Classics Threatened at U-Va?

This one’s just starting to filter through the Classics list (tip o’ the pileus to Patrick Rourke and Susan Lusnia) … The Washington Post has a lengthy piece on the University of Virginia’s ousting of their President Teresa Sullivan … the reasons,  inter alia:

Leaders of the University of Virginia’s governing board ousted President Teresa Sullivan last week largely because of her unwillingness to consider dramatic program cuts in the face of dwindling resources and for her perceived reluctance to approach the school with the bottom-line mentality of a corporate chief executive.

[…]

The campaign to remove Sullivan began around October, the sources said. The Dragas group coalesced around a consensus that Sullivan was moving too slowly. Besides broad philosophical differences, they had at least one specific quibble: They felt Sullivan lacked the mettle to trim or shut down programs that couldn’t sustain themselves financially, such as obscure academic departments in classics and German.

Obscure???? They’ve got more than ten faculty there, many of whom seem to  be in endowed positions (to say nothing of one member being Director of Undergraduate studies and another being Director of Graduate Studies) … whatever the case,  it seems like a messy situation and probably should be a heads up for the Classics department at U-Va and, of course, all of us folks who will be rising to defend it …

Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity Threatened

University of Birmingham

University of Birmingham (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just starting to hear about this one … the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity at the University of Birmingham is the latest department to be threatened by beancounters who just don’t get it. There’s a blog to follow developments at:

… and a petition here  … we’ll keep an eye on this one as not a lot of info about it seems to have been released; in case you’re wondering, Classics and Ancient History are under their umbrella … visit the IAA’s website here

 

Brian Sewell and Map

The Telegraph has an interview with art critic Brian Sewell … inter alia, some ClassCon:

[…] I travelled in Turkey at great length for a number of years and always carried the same knapsack (pictured). In 1987, while following in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, I found an abandoned puppy with a dislocated shoulder and broken foreleg. She was terribly dehydrated and I couldn’t leave her, so I jettisoned as many belongings as I could and carried her in my knapsack for another 600 miles. Eventually I sent her back to England and she was my dog for 12 years. I christened her Mop because I found her on a site named after an Ancient Greek seer called Mopsus.[…]

Researchers Solve One of the Mysteries of Palmyra

From a research council of Norway press release:

In ancient Roman times A.D., Palmyra was the most important point along the trade route linking the east and west, reaching a population of 100 000 inhabitants. But its history has always been shrouded in mystery: What was a city that size doing in the middle of the desert? How could so many people live in such an inhospitable place nearly 2 000 years ago? Where did their food come from? And why would such an important trade route pass directly through the desert?

Norwegian researchers collaborated with Syrian colleagues for four years to find answers.

“These findings provide a wealth of new insight into Palmyra’s history,” says project manager Jørgen Christian Meyer, a professor at the University of Bergen. The project has received funding of over NOK 9 million from the Research Council of Norway’s comprehensive funding scheme for independent basic research projects (FRIPRO).

New research using modern archaeological methods

The Bergen-based archaeologists approached the problem from a novel angle – instead of examining the city itself, they studied an enormous expanse of land just to the north. Along with their Syrian colleagues from the Palmyra Museum and aided by satellite photos, they catalogued a large number of ancient remains visible on the Earth’s surface.

“In this way,” explains Professor Meyer, “we were able to form a more complete picture of what occurred within the larger area.”

The team detected a number of forgotten villages from ancient Roman times. But what finally solved the riddle of Palmyra was the discovery of the water reservoirs these villages had utilised.

Not a desert

Professor Meyer and his colleagues came to realise that what they were studying was not a desert, but rather an arid steppe, with underground grass roots that keep rain from sinking into the soil. Rainwater collects in intermittent creeks and rivers called wadi by the Arabs.

The archaeologists gathered evidence that residents of ancient Palmyra and the nearby villages collected the rainwater using dams and cisterns. This gave the surrounding villages water for crops and enabled them to provide the city with food; the collection system ensured a stable supply of agricultural products and averted catastrophe during droughts.

Local farmers also cooperated with Bedouin tribes, who drove their flocks of sheep and goats into the area to graze during the hot season, fertilising the farmers’ fields in the process.

Safe trade route

Palmyra’s location also had a political foundation. Important east-west trade routes, including along the Euphrates River to the north, were not under the control of the Romans to the west or the Persians to the east. Local lords and chieftains demanded high fees for passage.

This practice of extortion translated into a tremendous opportunity for the Palmyrians; they joined forces with the Bedouins to provide security, beasts of burden and guides through the desert.

“Tradesmen from Palmyra made the most of the city’s unique location to build up a comprehensive trade network,” says the professor. “This explains much of the city’s prosperity.”

Arable land in this time of need

The solution to the mystery of Palmyra can also teach us something today. As the world seeks arable land to feed its billions, we can learn from the Palmyrians’ experience. If they were able to cultivate the desert soil almost 2 000 years ago, surely we can do the same with all the available modern aids and methods.

“Occasionally an enormous amount of rain falls in the desert,” says Professor Meyer. “Anyone can see how green the desert becomes after the rain. The Palmyrians must have realised the potential of this type of land, which covers large areas of our planet.”

… See also Past Horizons coverage: Researchers solve mystery of Palmyra