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!).

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!

The Things People Find, Museum store rooms edition

The British Museum stored a lump of “organic material” for 125 years and no one had ever looked at it properly? That’s how this story sounds.

A Celtic treasure looted by the Vikings more than 1,000 years ago has been discovered in the British Museum’s storerooms. An ornate, gilded disc brooch dating from the eighth or ninth century was found by chance and is being described as a “staggering find”. No-one knew of its existence until now.

It had been concealed in a lump of organic material excavated from a Viking burial site at Lilleberge in Norway by a British archaeologist in the 1880s and acquired by the British Museum in 1891.

Curator Barry Ager, a Vikings specialist, was poring over artefacts before a visit from a Norwegian researching the Viking site when his eye was caught by some metal sticking out of the side of the organic lump.

Intrigued, he asked the conservation department to X-ray it. “At that stage, I really didn’t know what was inside,” he said. “It was a staggering find.”

Metal detectorists – a subculture, and a legal one at that.

Read this article:  the man who found the gold bracelets has made a number of other finds – and he was part of a 100-person group searching the Forest of Dean that weekend.

I’m in the process of getting a First Year Seminar called “Stealing Art/Saving Art” approved for next fall. The main topic is understanding cultural property – who owns art? One of the units I’m planning is a compare and contrast between the practices and legal situation of metal detectorists in the UK and tombaroli in Italy. The British experiment beginning in the 1990s (I believe) with allowing detectorists to profit from their finds legally has been wonderful for archaeology. Meanwhile, in Italy, where the finds are much bigger, no one but the State (through its designates) can excavate anything legally.