12 December 2010

LEGO Antikythera Mechanism

I have posted before about the Antikythera mechanism, a 2,000-year-old computer of sorts that was used to predict eclipses. Apparently a working model of the device has been created...completely out of LEGO. Nerdy and completely awesome, I give you a highly dramatic video about its creation and use. This is dedicated to all my engineering friends and family:

06 December 2010


A few videos have come across my desk(top) that include the oldest story ever told and the search for the mines of Solomon (or at least his Edomite neighbors).

The first video is produced by Annenberg Media as part of their "Invitation to World Literature" series. While definitely cheesy at parts and some imagery is incorrect (i.e., the blue gateway shown is the Ishtar Gate from Babylon, not Uruk), the Epic of Gilgamesh video is fascinating for showing the pure excitement Assyriologists can have in reading this ancient text (and believe you me, I didn't think they could get that giddy). At the same time, it highlights the many adaptations this story has undergone--from song to stage, and even further. Check out this Gilgamesh comic book series!

It amazes me how deeply we, in our modern age and thousands of years after this epic was written down, connect with Gilgamesh and the trials and tribulations he endures. Certainly it is a testament to the beauty of the story as a literary text and the perhaps universal human emotions of love, hate, desire, fear and loneliness. An artist friend of mine once remarked: "Art is what lasts." In this case, the Epic of Gilgamesh is art in clay and storytelling of the highest form.

Hop on over to the Epic of Gilgamesh video at Annenberg Media...

The second video comes from NOVA on PBS that aired last month. "Quest for Solomon's Mines" is certainly good, sensational TV fodder with all the usual cast of characters for archaeology of Iron Age Israel (that's 1200-586 BC). But beyond that, it is instructional and well timed to give those not familiar with all the scholarly debates about the reigns (or lack thereof) of Kings David and Solomon of biblical acclaim enough information and time to process what you are hearing. This includes some of the techniques modern archaeological projects are using like AMS carbon dating, experimental archaeology, isotope analysis, and new imagery technology. On a personal note, it is also fun to see the bit of Jordan where I excavated for a season (not at Nahas, but at another site nearby).

Watch the full episode. See more NOVA.

04 December 2010

The world's heritage?

A few weeks ago, I ranted a bit about the building collapse at Pompeii, asking "who is to blame?" and "what is to be done?" While I advocated local grassroots movements for site upkeep and maintenance, Mary Beard at The Telegraph thinks the world is responsible:
"The only possible long-term solution for major world heritage sites such as this (or Stonehenge or Machu Picchu) must be some kind of international administration and finance. If the world wants Pompeii to survive into the next century, then the world will have to pay – rather than leave it to the modern country in whose territory it happens to have ended up."
This article, and Ms. Beard's statement in particular, really got me thinking about the complexities behind archaeology and the place of ancient sites in our modern world. To begin with, it was a reminder that not all historic sites are valued by everyone. That's not to say that the Italians don't value Pompeii. That ancient and (in)famous city is something I would guess most Italians point to as a source of pride, a materialization of their history, and in many ways a cash cow for their economy.

What I mean is material culture and sites that we value in the West may not be valued equally or at all in other places across the world. Take, for example, objects from Native American graves that we painstakingly preserve for future generations but that most Native Americans see as an interruption of the life cycle of those objects: they are created, used, and then eventually must "die" (i.e., deteriorate). Or take the Taliban destruction of the Buddha statues at Bamiyan - what most valued as a historic monument to early religion in Afghanistan, the Taliban saw as pre-Islamic idolatry and not worth preserving.

Ultimately I think these questions of value feed into larger issues underlying The Telegraph article: At what point does a site and the objects that derive from them become part of the larger heritage of the world and not just the current, local inhabitants? Who determines this elevation and what is the motivation behind it? When archaeological sites stop being the heritage of Iraq, for example, but of the world (and in the case of Iraq, one could argue heritage of human history), I think it is the world's responsibility to aid in its preservation.

Now how does this elevation to world heritage status undermine modern governments who appropriate ancient history into their nation-building strategies? I think that is best saved for another post.
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