Earliest settlements in Taipei discovered


The China Post staff


An Academia Sinica archaeologist said yesterday he has found the ruins of Taiwan's earliest settlement in Taipei.


Liu Yi-chang dated the settlement around 2,500 years before Christ.


Commissioned by the Taipei city cultural bureau, the archaeologist started digging a vacant lot at the Talungtung elementary school last year.


A police precinct had been on the lot before.


"We found relics on last Saturday and Sunday," said Liu, Academia Sinica history and language research institute fellow.


Shard and stone implements were found in a layer only 3.5 meters under the ground.


They belonged to the earliest humans that settled in the Taipei basin about 4,500 years ago, Liu claims. No fossils of the settlers were discovered, however.


That made scientific dating of the users of what Liu identifies as Neolithic artifacts next to impossible.


"But the pottery shard we found seems to have been part of a pot for cooking," Liu said.


He said the earliest settlers in Taipei probably were able to use canoes to go all the way up river to get good mud for pottery near Mount Tatun.


No vestige of a canoe was found in the vicinity to bear out Liu's hypothesis.


Liu defined the relics as those of what is known as Hsintangpu culture in Taiwan's prehistory.



Climate shift helped destroy China's Tang dynasty: scientists

Wed Jan 3, 2:36 PM ET


PARIS (AFP) - The Tang dynasty, seen by many historians as a glittering peak in China's history, was brought to its knees by shifts in the monsoon cycle, according to a study.


Famed for a flowering of art and literature and for prosperity brought by trade with India and the Middle East, the dynasty spanned nearly three centuries, from AD 618 to 907, before it was overwhelmed by revolt.


Scientists led by Gerald Haug of the Geoforschungszentrum (GFZ) in Potsdam, eastern Germany, looked at sedimentary cores taken from a lake at Zhanjiang in coastal southeastern China, opposite the tropical island of Hainan.


The magnetic properties and content of titanium in these deposits are an indicator of the strength of the winter cycle in the East Asian monsoon system, they believe.


They found that over the past 15,000 years, there had been three periods in which the winter monsoon was strong but the summer monsoon was weak.


The first two periods occurred at key moments during the last Ice Age, while the last ran from around 700 to 900. Each of these monsoon shifts coincided with what was, relative to the climate epoch, unusually cold weather.


The twilight of the Tang began in 751, when the imperial army was defeated by Arabs.


But what eventually destroyed the dynasty were prolonged droughts and poor summer rains, which caused crop failure and stoked peasants' uprisings. Eventually, these rebellions led to the collapse of the dynasty in 907.


Haug's team suggests this shift in tropical precipitation occurred on both sides of the Pacific, not just in coastal East Asia.


The same migration of the rainband occurred in Central America and doomed the so-called classic period of the Mayan civilisation, at almost exactly the same time as the Tang era, they believe.


Comparison of the titanium records from the Huguangyan Lake, in Guangdong province, and from the Cariaco basin, in Venezuela, have thrown up striking similarities.


Both suggest a general shift towards a drier climate at around 750 and then, during these generally drier period, three-year cycles in which rainfall was very low.


The new study appears on Thursday in Nature, the weekly British science journal.



Harappan period cemetery unearthed in UP

Satyen Mohapatra

New Delhi, January 4, 2007


The largest Harappan Necropolis (city of the dead or burial ground) the Indian subcontinent has known so far has been found near village Sanauli on the banks of Yamuna in Baghpat, Uttar Pradesh.


These findings have been reported in the latest issue (No 36) of Puratattva, the journal of the Indian Archaeological Society.


Chairman of the Society Dr SP Gupta said, "Never before a site like Sanauli was found and excavated in India. An absolutely plain ground with thick deposit of sand and silt harbouring lush green cultivated field of the best variety of sugarcane could never attract any archaeologist to explore it, but then it has yielded the remains of as many as 116 graves in a huge cemetery, which if further excavated will certainly yield many more of it."


"One of the most significant findings has been the discovery of a burial with an antenna sword and a sheath which represents the Ganga valley civilisation of the third and second millennia BC, which shows the meeting place of the Harappans and the Ganga civilisation, an evidence for which was never found earlier".


The cemetery seems to have been in use for several centuries as burials have been found laid in as many as three superimposed levels of the ancient course of river Yamuna basin.


The tentative time bracket has been given from 2200 BC – 1800 BC, which puts it in the Harappan period.


It was the chance discovery of some pottery vessels and a human skeletal remain from an agricultural field at Sanauli, district Baghpat, Uttar Pradesh, which prompted the group, led by Dr DV Sharma (chief excavater) Superintending Archaeologist, Excavation Branch, Purana Qila Archaeological Survey of India, assisted by KC Nauriyal and VN Prabhakar, to start excavations in August 2005, which continued till August 2006.


All the graves were found laid in northwest–southeast orientation as a rule with head placed in the north and legs towards the south direction.


A majority of these burials are with skeletal remains of the dead largely intact. About 29 graves were perhaps used symbolically as they did not have human bones but had grave goods. Evidence of animal sacrifice in some middle and upper levels burials have been noticed.


Placing of a dish on a stand below the hip or head of the dead seems to have been a general but prominent feature of some ritual which was in practice as a rule in most of the graves in Sanauli.


The dish seems to have served as "offering stand" and is found supporting a dead body or food grains or meat. In one case, the head of a goat was found placed on the dish.


Sanauli graves not only show a 'double burial' of two males aged between 30-35, but the rare event of a triple burial indicative of three closely related persons dying in some unusual circumstances.


The grave has also two urn burials which are jars with bull figures on the lids.


Interestingly, the burials have been found with objects like a violin-shaped copper container, copper in the shape of a human torso, a number of tiny copper objects with arrowheads, a star-shaped gold object kept on a forehead, glass beads, steatite beads etc, used for ornaments.


Evidences of six child burials were also found, one of them wearing an agate bead amulet on its left arm and an agate necklace.


A female skeleton, aged 18 years, has been found with an ornament of gold and semi-precious stones and a pair of heart shaped gold bangles in both hands.


A trough like object of clay completely burnt and turned red with good amount of ash, charred human bones and animal jaws with mud lumps and brickbats has been found, which could have been used for cremating the dead.



Archaeologist finds traces of "humanity's first war" in Syria

Wed Jan 3, 2:15 PM ET


BERLIN (AFP) - A German archaeologist says he has found relics of "humanity's first war" in the north east of Syria in the form of balls of stone used as ammunition in the 4th century BC, the Die Zeit newspaper says in its edition due for publication on Thursday.


"We have there the oldest example of an offensive war," said Clemens Reichel, who is leading an archaeological dig in the ancient city of Hamoukar, on the border with Iraq, for the University of Chicago.


Reichel said that almost 6,000 years ago the city, whose fortifications were three metres (ten feet) thick, was besieged and reduced to ashes probably by attackers from southern Mesopotamia.


"It was not a little skirmish which took place here," said Reichel, who has been leading the dig since 2003. He spoke of a real "combat zone", to which the some 2,300 balls of stone and burned clay discovered at the main part of the site bear witness.



CU-Boulder tracks movements of ancient Central Americans using satellites, video-game technology

CU-Boulder, NASA researchers 'fly' along footpaths used 2,000 years ago to understand pilgramages to ancient cemeteries

A researcher retraces an ancient Costa Rican footpath under study by CU-Boulder and NASA researchers using satellite and video-game technology.

Click here for more information.


Satellite imagery meshed with video-game technology is allowing University of Colorado at Boulder and NASA researchers to virtually "fly" along footpaths used by Central Americans 2,000 years ago on spiritual pilgrimages to ancestral cemeteries.


The effort has allowed researchers to trace the movements of ancient people in the Arenal region of present-day Costa Rica, who used single-file paths to navigate rugged terrain between small villages and cemeteries over the centuries, said CU-Boulder Professor Payson Sheets. The repeated use of the footpaths caused erosion resulting in narrow trenches in the landscape up to 10 feet deep.


The evidence now indicates people re-used the same processional routes for more than 1,000 years, returning to them despite periodic abandonment of villages caused by recurring violent eruptions of the nearby Arenal Volcano, he said. Sheets gave a presentation on the subject at the 2nd International Conference on Remote Sensing in Archaeology held in Rome from Dec. 4 to Dec. 7.


The researchers have traced one processional path from a village on the Caribbean side of northern Costa Rica over the Continental Divide to a cemetery about 10 miles away using infrared satellite images that indicated characteristic signatures of plant growth, he said. The eroded footpaths -- some virtually invisible to observers on the ground -- collect water that stimulates increased root growth in the vegetation that appears in the images as reddish lines, said Sheets.


"This project has been a huge surprise," said Sheets. "Modern technology has allowed for the discovery and study of 2,000-year-old footpaths in the tropics where the ground is covered by thick vegetation and multiple layers of ash from prehistoric volcanic eruptions."


Software originally developed for video games lets the researchers fly along the footpaths at various altitudes, directions and tilt angles and zoom in on particular landscape features, said Sheets. The team has been able to pinpoint sources of stone used to construct elaborate graves and to confirm springs used for water during ritualistic feasting ceremonies at the cemeteries that lasted for days on end.


"We now know some villages adapted to volcanic eruptions at least four times, retracing the same footpaths to their cemeteries," he said. "We would never have known this without the imagery, and it indicates to me they had a deep need to contact and re-contact spirits of dead ancestors by attempting to access the supernatural."


Sheets has been collaborating with NASA archaeologist Tom Sever -- who earned his doctorate in anthropology at CU-Boulder in 1990 -- as well as a number of CU-Boulder undergraduate and graduate students during the past several years. The project has been supported primarily by the National Science Foundation and NASA.


Images of the footpaths were made by various NASA satellites and aircraft and by a commercial satellite known as IKONOS. Built by Space Imaging of Denver, IKONOS has a resolution of less than one meter and is equipped with infrared sensors that can peer through deep jungle foliage. The team used computer software known as TerraBuilder, a 3-D terrain construction application created by Skyline Software Corp. of Reston, Va., and provided free to the researchers, Sheets said.


The footpaths lead from villages occupied from roughly 500 B.C. to 600 A.D to dozens of small cemeteries in the region, where archaeological evidence indicates visitors cooked, ate, drank, slept and ritually smashed pots on the stone slab-covered graves to commemorate the deceased, he said.


The 3-D visualization project allows users to experience the viewpoint of villagers as they strode out of narrow, subterranean footpaths into the graveyards, a process he likened to "emerging from a tunnel," he said. Subsequently, more complex prehistoric cultures in the region took the concept a step further by developing massive, sunken pathways with entryways wider than soccer fields that connected satellite communities with regional centers as a way to "magnify monumentality," he said.


"Architecture, economics and political structure have traditionally been the brick and mortar of archaeologists," said Sheets. "But here we are using sophisticated technology to probe religion and cosmology of an ancient people, and have found the spiritual aspects of the paths were more important than their practical aspects."


While prehistoric volcanic eruptions in Mesoamerica caused huge social disruption in highly structured societies like the Maya and Aztec, simpler societies like those in the Arenal region were much more resilient, Sheets said. Low population densities, "refuge" areas safe from volcanic activity, a reliance on wild food and a family and village-level political system rather than a highly centralized authority probably helped ensure their survival over the centuries, he said.


The footpaths leading to the cemeteries seem to have been viewed by the ancient villagers as "living entities" and may have been a primary reason they reoccupied the same villages time after time following devastating eruptions of Arenal, said Sheets.


CU-Boulder anthropology doctoral student Errin Weller, who has worked with the team on horseback and foot as they compared satellite data with archaeological evidence on the ground, said modern remote sensing techniques allow researchers to better understand the everyday lives of ancient people.


Posted on Tue, Jan. 02, 2007

Missouri man reels in ancient fish hook

Associated Press


COLUMBIA, Mo. - A man hunting for American Indian artifacts with his sons along a gravel bar on the Missouri River has uncovered an ancient fishhook that is making collectors envious.


"The first thing I thought is, 'I hope this isn't metal,'" said Eric Henley, who found the hook last month near McBaine. "When I picked it up, there was a pretty good jump for joy and a couple of 'whoops' and yells. It's the cream of the crop."


The hook is made of bone and covers his entire palm, making it much larger than most bone hooks.


Joe Harl, of the Archaeological Research Center of St. Louis, said the size of the hook suggests the fisherman who used it was after a larger fish.


Another artifact collector, Kenny Bassett, said the large size of the hook might indicate an earlier origin. American Indians used bigger rocks and tools in earlier periods to hunt larger game such as wooly mammoths. He said the hook could have been used to fish for pallid sturgeon or enormous catfish.


Bassett, who works with Henley, said he had to control his envy when he saw the oversized hook.


"I've been hunting" American Indian artifacts "for 30 years and never found anything so identifiably unique. I've never seen anything like it," Bassett said.


Because bone matter deteriorates rapidly, bone artifacts typically have to be buried deep enough in the ground to be preserved. And they are usually found during archaeological digs, said Bill Iseminger, assistant site manager at Cahokia Mounds State Historical Site in Illinois.


Harl said sandier soil in spots along the river might have kept the hook preserved. He said the hook could be anywhere from 300 to 12,000 years old.


Henley, a maintenance man at the University of Missouri-Columbia, has no plans to learn the hook's exact age. Carbon dating the item would require drilling through the fragile bone, and he doesn't want to risk ruining the hook.


Henley credits his sons, 11 and 6, for being good-luck charms because he made the discovery on the first trip the boys had joined their dad for an artifact hunt.


"Now every time I go, they're going to be there."



The Times      January 05, 2007

Why covet ancient chariots...

Richard Owen


ITALY Conservationists are campaigning for the return of a unique Etruscan “golden chariot” which is due to form the centrepiece of a new exhibition this Spring at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.


The chariot, found in 1902 by a farmer at Monteleone near Spoleto in Umbria, and sold to the Met the next year, dates back to the 6th century BC. It is the star attraction in a collection of antiquities to go on show at the $155 million (£80million) Leon Levy and Shelby White Court at the museum.


Villagers in Monteleone (population 651), say that it was exported illegally. The campaign comes as Italy is stepping up its battle to regain a number of allegedly looted antiquities from institutions including the Met and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.


The farmer who found the chariot sold it — for two cows, according to some accounts — to dealers who allegedly smuggled it to New York.


Tito Mazzetta, a lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia, whose family came from Monteleone and who has taken up the case, said the Metropolitan Museum had so far refused to return the chariot, although it “has not produced any documentation to prove its legal provenance”.


Marion True, a former curator of antiquities at the Getty Museum, is currently on trial in Rome for allegedly acquiring stolen artefacts.



Easter Islanders wonder how many statues are enough

By Larry Rohter

Published: January 4, 2007


RANU RARAKU, Easter Island: As remnants of a vanished culture and a lure to tourists, the mysterious giant statues that stand as mute sentinels along the rocky coast here are the greatest treasure of this remote island. For local people, though, they also present a problem: What should be done about the hundreds of other stone icons, many of them damaged or still embedded in the ground, that are scattered around the island?


Commercial and political interests, as well as some archaeologists, would like nothing better than to restore more — or perhaps even eventually all — of the moai, as the statues are known. But many residents of Rapa Nui, the Polynesian name for Easter Island that is the preferred term here, regard that possibility with a mixture of suspicion and dread.


"We don't want to become an archaeological theme park, a Disney World of moai," Pedro Edmunds Paoa, the mayor of Hanga Roa, the island's largest settlement, said in an interview. "If we are going to keep on restoring moai, there has to be a good reason to do so."


The repaired and re-erected moai on display to visitors at the most popular half-dozen or so sites around Easter Island number fewer than 50. But estimates of the total number of statues unearthed on the island have now climbed to more than 900 and keep growing as excavations continue, with nearly half that total found here at the hillside quarry where the island's original inhabitants mined and carved the moai out of compressed volcanic ash.


"Having so many is both a blessing and a curse," said Jo Anne van Tilburg, an American archaeologist who has worked here since 1982 and is the director of the Easter Island Statue Project. "Some are already lost, of course, but because there are so many, decisions are going to have to be made about which ones to save."


Many of the island's 3,800 residents argue that the moai already restored are more than enough to ensure a constant flow of tourists, the island's main source of income. Tourism here has zoomed, with fewer than 6,000 visitors in 1990 to more than 45,000 in 2005, but is viewed as a mixed blessing because it has resulted in strains on public services and natural resources.


The restored statues run the gamut from early period to late and small to large. To restore even more, local critics argue, would bring more problems than benefits and divert scarce resources from other scientific work that could reveal more about the culture that existed here for 1,000 years before the Dutch landed on Easter Sunday in 1722.


"The statues themselves do not say everything there is to say about Rapa Nui, so there is no need to go on repeating and repeating," Cristián Arévalo Pakarati, van Tilburg's deputy and a native Rapanui, said in an interview at the quarry site. "There are other aspects that are also important, and all connected to each other, from housing to fishing and agriculture."


Nearly half of Easter Island, which is about three times the size of Manhattan and has been part of Chile since 1888, has been set aside as a National Park and is thus off-limits to settlement and development. Another 30 percent is a former sheep ranch now in the hands of the Chilean government, the use of which is also restricted, to the frustration of island inhabitants.


Easter Island contains an estimated possible 20,000 archaeological sites, of which about 40 percent have already been destroyed or damaged. But the more land that is protected or set aside for archaeological investigations, the less is available to island residents for their own livelihoods.


"Some people complain, 'Oh, I can't plant because some archaeologist says I need to protect that stone," said Sergio Rapu, a former governor who is now a professor at the University of Hawaii. "Others care more about their horses than the petroglyphs that the horses are trampling."


Still, many of the people of Rapa Nui regard the moai as a nearly sacred link to their ancestors, many of whom were carried off into slavery by raids from Peru in the 19th Century or died in epidemics. If they prefer to leave things as they are, one reason may be that they are not satisfied with what they have observed so far of the archaeologists' work.


"Our elders ask what possible reason can there be to restore more moai, when we can see that those that have been restored are deteriorating more rapidly than those that are broken and still lying on the ground," Edmunds said. "By exposing them to rain, salt, lichens and chemicals, you merely make things worse."


The best-known of the recent moai restoration projects took place in the 1990s and was underwritten with much fanfare by a Japanese company, which supplied a crane and other equipment. The job of maintaining many of the moai has been undertaken by German and American companies, which have also come in for criticism.


"To be blunt, the big chemical companies are doing experiments here," Arévalo Pakarati maintained. "They are not offering guarantees that there will not be collateral effects 30 years down the line."


In addition, Chilean government officials estimate that it costs at least $500,000 to restore and maintain a single moai. "With more than 900 moai on the island, you do the math," Edmunds said. "We're talking about $500 million when I don't have even a million dollars in my budget and a lot of people on Rapa Nui complain about being abandoned by the state."


There have also been complaints about researchers who have failed to explain to local people what they are doing or to include them in their projects.


"In the past, the lack of jobs made local people not receptive to excavations," said Francisco Torres Hochstetter, director of the island's sole archaeological museum. "There was a lot of distrust, which led to some people being detained while doing field work."


Part of the debate here may simply stem from sheer fatigue with archaeology and archaeologists. Ever since Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki expedition in 1947, which led to a best-selling book and an Academy Award winning documentary, the island has been a magnet not just for archaeologists, but also anthropologists, ethnographers, musicologists, botanists, biologists and art historians.


"As Rapanui, we are tired of people coming here, investigating us and then going away with a 'Ciao!' and not giving anything back," Arévalo Pakarati said. "What did Heyerdahl really leave behind for us? You have to share the benefits and not just leave me a chocolate bar. Those days are over."



Ancient Roman road found in Netherlands

By TOBY STERLING, Associated Press Writer Fri Jan 5, 3:19 PM ET


AMSTERDAM, Netherlands - Archaeologists in the Netherlands have uncovered what they believe is part of the military road Roman soldiers patrolled nearly 2,000 years ago while guarding against hostile Germanic tribes at the Roman Empire's northern boundary.



Known in Latin as the "limes," the road was in use from roughly A.D. 50 to A.D. 350, before it fell into disrepair and eventually disappeared underground, said archaeologist Wilfried Hessing, who is leading the excavations in Houten, about 30 miles southeast of Amsterdam.


The stretch of road discovered in Houten is believed to have connected two forts — Traiectum, which gives its name to the modern city of Utrecht, and Fectio, modern Vechten. Wooden poles were discovered at the site that were used to protect the roadsides from erosion, and experts hoped to use tree-ring counting techniques to determine the exact date they were cut, Hessing said.


"It was used for trade, but it was first and foremost part of a military strategy to guard the border," he said. With a road "you can respond more quickly, so you need fewer troops, just like today."


The road was discovered by the Dutch train company Prorail during preparations to add extra rail lines in the area. Hessing and Prorail will complete excavations of a short stretch in the coming weeks, then carry out exploratory digs to determine the road's route farther to the east, the city of Houton said in a statement.


"It's in very good condition," said city spokeswoman Marloes van Kessel.


Excavations of other parts of the limes are also being conducted in other European countries, and the

United Nations is considering declaring it a world heritage site.


Hessing said the road was built of a sloping mound of sand and clay, interspersed with layers of gravel and smashed seashells, which would have stood about a yard above nearby fields. The top layer of hard-packed gravel is unusually well-preserved at the site.


Pottery shards were used as filler material and will help experts in dating the road, Hessing said. The road was also flanked by drainage channels, and the wooden poles were used to shore up the foundation.


Hessing said examinations of a cross-section of the road indicated it had been repaired several times. "It will be interesting to see if we can tell whether those repairs correspond with known military campaigns or were just part of standard maintenance," he said.


Romans first entered this part of the Netherlands under Julius Caesar in the year 53 B.C.


According to the Roman historian Tacitus, an uprising began in A.D. 69 when a local Germanic tribe captured two coastal forts. Roman soldiers may have retreated eastward along the road to more heavily protected forts in present-day Germany.


A year later, after first losing a battle on a flooded, marshy field near Nijmegen, the Romans pacified the Batavians, the tribe that was the main instigator of the rebellion.


Although the limes' course is known from medieval copies of ancient maps, only several segments have been found intact in the Netherlands. Archaeologists previously had been unable to determine the exact location of the limes along the Kromme, or "Crooked" Rhine, south of Utrecht because the river had changed course over time.


The find is the latest of several near Utrecht. In 2002, archaeologists found the remains of a watchtower on the Rhine where detachments of three or four Roman soldiers would have served as lookouts. Near the tower, they found bones and other remains of food the soldiers ate, as well as a spear point, coin, ax, sickle and an ancient pen.


In 2003, they uncovered a 25-yard-long barge, complete with covered living quarters and a decorated chest with lock and key. Archaeologists believe it may have been used by a paymaster to sail upriver carrying supplies to military camps and bases.


Among the items found with the barge were a knife, saw, wooden shovel, shears, copper pot, clay cups and pots, paddle with traces of blue paint, iron crowbar, leather shoe soles with studded bottoms for extra strength, and a piece of wood with Roman numbers on it.



New Viking treasures found

Archaeologists have made a major discovery in Western Norway, unearthing well-preserved Viking graves from the 9th century full of riches.


The Viking treasures were found at Frøyland in Rogaland County. Local newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad reported Monday that items recovered from the graves indicate they belonged to wealthy Vikings of the time.


In one of the graves, belonging to a woman, archaeologists found jewellery, many pearls, glass beads, scissors, a knife and other household utensils.


"The size, quality and design of the jewellery is highly unusual," said archaeologist Olle Hemdorff. "She took with her many things."


The archaeologists from the Archaeological Museum in Stavanger found traces from Viking times just a half-meter below the surface at their excavation site at Frøyland. They've found a woman's grave, a man's grave and a child's grave, which they haven't yet examined.


It's believed that two more graves are lying in the vicinity.


More than 50 items from the grave, found just after New Year, have been transported to the museum, including a large bronze buckle engraved with bear heads and ducks.


Both the male and female graves include Viking boats about seven meters long, and many of the vessels' nails have been recovered. Hemdorff said the graves are believed to belong to a family from the 800s.



The University of Chicago News Office

Dec. 16, 2005           Press Contact: William Harms

(773) 702-8356



University of Chicago-Syrian team finds first evidence of warfare in ancient Mesopotamia


A huge battle destroyed one of the world’s earliest cities at around 3500 B.C. and left behind, preserved in their places, artifacts from daily life in an urban settlement in upper Mesopotamia, according to a joint announcement from the University of Chicago and the Department of Antiquities in Syria.


“The whole area of our most recent excavation was a war zone,” said Clemens Reichel, Research Associate at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Reichel, the American co-director of the Syrian-American Archaeological Expedition to Hamoukar, lead a team that spent October and November at the site. Salam al-Quntar of the Syrian Department of Antiquities and Cambridge University was Syrian co-director. Hamoukar is an ancient site in extreme northeastern Syria near the Iraqi border.


The discovery provides the earliest evidence for large scale organized warfare in the Mesopotamian world, the team said.


The team found extensive destruction with collapsed walls, which had undergone heavy bombardment by sling bullets and eventually collapsed in an ensuing fire. Work during an earlier season showed the settlement was protected by a 10-foot high mud-brick wall.


The excavators retrieved more than 1,200 smaller, oval-shaped bullets (about an inch long and an inch and a half in diameter) and some 120 larger round clay balls (two and half to four inches in diameter). “This clearly was no minor skirmish. This was ‘Shock and Awe’ in the Fourth Millennium B.C.,” Reichel said.


Excavations at Hamoukar have played an important role in redefining scholar’s understanding of the development of civilization. Earlier work had contended that cities first developed in the lower reaches of the Euphrates valley, the area often referred to as Southern Mesopotamia. Those early urban centers, part of the Uruk culture, established colonies that led to the civilization of the north, as the people sought raw materials such as wood, stone, and metals which are absent in southern Mesopotamia.


Work at Hamoukar, first undertaken by McGuire Gibson, Professor at the Oriental Institute, between 1999 and 2001 showed that some of the elements associated with civilization developed there independently of influences in the south. The latest work suggests that the two forces may have had a violent confrontation at Hamoukar.


“It is likely that the southerners played a role in the destruction of this city,” Reichel said. “Dug into the destruction debris that covered the buildings excavated this season were numerous large pits that contained vast amount of southern Uruk pottery from the south. The picture is compelling. If the Uruk people weren’t the ones firing the sling bullets they certainly benefited from it. They took over this place right after its destruction.”


Ironically, for archaeological work, ancient warfare has its advantages, especially when the besieged people may have been surprised. “Whatever was in these buildings was buried in them, literally waiting to be retrieved by us.” In addition to many objects of value that are left behind, buried under massive amounts of debris, such “frozen contexts” are vital for functional analyses, helping to identify architectural units as domestic units, cooking facilities, production sites or buildings of administrative or religious use.


The mid-fourth millennium B.C. settlement at Hamoukar has many distinctively urban features. The area excavated so far contains two large building complexes built around square courtyards. Though both buildings follow closely a house plan known from other sites in Syria and Iraq, their function seems to have been non-domestic.


One of the structures contained a large kitchen with a series of large grinding stones embedded in clay benches and a baking oven large enough to fill a whole room, suggesting that food production occurred here beyond the needs of a single household. Each complex also contained a tripartite building (a unit consisting of a long central room surrounded by smaller rooms).


Objects retrieved from one of them, excavated in 2001, included stamp seals and clay sealings (lumps of clay used to close containers, usually impressed with a seal), suggesting that it was used as a storage and redistribution center for commodities. More stamp seals and over 100 clay sealings were found in 2005, including some sealings with incised drawings instead of seal impressions indicating that similar activities occurred in the second complex. The new data lends further proof to the theory, suggested first after the 1999-2001 excavations, that a city existed at Hamoukar during mid-fourth millennium B.C.


Work this season reinforced that certain elements of technological specialization were already present at Hamoukar several hundred years earlier than the time of the settlement’s destruction.


This season three trenches were excavated in the southern area of the site where previous survey work had shown the presence of countless pieces of obsidian, both blades and production debris dating to the mid-to-late fifth millennium B.C., spread over an area of 700 — 800 acres.


“Finding production debris is actually as important, if not more important, than finding actual stone tools,” explained Salam al-Quntar, pointing out a well-preserved obsidian core from which long, narrow blades had been flaked off in a radial pattern. “A settlement of 700 or more acres cannot have existed in the fifth millennium B.C.,” al-Quntar says, “so we are assuming that this is a smaller ‘shifting’ settlement, which over centuries ‘moved’ across the area of the site. Little architecture has been found so far, but the remains of a storage room, which contained numerous large storage vessels, were identified, and numerous clay ‘eye idols’ assumed to be connected with cultic activities.”


The nature of the contact that Hamoukar entertained with the south at that time remains to be investigated more fully. Reichel points out certain similarities that the architecture of Hamoukar shows with buildings in southern Mesopotamia, notably in the layout of the tripartite buildings. Some seal designs also show scenes resembling motives found in southern Mesopotamia and southwestern Iran. The pottery and almost all the other artifacts from the excavated area, however, were entirely of local character, betraying no southern influence. “We assume that some trade relations existed with the Uruk culture, but there is no evidence of Uruk control or domination over Hamoukar before the destruction,” he said. But the southern Uruk clearly dominates the layers just above the destruction.


The 2005 season was the fourth season of archaeological work at Hamoukar. Between 1999 and 2001 three seasons were conducted under the co-directorship of McGuire Gibson. Following a four year hiatus and the 2003 Iraq War, in a political climate now overshadowed by misgivings between the U.S. and Syria, the resumption of a joint Syrian-American archaeological venture at this time on a site located so close to the border with Iraq may seem surprising.


Little if any problems could be reported, however, said Reichel, who praised the cooperation of Syrian government officials who issued excavation permit swiftly and offered logistical support. “They welcomed us like old friends.”


Abdal-Razzaq Moaz, Deputy Minister of Cuture, in charge of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage, Syria, said, “Excavations at Hamoukar have played an important role in redefining scholar’s understanding of the rise and development of civilization in the world. The resumption of a joint Syrian-American archaeological venture at this time shows the Syrians are interested to have such collaboration in the field of archaeology which allowed to have cultural exchange and mutual understanding between the two people, and to share a world heritage which belong to all the humanity.” Besides the University of Chicago, Princeton, and the University of Pennsylvania and other universities have teams doing archaeological work in Syria, he said.




Last modified at 08:30 PM CST on Thursday, December 15, 2005.

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