Google Street View Offers Virtual Trips Around Mexico’s Ancient Monuments

Google Street View, Palenque
We’ve talked a lot about Google Street View here on Gadling. It seems that every month a new attraction is added to this amazing and somewhat sinister application.

The latest is a series of views of the great monuments of Mexico. Google has been cooperating with the National Institute of Anthropology and History to take images of important sites such as Teotihuacan, Palenque and Chichen Itza. They hope to have 80 sites online by the end of the year.

The uber-cool archaeology news website Past Horizons reports that instead of the usual Google Street View van, a tricycle took the 360-degree panoramas. This method has been used at other sensitive sites like Stonehenge. I’ve taken a look at some of them and they’re as crisp and clear as the photos Google took of your house.

The Mexican sites are only some of hundreds of important spots around the world taken as part of the Google World Wonders Project. Hit the link to see more.

[Photo of Templo de la Calavera at Palenque courtesy Tato Grasso]

The Leaning Colosseum Of Rome

Colosseum
Rome’s iconic Colosseum is beginning to tilt, the Guardian newspaper reports.

The stadium where gladiators used to hack away at one another to cheering crowds has developed a distinct slant, with one side being 40 centimeters (15.7 inches) lower than the other. Archaeologists have been studying the tilt for a year and have confirmed that it is real and could pose a threat to the monument’s stability. They theorize that the concrete base on which the Colosseum rests may be cracked.

Currently, experts are figuring out what rescue plan, if any, they will suggest to their cash-strapped government.

It’s been a bad couple of years for Italy’s monuments. Despite an expensive restoration, the Colosseum has been crumbling, although not as much as disaster-ridden Pompeii. That ancient city has seen a couple of walls and buildings collapse entirely.

Hopefully a solution will be found to save these ancient Roman ruins without burdening Italy with even more debt.

[Photo courtesy sneakerdog via Flickr]

How Could An Ancient City Survive In The Desert?

ancient city, Palmyra, Syra
The drive through the Syrian desert to the ancient city of Palmyra makes you wonder how anyone lived out here 2000 years ago. For hours you speed east from Damascus along a dusty desert road, the only sights being a few dull concrete buildings, Bedouin with their herds and a thick black telephone line snaking along the ground next to the highway.

Once you get to Palmyra, you find a lush little oasis with splendid ruins nearby. It was here that a thriving civilization acted as the center of trade from east to west. But how did this city, which some scholars estimate had a population of 100,000, support itself? The oasis is nowhere near big enough, and the rocky, barren desert doesn’t look capable of supporting more than a few skinny goats.

Now a team of Syrian and Norwegian archaeologists has found the answer. With a combination of satellite imagery and boots on the ground, they’ve explored the region around the ancient city and discovered several ancient villages to the north. Through the clever use of dams and cisterns, the villagers were able to collect the uncommon but not rare rainfall in the region and put it to best use.

Also, tough grass lies just below the surface, its web of roots ready to capture any rain and immediately burst forth with shoots. The Bedouin would graze their flocks there, fertilizing the fields and trading with the locals.

So through an understanding of nature, an efficient use of resources and cooperating with their neighbors, the Palmyrenes brought forth a thriving civilization in the middle of the desert.

Looks like we could learn something from them.

[Photo courtesy Arian Zwegers]

Iraq Tries To Get Babylon Onto UNESCO World Heritage List (Again)

BabylonBabylon in Iraq is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. A Mesopotamian capital that flourished for centuries, it was home to Hammurabi (1792-1750 B.C.) who introduced the world’s first known set of laws, and Nebuchadnezzar (604-562 B.C.) who built the famed Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Time has taken its toll, and so has the modern world. Saddam Hussein decided to rebuild Babylon with modern bricks inscribed with his name, right atop the original walls.

Then came the war to topple him. An American military base was established at Babylon that was soon taken over by Polish troops. A British Museum report on damage to Babylon states that large areas of the site were leveled in order to make a parking lot, roads and areas for tents and bunkers.

Trenches were also dug to give protection to the soldiers. Many of the countless sandbags around the base were filled with soil from the archaeological site. The Ishtar Gate, shown here in this Wikimedia Commons image, suffered significant damage.

Now saline water is leaching into the area, eroding the ancient brick, and three oil pipelines pass right through Babylon.

Despite this, Iraqi archaeologists are applying to get Babylon on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Because of the extensive damage to the site and Saddam’s “reconstruction,” UNESCO has turned down previous applications – twice.

Now Iraq is trying a new tactic. The proposal now includes the historical significance of the Saddam and Coalition eras. Babylon saw many periods of occupation, after all, and these are the two latest. It’s an interesting tactic and if it works, Babylon would attract more serious efforts from the Iraqi and other governments to preserve one of humanity’s great ancient cities.

L’Anse aux Meadows: A Viking colony in Canada

L'Anse aux Meadows, Viking

The Vikings were some of the best sailors of the Middle Ages. They sailed all over the Mediterranean, far up the rivers of Russia and across the north Atlantic to colonize Iceland and Greenland. For a long time archaeologists wondered if they ever made it to other parts of North America besides Greenland. Although some Viking sagas mention a land called Vinland to the west of Greenland, no reliable traces of further Viking settlement were discovered until 1960.

In that year, a Norwegian archaeologist discovered a Viking village on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland, Canada. Called L’Anse aux Meadows, the site includes several houses made from sod put over a wooden framework. One building was identified as a smithy, and another as a carpenter’s workshop. Several distinctively Viking artifacts were found, proving they really did make it here.

The settlement has been dated to about 1000 A.D. and doesn’t appear to have been used for very long. One interesting aspect of L’Anse aux Meadows is that it looks like a typical Viking base camp for hunting and exploration. That hints at more Viking sites waiting to be found. Archaeologists found butternuts at the site, a plant that doesn’t grow this far north, suggesting the Vikings were sailing to the south or perhaps trading with the Native Americans.

%Gallery-150700%L’Anse aux Meadows is now a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A visitor center explains the history of Viking exploration, and reconstructed sod huts give you a feel for what it was like in those days. Re-enactors explain Viking shipbuilding, cooking, ironworking and navigation. You can even listen to a Viking saga!

There’s a lot of natural beauty to the site too, including rare plants and sweeping views of the sea. Icebergs are a common sight. Although L’Anse aux Meadows is a bit out of the way for most visitors to Canada, you’ll be rewarded with some fascinating history and a harsh but beautiful landscape.

While L’Anse aux Meadows is the only confirmed Viking site in west of Greenland, several controversial sites in Canada and the United States have been proposed as evidence of an extensive Viking exploration of North America. Tomorrow I’ll be writing about those, so stay tuned!

Photo courtesy user Rosino via flickr.