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Blackbeard’s Booty: Pirate ship yields medical supplies

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File photo – A one-ton cannon which was recovered from the Queen Anne’s Revenge shipwreck site, is pulled from the water near Beaufort, North Carolina, Oct. 26, 2011. (REUTERS/Karen Browning/N.C. Department of Cultural Resources)

Archaeologists are excavating the vessel that served as the flagship of the pirate Blackbeard, and the medical equipment they have recovered from the shipwreck suggests the notorious buccaneer had to toil to keep his crew healthy.

Blackbeard is the most famous pirate who ever lived. His real name was Edward Teach (or possibly Thatch), and his flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, was formerly a French slave vessel named La Concorde de Nantes that Blackbeard captured in November 1717. Blackbeard was able to capture this ship easily because much of its crew was either sick or dead due to disease.

A few months into 1718, the Queen Anne’s Revenge ran aground on a sandbar at Topsail Inlet in North Carolina. Blackbeard abandoned much of his crew at that point, leaving the site with a select group of men and most of the plunder. He was killed in battle later that year.

The wreck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge was rediscovered in 1996 and has been under excavation by the Queen Anne’s Revenge Project. Archaeologists have recovered many artifacts, including a number of medical instruments. These artifacts, combined with historical records, paint a picture of a pirate captain who tried to keep his crew in fighting shape.

“Treating the sick and injured of a sea-bound community on shipboard was challenging in the best of times,” Linda Carnes-McNaughton, an archaeologist and curator with the Department of Defense who volunteers her time on the excavation project, wrote in a paper she presented recently at the Society for Historical Archaeology annual meeting. [Photos: The Medical Instruments Found on Blackbeard’s Ship]

The people on a ship like Blackbeard’s would have had to contend with many conditions, including “chronic and periodic illnesses, wounds, amputations, toothaches, burns and other indescribable maladies,” Carnes-McNaughton said.

Blackbeard’s surgeons

In fact, maintaining the crew’s health was so important that when Blackbeard turned the Queen Anne’s Revenge into his flagship, he released most of the French crew members he had captured, but he forced the ship’s three surgeons to stay, along with a few other specialized workers like carpenters and the cook, Carnes-McNaughton said.

She noted, however, that “The Sea-Man’s Vade Mecum” of 1707,which contained the rules that seafarers were supposed to follow, had a provision stating that surgeons could not leave their ship until its voyage was complete.

Carnes-McNaughton investigated both the La Concorde de Nantes’ crew muster, which is the document that lists crew members’ names and salaries, as well as court records to learn more about the surgeons Blackbeard captured.

The ship’s muster indicates that La Concorde de Nantes’ surgeon major was a man named Jean Dubou (or Dubois), from St. Etienne. Before he was captured by Blackbeard, Dubou was being paid 50 livres for his work on the ship’s voyage. The second surgeon was Marc Bourgneuf of La Rochelle, who was paid 30 livres for the voyage.

The third surgeon was Claude Deshayes, who was listed as a gunsmith on the muster and paid 22 livres for his work. The muster also names a surgeon’s aide,  Nicholas Gautrain, who was paid 12 livres. Although he is named on the muster, Gautrain is not mentioned in court records.

Medical equipment

When archaeologists excavated the Queen Anne’s Revenge they found a number of medical instruments, some with marks that indicate they were manufactured in France. Carnes-McNaughton said that Dubou and his aides were required to supply their own medical equipment, and Blackbeard likely captured this equipment when he captured the surgeons. [The 7 Most Mysterious Archaeological Finds on Earth]

Among the finds was a urethral syringe that chemical analysis indicates originally contained mercury. Carnes-McNaughton told Live Science that this would have been used to treat syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease. “Eventually the mercury kills you,” she said, explaining that the patient could suffer mercury poisoning.

Archaeologists also found the remains of two pump clysters. These would have been used to pump fluid into the rectum, allowing it to be absorbed quickly, Carnes-McNaughton said. It’s not clear exactly why this would have been done, but there are plans to analyze the clysters to find out what material they contained before the ship was wrecked.

An instrument called a porringer was also found, which may have been used in bloodletting treatments, Carnes-McNaughton said. People in the early 18thcentury believed that bloodletting could cure some conditions and a modern-day form of the treatment is still used for a few conditions.

Archaeologists also found a cast brass mortar and pestle and two sets of nesting weights, devices that would have been used in preparing medicine. The remains of galley pots were also found that would have been used to store balms, salves and other potions.

Some items were found that could have been used medically or non-medically, Carnes-McNaughton said, including a silver needle and the remains of scissors, which could have been handy during surgeries. Two pairs of brass set screws were also found that may have been used in a tourniquet, a device that limits bleeding during amputations.

Carnes-McNaughton said she is going to compare the medical equipment from Queen Anne’s Revenge to those found on other wrecks.

Getting medicine

But although the captured surgeons had medical equipment, Blackbeard would have still needed a supply of medicine to treat his crew. He got some in 1718, after he spent a week blockading the port of Charleston, South Carolina. Blackbeard captured ships that tried to get past him, holding their crew and passengers hostage.

When it came time to parley with the governor of South Carolina, a chest of medicine was demanded. Blackbeard threatened that he “would murder all their prisoners, send up their heads to the governor, and set the ships they had taken on fire,” if the governor didn’t deliver the medicine chest, writes Capt. Charles Johnson, who published an account of Blackbeard in 1724. The governor promptly complied and the prisoners were released.

In the end, Blackbeard’s efforts to keep up his crew’s health didn’t change the pirate’s own fate when he was hunted down in November 1718 by the Royal Navy.

Blackbeard was in good enough shape that he is said to have put up a terrific final fight while trying to board an enemy ship. “He stood his ground and fought with great fury, till he received five and 20 wounds, and five of them by shot,” Johnson wrote. “At length, as he was cocking another pistol, having fired several before, [when] he fell down dead.”

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2,100-year-old king’s mausoleum discovered in China

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Archaeologists in China have discovered a mausoleum, dating back over 2,100 years, that contains three main tombs, including the tomb of Liu Fei (shown at bottom), the ruler of the Jiangdu kingdom in China.Photo courtesy Chinese Archaeology

A 2,100-year-old mausoleum built for a king named Liu Fei has been discovered in modern-day Xuyi County in Jiangsu, China, archaeologists report.

Liu Fei died in 128 B.C. during the 26th year of his rule over a kingdom named Jiangdu, which was part of the Chinese empire.

Although the mausoleum had been plundered, archaeologists found that it still contained more than 10,000 artifacts, including treasures made of gold, silver, bronze, jade and lacquer. They also found severallife-size chariot and dozens of smaller chariots.

Excavated between 2009 and 2011, the mausoleum contains “three main tombs, 11 attendant tombs, two chariot-and-horse pits, two weaponry pits” and the remains of an enclosure wall that originally encompassed the complex, a team of Nanjing Museum archaeologists said in an article recently published in the journal Chinese Archaeology. The wall was originally about 1,608 feet long on each side. [See Photos of the Ancient Mausoleum and Artifacts]

The archaeologists said their work was a “rescue excavation,” as the site was threatened by quarrying.

Liu Fei’s tomb
A large earthen mound extending more than 492 feet once covered the king’s tomb, the archaeologists say. The tomb has two long shafts leading to a burial chamber that measured about 115 feet long by 85 feet wide.

When archaeologists entered the burial chamber they found that Liu Fei was provided with a vast assortment of goods for the afterlife.

Such goods would have been fitting for such a “luxurious” ruler. “Liu Fei admired daring and physical prowess. He built palaces and observation towers and invited to his court all the local heroes and strong men from everywhere around,” wrote ancient historian Sima Qian (145-86 B.C.), as translated by Burton Watson. “His way of life was marked by extreme arrogance and luxury.”

His burial chamber is divided into a series of corridors and small chambers. The chamber contained numerous weapons, including iron swords, spearheads, crossbow triggers, halberds (a two-handled pole weapon), knives and more than 20 chariot models (not life-size).

The archaeologists also found musical instruments, including chime bells, zither bridges (the zither is a stringed instrument) and jade tuning pegs decorated with a dragon design.

Liu Fei’s financial needs were not neglected, as the archaeologists also found an ancient “treasury” holding more than 100,000 banliang coins, which contain a square hole in the center and were created by the first emperor of China after the country was unified. After the first emperor died in 210 B.C., banliang coins eventually fell out of use. [Photos: Ancient Chinese Warriors Protect Secret Tomb of First Emperor]

In another section of the burial chamber archaeologists found “utilities such as goose-shaped lamps, five-branched lamps, deer-shaped lamps, lamps with a chimney or with a saucer .” They also found a silver basin containing the inscription of “the office of the Jiangdu Kingdom.”

The king was also provided with a kitchen and food for the afterlife. Archaeologists found an area in the burial chamber containing bronze cauldrons, tripods, steamers, wine vessels, cups and pitchers. They also found seashells, animal bones and fruit seeds. Several clay inscriptions found held the seal of the “culinary officer of the Jiangdu Kingdom.”

Sadly, the king’s coffins had been damaged and the body itself was gone. “Near the coffins many jade pieces and fragments, originally parts of the jade burial suit, were discovered. These pieces also indicate that the inner coffin, originally lacquered and inlaid with jade plaques, was exquisitely manufactured,” the team writes.

The adjacent tomb
A second tomb, which archaeologists call “M2,” was found adjacent to the king’s tomb. Although archaeologists don’t know who was buried there it would have been someone of high status.

“Although it was looted, archaeologists still discovered pottery vessels, lacquer wares, bronzes, gold and silver objects, and jades, about 200 sets altogether,” the team writes.

“The ‘jade coffin’ from M2 is the most significant discovery. Although the central chamber was looted, the structure of the jade coffin is still intact, which is the only undamaged jade coffin discovered in the history of Chinese archaeology,” writes the team.

More chariots and weapons
In addition to the chariot models and weapons found in the king’s tomb, the mausoleum also contains two chariot-and-horse pits and two weapons pits holding swords, halberds, crossbow triggers and shields. [In Photos: Early Bronze Age Chariot Burial]

In one chariot-and-horse pit the archaeologists found five life-size chariots, placed east to west. “The lacquer and wooden parts of the chariots were all exquisitely decorated and well preserved,” the team writes. Four of the chariots had bronze parts gilded with gold, while one chariot had bronze parts inlaid with gold and silver.

The second chariot pit contained about 50 model chariots. “Since a large quantity of iron ji (Chinese halberds) and iron swords were found, these were likely models of battle chariots,” the team writes.

Attendant tombs
A series of 11 attendant tombs were found to the north of the king’s tomb. By the second century B.C. human sacrifice had fallen out of use in China so the people buried in them probably were not killed when the king died.

Again, the archaeologists found rich burial goods. One tomb contained two gold belt hooks, one in the shape of a wild goose and the other a rabbit.

Another tomb contained artifacts engraved with the surname “Nao.” Ancient records indicate that Liu Fei had a consort named “Lady Nao,” whose beauty was so great that she would go on to be a consort for his son Liu Jian and then for another king named Liu Pengzu. Tomb inscriptions suggest the person buried in the tomb was related to her, the team says.

Kingdom’s end
During the second century B.C. China was one of the largest, and wealthiest, empires on Earth, however, the power of its emperor was not absolute. During this time a number of kings co-existed under the control of the emperor. These kings could amass great wealth and, at times, they rebelled against the emperor.

About seven years after Liu Fei’s death, the Chinese emperor seized control of Jiangdu Kingdom, because Liu Jian, who was Liu Fei’s son and successor, allegedly plotted against the emperor.

Ancient writers tried to justify the emperor’s actions, claiming that, in addition to rebellion, Liu Jian had committed numerous other crimes and engaged in bizarre behavior that included having a sexual orgy with 10 women in a tent above his father’s tomb.

The journal article was originally published, in Chinese, in the journal Kaogu, by archaeologists Li Zebin, Chen Gang and Sheng Zhihan. It was translated into English by Lai Guolong and published in the most recent edition of the journal Chinese Archaeology.

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4,000-year-old burial with chariots discovered in South Caucasus

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Here, the roof of a 4,000-year-old burial chamber buried in a Kurgan (mound) in the country of Georgia.Photo courtesy Zurab Makharadze

An ancient burial containing chariots, gold artifacts and possible human sacrifices has been discovered by archaeologists in the country of Georgia, in the south Caucasus.

The burial site, which would’ve been intended for a chief, dates back over 4,000 years to a time archaeologists call the Early Bronze Age, said Zurab Makharadze, head of the Centre of Archaeology at the Georgian National Museum.

Archaeologists discoveredthe timber burial chamber within a 39-foot-high mound called a kurgan. When the archaeologists reached the chamber they found an assortment of treasures, including two chariots, each with four wooden wheels. [See Images of the Burial Chamber & Chariots]

The team discovered ornamented clay and wooden vessels, flint and obsidian arrowheads, leather and textile artifacts, a unique wooden armchair, carnelian and amber beads and 23 golden artifacts, including rare and artistic crafted jewelry, wrote Makharadze in the summary of a presentation he gave recently at the International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, held at the University of Basel in Switzerland.

“In the burial chamber were placed two four-wheeled chariots, both in good condition, [the] design of which represents fine ornamental details of various styles,” Makharadze wrote. Thechamber also contained wild fruits, he added.

While the human remains had been disturbed by a robbery, which probably occurred in ancient times, and were in a disordered position, the archaeologists found that seven people were buried in the chamber. “One of them was a chief and others should be the members of his family, sacrificed slaves or servants,” Makharadze told Live Science in an email.

A time before the horse

The burial dates back to a time before domesticated horses appeared in the area, Makharadze said. While no animals were found buried with the chariots, he said, oxen would have pulled them.

Other rich kurgan burials dating to the second half of the third millennium B.C. have also been found in the south Caucasus,said Makharadze in another paper he presented in February at the College de France in Paris. The appearance of these rich burials appears to be connected to interactions that occurred between nomadic people from the Eurasian steppes and farming communities within and near the south Caucasus, Makharadze said.

These interactions appear to have led to some individuals, like this chief, getting elaborate burials. The newly discovered armchair symbolizes the power that individuals like the chief had. “The purpose of the wooden armchair was the indication to power, and it was put in the kurgan as a symbol of power,”Makharadze said in the email.

The kurgan was found in eastern Georgia near the municipality of Lagodekhi and was excavated in 2012.

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Remains of ‘end of the world’ epidemic found in ancient Egypt

Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of an epidemic in Egypt so terrible that one ancient writer believed the world was coming to an end.

Working at the Funerary Complex of Harwa and Akhimenru in the west bank of the ancient city of Thebes (modern-day Luxor) in Egypt, the team of the Italian Archaeological Mission to Luxor (MAIL) found bodies covered with a thick layer of lime (historically used as a disinfectant). The researchers also found three kilns where the lime was produced, as well as a giant bonfire containing human remains, where many of the plague victims were incinerated.

 Pottery remains found in the kilns allowed researchers to date the grisly operation to the third century A.D., a time when a series of epidemics now dubbed the “Plague of Cyprian” ravaged the Roman Empire, which included Egypt. Saint Cyprian was a bishop of Carthage (a city in Tunisia) who described the plague as signaling the end of the world. [See Photos of the Remains of Plague Victims & Thebes Site]

Occurring between roughly A.D. 250-271, the plague “according to some sources killed more than 5,000 people a day in Rome alone,” wrote Francesco Tiradritti, director of the MAIL, in the latest issue of Egyptian Archaeology, a magazine published by the Egypt Exploration Society.

Tiradritti’s team uncovered the remains of this body-disposal operation between 1997 and 2012. The monument his team is excavating was originally built in the seventh century B.C. for a grand steward named Harwa. After Harwa’s death, the Egyptians continuously used the monument for burial (Akhimenru was a successor who built his own tomb there). However, after its use for body disposal during the plague, the monument was abandoned and never used again.

The use of the complex “for the disposal of infected corpses gave the monument a lasting bad reputation and doomed it to centuries of oblivion until tomb robbers entered the complex in the early 19th century,” Tiradritti writes.

End of the world
Cyprian left a gut-wrenching record of what the victims suffered before they died. “The bowels, relaxed into a constant flux, discharge the bodily strength [and] a fire originated in the marrow ferments into wounds of the fauces (an area of the mouth),” he wrote in Latin in a work called “De mortalitate.” The “intestines are shaken with a continual vomiting, [and] the eyes are on fire with the injected blood,” he wrote, adding that “in some cases the feet or some parts of the limbs are taken off by the contagion of diseased putrefaction ”

Cyprian believed that the world was coming to an end.

“The kingdom of God, beloved brethren, is beginning to be at hand; the reward of life, and the rejoicing of eternal salvation, and the perpetual gladness and possession lately lost of paradise, are now coming, with the passing away of the world ” (translation by Philip Schaff, from the book “Ante-Nicene Fathers”, volume 5, 1885).

While the world, of course, did not end, the plague weakened the Roman Empire. “It killed two Emperors, Hostilian in A.D. 251 and Claudius II Gothicus in A.D. 270,” wrote Tiradritti. It is “a generally held opinion that the ‘Plague of Cyprian’ seriously weakened the Roman Empire, hastening its fall.” [In Photos: 14th-Century ‘Black Death’ Grave Discovered]

The newly unearthed remains at Luxor underscore the plague’s potency. Tiradritti’steam found no evidence that the victims received any sort of religious rites during their incineration. “We found evidence of corpses either burned or buried inside the lime,” he told Live Science in an interview. “They had to dispose of them without losing any time.”

What caused the plague?
The plague may have been some form of smallpox or measles, accordingto modern day scientists. While the discovery of human remains associated with the plague will give anthropologists new material to study, Tiradritti cautions they will not be able to extract DNA from the bodies.

While stories about researchers extracting DNA from mummies (such as Tutankhamun) have made headlines in recent years, Tiradritti told Live Science he doesn’t believe the results from such ancient specimens. “In a climate like Egypt, the DNA is completely destroyed,” he said. DNA breaks down over time, and permafrost (something not found in Egypt) is the best place to find ancient DNA samples, Tiradritti said.

Immense monument
The discovery of the body disposal site is just one part of the team’s research. Thebes is a massive site containing a vast necropolis, and the excavations of the MAIL are providing new data that allows scholars to determine how it changed between the seventh century B.C. and today.

The funerary complex of Harwa and Akhimenru, which the MAIL has been excavating since 1995, is one of the largest private funerary monuments of Egypt. Tiradritti notes that it is considered a key monument for studying a peak period in Egyptian art known as the “Pharaonic Renaissance” that lasted from the start of the seventh century B.C. until the mid-sixth century B.C. During this time, Tiradritti notes, artists created innovative new works that were rooted in older Egyptian artistic traditions.

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4,600-year-old step pyramid uncovered in Egypt

4,600-year-old step pyramid uncovered in Egypt

By Owen Jarus

Published February 03, 2014

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    Archaeologists working near the ancient settlement of Edfu in southern Egypt have uncovered a step pyramid that dates back about 4,600 years. (Tell Edfu Project at the University of Chicagoâs Oriental Institute)

Archaeologists working near the ancient settlement of Edfu, in southern Egypt, have uncovered a step pyramid that dates back about 4,600 years, predating the Great Pyramid of Giza by at least a few decades.

The step pyramid, which once stood as high as 43 feet, is one of seven so-called “provincial” pyramids built by either the pharaoh Huni (reign ca. 2635-2610 B.C.) or Snefru (reign ca. 2610-2590 B.C.). Over time, the step pyramid’s stone blocks were pillaged, and the monument was exposed to weathering, so today, it’s only about 16 feet tall.

Scattered throughout central and southern Egypt, the provincial pyramids are located near major settlements, have no internal chambers and were not intended for burial. Six of the seven pyramids have almost identical dimensions, including the newly uncovered one at Edfu, which is about 60 × 61 feet. [See Photos of the Newly Uncovered Step Pyramid]

The purpose of these seven pyramids is a mystery. They may have been used as symbolic monuments dedicated to the royal cult that affirmed the power of the king in the southern provinces.

“The similarities from one pyramid to the other are really amazing, and there is definitely a common plan,” said Gregory Marouard, a research associate at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute who led the work at the Edfu pyramid. On the east side of the newly uncovered pyramid, his team found the remains of an installation where food offerings appear to have been made — a discovery that is important for understanding this kind of pyramid since it provides clues as to what they were used for.

The team also found hieroglyphic graffiti incised on the outer faces of the pyramid. The inscriptions are located beside the remains of babies and children who were buried at the foot of the pyramid. The researchers think the inscriptions and burials date to long after the pyramid was built and that the structure was not originally intended as a burial place.

Initial results of the excavation were presented at a symposium held in Toronto recently by the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities.

Uncovering the pyramid Though scholars knew of the existence of the pyramid at Edfu, the structure had never been excavated before Marouard’s team started work in 2010, he said in the study. His team found that the pyramid was covered by a thick layer of sand, modern waste and remains from the pillaging of its blocks.

It didn’t look like a pyramid he said, and people in a nearby village even thought the structure was the tomb of a sheikh, a local Muslim saint. As the team went to work cleaning the monument, the ancient pyramid was revealed. [In Photos: The Seven Ancient Wonders of the World]

Built of sandstone blocks and clay mortar, it had been constructed in the form of a three-step pyramid. A core of blocks rises up vertically, with two layers of blocks beside it, on top of each other. This made the pyramid look like it had three steps. The style is similar to that of a step pyramid built by Djoser (reign ca. 2670-2640 B.C.), the pharaoh who constructed Egypt’s first pyramid at the beginning of the third ancient Egyptian dynasty. The technique is close to that used at the Meidum pyramid, which was built by either Snefru or Huni and started out as a step pyramid before being turned into a true pyramid.

“The construction itself reflects a certain care and a real expertise in the mastery of stone construction, especially for the adjustment of the most important blocks,” said Marouard in his paper. Marouard also noted that the pyramid was built directly on the bedrock and was constructed entirely with local raw materials. The quarry where the sandstone was extracted was discovered in 2011, and is located only about a half mile north of the pyramid.

The growth of a modern-day cemetery and village poses a danger to the newly uncovered pyramid. In order to help prevent further looting, a fence was built around the structure, thanks to financial assistance from the American Research Center in Egypt and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Graffiti and child burials As the team uncovered the pyramid, they found that inscriptions had been incised on its outer faces. They include hieroglyphic depictions of a book roll, a seated man, a four-legged animal, a reed leaf and a bird.

“These are mostly private and rough inscriptions, and certainly dedicated to the child/babies’ burials located right under these inscriptions at the foot of the pyramid,” Marouard told Live Science in an email. One of the inscriptions appears to mean “head of the house” and may be a reference to the mother of a buried child.

Marouard said his team would be publishing these burials and images in more detail in the future.

A pyramid abandoned The archaeologists found that by the time of the reign of Khufu (the pharaoh who built the Great Pyramid), ca. 2590-2563 B.C., the pyramid at Edfu had been abandoned, and offerings were no longer being made. This occurred less than 50 years after its construction, Marouard said.

This suggests the seven small pyramids stopped being used when work on the Great Pyramid began. It seems Khufu no longer thought there was a need to maintain a small pyramid at Edfu, or elsewhere in southern Egypt, Marouard said. Rather, Khufu focused all the resources on building the Great Pyramid at Giza, which is close to the Egyptian capital at Memphis, he added.

Khufu may have felt politically secure in southern Egypt and saw no need to maintain or build pyramids there, Marouard said in the email. The “center of gravity of Egypt was then at Memphis for many centuries — this region draining resources and manpower from the provinces, all regions being put to use for the large construction sites of funerary complexes.”

At Wadi al-Jarf, a port found on the shore of the Red Sea that dates to Khufu’s time, papyri (written documents) dating to the end of Khufu’s reign were recently discovered that supports the idea that the pharaoh tried to converge all the resources he could toward Giza and the ancient wonder being constructed there.

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Ancient kingdom discovered beneath mound in Iraq

Ancient kingdom discovered beneath mound in Iraq

By Owen Jarus

Published October 01, 2013

LiveScience
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    A domestic structure, with at least two rooms, that may date to relatively late in the life of the newfound ancient city, perhaps around 2,000 years ago when the Parthian Empire controlled the area in Iraq. (COURTESY CINZIA PAPPI.)

In the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq archaeologists have discovered an ancient city called Idu, hidden beneath a mound.

Cuneiform inscriptions and works of art reveal the palaces that flourished in the city throughout its history thousands of years ago.

Located in a valley on the northern bank of the lower Zab River, the city’s remains are now part of a mound created by human occupation called a tell, which rises about 32 feet above the surrounding plain. The earliest remains date back to Neolithic times, when farming first appeared in the Middle East, and a modern-day village called Satu Qala now lies on top of the tell.

The city thrived between 3,300 and 2,900 years ago, said Cinzia Pappi, an archaeologist at the Universitt Leipzig in Germany. At the start of this period, the city was under the control of the Assyrian Empire and was used to administer the surrounding territory. Later on, as the empire declined, the city gained its independence and became the center of a kingdom that lasted for about 140 years, until the Assyrians reconquered it. [See Photos of Discoveries at the Ancient City of Idu]

The researchers were able to determine the site’s ancient name when, during a survey of the area in 2008, a villager brought them an inscription with the city’s ancient name engraved on it. Excavations were conducted in 2010 and 2011, and the team reported its findings in the most recent edition of the journal Anatolica.

“Very few archaeological excavations had been conducted in Iraqi Kurdistan before 2008,” Pappi wrote in an email to LiveScience. Conflicts in Iraq over the past three decades have made it difficult to work there. Additionally archaeologists before that time tended to favor excavations in the south of Iraq at places like Uruk and Ur.

The effects of recent history are evident on the mound. In 1987, Saddam Hussein’s forces attacked and partly burnt the modern-day village as part of a larger campaign against the Kurds, and “traces of this attack are still visible,” Pappi said.

Ancient palaces
The art and cuneiform inscriptions the team uncovered provide glimpses of the ancient city’s extravagant palaces.

When Idu was an independent city, one of its rulers, Ba’ilanu, went so far as to boast that his palace was better than any of his predecessors’. “The palace which he built he made greater than that of his fathers,” he claimed in the translated inscription. (His father, Abbi-zeri, made no such boast.)

Two works of art hint at the decorations adorning the palaces at the time Idu was independent. One piece of artwork, a bearded sphinx with the head of a human male and the body of a winged lion, was drawn onto a glazed brick that the researchers found in four fragments. Above and below the sphinx, a surviving inscription reads, “Palace of Ba’auri, king of the land of Idu, son of Edima, also king of the land of Idu.”

Another work that was created for the same ruler, and bearing the same inscription as that on the sphinx, shows a “striding horse crowned with a semicircular headstall and led by a halter by a bearded man wearing a fringed short robe,” Pappi and colleague Arne Wossink wrote in the journal article.

Even during Assyrian rule, when Idu was used to administer the surrounding territory, finely decorated palaces were still built. For instance, the team discovered part of a glazed plaque whose colored decorations include a palmette, pomegranates and zigzag patterns. Only part of the inscription survives, but it reads, “Palace of Assurnasirpal, (king of the land of Assur).” Assurnasirpal refers to Assurnasirpal II (883-859 B.C.), the researchers said, adding that he, or one of his governors, must have built or rebuilt a palace at Idu after the Assyrians reconquered the city. [The 10 Biggest Battles for the Control of Iraq]

A hero facing a griffon
Another intriguing artifact, which may be from a palace, is a cylinder seal dating back about 2,600 years. When it was rolled on a piece of clay, it would have revealed a vivid mythical scene.

The scene would have shown a bow-wielding man crouching down before a griffon, as well as a morning star (a symbol of the goddess Ishtar), a lunar crescent (a symbol of the moon god) and a solar disc symbolizing the sun god. A symbol called a rhomb, which represented fertility, was also shown.

“The image of the crouching hero with the bow is typical for warrior gods,” Pappi wrote in the email. “The most common of these was the god Ninurta, who also played an important role in the [Assyrian] state religion, and it is possible that the figure on the seal is meant to represent him.”

Future work
Before conducting more digs, the researchers will need approval from both the local government and the people of the village.

“For wide-scale excavations to continue, at least some of these houses will have to be removed,” Pappi said. “Unfortunately, until a settlement is reached between the villagers and the Kurdistan regional government, further work is currently not possible.”

Although digging is not currently possible, the artifacts already excavated were recently analyzed further and more publications of the team’s work will be appearing in the future. The archaeologists also plan to survey the surrounding area to get a sense of the size of the kingdom of Idu.

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Ancient kingdom discovered beneath mound in Iraq

Ancient kingdom discovered beneath mound in Iraq

By Owen Jarus

Published October 01, 2013

LiveScience
  • 1-ancienct-city

    A domestic structure, with at least two rooms, that may date to relatively late in the life of the new found ancient city, perhaps around 2,000 years ago when the Parthian Empire controlled the area in Iraq. (COURTESY CINZIA PAPPI.)

In the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq archaeologists have discovered an ancient city called Idu, hidden beneath a mound.

Cuneiform inscriptions and works of art reveal the palaces that flourished in the city throughout its history thousands of years ago.

Located in a valley on the northern bank of the lower Zab River, the city’s remains are now part of a mound created by human occupation called a tell, which rises about 32 feet above the surrounding plain. The earliest remains date back to Neolithic times, when farming first appeared in the Middle East, and a modern-day village called Satu Qala now lies on top of the tell.

The city thrived between 3,300 and 2,900 years ago, said Cinzia Pappi, an archaeologist at the Universitt Leipzig in Germany. At the start of this period, the city was under the control of the Assyrian Empire and was used to administer the surrounding territory. Later on, as the empire declined, the city gained its independence and became the center of a kingdom that lasted for about 140 years, until the Assyrians reconquered it. [See Photos of Discoveries at the Ancient City of Idu]

The researchers were able to determine the site’s ancient name when, during a survey of the area in 2008, a villager brought them an inscription with the city’s ancient name engraved on it. Excavations were conducted in 2010 and 2011, and the team reported its findings in the most recent edition of the journal Anatolica.

“Very few archaeological excavations had been conducted in Iraqi Kurdistan before 2008,” Pappi wrote in an email to LiveScience. Conflicts in Iraq over the past three decades have made it difficult to work there. Additionally archaeologists before that time tended to favor excavations in the south of Iraq at places like Uruk and Ur.

The effects of recent history are evident on the mound. In 1987, Saddam Hussein’s forces attacked and partly burnt the modern-day village as part of a larger campaign against the Kurds, and “traces of this attack are still visible,” Pappi said.

Ancient palaces
The art and cuneiform inscriptions the team uncovered provide glimpses of the ancient city’s extravagant palaces.

When Idu was an independent city, one of its rulers, Ba’ilanu, went so far as to boast that his palace was better than any of his predecessors’. “The palace which he built he made greater than that of his fathers,” he claimed in the translated inscription. (His father, Abbi-zeri, made no such boast.)

Two works of art hint at the decorations adorning the palaces at the time Idu was independent. One piece of artwork, a bearded sphinx with the head of a human male and the body of a winged lion, was drawn onto a glazed brick that the researchers found in four fragments. Above and below the sphinx, a surviving inscription reads, “Palace of Ba’auri, king of the land of Idu, son of Edima, also king of the land of Idu.”

Another work that was created for the same ruler, and bearing the same inscription as that on the sphinx, shows a “striding horse crowned with a semicircular headstall and led by a halter by a bearded man wearing a fringed short robe,” Pappi and colleague Arne Wossink wrote in the journal article.

Even during Assyrian rule, when Idu was used to administer the surrounding territory, finely decorated palaces were still built. For instance, the team discovered part of a glazed plaque whose colored decorations include a palmette, pomegranates and zigzag patterns. Only part of the inscription survives, but it reads, “Palace of Assurnasirpal, (king of the land of Assur).” Assurnasirpal refers to Assurnasirpal II (883-859 B.C.), the researchers said, adding that he, or one of his governors, must have built or rebuilt a palace at Idu after the Assyrians reconquered the city. [The 10 Biggest Battles for the Control of Iraq]

A hero facing a griffon
Another intriguing artifact, which may be from a palace, is a cylinder seal dating back about 2,600 years. When it was rolled on a piece of clay, it would have revealed a vivid mythical scene.

The scene would have shown a bow-wielding man crouching down before a griffon, as well as a morning star (a symbol of the goddess Ishtar), a lunar crescent (a symbol of the moon god) and a solar disc symbolizing the sun god. A symbol called a rhomb, which represented fertility, was also shown.

“The image of the crouching hero with the bow is typical for warrior gods,” Pappi wrote in the email. “The most common of these was the god Ninurta, who also played an important role in the [Assyrian] state religion, and it is possible that the figure on the seal is meant to represent him.”

Future work
Before conducting more digs, the researchers will need approval from both the local government and the people of the village.

“For wide-scale excavations to continue, at least some of these houses will have to be removed,” Pappi said. “Unfortunately, until a settlement is reached between the villagers and the Kurdistan regional government, further work is currently not possible.”

Although digging is not currently possible, the artifacts already excavated were recently analyzed further and more publications of the team’s work will be appearing in the future. The archaeologists also plan to survey the surrounding area to get a sense of the size of the kingdom of Idu.

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