Ancient Artefacts

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Ancient Artefacts

Investigating the Ancient Past

Investigate the ancient past (between 6,000 BC (60,000 BC for Aboriginal Australia) - 650 AD) by conducting research on one of these ancient artefacts.

Archaeology is the hands-on study of the past.  It often involves the excavation and examination of sites.  The careful study of these finds by archaeologists and historians can help tell us about the people who once lived or worked there. All over the world, archaeologists are discovering interesting objects that tell us more and more about the past.  Usually, these discoveries are so specialized that only a handful of scholars and experts ever get to hear of them.  But from time to time, major discoveries are made that are so unusual, rich or unexpected that they make headline news across the world.

In your research of ancient artefacts you will have the chance to look at some of these exciting finds.

Barnes, T 2004, Archaeology, Kingfisher, London.

Find out more about Archaeology from the National Geographic

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  • Lawless, J and Cameron, K 1996, 'The work of the historian', in Unlocking the past: preliminary studies in the ancient world, Thomson Nelson, Southbank, Vic., pp.5-12.
  • Lawless, J and Cameron, K 1996, 'The work of the archaeologist', in Unlocking the past: preliminary studies in the ancient world, Thomson Nelson, Southbank, Vic. pp. 13-30.

Questions and preliminary notes have been taken and are acknowledged from Queensland Studies Authority (2013), 'Investigating the ancient past: a history mystery.'


Artefacts

Aboriginal Rock Art
Book of the Dead
Crystal Skulls
Cyrus Cylinder
Elgin Marbles
Mask of Agamemnon
The Mycenaeans
Oseberg Ship
Otzi the Iceman
Oxus Treasure
Peat Bog Mummies
Rosetta Stone
Terracotta Army
Tollund Man
Trojan Treasure
Tutankhamun

Aboriginal Rock Art

The Australian Aboriginal civilisation is the oldest living and known civilisation in the history of the World dating back almost 60,000 years. Part of this civilisation involves a deep, rich and complex culture, including unique and meaningful art that is a central aspect of the culture. In ancient times, some of this art was painted onto the walls of caves and other rock structures and some have amazingly survived thousands of years and can still be seen today.

The Bradshaw paintings are an example of a rock art found in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. They consist of paintings of a complex figurative type. The paintings are typically small, around 25 cm, uniformly red, the bodies being completely filled with solid colour. From details in the paintings, changes in the material culture of the area can be investigated. It is clear that many of the weapons are of a type no longer used in the Kimberley.

'Bradshaw art', 1994, in Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia, Aboriginal Studies Press for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra, ACT.

Aboriginal rock art locations and keywords

  • Ubirr - Kakadu, NT
  • Gwion Gwion (Bradshaw) - Kimberleys, WA
  • Wandjina - Kimberleys, WA
  • Quinkan - Laura, QLD
  • Nitmiluk - Nitmiluk, NT
  • Adnyamathanha - Flinders Ranges, SA
  • Ku-ring-gai - Sydney/Blue Mountains, NSW
  • Bunjil Lands - Grampians, VIC

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Ubirr

Gwion Gwion & Wandjina

Quinkan

Nitmiluk

Adnyamathanha

Ku-Ring-Gai

Bunjil Lands

Book of the Dead

The Egyptian Book of the Dead emerged during the New Kingdom period (1539-1069 BC), but the ideas and beliefs expressed in the book gradually evolved over the 2000 years before through the everyday life experiences of the people, the landscape and environment in which they lived and the major historical and religious events that happened during that time.

The Book of the Dead grew out of a long tradition of funeral texts originating on the walls of burial chambers inside the Pyramids of the Old Kingdom period (2650-2152 BC). The book includes hymns, prayers and magical spells to ward off the dangers of the afterlife.

Baldock, J (ed) 2011, The Egyptian Book of the Dead, Arcturus, London, pp. 5-7.

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Crystal Skulls

Are crystal skulls genuine Mayan or Aztec artefacts, occult objects or intriguing fakes made for a nineteenth-century European market?

Some are on display as genuine per-Columbian objects such as those in Mexico's National Museum, where they have been identified as the work of Aztec or Mixtec artisans. One is in the basement of the Louvre waiting scientific testing, another, while the British Museum has its skulls displayed as fakes. The Mitchell-Hedges Skull, which is supposed to have strange powers is privately owned.

Bradley, P 2010, 'Crystal skulls', in Great mysteries: riddles of the natural and human reserve', New Holland, Sydney, pp. 190-193.

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Cyrus Cylinder

The Cyrus Cylinder was found in Babylon in 1879. It is a barrel-shaped cylinder of clay inscribed in cuneiform script to record and celebrate the Persian King Cyrus' capture and restoration of Babylon around 539 BC.

"It describes how Marduk, the God of Babylon, turned away Nabonidus because of his impiety and appointed Cyrus in his place."

Metzger, B, Goldstein, D and Ferguson, J (eds) 1987, Great Events of Bible Times, Marshall Editions, London, pp. 116-117.

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Elgin Marbles

The Elgin Marbles take their name from the Earl of Elgin. In 1799, while Ambassador to Turkey, Lord Elgin received permission to remove "pieces of stone with old inscriptions and figures" from the Parthenon, in Athens, Greece. The reason for this was to help preserve loose or damaged carvings, but Elgin took it upon himself to saw off and remove large sections of marble carvings that were still attached to the walls of the Parthenon and shipped them to Britain. In 1816 he sold the carvings to the British Museum.

Chrisp, P 1997, The Parthenon, Wayland, Leintwardine, Shropshire.

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Mask of Agamemnon

The Mask of Agamemnon is the golden funeral mask of King Agamemnon, who according Homer in The Iliad "was a proud man as he took his stand with his people, armed in gleaming bronze, the greatest captain of all..."

The Mask was found in 1876 by Heinrich Schliemann at Mycenae and is housed in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. There is some doubt as to whether the mask is an authentic artefact found as described, an authentic artefact that has been altered, an authentic artefact from another later (or earlier) burial or a modern fake.

Bradley, P 2007, Cultural Treasures of the Ancient World, New Holland, Sydney, pp. 108-112.

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  • Aaronson, D, Fortenberry, D & Morrill, R 2015, "Mask of Agamemnon" in Body of Art, Phaidon, London, p. 93.

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Read the next section on The Mycenaeans for more information about Agamemnon and the Mycenaean people.

The Mycenaeans

The Mycenaeans dominated mainland Greece from 1600-1200 BC. They lived in small separate kingdoms but shared the same language and way of life. They were great warriors and traders, but their world entered a period of decline in 1200 BC, called the Dark Ages.

The Mycenaeans based their cities, and their economy, around palaces. The heavily fortified palace complex was built on top of a hill so that it could be easily defended from attack. This type of city was known as an acropolis or 'high city'.

Ganeri, A 2015, Ancient Greece, BookLife, King's Lynn, England, pp.4-5.

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Oseberg Ship

The Oseberg Ship is one of the most well preserved Viking ship burials ever found. The ship is dated to 834 AD and was found in Vestfold in eastern Norway and was excavated in 1904. The ship itself was built in western Norway, in 820 AD, and is 21.5 metres long. Two skeletons were found on the ship, one very well preserved, of an 80 year old woman who died of cancer, and the other the much less well preserved remains of a woman in her 50s. Both seem to have been of high social status in Viking society, likely of religious or political importance.

Williams, G, Pentz, P and Wemhoff, M (eds) 2014, Vikings: Life and Legend, British Museum Press, London, pp. 200-201.

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Otzi the Iceman

The discovery of a Stone Age body high in the Alps was an archaeological sensation, but the mystery behind the fragile remains became a fascinating forensic puzzle. Each time a solution seemed correct, opposing evidence emerged. The mysterious death of Otzi was approached in much the same way as a modern murder investigation. The scientists used the most up-to-date forensic techniques to examine every inch of his body.

Bastable, J and Candin, A (eds) 2005, 'Secrets of the ice man: the investigation of a suspicious death more than 5000 years ago', in The truth about history: how new evidence is transforming the story of the past', Reader's Digest, London, pp.177-181.

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Oxus Treasure

The Oxus Treasure of ancient Persia dates to the Achaemenid dynasty from 550 to 323 BC. The majority of the treasure came as tribute from conquered lands such as Nubia, India and Sardis over this period of time.

In 1877, a large number of gold and silver objects were found scattered in the sands of the Amu Darya River, in ancient times called the Oxus River. These objects are in the Achaemenid Court style, dated to the fifth and fourth centuries BC and are extraordinarily well preserved.

Bradley, P 2007, Cultural Treasures of the Ancient World, New Holland, Sydney, pp. 163-167.

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Peat Bog Mummies

The discovery of numerous bodies preserved by the tannic acid in the bogs of Northern Europe caused sensation after sensation. They are evidence of the brutal ritual demands of Iron Age beliefs, described by classical authors such as Tacticus who wrote of human sacrifice among Celtic and Germanic tribes.

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  • Lawless, J, Cameron, K and Young C 1996, 'How are bodies preserved?' in Unlocking the past: preliminary studies in the ancient world, Southbank, Vic., pp. 52-58.

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Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone was discovered in 1799 in Rashid (or Rosetta), Egypt, near the river nile, by the French soldier Lieutenant Pierre François Xavier Bouchard. The Rosetta Stone is a large grey block of stock, upon which is carved the same writing in three different scripts or languages: Hieroglyphs, Demotic (or popular) script and ancient Greek. This allowed linguists and historians to decipher the meaning and words of the Egyptian Hieroglyphs by comparing them to both the Greek and Demotic writing.

Donoughue, C 1999, The Mystery of the Hieroglyphs, British Museum Press, London, p. 20.

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Terracotta Army

In March 1974 one of the most magnificent archaeological finds of the 20th century occurred in the Shaanxi province in the China. It was the tomb of First Emperor Quin where 7,000 life-sized terracotta soldiers from the late third-century B.C.E. were uncovered. The figures of ceramic cavalrymen and chariots, all arranged in battle formation, are notable because even though they have mass-produced body parts, the face of each figure is unique.

Croy, A 2009, Art and architecture: inside ancient China, Sharpe Focus, Armonk, NY.

The tomb and the army of terracotta warriors have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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  • Wheatley, A and Reid, S 2004, 'The march of death' in The Usborne Introduction to archaeology, Usborne, London; pages 74-75.

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Tollund Man

The examination of the Tollund Man at the National Museum of Denmark in 1950 revealed an unusually well-preserved body of an adult male who was approximately 30 to 40 years old when he died. The Tollund Man is probably the most well-preserved body from pre-historic times in the world.

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Trojan Treasure

Troy was an ancient city in Asia Minor (now part of Turkey) that was made famous in the legends of early Greece. The Iliad and the Odyssey, epic poems attributed to the Greek poet Homer, and the Aeneid, written by the Roman poet Virgil, tell a story about Troy, that is probably only partly true.

The city's two names come from Illus, its legendary founder, and Tros, the father of Illus.

'Priam's Treasure' is a cache of gold and jewellery from ancient Troy. Discovered on the site of an early Bronze Age city dated circa 2450 BC by Heinrich Schliemann and named after the ancient city of Priam mentioned in Homer's The Iliad, the treasure consists of artefacts of gold, silver, copper, bronze, jadeite and lapis lazuli.

Bradley, P 2007, Cultural Treasures of the Ancient World, New Holland, Sydney, pp. 72-76.

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  • Wood, T 1997, 'City of Troy', in Ancient Wonders, Heinemann, London, pp. 14-15.

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Priam's treasure

Tutankhamun

On 26 November 1922, Howard Carter stood at the end of the dark entrance corridor of the tomb he had discovered. He knocked a hole in the wall and pushed his candle into the space before him. What he saw was so astonishing that, for a moment, he could not speak. Standing beside him, Lord Carnarvon demanded, "Can you see anything?" "Yes," Carter replied, "Wonderful things!" He could see a room packed with treasures, glittering with gold. This, however, was merely the antechamber of the tomb.

Crisp, P 2004, Mummy, Dorling Kindersley, London, p. 40.

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  • Bastable, J and Canlin, A 2005, 'How did Tutankhamen die?', in The Truth about history: how new evidence is transforming the story of the past, Reader's Digest, London,pp. 107-111

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Howard Carter

Lord Carnarvon

Valley of the Kings


Monumental Artefacts

Babylon
Colossus of Rhodes
Easter Island
Lake Mungo
Alexandria: Library
Nazca Lines
Pompeii
Pyramids of Giza
The Great Sphinx
Stonehenge

Babylon

According to legend, Nebuchadnezzar II, who reigned Babylon from 605 to 562 BC built the Hanging Gardens for his wife Amitiya who was homesick for her mountainous homeland.

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Colossus of Rhodes

The Colossus was a bronze statue of the sun god Helios and was built on the Island of Rhodes around 285 B.C. It was a hollow statue with a stairway to its head, 72 metres high, from which people could see the harbour. The artist Chares, who built it, made his statue of Helios the perfect human body and it was admired throughout the ancient world.

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Easter Island

Easter Island lies in a remote part of the eastern Pacific Ocean. it was named by a Dutch admiral, Jacob Roggeveen, who became the first European to visit the island when he landed on Easter Sunday, 1722.

He discovered that the island was full of huge, long-eared statues, some of them almost eight metres tall, standing in rows on stone platforms. Historians have dated the first of the big statues to AD 1100 and suggest that the people who carved them were all killed by the ancestors of those who know live on Easter Island.

Adams, S 1991, Man-made wonders, RD Press, Oxford, pp. 20-21.

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  • O'Neill, R 1993, 'Riddle of the stone giants', Strange world: an exploration of terrestrial and extra-terrestrial enigmas, Grange Books, Godalming, Surrey, pp. 54-55.

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Lake Mungo

In 1969 the Australian National University sent an archaeological team to Lake Mungo, in the Willandra Lakes region of southern New South Wales, to investigate some human bones found there a year earlier. These bones later turned out to be the result of a cremation burial. A second burial, of a complete skeleton, was found in 1974.

In 1992 the skeleton from Mungo was returned to the Aboriginal community.

'Lake Mungo' 1994, in Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia, Aboriginal Studies Press for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra, ACT, p.577.

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  • Bahn, P (ed) 1996, 'Earliest Australians', in Tombs, graves & mummies, Phoenix Illustrated, London, pp.26-29.

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Alexandria: Library

The Museum and Library of Alexandria. - Ptolemy I, the ruler of Egypt from 305 to 285 B.C.E., built his own museum, the Mouseion, to house the famous library at Alexandria. In time about 700,000 manuscripts were collected there.

The Ptolemies were determined to have a copy of every text in existence. To this end, Ptolemy III wrote "to all the kings of the world" to borrow papyri to copy and translate. Even ships in the harbour at Alexandria were raided. Any texts on board had to be surrendered for copying. Scholars, scientists, artists, and poets were invited to Alexandria's library to do their research at royal expense.

All of the texts stored in Alexandria were lost in the late fourth century when the Christian Roman emperor Theodosius ordered its destruction.

Woolf, A and Davis, K (ed) 2004, 'The Museum and Library at Alexandria', Exploring ancient civilizations, vol. 6, p 462.

Use the following resources to find out: Were the treasures of the largest and most important library in the ancient world really lost in a massive inferno?

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  • Rodgers, N 2012, 'Libraries and librarians' in The Complete illustrated encyclopedia of Ancient Greece, Hermes House, Wigston, Leicestershire, pp.428-429

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Nazca Lines

Nazca was an American Indian culture that thrived in the coastal desert of what is now southern Peru from as early as 100 B.C. to A.D. 800. The Nazca people are known for the huge etchings they made on the surface of the desert. These etchings are now known as the Nazca lines. They include outlines of animals and geometric shapes. Some are several miles long, and some of the animal figures measure more than 120 metres in length.

Klymyshyn, A 2006, 'Nazca', In World Book Encyclopedia, vol. 14, World Book, Chicago, pp. 91-92.

The Nazca lines have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site - Includes a gallery of images

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  • Wheatley, A and Reid, S 2004, 'Lines in the desert' in The Usborne Introduction to archaeology, Usborne, London; pages 60-61.

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  • Nazca lines - Atlas Obscura
  • Nazca lines (spelled with the America spelling on the site as "Nasca") - National Geographic

Pompeii

The ancient city of Pompeii, buried by an explosion of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, was rediscovered in 1748. Its ongoing excavation has yielded detailed evidence of daily life, not only in Rome's provinces but in its larger urban centers as well.

Albentiis, E D 2009, Secrets of Pompeii: Everyday Life in Ancient Rome, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

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Pyramids of Giza

The first pyramid was built as the burial place of King Djoser circa 2630 BC by the architect Imhotep. It is called The Step Pyramid, as it rises in six stages to represent a stairway. During the reign of King Sneferu pyramids with sloping sides developed. Pyramids were intended to protect the bodies of the pharaohs buried deep inside them. Later pyramids contained inscriptions of hieroglyphics, spells to help the pharaoh in the afterlife.

The largest and most well known of the pyramids is The Great Pyramid at Giza, built for King Khufu circa 2528 BC. It stands at 138 meters high and had a core of local limestone, with a Tura limestone casing on the outside of the pyramid. Inside were multiple chambers and tunnels, including the tombs and burial chambers for the King.

Hart, G 1990, Ancient Egypt, Dorling Kindersley, London, pp. 22-23.

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The Great Sphinx

The Egyptians saw the sphinx as a lion's body with the head of a ruler. The Lion was a creature of the sun-god Amun-Ra and emphasised that the King's, or Pharaoh's role as the son of Ra. Sometimes sphinxes combine other elements such as the head and wings of a hawk, symbolising the god Horus.

The Great Sphinx at Giza was carved around 4,500 years ago (circa 2500 BC) for the Pharaoh Khafre and guarded the way to his pyramid.

Hart, G 1990, Ancient Egypt, Dorling Kindersley, London, pp. 11.

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Stonehenge

Over the centuries, the origin and purpose of Stonehenge has attracted a mix of science and speculation. Nobody is able to say how Stonehenge ought to look, because there has never been a definitive version. Stonehenge has been constantly evolving. It began as a circular earthwork 4000 years ago with bluestones brought from Wales.

We should not therefore assume that Stonehenge is as constant as it is ancient. It has often been changed - the stones have collapsed, been realigned, restored and repeatedly vandalized. Conservation continues to be an issue. Today they may only be viewed from behind a perimeter fence.

Bastable, J and Candlin, A. (ed) 2005, 'Wandering stones: Stonehenge has been altered many times - even in our own age', in The truth about history: how new evidence is transforming the story of the past, Reader's Digest, London, pp.66-69.

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  • Scarre, C (ed) 1999, 'Stonehenge', The Seventy wonders of the ancient world: the great monuments and how they were built, Thames & Hudson, London, pp.92-96.

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  • Exploring Ancient civilizations. Volume 10 - Stonehenge. pp. 724-725

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