Shown here, one of nine Terracotta Warriors that was on display at the Terracotta Warrior exhibition at New York City's Discovery Times Square in 2012.
Sept. 12, 2011 --
In the search for buried history, archaeologists pour their resources into uncovering the remnants of the distant past. With know-how, persistence and a little luck, archaeologists can push aside dirt and rock and find an artifact of historical significance. Although chance plays a big role in unearthing history, archaeological treasures have been stumbled upon purely by accident, often by those outside the scientific community. In these photos, explore several particularly serendipitous finds of unique artifacts, some of which reach as far back as prehistory.
On Sept. 12, 1940, four teenagers followed their wayward dog into a cave complex near the village of Montignac in southwestern France. To their surprise, the caves hosted something remarkable: nearly 2,000 paintings and etchings of animals, humans and abstract shapes on the walls dating back between 15,000 and 25,000 years. Known as the Lascaux caves, the complex features figures depicted in surprising detail given the age of the illustrations. Animals portrayed on the cave walls included horses, stags, bison and felines. Archaeologists believed the caves were used for ritualistic purposes. Some parts of the illustrations even appear to construct a narrative, but what they mean exactly has yet to be deciphered. The caves were open to the public in 1948, but closed in 1963 in order to preserve the site from damage.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of over 800 biblical texts made of animal skin and papyrus. Dating to around 2,000 years ago, between the years 200 B.C. and 70 A.D., the scrolls could well be the oldest such documents in existence and have deepened historians' understanding of religious history. These documents may have been lost to history had a Bedouin shepherd named Muhammed edh-Dhib and his cousin not stumbled upon the first manuscripts along the northern shore of the Dead Sea at a remote site known as Qumran in 1947. The last fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls collection was uncovered in the mid-1950s. Although the scrolls have been extensively studied and translated, one big mystery remains: Who exactly wrote them?
As Napoleon Bonaparte's army marched through north Africa during his campaign in Egypt, they stumbled upon what would become known as the Rosetta Stone, after the town where it was discovered. Within Bonaparte's army was a squadron of scholars called Institute of Egypt, also known as the Scientific and Artistic Commission. As the military settled around the Nile Delta, the Institute explored local ruins and artifacts. After the discovery of the stone in 1799, several copies of the inscriptions on its face were made, since no one could read them at the time. By 1802, the Greek and Demotic portions of the stone had been deciphered by scholars. The hieroglyphics posed a different challenge all together, however, and it would take 20 years before French scholar Jean-François Champollion announced that he had cracked the code. By deciphering the hieroglyphs, Champollion opened a whole new door to understanding the civilization of ancient Egypt. The Rosetta Stone is currently kept in the British Museum.
In case you don't know what a geoglyph is, ancient Peruvians went through the trouble of leaving a picture-perfect definition. Known as the Nazca Lines, these giant carvings into the Earth were only discovered by airplane in the 1930s. Located in the Nazva desert in southern Peru around 250 miles (400 kilometers) south of Lima, the geoglyphs resemble a number of animals including a spider (as seen here), a condor, a monkey, a tree, as well as human figures and geometric patterns. Why exactly indigenous tribes living in the area between 100 B.C. and 650 A.D. felt compelled to produce these works remains a mystery, though archaeologists agree that it is likely tied to religious customs.
In 1991, German tourists stumbled upon a frozen body in a glacier on the Ötztal Alps between Italy and Austria. Although they originally thought the corpse to be the result of a recent death, the iceman mummy, named Ötzi, in fact dated back 5,300 years. Since Ötzi's discovery, the mummy has been extensively studied. Scientists have learned everything from his last meal to his cause of death to his possible occupation and they have even made reconstructions of his face. Ötzi died in the spring as a result of an arrowhead striking his left clavicle artery. He likely received a ceremonial burial and was found beside tools and other personal items.
Over the years, metal detector enthusiasts, particularly those in the United Kingdom, have uncovered archaeological treasures buried beneath the Earth. In 2009, 30-year-old Nick Davies hauled in 10,000 ancient Roman coins that he had found inside a clay pot buried in Shropshire, U.K. That same year, a trove of 1,500 gold and silver pieces dating back to the Dark Ages were found on a farmer's field in the western region of Staffordshire, England. Last year, 63-year-old David Crisp uncovered 52,000 ancient Roman coins, later given a value of around $1 million, in a clay pot in southwestern England.
Ministero per i Beni e le Attivita Culturali,
In 1986, divers stumbled upon a nearly 2,000-year-old Roman shipwreck some six miles off the coast of the town of Grado, Italy. Measuring 55 feet long and 16 feet wide, the small trade vessel was stocked with 600 amphorae, or vases, packed with sardines and other fish. Further study of the shipwreck revealed that the ancient Roman engineers also had built in a hydraulic system that allowed the ship to carry an aquarium with live fish.
The Terracotta Warriors, along with other life-size sculptures built for the First Emperor of China, were inspired by Greek art, new research indicates.
About 8,000 Terracotta Warriors, which are life-size statues of infantryman, cavalry, archers, charioteers and generals, were buried in three pits less than a mile to the northeast of the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huangdi, the first emperor. He unified the country through conquest more than 2,200 years ago. Pits containing sculptures of acrobats, strongmen, dancers and civil servants have also been found near the mausoleum.
Now, new research points to ancient Greek sculpture as the inspiration for the emperor's afterlife army. [See Photos of the Terracotta Warriors & Greek Art]
"It is perfectly possible and actually likely that the sculptures of the First Emperor are the result of early contact between Greece and China," writes Lukas Nickel, a reader with the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, in the most recent edition of the journal Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. (A reader is a position comparable to an associate or full professor in the American system.)
Nickel's evidence includes newly translated ancient records that tell a fantastic tale of giant statues that "appeared" in the far west, inspiring the first emperor of China to duplicate them in front of his palace. This story offers evidence of early contact between China and the West, contacts that Nickel says inspired the First Emperor (which is what Qin Shi Huangdi called himself) to not only duplicate the 12 giant statues but to build the massive Terracotta Army along with other life-size sculptures.
Before the First Emperor's time, life-size sculptures were not built in China, and Nickel argues the idea to build so many of them, so suddenly, came from kingdoms in Asia that had been created and influenced by Alexander the Great's campaigns.
'Giants' appearing in the west
Nickel translated ancient Chinese records that tell a tale of 12 giant statues, clad in "foreign robes" that "appeared" in Lintao in what was the westernmost part of China. (The word "Lintao" can also mean any place far to the west.)
The records do not say how this appearance happened, who brought them there, or who exactly the statues depicted; they do reveal the statues were larger than life, rising about 38 feet (11.55 meters) high, with feet that were 4.5 feet long (1.38 m). They so impressed the First Emperor that he decided to build 12 duplicates in front of his palace by melting down bronze weapons that had been used for war.
On each duplicate an inscription was created telling of the "giants" (the original statues) that appeared in Lintao. The inscriptions, recorded by Yan Shigu, who lived around 1,400 years ago and used an earlier written source, said that in the "26th Year of the Emperor, when he first brought together all-under-heaven, divided the principalities into provinces and districts, and unified the weights and measures, giants appeared in Lintao ..."
The First Emperor duplicated these statues despite a "heavenly taboo" that "he who recklessly follows foreign models will encounter disaster," wrote Ban Gu, a historian who lived almost 2,000 years ago. Ban worked for the dynasty that had overthrown the First Emperor's dynasty and, as such, tried to cast him in a negative light. [Photos: China's Forbidden City Revealed]
These giant duplicates no longer exist, having been destroyed in the centuries after the First Emperor's death. Because the duplicates were displayed publicly in front of the First Emperor's palace ancient writers left records of them behind, Nickel told LiveScience. Meanwhile, the Terracotta Warriors, though they survive to present day, were buried in pits out of sight and, as such, no record of them survives today.
Terracotta warriors adorned the tomb of China's first emperor.Corbis Images
Even so, the newly translated records suggest contact, of some form, occurred between ancient China and kingdoms in Central Asia that had been influenced by Greek culture and its sculpture-building tradition.
Acrobats and dancers
A few dozen statues of half-naked acrobats and dancers were also found in separate pits near the First Emperor's mausoleum.
"Here the sculptors attempted to render a bone structure, muscles and sinews to depict a person in movement," Nickel writes in his paper. "This comes close to an understanding of the human body that was employed at the time only in Hellenistic (Greek influenced) Europe and Asia."
He argues that creating this sort of realistic sculpture is not something that a sculptor could learn without some practice, taking the ancient Greeks centuries to master it.
"The creation of a believable human body preoccupied generations of Greek sculptors. It was a complex artistic and intellectual process that did not happen overnight," Nickel writes.
Why did they stop building the statues?
All this research leaves another mystery in its wake. After the First Emperor's death the rulers that came to power, the Han Dynasty, stopped building life-size sculptures, opting instead for miniature representations of people, animals and objects, Nickel said.
Several reasons could explain why the people stopped building these human-like statues, Nickel said. For instance, the skills involved in building these sculptures were complicated and, by the time Han rulers started building large tombs again, the people who had these skills could simply have died.
But there is another idea, one hinted at by the "heavenly taboo" recorded by Ban Gu that "disaster" happens when foreign models are followed recklessly. To the ancient Chinese, the 12 giant statues clad in foreign robes, and the Terracotta Warriors buried in pits, would have represented something unusual and foreign, Nickel said.
"Over all of Chinese early history sculpture did play only a minor role," Nickel told LiveScience in the interview. "To the Chinese it must have looked quite alien," he added. The Han rulers, wishing to repudiate the First Emperor and his foreign tastes, may have simply decided not to create life-size or larger sculptures of their own, Nickel said.
Original article on LiveScience.
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