Gur-e Dokhtar

13 October 2011
Photo Patrick Charlot

Gur-e Dokhtat

I have never met Mr Charlot from France, but he occasionally sends me photos from Iran, where he visits places that I never visit: Kurangun, Guyum, Qadamgah, Sarab-i Bahram, and Sarab-e Qandil. Last month, he sent me several photos of Gur-e Dokhtar, where an Achaemenid tomb can be seen. The small monument is remarkably similar to the more famous mausoleum of Cyrus the Great in Pasargadae, but is interesting in itself.

You can read Mr Charlot’s article here.

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Trapezus (Trabzon)

12 October 2011
Photo Ab Langereis

The Hagia Sophia

I was in Trabzon when its football team, Trabzonspor, beat Inter Milan. I have never seen a city that went so completely out of its mind: people honking their cars and even the ships in the port sounding their horns.

It’s an ancient city, originally called Trapezus. It became famous in the Middle Ages, when the Comnenian dynasty of Byzantine emperors settled in “Trebizonde” (as it was known back then) and made it the capital of a mini-empire, after Constantinople itself had been captured by the knights of the Fourth Crusade. In all aspects, Trebizonde had to resemble the real capital of the Byzantine world, which meant that there was also a lovely Hagia Sophia: smaller but more refined than its namesake in Constantinople. You can still visit the place.

There’s nothing left from the Greek and Roman age, but the city has an interesting history. You can read more about it on my new page: here.


Göbekli Tepe

24 September 2011

Göbekli Tepe; two oval enclosures visible

If someone would have asked me which excavations I would have liked to visit, I would have answered, without a monent´s thought, that my favorites would be Jiroft en Göbekli Tepe. Jiroft I will visit, inch’Allah, within a couple of months, but I no longer have to wait for Göbekli Tepe.

It is, to exaggerate a bit, the place where we can see the rise of mankind as a civilized being. Some 12,000 years ago, when the latest Ice Age was over, a process started that is known as the Neolithic Revolution: the rise of agriculture.

Göbekli Tepe proves that, when this process had only just started and mankind still consisted mainly of hunters and gatherers, monumental architecture was already possible. Hundreds of people must have been working on this site, so there must have been some kind of efficient leadership. We can even speak, very tentatively of course, about their beliefs, because Göbekli Tepe is a sanctuary and some of the statues may represent deities or ancestors. We will never be completely sure, of course, but it remains a fascinating thought.

Pylon 12

The first thing we saw was a couple of dromedaries and the caravan in which the German excavator, professor Klaus Schmidt, has his office. We saw Enclosure E (“the rock temple”, but essentially a wide, rocky plain) and Enclosures A, B, C, and D, where tall, T-shaped pylons used to stand in a circle or oval. The satellite photo above shows two of these ovals. They date back to the age that archaeologists call “Preceramic Neolithic A”, or the period between 9500 and 8300 BC.

Several pylons are decorated with arms and must resemble humans. The sides often show animals, like snakes, foxes, and ostriches. These statues are very primitive, but radiate a kind of power that I find hard to describe. This is art, and these pylons show that humans are cultural beings. To quote Schmidt: it is like a theater, and although we can no longer see the play itself and can only see the set, we know that the actors have put on the scene a truly grand play.

The visitor of the world’s oldest known sanctuary will be accompanied by a guard, who will, at the end of the tour, sell a book, Sie bauten die ersten Tempel, written by professor Schmidt. I have now read about half of it and am very enthusiastic about the way he explains everything: very seriously and without unnecessary hypotheses. The guard offered me to ask Schmidt’s autograph; the scholar made it clear that he was actually a bit too busy, which I liked. Academics who waste time giving autographs, are to be treated with some distrust.

Getting there

From Sanli Urfa, where some of the beautiful finds are shown in the museum, it is easy to reach the excavation. Leaving the city center, you take the road in the direction of the suburb of Kara Köprü. At the great roundabout on the city’s northern edge, you take road D400 to the east, to Mardin. You will already have seen the brown signs to Göbekli Tepe. After 13 kilometers, you turn to the left and continue, even when the road is, for a short distance, unpaved. If this doesn’t work, ask directions for Örencik.


Wall stones from Amsterdam

2 August 2011

Wall stone - one of about eight hundred

This is a blog about ancient history, but I take the liberty for a small digression. The stone to the right is a gevelsteen from Amsterdam. The translation “wall stone” is not really accurate, but is the best we have. Gevelstenen are small pieces of sculpture that decorate houses. In this way, houses could be identified. The person who ordered the gevelsteen to the right to be made, called his house “In Emmaus”.

The oldest I know (this one; the girl is typically Dutch) dates back to the sixteenth century, but the tradition still exists, even though houses now have addresses.

Almost every stone tells a story. This refers to the Dutch version of the story of Polycrates’ ring, this is an old coin and this is a new one, this is of course a pharmacist, here is Saint Luke as a painter, here‘s a dentist, our beloved patron saint is here and a war hero can be seen here, children smile at this one, this one‘s for a confused person, here is Julius Civilis, someone detested Frederic III of Prussia, and this one reminds us of the commercial foundations of Amsterdam’s prosperity, although some people just look tired. They are all works of art, like this Saturn, but you will never see them in art books, which show only old masters.

Before I forget: take a look at that Emmaus again. The painter really did his best to make the landscape look authentic. He even added… a mosque!

The whole story is here; and here‘s a map with some 250 markers. The overall number is 800.


Ballistic Protected Vehicle (for sale)

20 July 2011

It is true: I have visited Iran and Pakistan. And in the Middle East, I have seen both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict. My mother is sometimes a bit worried about my safety. Still, I was a bit surprised to see what was offered to me today. I’m also wondering what “beast regards” are.


Looting

11 July 2011

It must have been in the late 1980s or very early 1990s; my girlfriend and I were staying in Osuna in Spain. I wanted to visit Irni, where the Lex Irnitana had been found a couple of years before. We had already met a friendly man from Osuna, who had shown us some ancient finds from his land. We told him about our plan to go to Irni, and I think our host told someone that there were two people from Holland in town, interested in antiquities.

Not much later, while we were eating tapas in a restaurant, a young man asked permission to join us, and told us about his work: with a metal detector, he was searching for antiquities, and he sold them to foreigners. I asked him whether he did not feel guilty, but he said he did not; he had in the past told professional archaeologists about his finds, but they had taken his finds to Madrid. So, he had decided to sell his finds to foreigners. In both scenarios, the objects were lost for Osuna, but by selling them, at least something returned to the region: money. (“For yourself”, I thought.)

He offered his help if I wanted to purchase something, which I declined. Apparently, he concluded that we wanted to go to Irni to dig for ourselves, because next day, when we were there, we found the site guarded by someone with a gun, who continued to keep an eye on us, and cheerfully waved us goodbye when we left.

I mention this, because the argument of the young man has always impressed me. If you find something and decide to cooperate with professional archaeologists, and if your only reward is that they send it to another place, there is no stimulus to cooperate. This is why I think that small local museums, like Rindern and Haus Bürgel, are extremely important. They make people realize that the past is also theirs, and make them more willing to cooperate.


Mosella

9 July 2011
Photo Jona Lendering

Downstream from Mehring

The Moselle is really beautiful! We went downstream today from Trier to the Roman villa of Mehring and to Kues (where Cusanus was born in 1401), moved to the hills and visited Belginum, and crossed to the villa of Nennig, with  a splendid mosaic. After that, we returned to Trier, along the beautiful river again. Recommended!

Not recommended: eating fish. Although Ausonius mentions the Moselle fish as a delicatessen, these days, the river is a bit polluted. Nevertheless, a splendid place to go.