12 - 13 FEVRIER 2011


 - 12 – 13  FEVRIER

 - USA – Baltimore - Archaeologists peeling back layers of history beneath the historic Lloyd Street Synagogue in East Baltimore have uncovered what is believed to be the oldest Jewish ritual bath complex in the United States. Hints of the presence of the 1845 bath, or "mikveh," were first detected during excavations in 2001. But further digging this winter has revealed about a quarter of a five-foot-deep wooden tub, and linked it to a related cistern found in 2008, and to remains of a brick hearth once used to warm the bath's water. "The idea of a ritual bath complex helps fill out the history of Jewish religious practice in this country," said Avi Decter, executive director of the Jewish Museum of Maryland, of which the old Lloyd Street Synagogue is now a part. "This is a very ancient practice, going back thousands of years." The 1845 mikveh is just a few feet away from a pair of more modern, tile-lined baths, built and used by the Shomrei Misheres Orthodox congregation that used the building after 1905. Mikvehs were a central part of Jewish life at the time, where men came for ritual purification before Friday prayers; women came for ritual cleansing after their monthly periods, and converts were purified before entering the faith.It was a very busy place for this small community of German immigrants. Barred by Maryland law from incorporating and owning property until 1828, she said, Jewish congregations would typically meet in private homes, where they would build their mikveh in the basement. The mikveh excavated this winter appears to have been one of those. It was in the basement of a rowhouse facing Morton Street, near the intersection with Lloyd Street. Records show the mikveh house was already present in 1845, when the congregation built their synagogue on an adjoining lot facing Lloyd Street. The neoclassical building was designed by Robert Carey Long Jr. No mikvehs have been found at any older synagogue in the United State.


 - INDE – Hyderabad - From being a popular place of worship in the 17th century, the Akkanna Madanna sarai has now turned into an abandoned and dilapidated structure, waiting to crumble any moment. Located in the Maheshwaram mandal of Hyderabad (close to Shamshabad airport) this religious site, which was among the first few historic structures in Andhra Pradesh to be notified as a `state-protected monument', has neither been maintained nor restored for the last many years. Constructed during the Qutub Shahi period, the site now lies in ruins with broken walls, pillars and gates. While heritage experts find no faults with the government department for checking the locals from interfering with the repair work, they say the authorities urgently need to turn their attention to such historic monuments before it is all lost. "You need professionals for such restoration work and not any local person. But appropriate steps must be taken to save the sarai," said Sajjad Shahid, a heritage expert from the city. Renowned historian Narendra Luther agrees and goes on to highlight the historic significance of the site, a handiwork of two brothers Madanna and Aakanna. "Madanna was a prime minister in the court of the Qutub Shahi king Tana Shah. Along with his brother, he constructed a Shiva temple at this site which later fell prey to invasion by Aurangzeb. But despite such a rich background, the structure clearly does not seem to figure on the priority list of state authorities who have almost abandoned it," Luther said. When contacted P Chenna Reddy, director, state department of archaeology, admitted that he had no idea about the site and said that his office would look into the matter at the earliest.


 - USA   College Park - One of North America's most famous Revolutionary-era buildings – a lone-surviving testament to an Enlightenment ideal – has a hidden West African face, University of Maryland archaeologists have discovered.  Their excavation at the 1785 Wye “Orangery” on Maryland's Eastern Shore – the only 18th century greenhouse left in North America – reveals that African American slaves played a sophisticated, technical role in its construction and operation. They left behind tangible cultural evidence of their involvement and spiritual traditions. "For years, this famous Enlightenment structure has been recognized for its European qualities, but it has a hidden African face that we've unearthed," says University of Maryland archaeologist Mark Leone, who led the excavation. "Concealed among the bricks of the furnace that controlled the greenhouse temperature, we found embedded a symbol used in West African spirit practice. An African American slave built the furnace, and left an historic signature." His team also found African charms buried at the entrance to a part of the Wye greenhouse that once served as living quarters for the slaves who maintained the building.  "Ironically, these African symbols distinguish this building from its more elaborate European counterparts, and give it a unique American character," Leone adds, who has uncovered other evidence of African spirit practice through his Archaeology in Annapolis project. Slaves constructed the brick and mortar furnace that regulated temperature in the greenhouse. Evidence for this comes from the excavation's discovery of a concealed West African-style charm cemented among the bricks at the rear of the furnace where it connects to ductwork – a spot where no one would see it, since spirit practice was conducted in secret. The African America builder of the furnace had placed a stone pestle there to control spirits. This corresponds to the Yoruba practice of placing an old, sharp object from the ground there, Leone says. The pestle was discovered by Drake Witte, who rebuilt the furnace and repaired the heating conduits. Slaves lived in the greenhouse, where they could operate the heating system – the "hypocaust" – and maintain the heat, light and water required by the plants. The team recovered evidence of domestic life in one of the greenhouse's three rooms. Most recently the area has been used as a potting shed. But, buried underground were fragments of earthenware and other domestic objects. Leone says the loft in the room was likely used for sleeping. By the door, the team also unearthed another set of West African charms – a coin and arrowheads – placed there to manage spirits.


 - QATAR – Al Zubarah - The well-preserved remains of a palatial compound are among the new findings from the ongoing archaeological excavations in the abandoned town of Al Zubarah, situated on the northwest coast of Qatar. Al Zubarah, which bustled with activity 200 years ago, is considered perhaps the best preserved example of a mid-18th to the end of 19th century pearl fishing and trading town. “Al Zubarah was for sometime one of the most important trading centres in the entire Gulf,” pointed out Dr Richter, an assistant professor at University of Copenhagen’s Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies. The palatial compound, which the expert listed among the new findings, is the largest fortified compound, measuring 100 by 100m, in Zubarah. The compound, with towers at each corner is sub-divided into a number of courtyards. “We are excavating one of these courtyard areas to find out what the building was used for. It is clearly an important facility, very likely used by the ruling family of the town,” Dr Richter stated. It should have been a really impressive structure, a palace at one point and it has some nice features inside.  “We found these hamams (baths), footprints on the floor of one of the rooms, matting impressions, and fallen roof beams that are still preserved. They are small findings but significant in terms of understanding the site,” he said.
Three major areas are being currently excavated in Al Zubarah, all of them continued from last year, the second season (Autumn 2009-Spring 2010) of excavation. The centre of the town is being excavated. There are a number of courtyard houses or standard family homes very typical for the region. “Then we are excavating an area what we think is a souq or market area, which is turning out some rather interesting results for the future,” Dr Richter said. Findings suggest that the souq was in the same location for at least two or three phases of the occupation. “The first thing we did in the first season (Winter and Spring 2009), was to do a topographic survey of the entire town, followed by mapping and detailing all the neighbourhoods, roads, squares mosques and palaces in the settlement and then we began excavations in a few locations targeting key areas of interest,” he recalled.  This was in addition to the areas previously excavated by QMA. 

“There is still much to learn about the site as a whole. We now think that the site has at least six phases of occupation, the first major phase is 1760s to roundabout 1811 when the town was attacked and burned. Subsequently Zubarah was inhabited very sporadically then resettled in the middle of the 19th century for another 50 or 60 years.  “So the phases of occupation are quite short and in particular in the earlier phase, this is a very lucky situation for archaeologists, because not only was the town founded as a sort of a planned settlement, but it also was not changed much.”
The total area is 60 hectares for the major settlement, and the later settlement is 13 hectares (during the mid 19th century, when it was resettled after the attack in 1811). “Al Zubarah is not a site that existed without its surrounding landscape. All of northern Qatar is full of historic sites and settlements,” Dr Richter maintained. There are small forts, small villages, coastal villages, rural settlements, wells throughout the entire region and they all operated at one point in conjunction with Zubarah as it required food and water to support its pearl fishing and trading fleets. The trading vessels went out into the Indian Ocean all the way to Bombay (now Mumbai) and to other places on the African coast. “We are exploring these hinterland sites as well, but with non-intrusive methods,” the expert said.


 - QATAR – Al Zubarah - Brand new methods of conservation are being developed for the historic archaeological site of Al Zubarah, to counter the extreme climactic and environmental conditions. Salinity in the air, high temperatures and very strong winds are among the threats to preserve the archaeology and the architecture at the site without changing its authenticity too much. The construction materials Basically the walls are built of core of rock with lime mortar and then a gypsum plaster coating on the outside which keeps the structure together.  Gypsum plaster is also quite fragile. When it is exposed to the air after excavations it becomes porous and breaks off and once the plaster is fallen off the whole wall begins to go. The strong winds, particularly in January, blows out the mortar from between the stones and then the walls just collapse.used in the mid-18th to the end of 19th century pearl fishing and trading town varies at different places.