Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Unique Roman Amphitheatre Slumbers Beneath Sofia Downtown


Serdica - an ancient names of Sofia, was a military, economic and culture centre in the Roman Empire.

And while local culture tourism is redirected to Perperikon and other spots dispersed all over this country, a mystic town slumbers beneath Sofia downtown, told from Standart.

The excavations under the medieval St. Sofia church started in the 1940s.

There is a huge Roman necropolis under the church with dozens of tombs stretching under the building of the National Assembly.

Archaeologists and historians reckon the remnants from Roman times and the later cultural strata are unique and can be found nowhere else in the world.

There appears the problem. Round 10 million EUR are needed to take at the surface all the Roman rests.

‘The Heart of the City' project which aims to exhibit Serdica costs 7 million EUR.

The other 3 million EUR will be necessary for researches, conservation and adaptation of the unique amphitheatre, discovered 2 years ago.

The Standart reveals that last week the amphitheatre that was named ‘Sofia Coliseum'.

The walls of the ancient Roman city encircle the region between Alabin Str., Hristo Botev Blv and Iskar Str.

Italian police recover dozens of looted artifacts

Source: International Herald Tribune

ROME: Police in Rome said Tuesday they recovered dozens of looted artifacts, including a fresco believed to have been stripped from an ancient Roman villa.

Police were investigating 31 people who allegedly operated in Italy and France as part of a European art trafficking ring, a police statement said. No arrests had been made.

The remains of the fresco, which was stolen in the 1970s, are believed to belong to the 1st century A.D. villa of the Emperor Nero's wife Poppea in a site near Pompeii, police said in the statement.

The villa is in the area hit by the eruption in A.D. 79 of Mount Vesuvius, which killed thousands of people and buried Pompeii and neighboring towns in 6 meters (20 feet) of volcanic ash.

Also recovered were two 4th century B.C. vases from the southern region of Apulia and other pottery of Greek origin imported millennia ago by the Etruscan civilization in central Italy.

Italian police said the items turned up in collections in Switzerland, France and Spain and were recovered with the help of local authorities.

Calls to police for details were not answered.

During a raid on a house in Milan, police also seized 22 forgeries of paintings by artists including Renoir, Picasso, Modigliani, Monet and Degas, the statement said.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Tooth scan reveals Neanderthal mobility

Source: AP via Yahoo! News

By ELENA BECATOROS, Associated Press Writer Sat Feb 9, 2:21 AM ET

ATHENS, Greece - Analysis of a 40,000-year-old tooth found in southern Greece suggests Neanderthals were more mobile than once thought, paleontologists said Friday.

Analysis of the tooth — part of the first and only Neanderthal remains found in Greece — showed the ancient human had spent at least part of its life away from the area where it died.

"Neanderthal mobility is highly controversial," said paleoanthropologist Katerina Harvati at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Some experts believe Neanderthals roamed over very limited areas, but others say they must have been more mobile, particularly when hunting, Harvati said.

Until now, experts only had indirect evidence, including stone used in tools, Harvati said. "Our analysis is the first that brings evidence from a Neanderthal fossil itself," she said.

The findings by the Max Planck Institute team were published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The tooth was found in a seaside excavation in Greece's southern Peloponnese region in 2002.

The team analyzed tooth enamel for ratios of a strontium isotope, a naturally occurring metal found in food and water. Levels of the metal vary in different areas.

Eleni Panagopoulou of the Paleoanthropology-Speleology Department of Southern Greece said the tooth's levels of strontium showed that the Neanderthal grew up at least 12.5 miles from the discovery site.

"Our findings prove that ... their settlement networks were broader and more organized than we believed," Panagopoulou said.

Clive Finlayson, an expert on Neanderthals and director of the Gibraltar Museum, disagreed with the finding's significance.

"I would have been surprised if Neanderthals didn't move at least 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) in their lifetime, or even in a year ... We're talking about humans, not trees," Finlayson said.

Greece Returns Two Stolen Marble Statues to Albanian Museum


By Maria Petrakis

Feb. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Greece's government returned two ancient statues stolen from Albania almost two decades ago.

The headless marble statues, one dating back to the 2nd century B.C. and the other to the 2nd century A.D., were handed to Albanian Culture Minister Ylli Pango in Athens today. They were recovered by the Greek authorities in 1997 and identified as having been stolen from the Butrint archaeological site in 1991.

``Greece is implementing a coordinated policy on returning illegally gained antiquities,'' Culture Minister Mihalis Liapis said at a news conference in Athens today. The handover puts this ``policy in practice, in the hope that we will find imitators in other countries.''

Greece and countries including Italy and Egypt are increasingly demanding, and obtaining, the return of artifacts which they say were illegally acquired. Over the past two years, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the world's richest art institution, has agreed to return to Greece the four items claimed by the country, settling a decade-long dispute.

The two statues were identified in 2003 as having been stolen from the museum at Butrint in southern Albania, which borders Greece. The site of a Greek colony and a Roman city, Butrint is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The handover was held at the New Acropolis Museum, which Greece is building to house antiquities from the 2,500-year-old Parthenon, including marbles in the British Museum which it hopes to get back.

To contact the reporter on this story: Maria Petrakis in Athens at

Friday, February 08, 2008

Oldest lighthouse at ancient Roman port

Source: The New Anatolian

Turkish archaeologists unearthed a 2000-year-old lighthouse at the ancient Roman port of Patara, near southern town of Kas, Antalya, discovering probably the oldest such structure that managed to remain intact.

The 12-meter-high lighthouse was built under the reign of Emperor Nero who ruled from 54 to 68, Professor Havva Iskan Isik, head of the excavation team reported.

"The oldest known lighthouse is the one in Alexandria but there is nothing left of it. So, the lighthouse at the Patara port is the oldest one that has remained intact," she said.

Isik said there might be a second lighthouse at the other edge of the port under a huge debris of soil, which she said was to be excavated at a later time.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Archeologist revises read of ancient seal inscription

Source: The Jerusalem Post


A prominent Israeli archeologist said Monday that she has revised her reading of an inscription on an ancient seal uncovered in an archeological excavation in Jerusalem's City of David after various scholars around the world critiqued her original interpretation of the name on the seal.

The 2,500 year-old black stone seal was found last month amid stratified layers of debris in the excavation under way just outside the Old City walls near the Dung Gate, said archeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar, who is leading the dig.

Mazar had originally read the name on the seal as "Temech," and suggested that it belonged to the family of that name mentioned in the Book of Nehemiah.

But after the find was first reported in The Jerusalem Post, various epigraphers around the world said Mazar had erred by reading the inscription on the seal straight on (from right to left) rather than backwards (from left to right), as a result of the fact that a seal creates a mirror image when used to inscribe a piece of clay.

The critics, including the European scholar Peter van der Veen, as well as the epigrapher Ryan Byrne, co-director of the Tel Dan excavations, suggested in Internet blogs that the correct reading of the seal is actually "Shlomit," also a biblical name.

Mazar said Monday that she accepted the reading of "Shlomit" on the ancient seal, and added that she appreciated the scholarly research on the issue.

"We are involved in research, not in proving our own opinions," Mazar said.

She noted that the name Shlomit was known in the period from which the seal dated, and that other contemporary seals had been found that bore names of women who held official status in the administration.

It was not clear whether the name on the seal had any connection to the daughter of Zerubbabel, mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3:19, since the name was apparently common in the period.

The grandson of Judean King Jehoachin, Zerubbabel, led the first band of Jews who returned from the Babylonian captivity, and laid the foundation of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

"What we can say for sure is that this woman was an important woman in the society," Mazar said.

The seal, which portrays a common and popular cultic scene, was bought in Babylon and dates to 538-445 BCE, Mazar said.

In contrast, Byrne suggested that a date in the late seventh or early sixth century was more probable, noting that scene was typical of the Iron Age Levant and that there was no reason to surmise the seal had been made in Babylon.

The 2.1 X 1.8 cm elliptical seal is engraved with two bearded priests standing on either side of an incense alter with their hands raised in a position of worship.

A crescent moon, the symbol of the chief Babylonian god Sin, appears on the top of the altar, Mazar said.

The fact that this cultic scene relates to a Babylonian god seemed not to have disturbed the Jews that used the seal, she added.

Mazar gained international prominence for her recent excavation that may have uncovered the biblical palace of King David.

The three-year-old east Jerusalem dig is being sponsored by the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem research institute, where Mazar serves as a senior fellow, and the City of David Foundation, which promotes Jewish settlement throughout east Jerusalem.