Where is the most extreme archaeology in the world? Try the Eastern Deserts of Egypt. High on the mountain tops is the only source of porphyry, one of the most marvellous and desirable marbles in the world. The Roman emperors fell in love with it, so huge porphyry quarries were opened up, where porphyry was mined on the mountain tops, dragged down the mountainside, hauled up into the desert and then dragged 120km to the Nile. (Taking it down the Nile on a boat, then across the sea to Rome was the easy bit.) The quarries at Mons Claudianus and Mons Porphyrites form one of the unknown wonders of the Roman world, and here you can read all about them.
But the real importance of the site comes as a sideline. The quarries were worked, not by slaves, as expected, but by highly skilled – and highly paid – workmen: there were few, if any, slaves. Much modern theory argues that the Roman world was built on slavery but here the evidence, derived from thousands of messages written on potsherds, suggests not. Those who believe that the Roman Empire was based on slavery must think again.
We then move from the extreme to the exotic: to Korea. The ‘golden age’ of Korean civilisation came in the Three Kingdoms period from the 3rd to the 9th centuries AD. A tomb has been uncovered which has been called Korea’s Tutankhamun: the tomb of King Muryong which miraculously survived untouched since it was sealed up in AD 529. In recent years many other rich tombs have been discovered from the other great kingdoms of this period, and the article ends with a look at a fort that marks the struggles between these great kingdoms.
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