Friday, February 16, 2007

Graves of warriors open to the public

Source: IOL

Athens - Ancient Greek graves holding the remains of warriors slain in the Peloponnesian War, one of antiquity's deadliest conflicts, will soon be accessible to visitors in Athens, an archaeologist said on Wednesday.

"We have the remains of Athenian warriors of the Peloponnesian War carried there from battlefield funeral pyres," supervising archaeologist Haris Stoupa told reporters.

"We're not sure of the exact battle as we were not fortunate enough to find engravings," she added.

Discovered in the Athens district of Kerameikos in 1997, the site is part of a one-kilometre-wide cemetery dedicated to Athenian warriors and prominent citizens that still lies mostly buried under modern buildings.

The cemetery was created shortly after the Battle of Marathon against the Persians in 480 BC and remained in use until the Roman Wars against Carthage, Stoupa said.

According to 2nd-century Greek chronicler Pausanias, among heroes buried there is Pericles, leader of Athens during the city-state's golden era that saw the building of the Parthenon.

Archaeologists will place a protective canopy over the site to enable visitors to see into the graves, Stoupa said.

The project will be completed in 2008.

Pitting two superpowers of the era - democratic Athens and oligarchic Sparta - against one another, the Peloponnesian War raged on and off for nearly 30 years (431-404 BC) across Greece,
with related conflicts in Asia Minor and Sicily.

It was a disaster for Athens, and established Sparta as the dominant power in ancient Greece. - Sapa-AFP

Greek archaeologists discover theater

Source: AP via Yahoo! News

By NICHOLAS PAPHITIS, Associated Press Writer Thu Feb 15, 8:27 PM ET

ATHENS, Greece - Sections of an ancient Greek theater were discovered on Thursday during construction work in an Athens suburb, archaeologists said.

Until now, only two such buildings were known in the ancient city where western theater originated more than 2,500 years ago.

Fifteen rows of concentric stone seats have been located so far in the northwestern suburb of Menidi, according to Vivi Vassilopoulou, Greece's general director of antiquities.

"Another section appears to lie under a nearby road," she told The Associated Press.

"(The remains) were discovered during excavation work, supervised by archaeologists, for a new building," Vassilopoulou said. "But it is still very early to offer any conclusions."

The structure has not yet been dated, and further details are expected to emerge following a full excavation.

Menidi is thought to be built over the ancient village of Acharnae, the largest of a string of rural settlements outside ancient Athens. Ancient writers mention a theater at Acharnae, but no traces of it had been found until now.

The village was linked with Dionysos, the ancient god of theater and wine, as the Athenians believed that ivy — his sacred plant — first grew there.

Built in semicircular tiers on hillsides, ancient theaters were monumental, open-air structures that could seat thousands of spectators.

Theater first emerged as an art form in late 6th century B.C. Athens, where ancient playwrights competed for a prize during the annual festival of Dionysos — in whose cult the art originated.

The works of Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides and Aristophanes were performed in the theater of Dionysos under the Acropolis.

Originally a terrace where spectators sat on the bare earth above a circular stage, it was rebuilt in stone during the 4th century B.C. and could sit up to 14,000 people.

Another smaller theater has been discovered in southern Athens.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Getty Museum signs deal to return 2 ancient treasures to Greece

Source: International Herald Tribune

ATHENS, Greece: Greece and the J. Paul Getty Museum have signed an agreement for the return of two ancient treasures that Athens claims were illegally excavated and smuggled out of the country, officials said on Wednesday.

The artifacts are among the most important ever reclaimed by antiquities-rich Greece: a fourth century B.C. gold wreath and a sixth century B.C. marble statue of a young woman. They are the last of four antiquities successfully reclaimed by Greece from the Getty.

They will be handed over to Greek officials by the end of next month. The deal was signed in Athens late Monday by Greek Culture Ministry Secretary-General Christos Zachopoulos and Michael Brand, director of the private Los Angeles museum.

"This signing confirms the climate of trust and mutual understanding (between Greece and the Getty), and creates new prospects in their relations," the Culture Ministry and the museum said in a joint statement.

The antiquities will be returned to Greece by the end of March, the statement said.

Culture Minister George Voulgarakis read the statement at a news conference attended by Brand. Neither made any further comment on the agreement.

Voulgarakis has said there will be no trade-off with the Getty in exchange for the works, which Athens has claimed for more than a decade. But he did not rule out the possibility of Greece lending artifacts to the museum or organizing exhibitions there in the future.

Wednesday's signing came after an informal agreement in December for the works' return.

In September, the museum returned two stone sculptures dating to the sixth and the fourth centuries B.C. following pressure from Athens, which has launched an aggressive campaign for the return of looted Greek antiquities held in museums and private collections abroad.

These are on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

The two works to be returned next month are among thousands of ancient artifacts lost to smugglers in recent decades.

The fourth century B.C. wreath is decorated with sprays of gold leaves and flowers inlaid with colored glass paste and — according to Greek authorities — was illegally excavated in the province of Macedonia. Designed as a burial gift, it was probably made shortly after the death of the Macedonian warrior-king Alexander the Great.

The marble statue, which lacks its head, lower arms and legs, is of a young woman and is a type widespread in southern Greece and the Aegean Sea islands from the mid-seventh to the late sixth centuries B.C.

Under Greek law all antiquities found in the country are state property.

A Greek prosecutor has brought criminal charges against a former Getty curator, Marion True, over the sale of the gold wreath, which the museum bought for US$1.15 million (€900,000) in 1993.

Another four people were charged with illegally excavating, exporting and selling the artifact.

True, who denies any wrongdoing, was the Getty antiquities curator from 1986 to 2005, when she was asked to retire. She was responsible for recommending what objects the museum should buy from private dealers and at public auctions.

Last year, police raided a Greek island villa belonging to True and seized several unregistered antiquities.

True is on trial in Rome for allegedly having knowingly purchased stolen artifacts for the museum from Italy.

Prehistoric Romeo and Juliet discovered

Source: AP via Yahoo! News

By ARIEL DAVID, Associated Press Writer

ROME - They died young and, by the looks of it, in love. Two 5,000-year-old skeletons found locked in an embrace near the city where Shakespeare set the star-crossed tale "Romeo and Juliet" have sparked theories the remains of a far more ancient love story have been found.

Archaeologists unearthed the skeletons dating back to the late Neolithic period outside Mantua, 25 miles south of Verona, the city of Shakespeare's story of doomed love.

Buried between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago, the prehistoric pair are believed to have been a man and a woman and are thought to have died young, because their teeth were found intact, said Elena Menotti, the archaeologist who led the dig.

"As far as we know, it's unique," Menotti told The Associated Press by telephone from Milan. "Double burials from the Neolithic are unheard of, and these are even hugging."

Archaeologists digging in the region have found some 30 burial sites, all single, as well as the remains of prosperous villages filled with artifacts made of flint, pottery and animal horns.

Although the Mantua pair strike an unusual and touching pose, archaeologists have found other prehistoric burials in which the dead hold hands or have other contact, said Luca Bondioli, an anthropologist at Rome's National Prehistoric and Ethnographic Museum.

Bondioli, who was not involved in the Mantua dig, said the find has "more of an emotional than a scientific value." But it does highlight how the relationship people have with each other and with death has not changed much from the period in which humanity first settled in villages, learning to farm the land and tame animals, he said.

"The Neolithic is a very formative period for our society," he said. "It was when the roots of our religious sentiment were formed."

Menotti said the burial was "a ritual, but we have to find out what it means."

Experts might never determine the exact nature of the pair's relationship, but Menotti said she had little doubt it was born of a deep sentiment.

"It was a very emotional discovery," she said. "From thousands of years ago we feel the strength of this love. Yes, we must call it love."

The couple's burial site was located Monday during construction work for a factory in the outskirts of Mantua. Alongside the couple, archaeologists found flint tools, including arrowheads and a knife, Menotti said.

Experts will now study the artifacts and the skeletons to determine the burial site's age and how old the two were when they died, she said. The finds will then go on display at Mantua's Archaeological Museum.

Establishing the cause of death could prove almost impossible, unless they were killed by a debilitating disease, a knife or something else that might have left marks on the bones, Menotti said.

The two bodies, which cuddle closely while facing each other on their sides, were probably buried at the same time, an indication of a possible sudden and tragic death, Bondioli said.

He said DNA testing could determine whether the two were related, "but that still leaves other hypotheses; the Romeo and Juliet possibility is just one of many."

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Friday, February 02, 2007

‘Scrap metal’ piece is rare Roman coin

Source: Gazette & Herald

By Gordon Simpson

A ROMAN coin buried in the depths of Malmesbury's Athelstan Museum has been unearthed.

Volunteers auditing the museum's collection discovered the small, corroded piece of metal last week.

Unsure of what it was, they sent it to Wiltshire County Council's conservation department, where it was identified as a Roman Denarius coin.

Friends of Athelstan Museum chairman Roger Griffin said it was further evidence of the Roman presence in the town.

"The coin was one that we found while doing an audit of the collection," he said.

"It had been taken in by the former curator, when the museum was run by North Wiltshire District Council, but nothing was done with it.

"It looked a rather unprepossessing piece of scrap metal.

"The person who turned it up came to me and asked what we should do with it.

"It was almost a case of throwing it away, it was that unpromising.

"But we sent it to the county council's conservation department and they worked on it and found it's a Roman Denarius.

"It's quite an uncommon one, because they were unable to say which particular emperor was on it.

"They have taken photos of it, which will be sent to the British Museum, to get it positively identified.

"It's quite small, not much bigger than a five pence piece.

"We are very excited about it, because it was another treasure sitting there that nobody appreciated."

Mr Griffin's group took over the museum from the district council, which still owns the collection, in April last year.

Over 7,000 visitors have passed through the museum's doors since then.

It is the second time in a matter of months that a coin discovered in the town has caused excitement.

In November, an eighth century Saxon sceatta was found during the excavation of a new cable trench in Abbey Row.

Archaeologist Steve George, who was keeping a watching brief on the work in the Gloucester Street and Abbey Row area, found the silver coin.

Alexander's Afghan gold

Source: Al-Ahram Weekly

After establishing the Egyptian port city of Alexandria in 331 BC, Alexander the Great founded Greek garrison cities across Asia, including Afghanistan. His legacy is on show in a new Paris exhibition, writes David Tresilian

While not drawing quite the crowds making their way to the Grand Palais for Tr?sors engloutis d'Egypte, an exhibition of mostly Ptolemaic artefacts -- "submerged treasures" -- discovered off the coast of Alexandria and reviewed in Al-Ahram Weekly on 14 December, Afghanistan, les tr?sors retrouv?s across Paris at the Mus?e Guimet should nevertheless be on the itinerary of every visitor to the French capital.

This exhibition features discoveries of international importance made by French archaeological missions in Afghanistan over the course of the last century, most of which have never been seen before outside the country. In what is being seen as quite a coup both for the Mus?e Guimet, an institution specialising in south and south-east Asian art, and for the French capital, the exhibition allows visitors to gain their first glimpses of material that not only has never been lent before by the Afghan National Museum in Kabul, but that was also considered lost during the decade of civil war that wracked Afghanistan following the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1989, destroying much of the country as it did so.

The material includes the famous "Bactrian gold" discovered by joint French and Afghan archaeologists in northern Afghanistan shortly before Soviet forces moved into the country in 1979. This material, long thought lost, survived the later civil war locked in the vaults of the National Bank in Kabul, where it was "rediscovered" following the US-led invasion in October 2001. It also includes Hellenistic objects from excavations carried out at the site of the ancient city of Ai Khanoum north of Kabul and Hellenistic and Indian materials found at Begram (Bagram).

Taken as a whole, Afghanistan, les tr?sors retrouv?s is one of the most important archaeological exhibitions to have visited the French capital for years, and it is the only opportunity European and international visitors will have to view this material before it moves onto the US leg of its world tour in April 2007. It is a fine successor to Afghanistan, une histoire mill?naire (Afghanistan: A Timeless History), an exhibition of mostly Graeco-Buddhist Afghan materials brought together in the wake of the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban, also at the Mus?e Guimet and reviewed in the Weekly in March 2002.

The exhibition is divided into three parts, the first of which displays materials discovered at Ai Khanoum by successive French archaeological missions, providing insights into the functioning of this Hellenistic garrison city founded following Alexander the Great's conquest of the area in the late fourth century BC. Alexander's epic journeys took him from his native Macedonia in northern Greece to the plains of the western Punjab in what is now Pakistan, destroying the Persian Empire as he did so, as well as through Anatolia, the Levant and to Egypt, where he founded the port city of Alexandria and consulted the oracle of Amun at Siwa.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Earliest Semitic Text Revealed In Egyptian Pyramid Inscription

Source: Science Daily

The first public revelation of the earliest continuous Semitic text ever deciphered has taken place at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The presentation was made by Prof. Richard Steiner, professor of Semitic languages and literature at Yeshiva University in New York, in a lecture entitled "Proto-Canaanite Spells in the Pyramid Texts: a First Look at the History of Hebrew in the Third Millennium B.C.E." The lecture was sponsored by the Academy of the Hebrew Language in cooperation with the Hebrew University and the World Union of Jewish Studies.

Prof. Steiner, a past fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University and a member of the Academy of the Hebrew Language, has deciphered a number of Semitic texts in various Egyptian scripts over the past 25 years. In his Hebrew University lecture, he provided the interpretation for Semitic passages in Egyptian texts that were discovered more than a century ago, inscribed on the subterranean walls of the pyramid of King Unas at Saqqara in Egypt. The pyramid dates from the 24th century B.C.E., but Egyptologists agree that the texts are older. The dates proposed for them range from the 25th to the 30th centuries B.C.E. No continuous Semitic texts from this period have ever been deciphered before.

The passages, serpent spells written in hieroglyphic characters, had puzzled scholars who tried to read them as if they were ordinary Egyptian texts. In August, 2002, Prof. Steiner received an email message from Robert Ritner, professor of Egyptology at the University of Chicago, asking whether any of them could be Semitic. "I immediately

recognized the Semitic words for 'mother snake,'" said Steiner. "Later it became clear that the surrounding spells, composed in Egyptian rather than Semitic, also speak of the mother snake, and that the Egyptian and Semitic texts elucidate each other."

Although written in Egyptian characters, the texts turned out to be composed in the Semitic language spoken by the Canaanites in the third millennium B.C.E., a very archaic form of the languages later known as Phoenician and Hebrew. The Canaanite priests of the ancient city of Byblos, in present-day Lebanon, provided these texts to the kings of Egypt.

The port city of Byblos was of vital importance for the ancient Egyptians. It was from there that they imported timber for construction and resin for mummification. The new discovery shows that they also imported magical spells to protect royal mummies against poisonous snakes that were thought to understand Canaanite. Although the

Egyptians viewed their culture as far superior to that of their neighbors, their morbid fear of snakes made them open to the borrowing of Semitic magic.

"This finding should be of great interest to cultural historians," said Prof. Steiner. "Linguists, too, will be interested in these texts. They show that Proto-Canaanite, the common ancestor of Phoenician, Moabite, Ammonite and Hebrew, existed already in the third millennium B.C.E as a language distinct from Aramaic, Ugaritic and the other Semitic languages. And they provide the first direct evidence for the pronunciation of Egyptian in this early period." The texts will also be important to biblical scholars, since they shed light on several rare words in the Bible, he said.

"This is a sensational discovery," said Moshe Bar-Asher, Bialik Professor of Hebrew Language at the Hebrew University and president of the Academy of the Hebrew Language. "It is the earliest attestation of a Semitic language, in general, and Proto-Canaanite, in particular."

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Nero's Golden Palace to partly reopen

Source: AP via Yahoo! News

By MARTA FALCONI, Associated Press Writer Wed Jan 31, 7:39 PM ET

ROME - Nero's Golden Palace will partly reopen to visitors next week, offering rare insight into archaeologists' efforts to preserve the first-century imperial residence from decay and humidity.

Visitors will have access to half of the palace, wandering through a maze of underground passageways, officials said Wednesday. They can also climb a 43-foot scaffolding and take a close look at the building's frescoed vaulted ceilings, as restorers and archaeologists work to clean the paint.

"People will have the chance to get to know the monument itself and the efforts to maintain and preserve it," said archaeologist Irene Pignatelli, leading a press tour of the palace. "The aim of this type of visit is to show how the residence can be assaulted (by weather), how to intervene and what happens after the restoration."

Guided tours or no more than 20 people start on Feb. 6. Visitors are required to wear helmets as they walk through the largely underground complex.

The sumptuous residence — also known by its Latin name, Domus Aurea — rose over the ruins of a fire that destroyed much of Rome in A.D. 64 and was completed in A.D. 68, the year the unpopular Nero committed suicide amid a revolt.

After an 18-year restoration, the palace reopened in June 1999. Two years later, it was briefly closed to the public after part of the ceiling collapsed. The Domus Aurea closed again in 2005 after days of heavy rains threatened to cause the collapse of parts of the building.

The palace has been plagued by structural problems, including humidity. In the winter, humidity in the palace ranges from 82 percent to 98 percent, Pignatelli said. "You can almost swim in the Domus Aurea."

High humidity causes the walls to break and creates crusting. Algae and fungus are also appearing on the frescoes, she said.

Restorers work to remove some humidity — but not all.

"The frescos would suffer even more if all of a sudden the environment became completely dry again," said Angelo Bottini, the state's top official for archaeology in Rome. Bottini added that further restoration is being planned, especially on the external structures of the palace, to remove earth and tree roots.

The vaulted ceilings were once encrusted with pearls and covered with ivory — luxuries that were funded by heavy taxation that Nero levied on Rome's population, said Pignatelli. Marble and other precious materials were imported from Greece, Egypt and other parts of Asia, while inhabitants of the area were expropriated to build the 198 acres residence.

"We have to imagine this place as full of light, luxurious, with precious colorful materials and golden leaves," Pignatelli said. "Today, we only see what time and decay have given back to us."