Remains of 5,500-year-old human settlement found in Peru

peruA team of Peruvian and German archaeologists has discovered the remains of a human settlement 5,500 years old near the southern town of Nazca, south of Lima, the capital daily El Comercio reported Sunday.

The archaeologists, who are members of the Nazca-Palpa project, said that the discovery was made in a sector known as Pernil Alto, some 15 kilometers (9 miles) from Palpa.

The project is headed by Peruvian archaeologists Johny Isla Cuadrado and Elsa Tomasto, and by Germany’s Markus Reindel.

“The find consists of a group of homes in which 19 graves were found, including the remains of a child younger than 1 year old with possible evidence of having been mummified,” said the daily.

The paper went on to say that the find is the first discovery in southern Peru of an inhabited site corresponding to the late portion of the archaic period some 3,500 years before Christ.

One of the project researchers said that the excavations made at the site since last October enabled the team to find the remains of eight small oval-shaped and circular homes made by digging deep pits in the ground.

Also found were up to 19 graves of children and adults interred individually inside the homes, which would seem to indicate that they were buried there after the homes were abandoned.

In some of the graves, archaeologists found carved bones and snail-shells, deer horns, necklaces and bracelets made from shells, but there was no concrete evidence of offerings to the dead or to deities.

The researchers are seeking to expand their knowledge about the culture of southern Peru in the early epochs from about 5,500 years ago up to the Inca civilization in the 16th century.

The project is being funded by the German Education and Science Ministry, the Archaeological Commission for Extra-European Cultures and the German Archaeological Institute.

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EUROPEANA crashed

monalisaA new digital library launched by the European Union has crashed within hours of opening – forcing its closure.

The Europeana website was attracting more than 10 million hits an hour – more than double the number which had been anticipated.

The site includes paintings, photos, films, books, maps and manuscripts from 1,000 museums, national libraries and archives across Europe.

It is expected to reopen in December after technological improvements.

Users clicking on Europeana.eu currently find a message saying the site is “temporarily not accessible due to overwhelming interest after its launch”.

It adds: “We’re doing our utmost to reopen Europeana in a more robust version as soon as possible. We’ll be back by mid-December.”

“Thousands of users were searching for the words ‘Mona Lisa’ at the same time”, explained a spokesman for the European Commission.

“It confirms it’s worth doing, European culture is more popular than we had anticipated in our wildest dreams,” he said.

After a massive surge just before Europeana’s launch, the system’s creators doubled the number of servers from three to six and got it working again for a short time.

However they will now perform more tests to ensure the digital library can stay open at peak times.

On Thursday, most hits came from Germany, followed by France and Spain.

However, 4% of online requests about Europe’s cultural heritage came from the United States.

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New Bamiyan Buddha found!

valley“We got him!” screamed Afghan archaeologist Anwar Khan Fayez as he leapt from the pit beneath the towering sandstone cliffs, where the Bamiyan Buddhas once stood.

Seven years after Taliban militants blew up the two 1,500-year-old statues in a fit of Islamist zealotry, a French-Afghan team in September uncovered a new, 19-metre (62-foot) “Sleeping Buddha” buried in the earth.

The news that a third Buddha escaped the Taliban’s wrath has caused excitement in this scenic valley, where the caverns that housed the ruined statues are an eerie reminder of Afghanistan’s past and present woes.

“It was a happy moment for all of us when the first signs appeared. Our years-long efforts had somehow paid off,” Fayez told AFP.

The team, led by France-based archaeologist Zemaryalai Tarzi, made the find while hunting for a lost 300-metre reclining Buddha mentioned in an account by seventh-century Chinese monk Xuan Zang.

The Afghan-born Tarzi began mapping the site nearly 30 years ago but decades of conflict and the rise of the 1996-2001 Taliban regime put the search on hold.

Then in March 2001 came the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, until then the world’s largest standing Buddha statues.

Hewn into the cliffs in the sixth century by Buddhist pilgrims on the famed Silk Route, the statues had survived attacks by several Muslim emperors down the ages, while even Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan had spared them.

But with the backing of Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda movement, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar declared that they were idols that were against Islamic law.

Defying international appeals, the Taliban spent a month using first anti-aircraft guns and then dynamite to obliterate them.

Saddened but with renewed determination, Tarzi and his team returned soon after US-led forces and the Northern Alliance ousted the Taliban in late 2001 to renew their search for the giant missing Buddha.

What they found instead, in September this year, were parts of a previously unknown, smaller Buddha figure, including a thumb, forefinger, palm, parts of its arm, body and the bed on which it lay.

“This is the most significant find since we started here,” Abdul Hameed Jalia, the director of monuments and historical sites for Bamiyan province, told AFP at the excavation site of the new 19-metre Buddha.

“At first they found part of the leg but they weren’t sure what it was,” said Jalia. “But when they found more, Mr Fayez screamed out of happiness and ran to our office to find Mr Tarzi.”

Fayez said the head and other parts were largely destroyed, possibly by Arab invaders in the ninth century.

“We have not found the whole statue. But we can tell from other parts that it appears to be 19-metres long,” Fayez said.

The site has now been covered with earth to protect the Buddha from both the ravages of the harsh Afghan winter and from the attention of antiquities thieves.

Tarzi told AFP in an e-mail that he and a number of French colleagues aimed to return next summer to dig out the rest of the statue.

Meanwhile, there are fresh clues about the 300-metre Buddha, officials say.

What appear to be the remnants of a gate complex that may have led to the statue have been discovered under an apparently collapsed section of cliff between the two holes left by the Taliban.

“Mr Tarzi’s team has found signs that indicate that the big lying Buddha is there and has 70 percent hopes that they will find it,” said Najibullah Harar, head of Bamiyan’s information and culture department.

afghanistanAmid hopes that they could one day be rebuilt, Afghan, Japanese and German teams are also stabilising the sites of the destroyed statues — the bigger 55-metre figure known as Salsal and the 38-metre statue known as Shahmama.

Boulder-sized chunks of the Buddhas still lie where they fell, each individually labelled. Ghostly outlines of the two figures are still etched in the rockface and twisted metal shell casings litter the ground.

Archaeologists’ efforts have been helped by the fact that Bamiyan — inhabited by Shia Muslims from the Hazara ethnic minority that was once persecuted by the Taliban — has been a relative oasis of calm.

But ongoing debate over whether to reconstruct the Buddhas reflects the uncertainties that haunt post-Taliban Afghanistan.

“It is the desire and the wish of the Bamiyan people to see, if not both, then at least one rebuilt,” Habiba Sorabi, the governor of Bamiyan province, told AFP in an interview at her office overlooking the statues.

Rebuilding the Buddhas could help foster a tourist industry in the desperately poor region, which lies 200 kilometres (124 miles) northwest of the relatively prosperous capital Kabul, she said.

UNESCO declared Bamiyan a World Heritage Site in 2003 and there have been discussions with international partners about using the process of anastylosis, by which ruined monuments are reassembled from old fragments and new materials.

“But unfortunately the central government does not want to work on it,” added Sorabi, who is the only female provincial governor in Afghanistan. “It is a shame.”

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INDIA – Temple’s treasures wiped out!

kanchipuramA 1,200-year-old Siva temple of the Pallava period at Tiruppulivanam village in Kanchipuram district, Tamil Nadu, has been wiped clean of its beautiful Chola-period paintings. The frescoes, about 975 years old, have been sand-blasted out of existence.

Ironically, at a seminar organised on the temple premises on August 27, 2007, archaeologists, epigraphists and artists had decided on measures to preserve the paintings and inscriptions in the temple.

Two 16-pillared mantapas are among the temple’s treasures that have been destroyed. One of the mantapas, which was commonly called ‘madapalli’ or kitchen, had Tamil inscriptions dating back to Kulotunga Chola III (1215 A.D.), the Telugu Chola Vijayakanda Gopaladeva, Rajanarayana Sambuvaraya and others. The other mantapa, called Alankara Mantapa, belonged to the 16th century Vijayanagara period.

This destruction has taken place during “renovation” that the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR and CE) Department officials are undertaking. As part of this exercise, they plan to pull down a 100-pillared mantapa just outside the temple and “rebuild it.”

The Vyagrapurisvara temple at Tiruppulivanam, near Uttraramerur, 95 km from Chennai, was one of the three temples in Tamil Nadu where Chola paintings existed. The others where they still exist are the Brihadeesvara temple in Thanjavur and the Vijayalaya Cholisvara temple near Pudukottai.

Earthmover at work

When this correspondent and a photographer visited the temple on November 2, an earthmover was piling up the dismembered granite slabs of the Alankara Mantapa.

In the main temple itself, sandblasting had been done on the southern, northern and western walls of the prakara, on the sculptures on pillars and on the ancient Tamil inscriptions – in violation of a State government directive against sandblasting for renovating temples. The inscriptions on the outer wall of the sanctum sanctorum and the sculptures stand disfigured.

vyagrapurisvara-templeThe temple existed during the reign of the Pallava king Nandivarman II in the 8th century A.D. The Rashtrakuta king Krishna III, the Chola kings Parantaka I, Rajendra I and Kulotunga I, the Sambuvaraya chieftain Rajanarayana and the Vijayanagara rulers added structures to it.

What stood out were the Chola frescoes, painted perhaps during the rule of Rajendra I, on the northern prakara wall. Dr. A. Padmavathy, retired Senior Epigraphist, Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department, said the paintings were of Siva as Tripurantaka (riding a chariot and armed with a bow and arrows to kill the demons of the three worlds) and Nataraja, and of Dakshinamurti, Narasimha, and Vishnu in “ananthasayana” posture. There were murals of Raja Raja Chola’s teacher Karuvur Thevar and of princes, princesses, dancing girls, ponds with lily and lotus flowers and wild animals. These frescoes do not exist today. The mantapas, one with ancient inscriptions, are gone.

When contacted, the temple’s executive officer, S. Senthil Kumar, of the HR & CE Department, said that “no paintings ever existed in the temple” and “no structure called Alankara Mantapa ever existed.”

He added that the ‘madapalli’ mantapa was demolished long before he took charge of the temple eight months ago. He said that “no sandblasting was ever done” and that only “water-wash and air-wash” were done.

However, informed sources asserted that the frescoes were sandblasted four months ago, the ‘madapalli’ mantapa demolished about six months ago and the Alankara Mantapa brought down a year ago.

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