Reliefs of birds on the outside of the church of St Gregory of Tigran Honents in Ani, Turkey. Photo by Jennifer Hattam
If you weren't already convinced of the importance of preserving historical monuments, here's another good reason to keep the past part of our present: Old buildings, and specifically the artwork used to adorn them, can provide valuable clues about the environment of the ancient world.A team of Turkish researchers recently completed a study of the reliefs on the walls of a 10th-century Armenian church in the eastern part of Turkey, the newspaper Today's Zaman reports. Their two-year study, "A Biological Look at the Historic Akdamar Church," examined every animal depicted on the friezes of the Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Lake Van's Akdamar Island.
"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," biology professor Dr. Özdemir Adızel told the newspaper, noting that the imagery depicted in the church indicated that "many of the animal types that lived in this region in the past have become extinct."
Anatolian Tiger Has Disappeared
While some of the birds, such as swans and ducks, pictured in the friezes are still found in this part of Turkey, they are endangered, and other species have disappeared completely. "For example, the Anatolian tiger featured on the church's eastern face hasn't been seen since the 1970s," Adızel said.
Looking to art -- including music and writing -- can also help eco-minded planners better understand the historical relationship between people and the natural world in a given place, Peter Head, the director of the U.K. engineering group Arup told participants at "The Great Transformation: Greening the Economy" conference organized last month by the German environmental foundation Heinrich Böll Stifung. This type of "cultural planning" can help create more sustainable communities, Head said, adding, "any project that happens now should incorporate this."
More about culture and the environment:
Six Cultural Trends That Are Not Saving The Earth
Climate Change to Cause "Cultural Genocide" for Australia's Aborigines
How to Grow Rhubarb, A Cultural Tradition
Making Stuff Cool, Making Stuff Uncool: Why Cultural Change is Key
Dematerializing Our Digital Needs - A Cultural Perspective
Cross-Cultural Felt Making in Kyrgyzstan
Denmark's 30-Year Drive To Energy Efficiency: A Profile In Culture Change
das BioHaus: Sustainable Cultural Immersion at Concordia College