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.


Rock Churches of Lalibela

For 1,000 years Christian pilgrims traveled to the rock hewn churches at the holy site of Lalibela.  The eleven churches were sculpted over centuries.  The best known, the church of St George is shaped like a crucifix.

Lalibela’s churches are monolithic, carved from the mountain so that they are completely detached, each is made from a single block of rock.

The largest is House of Medhane Alem.

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


Kingdom of Aksum

Aksum was a thriving city from the first to seventh centuries CE.  The original inhabitants were an Iron Age society with cultural ties to the Arabian Peninsula.  The kingdom of Aksum invaded Meroe around 350 CE when Meroe was in severe decline as trade had shifted to the southeast.

Aksum’s exports were many including agricultural products, ivory, gold, precious stones, salt and of course slaves.

Aksum traded,with Rome and Byzantium and as far as India.  They imported metal goods, glass, silks and spices.  Aksum minted its own gold, silver and copper coins from the third century which testifies to the kingdom’s wealth and commerce at home and abroad.

The fourth century ruler of Aksum, Ezana, adopted Christianity, replacing the kingdom’s polytheistic religion.

Aksum’s decline began around the sixth century, attributed to control of trade to a new Islamic caliphate in the Arabian Peninsula.

Only a small part of Aksum has been excavated.  Best known for its architecture and stelae.

The stele of Aksum was removed by Musolini and sent to Rome in 1937 but was returned to Ethiopia in 2005 and re-erected in 2008.

Africa Egypt


The ancient Egyptians knew Karnak as Ipet-Swt, “most select of places”.  Originally a local shrine dedicated to Amun, during continuous building from early Middle Kingdom to Roman times successive kings added to the complex, each attempting to outdo their predecessors.  Some demolished earlier monuments absorbing the stone blocks I their own construction.  

An example is pylon three built by, 18th dynasty pharaoh Amenhotep III c. 1390-1353 BCE, where the rubble fill contained blocks of carved limestone from a chapel constructed by Senwosret I of the. Idle kingdom c.1956-1911 BCE.  Today this chapel is known as the White Chapel.

The Red Chapel constructed of red quartzite by pharaoh Hatshepsut c.1453-1458, which has been dismantled and reassembled.  It had been covered over probably due to Hatsheosut being a female pharaoh.

Construction of The Hypostyle Hall began by Rameses I and continued by his son Seti I.

Karnak has a series of granite obelisks erected by 18th dynasty Pharaohs.  They are cut from one piece of stone, tapering to the top inscribed with royal and religious texts and some entirely covered with gold foil.  Quarried from riverside quarries at Aswan, to cut, transport and erect an obelisk was an achievement and mark of powerful kingship.  One that had a flaw exposed during cutting can be seen today still lying I the quarry.

Europe Mythology

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Art Europe Prehistoric


The Rock Carvings in Tanum are located in an area on the west coast of Sweden, in an area known as Bohuslan, which contains the densest concentration of Bronze Age rock art in Scandinavia.  Several hundred engravings are known around Tanum, and more are believed to be buried under the soil and moss.  Though many of the engravings are now filled with red or white paint to be more visible, originally, they had no color to set them off from the surrounding rock.

The Bronze Age artists used stone hammers and points to grind and peck the rock surfaces to make these carvings. Thousands of ship engravings have been found, with upward curving bows and sterns.  Engravings of humans are male, they carry weapons, ride chariots, pull plows.  Animals such as cattle, horses, deer, canines and birds also appear, along with abstract designs such as wheels and spirals which may symbolize the sun.  Many of the engravings depict scenes for everyday life such as farming or hunting while others show rituals and processions and battle axes show the status of warriors in Bronze Age society.

Various interpretations have been advanced; did they tell stories for future generations?  Did they express relations between the worlds of the living and deities or myths?

The Rock Carvings of Tanum were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994.

Prehistoric South America UNESCO

Prehispanic Caral

Discovered by Paul Kosok in 1948, Caral is known for its early complexity.  According to radiocarbon dating Caral was constructed during the third millennium BCE, making it one of the oldest civilizations in the Andean region.  

In 1975 Peruvian architect Carlos Williams made a detailed record of several of the archaeological sites in the area, among them Caral, which encompassed 168 acres.

The Templo Mayor, constructed in different phases until it reached a height of 98 feet is the largest, consisting of overlapping platforms and a sunken circular court in front of the building.  The temple’s top is accessed by stairs located at the front of the building.  Other buildings include the Amphitheater Temple.

There are thirty two public structures along we an area of domestic occupation. Shicras, bags made from vegetable fiber cords, usually reeds, were used in construction of the buildings. Shicras were used to  transport stones for building, and occasionally used as fill in the construction work.

Hundreds of human figurines made from unnamed clay were found which are thought to be fertility figures. Caral appears to be the model for the urban design adopted by Andean civilizations that rose and fell over a span of four millennia. It is believed that research conducted in Caral may answer questions about the origins of the various Andean civilizations and the development of its first cities. 

Caral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2009.

Europe Prehistoric


Preserved by rising waters inundating the site, Iron Age Biskupin was exposed when the water level dropped.  A local teacher notified archaeologists who began excavating the following year.  Outlines of structures were gradually emerging and photos from an observation balloon revealed the plan of the settlement.

Biskupin settlement

Dwellings, workshops, stables and storerooms ran in parallel rows with common walls, each unit about 26’x30′ with a central hearth of stone.

Several hundred people may have lived very close together with eleven log streets separating the houses and another road surrounding the inhabited area.  A rampart of wooden cribs filled with earth and stone encircled the area which may have been about 525’x660′.  

Biskupin art and pottery

Through dendrochronology we know Biskupin dates from around 747-722BCE as more than half the wood was cut in the winter of 738-737 BCE.  First the streets and houses were laid out, then the houses were built and the timber cribs for the ramparts were constructed.

Biskupin weapons and jewelry

A single gate gave access to fields and pastures where the inhabitants cultivated wheat, millet and tended herds of livestock.  They made iron and bronze tools, pottery and they wove woolen cloth.  

Europe Far East Mythology

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South America

Easter Island / Rapa Nui

The island is volcanic in origin and one of the remotest places in the world that is inhabited and contains the statue quarry, bird man village and the richest rock art in the Pacific.  The archaeological record indicates one single development of culture from the first Polynesian settlers until the arrival of Europeans. Evidence indicates people from eastern Polynesia arrived in the early centuries of the Common Era and were trapped here. 

In 1955 an expedition led by Thor Heyerdahl performed the first stratigraphic excavations, obtained radiocarbon dates and also experimented in carving, moving and erecting statues. In the 1980s John Flenley analyzed pollen from sediments at the bottom of the freshwater lakes and discovered the island was originally covered by a rainforest.  When the colonists arrived on this island they began changing the landscape.

Using basalt picks the inhabitants carved more than 1,000 moai (statues), almost all of them from the soft volcanic tuff of Rano Raraku crater.  All were of a human figure with prominent nose and chin and elongated ears.  The bodies end at the abdomen with arms held tightly to the sides, hands in front.

In the final years of, prehistory the islanders stopped carving statues and the manufacture of spearheads and daggers of obsidian, a sharp volcanic glass, shattered a thousand years of peaceful coexistence.  Statues were toppled and their religion was abandoned. 

Their social system of ancestor worship was abandoned in favor of one featuring a warrior elite. An annual chief or “birdman” was chosen annually in a race. The rock art depicts the competition which ended with crowning a new birdman, sometimes holding an egg, symbolizing fertility.  

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Austral-Asia UNESCO


Anuradhapura was Sri Lanka’s capital for 1500 years, hunter gatherers inhabited the island for more than 30,000 years.  In the early first millennium rice farmers from India appeared.

By the fourth century BCE a walled, city with sturdy houses on regular streets appeared.  The ancient Sri Lankans were skilled engineers and built networks of canals and reservoirs to supply water for irrigation and domestic use.   

Buddhism was introduced by Mauryan King Ashoka’s son, Mahinda in 246 BCE.  

In 1017 Cholas from South India sacked Anuradhapura and the capital moved to Polonnaruwa as Anuradhapura became covered in jungle.

Partly Cleared since the 19th century CE this UNESCO Heritage Site’s buildings can be seen today.

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Africa People

Great Zimbabwe

The site covers about 7 sq km and is known for its stone houses, comprising about 1,000 residences.  The Hill Ruins are believed to be the oldest, the Great Enclosure dates from its heyday and the Valley Ruins. The Hill Ruins are the remains of a royal complex which included residential and ceremonial areas.  The outer perimeter walls are about 35 feet high  and nearly 20 feet thick in some places.  Some have decorative stonework in a herringbone pattern.    

The main structures date from about 1000-1450 CE.  Excavations performed in the earth 20th century damaged some areas and have complicated the chronology.  Excavations continue using radiocarbon dating of midden materials.  Oriental ceramics and glass beads from Persia have been found and aid in dating different locations.  

The Great Enclosure, a circular area which measures 820feet across, with two perimeter walls, contains a conical tower 33 feet tall with no apparent function.  It’s purpose is still being debated.

The reason for decline is not clear but may be due to environmental factors and over exploitation of resources, climate change or water shortages.  Also under consideration are shifting trade patterns and/or political unrest. 

The first scientific excavations were conducted by David Randall-MacIver in 1905.  He concluded that the site was medieval in origin and linked to forebears of the local African population.  Gertrude Caton Thompson, who excavated in 1929 insisted that the site was built and occupied by Iron Age ancestors of the Shona people.

Far East General Mythology People

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Budj Bim

Today Budi Bim is a dormant volcano in Victoria, Australia, 30,000 years ago Budj Bim erupted and lava flowed south and west more than 30 miles creating a distinctive landscape of lakes and wetlands encompassing an area of historical and cultural importance.   

8,000 years ago the Gunditjmara people developed a sophisticated aquaculture system which channeled the water of the nearby Darlot Creek into adjacent low-lying areas.  This trapped fish in a series of dams and channels.  This indicates the indigenous population were not only hunter-gatherers but farmers and cultivators of the landscape.

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