Praeneste Fibula Authentic?

Fíbula de Preneste, presumptament l'escrit en ...

Image by Sebastià Giralt via Flickr

I’ve been sitting on this one for a few days, hoping some English coverage might appear, but that doesn’t seem to be happening.  In the Italian press, however, there is much coverage of some non-invasive testing of the Praeneste Fibula (on which is inscribed our oldest example of Latin), and it is now being declared as “authentic”, in a vague and somewhat troublesome way (unless I’m losing something in translation, which is entirely possible).  Here’s the coverage from La Repubblica, which is typical of most of the coverage:

Vera o falsa? Il caso della Fibula Prenestina, esposta nel Museo Nazionale Etnografico ‘Luigi Pigorini’, è finalmente risolto. L’autenticità della preziosa spilla, datata al VII secolo a.C., e della sua iscrizione, ritenuta la più antica testimonianza della lingua latina, è stata confermata da indagini scientifiche condotte da Daniela Ferro dell’Istituto per lo studio dei materiali nanostrutturati (Ismn) del Consiglio nazionale delle ricerche e da Edilberto Formigli, restauratore e docente presso l’Università ‘La Sapienza’ di Roma e quella di Firenze.

La Fibula, trovata a Palestrina, l’antica Preneste, fin dalla sua presentazione ufficiale nel 1887 da parte dell’archeologo tedesco Wolfgang Helbig è stata oggetto di accesi dibattiti, in merito alla sua autenticità e al contesto di appartenenza.

I due specialisti, che da anni conducono analisi multidisciplinari sulla tecnologia orafa antica, presentano oggi, presso il Museo ‘Pigorini’, i risultati delle indagini micro-analitiche condotte nel laboratorio del Dipartimento di chimica dell’Università di Roma con il microscopio elettronico a scansione.

Il gioiello d’oro, lungo 10,7 cm. e datato attorno alla metà del VII secolo a. C, ha, sulla parte esterna della staffa, l’iscrizione Manios med fhefhaked Numasioi, in latino classico Manius me fecit Numerio ovvero ‘Manio mi fece per Numerio’, la più antica testimonianza della lingua latina che ci sia pervenuta.

“Lo studio di un reperto” spiega Daniela Ferro dell’Ismn-Cnr, “impone la scelta di metodi analitici non distruttivi e non invasivi. L’utilizzo della microscopia a scansione elettronica accoppiata alla microsonda elettronica per raggi X a dispersione di energia, consente osservazioni ad alta risoluzione della superficie e contemporaneamente permette di acquisire dati sulla composizione chimica in elementi. In particolare, la fibula è stata studiata con una strumentazione dotata di una camera porta campioni che permette di muovere ampiamente l’oggetto e di investigarne ogni parte, senza danneggiarlo”.

Le apparecchiature scientifiche hanno permesso di accertare metodologie e composizione della stessa età rispetto alla datazione attribuita alla spilla, nonostante tentativi di pulitura e abrasioni di secoli più recenti. Infatti, se per l’oro non sono stati ancora trovati metodi di datazione, oggi sappiamo che alcune tecniche orafe hanno raggiunto un alto grado tecnico solo con gli Etruschi ed i numerosi studi oggi esistenti ne tracciano le caratteristiche.

“E’ un manufatto di alta oreficeria, realizzato nella parte della staffa, con una lamina ad alto contenuto d’oro, materiale duttile per essere inciso con la punta a stilo” continua la ricercatrice. “L’iscrizione è stata realizzata nello stesso modo. Sono stati anche individuati le riparazioni effettuati anticamente come la presenza di una foglia d’oro per nascondere una piccola frattura, mentre l’uso di amalgama d’oro per rinforzare la parte mobile dell’ardiglione (ovvero il puntale ndr) potrebbe essere recente. E’ improbabile che un falsario operasse particolarità di lavorazione ed uso delle leghe auree in un periodo dove la conoscenza delle procedure dell’oreficeria etrusca non erano particolarmente conosciute in dettaglio in quanto avrebbero potuto essere rilevate se non con le più sofisticate strumentazioni tecnologiche”.

What I get out of all that is that the pin itself dates the period it is claimed to come from in that the gold matches (composition-wise and manufacture-wise) other fibulae from the same period. But that’s not really what the issue is with the Praeneste Fibula, is it? Its importance lies in the inscription — as previously-mentioned, the oldest Latin inscription — and none of this announcement (or the hype for the talk which seems to have given rise to it) seems to address this. Archaeology Magazine has an excellent  feature on assorted hoaxes and fakes, and the Praeneste fibula is among those mentioned. Here’s a salient excerpt (the Helbig mentioned is Wolfgang Helbig, a reputable archaeologist who announced the discovery of the fibula back in 1886):

But Helbig hadn’t told the Institute audience all he knew. He said a friend owned it, and that friend was Francesco Martinetti, a seller of antiquities, faker, and smuggler. And there were signs that something was wrong with Helbig’s tale. The fibula was later said to be from the Bernardini Tomb, which was excavated in 1876. That contradicted Helbig’s story, but he didn’t challenge it. The few who raised questions about the fibula, such as archaeologist Giovanni Pinza in 1905, were ignored. Helbig said it was genuine and if the exact circumstances of its discovery were murky, so what.

Though he was intellectually gifted, Helbig’s personality did not impress everybody. Archaeologist Otto Jahn had thought him lacking in self-discipline, and the great classicist Theodor Mommsen said he was “a lightheaded fly” and a “loafer.” In fact, things were worse, and the real story of Helbig and the Praeneste fibula is one about “the world of the salon, of the collector, of the rich and famous, of the dealer, of the masterpiece and the fraud” (Holloway 1994).

A comprehensive study by Margherita Guarducci in 1980 showed that suspicions about the fibula were well founded. In La cosiddetta Fibula Prenestina. Antiquari, eruditi e falsari nella Roman dell’ Ottocento, Guarducci, a University of Rome Greco-Latin epigraphist, pointed out that the inscription was rather poorly executed, compared to genuine ones, as though engraved by an amateur. She noted how, compared to ancient gold, which can be brittle, the fibula could bend quite easily. Chemical analysis showed that the gold was unlike specimens known to be from Palestrina. Finally, examination of the inscribed area showed that the surface had been treated with acid to look old. Guarducci knew of Helbig’s involvement with Martinetti, who could have made the fibula, basing it on real ones from Palestrina. But analysis shows the inscription matches Helbig’s handwriting.

… the whole piece is definitely worth reading. I have no reason to doubt that the recent testing suggests the fibula itself might be authentic, but we really do need some confirmation that the inscription comes from the same time as the pin. Until that can be confirmed (although I don’t know how), this seems to be an analogous situation to the James Ossuary; i.e., we have an object that is definitely ancient, which seems to have been recently altered to give it additional archaeological interest/value.

Here’s some more coverage from the Italian press:

Smashing Rituals at Keros?

Interesting coverage from the Guardian, which — even more interestingly — seems to go beyond the original Cambridge press release:

To say it has been an archaeological mystery may be an understatement: why are fragments of beautiful but deliberately smashed bronze age figurines buried in shallow pits on a small, rocky Greek island whose main inhabitants have always been goats?

Today, academics at Cambridge University will release findings that shed light on the 4,500-year-old puzzle of Keros, a tiny Cycladic island in the Aegean.

It appears Keros was the ceremonial destination for a ritual that involved islanders breaking prized possessions and making a pilgrimage with fragments for burial.

“It is rather remarkable,” said Professor Colin Renfrew, who led the most recent excavations.

“We believe that the breaking of statues and other goods was a ritual and that Keros was chosen as a sanctuary to preserve the effects.”

The Keros story began in 1963 with Renfrew himself. Then a long-haired research student – he is now Lord Renfrew – he stepped off a caïque boat on to the island (human population: two goatherders) after being tipped off about a site of archaeological interest.

“I was amazed to find fragments of marble bowls and marble figurines,” said Renfrew. The fragments were of a type of sculpture found across the Cyclades, examples of which can be seen in the British Museum and have inspired artists including Pablo Picasso, Constantin Brancusi and Henry Moore.

The Keros sculptures were almost all broken. Archaeologists found thousands of marble vessel fragments and hundreds of figurine body parts, such as a pair of thighs, a folded arm or an elongated foot.

The matter rested there until 1987 when Renfrew, by now the Disney professor of archaeology at Cambridge, returned to Keros to begin more serious excavation.

That led him to the discovery that the breakages were not the result of careless looting. “It became clear that this was a very strange site.”

In 2006 Renfrew found an unlooted site of buried broken figurines and the remains of a settlement on an islet about 100 metres away, Dhaskalio.

There the team found evidence of a kind of bronze age guesthouse where visiting villagers would have congregated on their pilgrimage.

Geological examinations showed it was built from imported marble rather than the flaky local limestone.

The team had found – from around the same time the Pyramids were being built – evidence of huge amounts of marble being transported across the sea to build Dhaskalio.

Renfrew’s theory is that Cycladic villagers would have used the figurines and bowls in a ritualistic way, perhaps carrying them in processions as icons are carried in Greek villages today.

“After they had been used for some time, perhaps decades, the time would come that it would go out of use,” he said. So they were broken and fragments taken to “one remarkable ritual centre”.

Renfrew said it was likely that the islanders would go to Keros at regular intervals, in much the same way that the ancient Greeks held the Olympics every four years.

“No doubt it was a ceremony of renewal – a new generation of icons being used and a new generation of people growing up.”

The evidence suggests fragments were ritualistically deposited on Keros for about 400-500 years, until around 2000BC.

Renfrew said there were still many more puzzles at Keros and Dhaskalio to be answered. The latest research will be published as a basis for further investigations.

… I wonder how they can tell if something was smashed, then transported, as opposed to being smashed in situ (maybe because some of the figurines ‘don’t fit together’ as a photo accompanying the Guardian’s coverage suggests in a caption). Whatever the case, there seems to be a lot of imagination being added here

Rugby Classics? Classical Rugby?

Rugby doesn’t get much airplay up here in the Great Humid North, so I can’t honestly say I’ve heard of Jamie Gibson, but it’s always nice to read when folks with a talent on a playing field also take part in activities in the Classics field. Some excerpts from the Express:

JAMIE GIBSON is living proof that it is possible to combine a ­burgeoning professional ­career with even the most exalted academic discipline.

Flanker Gibson, 20, from Wiltshire, somehow combines Premiership rugby for London Irish with studying Classics at Oxford University, his reading list including Homer, Virgil, Euripides and Aristophanes.

Then he become an England Saxon. Appearances off the bench against the Barbarians and the United States confirmed the quality Gibson had already shown as a Marlborough schoolboy who represented all of England’s age-group sides.

“There are things to work on but I’ve been very pleased with how it’s gone so far, especially in the Barbarians game when I came up against some world-class players in their back row,” said Gibson.

“Next season I need to nail down one of the back-row positions at London Irish and, in terms of England, keep pushing along in the Saxons squad post-World Cup. The 2015 World Cup would have to be the ambition but I’m not thinking that far ahead.”
[…]

“My supervisor at Oxford says God gives us eight hours for sleeping, eight hours for fun and playing rugby and eight hours for working,” said Gibson. “I’m not sure it’s quite like that but, if that’s his viewpoint, I’m happy to give it a go.

“Even if I had a tough couple of weeks’ training or in the winter when the weather is tough, I never feel there’s any stress to it. If there’s a chance to do some studying, I take it wherever I am. It means you keep engaging your mind and don’t go stale.

“This is my nature. When I work for two hours, I make sure I get two hours’ work done, whereas if you have four hours’ free time you might spend every 30 seconds gazing out of the window.”

Gibson makes it sound so simple. But last night he was back in Oxford from the Saxon’s Bath base for a tutorial and still has four more essays to write during the final fortnight of the second of his four undergraduate years. As a classicist with a knowledge of seven languages – Latin, Greek, French, Russian, Mandarin and Spanish as well as his native tongue – Gibson inevitably raises the intellectual tone wherever he may be, including at London Irish.

[…]

“I always believed I could make it work, combining my studies with a rugby career, but the speed at which everything has gone has been very surprising especially in the last six months,” said Gibson.

“I’m not going to complain about playing rugby and being at university in Oxford. I started 12 games on the trot for London Irish at the end of the season and had no difficulties managing that. We even went to Leeds in the middle of the exam period.

“I’m prepared to do whatever is necessary but I’d like to get my course done in the two years that remain.”

[…]

JAMIE GIBSON TUNES UP ON CLASSICS MIX | Express.

Also Seen: Classics Dream Job Followup

No, the job hasn’t been filled yet (I don’t think), but the  Daily Mail has a lengthy piece on the lifestyles of tutors of the rich and famous … it includes this:

However, tutors exist in a world in which clients have so much money, their fees are almost irrelevant. Indeed, the more these parents are charged, the happier they are.

‘Parents get carried away,’ said Will Petty, a tutor who went to Harrow, got an MA in philosophy at Edinburgh University and now works for London educational consultancy Bonas MacFarlane.

‘They think: “She’s only four, but why not get a Classicist?” They start out looking for just a normal tutor and end up with a skiing instructor or sailing expert because it’s an honour badge.

… which got me thinking: imagine the job opportunities if it become de rigueur for everyone to have their own Classicist! Imagine the potential donations to keep departments alive … this could have interesting implications …

This Day in Ancient History: ante diem iv idus junias

Caligula (AD 37-41). Orichalcum sestertius (27...

Image via Wikipedia

ante diem iv idus junias

  • 17 B.C. — ludi Latini et Graeci honorarii (day 6)
  • 38 A.D. — death of Drusilla, the much-beloved sister of the emperor Gaius (Caligula)
  • 86 A.D.. — ludi Capitolini (day 5)
  • 120 A.D. — martyrdom of Gaetulius and companions at Tivoli
  • 204 A.D. — ludi Latini et Graeci honorarii (day 7)