Sculptures of Roman emperors found in Turkey

Archaeologists excavating the ancient Lycian city of Tlos on the Mediterranean in southwestern Turkey have uncovered five almost intact Roman-era marble statues. Three of them are of Roman emperors Hadrian, Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius. The two are of women, one probably Faustina Minor, daughter of Antonius Pius and wife of Marcus Aurelius, and the other of a goddess, possibly Isis. They are missing some hands and arms, and the statue of the goddess has no face, but other than that they are whole and unbroken, a very rare thing indeed.

While I was looking for more detailed pictures of the find, I encountered this blog entry, both charming and unnerving, written by someone on the scene. They read about the find in the above article.

We assumed the statues would be whisked away to Istanbul, Ankara or at best, Antalya Archaeological Museum – but, thanks to Twitter, we saw one of the Turkish language newspapers had reported the statues had been taken to Fethiye Museum. Often overlooked by visitors to Fethiye, the museum finally has in its possession a bit of a draw in the recently discovered statues.

We went up there yesterday to see if we could see them, expecting them to be packed away somewhere, not for public viewing just yet. But, maybe we got there at the perfect time and the museum hasn’t decided what to do with the statues yet because there they were, greeting us at the gate.

They’re just hanging out there. Right inside a gate a 5-year-old could scale easily. It’s fantastic that locals have such access to their ancient heritage, but security-wise and conservation-wise, they should probably be indoors somewhere behind lock and key. I’m sure (okay, I’m not, but I hope) they’ll be moved soon. Meanwhile, we get the benefit of these great pictures.

Tlos is thought to be the most ancient and largest of Lycian cities. In Greek mythology, the hero Bellerophon, grandson of Sisyphyus, slayer of the Chimera, lived in Tlos along with his famed flying steed Pegasus. The Romans dubbed it “the most splendid metropolis of the Lycian nation” and it’s one of the few Lycian cities to have remained inhabited through the Byzantine and Ottoman periods. The remains of an Ottoman fortress perched on a hill above the ancient acropolis were used into the 19th century, most notoriously by local chieftain/brigand/king of thieves Kanli Ali Aga, aka Bloody Ali.

The excavation that unearthed the statues has found evidence of Tlos’ past going back 10,500.

The forgotten Mrs. Sherlock Holmes

Karen Abbott of Smithsonian’s Past Imperfect blog has written a fascinating entry about Mrs. Mary Grace Humiston, a lawyer turned private eye who solved crimes in the early 1900s, and her most celebrated case, the murder of Miss Ruth Cruger.

Ruth was just 18 years old when she disappeared on February 13, 1917. Her sister Helen found out the next day that she had stopped at a motorcycle repair shop to have her skates sharpened. The owner of the shop, Italian immigrant Alfredo Cocchi, had been suspiciously absent from the store earlier in the day, but when the Crugers told the police, they insisted he was a “respectable businessman” and just glanced around the cellar instead of search the premises thoroughly. Cocchi hastily left the country and returned to Italy.

Ruth’s father Henry Cruger hired the formidable Grace Humiston to pursue the case. Grace was born into a wealthy New York family and graduated from Hunter College in 1888, 22 years before Virginia O’Hanlon of “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” fame did. She taught for a short while then enlisted in night classes at New York University Law School. The Dean was so impressed with her talents that he suggested she take day classes and well. She followed his advice and graduated in 1904, a year early.

She passed the bar the next year and founded the People’s Law Firm, a firm that specialized in providing legal services for people who could pay very little. Legal Aid only took on completely indigent clients, so the poor were often prey to fraudulent “lawyers” or ones who were too incompetent/drunk to get better paying clients. The People’s Law Firm was an immediate success.

On the pursuit of several missing girls whose relatives had engaged her services, she went to Alabama and infiltrated the notorious turpentine camps under a variety of disguises looking for the missing and seeing for herself the slave labor conditions entire families worked under. Agents lured poor minorities and immigrants to the camps with the prospect of decent pay, then left them behind to be imprisoned, beaten, held at gun-point and forced into greater and greater “debt” thanks to company store schemes. After her perilous year-long investigation, Grace assisted Attorney General Charles Bonaparte in prosecuting the owners of these hell holes.

Several other of her cases made the new news. She traveled all over the world busting agents who promised emigrants to the US a bright future only to steal their savings and leave them destitute in a new country. She was also personally responsible for the pardon of an Italian woman convicted of murdering her abusive husband, and the retrial and acquittal of a man who had been wrongfully convicted of murder and was on death row at Sing Sing. So when the Crugers hired her, she was already well-known as a badass.

Humiston spent 15 hours a day on the case, working pro bono, interviewing Harlem residents who might have noticed suspicious activity around Cocchi’s shop. One man recalled seeing Cocchi emerge from his basement around midnight on February 13, covered with dirt and appearing “nervous.” Another spotted Cocchi the following night, again “dirty and nervous.” On this evidence, Humiston went to Cocchi’s shop, determined to get into the cellar.

Cocchi’s wife appeared at the door wielding a brick. “I’ll split your skull with this brick if you try to come in here,” she said.

Humiston reported the threat to Police Commissioner Arthur Woods, who granted her a search permit. On June 16, she enlisted the help of Patrick Solam, a close friend of the Cruger family and the general foreman for Grand Central Terminal. Solam started in the main basement room, directly beneath the shop. A cluster of benches, toolboxes and chests of drawers created a triangular work area. Solam noticed that one chest along the southeast corner of the room slanted slightly, protruding an inch beyond the others. He asked two assistants to help move it.

Underneath they found broken concrete. After much digging, they found the body of Ruth Cruger, still wearing the clothing she was last seen in, ankles bound, ice skates covered in blood. She had been killed by a blow to the back of the head and then her abdomen slashed with her own skate. Her father identified the body from the graduation ring she was wearing.

Italian authorities refused to extradite Cocchi, but he was arrested, tried and convicted of Ruth Cuger’s murder in Bologna. He confessed to the crime:

“I had never seen Ruth Cruger before she came to my shop to have her skates sharpened,” he said. “From the very beginning Ruth did all in her power to attract my attention. I felt something strange when her dark, penetrating eyes fixed on mine. I was still more disconcerted when she came again to get her skates. An overpowering attraction for the young woman seized me. What happened afterward seems like a dream.”

Grace found out that the corrupt police officers had had a kickback deal with Cocchi which is why they didn’t search his shop properly.

The case was widely reported all over the country. The nice lady lawyer, scion of a wealthy high society New York family, who believed that keeping a home was far more important for a woman than a career even as she worked 15, 16 hour days to solve the case of a missing pretty young white girl, made for great copy. The Holmes comparisons were immediately rife. Humiston herself, however, rejected them. She bluntly told the New York Times:

“No, I never read Sherlock Holmes. In fact, I am not a believer in deduction. Common sense and persistence will always solve a mystery. You never need theatricals nor Dr. Watsons if you stick to a case.”

Embarrassed by all the bad press, New York Police Commissioner Arthur Woods granted Grace Humiston police powers to investigate kidnappings of young women.

This was a big thing for her. Despite Cocchi’s creepy psycho explanation for the murder, Grace was convinced that Cocchi was involved in a white slavery scheme, that he had intended to force Ruth into prostitution only to have the plan go awry. She formed the Morality League of America to seek out missing girls and women presumed to have been abducted for the purposes of prostitution, and put her police powers to use in support of it.

It was her fixation on white slavery that ultimately led to her downfall. In November of 1917, she announced at a Women Lawyers Association dinner that she had discovered 600 pregnant unmarried young women at the U.S. Army’s Camp Upton, and that seven of them were already dead. Her announcement caused a furor. The Army strenuously denied the existence of hundreds of pregnant slave hookers at Camp Upton, and when pressed, Grace could not furnish any solid evidence of her allegation.

In December, Commissioner Woods revoked her police powers. Two years later she would herself be arrested on the likely spurious grounds of running a dance hall without a license. The dance hall in question was the Manhattanville Be Kind Club, a club Grace had started for youths to do wholesome things together — including dancing, on occasion — and to serve as a day care for working mothers. A judge threw out the charges.

As time passed her fame faded, to the point that by the 1950s, she was Stalined right out of her most famous case, her name and gender changed in articles and books about the Ruth Cruger murder.

Washington Monument, Cathedral damaged by quake

Washington National Cathedral pinnaclesThe 5.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Virginia yesterday caused some damage to historical monuments in Washington, D.C. The Washington Monument, the National Cathedral and the Smithsonian Castle have all been closed for the time being as experts assess the full extent of the damage. So far it appears that none of the buildings have structural damage but the jury is still out, and even little bits and pieces of decorative masonry could harm visitors if it falls on them.

Washington National Cathedral pinnacle askewThat’s not an outlandish prospect, either. A finial atop one of the four main spires (known as pinnacles) on the roof of the Washington National Cathedral broke off and plummeted to the ground, embedding itself into the grass. Two other pinnacles lost their finials and the last remaining one was knocked askew. A number of smaller spires and carved angels are cracked and broken.

Broken angels on Washington National Cathedral roofCathedral officials said they need to check and stabilize the hundreds of limestone angels and smaller spires and other figures on the cathedral’s exterior to ensure that nothing falls. Three days of events around the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks remain scheduled to go forward.

Washington National Cathedral roofDetails of a repair budget were not immediately known. The cathedral has recently undergone a period of intense budget-cutting. Several years ago, its staff was cut from 170 to 70 and spending was slashed in half after its endowment plunged amid the economic slowdown. An official said Wednesday that the last year has seen strong fundraising.

They’re going to need every penny they can get. The cathedral was not insured against earthquakes, what with it being in Washington, D.C. and all, and repairs are certain to run into the millions of dollars.

Crack in Washington Monument pyramidionThe Washington Monument is cracked. There’s a four foot-long, one inch-wide crack on one of the facets of the pyramidion, the small pyramid that tops the obelisk, and today engineers found more small cracks at the top of the 555-foot monument. Again, the damage does not appear to be structural — the rumors that the obelisk was leaning are false — but repairing the tallest obelisk in the world is always a challenge. The National Parks Service has enlisted engineering experts who specialize in earthquake damage assessment and historical architecture to examine and restore the monument.

Smithsonian CastleThe Smithsonian museums are all open today after they were found undamaged. The Smithsonian Institution Building, aka the Castle, the original home of the Smithsonian museum which now houses an information center and administrative offices, is the only Smithsonian-associated structure that remains closed to the public and to staff. Five of its iconic turrets sustained “significant damage,” according to officials, and they are working to ensure they aren’t damaged further by the impending arrival of Hurricane Irene.

And now, here’s a picture of two bison who lived in a paddock in the South Yard behind the Smithsonian Castle between 1887 and 1889 when there were almost none left in the wild.

Bison living in a paddock behind Smithsonian Castle, 1887-1889

16th-century Swedish shipwreck found in Baltic

Divers have found a 16th century shipwreck in the Baltic 11 miles north of the Swedish island of Oland. Although detailed exploration is necessary before they can confirm it, preliminary examination indicates that it is the wreck of the warship Mars, flagship of King Erik XIV’s fleet which sank during a battle with Denmark in 1564. That would make this ship 64 years older than the Vasa, Sweden’s famously intact wreck salvaged from Stockholm Bay 50 years ago, and just 19 years older than Tudor England’s Mary Rose.

Eric XIV of Sweden by Steven Van der Meulen, 1561The Mars was even bigger than the Vasa. It carried 107 guns and a crew of 800, and unlike the Vasa which was poorly constructed and sank on its maiden voyage, Mars actually took those cannon and sailors to war. King Eric, of tenuous sanity but substantial ambition, sought to expand Sweden’s territories in the eastern Baltic, dominated at that time by his cousin Frederick II of Denmark. In 1563 tensions exploded into the Northern Seven Years’ War between Sweden on one side and Denmark–Norway, Lübeck and the Polish–Lithuanian union on the other.

The shipwreck was discovered at a depth of 75 metres [246 feet], near the northern promontory of the Baltic island of Öland off of Sweden’s east coast. The wreckage is reportedly solid oak and the seabed is strewn with bronze cannons.

The Mars was the largest ship in the Baltic in its heyday and was sunk, only a year after its maiden voyage, during a sea battle with the Danish-Lübeckian navy in 1564.

After two days of ferocious fighting, Mars was hit by cannon fire and went up in smoke. In the ensuing kerfuffle the vessel went down and has been resting untouched in its watery grave for 447 years.

"Vase" emblem of the Swedish royal family on the lower stern of the warship VasaThe wreck is the proper size and age to be the Mars, and no other ships of its kind went down between Gotland and Oland at that time. Divers also found a sheaf of corn engraved on one of the cannons, the emblem of the House of Vasa, the Swedish royal family in the 16th and 17th centuries. That same emblem can be found on the lower stern of the warship Vasa, embraced by two putti.

The wreck appears to be well-preserved, divers say, with a hole in its side but otherwise in good condition thanks to the cold waters of the Baltic. Swedish divers have been looking for the Mars for decades, so the team is in seventh heaven.

For wreck-diver Lundgren, finding the lost Mars would be like a boyhood dream come true.

“To discover a shipwreck is the dream of all divers, but to find Mars, which people have been searching for so long – it couldn’t get bigger than that. I am happy to be Swedish today!” he told The Local.

Roman jar filled with holes perplexes experts

An ancient Roman jar of mysterious origin and even more mysterious function has stumped experts. It was discovered broken in 180 pieces in the storage room of the Museum of Ontario Archaeology, and was recently painstakingly put back together. Once the vessel was whole again, researchers were surprised to find that it is riddled with holes all over the sides and even one on the bottom.

The museum has contacted experts in Roman pottery asking if they’re familiar with this form, but nobody has seen another example. Speculation is rife as to how the jar might have been used.

“There are a lot of different options, a lot of them involving either a lamp or some sort of animal container,” [Museum of Ontario Archaeology researcher Katie] Urban said, adding that while the tiny holes would’ve allowed light to pass through the object, the hole at its bottom suggests it wasn’t a lamp.

Another possibility is that the jar was used to store dormice, rodents found throughout Europe; ancient texts suggest the mice were a popular snack for Romans. […]

Urban said the problem with this theory is that dormice jars from elsewhere in the Roman world look different from this vessel. The rodent jars were equipped with a ramp that mice could run along and use to help store food within the holes.

Yet another idea is that the jar held snakes, ones too big to slither out through its holes. Snakes were a popular religious symbol throughout the ancient world.

If we knew more about its archaeological context, we might be able to plug the holes, to coin a phrase. Unfortunately, we don’t know where the sherds were found. Museum records suggest the collection of broken jar pieces was donated to the museum by pioneering Welsh archaeologist William Francis Grimes, director of the Museum of London and the University College London’s Institute of Archaeology, in the 1950s. Grimes is most famous for having unearthed the London Mithraeum in 1954 while surveying a bomb site in central London, but the Museum of Ontario Archaeology has no indication that the jar was found on that famous dig.

Since the inventory of Grimes’ gifts to the museum is incomplete, it’s possible that the jar isn’t even from Roman Britain, but rather from Ur. The British Museum gave a collection of artifacts from Leonard Woolley’s excavation of the royal burials at Ur to the Ontario museum in 1933. This is unlikely, however, so the museum’s working assumption is that the holy jar is Roman.

I think it looks a little like one of those pots used to grow strawberries. Those have holes in the bottom for drainage and in the sides for the plants to grow out of. The holes look too small for that use, though.