Focus on Archaeology

by Julie Skurdenis

Lithuania is revving up for a grand celebration. The year 2009 will mark the 1,000th anniversary of this Baltic nation. It was in 1009 that the country was first mentioned in a written source, a German manuscript called the Quedlinburg Chronicle (in Latin, Annales Quedlinburgenses).

July 6th is celebrated in Lithuania as Coronation Day, the day on which Mindaugas, the country’s only king, was crowned in 1253 (subsequent Lithuanian rulers were called grand...

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by Julie Skurdenis

Last month I described three Guaraní-Jesuit missions my husband, Paul, and I visited in Argentina in August ’07. This month I’d like to describe two more, these in Paraguay, that we visited on a separate trip several weeks after seeing the Argentinian missions.

Jesus Mission

The first of the two Paraguayan missions we visited, Jesus de Tavarangüe, was founded in 1685. Located 25 miles north of Encarnación, Jesus Mission followed the usual Jesuit...

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by Julie Skurdenis

The conquistadores arrived in South America early in the 16th century. They came hungry for land and hungry for gold. With them came priests and monks intent on spreading the Catholic faith among the many Indian groups.

One of the religious groups was the Jesuits, founded in 1540 by a Spaniard, Ignatius of Loyola. The Jesuits were a very structured and disciplined multinational order concerned not only with their own spiritual growth but with active...

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by Julie Skurdenis

I’m not sure how surprised the monks who lived here 400 years ago would be to hear the soft sounds of bossa nova echoing in the cloisters where they once lived and prayed. No doubt, chanting and church music would have been more familiar to them, but I suspect that bossa nova would not have shocked them. After all, I was in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, where music is an integral part of everyday life. It was probably the same in 1586 when the first Carmelite friars...

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I stood on a hill overlooking a wintry landscape of dry fields stretching as far as the eye could see. All around me were stone jars. Enormous stone jars. Some stood six feet high. Some were no longer upright but tilted precariously. Others lay flat on the ground. My husband, Paul, moved from one jar to the next, standing on tiptoe to peer inside, hoping to discover. . . bones, ashes, undiscovered treasure?

Kham, our guide, told us, “This is called the Hill of Big Jars. As...

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by Julie Skurdenis

Its first inhabitants called it “Te Pito o Te Henua,” or “The Navel of the World.” Nowadays we call it Rapa Nui, Isla de Pascua or Easter Island. It’s one of the most remote and isolated places on Earth.

Situated in the Pacific Ocean, Easter Island is almost exactly equidistant from South America and Tahiti, each about 2,300 miles away. Although now part of Chile, Easter Island was most probably settled by Polynesians who migrated from the Marquesas...

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I can’t deny I was excited about visiting Machu Picchu. Twenty-five years had passed since my first visit. Then, torrential rains had washed away portions of the train tracks between Cuzco and the archaeological site, canceling our excursion. It took almost a week before train service was restored, and when we finally reached the site we had only a frustratingly few hours there. This time, in August 2006, I wanted enough time — weather gods permitting — to explore thoroughly and to overnight...

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by Julie Skurdenis

To me, it’s always been one of the most vivid passages in the New Testament.

It’s Herod Antipas’ birthday celebration. Salome, his stepdaughter, dances for him. Herod, entranced, swears he will give her anything she asks for. Salome, prompted by her mother, Herodias, who hates John the Baptist because he has denounced her marriage to Herod (she was divorced from Herod’s brother), asks for the Baptist’s head. John the Baptist is beheaded and his head brought...

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