Sunday, December 30, 2007

Zahi Hawass claims reproductions of antiquities are violation of copyright?!!

Well, it looks like the ever zealous Dr. Zawai Hawass is not satisfied with just tracking down looted antiquities. He apparently wants to pass laws making the reproduction of an antiquity a violation of copyright. I find this absolutely ludicrous since these antiquities are thousands of years old and therefore far beyond the time period prescribed by most countries for works falling under protective copyright provisions. Copyright is designed to protect the creator of a work as an encouragement to continue producing creative works. It is not intended to be used as a tool to generate government revenue which occurs when antiquities that cannot be traced to a modern descendant revert to the government). Such a law would, in effect, make everything ever made copyrighted essentially forever. I'm sure the MPAA and RIAA would jump for joy if that ever happened in this country!

"The head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities is a large man with a short temper, and things may get nasty.

When not leading excavations, opening exhibitions, or belabouring the British Museum for not sending him the Rosetta Stone to display in one of the clutch of new museums he's building in Cairo, he has now pledged to go after anyone, anywhere in the world, in search of copyright payments for replicas of Egypt's ancient monuments or museum pieces.

Although such a provision is apparently likely to become law, as so often with Dr Hawass's pronouncements it's not clear how much any of this is serious, and how much a display of public huffing and puffing.

The logistics of such an operation would be as mind boggling as the construction of the Great Pyramid itself. Since the historians, antiquarians, artists and classical scholars from the French academy slogged across the Egyptian desert in the wake of Napoleon, and published their findings in a scores of beautiful volumes, a craze for all things pyramidal and serpentine has regularly convulsed the west."

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Extensive Taino Indian site unearthed in Puerto Rico

"An Atlanta-area archaeology firm working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has uncovered the outlines of a very large Taino ball court and ceremonial site, complete with human graves, trash mounds, building imprints and a few carved petroglyphs that are among the most intricate and detailed ever discovered in the region.

'Suddenly it went from a very good site to an extraordinary site,' said Chris Espenshade, who led a team of local archaeologists and workers from New South Associates of Stone Mountain, Ga. at the dig this past summer and fall. "Part of what makes it extraordinary is that we have everything here, the midden (refuse) mound, the batey (ceremonial site), the house patterns, the burials and the rock art.'

The Taino Indians were part of the Arawak people who settled the Caribbean, most likely venturing from the northern coast of South America, their canoes carried by ocean currents onto the string of islands that curve like an arc through the tropical sea.

Several indigenous villages have been uncovered on Puerto Rico and other islands, but the recent find by the banks of the Portugues River appears to be one of the most extensive ever unearthed.

The size and importance of the site wasn't known until this fall, when the flood control project finally near construction. Espenshade's team worked through the summer, but only in the past few months unearthed enough to determine the major scope of the site.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime find," said David McCullough, a Corps archaeologist from the agency's Jacksonville office, who said preliminary estimates show the site dates to around 600 A.D. "The petroglyph carvings are outstanding, with various human-looking faces and bodies. Another remarkable thing is the site is so well preserved. It was covered by the river's flooding and wasn't looted or cleared for farming."

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Elamite-era artifacts languishing in vermin-infested Shush Castle

How terrible! This is a prime example of a cache of ancient art that needs to be at least photographed and indexed before these priceless items are lost to the world forever!

"About 90,000 archaeological artifacts are being stored in appalling conditions in the underground storerooms of Shush Castle which is located in Shush, near the ancient sites of Susa in Khuzestan Province.

“The storerooms are not only humid but are inhabited by snakes, scorpions, and insects such as termites,” an informed source, who preferred to remain anonymous, told the Persian service of IRNA on Tuesday. “The artifacts belong to various periods of Iran’s history,” the informer added. According to the report, many of the items have never been on public display.

Artifacts which were discovered by the French archaeologist Roman Ghirshman in the 1940s are among the relics languishing in the gloomy cellars. A large number of the secreted objects had been carefully salvaged from the Elamite-era sites of Khuzestan over the past decades. The only action that has been taken for the protection of the relics was carried out by ancient inscriptions expert Abdolmajid Arfaei, who sprayed the storerooms with insecticide last year. "

Image: Kneeling Bull Figure, Proto-Elamite, 3000-2800 BCE, southwest Iran (Courtesy Bostonia, Summer 2004, Boston University)
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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Afghan Art Exhibit begins trip around the world in Amsterdam

The article says this wonderful exhibition of Afghanistan Art will be travelling to other locations in Europe then on to the U.S. I hope it comes to a museum I can visit!

Some of Afghanistan's rich history is temporarily on display in Amsterdam. Hundreds of archaeological treasures provide clear proof that the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Chinese and the Indians all put their mark on this region. For years, these treasures were hidden to keep them out of the hands of the Russians and the Taliban. But now they are on display for the whole world to see.

New Church Director Ernst Veen shows us a few of the hundreds of artefacts.

"Here you can clearly see influences from the Roman and Greek era. And this coloured glass is unique. And so is this: a painted goblet, also from the first century A.D".
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Iraqi loot saved from Ebay

The looters are really active in Iraq too!

A 4,000-year-old clay tablet authorities suspect was smuggled illegally from Iraq was pulled from eBay just minutes before the close of the online auction, authorities said Tuesday.

A German archaeologist had spotted the tablet bearing wedge-shaped cuneiform script on the online auctioneer's Swiss web site, a government official said.

The archaeologist alerted German authorities, who passed the tip onto their Swiss counterparts, said Yves Fischer, who directs the Swiss Federal Office of Culture's department on commerce in cultural objects.

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"Private Collectors" of Thracian art denying cultural history to the world

This kind of article just breaks my heart to think of all of the beautiful artifacts just stored and jealously hoarded by a single collector.

According to a new study conducted by the Bulgarian Center for the Study of Democracy, as many as 250,000 people may be involved in illegal racketeering. Some are even brazen enough to put their pieces on show. The most controversial is casino king Vassil Bozhkov, 51, nicknamed "The Skull", who, in addition to countless gambling houses in Sofia, also runs the popular betting agency Eurofootball. He has already survived one assassination attempt, while one of his closest business partners was killed by a gunman.

In his private life, the millionaire indulges in a very specialized passion: He has collected hundreds of Roman, Greek and Thracian works of art and his coin collection is one of the most extensive in the country.

To coincide with Bulgaria's admission into the EU, Bozhkov was invited to exhibit a number of examples of his collection in the EU Parliament in Brussels; he even obtained funding for the exhibition from the Bulgarian Culture Ministry. In the eyes of Vassil Nikolov, the Bozhkov exhibition was "the fruit of grave-robbing." Nikolov was not only the long-time director of the Institute of Archaeology and Museum in Sofia, but was also president of the state committee responsible for every single archaeological dig that took place in the country. Without his signature, not even the smallest shovelful of historical earth could be moved -- or at least not officially.

But unofficially is a different story: "There is not a single dig site or historical monument in the country," says Nikolov, "that has never been looted."

"The looters have the most up-to-date technology and good off-road vehicles. They are very mobile and extremely well informed," says Sofian archaeologist Nikolai Markov. "Our rivals are certainly no amateurs and their modus operandi points to criminal gangs at work."

Volodia Velkov heads a 30-person specialist unit responsible for the fight against the organized robbery and trafficking of archaeological treasures. "In the area surrounding ancient settlements, local crews are hired for a few Lev to dig up whatever's there. It's a well-paid job for anyone who would otherwise be living in poverty," explains Velkov. Anything they find is then given to middlemen who try to get the valuable booty across the border as quickly as possible.

Velkov says that most buyers of the ancient treasures are abroad, for instance in Germany or Austria. According to German investigators, a battery of shady antique dealers who also deal in stolen goods from the Balkans has set up shop in Munich in recent years. Bulgaria, even more than Italy or Greece, is currently the most important supplier of valuable artifacts from the ancient world, says Neil Brodie, Research Director of the Illicit Antiquities Research Center in Cambridge, England.

Bulgarian experts have even on occasion discovered suspected stolen goods in the catalogs of international auction houses. Last year, for example, Christie's in London had a rare Byzantine silver bowl from the 12th century, richly decorated with striking hunting motifs, on sale. The piece was valued at $645,000. "
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Monday, December 17, 2007

Jordan Valley excavation team sought

With their findings on the mountain Tall adh-Dhahab (West) in the Jabbok Valley the archeologist Thomas Pola could substantiate one assumption: everything points to the fact that the building remains from the Hellenistic and Roman era, found in 2006, were part of a yet unknown monumental building of Herod the Great (73-4 BC).

This assumption is based on the floors of one of the discovered peristyle yards (yards enclosed by continuous columns) which the archeologists were able to excavate. Prof. Pola sees the parallels with the architecture of Herod’s West Jordan Alexandreion as prove that there also was a monumental building of Herod the Great on the plateau of the mountain Tall adh-Dhahab. That would mean that in addition to his reign over the West Jordan Land, the Jewish king had a security system with which he could have controlled the ancient long-distance traffic in the middle Jordan Valley and the access ways to the plateau of the East Jordan Land.

Above that, the team of Prof. Pola for the first time discovered a layer from the late Bronze Age or the Early Iron Age on a natural terrace directly underneath the plateau. The ruins of a tower from the city wall at least show three building phases. “On the level of the oldest building phase we took samples from a burnt layer. A C14-analysis carried out by Prof. Manfred Bayer (Physics at TU Dortmund) showed that the charcoal originates from the time 1300 to 1000 BC. At this location we will continue to work in 2008.”

Finally Prof. Pola’s team discovered the purpose of the monumental military facility half way up the mountain: it is a casemate wall. It is supposed to have been finished in Roman times. This is yet another argument for the identification of the mountain with the stronghold Amathous mentioned in the ancient world. The historian Josephus (37 to 100 AD) described Amathous as the biggest stronghold in the East Jordan Land.

Even reworking the campaign 2006 revealed a sensation: the carve-drawings which had been discovered by Dr. Batereau-Neumann, a sponsor of the project, at that time, were dated to the ninth or tenth century by the internationally renowned specialist for Middle East iconography, Prof. Othmar Keel (Universit├Ąt Freiburg). According to him the two pictures, the head of a lioness and the fragment of a cultural scene, belong together. The sensation: they point to the existence of a temple on the mountain plateau in the New-Assyrian time.
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Remnants of Glass Factory Found in Amarna

A team of archaeologists have demonstrated that Ancient Egyptian glassmaking methods were much more superior than previously believed, by reconstructing a 3,000-year-old glass. The Egypt Exploration Society team, led by Dr Paul Nicholson, of Cardiff University's School of History and Archaeology, is working on the earliest fully excavated glassmaking site in the world.

The site, at Amarna, on the banks of the Nile, dates back to the reign of Akhanaten (1352 - 1336 B.C.), just a few years before the rule of Tutankhamun.

The team has challenged earlier claims that the Ancient Egyptians may have imported their glass from the Near East at around this time.

They believe that the evidence from Amarna shows they were making glass themselves, possibly in a single stage operation.

Dr Nicholson and his colleague Dr Caroline Jackson showed that this was possible, using local sand to produce a glass ingot from their own experimental reconstruction of a furnace near the site.

The team also discovered that the glassworks was part of an industrial complex, which involved a number of other high temperature manufacturing processes.

The site also contained a potter's workshop and facilities for making blue pigment and faience - a material used in amulets and architectural inlays. The site was near one of the main temples at Amarna and may have been used to produce materials in state buildings.
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Newly Reopened Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts showcases Priam's Gold and masterworks by Cranach and Tiepolo

The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts is hauling hidden masterworks by Cranach and Tiepolo out of storage and dusting off the golden treasures of Troy to mark tonight's gala re-opening of its main Moscow exhibition space.

Over the past year, the museum, the Russian capital's leading collection of Western European art, has revamped the display of its permanent collection -- modern lighting has been installed, artworks have been better arranged on walls and rarely seen masterpieces spruced up and put on display.

The project ties in with plans by U.K. architect Norman Foster, approved on Nov. 22, to add 110,000 square meters (1.2 million square feet) to the museum's current 40,000 square meters. The Pushkin aims to mark its centenary in 2012 with four new buildings on adjacent land within sight of the Kremlin, and the renovation of several decrepit czarist-era structures.

``The role of the museum in the world is changing,'' said museum director Irina Antonova, 85, in an interview in her office last week. ``The collection is growing, the number of personnel is growing, as is the number of visitors. The lack of space for exhibits and storage is an enormous problem.''

The remodeled permanent exhibition includes paintings never before displayed by the museum, such as ``Calvary'' (1515) by Lucas Cranach the Elder, and ``The Madonna Attended by St. Anthony, St. Louis, and St. Francis of Assisi'' by 18th-century Italian artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.

Rembrandt and his school now have their own room, as does the gold of Troy dug up by German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, which was looted by Soviet troops in 1945. There's a new room for Ancient Greece, including items excavated in the Crimea by the Pushkin's own archaeologists.

Restored Works

Experts have skillfully restored many European paintings to reveal their original bright blues and reds, including ``The Virgin Suckling the Child Jesus,'' by 17th-century Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbaran. Two works by 17th-century French artist Claude Lorrain also have been returned to their original bright colors.

The Pushkin, which owns about 650,000 items and is visited by about 1 million people a year, has one of the finest collections of French Impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, with works by Monet, Van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso. These have their own gallery, opened in August 2006, next to the museum's central building.

The new space planned by Foster will go toward conservation laboratories, state-of-the-art storage, more exhibition space, a library and rooms for classical-music concerts.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Tests show crystalline structure of 15th century Italian monument genuine artifact

Science News Online: An Italian marble tomb, long suspected by critics of being an art fake palmed off on America, has been proved an authentic treasure, after 9 years of scientific testing.

At the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where the tomb aroused such violent controversy that it was removed from public exhibition, the case is settled.

Reporting its verdict, the museum calls the tomb a fifteenth-century monument of Tuscan workmanship, later restored in minor ways. A beautiful figure of a woman lying with folded hands is a feature of the monument.

Scientific tests included making paper-thin slices of samples from all 14 pieces of marble in the tomb. These samples were studied under the microscope and compared with similar samples of known kinds of marble. This test, like that of human fingerprints, is consider unmistakable. The tomb is of two kinds of marble, the famous Carrara marble and some from Olympia. Chisel marks were also examined by microscope, and ultraviolet tests were made.

The crystalline structure of the marble's surface was also studied, because scientists have learned that old marbles "breathe," that is, take in and give out air. In long years, this process leaves evidence in dark bands on the marble surface, visible through the microscope. This evidence of time and weathering was found on all parts of the tomb except where a new inscription was added, and a few restorations made.

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Early Islamic Water Reservoirs Discovered near Ardebil, Iran

The city of Ardebil reveals another treasure to Iranian archeologists in the form of buildings dating back to the early Islamic era.

Digs at the Boyni Yogun castle led to the discovery of a group of historical structures including a guardroom and four “Ab Anbars” (literally water storehouse) which were traditional reservoirs of drinking water in ancient Persia.

Ab Anbars are a fascinating innovation; they were made using a special mortar called “sarooj” which consisted of sand, clay, egg whites, lime and goats hair. These structures are subterranean, which made them highly resistant to massive earthquakes in the region.

The city of Ardebil is located in northwestern Iran about 70 km from the Caspian Sea and is thought to date back to the Achaemenid era (2500 BCE).
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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Study of Ancient Indian Sphnixes Reveals Trade Routes

Indian scholar, Raja Deekshithar M.A. Managing Trustee Shri Sabhanayaka Temple (Shri Shiva Nataraja Temple) emailed me about his fascinating research into the origins of sphinxes in Indian art.

"The earliest textual reference to the sphinx of India is found in the Yajur Veda. The earliest known depictions in stone of sphinxes are found in central and north-west India and date to the 1st century BCE till the 2nd century CE. They are found among the decorations of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain shrines. And they show distinct Hellenistic influences especially in that they often have wings of the type typical of Greek sphinxes.

The earliest dated example of a sphinx in southern India is found among the sculpture in Mamalapuram. In the 6th and 7th century kings of the Pallava dynasty experimented in the vicinity of this ancient port with various architectural and sculptural forms.

The domination of the Pallavas was eclipsed in the 9th century by the Chola kings, whose centre of power lay in the delta of the Kaveri river. The Cholas dominated southern India for over four centuries and made generous contributions towards the temples and towards the arts, generating some of the greatest treasures of human civilization. It was in the temples constructed and supported by them that we find many of the early sphinx sculptures.

In this period the main characteristics of the purushamriga are lion bodies, with mane, and only a human face, with elongated ears. A few are depicted crouching, and in pairs. Most are striding or jumping. During this period we also see occasionally purushamriga that have the lower body of a lion, with the upper body of a human being, and are shown half up-right. Often they are engaged in the worship of the Shiva Linga with a lamp and a bell. Many of the depictions are narrative panels relating the story of the chase of Bhima by the purushamriga from the Mahabharata.

After the fall of the Chola dynasty various dynasties dominated different parts of Southern India, till the kings of Vijayanagara, modern Hampi in Karnataka, became the emperors of the South. In temple architecture of this period we also find many depictions of the purushamriga. By this time most scultures show the Indian sphinx with the lower body of a lion and the upper body of a human being. They are depicted as rishis or seers, as described in the Mahabharata story. With long matted hair knotted on top of their head. Moustaches and long beards, elongated ears with disks. Many are shown worshipping the Shiva Linga.

The final phase of artistic development in southern India took place under the Nayakas. This was a dynasty that owed alliance to the emperors in Vijayanagara, but ruled from Madurai. Their sculptors developed the concept of the sphinx-human beast into a fully upright man with lion’s hips, legs and claws. These imposing life-size sphinxes are also depicted as rishis. "

I have always found sphinxes to be marvelous depictions of beings with muliple aspects. I found similarities in the Indian sphinxes depicted on this website and those I have seen of ancient Greece quite unmistakable. Obviously these cultures exchanged trade goods and the influence of Alexander The Great's conquest is quite apparent as well.
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