Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Viewing King Tut's Tomb Through Howard Carter's Eyes

I see that my friends from Heritage Key got a chance to travel to Manchester, England to see the Tutankhamun: His Tomb and His Treasures' exhibition. When I first heard about this exhibition, I emailed the organizers and asked if it was scheduled for any appearances in the United States but unfortunately, they said no. I was really disappointed because I think people here would find it so interesting to view one of history's most important archaeological discoveries in the context that Howard Carter explored in 1922.

At least here in the United States you can view museum quality replicas of many of the artifacts from King Tut's Tomb at the Las Vegas Museum of Natural History. These replicas, authorized by the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, once composed a popular exhibit at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas. When the Luxor decided to change their theme in 2008, the exhibit was donated to the nearby museum.

I was so relieved to hear the exhibit would not be discarded as I had enjoyed touring the exhibit every time I visited Las Vegas until my last visit in September 2008. The quality of the replicas is so good that when I attended the current King Tut exhibit when it was displayed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, I saw several of the actual items whose replicas I had seen in the Luxor Hotel exhibit and must honestly say if the real item and the replica had been displayed side by side I would not have been able to point out the original.

Here's a slideshow of the items I saw in Las Vegas:

The Complete Tutankhamun: The King, the Tomb, the Royal Treasure (King Tut)   National Geographic: King Tut's Final Secrets   Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs: Official Companion Book to the Exhibition sponsored by National Geographic   King Tut - The Face of Tutankhamun   In the Valley of the Kings: Howard Carter and the Mystery of King Tutankhamun's Tomb
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Monday, November 22, 2010

Circassian warrior found in 14th century tomb

Warrior of Circassia during the Russian-Circas...Image via WikipediaA Circassian warrior armed with a sabre and arrows, has been found in a 14th century tomb by Russian archeologists in an ancient barrow in Teuchezhsky Region of Adygeya. Other grave goods included an ornamented silver vessel and a delicately shaped blue jug.

When I saw this notice on the Russian-IC website, I was immediately curious since I knew nothing about these tribal people of the Caucasus.   Fortunately, I found a very detailed description of a 19th century Circassian warrior written by British traveler in 1836 and assume much of the 19th century costume reflected earlier traditions as well except for accessories related to firearms -  compound bows and arrows, sabers and daggers were the primary weapons in the 14th century. These weapons co-existed with firearms for a time in the early 18th century but were no longer worn after that time.

The usual dress of a Circassian warrior of all classes is a tunic resembling a military Polonaise, without a collar, closely fitted to the body, and descending to the knee, secured around the middle by a leather girdle, ornamented, according to the wealth or fancy of the wearer, with gold or silver, in which are stuck a pair of pistols and a poniard: the latter is a most formidable weapon in close combat; during an attack they hold it in the left hand, and from its breadth and length, reaching to the elbow, it serves every purpose of a shield.

In addition to this, the Circassian is armed with a light gun, slung across the shoulder, and a sabre suspended by a silk cord in the Turkish fashion; attached to the belt is a powder flask, and a small metal box containing flints, steel, gun-screws, oil, and, not infrequently, a small hatchet. Hence, a Circassian, whether on foot, or on horseback, is at all times completely armed. Sometimes he carries a javelin, which he uses with singular dexterity and effect, hurling it to a considerable distance with an aim that never errs. The latter weapon is also used as a rest for the rifle, having a groove at the top expressly for that purpose. Bows and arrows are now very rarely used, except in cases where it is necessary to arm the whole population.

On either side of the breast of the coat are the patron pockets, made of morocco leather, usually containing twenty-four rounds of ball cartridge: these not only add to the military appearance of the soldier, but in some measure protect the breast, and are extremely convenient: a round fur cap, with a crown the same colour as the ammunition pocket, is the covering for the head; and cloth trousers, in the eastern fashion, complete the costume. Princes and nobles are alone entitled to the privilege of wearing red; and the Circassian, like the natives of most other eastern countries, shave the head, and are never seen barefoot. When marching, or on a journey, they always add a cloak made from camel or goat's-hair, with a hood which completely envelopes the whole person – this is called a tchaouka [щIакIуэ]..." - Circassian World

Royal Circassian war costume.  Image
courtesy of Circassian World
I was fascinated to learn that the Circassian ideal warrior would have broad shoulders and a very narrow waist.  To create the ideal proportions in their children, Circassians would use leather straps to bind the waist, especially in the case of noble male offspring.

The tomb found recently, however, did not contain chain mail armor so the occupant was probably not of noble birth.  However, its contents may be some of the earliest examples of medieval Circassian weaponry found so far.

"There is a large collection of late medieval Circassian swords and daggers found at excavation sites near Maikop displayed in the Historical Museum of Moscow. Some of the exhibits had inscriptions and were dated to the 16th and 17th centuries AD. There has also been a large haul of weapons unearthed in Kabardian sepulchral mounds that go back to the 15th to 16th centuries AD. These finds represent the Eastern Circassian version of the Belorechenskaya Culture (Belorechenskaya is situated to the northwest of Maikop) in Adigea." - Circassian World

I highly recommend reading the comprehensive article about this fascinating culture on the Circassian World website as it includes a wealth of information and images of both male and female costumes as well as further discussion of their weapons and lifestyle.
Circassian History   A Year among the Circassians: Volume 1   Caucasus: A Journey to the Land between Christianity and Islam  Highlanders: A Journey to the Caucasus in Quest of Memory  The Sabres of Paradise: Conquest and Vengeance in the Caucasus, Revised Edition  
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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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