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Spare Parts in the Desert 14 December 2009

Posted by Troels in : Making of the Archaeological Record, Photography , add a comment

DSC05581
Command Helicopters. Davis-Monthan AFB, Tucson, Arizona. Photo: TMK, December 2005.

DSC05584
Tails. Davis-Monthan AFB, Tucson. Photo: TMK, December 2005.

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The Archaeology of the Hajj 6 December 2009

Posted by Troels in : Archaeology, Making of the Archaeological Record, Photography , add a comment


The holy mosque at Mecca with high-rise pilgrim hotels and other construction massively re-shaping the cityscape. Photo copyright Khaled Desouki.

One of my future projects is to take a closer archaeological look at pilgrimage in a cross-cultural perspective. So it was fascinating to see this photo essay in the Danish newspaper Information on the Hajj and especially its archaeological footprint, the infrastructure that it generates (including both tent towns and high-rise hotels) and all of the debris left behind by the pilgrims during their time in Mecca.

Roofs of Piraeus 15 August 2009

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I dug out some old photos taken on the roofs of Piraeus back in 2004. These roofs (and the life that takes place there), quite typical of many Mediterranean cities, have always fascinated me. At a quite trivial level, I guess my fascination (at least in part) stems from a Northern European envy of the pleasures of Mediterranean outdoor life. At another, the use of roof top space reminds me of certain prehistoric sites, such as Çatalhöyük (I’m especially fascinated by the endless numbers of stairs that are found on the roofs of Greek condominiums). And yes, part of my fascination is definitely also rooted in a profoundly archaeological interest in the processes of decay and site formation.

Piræus' tage
Piraeus. Photo: TMK, October 2004.

Piræus' tage

Piraeus. Photo: TMK, October 2004.

Piræus' tage

Piraeus. Photo: TMK, October 2004.

Piræus' tage
Piraeus. Photo: TMK, October 2004.

Piræus' tage

Piraeus. Photo: TMK, October 2004.

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.
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The ‘Modern’ Ruins of Bosra 21 October 2008

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The ‘basalt city’ of Bosra is best known from its wonderfully well-preserved Roman theatre. However, the city is not only rich in ancient ruins. Large parts of the ‘modern’ city that was built reusing bits and pieces of ancient buildings as well as utilising the Roman street grid have themselves been abandoned. This makes for an extremely interesting multitemporal ruinscape that also tells a story of modern dislocation and abandonment.

Modern Ruins of Bosra
A deserted house in Bosra, Syria. Photo: TMK, October 2008.

Modern Ruins of Bosra
A deserted house in Bosra, Syria. Note presence of Roman capital to block the front door. Photo: TMK, October 2008.
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Deconstructing Hadrian the Philhellene 15 August 2008

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This fascinating video from the British Museum deconstructs an iconic image of the emperor Hadrian as a philhellene philosopher-emperor, clad in the greek himation. The statue was purchased by the British Museum in the 19th century and comes from the Temple of Apollo at Cyrene in modern Libya. However, recent work has very clearly shown that the head and the body of the statue do not belong together. I suppose this is another Hadrian myth ‘busted’….

The statue is featured in the current exhibition “Hadrian: Empire and Conflict” that I look forward to seeing. Do also check out Mary Beard’s thoughts on the modern construction of Hadrian in The Guardian.

Roman Sculpture as “Hunting Trophy” 12 August 2008

Posted by Troels in : Classical Reception, Making of the Archaeological Record , add a comment

Sometimes you come across interesting things while doing research on an entirely different subject (as also recently noted by Mary Beard). For example, I quite like this rather odd case of Classical reception that I came across the other day. The small image to the right shows a Roman portrait head of a woman, datable to the late Antonine period. It is today in the Aust-Agder Museum in Arendal, Norway and is published in a volume on Greek and Roman Portraits in Norwegian Collections by Siri Sande (1991: 76, cat. no. 62). The most striking thing about the portrait is the large inscription incised on its throat: ‘Carthago 1864′. This makes it very clear when and where the portrait came into the possession of the modern owner! As their website makes clear, the Aust-Agder Museum is devoted to the history of seafaring, so I would assume that this head has made it to Scandinavia through a Norwegian seaman, working in the Mediterranean in the 19th century. From an archaeological perspective, I really like this inscription, especially because if you’re going to mutilate or vandalise antiquities, it’s nice to be able to firmly date your actions…
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The Survival and Reception of Roman Antiquities in the Middle Ages 9 August 2008

Posted by Troels in : Archaeology, Making of the Archaeological Record, Quick Notes , add a comment

This is just a brief note to state that Michael Greenhalgh’s The Survival of Roman Antiquities in the Middle Ages (Duckworth 1989) is available online. This is a very interesting study that presents some fascinating data concerning the fate of Roman monuments in the Western provinces, and especially France. It is, however, not as often quoted as it should be. Perhaps this is because the book is entirely devoid of illustrations or maps of any kind…Greenhalgh’s forthcoming Marble Past, Monumental Present: Building with Antiquities in the Medieval Mediterranean (Brill 2008) should be interesting as well.

The Sphinx’s Nose 9 July 2007

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

Sphinx at Giza
The Sphinx at Giza, Egypt. Photo: TMK, May 2007.

I have previously written about the ever present problem of dating the destruction and mutilation of monuments. Naturally, this is a big concern to me when writing a dissertation on Christian iconoclasm in Late Antiquity. I found a further, useful reminder of this at Giza in Egypt as the famous Sphinx is sadly missing its nose! While both Asterix and Napoleon have sometimes been blamed for this misdeed, there is good evidence to suggest that Islamic clerics in the 14th century were in fact responsible. It was good to be reminded that not all damage of ancient monuments can be attributed to early Christians!

Rome Reborn – but showing no signs of life… 12 June 2007

Posted by Troels in : Archaeology, Making of the Archaeological Record , 3 comments

A University of Virginia-based Virtual Reality project Rome Reborn 1.0, that aims to digitally reconstruct ancient Rome has recently received a lot of media attention. I somehow feel that the story has been heard before. Here is an example of their digital model of the Roman Forum:


Empty space. The western end of Forum Romanum in the Rome Reborn model. Copyright of the Regents of the University of California 2007.

Notice the absence of signs of life – no people, no animals, no junk, no noises, no smells, no decay. Did Rome ever really look like this? The scene is utterly stripped of all the clutter that is what really fascinates us about the past. The burning question is whether this kind of (expensive and technology-heavy) representation really gives us fundamentally new insights into the past? From what I’ve seen so far of this project, I’m not convinced that this is the case.