Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Miletus Found to be Cretan Colony

"Europe's oldest civilization, the Minoans of ancient Crete, were also the continent's first colonialists, according to investigations in Turkey and elsewhere. While archaeologists have long been aware of Minoan trading activity along the Anatolian coast, excavations at Miletus in southwest Turkey are revealing how 3,700 years ago they expanded to the Asian mainland to set up at least one permanent colony. The discoveries lend credence to an ancient Greek myth of a Minoan colony there.

The excavations have been unearthing the central part of a Minoan settlement laid out around a Cretan-style cult area. At least three major storage and probable cult buildings were arranged around a courtyard complete with a sequence of four mud-brick altars. Hundreds of fresco fragments found so far suggest that the walls were covered with spectacular paintings of exotic landscapes featuring papyrus flowers, reeds, lilies, and mythical creatures such as griffins.

Further evidence that the Minoans were based there is that 95 percent of the thousands of pottery sherds from this period found at the site were either made nearby in the Minoan style or imported from Crete itself. Seven inscriptions in Linear A, the undeciphered language of the Minoans, have also been found, inscribed on locally made pottery.

It is possible the Minoans established their colony in Anatolia to help channel mineral wealth, mainly copper, gold, and silver, back to Crete. Miletus is located at the mouth of the Maeander River and was ideally situated for trade with the mineral-rich interior."

Comic Book Artist Tackles The Trojan War

"I first got the idea for Age of Bronze in February 1991. I listen to books on tape alot while I'm working, and I was listening to the March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, by Barbara Tuchman, and there's a chapter in there on Troy, and it just sort of, listening to that opened this whole world of possibilities. I just thought, boy, that would be a great story to tell as a comic. But at the time I thought, 'oh, what a huge, huge project. I just don't have time for that.' But the idea kept coming back in various ways, and I finally realized I'll just give in and do this thing. So I was doing a lot of research for several years, gathering information on both the story and the archaeology of the time, and then I had to sort of shop the idea around the publishers. I started actually drawing in 1997, and I finally found a publisher and the series began publication in 1998, in November.

I do consult archaeologists whenever I can, and in fact there have been some archaeologists who have been quite enthusiastic about the project, and have pushed their help on me, almost, like Shelley Wachsmann, who's at Texas A&M University. I'm on an email list called AegeanNet, and when I first wrote to it saying I was working on this project, and was anyone interested in seeing anything, he immediately wrote to me and said, "This is my book, you have to get it." So I did, and he was right, I needed it. Some other archaeologists who've been helpful have been Bernice Jones, who's done a lot of research into costumes of the time. Eric Cline, who's been really enthusiastic about the comic book series. When I first found out that there were ongoing excavations at Troy, I immediately called up the University of Cincinnati and spoke to Getzel Cohen, he's at the Institute of Mediterranean Studies there, and he seemed really enthusiastic about it. I originally called him up because I wanted to find out how I could get copies of their excavation reports, which are published in Studia Troica.

One of the earliest questions I got when I began announcing that I was going to be publishing Age of Bronze was, how am I going to handle Achilles and Patroclus? So I knew that people were going to be watching. When I sit down at my drawing table and decide what's going to happen in a my version of the story--[a story that has] developed over so many centuries--I want to be as inclusive as possible, to tell as many of the episodes, to use as many of the characters, and to tell every aspect. It wasn't really a question of whether I was going to show the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, it was just how I was going to do that, and how much of the erotic aspect I was going to show of that.

See also: Age of Bronze

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Ancient Moabite fort provides insight into history of weaving

"A recent discovery of a cache of clay loom weights at Khirbat al-Mudaybi in Central Jordan is shedding new light on ancient textile crafts and industries.

The excavation team was surprised to discover a weaving installation in the fort's domestic quarter. Here, at least 68 small, perforated clay loom weights were concentrated in the northwest corner of one of the rooms. Each weight was hand-molded from local clay into a round or cylindrical shape, ranging from 32 millimeters to 61 millimeters in height, 48mm to 86mm in width, and weighed from 70 to 437 grams. Multiple threads could be strung through a perforation in each weight, and multiple weights may have been needed for each group of warp - or vertical - threads to provide the necessary tension for weaving. This tension allowed the weaver to integrate weft - the horizontal thread - and warp.

The Mudaybi loom weights were used on a vertical warp-weighted loom that was suspended from a wood stand or hung from the ceiling. Wool fibers spun into long threads were tied to a beam at the top of the loom. Since the excess could be tied off at the bottom of the loom, threads could be of any length. Textile woven on a vertical loom could be almost any length, since more thread could be tied on at the end of each run. The only limit was the amount of textile that could be rolled onto the beam at the top of the loom. The Mudaybi team suspects these looms were portable and could be easily moved from place to place. Unfortunately, neither evidence of a loom nor any weaving tools have been excavated in the fort. A senior researcher from the Institute of Archaeology, Andrews University, observed, "the discovery of so many loom weights makes me wonder if perhaps carpets or tents were being produced in this location by a family or specialized craftsman."


Black pottery revived from oblivion

"Lithuanian sculptors are imitating the primitive techniques used to make black pottery in precisely the same way that people made their earthenware some 8,000 years ago in Babylon, Persia, China and Egypt. But unlike modern ceramic techniques, the production of black pottery still employs methods that were available to ancient civilizations. Moreover, as the name of the art implies, black ceramic objects always come out in one color due to the smoking process they undergo.

Molded works of clay are moved into an outdoor furnace where pieces are burned for up to 15 hours until the temperature reaches 970 degrees Celsius. When logs of pine are thrown into the sweltering furnace, the smoke produced dyes the surface of clay with a grayish black color. Sometimes grass or manure may accompany the pine to ensure this unique tone. To keep the furnace airtight, the artists cover it with dirt and keep it in the ground for a night. Just as it did thousands of years ago, the entire process takes up to 24 hours to complete. "

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Lack of Divinity in "Troy" Symptomatic of Current Culture

by Marian Kester Coombs

"Since the Enlightenment, any role for the divine or supernatural has steadily given way to naturalistic explanations ('Gravity did it') and human causality ('My mean parents made me do it').

Yet mere convention or superstition fail to account for the leading role accorded the gods by the Iliad. The late Julian Jaynes of Princeton University, in The Origins Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind (1976), argues that at the time the Iliad was composed, the two hemispheres of the human brain still functioned semi-autonomously, and that auditory 'hallucinations' of the Gods, emanating from admonitory wisdom stored in the right hemisphere, were experienced as divine, external voices advising and commanding, warning and encouraging.

'A coward in the Iliad is not someone who is afraid, but someone whose kradie [heart] beats loudly. The only remedy is for Athene to 'put' strength in the kradie (2:452), or for Apollo to 'put' boldness in it (21:547)' (book and line numbers of the Iliad in parentheses). In other words, there is no 'I' in the Iliad, no 'subjectification': Its men do not act, but are automata controlled by the gods.

By the time of the Odyssey, according to Jaynes, there has been such 'a gigantic vault in mentality' that we are clearly no longer in the age of whoever composed the Iliad. The Odyssey is 'a journey of deviousness. It is the very discovery of guile, its invention and celebration.' Its gods are 'like receding ghosts,' hard to contact and quite possible to ignore. In the Odyssey, the muses are 'narratizing their own downfall, their own fading away into subjective thought ... [T]he whole long song is an odyssey toward subjective identity and its triumphant acknowledgment out of the hallucinatory enslavements of the past."

Monday, May 17, 2004

Troy may be inspired by Homer's Iliad but definitely not based on it

Like many classical history buffs, I took time to see the new "Troy" on it's opening day in my city.

Here are some of the Pros of the new film:

Patroclus is present and is at least dealt with as a beloved cousin.

The story focuses on Achilles, Hector, and Agamemnon with sufficient homage paid to the questions of duty, honor, and glory rather than the love between Paris and Helen. The cinematography and special effects were good but not really superior to those used in the USA miniseries "Helen of Troy".

There was much more focus on Hector as a loving husband and father as well as skilled warrior and Andromache and Astyanax were nicely represented although I would have treasured the scene of Hector accidentally frightening Asytanax by appearing in his gore-covered armor as related by Homer.

Achilles was far superior to the bald, mindless brute portrayed in USA's "Helen of Troy". Even though I personally feared that Brad Pitt was not my mental visualization of Achilles, he actually portrayed a conflicted hero quite well. Eric Bana's screen presence as Hector was also equally riveting (as one of the other film critics pointed out). I liked the actor who portrayed Hector in the miniseries but his part was deliberately overshadowed by the focus on Paris.

Here are some of the cons as I perceive them:

1. The screenplay had eliminated almost all reference to the role of the divine in the events portrayed. There was no judgment of Paris. The gods did not rescue Paris by obscuring him with fog during his duel with Menelaus. Most of all, sadly, there was no flame-wreathed Achilles standing and shouting out his grief for Patroclus. The only "paranormal" reference that I remember was Hector’s admission that he had seen his fate in a dream.

2. Although the Iliad does not mention Agamemnon's sacrifice of Iphigenia, that is one of the events told in the collective Trojan War myths that was included in USA's "Helen of Troy" that I found quite poignant and that provided much more depth to the character of Agammenon portrayed by Rufus Sewell. I thought Brian Cox's Agamemnon was rather one dimensional – simply the personification of an individual totally corrupted by power.

3. I also found James Callis personification of Menelaus to hold more humanity than the brutish warrior portrayed by Brendan Gleeson. I also don't know why Hollywood chose to kill Menelaus other than the fact that he had served his purpose as far as advancing the story goes and they didn't want to pay him anymore.

4. Cassandra and her torment about forseeing the destruction of Troy was totally omitted. I thought this aspect of the story was incorporated quite effectively in the TV miniseries.

5. Since Iphigenia was omitted, a vengeful Clytemnestra was also omitted. Again, the TV miniseries, although also killing Agamemnon in Troy instead of Mycenae, provided a more dramatic resolution than this movie.

6. The movie makers decided to kill Ajax in one of the battle scenes instead of portraying his suicide after the sack of Troy, committed because he was not awarded Achilles armor. There has been a lot of discussion about Sean Bean as Odysseus starring in a sequel. This negates the possibility of incorporating any emotional meeting between an unforgiving Ajax and Odysseus in the underworld.

7. Aeneas was portrayed as a youth. In Homer, Aeneas was second only to Hector in Trojan military prowess. The boy in this movie doesn't even look old enough to have taken part in the fighting and how he was managing to pack his aged father on his back is a mystery to me. He was also too young to be leading a son old enough to be walking unassisted (Ascanius).

I still enjoyed myself and simply hope that some day someone in Hollywood will have the common sense to film the classic in its original form. By the way, I saw the preview of the new "King Arthur" movie and it looked exciting. Of course, I always get weak in the knees when I see a man in Roman armor!

Monday, May 10, 2004

Tomb of Mayan queen uncovered

"While excavating an ancient royal palace deep in the Guatemalan rain forest, archaeologists made a rare discovery - the 1,200-year-old tomb and skeleton of a Mayan queen.

Archaeologists announced the find Thursday and said the woman appears to have been a powerful leader of a city that may have been home to tens of thousands of people at its peak. They found her bones on a raised platform, with evidence of riches scattered around her body.

The queen's skull and leg bones were missing, probably removed sometime after the body had decomposed to be used as relics. Other than that, the tomb - measuring 11 feet long by 4 feet wide by 6 feet high - was untouched.

The queen is thought to have been 30 to 45 when she died, but archaeologists have uncovered no clues as to her name, dynasty or cause of death.

Twenty-two jade plaques, each about 2 inches square, appear to have been part of the helmet. Archaeologists also found a 4-inch-long jade carving depicting the dead of a deity in profile - a type of jewel worn by kings and queens, David Freidel, an anthropology professor at Southern Methodist University, which sponsored a team of 20 archaeologists excavating the site said.

Stingray spines found in the tomb usually were used as bloodletting implements - males pierced their genitals in ceremonies that offered their blood to the gods, while women generally placed the spines in their tongues. The ones found in the tomb were placed on the queen's pelvis, Freidel said.

"She's being represented as both male and female, in my view," Freidel said."