A team of Iraqi and Italian archaeologists have discovered a temple at the ancient city of Ur in Iraq.
This is the first foreign team to excavate in Iraq for 20 years and they hit pay dirt in the form of a 4,500 year-old temple and associated graveyard. Little information has been released about the find but it promises to herald a new era in the study of one of the world’s most important archaeological sites.
Ur was one of the most powerful Sumerian city-states and dates its beginnings back to at least 6000 BC. It reached its height in the third millennium BC, the same period as the newly discovered temple. At its height, Ur was a center of trade and featured many monumental buildings such as its famous Great Ziggurat, shown here in this Wikimedia Commons image. The Sumerians developed writing, an elaborate bureaucracy, and the beginnings of science.
While the Italians are the first archaeologists to return to Iraq after the Gulf War, another Italian team and an American team will soon be conducting their own excavations. In the meantime, Iraqi archaeologists have been valiantly struggling to preserve their nation’s heritage in the face of war, looting, political turmoil, and lack of funding. Iraq is an archaeological wonderland and has some of the most impressive ancient sites in the world. It’s the Holy Grail of adventure travel and a trickle of hardy travelers are making their way there. There’s even a tour company offering trips to Iraq.
A geophysical survey at the three stone circles at Stanton Drew near Bath, England, has uncovered more details about the prehistoric monuments.
This is Bath reports that subsurface imaging has added to a similar survey done in 1997. That survey revealed that the largest of the three circles was surrounded by a ditch with a wide entrance. The new survey, done with more modern equipment, discovered a second, smaller entrance. Archaeologists also found that one of the smaller stone circles stood on a leveled platform.
Stanton Drew’s main circle is more than 110 meters in diameter, making it the second largest stone circle in the UK, bigger than Stonehenge and second only to Avebury. The main entrance of its surrounding ditch faced a smaller stone circle to the northeast. Further away to the southwest was a third circle. Inside the main circle were nine concentric rings of wooden posts. These rings may have served as a sort of calendar marking important celestial events such as solstices and equinoxes. The megaliths of the three stone circles served a similar function.
Local folklore says the stones are a wedding party tricked by the Devil into celebrating on a Sunday. Stone circles have accumulated lots of folklore and several are said to be petrified people, including the Rollright Stones.
The complete archaeological reports are available here.
[Photo courtesy Rosalind Mitchell]
This odd stone may look like an unusual product of nature, but it’s actually a monument from about 4,000 years ago called a menhir. Archaeologists have long debated what menhirs were for, perhaps boundary markers or gravestones or something else. Now experts are saying this one, at Gardom’s Edge in the Derbyshire Peak District, England, may be a prehistoric calendar.
Archaeoastronomers, who study astronomical alignments in ancient monuments, studied the stone and found that where the sun hit the slanted side may have acted as a marker for seasons. Other prehistoric remains are nearby, including the mysterious carvings shown below.
Local Bronze Age people are believed to have kept their herds in the higher hills during summer and moved to the warmer valleys when winter set in. This handy calendar would have told them when to move their herds. While the researchers say this sundial may be unique, some other megalithic monuments have astronomical alignments, the most famous being Stonehenge. Megalithic monuments such as stone circles and menhirs can be found all over the British Isles and make for some interesting stops while hiking. Trails such as the Ridgeway Trail pass by several.
The Peak District is one of England’s most beautiful natural spots and Gardom’s Edge is a favorite spot for rock climbing.
[Images courtesy artq55 via flickr]