Face-to-face with Tutankhamun


The BBC's Ian Pannell was among a small group of guests and journalists invited to watch Egypt's chief archaeologist, Dr Zahi Hawass, reveal King Tutankhamun's face to the public for the first time.


We were taken deep underground into a small chamber with a low roof and hieroglyphics painted onto an ochre-coloured wall on one side.


A group of workmen slowly opened the golden coffin and raised the mummy onto a wooden stretcher.


Until today, only about 50 living people had seen Tutankhamun's body. Suddenly there we were, face-to-face with the blackened, shrivelled body of the boy king.


Dr Hawass is something of a media performer. He moved the mummy into its new Perspex cabinet and turned to the cameras, saying: "The only good part of the mummy that the public will be able to see is the face and the legs.


"But the most important thing is that from today the mummy will be completely saved from moisture, from humidity, from anything, and we can say that the mummy is going to be safe."


The mummy is in danger of being damaged by the heat and humidity from the thousands of tourists who visit his tomb in Egypt's Valley of the Kings.


As much as 20g of water collects in the underground chambers every day and when it evaporates, salt crystals are formed that in turn erode the tombs and all that lies within.


Although the treasures of Tutankhamun were moved to the Egyptian museum long ago, the mummy was not.


In the process of removing the jewellery, amulets and death mask, the remains of the boy king were badly damaged. Now the body is also threatened by the impact of the thousands of people who want to come and visit his tomb.


So on Sunday his remains were taken from his golden sarcophagus and put into a specially-designed climate-controlled case.


For generations, Tutankhamun has captured the public imagination around the world. Although he was only a minor royal in his day, it was the treasures discovered in his tomb that turned him into one of the iconic symbols of ancient Egypt.


At the turn of the 20th Century a team of US archaeologists rashly declared there were no new discoveries to be made in the Valley of the Kings. But British archaeologist Howard Carter refused to accept this and together with his team spent many years following clues around this crumbling valley.


On 4 November 1922 he discovered the first flight of stairs that would ultimately lead down to the tomb and the treasures of Tutankhamun.


More than 3,000 years after he died and 85 years after his tomb was discovered, King Tutankhamun still has the power to enthral. Now his fans will be able to come face-to-face with him for the first time.



Cultic City and Fortress – New Turkish-German Excavations at Sirkeli Höyük

30 October 2007


New excavations conducted by the University of Tübingen (Germany) and the Onsekiz Mart University of Çanakkale (Turkey) at the site of Sirkeli Höyük near Adana (southern Turkey) have revealed the remains of a massive bastion fortification dating to the Hittite Imperial Period (ca. 1300 BC). Sirkeli Höyük, one of the largest settlement mounds in Cilicia during the Bronze- and Iron Ages, was already known to archaeologists and historians because of two Hittite rock reliefs located at the site. The better preserved rock relief of the two shows the Hittite King Muwatalli II (ca. 1290–1272 BC), opponent of Pharaoh Ramesses II in the famous Battle of Qadesh in Syria and is thus the oldest Hittite rock relief known so far. On the upside of the rock, just above the reliefs, various shallow pits or basins are found which apparently are to be connected with the reliefs and were used for libations in the course of cultic activities. These pits were part of a larger cultic installation which also included a building to the west of the rock reliefs. This ensemble is thought to be a cultic installation for the Hittite King.

Excavations at the site were conducted between 1992-1997 by the Universities of Munich and Innsbruck. In 2006 excavations were resumed by the University of Tübingen and the University of Çanakkale. The project and its organization are based at the Institute of Near Eastern Archaeology and Assyriology at the University of Tübingen. The Institute of Prehistorical Archaeology and the Institute of Classical Archaeology are associated with the project. At the University of Çanakkale the project is based at the Institute of Prehistorical Archaeology, Near Eastern Archaeology and Classical Archaeology. The project is carried out under the patronage of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences.

In the course of the first two campaigns conducted in 2006 and 2007 the massive fortification bastion in the north-western part of the city was excavated. Finds made within the complex show that the building was constructed during the Late Bronze Age (1500-1200 B.C.) and apparently modified and re-used during the Iron Age (1200-600 B.C.). Later, the surrounding area of the mound was occupied by Hellenistic buildings. The finds reveal that the site was engaged in cultural exchange and trade with the Levant, the Aegean and different regions of Anatolia in the 2nd and 1st millennium B.C.

The site of Sirkeli Höyük may possibly also be identified with the ancient cultic city of Lawazantiya which is known to have been the home town of Hittite Queen Puduhepa, wife of King Hattusili III (ca. 1265-1240 B.C.).



DNA shows ancient ship carried olive oil, oregano

Fri Nov 2, 2007 5:07pm EDT


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - DNA scraped from inside clay vessels show that a ship that sank off the coast of Greece 2,400 years ago was carrying a cargo of olive oil, oregano, and probably wine, researchers reported on Friday.


The new research may offer a way to analyze the long-gone contents of hundreds of containers, said Brendan Foley of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.


Writing in the Journal of Archeological Science, Foley and colleagues at Lund University in Sweden said they were able to get DNA sequences from the insides of two amphoras recovered in 230 feet of water in 2005.


The clay containers appeared empty, but the researchers decided to try testing for DNA anyhow. To their surprise, they got some -- and not the DNA they were expecting.


The island of Chios where the shipwreck was found was well-known in the ancient world as a major exporter of highly prized wines. But the two amphora in fact carried DNA from olives and oregano.


They also found evidence of wine and perhaps pistachios, they said.


Foley hopes to use the technique to find out more details about the ancient shipping trade.


"Imagine if you were asked to analyze the American economy just by looking at the empty shells of 40-foot (12-metre) shipping containers," he said in a statement.


"You could say something, but not much."



Ancient skeleton was 'even older'


The Red Lady of Paviland has always been a little coy about her age - but it appears she may be 4,000 years older than previously thought.


Scientists say more accurate tests date the earliest human burial found in the UK to just over 29,000 years ago.


When discovered in a cave on Gower in the 1820s the bones were thought to be around 18,000 years old, but were later redated to between 25,000 and 26,000.


Researchers said it casts a new light on human presence in western Europe.


The team from Oxford University and the British Museum said new dating techniques provided more accurate results.


The skeleton of the Red Lady - actually a young male - was discovered at Goat's Hole Cave at Paviland on Gower in 1823 by William Buckland, then a geology professor at Oxford University.


It owes its name to the red ochre covering the bones.


Dr Thomas Higham of Oxford University said he and his colleague Dr Roger Jacobi of the British Museum had now done further tests and were "confident" of the new results.


The remains were found along with a number of artefacts including ivory wands, bracelets and periwinkle shells.


"The remains and artefacts were previously difficult to date accurately," said Dr Higham.


"Many of the bones were treated with preservations in the 19th Century and some of this contamination is often difficult to remove."


He said their analysis was the bones were "just over" 29,000 years old.


It would mean The Red Lady lived in an age when the climate was much warmer than it would have been 4,000 years later.


Dr Higham added: "The data that we have got now is making a lot more sense."


He said it was important for "our understanding of the presence and behaviour of humans in this part of the world at this time".


He also said it "might" suggest that the custom of burying people with artefacts originated in western Europe rather than eastern Europe as had previously been thought.


"This raises new questions about the way in which these people spread and lived on the continent," he added.


The remains of the Red Lady are to form part of a new exhibition opening at the National Museum Wales in Cardiff in December.


The full findings of the new research are due to be published in the Journal of Human Evolution early next year.




Iron Age chain discovery hailed


A 2,000-year-old bronze Iron Age chain has been discovered during work in Scatness.


The chain, with 20 double links and the remains of possibly the clasp, was recovered from a roundhouse wall by the Shetland Amenity Trust.


The chain is described as extremely well preserved and adds to the jewellery and other metal artefacts found at the site.


Shetland Archaeologist Val Turner said: "This discovery is quite rare."


She added: "If it wasn't for the broken clasp it would be almost fit to wear today."


Jimmy Moncrieff, general manager of the Shetland Amenity Trust, said: "This is further proof of the rich material culture and metal working skills centred in and around Scatness 2,000 years ago.


"It helps to emphasise the importance of the site as the gateway to understanding the Iron Age in Shetland."


The chain will be taken to the University of Bradford for conservation before it can be put on display to the public.



Building of Iraqi police barracks threatens world heritage site

Michael Howard in Irbil

Thursday November 1, 2007

The Guardian


The construction of a large police barracks close to the Great Mosque of Samarra and its famed spiral minaret is imperilling another of Iraq's precious historical sites, Unesco and senior archaeologists have warned.


Work on the building and a training centre for 1,500 Iraqi policemen is continuing in Samarra, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, despite the addition this summer of the ninth-century remains of the capital of the Abbasid dynasty to Unesco's list of endangered world heritage sites.


There are fears that the police compound will prove an irresistible target for insurgents, and that the construction and operation of the barracks will damage the Samarra Archaeological City, one of the country's largest and most valuable historical areas, the Art Newspaper reported in its November issue.


Unesco officials said the dire security situation in Samarra had prevented them from taking any measures to secure and protect the site. Neither Unesco's office for Iraq, which is currently based in Amman, nor Iraq's board of state antiquities and heritage, had been consulted about the location of the new police building.


There were similar protests after reports of damage to ancient sites by US forces in Babylon and Nineveh, and international experts say the future looks bleak for Iraq's ancient heritage. Conservation projects in Iraq have stalled and many archaeologists have left the country.


Samarra's department of antiquities was looted and burned in May.


Nearly 50,000 packs of playing cards meant to help US troops avoid unnecessary damage to ancient sites and curb the illegal trade of stolen artefacts are to be shipped to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as training sites in the United States. Each card displays an artefact or site and gives a tip on how to avoid damaging historic treasures.


Two weeks ago, the police headquarters in Samarra, a focal point for the Sunni insurgency, was attacked by a suicide bomber in a truck backed up by 60 gunmen. Nearby buildings were destroyed.


A Unesco spokeswoman told the Guardian yesterday that it "remains very vigilant regarding the state of conservation of the Samarra Archaeological City".


One of the architectural jewels in Samarra is the 52-metre spiral minaret which is part of the Great Mosque of Caliph al-Mutawakkil, built in the ninth century. The minaret, which features on an Iraqi banknote, survived countless invasions and wars, but was badly damaged by insurgent fire in 2005 when American soldiers used it as a lookout post. The area close to the Tigris river also boasts remains of palaces, hunting parks and racetracks.


Alistair Northedge, professor of Islamic art and archaeology at the Sorbonne, told the Guardian the decision to base the police training centre so close to the ancient city was "quite unnecessary", and urged Iraqi authorities to use the acres of space elsewhere.


The lack of security has also interfered with the reconstruction of the city's al-Askari shrine, one of the holiest places in Shia Islam. The destruction of its gold dome by Sunni militants in February 2006 caused outrage among Iraqi Shia and unleashed a wave of sectarian violence that pushed the country towards civil war.