In the (Jerusalem) clearing stands a boxer

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.

Etruscans on display in Dallas

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.

Happy 25th birthday, Mac!

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.

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

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.

Pillage runs in the family

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.