30 March 2008

New link

Hey all, I added a new link and I wanted to bring attention to it. Many of you know I love to cook, bake, etc. etc. so you can imagine my delight when I stumbled across this website: eggs on sunday. I've already attempted the apple "cup pies" and I swear, I have never tasted anything more buttery, crispy, and apple-y in my life. Plus, they are the cutest thing ever. See for yourself! She also posts her family pizza recipes for their "Friday Pizza Night" every week, which I think is a definite tradition that I will be starting. You just can't go wrong with homemade pizza.

Well, I'm off to can some papaya and mango chutney. I'm sure I will have plenty of kitchen adventure stories to tell (and pics to show) afterward. This is my first time canning, you see...


Asses, scrolls, and Mardin..oh my!

Seems I only have time these days to post on Sundays. Well, it's been a slow news week anyhow, so I guess that covers my ass this time. But seriously, check it out, donkeys are back in the archaeological news this week.

This article from the NY Times talks about the donkey burials found at Abydos, Egypt. These 1
0 lucky donkeys were apparently buried within their own mud brick lined tombs says Dr. Fiona Marshall, one of the very few "researchers in the world dedicated to understanding the history of donkeys" (haha..seriously). These burials show that at the early stages of their domestication, donkeys were apparently highly prized and/or loved for the services they provided: longer distance trade, especially between Egypt and southern Mesopotamian "Sumerian" civilization during the 3rd millennium BC.

So you know about the Dead Sea Scrolls right? Did you know that one of them was made entirely of copper? And apparently it serves as an ancient treasure map, describing hidden caches of gold and silver derived from the Temple in Jerusalem that were buried throughout Israel? Sounds like juicy journalism, but that is what CBN News is reporting. This is probably old news to most, but I had never heard of the "Copper Scroll." Guess I'll have to read Rosenberg's book.

Finally, this little article fro
m the Turkish Daily News talks about the so-called "pearl of Mardin," better known as the Deyrulzafaran Syriac Monastery. I bring it up because I visit Mardin just about every summer in southeast Turkey and the monastery really is a treat. Established by "sun worshipers" in the 5th century AD, the monastery was later finished and converted over to monotheism by Orthodox Syriac Christians. It is one of the first/earliest Christian churches in Anatolia. Sadly the article didn't have any pictures of this beautiful and peaceful place, so I've provided my own. Sorry they are so small!


My friend Emmy at the front door/Inside looking out on Mardin and the Syrian plateau

23 March 2008

Happy Easter

Here is a rather one-sided article by the Washington Post (shame on you) about the bodily resurrection of Jesus on this Easter Sunday. Their "sources" for this article are a handful of Christian authors who have written popular books in the past view years in order to "clear up" this popular notion that Jesus was only resurrected in spirit.

These authors are c
ollectively tapping into the Jewish roots in the belief in resurrection that recalls a physically raising up of the body, not just a spiritual one. This is reflected in ancient Jewish burial practices where the individual bones are collected and rest within an ossuary or stone burial box, supposedly so you have all your body parts ready when you come back from the dead.

*Note: this is not the way the early Hebrew people were buried. They used family cave tombs with raised benches that the most recently deceased would be
laid out on. When someone new was added, the old bones were put in the larger pile of bones in the corner and the "new" individual was laid out on the bench. So you see, once your bones were incorporated into the larger mass, your individuality was gone. But I digress..

Is anyone else rather uncomfortable with the thought of physical, bodily resurrection? Unless God is making you a completely new body, I don't think I would want to be dragging around this old sack of flesh. Somehow all those zombie movies come to m
ind. Spiritual resurrection seems to involve so much more freedom of both body and mind.

In other Easter-related news, this article is a great tongue-in-cheek piece about "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" show p
roduced by James Cameron (of Titanic fame) that aired on Discovery Channel last year. Pretty much all of the scholarly community denounced the claims made on this show that the tomb in which Jesus had been buried had been found outside of Jerusalem.

It seems, ho
wever, that the firestorm has flared back up in the aftermath of Time magazine and CNN reporting that a symposium by the scholarly community that included the director of The Lost Tomb of Jesus was "deeply divided" by the issue of whether or not this tomb was indeed Jesus'. Archaeologists claim that this cannot be further from the truth and that no one at that meeting believe the tomb was Jesus'. *sigh* Those pesky academics ruining a good story. Don't they know that faith for some people is absolutely hinged on proving the bible?!

Last but not least, after these two ridiculous stories, are some photos just for my Mom. Another Easter...another Easter bread:

21 March 2008

They knew what would happen

A follow-up to yesterday's post: this retrospective piece also looks at the state of affairs in Iraq 5 years after the U.S.-led invasion and how it has affected the cultural and archaeological history of the country.

What struck me the most was the opening sentence of the article: "Among the many unindented and unforeseen consequences of the U.S. occupation of Iraq...was the wholesale looting of Iraq's museums and archaeological sites." I can assure you, these consequences were definitely not unforeseen.

In the months leading up to the war, the Archaeological Institute of America issued an Open Declaration on Cultural Heritage at Risk in Iraq (of which my adviser was a co-signer) drawing attention to the obvious fact that military aggression in the country would disrupt, damage and most likely destroy the fragile cultural heritage of the country including the thousands of archaeological sites and standing historical monuments.

This declaration was published widely in scholarly journals and also sent to the U.S. government. Many archaeologists also worked with the Army before the invasion in order to ensure that cultural heritage sites in Iraq were not bombed during air strikes. Consequently, these archaeologists have also been criticized for "supporting the war" by working with the Army generals but that is another story...

And yet, despite all this notification, the museum was looted and looting of archaeological sites continues today unabated. As one of the interviewees in the above article states, "it was just a question of priorities"..and apparently ancient history is not a priority.

Now I'm sure a bunch of you will argue with me that I value 5,000 year old pot sherds over the health and well-being of Iraqis who have to deal with bombings, lack of electricity, and very little income on a daily basis. You would be very wrong. Obviously I think human lives are more valuable than ancient history, however many Iraqis themselves feel a great attachment, national pride even, to their archaeological sites and the objects that come from them. After all, Mesopotamia is the "cradle of civilization" and is as vital to the entire Western world as it is to local Iraqis. This is why I think we should all give a damn about what is going on over there. Too bad this administration doesn't feel the same way.


20 March 2008

Baghdad Museum today

A short interview by the Art Newspaper with John Curtis, curator of the ancient Near East collection at the British Museum, sheds a little light on the current situation with cultural heritage in Iraq, especially the state of the Baghdad Museum. I realize this interview is from earlier this month, but I thought it fitting to post it today on the 5th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that subsequently led to looting and destruction at the Baghdad Museum in early April (on my birthday actually) in 2003.

Unfortunately it seems that things are still "up in the air" when it comes to the museum. Of the 16,000 artifacts that were stolen, only half were recovered. Many of the cylinder seals and other small, easily portable items remain missing (and I imagine they will stay that way). The museum has changed hands again and again as directors are muscled out for political reasons.

Despite this bleak outlook, Curtis says the looting of archaeological sites in the south (the most vulnerable area of the country) has been on the decline partially because of a seeming lull in the antiquities market for these objects and because of connections the current director of the Baghdad Museum has with tribal groups down there.

Curtis echoes what we all say when asked if Iraq will ever be open to foreign archaeologists again or if the museum will reopen to the public, as they have been saying they will: only time will tell.


13 March 2008

Asses are important

Evidence for the early domestication of donkeys has come forth from on-going excavations in Abydos, Egypt reports the Science Daily. Donkey bones found in early dynastic burials show signs of early domestication and even stress from bearing loads as early as 3,000 B.C. Most scientists believe these were wild asses from Africa, so I suppose finding the earliest evidence for domestication in Egypt is not so surprising.

I like this story because most p
eople don't know just how important little old donkeys were to the development of civilization in the Near East. They enabled longer distance trade of more cumbersome items like textiles and metals, for example.

I also came across this little article on Gobekli Tepe, which is located in southeast Turkey kind of close to where
I work. The site is neat because as the excavator claims, it is the "first manmade holy place." All "firsts" aside, the site is extremely old (11,000 years) and contains massive, monumental pillars of stone that were carved with animals. These pillars are over 8 feet tall and weigh 7 tons! Since Gobekli Tepe is not close to any good fresh water sources, plus these monumental carved pillars, the excavator understands this to be a ceremonial site.

You may think it odd (and boring) that the news article has no pictures. Apparently the excavator is VERY over-protective of the site and especially the images of the pillars that get released to the public. So on that note, here are my own pictures from when I visited! Ha!



(Note: the pillars are purposefully buried in order to protect them from defacement, looters, and clandestine archaeologists with cameras, thus making them look not as big as they really are)


09 March 2008

10,000 B.eyond C.rappy

People keep asking me if I'm going to see the movie "10,000 B.C." and my response is always the same: I simply laugh. Despite the obvious historical inaccuracies--I mean seriously: pyramids, metal weapons, and full scale armies?--the plot seems ridiculous, the acting horrible, and the CG creatures not so believable.

It seems others agree, most notably this chuckle-worthy New York Times review of the movie from Friday and the dismal "8% fresh" score on Rotten Tomatoes.

When is Hollywood going to wake up and realize special effects need to be a supportive component to a strong, engaging story line and believable characters. I haven't actually seen a movie in the movie theater in a long, long, long time because I don't want to waste $10 on crap such as "10,000 B.C." and other "winners" the studio execs have been churning out lately.

For example, if one more Will Farrell movie comes out in which he plays some kind of sports figure who is a completely clueless idiot, I swear I am going to stick a screwdriver in my right eye. Give me more "Super Bad" is what I say!


07 March 2008

Restoring the temple

An international team will begin a restoration project on the Temple of Athena at Assos, located on Turkey's west coast near Canakkale. The Turkish Daily News reports the project will commence in July with a budget of $120,000. The temple itself dates to around 500 B.C.

Unfortunately this article isn't too clear about exactly what this restoration entails but I image it has to do with rebuilding some of the walls and general floor plan of the temple itself. Today the temple is marked by only a few upright columns and is mostly surrounded by stone ruins, at least, that's how it was when I visited this beautiful site back in 2004. Since the article didn't provide a picture, I used my own, taken as the sun dipped below the horizon of the Mediterranean Sea.

In other news: LEGO Indiana Jones boulder scene footage!!





03 March 2008

Moses was a stoner

According to Dr. Benny Shanon, professor of cognitive psychology at Hebrew University, the biblical figure of Moses was under the influence of some kind of psychotropic plant when he spoke with God on Mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandments. Based on his previous field experiences with psychotropic plants, such as ayahuasca common in the Amazon, Shanon believes that Moses perceiving a burning bush that was not consumed, for example, is a classic hallucinatory state. Also the fact that these plant potions enable the user a visual experience created through sound may explain why the waiting Israelites down the mountain "perceived the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the voice of the horn, and the mountain smoking."

One big acid trip huh? Where is the proof? Well Shanon concedes he has no direct proof, nor is he ever likely to get any, but reminds us that mind-altering plants are mentioned elsewhere in the scriptures-the story of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden being one of them. Also rue and acacia are two hallucinogenic plants used by modern Bedouin in the Sinai and Negev desert of southern Israel today.

Overall this is the primary basis for Shanon's wider hypothesis that the ancient Israel religion was/is one based on the use of "entheogens" or mind-altering plants used in sacramental contexts. A summary of this story appeared in Ha'artez, but if you are interested, Shanon's full hypothesis can be found here.

It is not so surprising to think that drugs had a role to play in religious practices as they have around the world for millennia. Naturally most people will shun Shanon's entire argument from the get-go simply because they think it undercuts the foundational myths of the Jewish (and Christian) faith. I'm not saying I believe Shanon whole heartedly, but I do think that people throughout time have experimented and used hallucinogenic plants in order to commune with God or the spiritual powers that be. Just because Moses wasn't "sober" doesn't mean he didn't have a religious experience. I'd be interested to see what you readers think of this!

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