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Archive for October, 2011

An Angkoran Ruin in Laos

Posted by Stephen Knapp on October 26, 2011

An Angkoran Ruin in Laos

 Vat Phou temple’s ancient history

October 19th, 2011

In the fifth century, Champasak was thought to be the centre of the Laotian universe. Today it’s a drowsy one-car village clutching the western bank of the Mekong River in southern Laos and home to the tiny Hindu-built Vat Phou, which some archaeologists believe may have been the first Angkor temple ever built.

At a glance, Vat Phou doesn’t seem like the kind of structure that would initiate an empire. A tiny prayer hall at the top of a precarious stone stairway, with two reception halls on the plains below, Vat Phou lacks the jaw-dropping awesomeness of temples in Cambodia’s Angkor Archaeological Park. But as with the Angkor temples, its symbolism is extraordinary.

Tucked under the phallic-shaped mountain peak of Phu Kao – thought to represent Mount Meru, the sacred mountain at the centre of the Hindu cosmology – Vat Phou was worshipped as the embodiment of Shiva. The spring nearby was associated with Shiva’s wife, the goddess Parvati. Water runs underground from Phu Kao’s peak, rising through Parvati. From here, passing a series of barays (man-made dams) and linga (phallic statues), water flows into the Mekong, blessing everything on its journey south.

UNDER THREAT: The ruins of Vat Phou in southern Laos hold secrets that are being destroyed by development.

In the fifth century, Champasak was thought to be the centre of the Laotian universe. Today it’s a drowsy one-car village clutching the western bank of the Mekong River in southern Laos and home to the tiny Hindu-built Vat Phou, which some archaeologists believe may have been the first Angkor temple ever built.

At a glance, Vat Phou doesn’t seem like the kind of structure that would initiate an empire. A tiny prayer hall at the top of a precarious stone stairway, with two reception halls on the plains below, Vat Phou lacks the jaw-dropping awesomeness of temples in Cambodia’s Angkor Archaeological Park. But as with the Angkor temples, its symbolism is extraordinary.

Tucked under the phallic-shaped mountain peak of Phu Kao – thought to represent Mount Meru, the sacred mountain at the centre of the Hindu cosmology – Vat Phou was worshipped as the embodiment of Shiva. The spring nearby was associated with Shiva’s wife, the goddess Parvati. Water runs underground from Phu Kao’s peak, rising through Parvati. From here, passing a series of barays (man-made dams) and linga (phallic statues), water flows into the Mekong, blessing everything on its journey south.

I learn this while poring over a satellite map with Daniel Davenport, an articulate but debated Australian archaeologist working in Champasak and author of the Vat Phou Guide: Following in the Footsteps of Angkor’s Pilgrims, a tourist compendium on the area that Davenport is self publishing.

“Vat Phou could quite well have been the first, the pre-eminent, Angkor temple,” he says, explaining that early worshippers took a piece of Vat Phou stone and placed it under every subsequent temple they built.

On the map, Davenport points out a well-defined line leading from one of the reception halls at Vat Phou to the temple of Angkor Wat. “This used to be a pilgrims’ road during the Khmer Empire,” he says, referring to the kingdom that reigned over much of south-east Asia between the ninth and thirteenth centuries and used the Angkor Archaelogical Park as the capital. “They had roadhouses every six miles (nine kilometres) with accommodation, food, shelter for the animals and hospitals; six miles being the average distance a bullock cart could travel in a day.”

However, archaeologists at Vat Phou know a lot less than they would like to. “We have excavated about 5 per cent of the area,” says Laurent Delfour, a French architect who has been working with UNESCO to manage the site for the past three-and-a-half years. “That translates as 5 per cent knowledge on the area. We believe that Vat Phou marked the beginning of the Angkor Empire but nothing is certain.”

What is certain is the race against time Champasak’s hidden treasures face. A new highway linking the town with the regional capital of Pakse and the Thai border post of Chong Mek, has already disturbed six ancient temples beneath the ground. Champasak was designated a World Heritage zone in 2001; building without assessments, and approval, is not permitted.

“The Laos Ministry of Information and Culture did a little research into the area where the road was going,” says a long-term Champasak resident who requested anonymity. “But the findings were just pushed aside and work on the road accelerated.”

The local government is hoping the road, which will extend to the Cambodian border, will bring in busloads of tourists.  Full story here.

 http://bharatkalyan97.blogspot.com/2011/10/vat-phou-temples-ancient-history.html

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Half man, half lion figure in Germany

Posted by Stephen Knapp on October 25, 2011

Half man, half lion figure in Germany

Posted 10/25/2011

The Löwenmensch (meaning lion-man in English) is a puzzle. The provenance of this figure is derived from the 1870s. Markedly

        Significant is the discovery of the Löwenmensch — a German term meaning “lion-person” — as a larger Löwenmensch sculpture was found in 1939 at the Hohlenstein-Stadel site in a neighbouring valley. Both works carry similar features and have been dated to the Aurignacian period between 31,000 and 33,000 years ago.

        Dr.Nicholas Conard added: “The occupants of Hohle Fels in the Ach Valley and Hohlenstein-Stadel in the Lone Valley must have been members of the same cultural group and shared beliefs and practices connected with therianthropic (half-man, half-animal) images of felids (cats) and humans. The discovery lends support to the hypothesis that Aurignacian people practised a form of shamanism.”

        The second site at  Hohle Fels is a large cave site with Middle and Upper Paleolithic occupations, located in the Swabian Jura of southwestern Germany, some 20 kilometers southwest of the town of Ulm.

        The cave deposits include a low density Middle Paleolithic site and a long Upper Paleolithic sequence with separate Aurignacian, Gravettian and Magdalenian occupations. Radiocarbon dates for the UP components range between 29,000 and 36,000 years bp.

Hohle Fels is best known for the recent recovery of three pieces of carved ivory from the Aurignacian period, which make up some of the earliest portable art in the world.

        The three figurines are of a horse’s head (or possibly a bear), a water bird of some sort possibly in flight, and a “Lowenmensch”, a half lion/half human figurine. Previously, a similar lion/human sculpture (although much larger) was found at the Hohlenstein-Stadel site, an Aurignacian period site in the Lone Valley of Germany. The horse’s head at Hohle Fels came from a level dated about 30,000 years old; the other two are from an older occupation in the cave, ca. 31-33,000 years ago.

        Hohle Fels was discovered in the 1870s and first excavated in the late 1950s, when undisturbed Paleolithic sediments were found. Excavations have been ongoing since the 1970s, led first by Joachim Hahn and beginning in the 1990s by Nicholas Conard. (via Hohle Fels (Germany).

These items, especially the two Löwenmensch seemed ‘polished from heavy handling, suggesting that rather than sitting on a shelf as an artifact to be admired’.

The importance of being the Löwenmensch

These ivory artifacts are vital to the European historical narrative being developed over the last 20 years – based on these finds.

Dr.Conard in another paper claims, ‘The ivory figurines from Swabia represent one of the earliest artistic traditions worldwide”. A related academic paper on this period goes on to say,

Indeed, how can we not see, in the numerous and varied ornaments, sculpted stone blocks, ivory statuettes or bone, antler and ivory spear points, evidence of a significant and abrupt mutation in the long history of human evolution?’.

Figurines apart, there are the odd musical instruments, which too are of ivory. Musical instruments made and used more than 30,000 years ago – in what is called as the Aurignacian period.

These incredible finds must have a credible theory behind it.

More can be read about it at: http://2ndlook.wordpress.com/2011/06/04/lowenmensch-puzzle-am-i-missing-something/

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