Archaeologists unearth six ancient Egyptian tombs


Egyptian archaeologists have unearthed six 3,500-year-old tombs.

They believe the tombs reveal important details about the structure of government in a period considered Egypt's golden age.


Archaeologists working on the dig found the six tombs at the foot of the third dynasty Step Pyramid, believed to be Egypt's first pyramid, just outside Cairo.

The tombs belonged to government officials who worked in northern Egypt at the end of the 18th dynasty and in the 19th dynasty, around 1567-1200 BC.


One of the tombs is capped with a 37-centimetre block of limestone carved in the shape of a pyramid, a characteristic of New Kingdom burials that is unusual in northern Egypt.


The discovery is further proof of government decentralization during the New Kingdom.


"Those buried here were in charge of the Delta," a spokesman said.


Oldest intact sarcophagus found in Egypt

14:54 18 June 02

NewScientist.com news service


The oldest intact sarcophagus discovered to date has been found by archaeologists working near the pyramids of Giza in Egypt. It is expected to contain a 4,500 year-old mummy.


The limestone sarcophagus was discovered two kilometres south-east of the Sphinx in a region of the plateau used as a cemetery for the pyramids' workers. The find dates from the 4th Dynasty (2613 BC - 2494 BC), to the reign of Khufu, the builder of the Great Pyramid.


Hieroglyphs on the tomb state that it belonged to Ny-Nsw-Wesert, an "overseer of the administrative district", who was in charge of the workforce at the pyramids, tombs and temples around Giza.


Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities and head of the excavation team says the lid of the sarcophagus is glued down. He thinks this "proves that no-one opened it since 4,600 years ago."


Jeffrey Spencer, deputy keeper at the department of ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum, says: "This is an interesting find because intact tombs are extremely rare - 99 per cent of them have been disturbed by robbers through antiquity."



But it is unlikely that any highly valuable objects will be found inside, he says. "He had a responsible job but not access to great wealth - so it might contain figurines or amulets, which had ritual power to protect the wearer," he told New Scientist.


The body itself could be quite decomposed, Spencer says: "The mummy will be wrapped in linen, but the techniques at this period were still in development and had not yet reached the levels of sophistication that existed during Tutankamun's lifetime."


The burial chamber was cut into a rock and includes five burial shafts - the other four are believed to belong to the family of the overseer. It has two openings, possibly to allow the soul of the deceased to leave and enter the chamber.

The sarcophagus will be opened in September.


Archaeologists 'uncover hidden pyramids' in Uzbekistan


Archaeologists have discovered a series of ancient pyramids in Uzbekistan.

The hidden structures are 15 metres high and believed to be up to 2,700 years old.


The BBC reports they were found in remote mountain gorges in the south of the country.


Archaeologists say they're similar to Egyptian pyramids, but their faces are flat instead of stepped.


The pyramids were found in the Kashkadarya and Samarkand regions of Uzbekistan.


Experts believe their isolation probably stopped them being taken apart for building materials.


Story filed: 11:57 Monday 17th June 2002


'Stonehenge was Bronze Age Millennium Dome'


A Plymouth man believes Stonehenge originally looked like a Bronze Age version of the Millennium Dome.


Bruce Bedlam says the Wiltshire monument would have been a meeting place, government centre and temple.


He claims the outer ring of monolithic stones supported a cone-shaped timber roof, like a cathedral's.


The wooden beams would have stretched out from the stones to form a 10-point star on the ground, like the supports that jut out from the Dome.


The former Army engineer says the tent-like shape was designed to line up exactly with the movements of the sun at key dates throughout the year.


However Dr Christopher Chippindale, a Cambridge University archaeologist, disputes the theory.


He says the stone blocks have such shallow foundations it is unlikely they could have supported a cathedral-like roof.


The Western Daily Press says Mr Bedlam will unveil a model of the building this week after spending 18 years researching the background of the stones.


Mr Bedlam said: "If they could move these stones, I can't imagine the people who built Stonehenge standing in the rain - it doesn't make any sense at all. I had to ask myself: Why was it so big? Why is it in a circle? What are the lintels locked together and why is there a circle of holes around Stonehenge?"


Story filed: 12:54 Monday 17th June 2002


Open Access for Stonehenge Solstice


Stonehenge is being opened for revellers to celebrate summer solstice on Thursday.


But English Heritage has said there will be conditions of entry in place to ensure the ancient monument is not damaged.


Access to the stones will be free and last admission to the car park is at 0430 BST on Friday morning.


The stones themselves will be open from 2000 BST on Thursday until 0700 BST on Friday.


Visitors will not be allowed to climb on, stand or lean on the stones.


Fires are not permitted, nor is amplified music.


And drunken behaviour, dogs, tents, garden furniture or glass bottles will not be tolerated.


Dr Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, said he was pleased to welcome people to Stonehenge for the solstice.


"This builds on the considerable success of the celebrations in 2000 and 2001," he added.


"Summer solstice is a special time which means different things to different people.


"We want everyone who comes to be able to enjoy the occasion safely and peacefully.


"Observance of the entry conditions is essential if we are to ensure that access over the solstice is sustainable for the future."


The 15-year ban on solstice celebrations at the site was lifted in 2000.


The sacred Wiltshire stones were protected by a four-mile exclusion order during the summer solstice from the 1980s, following a series of public order problems.

During the year, paying visitors are prevented from going up to the stones themselves, unless special arrangements are made.


The Wiltshire stones are all that remain of a sequence of monuments on the site between about 3000 and 1600 BC.


Each was circular and aligned with the rising of the sun at the midsummer solstice - the longest day of the year.


The purpose of the stones themselves is still shrouded in mystery although druids regard them as living temple.


Some historians say it was built by a sun-worshipping culture; others that it aligns with the sunrise because its banks were part of a huge astronomical calendar.


Roman racecourse uncovered in Israel


Israeli archaeologists have uncovered what they believe are the remains of a stadium from the time of Jesus, where thousands watched horse racing and war games.


The Jewish-built stadium, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, may allso have held thousands of Jewish prisoners after the Roman's lost a battle, archeologists said, quoting the writings of ancient Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus.


The stadium was uncovered near Tiberias, an ancient city built by Jews. Most of it has yet to be unearthed, but Moshe Hartal, the archaeologist overseeing the dig, said it was probably about 200 yards long.


The large size of the structure, the semicircular shape of its walls at one end and the foundations used for seats led to the conclusion the building was a stadium and most likely one written about by Josephus, he said.


Archaeologist Ehud Netzer of Hebrew University said he believed boat races and water war games were held in one section at a later period, probably the third century, since signs of mud were found.


The structure was also apparently the site written about by Josephus where, in AD 67, 37,000 Jewish prisoners were held after they lost to the Romans in a naval battle on the nearby Sea of Galilee, Mr Hartal said.


The old and weak prisoners were executed and the stronger ones sold off as slaves, Josephus wrote.


According to Josephus' writings, stadiums during the Roman period were important public facilities, where thousands of people would gather to watch races or receive official announcements and see events sponsored by the Roman rulers.


Story filed: 18:56 Monday 17th June 2002


Monday, 17 June, 2002, 18:27 GMT 19:27 UK


Berlusconi warned over heritage plans


Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has stirred fresh controversy with his plans to privatise the management of Italy's cultural heritage, a move some critics feel could end in the sale of monuments like the Colosseum.


Issuing a rare rebuke, President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi wrote a letter to Mr Berlusconi insisting his right-wing government provide "particular guarantees" about the future management of monuments and works of art.


The undersecretary of the Culture Ministry, Vittorio Sgarbi, has already abandoned his post to protest the plan, although he intends to stay on at the ministry in his capacity as an art expert.


The government denies that the proposals will result in the sale of key sites and artefacts.


It argues that the management companies - Patrimonio SpA and Infrastructure SpA - will simply ensure that heritage will be better managed and more profitable.

But critics say there is no provision for the protection of national treasures that could stop them falling into private hands, permanently.


The government insists the bill could well mean that the public gains access to a number of villas and museums with remarkable artworks which cannot be displayed because funds are insufficient to provide adequate protection.

"Selling the Colosseum is pretty far removed from the logic of the plan," said Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti.


The Italian Government is grappling with a large public debt, and has also committed itself to expensive projects such as building a bridge linking Sicily to the mainland.


President Ciampi has approved the plan, but correspondents say Mr Berlusconi will be eager to avoid any kind of showdown, as the president is a highly respected figure.


The president's words have been greeted by a string of opposition politicians and activists, who have denounced the new law as "dangerous, vague and risky".

When Mr Sgarbi resigned last week, he said the proposals could lead to a cultural disaster if they were not closely monitored.


"I cannot accept this," he said. "You might be able to sell significant buildings, but the government cannot sell the contents of the Uffizi in Florence."


New online archeology resource



Archaeologists, historians, students and teachers will all benefit from a new online map-searching service introduced today by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS).


CANMAP (to access follow this link) allows users to see the distribution of archaeological sites and buildings of historical interest in any chosen area of Scotland. It was officially launched by Deputy Culture Minister Dr Elaine Murray.


Following a demonstration of the website, Dr Murray said:

"The Commission collects and curates a wealth of information on Scotlandís built heritage. It is important that this work is made available to as wide a customer-base as possible, and the launch of CANMAP is a positive and welcome development.


"Searching via a map has always been one of the primary requirements of those needing information about the built heritage, but until now it has not been possible to make this available on-line. This new website not only provides a gateway to Scotland for the rest of the world but is also an invaluable tool for professionals, enthusiasts, students and teachers alike.


"CANMAP allows everyone to identify built heritage in an area of their choice. This may be the area around where they live or a place they intend to visit. For people tracing their family tree, it will help bring the past alive by providing insight into the buildings that would have been part of their ancestor's every-day lives.

"For the archaeologist, CANMAP will enhance their study by allowing them to see what else is located near an area they are interested in. For the architectural historian, it will show in what context a particular building is located. For the student, school pupil or teacher, it creates a new way of accessing the CANMORE database.


"The combination of CANMAP and CANMORE unlocks a significant source of information to the public. It provides clear benefits as a resource for educational use, for tourism, for our understanding of our cultural inheritance and for our appreciation of the build heritage."


RCAHMS is an executive non-departmental public body. It carries out a programme of field surveys and recording of the built heritage of Scotland under international convention.


As an extension of CANMORE (Computer Application for National MOnuments Records Enquiries), CANMAP provides an online map searching service for RCAHMSís computerised heritage database.


Launched in March 1998, CANMORE provides information on architectural, archaeological and maritime sites throughout Scotland. In 2001-2 CANMORE received 150,000 hits worldwide.


Revealing medieval masterpiece

Jun 19 2002


The hunt is on for a team of specialist picture restorers to work together on revealing a medieval Doom painting which has been hidden in a Coventry church for more than 140 years.


There are only about 10 experts in Britain capable of tackling the delicate job.

And Alan Wright, architect at Holy Trinity Church, in Broadgate, needs at least six of them to spend nine months working under the guidance of London conservator John Burbidge.


The Doom picture - so called because it shows the "mouth of hell" and images of the dead rising from their graves to be presented before God on the Day of Judgement - was painted on the chancel arch around 1435.


Last year, finely painted chunks of another picture on the same Biblical theme were unearthed during the archaeological dig on Coventry's lost Benedictine Priory Cathedral, the foundations of which are just yards from Holy Trinity.


But unlike the tantalising fragments of this even earlier medieval picture, found on the wall of the monks' Chapter House, the Holy Trinity painting remains intact.

It is simply obscured from view by the thick layer of "protective" varnish.


It is the highly technical job of dissolving this varnish and conserving the glorious colours of the 35ft wide picture, which will occupy the time of Mr Burbidge and his team.


Ideally he would like to start work by the end of July.


Mr Wright said: "The picture is all there beneath the varnish, which unfortunately went black within 20 years of its being restored in the 19th century.


"But we have infra-red photographs and a 19th century water-colour painting showing the whole work. These will go back on display in the church when work starts."


It was only after two years of careful computer monitoring of heat and humidity conditions on the medieval painting that it was felt safe to begin conservation work.


But by that time the church spire, which already had to be replaced after falling down during the 17th century, was undergoing massive restoration work.


The future of the Doom picture became part of the £1.2 million Heritage Lottery funded renovations and had to wait its turn.


Mr Wright estimates the picture's restoration could cost between £400,000 and £500,000.