The Next Best Thing to Being There

Can’t tell a mattock head from a plumb bob? After a few weeks volunteering on a dig, you’ll be a lot cannier about the tools of the archaeology trade—and having fun, too. Archaeology Odyssey’s fourth annual digs list presents you with opportunities to uncover some of the secrets of the ancient past that lie […]

Sacred Precincts
A Tartessian sanctuary in ancient Spain By Sebastián Celestino Pérez, Carolina López-Ruiz

When the Phoenicians arrived on the Iberian peninsula, probably at the end of the ninth century B.C., they came into contact with an indigenous people called the Tartessians. The two cultures soon fused. The hybrid culture produced by this fusion of peoples is evident in a mysterious structure at Cancho Roano, deep in […]

Stone Age Death Masks
A new interpretation of some of the world’s earliest human images By Denise Schmandt-Besserat

In the Neolithic period (c. 8000–4000 B.C.), Near Eastern peoples created a number of arresting images to represent (or influence) their world. They carved small female figurines immodestly presenting their breasts or pregnant stomachs, for instance, and they depicted animals being viciously stabbed with flints. Perhaps the most powerful and haunting of these Stone […]

Iraq Update

In the July/August 2003 issue of Archaeology Odyssey (see “Plundering the Past”), I reported on the terrible events that took place during the second week of April at the National Museum and other cultural heritage sites in Baghdad.

Warriors, Wolves, and Women
The art of the Iberians By Ricardo Almos

In the summer of 1975 a Spanish gypsy named Virgilio Romero Moreno visited the museum in Jaén, 250 miles south of Madrid, and offered to sell several limestone sculptures. After some negotiation, the museum bought the pieces, which had recently been dug up near the village of Porcuna in the hilly countryside of Andalusia. […]

Plundering the Past
The rape of Iraq’s national museum By Francis Deblauwe

During the second week of April, something terrible happened in Baghdad: Looters broke into the National Museum, smashing display vitrines full of ancient objects and making off with some of the museum’s prized holdings. The damage didn’t stop there; frenzied mobs also set fire to the National Library and then continued on to the […]

Traveling the Silk Road

In the 1870s, the German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen coined the name die Seidenstrasse—the Silk Road—to refer to the 5,000-mile-long trade route that connected China and the Mediterranean in ancient times. Richthofen thus imbued the immense terra incognita of Central Asia with romance. But he also created something of a misnomer: There was not […]

The Destruction of the Great Library at Alexandria

On a sunny morning in 642 C.E., armies of Muslim Arabs, in the process of conquering Egypt, destroyed the ancient library at Alexandria, which for a thousand years had been the western world’s most important center of learning.1 The library held a million volumes, including an extensive collection of Greek and Roman literature, as […]

Sailing the Open Seas
Recent deepwater archaeological finds disprove the conventional wisdom that ancient mariners were timid shore-huggers By Dan L. Davis

“The Mediterranean is a passionate collector,” writes European scholar Predrag Matvejevicá in Mediterranean: A Cultural Landscape (1999). Indeed, over the past half-century, essentially since the invention of the aqualung in the 1940s, divers have discovered the remains of well over 1,200 ancient shipwrecks.a Most of these wrecks date to Roman times (200 B.C.–300 […]

Sirens & phinxes & gorgons in Greek art By Despoina Tsiafakis

Do not be deceived by the alluring mythological creatures known as sirens, sphinxes and gorgons. Their feminine faces belie a ferocity and frightening power, which the ancient Greeks expressed in poetry, sculpture and painting. Sirens lured their prey with seductive songs. Sphinxes posed fatal riddles and snatched away the unsuspecting. Gorgons had faces so […]

Old Samarkand
Nexus of the ancient world By Frantz Grenet

In 1881 the great French novelist Gustave Flaubert published his Dictionary of Accepted Ideas. If we were somehow granted permission to add just one item to this revered classic, it should be “Samarkand: a name that makes you dream.” One of the most glorious stops on the Silk Road, which connected China and […]

Excavating Hollywood

In 1937, Hollywood costume designer John Armstrong was working on I, Claudius, a film version of Robert Graves’s novel set in first-century A.D. Rome. Asked to design costumes for the Vestal Virgins, the six priestesses of the Roman hearth goddess Vesta, Armstrong meticulously researched the clothing they wore—long, modest veils and robes, as […]

Ferocious Elegance
The mosaics of Sicily’s Villa Romana del Casale By Francine Prose

In Sicily’s Villa Romana del Casale, the fourth-century A.D. Roman mansion decorated with the most extensive collection of mosaics to have survived the destruction of the empire, the Cyclops depicted on the floor of the Vestibule of Polyphemus has three eyes. Two regular eyes, normally set, and another, smack in the middle of his […]

Drowning the Past
Desert project threatens pre-pharaonic Egypt By Rüdiger Heimlich

For about 5,000 years, Egypt’s Southwest Desert, west of Lake Nasser, has been a hellish, lifeless, hyper-arid region of barren rock and sand. But that wasn’t always so. Archaeologists surveying this part of the Sahara have found ancient remains of lakes, villages, cattle bones, burial tumuli and huge megaliths aligned with the heavens. […]

Villages of Stone
Sardinia’s Bronze Age Nuraghi By Robert H. Tykot

“It lies outside; outside the circuit of civilisation.” That’s how D.H. Lawrence described Sardinia in Sea and Sardinia (1923), and until recently that’s what many thought about this island: During the third and second millennia B.C., Sardinia remained isolated from the vibrant cultures of the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean. Decades of archaeological research, […]

Death at Kourion
In the fourth century A.D., a huge earthquake destroyed one of Cyprus’s glittering Greco-Roman cities.

One of the most devastating earthquakes ever to hit the Mediterranean struck a little after daybreak on July 21, 365 A.D. The fourth-century A.D. Latin historian Ammianus Marcellinus called it “a frightful disaster surpassing anything related either in legend or authentic history.” Ships in Lakonia, in the southern Peloponnesus, were driven several miles […]

“Look on My Works”
The many faces of Ramesses the Great By Jack Meinhardt, O. Louis Mazzatenta

You barely notice him in the cacophony of the modern city. Austere, stiffly formal, he is either too large or too small, slightly ridiculous amid Cairo’s dissonant traffic.

Exploring the Deep
New technologies transport us thousands of feet beneath the ocean’s surface—allowing archaeologists to survey ancient (and modern) shipwrecks By Aaron Brody, Anna Marguerite McCann

Oceans cover 71 percent of the earth, and a whopping 97 percent of these waters are beyond the reach of conventional scuba divers, who can reach only about 200 feet below the surface of the sea. The vast majority of the world’s shipwrecks, therefore, cannot be excavated or even found. Until recently, that is. […]

Romantic Interlude

To escape the city’s hustle and bustle, wealthy Romans flocked every summer to the Bay of Naples. At the resort towns of Baiae, Puteoli and Pompeii, they lounged on beaches, shopped for souvenirs, visited tourist sites, wined and dined—and perhaps even engaged in a little hanky panky.

Male Fantasies
When it came to sex, the Greeks kept their options open… By Timothy McNiven

By around 500 B.C. the Greeks had developed a strange (for us) model of romantic love. While adult men were expected to take a wife and raise a family, they were also allowed considerable license in fulfilling sexual desires. Poets, philosophers and artists celebrated the passion of an adult male (erastes) for a beardless […]

The Mystery of Theoderic’s Tomb Solved!
The sixth-century A.D. Roman-gothic king built it to last By Harry Rand

One of the most mysterious buildings in all of Western architecture—the tomb of Theoderic (454–526 C.E.), king of the Ostrogoths (see the sidebar to this article)—glowers at the end of a tree-lined avenue in Ravenna, Italy. The tomb’s heavy, brooding presence has prompted one modern observer to describe it as a “monstrous object flung […]

Naked and the Nude
Erotic images in the near eastern and Greco-Roman worlds By Larissa Bonfante

What is the difference between the Near Eastern focus on female nudity, almost to the point of vulgarity, and the ‘Pompeian style’ of vulgar male nudity? Why did one civilization produce nude representations of women (almost exclusively) and the other nude representations of men (almost exclusively)?” This question was put to me by […]


Editors’ Page: Beyond the Great Sea
Should Archaeology Odyssey expand its reach? By Hershel Shanks
Editors’ Page: Looting by Bulldozer
Is this really “the best we can do?” By Hershel Shanks
Editors’ Page: Crossing Over on Cyprus
Can archaeology bridge the divide?
Origins: Reasons to Believe
Around the sixth century B.C., the Greeks began to ask why By Richard D. McKirahan
Editors’ Page: Why Not Work with Salvors?
The British have the right idea By Hershel Shanks
Editors’ Page: Ransoming Iraqi Artifacts
Plus more from the antiquities wars By Hershel Shanks
Past Perfect: Reading the Rosetta Stone
Jean-François Champollion deciphers Egyptian hieroglyphics
Editors’ Page: Is Silence Golden?
Some scholarly societies won’t discuss the James Ossuary By Hershel Shanks
Origins: Taking Count
It’s not surprising that one of our principal public rituals, the census, goes back to the Romans By Clifford Ando
Past Perfect: Among Syrian Ruins
Princeton architectural historian Howard Crosby Butler photographs Roman and Byzantine Syria
Origins: History’s History
Learning to distinguish fact from fancy By Richard H. Beal
Past Perfect: In Defense of the Realm
American archaeologist Herbert Eustis Winlock uncovers a mass burial in Thebes
Past Perfect: In a Dry Country
A cockroach named Archy and a desiccated pharaoh dream of beer
Past Perfect: Among the Vulgarians
The first-century A.D. satirist Petronius lampoons Nero’s Rome
Past Perfect: In the Footsteps of Pausanias
A second-century baedecker takes us on a tour of ancient Greece
Destinations: Oases in Time
Nabatean little Petra and Stone Age Beidha By Avner Goren
Ancient Life: Liquid Gold
A brief history of olive oil
The Forum
Did Hatshepsut’s soldiers really carry ships over the desert from the Nile to the Red Sea?
Ancient Life: Childhood’s End
Scenes from a young life
Destinations: Old as the Hills
The rock-cut theater of Sutri, Italy By Judith Harris
Ancient Life: Heavens!
An ancient model of the cosmos
The Forum
A perspicuous reader finds affinities between Archaeology Odyssey magazine and a Victoria’s Secret catalogue
Ancient Life: The Eyes Have It
Ancient Egyptian cosmetics
Ancient Life: The High Life
Tenements on the Tiber
The Forum
On ancient pornography, Cyprus’s politics, and the magic of Delphi
Ancient Life: “Come Down, Placenta!”
Childbirth in ancient Egypt
The Forum
Did the Arabs really destroy the ancient library at Alexandria? And a note from the Cypriot director of antiquities.
The Forum
Is the Dama de Elche, one of the masterpieces of ancient Iberian art, really a fake?
The Forum
Are Shapira’s fakes repulsive pornography or simply modern grotesques? And the Looting Forum: Round 3.