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), arCHaeo (Switzerland), AiD Archäologie in Deutschland (Germany), Archéologia (France), 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 2022 candidates for the victory of the 9th edition:
- Egypt: in the ancient necropolis of Saqqara in Giza, about 30 km south of Cairo, the pyramid of Queen Neith with 300 coffins and 100 mummies
- Guatemala: traces of the oldest Mayan calendar
- Iraq: a Bronze Age city reappears from the Tigris River in the Mosul Reservoir
- Italy: in Tuscany in the province of Siena, in San Casciano dei Bagni, 24 bronze statues from the Etruscan and Roman era resurface from the mud
- Turkey: in Midyat, in the province of Mardin, a large underground city dating back to 2,000 years ago
Therefore, the 2023 edition of the International Archaeological Discovery Award “Khaled al-Asaad” has gone for the first time to an Italian discovery “the 24 bronze statues from the Etruscan and Roman era”, resurfaced from the mud in San Casciano dei Bagni (province of Siena).
The Award has been delivered to the Mayor of San Casciano dei Bagni Agnese Carletti representing the City Administration owner of the area and to Jacopo Tabolli scientific director of the excavation on Friday, November 3rd at 18.30 at Next, former Cafasso Tobacco Factory, on the occasion of the 25th Mediterranean Exchange of Archaeological Tourism.
Instead, the winner of the “Special Award” for the greatest consensus from the general public through the Facebook page of the Exchange is the discovery in Guatemala of the traces of the oldest Mayan calendar.
Egypt: in the ancient necropolis of Saqqara in Giza, about 30 km south of Cairo, the pyramid of Queen Neith with 300 coffins and 100 mummies
For years, archaeologists have been excavating Saqqara, a sandy plateau used to build grandiose funeral monuments, now considered one of the main archaeological sites in Giza. The team had initially focused the efforts on the nearby pyramid of Teti, the first king of Sixth Dynasty of Egypt.
“Teti was worshiped as a god in the New Kingdom period and so people wanted to be buried near him” Zahi Hawass explained. “However, most of the previously known burials at Saqqara were from the Old Kingdom or Late Period”. 22 interconnected shafts were found, ranging from 9 to 18 metres, including a huge limestone sarcophagus and 300 coffins from the New Kingdom, also known as the Egyptian Empire, which lasted from the 6th century BC to the 11th century BC. The coffins have individual faces, each one of them unique, distinguishing between men and women, and they are decorated with scenes from the ancient Egyptian funerary text “Book of the Dead”. Each coffin also bears the name of the deceased and it often displays the Four Sons of Horus, who protected the organs of the deceased. Inside the coffins, the archaeologists found the bodies of well-preserved mummies, at least one hundred of them identified. Additionally, inside the coffins and tomb shafts, they also found artifacts such as games, small figurines known as shabtis, and statues of the god Ptah-Sokar, who represents the cycle of birth, death and resurrection. This extraordinary discovery demonstrates that the mummification technique reached its peak in the New Kingdom, as some tombs were protected by a double cover and, uncovering the sarcophagus, a mummy with its head covered by a glittering solid gold mask appeared.
But the most historically significant discovery is the finding of a pyramid built in honor of a new ruler, hitherto unknown in the pantheon of Egyptian pharaohs. It is Queen Neith, never mentioned in any historical document, that rewrites, once again, the history of ancient Egypt in a more precise way.
Guatemala: traces of the oldest Mayan calendar
On the fragment of an ancient mural found in the archaeological site of San Bartolo, inscriptions that date back to 150 years before the oldest finds of the Mayan calendar known so far have been identified. San Bartolo is a pre-Columbian site of the Maya civilization known for the paintings on the walls, influenced by the Olmec tradition and the symbols of a primitive type of Maya writing, located in the Department of Petén northeast of Tikal, the largest of the ancient cities in ruins of the Mayan civilization, whose National Park is a Unesco site. Fragment #6368, found at the Ixbalamque structure and dated to 300-200 BC using the radiocarbon technique, depicts an image of the Mayan god of maize from the Late Preclassic period. Two archaeologists have published a study about eleven fragments of ancient Mayan wall paintings discovered in the ruins of the ancient pyramid of Las Pinturas. Almost 300 years before Christ, this region was in a full phase of cultural and scientific development: here once there was a palace and great pyramids and the part of the mural bearing the inscription “deer 7” was probably built during a period in which the building, as well as for rituals, was also used for astronomical observation. Unlike the Mayan solar calendar, which ended in 2012, this sacred calendar had a 260-day year and a more prophetic purpose. It is a calendar linked to time but not in a linear sense. “It’s more about the passage of time and the beliefs attached to each specific day,” Heather Hurst, archaeologist on the team who made the discovery, explains. This ritual calendar consists of numbers, from 1 to 13, associated with a series of various symbols, among which we know, for example, darkness, water, the dog and the deer; and the numbers coincide with the dates. There are 20 symbols and 13 dates which, considering all possible combinations, give rise to a cycle of 260 days. The Mayan tribes studied the position of Venus, the Sun and all the celestial bodies with great dedication, being interested in the passage of time and its cyclicity. Today, Modern indigenous Mayans use this calendar today for its prescient qualities, such as predicting the birth of children or determining the right time for harvesting.
Iraq: a Bronze Age city reappears from the Tigris River in the Mosul Reservoir
Submerged for decades, after a prolonged drought, a group of Kurdish and German archaeologists from the University of Freiburg was able to excavate a 3,400-year-old city. The city may be ancient Zakhiku, an important center of the Mitanni empire, ruling between 1550 and 1350 BC, located near the archaeological site of Kemune. Excavation began in early 2022, before the archaeological site disappeared back into the lake. Archaeologists have managed to reconstruct a large part of the city’s plan and to unearth some hitherto unknown large buildings: among them, a massive fortification, a multi-story warehouse and a complex of workshops. It is amazing that the mud brick buildings were still so well-preserved despite being underwater for more than 40 years. The good state of conservation was probably caused by a strong earthquake that occurred around 1350 BC, thanks to the collapse of the upper part of the walls which had buried and preserved the buildings. Furthermore, five ceramic vessels were discovered with an archive of over 100 cuneiform tablets, probably created shortly after the earthquake, some of which are still in clay containers. According to archaeologist Peter Pfälzner of the University of Tübingen, one of the leaders of the project, these are perhaps letters. The cuneiform tablets could provide new information about the end of the sunken city and the beginning of Assyrian rule in the region.At the end of the excavation, the scientists took some protective measures: they covered the exposed buildings with a plastic sheet and with gravel, hoping to protect the clay walls from further water damage.
Italy: in Tuscany in the province of Siena, in San Casciano dei Bagni, 24 bronze statues from the Etruscan and Roman era resurface from the mud
Dating back to a period between the 2nd century BC and the 1st century AD, the statues were protected for 2,300 years by the mud and boiling water of the sacred tanks of the votive sanctuary together with coins, ex votos and Latin and Etruscan inscriptions. The sanctuary, with its bubbling pools, sloping terraces, fountains, altars, existed at least from the 3rd century BC and remained active until the 5th century AD, when, in the Christian era, it was closed but not destroyed. The basins were sealed with heavy stone columns and the divinities entrusted with respect to the water, so that once that cover was removed, it is in fact “the largest deposit of statues in ancient Italy”. The statues, five of which are almost a meter high, are perfectly intact and they were probably made by local artisans: effigies of Hygieia and Apollo, as well as a bronze sculpture, while the exceptional state of conservation of the statues inside the hot water from the spring has preserved marvelous inscriptions in Etruscan and Latin language engraved before their creation. Partially arranged on the branches of an enormous tree trunk fixed to the bottom of the basin, in many cases covered with inscriptions, the statues as well as the innumerable ex votos come from the great families of the internal Etruria territory (from the Velimnas of Perugia to the Marcnis known in the countryside of Siena) and beyond, exponents of the elites of the Etruscan and then Roman world, landowners, local lords, the wealthy classes of Rome and even emperors. Here, surprisingly, the Etruscan language seems to survive much longer than the canonical dates of history. The discovery represents a model of collaboration between the Municipality (in 2019 it began to finance the excavation of Bagno Grande, after purchasing the private land and requesting the concession, entrusting the operational management to Emanuele Mariotti), the Ministry of Culture (ABAP General Management in collaboration with the Superintendency for the provinces of Siena, Grosseto and Arezzo), Scientific Direction of the excavation (Jacopo Tabolli Researcher at the University for Foreigners of Siena), local voluntary work (Archaeological Association “Eutyche Avidiena”), with the collaboration of specialists of each discipline: from architects to geologists, from archaeobotanists to epigraphy and numismatics experts from several universities in the world.
Turkey: in Midyat, in the province of Mardin, a large underground city dating back to 2,000 years ago
In the Southeast of the country, a complex dating from the 2nd to 3rd centuries AD has been discovered: “Midyat has been in continuous use for 1,900 years, originally designed as a hideout or escape, in fact Christianity was not an official religion in the second century” Gani Tarkan, director of the Mardin Museum and head of the excavations, said. Along the 100-metre tunnel, 49 rooms were found in different places, some used as churches and synagogues. There are also warehouses, various water wells and some decorations graced the walls in different areas. Excavations have only reached 3% of the city, therefore, there may still be much more to discover, as there is no other underground city that occupies such a large area. Underground cities are places of great evocative power: tunnels and galleries, created to pass through the city more comfortably, unravel below the surface, hiding ancient stories of undoubted charm. As explained by the Mayor, Veysi Sahin, the excavations began in a cave found during a series of cleaning and conservation works of the streets and historic houses, which began two years earlier. As the excavation deepened, shrines, water wells, deposits and several tunnels were found. The underground city is known as Matiate, which means precisely “City of Caves”. The name was already mentioned in Assyrian inscriptions from the 9th century BC.