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Posts Tagged ‘archaeology’

weary herakles

A bust of Herakles returned to Turkey.

You can’t kick a stone in the Middle East without uncovering an artifact. It’s an archaeologist’s paradise and a diplomat’s nightmare. When it comes to biblical-related stories, there’s always a furor. Does this artifact “prove” Jesus lived or does this inscription substantiate the story of David and Goliath? The past couple of months provided several stories touching on biblical narratives. The trend in returning looted artifacts to their rightful home is continuing with a couple of good news stories. Finally, it’s been thirty years since Indiana Jones made archaeology sexy in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” But Dr. Jones preferred a bull whip and pistol to scientific methods. We’ll see what scientific innovations have evolved since Indy’s time. First story in our lineup: the city of Shekhem; supposedly the final burial site of Joseph of the many-colored coat. (more…)

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Ramesses II statue. Photo courtesy of Dr. Hawass' site.

Several weeks ago, I posted about the chaos in Cairo and Alexandria and what was being done to protect the museums. The Egyptian people rose to the occasion and protected their heritage in the cities. But things are looking grim at the more remote archaeological sites. Here’s the latest report from Dr. Hawass: (more…)

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Cleopatra's Needle, 1901

Cleopatra's Needle, 1901

One of the delights of living in NYC is Central Park. It’s not only a green space and refuge for weary urbanites, it’s the site of many monuments; some are gifts from other countries. One of the most magnificent is the 3,500-year-old granite obelisk commemorating King Thutmose III, commonly known as Cleopatra’s Needle, situated on a rise in back of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This ancient artifact is one of a pair originally situated in Heliopolis, Egypt. The Romans moved them in 12 B.C. to adorn a temple in Alexandria. In 1877, the Khedive of Egypt gave one of the obelisks to the US. It was erected in Central Park in 1881 after an epic two and half year journey. It has sat in the New York climate ever since.  Zahi Hawass, the secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, recently posted on his blog a letter he sent to the Central Park Conservancy and Mayor Bloomberg, complaining about lack of proper care for the monument. He said, “I will take the necessary steps to bring this precious artifact home and save it from ruin.” The hieroglyphics are significantly eroded and many people believe the weathering occurred during the last century. The Conservancy denies that the monument has been neglected.  This blog post uses photos to show the obelisk was already in poor shape when it arrived.  Dr. Hawass is probably in error about when the erosion happened, but his complaint may spur the city and the Conservancy to make sure it doesn’t deteriorate further. I’ll update this post if the controversy continues. (Link to original article.) (more…)

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The Gates of Nineveh

The Gates of Nineveh

The recession is hitting our historical heritage hard. Governments all over the world are cutting back on staff, delaying maintenance on existing sites, allowing sites to “disappear” in the name of progress or jobs. National Geographic has a slide show of twelve ancient landmarks on the verge of vanishing. Many of the stories in this round-up are touched by the money factor. We’ll start with Italy’s woes. (more…)

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The Crosby-Garrett Helmet

It’s another month and another History in the News Round-up.  And yes, you read right–climate change is part of the picture, revealing artifacts frozen in glaciers and historical sites in drought-stricken lands. The stories in this installment all have a political aspect whether it’s a country petitioning another for a looted museum piece or a country’s proposals to destroy its own heritage over the objections of its citizens. We’ll start with Turkey’s troubles. (more…)

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As I’ve said on my About page, I’m a history junkie and science geek. I love the intersection of these two disciplines: DNA markers that trace humankind’s exodus from Africa, isotope analysis of teeth and bones that tell us where and when ancient people grew up and what they ate, UV light to fluoresce bones and fingerprints on artifacts, and much more.  Over half of my “history in the news” stories this round up have a major science component–from what really killed people in Pompeii to discovering a “lost” Roman city from aerial photographs to where the Dead Sea Scrolls were manufactured. You can click on the links to see the original stories. We’ll start with Pompeii.

Most historians and archaeologists believed the people at Pompeii, who where not killed by spewing rocks, died of suffocation from ash and poisonous gas. Pliny the Younger described the process in letters written 25 years later. Giuseppe Mastrolorenzo, a vulcanologist from the Naples Observatory claims “Everything that has been written in the guides, and the texts, and that has been re-told to tourists [about how people died at Pompeii] is false.” He spent years analyzing skeletal casts, testing bone tissue and simulating Vesuvius eruptions. He published his findings in the science journal PLoS One.  Mastrolorenzo concludes that the people of Pompeii were instantly killed by a pyroclastic cloud, a surge of super-heated air. He also proved these high temperatures can be carried up to 12 miles away from the volcano. The Italian Civil Protection requires only those people living five miles from Vesuvius to evacuate, which puts 3 million people in and around Naples in harm’s way, in case of another eruption.

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Fresco from PompeiiIn Part I of this two-part series, I talked about using books and libraries in doing historical research. Although print matter is a good place to start, in today’s world you can’t ignore the Internet. But there are two problems: quantity and quality – too much of the former and not enough of the latter. Unlike traditionally published books, which have to go through some screening process (in academic circles that can be quite rigorous), anyone can put anything up on the Net and pass it off as truth.  So what’s a good historical fiction writer to do?

Stick to sites that have some stake in maintaining their reputation for accuracy such as universities and historical, archaeological and professional societies.   Many sites  not only update articles, but blog and twitter as well.  Others aggregate the news. The Archaeological Institute of America has a daily update of archaeology in the news. When you find an interesting one, subscribe to their RSS feed, get email alerts or tweets when new information is posted. Google also has  Google Scholar (click on the “more” button at the Google.com home page) that searches professional and scholarly literature. Many newspapers and local government organizations are digitizing their archives and can be a great source of primary material. (Remember your best friend the research librarian? Tap them for help on accessing those databases.)

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