Archive for January, 2009

The Iceman’s high-drama last days

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Otzi, the mummy found frozen in the Tirolean alps, continues to reveal new and exciting things about how he lived and died. The latest research suggests that he was cut in a fight a few days before he died, and that he might have fought his assassins like a badger before he died.

A fresh examination on the Iceman’s body shows a hand injury that ”may have been the result of a brawl,” says the study by Munich’s Ludwig Maximilian University and Italy’s Oetzi experts.

The researchers also took another look at the arrows found with the Iceman’s body and saw that they hadn’t been sharpened properly, ”a likely sign that he had to leave his village in a hurry and was unable to defend himself”.

After he climbed up to the 3,200m spot where his frozen and mummified body was found, they said, he received a mortal arrow shot in the back before being hit ”with a blunt object, probably a rock or a stick”.

The final blow left a bruise which has only now been found not far from the arrow wound, they said.

It seems he died quickly after the arrow hit an artery, so the previous theory that he was shot in the valley and then fled up the glacier is no longer the likeliest scenario.

One possibility is that he was a tribal chieftain set upon by multiple assassins.

Evidence indicates that he flailed around in his death throes and even managed to wound his assailants, Austrian scientists have claimed.

After the ambush, the conspirators left his distinctive weapons with his body so that they would not be found out when they returned to the Iceman’s home village.

There might have been a ritual component to his death, or he may have been banished for having a low sperm count. That last one seems a tad contrived to me, like they found his swimmers lacking and thought of a way that could be linked to his death.

Anyway, it’s neat that they keep finding new pieces of the puzzle even after studying him so closely for almost 20 years.

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Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Jane Austen was a great writer, sure, but I think we can all agree there was a severe paucity of zombies in her oeuvre.

Now, thanks to Quirk Books and author Seth Grahame-Smith, this historic injustice will finally be redressed.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies features the original text of Jane Austen’s beloved novel with all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie action. As our story opens, a mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton—and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she’s soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between the two young lovers—and even more violent sparring on the blood-soaked battlefield as Elizabeth wages war against hordes of flesh-eating undead.

The edition will also include zombified illustrations in the style of C. E. Brock, the illustrator of Austen’s original editions.

Yes, of course I have pre-ordered it. And now so will you, don’t deny it.

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Hemingway’s Cuba letters available in the US

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Ernest Hemingway lived in Finca Vigia, Cuba, for 21 years. Until now, all two decades of his correspondence and writings were unavailable to US researchers because of the whole embargo situation.

Thanks to the efforts of Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) and the Cuban government, replicas of the 3000+ Finca Vigia documents are now in the JFK library along with the gigantic Hemingway collection of 100,000 writings, 10,000 pictures and all sorts of personal items that his 4th wife, Mary, had donated after his death.

The archival replicas include corrected proofs of “The Old Man and the Sea,” a movie script based on the novel, an alternate ending to “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and thousands of letters, with correspondence from authors Sinclair Lewis and John Dos Passos and actress Ingrid Bergman. The documents were previewed Thursday and will likely be available to researchers in late spring. [...]

The microfilm copies at the JFK Library provide scholars a window into the period that occupied half of Hemingway’s writing life, which before left a “black hole” in Hemingway studies because the material was off-limits to biographers, Spanier said.

Rep. McGovern is an advocate of normalization of US-Cuba relations, so he hopes this is just the first step in that direction.

Some snippets of the correspondence and writings from Finca Vigia:

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Druids want Charlie reburied

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

The prehistorican skeleton of a boy known as “Charlie” was discovered near the Avebury standing stones back in 1929. Since then it’s been studied and displayed at the Alexander Keiller museum.

Now the Council of British Druid Orders has asked for Charlie and several other similar human remains to be reinterred.

Rollo Maughfling, the archdruid of Stonehenge and Glastonbury, said: “Beyond all the other philosophical, scientific and religious arguments, in the end it comes down to something called common human decency.”

Fellow pagan Arthur Pendragon added: “These are human remains – you wouldn’t dig your grandmother up from a churchyard.”

Okay, first of all, major :rolleyes: @ “Arthur Pendragon”. You wish, buddeh. Secondly, archaeologists are not at all pleased that this petition is actually being taken seriously by English Heritage.

They think — correctly, I’m sure — that it would create a scary precedent. However, there is something of a parallel with Native American tribes in the US and Aborigines in Australia reclaiming the remains of their ancestors for reburial.

The difference here being that “Arthur Pendragon” is descended from “Charlie” only in a self-conscious, contrived way. He chooses to identify as a Druid, yes, but I’m not sure that entitles them to the same consideration as tribal authorities.

On the other hand, some of the controversies over remains in the States involve tribes that have no specific evidence that they are descended from the skeletons, so who’s to say, really.

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Auschwitz in desperate need of renovation

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Today is International Holocaust Memorial Day, the 63rd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz death camp by the Soviet army, and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum is in desperate need of renovation.

The museum doesn’t have anything like the 120 million dollars needed to restore the rickety barracks and cracked cell walls.

The main goals of conservation works will be determined by the Museum’s conservation department under close supervision of the International Auschwitz Council. Rafał Pióro, the department’s head, mentions the following as the most urgent works:

  • conservation of brick and wooden barracks and remnants of wooden barracks at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, which are in a poor condition;
  • conservation of eleven blocks at Auschwitz I, where the Museum’s new main exhibition is to be located;
  • conservation of the former camp kitchen building at Auschwitz I and its conversion for the purpose of housing an exhibition of works of art created at the camp during the war;
  • conversion of the so called Old Theatre building, which is to house the International Auschwitz and Holocaust Education Centre.
  • Up until the museum has been funded almost entirely by the Polish government, with some revenue from visitors and donors.

    As of mid-January, however, the International Auschwitz Council has opened a Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation with the express goal of getting not just the funds necessary for immediate restoration, but also an endowment which would provide income for regular upkeep and improvements.

    The grounds are most urgently in need of funds, but the museum also supports extensive archives and permanent exhibitions, so there’s much more that could be done with the foundation money.

    To donate to the conservation fund with an easy online PayPal payment, click here.

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    In the (Jerusalem) clearing stands a boxer

    Monday, January 26th, 2009

    Archaeologists digging in the City of David area of Jerusalem have uncovered a tiny but exquisitely carved Roman marble figurine of a bearded man. It dates from around the reign of Hadrian or a little after, some time in the late 2nd early 3rd c. A.D.

    According to Dr. Doron Ben-Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets, directors of the excavation at the site on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The high level of finish on the figurine is extraordinary, while meticulously adhering to the tiniest of details. Its short curly beard, as well as the position of its head which is slightly inclined to the right, are indicative of an obviously Greek influence….

    The stylistic motifs that are manifested in the image, such as its short hair style, the prominent lobes and curves of the ears, as well as the almond-shaped eyes suggest that the object most likely portrays an athlete, probably a boxer.

    No other such figures have been found in Israel, so this is a unique item. It was probably a suspended weight used with hanging scales. There are holes drilled in the nape of the neck and you can still see remains of the metal that once attached it to the scale.

    This figurine was found on the dig as the gorgeous gold and pearl earring. It seems there may have been a public inn of some sort under what is now the Givati car park, and that it was suddenly brought down by an earthquake.

    Hence the variety of remarkable riches found thus far.

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    Etruscans on display in Dallas

    Sunday, January 25th, 2009

    The Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University in Dallas is hosting two Etruscan exhibitions from now until May.

    This is the largest gathering of Etruscan art ever presented in the United States, and most of the objects, on loan from the National Museum of Archaeology in Florence, have never been seen in this country. The exhibition and the scholarly catalog that accompanies it came together in little more than a year, and Dallas will be its only venue.


    The first is From the Temple and the Tomb, a collection of 300 funerary and devotional pieces from the Florence Archaeological Museum. These items they are the cream of the Etruscan crop and they do not travel very often.

    The second is New Light on the Etruscans: Fifteen Years of Excavation at Poggio Colla, featuring antiquities from an SMU-led excavation in Tuscany.

    The latter is notable because most of what we know about the Etruscans comes from their necropolises. The Poggio Colla site is an Etruscan settlement, so you see how they lived, not just how their lives were presented in a funerary context.

    Archaeological evidence suggests that Poggio Colla was occupied from as early as 650 B.C.E. until at least 187 B.C.E. The site centers on the acropolis, a roughly rectangular plateau of one and a half acres at the summit of Poggio Colla. Excavations have found strong evidence that the acropolis was a sanctuary and have identified a building and an altar associated with the structure. The building’s form evolved from a modest hut-like structure in the seventh century B.C.E. to a monumental complex with stone foundations and tile roofs by the time of its destruction in the second century B.C.E. [...]

    A highlight of the exhibition is the stunning deposit of gold jewelry, one of the few examples of Etruscan gold found outside of a tomb. Beyond the rarity and pristine condition of these pieces lies the fact that this jewelry was most likely a votive gift from a woman who visited the sanctuary.

    If you’re anywhere in the Dallas area within the next 4 months, make a point of seeking out the Meadows Museum to see things that you’ll probably never have the opportunity to see outside of Italy.

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    Happy 25th birthday, Mac!

    Saturday, January 24th, 2009

    Do you remember the dark days before desktop icons and the mouse? I sure do. Back then, a c prompt was all we had, and we liked it; we loved it!

    Okay no. I personally hated it, but even after the Macintosh burst onto the scene on January 24th, 1984, I wasn’t about to wheedle $2500 out of my Dad for a computer. (Jewelry maybe.)

    Most now acknowledge that the design is ultimately the father of the modern computer, though the truth is that the system initially struggled to gain acceptance. Besides a high price well beyond the pure cost, many weren’t ready to embrace the notion of a mouse-driven control scheme. The visual interface was not only a radical break that was deemed too simple but was considered a large barrier to developing software. And while Apple co-founder Steve Jobs is often credited with helping guide the original design and backing it as the future of the company he helped create, his increasing conflicts with then-CEO John Sculley forced him out in 1985.

    Now it seems his health has succeeded where Sculley failed. Meanwhile, Apple is one of the only companies still making money in this economy.

    Here’s a little taste of the olden days in the form of the commercial that blew the doors off the industry.

    For those of you employed in more gainful pursuits, here’s a little taste of the Banana Junior 6000.

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    St. Francis’ prayer not actually written by St. Francis

    Friday, January 23rd, 2009

    It’s probably the second most famous prayer after the Our Father. You know, the “make me an instrument of your peace” one. Mother Theresa recited it every day and even Margaret Thatcher and Bill Clinton have cited it in their speeches.

    Well, not only did St. Francis not write it, but it wasn’t written until 600 years after he was born.

    An article published this week in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, said the prayer in its current form dates only from 1912, when it appeared in a French Catholic periodical.

    And it became wildly popular only after it was reprinted in L’Osservatore Romano in 1916 at the behest of Pope Benedict XV, who wanted a prayer for peace in the throes of World War I.

    This isn’t news, really. No actual Franciscans ever thought it was penned by the wolftamer himself, nor anyone remotely familiar with the history of the Italian language or Catholic Church.

    Although it is inspired by some of St. Francis’ favorite themes, the prayer’s syntax does not match the Umbrian dialect of the 1200′s which he used.

    One of his devotional songs has survived, so we do have means of comparison. He wrote the Canticle of the Sun in 1224. It’s one of the first pieces of literature written in a recognizably Italian idiom.

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    Pillage runs in the family

    Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

    Fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent recently died, leaving behind an enormous and valuable art collection. It’s on the auction block at Christie’s in Paris and is expected to make an astonishing 300 million pounds.

    About 20 million of that total is the estimated price of two 18th c. Chinese bronzes: a rat and a rabbit. Problem is, China says they were stolen and has put 69 lawyers on the case to get them back.

    The rat and rabbit were among 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac that were part of a fountain built for the Qing dynasty emperor by French and Italian Jesuit priests. They were allegedly taken in 1860 when allied French and British armies under the command of Lord Elgin sacked the palace after the imperial Government murdered British diplomats. The Chinese suit has echoes of Greece’s demand for the return from the British Museum of the Marbles that his father, the seventh Lord Elgin, removed from the Parthenon.

    Family values imperalist style, I guess.

    The legal case is a shaky one. A lot of priceless art has been stolen by invaders of various types. Getting it back is no easy feat.

    Even with this particular zodiac set, China has had to buy pieces back when they’ve come up at other auctions, or they’ve received them as a gift from a wealthy benefactor, so there isn’t much in the way of precedent for legal success.

    China has only recently started taking action to end the near-constant drain of cultural patrimony. Policing all the historical sites in China is as close to impossible as these tasks get because of the massive size of the country, its enormous population, and many decades of governmental not-giving-a-shit.

    The latter are coming to an end, though. One of former president George W. Bush’s last acts in office was to sign an import ban on a wide swath of Chinese antiquities.

    This action against the Laurent auction may be a reflection of the Chinese government’s new focus on stopping the free-for-all trade in antiquities. It might also be sheer revenge for Sarkosy’s criticism of China’s Tibet policy.

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