Bookmarks for 16th of November through to 18th of November


These are my links for 16th of November through 18th of November:

  • The Academic Journal Racket « In the Dark
    Telescoper explains how aca­demic pub­lish­ing works. The only thing that would improbe the post would be the theme from ‘The Naked Gun’ in the background.
  • A Case in Antiquities for ‘Finders Keepers’ — NYTimes​.com
    You can make argu­ments in favour of repat­ri­ation of antiquit­ies. You can make argue­ments against. Being on either side doesn’t make you inher­ently fool­ish. But when you write that the British Army took the Rosetta Stone from the French and “returned it to the British Museum” then some­thing has gone wrong. It’s prob­ably a case of moment­ary brain­fade rather than idiocy, but it mat­ters because the whole ques­tion of own­er­ship of the Rosetta Stone is about where it right­fully belongs. Using the word ‘returned’ builds in the assump­tion that all antiquit­ies are inher­ently British.
  • Notes & Queries; Sledges — Theoretical Structural Archaeology
    Geoff Carter con­cluded he didn’t have evid­ence for a stag­ger­ingly early cart shed in Poland. Could it have been a used to house a sledge? I’ve just real­ised I know abso­lutely noth­ing at all about the his­tory of sleds and sledges. Not only that, but I can’t recall much atten­tion being called to them in early pre­his­toric archae­ology other than when people want to talk about mov­ing mega­liths to Stonehenge. Yet Martha Murphy (guest blog­ging) shows there’s plenty of ques­tions to ask about neo­lithic transport.
  • British bank turns to treas­ure hunt­ing via @johnabartram
    Avast me hearties! Robert Fraser & Partners be scourin’ the high seas in search of booty. They be fundin’ Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc. ter search the Caribbean fer Spanish gold. Arrr!
  • CRM Problem in Cadboro Bay « Northwest Coast Archaeology
    More on the prob­lems of pre­serving her­it­age in BC. Ancient buri­als have been scooped out of the ground, <em>after</em> an archae­olo­gical assessment.

Do you need a note from a criminal to prove an artefact is stolen?

Looks nice, but are looks enough?

This is the death mask of Ka Nefer Nefer. I can tell you she was con­nec­ted with Rameses II in some way, but not a lot else. It hard to find inform­a­tion about her lie on the web because her death mask is the big story as far as Ka Nefer Nefer goes. Or rather it’s the travels her mask has been on and the dogged determ­in­a­tion of the Saint Louis Art Museum to drag its own name through the mud.

The mask was found in 1952 in Saqqara by the Egyptian archae­olo­gist Mohammed Zakaria Goneim, as part of the exacava­tions of the pyr­amid of Sekhemkhet. After this events are dis­puted. In 1998 it was dis­covered again when the Saint Louis Museum of Art pur­chased it. They got it from Phoenix Ancient Art, who say it came from an anonym­ous Swiss col­lec­tion before them. The Saint Louis Art Museum is fur­ther claim­ing that a Belgian dealer had it back 1952. This would appear to be an object that’s been shuffled around deal­ers, like yesterday’s amphorae. If you read yesterday’s entry you’ll also remem­ber I said there was going to be a test. Here it is.

You are offered an Egyptian death mask from a site which was claimed to be the most import­ant dis­cov­ery since the tomb of Tutankhamen. The sellers claim it left Egypt in 1952 as ‘part­age’ the prac­tice where a host nation will give for­eign excav­a­tion teams some of the arte­facts it finds. Do you:
A) Say “Hang on, Goneim was Egyptian, how did part­age hap­pen? It would have been held in an Egyptian museum. I’d bet­ter con­tact the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt to check the story.
B) Say “Owned by an anonym­ous Swiss bloke? That’s good enough for me. After all if the seller’s hon­est then he wouldn’t lie about a thing like that.”

If you scored mostly ‘A’s: Congratulations! You would not be not look­ing like a prize buf­foon. The claim of part­age looks ludicrous as these couple of para­graphs from the Riverfront Times make clear.

That runs counter to everything I would expect,” says Robert Ritner, a pro­fessor at the Oriental Institute, an Egyptology research cen­ter at the University of Chicago. “If it left Egypt that early, it prob­ably left improp­erly. Any excav­ator for the Egyptian gov­ern­ment is under oblig­a­tion to provide that mater­ial back to Egypt — even in the ‘50s. It isn’t his per­sonal loot that he can then take out himself.”

It never hap­pens,” seconds University of Virginia art-history pro­fessor Malcolm Bell, who is also vice pres­id­ent for pro­fes­sional respons­ib­il­it­ies at the Archaeological Institute of America. “It sounds like the sort of thing you could say if you didn’t really know the cir­cum­stances and you were try­ing either explain or invent. But it’s not the sort of thing that happens.”

In his own writ­ing Goneim also indic­ates that it was Egyptian prop­erty. Goneim thanked the Egyptian gov­ern­ment for allow­ing him to use pho­tos of the mask in one of his books. You don’t tend to thank someone else for giv­ing per­mis­sion to use pho­to­graphs of your own prop­erty. There’s also the addi­tional prob­lem that the mask was recor­ded as being in the Saqqara ware­house in 1952 and 1959, but not in 1965.

If you scored mostly ‘B’s: Congratulations! You’re gull­ible enough to work in the Saint Louis Museum of Art pur­chas­ing antiquit­ies. This is no mean acheive­ment. The Saint Louis Art Museum say they checked to make sure the Swiss owner was a real per­son. So did the Riverfront Times, and they found she was a woman who had no idea about the mask. But she had ren­ted prop­erty to two Lebanese men, Ali and Hicham Aboutaam, who turned out to be Phoenix Ancient Art. Since selling the mask to Saint Louis, the Aboutaam broth­ers have been con­victed of smug­gling illi­cit antiquit­ies. The Aboutaams are so dodgy even the Met has con­cerns about them. Assuming the Saint Louis Art Museum isn’t inten­tion­ally abet­ting illegal activ­it­ies (and I’d like to make clear to the museum and their law­yers I am def­in­itely not accus­ing them of this), then the logical con­clu­sion is that who­ever approved the deal was com­pletely incompetent.

The defence of the Saint Louis Museum of Art is that their pur­chase was legal, there­fore they should keep the mask. I don’t know enough about American law to say whether or not someone keeps own­er­ship if they unknow­ingly receive stolen goods. Even if they do, this is con­fus­ing legal with moral. It is for instance legal to have unpro­tec­ted sex with the Saint Louis Blues while your wife has gone to the shops, but I don’t know any­one who would encour­age that kind of beha­viour. The museum’s own­er­ship of the mask is based on a shock­ing lack of curi­os­ity about the ori­gin of the piece. As for the claim that the mask leg­ally left Egypt via Goneim, the claim is legal in this sense; it only works because the dead can’t sue for libel. Goneim was not a cipher.

After find­ing the pyr­amid Goneim wrote a book and toured the USA. Sadly he gained enemies and on his return to Egypt life took a tra­gic turn. He was accused of smug­gling out a ves­sel found by Quibell and Lauer found in the Djoser com­plex. There was no evid­ence but he was repeatedly inter­rog­ated by the police and slandered. Lauer under­took to clear Goneim’s name and even­tu­ally found the ves­sel in a stor­e­room in Saqarra. By the time he found it, it was too late. Overwhelmed by the shame of a crime he didn’t com­mit, Goneim drowned him­self in the Nile in 1957. The records show Goneim didn’t take the mask for his own either. In view of his death I think the Saint Louis Art Museum’s claim is par­tic­u­larly repugnant.

Saint Louis’ insist­ence on hold­ing the mask raises quite a few unpleas­ant ques­tions. Does the slander of an inno­cent man mat­ter? Is it accept­able to gain arte­facts by any means, so long as you make sure you’re ignor­ant of exactly what those means are? Is it enough that an arte­fact is pretty? They don’t seem that bothered about answer­ing any.

I found this story via the International Herald and Tribune, how­ever the best write-up is in the Riverfront Times from earlier this year. Even older is this 2006 art­icle from Al-Ahram

From blogs, there’s pieces by Paul Barford this year and Derek Fincham from last year. I think they’re both more polite about the museum than me, which might be more pro­duct­ive. It’s just the read­ing round the sub­ject made the Saint Louis Art Museum appear more and more slimy to the extent that you won­der if they have a limit. Exactly how bad would the proven­ance of an arte­fact be before they refused to touch it? Would you actu­ally need to have a note from a crim­inal to prove an arte­fact was stolen?

I’ll try and write up a review of Sharon Waxman’s Loot for tomorrow.

Being a citizen


Of all the civil­isa­tions of antiquity, the Egyptian seems to me to have been the most pleas­ant. The excel­lent pro­tec­tions which desert and sea provide for the Nile val­ley pre­ven­ted the excess­ive devel­op­ment of the spirit of hero­ism which must often have made life in Greece hell on earth.

Otto Neugebauer — The Exact Sciences in Antiquity 2nd Edition, page 71.

In ancient Greece to be a cit­izen was to be a sol­dier. Marching along­side your fel­low cit­izens was a priv­ilege as was as a duty. But march­ing to where? The thing that sol­diers exist to do is fight, so ideally to be the equal of the men who have gone before you you’re going to want to have fought in one battle. The money gained from booty is another wel­come bonus. There’s also the mat­ter of skills. If you’ve been prac­tising some­thing it’s nat­ural to want to try it out for real. So what ancient Greece had was a lot of men who prob­ably wanted a minor fight.

Making things worse, unlike Egypt, Greece never really uni­fied from within. This meant that find­ing an enemy to fight was a lot less effort for the Greeks than the Egyptians. There were peri­ods of divi­sion in Egypt, but ulti­mately the Nile val­ley mean that war­fare would have to be pretty much one-dimensional. The Greeks on the other hand could sail away in a tri­reme and fight over all sorts of dif­fer­ent coasts or islands.

So one of the reas­ons war was com­mon in ancient Greece was that it was polit­ic­ally and eco­nom­ic­ally reward­ing as well as being easy to indulge in if you were a major power. It was built into the social sys­tem that to be mil­it­ar­ily suc­cess­ful was the mark of a man. Thankfully we live in more enlightened times where a politi­cian would never be enriched by a cyn­ical war.

A lost religion written on its victims’ bones


Tomb #9 at Amara. Photo (cc) Ross Day.

The BBC’s pro­mot­ing an epis­ode of Timewatch broad­cast at 20:10 on 26 January 2008 (and on your iPlayer if you live in the UK shortly after). This one looks like it could be worth watch­ing. It’s news from the Amarna Project and archae­olo­gical pro­ject with an excel­lent web­site. Amarna is one of the most unusual places in Egypt. It was a cap­ital built by Akhenaten who beat off stiff com­pet­i­tion to be the strangest pharaoh Egypt ever had. If the ancient Egyptians had has their way, we wouldn’t know about Akhenaten.

Akhenaten was the phar­oah who turned his back on the tra­di­tional reli­gion of the ancient Egyptians. In place of the whole pan­theon he put the Aten, the sun disc. I thought this was move from a poly­the­istic to a mono­the­istic reli­gion, but some Egyptologists invol­un­tar­ily quiver when then hear that. It seems it’s more com­plic­ated than that. What can be said was that the Aten was the most import­ant divin­ity and its wor­ship by Akhenaten, led to root and branch reforms of the state religion.

One of these changes was the move from Thebes and the priest­hood of Amun-Re to a new site uncon­tam­in­ated by other gods for his own reli­gious base. This is the city of Amarna, or as Akhenaten called it Akhetaten, the Horizon of Aten. This fresh start might be help­ful. The plan­ning of the city could express cos­mo­lo­gical beliefs of the Egyptians at the time of Akhenaten, without dis­tor­tion from the restric­tions imposed by build­ings from earlier peri­ods. Amarna is espe­cially help­ful as the site seems to have been rap­idly aban­doned after the pharaoh’s death. The prob­lem is that life in Akhenaten’s Amarna could be very dif­fer­ent to life in the typ­ical worker’s per­cep­tion of Amarna. To what extent did Akhenaten’s reli­gion impact on the masses? The answer, accord­ing to find­ings from the Amarna pro­ject would sug­gest that Akhenaten’s reli­gion warped the very bod­ies of his sub­jects. Life in Amarna was nasty, bru­tish and short — and so were the people liv­ing it.

The evid­ence is from burials.

Prof Jerry Rose of the University of Arkansas has been examin­ing the bones found in the buri­als for sev­eral years. One of the advant­ages of work­ing in Egypt is the soil is extremely dry, so even though the bones are over four thou­sand years old they’re still yield­ing use­ful inform­a­tion. One of the most shock­ing find­ings are the ages at death. There’s a chart you can look at and it’s pretty clear that Amarna was a lethal place. The 2007 report has a chart of its own. This shows that aging a skel­eton isn’t always pos­sible, but both charts indic­ate that a life in Amarna would likely be over at 35. The report by Melissa Zabecki, also from Arkansas, is grim. They had dental caries but prob­ably didn’t com­plain too much about toothache as they were also likely to have extremely bad backs. Zabecki has found evid­ence of osteoarth­ritis and spinal trauma in many of the skel­et­ons. Zabecki’s con­clu­sion is that these people were worked to death.

Akhenaten wanted to change Egyptian reli­gion overnight, and that can’t be done without a lot of work. The twis­ted bones of the work­ers of Amarna show some of the cost of turn­ing from the old gods. It could be a fas­cin­at­ing pro­gramme. Then again Timewatch rendered the Sea Stallion voy­age into a bit of a snooze, so maybe not.

Egypt, Antiquities and Copyright

Mickey Mouse Copyright Laws
Mickey Mouse Copyright Laws. Based on a photo (cc) Liber.

One of the advant­ages of being slow in writ­ing is that you can look at what every­one else is say­ing about some­thing. Often people will have thought about the same prob­lem and already anti­cip­ated prob­lems in your own line of thought, so you can avoid mak­ing a fool of your­self. Other times it’s a sur­prise, and this is one of those times. News from the BBC is that Egypt is ‘to copy­right antiquit­ies’.

Egypt’s MPs are expec­ted to pass a law requir­ing roy­al­ties be paid whenever cop­ies are made of museum pieces or ancient monu­ments such as the pyr­am­ids and this law will apply around the world.

To a greater or lesser extent other blog­gers think they can’t do this and they can’t enforce it. In con­trast I think they can and they can. This isn’t just my very basic under­stand­ing of law. It’s also the fact that museums in the West have been doing this, more or less, for years. Below is where I make a fool of myself.
Continue read­ing

My Seven Wonders


I couldn’t get excited about the New 7 Wonders vote. As John Romer noted seven is a small num­ber to choose which makes the choice per­sonal. I’m wary that a list chosen by com­mit­tee could mean any­thing. Unlike K. Kris Hirst, I thought the vote res­ult was pretty bad. You have to mock any Seven Wonders list which doesn’t include an Egyptian pyr­amid. So I’ve put together my own choice. The rules I’ve adop­ted are that there must be some­thing to see, so things like the Colossus of Rhodes are out. The other is that I’m only pick­ing a max­imum of one won­der from any one coun­try, as I’d like it to be a world-wide list. There’ll be six other posts in the run up to Christmas, and I’ve already chosen them, but if you want to add your own list you can do it below, or choose on your own web­log and send me a link.

The first choice is obvious.

The Giza Plateau

Pyramids of Giza. Photo (cc) Bruno Girin.

Continue read­ing

Temples of Doom


Bloggers Unite - Blog Action DayVia Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub I’ve dis­covered that today is Blog Action Day. The aim is to have pro­mote envir­on­mental issues. I can’t put up the blog post I’d like to for reas­ons which may become obvi­ous when it arrives. So instead it’s another video from Al Jazeera.

Temples of Doom is about the threat to archae­olo­gical sites from rising ground­wa­ter in Nile Valley. Development of agri­cul­ture along the Nile is increas­ing the salin­ity of the water. This reacts with the sand­stone and the earli­est his­tory in the world flakes away. Creating more trouble are plans to increase the num­ber of tour­ists to Egypt’s ancient sites. I’ve mixed feel­ings about this because the dam­age could poten­tially be dev­ast­at­ing, even if you ban the kind of idiot who can’t res­ist pick­ing at the walls to see how eas­ily they flake. At the same time tour­ism is massively import­ant to the Egyptian eco­nomy, and archae­ology is bet­ter when it’s pub­licly accessible.

I think it’s a well-written doc­u­ment­ary. There’s a vari­ety of experts on, includ­ing Kent Weeks and a few oth­ers from the Theban Mapping Project. It’s also a sub­ject that I wasn’t really very aware of. I thought the major cause of dam­age was the humid breath of tour­ists in pre­vi­ously arid chambers.