BAR Highlights: 9/19/08

More archaeological news from Biblical Archaeology Review:

Egypt, UNESCO Planning Underwater Museum in Cleopatra’s Sunken City
September 19, 2008
Alexandria, Egypt has been a place of legend for millennia—long after much of the ancient harbor city, including Cleopatra’s palace, sank into the Mediterranean due to a series of earthquakes that began in the fourth century A.D. Located in the bay just offshore of the modern city’s coastline, the buildings and complexes where Egypt’s most famous queen lived and walked have been out of reach to all but the most dedicated underwater archaeologists. Recently, UNESCO has announced that it will be funding a research team to determine if the sunken city cannot once again be visible without the use of SCUBA gear.

Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities and UNESCO are studying the feasibility of creating an underwater museum; one that will allow visitors to see the ancient ruins lying just below the surface of the water without moving or otherwise disturbing them. The proposed museum would also have an above-ground portion of the complex, where recovered artifacts could be displayed and seen before the visitor would continue through clear, fiberglass tunnels running under the surface of the water amid the sunken palace ruins. Egyptian authorities hope that such a project, if feasible, would revitalize the city’s landscape and its tourism industry.

National Geographic reports on the underwater museum project in Alexandria.

Temple and Statue of Ramesses II Discovered in Cairo
September 18, 2008
This week in Cairo, the bustling capital city of Egypt, archaeologists have uncovered portions of a temple and statue built to honor Ramesses II, the 19th Dynasty pharaoh who is perhaps the most famous ruler of ancient Egypt. The temple and statue remains were found in the area of Ain Shams in east Cairo and are over 3,000 years old. Discoveries such as this are unusual in the crowded and urban city, though in 2006 another colossal statue of Ramesses II was discovered there. That statue, made of pink granite and weighing 100 tons, was eventually moved outside the city to protect it from pollution.

Ramesses II was known to have built prolifically during his rule, constructing monuments and statues honoring his achievements all over the country. Ancient sources describe his reign as one of prosperity and power, lasting over 65 years. Upon his death at over 90 years of age, his mummy was interred in the Valley of Kings. Today, the mummy of Ramesses II is on display at the National Museum in Cairo and is one of the country’s greatest tourist attractions.

ABC News reports on the rare discovery of a temple to Ramesses II in Egypt’s capital city.

Remains of Million-Year-Old Camel Found in Northern Syria

September 17, 2008
There is an old joke that the camel is the only animal ever made by committee, which is why it turned out the way it did. If so, then that committee may have had one million years to make changes to its invention. Archaeologists working in northern Syria have discovered a small jawbone belonging to a previously undiscovered species of camel that would have been tiny compared to the camels that roam the desert today. The jawbone dates to approximately one million years ago, which makes it the oldest camel remains ever found.

Last year, archaeologists discovered the remains of a giant camel in Syria that lived about 100,000 years ago and stood between 10 to 13 feet in height—about the size of an African elephant. When studied in tandem with the new find, these ancient camel bones could tell scientists a great deal about the evolution of the camel into the amusing, committee-manufactured mammal that we have cruising the deserts today.

Scotland on Sunday reports on the discovery of the million-year-old camel remains.

Ancient and Rare Sarcophagi Unearthed in Cyprus
September 16, 2008
Rare marble sarcophagi have been discovered in the town of Larnaca on the island of Cyprus. The three sarcophagi are thought to date from 500 B.C., and two of them have been identified as extremely rare. The Cyprus Department of Antiquities Director, Pavlos Flourentzos, announced that one of the sarcophagi is made of marble and is carved in the shape of a woman. Since Cyprus does not have marble, the material had to be imported and would therefore have been very uncommon and expensive. The female shape is even more unusual; there is only one other such sarcophagus that has been discovered on Cyprus.

A second sarcophagus is also made of marble and is richly decorated, while the third is much more typical of sarcophagi found in ancient tombs from the region. All three pieces were discovered during construction work near the town’s Metropolitain Church of Christ.

The Cyprus Mail reports on the discovery of ancient, rare sarcophagi.

Burials at the Birthplace of Alexander the Great Shed Light on Ancient Kingdom

September 15, 2008
Excavations of a burial site near Pella in northern Greece, where Alexander the Great was born, have shed light on the development of the ancient Mediterranean kingdom of Macedon. A total of 43 graves were excavated, dating from 650-279 B.C. Twenty of these graves were identified as warrior burials from the late Archaic period, between 580 and 460 B.C. Some of these individuals were buried in bronze helmets with iron swords and knives. Their eyes, mouths and chests were covered with gold foil, which was decorated with images that symbolized royal power.

The discovery is also rich in knowledge, as archaeological material associated with the burial site confirmed evidence that it was a militaristic culture that was engaged in overseas trade as early as the 7th century B.C. Eleven of the burials were identified as being females from the same period, while nine others were dated to the late Classical or early Hellenistic period, around the time of Alexander the Great’s death in 323 B.C.

Reuters reports on the burial site excavations at the birthplace of Alexander the Great.

Modern Technology Helps to Preserve the Past

September 14, 2008
The East and West, as well as the past and the present, are coming together in order to preserve some of the world’s most important archaeological sites. Organizations such as the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles, Farallon Geographics in San Francisco, the Iraq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage and the Jordanian Department of Antiquities have joined forces with the World Monument Fund in order to create what has been called MEGA-J: the Middle Eastern Geodatabase for Antiquities, Jordan. The newly designed, English-Arabic geographic information system is intended to inventory, monitor and manage archaeological sites in a part of the world where military conflicts can wreck havoc in archaeologically sensitive regions.

MEGA-J is being applied to monument preservation in the Kingdom of Jordan, and will serve as the model for a similar system, to be called MEGA-I, which will be put in place in Iraq upon the conclusion of the current conflict there. It is considered to be an especially important project for Iraq, as rebuilding and structural development projects could severely impact that country’s important cultural heritage sites and negatively affect the archaeology of the area.

The Jordan Times reports on the MEGA-J project.

World’s Largest Jewish Museum to be Built in Moscow

September 13, 2008
The final architectural plans have been approved for what will be the largest Jewish Museum in the world. The committee for the Russian-Jewish Museum of Tolerance announced that the museum would be established in a historic building that is part of the Jewish community center in Moscow. The collection will commemorate Russian-Jewish history and will include a section dedicated to the Holocaust. The plans also include a large library, a center for Judaic studies and conference rooms. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2009 and be completed by 2011.

Haaretz reports on the world’s largest Jewish museum.

The “Tomb of Eve” Draws Pilgrims to Saudi Arabia
September 12, 2008
According to legend, the town of Jiddah in Saudi Arabia is the location of the tomb of Biblical Eve—the mythic mother of humanity. While there is no way to scientifically prove that she ever existed, much less that she is buried here, the site nonetheless draws pilgrims to the green doors leading into “the graveyard of our mother Eve,” as declared by signs posted at the entrance. The term “Jiddah” in Arabic means “grandmother,” and many say that the city’s name refers to Eve. While men come by the thousands to pay pay homage at the cemetery, the law in Saudi Arabia prevents women from entering cemeteries, with the result thatwomen are excluded from the mythic site of the tomb said to belong to the world’s first woman.

Irony aside, how did this legend develop? According to Arab tradtion, God made Eve for Adam on a hill outside of Mecca, later called Mt. Arafat. This places Eve in the vicinity of Jiddah, the entry point for pilgrims traveling to Mecca. Medieval Arab historians also refer to Jiddah as the resting place of Eve. While there is no archaeological evidence to back up the claim, the legend endures.

The New York Times reports on the tomb of Biblical Eve.

Egyptian Pyramid Lost and Found
September 11, 2008
How do you lose a pyramid? As it turns out, it’s not that hard. Particularly when the pyramid in question is more than 4000 years old, and its remains are located in a high-security military zone where archaeologists are generally not allowed to enter. The site of Abu Rawash, located 8 km north of Giza, was first explored by Swiss Egyptologist Dr. Michael Valloggia who was granted rare access to excavate there in 1995. The excavations that have continued there since then have revealed the “missing pyramid” that completes the trio in Giza, built by pharaohs of Egypt’s fourth dynasty.

Generally when one thinks of the pyramids of Egypt, it is those three spectacular monuments that rise majestically from the sands of Giza that come to mind. Those were built by the pharaohs Khufu, his son Khafre and his grandson Menkaure. However, scholars had long been puzzled by the absence of a pyramid belonging to Djedefre, Khufu’s son who ruled after him and before his brother Khafre. The pyramid at Abu Rawash has been determined to have built by Djedefre, and it seems as though the mystery of Djedefre’s missing pyramid is now solved. Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities has stated its intention to have the “lost pyramid” opened to the public by next year.

The Star reports on the “lost pyramid” of Egypt.

“Sleeping Buddha” Awakes
September 10, 2008
In central Afghanistan, a 60-foot-high statue of Buddha has been discovered by archaeologists who were searching for the remains of a fabled thousand-foot-tall statue in the same area. The region of Bamiyan, where the statue was found, was once a center of Buddhism along the ancient Silk Road that ran between Europe and Central Asia. It lies approximately 90 miles northwest of the modern Afghan capital of Kabul.

Archaeologists had set about exploring the area in recent years, looking for an enormous, statue of Buddha in a sleeping posture that had been written of in a centuries-old account by a Chinese pilgrim. Archaeology in Afghanistan had come to a halt under the rule of the Taliban, whose regime was toppled in 2001. Unfortunately, it was not in time to save the two gigantic standing Buddhas, which were thought to be 1,600 years old at the time of their destruction by the Taliban.

Yahoo! News reports of the discovery of the sleeping Buddha.

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September 2008


© 2006-2009, Matthew Burgess. All rights reserved. Any unauthorized use of the original content of this website is strictly prohibited. Quotations or citations should include a link to this website. The views and opinions given here are my own and do not represent those of the University of Virginia (or anyone else, for that matter).

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