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  • 06September
    2017

    Turkey's 12,000-year-old Hasankeyf settlement faces obliteration

    The destruction of Turkey’s 12,000-year-old Hasankeyf settlement and ancient citadel has moved a step closer as authorities have begun to collapse cliff faces around the ruins of the citadel.

    The move, linked to the construction of a highly controversial dam about 50 miles downstream, is also expected to damage the rich ecosystem of the Tigris river basin.

    Local authorities have announced that the rocks were broken off “for safety reasons” and that 210 caves – a fraction of thousands of manmade caves in the area – would be filled before the town’s inundation in order to prevent erosion.

    The Ilisu dam, part of the Southeast Anatolian project (Gap) and one of Turkey’s largest hydroelectric projects to date, has been mired in controversy ever since it was first drafted in 1954. The dam will raise the level of the Tigris at Hasankeyf by 60m, submerging 80% of the ancient city and numerous surrounding villages, including more than 300 historical sites that have still not been explored.

    Environmental engineer Ercan Ayboga of the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive warns that close to 80,000 people will be displaced. Many of them will lose their land and their livelihoods. Because of additional debts taken up to purchase new homes, thousands face impoverishment.

    Germany, Austria and Switzerland withdrew financial support for the Ilisu dam in July 2009, citing concerns about the social, cultural and environmental impact. The Turkish government, arguing that the dam will help produce much needed energy and irrigation, has secured domestic financing of the €1.1bn (£1.02bn) project and is pushing ahead despite a pending court decision at the European court of human rights.

    The Ilisu dam has a life expectancy of less than 100 years, but the destruction of the fragile natural environment will be irreversible. 

    “The Tigris river basin is one of the last areas where a river runs freely in Turkey without having been dammed,” Ayboga says. “The dam will completely destroy the river banks. The microclimate will change due to the dam, a phenomenon we have already seen after the dams on the Euphrates. The biodiversity will suffer; the rich variety of plant and animal life will be severely diminished.”

    Numerous vulnerable and endangered species are threatened by the construction of the dam, including the Euphrates softshell turtle, the red‐wattled lapwing, and many other rare birds, bats and mammals. While the environmental impact on Turkey will be severe, the effect on neighbouring Iraq is expected to be catastrophic.

    Toon Bijnens, international coordinator for the Save the Tigris and Iraqi Marshes Campaign in Sulaymaniyah, said downstream water levels are expected to decrease by 40%: “This means that the water quality of the Tigris will worsen. There will be increased salt water intrusion, making the water unfit for drinking or irrigation.”

    Ilisu, once operational, will also be detrimental to the Mesopotamian marshes, a wetland area in southern Iraq declared a Unesco world heritage site in 2016. “The dam will dry up a considerate part of the marshes,” Bijnens said. The marshes were drained by Saddam Hussein in the 1990s and the community of the Marsh Arabs has only recently returned to their land. Their livelihoods are now again endangered by the Turkish dam.

    An official source from the Turkish ministry for Forests and Water Works told the Guardian that “all dammed up water is sent downstream via the turbines”. Because Ilisu was a hydroelectric dam, there would be no decrease of water levels. “The importance of reservoirs as a safe water source in the fight against global warming and drought has increased,” the source said. “For that reason the Ilisu dam has to be seen as an advantage for Iraq, not a threat.”

    However, Ankara has not yet ratified the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention, a treaty that seeks to establish a law for governing freshwater resources shared across international borders that entered into force in 2014. Since no formal agreement was signed, the sovereignty over how much water is released downstream rests with Turkey, Bijnens warned.

    More info : The Guardian
  • 04September
    2017

    Seven unknown architectural wonders

    We’ve all heard of the Colosseum, the Great Wall of China, and the Taj Mahal. But what about the world’s undiscovered architectural wonders: the man-made marvels where most crowds don’t stray?

    More info : BBC
  • 01September
    2017

    How Do You Measure the Value of a Historic Site?

    Debates over historic preservation often run into a problem: There’s plenty of data to support economic arguments, and much less to address questions of cultural value. A research team in Singapore wants to change that.

    More info : CITYLAB
  • 25August
    2017

    UNESCO seminar on great moments of dialogue in human history, Samarkand, 29-30 August

    Thirty experts from some 20 countries will meet to examine examples of cultural cross-fertilization identified in UNESCO’s monumental General and Regional Histories and Routes of Dialogue projects to determine ways to boost intercultural dialogue today. The meeting, an international seminar entitled The Great Moments of Dialogue in Human History: Assessment, Lessons, and Prospects, will take place in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on 29 and 30 August.

    The seminar will serve to identify the great periods of dialogue in human history and highlight the main markers of these cultural interactions in different regions of the world so as to improve our understanding of the processes whereby cultures influence one another.

    Participants will also explore the potential of today’s digital networks and the development of tools to disseminate existing knowledge in this area. They will finally propose concrete guidelines to develop educational materials and tools using ICTs to promote mutual understanding, dialogue and reconciliation.

    The seminar is part of the International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2013-2022), of which UNESCO is the lead agency.

    In recent years, worsening of tensions, conflicts and terrorism in different parts of the world have once again given currency to long discredited ideas according to which clashes between civilizations and confrontations between peoples and nations are inevitable. Current tensions have also revived racial and cultural prejudices inspired by unscientific theories about a supposed hierarchy of races, cultures and religions. The fact that such ideas have gained ground in recent years has made new reflection on the common heritage and shared values of humanity topical and necessary.

    The international seminar will be preceded on 28 August by an international conference on “Central Asian Renaissance in the History of World Civilization” organized by the Government of Uzbekistan, with support of UNESCO, on the occasion of the Sharq Taronalari (Melodies of the East) music festival, which is held biennially in Samarkand. Shavkat Mirziyoyev, President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, will open the conference.

    More info : UNESCO
  • 18August
    2017

    Tombs Found in Egypt's Nile Valley Date Back More Than 2,000 Years

    One tomb from Ptolemaic-era burial shaft carved into the bedrock, another a child's grave: This was not an army camp.

     

    Three tombs dated to the Ptolemaic Period, more than 2,000 years ago, have been discovered in the Nile Valley, the Egyptian antiquities ministry said on Wednesday. The discovery was made in an area called al-Kamin al-Sahrawi, south of Cairo.

    The discovery of sarcophagi and clay fragments suggests that the archaeologists found a major necropolis used over generations. It was evidently used sometime between the 27th Dynasty (when ancient Egypt was under Persian control, from 525 B.C.E. to 404 B.C.E.) and the subsequent Ptolemaic period.

    A burial shaft carved out of the bedrock in one of the tombs leads to a chamber where four sarcophagi with anthropoid lids, containing two women and two men, were found.

     

    Another tomb contains two chambers, one with six burial holes, including one for a child. Excavation on a third tomb is still underway, the ministry stated.

    Since women and children were buried there, the necropolis is unlikely to be part of an ancient military site, as had been previously suggested, postulate the archaeologists.

     

    The 27th Dynasty had been founded by the Persian emperor Cambyses II, son of Cyrus the Great. Cambyses II conquered Egypt in 525 B.C.E., wresting control from the unfortunate and short-lived pharaoh Psamtik III. He tried to continue onto Libya, to no avail. The Greco-Roman Ptolemaic period began in 305 B.C.E. when the Roman general Ptolemy assumed the title of King, dubbing himself Ptolemy I Soter, i.e., the Savior. His dynasty would rule Egypt for over three centuries: male rulers took the soubriquet Ptolemy, while the queens tended to be named Arsinoe, Berenice and, famously, Cleopatra.

    More info : HAARETZ
  • 07August
    2017

    India's Lesser Known UNESCO World Heritage Sites

    The striking thing about a country as vast as India is the sheer, overwhelming variety that it encompasses—of landscapes, cultures, languages, cuisines, and even UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

    Yet of its 35 cultural and natural heritage sites, travelers frequent only about a dozen. They miss some of India’s most outstanding wonders either because they are tucked in a little known, far-flung corner, or because they’re hiding in plain sight, in the shadow of an oft-visited attraction.

    Up for a surprise? Here are seven of India’s little known UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

    More info : Travel
  • 03August
    2017

    France: archaeologists uncover 'little Pompeii' south of Lyon

    A “little Pompeii” is how French archaeologists are describing an entire ancient Roman neighbourhood uncovered on the outskirts of the southeastern city of Vienne, featuring remarkably preserved remains of luxury homes and public buildings.

    “We’re unbelievably lucky. This is undoubtedly the most exceptional excavation of a Roman site in 40 or 50 years,” said Benjamin Clement, the archaeologist leading the dig on the banks of the Rhone river, about 18 miles (30km) south of Lyon.

    The city of Vienne – famous for its Roman theatre and temple – was an important hub on the route connecting northern Gaul with the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis in southern France.

    The site unearthed on land awaiting construction of a housing complex covers an area of nearly 7,000 square metres (75,000 sq ft) – an unusually large discovery in an urban area that has been labelled an “exceptional find” by the French culture ministry.

    The neighbourhood, which contains homes dating to the 1st century AD, is believed to have been inhabited for around 300 years before being abandoned after a series of fires.

    Many of the objects in place when the inhabitants fled were conserved, transforming the area into a “real little Pompeii in Vienne”, according to Clement, referring to the Roman city-state that was largely preserved after being buried by volcanic ash.

    Among the structures to have partly survived are an imposing home dubbed the Bacchanalian House after a tiled floor depicting a procession of maenads (female followers of the god of wine, known as Dionysus or Bacchus) and joyful half-man, half-goat creatures known as satyrs.

    A blaze consumed the first floor, roof and balcony of the sumptuous home, which boasted balustrades, marble tiling, expansive gardens and a water supply system, but parts of the collapsed structure survived.

    The archaeologists believe the house belonged to a wealthy merchant.

    “We will be able to restore this house from the floor to the ceiling,” Clement said.

    In another house, an exquisite mosaic depicts a bare-bottomed Thalia, muse and patron of comedy, being kidnapped by a lustful Pan, god of the satyrs.

    The mosaics are being removed with infinite care and taken away to be restored, with a view to being exhibited in Vienne’s museum of Gallo-Roman civilisation in 2019.

    Among the other finds are a large public building with a fountain adorned by a statue of Hercules, built at the site of a former market.

    Clement believes it may have housed a philosophy school.

    The excavations, which began in April, had been due to end in mid-September but have been extended by the French state until the end of the year to allow time for more discoveries.

    In the coming months Clement’s team of 20 will dig down to older parts of the site and explore an area containing workshops.

    More info : https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/02/france-archaeologists-uncover-little-pompeii-south-of-lyon
  • 02August
    2017

    History's 1st Emoji? Ancient Pitcher Shows a Smiley Face

    The iconic smiley face may seem like a modern squiggle, but the discovery of a smiley face-like painting on an ancient piece of pottery suggests that it may be much older.

    During an excavation of Karkemish, an ancient Hittite city whose remains are in modern-day Turkey near the Syrian border, archaeologists came across a 3,700-year-old pitcher that has three visible paint strokes on it: a swoosh of a smile and two dots for eyes above it.

    "The smiling face is undoubtedly there," Nikolo Marchetti, an associate professor in the Department of History and Cultures at the University of Bologna in Italy, told Live Science in an email. "There are no other traces of painting on the flask." [The 25 Most Mysterious Archaeological Finds on Earth]

    The team of Turkish and Italian archaeologists found the pitcher, which dates to about 1700 B.C., in what was a burial site beneath a house in Karkemish, Marchetti said. The pitcher was likely used to drink sherbet, a sweet beverage, he told the Anadolu Agency, a Turkish news outlet.

    The archaeologists also found other vases and pots, as well as metal goods in the ancient city, which measures about 135 acres (55 hectares), or slightly more than 100 football fields.

    The name Karkemish translates to "Quay of (the god) Kamis," a deity popular at that time in northern Syria. The city was inhabited from the sixth millennium B.C., until the late Middle Ages when it was abandoned, and populated by a string of different cultures, including the Hittites, Neo Assyrians and Romans, the archaeologists said in a statement. It was used once more in 1920 as a Turkish military outpost, the archaeologists added.

    British archaeologists visited the site in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but there was still much to be uncovered, so the new team, directed by Marchetti, began excavating it in 2003. But it wasn't until this past field season, which began in May, that the archaeologists unearthed the pitcher with the emoji-like painting.

    "Ithas no parallels in ancient ceramic art of the area," Marchetti told Live Science. "As for the interpretation, you may certainly choose your own."

    More info : Live Science
  • 01August
    2017

    Romania's Medieval Marital Prison

    Picturesque Biertan, one of Transylvania’s seven Saxon Unesco World Heritage villages, feels frozen in time. Horse-drawn carts are still a part of daily life, and local residents gather to trade their wares in a cobbled village square. At the heart of the village, a 15th-Century fortified church towers over the surrounding structures from its hilltop perch.

    Inside the church grounds, along one of its fortification walls, is a small building with a room inside barely larger than a pantry. For 300 years, couples whose marriages were on the rocks would find themselves here, locked away for up to six weeks by the local bishop in hope that they would iron out their problems and avert a divorce. 

     

    It may sound like a nightmare – but records show that this ‘marital prison’ was rather effective.

    “Thanks to this blessed building, in the 300 years that Biertan had the bishop’s seat we only had one divorce,” said Ulf Ziegler, Biertan’s current priest.

    Today, the small, dark prison is a museum complete with long-suffering mannequins. The room has low ceilings and thick walls, and is sparsely equipped with a table and chair, a storage chest and a traditional Saxon bed that looks small enough to belong to a child. As couples attempted to repair their marriages inside this tiny space, everything had to be shared, from a single pillow and blanket to the lone table setting.

     

    Lutheranism, the religion of the Transylvanian Saxons, governed most aspects of life, and although divorce was allowed under certain circumstances – such as adultery – it was preferred that couples attempt to save their union. So a couple seeking divorce would voluntarily visit the bishop, who would send them to the marital prison to see if their differences could be reconciled before they parted ways.

    “The prison was an instrument to keep society in the old Christian order,” explained Zielger, who noted that it also protected women and children, who were dependent on the family unit to survive. If a divorce did occur, the husband had to pay his ex-wife half of his earnings, but if he remarried and divorced again, the second wife was entitled to nothing.

    In the 12th Century, Saxon settlers ‒ originally from areas that today are France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany ‒ were invited by Hungary’s King Géza II to settle rural Transylvania and protect it against threats from Tatar and Ottoman invaders, as well as develop the area economically. Transylvanian Saxons were industrious craftspeople; Biertan became an important market town and cultural hub with a 5,000-strong population in 1510. 

     

    Walking through the streets of Biertan as the sun begins to disappear behind the rolling hills, a few locals sit outside drinking beers and a farmer moves his hay cart through the village. The imposing church, with its nine surrounding fortification towers, is illuminated by bright lights and its purpose evident: it was a central point for the early Saxon settlers ‒ a place of safety and worship. 

    The view from the church’s nearly 11m-high fortification walls next to the marital prison extends out across the village and surrounding countryside. Many current residents work their land using old-age farming techniques, and trade their wares to earn a living. Weather-worn shepherds can be spotted in the surrounding green hills herding sheep ‒ a scene that likely hasn’t changed much over the past several centuries.

    Life continues to move at a slow, meditative pace; however, these days there is less economic and religious pressure on struggling couples to remain together.

    “The reason to remain together was probably not love. The reason was to work and to survive,” Ziegler said. “If a couple was locked inside for six weeks, it was very hard for them to have enough food the following year, so there was pressure to get out and to continue to work together.” 

     

    Ziegler believes that, even today, the concept of a marital prison has potential lessons for any modern marriage. And he’s not the only one: he says that he’s received requests from couples looking to use the prison to repair their own struggling marriages.

    “In modern families, there is less and less time for each other, we are more selfish than our ancestors,” Ziegler said. “We suffer from loneliness, which is why today we need to talk more, so we can find out what is important to us and what connects us.”

    Join over three million BBC Travel fans by liking us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

    If you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter called "If You Only Read 6 Things This Week". A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Earth, Culture, Capital and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.

    More info : BBC
  • 31July
    2017

    Scotland in a new golden age of archaeology as number of discoveries trebles

    Scotland has entered a “new golden age of archaeology” according to experts, with hundreds of relics uncovered every year.

    Remote sensing and sophisticated devices such as x-ray guns means more discoveries are now being made than ever before.

    Finds in Scotland are curated and distributed to museums by the Treasure Trove - which looks after rare archaeological discoveries. The Treasure Trove has seen the number of discoveries reach its highest level ever.

    Among the artefacts uncovered are items belonging to ancient bishops, key figures in the wars of Scottish independence and the Glorious Revolution, as well as a haul of more than 200 rare Roman coins. 

     

    More info : http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/15442386.Welcome_to_the_Golden_Age_of_Scottish_archaeology/?ref=rss
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