Friday, May 30, 2008

Achaemenid-era Persian cup to be auctioned

I cringed when I read the current owner of this beautiful Achaemenid-era Persian gold cup actually used it for target practice when he was a boy.

An ancient gold cup, which was once acquired by a rag and bone man, that is expected to fetch several hundred thousand pounds at auction
An ancient gold cup, which was once acquired by a rag and bone man, that is expected to fetch several hundred thousand pounds at auction. Photograph: PA
"Now that the little gold cup has left the shoebox under his bed and is heading for an auction room, John Webber rather regrets the pot-shots he took with his air gun - even though the dents did flatten out nicely with the back of a spoon. After all, it now has a £500,000 price on its head.

If scientific tests and expert opinion are correct, his grandfather's gift must represent the best scrap metal find ever. The mystery object may be genuine lost treasure, a unique piece beaten out of a single sheet of gold in the Middle East, somewhere in the vast Achaemenid empire which spread from Persia to become the largest empire of the ancient world, until overthrown by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. The skill of the Achaemenid metal workers, who made exquisite objects in sheet gold and silver, was renowned."

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Authentic Viking DNA retrieved

"Although “Viking” literally means “pirate,” recent research has indicated that the Vikings were also traders to the fishmongers of Europe. Stereotypically, these Norsemen are usually pictured wearing a horned helmet but in a new study published in the journal PLoS ONE this week, Jørgen Dissing and colleagues from the University of Copenhagen, investigated what went under the helmet; the scientists were able to extract authentic DNA from ancient Viking skeletons, avoiding many of the problems of contamination faced by past researchers.

Using freshly sampled material from ten Viking skeletons from around AD 1,000, from a non-Christian burial site on the Danish island of Funen, Dissing and colleagues showed that it is indeed possible to retrieve authentic DNA from ancient humans.

Wearing protective suits, the researchers removed the teeth from the jaw at the moment the skeletons were unearthed when they had been untouched for 1,000 years. The subsequent laboratory procedures were also carefully controlled in order to avoid contamination.

Analysis of the Viking DNA showed no evidence of contamination with extraneous DNA, and typing of the endogenous DNA gave reproducible results and showed that these individuals were just as diverse as contemporary humans. A reliable retrieval of authentic DNA opens the way for a valuable use of prehistoric human remains to illuminate the genetic history of past and extant populations."

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Head of Cleopatra and mask thought to be Marc Antony's discovered near Alexandria

"An alabaster head of Cleopatra and a mask thought to belong to her lover Mark Antony have been found near Egypt's Mediterranean city of Alexandria, antiquities chief Zahi Hawass said on Monday.

The two treasures, a bronze statue of Goddess Aphrodite and a headless royal statue from the Ptolemaic dynasty, which ruled Egypt between 323 and 30 BC, were discovered by a joint Egyptian-Dominican Republic team of archeologists in the Tapsiris Magna temple, Hawass said.

Some 20 bronze coins stamped with Cleopatra's face were found in underground tunnels 50 metres (164 feet) deep in the archeological site, Hawass said."

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Siege of the Ivory Tower of Academia

I found this article disturbing in the sense that basically racist charges can be levied at a scholar simply because they criticize the scholarly integrity of a work that has an apparent racially-motivated agenda. I have encountered, what have been termed, Afrocentrists myself and have tried to point out to them that, although many of the ancient peoples along the Mediterranean coast were people of color (is that phrase politically correct anymore?) not all ancient people of the entire continent of Africa were sub-Saharan "black" in ethnicity including the Egyptians. I have heard Afrocentrist scholars try to claim Cleopatra, King Tut, Queen Hatsephut, and later, Hannibal, were all "black". In fact I came across some beautiful images of these historical personalities rendered as ethnically black on a website sponsored by Anhauser-Busch. But they overlook historically important facts such as Cleopatra's descent from Ptolemy Soter I, a half-brother of Alexander the Great of Macedon. Ptolemy not only took over the kingdom of Egypt but adopted the intrafamilial marriage practices of pharaonic tradition. Therefore, although its true historians are not sure who her mother was, by tradition she would have been another descendant of the Ptolemy dynasty.

Furthermore, Egyptian tomb paintings distinguish between the reddish skin of "Egyptians" and the black skin of "Nubians". Both King Tut and Queen Hatshepsut are rendered with reddish skin.

In addition, Hannibal was a descendant of a noble Phoenician family that colonized the area around Carthage. It is thought by some that there was some intermarriage with the local Berbers but Berbers are not ethnically "black" either.

There were some very effective Nubian pharaohs, though, that ruled Egypt during the 25th dynasty including King Kashta (745-742 BC),Piankhi (742-715 BC), Shabaka I (715-701 BC), Shakatak (701-689 BC), Taharka (680-664 BC), and Tanutamun (664-650 BC). These pharaohs were ethnically "black". So why do the Afrocentrists feel they must produce inaccurate works about some figures of ancient African history rather than focus on figures that fit their targeted ethnic profile and explore and publicize their lives instead?

As for the Greeks stealing their culture from the Egyptians, I find this a simplistic view of cultural exchange. Trade with other nations always provides the opportunities to exchange ideas and technologies. There is archaeological evidence that there was very early trade between the Minoans and Egyptians. I'm sure there was probably an active exchange of ideas as well as art (fragments of Minoan paintings have been found in Egypt) during this period. But the key word here is "exchange".

Furthermore, to frame Egypt, and through Egypt as Africa, as the source of all ancient knowledge is ludicrous since civilizations in the near East were just as ancient and contributed a great deal to so-called "western" civilizations like the Greeks. One such example is the Greek alphabet that scholars say was developed from the Phoenician alphabet. Another is the chariot that was introduced to the Egyptians by the Hyksos, originally from the near East.

Anyway, here's an abstract from the article I read:

"In 1993, Ms. Lefkowitz, a professor of classics at Wellesley, attended a lecture by Yosef ben-Jochannan, author of "Africa: Mother of Western Civilization." In his lecture, Mr. ben-Jochannan repeated the central claim of his book: that Aristotle had stolen his philosophy from the Egyptians, wholesale, a charge to which Ms. Lefkowitz's husband audibly answered from the audience, "Rubbish." Heated words were exchanged, and Mr. ben-Jochannan's defenders — primarily Ms. Lefkowitz's colleague Anthony Martin, whose courses feted Mr. ben-Jochannan's work — raised an alarm: A Jewish conspiracy against blacks was afoot, they charged, with Ms. Lefkowitz directing the protocols.

At the time of the incident, Ms. Lefkowitz was already on the radar of a number of Jewish-conspiracy theorists. She had reviewed — in the "conservative, Jewish-owned New Republic" (to use Mr. Martin's words) — a two-volume polemic against Greek civilization by Martin Bernal, a sociologist at Cornell. Mr. Bernal's work, "Black Athena," had alleged that classical scholars had not only failed to acknowledge the debt Greece owed Egypt, but that they were actively suppressing that debt (a conspiracy within a conspiracy, in other words). Her review was evidence enough that she, again in Mr. Martin's words, had dug in her heels against "Black progress."

Ms. Lefkowitz had actually gone easy on "Black Athena." And her husband's riposte was quite gentle itself. The charge, remember, was that Aristotle had hopped a boat from Athens, strolled into the library at Alexandria, grabbed a bunch of books, brought them back to Greece, and put his name on them. This is almost so unbelievable that it has to be true — but, alas, it isn't. First, there is no record of Aristotle ever having gone to Egypt. Maybe that evidence was suppressed? Perhaps — but there wasn't even a library in Alexandria for Aristotle to pillage during his lifetime. It wasn't built until at least 297 BCE; Aristotle died in 323 BCE. Even if he had wanted to steal the Egyptians' "Metaphysics," "Poetics," or "Politics," he wouldn't have been able to find them in Alexandria."

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Treasures of Afghanistan to be exhibited at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco

"A traveling exhibition of extraordinary archaeological treasures from the National Museum of Afghanistan, Kabul, will begin a 17-month tour of the United States in spring 2008, it was announced today by the National Geographic Society and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

“Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul” will explore the rich cultural heritage of ancient Afghanistan from the Bronze Age (2500 B.C.) through the rise of trade along the Silk Road in the first century A.D. Strategically located on the commercial routes between China and India in the East and Europe in the West, Afghanistan was at the crossroads of civilizations in Central Asia.

Exhibition Tour

The exhibition will premiere in the United States at the National Gallery of Art from May 25 through Sept. 7, 2008. Among the nearly 230 works on view in the East Building will be artifacts dating back more than 4,000 years, as well as gold objects from the famed Bactrian hoard, a 2,000-year-old treasure cache discovered in 1978 but hidden from view until 2003. Plans are being finalized for the exhibition to travel to the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York."
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Artist renders glass mummy

"The ghost of an Ancient Egyptian toddler now haunts a London gallery, after scans of his mummy were fashioned into a work of art.

"Mummy boy 3" exhibition
"Mummy Boy 3" is on display at Waterhouse & Dodd in the West End of London until June 12.

Artist Angela Palmer has already turned Carol Vorderman's brain, and even her own, into eerie artistic representations, formed from layers of glass that have been engraved with contours based on scans of their brains.

Now she has used the same method to bring the remains of the toddler into view and shed new light on a family tragedy that took place almost two thousand years ago in Egypt.

Her reconstruction of "Mummy Boy 3" is now on display at Waterhouse & Dodd in the West End of London, until June 12.

As a bonus, the effort has revealed to archaeologists new details of the mummy. The remains were of an 18 month old and it was a boy, as shown by his mummified penis.

Unusually, he lacked his baby side teeth. His brain had also been removed, in common with standard funerary practices of the day.

A CT X ray scan of the toodler's mummified body
A CT scan of the toddler's mummified body

The scans show that the elaborate bandages that wrap the remains, forming an elaborate lozenge pattern, are typical of the approach used in AD 80-120.

The presence of gold studs of gilded plaster, bound near his lap, suggest that the little boy was the son of a noble or an official."

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Epilepsy as a writing device in Historical Literature

I ran across this interesting article on the use of epilepsy as a literary device in ancient literature when I was looking for a picture of Julius Caesar. Caesar supposedly suffered from epilepsy later in life. I happen to think there is a very good chance that his seizures were caused by a head wound he received at the battle of Munda:

Epilepsy as a theme in literature (I)

"The description and interpretation of suffering in the form of pain, illness and disability have an important role in the aesthetic literature of numerous cultural-historical epochs.This aspect of human existence has, for the most part, been made use of by individual authors in very different ways – whether as a directing factor within a plot structure, as a metaphor or as a moment of catharsis. "Suffering makes humans clear-sighted and the world transparent." This interpretation, which was formulated by the psychiatrist and psychotherapist Victor Emil Frankl in the previous century, may be a conscious or unconscious motivation for some poets and writers to use the concept of suffering in their works.

It is astonishing how often the chronic disease of epilepsy enters into poetry.

There are probably two decisive reasons for this surprisingly frequent presence of the theme of epilepsy. On the one hand, the prevalence (frequency) of this disease (which today is 0.5-1% worldwide, and was surely not smaller in earlier centuries); on the other, the impressive symptomatology of the prototypical epileptic event, the tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizure.

Fyodor M. Dostoevsky

References to epilepsy can already be found in written reports from the pre-Christian era, thus, for example, in the Old Testament – in the fourth book of the Pentateuch (Numbers [9th/8th centuries BC], amongst others, when Balaam the seer is repeatedly characterised as "falling; or in the Oresteia of Aeschylus (c. 500 BC), when Cassandra's prophetic sayings are accompanied by the phenomena of frothing at the mouth, convulsion and spitting blood. It is actually remarkable how frequently in literature epilepsy is brought into the vicinity of prophecy (divination - soothsaying - was a synonym for epilepsy in ancient Rome; this relationship has been retained in a French term for epilepsy: mal des prophètes). This connection – between epileptic symptoms and prophecy – is still being made in modern literature; e.g. in Thomas Mann's Joseph and His Brothers (1933); Christa Wolf's Cassandra (1983); in Dostoevsky's epilepsy-contoured Myshkin (The Idiot [1868/69] and Murin (A Young Woman [1847]); in Isabel Allende's Of Love and Shadows (1984) or in the novel by Amoz Oz, To Know a Woman (1989).

“The treatment of epilepsy” in the New Testament: Christ heals the ‘moonstruck’ boy

In the ancient literature, not only in Aeschylus, but, for example, also in Plautus, in his comedy The Prisoners (from 200 BC) we come across grand mal epilepsy brought into connection with frenzy, in Xenophon of Ephesus, who in the love story Habrocomes and Anthea, the Lovers of Ephesus (2nd century AD) describes a simulated epileptic fit, and in Apuleius of Madaura in his Apologia (157/158 AD), who gives the first detailed description of the sensitivity to light (photosensitivity) experienced by some epileptics. In the New Testament of the Bible, the disease symptoms described by the three synoptic evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke) leave no doubt that the moonstruck boy healed by Christ exorcising a demon refers to a boy with epilepsy. The theme of epilepsy is also occasionally found in mediaeval literature, e.g. in the Old French love story of Aucassin and Nicolette by an anonymous author (13th century), in which the sight of the beautifully formed leg of a young woman is able to cure a seizure-prone pilgrim of his illness; or in Dante's Divine Comedy (1307), in which the 24th canto of the Inferno compares the condition of the sinner with an atonic seizure caused by the devil and the subsequent disorientation. Moreover, Dante himself, in his journey through Hell and Purgatory falls suddenly to the ground at least three times and is unconscious for a short period – not least these scenes let Dante be seen as one (by no means proven) example from the host of prominent epileptics.

Gaius Julius Caesar – described by Shakespeare as a statesman with epileptic seizures.

Shakespeare also used the theme of epilepsy at the threshold of the modern era; the best known being the description of the epileptic fit of the protagonist in the drama Julius Caesar (1599). Less known is a scene from Othello (1604), in which the dark-skinned Venetian general falls to the ground while listening to a distressing report and the a witness standing close by (Iago) terms this an epileptic event.
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Greek Chic

Finally, it looks like Greek fashion that lends elegance and femininity to the human form is making a come-back! I have been so tired of the trampy look favored by students on so many college campuses I was considering coming to work dressed for a "toga party" to demonstrate how flattering fashions from the ancient world could be!

"It has travelled all the way from the shores of the Aegean sea... and the portals of time. The flowing, graceful robes worn by the Ancient Greeks and their Goddesses are inspiring the current fashion scene.

It's a look that is all about elegance and femininity.

All the top designers have gone overboard for the look that adorned the curves of Aphrodite, the love goddess who rose from the waves.

Stunning Greek-inspired gowns by Versace, Alberta Ferretti and the label everyone who is anyone is currently going crazy over, Marchesa, have graced the A-listers on many a red carpet in recent months."
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Bulgarian Tomb Inscriptions Reveal Importance of Thracian King

Professor Konstantin Boshnakov from Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski" announced Friday that two unique inscriptions that he recently discovered in the Thracian tomb in the Bulgarian town of Kazanluk reveal the importance of Thracian King Roygos.

"In the last year, Boshnakov conducted the first in Bulgaria testing in the Kazanluk tomb to search for inscriptions.

The two inscriptions that he found on the walls of the tomb about three meters above the floor state: "Kodzimases painted" and "Roygos, Son of Sevt".

The inscriptions provide new invaluable information about the history of Ancient Thrace casting light on the names of two previously only vaguely known figures.

The name of the Thracian ruler Roygos had been known only from the coins minted at his time. The Bulgarian archeologists and historians thought he was an insignificant regional ruler in what is today southeast Bulgaria.

After Boshnakov's findings, it is now certain that Roygos was not only an important Thracian king in 4th-3rd century B.C. but also the son of the founder of the Thracian capital Sevtopolis King Sevt III."
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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Viking Chieftain's Grave Discovered in Ireland

"One of the Vikings' most important trading centres has been discovered in Ireland.

The settlement at Woodstown in County Waterford is estimated to be about 1,200 years old.

It was discovered during archaeological excavations for a road by-pass for Waterford city, which was founded by the Vikings.

Almost 6,000 artefacts and a Viking chieftain's grave have been discovered at the site, which was established by the year 860 [CE]. The grave contains a sword, shield and silver mark.

The working group report said the discoveries of silver and lead weights showed it was "apparent that Woodstown falls firmly into the Scandinavian tradition."

"There can be little doubt that many, if not all of the settlement's occupants were either Scandinavian, or had strong insular Scandinavian associations," it said."

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Japanese Royal Tomb opened to scholars

"A rare visit by archaeologists to a fifth-century imperial tomb offers hope that other closely guarded graves in Japan might soon be open to independent study. This month a group of 16 experts led by the Japanese Archaeological Association released results from their February visit inside Gosashi tomb.

The event marked the first time that scholars had been allowed inside a royal tomb outside of an official excavation led by Japan's Imperial Household Agency.

Archaeologists have been requesting access to Gosashi tomb and other imperial sites since 1976, in part because the tombs date to the founding of a central Japanese state under imperial rule.

Gosashi tomb in western Japan's Nara Prefecture is revered as the resting place of Empress Jingu, the semi-legendary wife of the country's 14th emperor.

Jingu is thought to have ruled as regent for her son starting around A.D. 200.

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Macedonian archaeology receives government boost

Skupi is one of the most important archaeological sites in Macedonia and one of the largest late-ancient Roman cities on the Balkans. Its beginnings can be traced back to the first century B.C. Macedonia's Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski visited Tuesday the Skupi site, where systematic research of the former ancient Roman city kicked off a month ago with financial support provided by the Government.

Gruevski announced financial support from the Government in the field of archaeology in 2009 by investing in 11 essential sites - further uncovering of the city of Philip II - Heraklea, additional research of Stobi, Marvinci near Valandovo, the Vinica Fortress, Isar near Stip, the Tetovo and Skopje Fortress and Stibera (Prilep region).
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