EXAMINATION OF ANCIENT CHURCH YIELDS INSIGHT INTO LOCAL FAUNA
May 21 2010
Photo: A team led by Dr. Ozdemir AdÄ±zel of Yuzuncu YÄ±l University
extracted important data in the fields of biology and art history by
studying reliefs on the walls of an ancient Armenian church.
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. Ozdemir AdÄ±zel, a faculty member in the biology
department at Yuzuncu YÄ±l 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 AdÄ±zel,
titled "A Biological Look at the Historic Akdamar Church," involved the
examination of every single animal depicted in the church’s friezes.
AdÄ±zel 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."
AdÄ±zel 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.