Wednesday, October 1, 2014

RIP Mecca's Heritage or Why Wahhabis R Wrong

A nice summary of a very sad situation: The Destruction of Mecca -

I think I've covered the Wahhabi philosophy of destroying heritage before, even anything associated with the Prophet Mohammed. This is in case they become idols, and in some ways is a little like other religious prohibitions that add layer and layer to the original intent to the point where is is distorted.

For example when Mohammed gained control of Mecca he destroyed the idols but not the image of Jesus and Mary. Having gone through everything he said, he was clear that images should not be used as idols but did not advocate the destruction of them all.

ISIS is currently misinterpreting it by assuming they know better what the Prophet Mohammed wanted than the people who knew him and recorded his teachings.

Saudi is a little better, but the Wahhabi culture they exported is directly responsible for the various fundamentalist groups claiming the AQ and now the ISIS philosophy. For some reason journalists often call those in north Africa Salafi and seem to be unaware that this is just another name for Wahhabi.

The Saudis funded the more extreme members to go proselytise, many went to Mauretania, and then north into "Western Sahara" and into Algeria. Then Libya ... where we call them Salafis. It's why I could never espouse the trendy cause of Independence for Western Sahara that pop stars and celebutards seem to embrace. If you can't see on this map what a mess that makes it, please don't ask me to sponsor your fundraising for either them or your electoral race.

(map by Eric Gaba – Wikimedia Commons user: Sting)

PAS: Now on BB1

Breasts: We All Have Them ...

Men and women - although breast cancer is rarer in men.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month in the UK, and I hope that every woman will take a moment to check for lumps. I've been for private check-ups where the female doctor saw problems that weren't there (very disconcerting) and where the NHS nurse told me "don't worry, large breasts can just seem lumpy" ... I felt more comfortable with frank honesty, but as uncomfortable as it can make you, going for a check-up is always better than living in denial. If you're a man and think your wife has a lump, then make her go to the doctor; if you leave it as the elephant in the room, it can kill.

Every year nearly 55,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK, that’s the equivalent of one person every 10 minutes
4870 1 in 8 women in the UK will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.
Breast cancer is the second most common cause of death from cancer in women in the UK.
Nearly 12,000 people die from breast cancer in the UK every year.
4872 Breast cancer also affects men, but it’s rare
– around 400 men are diagnosed each year.

The three main risk factors are:

1. Gender - being a woman is the biggest risk factor for developing breast cancer.
2. Getting older - the older the person the higher the risk, more than 80% of breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50. Most men who get breast cancer are over 60.
3. Significant family history – this isn’t common, around 5% of people diagnosed with breast cancer have inherited a faulty BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.
More than eight out of 10 (85%) people survive breast cancer beyond five years.
For free, confidential support and information visit or call our Helpline on 0808 800 6000.

To me the concept of having surgery unless one needs it is a foreign concept, but it is becoming increasingly popular with young women, and those that have had augmentation for whatever reason have to pay particular attention to lumps as silicone can mask them.

For most women the figure given for breast cancer is 1 in 8, but almost half my friends who've undergone IVF have gone on to develop breast cancer - obviously this is anecdotal, but it seems to be one of those "dirty little secrets" women don't talk about, so it's worth highlighting.

Breast Cancer Care has some amazing resources on their web site here, and always get lots of companies to take part in raising funds by pledging a percentage of their products.

Most companies pledge a percentage of sales from one of two products ...

The amazing Elemis instead make a £10,000 donation to Breast Cancer Care, so it frankly doesn't matter if you buy their Limited Edition Pink Jar or some of their other products. I love the monoi oil the best, then the salt scrub then ... anyway they have various offers on: Promotion: Spend £50 and receive a free full size Skin Nourishing Milk Bath, Promotion: Spend £50 and receive a free full size Aching Muscle Super Soak, Promotion: Free Starlight Spa Candle When You Spend £60 or more, Promotion: Free Body Beautiful Stocking Filler worth £10 with the purchase of any Elemis Christmas collection,* anyway they also have a good outlet section and stock brands like Bliss and Essie.

Heidi Klein is given 20% on the Rio range ... although I prefer other ranges; there's a new collection of swimwear and there's an extra 10% off the sale items with the code Sale60.*

Heidi Klein

Most companies still produce pink products to "celebrate" women ... and whilst Ellie sometimes likes them, I don't. It's better to make a donation, but many other forms of cancer could do with the money more (next month is Movember). The very best thing women can do is check for lumps and make an appointment if they have the slightest doubt.

Not Just Beauty, But M&S Beauty ... PSA

I loose a make-up bag almost every trip I take - and I'm sure Freud would have something to say about there being no such thing as accidents - so I do tend to buy more products than most ... I'm also in stocking up for presents early mode whilst there are bargains to be had, and so this M&S offer appealed to me:

25% off selected beauty items with code: BEAUTY25*

I probably shouldn't point out that it seems to work with the BOGOHP offers too; and some brand are doing gifts with purchase ... the BEAUTY25 code is only valid to 9am Friday, and it seems like rather a good bargain.

Sarah Bond Likes MapScholar

I know people found her post about the resources she used most very helpful - Sarah Bond: A Top Ten List of Websites for Daily Life in Antiquity - so this is her tip from today:

(note - I must get more people to go these Top Ten Web Resources suggestions)

Collecting 101: A Head at Bonhams

I'm always vaguely amused when people try to slander me to newspapers - the women who claimed to the Daily Mail I was trolling her, the collector I declined to work for who told the NY Times a pack of lies, Zahi Hawass who claimed to the WaPo he had a file an inch thick on my bad work in Egypt ... the problem is that a lot of untrue stories do make it into the press, and also a lot of propaganda about looting and collecting antiquities. There are too many people who have cried wolf and made too many unsubstantiated allegations, so they are not taken seriously by people dealing with the day to day business of antiquities, whether selling or buying. The looting of archaeological material and the destruction of sites is a huge problem, and I would in no way wish to downplay it. In recent years there has however arisen a whole industry of 'experts' most of whom do little other than travel from one conference to another, and complain about the issues to raise funds to travel to more international conferences.

So we have a lot of hot air and a lot of allegations, but very little actual outreach explaining it to people. I've taken a slightly different approach. Whilst I often decline to answer questions about my work because of security or legal issues - or I don't want smugglers to know how we catch them! - I also thought it might be useful to explain some basics.

Today the Greek Ministry of Culture issued a press release saying that Bonhams had withdrawn this lot from tomorrow's London Antiquties auction.

The reason given is that "the head is contained in seized photographs, which shows the possible origin and illegal export" - given that it says "seized photographs" I assume they mean the polaroids taken by dealer Robin Symes and sometimes called the Schinoussa Archive, which were found in his Greek home there.

There are people who kick up a huge fuss about anything that appears in these and in the polaroids of Giacomo Medici, but although both were dodgy dealers, they also sold a lot of licit material. Some photos showed newly excavated material covered in earth, others items bought at auction. So appearing in these polaroids is a black mark against an item, but not necessarily proof of anything more. That's why whatever self-proclaimed experts say, the Greek government is using the word "possibly" ... and if the photos had shown it had been stolen from a site or museum they would have said so.

This herm was a copy of an original by Alcamenes, and was copied from the 5th century BC and throughout the Roman period. Even a quick Google Image Search shows just how many there were of these ...

Where dodgy people often mess up is in trying to be too clever with the provenance and literature:

This is pretty meaningless. It is almost suggesting a link, as if it could possibly have come from Pergamon by implying it rather than stating it. Almost as if they'd rather hoped it had had this inscription on the missing bits like the complete copy in Istanbul ...

And then we move on to the description and provenance, which are like a series of red flags to a bull:

"Probably originally from a herm"?!! Unless there is evidence to the contrary, it was almost certainly from a herm.

"archaic style" is a term I have only heard people bluffing their way through art use: it's either Archaic and early 5th century BC or earlier preceding the Classical period, or it is archaising in that it is deliberately executed in an 'old' style to deliberately recall a past age - the latter is what Alcamenes was aiming for, and what the sculptors at Amphipolis were too. My issue with auction houses is that they often employ people who don't know what they are doing as they can pay them less, but since Olga Palagia also has issues differentiating when it comes to this, perhaps I am being to harsh.

"Nicolas Koutoulakis Collection, Geneva, acquired circa 1965, thence by descent" ... circa 1965 is designed to evade the 1970 cut-off point. And "circa" to me suggests that once again Bonhams would not be able to provide paperwork to substantiate this; collectors have complained about this to me in the past. Nicolas Koutoulakis died in 1996, and Bonhams seem to have passed through his Geneva collection. The fact that a ridiculously high percentage of the items that passed through his hands have turned out to have been looted is neither here nor there, as most were before 1970. The bigger issue for me is that he kept most of his collection in Paris.

So Symes polaroids + dodgy dealer + Bonhams track record + no paperwork + odd write-up + second dodgy dealer = the balance of probability suggests that this piece was looted.

I've already said that I think this plate looks like a modern fake. This doesn't really bother me - auction houses operate under caveat emptor, and frankly I don't care if arrogant collectors buy fakes any more than if they exhibit exceptionally bad taste in their vanity project museums. Fakes have been around forever, and arguably the Roman Hermes above is a fake of Alcamenes' Hermes Propylaios - and they don't damage archaeological sites.

Bonhams are the ones to watch in terms of dodgy antiquities, and nobody else would have had the arrogance to try to sell the Sevso Treasure ...

... and did anyone notice that they announced with huge hyperbole in 2009 as the property of European Private Collector, this Roman cameo glass vase? ... it was bigger than the Portland Vase so it had to be better ... forget the quality, just feel the weight ...

I asked to see it at the time, and Bonhams told me they were only showing it to experts. The hand-selected experts they allowed to see it were all suitably grateful. Representatives of the north African government who felt that the balance of probability was that it was recently looted from their soil were not.

Bonhams got their press puffery, but were unable to sell the vase. Christie's have an excellent legal department who take issues raised by reputable sources seriously. Bonham's bluffed and lost.

Obviously not everything Bonhams sells is dubious, as even a broken clock is right twice a day.

The provenance of this Roman head sounds just as nebulous - no dodgy dealer named, but also not much concrete information.

But they left out mention of the key point which shows that the head clearly has a long collecting history - the old nose repair ...

Pirate Outfits ... PSA

I understand that in the US the St James striped tees have been marketed as the nec plus ultra, but I've always preferred those from nautical shops or Petit Bateau ... The tees make perfect striped pirate tops as well as everyday wear, and because children grow so fast, like everyone else I try to buy them in the sale.

Petit Bateau Private Sale runs from today for four more days*

Halloween Countdown ...

Last year I was ill and curled up in bed, but this year I'm in charge ... Halloween and going trick or treating is relatively new in the UK, but in the US it's been a big deal for decades. The Boss is always popular as he gives full size bars of candy.

I tend to be way over-prepared; I've preposted a lot of historical and archaeological posts related to the Holiday for the 31st, and the Holiday might possibly bring out my inner geek ... because I have left it a little late, I've ordered all my supplies off Amazon and chosen items that are available through Prime for next day delivery.

Step One.

Purely practical: how do you let people know you welcome trick or treaters? A neighbour came up with the brilliant idea of dropping notes with orange balloons to people in the area, asking them to pin them to their doors if they were taking part.
100 x 10" Orange Latex Belbal Balloons (Helium or Air).

Step Two.

There are some amazing treat bags available now, from skeleton hands to cobweb patterned, but in case not many people turn up, I don't want to be stuck with themed items cluttering up ... so I went for plain ones:

Pack of 100 - Clear Party Bags - Cone Cellophane Display Bags

 This gives a simple base with which to work. 

I'm not normally a fan of curling ribbon, but some occasions call for a touch of kitsch ... I'll use the black and orange first and use anything left over for Hanukkah and Jesus' Birthday in December.

10 Rolls x 25m Curling Ribbon (mixed colours)

Step Three.

The bags will be filled with seasonal sweets such as fangs:

Bebeto Dracula's Teeth (Pack of 120)

And brains:

Vidal Jelly Filled Brains (Pack of 2, Total 240 Pieces)

And some less seasonal items. Pumpkins are good for those then celebrating Thanksgiving, but coins work well for Hanukkah and Jesus' Birthday so I went for those. Who can resist a piece of pirate treasure!

These are not Kosher, but I know very few people who keep Kosher, so these will be piled up on top of gift bags as geld.*

Milk Chocolate Golden Pirate Coins 1 x 1kg

Then, closer to the time, I'll make up the bags ... and torment children by answering "trick" ...

* = if you're looking for certified Kosher coins that taste good, then the coins from Divine Chocolate are the ones I recommend (most other Kosher coins unfortunately taste *&%$* ... and honestly those are the ones I'd give friends).

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.