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Staying Behind 29 September 2009

Posted by Troels in : Archaeology,Quick Notes , 1 comment so far

G.W.L. Harding (1901-1979)
The grave of G.L. Harding, Gerasa, Jordan. Photo: TMK, May 2009.

The archaeologist Gerald Lankester Harding is a name closely associated with Qumran as well as Jordanian and Palestinian archaeology in general. He is also one of the members of a small exclusive club of archaeologists that are buried on sites where they were active. The above photo shows his grave on the site of Jerash (Gerasa) in Jordan. I’m strangely fascinated by such cases, the ultimate manifestations of archaeologists that have gotten so attached to an archaeological site that they somehow never manage to leave. Another example is Kenan Erim who is buried at Aphrodisias. (more…)

Roman Portraits in Context 28 September 2009

Posted by Troels in : Archaeology,Quick Notes , add a comment

Jane Fejfer’s much anticipated book (and Habilitationsschrift) “Roman Portraits in Context” came out earlier this year.

The entire Hablitation defense, held on 29 May, is now available as a streaming webcast on the University of Copenhagen website. So bring your own popcorn and learn a thing or two about Roman portraits! The official “opponents” (as they are called in Denmark) were Professor Natalie Kampen, Columbia University, and Professor Karsten Friis-Nielsen, University of Copenhagen. A number of other scholars present questions ex auditorio as well.

Contrasting Archaeological Narratives in Jerusalem 13 August 2009

Posted by Troels in : Archaeology,Ethics , 2 comments

Palestinian neighbourhood
Silwan, Jerusalem, to the right, the City of David Archaeological Park, to the left, the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan/Wadi Hilwa. Photo: TMK, June 2009.

As archaeological sites go, few are as contested as Jerusalem. The website “From Shiloah to Silwan: An Alternative Archaeological Tour of Ancient Jerusalem” presents an important contrasting narrative to that promoted by the City of David Archaeological Park, the archaeological site-cum-theme park south of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount that is operated by a Jewish NGO with its own political agenda. When I visited, the site was packed with Israeli school children changing into swimming trunks to walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel. An immersive journey into nationhood indeed.

See also “Elad seeks approval for new construction project in City of David” (Haaretz, 23 July 2009) and the website of the Wadi Hilwah Information Centre.

Explanation Is Not Allowed 22 June 2009

Posted by Troels in : Archaeology,Quick Notes,Travel , 2 comments

Explanation Is Not Allowed
A message to interpretive archaeologists? Seen in the National Archaeological Museum, Amman. Photo: TMK, May 2009.

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Back in the News 18 May 2009

Posted by Troels in : Archaeology,Ethics , add a comment

The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen was back in the news yesterday. Politiken reported on the recent negotiations between the museum and Italian authorities (“Glyptoteket tilbyder at udlevere etruskisk skat“, the Glyptotek offers to return Etruscan treasure; also reported in Jyllands-Posten with a slightly more smashing headline: “Glyptoteket afleverer plyndret skat“, the Glyptotek returns looted treasure). Only a few details from the negotiations have been made public. Apparently, the Glyptotek offered to return its Etruscan chariot, which was acquired through Hecht. Meanwhile, the Italians suggested a Getty-style deal that would allow the Glyptotek to exhibit artefacts (“much richer than those to be returned”) from Italian collections on a loan basis. Nonetheless, the negotiations seem to have come to a dead end. I expect the case will develop further over the coming months.

Previous coverage: here, here, here, here, and here. See also David Gill’s Looting Matters blog for the Glyptotek’s involvement with Hecht.

Looking Up in Baalbek 4 May 2009

Posted by Troels in : Archaeology,Photography,Travel , 1 comment so far

Baalbek, "Temple of Bacchus"
Architectural sculpture in the “Temple of Bacchus”, Baalbek, Lebanon. Photo: TMK, October 2008.

Baalbek, "Temple of Bacchus"
Architectural sculpture in the “Temple of Bacchus”, Baalbek, Lebanon. Photo: TMK, October 2008.


Gaza: The Lost Ancient City 29 April 2009

Posted by Troels in : Archaeology,Making of the Archaeological Record , 1 comment so far

The newest issue of Archaeology Magazine has an interesting feature on the sad state of the antiquities of Gaza (and its small archaeological museum in particular) after the recent conflict. As a lot of people will be aware, Gaza was in antiquity one of the most important and prosperous trading centres of the eastern Mediterranean. It is even depicted as the second largest city on the 6th century Madaba mosaic map, giving some indication of its late antique importance (see most recently Sivan 2008). Yet we know tantazingly little about the city’s archaeology and topography, apart from the testimony of the Madaba map and some incidental finds, such as an early 6th century synagogue mosaic of King David/Orpheus found in 1965 (and later partially destroyed; see Ovadiah 1969, 1982). Some of the archaeological excavations undertaken in recent years have usefully been summarized in the popular journal Les dossiers d’archéologie (Sadek et al. 1999), including a magnificient mosaic floor from a late antique ecclesiastical complex. The city’s main sanctuary, the Temple of Marnas (the Marneion) is only known from historical sources and coin evidence. It is perhaps located underneath the Great Mosque (an interpretation favoured by Glucker 1987), Gaza’s oldest mosque.

I have recently been looking into the very small group of Roman marble sculpture that is known to have been found in the Gaza Strip. It’s a very small group indeed (in fact, as far as I know, it consists of only three pieces, perhaps four, but, of course, much more material may have been found here without any kind of documentation). The find that has attracted most attention is a colossal statue of Zeus (seen in the photo above), perhaps in the local guise of Marnas. It was found in 1879 at Tell el-‘Ajjul 6 km south of Gaza city (on recent excavations on the Tell, refer to Sadek et al. 1999: 55f). This findspot is intriguing: given the size of the statue, it is very likely to have come from a temple – could it have been moved from Gaza’s Marneion at some stage in its history? This intriguing suggestion was put forward shortly after the statue’s discovery.

In 1880, the statue was moved to its present location in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, since Gaza was at this part of the Ottoman Empire. Shortly after its relocation, Captain C.R. Conder was able to see the statue in Istanbul and suggested that the statue originally had stood in a temple in Gaza (Conder 1882). He also reported on the riveting story of the statue’s discovery. According to Conder, the statue had been saved by a missionary from the violence of the local populace who “had at once commenced to break up the statue, and had succeeded in greatly damaging the face” (1882: 147). He also commented on the mutilation of the statue that appeared to him to pre-date its discovery. He noted, for instance, the missing legs that he believed had been sawn off. This is, however, unlikely given that the statue was produced in two pieces, a common modus operandi for enthroned statues. Even so, the report of the statue’s discovery in the 19th century leading to a violent local reaction is, of course, a cautionary tale when studying (late antique) Christian response.

Another statue from Gaza is testimony to the cruel irony of history. The article in Archaeology refers to a nude statue of Aphrodite that, rather than being on display in the Gaza museum, is on permanent loan to a museum in Geneva, as the museum authorities fear the response of Hamas to such an ‘immodest’ image. Sadly, this resonates with an episode in the life of Porphyry, who was bishop of Gaza 1600 years ago, when he confronts a ‘demonic’ statue of Aphrodite:

…in the place that is called the Four Ways, there was a statue of marble which they said was a statue of Aphrodite; and it was upon a base of stone, and the form of the statue was of a woman, naked, and having all her shame uncovered…. [T]he demon that dwelt in the statue beholding and being unable to suffer the sight of the sign which was being carried, came forth out of the marble with great confusion and cast down the statue itself and brake it into many pieces. And it fell out that two men of the idolaters were standing beside the base on which the statue stood, and when it fell, it clave the head of the one in twain, and of the other it brake the shoulder and the wrist. For they were both standing and mocking at the holy multitude (Mark the Deacon, Life of Porphyry, excerpts from 59-61, trans. Hill).

By the way, the title of this post deliberately refers to a 2001 exhibtion, entitled “Antioch: The Lost Ancient City” (with a nice catalogue). Somehow, ‘lost ancient city’ (as tacky as it is) strikes me as a more appropriate title for the case of Gaza. Antioch has, after all, seen major archaeological investigations.

Blogging Pompeii 17 April 2009

Posted by Troels in : Archaeology,Digital Classics,Quick Notes , add a comment

Beware the dog! A warm welcome to the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii? Photo: TMK, May 2005.

I may (or may not) get back to blogging some more in the near future. This is just a quick post to point to the very useful ‘Blogging Pompeii‘ blog. The list of the contributors to the blog reads (almost) like a who’s who of Pompeian studies. Have a look for yourself.

Fayum Travelogue 24 December 2008

Posted by Troels in : Archaeology,Quick Notes,Travel , 1 comment so far

The North temple at Karanis in the Fayum. Photo: TMK, May 2008.

A great series of posts on travelling in the Fayum over at Reflections in the Nile:
Egyptian Bureaucracy
Faiyum Here We Come
Roman Faiyum
Faiyum’s Playground
Narmouthis and Tebtunis
Hawara & Lahun
The Road South

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek and Italian Repatriation: Latest Developments 23 December 2008

Posted by Troels in : Archaeology,Ethics , 1 comment so far

Danish newspapers report that Italy has formally demanded the return of 100 artefacts currently in the possession of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen (Politiken Sunday 21 December, online here, here and here). I have not seen the list, but apparently it includes artefacts purchased since 1970 as well as a number of earlier acquisitions.

Also of interest is a lengthy interview with curator Jette Christiansen on her experience of the antiquities trade since joining the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in 1971 (online here). She discusses the museum’s relationship with Robert Hecht, who she calls a ‘charming demon’. Hecht was a personal friend of Mogens Gjødesen, director of the Glyptotek until 1978.

Further posts on the Glyptotek here, here, here, and here. See now also the Glyptotek’s own blog (in Danish only).