Category: Archeology

Temple of Dendur in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York)

The Temple of Dendur was built by Petronius, the Roman governor of Egypt more than three millennia ago. The temple was dedicated to ancient deities Isis, Osiris, Pihor and Pediese. It was Emperor Augustus of Rome who commissioned this grand project. Ever since the year 1978, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has showcased this important historical monument. Due to the risk of submersion in its original site in Dendur (which is 80 kilometers from the Egyptian town of Aswan), the Egyptian government presented the temple to the United States in recognition of the latter’s track record of preserving similar sites. That is how this historical monument built by a Roman Emperor ended up in an American museum.

My visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the Temple of Dendur has been a satisfactory and educative one. I was amazed by the sheer size and bulk of the structure. The stone blocks of the temple weighed close to 800 tons in total. The curators of the museum . . . Read More

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Highlights from Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond

*The documentary film Guns, Germs and Steel based on the book of the same name expounds on a original thesis by author Jared Diamond.  The main highlights of the film are as follows.

*In the 13,000 year history since the end of the last Ice Age, European civilization has advanced the most compared to other geo-ethnic populations.

*The primary driver for their domination is not greater intelligence due to genetic superiority but an array of favourable environmental factors in Europe.

*European superiority manifested in three key domains: the development of advanced weaponry, the inherent immunity to certain epidemic diseases and technological progress.  In sum these key factors are Guns, Germs and Steel.

*One of the turning points that ushered in progress of human civilization was agriculture. Agriculture was directly responsible for the development of cities as surplus food afforded people the time to specialize in various crafts.  It also allowed . . . Read More

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An overview of native Australian art forms

Native Australian art forms have received renewed interest in recent decades, with anthropologists and historians arriving at a refined understanding of them.  Of particular interest is the emphasis on artistic style and environmental sensitivity displayed by artefacts.  Recent research on this interesting field was made possible through the analysis of numerous aboriginal wooden artefacts traded between European and Aboriginal Australians in South East Australia during the time of colonization of the continent.  For example, in the comprehensive study carried out by research team of Tacon, “thirty objects were studied, 17 (56%) being boomerangs, 4 (13%) clubs, 3 (10%) shields, 3 (10%) walking sticks, 2 (7%) clap sticks and one spear thrower. On these, there are 119 animal depictions, nearly half (47%) being emus or humans. A total of 28 objects were illustrated. There are a few floral motifs, trees and a tree branch, as well as six landscape settings with animals, trees . . . Read More

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Why are the Romans considered great city builders?

The Roman Empire continues to be of historical importance even today.  This is because the political, social, architectural and cultural achievements made by Romans during their Empire’s peak, continues to inspire people even today.  The capital city of Rome was especially famous for its detailed planning and organization.  It is difficult to perceive how city planners of Rome could have pulled off such a grand and sweeping project without the aid of modern architectural aids.  Yet, it is a fact that the monuments, government buildings, public recreation houses and other structures and provisions within the city were quite advanced for the time.  And some of the technology used by Romans continues to find application in modern cities today.

With no greater aid than stones, bricks, wood and mortar, the Romans constructed great works of architectural value.  The Bridges over Danube and Rhine are prime examples of Roman architecture.    These two rivers, which set . . . Read More

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Article Review: ‘Burials, Houses, Women and Men in the European Neolithic’ by Ian Hodder

What does the author say is his/her goal in this article or chapter? What is the point he/she is going to make?

At the outset, the Ian Hodder tries to make clear the two varying interpretations of neolithic megalith structures. The first view assumes that the megalith monuments of ancient Europe were products of emerging religious ideas at the time. The second view emphasizes the social and economic tensions of the time as the primary factor in the scale and location of many of these structures. Hodder then goes on to analyse the strengths and drawbacks of these different schools of thought by way of weighing up supportive evidence. For example, the author argues that there is little direct evidence to support the hypotheses forwarded by Renfrew and Chapman. Hence their ‘processual’ approach to understanding the meaning and importance of these megalith structures still remains unproven. Amid these competing claims and counterclaims regarding the . . . Read More

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Theories in Mythology: Elements of Magic Realism

Gaster writes that “the mythological story presupposes activity on a level somewhat different from that of the actual and empirical. Its [. . .] characters can violate the normal laws of nature; they can change shape and sex, or traverse prodigious distances at a bound” (Sacred Narrative 129).  A suitable analogy to the genre of Mythology would be the works based on Magical Realism in contemporary fiction.  As in Magical Realism, the Mythology portrays events out of the ordinary and characters out of touch with reality.  Yet, their implication is always applicable to the existing reality.  The Greek and Roman Mythologies alongside the Indian Epics in the form of Ramayana present some striking examples of this fact.  For instance, the male protagonist in Ramayana can invoke divine assistance by reciting sacred verses.  Here, the human and God are seamlessly weaved into the character of Rama, which is an obvious breach of natural law as we understand it.

In this . . . Read More

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Theories in Mythology: What does Dardel mean by “the myth is neither ‘true’ nor ‘false’, and always in the present, not the past” in the Sacred Narrative?

Dardel assertion that myths are neither true nor false can be explained the following way.  Many mythologies are composed in the form of epic poems.  And poetry hands its writer with an artistic license, and allows him to concentrate on the aesthetic aspects of the work.  Inevitably, factuality becomes irrelevant in such a scenario.  Hence, the distinction between the literal and metaphorical representations becomes impossible to ascertain.  Also, the usual mode of propagation is through oratorical recitals.  In such a transfer of information, a certain degree of mutation is inevitable and in most such cases indiscernible.

Dardel also states that the myth is always in the present and never in the past.  This could be understood by considering the fact that all myths were a product of the respective elites.  And as an instrument of preserving the elite interests, the significance of all mythology is to manufacture the desired social order at any given time present.  . . . Read More

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Theories in Mythology: Why is mythology so hard to define? How has your definition changed since you began to study the subject?

During the times of its conception and application, mythologies were intricately woven into the fabric of society.  It is to be noted that for primitive people mythologies were the predominant source of information and entertainment.  Hence, it becomes difficult to distinguish between the theoretical and practical sides of these stories.  In the context of this uncertainty, it is inevitable that various and often conflicting interpretations of the meaning and significance of mythologies are formed.  So no particular interpretation is universally acceptable.  This leads to definitions that are only valid within a certain social and cultural unit of organization.  At the time of its origins, human societies were largely feudalistic and paternalistic.  This reality is also reflected in much of the literature of these times, which were again component parts that comprise the mythology.

Every social order has had its ruling class.  And mythologies were frequently employed . . . Read More

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Theories in Mythology: Definition of the “hero” as a concept.

Mythologies of all types are consistently associated with a central heroic character.  Some historians believe that mythologies evolved in the first place as a medium of admiration for the hero.  The actual manifestation of the hero can take varied forms. He/she could assume the form of a human being with all its frailties or can be conjured up to having special and extra-human powers.  In its latter form, the hero is equated with God himself and it is not uncommon to find references to him as the son of God.

Another defining characteristic of the Hero is his benevolence.  All mythic heroes are invariably ethical and moral.  Most of the stories depict his hardship and travails in pursuit of a morally acceptable equilibrium.  His persistence in the face of adversity and his dedication to his convictions are the other hallmarks of a mythic hero.  But most importantly, irrespective of the human or super-human quality of the Hero, the mythology surrounding him is . . . Read More

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Changing practices in the treatment of the dead illuminates our wider understanding of the Neolithic period.

The mortuary practices during the Neolithic period in Britain (4000-2500 BC), provides evidence for the underlying complex sociology. Not only do they signify the role of the dead, but also throw light on other aspects of this age. The following are some of them.

The arrival of the Beaker Folk

The most significant cultural shift in the Neolithic period is associated with the change in burial practice from communal to single tombs. This sudden change could only be explained by the arrival in Britain of new people, who are now referred as “Beaker Folk”. They brought from the Mediterranean a new religion and gradually incorporated it into the existing western European culture. Further evidence for this migration is provided by the remarkably different pots that are found in Neolithic monuments. This large-scale change in . . . Read More

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