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The Assyrian Women of Kanesh

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

This video presents work Assyriologist Cécile Michel of the French National Center for Scientific Research and her colleagues have conducted exploring the lives of Assyrian women who resided in the Bronze Age Anatolian city of Kanesh, about whom you can read in-depth in "Assyrian Women of Letters." Michel has collected translations of more than 300 nineteenth-century B.C. cuneiform tablets by or to women in Women of Assur and Kanesh: Texts from the Archives of Assyrian Merchants. To watch another film exploring her work, go to "Thus Speaks Tarām-Kūbi, Assyrian Correspondence."


Where Lions Roamed

Tuesday, August 08, 2023

This map shows the distribution of wild lions from the Pleistocene era through the modern period. The dotted line shows the spread of lions around the world from southern Africa.


Lions Map

The Enduring Cult of Isis

Friday, October 08, 2021

Isis And HorusThe earliest mention of the Egyptian goddess Isis occurs in the late 5th Dynasty (ca. 2465–2323 B.C.), in the funerary writings known as the Pyramid Texts. As the wife and chief mourner of Osiris, the god of the dead, Isis played a central role in Egyptian, and later Nubian, concepts of royal power and in rites celebrating the dead. As the mother of the god Horus, she was considered the embodiment of perfect motherhood.


Though Isis was the most powerful magician and healer among the gods, she did not have her own dedicated temples until late in ancient Egyptian history. Nectanebo II (r. 360–343 B.C.), the last native Egyptian pharaoh, was the first king to commission a temple dedicated to Isis, choosing to build her sanctuary at the site of Behbeit el-Hagar in the Nile Delta. The Macedonian pharaohs of the Ptolemaic Dynasty (305–30 B.C.) dedicated many more to Isis throughout Egypt, including those on the island of Philae.


The worship of Isis at temples in the seaside Ptolemaic capital of Alexandria drew the attention of seafarers from across the Mediterranean. They adopted her as a patron goddess and spread her cult throughout the Greco-Roman world, where she was assimilated with goddesses of fertility such as Demeter and Venus. Outside of Egypt and Nubia, where she retained her queenly status, she eventually lost her association with royal authority. From Britain to Afghanistan, the cult of Isis may have especially appealed to women and slaves.


Temples to Isis were also built across the classical world. One of the best preserved is the Temple of Isis at Pompeii (see Digging Deeper into Pompeii’s Past), whose vivid murals depicting the goddess were widely celebrated when they were first unearthed in the eighteenth century. Some scholars believe the temple so impressed Mozart, who visited in 1769, that it heavily influenced the composition of his most mystical opera, The Magic Flute.


As Christianity began to displace the worship of traditional gods throughout the Roman Empire, the cult of Isis also withered, enduring at Philae thanks to the patronage of Nubian royalty. As late as A.D. 452, the Nubian Blemmye people demanded in a treaty with Rome that they continue to be allowed to worship the goddess at the temples of Philae and retain the right to take a sacred statue of Isis to Nubia once a year.


Traditionally, the death knell of the worship of Isis—and ancient Egyptian religion at large—is dated to A.D. 536, when the Byzantine emperor Justinian I (r. A.D. 527–565) sent a military contingent to Philae to arrest the priests of Isis, stamp out pagan worship, and take the island’s treasures back to Constantinople. But the goddess’ presence endured long after the temples at Philae were closed. Indeed, many scholars believe that early images of the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus were heavily influenced by depictions of Isis nursing the baby Horus.

A Society's Sacrifice

Why the Chimú people of ancient Peru offered what was most valuable to them


Friday, April 07, 2023

Peru Las Llamas Human Animal SacrificeOriginally Published January/February 2012


Each year the technology used by archaeologists to locate sites becomes more sophisticated. Satellite images, Google Earth, and ground-penetrating radar are now combined with more traditional methods such as surface surveys and test trenches to determine how and where archaeologists will excavate. But sometimes one of the best sources of information about an area—and one that is frequently overlooked—is the knowledge of the local people who live there and whose families have been there for generations. Such is the case with a site in the small Peruvian coastal town of Huanchaquito that has come to be referred to by the locals as Las Llamas—The Llamas. It is a site that has a great deal to tell about the Andean Chimú culture and their religious and sacrificial practices.


Archaeologist Oscar Gabriel Prieto grew up in the town of Huanchaco, next to Huanchaquito. There, from the time that he was six years old, he would walk around sites in the area. He recently returned to excavate Pampas Gramalote, a small fishing village dating to between 2000 and 1200 B.C. While working there one day in August 2011, Prieto was approached by a resident of Huanchaquito who asked him if he was an archaeologist. When Prieto answered yes, the man said, “Then you have to come with me. Only 300 yards from here, there is another area filled with human bones, including skulls. I know these things are important.”


Peru Las Llamas Excavations

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Peru's Great Urban Experiment

Inside a Greek Mystery Cult

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Ancient pilgrims from across the Greek world flocked to the Sanctuary of the Great Gods on the island of Samothrace to be initiated into a popular mystery cult. Using 3-D modeling, a joint team from Emory University and New York University's Institute of Fine Arts is seeking to re-create the journey of these ancient initiates through the sanctuary. These videos simulate part of that route, from pilgrims’ entrance at night, to their steep descent down the Sacred Way toward the ritual buildings where they were likely inducted into the cult, to the stunning vistas of the sanctuary and the sea they would have enjoyed the morning after initiation. To read more about the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, go to “Secret Rites of Samothrace.” To watch additional walk-throughs and learn more about the team’s ongoing excavations, go to







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