Europe Mythology

Giant’s Causeway, N. Ireland

According to legend the volcanic feature was built by the Irish giant Fionn Mac Cumhaill.

After being challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner, Fionn constructed the Causeway over the sea to reach him. 

Actually the same immense lava flow that created the causeway also formed the basalt columns at Fingal’s Cave on the Scottish Island of Staffa, which may have influenced the story.

The Causeway is made up of approximately 40,000 basalt columns formed 50-60 million years ago from a massive eruption of lava as it cooled and cracked which formed a pattern.

Europe Greece Mythology

Erechtheion, Athens Acropolis

The caryatids stand outside the 5th century BCE temple built to honor Athena and Poseidon between 421 and 406 BCE.

The temple stands at the north end of the Acropolis built on a rocky outcrop which was first inhabited around 6,000 years ago.

The caryatids, six female figures, can be found on the southside supporting a porch.

The sculptures there today are replicas, five of the originals are in the Acropolis Museum, the sixth having been taken to London by Lord Elgin, and now resides in the British Museum.

Middle East

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

Long an image of the area the Dome of the Rock was depicted on stamps of Palestine under British mandate.

Located on Temple Mount, this Islamic Shrine is located in a city that is holy to Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

Muslims believe that the rock in the center of the temple bears a footprint of Muhammad and was the start of his Night Journey which he took around 621CE. 

The octagonal building was completed in 691, with the present dome added in 1023. The exterior tile work was added by the Ottomans in the 16th century.

Digs Europe People Rome

Pompeii, Italy

The city of Pompeii was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79CE under 13-20 feet of pumice and ash.

The city was preserved by the ash which kept out the air and moisture until its excavation, which began in 1748.

Today it is preserved as an open air museum where tourists can walk through the remains of the forum, temples, brothels, shops and homes.

It is through these ruins and the human body cavities found therein that we know what the Romans looked like because their culture cremated rather than buried.

Far East

Angkor Wat

Angkor, from the Sanskrit, meaning ‘the holy city’, was the capital of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to 15th centuries CE.  One of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia it is located northwest of Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh.  

Angkor Wat is the temple city and is the largest religious building in the world.  It has a surrounding moat and perimeter more than three miles.  Angkor Thom is the city to the south of Angkor Wat 

Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi connected the Built by Jayavarman VII between 1181-1201, who proclaimed Buddhism the state religion.  Most famous is Bayon Temple with 54 towers and 216 faces of the Buddha facing in all directions.

Europe Greece

The Charioteer of Delphi

The Charioteer of Delphi is among the best-preserved examples of classical bronze sculpture.  Dating from around 470 BCE at 5’ 11” tall, the classic statue resides in the Delphi Museum.

Originally a wall with small garrisons every mile or so, the sculpture depicts a chariot driver at the moment when he attains victory at a race, holding the reins in his right hand.  

A small temple dedicated to the god Mithras, popular on the Roman frontiers and perhaps originating as far eastern as today’s Iran.  

Europe Rome

Segovia Aqueduct, Spain

Believed to have been constructed on the orders of Emperors Domitian and Trajan around 50-100 CE the Segovia Aqueduct is one of the best preserved Roman aqueducts and a symbol of Segovia.

Originally built to carry water from the Frio River to the city, it is still in use today.

Actually an aqueduct-bridge the Segovia Aqueduct was designated a World Heritage Site in 1985.

Europe Rome

Hadrain’s Wall

Roman Emperor Hadrian established a system of walls around the then extensive Roman Empire.  Pulling back (south) from the land of the Picts, he established a border that ran 73 miles across Britain.

Originally a wall with small garrisons every mile or so, the best remaining mile castle is at Swarthy Hill, sitting on a small hill, it has clear views across to Scotland.

The main frontier was a ditch to the north, then a wall, then another ditch with two raised mounds on either side to the south of the wall.  One of the crossing points, complete with gateway, is preserved to the south of the fort, at Benwell in the western suburbs of Newcastle.

Among the most visible remaining infantry forts can be found at the eastern end of the wall while two well preserved mile castles remain in this area at Castle Nick.

The original frontier was based on a road which ran south of the wall and was guarded by a series if forts, the beds preserved,of which is Vindolanda.  This fort has also yielded significant materials and archives of the Roman unit stationed here.  

A small temple dedicated to the god Mithras, popular on the Roman frontiers and perhaps originating as far eastern as today’s Iran.  

Meso-America South America

Sipán, Moche Tomb

The city of Sipán dates from 50–700 AD, the same time as the Moche Period.  In 1987 archaeologist Walter Alva discovered the tomb of The Lord of Sipán, an important ruler of the Moche.  Inside the adobe funerary platform is a rectangular chamber with a roof sported by wooden beams.  Although the tomb was added to at various times, the main occupant of each tomb was male, inside a wooden coffin each with grave goods.

The Lord of Sipán was accompanied by seashells, scepters, pectorals, ceramics, textiles and many other luxury items.  Also found were human sacrifices, children and women and men.  The men seem to have been warriors. Other sacrifices were animals such as dogs and camelids.

The Sipán tombs were the first royal burials found in South America.  They were Inca, and archaeologists consider the site to be among the most important discoveries in the past few decades.

Scientific analysis of The Lord of Sipán indicates he was about 5’5″ tall, around 40 years old when he died and the quality if his diet and the wealth of jewelry made of gold, silver, copper indicate he was high ranking.  In Inca society artifacts made of precious metals symbolized the rulers power.

Europe Middle East


Pergamum, modern Bergama was the royal capital of Philetarios (343-263BCE) who founded the Attalid dynasty in 282 BCE.  With it were a number of monuments commemorating the Attalid victory. The best known was the Tru,Peter, better known as the Dying Gaul, of which a later copy is in Rome. The colonnades and gateway which remain bears the inscription “King Eumenes to the victory bearing Athena”.  The gateway is decorated with trophies of war.  

A library once stood here which had a copy of  Pheidias’ colossal gold and ivory statue of Athen Parthenos dating to 440 BCE.

The sanctuary of Athena dominated the skyline of the acropolis along with a stepped altar of Zeus constructed by EU, ends II, which evokes the Attalid victory over the Gauls, just as the Parthenon’s decoration celebrated Greek victory over the Persians.

The east side of Pergamon held royal palaces.

In 133 BCE Attalos III bequeathed the city to Rome and Hadrian constructed a massive temple to his father, Trajan, northwest of the sanctuary of Athena.

A sanctuary to the healing god, Asklepios, was constructed in the lower part of the city.

Europe Greece

Knossos, Minoan Palace

The distinctive material culture on Crete is named Minoan, after its mythical King, Minos.  Considerable reconstructions were made by British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans after his excavations in early 20th century, which give an idea of the opulence of Minoan buildings.

The first settlers arrived at Knossos around 7000 BCE, establishing their Homes. What would later become known as the Minoan Palace.  Though the term palace is misleading as in addition to being a residence archaeology suggests it had also an economic, religious, creative and administrative focus.  Extensive archives of clay tablets were found.

The architecture of the palace seems to have been designed from the central court outward, with the central court serving as a focus for the ceremonial activities of the palace.  Several entrances exist paved with large blocks of locally quarried gypsum.

The palace supported specialist artisans who produced wall paintings.

The era ended violently in the middle of the second millennium BCE when any sites on Crete, including the palace at Knossos, were destroyed by fire.

After excavations at Knossos, Evans wanted visitors to appreciate the magnificence of Minoan architecture and art, accordingly he commissioned reconstructions to be made for the remains and restoration of the wall paintings which depicted men and women in various activities including bull leaping and cult ceremonies.

Middle East

Petra, the Rose City

The area around Petra has been inhabited from as early as 7000 BC and became the capital of the Nabatean kingdom around the 4th century BC.

Set within a series of valleys or wadis, the entrance to the city is through a narrow gorge.  The first thing you see is the two story facade of Al-Khazneh which is cut into the rock face.  The structure may have originally been a temple.  

Further is a Roman theater constructed in the early part of the second century CE.  The upper part of the seating is cut through an earlier Nabatean street.

The stage, in the Roman style, was erected in front of the auditorium.

A colonnaded street, also Roman, at the eastern end is a fountain fed water by a system running through the Siq.  Markets flanked the south side of the colonnade.

Europe Prehistoric


The site of Stonehenge and it’s surrounding area became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986. The area around Stonehenge was already considered ancient by Mesolithic hunter-gatherers.

Archaeologists believe it was constructed from 3000 BC to 2000 BC.  Stories about Stonehenge mainly center upon the stones themselves.  How it was built and why.  The first project around Stonehenge involved digging a circular ditch about 330 feet across around 3000 BCE.  The term “henge” itself is from an ancient Saxon word meaning “hanging”.  Perhaps this was for the lintels sitting atop the upright stones or the ditch enclosures.

The first configuration of Stonehenge lasted nearly 500 years.  Between 2600-2400 BCE it assumed its present form, or one that would be recognizable today with the erection of the major upright stones and lintels.  The sparseness lintels were brought from Marlborough Downs, about 20 miles away.

Over many centuries the bluestones were rearranged several times.  Ritual activity stopped for several millennia from around 1600 BCE.

The question of the purpose of Stonehenge has baffled archaeologists for centuries.  In the 1960s a new theory was advanced, that it was some kind of calendar or observatory, which are now considered off the mark.  Prehistoric people often aligned their monuments with annual celestial events.

Stonehenge is a world famous attraction with more than 800,000 tourists visit it a year. This led to its inclusion in the South West England universal stamp issue for international postage. Universal stamps are produced for tourists and feature iconic buildings and landmarks from around the country.

Far East


Once the political, economic and cultural center of the Silla kingdom (57 BCE – 935 CE), Gyeongju and neighboring areas have more tombs, temples, pagodas and Buddhist rock carvings than any other area in South Korea.  Gyeongju traded with the Tang Dynasty in China as well as Japan and others in Southeast Asia.  

Gyeongju ruled about two-thirds of the Korean Peninsula at its height between the 7th and 9th centuries and was the fourth largest city in the world at that time.  Many archaeological sites and cultural properties from this period remain in the city. 

Gyeonju became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.



The Mapungubwe Hill Cultural landscape, a UNESCO World Heritage Site has some well-preserved remains of the lives of the ruling class.  Excavations began in the 1930s with the discovery of 27 graves, of which three contained gold items.  

An elderly person was interred with more than 100 gold wire bracelets, another with a gold scepter.  Buried in traditional Iron Age style, seated, facing west.  A small gold rhino was also found, made from a wooden core with thin gold sheets secured with gold tacks.  Fragments of two other gold rhinos were found in the graves.  The significance is unknown.

Mapungubwe’s decline was likely due to aridity around 1300 CE and the population dispersed who traditional farming could not sustain them.  This is also believed to have contributed to the rise of the Great Zimbabwe north of Mapungubwe although it is believed both kingdoms existed for at least a century.


The Step Pyramid

The Sakkara step pyramid was ancient Egypt’s first stone building.  Designed by Imhotep, an innovative architect who later was worshipped.  The extensive cemetery was used from early Dynastic to the Graeco-Roman periods, more than 3,000 years, but was especially important during the Old Kingdom (2686-2160BCE).

From 3,000 BCE onwards civil servants working in Memphis, Egypt’s first capital city, built mud brick mastabas tombs in the Sakkara cemetery.   Smaller tombs were around the larger ones, most likely for the servants of the deceased.

The step pyramid was designed for Djoser, second king of the third dynasty, made of limestone from a local quarry.  Imhotep built a square mastaba with its corners oriented to the four compass points, this was extended upward until it became a six step pyramid.

A shaft descends from the center of the original mastaba to Djoser’s burial chamber.  A warren of corridors and rooms surround the chamber.  More than 36,000 curved bue-green faience tiles replicated the walls of  Djoser’s palace.

Around the step, pyramid was an enclosure, defined by a massive wall of limestone with 14 false doors designed to confound tomb robbers. 

In the later Old Kingdom (Dynasty 4 – 6) the landscape of Sakkara was expanded with a series of smaller pyramids built by kings wishing to be close to Djoser.

Middle East

Kilwa Kisiwani Ruins

This UNESCO World Heritage site dates from the first millennium CE, but it was not until the next millennium that Kilwa became a wealthy trading center.  It’s importance lies in its Islamic architecture as well as the growth of Sawhili culture.

Under the Kilwa sultanate the city was an important center of intercontinental trade with the Arabian peninsula along with India and China.  Kilwa’s rulers gained control of the export of African Gold in the late 12th century.

Excavations unearthed unglazed ceramics as well as exotic goods such as Chinese celadon ware and Persian faience.  Kilwa minted its own coins from the 11th to 14th centuries.

Kilwa declined in the late 1300s, and fell after being invaded by the Portuguese in 1505.

Art Austral-Asia

Polynesian Pitcairn

The pre-history of the Polynesian people has been the subject of great study and debate. Since the time of Cook’s voyages, explorers, archeologists and anthropologists have wondered about this rich culture which flourished scattered across many islands in some of the most remote, inaccessible places on earth. In modern times, advances in such disciplines as archeology, genetics, and linguistics have enabled some remarkable discoveries, and new theories about these ancient peoples continue to emerge. The most widely held of these theories trace a migration from Asia sometime between 2,000 and 6,000 years ago, although there are competing theories which point to a migration from South America. 

In 1971 the Pitcairn Islands released this four stamp set entitled Polynesian Pitcairn in celebration of the fascinating archeology of the island. When the mutineers of the Bounty arrived on Pitcairn Island in 1790, the ancient Polynesian inhabitants had already been gone for several centuries. However, they left behind temple platforms, petroglyphs (rock carvings), and stone tools which have helped to shed light on their lifestyle.

Unfortunately many important artifacts were destroyed by the early settlers. However, enough evidence remained for modern researchers like Marshall Weisler to piece together a story of a seafaring Polynesian culture heavily dependant on trade with its larger neighbors which died out when such neighborly trade connections were lost. 

The stamps in this set show various Polynesian artifacts; Polynesian petroglyphs which can be seen at places such as Down the Gods and Down Rope; Polynesian implements – stone axes and cutting tools; A stone fish hook and a Polynesian stone statue of a deity. With heavy brows, long noses, and solemn expressions, the statues discovered at Pitcairn are similar to the larger statues discovered at Easter Island. 

Middle East


Mesolithic hunter gatherers once occupied the caves in the hills while farmers settled in the valley in the fourth millennium BCE.  In the late sixth century BCE a substantial settlement was built on the southeastern end of the valley.

Material excavated from the area attests to contact with civilizations as far as the Ganges Valley, which supports the belief that Gandhara was one of the early historic Indian kingdoms.

When Alexander the Great conquered the Achaemenid empire and reached India in 326 BCE Taxila’s king voluntarily surrendered to him though no material excavated links Taxila’s to the Persians or Alexander.

Due to the power vacuum that befell Taxila after Alexander’s incursion the region fell to Chandragupta Maurya in 311 BCE.

Taxila was strategically located for trade.  Located in Gandhara, northern Punjab, history records Taxila’s participation in many encounters between east and west.

Taxila became the Maurya’s northern capital.  Ashoka was viceroy here during his father’s reign.  Most buildings uncovered belong to this period.  Houses had a central courtyard.


Tikal, City of the Maya

Tikal’s temples rise above the forest canopy, occupying an area of lush jungle in Guatemala. Tikal is one of the best studied Mayan sites, first occupied around 800 BCE.  It’s 988 acre center, including the principal monuments is a World Heritage property.

Wide raised causeways connect the major buildings and served as roadways and also water catchment systems, channeling runoff for the plazas into a reservoir west of the central acropolis.  By the first century Tikal was an agrarian city ruled by Yax Ehb’Xook. The city’s population at this time is thought to be about 60,000.

The central acropolis consists of 46 buildings set around six courtyards along with the royal palace.  The north acropolis contains royal tombs many with commemorative temples.  To the southwest is yet another ceremonial plaza, several of Tikal’s eRly rulers are buried here.  The main structure is a pyramid about 100 feet high with stairways on each side that were once flanked by huge masks.  The Mercador stone found here documents Teotihuacan’s  inquest of the city in 378.

Some of the interiors of the churches are decorated with striking friezes of biblical scenes and bas-reliefs.