30 May 2008

Off to Turkey

In honor (?) of me leaving for Turkey today, I thought I would leave you all with some choice Turkish pop music videos.

For Jenni, some good old angst-ridden Teoman:

For Bradley and boyz, some hot hot chicks ("ahh..sexy"):

And for me, and the hell of it, some Mustafa Sandal:

Sorry Missy, I looked endlessly for "text message" guy video to no avail!

27 May 2008

Cleopatra's tomb discovered?

I thought this news article fitting, based on my last post:

"Flamboyant" archaeologist with "trademark Indiana Jones hat" Zahi Hawass (see? relevant) believes he has discovered where the famous Cleopatra is buried, reports the
Times Online. Due west of Alexandria in northern Egypt, Hawass and his team have discovered a deep tunnel below a temple (Taposiris Magna) containing busts and coins that bear the Queen's image. A bust of Marc Antony has also been revealed.

Cleopatra and Antony were of course lovers who were seeking to solitify their powers in Egypt. This came against the wishes of the central powers in Rome and they were ultimately defeated by their rival Octavian in 31 B.C., after which they both committed suicide.

Instead of showing yet another photo of Hawass gently brushing sand off the lid of a sarcophagus, I opted for the absolutely beautiful Elizabeth Taylor: hands-down, one of the most gorgeous women on the planet.

Needless to say, many archaeologists are currently skeptical about Hawass' claims, at least until more adequate evidence is unearthed/presented. Always the media-lover, Hawass will see this through to the likely conclusion. Stay tuned!

26 May 2008

Somebody hates Indy

A recent Washington Post article by archaeologist Neil Asher Silberman suggests, in so many words, that the Indiana Jones movies are a plague upon the professional and scientific field of archaeology. Tired of being hounded by Indy-related questions and assumptions by party-goers when they learn he is an archaeologist, Silberman has taken a firm stance on the inaccurate portrayal of archaeological behavior in the Indy movies and how they take away from the 'real' multi-disciplinary work that we carry out, sans fedoras. He even goes as far to say,
"It's not just that the films are harmlessly caricatured visions of old-fashioned archaeology, they are filled with destructive and dangerous stereotypes that undermine American archaeology's changing identity and goals."
I've got news for you Dr. Silberman: unless expressly labeled as a "documentary," movies are under NO obligation to be factually accurate. None. They are purely entertainment and fictionalize representations, as the end-of-the-credits legal wording clearly states. As for being destructive and dangerous stereotypes, how many looters have been arrested wearing a fedora and carrying a bull whip? The movies are clearly not spawning a generation of treasure seekers who would destroy archaeological sites because "that's what Indy did." Those treasure seekers have long been around searching for Atlantis, the Ark of the Covenant, and Noah's ark, while simultaneously gobbling up all our grant money, but I digress. It's true that Indiana Jones is a serious stereotype that most recognize as such, but most do not. In these cases, what a perfect opportunity to educate your friend/parents/husband about the realities of modern archaeology!

Even in this latest edition of Indy he diverges from his usual "take the object home to place in a museum," which, as Silberman discusses, was the usual practice for archaeologists of Indy's time of the 1920s and 1930s. *Spoiler alert*: in the latest movie, Indy actually returns the crystal skull to its original context and leaves it there, in a way, reflecting the new sensibilities for objects remaining in their country of origin that were only just forming during the 1950s and 1960s.

And don't think that archaeology is the only field that deals with this level of misunderstanding about the actualities of the discipline. I'm sure most of the unassuming public thinks that legal cases are run just like on Law & Order, that all crime units have the fancy equipment of CSI, that special agents or secret human weapons for the FBI all look and act like Jason Bourne, and computer hacking is as easy as it looks in Hackers or Swordfish.

I think what the AIA and others have done to embrace the public attention that Indiana Jones movies have brought to the field is a step in the right direction. With so many bogus and overtly-dramatic "reenactments" of history on Discovery and The History Channel, it is obvious that we, the professional archaeologists, are seriously loosing the PR battle. We need to take Indiana Jones as an icon to draw people in and once we have their attention, alert them to the exciting things that real life archaeologists are doing around the world. Believe it or not, Harrison Ford himself could aid in that endeavor by raising awareness in Hollywood and beyond.

In the meantime, I suppose Dr. Silberman will have to continue answering all those pesky questions about Indy and being an archaeologist while attending cocktail parties, as we ALL do. Frankly, I rather talk about Indy then fend off the other constant questions I get about how one can obtain ancient coins or rare Etruscan helmets to show off to their friends. With a war in Iraq, looting of sites and museums in the Middle East and around the world, and a thriving stolen antiquities market, the field of archaeology has a lot more to worry about than a fictional character who many archaeologists, myself included, happen to love.

22 May 2008


I so very badly want to blog about the new Indiana Jones movie as I was nerdy enough to see the midnight showing..while wearing my brown leather jacket and fedora..yes, I have no shame. But since that will most likely contain spoilers and piss off some people (my mother included), you'll have to contend yourselves with this little gem from BBPS that B sent me yesterday.

*Note: if you don't play WoW or are not married to someone who plays WoW, this will most likely not be funny to you. I, on the other hand, find it

21 May 2008

Digital Timbuktu

This recent article in the New York Times discusses how researchers are now in the process of digitizing thousands of texts from libraries, private collections, and forgotten storerooms in Timbuktu, Mali (Africa). Thus far scrolls, leather-bound books and other delicate writings in Arabic from the 17th-19th centuries have been scanned with many more to go. You'll remember that Timbuktu used to be a crossroads for trade in salt, gold and slaves, making it a vibrant scholarly environment and not the remote desert oasis it is today.

The government in Mali is actually building a huge library to house and preserve over 30,000 of these texts. The digitization will allow for on-line archiving and study for researchers around the globe. As the article mentions, in a way it is much better for people to study a digital scan than the real thing, since most are extremely fragile and should not be handled often.

19 May 2008

Dustbin of history

This article in The Guardian is near and dear to my heart, specifically because it deals with trash or, as the title proclaims, the "dustbin of history." Archaeologists have been painstakingly deciphering Hellenistic period documents discovered in trash middens at the Lower Egyptian site of Oxyrhynchus. Many of the texts, written on papyrus, are letters from local residents, shedding light on the everyday activities and emotions of the middle class.

The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC is hosting a new exhibit entitled: "Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul." Amazingly, this show includes 100 beautiful gold pieces from the famed "Bactrian Treasure" discovered in 1978 inside nomadic graves at Tillya Tepe. I think this will be a great opportunity for Americans to see what ancient Afghani culture is like and how its foundations lie in its crucial location along the Silk Road trade routes. It would be equally as cool to see more modern exhibits that show how life is like today in Afghanistan but sadly, I doubt that would bring as large of a crowd as gold does. Us Americans do like our shiny stuff.

Update (5/26/2008): Article in the New York Times about this fascinating exhibit.

And for all you Egyptofiles out there,
this website compiled a ton of on-line Egypt-inspired games for you to play! The games range from the slightly gruesome ("Mummy Maker" complete with brain removal step) to the mundane (digital jigsaw puzzle). Yet another way to procrastinate using the internet!

18 May 2008

Crystal skulls: the true story

The May/June issue of Archaeology Magazine has a short but interesting article on the history of the "crystal skulls" that serve as the premise for the upcoming (and much anticipated by yours-truly) Indiana Jones movie. It was cool to read up on this since honestly I knew nothing about the topic. I wasn't surprised however, to read that the history of these skulls is sketchy at best. All of them have absolutely no archaeological provenience (i.e. there is no record of them being excavated or even the area in which they were looted) and were thus most likely made by some expert forger at the end of the nineteenth century. I highly suggest checking out the article for a scholarly approach to this subject, as the Indy movie will most likely revolve around the skulls being alien-made *sigh*

In related news, Harrison Ford has been elected to the Board of Directors for the Archaeological Institute of America. No joke. Maybe a PR stunt, but hey why not. Like I was just telling B last night, we really need to bring some sexy into archaeology (I mean, have you seen some of those excavation directors??), so why not start with Harrison Ford. Yummy.

May 22 is sooner than you think!

17 May 2008

Caesar in the river

The UK Times Online reports a true bust of Julius Caesar was found in the river Rhone outside of Arles in France. I say "true" because the bust is apparently authentic and the features of Caesar are seemingly true-to-life: balding, prominent Adam's apple, and skin wrinkled with age (he was in his 50s it seems when this bust was made and when he was assassinated).

Though the experts seem to think the bust was deposited in the river in haste after JC's death in order to circumvent the nay-sayers who would think the people of Arles supported him (obviously they did), they are forgetting that many cultures of the ancient (and modern) world ritualistically deposit items in rivers, lakes, or bogs. The idea of the townsfolk hefting poor Caesar's bust unceremoniously into the river, along with other statuary as the article reports, seems quite dramatic. Of course, how else are you supposed to be rid of a six-foot-tall Neptune statue? Can't really hide it in the barn I guess!

12 May 2008

So far behind

It's not even funny! Maybe I should rename this blog to read: "This Week in Near Eastern Archaeology." That seems like it would be a whole lot more accurate. Maybe "This Month" but lets not push it. At least soon I will have a wonderful excuse for not posting: I'll be out in the field again doing what archaeologists do best. Drinki...eer, digging?

At least Egypt is trying to stay on top of things. They are planning a brand new museum, the "Grand Egyptian Museum," in order to house the overflowing permanent collection of antiquities that currently are housed in the basements of the Egyptian Museum on Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. The new museum will apparently be right next to the Great Pyramid at Giza offering "carefully framed views" of the famous plateau in a dramatic architectural fusion of ancient and modern. Scheduled to be completed in 2011, the GEM will certainly change the way the average tourist visits the Pyramids. I'm just glad I got to see them before this huge structure of stone, steel and glass is built up. I guess I'll just have to see it myself (with B!) in order to see if it adds to the experience or adds to what is already a touristy nightmare!

In more colorful news (sorry), many museum exhibitions have begun showing ancient Greek and Roman marble sculpture as it was meant to be seen: painted. An article by the Washington Post explores the trend in early traditional (and more modern) art history to take for granted that these statues are (now) only white. However textual references give us a clue that this was not so. Take for instance Helen of Troy who utters in 412 B.C.:
"If only I could shed my beauty and assume an uglier aspect. The way you would wipe color off a statue."
Actual marbles that have been freshly excavated have sometimes bore the faint traces of paint that often get scrapped off during vigorous cleaning. This issue of painted sculpture, once a somewhat dead topic, is now in the foreground and I think for the better as so much of what we excavate as archaeologists (walls, floors) are lacking these vibrant colors that were certainly there in the form of wall paintings and carpets.

Finally, this story was too fun to pass up especially because it comes from "Trend News." Apparently archaeologists (read: Helmut Ziegert of Hamburg University) have uncovered the palace of the Queen of Sheba in Axum, Ethiopia. Tradition there also has it that the Ark of the Covenant was smuggled out of Judah and brought there by the son of Sheba and Solomon, Menelek. This sounds like a fun little ploy to get more money for the project from guilable rich people, but I digress. The Ark-Ethiopia connection has been made for years and all we still have to show for it is "tradition says this" and "there is a myth that." I hope more data comes out about this excavation, however I sadly believe it won't be in a scholarly context.

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