Remember Babylon?

From CNN:

Babylon was one of the glories of the ancient world, its walls and mythic hanging gardens listed among the Seven Wonders.

Founded about 4,000 years ago, the ancient city was the capital of 10 dynasties in Mesopotamia, considered one of the earliest cradles of civilization and the birthplace of writing and literature.

But following years of plunder, neglect and conflict, the Babylon of today scarcely conjures that illustrious history.

In recent years, the Iraqi authorities have reopened Babylon to tourists, hoping that one day the site will draw visitors from all over the globe. But despite the site’s remarkable archaeological value and impressive views, it is drawing only a smattering of tourists, drawn by a curious mix of ancient and more recent history.

The city — just 85km (52 miles) south of Baghdad, about a two hour drive, dependent on checkpoints — still bears the marks of ham-fisted attempts at restoration by former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and a subsequent occupation by U.S. forces in 2003.

“They occupied Babylon. They wouldn’t let anyone in,” says Hussein Saheb, a guard at the historical sites at Babylon, recalling the day U.S. tanks rolled into view, before forces set up camp.

Following excavations in the early 20th century, European archaeologists claimed key features such as the remains of the famous Ishtar Gate — the glazed brick gate decorated with images of dragons and aurochs, built in about 575 BC by order of King Nebuchadnezzar II as the eighth gate to the inner city.

The original now stands as part of a reconstruction of the gate in Berlin’s Pergamon Museum, whereas in Babylon itself, visitors enter through a replica. Yet remnants of Babylon’s former glory remain, with sections of the city’s walls still intact.

Later excavations and conservation work carried out under Saddam’s rule greatly despoiled the site, say archaeologists.

Iraqi archaeologist Hai Katth Moussa said that during a massive reconstruction project in the early 1980s, Saddam began building a replica of the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II on top of the ruins of the ancient palace.

Like Nebuchadnezzar, he wrote his name on many of the bricks, with inscriptions such as: “This was built by Saddam, son of Nebuchadnezzar, to glorify Iraq.”

After the Gulf War, Saddam began building a modern palace for himself on top of ruins in the style of a Sumerian ziggurat.

When U.S. forces arrived in 2003, they occupied the palace, which lies adjacent to Nebuchadnezzar’s palace and overlooks the Euphrates River, and left their own mark. Today, a basketball hoop remains in Babylon, while concertina wire left behind by the military is used to prevent visitors from climbing over a 2,500-year-old lion statue — an ancient symbol of the city.

Even in the new Iraq, Babylon faces ongoing threats. Only 2% of the ancient city has been excavated, but those buried historical treasures are threatened by encroaching development.

Tour guide Hussein Al-Ammari says an oil pipeline runs through the eastern part of the ancient city. “It goes through the outer wall of Babylon,” he says.

Yet despite the shortcomings in its preservation, Babylon holds a draw for small numbers of Iraqi visitors — even if only to enter Saddam’s marble-lined palaces, still a novelty 10 years after the dictator’s downfall.

Zained Mohammed, visiting with her family for the first time from Karbala, told CNN: “We were just looking for a change of atmosphere, to have the kids see something different.”

Babylon is certainly that.

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Claustra Alpium Iuliarum

Mario ZACCARIA

Claustra Alpium Iuliarum: a Research Plan

Abstract

After the golden age of the Roman Empire, from Augustus to Marcus Aurelius, known as the Pax Augusta, a time of insecurity starts, in which the Empire must be defended on all fronts. There are frequent barbarian raids on the territory of Illyricum and Italy, and defensive measures are being taken. One of these is Claustra Alpium Iuliarum, a system of defensive walls (barriers), forts and towers in the current Republic of Slovenia and the Republic of Croatia, designed as early as the time of the emperor Gallienus. It lasted until the emperor Theodosius 400 A.D. Claustra ought to be systematically researched with new technologies available (LiDAR, GIS and georadar), archaeological excavation should be performed, and Claustra should be presented to scientific and general audience and included in the List of UNESCO World Heritage.

Article available for free download here.

Published in HAEMUS Journal Vol.1. (2012)

Most important invasion routes from the east towards Italy via present day Slovenia

26 new sites inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List

From UNESCO:

A total of five natural World Heritage Sites were inscribed during the present session of the World Heritage Committee: Lakes of Ounianga (Chad); Sangha Trinational (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo,); Chengjiang Fossil Site (China); Western Ghats (India); Lena Pillars Nature Park (Russian Federation).

Rock Islands Southern Lagoon (Palau) was inscribed as a mixed natural and cultural site.

A total of 20 cultural sites were inscribed during the session:

  • Pearling, Testimony of an Island Economy (Bahrain); Major Mining Sites of Wallonia (Belgium);
  • Rio de Janeiro, Carioca Landscapes between the Mountain and the Sea (Brazil);
  • The Landscape of Grand-Pré (Canada);
  • Site of Xanadu (China);
  • Historic Town Grand-Bassam (Côte d’Ivoire);
  • Nord-Pas de Calais Mining Basin (France);
  • Margravial Opera House Bayreuth (Germany);
  • Cultural Landscape of Bali Province: the Subak System as a Manifestation of the Tri Hita Karana Philosophy (Indonesia);
  • Masjed-e Jāmé of Isfahan (Islamic Republic of Iran),
  • Gonbad-e Qābus (Islamic Republic of Iran);
  • Sites of Human Evolution at Mount Carmel : The Nahal Me’arot/Wadi el-Mughara Caves (Israel);
  • Archaelogical Heritage of the Lenggong Valley (Malaysia);
  • Rabat, Modern Capital and Historic City: a Shared Heritage (Morocco);
  • Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem (Palestine);
  • Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its Fortifications (Portugal);
  • Bassari Country: Bassari, Fula and Bedik Cultural Landscapes (Senegal);
  • Heritage of Mercury Almadén and Idrija (Slovenia/Spain);
  • Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland (Sweden);
  • Neolithic Site of Çatalhöyük (Turkey).

More detailed descriptions of each of the newly inscribed properties can be found here (with photos).

Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem (Palestine) was inscribed on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger, as it was added to the List of World Heritage. Two of Mali’s World Heritage sites, Timbuktu and the Tomb of Askia, were also added to the List of World Heritage in Danger, as were Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City (UK) and the Fortifications on the Caribbean Side of Panama: Portobelo-San Lorenzo (Panama).

Two conservation success stories were recognized by the World Heritage Committee allowing for them to be removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger: Fort and Shalamar Gardens in Lahore (Pakistan) and the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras (Philippines).

36 sites considered for inscription on UNESCO’s World Heritage List

 

From whc:

The World Heritage Committee will consider the inscription of 36 sites on the World Heritage List during its next meeting from 24 June to 6 July, in Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation

The forthcoming 36 th session of the Committee , an independent body of 21 States Parties to the 1972 World Heritage Convention , will be chaired by. Eleonora Mitrofanova, Ambassador Permanent Delegate of the Russian Federation to UNESCO. For the first time in its 40-year history, members of the public and the media will be able to follow the debates of the Committee through live streaming on the internet.

Five natural sites are to be considered for inscription: Chad, Lakes of Ounianga; China, Chengjian Fossil Site; Congo, Cameroon and Central African Republic, Sangha Trinational; India, Western Ghats; Russian Federation, Lena Pillars Nature Park.

Three “mixed sites” are to be considered for inscription for their natural and cultural values: Israel, Sites of Human Evolution at Mount Carmel: The Nahal Me’arot / Wadi el-Mughara caves; Palau, Rock islands Southern Lagoon; Spain Plasencia-Monfrague-Trujillo: Mediterranean Landscape.

Twenty-eight cultural sites are to be considered: Bahrain, Pearling, testimony of an island economy; Belgium, Major Mining Sites of Wallonia; Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, Carioca Landscapes between the Mountain and the Sea; Canada, Landscape of Grand Pré; China, Site of Xanadu; Côte d’Ivoire, Historic Town of Grand-Bassam; Croatia, Sacral Complex on the remains of the Roman Forum in Zadar; France, Nord-Pas de Calais Mining Basin; France, the Chauvet – Pont d’Arc decorated cave; Germany, Margravial Opera House Bayreuth; Germany, Schwetzingen: A Prince Elector’s Summer Residence; India, Hill Forts of Rajasthan; Indonesia, Cultural Landscape of Bali Province: The Subak System as a Manifestation of the Tri Hita Karana Philosophy; Islamic Republic of Iran, Masjed-e Jāmé of Isfahan; Iran, Gonbad-e Qābus; Italy, Vineyard Landscape of Piedmont: Langhe-Roero and Monferrato; Malaysia, Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong Valley; Morocco, Rabat, modern capital and historic city: a shared heritage; Palestine, Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem; Portugal, Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its Fortifications; Qatar, Al Zubarah Archaeological Site; Russian Federation, Russian Kremlins; Senegal, Bassari Country: Bassari, Fula and Bedik Cultural Landscapes; Slovenia and Spain; Heritage of Mercury. Almadén and Idrija; Sweden, Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland; The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Archaeo-Astronomical Site – Kokino; Turkey, Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük; Ukraine, Kyiv: Saint-Sophia Cathedral with related Monastic Buildings, St. Cyril’s and St. Andrew’s Churches (extension).

Both The Chauvet – Pont d’Arc decorated cave (France) and the Church of the Nativity and pilgrimage route, Bethlehem (Palestine) will be processed on an emergency basis and the documents that concern them are not yet available.

Chad, Congo, Palau, Palestine and Qatar stand to enter the World Heritage List with their first inscriptions.

Palestine, which became a member of UNESCO in October 2011 and subsequently ratified the World Heritage Convention, will be presenting its first site for inscription on the World Heritage List.

The World Heritage List, created under the terms of the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage numbers 936 properties forming part of the world’s cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers to be of outstanding universal value. Sites inscribed include 725 cultural, 183 natural and 28 mixed properties in 153 States Parties . One-hundred-eighty-nine States Parties have ratified the World Heritage Convention to date.

 

Archaeologists blast hasty World Heritage listings

From NewsWatch:

One of the most significant global committees that you never heard of summoned a couple of hundred experts to the island of Menorca, Spain last week. The meeting involved politics, the remnants of great civilizations, human catastrophes, architectural triumphs, religious works of art and architecture, use of tourism, the rise and fall of empires, and did we say politics?

The International Committee on Archaeological Heritage Management, or ICAHM, held its first conference on how to manage the world’s myriad archaeological World Heritage sites. This wildly varied array of places encompasses many of the most celebrated sites of human cultural accomplishment and catastrophe—everything from the pyramids and Roman fortifications to Mongol-era tombs and prehistoric rock art. ICAHM’s key job is to advise the World Heritage Committee about new sites proposed for the famous list. I attended as a guest of the Congress, which paid for my travel.

Right at the outset, ICAHM co-president Dr. Willem J.H. Willems of Leiden, Netherlands, put the core issue on the table. “Archaeology is the study of the past,” he said in his April 9 keynote, but “the past doesn’t exist anymore. Heritage is about the use of the past in the present.” And that’s where it gets interesting. And risky.

Too many countries are rushing to use the past—their heritage sites—for present purposes. Willems sharply criticized the way that sites are proposed and awarded World Heritage inscription. According to the World Heritage Convention, an international treaty, sites should be awarded a place on the list based on solid scientific and academic reasoning. Not happening, said Willems. The World Heritage Committee has been approving too many applications based on economic and “radically political” expediency.

For most countries, World Heritage status is a hotly desired prize. A background note may be necessary for some of the American audience here, where a myth prevails that a World Heritage listing means giving up sovereignty to UNESCO. In fact, World Heritage inscription simply means your country gets the sites that it requests “inscribed” on the World Heritage list. The conditions are that the sites are of “outstanding universal value” and that you take good care of them. If you don’t, the worst UNESCO can do is propose removal from the list.

Most countries, especially impoverished developing nations, are eager to put their greatest natural and cultural places on the list. Why? Prestige in part, national pride in part, yes, but also that modern vein of gold: tourism! An inscription puts you on the travel map.

Tourism Unleashed

When it comes to historic and archaeological sites, though, a blind grab for tourism is playing with fire. Without care, “loved-to-death” syndrome is a real threat. Listen to what ICAHM’s other co-president, Dr. Douglas Comer of Baltimore, Maryland, had to say about one ancient site he knows well: Petra, Jordan.  Once such a site is damaged, he stressed, the physical archaeological record is gone forever.

“Petra had about 45,000 visitors in 1985,” Comer told the meeting. “It’s now close to 800,000.” Tourism-related construction at Petra destroyed Nabataean terra cotta pipes more than 2,000 years old. The sandstone seats in the Theatre have survived two millennia, but in the past two decades so many tourists have sat on them that they have worn away the stonemasons’ marks. History wiped by butts. Overall, abrasion from visitor traffic has removed well over a foot of sandstone from the interior of Petra’s most famous monument, Al-Khazna, seen as the repository of the Holy Grail in an Indiana Jones movie. Development at nearby Wadi Musa created impermeable pavement, which in turn floods sandstone with too much water and erodes it. Donkeys carrying tourists gradually destroyed the ancient Nabataean steps.  The practice has been stopped—too late for the steps. In a common pattern, USAID and others have put over $30 million toward supporting tourism to Jordan, but comparatively little has gone to preservation.

And those are the problems at just one site!

The archaeologists were not calling for an end to tourism—not at all. They want us to share the thrill and knowledge of these places. But like any predictable flood, the torrent of tourists needs careful control and planning. Comer called for a requirement that site applications include a credible “best management practices” plan—tourism impacts included—and that inscriptions be made provisional, becoming permanent after convincingly long-term demonstration of those best practices.

That takes us back to Willems’s complaint with the World Heritage Committee’s performance over the past few years: “In 44 percent of the cases, the Committee proceeded to inscribe sites on the World Heritage List that in the judgment of the advisory bodies had not met the requirements for inscription.” He called it “extreme disregard of expert advice.” In his view, these newly listed sites are ignoring the speed limit and heading for Dead Man’s Curve.

Willems doesn’t say these sites are unworthy of inscription, just that they’re not properly assessed, protected, and ready for the attention inscription could bring.   Some of the problem derives from the legitimate need to rectify a Eurocentric tilt in the initial inscriptions. But that can mean a rush to list places that are not ready. Especially egregious was the case of the Preah Vihear Temple on the disputed Cambodian-Thai border. In 2008 the Committee granted Cambodia’s application over Thai and expert objections, sparking a border conflict. “Now these people are shooting each other!” says Willems.

I asked him for some other examples of not-ready-for-prime-time World Heritage inscriptions. He cited Burkina Faso’s Loropéni, a 1,000-year-old gold-trade site, rushed to approval to help a desperately poor West African country get some tourism revenue, but without satisfactory study. The Kushite ruins in Sudan’s Island of Meroe met “minimum requirements for nothing” except Sudan’s need for prestige. Wadi Rum in Jordan received an inscription despite too many tourists without adequate planning or control.

Not all talks criticized the process. Much of the conference consisted of the specialists reporting to each other. It’s arcane but often fascinating stuff: Laser scanning industrial heritage sites in Wales; community action at El Tajin in Veracruz, Mexico; protecting the hominid footprints at Laetoli, Tanzania; World Heritage candidacy for ancient stone spheres in Costa Rica; the fate of heritage sites in post-conflict Libya; how to protect Peru’s Caral ruins—old as the Egyptian pyramids.

Archaeological Menorca

The government of Menorca chose to host this conference in part so as to show off their own cultural heritage, beginning with the conference venue, the impressively restored Theatre Principal in old town Mahon, Menorca’s capital. The oldest opera house in Spain, this red plush, 1829 creation has 5 stories of box-seats—more suited to a production of La Dolores than a quasi-academic conference.

But what really surprised me about the island was the proliferation of megalithic ruins, many of them from the 3,000-year-old Talayotic Culture, unique to Menorca. Their iconic talayots, fat cylindrical stone watchtowers, sit atop numerous knolls and hills all over the island. Even more dramatic are the T-shaped taula stones, looking like detached bits of Stonehenge. Add dolmens, communal tombs, barrows, Roman constructions, and entire neolithic villages, and you’re in antiquity heaven. “There’s hardly a farm on Menorca without a monument,” someone had observed.

Early one morning local archaeologist Margarita Orfila Pons took four of us to a two-level talayot off the tourist trail. As the group climbed it, someone dislodged a stone, which rolled a few feet down the side of the structure and came to rest. No big deal. But it was easy to see what would happen to the tower if 100,000 people a year were climbing it, decade after decade.

Later we joined the other attendees touring the island’s archaeological gems, including an elaborate lunch in the attractive town of Ciutadella. Touring the ruins with two busloads of archaeologists and students can be taxing, though. After hearing hours of on-site technical descriptions of sandstone this and limestone that, even the pros’ attentions were flagging.

Academia, Management, and Money

At the top of this post I called ICAHM significant. That doesn’t necessarily mean effective. Some presentations do have practical value, providing tools and ideas for taking better care of these sites, for involving local people, for engaging tourists. Others lean more toward the academic and theoretical, with titles like “Architecture and Urban Structure in Hierapolis: An Archaeological Perspective,” “Formal Educational Curricula and Cultural Heritage,” and “Insularity [and] Interaction with Foreign and Social Complexity.” Focusing on one of these after a two-hour Spanish lunch would have called for a constant IV flow of espresso. Maybe that’s why I didn’t see enough actionable propositions or recommendations. Rather little emphasis on the “M” in ICAHM.

I believe the pressures afflicting our great cultural sites demand a greater sense of urgency. The 2006 NatGeo survey of World Heritage destination stewardship revealed drastically differing levels of success in supporting cultural sites and the visitor experiences, ranging from the well-managed Alhambra and Granada in Spain to the grossly overtrafficked, underexplained Angkor and its Siem Reap gateway town. The extent to which ICAHM is effective will depend on participants’ ability to focus on action and not just academic theory. One late-session speaker, after he was done lambasting the inscription and management of World Heritage sites in Ethiopia, pointed out that the conference’s earlier “Social Action” set of 15-minute presentations did not live up to their billing. “Social action was mentioned in the last 30 seconds.”

But there’s another, major problem with ICAHM. The scientists are expected to do all this work for free.

This was the third of Comer’s calls to action: Get support. In recent decades we have seen millions of dollars spent to attract tourists, and pennies to protect what they travel to see.

Judging from what I’ve seen this week, ICAHM knows it has a long way to go, as does the World Heritage program, as do we all. Otherwise the tangible story of our species crumbles, one dislodged stone at a time, and with it, the knowledge of who we are.

500 new fairytales discovered in Germany

From Guardian:

A whole new world of magic animals, brave young princes and evil witches has come to light with the discovery of 500 new fairytales, which were locked away in an archive in Regensburg, Germany for over 150 years. The tales are part of a collection of myths, legends and fairytales, gathered by the local historian Franz Xaver von Schönwerth (1810–1886) in the Bavarian region of Oberpfalz at about the same time as the Grimm brothers were collecting the fairytales that have since charmed adults and children around the world.

Last year, the Oberpfalz cultural curator Erika Eichenseer published a selection of fairytales from Von Schönwerth’s collection, calling the book Prinz Roßzwifl. This is local dialect for “scarab beetle”. The scarab, also known as the “dung beetle”, buries its most valuable possession, its eggs, in dung, which it then rolls into a ball using its back legs. Eichenseer sees this as symbolic for fairytales, which she says hold the most valuable treasure known to man: ancient knowledge and wisdom to do with human development, testing our limits and salvation.

Von Schönwerth spent decades asking country folk, labourers and servants about local habits, traditions, customs and history, and putting down on paper what had only been passed on by word of mouth. In 1885, Jacob Grimm said this about him: “Nowhere in the whole of Germany is anyone collecting [folklore] so accurately, thoroughly and with such a sensitive ear.” Grimm went so far as to tell King Maximilian II of Bavaria that the only person who could replace him in his and his brother’s work was Von Schönwerth.

Von Schönwerth compiled his research into a book called Aus der Oberpfalz – Sitten und Sagen, which came out in three volumes in 1857, 1858 and 1859. The book never gained prominence and faded into obscurity.

While sifting through Von Schönwerth’s work, Eichenseer found 500 fairytales, many of which do not appear in other European fairytale collections. For example, there is the tale of a maiden who escapes a witch by transforming herself into a pond. The witch then lies on her stomach and drinks all the water, swallowing the young girl, who uses a knife to cut her way out of the witch. However, the collection also includes local versions of the tales children all over the world have grown up with including Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin, and which appear in many different versions across Europe.

Von Schönwerth was a historian and recorded what he heard faithfully, making no attempt to put a literary gloss on it, which is where he differs from the Grimm brothers. However, says Eichenseer, this factual recording adds to the charm and authenticity of the material. What delights her most about the tales is that they are unpolished. “There is no romanticising or attempt by Schönwerth to interpret or develop his own style,” she says.

Eichenseer says the fairytales are not for children alone. “Their main purpose was to help young adults on their path to adulthood, showing them that dangers and challenges can be overcome through virtue, prudence and courage.”

In 2008, Eichenseer helped to found the Franz Xaver von Schönwerth Society, an interdisciplinary committee devoted to analysing his work and publicising it. She is keen to see the tales available in English, and a Munich-based English translator, Dan Szabo, has already begun work on stories ranging from a miserly farmer and a money-mill to a turnip princess.

“Schönwerth’s legacy counts as the most significant collection in the German-speaking world in the 19th century,” says Daniel Drascek, a member of the society and a professor in the faculty of language, literature and cultural sciences at the University of Regensburg.