Archeologists Race Against Time at Three Gorges

People’s Daily


Archeological task forces armed with little scoops and brushes are sweating away in southwest China, racing against the clock to rescue cultural relics facing submersion under the Three Gorges Reservoir.


Archeological task forces armed with little scoops and brushes are sweating away in southwest China, racing against the clock to rescue cultural relics facing submersion under the Three Gorges Reservoir.


These special forces, consisting of archeologists from two thirds of China's archeological institutions, have turned the reservoir area into the world's biggest archeological worksite.


"It is unprecedented in China's history of cultural relics salvation," said Qiao Liang, who is one of the policymakers defining the cultural relics rescue program.


"The investment and people engaged in cultural relics salvationby the Central Government have surpassed any other hydro-electric project in the world," said Qiao, who was summoned more than 1,000kilometers from Beijing to the Three Gorges area.


The archeologists have been busy excavating cultural relics in recent weeks. The sluice gate of the Three Gorges dam is set to close on June 1 when the water level will start to rise rapidly toa planned altitude of 135 meters in 15 days.


By the end of last year, China had allocated more than 300 million yuan (36 million US dollars) in special funds to excavate and protect cultural relics in Three Gorges Reservoir area.


More than 7,000 archeological experts, academics and technicians from across the country are racing against time to protect the centuries-old legacy of their ancestors.


The artifacts include prehistoric cultural relics dating back to the Old Stone Age more than two million years ago, cultural sites of ancient dynasties from the Xia Dynasty (21st Century BC to 16th Century BC) to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).


Some nine million square meters of the reservoir area had been prospected by April, and more than 6,000 precious cultural items and 600,000 other cultural heritage items recovered.


"Our excavation work in the Three Gorges Reservoir area is about 10 times the amount of that during ordinary times," said Huang Wei, an archeological professor at Chengdu-based Sichuan University.


China began its cultural relic salvation work in the reservoir area in 1992 when a protection and rescue program were framed, with a total investment reaching one billion yuan (120 million US dollars).


The annual investment in the Three Gorges cultural relics by the central government was about the same allocated to the country's other major cultural relics combined, according to Shao Weidong,an official in charge of Three Gorge cultural relics management, in Chongqing, where lies most of the reservoir's submerged area.


"That means the cultural relics rescue efforts in the reservoirarea are enjoying the same treatment as top state treasures," Shaosaid.


With the clock still clicking, many advanced modern technologies have been introduced to the prospecting and excavation, including remote sensing, ground-penetrating radar andglobal positioning technologies.


The excavation of the cultural relics buried below the 135-meter water level has been completed on schedule. Plan are on the drawing board to salvage other cultural relics after the raising of the water level.


Construction on the Three Gorges Project began in 1993 and is expected to be completed in 2009, when 632 square kilometers of land will be submerged.


Ancient Assyrian Treasures Believed Found in Baghdad

National Geographic Ultimate Explorer

June 2, 2003


Gold jewelry and other precious items recovered from royal tombs excavated at the ancient Assyrian capital of Nimrud are believed to have been found where they were stashed for safety—in a vault below the Central Bank in Baghdad—before the onset of the Gulf War in 1990.

The 2,800-year-old treasures—which were characterized by one British archaeologist authority as the most significant discovery since Tutankhamun's treasures in 1923—are thought to be in three cases that had been sealed and secured in the underground vault. They were not found until last week because the basement of the bank was flooded, possibly deliberately by bank officials as a way to protect them from looters.


A gold crown found in one of the royal tombs in Nimrud, the ancient Assyrian capital. Also in the tombs, which were excavated in the late 1980s, were dozens of other artifacts, several skeletons, and an inscription of a curse on anyone who disturbed the burial site, calling on the gods to impose "restlessness" on his spirit and corpse for all eternity.


Images of some of the exquisite treasures once housed in Baghdad's Iraq Museum—photographs made for National Geographic magazine but never published—have been released as part of the National Geographic Society's contribution to locating and preventing illegal trade in the artifacts.


Where are Iraq's antiquities? Photographer Alexandra Boulat covers this and other topics in her eyewitness account of the war in Iraq. For four months she lived in and photographed Baghdad before, during, and after the invasion. See her images and watch her interview at National Geographic Magazine Online>>


Emergency draining of the vault levels to gain access to Iraq's currency reserves, needed to pay salaries throughout the country, led to confirmation that the cases containing the Nimrud treasures were still intact.

"We have assistance from our friends [at] National Geographic who brought [a] pumping system and hired people to [do] this job for us free of charge," said Ahmed Muhammad, deputy governor of Iraq's Central Bank. "We thank them very much for this favor," he told the National Geographic Ultimate Explorer team which helped the bank drain the water from the basement.

The Ultimate Explorer team was in Baghdad to make news documentaries. The story of the Central Bank vault and recovery of the artifacts will be aired on Ultimate Explorer on MSNBC on July 6. The show will be presented by Lisa Ling, who was in Baghdad for part of the recovery effort.

"The bank was flooded right up to the ground level," said Gayle Young, director of story development, Ultimate Explorer. "It took three pumps and three weeks to get all the water out. At first the water kept flooding into the bank as fast as we pumped it out, but then it was discovered there was a valve that was open. Once we were able to shut that off we could drain all the water and the bank officials gained access to the vaults," Young said.

Young said the three boxes that contained the treasures were found in the seventh vault that was inspected, exactly where it was believed they would be. An archaeologist who placed the seals on the boxes confirmed that they had not been broken. "We expect that they will be opened tomorrow in the presence of experts and witnesses," Young said.

Muhammed said that he asked that at least two employees of the Central Bank observe the opening of the boxes, and the verification and listing of their contents. "The pieces belong to Iraq and not only to Iraqi Museum, and we at the Central Bank of Iraq feel we have a share in these boxes because we kept them for 14 years since 1990," he said.

Draining the water from the vaults became a priority, not only to determine if the treasures had escaped the looting that had taken place on the bank's upper floors during the recent war in Iraq, but because the authorities urgently needed to recover the country's cash reserves.

"We had a crisis situation where we needed to get access to the dinars in the vaults of the Central Bank to pay salaries, and thanks to National Geographic we've been able to open the vaults, to pump out the water, and pay the salaries," said Jacob Nell, advisor to Iraq's Ministry of Finance.

Cash was recovered, wet but intact. The "water was impregnated with soot and not as we feared with sewage, so it's just like they've been through the washing machine and the money is clean," Nel told the Ultimate Explorer team. "Thanks to National Geographic we were able to pump the water out of the vaults, which means that we could get access to the dinars that were stored there, which was essential for us to be able to pay April salaries throughout the country. "

Confirmation that the treasures of Nimrud are in safe custody will be a relief to the archaeological and art communities. There have been widespread fears that they were looted along with thousands of artifacts stripped from the Iraq Museum and archaeological sites in the chaos of the war in Iraq and its aftermath.

National Geographic News Alerts


Help Maintain Connections to the Past

The devastating loss of Iraq's historic treasures isn't an isolated event. Around the world artifacts and monuments are threatened by war, the elements, and lack of resources to preserve them. The threat extends to the world's spiritual and intellectual legacy. Of the 6,000 languages known today, fully half are no longer taught to children, and each day ancient practices, skills, and wisdom fade from the landscape of human imagination.

As part of a growing commitment to maintain all links to our shared cultural past, the National Geographic Society has created the World Cultures Fund, which supports the work of archaeologists, cultural anthropologists, artists, and other professionals wherever the history of civilizations is at risk. The World Cultures Fund will support a wide array of initiatives including antiquities conservation and expeditions to reveal and share the unique stories of people around the globe. Other projects will include conservation of records of the past and celebration of enduring cultures through film, world music, and other mediums.

You can support these vital efforts by making a gift online at www.nationalgeographic.com/help. Gifts can also be mailed directly to: World Cultures Fund, National Geographic Society Development Office, 1145 17th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20036.

University of Chicago Launches 'Lost Treasures from Iraq' Site


In the days following the conquest of Baghdad the Iraq Museum was looted. Reports on the damage vary--the number of lost or stolen objects varies between 50,000 to 200,000. Irrespective of numbers, the losses not only to the world of a archaeology but to mankind in general are tremendous .  This site contains Oriental Institute images of objects from the Iraq Museum, sorted by categories. Other images were scanned from books and are posted here with permission of the publishers.


Naturally, this site is highly incomplete at this point. They will continue to add pictures over the next few weeks as we acquire them; a searchable object database is planned as a second phase for the website, to be developed over the next few weeks.          


This new site is not yet 100% complete, and will continue to add pictures over the next few weeks as they acquire them.  Also, a searchable object database is planned as a second phase for the website, to be developed over the next few weeks.


In the world of Mesopotamian archaeology, no other museum could rival the collections from the Iraq Museum. Spanning a time from before 9,000 B.C. well into to the Islamic period they included some of the earliest tools man ever made, painted polychrome ceramics from the 6th millennium B.C., a relief-decorated cult vase from Uruk, famous gold treasures from the Royal Cemetery at Ur, Sumerian votive statues from Tell Asmar, Assyrian reliefs and bull figures from Assyrian capitals of Nimrud, Nineveh, and Khorsabad, to Islamic pottery and coins--an unrivaled treasure not only for Iraq, but for all of mankind.

In the days following the conquest of Baghdad the Iraq Museum was looted. Reports on the damage vary--the number of lost or stolen objects varies between 50,000 to 200,000. Irrespective of numbers, the losses not only to the world of a archaeology but to mankind in general are tremendous .


University aims to virtually restore Iraq treasures

By Adam Tanner

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Iraq's cultural treasures, recently ravaged by looting and war, could be virtually restored through an ambitious project that would create an online panorama of that cradle of human civilisation.

The University of California at Berkeley is seeking $5 million over five years for a computer-based project to chronicle Iraq's museums and archaeological digs, a university official said.

The resulting Web site would offer photographs, text and real-time details such as the humidity or earthquake activity at research sites. Sensors on key relics would even alert the network if thieves try to steal them.

"Now the U.S. has the upper hand in Iraq, and I feel that in some ways it is our obligation to help part of the restoration and reconstruction," said Ruzena Bajcsy, director of Berkeley's Centre for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society.

"I am using Iraq as an opportunity for promoting the idea of a virtual heritage, cultural heritage encyclopaedia," said Bajcsy, who is from Slovakia.

The fragile state of Iraqi's rich cultural heritage was highlighted when looters stole items from the National Museum in Baghdad after U.S.-led military forces toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein.

The looting was a public relations disaster for Washington. Many criticised the U.S. military for failing to prevent the ravaging of cultural treasures while at the same time providing stepped up patrols at the ministry of oil. Looting has continued in recent weeks at archaeological sites, experts say.

In a separate but related effort, University of Chicago's Oriental Institute has also started categorising about 7,000 items from the Iraqi National Museum, said McGuire Gibson, an Iraq specialist and professor there who returned from Baghdad last week.

The museum already has a Web site running at (http://www-oi.uchicago.edu/OI/IRAQ/iraq.html) with details and pictures from the museum. A fuller online catalogue is upcoming.

Gibson said Iraqi museum officials have identified 1,000 objects that are lost out of a total collection of hundreds of thousands of items, and said in the end the number of identified looted items would likely rise to 3,000 to 4,000.

"Think about losing 3,000 to 4,000 objects in any major museum," he said in an interview. "It is a major loss regardless."

He said the museum has recovered 1,200 objects in recent weeks although some are reproductions and other works with lesser value.

UC Berkeley has set up an initial Web site for its Electronic Cultural Atlas at (http://www.ecai.org/iraq/) after receiving funding for a three-month project from Hewlett-Packard Co.


Italy to Return Looted African Obelisk

By Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News


May 30, 2003 — A daredevil flight might soon end a decades-long diplomatic dispute between Italy and Ethiopia over a looted obelisk.

Carrying 160-ton granite blocks, the plane would land on a small airstrip in Ethiopia, returning to its original country a 78-foot-high granite stele that now stands at the center of Rome's Piazza di Porta, near the Colosseum.

The monument is one of a group of six obelisks erected at Axum when Ethiopia adopted Christianity in the 4th century A.D. It was stolen by the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in 1937 and turned into a symbol of fascist power during his short-lived efforts to revive the grandeur of imperial Rome.

Despite signing various bilateral agreements promising to return the 1,700-year old monument, the Italian government showed no signs of doing so until the obelisk was badly damaged by lightning in a thunderstorm last year.

The thunderstorm smashed the top of the structure, causing stone pieces to crash to the ground.

"The restoration is over, we were able to reassemble the missing parts. The obelisk is back to its original look," Rome's archaeological superintendent Adriano La Regina told reporters.

Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry Under-Secretary Alfredo Mantica confirmed Italy's decision to finally return the monument.

"The obelisk will be cut in four pieces, including a heavy part of the monument which is now underground," Mantica said

Returning the obelisk would be no easy feat. When Mussolini took it to Italy, it was already in fragments. It was restored in Rome using metal rods embedded in concrete, making it very hard to disassemble.

"I very much hope that the Axum obelisk will soon be back on the site in Ethiopia where it was erected so long ago. The obelisks at Axum are wonderful monuments, not only to the levels of civilization in this part of Africa some 2,000 years ago, but also to the engineering skills that enabled such massive stones to be erected," Christopher Clapham of the Center of African Studies at Cambridge University, told Discovery News.

He added that the return of this obelisk was Italy's explicit obligation under the terms of the treaties that ended World War II.

"It should be a matter of deep shame and regret that the successive governments of Italy should have failed, over a period of nearly sixty years, to honor their own obligations, or to make restitution for the damage that Italian fascism did to Ethiopia," Clapham said.

According to Mantica, once the obelisk is disassembled, it will be put in a storage room as a flight back to Ethiopia is set up.

"Ethiopia's government required that the monument is transported by a plane, but there are only two kind of planes able to carry that weight. We wonder whether the airstrip will bear the obelisk's huge weight," Mantica said.


Remains of ancient church found

The Herald Sun

From correspondents in Magdeburg, Germany



ARCHAEOLOGISTS say they have unearthed the remains of a giant cathedral in eastern Germany known to have been built by Holy Roman Emperor Otto the Great in the 10th Century.


"This is one of the most important finds on the history of the early Middle Ages in Europe," said dig leader Rainer Kuhn of the State Office for Archeology in Magdeburg.

The researchers uncovered a stone crypt last week, and closer analysis confirmed their hunch that the grave site might be part of Otto the Great's cathedral, which a millennium ago was one of Europe's most opulent churches.

Laden with Italian marble, glass mosaic stones and glazed wall tiles – remains of which were all found at the site – the romanesque cathedral was as extraordinary in its beauty as in its size.

"It was the largest house of worship north of the Alps apart from the Cologne Cathedral," said Kuhn, adding that it was believed to have measured 80 metres long and 60 metres high.

Historian Babette Ludowici said the discovery in Magdeburg could lead to a rewriting of the early days of the Holy Roman Empire, a loose federation of peoples ruled by a Christian dynasty that aspired to the glory of the Roman Empire.

Foundation stones have just been discovered and are believed to have been part of the western wing of the church, construction of which began in 955.

The Cathedral of Magdeburg was dedicated in 968.

It was Otto the Great's final resting place, but was destroyed by fire in 1207. It was replaced in 1209 by the gothic Magdeburg Cathedral.

It had been believed the ancient church was on the same site as today's cathedral, but the recent finds now put the site 50 metres to the south.

Tiberias archaeological digs uncover the remains of 12th century Crusader fortress  

By Irit Rosenblum, Haaretz.com     


Archaeological digs being carried out by the Antiquities Authority in the old city of Tiberias have revealed impressive remains of the gate and wall of the city's 12th century Crusader fortress.  The digs are part of a tourism development project

initiated by the Tourism Ministry.    


The digs are underway along the Lake Kinneret promenade, close to the Rabbi Haim Abulafiya ancient synagogue, with the assistance of the Tiberias Municipality and the Avnei Derekh and Rushrush companies.


One of the posts of the gate that has been uncovered shows a portion of a magnificently decorated crossbeam.  According to Yossi Stapensky, who is overseeing the dig on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, "It appears that this item, which originated from a public building from the Roman era, was incorporated into the fort to beautify the gate and impress all those coming into the city."


The wall of the fortress is constructed of large basalt stones and is the widest (3.4 meters) uncovered till now in Tiberias. Portions of the wall are also believed to have come from a public structure from the Roman era.


It appears that the fortress was surrounded by a deep moat filled with water from Lake Kinneret that protected its entrance.


The well-preserved condition of the gate makes it possible to uncover the structure in its entirety, and the site will be incorporated into the tourism development project planned alongside the lake's promenade in the future.


On July 2, 1187, Salah a-Din and his army besieged the Tiberias fortress. The Crusaders who got word of the siege left for the city to free their besieged comrades. But on July 4, on the way to Tiberias, the Crusaders were attacked by Salah

a-Din's forces. The ensuing battle resulted in victory for the Muslim.


It is believed that this battle determined the fate of the Land of Israel: Had the Muslims been defeated, the entire region may very well have remained till today under Christian and European rule.       


Reputed Columbus Remains in Spain Exhumed

Mon Jun 2, 8:57 PM ET       

By CIARAN GILES, Associated Press Writer

MADRID, Spain - A chest containing the supposed remains of Christopher Columbus was exhumed Monday for DNA and other tests to determine whether the bones are really those of the famed explorer.

The test aims to settle a long debate over where Colombus is buried: in Spain's Seville Cathedral or in a sprawling monument in the Dominican Republic's capital, Santo Domingo.

In the presence of two descendants of Columbus — Jaime and Anunicada Colon de Carvajal — researchers removed two boxes from an ornate tomb at the cathedral in the southern city of Seville. One box is believed to hold the explorer's bones; the other is known to hold those of his son Hernando.

Another box, thought to contain the bones of Colombus' brother Diego, was exhumed close to Seville. All three were taken across southern Spain, with a police escort, to the University of Granada.

"This is possibly the first time the three ever traveled together," joked Marcial Castro, the researcher who launched the project.

In Granada, experts will conduct an array of tests — including DNA analysis — to find out if the two sets of remains in question are related to those of Hernando, whose identity is certain.

Castro says he believes the true bones are in Santo Domingo but adds, "No historian in the world has conclusive proof of where Columbus is buried. That's what we're trying to find out."

Castro said the exhumation Monday was tense.

"We thought we might just find a pile of dust in the box," he said. "But there were plenty of bones for the scientists to work off."

The results of the tests will not be known for several months.

Researchers have asked to exhume the supposed remains in Santo Domingo as well, but Dominican authorities are waiting to see the outcome of the Spanish tests, Castro said.

All three sets of remains will be returned to their resting places Friday, he said.

Columbus died and was buried in the Spanish city of Valladolid on May 20, 1506, although he had asked to be buried in the Americas.

Three years later, his remains were moved to a monastery on La Cartuja, next to Seville. In 1537, Maria de Rojas y Toledo, widow of another of Columbus' sons, Diego, sent the bones of her husband and his father to the cathedral in Santo Domingo for burial. There they lay until 1795, when Spain ceded the island to France but decided Columbus' remains should not fall into the hands of foreigners.

So a set of remains that the Spaniards believed were Columbus' were shipped to Havana and, when the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, over to Seville.

However, in 1877, workers digging in the Santo Domingo cathedral unearthed a leaden box containing bones and bearing the inscription, "Illustrious and distinguished male, don Cristobal Colon" — as Columbus is called in Spanish — thus sparking the controversy.


Ancient burial site found outside archeologist's office

Adrian Humphreys   

National Post

Monday, June 02, 2003


An ancient Indian burial ground believed to contain hundreds of skeletal remains was inadvertently discovered by a backhoe operator in Midland, Ont., while digging beside a tourist attraction of a recreated native village.

Police, the local coroner, archeologists and First Nations elders were called to the site beside Huron Village after the previously unknown grave site, from about 1500 AD, was uncovered on Thursday during construction of a community arena.

"I've been an archeologist for 35 years and it is rather ironic that just 75 feet from my office is an undetected, undisturbed Huron ossuary," said Jamie Hunter, curator of the museum and village.

Mr. Hunter had told workers to be on the lookout during construction because of the area's history.

"When the backhoe operator realized what he was dealing with wasn't tree roots but bones, he immediately stopped and came and got me and what he had discovered -- to everybody's shock -- was an entire Huron ossuary," Mr. Hunter said.

He believes the burial pit contains the remains of the deceased from an entire village of the Huron people, one of the major aboriginal groups in Ontario before European settlement.

An elder from Chippewas of Beausoleil First Nation, the closest First Nation group to Midland, visited the site on Friday and conducted a ceremony for the deceased, said Jack Contin, executive director of the G'Nadjiwon Ki Aboriginal Tourism Association, who is a liaison between native groups and the municipality.

"It was a special ceremony with four sacred medicines used, and water was presented. The elder gave special prayers as a reassurance that, after having being disturbed, all efforts would be taken to protect them," he said.

"It was a gesture to the grandfathers and grandmothers of the past that the interference was not intended."

A representative of the Huron people is scheduled to visit the site today, and more discussions are planned on what to do next, Mr. Contin said.

Mr. Hunter and Dr. Dean Knight, an archeologist from Wilfrid Laurier University, will examine the find to determine its extent and sift through three dump truck loads of soil that had been removed from the area before work was halted in a search for human remains.

Mr. Hunter estimates less than a quarter of the bodies were disturbed. Because the burial ground was part of the planned landscaping between the arena and an access road, there is no need to further disturb the site, he added.

The town is likely to declare it a protected cemetery and erect a plaque denoting the significance of the site, he said.

Valerie Monague, chief of the Chippewas of Beausoleil, praised the town for promptly contacting First Nations peoples.

The Huron people historically lived in villages for 15 to 25 years and, before moving to a new site, would dig a large circular pit, line it with fur or bark and bury those who had died during the community's stay there, Mr. Hunter said.

"The Huron belief is that because they were a community in life they should be a community in death."

Families would bring the bones of their relative in a beaver skin bag and place it in the pit during a nine-day ceremony called the Feast of the Dead. The sites were then protected by stones and logs.

The Hurons were defeated and dispersed by the Iroquois in the mid 1600s.


© Copyright  2003 National Post


Britain readies digital replicas of Iraqi relics

Wed May 28, 4:39 PM ET             

PARIS (AFP) - Britain is making digital replicas of 1,000 ancient cuneiform tablets and sending them back to Iraq (news - web sites) in a ground-breaking programme to help bolster the rich but vulnerable Iraqi cultural heritage.

The request for the replicas came last year from the University of Mosul, but it has become especially relevant today in the light of the pillaging of Iraq's historical treasures at the end of the war last month.

The British weekly New Scientist says the 1,000 pieces come from a unique collection, housed at the British Museum in London, of 25,000 engraved clay tablets from the library of King Ashurbanipal, who ruled Assyria in 650 BC.

The tablets range from the epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest recorded stories in the world, to banal lists of farming stocks.

Making silicon or latex casts of the tablets could harm their fragile clay surface, so the museum has hired a British company to make digital copies of the objects using laser scanners, designed for space and military work, that are accurate to within a tenth of a millimetre.

The data can then be used to recreate a virtual copy of the tablet, which can be viewed on a computer or over the Internet.

The museum will hand over digital copies of the tablets and is also getting the replicas "printed" into a three-dimensional hard copy made of resin which it hopes will be detailed enough for display or scholastic study in Iraq.

The request from Mosul was part of an effort, funded by Iraqi oil income and channelled through UNESCO (news - web sites), to set up a new centre for Assyriology.

The article appears in next Saturday's issue of the British science weekly.