The Dig On Pyramids

But where are all the people?

An excerpted interview with Mark Lehner

NOVA: Tell us about your current excavation at Giza. Does it stem from a desire to define who built the pyramids and how they were built?
The excavation LEHNER: I started asking new questions. Not who built the Sphinx, and how were the pyramids built, but where are all the people? It seemed to me that 200 years of Egyptology had focused on pyramids, tombs and temples, and hieroglyphic inscriptions, and understandably so. Once you could read those things, my God, they were speaking to you in every tomb and temple wall. But if in fact as Herodotus said, there were 100,000 people—Herodotus the Greek, who wrote about 450 B.C.—if it took 100,000 people to build the great pyramid, I started thinking, having started to do some reading in anthropology, my God, that would be a super city in the third millennium B.C. Where is the city? How were they fed? How were they housed? Now Egyptologists have more sober estimates of some 20,000, 30,000, but even that would be a colossal city. So I started saying, well, we must be missing a whole component of the Giza Plateau, namely the people who built it, the evidence of their infrastructure. But it was the geology or the geomorphology, the shape of the landscape, that gave me the clues. Continue reading The Dig On Pyramids

Egypt unveils discovery of 4,300-year-old pyramid

SAQQARA, Egypt – Archaeologists have discovered a new pyramid under the sands of Saqqara, an ancient burial site that has yielded a string of unearthed pyramids in recent years but remains largely unexplored.

Egypt's antiquities chief Zahi Hawass, center-right, walks around the site of a
AP – Egypt’s antiquities chief Zahi Hawass, center-right, walks around the site of a newly-discovered pyramid, …

The 4,300-year-old monument most likely belonged to the queen mother of the founder of Egypt‘s 6th Dynasty, and was built several hundred years after the famed Great Pyramids of Giza, antiquities chief Zahi Hawass told reporters in announcing the find Tuesday.

The discovery is part of the sprawling necropolis and burial site of the rulers of ancient Memphis, the capital of Egypt‘s Old Kingdom, about 12 miles south of Giza.

All that remains of the pyramid is a 16-foot-tall structure that had been buried under 65 feet of sand.

“There was so much sand dumped here that no one had any idea there was something buried underneath,” said Hawass.

Hawass’ team had been excavating at the location for two years, but only determined two months ago that the structure, with sides about 72 feet long, was the base of a pyramid. The pyramid is the 118th discovered so far in Egypt, and the 12th to be found in Saqqara. Most are in ruins; only about a dozen pyramids remain intact across the country.

Archaeologists also found parts of the pyramid’s white limestone casing — believed to have once covered the entire structure — which enabled them to calculate that the complete pyramid was once 45 feet high.

“To find a new pyramid is always exciting,” said Hawass. “And this one is magical. It belonged to a queen.”

Hawass said he believes the pyramid belonged to Queen Sesheshet, who is thought to have played a significant role in establishing the 6th Dynasty and uniting two branches of the feuding royal family. Her son, Teti, ruled for about a dozen years until his likely assassination, in a sign of the turbulent times.

The pyramids of Teti’s two wives, discovered 100 years ago and in 1994 respectively, lie next to it, part of a burial complex alongside the collapsed pyramid of Teti himself.

The Egyptian team is still digging and is two weeks from entering the burial chamber inside the pyramid, where Hawass hopes they will find proof of its owner — a sarcophagus or at least an inscription of the queen, he said.

Finding more than that is unlikely, as robbers in antiquity looted the pyramid, he said, pointing to a gaping shaft on the structure’s top, a testament of the plunder.

On Tuesday, workers wearing white turbans and dust-covered robes scurried back and forth, carrying large rocks and bags heaped with sand away from the site.

Using an air brush, one worker cleaned sand from stunning hieroglyphic details on the white limestone casing, while archaeologists studied the inscriptions and students drew blueprints of the pyramid’s base.

Dieter Wildung, a leading Egyptologist and head of Berlin’s Egyptian Museum, said it was common in the Old Kingdom for kings to build pyramids for their queens and mothers next to their own.

“Hawass is likely right” that the pyramid belonged to Sesheshet, said Wildung, who was not involved in the dig. “These parallel situations give a very strong argument in favor of his interpretation.”

But Joe Wegner, an associate professor of Egyptian archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania who has been involved in other expeditions at Saqqara, cautioned that until “inscriptional confirmation is found, it’s still an educated guess” that the pyramid is Sesheshet’s.

Although evidence of the queen’s existence was found elsewhere in Egypt in inscriptions and a papyrus document — a medical prescription to strengthen the queen’s thinning hair — the site of her burial was not known.

The find is important because it adds to the understanding of the 6th Dynasty, which reigned from 2,322 B.C. to 2,151 B.C. It was the last dynasty of the Old Kingdom, which spanned the third millennium B.C. and whose achievements are considered the first peak of pharaonic civilization.

Saqqara is most famous for the Step Pyramid of King Djoser, built in the 27th century B.C.

Excavations have been going on here for about 150 years, uncovering a vast Old Kingdom necropolis of pyramids, tombs and funerary complexes, as well as tombs dating from the New Kingdom about 1,000 years later.

Still, only about a third of the Saqqara complex has been explored so far, with recent digging turning up a number of key finds.

The last new pyramid, found here three years ago, is thought to belong to the wife of Teti’s successor, Pepi I.

In June, Hawass’ team unveiled a “rediscovery” at Saqqara — a pyramid believed to have been built by King Menkauhor, an obscure pharaoh whose pyramid was first discovered in 1842 but was later buried in sand.

2,000-year-old gold earring found in Jerusalem

AP – This undated photo made available by the Israeli Antiquities Authority on Monday, Nov. 10, 2008 shows …

JERUSALEM – A luxurious gold, pearl and emerald earring provides a new visual clue about the life of the elite in Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago. And its discovery was a true eureka moment for excavators.

The piece was found beneath a parking lot next to the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City. It dates to the Roman period just after the time of Jesus, said Doron Ben-Ami, who directed the dig.

The earring was uncovered in a destroyed Byzantine structure built centuries after the piece was made, showing it was likely passed down through generations, he said.

Archaeologists came upon the earring in a corner while excavating the ruins of the building under a parking lot. “Suddenly one of the excavators came up shouting ‘Eureka!'” said Ben-Ami.

The find is eye-catching: A large pearl inlaid in gold with two drop pieces, each with an emerald and pearl set in gold.

“It must have belonged to someone of the elite in Jerusalem,” Ben-Ami said. “Such a precious item, it couldn’t be one of just ordinary people.”

Archaeologist Shimon Gibson, who was not involved in the dig, said the find was truly amazing, less because of its Roman origins than for its precious nature.

“Jewelry is hardly preserved in archaeological context in Jerusalem,” he said, because precious metals were often sold or melted down during the many historic takeovers of the city.

“It adds to the visual history of Jerusalem,” Gibson added, saying it brings attention to the life of women in antiquity.

Ben-Ami the piece’s placement in the destroyed building protected it from looters and kept it preserved. Its location also showed that it must be older than the house itself.

The Israel Antiquities Authority said the earring appeared to have been made using a technique similar to that depicted in portraits from Roman-era Egypt. Experts were able to date the earring by comparing it to similar finds in Europe.

In a statement released Monday, the Antiquities Authority said the earring was “astonishingly well-preserved.” Finds from the Roman period are rare in Jerusalem, Ben-Ami said, because the city was destroyed by the Roman Empire in the first century A.D.

Though Gibson dates the piece slightly later than the antiquities authority, to sometime between the second and fourth centuries A.D., he said its quality and beauty were impressive.

And Ben-Ami said he expects more small, luxury items to turn up in future excavations.

from : news.yahoo.com

Stolen Artifacts from Iraq


sumer_gold.jpg


BAGHDAD (AFP) – Archaeological sites in southern Iraq have been systematically looted for over two years, but experts say the dig will have to go much deeper to find out where thousands of lost artifacts have ended up.

“The complete lack of knowledge is devastating,” says archaeologist Elizabeth Stone, who spent years excavating the Old Babylonian city of Mashkan Shapir.

“One article said that a billion Iraqi dinars worth of artifacts had been smuggled to Syria, but that’s absurd. We just don’t know what’s gone,” she says.

The mystery has emerged as new site protection forces finally begin to make a dent in thefts from the cradle of civilisation, rampant since the US-led invasion of March 2003, but experts say it may be years before the riddle is solved.

Meanwhile, artifacts are surprisingly absent from the ever-hungry illegal market. “Artifacts aren’t turning up yet,” says Seth Richardson of Chicago’s Oriental Institute. “The market’s too hot. People don’t want to trade them, for good reasons and
bad.”
“We’ll probably have to wait four or five years for this stuff to turn up. And it could be anywhere — London, New York, Geneva, Tokyo.”

What is known is the shocking breadth of looting, with satellite images showing ancient sites turned into chessboards of square-shaped holes. “There’s been more dirt moved after the (2003) war by looters than there ever was by archaeologists and looters combined before the war,” says Stone.

On the ground, archaeologist Abdal Amir Hamdani, in charge of antiquities for Dhi Qar province, home to some of Iraq’s most famous archaeological sites, says his focus has shifted from looters to smugglers.

“I’m not an archaeologist. I’m a policeman,” he says.

Hamdani uses what he calls a “hunting dog” — a former looter turned paid informant — who follows up on rumours and goes out with a digital camera and global positioning system (GPS) equipment to locate and mark smugglers’ houses. Italian carabinieri forces disguised as Bedouin then go with Hamdani to carry out often fruitful raids. “This is the war within the war, the forgotten war,” he says of his dangerous job.

Last October, eight Iraqi customs officers were found dead and their recently seized cargo of antiquities disappeared on the road to Baghdad. Al-Fajir, 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Hamdani’s base in Nassiriyah, is rife with smugglers and dealers, he says, and 60 suspect homes in the small town of 10,000 have already been identified.

Hamdani shows photos of seized artifacts: Parthian glasswork, Sumerian statues and erotic images on temple tablets, hundreds of coins, gold jewellery and bowls inscribed in ancient Aramaic, some clumsily glued together, damaged forever. “I don’t know how much they’re worth to a dealer,” says Hamdani. “To me, they’re priceless.”

He laments what he says are lax sentences of two or three years handed down to smugglers. “It’s not enough. They should be getting 10 years or more. I would like to kill them, but then what happens to human rights in this country?”

Stone says that families in the area have been selling artifacts for generations, but the lawlessness of recent years combined with increased demand from the West, Japan and Israel has made them more daring.

“You can see the purposefulness of it. People are very well-organised. They come with food and water and guns. That’s different from what Iraq has always had, farmers and villagers coming to take something to sell at the local souk.” “The assumption is that they won’t have to hold onto it for 100 years. But some families have been doing it for generations and might think their grandchildren will sell it. There must be warehouses bursting with the stuff,” she says.

“It will start coming onto the market when people decide authorities can’t be bothered to prosecute anymore.” While the director of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, Donny George, says that an object sold by a farmer in Baghdad for 50 dollars can fetch “200,000 to 300,000 dollars in New York,” the financial loss pales in comparison to the cultural one.

“The frightening thing is objects going to private collectors, where they are hidden, just for investment, like hoarding gold,” says George. He says ill-informed buyers in the West, such as the man who paid 80,000 dollars for a non-descript cylinder seal, are also inflating prices and inspiring more thieves.

“They’ve been taking out at least 3,000 tablets a week, by the truckload. That’s got to be 400-500 dissertations,” says Richardson, adding that some looters die when the tunnels they use collapse, becoming artifacts themselves. Iraq currently has 12,000 registered archaeological sites, but once the whole country has been surveyed, that number will jump to 100,000, says George.

Hamdani says there are 800 sites around Nassiriyah alone, with 200 site
protection forces to patrol them in just seven vehicles.
As a result, no amount of policing is going to suffice and the museum is
placing its hopes in changing people’s mindsets.
“Ninety percent of schoolbooks used to be dedicated to Saddam and the Baath
party. If we can dedicate five percent of books to antiquities, children can
learn a lot — and they can teach their parents.”

Meanwhile, generous foreign aid is well-intended, but not always useful. In the corner of George’s office is a box of 40 satellite phones donated for site protection forces by UNESCO. “We’ve had them for three months, but they didn’t give us SIM cards,” says George. “Now we have extra funding so we can buy the cards and use them.”