aacloseup

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My Son (which means in Vietnamese “Beautiful Mountain”), is a cluster of abandoned Hindu temples built between the 4th and 13th century AD, located in the Quang Nam Province of Vietnam. This site gives us great insight into political and spiritual life of this important phase of South-East Asian history. Its position in a small valley surrounded by high mountains gave it strategic advantage and easy defense.

My Son was the capital of the Champa Kingdom for the majority of its existence, which started when the people of the Tuong Lam area rose up against their Chinese overlords in AD 192. Many temples were built to the Hindu divinities (such as Vishnu, Krishna, and Shiva) when the Cham came under influence of the Hindu religion, My Son being the favored location for such temples by kings in the 6th and 8th centuries. The vast majority of the 11th century was a period of continuous warfare, and My Son suffered greatly. Following the decline of the Champa Kingdom from the 13th century, by the 15th century, worship ceased at My Son.

The kalan (main tower) symbolizes the meru (sacred mountain) at the centre of the universe. The bhurloka (rectangular base), decorated with reliefs, represents the human world.

Photos courtesy & taken by dalbera. When writing up this post, UNESCO world heritage was of great use.

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As a New Zealander I thought it was high time I posted some archaeology a bit closer to home.

A very important Pacific archaeological site located on the south eastern coast of Raiatea, French Polynesia -the Taputapuatea Marae.

For those of you who don’t know, a marae is a sacred religious gathering place in Polynesian societies. This particular marae was already established by 1000 AD, and was once known as the religious centre and central temple of Eastern Polynesia. Here, people such as priests and navigators would meet to share knowledge and preform sacrifices to the gods.

Member of the Moari iwi Te Rangi Hīroa (anthropologist, politician), upon visiting the site in 1929 was overcome with grief due to the state of the once great marae, and consequently wrote:

I had made my pilgrimage to Taputapu-atea, but the dead could not speak to me. It was sad to the verge of tears. I felt a profound regret, a regret for — I knew not what. Was it for the beating of the temple drums or the shouting of the populace as the king was raised on high? Was it for the human sacrifices of olden times? It was for none of these individually but for something at the back of them all, some living spirit and divine courage that existed in ancient times of which Taputapu-atea was a mute symbol. It was something that we Polynesians have lost and cannot find, something that we yearn for and cannot recreate. The background in which that spirit was engendered has changed beyond recovery. The bleak wind of oblivion had swept over Opoa. Foreign weeds grew over the untended courtyard, and stones had fallen from the sacred altar of Taputapu-atea. The gods had long ago departed.

(ref: D. Hanlon, Voyaging Through the Contemporary Pacific)

Fortunately, as of 1994, the archaeological remains of Taputapuatea has been restored, and is currently being pushed to become a recognized United Nations World Heritage site.

Photos courtesy & taken by Pierre Lesage.

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The 65m-tall Minaret of Jam, marks probably the site of the ancient city of Firuzkuh (later destroyed by the Mongol Ogodï in 1222), which was the capital of the Ghurid dynasty which ruled Afghanistan as well as from Kashgar to the Persian Gulf, and parts of northern Indian. Sultan Ghiyas ud-Din is named as the current Ghurid emperor at the time of construction by the inscription, which also gives a construction date of 1194.

The Minaret of Jam is sometimes called the ‘Victory Tower’, as it is probable that it was constructed to commemorate his 1192 victory at Deihi over the Empire of Ghaznavid. The site is also thought to have once been the summer residence of the Ghurid Emperors. The Minaret is significant for its decoration and architecture, representing the culmination of an architectural and artistic tradition in this region, and is covered in blue, incredibly elaborate brickwork and inscriptions (photo 2). A marvel from an art historical perspective, the Minaret of Jam represents the incredible artistic creativity and mastery of structural engineering of the time, and remains one of the very few so well preserved.

Sections from the inscriptions:

The uppermost band consists of the Muslim confession of faith; “I bear witness there is no god but Allah (and that) Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.”

Below this, are upper two bands that consists of verse 13, surat al-Saff LXI;“Help from Allah and present victory. Give good tidings (O Muhammad) to believers. O ye who believe.”

An inscription, “Abu'l-Fath”, heavily damaged, due to being made of stucco.

Facing north is a Kufic inscription, “On the date of the year five hundred ninety" (equivalent of 27 December 1193 to 16 December 1194).

Reference: Ghaznavid and Ghūrid Minarets, Ralph Pinder-Wilson, Iran, pg168-169.

Photos courtesy & taken by James Gordon. When writing this post UNESCO was of great use.

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One of the best known prehistoric archaeological sites in Scotland, Jarlshof in Shetland -the remains of this site date from 2500 BC up to the 17th century AD.

Late Neolithic house remains mark the earliest occupation of Jarlshof, followed by Bronze Age houses. In these Bronze Age houses we see the use of souterrains -underground passages which may have been used for uses such as smithing and as a place to keep grain dry. From the Iron Age period of Jarlshof is the remains of a broch, half of which today remains eroded into the sea. From the 9th century we see the rise of some rather impressive Norse settlements and architecture, most notably, the longhouse. By the 13th century the site of Jarlshof had developed into a Medieval farmstead.

What really struck me personally about this site is that it really does act as a microcosm of the history of Shetland, representing thousands of years of human occupation -quite extraordinary really.

For a more detailed account of Jarlshof archaeologically, check out the Canmore site record Jarlshof

Photos courtesy & taken by Pigalle. When writing up this post, shetland-heritage was of great use.

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The Stonehenge, believed to be built between 3000 BC to 2000 BC, is a prehistoric monument in the English county of Wiltshire.

Stonehenge is made of the remains of a ring of standing stones, and is one of the most famous sites in the world. Showing such large degrees of sophistication of architectural design for a prehistoric megalithic monument, the Stonehenge is too a highly significant complex, which offers us great insight into the era in which it was built, namely the funerary and ceremonial practices in Britain in the Neolithic and Bronze Age.

UNESCO World Heritage’s description of the site:

Stonehenge, Avebury and their associated sites represent a masterpiece of human creative genius of the Neolithic age.

The site of Stonehenge and Avebury is the best-known ensemble circular megalithic characteristic of the Neolithic civilization in Britain. A number of satellite sites make it possible to better understand the more famous sites by situating them in a broader context.

Stonehenge, which was built in several distinct phases from 3100 to 1100 BC, is one of the most impressive megalithic monuments in the world on account of the sheer size of the menhirs, and especially the perfection of the plan, which is based upon a series of concentric circles, and also because of its height: from the third phase of construction on, large lintels were placed upon the vertical blocks, thereby creating a type of bonded entablature. For the constructions two different materials were used: irregular sandstone blocks known as sarsens, quarried in a plain near Salisbury and bluestones quarried about 200 km away in Pembroke County, Wales. An avenue with a bend in it leads to and away from the exterior circle.

Although the ritual function of the monument is not known in detail, the cosmic references of its structure appear to be essential. The old theory that the site was a sanctuary for worship of the Sun, although not the subject of unanimous agreement among prehistorians, is nevertheless illustrated by the yearly Midsummer Day ceremony during which there is a folkloric procession of bards and druids at Stonehenge.

Avebury (about 30 km to the north), although not so well known as Stonehenge, is nevertheless Europe’s largest circular megalithic ensemble. Its exterior circle comprises some 100 menhirs. In all, 180 standing stones were put into place before the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC, as demonstrated by abundant ceramic samples found on the site. There are four avenues (of which only the southern one, West Kennet Avenue, is still lined with megaliths) leading to the four cardinal points of the ‘sanctuary’.

Not far from Avebury, among a several satellite sites, are to be found Silbury Hill, where Europe’s largest known barrow of prehistoric times is located, as well as Windmill Hill, West Kennet Long Barrow, and Overton Hill.

Photo courtesy Angeles Mosquera

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Anasazi and Navajo petroglyphs, cliff dwellings, and White House ruin at the Canyon de Chelly National Monument, northeastern Arizona, USA.

Preserving the ruins of the early indigenous tribes who lived in the area, Canyon de Chelly reflects one of longest continuously inhabited landscapes of North America, and remains one of America’s most-visited national monuments. Continuously occupied for over 4,000 years, the monument encompasses about 84,000 acres of lands, with about 40 families residing within the park boundaries today.

Canyon de Chelly has natural water sources and rich soil, enabling a wealth of resources -which, for thousands of years, has sustained the families who have come to occupy the site. For instance, the Ancient Puebloans, who found the site ideal for inhabiting and growing crops. Over time, various forms of housing was built, such as the pit houses by the first settlers, which evolved into sophisticated homes over time. Canyon de Chelly thrived until the mid-1300’s when the Puebloans left the canyons in the search of better farmlands.

In 1931 President Herbert Hoover authorized Canyon de Chelly as a National Monument in a measure to preserve this incredibly important archaeological site.

Photos courtesy & taken by Laura Gooch. When writing this post National Park Service was of great use.

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The ’Queen of the Night’ Relief, also known as the Burney Relief.

Old Babylonian, 1800-1750 BC. Courtesy & currently located at the British Museum, London.

The Queen of the Night, renamed by the British Museum after their purchase of the artifact in 2003, this relief is one of the most recognizable ancient Mesopotamian artworks discovered to date. It originates from Southern Iraq, though the exact site in which it was found is unknown, as the relief was not archaeologically excavated. 

In addition to the relief’s distinctive iconography, the high relief and large size suggests that it was used as a cult relied, which makes it a very rare survival from the period. Though the authenticity of this object has been questioned from its first appearance in the 1930s, over the later decades, the opinion of authenticity has generally moved in its favor.

Artifact statement from the British Museum:

This large plaque is made of baked straw-tempered clay, modelled in high relief. The figure of the curvaceous naked woman was originally painted red. She wears the horned headdress characteristic of a Mesopotamian deity and holds a rod and ring of justice, symbols of her divinity. Her long multi-coloured wings hang downwards, indicating that she is a goddess of the Underworld. Her legs end in the talons of a bird of prey, similar to those of the two owls that flank her. The background was originally painted black, suggesting that she was associated with the night. She stands on the backs of two lions, and a scale pattern indicates mountains.

The figure could be an aspect of the goddess Ishtar, Mesopotamian goddess of sexual love and war, or Ishtar’s sister and rival, the goddess Ereshkigal who ruled over the Underworld, or the demoness Lilitu, known in the Bible as Lilith. The plaque probably stood in a shrine.

The same goddess appears on small, crude, mould-made plaques from Babylonia from about 1850 to 1750 BC. Thermoluminescence tests confirm that the ‘Queen of the Night’ relief was made between 1765 and 45 BC.

Photo credits: Aiwok

The Rosetta Stone, Egypt, Ptolemaic Period, 196 BC.

One of the most influential and famous ancient artifacts discovered, the Rosetta Stone is an ancient Egyptian granodiorite stele inscribed with a decree issued at Memphis in 196 BC on behalf of King Ptolemy V. The inscription has three languages on it (Greek, demotic and hieroglyphs), each saying the same thing. Because of the translations, it provided great insight into the mystery of Egyptian hieroglyphs.

The first hieroglyphs were deciphered through distinguishing the name ‘Ptolemy’ in all three scripts.

Courtesy & currently located at the British Museum, London. Photo taken by Hans Hillewaert.

A valuable key to the decipherment of hieroglyphs, the inscription on the Rosetta Stone is a decree passed by a council of priests. It is one of a series that affirm the royal cult of the 13-year-old Ptolemy V on the first anniversary of his coronation.

Artifact statement from the British Museum:

In previous years the family of the Ptolemies had lost control of certain parts of the country. It had taken their armies some time to put down opposition in the Delta, and parts of southern Upper Egypt, particularly Thebes, were not yet back under the government’s control.

Before the Ptolemaic era (that is before about 332 BC), decrees in hieroglyphs such as this were usually set up by the king. It shows how much things had changed from Pharaonic times that the priests, the only people who had kept the knowledge of writing hieroglyphs, were now issuing such decrees. The list of good deeds done by the king for the temples hints at the way in which the support of the priests was ensured.

The decree is inscribed on the stone three times, in hieroglyphic (suitable for a priestly decree), demotic (the native script used for daily purposes), and Greek (the language of the administration). The importance of this to Egyptology is immense.

Soon after the end of the fourth century AD, when hieroglyphs had gone out of use, the knowledge of how to read and write them disappeared. In the early years of the nineteenth century, some 1400 years later, scholars were able to use the Greek inscription on this stone as the key to decipher them.

Thomas Young, an English physicist, was the first to show that some of the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone wrote the sounds of a royal name, that of Ptolemy. The French scholar Jean-François Champollion then realized that hieroglyphs recorded the sound of the Egyptian language and laid the foundations of our knowledge of ancient Egyptian language and culture.

Soldiers in Napoleon’s army discovered the Rosetta Stone in 1799 while digging the foundations of an addition to a fort near the town of el-Rashid (Rosetta). On Napoleon’s defeat, the stone became the property of the British under the terms of the Treaty of Alexandria (1801) along with other antiquities that the French had found.

The submerged Neolithic village of Atlit Yam, off the coast of Atlit, Israel.

The area, which covers ca. 40,000 m², was rediscovered in 1984 by marine archaeologist Ehud Galili, who saw the site while surveying the area for shipwrecks. When attempting to determine what happened in the final days of human occupation of Atlit Yam, the general consensus is that is was abandoned very suddenly. For instance, the evidence of fish piles ready to be traded. 

Maria Pareschi of the Italian National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Pisa suggests that the cause was a tsunami which engulfed some of the Mediterranean coastal cities. 8,500 years ago the volcanic eruption of Eastern flank of Mount Etna would have likely caused this tsunami, which may have been up to 40m high.

Skeletons from the site have been found (see an example here), such as the remains of a child and women, presenting the earliest known cases of tuberculosis. Many remains of bone fish-hooks have also been found, which suggests the importance of marine resources to the village. Remains of hearth-places, rectangular houses, and wells have also been rediscovered.

The photo used in the post is of some form of (ritual?) structure made of stones found at the site. You can see an artistic reconstruction of what this area may have once looked like here.

Photo courtesy Hanay, via Wiki Commons. Article of particular use when writing this post: Marchant, Jo (25 November 2009). “Deep Secrets: Atlit-Yam, Israel”. New Scientist.

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The ancient golden Helmet of Coţofeneşti, is a Geto-Dacian helmet dating from the first half of the 4th century BC. The helmet was uncovered by chance by a child on the territory of the village of Poiana Coţofeneşti (now Poiana Vărbilău), Romania.

This is an exceptionally well preserved helmet, missing only the part of its skull cap. It is made of pure gold, almost a kilogram in weight, and displays the “autochthonous character” of this artwork. The helmet is decorated with two large apotropaic eyes, intended to ward off the evil eye and magical spell. It is believed to have once belonged to an unknown local Geto-Dacian local aristocratic noble or a king from around 400 BC.

One theory suggests that this item was the sacred helmet of Zalmoxis, the living god-prophet of the Dacians. It has, however, never been proven.

The extensive decorations depict an illustration, (on either cheek-piece), of a ritual enactment, as well as depictions of a range of mythical creations.

The cheek-pieces of the Poiana-Coţofeneşti helmet show a ram being sacrificed by a man who kneels on its body and is about to cut its throat with a short knife. The iconography on the right side of the helmet is of a great interest, and has been interpreted in light of the tauroctony scene from the Mithraic Mysteries. Environment and affluence might well account for a change to a larger beast in the species offered and a similar interpretation of a bull-slaying episode. This sacrifice of the ram might have been performed by the “king-priest-god”

The pair of Voracious Beasts on the Coţofeneşti neck-guard occupy a lower register along with a similar creature deprived of a victim’s leg. This motif of the “Voracious Beast” is found earlier in Assyrian art, and was popular among the Etruscans. Phoenicia was probably the intermediary for its transferral to Italy and around the Adriatic, but Voracious Beast must also have traveled through Asia Minor to appear in a North Thracian idiom not only on the Coţofeneşti neck-guard but also in high relief on the base of the Aghighiol beakers (Aghighiol is a village near the Danube Delta in eastern Romania).

The upper register displays a row of three seated or squatting winged creatures, rather monkey-like with human faces, long forearms, and long tails. These, however, are surely direct, if run-down, descendants of the sphinxes on a gold beaker from Amlash.

The decorations such as rosette, strips, triangles, spiral and others are specific Geto-Dacian art motifs. The scene of sacrifice the ram is an oriental Iranian theme that entered in the Greek art and from there in the ‘barbarian’ art. Therefore, the helmet seems to have been realized in a Greek workshop. But, in the same time the awkward technique of execution that contrasts with the perfect technique of a Greek craftsman points out to an autochthonous one. (x)

Courtesy & currently located at the National Museum of Romanian History. Photo taken by CristianChirita

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The Tryggevælde Runestone, dates to about 900 AD. Before coming to Copenhagen in 1810, the runestone was moved in 1555 from a barrow to the Tryggevælde estate on Zealand, Denmark. It is unknown what the cause of the holes in the stone was. 

Similar to a few others also found in Sweden, the inscription ends with a curse against anyone who was to move or destroy the runestone.

English Translation:

A Ragnhildr, Ulfr’s sister, placed this stone and made this mound, and this ship(-setting), in memory of her husband Gunnulfr, a clamorous man, Nerfir’s son. Few will now be born better than him.

A warlock(?) be he who damages(?) this stone

or drags it (away) from here.

There has been considerable disagreement regarding one of the words of the curse, which is usually translated to either “warlock,” “wretch,” or “outcast.” Warlock is generally the most widely accepted.

Courtesy & currently located at the National Museum of Denmark, in Copenhagen. Photos taken by Skadinaujo.

The Bimaran Reliquary. From stupa 2 at Bimaran, Gandhara (in modern Afghanistan), 1st century AD.

The Bimaran Reliquary is a small gold reliquary for Buddhist relics, and shows one of the earliest depictions of Buddha from the north-west region of Gandhara. The inscription stated that the reliquary contained some of the actual ones of the Buddha (the bones, however, are missing). Instead, the relic was deposited with beads of precious stones, small burnt pearls, and four coins.

Segment from the British Museum artifact statement:

The arcading round the side consists of eight pointed arches, known as caitya arches, that rest on pilasters. The compartments are divided principally into two sets of three niches. Each has a Buddha in the centre flanked by two similar deities in profile who face the Buddha.

The remaining two compartments show a figure frontally with his hands held together in a prayerful gesture of reverence, anjali-mudra. In the spandrels between the arches are eagles with outspread wings and heads turned so that they face each other. The entire frieze is sandwiched between registers of garnets that alternate with a four-lobed floral motif.

The Bimaran casket was kept in a steatite box, with the inscriptions stating that it contained some relics of the Buddha. The inscriptions on the box read:

From the main body of the container:

“Shivaraksita mumjavamdaputrasa danamuhe niyadide bhagavata sharirehi sarvabudhana puyae”

“Sacred gift of Shivaraksita, son of Munjavamda; presented for Lord’s relics, in honour of all Buddhas”

And from the lid of the container:

“Shivaraksita mumjavamdaputrasa danamuhe bhagavata sharirehi”

“Gift of Shivaraksita, son of Munjavamda; presented for Lord’s relics”

This reliquary is a crucial object for the history of Buddhism, the development of the Buddha image on Buddhist art, and the best preserved example of early Indian goldsmithing.

Courtesy & currently located at the British Museum, London. Photo taken by World Imaging

A Quick Lesson on... Ancient Egyptian serdab statues

Photo: Djoser’s Ka statue peers out through the hole in his serdab, ready to receive the soul of the deceased and any offerings presented to it. Courtesy Wiki Commons.

Though I should really be studying for my two exams Thursday, I thought i’d do a quick write up on an aspect of Egyptian art that has always fascinated me, the serdab statues, and how they reflect many Egyptian beliefs of the afterlife. So I suppose this is kind of related to my ancient history exam…right?

It is important to keep in mind that Egyptian art was not done for purely ornamental purposes, but was primarily functional. In actual fact, these early representations of the king were not even intended to be viewed by the human eye. Serdab sculptures had the specific role to manifest the position of the ruler/ person in Egyptian society -the ka (spirit) of the person was thought to be housed in the statue after their death, and was (intended to be) permanently kept usually in the serdab of the burial.

A serdab is a tomb-like structure which served as a chamber for the ka statue of a deceased individual. These statues would have faced north, with the wall in front having two eye-level holes for the ka to look out of, which allowed it to engage with offerings made and the burning of incense. 

For instance, the first example we have of this kind of statue is the statue of third dynasty king Djoser found on the north side of his stepped pyramid in Saqqara. 

Photo: the Stepped pyramid of Djoser, 3rd Dynasty, courtesy the Brooklyn Museum Archives, Lantern Slide Collection.

Essentially, the statues were intended to provide a resting place for the ka after the death of the person, as the Egyptians believed that the aspects of the soul were able to roam the earth, but required a permanent home to return back to (such as the statue). The hieroglyph for the ka is sometimes depicted on the head of the statue to reinforce its intended purpose (see the Ka Statue of King Hor I, Cairo Museum).

Egyptian hieroglyph for the ka

Ancient Art, 23rd June 2013.

The Tomb of Daniel, what is thought to be the traditional burial place of the biblical prophet Daniel. Though various locations have been named for the site, this tomb in Susa, Iran is the most widely accepted.

Though the Book of Daniel never specifies the location in which he died, it does mention that Daniel lived in Babylon and may have visited the place of Susa, Iran. It was first mentioned to be the burial place of Daniel by Benjamin of Tudela, who visited Asia between 1160 and 1163.

Muslim traditions agree in stating that Daniel was buried at Susa, and a similar tradition was current among the Syriac writers. 9th century Persian historian Al-Baladhuri states that when the conqueror Abu Musa al-Ash'ari came to Susa in 638, he found the coffin of Daniel which had been brought from Babylon in the hope of bringing rain in a period of bring draught. This matter was referred to the calif Umar, who ordered the coffin to be buried, which was done so by sinking it to the bottom of a  nearby stream.

A similar account is given by 10th century Arab chronicler Ibn Hawqal who writes:

“In the city of Susa there is a river and I have heard that in the time of Abu Mousa Al Ashoari a coffin was found there; it is said to contain the bones of Daniel the Prophet. The people held it in great veneration and in times of distress, famine or droughts brought it out and prayed for rain. Abu Mousa Al Ashoari ordered that the coffin be encased with three coverings and submerged it in the river so that it could not be viewed. The grave can be seen by anyone who dives to the bottom of the water”.

William Ouseley in Walpole’s Memoirs of the East described the Tomb of Daniel in Susa as being situated in:

“a most beautiful spot, washed by a clear running stream and shaded by planes and other trees of ample foliage. The building is of Mahomedan date and is inhabited by a solitary Dervish, who shows the spot where the prophet is buried beneath, a small and simple square brick mausoleum, said to be (without probability) coeval with his death. It has, however, neither date nor inscription to prove the truth or falsehood of the Dervish’s assertion. The small river running at the foot of this building, which is called the Bellerau, it has been said flows immediately over the prophets Tomb, and from the transparency of the water, his coffin was to be seen at the bottom; but the Dervish and the natives whom I questioned remembered no tradition corroborating such a fact; on the contrary; it has at all times been customary with the people of the country to resort hither on certain days of the months, when they offer up their prayers at the tomb I have mentioned, in supplication to the prophet’s shade.”

The photograph shows the cone-like shaped roof of the tomb. This short youtube video summarizes well the appearance of the tomb, inside and out.

Photo courtesy & taken by ninara