Archaeology and Product Placement

Excavators along Hadrian’s Wall found the remains of a Roman wooden toilet seat recently – and a manufacturer toilet seat manufacturer intends to make a special edition of one of their seats and devote some of the proceeds (it’s not clear how much) to the conservation effort. Click to read – and the “also read” stories are also loo-related.

Sanctimony over deaccession – whose art is it?

I’m teaching a First Year Seminar this fall on cultural property and just found another article for them to read. A regional museum in England sells an Egyptian statue to pay for building a new wing – and everyone is getting up in arms. 

I’m especially amused by the Egyptian ambassador’s fulminations. I’ve BEEN to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo – it’s a museological disaster. And, though there are plenty of packing crates just sitting around in the public areas, they have works in storage, too.

Real mysteries of the ancients

No, no alien deus ex machina solutions.

The Spheres of Diquis really are mysterious. The only way most ancient civilizations had to shape stone was with another stone and then with polishing grit. We’re actually back to using that method, but the grit is in a high pressure water flow – much easier on the hands.

So the real mystery isn’t “how on earth did people make this??” That we pretty much understand. The real mystery is “why?” Spheres are obviously perfect shapes, enormously satisfying (once they’re finished!). Maybe they were astronomical? Maybe they were just expressions of power? Maybe they were aniconic representations of gods? No one knows – and probably no one will ever satisfy enough scholars that the problem will be declared solved. Still – a great example of how much there is to learn!

Here’s the Wikipedia entry, which is pretty good – despite a final section on ancient alien style myths.

Back from Milano with a few hundred pictures to sort

We had three fun-filled days in Milano and got back last night around 9 pm. I’m still tired!

Probably the best thing for me was the contemporary art fair – MiArt. But I have been to Milan before, so I was mainly revisiting (though I spent more time in San Lorenzo than before – pictures to follow!).

Present friends

The Spring 2014 Rome Program has the pleasure of hosting Walter Bowyer, next Fall’s director, this week. He’s spending his spring break scouting for next semester.  He joined us this afternoon for a visit to an interesting (really interesting – I’m still thinking about it) multimedia-meets-archaeology site in the basement of the headquarters of the Province of Rome (really – Domus Romanae). This evening Christine, her family, and I took him out to dinner. Well, the budget took him out to dinner. Thanks, Tom!

Spring is springing in Rome – and to celebrate I visited some blooming trees

I had seen a few blossoms in the Centro Storico – but the Centro is so paved over they’re hard to find here.

Blooming tree aqua feliceSo I went to the Parco degli acquedotti, where there were lots of blossoms! Click here to see the other photos from the park, including some of the Acqua Claudia. The arches in the background are the Acqua Felice, a Renaissance aqueduct, which feeds the famous Moses fountain.

I intended to do some drawing, but between going down into the Metro system and coming back up out in the periphery the clouds rolled in. It even sprinkled some – enough to make me cuss, but not enough to make me run away.


Flavian Amphitheater. Colosseum. Whatever.

Christine, my colleague, asked me some day this week if there was anything in Rome I was over (though she put it more gracefully). I had to admit that I don’t go to the Colosseum except with students. You come visit me in Rome, I’ll point out that the Metro stop is called “Colosseo” and that admission to the monument costs €12 – but your ticket will get you into the much more interesting Forum and Palatine.

Flavian Amphiteater Long axisI dunno – it’s structurally very interesting, if you’ve never thought about that kind of thing before; Romans had been building things like this for more than a century, since the Theater of Pompey. The gladiator shows and beast shows tell us a lot about the unpleasant side of the Romans (human sacrifice and animal-torture?). The only thing that really interests me are the legally established seating arrangements – if you walked into the Flavian Amphitheater you would see senators (and Vestal Virgins) down front, the Equites (Knights) behind them, and then regular citizens. Slaves and women to the rear!

I could explain that at any number of sites, but I will say that everyone seems to enjoy at least one visit to the Colosseum. I just kind of wish I didn’t have to go, too! I hope that didn’t come across – unlike the poor fella at Rutgers who explained he was not teaching the “Human Aggression” course voluntarily, because it isn’t really his field. Never admit your weakness! You always know more than they do. God knows I know more about the Flavian Amphitheater than I care to tell my charges. On to the Ara Pacis tomorrow! THAT I care about.


The Column base of Antoninus Pius – under wraps!

Anton Pius base 1Anton Pius base 2


Ah, the lovely column base of Antoninus Pius – it was the base for a triumphal or commemorative column, and shows the apotheosis of Antoninus Pius (emperor 138-161, between Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius) and his wife Faustina. I’m always charmed by how unconvincing I find their pose on the back of the winged figure flying them to Olympus. And . . . in restauro. 

We started in the rain . . .

. . . and ended in the sun! That was our visit to the Roman Forum. Morning rush hour on Monday proceeded in a downpour. By the time we got into the forum itself I was wet from the knees down (though not my feet!). Then the rain stopped! Well, mainly. I re-opened my umbrella a few times. But the forum as as empty as I have ever seen it.Empty Forum

And the students held up without any grumbling – an excellent first class day! As I told them, the weather is unlikely to get any worse than that. Though it did snow in 2012!