It’s been another busy week, both for me and the news, so here is a roundup of some of the best stories.
First up we have a new theory from an Assyriologist at Oxford Universty, Stephanie Dalley, who thinks that the hanging gardens of Babylon may have actually been 340 miles further north in Nineveh, and that a mistranslation is responsible for the mix up. This might explain why credible evidence of the gardens has never been found. Inscriptions boasting of the achievements of the Babylonian ruler Nebuchadrezzar mention nothing about the gardens, whilst the Assyrian King Sennacherib, who reigned from 704-681 BC, left many inscriptions celebrating his great network of canals and luxurious gardens and parks, and constructed a network of water works that brought water to Neveneh from over 40 miles away. Unfortunately the sites location next to modern day Mosul in Iraq, an area of continued violence between the Sunni and Shiite groups means that it is unlikely to be excavated any time soon.
Next we have a story that the so called city of gold Ciudad Blanca may have been found in Honduras. Cortes wrote of it in 1526, but never found the city, and later attempts to locate it have either failed, or the supposed finders have died before telling others the location. Now a new interdisciplinary team thinks that they may have found it using LiDAR (an airborne light based radar system) which can reveal the shape of the land below the canopy of even heavily forested areas. Now the news reports call this a new technology, but it really isn’t. LiDAR was invented in the early 1960’s and its use in archaeology is not that uncommon. What is nice about this story is that it shows that great discoveries can still be made and that things sometimes dismissed as historical myth might actually be true. The finding of this city is also very important because it could potentially change interpretations of the history of that area, which has previously been thought to contain no developed civilisations. A ground expedition to the site is currently planned for the autumn.
Another interesting story about the things that archaeology can do given the right circumstances, is the study of the remains of an ancient Greek warrior. The analysis of the remains showed that he lived with an arrow head lodged in his arm after an unsuccessful attempt to remove it. The man would have lived to around 60, likely in constant pain. This sort of in depth look at someone’s personal story is rare in archaeology, but when the evidence is right it can be very interesting and revealing.
Another story from Greece is that 8,00 artefacts illegally excavated in 1941 during the German occupation are to be returned from a museum in Germany. Through the centuries a great deal of things have been taken, with various degrees of legality, from Greece. A prime example is the Elgin Marbles, which remain a controversial international issue to this date and the debate over the return of antiquities to their source nation continues to rage around the world. Whatever your view on the issue, it is nice to see some of a county’s history returned to it.
Next is a story from Afghanistan where the ancient site of Mes-Aynak is threatened with destruction by a Chinese copper mining programme. Mes-Aynak was a wealthy Buddhist city occupied from the 1st Century BC til the 10th century AD located along the silk road. Archaeological investigations seem to suggest that, ironically, it was the presence of the copper which now threatens the site that lead to its prosperity. However, it is this threat of destruction which has allowed this site to be researched, and potentially saved its secrets for posterity, with money from around the world funding a major rescue dig. Looting is rampant in this area of Afghanistan and without an excavation much of the site may have been mindlessly destroyed. A US non-profit group, The Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage (Arch), are campaigning to prevent the mine from going ahead in its current form, but it is a reality of archaeology that the majority of work is done in order to preserve knowledge which is about to be destroyed due to some form of development. Without this development far fewer projects would go ahead as there would simply not be the funding. It is also rather suspect that some of the directors of Arch have links to US mining companies and are critical of the Chinese dominance in Afghan mining. For a good description of the site and its history head over to: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/may/31/mes-aynak-afghanistan-buddhist-treasure
Finally, last week the new £35 million Mary Rose exhibition opened to the public. This exhibition includes a broad array of artefacts from the ship and the opportunity to see the Mary Rose itself through a viewing window. The ship will remain behind glass for the next four years whilst the polyethylene glycol (PEG)with which it was preserved dries. I have it on good authority that things preserved with PEG smell strongly of vomit, so I think that final reveal could be rather interesting! As part of the exhibit areas of the ship have been reconstructed to show what life on the boat would have been like, including reconstructions of some of the sailors! I discussed facial reconstruction in the last news roundup so I won’t do so again, except to say, stop! Please stop!