Tuesday, July 17, 2012

More updates on the political messes surrounding Babylon

A very wide-ranging article about the political struggles between UNESCO, various branches of the Iraqi government, the US military, and assorted scholars. Meanwhile, the oil pipeline continues to cross the site, groudwater is rising, ancient Jewish manuscripts have been removed from the country, and UNESCO refuses to certify the place as a World Heritage Site. Everybody is mad. The Iraqi antiquities department is suing the Iraqi energy department over the pipeline. A government official quoted at the end of the article says they don't need UNESCO; "Babylon will survive." Maybe not.

New mosaics found in Israel at Huqoq

This story made several news outlets; this one comes from the website of Prof. Jodi Magness of UNC, who participated in the dig. Several nice mosaics were found in a synagogue dated 4th-6th c. CE in the area of Galilee. Synagogues of this period are rare, as are large high-quality mosaics like these, which depict the biblical figure Samson.

Mohenjo-Daro site in danger of destruction through neglect

I realize the government of Pakistan has some other items on its agenda, but Mohenjo-Daro is an incredibly early and important site, a large honest-to-god city from 2500 BCE. It is literally falling down due to neglect and bad, amateurish conservation attempts. This is a major site in the history of civilization, and people everywhere should contribute to its survival.
On the bright side, this depressing news report contains a great piece of video that shows you around the site!

Prominent Coin Collector Pleads Guilty to Selling Forgeries

This man, a bigwig in the world of numismatics (coin study), put a 4th century BCE Greek silver tetradrachm up for auction at a big sale at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in NYC. Investigators taped him admitting to someone that the coins had been illegally removed from Italy--bad enough to get you into some deep trouble. But he was lying. They hadn't been removed illegally--they had been totally forged, "fefaked" (to quote the Praenestine fibula, which should know about these things). He was sentenced to 1) turn over a bunch of coins in his possession, 2) perform community service, and 3) write/publish an essay about Why Coin Smuggling and Faking is Wrong. Note the cameo appearance by our hero Colonel/Manhattan Assistant DA Matthew Bogdanos (lawyer and classicist, who investigated the looting of the Baghdad Museum while in Iraq with the US Marines).

Gandharan art intercepted from smugglers in Pakistan

People are "excavating" Gandharan artifacts in Taliban-controlled areas of Pakistan and planning to truck it overland through Central Asia to Europe. The Pakistani police caught some of it...but broke several pieces trying to get them off the truck. Good news, bad news. The article includes a nice picture of part of the haul. Police claim they are now trying to be more careful handling the stuff.

More on early migrations to North America

This is a more scientific article about the new evidence for early migrations to America. Evidence is based on DNA analysis and on (one of my favorite words) coprolites--fossilized feces (because this is a British publication, they use the spelling "faeces," which looks very Latin!).

Heat Wave in Athens

OMG. Temperatures on Acropolis reached 107F, so the place closed down early (Monday, July 16). Another reason I'm glad I didn't go to Greece this summer. I would have baked AND gotten mad at being thrown out! (By the way, this story refers to the "Acropolis Hill"--a silly term. The Acropolis, by definition, is a hill.)

Composite mummies in Scotland

Pay no attention to the stupid "Frankenstein" reference in the headline. It just refers to the fact that these skeletons, found in a very ancient house in the Hebrides, seem to be made up of pieces of bone from several different people, reassembled into two full skeltons. Weird. Also weird is the fact that the bodies seem to have been wrapped up and preserved in a mummy-like process. This area, too, seem to be the subject of a lot of new finds that are causing theories about early inhabitants of the British Isles to be revised.

When did people first arrive in North America?

It seems like this picture is changing very quickly. Lot of new theories.

New Australopithecus Find

A very extensive set of Australopithecus bones found in South Africa.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

More Violence in Mali/Timbuktu

This article is actually long enough to give me some context about the situation in Mali. "Islamists" (whatever that means) "linked to" Al-Quaeda are destroying sites such as this 15th century mosque--sites which are linked to Sufi worship as well as to the ruling government, which isn't doing too well. Some other tombs were destroyed the other day. Apparently, there's one fight: rebels vs. government, which has been hijacked by Islamists vs. Sufis. I am always appalled by Muslim-on-Muslim violence, until I remind myself of the long history of Christian-on-Christian violence. But this article illustrates the danger of writing this off as an internal Muslim squabble, or as just the destruction of old stuff: the Islamists now control an area of Mali the size of France, and this area may become a haven for their guys who have to bug out of their current hiding places. So pay attention to fights that destroy cultural monuments! They may turn into fights that threaten security!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Please breath slowly and relax. The world is not ending.

Deep breath. Accelerator mass spectrometry and radiocarbon testing reveal that the Capitoline She-Wolf, Lupa Herself, was cast in bronze in the 11th or 12th century. A.D. or C.E., whatever your preference. Yep. (Who knew that bronze casting left organic residue that could be radiocarbon dated? Wait a minute: what's the deal with that? Does residue date the entire object?)
Compromise theory: medieval copy of Etruscan original. Sure. Whatever.
Hey, why'd we ever think it was Etruscan to begin with? Winckelmann said it was, based on (you guessed it) stylistic analysis.
Can we stop listening to him now?

Oldest Pottery found in China: Pre-dates agriculture

Damn. Must revise Humanities lecture again. Pottery seems to have existed among hunter-gatherers some 20,000 years ago. This defies conventional wisdom that said pottery was only invented after agriculture came along, i.e., after we settled down and needed to store up lots of stuff in durable containers. Hunter-gatherers, we were told, couldn't be bothered with heavy pots. Apparently, maybe they could. Warning: conclusions based on fragment of one pot.

Threats to Cultural Monuments in Mali


Monuments destroyed in Mali

Sorry I can't help explain this much, since I have failed to follow the situation in Mali. There was a previous article on CNN.com about violence in Timbuktu, which I will also post.