The Danton found chilling on the seabed

The Danton was a 19,000-ton French battleship sunk by German U-boat torpedoes 18 March, 1917. It went down with 296 souls, including the captain, who reputedly stood firm on the bridge as the ship sank. The rest of its 1000-man were rescued by patrol boats and a destroyer in the area.

A consortium surveying the Mediterranean for a gas pipeline between Algeria and Italy has found the wreck southwest of Sardinia, and it’s in amazingly good condition considering that it was hit by two torpedoes, spun around a couple of times and gouged a wedge out of the seabed before finally landing where it now stands, upright, gun turrets intact.

“Its condition is extraordinary,” said Rob Hawkins, project director with Fugro GeoConsulting Limited.

“After it was hit by the torpedoes, the Danton clearly turned turtle and rotated several times. You can see where it dropped some infrastructure on the way down and then impacted on the seabed.

“You can see where it slid along the seabed before coming to a rest,” he told BBC News.

The French government wants the site to be protected, and thankfully the gas folks are moving the planned trajectory of the pipeline so it doesn’t disturb the Danton or the area around it.

You can see footage of the wreck taken by the Fugro robots at the BBC link.

The Danton now and then:

Walker Evans’ postcard collection

I love postcards. I had a fabulous postcard collection as a kid (currently stashed in my parents’ attic somewhere) so I’m fascinated by the 9000 piece postcard collection of pioneer of American photography Walker Evans currently on exhibit at the Met.

Walker Evans is best known for his Depression Era photography, especially of migrant farmers and sharecroppers he made for the Farm Security Administration.

He began collecting these penny cards when he was a boy of 12 in 1915. He kept on collecting for the next 60 years after that, and you can even see the influence of some of these postcards on his early photography.

“On the most simple level, the postcard is this democratic form,” said Jeff Rosenheim, the show’s curator and an Evans scholar. “It shows in a simple, unvarnished, artless way the generic realities of local life — the small-town Main Street, the local bank, the park.”

Rosenheim said Evans would borrow this “straightforward, mostly frontal style” for his own photography, producing “documents that record the scene with an economy of means and with simple respect.”

Here’s one the postcards in his collection next to one of Evans’ own photographs taken 6 years later:

The influence of the postcard on the photographer is impossible to miss.

Besides that, there are just some awesome postcards in the collection. The ones are display are mainly from the first half of the 20th c. They’re colorized, not shot using color film, and some of them have a great sense of whimsy and fun about them.

My two favorites:

For more of Walker Evans’ photography, see his catalogue on ArtNet.

Bergé makes China an offer they can and will refuse

Pierre Bergé, Yves St. Laurent’s partner of many years and co-owner of the massive $400 million art collection going on the block next week, has made China an offer: I’ll give you the bronze rabbit and rat estimated at $25 million for free if you give your people human rights.

“I’m not about to give the Chinese presents, contrary to what they think,” said Bergé, a businessman, patron of the arts and longtime rights campaigner.

“I am ready to give these Chinese heads to China if they are ready to recognise human rights,” he told French radio.

No word yet on whether the Chinese government has accepted the offer, but it seems more likely that they’ll just keep pressing their case in the courts.

A judge is scheduled to rule on whether the pieces can be included in the sale on the actual morning of the sale. Given that the pieces were looted by Lord Elgin’s troops 150 years ago, chances that China will get the bronzes back are slim.

This collection is mind-boggling. Christie’s even had to split up the catalogue into a different catalogue for each genre because there is just that much treasure.

You can view all the catalogues online. They’re in French and the software is a tad unwieldy, but it’s still a draw-dropping browse. It’s the kind of stuff you’d see at Versailles or Schonbrun or some other absurdly rich locus of power.

An X-ray 1 billion times brighter than the sun

It’s hard to wrap my mind around that figure, but it’s apparently not an exaggeration. The Diamond Light Source in Oxfordshire, England, will debut an X-ray machine this fall that utilizes a beam of synchroton light, an intense form of radiation that will allow antiquities to be scanned without harm at a heretofore unthinkable level of detail.

This will allow researchers to see through solid objects and build images on a micron scale, revealing details less than the width of a human hair. […]

British Museum scientists will be among the first to use the beamline known as the Joint Engineering, Environmental and Processing or Jeep.

They will use the beam on a group of mysterious half life-sized Egyptian bronze statues to discover how they were created.

The bronzes are joined somehow — various parts have been put together — but the joints are so dense archaeologists have never been able to pinpoint how it was done. Once JEEP is up and running, the synchroton light will answer that question, as well as a host more questions about its manufacture and restoration history.

How it works reads like something Doc Brown would say:

To create the super-bright light beam, electrons are fired into a straight accelerator where they reach a speed close to that of light. The electrons then pass into a booster ring where they gain up to 3 giga electron volts in energy before being pushed into a storage ring.

Here the electrons pass through specially designed magnets that bend the beams, releasing synchroton light, which filters down the beamline.

The whole process works in a fraction of the time taken by existing methods such as CT scans and standard X-rays.

That means the fascinating and detailed CT scan of a mummy I just posted about a few days ago will look like a crayon stick figure drawing in comparison, and it’ll only take a minute to produce details at a micron level.

I cannot wait to see what those statues reveal.

Roman decorative gynecology

Romans weren’t big on body shame, that much I knew, but I didn’t realize they were quite this sanguine: Ancient Roman Lamp Shows Gynecological Exam.

A group of archaeologists has found in the northern Spanish region of Leon a ceramic lamp dating from the beginning of the 1st century that shows a representation of the gynecological exam performed on a sick woman. […]

The find is of an oil lamp, “an exceptional piece that illustrates the presence of doctors in the city,” and – specifically – a military hospital, the expert said.

On the lamp’s surface “appears a very slender woman, possibly affected by a serious illness, like cancer, and a doctor who is performing a gynecological exam with a vaginal speculum,” Morillo said.

Although there are representations of Roman speculums (specula?) on the record, this is the first one known on a lamp.

The find is in the hands of unnamed private individuals, for some reason that escapes me, but it’s expected to wind up in the Leon Provincial Museum shortly. There are no pictures either, just an archaeological drawing.

Assuming the drawing is accurate, the speculum is a little weird-looking, to be honest. It looks like a bellows. 😮