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Happy Anniversary to the “Committee” that Saved Pasargad


Happy 3Pasargad is a UNESCO recognized historical world heritage site. The Pasargad complex contains the mausoleum of Cyrus the Great, the founder and the ruler of the Persian Empire. The decree of the Cyrus’s Cylinder was issued by the Persian Emperor, which has been recognized by the United Nations as the first Human Rights Charter.

In August 2004, Pasargad complex and the adjacent historical sites were endangered due to construction of a nearby dam. In response, thousands of individuals including many artists, writer, intellectuals and human right activist from all over the world, initiated the creation of The Committee for Saving Pasargad. The Committee was successful in slowing the completion of the dam with the help of many supporters of the committee, thus saving many important sites including the Pasargad complex. However, the Bolaghi Gorge and its adjacent plain which was the site of ancient factories, palaces and houses, together with many artifacts were submerged and destroyed.

Chinese Present A New Hypothesis After Finding Artifacts


atashdan-zartosti-chinAs reported recently by China TV, Chinese archeologists in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygyr Autonomous Region have discovered wooden braziers in excavated graves, leading them to believe that the people practiced Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrians buried a burning brazier with the dead to show their worship of fire. Archeologists also found polished stoneware in the mounds as well as eyebrow pencils used most probably by women.

These newly discovered artifacts in this sparsely populated part of Pamir Plateau of China, shows that people lived, battled and created marvelous civilizations according to the researchers. However, the archeologists are also presenting a new hypothesis which remains to be proven. The mounds that are being excavated, they believe point to a civilization that practiced Zoroastrianism which could date back to more than 2500 years ago. Therefore, according to the Chinese researchers’ hypothesis, Zoroastrianism could have also originated in China and not in ancient Persia.

In 2010, as reported by several news outlets, a horse bone bearing cuneiform inscriptions apparently derived from Cyrus Cylinder was also discovered in China along with a second bone inscribed with an as yet unknown text. The bones were acquired by the Beijing Palace Museum in 1985. Their origin is unclear, but Dr. Irving Finkel of British Museum Department of the Middle East has hypothesized that they may reflect a text inscribed or written in another format (perhaps leather or clay), derived from the Cyrus Cylinder’s text, though for some reason only one twenty of the original cuneiform symbols were copied. Finkel suggested that this may indicate that the text (or even the original cylinder itself) was sent around the Persian Empire and was copied to make the bone’s inscription at some point.

If the hypothesis presented by the Chinese archeologists is true, further research is needed to find out why Zoroastrianism prospered in Persia and not in China, as evidenced by extensive monuments, artifacts, history and propagation of the religion in ancient Persia. In addition, further excavations and research in China are essential to show if they find just more than a few buried braziers which could support the new presented hypothesis by the Chinese.

Zoroastrianism and their beliefs could have indeed been transferred from ancient Persia to other parts of the world and borders of the Persian Empire as they did with inscribed cuneiforms.

Newly Discovered Monuments Around Stonehenge


StonehengeAs published and reported by some media outlets and in the September issue of the Smithsonian Magazine, archaeologists have discovered 15 previously unknown monuments buried around Stonehenge. This new finding has added more mystery surrounding Stonehenge. These monuments were found in the first-of-its-kind study and they suggest that other monuments could be hidden underneath the current monuments.

Technology definitely played a major role in the project. Researchers used a variety of techniques including ground-penetrating radar and 3D laser scanning which helped them to create a highly detailed subsurface map of the entire area. According to a release from the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology, one of the partners in the study, the technologies are notable for being much less destructive than traditional, digging-based exploratory techniques.

The project has been known as “The Stonehenge Hidden Landscape Project” and it took over four years. One of the new finds is an ancient trough that bisects an East-West ditch known as a “Cursus”. Archeologists believe that the Cursus monument aligns with the sunrise on the Spring and Fall equinoxes, and that the newly discovered trough could have been a means for people to ceremonially process toward the center of Stonehenge to the south.

The new research builds on findings from last October indicating that the area around Stonehenge is the oldest continually occupied region in Britain, going back to as early as 8820 B.C.


Ancient Mayan Cities Found in Mexican Jungle


mayanArchaeologists from the Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts have found two ancient Mayan cities hidden in the jungle of southeastern Mexico, and they believe there are more to be found in the region.

As reported by a number of news outlets, Ivan Sprajc, associate professor at the Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, said his team found the ancient cities of Lagunita and Tamchen on the Yucatan peninsula in April by examining aerial photographs of the region

Archaeologists believe that the two cities reached theirheyday in the Late and Terminal Classic periods (600-1000 AD). At each site, researchers found palace-like buildings, pyramids and plazas. One of the pyramids is almost 20 meters (65 feet) high

Researchers also found a facade featuring a monster-mouth doorway, which probably marked one of the main entrances to the center of the city. “The entrance apparently symbolizes the entrance to a cave and to the underworld. The sites have not been excavated yet.

Last summer, Sprajc discovered another ancient Mayan city, Chactun, 10 km (6 miles) north of Lagunita and 6 km (4 miles) northwest of Tamchen.

UNESCO Strengthens Action for Conflict Zones


destroyEarlier this month (August 2014), UNESCO announced new strategy and prioritization to safeguard National Heritage sites in the conflict zones. “Recent events in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Mali have highlighted the multiple threats to cultural heritage during crisis, including deliberate attacks, destruction as collateral damage in fighting, the greed of unscrupulous traders and collectors, vandalism of factions that seek to erase the achievements of past cultures.” UNESCO stated.

UNESCO believes that recent events have shown the complexity of any intervention to safeguard cultural heritage. UNESCO in the past has developed a comprehensive set of international instruments to protect cultural heritage. The Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970) and the World Heritage Convention(1972) provide a solid basis to protect cultural heritage. The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Properties in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954) and its Protocols set further international standards to deal with the specific risks faced by heritage during conflict. In addition, the Statutes of the International Criminal Court have defined the intentional destruction of historical buildings as a war crime.

Recognizing the powerful role of culture in building social cohesion and contributing to reconciliation and peace, the UN Security Council—in its Resolution 2100 on Mali, and Resolution 2139 on Syria–called for the protection of cultural heritage and diversity. The integration of culture in humanitarian, recovery and reconstruction operations provides the challenging opportunity of defining how cultural heritage protection can effectively contribute to the broader UN crisis response as UNESCO states.

History and the events of the last few years have shown that conflicts take a heavy toll on National Heritage. More than three years of conflict have taken a heavy toll on heritage in Syria. This is the reason why UNESCO has launched a web-based international observatory to monitor the situation of cultural heritage in Syria and help international cooperation to protect the country’s heritage.

In their Joint Appeal for the safeguarding of Syria’s cultural heritage, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and then UN and League of Arab States Joint Special Representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi stressed this important risk and its devastating implications. Due to the recent upsurge of new conflict in Iraq UNESCO recently organized an Emergency Experts’ meeting for the safeguarding of the Iraq’s cultural heritage, bringing together Iraqi and international expertise to design an Emergency Response Action Plan for the protection of the country’s cultural heritage at risk.

A key lesson learned from the implementation of these international standards at the country level, is that prevention and long-term engagement are essential to mitigate the impact of any crisis as UNESCO states. However, in the case of many of these countries it is essential that beyond country reporting more international partnerships are created for reporting, prevention, documentation and hopefully eventual repair and construction.


Ancient Cemetery Reveals Artifacts


trayAs reported by Huffington Post and other media outlets last week, a 2,000-year-old cemetery has been discovered near the Nile River in Sudan. The cemetery which contains several underground tombs is located near the Nile River in Sudan. Archaeologists excavated several of the underground tombs, finding artifacts such as a silver ring, engraved with an image of a god, and a faience box, decorated with large eyes, which researchers believe protected against the evil eye.

The cemetery dates back to a time when a kingdom called Kush flourished in Sudan. Based in the ancient city of Meroe (just south of Dangeil) Kush controlled a vast territory; its northern border stretched to Roman-controlled Egypt. At times, it was ruled by a queen. Although the Kushites built hundreds of pyramids, this particular cemetery contains no structures on the surface; the tombs are underground.

Even though the villagers discovered the cemetery accidently in 2002 while digging a ditch near the modern-day village of Dangeil, the archaeological excavations have been ongoing since then by Berber-Abidiya Archaeological Project; a collaboration between Sudan’s National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums and the British Museum and the finds have recently been reported in a new book.

The team has discovered a wide range of artifacts meant to aid the deceased in the afterlife, including several large, a silver ring with an image of a horned deity, an interesting “party tray,” which consists of seven bowls attached together; six of the bowls, engraved with an image of a god, and a faience box, decorated with large eyes. The evil eye is a curse believed to be cast by a malevolent glare, usually given to a person when they are unaware. Many cultures believe that receiving the evil eye will cause misfortune or injury.

70,000 Year Old African Settlement Discovered


archaeologyPolish archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology in Poznań have discovered the remains of a settlement estimated to 70,000 years old during excavations in northern Sudan,. This find, according to the researchers, seems to contradict the previously held belief that the construction of permanent structures was associated with the so-called Great Exodus from Africa and occupation of the colder regions of Europe and Asia (as reported by http://www.archeosudan.org/).

The site which is known as Affad 23, is currently the only one recorded in the Nile Valley which shows that early Homo sapiens built sizeable permanent structures, and had adapted well to the wetland environment. This new evidence points to a much more advanced level of human development and adaptation in Africa during the Middle Palaeolithic.

Another interesting project that researchers are also working on is a list of animal species that these early humans hunted. Despite the relatively simple flint tools produced using the Levallois technique; these humans were able to hunt large, dangerous mammals such as hippos, elephants and buffalo, as well as small, nimble monkeys and cane rats (large rodents that inhabited the wetlands). This year, the researchers intended to precisely date the time period in which the Palaeolithic hunters lived here, using optically stimulated luminescence.

The Polish team is working with scientists from Oxford Brookes University, who are helping to analyze the geological history of the area. The results will help determine climatic and environmental conditions that prevailed in the Central Nile Valley during the late Pleistocene and hope to identify factors that contributed to the excellent state of preservation at the Affad 23 site.

Excerpts with permission from Science and Scholarship in Poland, 70,000 year-old African settlement unearthed. Past Horizon, July 20, 2014. From http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/07/2014/70000-year-old-african-settlement-unearthed

Many UNESCO Heritage Sites Are At Risk


erosion1World Heritage sites are continuously exposed to natural and man-made disasters which threaten their integrity and may compromise their values. The loss or deterioration of these outstanding properties would negatively impact local and national communities, both for their cultural importance as a source of information on the past and a symbol of identity, and for their socio-economic value.

For example, many sites have been found to be sites at risk and it would surprise anybody to see what sites are on the list. Venice was built on 118 islands was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. However, the whole city has been listed as one of the UNESCO sites at risk because of rising sea levels due to global warming. Another city and UNESCO sit that will be threatened by rising sea levels is the French port city of Bordeaux, Port de la lune, has a trading and commerce history spanning over 1,000 years. Croatia’s Dubrovnik is a well-preserved medieval walled city situated on the Dalmatian coast. The city became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, but it is believed to be at risk due to rising water levels.

UNESCO has created a strategy focused on preservation of many sites. The Strategy identifies five objectives and related actions. They are structured around the five main priorities for action defined by the Hyogo Framework for Action, the main UN-wide policy on the subject of Disaster Reduction, and are also in line with Article 5 of the World heritage Convention as well as the Strategic Objectives established through the Budapest Declaration. The five key objectives are:

  1. Strengthen support within relevant global, regional, national and local institutions for reducing risks at World Heritage properties;
  2. Use knowledge, innovation and education to build a culture of disaster prevention at World Heritage properties;
  3. Identify, assess and monitor disaster risks at World Heritage properties;
  4. Reduce underlying risk factors at World Heritage properties;
  5. Strengthen disaster preparedness at World Heritage properties for effective response at all levels.

Even though these declarations were made several years ago, it is clear that we still need a global strategy that addresses environmental causes and better ways of management and conservation.

Pollution and dumping of toxic chemicals or environmental pollutants are also another cause of damage to heritage sites. Two recent major reports Australian news outlets into health and management of the Great Barrier Reef show that parts of the World Heritage site are still under pressure and the central and southern areas are deteriorating (according to Australia ABC news).

It has also been reported that the UNESCO is concerned about the Abbot Point Port expansion and the plan to dump three million cubic meters of dredge spoil within the marine park.

Better strategies and guidelines as well as advocacies are needed in order to protect more UNESCO World Heritage Member sites as it looks like just inscribing them does not protect them from neglect, damage and deterioration.

A World Without Elephants


elephantCan you imagine a time when there will be no more elephants on Earth, and when the only way you can see an elephant is actually seeing a picture in a book listing elephants as extinct? It sounds like a nightmare, well, at least to me. However, according to some recent reports, it is quite possible that in the next twenty years, planet’s elephants could become extinct. Elephants are not only magnificent and beautiful animals but they are believed to have complex intelligence and emotions. They laugh and cry and can use tools. So, do we want a world without elephants?

In a recent excellent article by Michael Tomasky in the Daily Beast, he discusses this very important subject and why this is happening. According to Tomasky, the lust and desire for ivory, especially by China and some other Asian countries including Japan, Thailand and Vietnam is driving the illegal poaching and the ivory trade between China and Africa. The vicious trade in ivory could lead to the extinction of the species in twenty years or even less. The number of elephants in Africa has gone from around 1 million to roughly half that in the last 35 years. And the population is falling even faster now according to Tomasky.

Many question the statistics. Last year BBC reported that an estimated 25,000 elephants were killed in 2011 and that the numbers for 2012 were actually higher. We first were alarmed in the 1980s about the rapid loss of elephants and as a result worldwide ban on the ivory trade was enacted by the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). It worked. Poaching fell off dramatically, and the black market price of ivory dropped. However, many countries in Africa including Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia were permitted a “one-off” legal sale of 108,000 pounds of ivory to Japan. Tusk weights vary a lot, but that’s maybe 1,400 dead elephants according to Tomasky. There was another “one-off” sale in 2002, and then in 2008, the big one: After some aggressive lobbying by China in particular, CITES approved a sale of 110 tons of African ivory to China and Japan (which split it 60 tons to 50, respectively) on the theory that legal sales of large ivory stockpiles might depress the price and thereby slow poaching. The opposite happened—China controlled the supply of legal ivory tightly, which meant the demand was being met by the illegal stock. Today, ivory prices are at record highs, having tripled since that 2008 auction, up to around $1,500 a pound.

Earlier this week the US National Public Radio (NPR), in a program featured a number of African heads of state speaking at the Africa summit hosted by the White House, about their need for “high-tech help” to fight the poachers. “When the four presidents were asked what they need from the United States, the answers revealed how militarily sophisticated the poachers have become,” reported NPR’s Gregory Warner (wrote Tomasky). “Namibia asked for light attack helicopters. Tanzania for night-vision goggles. Togo for infrared scanners to use at its port.”

So who is to blame? Well, according to the reports, everyone, including the US. Obama administration promised in 2008 to create effective enforcement systems for monitoring both tusks and worked ivory. However, it has done nothing. There is also lobbying against a ban for African elephant ivory and one of the major organizations is the National Rifle Association (NRA). It is because there’s ivory in some antique guns.

According to Allan Thornton, the head of the Environmental Investigation Agency, a Washington- and London-based nonprofit that conducts undercover investigations to expose environmental crimes; “They (the US government) really just didn’t have the political commitment to enforce anything,” Thornton says. The good news however is that pressure is building even inside China for a ban. For example, a new celebrity who has lent his name to the campaign is Yao Ming, the former NBA star who’s an icon in China.