07 MARS 2023 NEWS
INSTITUT SUPERIEUR D'ANTHROPOLOGIE
INSTITUTE OF ANTHROPOLOGY
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SOUDAN – Meroe - The conundrum began in 1910, during archeological excavations in modern-day Sudan, at the site of the ancient Nubian city of Meroë. While excavating a mound that was once a major temple at the site of the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Kush, the lead British archeologist at the site, John Garstang, stumbled upon a curious find at a depth of two and a half meters (8 ft). Discovered beneath the staircase of the ancient temple, it was a 46.2 cm high (18 inches) bronze bust of the Roman Emperor Augustus , expertly made and perfectly preserved. The archaeological community was stirred into a frenzy when the bronze head was unveiled as a genuine ancient masterpiece, displaying remarkable precision and intricate detailing. It was not completely unique, however, as similar busts had been found previously across the Roman world. But what made the Meroë head so special was the site of its discovery. Meroë was the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Kush, the age-old enemy of ancient Egypt. The great distance between Meroë and the Roman world only added to the mystery surrounding the Meroë head. Needless to say, it took some careful work to solve this historic quandary. Initially, it was reasonably presumed that the bronze bust originated in ancient Egypt rather than Rome. During the Roman occupation of Egypt, many Roman cultural aspects were adopted, and numerous busts and sculptures brought over. In fact, the ancient historian Strabo wrote that many important cities in Lower Egypt boasted fine sculptures of Emperor Augustus – often described as the “first” Roman Emperor and one of the most influential in its history. The Kushite Empire, an ancient Nubian realm, was warring with its northern neighbor Egypt for many centuries and raids were not uncommon. When the Romans appeared in Egypt, the Kushites were quick to oppose them, leading to the outbreak of war. During the reign of the Kushite Queen Amanirenas, the two realms were at war - from 25 to 22 BC. This was the definite Kushite attempt to stop the Romans from spreading further south into Africa. Queen Amanirenas was successful in this attempt and made numerous raids into Roman Egypt as a result. Strabo wrote that the Kushites plundered many Roman cities, taking with them considerable booty. Their most prized loot included bronze busts and sculptures of the Emperor Augustus. The removal of these heads and busts served as a significant morale boost for the Kushites. The enigmatic Meroë head was part of their spoils. In a clearly symbolic act, Queen Amanirenas buried it beneath the temple stairs - the same stairs that led upwards towards a Kushite altar of victory. That way the Kushite leaders and nobles would symbolically step on the Roman Emperor’s head, while triumphantly celebrating their victories. Over the course of their war with the Kingdom of Kush, the Romans managed to retrieve many of the lost heads, which they saw as symbols of their power and cultural expansion. They were never again to see the Meroë head. The bust's extraordinary beauty made it a highly coveted object, both to pillage and to retrieve. Nevertheless, Meroë, the capital of Kush, was a vast and formidable city with exceptional defenses that made it impregnable and gaining entry to the city was impossible. One of the most exquisite bronze busts ever uncovered by archaeologists, it is widely believed that the Meroë head was crafted in Egypt using high-quality molds imported from Rome. Created with astonishing precision, the bust boasts a realistic and distinctly Greek style and was likely produced around 27 BC. But it is one remarkable feature that truly sets it apart from other similar busts: the eyes. Due to the sand's ability to preserve it so flawlessly, the Meroë head managed to retain its artificial eyes, a feature that is often lost in other bronze busts. The eyes of this particular masterpiece are especially stunning, featuring irises made of calcite stone and inset glass pupils. This detail lends the face an unparalleled air of power and magnetism
ISRAEL – - The topography of the land of Israel has interested people for thousands of years – from the high hills of the Galilee in the north to the lowest place on Earth, the Dead Sea, the Holy Land has been a source of inspiration and research for ages. An ancient collection that was recently given to Israel’s Haifa University allows researchers a unique opportunity to see how the region was portrayed in maps by European scholars. This was an interesting period because, on the one hand, you have the tradition of sacred geography with the Bible locating events, studying the biblical narrative in its geographical settings “You have the discovery of new regions that were unknown to bible authors and classical authors. This conjunction – new knowledge, technology – in print, and also continued interest in biblical history, brought about a revolution in the study of the Holy Land.” Besides being historical documents, the maps are an example of how science and faith come together. One map, for example, shows the division of land among biblical tribes. Another, perhaps drawn under Renaissance influence, shows the second Jewish temple in Jerusalem as a lavish castle. Most of the maps are in Latin or other European languages, but sometimes Hebrew letters are found. Another map shows Jerusalem in two different periods – the destruction of the city in the 1st century CE during the Jewish revolt, and then the rebuilding of Jerusalem. The political tension of the time is also reflected in the maps. “The Muslim presence is there. Often in the texts that accompany the maps, you’ll also read polemic propaganda against Muslims calling for a new Crusade, save the holy places from the Infidels, and so on,” said Shalev.
EGYPTE – Dendera - Archaeologists have unearthed a Sphinx-like statue and the remains of a shrine in an ancient temple in southern Egypt. The artefacts were found in the temple of Dendera in Qena Province. Archaeologists believe the statue’s smiling features may belong to the Roman emperor Claudius, who extended Rome’s rule into North Africa between 41 and 54 AD. It said archaeologists will conduct more studies on the markings on the stone slab, which could reveal more information about the statue’s identity and the area. The smaller statue is reminiscent of the towering, well-known Sphinx in the Pyramids of Giza complex, which is 66ft high. The archaeologists also found a Roman-era stone slab with demotic and hieroglyphic inscriptions. The limestone shrine includes a two-layer platform and a mud-brick basin from the Byzantine era.
ECOSSE – Ness of Brodgar - It lay undisturbed for centuries and the secrets from inside have only recently come to light. Now the final season of excavation at the Ness of Brodgar in Orkney will take place in 2024, after which the remains of the 5,000-year-old Neolithic complex will be covered over and backfilled. The excavation has uncovered a complex of monumental Neolithic buildings, dating from around 3300BC to 2900BC, and flanked by a pair of massive stone walls. The size, quality, and architecture of the structures, together with evidence for tiled roofs, coloured walls, decorated stone and stunning artefacts has seen the Ness hit the headlines regularly over the past two decades. But although on-site excavation is ending, research at the Ness of Brodgar continues. Nick Card, excavation director and trust chairman, explained: “Although fieldwork could continue for decades, we feel we have reached the logical place to pause as work on the major structures uncovered so far will be completed. “We’re now moving into an exciting new phase of intensive work focusing on the scientific analysis of all the excavated material. “The results, along with those from the environmental samples, will help unpick the story of the people who built, used, and ultimately abandoned the Ness in the centuries around 2500BC. The Ness of Brodgar archaeological site has been under excavation since 2004 and is revealing a massive complex of monumental Neolithic structures dating from around 3000 BC. When excavation ends in 2024, the site will be covered and returned to being a green field – left for future generations of archaeologists to continue the work.
NORVEGE – Oslo - Archaeologists knew from preliminary surveys that something was buried at a port in Oslo, the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) said in a Thursday, March 2, news release. The ruins of a medieval wharf were discovered when excavations got underway. The wharf consisted of massive logs lashed together to form bulwarks. The logs were dotted with impressions of barnacles and mussels, signs of having once been exposed to the sea. Over time, the structures built on top of the foundations pressed them deeper into the clay, where they remained even after the surface structures were lost. The pier was most likely built in the early 14th century and has since sunk into the clay seabed under its own weight, according to the release. Archaeologists believe this wharf was probably the king’s, based on its location and estimated age. Another nearby dock is known to have been used by royalty from the 11th to 13th centuries, according to the release. A small mystery is that archaeologists unearthed layers of food waste, fish bones, dung, and peat in the clay around the massive logs. Archaeologists don’t know how these materials ended up around the pier. “This is very mysterious,” says Håvard Hegdal, archaeologist and project manager from NIKU, “How has this come into what has been a closed construction? There has been a floor above us, and probably a building, and it shouldn’t be possible to throw food scraps and other things down here.” There was also a lot of dirt from a boat inside these layers. And it shouldn’t have come in here in any case. So ‘King’s wharf’ may have had a reasonably short lifespan, and that is quite strange . The most likely candidate to build the wharf was Haakon V (reigned 1299–1319). Oslo overtook Bergen to become the capital of Norway during his reign, and Haakon had the Akershus Fortress built to protect the city and serve as a royal residence. The pier’s foundations were discovered right next to the ruins of the royal palace that stood before Akershus Fortress.
ISRAEL – Ein Nashut - Discovered by chance at Ein Nashut in the Golan Heights, the lady lion was depicted nursing cubs. The artifact is quite weathered after almost 2,000 years of exposure to the elements and much is missing but the identification is unmistakable, says Prof. Mordechai Aviam of Kinneret College on the Sea of Galilee. In fact, this is the second serendipitous ancient lioness discovery with which Aviam is involved. This one was found at Ein Nashut and the first was found in 2017 at el-Araj, potentially the site of the Jewish village of Bethsaida, and was preserved rather better. Both the lionesses were made of basalt.
INDE – Rakhigarhi - “Why are we digging Rakhigarhi again?” I asked the excavation director, Sanjay Manjul. After all, the site had been subjected to systematic excavations for eight field seasons—between 1997-2000, 2012-2016, and 2021-22—each dig lasting two to five months or more. One would think that multiple excavation attempts are enough to holistically reconstruct the historicity of an archaeological site like Rakhigarhi in Haryana’s Hisar district. But the reality is that in archaeology, the cycle of revisiting and re-examination depends on the future possibilities of investigation that a site holds. And Rakhigarhi exhibits great potential. The answer to why we are excavating Rakhigarhi for the ninth time relies entirely on unearthing the known and unknown missing links. Archaeological remains covering the villages of Rakhikhas, Rakhishahpur and their adjoining fields in Hisar, 150 km from New Delhi, are divided into seven archaeological mounds, from RGR 1 to RGR 7, according to archaeologist Amarendra Nath in his report, Excavations at Rakhigarhi. These mounds (heaps indicating buried settlements) have been part of the daily lives of locals who have established a connection by making them a part of their routine. Accustomed to finding Harappan artefacts such as seals, beads, and terracotta bangles, inhabitants of Rakhigarhi use these mounds for various purposes: Cremation/burial, grazing and even as cricket fields for the village tots. They have formed a connection not just with the archaeological remains but with the archaeologists too. The mound RGR 3, atop which the Mazar rests, was left unexcavated by the previous team. A roughly 13-meter-high mound scattered with pottery, numerous other artefacts and exposed Harappan brick structures gave an impression that it was an utmost significant piece in the larger jigsaw puzzle left incomplete. The few trenches laid on the southern side during this excavation season (2021-2022) revealed a burnt brick and mud brick wall running around a residential complex with a brick-lined drain on the outside. The masonry of the wall and the finesse of mud brick made it clear to the team that this area held many answers. Simultaneously RGR 1 was also brought under investigation. Evidence of a major street connecting by-lanes with workshops and residential complexes was found. Furnaces were the highlight. Working with mud-brick is never easy, and finding a mud-brick wall on either side of the street, enclosing a structural complex, was a moment out of a history textbook for me. Debitage, finished and unfinished beads, hearths, etc., furthered knowledge about the craft activities at this site. But what was important was a complete unbroken stratigraphy of mound RGR 1, suggesting continuous, unbroken occupation from the Early Harappan period onwards. However, it was RGR 7—denoted to archaeological remains buried in a privately owned field north of RGR 1—that pushed the established narratives. The initial thought of Manjul, following his discovery at Sinauli, was to further ancient DNA studies and establish a proper context for the burials. But just a level below the graves—close to 10 cm—evidence of earlier habitation was unearthed. In simple terms, it suggested that the area that was occupied by Early Harappans was abandoned at one point and later converted into a burial ground during the Mature Harappan period. “This means that the spread of Early Harappan deposit is much more expansive than once thought,” exclaimed Manjul after looking at the findings, possibly posing as the biggest early Harappan settlement. Compared to the dry climate present-day Rakhigarhi deals with, the ancient site was rich with vegetation, and ‘paleochannels’ (remnants of ancient rivers and streams) of the Drishadvati drained the landscape. Present-day palaeoponds are relics of these paleochannels. The current season’s (2022-23) aim— in the light of new findings at RGR 7— is to unearth the many land-use patterns within the limits of these seven mounds and beyond. RGR 3 and RGR 1 are also under investigation during this field season which will help in understanding inter-site and intra-site dynamic. Only time (and trowels) will reveal the new facets of Rakhigarhi this season.