Snails Used to Make Biblical Blue

The elusive Biblical blue, a sacred color whose exact shade has puzzled scholars for centuries, has been revealed in a nearly 2,000-year-old patch of dyed fabric.

The piece of cloth was found in Israeli caves just south of Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered between 1946 and 1956. It features a blue hue called tekhelet.

In accordance with the biblical commandment, tekhelet was used to dye the tassels, or tzitzit, attached to the four-cornered garment worn by Jews. It was also used as the color of ceremonial robes donned by high priests in the Jerusalem Temple.

But the biblical dye was lost in antiquity, and scholars have long attempted to rediscover its origins…

Read on here.

Using Inscriptions from the Antiquities Market: Polarized Positions and Pragmatic Proposals

Dr Christopher Rollston writes:

Archaeological sites in the Middle East have been ransacked, pillaged, and plundered for many decades. The motivations of the actual pillaging are normally economic: the pursuit of marketable artifacts. That is, the pillagers wish to find objects that can be sold to collectors. Of course, the motivations of the collectors who purchase these pillaged antiquities range from the desire to possess a piece of ancient history to having putative proof for a cherished belief. Among the artifacts most prized by collectors are ancient inscriptions.

Think briefly about scientific archaeological excavations. Complete pots and potsherds are carefully collected, catalogued, documented, and analyzed, while broken pots are often restored. Organic materials are meticulously bagged and tagged and sent to be carbon dated. Animal bones and seeds are studied to learn about animal husbandry, agriculture, and ancient diets. Grinding stones, needles, and pins are photographed and studied carefully to shed light on aspects of daily life. Metal objects are sent to laboratories for scientific analyses. Stone tools such as arrowheads are sent to specialists for analysis. And inscriptions are sent to epigraphers to be read and analyzed. The result is that knowledge is gained about ancient languages and dialects, and about ancient social structures, and religious practices and ideas. The final result is that scientific excavations yield an enormous amount of information about the ebb and flow of ancient lives.

In contrast, those pillaging sites for marketable objects do not have the resources, time, desire, or the training to do any of these things. This is despite the fact many looters have experience working on excavations, sometimes as skilled laborers. Rather, looters rifle through sites and collect nothing except the most marketable of objects. The rest are disturbed, broken, and ignored. After all, the primary goal of the pillager is finding something that will sell, something that will satisfy the appetite of the black market in pillaged antiquities. What then about inscriptions found by looters?

Read on at the ASOR Blog.


Vatican Requests 1,500-Year-Old Syriac Bible Held In Turkey

The Huffington Post reports:

The Vatican has allegedly issued an official request to examine a 1,500-year-old Bible that has been held in Turkey for the past 12 years, the Hurriyet Daily News reports.

The Bible reportedly contains early teachings of Jesus Christ and is written in gold lettering on animal hide in Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, which was the native tongue of Jesus.

According to a report by National Turk, the Bible was seized from a gang of smugglers in a Mediterranean-area operation. The report states the gang was charged with smuggling antiquities, illegal excavations, and the possession of explosives.

Today’s Zaman reports that the Bible is under high security and that a Turkish daily newspaper, the Star, claims the book could be a copy of the Gospel of Barnahas — a controversial text which Muslims claim is an addition to the original gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — that was suppressed.

In it, Jesus is said to have predicted the coming of the Prophet Muhammad.

Due to its value as a cultural and religious artifact, even photocopies of the pages could be worth between 3 and 4 million Turkish Lira, or about 1,703,233 U.S. dollars.

Somehow, I don’t think Turkey will comply.


Where Heaven Falls Prey to Thieves

A short documentary

… about the extensive art theft that has taken place in North Cyprus since the 1974 Turkish invasion. The theft has taken place with tacit or active approval from the Turkish army.

The plunder not only served as a source of income for criminals in North Cyprus and shady antiquity dealers, it was also an act to eradicate the memory of Cyprus as a Christian country for almost two millenia.

What has happened in the Turkish occupied zone constitutes pillaging of world cultural heritage and is a war crime according to several international conventions.

Give it a look. Very sad, all the destruction.


American Arrested Over Alleged Antiquities Smuggling in Israel

CNN reports on an American tour guide who has been arrested in Israel on suspicion of selling ancient artifacts to American tourists:

Israeli authorities arrested a retired American university lecturer this week on suspicion of selling ancient artifacts illegally to U.S. tourists, they said Wednesday.

The suspect, a tour guide, is accused of selling ancient coins and 1,500-year-old clay lamps, and pocketing the equivalent of $20,000.

He admitted attempting to smuggle antiquities, selling suspected stolen antiques and trafficking in antiquities without a permit, the authorities said.

He was allowed to fly to the United States after depositing “a large bond,” to “ensure he will show up for trial in the future,” they said.

The suspect faces up to three years in prison.

Amir Ganor, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, also criticized the buyers, saying Wednesday they “are actually encouraging antiquities robbery and the plundering of the country’s history.”

The suspect, who has not been named, was detained once before after Israel Antiquities Authority inspectors raided a hotel room where he was selling ancient artifacts, they said. They seized hundreds of objects allegedly stolen by antiquities robbers from different sites throughout the country, they said.

But the suspect was released after questioning, the IAA said in a statement Wednesday, without explaining why.

He was under undercover surveillance during the last week, and resumed his illegal activities, selling artifacts to a group of American tourists, Israeli authorities say.

The tourists were detained Monday in a “wide-sweeping, combined operation” in Eilat and at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv.

Eilat customs officials and Antiquities Authority inspectors “were amazed to discover that about 20 members of the group possessed dozens archaeological items purchased in Israel illicitly, which they attempted to take out of the country illegally and without a permit,” the IAA said.

They seized ancient bronze and silver coins dating to the Second Temple period approximately 2,000 years ago, as well as clay oil lamps and glass and pottery vessels.

The tourists said they had bought them from their tour guide, paying more than $20,000 in total, Israeli officials said.

The tour guide was detained Monday night at Ben Gurion airport while trying to leave Israel, they said.

He had ancient coins, but no permit to export them, plus “evidence indicating dozens of illegal sales of antiquities during the past two weeks,” they said.

Egypt’s Archaeological Sites Stand Unguarded

Concerned archaeologists called today on Egypt’s Prime Minister Essam Sharaf to return police to archaeological sites. The move is required to put an end to illegal excavations and wild looting of storehouses and tombs.

“The desecration of archaeological sites and monuments is not only a huge loss for the people of Egypt on a national, economic, and human level, but is also a loss to all of humanity and to science,” Tarek El Awadi, director of the National Egyptian museum, said in an open letter to Sharaf.

Following the revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak last month, a new unprecedented wave of looting and vandalism took place at various sites in Egypt.

“During the revolution of January 25th, the Egyptian Army protected our heritage sites and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. However, in the last 10 days the army has left these posts because it has other tasks to do,” said Zahi Hawass, who resigned this week as minister of antiquities in protest at the lack of proper action on the looting.

The above was here.

Zahi Hawass, Egypt Antiquities Chief 'Plans to Step Down in Protest'

CNN is reporting:

Egypt’s antiquities minister, Zahi Hawass, said Friday he plans to step down to protest police inaction as the country’s ancient treasures are being looted and vandalized.

“The police cannot do enough, or anything to protect Egypt’s antiquities and treasures, and I can’t stand by while that happens,” he said. “It is a protest really, that not enough can be done now to protect these sites and treasures.”

Hawass said two dozen sites have been looted or vandalized since the uprising that led to the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak.

Hawass said he has not resigned yet but will if asked by new Prime Minister Essam Sharaf.

Sharaf, a former transport minister tapped to be the post this week, is in the process of forming a new Cabinet. Hawass said he does not intend to be a part of it.

“I have no interest in doing that at all,” he said.

Hawass, former secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, was appointed to the post of the antiquities minister on January 30 under Mubarak.

His biggest mistake was taking that ministry post (which was a newly founded position). It was just a week or two before the protests broke out making Hawass essentially part of the Mubarak regime. Always after sensation and the media attention, one has to but admire the spin he’s now putting on it is good. But come what may, the pressure on him to step down is building… and that has nothing to do with him protesting police inaction regarding damage to Egypt’s antiquities.

The True Current State of Egyptian Antiquities

A passionate Dr Zahi Hawass, Egyptologist and the Egyptian Minister of Antiquities has just posted the following:

Today is a new day, but there are still marches in the streets of Cairo. I am personally very sad for my country. I cannot believe the devastation that has happened in the streets, and that so much has stopped in the last 11 days. We have lost so much, and I do not understand how this could be. It is like a dream for me. I have come into this new position at a very critical time, but the most important thing about this is that for the first time in history Egypt has a Ministry of Antiquities. The reason that this has never happened before was because archaeology was considered a minor thing

… I have not written one word on any archaeological topics because looking at what has happened to my country, I feel sad. Egypt is my life. I cannot leave the country and live in any other part of the world. I want to die in the sands of Egypt. The most important aspect of my life is to protect my antiquities, and I was astonished to hear all of the rumors about Egypt’s antiquities. I am very concerned that several members of the archaeological community have not called me directly to confirm what the rumors they have heard.

What is strange is that from the very beginning of the trouble, when the Internet was off, I was still able to send a daily report to my website, These reports were sent by fax to Italy to enable them to be posted on my website for everyone read, therefore I cannot understand why the rumors still spread. This makes me very upset because we, the Egyptian people, defended the monuments! The most important thing everyone needs to know is that the people in the streets defended the museums, monuments, and sites. When I came into work today, I had to pass through a checkpoint. When the men in the Popular Committees running the checkpoint saw me, they asked, “Sir, how is the museum?” These men may not know how to read or write, but they are worried about their cultural heritage.

From the first day of protests, I have had an operation room running 24 hours in my Zamalek office. This operation room is connected by telephone with every museum and site in Egypt: Jewish synagogues, Coptic monasteries, Muslim mosques, and ancient Pharaonic, Greek, and Roman sites. We have been producing detailed reports daily. I hope that people all over the world will read my statements and not listen to rumors.

Many people have been saying that Saqqara was looted and it is not true. If anything had happened there, the operation room in Zamalek would have called me immediately and reported what happened. I hope that you will all read each of the statements I have released on my website that say all our sites are safe. The army, curators, antiquities inspectors, and security guards guarded the important sites. As I have said everyday, the only two incidents that have occurred are the break-in at the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, and the break-in at the storage magazine in Qantara East, in the Sinai. 

As I have already stated, nothing was stolen from the museum; 70 objects were damaged but can be restored. Unfortunately, we cannot restore them now, as we had hoped, because the museum is closed and surrounded by the commanders of the army. The curators are stationed in the control room, and the cameras in the control room can see outside and inside of the museum. We are thankful for all of the offers of help that we have received, but the conservation lab of the EMC can do this easily and beautifully. Egyptians have completed restoration work before this black week began, and we will continue our work when this time passes.  

Yesterday, I received a report from Mohamed Abdel Maksoud, the general director of Lower Egypt, that 288 objects stolen from the storage magazine in Qantara East in the Sinai have been returned. He also confirmed that these objects and statues constitute everything that was taken. Of course, the final word can only come when things are calm, and the storage magazine can be subjected to a full inventory. I am confident, however, based on the report, that the 288 objects do make up the total of all of the stolen ones. 

The people who are in Europe and America are concerned about Egypt, but what is import to remember is that rumors can be very damaging. These people do not understand our feelings as Egyptians…

I hope that my reports will help you all to feel calm. Each of my daily reports have been posted on my website,, and the SCA website, You all know me, if anything happens I will report it right away. Again, and again, and again I tell you that the monuments of Egypt are safe

There are plenty of blogger too who would do well to stop spreading the many rumours and rather point people to the official line.


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