Creeping into the Lugar de los Muertos with an Archaeologist

After a week of travelling around Mexico, from Yucatan and Chiapas State, and through Tabasco to Oaxaca, I experienced a special magic and a variety of cultures of the country, felt by Mexicans and foreigners alike.

Archaeological site of Mitla and the ruins of the palace, Oaxaca. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Around 4000 recorded archaeological sites …

The state of Oaxaca is a mountainous area broken by wide fertile valleys and it represents one of the bastions of indigenous cultures having been developed for thousand of years in Mesoamerica. Apart from the country’s most energetic and colourful festivals, various arts, well-developed crafts, delicious cuisine and vibrant colonial architecture of the capital, the region also boasts a number of pre-Columbian sites and artefacts left behind by mysterious peoples.

The word Mitla itself means ‘underworld’ or the ‘place of rest’ in Zapotec, the language which is still relatively widely spoken, especially in villages. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

There are around 4000 recorded archaeological sites in Oaxaca, mostly known as settlements of the Zapotecs and Mixtecs, occupied up until the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century. The all  sites differ in time and characteristics, however, all include a mystery: Lambityeco and Zaachila have got interesting tombs, Dainzú and Yagul – important ball game courts, and San José el Mogote is said to be one of the most ancient settlements in Oaxaca. Among all, though, Monte Álban and Mitla were two of the most important.

‘Place of the Rest’

Mitla is located about an hour drive from Oaxaca City and it was presumably the main religious center of the region. The name Mitla itself comes from the word Mictlan, the name for the ‘underworld’ or the ‘place of rest’ in Zapotec, the language which is still relatively widely spoken, especially in villages. The walls at Mitla are covered with spectacular geometric mosaics which are unique in Mexico, as much as its bright red painted walls. We stopped there on our way to Oaxaca City, driving along the range of Sierra Madre mountains. It was around 3 PM and a blast of hot air struck me full when I was getting off the air conditioned car.

The site looked amazing with geometrically designed upper parts of the buildings, covered in intricate mortar-less mosaics. My attention was also caught by walls painted bright red. Once Mitla was inhabited by the people, called by the neighbouring Aztecs in Nahuatl – the Zapotecs. Yet they called themselves differently, either simply The People in their own language or more mysteriously – the Cloud People.

The walls at Mitla are covered with spectacular geometric mosaics which are unique in Mexico. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Just in in the heart of Oaxaca state, along the western coast of the Pacific Ocean, which is at once a mountainous and hard-to-reach area, the Zapotec culture probably began to take shape around the third century AD. Some scholars assume that the Zapotecs had already appeared when the Olmec civilization was on the verge of decline, that is presumably around 400 BC. and existed in the region till 1500 AD. Anyway, any exact dating is uncertain here; the Zapotecs probably came to modern Oaxaca areas in the period before Christ, yet it took several centuries for them to develop their characteristic cultural features, which were initially composed of mixed elements of various origins, from Teotihuacan and the Olmec to the Maya cultures. At the Zapotecs’ height, the population in the Valley of Oaxaca peaked at around one hundred thousand.

The ruins of Mitla are the quintessence of the Zapotec architecture. Yet, the city also witnessed the Zapotec-Mixtec symbiosis, which had been visible in the culture of this region since the fourteenth century AD. Its traces can be seen especially in Mitla, whose geometric motifs of mosaic fretwork cut in stone slabs are usually ascribed to the Mixtecs. Yet, another theory says the ornaments were made my the Zapotecs and then adopted and embellished by the Mixtecs. Such patterns are called grecas in Spanish; meanders, diamonds, zigzags and various braids cover not only the outer walls of significant buildings, but also their interiors, usually with three horizontal stripes of frieze, each with a different type of ornament.

It has been calculated that over eighty thousand polished stone slabs were used to adorn the walls in such geometric friezes. The [stones] are [all] fitted together without mortar; [all the] pieces were set against a stucco background painted red [and] are held in place by the weight of the stones [surrounding] them. […] None of the fretwork designs is repeated exactly anywhere in the complex [or elsewhere] in Mesoamerica” (Mitla” 2021). In the wall painting, frescoes and sgraffito made on red stucco, depicting deities and mythological animals, there are also many Mixtec motifs, which are younger than sculpted decorations.

Examining geometric mosaics of Mitla. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

As in the case of the Zapotecs, little is known about the Mixtecs; they are primarily famous as great craftsmen and artists. The Mixtec contributed to the culture of the region, especially in the field of goldsmithing; they were excellent at processing gold, copper and silver, they mastered lost-wax technique, they could solder and pull delicate wires. They knew the inlay and covered the wood or bone with small tiles of jade or turquoise, mother of pearl and rock crystal. The Mixtecs were also the authors of famous painted codices, mainly of historical content. Those were pictorial stories written or actually painted on long strips of wood-fiber or leather paper, created before the Spanish invasion, and also after it. Most of them, however, were unfortunately destroyed by the invaders.

The labyrinth of the Zapotecs and Mixtecs

The Zapotecs were called the ‘nation of builders’, however, if alternative researchers’ opinion is taken into consideration, most of the buildings of another famous city, Monte Alban (the original name of the city is unknown), and some structures of the nearby Mitla would rather be the product of older civilizations with great skills of shaping architectural space. Such structures, adopted or overbuilt by the Zapotecs would have originally provided a proper background for religious ceremonies or for other purposes, most likely related to astronomy.

In Mitla, there are three groups of buildings situated at low platforms and concentrated around a ceremonial courtyard, to which extensive stairs still lead. One of the most impressive constructions of Mitla is a ‘palace’ dating from the twelfth to the thirteenth century; it has three square, interconnecting courtyards, rebuilt with buildings standing on low platforms. In the ‘residential’ part of the city, there is a very small courtyard surrounded by four shallow buildings. The inner galleries must have been exceptionally dark, covered with low wooden roofs.

My attention was immediately caught by other walls painted bright red. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

The rooms around the second courtyard may have served official functions. They gained their size thanks to the alignment of monolithic columns supporting the ceiling beams. Under the rooms of the third complex, which was probably used for religious ceremonies, there are cross-shaped crypts. These crypts are a continuation of the development of the Zapotec tombs, initiated in Monte Alban, where the niches had already been shaped like a cross. The walls and floors of the crypts were covered with a thick layer of white plaster, on the smooth surface of which cult scenes were painted. Such decorations are later than architecture and were probably made by artists of the Mixtecs who lived in Mitla after the Zapotecs left. Endless halls, corridors and underground crypts criss-cross beneath the central plaza, giving the impression of a labyrinth whose architectural character resembles the so-called palace of Knossos in Crete. Possibly, hence, the city’s name standing for the underworld.

The residence of the high priest in Mitla was the largest covered structure not only in Mitla but also in Pre-Columbian Mexico. The unpreserved ceilings, probably wooden, were supported by massive monolithic pillars weighing up to twenty-three tons. The decoration of walls with strongly marked horizontal divisions is primarily made of the mentioned above geometric ornament.

Missing stone anomaly

We were standing in the middle of a great courtyard when an old man with a walking stick approached us. He looked a little tired with the heat but his face expression was revealing his passion for the site and his happiness to share it with us. He was an experienced archaeologist working in Mitla for years and he seemed to know every excavated corner of it.

“Here, they made a mistake!” – he noticed, eager to show us his discovery. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

He spoke only in Spanish to us gesticulating energetically with hands, surely to express his ideas more clearly. Soon, we started following him up and down the stairs leading to Mitla’s constructions one after the other, to take a closer look on elaborate patterns of the mosaics. Despite our guide’s difficulties with walking, he and his staff were much quicker than us in climbing the steep and narrow steps.

‘Oh, you see … each course of stones is composed of a certain number of stone elements’, he said once on top, while counting every element protruding from the wall and composing a particular pattern of the mosaic.

‘Here, they made a mistake!’, he noticed, eager to show us his discovery.

At once, all started counting other stones in hope, they would find another anomaly as well.

Who was there first … ?

I left my friends at this stage of competition and went exploring the site on my own. I noticed a few tall basalt columns between two to three metres high as well as the size of giant cut blocks on top of the walls, forming the so-called lintels, weighing from six to eighteen tons, whereas elsewhere within the same construction there was relatively crude work composed of much smaller irregular stones of different shapes with big amount of mortar used. When we compare both, the latter looked like common rubble.

I got an impression that different parts of constructions had been here reassembled. Accordingly, there are differences in construction style: here and there very large, regular tight-fitting stone slabs at the base, and massive header blocks made of basalt, now and then perfectly positioned down at the foundation with quite crude and rough work in between. The same feature is typical of many megalithic sites not only in Mexico but also in different parts of the world I have visited. After some alternative researchers, such as Brien Foerster (2018), Mitla had been constructed first with megaliths, and then it was uncovered by the Zapotecs, who adopted the older structures and overbuilt the site using their own but much simpler techniques within their building possibilities. The same author suggests that it might have been the result of some sort of a cataclysm that destroyed the original buildings of high technology a long time ago before the Zapotecs occupied it, followed then by the Mixtecs. To go further, the basalt of Mitla had been quarried from the place which is over three kilometres away (with no trees to be used as log rollers).

In the depths of the complex of Mitla, red domes of the Baroque Catholic church of San Pedro are visible; its walls seem triumphant over the Pre-Columbian ruins, but perfectly integrated into the whole ancient landscape. The church was built in the colonial era by Spanish invaders surely to show their victory over the pagan cultures of Mesoamerica. Nevertheless, the building was partially composed of the already cut stones that were found by the Spanish locally, and reused for its construction.

Eventually, I did not share my thoughts about previous lost builders with others. Such assumptions may have been too controversial for academics’ ears and I was sure what their response would be like. Anyway, all these building anomalies can be seen very easily, still only if one does not turn a blind eye to the architectural facts.

Christian Baroque church of San Pedro in Mitla. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Featured image: Pre-Columbian city of Mitla is one of the most important archaeological sites in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico (apart from Monte Alban), and the most important of the Zapotec culture. In the picture, the Hall of the Columns within the palace or the residence of the Zapotecs’ high priest. Late Post-Classic Period, 1300-1500 CE. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

By Joanna
Faculties of English Philology, History of Art and Archaeology.
University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland;
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, Poland;
University College Dublin, Ireland.

Continue reading Creeping into the Lugar de los Muertos with an Archaeologist

Hermitage of the Archangel in Ireland

Summer weather was at its best while we were driving south along the Ring of Kerry, which is also a stage of the famous Wild Atlantic Way with sea-salted shores and blowing winds.

Valentia Island. Skellig Michael. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

The scenery was breath-taking – it was like stepping into a picture book. Our destination, the Skellig Islands, lie 12 km off the Kerry coast and the boats there depart from Portmagee and Ballinskelligs. The Islands are actually two very steep rocks, protruding proudly out of the wild roaring Atlantic. Skellig Michael, which peaks at 217 metres above sea level, was the home of a group of 13 monks in the sixth century AD. This monastic settlement became then designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996. The smaller island, Little Skellig, which is a haven to various seabirds, has the second largest gannet colony in the world.

Valentia Island: View from our B&B’s window. Skellig Michael. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

“You can do Ireland in a day, but you really only do Valentia properly in a lifetime”[1]


[1] Karen O’Connell (2018). “Explore Valentia”. In:  Valentia Island. Come on in. Valentia Island Development Company.

We had booked our B&B on Valentia Island – one of Ireland’s most picturesque westerly points. It lies off the Iveragh Peninsula in the southwest of County Kerry and is accessible either by the Maurice O’Neill Memorial Bridge from Portmagee and by car ferry from Renard Point, Cahersiveen, which operates from April to October. The ferry crossing takes around 5 minutes. After a night-sea journey from Wales, and having travelled across a large piece of Ireland, from Rosslare, we felt only like going to bed. B&B (like the very few houses scattered around the island) was an isolated and charming place of the home-stay atmosphere of remote villages.

Night falling upon Valentia Island with the Skelligs in the distance. Skellig Michael. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Out of reach …

We were planning to take our Skellig Michael landing tour in one day and I was praying just for god weather conditions as the landing on the rock is always subject to this natural factor and the Irish weather is really unpredictable… We arrived in Ireland at the end of July having had the visit booked already at the beginning of May, as one must do it much in advance before heading off to the Skelligs. It was in 2015, just before the Star Wars’ Episode VIII was filmed at its top and Luke Skywalker won its place on the island, removing its real and fascinating characters in the shadow. Due to that, nowadays it is even more difficult to land on the island as there are hordes of Star Wars’ fans and thus government restrictions are applied now more than ever, not to mention a very high price for this major tourist attraction that could be the highlight of every holiday.

One of the most fascinating destinations in Ireland. Skellig Michael. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

First of all, tours with landing can only be taken from May to September. All bookings are usually taken online with no waiting list. If there is a cancellation the spots automatically become available again on the booking page, which happens very rarely. There is one trip per day for this tour departing at approximately 9:00 am daily, usually from Portmagee Marina (depending on the tour operator) if the sea and weather conditions are suitable. As I have mentioned, availability for this tour is very limited so you really need to book well, well, well long … in advance: there is a maximum of four persons per booking and the tour itself is not suitable for children under 12 years of age.

When I am looking at the availability now, I can see the whole season is nearly booked out (there is only one date available!) Also you would require a reasonable amount of fitness to undertake climbing the rock at its summit. In case your boat tour is cancelled, you can take instead a tour around two islands but without landing …

The Skelligs seen from Valentia Island. The best place to begin our journey. Skellig Michael. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

In the morning of the tour day, our B&B’s hostess welcomed us with a wide smile assuring us the boats were going to departure. I also responded with a beaming smile and came back to my full Irish breakfast composed of crumbled eggs, fried sausages, crunchy toasts and milky butter. I had already phoned my tour operator and he assured me the weather would be perfect for our journey.

‘Would you like some pudding?’, – the hostess asked. ‘I’ve got delicious black and white pudding if you wish’.

‘I’d love to’ – my friend said in Polish – ‘I feel like having something sweet …’

Evening on Valentia Island, just after crossing the sea to Michael Skellig. Skellig Michael. Copyright©Archaeotravel

Pudding is a type of food that can be either a dessert or a savoury dish, which comes from French boudin, meaning ‘small sausage’. My friend who shudders at any kind of red meat definitely was for the first option, whereas the hostess had meant the second one. When my friend  finally found out, she refused point-blank to try anything of that kind.

Off we go …

Good walking shoes, mostly hiking boots with an ankle support, and waterproof clothes are essential for the tour!  The boats are small fishing vessels and the open sea crossing takes approximately 45 minutes.

Office of Public Works (2014). “Visiting Skellig Michael – A Safety Guide”. Source: Youtube.

Rough seas make you get soaked to the skin, even if a day is full of sunshine. The boats are being constantly hit by high waves and so it’s quite unstable as the boats are rocking all the time. Hence it may be a very difficult experience for people who are prone to seasickness. The site is also difficult to walk around, as well as may pose problems for anyone with a fear of heights. There are no visitors’ facilities of any kind on the island, such as toilets or a shelter. This is a bare and high rock exposed to the weather.  Make sure you bring with you enough food and water. All your stuff should be packed in one small backpack to allow your hands to be free while climbing up and down the steep staircases.

The boats are being constantly hit by high waves and so it’s quite unstable as the boats are rocking all the time. Skellig Michael. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

A camera should be with you but only hung around your neck. Sun cream is also very important. Even if the sky seems cloudy, there’s enough sunlight reflecting from the water to cause sunburns. While our cruise to the Skelligs, the sky was completely covered in grey clouds. On the island there was already the sun and on our way back I got a strong sunburn on my face. After drinking a pint of Guinness in the end, my face looked like a red berry on the background of green Ireland. Well, it’s not to discourage you, just let you know what you can expect … One more thing! Once landed on the island beware of seagulls and albatross hunting for meal! It can be your sandwich or a cookie you have just grabbed in your mouth …  You may have a literally close encounter with a huge bird flying onto your face. As I did myself!

Beautiful puffins can be seen on the Skellig Michael from April to early August. Skellig Michael. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Without a doubt, one of the most graceful and friendliest bird visiting the Skelligs is a puffin. They arrive and breed on the island from March to early August. It’s a cute, colourful seabird with a huge, yellow-reddish beak and curious eyes. While the birds are walking around, they look like black-white balls rolling down the hill. It’s really worth seeing!

Skellig Michael
Reaching the Skelligs by Boat (statue in Cahersiveen). The “Irish Currach” recommend tar-covered leather-skinned ships as timber boats would easily break apart in the Ocean. Photo and caption source: Skellig Gift Store (2017). “Archangel Michael: Saint of the Skelligs”. In: Skellig Gift Store.

Just before our heading off, there was a warm shower. I sat by the side of my friends, back to other people. We were eight altogether, not counting two men, probably fishermen driving the boat. Although it was a rather wet and rough journey, I really enjoyed it. This is one of these moments you may really feel a unique atmosphere of ancient Ireland. We were on the open sea and our crossing seemed to go on forever. I also thought about ancient monks and pilgrims who must have made just the same distance in simple boats – coracles, and without modern navigation devices down the centuries. I wondered how many of them had survived.

Now crossing takes around one hour. Skellig Michael. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

The Loneliest Place on Earth

Two black pinnacles of pointed rocks thrust out into the Atlantic Ocean. The smaller of these two is known as Lesser Skellig, which is home to a great number of gannets, and grey seals lying airily on their backs and enjoying the warmth of the summer sun. Visitors cannot land on it as it is the birds’ reservation. The larger island and our destination is called Great Skellig or Skellig Michael. The latter name probably originates from a legend saying that St. Patrick once saw the Archangel Michael hovering over the island. Here, in the wilderness of the Atlantic Ocean and isolated from the comfort of the mainland, early Christian hermits lived for centuries fighting with natural forces and invaders coming from the sea – the Vikings.

Peter Cox (Photography) (2017) “The Wonder of Skellig Michael”. Source: Youtube.

Their harsh life many a time is similar led by Christian monks in Egypt who started this kind of an isolated existence, dedicated to God – monasticism. I believe that in their desire to imitate the lives of the Egyptian Fathers, Irish monks found their substitute for the desert in the sea and ocean. On numerous islands like Aran, Inishkea North, Duvillan, Iona, or Skellig Michael, Christian Celtic monks were looking for their own desert. Just like an Egyptian desert of the Coptic hermits, an ocean is huge, desolated and deprived of sweet water. On the other side, it must have seemed attractive, unknown, inhabited by fantastic monsters, and so became an escape from the earthly world. The ocean has been a symbol of trial, weakness, heroism, and as in the unfriendly desert, the help of God becomes indispensable there.

I looked upwards at this soaring rocky sanctuary covered in a green coat. Skellig Michael. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

The waters were calm on the open sea but as we were getting closer to the rising pyramid of the rock, the waves became stronger fiercely crushing against the shore. Our drives moored the boat properly and we carefully climbed out of it. The rock-solid land beneath my feet seemed to jump up and down as much as our boat. I looked upwards at this soaring rocky sanctuary covered in a green coat, and I could just felt the loneliness of this place fulfilled with the ghosts of the wandering monks.

The views were stunning! Skellig Michael. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Soon we reached the staircase of ancient rock-cut steps made by the hermits and polished by countless pilgrims’ feet. There are over 600 uneven and steep stairs leading up to the monastery. I felt my great respect for the monks who chose this remote island for their home. It called for extraordinary self-discipline and great courage. As modern pilgrims, we entered into the monks’ enclosure almost suspended in the sky. The views were stunning!

Soon we reached the staircase of ancient rock-cut steps made by the hermits and polished by countless pilgrims’ feet. Skellig Michael. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

We passed through a low archway breaking the silence of the past. A small monastic garden sheltered around with rough stones. Another archway led us higher to the tiny chapel and a cluster of dry-stone beehive huts look like bulbs or swallows’ nests clinging to the rock.  These extraordinary shelters are circular from the outside but square in the inside. Perhaps the hermitage on the Skellig has preserved the original pattern of monastic buildings, existing once at monastic sites on the mainland. The beehive huts resemble the stle of stone constructions of the neolithic period typical to insular tradition.

Monastic idea brought by the Copts ? Skellig Michael. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

However,  after some researchers, the shape of these monastic structures was reminiscent of the monastic areas in Egypt. Desert fathers built similar huts in the shape of bee hives, most often from silt, initially in isolation, later probably in order to provide themselves with greater security and mutual support, they began to gather in small communities, putting together a number of such structures. Before the belly-like huts became the home of the hermits, they had been first simple houses. Similar constructions are traditional for the desert regions of the Middle East and for millennia they have been used as such by the rural community, such as by one in the territories of today’s Syria, in the town of Sarouj.

A cluster of dry-stone beehive huts look like bulbs or swallows’ nests clinging to the rock. Skellig Michael. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

There are dry-stone cells, a square oratory, a church dedicated to St. Michael, two small wells for collecting fresh water, and a miniature graveyard of those who lived and died on the island. I learnt that there were apparently thirteenth hermits occupying the monastic sites, which is a symbolical number that stands for twelve apostles led by Jesus Christ.  One legend – a treasury of knowledge on the past – ascribes the founding of the monastery to St. Fionan in the sixth century. Still the first historical reference goes back to the fifth century and says of the King of West Munster being pursued by Oengus, King of Cashel. The former fled to Scellec (Sceillic), which means a steep rock. Hence the name f the islands. In the following years, there were three recorded attacks on the monastery by the  Vikings who put many monks to death. During one of them, the Abbot, called Eitgall was chained up and starved to death to amuse his captors. Some monks escaped slaughter by hiding in rocky crevices, still they were left on the rock without their coracles burnt by the leaving Vikings.

The beehive huts resemble the style of stone constructions of the neolithic period typical to insular tradition. Skellig Michael. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

To my surprise, one story says that King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway met there a hermit who impressed him so much that he became baptized. After his return to Scandinavia, he is said to have introduced Christianity there before he died in the year 1000 AD. The Skellig monastery had greatly flourished since the sixth century and lasted famous till the twelfth century, when the Celtic Church was overtaken by the Church in Rome and the meaning of monasticism started long ago by Coptic hermits ceased. What is more, around 1200 AD, the climate had changed. Cold weather and fierce storms made the island even more inhospitable than before. As a result the monks moved to Ballinskelligs Bay on the mainland leaving behind their desolate rock.

There are dry-stone cells, a square oratory, a church dedicated to St. Michael, two small wells for collecting fresh water, and a miniature graveyard of those who lived and died on the island. Skellig Michael.

It was not until the late tenth century or early eleventh as the monastery is first referred to as Skellig Michael in the Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters. Probably, the small church dedicated to St Michael was built at that time. Its architecture is thus different from the earlier dry-stone constructions built by the monks. It is believed to have had a hollow stone of miraculous properties fixed to its wall. Some scholars consider the Libellus de Fundacione Ecclesie Consecrati Petri from the mid thirteenth century to be one of the most important written source on Skellig Michael. The manuscript originates from the Consecratus Petrus, an Irish Monastery in Regensburg, in Bavaria. Since the seventh century on, the Irish monks had been travelling to the mainland, founded monastic sites and preached … but it is another story … Anyway, the manuscript reveals a tale from Irish Monks in medieval Germany. It provides a context for its dedication to Archangel Michael.

Skellig Michael
Anonymous : Victorious St Michael over the devil represented as the dragon. Image source: Skellig Gift Store (2017). “Archangel Michael: Saint of the Skelligs”. In: Skellig Gift Store.

As the story goes Ireland suffered under a plague of demons, dragons, serpents and toads. People called upon St Patrick who banished the demons to the highest mountain (Skellig), cutting off all access for safety. Still, the evil was still present there. St Patrick then raised his arms in invocation and suddenly, the skies illuminated. Out in the Ocean, on top of Great Skellig, stood Archangel Michael with the host of angels surrounding him. Angelic forces battled with the demons and eventually cast them into the Ocean. Eventually, the angels returned to Great Skellig, and from the peak, Archangel Michael ascended back to heaven, leaving his miracle-working shield behind.

All of the island lie on the same invisible path. Skellig Michael. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

It was the early Christian age of Skellig. The pagan one is even more hidden in the misty legends of Irish history. Unfortunately, such records are usually treated as purely mythical, without historical value.  According to them, the fabled rulers of Ireland – Tuatha de Danaan, once used their magical powers to overcome new  invaders (1400 BC). They caused a shipwreck and brought death to two sons of the invaders’ leader – Milesius. Skellig became a burial place to one of the brothers, who was called Irr. Another legendary visitor was Daire Domhain – the King of the World, who stayed on Skellig in around 200 AD before attacking the mainland. Irish stories are full of legends of old and new invaders, of victors and defeated.

The pagan period is even more hidden in the misty legends of Irish history. Skellig Michael. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Skellig Michael is the last of three islands dedicated to St Michael I have seen. All of them lie on the same invisible path, aligned to the direction of 60 degrees NW-SE. The so-called Apollo/St Michael Axis stretches further south-east to run  not only across the tree islands but also two Archangel’s monasteries suspended high in the mountains, and finally reaches the sites in Greece, dedicated to Apollo, the pagan counterpart of Archangel Michael.

Featured image: Little Skellig seen from the Skellig Michael. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Continue reading Hermitage of the Archangel in Ireland

Studying Prehistoric Archaeoastronomy on the Islands of Malta and Ireland

Astronomic Devices in Prehistoric Malta

The megalithic temples of Malta are one of the most recognized UNESCO’s World Heritage sites ranking amongst the earliest free-standing Neolithic constructions in the world. The so-called Maltese temples display unique developmental characteristics, and while comparing to other megalithic structures, they are of the distinctive nature and achievements of Maltese civilization.

Mnajdra Temple. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

On the other hand, similarly to other megaliths, they were undoubtedly designed to accurately detect and mark the winter and summer solstice together with autumn and spring equinoxes, and other celestial movements. Same as the Stonehenge circle in Britain and Newgrange in Ireland, Maltese temples fulfilled astronomical observation and calendric functions. Among their other possible functions, a connection between astronomy and the temples orientations has constantly been provoking an intense debate since the great publicity given in the second half of the twentieth century by Gerald Hawkins on Stonehenge and the surveys by Alexander Thom on different megalithic structures in England and elsewhere. But it was an astronomer, Sir Norman Lockyer who as early as in 1909 evidently stated that Newgrange is oriented to the winter solstice. Accepting that idea turned out to be difficult for archaeology as it was first presented in the form of folklore and legends in the seventeenth century. In spite of negative opinions of the foremost experts on megalithic structures, interdisciplinary research efforts on the subject have been carried out and quickly augmented, mainly in the study of archeoastronomy, cosmology and archaeology.

Maltese Temples and the Sky

The book by Tore Lomsdalen, entitled Sky and Purpose in Prehistoric Malta: Sun, Moon, and Stars at the Temples of Mnajdra (2014) is the latest attempt to resolve the two-century controversy over the unusual connection between the Maltese temples and the sky. At the same time, it successfully elaborates on the first tentative surveys on temple orientations in Malta. This remarkable work charts the major points of debate on astronomical alignments of the prehistoric megaliths of Maltese archipelago with a special focus on the question of the intentionality of the significant orientation of the Mnajdra Lower or South Temple. The overall conclusions found at the end of the book are thoroughly investigated and supported with accurate factual information drawn from both, the previous interdisciplinary studies on the subject, and results of the wide-ranging and detailed fieldwork done by the author on the sites. Simultaneously, the book contributes to the international research done on the astral connections of megalithic constrictions in different parts of the world, underlying their similarities and uniqueness at the same time.

The author of the book, Tore Lomsdalen is an astrologer working internationally. He was born in Norway and lived in Italy. He holds a MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David and a certificate from the Faculty of Astrological Studies in London. While working on the mentioned work, he had already been engaged in a PhD research program with University of Malta on Cosmology in Prehistoric Malta. Through a combination of astronomical analyses and insightful interpretation of the enigmatic ancient monuments, he entirely dedicates himself to the studies on cosmological observations related to Maltese prehistoric sites. He understands the need for revisions in the context of interdisciplinary studies, where the discipline of archeoastronomy blends with the study of archaeology, and specifically prehistory. As he frequently points out in his book, archeoastronomy may contribute to archaeological examination, especially in the reconstructions of the building phases in case of the Mnajdra South.

Loughcrew Megalithic Cairns. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Similar attitude has been already underlined by Martin Brennan, an Irish-American author who, like Tore Lomsdalen, perceives megalithic monuments as sophisticated calendar devices having been designed by contemporary engineers in order to reflect the sky. Martin Brennan majored in visual communication at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and studied prehistoric art  in Mexico. As Lomsdalen,  he was engaged in a series of fieldwork where he gathered overwhelming evidence for his theory which was at that time quite controversial.

Newgrange in the distance and in the mist. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Martin challenges conventional opinions on presumed purposes of megaliths as tombs and proves their high sophisticated orientation in relation to astronomy. In his book, The Stones of Time. Calendars, Sundials, and Stone Chambers of Ancient Ireland, (1980s) Brennan interprets the real function of Newgrange by means of the unified languages of archaeology, archeoastronomy, architecture and art. That interdisciplinary unity of sciences can be deeply felt when the rising or setting sunlight is being caught by inner chambers of passage tombs at critical times of the year, illuminating only particular patterns among many other engraved on the stone. In such a way abstract symbols, which were thought to have appeared haphazardly, suddenly became the key to the enigmatic language of prehistory connecting with the stars.

Megalithic Art

Although Brennan underlines the importance of megalithic art as a crucial element in relations to astronomical calendar, for Lomsdalen it does not play a vital role. Likewise Brennan, he also points out to architectural areas of the temples illuminated by the sun, such as key thresholds of the side altars and the vertical slabs, yet without elaborated descriptions of artistic decorations of the temples. Lomsdalen realises the significance of the perceivable effect of dichotomy of light and dark created by sunrise illuminations. However, he mostly focuses on his archeoastronomical survey and ably presents the results of his fieldwork juggling with astronomical complex calculations, with particular attention to the alignments of the Mnajdra Temple complex. Lomsdalen also places the Maltese structures in their archaeological context redefining their building sequence, still without clearly stating their purpose in prehistory, as Brennan does while relating to the passage tombs as megalithic observatories. In the matter of fact, Martin Brennan completely rejects the idea that Newgrange and other similar constructions were built as burials and argues that originally they served as astronomical devices.

Dowth – megalithic art inside the so-called passage tomb in Ireland. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Undeniably, one of the aims of  Lomsdalen’s work is an investigation whether the Mnajdra Temple complex was built as a sacred site in relation to the cosmos, and as a device for celebrating the seasons, but none the less, that research question is a secondary in the conclusions of his book. His major concern is the intentionality behind the astronomical alignments of the Mnajdra Temple complex, which is in turn, the precondition of the hypothesis of religious, sacral and ritual character of the so-called temples. The author’s argument for intentionality is strengthened by the fact that astronomical orientations appeared in the Mnajdra complex throughout successive stages of its construction. In this case, all the claims against his postulate lose substance. The idea of intentionality in prehistoric architecture is also strongly supported by Martin Brennan in case of passage tombs in Ireland. He argues that such precise positioning of stones in an astronomically important context cannot be just coincidental. Both researchers additionally employ similar methodology in their fieldwork. Besides surveying, astronomical observations, and photography, they implement principles of experimental archaeology, or rather archeoastronomy, which involves testing a hypothesis through experiment in order to find evidence of ancient astronomy, apparently practiced by temple builders. Phenomenology, that is to say walking and experiencing the landscape, is another approach to their research.

Malta is “perhaps the best-kept secret in Mediterranean archaeology”. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Final results of Tore Lomsdalen’s report show new evidence about the architecture of Maltese temples and their link with the sky. Namely, the author confirms the hypothesis of a sky-based intentionality behind the construction of the Mnajdra Temple complex. Not only confirms he the known alignments at the Mnajdra South but also discovers new alignments at the Mnajdra Middle. Furthermore, there is a strong preference of the temples being directed between southeast and southwest, with one remarkable exception of the Mnajdra South or Lower facing east allowing the rising sun to cast a beam of light along its central axis at the equinoxes and cross-jamb illuminations at the solstices. The Temple’s sophisticated solar illuminations is explained by an increasing awareness by its creators of horizon-based astronomy and their better understanding of precise divisions of a solar year, including cross-quarter and the eighth days. The so-called oracle holes in the stones and postholes have also been investigated as supposed devises playing a significant role in aligning the temples to celestial bodies. Finally, the author proposes a redefined building sequence based on both archaeological finds and archaeoastronomical components. He strongly claims that the Mnajdra Temple complex was not built at once but in five successive stages: double apses and other architectural features had been added on for one and half millennia.

Mnajdra Temple Complex

Before moving directly to the matter of his studies, in the first chapter the author starts with a description of the temple culture within a sacred, cosmological, and astronomical context and uncovers “perhaps the best-kept secret in Mediterranean archaeology” in relation to the megalithic constructions on Malta. In Chapter 2 and 3 he introduces readers to the rich Maltese prehistory within the context of the Mediterranean, which is a very important background of the Neolithic temples. He also gives some speculative ideas about the origins of the temples and their mysterious creators. At this stage, he provides a detailed description of the Mnajdra Temple Complex. He stresses the importance of Maltese landscape and its influence on the carefully chosen location of the temple sites. Quite significant for the author is also their relations to land and sea, as in the case of the Mnajdra Temple East – the only one in Malta lacking an orientation towards sunrise, but oriented, and so apparently connected to Filfla islet. Next chapter moves smoothly to the core of the subject, from Maltese cosmology and astronomy in the context of the temple culture to methodology used in this work.

Lomsdalen, T. (2014) “Mnajdra was not built in a day.” Accessed on 17th of July, 2018, on Youtube Channel by Tore Lomsdalen.

In Chapter 5 the author presents the results of his fieldwork in Malta, particularly at the Mnajdra site, and subsequently compare them to other researchers’ findings. After all the results being discussed, Lomsdalen finishes his study with a summary and conclusions of the major findings regarding his hypotheses brought by and cited before. Simultaneously, the author highlights the need for further studies to be conducted, especially in searching for archaeological evidence on the chronological phases of temple construction.

Language of Astronomy

The amount of data gathered, survey measurements and a frequent use of the language of astronomy is impressive from one side, but from the other, it may be confusing to average readers not trained in astronomy. Nevertheless, the author helps a reader to understand a more scientific content by providing an approachable description of some definitions, such as the key difference between “orientation” and “alignment”. Additionally, there is a number of technical drawings and diagrams in order to illustrate the issues being dealt by the author during his studies.

Loughcrew Cairn: Martin Brennan completely rejects the idea that Newgrange and other similar constructions were built as burials and argues that originally they served as astronomical devices. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

What is more, at the end of the book readers can find a glossary and acronyms of temple orientations in Appendix IV, a detailed bibliography for reference, and very interesting discussions of the author with other researchers in Malta, Frank Ventura and Reuben Grima talking on different aspects of the megalithic temple culture. The book is also beautifully illustrated by series of photographs, including archival black-and-white photos from the nineteenth century and colourful pictures taken by the author himself. In general, it is a really comprehensive, consistent work and a very valuable complement to the study of both, archeoastronomy and archaeology. Additionally, Tore Lomsdalen’s innovative idea of dividing the construction of Mnajdra Temple complex into five sequences according to the temples’ alignments with the sun may be carried out at various megalithic sites scattered all over the world, where archeoastronomy together with archaeology can assist in determining successive phases of prehistoric constructions.

Continue reading Studying Prehistoric Archaeoastronomy on the Islands of Malta and Ireland

Saint Anne of Nubia – “It Will Make You Specheless.”[1]


[1] An advertising slogan accompanying the painting of Saint Anne and promoting Faras Gallery at the National Museum in Warsaw.

Go, ye swift messengers, to a nation scattered and peeled, to a people terrible from their beginning hitherto; a nation meted out and trodden down, whose land the rivers have spoiled!

Book of Isaiah 18:2

Kazimierz Michałowski during the excavations at Faras (1960s). Photo by Tadeusz Biniewski – National Museum in Warsaw. CC BY-SA 3.0 pl. (modified). Source: “Kazimierz Michałowski” (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

Saint Anne is a Nubian wall painting estimated to have been painted between the 8th and 9th centuries, by using the technique al secco with tempera on plaster. This early Christian painting was discovered by a Polish archaeological team led by the Professor Kazimierz Michałowski during a campaign undertaken in the 1960s under the patronage of UNESCO (the Nubian Campaign) in Faras. The image itself belongs to a unique collection of wall paintings and architectural elements from the Faras Cathedral, discovered by an archeological mission. Faras Gallery is the only permanent exhibition in Europe featuring Medieval Nubian paintings from the Nile River Valley south of the First Cataract. The collection of over 60 paintings from the 8th to 14th centuries came from the cathedral in the city of Faras, a large urban centre in the Medieval kingdom of Nobadia, in present-day Sudan.

National Museum of Warsaw (2015). “The Faras Gallery 3D. Treasures from the Flooded Desert. The Collection of Nubian Art in the National Museum of Warsaw”. In: Google Arts&Culture.

Nobadian rulers controlling the Nile Valley from the first to the third cataracts converted to Christianity around 548 AD influenced by missionaries sent from Constantinople by the Empress Theodora.

Excavations at Faras – wall painting on site 1960s. Photo by Tadeusz Biniewski – National Museum in Warsaw. CC BY-SA 3.0 pl. (modified). Source: “Faras Gallery at the National Museum in Warsaw” (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

The first cathedral was erected in the 7th century, when the city was still known as Pachoras, and likely stood at the exact site where Polish archaeologists taking part in the Nubia Campaign discovered the subsequent 8th century cathedral. The Nubia Campaign was an extensive international mission to preserve ancient legacies threatened by flooding from the imminent construction of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt and the resulting formation of the artificial reservoir, Lake Nasser. Since 1964 the painting is in the collection of the National Museum in Warsaw, of which the image has been used as a logo.

National Museum of Warsaw (2015). “The Faras Gallery. Treasures from the Flooded Desert. The Collection of Nubian Art in the National Museum of Warsaw”. In: Google Arts&Culture. Accessed on 12th of July, 2018.

Saint Anne, of David’s house and line, was the mother of Mary and grandmother of Jesus according to apocryphal Christian tradition. Mary’s mother is not named in the canonical gospels. In writing, Anne’s name and that of her husband Joachim come only from New Testament apocrypha, of which the Gospel of James (written perhaps around 150 AD) seems to be the earliest that mentions them. In the painting, St Anne places her finger against her mouth, asking for silence, which may allude to the ‘divine silence’. The finger on the mouth could also indicate that the saint is praying.

Restoration work on the paintings from Faras at the National Museum in Warsaw. Dewaxing the surface of the painting depicting Bishop Petros with Saint Peter the Apostle, and applying compresses in 1960s. Published by National Museum of Warsaw (2016). Public domain (image modified). Source: Wikipedia (2020).

This gesture is rarely visible in Christian art and probably it refers to the tradition of Egyptian Christians (the Copts) who did so while praying undertone. It was believed to ward off evil powers trying to break into a human heart. Personally, I also understand this gesture as a synonym of a mystery and unuttered truth, which remains in silence. Also it is likely that Nubian women, similar to all women in the Christian world, directed their prayers towards St Anne requesting a child and a successful labour.

Featured image: Saint Anne (fragment) (9th c. AD). Nubian wall painting. By Unknown Author. The National Museum in Warsaw. Public domain (image cropped and modified). Source: “Saint Anne (wall painting)” (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia

Continue reading Saint Anne of Nubia – “It Will Make You Specheless.”[1]

Mount Sinai Trekking in Search of the God at Sunrise

That night was simply full of magic and mysticism. When we reached our starting point to head off the Mount Sinai, the world had already laid down in darkness, yet disfigured with a thousand spots of light coming from clusters of bonfires and torches. Black silhouettes of Bedouins and camels were standing out sharply against their orange flames, casting their elongated shadows on the rocky ground, like the finest dancing lacework. Above us,  the navy-blue dome of the sky was spread out, sprinkled with shiny stars.
Mount Sinai, Egypt. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Awe Inspiring Feeling

I felt at once happy, excited … and cold. It was January. By the Red Sea, about three hours away, the weather was much warmer, letting me swim and sunbath all day long, but here the temperature was far lower, and suddenly I felt a freezing blast of air all over my body. I trembled from cold and quickly started to follow an example of my friend putting on herself subsequent layers of a pullover, waterproof jacket, scarf, winter hat and gloves.It’s difficult to imagine I was wearing my bikini yet in the afternoon …

Egypt or Saudi Arabia

Covered from head to toe, we were ready to take a night time hike up the legendary mountain of Sinai.

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With its peak reaching up to the height of 2285 meters, the mountain is placed on the Sinai Peninsula, close to the famous monastery of Saint Catherine, situated just at its foot. According to the biblical tradition, Mount Sinai was once climbed up by Moses, where he was given Ten Commandments by God, as the set of laws and teaching instructions to mankind. For this reason, the track leading up the mountain is usually called The Path of Moses and as such it has drawn pilgrims for over a thousand years. Some scholars disagree with a common belief that the Old Testament event took its place in here. Actually, the tradition of placing the biblical meeting of Moses with God on the Sinai in Egypt was started in the fourth century, by Constantine and his mother, Saint Helen. Furthermore, the same scholars argue that according to the Bible, a “real” Mount Sinai is located in the ancient land of Midian, and it is nowhere else but in Saudi Arabia.
At the beginning, the rocky track was wide enough to walk more comfortably. Copyright©Archaeotravel.
Yet it is difficult to gather enough evidence to definitely prove the theory and convince all who still doubt it, but as long as there are questions waiting to be answered, the quest for the truth will hopefully go on.

Before going on a spiritual journey

It was about 1 or 2 AM when we headed off our torch lit trail of pilgrimage with an intention to catch sunrise from its summit. It was going to take us about three to four hours to get there. However, the time taken usually depends on people’s ability and physical condition. We need also take into account regular stops to rest and warm up, preferably at small stalls along the way with hot water and blankets. It’s also useful to have a bottle of mineral water with you and a bar of chocolate (just in case you need to charge up your batteries) in your backpack.

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I admit I was not so well prepared at that time as I would do, planning my trekking anew, but for those who would like to climb up there, if it’s possible in the future (I mean here the political situation in Egypt), it is good to know such essentials. Additionally, you should definitely take good trekking shoes and warm clothes if you climb up in winter.

Fourth Wise Man

At the beginning, the rocky track was wide enough to walk more comfortably. Some people mounted camels led by Bedouins, others decided to go on foot. We chose the latter way of transport … and we survived! Moreover, anytime you feel tired walking, you can also hire one of these useful desert  animals to carry you up.
Many a time it was difficult to use camels, and with heavy heart, people had to go down to walk on their own. Copyright©Archaeotravel.
Under starry sky, among muffled sounds of mixed languages and the clamor of grumbling camels walking between us, I felt as if I was back in time, going to welcome the newly born Christ.

South Korean Sweets on the Egyptian Desert

Halfway, the path was getting narrower, with rocky stairs up and down and partially icy. Many a time it was difficult to use camels, and with heavy heart, people had to go down to walk on their own. Standing right in the middle of an Egyptian desert I saw that red granite mountains were covered in white caps of snow, shining beautifully against the rock.

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Finally, just one hour before the expected sunrise, we got to the last stop to be fully ready to take our final climb to the summit. I was chilled to the bone. My friend as well, and as she was much more tired than me, she refused to go any further before she took some rest. I quickly agreed to do so. We entered one of numerous tents put up for pilgrims, just at the foot of the summit. A warm stream of air hit me from the inside. Only a loud gurgle of boiling water and a Bedouin’s voice recommending a variety of refreshments could be heard over the hubbub of the crowded people, talking, laughing, eating and drinking. And all of them squeezed together on wooden benches were trying to win as much of a heavy blanket so they could to cover their frozen legs under.
‘There is enough space for you to sit down with us!, said eastern-looking man smiling so widely his eyes turned into two horizontal lines.
‘Thank you a lot’, I replied.
‘Welcome, welcome!’, he uttered, still smiling.
We sat together one by one and I reached for a piece of the desirable blanket.
‘Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot you don’t like it much’, I apologized  my friend. I kept yet in mind she refused to use it several times on the way as they did not look clean enough to her … and they smelled strongly with camels.
‘It doesn’t matter’, she said hiding her legs under the smelly blanket. ‘Well …  I’m going to stink, but at least I would feel warmer … and I’ll take a shower first when we finally get back to the hotel!’
Standing right in the middle of an Egyptian desert I saw that red granite mountains were covered in white caps of snow, shining beautifully against the rock. Copyright©Archaeotravel.
I smiled to her. I really like her gentle irony and sarcastic sense of humour. She is so honest in it. I’m sure that if it was somebody else sitting by my side, such remarks would make me crazy but Gosia behaves in such a sweet way I’ve just got addicted to her. Since our first journey together to the Middle East, we have already travelled many times, and I hope we will keep travelling together in the future.
‘Some soup?’, asked me the same smiling man moving a vaporous bowl full of noodles toward my nose.
‘Oh no!’, Gosia strongly refused. ‘It’s too risky. I don’t trust them. They may not have boiled the water enough. I’m not going to stay in the middle of nowhere suffering from an Egyptian diarrhea.’
Of course she said it in Polish and luckily the eastern-looking man did not understand a word. Instead he made a big gulp of his noodle soup not caring much if the water had been prepared appropriately.
‘No, thank you. We are fine’, I replied. ‘Where do you come from?’, I asked after a while.
‘From South Korea. I’m here together with my friends to see the sunrise’, he replied waving to a group of smiling young people from the opposite bench. ‘And you?’
‘We are from Poland, and we are here just for the same reason as you are, I suppose …

My new friend smiled and nodded to my guess.

Suddenly I realized all people came here from far away, climbed up and were waiting for a miracle of sunrise, whereas they could admire just the same miracle at their houses scattered around the world. Copyright©Archaeotravel.
Suddenly I realized all people came here from far away, climbed up and were waiting for a miracle of sunrise, whereas they could admire just the same miracle at their houses scattered around the world. Their passion for travelling is an answer itself.
‘Are you single?’, the man asked out of the blue.
‘Well …’, I felt disconcert. ‘… Why are you asking?’.
‘If you are single, my friend is single too’, he said to me and then added something in Korean, surely to his single friend. The latter approached me with a piece of Korean sweet and encouraged me to try it: ‘It will give you power to reach the summit’, he promised while I was unwrapping up something that looked like orange jelly. I tried it carefully. It tasted like jelly.
‘Do you want some?’, I asked my Gosia.
‘No, thank you. I don’t feel like having a Korean diarrhea either …’, she said outright. ‘Enjoy!’

Sunrise

The very last length of the track turned out to be the most challenging of all. The stairs carved out along the path were filled with sharp stones covered in ice, and the slope itself was dangerously steep. Our Egyptian guide was doing his best trying to help us to move forward even if he kept sliding down the rocky steps. When eventually we reached the summit I forgot I was tired, frozen and out of my breath. The view itself was breathtaking …
“Wow!” I sighed.

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The sunrise had just started. When the very first rays reached the rusty rocks of the summit, the Sinai Mount shone up reflecting the sunlight. Beneath, the curtains of darkness opened and blazing red landscape appeared to people gathered together at the top. Some were sitting side by side covered in blankets; others were standing up like enchanted columns of rock. Flashes of cameras brightened time after time. While the sun was rising higher and higher, the Sinai mountains uncovered their rugged outlines to the coming day, casting their dark shadows against a rocky desert.
It does not matter if Moses had ever been here. In such moments like that, you can definitely meet God and talk to Him …

Saint Catherine and Her Monastery

And then there left just trekking down. It was much funnier as it was already taken in the warm, Egyptian sun. In front of our eyes desert colours were dancing happily; even usually unmoved camels were pleased with the daylight and surely with the fact they could throw heavy loads away from their backs.
Approaching Saint Catherine’s Monastery. Copyright©Archaeotravel.
At the end of the way down, we came to the high walls of Saint Catherine Monastery. Built in the sixth century, the monastery is one of the oldest working Ortodox Christian monasteries in the world. It is very famous for its unique collection of Byzantine pre-iconoclastic panel icons that miraculously survived the hard time of religious turmoil on the lands of Byzantium. By the same tradition which leads Moses’ track to the Sinai Peninsula, the Burning Bush from the Bible grows just in here, within the walls of the monastery. According to the narrative, Moses heard the Voice of God who had taken the form of the burning bush not consumed by the flames. At that time Moses was ordered to lead the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land.
Before we stared visiting that religious pearl in the desert, we opened our lunch boxes and enjoyed the silence of monastic atmosphere.

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Unexpectedly, Gosia interrupted it thinking aloud: “I feel sorry for Moses” she said seriously “Poor man … he must have been exhausted just walking up and down…”

Egyptian Uprising

Few days before our trekking to the Sinai Mount, at the end of January, 2011, we landed on the airport in Sharm el-Sheikh. On the coach to the hotel I noticed numerous armed soldiers spread out all over the way. Suddenly our coach was ordered to stop by a military. From the perpendicular road a long black limousine went across in front of our coach. Then I found out that inside there was Sajjid Mubarak, the former president of Egypt who was coming back from an emergency summit meeting organized in the face of the situation in Tunisia. A week later while we were crossing Israelite-Jordan border in Eilat, we learned about the Egyptian Revolution that had forcefully burst out in Cairo.

Featured image: Sinai mountains, Egypt. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

By Joanna
Faculties of English Philology, History of Art and Archaeology.
University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland;
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, Poland;
University College Dublin, Ireland.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

“The Real Mount Sinai in Saudi Arabia”. In: Revealing God’s Treasure. In: Providence’s Youtube Channel. Accessed on 29th Jun. 2018. Available at <https://bit.ly/3wPg8Jh>.

Amer (2018) “Catching Sunrise at Mount Sinai, Egypt – Breathtaking to say the least”. In: “Mount Sinai Trekking”. In:  Where it all begins. Accessed on 29th June, 2018, link unknown.

Vetratoria.com (2018). “The Holy Monastery of the God-trodden Mount Sinai, Saint Catherine’s Monastery”. In: The Holy Monastery of the Mount Sinai. Accessed on 29th June, 2018. Available at <https://bit.ly/3d8zMYQ>.

Saint Catherine’s Monastery” (2015). In: Wkipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed on 29th June, 2018. Available at <https://bit.ly/2QeBPle>.

Lost Myth of the Gundestrup Cauldron – Wild Hunt, Sacrifice and Rebirth

In 1891 a precious silver cauldron appeared during peat-digging in the bog Rævemosen, near Gundestrup in Himmerland. The vessel, which dates back to the first century BC., had been deposited in the bog – an immensely valuable sacrifice to the powers above. Before this occurred, the cauldron had been taken apart. The rim and the large silver plates, which make up its sides, were taken off and placed in the bottom of the vessel. Among them, there was a set of thirteen silver elements: one round, known as the base plate with a decoration of a round medallion in the center of the interior, five interior panels, long and rectangular and seven exterior ones, shorter and rectangular (the eighth one was not found). These elements, made of 97% silver, were partially gold-plated. In 1892, Sophus Müller reconstructed the Cauldron, arranging all the elements in the shape known today, with five shorter ones on the inside, seven long on the outside and a circular plate as the base. Following the idea by Ole Klindt-Jensen’s, the exterior plates are now denoted by lowercase letters from a to g and interior plates by uppercase letters from A to E.

Life-giving cauldron

Magic cauldrons appear as a leading theme in Celtic mythology, both Irish and Welsh. Some, like the one belonging to the god Dagda, never empty themselves as long as they are not used by cowards. Others, like the cauldron of the god Bran, bring the dead back to life. Still others contain an essence of the knowledge called greals. The name itself is reminiscent of the Christian tradition of the Holy Grail, which ultimately turned the miraculous Celtic cauldron into the Christian relic, described on the pages of medieval romances. As such, it promises immortality to those who find their physical and metaphysical way to its holy powers.

Mixture of influences

Surviving pagan Celtic cauldrons are made of bronze, copper or silver and are richly decorated with mythological scenes. The Gundestrup Silver Cauldron is the greatest known example of European Iron Age goldsmithing. All its plates, except the base, are excessively decorated by using a repoussage (repoussé) technique, which consists of hammering from the reverse side beneath to push out desired parts of the front side and, by these means, obtain an image in low relief. “Other techniques were used to add [details with] extensive gilding and some use of inlaid pieces of glass for the eyes of figures. Other pieces of fittings were [also] found. Altogether the weight [of the object] is just under [nine] kilograms” (“Gundestrup cauldron” 2021).

The style and workmanship suggest a Thracian origin, although the ornamentation points to Celtic origins, including such motifs as torques, horned deity, carnyx, decorative leaves in the style of La Tene. Yet, some of the themes are derived from Ionia (the central part of the coast of Asia Minor), like griffins and seahorses. The lion, leopard and elephants were, in turn, influenced by Eastern cultures. Moreover, the scene evoking Hercules’ fight with a lion comes from the Greek mythology. Figures with raised arms refer to motifs and gestures known from Asia Minor. On the other hand, goddesses supporting breasts are associated with representations of a naked goddess from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor.

Who made it and where did it come from?

The variety of themes and influences created a field for various, often contradictory, theories about the Thracian or Gallic origins of the object. A.K. Bergquist and T. F. Taylor propose that the cauldron was made by Thracian artisans, probably commissioned by the Scordisci, a Celtic-Thracian tribe having lived in present-day Serbia, and later fell into the hands of a Germanic tribe of the Cimbri (Jutland), who invaded the Danube basin in 120 BC. G.S. Olmsted, in turn, interprets the iconography of the Cauldron as a prototype of the Irish myth described in Táin Bó Cuailnge, linking the figure of the horned god with Cúchulainn rather than Cernunnos, with whom, however, such a character in central part of the interior plate A is mostly associated.

The image of the horned god Cernunnos surrounded by a deer and a dog or a wolf. It is the most famous representation from Gundestrup Cauldron. interior plate A. Photo by Nationalmuseet (2007). CC BY-SA 3.0. Photo source: “Kocioł z Gundestrup” (2020). Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.

On the whole, the variety of Cauldron’s motifs draw the observer into an alien universe far from that of the people who deposited it in the bog in north Jutland. Elephants, lions and several unknown gods, represented in a foreign style, indicate that the cauldron originally came from a distant area to the south or southeast. Exactly where it was made is still open to question. Perhaps it was a gift to a great chieftain or could it have been war booty? Most scholars, however, agree that hammered decorations on the Cauldron depict Celtic deities and rituals. It is for this reason and due to its size (69 centimetres in diameter, 42 centimetres in height) that it is believed that Gundestrup Cauldron may have been used for sacrifice by druids. But was it animal or human sacrifice?

The image of the interior plate E and its interpretation

Silver and gilded interior plate E detail, known as the “Warriors and Cauldron” (La Tene III) is one of the most interesting and intriguing scenes hammered into reliefs on the silver Cauldron. It may represent a ceremonial scene with a larger than life god-like figure on the left and three musicians playing and ancient instrument – carnyx, on the right. In front of the god, there is a row of probably dead warriors standing in the underworld. A depicted dog is to symbolize that sphere. They are wearing helmets, spears and shields – so they must have been killed in the fight.

Above them, there’s a horizontally represented plant stem or a tree trunk with bell-like flowers and roots – maybe the Celtic representation of the Tree of Life. At first, it seems as if it was knocked down on the ground. Nevertheless, as it blossoms, it must be alive. Consequently, if the image is turned 90° left, the tree’s roots actually stem from the cauldron itself, and so the walking warriors are walking down, towards the cauldron, and the horse riders going up, along the trunk. Accordingly, the gigantic god and his cauldron would find themselves underground, and the presence of the dog beside the cauldron supports this idea. In turn, the underworld stands for the kingdom of the dead, who by drinking from or being washed in the cauldron find their the way to the afterlife. But only those who deserve it will be revived for entering it. The warriors with shields seem to be the chosen ones, who are waiting in a queue for a reviving bath in the god’s vessel, which may be interpreted as the gateway to their immortality. Can it be just the same cauldron on which the scene is depicted?

In the representation, one of the warriors is just caught by the god, hanging upside down, held by the leg; he is going to be saved from the dead. The riding horsemen above the tree are apparently the already revived in the afterlife. The appearance of a snake above, guiding them ahead, itself indicates the concept of their being restored to life.

Gundestrup Cauldron is composed of internal (A to E) and external silver plates. Here are visible the external plates, from the left: D, E, C, F. Photo by Nationalmuseet (1992). CC BY-SA 3.0. Photo and caption source: “Gundestrup cauldron” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

God “of the Tribe”

The mysterious god is sometimes recognized as Teutates or Toutatis, immersing his victim in a liquid-filled cauldron. His name means “of the Tribe” or “of the Whole People”. He is one of the chief early Celtic gods and occupies a significant place in the Gallic pantheon. In Roman times, Teutates  was identified either with the god Mars or Mercury. Although the former evokes warfare, the former serves as the guide of souls to the underworld. Both roles are embodied by the Celtic Teutates. He described by the Roman writer Lucan, who enumerates him as the major Gaulish gods, together with Taranis and Esus, as deities known for their desire for blood.

The problem is, however, there are no known images of Tetuates and his identification with the colossal image of the god from the Cauldron’s scene is a pure speculation. It is only recorded that the god killed his victims by drowning and hence some scholars associate this feature to the described scene, where a supreme figure is holding a smaller one upside down over the huge vessel. On the other side, the Roman records of human sacrifice ascribed to the Celts may have been just a useful propaganda, in order to underline the superiority of the Roman civilization facing the barbarian and blood-thirsty Gauls, who did not deserve to survive.

It is also worth noticing that the mythological cauldron was to revive and not to destroy. Accordingly, the scene may imply hope for an eternal life after serving his tribe as a courageous warrior who died in a fight.

Christian face of the Celtic cauldron

Similar iconography possibly occurs on later monuments on the lands previously owned by the Celts. Namely, on the bases of some of the High Irish Crosses, such as the Market Cross from Kells, the scene from the Gundestrup Cauldron seems to be recalled on its two separate representations. Neither the colossal god or the cauldron is represented there. Nevertheless, there is a fierce battle on the South Side of the Cross, and the horsemen with shields on the East Face, which is usually dedicated to the Resurrection of Christ represented on the High Crosses of Ireland. The East Face scene additionally resemble the horsemen from the upper part of the Cauldron’s Plate E, hovering over the trunk of the Tree of Life, and implies their victorious parade. Is it then the shaft of the cross itself a counterpart of the Tree of Life in the Christian version?

Simultaneously, on the North Side and West Face of the same base of the cross, there are scenes representing the world of fauna in its two different aspects. Whereas on the West Face, analogously to the East Face, the scene indicates a harmony, where in the former it is held between mankind and forest animals, the North Side, as if referring to the South Side, shows a battle expressed by means of a wild hunt led by two centaurs, armed with bows pointed to the animals. Among them, there are also canine figures, as much as in the Cauldron’s scene. 

Moreover, the imagery of the West Face also greatly resembles the scene on the interior plate A of the Cauldron, where the horned anthropomorphic figure, possibly the god Cernunnos, is surrounded by wild animals, such as a deer and a wolf. His calm attitude, open arms and the yogin’s position evokes but peace and harmony among the animals. Similar atmosphere is very tangible in the scene on the base of Christian cross. Possibly this is why it is also believed to represent the narratives of Genesis, either Noah who is gathering animals on the Ark or Adam who is naming the animals in the Garden of Eden.

Providing that images in bas-relief from High Irish Crosses constitute an undecipherable mystery of their own, there can be apparently a direct link between iconographical elements on the verge between the Paganism and Early Christianity in Ireland. Is it then possible to open the unknown Celtic world by the key provided by the Christian symbolism and iconography?

Featured image: The Gundestrup Cauldron. Iron Age, c. 100 BC–AD 1. Found in Gundestrup, northern Jutland, Denmark. National Museum of Denmark.: the interior Plate E: Warriors and Cauldron or a Ritual initiation. By The British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. Photo and caption source: The British Museum (2015). “The Gunderstrup Cauldron” (2018) In: britishmuseum.tumblr.com. 

By Joanna
Faculties of English Philology, History of Art and Archaeology.
University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland;
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, Poland;
University College Dublin, Ireland.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

“Kocioł z Gundestrup” (2020). Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia. Accessed on 12th June, 2021. Available at <https://bit.ly/35dPBsF>.

“Gundestrup cauldron” (2021). Wikipedia. Free Encyclopedia. Accessed on 12th June, 2021. Available at <https://bit.ly/35f3OFI>.

“Repoussé and chasing” (2021). Wikipedia. Free Encyclopedia. Accessed on 12th June, 2021. Available at <https://bit.ly/3zoSoNy>.

Dunning R. Dr. (2007). “Celtowie”. In. Mitologie Świata. Boguta M. et al. trans. Cotterell ed. Warszawa: Firma księgarska Jacek Olesiejuk.

Gąssowski J. (1987). Mitologia Celtów. Mitologie Świata. Wydawnictwa Artystyczne i Filmowe.

Image of the external plates of the artifact in the “Gundestrup cauldron” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed on 12th April, 2021. Available at <https://bit.ly/3tarky4>.

Madar SC (Olchowik-Adamowska L.) (2007). Mitologie Świata. Celtowie. Kałużna-Ross J. ed. Kraków: Drukarnia Narodowa.

McGrath S. (2018). “Toutatis: god of the tribe”. In: We are Star Stuff: a Blog about Mythology. Accessed on 11th, June, 2021. Available at <https://bit.ly/3zjcAjE>.

Photo by SassyGirlJenna729 (2015). Photo source: “From Review by SassyGirlJenna729 (Feb 2015) : Another Cross!! of The Market High Cross”. In The Market Cross”. In: Trip Advisor. Accessed on 11th, June, 2021. Available at <https://bit.ly/3gqVyrh>.

Photo by Nemoi (2010). In: Wikimedia Commons. Accessed on 11th, June, 2021. Available at <https://bit.ly/2ROd9kO>.

The British Museum (2015). “The Gunderstrup Cauldron.” In: British Museum Tumblr.com. Accessed on 21st, June, 2018. Available at <https://bit.ly/2Ic39qN>.

The National Museum of Denmark’s video: “The Gunderstrup Cauldron Brought to Life” by National Museum of Denmark posted by Irisharchaeology.ie (2015) on: Facebook. Accessed on 21st, June, 2018. Available at <https://bit.ly/2ywqTGx>.

The National Museum of Denmark (2018) “The Gunderstrup Cauldron” In: The National Museum of Denmark. Accessed on 21st, Jun., 2018. Available at <https://bit.ly/2tivFCd>.

Archeurope Prehistoric Archaeology (2018). “The Gunderstrup Cauldron”. In: Archeurope: Prehistoric Archaeology. Accessed on 21st, June, 2018. Available at <https://bit.ly/2JVWwhU>.

Cypriot Heart in the Hands of the Goddess

At first sight it seems to be a dazzlingly white, dry and rugged rock thrown into the deep blue sea. Then comes response to other senses, especially to smell. And the same voice keeps echoing: “it’s enough to breathe in and get healthy.” A vibrating aroma of various spices is merging together with a sweet taste of the air and salty wind. Yeah, I know well that blissful feeling filling me body and soul every time I am travelling around the Mediterranean region.

Many a time I need to screw up my eyes because of the burning sun, looking for a shadow or for a tiny cup of strong Cypriot coffee or tea, under a huge parasol. Another time, it is enough to plunge under the surface of crystal clear water and admire gleams of the sun dancing on its sandy bottom, creating flickering geometric patterns. I’ve heard Cyprus is perfect for taking first steps in scuba diving. Probably next time I’ll go for it at Ayia Napa sea caves … but only if it happens to be in Cyprus again…   

Cyprus Divided and United

Before I get here I was struggling to assign the island to the right continent. Placed just between Europe, Asia and Africa, it’s often described as a part of Eurasia. Which I guess in some ways means a good compromise.

Nicosia. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

The island country is divided, or let’s say, torn apart into two parts. There’s the Republic of Cyprus in the south and the Republic of Northern Cyprus. The former is Greek, the latter is Turkish, and not recognized by the rest of the world but Turkey. Cyprus formally belongs to the European Union. Nevertheless, the northern part just in theory. The border between two nations, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, is known as the Green Line and comes across Nicosia, the capital of the divided country. The formal division is even believed to be one of main tourist attractions. Maybe it is so, but for me it’s less than attractive. For some the line seems even artificial. All these mutual agreements and disagreements seem too tangled to me.

View on North Nicosia. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Here are some examples: Cyprus belongs to the European Union but not entirely; whereas Cypriots from the both sides and Europeans can cross the Green Line just waving their ID to the guard, the Turkish are not allowed to do so, still they can come to the northern part without visa. Turkey does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus in the south, the rest of the world pretends there is nothing such as the Republic of Northern Cyprus. Despite that unusual circumstances, the whole island fully and happily exists on the map and ordinary people from the opposite sides usually get on well much better than their politicians or governments.

After the Turkish invasion a great movement of Cypriots started: Greek Cypriots ran away from the north to the south, while Turkish Cypriots did the same deliberately the other way round, or it happened that British soldiers took them in trucks by force from the south northwards. Both sides left behind their family lands and houses. Even today, when the border is open, some Cypriots refuse to cross it as they reject the fact their country was cut in two. Passing by a village in the southwest I see a desolate mosque just next to a Christian church full of life and people and I’m surprised when I hear that Cypriots from there take care of the mosque in hope their Muslim neighbors may someday come back.

Cypriot sweets. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Actually, I enjoy the whole island equally and I take just the same pleasure from meeting and talking to people either from the south or north. Apart from the language and religion, they share similar lifestyle; they love their island, are attached to their families, dine out together for hours, laugh, play vibrant music, dance, and celebrate every single moment. But maybe I’m wrong and I am unable to notice differences that are striking to Cypriots …

Timeline of Cypriot History

Like in many places worldwide, Cyprus has been settled, invaded, conquered, occupied and struggled about throughout ages. Its beginnings come down to the tenth millennium BC. Cyprus was subsequently home to Neolithic cultures, Mycenaean Greeks, the Assyrians, Egyptians, and Persians till the fourth century BC, when it was overcome by famous Alexander the Great. Soon after the island was ruled by Ptolemaic Egypt, followed by the Classical and Eastern Roman Empire, Arab caliphates, the French Lusignan dynasty and the Venetians. And finally, in the sixteenth century it was sized by the Ottoman powers. In the nineteenth century the British came in turn and the island was formally annexed by Britain in 1914. British military bases are still here, on the piece of land where no tourist coach can stop.

Such a mixture of complex flourishing societies gave basis to multiplied legends, stories and superstitions. All of them added some essential elements to a collective bag of the Cypriot history. The final result is a unique cultural blend offering an unforgettable experience to archaeologists, historians, and tourists.

A Female Fertility Deity

The island itself looks like … a marble Cycladic abstract figurine in the shape of violin that is believed to represent a female fertility deity. And so Cyprus is famous for being dedicated to one of the most famous Greek goddesses, Aphrodite. As the synonym of beauty, sexuality and fertility, the goddess is believed to have been born out of the sea foam on the Cypriot coast, just south of Paphos. Aphrodite’s birthplace is known as Petra tou Romiou, also referred to as Aphrodite’s Rock, and it is surely one of the most charming landmarks in the Cypriot landscape. I have read that at sunset couples in love come there to contemplate its romantic landscape; at their feet seawater crashing against high rocks foams and glistens in the light of the auroras.

Aphrodite’s Beach, Cyprus. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Near the coast filled with little polished stones of various colours, there is a huge rock emerging from the sea, with smaller ones around it. By all accounts, wherever the newly born goddess, Aphrodite, put her foot on the shore while taking her first steps on, she left behind a track of stones in the shape of heart. If you find any and then offer it to somebody you love, they will never leave you and stay with you forever. When I reached the famous Aphrodite’s Rock I didn’t mean to look for any hearts of stone, but I felt as if enchanted by this magic place and finally I found myself out there bending over and tossing stones around in an effort to try my luck. Finally I picked up one out of a towering pile. It was a heart … well … at least it was similar to one. Some tourists bend under the loads of stones taken away from Aphrodite’s beach. With a first glance, they all look like hearts but long after the goddess’ magic stops working, they turn out to be just shapeless pieces of rock. Or maybe I do not believe in enough … Suddenly I got angry with myself. How a man can be so easily deceived with a bunch of superstitions. I launched my heart stone with all of my might to the sea and I said in thoughts to beautiful Aphrodite  : „Keep it for yourself!”

A giant wave rose up in between the rocks and fiercely crashed against my back. Aphrodite’s beach, Cyprus. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Nothing happened. The sea was calm and mild with a warm breeze and white-crested waves lapping on the shore. I moved down towards the water. A wave rippled directly beneath my feet and I felt its nicely cold touch on my sunbathed skin. As the sun was shining stronger, I closed my eyes and turned back to the sea, wholly lost in my happy thoughts. And then it happened … A giant wave rose up in between the rocks and fiercely crashed against my back.

Surely one may think it was Aphrodite who replied.

Before I realized what had happened, my friend asked me laughing: ‘Are you OK …?’

Of course, I was … only a little frightened, all wet and entirely surprised with the unexpected attack from the sea.

‘I was going to swim here but only in my swimsuit. Now it makes no sense’.

‘Maybe you should try’, she replied with a smile. ‘Three times round the rock and you will find your true love’.

Aphrodite’s beach, Cyprus. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

‘Well, maybe’, I agreed resigned while trying to pull my wet dress up a bit, as it became quite heavy after having soaked the salty water like a sponge. It’s not a nice feeling when you get a kick from a goddess taking revenge on you.

Actually, some legend has it you need to swim naked and it must be done at night to make your wish come true. Moreover there exist different versions of it; if you make three tours around the rock by swimming, you will fall deeply in love, or be fertile forever, or get younger, or it will bring you good luck. Or maybe all of these at once … Irrespective of which of the circulating legends is correct, the place is surely one of the most worth seeing on the island.

I didn’t find another stone in the shape of heart that day but a few days later I was sitting on another stony shore on the southeast coast of the same island, and while my fingers were playing with warm stones, they picked up one at random. When I saw it, I smiled to the sea. It was “my heart”.

… and yet something more on Cypriot gods

It’s believed that Aphrodite’s cult started during the Mycenaean times. By all accounts, the Greek goddess was brought to the shore of Cyprus on board a shell, to provide its inhabitants with happiness, beauty and fertility. Still she is not the first female deity venerated in Cyprus. Probably she originated from earlier goddesses, such as Mesopotamian Inanna or Ishtar, also widely worshiped on the island. Among all objects one can buy as a souvenir in Cyprus, there are very interesting pieces of silver jewelry for women, namely pendants representing Cypriot cruciform figurines dating back to the Prehistoric and Bronze Age. Tourists have a wide choice of their sizes and variations. I went for such a small copy of the Chalcolithic age deity, commonly known as Idol of Pomos, excavated in the village of the same name, in the northwest of Cyprus, and exhibited in the Archaeological Museum in Nicosia.

Cyprus
Alexandros Heraclides (2020). “Prehistoric Cyprus. ‘Idol of Pomos’ – Chalcolithic cruciform figurine, Cyprus”. In: Pinterest. Also see : Idols – Cult Figures Lookalike Human Beings in the Ancient World.

The original artifact is made of blue-green picrolite and is represented as wearing a pendant in the form of its own copy, so it is sure once it served as such and was probably used as an amulet or totem. You can also see it displayed on the Cypriot euro coins of one or two euro. At first sight it looks like a cross; the mysterious figure has its arms outstretched and placed perpendicularly to the elongated body. It’s hard to say which sex it represents. All in all, we can admit the figure is sexually ambiguous. Some scholars argue that cylindrical necks and heads are to show phallic symbols.  Risen legs put alongside look like female vulva. Moreover, we also get an impression the figurines’ bodies were deliberately made in the way they can easily “change their sex”. When we once take a look we may recognize the male aspect, another time, the female one. From this point of view they are gender-neutral and may be called hermaphrodites. If it is so, the matter of gender does not come from nowadays but was already present a long time ago. Figurines that contain both, male and female genitalia, are found in the whole Mediterranean region and were produced in numbers, from the Neolithic to Bronze Age, that is to say, at the time when art took strongly abstract forms. I was told that gender neutral figurines from Cyprus bring good luck as they represent the balance between two aspects, and so they let us keep such a balance in our lives.

Olive oils in Cyprus. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Some Cypriot woman assured me it really works: ‘If you need evidence of its power … ‘, she said. ‘Just take a look at our flourishing island.’

Featured image: Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) “La nascita di Venere(detail). Public domain. {{PD-US}}. Published by Husky (2009). Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. 

By Joanna
Faculties of English Philology, History of Art and Archaeology.
University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland;
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, Poland;
University College Dublin, Ireland.

Continue reading Cypriot Heart in the Hands of the Goddess

Paradise Garland of the Islands

Once they just seemed an unattainable dream to me, scattered somewhere in the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, now they have become an empirical experience of beauty and mystery.

Tourist folders and reality … Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Pure beauty

The Maldives are composed of 26 atolls, which in turn consist of 1196 small flat islands set on a scaffolding made of coral reefs surrounding underwater volcano peaks. Only 209 of them are inhabited. From above they look like scattered precious stones: emeralds or turquoise stones framed in silver.

Staying in a paradise gives you time for thinking. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Lush vegetation of high and bent coconut palms, bread trees and flowering shrubs decorates them like an untamed green shag. Blue lagoon is spread around each atoll. Its turquoise waters stretch up to the steep edge of the reef, and finally disappear in the depths of the navy blue ocean. Delicate waves are throwing shells of different colours, sizes and shapes, and masses of dead corals, thanks to which you can enjoy the delicate silvery-white sand on the beaches. The air smells of flowers and the ocean.

The fairly stable weather makes the Maldives a perfect place for holidays almost all year round. The best period, however, are the months from January to April. Later, you can experience frequent monsoons, rainfall and quite high humidity with temperature of about 30-35°C. From my own experience I know that in February there are strong winds and violent, tropical rain, which usually lasts about a minute. Certainly, you cannot get bored with the weather, but the Maldives are the most beautiful when the sunshine reflects in the Indian Ocean, and the islands are bathed in the shining turquoise waters and white sand.

Maldives. Photo by Anna Piątkowska. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Hotels-Islands

The archipelago of islands forms a state called the Republic of Maldives, which is inhabited by about 280,000 people. It lies just 2.5 meters above sea level, making it the most flat and lowest-lying country in the world. Its capital is the city of Malé grown on the atoll of the same name. Velana International Airport receives hordes of tourists from around the world every year. Tourism is an important source of income for this corner of the world. Thousands of motor boats and hydrofoils filled with tourists are going in various directions from the airport to luxury resorts scattered on emerald islands.

Luxurious hotels-islands seem a fairy-tale asylum, and an earthly paradise free from worldly worries. The Maldivian Government does not wish to have a far-reaching interference of this “holiday world” in the natives’ life. Although trips to Malé and other islands inhabited by Maldivians are organized, these are only tourist trails. Most visitors spend their time sunbathing, splashing in the lagoon, snorkeling or diving. Families with children set out to meet dolphins, and avid fishermen leave at night or at pale dawn for fruitful fishing. The inhabitants of the Maldives are considered friendly and kind, but they can be found rarely within the resorts.

Tourist workers come predominantly from India or Sri Lanka. Specialized in narrow areas, qualified guides and teachers working in diving centres come to the archipelago from around the world. Rarely does one thinks about monuments here and only few know that the Maldives have a rich and long history, just like a one hour-flight away Sri Lanka.

Tourist Folders and Reality

In the Maldives, Sunni Islam is a valid religion. Other denominations are forbidden. Every Maldivian resident must be a Muslim at the same time. Turning away from Islam threatens not only with deprivation of citizenship, but also with death. The state adheres very strictly to Sharia law, which partly also applies to tourists. At the airport, the entry card is filled in with the ban on importing everything that violates the laws of Islam, including pork, alcohol, dogs and all religious symbols – crosses, Christian rosaries, the Holy Bible, Buddha figures and Hindu deities.

Bodufinolhu Atol. Maldives. Photo by Anna Piątkowska. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Failure to comply with the law involves a fine or even imprisonment. Personally, I know a story of a student who, unaware of the Islamic law prevailing in the Maldives, took a souvenir from Sri Lanka with her – a wooden figurine of sympathetic Ganesha, a Hindu god depicted as half man, half an elephant. If it were not for the intervention of the university and the family, the girl would be in jail instead of in the paradise resort.

Scraps of the Past

Tourist folders do not contain the whole truth about this earthly paradise created by God and distorted by the terrifying human instincts. Behind the veil of the nature’s beauty, there is sometimes hidden a sad reality that has also affected the history of the Maldives to a large extent.

Behind the veil of the nature’s beauty … Photo by Anna Piatkowska. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Independent explorer and traveller, David Hatcher Childress in his book Lost Cities of Ancient Lemuria & the Pacific, writes that since the rule of Islam reached the Maldives, that is to say since 1153, it has been forbidden to perform images of living beings. That, in turn, has resulted in the total destruction of monuments of the past. Religious fanaticism blurred the treasures of humanity, as it did happen in the case of pre-Columbian civilizations in Mexico and Peru, but there such a fanaticism was a veil for the insatiable greed of the Europeans. As the author of the book further writes, there is a strange impression that there was nothing in the Maldives before 1153. The author further mentions that in the nineties of the twentieth century, a statue of a man with long ears similar to those in India was discovered in the Maldives. It triggered an interest of another, quite controversial in academic circles researcher, Thor Heyerdahl. However, when he arrived, it turned out that the sculpture had been destroyed.

Only the picture remained. Thor Heyerdahl, the author of a book entitled The Maldive Mystery, and an eager supporter of civilizational diffusionism, believed that in the Maldives there was a cult of the Sun brought by ancient sailors who travelled by sea all over the world, reaching the ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. He pointed out that the Maldivian mosques are not facing mihrab towards Mecca, but east and west as if they were to mark the main solar events, which according to the author meant that the religious buildings in the Maldives were a kind of reconstruction of ancient temples of the Sun. There are also island legends about Redin – ancient people and primeval islanders who built solar mounds and temples. They are described as people with Aryan features: white skin, brown hair and bright eyes. Thor Heyerdahl has had many opponents of his theories, who have thought that the aligned pyramids and solar temples are nothing more than the remains of stupas, as a reminder of the Buddhism that used to exist in the Maldives.

There are many more theories of the alternative archaeology. However, it is worth mentioning the generally accepted, factual information related to the history of the Maldives.

Female Queens

According to archaeological finds, the archipelago was inhabited for about 1500 years before Christ. The first settlers were probably Aryans. About 500 years before Christ next settlers came: Tamils ​​from the south of India and Singhalese from Ceylon. At that time, the population of the archipelago was mostly Buddhists, and the Maldives became the point of transit in oceanic trade between the Indian subcontinent and the Arab countries. The Arabs, in turn, brought a religious change with them. Before the Islamization of the Maldives, according to the Persian and Arab travellers, the women – queens ruled the archipelago.

After the reception of Islam, only four of them remained, and the last one died in the sixteenth century. At the same time the Maldives became an independent Sultanate. The acceptance of Islam is associated with a legend of delivering a virgin from the clutches of a monster by means of a Koranic prayer. It seems that defeating the creature with the word of the Koran convinced the Sultan of the new faith. His subjects, of course, were forced to follow the Sultan’s conversion. From the nineteenth century, the Islamic Maldives had already been a British protectorate, which lasted until the mid-twentieth century, when the Maldivians regained their independence first as a sultanate, and from 1968 as the Republic of Maldives.

The mysterious history of the archipelago is still audible in the oral tradition, Maldivian dances and songs, where one can hear a dialect of the Sinhalese language. Such echoes of the past brings an inspiration to many researchers and writers.

Coming to the Paradise

After an hour of flight from Colombo and forty-five minutes spent on the speedboat fiercely fighting with waves, I finally reached my little paradise. I found a tropical night here. Along with a group of tourists, I left the shaky boat on a wooden pier thrown over the reef and suspended over the depths of the ocean. Through the full length of this bridge made with wooden beams, the lights flashed giving cheerful gleams to the waves in the lagoon beneath.

We were led by a smiling boy dressed in a sarong – a long and colorful fabric wrapped around his hips, used by men especially in Asia and the Arabian Peninsula. After a very warm welcome of a tropical drink and oriental dinner, I fell down tired on my  bed in one of small apartment houses abandoned in the green jungle. A deep night had fallen upon me. I could hear the crack of branches striking against the window with the wind but tiredness and the coming sleep did not let me open my eyes for a moment. Curiosity, however, was stronger.

I made a few steps forward through the dense vegetation and stood on the edge of a blue lagoon shining in the pale light of the moon. Photo by Anna Piatkowska. . Copyright©Archaeotravel.

I went outside. I could smell a warm breeze of the ocean. I made a few steps forward through the dense vegetation and stood on the edge of a blue lagoon shining in the pale light of the moon. The silence was disturbed only by the sound of waves. In the distance, the lights of the abandoned long pier shimmered in the distance. On the sand below the scarp carried by the roots of palm trees, crabs and „walking” shells were running across when they suddenly disappeared into their shells at the slightest noise. I breathed deeply with the sea breeze and smiled at the moon.

Provided with proper equipment, we could set out to explore the depths and underwater treasures of the past. Photo by Anna Piątkowska. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Simple Life

During first few days, including Valentine’s Day, which is much anticipated by lovers (similar events are permitted in the resorts), my time was filled with waddling in the lagoon, walking in the sun, playing with small sharks and rays wandering in the shallows and thinking how much this world is beautiful. The underwater landscape captivates me. There is a wide variety of coral species and aquatic creatures in the Maldives, whose colours highlight the rays of the sun infiltrating the reef.

My island, Bodufinolhu, is suspended over one of the richest reefs … Copyright©Archaeotravel.

My island, Bodufinolhu, is suspended over one of the richest reefs, but the most beautiful of them were located in the distance, farther from the resorts. Our diving instructor, a very nice and energetic Japanese, drew our attention once and again to flickering sea creatures. The sea turtles sleeping and hidden among the corals started at the sight of the divers and with curiosity extended their long necks towards us, swimming so close that they could almost be touched. However, they quickly got bored and swam away for peace and silence.

Provided with proper equipment, we could set out to explore the depths and underwater treasures of the past. Thanks to underwater archaeology there were many important discoveries related to the islands’ history. The results of the research are exhibited at the National Museum in Male, which is housed in two buildings in the Sultan Park. It also constituted a part of the Royal Palace. Even here some of the museum objects did not escape completely from the hands of fanatical Islamists. In February 2012, for purely religious reasons, the museum was attacked and several significant artefacts from the twelfth century were destroyed. Some of them were made of sandstone and limestone, so it was impossible to put them together. As Victor Hugo writes, “time is blind and man is stupid.” Still, one can admire in the museum one of the most interesting objects, such as a stone head of Buddha, but most of the museum artefacts do not represent people or animals. Greatest collection includes royal furniture, ceremonial robes, footwear, weapons and armour.

I breathed deeply with the sea breeze and smiled at the moon. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Dancing Past

Perhaps a similar dance was performed by the legendary Maldivian queens mentioned by former travellers. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

After huge dinner composed of a ton of fish, meat, curry rice, various vegetables and fruits, I sat comfortably in the bar to arrange my notes from the last trip.A colourful drink based on rum and coconut milk suddenly appeared on the table in front of my nose. ‘Yes’, I thought. ‘The scientist’s life is hard’. My existential thoughts were interrupted by loud music and the rustling of dresses swirling in dance. Tourists started to watch the performance. Six young women dressed according to the Sharia law, with headscarves completely covering their hair, were performing dance figures inscribed in the choreography probably of a long Maldivian tradition, strangely disagreeing with the status quo of the islands. The local tropical climate and music suited more to skimpy skirts seen on the islands of Polynesia, than to long skirts, gaiters and jackets covering tightly the whole bodies of dancing women. Perhaps a similar dance was performed by the legendary Maldivian queens mentioned by former travellers.

Featured image: Maldives. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

By Joanna
Faculties of English Philology, History of Art and Archaeology.
University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland;
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, Poland;
University College Dublin, Ireland.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Zarzecki A. (2005 – 2017)  Raj na rafach. Available at <https://bit.ly/2sxuBt7&gt>. [Accessed 15th June, 2018]. The link is inactive (25th January, 2021).

Encyklopedia PWN (2017). “Malediwy. Historia”. In: Encyklopedia PWN. Available at <https://bit.ly/2sA5lT8&gt>. [Accessed 15th June, 2018].

Muzeum Narodowe w Male (2017). Available at <https://bit.ly/2Lgkm43&gt>. [Accessed 15th June, 2018]. The link is inactive (25th January, 2021).

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In the Realm of Demon Ravana

High density of palm trees and a heavy breath of tropical climate were the first impressions that had touched my foggy senses since my arrival in Sri Lanka. Confused and exhausted, I crawled out of the airport dragging my suitcase behind me and carrying an unnecessary winter jacket over my shoulder. The flight was long and a nightmare, but a thought about staying on a warm island during the European winter slowly gave me a new strength to live.

The Rock of Sigiriya being stormed by the crowds of tourists. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Pyramid in the hands

Before travelling to Sri Lanka, I was planning, reading and watching a lot about that corner of the world, including the preparation of a bucket list things to do during my journey. I knew from experience that similar plans are subject to verification in the field. There were most famous monuments usually mentioned in tourist guides, especially Sri Lanka’s old state and religious capitals – the milestones of the island’s history. The official website of the Sri Lankan governmental organization CCF (Central Cultural Fund of Sri Lanka) connected all of them by means of a line creating an equilateral triangle, placed almost in the very centre of the island.

An official logo of Central Cultural Fund of Sri Lanka. Source: “Pyramid in the hands” (2013). In: KovalSky, V. (2013). New mysterious riddles of Sri Lanka. What unites the ancient civilization of the Indian subcontinent with Africa, Atlantis and South America?

The figure of the triangle was additionally covered by a pair of hands, as if in a gesture of protecting cultural heritage. This pyramid-shaped graphic sign contains three ancient capitals of Sri Lanka: Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy. Inside the triangle field, the majestic Sigiriya and Dambulla with temples carved in the rocks were enclosed. Although they are indeed the most visited places, which are must-sees according to tourist folders, and at the same time extremely important places for the Buddhist community, it does not mean that the number of important places in Sri Lanka should be limited to the mentioned heritage triangle. On the contrary.

Heritage sites in Sri Lanka. Photo source: “About the World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka”. In Ministry of Buddhasasana, Cultural and Religious Affairs (2018).

A similar sign of the pyramid enclosed in the hands, this time carved in the granite rock, can also be found elsewhere – in a place that is already outside the line of the geometric figure mentioned above, at the ancient site, called Mihintale. It is believed to have also been made by the same government organization to mark the place of Sri Lankan cultural heritage in the same way as it is represented in its famous logo. But why did the CCF choose a place for this sign beyond the delineated triangle? Why did they choose a less known site of Mihintale? The author of a series of articles devoted to the puzzling history of Sri Lanka, Vladimir Kovalsky (Chapter 4 of a Detailed Photo Essay on Sigiriya), draws attention to yet another triangle … It is formed by ancient cultural-religious complexes suspended on rocks, and simultaneously, unknown Sigiriya’s sisters.

Seat of gods suspended in the sky

The main symbol of the island constantly appears on postcards, folders and on more or less successful paintings hung on the walls of hotel rooms. The massive monolith from magma rock shoots from the ground in the very center of the island to the height of 180 meters.

The Way to the Top: Water Terraces. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

If you remember the tales about turtles, so big that their shells  seem to be islands covered with thick woods, you can easily compare them to the bulk of Sigiriya. The rock seems to bend under the weight of secrets that it wears on its steep back covered with tourists: “Lion Gate”, “Mirror Wall”, frescoes of women whose bodies are drowning in flowers and jewellery, and disappearing in clouds (see: Debate on the Paintings of Damsels Flying on the Clouds), megalithic constructions worked out in hard granite of unknown purpose … And there is only one written note about this giant in the archives preserved on the island:

He betook himself through fear to Sīhāgiri
which is difficult to ascend for human beings.
He cleared a roundabout, surrounded it with a wall
and built a staircase in the form of a lion…
Then he built there a fine palace, worthy to behold,
like another Alakamanda, and dwelt there like the god Kuvera.

 Culavamsa CH 39 v2-4 (circa 1200AD)

The main character of this fragment tells about a builder of Sigiriya who, according to the record, was called the King Kassapa. He is believed to have ruled on the rock in the fifth century A.D. (477-495).

The Granite Pool on the Top. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

The fragment above comes from the chronicles called Culavamsa (Lesser Chronicles), which are a sequel to the much older chronicles of Mahavamsa (Great Chronicles). Mahavamsa covers the period from 543 to 300 BC, while Culavamsa deals with the period from the 4th century up to 1815 A. D. Over the centuries, the chronicles have been repeatedly transcribed and compiled, which greatly obscures the original history of the country. The text on Sigiriya itself appeared 700 years after the reign of the King Kassapa. There is no other evidence of the age of the Sigiriya complex. And this is indeed a multipart construction, as it is not limited to the rock itself, but it also covers a significant area around the monolith. First, the road to the top of Sigiriya leads through the so-called “Water Terraces” and before it starts to steeply roll around its protruding belly, it climbs up the stairs that wind through the corridors created by the formations of huge granite boulders. These, in turn, faithfully guard the passage to the famous “Lion’s Gate”, flanked by two paws armed with claws … but are these really the remains of a lion, as it is described in the fragment above?

Lion’s Gate Flanked by Two Paws . Copyright©Archaeotravel.

If the chronicle does not lie, Kassapa had only 18 years to create the entire complex. Taking into account the material used, the impetus of the construction and quality of the tools available at the time, it seems rather unlikely. What’s more, after completing the feat, the king did not use its significant potential of defence, as if he had ignored the primal function of the fortress and the workload involved in its construction. In order to fight the final battle, he abandoned his insurmountable rock and faced heavy defeat at its feet. Besides, the circumstances of Kassapa’s death are also shrouded in mystery and have different versions. Finally, the victorious brother of the beaten king moved the capital back to Anaradhapura, and Sigiriya fell into the hands of Buddhist monks and with time it became a pilgrimage and tourist centre. Probably the Buddhist followers had inhabited the rock much earlier, precisely around the 3rd century BC, as soon as the Buddhism appeared on the island.

Brick Constructions on the Top. Copyright©Archaeotravel.
Stepped-like Pyramid or a Palace? Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Sigiriya is not a lonely island

In the same period, Buddhist monks undoubtedly formed monasteries in the caves of the Pidurangala rock, which is located a few kilometres north of Sigiriya.

Sigiriya’s Fresco. Photo by Agnieszka Szkarłat. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Both rocks are the monoliths created as a result of volcanic activity, and their stories are related to each other. Pidurangala’s peak resembles the form of a slanted, flat triangle, as if someone had cut the top of the rock across with the same ease with which the butter is sliced.

From the top of Sigirya, you cannot see this characteristic triangle, or a heart to be more poetic, because it lies on the other side of Pidurangala. The entrance to its summit is even more strenuous than in the case of the nearby Sigirya, but the view from there is magnificent, particularly on the famous neighbour, who is stormed by the crowds of tourists.

Women in the Clouds. Photo by Agnieszka Szkarłat. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Are these really just fairy tales …?

Before I came to Sri Lanka, in my imagination Sigiriya dominated the plain as a lone monolith. Now it turned out that it is just one member of the team of rocks monoliths that form an enigmatic whole.

Together with already mentioned Pidurangala, Sigiriya points out a peculiar top of the pyramid with two other peaks at its base: Mihintale – in the northwest of Sigiriya and Yapahuwa – in the southwest.

Like Sigiriya, Yapahuwa has a flat bevelled top and steep walls. In the 13th century, there was a capital of the state and a religious centre with a famous Buddhist relic, which is now kept in Kandy. Mihintale, in turn, is a rocky table that carries huge blocks of granite. However, nature did not pull them up there. According to legends, the Mihintale summit once served as a place for anchoring aircraft, vimanas, described by Vedic texts such as Mahabharata.

Climbing up the Rock. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

The aforementioned Sri Lankan oldest chronicle, Mahavamsa, describes the arrival of Mahinda to Sri Lanka from India. Mahinda was a Buddhist missionary and a famous monk who was also the son of the ruler of India, Ashoka. With his coming he brought the new faith to Sri Lanka. Every tourist arriving on the island hears this story as a testimony to the beginnings of Buddhism there. I have heard it myself as well, but never in a full version of the story described by the chronicle. Namely, according to the full text Mahinda came to the island by landing in his vimana at the top of Mihintale, and his flight from India would have taken him less than a day …

As if I heard a modern report on an airplane journey from India to Colombo … The summit of Mihintale is also linked to the monk by his name – Mihintale means in Sinhalese as much as the “Mahinda Plateau”. According to ancient epic stories, both Sinhalese and Tamil, before the arrival of the monk, the same rock was called Sagiri, while the name Sigiriya is pronounced in the Sinhalese language as Sigri (Cf. Vladimir Kovalsky). Such similarities certainly testify to the relation between the rocks.

Of course, similar content about ancient flying machines is treated as a fairy tale. Still it is quite illogical that the record compiled in the 11th century on the history of Sigiriya is widely accepted as an irrefutable fact, and some of the content that comes from much older sources is cut off  in order to pass on only what the human mind is able to fully accept.

Ah, those ever-present pyramids…

Sigiriya-Yapahuwa-Mihintale
Photo by Vladimir KovalSky:The Carving of
the Glyph of a Pyramid at Mihintale. Source:
KovalSky, V. (2013). New mysterious riddles
of Sri Lanka. What unites the ancient civilization
of the Indian subcontinent with Africa,
Atlantis and South America?

On the stone in Mihintale, there is a carving of the already mentioned glyph of a pyramid or triangle covered by the hands. The top angle of the figure contains a smaller pyramid, as if an Egyptian pyramidion crowning the top of the main pyramid. The above-mentioned author, Vladimir Kovalsky (Cf. Chapter 4 of a Detailed Photo Essay on Sigiriya), draws attention to this sign when he mentions a triangle made of rock monoliths: Sigiriya (Pidurangala) – Yapahuwa – Mihintale. The axis of symmetry of the triangle, from the top of Sigiriyia to its base, i.e. the horizontal line joining Mihintale and Yapahuva, meets with the axis of symmetry of the triangular peak of Pidurangala. As we all remember Pidurangala’s summit itself had once been shaped as a triangle. Couldn’t it be symbolically represented as a pyramidion of the pyramid carved in the Mihintale granite rock?

And who was Kuvera?

Kuvera or Kubera, mentioned above in the fragment of the Younger Chronicle (Culavamsa), was a god and legendary ruler of Lanka, today Sri Lanka. His half-brother Ravana (or Raavan) took power over him and became an undisputed ruler with his royal seat on Sigiriya (Alakamanda). There are other written sources telling of those events, namely Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Movie Still From The Film Raavan (2010), directed by Mani Ratnam; starring: Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai. In the photo:  Abhishek Bachchan. Photo Source: “Raavan” (2016). In: Bollywood Hungama. Bollywood Entertainment at its Best.

They belong to the epic Sanskrit of ancient India which was written on the basis of oral tradition, first formed during the Vedic period, namely in the first millennium BC. Ramayana focuses mainly on the armed conflict between Ravana and Rama, ruler of India, which was to take place millennia ago. Ramayana, meaning ‘the Way of Rama’, is one of the greatest Indian poems that has been adapted to many films and theatrical plays. Its authorship is attributed to also a legendary poet, Valmiki (see: ‘The Way of Rama’ Between India and Sri Lanka). Indian eposes describe the time of flying vehicles – vimanas, an advanced technology and a nuclear war … Even today, inhabitants of Asia take those stories as actual records of their lands and ancient rulers … Although it is still impossible for western scholars to explain certain phenomena or purpose of major constructions scattered around Sri Lanka (likewise everywhere in the world), similar records are only treated as a bunch of legends created by people with a vivid imagination, just as an ancient genre of sci-fi.

Featured image: The Rock of Sigiriya/One of Sigiriya’s Frescoes. Photo by Joanna Pyrgies&Agnieszka Szkarłat. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

By Joanna
Faculties of English Philology, History of Art and Archaeology.
University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland;
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, Poland;
University College Dublin, Ireland.

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