Archive for October, 2008

I got mad at The Antique Detective

Friday, October 31st, 2008

I came across an article today that pissed me off so much I actually bothered to register and comment: Genuine antiquities are surprisingly affordable.

Plasma TVs from the back of some guy’s van are surprisingly affordable too. Know why? BECAUSE THEY’RE FRIKKIN STOLEN.

I mean, just look at this quote.

I know it sounds unbelievable that it is possible to pay as little as $200 for a small Egyptian station (954-853 B.C.) or a Neolithic painted pottery jar c. 2000 B.C. or a free blown amber marbled glass flask c. 1st century A.D. for $1,000/$2,000.

Surprisingly the answer is because they aren’t very rare. According to Bill Gage, in the expert department of James Julia Auctions, they turn up regularly at auction. “They are still digging it up and it was untouched for 2,000 years.”

They are still digging it up. There. Right there. Who the hell does Anne Gilbert The Antique Detective think is doing that digging? Can ya maybe detect that every major antiquities-exporting country has LAWS against “digging it up” and selling it for a bargoon to Indiana Jones manqué IT professionals in the greater Chicago area?

Now watch this drive:

If you are still interested check before buying for historical significance, authentic age and good condition. Study museum collections and ask questions.

Historical significance, age and condition. Not a single word in the entire article about history of ownership. No need for buyers to care in the least if they’re supporting grave robbers, drug cartels and terrorists.

So here’s what I said in my comment:

I’m dismayed by your complete lack of acknowledgment that recently surfaced antiques (“They are still digging it up and it was untouched for 2,000 years.”) are most likely looted, stolen by highly destructive grave robbers and trafficked by criminal networks including a vast panoply of terrorists, drug dealers and all manner of criminals.

The market in Apullian red figure vases in particular is notoriously comprised of goods ripped from the ground of central Italy since 1970 in contravention of Italian law and the 1970 UNESCO convention.

To not even mention provenance or ownership history as something potential buyers should care about is deeply irresponsible. That sort of look-the-other-way attitude is why Shelby White, the Getty Museum, the Met and a myriad other collectors and institutions have been forced to return the stolen goods they so gleefully purchased with the reckless encouragement of people like you.

I had links in there but evidentally they don’t allow HTML in comments.

What do you think? Was I too nice?

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Speaking of anti-semitic German trash

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

Archaeologists are excavating three sites from Martin Luther’s life: the floor of the building where Luther was born, his parents’ house, and his residence in the monastery of Wittenberg where he lived with his family after the Reformation.

They’ve found all kinds of interesting little discarded geegaws in his kitchen trash.

The digs exposed toys and food remains, broken dishes and grain (dated to the year 1500, using the C-14 method). The archeologists also found his wife’s wedding ring and a hoard of 250 silver coins. [...]

The archeologists have already been hard at work in the old abbey in Wittenberg. They scored a direct hit in the rear courtyard, where they found a waste pit filled with a collection of the family’s refuse.

The find reveals that the doctor worked in a heated room with a view of the Elbe River. He spent his evenings writing in the light of lamps filled with animal fat. The dig contained the bindings of parchment books, several “quill knives” to sharpen goose quills, as well as four writing sets containing sand, ink and styluses.

He lived in style as a boy, too, despite his tall tales of being a poor miner’s son. His family trash testifies to his gourmet diet and expensive toys.

It was on this farm that young Martin and his siblings played, surrounded by flocks of geese and chickens. The fragments at the site reveal that they played with crossbows, clay marbles and bowling pins made of beef bones — toys not every family could afford at the time.

The remains of kitchen scraps discovered on the property reveal that the family frequently ate roast goose and the tender meat of young pigs. During Lent, the Luther family ate expensive ocean fish, like herring, codfish and plaice.

This remarkable collection of Lutherian artifacts will be going on display starting tomorrow at the German State Museum of Prehistory.

Fun fact: he claimed to chase the devil away with his farts. For. Reals.

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Artifacts from Kristallnacht found in dump

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

Israeli researchers have found a unique trove of artifacts from Kristallnacht, the 1938 Nazi riot of anti-semitic violence which resulted in massive destruction of Jewish-owned property and 30,000 men sent to concentration camps.

Despite the importance of the event, very few artifacts have ever surfaced. There are plenty of descriptions from witnesses, some pictures, a movie or two, but almost no material remains.

That’s because the Nazis piled the loot in trains and sent it to Klandorf. The locals knew about it, but no historians or researchers did until a fortuitous forest encounter.

Werner Russ, a retired forester, was gathering mushrooms when he ran into Yaron Svoray, an Israeli writer and former detective who was researching stolen artifacts once stashed in a nearby hunting lodge that belonged to Hermann Göring, the Luftwaffe commander. Mr. Russ, 73, confirmed to Mr. Svoray what people of Klandorf had always known about the local dump. “We’re away from everything here,” he said. “I thought surely it would not interest anyone.”

Mr. Svoray, though, was decidedly interested. He returned in spring, bringing along three friends with shovels and picks. They dug up a green bottle with a Star of David stamped into the bottom, mezuzot and burnt armrests of chairs from synagogues. Mr. Svoray also found an ornamental metal swastika.

Now that it’s made the press, though, this pristine site needs to be kept from neo-Nazi shitheads diving for swastikas, not to mention from garden variety looters.

A Holocaust museum and research center in Israel, The Ghetto Fighters’ House, has a neat idea.

The Ghetto Fighters’ House hopes to set up a living history center that would bring young Germans and Israelis together to sift through the contents of the dump. Such a project could help the area, one of the many economically depressed parts of the former East Germany.

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Agincourt controversy 593 years later

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

Medieval illumination of Battle of AgincourtYou know the story immortalized by Shakespeare’s Henry V: a small force of scrappy but proud Englishmen (we few, we happy few) beat the arrayed force of French nobility on October 25, 1415, St. Crispin’s Day.

Well, some French historians beg to differ, and they’re holding a conference at the Medieval History Museum in Agincourt on October 25th, the 593rd anniversary of the battle, to rewrite the history the victors claimed.

First, the few:

In fact, detailed bureaucratic records of French king [sic] Charles VI’s army reveal that they were made up of 9000 travelling soldiers, perhaps with another 3000 locals from the Picardy region where the battle took place.

This compares to the total force of 12000 who travelled to France with Henry, although some 3000 were lost during the preceding siege of Harfleur, and through dysentery.

Then, the happy:

Mr Gilliot said notably horrific acts perpetuated by the English included placing prisoners in a barn and setting in [sic] on fire, with the permission of Henry V.

When the Duke of Alençon, who commanded the second division of the French army, had failed to put an axe through Henry, he tried to surrender but was killed by the King’s 40-strong bodyguard.

Forty to one. I like them odds.

No British academics were invited to the conference; I can’t imagine why. This isn’t an exclusively French nationalist revision, though. The article cites a British professor, Anne Curry, who has written a book debunking the pro-England propaganda surrounding Agincourt.

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Daughter of slave votes for Obama

Monday, October 27th, 2008

Texan Amanda Jones is 109. Her father was a slave until he was 12. At his encouragement, she has voted in every election since she first cast a ballot for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, despite all manner of harassment.

Amanda Jones’ father urged her to exercise her right to vote, despite discriminatory practices at the polls and poll taxes meant to keep black and poor people from voting. Those practices were outlawed for federal elections with the 24th Amendment in 1964, but not for state and local races in Texas until 1966.

Today, she filled in a mail-in ballot for Barack Obama. This is a great day.

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Backstage at Versailles

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

Versailles has been undergoing a massive renovation the past four years, renovations that are projected to continue until at least 2020.

The Hall of Mirrors was reopened last year to great fanfare, but I’ve found a more unassuming but equally fascinating testament to the restoration work that’s been done.

Architectural photographer Robert Polidori has been photographing Versailles over the past two decades using a large format camera. Here’s a sample of some of those pictures.

He’s really captured the moment of transition, hasn’t he? Not only is the subject exquisitely beautiful, but it’s such a unique view: plastic-covered canopy beds, the Sun King’s legs on a giant portrait laid horizontally, dramatic vistas of almost empty rooms.

He’s coming out with a monograph collection of the pictures. Sixty-three smackers is a little rich for my blood, but I’m sure it’s worth it.

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Backyard gallows

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

Urban sprawl has an fascinating side-effect in Europe. Medieval and early modern execution sites which used to be on roadways outside of town are turning up in people’s back yards.

The finds are gruesomely informative. One site in Germany had a skeleton of a woman with a foot and a half long spike driven through her skull.

Apparently part of the executioner’s job was to decorate the area with dead people and body parts and whatnot to let visitors know the town was tough on crime. The lady’s head was nailed to a post as part of the “don’t fuck with us” decor.

She had it easy, though.

Of course, convicts might also have suffered by way of the notorious “wheel.” This punishment was reserved for the worst of all crimes, murder or treason. Using the wheel involved pegging the convict down on the ground with his or her extremities spread wide. Then the executioner would repeatedly drop an iron-mounted wheel onto the victim.

A skeleton from Friedlandburg near Göttingen demonstrates what kind of mess this brutal procedure produced. The ribs are shattered, lower legs and forearms broken, the skull’s left temple shattered.

Then the body was left to rot. The longest period of time recorded for a corpse to have been exposed on a wheel is 3 years.

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Five even dirtier presidential elections

Friday, October 24th, 2008

Cracked magazine has a great little article covering five historical instances of negative campaigning, all of them surprisingly similar to aspersions cast in the current political climate.

President Adams’ team sent out pamphlets saying if Jefferson was elected he would destroy Christianity, and that, “prostitutes…will preside in the sanctuaries now devoted to the worship of the Most High.”

When the threat of an all-hooker church wasn’t effective enough to destroy Jefferson’s career, Adams’ Federalists stepped up their game, explaining that Jefferson’s America would involve the “teaching of murder robbery, rape, adultery and incest”. Thomas Jefferson wants “murder robbery” taught in our elementary schools, people!

And that’s just the first one. It gets better. Or worse.

As always, history soothes my jangled nerves. Knowing that we aren’t particularly exceptional is a relief, frankly.

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Shire horse, archaeologist

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

A lovely big shire horse by the name of Major is doing the heavy work of preserving an 2000-year-old Iron Age fort in Wessex, England.

Park Hill Camp is basically two ditches and an embankment, but just because there are no remaining structures doesn’t mean there isn’t a great deal to be learned from the site.

Martin Papworth, the National Trust’s archaeologist for Wessex, said: “The roots of relatively young trees are digging into the important archaeology – the hill itself. The story of the generations of people who once lived within Park Hill’s ramparts survives as layers of evidence buried in the soil. We need to remove young and immature trees from the hillfort to protect this archaeological information.” [...]

Using Major negates the risk of churning up the ground by using heavy vehicles to pull the logs and fallen trees.

The timber Major drags offsite is either sold or used for fences and gate posts on the estate.

Best of all: the footpaths are open so anyone can go watch Major do his thing. Archaeology groupies take note. It’s not every day you get to see preservation at work, and not ever with a horse at the helm.

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US gives $13 million grant to restore Baghdad museum

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

As conditions in Iraq improve, more and more historical attractions are opening back up. Not the main one, though. The National Museum in Baghdad, so brutally looted 5 1/2 years ago, is still a wreck.

The US government is stepping up the plate and donating $13 million to restore the museum and support other archaeological endeavors.

U.S. forces came under widespread criticism in the immediate aftermath of the invasion for failing to prevent the looting of priceless relics from the museum, even while troops were dispatched to secure other sites such as the Oil Ministry.

“This is an investment not only in Iraq’s heritage but in the world’s heritage,” the U.S. ambassador in Iraq, Ryan Crocker, said. The money will be used for archaeology and museum training projects as well as the restoration of the museum.

Seems only fair. I wouldn’t mind if the number on the check were larger, but at least this nest egg should be enough to get the museum back on its feet.

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