Babylon designated UNESCO World Heritage Site

Babylon designated UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Ancient Iraqi city of Babylon designated UNESCO World Heritage Site by Raya Jalabi took rather a long time to arrive. But better later than never, here it is with however a warning that the site is in an “extremely vulnerable condition” and great need of urgent conservation.

RUINS OF BABYLON, Iraq (Reuters) – The ancient city of Babylon, first referenced in a clay tablet from the 23rd century B.C., was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site on Friday, after a vote that followed decades of lobbying by Iraq.

A view of a replica of Ishtar gate at the ancient city of Babylon near Hilla, Iraq July 5, 2019. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani

The vote, at a UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, made the ancient Mesopotamian city on the Euphrates River the sixth world heritage site within the borders of a country known as a cradle of civilization.

Iraqi President Barham Salih said the city, now an archaeological ruin, was returned to its “rightful place” in history after years of neglect by previous leaders.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi also welcomed the news.

“Mesopotamia is truly the pillar of humanity’s memory and the cradle of civilization in recorded history,” he said.

The government said it would allocate funds to maintain and boost conservation efforts.

Babylon, about 85 kilometers (55 miles) south of Baghdad, was once the center of a sprawling empire, renowned for its towers and mudbrick temples. Its hanging gardens were one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, commissioned by King Nebuchadnezzar II.

Visitors can stroll through the remnants of the brick and clay structures which stretch across 10 square kilometers, and see the famed Lion of Babylon statue, as well as large portions of the original Ishtar Gate.

As the sun began to set on the crumbling ruins, activists and residents flocked to the replica Ishtar gate at the site’s entrance to celebrate what they called a historic moment.

“This is very important, because Babylon will now be a protected site,” said Marina al-Khafaji, a local who was hopeful the designation would boost tourism and the local economy.

It would allow for further exploration and research, said Makki Mohammad Farhoud, 53, a tour guide at the site for more than 25 years, noting that only 18% of it had been excavated.

“Babylon is the blood that runs through my veins, I love it more than I love my children,” he said.

DECADES OF NEGLECT

Excavations of what was once the largest city in the world, began in the early 19th century by European archaeologists, who removed many artifacts.

In the 1970s, under President Saddam Hussein’s restoration project, the southern palace’s walls and arches were shoddily rebuilt on top of the existing ruins, causing widespread damage.

This was exacerbated during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, when U.S. and Polish troops stationed nearby built their military base on top of the Babylonian ruins.

Many inscriptions written by soldiers can still be seen on the ancient bricks.

The site is in dire need of conservation, Farhoud said. Unlike three other World Heritage sites in Iraq, UNESCO did not designate Babylon as one in “in danger” after objections from the Iraqi delegation.

Iraq is replete with thousands of archaeological sites, many of which were heavily damaged or pillaged by Islamic State during its barbaric three-year-rule which ended in 2017.

The other five World Heritage Sites are the southern marshlands, Hatra, Samarra, Ashur and the citadel in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region.

Reporting by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Richard ChangOur Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Tutankhamen head fetches millions at UK auction

Tutankhamen head fetches millions at UK auction

Tutankhamen head fetches millions at UK auction despite Egypt’s protests written by Marie-Louise GumuchianNavdeep Yadav gives us a good reading of the difference between nations in terms of space and time.

LONDON (Reuters) – A brown quartzite head of young king Tutankhamen sold at auction in London for more than 4.7 million pounds on Thursday, in the face of Egyptian demands for its return.

The more than 3,000-year-old sculpture, displayed at Christie’s London auction house, shows the boy king taking the form of the ancient Egyptian god Amen.

An unnamed buyer bought the head for 4,746,250 pounds ($5.97 million), including commission and in line with the estimated price before the sale, Christie’s said.

Outside, around 20 protesters stood silently and held placards that said “Egyptian history is not for sale”.

Egypt has long demanded the return of artefacts taken by archaeologists and imperial adventurers, including the Rosetta Stone kept in the British Museum – campaigns paralleled by Greece’s demands for the Parthenon sculptures, Nigeria’s for the Benin Bronzes and Ethiopia’s for the Magdala treasures.

“We are against our heritage and valuable items (being) sold like vegetables and fruit,” said Ibrahim Radi, a 69-year-old Egyptian graphic designer protesting outside Christie’s.

The 28.5 centimetres (11.22 inches) high piece, with damage only to the ears and nose, was sold from the private Resandro collection of Egyptian art.

Christie’s said it was acquired from Munich dealer Heinz Herzer in 1985. Before that, Austrian dealer Joseph Messina bought it in 1973-1974, and Germany’s Prinz Wilhelm Von Thurn und Taxis “reputedly” had it in his collection by the 1960s.

Hailing the piece as a “rare” and “beautiful” work, a Christie’s statement acknowledged controversy over its home.

“We recognise that historic objects can raise complex discussions about the past, yet our role today is to work to continue to provide a transparent, legitimate marketplace upholding the highest standards for the transfer of objects.”

Before the auction, Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, said he was disappointed the sale was going ahead, despite requests for information and protests from government officials and Egypt’s embassy.

“I believe that it was taken out of Egypt illegally … They have not presented any documents to prove otherwise,” he told Reuters, saying that Egypt would continue to press the buyer and others for the work to be returned.

Staff at Christie’s said they had taken the necessary steps to prove its provenance and the sale was legitimate. “It’s a very well known piece … and it has never been the subject of a claim,” antiquities department head Laetitia Delaloye told Reuters.

Christie’s had been in touch with Egyptian authorities in Cairo and the London embassy, she added.

Egypt and the U.S. unveil new groundwater system

Egypt and the U.S. unveil new groundwater system

Per Wikipedia, the U.S. had minimal dealings with Egypt when it was controlled by the Ottoman Empire (before 1882) and Britain (1882–1945).

President G A Nasser (1956–70) antagonized the U.S. by his pro-Soviet policies and anti-Israeli rhetoric, but the U.S. helped keep him in power by forcing Britain and France to immediately end their invasion in 1956. American policy has been to provide strong support to governments that supported U.S. and Israeli interests in the region, especially presidents Anwar Sadat (1970–81) and Hosni Mubarak (1981–2011).

Fast forward to Tuesday, March 5, 2019, and to this story of Egypt Today.

President Donald Trump and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi In White House (FNN) – photo from Youtube

Egypt, U.S. unveil new groundwater system in Alexandria

CAIRO – 5 March 2019: Egypt and the United States ‘governments unveiled Sunday finalizing the new groundwater lowering system at the Catacombs of Kom El-Shuqafa, Alexandria. 

In a Monday statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, it was stated that in support of Egypt’s vital tourism industry, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Thomas Goldberger joined Minister of Antiquities Khaledal-Anany and Alexandria Governor Abdul Aziz Qansua to celebrate the completion of a groundwater lowering system at the Catacombs of Kom El-Shuqafa on Sunday, March 3. 

“This site has rich cultural significance and has the potential to attract tourists and generate revenue,” Goldberger said, adding that the United States is committed to continuing the partnership with the Government of Egypt to conserve Egypt’s cultural heritage and increase tourism. 

The U.S. Government, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), contributed $5.7 million for a system to lower the groundwater level in partnership with the Ministry of Antiquities and the National Organization for Potable Water and Sanitary Drainage. The system preserves the site from erosion and enables tourists to access the lowest level of the Catacombs. 

Since 1995, the American people, through USAID, have provided $100 million in assistance to conserve monuments and masterpieces spanning over the full range of Egypt’s long cultural heritage – from Pharaonic times to the late Ottoman period. USAID-financed restoration and training programs helped ensure that Egypt can capitalize on the sector’s traditional role as an engine of economic growth and employment. 

Since 1978, the American people have invested $30 billion to further Egypt’s human and economic development. 

How climate change caused the world’s first ever empire to collapse

How climate change caused the world’s first ever empire to collapse

How climate change caused the world’s first ever empire to collapse by Vasile Ersek, Northumbria University, Newcastle is another story of scientists saying yet again that in the past, shifts in climate impacted one way or another  life on earth.

The picture above is that of the author while researching data from a cave in Romania to document the effects of climate change on humankind evolution.

File 20190102 32121 1d7jyfa.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
King Naram-Sin of Akkad, grandson of Sargon, leading his army to victory.
Rama / Louvre, CC BY-SA

 

Gol-e-Zard Cave lies in the shadow of Mount Damavand, which at more than 5,000 metres dominates the landscape of northern Iran. In this cave, stalagmites and stalactites are growing slowly over millennia and preserve in them clues about past climate events. Changes in stalagmite chemistry from this cave have now linked the collapse of the Akkadian Empire to climate changes more than 4,000 years ago.

Akkadia was the world’s first empire. It was established in Mesopotamia around 4,300 years ago after its ruler, Sargon of Akkad, united a series of independent city states. Akkadian influence spanned along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers from what is now southern Iraq, through to Syria and Turkey. The north-south extent of the empire meant that it covered regions with different climates, ranging from fertile lands in the north which were highly dependent on rainfall (one of Asia’s “bread baskets”), to the irrigation-fed alluvial plains to the south.

 

 

The Akkad empire during the reign of Narâm-Sîn (2254-2218 BC). Mount Damavand is labelled in blue.
Zunkir / Semhir / wiki, CC BY-SA

It appears that the empire became increasingly dependent on the productivity of the northern lands and used the grains sourced from this region to feed the army and redistribute the food supplies to key supporters. Then, about a century after its formation, the Akkadian Empire suddenly collapsed, followed by mass migration and conflicts. The anguish of the era is perfectly captured in the ancient Curse of Akkad text, which describes a period of turmoil with water and food shortages:

… the large arable tracts yielded no grain, the inundated fields yielded no fish, the irrigated orchards yielded no syrup or wine, the thick clouds did not rain.

Drought and dust

The reason for this collapse is still debated by historians, archaeologists and scientists. One of the most prominent views, championed by Yale archaeologist Harvey Weiss (who built on earlier ideas by Ellsworth Huntington), is that it was caused by an abrupt onset of drought conditions which severely affected the productive northern regions of the empire.

 

 

Sargon of Akkad – or maybe his son, Naram-Sin.
Iraqi Directorate General of Antiquities / wiki

Weiss and his colleagues discovered evidence in northern Syria that this once prosperous region was suddenly abandoned around 4,200 years ago, as indicated by a lack of pottery and other archaeological remains. Instead, the rich soils of earlier periods were replaced by large amounts of wind-blown dust and sand, suggesting the onset of drought conditions. Subsequently, marine cores from the Gulf of Oman and the Red Sea which linked the input of dust into the sea to distant sources in Mesopotamia, provided further evidence of a regional drought at the time.

Many other researchers viewed Weiss’s interpretation with scepticism, however. Some argued, for example, that the archaeological and marine evidence was not accurate enough to demonstrate a robust correlation between drought and societal change in Mesopotamia.

A new detailed climate record

Now, stalagmite data from Iran sheds new light on the controversy. In a study published in the journal PNAS, led by Oxford palaeoclimatologist Stacy Carolin, colleagues and I provide a very well dated and high resolution record of dust activity between 5,200 and 3,700 years ago. And cave dust from Iran can tell us a surprising amount about climate history elsewhere.

Gol-e-Zard Cave might be several hundred miles to the east of the former Akkadian Empire, but it is directly downwind. As a result, around 90% of the region’s dust originates in the deserts of Syria and Iraq.

 

 

Mount Damavand is a ‘potentially active’ volcano, and the highest peak in Iran. Gol-e-Zard Cave is nearby.
Vasile Ersek, Author provided

That desert dust has a higher concentration of magnesium than the local limestone which forms most of Gol-e-Zard’s stalagmites (the ones which grow upwards from the cave floor). Therefore, the amount of magnesium in the Gol-e-Zard stalagmites can be used as an indicator of dustiness at the surface, with higher magnesium concentrations indicating dustier periods, and by extension drier conditions.

The stalagmites have the additional advantage that they can be dated very precisely using uranium-thorium chronology. Combining these methods, our new study provides a detailed history of dustiness in the area, and identifies two major drought periods which started 4,510 and 4,260 years ago, and lasted 110 and 290 years respectively. The latter event occurs precisely at the time of the Akkadian Empire’s collapse and provides a strong argument that climate change was at least in part responsible.

The collapse was followed by mass migration from north to south which was met with resistance by the local populations. A 180km wall – the “Repeller of the Amorites” – was even built between the Tigris and Euphrates in an effort to control immigration, not unlike some strategies proposed today. The stories of abrupt climate change in the Middle East therefore echo over millennia to the present day.The Conversation

Vasile Ersek, Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography, Northumbria University, Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Palestinian architect Nadia Habash discusses

Palestinian architect Nadia Habash discusses

Rima Al Sammarae wrote on November 4th, 2018 about how life carries on in the Palestinian territories, notably for a certain Nadia Habash, co-owner and director of Habash Consulting Engineers and adjunct lecturer at Birzeit University.  Here is, courtesy to Middle East Architect how:

Palestinian architect Nadia Habash discusses working with Peter Zumthor and persevering under a 29-year travel ban

“The most important and difficult competition that I have ever won was the archaeological park at Hisham’s Palace,” said Nadia Habash, co-owner and director of Habash Consulting Engineers and adjunct lecturer at Birzeit University. “It was launched by UNESCO in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, and the jury was led by Peter Zumthor.”

The project, which was awarded to Habash’s office, called for a masterplan of one of Palestine’s most significant sites — the archaeological park of Hisham’s Palace in Jericho, and included the protective sheltering of the mosaic floors of the Grand Bath Hall, as well as other sensitive areas. During the three-part judging process, Zumthor led the participants around the site, questioning their thinking, allowing them to defend their proposals and engaging in discussions.

 

Habash with Peter Zumthor, as they worked together on the renovation of the archaeological park at Hisham’s Palace

“It was a great opportunity to work with him,” Habash said. “I liked his way of thinking  —  he’s a genius. Later on, when we worked together to deliver the project, I realised we think alike in many ways. And the same thing happened when I met Rifat Chadirji and Rasem Badran, who both judged my graduation project. They really read between the lines and realised my intentions. They didn’t only judge what was on the paper. There was a connection between us, and I think that connection deals with the way we approach context.”

A purveyor of critical regionalism, a term originally coined in 1981 to counter the placelessness and lack of identity of international style, as well as whimsical individualism and the ornamentation of Postmodern architecture, Habash is committed to preserving context and the use of architecture as a political, cultural and social tool.

In a paper she recently published, ‘Architecture as Resistance’, which explores the use of architecture in Palestine as a form of opposition against the Israeli occupation, she wrote, “As architects, we have a social responsibility towards our community as we should be serving them rather than serving capitalist interests. I believe that architecture serves as a catalyst for social processes, at least in the limited context of local communities, and as expressed in the early twentieth century by Hannes Meyer, director of the Bauhaus School of Architecture, who stressed that as designers, we are servants to the community. Our task is a service to the people.”

 

Habash sitting with Iraqi architect Mohamed Makiya

 

Propagating her beliefs has not come without consequence. Having suffered a 29-year ban on traveling outside of Palestine by the Israeli government for being an “influence on public opinion”, which has spanned most of her career and was only just lifted in July 2017, Habash has proved to be a local hero of sorts. While she was stripped of regional and international opportunities, she persevered in propelling the field of architecture forward in Palestine.

Between 1986 and 1987, she helped establish the architecture department at Birzeit University, where she continues to teach today. While the university previously only had an engineering department, where architecture-related courses were taught, Habash and her colleagues organised a new curriculum that would, and continues to, bridge architectural philosophies with realistic practice.

“Teaching and my relationship with my students are very important to me,” she said. “And till today, my students tell me that I not only teach them the alphabet of architecture, but also how architecture is a tool for resistance and resilience to achieve sustainable development.”

In addition to co-establishing the architecture department at Birzeit University, Habash also helped launch the Union of Arab Architects, became the first women to head a regional branch of the Engineers Association, which spans Jordan and Palestine, and served as city councilor in Ramallah.

 

Before and after images of Bdelqader Abdelhadi Palace, rehabilitated by Habash Consulting Engineers

Her time with the Ramallah Municipality occurred between 2013 and 2017, and she led the committee of cultural heritage with the mission to protect the city from rapid development and international franchising.

“The urban expansion of Ramallah has been fast and vicious,” she said. “The city is very appealing for developers because it has always been known as a tourist destination within the region. They started affecting the scenery of the town with their international franchises and branding, and for me, this is horrifying. It is not authentic at all.

“The city was beginning to lose its character. While it’s not possible to stop them — they are big international companies, after all — we led the conversation on the importance of preserving our cultural heritage, which is a treasure for us. It is our essence. We need to protect it and base our development around it.”

Habash’s political engagement has always been managed in parallel with the work that comes in through her architecture office. Her extensive number of projects across Palestine include the rehabilitation of Arraba Palaces and the Old Road, the rehabilitation and addition to St. Nicolas Elderly Bait Jala, the rehabilitation of Mar Afram Children’s Library, the revitalisation of Bethlehem Old Market, Al-Istiqlal Park and the water reservoirs at Deir Istya and Kufur Abboush.

“The challenge of the water reservoirs was that they are located on the highest point of the village, in the middle of the historic centre, and I didn’t want to harm the traditional architecture there,” said Habash. “I designed new buildings to serve new functions, but with the vernacular architectural style so that they harmonise with the surrounding environment. And this is how I deal with all of my projects — I study the context very well and I specify what elements of architecture are used in the specific village.”

 

Habash working on the model of the Grand Bath Hall of Hisham Palace

At the moment, Habash, who has been shortlisted for a Tamayouz Excellence Award for Women in Architecture and Construction, is nearing the completion of another rehabilitation project — the Vernacular Heritage Pilot Enhancement Project in As-Samou’, located in the southernmost part of the West Bank, just south of Hebron.

Intending to rescue the built heritage of As-Samou’ and revive its weaving-based economy, the project consists of a number of interventions that will enhance the local vernacular architecture, such as the consolidation of 12 traditional ahwash located in the historic centre, and the rehabilitation of a hosh that will create a Cultural and Youth Centre. The rehabilitation of the hosh supports the training and capacity building of young craftsmen in the town and surrounding areas.

“We have renovated many places in Palestine,” she said, “and there are many other institutions here who do similar work. But this project was particularly special for us — the people in the area are very happy and due to their training, they are distinguished from other craftsmen. We gave them this chance, and that feeling is very special.”

 

Five ways ancient India changed the world – with maths

Five ways ancient India changed the world – with maths

MENA-Forum is proud to reproduce Five ways ancient India changed the world – with maths with our compliments to the author as well thanks   to the publishers because of its obvious interest for its readers of the MENA region.
File 20170920 16437 hxdak9
Bakhshali manuscript.
Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Christian Yates, University of Bath

It should come as no surprise that the first recorded use of the number zero, recently discovered to be made as early as the 3rd or 4th century, happened in India. Mathematics on the Indian subcontinent has a rich history going back over 3,000 years and thrived for centuries before similar advances were made in Europe, with its influence meanwhile spreading to China and the Middle East.

As well as giving us the concept of zero, Indian mathematicians made seminal contributions to the study of trigonometry, algebra, arithmetic and negative numbers among other areas. Perhaps most significantly, the decimal system that we still employ worldwide today was first seen in India.

The number system

As far back as 1200 BC, mathematical knowledge was being written down as part of a large body of knowledge known as the Vedas. In these texts, numbers were commonly expressed as combinations of powers of ten. For example, 365 might be expressed as three hundreds (3×10²), six tens (6×10¹) and five units (5×10⁰), though each power of ten was represented with a name rather than a set of symbols. It is reasonable to believe that this representation using powers of ten played a crucial role in the development of the decimal-place value system in India.

Brahmi numerals.
Wikimedia

From the third century BC, we also have written evidence of the Brahmi numerals, the precursors to the modern, Indian or Hindu-Arabic numeral system that most of the world uses today. Once zero was introduced, almost all of the mathematical mechanics would be in place to enable ancient Indians to study higher mathematics.

The concept of zero

Zero itself has a much longer history. The recently dated first recorded zeros, in what is known as the Bakhshali manuscript, were simple placeholders – a tool to distinguish 100 from 10. Similar marks had already been seen in the Babylonian and Mayan cultures in the early centuries AD and arguably in Sumerian mathematics as early as 3000-2000 BC.

But only in India did the placeholder symbol for nothing progress to become a number in its own right. The advent of the concept of zero allowed numbers to be written efficiently and reliably. In turn, this allowed for effective record-keeping that meant important financial calculations could be checked retroactively, ensuring the honest actions of all involved. Zero was a significant step on the route to the democratisation of mathematics.

No abacus needed.
Shutterstock

These accessible mechanical tools for working with mathematical concepts, in combination with a strong and open scholastic and scientific culture, meant that, by around 600AD, all the ingredients were in place for an explosion of mathematical discoveries in India. In comparison, these sorts of tools were not popularised in the West until the early 13th century, though Fibonnacci’s book liber abaci.

Solutions of quadratic equations

In the seventh century, the first written evidence of the rules for working with zero were formalised in the Brahmasputha Siddhanta. In his seminal text, the astronomer Brahmagupta introduced rules for solving quadratic equations (so beloved of secondary school mathematics students) and for computing square roots.

Rules for negative numbers

Brahmagupta also demonstrated rules for working with negative numbers. He referred to positive numbers as fortunes and negative numbers as debts. He wrote down rules such as: “A fortune subtracted from zero is a debt,” and “a debt subtracted from zero is a fortune”.

This latter statement is the same as the rule we learn in school, that if you subtract a negative number, it is the same as adding a positive number. Brahmagupta also knew that “The product of a debt and a fortune is a debt” – a positive number multiplied by a negative is a negative.

Negative cows.
Shutterstock

For the large part, European mathematicians were reluctant to accept negative numbers as meaningful. Many took the view that negative numbers were absurd. They reasoned that numbers were developed for counting and questioned what you could count with negative numbers. Indian and Chinese mathematicians recognised early on that one answer to this question was debts.

For example, in a primitive farming context, if one farmer owes another farmer 7 cows, then effectively the first farmer has -7 cows. If the first farmer goes out to buy some animals to repay his debt, he has to buy 7 cows and give them to the second farmer in order to bring his cow tally back to 0. From then on, every cow he buys goes to his positive total.

Basis for calculus

This reluctance to adopt negative numbers, and indeed zero, held European mathematics back for many years. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was one of the first Europeans to use zero and the negatives in a systematic way in his development of calculus in the late 17th century. Calculus is used to measure rates of changes and is important in almost every branch of science, notably underpinning many key discoveries in modern physics.

Leibniz: Beaten to it by 500 years.

But Indian mathematician Bhāskara had already discovered many of Leibniz’s ideas over 500 years earlier. Bhāskara, also made major contributions to algebra, arithmetic, geometry and trigonometry. He provided many results, for example on the solutions of certain “Doiphantine” equations, that would not be rediscovered in Europe for centuries.

The Kerala school of astronomy and mathematics, founded by Madhava of Sangamagrama in the 1300s, was responsible for many firsts in mathematics, including the use of mathematical induction and some early calculus-related results. Although no systematic rules for calculus were developed by the Kerala school, its proponents first conceived of many of the results that would later be repeated in Europe including Taylor series expansions, infinitessimals and differentiation.

The leap, made in India, that transformed zero from a simple placeholder to a number in its own right indicates the mathematically enlightened culture that was flourishing on the subcontinent at a time when Europe was stuck in the dark ages. Although its reputation suffers from the Eurocentric bias, the subcontinent has a strong mathematical heritage, which it continues into the 21st century by providing key players at the forefront of every branch of mathematics.

Christian Yates, Senior Lecturer in Mathematical Biology, University of Bath

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation