21 December 2007

Cookie fun

I give you:

Tactical gingerb
read men!

The archaeologist and his trusted workman..digger by day, fellah warrior by night!

18 December 2007

Ebay stops cuneiform tablet auction

The Associated Press reports: An unnamed German archaeologist saw an auction on the Swiss Ebay website for a 4,000-year-old clay tablet probably looted from Iraq and alerted authorities. On December 12, within minutes of its end, the auction was stopped and Zurich police confiscated the tablet from a storage facility. The seller of the tablet faces a fine up to $430,000 or jail time if convicted.

That is freaking awesome..go Ebay! I wish they would crack down more on their American site. Granted, most of the antiquities being sold on ebay.com are fake, but reinforcing this entire 'culture of ownership of the past' has always disturbed me. If they can ban auctioning of human body parts, etc. why not antiquities as well?

17 December 2007

Teenie-weenie bibles and cult of the dead

This one is for you Chris:

J-Post reports that scientists at the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute in Haifa have inscribed the entire Hebrew Bible onto a gold-coated silicon surface smaller than the head of a pin. The letters themselves are approximately 20 nanometers wide and can only be viewed with a scanning electron microscope. A nanometer, in cas
e you didn't know, is equal to one billionth of a meter or one millionth of a millimeter. The point of this exercise? Not to make the Bible "more portable" but to arouse public interest in nanotechnology.

In other news: recent excavations at the Bronze Age site of Ebla in Syria have revealed more about royal religious practices at the city during the 3rd millennium BC. Two figurines have been uncovered in the famous palace there. One is a standing woman, made of wood and steatite, holding her arm up in (what is often interpreted as) a devotional pose. The other is a seated woman who holds a goblet and is clothed in a golden dress. These two figures harken to a tablet found at Ebla describing a ritual in which the city's dead queens become female deities who are worshiped in private by their successors.

This is neat because we have material culture and textual records working together to give us a fuller picture of the past. Now if only we could get people to focus more on household religion! But alas, the poor could not afford to write down their religious traditions. Oral transmission seemed the better (and cheaper) way to go.

15 December 2007

King's pea saved from extinction

Since I'm a gardener, you know I have to post about this story from Newbury Today (?). A pea believed to be from the garden of Lord Carnarvon, chief financier of Howard Carter's excavation at the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922, has been "saved from extinction" by the Garden Organic organization as part of their Heritage Seed Library. This pea variety is thought to be a descendant of peas originally found in the tomb of King Tut. Whether or not it's true, it's fun to think about. Ancient seeds have been known to re-germinate, like a 2,000-year-old date palm in Israel. Cool stuff!

14 December 2007

Saving Cypriot coins

In 2002, the United States and Cyprus entered into a bilateral agreement concerning import restrictions for pre-Classical and Classical archaeological material originating from Cyprus. Recently this agreement was extended another 5 years and included an amendment that covers ancient coins as part of the import restriction!

The inclusion of coins for import restriction is a first of its kind for the US government with a foreign nation. Check out an interview here given by
SAFE (Saving Antiquities for Everyone) with Dr. Pavlos Flourentzos, Director of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus.

Naturally this has pissed off the coin-collecting community, who claim that theirs is an innocent hobby that is also a critical link between ancient history and the general public, since this is not done satisfactorily by museums or professional archaeologists. As a museum curator and archaeologist, I have to disagree. We have a traveling exhibit program that brings ancient artifacts (and replicas) into schools, churches, synagogues, and mosques all over the US. Talk about outreach!

People also don't understand that even digging up coins with the aid of a metal detector at an ancient site is s
everely damaging to the archaeological contexts that lay below ground. Yes, coins as themselves can teach us something about ancient monetary systems, artwork, metallurgy, politics, etc. but we can learn so much more when we know the context from which these coins derive!

13 December 2007

Ancient tools, Spartan babies and archaeology in Afghanistan

The latest issue of Antiquity features a prehistoric "tool kit" discovered at the Natufian period (i.e. really really old) site of Wadi Hammeh 27 in Jordan. The kit features a sickle, flint spearheads, flint core for producing additional spearheads, smooth stones (possibly slingshots), a large stone for possibly knocking flakes off of the core stone, and gazelle toe bones that were used to make beads. These tools were found piled up together outside a roundhouse structure and were probably contained in some sort of bag made of hide or wicker.

What's cool about this find is that most of these tools we find on their own in separate locations around a site. To find them together like this as an obvious "kit" or, at least showing that they were stored together by someone, allows us a glimpse into the mind of prehistoric individuals-how they organized things, used things together, etc.

And now for something completely different...

Spartans did not throw away deformed babies as recorded in Greek myth! Or so the headline reads in this Yahoo! article from Monday. Five years of excavations and analysis of human bone remains has determined that only adolescences and adults were throw into a large pit, or apothetes, dug into the foothills of Mount Taygete near Sparta. Sorry Plutarch, but these guys were probably war captives from nearby Messene. This however, does not mean that a pit with dead babies inside will not be found in the future, so have hope!

Last, here is an article about Afghanistan that doesn't involve war or the Taliban (yeah!). Instead it discusses the resurgence of archaeological excavation in Afghanistan, though on a limited scale, and the re-opening of the museum in Kabul thanks to financial backing by UNESCO.

12 December 2007

Inside the Baghdad Museum

As reported by the New York Times, the National Museum of Iraq on Tuesday allowed three dozen journalists, local (Shiite) politicians and their guards inside to view the efforts being made to reopen the museum to the public. Apart from a short opening in late 2003, the museum has remained closed and barred since the US-led invasion of Iraq when looters ravaged the museum, taking off with thousands of priceless pieces of Iraqi (and human) history.

What saddens me most about this story is what current museum director, Amira Eiden, says about the restoration effort being, "slowed by insufficient financing." I can relate to that. Every museum in the world can relate to that.

However, the bulk of her museum budget is spent on recovering stolen objects and, "pieces sometimes have turned up in foreign actions and have been too expensive or difficult to retrieve." This, I feel, cuts right to the heart of the matter. Again, the US and European nations' laws on importing antiquities is too lenient! Again, we feel as if we hold some kind of entitlement..that we can buy "the past" and display it in our smoking rooms or personal libraries and show it to all our snotty friends who will be so impressed.

Just last week, a tiny limestone lioness figurine looted from Iraq auctioned at Sotheby's for 57.2 million dollars. Million. Instead of using that money to buy malaria drugs for dying children in sub-Saharan Africa or finance cancer research, some guy bought a 3.25-inch statue for his den. Nice.

07 December 2007

The perfect magazine

My husband, being the sweetheart that he is, told me that he had gotten me an early Christmas gift. Namely, that he had bought a subscription for the magazine that "had it all...all the things I have been looking for in a magazine." Well here it is:

I couldn't stop laughing.

Second temple palace uncovered

Sorry I know this is 2 days old, but I loved the picture, so I thought I would post. Plus I'm sick today, so back off.

An article in the Jerusalem Post states that a Second Temple period (1st century BC) palace has been uncovered opposite the Temple Mount in Old City Jerusalem and that it probably belonged to Queen Helena. This massive building was found as archaeologists excavated just outside the Dung Gate to prepare the way for the expansion of a parking lot located there.

The "palace" has huge foundations, walls preserved up to 5 meters in height, and a vaulted basement. Check out the sweet aerial shot, courtesy of the Israeli Antiquity Authority.

05 December 2007

Old wood

Archaeologists working at the Roman site of Herculaneum, just outside of Naples and north of famous Pompeii, have discovered a wood and ivory throne at the Villa of Papyri according to a report by Reuters. The villa belonged to Julius Caesar's father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, and was built upon the hillside of Mount Vesuvius.

Due to the unique level of preservation at Herculaneum and Pompeii (i.e. everything was suddenly covered with ash and volcanic debris when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 C.E.), many pieces of wooden furniture have been well preserved and recovered by archaeologists. The real treasure of this particular piece is its "ceremonial" aspects. Images of Attis, a circle-of-life type deity, are pictured along with sacred pine trees. This type of imagery has only been found before in frescoes or carved marble.

Pompeii is obviously not the norm when it comes to archaeological excavations, so this story is a great reminder of all that we are missing when it comes to uncovering material culture of the past. Think of how many organic things are in your home right now that make up a good portion of your life? Well these days we have a lot of plastic and metals, but for most of ancient history people used animal skins, baskets, textiles, and (like us today) wooden furniture--all things that do not (normally) survive for thousands of years in the ground.

03 December 2007

"Gospel of Judas" and biological warfare

Apparently the National Geographic Society published their report and translation of the Gospel of Judas a bit prematurely. An op-ed piece by April D. DeConick in the New York Times claims that many of the key passages have been mistranslated. In case you are in the dark, the Gospel of Judas is a 3rd century manuscript written in the Coptic language that NGS says, "portrays Judas as acting at Jesus' request when he hands Jesus over to the authorities." DeConick claims the opposite: Judas is not a hero, but instead a demon working for Ialdabaoth, a supreme demon who, according to Gnostic tradition, lives in the 13th realm above the Earth.

In other news, Rossella Lorenzi of Discovery Channel News had a fun article on the use of biological warfare between the Hittites and Arzawans in 14th century BC Anatolia (modern day Turkey). Apparently diseased rams and goats were sent down the road to infect enemy camps. This actually seems pretty tame compared to other acts of destroying your enemy, like catapulting bee hives, jars filled with poisonous snakes, or plague bodies over city walls. I highly recommend Greek Fire, Poison Arrows and Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World by Adrienne Mayor for more examples.

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