Ancient City Of Mohenjodaro May Disappear In Twenty Years

Mohenjodaro
Wikimedia Commons

The remains of the world’s oldest planned city may crumble to dust in twenty years if action isn’t taken, the Telegraph reports.

Mohenjodaro, a 5,000 year-old city in Pakistan, is under threat from extreme temperatures and monsoon rains, which leave deposits of salt on the unbaked clay bricks that were used to create its buildings. That salt leeches out any moisture in the bricks and slowly turns them to dust.

A crew of workmen is coating the ancient structures with salt-free mud, but there are far too few people on the job and very little money.

The Bronze Age city, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was founded around 3,000 BC and shows a remarkable amount of urban planning. There were toilets in every house, separate water systems for drinking and sewage, roads laid out on a grid system, a large communal bath shown in the above photo, and a communal granary. It was the center of the Indus Valley civilization and traded as far away as Mesopotamia, using a set of standardized weights and measures to regulate commerce.

UNESCO officials met with Pakistani archaeologists last week to draw up a plan to save the site, which includes burying some of the most threatened structures. It remains to be seen whether Pakistan’s government, strapped for cash and stuck in a grueling war with the Taliban, will foot the bill.

I visited Mohenjodaro back in 1994 when Pakistan was safer to visit than it is now and found the place to be enchanting. The layout can be clearly seen and it almost feels like you’re in a living city. It would be a shame if such a landmark of human development disappeared.

Archaeologists Looking At Stonehenge In A New Light

StonehengeStonehenge is the world’s most iconic prehistoric monument. Scientists have argued about its significance for generations, but few have been allowed to excavate there. Archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson is one of those lucky few, and he’s documented his finds in a new book.

Stonehenge: A New Understanding chronicles a seven-year excavation of Stonehenge and the surrounding countryside.

Pearson and his team took an innovative approach and came up with some innovative interpretations. Instead of looking at Stonehenge as an isolated monument, they studied the landscape and other prehistoric monuments around it. This led them to determine that Stonehenge was part of a ritualistic network of monuments and natural features.

But what was it all for? Pearson believes that despite the astronomical alignments and the regular meetings of people at Stonehenge, it was not a monument to nature or the seasons or fertility as many archaeologists have concluded, but rather a monument to the dead, similar to other enclosed cremations burial grounds in the British Isles. Other constructions nearby were symbols of life and were intimately connected to Stonehenge just as the concepts of life and death are intimately connected with each other.

The main connection is with a site called Durrington Walls, two miles away from Stonehenge. Both had avenues leading to a nearby river. Durrington Walls, however, had a settlement while Stonehenge only had burials. Natural features in the landscape aligned with important astronomical events, making the location of Stonehenge perfect for any monument concerned with the heavens.

Weighing in at 350 dense pages, this is not for the casually interested reader. Luckily Pearson has a clear writing style, avoids getting overly technical, and the book is richly illustrated with maps and photographs that help the reader follow the text. I would suggest this to anyone with a serious interest in archaeology and science.

I had the good fortune to hear Dr. Pearson talk a few years ago to a packed auditorium at Oxford University. Once he was done, Oxford professors gathered around in their self-important way to talk with this leading scientist. Before they could start posturing, a twelve-year-old girl came up to him and chirped, “I want to be an archaeologist!”

Dr. Pearson could have patted her on the head, replied, “That’s nice darling” and gone on to speak with the professors, but he didn’t. Instead he sat her down and spoke with her for a good five minutes about what she needed to do to become an archaeologist and all the fun she could have in that career.

The professors looked ruffled and impatient. The girl left glowing with enthusiasm.

That’s my kind of scientist.

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London Construction Reveals Medieval Graves, Bronze Age Road

London, medieval, funeralLondon is built on layers of its own past. Occasionally they poke through to the present, like the old Roman walls and the Temple of Mithras. Now two current construction projects have revealed glimpses of the city’s previous epochs.

Work to build a leisure center at Elephant and Castle has uncovered some 500 medieval skeletons, the London Evening Standard reports. They were interred in 25 crypts. It appears they were relocated into the crypts in 1875 to accommodate a widening of the road but date as far back as the early 14th century. Now new construction dictates they’ll have to be reinterred again. Not even the dead get to rest long in London!

Another project creating a new tunnel for Crossrail at Plumstead has uncovered a much older transport system, the BBC reports. Archaeologists believe timbers they’ve discovered at the site are part of a 3,500-year-old Bronze Age trackway.

These wooden roads were used to ease travel across rough areas, especially wetlands. Similar trackways have been found in many locations in the UK and continental Europe. The odd thing about this one is that it runs along the same route as the new Crossrail route.

One great place to explore London’s history is the Museum of London. The British Museum has good galleries about prehistoric, Roman and Medieval England. The Crossrail Visitor Information Centre also has an archaeology exhibit until October 27 showing off some of their discoveries. The finds range from the prehistoric to the Industrial Revolution, although these latest finds are still being analyzed and will not be on display.

[Image of 15th century funeral procession at the Old St. Paul’s cathedral courtesy Project Gutenberg]

GPS Guided Hikes Explore Mysterious Yorkshire Rock Art

rock art, YorkshireYorkshire, in northern England, is famous for its beautiful countryside where hikers pass through remote moors and climb rugged hills. They can also explore an enduring mystery of Europe’s past.

Yorkshire has some of England’s largest concentrations of prehistoric rock art. Drawings of recognizable animals or objects are rare. Instead, most are abstract images like these “cup and ring marks,” seen here in this photo by T.J. Blackwell taken in Hangingstones Quarry above Ilkley Moor. They are shallow divots ground into the rock, surrounded by incised lines that often connect to the lines around other cup marks.

More examples can be seen on the so-called “Badger Stone,” also at Ilkley Moor, and shown below in this photograph by John Illingworth.

Archaeologists estimate them to be about 4,000 years old, dating to the transition from the late Neolithic to the early Bronze Age. They’re found in various regions of Europe and hundreds of them can be seen on Ilkley Moor in Yorkshire.

Nobody knows why prehistoric people went through so much trouble to make them. Some researchers have suggested they were territorial markers, or had a ritual purpose. Others think they were some sort of primitive writing. Now hikers can come to their own conclusions by downloading a GPS trail through Ilkley Moor that takes them to some of the best sites. The hike starts and ends at a parking lot and takes about two hours. The Friends of Ilkley Moor created this easy-to-follow hike and have created other hikes as well.

It’s good to note that all examples of rock art are Scheduled Ancient Monuments and it is a crime to damage them.
rock art, YorkshireYrkshire, rock art
Photo courtesy John Illingworth.

Lost temple discovered at Ur, Iraq

Ur, ziggurat

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.