Sunday, July 31, 2011


Federal authorities have announced that they had broken up an international ring that had been smuggling Egyptian antiquities into the United States. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations department said it was the first time that a cultural property smuggling network had been dismantled in the United States.

The charges filed in United States District Court in Brooklyn accuse three antiquities dealers and a collector of conspiring to smuggle an Egyptian sarcophagus and other items, and of laundering money. All of the suspects have been arrested except for a Jordanian dealer who operates out of Dubai. Brenton Easter, a federal agent who led the investigation, which began in 2008, said the items seized had a market value of $2.5 million.

They include a Greco-Roman style sarcophagus, a nesting set of three sarcophagi that dates from about 664 to 552 B.C., and limestone figures. The authorities said these were smuggled from Dubai between October 2008 and November 2009 and were ultimately bought by the collector, Joseph A. Lewis II of Virginia. He bought them from a dealer, Mousa Khouli, who lives in Brooklyn and operates Windsor Antiquities in Manhattan. The dealer, in turn, acquired them from Salem Alshdaifat, owner of Holyland Numismatics in Bloomfield, Mich., and Ayman Ramadan, who runs a company in Dubai called Nafertiti Eastern Sculptures Trading, according to the authorities.

It is not clear when or how the objects were taken out of Egypt, but they have been authenticated and carbon dated, Mr. Easter said.

Mr. Khouli allegedly provided Mr. Lewis with false provenances, stating that the objects were part of a collection that his father had assembled in Israel in the 1960s — a story that authorities say Mr. Lewis knew to be untrue.

Investigators also reported recovering Middle Eastern and Asian artifacts and more than a thousand antique coins. Federal prosecutors are seeking to return the Egyptian artifacts to Egypt, where the recently resigned minister of antiquities, Zahi Hawass, said he was grateful for the work by American officials. He said he hoped an arrest of Mr. Ramadan, the Jordanian dealer, would provide information about how the objects were smuggled out of Egypt.


I've just finished reading “Chasing Aphrodite:” The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum by Jason Felch & Ralph Frammolino. It's a terrific reporting job on the Getty! How Marion True and other curators at all Museums are guilty of bringing from Europe, especially Greece and Italy, no provenance antiquities.

While in the Greece on a diplomatic visit this weekend, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stavros Lambrinidis, concerning the imposition of import restrictions on archaeological and Byzantine objects. The new memorandum, which still has to be ratified by the Greek Parliament, would make it illegal for protected works of art to enter the US without the approval of Greek authorities.

The signing of the memorandum was yet another demonstration of the US government’s vocal support of Greece’s austerity measures to help the debt-ridden country get back on its feet. “America is just as committed to Greece’s future as we are to preserving your past,” Clinton said at the signing. “During these difficult economic times, we will stand with you. We are confident that the nation that built the Parthenon, invented democracy, and inspired the world can rise to the current challenge.”

According to a fact sheet released by the US State Department, “the agreement will strengthen collaboration to reduce looting and trafficking of antiquities, and provide for their return to Greece. It also aims to further the international interchange of such materials for cultural, educational, and scientific purposes.”

“We are trying to protect our treasures from illegal diggings and excavations,” Lambrinidis said at the signing. “That is why this MOU that we’re about to sign is so important.” Clinton said that the agreement “will protect Greece’s culturally significant objects even further from looting and sale on the international market” by helping to “reduce the incentive to illegally remove such objects in the first place”. She added: “We know from experience that measures like this work. This will be our 15th cultural property agreement. And in countries from Cambodia to Cyprus, we have seen real results.”


Archaeologists unearthing a biblical ruin inside a Palestinian city in the West Bank are writing the latest chapter in a 100-year-old excavation that has been interrupted by two world wars and numerous rounds of Mideast upheaval. Working on an urban lot that long served residents of Nablus as an unofficial dump for garbage and old car parts, Dutch and Palestinian archaeologists are learning more about the ancient city of Shekhem, and are preparing to open the site to the public as an archaeological park next year.

The project, carried out under the auspices of the Palestinian Department of Antiquities, also aims to introduce the Palestinians of Nablus, who have been beset for much of the past decade by bloodshed and isolation, to the wealth of antiquities in the middle of their city.

"The local population has started very well to understand the value of the site, not only the historical value, but also the value for their own identity," said Gerrit van der Kooij of Leiden University in the Netherlands, who co-directs the dig team.
The digging season wrapped up this week at the site, known locally as Tel Balata.

The city of Shekhem, positioned in a pass between the mountains of Gerizim and Eibal and controlling the Askar Plains to the east, was an important regional center more than 3,500 years ago. As the existing remains show, it lay within fortifications of massive stones, was entered through monumental gates and centered on a temple with walls five yards (meters) thick.

The king of Shekhem, Labaya, is mentioned in the cuneiform tablets of the Pharaonic archive found at Tel al-Amarna in Egypt, which are dated to the 14th century B.C. The king had rebelled against Egyptian domination, and soldiers were dispatched north to subdue him. They failed.

The city also appears often in the biblical narrative. The patriarch Abraham, for example, was passing near Shekhem when God promised to give the land of Canaan to his descendants in the Book of Genesis. Later, Abraham's grandson Jacob was camped outside the walls when a local Canaanite prince raped his daughter, Dinah. Jacob's sons sacked the city in vengeance. The body of Jacob's son Joseph was brought from Egypt hundreds of years later by the fleeing Israelites and buried at Shekhem.

Two millennia ago, the Romans abandoned the original site and built a new city to the west, calling it Flavius Neapolis. The Greek name Neapolis, or "new city," later became enshrined in Arabic as Nablus. In Hebrew, the city is still called Shekhem.

Nablus has since spread, and ancient Shekhem is now surrounded by Palestinian homes and car garages near the city's eastern outskirts. One morning this week, a garbage container emitted smoke from burning refuse not far from the remains of the northwestern city gate in a curved wall built by skilled engineers around 1600 B.C.

A visitor can walk through the gate, passing through two chambers before emerging inside the city. From there it is a short walk to the remains of the city's temple, with a stone stele on an outdoor platform overlooking the houses below.

The identity of the city's residents at the time remains unclear. One theory posits that they were Hyksos, people who came from northern Syria and were later expelled from Egypt. According to the Bible's account, the city was later Canaanite and still later ruled by Israelites, but archaeology has not corroborated that so far, van der Kooij said.

A German team began excavating at the site in 1913, with Nablus under the control of the Ottoman Turks. The dig was interrupted by World War I but resumed afterward, continuing sporadically into the 1930s under British rule. Much of the German documentation of the dig was lost in the Allied bombings of WWII.

American teams dug at the site in the 1950s and 1960s, under Jordanian rule. Israel conquered Nablus, along with the rest of the West Bank, in the 1967 Mideast war.

Over the years, the site fell into disrepair. The neglect was exacerbated after the first Palestinian uprising in the late 1980s, when Nablus became a center for resistance to Israeli control. Its condition further deteriorated after the second, more violent, uprising erupted in 2000, drawing Israeli military incursions and the imposition of roadblocks and closures that all but cut the city off from the outside world. In recent years, with the Western-backed Palestinian Authority increasingly asserting security control over the cities of the West Bank, Israel has removed some roadblocks and movement has become more free.

The new excavations and the establishment of the archaeological park are a joint project of the Palestinian Tourism Ministry, the Dutch government and UNESCO. The project began last year and is scheduled to end with the opening of the park in 2012. For the Palestinians, whose Department of Antiquities was founded only 15 years ago, the dig demonstrates a growing interest in uncovering the ancient past.

The department now has 130 workers and carries out several dozen rescue excavations every year on the sites of planned building projects in areas administered by the Palestinian Authority, said Hamdan Taha, the department's director. Ten ongoing research excavations are being conducted with foreign cooperation.

Monday, July 18, 2011


Sometime soon, perhaps in as little as 14 months, the sprawling, 9,800-acre Mes Aynak site will be crushed by Chinese bulldozers hunting for copper — a clear choice of economic development over historic preservation in a country trying to overcome decades of war, religious extremism and occupation.

"As an archaeologist, of course I'm worried about this," said Khair Muhammad Khairzada, a researcher at the Afghan Institute of Archaeology, which is overseeing the dig. "I want all of the archaeological sites to be saved. But at the same time, Afghanistan's economy is also important. It needs to grow."

And so, a dozen archaeologists and 100 Afghan laborers are working like army ants to finish the dig. Many valuable relics were looted long ago, and the archaeologists won't be able to save the ancient edifices from the mining company. But they can remove the statues, pottery and gold and silver coins still buried within the buildings.

"We don't know exactly how much time we have to excavate the site. Sometimes the deadline is 14 months and sometimes it's two years. It will depend on the Chinese," said Nicolas Engel, a young French archaeologist with James Joyce spectacles. "That big mountain over there, that's where copper ore is located," he said, gesturing toward a long, scrub-covered ridge. "So inside of that mountain, the Chinese want to do an open pit mine, which means this whole area will be destroyed."

The race to salvage whatever they can of Afghanistan's ancient, storied past is the latest in a long line of ordeals that Afghan historians and archeologists have had to face. Looters have been as destructive as war, pouncing on sites filled with centuries-old statues and coins long before archaeologists arrive. Most of the looted relics find their way to Pakistan and from there to the international black market.

Today, the promise of mining wealth overshadows the treasured ruins of Mes Aynak. Afghanistan's untapped mineral wealth is staggering, estimated by U.S. geologists at nearly $1 trillion. Reserves include large amounts of copper, gold, cobalt, lithium and other metals.

The untapped copper deposits in the Lowgar province mountains are believed to be one of the world's largest reserves of the ore. China has been scouring the world for raw materials to feed its industrial growth, and the Afghan government in 2007 awarded China Metallurgical Group Corp. the contract to mine at Mes Aynak, a $2.9-billion endeavor that makes it Afghanistan's largest development project.

Afghan archaeologists say they recognize the potential that mining holds for their country's economy. But they also want to preserve a heritage that encompasses conquests by Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan, and periods when Buddhism was the dominant religion.

On a recent sun-scorched morning, Engel's diggers worked at a furious pace, kicking up billowing clouds of dust as their spades and pick-axes exposed a large reliquary that housed red-painted Buddha statues. The archaeologists and laborers work from 6 a.m. until early afternoon, six days a week. To meet the mining company's deadline, Engel said, his team would have to hire 100 archaeologists and 800 laborers. The Afghan Institute of Archaeology can't afford that. "So we simply tell the diggers they need to work as quickly as possible," said Afghan archaeologist Abdul Qadir Temory.

The site sat abandoned for centuries. Gaping holes in the earth mark where looters have been recently. The goal for Engel and the other archaeologists is to find whatever's left, document the layout of the Buddhist settlement, and cart away small sections of the structures so they can be preserved in a museum that one day is to be built nearby.

Some of the artifacts found at Mes Aynak are now displayed at Kabul's National Museum: a 5th century wooden Buddha, a 3rd century Bodhisattva figure carved from schist, an array of gold and silver coins and Buddha heads made of plaster and clay. Several larger Buddha statues, some as tall as 13 feet, remain at the Mes Aynak monastery, a 5th century warren of chambers and reliquaries that the government keeps behind a locked and guarded gate.

Archaeologists and laborers who have been unearthing the ancient citadel know it will be pulverized one day soon. They find that hard to accept. "Yes, mining is important for the economy, but the history and heritage of Afghanistan is equally important," said Mohammed Rabi, the archaeologist overseeing excavation of the citadel. "I just wish we had more time and money to save it all.",0,1385452.story


Swansea's Oystermouth Castle has reopened after the completion of the first phase of a £1m revamp. The work provides public access into part of the castle for the first time in hundreds of years. It also includes a 30ft (10m) high glass bridge. The work is part a £19m Welsh Government project to boost the contribution tourism at heritage sites makes to the Welsh economy.

Oystermouth Castle, which overlooks the Mumbles, closed last autumn, and the building project is said to assure the building's long term sustainability.

The bridge gives access into Alina's Chapel, which is thought to be linked to Alina de Breos, daughter of William de Breos III, Lord of Gower. It was added to the castle in the 14th Century and is its highest point, giving views across Swansea Bay.


Nearly two dozen artifacts stolen from a museum magazine during unrest in relation to the Egyptian revolution in January have been returned, Minister of State for Antiquities Zahi Hawass confirmed on Friday. [Hawass has once again resigned --- possibly fired-- from his post as of the week of July 15th, 2011]

Scores of historic items were stolen or destroyed when violence broke out on January 28 as anti-government protests continued, resulting in the ouster of President Mubarak. Among the targets was the Qantara museum magazine near the city of Ismaila in northeast Egypt and the famous Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Egyptian authorities had earlier created a 'Red List' of missing items and submitted it to Interpol and other international organizations in hopes to recover the artifacts of historic value. A further more 22 items have now been removed from that list after they were seized earlier this week.

Hawass said the items include rare pottery which dates back to the age of the Hyksos and five bronze coins which date back to the Ptolemaic area. He did not say where they were recovered, or if any arrests were made in connection.

Almost 300 artifacts have now been returned since the unrest.


Researchers have probed deeper into human evolution by developing an elegant new technique to analyze whole genomes from different populations. One key finding from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute's study is that African and non-African populations continued to exchange genetic material well after migration out-of-Africa 60,000 years ago. This shows that interbreeding between these groups continued long after the original exodus.

For the first time genomic archaeologists are able to infer population size and history using single genomes, a technique that makes fewer assumptions than existing methods, allowing for more detailed insights. It provides a fresh view of the history of humankind from 10,000 to one million years ago.

"Using this algorithm, we were able to provide new insights into our human history," says Dr Richard Durbin, joint head of Human Genetics and leader of the Genome Informatics Group at the Sanger Institute. "First, we see an apparent increase in effective human population numbers around the time that modern humans arose in Africa over 100,000 years ago.

"Second, when we look at non-African individuals from Europe and East Asia, we see a shared history of a dramatic reduction in population, or bottleneck, starting about 60,000 years ago, as others have also observed. But unlike previous studies we also see evidence for continuing genetic exchange with African populations for tens of thousands of years after the initial out-of-Africa bottleneck until 20,000 to 40,000 years ago.

"Previous methods to explore these questions using genetic data have looked at a subset of the human genome. Our new approach uses the whole sequence of single individuals, and relies on fewer assumptions. Using such techniques we will be able to capitalize on the revolution in genome sequencing and analysis from projects such as The 1000 Genomes Project, and, as more people are sequenced, build a progressively finer detail picture of human genetic history."

The team sequenced and compared four male genomes: one each from China, Europe, Korea and West Africa respectively. The researchers found that, although the African and non-African populations might have started to differentiate as early as 100,000 to 120,000 years ago, they largely remained as one population until approximately 60,000 to 80,000 years ago.

Following this the European and East Asian ancestors went through a period where their effective population size crashed to approximately one-tenth of its earlier size, overlapping the period when modern human fossils and artifacts start to appear across Europe and Asia. But, for at least the first 20,000 years of this period, it appears that the out-of-Africa and African populations were not genetically separated. A possible explanation could be that new emigrants from Africa continued to join the out-of-Africa populations long after the original exodus.

"The novel statistical method we developed is computationally efficient and doesn't make restrictive assumptions about the way that population size changed. Although not inconsistent with previous results, these findings allow new types of historical events to be explored, leading to new observations about the history of mankind." The researchers believe that this technique can be developed further to enable even more fine-grained discoveries by sequencing multiple genomes from different populations. In addition, beyond human history, there is also the potential to investigate the population size history of other species for which a single genome sequence has been obtained.


Italian police unveiled a colossal marble statue believed to be a rare image of the incestuous and lunatic Roman emperor Caligula sitting on a throne.

The statue lay buried for nearly 2,000 years near Lake Nemi, south of Rome, where Rome's third emperor Caligula, who ruled from 37 to 41 A.D., had two enormous "love boats." The statue was recovered last January, when finance police stopped tomb robbers trying to smuggle large, elaborately carved, marble pieces out of the country. In order to find the statue's missing pieces, the archaeologists excavated
the area where the tomb robbers conducted their illegal dig.

The remains of a large, semicircular nymphaeum, or fountain court, emerged. Originally enclosed by a series of 23-foot-tall columns, the fountain court boasted a niche at its center in which Caligula' statue once stood. Indeed, the area contained more than one hundred fragments belonging to the statue, including the head. Moreover, the archaeologists unearthed some other 150 objects, such as vases
and pieces of jewelry.

Made from Greek marble of Paros, considered in antiquity the world's best and most precious, the statue shows a young robed man, sitting under a pillow on a beautifully decorated throne as the god Zeus. On the left foot, the statue is wearing the "caligae" military boot after which the notorious Roman emperor, whose real name was Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, was nicknamed. (Little Boots)

The capricious emperor, who is said to have made his favorite horse Incitatus a senator, used to sail his spectacular ships on Lake Nemi, not far from where his statue stood, indulging his sensual proclivities.

According to the Roman historian Suetonius, the vessels had "sterns studded with gems and ample space for baths, porticoes, and dining rooms, and a great variety of vines and fruit-bearing trees. Reclining on these ships all day long, he would sail amid choral dancing and singing."

The ships were scuttled in a "damnatio memoriae" (aimed at erasing someone from history) after the 29-year-old emperor was murdered in his palace on the Palatine Hill in Rome by his own guard.

They were recovered in 1927 during the rule of dictator Benito Mussolini. Measuring 230 feet by 66 feet, the ships still feature details such as exquisite wolf heads adorning the end of the beams and decks covered with marble and mosaics. A lakeside ship museum was built for the extraordinary finds, but German troops torched them during World War II.

Although the ships are lost forever, Caligula is set to return to Nemi. His colossal statue, cleaned of the earth that had covered it for two millennia and re-assembled, will be permanently displayed at the ship museum.

Monday, July 11, 2011


A cache of Iraqi antiquities, as well as objects from the Saddam Hussein era, were headed home Thursday after being found on military containers at Christie’s auction house and on Craigslist, among other places.

An estimated 15,000 pieces were stolen from Iraq’s National Museum in pillaging after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, and many more are believed to have been smuggled out since then by U.S. military personnel and contractors. More than half of the items that have turned up in the United States or elsewhere have been repatriated to Iraq, but treasured items remain missing.

Investigators from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement tracked down the most recent finds (about 30) as part of four separate investigations – in Florida, New Jersey, Texas and Arkansas – over the course of several years. The items include a Western Asiatic necklace believed to date to the 2nd or 3rd century B.C., serving pieces and utensils inscribed with the crest of Iraq’s Baath Party, and a marble slab from one of Hussein’s palaces.

The slab was initially discovered on Craigslist, where it had been listed for sale by a member of the U.S. Army. Investigators, posing as interested buyers, contacted the seller online and later met him at his house. When they got there, he led them to his garage, where the slab was being kept. He said he obtained it while patrolling towns in Iraq.


Tucked away off Gallows Hill Road, near Redding, Connecticut, Ernie Wiegand, a Norwalk Community College archaeology professor, and his students have been digging and discovering prehistoric and historic artifacts left in the ground for hundreds and thousands of years. “We’ve been working here for 10, almost 11 years now,” said Mr. Wiegand.

A proposed subdivision for the property triggered a cultural assessment that eventually led to Mr. Wiegand’s interest in the property. Arrow Point Development was going to build 30 houses on the land, but because of the wetlands on the property, the developer called the state archaeologist, Nick Bellantoni. He, in turn, called the Redding town archaeologist to do an archaeological survey of the area, said Kathleen von Jena, the Planning Commission’s cultural resource adviser. This survey was the framework for the townwide Cultural Resource Assessment Survey, which identified areas that had potential prehistoric and historic artifacts, she said.

It was found that the property had archaeological resources and the land was then determined to be a nature sanctuary and could not be built on, said Mr. Wiegand.
As a result of the survey, only two houses were ultimately built on the property.

“I want to investigate a few more portions... There’s no reason to excavate everything, I want to leave the majority open for future digs,” said Professor Wiegand. “When future technology is developed, we are able to use those new techniques and maybe find things we wouldn’t be able to find now.”

Mr. Wiegand has mapped out areas to be explored by his students. They’ve found broken spear points and flakes of quartz and flint that date back to 2000 BC, said Mr. Wiegand. It has been thought that the area might have been a prehistoric hunting ground, he said.

Rocks with red markings were also found near an area that was said to be a prehistoric fireplace. Mr. Wiegand said it was carbon dated to be about 4,000 years old. Next to that there was a depression in the ground where the group decided to dig a pit. Eighteenth century Native American artifacts were found close in proximity. There were big pottery pieces and redware milkpan fragments found within an inch of one another. It was determined that these were once dropped and broken on a dirt floor, said Mr. Wiegand.

By referring to old census records, he thought he would be able to see who lived in that area during the 19th Century. Information is not clear but it is thought that two or three freed African Americans lived as tenant farmers on the Gallows Hill property, but it is not clear which side of the road they were on, said Mr. Wiegand.
“There might have been a house here. We hoped to find walls, but we never did,” he said.

“We’ve found plates, platters, hand-wrought nails,” he said. English pottery including a Delft tin-glazed tea set was found in addition to clay tobacco pipes, flat glass and window putty. “This shows that a window was once there,” said Mr. Wiegand “and we found part of a shoe buckle. We haven’t found many animal remains, just a pig molar and a cow molar. We haven’t found any buttons or eating utensils which would indicate someone living here.”

A few more digs are planned over the summer and in the fall, said Mr. Wiegand. After the dig is complete the artifacts that were discovered will belong to the town and The Nature Conservancy, which own the land, Mr. Wiegand said


The remains of a house uncovered in the city of Haifa are the best-preserved yet from the Kingdom of Israel, dating back nearly three millennia.

The site of the discovery was excavated about 40 years ago, but neglect had left the structure hidden until now. Layers of earth and garbage had piled up atop it, and off-road vehicles had plowed over the area, damaging the artifacts.

When archaeologists recently re-exposed the area during a dig, they found the four-room home to be remarkably good shape, the best-preserved house from the period of the Kingdom of Israel found so far, the researchers said today (July 6). The dig is in an area called Tel Shikmona.

"We had seen the structure in the old photographs and were sorry that such a rarely preserved finding had disappeared due to neglect. We were not even sure that we would be able to find it again. It was practically a miracle that we managed to locate and uncover it and that it is still so well-preserved," said the leaders of the excavation team, Shay Bar and Michael Eisenberg of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa.

The dig also unearthed remains of a Persian city from about 2,400 years ago and a Byzantine town from approximately 1,500 years ago.


The remains, described in PLoS One, date to 32,000 years ago and represent the oldest direct evidence for anatomically modern humans in a well-documented context. The human remains are also the oldest known for our species in Europe to show post-mortem cut marks.

"Our observations indicate a post-mortem treatment of human corpses including the selection of the skull," co-author Stephane Pean, a paleozoologist and archaeologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, told Discovery News. "We demonstrate that this treatment was not for nutritional purposes, according to comparison with game butchery treatment, so it is not a dietary cannibalism."

Instead, Pean said that he and his colleagues believe that the "observed treatment of the human body, together with the presence of body ornaments, indicates rather a mortuary ritual: either a ritual cannibalism or a specific mortuary practice for secondary disposal." The scientists made those assessments after studying human remains and artifacts discovered at a shelter-cave site called Buran-Kaya III in the Ukraine.

Although this is a more complete archaeological setting, the actual first known Homo sapiens from Europe dates to 34,000 years ago from Pestera cu Oase in Romania. Yet another single modern human from Kostenki 1 in Russia dates to 33,000 years ago.
The age of all of these discoveries intriguingly suggests that these first members of our species in Europe may have coexisted with Neanderthals.

Artifacts excavated at the site include five mammoth beads, one engraved plate made out of mammoth ivory and 35 perforated shells. Since no mammoth remains or craft debris were found, it's likely that the objects were made off-site. The remains of pointed bone tools and stone projectiles indicate these early Europeans were active hunters with busy associated tool and weapon-making industries.

Marcel Otte, a professor of prehistory at the University of Liege, has also excavated at Buran-Kaya III. He told Discovery News that he and his team found evidence for a 30,000-year-old culture at the same site, indicating the region was continuously inhabited for thousands of years after the first modern humans arrived.


A court-ordered search of vaults beneath a south Indian temple has unearthed gold, jewels and statues worth an estimated $22 billion, government officials have announced.

The treasure trove, at the 16th century Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple, is widely believed to be the largest find of its kind in India, catching officials in the state of Kerala by surprise and forcing the government to send two dozen police officers to the previously unguarded shrine for round-the-clock security.

The discovery has also revived questions about who should manage the wealth, much of which is believed to have been deposited at the temple by the royal family of the princely state of Travancore, which acceded to India when the country became independent in 1947. Some of the vaults under the temple have not been opened for nearly 150 years, temple officials have said.

Temples in India often have rich endowments, mainly from donations of gold and cash by pilgrims and wealthy patrons, but the wealth discovered at Padmanabhaswamy dwarfs the known assets of every other Indian temple. Such assets are typically meant to be used by administrators to operate temples and provide services to the poor, but they have often become the subject of heated disputes and controversies.

India's Supreme Court ordered the opening of the vaults at Padmanabhaswamy to assess the wealth of the temple after a local activist, T. P. Sundararajan, filed a case accusing administrators of mismanaging and poorly guarding the temple. Descendants of the royal family still control the trust that manages the temple, which is devoted to the Hindu god Vishnu.

Searchers have found bags of gold coins, diamonds and other jewels and solid-gold statues of gods and goddesses. Searchers started to unseal "Section B" of the vaults, a large space that was expected to reveal another sizable collection, said P. T. Chacko, the spokesman for the chief minister of Kerala, Oommen Chandy.

India's Supreme Court will decide what happens to the treasure and the rest of the temple, which sits in the heart of Kerala's capital, Thiruvananthapuram, once it has established the total value of the holdings, which could take months to finish. Early estimates of the treasure have been raised several times as searchers have opened more of the vaults in recent days.

Friday, July 08, 2011


A tiny remote-controlled camera peered inside the tomb of a Mayan ruler that has been sealed for 1,500 years, revealing red frescoes, pottery and pieces of a funerary shroud made of jade and mother of pearl.

The tomb was discovered in 1999 inside a pyramid among the ruins of the Mayan city of Palenque in the hills of the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.

But until now archeologists had not been able to access the vault believed to hold the remains of a Mayan ruler who lived between AD 431 and 550, the National Institute of Anthropology and History said in a recent release.

By dropping the small camera 16 feet deep through a small hole at the top of the pyramid, researchers were able to get the first view of the intact tomb. "The characteristics of the funeral site show that the bones could belong to a sacred ruler from Palenque, probably one of the founders of a dynasty," said archeologist Martha Cuevas. The tomb's walls are painted in a rich red with paintings of Mayan figures.

The Mayans flourished between AD 250-900 and Palenque is one of the most important Mayan archeological sites.
photos at:


Around 8,000 years ago, prehistoric hunters killed an aurochs (a wild Eurasian ox) and their grilling techniques were frozen in time.Stone Age barbecue consumers first went for the bone marrow and then for the ribs, suggest the leftovers of an outdoor 7,700-year-old meaty feast described in the July issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The remains, found in the valley of the River Tjonger, Netherlands, provide
direct evidence for a prehistoric hunting, butchering, cooking and feasting
event. The meal occurred more than 1,000 years before the first farmers with
domestic cattle arrived in the region.

Although basic BBQ technology hasn't changed much over the millennia, this
prehistoric meal centered around the flesh of an aurochs that was larger than today's cows. It sported distinctive curved horns.

"The animal was either caught in a pitfall trap and then clubbed on the head, or shot with a bow and arrow with flint point," co-author Wietske Prummel, an associate professor of archaeozoology at the University of Groningen, told Discovery News.

Prummel and colleague Marcel Niekus pieced together what happened by studying an unearthed flint blade found near auroch bones. These show that after the female auroch was killed, hunters cut its legs off and sucked out the marrow.

According to the study, the individuals skinned the animal and butchered it, reserving the skin and large hunks of meat for carrying back to a nearby settlement. Chop marks left behind by the flint blade show how the meat was meticulously separated from the bones and removed. Burn marks reveal that the hunters cooked the meaty ribs, and probably other smaller parts, over an open fire. They ate them right at the site, "their reward for the successful kill," Prummel said.

The researchers suspect these people lived in large settlements and frequented the Tjonger location for auroch hunting. After the Iron Age, the area was only sparsely inhabited -- probably due to the region becoming temporarily waterlogged -- until the Late Medieval period.

The aurochs couldn't escape extinction."It became extinct due to the destruction of the habitat of the auroch since the arrival of the first farmers in Europe about 7500 years ago," Prummel said. "These farmers used the area inhabited by auroch for their dwellings, arable fields and meadows. The aurochs gradually lost suitable
habitat." The last aurochs died in 1627 at a zoo in Poland.


Forensic tests confirm the age of an etched Ice Age bone. The 13,000-year-old mammoth bone inscribed with an image of a mammoth is the real deal.

The carved bone, which depicts a walking mammoth, was found near Vero Beach in east-central Florida in 2006 or 2007. Since its discovery, scientists have been working to determine the authenticity of the 13,000-year-old artifact. Now, several experiments reveal the etching is indeed ancient, scientists reported recently in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Since the carving does not really look like any of the mammoth incising and cave art that come from Europe, "it could be the people were here doing their own art, and may have had a memory of art in the Old World," speculated study leader Barbara Purdy, a professor emerita at the University of Florida.

When preliminary forensic tests on the bone began in 2009, Purdy "literally went on the assumption that [the carving] was a fake," she told National Geographic News at the time. But these tests, and further analysis by the Smithsonian team, convinced Purdy that the etching was real.

The team compared elements in the engraved bones with others from the site, which once hosted giant beasts and nomadic bands of Ice Age hunters.

The scientists also observed the etching via optical and electron microscopy, which revealed "no discontinuity in coloration between the carved grooves and the surrounding material," according to a statement. This suggests that both surfaces aged at the same time, and that the grooves were not made more recently with metal tools.

Scientists also determined the 15-inch-long (38-centimeter-long) bone fragment had belonged to one of three animals: a mammoth, a mastodon, or a giant sloth—all of which died out in the region at the end of the last ice age, between about 12,000 to 10,000 years ago.

In 2009, discoverer and local fossil hunter James Kennedy noticed the image only after dusting off the bone, which had sat under his sink for a few years. Purdy, the anthropologist, said, "This is the first glimpse of real art in the Western Hemisphere, and I think that's our starting point for something that might be found in the future if we start looking closely at these old bones." She said she hopes that the bone—now locked in a safety deposit box with an uncertain fate—will end up in a museum.

For now, art and anthropology buffs can see a cast of the carved bone, now part of an exhibit at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville.