Thursday, March 29, 2018


For decades, visitors to the world-famous tomb of King Tutankhamen in Egypt have noticed ugly brown spots covering the wall paintings lining the burial chamber. And for years the Egyptian authorities worried that these blotches might be microorganisms fueled by humidity and the sweaty bodies of tourists. Now, scientists from the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles have completed an analysis — determining that the spots are not alive and not a threat to any of the tomb’s illustrious attractions.

This study was part of larger, multimillion-dollar, nine-year-long collaboration between the Getty and Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities designed to assess the condition of the tomb and help prevent further deterioration. Their work has led to the creation of a new ramp and railings to better control visitor access; guidelines for maximum numbers of visitors to control humidity and carbon dioxide levels; and the installation of a filtered air supply and exhaust ventilation system.

Scientists also analyzed the flaking of paint on the murals, which was worse in areas of black and red pigments. “There has been a loss of pigment historically but that’s been stabilized,” said the project’s director, Neville Agnew, from the Getty Conservation Institute. “We’ve been very careful to insert material below the flake to hold it in place — we couldn’t push it back because it’s so brittle.” Over all, he added in an interview, “the paintings are not in as bad a condition as some have claimed; they are pretty stable.”

He said that conservation studies and treatment took place without restricting normal visiting hours of the tomb except for a period of one month in 2016. They closed the tomb that October to temporarily move the mummy — “an enormous undertaking,” he noted — and install new flooring and railings.

As for the brown spots, which were the subject of much speculation and were once rumored to be bat droppings, it turns out they look more disturbing than they are. Scientists blew up to life-size some photographs of the wall paintings taken in the 1920s, not long after the British archaeologist Howard Carter first entered the burial chamber, and matched them to the actual paintings. They discovered that there were no new areas of darkening, nor were existing spots getting any larger.

Additional DNA, chemical and microscopic analysis confirmed that the spots were microbiological in origin. “Previous to our involvement there was a huge alarm raised about the brown spots,” Mr. Agnew said. “Now we can say they are mold and fungus but they are dead, no life in them at all.”

Any question of trying to remove the spots was dismissed almost immediately. It was clear the spots had penetrated into the paint layer and trying to remove them would endanger the artwork. The spots are here to stay.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


According to a BBC News report, an international team of researchers has found evidence of human activity on the southern coast of South Africa, both before and after the cataclysmic eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Toba some 74,000 years ago.

Both sites, one at a rock shelter and one in the open air on a beach, yielded shards of volcanic glass chemically fingerprinted to Mount Toba, which is located nearly 5,600 miles away.

The scientists also found deposits of seashells from food preparation and stone flakes from tool making, and say the population of the groups that used these sites may have actually increased after the volcanic event, since they found an increase in the number of shells and stone flakes. It has been suggested that the eruption would have wiped out much of the global human population, but these coastal populations may have thrived after the ecological devastation, since they relied upon the sea for food.

“We’re the first ones to really address the question of the Toba hypothesis in Africa,” said Curtis W. Marean of Arizona State University. “It’s in Africa that it really counts, because that’s the source location of modern humans.”

In early Islamic history the Fatimids (909-1171) created the first alternative Muslim empire to fully challenge the orthodox Sunni Caliphate, which had become the faith’s mainstream, its Vatican equivalent, then based in Baghdad. Initiated by a Syrian imam who converted the Berber tribesmen of what is now Algeria, the Fatimids rolled eastward, founding Cairo where they established their capital. At the empire’s height, their sway ranged from western north Africa via Sicily to Yemen and the Levant.

In the process they also created the Al-Azhar University , today the oldest such degree-giving institution in the world. Named after the Prophet's daughter Fatima, the Fatimids embraced the lineage of the Shiite Ismaili faith from which the Aga Khan descends.

This being the current Aga Khan's Diamond Jubilee year as leader of Minimalism Muslims around the world, it seems apt that the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto should dedicate a spacious show to the Fatimids. By all accounts the Fatimids ran a highly civilized assiduously cultured and tolerant outfit: libraries and patronage of the arts flourished: Jew and Christians acted as chief vizier at various times; and the populace worshiped as it wished. The operative phrase here is "by all accounts," because the fatimid era came to a sudden end when Saladin conquered Egypt for the Sunni Caliphate. He then presided over a very deliberated expunging of the Fatimid legacy -- dispersing its library and manuscripts, its court poets and an scholars; converting its mosques; destroying its artifacts and literature. .....

The show in Toronto, gathered mostly from top-tier museums and private collections, is a a rare offering and an archaeological detective story. And what an extraordinary revelation " The World of the Fatimids" proves to be. See the Wall Street Journal "Life and Arts" section Tuesday March 20, 2018

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


A famed archaeologist well-known for discovering the sprawling 9,000-year-old settlement in Turkey called Çatalhöyük seems to have faked several of his ancient findings and may have run a "forger's workshop" of sorts, one researcher says.

James Mellaart, who died in 2012, created some of the "ancient" murals at Çatalhöyük that he supposedly discovered; he also forged documents recording inscriptions that were found at Beyköy, a village in Turkey, said geoarchaeologist Eberhard Zangger, president of the Luwian Studies Foundation. Zangger examined Mellaart's apartment in London between Feb. 24 and 27, finding "prototypes," as Zangger calls them, of murals and inscriptions that Mellaart had claimed were real.

"He used the same approach for over 50 years," Zangger told Live Science. "He would first acquire a tremendously broad and deep knowledge [about the area he was interested in]. Then, he would try to use this knowledge to develop a coherent historic panorama," Zangger said. This process in itself is not uncommon for an archaeologist or historian. The only difference is that legitimate researchers then look for evidence that either supports or refutes their ideas. Instead, "Mellaart would fabricate drawings of artifacts and translations of alleged documents to reinforce his theories," Zangger said. [See Photos of the Remains of Çatalhöyük]

In 1995, Mellaart wrote to Zangger about several inscriptions, supposedly from a Turkish village called Beyköy, that were written in an ancient language called Luwian. Mellaart claimed that he could not read or write Luwian but that he was planning to describe his finding in a scientific publication. Mellaart had mentioned the inscriptions briefly in an article he published in 1992 in the Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society journal. [Cracking Codes: 5 Ancient Languages Yet to Be Deciphered]

In a note that Zangger found in the apartment, Mellaart wrote that, should the Beyköy inscriptions not be fully published before his death, researchers should publish them for him. Zangger, along with Fred Woudhuizen, an independent researcher, took up the project and published details about one lengthy inscription in December, in the journal Proceedings of the Dutch Archaeological and Historical Society. That inscription supposedly dates back 3,200 years and tells of a Trojan prince named Muksus. Some scholars suspected it could be a forgery.

It now appears that many, if not all, of the unpublished inscriptions are forgeries, Zangger said, noting that he can't be totally certain that the inscription published in December was completely made up. The documents found in Mellaart's apartment show that far from being unable to read Luwian, Mellaart was skilled in the ancient language, Zangger said. Zangger said he feels betrayed by the fact that Mellaart asked researchers to publish his forgeries for him after his death. "I feel abused," Zangger said. Correspondence found in his apartment indicate that Mellaart tried to get others interested in publishing the forgeries before he died, Zangger said, adding that "he had no scruples when it came to harming other people's careers."

In the apartment, Zangger also found pieces of schist engraved with initial sketches of murals that Mellaart claimed to have discovered at Çatalhöyük — suggesting these were also forgeries. Pictures of the sketches were published online by the Luwian Studies Foundation.

How many of the Çatalhöyük murals are fake is not yet clear. Mellaart "produced a mélange of published facts, unpublished data and imagination. It is virtually impossible to disentangle," Zangger said.


According to a WTSP News report, a 7,000-year-old Native American burial site has been discovered in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Manasota Key.

The Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research investigated the site with magnetometry, sub-bottom profiling, and side-scan sonar, and found peat, wooden stakes, and human remains.

At the time of burial, the site is thought to have been a peat-bottomed freshwater pond about nine feet above sea level. “As important as the site is archaeologically, it is crucial that the site and the people buried there are treated with the utmost sensitivity and respect,” said Timothy Parsons, director of Florida’s Division of Historical Resources. “The people buried at the site are the ancestors of America’s living indigenous people.” For more, go to “Florida History Springs Forth.”


Two years after a second-century military barracks was found during the excavation of the Amba Aradam station, archaeologists last week presented the remains of a richly decorated domus, or house, that they believe belonged to the commander of the military post. Even after the discovery of the military complex, “we didn’t imagine that we’d find a house with a central courtyard,” a fountain and at least 14 rooms, said Simona Morretta, the state archaeologist responsible for the site. One of the rooms appears to have been heated.

The foundation of another structure, equal in size but far less opulent, was also excavated at the same level, some 40 feet below the surface. Archaeologists believe it was probably used as a warehouse. Ms. Morretta said the domus was remarkably well-preserved. “The decorations were mainly intact, both the patterned mosaic floors and the frescoed walls,” she said.

The walls of the domus had been leveled at a height of five feet and the rooms filled in with dirt, suggesting that it had been intentionally buried during the third century, just before the Roman Emperor Aurelian began building the protective walls that would encircle the city, in 271 A.D.

The excavation also unearthed rare wooden artifacts, such as wood forms used to build foundations, as well as beams. “You normally don’t find wood remains in Rome,” Ms. Morretta noted, but with the subway lines traveling at nearly 100 feet below ground, archaeologists have been able to excavate deeper than usual.