Skip to comments.Expert Says Iraq Could Rewrite Archaeology Books
Posted on 03/05/2004 2:51:50 PM PST by blam
Expert Says Iraq Could Rewrite Archaeology Books
Thu Mar 4,10:15 AM ET
By Luke Baker
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq, torn apart by years of war and sanctions, remains so rich in hidden ancient wonders that a leading expert believes the world's archaeology books will have to be rewritten over the next decade.
As security improves to allow excavation, evidence may emerge that advanced societies existed in the area much earlier than previously thought, said Dr John Russell, professor of archaeology at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston.
"A decade of research in Iraq could rewrite the books of archaeology, no question," Russell, who is currently serving as a senior adviser to Iraq's ministry of culture, told Reuters on Thursday at the opening of new conservation and restoration laboratory at Iraq's National Museum in Baghdad.
"There is just a phenomenal amount of history in this country and much of it is yet to be discovered. But over time it will be and we'll have to totally rethink what we know."
In 1989 and 1990, Russell led excavations at the site of Nineveh, the ancient capital of the Assyrian empire, which lies on the Tigris river in northern Iraq, near modern-day Mosul.
In each year, he said, his team made discoveries that essentially pushed back the timeline for ancient civilization by a millennium. "It was just absolutely incredible, they were unprecedented discoveries. But Iraq is like that," he said.
Often referred to as the cradle of civilization, Iraq's modern-day boundaries encompass ancient Mesopotamia, the area between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, which was the foundation for the world's earliest societies.
Over the centuries, hugely important discoveries have been made in the area, from the Sumerian city of Ur in southern Iraq with its massive ziggurat, to ancient Babylon south of Baghdad.
TREASURES ON SHOW
Beyond those widely known sites, there are scores of other, lesser known settlements that are steadily being excavated and perhaps dozens more that have yet to be discovered.
But the big hurdle is security. Almost a year after Saddam Hussein was overthrown, many areas remain unsafe and armed looters are a common enemy, particularly at remote sites.
In April last year, days after Saddam's fall, looters struck another terrible blow against Iraq's ancient heritage, stealing scores of priceless artifacts from the National Museum, many of which have yet to be recovered.
Some 5,000 cylinder seals, small cylindrical stones carved with decorative designs and used to identify tablets and ceramics, were stolen, along with the so-called Sumerian Mona Lisa, a 5,000-year-old alabaster sculpture of a woman's face.
That mask and some 1,000 of the seals have been recovered, but Russell, who is helping to oversee the restoration of the museum, says about 20 "unique, world-class pieces" are still missing, along with an estimated 10,000 smaller works.
Some of the pieces were smuggled out of Iraq, and investigators are working through the courts to try to recover items taken to Switzerland, the United States and Britain.
But Russell believes most of the outstanding artifacts are still in Iraq, and says the recovery rate for those stolen, at around 25 percent, is far better than it might have been.
He hopes the museum, which has been extensively renovated, will re-open in the next couple of months if security permits, allowing many of Iraq's greatest treasures to be on show again.
"This is one of the great museums of the world," he said. "In time, we hope to turn it into a truly viable academic research institute that draws art historians and archaeologists from all over the world."
IMO, the next 'big' discoveries will be made underwater off the coast of India and in South America.
Let's see them write their damn constitution first.
Does this strike any of you as a quote from someone trolling for a grant? I mean, yeah, sure, evidence may emerge---or it may turn up a bunch of pottery shards and crude tools that impress nobody.
This rings of hyperbole and rings totally hollow, in view of the fact that in spite of over 100 years of academics' presence in Iraq, the "treasures" cited as being lost to looters were not adequately catalogued and photographed.
Even as a non-archeologist, I would have better sense than to allow that to happen! Film is cheap, and the lapse is inexcuseable incompetence.
I read something recently (can't remember where) that pointed to the Balkan area as having the first writing.
I'm amazed at how many people get fascinated with pottery shards and crude tools. I used to have a girlfriend that was into all that, got excited about going on digs and such. To me, it was just a bunch of rocks. I suppose that someday, someone will find my corn flakes bowl and gaze upon it with wonder.
I think it will be in the Black Sea.
The valley was perfectly placed to have been 'The Cradle of Civilization' and anything in it is protected by the dead or sterile zone below 400 feet.
Besides the ancient center of civilization, there should be thousands of completely preserved ships from every age.
Is the attached what you're trying to remember?
One note I'd add to the general discussion: there are qualitatively different types of "writing", ranging from the prehistoric symbolic "shorthand" identified by Marija Gimbutas (where each character is a stylized symbolic picture, for instance a zigzag might represent water and associated concepts) to full-fledged alphabets (writing where each character represents a syllable rather than a picture, word, or idea), so the identification of one culture's writing as "first" depends partly on how we're defining "writing". It is known that there were certain types of written symbolism before the Sumerians, like cave art for instance. The usual identification of Sumerian writing as "first" refers only to the Sumerians' development of "logo-syllabic" writing: writing where each character represents a word with a literal or symbolic referent. Similarly the identification of a civilization as "first" depends on what definition of "civilization" is being used, whether we're talking about seasonal dwellings like some American Indian tribes used, permanent villages, agriculturally-based cities, or what. The Sumerians are usually considered first with reference to the level of sophistication they achieved in their irrigation techniques and how that translated into their ability to support large cities centered around temples and other specialized buildings. However this does not necessarily imply they were first in all respects--for instance walls are found in non-Sumerian cities like Jericho before they are found in Sumerian cities.
Anyway, stuff on early writing attached.
Greek alphabet was in use at 6000 BC
An article by Pan.Kouvalakis published in "Davlos" magazine
The potsherd of 5500-6000 BC, found at the islet Yura of Northern Sporades bearing Greek alphabet letters. The facsimile to the classic Greek letters Alpha, Ypsilon and Delta can be recognized. This find proves that the classic Greek alphabet is older than the Greek linear alphabets. It also demolishes crushingly and definitely the false theory that Greeks took the alphabet from the Phoenicians, who emerged in history around 1150 BC, i.e. 4500-5000 years after the creation of the Yura written potsherd.
After the discovery of a wooden plate at Dispilion Kastorias, which was dated at 5300 BC, a new impressive discovery came to light, concerning the "prehistorical" alphabet in the Greek region. In the "Cyclop cave" at the desert islet Yura of Northern Sporades (20 miles out of Alonissos), ceramic fragments of written pots (potsherds) were excavated, upon the surface of which have been carved symbols facsimile with the letters of the classic Greek alphabet. The potsherds are dated between 6000 and 5500 BC.
The discovery at the cave in question, is conducted by the archaeologist Adamantios Sampson since 1992 and according to him: "besides the ceramics of the Later Neolithic, we have discovered written potsherds of exceptional quality dated at the end of Early Neolithic and at the beginning of Middle Neolithic. The aceramic layer was dated between 6445 and 6375 BC with the radioactive carbon method, while the layers of the Middle and Early Neolithic (among which are the potsherds) were dated between 6025 and 5955 BC" (A.Sampson, "The Greek Neolithical Civilization", Goulandris Foundation, 1996).
In the above study A.Sampson makes no other menthion of the tremendously imprortant discovered Yura potsherds, but confines himself to the description of the fishing activities at the Sporades area during the Neolithic era. The reference material, which he mentions, includes photographs of other finds (fish-hooks, statuettes, decorated pots) from the excavation in question, but not one of the written potsherds.
The photograph of one of the written potsherds came out from the newspaper "Adesmeftos Tipos" (presentation of N.Nikitidis 13 February 1997) in a relevant publication under the title "The most ancient alphabet is Greek". On the surface of the potsherd the letters Alpha, Ypsilon, Delta in a row are clearly distinguished, which make up the root of the word "ÁÕÄÇ" (speech, voice), first encountered in "Theogony" (Hesiodus) as well as in "Iliad" (Homer). In the same publication A.Sampson is reported to confirm that "they are alphabet symbols and make up a conscious act of the ceramist" and reserves his total evaluation of the finds for a future scientific paper.
It must be noted that only a small part of the cave in question, has so far been excavated, thus, in the immediate future probably, the rest written potsherds will be discovered. When this will happen, it will be possible to make a total evaluation of this ancient alphabet type, which doesn't seem to be different from the classic and modern type. These tremendously important finds justify the historic and linguistic view of the simultaneous creation and evolution of the Greek language and Greek alphabet and render beneath significance and importance the Phoenician theory for the History of Civilization.
"So it was the Ionians who learnt the alphabet from the Phoenicians; they changed the shapes of a few of the letters, but they still called the alphabet they used the Phoenician alphabet, which was only right, since it was the Phoenicians who had introduced it into Greece." (5.58)
During the Mycenaean period (1600-1200 B.C.) there was writing in use in Greece, what is now known as Linear B, and no sign of the later alphabet.
Gioura or Yioura is a small island near Alonnisos or Halonnesus...one of the speeches in the collection of Demosthenes' speeches (Oration VII, probably not by Demosthenes himself) is about Halonnesus.
"The valley was perfectly placed to have been 'The Cradle of Civilization' and anything in it is protected by the dead or sterile zone below 400 feet."
Good point and I hope you're correct. But, it's 550 feet down to the old pre-flood coastline. (Noah's Flood?)
Don't know but, let me know if you see any of the bottles I threw into the Pacific, the Atlantic, the North Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean in the early and mid-'60's. I haven't heard a peep yet.
Nah, my memory is going, lol
Below is a pottery shard dredged up from a 9,500 year old site off the Indian coast. Is that writing? (or, could it have been dropped off a ship onto the site?)
I believe it was around Nineveh where the Assyrians took the Northern Tribes of Israel, wasn't it?
BTW, thanks for posting; I always enjoy the articles you find.
This article is more critical than a previous report I read about the losses.
Sampson's credentials appear to be solid enough:
"One of the most important excavations locations of recent years, under the responsibility of the inspector of antiquities Mr Adamantios Sampson, is the island of Gioura in the Sporades Islands complex. . .Adamantios Sampson is famous for his research on the prehistory of the Dodecannese (excavations on the island of Gyali in Nisyros - a source of 'obsidian'; study titled 'The Neolithic Period in the Dodecannese'), of Evoia (Cave of Skoteini Tharounia), the very important excavation in Manika of Chalkida, the prehistoric research in caves of Achaia and Kopaida e.t.c. Today he is the supervisor of the Inspectorate for Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities of the Cyclades."
So that much seemed to check out. The next thing I did was look more closely at the find in question and see if it was open to other interpretations besides the one the article advances. If you click on the link I gave for the article (Greek alphabet was in use at 6000 BC) there's a picture of the potsherd being discussed. IMO questions could be raised both about the interpretation of the symbols on the potsherd and about the proposed dating. There are characters that could be interpreted as Alpha, Upsilon, and Delta as the article proposes, but I could see what they're interpreting as Upsilon also being interpreted as a lower-case Gamma, and I could furthermore see the whole set of symbols being interpreted as pictures rather than symbols, with the alleged Upsilon/Gamma being branches of a tree or something (in the picture the Upsilon seems to be "growing" out of a symbol below it). I'm also not confident in the dating of the potsherd, as I know there are problems with radiocarbon date skewing in the Aegean due to the Thera eruption (see Prehistoric Archaeology of the Aegean: Chronology and Terminology:
"NOTE: In general, absolute dates for the Aegean Stone and Bronze Ages are not yet very reliable and many different sets of dates are often in use for one and the same phase or period. A major debate has been raging since 1987 over the absolute date of the great volcanic explosion of the island of Thera/Santorini early in the Late Bronze Age. As a result, absolute dates within the first two-thirds of the second millennium B.C. (ca. 2000-1350 B.C.) are presently in an unusually active state of flux. It is therefore always best to describe an archaeological assemblage in terms of a relative chronological label (e.g. Early Helladic II, Late Minoan IA, etc.) rather than in terms of its supposed duration in calendar years B.C.").
So I could see some room for interpretation there with regards to both the meaning of the symbols and the dating of the potsherd. I'd personally find it more parsimonious to state that this find may show that certain symbols later used in the Greek alphabet were in use at 6000 BC than to state that this find proves the entire Greek alphabet was in use at that early date. It does raise questions about the relation between the Greek and Phoenician alphabets; however, I could see ways of interpreting the find that would be consistent with what Herodotus says (e.g., there was contact between Greece and the Middle East prior to the Phoenician period, so there may have been prior exchange of certain symbols which preceded the final transmission of the Phoenician alphabet to Greece mentioned by Herodotus). As a rule of thumb when Herodotus conflicts with modern historians, I tend to assume that Herodotus should be given the benefit of the doubt, since he was so much closer to the events than we are and had access to sources we no longer have. Still, that said, it's an interesting find that warrants serious attention.
Reminds me of that commercial where the guy keeps throwing empty beer bottles with messages in them into the ocean and they keep washing up on a desert island where this marooned guy cries, "Why do you torment me?!!!"--LOL!
Below is a pottery shard dredged up from a 9,500 year old site off the Indian coast. Is that writing? (or, could it have been dropped off a ship onto the site?)
Doh!--do you mean I've been spending the past hour digging through my notes on Greek archaeology for nothing?--LOL! Yeah, I've seen that one before--probably from you posting it, LOL! Don't know if it's "writing" or what. That one "m"-looking "winged" shape reminds me of some of the Neolithic European "shorthand" symbols Gimbutas discusses, so it may have that type of pictographic/ideographical significance rather than a logographical/alphabetical significance. The "y" shape reminds me (loosely) of a Greek Gamma or a Hebrew Ayin only modified to be less "curvy" in order to accomodate the hard medium the character appears to be inscribed on (like the shape of Western European runes are designed to be easier to cut into wood/stone surfaces); however it may not have the same meaning as a Gamma or Ayin and may not be alphabetical in significance. But who knows?--hard to tell without more information and without someone deciphering the meaning of the characters. In any case interesting.
Yes, probably, or thereabouts--2 Kings 17:23 says it was "Assyria"; cf. 2 Chronicles 28.
Besides the testimony of sources like Herodotus, we have early examples of Greek alphabetic writing and examples of Phoenician writing, and it's beyond question that the Greek alphabet is derived from Phoenician (or some closely related system).
The Hebrew alphabet was similar--for the Hebrew letters see Psalm 119 which has 8 verses for each letter (aleph, beth, gimel, daleth, he, vau, zain, cheth, etc.). The present-day Hebrew letters are written a bit differently, since they use the Aramaic letters. The oldest Greek letters are closer to the Phoenician letters in appearance, and were written from right to left. The Greek letter names are clearly derived from the Phoenician names, and the order of letters is almost the same (the Greeks made some minor changes, and created a few new letters).
Greek is one of the so-called Indo-European languages; the ancestral language (which English, Latin, Armenian, Celtic, Persian, Russian, Hindi, and many other languages are ultimately descended from) is called Proto-Indo-European (or PIE). The date when PIE was spoken is not exactly certain, but was probably later than 6000 B.C.
Yes, I'd entertain both of those hypotheses before the hypothesis that it's the Greek alphabet, unless there's additional evidence beyond that potsherd. Perhaps if they ever decipher Linear A it will shed additional light on the prehistory of Greek. Linear A has a character that looks like somewhat that Upsilon/Delta character I mentioned--see for instance left-hand pic, second row, third character from right:
Best explanation I've heard yet :) BTW if you flip it over, on the other side it says "© 7500 BC AL GORE" :)
The potsherd of 5500-6000 BC, found at the islet Yura of Northern Sporades bearing Greek alphabet letters. The facsimile to the classic Greek letters Alpha, Ypsilon and Delta can be recognized. This find proves that the classic Greek alphabet is older than the Greek linear alphabets. It also demolishes crushingly and definitely the false theory that Greeks took the alphabet from the Phoenicians, who emerged in history around 1150 BC, i.e. 4500-5000 years after the creation of the Yura written potsherd.And the Russians invented everything before the Americans. [rimshot!]
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Fired clay items have been found in large quantities on shipwrecks, even though the ships themselves have deteriorated (even vanished), but fired clay absorbs water. Over long periods of time the clay objects fall apart.
"An indirect method measuring the relative pore volume in a clay body is to measure its maximum water retention. Measurements of the Ashkelon vessels taken at the time of treatment showed that they contained an average of 2 1 % of their dry weight in water. A few of them contained over 30% in water. As a comparison, modern bisque-fired clays absorb only 10 - 14% of their dry weight in water."
Iron Age Shipwrecks in Deep Water off Ashkelon, Israel
Robert D. Ballard and Lawrence E. Stager et al
If there were huge quantities of these shards with writing on them spread across an entire submerged site, then I'd say that the site itself isn't 8000 years old. The script looks Mediterranean, so my guess is that it's in the area of 2500-3000 years old, and came off a wreck. [cont'd in next post]
Here's a quote from page 77:The Lost Civilization of the Stone Age"The proposition that Ice Age reindeer hunters invented writing fifteen thousand years ago or more is utterly inadmissible and unthinkable. All the data that archaeologists have amassed during the last one hundred years reinforce the assumption that Sumerians and Egyptians invented true writing during the second half of the fourth millennium. The Palaeolithic-Mesolithic-Neolithic progression to civilisation is almost as fundamental an article of contemporary scientific faith as heliocentrism. Writing is the diagnostic trait, the quintessential feature of civilisation. Writing, says I.J. Gelb, 'distinguishes civilised man from barbarian.' If Franco-Cantabrians [i.e. Ice Age inhabitants of parts of France and Spain] invented writing thousands of years before civilisation arose in the Near East, then our most cherished beliefs about the nature of society and the course of human development would be demolished."
by Richard Rudgley
"Forbes and Crowder's justification for reviving the idea that writing may perhaps be traced back to the Ice Age is based on the fact that a considerable number of the deliberate markes found on both parietal and mobile art from the Franco-Cantabrian region are remarkably similar to numerous characters in ancient written languages extending from the Mediterranean to China."The table Rudgley produces from Forbes and Crowder is much more extensive than the one found in Settegast, but the idea is the same. From pp 67-68:
"Petrie... made an extended study of Predynastic... and made it quite clear that... they were, in fact, a separate system that existed before and then later alongside the hieroglyphs. Petrie was also aware of the similiarities between the Egyptian signs and those found elsewhere in the Mediterranean... He also expressed the belief that because of their similarity of form with the signs that were later used in alphabetical scripts, these early signs may well have something to do with the origins of the alphabet... Winn could only bring himself to describe the Vinca signs as pre-writing, but for Gimbutas, and for others such as Harald Haarman... they are the real thing... most of those who had previously characterized the Tartaria tablets and analogous Vinca signs as genuine writing did so on the mistaken assumption that they were later than Sumerian and could always be neatly 'explained' as somewhat pale imitations of Near Eastern intellectual innovations. We have also seen how many scholars, on realising that the Vinca signs were simply too early to be derived from Mesopotamia, abruptly dropped the question... For others, who had tried and failed to bolster the traditional chronology for prehistoric southeastern Europe by invoking the Tartaria tablets as a refutation of radiocarbon dates, the tablets were simply dismissed as meaningless jumbles of signs."
Even with turbo? ;')
You're not the first to have that same difficulty with Comic Sans MS. :') I like it, not least because it makes my posts easy to spot while scrolling fast. One problem that emerges sometimes is that the surfer's computer displays the font in a larger size (and/or does a substitution if the font isn't available, although I think it's one of MicroSoft's, hence the MS in the title), not sure why.
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bttt, with a link to a related topic:
Macro-Etymology: Paleosigns [writing 20,000 years ago?]
Macro-Etymology Website | prior to May 20, 2005 | the webmasters thereof
Posted on 05/19/2005 11:00:18 PM PDT by SunkenCiv
Indiana Jones found a WMD buried in the desert.
Just updating the GGG info, not sending a general distribution.
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Iraq is a huge area. Iran is even huger. My uncle spent his entire career digging in that region and he barely touched what is there.