Monday, January 7, 2008
The temperature got up to 63 degrees today and with the rain that came along, what was left of the snow cover after this warm weekend has almost disappeared.
While I was at the office today, blissfully unaware of the fierce storms outside, at least one tornado hit in Kenosha County this afternoon and high winds and strong thunderstorms rolled through the area. The weather folks are calling this a once in 100 years event (except we had one in January in 1967). Right now things have calmed down, although the walk home from the bus tonight was a bit spooky. When I got off the bus it wasn't raining; I stopped at the supermarket; loaded down with two bags of groceries, of course it started raining when I was half-way across the large parking lot headed toward the street corner. Then it stopped. Then it started. Then it stopped again. Then it poured for about 1 second. Then it stopped. And so on and so on all the way home (9 blocks plus a bit once I hit the corner). Looking up, I could see areas of clear sky, and flashes of lightning, in between bursts of rain. A few minutes ago, it was pouring outside, now it has subsided again.
There were no tornadoes around here and I saw no evidence of wind damage on the walk home tonight, but Kenosha County and other counties to the west got hammered. The main worry here is flooding - and the fog. Yesterday there were two fatalities in the Madison area in two separate pile-ups on the highway "caused" by thick fog. Even as I was walking home I could see the ground fog rising due to the temperature differential.
Sunday, January 6, 2008
A long, bone-chilling horror story.
From the archives of Archaeology Magazine online
Special Report: Saga of the Persian Princess
Number 1, January/February 2001
by Kristin M. Romey and Mark Rose
In a dangerous corner of the world, uneasy neighbors clamor for the gilded remains of a mummified noblewoman. Trouble is, she's a fraud.
The bizarre tale of a mummy adorned with a cuneiform-inscribed gold plaque identifying it as a 2,600-year-old Persian princess, perhaps, according to one translation, a daughter of the king Xerxes, began trickling out of Pakistan this past October. Found during a murder investigation, the mummy, an amalgam of Egyptian and Persian elements, had evidently been for sale on the black market for a cool $11 million. While archaeologists in Karachi tried to make sense of the mummy, a dispute between Iran and Pakistan broke out over its ownership. Afghanistan's Taliban regime hinted that they, too, might claim it. Then, one November day, thousands of miles from where the mummy lay in Pakistan's National Museum under the watchful eye of armed guards, ARCHAEOLOGY was shown documents identifying the Persian princess as a fraud.
According to newspaper reports, Pakistani authorities learned of the mummy in mid-October, when they received a tip that Karachi resident Ali Akbar had a video tape showing a mummy he was selling. After interrogation, Akbar led police to the remains, which were being kept in the house of tribal leader Wali Mohammad Reeki in Quetta, capital of Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan Province, which borders Iran and Afghanistan. Reeki told police he had received the mummy from Sharif Shah Bakhi, an Iranian who allegedly found it after an earthquake in a nearby town. Reeki and Bakhi had agreed to sell the mummy and split the profits; Akbar's role is less clear. Reeki said an unidentified representative of an anonymous foreign buyer had offered 60 million rupees ($1.1 million) for the mummy, well below the 600 million rupee ($11 million) asking price. Reeki and Akbar were charged with violating Pakistan's Antiquity Act, which carries a ten-year maximum sentence; Bakhi remains at large.
The mummy was brought to the National Museum in Karachi as news of it spread quickly through the local and international press. In an October 26 press conference, clips of which appeared on NBC's evening news, archaeologist Ahmed Hasan Dani of Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad announced that the mummy, wrapped in Egyptian style and resting in a wooden coffin carved with cuneiform writing and images of the Zoroastrian deity Ahura Mazda, was that of a princess dated to ca. 600 B.C.
Museum officials shared results of a preliminary examination of the mummy and its inscriptions with a hungry press: her remains lay atop a mat coated with a mixture of wax and honey and were covered by a stone slab with additional cuneiform inscriptions; her name was Khor-ul-Gayan or Tundal Gayan; and she may have been the daughter of Karoosh-ul-Kabir, first ruler of Persia's Khamam-ul-Nishiyan Dynasty. Alternatively, Dani said, the mummy could be of an Egyptian princess, married to a Persian prince during the reign of Cyrus I (640-590 B.C.), whose body had been preserved following the custom of her own country. Various theories circulated about how it came to Quetta. National Museum curator Asma Ibrahim suggested it may have been looted from a tomb in the Hamadan region of western Iran or the southwestern Pakistani area of Kharan.
Shortly after the press conference, the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization, claiming the mummy was of a member of the Persian royal family, said it would take legal action through UNESCO for its return. Salim-ul-Haq, director of Pakistan's Archaeological Department's Headquarters, retorted that the mummy was found in Kharan in Balochistan Province, "which is one hundred percent Pakistani territory. The mummy is property of Pakistan." At that point, Iran said it was cooperating with Interpol for the mummy's return. Pakistan's foreign minister warned against politicizing the issue, while the Taliban, the rulers of most of Afghanistan, demanded that their archaeologists play a role in deciding its ownership.
There were divisions even within Pakistan. A petition filed with the Balochistan High Court asked for the return of the princess to Quetta, claiming the police raid in which it was seized had been illegal and that the action had "spread panic among the people of Balochistan, who felt deprived of their cultural, historic, and valuable heritage." The Awan tribe of Balochistan, saying the inscriptions proved the princess belonged to the Awan royal family of Hika Munshi, asked that the mummy be moved immediately to the local Kallar Kahar Fossils Museum.
While the conflict continued, there were subtle signs the Pakistanis were not sure exactly what they were keeping under guard in their National Museum. The local press reported that insurance companies were reluctant to cover the mummy until its legitimacy was proven. Dani insisted it was of Egyptian origin, pointing out that mummification was not practiced in Iran or Iraq, and conceded that the cuneiform inscriptions may have been added by smugglers after the body was taken out of Egypt.
Possibly in response to Dani's assertions, Iran fired back, claiming that an Italian archaeologist had translated the inscription, presumably through examining photographs, and confirmed that the mummy was of a member of the ancient Persian royal family.
Two weeks after the discovery first hit the press, Oscar White Muscarella of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and author of The Lie Became Great: The Forgery of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures (see "Scourge of the Forgery Culture," this issue), visited ARCHAEOLOGY's offices, where we asked for his thoughts on the Persian princess. While unaware of the recent find, Muscarella volunteered that its description sounded remarkably similar to photographs of a gold-adorned mummy sent to him last March by a New Jersey resident on behalf of an unidentified dealer in Pakistan--in fact, they were the same.
Muscarella had received four photographs of a mummy in a wooden coffin, replete with golden crown, mask, and inscribed breastplate. An accompanying letter stated that the mummy was owned by a Pakistani acquaintance and was brought by Zoroastrian families many years ago from Iran to Pakistan. The author claimed that the mummy was the daughter of the Persian king Xerxes, referring to an attached one-page translation of the cuneiform inscription on the breastplate. The owners, he wrote, had a video of the mummy--most likely the same video found with Ali Akbar in Karachi--that could be sent to New York if the museum was interested in purchasing the princess.
Muscarella, who suspected immediately that the mummy was a fraud, contacted the translator of the inscription, a cuneiform expert at a major American university, and found out that the dealer's New Jersey representative had not given him the complete analysis of it. The inscription does indeed contain the line "I am the daughter of the great king Xerxes," as well as a sizeable chunk lifted straight from a famous inscription of the king Darius (522-486 B.C.) at Behistun in western Iran. The Behistun inscription, which records the king's accomplishments, dates to 520-519 B.C., substantially later than the 600 B.C. date proposed for the mummy. The second page of analysis listed several problems with the mummy's inscription that led the scholar to believe that its author wrote in a manner inconsistent with Old Persian. The inscription, he concluded, was likely a modern falsification, probably dating "from no earlier than the 1930s."
Convinced that the scholar's twentieth-century date was incorrect, the dealer's representative apparently sent a small piece of the wooden coffin to a carbon-dating lab. The results indicated it was approximately 250 years old "which cannot be called modern," complained the representative in a follow-up letter to the cuneiform expert.
Muscarella politely broke off communications with the man. Seven months later, police raided the house in Quetta and the Persian princess surfaced again--this time under the glare of the international press.
ARCHAEOLOGY has submitted Muscarella's documentation to federal authorities, who have forwarded the matter to Interpol. Hopefully, by the time this article goes to press, the dispute between uneasy neighbors in a dangerous corner of the world will be resolved. While the Persian princess may be a fraud, perhaps a genuine Egyptian mummy with forged Persian additions, she is a reminder of the powerful emotions that can be sparked by unprecedented, or unbelievable, archaeological discoveries.
Kristin M. Romey is assistant managing editor and Mark Rose is managing editor of ARCHAEOLOGY.
From BBC Online, a summary of a BBC television show about the Persian Princess mummy first shown on September 20, 2001:
As scientists investigated more closely, it became clear that this mummy had an even darker history. Computerised tomography (CT) scans and X-ray photographs of the body inside the mummy revealed that this was no ancient corpse but a woman who had died in the recent past, and that her neck was broken. An autopsy confirmed that this woman may indeed have been murdered to provide a body for the fakers to mummify - a body they intended to pass off as an ancient mummy for millions of dollars on the international art black market. And, finally there is evidence to suggest that they have done this not once but three times, raising the spectre of a mummy factory and the terrifying thought of yet more victims.
More gruesome details.
From David Meadows, who hosts rogueclassicism at the Atrium:
Remember that supposed Persian Mummy from a few years ago which turned out to be a hoax? Ever wonder what happened to it? Reuters (via Yahoo) gives the details:
After years of lying in cold storage, the mummified body of a young woman once thought to be an ancient Persian princess will be buried later this month by a Pakistani welfare group.
Found in Pakistan's southwestern city of Quetta in 2000, the body was at the centre of an archaeological and diplomatic dispute for two years before scientists at Pakistan's Atomic Research Council pronounced it just 20 years old.
Iran swiftly withdrew claims on the mummy that some people believed had been stolen by grave robbers from burial grounds of the Sasani dynasty, which ruled ancient Persia between the Fourth and Eighth Centuries.
Touted as a major archaeological find until it was debunked, Pakistan's provincial governments of Baluchistan and Sindh had also squabbled over whose museum had first rights. But when nobody wanted it, the Karachi-based Edhi Foundation, Pakistan's largest private social welfare organisation took in the homeless corpse.
"It has been lying in our cold storage mortuary for the last three years," Rizwan Edhi, the trust's administrator, said on Friday, adding that preserving the body had cost $8,000. "We will bury it later this month as no one is willing to claim it now." Posted by david meadows on Sat, Aug 06, 2005 at 7:08 AM
And so the sad tale ended with the burial of the young woman. Someone out there must know who she was in life, even if they were not willing to claim her in death. Shame, shame on the culture that would condone this kind of treatment of its women.
Saturday, January 5, 2008
From the Evening Times online
I’ve cracked mystery of the Holy Grail
by Wendy Miller
Publication date 26/12/07
A GLASGOW historian believes he may have solved the world's most ancient mystery - and found the Holy Grail.
Mark Oxbrow is preparing to export his amazing discovery to the US leaving fans of book and movie blockbuster the Da Vinci Code with a new theory to consider.
During a trip to Paris, Mark, 36, from the West End, stumbled across what he believes is the real Holy Grail - and it's not a bloodline between Jesus and Mary Magdalene as claimed in the book and film.
While exploring medieval treasures in the Louvre, Mark found a green gem-encrusted serving dish which he thinks could have been used at the Last Supper.
Amazingly the French national treasure dates back to the time of Christ, matching descriptions of the Grail.
Mark's discovery is documented in a new book which has already sold thousands of copies - and is due to hit US and French bookstores in the New Year.
Mark's curiosity was aroused when he and wife Jill spotted the Patene de Serpentine tucked away in the medieval section of the Louvre Museum.
Back home Mark, a former Glasgow University lecturer, started to research the dish's origins, a trail that lead him closer and closer to the Holy Grail, the mystery which has confounded historians for centuries.
For hundreds of years now scholars and theologians have been unable to agree, even on the meaning of the Grail.
It used to be thought of as either the cup used to catch Christ's blood during his crucifixion or a dish used at the Last Supper.
Another theory is that the Grail is merely a Christian symbol while the Da Vinci Code controversially depicts it as the bloodline between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
French poet Chretien de Troyes wrote numerous stories about the Grail which Mark's research links to the Patene, used to serve mass wafers in the sacred ceremonies of the French royal court from the 12th century onwards.
Mark, a historian and folklorist, said: "It's impossible to prove 100% that the Patene de Serpentine is the real Holy Grail.
"But the Patene is a sacred medieval treasure that perfectly matches every detail of the earliest descriptions of the Grail.
"It was in the right place at the right time.
"There is certainly a lot of interest in the theory."
Dating back to 100BC and 100AD, the dish is also engraved with tiny golden fish, an early symbol of Christianity.
An A to Z of King Arthur and the Holy Grail by Simon Cox and Mark Oxbrow is out now on Mainstream Publishing priced £12.99.
"Christian" fish symbols engraved on a dish used at the pre-Christian Jewish ceremony of Passover? Yeah, right.
Anything attributed to Jesus (and/or martyrs) coming out of the so-called Christian medieval period is automatically suspect in my book. I was, however, intrigued by the name of this dish because of the "serpetine," and did some further research on it.
After reading more about the piece, it appears that the name "serpentine" is the name of the green stone used in the center of the dish. It could also, on an outside shot, possibly apply to the pattern of the stone inset in the gold "trim" around the green stone base of the dish, which rather resembles the "scales" on a serpent. I'm still not quite clear on all of this, even after reading this entry at the Louvre Museum:
Original website (in French). Babelfish translation to English (as best I can figure out):
The patène consists of a saucer serpentine encrusted with gold fish, probably dating from the first century and a mount of gold adorned with stones, which are developing between the grounds of silverware compartmentalized, an association that we found until the beginning of the eleventh century.
She [it] accompanied at Saint-Denis' cut of the Ptolemies, "kantharos agate which was adapted mount goldsmith similar to patène (Paris, National Library, Cabinet Medal).
The treasure of Saint-Denis
The Patene serpentine from the treasure of Saint-Denis. In sandyonisienne history, it was always associated with the antique vase-cameo of Sardonyx (white and orange agate), sculptured reliefs bachiques nicknamed Cup Ptolemies. Both served at religious ceremonies queens of France at Saint-Denis, from the fifteenth century, the abbey acting as the coronation place of queens. Both remained famous works together in the treasury until 1791. At that time, the chalice was tabled to the Cabinet of Antiques. Stolen in 1804, but he [it] was found without his mount, which had been fondue: it is always kept at Cabinet today Medal of the National Library. However, the integration patène collections of the Museum since 1793.
The serpentine patène
It consists of two distinct and different epochs. The quality of the size of the apparent patène best works of the ancient glyptique before the first century and the first century AD, marbled dark green of the serpentine is inlaid with eight small gold fish (including Both [two?] are missing), probably added at the time of the Roman Empire for the liturgical use of the object.
The patronage of Charles the Bald in Saint-Denis
At the Carolingian period, the kantharos of sardonyx was transformed into a chalice from adding a foot decorated with a circular node decorated with precious stones. The elegant dish stone lasts lived also set with a set of silverware compartmentalized where gemstones embedded around pearls, garnets, colored glasses. The border compartmentalized illustrates the art of goldsmiths of the court of Charles the Bald, whose art reflected other objects prestigious offered by the king in Saint-Denis as the cross and the altar of gold disappeared today.
Friday, January 4, 2008
UVa to return looted Greek statues
By Brian McNeill
January 4, 2008
The University of Virginia announced Thursday that it will return to Italy two ancient Greek sculptures of the goddesses Demeter and Persephone - nearly three decades after they were looted from Sicily by tomb raiders.
The extremely rare and valuable acroliths - created around 525 B.C. out of cloth, wood and Greek island marble - were donated to UVa in 2002 and have been on display at the university’s art museum for the past five years.
“We’re honored that we had them,” said UVa art history professor Malcolm Bell III. “We took good care of them. A lot of students saw them and learned from them. Now we’re happy to return them to Italy.”
The life-size acrolith statues were originally displayed inside a temple in Morgantina, an ancient Greek settlement near what is now the Italian city of Aidone. They are believed to represent Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture and grain, and her daughter Persephone, or Kore, the queen of the underworld.
UVa has kept mum about who donated the statues to its museum.
However, the New York Times reported in September that New York diamond merchant and philanthropist Maurice Tempelsman previously owned the acroliths.
Upon receiving the statues in 2002, UVa negotiated a deal to keep them for five years, with the understanding that they would be returned to Italy afterward. The Italian government endorsed the deal.
To mark the return of the sculptures, UVa will host a symposium Feb. 2 titled “The Goddesses Return.” Following the event - which will feature discussions on museum ethics, the antiquities market and archaeological preservation - members of the Italian police, called carabinieri, will escort the acroliths back to Italy.
“We’re very pleased and grateful and happy to be getting these magnificent statues back,” said Silvia Limoncini, a cultural counselor of the Italian Embassy in Washington. “It’s an example of the excellent relationship between Italy and the United States.”
Since their discovery in 1978, the two acroliths have traveled the world via the black market of looted antiquities. According to the New York Times, they were smuggled through Switzerland and surfaced in a London showroom in 1980. Tempelsman bought the acroliths from the London dealer for $1 million, the newspaper reported, adding that there is no indication that Tempelsman knew they had a potentially shady origin.
In the late 1980s, the statues were on display at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. But after an Italian prosecutor notified the museum that they were possibly illegally excavated, the acroliths were returned to Tempelsman.
According to a report in Forbes magazine, the Italian government began negotiating with Tempelsman in the 1990s for the return of the acroliths. Under the deal, the statues would be given to an institution, which would hold them for a time before turning them over to Italy.
The fact that UVa is returning the sculptures next month is a rare educational opportunity, said Elizabeth Hutton Turner, UVa’s vice provost for the arts and interim director of the art museum.
“This is a great moment for the university and a great moment for the museum,” she said. “It’s a lesson to our students that we can do the right thing and that we can be good stewards of antiquities.”
Upon the acroliths’ return to Italy, they will be displayed at a museum in Aidone. In the coming years, the sculptures will be joined by other priceless works of repatriated art from American museums. For example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is returning 16 pieces of silver that were snatched from Morgantina. Also, the J. Paul Getty Trust is sending the museum a looted sculpture of Aphrodite.
The return of the acroliths is especially appropriate, Bell said, because the myths of Demeter and Persephone both involved themes of traveling and returning. After Persephone is kidnapped and taken to the underworld, her mother searches for her across the Earth. Meanwhile, Persephone returns to Earth once a year, heralding spring and rebirth.
“The idea of traveling is important in their cult, it’s important in their myth and now it’s important to the sculptures,” he said.
More coverage at BBC News online.
Thursday, January 3, 2008
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
More fashion from the past.
Amy Eckhardt, director of the International Program at the University of Pittsburgh, models hemp dresses decorated with designs found on 5,000-year-old horse-bone figurines. (Courtesy Sandra Olsen/Carnegie Museum of Natural History)
This Old Thing?
Volume 61 Number 1, January/February 2008
by Sandra Olsen
And here we have a lovely daytime frock in handwoven hemp, featuring geometric details in vogue on the Eurasian steppe 5,000 years ago. This design is comfortable and practical to wear at work while milking the horses, sweeping out the pit house, or collecting dung for fuel.
As an archaeologist, I'd never before addressed the question of how prehistoric people made and decorated their clothing. But after a series of unexpected discoveries in northern Kazakhstan, my colleagues and I found ourselves particularly interested in the wardrobes of the ancient Botai people.
These early horse-pastoralists lived during the Copper Age, between 3700 and 3100 B.C., on the steppe of present-day Kazakhstan. They occupied a few permanent villages, the largest of which we now know as Botai, and lived in small, square semisubterranean houses.
Although the Botai people lacked innovations such as agriculture and the wheel, they were one of the earliest groups to domesticate the horse--and they had a sense of style too.
These ancient nomads left behind a clue to their fashion sense in the unlikely form of figurines made from horse toe bones. At the site, archaeologists from Petropavlovsk University in northern Kazakhstan recovered 45 of these figurines, mostly from houses. The Botai may have kept them in their homes to ensure protection by a hearth spirit. The shape of the nearly four-inch-long toe bones resembles a woman's torso, so it provides a natural framework for the figurines. We interpreted the incised lines on the bones as representations of dress or tunic designs.
Some of the fine carved lines on the figurines suggest the Botai decorated their clothing with embroidery, applique, or weaving; it's possible they even painted patterns on the garments. We found that geometric ornamentation was usually featured on the front of the piece, while rows of horizontal dashes running down both sides probably represented the seams. Necklines varied, but 10 of the figurines are depicted wearing V-necks.
At the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Deborah Harding, our anthropology collection manager, took handwoven hemp cloth from Hungary and made it into a dress with side seams and other features shown on the figurines. She chose hemp because it is native to Kazakhstan; it was also one of the most common fibers used in ancient times on the Eurasian steppe.
Our experimental garment raised more questions than it answered. For example, the length of our dress made the A-line (or flared bottom) skirt restrictive for bending, so perhaps a slit in back or on the sides would have been advantageous if one really did want to wear it while sweeping out a Copper Age pit house. Of course, it's possible they also wore these garments for special occasions. At the very least we think they probably regarded these dresses as fine enough to adorn their domestic goddesses.
Sandra Olsen is a curator of anthropology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
© 2008 by the Archaeological Institute of America