Introduction - Investigate a history mystery

Investigate the ancient past (between 60,00 BC - c.650 AD) by conducting research on one of these ancient artefacts.

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

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

Barnes T. (2004). Archaelology, Kingfisher, London.

Find out more about Archaeology from the National Geographic

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

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

 


Terracotta army

Introduction:

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

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

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

Use the following resources to find out: Why has an ancient Chinese Emperor's terracotta army been buried underground for centuries?

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

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Nazca lines

Introduction:

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

Klymyshun, Alexandria M. Ulna, (2006), 'Nazca', In World Book Encyclopedia, vol. 14, World Book, Inc. Chicago. pp. 91-92

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

Use the following resources to find out: What is the mystery behind the Nazca lines, an incredible collection of huge images in the desert that were created by the ancient Nazca culture?

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

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

Library of Alexandria

The Museum and Library of Alexandria. - Ptolemy I, the ruler of Egypt from 305 to 285 B.C.E., built his own museum, the Mouseion, to house the famous library at Alexandria.  In time about 700,00 manuscripts were collected there. 

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

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

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

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

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

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 A new Library of Alexandria has been built.  Find out a little more:

 


The City of Troy

Introduction:

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

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

Use the following resources to find out: The location of a war over the beautiful Helen of Troy ... but why else is this ancient city of interest to historians?

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  • Wood, Tim, (1997), 'City of Troy', in Ancient Wonders, Heinemann, London, pp. 14-15.

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Hanging gardens of Babylon

Introduction:

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

Use the following resources to find out: Did this wonder of the ancient world really exist?

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  • Wood, Tim, (1997), 'Garden of Babylon, in Ancient Wonders, Heinemann, London, pp. 18-19.

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Stonehenge

Introduction:

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

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

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

Use the following resources to find out: This was an amazing achievement by people who had limited technology, but what is it?  A calendar?  A religious site?  Something built by aliens?

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

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

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The Mycenaean

Introduction:

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

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

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

Use the following resources to find out: Why did this ancient culture disappear?

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Moai - The Easter Island statues

Introduction:

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

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

Adams, Simon, (1991), Man-made wonders, RD Press, Oxford, pp.20-21.
  • Use the following resources to find out: What secrets do the huge statues that inhabit Easter Island guard?

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

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Colossus of Rhodes

Introduction:

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

Use the following resources to find out: What caused the people of Rhodes to build this massive statue?  How did they manage it?  Why does it no longer exist?

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You will need to do a keyword search for "Colossus Rhodes" in the catalogue.  This topic can be found also by using the index on books on ancient history.

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The Crystal skulls

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

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

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

Use the following resources to find out: Are the crystal skulls human artefacts or natural wonders?  Do they have special powers or are they fakes?

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Peat bog mummies

Introduction:

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

Use the following resources to find out: How have these mummies been so amazingly preserved?  What mysteries do they hold?

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

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Tollund man

Introduction:

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

  • Use the following resources to find out: Who was Tollund man?  Why do historians think his was a recent death?

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Otzi the Iceman

Introduction:

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

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

Use the following resources to find out: How did Otzi die? What can he tell us about the past?

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  • Available for streaming via Clickview: Iceman Autopsy
  • From the Smithsonian Channel: Mummies Alive: This 5,300 year-old corpse was found by accident

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Tutankhamen

Introduction:

On 26 November 1992, Howard Carter stood at the end of the dark entrance corridor of the tomb he had discovered.  He knocked a hole in the wall and pushed his candle into the space before him.  What he saw was so astonishing that, for a moment, he could not speak.  Standing beside him, Lord Carnarvon demanded, "Can you see anything?" "Yes," Carter replied, "Wonderful things!"  He could see a room packed with treasures, glittering with gold.  This, however, was merely the antechamber of the tomb. 

Crisp, Peter, (2004), Mummy, Dorling Kindersley, London, p. 40.

Use the following resources to find out: How did this young pharaoh die?  Was it murder or natural causes?

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

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Howard Carter:

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Valley of the Kings:

 


Lake Mungo

Introduction:

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

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

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

Use the following resources to find out: What do the discoveries at Lake Mungo of human remains tell us about ancient civilisation?

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

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Bradshaw (Gwion Gwion) cave paintings

Introduction:

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

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

Use the following resources to find out: What are the origins of these paintings?  What do they reveal about ancient civilisation?

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