Archaeologists uncover ornate Christian frescos in Old Dongola
A team of archaeologists have uncovered a collection of ornate Christian frescos during excavations in Old Dongola.
Old Dongola was the capital of the Nubian kingdom of Makuria, located in the Northern State of Sudan, on the eastern banks of the River Nile.
The Kingdom of Makuria emerged in the 5th century AD following the collapse of the Nubian Kingdom of Kush. Makuria reached its zenith between the 9th and 11th centuries AD, encompassing the territory stretching from the Third Cataract along the Nile River to below Abu Hamad, as well as certain regions of northern Kordofan.
The kingdom underwent a cultural and religious transformations known as “Nubization” to counter the increasing impact of Arabic within the Coptic Church. These reforms involved the adoption of the veneration of deceased rulers, bishops, and local Nubian saints.
Image Credit : University of Warsaw
Archaeologists from the Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw, have been conducting a research project called “UMMA – Urban Metamorphosis of the community of a Medieval African capital city”.
Excavations have revealed an underground chamber and a complex of vaulted and domed rooms constructed using mudbrick that date from between the 16th to 19th century AD during the period of the Funj Sultanate.
Several of the rooms are decorated with a collection of frescos showing Christian scenes with depictions of Christ, the archangel Michael, Mary, and representations of a Nubian ruler. Accompanying the artwork are inscriptions, one of which mentions King David several times and asks God to protect the city.
According to the archaeologists: “He was one of the last rulers of Christian Makuria, whose reign marks the beginning of the end of the kingdom. For unknown reasons, King David attacked Egypt, which invaded Nubia as part of a retaliatory action and Dongola was conquered for the first time in its history. Perhaps the painting was created when the Mamluk army was approaching the city or was besieging it.”
The room housing the David inscriptions resembles a crypt and is located several metres about the medieval ground level. It is located adjacent to a large, monumental building, which the researchers believe was the Cathedral of Dongola called the Great Church of Jesus, mentioned in historical texts.
The unique paintings have been preserved by conservators under the direction of Magdalena Skarżyńska, MA. The conservation team operated as part of the cooperation between the Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology of the University of Warsaw and the Department of Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw.
Header Image Credit : University of Warsaw
Nazca geoglyphs discovered used AI deep learning
Archaeologists from the Yamagata University have used AI deep learning to discover new geoglyphs in the northern part of the Nazca Pampa in the arid Peruvian coastal plain.
Geoglyphs in the Nazca Pampa were first identified during the 1920’s, with ongoing studies since the 1940’s revealing various figurative geoglyphs of zoomorphic designs, geometric shapes, and linear lines.
Geoglyphs can be categorised into three main types: figurative, geometric, and lineal. Archaeologists suggest that the lineal geoglyphs were created by the Nazca, a culture that developed during the Early Intermediate Period and is generally divided into the Proto Nazca (phase 1, 100 BC to AD 1), the Early Nazca (phases 2–4, AD 1 to 450), Middle Nazca (phase 5, AD 450 to 550) and the Late Nazca (phases 6–7, AD 550 to 750).
The relief type dates from the Late Formative period (400 to 200 BC), as the iconography of the geoglyphs are similar to that of Formative petroglyphs found on outcrops of rock. During this period, the region was inhabited by the Paracas Culture, an Andean people that emerged around 800 BC until 100 BC.
Since 2004, Yamagata University has been conducting geoglyph distribution surveys using satellite imagery, aerial photography, airborne scanning LiDAR, and drone photography to investigate the vast area of the Nazca Pampa covering more than 390 km2.
In 2016, the researchers used aerial photography with a ground resolution of 0.1 m per pixel to create a detailed survey of the region. Overtime, the team have identified various geoglyphs, however, the process is very time consuming, so they have adopted AI deep learning to analyse the photographs at a much faster rate.
The results of a study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, has revealed the discovery of four new Nazca geoglyphs using this new method by creating an approach to labelling training data that identifies a similar partial pattern between the known and new geoglyphs.
The four new geoglyphs depict a humanoid figure, a pair-of-legs, a fish, and a bird. The humanoid geoglyph is shown holding a club in his/her right hand and measures 5 metres in length. The fish geoglyph, shown with a wide-open mouth measures 19 metres, while the bird geoglyph measures 17 metres and the pair-of-legs 78 metres.
According to the study authors: “We have developed a DL pipeline that addresses the challenges that commonly arise in the task of archaeological image object detection. Our approach allows DL to learn representations of images with better generalisation and performance, enabling the discovery of targets that have been difficult to find in the past. Moreover, by accelerating the research process, our method contributes to archaeology by establishing a new paradigm that combines field surveys and AI, leading to more efficient and effective investigations.”
Header Image Credit : Yamagata University
Archaeologists study fortress in southern Georgia to understand community resilience
A team of archaeologists led by Cranfield University is conducting a detailed study of the fortress of Dmanisis Gora in the Kvemo Kartli region of Georgia.
The study is part of a project to understand why communities in the region were more resilient than other parts of the world during the transition from the Bronze to the Iron Age around 1200 BC.
Dmanisis Gora is located at the north-eastern edge of the highland zone between two such gorges. The site consists of a compact defensive core that has two defensive walls with an enclosed area of 3.7 acres.
On the plateau behind the citadel area, a third wall, extending about 1000 m from edge to edge on the plateau, encloses a much larger area of about 138.3 acres that contains numerous circular and linear stone features.
During the so-called ‘12th Century BC crisis’ and its aftermath, the majority of Middle Eastern regions underwent a period of significant turmoil characterised by the disintegration of empires, famine, crop failures, armed conflicts, and mass migration.
In contrast, the Caucasus region (consisting of present-day Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan) appears to have been shielded from this tumultuous period, exhibiting only gradual transformations in material culture and patterns of settlement.
Either the region managed to entirely avoid the widespread disruption, or it did not experience the same cultural, economic, and political repercussions as other areas. This suggests that the communities in the region might have been more resilient, enabling them to withstand and adapt to the challenges in a comparatively effective manner.
Dr Erb-Satullo, from Cranfield University, said: “The key to understanding why the Bronze Age-Iron Age transition is different in the Caucasus is to study the fortress communities that dot the landscape during this period. We’re looking for clues about life in the Late Bronze Age through examining areas such as ceramics, burial rituals, farming practices, tools and social structures.”
“Given the upheaval at that time in other nearby regions, we are intrigued to find out more about one of these sites and determine what underlies their apparent resilience,” added Dr Erb-Satullo.
The project expands upon earlier pilot excavations carried out at the site prior to the pandemic, along with a thorough survey conducted in Autumn 2022 using drone-based photogrammetry. This is done by using the latest forensic technologies including isotopic analysis of animal remains, metallurgy, magnetometry and deploying drones to scan the area.
“What’s really exciting about this site is its size, preservation, and the fact that it has layers dating precisely to the years around the 12th Century BC crisis,” continued Dr Erb-Satullo. “Many fortresses are on hills which are prone to erosion. But this one has relatively flat topography, so the sediment will have built up in layers over time, helping to preserve artefacts and archaeological clues from the Late Bronze age.”
Header Image Credit : BING Maps
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