26 October 2007

Body parts in museums

This article was in the New York Times yesterday about whether or not the Museum of Natural History at Rouen in Normandy should return to New Zealand the mummified, tattooed head of a Maori warrior. Apparently the head made it to France during the end of the nineteenth century when trafficking of human body parts was common between colonies and the motherland (eww).

Where the controversy comes in is that the Museum claims the head is a "work of art" while the remaining Maori tribes call it what it is: a body part that ethically needs to be returned to the people it belongs to. Stephane Martin, director of the Quai Branly Museum, agrees with the museum at Rouen saying, "[the heads] are cultural artifacts that had a function in society." Yes the heads are an "artifact" from a historical era but do they need to remain in European museums as an educational tool for colonial-period France?

It amazes me how much people love to go to museums and look at dead bodies. Egyptian mummies, bog mummies, heck we even have some mummy parts in the basement of the museum I work for that I don't enjoy showing but various people ask to see. And I admit that I too, am guilty of having enjoyed a bog mummy exhibit once. But when the parts we have on display belong to a culture of people, in this case Maori tribesman, that are still living and thriving, it is ethically and just darn right to return those remains.

Of course, a drawing of a tattooed Maori warrior's head I guess isn't as "cool" to the public as the real head staring out at you from behind UV-protected glass. We are a creepy society fixated on the macabre, aren't we?

20 October 2007

The Mesopotamians

This new They Might Be Giants song has been going around the wires, so I thought I might help. Totally awesome...totally nerdy. But that's why we love TMBG. Be sure to look for the cute lil' goat!

They Might Be Giants - The Mesopotamians


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16 October 2007

Pizza amore

Brandon had this wonderful idea at the end of last week: let's make pizza..from scratch! So tonight we did and savored in the fresh baked doughy crust, two gooey types of cheese, sausage, bell peppers, and plenty of basil. I will admit that we cheated with the sausage, which we did not make from scratch..this time. However once the sausage stuffer is up and running, ah ha! That, I am sure, will be the best pizza pie ever created.

15 October 2007

Touristy olive oil?

According to the Turkish Daily News, a historic building in Milas, Turkey that once served as an olive oil factory, "camel shelter" and gin distillery will re-open as an olive oil museum. Sounds yummy to me, but the idea that this museum will "lure both local and foreign tourists to the region" seems like wishful thinking.

Milas is located in the Mu─čla province of southwest Turkey, an already touristy area in its own right. However, everyone who ventures over to this side of Anatolia is going there for Bodrum. They want the beach, the seafood and the bars/nightclubs that abound there. Alas, olive oil might not have that same sexy draw. Unless of course, you're Oded.

11 October 2007

"Lovers" in death

The excavators at Hakemi Use, a site 70 km east of Diyarbakir in southeast Turkey (very very close to where I work at Kenan Tepe) have unearthed "the tomb of a young couple locked in an embrace." This 8,000 year old burial presumably predates a similar burial found in Verona, Italy. Fav quote: "The way they were buried signifies that they were lovers. An illness or even a crime of love may have been the cause of their death."

Crime of love. So sexy! Boy the media eats that up. Sensational archaeology? Maybe. The fact is, they could just as easily be brother and sister. Guess we'll have to wait and see the paleo-osteologist's report. Too bad that will never make the papers. Hakemi Use seems to only publish in journals that I can't get my hands on!

10 October 2007

Catch up time

I finally have a moment to clean out my email inbox, and boy do I have a TON of old archaeology stories. So, in order to catch up, this is my condensed version of various stories whose subject headers were just interesting enough to hold onto...for a few months or so...whatever.

What is sexier than gladiators? Gladiators getting whipped from drinking too much and whoring around. According to an ancient training manual for Roman athletes, gladiators could be flogged in order to perform better at the Colosseum and other sporting locations across the empire, and also "if they drank too much mead or behaved disgracefully with the local maidens." The training manual is actually a 1.8 x .90 meter marble slab discovered in Turkey in 2003 and only recently deciphered by scholars in Germany.

On a more sobering, yet hopeful, note, artists in Iraq are painting murals over the blast shields or concrete slabs that basically serve to protect important government buildings from roadside bombs. The subject matter on the murals is based on images of ancient Mesopotamia, and thus Iraq--images such as Neo-Assyrian lion hunt scenes and the Royal Tombs at Ur. The barriers themselves serve as a constant reminder of the state of warfare and insecurity that is still present in the country due to our dealings there, but at least local people are trying do so something positive that, "has cultural, artistic, and aesthetic meaning," as one of the artists is quoted as saying.

It's not quite the reality TV that I would hope for (shudder), but at least it's drama. The BBC is coming out with a six-part drama series called Bone Kickers, that despite it's incredibly stupid name, will feature an excavation team and all the (dare I say it again) drama that that entails. I still think of reality TV show, with footage taken from an actual season of digging, would be too much fun. There is just as much drama, scandal, sex, and drinking as on any of the other lame shows that ABC and Fox seems to churn out. We could call it "The Dig." Any takers?

This is a classic example of using archaeology to "prove the Bible," in this case, to find the lost city of Sodom in the middle of the Jordanian desert. It's a really short article, so go ahead and have a look. By far, my favorite quote is this, in reference to finding a destruction layer at Sodom [one that was caused by God raining down sulfur]:

"If we can show that truly God did these things, if we can show that destruction layer, then we can show that this is a pretty significant story here and the rest of the Bible should be absolutely correct and accurate." (italics are mine)

If religion is truly based on faith, then proof in this material world of ours is not only not necessary, but seriously suspect. Archaeology can't yet pin down exactly how cities developed, yet this guy thinks it can prove that God caused this destruction level?! Granted, this is a quote from an Army retiree and not a trained archaeologist, but you would be amazing by what I hear now and again from the scholarly community that sounds similar to this quote. "Well verse X from the book of X says that there is a high place and altar at this site, so we went to the top of the tell and dug there and we uncovered the high place with an altar!" Nevermind that it was just a building with a flat rock on one end and no other artifacts inside!

Lastly, this was just funny. Hey, deal me a 5 of Clubs, "Drive around--not over--archaeological sites." Too late for Babylon though. Oops! Army paved over half of the ancient city to make a Humvee parking lot and helicopter landing pad. Well, better luck next time Armed Forces. Keep dealin' those cards!

09 October 2007

Ancient herbs

Being the gardener that I am, this article naturally caught my eye. It is a review of the book Ancient Herbs by Marina Heilmeyer. Not a cookbook, nor a guide to herbal medicine, it is simply a catalog of the most commonly used herbs and plants from the kitchens and gardens of ancient Rome. Sounds like a wonderful coffee table book for anyone who enjoys history and cooking/gardening. The book even features full color illustrations taken from hand-colored botany lithographs of the 17th and 18th centuries. Sweet!

07 October 2007

Anubis floats down the Thames

Even though this story is a week old, the photo was just too good to pass up. A giant (fake) statue of Anubis, the Egyptian god of the dead, was floated down the Thames on Monday in order to promote yet another King Tut exhibit, surprisingly not at the BM but at London's O2 (formerly known as the Millennium Dome). The full news article can be found here.

Apparently this tour has been going in the US since 2005 and features such famous pieces as the golden diadem worn by the King and his 4 canopic jars that held his internal organs.

Certainly these artifacts are amazing to behold and I feel lucky that I was able to see them in Cairo, but as a museum curator, I have to wonder the condition that these objects must be in after so much worldwide traveling. Surely someone has mishandled a piece here and there or, due to the nature of shipping overseas, a box (and thus the objects inside) have been damaged to some degree. Perhaps it is time to let Tutankhamun rest in peace?
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