Smallest Neolithic pot of its kind found in China

Archaeologists excavating the Peiligang site in Xinzheng, Henan Province, eastern China, have discovered a Neolithic pot that is the smallest of its kind. This type of small-mouthed, pointed-bottom amphora-like vessel is one of the characteristic artifacts produced by the Neolithic Yangshao culture. Dating to around 7,700 years ago, this example also the earliest of its kind, pushing back the history of this form by several centuries and providing new evidence about their origin.

The bottle is about 10 cm (four inches) long, smaller than more typical examples of this style. and was found this summer in an excavation of the Neolithic burial area on the west bank of the Shuangjie river which flows north-south through the western section of the Peiligang site. About 20 new tombs were unearthed in the excavation of the burial area. Few grave goods were found and most of them were agricultural tools, usually a combination of a shovel and sickle. A handful of sharpening stones and stone objects were also unearthed from these tombs. The small pot was discovered in Tomb M48.

The Yangshao culture occupied the middle areas of the Yellow River from between 5000 to 3000 B.C. The Yangshao people cultivated crops, supplementing their diets by hunting and moving on to new settlements when the land was no longer productive. The excavation uncovered evidence of pre-Yangshao peoples having lived and worked at Peiligang — ostrich egg beaded ornaments, animal bone fragments, clam shells, pottery fragments, quartz and flint lithics — in the Late Paleolithic.

An early-stage pottery kiln unearthed this year reveals that the Paleolithic Peiligang culture produced pottery at the site and provides new information about transition from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic cultures in the area. Archaeologists believe the small pot may have been used to make koji, a rice wine fermented using the monascus mold (red yeast mold), a process that the Paleolithic settlers of the Peiligang site had already learned.

German museum weirdly asks Italy to give back the Discobolus

The Discobolus Palombara, also known as the Discus Thrower, was discovered in 1781 at the Villa Palombara on the Esquiline Hill, one of the palaces of the princely Massimo family. It was a 1st-century A.D. marble copy of a famous 5th century B.C. bronze by the Athenian sculptor Myron of Eleutherae. The original was probably cast for the city of Sparta. The pose of the athlete captured at the moment of maximum coiled tension just before he spins around and releases the discus introduced a new dynamism into Classical sculpture that was widely admired and copied for centuries.

The original was long lost, known only from ancient sources, when the Discobolus Palombara was unearthed. It was the first version of the famous work to be discovered. It is life-sized (many copies are reduced in scale) and is the most complete of any the copies that were later found. It caused an immediate sensation and vaulted into the small club of the greatest surviving works of antiquity.

The sculpture was classified as a work of exceptional national interest by Italy’s 1909 cultural heritage law which made it illegal to export, but in the mid-1930s, the Lancellotti-Massimo branch of the family had financial problems and declared they would sell the Discobolus for the princely sum of eight million lire. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was interested, but ultimately balked at the price.

Hitler was enraptured by Classical Greek art, describing it in Mein Kampf as “the wonderful combination of the most glorious physical beauty with a brilliant mind and the noblest soul.” That harmony was in stark contrast, he believed, to the “degenerate” aesthetics of Modernist art. The representation of the heroic male nude was a particular favorite of his as it tied to his ideals of the perfectly fit, strong and muscular Aryan male, trained in sport and war.

The prologue to Leni Riefenstahl’s 1938 Olympia, her influential albeit interminable movie dedicated to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, makes the connection between the Classical ideal of beauty and the New German Man explicit: a long montage of the ruins of the Acropolis dissolving into famous Greco-Roman statues, prominently featuring ones in German collections.

The first is the Barberini Faun, which was sold to Ludwig, Crown Prince of Bavaria, in 1827, and has been in the Glyptothek in Munich, built by Ludwig specifically to house his huge collection of Greek and Roman sculpture, since it opened in 1830. Riefenstahl returns to the faun several times. The second is an extreme closeup of the Medusa Rondanini, also collected by Ludwig on his Grand Tour and in the Glyptothek. The Glyptothek’s Braschi Aphrodite makes an appearance as well.

Then, out of a cloud of dramatic smoke rises the Discobolus who morphs into a chiseled German athlete nude in a field throwing a discus into the sun-broken clouds in slow motion. Nude shot-putters, javelin throwers and more discus shots follow, as Riefenstahl claims the inheritance of ancient Greek representations of beauty and athleticism for the Master Race.

In 1937, the year after the Berlin Olympics, Prince Philip of Hesse went to Italy as head of an art buying expedition commissioned by Adolph Hitler. The Discobolus was at the top of the Führer’s wish list. Mussolini was glad to sell the black shirt of his own back to curry favor with Hitler, and the cultural patrimony of the nation was just as expendable. The Minister of Education protested the prospective sale, pointing out that by law the sculpture could not be exported, but Mussolini overrode all objections and ordered that Hitler get his heart’s desire. Mussolini’s son-in-law Galeazzo Ciano, then Foreign Minister, arranged a private sale. On April 20th, 1938, Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia debuted in movie theaters. On May 18th, 1938, the German government paid Prince Lancellotti 16 million lire in cash for the priceless Discobolus. In June 1938, Hitler presented it to the Glyptothek in Munich as a gift to the German people.

Ten years later, it was returned to Italy, one of thousands of artworks stolen, coerced or illegally purchased by the Nazis that were restituted after the war thanks to the diligence of Monuments Men from the Allied armies and national delegates to the task force. Germany strenuously objected to the repatriation of the Discobolus as it had been bought from a willing seller for exorbitant piles of cash, not looted or the product of a forced sale. They took it to the courts repeatedly and went so far as to lodge an official appeal with the President of the United States, Harry Truman. It didn’t work and the Discobolus has been in Italy since November 1948, now in the permanent collection of the National Roman Museum at the Palazzo Massimo.

Amazingly enough, it seems after 75 years, Bavarian museum officials still harbor delusions that their brief, illegal possession of the Discobolus has a chance in Hell of being reinstated.

The dispute arose when the director of the National Roman Museum requested the statue’s 17th Century marble base be returned from the Antikensammlungen state antiquities collection. The German museum instead asked for the return of the Discobolus Palombara, saying it had been illegally transported to Italy in 1948, the Corriere della Sera newspaper reported Friday.

Italy’s culture minister, Gennaro Sangiuliano, expressed doubts that the German culture minister, Claudia Roth, was aware of the Bavarian request.

“Over my dead body. The work absolutely must remain in Italy because it is a national treasure,’’ Sangiuliano was quoted by Corriere as saying, adding that he hoped that the base would be returned.

The fraught history of the Discobolus Palombara was just recently brought to the forefront again when it was featured in the Liberated Art 1937-1947 exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome early this year.

Intact double-chambered Etruscan tomb opened in Vulci

An intact double-chambered Etruscan tomb has been opened at the Casale dell’Osteria necropolis in the Archaeological Park of Vulci, central Italy. It is approximately 2,600 years old and contains a rich collection of pottery, amphorae, utensils, cups and a bronze cauldron. The objects are all in excellent condition, including a tablecloth that was used in the Etruscan religious ritual of the “last meal,” a food offering burned inside the tomb before it was sealed.

The tomb, dubbed Tomb 58, was first discovered in April of this year, the same time when another richly furnished Etruscan tomb was opened, revealing the exceptionally rare remains of the final food offering, skewers still on the brazier. The entrance was blocked by multiple slabs of tufa which had to be excavated carefully, one at a time. It wasn’t opened until this month. On October 27th, archaeologists opened Tomb 58.

They found a large tomb with two chambers dug into the soft volcanic tufa. The first chamber contained four Etruscan transport amphorae for local wine. The second chamber contained amphorae and ceramics from eastern Greece, Ionia, Corinth and local production including black bucchero pottery. Archaeologists believe the two amphorae in Chamber B came from the island of Chios, the most prized wine in the Greco-Roman world. A tripod bowl and iron objects were also found in Chamber B.

Also very important is the architectural layout, which “Appears to be characterized by a septum spared in the rock that creates an archway between the dromos, that is, the short corridor with steps, and the vestibule, from which there was access to the two chambers, the front and the left: the one, usual, on the right is missing, evidently because the space had already been occupied by other tombs.”

Simona Carosi, archaeologist in charge of the Archaeological and Nature Park, emphasizes how this find “gives us back in an unusual way the actual funerary banquet, as the Etruscans had laid it centuries and centuries ago.”

Coin hoard linked to massacre found in Scotland

A hoard of coins that may have been cached by clan chief Alasdair Ruadh ‘Maclain’ MacDonald just before he was killed in the Glencoe Massacre in 1692 has been discovered under the fireplace at “the summerhouse of Maclain” site in Glencoe.

The summerhouse was believed to have been a hunting lodge or feasting hall used by Maclain during his five decades as clan chief. The University of Glasgow excavated the site this August. Archaeology student Lucy Ankers found the hoard underneath the remains of the grand stone fireplace. It was a ceramic pot containing silver and bronze coins dating from the late 16th century to the 1680s. Most of them were minted by British rulers (Elizabeth I, James VI of Scotland/James I of Britain, Charles I, the Commonwealth, Charles II), but there was also a bronze coin of Philip IV of Spain, a brass coin of Louis XIII of France and a rare quattrino of Pope Clement VIII.

The dating of the coins strongly suggests they were buried at the time of the massacre. Maclain was known to have traveled internationally and could have picked up coins in the Papal States, Spain, France and the Spanish Netherlands.

Maclain was the chief of the Glencoe MacDonalds, a clan loyal to the former King James VII of Scotland and II of England, deposed by William III in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The Jacobite clans in the Highlands rose against William III in 1689 and were defeated. The king demanded they take an oath of allegiance to him by January 1st, 1692, or else be declared traitors. The MacDonalds waited for permission from James before taking the oath and while they did swear allegiance to the new king, by the time they did so it was January 6th and Secretary of State Lord Stair took the opportunity to make a bloody example of the Glencoe MacDonalds.

On February 13th, 1692, troops under the command of Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon (the Campbell clan and the MacDonalds had a long-standing feud) descended upon Glencoe with orders to kill anyone under the age of 70. MacLain was the first to be killed. Then dozens more men, women and children were put the sword. Estimates vary from 30 to more than 80 dead.

The shocking brutality was subject to international condemnation and a Scottish Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry was formed to investigate the massacre as a “murder under trust,” ie, killing in cold blood after a surrender had been arranged or hospitality accepted. Nothing happened to anyone involved in the slaughter as a consequence of the inquiry.

Historians believe whoever buried the coins may have been killed during the massacre, since they did not return for them.

Other finds from the structure included musket and fowling shot, a gun flint and a powder measure, as well as pottery from England, Germany and the Netherlands and the remains of a grand slab floor.

Historians speculated the coins may have been buried two weeks later – on the morning of the massacre. Survivors ran up a side glen during a blizzard, and may have encountered the property.

Dr Michael Given, the co-director of the University of Glasgow’s archaeological project in Glencoe, said: “These exciting finds give us a rare glimpse of a single, dramatic event. Here’s what seems an ordinary rural house, but it has a grand fireplace, impressive floor slabs, and exotic pottery imported from the Netherlands and Germany.