an Inca site perched high in the Andes mountains — was well known to locals, but largely forgotten internationally. In 1911, explorer Hiram Bingham wrote about the site in National Geographic magazine and refocused international attention on the ruins.

After nearly 100 years, a collection of antiquities from the Inca site of Machu Picchu is going home. The artifacts have been at the center of a long and bitter custody battle between the government of Peru and Yale University.

Hiram Bingham III excavated thousands of artifacts from Machu Picchu during multiple expeditions to the Inca site in the 1910s. It started back in 1911, when Yale explorer Hiram Bingham III set up his base camp in Ollantaytambo, a town high in Peru's Andes mountains. From there, he set out to explore the ancient stone ruins of Machu Picchu. Bingham introduced the site to the world through his articles for National Geographic magazine. He returned twice and excavated thousands of artifacts: ceramics, tools, jewelry and human bones — all with the consent of the Peruvian government.

"In 1912, when Bingham came back, Peru offered Bingham a resolution under which the artifacts could leave to be studied by Yale," Heaney explains. "It was a recognition of Yale's scientific commitment. But the artifacts would leave on just one condition: that they could be sent back whenever Peru asked."

Some artifacts were returned, but most remained at Yale's Peabody Museum. The university said the artifacts had been sent to New Haven to be studied permanently. Yale claimed title to the collection and insisted that under the laws of the day, finders of antiquities were allowed to keep them — despite written correspondence in which Bingham acknowledged an obligation to return the objects.

Peruvian demands escalated about eight years ago, and in 2008, Peru sued in U.S. federal court. Yale countered with a motion to dismiss the case, saying the country had lost its right to the materials by waiting too long to ask for them back. Things really heated up in November, when Peru launched an aggressive media campaign. Peruvian President Alan Garcia led thousands of protesters through the streets of Lima demanding Yale send back the collection.

Garcia asked President Obama to help resolve the standoff. Peruvians even traveled to the Vatican and asked the pope to intercede. Finally, Yale's President Richard Levin stepped in and sent a delegation to Lima to reopen talks with the Garcia administration. Yale anthropology professor Richard Burger oversees the Machu Picchu collection and was on the negotiating team. He says reaching an agreement served everyone's interest.

Within days, the two sides signed a memorandum of understanding, or MOU. Peruvian Foreign Minister Jose Garcia Belaunde says the leadership and direct intervention by Yale's president was crucial.

The MOU is governed by Peruvian law, not by the laws of Connecticut. It removes a provision that Yale had initially insisted on — giving the school the right to hold on to the artifacts for an another 99 years. Now, all of the objects will go to a university in the city of Cuzco, the former capital of the Incas. Ultimately, Peru will build a museum and research center where scholars from around the world can study the collection.

Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd helped mediate the conflict and says that the solution could serve as a model for future disputes. "Going back to the university in Cuzco, establishing a joint relationship, acknowledging Yale's treatment of these artifacts over the last 100 years: I think sets a precedent that will allow for other such collections to be able to be moved and to be preserved and to be celebrated in ways that people haven't thought of in the past."

But Yale's Burger cautions that this should not be used as a model for future antiquities disputes. He says the case is unique, because Machu Picchu is so closely tied to Peru's sense of national identity. It's also a major tourist destination.

"Machu Picchu really has become almost synonymous with Peru," Burger says. "So we don't want to see this as a general precedent, but certainly you can understand that if hundreds of thousands, almost a million people are visiting Machu Picchu a year — if our goal is to share the knowledge that we have and share the objects, this is much more effectively done in Cuzco than it is in New Haven."

The collection will be allowed to leave Peru for exhibitions and research, but only for two years at a time. The artifacts will return in several shipments over the next two years. Museum-quality pieces will be back in Peru in time for 2011's celebrations, commemorating the 100th anniversary of Hiram Bingham's first trip to Machu Picchu.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


A huge storm that collapsed part of a cliff on Israel's central coast led to the discovery of a statue dating back to the Roman period, the Israel Antiquities Authority has announced.

The white marble statue of a woman wearing a toga and sandals is estimated to be 2,000 years old. It stands 1.2 meters tall, weighs about 200 kilograms and was found with no head or arms, according to the authority.

A person walking on the shore of the southern city of Ashkelon made the discovery.

"The statue fell into the sea when the ancient maritime cliff collapsed as a result of the storm," said Yigal Israel, the Ashkelon district archaeologist. "The collapse also ruined a bath house and mosaics that had been in the cliff for many hundreds of years."

The storm, one of the strongest Israel has experienced in recent years, brought winds of more than 100 kph that sent 10-meter waves crashing onto Israel's coast.


The Indus Valley Civilization was a Bronze Age civilization (3300-1300 BCE) which was centered mostly in the western part of the Indian Subcontinent and which flourished around the Indus River basin. Dholavira, located near Khadir Bet in the Great Rann of Kachchh of Gujarat, is an incredible example of the Indus Valley civilization's towns.

Archaeologists believe that this ancient town must have been a lovely city of lakes in its heyday. In fact, the residents of Dholavira, who had settled in the town between two water streams, collected their waters in the monsoon and used that for the rest of the year with clever water-storing and collecting techniques. The New Delhi-based Center for Science and Technology believes that ancient Dholavira has a lot to teach about water collection, usage and storage.

The curator of the Pennsylvania University Museum, Gregory Posehal, says, "Dholavira is a planned city. Exactly like the planned modern cities, Dholavira was made based on a design. Mohenjo Daro too was built like this." Like other towns of the Indus Valley civilization, Dholavira too is a parallelogram. The wall of the "citadel" is 18m thick.

Buildings in Dholavira were made of sun-dried mud bricks and stone and some of them stand in good condition even today. The refinement of buildings and materials used reveals a high knowledge of civil engineering that must have been prevalent among the Dholavirans. Ornaments made in lapis lazuli, agate, carnelian, shells, silver and gold, as well as utensils and toys made from clay, also reveal a high artistic and technological sense.

The water wells and street remains of the town speak of the technological sophistication of the Indus Valley people. Unfortunately, the script of the Indus Valley civilization remains yet to be deciphered.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


The BBC and the Discovery Channel, which collaborated in the past on “Planet Earth” and “Life,” are starting work on another joint documentary, “History of the World.”

They said that the series would cover 20,000 years of humanity in eight episodes, or roughly 2,500 years an episode.

Their prior series have used state-of-the-art cameras to capture natural habitats, but that’s not an option in “History of the World,” so they will instead rely on re-enactments and computer graphics.

“No one has captured 20,000 years of human history quite like this before,” Clark Bunting, president and general manager of the Discovery Channel, said in the announcement. “Beginning at the end of the last Ice Age and ending in our modern age, each tells the stories of real people, their civilizations, cultures, successes and crashing failures. A story that charts progress, development and change through the centuries, and that reminds us of where we came from – and where we are now.”


While stationed in Afghanistan's rural Kunar province, Fred Straka sometimes came across mud-brick buildings where villagers were selling all manner of bric-a-brac, including old coins and bronze daggers. "You'd see a lot of what looked like artifacts," recalled Straka, a Newark, Del., resident who was in the Delaware National Guard. Though he bought an imitation Enfield rifle, Straka said he stayed away from objects that looked like antiquities.

Good move, he learned last week during a special two-day session at Fort Dix and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Straka is now a lieutenant colonel attached to the Army's 352d Civil Affairs Command, which is headed to Iraq next month to support local reconstruction efforts in 14 provinces.

He and 60 other soldiers heard presentations about how to respect the nation's vast cultural heritage, whether that means thwarting looters of ancient sites or helping to preserve museums and mosques. The message was reinforced with a tour of the archaeology museum in West Philadelphia, where the troops got to see artifacts of the kind they might encounter overseas.

The idea for such briefings came from museum deputy director C. Brian Rose, in the wake of the 2003 looting of the Iraq National Museum - when an estimated 15,000 artifacts were stolen, 7,500 of which have since been recovered. Rose, who now is also president of the Archaeological Institute of America, imagined that U.S. armed forces could play a role in preventing future desecration. After going through various channels to enlist the military's cooperation, he gave the first lecture in 2005, at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Rose and other scholars who spoke last week had an obvious professional interest in encouraging troops to tread carefully amid the very sands of history, in a part of the world that includes the Mesopotamian cradle of civilization. A respectful attitude has strategic value as well, Rose said.

Showing appreciation for local culture - past and present - helps troops to win the "hearts and minds" of the nation where they are deployed, whether it is Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere, Rose told his audience.

Moreover, looted antiquities, along with drugs and guns, are sometimes sold to finance insurgencies, he said. So anything the troops can do to discourage such activity - such as choosing not to buy purported artifacts, as Straka did, or reporting suspicious activity to a commanding officer - is helpful.

During a question period, Straka, the former guardsman, asked if there were any way for a layperson to tell which items were genuine and which were fakes. Most are probably the latter, he learned, but it's better to steer clear, as identifying the real thing requires deep expertise. "If there's any doubt in your mind," Rose told the troops, "you don't want to have anything to do with it."

Another soldier asked for the profile of a looter. At the lowest level, Rose said, it could be a poor farmer digging for ancient objects in his backyard, trying to make extra cash in a ravaged economy. He might try to sell such things to middlemen, some of whom could have ties to insurgents or organized crime, Rose said.

The next day, the troops visited the museum at Penn. Among other things, they saw ceramics, tablets, and a sarcophagus from what is now Iraq. Lt. Col. Carl Mahnken said that he had heard previous presentations like the one at Fort Dix but that the added trip to the museum really brought the message home. Most of the objects in its collection were scientifically excavated by archaeologists. "This tells me something about history because it was found in its context," the Kansas native said of such artifacts. When objects are looted, on the other hand, there is no record of how and where they were found, depriving society of the chance to learn more about the ancient peoples who made them, the troops learned.

Rose tailors his briefings depending on where a group of soldiers is going. He recounts the exploits of past military leaders in the area, such as Darius of Persia and Alexander the Great. (Trivia question: What city in Afghanistan bears Alexander's name? Answer: Kandahar, which comes from Iskender, the Arabic version of Alexander.)

Rose said that response to past presentations had been very good and that soldiers had stayed in touch with some of the lecturers even after deployment, e-mailing questions from overseas. He, Wegener, and Roberts said they planned to keep giving their talks as long as needed.

Read more:


Egyptian archaeologists have unearthed an ancient sphinx-lined road in the last section of the "Avenue of Sphinxes," a 2.7-km (1.7-mile) alley that connects the grand temples of Luxor and Karnak from north to south on the east bank of the Nile River.

Zahi Hawass, chief of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, has announced that the discovery occurred during excavation work aimed at restoring the avenue, which was built by the 30th Dynasty King Nectanebo I (380-362 B.C.) on an older path dating from the 18th Dynasty. Nectanebo I lined the avenue, which was used for religious ceremonies and processions, with 1350 sphinxes, all inscribed with his name.

Archaeologists have unearthed twelve sphinxes so far. Inscribed with the name of Nectanebo I, many of the statues were missing their heads.

The Egyptan team has excavated 20 meters (65 feet) of the road. Built from sandstone coming from the quarries at Gebel Silsila, north of Aswan, the pathway is estimated to run for 600 meters (1,968 feet) to the Nile. According to Mansour Boraik, Supervisor of Luxor Antiquities, this is the first time a new road that runs from east to west, toward the Nile, has been found.

"The King used this road for religious processions. Along this way the sacred boat of Amun, king of the gods, traveled on the god's annual trip to visit his wife, Mut, at Luxor temple," Hawass said.

The entire Avenue of Sphinxes is expected to be restored by March 2011. At that time, some fragmented sphinxes, now under restoration, will be placed on display along the road.
more photos at:

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


Cleopatra may not have been ancient Egypt's only female pharaoh of the Ptolemaic dynasty -- Queen Arsinoë II, a woman who competed in and won Olympic events, came first, some 200 years earlier, according to a new study into a unique Egyptian crown.

After analyzing details and symbols of the crown worn by Arsinoë and reinterpreting Egyptian reliefs, Swedish researchers are questioning Egypt's traditional male-dominated royal line. They suggest that Queen Arsinoë II (316-270 B.C.) was the first female pharaoh belonging to Ptolemy's family -- the dynasty that ruled Egypt for some 300 years until the Roman conquest of 30 B.C.

While researchers largely agree on Arsinoë's prominence -- she was deified during her lifetime and honored for 200 years after her death -- the new study suggests she was in fact an Egyptian pharaoh with a role similar to the more famous Hatshepsut and Cleopatra VII.

One of the great women of the ancient world, Arsinoë was the daughter of Ptolemy I (366-283 B.C.), a Macedonian general under Alexander the Great who later became ruler of Egypt and founder of the Ptolemaic dynasty to which Cleopatra belonged. With a life marked by dynastic murders, intrigue, sex and greed, Arsinoë may have been the most outstanding of Cleopatra's female predecessors.

Married at the age of 16 to Lysimachus of Thrace, a 60-year-old general of Ptolemy I, Arsinoë earned great wealth and honors during her time in Greece. When, 18 years later, Lysimachus died, she married her half-brother, Ptolemy Keraunus. The marriage then ended abruptly after Keraunus killed two of Arsinoë's three sons. Arsinoë then returned to Egypt and married her brother King Ptolemy II, her junior by eight years.

Put on a level with the ancient goddesses Isis and Hathor, Arsinoë was considered a god during her lifetime and was honored for 200 years after her death at 45. A special shrine, the Arsinoëion, was built in her honor at Alexandria, and a festival, the Arsinoëia, was created for her.

Found in at least 27 variations, Arsinoë's symbolic crown was later worn by Ptolemaic queens Cleopatra III and Cleopatra VII and also used as a template
by several male Ptolemy descendants.

"This profound study opens a new field of research and shows that the other Ptolemaic queens, especially the Cleopatras, tended to imitate Arsinoë II in their iconographic elements," Mona Haggag, professor of classical archaeology at Alexandria University, Egypt, told Discovery News.

According to Carole Gillis, associate professor at the department of archaeology and ancient history at Lund University, Sweden, the study is important as it reveals that the Queen wore the crown in her own lifetime, in public view, with its symbols clearly understandable for everyone.

"This Queen was indeed a living King," Gillis told Discovery News.