Archive for January, 2009

Historical tidbits from the inauguration

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

Let’s set aside for the sake of our sanity the endless recurring one-liner cliches about Martin Luther King, Jr., slavery and historical portent, and instead look at the nifty details about the inauguration of President Obama.

First of all, the whole inauguration had a Lincoln theme. A phrase from his Gettysburg address was the theme for the inauguration (“A New Birth of Freedom”), Obama took the oath of office on the same Bible Lincoln used for his first inaugural, even the luncheon menu was inspired by Lincoln’s alleged love of game birds, oysters and apples.

According to Carl Sandburg’s biography, however, Lincoln hated killing animals even for eating, so I’m not sure how accurately the pheasant and duck course matches his preference.

Vice President Biden took the oath of office on a fabulously huge Bible which has been in his family since 1893.

Many presidents have sworn on their family Bible. Nixon swore on two family Bibles, both of them open to Isaiah 2:4, the swords into plowshares bit. Then he bombed Laos and Cambodia. Go figure, right?

Another tidbit I enjoyed was the flags hanging from the Capitol building. There are 5 of them. The 2 on the outside are the classic “Betsy Ross” flag, 13 stars in a circle representing the original colonies. The middle one is the current US flag. The two on either side of that with 21 stars are the flag after Illinois joined the Union in 1818.

Barack Obama represented Illinois in Congress, of course, as did Abraham Lincoln.

One final tidbit. The outfit Michelle Obama wore to the inaugural ceremony featured a sparkling brooch-looking item keeping her cardigan together at the collar. Brooches are a signature accessory for her, so I figured it was a contemporary piece in her collection.

It turns out to be a vintage Victorian paste sash pin from the Carole Tanenbaum Vintage Collection.

“It is a type of sash pin that would have been worn on the waist in the Victorian era,” says Tanenbaum, who is originally from the U.S. “This particular one was probably done as a multipurpose piece that may have been worn at the neck, or in the hair, because it is curved to mold to whatever body part it’s on. The Victorians were very creative that way.

“It’s the only piece I’ve ever had like it,” she adds. “They weren’t made in production and they are so fragile, not many survived.”


I’ve got a fevah

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

and the only prescription is more inauguration. I’ve been glued to CNN all day and now that it’s winding down, I feel a desperate need to drag it out longer.

I don’t have the time to research all the things I want to since, as I said, I have literally not torn my eyes off the cathode ray tube except for a few brief interludes of reading the back of the shampoo bottle while I peed, however, tomorrow’s entry is going to be all about the inauguration.

I hope you’re not sick of this shit yet, because you sure as hell will be when I’m done wallowing in it. :love:


Ho hum… Another gigantic hoard of gold coins

Monday, January 19th, 2009

Yes it’s yet another unthinkable treasure trove discovered by a metal detector hobbyist in England. This time the lucky sod stumbled on 834 gold coins known as staters, dating from 40 B.C. to 15 A.D., in Suffolk.

It’s also the largest hoard of Iron Age gold found in Britain in over 150 years, and the first major find of Iceni gold. The Iceni were the famous warrior queen Boudicca’s tribe, although these coins would have been minted by her predecessors.

They were buried in a plain pottery vessel, possibly inside a rectilinear religious compound, between 15 and AD 20.

Although it has not yet been proved, it is likely the hoard represented part of the wealth of an individual or community and was buried as a votive offering at a time of a political stress, drought or other natural disaster.

This is the first major Icenian gold coin hoard found but the tribe had a tradition of making votive offerings of other gold objects. At one of their major religious centres, Snettisham in northern Norfolk, the tribe buried at least 30kg of gold and silver jewellery. also within a rectilinear enclosure.

The current value of the hoard may actually be less than it was when the Icenians minted it. It’s still a not-inconsiderable 500,000 to 1 million pounds, mind you, but likely any museum would be glad to pay that for the incomparable historical value.

In fact, there’s probably a bit of a bidding war in the making. The British Museum funded the dig after the hoard was discovered and is currently holding the treasure. Once it’s declared an official treasure trove and offered for sale, the BM gets first dibs like it always does on any find of major importance.

The Ipswich Museum wants the hoard to stay in Suffolk with them, though, so they’re already planning to fundraise the money to buy it. The metal detectorist, known only as Michael, think they should stay local, as do the brothers who own the field where the hoard was found.

Michael, who is 60 and lives near Woodbridge, said: “I would like to see them in Ipswich Museum, where people can see them. If they go up to London it’s a lot of messing about for locals to go up and see them there.”

Brits are so cute. :giggle:


Roman head with original paint gets CGI makeover

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

It’s hard to imagine a Rome where all the shiny white marble was painted in bright, even garish to our neutral-HGTV eyes, colors, in large part because fragments of color were routinely scraped off of ancient statuary in order to conform with revivalist fashions.

(The most famous instance of this was when the British Museum “restored” the much-disputed Elgin marbles in the late 1930’s by scraping off 1/10th of an inch of the surface, thereby removing all the patina and much of the carving detail.)

But yet again into the breach steps Vesuvius, whose explosion stopped time even as it slaughtered the inhabitants, thereby preserving the marble head of what appears to be a wounded female warrior in vividly painted condition.

The Roman statue was discovered by the Herculaneum Conservation Project in the ancient ruins of Herculaneum, a town preserved in the same eruption that buried nearby Pompeii in AD 79. It is thought to represent a wounded Amazon warrior, complete with painted hair and eyes preserved by the ash that buried the town.

Scientists at the University of Southampton are using laser scanning and computer modelling technologies made famous by Hollywood in animated movies like WALL-E to fill in the topographical and color blanks.

Dr Williams used state-of-the-art equipment to accurately measure (within 0.05 of a millimetre) every surface of the bust and translated that information into a computer model. Dr Greg Gibbons, also of WMG, then used rapid prototyping to create a physical 3D model of the head revealing the smallest detail.

Further recording was carried out on site by experts in archaeological computing from Southampton, led by Dr Graeme Earl. They used a novel form of photography which provided an extremely detailed record of the texture and colour of the painted surfaces. […]

In the final step Professor Alan Chalmers, head of WMG’s visualisation team and an expert in ultra-realistic graphics, will apply techniques to the computer model to exactly reproduce the lighting and environmental conditions under which the painted statue would have originally been created and displayed. This visualisation will provide archaeologists with an otherwise impossible view of how the original statue may have looked in context, and allow them to experiment with alternative hypotheses.

Here’s the nice lady being scanned, and the first reconstruction rendered from the scan data.


10 Photographic Firsts

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

Check out this fascinating top 10 list of firsts in the history of photography from The List Universe. All 10 entries were surprises in one way or another.

I had no idea, for instance, that the first photograph — a copper print of an engraving — was only discovered in 2002. It was taken in 1825 by Nicéphore Niépce who used a copper-bitumen plate + sunlight system which required a full day’s exposure.

Niépce would later collaborate with Louis Daguerre until his death in 1833. Daguerre continued to experiment with photographic processes on his own until 5 years later he invented the one that stuck, the eponmous daguerreotype.

Louis Daguerre takes the number 3 slot with the first person captured on film: an 1838 daguerrotype of a street scene with one distant blurry fellow who just happened to be standing in the same place getting his shoes shined for the 10 minutes it took to take the picture.

My favorite, though, is number 7: the first high-speed series. In 1878, Eadweard Muybridge took multiple pictures and put them together to create the illusion of a picture in motion, a movie, if you will. It’s the fore-runner of animated gifs and it looks totally cool. The bison just slays me.

Is that not irresistibly cute? I want a bison.


1300-year-old wooden tablets found in Japan

Friday, January 16th, 2009

Tens of thousands of wooden tablets known as mokkan from the Nara Period (710 – 784 A.D.) have been found in the remains of the Imperial Palace.

The research institute uncovered a hole containing a large number of wooden tablets while excavating the site last spring. The hole measured about 10 meters from east to west and 7 meters from north to south, and was about 1 meter deep at its deepest point. It was the biggest waste disposal pit in the palace grounds.

Most of the mokkan were in scraps, but investigations have uncovered writing relating to the imperial guard that protected the emperor, and the inscription “Hoki Period, Year 2,” referring to the year 771. There is a possibility that the wooden tablets were discarded when military-related facilities were set up.

Nara was the capital of Japan and seat of the emperor, hence the name “Nara Period”. It was during this time that the first Japanese literature appears in the form of imperial historians/propagandists, so these tablets found on the palace premises might contain all kinds of primary source material — government records, expenses, legal pronouncements — as well as early copies of Japan’s first books.

Previous collections of mokkan have turned up on the palace grounds before, and 74,000 wooden tablets were uncovered elsewhere in the city in 1989. It’s unlikely to beat the overall record, but this find might exceed the palace record of 50,000 mokkan discovered in one place.


The medieval manuscript genome project

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

An associate English professor at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, Timothy Stinson, has begun DNA testing medieval manuscripts.

Since parchment was made from animal skin, there is genetic material to be found in the pages of the books themselves.

Thousands of fragile manuscripts still survive from the Middle Ages (roughly 400 to 1500 CE), a time when most of Europe’s population was illiterate, and monks transcribed nearly all of the books that circulated around the continent. Until recently, scholars relied on visual analysis (such as handwriting samples) to trace the origin of most ancient texts. But Stinson says that more precise genetic analyses are possible because the preferred “paper” of the day was thin parchment made from the skin of local cattle, sheep or goats. “DNA offers much more specific information, but no one’s mapped it yet,” he says. […]

Medieval manuscripts often were written on pages made from the skins of as many as 100 different animals, according to Stinson. But scholars speculate that, at least until the mid-15th century, most books were made from local herd animals, which could make tracing their point of origin fairly reliable.

His goal is to create a large DNA database from manuscripts with a known provenance, and then use that database to pinpoint where unknown manuscripts may have come from.

The genetic material might also link manuscripts which have been separated over time and distance. There may be all kinds of partial books amenable to reconciliation scattered through libraries and collections around the world.

The database would be replete with information about quotidian aspects of medieval life, like herd movements and trade routes.

For a lovely browse of medieval manuscripts online, check out Oxford University’s Bodleian Library site.


FBI Returns Pre-Columbian Artifacts to Panama

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

Man, I love it when the news comes from a government press release. They give great backstory and sometimes (like this time), killer pictures.

In this case, the FBI returned over a hundred pre-Columbian artifacts to the government of Panama yesterday, including pottery and gold jewelry.

The FBI’s investigation revealed that the widow of an amateur archeologist was storing the items in and around Klamath Falls, Oregon. The investigation showed that the individual acquired many of the items while working as a teacher on a U.S. military base in Panama during the 1980s. It was also during this time that he married his wife, then a Panamanian citizen. The two brought many of the items with them when they moved back to the U.S. in the late 1980s. Over the years, the couple sold some of the items at various markets and on the Internet. The Klamath Falls man died of natural causes in October 2004. No charges are expected.

That’s one way to enhance your retirement funds, I suppose: loot for few years, get that “How to Sell on E-bay” book and go to town.

Panama has strict laws against antiquities ownership. Not only is stealing artifacts against the law, ownership of any kind is against the law. If it’s an antique from Panama it belongs to the government of Panama, full stop.


Europe’s culture — pretty much all of it — online

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

Two million items from Europe’s museums, archives, libraries, collections of all sorts are now available for the searching on a single website. Just type in a keyword and see what images, video, recordings and texts show up.

I searched for “Galileo” and it returned an entire digitized book from the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze, along with another 230 other texts, 448 images and 4 videos, including this awesome 1950’s Italian documentary on the importance of an educated populace to the economic and technological fortunes of the country.

Europeana’s list of contributors currently includes piles of national libraries, the International Federation of Television Archives, the Rijksmuseum and the Louvre in Paris.

Started by the European Commission in 2007, this is just the first prototype of a complete European digital library. Version 1.0 will have 6 million digitized items, and is scheduled to launch in 2010.

I’ve been waiting to post this entry since last November when Europeana first debuted, but it was so packed with win that it was instantly overwhelmed with traffic and had to be taken down for over 2 months.

Now it’s finally up and ready for copious, obsessive searching. :boogie:


Theme parks to the right of them, reenactments to the left

Monday, January 12th, 2009

As with the Ancient Roman theme park outside the city, Rome is full of ideas to turn its historical sites into modern-day circuses. The latest is gladiatorial combat in the Colosseum itself.

According to [city council Head of Archaeology, Umberto] Broccoli’s plan, modern-day gladiators will engage in realistically choreographed mock fights, wearing original costumes and the same combat gear — swords, tridents, nets and daggers — that was used 2,000 years ago.

The re-enacted contests will be staged in the evening, accompanied by readings from the works of Latin poets such as Seneca. It has yet to be determined whether gladiators will fight on a stage over the arena’s subterranean chambers and tunnels or on a stage outside the Colosseum.

So classy, then.

Stressing that the fights would not be a Disneyland-like attraction, but a serious project to bring the sporting heroes of antiquity alive, Broccoli also dismissed fears that they might appear too crude.

“The gladiators themselves were vulgar. They were sweaty, they stank and they swore. Why not show them as they really were?” Broccoli said.

Classy but with funk, cussing and crotch sweat. Like a Pussycat Dolls concert.

The have some excellent street food in that area, too, so it’s probably a fairly cheap way to catch dinner and a show. My dad broke his tooth on this triple-thick almond brittle sort of thing at the Stations of the Cross one year.

Anyway, there are apparently all kinds of secretive events planned for the Colosseum this year. According to the deputy mayor of Rome, “2009 will be the year of the Colosseum.”

That’s a bold statement. 80 was hard to beat, what with the 5000 animals killed over 100 days of inaugural games.






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