Friday, June 28, 2013

History mystery: Pompeii The resurrection of a city -2

Pompeii’s other main features included the Temple of Venus (8), the Temple of Apollo (9), the Basilica (10), the Temple of Jupiter (11), the Civil Forum (12), the Building of Eumachia (13), the Forum baths (14), the central baths (15), the Stabian baths (16), the Triangular Forum (17), the theater (18), the gladiator’s barracks (19), the Odeon (20), the palaestra (21), and the amphitheater (22). Homes included the House of the Faun (23) and the House of the Vettii (24), both in the city’s north-west sector. The pictures on the walls and sophisticated paintings, the bawdy graffiti and dignified inscriptions engraved in marble, all materialized before the eyes of the archaeologists. Even the streets still bear the track marks of carts. A vivid picture of daily life began to emerge simply from the insults and proverbs scrawled on walls – ranging from ‘Figulus loves Idaia,’ to the more lyrical, ‘you could as soon stop the winds from blowing and the waters from following as stop lovers from loving.’ Election posters illustrated the vitality of political life in the city: ‘Vote for Maurus Epidius Sabinus as administrator of justice. He is a respectable man, considered by trustworthy judges to be capable of defending the citizens.’ Every one of Pompeii’s excavated buildings gives the historian an insight into the city’s public and private life, yet surprisingly little is known about its early history.

The uncovering of a Doric temple proved that the town existed in the 6th century BC and that it was subject to Greek influence. It was probably a settlement of the local Ausonian people, thriving as a free port used by both the Greeks whop had settled on Italy’s west coast and the Etruscans to the north. Its economy was based on the production of wine and oil and supplemented by a flourishing commerce in wool and woollen goods. The coming of the Romans around 80BC opened new vistas of economic enterprise. The neighbouring town of Puteoli (Pozzuoli) became Italy’s principal port and Roman traders began to flood the eastern Mediterranean.

Pompeii prospered not only as a market town and port, but also as an immensely popular resort. Every summer thousands of Romans flocked to the city to take advantage of its climate and its beautiful position in the Bay of Naples. The orator Cicero was one of the many who acquired a holiday home in Pompeii. As the fashion caught on, the area became a playground for the rich. Then, in AD 62, an earthquake struck. The drama is depicted in the bas-reliefs which a wealthy banker, Caecilius Jucundus, had sculpted in the hallway of his house. Buildings tilt, arches and monuments crash to the ground – all evoked with rude vigour. The banker probably commissioned the reliefs to give thanks to his household gods for his survival. Pompeii reacted to the ravages of this catastrophe with a frenzy of building that was proof of the city’s prosperity.

The art collection of a local politician, Julius Polybius, was found stored in the room of his house to keep it safe from the building work, still in progress when Vesuvius erupted 17 years later. The largest public buildings stood in the south-west corner of the city, where the first settlers of Pompeii had made their homes. Here, clustered round the Civil Forum, stood the Temple of Apollo, the most ancient of all the buildings in Pompeii- proved by the discovery of Greek pottery dating back to the early 5th century BC. Next door the Basilica, A combined market hall and law court, is the best preserved of the city’s buildings. Thanks to graffiti on the walls, it can be dated to the 2nd century BC. Its main hall, surrounded by a colonnade, testifies to the commercial might of the city. At the end was a tribunal where justice was administrated. Graffiti covers the walls. ‘Lucius Istacidius,’ wrote a citizen, ‘who did not invite me to share his meal, is a barbarian!’ On the opposite side of the Forum stands the Building of Eumachia. Inscriptions inside describe how Eumachia, a public priestess, paid for the construction of the building and how she dedicated it to the ‘Peace and Harmony of Augustus’.

 The Macellum, or general market, stood at the north-east corner of the Forum. The rows of stalls which encircled the main building can still be seen, as can the remains of the various cereals and fruits that were being sold on the fateful August day in AD 79. A drain full of fish bones marks the position of a fish stall. Nearby stand the public baths of the Civil Forum. The second area of ancient public buildings clustered round the Triangular Forum, with Pompeii’s public entertainment district spread out along its eastern side. The city’s largest theatre could accommodate an audience of 5,000 in the open air. The Romans were passionate theatre-goers; its repertoire would have included classical drama, comic mime, and low burlesque, interspersed with clowning, dancing, and acrobatics. For lavish marine spectacles, the stage could be flooded with water, and in the heat of the Mediterranean summer a sprinkling device showered perfumed water on the audience.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

History mystery: Pompeii The Resurrection of a City -1

Almost 2,000Years ago a provincial city in Italy was buried beneath a thick layer of volcanic ash. Hundreds of years later Pompeii was discovered – a miraculously preserved mausoleum which provides a vivid record of the life of a Roman city? ON THE MORNING OF AUGUST 24, AD 79, Carts and mules jostled their way through the streets of Pompeii. Peddlers hawked their wares from wayside stalls. Girls gossiped lazily at a corner fountain. In a wine shop, a customer had just put his money down on the counter for a drink. But the barmaid had no time to pick up the coins. For suddenly, a terrifying noise ripped through the air. Vesuvius (Vesuvio), the volcanic mountain which dominated the town, had erupted. Under pressure from the gases inside, the plug of lava that blocked the opening of the volcano had burst, releasing a great mass of red-hot lava. Solidifying into balls of stone as it cooled, the lava rained down on the houses and blotted out the sun. By nightfall on August 25, Pompeii was buried beneath about 6m (20ft) of lava, dust and ashes. It happened too quickly for many of the inhabitants to escape. Asphyxiated by gases and crushed beneath tumbling buildings, they fell in the streets or met death in their homes and cellars.

Before he died, one of them recalled the terrible fate that had befallen two Old Testament cities by scratching ‘Sodom and Gomorrah!’ on a whitewashed wall. Fortunately for us, the modern world has an eyewitness account of the fall of Pompeii. The two letters which the Roman writer Pliny the Younger sent to the historian Tacitus are exceptionally vivid. Pliny the Younger was staying with his uncle, Pliny the Elder, at Misenum, 30km (19 miles) from Pompeii. This is what he saw as he made his escape: ‘Ashes were already falling,’ he wrote, ‘not as yet very thickly. I looked round: a dense black cloud was coming up behind us, spreading over the earth like a flood…. ‘Darkness fell, not the dark of the moonless or cloudy night, but as if the lamp had been put out in a closed room. You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men; some were calling their parents, other their children or their wives, trying to recognize them by their voices. People bewailed their own fate or that their relatives, and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying.  ‘Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the Universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore.’

 At the time Pliny the Elder (a Roman administrator and himself a profile writer) commanded the Roman fleet at Misenum. When the eruption first started, he went by boat to Stabiae to rescue a friend and get a closer view. After spending the night there, he ‘decided to go down to the shore and investigate the possibility of any escape by sea,’ wrote his nephew, ‘but he found the waves wild and dangerous. A sheet was spread on the ground for him to lie down, and he repeatedly asked for cold water to drink. Then the flames and smell of sulphur which gave warning of the approaching fire drove the others to take flight and roused him to stand up. He stood leaning on slaves and then suddenly collapsed, I imagine because the dense fumes choked his breathing. When daylight returned two days after the last day he had seen, his body was found intact…..still fully clothed and looking more like in sleep than death.’ Embalmed in lava, Pompeii remained undiscovered for nearly 1700 years. It was not until 1748 that Joaquin de Alcubierre, engineer to the King of Naples, chanced upon its business quarter. In order to inspect an old water tunnel, he sank pa shaft into the ground and unearthed a brilliant wall-painting. Next, he came upon the body of a Pompeiian clutching a fistful of gold.

No one will ever know whether this man as a thief or was just trying to flee with money he had saved over the years. Alcubierre went on excavating the site. It was another 100 years before the Italian archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli introduced the policy of moving forward slowly, house by house, to make sure that nothing was lost in the excavation. He also devised the technique of pouring plaster into the cavities left by the bodies, so that they reappeared as they were at the moment of death. As the city was disinterred, it seemed to come back to life. Vesuvius, the cause of Pompeii’s destruction, looms to the north of the city. Pompeii’s chief north-south through fare was the Via di Stabia (1), running between the Vesuvius Gate (2) and the Stabian Gate (3). Running east-west were the Via di Nola, from the Nola Gate (4) across to the west side of the city, and the Via dell’ Abbondanza, between the Samus (5) and Marine (6) gates. The gate in the north-west corner of the walls (7) led to the neighbouring city of Herculaneum.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

History mystery: Monks who mummify themselves alive!

While talking about Mummies we immediately remember about mummies of Egypt, but actually in some part of India, Japan mummifying them self was practiced as an enlighten ritual. In India a sect of vishnavite namely Madava saints called this practice as Brindavana Pravesha and in Jain customs also, fasting unto death for enlightment was practiced and it was called as Sallekhana. But the one practiced in Japan monks is a wired. Shingon is a sect of Buddhist monks in Japan who practiced mummifying themselves, and those succeeded in getting Enlightment was called as Sokushibutsu. This was practiced by monks of Tohoku region of Honsu islands Japan. Most of the monks of Shugendo sect of Buddhism only followed this kind of self mummifying called Sokushibutsu. Sokushibutsu is a process of mummifying; which is entirely different from Brindavana Pravesha or Sallekhana. In Sokushibutsu the Monk he himself undergoes mummifying process for ten year and in the final stage of process for enlightment he himself entombed alive. In Sokushibutsu the first three years the monks plans their diet to lose weight. For that they ate only some berries and nuts. This kind of diet removed the unwanted fats from the monk’s body and this process continues for three years.

 In the next three years the eats only the bark and roots of some specific plats to remove excess moisture from his body so that the mummifying process will be easy ( Point to Ponder : If moisture is more in the body the body will decay soon and mummifying process will not be successful after death). And they are allowed to eat lesser amount of some fruits and berries. The monks lead a very rigid and disciplined life during these period and they under take more physical activity to lose more fat. The Sokushibutsu monk induces vomiting to lose large scale body fluid. In the third phase of the rituals the monks drink special tea made our of Urushi tree. This herbal tea is poisonous and has lacquer property. Consuming this tea causes the person to vomit more and restrict the ability to get more nutrients from diet, lacquer bowls and restrict the more the body fluid (Point to Ponder: This poisonous tea make his body a hell for bacteria and maggots so that the body will not decay after his death.).

At this end of this second phase that is after six years and more the monk is little more than bones and skin and if the monk survived this stage he will move on to the third stage. At this stage the monk himself will sit in a small stone tomb that exactly fit him in. He enters the tomb and sits in Padmashana (sitting in lotus position). In this position of sitting he could not move himself until his death. Once he seals himself in the tomb holes are made and bamboo pipes are inserted for breathing and for a bell. The monk has to ring a bell on the daily basis so that his fellow monks could know that he is alive. If the monk didn’t ring the bell it is assumed that he is no more and the vent for breathing and the bell will be removed and the tomb will be sealed for the final thousand days rituals. At the end of the thousand days rituals the tomb will be opened to see whether the monk was successfully mummified himself and his preserved body will be put on display in temple and the monk will be declared as Buddha and revered. Thousands of monks were tired this ritual in Yamagta Province and only 24 succeeded in their effort. Most of the historians believed that this practice was originated from Tang region of China and Kukai who is the founder of Shingon sect only introduced this self mummification. In later stage; at the end of 18th century the Japanese Government banned Sokushibutsu- self mummification process (a ritual suicide?).

Thursday, June 20, 2013

History Mystery: Pazyryk The frozen tombs of Altai -3

The grave-robbers of Pazyryk carried off much of its jewellery. But there was one kind of adornment that they did not consider valuable. The arm, legs and torso of one man were covered with fantastic tattoos. He had pronounced mongoloid featured. Though this was unusual at Pazyryk, where most were of a European type, there must have been a Mongol presence on the eastern fringes of the Altai. The man was about 60 years old and fairly stout. The tattoos had obviously been applied while he was young, for they were faded or distorted over the areas where he had gained weight. An entire bestiary of weird and wonderful animals hugged the curves of his musculature: stags with antlers teeming with the heads of birds, and winged feline creatures with pointed teeth. A fish had been traced between ankle and knee, and four wild sheep ran up the inside of his leg. The head of a lion-griffin had been positioned exactly over his heart. The creature’s curving back wound round the man’s torso up to the shoulder blade, where the coiled whorl of the tail ended. This ‘Lionheart’ had died in battle. His skull had been smashed and the scalp removed – scalping was referred to by Herodotus as a way of appropriating the enemy’s vital force. To compensate for the deformity of the skull, before the burial the man’s comrades had sewn on a wig.

A false beard of horsehair, dyed jet black, had been fixed under his chin. The practice of tattooing was, like scalping, referred to by ancient writers as one of the more extraordinary habits of the barbarian nomads. The Greeks associated the markings with the degrading stigmata used to brand slaves. But the wearers bore their embellishments with pride. Tattoos are still worn as sings of bravery and nobility by the Kyrgyz of central Asia. The tattooist’s art may have had practical uses, as well as an aesthetic and spiritual resonance. One man found at Pazyryk wore tattoo marks on his ankle and at key points along his spine. The points are well known in acupuncture, a practice widespread among the Asian peoples of his time. The decoration on the skin, clothes, and household items of the people of the Altai reflects the fact that they lived in intimate contact with animal world. The piercing eyes and beak of the eagle, the supple spine and sharp teeth of the wild cat, are rendered with expressive simplicity and accuracy. It is as though, by depicting an animal in art, its particular qualities were magically appropriated. When death came to an important member of the tribe, the nomads exercised their skills in a different form of handiwork, creating burial mounds using rough wooden tools.

 Samples of these tools survive, including wedge-shaped wooden stakes, their ends hammered flat by mallet blows. The stakes must have been used to break up the ground before the digging began. All the kurgans were built in roughly the same way, beginning with the construction of a rectangular pit, and inside it a chamber of larch logs to receive the body or bodies. It had a ceiling and plank floor and often doubles walls. The tombs were then ready for the funeral. Little is known about the religion of the people of the Altai. Writing of the Scythians to the west, Herodotus noted that ‘it was not not their custom to raise cult statues, altars, or temples’. No places of worship have been found in the Altai. Since the nomads had no writings, there are no texts to shed light upon their beliefs. Evidence of ritual practices has been found at Pazyryk – a leather bag containing fingernails and hair, which may relate to some obscure ceremony. There are other indications of practices similar to shamanism, widespread in Mongolia and Siberia. The shaman was a priest, sorcerer, and healer, the mediator between the natural and supernatural worlds. To reach the spirit world, the shaman would don a stag’s head or antlers and enter into an ecstatic trance induced by drugs and music. Shamans are likely to have presided over the burials at Pazyryk. From evidence at the site, some aspects of the funeral ceremonies can be reconstructed.

They probably took place in the summer, the only time of year when the ground was not frozen. The bodies of the dead were embalmed, the muscle tissue removed through incisions in the skin and the cavities stuffed with grass. The incisions were then sewn up with sinews. The coffin containing the embalmed bodies, perhaps of the chieftain and his wife, was placed inside the larch-log chamber with the possessions that had been chosen to accompany them into the afterlife: fine carpets and hangings, and vessels of food and drink. The resplendent horses were screened from the coffin area by a wooden partition. The arrangement of the chamber seems to have been followed by a feast and a ritual fumigation using narcotics. Two of the Pazyryk tombs contained equipment for smoking hashish: small bronze cauldrons which held carbonized seeds of hemp and stones. A framework of sticks supported a miniature felt tent which could have retained the smoke for better inhalation. Herodotus recorded how the Scythains performed fumigations after funerals, describing it as a ‘vapour bath’. The details fit in remarkably well with the evidence that has been found at Pazyryk: ‘On a framework of three sticks, meeting at the top, they stretch pieces of woolen cloth, taking care to get the joins as perfect as they can. Inside the little tent they put a dish with red-hot stones on it. Then they take some hemp seed, creep into the tent, and throw the seed onto the hot stones. ‘At once it begins to smoke, giving off a vapour unsurpassed by any vapour bath one could find in Greece. The Scythains enjoy it so much they howl with pleasure . . .’ Music almost certainly contributed to the sacred ceremonies of death. Drums made of a membrane stretched across a horn body have been found in the tombs, and are similar to items that are still used in Tibet, Afghanistan, and Iran. After the last rituals had been performed, the pit was covered with birch bark and twigs, followed by layers of lorch logs. The earth dug out earlier was heaped on top, and covered with a pile of stones up to 4.5m (15ft) high. As the centuries passed and the nomads disappeared from the Altai, the stone mounds remained as the only visible testament to their civilization.

History Mystery: Pazyryk The frozen tombs of Altai -2

The people of the Altai were nomads, driving their animals wherever good pasture was to be found. Animal herds were the lifeblood of the community. As long as the herds were fed and watered, the people had enough meat and milk, wool and leather. As soon as a pasture was exhausted the people had to move on. The whole tribe stacked their goods on horses and wagons in the same way as modern Asian nomads such as the Iranian Kashgai and the central Asian Kazakhs. But the wanderings of the tribe did not follow a wholly random pattern. In the Altai, they were linked to seasonal change and to the ruggedness of the mountain terrain. In spring, the tribe sought grass along the river valleys. Summer was dry and cool- the mountain slopes were alive with plant life, and wild grains made delicious fodder for the herd. But season was short. As the weather grew colder, the tribe went into hibernation, living a semi-settled existence. They spent most of their time in circular tents made of felt, stretched over a framework of wooden slats. Dwellings like these, known as Yurts, can still be seen throughout central Asia. They also made conical huts of felt and bark stretched over a light framework, which could be construct against a tree. The nomads had little use for bulky furniture, favouring carpets and hides with cushions of felt, leather, or fur, stuffed with animal hair or grass. Carpets and hangings insulated against the cold, and offered ideal surfaces for decoration.

The Kurgans of Pazyryk yielded striking examples of native craftsmanship, including immense panels of felt decorated with coloured appliqué work. Two outstanding furnishings indicate contact with distant civilizations. The first is a carpet of knotted wool, some 2m (6½ ft) square with a red background around the edges are geometrical motifs and griffins, a jungle of images through which pass several seer grazing in single file, and a procession of horsemen. The craftsmanship and decorative style suggest that the carpet had been imported from Iran. The second item is a saddlecloth edged with red and blue felt and inlaid with leather studded with gold and tin. Six great lumps of yak hair hand from it, but the cloth itself is of delicate Chinese silk, with pheasants embroidered amid a swirling mass of multicolored arabesques. Even in China, silk fabric of this quality was exceptional and found only in the trousseaux of court ladies. It is not impossible that this was the dowry of a Chinese princess. Perhaps she had been married off by a Chinese lord to one of the ‘barbarians from the north’ in an attempt to stem the raids of the warriors who threatened the peace of his realm – it was against their incursions that the Great Wall was built in the 3rd century BC.

These two pieces demonstrate that the people of the Altai were in some sort of contract with the great civilizations to the east and west of their mountain homeland. A trans-Asian route, a precursor of the Great Silk Road of the Middle Ages, was already being traveled by nomadic merchants. It spanned the vast distance between Persia and China, and the nomadic profited from it. The few pieces of furniture discovered at Pazyryk are ingeniously adapted to the nomadic existence. There are several small, collapsible wooden tables, consisting of detachable trays resting on four legs, elaborately carved in the shape of cat-like creatures standing on their hind legs. When dismantled, the trays and legs could be stacked for easy transportation. The trays themselves are oval with a rim, and could be used as plates. Vessels such as clay pitchers and wooden bowls were also unearthed, along with a large number of leather containers.

 Many of these leather pouches, bags, flasks, bottles and boxes are decorated with superb fur or leather appliqué work. The men of the Altai spent most of their time on horseback, either supervising the herds of hunting. Riding with bow and arrow, they would defend their animals against attack by predators. The furs of wild animals were useful to the tribe, and could be traded with neighboring peoples. Sable was the most highly prized fur, but squirrel, otter, panther, wild cat and ermine were also greatly valued. Swans, wild geese, and grouse provided feathers and down. Men more trousers of hide squeezed into felt leggings of tucked into boots made of soft leather. Shirts were made of raw hemp fringed with a braid of bright red wool. A kaftan, often made from a hide turned inside out, was worn on top. Some kaftans were extremely luxurious. One garment found at Pazyryk was made of a velvety sable hide and decorated with finely stitched embroidery of the type seen on Afghan coats today. It was embellished with leather appliqué depicting a stag. The heads of griffins swarmed around the antlers, and the eyes were minuscule beads of gold. Hats provided vital protection against the icy winds of the steppes. They were made of fur or felt, with ear flaps which could be worn raised or lowered, ‘terminating in a point, and standing straight and stiff’ in the words of Herodotus. Hats in this style are still worn by Asian nomads. The exalted female occupants of the tombs were decked out as richly as the men. One women’s kaften was made of squirrel fur turned inside out, hemmed at the bottom with a wide band of pony skin and edged with otter fur. The sleeves were narrow and purely decorative. The kaftan was worn with a bodice of otter, squirrel, and sable, two pairs of fine felt stockings, and boots of red leather, elaborately patterned – even on the soles.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

History Mystery: Pazyryk The frozen tombs of Altai -1

Civilizations are usually founded on urban settlements. But the horsemen of the Altai needed no fixed base. Their alternative, nomadic lifestyle led them to move with the seasons, creating a culture which flourished wherever they pitched their tents. The Altai Mountains of Southern Siberia are a vast massif of jagged peaks and swooping valleys, thickly forested on the lower slopes in the north-west, yet semi-desert in the south-east. There are no fallen monuments or ruined city walls to break the landscape, but the mountains were once home to a nomadic race whose culture was influenced by both China and Achaemenid Persia (Iran). Only their frozen tombs – scattered through the extensive mountain system near the borders of Russia, China, and Mongolia – reveal the extraordinary vitality of their short-lived culture. Burial mounds – huge piles of stones known as kurgans – are the only signs of human presence in this area in ancient times. They dot the steppes of Asia, stretching as for west as the valley of the Danube.

 Those in the Altai have revealed some remarkable finds – at an altitude of 1,600m (5,250 ft), ice has preserved their contents for more than 2,000 years. In the early 20th century, Russian archaeologists began excavations at Pazyryk, high in the massif. Here, a group of five great kurgans had been discovered, surrounded by smaller mounds. After digging a shaft in one of the kurgans to allow access to in central chamber, the scientists entered a frozen world. As the ice melted, it revealed a tomb draped in brightly edged brown felt. All around lay scattered funeral objects – bright tapestries and clothing, luxurious animal furs, wooden furniture, and carved objects of bone and staghorn. North of the chamber, behind a partition of logs, lay the bodies of several horses. The manes were trimmed and bound, the tails plaited. Alongside them lay rich saddlecloths, leather cushions on wooden saddle bows, bits, bridles, and harness straps hung with vividly painted wooden ornaments embellished with gold leaf. It seemed that thieves had penetrated the kurgans shortly after the burial ceremonies. In one of the tombs, the embalmed bodies of a man and a woman had been lifted from the sarcophagus. Their hands and feet had been chopped off to retrieve valuable bracelets and anklets, their fingers amputated to free rings. The heads had been severed from the bodies so that necklaces could be removed easily.

 Aside from the desecration, by breaking into the graves the thieves had rendered an invaluable service to the archaeologists. Autumn rains seeped into the tombs of Pazyryk through the tunnels dug by the grave-robbers. Year after year, the bitter steppeland winters froze the water in successive layers of ice. Screened from the summer sun by the stones above, the ice had never melted. The imprisoned riches had neither perished nor faded, and the bodies of the dead were frozen – preserved almost intact. Fabrics were as richly coloured as when they had been woven and velvety smooth. Carpets were still springy; furs were still silky soft. Textures had endured. The people buried at Pazyryk were relations of the Scythians – a warlike tribe who made sporadic descents on the great civilizations to the east and west of the barren Asian steppes. These ferocious nomads made terrifying incursions into Persia during the 5th century BC. The Greek historian, Herodotus (c.484-425 BC), recorded some of their customs. According to Herodotus, each Scythian warrior had to make at least one kill a year, or face disgrace. The skulls of slaughtered enemies were used as drinking cups, and their skins were tanned to make capes and cushions. Slaves were blinded so that they could not run away. The Scythians’ peculiar savagery may have stemmed from their geographical position. Caught between the advanced civilizations of the Middle East and the warrior horsemen of the remote steppes, they had to be merciless in order to survive. Herodotus also recorded that when a Scythian king died, his subjects embalmed his body and buried it in a square pit covered with stones. Interred with him were horses, personal treasures, and measures of his royal household, strangled before burial. Many of Herodotus’s observations have been confirmed by the excavation of Scythian tombs on the western plains of Asia. But the Pazyryk kurgans reveal aspects of the nomads’ life absent from the Scythian tombs. At Pazyryk, precious metals had been plundered, bit a unique treasure trove of perishable accessories remained. When Herodotus described a distant Scythian tribe known as Argippeans, he may have been referring to the people of the Altai. The tribe occupies an important place in Scythain mythology. They inhabited a remote mountain region, and were known as the keepers of the gold. According to legend, it was they who first stole the precious metal from the guardianship of the griffins – the fabulous winged monsters often represented in Scythian art. In Turkish languages, ‘Altai’ means ‘country of Gold’.

 ( Cont....)

Monday, June 17, 2013

History Mystery: Sipan City Of Lords Of Gold And Sacrifice -2

Gold was the most highly valued metal. Gold-working had been a local industry in the upper valley for centuries before the development of the Moche culture. An alloy of gold and copper, known as tumbaga, was also popular among many Andean cultures. The Moche finished objects made of this alloy with depletion gilding: they treated the surface of the objects with acid, which removed the surface copper and left a layer of pure gold in its place. To gild plain copper objects, they used a more sophisticated method. They immersed the objects in a solution of gold, water, minerals, and salts, which was then heated. A thin layer of gold formed on top of the copper. Further heating of the copper object bonded the gold to its surface. The Moche were not only skilled in metalwork; they were also fine potters. Huge collections of pots were placed in burials at Span and elsewhere in Moche territory – created to order as part of the funerary preparations.

Many Andean cultures illustrated aspects of daily life on their pottery, and the Moche brought this art form to its highest pinnacle. They decorated their pots with fine line drawings of subjects from everyday scenes, such as weaving and hunting. On others processions of musicians play trumpets, bells, rattles, and panpipes. Some pots reveal the Moche’s sea-going activities; the sea was a major source of food for them. Fishing boats made of tied reed bundles complete with fishing lines, nets, fish, and fishermen, are a common theme. A number of vessels were stamped with designs in relief. Others were created as three-dimensional sculptures, loosely based on the shape of a bottle or bowl.

Many Mooche pots depict ritual scenes of sacrifice, funerary rites, and warfare. Some show battles fought in the desert regions between the river valley settlements. These encounters usually took the form of a series of single combats between warriors, in which the aim was not to maim or kill an opponent, nut to stun him with a blow from a mace-topped war club. The victor would then strip and bind the loser, and publicly parade him as his captive. Ultimately, these captives of ritual warfare were sacrificed. In an important religious ceremony, their throats were cut by a priest, who caught the blood in a goblet.

 A second priest, wearing an owl headdress and attended by a priestess, offered the goblet to the ruler, who drank the blood. The bodies of the sacrificial victims were then dismembered, and strings were tied around their heads and limbs so that they could be hung up as trophies. Until recently, archaeologists studying these scenes suggested that they depicted mythological events involving deities. But the discoveries at Sipan tied them firmly to the real world. Severed hands and feet found near the Sipan mounds are evidence of sacrificial rites. In many ritual scenes on pottery, sacrifices and offerings are shown taking place at sacred mounds. One common scene shows priests offerings Spondylous shells to a supreme warrior priest seated within a pavilion on top of a huaca. The dress and accoutrements of the warrior priest in these scenes match those found with the body in the first tomb at Sipan – including his sceptre, headdress, weapons, and waist bells. The man in the second tomb, with his owl headdress, wore the dress of the bird priest who presented the goblet of blood to his ruler. A female burial excavated more recently, at San Jose de Moro in the adjacent Jequetepeque valley, closely matches the tomb was probably the warrior priest in an earlier guise, before the details the details of the ceremony had fully evolved. The sacred mounds of the Moche symbolized the mountains which played a vital role in South American religion. The Andes, as the source of essential natural resources, were revered by all the cultures who lived in the regions near to them.

Rainfall was rare in the Moche region – and the rivers fed by the mountains were the only source of fresh water. The inhabitants of the valleys constructed sophisticated irrigation networks to take water to their fields. Platforms were set among the fields for the officials who supervised agricultural work. It was agricultural labour and its produce that supported the hierarchy of nobles as well as the craftsmen who made metalwork and pottery. At the apex of society was the supreme ruler, attired in death as the warrior lord. The sea also played a key role in Moche cosmology. Its significance is demonstrated by an artifact found in the burial of the old lord at Sipan – a golden crab with a human face and a pectrol in the shape of an octopus. The Humboldt current running through the south-eastern Pacific provides one of the richest harvests of marine food in the world, but the ocean also harbours fearsome powers of destruction. The devastating storms and upset weather patterns brought periodically by the El Nino phenomenon still spell ruin along the Pacific coast. Natural disasters – El Nino, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, drought, and floods – were always part of South American life. But between AD 562 and 594, a period of sever drought brought enormous changes to the Moche realms. Ravaged by famine and disease, the population plummeted, and massive coastal dunes built up, driving the remaining population inland. The irrigation networks on which agriculture depended were disrupted and new systems had to be created. Warfare, previously confined to ritual combat, developed into something more deadly – real aggression over natural resources. Fortifications sprang up, and communities hoarded produce to tide them over during difficult years. By AD 800, this fight for survival had fractured the territory of the Moche into numerous principalities, and the cultural unity once enjoyed by the river valley kingdoms became buried deep in the past with their glorious ancestors.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

History Mystery: Sipan City Of Lords Of Gold And Sacrifice -1

Material looted from ancient Peruvian graves gave tantalizing glimpses of the splendours of Moche craftsmanship. Its full glories were revealed in 1987, when an argument between tomb robbers led to the discovery of a previously untouched burial. THE TREASURE HUNT BEGAN IN SOUTH AMERICA in the 16th century AD, when the Spaniards conquered the Inca and their neighbours. Their aim was to plunder precious artifacts, and they were prepared to go to any lengths to achieve it. In the city of Cerro Blanco, at the mouth of the Moche river in northern Peru, stood the vast Huaca del Sol (Pyramid of the Sun) – a sacred mound with huge potential for a rich haul. The Spaniards hatched a clever plan to reveal its secrets. They diverted the waters of the Moche towards the mound, washing away part of its outer wall.

The sacred site gave up its silver and gold, crafted into works of art by a gifted civilization named after the river. The Moche, whose culture laid the foundations for the later Chimu, who in turn influenced their Inca conquerors, lived in river valley settlements along the coast of northern Peru, between the 1st and the 8th century AD. Their realms comprised a number of related kingdoms, rather than a unified state. At the height of their power, the Moche occupied land covering some 35,750km2 (13,803sq miles). East to west it spanned no more than 80km (50 miles) but stretched 550km (342 miles) from the Huarmey valley in the south to the Piura valley in the north. Between the two lay further treasure at Sipan, near present-day Chiclayo.

 It was here one night in February 1987 that a group of huaqueros, or tomb robbers, began digging into a sacred mound. They stumbled upon a fabulously rich burial. A series of mounds promised further treasures, but before the search could resume, the thieves fell out over the division of their finds, and one of the huaqueros gave his companions up to the police. The police called in Walter Alva, the director of the local archaeologist museum in the town of Lambayeque. Alva and his team investigated the chaotic remains of the looted tomb – with the help of armed guards to prevent further illicit plundering. The archaeologists set about painstakingly collecting clues to the nature of the burial and its rituals, unaware that the huaca, or sacred pyramid, was about to yield an amazing secret. Inside the plundered grave lay the skeleton of a man with a copper helmet and a shield. But beneath him were traces of decayed timbers – supports that formed the roof of another chamber below. This unexpected find led to the discovery of the most magnificent burial ever uncovered in the Americas. Inside the wooden chamber they found cane coffins containing two men, a dog, and two women. In the centre of these lay another coffin made of wood, containing the body of the man for whom the tomb had been created. The man had died in his late 30s or early 40s – a good age for the period when he lived, around AD 250. He was a warrior lord, dressed in an elaborately woven white tunic and sandals of silver. In his right hand he held a gold sceptre, in his left a silver one.

Other gold and silver objects had been placed on or underneath the man’s body, including a huge semicircular headdress, several helmets, and a series of decorated bells, which he had once worn at his waist. Out of the dust came gold and turquoise beaded pectorals, bracelets, and ear ornaments. Other funerary offerings included weapons, Spondylus (spiny oyster) shells, and fans with gold handles, some made of flamingo feathers. Archaeologists also found a series of cloth banners decorated with gilded copper. As if this fabulous discovery were not enough, Alva’s team subsequently uncovered two more richly furnished burials within the same mound. The second intact burial was of a similar date to the first, but was distinguished by a huge gold headdress in the form of an owl spreading its wings. The third had been buried several hundred years earlier, in the grave rather than a chamber, with a range of grave goods even more rich and elaborate than those in the tomb of the warrior lords. One outstanding piece among the older lord’s ornaments was a necklace of rattles. Each rattle consisted of a small gold hemisphere, about 8cm (3 in) in diameter, containing three tiny gold balls. Above the hemisphere, a mesh of gold wires formed a spider’s web, on which crouched a spider of beaten gold, its back decorated with a human face. The sacred mounds of the Moche were constructed of adobe bricks of sun-dried mud. The workers who built them were commoners, who paid their taxes in the form of labour. Labour gangs also constructed roads and canals for the transport of precious materials – turquoise and gold from the north and feathers from the forests to the east. Sea traders traveled far to the north to obtain Spondylus shells. These materials were wrought into the astonishing craftwork found inside the tombs. For the Moche were superb metallurgists. They mined and exported copper ores, as well as the goods created in their workshops. Traces of some of their workshops survive to the west, south, and east of Sipan. Some 15km (9 miles) farther up the valley, in later Moche times, a large town with substantial copper workshops emerged at Pampa Grande.
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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

History Mystery: Amarna Capital Of Heretic Pharaoh -5

Fashion, in the modern sense of fluctuating styles of dress, evolved side by side with the wealth and taste fore luxury which arose under the new kingdom. Chic Egyptian began to wear fuller and more complex garments. Short-sleeved blouses became popular, and the traditional loincloth was covered with a large piece of transparent drapery. In Amarna, the front of this piece of fine linen was folded upwards to form a long pleated pocket. New, discreetly voluptuous forms began to replace the austere lines of traditional wear. Women’s dresses, full length and flared, were knotted under the breasts, sometimes leaving them bare. Whether male or female, all high-born Egyptians lavished great care on their complexions. Men shaved regularly with bronze or copper razors: a high –ranking Egyptian never wore facial hair, a custom that distinguished him sharply from his Asiatic neighbours. On bas-reliefs, Syrians are immediately recognizable by their beards. Men’s hair was cut short, and a curly wig worm on top. Women wore heavier artificial hairdos, especially for banquets, when the wig was plaited and fell to the shoulders in a mass of ribbons and flowers, often crowned with a jeweled diadem. The jewellery of the New Kingdom was magnificent. Women’s necks were adorned with beaded necklaces, their wrists with arrays of bracelets. Materials varied according to the wearer’s station: from pottery or glass paste to gold, sliver, ivory, and precious stones such as lapis lazuli, turquoise, or malachite.

 This iridescent splendour reflected more than wealth or high rank. Decorative amulets of magical significance were shaped in the forms of hieroglyphs meaning ‘Life’, ‘Health’, or ‘Longevity’. Even before the Amarna period, the distinction between men’s and women’s clothing was becoming blurred. In Akhenaten’s time, this tendency reached its high point. It is clear from portraits that the king had a strangely feminine appearance, and under his rule characteristics traditional associated with women were exalted: Love, tenderness, affection for nature, and domesticity. At the same time, conventionally masculine skills of warfare and statecraft were being abandoned a move that was to have catastrophic consequences for the empire. The reign of Akhenaten lasted 17 years. During that time, Egypt’s hard-won dominion over Palestine and Syria was disintegrated. A cache of state archives, written on clay tablets, was discovered at Amarna in 1887. Many of the tablets are letters from the rulers of contemporary states such as mitanni, discussing diplomatic gifts. Others present a vivid picture of an empire in decline. They include letters written by vassals of Egypt in the Middle Eastern territories, begging of help against rival states, or complaining about Egypt’s failure to send troops. In fairness to Akhenaton, the process of decay must have set before he came to the throne. Many of the letters are addressed to his father, Amenhotep III. Some schorals have suggested that it was official policy to keep the eastern states quarrrelling among themselves, on the time-honoured principle of ‘divide and rule’. If so, the policy backfired.

A people now known by their Biblical name of the Hittites were emerging as a major power in the Middle East. They profited from Egypt’s neglect by seizing Syria. No evidence survives to suggest that the loss worried Akhenaten in his secluded world on the banks of the Nile. While night stole across the imperial domain, Amarna bathed in the rays of the setting sun. The last years of the pharaoh’s reign are shadowy. Queen Nefertiti disappears – she may have died or fallen from favour, or she may have moved to Thebes as the pharaoh’s representative. Her place at Akhenaten’s side was taken by her eldest daughter, the princess meretaten. In 1362 BC Akhenaton died, and was succeeded by his son-in-law, Smekhkare, husband of Meretaten. Smenkhkare reigned far a mere two years, and was succeeded by another son-in-law of Akhenaten, Tutankhaten. Already Egypt was turning away from the god which had failed to keep the empire intact. The new sovereign change his name to Tutankhamun, reflecting a reversion to the ancient dynasty deity previously worshipped in Thebes. The name of Tutankhamun became famous after the discovery, in 1922, of his tomb in the Valley of the Kings. His reign was short, but significant for the restoration of the traditional gods. Deserted shrines were rebuilt in splendour, and their priesthoods returned. But the taint of heresy lingered about the royal house. The efforts of Tutankhamun and his successors to appease the angry heavens did not go far enough. Around the end of the 14th century BC, one of Tutankhamun’s chief advisers, a general called Horemheb, came to the throne, and set about annihilating Akhenaton’s memory.

Amarna, already partially deserted, was obliterated. Statues of Akhenaten were smashed, monuments razed to the ground. Particular vengeance was reserved for the great temple; the walls were demolished, and thousands of stone slabs ferried along the Nile for re-use in temples dedicated to the ancient gods, as though to atone for the outrage committed against them. In a final gesture, a layer of cement was poured over the foundations of Amarna’s temples. Under the new dynasty of pharaohs, Egypt’s old imperial ambitions were revived, and the Amarna episode was committed to oblivion. Yet, in a curios paradox, it is the only major Egyptian city of which a fairly clear picture survives. Urban centres in the populated regions have all disappeared under successive layers of habitation, but the remote site of Amarna was never re-occupied. In addition, the cement which Horemheb poured over the foundations of the temple protected them from erosion, and the layout of the town survives exactly as it was in the age of Akhenaton – a blueprint of Egyptian town planning preserved. An extraordinary mystery surrounds the fate of Akhenaton himself. The pharaoh had prepared a family tomb to the east of the city, and this has been excavated. One of the royal princesses, who had died young, was buried there, but no other members of the household reached their appointed resting place. Four granite coffins have been unearthed at the site – they had been shattered. Somehow, the Egypitans denied the dead pharaoh his intended burial, perhaps wishing to forget the son of the Aten and his divine, faceless father.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

History Mystery: Amarna Capital Of Heretic Pharaoh -4

The wealthier houses at Amarna were like miniature estates. They included gardens and many outbuildings, all enclosed by rectangular gardens and many outbuildings, all enclosed by a rectangular wall, and were largely self-sufficient. The kitchens were always situated in the outbuildings, as were the cattle sheds, stables, kennels, a well and the servants’ quarters. Grain brought from the west bank of the river was stored in a large courtyard equipped with grain lofts. Soil had to be brought in from outside the city to enrich the gardens, which were tended with exceptional care. Trees planted in rows according to species were often arranged around a large, rectangular pond. Most gardens contained a chapel, with an engraved stone showing the royal family making an offering to the Aten. Images of the Disc and of Akhenaten, his prophet, were everywhere in the city. In the desert space outside the city, the pharaoh built a number of royal palaces where he and his family could retreat for relaxation. At Maru-Aten, to the south of the town, he constructed several artificial lakes, the largest of which might have been used for water sports. In the middle of another lake, on an island, were three pavilions – in oasis of calm which may have served as the pharaoh’s summer palace. Another royal residence to the north of the town seems to have included a zoological garden. Frescoes here and elsewhere in the city bear tribute to Akhenaten’s delight in nature, depicting an exotic world of flowers, birds, and water plants. The Egyptians had always lived close to nature, and the animal kingdom featured prominently in their art. The Amarna period brought greater spontaneity – a more vibrant sense of life, independent of its mythological associations. The rigid lines of conventional art melted into more fluid forms. Representations of the human figure, for instance, began to show how people really looked, rather than following an established stereotype.

Musculature was examined, the casual gesture revealed. These new developments are most evident in the countless representations of the pharaoh and his family. Many cravings show scenes from their private life. On one relief, the royal couple heartily enjoys a meal. Akhenaten holds a chop, Nefertiti a piece of chicken; they are eating with gusto. Another relief shows the royal couple side by side on a chariot Akhenaten holding the reins and Nefertiti embracing him. Such displays of intimacy must have outraged traditionalists. Charmingly casual though the scene often was the royal couples were always represented with the Disc of the Sun blazing overhead. The rays of the heavenly body were drawn as long lines terminating in a hand which held a looped cross an ankh – the hieroglyph symbolizing life. Even in death, the image of the pharaoh and Aten accompanied the citizens of Amarna. Tombs were built in the wall of cliffs along the eastern frontier of the city. Like other Egyptian burials, they were decorated with scenes from the dead person’s earthly existence. But at Amarna, Akhenaten himself, crowned by the rays of the Sun, always dominates the pictures. All the mythology of the Egyptian underworld was swept away by Akhenaten’s reforms. The occupants of the tombs faced the unknown under the protection of the pharaoh alone.

It was he who illuminated his subjects’ burial places, and he acted as their exclusive guardian against the terrors of the afterlife. An entire village for the tomb workers was built near the cliffs, laid out according to a careful plan. Five streets ran between its terraced houses linking some 70 dwellings, all more or less identical except for the foreman’s larger house. The village limits were marked by a mud-brick wall. Death masks and casts have been excavated from the villa of a sculptor named Thutmose. The modeling room and studio contained chisels and drills, and models of heads fashioned out of gypsum plaster. Such likenesses were the sculptor’s stock-in-trade, from which portraits would later be carved in stone. Many customers were private were private individuals, from fairly low-born citizens who had profited by Akhenaten’s favour to the highest in the land. The head of Nefertiti found at Amarna is the work of Thutmose. The piece combines the formal simplicity of traditional Egyptian art with the naturalism encouraged by Akhenaten. It has none of the distortions which mar some of Amarna’s stone reliefs. While Thutmose was clearly one of the foremost artists of his day, he was not the sculptor-in-chief.

 That high title belonged to a certain Bak, whose father had been head sculptor under Amenhotep III. Whether Bak resented Akhenaten’s personal influence on the arts is not known. Like everyone else at Amarna, he paid at least token homage to the pharaoh’s new vision of he world, styling himself as chief sculptor, ‘whom his majesty himself taught’. Other excavations at Amarna have revealed little new information about the ordinary routines of daily life. Most of the workers were involved in farming the land; irrigating the fertile banks of the Nile according to age-old traditions. But frescoes and figurines from the period do reflect important changes in high society since the days of the Old Kingdom. These are nowhere more evident than in the styling of clothes. Under the Old Kingdom, the Egyptians had always dressed simply. Men wore nothing more than a loincloth, long or short, sometimes pleated, sometimes starched. Women wore long, tight-fitting dresses fastened at the shoulder with straps. The material in both cases was plain white linen. The difference between the clothing of the rich and the poor lay principally in the fineness of the fabric.

 ( Cont....) 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

History Mystery: Amarna Capital Of Heretic Pharaoh -3

The great Temple of Aten was situated slightly to the north of the private palace, in a vast sacred enclosure measuring 800m (2,625 ft) by almost 300m (984 ft). Like other Egyptian temples, the sanctuary consisted of a series of courtyards radiating from a single axis, and the entrance to the complex was framed by tow pylons – huge, tapering stone masses. But the likeness to traditional temples ended here, because the Temple of Aten had been conceived in a revolutionary way. In traditional temples, such as those at Karnak and Luxor, a courtyard led into a succession of increasingly dark and small rooms, with lowered ceilings and raised floors, culminating in the sanctuary itself, away from the crowds and from daylight. But the temple at Amarna had no roof – the walls acted merely as partitions between chambers open to the sky. Akhenaten was anxious that nothing should block the Sun’s holy rays. Reliefs from Amarna evoke the grandeur of the ceremonies held inside the Sun-drenched sanctuary. Events are presented frame by frame, with an almost cinematic effect. The king drove his own chariot to the temple. Nefertiti drove a second chariot. Behind came the princesses and ladies of the court, and soldiers carrying standards ran beside the procession. At the temple, servants led the horses and their chariots away, and priests greeted the royal couple with a bow. Women beat tambourines, and subjects raised their arms in homage.

 Luxury verging on decadence is apparent everywhere. The women wore diaphanous pleated dresses. The king and queen were similarly attired in fine fabrics revealing the contours of their limbs. Feathers decked the horns of the sacrificial oxen, whose bodies were so fattened that they could barely move. Within the temple enclosure, the king approached the main gate. The little princesses trooped in after their parents. The children were naked and their heads were shaved, except for a single lock of hair, as was the practice for Egyptian children. Each of them carried a sistrum, a musical instrument used in Egyptian religious ceremony. It consisted of a metal ring fastened to a handle. Rods loosely attached to the ring tinkled when the instrument was shaken. The sound was associated with love and joy, and was credited with warding off evil spirits. The music of the sistrum provided a familiar background to the ceremonies, but the rites of Aten were startlingly new. Egyptian gods were traditionally worshipped in effigy: a statue would be washed, dressed and perfumed exactly like a living being, and presented with offerings of food. No such idolatries attended the new religion.

The Aten had no statue; it was never represented in human or animal form. Offerings were piled on a great altar – gifts of bread, poultry, beef and garlands of flowers – and the Disc of the Sun witnessed the rites as the pharaoh consecrated gifts, burned incense, and poured water, with the queen officiating at his side. The temple site contains an astonishing number of lesser altars – some 2,000 in all – which may have been used by Amarna’s citizens. The possibility that the king and his subjects worshipped the Aten in the same sacred space indicates another revolutionary departure form the conventions of earlier Egyptian rites. Residential areas grew haphazardly to the north and south of the city’s official buildings. The homes of he wealthier citizens were spaced out along the streets at irregular intervals, and humbler citizens occupied the areas in between, different classes living side by side. Whatever their size, whether humble dwellings or princely palaces, houses in Amarna were laid out according to the same basic plan. All were divided into three parts: an antechamber, a living room, and a private area with bedrooms.

The antechamber was a long and often beautiful room, its ceiling supported by wooden columns, and it was sometimes surrounded by a suite of smaller rooms. The square living room was the centre of the house. The walls were not open the sun, so the room temperature was cool and comfortable. They led up to a ceiling higher than that of the rest of the house, supported by wooden columns. Daylight entered through small windows set high in the walls. The private apartments consisted of the master’s chamber and rooms reserved for family and guests. There were no true bathrooms – a simple chamber provided a space where servants would shower family members with water from a jar. A small adjacent room provided somewhere to relax, and a staircase led to the terrace roof where the family might sleep if the summer heat made the house unbearable.

 ( Cont....)