Excavations at ancient city of Perge in Turkey celebrate 65 years

Turkey, Perge, Perga
Archaeological excavations at the ancient city of Perge in southern Turkey have reached their 65th year, the Hürriyet Daily News reports. This makes them the longest-running excavations in a country with a wealth of ancient sites.

Perge (aka Perga) is in Turkey’s Antalya province and was founded 3,500 years ago by the Hittites. It became a prosperous Greek colony like Ephesus and Pergamon and was for a time under Persian rule. Many of the surviving remains are from the Roman period. In the early days of Christianity, St. Paul preached there (Acts 14:25). Several interesting monuments can still be seen such as a theatre, a stadium, two city gates, and a temple to Artemis.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site is so massive that more than a half century of digging has only uncovered a quarter of it. The current project is to restore many of the columns that once lined the streets.

Perga is at one end of a challenging 300+ mile trek called the St. Paul Trail that cuts diagonally across the country.

For more information and photos, check out this Anatolian travel page.

[Photo courtesy archer10 (Dennis) via flickr]

Biblical city of Nineveh under threat in Iraq

Nineveh
One of the greatest cities of the ancient world may soon be lost.

Three thousand years ago, the city of Nineveh in Iraq had a population of 100,000 and was the capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. It was home to magnificent palaces and temples and is mentioned in the Old Testament.

Now it’s crumbling away, reports Popular Archaeology magazine. Located near the city of Mosul on the Tigris River, it was hit hard by looting during the war, and is still inadequately protected and maintained. Mosul’s suburbs are expanding close to the site, weathering is taking its toll, and illegal digging for artifacts continues. Many of these stolen treasures end up on the international antiquities market. The Global Heritage Fund lists Nineveh as one of the world’s most threatened ancient sites.

Of course, Coalition forces and the Iraqi government have a lot more pressing problems than archaeological preservation, but they ignore it at their peril. Preserving Iraq’s past will help secure Iraq’s future. Once the country becomes stable (whenever that happens) places like Nineveh will be a huge tourist draw. In fact, at least one company already offers tours to Iraq that focus on the country’s rich ancient history.

Despite these pioneering tours, it will be a many years before Iraq will be a mainstream tour destination. In the meantime, you can see many fine bas-reliefs from the palaces of Nineveh at the British Museum in London.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Note that it was taken in 1990, before suffering two decades of war.]

Crucifixion nails found in Israel? Probably not.

Crucifixions, nail, Roman, Roman nailThere’s been a shocking archaeological discovery in Israel. Nails from the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ have been found!

Well, no, probably not.

The claim comes from Israeli Canadian documentary filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, the Washington Post reports. Jacobovici has done several documentaries on Christian subjects and came across an archaeological report from 1990 mentioning the discovery of nails in the tomb of a man named Caiaphas. For those who know their Bible, this is the same name as the Jewish high priest who plotted to arrest Jesus and then gave him to the Romans. The name is right, the date of the tomb is right, so the nails must be those from the Crucifixion, right?

The Post quotes Jacobovici as saying, “There’s a general scholarly consensus that the tomb where the nails were found likely belonged to Caiaphas. Nails at that time were a dime a dozen, but finding one in a tomb is exceedingly rare.”

Actually neither of these statements is true. The Post quotes an Israeli archaeologist as saying that the inscriptions in the tomb aren’t clear as to the occupant’s identity, and I myself have seen Roman nails turn up in tombs. They were pretty common objects, after all.

The timing of this announcement just before Easter and just before Jacobovici’s next documentary comes out (titled “Nails of the Cross” to air Wednesday on the History Channel), adds to the suspicion that Jacobovici is fooling either himself or us.

There’s also the question of why a Jewish high priest would take the nails of someone who he thought was a false prophet to the grave with him, or even how he got them in the first place since it was Jesus’ family and followers who removed Jesus from the Cross.

In the view of this former archaeologist, this story is more of the usual sensationalism masking as science that fills so much of the media. A bit like the spurious discovery of Caligula’s tomb.

Never fear. There are plenty are saints’ relics in Rome, including enough nails for a dozen Crucifixions. Gadling’s own David Farley has even written a book about the Holy Foreskin, which you can also visit in Italy. Actually there’s more than one relic claiming to be the Holy Foreskin, but that’s another story. . .

[Image of Roman nails courtesy user Takkk via Wikimedia Commons. These are not the same nails that came from the tomb mentioned in this article.]

Top five sights of Ethiopia: traditional tribes, rock-hewn churches, and medieval castles

Ethiopia, ethiopia
As I mentioned on Monday, I’m moving to Harar, Ethiopia, for two months to explore the ancient and unique culture in that medieval walled city. Before settling in, I thought I’d share some of the most popular places to visit in the country. Many of them were covered in my travel series about Ethiopia during my visit last year. All but the Southern Tribes are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Southern Tribes
Perhaps the best known images of Ethiopia come from its sparsely populated southern region. Here there are tribes living much the way they always have, herding and hunting animals and living off the lush hills and open savannah. The most famous tribe is the Mursi, known for their giant lip plugs like you see here in this photo by user MauritsV courtesy Wikimedia Commons. There are many more tribes, and each day will introduce you to a very different culture and set of traditions. The drive is hard going but everyone says it’s worth it.

Lalibela
Lalibela is another famous spot in Ethiopia. Starting in the 12th century the people dug out a series of churches from the bedrock, making fantastic buildings that will keep your jaw dropped for your entire visit. Not only are the stone structures impressive in their construction (or should I say, excavation) but there are rich frescoes and carvings in the interiors. The priests will show you gold and silver crosses dating back hundreds of years. If you’re lucky, you can witness an religious ceremony in which white-robed worshipers chant verses from the Bible and Kebre Negast, a holy book of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

%Gallery-90277%Gondar
Often called Ethiopia’s Camelot, the medieval capital of Gondar offers some of the country’s best architecture. It’s also on some of the best land, a high valley that’s green and soothing, completely the opposite of the parched desert many people imagine Ethiopia to be. Several palace/castles stand here, looking vaguely familiar thanks to the influence of Portuguese mercenaries hired to help the Ethiopians fight off the Somali conqueror Gragn The Left-Handed. I’ll be searching for his capital later in this series. Nobody is exactly sure where that is, so it should be a bit of an adventure.

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Axum
In the dry uplands of the northern Tigray province stand the remains of Axum, one of the greatest civilizations of the ancient world and Ethiopia’s oldest city. In the fourth century BC a civilization sprang up here that even the ancient Greeks admired. It reached across the entire region and colonized what is now Yemen. It traded as far as India and China and probably Europe too. It also converted Ethiopia to Christianity in the fourth century AD, making it the second oldest Christian nation after Armenia. While the civilization is long gone, you can still admire its huge palaces and lofty obelisks.

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Lake Tana
For several different but amazing experiences all in one day, head to Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest. A boat takes you out to where the Blue Nile flows into the lake and you can see hippos wallowing in the water as locals in traditional reed boats steer carefully around them. On several islands are monasteries where monks have lived and prayed for centuries. They’ll show you illuminated manuscripts colorfully illustrated with holy scenes. After a long overland trip, there’s nothing better than sitting on one of these islands, free of electricity and cars, and gazing out at the placid waters of the lake.

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For more on Ethiopia, check out this video below. I know nothing about the tour company that sponsored it and this isn’t an endorsement. They do make informative travel videos, though.

And don’t miss the rest of my Ethiopia travel series: Harar, Ethiopia: Two months in Africa’s City of Saints.

Coming up next: Returning to Harar, Ethiopia’s medieval city!

Ark Encounter theme park plans unveiled

Ark Encounter theme park

The “Creationist” theme park long-rumored to be built in Kentucky is one step closer to reality.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear announced the plans for the new theme park on Wednesday, along with tax incentives the state of Kentucky will provide to the tune of $37 million.

Ark Encounter’s centerpiece will be a 500-foot long wooden ark, modeled after the Biblical Noah’s ark. The park’s organizers – the same folks behind the Creation Museum – say that Noah’s Ark is the source of much fascination to the general public, and the plans for Ark Encounter should answer many people’s questions about the building of the ark.

They point to a 2009 CBS News survey in which 43 percent of people responding said that Noah’s Ark is the archeological discovery they would most like to see made next.

The park will also include sections based on other Bible stories, such as:

  • The Walled City, a shopping and food complex
  • Noah’s Animals, with a petting zoo and live animal shows
  • The Tower of Babel, a 100-foot tall building with exhibits and a theater
  • Journey Through History, a “trip through the events of the Bible”
  • First-Century Village, a model of a First-Century town in the Middle East

Ark Encounter is planned for an 800-acre site off Interstate 75 in northern Kentucky, near Cincinnatti, Ohio. The park is being built by a private, for-profit company. A fundraising campaign is underway to build the ark itself.

The plan is not without controversy. Groups that advocate for the separation of church and state are protesting the state of Kentucky’s plan for tax incentives. Beshear says the motivation behind the incentives is jobs, not Jesus.

“The people of Kentucky didn’t elect me governor to debate religion,” Beshear told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “They elected me governor to create jobs.

Ark Encounter is expected to create 900 full- and part-time jobs and draw 1.6 million visitors in its first year of operation. The theme park is expected to open in 2014.

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