Archive for August, 2008

Finding and identifying Franco’s victims

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

Descendants of people killed by Franco during and after the Spanish Civil War are coming together from all over to contribute to a DNA bank that will help identify remains found in mass graves.

Historians estimate about 500,000 people from both sides were killed in the civil war, which was sparked by Franco’s insurgency against the democratically elected left-wing Republican government.

After Franco’s victory, historians say 50,000 Republicans were executed by Nationalist forces and tens of thousands were incarcerated, the majority in the early years of his rule.

While the regime honoured its own dead, it left tens of thousands of its opponents buried in hundreds of unmarked graves across the country.

So far, Spain’s Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory has exhumed 1200 bodies from 110 graves, but they have information on 300 more potential grave locations. Who knows how many more mass graves are out there that nobody knows about.

It would help a lot if the military finally released secret records that have been sealed shut since the Official Secrets Law of 1968. At least the Defense Minister Carme Chacon, is trying to pry open the horror files.

Millions of documents which record the fate of generations of Spaniards during the 1936-39 conflict and General Franco’s subsequent dictatorship, remain hermetically sealed unless opened individually by judicial order.

Ms Chacon’s initiative forms part of the Socialist government’s plan to restore justice to Franco’s victims, in accordance with a historic memory law passed last year. What is the point, Ms Chacon asks, of digging up the bones of those thrown anonymously into mass graves after being shot at dawn, when all the documentation is locked up in army files?

Good damn point.

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Gold wreath, bones found in a copper vat

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

Archaeologists excavating what was once the central market in ancient Aigai, the capital of Macedonia in Philip II and Alexander the Great’s day, have uncovered an odd marvel.

When the digger first came across the large copper vat, he thought it was some old landmine. Upon further inspection, archaeologists found a gold jar inside containing a gold wreath and human bones.

You don’t come across gold wreaths every day. Only aristocrats and nobles were buried with them, but they were buried in, you know, cemeteries, not in jars.

That means someone disinterred those bones and the wreath, canned them, and reburied them in the market near the spot where Philip II was assassinated.

“Archeologists must explain why such a group … was found outside the extensive royal cemetery,” the university statement said. “(They must also) work out why the bones of the unknown – but by no means insignificant – person were hidden in the city’s most public and sacred area.”

During the fourth century BC, burials outside organized cemeteries were very uncommon.

Whoever did this did it fairly soon after burial and obviously left behind the big ticket items (the gold wreath and jar), so it definitely wasn’t a looter.

I love a good archaeological mystery. :love:

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Your brush with archaeological fame

Friday, August 29th, 2008

One of our regular commenters here, Dina, has a blog of her own: Jerusalem Hills Daily Photo.

It’s always a beautiful glimpse into the daily life of a city crammed to the gills with history, but now Dina is on an archaeological dig, so the daily photos take on a whole new historical resonance.

From one of my favorite entries so far:

Hope this won’t make anyone freak out, but my F words for today are femur, fibula, frontal bones, and funerary practices. Of Canaanites who were buried here on the outskirts of Jerusalem some 4,000 years ago.

Last week, to the excitement of all, we uncovered a skeleton in the burial cave I and three others were digging in. Here you can see the skull, arm bones, and ribs.

How exciting is that? I’ve linked to dig blogs before, but I didn’t know those folks so this is even cooler. Vai Dina vai! Sei tutti noi! :notworthy:

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Pre-Incan Wari mummy unearthed in Peru

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

In an upscale Lima neighborhood called Miraflores, there’s a pre-Incan mud brick temple called Huaca Pucllana. Archaeologists excavating it have now found the first intact Wari burial on the site, and it includes a female mummy complete with a snazzy death mask, plus the remains of two other adults and a child.

The Wari people lived and ruled in what is now Peru for some 500 years, between 600 AD and 1100 AD. Their capital was near modern-day Ayacucho, in the Andes, but they traveled widely and are known for their extensive network of roads. [...]

Small children were often sacrificed and it is common to find their bodies alongside adult ones. The child discovered with the adult mummies at Huaca Pucllana was likely sacrificed.

The discovery at Huaca Pucllana confirms the Wari people buried their dead in what is now Lima and offers a more complete picture of how burials were done. “This enriches Lima’s story,” Flores said.

The mummy dates to approximately 700 A.D., researchers say.

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Web Sea Scrolls

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

Scholars and museums have been elbowing each other in the face for decades to get access to the famed Dead Sea Scrolls, but because they’re so delicate only a small fraction of the people who’d like to study them get the chance.

Soon the entire internetted world will get that chance.

“The project began as a conservation necessity,” Ms. Shor explained. “We wanted to monitor the deterioration of the scrolls and realized we needed to take precise photographs to watch the process. That’s when we decided to do a comprehensive set of photos, both in color and infrared, to monitor selectively what is happening. We realized then that we could make the entire set of pictures available online to everyone, meaning that anyone will be able to see the scrolls in the kind of detail that no one has until now.”

The digitizing process will take only 1-2 years, which seems fast to me, especially considering how gingerly these fragments must be handled. Once it’s done, every piece of the Dead Sea Scrolls will be available high detail to anyone with an internet connection. Very, very cool.

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Leonardo waz here?

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

In 1998 Christie’s auctioned off a pretty portrait of a young woman. Classified as a 19th-century German School work, it sold for a modest $21,850. The art dealer who purchased it sold it to a Swiss collector last year and the new owner did a little digging with the help of a collector friend.

The two collectors took the portrait to Lumiere Technology, a Paris-based company specializing in multispectral digital technology that had already digitized two works by Leonardo: the Mona Lisa at the Louvre and “Lady With an Ermine” at the Czartoryski Museum in Krakow, Poland.

“The first time that the owner gave me this drawing he didn’t say a thing; the author was secret,” said Pascal Cotte, Lumiere Technology’s chief technical officer.

Though Mr. Cotte carried out a series of tests on the work for nearly four weeks, he said, it did not take him long to come up with a name. “I went to the owner and said, ‘I have a feeling it’s a drawing by Leonardo,’ and he said, ‘We’re here for just that.’”

In June, Lumiere announced that its examination had led to the authentication of the work as a Leonardo.

Carbon 14-dating tests carried out by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich and released this month place the work’s date between 1440 and 1650.

So what crack was Christie’s smoking, you ask? They won’t comment until the painting “has been the subject of comprehensive and conclusive academic and scientific analysis.” Which naturally leads one to wonder what exactly their small army of appraisers did with their time before the portrait went on the block.

Not that the Leonardo authentication is a done deal, mind you. There are some weirdnesses. The painting is on vellum, for instance, and no currently known Leonardo uses that medium. Some experts think the style doesn’t match the master’s.

Even so, the Swiss collector has already gotten an insane number of offers for the piece, including one for $50 million from a Russian buyer, all of which he has turned down.

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Stained glass windows = solar-powered nanotech air-purifiers

Monday, August 25th, 2008

The medieval glaziers who made the cathedral in Chartres and the Duomo of Milan so breathtaking inadvertently made the taking of said breath healthier.

It’s the gold paint they used that acts as an air purifier when light shines through the glass.

[Associate professor at Queensland University of Technology] Zhu [Huai Yong] said that tiny gold particles found in medieval gold paint react with sunlight to destroy air-borne pollutants like volatile organic chemicals/compounds (VOCs), which are emitted from paints, lacquers, and glues, among other things.

“These VOCs create that ‘new’ smell as they are slowly released from walls and furniture, but they, along with methanol and carbon monoxide, are not good for your health, even in small amounts,” Zhu said.

When interacting with gold particles, sunlight creates an electromagnetic field that reacts with the oscillating electrons in the gold. This field resonates and breaks apart pollutants in the air, according to Zhu.

No wonder churches smell so great. I sense a new/old trend in Green building coming on. No more overpriced Sharper Image ionizer things; just glorious stained glass in every window.

:hattip: The Cranky Professor

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Peru on a roll

Monday, August 25th, 2008

This time it’s not just pending litigation, but rather a major, major score of almost 3,898 Inca and pre-Inca artifacts returned from the National Institute of Latin American Anthropology and Thinking in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

According to the Peruvian embassy in Buenos Aires, these pieces include valuable ceramics, textiles, metal objects from different pre-Hispanic cultures, as well as a colonial picture, all of which were taken out of the country illegally.

These artifacts are part of an 18,000-piece collection of Peruvian cultural heritage that was illegally taken to Argentina, affirmed the Peruvian embassy.

I can’t find any other information about this collection, the circumstances of its removal from Peru or the legal reasoning behind the return of a fraction of it. I’ll keep digging.

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Getting trashed Aztec style

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

Dogfish Head brewery in Delaware is releasing a chocolate beer which uses the same ingredients the Aztecs used for their human sacrifice after-parties.

University of Pennsylvania molecular archaeologists examined the remains in an Aztec drinking vessel found in Honduras, and the Dogfish brewmasters recreated the quaff of the gods.

“Before we were eating chocolate, we were drinking it.” [Dogfish Head owner Sam] Calagione said. “In ancient central America, cocoa was considered to be a very divine and sought-after ingredient.”

Combining cocoa nibs, powder and honey with chilies and seeds of the annatto tree, Theobroma aims to dispel the notion that chocolate-flavored alcohol is only for ladies. At a hearty nine percent alcohol-by-volume, it nearly doubles the alcohol content of the average mass-produced beer.

I’ll be raising a glass of that goodness to Xtapolapocetl as soon as I can get mah grubby hands on it.

I just ordered a sixer of their Midas Touch brew, which is also a historical recreation, this time of the dregs left in cups in the Golden One’s tomb. It’s a meady sort of thing, apparently, involving muscat grapes, honey, barley and saffron. Weird, right? If it sucks they’ll be stocking stuffers.

For more about the Aztec chocolate beer, see Dogfish’s page: Theobroma.

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Another great Roman city in Turkey

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

Archaeologists excavating the ancient Roman city of Pompeipolis on the coast of the Black Sea in Turkey have uncovered a mosaic floor, an iron furnance, a marketplace and a bunch of small artifacts like the bronze Apollo on the right.

This dig has been turning up amazing things for three years. Last year they found a temple of Augustus which is even better preserved than the one in Ephesus.

Pompeipolis was founded by none other than Pompey the Great (aka Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus) in 65 or 66 B.C. when he was in the East fighting Mithridates VI of Pontus. It’s such a rich site for Roman remains because it was built brand-new, not on top of or amidst an existing town, like Ephesus was.

It was abandoned in the sixth or seventh century A.D. when the Persians invaded.

I found a nice little video tour of the uncovered ruins but fair warning: you’ll want to mute your computer before clicking play.

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