Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween Archaeology

Just for fun. Some Halloween-inspired archaeology at Archaeology Magazine online.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Gold Vessel from Ur Returns to Iraq

The colored saga of the gold vessel, allegedly looted from Ur, that was spotted for sale at Münzhandlung Hirsch Nachfolger and seized has been discussed here before: "The Curious Case of a Gold Vessel from Ur," "Future of Gold Vessel from Ur (or Troy?) Remains Uncertain," Video about the Gold Vessel and Antiquities Trading in Germany."

After being taken by German authorities, it was handed over to Michael Müller-Karpe in Mainz for analysis. Müller-Karpe is a a leading expert on Mesopotamian metalwork. He concluded it was of Iraqi origin and unlikely to have come from Troy, the provenance claimed by the auction house. He believed it more likely would have been deposited in a royal grave at Ur.

After a delay (discussed in the previous posts), Müller-Karpe and his institution returned the vessel to German authorities though the Iraqis feared the German government would allow the sale of this allegedly stolen object.

It has recently been reported that the Iraqis have successfully blocked the sale of the gold vessel and that it has returned to Iraq (S. Adel, "Iraq blocks sale of Mesopotamian artifacts in German auction," Azzaman News, 14 October 2009) . Since the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Iraqis have successfully blocked the sale of 28 suspect items in Germany.

For two other German interviews with the Iraqi ambassador about Iraq's efforts to reclaim materials appearing in the German marketplace see:

"Raubgut. 'Stärkerer Einsatz der Bundesregierung'," Der Spiegel 42 (2009), p. 117.

M. Döring, "Ein Verbrechen gegen die Menschheit," Berliner Zeitung (7 October 2009)

(Photo from Deutsche Welle)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Some Greek Coin Hoards Going Online

When I was at the International Numismatic Congress, I went to a workshop on the Digital SNG project. Since I am currently involved in a digitization project, I was excited to hear about collaborative opportunities for the electronic networking of various collections in addition to the SNG project.

Andrew Meadows and Sebastian Heath presented on the Digital IGCH (Inventory of Greek Coin Hoards) project and the ability of collectors, auction houses, or institutions to link records of coins from those hoards to the Digital IGCH. Individual specimens can be linked to the relevant IGCH page on the website, in essence reconstructing the hoard's contents virtually. Digital IGCH is part of the website, run by the American Numismatic Society. Sebastian discusses digital initiatives from time to time on his website.

After I got back to the States, I went down to the American Numsimatic Society to visit with colleagues and to discuss the project more with Sebastian and then began to see what we could contribute to Nomisma.

So far the Art Gallery's coins linked to include those from IGCH 1546 (Aleppo Hoard) and IGCH 1534 (Bab Hoard). The four coins from IGCH 1546 are mapped on Nomisma, but the records do not yet have photographs - these will soon be forthcoming as digitization progresses. The collection's holdings of IGCH 1534 are much more extensive with 209 drachms. All are photographed, but due to the high number of coins, Sebastian decided not to map the hoard yet since it is still uncertain how they want to set up the pages on the Nomisma website. The project and its format continues to be developed.

Some may find the individual coin records unsatisfactory in their description and detail since the numismatic records are only viewable through the same interface used for other artworks in the Art Gallery's collection. Therefore, much of the internal information entered is not viewable online. I myself was surprised to learn that after taking the time to assign updated references from Price for all 209 Alexander drachms that those new references would not be visible online. But one can hope that in the future the interface can be adapted as more numismatic records continue to go online everyday. In any case, that information is available internally and can be made available to researchers.

The Art Gallery's coins from IGCH 242, the Achaean League hoard, will soon be linked to Nomisma as well. Several other hoard coins in the Yale collection will be noted as they come up in the course of digitization and submitted to Nomisma for linking. I look forward to seeing how this digital initiative through Nomisma develops as we continue to experiment with it.

Photo: Silver drachm of Alexander III from IGCH 1534 (Yale 2001.87.10401)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Amphitheater at Portus

CNN is publicizing the recent discovery of the amphitheater at Portus by the University of South Hampton. In addition to an online article, there is also a video (below). I was surprised to see a colleague of mine, Christina Triantafillou, interviewed while excavating at the site. Hello Christina!

I met Christina at an AIA meeting several years ago via other University of Missouri graduate students who knew her from Tufts. In our conversation it soon became apparent we had much in common. I discovered she went through the ANS seminar the year after I did and was working on some excavation or hoard finds from Carthage. Also my M.A. advisor at Reading, who afterwards received a post at Oxford, is her Ph.D. advisor there.

I look forward to the reports and publications on the amphitheater. Check out the CNN article and video.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Coin Hoards and the Population of the City of Rome

A new article considers estimates for the population of the ancient city of Rome based on the prevalence of coin hoards and suggests figures lower than have been provided before:

P. Turchin and W. Scheidel, "Coin hoards speak of population declines in ancient Rome," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (5 Oct. 2009).

The article is available online, but one must pay a fee to access it or log in from an institutional library that subscribes to online access of the journal.

A summary of the article is provided by Science Daily.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

More on the Colosseum Sestertii

A shameless plug.

Since I started this website, I have received several inquiries about the Colosseum sestertii. Those individuals may be interested to know that a third article on the Colosseum sestertii will appear in Numismatic Chronicle 2009: N.T. Elkins, "What are they doing here? Flavian Colosseum Sestertii from Archaeological Contexts in Hessen and the Taunaus-Wetterau Limes (with an Addendum on NC 2006)."

This short article discusses five Colosseum sestertii that were produced through archaeological excavation at three different sites in the area around modern Frankfurt, Germany. What is peculiar is that the type is very rare (with only five obverse dies known and approximately 50 extant specimens) and so the number that has appeared in this tight geographical region of approximately 20 km is remarkable. In the article I make reference to other archaeological work on coin supply and circulation in the area and propose an historical explanation for the presence of these coins in a region where they would otherwise be unexpected. The short article will be followed by an addendum listing specimens that were missed or which have surfaced since the 2006 die study and catalogue ("The Flavian Colosseum Sestertii: Currency or Largess?"), as well as some additional references for previously catalogued specimens and corrigenda. No new dies or links have appeared.

This short article provides no great revelations, but may be of interest for those who are interested in the Colosseum sestertii or who would like the supplemental information for the more important article and die study from 2006.

I was contacted early in the summer by a production crew making yet another documentary on the Colosseum and they were interested in discussing evidence provided by the coin representations. They seemed most interested in the argument about the location of the imperial box, discussed in the first article ("Locating the Imperial Box in the Flavian Amphitheatre: The Numismatic Evidence"), though most readers will have recognized that the numismatic evidence was used more as a way at introducing some of the fundamental problems with the idea that the box was located on the southern side, a thought which seems to have been perpetuated since Lugli wrote it as an assumption in a few of his works. In most cases, I do not believe that coin representations were meant to be 100% faithful renderings of the monuments in question and am sceptical about many attempts to base reconstructions on numismatic evidence alone. If I recall correctly, the inquiry was for a British documentary and so if anyone sees discussion of the Colosseum sestertii or the location of the imperial box in some new British documentary, please do let me know!

End shameless plug.

Photo: Colosseum sestertius of Domitian for Divus Titus, AD 81. Münzkabinett der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin, Objektnummer 18204487

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lobbyist Celebrates "Collectors' Rights" Victory in Bulgaria, but What About the Continuous Destruction?

A Washington lobbyist and former of president of the American dealer lobby has recently celebrated a court ruling in Bulgaria which makes it easier for Bulgarian citizens to own looted minor antiquities.

Astute collectors however recognize that the ruling does not lessen the scale of destruction and the resulting loss of knowledge that is taking place in Eastern European countries like Bulgaria. One collector remarked:

"This change may be a victory for collectors, but I don't see that it has any impact on the looting problem.

It seems that Bulgarian collectors will be able to keep and 'legitimize' their collections (which in turn may then be eligible for legal export and sale?). But the provenance will be 'so-and-so's collection' as opposed to anything useful....

Of course, I would love to see a PAS-type system there [Bulgaria] in the future, but the first priority with a dying patient is to stop the bleeding."

Many collectors like this one realize that large scale demand and unconcerned attitudes in the acquisition of objects for resale drive the loss of knowledge caused by looting. After all, the U.S. is a market nation which imports looted material from countries like Bulgaria by the ton. Even in collector magazines, collectors have written editorials begging that something be done and proposing ways that collectors and dealers might address how market activities contribute to the problems and work on remedies. But these individuals, their concerns, and their ideas are often dismissed or ignored.

Why is the commercial lobby, which claims to be "anti-looting," unwilling to acknowledge or address the problem and the way that the current market structure contributes to it? If, as its titulature suggests, it caters to a collector interest, why are the concerns of conscientious collectors not being addressed?

I suggest that the archaeological community ought to distinguish better between collector and commercial. It ought to embrace that element which acquires objects out of a passion for history and a love of learning. The consumers are concerned and, if they feel empowered to do so, can be agents of proactive change. Others are content with a detrimental status quo.