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12.4.05

Archeological News Roundup

Some interesting little articles have popped up on France 2 Cultural News over the past several weeks, most of which I haven't mentioned. Here are a few excerpts for you, in my translations. First, an article (Le berceau du zoroastrisme retrouvé?, March 19), about a theory concerning the early monotheistic religion dedicated to Zoroaster. A Greek-Russian archeologist and central Asia specialist named Victor Sarigiannidis thinks the Zoroastrians are descended from the mysterious Margiana civilization, which flourished in the Karakum desert in eastern Turkmenistan some 4,000 years ago:

Victor Sarigiannidis's work is founded on the excavations he has been leading for 25 years in this region, around the site of Gonour Pele. He admits that this theory may be extremely controversial in scientific circles, "like everything new." Still, the discoveries made at the site attest to a place of worship, according to him. "A temple dedicated to water, another to fire, and a third for sacrifices, as confirmed by studies of the sacred Zoroastrian book," the Avesta, he explains. His team has also found the foundations of a vast palace, seven temples, and an immense necropolis, largely pillaged. It has still not been able to dispel the mystery surrounding this civilization, its origins, and its customs.

According to Victor Sarigiannidis, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, this civilization supposedly emerged with the arrival in the area of people coming from Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq and Syria) who were driven south by drought. "Ninety-five percent of the necropolis ruins looks like Mesopotamian work," he affirms. He underscores the "similarity" of the palace's gate with that of the great Minoan palace of Knossos, in Crete. The latest discoveries made in the fall of 2004 seem to indicate a refined civilization: superb mosaics representing griffons, lions, and wolves, an elegant ancient lady in profile, a marble statue of a ram, and gold and silver vessels, decorated with delicate reliefs.
Next, another article (Y aurait-il un 5e évangéliste?, March 30) reports on some new work on the apocryphal Gospel of Judas (which gets coverage, of course, by Jim Davila at Paleojudaica and by Stephen C. Carlson at Hypotyposeis). The Fondation Maecenas for ancient art, in Basel, Switzerland, is trying to translate a Coptic papyrus (carbon-dated to the 3rd or 4th century AD) containing a so-called Gospel of Judas. Irenaeus, first bishop of Lyon, mentioned such a Gospel and denounced it as heretical in the 2nd century. The foundation's transcription (planned for Easter 2006) will also be translated into German, English, and French, but they aren't saying much about it yet.
It is impossible to know yet if the manuscript being translated is authentic, because its origin is mysterious. After it was discovered in mid-Egypt in the 1950s or 1960s, it supposedly made a brief stop in Switzerland before winding up in a safe in the United States for 20 years. It was only at the end of the 1990s that its content was confirmed, and the manuscript was purchased by Maecenas in 2001. After the document was restored, the work of analysis and translation was entrusted to a team of Coptologists directed by Rudolf Kasser, Professor Emeritus from the University of Geneva.
The last article (Amérique centrale: découverte de sites mayas, April 11) is about the discovery of Mayan sites on the Atlantic coast of Belize:
It shows for the first time the extent of the production of salt, intended for the large Mayan urban centers farther inland. Besides ruins of wooden buildings, archeologists have found fragments of ceramic pottery. According to the archeologists, the Maya boiled sea water to remove the salt from it.
The same news, I later learned, was reported by the Associated Press in English. The excavation work was carried out at the Punta Ycacos Lagoon by researcher Heather McKillop of Louisiana State University. Her findings were reported in the most recent issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

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