Sunday, October 28, 2007

Ancient Koran headed for private collection

It looks like another beautiful example of Islamic culture is headed to a private collector!#@!

"An 800-year-old copy of the Muslim holy book, the Koran, has sold for a world record price of £1,140,500 at an auction in London.

The Koran, which has been dated to 1203, is believed to be the oldest known complete copy written in gold.

The calligraphy has marginal notes written in silver.

Auction house Christie's said it was a world record for both a Koran and an Islamic manuscript. It was expected to sell for between £500,000 and £750,000.

A second Koran, a nearly-complete text from the 10th century, was sold for almost £916,500.

Both were sold on behalf of the Hispanic Society of America, and were bought by British trade buyers."

I know museums need to raise money and often prune their collections for space considerations, I just wish there was a way such objects could be limited to purchase by other public institutions.

I see the Hispanic Society of America has a free museum and reference library for the study of the arts and cultures of Spain, Portugal, and Latin America in New York City. With such wonderful artifacts, I guess I need to add it to my list of must see sites in New York the next time I visit there.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Controversial Incantation Bowls from Iraq subject of Science Article

After my post about the controversy over a collection of "allegedly" looted incantation bowls, I was contacted by Michael Balter, Contributing Editor to Science Magazine. He provided a copy of his article about the controversy with his permission to distribute it to my readers. Here is his full article that appeared in the October 26 issue of Science:

University Suppresses Report on Provenance of Iraqi Antiquities

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Looted Bowls from Iraq subject of Science Article

After my post about the controversy over a collection of "allegedly" looted incantation bowls, I was contacted by Michael Balter, Contributing Editor to Science Magazine. He provided a copy of his article about the controversy with his permission to distribute it to my readers. Here is his full article that appeared in the October 26 issue of Science:

University Suppresses Report on Provenance of Iraqi Antiquities

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More protests over looted antiquities - this time from Iraq

"One of Britain's leading universities is embroiled in an embarrassing row over hundreds of treasures looted from Iraq.

Found scattered around ancient Mesopotamia, the Aramaic incantation or devil bowls were placed upside down in homes during the sixth to eighth centuries to trap evil spirits. The spells, and information such as the names of the home owners, are not found in any other source. One collection contains the earliest examples of the Bible in Hebrew.

Since the first Gulf War in 1990, Iraq has been a looters' paradise... So when University College London came into possession of 654 "devil" bowls, the biggest collection in the world, loaned from a private collector, suspicions were raised.

The bowls belong to Martin Schoyen, a Norwegian collector of ancient scripts. He bought them in London from a Jordanian who claimed they had been in his family for generations.

UCL set up a committee of inquiry which found that "on the balance of probability" the bowls had, somewhere along the line, been looted from Iraq.

At this point Mr Schoyen sued UCL for their return. Legally his claim is sound, because he has held title for seven years. What has dismayed academics, however, is that the inquiry report was suppressed as part of the out-of-court settlement.

Professor Colin Renfrew, a fellow at Cambridge University and a member of UCL's committee of inquiry, is angry that the settlement said the report should be withheld. A world expert in ancient treasures, Lord Renfrew said UCL had no choice but to return the collection.

"Even if the bowls were looted it is likely that Mr Schoyen, as a good-faith buyer, could have good title to them. Even so there is a good ethical case for their return to Iraq," he said.

"UCL tried to do the right and ethical thing by setting up a committee of inquiry. Then, when threatened with a lawsuit, in my view, it gave way under pressure. How has the largest known collection of incantation bowls been in Jordan for 70 years and nobody knew about it?"

Once again, it looks like politics and capitalism have triumphed over academics and moral responsibility.

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Silbury Hill Found to be "Sterile"

"The dank chill tunnel slopes down through 4,400 years of history into the heart of a mystery. The ground is slippery underfoot with sodden chalk dug as the pyramids were rising in Egypt. Archaeologists have reached the core of Silbury Hill in Wiltshire - and still have no idea what the most enigmatic prehistoric monument in Europe was for.

They know now there is no burial chamber for a Celtic king, no treasure hoard, nothing but a shallow bed of gravel, over which three ever larger mounds were raised until 35m baskets of chalk later, the monument stood 40 metres high, dominating the surrounding landscape, the largest artificial hill in Europe...

What they have found is treasure only to archaeologists: blades of grass still green after almost 5,000 years from the turf sods which covered the original mound, evidence of a pit which may have been the earliest ritual activity on the site, the chalk boulders used to strengthen the heaps of chalk rubble, and a huge ditch which was carefully filled before the final phase was built. The most enigmatic find is sarsen stones, the same stone as in nearby Avebury and Stonehenge, carefully incorporated in every stage, some which would have taken two men to drag up to the very top of the mound.

The distinctive flat top of the hill has led to some of the wildest theories, that it was an observatory or a platform for ritual sacrifice. In fact it now appears to be comparatively modern, carved flat to take a massive timber Saxon or Norman building - one posthole was a metre in diameter - presumed to be a military lookout."
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Political Agenda Appears to be Behind Attempts to Block Tenure of Palestinian-American Professor

I found this article very interesting and quite disturbing from an academic viewpoint. It sounds to me like a number of people who are attempting to block the tenure of a Palestinian-American Professor at Barnard College are using misquotes and innuendo rather than legitimate criticism to try to derail the tenure process for a scholar who chose a very controversial topic for her dissertation. I thought the tenure process was created to protect such scholarship from political pressure.

"Barnard alumna Paula Stern, who now lives in an Israeli settlement community on the West Bank, acknowledged Tuesday that her petition —signed now by more than 2,500 people — incorrectly quotes from Nadia Abu El-Haj’s book in charging she is grossly ignorant of Jerusalem geography.

Stern also conceded attributing to Abu El-Haj a viewpoint that Abu El-Haj does not voice as her own in her book. The petition does so by taking a quote fragment from a section in which Abu El-Haj describes others as having the opposite viewpoint.

In addition, despite Abu El-Haj’s frequent citation of Hebrew language sources and an acknowledgment on her book’s first page thanking her Hebrew tutor, Stern’s petition asserts, “Abu El Haj does not speak or read Hebrew ... We fail to understand how a scholar can pretend to study the attitudes of a people whose language she does not know.”

Stern's excuse: "“It was written very quickly,” Stern said of her petition, whose signatories include many Barnard and Columbia University alumni. “But there is a clear pattern in her book of attempting to undermine the historical connection of the Jewish people to the land.”

In response to repeated attempts to have Stern support her charges with accurate quotations from the text she replies "“I’ve spoken to many newspapers, no one has done what you’ve [The Jewish Week News] done,” said Stern, presumably displeased with questions asking her to square her charges against the book with its text. [I find this revelation very upsetting - why didn't other newspapers ask for supporting quotations!]

She says the overall “trend” of the book [Facts On The Ground,] is to deny a Jewish connection to the land and that “no matter whether it’s accurate or not, my petition is not on trial here."

Unfortunately, Stern is not alone in attacking the work without substantiated criticism.

"William Dever, a well-known retired professor of Near East archaeology at the University of Arizona, dismissed it as “a piece of shoddy work as historical research. She doesn’t quote a single Israeli archaeologist. She doesn’t show she’s read their work.”

"Aren Maeir, an archaeologist based at Bar Ilan, denounced it as “replete with inaccuracies [and] faulty research.”

Come on people! If you are as scholarly as your titles imply, you should be able to criticize the findings or interpretations in the book with solid references not fall back on vague generalities!

At least her dissertation committee members come to her defense:

"Eric Meyers, a biblical archaeology professor at Duke University and member of her dissertation committee, pointed out that, in fact, Abu El-Haj went deep into the archaeological archives to quote directly from dusty reports and field notes of Israeli archaeologists from the 1950’s and early 1960’s."

Others are actually recommending the book:

"Prof. Rafael Greenberg, senior lecturer in archaeology at Tel Aviv University, called the work an “eye-opener,” adding, “I recommend it.”
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Iran objects to Christie's plans to auction Persepolis bas relief

"Following Christie's announcement regarding its intention to sell a Persepolis artifact, the [Iranian] embassy voiced its objection in an official letter.

The letter says the bas-relief is a part of Iran's cultural heritage, and was stolen from Persepolis 30 years before the Islamic Revolution.

All Persepolis artifacts are part of the national cultural heritage of Iran; international conventions have banned stealing or illegally transferring items of a country's cultural heritage to other nations, the letter adds.

The Iranian embassy in London called on Christie's managers not to auction the Achaemenid bas-relief and to negotiate with Iran on the subject.

A stone carving of the head of a soldier belonging to ancient Persia's Apadana palace in Persepolis was scheduled to be auctioned in London on October 25th with the estimated value of 800,000 British pounds."


Initial investigations revealed that the relief is part of the stairway of Apadana Palace in Persepolis complex which was sold in 1974 in an auction in New York and was bought by a private owner and kept for 30 years in her private collection in France. Later Iran was asked to provide the Court with the mold of the exact location of the Achamenid soldier bas-relief of Persepolis.

Yet in its latest session, the Court of London was not convinced by the documents presented by Iran and referred the case to the Appeal Court for a final verdict. " - Persian Journal

I think the refusal of the British court to recognize Iran's claim to the artifact is quite inappropriate. I guess I should have expected as much since the British are steadfastly refusing to return the Elgin Marbles to the Greeks either. The Persepolis relief is very much a part of Iran's cultural heritage and I would hate to see it sold again to another wealthy private collector to be used only to impress their friends!

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Epipalaeolithic mural found in Syria

"Deep in the heart of northern Syria, close to the banks of the Euphrates River, archaeologists have uncovered a series of startling 11,000-year-old wall paintings and artifacts. "The wall paintings date back to the 9th millennium BC. They were discovered last month on the wall of a house standing 2 meters high at Djade," said Frenchman Eric Coqueugniot, who has been leading the excavations on the west bank of the river at Djade, in an area famous for its rich tradition of prehistoric treasures.

The etchings are "polychrome paintings in black, white and red. The designs are solely geometric, and only figurative. The composition is made up of a system [of] cross-hatched lines, alternating between the three colors," said Coqueugniot.

They were found in a circular building, around 7.5 meters in diameter. The excavated house features three solid blocks where the paintings were located.

The main pillar has been completely excavated and stands almost 2 meters high displaying the new murals, said Coqueugniot, a researcher for the Paris-based National Centre for Scientific Research.

The remains of the building, much larger than the small and rectangular domestic dwellings of the period, "must have been used as a meeting place for the whole village or for a clan," Coqueugniot added.

Apart from the organic artifacts, which have decomposed over time, the site has provided many well-preserved treasures.

Carved stone tools, flints, seed-grinding implements and brick-grinding stones have been recovered. Many bone objects were also found - both remnants of the animals that made up part of the daily diet and intricately fashioned tools.

The dig also uncovered several figurines made of gypsum, chalk, bone and clay. The most recent discovery, an 11,000-year-old statue of a man is "particularly important and well preserved," Coqueugniot said.

This item will allow comparisons with other similar sculptures found on sites in the Urfa region of southern Turkey, added the French scientist, who has overseen archaeological projects at Djade for 15 years.

"The figures could have had religious significance. The female statuettes could also have been fertility symbols. But they could have had entirely different ritual meanings," Coqueugniot said.

"We can only offer hypotheses," he added. "It is still very difficult to [determine] the significance of this 11,000-year-old statue of the woman."

The latest discoveries date back to the start of the Neolithic era, in a period known as the Epipalaeolithic. Many artifacts from this period have been discovered in northern Syria, in particular at Jerf al-Ahmar"

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Egyptian God Anubis Sails Into London

I see London is welcoming the latest King Tut exhibit in grand style. I saw the exhibit when it was in Los Angeles and found several of the items displayed particularly interesting, especially one of King Tut's diadems and one of his ceremonial daggers. I must admit, however, to being a bit disappointed as the exhibit was advertised as being roughly equivalent to the first King Tut exhibit in the US back in the 1960s. However, this exhibit was composed mostly of artifacts belonging to the pharaoh's extended family and few items actually came from the famous tomb. I thought it was particularly misleading to advertise the exhibit with huge images of the famous gold death mask when the mask is not part of the exhibit. Oh well, maybe someday I'll get to see the original in the Cairo Museum.

"Londoners welcomed a 25ft Egyptian god to the capital today. Passers-by watched the extraordinary sight of the enormous, five-tonne
golden Anubis statue travelling up the Thames on the back of a cargo ship.

Tower Bridge was raised to make way for the ancient Egyptian jackal-headed God of the Dead as it was transported to its new position in Trafalgar Square.

The statue travelled from the US, where a three-year touring exhibition of Tutankhamun's treasures has recently closed. The Anubis installation in central London marks the forthcoming opening of Tutankhamun And The Golden Age Of The Pharaohs at the O2 Bubble, the first
exhibition to be held at the venue.

Some 265,000 tickets have already been sold or reserved. The exhibition, which will include more than 130 treasures that are all between 3,000 and 5,000 years old, opens on November 15 and continues until August 30, 2008."

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The Trauma of Macedonian Resettlement in Turkey in 1924

I came across this article about a documentary film that sounded quite compelling. As the article says, the story finds echoes in all the displaced communities of the world today:

"Last weekend a documentary film had its premiere in Mustafapaşa. Emine Yıldırım’s “Yastığım Taş, Yorgunum Taş” (My Pillow was a Stone, My Quilt was a Stone) tells the story of the arrival of the Macedonians in what was once the small Cappadocian town of Sinasos. It was 1924, the year of the population exchange, when all the “Greeks” in Turkey and the “Turks” in Greece were forced to change places. However, some of the so-called Greeks were really Macedonians, caught up in a politics that saw them as no more than pawns in a settling of ancient scores.

The film was shown in a 19th century medrese which had recently become a vocational high school. The conference room was filled to capacity and there was a buzz of anticipation as people took their seats, clutching their cups of tea and plates of dry biscuits. Then the lights were dimmed and suddenly the locals were coming face-to-face with themselves on the big screen.

It was a magical experience to watch and listen to their reactions. “Our mahalle (neighborhood),” I heard people whisper, and “Look, that’s so-and-so.” One particular woman, who played a big part in the film, was sitting immediately in front of me. In her şalvar and yemeni, she was the sort of country woman who would not normally expect people to pay her much attention and yet here she was, with the camera caressing her every gesture, her every word. Her face, as she watched herself, was a picture.

Of course the story unfolding on the screen was equally gripping. It was the tale of a group of people forced to sail all the way down the Aegean and around the Mediterranean to Mersin, knowing only that they were going to Anatolia but not what that was going to mean. On arrival they found themselves abandoned in a rocky landscape where, as one woman so poignantly put it, the stones even served as their bedding. An audible gasp ran round the room when one man explained how, with winter coming and no money or means to make any, the newcomers were forced to rip down the magnificent wooden ceilings of the old Greek houses and burn them as firewood.

We saw a list of the names of the incomers, we saw their children starting school without a word of Turkish and, later, we saw one man laboriously compiling a Turkish-Macedonian dictionary while his neighbors explained how the third generation of Macedonian Mustafapaşalıs no longer understood what their parents were saying if they reverted to the old language.

It was the thought-provoking story of one community’s struggle to make a new life in a strange country, but at the same time it was a story which finds echoes in all the displaced communities of the world today."

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King Tut's Tomb Yields a Few More Discoveries

"A team of Egyptian archaeologists, led by antiquities supremo Zahi Hawass, made the discovery in the Valley of the Kings in the ancient city of Thebes, the modern-day Luxor, in southern Egypt.

"The eight baskets contained large quantities of doum fruits, which have been well preserved," Mr Hawass said in a statement.

The fruit baskets are each 50 centimetres high, the antiquities department said.

The sweet orange-red fruit, also known as the gingerbread fruit, comes from the doum palm, a native of southern Egypt, and was traditionally offered at funerals.

Twenty pear-shaped containers, one metre in height and bearing Tutankhamun's official seal were also discovered."

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