Ruthless Conquerors and Barbarians with a Heart
The countries that together form the geographical area we know as the Middle East possess a charm all their own; in addition, they offer unlimited possibilities for discovery and fame to both the amateur and the professional archaeologist. In this historically rich region, the spade of the scientific inquirer has barely scratched the surface. An element of mystery permeates the area, and much of it has its origin in the stories told by early travellers and archaeologists who returned to the West accompanied by truck-loads of artifacts of unknown origin—some of which predated our Western civilization by thousands of years.
Soon historians began to refer to the Middle East as the "Cradle of Civilization," truly convinced that "civilization" had the Middle East as its point of origin. In fact, until two decades ago archaeologists were even certain that agriculture was first practiced in the Middle East's fertile crescent, and that from there it eventually spread throughout the entire world. Although new excavations in various sections of the globe have proved the error of this contention, the term "Cradle of Civilization," once coined, stuck, and historians have been attempting to reinforce this somewhat hastily drawn conclusion ever since.
The treasures of the ancients come from everywhere; they are not limited to the Holy Land. Where armies battled, a host of treasure was buried; and when the tide of history turned against one empire, the victors were soon ready to move in.
Philip II of Macedon, the warrior-father of Alexander the Great, was one of those empire builders who began by forcefully uniting a severely divided Greece around the middle of the fourth century B.C. Together with his son he set out to conquer the world.
Defeating Persia was first on his list, but combining war with pleasure undoubtedly led to his destruction, for on the day his advance army of ten thousand men moved on toward the enemy, Philip decided to leave the first phase of the operation to his generals while he remained behind in Aegae for the wedding of his daughter Cleopatra to Alexander of Epirus. Scarcely had he raised the cup to his lips in a toast to the blissful pair when an assassin's dagger ended his life, leaving the scepter of power in the hands of his eager son Alexander. History has amply recorded Alexander the Great's exploits from that moment on, but gives no hint as to the exact location of his father's burial site. Considering that he was Philip of Macedon, his grave was sure to have been a rich one, even though his interment may have been conducted in secrecy.
Archaeologists may be dreamers, but they are also detectives, and the search for his tomb became an obsession for Manolis Andronicos, a young Greek archaeologist associated with the Department of Antiquities in Veroia in northern Greece. While he was still a student, his excavations in the ancient cemetery of Vergina had persuaded him that he might have stumbled on the burial plots of the Macedonian kings, and when in the fall of 1976 he dug a trench twelve meters (thirty-seven feet) deep in a large hill on the fringes of Vergina and unearthed gravestone fragments dating back to the third century B.C., his fever mounted. Research indicated that this mound was a man-made hill hastily formed to protect and conceal the remains of Macedonian tombs from the indiscriminate hands of the grave robbers. Suddenly all his doubts were gone. Vergina could be none other than Aegae, the ancient capital of the Macedonians and the place where Philip II had been assassinated!
In August 1977 the dig continued, and all the clues seemed to coincide with this hypothesis. This was undoubtedly the royal cemetery. Could Philip's grave possibly have escaped destruction?
After more than a month of trench-digging, the outline of a small tomb came into view: but it took another three suspenseful days of excavating, measuring, surveying and photographing before attention could be focused on the maible sarcophagus that had intrigued the workers from the very first moment.
"When we lifted the covering slab, we gasped—an urn was what we anticipated,"Dr. Andronicos later recalled. "There lay a larnex, or casket, of solid gold, measuring without the legs 40 centimeters long, 33.5 wide, and 17 high. The casket and its contents weighed 10,800 grams, almost 24 pounds. The lid was embossed with a sunburst, or star with rays, while the sides were richly chased with palmettes, rosettes, and vines." But there were more surprises waiting in the antechamber of the tomb. "Unable to open the door," he continued, "we worked like thieves again, removing a stone from the dividing wall. A second marble sarcophagus, a little larger than the one in the main chamber, stood next to the wall. An elegant golden wreath patterned in leaves and flowers of myrtle lay on the floor next to the sarcophagus."
Not far from it lay a beautifully decorated golden quiver, while a pair of gilded bronze greaves—leg armor— were leaning almost casually against the door. Seen standing there side by side, it was obvious that they were of different length. A quick check with a tape measure revealed that the left one was indeed a full 3.5 centimeters (1.4 inches) shorter than the right one, which measured 41.5 centimeters in length. Furthermore, it was quite obvious that there was also a difference in the shape of the shank of the left greave.
But the chamber contained still another surprise.
"Lifting the covering slab from the sarcophagus," he continued, "we saw another golden casket, slightly smaller and simpler than the first, but with the same sunburst on the lid. Opening this priceless ossuary, we saw that the burned bones were wrapped in a rich purple fabric interlaced with threads of gold. Beside the bones lay a superb diadem of intertwined golden branches and flowers belonging to a woman. Could the bones be those of Philip's last wife, Cleopatra?"
The entire excavation and the resulting investigation produced a collection of clues and mysteries connected by circumstantial evidence that quickened the pulse and excited the imagination. There were no inscriptions with the names of the deceased or references of a historical nature that could tie Philip of Macedonia to this specific grave, but when all the available clues were combined, an interesting picture emerged.
It was a unique tomb in that the remains of the deceased had been placed in golden caskets—not in urns. The bones had been treated in a manner usually reserved for royalty.
Both caskets bore the emblem of a sunburst—the royal emblem of Macedonia—on the lid.
Among the artifacts found in the grave was a diadem: a royal headband worn only by kings and queens.
The gilded bronze greaves—leg armor worn below the knee—that were found leaning against the wall of the tomb were of different lengths, indicating that they had been used by a man whose gait was uneven and who had probably been wounded or maimed in battle.
Archaeological evidence indicated that the tomb dated back to sometime between 350 and 325 B.C.
Once these hard facts were in, there was little more scientific sleuth work left to be done. Only one job remained, and that was a directed search into Macedonian history to learn the name of a maimed king who had died within that short time span.
There had only been one. He had been a cripple, and he was only forty-six years old when he died lifting a cup to his favorite daughter on her wedding day. The practiced hand of an assassin—undoubtedly hired by the victim's estranged wife Olympias—had taken his life, and Philip II of Macedonia was buried in 336 B.C. It took until 1977, 2,313 years later, to find the grave of one of history's most remarkable men.
Down through the centuries history has woven strange tales about the exploits of both Philip II and his remarkable son Alexander III, also known as Alexander the Great. But even if the legends should fade, the hoards of coins that have been found bearing the images of these conquerors will continue to keep their memory alive; and their value is enhanced by the historical significance of the hiding place and by the manner in which they were concealed.
The unexpected discovery of a collection of fifty-one golden coins of Philip and Alexander, together with a magnificent gold necklace, underneath a Hellenistic colonnade in Corinth, Greece, on March 26, 1930, is one such find. The official report of the dig written in the typically impartial style of the archaeologist, is totally devoid of all romance.
Excavator F. J. de Waele writes, 'This morning, just after breakfast, at 9:35, two workmen, digging the lowest layer just above the rock level of the Hellenistic stoa, on point P-10, find the shards of a plate which covered the groove in one quasi circular part of about 0.10 m. diameter. Inside this groove was found a hoard of 51 golden coins, of which one of them was a little toward the west in the groove. The coins are gold staters: 41 with head of Apollon and the biga; 10 with Athena with helmet of victory & AAEEAMAPOY .... The other important find is that of the gold necklace which was found just beside the hoard."
While the actual value of the coins in gold amounts to thousands of dollars, their real worth is to a much greater degree determined by their origin. Numismatists, who have conducted comprehensive studies on the coins have concluded that inasmuch as the forty-one staters with the types and names of Philip II include both lifetime and early posthumous issues and were coined at the mints in Pella and Amphipolis, they must have been produced prior to 333-332 B.C., since those were the only mints in proximity to Corinth. The ten staters bear clear identifying marks that assign them to the first half of the reign of Alexander, and the experts conclude that the hoard in its entirety was probably buried in approximately 329 B.C.
After having solved the questions of authenticity, origin and historical value of the treasure, we can determine with some degree of probability the circumstances that led the traitor or thief to surreptitiously bury this hoard of gold coins under the colonnade. The presence of the coins of Corinth is easily explained, for in 338 B.C. Philip had a contingent of troops stationed in the area to control the isthmus. In addition to the steady flow of money required to maintain the Macedonian outpost, history reports frequent shipments of coinage to the region. In fact, in 323 B.C. Cleander, one of Alexander's officers, had been provided with funds and sent to the Peloponnesus to enlist soldiers. Four thousand new men were added to Alexander's army during his siege of Tyre as the result of this mercenary drive. There is little doubt that the fifty-one gold coins are part of an enlistment fund that never found its way into the hands of the mercenaries but was stolen— probably by a trusted officer—and hurriedly buried in a small earthenware vessel, to lie undiscovered for twenty-three centuries.
How much gold bullion, coins and handcrafted treasures are still hidden in the caves, crevices and ruins of ancient Middle Eastern cities is a question that will never be answered fully. It may be another goatherd scouting the cliffs or another archaeologist with a dream or perhaps a youngster with a metal detector who will cause the next flurry of excitement, sending the world press scrambling to a distant place to view the newest (and possibly oldest) treasure brought to light.
But not every major discovery is made in the Middle East. In fact many important finds are now being reported from other areas rich in history but previously ignored by the West. Such is the case with a now highly celebrated discovery that had its beginning back in 1972 when Raicho Marinov, a tractor operator, pushed his mechanical blade into the rocky soil near the modern Bulgarian city of Varna on the Black Sea coast, playground of Communist commissars and well-heeled eastern European politicians and black marketeers.
While Marinov was digging a five-foot trench for an electric cable that was to connect a nearby factory to a main power line, his eyes suddenly caught the sun's reflection on a number of pieces of yellowish metal that had been exposed by the brute force of his 'dozer blade. A closer look revealed some greenish tool-like items, and a little further down in the trench some strangely shaped flake flints.
An on-the-spot investigation conducted by a hastily called in team of archaeologists confirmed the first impression that the four-inch pieces of yellowish metal were indeed pure gold, and it was not long afterward that the initial investigators, Professor Georgi I. Georgiev of the University of Sofia and Dr. Michael Lazarov of the National Museum of Varna, turned the project over to Dr. Ivan S. Ivanov, a young archaeologist connected with the Varna Museum. It was under his direction that the trench began to yield her treasures.
The find caused great excitement in historical circles, because the obviously hammered gold had been found in the same stratum and alongside prehistoric implements clearly dating back to the Bulgarian Copper Age, which is thought to have fitted in somewhere between 5000 and 3000 B.C.: but up to this point gold had never before been discovered in a Bulgarian Copper Age stratum. Never before had anyone come across a Copper Age society that had adorned itself with gold!
Professor Georgiev was no stranger to the works of the unknown race of the Copper Age, for his own excavations at a settlement mound at Karanovo, 110 miles southwest of Varna, had previously brought him face to face with an assortment of artifacts and house plans that covered a time span of at least three thousand years. In fact it was there that he had discovered a 5,500-year-old clay plaque covered with strange markings which are thought to have been one of the first attempts at writing. Its real significance, however, is still undetermined, because no one has been able to find any similarity between these markings and any other known ancient inscriptions, and all attempts at translating the marks by themselves have been stymied.
Turning the new project over to the Varna Museum was like handing a man a chance to build for himself a reputation, and there is no doubt that the young archaeologist realized the importance of his assignment. Tracking down the men who had used these squares of gold became almost an obsession with Dr. Ivanov, and the trail ended where he had hoped it would: at a prehistoric cemetery dotted with graves literally filled with Copper Age gold treasure! Archaeologists who have seen the accumulation of wealth that came from the tombs have compared it to that found by Heinrich Schliemann slightly over a hundred years ago in ancient Troy. Even though in both monetary value and sheer artistic quality the Troy find far outweighs that of the prehistoric Varna graveyard, those found at the latter location are at least 1,500 years older and are undoubtedly the world's oldest gold treasure ever found.
It also became apparent during the excavations that even Copper Age society had its lower and upper classes, for the graves revealed that not everyone buried in Varna was interred with the same honors and overwhelming riches. Of the more than two thousand gold pieces discovered in the dirt of the graveyard, most came from four of the excavated graves, while the other disturbed gravesites appeared to be more symbolic in nature. In fact, ipany of them yielded nothing to indicate that anyone had actually been buried there. Instead, in several instances metal had been placed in a grave in the manner a body would have been positioned if interred. There were even graves containing clay masks to which sheet-gold features had been added. These undoubtedly had a ritualistic meaning of some sort.
While the first find caused great confusion among historians, for gold ornaments simply did not "belong" in the Copper Age, the find caused so much curiosity and unbelief that it eventually resulted in a steady flow of experts visiting the Bulgarian Black Sea coast to check the Varna site and examine the discovered objects. Dr. Colin Redfrew, professor of archaeology at the University of Southampton, England, had over a period of many years
developed a theory which held that ancient people living in what is Bulgaria today had developed on their own the art and technique of melting and casting copper from ore, without relying on the technological knowledge of other civilizations. His on-the-site study now more than convinced him of the accuracy of his theory.
"At the Varna site in 1978," he wrote later on, "I found myself still in the Copper Age, but I was looking at gold, not just copper. I believe the gold was local, either panned or mined. About two thousand objects have been found in Varna, weighing in total more than twelve pounds (5.5 kilograms). My eyes popped as I beheld the golden necklaces, bracelets and breastplates, a polished stone shaft ax with gold-encased wooden handle, and a large black bowl painted in gold. When archaeologist Ivan Ivanov handed me a necklace of gold beads, I was piercingly aware that I held in my hands an object from the world's earliest gold treasure trove."
It is interesting that his theory bears a close resemblance to the one that runs like the proverbial red thread through Secrets of the Lost Races, a book I wrote in 1977. Many of the ooparts that have been found have made it quite obvious that our own technological development is but a rekindling of ancient knowledge attained by our "primitive" forefathers, and that the historical Flood marked the end of a highly advanced civilization and the beginning of a number of others. Noah's descendants had the arduous task of resettling the earth, but with the advantage that they could put into practice the technological breakthroughs that had been developed before the great catastrophe. Can it be that Varna was possibly located in one of those areas where Noah's descendants finally settled down?
Legend and tradition have woven a tight net of folklore around Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey, identifying it as the landing place of Noah's Ark. The Armenians in whose country the mountain is located have always referred to it as the "Mother of the World." Can there be something to this tradition?
The biblical book of Genesis, chapter 10, contains a record of the dispersion of tribes and nations in the dawning days of the Middle East which corroborates the position of the Armenian tradition. What's more, modern research fully backs the Genesis record.
Professor W. F. Albright, internationally recognized as one of the leading authorities on Middle East archaeology and history, says, "It stands absolutely alone in ancient literature, without a remote parallel even among the Greeks .... 'Table of Nations' remains an astonishingly accurate document .... (It) shows such remarkable 'modern' understanding of the ethnic and linguistic situation in the modern world, in spite of all its complexity, that scholars never fail to be impressed with the author's knowledge of the subject."
The list he refers to mentions the descendants of Noah, the offspring of his three sons. It gives the first generation of descendants of each son; what is more important, it lists their names, which often provide us with clues as to their history and dwelling place.
The first and second generations of Noah's offspring left their marks in Egypt, Palestine, Asia Minor, Assyria, Phoenicia, Armenia, the Persian Gulf region, and lands in between. The third generation moved into Europe, Spain, southern Arabia, Lower Egypt, Upper Egypt, the Black Sea region and Babylonia. So according to this Table of Nations, the idea of connecting the Varna craftsmen with Noah's descendants is not at all farfetched, and neither is the connection between their technical ability and pre-Flood society.
One of the reasons why archaeology has more appeal in general to amateurs and professionals than anthropology is that in archaeology the so-called missing links between ancient civilizations are continually being unearthed, making every new dig in reality a part of the total puzzle. Anthropology has been looking for the missing links between man and ape ever since Charles Darwin, and has never yet found anything that has been able to fill the gap.
A fitting example of an archaeological "missing link" surfaced in 1968 when Dr. Korium Megurtchian of the Soviet Union unearthed what is still considered to be the oldest large-scale metallurgical factory in the world, at Medzamor in Soviet Armenia. Here, 4,500 years ago, an unknown prehistoric people worked with over two hundred furnaces, producing an assortment of vases, knives, spearheads, rings, and bracelets. The Medzamor craftsmen wore mouth filters and gloves while they labored to fashion their wares of copper, lead, zinc, iron, gold, tin, manganese, and fourteen kinds of bronze. Their smelters also produced an assortment of metallic paints, ceramics, and glass. But by far the most out-of-place discovery was several pairs of steel tweezers taken from layers dating back before the first millennium B.C. The steel was later found to be of exceptionally high grade, and the discovery has been verified by organizations in the Soviet Union, the United States, Britain, France and Germany.
French journalist Jean Vidal, reporting in Science et vie of July 1969, expressed the belief that these finds point to an unknown period of high technological development. "Medzamor was founded by the wise men of earlier civilizations. They possessed knowledge they had acquired during a remote age unknown to us that deserves to be called scientific and industrial."
What makes the Medzamor metallurgical site most interesting is that it is within fifteen miles of Mount Ararat—the landing site of the survivors of the destroyed antediluvian civilizations. True, Varna is roughly two hundred miles by land and another six hundred miles by water from Mount Ararat, or slightly farther if the entire route is traveled by land; but Medzamor may have been settled by the first generation after the Flood, while the Table of Nations places the movement of people into the Black Sea area (now northern Turkey, Bulgaria, Rumania and Russia) during the third generation! This suddenly places the Varna discovery in a totally different light.
But whereas the treasure of Varna was left in the ancient burial ground by an unknown people at some period during the Copper Age, their craftsmanship did not die when they passed from the scene. For sake of identification of the artifacts, archaeologists place the stratum of the Bronze Age on top of those of the Copper Age, followed in turn by the Iron Age and on into recorded history. This means that others followed where they, the Varna people, stopped. But who were "they"? And what did they leave us as their legacy?
Treasure of the Thracians
Historical references tell us that the famed Thracians of old lived in the land comprising the countries now known as Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey. More important, they arrived on the scene of history around 1000 B.C.—during the Bronze Age. They were a barbaric people who lived on largely uncultivated land covered with forests and mountains filled with large mineral deposits, particularly gold, which made the region a highly coveted possession. It was probably their metallurgists and goldsmiths who, having inherited their craftsmanship from the unknowns of the Copper Age, decided to exploit the land's rich gold deposits. They may have been the ones who first discovered the deposits of Mount Pangaion and eventually started large-scale mining operations there. Thrace has always been known as an area of great riches, and the fabled mines of Pangaion were undoubtedly a major target of King Philip II of Macedonia during his conquest of Thrace in the fourth century B.C.
TO BE CONTINUED