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The 4,000 year-old decorated dolmen discovered in Israel
Image credit Gonen Sharon, Tel Hai College
Ginger Perales, writing in the New Historian, reports on the discovery of a decorated dolmen in the Galilee area of Israel –
Archaeologists working in upper Galilee, near Kibbutz Shamir, have unearthed an unusual dolmen believed to be over 4,000-years-old. A type of megalithic tomb with a single chamber, a dolmen is typically comprised of at least two large vertical stones that support a flat capstone which lies horizontally on top of them (like a table).
Discovered in a large field of over 400 dolmens dating back to the Intermediate Bronze Age, several factors cause this structure to stand out, including its large size, the structure that surrounds it, and most intriguingly, the artistic decorations that are etched into its ceiling.
More here.


Gertrude Bell (1868-1926)

An exhibition entitled ‘The Extraordinary Gertrude Bell’ will open at Newcastle’s Great North Museum on January 30 and run until May. Kevin Clark, writing for the Sunderland Echo reports.

The life of the remarkable Wearside woman who helped to shape the modern world will be celebrated in a new museum exhibition this month. Gertrude Bell, who was born in Washington’s Dame Margaret Hall, became the first woman to achieve a first class degree in Modern History from Oxford University.

She developed a passion for Arabic cultures and became so familiar with the Middle East that ended up working at a high level with British military intelligence in Mesopotamia, during the First World War. She was the only woman present at Winston Churchill’s post-war conference to discuss the future of the region and by the time of her death in Baghdad in 1926 had helped oversee the creation of modern Iraq.

More here. See also our earlier feature on Gertrude Bell here.


Oldest know fragments of the Koran discovered recently at the University of Birmingham
Sean Coughlan, Education correspondent for the BBC, reports on the astonishing find of what might be the oldest know fragments of the Koran –
What may be the world’s oldest fragments of the Koran have been found by the University of Birmingham. Radiocarbon dating found the manuscript to be at least 1,370 years old, making it among the earliest in existence.
…tests, carried out by the Oxford University Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, showed that the fragments, written on sheep or goat skin, were among the very oldest surviving texts of the Koran. These tests provide a range of dates, showing that, with a probability of more than 95%, the parchment was from between 568 and 645. “They could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam,” said David Thomas, the university’s professor of Christianity and Islam.
More here.

The Temple of Bel at the Palmyra World Heritage Site in Syria
Image credit Bassem Jarkas. Source Wikimedia Commons
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today expressed deep concern over fighting near the Syrian archaeological site of Palmyra that is endangering the nearby population and posing an imminent threat to the iconic ruins, calling out to all parties “to make every effort to prevent its destruction.”
“The site has already suffered four years of conflict, it suffered from looting and represents an irreplaceable treasure for the Syrian people and for the world,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said.
“I appeal to all parties to protect Palmyra and make every effort to prevent its destruction.”
According to several sources, armed extremist groups raided the city of Tadmur, home to the archaeological site of Palmyra. Inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, it is considered one of the most important cultural sites in the Middle East.
An oasis in the Syrian desert, northeast of Damascus, Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences.
More here. See also the article in yesterday’s Guardian here.
Should the International Community stand by and let the destruction of this World Heritage Site take place. The Heritage Trust appeals to people everywhere to voice their concerns and to stop this tragedy from happening.
A ninth century glass and silver ring from a woman’s Viking burial site in Birka, Sweden
A ninth century glass and silver ring from a woman’s Viking burial site in Birka, Sweden is thought to have originated from an area following the Islamic religion. The ring is inset with coloured glass and engraved ‘for (or to) Allah’ in the ancient Arabic Kufic script.
Bruce Bower, writing for ScienceNews reports –
More than a century after its discovery in a ninth century woman’s grave, an engraved ring has revealed evidence of close contacts between Viking Age Scandinavians and the Islamic world.
Excavators of a Viking trading center in Sweden called Birka recovered the silver ring in the late 1800s. Until now, it was thought that it featured a violet amethyst engraved with Arabic-looking characters. But closer inspection with a scanning electron microscope revealed that the presumed amethyst is colored glass (an exotic material at the time), say biophysicist Sebastian Wärmländer of Stockholm University and his colleagues.
An inscription on the glass inset reads either “for Allah” or “to Allah” in an ancient Arabic script, the researchers report  February 23 in Scanning.
More here.
The largest ancient stone block so far discovered was found in Baalbek, Lebanon at an altitude of approximately 1,170 metres
Image credit: Deutsches Archäologisches Institut
Not the stone on the left with two people standing near it – look again to the right, and down, where another monster megalith was discovered this summer. The second block is estimated to weigh a whacking 1,650 tons. “Archaeologists concluded that the block was meant to be transported without being cut. This means, that it is the biggest known ancient stone block.”
More from The Archaeology News Network here.
Fars News Agency (FNA) of Iran claims that –
According to the Palestinian Department of Antiquities, there are 944 archaeological sites in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, while the number of monuments hit 10 thousand, PIC reported.
Antiquities expert Dr Hamdan Taha said that the occupation is committing the most dangerous crime against the antiquities, with the aim of changing and falsifying the history of Palestine. He noted that the construction of the apartheid wall in the West Bank has led to the annexation of more than 270 archaeological sites and about 2,000 archaeological and historical landmarks, in addition to dozens of archaeological sites that were destroyed for the construction of the wall.
The Palestinian Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage also pointed out that more than 500 archaeological sites and over 1,500 monuments in the West Bank were stolen or destroyed by looters, supported by the occupation forces. Researcher Mohamed al-Jamal said that the theft of antiquities is managed by Israeli officers, traders and dozens of semi-organized groups who are carrying out illegal archaeological excavations.
Jamal noted that “according to statistics, one hundred thousand archaeological pieces are being smuggled abroad every year.”

Full article here.

9,000 year-old mask decorated with paint from the Nahal Hemar Cave, Judean Desert
Image credit Elie Posner © The Israel Museum, Jerusalem
Ilan Ben Zion, writing for the The Times of Israel, reports on the exhibition Face to Face: The Oldest Masks in the World which is now on show at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem and which features twelve limestone Neolithic cult masks never before displayed together –
Weighing in at one or two kilograms apiece, each of the artifacts represents a oval visage with glaring ocular cavities, toothy maws, and a set of holes along the outer edge. They were likely painted in antiquity, but only one has remnants of pigment. Each of the 12 is unique, and possibly depicts individuals. Some of the faces are old, others appear younger. One is a miniature, the size of a brooch. They may represent ancestors venerated as part of an early Stone Age religion.
“It is important to say that these are not living people, these are spirits,” said Dr. Debby Hershman, curator of prehistoric cultures at the Israel Museum, who organized the exhibit. She was reluctant to place a mask from the exhibit over her face out of reverence for bygone traditions.
The 12 masks will be on display from March 11 until September 13 in the Israel Museum’s archaeology wing. In keeping with the Neolithic theme, Snyder compared the display to England’s Stonehenge. Twelve glass pillars arranged in a circle will hold the masks at eye level so visitors can see them from all angles.
Full article here.
Gertrude Bell, with Winston Churchill and T E Lawrence, in front of the Sphinx and Pyramids
Image credit Gertrude Bell Archive
BBC NEWS Tyne & Wear reports on the archaeologist Gertrude Bell who was –
A woman in a man’s world, Bell immersed herself in the Arab culture and became an “uncrowned Queen of the Desert”, according to Helen Berry, professor of British History at Newcastle University.
Born on 14 July 1868 in Washington New Hall, in what was then County Durham, Gertrude Bell was the daughter of a wealthy family of ironmasters. After being home schooled, she went to London to be taught at the age of 15, before going on to become the first woman to gain a first-class degree in Modern History at Oxford. Because of her sex, she was unable to graduate. Prof Berry said that Bell had the opinion that “what applied to other women didn’t apply to her. She thought that the fact she was a woman didn’t stop her from doing anything she wanted.”
In 1892, after leaving Oxford, Bell travelled to Tehran, in what was then Persia, to visit her uncle Sir Frank Lascelles, who was British minister to the country. Prof Berry said it was on this visit that she developed a love for the Arab people as she visited archaeological sites, learnt their language and travelled deep into the desert. “I couldn’t do it, it was very dangerous, but obviously she liked danger,” the professor said. “I think she decided she was going to play this role as ‘Queen of the Desert’. She surrounded herself with this grand ensemble of camels, prestigious gifts and male guides and travelled the Middle East. I don’t think they knew what to do with her, especially being a woman, [but] I think she won them over with her ability to communicate.”
A lone woman among Arab men, to many she became known as “El Khatun”, the Lady of the Court. She spoke eight languages, including French, Persian, Arabic and Turkish, and it was her knowledge of the tribes, geography and politics of the area that attracted the attention of British Intelligence.
Production has begun on a film telling the story of Gertrude Bell; archaeologist, writer and explorer who spent the early 1900s travelling alone across the Middle East.
Full BBC article here.


June 2022
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