Ancient History et cetera

Apamea, Syria: Roman Ruins in a Warzone

The human cost of war can be so unimaginably large that it seems unfeeling to speak about the damage to cultural and natural heritage, yet it is important to acknowledge that cost as well. The disaster in Syria will be felt not just by a few generations, but for the rest of time. After World War II, the international community recognized the need to protect cultural and natural heritage in times of conflict, and UNESCO was formed. As in all human history, it seems like all those conferences, petitions, international declarations, talks and meetings failed to come up with a decisive way to prevent the destruction of life and heritage. Unfortunately, Syria is just one of the many cases of failed attempts.

The colonnade at Apamea, following Cardo Maximus. It was built in 2nd century CE. This huge boulevard was 2 km long. Photo by Mina Bulic

The destruction of archaeological sites in conflict zones is not, as the media often reports, done mostly because of the religious views of perpetrators. No, the main reason is that there is big money to be made in the black antiquities market. Some people buy and own artifacts coming from Syria, Iraq and other zones of conflict (sometimes without realizing their origin) and in this way they finance the dogs of war. You have to wonder, who are the people who own artifacts from Apamea?  Whose villas and gardens are decorated by Syria’s war? It seems many of those people are coming from our “civilized” west…

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The Secret History of Iddi-Sin’s Stela

Osama Shukir Mohammed Amin sets out on a detective journey to discover the mysterious history of Iddi-Sin’s stela in Iraqi Kurdistan. Going back into this region’s troubled past, he disentangles a family dispute and discovers what really happened to this exquisite artefact.

I posted a picture on my personal Facebook page of what is commonly called “the rock of the Martyr Ghareeb Haladiny” (Kurdish: به ردي شه هيد غه ريب هه له ديني; Arabic: صخرة الشهيد غريب هلديني), which depicts a limestone stela of Iddi(n)-sin, king of Simurrum. Shortly after, one of my friends phoned me. He was very upset. He said that the “title” of the rock with respect to Martyr Ghareeb is wrong and that the rock was found by local people of the village of Qarachatan, and that Martyr Ghareeb had nothing to do with the rock. “They have altered the stela’s history and ignored the role of people of the village of Qarachatan, who found and protected this rock for 15 years,” he said.

Interviewing Mr. Nejem-Alddin Ahmad (who stands between the stela and Mr. Hashim Hama Abdullah, the director of the Sulaymaniyah Museum. A snapshot using VLC media player; video interview using my Nikon D610.

Interviewing Mr. Nejem-Alddin Ahmad (who stands between the stela and Mr. Hashim Hama Abdullah, the director of the Sulaymaniyah Museum.

A few days later, I met with Mr. Hashim Hama Abdullah, the director of the Sulaymaniyah Museum (Sulaymaniyah Governorate of Iraqi Kurdistan), where the stela is currently housed and displayed to the public. I told him what my friend said. He replied: “Yes the matter is complicated and the rock has passed through very turbulent times. It is a long subject that we have not uncovered its root till this moment. Many rings of its chain are still lost. Some people from Qarachatan village claimed that they did find and store the stela.”

The right edge of the stela. The edge has been broken and a large fragment has been lost. This has resulted in a large lacune; the cuneiform signs at the beginning of the lines have been lost. March 30, 2015.

“OK, let’s uncover the truth,” I suggested. “Let’s go there and meet the people who have any information about the stela.” Mr. Hashim replied positively and phoned Mr. Nejem-Alddin Ahmad, one of the Museum’s employees. Mr. Nejem-Alddin still lives in Qarachatan village and is the guard of the rock-relief of Rabana (mountain Rabana looks over the village and the relief lies on the cliff of that mountain, about 3-4 Km far from the village).

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Easter Island Statues, History and Art at Manchester Museum

Easter Island or “Rapa Nui” is among the most remote islands in the world, located some 3541 kilometers (2,200 miles) off the coast of Chile in the Pacific Ocean. Famous for its mysterious yet iconic statues (moai), Easter Island is currently the subject of a new exhibition at Manchester Museum in Manchester, UK: Making Monuments on Rapa Nui: The Statues from Easter Island. This show explores the incredible artistic, cultural, and religious traditions of the Rapanui people.

In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener speaks to Mr. Bryan Sitch, Deputy Head of Collections at Manchester Museum, about the engineering and construction of the moai, their purpose in the lives of the islanders, and the intrepid explorers who sought to understand them.

Moai against a setting sun on Easter Island, Chile. Adam Stanford @Aerial-Cam for RNLOC. (Courtesy of Manchester Museum.)

Moai against a setting sun on Easter Island, Chile. Adam Stanford @Aerial-Cam for RNLOC. (Courtesy of Manchester Museum.)

JW: Mr. Bryan Sitch, welcome to Ancient History Encyclopedia! This is the first interview we have ever conducted with Manchester Museum, as well as the first to encompass the perennially intriguing topic of the moai statues.

Why has Manchester Museum chosen to create an exhibition encompassing Rapanui and their moai? One cannot deny that there is considerable public interest in these monolithic statues.

BS: Thank you for inviting me, James. Manchester Museum’s temporary exhibition Making Monuments on Rapa Nui: The Statues from Easter Island is the happy convergence of an offer to lend statue from Easter Island, “Moai Hava,” as part of the British Museum’s National Programs, and the fact that Professor Colin Richards of the University of Manchester’s Department of Archaeology has been carrying out excavations on Rapa Nui. Richards is one of the co-investigators on an AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) funded program of fieldwork involving the University College London, University of Manchester, Bournemouth University and Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), University of Highlands and Islands, as well as Rapanui and Chilean archaeologists.

Manchester Museum regularly works with academics across the campus on temporary exhibition projects, the intention being to bring the results of their research to a wider audience here in the museum. In this way the museum is able to draw upon the most recent research in support of its temporary exhibitions, which implement the two principal strands of the organization’s mission: to promote understanding between cultures and to develop a sustainable world. The Making Monuments exhibition is the latest such “academic-led” project with which I, as Curator of Archaeology and Deputy Head of Collections, have been involved.

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The New Acropolis Museum Review

The New Acropolis Museum in Athens opened its doors to the public on June 20th 2009. Since then, millions of visitors have flocked to its airy halls. It was decided that a new museum was needed to replace the old nineteenth-century museum building (situated on the Acropolis) in order to house the ever increasing amount of archaeological material and to act as a fit and proper house for the marble sculptures of the Parthenon. We are so used to seeing old artefacts housed in old buildings, drowned in artificial light, but this museum, with its vast glass walls and lofty atmosphere, brings a true feeling of vitality to what it holds. It is because of this that the New Acropolis Museum is easily in my ‘Top 5 Museums’ list; how could it not be when the museum building itself is part of the attraction?

The Museum Entrance at Night-Time

The Museum Entrance at Night-Time.

One of the things that strikes me on each visit to this museum is just how much you can see in every single direction. On the first floor, you can look down and see the ruins of the archaeological site upon which the museum was built. If you look to your sides you will see ceiling-high displays of some of the finest Greek pottery. “Mind your back!” You nearly walked straight into a votive dedication to Asclepius, which thanks the god for healing an ancient Athenian’s ear, foot, and eye ailments (with the affected parts carved into the marble). In stooping down to look at some low-level displays you stand up and find yourself at the feet two Nikai statues, and if you look up, you see the ‘Bluebeard pediment’ looming where the first floor ramp meets the second floor. If you are looking for ancient Greek art and artefacts, you have certainly come to the right place!  The entire first floor of the museum is this long gradual ramp, and it displays artefacts that were found on the slopes of the Acropolis (video displays, a shop and a cloakroom fill the rest of the floor). Read more…

Never Before Seen: The Belula Pass Rock Relief

by Osama S. M. Amin April 14, 2015 Travel 0 Comments

I visited one of my relatives who resides at Lake Darbandikhan. It was a holiday. I was chatting with him about the relief of “Horen Shekhan” (Kurdish: هۆرێن و شێخان; Arabic هورين- شيخان) at Darband-i-Belula (Belula Pass). I told him that at the main hall of the Sulaymaniyah Museum, there is a large wall poster of a rock relief; the poster’s caption says that this is the “Relief of Belula Pass.” Where is this rock-relief of Belula Pass is located? He did not know the answer, but his son-in-law said that there is an ancient structure on a mountain at Darband-i-Belula (Kurdish: ده ربندي بيلوله) . “There is a sign on the road, I read it, which says that this the Akkadian relief of Belula Pass, but I have not seen that thing because it lies high up in the mountain,” he added.

Fantastic! I said: “Can you take me there, please, at least I can start from there?” He agreed. This archaeological trip was entirely unplanned but I always take my Nikon gear with me wherever I go!

Finally, we have found it! One my friends climbed up, in a very risky situation to sit down before the relief. Note the location of the relief and the very small space in front of it.

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Byzantine Medicine, Health and Healing at Istanbul’s Pera Museum

Life is Short, Art Long: The Art of Healing in Byzantium, at the Pera Museum (Pera Müzesi) in Istanbul Turkey, offers visitors a glimpse of Byzantine culture and society through the three traditional methods of healing practiced side-by-side: faith, magic, and medicine. Health has always been a chief concern of humanity, and this landmark show examines Byzantine civilization from the perspective of its approach to the body, in sickness and in health.

In this exclusive English language interview, James Blake Wiener of Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE) speaks to Dr. Brigitte Pitarakis, curator of the exhibition, about the ways in which Byzantines understood medicine, health, and healing from ancient Roman times until the fall of Constantinople in 1453 CE.

JW: Dr. Brigitte Pitarakis, it is an immense pleasure to speak to you on behalf of Ancient History Encyclopedia! This interview marks the first time that we have worked with a curator associated with a cultural institution in Turkey. Merhaba!

Entrance to "Life is Short, Art is long" at the Pera Museum in Istanbul, Turkey. (Courtesy: Pera Museum/Pera Müzesi.)

Entrance to “Art is long, Life is Short” at the Pera Museum in Istanbul, Turkey. (Courtesy: Pera Museum/Pera Müzesi.)

The topic of health in the Byzantine Empire is a unique prism through which one can analyze Byzantine history, culture, and identity. Why did the Pera Museum choose to explore this subject? Additionally, I am curious to know if medicine in the ancient and medieval world is an interest of your own.

BP: Despite the tremendous progress of scientific research, we are surrounded by a growing number of people affected by emotional and physical pain. There is also growing interest in various forms of body care (spas and massages), natural foods, and therapy. These are two closely related aspects of a universal phenomenon that seems to have parallels in earlier societies. Byzantium is an interesting example because of its place at the intersection between antiquity and the Renaissance, as well as between East and West. The multifaceted behavior of the Byzantines toward illness and wellness lies at the root of our own behavior today.

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Looking for Roman bridges in Sardinia

When I was planning my archaeological trip to Sardinia I discovered, thanks to vici.org (an Archaeological Atlas of Antiquity I have mentioned here before), that there were many Roman bridges still standing all across the country. Some are left abandoned and almost completely covered with vegetation but others are perfectly preserved. Ancient Roman bridges are an exceptional feat of Roman construction and, as I said before, I hold a certain fascination for these impressive ancient structures. I previously wrote about the Roman bridges I saw in Portugal here and in Southern France here.

Roman bridge Ozieri, dating to the 2nd century AD and restored in the 3rd4th century AD. It has six arcades for a total length of 87.50 metres (287 ft), Sardinia Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

When the Romans began their conquest of Sardinia in 238 BC, there was already a road network built by the Punic who had inhabited the island since around 550 BC. However the Punic road network was only linking the coastal towns, leaving out the interior of the island completely. The Romans built four major roads (viae principales): two along the coasts and two inland, all with north-south direction. The road network, initially built for military reasons, was then maintained and restored continuously for economic reasons.

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The Mystery & Enigma of Maya Architecture

Maya architecture has three regional styles. Jim O’Kon, a specialist in Maya engineering, and technology encounters a range of exotic animals in deepest rainforest while finding the style of the Ruta Rio Bec.

Driving across Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and traversing the Maya cities on the Ruta Rio Bec is a voyage brimming with ancient history blended into the experience of traversing a jewel of a rainforest. The magnificent Maya ruins constructed in the Rio Bec regional style are situated in the midst of a Biosphere Reserve that is home to exotic species of fauna including monkeys, jaguars, crocodiles, toucans, macaws, parrots, wild boars, tapirs and dangerous snakes.

The jungle route affords the traveller the opportunity to view an incredible array of towering rainforest trees, a variety of exotic carnivorous plants, orchids of different species and myriads of insects. As you traverse the Maya sites it seems as though you are alone in the jungle and entering a state of suspended time. On the Ruta Rio Bec you will find yourself in mysterious places, zones of lost time and an enigma of otherworldly design.

Hormiguero Structure

Hormiguero Structure. Photo © Jim O’Kon.

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Help get Ancient History Magazine off the ground!

by Jan van der Crabben March 19, 2015 Entertainment 0 Comments

photo-original

There is a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of launching a new ancient history magazine! We find that a worthy cause, so we’ll let the publishers speak for themselves:

Ancient History Magazine is a new magazine from Karwansaray Publishers. Karwansaray is an independent publishing house in the Netherlands. We specialize in the publication of historical books and magazines for a large, interested and informed audience.

Our most well-known publication is Ancient Warfare, a bimonthly magazine on the military history of the ancient world. Ancient Warfare is currently in its ninth year and we are edging toward publication of the fiftieth issue, later this year. Four years ago, Ancient Warfare got a little brother: Medieval Warfare, which covers warfare in the period between ca. AD 500 and 1500. At the same time we also took over publication of Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy, and turned it into a very successful wargaming magazine.

Ancient History Magazine – or AHM for short – will be similar to Ancient Warfare, except that it will explore the whole of the ancient world instead of focusing solely on military matters.

Like our other magazines, an issue of AHM will be centered around a particular theme. But because the subject matter is so comprehensive, more room will be made available for non-theme-related articles, so that each issue will have something for everyone.

Head on over to their Kickstarter page to help get this magazine launched!

Destruction in Syria & Iraq

Ancient History Encyclopedia is shocked, saddened, and deeply disturbed by the indiscriminate damage done to ancient artifacts at the Mosul Museum, Assyrian architecture at Nineveh and Nimrud, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hatra by the Islamic State / ISIS / ISIL. The protection and preservation of ancient artifacts and sites is one of AHE’s chief causes, and the destruction of these unique cultural items is a irretrievable loss to the entire world. AHE strongly condemns these senseless and brazen acts of extreme vandalism and denounces too the destruction of religious sites and places of worship in Iraq and Syria. The protection of the world’s shared cultural heritage is a most noble cause, and it is our hope that it becomes one of yours in light of recent events.

Palmyra, site of ISIS looting and destruction. Photo by djtomic.

Palmyra, Syria. This ancient city has hard-hit by looting and destruction. Photo by djtomic.

AHE additionally condemns the crimes against humanity carried out by the Islamic State and the Assad Regime. The mass displacement of the Syrian people, the extreme persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, and the use of barrel bombs on civilian targets appal and horrify us. Although AHE is not a humanitarian organization, we ask that you take a moment to think about the human loss and suffering as we mark the fourth anniversary of the war in Syria.