Issue 104

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Travel: Digging in Permafrost

It was a typical summer day: birds, boats, sea, and ice. The difference was, the birds were Arctic geese, the boats were converted canoes, the sea was −10°C, and the ice was the size of a large car, rather than bobbing in a refreshing drink. I was standing on the northern coast of the small island of Uglit, where I camped for five weeks last summer while excavating ancient Arctic houses.

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Richard Hodges: The Death of Pan

The Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha was obsessed with defending his ‘paradise on earth’. He feared invasion by NATO troops using a combination of amphibious landings and parachutists. As a result, he covered the country with thousands of mushroom-like bunkers, concealed trenches, and anti-aircraft guns. From the sea to the mountains, Albania became a fortress. This extraordinary martial investment had one unexpected outcome. During construction of an anti-aircraft installation close to Fshati i Vjetër, ‘The Old Village’ high on Mount Mile, overlooking Butrint, ancient Buthrotum, and the Straits of Corfu, an exquisite bronze statuette of the god, Pan, came to light in 1981.

Egyptologists-Notebooks

Review: Egyptologists’ Notebooks

Anyone visiting Egypt today must wonder how it struck travellers before our current understanding of its archaeological sites. Egyptologist Chris Naunton, former director of the historically influential Egypt Exploration Society, answers, while introducing his new book Egyptologists’ Notebooks, that ‘nowhere are its natural beauty and man-made wonders captured better than in the private scribblings and sketches of the travellers who first set out to explore it’.

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Special Report: AI and ancient languages

A new tool, launched this year on the anniversary of the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, offers a novel high-tech way to examine ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Fabricius is an open-source program designed by Google Arts & Culture, the Australian Center for Egyptology at Macquarie University, Ubisoft, and Psycle Interactive, in collaboration with Egyptologists from around the world. The digital tool uses Google Cloud’s automated machine learning (AutoML) technology, AutoML Vision, to create a machine-learning model that is able to make sense of what a hieroglyph is.

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Uncovering Kalkriese

Since its discovery by the British officer Tony Clunn in the late 1980s, the German site of Kalkriese in Lower Saxony, north of Osnabrück, has been considered the scene of the AD 9 Varus Disaster, so impressively described by ancient authors such as Tacitus and Cassius Dio.

Silk-Roads

Review: Silk Roads

This edited volume is the product of an innovative project, culminating in a multiple-day workshop of the same name as this publication, organised by Silk Roads Winston-Salem (SRWS), a group from Wake Forest University that brought together scholars across multiple disciplines to discuss the Silk Roads and their impact on local and global conceptions.

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Object Lesson: Sumerian Plaque

This low-relief limestone carving, dating to c.2400 BC, formed part of a larger votive wall plaque in a Sumerian temple in southern Iraq, during what is known as the Early Dynastic III period. It would have been fixed to the wall next to a door, and could have been used to securely shut it by tying a rope attached to the door around a peg in the centre of the plaque.

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Accessibility at ancient Greek sanctuaries

A study of the architecture of ancient Greek temples and sanctuaries dedicated to healing has determined that these spaces were deliberately made accessible to individuals with impaired mobility.

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Pre-Hispanic flood-management in the Pampa de Mocan

For thousands of years, areas along the north coast of Peru have been subject to huge flooding as a result of El Niño, a periodic warming in the atmosphere of the Pacific Ocean, which causes torrential rainfall in the eastern Pacific. El Niño events are unpredictable, occurring anywhere from every 6-7 years to every 10-20 years, and are generally seen as a disruptive force, but recent archaeological work in the Pampa de Mocan, a coastal desert plain in northern Peru, indicates that this was not always the case.

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Earliest evidence for ball games in Eurasia

Three leather balls have been discovered in the prehistoric Yanghai cemetery in north-west China that pre-date by several centuries all existing evidence of ball games in Eurasia.

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Early human footprints in Saudi Arabia

A set of human footprints found in an ancient lake deposit in the south-west of the Nefud Desert is believed to represent the earliest securely dated evidence of modern humans in the Arabian Peninsula.

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Ruins on Rapa Nui

On the south coast of the Polynesian island of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), a dozen or more fallen statues (moai) lie slumped across the rectangular stone platforms (ahu) on which they once proudly stood. This is the ruined ahu complex of the Akahanga, which is but one of dozens dotted around the coastline of the tiny island. Between 1,000 and 500 years ago, when the when the moai stood erect, rather than looking out to sea their gaze was cast inland. In particular, their eyes fell on a group of curious houses (haré paenga), which lay upslope and were shaped like overturned canoes.

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