Monday, October 09, 2017

DEAD SEA SCROLLS ARE COMING UP AS FORGERIES


A Bedouin shepherd hears pottery break as he throws stones into a cave while searching for lost sheep among arid cliffs abutting the Dead Sea. He enters the cave and uncovers the find of the 20th century — 2,000-year-old Hebrew and Aramaic scrolls, then the earliest written record of the Bible.

Seven decades have passed since that Hollywood-esque discovery of some 900 manuscripts and up to 50,000 fragments in the 11 caves of Qumran. Now, accusations of dozens of million-dollar forgeries make for a worthy sequel.

It’s a whodunit involving a complex network of high-stakes deals with dubious provenance, and perhaps even academic obfuscation. The process by which the forgeries are being manufactured has yet to be fully exposed. The motive is entirely clear: The tiniest of ancient snippets sells for well over $100,000 per fragment in these private off-the-books sales.

Since 2002, the world’s private antiquities markets have been saturated with certified millennia-old leather inscribed with biblical verses by what, on expert inspection, appears to be a modern hand. This has led some scholars to believe one or more of their own has gone rogue and created a proliferation of fakes that are being peddled to a growing number of Evangelical Christian collectors.

The Museum of the Bible, set to open this November in Washington, DC, is foremost among those collectors who have been “duped,” to the tune of millions of dollars, scholars say. A series of recent articles in respected academic journals calls into question the authenticity of at least half a dozen in its trove of tiny scroll fragments.

Among those raising awareness of the allegedly forged fragments is paleographer Dr. Kipp Davis, a research fellow at Trinity Western University and associate of the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute at TWU.
“There is a growing emerging consensus among Dead Sea Scroll scholars that many of the fragments in the private collections are fakes,” Davis told The Times of Israel. In his latest article, “Caves of Dispute,” published in the Brill Dead Sea Discoveries series this month, Davis found that at least six of the Museum of the Bible’s 13 published fragments are forgeries.

In conversation with The Times of Israel, Davis said while he is convinced that six of the fragments are forgeries, “that number could be higher. There are people out there that think that all 13 of the fragments are fake. I’m not quite there, but I have colleagues who are fairly sure they are forgeries.”
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IN GAZA, HAMAS LEVELS AN ANCIENT TREASURE

Palestinian and French archaeologists began excavating Gaza's earliest archaeological site nearly 20 years ago, unearthing what they believe is a rare 4,500-year-old Bronze Age settlement.

But over protests that grew recently, Gaza's Hamas rulers have systematically destroyed the work since seizing power a decade ago, allowing the flattening of this hill on the southern tip of Gaza City to make way for construction projects, and later military bases. In its newest project, Hamas-supported bulldozers are flattening the last remnants of excavation.

"There is a clear destruction of a very important archaeological site," said Palestinian archaeology and history professor Mouin Sadeq, who led three excavations at the site along with French archaeologist Pierre de Miroschedji after its accidental discovery in 1998. "I don't know why the destruction of the site was approved."

Tel Es-Sakan (hill of ash) was the largest Canaanite city between Palestine and Egypt, according to Sadeq. It was named after the great amount of ash found during the excavations, which suggests the settlement was burnt either naturally or in a war.

Archaeologists found the 10-hectare (25-acre) hill to be hiding a fortified settlement built centuries before pharaonic rule in Egypt, and 1,000 years before the pyramids. But the excavations stopped in 2002 due to security concerns.

Now it is destroyed all around. It's among the earliest sites indicating the emergence of the "urban society" concept in the Near East, when communities were transforming from farming villages around 4,000 BC, and it was on trade routes between Egypt and the Levant, according to Humbert.

Humbert shared an aerial photo from 2000 showing patterns of walls from atop the mound. The area "was the first city of Palestine to have a city wall," he said. Now, "the field work you see in the photo is totally destroyed."



Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-10-gaza-hamas-ancient-treasure.html#jCp

POSSIBLE AILEXANDER THE GREAT SITE 200 MILES NORTHEAST OF BAGHDAD HAS BEEN ABANDONED

The discoveries of two statues may help to prove this was once a thriving hub founded by one of the ancient world's most powerful rulers—Alexander the Great. Until recently the dig, some 330 kilometers (200 miles) northwest of Baghdad, was buzzing with activity as a team of 15 archaeologists from both Iraq and abroad worked under the stewardship of the British Museum in London to uncover more invaluable treasures.

But now the site is silent as the foreign experts—two Britons and a Hungarian—packed up and left last week to avoid becoming stranded after a spat between Iraq's central government and the Kurdish authorities over a disputed independence referendum that saw Baghdad cut international air links to the region. "This is the first time researchers from abroad have had to leave," said student Rzgar Qader Boskiny, who has been working on a neighboring dig."They even stayed here when the Islamic State group came near," he said referring to the jihadists.

The sudden disappearance of foreign experts has left Nuraddini guarding Qalatga Darband. That is a major job for the self-taught man from the nearby town of Ranya who in 2013 helped to guide foreign researchers to the 60-hectare site perched on the edge of a lake.

Archaeologists who have been working on the site describe the find as "exceptional", but it will take the British Museum project years longer to determine if it genuinely was linked to Alexander the Great.
Some believe it could be a major city from Alexander's empire that was lost from historical records for millennia. But even if those hopes prove unfounded, it is still an important find.

The lakeside site was discovered by a team of Iraqi and British archaeologists led by experts from the British Museum. "It was a strategic town, maybe even a provincial capital, that controlled the routes linking different worlds—Mesopotamia, Persia and Ancient Greece," said Jessica Giraud, the head of French archaeological mission in the region.

While the hunt for more clues about Qalatga Darband has ground to a halt, it was assistance from an unlikely source flying overhead that helped experts hone in on the ruins. Archaeologists used declassified images taken by the CIA's Cold War spy satellite program in the 1960s to help them survey the site and better focus their explorations. An image of the area from 1967, seen by AFP, shows the outlines of ancient walls, roads and what appears to be a large building that researchers think was a fort and a temple.

A joint French-Iraqi mission to map archaeological finds has already found some 354 sites in the region.Experts put the density of finds down to fertility of the land and the fact that the area was at the crossroads of major kingdoms.

The British Museum project began last autumn and is set to run until 2020, but the current disruptions could mean delays in answering questions surrounding Qalatga Darband.

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-10-iraq-flight-halts-lost-ancient.html#jCp

Saturday, October 07, 2017

PALMYRA -- PRESENT CONDITION AFTER BEING PARTIALLY DESTROYED BY ISLAMIC STATE

Historic artifacts have survived throughout Syria’s rich history but have taken its place amongst an array of those damaged during the six-year war in the country The ancient city of Palmyra, which was seized and destroyed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in 2015, had swung back under the Syrian government’s control early March. The“wounded” artifacts in the city are now being healed at the National Museum of Damascus. One of them is the Lion of Al-Lat, which symbolizes a goddess.

Once a destination for tourists from around the world, mostly from Turkey, the National Museum of Damascus is now abandoned. There are only two to three students apart from us. Our guide said tourists had stopped coming since 2011, when the civil war began. The museum, which was opened in 1936, is undergoing restoration right now. Restoration was launched with the thought that the war will end and tourists will begin coming again. Historic artifacts from various parts of Syria are being displayed in its garden. The Lion of Al-Lat is the newest guest.

A local of Palmyra, the lion is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The 2,000-year-old ancient city changed hands several times between the Syrian government and ISIL, with the jihadist group destroying the city most extensively in 2015. Conflicts still continue in the city.

The Lion of Al-Lat, found in pieces by Syrian soldiers, was rescued and carried to museums in Damascus nearly six months ago. The lion was discovered by Polish archaeologists in 1977. Now it is being restored by Polish archaeologists in the museum’s garden. While its pieces are tried to be attached to each other, the lion’s condition is heartbreaking. Next to the lion are other artifacts rescued from Daraa and Kuneytr. Waiting for their fate in the garden, they are from the ravaged Hurran Valley. They were seized by soldiers while they were being smuggled abroad through Lebanon and Jordan. Their new home will be the National Museum of Damascus.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

ROMAN BRONZE ARTIFACTS -- A HOARD -- FOUND IN SOUTWEST ENGLAND

BRISTOL, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Forest of Dean and Wye Valley Review, two men discovered a hoard of Roman bronze artifacts in southwest England. Archaeologist Kurt Adams, Gloucestershire and Avon finds liaison officer, said the hoard dates to the fourth century A.D. and includes items that may have been deliberately broken, including small vessel fittings. A detailed statue of a standing dog with an open mouth was found intact. The “licking dog” may have been connected to a Roman healing temple located on what are now the grounds at Lydney Park, a nearby seventeenth-century country estate, or perhaps another undiscovered temple.

LOST CITY WITH TIES TO ALEXANDER THE GREAT FOUND BY DRONES

With the help of drones, archaeologists discovered a lost city with ties to Alexander the Great, according to the British Museum in London.

Qalatga Darband, an ancient city located in what is now Iraqi Kurdistan, lies along the Darband-I Rania, or a pass at the Zagros Mountains. What’s so significant about this path? Besides being a historic route from Mesopotamia to Iran, Alexander the Great traveled the path more than 2,000 years ago.

Declassified spy satellite images from the 1960s first gave explorers a glance at this city, which had never been deeply explored. In addition to ground surveying, researchers used drones to take images. The team discovered buried buildings after analyzing images taken via drone, according to the British Museum.

Archaeologists are increasingly deploying drones to aid their research. Drones are great alternatives to traditional aerial imaging methods, like airplanes or balloons, because they are often cheaper and allow for almost instant processing of gathered data.

ONCE ISIS RETREATED, TERRIBLE DESTRUCTION HAS BEEN DISCOVERED

Videos released by ISIS showed terrible acts of vandalism -- its members smashing artifacts at Mosul Museum and blowing up parts of the site of the Assyrian capital of Nimrud.

Archaeologists returning to areas recaptured from ISIS have found other ancient sites turned into parking lots, statues smashed and manuscripts disappeared.

But there is good news too - with ISIS having failed to destroy many artifacts, previously undiscovered treasures found amid the ruins, and the first modern explorations of sites it never captured revealing exciting new finds.

Magnificent winged bulls which guarded the entrance to the Nergal Gate have been mutilated and Nebi Yunus, the site of a palace, has suffered far greater damage than expected and is in danger of collapse because of tunnelling.

But among all this dreadful news is a glimmer of something positive. At Nebi Yunus, it seems that ISIS was driven out just in time.

Iraqi forces found a network of tunnels, largely following the course of ancient sculptures which lined the palace walls. Tunnels dug by ISIS in an attempt to find antiquities, or serve as communications routes, revealed unseen artifacts. While these tunnels have hugely damaged the archaeology of the mound, ISIS did not have time to loot or destroy these sculptures.

The discoveries in the tunnels - reliefs, sculptures, and cuneiform slabs - are spectacular.
The reliefs are truly exceptional, depicting religious and cultic scenes, priests, and what appears to be a demigoddess or a high-priestess.

About 20 miles south of Mosul is Nimrud, the Assyrian city of Kalhu - a great city between 1350 and 610 BC. Excavations at Nimrud began in the mid-19th Century and continued until 1992, revealing some of the most important monuments of Assyrian art.

Since March 2015 the site has been systematically destroyed by ISIS - with about 80% of it lost.
IS leveled the Ziggurat - a stepped pyramid which was once more than 34m high - with heavy machines, its features now lost or hidden in rubble.

It also destroyed the lamassus - winged bull sculptures - in the nearby Ishtar temple and destroyed the entrance of the Nabu Temple, along with the fish-cloaked statues which flanked it. Bulldozers and explosives were used to destroy the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II, king of Assyria from 883 to 859 BC. ISIS posted a video in April 2015 showing parts of Nimrud being blown up

Iraqi archaeologist Faleh Noman, who undertook British Museum training and has been appointed by the Iraqi government to lead assessment of the sites, found "barbaric" destruction. "The main entrance to the palace leading to the throne room has been completely destroyed and the lamassu demolished. "The wall reliefs and lamassu of the second gateway have also been damaged, with only one large wall relief remaining intact." Inside the palace, he found that sledgehammers have been used to damage reliefs.

Iraqi forces recaptured Nimrud from ISIS in November 2016. Across the Mosul region alone, Iraqi officials believe that at least 66 sites were destroyed. There has also been looting, with many of the tunnels dug by the extremists carved out with the aim of finding antiquities to sell on the black market: heritage turned into weaponry.