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Posts Tagged ‘archaeology’

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Photo: Tom Blackie via Flickr
The Avenue of Sphinxes on the Al-Kabbash road in Luxor. Recently, a previously unknown sphinx was discovered by construction workers.

Every day new discoveries. Today I have a story about a recent discovery in Egypt. But first, to refresh your classical memory, the mythological creature called a sphinx has the body of a lion and the head of a human. Although the most famous sphinx story — the one that involved Oedipus — took place in Greece, all the statues of sphinxes are in Egypt.

Naomi Rea writes at artnet news, “A previously unknown statue of a sphinx has been discovered in Egypt, the general director of Luxor Antiquities, Mohamed Abdel Aziz, announced [in August].

“Construction workers upgrading the historic Al-Kabbash Road between the famous Luxor and Karnak temples stumbled upon the find, the English-language Egypt Today reports. …

“The Ministry of Egyptian Antiquities is developing a way to lift the newfound statue from its resting place. … In the meantime, construction work has been paused on the road and the Minister of Antiquities, Khaled al-Anani, is encouraging tourists to visit the site to see the statue.

“A researcher in Egyptology, Bassam al-Shamma, told Egyptian media that the find is not altogether surprising as many similar sphinx statues have been found across Luxor. Several new discoveries have been found in recent years, and the road is already lined with many other small stone versions of the mythical creatures dating from around 1400 BC. …

“The mythical creature of the sphinx has the head of a human and the body of a lion. In ancient Greek tradition, the sphinx’s head is often a merciless female. … For the Egyptians, though, the guardian creature was seen as benevolent, and the heads of the statues were often carved in the likeness of pharaohs. This is the case with the famous Great Sphinx; the monumental statue is thought to have been sculpted in likeness of the pharaoh Khafra.

“Other famous Egyptian sphinxes include a granite example with the head of the pharaoh Hatshepsut, which is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The Great Sphinx of Tanis in the Louvre is one of the largest sphinxes outside of Egypt.”

More at artnet, here

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Photo: Jason Moon / NHPR
These large stones come from the foundation of an early 17th century garrison house near Durham, New Hampshire’s Great Bay. Sea-level rise is adding urgency to archaeological digs.

I’m losing count of the ways that melting glaciers and global warming are beginning to affect our lives. This story comes from New Hampshire, which some readers may be surprised to learn has a border on the ocean. As glaciers melt and waters rise, parts of that border are washing out to sea.

New Hampshire Public Radio’s Jason Moon “joined a [University of New Hampshire] researcher for a hike to see a centuries-old archaeological site that is literally washing away.

“UNH anthropological archaeologist Meghan Howey has a map. It was made in 1635 and it shows the location of garrison houses that once stood near Great Bay in what is now Durham. Garrison houses, in case you’re wondering, were a sort of fortified log cabin built by early colonial settlers in New England.

“But Howey says even though we’ve had this map for almost 400 years, until recently, no one has actually gone out to find the sites. To look for what may have been left behind. …

“Howey and a team of volunteers discovered the location of one of the garrison houses on that map – the remains of a structure where some of the earliest Europeans to ever be in this region lived, worked, and died.

“But that exciting discovery came with some sobering news.

“We reach the end of the forest, where a steep bank drops to a narrow strip of sandy beach. Howey points to the ground beneath our feet.

“I realize that she’s not showing me what’s here, so much as what’s gone. Most of the land where the garrison house once stood has been eaten away by the rising tidal water of the bay.

“ ‘Like quite literally washing away,’ says Howey, ‘and it’s gone, whatever the artifacts were with it – they’ve been, over the years, just washed away.’

“Just one corner of the garrison house’s foundation remains on solid ground. A few feet away, Howey points out a couple of bricks submerged in the shallow salty water. She says the bricks were likely part of the garrison house’s chimney and could date back to the 1600s. They are what remains of an archaeological site that’s largely been lost.

“ ‘Yeah it’s gone. It was a pretty depressing find,’ says Howey. …

“In a new report, she combined sea-level rise projections from climate scientists with the location of historic sites on the Seacoast. She found that as many as 1 in 7 of the region’s known historic sites are at risk.

“But even that number could be a low estimate because it doesn’t include sites like this one, which weren’t known until Howey found it just last year. …

“In many cases, saving historic sites like this from climate change just isn’t feasible. So the best Howey can do is to document what’s here before it’s gone — an archaeological race against time.

“ ‘I feel a great sense of urgency especially after finding these sites are washing away,’ says Howey, ‘there’s a part of me that feels I’m 20 years too late to the problem.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Vincent Francigny / Sedeinga archaeological mission
A large cache of recently discovered texts offers insight into one of Africa’s oldest written languages.

Archaeologists, whether professionals or amateurs like those in a recent post, keep discovering new wonders. They remind us never to make the mistake of thinking that everything has been discovered.

Jason Daley writes at Smithsonian magazine, “Archaeologists in Sudan have uncovered a large cache of rare stone inscriptions at the Sedeinga necropolis along the Nile River. The collection of funerary texts are inscribed in Meroitic, one of Africa’s earliest written languages.

“As Charles Q. Choi at LiveScience reports, the find is full of potential. … The archaeological site of Sedeinga — once part of the kingdoms of Napata and Meroe (which were jointly referred to as the ‘Kush kingdom’ by their ancient Egyptian neighbors) –- includes the remains of 80 small brick pyramids and more than 100 tombs created during a cultural period from about 700 B.C. to roughly 300 C.E.

” ‘The necropolis’ miniature pyramids were initially inspired by Egypt’s massive monuments, but during a later time, Meroitics refashioned the tombs and pyramids to include chapels and chambers where they could worship the dead. …

“In addition to the funerary texts, archaeologists also found pieces of decorated and inscribed sandstone. … One of the more interesting new finds from the dig is a lintel, or structural beam from a chapel with a depiction of Maat, the Egyptian goddess of order, equity, and peace. This is the first time archaeologists have found a depiction of Maat with black African features.

“Another find of note, a funerary stele, describes a high-ranking woman by the name of Lady Maliwarase and details her connections with royalty. Similarly, a lintel uncovered during the excavation explores the lineage of another woman of high rank, Adatalabe, who counts a royal prince among her blood line.

“These kinds of inscriptions are sure to help historians continue to piece together the story of Meroe. For instance, as Francigny tells Choi, the aforementioned finds reveal that in Meroe kingdom matrilineality — the women’s lineage — was important enough to record.”

More here.

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Photo: beniculturali.gov.it
The newly discovered “commander’s house” was found while digging Rome’s Metro C subway line. It dates back to the 2nd century.

Nowadays, archaeologists get involved at construction sites early, especially if there’s a suspicion of buried culture deep down. It must be frustrating for builders to delay a project when something of historical significance is unearthed, but I like to think that some builders (or perhaps some low-level workers) find it exciting to be part of history. I like to imagine that once in a while an inspired worker goes back to school and becomes an archaeologist.

In Rome, a subway project first revealed unexpected treasure in 2016. Elena Goukassian has a report at Hyperallergic.

“In the summer of 2016, while digging the new Metro C subway line in Rome, workers came across a rare archeological find, a 2nd-century CE Roman barracks. [More recently] archeologists uncovered the remains of a ‘commander’s house’ (domus) connected to the barracks, ‘the first discovery of its kind in the Italian capital,’ according to the Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata (ANSA).

“Complete with marble floors, mosaics, and frescoes, the Hadrian-era house was found [roughly 39 feet] under the Amba Aradam station, close to the Basilica of San Giovanni Laterano. …

“Measuring 300 square meters (~3,200 square feet), the house contains 14 separate rooms, including a ‘bathhouse with underfloor heating.’

“The house will be dismantled piece by piece and temporarily moved, before returning to its original location and incorporated into the new metro station, which ‘will surely become the most beautiful metro station in the world,” [the head of Rome’s monuments authority, Francesco Prosperetti] told reporters.”

Great pictures at Hyperallergic, here.

Who wouldn’t love the mosaic owl discovered under a subway line in Italy?

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Photo: Judy Benson, Day Staff Writer
Kevin McBride, far right, anthropology professor at the University of Connecticut and director of research at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, contemplates artifacts uncovered by Hurricane Sandy.

Today I’m linking to a couple articles about the work of Prof. Kevin McBride, director of research at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum in Connecticut. The first describes how he found a mutually beneficial way to work with metal detectionists so that details of finds would not be lost.

The partnership is surprising as archaeologists put a high priority on removing artifacts from their surroundings in a scientific way, and are usually at loggerheads with people using metal detectors.

The New York Times, where I read about this, has new firewalls that make it hard to share excerpts of articles like this one, alas, so I scouted out a related article by Judy Benson, a Day staff writer. In this one, Kevin McBride’s team turned up signs of Manisses activity on Block Island after Hurricane Sandy.

Judy Benson wrote, “Each no bigger than a fingernail, the two brown shards easily could have been mistaken for insignificant bits of rock, hardly a fitting reward for a day’s work. But to Kevin McBride and his dozen-member archaeology crew … at Grace’s Cove beach [that was] exactly what all the careful digging, scraping and sifting were about. … They probably are pieces of pottery left by the Manissee tribe that once inhabited the island. …

“McBride has been running archaeological digs here since 1983, but it wasn’t until 2012, when Superstorm Sandy gouged out broad sections of these dunes, that his chance to lead this project — the most comprehensive archaeological study of Block Island that’s ever been done, he said — came along. The state of Rhode Island decided to use about $500,000 of federal storm relief funds earmarked for assessments of cultural resources damaged by the storm to fund archaeological work along the state’s shoreline and the Block Island coast. …

” ‘Sandy did things to this island’s coastline that no one’s ever seen before, stripping away these dunes. The sites we’re focusing on are at risk in the next storm. The artifacts we’re finding will be lost if you don’t pick them up.’ ”

More at the Day, here.

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Now for something a little different in the Christmas cookie department. How about gingersnaps that look like ancient clay tablets? With cuneiform inscriptions.

As Jennifer A Kingson writes at the New York Times, that’s what Katy Blanchard of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology brought to her holiday party a few years ago. Now everyone wants to try it.

“Ms. Blanchard, whose passions are archaeology and baking, used chopsticks, a fish knife and a gingerbread recipe that came packaged with a Coliseum-shaped cookie-cutter she once bought. Not only did her cuneiform cookies beguile her colleagues at the office party, they also gained some measure of internet renown after a Penn Museum publicist posted an article about how she made them. (Sample comment from the public: ‘Mine will probably taste more like the Dead Sea Scrolls.’)

“From there, cuneiform cookies started to become — as the newspaper The Forward put it — ‘a thing.’ Bloggers were enthralled, including one who said she was taking a class in Hittite and opted to practice on shortbread. …

” ‘It really struck the world in just the right nerdy place,’ said Ms. Blanchard, noting that a number of people, including home schooling parents, classroom teachers and scholars of ancient languages, had taken the idea and run with it. …

“Inspired by Ms. Blanchard’s cuneiform cookies, Esther Brownsmith, a Ph.D. student in the Bible and Near East program at Brandeis University who has been studying Akkadian for years, went all out: For a New Year’s party, she baked four tablets of gingerbread, each on a 13-by-18-inch pan, and copied part of the Enuma Elish, a seven-tablet Babylonian creation myth, onto them. A stunning step-by-step description of this feat has drawn thousands of ‘likes on her Tumblr blog.”

More here, at the Times.

Photo: The Forward and Kay Blanchard
The online world is snapping up recipes for these gingerbread cuneiform cookies by Katy Blanchard of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

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There is always so much to discover, sometimes right under our feet. That’s why I suspect that archaeology, despite the drudgery, is a happy career.

Washington Post reporter Patricia Sullivan found some happy archaeologists who discovered an ancient ship where a hotel is being built. (Of course, the hotel people are probably tearing their hair out right about now.)

Sullivan writes, “A large, heavy ship, scuttled between 1775 and 1798, is being dug out of its damp grave at the site of a new hotel construction project in Old Town Alexandria.

“Archaeologists found the partial hull of a ship at 220 S. Union Street, part of the city’s major redevelopment of the Potomac River waterfront. It’s on the same one-block site where workers two months ago discovered a 1755 foundation from a warehouse that is believed to have been the city’s first public building.

“ ‘It’s very rare. This almost never happens,’ said Dan Baicy, the hard-hatted field director for Thunderbird Archaeology, the firm watching for historic evidence during construction. ‘In 15 years that I’ve done this work, I’ve never run into this kind of preservation in an urban environment where there’s so much disturbance.’ …

“Digging by hand, archaeology crews uncovered a nearly 50-foot-long remnant of the keel, frame, stern and flooring, estimated to be about one-third of the original hull. The wood did not decay, Baicy said, because once it was buried, oxygen could not reach it. …

“The find has archaeologists surprised and ecstatic. Unlike the warehouse, which was noted in old city records, there was no known documentation of the buried ship’s existence.”

More at the Washington Post.

Photo: Kate Patterson/The Washington Post
Remnants of a late-18th-century vessel were discovered during excavations for a new hotel on the Old Town Alexandria waterfront.

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