Archive for July, 2008

Pompeii declared in state of emergency

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

The Italian government has declared Pompeii, the Roman town destroyed once by the eruption of Vesuvius and now again by 250 years of crappy excavation/looting/tourist hoards, in a state of emergency.

Archaeologists and art historians have long complained about the poor upkeep of Pompeii, dogged by lack of investment, mismanagement, litter and looting. Bogus tour guides, illegal parking attendants and stray dogs also plague visitors. [...]

The “state of emergency”, which the government said would last for a year, allows for extra funds and special measures to be taken to protect the site.

“Every year at least 150 square metres of fresco and plaster work are lost for lack of maintenance,” Antonio Irlando, a regional councillor responsible for artistic heritage, told the newspaper.

“The same goes for stones: at least 3,000 pieces every year end up disintegrating,” he said.

A third of the town is still underground, lucky bugger. Had it been excavated it would be as hosed as the rest of the site, and it can’t be excavated because it is currently covered by garbage from Naples, currently mired in a refuse crisis.

I’ve been reading a book about Pompeii over the past week, a lovely glossy book with all the latest finds and gorgeous pictures. It’s amazing how often they describe something that was excavated years ago and now only exists in some Grand Tour watercolors and journals, or described in 100-year-old books.

Here’s an example to chill your bones. To the left is a painting of a wall fresco of Venus from when it was found in the House of the Vestal Virgins in the 18th century. On the right is what is left of that wall fresco today.

Like a kick in the groin, ain’t it?

Don’t even get me started on that bastard Charles III, Bourbon king of Naples and Spain, who brutally mined the site for his personal collection after its rediscovery in 1748, even going so far as to knock down frescoed walls that were not deemed good enough to steal for his personal museum.

Pompeii has been looted pretty much non-stop since that day, and earlier by locals who knew where it was. Even as I type someone is tunneling in with a chisel and stripping entire walls of frescoes off to sell to art dealer pieces of shit like Giacomo Medici and Bob Hecht, may they rot in jail for seculum seculorum amen.

Here’s hoping the extra money this state of emergency declaration brings with it will help stem the tide of destruction. I can’t say I’m hugely optimistic at this point.

(For more on the neato photomontage above, visit Pompeii – A Different Perspective.)

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Lost footage of “Metropolis” found in Argentina

Saturday, July 5th, 2008

Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”, the silent movie set in a dystopic future of proletarian exploitation, Art Deco glamour and evil robot babes, is considered a pioneering masterpiece nowadays, but it bombed so hard when it was first released in 1927 that the studio edited out half the film to try to improve its mass appeal.

For years film historians have tried to patch together a full version as Lang originally produced it, but could never find a complete copy of the long film. Other bits and bobs have turned up over the years, but a full quarter of the picture remained missing.

Until now.

Adolfo Z. Wilson, a man from Buenos Aires and head of the Terra film distribution company, arranged for a copy of the long version of “Metropolis” to be sent to Argentina in 1928 to show it in cinemas there.

Shortly afterwards a film critic called Manuel Peña Rodríguez came into possession of the reels and added them to his private collection. In the 1960s Peña Rodríguez sold the film reels to Argentina’s National Art Fund – clearly nobody had yet realised the value of the reels.

A copy of these reels passed into the collection of the Museo del Cine (Cinema Museum) in Buenos Aires in 1992, the curatorship of which was taken over by Paula Félix-Didier in January this year. Her ex-husband, director of the film department of the Museum of Latin American Art, first entertained the decisive suspicion: He had heard from the manager of a cinema club, who years before had been surprised by how long a screening of this film had taken.

Together, Paula Félix-Didier and her ex-husband took a look at the film in her archive – and discovered the missing scenes.

They contacted the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau Foundation — the holders of the rights to “Metropolis” — and director Helmut Possmann confirmed without reservation the authenticity of the recovered footage.

“We’re not being fooled,” he said. “The film can now be shown more or less as Lang originally intended it. In terms of understanding what it’s about, we’ll be seeing a new film.”

Although estimates of its original length vary depending on the speed at which it is shown, Possmann said “Metropolis” was conceived as a film lasting just over 2-1/2 hours.

Around 20 to 25 minutes of footage that fleshes out secondary characters and sheds light on the plot would be added to the film pending restoration, he added. But around 5 minutes of the original were probably still missing, he said.

We won’t know how much footage is actually recoverable until it’s restored, which could take years. By then I’ll have Blu-Ray so I won’t mind having to replace the sweet version I currently have on DVD.

Here’s a still from the press conference where you can see a scratchy but entirely viewable frame of the newly discovered footage. It’s a scene between the capitalist magnate Fredersen and the mad scientist Rotwang.

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Washington’s boyhood home found (sans cherry tree)

Friday, July 4th, 2008

So Washington didn’t chop down a cherry tree and boldly refuse to cover it up, and it seems like the tales of his abject poverty were equally fictional.

In fact, he lived with his family in a spacious (for the time) 8 room, 1 1/2 story house. The house was demolished in the early 19th c., but archaeologists have found parts of the foundation, chimneys and stone-lined cellars, enough to determine the home’s original size and floorplan.

From sections of foundation stones, the bases of two chimneys and remains of four cellars, the archaeologists determined the dimensions of the main house, a rectangle 53 by 37 feet, not counting the separate kitchen. Other evidence from debris indicated that the house had a clapboard facade and wooden roof shingles.

Mark Wenger, an architectural historian for Ferry Farm, said the house appeared to have had a central hallway with front rooms and back rooms on each side and possibly three rooms upstairs under the slope of the roof. The front rooms faced on the river, which in those days was navigable to large sailing ships.

“It was a very nice gentry house,” Mr. Wenger said, at a time when most people made do with houses of only one or two rooms.

They found some groovy geegaws, too, like a pipe engraved with a Masonic symbol (Washington was a mason, so it might have been his) and wig curlers. He he… Washington put his wigs in curlers.

Happy Fourth of July! :boogie:

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Summer archaeological digs online

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

Students from UCLA will be blogging about their experiences this summer on digs in fourteen locations in seven different countries: Albania, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, Panama, Peru and the U.S.

Undergraduates will blog from — among other places — the world’s richest collection of rock art, a mass burial site for people mentioned in the writings of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle and a tropical village possibly spotted by Christopher Columbus’ crew on his fourth voyage to the Americas. [...]

The blogs are designed to showcase UCLA’s new field studies program, which this summer is taking 140 undergraduates to 13 different sites in 11 countries. Typically, archaeological digs are run with the help of professionals and graduate students. But participants in UCLA’s new field program are much less experienced. In fact, they aren’t necessarily archaeology or even anthropology majors — just students intrigued by archaeological fieldwork.

Lucky, lucky, lucky bastards. So lucky I can hardly stand it. Good thing they’ll be blogging about the digs so I can live vicariously through them.

The Albanian dig is my favorite. I mean, you can’t beat this with 20 sticks:

No less exciting will be John Papadopoulos’ dig in southwestern Albania, near the Adriatic coast. In 2004, the UCLA classics professor and his wife, Sarah Morris, also a UCLA classics professor, discovered the graves of 150 people they now believe to be Illyrians, neighbors of the ancient Greeks who were mentioned not only by Aristotle but also by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus. By day, the students will learn to use GPS mapping technology and methods for classifying and conserving all kinds of artifacts, including delicate bronze crowns discovered in the graves of adolescent girls. At night, they will sleep among the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Apollonia, where the Roman Emperor Augustus attended a school of philosophy and his great uncle Julius Caesar was once stranded on the way to a key battle.

You can read a succulent description of a past student’s experience in this article in UCLA magazine. It sounds like an amazing program for anyone. Even graduate students don’t get this lucky often.

“In most field schools, students aren’t being treated well,” Boytner said. “They’re being treated as inexpensive labor, and there isn’t really any training.” Students leave those digs discouraged, feeling used, without learning proper techniques or even much about the site. That means fewer students became archaeologists — and even fewer become donors, he said.

Boytner, co-director of the Chile dig, used the Tarapaca Valley project as a pilot program. A packed schedule of field work and classes gives students a crash-course in the historical significance of the dig site, how and why to use different archaeological techniques, and instruction on lab work and complex field equipment. Working side by side with local archaeologists also exposes students to regional customs, like the pago. [A Chilean custom of asking the earth's permission before digging by making an offering of wine.]

The blogs begin on July 7th. The site is password protected until then (lame), but I’ll remind you next week. Summer Digs.

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Della Robbia sculpture crashes at the Met

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

A white and blue glazed relief of the archangel Michael by Andrea della Robbia somehow came off its perch above a doorway in the Metropolitan Museum of Art Monday night and crashed to the floor where a security guard found it the next morning.

It’s apparently restorable because it landed on its back, but it has definitely suffered major damage. The face of the archangel is one intact piece, at least, which is important for the restoration to look good.

Mr. Holzer said there were no immediate indications of what caused the sculpture to topple. It was encased in a wooden frame that covered the unglazed back of the terra cotta. The sculpture and frame rested atop the doorway on a steel shelf, with additional steel bolts to secure the top, and there were no apparent signs of rust or water damage behind the piece. [...]

The museum said in a statement that “while the Metropolitan routinely and thoroughly inspects its pedestals and wall mounts to reconfirm their structural integrity, it will initiate a reinvigorated museumwide examination as expeditiously as possible in the days that follow this unfortunate accident.” The Met was also reviewing security video to see if it revealed any information about what occurred.

The museum has closed the room in which fell to ensure every last possible chip that might have broken off is found and sent to the conservation area for restoration.

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Puerto Rican petroglyphs caught in sovereignty fight

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

While building a dam to prevent flooding on Puerto Rico’s southern coast, the US Army Corps of Engineers uncovered a rock carved with the image of a woman.

The ancient petroglyph of the woman was found on a five-acre site in Jácana, a spot along the Portugues River in the city of Ponce, on Puerto Rico’s southern coast. Among the largest and most significant ever unearthed in the Caribbean, archaeologists said, the site includes plazas used for ceremony or sport, a burial ground, residences and a midden mound — a pile of ritual trash.

The finding sheds new light on the lifestyle and activities of a people extinct for nearly 500 years.

Experts say the site — parts of it unearthed from six feet of soil — had been used at least twice, the first time by pre-Taino peoples as far back as 600 AD, then again by the Tainos sometime between 1200 and 1500 AD.

But since the dam area is a federal construction site, the ACoE packed up 125 cubic feet of artifacts, all the portable goodies found on the site including skeletons, ceramics, even small petroglyphs, and shipped them to Atlanta. For some reason, the Puerto Rican authorities had a problem with this.

A little diplomacy might have been nice, but the ACoE and the firm they hired to hurriedly excavate the site so they could get back to dam building shipped the artifacts without asking or even telling the local government.

US law requires that any historical artifacts found by the Corps must be kept in a federally approved curating facility, and there aren’t any of those in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rican law requires that any historical artifacts found in Puerto Rico remain in Puerto Rico. Ugliness ensues.

Okay so everything shippable has been shipped, but what about the site itself with its 800-year-old ball courts and large, beautifully-preserved, unique petroglyphs? Well, the ACoE can’t move the dam, so they’re just gonna rebury the site.

That’s way better than plan A, trust, which was to use the location as a rock dump.

What’s left of the site will remain beside a five-year dam construction project, which will continue as planned. It may be vulnerable to floods, archaeologists acknowledged, but they note that it lasted that way underground for hundreds of years.

”It’s not the best way to preserve it, but it’s better than the alternative: to destroy it,” Espenshade said. “The Corps could have destroyed it, but they took the highly unusual step to preserve it.”

Givers aren’t they?

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