Archive for June, 2008

Vatican to Tom Hanks: Bitch, please

Friday, June 20th, 2008

The Catholic Church has refused to grant the Da Vinci Code sequel permission to shoot scenes in two Roman churches.

A spokesperson for the Catholic Church said they had immediately declined the requests to film in Santa Maria del Popolo and Santa Maria della Vittoria churches because the movies challenge Catholic beliefs.

Church official Monsignor Marco Fibbi said: “It’s a film that treats religious issues in a way that contrasts with common religious sentiment. We would be helping them create a work that might well be beautiful but that does not conform to our views.”

Hey, the Church is throwing them a bone already by suggesting that the stupid sequel to a stupid movie of a stupid book might turn out to be a thing of beauty.

I can think of only one draw Santa Maria della Vittoria holds for this production: Bernini’s The Ecstasy of St. Teresa. It’s a famously sensual representation of St. Teresa’s vision of being pierced by an angel’s lance. Then there are the guys in the opera boxes on both sides of the chapel watching her.

Doubtless the folks who brought you the theory that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were married and the Church supressed it to keep women down would find Teresa’s ecstasy all sorts of relevant.

Santa Maria del Popolo is one of my favorite churches. I used to hang out in it often waiting for my friends who were always, always late meeting up at Piazza del Popolo. It has 2 Caravaggi (The conversion on the way to Damascus and the Crucifixion of Saint Peter), Pinturicchio frescoes, and a really cool tomb with a shrouded skeleton welcoming you when you first walk in.


I knew it!

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

Former director general of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities calls the “oldest church in the world” claim “ridiculous”. According to him, the guy who found the cave is something of a fabulist, and there is no evidence to support the sensationalism.

Israeli archaeologist Stephen Pfann isn’t quite so blunt, but he too thinks the cave=church theory is shaky at best.

“It sounds rather anachronistic,” he said, adding that during the first century, the term “church” or “ekklesia” was used for the assembled body of believers—not the building or catacombs where they were assembling.

“If they are talking about a cave, it could have been a hiding place. In time—if there were martyrs there or something significant that took place there or a well-known individual who was among the disciples of Jesus—then you would have had reason to commemorate the site, which could later be used by the church’s monks.”

“But the cave that’s there is one that doesn’t necessarily commemorate anything … I don’t know how you can take an underground cave and say it could present itself as a first-century church.”

Ainorite?! I love it when supersmart people agree with me and they lay out the case in a thoughtful manner I can just quote as if I’d done the work. :boogie:


1780 British warship found in Lake Ontario

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

The 22-gun British warship HMS Ontario sank during a storm on Lake Ontario in 1780, and divers have been looking for her ever since. Now they’ve found her, and she’s apparently in great shape.

“Usually when ships go down in big storms, they get beat up quite a bit,” Mr. Scoville said. “They don’t sink nice and square. This went down in a huge storm, and it still managed to stay intact. There are even two windows that aren’t broken. Just going down, the pressure difference, can break the windows. It’s a beautiful ship.”

Mr. Smith, who was shown underwater video of the discovery, said, “If it wasn’t for the zebra mussels, she looks like she only sunk last week.”

The dark, cold water acts as a perfect preservative, Mr. Smith said. At that depth, there is no light and no oxygen to hasten decomposition, and little marine life to feed on the wood.

They’re not releasing the location to keep her safe from looters, and she won’t be raised. She was carrying 130 British troops when she went down, so the site is a de facto war cemetary.


Roman horse skeletons, chariot found in Greece

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

Archaeologists working in north-eastern Greece have uncovered 16 horse skeletons and a two-wheeled chariot buried in a grave dating to the Roman Empire.

Near to the remains of six of the horses archaeologists found a shield, weapons and various other accessories.

Ten of the horse skeletons were complete, and in addition to the horses, diggers found a grave and four tombs covered with a ceramic lid, which contained four bronze coins dating back to the fourth century AD.

The chariot, dating from the first or second century AD, was “undoubtedly designed to be used in war or hunting”, the ministry said.

The chariot was decorated with a frieze relief in bronze, depicting three of Hercules’ labours: namely, the Cerberus dog, the wild boar of Erymanthian, and the Stymphalian birds.

No pictures yet, dammit, but it’s too cool a find not to post about it.


Harvard returns bells to Danilov Monastery

Monday, June 16th, 2008

American philanthropist Charles Crane purchased the 18 bells in 1929 at one of Stalin’s cultural patrimony fire sales in 1929. Crane donated them to Harvard, where they have been merrily sounding the time of day ever since.

They would have most likely been destroyed had he not snapped them up. As it is, they are the only full set of pre-revolutionary bells to have survived Stalin.

The first request from the monastery to return the 25-ton bells was made in 2002, and since then, one bell has already been returned. The other 17 are on their way now.

For the Danilov Monastery, now the home of the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, the homecoming of the bells is a matter of spiritual significance. “[The bells] are described as singing icons – that they have voices and tongues that are singing to God as they are ringing,” says Professor Campos. “There is no way to replace these bells. They are an organic set and they have their own history from the place they were hung. They were very much a part of the religious community.”

Hierodeacon Roman, the chief bell ringer at the Danilov Monastery, had only seen and heard the bells on the Internet until he visited Harvard in 2004, where he had a chance to ring them for the first time. “We’ve been anticipating [this] for a long long time in our monastery,” he said, describing the event as being of “miraculous” importance and praising Harvard’s cooperation.

Unlike all the other recent restitutions that have made the news, this one was entirely guilt and recriminations-free. Harvard was delighted to have them all these years, and the Danilov is delighted they survived.

All 18 bells are being replaced by new ones made in Russia specifically for Harvard, and financed by Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg.


Scottish gold in Newfoundland

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

The British colony on the Avalon peninsula in Newfoundland was founded by Lord Baltimore in 1621. Six years later, someone dropped a 22-karat gold Scottish coin. Almost four hundred years later, archaeologists found it in the stone footing of a house.

The “Sword and Sceptre” coin dated 1601 was issued during the reign of King James VI of Scotland, two years before he ascended the throne of England as King James I.

It features the crowned arms of Scotland (rampant lion) on the obverse, surrounded by the Latin inscription, “James VI, by the Grace of God, King of Scots.” The reverse features a crossed sword and sceptre, flanked by two thistles — all below a crown. The reverse Latin legend reads, “The safety of the people is the supreme law.” “It’s probably the most unusual and valuable thing from this early period (ever found). I don’t know of any other (complete) gold coins from any other land archeological sites in eastern North America or Canada,” said Tuck, who has been excavating the site of the colony since the early 1990s. “Those underwater guys are always finding them by the bushel from ships and stuff.”

That’s funneh. :giggle:

Interdisciplinary envy aside, I didn’t realize gold coins were such a rare find in North America. It makes sense, though, considering that Britain colonized the land at least in part to establish a solid launching point for piracy again Spanish treasure ships from Central and South America, and all that gold went to the motherland.


Hawaiian temple restored

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

Hapaialii Heiau is a stone temple, possibly used as a calendar, made in the mid 1400’s on the Big Island of Hawaii. A team of masons and archaeologists has restored it one huge rock at a time.

During the project it was discovered a person could accurately mark the passing of the seasons when standing behind the center stone on the heiau’s top platform and aligning it with various points on the heiau.

Experts found that the sun sets directly over the southwestern corner of the platformlike structure during winter solstice, and they are expecting it to set over the northwestern corner during this month’s summer solstice.

“Our ancestors were well-accomplished developers,” Chun said. “A lot of knowledge was revealed through this work.”

The same team has already begun to restore an adjacent temple which is known as the place where Chief Kamalalawalu of Maui was sacrificed in the 16th century after losing a war to Chief Lonoikamakahiki.

You can see that temple in the background with Hapaialii Heiau in the foreground in this picture:


A date 2000 years in the making

Friday, June 13th, 2008

I’m absurdly proud of that title, and here’s why: Israeli researchers planted a 2000-year-old date palm seed that archaeologists collected from Masada in the 60’s and it actually grew!

Now it’s a foot and a half tall and the oldest seed to have ever germinated. (A 1300-year-old lotus seed found in a dry lake bed in China is the previous title holder.)

They didn’t just plop the pit into a pot. Elaine Solowey, with the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in Israel, bathed three seeds in fertilizer and enzyme-rich solutions before they were planted.

“Two of them came up,” Dr. Sallon says.

She and her colleagues weren’t sure exactly how old the seed was when they planted it. But when the sapling was repotted after a year and a half, they found seed fragments clinging to the roots and sent them to Switzerland to be dated.

Markus Elgi at the University of Zurich’s Radiocarbon Laboratory analyzed the fragments and two other seeds that had been found at the same spot, but hadn’t grown. He found they were 2,000 years old, give or take 50 years.

The Judean date palm died out a few hundred years later — the date palms in Isreal today come from Californian stock, sadly — but according to Pliny, there used to be vast forests of Judean date palms in the Jordan river valley, and Judean dates were known to be especially large and delicious.

They became symbols of Judea, playing a featured role on the ancient shekel and on Vespasian’s sore-winnery Iudea Capta sestertius, in which a woman in mourning sits and a bound man with weapons cast on the ground stands under a Judean date palm.

We won’t know for 2 or 3 more years if Methuselah is female, and even if she is a ladeh, she might not flower or fruit for her own reasons. I’m hoping it might some day be possible to sample the same dates that were the Masada Sicarii’s last snack.


California falls into the sea: a preview

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

In 1929 a charming “community of bungalows” on the picturesque southern tip of San Pedro began to slide into the sea. Literally.

Sometimes it moved as fast as a foot a day, but nonetheless, the collapse was gradual enough that almost all of the houses were moved in time and nobody was harmed. By 1941 however, the entire area had become so unstable that the city had to fence it off.

Naturally the fence doesn’t stop photographers, urban explorers, shifty teenagers and pretty much everyone else from exploring what is now known as Sunken City. The jagged street that plunges into the ocean across from Catalina Island and the foundations of long-gone houses are irresistible.

“The manhole entrances were all brickwork,” says John Nieto, education director for the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy.

“There’s all this ancient 80-year-old stuff – you can see the type of construction of the roads and the type of construction of the electric line. It’s almost like an archaeology exhibit.”

It’s like the end of Planet of the Apes, only with normal everyday life instead of a highly recognizable political and cultural icon.

For more groovy pictures of Sunken City, check out this Flickr account and this one.


Okay, okay, I give.

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

I haven’t posted about the so-called “world’s oldest Christian church” discovered in Rehab, Jordan, because the claim seems to me vastly overblown.

I mean, what they actually found is a cave under a church where early Christians might have hid out. So far all they’ve got to bolster the grandiose title of oldest church evar is a circular area with seating. Even if one part of the cave was used for worship, does that really qualify it as a “Christian church”?

In the immediate post-Jesus area, people were congregating in all sorts of places: private homes, catacombs, olive groves, wherever two or more gathered in his name. Are they all the oldest Christian churches in the world too?

The inscription, the artifacts, the burials they’ve seen so far have all come from the actual church above the cave. The only “clear evidence of early Christian rituals that predate the church” is that apse.

I can’t help but be a little offended for Saint Georgeous Church. It’s beautiful and way old in and of itself. It doesn’t deserve to be upstaged by its own basement, although of course any attention the cave gets will spill over to St. George.

Anyway, Monsters and Critics has some killer pictures of the cave and the remains of the actual church above it, so I figure it’s my duty to share the goods.






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