Colossal statue of Neo-Hittite warrior king found

Tayinat gate lion found last yearThe Tayinat Archaeological Project in southeastern Turkey continues to prove itself a bonanza of Bronze and Iron Age archaeological wonders. To last year’s roaring lion sculpture that once guarded the gates of the citadel of Kunulua (aka Kinalua), capital of the Neo-Hittite Kingdom of Patina (ca. 1000-738 B.C.), we can now add the top half of a colossal statue of Patina’s warrior king Suppiluliuma.

Colossal statue of Suppiluliuma, frontThe statue is the head and torso of the king, depicted with a neatly curled beard and head of hair. His wide eyes are made of inlaid white and black stone. His arms are bent at the elbow, forearms extended and hands clenched in tight fists. He wears an armband above each elbow and bracelets on his wrists adorned with lion heads facing each other. In his right fist he holds the head of a spear; in his left a shaft of wheat. He wears a pectoral piece or necklace shaped like a crescent.

The statue is almost five feet tall and intact from the waist to the top of his head, but the bottom half is missing. Archaeologists estimate that when legs were attached the complete statue was between 11 and 13 feet tall. He too was a guardian, positioned at the gateway leading to the upper citadel to the royal city, and must have been a highly impressive one at that.

Colossal statue of Suppiluliuma, sideIt’s a long inscription on the back that identifies him as the king. A raised relief carved in Hieroglyphic Luwian, an Anatolian language used solely in royal seals and monumental inscriptions, extols the military campaigns and many accomplishments of King Suppiluliuma. We don’t know exactly who he was, but he was named after two kings of the Hittite New Kingdom: Suppiluliuma I (ca. 1344–1322 B.C.) who had revived the flagging kingdom with many military successes including wresting Syrian territories from the control of Akhenaten’s weakened Egyptian empire, and Suppiluliuma II (ca. 1207–1178 B.C.), the last known king of the Hittite New Kingdom who defeated Cyprus in the first recorded naval battle in history.

Experts believe this Suppiluliuma fought against the powerful Neo-Assyrian king Shalmaneser III as part of a coalition of Syro-Hittite states in 858 B.C. Shalmaneser’s father Ashurnasirpal II had conquered Kunulua in the 870s B.C. without encountering any resistance whatsoever. Kunulua King Lubarna caved before the first spear was thrown, handing over huge quantities of silver, gold, tin, iron, oxen, sheep, a large female monkey, linen, furniture, female hostages including the king’s own niece, plus numerous infantry and cavalry troops. Suppiluliuma’s victory 15 years or so later was an important vindication for the humiliated state.

Carved column baseIn the same location, archaeologists found a second sculpture lying on its side next to the colossal statue. This one is a semi-circular column base about three feet tall and nearly three feet in diameter. There’s a winged bull figure carved on the curved side with a sphinx to its left. The flat side is bare, because it was probably originally meant to be placed against a wall.

Both sculptures appear to have been ritually buried under the central passageway of the citadel gate, as was the lion found last year. The Neo-Assyrians conquered the area in 738 B.C., destroying the monumental gateway of the citadel. They buried the statues and then paved them over, turning the one-time royal citadel into a sacred precinct and its gateway into a courtyard.

Tomb of Mayan prince found in Mexico

K2 palace complex building in Uxul, ca. 650 A.D.University of Bonn archaeologists have discovered the untouched tomb of a local prince in the royal palace complex at Uxul, a Maya site in the Mexican jungle near the border with Guatemala. Most of the 11 known buildings in the complex have been prey to looters looking for valuable ceramics and jewelry. Although there was a looting tunnel leading to this building (called K2) as well, the grave was discovered five feet under the floor and was untouched. It’s the first intact grave the team has discovered in four excavation seasons.

Tomb with skeleton, vessels and platesThe tomb is a single chamber with brick walls and a corbel vault. Inside archaeologists found the skeleton of a young man lying on his back with his arms folded over his stomach, five ceramic cups and four ceramic plates, some of them elaborately decorated with paintings and reliefs. One of the plates decorated in Mayan Codex-Style (a black outline drawing that uses the Mayan hieroglyphics seen in their surviving pre-Columbian books) was found on the young man’s skull. He was probably about 20-25 years old when he died, and one of the cups has an inscription bearing a date of 711 A.D. which is likely to be the year of his death, or at least near to it.

Maya prince cup from UxulThat vessel also bears an inscription labeling it as “the drinking vessel of the young man/prince.” Since he was found in the largest building yet discovered in Uxul’s royal palace complex, archaeologists feel secure in pronouncing him the latter since a non-royal “young man” would not get such prime funerary real estate. The absence of jade jewelry marks him as a minor prince, not directly in line for the throne.

Scientists believe that Uxul, originally a smaller independent kingdom, was inhabited and ruled from time to time by the leaders of the ruling Kaan Dynasty in Calakmul. But the influence subsided after 705 AD, and there is a strong likelihood that a local ruling family came to power for a few generations. At the start of the 9th century, Uxul was almost completely deserted.

The Uxul palace complex was completed around 650 A.D. when the Kaan (Kaaaaaan!) dynasty had been in control for two decades. Relief panels found last year in the same building where the grave was discovered depict four of the Kaan kings playing the ballgame. The local royal family that took over after the Calakmul dynasty lost power probably still had some dynastic links to the previous rulers.

The city of Uxul was an important trade hub between the two major Mayan urban centers of El Mirador to the south and Calakmul to the northeast. It had trade links south into Guatemala and north to the Central Mexican Plateau, hence its appeal to its powerful neighbor.

Located deep in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, Uxul is difficult to reach. The sole access is 75 miles of jungle paths, and archaeologists can only dig for two to three months during the dry season. Undaunted, the archaeological team hopes to find more unlooted graves in the K2 palace building that will provide valuable information about the shifting power dynamics of the late Calakmul period.

Roman timber roof in Herculaneum put back together

Timber and tile roof excavated in HerculaneumIn 2010, workers from the Herculaneum Conservation Project were struggling as they so often do with drainage issues. The crux of the issue is that water in the modern city flows down to what used to be the beach, only Vesuvius saw to it that the shore was pushed hundreds of feet into the sea; so the area of the ancient city that used to be prime beach real estate is constantly and dangerously waterlogged.

They decided to install some new drainage pipes on the site. Since they’d have to jackhammer their way through at least three feet of hard volcanic rock in order to lay the new pipe, the archaeologists did an initial survey to be sure nothing ancient and man-made would be damaged. They didn’t expect to find anything — the Roman beach had been thoroughly excavated in the 1980s — but in a section that hadn’t been explored, they not only found something: they found an entire ancient Roman wooden and tile roof.

Decorated ceiling tilePreserved by the volcanic rock on one side and the black sand of the beach on the other were massive wooden beams as much as 23 feet long, smaller joists and rafters, decorative panels and terracotta tiles. The tiles were underneath the timbers. They would originally have been the top layer of the roof, which means that the entire structure was ripped off the house, flipped upside down and deposited on the beach by the force of the pyroclastic surge. Unlike many of the other preserved organic materials found in Herculaneum, the timbers were not carbonized. They were smashed into wet sand, then kept safe by subsequent pyroclastic flows that hardened into layers of air-tight rock.

The wood roof was in such exceptional condition that carpentry marks and joints were clearly visible. They bore glorious testament to Roman carpentry, because even with all those massive timbers and rafters, there isn’t a single nail in the entire structure. There were a few cramp irons employed, but other than that, the structure was supported with joinery, trusses and its own pitch.

House of the Telephus ReliefArchaeologists calculated from its location that the roof must have once topped the Marble Room in the House of the Telephus Relief, one of the largest and richest houses in Herculaneum, probably owned by Marcus Nonius Balbus, praetor, proconsul and patron of the city. Statues and inscriptions dedicated to him litter the entire town, and the house has a private entrance to the baths, donated by Balbus to the city. The house got its name because a marble relief was found in the living room depicting Telephus, the king of Mysia and the son of Hercules who was wounded by Achilles in battle. Telephus reliefThe relief shows Achilles with his mother Tethis on the left, and on the right Achilles scraping the spear that hurt Telephus into the wound in order to heal it, as per the advice of the Delphic Oracle.

Once the wood parts and tiles were fully excavated last year, archaeologists had 250 pieces to work with, so they decided to do something that hasn’t been done before: puzzle together an entire original Roman timber and tile roof. They were able to put tab A into slot B, determining the angle of the pitch from the joinery alone.

Woodwork panels that once decorated the ceiling also survived, some of them with traces of their original paint and gold leaf. They can tell that it was immensely colorful, even garish by today’s standards. The team is currently working on piecing together the ceiling pattern, which they think matched the colorful marble pattern of the floor.

The ceiling panels and roof are being kept in a refrigerated container for their preservation. The Herculaneum Conservation Project plans to send the roof to the British Museum for its massive Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibit in March of 2013. The idea is to put the whole thing together inside the exhibit gallery, but transportation of such delicate ancient organic artifacts is tricky, so we’ll see. If all goes as planned, the roof will make its public debut very far from home in London.

Modernism, the child, and a killer scooter

The Museum of Modern Art in New York City has a new exhibit opening Sunday dedicated to the development of design for children in the 20th century. Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900–2000 covers everything from furniture to clothes to toys to the suburban Chicago playhouse Frank Lloyd Wright designed as a kindergarten for the daughter of Avery and Queene Ferry Coonley in 1912.

The first chapter of the exhibit catalogue is available for free download (pdf) and it makes for fascinating reading. I didn’t realize how much of modernist design was inspired by progressive thought about childhood and children’s education. For instance, that playhouse Wright built for the Coonleys is packed with references to the ideas of Friedrich Froebel, who invented the whole concept of kindergarten in 1837. Froebel believed that play was how children learned about their environment and how things relate to each other. Toys, therefore, weren’t just something to bust out at recess but were integral to childhood development, hence his “gifts,” toys given to children at various stages starting with colored balls on strings, through to shapes, cubes, building blocks and beauty forms, blocks arranged to form increasingly complex geometric patterns.

The avant-garde art movements of the 1920s and 30s also took inspiration from and contributed new visions of childhood. Alma Buscher of the Bauhaus school designed colorful geometric toys and furniture that were entirely different in concept and execution from the miniature adult chairs and tables that characterized earlier childhood environments. The furniture she made for the nursery at the Haus am Horn, a house designed and decorated for the Weimar Bauhaus exhibition in 1923, is something you’ll still find in children’s rooms and classrooms. Her large and colorful building blocks were instant Bauhaus top sellers and remain so to this day.

But it’s one particular item designed in 1933 that caught my eye and captured my heart. It’s the Skippy-Racer scooter, designed by John Rideout and Harold Van Doren for the American National Company in Toledo, Ohio. Behold its glory:

It’s on loan to MoMA from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts which bought it for an undisclosed sum after it was abandoned on the side of the street by some crazy person. That streamlined look made it a stand-out among the standard scooters sold at the time (or now, for that matter), and it was the primary selling point in catalogues and advertisements. The “new, original and ornamental design for a child’s scooter” was the justification for the patent as well.

Sleek scooter design wasn’t just for boosting sales, however.

Medical, educational, and design reformers believed that light, air, and hygiene should permeate all aspects of a child’s early environments. Designers developed new modern schools, nurseries, clothing, and furniture that were simple, light, and flexible. Physical education, delivered through schools and clubs, encouraged children to participate in modern forms of dance, gymnastics, and sport, whether as a means of inculcating collective values or of promoting health and self-expression.

It works on adults too. You couldn’t pry me off my Skippy-Racer with a crowbar and a gallon of axle grease.

The Century of the Child exhibit runs until November 5th, 2012. Sadly, Skippy-Racer rides are not included in the price of admission.

Giuseppe Garibaldi’s body to be exhumed

After a multi-year campaign, the descendants of Italian unification hero Giuseppe Garibaldi have secured permission to open his tomb on Caprera, an island off the northeastern corner of Sardinia, and examine the body within to confirm its identity. Anita Garibaldi, great-granddaughter of Giuseppe, announced the news at a press conference accompanied by Silvano Vinceti, who has made a less than savory career out of digging up the would-be remains of famous Italians like Caravaggio and Lisa Gherardini, the model for Mona Lisa. The campaign is supported by most of Garibaldi’s heirs and political figures from across the spectrum like leftist former Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema and rightist former Secretary of State Stefania Craxi.

The exhumation plan had the support of then Culture Minister Sandro Bondi in 2010, but the campaign didn’t want to push the issue at the time out of concern that they’d be accused of exploiting the upcoming 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy. So they held back until now, securing the approval of current Culture Minister Lorenzo Ornaghi. The tomb will be opened at the end of September.

The controversy over the mortal remains of Giuseppe Garibaldi started when he died in his Caprera house on June 2, 1882. On his deathbed, he asked that his body be cremated in a simple ceremony in a spot where he once collected fragrant-burning wood. According to Anita, in his will he expressed a desire that his ashes be left for the people of Italy to pick up and disperse all over the country he helped stitch together with his military genius and unflinching dedication to human rights and civil liberties.

For many politicians, including Garibaldi’s friend and prominent unification figure in his own right Francesco Crispi, that was far too modest a fate for an Italian hero of Garibaldi’s stature. The government requested that his body be embalmed, probably so it could be transferred in full pomp to the Pantheon or one of the other monuments of nationalist symbolism in Rome. That transfer never happened — at the end of June a bust of Garibaldi was installed on the Capitoline, right next to the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, with much ceremony — but the embalming did. Garibaldi’s body was encased in a granite tomb in a small cemetery on his property on Caprera.

It didn’t go smoothly, though. They had trouble putting the lid on the tomb and it apparently took five attempts before it was finally sealed. That’s where the questions arose about whether Garibaldi’s body was still inside by the time they shut the thing. After exhumation, the DNA of the remains will be compared to that of his direct descendant, Claudio Garibaldi. If it turns out to be someone else buried in that tomb, Anita wants that to be broadcast far and wide so tourists won’t keep getting bamboozled like they have been for the past 130 years or so.

Should the body prove to be that of the general, the next controversy will be whether to rebury it in the granite tomb, or to comply with Garibaldi’s final wishes. The descendants and Vinceti plan to poll Italians to see what they think should be done. Apparently Anita has been getting death threats over the exhumation, so at least some Italians have expressed their opinion already. The final decision on the disposition of remains in theory belongs with the family, but who knows how this will play out.

I discovered something rather marvelous about Giuseppe Garibaldi earlier this year. In July of 1861, just four months after the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy and three months after the opening of hostilities at Fort Sumter, Lincoln, through Secretary of State William H. Seward, offered Garibaldi a commission as Major General in the Union Army. According to this long and fascinating article on the subject, Seward instructed the Minister to Belgium, Henry Shelton Sanford (founder of the town of Sanford, Florida, which has recently made the ugliest of news due to the killing of Trayvon Martin), to approach Garibaldi with the offer.

I wish you to proceed at once and enter into communication with the distinguished Soldier of Freedom. Say to him that this government believes his services in its present contest for the unity and liberty of the American People, would be exceedingly useful, and that, therefore, they are earnestly desired and invited. Tell him that this government believes he will, if possible, accept this call, because it is too certain that the fall of the American Union, if indeed it were possible, would be a disastrous blow to the cause of Human Freedom equally here, in Europe, and throughout the world. Tell him that he will receive a Major-General’s commission in the army of the United States, with its appointments, with the hearty welcome of the American People. Tell him that we have abundant resources, and numbers unlimited at our command, and a nation resolved to remain united and free.

After a little pas de deux with King Victor Emmanuel, who was only too happy to extend Garibaldi his permission to go fight the Civil War so he wouldn’t be stirring up trouble at home with his advocating for democracy and universal suffrage, Garibaldi pitched his counteroffer to Sanford. Sanford reported it to Seward:

He said that the only way in which he could render real service, as he ardently desired to do, to the cause of the United States, was as Commander-in-Chief of its forces; that he would only go as such and with the additional contingent power—to be governed by events—of declaring the abolition of slavery. He would be of little use, he said, without the first and, without the second, the war would appear to be like any civil war in which the world at large could have little interest or sympathy.

Lincoln was not willing to emancipate the slaves so early in the war, nor even to declare it the ultimate aim of the conflict, so that was the end of that. What a marvel of counterfactual history to contemplate, though: Giuseppe Garibaldi, the man who unified a country splintered for 2000 years with 1000 redshirted volunteers, leading the Union Army from the beginning instead of the miserable lineup of incompetents who followed.