Friday, January 23, 2009

Murals from Tomb of Nebamun featured in refurbished Egyptian Gallery at The British Museum

Although the ancient Egyptians stylized the human form, their naturalistic depictions of animals has always amazed me. The detail and vibrant color of the cattle in this fragment from the tomb of an Egyptian official named Nebamun, painted around 1350 BCE during the late 18th dynasty, is no exception. Acquired during the 1820s by the British Museum it has been carefully conserved over the last 10 years and is now featured in their recently rennovated Egyptian gallery. I wish it had been on display when I was there this past summer.

[Image courtesy of The British Museum]
"The alternating colours and patterns of cattle create a superb sense of animal movement. The artists have left out some of the cattle’s legs to preserve the clarity of the design. The herdsman is telling the farmer in front of him in the queue:

'Come on! Get away! Don’t speak in the presence of the praised one! He detests people talking …. Pass on in quiet and in order … He knows all affairs, does the scribe and counter of grain of [Amun], Neb[amun]’.

The name of the god Amun has been hacked out in this caption where it appears in Nebamun’s name and title. Shortly after Nebamun died, King Akhenaten (1352–1336 BC) had Amun’s name erased from monuments as part of his religious reforms."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

History Channel special to bring Lincoln virtually to life

This year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. In commemoration, The History Channel will be broadcasting a special, "Stealing Lincoln's Body" beginning February 16 at 9 p.m. EST. Many of us are aware of the thwarted attempts to steal and ransom Lincoln's corpse after it was delivered to Springfield, Illinois for burial, but, what caught my attention about this program is it's use of new visual graphics technology to present reenactments using photographs of Lincoln himself, not costumed actors.

[image - Abraham Lincoln at Madame Tussaud's in London, England]

"...the program features moving images of Abraham Lincoln, digitally created from actual historical photographs. For the first time, Lincoln walks and moves according to the historical record. The moving images and some of the stills showcase the first “virtual photography” of Lincoln and the only “virtual motion” pictures of him ever created. Using computer-generated imagery, it illustrates key sections of the story and brings them to life, often with startling effect.

These new photographs and moving images of Lincoln highlight a level of historical detail and information never seen before. Ray Downing of Studio Macbeth, who created these digital effects for STEALING LINCOLN’S BODY, explains the technique began as a kind of experiment using contemporary film technology. It gives the modern audience an opportunity to “gaze upon the noble face of our most beloved president, to see him walk down the street, to see him alive again…. Today’s technology allows us to achieve a level of photographic realism previously unattainable, with the added bonus of motion graphics."

Author and Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer , who is interviewed in STEALING LINCOLN’S BODY, says: The result—an uncanny, believable, realistic, living Lincoln—moving before our eyes as he must have in life, wholly imagined yet based on actual photos—took my breath away. Here is the man who lived, laughed, spoke, walked, for precious seconds practically born again.”


Here's a YouTube preview. Pay particular attention to the first few seconds - the animation is truly seamless!








I have worked with a product called CrazyTalk by Reallusion to animate the faces of still images of sculptures of people from long ago and this Christmas I even used it to create an animation of my late father calling one last square dance for my other family members as a OOAK Christmas gift. I'm presently working on a project to combine such animation with artificial intelligence to enable website visitors to virtually "talk" to historical personalities using the historical sculptures of George Stuart.


So I am anxious to see how similar software can be used to create full length animation and virtual photographic reenactment.


The program's focus:


"After lying in state at the White House and at the Capitol (the nation’s first presidential state funeral), Lincoln’s body was carried by train in a grand funeral procession through several states and nearly two thousand miles, arriving in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois on May 4. However, his final burial would not take place until 1901, thirty six years later.

Before Lincoln finally came to rest in a steel-and-concrete-reinforced underground vault in Springfield , the President’s body was repeatedly exhumed and moved, his coffin frequently opened.

In 1876, 11 years after Lincoln 's assassination, a band of Chicago counterfeiters devised a fantastic plot to steal Lincoln ’s body and hold it for ransom. They wanted $200,000 and the release of the gang's master engraver who was in prison in Illinois . The Secret Service – recently formed to deal with the country's ballooning counterfeiting problem – infiltrated the gang with an informer. Yet it also set in motion a cringe-inducing chain of events in which a group of well-intentioned, self-appointed guardians took it upon themselves to protect Lincoln ’s remains by any means necessary.

Some efforts to protect the remains of the 16th President of the United States would prove to be equally misguided and macabre. Finally, in 1901, thirty six years after Lincoln ’s assassination, Robert Todd Lincoln had the body of his father interred in a massive concrete vault. The contrast between the nation’s reverence for Abraham Lincoln and the shocking manner in which his body had been treated is striking. This strange story of Lincoln at un-rest reveals how important this man was to so many, and perhaps our reluctance to let such a beloved and visionary leader go."


Teacher and student contests, original short form video about Lincoln ’s life and Presidency, related lesson plans, as well as instructions for how to donate to this campaign will be available online at www.history.com/lincoln .


STEALING LINCOLN’S BODY was produced for The HISTORY Channel by Left/Right. Productions.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Brooklyn Museum adds 19th century lantern slide collections to Flickr

I was up on Flickr this morning checking comments on my images and noticed that the Brooklyn Museum has digitized their 19th century lantern slide collection of Egypt and added them to their account on Flickr:

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Harry Burton's photographs of King Tut's tomb on display at Michael C. Carolos Museum


As a fellow photographer, I can appreciate the technical difficulties Burton encountered in his efforts to document one of the world's most astounding archaeological discoveries. Apparently he used just two electric lights and reflected sunlight to capture his amazing images. For those of us that can't make it to Emory for this exhibit, the Met published the book "Tutankhamun's Tomb: The Thrill of Discovery" featuring Burton's images.

The thrill of discovery, chronicled as a turning-point in the appreciation of ancient art and societies, connects the exhibition “Wonderful Things: The Harry Burton Photographs and the Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun” at the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University to “Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs” at the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center. On view at the Carlos Museum through May 25, 2009, “Wonderful Things” brings to Atlanta 50 photographs showcasing the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. These photographs not only bring to life the excitement of the discovery and excavation of the tomb, but also highlight Harry Burton’s artistic genius as he captured some of the most evocative images ever put on film. Visitors can see how the photographs were taken, the way in which they were used, and how these images of the excavation captured the imagination of the world.

Providing context to the objects from the Tutankhamun exhibition at the Atlanta Civic Center, “Wonderful Things” highlights some of the great puzzles and unforgettable masterpieces from the reign of the “boy king.” Dr. Peter Lacovara, Senior Curator of Ancient Egyptian, Nubian, and Near Eastern Art, said, “The Atlanta community is getting a glimpse into what it took to bring Tutankhamun’s treasures to the world, the atmosphere in which they were discovered, and the opening they provided archaeologists in their search to understand this ancient civilization.” Harry Burton’s photography is made more remarkable by his use of primitive equipment under difficult conditions. In addition to Burton’s world famous photographs the exhibit also shows his experimentation with motion pictures and color photography as well as the ways his photographs popularized the discovery of the tomb. On view there is also objects that highlight Howard Carter’s career and his search for the tomb, including drinking vessels of Tutankhamun, on loan from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, that led to the discovery and a rare sculpture of the boy king himself. Harry Burton’s iconic photographs at the Carlos Museum includes one of Tutankhamun’s mummy mask and another depicting Anubis, god of mummification and the journey into the afterlife, protecting Tutankhamun's canopic shrine containing his internal organs. Also included is a painting by Howard Carter lent by London collector, Rupert Wace, that highlights Carter’s talent as an artist and his love of Egyptian art.

Wonderful Things: The Photography of Harry Burton and the Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun captures every step of the archaeologists' painstakingly detailed work in and around the tomb, one of the first large-scale excavations to be so thoroughly recorded. Harry Burton took more than 1400 large format black-and-white images to try to document the experience of the discovery and excavation. The photographs in the exhibition document the Valley of the Kings, the initial discovery of the tomb, the dramatic moment when the excavators first glimpsed the dazzling array of artifacts, the entry to the burial chamber, the series of shrines and coffins that protected the king, and the king's mummy, wreathed in floral collars and bedecked with gold jewelry. - Artdaily.org

Large necropolis discovered at Himera may hold victims of the Carthaginians


[Image - Surprise at Himera]

It will be interesting when analysis is complete on the skeletal remains uncovered in the huge necropolis found in Himera to see if they are the victims of one or both of the major battles fought there with the Carthaginians in the fifth century BCE.

Archaeologists have uncovered what they believe to be the largest Greek necropolis in the city of Himera on the island of Sicily, where the ancient version of babies beakers has been found.

According to the new agency ANSA, although experts have long known about the burial ground, they have only recently understood its importance because of building work to extend a local railway track.

Hundreds of graves have already been uncovered, but archaeologists believe there are thousands more waiting to be found in the burial ground of the city, which rose to prominence more than 2,500 years ago.

The necropolis is of an extraordinary beauty and notable dimensions, said Sicily's regional councillor for culture, Antonello Antinoro.

”Preliminary estimates indicate the presence of around 10,000 tombs, which gives the site a good claim to being one of the most important discoveries of recent years, he added.

Among the most exciting finds are skeletons of newborn babies placed inside funerary amphorae along with the ancient version of babies beakers, namely small terracotta vases equipped with spouts to function as feeding bottles.

Most of the graves in the necropolis date from between the sixth and fifth centuries BC, and archaeologists believe that many of the tombs contain the remains of thousands of soldiers, civilians and prisoners who died during two bloody battles that took place in the city.

According to Stefano Vassallo, who heads the dig, archaeologists were excited to have found a common grave containing a dozen bodies, all of whom he said were young, male and showed unequivocal signs of a violent death in battle.

Some of the skeletons bear the signs of being hit by heavy objects, while others still have arrows attached to them, Vassallo said.

He added that skeletons found in the necropolis would undergo analysis by forensic anthropologists to determine information about the populations lifestyle and eating habits.

In addition to the huge numbers of human remains, the necropolis is gradually offering up a significant haul of funerary goods buried alongside the bodies such as oil-lamps, bowls, and ceramics. - Thaindian.com

The first battle in 480 BCE alone would have contributed thousands to the body count:

At sunrise the cavalrymen rode up to the naval camp of the Carthaginians, and when the guards admitted them, thinking them to be allies, they at once galloped to where Hamilcar was busied with the sacrifice, slew him, and then set fire to the ships; thereupon the scouts raised the signal and Gelon advanced with his entire army in battle order against the Carthaginian camp. The commanders of the Phoenicians in the camp at the outset led out their troops to meet the Siceliotes and as the lines closed they put up a vigorous fight; at the same time in both camps they sounded with the trumpets the signal for battle and a shout arose from the two armies one after the other, each eagerly striving to outdo their adversaries in the volume of their cheering.

The slaughter was great, and the battle was swaying back and forth, when suddenly the flames from the ships began to rise on high and sundry persons reported that the general had been slain; then the Greeks were emboldened and with spirits elated at the rumours and by the hope of victory they pressed with greater boldness upon the barbarians, while the Carthaginians, dismayed and despairing of victory, turned in flight.

Since Gelon had given orders to take no prisoners, there followed a great slaughter of the enemy in their flight, and in the end no less than one hundred and fifty thousand of them were slain. All who escaped the battle and fled to a strong position at first warded off the attackers, but the position they had seized had no water, and thirst compelled them to surrender to the victors. - Livius.org
Then the Carthaginian commander's grandson, Hannibal Mago, returned in 409 and wreaked a terrible vengence:
Hannibal marched to Himera and set up his main camp on the west of the city, while about a third of the army encamped to the south of Himera.[6] Instead of building a circumventing wall and fully investing the city, The Carthaginians assaulted the walls with the help of siege towers and battering rams after setting up their camps. However, the city walls withstood the attack and no breaches could be made for the Puinc infantry to exploit. Hannibal then sent sappers, who dug tunnels under the walls and collapsed sections of it by setting fire to the wooden support beams.[7] Carthaginian infantry then attacked through the gap, but The Himerans repulsed the Punic assault on the city, and then threw up make shift walls to close the breaches.[8]

Sometime after this event, Syracusan general Diocles arrived with 3,000 Syracusan hoplites, 1,000 soldiers from Akragas and another 1,000 mercenaries and entered the city. Joining the Himeran force of about 10,000 troops[9] (majority hoplites with some cavalry and peltasts), the Greeks launched a surprise attack on the Punic lines, probably on the forces posted on the south of the city. The Greeks achieved total surprise and in the confusion, Carthaginian troops fought each other as well as Greeks. As the Carthaginians ultimately broke and fled after losing about 6,000 soldiers, Greek soldiers went after the scattered remnants of their enemy. At this point, Hannibal launched a counter attack with the force he had held in reserve at the other camp (to the wast of Himera), routed the Greeks and chased them back into the city, with 3,000 Greeks losing their lives in the debacle.[10]

The main Syracusan fleet was away from Sicily, but 25 triremes had arrived at Himera after the battle from Syracuse. As the Carthaginian fleet was at Motya, their arrival gave the Greeks command of the sea around Himera.[11] Hannibal spread a false report that the Punic army was going to attack Syracuse after sailing there from Motya, as the main army of Syracuse was approaching Himera, thus leaving their city unguarded. This convinced the Syracusans to leave Himera for their mother city. The city of Himera had little chance of withstanding the Carthaginians on their own, so they decided to evacuate the city.[12]

Diocles marched out of the city with half the men and all his troops at night, the Syracusan ships evacuated as many of the women and children as possible. The Carthaginians resumed their assaults the next day. The city managed to hold out for 1 day. Just as the Syracusan fleet was returning and was within sight of the city the following day, the Carthaginians broke through. Iberian troops of the Punic army had managed to secure a gap on the wall, and also the sections of the wall flanking the gap. The held off the Greeks until the Carthaginian army stormed the city through the gap, and the reduced garrison of Himera was overcome by weigh of numbers.

Hannibal sacrificed 3,000 Greek prisoners at the place where Hamilcar, his grandfather and leader of the 480 BC expedition, had fallen. The city of Himera was utterly destroyed, even all the temples were flattened to the ground, and the women and children were enslaved. - Wikipedia
The article I read did not provide information about the ethnic origins of the grave goods but with the reference to infant burials I guess we can assume they are all Greek/Sicilian and not Punic. However, since the Carthaginians were the ultimate victors, some graves could have contained their fallen as well. The article emphasized the discovery of "baby beakers" - spouted drinking vessels - but these types of vessels have been found in documented Punic burials on Malta as well.

Archaeologist Claudia Sagona in her work, Punic Antiquities of Malta and Other Ancient Artefacts Held in Ecclesiastic and Private Collections, Ancient Near Eastern Studies, Supplement 10, identified amphorae, urns, jars, jugs, juglets, flasks, spouted flasks, askoi, bottles, unguentaria, beakers, bowls, cups, skyphoi, kylikes, open pots, tripod bowls, situlae, plates, lids, incense cups, braziers, cooking pots and lamps among the grave goods in Punic burials on Malta.

Study shows Nasca trophy heads home grown



Just like the Carthaginians, who in time of crisis sacrificed their own children, the Nasca turned to their own people for ritual sacrifice to ensure a plentiful harvest. I wonder why, though, the Nasca followed this practice instead of sacrificing war prisoners like the surrounding Incas? Perhaps, also like the Carthaginians, they preferred commerce and trade to conquest of their neighbors - or simply chose to focus their efforts on other aspects of social development rather than the maintenance of warriors that could triumph over their more warlike neighbors.

[Image - Nasca double-spouted jar depicting bird with trophy head, courtesy of the British Museum]

"In South America’s ancient Nasca culture, some local folk literally lost their heads so that everyone else might fill their bellies. The Nasca obtained trophy heads, human skulls modified in various ways and intended to spur successful farming, from their own people, not from foreigners slain in battles and raids as was practiced by the Inca and other prehistoric societies of that region, a new study finds.

Earlier analyses of paintings on Nasca pottery had suggested that members of this culture believed that the taking of trophy heads provided supernatural power needed for crop growth. Since the first Nasca trophy heads were discovered nearly 100 years ago, scientists have debated whether these items came from vanquished enemies or from local individuals thought to represent venerated Nasca ancestors...

...The finding comes from an analysis of the diet-related substances that had collected and remain in the teeth of unearthed Nasca trophy heads. Comparing these substances with those in the teeth of skeletons known to be from Nasca individuals shows that one set of trophy heads came from the Nasca themselves rather than from outsiders, Knudson’s team reports in a paper published online December 11 in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.

Such data can’t yet pinpoint the geographic origins of the people whose heads became Nasca trophy heads, nor can the data rule out the possibility that the trophy heads were acquired in fights between local Nasca groups, remarks anthropologist William Isbell of Binghamton University in New York. “We can’t draw any final conclusions from this new study, but the results make it more likely that these severed heads were ancestors and not enemies,” Isbell says...

...Nasca sites of various ages have yielded more than 150 trophy heads, often found in caches of as many as 48 skulls, in graves as offerings to the dead and in public buildings. Most trophy skulls come from men, but some are from women and teenagers.

Knudson and her colleagues studied 16 trophy heads found at six Nasca sites by the late anthropologist Alfred Kroeber in 1925 and 1926. All the heads had been modified in the same way, with a hole drilled in the forehead for a carrying cord. Many Nasca trophy heads contain comparable forehead holes. Kroeber’s finds are kept at The Field Museum in Chicago.

Biochemical profiles of tiny amounts of tooth enamel taken from these trophy heads were compared to corresponding data for 13 intact Nasca skeletons that had already been excavated from either of three Nasca cemeteries. The scientists measured levels of key forms of strontium, oxygen and carbon in the ancient teeth, which were compared to baseline levels of these substances in rock formations, water, plants and small animals throughout the Nasca region.

Signature ratios of different forms of strontium, oxygen and carbon reflect where a person lived and what types of foods he or she consumed.

Overall, teeth from the trophy heads and from the comparison group displayed no substantial differences in the ratios of these substances. " - Science News
Apparently, an as yet unpublished mitochondrial DNA study by Kathleen Forgey of Indiana University Northwest in Gary points to a similar conclusion.

18th century shipwreck unearted in Argentina


It looks like a construction crew in Argentina stumbled across the remains of a Spanish ship from the 18th century:

"Workers digging to lay the foundation of a luxury apartment complex in Argentina uncovered a Spanish ship believed to be from the 18th century.

It was found in Buenos Aires' upscale Puerto Madero neighborhood, on the banks of the Plata River. The area used to be the city's old port, but was eventually filled in and developed.

Urban archaeologist Marcelo Weissel says it probably dates back to 1750 or earlier. But he says it likely does not contain any treasure, beyond its archaeological value."

Apparently, archaeologists plan to excavate the wreck then reconstruct the ship for a museum display.

[Image - A frigate being constructed on a slipway by the Marquis of La Victoria. Cádiz, 1719-1756]