30 April 2008

Unlikely bedfellows

In an upcoming article for BAR (Biblical Archaeology Review), UC Berkeley's very own Ron Hendel proposes that educated scholars "need" master forgers of antiquities, in this case texts, in order to keep their skills sharp. As Ron states (and I use his first name because, well, I know him!):
"Without the forgers, the scholars would lack the challenge to ply their craft at its highest level."
My knee-jerk rea
ction to reading this was, "wouldn't the world be better without the hassle of dealing with forgeries?" but then I realized that I sounded like a pompus art dealer or museum director. I do garner some joy when I hear that a millionaire has spent, well, millions on a "priceless" work of art/antiquity only to have it turn out to be a fake. What a delicious smack in the face to those who feel entitled to "own a real piece of history" to only hide it away from the world in their private collections!

And yet there is also that scary possibility that forgeries can (and do) go unnoticed or unchecked. Piltdown Man went almost 50 years before scholars revealed it to be a fake! The idea that a forger could create an object
that would change the face of history if not detected to fulfill some kind of political gain for himself or his patron does not sit well with me (Biblical examples come to mind). So perhaps Ron is right. Let the forgers forge and the scholars prove them wrong!

Oh and by the way, nice mug Ron!...

...very "scholarly"

27 April 2008

Who owns the past?

The Wall Street Journal has run a short excerpt from the 2008-released book by Jame Cuno, "Who Owns Antiquity? Museums and the Battle Over Our Ancient Heritage." A ton of books like this have surfaced over the past few years, especially since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

It is interesting the word he uses in his title, "our ancient heritage" as if he has already bestowed ownership. Based on the excerpt, it sounds like he probably takes an even stance on the issue, not leaning too far with the art dealers and not siding with the archaeologists either. Ahh another book for my mile-line reading list.


22 April 2008

I'll lie here till the world swims back again

"Mummy of a Lady Named Jemutesonekh XXI Dynasty"
by Thomas James

My body holds its shape. The genius is intact.

Will I return to Thebes? In that lost country
The eucalyptus trees have turned to stone.
Once, branches nudged me, dropping swollen blossoms,
And passionflowers lit my father's garden.
Is it still there, that place of mottled shadow,
The scarlet flowers breathing in the darkness?

I remember how I died. It was so simple!

One morning the garden faded. My face blacked out.
On my left side they made the first incision.
They washed my heart and liver in palm wine—
My lungs were two dark fruit they stuffed with spices.
They smeared my innards with a sticky unguent
And sealed them in a crock of alabaster.

My brain was next. A pointed instrument

Hooked it through my nostrils, strand by strand.
A voice swayed over me. I paid no notice.
For weeks my body swam in sweet perfume.
I came out Scoured. I was skin and bone.
Thy lifted me into the sun again
And packed my empty skull with cinnamon.

They slit my toes; a razor gashed my fingertips.

Stitched shut at last, my limbs were chaste and valuable,
Stuffed with a paste of cloves and wild honey.
My eyes were empty, so they filled them up,
Inserting little nuggets of obsidian.
A basalt scarab wedged between my breasts
Replaced the tinny music of my heart.

Hands touched my sutures. I was so important!

They oiled my pores, rubbing a fragrance in.
An amber gum oozed down to soothe my temples.
I wanted to sit up. My skin was luminous,
Frail as the shadow of an emerald.
Before I learned to love myself too much,
My body wound itself in spools of linen.

Shut in my painted box, I am a precious object.

I wear a wooden mask. These are my eyelids,
Two flakes of bronze, and here is my new mouth,
Chiseled with care, guarding its ruby facets.
I will last forever. I am not impatient —
My skin will wait to greet its old complexions.
I'll lie here till the world swims back again.

When I come home the garden will be budding,

White petals breaking open, clusters of night flowers,
The far-off music of a tambourine.
A boy will pace among the passionflowers,
His eyes no longer two bruised surfaces.
I'll know the mouth of my young groom, I'll touch
His hands. Why do people lie to one another?

21 April 2008

Mummy faces and board games

What excuse can I come up with this time for not posting in a while? No good news? My birthday? Parental visit? All of the above folks!

The Washington Post has offered another article on Gobelki Tepe for your reading pleasure. I know I already blogged about this, but the site really is just so cool and important as well. Why? As usual, I believe Ian Hodder (excavator at Chatalhoy
uk) says it best:
"Everyone used to think that only complex, hierarchical civilizations could build such monumental sites and that they only came about with the invention of agriculture."
S
ince Gobekli Tepe dates to around 9500 BCE it is well before the domestication of plants and animals came on the scene (7000 BC-ish) and even earlier than the first major cities (3000 BC). And in case you are wondering, the stone monuments at Gobekli pre-date Stonehenge by 7,000 years!

*Update: another article on Gobekli Tepe was run in The Guardian on April 23. Check it out here.

The face of Pahat, mummy-in-residence at the Berkshire Museum, is now on display thanks to some handy forensic science and technology. I like these stories because it literally "puts a face to the name" of ancient humans who lived way before us and places the human aspect back into our investigations. As noted in the article, it is also a wonderful way to engage the public as people are always fascinated in mummies (in kind of a sick way) and so, to be able to put faces to these now dusty remains of skin and bones is, I believe, a good thing. If
you want to see an image of the bust, go to the article.

Finally, something near and dear to my heart: board games! These come from the Iranian island of Kharg located in the Persian Gulf. They were carved into the living rock overlooking the gulf and consist of circular and oblong-shaped settings, perhaps as a precursor to backgammon. Sorry this photo is the largest I could get!

10 April 2008

Busy life = no posts

What can I say? I've been busy, which is really too bad because a LOT of exciting archaeology news has been going on. Short of commenting on every single stinking article, I've opted (once again) for bullet points, so take your pick. It's a good thing too because I think I made this white russian too strong...aaaand here we go!
  • Discovery News: not surprisingly, "humor" is older than we think..probably 35,000 years or older. Factoid: the earliest known compilation of jokes in book form is Philogelos ("Laughter-Lover") dating to 350 B.C.
  • "Ancient jewelry" worn by American stars. The video claims that ancient coins are used, but God I hope they are mistaken.
  • Assyrians as precursors to modern CEOs? Catchy headline but I don't think it will stick.
  • The Independent: world's oldest archaeologist is 93 and still feisty! I love what she had to say about working in the "man's world" of archaeology:
    "I have never had any difficulties. I am not a woman or a man when I am working in the Gulf or anywhere else. I am a professional and they have always accepted that."
  • MIT students test the theory that some of the blocks that make up the Great Pyramid at Giza were cast in place from concrete and carved stone.
  • King Tut played marbles!
  • Our very own Co-Director Lynn is making headlines, this time for brokering a plan for what will happen to the archaeological sites and artifacts in the region once the two-state-solution for Israel and Palestine come to fruition (and it will!)
Finally, I'll end with something that is quite relevant to my own work. A tablet that was excavated at Nineveh in Iraq and dates to around 700 BCE has finally been translated. It is a copy of a much earlier Sumerian text (not unheard of) that supposedly records the crashing down of an asteroid to Earth at around 3123 B.C. Scientists got this date by computer simulations of the night sky from thousands of years ago (wish the article was a bit more specific than that).

I admit the headline for this story is quite hokey and sensationalist, but the implications are interesting. There is a big socio-cultural shift in Mesopotamia around this time, specifically long-established trading routes and communications collapse, and we aren't quite sure why it happened.

Sounds like a good enough reason until you think about the details. Writing is only just beginning to develop at this time and really it only consists of pictographic signs and numerals. Real texts don't come along until a few hundred years later (2600-2500 BCE as earliest) so it doesn't make sense that this tablet could be a copy of a Sumerian original that dates this early.

04 April 2008

VA birthday charity challenge

One of the blogs that I frequently read, Violent Acres, is having a "birthday charity challenge" in order to raise money for the West Valley Child Crisis Center, which houses abused and neglected children.

Since it is close to my birthday as well, I thought this to be especially fitting. VA is trying to raise $10,000+ and based on her readership, this should be an easy task (hopefully!). Every dollar counts so if you want to contribute to a very worthy cause, go here or here and donate via Paypal.

The payoff for you, apart from helping abused children? VA will post an authentic picture of herself, supposedly in a bikini. Sounds strange I know, but it's a long story...


01 April 2008

"Give me a place to stand, and I will move the Earth"

So said Archimedes in his classic investigation of levers and how they work, which is exactly what this New York Times article from today about ancient mechanics is about. Kind of a silly headline, since it makes me think of car mechanics. But actually this is a nice little write-up about the Greek treatise "Mechanical Problems" dating to the third century B.C. that includes discussions of everything from the pulley to the balance to the lever. Apparently this treatise predates Archimedes' "On the Equilibrium of Plane Figures" by at least 30 years (that treatise actually formally proved the law of the level). Enjoy my engineering family!


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