Examination of ancient church yields insight into local fauna

Examination of ancient church yields insight into local fauna

A team led by Dr. Özdemir Adızel of Yüzüncü Yıl University extracted important data in the fields of biology and art history by studying reliefs on the walls of an ancient Armenian church.

May 21, 2010, Friday/ 17:19:00
A team of university researchers analyzing friezes on the exterior walls of the Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Cross has determined that a number of the animals depicted in the historic bas-reliefs are now extinct or facing the threat of extinction.A team led by Dr. Özdemir Adızel, a faculty member in the biology department at Yüzüncü Yıl University, has been studying the reliefs on the walls of the church, which was constructed on Akdamar Island in Lake Van by architect-monk Manuel between 915 and 921 A.D. under the patronage of Armenian King Gagik I. A two-year study by Adızel, titled “A Biological Look at the Historic Akdamar Church,” involved the examination of every single animal depicted in the church’s friezes.

Adızel said the work had been very productive, yielding important information, as the church contains 1,100-year-old clues to the past unparalleled elsewhere in the world. “All of the reliefs on the church walls are positioned within a five-band format; the first three of these bands concern animal and plant types that have survived from the past to the present day. The two bottom bands are images that have more to do with belief and culture,” he explained.

The biologist highlighted the study’s three main finds. “One of these is that many of the animal types that lived in this region in the past have become extinct. We determined that the rest of them still exist. For example, the Anatolian tiger featured on the church’s eastern face hasn’t been seen since the 1970s,” he said. “The second important result has to do with the animal types that exist today -- some of these, such as the bustard and some types of swan and duck, still live today, but are under threat of extinction.”

Adızel said that the final discovery had to do with the mislabeling by art historians of the animal types featured in the reliefs. The correction of these errors, he said, would be an important contribution to art history.

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