Thursday, October 28, 2010

Carthaginian Youth Resurrected in Tunis

I see Elisabeth Daynes is back in the news again with her handsome reconstruction of the remains of a Carthaginian youth from the sacred hill of Byrsa in Carthage, Tunis.


When a Tunisian farmer stumbled upon a 6th-century BC grave in 1994, he probably never thought that he would one day be able to lock eyes with the 2,500-year-old man whose skeleton he had discovered. Now, however, thanks to the collaborative work of archaeologists and a Parisian artist, Ariche — as the ancient Carthaginian is called — can be seen in the simulacral flesh, standing upright at five feet and six inches tall and wearing a maroon-trimmed white tunic, sandals, and a beaded pendant modeled on the one found in his grave. And, ladies, he's a catch. The "desired man" (as Ariche means) was discovered on Carthage's sacred hill of Byrsa, a site overlooking the Gulf of Tunis.  - More: Art Info
 This young man, apparently from a family with some wealth as indicated by the jewelry found in his grave, may have known one of the founding members of the Barcid clan, Mago, one of the ancestors of the famous general Hannibal.
 
By the subjugation of the Libyan tribes and by the annexation of older Phoenician colonies, Carthage in the 6th century BC controlled the entire North African coast from the Atlantic Ocean to the western border of Egypt, as well as Sardinia, Malta, the Balearic Islands, and part of Sicily. A Carthaginian admiral, Hanno, made a voyage along the Atlantic coast of North Africa. The maritime power of the Carthaginians enabled them to extend their settlements and conquests, forming a scattered empire devoted to commerce. Among the commercial enterprises were the mining of silver and lead; the manufacture of beds and bedding; a lumber industry in the Atlas Mountains; the production of simple, cheap pottery, jewelry, and glassware for trade; and the export of wild animals from African jungles, of fruits and nuts, and of ivory and gold. - Carthage by Dr. Galen Frysinger (Dr. Frysinger's website includes a wonderful assortment of images)

Carthage: A Journey Back in Time (Lost Treasures of the Ancient World)   Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization   Global Treasures TUNIS Tunisia
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Agrigento Youth Fruit of International Collaboration

The Agrigento Youth, a wonderful example of international collaboration between a major museum and a national ministry of culture, went on display yesterday at the Getty Villa.  The Museo Archeologico Regionale Di Agrigento in Sicily has loaned the rare statue of a kouros, or idealized nude young man, to the Getty  in exchange for assistance with the construction of a custom seismic isolation base and pedestal for the sculpture.

The Agrigento Youth is the second major loan to arise from a 2010 agreement between the Getty and the Sicilian Ministry of Culture and Sicilian Identity. The Gela Krater, a monumental red-figure volute-krater (wine mixing vessel) attributed to the Niobid Painter, was on view at the Villa since June before it was returned this month, also with a new, custom-designed seismic isolator base and pedestal.
“We are pleased to have these objects on view at the Getty Villa where they can serve as fine examples of Sicily’s cultural offerings, helping to create broader awareness for our collections and heritage,” explains Dr. Giuseppe Castellana, the director of the Parco Archeologico e Paesaggistico della Valle dei Templi. “It is also wonderful that both objects will return to us with new bases that make them more secure.”
Sicily is home to Mt. Aetna, Europe's largest active volcano, so protecting artifacts from seismic activity there is an ongoing problem for its museum curators.   Virgil gave a poetic description of an eruption of Mt. Aetna in his epic The Aeneid:
A spreading bay is there, impregnable
To all invading storms; and Aetna's throat
With roar of frightful ruin thunders nigh.
Now to the realm of light it lifts a cloud
Of pitch-black, whirling smoke, and fiery dust,
Shooting out globes of flame, with monster tongues
That lick the stars; now huge crags of itself,
Out of the bowels of the mountain torn,
Its maw disgorges, while the molten rock
Rolls screaming skyward; from the nether deep
The fathomless abyss makes ebb and flow.
- The Aeneid, lines 569 – 579 of the Theodore C. Williams translation of 1908.
 Statues of the kouros type were used by ancient Greeks as dedications to the gods or to commemorate a particularly heroic individual as part of his funerary ritual.  So many have been found in temples of Apollo that at one time they were thought to be representations of the god himself.

Some scholars, such as Eleanor Guralnick, have suggested that kouroi are the result of Greek imitation of Egyptian sculptors.  She applied stereophotogrammetric measurement and cluster analysis to a number of Greek and Egyptian statues and found the correlation between the Second Canon of the 26th Dynasty and Greek kouroi to be widely distributed though not universal.

Scholar Gisela Richter has categorized the wide array of kouroi types into six groups with distinctive artistic differences.  The earliest kouroi dating to the late seventh century are highly stylized with an emphasis on geometric proportion rather than realism.  The art form evolves over time incorporating an increasing amount of human anatomical realism until by the early 5th century, examples like the Agrigento Youth are far more proportionate. 
"The Agrigento Youth was carved by an unknown artist around 480 B.C., just at the artistic turning point between the archaic and classical periods. The style has been termed by scholars the Severe Style due to the solemn facial features and erect stance favored at this time. Under life size at 1.02 meters (40 inches) in height, The Agrigento Youth is comparable to the highest quality contemporary Athenian kouroi, with whom it shares many traits, such as the sensitively rendered modeling of the anatomy, the erect stance with one leg forward, and the serene and straightforward gaze. Unlike the majority of those statues, this figure’s right arm is raised as if holding out an object. The stone from which it was carved is a white marble imported from Greece, which indicates that The Agrigento Youth was an expensive and noteworthy dedication.
The sculpture is also distinguished by certain features which call attention to its Sicilian origins. The structure of the head is long and the face is oval, with prominent cheekbones, heavy-lidded eyes and a prominent lower lip. Sharply patterned hair is a feature common to all kouroi, but in Sicily the treatment is even more pronounced, with delineated strands of finely carved locks forming into a cap and rolled into a thick coil of hair banded by a simple diadem. Residues of the red pigment indicating the hair’s original color are clearly visible." - Getty Press Release
Kouroi: Archaic Greek Youths. A Study of the Development of the Kouros Type in Greek Sculpture
Understanding Greek Sculpture: Ancient Meanings, Modern Readings   Sicily: Three Thousand Years of Human History   Cosmos Global Documentaries SICILY -Treasure Trove Of History
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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Silver Pharaohs, Greeks and Alexander the Great - Oh My!

Each week I check the latest releases available instantly from Netflix and today I was thrilled to see that a number of great history titles from National Geographic are now available to add to your instant queue.
Alexander the Great:  The man behind the legend:


Other titles include: Egypt: Quest for Eternity and Egypt: Lost Tombs. I also noticed that the excellent PBS series Greece: Crucible of Civilization has also been added to the list of programs available for instant download.



Also, while I was up on YouTube looking for these clips I noticed that the new National Geographic program "The Silver Pharaoh" is available in three installments up on YouTube. Here's the clip for part 1:



The tomb of 21st century pharaoh Psusennes I was originally discovered in 1940 in the remains of the ancient city of Tanis by French archaeologist Professor Pierre Montet. Psusennes I was the third king of the Twenty-first dynasty of Egypt who ruled between 1047 – 1001 BC.

The intact tomb yielded treasures comparable to those found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun.
"fingers and toes had been encased in gold stalls, and he was buried with gold sandals on his feet. The finger stalls are the most elaborate ever found, with sculpted fingernails. Each finger wore an elaborate ring of gold and lapis lazuli or some other semiprecious stone." - Egyptian Mummies: Unraveling the Secrets of an Ancient Art  By Bob Brier
But, the discovery was overshadowed by the start of World War II.  With the exception of a cursory autopsy of the badly decomposed remains of the king, treasures from the find have unbelievably been virtually ignored for the past 70 years until now.

As I watched the program I was fascinated to learn that Psusennes I was the fourth son of the High Priest of Amun in Karnak, who became pharaoh during Egypt's last dark intermediate period.  The high priests of Amun, once thwarted in their lust for power by the "heretic" pharaoh Akhenaten (read about the Amun vs. Re/Aten rivalry in my recent review of Michelle Moran's novel "Nefertiti") apparently finally succeeded in their ultimate quest to take over the Egyptian state three hundred years after the fall of Amarna (Akhetaten).
The silver sarcophagus of 21st dynasty pharaoh Psusennes I.
Image courtesy of National Geographic.

I also found the description of the extra craftsmanship needed to produce a silver sarcophagus rather than a gold one very interesting.  Psusennes I did have a gold death mask like Tutankhamun but the outer coffin was silver, a once scarce and costly metal in Egypt that had become more plentiful at the time because of international trade.  In my opinion, it is as exquisite as Tut's gold one.
Forensic portrait of Pharaoh Psusennes I in his later years. 
Image courtesy of National Geographic.

Of course he is depicted as a young man on his coffin but in fact was probably over 80 years old at the time of his death.  A couple of days ago I wrote about the wonderful forensic 3D artwork of Elisabeth Daynès. (See next post below).  This program included a forensic artist's 2D rendering of Psusennes I in his later years based on his skull and lack of teeth.

I don't think I would have wanted to cross this king.  He looks like he was the model for faces of the mummies who have appeared in old Hollywood horror flicks!
Tanis, Part 1   God's Wife, God's Servant: The God's Wife of Amun (ca.740525 BC)   Gods and Religion of Ancient Egypt: An in-depth study of a fascinating society and their popular beliefs, documented in over 200 photographs
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Monday, October 18, 2010

At last! Recognition for 3D Reconstruction Artists

Elisabeth Daynès at her studio in Paris working at the coloration of Paranthropus boisei male (2.5 million years B.P. discovered in Tanzania) made on the cast of the skull OH5 © 2006 Photographe P.Plailly Image courtesy of The French Technology Press.
I have been fascinated by the processes, both physical and virtual, that have been developed to reconstruct ancient faces from forensic remains since I saw my very first glimpse of the reconstructed face of a long dead person back in the 1990s. Now I see a prize has been conceived to recognize the efforts of 3D artists engaged in the production of art related to the science of paleontology, named the John J. Lanzendorf PaleoArt Prize. The prize is divided into five categories: Scientific Illustration, 2-Dimensional Art, 3-Dimensional Art and National Geographic Digital Modeling and Animation Award.
This year's 3-D art prize, awarded on October 13, 2010, was presented to paleoartist Elisabeth Daynès.
Neanderthal male - 60 000 years B.P. – made on the basis of the cast of the
skull discovered in the cave of Shanidar – Iraq
© 2009 Photo S. Plailly
. Image
courtesy of
French Technology Press.
 With hundreds of anthropological sculptures, Elisabeth Daynès has become a leading expert in the extremely painstaking process of hominid reconstructions. A painter, a sculptor and an expert in comparative anatomy altogether, she combines scientific research, technological innovation and art, in order to bring our human ancestors back to life. 

Daynès strives to create a unique and specific early human or pre-human using the scarce information left by the remains of fossils that might be thousands or even a million years old. “Lucy the Australopithecus" and "Flores the hobbit" she created with Prof. Bill Jungers, often described as her finest works, are part of the hundreds of her anthropological sculptures scattered around the world in leading museums along with Toumaï, Australopithecus, Paranthropus, Homo habilis, Homo erectusNeanderthals, Homo sapiens, etc. -
French Technology Press Office
Model of Neandertal Man whose skeleton was fir...Image by mharrsch via Flickr As I look at her reconstruction of Neanderthal, I am amazed at how much the science of reconstruction has progressed since a model of Neanderthal was prepared for the Panama-California Exposition in 1915 (image left).  I photographed the 1915 model on a visit to the Museum of Man in San Diego in March 2006.

I think Daynès reconstruction or one very much like it must have been used in an exhibit on early man I saw at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry some years ago.  One display had a Neanderthal  dressed in modern clothes and, as the signboard pointed out, if we passed a Neanderthal on the street we probably wouldn't even pay him much notice.  He definitely did not look like the Geico caveman!

I see Daynès was also involved with the reconstruction  of the bust of Tutankhamen for the “The New Face of King Tut” exhibition about six years ago.  Although some people commented that Tut was not particularly handsome, I thought he looked very interesting.
Using CT data from scans of Tut, a French team worked with National Geographic magazine to create a model of Tut's skull, which then was turned into an accurate, likelife face by one of the world's leading anthropological sculptors, Elisabeth Daynes of Paris. Her flesh-toned silicone cast was embellished with realistic glass eyes, hair, eyelashes and even the eye makeup that adorned the king as he was in life. French, American and Egyptian teams, under the director of Zahi Hawass of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, each created a separate reconstruction of Tut's face. (Credit: Supreme Council of Antiquities, Egypt and National Geographic Magazine, June 2005) - The Fresh Face of King Tut, Science Daily

The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals Died Out and We Survived   Ancient Mysteries: The Fate of the Neandertals   Neanderthal: Neanderthal Man and the Story of Human Origins
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