After two years, what I have come to call “The Lost Collections,” have finally come together into an online exhibit. Many many thanks go out to my friend Krista Carson, who has helped me put all of this together.

Lost Collections of the Ancient World

The story started in January of 2011, when my friend Paige Glenen and I made an incredible discovery in storage at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology, in London, Ontario. We had found boxes and boxes of artefacts labeled as “Old World Roman.” The idea that we had a collection of Roman artefacts that we could handle and explore was exciting enough for two Classical archaeologists.

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Roman Terra Sigillata c. 200 CE

However, it soon became very apparent that there was more to the story than we had originally thought. Most of the boxes contained artefacts that were most definitely not of Roman origin, but what were they?

There were some large complete, or almost complete, pots stuffed with old yellowed newsprint. We thought it would be best to remove this acidic product to protect the artefacts (that and we wanted to look inside).  We found many more small artefacts, small pots, human figurines and two Cuneiform cones (cone-shaped baked clay pieces covered with writing known as cuneiform).

This is when we knew we really had something special.

a
Cuneiform Foundation Cone                               c. 2144 – 2124 B.C.E
“For Ningirsu, Enlil’s mighty warrior,
Gudea, ruler of Lagas, made things function as they should (and) he built and restored for him his Eninnu, the Whit Thunderbird.”

Our first thought upon stumbling accross these ancient records, – ‘Are they real?’

The cones are real and the presence of cuneiform text identified the part of our collection as Mesopotamian (the region around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Modern day Iraq and Syria).

Armed with this information we were able to determine that the majority of the artefacts are of Mesopotamian origin and were found at the archaeological site of Ur (in modern southern Iraq).  The majority of the collection dates to c. 5900 – 2000 B.C.E.

The story behind the Lost Collections has proven to be unique and fascinating. I hope you take the time to explore the online exhibit and learn more about the story of the Lost Collections of the Ancient World.

Enjoy!

Fun link for Friday – Babylonian Poems you can HEAR!

As an archaeologist one of the things we can’t recover are the sounds of the past. Languages, accents and music are very difficult to reconstruct. Being able to understand a language is very different from hearing and appreciating all the nuances of pronunciation and tone.

So, it is really cool when we can! The Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East at the University of London have painstakingly reconstructed the language of the ancient Babylonians of Mesopotamia. This language was spoken between   c. 1900 BCE and 1BCE.

You can here them here: The Recordings

And read more about how University of London deciphered the language here.

Ur III Cuneiform Cone – From the Museum of Ontario Archaeology Collection

Travel Series: My Night on Mt. Sinai

This story took place in April of 2007, on the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. Although I understand that it is not the safest place to travel at the present, 5 years ago it was a popular destination. The main tourist hub was around the boardwalk town of Dahab on the gulf of Aqaba. While there most people chose to climb nearby Mt. Sinai; the mountain scaled by Moses in the Old Testament.

The View from the top of Mt. Sinai

It was suggested to us that we choose to climb the mountain at night, as it was much cooler than the day. And so, after procuring the necessary flashlights,  we did.

………………………………

“Only 750 steps to go,” my Bedouin guide informs me, as I stare up the seemingly vertical surface of Mount Sinai. This morning the idea of making this legendary climb seemed like a fun idea. I figured it would be nothing more than a nocturnal hike up a mountain to watch the sunrise, what could be nicer? A trail and stairs have been added since Moses made this climb, so how hard could it be?

At 11:00pm my friends and I catch the bus that will take us to meet our guide at the base of Mount Sinai and start the two and a half hour climb.

Excitement level – high.

‘This was not the leisurely hike that I had anticipated;’ I think, an hour into my climb, as I trudge up the mountain. I am turning down the constant offers of “Camel? Camel?” In my basic knowledge of Arabic I answer, “La, Shukran.” – “No, Thank You”

Excitement level – waning.

“Only 750 steps to go.” I look up. ‘These are not steps!’ I’m slightly panicky. ‘These are boulders arranged by giants to vaguely resemble what we mere mortals refer to as steps.’  I groan; it’s roughly 3:00 in the morning.

Excitement level – gone. 

About 400 ‘steps’ up I narrowly avoid being knocked back down the mountain by a rampaging donkey.

Excitement level – In pain.

I made it! I’m at the top, the sunrise is beautiful, but I’m freezing cold, wrapped in a heavy wool blanket; my Bedouin guide answers my complaints with, “Cold is a state of mind.” I look him in the eye and reply, “I’m from Canada, No it’s not.”

It was worth it.

Bundled up in my blanket watching the sun rise over the mountains.
– Photo credit: Diana Ziegler

………………………………

I had written this narrative of my climb a few years ago, but it is missing the best part. When we arrived at the top, our bedouin guide led us to his spot – the place on the mountain he has claimed exclusively for his climbers to rest and wait for the sun to rise. His spot was circular, approx. 8 feet in diameter and completely convex, with nothing between you and a 2285 metre drop to the jagged rocks below. So, of course, he tells us to have a nap… better not roll in your sleep.

We met up again with the donkey on the way back down the mountain.
– Photo credit: Diana Ziegler


Book Review: The Beacon at Alexandria

I first read The Beacon at Alexandria, by Gillian bradshaw in 1999 when I was in Grade 11; it had been leant to me by my latin teacher as ‘a book that I should like’ – I didn’t just like it – I loved it!  It istantly became my favourite book, and it has remained my favourite book ever since. Twelve years ago I reviewed the Beacon at Alexandria on Chapters.ca when I finally purchased my very own copy.

“I will start off by saying that If I could rank this book higher than five I would! I loved this book so much! The characters are incredibly real, so much so that you begin to feel like you know them. There problems become your problems. I found myself loathing Festinus and cheering for young Charis. I guarantee that anyone who picks up this book will enjoy it as much as I did!”

My review remains the only one on this site, but there are many more favourable reviews on goodreads.com.

I think it is safe to say that The Beacon at Alexandria, which is about a head strong and independent thinking girl living in the late Roman Empire, likely inspired some of my early choices in life. – Latin in class in general certainly solidified my desire to study Classics – but The Beacon at Alexandria was about a girl near my own age (at the time, lol) doing what she wanted to do and being successful despite the time, place and political atmosphere she found herself in. I think she inspired me to take risks and every time I read it, which I do every 3 or 4 years, I am inspired anew. Perhaps it is time to pick it up again!

If you love historical fiction, roman history, ancient medicine, women’s literature, religious/political history or just the ancient world in general, I am pretty sure you will love this book too.

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