More archaeological news from Biblical Archaeology Review:
Piece by Piece, the Parthenon Comes Home
September 25, 2008
In a gesture undoubtedly designed to inspire the British to do the same, Italian president Giorgio Napolitano presented Greek authorities on Tuesday with a small fragment of what has become known to the world as the Elgin Marbles. The sculptures in question are named for the Scottish diplomat, Lord Elgin, who removed large portions of the Parthenon frieze to decorate his manor home in the U.K. in the early 19th century. The majority of the sculptures are now permanently on display at the British Museum despite Greece’s repeated requests for their return. The piece returned to Greece on Tuesday by the Italians was a small fragment depicting the foot of the goddess Artemis, a piece that had been given by Elgin to a friend in Sicily on his way back to London and which has been on display in a museum in Palermo for the last 200 years.
The 2,500-year-old Parthenon, a temple dedicated to Athena that is the crowning glory of the Acropolis in Athens, has suffered serious damage in the last several hundred years. It was heavily damaged in 1687 in a siege of the Acropolis by the Venetian army during the Ottoman occupation of Greece. Today, the heavy pollution of Athens continues to negatively impact the ancient monument. Because of this, many argue that the Elgin Marbles are much safer in the protected environment of the British Museum, which so far shows no signs of being willing to return the sculptures. Germany gave a fragment back to Greece two years ago, and the Vatican is reportedly poised to follow suit with two fragments currently in its possession.
CBS News reports on the return of a fragment of the Parthenon’s frieze.
Ancient Bronze Age Settlement Added to List of Sites in Legendary City
September 24, 2008
The coastal city of Paphos in southwest Cyprus has enjoyed distinction for several millennia. According to legend, the ancient city is the birthplace of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. In the Greco-Roman world it was the island’s capital, and today it is listed as one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites. Archaeologists have discovered settlements in the area that date from the very first Neolithic age in Cyprus, as well as an important Chalcolithic settlement. Now, scholars can add a Bronze Age settlement to Paphos’s archaeological pedigree.
At the site of Kissonerga-Skalia, archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a site they believe was abandoned around 1700 B.C. The excavated remains include an unusually shaped curved wall that may have served as a perimeter wall, spreads of potsherds and ground stone tools. In other parts of the site, a freestanding furnace and other objects such as spindle whorls, a loom weight and agricultural tools help to give scholars a picture of prehistoric life on the island.
The Cyprus Mail reports on the Bronze Age settlement discovered in Paphos.
Billionaire Religious Leader Works to Preserve Ancient Islamic Sites
September 23, 2008
The 71-year-old billionaire and leader of the world’s 15 million Shia Ismailis has taken on the task of educating the world about the history and greatness of Islamic civilizations. The Agha Khan’s organization, called the Agha Khan Trust for Culture, has been working for the last five years in conjunction with the Syrian antiquities department to preserve and restore the 13th century citadel of Aleppo, an ancient city in Syria that sits at what was one of the crucial junctions of heavily traveled trade routes in antiquity. By restoring ancient sites of great significance in Islamic history, the Agha Khan hopes to broaden the modern world’s view of Islam and its historical context and contributions.
When describing his motivations for establishing such a venture to the AFP (Agence France Presse), the Agha Khan says that “one of the principles of Islam is that on his deathbed every person must try to leave behind a better world.” In helping to restore and preserve some of Islam’s great sites, the Agha Khan hopes to build bridges between people of different religions and cultures.
The Daily Star reports on the Agha Khan’s efforts to preserve important Islamic sites.
Ancient Assyrian Monastery Survives Modern War
September 22, 2008
A late sixth-century Assyrian monastery in Iraq has survived for more than 1,400 years; it has also survived the impact of a Russian tank turret that slammed into it after a U.S. missile hit the tank during the initial U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. After that, the Dair Mar Elia (the Monastery of St. Elijah) was used as a garrison by the U.S. 101st Corps of Engineers. The structure’s importance was eventually recognized by a chaplain, at which point General David Petraeus ordered that the ancient monastic complex be cleared. Now, five years after the beginning of the war in Iraq, this valuable piece of Iraq’s cultural heritage is finally receiving some well-deserved attention from preservation experts.
The ancient monastery is located in Nineveh province—an area that is rich in archaeological sites such as Hatra and Nimrud. Many sites in the area have remained unexcavated, a fact that has protected them from the ravages of war and looting. Both international and Iraqi organizations are interested in investigating and preserving monuments such as Dair Mar Elia, though they agree that security will first have to be restored to the troubled province before scholars will be able to work safely. In the meantime, the U.S. 94th Corps of Engineers is making a topographical map of the site, the first step of a process that will hopefully serve to preserve the sacred site for future generations of Iraqi citizens.
Smithsonian Magazine reports on the monastery of Dair Mar Elia.
Homer’s Troy Larger than Previously Thought
September 21, 2008
This year’s excavation season has given scholars evidence that the legendary city of Troy may have been larger than previously thought. Made famous by Homer’s Iliad, the city of Homer’s epic existed over 3,000 years ago in the late Bronze Age. According to excavation director Ernst Pernicka of the University of Tubingen, Troy may have been as large as 100 acres with a population as high as 10,000 people. Pernicka partially bases his conclusion as to the town’s size on a trench that surrounds the perimeter of the city. He believes that the trench probably functioned as a defensive structure and not as the drainage ditch that archaeologists had previously thought it to be.
Parts of two large pitchers were found in the trench near the edge of the town. Such vessels were used in or near homes for food storage. Their presence suggests that houses in the lower town extended to the trench, indicating a larger city and a greater population than previous excavations have concluded.
Bloomberg reports on the most recent excavations of ancient Troy.
Early Bronze Age Settlement Discovered in Eastern Turkey
September 20, 2008
An early Bronze Age settlement dating to the Hittite era has been discovered in eastern Turkey. The excavation team, headed by Professor Marcella Frangipane of the Italian La Sapienza University, discovered the site in Aslantepe in the Turkish province of Malatya. Frangipane and her team have identified a city perimeter wall that dates to 2900—2500 B.C. and a building that may date to 3000—4000 B.C.
Aslantepe is one of the most excavated sites in Central Anatolia, and thus far seven distinct phases of occupation have been identified, beginning with the Chalcolithic period and continuing through the Roman era. The first known palace in the world was built at Aslantepe in 3350 B.C., on the walls of which beautiful paintings have been successfully preserved.
World Bulletin reports on the discovery of an early Bronze Age settlement in eastern Turkey.