Ancient statue of Ramses II found near Cairo

A statue of Ramses II, the most powerful of Egypt's ancient pharaohs, has been discovered five feet under the sands of a Nile delta town.

Last Updated: 11:48PM BST 24 Sep 2008


Egyptian archaeologists located the pink, granite monument at a site in Tell Basta, once the capital of the ancient state 50 miles north of Cairo.


The great king's nose had been broken and his beard was missing, said Zahi Hawass, the head of the country's supreme council of antiquities.


Ramses, also known by his Greek name Ozymandias, commanded a mighty empire during Egypt's new kingdom from 1279-1213 BC.


He built luxurious palaces, lavish temples and other huge monuments across the kingdom.


These included Abu Simbel, constructed in the far south of the country. The husband of the beautiful queen Nefertiti, he has also been identified with the Biblical Exodus led by Moses into ancient Israel.


Ramses was buried in the valley of the kings at Luxor, but was discovered last century and his mummified remains are now displayed in a Cairo museum.


"The head is 76 cm high (around 30 inches), the nose is broken, and the false beard that was once attached to the king's chin is missing," Mr Hawass said.


"The discovery is important because it may indicate that the excavators are close to the ruins of a major temple of Ramses II in the area".


Archaeologists are still excavating the Tell Basta site in the hopes of discovering the rest of the statue.



Agha Khan uses his massive wealth to protect precious sites in Syria

Monday, September 22, 2008

Annick Benoist

Agence France Presse


ALEPPO: The majestic citadel atop Syria's ancient city of Aleppo, the Masyaf Fortress of the sinister order of the Assassins and the castle of Arab conqueror Salah al-Din (Saladdin) have all been given a new lease on life as part of a project by the Agha Khan to promote Islamic sites.


"We don't do enough to illustrate to the peoples of our world the greatness of Islamic civilizations," the 71-year-old billionaire spiritual leader of the world's 15 million Shia Ismailis told AFP in an interview.


The Agha Khan, who last year celebrated 50 years as head of his community, said at a recent ceremony capping work in Aleppo that his goal is to educate the world on the wealth of Muslim culture.


"Because they don't know our history, they don't know our literature, they don't know our philosophy, they don't know the physical environment in which our countries have lived, they view the ummah [the Muslim nation] in terminology which is completely wrong."


The 13th-century citadel is in the heart of Aleppo - one of the world's oldest inhabited cities at the crossroads of ancient trade routes - and is a World Heritage Site along with Salah al-Din's castle.


Battered by a long history of bombardments, pillage and earthquakes, the citadel's surrounding walls and some of its 19 towers were strengthened while two mosques, while a hammam or bathhouse and a palace were also restored.


For five years dozens of workers restored the minaret of a mosque, baths and the imposing palace within the castle of Salah al-Din, originally built by the Crusaders on a windswept mountain ridge.


The Masyaf Fortress is a mediaeval eagles' nest that served as home to the Assassins, contract killers who were an offshoot of the Ismaili sect of Shia Islam persecuted as infidels by dominant Sunnis.


General conservation work was carried out at the rugged site, and part of an outer wall was rebuilt. The Agha Khan Trust for Culture carried out the work in close collaboration with Syria's antiquities department. It also revamped the landscape around all three sites to make it more tourist-friendly.


"My interest in working in Syria," the Agha Khan said, "is to take the various [leading] countries of the ummah and say, let's start, let's move together, let's revive our cultures so that modernity is not only seen in the terminology of the West, but in the intelligent use of our past."


His visit to Syria was part of a tour of some 35 nations that began in July last year to mark his Golden Jubilee, or 50 years since the Agha Khan became leader of the community in July 1957, succeeding his grandfather.


Fueled by his enormous wealth, the Agha Khan - who ranks number 11 on the Forbes magazine list of the world's wealthiest royals with a fortune estimated at $1 billion - has since 1967 also led an apolitical, secular foundation.


The Agha Khan Development Network is involved in projects from promoting health to education, architecture and the rehabilitation of historic cities.


Helping the poor to improve their lives is also high on the Agha Khan's agenda. As a youth, he dreamt of becoming an architect before graduating instead from Harvard University with a degree in Islamic history.


"In the Judaeo-Christian world, charity is a notion which evokes generosity with nothing in return," the Agha Khan told AFP on the sidelines of his visit to Syria. "In Islam, the 'best of charities', but not the only one, is to help the poor be self-sufficient. I was born with Islamic ethics, in a Muslim family. There is nothing wrong with being well off as long as money has a social and ethical value and is not the object of one's own greed.


"That is why I wanted to set up institutions that can manage everyday problems based on Islamic values. One of the principles of Islam is that on his deathbed every person must try to leave behind a better world."


Restoring Islamic sites in Syria was also central to his goal of building bridges between religions and cultures.


"Syria wants to be a secular state where all religions coexist, even if the majority of the Syrian people are Sunni," he said.


His Ismaili sect split from mainstream Shia Islam in the 11th century and its followers live today in some 25 countries across Africa, West and Central Asia, the Middle East, North America and Western Europe.



Archaeological Dig in Greece Returns Important Finds

By La Monica Everett-Haynes, University Communications

September 23, 2008


New and interesting information is coming out of an archaeological dig at Mt. Lykaion in Greece – an interdisciplinary project University of Arizona students and faculty have worked on since 2004.


That project is not only informing researchers about the rituals and beliefs of those who lived in ancient Greece but also accentuating the significance of the mountaintop site in southwestern Arcadia, which contains an ash altar, a sanctuary, a stadium, bathhouses, a fountain house, stoa, a hippodrome and other structures.


“It’s a site that is tied to so much happening, from the Classical Age to the early Bronze Age,” said George H. Davis, a Regents’ Professor in geosciences, noting that not only did the athletic games occur at Mt. Lykaion, but it is potentially the legendary birthplace of Zeus, the Greek king of gods.


The project began in 2004 and, this year, the team has worked to excavate trenches in the ash altar, the upper and lower sanctuary, the bath, the stadium and other areas.


“We started finding interesting things and continued to explore things more because of their great antiquity,” said Mary Voyatzis, head of the UA’s classics department and one of the project’s co-directors.


The other co-directors are David Romano, a senior research scientists at the Unversity of Pennsylvania, and Michaelis Petropoulos of the Greek Archaeological Service.


The team has unearthed large amounts of Final Neolithic and Early Bronze Age ceramics that date back to at least 3000 B.C, and probably earlier – which is unusual for such a location.


“Some of the material we have found is significantly older than what what was uncovered in the santuary at Olympia,” she said, adding that the site of the original Olympic Games is about 20 miles away. The earliest evidence of religious activity at Olympia is 11th century B.C., Voyatzis added.


“So we’re wondering which way the influence was in fact going," she said.


At the moment, the research team is in the process of writing a number of research papers about their results and have one more summer to excavate, though the team will request an extension to continue their work through the summer of 2010, Voyatzis said.


Greek archaeologists investigated the site about 100 years ago, but the current project is far more extensive and is more scientifically based. Also, the project includes geological, geophysical, architectural and historical surveys, stratigraphical excavation and analyses of faunal and floral remains.


So important is the project and the recent findings that the University of Athens has deemed the project is the “most important archeological excavation now underway in Greece.”


Several UA students – studying classics, geosciences, anthropology and architecture – are working on the project. Also, Teresa Moreno, an associate conservator for the Arizona State Museum, has worked on the excavations.


“What we found this year was very exciting because we got down to bedrock in a small part of the altar and found a layer of what appears to be purely Mycenaean pottery – a style of pottery that ranges from the 15th century through the 12th century,” Voyatzis said.


Excavators of the altar have uncovered a great deal of material, including pottery evidence ranging in date from the 14th century through the 3rd century B.C. They also have found silver coins, a bronze hand figure holding a silver lightening bolt, Hellenic fineware and – a curious find – petrified lightning.


“It kind of glistens in the sun and is porous like slag,” Voyatzis said.


“When (George) Davis saw it, he said it was exciting that we found a decent-sized piece,” she added. “It makes you wonder what the ancients understood about this natural phenomenon and why Zeus was worshipped on mountaintops.”


Though the researchers are not yet clear whether the petrified lightning, or fulgurite, was brought to the mountain or if it was created there, its presence is quite compelling. The fulgurite is created when lightening strikes and melts loose sand or soil, forming a kind of glass.


"To us, this find represents a tangible piece of evidence for the presence of Zeus at this very spot,” Voyatzis said. “That’s what it felt like to us.”


Davis, also the former UA provost, said such geological finds will become increasingly more interesting with time.


He wonders if lightning struck during a ceremony, creating the fulgurite. You just knew Zeus or Poseidon was around,” Davis said.


“It is tremendously interesting to me as a geologist but when it becomes fully grasped by the archeologists I think it will have an influence on their thinking as to why Mt. Lykaion had such an influence on peoples’ lives. Then we’ll understand the power of that site.” Davis also has recently found active fault lines near the ash altar.


“There is no doubt in my mind that at some point in the 3,000-year period when this site was active, I bet people felt earthquakes,” he said, “but I think there were people who also witnessed displacement of the land surface."



Romans 'brought leeks to Wales'



The Romans gave us roads, plumbing, wine and irrigation and now it seems they may have also introduced Wales' unofficial icon - the garden leek.


The National Museum of Wales says the Romans probably planted domesticated varieties to flavour their stews.


The museum has recreated a Roman-design garden at the National Roman Legion Museum in Caerleon, near Newport.


The garden aims to show how troops posted to the edge of the empire created their own home-from-home.


"We've used archaeological remains and research to interpret a Roman garden," said Andrew Dixey, Estate Manager for National Museum Wales.


"The Romans invaded Britain in 43 AD and brought their garden designs with them.


"However due to the change in climate, the range in plants they could grow was more restricted than overseas. We've tried to recreate what a Roman garden could have looked like."


Mr Vixey said the Romans looked on their garden as an extension to the house - as a place to relax and to entertain.


He said where we might have a gazebo, they had the triclinium, an outside dining room with three couches around a low table, topped with a pergola.


Roman incomers were keen on putting plants in pots and using them as decorative devices in their own right, to go alongside the stone ornaments they brought with them.


But there was a practical side to Roman gardens as well, he added.


They would be sources for vegetables, fruit and herbs such as rosemary, thyme and mint, which were used for culinary and medicinal purposes.


And it was probably here that the leek was to take on its domestic, and eventually iconic, status, said Mr Vixey.


He added: "The wild leek is a pretty poor plant for eating. It's fair to say, even if the wild leek was a native plant, then the Romans brought more domesticated varieties.


"They had domesticated varieties that were much more beneficial from a nutritional and taste point of view."


Museum chiefs say visitors to the garden - which opens this week - will recognise some of what they see, such as planted box hedges, bay trees and vines climbing the triclinium.


Bethan Lewis, who manages the National Roman Legion Museum, said: "The Roman garden enhances our interpretation of Roman Caerleon and is a special addition because it's museum staff and volunteers who've actually researched and created it.


"We currently attract about 70,000 people a year and look forward to welcoming new visitors wanting gardening tips from the Romans."


Story from BBC NEWS:


Published: 2008/09/23 13:56:53 GMT




Uncovering Namibia's sunken treasure

By Frauke Jensen

BBC News, Oranjemund, Namibia


A team of international archaeologists is working round the clock to rescue the wreck of what is thought to be a 16th Century Portuguese trading ship that lay undisturbed for hundreds of years off Namibia's Atlantic coast.


The shipwreck, uncovered in an area drained for diamond mining, has revealed a cargo of metal cannonballs, chunks of wooden hull, imprints of swords, copper ingots and elephant tusks.


It was found in April when a crane driver from the diamond mining company Namdeb spotted some coins.


The project manager of the rescue excavation, Webber Ndoro, described the find as the "the most exciting archaeological discovery on the African continent in the past 100 years".


"This is perhaps the largest find in terms of artefacts from a shipwreck in this part of the world," he said.


The ship may have been unable to withstand the currents in the volatile seas off the Namibian shore.


The area is also known as the Skeleton Coast and is associated with the skeletons of wrecked ships and past stories of sailors wandering through the barren landscape in search of food and water.


Working out whose ship this was is no easy task.


Gold coins that the Portuguese crown began producing in October 1525 mean it could not have been the vessel of the famous seafarer Bartholomew Dias, who disappeared on one of his travels around the point of Africa in the year 1500.


But there are other pointers, including swivel-guns known to have been used by Portuguese and Spanish seafarers, and the boat's shape, indicating that it was a Portuguese "nau".


There are also copper ingots carrying a clearly visible trident seal that can be traced back to the German banker and merchant family of Jakob Fugger - the main suppliers of primary materials to the Portuguese crown.


Gold and silver coins have been deposited in a bank vault.


Rare navigational instruments have been sent to Portugal for research, while pewter plates and jugs, pieces of ceramic, tin blocks and elephant tusks are temporarily housed in a warehouse on the premises of the mining company.


Some are being freed of their layer of sand and salt to allow for more detailed scrutiny over their make and origin.


"It represents a very interesting cargo - we have goods from Asia, we have goods from Europe, we have goods from Africa," said Mr Ndoro.


"We always think that globalisation started yesterday but in actual fact here we are with something we can date to around 1500."


The site is about 130km (80 miles) south of the Namibian harbour town Luderitz, in an area long sealed off for mining.


The mines are established by sea-walling the ocean and dredging the dry seabed for diamonds.


Pumps ensure the sea does not reclaim the land - an exercise that is costing thousands of dollars each week.


Bruno Werz, the archaeologist leading the excavations, said the shipwreck was particularly valuable because it had not been tampered with.


"This collection has not been disturbed by human interference," he said.


"We are very fortunate to have found an untouched wreck with all the material that was on site still here in one collection."


Archaeologists from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, the United States, the UK and Portugal are working on the excavation, which is due to be completed by mid-October.


Thereafter the detailed work of recording and preserving, which can take up to 30 years, can begin.


Stone and metal cannonballs and other artefacts are being covered with plastic and sand to protect them from sun and air.


Mr Ndoro said the shipwreck was a very important find for Africa.


"Here we have different African countries cooperating to make sure we have saved this ship and we have something we can show to the world."


"I am sure there will be many more wrecks to be found here," he added.


"Namibia should invest in training archaeologists."



Radar reveals San Francisco's buried Presidio

Carl Nolte, Chronicle Staff Writer

Saturday, September 20, 2008

 (09-19) 17:51 PDT


Archaeologists are using cutting-edge technology - including ground radar and laser scanning - to uncover vanished walls and dwellings of the original Spanish Presidio of San Francisco, one of the two oldest European settlements in the Bay Area.


The other is Mission Dolores, several miles away. Both were founded by Spanish missionaries and colonists in 1776, just weeks before the United States declared independence.


The present mission church was built in 1791, but the Presidio's original buildings have crumbled away, and the extent of the fort's original walls and outbuildings is a mystery.


The remains of some adobe walls in the former Army Officers Club date back to the 1790s, but the date of their construction is uncertain. "We don't know exactly how old this building is, to tell you the truth," said Eric Blind, an archaeologist with the Presidio Archaeological Lab.


The Officers Club, which was extensively remodeled in the 1930s, was on one side of a four-sided fort that when it was new marked the frontier of the Spanish empire, the edge of European power on the west coast of North America.


There are written accounts, pictures and drawings of the fort dating from the late 18th century, but the real El Presidio of Spanish times lies under a couple of streets, a parking lot and lawn that rings Pershing Square, where the main flagpole marks the center of the Presidio as it was in U.S. Army days.


Archaeologists have been digging for years into the Presidio's past and have come up with more than 80,000 artifacts, buttons, bones, pieces of foundation, crockery - all the remains of 220 years of military occupation.


But only 2 percent of the original Presidio has been dug up to date. "It's still unexcavated and unknown," Blind said.


The archaeologists have figured out the extent of the first Presidio and a later and larger version put up in 1815, but what exactly is underneath is a bit of a mystery.


Blind has a good idea of what's there: foundations of houses, pieces of what the settlers left behind. He says there were more civilians than soldiers in Spanish days. Half of the members of the original expedition led by Juan Bautista de Anza to found a colony in San Francisco were under 14 years of age.


"This was the center of secular authority in the Bay Area from Sonoma to Santa Cruz," Bland said.


It also had a different purpose than the missions, which aimed to convert the native Indian people to Christianity. The Presidio was meant to hold the land and to be the center of a colony, like the English in Virginia or the Dutch in New Amsterdam.


"It's the birthplace of San Francisco," said Michael Boland, chief of planning and projects for the Presidio Trust, which runs the Presidio.


The trick is to find what's under the ground without digging everything up, said David Morgan. Morgan is chief of archaeology and collections at the National Center for Preservation Technology. "To remove it, you have to destroy it."


"We have to figure it out. Are we right? Do we have to tear up a whole plot to find out what's underneath?" said Blind.


So the Presidio archaeologists use radar and electronic devices to see under the ground.


One of their searches this week was centered on a spot of green lawn about 30 feet southeast of the Presidio's main flagpole.


The spot was covered by green grass and a couple of gopher holes. "Volunteer archaeologists," Blind calls the gophers.


Wednesday, the archaeologists dug a hole 3 feet long by about 1 1/2 feet wide, like a surgical strike. Bingo! Under the lawn were some sandstone rocks, the foundations of some outbuildings of the long-ago Presidio.


"It was as if we had a jigsaw puzzle with a thousand pieces and we didn't know how it went together," Morgan said. "This," he said, "is now a piece of the puzzle."


"We are literally only scratching the surface," Blind said. The technology they are using is not new, but the application to digging the past is, Morgan said.


"Now we are using technology solutions to address preservation problems," he said.


One of the advantages of working to uncover the colonial Presidio is that, unlike other European colonies in American cities, the Presidio is mostly unchanged. "Manhattan grew up over Dutch New Amsterdam, but the city of San Francisco grew up away from the Presidio," he said.


So what is past is only buried, not destroyed.


The Presidio digs are also being used as a classroom to help other archaeologists learn cutting-edge techniques. It is also useful for archaeology students at Stanford, UC Berkeley, Sonoma State University and San Francisco State, which all have archaeology departments.


The presidio archaeology lab even has developed a course for grammar school kids, so they can understand California's roots.