Archive for April, 2008

Nine-year-old finds buried treasure

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Alexander Granhof and his grandfather Jens were puttering around the site of the Battle of Lund after a recent ploughing when Alexander stumbled on some silver coins

They called the National Heritage Board, and the next day archaeologists confirmed that the coins were part of a huge buried treasure trove of over 7,000 14th c. silver coins from Denmark, England, Germany and the Netherlands.

“I suspect we may have doubled the number of English coins from the Middle Ages ever found in Sweden,” said Anglert, who estimated that 1,200 of the coins had come from across the North Sea.

English sterling coins were used as something of a global currency at the time, said the archaeologist.

“The ones we found were in their own separate container,” said Anglert.

They don’t know why the treasure was buried, but it probably wasn’t a religious sacrifice because even the most pious medieval Swedes weren’t quite that generous with their offerings.

Here’s Alexander with his find looking the cat who swallowed the canary:

The Golden Flower of Prosperity Company

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

In the eastern corner of Oregon, in the Gold Rush town of John Day, lies a building completely unique in the annals of American history: the Kam Wah Chung & Company museum.

Constructed as a trading post in 1876, the Kam Wah Chung building was bought in 1888 by two Chinese immigrants, Lung On and Ing “Doc” Hay, who transformed it into a social, medical, recreational, religious, retail center. The company offered everything from pulsology consults and herbal medicine courtesy of Doc Hay, to labour contracting courtesy of Lung On, to Chinese newspapers, dry goods, a hot meal and a bed, games of Go, an unofficial post office for communications with China, and an opium den in the kitchen.

A description of the invaluable work Long On and Ing Hay did for the community from the Kam Wah Chung National Historic Landmark registration form (pdf):

Ing Hay’s practice covered wide areas of Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and Nevada and through his mail order service, even more distant places. He saw patients in person either through office visits or house calls. Patients also wrote to him describing their symptoms and he diagnosed the illness, sent the herbal remedy with detailed instructions on what to do, and continued the correspondence until the patient was cured. Once he concocted a brew with over 83 different herbs to cure a man suffering from swollen feet. He probably inherited a customer list from the previous herbal doctor known as Kam Wah Chung. Newspaper articles, diaries, and letters testified to his success. He saved the lives of all his patients in the 1915 and 1919 flu epidemics in eastern Oregon, allegedly cured cases of meningitis, and saved a person’s limb from being amputated by a western physician.

In John Day, Lung On served as the primary labor contractor from the late 1890s to the early 1900s. Lung On, with his English-language and business skills, helped many Chinese obtain jobs in mines, logging camps, ranches, and restaurants. When a dispute arose, Lung On often stepped in to help find a solution to the problem. Furthermore, when Chinese were not paid due compensation for their labor, Lung On served as a surety in court cases; he supported fellow Chinese in such cases both financially and with his spoken testimony when he vouched for fellow immigrants in court. Although many labor contractors charged fees for their services, it is not clear if Lung On did. In fact, like many businesses in company towns in the West, Lung On would have profited from supplying the new laborers, thus recovering his costs indirectly

There were many such centers in the American West, thanks to the 19th c. influx of Chinese immigrants, but what makes Kam Wah Chung unique is that it is a virtual time capsule.

When Doc Hay became ill and left the premises in 1948, the building was boarded up and left completely alone — no vandals, no treasure hunters, not even any teenagers making out — until it was rediscovered in 1967, restored and opened as a museum in 1976.

Everything that was in that building in 1948 is still there. Every herb, every tin of morphine sulfate, every altar to the gods, every book, every business invoice, every love letter.

A high wood counter with metal boxes and shelves below is along the south wall, and shelving containing cigar and metal boxes, and bags of herbs line the entire north wall. Each box or tin is labeled in Chinese characters. A high shelf above the exterior window on the east side is lined with bags of herbs. Several items are on the counter: vials with remedies, a mortar and pestle for crushing and mixing, scales and weights used to measure the herbs, a Chinese abacus, and a coffee grinder to grind the herbs. Jars and vials on the counter contain items such as a rattlesnake, turtle, and powdered morphine. A bear paw also sits on the counter top. There are approximately 500 herbs and medications found in this room; to date about 250 have been identified and recorded. A small sampling of the medicines and herbs (common names) include wild asparagus, cocklebur, dwarf flowering cherry, clove, chicken gizzards, cardamon, citrus (orange), red pepper, tortoise shell, tiger bone, croton, caladium, summer cypress, onion, astor bean, bamboo, ginger, and pomegranate bark.

Again, this collection is completely unique in the United States, and judging from the Chinese visitors who have commented on it, there’s no historical collection like this to be found in China itself either.

I could quote the whole pdf because really every nook and cranny of this building is crammed with amazing stuff, but I’ll stop here and just suggest that y’all take a look at the document yourselves to get a full sense of what a treasure trove Lung On and Doc Hay left us.

To visit the Kam Wah Chung & Co museum is to step back in time and immerse yourself into the lives of Chinese immigrants in turn of the century America. It’s a one of a kind opportunity, one which I will most certainly avail myself of should I find myself Oregon way.

Deadwood archaeology summer camp

Monday, April 28th, 2008

If you have (or are) a kid between the ages of 9 and 12, run, don’t walk, to the Black Hills of South Dakota to sign up for a week-long archaeology summer camp.

During the week-long camp, kids will get the chance to participate in a real archaeological dig in Deadwood led by real, live, honest-to-goodness archaeologists. Many of Deadwood’s archaeological digs in recent years have been in the old Chinatown district, where the Fee Lee Wong family (pictured above) lived and worked. There hasn’t been any official word yet, but the children in the summer camp may get to learn in this area.

The curriculum includes a crash-course in the archaeological process, as well as hikes from the excavation site to related locations, a visit the State Archaeological Research Center in Rapid City and daily lessons from professionals ranging from general historic preservation to mapping techniques and – perhaps most thrilling of all to a third-grader – how to use a compass!

“But, liv,” I can hear you ask, “how could I afford to send my kids to such an incredible summer camp?” My reply? A quick excavation between the cushions of your couch should do the trick because the total cost for the whole week is $25.

Even if you don’t live in the area, you should seriously consider taking the week of June 23rd for vacation, and hightail it to Deadwood like it’s the Gold Rush all over again. An opportunity like this is just too good to miss, and there are only 20 spots in the camp so the clock is ticking.

Mmm… Futuricious…

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

Fair warning: this is going to be a long entry.

My man Illusory Tenant introduced me to the Futurists a hundred years and four discussion boards ago. Among his many talents, IT is immensely knowledgeable about music, and Futurism played a raucously innovative role in early 20th century music.

Futurism celebrated the speed, force, and aggressive advancement of technology. Anything traditional, melodic, respectful of the past was anathema. From Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s 1909 Manifesto of Futurism:

Museums, cemeteries! Truly identical in their sinister juxtaposition of bodies that do not know each other. Public dormitories where you sleep side by side for ever with beings you hate or do not know. Reciprocal ferocity of the painters and sculptors who murder each other in the same museum with blows of line and color. To make a visit once a year, as one goes to see the graves of our dead once a year, that we could allow! We can even imagine placing flowers once a year at the feet of the Gioconda! But to take our sadness, our fragile courage and our anxiety to the museum every day, that we cannot admit! Do you want to poison yourselves? Do you want to rot?

(Poor Marinetti would leap out of his grave beat me senseless if he knew he and his movement would be lovingly featured in this obsequiously backward-looking digital cemetery.)

The Futurist CookbookBut what inspired this entry is that I just found out that Futurism didn’t limit itself to art and politics. Oh no. Marinetti wrote a cookbook, and what a cookbook it is.

It commands a dramatic combination of flavors, textures and scents, all of them not so much a meal as an experience, to put it mildly. Chemistry is king — eat your derivative hearts out, molecular gastronomists — and the meal itself is performance art as well as nutritional patriotism.

Needless to say, pasta gets the same treatment as museums. From the 1930 Manifesto of Futurist Cooking:

It may be that a diet of cod, roast beef and steamed pudding is beneficial to the English, cold cuts and cheese to the Dutch and sauerkraut, smoked [salt] pork and sausage to the Germans, but pasta is not beneficial to the Italians. For example it is completely hostile to the vivacious spirit and passionate, generous, intuitive soul of the Neapolitans. If these people have been heroic fighters, inspired artists, awe-inspiring orators, shrewd lawyers, tenacious farmers it was in spite of their voluminous daily plate of pasta. When they eat it they develop that typical ironic and sentimental scepticism which can often cut short their enthusiasm.

It’s like looking in a mirror, man.

Unfortunately, the following picture of Marinetti made the press right about that time, slightly undercutting the power of his patriotic appeal:

Marinetti claimed in the later Cookbook that this picture was a montage spread by the foes of Futurism to discredit him, the 1930’s equivalent of “That’s not me! My enemies Photoshopped my head on someone else’s naked, prone body!”

The manifesto only listed 4 specific recipes: Alaskan Salmon in the rays of the sun with Mars sauce, Woodcock Mount Rosa with Venus sauce, a sculpted meat cylinder, and the non-meat sculpture Equator + North Pole.

Marinetti was big on the sculpted meat. In fact, the rallying cry of Futurist cookery was “Pasta is dead. Long live sculpted meat!”

In 1931, the manifesto was made (sculpted) flesh in the form of the one and only Futurist restaurant: The Tavern of the Holy Palate in Turin.

Decorated in aluminum, The Holy Palate served Futurist delicacies against a backdrop of poetry readings, perfume sprayed by the waiters over diners and fanned about by an airplane propeller, and in the unkindest cut of all, Wagner operas.

Aerofood: A signature Futurist dish, with a strong tactile element. Pieces of olive, fennel, and kumquat are eaten with the right hand while the left hand caresses various swatches of sandpaper, velvet, and silk. At the same time, the diner is blasted with a giant fan (preferable an airplane propeller) and nimble waiters spray him with the scent of carnation, all to the strains of a Wagner opera.

Chicken Fiat doesn’t have all the accessories, but it’s probably my favorite Futurist abomination. Chicken Fiat (named after the Italian industrial dynamo, natch) is chicken roasted with ball bearings inside until the meat has absorbed the metallic taste, then served on pillows of whipped cream.

But these dishes only scratch the surface of the full multimedia experience that was dinner at The Holy Palate. They enlisted every sense to keep people’s tastebuds in high gear, so to speak.

Smell and taste, unlike sight, hearing, and touch, are chemical senses. As such, they are subject to relatively rapid sensory fatigue. A Futurist cuisine had therefore to find ways of reestablishing “gustatory virginity.” To annul one set of tastes and smells before presenting the next set, a suction fan would draw scents out of the room. To intensify sensory acuity, they
periodically changed the lighting and room temperature, suddenly instructed the diners to quickly move themselves and their dinners two places to the right, released a live turkey into a room where diners had just eaten the bird, and presented blue wine, orange milk, and red mineral water.

Marinetti published The Futurist Cookbook the next year. It elaborated on the principles so concisely stated in the manifesto and included all the recipes from The Holy Palate.

Sadly, it’s long out of print and terribly expensive, so I haven’t had the chance to read it yet. For some reason, it’s not available at my local public library. Damn pasta-eating Communists.

I did find a great description of one recipe in the book that sounds both somewhat palatable and awesome as opposed to just awesome:

Marinetti was not entirely indifferent to the romance of fine dining, and does include a “Nocturnal Love Feast” in his cookbook. The meal, which should be eaten at midnight on the island of Capri, climaxes with a cocktail called the War-in-Bed — a relatively appetizing blend of pineapple juice, egg, cocoa, caviar, red pepper, almond paste, nutmeg, and a whole clove, all mixed in the yellow Strega liqueur. He declares that modern women (preferably sheathed in dresses made of gold graphic patterns) will inevitably be won over by the intellectual rigor of Futurist cooking, describing one beautiful donna’s wide-eyed response: “I’m dazzled! Your genius frightens me!”

The sexy cannot be denied.

The oldest temple in the world

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

Stone circle at Gobekli TepeSeven thousand years older than Stonehenge, Gobekli Tepe is a ring of standing stones built by hunter-gatherers in what is now Turkey.

This is a huge deal because before it was discovered in 1993, archaeologists thought that temple complexes came after agriculture.

Compared with Stonehenge, they are humble affairs. None of the circles excavated (four out of an estimated 20) are more than 30 metres across. T-shaped pillars like the rest, two five-metre stones tower at least a metre above their peers. What makes them remarkable are their carved reliefs of boars, foxes, lions, birds, snakes and scorpions, and their age. Dated at around 9,500BC, these stones are 5,500 years older than the first cities of Mesopotamia, and 7,000 years older than Stonehenge.

Lion relief carving on standing stoneNever mind wheels or writing, the people who erected them did not even have pottery or domesticated wheat. They lived in villages. But they were hunters, not farmers.

What’s even more remarkable is that the temple is in fantastic condition. The builders seem to have covered it completely in tons of soil soon after they built it.

For more information on the excavation, see the Gobekli Tepe page on the German Archaeological Institute website.

3,000-year-old shell jewelry on Fiji

Friday, April 25th, 2008

Excavators on Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island, found a cache of jewelry and high-quality pottery made by the Lapita people, the earliest settlers of Fiji. The artifacts are about 3,000 year old.

Fiji Museum staffer Sepeti Matararaba found the jewelry, made from shells, under an upturned clay pot, put there by someone about 3,000 years ago. When Matararaba turned the pot over, he uncovered a cache of nine shell rings of different sizes, four shell bracelets and six necklace pieces complete with drill holes. […]

The site was likely a manufacturing center for shell jewelry and the cache a “deliberate burial of a shell jewelry collection” by the Lapita inhabitants, Nunn said.

“These are the first people in the South Pacific, they are a Stone Age people,” he said. “Within a decade or so of arriving in Fiji they were producing exquisite shell jewelry … they were producing intricately decorated pottery.”

Not only is the ancient jump in artistic skill remarkable, but after the Lapita disappeared as a distinct group around 550 B.C., Fijians stopped producing that high quality of shell jewelry and pottery altogether.

Anthropology professor Peter Shepphard thinks the decorations were the Lapita’s attempt to stay connected to their roots in the Bismarck Archipelago. Perhaps once their identity as a people faded, so did their muse.

Syria returns looted Iraqi antiquities

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

Syria has returned 700 artifacts looted from Iraq in the aftermath of the US invasion and smuggled across the border.

Objects include gold jewelry, coins, daggers and clay jars. Some date from the Bronze Age and the early Islamic era.

“These objects stolen in Iraq were seized by Syrian customs officials,” Naassan-Agha said, according to the official SANA news agency, adding that other “very precious” artefacts will be returned soon.

He also urged “all the countries of the world and UNESCO to strive to return to Iraq all the antiquities which were stolen under the eyes of American occupation soldiers.”

Nice little dig there.

The first oil paintings were made in Asia, not Europe

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

Afghanistan, to be precise, and painted on walls behind the giant 6th c. Buddhas destroyed by the Taliban, to be even more precise.

Although caves decorated with precious murals from 5th to 9th century A.D. also suffered from Taliban attacks on this World Heritage Site, they have since become the focus of a major discovery, revealing Buddhist oil paintings that predate those in Renaissance Europe by hundreds of years.

Scientists have proved, thanks to experiments performed at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, that the paints used were based of oil, hundreds of years before the technique was “invented” in Europe, when artists found they could use pigments bound with a medium of drying oil, such as linseed oil.

In many European history and art books, oil painting is said to have started in the 15th century in Europe. But the team that used the ESRF, an intense source of X rays, found the Bamiyan paintings date back to the mid-7th century AD

The paintings were made with all kinds of pigments, binders, resins, proteins, gums, varnish all layered on top of each other like a club sandwich of kickass.

Well that answers that

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

Yesterday I mused in re David Cahn, the antiquities dealer who had to cough up the lekythos:

Here’s the dealer in question’s website, btw. I wonder how much of that treasure is loot.

Thanks to the prodigious memory of Looting Matters’ David Gill, my question is no longer idle.

From an article last June:

The marble statue of god Apollo, discovered in the late 19th century in the town of Gortyna in Crete, was sought by Greece ever since it was reported stolen in 1991 together with nine other items.

It was not until March this year that Interpol informed Athens it had tracked it down in Berne.

Voulgarakis said Swiss arts dealer David Cahn, who had the statue in his possession, returned it unconditionally after a brief legal dispute.

I’ll just bet he did. In case his record over the past year or so didn’t speak loud and clear, I found another interesting tidbit amongst the braggadocio on his website.

He also contributed to the catalogue of the exhibition “Glories of the Past: Ancient Art from the Shelby White and Leon Levy Collection” held at the Metropolitan Museum of New York in 1990.

Shelby White has recently had to return ten of those Glories of the Past to Italy because, wouldn’t ya know, they were looted and illegally exported. That was just the comprise, too. Italy’s original request has twenty items on it, and I seriously doubt the ten artifacts that White refused to return had legitimate provenances either.

David Cahn has a degree in Classical Archaeology. There isn’t a chance in hell he didn’t realize the muck he was wallowing in. He, much like the rest of his colleagues and clients, simply chose to look the other way until the law forced them to do otherwise.

Ancient lekythos returned to Greece

Monday, April 21st, 2008

A marble lekythos (a tall vase used to hold oil) dating to the 4th century B.C. and inscribed with a funerary scene was returned to Greece April 17th. It had been in the (indubitably grubby) hands of a Swiss antiquities dealer, surprise, surprise.

It is a funerary lekythos depicting a farewell banquet for the deceased, in a classic farewell scene. It was presented at an international antiquities dealers exhibition in 2007 in Maastricht, where it was put up for auction by a Swiss antiquities dealer.

Detail of funerary inscriptionAfter a series of negotiations, the Swiss dealer decided to hand over the lekythos to the Greek government in an out-of-court settlement, without reservations or conditions. It was delivered to a representative of the Greek embassy in Berne and then crated in the customs free zone in Basel before being transported to Greece.

That’s actually a rather notable feat. Switzerland has been a central staging ground for antiquities dealers to hold looted and stolen artifacts before sale because it has no laws against importing illegally exported goods.

Last May, however, the Swiss and Greek governments signed an agreement requiring both countries to actively seek out illegally exported antiquities and repatriate them.

Here’s the dealer in question’s website, btw. I wonder how much of that treasure is loot.





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