Archive for September, 2011

Apocalyptic painting restored 83 years after flood

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

In the wee hours of January 7, 1928, the Thames, swollen by heavy December snowfall and a sudden thaw, burst its banks near Lambeth Bridge right across from the Tate Gallery. Water flooded the street and all the buildings on it, including the nine galleries in the basement of the museum. Tate Gallery director Charles Aitken marshaled staff and volunteers to pump out the water which had reached depths of between five and eight feet, and then remove all the sodden paintings to the dry upper galleries.

Among the paintings removed from the flooded basement galleries was The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum, an 8-foot apocalyptic vision of Vesuvius’ 79 A.D. eruption painted in 1821 by John Martin. It had been completely submerged in the flood waters and was severely damaged. It was caked in mud, the paint was flaking off and part of the canvas had torn leaving The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum almost bisected and crucially missing an erupting Vesuvius. Curators at the time considered it a total loss. They rolled it in tissue and put it in storage.

When the Tate decided last year to stage a major exhibition of John Martin’s work, they unrolled the The Destruction for the first time in 82 years. They found the painting in better condition than they expected. Sure, it was still coated in dirt and the paint was still flaking, but it hadn’t disintegrated so the loose paint flakes could be carefully reattached to the canvas and the losses retouched. The missing section was still missing, of course, but given the importance of the painting, the Tate staff decided to take the plunge and fill in even the huge blank.

It was computer technology that made the replacement of the missing part possible. Experts examined the area on a smaller version of the painting Martin made and on his preparatory sketch for the large one. Restorer Sarah Maisey then created four digital versions that were shown to a test audience. The audience was filmed looking at the four images and their eye movements tracked. The eye-tracking results proved that the eyes of the viewers were primarily focused on the undamaged part of the canvas.

If you look very closely at the painting you can see which is Martin’s brushwork and which is the work of restorer Sarah Maisey. “I’ve tried to tone down a lot of the detail,” she said. “I wanted the overall impact of Martin’s work to have been retained but ultimately wanted people to be able to appreciate what was left of John Martin’s work.”

Maisey admitted that restoring the work of Martin had been a responsibility. “As a conservator you don’t normally have to paint large sections, you do small filling in of losses, so this was something quite different. I think he’d be happy. His work was about impact.”

The restoration is reversible should future generations think it wrong, but for now it goes on display at the biggest Martin show ever.

John Martin: Apocalypse runs from September 21st to January 15, 2012, and is the not only the first major Martin exhibit in 30 years, but is also largest display of his work ever seen. Visitors will be able to see 120 of his works, from immense Biblical and historical apocalypse scenes, to sketches, watercolors, mezzotints and even his engineering plans.

John Martin’s paintings were dismissed by the snooty art academy established as lurid and “common.” Nineteenth century art critic and taste arbiter John Ruskin said “Martin’s works are merely a common manufacture, as much makeable to order as a tea-tray or a coal-scuttle.” Of course, John Ruskin famously refused to have sex with his wife when on their marriage night he was shocked to find out that women have pubic hair, so consider the source.

He had a vast fan base among the plebes, though, and artists in a variety of media have felt his influence. Stop-motion innovator Ray Harryhausen modeled his Olympus on the city on a hill in Martin’s Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still Upon Gibeon. George Lucas was inspired by Satan presiding at the Infernal Council (1824-26), one of Martin’s engraved illustrations of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, when designing the Senate hall in The Phantom Menace.

Comic book writer Alan Moore is another of Martin’s contemporary fans in the creative world. He artfully described Martin’s The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as: “This is the terror of the world’s edge, is the vertigo of an accelerated culture. Out beyond the lights of every city, every town and every century, this is the abyss that abides.”


Stone Age skulls mounted on stakes found in Sweden

Monday, September 19th, 2011

Archaeologists excavating a Stone Age lake bed in Motala, Sweden, have unearthed two skull impaled on spikes. The skulls were discovered with the stakes still firmly embedded inside them, reaching from the base of the skull to the top of the cranium.

Other remains were also found at the site, among them skull fragments from 11 people of varying ages and animal bones. Radiocarbon dating confirms that all of the bones are the same age: 8,000 years old. That makes these heads on spikes the oldest ones found in the world, and by a lot.

The lake bed, a shallow lake during the Neolithic, was used as a ceremonial burial ground during the Mesolithic era.

Archaeologists are exploring two theories to explain why the human skulls were mounted on wooden stakes before being placed in the lake bed

“One thought is that it was part of some sort of secondary burial ritual where the skulls were removed from dead bodies that had initially been placed elsewhere,” said Hallberg.

“After the soft tissue had rotted away, the skulls were removed and placed on the stakes before being placed in the shallow lake.”

Another theory is that the mounted skulls are trophies brought back from battles with other settlers in the area.

“It may have been a way to prove one’s success on the battlefield,” Hallberg explained.

DNA and isotope analysis might help fill in some of the blanks, like if everyone in buried on the site was related or if they were raised in the area or came from elsewhere. If they’re all part of the same family, it seems unlikely that the impaled skulls were battle trophies.

This excavation site has been a regular source of unique discoveries over the past two years. It gained immediate notoriety last summer when a Stone Age antler bone dildo was discovered by the same team that found the spiked skulls. Then last October the team discovered a treasure trove of artifacts — parts of a bow, a paddle, an axe handle and blade — all made out 9000-year-old wood. The bow was the first of its kind ever found in Sweden. That’s the miracle of sodden earth and peat in action again, keeping perishable materials from perishing.


Minneapolis museum to return looted vase to Italy

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

The Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) has agreed to return a 5th century B.C. red-figure volute krater (a vessel used to mix water and wine) that was part of Giacomo Medici’s hoard of looted antiquities to Italy. The museum purchased it from antiquities dealer/high society fence Robin Symes in 1983.

According to the museum website, the krater is probably the work of the Methyse Painter and depicts a Dionysian parade which stars a child satyr riding on the shoulders of a maenad. This is the only known vase painting of a child satyr getting a piggy back ride from a maenad. There are satyrs carrying child satyrs, women holding human babies, but no other women carrying child satyrs.

That unique depiction is key to the repatriation saga. When in 1995 the Italian art police raided a Geneva Freeport warehouse that antiquities dealer/fence Giacomo Medici (later sentenced to 10 years for antiquities theft) had stuffed full of looted artifacts, they also found a cache of 10,000 Polaroid pictures of newly excavated, unrestored ancient artifacts Medici had already sold.

That massive score of photographs has been the underpinning of many of the recent legal and diplomatic avenues Italy has pursued to reclaim looted antiquities from U.S. museums. Among the 10,000 was a picture of a volute krater depicting a Dionysian parade with a child satyr riding on the shoulders of a maenad. The vessel in the picture still bore the mud and salt encrustations from its fresh excavation.

In 2005, Italian authorities published a list of artifacts in eight major US museums that they had reason to believe had been illegally excavated, exported and sold. Among them was the child satyr krater at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. The Italian police believe the vase was probably looted from Rutigliano, a town in the Puglia region (the heel of the boot) that was once colonized by Greece and is a mother lode of Greek vases because they were so prized they were often buried with their owners.

The museum of course claimed that it had bought the artifact “in good faith” (they always say that) and that according to their information (ie, the fictional ownership history Symes invented so the buyer could later claim to have purchased the stolen object “in good faith”), the vase had been in private collections in Switzerland (Canadian girlfriend alert!) for 15 years prior to the 1983 sale, pushing its fake provenance back two years before the 1970 cutoff established by the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

According to Kaywin Feldman, director and president of the MIA, in the wake of Italy’s allegations the museum launched an investigation on the provenance of the volute krater. The investigation somehow fell through the cracks after some staff changes, until Feldman entirely on her own “out of curiosity” contacted the Italian culture ministry last year to pursue the case.

That conversation led to an exchange of information which eventually determined the MIA’s krater had likely been illegally excavated. The MIA’s board of directors voted in March to deaccession the object and return it to the Italian government. The Italian government for its part has stated that it is thankful for the return of the krater.

The Italian government is unfailingly flattering to the museums they bust once they’ve secured a return, even when they don’t really deserve it. The six-year delay between the Italian claim and the repatriation decision was ludicrous. That Medici Polaroid is as close to undeniable evidence that vase was looted as it gets. Polaroid didn’t even make the camera model that took the picture until 1972, so there was no way that Swiss collection cover story could be remotely possible.

There is no firm date for the return of the krater. Talks are ongoing. Meanwhile, it will remain at the Minneapolis Institute of Art for at least another month, probably more, and they’ve added a blurb about the investigation to the display.


Riddick’s David Twohy to direct lost Leonardo film

Saturday, September 17th, 2011

Leonardo da Vinci’s lost mural, The Battle of Anghiari, will be the subject of a heist caper movie written and directed by David Twohy, writer and director of the science fiction classics starring Vin Diesel Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick. It will be called, deplorably enough, The Leonardo Job which is so absurdly derivative I hope very much it will be changed at some point in the production process.

Even if it stays the same, I fear the name may be the best part.

An action thriller about the heist of the “lost” Leonardo da Vinci painting The Battle of Anghiari; the story involves two rival master thieves hired to go to Florence to track down the “mythical” painting. These experts use high tech and old tricks to prove the painting exists and pinpoint its location – hidden behind another masterpiece. They are forced to combine skills when their schemes to steal the painting get more complicated and dangerous after they discover they are not the only ones pursuing the hidden treasure.

I’m curious to see exactly how they plan to steal a mural. Murals are on walls, you see, from the Latin murus meaning wall. This particular wall is rather large, too. It will require some seriously impressive high tech gadgetry to excise it without anyone noticing.

They haven’t released a production schedule yet, so we don’t know when the movie will be released. Twohy has been working with Vin Diesel on the long-awaited third Riddick movie so Leonardo might have to get in line.

Cynicism aside, I hope somehow this seeming train wreck will turn out to be a rollicking good time that doesn’t annoy me at all. Pitch Black is a brilliant movie, and I love The Chronicles of Riddick with all its flaws. It never fails to draw me in when it’s on cable.


Giant stone designs in Middle East seen from the air

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Enormous stone structures that can only be seen from the air, like Peru’s Nazca Lines, have been discovered in the desert lava fields of the Middle East. New satellite imagery and a program of aerial photography in Jordan have allowed archaeologists to locate thousands of these mysterious structures. They come in a variety of shapes, the most popular one being a spoked wheel, and can range in size from 82 feet to 230 feet.

According to University of Western Australia professor David Kennedy, whose team has been involved in the aerial photography project documenting ancient structures in Jordan, there are more of these giant figures in Jordan alone than in all of Peru. They also cover more surface area and they are older.

Kennedy’s new research, which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science, reveals that these wheels form part of a variety of stone landscapes. These include kites (stone structures used for funnelling and killing animals); pendants (lines of stone cairns that run from burials); and walls, mysterious structures that meander across the landscape for up to several hundred feet and have no apparent practical use.

The structures are remote and so difficult to see from the ground (even when you know they’re there), that thus far the wheels have not been excavated by archaeologists. That means we really don’t know how old they are. They look prehistoric but could be much more recent. Some wheels have been found on top of kites but never vice versa, so we know the kite shaped structures — which can be as much as 9,000 years old — predate the wheel shaped ones.

Cairns have been discovered on some of the sites, so perhaps those locations used the giant stonework as part of a cemetery ritual. There’s so much variety, though, discoveries at one wheel can’t be generalized to draw conclusions about the structures as a group.

Some of the wheels are found in isolation while others are clustered together. At one location, near the Azraq Oasis, hundreds of them can be found clustered into a dozen groups. “Some of these collections around Azraq are really quite remarkable,” Kennedy said.

In Saudi Arabia, Kennedy’s team has found wheel styles that are quite different: Some are rectangular and are not wheels at all; others are circular but contain two spokes forming a bar often aligned in the same direction that the sun rises and sets in the Middle East.

The ones in Jordan and Syria, on the other hand, have numerous spokes and do not seem to be aligned with any astronomical phenomena. “On looking at large numbers of these, over a number of years, I wasn’t struck by any pattern in the way in which the spokes were laid out,” Kennedy said.

You can browse a Flickrfull of pictures from the Jordan aerial photography program here.


Lavishly restored 1922 Ohio carousel reopens in Brooklyn

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

On Friday, September 16, a carousel built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company (PTC) in 1922 for the now-defunct Idora Park in Youngstown, Ohio, will again delight ladies and gentlemen and kids of all ages, only now their view will be of the East River, Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan skyline.

Idora Park officially closed its doors after 85 years on Labor Day 1984, after a fire in April devastated much of the park, including its famed 1929 wooden coaster, The Wild Cat. The carousel, scorched but intact, sold at auction October 20th of that year. It would have been just another sad story of how the decline of the urban manufacturing base decimated a local business until it was sold for scrap, but this merry-go-round got lucky. Each of its 48 horses and 2 chariots were sold individually, but at the end of the auction all the bids were tallied up and a single buyer was offered the opportunity to take the entire carousel for the combined sum. New York real estate developer David Walentas and his wife Jane bought Philadelphia Toboggan Company #61 for $385,000.

They were in the market because Walentas was developing a waterfront shopping complex in the Brooklyn neighborhood known as DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass). A rounded riverside spot seemed like the perfect place for an antique carousel so they went and bought them one. They hired a specialized company to dismantle PTC #61 and ship the whole shebang to Brooklyn, where Jane, who has a master’s degree in fine art, began researching carousel restoration.

Instead of outsourcing, Jane decided to take on the massive restoration herself. It’s an incredible story of obsession and dedication. First she documented like crazy, taking pictures and samples and notes on the main parts of the carousel. The original paint was unsalvageable so she sent the parts to a chemical stripper so the dozen layers of overpaint could be removed. Jane had a carpenter repair the parts, prime them and then set them aside in storage to focus on the stars of the show, the horses and chariots.

I spent years, mostly alone, scraping the many layers of park paint to reveal the original palette and beautiful carvings. I had hoped to be able to keep the horses in their factory paint, but was eventually convinced that it was not possible. Much of the paint was fragile and the surface of most of the horses was rough and needed too much repair to have been left as they were. Once again, I did precise matches of the factory colors, and traced, drew and photographed everything I uncovered. I worked scraping paint off the horses, sporadically over the course of about 16 years.

In June of 2004, the decades of work came to a head. She moved into a new studio, hired more help and set about doing all the repairs to the individual horses. Once repaired, they were repainted with painstaking fidelity to the factory original look, and then, because rich people are crazy, Jane took it a giant mommy step further and gilded all the horses’ metallic fittings and decoration, originally aluminum leaf or aluminum leaf with a gold wash, in freaking palladium and 24 carat gold. She also hired a luxury car customizer from Mercedes-Benz to do all the hand pin striping work on the horse bridles.

The two chariots, “Cherub” and “Liberty” she was able to keep in their original paint. After removing all the coats on top of it, the original paint was sturdy enough to stand on its own with just a little infilling. Although there’s a noticeable cracklure over the chariots’ surface, they still look fantastic even next to the freshly repainted ponies.

In 2006, the carousel was ready to be put back together and on display. Over the years the shopping center project had been scrapped to be replaced with a Empire Fulton Ferry Park, so the Walentas set up the carousel, now renamed “Jane’s Carousel” in honor of its obsessively loving foster mom, in another of their properties, a converted spice warehouse in the DUMBO neighborhood where people could see it among the art galleries but not ride it.

After some struggling with various committees, entities and civic groups, the Walentas got the nod to install the carousel on the waterfront in front of the Civil War-era Tobacco Warehouse. They hired French architect Jean Nouvel to design a suitable pavilion to house it and he created a $9 million transparent acrylic jewel box that would show off the beauty of the carousel during the day, show the riders a most spectacular view and that would at night be lit so that the horses cast huge shadows on the white floor-to-ceiling window shades. They also donated $3.45 million to the park for landscaping and nighttime lighting that will allow the park to stay open until 1:00 AM.

Oh, and they donated a 1922 Philadelphia Toboggan Company carousel with palladium and 24 carat gold fittings.

Now the jewel box is done, the parts and horses have been moved in, and as of Friday, Jane’s Carousel will be open from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., every day except Tuesday. A ride costs $2, children under three ride for free.


Roald Dahl’s writing shed in need of rescue

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

The pocket-sized brick and polystyrene shed at the bottom of Roald Dahl’s garden in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, is in dire need of conservation. Dahl built it in the late 50s after seeing Dylan Thomas’ writing shed and since Styrofoam was involved, obviously it was not built to last. Right now visitors can see the shed but are not allowed inside.

Roald Dahl’s family, including his supermodel granddaughter Sophie (the young heroine in The BFG was named after her), have launched an appeal to raise £500,000 (just short of $800,000) to restore the structure and to remove the entire inside of the hut and install it inside the Roald Dahl Museum where people can see it and it can be properly shielded from the elements. It’s a bit of a jarring thought — conserving history by peeling it out of its context — but what can you do when the context is made of Styrofoam? They moved Julia Child’s Cambridge kitchen to the Smithsonian, and that turned out pretty cool.

It is hoped the structure will be transferred to the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre by March next year.

The idea came from the author’s grandson, Luke Kelly, who was inspired by the relocation of artist Francis Bacon’s studio to the Hugh Lane gallery in Dublin.

Dahl’s granddaughter, Sophie, said the family wanted to share the writer’s “palpable magic and limitless imagination” with visitors.

A further £500,000 will be needed by the museum to create an interactive exhibit to set the hut in context for visitors.

The appeal has gotten some negative buzz in the press and on the Internet. The Dahl family is hardly impoverished. Roald sold a lot of books in his day, and they still sell steadily. Hearing a supermodel from a wealthy family ask for donations doesn’t sit too well with recession-struck England. According to the Roald Dahl Museum’s Amelia Foster, however, the family has already contributed a large sum and the appeal is targeted to foundations and philanthropists rather than to taking the last coins out of threadbare pockets. They’ve already raised half the £500,000 from large donors, in fact.

The legendary space in which Willy Wonka and the BFG were conceived and born has been kept exactly as Roald Dahl left it when he died in 1990. Dahl wrote all of his most famous stories in that office. He insisted it be a private space; his family were not allowed inside and even his illustrator Quentin Blake, collaborator and personal friend, only ever set foot in the shed one time.

The building was dedicated entirely to writing. There was room for a desk, a file cabinet and his beat up wingback grandpa chair which he sat it with a wooden board on this lap to write on. He had injured his back flying for the Royal Air Force in World War II (during which he also spied/slept with rich ladies for his country) so he wasn’t comfortable using a traditional office chair and desk setup.

The desk in the room was covered with gee gaws, as was pretty much every horizontal surface, including my two personal favorites: his hip bone (the yellow sphere in the center front of the desk) and a large ball made of foil wrappers from the Cadbury’s chocolates he ate over the years (the shiny grey sphere between the rock and the grasshopper, behind the geodes). The bone, the ball of the hip joint, was sawed off from the top of his femur in a hip replacement surgery. The doctor gave it to him after the operation telling him it was the biggest one he’d ever seen. Naturally it occupies pride of place on the desk of Dahl curios.

In a radio interview in 1970s, Dahl described the integral role his poky, ramshackle little shed played in his writing:

You become a different person, you are no longer an ordinary fellow who walks around and looks after his children and eats meals and does silly things, you go into a completely different world. I personally draw all the curtains in the room, so that I don’t see out the window and put on a little light which shines on my board. Everything else in your life disappears and you look at your bit of paper and get completely lost in what you’re doing. You do become another person for a moment. Time disappears completely. You may start at nine in the morning and the next time you look at your watch, when you’re getting hungry, it can be lunchtime. And you’ve absolutely no idea that three or fours hours have gone by.

You can explore the hut and find out more about its contents and Roald’s work on the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre website. Protip: the virtual tour didn’t work for me in Chrome but did in Internet Explorer.


Neolithic lovers seek new home

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

In February of 2007, construction workers building a warehouse in Valdaro, farm country on the outskirts of Mantua discovered a Stone Age burial site. Archaeologists excavated further and discovered a unique Neolithic double burial, a young man and woman who had died 6000 years ago and been locked in an eternal embrace ever since. The Mantua region during the Stone Age was marshland, an excellent environment for preserving skeletons, and in fact dozens of Neolithic burial sites have been found in the area. Most of them are individual burials, some mass burials, some double burials of mother and child, the occasional head buried under a dwelling, but a man and woman embracing, arms and legs interlocked, had never been found before.

The male skeleton (on the left in the picture) was found with a flint arrowhead near his neck. His lady friend had a long flint blade along her thigh, plus two flint knives under her pelvis. There was initial speculation that the weapons might have been the cause of death, like perhaps the lovers had been found mid-embrace by a jealous husband who killed them both on the spot à la Paolo and Francesca. Osteological examination found no evidence of violent death, however, no fractures, no microtrauma, so the most likely explanation is the flint tools were buried along with the people as grave goods.

After the story made the news with a myriad Stone Age Romeo and Juliet headlines, the site had to be guarded night and day to protect it from the carelessly curious and would-be looters. Plus, the landowner still wanted to build his warehouse, so archaeologists decided to remove the entire grave. To keep the couple in their entwined position, archaeologists cut away and lifted the entire section of earth in which they were entombed. The whole burial, all six and half feet cubed of it, was then taken in a box to a laboratory for further analysis.

Researchers were able to pin down their ages to between 18 and 20. Given their discovery in a necropolis, it’s unlikely that they died by accident while hugging, to keep warm during a freezing night, for instance. They were found embracing because they were positioned that way after death.

Four years later and the “Lovers of Valdaro” are finally out of the lab and on display at the Mantua Archeological Museum. It’s a short exhibit, only lasting through Sunday, arranged by an organization that is trying to raise money to make it a permanent display.

The association “Lovers in Mantua” is campaigning for their right to have a room of their own. According to [Professor Silvia] Bagnoli, 250,000 euros will be enough for an exhibition center, and another 200,000 euros could pay for a multimedia space to tell the world the mysterious story of these prehistoric lovers.


The Encino Rembrandt plot thickens

Monday, September 12th, 2011

A few weeks ago I blogged about a Rembrandt drawing that was stolen from an LA-area Ritz-Carlton hallway exhibit only to turn up two days later in the pastor’s office of an Encino church. Almost as soon as the story got traction in the press doubts cropped up as to whether the drawing was a Rembrandt at all (see Rowan’s comment on the original entry). No such drawing is listed in the accepted catalogs of Rembrandt’s work, and none of the experts contacted by reporters had ever heard of it. At least one expert thought the pen-and-ink drawing looked like it came from Rembrandt’s school instead of having been done by the master himself.

The Linearis Institute, owners of the drawing and sponsors of the Ritz-Carlton exhibit, made no rebuttal to these charges. Calls and emails from reporters asking for comment went answered, which is a little weird but not unheard of. Calls from police investigating the theft also went unanswered for a while, which is far weirder.

The weirdnesses continue to accumulate. The alleged Rembrandt is still in the possession of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department because the Linearis Institute refuses to provide proof of ownership.

[T]he institute’s attorney, William Klein, said Linearis purchased “The Judgment,” from a legitimate seller. He said the institute’s officials just don’t want to say who that was.

“Things like that really are trade secrets,” Klein told The Associated Press. “We don’t believe we need to reveal trade secrets to get back what is ours.”

He acknowledged the institute has no trail of paperwork (called provenance in art-world speak) to prove “The Judgment” really is a Rembrandt. But he added that officials at Linearis believe it is and it shouldn’t matter what authorities think.


Call me psychic, but something is rotten in Denmark. Best case scenario this so-called institute purchased a so-called Rembrandt from the back of a truck. Why else hide the seller from the police? If your sources of high-end art are “trade secrets” who sell Old Master drawings without ownership history then you’re buying on the black market, period. The difference is that a legitimate seller would trouble himself to counterfeit an ownership history replete with anonymous Swiss private collectors and girlfriends from Canada so that the new owners can have plausible deniability should the cops start sniffing around.

On top of that, it Linearis also isn’t interested in pressing charges against the thieves should they be found. Mr. Klein, Esq., says the institute is really only focused on finding a “compromise” that will allow them to get the drawing back. If the police arrest the thieves, the institute’s position is they can “do anything they need to do that’s in the interests of justice.” Sounds legit to me.


First prehistoric engraved clay disks found in Alaska

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

Archaeologists documenting unusual petroglyphs in the Noatak National Preserve in Northwest Alaska have discovered four prehistoric engraved clay disks that are the first such artifacts ever found in Alaska.

Rock art of any kind is rare in Interior and Northern Alaska. The Noatak petroglyphs are engraved on the foundation stones of prehistoric house pits on the shore of Feniak Lake. Archaeologists found them 40 years ago but then left them undocumented. This summer, a multidisciplinary team of artists and archaeologists from the University of Alaska Museum of the North and the National Park Service went to Noatak to sketch and trace all the petroglyphs on site.

During small-scale excavations in the shallow depressions that mark the remains of prehistoric dwellings, Scott Shirar, a research archaeologist with the UA museum of the North, and his colleagues made an exciting discovery. They found four clay disks decorated with lines, grooves and perforations.

“The first one looks like a little stone that had some scratch marks on it,” Shirar said. “We got really excited when we found the second one with the drilled hole and the more complicated etchings on it. That’s when we realized we had something unique.”

After collaborating with experts and looking up examples in the archaeological record, Shirar said the disks appear to be a new artifact type for Alaska. “We only opened up a really small amount of ground at the site, so the fact that we found four of these artifacts indicates there are probably more and that something really significant is happening.”

The disks have yet to be dated officially. They are at the University of Alaska Museum of the North where they will be analyzed and studied further. Preliminary dating based on the features of the ancient dwellings and other observable data suggests the settlement and clay disks date to the late prehistoric era, approximately a thousand years ago. Radiocarbon dating on organic matter recovered during the excavation will provide more detail.

Feniak Lake is about 100 miles northeast of the Inupiat Eskimo community of Kotzebue. Despite the Arctic climate, the location has been populated for 11,000 years, which means people settled there in the first immigrant wave to cross the Bering land bridge between 16,000 and 10,000 B.C.





September 2011
« Aug   Oct »


Add to Technorati Favorites