Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Egyptologists discover unusual structure with a possible early depiction of Jesus

A team of Catalan Egyptologists from the Catalan Egyptology Society and University of Barcelona claim to have found one of the earliest-known pictures of Jesus in a 6th century tomb unearthed in Upper Egypt, according to a news report in La Vanguardia.  The image found painted on the wall of the Coptic Christian crypt depicts a young man with curly hair and a short tunic, with a hand raised in blessing.

The tomb is located in the ancient city of Oxyrhynchus at Al Bahnasa, approximately 160 km south of Cairo.  Previous digs in ancient city of Oxyrhynchus have unearthed temples dedicated to Osiris, the Egyptian god of the afterlife, but the exact nature of the latest discovery has left the experts baffled but excited.

The crypt was discovered inside an unusual underground structure measuring 8 x 3.75 metres, the purpose of which researchers are unsure about. The subterranean stone structure was found in very good condition with walls fitted with niches were statues probably stood.  Although the research team does not know what it was used for, its “importance seems unquestionable”, according to head of the expedition, Josep Padró, who has spent over 20 years excavating sites in the area. One possibility, according to Padró, is that it is an Osireion or Serepeum (temple of the god Serapis, the Hellenised form of Osiris).

The excavation of the structure involved a massive effort to remove very heavy debris (more than 45 tonnes), in a meticulous operation overseen by an architect and an engineer.  The researchers believe the debris was placed there purposely, possibly to protect the tomb from looters. 
The team had to remove more than 45 tonnes of debris. Credit: La Vanguardia.
The research team believes the burial chamber belonged to a priestly family and a scribe, based on the discovery of an inkwell still full of ink.  “The walls are covered with 5 or 6 layers of paint, the last corresponding to the time of the early Coptic Christians,” said Padró. It “could be a very primitive image of Jesus Christ, similar to those found in Roman catacombs, while not ruling out that it could correspond to a Saint.”
If found to be an image of Jesus, which may be established following translations of Coptic inscriptions located around the image, it would be among the earliest known representations of Jesus.
The oldest known portrait of Jesus, known as ‘The Healing of the Paralytic’, was found in Dura-Eurpos, Syria and dates to about 235 AD.  It shows Jesus as a beardless young man of authoritative and dignified bearing. He is depicted dressed in the style of a young philosopher, with close-cropped hair and wearing a tunic and cloak – signs of good breeding in Greco-Roman society. From this, it is evident that some early Christians paid no heed to the historical context of Jesus and visualised him solely in terms of their own social context, as a quasi-heroic figure, without supernatural attributes such as a halo (a fourth-century innovation).
The Healing of the Paralytic: oldest known wall painting depicting Jesus, 235 AD. Image source.
The Egyptian Ministry of Culture is now taking over responsibility for work being carried out at the archaeological site.  Currently, the painting remains protected while translations are underway, which will hopefully shed more light on the image and the function of the enigmatic structure.
Featured image: The archaeological site at Oxyrhynchus on the left and the Coptic painting, possibly of Jesus, covered by a protective layer on the right. 
Credit: La Vanguardia 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Could newly discovered ancient stairs lead to more treasures under Vishnu Temple?

Archaeologists have unearthed a set of three ancient granite steps and building foundations near the northern entrance to the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, located in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city of the State of Kerala in India, according to reports in the New Indian Express.  The temple, which is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, is famous for its underground tunnels and the billion-dollar treasure uncovered in its secret vaults several years ago.

“The basement made of brick and laterite stone could be part of the temple complex in the past,” said Archaeology Department director G Premkumar.

Even after three years since the world came to know about the billion-dollar treasure trove in the secret vaults of Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, the network of underground tunnels leading to the temple complex still remains a mystery, and many are concerned that the state police have not shown any interest in monitoring the subterranean passages in the temple complex, which are clearly a security risk to the priceless treasures laying beneath the temple, as some of the passages may still be functional.

Historians say that the tunnels were built between 12th century and 18th century, during which time the Travancore Kingdom, a former Hindu Kingdom ruled by the Travancore royal family, faced threat from various quarters, including the Mughal invaders, the Dutch and the British East India Company.

The history of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple dates back to 8th century. It is one of 108 sacred Vishnu temples or Divya Desams, the holiest abodes of the Lord Vishnu that are mentioned in the works of the Tamil Azhvars (saints). The presiding deity of this temple is Lord Vishnu, reclining on Anantha, the hooded Serpent. 

The 32 kg, solid gold statue of Lord Vishnu reclining on Anantha, the hooded Serpent. Photo source.

In 1750, Marthanda Varma, one of the Travancore kings dedicated the kingdom of Travancore to Lord Padmanabha. Marthanda Varma vowed that the royal family would rule the state on behalf of Lord and he and his descendants would serve the kingdom as Padmanabha Dasa (the Servant of Lord Padmanabha). Since then, the name of every Travancore King was preceded by the title Padmanabha Dasa.

Local legend spoke of immense riches sealed within the thick stone walls and vaults of the temple by the Travancore kings, and the stories were right. Several years ago, researchers uncovered a remarkable collection of treasures valued at an incredible US$5.3 billion.  The treasures include thousands of gold coins, rare valuable gems, precious diamonds, 1,200 gold chains, gold crowns, 400 gold necklaces, more than 2,000 gold ornaments, gold plates, gold chains weighing up to 10.5 kilograms and measuring 18 feet in length, the golden idol of Padmanabha Swamy, 4-foot-tall golden statue of Lord Vishnu studded with precious emeralds, gold staffs, gold utensils, gold umbrellas, 2,500 gold pots and numerous golden rings. 

A tiny fraction of the solid gold items found in the vaults of the temple. Photo source.

The discovery of the treasures solidified the status of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple as one of the wealthiest temples in India, and the question has been raised as to whether the newly discovered stairs could lead to yet more treasures under the ancient temple. 

READ ALSO: Ancient UFO Discovered Under Temple in India.

Source: AO

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Man Rocks of Mersin Province, Turkey

Adamkayalar (literally "man-rocks") is a site in Mersin Province, Turkey, famous for its rock carved figures. This site lies on the southern slope of the Taurus Mountains, and is several kilometres north of the Mediterranean coast. There are 17 human figures carved into 9 niches. Of these figures, there are 11 males, 4 females, and 2 children. The date of these figures is unknown, although it has been speculated that they were carved between the 4th century B.C. and the 2nd century A.D. Due to the stylistic changes that can be detected in these figures, it has been suggested that they were carved overtime.
As there are no written records about these carvings, much is unknown about them. It is claimed that Adamkayalar was a site for a mortuary cult. This may be supported by the figure lying on a bed, which represents the deceased (this is a common motif in the Roman world to depict a dead person). In addition, it is claimed that there are inscriptions on some of the figures that provide some information about the people who built the tombs, and the people buried there. Yet, the poor preservation of these inscriptions means that only fragmentary information about the figures can be gained from them.

Since no literary evidence is available, and there is little epigraphic evidence as well, we might turn to archaeology to aid our understanding of these enigmatic carvings. First of all, one could consider the position of these monuments in the landscape. In ancient times, the valley road that passed through Adamkayalar would have been important in connecting the Mediterranean coast with the hinterland. Therefore, people who passed through Adamkayalar would have seen and been ‘seen’ by these figures. Whoever carved these figures would almost certainly have been powerful individuals in life, and attempted to immortalise their authority by stamping it into the landscape.

Many of these figures depict armed warriors. Perhaps there was an elite class of warriors who controlled this region. Perhaps, that was an idealistic portrayal of the men in power. It is not surprising that the ruling class in this area had to/wanted to be portrayed as tough military men. After all, Cilicia was home to the notorious Cilician pirates. These were the pirates who once kidnapped Julius Caesar, and held him for ransom. They met a sticky end though, when Caesar avenged himself after the ransom was paid.
Nevertheless, Adamkayalar was not merely a monument for the display of military might. One scene is said to show a soldier leaving his daughter and wife. In addition, there is a little dog as well, which is supposed to symbolise loyalty and represent the unity of this family unit. Hence, there is an element of intimacy in these carvings, perhaps a statement that family bonds cannot be broken, even by death.

Perhaps it is this depiction of the family that sets Adamkayalar apart from most other rock carved figures of the Near Eastern region. There are many well-known rock carvings in the Near East, such as that of the Darius I at Behistun and that of the Sassanian kings at Naqsh-i-Rustam. Yet, all these carvings were commissioned by kings for the display of imperial might. While the carvings of Adamkalayar may, to some extent, be a statement of military power, it also shows a softer side, in which the family is represented. It is perhaps this familial scene that connects us to the people depicted in the carvings. It is a shared human emotion, one of sorrow in the face of death, and the belief that our loved ones, though gone, will never be forgotten.