Archaeologists Propose 4,500-Year-Old Burial Mound Was World’s First Military Memorial

www.smithsonianmag.com

Bridget Alex

Roughly 4,500 years ago, some Mesopotamians living in present-day Syria decided to remodel and repurpose one of their community’s most prominent monuments: a rippled white dome that entombed the dead. For generations residents periodically climbed the monument’s exterior to pour libations and place offerings over graves beneath its surface. But the renovation around 2450 B.C. covered this communal space with earthen terraces, transforming the dome into a six-story ziggurat, or stepped pyramid. And those steps were packed with more than soil: The renovators also deposited assortments of human bones, skins from animals that drew wagons and two-inch-long clay bullets, handy for arming slingshot-like weapons.

These skeletons seem to have been fallen soldiers—wagon drivers and sling-shooters—exhumed and reburied to potentially create the world’s first military memorial, according to a study forthcoming in Antiquity. The Syrian site, known as the White Monument, could offer the best evidence yet that urban rulers wielded enough power to support standing armies by the third millennium B.C., in the Early Bronze Age. Unlike other tombs from the time, which included valuable metal weapons and jewelry, the remodeled White Monument contained partial skeletons of mostly adults and teens, buried with the ammo or animals needed for specific tasks in battle. Like the United States’ Arlington National Cemetery, the monument likely held soldiers, whose remains were retrieved from battlegrounds or other gravesites to be buried with co-combatants.

Such a massive memorial for battle-dead suggests the town had a standing army: “people who identify as soldiers, as opposed to people who go out and fight in the offseason or when someone’s attacking,” says Stephanie Selover, an archaeologist at the University of Washington who studies ancient warfare in nearby Anatolia, but was not involved in the study.

“The possibility of standing armies that are so controlled and centralized you’re even able to make a monument… There’s nothing else like this,” in the Early Bronze Age, she adds.

The monument would have served as a conspicuous reminder that leaders had the means to maintain and memorialize an army—a message that would have been received by locals as well as outside foreigners. “Burying these people in the sort of function that they would have had in a military is really a statement of power at that point, both locally and externally, because this thing was really visible for miles,” says University of Toronto archaeologist Anne Porter, lead author of the Antiquity study.

Prior to this research, scholars have found ample evidence for violence during the Early Bronze Age, including massacre sites and daggers tucked in graves. “Nothing makes this a particularly crunchy or peaceful time,” says Seth Richardson, a historian of the ancient Near East at the University of Chicago, who was not involved in the study.

But the idea that professional soldiers existed then mainly comes from inscriptions and artifacts, like the Stele of the Vultures, limestone fragments that once constituted a roughly six-foot-tall carving, made between 2600 and 2350 B.C. Discovered in the late-19th century at the Iraqi site of Tello, the stele depicted battle scenes including ranks of spear-totting soldiers in helmets. It also showed a haphazard assemblage of bodies, thought to be slain enemies, and a carefully piled stack of bodies, interpreted as the victor’s lost soldiers. Artistic works like the Stele of the Vultures “are the propaganda. You always have this mighty king smiting somebody, the little men behind him and then the enemy soldiers with their heads cut off. It’s very formulaic,” explains Selover. But if the researchers are right about the White Monument, it would be the first physical example of memorial mound for a victor’s fallen soldiers, depicted on carvings. A jar packed with about 100 beads was found in the White Monument.

Miniature Jar

The artifact likely was placed as an offering before the structure was repurposed for soldiers. (Euphrates Salvage Project)

In the 1990s, the White Monument bulged from cotton fields like a dune-colored cone. “It was just this huge pile of dirt,” recalls Porter. But when sunlight struck, the mound twinkled white—thanks to gypsum and marl used as building materials—and earned its moniker.

The gleaming dirt stood several hundred feet from a more sprawling ruin-layered hill, or tell. Porter’s team excavated both spots, and called the White Mountain, “Tell Banat North,” and the more expansive feature, “Tell Banat.” Though in the 20th century, Tells Banat and Banat North looked like two distinct hills, back in the third millennium B.C. they belonged to a single urban center, which spread over 70 acres. Within Tell Banat the archaeologists found the town itself, including buildings, streets, pottery workshops and a stone tomb. The White Monument, or Tell Banat North, was solely a burial monument, which loomed just beyond the city walls.

“Everywhere we put a pick and a trowel revealed something truly remarkable,” recalls Porter. The full area “was a site… that you could spend a lifetime working.”

Though they knew at the time that wouldn’t happen: The ancient settlement, along with more than a dozen other sites, was in the planned flood zone of the Tishreen hydroelectric dam, which was being built in the 1990s. Pressed for time and resources, the team unearthed and documented as much as they could—and moved the finds to a storehouse in Syria—before floodwaters engulfed the ancient sites as well as modern villages in the area. Porter and excavation codirector Thomas McClellan of the Euphrates Salvage Project witnessed the flood. “It was a really traumatic experience, watching the water rise and all these mudbrick villages collapsing,” says Porter.

For the next decade, the team examined skeletal remains and artifacts recovered from the site, until ISIS razed the dig’s storehouse. The militants obliterated ancient bones, pottery and other items, and reportedly dumped the debris into the river. “I don’t think there is anything to retrieve there,” Porter says, based on secondhand accounts of the attack.

Though the site and the finds are gone, the researchers have continued making discoveries from archival data, as all professional digs do. As excavations unfolded, archaeologists compiled meticulous notes, photos and spatial measurements, which documented how each find was positioned, relative to the surrounding sediment and architectural remnants. For this site, experts on skeletal analysis described and measured the human and animal bones recovered, before ISIS destroyed them. The data survived in published reports as well as unpublished notebooks, photographs, sketches and spreadsheets, kept with Porter in Canada.

Sussing patterns and meaning from this data is the behind the scenes work of real archaeology, which the public or beginning students rarely glimpse. Porter and her professional colleagues chipped away at the Tell Banat and Banat North records after the dig wrapped in 1999. Several years ago, she realized the work could provide a unique learning opportunity. “I really wanted to teach a class where students actually did what archaeologists do, rather than seeing the world’s greatest hits or all the pretty stuff,” she says.

In 2018 Porter taught a seminar called “Death on the Euphrates” at the University of Toronto. About ten undergrads set out to answer: Who was buried in the White Monument?

“They learned very quickly that the life of an archaeologist isn’t all glamour and Indiana Jones, and that it’s really very tedious work, a lot of the time,” Porter says.

Through the semester, she lectured about Mesopotamian culture, ancient mortuary practices and what was already known about Tell Banat and Banat North. At the same time, the students tried to understand the burials in the White Mountain, based on the notebooks, photos and other documents.

Alexandra Baldwin, a 2019 graduate who took the class, recalls her first day: “I walked in and there were just these enormous folders of all of the data. I had never seen anything like it.”

Porter figured the class would be a valuable learning opportunity. She didn’t expect the group to discover something new about the ancient Near East. The students mapped out the clusters of bones and grave goods in the White Monument and compared the contents of each deposit. Through discussions and comparisons with other sites, it became clear that the human remains were deliberately placed in a manner that changed over time. “There was a meaning behind that,” explains Brittany Enriquez, a student in the class who graduated in 2018. “It wasn’t like there was just stuff all through the dirt.”

The team’s analysis convincingly showed that the White Monument was really a series of tombs, built over several centuries. Like a Russian nesting doll, the ~2,450 B.C. final construction encased a prior monument erected between 2450 and 2,700 B.C., which contained a still older mound. Porter’s excavation reached the smooth, white surface of this third-inner monument, but the flood occurred before the team could dig its contents—and see if even earlier monuments nested within.

Enigmatic rituals took place at the middle monument. Its numerous tombs contained assorted bones from about two to five individuals, along with animal remains and pottery. The Banat morticians covered these modest graves with white gypsum, rammed into horizontal bands, which made the full monument look like a groomed ski hill. Later, the Banat individuals dug through the surface to bury more partial skeletons, possibly of ordinary residents, this time sealed with layers of plaster. They also seem to have left offerings, including beads, alabaster bowls, human shinbones and ritual libations—suggested from soak stains on the plaster.

Gypsum and Earth Surface

A rammed gypsum and earth surface covered the burial mound that preceded the possible soldier memorial. (Euphrates Salvage Project)

According to the researchers, the monument’s last renovation around 2450 B.C. marked a drastic change: The communal tomb became a monument for slain soldiers. Within the added steps, the renovators buried at least 29 individuals in discrete patches with rings, figurines and other artifacts. In one corner of the monument most of the burials included skulls and appendages of donkey-like animals, probably interred as hides with heads and hooves still attached. These equids likely pulled battle wagons. In another corner, loads of clay bullets or pellets accompanied the human bones.

Those pellets “are the unsung heroes of the ancient near,” says Selover. Though the artifact has long puzzled scholars, evidence has mounted that, when shot from slings, they hailed down on foes and could be lethal. “It’s a really sophisticated weapon for being a very simple weapon,” she adds.

“The means of violence in deep antiquity didn’t need to be particularly scary by our standards to be effective by theirs,” explains Richardson. Even if some weapons were simple, and the monument only held a few dozen soldiers, it sent a message of might.

Given the scale of the renovations, it’s doubtful they came about in a grassroots fashion. Rather, the White Monument remodel suggests leaders around 2450 B.C. had enough authority within the settlement to take over a long-used community tomb and devote it to their soldiers. And at 72-feet-tall, the monument could be spied from afar, deterring potential invaders and raiders.

Former students Baldwin and Enriquez know that their take is one plausible interpretation of the available evidence, but that other explanations are possible. Still, Baldwin says she’s proud of their work, “sifting through all this material to leave a narrative… something probable that supports looking at the distant past with more depth and with more humanity.”

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/archaeologists-propose-4500-year-old-burial-mound-was-worlds-first-military-memorial-180977981/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20210621-daily-responsive&spMailingID=45182129&spUserID=MTI2NjAzMzY5NDQ2OAS2&spJobID=2025542710&spReportId=MjAyNTU0MjcxMAS2

This is a little too creative for my taste… 😬

The History Of Mother’s Day

A Family Portrait… Spanish Flu 1918

You Know those Virtual House Tours? Here’s One for the Tomb of Ramesses VI in the Valley of Kings «TwistedSifter

null Jul 9, 2020

pharaoh ramesses vi tomb virtual tour egypt valley of kings 1 You Know those Virtual House Tours? Heres One for the Tomb of Ramesses VI in the Valley of Kings

Ramesses VI Nebmaatre-Meryamun was the fifth pharaoh of the Twentieth Dynasty of Egypt. He was buried in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, in a tomb now known as KV9.

Earlier this year, the Egyptian Tourism Authority released an incredible 3D virtual tour of the tomb and the detail and artistry is astounding. Below you will find some screen shots from the virtual tour but be sure to explore it for yourself here.

pharaoh ramesses vi tomb virtual tour egypt valley of kings 4 You Know those Virtual House Tours? Heres One for the Tomb of Ramesses VI in the Valley of Kings

See the Virtual Tour

pharaoh ramesses vi tomb virtual tour egypt valley of kings 6 You Know those Virtual House Tours? Heres One for the Tomb of Ramesses VI in the Valley of Kingspharaoh-ramesses-vi-tomb-virtual-tour-egypt-valley-of-kings-7

See the Virtual Tour

pharaoh-ramesses-vi-tomb-virtual-tour-egypt-valley-of-kings-8pharaoh ramesses vi tomb virtual tour egypt valley of kings 5 You Know those Virtual House Tours? Heres One for the Tomb of Ramesses VI in the Valley of Kings

See the Virtual Tour

pharaoh ramesses vi tomb virtual tour egypt valley of kings 7 You Know those Virtual House Tours? Heres One for the Tomb of Ramesses VI in the Valley of Kingspharaoh-ramesses-vi-tomb-virtual-tour-egypt-valley-of-kings-9

See the Virtual Tour

pharaoh ramesses vi tomb virtual tour egypt valley of kings 8 You Know those Virtual House Tours? Heres One for the Tomb of Ramesses VI in the Valley of Kingspharaoh-ramesses-vi-tomb-virtual-tour-egypt-valley-of-kings-11

See the Virtual Tour

pharaoh ramesses vi tomb virtual tour egypt valley of kings 9 You Know those Virtual House Tours? Heres One for the Tomb of Ramesses VI in the Valley of Kingspharaoh-ramesses-vi-tomb-virtual-tour-egypt-valley-of-kings-10

See the Virtual Tour

pharaoh ramesses vi tomb virtual tour egypt valley of kings 11 You Know those Virtual House Tours? Heres One for the Tomb of Ramesses VI in the Valley of Kings
 

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arlin report thought(s) of the day: statue removal

ARLIN REPORT...................walking this path together

While you are at it! Their legacies certainly offended many!

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A Time In History and the sacrifices it took for freedom to be born 🇺🇸

This is History 101… You may need to take notes!

Gettysburg officials say they’re aware of social media rumors of a flag burning at National Park July 4

https://media.fox43.com/embeds/mobile/video/521-8a5d4481-9a13-454e-8b42-4c10aefd23d8/amp#amp=1 adams-county

Borough and regional police departments, as well as National Military Park rangers, say they are monitoring the situation and will take appropriate safety measures Author: Jamie Bittner (FOX43) Published: 7:10 PM EDT June 25, 2020

GETTYSBURG, Pa. — Law enforcement and regional public safety agencies in the Gettysburg Borough and the surrounding area said Wednesday they are aware of online posts claiming an American flag burning will take place in the Gettysburg National Cemetery on July 4. 

They are also aware of rumors that counter-protestors may show up to ‘protect’ the flag.  null

“There will be folks here who want to help, or what they envision as help, protect the National Park. There are going to be folks here who are going to come even if it’s a trolling post because they’re not sure that it’s a trolling post,” said Gettysburg Police Chief R. W. Glenny Jr.

“If Group A shows, Group B shows. If Group A doesn’t show, Group B is still likely to show,” said Jason Martz, acting public affairs officer of Gettysburg National Park. 

However, Glenny and park officials stress they do not know if the online rumored events are fact or fiction.

“I can’t say with 100% certainty one way or the other, that’s why I’m not willing to make that comment on whether it’s real or not real,” said Glenny.

“That’s the funny thing about rumors. We don’t know. So, we’re taking it seriously,” said Martz.

Glenny said the Gettysburg police station has received ‘dozens’ of calls. But, he stressed law enforcement is aware of the situation as well as agencies on the state and federal level. He said everyone is taking appropriate measures to manage any threats to people and/or property. 

Glenny, along with Cumberland Township Police Chief Donald Boehs and Gettysburg National Military Park Chief Ranger Joseph Lachowski, asks residents and visitors to call their local law enforcement agencies if they observe any suspicious activity.

RELATED: Gettysburg National Military Park will stage 3-day ‘virtual tour’ marking the 157th anniversary of the battle

“What’s being reported on facebook right now is a peaceful demonstration and that’s what we’d hope it would be if it materializes,” said Charles Gable, Gettysburg borough manager. Gable said Gettysburg will host a fireworks show July 4th and community leaders hope people will come out to celebrate. He added, “we want people from different backgrounds to come here and appreciate the history.” null

FOX43 NEWS AT 4 AND 5

Online rumors swirling of flag burnings, protests, & counter protests planned for Gettysburg July 4th weekend. But, is there any truth to the gossip? Today I’m talking to leaders across the area about how they’re working to separate fact from fiction & how they’re making sure they’re ready for anything that may or may not happen. https://www.fox43.com/article/news/local/adams-county/gettysburg-police-say-theyre-aware-of-social-media-posts-threatening-to-burn-american-flag-at-national-cemetery-on-july-4/521-f8e09449-154c-496a-8033-b8185f7877bcPosted by Jamie Bittner on Thursday, June 25, 2020

Gettysburg National Park is also welcoming visitors to the park for celebrations during the fourth of July. It has also introduced a free Virtual Tour that includes 18 videos and follows the Auto Tour that encompasses much of the July 1-3, 1863 battlefield.

The new Virtual Tour can be found on the Gettysburg National Military Park website at www.nps.gov/gett

https://www.fox43.com/amp/article/news/local/adams-county/gettysburg-police-say-theyre-aware-of-social-media-posts-threatening-to-burn-american-flag-at-national-cemetery-on-july-4/521-f8e09449-154c-496a-8033-b8185f7877bc?utm_campaign=snd-autopilot&__twitter_impression=true

Roosevelt Statue to Be Removed From Museum of Natural History

nytimes.com

By Robin Pogrebin 8-10 minutes

The equestrian memorial to Theodore Roosevelt has long prompted objections as a symbol of colonialism and racism.

The statue of Theodore Roosevelt outside the Museum of Natural History, under police watch, will be coming down. It has drawn many protests in recent years.
The statue of Theodore Roosevelt outside the Museum of Natural History, under police watch, will be coming down. It has drawn many protests in recent years.Credit…Caitlin Ochs for The New York Times
  • June 21, 2020Updated 7:28 p.m. ET

The bronze statue of Theodore Roosevelt, on horseback and flanked by a Native American man and an African man, which has presided over the entrance to the American Museum of Natural History in New York since 1940, is coming down.

The decision, proposed by the museum and agreed to by New York City, which owns the building and property, came after years of objections from activists and at a time when the killing of George Floyd has initiated an urgent nationwide conversation about racism.

For many, the “Equestrian” statue at the museum’s Central Park West entrance had come to symbolize a painful legacy of colonial expansion and racial discrimination.

“Over the last few weeks, our museum community has been profoundly moved by the ever-widening movement for racial justice that has emerged after the killing of George Floyd,” the museum’s president, Ellen V. Futter, said in an interview. “We have watched as the attention of the world and the country has increasingly turned to statues as powerful and hurtful symbols of systemic racism.

“Simply put,” she added, “the time has come to move it.”

The museum took action amid a heated national debate over the appropriateness of statues or monuments that first focused on Confederate symbols like Robert E. Lee and has now moved on to a wider arc of figures, from Christopher Columbus to Thomas Jefferson.

Last week alone, a crowd set fire to a statue of George Washington in Portland, Ore., before pulling it to the ground. Gunfire broke out during a protest in Albuquerque to demand the removal of a statue of Juan de Oñate, the despotic conquistador of New Mexico. And New York City Council members demanded that a statue of Thomas Jefferson be removed from City Hall.

In many of those cases, the calls for removal were made by protesters who say the images are too offensive to stand as monuments to American history. The decision about the Roosevelt statue is different, made by a museum that, like others, had previously defended — and preserved — such portraits as relics of their time and that however objectionable, could perhaps serve to educate. It was then seconded by the city, which had the final say.

“The American Museum of Natural History has asked to remove the Theodore Roosevelt statue because it explicitly depicts Black and Indigenous people as subjugated and racially inferior,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “The City supports the Museum’s request. It is the right decision and the right time to remove this problematic statue.”

When the monument will be taken down, where it will go and what, if anything, will replace it, remain undetermined, officials said.

A Roosevelt family member, who is a trustee of the museum, released a statement approving of the removal.

“The world does not need statues, relics of another age, that reflect neither the values of the person they intend to honor nor the values of equality and justice,” said Theodore Roosevelt IV, a great-grandson of the 26th president and a member of the museum’s board of trustees. “The composition of the Equestrian Statue does not reflect Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy. It is time to move the statue and move forward.”

“The world does not need statues, relics of another age, that reflect neither the values of the person they intend to honor nor the values of equality and justice,” said Theodore Roosevelt IV, a great-grandson of the 26th president, said in a statement approving the removal.
“The world does not need statues, relics of another age, that reflect neither the values of the person they intend to honor nor the values of equality and justice,” said Theodore Roosevelt IV, a great-grandson of the 26th president, said in a statement approving the removal.Credit…Caitlin Ochs for The New York Times

To be sure, the Roosevelt family did get something in return; the museum is naming its Hall of Biodiversity for Roosevelt “in recognition of his conservation legacy,” Ms. Futter said.

Ms. Futter also made a point of saying that the museum was only taking issue with the statue itself, not with Roosevelt overall, with whom the institution has a long history.

His father was a founding member of the institution; its charter was signed in his home. Roosevelt’s childhood excavations were among the museum’s first artifacts. The museum was chosen by New York’s state legislature for Roosevelt’s memorial in 1920.

The museum already has several spaces named after Roosevelt, including Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall, the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda and Theodore Roosevelt Park outside.

“It’s very important to note that our request is based on the statue, that is the hierarchical composition that’s depicted in it,” Ms. Futter said. “It is not about Theodore Roosevelt who served as Governor of New York before becoming the 26th president of the United States and was a pioneering conservationist.”

Critics, though, have pointed to President Roosevelt’s opinions about racial hierarchy and eugenics and his pivotal role in the Spanish-American War.

The statue — created by James Earle Fraser — was one of four memorials in New York that a city commission reconsidered in 2017, ultimately deciding after a split decision to leave the statue in place and to add context.

The museum tried to add that context with an exhibition last year, “Addressing the Statue,” which explored its design and installation, the inclusion of the figures walking beside Roosevelt and Roosevelt’s racism. The museum also examined its own potential complicity, in particular its exhibitions on eugenics in the early 20th century.

The exhibition was partly a response to the defacing of the statue by protesters, who in 2017 splashed red liquid representing blood over the statue’s base. The protesters, who identified themselves as members of the Monument Removal Brigade, later published a statement on the internet calling for its removal as an emblem of “patriarchy, white supremacy and settler-colonialism.”

“Now the statue is bleeding,” the statement said. “We did not make it bleed. It is bloody at its very foundation.”

The group also said the museum should “rethink its cultural halls regarding the colonial mentality behind them.”

At the time, the museum said complaints should be channeled through Mayor de Blasio’s commission to review city monuments and that the museum was planning to update its exhibits. The institution has since undertaken a renovation of its North West Coast Hall in consultation with native nations from the North West Coast of Canada and Alaska.

In January, the museum also moved the Northwest Coast Great Canoe from its 77th Street entrance into that hall, to better contextualize it. The museum’s Old New York diorama, which includes a stereotypical depiction of Lenape leaders, now has captions explaining why the display is offensive.

Mayor de Blasio has made a point of rethinking public monuments to honor more women and people of color — an undertaking led largely by his wife, Chirlane McCray, and the She Built NYC commission. But these efforts have also been controversial, given complaints about the transparency of the process and the public figures who have been excluded, namely Mother Cabrini, a patron saint of immigrants who had drawn the most nominations in a survey of New Yorkers.

On Friday, the Mayor announced that Ms. McCray would lead a Racial Justice and Reconciliation Commission whose brief would include reviewing the city’s potentially racist monuments.

Though the debates over many of these statues have been marked by rancor, the Natural History Museum seems unconflicted about removing the Roosevelt monument that has greeted its visitors for so long.

“We believe that moving the statue can be a symbol of progress in our commitment to build and sustain an inclusive and equitable society,” Ms. Futter said. “Our view has been evolving. This moment crystallized our thinking and galvanized us to action.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/21/arts/design/roosevelt-statue-to-be-removed-from-museum-of-natural-history.html#click=https://t.co/aPafBjXCOv#click