Since 2015, Mediterranean Exchange of Archaeological Tourism and Archeo have decided to pay homage to archaeological discoveries with an annual prize awarded in collaboration with the international magazines that are media partners of the Exchange: Antike Welt (Germany), AiD Archäologie in Deutschland (Germany), Archéologia (France), as. Archäologie der Schweiz (Switzerland), Current Archaeology (United Kingdom), Dossiers d’Archéologie (France).
The Award is devoted to Khaled al-Asaad, the archaeologist of the site of Palmyra who paid with his life the defence of cultural heritage.
The remembrance of the archaeologist Paolo Matthiae: «For forty years, Khaled al-Asaad has been the Director of the archaeological excavations of Palmyra. He was the archaeologist of the city, he worked with missions from every country: from France to Germany, from Switzerland to Netherlands, from United States to Poland, and in the last years from Italy too, with the mission from Università Statale of Milan. He was a complete scholar, but mostly he had the peculiar feature of a member of the families of the cities of the desert. These people, like the ancient Bedouins, are lovely, kind and very hospitable, in a completely natural way, not excessive but very measured and discreet fashion. Khaled al-Asaad was a very lovely man, measured and with a kind soul. Even archaeologists who didn’t specialize in that period – Roman antiquity – often came to Palmyra to visit him and Khaled’s friendliness was total. He was a man deeply rooted in the city, and yet, for the international character of the site he oversaw, he was a citizen of the world, too. In various occasions his name was suggested for the position of General Director of Antiquities in Damascus, but I believed he preferred to remain in Palmyra, a city he identified himself with».
«Khaled was so certain he was just doing his job that he didn’t think he needed to escape. And as I remember him, he wasn’t a man who feared for his own life. Even if in retirement and almost 82, he preferred to stay in his city, precisely because he had understood its antiquities were in ranger. And probably, he imagined his undisputed moral authority could protect what Palmyra held and still holds today: the ruins of an absolutely extraordinary archaeological site, for all the Mediterranean area and for the whole world».
The International Archaeological Discovery Award “Khaled al-Asaad” is the only global prize awarded to archaeologists, who with sacrifice, dedication, competence and scientific research live their job, both as scholars of the past and as professionals working for their territory.
The Director of the Exchange Ugo Picarelli and the Editor in Chief of Archeo Andreas Steiner shared this common path, aware that “today, civilizations and cultures of the past and their relations with the surrounding environment are more and more important to rediscover the identities, in a global society which is dispersing its values”. The Award, therefore, aims to spread the exchange of experiences, represented by international discoveries, also as best practices of intercultural dialogue.
The five archaeological discoveries of 2021 candidates for the victory of the 8th edition:
- Egypt: the city founded by Amenhotep III in Luxor resurfaces from the desert;
- Italy: Pompeii, in Civita Giuliana the discovery of the room of the slaves;
- Pakistan: at the site of Barikot the most ancient urban Buddhist temple of the Swat Valley;
- Turkey: in Anatolia the site of Karahantepe a rock sanctuary of more than 11.000 years ago;
- United Kingdom: in England in Rutland County an extraordinary mosaic with scenes of the Iliad.
The Award, assigned to the first classified archaeological discovery, will be selected among the 5 finalists according to the indications provided by the Editors of each magazine and it will be conferred on Friday, October 28th, during the 24th Exchange.
Moreover, a “Special Award” will be attributed to the archaeological discovery, among the five finalists, that will receive the greatest consensus from the general public through the Facebook page of the Exchange in the period July 4th-September 30th.
The city founded by Amenhotep III
Egypt: the city founded by Amenhotep III in Luxor resurfaces from the desert
Under the sand for thousands of years, in good conditions and with almost complete walls, “the largest city ever found in Egypt” has been discovered by the team of Zahi Hawass, that was looking for the mortuary temple of Tutankhamun. The site was located near the palace of pharaoh Amenhotep III (1391-1353 BC), on the opposite side of the Nile River from the city and capital of Thebes (now Luxor). Hieroglyphic inscriptions indicate that the city was called Tjehen-Aten, or “dazzling” Aten and that it was founded by Tutankhamun’s grandfather, Amenhotep III. Acclaimed as “city of lost gold”, it is not a city – which already existed and was Thebes – and it was not exactly lost, as some zigzag walls had already been discovered in the 1930s by French archaeologists Robichon and Varille 100 meters away, and so far, it has not produced any gold finds: “I call it golden because it was founded during the golden age of Egypt,” Hawass said. The rooms preserve objects related to everyday life: precious rings, scarabs, colored ceramic vases, mud bricks with the cartouche seals of Amenhotep III, as well as hieroglyphic inscriptions on clay caps of the wine vessels, helped to date the settlement. A bakery was also identified, an area for cooking and preparing food, with ovens and storage dishes. The second area, still largely buried, coincides with the administrative and residential district, circumscribed by a zigzag wall. The third area was set up for workshops: along one side there is the production area of the mud bricks used to build temples and outbuildings, on the other one many foundry molds for the elaboration of amulets and delicate decorative elements. Two unusual burials of a cow or a bull were found inside one of the rooms, while the burial of a person with the arms stretched at the sides and the remains of a rope wrapped around the knees is surprising. North of the settlement, a large cemetery was discovered with a group of tombs of different sizes carved into the rock.
The room of the slaves discovered in Pompeii
Italy: Pompeii, in Civita Giuliana discovery of the room of the slaves
In the suburban villa north of Pompeii, in the Civita Giuliana area, the room of the slaves offers an extraordinary insight into a part of the ancient world that normally remains in the dark. The exceptional state of conservation of the environment and the possibility of making plaster casts of beds and other objects in perishable materials constitutes an “ancient photograph” of the life of slaves, generally neglected by history, focused on the deeds of powerful people.
The grooms were slaves who lived in this unadorned room, where three wooden cots and a wooden crate containing metal and fabric objects were found, which seem to be part of the horses’ harness. Furthermore, resting on one of the beds, a rudder of a wagon was found, of which a cast was made. What is striking is the narrowness and precariousness of this environment, a cross between a dormitory and a storage room of just 16 square meters, which we can now reconstruct thanks to the exceptional conservation conditions created by the eruption of 79 AD; the beds are made up, in fact, of few roughly worked wooden boards that could be assembled according to the height of those who used them. Two are about 1.70m long, but another one is just 1.40m so it could belong to a boy or a child. Under the cots there were few personal items, including amphorae placed to preserve private possessions, ceramic jugs and the “chamber pot.” The room was lit by a small window at the top and it had no wall decorations. It was therefore probably a dormitory for a group of slaves, but it is possible that it was a small family given the presence of the cot suitable for children. The environment, however, also served as a storage room, as evidenced by eight amphorae crammed into the corners left free for this purpose.
The discovery took place not far from the portico where at the beginning of 2021 a ceremonial chariot was discovered which is currently undergoing consolidation and restoration.
The most ancient urban Buddhist temple
Pakistan: at the site of Barikot the most ancient urban Buddhist temple of the Swat Valley
The discovery of one of the oldest Buddhist temples in the world in the ancient city of Barikot, in the Swat region, is the result of the latest excavation campaign of the Italian Mission in Pakistan of ISMEO (Associazione Internazionale di Studi sul Mediterraneo e l’Oriente) under the direction of Professor Luca Maria Olivieri of the Department of Asian and North African Studies of the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice.
The very ancient Buddhist temple (dating to around the second half of the 2nd century BC, but it probably dates back to an older age, to the Maurya period, therefore the 3rd century BC) is considered a very important find because it reveals new details on the architectural organization and the life in the ancient city, on the relations between the Greek rulers of the time and Buddhism, as well as on the spread of the religion throughout the region. “The discovery of a large religious monument founded in the Indo-Greek age certainly refers to a large and ancient center of worship and pilgrimage”, explained Olivieri, underlining that “the attribution to such an ancient age for Buddhism in this region is of enormous importance ”.
Barikot is known in Greek and Latin sources as one of the cities besieged by Alexander the Great, the ancient Bazira or Vajrasthana; it was continuously occupied from protohistory (1700 BC) to the medieval period (16th century), with over 10 meters of archaeological stratigraphy.
The rediscovered temple has an apsidal podium shape with a circular cell and internal stupa, a form that so far has been unique and that evidently refers to India, so much so that Italian and Pakistani archaeologists think it can go back at least to the Indo-Greek age. The monument was abandoned when, in the early 4th century, the lower city was destroyed by a disastrous earthquake.
The rock sanctuary of more than 11.000 years ago
Turkey: in Anatolia the site of Karahantepe a rock sanctuary of more than 11.000 years ago
The archaeological site of Karahantepe, near the Kargalı area in the mountains of the Tek Tek Mountains National Park, not far from Yağmurlu, about 25 miles southeast of its more famous twin Göbeklitepe, is shedding new light on ingenuity and surprising creativity of the Neolithic people of this part of Southeastern Turkey. The discovery of the University of Istanbul with the team led by Professor Necmi Karul shows an underground environment of 23 meters in diameter and 5.50 meters deep, with a well-preserved sculpture of an imposing head with human features, emerging from the rocky wall that seems to “look out of a window” at a series of eleven tall pillars sculpted in the shape of a phallus. It is a sacred temple that has its roots in prehistoric times and that may have been the heart of a procession of priests and possible worshippers who moved along a trajectory that involved other three connected temples. It has numerous carved stone artifacts with at least 250 monoliths, mostly with T-pillars, as well as many unique stone carvings and designs. Like at Göbeklitepe this site is covered with many strange depictions of humans, symbols and animals, sometimes involved in very strange activities, and a striking 3D representation of a human head with a serpentine neck, emerging from the rock. Many artifacts are now on display in the Archaeological Museum of Şanlıurfa.
Karahantepe is an entire sacred city, complete with a hydraulic system for water distribution. The large megaliths of which it is built, unlike the crude and bare ones of later European constructions, are covered in elaborate decorations, carvings that mainly represent the local fauna once present on the site, cranes, wild boars and other hunting animals, but also cheetahs, foxes, vultures and even some rare human heads. The only female representations are obscene, a probable indication of a grossly male-dominated society, a hypothesis already suggested by the marked abundance of male phalluses carved in stone. After being inhabited for millennia, around 8.000 BC the main site was abandoned in a relatively short period of time: but before leaving, it seems that the inhabitants deliberately buried it, a huge job, achieved for reasons unimaginable today.
Roman mosaic discovered in England
United Kingdom: in England in Rutland County an extraordinary mosaic with scenes of the Iliad
A magnificent Roman mosaic, in poor conditions, was discovered under plowed fields in the Eastern Midlands region, the first mosaic ever found in England with scenes from Homer’s Iliad: presumably it decorated a large dining room inside of a Roman villa dating back to the end of 3rd or early 4th Century AD. The site is under official government protection on the advice of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England (also known as Historic England). The mosaic depicts the clash between Achilles and Hector at the end of the Trojan war and measures 7×11 meters. At the time of the discovery, it was just below the surface, discovered in 2020 by Jim Irvine, son of landowner Brian Naylor, who stumbled upon shards of pottery during a walk in a wheat field. Looking at satellite images later, Jim had noticed a very clear sign of the harvest, as if someone had drawn on the computer screen with a piece of chalk, so he contacted archaeologists at Leicestershire County Council. Historic England with urgent funding sent a team of archaeologists in August 2020 with further work in September 2021 by the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History with John Thomas, Deputy Director of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services and project manager of the excavations. The find offers new perspectives on the uses and traditions of the inhabitants of the time, their knowledge of classical literature and it also provides information on the individual who commissioned the mosaic, a wealthy person with a good knowledge of the classics. Part of the site has not yet been excavated, but geophysical surveys that reveal the underlying structures show a complex of buildings, including corridor barns, circular structures, possibly grain stores, and an alleged bathroom. The work also continues with the contribution of David Neal, one of the leading experts in Roman mosaics.