31 January 2009

Rant zone

As I am sure it is dawning on you all, my updates are coming fewer and far between. Blame that on my dissertation that I am in the final death throws with (yipee!) and running a museum this semester. Oh ya, and trying to find a job..in this economic climate..joy. Can you say "Ph.D. housewife?" But no, no lets keep our thoughts positive, shall we? Hopefully I will have some good job-related posts/news up here soon. But until then, on to the mass of news that has been accumulating in the archaeological world:

In what I immediately thought was a stroke of good will and good fortune for Iraq's struggling museums, Greece has said it will aid with money and expertise, according to this Reuters report in Yahoo! News. However the article also specifies that both antiquities departments will erect a statue/monument of Alexander the Great at the site in northern Iraq where Alexander defeated Darius III which basically brought the Persian Empire to an end. Is this a total snub at neighboring Iran or what? And seriously, why are they spending money on this monument when it should be going to, uh maybe rebuilding the museums or paying for site guards to protect archaeological sites from looting??

Speaking of museums, this interesting article talks about the university officials at Brandeis selling off all the art in its collection and closing their university museum. This smacks a lot of the MASCA fiasco at U Penn, which the article chronicles in detail, and is a stark wake-up call to the reality that museums are loosing a financial, academic and culture battle to remain "relevant" in the eyes of universities. This particular issue makes me exceedingly angry, especially since I don't see many pay cuts happening for chancellors, regents, or college football coaches for that matter ($6M to coach? Really?). Why is it that museums, music, drama and art programs are always the first to go? These elements are so important to our society's well-being!

At least in these dreary times for museums, we can still debate about pyramids in Europe. Ya you heard me. I don't think I've blogged about this before, but it has been in the news for a while. Take a gander at the picture (lifted from this article) and tell me whether or not you think it is a man-made structure, located in Bosnia, FYI.

Last, for all you mariners out there, the Phoenician Expedition will have to wait until the prevailing winds are favorable (in summer 2009) before heading off on their historic trip around the Cape of Good Hope on a life-sized replica of a Phoenician ship (circa 600 BC). I think the fact that they have a 180 HP engine built into the ship "for emergencies and to help the crew maneuver in and out of ports" is total bollocks. If the point of the whole thing is to learn about ancient Phoenician sailing, shouldn't they at least, ya know, try and recreate..ancient Phoenician sailing?

Ok this post has seriously too much rant. Need to lay off the Caucasians I guess. That, or go get a refill.


20 January 2009

Book pusher

More evidence for early chemical warfare comes from the Syrian site of Dura-Europos on the Euphrates that was a Roman outpost besiged by the Sassanians around 256 AD (see also this "more official" press release from the author of this study here). Apparently the Sassanian solders stacked up Roman bodies and lit them on fire with the help of pitch and sulfur in order to "smoke out" a seige tunnel that lay directly below the city defenses (burnt soldier pictured here..ouch). You can imagine the toxic fumes engulfing such a cramped space! Apparently the Sassanian soldier who lit the fire didn't even make it out before being overcome. Just goes to show you that chemical warfare is nothing new to the 20th or 21st century. If you don't believe me, I highly recommend this book: Greek Fire, Poison Arrows and Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World.

Speaking of the Greeks, the Guardian is reporting (well, reported on Jan. 8) that many ancient elite Greek homes doubled as casinos, taverns and whore houses. Now I might just side with the more conservative archaeologists on this one that all the drinking cups and provokative graffitee probably means that the well-to-do threw lots of lavish parties that (d)evolved into orgies. However some more convincing evidence the article discusses are rooms with small cubicles around the edges that made me picture the bordello at Pompeii that I was lucky (?) enough to see (pictured below-rock on!). At any rate, for a fun read about Greek drinking parties and the scandalas scenes depicted on drinking cups, check out: The Reign of the Phallus (or as B calls it, my "penis book").
This headline from Science News was just too sensational not to mention: "Armenian Cave Yields Ancient Human Brain" and just when it couldn't get any better, the subtitle: "Excavations have produced roughly 6,000-year-old relics of a poorly known culture existing near the dawn of civilization." I mean, this headline has everything: "relics," a "poorly known culture" and ever-necessary "dawn of civilization." Sadly, upon actually reading the article, I realize I know one of the archaeologists involved in this project! It makes me wonder, do we really have to sensationalize our findings to make them relevant and interesting to the general public and worthy of a news story?
Finally for all you Legend fans out there ("you don't intend to eat me, do you ma'am?"), a new book on the natural history of unicorns has been reviewed in the Times. Fun stuff!

10 January 2009

Istanbul's ancient port

The BBC reported today on Istanbul's ancient port, part of which was uncovered by construction crews digging a tunnel for a train that will run below the Bosphorus. They have a cool video talking about the recovery of the ancient dock and boats, along with human burials (pictured left) that were uncovered that are even older by 6,000 years.

Also, keep your Google Earth ancient Near East placemarkers up-to-date! A new version is now available here, bringing the total up to 1300 archaeological sites. Just please people, do me a favor and keep your Google Earth usage (and fly-throughs) to an absolute minimum during presentations ok?

In an un-archaeologically-related note, can you believe the weather in the Bay Area today? Holy cow. Got some good gardening in. Supposed to be in the 70s next week I heard. Sorry my (freezing) Canadian and East Coast friends. 


08 January 2009

Damming the Euphrates

Here is another wonderful video from The Archaeology Channel that highlights the many different parties and issues involved with the GAP project in Turkey. This gives you a little glimpse into the part of the world I work in each summer and also a stark, foreboding reminder of what my area of the Tigris will look like in a few years time. There are two shots in the film that are particularly haunting: the top of a huge minaret sticking out of the water with the mosque it belongs to far below the surface and an in-tact tombstone at the bottom of the reservoir. Just imagine, not being able to visit your grandfather/mother's grave because it is 20 feet below water...

More on archaeology in Iraq

Put this under the "Too little, too late" file(?), The World Monuments Fund is now launching a project with Iraq to safeguard and help preserve the ancient city of Babylon, which has received a ton of press since the US-led invasion of that country in 2003 (geez, has it really been 6 years?). While I like the idea of preservation efforts going forth in Iraq, it seems to be only the big-name sites that get the attention. While the article rightly states that all of Babylon has never been mapped out, there are most likely hundreds if not thousands of archaeological sites in Iraq that have yet to be even surveyed and are most likely being looted due to lack of funding/security. Yes Babylon would bring in much-needed tourist revenue if they could get this project off the ground, but then again, people don't have the time or money to tour if their employment prospects look grim and violence is still happening around you on  daily basis.

Speaking of archaeology in Iraq, I also came across this video that features the former director of the Iraq Museum, Dr. Donny George, who spoke in Oregon in May 2008. An old vid, I know, but informative nonetheless, especially for those who have no idea about the implications and repercussion of the looting of the Iraq Museum that occurred in 2003. The video is hosted by The Archaeology Channel, which I should really become a member of because I believe in their cause so much: bring "real" archaeology to the public, kind of like this blog!

On a lighter note, for all you Egyptofiles there is now a TrueType font of Egyptian hieroglyphs. Finally! I no longer have to type out manually that "the snake below the feather is hiding in the papyrus reeds, but the lion riding the wavy lines sees him anyway"...or something.

And I know what book I am getting if I win a certain contest! (Hint: it's about ancient board games. how rad is that?)

03 January 2009

Not another dam post?!

Wow, a second post in almost the same week? I know. Amazing. But it seems that Turkey is being naughty when it comes to the Ilisu Dam that they broke ground on (see pic) without meeting the environmental and cultural conditions set forth by their primary (financial) backers: Germany, Switzerland and Austria. This dam, by the way, is the one that will flood the site (and hundreds of others) I am currently doing my dissertation on. The more major site that gets all the publicity though is Hasankeyf that will/would be a major victim of the reservoir to form behind the dam when/if completed. Stay tuned! This issue gets juicier and juicier..

Speaking of, here is another article on an on-going legal battle that involves a very important cuneiform tablet archive from Persepolis, one of the capitals of the Persian Empire (612-330 BCE). I don't believe I have blogged about this before, but I should have, because the story is down-right-ridiculous. In a nutshell, the American families of servicemen and women who were killed in a 1983 and 1997 terrorist attacks in Beirut and Jerusalem respectively believe that Iran funded both attacks and in 2001 were awarded $3 BILLION in judgments by the US government (despite Iran not showing up on court..hmm, I wonder why?).

Now those people are claiming that the only way they can recoup some of this money is to..wait for it..sell the Persepolis Tablets. Yes that's right: auction off "excavated-legally-one-of-a-kind" tablets. I'm sure y'all agree with me about how awful this is and how, if successful, this will set the most unimaginable precident. The case is currently being overseen by U.S. District Court judge Blanche M. Manning and will likely continue up the chain to the Supreme Court. Changston, I would love to have you weigh in on this! 

Finally a step in the right direction for internet publishing in archaeology: the Mellon Foundation has funded the folks over at Internet Archaeology to develop their online presence including linking articles to open access online databases, videos and audio clips. Though internet publishing is still looked down upon in archaeology, it is slowly becoming more acceptable and I think this will certainly help. 

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