Monthly Digest - July 2021

Issue 3

From the Editor

And here we are with Issue 3. We find out that Ramesses III may have had influence in Arabia and also learn of a new species of human. Haim Gitler of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem has posted a very interesting animation on the invention of coinage and the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago will be hosting classes on the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead this upcoming Fall. All of this and more exciting things below.

On a side, I sure hope that readers see value in what is being shared. Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern history has always fascinated me and it brings me joy to be able to share such topics with others. So, if you have any feedback, please be sure to leave a comment. Let me know how you feel about this publication, what you like or don’t like.

Also, as with the previous issues, I just want to remind our readers that if you have something that you’d like for us to share in a future issue, please do not hesitate to contact us at

Now, let us explore.

Quote of the Month

Ordinary people seem not to realize that those who really apply themselves in the right way to philosophy are directly and of their own accord preparing themselves for dying and death. - Socrates

In the News…

Is There Evidence of Ramesses III in Arabia?

Egyptian archaeologists recently announced that in the Fall they will be exploring two separate sites in Saudi Arabia associated with the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses III (1186 - 1155 BCE).

Through earlier excavations, both archaeological sites appear to be associated with Pharaoh Ramesses III’s trade expeditions to this region, some 3,200 years ago. Previously discovered Egyptian scarabs and hieroglyphic inscriptions, containing the name of Ramesses III, attest to the pharaoh’s involvement on the Arabian Peninsula, across the Red Sea from Egypt. Archaeological surveys and excavations might provide further evidence of the interactions between pharaonic Egypt and the civilizations of ancient Arabia.

You can read more here.

Arabian Cult May Have Built 1000 Monuments Older than the Egyptian Pyramids

In Saudi Arabia, archaeologists have discovered more than a thousand 7000 year old structures that predate both the Egyptian Pyramids and Stonehenge in the UK.

Named after the Arabic word for rectangle, mustatil structures were first discovered in the 1970s, but received little attention from researchers at the time. Hugh Thomas at the University of Western Australia in Perth and his team wanted to learn more about them, and embarked on the largest investigation of the structures to date.

Using helicopters to fly over north-west Saudi Arabia and then following up with ground explorations, the researchers found more than 1000 mustatils across 200,000 square kilometres – twice as many as were previously thought to exist in this area. “You don’t get a full understanding of the scale of the structures until you’re there,” says Thomas.

More details can be found here.

2700 Year old Ancient Assyrian “Fake News”

Scholars have found evidence for ancient propaganda boasting the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal’s greatness.

At first glance, the 7th-Century BC gypsum panels [depicting the Lion Hunt of Ashurbanipal], which once adorned the walls of a royal palace in Nineveh, Upper Mesopotamia, are a confusing chaos of arrows splitting muscle. But beyond the surface narrative of majestic might conveyed by the exquisite sculptures, which portray the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal (now on horseback, now in a chariot) proudly slaughtering pride after pride of snarling lions, it might be difficult for any casual observer of the bas reliefs to discern any larger aesthetic or spiritual message from this brutal ballet of poised spears and frozen roars.

What's it all about? It's certainly not what it at first purports to be, a celebration of the king's success in defeating an onslaught of lions in the wild.

Read the full article here.

1800 Year Old Roman Arena Discovered in Turkey Likely Hosted Gladiator Fights

Archaeologists have discovered a Roman-era arena in Turkey similar to that of Rome’s Colosseum which has also hosted gladiator fights for at least 20,000 spectators.

The find, a national first, was revealed as part of excavations of Mastaura, an ancient city in Aydin Province. The arena was partly buried and hidden by vegetation.

Its remains are well preserved and — as with the Colosseum — was built round, rather than in the half-moon shape typical of many ancient amphitheatres.

Rome's Colosseum, however — which began construction in 70 AD for emperor Vespasian — was larger, housing an estimated 50,000–80,000 spectators in total.

More information can be found here.

A Lost 1000 Year Old Copy of the Hebrew Bible Found in a Cairo Synagogue

In an attempt to document Egyptian Synagogues, an Israeli historian rediscovers a massive 616-page codex.

In July 2017, Israeli historian Yoram Meital stumbled upon a handwritten 1028 CE biblical codex that was lying abandoned on a dusty shelf in a Cairo synagogue. Wrapped in simple white paper of the sort one finds on tables in cheap eateries, at 616 pages, the Zechariah Ben ‘Anan Manuscript is one of the era’s most complete and preserved examples of the “Writings,” the third and concluding section of the Hebrew Bible. It had been lost to scholars for almost 40 years.

You can read more here.

A New Type of Human Has Been Discovered in Israel

A previously unknown type of human that lived alongside our species over 100,000 years ago has been discovered by researchers working in Israel.

They believe the remains uncovered near the city of Ramla represent one of the "last survivors" of a very ancient human group.

The finds consist of a partial skull and jaw from an individual who lived between 140,000 and 120,000 years ago.

Read more here.

Registry of Greek Archaeological Sites Available Online

The Greek National Archive of Monuments recently published an on-line directory of all archaeological sites registered in Greece. You can read more here and access the archive directly here.

Business Activities in the Levant Have Been Traced as Far Back as 7000 Years Ago

150 clay seals found in an excavation conducted by Hebrew University archaeologists have traced business activities in the region as far back as 7000 years ago.

Seven thousand years ago, residents of prehistoric Israel engaged in complex barter activities and protected property rights, research based on millennia-old clay seal impressions has revealed.

[ … ]

Some 150 clay sealings dating back some 7,000 years were found in an excavation conducted by Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeologists in 2004-2007 in Tel Tsaf – a prehistoric village in the Beit She’an Valley in the North. While their purpose was the same, almost all of these sealings were simple pieces of clay, without any impression on them.

More can be read here.

A 2600 Year Old Stone Slab of an Egyptian Pharaoh Discovered by a Farmer

The Egyptian antiquities ministry recently reported on the discovery of a 2,600 year old stele erected by the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Apries (589 - 570 BCE).

While digging in his field, an Egyptian farmer recently made the discovery of a lifetime, a roughly 2-meter-tall royal stele. The stele, which was discovered near the Egyptian city of Ismailia, 62 miles northeast of Cairo, appears to commemorate a foreign campaign of Apries (r. 589–570 B.C.E.), an Egyptian pharaoh of the 26th Dynasty who is remembered in the Book of Jeremiah as having come to Jerusalem’s aid during the Babylonian siege (Jeremiah 37:5).

The discovery is written about both here and here.

Featured Publications

The Story of Greece and Rome

By Tony Spawforth

The magnificent civilization created by the ancient Greeks and Romans is the greatest legacy of the classical world. However, narratives about the “civilized” Greek and Roman empires resisting the barbarians at the gate are far from accurate. Tony Spawforth, an esteemed scholar, author, and media contributor, follows the thread of civilization through more than six millennia of history. His story reveals that Greek and Roman civilization, to varying degrees, was supremely and surprisingly receptive to external influences, particularly from the East.

From the rise of the Mycenaean world of the sixteenth century B.C., Spawforth traces a path through the ancient Aegean to the zenith of the Hellenic state and the rise of the Roman empire, the coming of Christianity and the consequences of the first caliphate. Deeply informed, provocative, and entirely fresh, this is the first and only accessible work that tells the extraordinary story of the classical world in its entirety.

Brutus of Troy: And the Quest For the Ancestry of the British

By Anthony Adolph

The book covers the story of Britain's search for its identity before and after the arrival of Christianity, leading up to the invention of the seeds of the Brutus myth in the 600s AD. It charts the development of his myth into a fully blown adventure story under the pen of Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 1100s. It then explores Brutuss story through the Middle Ages, as the centerpiece of Britain's national consciousness and an important tool in royal and national propaganda and foreign policy (i.e. his myth was used as an excuse for invading Wales and Scotland). The book then charts the way his myth dropped out of mainstream politics and history after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and lived on in a new afterlife in literature. Though no longer part of the way Britain sees itself now (though maybe this book will change that!), the Brutus myth has been used in many alternative theories about Britain's origins and is still believed in by a small but hard core of Christians who see him as the divine instrument by which the ancestors of the Americans reached Britain in the first place.


Animation Movie about the Invention of Coinage

The Invention of Coinage: 630 BCE The first coins were produced from white gold, an alloy also called electrum. Though they are small and irregular in shape, they bear a vast range of powerful visual images, executed in startling detail and with impressive plasticity.

View the video here.

This Week in the Ancient Near East: Death on the Euphrates, or, a Kunga Line to Heaven?

Is the third millennium BCE burial mound at Tell Banat in north Syria a war memorial to the site’s defenders? What moves the living to take a random sample of human and animal bones and bury them in a mound that looms over their community? What is a kunga anyway and how does the modern sport of donkey basketball fit in? Our panelists are strangely eloquent, in an episode not to be missed.

Listen to the podcast here.



Online Class: Red Sea and Indian Ocean Trade (4 weeks)

Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago Adult Programs
August 9 –August 30

The Roman period in the ancient Near East and north Africa marked the beginning of intensive trade with the Indian Ocean, which can be traced through both archaeological and textual sources. Indian merchants and sailors visited Arabia, Egypt, and the island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean, while there are signs of trade in Roman goods to India, the Axumite empire in north Africa, and the east African coast. This class will look at the evidence for the trade in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea in Roman and Late Antique periods (1st century BCE–8th century CE), to examine the goods traded, the intensity of this trade, and how this changed through time. Particular attention will be paid to sites such as Berenike and Quseir al-Qadim in Egypt, Adulis in modern Eritrea, Ras al-Hafun in Somalia, Qana in Yemen, and Muziris in India. 

Prices and additional information can be found here.

Online Class: Reading the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead (8 weeks)

Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago Adult Programs
September 13 –November 1

The ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead has become a staple of twenty-first century pop culture, appearing in film, literature, music, art, comics, graphic novels, pulp fiction, and endless online videos. However, what does the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead actually say? This course will provide a comprehensive overview to the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, including training with the tools needed to work with the texts and manuscripts directly. The course will cover developmental history, materiality, textual content, sequencing, theology, ritual practice, transmission, and manuscript traditions. We will look closely at original texts in both hieroglyphic transcription and English translation. Students will be guided through selected readings of Book of the Dead spells, using both Egyptian hieroglyphic transcriptions for those who have previously studied Middle Egyptian grammar and English translations for those who have not. By the end of the course, students will gain a nuanced understanding of the differences between ancient and modern conceptions of the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead and will develop the skills necessary to pursue reliable independent research in this area of study.

Prices and additional information can be found here.

Upcoming Events

The BAS Virtual Summer Seminar

The Biblical Archaeology Society is offering a special six-session virtual seminar, “Biblical Archaeology: Past and Present.” It is led by esteemed scholars and archaeologists Eric Cline (The George Washington University) and Rachel Hallote (Purchase College, State University of New York). The seminar features 12 lectures highlighting the latest archaeological discoveries related to our understanding of ancient Israel, and trace the fascinating but often contentious history of archaeological work in the Holy Land. The 2021 virtual seminar will be held from Monday, July 26 to Saturday, July 31 via Zoom.

24th Annual Bible and Archaeology Fest ONLINE via Zoom

World leading Bible scholars and archaeologists will be engaging in live talks over the course of two days via ZoomOctober 16 and 17.

OI Museum Gallery Talk: Capturing Persepolis—From the Camera to the Canvas

Presented by Kiersten Neumann

The ancient Achaemenid city of Persepolis in southwestern Iran has long fascinated the minds and memories of visitors to the site. Whether foreign dignitaries visiting the king in antiquity, early modern explorers, or photographers, artists, and archaeologists of the recent centuries, each have viewed the monumental great terrace, grand columned halls, and masterful sculptural program through a unique lens. Three such perspectives are preserved in the collection of the OI Museum: the nineteenth-century albumen prints of the Armenian-Iranian photographer Antoin Sevruguin, the twentieth-century photographs of the OI’s Persian Expedition in Iran, and the paintings of the American artist Joseph Lindon Smith, commissioned by James Henry Breasted in 1935. Join us for our July Gallery Talk, led by Kiersten Neumann, OI Museum curator, as we explore the ways in which Persepolis has been experienced and captured throughout the ages.

Be sure to register for the live Zoom presentation scheduled for Tuesday, July 20 at 5 PM (CDT)

OI Armchair Traveler: Sudan, Exploring Ancient Nubia

Presented by Emily Teeter

Travel plans are beginning to emerge. Are you thinking about travel to Sudan? How would you get there, and how strenuous is traveling in the heartland of ancient Nubia? Join Emily Teeter, who led the first Oriental Institute tour to Sudan in 2018, as she guides you to must-see spots—the incredible historic sites and the stunning landscapes—and what you will find when you are there, including hotels and camps, vehicles, and food. Find out why Sudan is an extraordinary experience—a journey through a hospitable country with an incredibly rich and fascinating history.

Be sure to register for the live Zoom presentation scheduled for Wednesday, July 28 at 5 PM (CDT)

Artifact of the Month

The ancient Minoan city of Akrotiri, situated on the Greek island of Santorini (also known as Thera), has been frozen in time and preserved by the pumice and ash that buried it from the eruption of the Theran volcano circa 1600 BCE. The Minoans were well renowned for their crafts and artistry throughout the entire Mediterranean and Near Eastern world during the height of the ancient Bronze Age Period. Ancient Minoan artists were dispatched to recreate frescoes as the one depicted above to adorn the homes of the elite in Egypt and the Levant.