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On Recce in Iran

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written by Mariana Silva Porto

“It seems inevitable, when approaching somewhere you have wanted to visit for many years that you will feel a mixed sense of excitement and fear. Will the reality live up to the expectation? This is how I felt on our walk to up to the great platform of Persepolis, yet as the it grew in front of me, and I began to grasp the sheer scale of the site, I knew that Iran wouldn’t disappoint me.”

To anyone with even a passing interest in archaeology, Iran is an obvious destination to visit. It captured my imagination from the moment I saw the gigantic capitals of Susa’s great hall displayed in the Louvre as a child. Later, it was the images of Esfahan’s Naqsh-e Jahan Square that captivated my interest. I have spoken with many people who have been and fallen in love with the Iran, and everything they told me and everything I’ve read was proven true. I had heard of the almost overwhelming friendless of the people, although no amount of reading can full prepare you for the reality of how welcoming Iranians are. I was expecting fresh lovely food, but not the beautiful breads, regional biscuits or the many delicious pistachio and rose water ice-creams our driver prided himself in finding for us.

These were two exhilarating weeks, filled with all the awe inspiring sites I expected and much more. From the highly impressive state of conservation of the Chonqa Zabil ziggurat rising out of the dessert, whose scale contrasts beautifully with the tiny cuneiform scriptures of its bricks; to the huge domes of the Sassanid palace at Firouzabad. There was of course Persepolis, where the details of the procession dignitaries shown climbing the stairs of the Apadana palace kept me smiling far longer than it probably should have, and the awe-inspiring reliefs at Naqsh-e-Rostam. At the highly atmospheric site of Takt-e Soleiman, Sasanian palaces and Il-Khanid buidings gather around a deep lake surrounded by hills. Then there were the tiles – it is hard to tell which of the many beautiful tiled mosques stands out, as just when you think you have seen the best example of Islamic architecture, the next visit is likely to take your breath away. Tiles, paintings, carvings and highly intricate mirrorwork all compete to make each visit stand out.

Yet, what surprised me the most about Iran had be the overwhelming contrast between familiarity and otherness, and the life and enthusiasm of its people. It is hard not love, or feel a sense of familiarity in the way family and friends will gather in the even the tiniest, or most isolated patch of grass, and pass the time eating and talking.

At the end of all this, having revised our itinerary, checked many hotels and restaurants and driven well over a thousand miles, all I can say is that I would be very happy to return. One final thing – if you do go, I highly recommend the ice-cream.

Mariana Silva Porto is the Program Manager for Archaeological Tours.

To find out more about the tour itself, which runs throughout 2017, please click here.

Discovering Ancient Worlds…

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Last month, the archaeological world was rocked by a Canadian teenager’s supposed discovery of a lost Mayan city – rumors that were hyperinflated by the media before being fully verified…

Nonetheless, archaeology is full of trial and error, and the excitement surrounding the “lost Mayan city” is part of archaeology’s long love affair with the spirit of discovery. After all, many long-hidden secrets have been made famous by archaeologists and explorers of the unknown – and some of those long-lost secrets now feature on our tours. From Ice Age cave art to incredible cities of the ancient Indian desert, we have collated some of our favorite rediscovered sites for you below…

THE PREHISTORIC GALLERIES OF THE PECH MERLE CAVES, FRANCE

Wandering amongst the hyena bones and ancient footprints left by ancient children in the chambered caves of Pech Merle is an almost otherworldly experience. Prehistoric ocher handprints, scattered amongst the hulking shoulders of ancient mammoth, offer an intimate link to our Ice Age ancestors…

The spotted horses and charging bison of Pech Merle – some dating back 25,000 years – were hidden underground for thousands and thousands of years, the entrance blocked by rocks. They were discovered in 1922 by a pair of French teenagers – Andre David and Henri Dutertre – they were the privileged first explorers of Pech-Merle’s deepest chamber galleries…

Interested in exploring Pech Merle and the other cave art sites of prehistoric Europe? Join our 2017 Caves and Castles tour in Franco-Iberia…

MACHU PICCHU, PERU

“I know of no place in the world which can compare with it. Gigantic precipices of many-coloured granite, rising sheer for thousands of feet above the foaming, glistening, roaring rapids… It has also, in striking contrast, orchids and tree ferns, the delectable beauty of… the mysterious witchery of the jungle. One is drawn irresistibly onwards by ever-recurring surprises…” – Hiram Bingham, ‘The Lost City of the Inca’

Machu Picchu, the green-cloaked imperial estate of Pachacuti, was largely lost to all but a small number of local Peruvians for centuries after its abandonment during the Spanish Conquest. In 1911, Hiram Bingham – a Yale professor – was led to the site by local farmer Melchor Arteaga, where an eleven year-old Quechuan boy called Pablito Alvarez guided him across the ridge to the main fortress…

Machu Picchu is one of the many highlights of our Peru tour, departing late this summer. Click here to find out more…

DHOLAVIRA (GUJARAT, INDIA)

Dholavira, once one of the grandest and most sprawling of the lost Harappan cities, lies in Gujarat’s Kutch district – an area that almost passes for an island, caught between the golden desert and the curving coastline of the Arabian Sea. Exploring the extraordinary hydraulic engineering of Dholavira leaves visitors humbled…

Dholavira was discovered by Jagat Pati Joshi, an Indian archaeologist, in 1968. Excavations are still ongoing, but the site has revealed hidden secrets of the ancient Harappan civilisation of the Gujarat region – which boasted advanced hydraulic engineering capable of conserving and harvesting water in a hot climate. Dholavira is constantly revealing new secrets – just this week, scientists discovered that the city’s fortifications were originally developed as a powerful tsunami wall.

Dholavira is just one of the many incredible Indian sites we will explore on our Gujarat tour this New Year. Will you be joining us amongst India’s temples and palaces?

Blog: Ghana, Togo and Benin

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“Having just returned from her first excursion for Archaeological Tours, our very own program manager Mariana Silva Porto shares her thoughts on the transformative experience of traveling through Ghana, Togo, and Benin. From the harrowing history of slavery to the surprisingly cheerful business of coffin-making, Mariana identifies the stories, idiosyncrasies, and wonders of these three countries, and muses on just what it is that makes the tour so special.”

Ghana, Togo, and Benin was my first Archaeological Tours tour. My aim in going was a relatively simple one: finding out what makes these tours special, and I only had five days in which to do it. This is in many ways an unusual destination, not many cultural companies venture to West Africa, I was therefore not sure what to expect. What I got was an insight into the country unlike any other I had encountered in this type of tour.

Normally, on a tour like this, the focus is rooted firmly in the past, on the history and archaeology of an area or country. There was plenty of that here. No one, I think, could help being moved by imposing slave forts, and their dark cells, as the stories of the vying colonial powers, the stakes for which they fought, and their terrible human cost, unfolded before us. As we were presented with the challenges of conservation and ownership that surround these monuments, the complex picture that emerged was one that gave me cause to stop and think.

I began to understand then that the true strength of this tour lay not in its illustrations of Ghana’s past, but in bridging the gap between the past and the present reality. Thus, although we were introduced to the history of the Ashanti kingdoms and their fabulous gold craftsmanship, this became much more than museum displays when we were suddenly found ourselves in the middle of the Akwasidae festival. Here, amongst traditional drums, singing, and the fabulous colours of the cloths made of the very same types of Kente and Adinkra fabrics we had seen woven and stamped just days before, the Ashanti King received homage from various subjects. To us it was a wonderful once in a lifetime opportunity, but we also got a sense that what we were witnessing was not a piece of history but a continuing, living tradition. These ceremonies take place every 42 days in the palace—we had created the tour deliberately around attending one—and we could see that they were important and meaningful to everyone there. Equally, of the many craftsmen we came across, I don’t think any surprised and delighted us more than the coffin makers and their fantastical creations, a recent phenomenon that builds on centuries of woodworking traditions, and which came to life when we saw the importance that funerary rites held here as we drove and walked past several ceremonies on our way.

Surrounded by a friendly and welcoming people, in just the first five days we had already been thrust directly into the heart of Ghana’s culture, and began to get an understanding not just of its past, but also of the many challenges which faced the modern country, be these economic, social, or environmental. I was sad not to have been able to continue this journey with our very congenial group, but as I left them to explore the fabulous mud architecture and other great things in the north of Ghana, Togo, and Benin, I found I had at least one answer to my question: this tour was special because the way it had been created had forced me think, and to alter my perception, and isn’t that, after all, what good travel is meant to do?

Women’s History Month

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Today marks the beginning of Women’s History Month 2016.

To celebrate, we’ll be filling our blog with women in history – or more specifically women in archeology – who we think deserve a little more exposure for their contributions.

Women’s History Month has been officially celebrated in the United States since 1987 but the story of how we arrived here began in 1909 with the first observation of a Women’s Day on March 8th in the United States. In 1911. The United Nations declared March 8th International Women’s Day and it has been celebrated across the globe ever since.

In 2016, Archaeological Tours will celebrate Women’s History Month by devoting our blog to women in archaeology. Join us as we discover the women who’ve played a part in deciphering history.

Across the month, we’ll introduce a range of women who have contributed greatly to archeological study, beginning with Harriet Boyd Hawes, expert on Cretan archeology, and the first person to excavate an entire early Bronze Age Minoan town site. She was a pioneer of women in archeology, and excavated extensively across her career.

Harriet was born in Boston on October 11, 1871. In 1896, after graduating from Smith College and teaching languages for four years, Hawes traveled to Athens to study at graduate level at the American School of Classical Studies. She was particularly interested in recent discoveries in Crete but was discouraged from pursuing fieldwork because of her gender, and instead urged to become an academic librarian. She wasn’t dissuaded, and continued to pursue a practical approach to archeology away from the American School.

In 1900, Hawes accepted a teaching position at Smith College, which she held for five years. During this time, she frequently returned to Crete, traversing the landscape on the back of a mule in search of prehistoric settlements and excavating. In 1901, Hawes discovered the Minoan site of Gournia.

The discovery of Gournia led to international renown for two reasons: it became the first Minoan site to be excavated, and Hawes became the first female director of a major excavation in Greece. As director of the excavations, Hawes led a team of over 100 archeologists. The excavations were a major breakthrough in understanding Minoan society. She published her findings in a detailed report, which is still referenced today and considered noteworthy due to her classification of artifacts according to potential function.

Hawes passed away on March 31, 1945. She is remembered as an important archeologist due to her contribution to the understanding of Minoan cultures. Despite being discouraged from fieldwork at an early stage in her career, she became the successful excavator we know her to be – taking great strides for archeology, and for women in archeology.

Photo Competition – And The Winner is…

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We have had a wonderful response to our photo competition and have thoroughly enjoyed taking a trip down memory lane with your photos. It is very tricky picking just one photo when we received so many outstanding choices – some with lovely stories of tours past and nostalgic memories.

In first place we have… Margaret Haneberg! The image from our Khmer Kingdoms Tour tour – and shows Balloons floating over Bagan;

Margaret-Haneberg

In second place, we have Howard Ritter with this wonderful image, from our Provence Tour;

Howard-Ritter

In third place, is Martha Harriss for her image of Poppy Fields in Western Turkey;

Martha-Harriss

Congratulations everyone! Your prizes will be on their way in due course.

Thank you to everyone who entered, it really was a pleasure to look at all of the photos and reminisce about so many fabulous tours.

Do you have any photos you’d like to share with us?

If the photos above have left you feeling inspired to take some shots on your next tour, please get in touch and share them with us! We’d love to see your photos… and they might even make their way online or into our next catalog.

Welcome to the new Archaeological Tours website and blog!

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Choosing the right vacation shouldn’t feel like a chore – so we’ve improved our website to make it as easy as possible for you to find what you want.

We hope you like the new makeoverbut please note that the site is still a work in progress and we’ll continue to add updates over the coming months. When we do make any changes, we’ll let you know about them through this blog! We’ll also add news and stories we think you’d like to hear about from time to time.

Would you like to help us make our new website even better? We’d love to see the photos you’ve taken on your Archaeological Tours. Who knows, they could even make their way online or into our next brochure.

You can take a look at our latest brochure now by clicking here. Please get in touch if you’d like to book your place on tour or if you have any questions you’d like to ask us.

Happy browsing!

Linda Feinstone
President,
Archaeological Tours