Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Ghost Towns

On the road looking for apartments, so not much time for an update, but I wanted to call people's attention to this site, which lists the "10 Most Amazing Ghost Towns." It's interesting as an example of the many ways in which settlements become abandoned, and the various post-occupational lives they may experience. Many of the processes seen in the pictures are paralleled in excavations of ancient places. Archaeological deposits being created as we speak!

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Capitoline Wolf a Creation of the Middle Ages?

Major changes are in store for me in the near future, which is why updates were absent last week. Moreover, writing posts ahead of time only works if I remember to bring them to work with me. At any rate. blogging will continue as planned with some irregularity likely over the next couple of weeks as I relocate.

Fairly big news has been reported by the Italian newspaper La Repubblica and by the BBC (latter in English). The famed “Capitoline Wolf”, pictured above, has been carbon-dated and shown to date to the Middle Ages, and not circa 500 BC as is previously thought. None of the articles give much detail about the precise technique used, and I haven’t seen the paper, so I cannot elaborate. One doesn’t normally associate C14 dating with bronze but I assume that there were carbon impurities in the alloy which allowed the procedure to be performed.

The wolf is considered a symbol of the city of Rome, as according to myth a she-wolf suckled the twins Romulus and Remus after they were exposed by their father. The wolf was an important symbol to the early Romans, as she appears on Republican coins and according to ancient authors there was a famous bronze statue of the wolf and twins in the city.

The statue in question has long been thought to be that wolf, although the figures of the children were added in the Renaissance. It appears as an example of Etruscan metalwork and sculpture in all the textbooks. If the finding of the Italian scholars hold up, however, those texts will have to be changed.

Doubt was first cast on the statue’s date in 2006, when an Italian scholar published an article arguing that it was produced in a single piece via a wax mold – a technique used on such a large scale only in the Middle Ages. Although the Greeks and Romans knew the lost-wax method, it was mainly used for small figurines, whereas larger statues were cast in pieces then assembled.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Update to Colored Ancient Sculpture

Here is a link to some more of the reconstructions, although the text is in German.

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Monday, July 7, 2008

Royal tombs discovered at Abydos

Via Yahoo! News, a report from Egypt that archaeologists there have discovered a complex of 13 tombs at Abydos dating to the Old Kingdom, although the report says "3000 B.C.," which would place them in the 1st Dynasty, a period sometimes called Early Dynastic and distinguished from the Old Kingdom beginning in the 3rd Dynasty -- just sloppiness or an indication that these are particularly old? The tombs are possibly 'royal' according to the story, which just means possibly tombs of queens or high-ranking court officials and not Pharaohs. I'll post more details as they become available.

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Adding color to the ancient world

(Image copyright Stiftung Archäologie, Munich)

The Smithsonian's website has an interesting article on research by Vinzenz Brinkmann on the use of paint on ancient sculpture. It's been known for a long time that most ancient marble sculpture was painted, although in most cases the paint has disappeared, leaving the familiar white surface. There have been numerous attempts to illustrate what ancient sculpture may have looked like. But while Brinkmann's work is not particularly novel, the article does have some nice reconstructions created by Brinkmann using evidence he has collected, such as traces of paint on the stone. Some of his creations, such as the particolored Amazon archer above, are incorporate substantially more guesswork, but nonetheless are quite plausible. Many of these reconstructions toured last year in the 'Gods in Color' exhibition.

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Friday, July 4, 2008

George Washington's boyhood home uncovered

This has gotten quite a bit of attention, so I thought it deserved a post. Ferry Farm, a plantation outside of Fredericksburg, VA and the site of George Washington's boyhood home, has been discovered by archaeologists. CNN has a lengthy article here with pictures and video. Excavations have been ongoing for three years -- there wasn't any 'aha!' discovery recently that warranted all the attention, but merely the decision to make an official announcement. Slate's Explainer talks about some of the details of excavation and recording, including just what you do with half a million artifacts.

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Thursday, July 3, 2008

A ways to go

Via Pharyngula, a link to the Top 100 Liberal Arts Professor blogs. No surprise Bad Archaeology isn't on the list (not posting for months and not technically being a professor will do that), but not one archaeology, classics or ancient history blog makes the list! They do list squadratomagico, a medieval history blog, and The Cranky Professor has an occasional post on an ancient topic (mainly dealing with Italy), but that's pretty thin gruel.

That's something we are going to have to rectify.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Obama is not Xerxes

I try to avoid general political issues here, since that's not the topic of this blog, but some doofus named Christopher Cook has issued a call to arms against liberals and stinky evil people based on what appears to be too many hours spent watching 300.

Some choice comments:

These Greek city-states are showing the first stirrings of real democratic governance. A much greater percentage of people in Greece enjoy true freedom than in any of the neighboring lands. And it is about to fall under the yoke of a dictatorship.

What happens if Leonides fails? Does the Grecian experiment in democracy fail too, as Greece is trampled under by Xerxes and his army of slaves?

If the Greek cradle of democracy had fallen, Rome would not have absorbed its ideals.

If Rome hadn't taken those ideals and spread them into the Western world, where would those ideals be today? How far along would the ideas of representative governance be?

Without the Roman example, what would Great Britain have become? Would she have produced the Magna Carta? Would she have produced us, or any of the other nations of the Anglosphere—the freest nations in human history?
As I noted in my review here, Sparta is about the last place you would look for the foundations of modern liberal democracy. With a strict hierarchy of classes based on birth, slavery for most of the population, militarism, religious superstition, lack of interest in the outside world, and no scientific achievements to speak of, Sparta was the wart on the backside of Greek civilization. Not to mention that if Xerxes' invasion had succeeded, the effect on Roman political development would have been minimal, since Rome became a Republic in 509 B.C. (or thereabouts; that is the conventional date), nearly 30 years before Thermopylae.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose?

An interesting article here from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. In short, archaeologists working in Australia are questioning whether reconstructions based on studies of modern aborigines are really applicable to people living on the continent tens of thousands of years ago.

Ethnographic parallels are used all the time in archaeology. Few archaeologists were raised in agrarian or pastoral societies with low technology, so studying traditional societies is a good way to learn about aspects of pre-modern life that we otherwise would remain ignorant of. Anthropological study can also tell us much about the relationships between people and the objects they use that otherwise would be impossible to reconstruct from the archaeological record.

But how reliable is this methodology? Australia would seem to be an ideal case for its application. After all, when Europeans first discovered the continent, the inhabitants were living in a manner that seemed particularly 'primitive,' with no agriculture (with a few exceptions), use of metals, or permanent architecture. They also had a cultural memory that, in their belief, stretched back millennia. On the other hand, human cultures are never really static, nor has the environment of Australia remained unchanged for 40,000+ years. Of course, "change" is a relative term -- particularly given the rapid rate of cultural and technological change in the developed world. I invite any readers to share their thoughts in the comments.

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