It is hard not to see them as excessive. The glorious gold and silver vessels that graced elite banquets in the Achaemenid empire showcase the skill of Persian metalworkers. But while the fine details of animals, mythical scenes, and intricate patterns still thrill viewers, did these sumptuous wares ever have a role beyond expressing extreme wealth? In our cover feature, we see how a British Museum exhibition is revealing that this seemingly gratuitous glitz knitted an empire together, and helped its arch foes to forge their own identity.
When it comes to changing lifestyles, there can be little that beats the new way of being that was brought about by a settled, farming existence: a development we associate with the Neolithic. We can see plainly enough from the archaeology how this shift changed the world forever, but its impact on individuals has always been harder to grasp. Now the results of a range of scientific analyses are shedding astonishing light on ancient lives on the Konya Plain, Turkey, at the dawn of the Neolithic.
Change was also writ large on the Gorgan and Tehran Plains of Iran, as they became a focus of the astonishing northern defences of the Sasanian empire. This is a region where, as well as the Gorgan Wall, a formidable barrier that stretched for more than 170km, gigantic fortresses were once constructed. These formidable fortifications have a footprint that reaches roughly 200ha, and once quartered great armies living in tents. But why were such forces necessary, and how did they slot into the wider frontier infrastructure?
In our travel section, Alex Rowson takes in the archaeological highlights of Western Macedonia. Meanwhile, Richard Hodges has been following in the wake of generations of mariners by investigating the extraordinary concentration of inscriptions carved into the rock of Grama Bay, Albania.
Human, house, and regional biographies in the Neolithic
Investigating the transition to settled and farming lifestyles on the Konya Plain
The ancient world’s largest fortresses
Persia’s northern defences in late antiquity
Spotlight: Power or decadence?
Luxury under the Achaemenids, Athenians, and Alexander the Great
- Prehistoric cave art
- American wood imported by Norse Greenlanders
- Maya ballgame marker
- Severed hands in ancient Egyptian palace
- New archaeological work at Pompeii
- Zodiac symbols in Egyptian temple
- Ice skate from China
- Sunken Nabataean altars
Home of the monument-builders
An archaeology of thought
The West Cemetery of Meroë
The archaeological gems of Greece’s forgotten highlands
Richard Hodges visits a crossroads in the Mediterranean where voyagers have left their marks for millennia
An exhibition at the National Museum of Asian Art in Washington, DC, explores Anyang, China’s ancient city of king
Battle Elephants and Flaming Foxes: animals in the Roman world; Beer: a global journey through the past and present; The Young Alexander: the making of Alexander the Great
RUBINA RAJA & SØREN SINDBÆK
Broken links and smashed glass
Sinuses and human evolution
The secrets of church walls
Crossword, cartoon, and more
Vietnamese stringed instrument