Ness of Brodgar – Neolithic Temple Complex

From Guardian:

Drive west from Orkney’s capital, Kirkwall, and then head north on the narrow B9055 and you will reach a single stone monolith that guards the entrance to a spit of land known as the Ness of Brodgar. The promontory separates the island’s two largest bodies of freshwater, the Loch of Stenness and the Loch of Harray. At their furthest edges, the lochs’ peaty brown water laps against fields and hills that form a natural amphitheatre; a landscape peppered with giant rings of stone, chambered cairns, ancient villages and other archaeological riches.

This is the heartland of the Neolithic North, a bleak, mysterious place that has made Orkney a magnet for archaeologists, historians and other researchers. For decades they have tramped the island measuring and ex- cavating its great Stone Age sites. The land was surveyed, mapped and known until a recent chance discovery revealed that for all their attention, scientists had completely overlooked a Neolithic treasure that utterly eclipses all others on Orkney – and in the rest of Europe.

This is the temple complex of the Ness of Brodgar, and its size, complexity and sophistication have left archaeologists desperately struggling to find superlatives to describe the wonders they found there. “We have discovered a Neolithic temple complex that is without parallel in western Europe. Yet for decades we thought it was just a hill made of glacial moraine,” says discoverer Nick Card of the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology. “In fact the place is entirely manmade, although it covers more than six acres of land.”

Once protected by two giant walls, each more than 100m long and 4m high, the complex at Ness contained more than a dozen large temples – one measured almost 25m square – that were linked to outhouses and kitchens by carefully constructed stone pavements. The bones of sacrificed cattle, elegantly made pottery and pieces of painted ceramics lie scattered round the site. The exact purpose of the complex is a mystery, though it is clearly ancient. Some parts were constructed more than 5,000 years ago.

The people of the Neolithic – the new Stone Age – were the first farmers in Britain, and they arrived on Orkney about 6,000 years ago. They cultivated the land, built farmsteads and rapidly established a vibrant culture, erecting giant stone circles, chambered communal tombs – and a giant complex of buildings at the Ness of Brodgar. The religious beliefs that underpinned these vast works is unknown, however, as is the purpose of the Brodgar temples.

“This wasn’t a settlement or a place for the living,” says archaeologist Professor Colin Richards of Manchester University, who excavated the nearby Barnhouse settlement in the 1980s. “This was a ceremonial centre, and a vast one at that. But the religious beliefs of its builders remain a mystery.”

What is clear is that the cultural energy of the few thousand farming folk of Orkney dwarfed those of other civilisations at that time. In size and sophistication, the Ness of Brodgar is comparable with Stonehenge or the wonders of ancient Egypt. Yet the temple complex predates them all. The fact that this great stately edifice was constructed on Orkney, an island that has become a byword for remoteness, makes the site’s discovery all the more remarkable. For many archaeologists, its discovery has revolutionised our understanding of ancient Britain.

“We need to turn the map of Britain upside down when we consider the Neolithic and shrug off our south-centric attitudes,” says Card, now Brodgar’s director of excavations. “London may be the cultural hub of Britain today, but 5,000 years ago, Orkney was the centre for innovation for the British isles. Ideas spread from this place. The first grooved pottery, which is so distinctive of the era, was made here, for example, and the first henges – stone rings with ditches round them – were erected on Orkney. Then the ideas spread to the rest of the Neolithic Britain. This was the font for new thinking at the time.”

It is a view shared by local historian Tom Muir, of the Orkney Museum. “The whole text book of British archaeology for this period will have to be torn up and rewritten from scratch thanks to this place,” he says.

Farmers first reached Orkney on boats that took them across the narrow – but treacherously dangerous – Pentland Firth from mainland Scotland. These were the people of the New Stone Age, and they brought cattle, pigs and sheep with them, as well as grain to plant and ploughs to till the land. The few hunter-gatherers already living on Orkney were replaced and farmsteads were established across the archipelago. These early farmers were clearly successful, though life would still have been precarious, with hunting providing precious supplies of extra protein. At the village of Knap o’Howar on Papay the bones of domesticated cattle, sheep and pigs have been found alongside those of wild deer, whales and seals, for example, while analysis of human bones from the period suggest that few people reached the age of 50. Those who survived childhood usually died in their 30s.

Discarded stone tools and shards of elegant pottery also indicate that the early Orcadians were developing an increasingly sophisticated society. Over the centuries, their small farming communities coalesced into larger tribal units, possibly with an elite ruling class, and they began to construct bigger and bigger monuments. These sites included the 5,000-year-old village of Skara Brae; the giant chambered grave of Maeshowe, a Stone Age mausoleum whose internal walls were later carved with runes by Vikings; and the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar, two huge neighbouring circles of standing stones. These are some of the finest Neolithic monuments in the world, and in 1999 they were given World Heritage status by Unesco, an act that led directly to the discovery of the Ness of Brodgar.

“Being given World Heritage status meant we had to think about the land surrounding the sites,” says Card. “We decided to carry out geophysical surveys to see what else might be found there.” Such surveys involve the use of magnetometers and ground-penetrating radar to pinpoint manmade artefacts hidden underground. And the first place selected by Card for this electromagnetic investigation was the Ness of Brodgar.

The ridge was assumed to be natural. However, Card’s magnetometers showed that it was entirely manmade and bristled with features that included lines of walls, concentric pathways and outlines of large buildings. “The density of these features stunned us,” says Card. At first, given its size, the team assumed they had stumbled on a general site that had been in continuous use for some time, providing shelter for people for most of Orkney’s history, from prehistoric to medieval times. “No other interpretation seemed to fit the observations,” adds Card. But once more the Ness of Brodgar would confound expectations.

Test pits, a metre square across, were drilled in lines across the ridge and revealed elaborate walls, slabs of carefully carved rock, and pieces of pottery. None came from the Bronze Age, however, nor from the Viking era or medieval times. Dozens of pits were dug over the ridge, an area the size of five football pitches, and every one revealed items with a Neolithic background.

Then the digging began in earnest and quickly revealed the remains of buildings of startling sophistication. Carefully made pathways surrounded walls – some of them several metres high – that had been constructed with patience and precision.

“It was absolutely stunning,” says Colin Richards. “The walls were dead straight. Little slithers of stones had even been slipped between the main slabs to keep the facing perfect. This quality of workmanship would not be seen again on Orkney for thousands of years.”

Slowly the shape and dimensions of the Ness of Brodgar site revealed themselves. Two great walls, several metres high, had been built straight across the ridge. There was no way you could pass along the Ness without going through the complex. Within those walls a series of temples had been built, many on top of older ones. “The place seems to have been in use for a thousand years, with building going on all the time,” says Card.

More than a dozen of these temples have already been uncovered though only about 10% of the site has been fully excavated so far.

“We have never seen anything like this before,” says York University archaeologist Professor Mark Edmonds. “The density of the archaeology, the scale of the buildings and the skill that was used to construct them are simply phenomenal. There are very few dry-stone walls on Orkney today that could match the ones we have uncovered here. Yet they are more than 5,000 years old in places, still standing a couple of metres high. This was a place that was meant to impress – and it still does.”

But it is not just the dimensions that have surprised and delighted archaeologists. Two years ago, their excavations revealed that haematite-based pigments had been used to paint external walls – another transformation in our thinking about the Stone Age. “We see Neolithic remains after they have been bleached out and eroded,” says Edmonds. “However, it is now clear from Brodgar that buildings could have been perfectly cheerful and colourful.”

The men and women who built at the Ness also used red and yellow sandstone to enliven their constructions. (More than 3,000 years later, their successors used the same materials when building St Magnus’ Cathedral in Kirkwall.) But what was the purpose of their construction work and why put it in the Ness of Brodgar? Of the two questions, the latter is the easier to answer – for the Brodgar headland is clearly special. “When you stand here, you find yourself in a glorious landscape,” says Card. “You are in the middle of a natural amphitheatre created by the hills around you.”

The surrounding hills are relatively low, and a great dome of sky hangs over Brodgar, perfect for watching the setting and rising of the sun, moon and other celestial objects. (Card believes the weather on Orkney may have been warmer and clearer 4,000 to 5,000 years ago.) Cosmology would have been critical to society then, he argues, helping farmers predict the seasons – a point supported by scientists such as the late Alexander Thom, who believed that the Ring of Brodgar was an observatory designed for studying the movement of the moon.

These outposts of Neolithic astronomy, although impressive, were nevertheless peripheral, says Richards. The temple complex at the Ness of Brodgar was built to be the most important construction on the island. “The stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar and the other features of the landscape were really just adjuncts to that great edifice,” he says. Or as another archaeologist put it: “By comparison, everything else in the area looks like a shanty town.”

For a farming community of a few thousand people to create such edifices suggests that the Ness of Brodgar was of profound importance. Yet its purpose remains elusive. The ritual purification of the dead by fire may be involved, suggests Card. As he points out, several of the temples at Brodgar have hearths, though this was clearly not a domestic dwelling. In addition, archeologists have found that many of the stone mace heads (hard, polished, holed stones) that litter the site had been broken in two in exactly the same place. “We have found evidence of this at other sites,” says Richards. “It may be that relatives broke them in two at a funeral, leaving one part with the dead and one with family as a memorial to the dead. This was a place concerned with death and the deceased, I believe.”

Equally puzzling was the fate of the complex. Around 2,300BC, roughly a thousand years after construction began there, the place was abruptly abandoned. Radiocarbon dating of animal bones suggests that a huge feast ceremony was held, with more than 600 cattle slaughtered, after which the site appears to have been decommissioned. Perhaps a transfer of power took place or a new religion replaced the old one. Whatever the reason, the great temple complex – on which Orcadians had lavished almost a millennium’s effort – was abandoned and forgotten for the next 4,000 years.

For more information or to donate to the dig, go to orkneyarchaeologysociety.org.uk

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2,600-year-old Buddhist monastery in Afghanistan under threat

From Huffington Post:

It was another day on the rocky hillside, as archaeologists and laborers dug out statues of Buddha and excavated a sprawling 2,600-year-old Buddhist monastery. A Chinese woman in slacks, carrying an umbrella against the Afghan sun, politely inquired about their progress.

She had more than a passing interest. The woman represents a Chinese company eager to develop the world’s second-biggest unexploited copper mine, lying beneath the ruins.

The mine is the centerpiece of China’s drive to invest in Afghanistan, a country trying to get its economy off the ground while still mired in war. Beijing’s $3.5 billion stake in the mine – the largest foreign investment in Afghanistan by far – gets its foot in the door for future deals to exploit Afghanistan’s largely untapped mineral wealth, including iron, gold and cobalt. The Afghan government stands to reap a potential $1.2 billion a year in revenues from the mine, as well as the creation of much-needed jobs.

But Mes Aynak is caught between Afghanistan’s hopes for the future and its history. Archaeologists are rushing to salvage what they can from a major seventh century B.C. religious site along the famed Silk Road connecting Asia and the Middle East. The ruins, including the monastery and domed shrines known as “stupas,” will likely be largely destroyed once work at the mine begins.

Ancient Buddha statues inside a temple in Mes Aynak

Hanging over the situation is the memory of the Buddhas of Bamiyan – statues towering up to 180 feet high in central Afghanistan that were dynamited to the ground in 2001 by the country’s then-rulers, the Taliban, who considered them symbols of paganism.

No one wants to be blamed for similarly razing history at Mes Aynak, in the eastern province of Logar. The Chinese government-backed China Metallurgical Group Corp., or MCC, wanted to start building the mine by the end of 2011. But under an informal understanding with the Kabul government, it has given archaeologists three years for a salvage excavation.

Archaeologists working on the site since May say that won’t be enough time for full preservation.

“That site is so massive that it’s easily a 10-year campaign of archaeology,” said Laura Tedesco, an archaeologist brought in by the U.S. Embassy to work on sites in Afghanistan. Three years may be enough time just to document what’s there, she said.

Philippe Marquis, a French archaeologist advising the Afghans, said the salvage effort is piecemeal and “minimal,” held back by lack of funds and personnel.

Around 15 Afghan archaeologists, three French advisers and a few dozen laborers are working within the 2-square-kilometer (0.77-square-mile) area – a far smaller team than the two dozen archaeologists and 100 laborers normally needed for a site of such size and richness.

“This is probably one of the most important points along the Silk Road,” said Marquis. “What we have at this site, already in excavation, should be enough to fill the (Afghan) national museum.”

The ruins, including the monastery and domed shrines, will likely be largely destroyed once work at the mine begins

The monastery complex has been dug out, revealing hallways and rooms decorated with frescoes and filled with clay and stone statues of standing and reclining Buddhas, some as high as 10 feet. An area that was once a courtyard is dotted with stupas standing four or five feet high.

More than 150 statues have been found so far, though many remain in place. Large ones are too heavy to be moved, and the team lacks the chemicals needed to keep small ones from disintegrating when extracted.

MCC appears to be pushing the archaeologists to finish ahead of schedule. In July, the archaeologists received a letter from the company asking that parts of the dig be wrapped up by August and the rest to be done by the end of 2010.

A copy of the letter – signed by MJAM, the acronym for the joint venture in charge of the mine, MCC-JCL Aynak Minerals Co. – was provided to The Associated Press by the head of the archaeological team. MCC and MJAM officials did not respond to requests for comment.

August has come and gone, and excavations at Mes Aynak continue. But the Afghan archaeologist overseeing the dig said he has no idea when MCC representatives might tell him his work is over. So he tries not to think about deadlines.

“We would like to work according to our principles. If we don’t work according to the principles of archaeology, then we are no different from traffickers,” Abdul Rauf Zakir said.

The team hopes to lift some of the larger statues and shrines out before winter sets in this month, but they still haven’t procured the crane and other equipment needed.

Mes Aynak, 20 miles (30 kilometers) south of Kabul, lies in a province that is still considered a major transit route for insurgents coming from Pakistan. In July, two U.S. sailors were kidnapped and killed in Logar. Around 1,500 Afghan police guard the mine site and the road.

Promised funding from foreign governments has yet to materialize. The Afghan government has allotted $2 million for the dig and is trying to find another $5 million to $10 million, said Deputy Culture Minister Omar Sultan.

The United States has promised funding but hasn’t yet figured out how much, said a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman, Mireille Zieseniss.

Mes Aynak’s religious sites and copper deposits have been bound together for centuries – “mes” means “copper” in the local Dari language. Throughout the site’s history, artisanal miners have dug up copper to adorn statues and shrines.

Afghan archaeologists have known since the 1960s about the importance of Mes Aynak, but almost nothing had been excavated. When the Chinese won the contract to exploit the mine in 2008, there was no discussion with Kabul about the ruins – only about money, security and building a railroad to transport the copper out of Logar’s dusty hills.

But a small band of Afghan and French archaeologists raised a stir and put the antiquities on the agenda.

The mine could be a major boost for the Afghan economy. According to the Afghan Mining Ministry, it holds some 6 million tons of copper (5.52 million metric tons), worth tens of billions of dollars at today’s prices. Developing the mine and related transport infrastructure will generate much needed jobs and economic activity.

Waheedullah Qaderi, a Mining Ministry official working on the antiquities issue, said MCC shares the government goal of protecting heritage while starting mining as soon as possible.

A good resolution is important for MCC “because it is their first-ever project in Afghanistan,” Qaderi said. MCC is expected to make an offer for another lucrative mineral prize – the Hajigak iron mine in central Afghanistan, estimated to hold 1.9 billion tons (1.8 billion metric tonnes) of iron ore. Kabul opened bidding to develop the mine in late September and is expected to award the contract late this year or in early 2011.

Still, a diplomat briefed on internal meetings says MCC has pressured Kabul to stop archaeologists from looking for new places to dig beyond the 12 sites already found. The diplomat spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Marquis said MCC has been cooperative and has helped the archaeologists, hauling dirt away and asking what more needs to be done.

Zakir, the Afghan archaeologist, laughs. “Yes, they are very helpful. They want to help so that we can finish quickly. They want us gone.”

From Huffington Post.

4000 year old ceremonial temples found in Peru

From LAHT:

A team of Peruvian archaeologists have discovered two ceremonial temples more than 4,000 years old in Peru’s northern jungle, which makes them the most ancient in the country and identifies them with the Bracamoros culture, the daily El Comercio said on Saturday.

On both sites were found 14 burial vaults that typically contain the skeletons of newborns and adolescents placed there as offerings at different times in the course of the 800 years these buildings were in use, the newspaper said.

The Bracamoros culture occupied part of the current Ecuadorian province of Zamora Chinchipe and the Peruvian regions of Amazonas and Cajamarca, where the temples were found, the daily said.

It said that the place where the archaeological remains were uncovered was used as a rubbish dump by the inhabitants of Jaen, until a team of archaeologists led by Quirino Olivera decided to excavate the buildings, following the lead of fossil and ceramic evidence found in recent decades.

As the work was getting started in May, experts found large semicircular walls built with a mixture of mortar and stones weighing 200 kilos (440 pounds).

The perfectly aligned walls were built in eight phases of construction and were decorated with an early fresco technique, El Comercio said.

Olivera told the newspaper that “we are standing before one of the first civilizations of Peru.”

“If we keep digging, we could find vestiges preceding the Chavin (1,000 B.C.), Caral (3,000 B.C.) and Ventarron (4,000 B.C.) cultures, since neither in the Andes nor on the coast have temples been found that are this ancient or with these characteristics,” he said.

The archaeologist said that the temples located in the areas of Montegrande and San Isidro are the first to be found in a region where jungle meets mountains.

From LAHT

What lies below the Temple of the Feathered Serpent in Teotihuacan?

From ArtDaily:

After eight months of excavation, archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) have located, 12 meters below , the entrance to the tunnel leading to a series of galleries beneath the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, in the Archaeologcial Area of Teotihuacan, where the remains of rulers of the ancient city could have been deposited.

In a tour made by to site today with the media, archaeologist Sergio Chavez Gomez, director of the Tlalocan Project went below the ground and announced the advances in the systematic exploration undertaken by the INAH of the underground conduit, which was closed for about 1,800 years by the inhabitants of Teotihuacan themselves and where no one has gone in since then.

Teotihuacan – Temple of the Feathered Serpent (Photo:jschmeling)

INAH specialists hope to enter the tunnel in a couple of months and will be the first to enter after hundreds of years since it was closed. This excavation, which represents the most profound that has been done in the pre-Hispanic site, is part of the commemorations for the first 100 years of uninterrupted archaeological explorations (made in 1910) also called the City of Gods.

Gómez Chávez explained that the tunnel passes under the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, the most important building of the Citadel, “and the entry was located a few meters from the pyramid.

Access is by a vertical shaft of about five meters per side down to a depth of 14 meters from the surface, the entrance leads into a long corridor with an estimated length of 100 meters which ends in a series of underground chambers excavated in the rock.

The tunnel was discovered in late 2003 by Sergio Gomez and Julie Gazzola, but its exploration has required several years of planning and managing the financial resources necessary to carry out research at the highest scientific level. The team is composed of more than 30 people and has advisors renowned nationally and internationally.

Before starting the excavations, the archaeologists from INAH had the collaboration of Dr. Victor Manuel Velasco, from the Institute of Geophysics of the UNAM, through a the use of a GPR it was determined that the tunnel has a length of about 100 meters, and has large chambers inside.

Another of the technologies used in the exploration has been the laser scanner, a sophisticated device with high resolution, facilitated by the National Coordination of Historical Monuments (CNMH). INAH made the three-dimensional record of the archaeological finds.

Just a couple of weeks ago, archaeologists corroborated that the tunnel entrance was located in the place they had anticipated, then opened a small hollow hole at the top of the access, and using the scanner took the first images from inside the tunnel to a length of 37 meters, of the 100 it is estimated to have in length.

Teotihuacan (Photo: Antonio Peralta)

“Although we need to excavate two more meters to reach the floor of the tunnel, having the first images of the inside will allow us to better plan how to enter. Even so, we will have to withdraw a large amount of soil and a heavy block of stone that blocks the access.

“The whole process could take two more months of work, as we continue with the same systematic exploration that we have done from the start to avoid losing important information that lets us know what activities the citizens of Teotihuacan performed thousands of years ago and why they decided to close it, “said archaeologist Sergio Gomez.

So far, 200 tons of earth have been withdrawn, he said, while doing this we have found about 60,000 pieces of artifacts and pottery.

Angel Mora, who belongs to the Technology Support Unit of the CNMH, and engineer Juan Carlos Garcia, who operates the scanner, said that by introducing the laser, which has a range of 300 meters, through the small hollow opening the archaeologists made, there was only a length of 37 meters. Mora noted that this reading is because the laser beam “runs into something, maybe with some collapsed stones or because the tunnel has a gap.”

Sergio Gomez reported that it has not yet been precisely determined the time of construction of the tunnel, however it he has a better idea of when it was closed by the people from Teotihuacan. “Several indications suggest that access to the underground passage was closed between 200 and 250 AD, probably after depositing something inside. One of the hypotheses postulate that, within the large chamber detected by the GPR, we could locate the remains of important people in the city. “

The investigations have led to know with certainty that this tunnel was made prior to the construction of the Temple of the Feathered Serpent and the Citadel. The tunnel is contemporary with a large architectural structure, which could be a ball game court, according to theform of the ground, said the archaeologist.

Unfortunately, the INAH researcher said, when the tunnel was closed, large stones were thrown which blocked access, “and the court was also destroyed and razed by the people of Teotihuacan, only small remnants remain.

Quetzalcoatl as depicted in the Codex Telleriano-Remensis (Wikimedia Commons)

“Locating the entrance to the tunnel fulfills one of the most important objectives of the Project Tlalocan, to precisely confirm that the main entrance was located in the exact spot where the excavation is planned. We must continue the excavation of the vertical shaft until it reaches the floor level to thereby start scanning the tunnel towards the East. “

According to the hypothesis about the meaning and symbolism of the tunnel, archaeologist Sergio Gomez, said the tunnel had to be linked to concepts related to the underworld, hence it is possible that in this place were carried out initiation rituals and the divine investiture of Teotihuacan rulers, since the power was acquired in these sacred spaces.

Also, it is known that rulers were buried in the holiest places. “For a long time local and foreign archaeologists have attempted to locate the graves of the rulers of the ancient city, but the search has been fruitless.

“That’s why every day our expectations are increasing, as there are many chances that they are sitting inside a large tomb or offering. However, it is not something we are obsessed wih, the discovery and systematic exploration of the tunnel is something of great significance for archaeological research and a unique opportunity to approach the cosmogonic and religious thought of ancient Teotihuacan. “

From ArtDaily

Marriage, Divorce and the Prostitute in Ancient Mesopotamia

The most shameful custom,” Herodotus called it. He was writing, in his account of the events leading up to the war between Greece and Persia, about the goings-on at the temple of Ishtar in Babylon, in which, he claimed, once in her life every woman had to accept the sexual advances of a stranger in exchange for a silver coin in order to fulfill a duty to the goddess.

The most shameful custom the Babylonians have is this: every native woman must go sit in the temple of Aphrodite, once in her life, and have sex with an adult male stranger. Many of them disdain to mix with the rest, on the high horse of wealth, and so drive to the temple on covered carriages, taking their stand with a large retinue following behind them. But many more do as follows: they sit in the sanctuary of Aphrodite, these many women, their heads crowned with a band of bowstring. Some arrive while others depart. Roped-off thoroughfares give all manner of routes through the women and the strangers pass along them as they make their choice. Once a woman sits down there, she does not go home until a stranger drops money in her lap and has sex with her outside the temple. When he drops it he has to say “I call on the goddess Mylitta.” Assyrians call Aphrodite Mylitta. The money can be any value at all—it is not to be refused, for that is forbidden, for this money becomes sacred. She follows the first one who drops money and rejects none. When she has had sex, she has performed her religious dues to the goddess and goes home; and from that time on you will never make her a big enough gift to have her. All those who have looks and presence quickly get it over with, all those of them who have no looks wait for a long time unable to fulfill the law—some of them wait for a three- or four-year spell.

This is the fifth and last of the Babylonian customs Herodotus found especially worthy of mention. The first and second, which Herodotus deemed the wisest and second wisest customs, involved a bride market with two auctions (one a straightforward bidding for the most beautiful, the other a Dutch auction for the ugliest [1.196]) and a method of medical diagnosis and treatment by which the Babylonians (whom he claimed had no physicians) laid out their sick in the public square to solicit and take the advice of all passersby who had ever suffered from similar ailments (1.197). The third custom noted by Herodotus is that the Babylonians bury their dead in honey (1.198). And the fourth custom of the five described is a post-coital ritual purification involving incense and washing (1.198).

It is certainly no accident that two of the five “customs” involve illness and death and the other three sex and marriage. These are the hot topics, those that attract and hold the attention of an audience. But, as is now generally accepted among scholars, Herodotus was not talking about a historical Babylon at all, but about the non-Greek “other,” about the “anti-type of the Greek polis” by which the Greek population could define itself (Beard and Henderson 1998, 56–79; Kurke 1999). Nonetheless, his fantasies or musings found a receptive audience in antiquity, were echoed in Strabo (16.1.20) and in the apocryphal Letter of Jeremiah (= Baruch) 6:43, and retain their prurient appeal even to a modern audience. Although there is not a single modern piece of scholarship that gives any credence at all to any of Herodotus’s other “Babylonian customs”—whether wise or shameful—his story about the ritual defloration and sexual accessibility of common women in the sacred realm (“Babylonian sacred prostitution”) remains stubbornly embedded as an accepted fact in the literature…

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This essay is an excerpt from the BOOK

Parthian Kuh-e Khajeh in danger of total destruction

Kuh_Khajeh_Rostam_CastleDespite frequent warnings by the experts, one of the most unique Parthian sites in Iran-proper known as the Kuh-e Khajeh (Parthian Ushida) remains in danger of total destruction, and the cultural authorities have not take any action to ensure its protection.

Speaking with the Persian service of ISNA on Wednesday, Rasul Haj-Mousavi, the director of Sistan’ Cultural Heritage Base (SCHB) said: “the daily destruction of the unique Parthian site has become very serious. [Saving] the site should become a matter of concern for Iran Cultural Heritage and Organisation (ICHTO), and [its protection] should be considered as a national programme.”

Haj-Mousavi said the two main difficulties that SCHB is facing are, “ICHTO would not follow the SCHB’s recommendation, when comes to prioritising the sites in the province for allocating the necessary budget, and also the lack of manpower. SCHB is a very large archaeological base, with no manpower.”

He recommended the protection of Khuh-e Khwajeh should become the priority and called for allocation of the whole of next years budget to save the site.

He added “a strong team of experts needed to conduct necessary work including surveying, cataloguing and damage-studies, which should lead to a restoration.”

As a sign of protest, Haj-Mosavi has submitted his resignation to ICHTO a few months ago, which was turned down. He submits his resignation for the second time.

Kuh_Khajeh_Rostam_Castle1In June 2006, Mohammadali Ebrahimi, the director of Sistan and Baluchestan province’s Cultural Heritage and Tourism Department asserted that the area badly needs vegetation to neutralize the destructive impacts of the strong winds, which occur for four months of the year with speeds reaching 120 km per hour. Despite his warnings in August 2006 one of the eastern walls of the palace has collapsed.

While the Iranian heritage sites are in desperate need of funding in order to be rescued from total destruction, the Islamic Republic is spending billions of dollars of the Iranian assets every year in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq. In June 2008, Iran Focus revealed that the regime spends $2.5B every year on activities in Iraq, in which a fraction of the money that is being spent for futile aims could be used to save thousands of heritage sites like Kuh-e Khajeh.

Historical Background (by Khodayar Bahrami):

Mount Khwajeh, also spelled Kuh-e Khajeh, Kuh-i Khaja, is a flat-topped black basalt mountain located 30 km southwest of the town of Zabol and is located on an island in the middle of Hamun lake, in the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchestan.

The trapezoid-shaped basalt lava, situated 609 meters from the sea level, with a diameter ranging from 2.0 to 2.5 kilometers covering an area of 40,000 square meters, is the only natural height left behind the Sistan area. It is here we can find a citadel with palaces, fire temple, a pilgrimage centre and graveyard. Also there are number of small temples (possibly Mithraist or Anahit), known to the locals as the “Kouchakchal Ganjeh”.

Kuh_Khwajeh_PalaceThe Kuh-e Khwajeh historical complex is one of the most significant archaeological sites in Iran and the biggest model of unbaked mud brick architecture remaining in Sistan region, which dates back to the Parthian dynasty (248 BCE-224 CE).

The ancient site was identified by A. Stein, E. Herzfeld, and was investigated in part by G. Gullini in a short expedition conducted in the 1960. According to his findings the palace and the fire temple were already in existence in the Parthian period. The ruins on the southern slope, dates back to 1st century BCE and it is still known as Kuk-u Kohzadh.

Stein also discovered a Buddhist monastery at Mth. Khajeh in 1916. Roman Ghirshman pointed out that the art of Mth. Khajeh predates Gandhara art which disproves the widely accepted notion that Buddhism spread from Nepal or Eastern India, and it claimed that Mth. Khajeh was Kapilavastu, the birthplace of Gotama.

Stein’s work clearly shows that Buddhism was born in Iran but was later nurtured in modern India, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

However, Khwajeh Mountain Complex is greatly respected by followers of the three faiths of Zoroastrian, Christianity and Islam and considered as a holy place. The mountain has been named after the mausoleum of “Khwajeh Mehdi”, one of the sympathizers of Alavi rulers, which is situated on this mountain, often referred under its Islamic name Kuh-i Ushida.

kuh-e_Khwjeh8The oldest and by far the most important structure of the site is an ancient fortress found on the eastern slope, referred to under various connotations such as Rostam’s castle, the Kāferūn castle, Kohan-Dež, etc.

Unique murals decorated the walls of the fortress, few of which have survived. Recently, a complete documentation of the site was carried out. In addition, partial restoration and fortification of the castle were conducted on its walls and arches.

Sistan, known as the birthplace of Iranian hero Rostam, has very strong associations with Zoroastrianism. According to Zoroastrian mythology, Lake Hamun was the keeper of the Prophet Zoroaster’s seed. And when the world’s end is at hand, three maidens will enter the lake, and afterwards will give birth to the messiah known as the Saoshyant, who will then be the “final saviour” of mankind.

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