Tuesday, March 21, 2006

2,500 -Year-Old Sarcophagus Unearthed in Cyprus.

Scientists have announced the unearthing, in Cyprus, of a 2,500-year-old sarcophagus decorated with images from the works of Homer. Yahoo News AP wire story:

NICOSIA, Cyprus - A 2,500-year-old sarcophagus with vivid color illustrations from Homer's epics has been discovered in western Cyprus, archaeologists said Monday.

Construction workers found the limestone sarcophagus last week in a tomb near the village of Kouklia, in the coastal Paphos area. The tomb, which probably belonged to an ancient warrior, had been looted during antiquity.

"The style of the decoration is unique, not so much from an artistic point of view, but for the subject and the colors used," said Pavlos Flourentzos, director of the island's antiquities department.

Only two similar sarcophagi have ever been discovered in Cyprus before. One is housed in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and the other in the British Museum in London, but their colors are more faded, Flourentzos said.

Flourentzos said the coffin, painted in red, black and blue on a white background, dated to 500 B.C., when Greek cultural influence was gaining a firm hold on the eastern Mediterranean island. Pottery discovered in the tomb is expected to provide a precise date.

Experts believe the ornate decoration features the hero Ulysses in scenes from Homer's Iliad and Odyssey , both hugely popular throughout the Greek world. In one large painting, Ulysses and his comrades escape from the blind Cyclops Polyphemos' cave, hidden under a flock of sheep. Another depicts a battle between Greeks and Trojans from the Iliad. Archeologists think the scenes hint at the status of the coffin's occupant.

"Why else take these two pieces from Homer and why deal with Ulysses? Maybe this represents the dead person's character, who possibly was a warrior," Flourentzos said.

Other drawings depict a figure carrying a seriously injured or dead man and a lion fighting a wild boar under a tree. These are not believed to be linked with Homer's poems. Reflecting a long oral tradition loosely based on historic events, Homer's epics were probably composed around 800 B.C. and written down in the 6th century B.C.

The tomb was found in an area containing several ancient cemeteries which belonged to the nearby town of Palaepaphos, 11 miles inland from modern Paphos.

First settled around 2800 B.C., Palaepaphos was the site of a temple of Aphrodite, the ancient goddess of beauty who, according to mythology, was born in the sea off Paphos.

Until Schleimann found the ruins of Troy in the late 19th century, that city was deemed as simply a myth. With this discovery, as well as many others in this region, the question to ask is how many more myths are "real"? Another question on my mind is, how far back can we reasonably expect to find traces of civilization?

We know the Egyptians date back to about 3,000 B.C., and that the civilizations who influenced them, such as the Sumerians in what is today Iraq, were older still. Beyond that, we have Cro-Magnon cave paintings all over Europe. What is missing? Will we find the bridge that led us from foraging hunters to civilized farmers and city builders?

Sadly, many ancient stories about worldwide catastrophes, such as the Great Flood, which appears in dozens of cultures, may be accurate to the point where much of what those people had built was completely wiped out. But thanks to discoveries like this, and to the work done by researchers like Graham Hancock and David Hatcher Childress, we may yet find the missing pieces to this intriguing puzzle.

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