Cyrus Cylinder, ‘The First Bill Of Rights,’ Tours US

Cyrus Cylinder
The famous Cyrus Cylinder, a baked clay tablet from the 6th century B.C. that’s often called the “first bill of rights,” has made its U.S. debut at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C.

The Cyrus Cylinder was deposited in the foundations of a building in Babylon during the reign of the Persian king Cyrus the Great. It commemorates his conquest of Babylon and announces religious freedom for the people displaced by the Babylonian king Nabonidus. Among them were the Jews, who had been in captivity in Babylon. Many Jews soon returned to Jerusalem and built the Second Temple.

While Cyrus’ announcement and inscription isn’t unique for that time, the cylinder became instantly famous upon its discovery in 1879 because of its connection to events that are mentioned in the Bible. Ever since, Cyrus has been considered the model of a just king ruling over a diverse empire.

It’s the centerpiece of a new exhibition titled “The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning,” which examines the religious, cultural and linguistic traditions of the vast and powerful Achaemenid Empire (539–331 B.C.) founded by Cyrus the Great.

The exhibition runs until April 28. After the Smithsonian, the Cyrus Cylinder will tour the U.S., stopping at Houston, New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles. You can see the full details of the schedule here.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

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.]