10 Sacred Sites Damaged Or Destroyed In The Last 10 Years – And What Some Are Doing To Rebuild

Ten years ago, the 11th century minaret of the Umayyad Mosque stood in splendor above the city of Damascus, Syria. Today, the wreckage of the mosque offers a stark reminder of the cultural loss the world has experienced over the last ten years, as iconic spiritual sites have been destroyed as a result of war, short-sighted economic expansion and natural disasters.
Ancient mosaics seriously damaged during restoration in Turkey’s Hatay

At least 10 mosaics, held in the world’s second largest mosaic museum in Turkey’s southern city of Antakya, were seriously damaged during restoration, a local newspaper has reported.

The scandal erupted after local mosaic craftsman Mehmet Daşkapan brought the issue to the attention of a local newspaper in Antakya.

“Valuable pieces from the Roman period have been ruined. They have become caricatures of their former selves. Some are in an especially poor condition and have lost their originality and value,” Daşkapan said.

Among the damaged mosaics are world-famous panels including a mosaic depicting the sacrifice of Isaac and a mosaic of Narcissus, he added. Read more.


The Forgotten Pyramids of Meroë

In a desert in eastern Sudan, along the banks of the Nile River, lies a collection of nearly 200 ancient pyramids - many of them tombs of the kings and queens of the Meroitic Kingdom which ruled the area for more than 900 years. The Meroë pyramids, smaller than their Egyptian cousins, are considered Nubian pyramids, with narrow bases and steep angles on the sides, built between 2,700 and 2,300 years ago, with decorative elements from the cultures of Pharaonic Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Though the pyramids are one of the main attractions for Sudan’s tourists, the local tourism industry has been devastated by a series of economic sanctions imposed by various Western nations throughout the course of the country’s civil war and the conflict in Darfur. According to reports, Sudan now receives fewer than 15,000 tourists per year, compared to past estimates of as many as 150,000. 

Alan Taylor

Sources: The Atlantic, Journal News Aljazeera


Sedimentary DNA from a submerged site reveals wheat in the British Isles 8000 years ago

  • by Oliver Smith, Garry Momber, Richard Bates, Paul Garwood, Simon Fitch, Mark Pallen, Vincent Gaffney and Robin G. Allaby

The Mesolithic-to-Neolithic transition marked the time when a hunter-gatherer economy gave way to agriculture, coinciding with rising sea levels. Bouldnor Cliff, is a submarine archaeological site off the Isle of Wight in the United Kingdom that has a well-preserved Mesolithic paleosol dated to 8000 years before the present. We analyzed a core obtained from sealed sediments, combining evidence from microgeomorphology and microfossils with sedimentary ancient DNA (sedaDNA) analyses to reconstruct floral and faunal changes during the occupation of this site, before it was submerged. In agreement with palynological analyses, the sedaDNA sequences suggest a mixed habitat of oak forest and herbaceous plants. However, they also provide evidence of wheat 2000 years earlier than mainland Britain and 400 years earlier than proximate European sites. These results suggest that sophisticated social networks linked the Neolithic front in southern Europe to the Mesolithic peoples of northern Europe” (read more/open access).

(Open access source: Science 347(6225):998-1001, 2015 via Academia.edu)

Mes Aynak: A Story of Courage and a Priceless World Treasure in Afghanistan

Qadi Temori and Brent Huffman are two men with a mission. One is an Afghan archaeologist. The other is an American documentary film director, writer and editor. And though they each herald from very different backgrounds, they share a common, critical passion—the rescue of an archaeological site in Afghanistan that holds priceless treasures and secrets of a slice of humanity that will imminently vanish into oblivion unless someone can do something about it. 

That slice of humanity is the ancient site of Mes Aynak. Based on the findings of recent archaeological investigations, it contains the remains of a massive, 500,000-square-meter, 2,000-year-old Buddhist city that consists of stupas and temples, thousands of artifacts, including ancient Buddhist manuscripts, and around 600 large Buddha statues to date. Evidence shows that it also sits atop a 5,000-year-old Bronze Age site. Read more.

Almost 6,000 years ago, the man was placed behind the woman with his arms around her body, and their legs were intertwined. They were buried.
Why they were interred in this manner is not yet determined, but the international team that discovered them in Greece is still searching for answers, according to team member Michael Galaty, a Mississippi State University archaeologist.
“There’ve only been a couple of prehistoric examples of this behavior around the world, but even when couples are buried together, they’re beside each other and not typically touching,” he said. “This couple was actually spooning. We assume they were partners of some kind, and because of DNA analysis, we do know they are male and female.”
Not only does Galaty head MSU’s anthropology and Middle Eastern cultures department, but he also serves as interim director of the university’s Cobb Institute of Archeology.
Another question for the researchers to examine is how the couple died, which happened around 3800 B.C., Galaty said. While archaeologists are unsure whether the man or woman died first, they are sure the couple’s times of death are close together.
“This is unique in Greece, and we’re analyzing the skeletons and bones to find out more about what was going on, how they died and why they may have been placed there,” he said.

More here.


How do you read a scroll that was buried and burnt by volcanic ash?

X-ray reading glasses.

In 1750, about 1,800 scrolls were unearthed from the ruins of the library of Herculaneum. Hercalaneum, like Pompeii, was destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted, so the scrolls were a bit crispy. Try to unroll them, and they’ll just crumble.

BUT using super sensitive X-rays generated by a particle accelerator in France, scientists can detect changes in thickness where ink had been used to write letters. Now they hope to use a computer program to decode the letters - and republish texts that have been lost to the world.

Image: Salvatore Laporta/AP

The first of its kind- Baby Woolly Rhino Discovered In Siberia

Sasha, the baby wooly rhino, in all her glory; (inset) the specimen was discovered at the Abyysky District of Siberia’s Sakha Republic. Pictures: Academy of Sciences.

The pristine specimen of the tiny extinct rhino–the only one of its type ever found–was discovered in permafrost along the bank of a stream in Siberia’s Sakha Republic, The Siberian Times reported.

“At first we thought it was a reindeer’s carcass, but after it thawed and fell down we saw a horn on its upper jaw and realized it must be a rhino,” Alexander ‘Sasha’ Banderov, the hunter who made the discovery, told the Times. “The part of the carcass that stuck out of the ice was eaten by wild animals, but the rest of it was inside the permafrost and preserved well.” Experts hope to be able to extract DNA from remains of the extinct creature which was today being handed over to scientists from the  Academy of Sciences in Yakutsk, capital of the Sakha Republic, also known as Yakutia.

Replica of a woolly rhino created by Remie Bakker, 2010

The age of the cub when it died has yet to be established, but scientists estimate it to be about 18 months old. Precise tests will be conducted to ascertain when Sasha died, with the results likely in six months. The creature’s wool is well preserved, and an ear, one eye, its nostrils, and mouth are clearly visible.

Albert Protopopov, Head of the Mammoth Fauna Department of Sakha Republic Academy of Sciences, said: “The find is absolutely unique. We can count a number of adult woolly rhinos found around the world on fingers of one hand. A baby rhino was never found before. We know nothing about baby rhinos, while the morphology of adults is better known. So far we didn’t have a chance to work even with a tooth of a baby rhino, and now we have the whole skull, the head, soft tissues, and well preserved teeth.”


Amphipolis Tomb Site at Risk of Being Buried Again

The Amphipolis tomb excavation site is in danger of being buried under the sand due to neglect and weather conditions, said Greek Deputy Minister of Culture Nikos Xydakis.

The Amphipolis tomb discovery was one of the ten most important findings in the world in 2014. Now, the burial monument is at risk of being buried again, but this time to the knowledge of archaeologists.

The major archaeological discovery in northern Greece cannot be opened for visitors at the moment as heavy rains have created stagnant ponds and forced mounts of dirt to cover most of the site. When water dries, the ground will be even more unstable. Water needs to be drained and a drainage system must be put in place.

“The surrounding wall with wonderful marbles from Thasos needs drainage works urgently,” Xydakis said. Read more.

There’s a problem with the mummies at the University of Tarapacá’s archaeological museum in northern Chile.

They’re turning into a black oozy substance.

Harvard University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences says scientists have found that Chile’s famous 7,000-year-old Chinchorro mummies are being eaten by bacteria — and that climate change could be the culprit.

Climate Change May Be Destroying World’s Oldest-Known Mummies

Image Credit: Claudio Santana/AFP/Getty Images

Work to Repair Damage at Looted Zominthos Dig

Greece’s culture ministry has announced that work will begin on Monday to restore damage caused by illegal digging carried out by looters at the Zominthos archaeological site, on Mount Psiloritis on Crete. According to experts, there are signs that the site was vandalized and disturbed.

In an announcement issued on Sunday, the ministry reported damage in three of the 42 rooms uncovered by the official archaeological excavation. It said the illegal diggers had gone through the floor and destroyed a section of the southern wall of one room, that the base of a pillar found on the site had been moved and broken, while in rooms 35 and 26 there were signs of disturbance and illegal digging. (source).