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Tag Archives | Archaeology

TED: Computing a Rosetta Stone for the Indus script

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The Destruction of the Buddhist site of Mes Aynak


When Buddha met Taliban (via Hadi Zaher)

Last December, the Hosni Mubarak’s government gave 2.8 square kilometers of land around lake Qarun to developers to build a tourist resort. If the resort was built, a Neolithic site would have been lost. Now, due to the revolution, that land deal has been revoked.

Archaeologists say the remains of rain-based Neolithic farming in the reserve may hold vital clues to a technological leap that led to irrigation-based farming along the Nile.

Around 4,000 BC, humans occupying a strip along the northern shore of the lake seized a window of only a few centuries of rainfall to grow grain in previously inhospitable desert, archaeologists say.

“We have the evidence of the earliest agriculture activity in Egypt. So it’s before the Pharaohs, it’s before the early dynastic period when Egypt becomes a state,” said Willeke Wendrich, an archaeology professor at the University of California in Los Angeles.[Egypt’s revolution may save Neolithic treasure]

But the Buddhist monasteries of Mes Aynak in Aghanistan are not so lucky.

Mes Aynak (Little Copper Well) lies 25 miles south-east of Kabul, in a barren region. The Buddhist monasteries date from the third to the seventh centuries, and are located near the remains of ancient copper mines. It is unclear whether the monastery was originally established to serve the miners or if the monks set up there to work the mines themselves.Here, 7,000 ft up the mountains, Bin Laden set up a training camp in 1999 to prepare terrorists for the 11 September attack. All traces of the camp have gone, but the region still remains a Taliban stronghold.

During the early 2000s, widespread looting occurred at the Buddhist sites after the Kabul government found it difficult to impose control. Archaeologists are now uncovering dozens of statues with missing heads that were broken off to sell.

Mes Aynak’s fate changed again in 2007, when the government negotiated a 30-year mining concession with the state-owned China Metallurgical Group. The archaeological remains sit on the world’s second largest copper deposit. The $3bn deal represents the largest business venture in Afghanistan’s history.[Race to save Buddhist relics in former Bin Laden camp]

Now that mining the place is lucrative, you can say bye bye to the monastery next year. After all who wants that in Afghanistan now? Definitely not the Chinese and definitely not the folks who run the country. In 2001, the Taliban used  mortars, dynamite, tanks and anti-aircraft weapons to destroy Bamiyan. Now the Chinese are going to use dynamite and heavy machinery to destroy the remains of an Indic religion.

There is not much in the news about this Bamiyan type destruction. There are no screaming voices in the Guardian from international award winners who usually get upset when they hear the word mining.

If you want to know more about Mes Aynak and what the world is losing, please take a look at the ebook created by The Association for the Protection of Afghan Archaeology. (blog)


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Revolutionary Ideas from Göbekli Tepe

(via Wikipedia)

National Geographic has an article (HT Vipul) on Göbekli Tepe in Southern Turkey where people constructed a huge temple complex much before the invention of agriculture. This site is now prompting historians to rethink the theories on the origins of complex societies. How were foragers, who usually follow the resources like the Nanook, able to stay at one place and move 16 ton stones without wheels or animals? Why did they even bother constructing such a massive structure? Did pilgrimage pre-date the Neolithic revolution?

Discovering that hunter-gatherers had constructed Göbekli Tepe was like finding that someone had built a 747 in a basement with an X-Acto knife. “I, my colleagues, we all thought, What? How?” Schmidt said. Paradoxically, Göbekli Tepe appeared to be both a harbinger of the civilized world that was to come and the last, greatest emblem of a nomadic past that was already disappearing. The accomplishment was astonishing, but it was hard to understand how it had been done or what it meant. “In 10 or 15 years,” Schmidt predicts, “Göbekli Tepe will be more famous than Stonehenge. And for good reason.”[Göbekli Tepe]

There is a new explanation for the origin of agriculture

If these archaeologists were correct, these protovillages provided a new explanation of how complex society began. Childe thought that agriculture came first, that it was the innovation that allowed humans to seize the opportunity of a rich new environment to extend their dominion over the natural world. The Natufian sites in the Levant suggested instead that settlement came first and that farming arose later, as a product of crisis. Confronted with a drying, cooling environment and growing populations, humans in the remaining fecund areas thought, as Bar-Yosef puts it, “If we move, these other folks will exploit our resources. The best way for us to survive is to settle down and exploit our own area.” Agriculture followed.[Göbekli Tepe]

and it is connected to religion

Schmidt speculates that foragers living within a hundred-mile radius of Göbekli Tepe created the temple as a holy place to gather and meet, perhaps bringing gifts and tributes to its priests and crafts­people. Some kind of social organization would have been necessary not only to build it but also to deal with the crowds it attracted. One imagines chanting and drumming, the animals on the great pillars seeming to move in flickering torchlight. Surely there were feasts; Schmidt has uncovered stone basins that could have been used for beer. The temple was a spiritual locus, but it may also have been the Neolithic version of Disneyland.

Over time, Schmidt believes, the need to acquire sufficient food for those who worked and gathered for ceremonies at Göbekli Tepe may have led to the intensive cultivation of wild cereals and the creation of some of the first domestic strains. Indeed, scientists now believe that one center of agriculture arose in southern Turkey—well within trekking distance of Göbekli Tepe—at exactly the time the temple was at its height. Today the closest known wild ancestors of modern einkorn wheat are found on the slopes of Karaca Dağ, a mountain just 60 miles northeast of Göbekli Tepe. In other words, the turn to agriculture celebrated by V. Gordon Childe may have been the result of a need that runs deep in the human psyche, a hunger that still moves people today to travel the globe in search of awe-inspiring sights.[Göbekli Tepe]

See Also: Photos from Göbekli Tepe | Video of a clay model

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The Pharaoh's Ship

On Dec 29, 2009, archaeologists found the eighth in a series of lost chambers at Wadi Gawasis in Egypt. Previously seven chambers had revealed pieces of an Egyptian sea faring vessel.

Inside they found a network of larger rooms filled with dozens of nautical artifacts: limestone anchors, 80 coils of knotted rope, pottery fragments, ship timbers, and two curved cedar planks that likely are steering oars from a 70-foot-long ship. According to hieroglyphic inscriptions, the ship was dispatched to the southern Red Sea port of Punt by Queen Hatshepsut during the 15th century B.C. [Archaeologist Kathryn Bards Amazing Egyptian Digs]

This is not the oldest ship remains in Egypt; that credit goes to Khufu’s ship (2500 B.C.E), but then Khufu’s ship probably never sailed.

The ship that was found at Wadi Gawasis was sent to Punt by the female Pharoah Hatshepsut (1508 B.C.E – 1458 B.C.E). But even now no one knows where Punt it. We know that it was south of Egypt, was accessible through the Red Sea and from there Egyptians obtained an alloy of gold and silver, wood, slaves and animals like giraffe and rhino. 

The most important export of Punt was a tree resin  used to make incense. Then incense, during those times, could be obtained from Arabia, Sindh, Baluchistan, Gujarat, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan. In fact among all these places, the Arabian one was considered the best. But looking at various other factors, Punt is believed to be in the Saudi/Yemen border or Eastern Sudan/Eritrea area.

The importance of incense during that period can be seen in the story of Queen Sheba who visited King Solomon. She came either from Ethopia or Yemen and bought bales of incense as gift. This is the same queen who had a Duryodhana effect and converted and whose son stole the Ark of the Covenant

Egyptians were known for their land trade, but when the King of Kush became powerful and hostile, Queen Hatshepsut had no option other than navigating the choppy waters of the Red Sea. The design of her ship can be seen in the frescoes of her tomb and based on that archaeologists and ship builders made an exact replica which was the subject of the new PBS documentary Building the Pharoah’s ship. This ship,  made of wood, tied with rope and sealed with beeswax, performed well. It was able to survive a small storm as well.

But then sailing across the open ocean was quite common by that period. A millennia before Hatshepsut, Sargon of Akkad boasted about the ships of Magan, Dilmun and Meluhha lying in his harbor. To prove that ancient ships could do such long distance travel Thor Heyerdahl made a 60 foot reed ship called the Tigris and sailed from the Tigris delta to the Indus delta and returned back to Djibouti. It was in such ships that Queen Puabi got her carnelian beads, Gudea got his wood and the Meluhhans arived to settle in Guabba.

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UCLA 9A: The Dark Skinned Dasas

In the lecture on Vedas, as part of the  Introduction to Asian Civilizations: History of India course at UCLA, the instructor makes few points about the Vedic period which again shows that mostly outdated information or incomplete information is still being taught (Lecture of 10/2/2009). 

When he talks about the Vedic gods — Agni, Varuna, Indra, Ushas — he notes that they are connected to the elements. This, he explains, is not surprising since the Aryans were pastoralists concerned about the whims of nature. Though it looks convincing, the shallowness of this observation can be understood only by reading better books on that period.

The Aryans did not just have a childlike wonder towards the natural forces; they also had a philosophy behind it. The Rg Vedic gods did not just keep order in the physical universe. They also kept moral order[1]. In the Mantras, there are expressions like ‘guardians of rta’ and ‘practicers of rta’. For example Varuna is not just the god of sky and heavenly light, but also the one who fixed the laws of the physical universe which cannot be violated. It is said that no sin escapes his attention[2].

The instructor mentions another point in his confusing Aryan invasion narrative: He says that the Rg Veda notes that

  1. the incoming people attacked forts and citadels
  2. subdued snub-nosed and dark skinned people known as the Dasas.

An analysis of this statement shows there is a Grand Canyon wide gap between what we know now and what the instructor is teaching.

The theory of the forts and citadels comes from the British archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler. When he saw thirty seven skeletons in Mohejo-daro, Indra stood accused for he was purandara or the ‘fort destroyer’. Later Western archaeologists themselves noted that there was not a single bit of evidence to suggest an armed invasion of Harappa; none of the skeletons were in the area of the citadels. Also to add more nails to this coffin, it was found that the skeletons were from a period after the abandonment of the city and only one skeleton had a lesion caused by a weapon[3].

This nasal debate was started by Max Müller in 1854 based on a solitary reference to the word anasah.He thought this word meant noseless or snub nosed. In 1891, in the eyes of British ethnographer Herbert Hope Risley, this solitary reference became frequent references. By 1967 some Western scholars thought that the word probably meant faceless instead of noseless. Nevertheless they decided to go with Max Müller[3].

A proper response was given by Sri Aurobindo. He noted that the word anasah does not mean noseless. Even if it did mean noseless, he said it could not be a reference to the Dravidian nose which was as good as any Aryan nose. Another possibility is that the noseless description could refer to the tribal people. In fact there is an equivalent word in the language of the Bhil tribe. But the word in Bhil tribe means unethical not noseless[3].

Indian scholars meanwhile read anasah as an-asa meaning devoid of fair speech.This makes sense because the words Arya, Dasa and Dasyu appear mostly with reference to hymns about Indra. The Aryans worshipped Indra while the Dasas or Dasyus were without rites, of different rites, non-sacrificers, without prayers, without Brahmin priests, and without Indra. This word appears in a passage where Dasyus are also described as having defective organs of speech; maybe they were referring to the Dasyus as uncivilized or uncultured[3]

Thus you see two groups of people who disagreed on rituals, but there is nothing to suggest a racial divide. Since the UCLA instructor is a proponent of the Aryan Invasion Theory, there is one version of which suggests that the Dasas were Indo-Europeans who arrived earlier than the Vedic people.

What about the dark skin? This comes from two words — krishna and asikini — which mean black. These words are used to refer to black clouds, black demons, the power of darkness and a demon named Krishna.

According to one Western scholar the krishna is a symbolic expression for darkness. According to Prof. Michael Witzel, for Vedic poets black meant evil and not skin color. In 1999 Hock reexamined all these passages and concluded that this skin color was just a mechanism to justify European imperialism; Ambedkar had made that conclusion much earlier.

For more than a century Indian scholars have challenged this racial interpretation. For more than half a century Western scholars have agreed with this. Still in 2009, Max Müller’s 19th century racial interpretation is being taught. 


  1. Upinder Singh, A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century, 1st ed. (Prentice Hall, 2009).
  2. M. Hiriyanna, Outlines of Indian Philosophy (Motilal Banarsidass Pub, 2000).
  3. Edwin Bryant, The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate(Oxford University Press, USA, 2004). 
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