Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Tomorrow: Detectorists, BBC4

A brand new comedy written by Mackenzie Crook about metal detectorists starts tomorrow night on BBC4.

BBC - Detectorists - Media centre:
A new comedy about two friends Andy (Mackenzie Crook) and Lance (Toby Jones) who go in search of their hearts' desire with a couple of metal detectors.
Following a chance encounter with a young history student, Lance and Andy embark on a journey towards the discovery of a lifetime. All they need to do is get permission from the local landowner - the 'mad one' who is rumoured to have done away with his wife.
There is a trailer on their Facebook page here.

The first of six episodes is on at 10 pm, and will be available on the BBC's iPlayer soon after.

Detectorists never know what they’ll find – but fame? No thanks - Telegraph

Remember that although looking for treasure with metal detectors is a hobby many enjoy, because it involves our nations' heritage, there are a few rules for metal-detecting: see The Portable Antiquities Scheme is a DCMS funded project to encourage the voluntary recording of archaeological objects found by members of the public in England and Wales. They will help you record what you've found, and if you do want to sell off your treasures it is much easier to do so with their record numbers.

[I've asked a few people if they'd be willing to do Q&As about metal detecting and the PAS, but although no-one has said no ... no-one has said yes ... yet?]

Today In 208: Severus Alexander Born

If you enjoyed this video by Adrian Murdoch, check out his book on The Emperors of Rome; Kindle UK, Kindle US, etc

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Today in 1943: The Holocaust Became News

It always amazes me how many people knew about the Holocaust quite early on because of the actions of Righteous Gentiles like Witold Pilecki ... but disbelieved the stories for a long time because they seemed like such an abhorrent concept that it was assumed they were propaganda.

Pilecki got himself arrested and sent to Auschwitz so that he could document the atrocities there.

Thanks to him the French Resistance paper today in 1943 published the first photographs in the press, and his Witold's Report to the Polish Government in Exile finally galvanised the Allies into action.

After the war the Soviets tried and executed him, largely because of his continued loyalty to the Polish Government in Exile.

I too held a passport from the Polish Government in Exile until it returned Poland's emblems to Lech Wałęsa in 1990, and I was given a Polish-Polish passport.

At this time of year, as so many people attend synagogues around the world, and as so many people in too many countries are still falling victim to religious and ethnic genocide, I hope people will take the time to remember one of the great heroes. Like them, he was buried in an unmarked grave and his killers hoped that his memory would be forgotten.

The Amphipolis Caryatids and News

The Ministry of Culture just issued this press release.

This photo shows them removing the later 'sealing' wall blocks to reveal the much finer original marble blocks in the first antechamber.

The Caryatids were on pedestals which continued the pattern of blocks lining the walls. The height of the pedestals is 1.40, width 1.36, depth 0.72 m. The total height of the statues and pedestals is 3.67 m - since the statues wore poloi they were 367 - 140 = 2.37 m high or 'heroic' size ... 

 I am not home, so can't check to compare the statues from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus but the statues there differed in size partly based on where they were on the building, and partly depending on whether they depicted gods or heroes (ie Mausollus and the dead Hecatomnids were 3 m high) 

"The second floor is elevated by 0.07 M. Trace blue color detected in front of the upper surface" 

The floor is a rough marble chip 'mosaic' - I used the term loosely, as there were much higher quality mosaics from Olynthus, well dated to before 348 BC when Philip II destroyed the city. (So let's not waste time on the claim that this too makes the tomb Roman, unless one is going to argue Philip and Alexander were ...).

From the photo it looks as if this floor was covered with a mostly now missing layer which was painted reddish-purple. The 'skirting' band seems to have been painted blue. It was not unusual to paint architectural elements - for an early example of this and of the addition of gilded bronze elements, see the Erechtheion and other capitals from the Acropolis in Athens. Many domestic interiors, for example at Pompeii and on Delos, used stucco and paint to imitate monumental architecture and coloured marbles.

Amphipolis: More Questions, More Answers

There are several questions I have been asked, which I cannot answer for the simple reason that the information has not yet been released by the Ministry of Culture. They will do so in due course, but for now this is a round-up of the Questions people have posed, and the Answers I can give.

I saw a video where the archaeologist said the tomb shows signs that it was built by Dinocrates, she mentioned something like trademark numbers used by Dinocrates have been seen on the tomb. Do you know anything about this?

A few years back I blogged about this, and whilst I initially thought there was a building inscription, this turned out to be miss-communication. The link to Dinocrates seems to be common sense and deductive reasoning - he developed the perfect circle, and the design of the tomb seems to fit what we know of his work, and other evidence which the excavators have chosen not to release yet.

Could the story about Alexander’s body being in Egypt be made up by Ptolemy? Could the funerary cart have made it to Macedonia? I also note that the Library of Alexandria probably housed all the surviving texts and could have edited them.

Anything is possible, but the overwhelming majority of the evidence suggests that both Alexander the Great and his funerary cart ended up in Egypt and stayed there until the Byzantine period. Had he been moved by a Diadoch, there would not have been solid Roman records of him in Alexandria. It is possible that the body was moved in the Byzantine period, but if so it is more likely to have been moved to Constantinople. Yes history is often re-written by people to suit themselves ... for example arguing that Alexander's bone were really in Amphipolis ... but the Library of Alexandria whilst famous was merely one of many similar Academies, the most famous and best renowned of which was in Athens ... so since I find it unlikely that the Athenians also promoted Egyptian lies, I consider this unlikely.

An interesting issue is how politicized the Tomb has become. Many Greeks (especially those supporting the opposition) saw the Prime Minister's visit and the subsequent publicity given to the Tomb as an attempt by the government to steer the public's attention away from pressing issues as unemployment, new taxes etc. In a way they feel that the Tomb has been "appropriated" by the government and seem to resent any "positive" news coming from the excavation (fearing it might be used as government propaganda). 

I have seen the Parthenon sculptures and the campaign to get them returned to Greece used in a similar way, to distract attention from 'bad news' various governments might have. Honestly, I think it is fabulous how invested people are in Greece with history, and wish more countries were so enthusiastic and easily distracted from more politicians' nonsense.

I just assumed the people claiming it is Roman are just not very good at their jobs, as that has been my previous experience of them.

a) They are taking longer now because the third chamber are having security problems?

Yes the structural issues must have severely slowed down progress - for example they are trying to remove soil above to alleviate the weight bearing down on it. Nobody wants it turn out to be a tomb for archaeologists (and I use that term as a generic to encompass everyone working on the site). This is a good thing, as is slowing down work so that the team have more time to work on it.

c) Do you think that this tomb has a structure that can approximate the others already found in the same area and date 

There are plenty of mounds and roundish structures from roughly this period, and comparanda for the sculptures, painted architectural elements and other details ... but the size and that they are all together at Amphipolis make it unique.

d) The latter chamber this painted red? Reasons for that, do you have any? 

Royal Purple was also called Tyrian Red as one can describe the shade either way. Or there could be a dozen other reasons for its use starting with the purely decorative.

The photos from the Amphipolis tomb clearly show the upper arm of the sculptures being parallel or almost parallel to the ground level, which makes it difficult for the figures to support the epistyle. Holding the epistyle could be possible only if the Caryatids had a longer lower arm; a longer arm as a visual correction is not impossible, but we still have to see the evidence to define the meaning of the gesture. Another suggestion is that they hold their poloi instead of the architrave.

Good points! And ... the evidence suggests that they do not hold their poloi, but the Amphipolis Caryatids are already re-writing what we know, so we'll have to wait and see the evidence for the hands when they present it.

The archaic Korai (not Caryaties according to you) of the Siphnian Treasury at Delphi look very much like the female figures of Amphipolis and do not belong to a funerary monument. 

The similarity is superficial in that these and other Delphi figures were Archaic, and the Amphipolis ones were deliberately designed to suggest archaic sculpture - in the same way that women can do their hair and make-up to love like Marilyn Monroe, but it's usually obvious by the little details that they are living today not in the '50s ... Obviously I disagree about what Virtuvius intended, but the fabulous thing is that for the first time in my life everyone is discussing what Caryatids could or could not have been. (Next time I do a talk on them, I'll try to put it up on YouTube).

And what about a connection of these figures to the Persians? The earlier cases, like the ones belonging to the Siphnian Treasury and the Erechtheion of the athenian acropolis, up to the tomb of Amphipolis, could somehow, even indirectly, be related to the Persians, and Vitruvius connects the motif to the Persian wars anyway.

Vitruvius made the connection to the Persians, and Michael Vickers wrote a very interesting article connecting Caryatids to Persians. I disagree with his dating and conclusion, but I highly recommend people interested read it. (His articles including a new version of the article are available here).

was any importance placed on where materials were taken from? I'm wondering about the sand coming from the Strymon and whether there'd be a symbolic reason to use that over soil from much closer to hand, or whether it would have been purely 'have some sand left over from building mound, might as well use it'.

What an interesting question, and I wish I have enough information about the finds to answer it. Honestly I had not heard that Strymon sand was used instead of soil but there are plenty of other examples of it. The most obvious one would be porphyry (hint - if you spot any, it's a god or a royal).

Would the sculptures been carved by local artists or where they created by teams of artists who moved around - say from Athens? Do we assume they were carved on the spot?

With big projects local workshops were created, for example Pheidias' had been excavated at Olympia. There is often a link between a sculptor and a marble he favoured, for example Scopas of Paros, but at other times the marble is local; it depended how much of good quality was available, and the budget. Thasos was nearby, and that seems to have been used here. Most of the big sculptors worked more in bronze than marble, although there are exceptions when it comes to important projects. The consensus with architectural sculpture is that it was roughed out at the quarry, worked more at the site and finished in situ - partly so that it was not damaged before it was in place, partly so that there was continuity and the frieze blocks joined.

When Alexander and his successors built their cities with Greek artists creating sculptures - where did they come from? Macedonia? Western Asia Minor? They must have ramped up fast to create so much. Maybe Alexander had artists in tow that went with him. What do we know?

A lot! Firstly, Alexander had 'court' artists. Secondly when he conquered the Persian Empire, he would have found a lot of good artists there. Praxiteles and Scopas are two famous sculptors who for example worked for the Hecatomnids in various Carian cities, such as Cnidos. The Persians had used Greek artists for generations, and there is a very good book by John Boardman about this (he also wrote one on the Greeks recreating the past through nostalgia - a great scholar).

Do you think we will see more figures in the excavation?

I keep being amazed by the sculpture so ... [Fight Club Rules]

Is there an estimate of when the wall and sand were placed in front of the Caryatids? It would seem as if the wall and sand were there to preserve the Caryatids from further decay, as if the Amphipolis tomb were previously excavated.

I think it seems pretty certain by now that the sand was used to stop the structure collapsing, and the wall to hold it in - see other posts for more ...

Could the damage to the right foot and toe be due to those falling pieces? In addition, it was reported the Caryatids fingers (not the arm?) were found in the sand? Would this suggest that the wall and sand were added at a later date, when the Caryatids were crumbling?

Yes, these all seem to be fissures due to structural damage

More answers soon ...

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

And there's nothing waspish about pointing it out ...

(for those in need of a clue, see Adrian Goldsworthy's most recent book).

RIP the Jobar Synagogue, Syria

As the year draws to a close, it is important to remember that Syria used to have a very vibrant Jewish community, but more synagogues have been destroyed there this year than at any other point since the time of Titus.

Whilst as tragic as the loss of the site of the Dura synagogue was, most of the items from it are safely elsewhere. The same cannot be said for the Jobar synagogue, whose foundations are older but whose library and cult objects are unaccounted for. This destruction seems to have accidental, and the local anti-government rebels had been going out of their way to save it.

Jobar falls well outside the remit of LootBusters, but I felt it was important to post these photos as a tribute to the synagogue and its Community. I have blanked out the faces, but have otherwise not tinkered with these photos as I feel it is important to try to preserve a record of the synagogue.

The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2014

It's designed by Chilean architect Smiljan Radić and whilst everyone visits in the summer, don't forget it is open until 19th October; details here.

And dogs are welcome - with or without balloons, although they have to be on leads inside.

There a cafe inside, which sells dog treats and human ones:

Chanel: Protest Chic

Yes, I am aware that newspaper Diarists like to take the piss out of the various protests I've organised over the years, and since I tend to mock myself regularly I can't blame them. Off the top of my head there was the woman who turned up in an anorak. Okay, it was sable, but it was still an anorak. And there was the time I checked in our banners with the doorman at the Mandarin Oriental and took the stragglers for drinks in the bar (I was going on to a party, and it seemed a pity to waste a Dior dress ... Roland Mouret's Galaxy my armour on another protest). And the way I drop the police thank you notes ...

Anyway, I'm thrilled to see that Karl Lagerfeld is embracing protest chic in his Chanel show today. will have a review shortly, and has photos of the actual clothes up.

Morocco Countdown: Swimsuits of the Week

Isn't this the chicest swimsuit? It's vaguely Givenchy via Breakfast at Tiffany's and if I could ever actually get one-pieces to fit me, this would be top of my hit-list.

Sophia Cocktail Hour - Carizzi Boutique  (£209 - I have never seen this brand 'in the flesh' so can't comment on quality or price : quality ratio; and unless you're very flat, the front would easily look a bit much).

I love the Mileti bikini bottoms but can't comment on the tops or one-pieces as argh I have boobs ...; they are expensive, but the cut is amazing and fully justifies the price.

Mileti | Mileti Back Straps Swimsuit at ASOS  (currently reduced from £115 to £70 and ASOS regularly run discount codes - the bikini bottoms have even better discounts ... my 'trick' is to buy white tops from brands with cup-size bikinis and mix in the really well cut white bottoms from expensive brands where what you're paying for is the amazing cut that makes your arse look good). Their own eshop is here Elba Collection (bigger selection, no sale section).

As a quick comment on skipping the bikini top, I would seriously discourage it in this age of phones everywhere ... The Hotel du Cap stopped people using their pool because of phones, and generally in France going topless is these days considered rather tacky whatever one's age. Whether in a Muslim country or not, be considerate of the staff.

Hee hee hee

Swedish Scientists Square Off Over Who Can Sneak In Most Dylan Lyrics : The Two-Way : NPR

Monday, September 29, 2014

‘Sopranos’ star discovers Guercino

‘Sopranos’ star discovers artwork worth millions | Page Six

Paris Restored!

People have started adding these bloody "love locks" to London bridges, and it's rather destructive.

The banks of the Seine are a beautiful heritage site, and thank goodness they are finally dealing with this by replacing the grills with glass panels.

No Love Locks: too much romance on Paris' Pont des Arts:

Paris, Banks of the Seine - UNESCO World Heritage Centre

(And if you need to 'lock in' love, try marriage )

Sarah E. Bond: Visualizing Roman Weights, Measures, and Money

One of the most confusing things about teaching Roman daily life can be the conversion of weights, measures, and money. Tomorrow, my Petronius class begins a small unit on Apicius, and thus they will need to know about all the units used in Roman recipes. I put this powerpoint together for them, but it may be useful to anyone teaching or learning about Rome. It is a visualization of Faas' Appendix from Around the Roman Table, with some extra notes on Apicius thrown in.

Amal Alamuddin Marries Actor; Elgin Marbles Next?

Barrister Amal Alamuddin has married an actor. He's very pretty, and hopefully one day will make a half-way decent movie again. Alamuddin has style and brains, and is worth a dozen Maggie Qs, so no points for guessing who got lucky here as The Businesswomen pointed out.

According to unreliable sources - a Greek government funded web site masquerading as a campaign, in turn citing as their source an interview with  Greek web site with the director of an advert the actor stared in ... - she was going to me in Athens on the 11th of September to sort out getting the Elgin Marbles back together with the Parthenon sculptures in Athens.

Whoops, unless I somehow missed the hoopla and media coverage, it seems Marbles Reunited was wrong in their claims yet again.

Anyway, I've been sent some stupid bitchy comments about her by people who are pro the Parthenon sculptures staying in the British Museum, about her not having made silk and no longer being on the Doughty Street ... So here's the deal; she only became a barrister in the UK four years ago, she's obviously very bright, and that's probably because she's been working internationally. Her CV is still cached here.

I have no idea if Alamuddin will or won't be working on the campaign to repatriate the Parthenon sculptures, but I for one hope she does.

I try to play fair, so at the start of the year I suggested that the Ephoria in Athens try to get George Clooney on board with their campaign, and offered them his agent's details. Honestly? I refused to comment when he was promoting his movie as it's a bit silly taking pot shots at a man not well enough informed to be arguing that this painting, which was largely painted in France should be returned to Italy.

Marbles Reunited? see above. Elginism and it's back-dated blog posts and "just Matthew" ringing in to the BBC as a member of the public? need I comment?

The poll that claims 88% of people support the Marbles going back? Frankly I'd be amazed that 88% of people in any country knew what they are and everyone knows that polls can be manipulated through the use of leading questions. See below:

One academic who used to support the Parthenon sculptures staying no longer does as she can't cope with the criticism from colleagues and members of the public. One activist that used to no longer speaks out because he is tired of MacGregor's various little games. I gave up even pretending to like MacGregor a lot time ago, I have been clear that I think he should resign, and I can't be bothered to support a regime that plays games with asbestos (that's not an euphemism, I mean the stuff that kills people).

I think the Parthenon sculptures should be loaned to Athens, and I've been arguing how that could be worked out, and making suggestions to various people campaigning for the return for a couple of years now. But I am aware that I would be unable to make progress with the British Museum. Partly because the director has so little respect for me as a human being that he told me the same claim that the Greeks have never officially asked for a loan of the Parthenon on two occasions, even though on the first occasion I told him I had paperwork showing that they had, and that he had answered.

Although he repeated the claim to journalists, he does not seem to have done it more once to them and they may not have had copies of the paperwork. See here for the rest of the letter, which I find  bdifficult to work out how it could have been more official than written by Sir John Boyd who was Chairman of the British Museum in answer to a letter from Evangelos Venizelos then the Greek Minister of Culture. I posted this letter rather than the letter from Venizelos formally asking for a loan, as I suspected had I done so the BM might have tried to claim the letter had gotten lost in the post. So many of the claims made by incompetent campaigners have turned out to be untrue, but I am surprised at the dignity the Greek government has displayed in not putting this point across.

I am persona non grata at the British Museum for having called them out on this and various other 'games' - including them trying to get me to repeat claims about William St Clair to a journalist, which had they been printed in a newspaper would have been libelous. I would rather not be embraced by the museum under the current regime, and sincerely hope that there is regime change soon, but this has been the situation since 2004 when I refused to fully embrace every single aspect of their position, and has deteriorated each time they have played games such as the one they played over the St Clair Hunt Archive, which they went out of their way to deny me and others access to despite their inability to do so under the little thing called the law.

Does the British Museum forfeit their claim to the Marbles because of the atrocious behaviour of one man and his minions? Of course not. He has merely forfeited our support.

My position is that the British Museum legally acquired the sculptures from Lord Elgin who legally acquired them from the legal owner at the time. Property law applies, and various courts have already judged the claim and found it wanting. Does that mean we need to stick to the status quo? Of course not. (And apologies for the lack of Greek words, but just as French is the lingua franca of love, Latin is that of arguments ...).

I don't think Greece has a moral claim to the Parthenon sculptures. Nor can Byzantium or other now Turkish city-states that funded its construction as part of the Delian League now claim a block or two ...

But would it be nice to see all the Parthenon sculptures together in the lovely new museum in Athens?

Its director has alienated almost as many people in Greece as his counterpart has in London. The campaigners for their return are almost universally incompetent, and it can often feel cruel arguing against children.

So I bloody well hope that for once there is some truth to the rumours, and that Amal Alamuddin does take up the cause of the Elgin Marbles as it would be lovely to have someone actually competent involved. Greece need her!