Wednesday, March 23, 2016


Sir Elton Joh, the 68-year-old rock star, will perform live for a crowd of just 2,000 people at the Amphitheatre of Pompeii on July 12th.

The amphitheatre is the oldest stone building of its kind, built in 80 BC.

Until 79 AD, when the city was buried by the erupting Mount Vesuvius, thousands of ancient Romans regularly crammed inside to watch gladiators do battle.

Sir Elton will be the first global music icon to play Pompeii since UK prog rockers Pink Floyd, who recorded Live at Pompeii in 1971, but did not perform in front of an audience for the occasion.


A rare gold coin dating to the rule of emperor Trajan but bearing the face of Augustus, has been discovered by a hiker in Israel. It suggests the ruler, known for his philanthropy and social welfare policies, was a fan of Rome's first emperor and ordered the issue of a coin in tribute.

The golden coin, which was unearthed in the countryside of eastern Galilee, northern Israel, is 1,900 years old and the twin of an identical artifact kept in London's British Museum.

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Our human ancestors, who looked like a cross between apes and modern humans, had access to food, water and shady shelter at a site in Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. They even had lots of stone tools with sharp edges, said Gail M. Ashley, a professor in the Rutgers Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences in the School of Arts and Sciences. But "it was tough living," she said. "It was a very stressful life because they were in continual competition with carnivores for their food."

During years of work, Ashley and other researchers carefully reconstructed an early human landscape on a fine scale, using plant and other evidence collected at the sprawling site. Their pioneering work was published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The landscape reconstruction will help paleoanthropologists develop ideas and models on what early humans were like, how they lived, how they got their food (especially protein), what they ate and drank and their behavior, Ashley said.

Famous paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey discovered the site in 1959 and uncovered thousands of animal bones and stone tools. Through exhaustive excavations in the last decade, Ashley, other scientists and students collected numerous soil samples and studied them via carbon isotope analysis. Early human habitat, recreated for first time, shows life was no picnic

The landscape, it turned out, had a freshwater spring, wetlands and woodland as well as grasslands. "We were able to map out what the plants were on the landscape with respect to where the humans and their stone tools were found," Ashley said. "That's never been done before. Mapping was done by analyzing the soils in one geological bed, and in that bed there were bones of two different hominin species."

The two species of hominins, or early humans, are Paranthropus boisei - robust and pretty small-brained - and Homo habilis, a lighter-boned species. Homo habilis had a bigger brain and was more in sync with our human evolutionary tree, according to Ashley.

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Monday, March 21, 2016


To people passing by, the piece of land doesn’t look like much, but to archaeologists it is historic.

“What the archaeologists ended up finding were a couple of cooking pits and evidence of a campsite that had been used over a longer period of time,” said City of Albuquerque Open Space Superintendent Matt Schmader.

The city wanted to transform the area into a community park in 2015. Its plans were put on hold after crews found ancient artifacts on the site. Schmader, who is an archaeologist, and his team were called to investigate.

“The surface is scraped with mechanical equipment. You expose the tops of the fire pits and other features and then you hand excavate very carefully to get the material out,” he said. The team uncovered hundreds of broken pieces of pottery, chipped stones from making tools, a pair of fire pits and remnants of a 1,000-year-old shelter.

Experts believe the land was once used by Native Americans as a specialized food gathering and preparation area.
The findings have been excavated and are being cataloged for a future museum display. Archaeologists have given the city clearance to build a park at the site. The city plans to incorporate the land’s history into the new playground.

“I think it gives an extra value to your experience at at park when you can go there aside from enjoying the great outdoors and you know that it has a historic value and you are standing on place where people had lived and worked 1,000 years ago,” Schmader said. Schmader said the artifacts from the site will likely be on display at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe.


Five newly restored houses which were once buried under the volcanic ash of mount Vesuvius can now be seen in the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii.

The new exhibit which allows visitors to walk through the ancient homes and their gardens is called “Myth and Nature, from Greece to Pompeii” will remain open until October.

Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD79 covering the Roman city of Pompeii in volcanic ash and capturing everything from human beings to food exactly there they were at the time.

The exhibit at Pompeii is in collaboration with the National Archaeological Museum of Naples which includes items found during excavations in Pompeii, including a piece of bread, seeds and grapes.


As the pillaging continues in a region rich in layers of ancient civilizations, the international community is focusing on the marketplace, doing what it can to scare off demand in hopes that supply will shrink. “There wouldn’t be any looting if there wasn’t money to be made,” said Kathryn Walker Tubb, a lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology at University College London.

In the past few years, the effort to intercept the illicit trade has intensified.

In February last year, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution banning trade in artifacts illegally removed from Syria since 2011 and from Iraq since 1990. The International Council of Museums has issued “red lists” for objects at risk in Iraq, Syria and now Libya. Last August, the State Department in Washington announced a $5 million reward for information that could disrupt the ransacking and looting of cultural sites by the Islamic State, or ISIS.

Last month, Unesco followed up its Emergency Safeguarding of the Syrian Heritage Project, introduced in 2014 with the European Union, with a special task force that would deploy experts from Italy’s carabinieri force, with its long experience in tracking down looted art, to help hunt down stolen items.

The Asia Society and the Antiquities Coalition recently concluded an international conference on “cultural racketeering” with calls for special training for customs agents and support for local governments in conflict zones to catalogue and safeguard their treasures.

There have been scattered successes in recuperating smuggled antiquities from war zones. In March 2015, a police raid in Bulgaria uncovered a cache of statues and other objects thought to be from the ancient Sumerian city of Lagash, in southern Iraq. Also that month, the United States returned to the Iraqi government 65 stolen artifacts that had come from a Dubai-based dealer who had tried to sell them, with faked paperwork, to American museums and galleries. investigations rarely produce arrests because of the difficulty in proving the provenance of antiquities, often produced by civilizations that stretched across the ancient world.

Traffickers are also masters at coming up with fake documents that purport to show that the disputed object had been long held by mysterious collectors, now conveniently deceased. Such lack of evidence often means that the authorities often choose to avoid pursuing criminal charges in return for reclaiming the objects, which results in shady dealers getting off the hook, experts say.

But the publicity surrounding the effort to stem the flow of smuggled artifacts from Syria, Iraq and other war zones in the Middle East has had a dampening effect, said Christopher Marinello, the founder and director of the Art Recovery Group, an organization in London that has developed a database to recover lost and stolen artworks around the world.

“The media coverage has done such an incredible job that any reputable dealer will have taken a huge step backwards,” Mr. Marinello said. “We see dealers and auction houses coming in with questions about specific objects. We have seen catalogues for antiquities shrink.” Small items periodically appear on e-commerce sites: Two coins from Apamea, a looted archaeological site in Syria, recently showed up on eBay, priced at $84 and $133.

But most people agree that the market for larger, more valuable pieces has shrunk under international pressure. This concerns Ms. Tubb who fears that precious artifacts are being stashed in warehouses — in the Middle East but also in Europe — where they will remain hidden until the pressure eases.

Col. Ludovic Ehrhart, an investigator for France’s cultural theft police unit, told Le Monde that those trading in “blood antiquities” can afford to bide their time. “These long-standing networks wait three, five, even 10 years before they sell them on the official market, ‘’ he said.

The role played by terrorist groups such as Islamic State in the looting of antiquities from the Middle East has helped put a chill on the market, Mr. Marinello said. “It didn’t hurt that the F.B.I. has said you could be arrested for aiding international terrorism,” he said. “That is quite an incentive to not buy something.” Although Islamic State’s vicious attacks and subsequent pillaging of Syrian sites like Palmyra have attracted attention, there are other culprits.

The looting at Apamea, one of the largest and best preserved Roman and Byzantine sites in the world, took place on an industrial scale, as seen on satellite images that show the area pockmarked by a grid of more than 5,000 looting pits, at a time when the area was under the control of the Syrian government.

According to a 2015 report by the American Schools of Oriental Research’s Cultural Heritage Initiative, based on satellite images of 1,200 archaeological sites in Syria, more than 25 percent have been looted since the civil war began. Most of the pillaging happened in areas with weak governance, including places occupied by Kurdish and opposition forces, the report says.

Hard proof of the Islamic State’s involvement in antiquities trafficking came in May, when a United States-led raid on a compound in eastern Syria used by Abu Sayyaf, a commander identified as the director of the terrorist group’s oil smuggling and its trade in antique objects.

Abu Sayyaf, who was killed in the operation, was in possession of an odd assortment of artifacts — including an ivory plaque traced to the museum in Mosul, Iraq — Islamic State territory — as well as a collection of coins, bracelets and other easy-to-transport objects and a few obvious fakes.

The cache also revealed receipts for the 20 percent tax on precious materials — antiquities, but also minerals — collected from civilians by Islamic State. The total sum shown from these “tax” receipts reportedly amounted to $265,000, suggesting that the antiquities trade is just a small part of the group’s financing streams. But it shows the lengths to which the local population is willing to go to survive.


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Scans of Tutankhamun tomb show '90% chance' of hidden chambers


By Tony Gamal-Gabriel
March 17, 2016 7:24 AM

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Associated Press Videos

Scan of King Tut’s Tomb Shows Hidden Rooms

Scan of King Tut’s Tomb Shows Hidden Rooms

Scan of King Tut’s Tomb Shows Hidden Rooms

Radar scans of the tomb of pharaoh Tutankhamun in the ancient necropolis of Luxor showed a "90 percent" chance of two hidden chambers, possibly containing organic material, Egypt's antiquities minister has announced. Thursday.

Experts had scanned the tomb to find what a British archaeologist believes could be the resting place of Queen Nefertiti, the legendary beauty and wife of Tutankhamun's father whose mummy has never been found.

Preliminary scans of Tutankhamun's tomb reveal "two hidden rooms behind the burial chamber" of the boy king, Antiquities Minister Mamduh al-Damati told reporters.

"Yes, we have some empty space, but not total empty, including some organic and metal material," Damati said in English.

Experts are also scanning four pyramids to unravel the mysteries of the ancient monuments.

Using infrared technology, a team of researchers have been scanning the pyramids of Khufu, also known as the Great Pyramid, and Khafre at Giza and the Bent and Red pyramids in Dahshur, all south of Cairo.

Operation ScanPyramids, which aims to search for hidden rooms inside those four monuments, is expected to continue until the end of 2016.


In the Nefud Desert of northern Saudi Arabia, large sandstone outcrops diverted the flow of sand, allowing lakes and marshes to form several times in the past, and evidence has been found for repeated human occupations extending back hundreds of thousands of years.

The Arabian Peninsula saw some of the earliest human migrations, yet until just five years ago not a single Paleolithic site had been excavated or dated. Recent excavations in the United Arab Emirates and Yemen have confirmed early human occupations, yet most of the Peninsula remains almost unknown.

In the East Mediterranean Levant, the transition from the Lower to the Middle Paleolithic occurs about 250,000 years ago, with an abrupt change in material culture often attributed to population replacement. Though this transition occurs at different times around the world, research in Saudi Arabia suggests that in the north the change happens at the same time as in the Levant.

The early phases of the Middle Paleolithic remain poorly understood. The era between about 130,000 to 75,000 years ago has produced a far larger body of finds in Arabia. This is the period when we see evidence for the earliest expansion of Homo sapiens out of Africa and into the Levant, generally regarded as a failed dispersal.

No archaeological sites are currently known for the period of around 70,000-60,000 years ago. The next wave of human occupation occurred about 60,000 to 55,000 years ago, still associated with a Middle Paleolithic technology broadly similar to tools produced at this time by Neanderthals in the Levant. The youngest known Middle Paleolithic assemblages in Arabia, dating to around 40,000 years ago, are found in the United Arab Emirates. There is then a complete absence of human occupation across the Peninsula until the transition to the Holocene, about 12,000 years ago.

Major debate surrounds the process by which the Neolithic way of life developed in Arabia: was it imported from the Levant, or of indigenous origin? Evidence from stone tools and rock art which date to the earliest phases of this period suggest a bit of both - not simple population dispersal, but rather of some form of cultural diffusion.

At the remarkable site of Shuwaymis, 'Neolithic' rock art reflects at least two phases. The first is associated with hunter-gatherers, often showing horses, hunting dogs, and human figures with bows. The second shows cattle, but no hunting scenes, and the pastoralists selectively re-engraved some of the earlier hunter-gatherer images. For example, humans were sometimes re-engraved, but the bow and arrows they were holding were not.

Along with findings from southern Arabia, this suggests both continuity and change: Arabia was not simply an empty space into which people moved.


A team of researchers, headed up by the Tel Aviv University (Israel), has recently been studying animal remains fund in a cave known as the Qesem Cave, located 12 km from Tel Aviv.

Human occupation of the cave was first identified in 2010 and is recorded as having started approximately 400,000 years ago and covered a span of 200,000 years. Whilst it is widely known that early humans captured, cooked and ate large game (in addition to a vegetarian diet), the discovery made by the team indicates that turtles also formed a significant part of their diet. Whilst not being as nutritious as larger game, the turtles nevertheless provided substantial calorific value, enough to warrant the time and effort needed in their capture, transport and preparation.

Studies of the remains found indicate that there were two main ways of cooking these heavily armored creatures, either by roasting whole within the shell or by splitting the shell open with flint tools and roasting the flesh on its own. As turtle remains were found at most levels throughout the cave it is thought that they must have been part of the diet throughout the 200,000-year human occupation.

Edited from EurekAlert! (1 February 2016)
[4 images]

Wednesday, March 02, 2016


The extra sites include the house of Julia Felix, an extravagant ancient spa, the Little House of the Orchard, which is home to colorful frescoes, and the gardens of the House of Venus in the Shell.

Tourists will also be able to see some human casts, shown for the first time, and an exhibition of Egyptian art and statues, called 'Egypt Pompeii', from mid-April.

New routes around the site will also be opened, allowing access to these new areas and also ensuring that the usual routes do not get worn out by the three million visitors who come to Pompeii each year


The western appetite for antiquities has always been a motivation for others to loot them. The same individuals who pride themselves on their appreciation of cultural heritage create situations that lead to the pillage of ancient sites, as the trade in illicit artifacts is fueled by demand. Objects are placed on the market because they have economic value. Western buyers purchase antiquities at depressed prices after they have passed hands from looters, smugglers or middlemen, creating greater incentive to loot and smuggle. In fact, there is evidence that Islamic State acts with the market in mind.

Tellingly, there has been a vast increase in supply of antiquities from Syria and Iraq. According to US customs, there has been a 145% increase in imports of Syrian cultural property and a 61% increase in imports of Iraqi cultural property between 2011 and 2013, suggesting that illicit trade is piggybacking on the legal trade. Government officials opine that antiquities have become a more significant revenue source for Isis as the conflict has progressed.

Buyers are either unaware of the damage caused by the black market, feel callously unconcerned that their purchases lead to destruction, or justify their actions believing that they are “saving” objects from conflict zones. (This reasoning is facetious because removing antiquities from their historical contexts and into private collections without proper archaeological research contributes nothing to the historical record or the public.) Thus, one way to reduce demand for loot is through education. Some collectors are uninformed about the buyer’s instrumental role in the looting mechanism and the harm that their purchases create.

Art collectors and art dealers must apply robust due diligence; purchasers should buy objects from reputable sources, investigate an object’s history and procure all documentation, including all requisite licenses and customs forms. If these documents are unavailable, then buyers must refrain from the acquisition. The provenience or “find spot” of objects from politically torn nations should act as a red flag. With increased education and available information, it becomes difficult for buyers to claim that they lacked information about the illegal origin of an object. In fact, there is ample information available to art buyers through databases, government warnings, art consultants, social media and educational resources. Just as investors complete due diligence before entering business transactions, so should art buyers bear the responsibility for their purchases. Collectors should confer with art lawyers and art market professionals to investigate a dealer’s reputation, professional standing and prior lawsuits involving their business practices. Due diligence encourages legitimate and responsible trade.

Quite simply, Isis profits from loot and regulates black market profits. During a raid on one of Isis’s leaders, armed forces discovered extensive records concerning plundered goods. Through their findings it is clear that the objects come to the west. The FBI issued a warning that looted artefacts are on the market. The notice is supported by first-hand accounts of Syrian objects being bought and sold. Impoverished, unemployed locals loot objects to support and feed their families, paying Isis a tax on artefacts leaving its territory. Turkey commonly serves as the gateway, and the objects reach the international market quickly. The works enter commerce surreptitiously, often sold online via photos or video chat, with items even appearing on eBay. Undercover investigations have confirmed that illicit goods have reached buyers in Europe and the US; government officials have evidence that loot appears on the markets in New York and London.

American and European legislators are tackling the problem by proposing laws to reduce the influx of plundered antiquities. Yet even with targeted laws, unscrupulous buyers will purchase loot. Collectors should be made aware that there are dangers other than legal penalties. Illicit goods are problematic from an investment perspective. At resale, lower prices are generated for objects without clear ownership histories. Provenance (an object’s ownership history) is considered during the valuation process, and pieces with strong provenance typically sell for significantly higher prices. If a work is revealed to be looted, there may be a cloud on its title that vitiates its value and makes the work vulnerable to seizure. Buyers may be rightfully haunted by their purchases for years to come.


Prosecutors Tuesday will unveil charges against an alleged Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist accused of destroying monuments at the fabled city of Timbuktu in an unprecedented case before the world's only permanent war crimes court.