Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Ancient Egyptians At Home in Turin


The Post and Courier Charleston, SC: "Although the Greeks invented the Olympics, the ancient Egyptians were no couch potatoes in athletic feats.

Pharaoh Amenhotep II - an accomplished horse rider, runner and archer - bragged that he was the greatest sportsman of all time and made sure royal sculptors captured his massive biceps and pecs.

The granite colossus of the 15th-century B.C. ruler is just one of the ancient marvels that Turin's Egyptian Museum offers to visitors looking for something different in this northern city and the surrounding Alpine slopes.

The Museo Egizio claims one of the largest collections of Egyptian antiquities outside Cairo. Just in time for the 2006 Winter Olympics, which began 10 days ago, it opened a new pride-and-joy gallery set up by Dante Ferretti, Oscar-winning art director for 'The Aviator.'

The new exhibit gives visitors a who's who of ancient Egypt through 56 monumental statues, bathed in soft light and reflected in ghostly images by opaque mirrors.

Statues such as Amenhotep II's were usually placed around temples, highlighting the ancient Egyptians' concern with securing a place in the afterlife.

'When they passed by your statue, the priests would utter your name, and that kept you alive,' museum Director Eleni Vassilika said.

The trick must have worked, because the 13th-century B.C. statue of the revered Ramses II looks ready to rise from its stone throne. The great king's pleated garment, puffy cheeks and hooked nose were painstakingly chiseled using only stone tools on tons of hard black basalt, but look no less lifelike.

Walking through the darkened gallery - accompanied by haunting background sounds of water, sand and cymbals - visitors also can gaze upon the lion-headed Sakmeth, goddess of vengeance, and on the creamy limestone depiction of a young Tutankhamen dwarfed by the towering figure of the god Amun.

he new gallery is only a fraction of what's on view for the $7.50 admission price - entire tombs, painted chapels and even a small temple have found a new home in downtown Turin.

Opened in 1824 in a 17th-century Jesuit building, the Museo Egizio has about 6,500 artifacts on display and more than 26,000 in storage.



One of the museum's centerpieces is the contents of the 3,500-year-old tomb of the architect Kha and his wife, Merit. The skilled and wealthy builder worked for years to prepare his burial, but when his wife died unexpectedly, he readily gave up his gilded death mask and his coffin.

Later, the architect was buried in the same tomb, together with his instruments, furniture and monogrammed underwear. And if stealing from the dead didn't warrant a deadly curse, you could almost take a bite from the well-preserved supplies for the afterlife that include bread wrapped in palm leaves, salt, wine, dried meat and vegetables."

Large Sun Temple unearthed beneath Cairo Market


Archaeologists discovered a pharaonic sun temple with large statues believed to be of King Ramses II under an outdoor marketplace in Cairo, Egypt's antiquities chief said Sunday.

The partially uncovered site is the largest sun temple ever found in the capital's Aim Shams and Matariya districts, where the ancient city of Heliopolis _ the center of pharaonic sun worship _ was located, Zahi Hawass told The Associated Press.

Among the artifacts was a pink granite statue weighing 4 to 5 tons whose features "resemble those of Ramses II," said Hawass, head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Also found was a 5-foot-high statue of a seated figure with hieroglyphics that include three tablets with the name of Ramses II _ and a 3-ton head of royal statue, the council said in a statement.

The green pavement stones of the temple's floor were also uncovered.

An Egyptian team working in cooperation with the German Archaeological Mission in Egypt discovered the site under the Souq al-Khamis, a popular market in eastern Cairo, Hawass said.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Shakespeare death mask 'genuine'


NEWS.com.au: "A 17TH-CENTURY death mask claimed to be that of British playwright William Shakespeare could be genuine, according to new research.
The mask, discovered in a ragpicker's shop in 1842 and now owned by the German city of Darmstadt, has long been a subject of controversy.

It bears the high forehead and prominent nose and beard associated with the Bard and bears the inscription ' Ao Dm 1616', apparently meaning 'Died Anno Domini 1616', the year Shakespeare passed away at the age of 52.

But leading scholars have questioned the provenance of the mask and also said it is not a close enough match to the tiny handful of portraits that can be attributed to Shakespeare.

Using a computer technique employed by the police to test whether separate facial images belong to the same person, scientist Reinhardt Altmann found close matches around the eyes, nose and lips of the paintings and bust, leading him to conclude the faces were all those of the same individual.

Engineers from imaging company Konica Minolta Europe scanned the bust and death mask with lasers to build up 3D computer models.

"Superimposing the models revealed perfect matches between the forehead, eyes and nose," New Scientist said.

The difference is the lips on the death mask are thinner than those on the bust, but University of Mainz academic Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel, who is a champion of the mask, contends this is normal, for the lips would have shrunk with the loss of blood pressure after death."

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Remains of funeral boat found at Suyama tomb


The Daily Yomiuri (Japan): "Several large vermillion-lacquered wood fragments believed to be part of a funeral boat were unearthed at the Suyama ancient tomb in Koryocho, Nara Prefecture, the local board of education has announced.

The fragments bear inscribed patterns and were unearthed from the moat surrounding the tomb, which dates from the late fourth century.

Researchers said the fragments were part of a funeral boat that was used to transport human remains from a mortuary to a tomb over land.

One of the fragments is a piece of Japanese cedar measuring 3.7 meters long, 45 centimeters wide and five centimeters thick. It was originally part of an 8.2-meter-long piece of wood believed to be from one side of the boat. The fragment is decorated with triple concentric circles, intended to ward off evil spirits, and a beltlike pattern.

A piece of Japanese cinnamon measuring 2.1 meters long, 78 centimeters wide and 25 centimeters thick, is believed to be part of a coffin lid, and was originally part of a four-meter-long piece of wood. It is adorned with straight and curved lines and also triple concentric circles. The fragment retains some of its original vermillion lacquer finish.

If these fragments were to be assembled, they would suggest the shape of a boat with upward arching pointed ends, like a gondola, with a coffin on it."

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

ARCHAEOLOGISTS Uncover ALEXANDER WALL

Tomb Raider Chronicles: "Greek archaeologists excavating an ancient Macedonian city in the foothills of Mount Olympus have uncovered a 2,600-metre defensive wall whose design was 'inspired by the glories of Alexander the Great,' Agence France Presse reports today.

Early work on the fortification is believed to have begun under Cassander, the fourth-century BC king of Macedon who succeeded Alexander the Great. Cassander is believed to have ordered the murders of Alexander's mother, wife and infant son.

The Antipatrid dynasty was a Macedonian dynasty founded by Cassander, the son of Antipater, who declared himself King of Macedon in 302 BC. This dynasty did not last long; in 294 BC it was overthrown by the Antigonid dynasty, whose members proved to be more effective rulers."

Friday, February 17, 2006

Restoration of Cyrus Tomb Resumed


Pendar.net : I was pleased to see that restoration of Cyrus the Great's tomb has once more resumed.

"The Tomb of Cyrus the Great, Achaemenid King who ruled over Persia from 550 to 530 BC, was surrounded again by scaffolds so that the process of restoring its stones may be resumed.

?These scaffolds will remain around Cyrus? tomb for one year to support the construction from rain and snow during this raining season before completion of the project and to ensure the safety of the building until the restoration of the stones of this ancient monument is completed,? said Reza Rezaei, the new director of Pasargadae historical complex.

Pasargadae, located 70 km north of Persepolis, was the oldest capital of the ancient Achaemenid empire, built by the founder of this empire, King Cyrus the Great (559-330 BC) on the site where King Cyrus defeated the leader of the Medes, Astyages, in 550 BC.

The tomb was constructed so its entrance doorway faces the sunset, as Cyrus loved the twilight view."

I haven't heard anything more about the production of a movie about Cyrus' life. I do hope the collaborative effort between an Iranian filmmaker and British production companies go forward.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

White wine was Tutankhamen's afterlife tipple


IOL: "King Tutankhamen, the teenage king of ancient Egypt, headed into the afterlife with the help of a rather decent white wine, the British weekly New Scientist reports in next Saturday's issue.

University of Barcelona researchers in Spain used liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry to get the chemical 'fingerprint' of residues found in six wine jars found in Tut's tomb.

All six contained tartaric acid, which is characteristic of grapes, but only one contained syringic acid, which is only found in the skin of red grapes and gives red wine its colour.

Their conclusion is that the other five jars must have contained white wine - a surprise, given that until now the first evidence of white wine in Egypt dated from the third century AD, about 1 500 years after the young pharaoh died.

Red wine was often placed in tombs in ancient Egypt to give the dead a jolly send-off into the afterlife, but it now seems that white wine was on the menu as well."

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Lack of financial support threatens Roman burial ground


A tiny paradise slips away - Europe - International Herald Tribune: "Rome's tiny Non-Catholic Cemetery possibly contains the highest density of famous and important bones anywhere in the world, the cramped final resting place of the poets Shelley and Keats, dozens of diplomats, the Bulgari family, Goethe's only son, and Antonio Gramsci, a founding father of European Communism, to name a few.

The site, also widely known as the Protestant Cemetery, although it contains the graves of Jews and other non-Christians, is also the oldest burial ground in continuous use in Europe, conservationists say.

More than that, it is hard to think of another urban site quite so glorious - cemetery or no - with towering cypress trees protecting a hodgepodge of elaborate and eclectic graves and monuments, nestled on a hill in the shadows of the Pyramid of Cestius (12 B.C.) and a section of Rome's ancient Aurelian wall.

'It might make one in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place,' wrote Shelley, several years before he drowned and was buried here.

But today, this precious bit of paradise is decaying and in financial crisis, recently added to the World Monument Fund's 2006 Watch List of the 100 most endangered sites on earth. Many of its important monuments are crumbling like the bones they mark, damaged by pollution and years without archeological maintenance. The landscape is overgrown, waterlogged by poor drainage.

'It looks romantic and lovely, but the stones are falling apart,' said Valerie Magar, a conservation specialist at the United Nations International Center for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property, which conducted a 10-week assessment of the cemetery last summer.

'This is a site that requires a lot of treatment. There is a considerable amount of work that needs to be done and the price is way over the cemetery's budget.'

Part of the problem is that the cemetery, which was founded in 1734, has always been something of an outcast in this Roman Catholic country, where the Vatican traditionally paid most of the costs of public works. For centuries it was the only place in Rome where non-Catholics could be legally buried; the Vatican assigned it land outside the city walls since non-believers could not be buried on Rome's consecrated ground.

Even in decay, however, it remains a unique testimony to the sometimes inexplicable love affair that so many foreigners - artists, philosophers, bankers, diplomats, wayward nobleman - have had with this city, each fading monument a statement by someone who chose to die and be buried here, rather than go home.

Given that Rome has long been a magnet for expatriate aesthetes it should not be surprising that the monuments tend to the exotic: cosseted with angels, decked with laurels and draped with words.

Shelley's tomb, which clings to a small hollow in the Aurelian wall, bears an inscription from Shakespeare's "The Tempest": "Nothing of Him that Doth Fade, But Doth Suffer a Sea Change, Into Something Rich and Strange."

Just down the hill is the gorgeous sculpture "Angel of Grief," created by the American sculptor W.W. Story for the grave of his wife, Emelyn. An iconic portrait of mourning, it depicts a huge winged angel, with head and arms draped over the grave. (A replica was erected at Stanford University as a memorial to the victims of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.)

"The cemetery is filled with beautiful funerary sculpture and has a great concentration of artists, writers and diplomats from all nations," said Catherine Payling, director of the Keats-Shelley House in Rome, reeling off a partial list of interesting residents: Johan Ackerblad, the 18th-century Swedish diplomat and archaeologist who helped decipher the Rosetta Stone; John Bell, an important 18th-century Scottish surgeon; Josef Myslivecek, the 18th-century Czech composer who inspired Mozart and is credited with inventing the string quintet; Belinda Lee, a British actress who died in a car crash in Southern California in 1961 at age 27; Karl Pavlovich Briullov, who died here in 1852, the first Russian painter of international standing; Gregory Corso, the American beat generation poet.
Although many of the more famous or newer graves enjoy foundation or private funds for upkeep (the Keats-Shelley House maintains those of the two poets), about half receive nothing at all, Payling said.

And the decaying tombs of those long dead often tell the most mysterious and interesting stories: There is the simple tomb of William Harding of Scarboro, who died at age 31 in 1821, "while making a tour through Italy to see its curiosities of nature and art, ancient and modern," his marker explains.

There is Elizabeth Phelps, an American, who fought for women's suffrage and Cuban independence in the 19th century, buried here because she wanted to rest near the poet Shelley.
Perhaps most striking is a large monument bearing a relief of an angel collecting a teenage girl, erected by a grieving mother to house the body of her 16-year-old daughter, Rosa, and honor the memory of her husband, Benjamin. Its apex is now held together by a bungee cord.
Rosa drowned in the early 19th century while riding her horse by the Tevere River during a flash flood, "owing to the swollen river and the spirited state of her horse," the monument explains.

Benjamin disappeared on a "special mission" to Vienna. "Who may pause to peruse this tale of sorrows let this awful lesson of the instability of human happiness sink into thy mind," the monument warns, in English and Italian.

All this, and the cemetery has only one conservator and, occasionally, a carver. "There are many stones there that have never been treated and we're at risk of losing them," Magar said.
Stubbs said there was dire need for inspection and conservation of the graves, many of which needed to have their joints sealed and stones repaired. A wall that divides the cemetery - built by foreign embassies in the 19th century to keep Catholic fanatics from desecrating the non-Catholic graves - should probably be removed, he suggested. Until 1870, gravestones in the cemetery were not allowed to carry religious symbols or references to redemption, since that was a path for Catholics only.

I found a wonderful piece in the Literary Traveler about a visit to the cemetary.

Han Dynasty tombs unearthed in Zhongshan

China CRIENGLISH: "Three tombs of ancient warriors who lived 1,800 years ago have been unearthed in Zhongshan County of South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

Archaeologists believe the decorative patterns on the bricks indicate the tombs are from the Eastern Han Dynasty(25-220).

The tomb chambers measure two meters wide, four meters long and 1.5 meters high.

Only one of the three tombs is well preserved. It contained five iron weapons, four pottery utensils and a pottery tripod. The other two tombs had been robbed and had collapsed. "

Deep-Sea Robots to Revolutionize Marine Archaeology

PNNOnline ::: "Sometime in the fourth century B.C., a Greek merchant ship sank off Chios and the Oinoussai islands in the eastern Aegean Sea. The wooden vessel may have succumbed to a storm or a fire, or maybe rough weather caused the cargo of 400 ceramic jars filled with wine and olive oil to shift without warning. The ship went down in 60 meters (about 200 feet) of water, where it remained unnoticed for centuries.

The classical-era ship might never have divulged to archaeologists its clues to ancient Greek culture, except for a research team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI), the Greek Ministry of Culture and the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research (HCMR). They used a novel autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) to make a high-precision photometric survey of the site last July. Using techniques perfected by MIT and WHOI researchers over the past eight years, the robot accomplished in two days what would have taken divers years of effort.

This week the researchers are releasing a few of the photographs showing detailed images of some of the remnants of the ship's cargo lying on the ocean floor, where it's been since about 350 B.C. The researchers took more than 7,000 images, which will eventually be combined into one mosaic of the entire wreck site.

The project marks the beginning of a long-term research project of the MIT/WHOI team collaborating with the Greek Ministry of Culture and HCMR.

Robotic technology is the only way to reach deep shipwrecks like the one at Chios, but the systems can also be applied to shallower sites.


"By using this technology, diving archaeologists will be freed from mundane measuring and sketching tasks, and instead can concentrate on the things people do better than robots: excavation and data interpretation," said Singh, an engineering and imaging scientist. "With repeated performances, we'll be able to survey shipwrecks faster and with greater accuracy than ever before." These new techniques produce results very quickly.


Much of the true value in cargo ships such as the Chios wreck is the information they provide about the networks that existed among the ancient Greeks and their trading partners. The wreck is "like a buried UPS truck. It provides a wealth of information that helps us figure out networks based on the contents of the truck," said Mindell.


Foley, Mindell, Singh and their collaborators are using the latest technology to create "ways of learning about the past that you couldn't achieve any other way. We're not looking for footnotes any more. We're looking to write new chapters," Foley said. The new research project will last 10 years or more, focusing on uncovering evidence of ancient trade in the Mediterranean, particularly of the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures and their trading partners in the Bronze Age (2500-1200 B.C.).
"

Students recreate Greek mythology with claymation

"Here's an interesting juxtaposition of ancient history and modern technology going on in Deb Canton's sixth-grade classroom at South Middle School, where students are telling mythology stories using clay figures, cameras and computers.

So, where 3,000 years ago the poet Homer wandered from city to city to tell the story of the Trojan War, today Canton's students are making clay animation movies (sometimes called Claymation) to do the same thing.

Of course, Homer never had to worry about the clay arms and legs and heads of his figures falling off between shots. Students Briana Bridgeford, Chad Loeffler and Joshua Saunders said they struggled to keep their clay figure of Hera, queen of the gods, intact as they posed her to bend over and pick up an apple.

'It was really hard because Hera's back kept breaking in half,' Loeffler said.

The sixth-graders venture into Greek mythology began in the library, Canton said, where they read stories like the one about the Greek prince Theseus, who braved the labyrinth to kill the half-man, half-bull minotaur, and about the fabled musician Orpheus and his trip to the underworld to rescue his beloved wife, Eurydice.

Carla DeHaaven, South's curriculum technology partner, had received two grants $180.60 from North Dakota Arts Council and $405 for Grand Forks Foundation for Education to purchase clay and a camera and other equipment to make the movies.

From there, the class was split into groups of three to four students. Each chose a story to tell. They wrote a script, made a story board, designed clay figures, built sets of cardboard boxes and then starting taking the still photos they needed to make their movies.

'We've kind of run the gamut from ancient history to modern technology,' Canton said Thursday as the students kept rearranging their clay figures and shooting photos with small digital cameras perched on six-inch tripods. '"They like it."

The next step will be the computer work of using the still photos to make animated iMovies and adding dialogue and voices.

In addition to the stories of the Trojan war, Theseus and Orpheus, students were making movies about Phaethon and the horses of the sun and the tragic nymph Callisto and her son Arcas.

Through their work, the students are learning about history, mythology, art, technology and storytelling, and about collaborating and problem solving, their teachers said. And they're learning about how the lives of the ancient Greeks, their politics and stories, remain relevant today."

Bulgarian treasures to travel to Quirinale Palace in Rome


President Parvanov Presents Bulgaria's Treasures in Italy: "Bulgaria's President Georgi Parvanov along with his Italian counterpart Carlo Azeglio Ciampi will inaugurate on February 14 the exhibition 'Bulgaria's Treasures' in Rome.

The exhibition, showing archeological findings unearthed in Bulgarian lands includes the latest Thracian gold artifacts, will be showed at the Quirinale Palace in Rome

The precious collection includes golden wreath, ring, golden rhytons with the shape of a dear's head and a knee-piece lavishly decorated. These artifacts were found in July in Bulgaria. They were found in the grave of an ancient ruler, believed to be a Thracian king, near the village of Zlatinitsa. The archaeologists discovered 50 gold, silver and bronze funeral gifts. The astounding find dates back to 4th century BC and is believed to be the richest of its kind discovered so far in Bulgaria.

Italy will also see the amazing gold mask believed to portray King Sevt III, whose vault was found by Bulgarian archaeologists in 2004. The unique ring that belonged to Bulgaria's ruler Kaloyan and other precious findings, which have not been shown abroad, are also among the exhibits."

British Archaeologist 'privileged' to be member of team discovering latest tomb in the Valley of the Kings

I was very excited to read about the newest tomb discovered in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. Sadly, most of the grave goods had been looted in antiquity but at least the mummies may shed more light on the political turmoil of the 18th dynasty.

"Alistair Dickey, 26, from Broughshane, was part of the University of Memphis-led team which found the tomb and five mummies.

It was the first intact tomb to be found in the Valley of the Kings since Tutankhamun's in 1922.

The newly-found tomb is thought to date from the 18th Pharaonic Dynasty, the first dynasty of the New Kingdom which ruled between 1539BC and 1292BC and made its capital in Thebes, now Luxor.

"We had been excavating workmen's huts - these huts belonged to the workmen that actually painted and decorated the tombs in the valley," Alistair said.

"At the bottom of one of the rooms we came across a man-made cut in the bedrock which turned out to be more than just a man-made cut - it turned out to be a five metre deep shaft with a chamber at the bottom."

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The First Emperor of China a quality viewing experience


I thoroughly enjoyed the new Discovery Channel program "The First Emperor: The Man Who Made China". Of course the emperor is the famous Qin Shi Huang Di whose spectacular terracotta army mesmerized the world upon its discovery in 1974.

I especially liked the theatrical quality of the live action dramatic sequences interspersed throughout the presentation. The excellent costuming and scope of the sequences recalled the breathtaking commercial film "Hero".

I was especially excited to learn that soil samples taken from the emperor's burial mound when mapped out on a grid of the tomb chamber clearly show high levels of mercury vapor in concentrations that truly represent the bodies of water enclosed within the Chinese empire at the time. It would be so exciting to open the tomb and find it is just as ancient historians claim, with a giant map of the empire represented on the floor with rivers and lakes of mercury representing the seas and rivers. I fear if the tomb is ever opened, however, that archaeologist will find much of it severly damaged, since both the terracotta warriors and the hundreds of sets of stone armor discovered in pits nearby reflect violent damage from uprisings following the emperors death.

Perhaps someday I will be able to visit China and see the warriors and tomb in person. At least I was able to see some of them and a spectacular jade burial suit when I attended a traveling exhibit of them a number of years ago in San Francisco.

See also Museum of Qin Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses

Louvre to return replicas of missing reliefs from ?zmir Agora

Another art repatriation piece about items being returned by the Louvre. This cultural reclamation is really becoming a hot topic these days. I watched a program about Egypt's efforts to reclaim the Nefertiti bust and the Rosetta Stone that past weekend. Zawi Hawass claims that the German archaeologists that spirited the Nefertiti bust away to Berlin disguised the beauty of the piece at the time so Egyptian officials would not claim it as part of their share of the excavation. I wonder if this is the case or if it is the pretext being used to make a claim on the famous piece since the excavation in which it was discovered was a joint effort.

"Three sections of reliefs depicting the figures of the goddess of love, Aphrodite, and the god of medicine, Asklepios, were excavated in ?zmir by French archaeologist Paul Gaudin in 1890. They were donated to the Louvre in 1901 after his death. However, at the time these reliefs were found it was debatable as to which ancient city these pieces belonged. The excavations carried out between 1932 and 1941, as well as in 2002 with the Greater ?zmir Municipality's support, indicated that the reliefs belonged to the ?zmir Agora. Thus, the reliefs of the sea god, Poseidon and his wife, Asklepios and the fertility goddess, Artemis, will be made complete when the addition of the missing figures of Aphrodite and Asklepios are brought from the Louvre."