June 12, 2004
Behind those salutes
Old gunny Donald Sensing gives a behind the scenes scoop on those artillery salutes. Like so many things, a lot more involved than appearances might suggest . . . .
Ancient machine tools
Distinctive spiral patterns carved into a small jade ring show that China was using complex machines more than 2500 years ago, says a Harvard graduate student in physics.Read the full story here. The technological sophistication of the ancients still tends to be underappreciated; who needs the wacky inventions of modern-day pseudohistorians when we have the very real Antikythera mechanism?
The ring was among the goods found in high-status graves from China's "Spring and Autumn Period" from 771 to 475 BC. Most archaeological attention has focused on larger and more spectacular jade and bronze artifacts. But Peter Lu identified the patterns on the small rings as Archimedes' spirals, which he believes are the oldest evidence of compound machines. . .
Specialists believe most ancient Chinese jades were hand-carved, but Lu thought the spirals on the jade rings were machine-made as soon as Jenny So, an art historian at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, showed him one at the Smithsonian Institution.
"I said I bet you could do it with a modified bow drill, and she looked at me as if I had two heads," Lu told New Scientist.
Challenged to prove he was right, Lu built a spiral-carving machine around an old record player. . .
June 11, 2004
Indian burials on Arizona campus
Arizona State University construction crews have unearthed ancient remains of a Hohokam Indian buried with funeral offerings.Read more here.
Construction on a research lab facility here was halted Thursday after workers discovered the burial site four feet below the ground, said ASU archaeologist Glen Rice.
Archaeologists said the remains may date to as early as A.D. 300, when the Hohokam established a village at the southern edge of Hayden Butte.
Pool of Siloam uncovered
A pool that served as a main water reservoir for Jerusalem residents 2,000 years ago has been uncovered, the Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday.From the Jerusalem Post.
The Pool of Siloam was uncovered last week by chance at the southern end of the City of David – in what today is Silwan – while the city was carrying out infrastructure work for a new sewage pipe. . .
After lying untouched for 2,000 years, archeologists first uncovered one step, and then several more leading down to the pool, whose water came from the nearby Gihon spring.
Arrest in British art fire
A man has been arrested by police investigating the fire which destroyed millions of pounds worth of modern art. . .From the BBC. Previous post here.
Officers said the building was burgled shortly before the blaze started at 0340 BST on 24 May. A 23-year-old man, who was arrested on suspicion of burglary on Monday, has now been released on bail.
The past, even the recent past, is such alien territory. If it's a chunk of past you've lived through, you probably just take it for granted as you move on -- until you run across someone too young to remember, and then you stop dead in your tracks as you try to explain the totality of how it was and it hits you how very strange and unreal and unbelievable it all seems, now, in the clear light of hindsight.
This was prompted by Virginia Postrel's recent look back at the Reagan era -- a world that anyone over 40 remembers all too well, but one so different from the world of today as to border on the unimaginable.
The disconnect has become all the greater listening to all the encomiums for Reagan, given how differently he was regarded back in his heyday. Some of this is the normal deference given the dead, but not all. The simple fact -- obvious to anyone old enough -- is that Reagan's legacy now seems nothing like how it seemed back then. Though his image has ended up somewhat sanitized in popular memory -- Andrew Sullivan has been particularly good in giving more balance here -- this is less cause than effect of a broader reassessment, in which the passage of time has led to a general realization that Reagan got some very important things dead right, and at a time when those things were far from obvious. Medpundit put it about as succinctly as possible:
. . . a few years ago, I heard an interview on NPR with a man - a European - who had made his life's work documenting the atrocities of the North Korean dictatorship. He cited Ronald Reagan as his inspiration. Specifically, Reagan's courage in calling totalitarian regimes evil - and to their faces. He said from that moment, people living under those regimes (the old Soviet Union, most of Eastern Europe) took heart. And I realized that Reagan played more of a role in the collapse of communism than I had ever given him credit. Simply by speaking the unvarnished truth.How well I remember the scorn of my well-educated, progressive friends when Reagan had the temerity to call the USSR the "evil empire"! And at the time they seemed so right -- which just goes to show that while you have to have been there to know what it was like, having been here is usually a pretty poor way of learning what was actually going on -- and where things were going.
ADDENDUM: For a masterly illustration of Then vs Now, take a look at Andrew Sullivan's collection of 1980s commentary on the Reagan legacy.
AND consider Will Collier's observations regarding Gorbachev and Reagan. Gorby sure seemed like a heroic figure to a lot of us at the time, but history has already judged him rather more skeptically.
June 10, 2004
Restored Pergamon altar unveiled
After a decade of painstaking cleaning, Berlin's Pergamon Museum has unveiled the restored marble frieze of the Pergamon Altar, the second century B.C. centerpiece of its collection.Read more here.
Northern Gothic panel to Getty
The Getty has acquired “The Adoration of the Magi with Saint Anthony Abbot” (about 1390–1410), a rare and masterful [Shouldn't that be "masterly"? -- D.] example of the International Gothic style that dominated taste across Europe around 1400. The work is one of very few northern European panel paintings of this period in any American museum. The new acquisition will be presented to the public in the exhibition “Fit for a King,” at the Getty Center, June 29–August 29, 2004, which explores the Getty’s holdings of works in the International Gothic style.From ArtDaily.
Theft at Apollonia in Israel
A priceless 1,500-year-old Byzantine era artifact was stolen early Wednesday from an archaeological park near Tel Aviv, police said.On what basis is unclear; Cronaca readers will be familiar with our general skepticism about Doctor-No-like criminal-collectors commissioning thefts to order.
The thieves took a part of the floor of a glass kiln, one of only three still in existence in Israel, police said. They suspect the theft had been commissioned by a private antiques collector.
"This was a part of the glass kiln that served the Byzantine city of Apolonia [sic] 1,500 years ago,'' said archaeologist Hagi Yohanan, director of the Apolonia park built over the ruins of the city.Which gives the misleading impression that "Christian Byzantium" and the Roman empire were two distinct entities. From an AP report, via the Guardian. More on Apollonia here and here.
After the 4th century split in the Roman empire, the Holy Land came under the rule of Christian Byzantium, until it was conquered by the Arabs in A.D. 636.
Pigeonnappers of New York
he reports are usually the same: around dawn, near a city park or plaza, two men jump out of a van, the license plate often concealed with tape. They toss a handful of seeds, and when pigeons descend, they swipe the birds up in a net.From today's NY Times.
"We've been getting calls about this for years," said Mark MacDonald, a 32-year veteran with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York. He is also the organization's main pigeon expert.
Once captured, the pigeons are then driven to Pennsylvania, investigators believe, and sold to private gun clubs for use in live bird shooting.
June 9, 2004
From the NY Times, reporting from Hong Kong:
When Sotheby's opens the bidding on some prize Chinese antiquities at its New Bond Street auction rooms in London on June 9, more than a dozen mainland Chinese art collectors will be there.
The rise of the Chinese art buyer has been swift and spirited. Five years ago private art collectors on the mainland were virtually unheard of. Now, driven by plenty of money and a patriotic rush to return treasures smuggled away over the centuries, Chinese collectors are bidding here as well as in New York and London. . .
The recently finished spring sales in Chinese art at Christie's and Sotheby's in Hong Kong posted some record prices, in part, because of the play of the mainland Chinese, both houses said.
People first noticed China's desire to repatriate its plundered art when the Poly Art Museum in Beijing acquired three ancient bronze animal heads that had been looted when French and British troops razed the Summer Palace in 1860, one of the spectacular humiliations of China during the Western invasion.
The museum, a subsidiary of a Chinese arms company, paid $4 million for the pieces at Sotheby's in Hong Kong four years ago, a fairly stiff price.
Bury my heart at Saint-Denis
France's royal descendants and their supporters Tuesday buried the shriveled heart of Louis XVII, the boy king who died during the Revolution, after DNA tests confirmed the organ's authenticity.From Reuters.
Exactly 209 years after the heart was cut from the king's body following his death in a grim Paris prison, a crystal urn containing the tiny pickled organ was carried to the cathedral of Saint-Denis outside Paris, burial place of French kings.
Following a two-hour mass, it was laid to rest in the royal crypt next to the remains of his parents Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, who were both executed by the revolutionaries.
Medieval track leads to Roman industrial park
The best preserved example in Wales of a medieval track, which dates back 1,000 years, has been unearthed by archaeologists in Ceredigion.From the BBC, along with this followup report:
The small team claims the structure, made up of thick wooden beams, has been protected by a peat bog which has covered it for centuries.
Experts who unearthed the best preserved example in Wales of a medieval track, have now found what they believe is the equivalent of a Roman 'industrial estate.'
Amazingly they found the Roman relics underneath the same excavation site near Borth, where they made their original discovery of a 1,000 year old track.
The small team of archaeologists claim the discovery could date back to the second or third century AD.
Iraq National Library fire: more than met the eye
Fires at the Iraq National Library set as U.S. forces took over Baghdad did not destroy large numbers of rare books and ancient manuscripts as initially feared, U.S. investigators say.AP report, via the Boston Globe.
Instead, the fires apparently were aimed at destroying sensitive records about Saddam Hussein's government, said Mary-Jane Deeb, a specialist on the Arab world at the Library of Congress.
Deeb, who headed a three-person team sent to Iraq to check on the library's contents, said it's unclear what information the documents contained.
"All that the librarians would tell us was that (the records) were brought to the library in the late 1980s and were put in the charge of almost 90 people who were not librarians,'' said Deeb, a native of Egypt who also teaches international politics at American University and has published two mystery novels. . .
She said the records were burned with the use of some intensely flammable material like phosphorous - not the sort of thing a causal looter might use - and the destruction was thorough. . .
Archives from earlier periods lay untouched in a nearby room, stored in rice sacks.
Deeb's team reported that the front of the library building was badly burned, the walls, ceilings, staircases and doors charred, and the infrastructure - electricity, heating, plumbing - no longer exists in part of the building. Furniture and equipment were looted. Some books also were scattered about the floor, possibly to give the impression that part of the collection had been looted, as at the National Museum.
"Basically, the collection had not been damaged by the fires because they were in a separate location from the archives,'' said her report to the Library of Congress and the State Department.
Zainab Bahrani appointed to Iraq Ministry of Culture
Belatedly noted, thanks to Jim Davila's Palaeojudaica:
Dr. Zainab Bahrani, Associate Professor, Columbia University has been appointed to work with the Coalition Provisional Authority as Deputy Senior Advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of Culture. Her objective will be to continue the reconstruction at the National Museum and National Library and to identify new opportunities for training and study abroad.From the State Department website. The position would seem to be that formerly held by John Russell (Art Newspaper interview here).
Licensed to Google
I always thought secret agents got all the gizmos unavailable to civilians, but now it seems it may be the other way around:
The advisory committee's technophobia does not end with intelligence analysis. It would also require the defense secretary to give approval for, and certify the absolute necessity of, Google searches by intelligence agents. Even though any 12-year-old with a computer can freely surf the Web looking for Islamist chat rooms, defense analysts may not do so, according to the panel, without strict oversight.I'm pretty keen on protecting privacy rights, but this is clearly a pendulum swing too far. From the Washington Post, found via ParaPundit (who has more to add).
June 8, 2004
Lost Breuer chair rediscovered
A work from the early years of the Bauhaus, presumed lost for the past 80 years, has been recovered: the African Chair, created by Marcel Breuer in collaboration with the weaver Gunta Stölzl. The only previously known documentation of this throne-like piece of furniture was a contemporary black-and-white photograph. Made of painted wood with a colourful textile weave, this chair embodies the spirit of the early Bauhaus like no other object. It is the first work by Marcel Breuer, who later went on to write design history with his tubular steel furniture. With the support of the Ernst von Siemens Art Foundation, it was possible to secure this legendary and unique work for the collection of the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin.No word here on where the chair had been all this time. From ArtDaily.
Foundling Museum to reopen
Sort of local news, for those of us with past connections to London House, close by Coram's Fields:
The Foundling Museum is to reopen on 15 June, offering regular access to what was effectively Britain’s earliest public art gallery.Read the full story in the Art Newspaper.
Established in 1745 as the Foundling Hospital, the orphanage for abandoned children was set up by Captain Thomas Coram with the support of leading artists and musicians of the day. Reynolds, Gainsborough and Ramsay were among the painters who contributed works to decorate its walls, while Handel gave annual performances of “Messiah”. The Foundling Hospital was from the beginning open to visitors, who were encouraged to leave donations.
Tests on a painting, called the Mandylion, revered as a miraculous imprinted image of Christ, have revealed it to have been made in the 13th century. There are several early versions of the image, but the one in Genoa is the first to have been subjected to a thorough scientific examination. The results are being presented at an exhibition (until 18 July) in the city’s Museo Diocesano as part of the European Capital of Culture celebrations. . .From the Art Newspaper.
The Mandylion is traditionally believed to be a representation of the face of Jesus miraculously transferred to a towel (from the Arabic word mandil, “small cloth”), but is not to be confused with the cloth, which also bears His likeness, with which Veronica wiped Christ’s face as He went to Calvary. . .
Another Mandylion was taken to Rome and by 1587 it was in the Convent of the Poor Clares at San Silvestro in Capite. In 1870, it passed to the Vatican. It is currently in the “St Peter and the Vatican” exhibition at the San Diego Museum of Art (until 6 September). The US catalogue accepts the Vatican dating, ascribing it to the third to fifth centuries, but the entry reveals considerable uncertainty.
Disrespecting the dead
Timely followup on our recent post regarding excavation of Indian burial grounds:
Blitch, of West Ashley, is one of more than 40 volunteers expected this weekend to help excavate the last few soldiers buried underneath The Citadel's Johnson Hagood Stadium in downtown Charleston. . .Read more here.
The bodies are thought to have been buried in the 1860's when the site served as the city's mariner-military graveyard. It was covered over in 1948 when the city of Charleston built the 21,000-seat stadium. The graves were left behind when City Council gave the builders permission to relocate the graves but only the headstones were moved.
Wooing the Russians
No secret that wealthy Russians are big buyers of art and antiques. Hence the recent Moscow World Fine Art Fair, where dozens of top art dealers set up to troll for new customers. Only post-show review so far in Pravda.
Hoorn shipwreck found
News from Argentina:
A group of Argentine archaeologists have discovered the remains of a sunken vessel dating back to 1615, offshore the province of Santa Cruz in the Southern Atlantic . . . the Dutch vessel “Hoorn” belonged to an expedition that managed to discover the route joining the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
According to Buenos Aires newspaper La Nación, the artefacts found close to Puerto Deseado belong to the oldest shipwreck ever found along the Argentine coastline.
Roman glass from the thrift store
A Norwegian archeology student found an ancient Roman glass bowl in a second-hand shop. . .From the Washington Times.
Espen Kutschera saw the bowl, which is about 1,900 years old and from the Roman Empire, at a store called Fretex and bought it for $15, the Bergensavisen newspaper reported Friday.
Amusing story, but hang around antique dealers and you'll hear much along the same lines, none of which gets into the papers. OK, maybe not so much ancient Roman stuff here in the USA, but plenty of other valuable stuff bought for a song. Just the other week I bid nearly $7000 on eBay for a rare pen that ended up going for several hundred more. The seller apparently found it in a lot of old purses bought at a yard sale. And a friend did find an Italian bronze crucifix from c. 1400 several years ago at a local group shop for something like $40. Then there are the gold inlaid Ottoman cartographer's shears, 17th or 18th century, that I got at auction buried in a box lot of junk.
Freedoms vs opportunities
Reagan's passing has prompted a rash of posts attempting to clarify the distinction between what Stephen Bainbridge calls negative and positive rights:
Reagan was a proponent of negative rights; most notably, Reagan espoused the right to be left alone. In contrast, what Saletan calls liberty is really a set of positive rights -- a right to an education, a job, etc....But positive and negative rights aren't likely to become terms of choice in popular discourse anytime soon, and will likely lead to as much confusion as William Saletan's undifferentiated use of "liberty" for both concepts. Which is why Jane Galt terms them "liberty" and "security", noting:
Security is also valuable and good, but it is not the same thing as liberty.Plaudits to her for defending precision in speech, without which meaningful debate becomes impossible. But since Saletan has already muddied the meaning of "liberty" in this particular exchange, why not use "freedom" instead? Its range of meanings in common parlance runs more towards being left alone than towards privileges or entitlements. And "security" is not entirely satisfactory for encompassing all those "positive rights" such as employment, safe streets, and education. Why not term them "opportunities" (or "entitlements", if you are feeling more libertarian, or simply "rights" if you are feeling less so)?
What happens when Photoshop meets excavation photography? Check it out at worth1000.com, which runs contests for creative photo modification (other contest galleries here and here. Hat tip to Rogueclassicism, which also notes that one of the pictures from the first contest gallery was subsequently picked up by certain less reliable publications as true proof of the existence of ancient giants.
June 7, 2004
Collecting: it's in the brain
Well, at least where it is taken to extremes:
A PET imaging study conducted at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute indicates the neurobiology of America's estimated 1 million compulsive hoarders differs significantly from people with other obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms.The scientists behind the study are interested in finding treatments, but I wonder if one could work in the other direction -- coming up with something that would make collectors out of noncollectors. Watch out for that bowl of "candy" at your friendly local antique shop. . . .
Ionarts reports on the discovery of a Roman amphitheatre in Aix-en-Provence -- yet another major archeological find that somehow hasn't made much of a splash in the Anglophone media.
Another burial ground controversy
Development vs old Indian burials in Southern California, as reported in the NY Times:
The skeletons, most of them female, are being removed for the development of Playa Vista, a complex of condominiums, apartments and townhouses, some selling for more than $1 million. The burial grounds, which were discovered late last year, stand in the way of a proposed stream that opponents call a drainage ditch and that the developer more elaborately calls a riparian corridor.Digging up cemeteries surely leaves many of us a bit uneasy. I'm not sure it is entirely a matter of an anti-Indian double standard, though, since developers have shown little compunction about clearing out non-native Americans' graveyards as well.
So far, about 275 skeletons as well as countless artifacts and funerary objects have been unearthed, and no one knows how many remain.
Native Americans like Rhonda Robles, an elder of the Acjachemen, said the excavation was being conducted over her strenuous objections. "Our ancestors are being put in buckets and boxes, and they're being separated from the things they were buried with," said Ms. Robles, whose tribe is commonly known as the Juaneño.
Reorganizing the Egyptian Museum
Few outsiders appreciate what a task it is to keep track of even a small museum's holdings -- and how often the necessary resources are lacking. This was touched upon in the wake of the looting in Baghdad, but is generally applicable to all great archeological museums, as this Reuters report illustrates:
Egypt is about to begin the painstaking five-year task of cataloguing and restoring some 90,000 pharaonic and other artefacts which have lain almost forgotten for decades since they were dug from ancient ruins.
Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiquities, said on Sunday that work started about three weeks ago to move the artefacts, now in the basement of the country's main museum, into storage elsewhere. . .
Hawass said the more than 100-year-old museum had been the store for most finds from foreign archaeological digs since it was built, but poor curatorship meant items were often difficult to find or lost amidst the piles of boxes.
"The basement in Cairo museum is like a maze of corridors... No one knows anything about it," he told Reuters.
A search is currently under way for 36 Roman bracelets, discovered in 1905, which have apparently disappeared. Hawass said they were last recorded as part of a exhibition that returned from Japan in 1984.
Rediscovered medieval Arabic map at Bodleian
A previously unknown medieval Arabic map with the earliest representation of an identified 'England' - a tiny, egg-shaped lump - is to go on public display in Oxford. The unique and, until now, unseen map is part of a manuscript called the Book of Curiosities of the Sciences and Marvels, which was originally put together, probably in the Nile Delta region, at some point before AD1050 and was then copied around 150 years later in Egypt. . .From the Guardian. The manuscript was purchased some two years back, and will undoubtedly be keeping scholars busy for some time to come. The Bodleian website is here.
The exhibition at the Bodleian Library will include most of the illustrated folios of the Book, or Kitab Ghara'ib al-funun wa-mulah al-'uyun, to give it its Arab title, including a key page which shows England as a small, oval island labelled in Arabic as Inghiltirah or 'Angle-terre'.
A Greek helmet's story
Not the first writeup of this particular study, but one of the more extensive:
The helmet was made of a single piece of bronze, 27 centuries ago, heated and hammered and annealed by a technique used as late as the Florentine renaissance but now lost for ever.Ignore that "lost forever". Where reporters come up with such stuff and nonsense is a constant mystification to me.
It was forged from an alloy of copper and tin, with traces of lead and iron.Read the rest in the Guardian, including this:
The noseguard is a 19th-century mix of copper and zinc, probably welded to the helmet after it was unearthed from a temple sanctuary such as at Olympia in Greece. Invisible traces of quartz, calcite, gypsum and feldspar, the dust of its resting place for more than two millennia, cling to the bronze. There has been some corrosion, but that stopped long ago. Known to the Greeks as a Corinthian helmet, it was probably tailor-made for one careful owner in an unknown Greek city state in the 7th century BC. It went into battle with him, protected him from bronze swords and lances, and when he died, in Greek ritual fashion it may well have died with him.
Now high-energy probes at British laboratories have brought to life again a story of ancient death and glory. Scientists used the giant synchrotron radiation source at the government's central research laboratory at Daresbury, near Warrington, and the neutron source at the Rutherford Appleton laboratory in Oxfordshire to peer into the fabric and confirm that the noseguard of the helmet was replaced only in the 19th century, identify any corrosion products and measure the alloy metals used in its manufacture.
"It has a fantastic mark at the back that suggests that something sharp went right through the eye, presumably through the head, and very nearly came out through the back. So it has been battered in battle."Though not nearly as much as its owner.
Reminds me of some of the things I saw in Paris at the Musée de l'Armée, such as a Napoleonic breastplate with a fist-size cannonball hole, and various bronze cannon with dents, furrows, and skidmarks from counterbattery fire that might not have destroyed the cannon, but would not have been so sparing of its crew.
Pen collecting weekend
A slow show weekend, but a busy one for news events. Sometimes it's nice just to be a spectator, though. Now to catch up. . . .