Roman Golf Origins?

Something that has popped up on a semi-regular basis (usually in the context of one of golf’s majors) is a claim that golf can be traced back to the Romans. Most recently it’s popped up at the News.Az site in an article that begins:

Some historians trace the sport back to the Roman game of paganica, in which participants used a bent stick to hit a stuffed leather ball. One theory asserts that paganica spread throughout Europe as the Romans conquered most of the continent, during the first century BC, and eventually evolved into the modern game. [...]

This link to ‘paganica’ is popular on a pile of sites, all apparently deriving (it seems) from an entry in Encyclopedia Britannica. A little digging and one finds the rather tenuous base on which the claim is made. In an aged tome called Gallus: or, Roman scenes in the time of Augustus, we get a nice summary of what is known about paganica in a section on Roman ball games (I don’t think our knowledge on it has advanced in a century and a half). Here’s the text version (I think I caught all the OCR typos; a link to the original follows):

Roman authors mention numerous varieties of the game of ball, as pila simply, follis or folliculus, trigon, paganica, harpastum, sparsiva, in addition to which we have the expressions, datatim, expulsim, raptim ludere; geminare, revocare, reddere pilam. But it seems that we can only admit of three different kinds of ball; pila, in the more confined sense, the small regular ball, which however might be harder, or more elastic, for different kinds of play; follis, the great ballon, as the name indicates, merely filled with air (like our foot-ball) and paganica. Concerning the use of the last we have the least information; Martial mentions it only in two passages, vii. 32:

Non pila, non follis, non te paganica thermis
Praeparat, aut nudi stipitis ictus hebes.

and xiv. 45:

Haec quae difficili turget paganica pluma,
Folle minus laxa est, et minus arta pila.

As the paganica is opposed in both places to the follis and the pila, and no fourth kind is mentioned in addition to them, we must suppose that one or other of these three balls was used in all varieties of the game. The words paganica, folle minus laxa, minus arta pila, are incorrectly explained by Rader and Mercurialis, as applying to the contents of the ball. The use of both adjectives leaves no doubt that the size of the ball is spoken of, and in this respect it stood between the follis and pila. No doubt it also so far differed from the former, that it was stuffed with feathers, and was consequently somewhat heavier; this is all that we know about it. The poet gives no hint concerning the origin of the name, nor about the game for which it was used. On an intaglio in Beger, (Thes. Brand. 139), a naked male figure sits holding in each hand a ball, supposed to be the paganica, because apparently too small for the follis, and too large for the pila, for they are not clasped within the hand. But this is evidently a very insecure argument, and, as regards the game, nothing would follow from it.

… so it seems likely that the golf connection was solely made on the basis of balls filled with feathers (as were early golf balls); no mention of a ‘club’ really, so, as often, a likely spurious connection.

The Search for Cleo’s Tomb is on Again!

Brief item from CDN (dated February 14) … just the concluding bit:


Explicó que en su visita al presidente Medina le contó de su experiencia, y le informó que ha recibido los permisos de lugar para iniciar una nueva temporada.

La arqueóloga informó que la investigación comenzó en el año 2005 y que actualmente solo le quedan unos meses para finalizar dicha investigación.

“Será el próximo domingo cuando iniciemos la etapa final, la más importante del proyecto y el Presidente de la República se sintió muy orgulloso y me brindó todo su apoyo”, dijo.

In case you don’t want to press the google translate button, basically Martinez has the permit by now and is digging for at least a month … stay tuned.

The “Apollo” of Gaza: A ‘Pedestrian’ Issue?

In one of my previous posts on this puzzing chunk of bronze I mentioned I wanted to have a better look at the base and see how the feet attached. The CNN video has some good shots toward the end, and while I’m still wondering about the attachment, there is another very interesting detail which might be worth noting. Here’s a screencap:


I’m not sure if it is a problem with the camera angle, but it seems to me that the right foot is a “Roman” foot (with the second and third toes the same length as the big toe). The left foot seems to be a “Greek” foot, with the second toe longer than the big toe. As many people who stare at ancient statues like to point out, the “Greek” foot was a sort of ideal, and is seen on most ancient statues … divinities almost always have the “Greek” foot. For the record, I’ve never seen a “Roman” foot on an ancient statue, but, as often, that doesn’t mean anything. That there seems to be a mix of styles again raises the question: Crappy artist or ancient fake? Or modern fake?

The “Apollo” of Gaza Followup: CNN and the Gouging of the Eye

So I’m a Daylight Saving Time zombie here and am killing time wandering down assorted backroads of the internet and I came across a very interesting photo in an arabic newspaper:


Two things of interest here … obviously it’s a CNN exclusive, so it’s a screencap of some sort, and also it looks like the statue still has both eyes! Plenty of us wondered when/why the eye was missing (see, e.g., Sam Hardy’s useful post which includes another photo of the intact eye), so I managed too find the video:

… the shot comes from the beginning and I never did see this video on TV. Clearly, the statue has both eyes, and so the one must have been gouged out before that September ‘press conference’ we mentioned in our timeline post. So where did CNN get this video? This is the jeweller’s video! It’s also clear that the ‘patch’  — as Sam Hardy clarified today — is on the leg.

This video dates from February 16 … how did everyone (especially me) miss it?

UPDATE (a few minutes later): I also notice the left hand is missing quite a few fingers (as we already knew). You don’t suppose Hamas stepped in because they heard that whoever had custody of the statue was snipping off bits here and there? And maybe that ‘press conference’ was them taking custody?

The “Apollo” of Gaza ~ Part II: Questions of Condition and Authenticity

In case you missed our previous installments:

In our previous installment(s) on the so-called “Apollo” of Gaza, we primarily questioned the apparently ever-developing story of the find as told by the fisherman of many names as reported by various news outlets. Now it is time to look at the statue itself and see if it’s possible, from the information we have been given, to discern whether this thing is a genuine antiquity or a fake.

At the outset, though, we should deal with another question related to provenance, specifically whether it was actually found in the sea or not. Despite the engaging story told by the fisherman, opinions on this seem to be divided. Our first opinion comes from the oft-quoted Jean-Michel de Tarragon of the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem, who seems to be one of the few academics consulted on the issue by the press:

The apparently pristine condition of the god suggested it was uncovered on land and not in the sea, he said, speculating that the true location of where it was unearthed was not revealed to avoid arguments over ownership.

“This wasn’t found on the seashore or in the sea … it is very clean. No, it was [found] inland and dry,” he said, adding that there were no signs of metal disfigurement or barnacles that one normally sees on items plucked from water.

An archaeologist from Gaza, Fadel al-Utol, agrees:

Young Gaza archeologist Fadel al-Utol said the statue, with its green patina, was unlikely to have come from beneath the waves.

“It is 90 percent intact and was probably found on land,” he told AFP. “If it had spent time underwater, the bronze would be blackened.”

“It’s more likely that the statue was found in an ancient temple in the Gaza area. We need to search and find out,” he said.

Utol said statues of such a size are rare, although a smaller example is held by the Louvre in Paris.

The Tourism Ministry folks are totally buying into the found-in-the-sea story (which can be spun in numerous ways, depending on how conspiracy-minded one is):

“We are not denying that the statue was found in the sea — as a matter of fact, that is a very authentic and real story,” Al-Burch said.

Jawdat Khoudary, who was one of the first ‘knowledgeable’ folks to observe the statue provides an interesting argument for it being found in the sea:

There’s no doubt the statue came from the sea, Khoudary says. Sitting in the lobby of his hotel on a December evening, he wraps his portly frame in a wool robe and warms his neck with a black-and-white keffiyeh, the emblem of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. In his left hand he works a silver coin purchased minutes earlier from two beachcombing treasure hunters. One side of the coin, encrusted with black sand, bears the outline of a face. Khoudary says it’s Alexander the Great, who conquered Gaza in 332 B.C. en route to taking Egypt.

Khoudary lays out his grim reasoning as the lights go off and on, a result of Gaza’s fuel shortage. “I know how they excavate in Gaza, it’s by shoveling,” he says, making the motions of a mechanical backhoe with his hand. In his collection’s catalog, an entry for clay wine jars even lists “bulldozer trenches” as the method of discovery. Clandestine hunters usually dig until they hit something, a process that’s speedy but damages the finds. In the case of the bronze, however, “It’s not damaged,” he says. “It’s 100 percent from the sea.”

Not sure if we need to (cynically?) point out that the same logic could be used to suggest that the statue was never underground in the first place (i.e. It’s a fake).

The second ‘knowledgeable’ observer Bauzou disagreed, however (I’m still not sure of Bauzou’s first name):

Neither Humbert nor Bauzou believes Ghurab discovered the bronze underwater. “It does not come from the sea. It’s obvious,” Bauzou says. The giveaway, they say, is the lack of any sea encrustation or damage from hundreds of years underwater. Instead, they suspect the bronze came from a clandestine excavation somewhere on land. “This story has been fabricated to hide the real place where the statue was found so they can continue digging.”

To its credit, the lengthy Businessweek article (referenced above, of course) does try to weigh the apparent evidence for it not being found in the sea somewhat objectively:

It’s possible the fisherman’s story is an elaborate hoax. It is true the Apollo isn’t encrusted with barnacles, but not all submerged bronzes get crusty. Photos of the 1996 Croatian find and the 1964 Getty bronze show thick layers of sea growth, but the Riace bronzes from 1972 appear to have come ashore with skin as smooth as that of the Gaza bronze. It might be no coincidence they were found under similar conditions: in shallow water, partly buried in sand, by a swimmer.

With that in mind, it is useful to compare (as others have done, most notably Sam Hardy: the Apollo of Gaza: less innocent origins, equally problematic destinations) the find condition of those other statues which were plucked from the sea to get an idea of what we might expect to observe.

Here’s the Croatian Athlete at the time of discovery(I have another post mentioning this one in another context … stay tuned; Sam Hardy’s article above has a different photo):

Department of Underwater Archaeology of Croatia, via UNESCO

Department of Underwater Archaeology of Croatia, via UNESCO

… Here’s the Getty’s ‘Victorious Youth”

via the Getty

… Finally, one of the famous photos of one of the Riace Bronzes:

This one was all over the internet a short while ago; this copy comes from

This one was all over the internet a short while ago; this copy comes from

This is possibly an important detail … if the “Apollo” of Gaza did actually come from the sea and came out looking, patina-wise, like the Riace Bronzes, then the frequently-mentioned concerns about its current condition probably are  even more concerning now (given that we haven’t had any news reports of any conservation help actually being given). The CNN coverage of February 15 mysteriously downplayed the deterioration:

A green spot — a sign of decay — has formed on the leg of the statue, which is exposed to the air.

A (single?) green spot? Anyone who has seen any of the photos has seen a statue that seems to be suffering from the early states of ‘bronze disease’ (or something similar), which can be the result of emerging from the sea and being exposed to air, or it can be the result of highly humid conditions (which does appear to be the case in Gaza … check the weather network for today’s humidity there). It’s difficult to tell whether there has been any change as seen from the two previously-mentioned photos (taken perhaps two weeks apart):

A picture taken in Gaza on Sept. 19, 2013 shows a 2,500-year-old bronze statue of the Greek god Apollo discovered by Palestinian fishermen in August (Gaza's Ministry of Tourism/AFP)

A picture taken in Gaza on Sept. 19, 2013 shows a 2,500-year-old bronze
statue of the Greek god Apollo discovered by Palestinian fishermen
in August (Gaza’s Ministry of Tourism/AFP)


… but it seems noteworthy that the more recent one seems to come from a place which is likely air-conditioned, which would, in theory, slow down the progress of deterioration. Then again, the Businessweek article concluded thusly:

The Apollo is in a Hamas Interior Ministry office, somewhere in Gaza, being kept away from sources of humidity, he says. It is propped up in a corner.

In regards to condition, we should also draw attention to another photo that was making the rounds from the ‘Smurf blanket’ phase:

Rear view of the statue, via the BBC

Rear view of the statue, via the BBC

What’s interesting in this photo is that the back of the statue (including the head)— which was, of course, in contact with the blanket/mattress and not really exposed to air — is largely free from any signs of the green patina. Does this give us an indication of the original condition? Or did moving it on and off the mattress do something to the patina (unlikely).  If it does indicate the original condition,  according to our timeline, all that green patina would have accumulated in less than a month and we can only hope that something more than ‘propping it up in a corner of an office’ is being done about it.

Outside of conservation issues, the statue itself raises a number of questions. A photo from the Palestinian Tourism folks which accompanied the Businessweek article (and appeared elsewhere) seems to touch on many of them:

Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquitiesvia Businessweek, but it is also available elsewhere

Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities via Businessweek, but it is also available elsewhere

A major item that has been bugging me from the outset is the reported weight of this thing: 450 kg/1000 pounds. Why does it weigh so much? Although it is roughly the same size (possibly a bit smaller), it is almost double what each of the Riace Bronzes weighs, and if it is the actual weight, it probably suggests a rather massive core, which certainly wouldn’t be in line with traditional statue construction methods of the time (as far as I’m aware).

The graphic marvels that the feet are intact, but what seems to be more interesting is that they are not only intact, but are attached to their original base. I’m sure someone can correct me on this, but finding bronzes of this size still attached to their base is pretty rare. I’d be very interested to know whether the base was cast with the feet or whether it was later attached.

Two other items on the graphic raise other questions. We are told that three fingers are missing — we know the fisherman had one, his “cousin” (or jeweller) had one too. How did the third go missing? And what happened to the thumb? We also wonder about the eye and are unsure whether it was always missing or was gouged out/fell out later (more on the surviving eye in a bit). In one of the news reports, it “sounds” like it was something that happened later, but that might be just one of those things that comes during the translation of an interview:

Ahmed Elburch, an official at the Hamas-run Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in Gaza, says he last saw the statue in October. He was concerned about its condition, he says, as the colour appeared to be changing, and one of the eyes had been cut out.

That said, over the past few weeks a number of us (namely, Sam Hardy, Vernon Silver, Justin Walsh, and myself) have engaged in an on-again, off-again discussion of the statue on Twitter and much of what follows is the result of those discussions. Stylistically, as several, including Sam Hardy have noted the head of the statue seems to have great affinities with a head from Herculaneum, which includes the very interesting ‘dreadlocks’ hair treatment, although they seem a bit more ‘orderly’ along the brow (the photo, by the way, comes from an article by Carol Mattusch on early bronze statuary which is definitely an appropriate read for this: Changing Approaches to Classical Bronze Statuary)

via INAH ... in the above-referenced article

via INAH … in the above-referenced article

The twisty curls also appear in another head from Herculaneum, albeit flatter and in a clearly non-Apolline context (as Vernon Silver reminded me). Here’s Ptolemy Apion in the Naples Museum:

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons

In passing, we should note that the condition of the ‘free’ curls on the Gaza example is probably one of the best bits of evidence that the fisherman’s story of the recovery of the statue (by the ‘cartwheel technique’) is less-than-truthful. I have a very difficult time believing that those curls would have survived recovery according to his description.

As long as we’re looking at the head, I’m wondering if I’m the only one who finds the face of the statue to be somewhat strange. In some of the photos, depending on the angle, it does seem to be a reasonable ‘Greek’ visage, but in others (especially straight on) it does not and is certainly not the ‘idealizing’ sort of thing one might expect. The aforementioned ‘bronze disease’ also has almost ‘outlined’ a certain part of the face, which makes it look like it was somehow attached to a faceless head. I’m honestly not sure if that is the case or if that’s just an illusion caused by the deterioration, but clearly it would be an oddity. Indeed, when I first saw the outline, it struck me that this looked more like the face of a Roman cavalry mask than anything else. Here are the “headshots” from the BBC:

via the BBC Magazine

via the BBC Magazine

Also worth noting about the head is that it really isn’t unusual that a bronze might have lost its inlaid eyes (which were usually made from glass paste or other materials). What is interesting here, however, is the one eye that remains in the head is apparently blue and made from some sort of stone (maybe; not sure if a trained ‘eye’ determined that or not).

The pose of the statue is one which comes close to many statue styled an “Apollo” or “Kouros” or “Ephebe” but the closest analog seems to be the so-called ephebe of Selinunte, now in the Palermo Museum (tip of the pileus to Justin Walsh and Adrian Murdoch for helping me track this one down, there’s a huge version of the photo if you click on it):

via trapani tourism

via trapani tourism

The Ephebe from the ‘House of the Ephebe” in Pompeii also seems to have affinities both in terms of height and pose, sort of (and we might wonder if the Gaza statue carried something in its now largely broken left hand, but seems to be the product of a more-talented artist:

via the Getty

via the Getty

Another stylistic analog, but again the product of a better artist, would be the somewhat smaller (1.15 m) Piombino Kouros, originally from Etruria but now in the Louvre (this is a cast from Cambridge’s archive):

from the Cambridge Casts Archive

Perhaps related to this notion that the Gaza “Apollo” is the product of a less-talented artist is an observation which came up just last week: a photo which clearly shows a square hole on the back of one of the legs or upper arms (Sam Hardy has recently dealt with the confusion many of us had trying to figure out where this ‘hole’ is: Is it an arm? Is it a leg? What the hell is that hole?). Similar squares on other ancient bronzes usually indicate the site of a repair done in ancient times. Depending on where it is, however, it might also indicate where a statue attached to something else for stability purposes. If it is on the upper arm, it seems to be a patch. If it’s on a leg, it could be a patch or an attachment spot. Until some genuine conservationist/art historian gets an in-person look at the statue, I doubt we’ll know for sure.

I’m also not sure how much should/can be read into the above observations (I can’t really call them evidence) that all of the analogs for the Gaza “Apollo” seem to come from southern Italy/Sicily. As far as I’m aware, most of the bronzes which have survived to this point come from that part of the world. At the same time, Herculaneum for a long time was the site of numerous thefts, including a spectacular break in in the early 1990s, although no large scale statuary seems to have gone missing in that one (tip o’ the pileus to Dorothy King for help with that reference). Whatever the case, it’s obviously highly improbable that a statue might have been taken from southern Italy to Gaza to create a provenance, and then suddenly be subject to deterioration.

Which brings us to the bigger question: is the Gaza “Apollo” genuine or is it a clever fake? It’s interesting, I think, to note that the head from Herculaneum and the Piombino Kouros are considered in the category of ‘ancient fakes’ (I.e. Fakes/replicas made in antiquity to appeal to a contemporary market). Even so, I keep hemming and hawing on this issue and I still can’t come down firmly on one side or the other. The provenance strikes me (and most critical observers, it appears) as obviously manufactured. The weight, the face, and the survival of the base of the statue also combine to lead me to think there’s something very much amiss with this one. I’m still not too sure about the hair treatment either. Why Hamas (or whoever is in possession of it) is not giving scholars access to it to do some basic conservation and examination is puzzling and doesn’t lend any confidence to claims of authenticity. Despite all those considerations, it still seems possible that it is genuine and perhaps an archaizing sort of thing like the head from Herculaneum or possibly simply the product of a crappy artist. The whole situation is clearly being mishandled and I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t hear anything more about this one for a year or two, if at all.

The “Apollo” of Gaza ~ Part Ib: Implications of the Arabic Press Coverage

This is another addendum to our initial post on the so-called “Apollo of Gaza” stemming from the Arabic press coverage and photos which were brought to my attention yesterday. While there were issues with different names being involved (via Google Translate), what was most interesting was the photo of the “Apollo” laying on a mattress which did NOT have the erstwhile ever-present Smurf blanket beneath it. As Sam Hardy has pointed out much more clearly than I did, the new photo clearly indicates a change of location for the statue (When was the “Apollo” of Gaza taken into “custody”?).

What needs to be done, I think, is to try and fit this photo into our timeline from the other day. The photo dates (at the latest) from October 4th, which coincides with the period we suggested was when the Louvre and other such institutions were likely consulted. This makes sense, I think, and allows us to possibly further create the following scenario:

We know the bulk of the photos out there seem to come from a major photo session on September 19th. The initial photos released from that day were of the laying-down-on-the-smurf-blanket variety, but later photos (especially the ones from Reuters and/or the) also include photos of the statue standing up. I’d suggest that they were standing up the statue because on September 19th they were moving it to another location. The photos from that session were the ones which which shown to Khoudary and/or Bauzou, the latter of whom seems to have been enlisted to write a report of some sort for purposes of getting the Louvre or other institutions interested. It seems likely that someone mentioned that the smurf-blanket-photos were probably inappropriate if they wanted to impress Louvre-types and so some new photos were taken in early October. Coincidentally, the smurf photos were used to advertise the item on eBay, perhaps to gauge interest and/or get people talking. The text of the ad and the haste in which the item was taken down might suggest there was no real intent of selling it, but was just ‘getting the word’ out that the rumoured statue actually did exist. At about the same time, a La Repubblica reporter was approached to write a news backgrounder; perhaps significantly, it was published on the internet in both Italian and English (which is, as far as I can remember, unheard of for something of archaeological interest), in order to gain the widest possible audience. Also noteworthy is that the La Repubblica coverage is the first to include the Fisherman’s Tale, which is certainly more compelling from a creating interest point of view than what seems to have appeared in the Arabic press sources. Sadly, the initial Fisherman’s Tale didn’t quite make sense, and so a new and improved version was revealed by another unconventional avenue in Business Week in late January. That’s when the major press organizations sat up and took notice.

… let’s say that’s our working hypothesis at this point.

UPDATE (an hour or two later): An Arabic language forum post includes the ‘new’ picture with a date of September 26th, which seems to add to the credibility of our scenario above …

The “Apollo” of Gaza ~ Part Ia: Fishy Tales and Timelines

This is an appendage to my previous post on our initial foray into the
“Apollo of Gaza” and it’s a fresh post so those who have read the previous one will get it. (hence part ia)

Tip o’ the pileus to Vernon Silver on Twitter for pointing us to some coverage in the Arabic press. I do not read Arabic but can get the gist, of course, from Google Translate. Your mileage may vary.

The first one comes from SamaNews on September 24 … I’m not positive it refers to our find (the photo doesn’t match and the names are different, but it seems to be a stock photo). It does suggest an Egyptian origin for the statue!

The second one is far, far, far, more important. It comes from something called Dostorasly and dates to October 4th. The name seems to be the same one as in the previous article (and it isn’t the one we know). More importantly, however, we get a non-’photoshoot’ photo from the Palestine Press News Agency. Ecce:

ppnaSmurf blanket gone …

Tantalizing Tunnels From Niksar

Another rather annoying item from Hurriyet:

Two secret tunnels have been discovered under Turkey’s second largest castle, in the northern province of Tokat’s Niksar district. The tunnels date back to the Roman period, and it has been claimed that one of the tunnels was used by a Roman king’s daughters in order to go to the bath in the Çanakçi stream area.

The excavations are being carried out by the municipality in the 6.2 kilometer-wide Niksar Castle, which is Turkey’s second largest castle after Diyarbakır Castle. The tunnels are located in the southern and northern facades of the castle and are approximately 100 meters long.

The earth masses in the tunnels have been removed, but work was subsequently halted as permission for the excavations expired and the number of staff was insufficient.

The 100 meter tunnel in the northern façade is said to have been used by the king’s daughters to reach the Roman bath near the castle. Niksar Mayor Duran Yadigar, who has inspected both tunnels, said works in the castle unearthed the entrance of the tunnels. “One tunnel goes to the stream below the castle. We have also excavated a parallel tunnel used by the king’s daughters. When the works are completed, the two tunnels in the south and north of the Niksar Castle will be completely unearthed. The artistic features of the castle will be revealed,” Yadigar said.

Yadigar added that once these structures are completely revealed, the castle will make a great contribution to cultural tourism in the region. “We expect the Culture and Tourism Ministry to be interested in the Niksar Castle.

A quarter of the castle’s western section has been restored. Once it is completely restored, this place could be included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, and we could present the value of the Black Sea region to the world. I ask the relevant officials to show an interest in these tunnels,” Yadigar said.
Halis Şahin of the Tokat Museum, who provided information about the excavations, said works to reveal the Roman era tunnels would continue throughout the year.

Of course, the “Roman king’s daughters” thing is a bunch of hooey … in Roman times, Niksar was called Neocaesarea and it’s one of those cities that changed ownership several times over several millennia. I’m not sure if the photo accompanying the original article is of one or the other of the tunnels in question, but I see nothing that identifies it as Roman. Curious to know why this is identified as Roman, other than the story makes for good tourist fodder …

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What Have the Greeks Ever Done For Us? Christmas Edition

Hopefully you’ve already read the Roman side of Christmas (see the previous post), which has some scholarship behind it … the Greek side, however, strikes me as a bit wanting and rather rambling. As often, it hails from the Greek Reporter, which seems to let its minimal editing down even more during holiday times:

Christmas is the most important, and perhaps the most treasured, celebration of Christianity filled with joy and love. Every country celebrates with different customs that have deep roots within history and tradition. We can find a variety of similarities in the commemoration of the birth of Christ and Dionysus between ancient and contemporary Greece. If we look at the ancient Greek history and the traditions within, we will see that some of our customs have their roots in ancient Greece.

In December, the Ancient Greeks celebrated the birth of Dionysus, calling him “Savior” and divine “infant.” According to Greek mythology, his mother was a mortal woman, Semele, and his father was Zeus, the king of the Gods. The priest of Dionysus held a pastoral staff as did the Good Shepherd. On December 30, ancient Greeks commemorated his rebirth.

The most well-known custom throughout the Christian world are the Christmas carols that have roots deriving from ancient Greece. Specifically, Homer — during his stay on the island of Samos, along with a group of children — composed the carols. In ancient Greece, carols symbolized joy, wealth and peace, and the children sang the carols only in the homes of the rich. Children would go from house to house, holding an olive or a laurel branch adorned with wool (a symbol of health and beauty) and different kinds of fruits. The children brought the olive branch to their homes and hung it on the doors where it remained for the rest of the year.

The Christmas tree appeared for the first time in Germany at the end of the 16th century. It became globally known in the 19th century. In our religion, the Christmas tree symbolizes the rejoicing of the birth of Jesus Christ. The tree was adorned first with fruits and later with clothes and other household objects. Ancient Greeks also used to decorate the ancient temples with trees, symbolizing the divine gift offering. The Christmas tree tradition made its way to Greece in 1833, when the Bavarians decorated the palace of King Otto.

Santa Claus, who travels around the world on Christmas Eve delivering gifts in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, is another impressive similarity. A similar tradition also existed during the celebration of Dionysus in ancient Greece who resembled light. Then, the chariot transformed into a sleigh and horses transformed into reindeer.

The New Year’s cake is also the evolution of an ancient Greek custom. Our ancestors used to offer Gods the “festive bread” during the rural festivals, like the Thalysia or the Thesmophoria.

In an interesting bit of synchronicity, if it can be called that, the original article tries to make a visual connection between Phaethon/Apollo flying in a chariot and Santa with his reindeer. I think my efforts from a decade ago — recalled by Dorothy Lobel King earlier today: A Rogue Classicism Christmas ..(thanks for the plug!) — is rather more convincing and probably has more scholarship behind it (maybe not). So often the historical/hysterical material in Greek Reporter seems to be cutting room floor items from My Big Fat Greek Wedding:

The rogueclassicist Skept-o-meter

While wading through my backlog the other day (which is huge) it occurred to me that I could start giving ‘points’ to articles cluttering my box making skeptical claims. To do so, of course, I would need some sort of metre stick of credulity, and came up with the following list of items which set of alarm bells in the rogueclassicist’s noggin:

  1. Claim is made by someone who is not a specialist (i.e. with a degree) in the discipline
  2. Claimant has an “Indiana Jones” type epithet, often self-imposed
  3. Topic of claim is one of the long-standing mysteries (e.g. Cleopatra’s tomb, Alexander’s tomb, anything related to Atlantis, the Ark of the Covenant, something biblical, etc.)
  4. Claim is initially made on a press release site and later picked up by mainstream media
  5. Claim has not appeared in a scholarly journal nor is ‘in press’
  6. The word “decode” is used at least once in the cliam claim
  7. The phrase “years of research” figures prominently
  8. Claimant justifies position with references to the Trojan War or Galileo
  9. Claimant suggests a “coverup” of some sort by academics
  10. Claim is made on a significant date (especially if related to early Christianity … Easter and Christmas are the big dates)
  11. Newspaper report doesn’t actually ask a specialist for a contrary opinion
  12. Mention of a documentary to come is made in the concluding paragraphs

Of course, many legitimate claims might fall into one or more of the above categories, but it’s the combination of (usually) 3 or so or more which set off the alarm bells. I’ll apply this scale to a really bizarre claim in the next day or so.

Bocce Origins Redux

Ten years almost to the day, we get another claim about Roman origins of bocce … from a WWAY3 feature:

The Romans first played the game around 300 BC with coconuts they brought back from Africa. Now it’s an age-friendly sport with a lot to offer.

… since we first dealt with this a decade ago (see: CHATTER: Bocce … you’ll have to scroll down a bit), all we can ask at this point is whether the Romans’ coconuts were borne by European or African swallows …

Did the Ancient Greeks Discover America?

In a word, no, but that doesn’t stop the Epoch Times for wasting electrons on a nutty theory … here are just enough exerpts to smack your gob:

The year 1492 is one of history’s most famous dates, when America was discovered by Europeans. However that “New World” may have been already known to the ancient Greeks, according to a book by Italian physicist and philologist Lucio Russo.

The translated title for Russo’s book would be “The Forgotten America: The Relationship Among Civilizations and an Error Made by Ptolemy.” But the author told the Epoch Times that the title for the English version, which isn’t ready yet, will probably be “When the World Shrunk.”
Some Clues

Among the many clues of contact between ancient Europeans and Native Americans are the few pre-Columbian texts to have survived the Spanish devastation.

In a book about the origins of the Maya-Quiché people there are many interesting points. The fathers of that civilization, according to the text, were “black people, white people, people of many faces, people of many languages,” and they came from the East. “And it isn’t clear how they crossed over the sea. They crossed over as if there were no sea,” says the text.

However, researchers later decided to translate the Mayan word usually meant for “sea” as “lake.”

There are also many Mayan depictions and texts about men with beards. But Native Americans do not grow beards.

Furthermore, some artworks of the ancient Romans show pineapples, a fruit that originated in South America.

Ways of Thought

Russo, who currently teaches probability at Tor Vergata University of Rome, says the main reason why researchers think America wasn’t known to ancient Greeks is not due to lack of proof, but to scientific dogma. [...]

… now since they mentioned that old canard about pineapples in Roman art, we feel compelled to comment. We should make note of the photo that accompanies the original article:

Photo in the Epoch Times, apparently from Lucio Russo’s book

I won’t go too much into detail about the background on this claim (which ultimately goes back to Ivan Van Sertima … see Jason Colavito’s excellent post from a year or so ago: The “Pineapple” of Pompeii), but there clearly is something wrong with people if they look at those things and see pineapples. Begin with the mosaic and you’re looking at something that looks like it’s smaller than most of the fruit there. Then look at the fresco and see that the things are only slightly larger than the snake’s head. Then you can argue with yourself about the statue and decide whether it’s a child or an adult. If you’ve been around Classics for a while, however,  the thing is obviously a  pinecone, not a pineapple, which are similarly-depicted on plenty of pots relating to Dionysus/Bacchus and usually brandished by a Maenad, and often by Dionysus himself E.g.:

via Wikipedia

There are countless other examples, including architectural elements and the like. Once again we see the ‘danger’ of non-specialists building theories on rather common elements of ancient Greek and Roman life (more common than they want to believe) …

Macedonians in China? Yeah, about that …

We’ll preface this by noting it’s written by the same author who spread the misinformation about Amphipolis for the Greek Reporter:

In antiquity when the Ancient Greeks and Romans referred to the Chinese they used to call them by the Latin name Sinae, which the Chinese have kept until today (China). The greatest proof is the fact that the most important monument of China is known worldwide as the Great Sinic Wall.

Throughout the years, among other archaeological findings discovered in China, there is the Sampul tapestry, a woolen wall-hanging which depicts a soldier, probably Greek, and a Centaur. Moreover, there are also statues of Greek soldiers of the 3rd century B.C. Several statuettes and representations of Greek soldiers have been found north of Tien Shan. The above are both displayed in the Xinjiang Museum, Urumqi, China.

Moving on, today we know that the Chinese pyramids are in fact tombs-mausoleums, internationally known as tumulus mounds. But only ancient Macedonians used to build tombs for their kings. The existence of such sacred monuments in the “forbidden zone”, means that the local emperors of the time actually followed the sacred “road” chosen or suggested by the Macedonians, apparently soldiers of Alexander the Great, who did not wish to go their way back.They even adopted the same magnificent Macedonian way for burying their kings.

So far there have been at least 12 ancient Greek cities unearthed in China. That is the real reason why the Chinese government, dissatisfied, decided to put an end to all these archaeological missions.

However, since 1980 the ongoing archaeological interest around China once again pushed a group of both Chinese and Japanese researchers to begin searching for the rumored lost Kashgar Old city.

But it was in 1993, when an archaeological discovery really shook the historic waters. An ancient Greek civilization was revealed in the Chinese city of Niya in Taklamakan. Within the ruins, archaeologists found iron axes and sickles, wooden clubs, pottery urns and jars in the homes, coins bronze mirrors, rings and other possessions that were all of Greek origin.

Furthermore, all eight mummies and skeletons that were found had blonde and brown hair (European characteristics and not Chinese) along with other Greek features.

So, from all the above the following question is now raised: Since Alexander the Great officially reached the Ganges River, how on earth were Greek cities discovered beyond it in China?

Just some food for thought as it probably seems that history should be rewritten…

Wow … just wow. We should note that much of this seems to derive from the finds associated with the find of Chercen Man ages ago (see, e.g., Celtic Mummies in China) and the mysterious Yingpan Man (Yingpan Man), both of whom (along with others) were determined to be of Celtic ancestry DNA-wise, as far as I’m aware. Whatever the case, it seems Greek Reporter has someone covering the archaeology beat with a, shall we say, less-than-archaeological agenda.

Alexander the Great Tomb in Amphipolis? Yeah … about that

This is another one of those mind bogglers which I don’t really understand … Back on August 21, a typically vague and brief item appeared in Greek Reporter:

A group of archaeologists in Amphipolis, a municipality in Serres, claim to have made one of the greatest archaeological discoveries ever, as they believe they have uncovered the tomb of Alexander the Great.

They said the tomb has a circumference of 498 meters, an artwork of perfection would only be built for a king.

Th masterpiece is externally covered with high quality exquisitely-carved marble, a remarkable feat given the tools available at the time.

The tomb once was covered with soil and topped with a lion, the one that has been reassembled further uphill and known as the Lion of Amphipolis which was found by Greek soldiers in 1912.

… which struck me as odd, especially given that none of the archaeologists involved were named, or even quoted. It struck me as odd especially because back in October, when this find was actually initially announced, there were plenty of names and quotes (see, e.g., Roxane’s Tomb?). In March, there were more developments and video coverage (Roxane’s Tomb Redux … click on the links therein as well for Dorothy King’s comments). In any event, because of this it wasn’t surprising to read an AP/Washington Post piece within a few hours suggesting it was ‘too early to tell’ … an excerpt:

[...] A Culture Ministry statement Thursday said the partly-excavated mound has yielded a “very remarkable” marble-faced wall from the late 4th century B.C. It is an impressive 500 meters (yards) long and three meters high.

But the ministry warned it would be “overbold” to link the site near ancient Amphipolis, 370 miles (600 kilometers) north of Athens, with “historic personages” before the excavation is completed. [...]

It’s worth noting that the info in the Washington Post piece is essentially the same (in that it really adds nothing) to the info we read back in October (including the name of the archaeologist who seems to be heading the dig (Aikaterini Peristeri). Again, though, it’s probably not surprising that we had the Greek Reporter (via  a different author), trying to do some face saving:

On Aug. 22, the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports published an announcement on its official website about the way the media handled the recent excavation of a big built precinct of the 4th century B.C. in Kasta near Amphipolis, in the Serres regional unit of Greece.

As many Greek websites rushed to link the monument that was discovered to the long-sought tomb of warrior-king Alexander the Great, the Culture Ministry and in particular the General Directorate of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage felt it had to calm things down.

“The finding of Amphipolis is certainly very important, but before the excavation proceeds, any interpretation and mainly any identification with historical figures lacks scientific justification and is too risky,” the Ministry announced.

However, the Ministry admitted that the discovery of the marble-faced wall from the late 4th century B.C., 500 meters long and three meters high, is indeed very remarkable and of high archaeological importance.

I really can’t tell, but one suspects Enet (another English-language Greek newspaper) took great joy in posting only: Mound fuels heady speculation about Alexander the Great. Ditto for Kathimerini: Ministry warns against speculation that Alexander the Great’s grave has been found. Turkish Weekly is probably in the same boat: Greece: too early to say whether grave of Alexander the Great found.

So you’d think that would be the end of it and most people who read this blog are shaking their collective heads muttering things about Ptolemy and Alexandria. But nooooo … we read the International Business Times, which includes this bit, inter alia:

Lead archaeologist Aikaterini Peristeri said the grave could contain a “significant individual” or individuals, hinting at the possibility that the remains of Alexander and his wife Roxanne, as well as his young successor, are inside the tomb. [...]

“Hinting”? Really? Didn’t know ‘hinting’ was the equivalent of a journalistic source. The ‘significant individual’ thing was made back in October. Speculation about others (including Roxane) was being made by municipal politician types.

Meanwhile, the Daily Mailhas been even more creative in its cutting and pasting of things written elsewhere, again, inter alia:

Site archaeologist Aikaterini Peristeri has voiced hopes of finding ‘a significant individual or individuals’ within.

A Culture Ministry statement has enthused that the archaeologists have partly excavated a mound that has yielded a ‘very remarkable’ marble-faced wall from the late 4th century BC.

Experts believe the ancient artificial mound could contain the remains of the king, or is at least an important royal Macedonian grave. [...]

MSN then takes things to their illogical conclusion and cites the Daily Mail as the source for its brief item:

If found, the tomb of Alexander the Great would be one of the world’s greatest treasures. Now, archaeologists think they may have found it — not in Egypt, as long believed, but in Greece, around 400 miles north of Athens in the ancient city of Amphipolis. There researchers discovered “an impressive wall,” lined with marble, that might shield a “royal grave” for the 4th-century BC warrior king, whose distinctions include creating one of the biggest empires the world has ever seen. Alexander died young, perhaps at 32, after becoming ill or being poisoned

In short (or TL:DR), no archaeologist has actually made any suggestion that Alexander the Great might be buried in this mound. The only coverage where archaeologists have actually said anything comes back in October and then in March. All this speculation seems to have been made by some reporter at Greek Reporter with too much time on his hands who probably was chatting with some business folks in Serres who are trying to get some tourist bucks while the Culture Ministry was quick to try to bring some sanity back. Sadly, however, other news outlets ran-with-scissors-like to make this into the silliness we’ve witnessed these past few days and, no doubt, will see more in the next few.

By the way, if you’re new to this Alexander Tomb business, you might want to check out some of our previous posts:

… I could give more, but you get the idea. I’ll just sit here and let my mind boggle a bit more …

On Egos and “Bulldozers” and Bull of Another Kind

As many folks know, besides filling my time with rogueclassicism, I also put out a weekly archaeology newsletter called Explorator which looks at coverage of archaeology in all parts of the world. I’ve been putting out that newsletter for at least sixteen years and one of the things I’ve long been aware of is that there is a certain ‘class’ of archaeologist (for want of a better term) who are very much into the ‘glory’ aspect of any coverage they get and/or create. That is to say, they are driven as much by their egos — and their desire to be seen as somehow ‘better’ than their counterparts — as much as they are by their research. One might even cynically suggest there are some  who are even more ego-driven than research driven. I’ll let you decide which applies in the following situation.

Biblical Archaeology Review unleashed a bit of a firestorm when, in its May/June 2013 issue it showed a photo which was subsequently picked up and commented on by Emmy Award Winning Professor Simcha Jacobovici, co director of the Bethsaida Dig and self-described ‘Naked Archaeologist’. Here’s the photo as posted by the Professor:


Back in April, Professor Jacobovici opened his blogpost containing the photo thusly:

Recently, Professor Yuval Goren shocked an audience at Tel Aviv University by proudly describing his method of archaeological excavation using a Caterpillar bulldozer.

You can read the post if you want a bit more context.  That particular post (and other coverage) resulted (more or less) in a response from the archaeologists which included the following:

1. There was no use of a mechanical excavator on Tel Socoh.

2. The slide shown in the ad illustrates work carried out in a wadi near the mound, as a sequel to a systematic manual excavation from surface to natural soil nearby. The sounding was aimed at detecting pottery and slag in the vicinity of the site. This method is authorized (and endorsed) by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

3. This is a common method in archaeology. Most seasoned archaeologists – regardless of period of research, location on the globe, and institutional affiliation – use mechanical excavators in certain, closely controlled circumstances.

… The professor dutifully noted it as well: Shocking Tel Aviv University Statement Defending Bulldozer Archaeology. Now it gets silli(er) as the Emmy Award Winning Professor has blogged the following at his own blog (I’ve left his links in):

An archaeological controversy has erupted in Israel which has serious implications for anyone interested in the history of the Holy land. At the center of the controversy is Professor Yuval Goren from Tel Aviv University. Goren has a PhD. in petrography, which is a branch of petrology that focuses on detailed descriptions of rocks. Though he doesn’t have a graduate degree in archaeology, he de facto works as an archaeologist. A few months ago, Goren shocked an audience at Tel Aviv University by proudly featuring his method of archaeological excavation using a Caterpillar bulldozer.

Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) dubbed Professor Goren’s technique as “Cater-pillaging”. Archaeologists normally dig with spades and toothbrushes. The position of every coin is important for identifying strata and for dating. Every pottery shard and its location can influence the overall understanding of the site. But at Tel Socoh, where Goren is digging, the archaeology was going slowly and Goren decided to speed things up. That’s where the bulldozer came in. Clearly, bulldozers are not conventional archaeological tools, and Professor Goren came under severe criticism. Dr. Robert Deutsch took an uncompromising stance against the practice and I have been blogging against it as well (here and here). Now, in BAR’s latest issue, someone has once again anonymously published an ad featuring Professor Goren and his bulldozer. Goren has reacted with anger calling the ad “defamatory” and some colleagues at Tel Aviv University have posted a defense of the practice. [...]

… an almost identical (if not actually identical) post is at the Times of Israel site as well: Bulldozer Archaeology

So now it’s time to comment … it ain’t a bulldozer. It’s a front end loader with a bucket scoop/backhoe on the back. No, you probably wouldn’t use a bulldozer for archaeology, because it has a big blade on the front and is used for grading and pushing large quantities of dirt (etc.), not digging. As for using bucket scoops in archaeology, anyone who has watched Time Team will know that use of such buckets are common enough and there are plenty of images on the web of same.  Heck, if you want to go to the AIA’s Ask the Experts page, you can read this:

What tools do archaeologists use for excavation?
Archaeologists use a great variety of tools for excavation, depending on the nature of the area in which they are working. The most common digging tools are picks, shovels, and trowels. In areas where there is a lot of sediment or dirt over the sites, archaeologists sometimes use heavy equipment like bulldozers and back hoes, but only to remove earth that shows no signs of human remains. If excavation will be a delicate operation, as during the careful cleaning away of soil from a damaged painting or human skull, archaeologists use dental picks, spoons, brushes, or anything that works. They often improvise based on the situation in which they find themselves.

For our purposes, however, it should suffice to link to this one from the BETHSAIDA EXCAVATIONS of which Professor Jacobovici is a co-director (although that was a recent gig … this photo is apparently from 2010):

Whaaaaaa?  Is that a front end loader with a bucket attached? Or maybe it’s just a bucket scoop on its own. Say it ain’t so! Perhaps Dr Rami Arav can school his co-director in the ways of archaeology …

Come on guys … in the right hands, a front end loader/bucket  is a perfectly legit archaeological tool … a massive ego isn’t.

… we now return to our regular programming.

UPDATE (the next day): Tip o’ the pileus to Joseph Lauer for drawing our attention to BAR’s most recent comment in this little saga: BAR Accused of Publishing “Defamatory” Ad

UPDATE II (A couple days later): See now Robert Cargill’s exceptionally thorough piece on this whole thing … very eye-opening: One Big Balagan: Robert Deutsch, Simcha Jacobovici, and their Campaign of Misinformation against Prof. Yuval Goren

Diagnostical Skepticism

Hot on the heels of the Odysseus in America post comes this item from Anesthesiology News:

Sing, O Muse, of the rage of Achilles, of Peleus’ son, murderous, man-killer, fated to die of massive hemorrhage secondary to an acute laceration of the calcaneal tendon, indicating the likely presence of an inherited coagulopathy such as hemophilia or von Willebrand disease. (Note: The patient’s parentage—half mortal, half immortal—could have predisposed him to yet-undescribed clotting disorders.)

Classicists who devote their lives to the analysis of ancient texts such as Homer’s Iliad tend to be skeptical of physician historians who examine these literary works for insight into ancient medical practices—and who, in the process, come up with post hoc diagnoses such as the mockery above. And they’re evidently right to be wary.

An anesthesiologist and a pair of classicists have identified numerous errors in the methods and conclusions drawn by several medical researchers about medicine during the time of The Iliad. The researchers, from Wake Forest University, in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Temple University, in Philadelphia, presented their findings at the 2012 annual meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists (abstract 1320).

Lead author and anesthesiologist Raymond C. Roy, MD, PhD, said that five of the six articles published from 2000 to 2010 discussing medical care in The Iliad fell into common traps. Mistakes included incorrect assumptions that Homer was an eyewitness reporter of actual events and real injuries, that accurate comparisons could be made to modern-day medical care based on limited descriptions, that there was a one-to-one relationship between ancient Greek and modern English medical terms, that medical care was organized then as it is now, and that physicians provided care to wounded heroes during the Trojan War.

Dr. Roy said his interest in the subject was stimulated by his daughter and her husband, both classicists at Temple University in Philadelphia. “We have engaged in some very interesting discussions over the coffee and drinks regarding ancient Greek medicine and current perceptions of it,” he said. “It has been fun to have this project with my children and to be ‘forced’ to read The Iliad … and a monograph by Salazar. Our thesis was that physicians who ‘dabble’ in history, like myself, frequently fall into traps that lead classicists to be critical of our conclusions.”

The epic poem about gods, heroes and heroic wounding and death near the end of the war stems from an oral tradition. Estimates of when it was composed (1184-675 B.C.) and first recorded (800-675 B.C.) range widely, and there are multiple versions of the work.

All accounts of Homer’s life place him centuries after the Trojan War. However, physician researchers have written: “We are amazed by Homer’s meticulous account of the wounds inflicted to combatants” and “it may therefore be inferred that Homer was a witness of the war and that he even participated in it: he may have been one of the people appointed to nurse wounds of the injured warriors.”

Other comments revealed a lack of knowledge about the practice of medicine in the period. Those included a reference to the likelihood that anesthetic procedure was already present in ancient Greece as well as the statement: “Numerous findings indicate that Greek physicians were present on the battlefield.”

Dr. Roy and his team point out that there were no field hospitals, and surgical instruments were rarely found at archeological digs of Bronze Age battles. With regard to anesthetics, salves were applied after, not during, an arrowhead extraction. Disease was left untreated because it was believed to be inflicted by the gods, and healing temples appeared after Homer. Healers took orders from heroes and could only treat non-heroes—only heroes had the status to treat other heroes. In fact, the primary function of the healers was to fight.

Medical terms that appear in modern translations present added red herrings, Dr. Roy said, “Classics like The Iliad are constantly evolving as each translator chooses more modern words, terms and concepts based on knowledge acquired since the previous translations, and this evolution has the effect of attributing more understanding by the ancients than they actually had.” For example, sinews, tendons, nerves, arteries and veins have all been used in place of the ancient term neuron, he said.

The authors conclude that for reasons ranging from national pride to the projecting of modern beliefs and knowledge onto the past, physicians who otherwise are rigorous in their scientific and medical endeavors tend to be naively positive in their analysis of the quality and efficacy of ancient treatments as encountered in classics. Although medical training can aid in the analysis of ancient healing practices, Dr. Roy warned, “Physicians writing historical articles about medicine in ancient times need to collaborate with classicists, archeologists and full-time historians to avoid drawing conclusions that are at odds with facts.”

That final paragraph should become some sort of mantra … you can substitute the non-classics profession of your choice for “Physician” as you desire …

Odysseus in America Redux

We’ve had this nuttiness before and once again, it comes from the Greek Reporter:

Dr. Enrico Mattievich, a retired Professor of Physics from the UFRJ, Brazil, suggested in 2011 that Odysseus’s journey to the Underworld took actually place in South America. The river Acheron was the Amazon, after a long voyage upstream Odysseus met the spirits of the dead at the confluence of the Rio Santiago and Rio Marañon.

In his book, Journey to the Mythological Inferno, which is a historical non-Fiction winners’ book, Mattievich exposes his thesis on ancient contacts between the Old World and America, based on Greek and Roman classical texts, leading to new ideas about America that many historians and geographers have been reluctant to consider until now.

Some time ago, the writer and archaeologist Henriette Mertz suggested that the legendary voyage of Odysseus and his ship’s crew, after the Trojan War – narrated in Homer’s Odyssey – would be a trip across the Atlantic, from the Gibraltar Straits to North America. She also suggested that the Argonauts could have navigated down to the South Atlantic Ocean, passed the mouth of the Amazon River to Rio de la Plata, and, following it upstream, reached Bolivian Altiplano and Thiaguanaco. Dr. Christine Pellech also suggested that Odyssey’s voyage to the Kingdom of the Dead was a real trip to America.

The thesis presented in the Journey to the Mythological Inferno claims that Greek and Roman myths related to the Underworld, the House of Hades, the Kingdom of the Dead or the Inferno, originated in South America, specifically in the Andean region of Peru, where the ruins of the Palace of Hades and Persephone, mentioned in Hesiod’s Theogony – written around 700 B.C. – still stand, known as Chavín de Huántar. This theory took form after Mattievich’s first visit to the archaeological site of Chavín de Huántar, in 1981.

In his book, Mattievich presents classical literature texts, such as Ovid’s Metamorphosis, that relate to the knowledge of America. The Cadmus myth, written by Ovid, for example, is estimated to be a myth immortalizing the heroic feat of the discovery and conquest of the Amazon River by the Phoenicians. The prehistoric presence of Phoenician navigators along the coast and rivers of Brazil, could be confirmed by hundreds of engraved inscriptions on rocks– called itacoatiaras – by natives of Brazil, where it’s often possible to recognize archaic Semitic and proto-Greek characters. The same name Brazil, according to Professor Cyrus Gordon, comes from the vocable brzl, used by Canaanites to denote iron.

… back in November, they gave the same basic story: Odysseus in America? … it’s genuinely difficult to take this news source seriously at times. And once again I marvel how an outsider (retired physics guy) seems to be taken seriously in a matter clearly outside his purview. Maybe I should write how I proved string theory or something …

Ancient Roman Hidden Under Fresco? Maybe … Maybe Not

As can be seen by the numerous posts from the Classical blogosphere, I’m in catchup mode after a hectic week and one item which has been bugging me big time is a report about a talk given at the American Chemical Society … we’ll deal with the press release version:

In the latest achievement in efforts to see what may lie underneath the surface of great works of art, scientists today described the first use of an imaging technology like that used in airport whole-body security scanners to detect the face of an ancient Roman man hidden below the surface of a wall painting in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

They described unveiling the image, which scientists and art historians say may be thousands of years old, during the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society. The meeting, with almost 12,000 presentations, continues here through Thursday.

J. Bianca Jackson, Ph.D., who reported on the project, explained that it involved a fresco, which is a mural or painting done on a wall after application of fresh plaster. In a fresco, the artist’s paint seeps into the wet plaster and sets as the plaster dries. The painting becomes part of the wall. The earliest known frescoes date to about 1500 B.C. and were found on the island of Crete in Greece.

“No previous imaging technique, including almost half a dozen commonly used to detect hidden images below paintings, forged signatures of artists and other information not visible on the surface has revealed a lost image in this fresco,” Jackson said. “This opens to door to wider use of the technology in the world of art, and we also used the method to study a Russian religious icon and the walls of a mud hut in one of humanity’s first settlements in what was ancient Turkey.”

The technology is a new addition to the palette that art conservators and scientists use to see below the surface and detect changes, including fake signatures and other alterations in a painting. Termed terahertz spectroscopy, it uses beams of electromagnetic radiation that lie between microwaves, like those used in kitchen ovens, and the infrared rays used in TV remote controls. This radiation is relatively weak, does not damage paintings and does not involve exposure to harmful radiation.

“Terahertz technology has been in use for some time, especially in quality control in the pharmaceutical industry to assure the integrity of pills and capsules, in biomedical imaging and even in homeland security with those whole-body scanners that see beneath clothing at airport security check points,” said Jackson, who is now with the University of Rochester. “But its use in examining artifacts and artworks is relatively new.”

Artists, including some of the great masters, sometimes re-used canvases, wiping out the initial image or covered old paintings with new works. They often did this in order to avoid the expense of buying a new canvas or to enhance colors and shapes in a prior composition. Frescoes likewise got a refresh, especially when the originals faded, owners tired of the image on the wall or property changed hands

The scientists turned to terahertz technology when suspicions surfaced that a hidden image might lie beneath the brushstrokes of a precious 19th century fresco, Trois homes armés de lances, in the Louvre’s Campana collection. Giampietro Campana was an Italian art collector in the 1800s whose treasures are now on display in museums around the world. When Campana acquired a work of art, he sometimes restored damaged parts or reworked the original. Art historians believe that Campana painted Trois homes armés de lances after the fresco was removed from its original wall in Italy and entered his collection.

Jackson said that Campana’s painting in itself is valuable, and the terahertz revelations may have added value by showing that an authentic Roman fresco lies under it.

To search for a hidden image, Jackson and colleagues, including Gerard Mourou, Ph.D., of Ècole Polytechnique, and Michel Menu, Ph.D., of the Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France, and Vincent Detalle, of the Laboratoire Recherche des Monuments Historiques, probed it with terahertz technology. The process is slow, requiring a few hours to analyze a section the size of a sheet of paper.

“We were amazed, and we were delighted,” said Jackson. “We could not believe our eyes as the image materialized on the screen. Underneath the top painting of the folds of a man’s tunic, we saw an eye, a nose and then a mouth appear. We were seeing what likely was part of an ancient Roman fresco, thousands of years old.”

Who is the man in the fresco? An imperial Roman senator? A patrician? A plebian? A great orator? A ruler who changed the course of history? Or just a wealthy, egotistical landowner who wanted to admire his image on the wall?

Jackson is leaving those questions to art historians. The team already has moved ahead and used terahertz technology to study a Russian religious icon and the walls of a mud hut in one of the earliest known human settlements in what now is the country of Turkey.

This research was funded by the European Commission’s 7th Framework Program project CHARISMA (grant agreement no. 228330) and in part by AHRC/EPSRC Science and Heritage Programme. Access was provided by the Louvre Museum and the Institute Nationale Patrimoine.

The original report includes a photo:

via the American Chemical Society

As might be expected, this is getting a pile of press attention and blog attention as well, but near as I can tell, it’s either a really badly written article and folks are overlooking that fact, or we’re just being dealt a bunch of hooey (more likely the former). As the article states, Giampietro Campana was a collector; what it doesn’t really tell us is that some of his collection was ‘restored’ in a way which was rather sketchy, from a preservation point of view. What is missing from this article are some details which are included in a rather interesting French article by Delphine Burot at CeroArt which was written, apparently, while the testing was being done. The relevant excerpt:

L’observation des œuvres précédemment citées et de la façon dont elles ont été restaurées au musée Campana laisse penser que les restaurateurs qui travaillaient pour le marquis avaient à leur disposition un grand nombre de fragments d’enduit romain antique, qui constituait une réserve dans laquelle ils pouvaient puiser pour combler une lacune dans une peinture, ou pour en fabriquer d’autres. Car les autres peintures de la collection, reconstruites elles aussi à partir de fragments, sont à la limite de la falsification tant la part de recréation par les restaurateurs de Campana est grande. Si l’on excepte deux ou trois œuvres, comme la Primavera, sur laquelle nous reviendrons, la plupart des peintures ont été fabriquées à partir de quelques fragments peints, dont le motif a été extrapolé de façon à réaliser une composition entière, donc présentable.

Ainsi, la peinture des Trois hommes armés de lances a été reconstruite à partir de trois fragments peints montrant des visages, et de quelques autres fragments portant une inscriptionLe reste de l’œuvre est constitué par la réunion de plusieurs fragments placés de façon aléatoire sur un support de plâtre, et sur lesquels a été peinte la composition imaginée par le restaurateur : trois hommes debout côte à côte, vêtus de longs manteaux colorés et tenant des lances. Le placement de l’inscription dans la partie supérieure de l’œuvre ajoute une part de mystère à la composition. L’étude attentive des fragments a permis de voir qu’ils appartenaient presque tous à un même ensemble. Le restaurateur n’a pas pu trouver, ou n’a pas pris le temps de chercher la composition d’origine, ni les jonctions entre les fragments. Il a préféré les disposer rapidement sur un lit de plâtre et n’en garder que les parties qui l’intéressaient le plus, à savoir les visages les mieux conservés et une partie de l’inscription. D’autres lettres, lacunaires, appartenant vraisemblablement à l’inscription ont été placées dans la partie inférieure, et, grâce à un examen au Terahertz, des motifs peints (peut-être des visages) ont été repérés sous les repeints qui constituent les vêtements des trois hommes.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who scratched his head at the claim, but as can be seen from the French article, all that Campana’s restorers were actually working with was three heads; they filled in the plaster randomly and painted/restored it as seemed right to them. That explains why there’s a weird sort of sideways “Roman” head revealed by the new technology. Even then, however, whether that is a face is open to question near as I can tell … facebook friends will know that I regularly criticize claims of finding pareidolia of this or that religious figure in this or that domestic object, fruit, tortilla, or whatever and we might be dealing with a similar situation here. If it is a face, I see a beard, and if there is a beard, we’re probably not dealing with a Roman. That said, and taking into account this sort of ‘random’ filling in of things which we are told about in the Burlot article, why did the scanning only detect that one little thing? Shouldn’t there (in theory) be a pile of random lines or whatever? Does anyone know if this presented paper has been published yet?

Simcha’s Supposed Smoking Templar Firearms

As many longtime rogueclassicism and Explorator readers know, when Easter comes around we usually get one or two claims of varying degrees of credulity having to do with the crucifixion and/or resurrection of Jesus (Explorator readers, e.g., will be getting the latest Shroud of Turin news this weekend). A frequent forayer in this particular milieu is Professor Simcha Jacobovici of Huntington University fame. This year, however, Professor Jacobovici took a somewhat odd turn by riffing on a documentary which appeared on the History Channel relating to assorted (familiar) claims relating to the Templars (Tracking the Templars). He latched onto the image of a coin of some King John and linked it to the first set of Talpiot tombs … ecce:

via SimchajTV

To make a short story even shorter, Professor Jacobovici is now taking his stories into Holy-Blood-Holy-Grail-land and is suggesting a link between his Talpiot tomb and the Templars. You can read about it in more detail here: Smoking Templar Gun. James Tabor has added a bit of detail as well here: John of Brienne, Templar “King of Jerusalem” and the Talpiot “Jesus” Tomb, although he is a bit more conservative in terms of conclusions.

In case you’re wondering what the heck I’m talking about, that little circle in the triangle on John’s crown and on the Talpiot tomb are supposedly a ‘connection’. One very detailed bit of criticism worth reading is Jason Colavito’s spin, which looks at various medieval crowns:What Was Scott Wolter’s “Templar” Coin?.

Quibus rebus cognitis, for what it’s worth, I didn’t intend to blog about this at all — it seems clearly outside of our purview there didn’t seem to be a Classical connection. But then I was stuck in the car this past weekend, on a long road trip back from visiting the protoclassicist, and it struck me that what James Tabor ended his piece with almost/unintentionally hit the point:

There is a much earlier coin of William I “The Conquerer” (1066-1087), minted around 1070 that seems to show the King wearing some kind of crown but with a “temple” like facade behind his head that has some similarities to the Chevron and circle imagery.

Why do we call this ‘chevron and circle’ when even those who see ‘chevron and circle’ can connect it to a temple? Why aren’t we — instead of trying to leap twelve centuries to make a link — looking at some of the coinage from the first couple centuries A.D.? Check this 2nd century coin (one of several) from Pseudo-Autonomous:

via the coinproject

We can list other coins with a circle-in-pediment design (sometimes called a shield rather than a circle) with less ‘pseudo’ images: Alexander Severus, Caracalla, Augustus, and Maxentius (the latter used the image a LOT).

So let’s take the next logical step and suggest that the circle-and-chevron is actually some sort of shorthand for the facade of a temple. Would it be used in a tomb situation? We can point to the 4th century B.C./B.C.E. rock-cut tombs at Kaunos, perhaps, although they technically have a ‘square’ in the pediment:

via Wikipedia

… but the general idea is there. So what, then,  would be a more logical progression: using a tomb facade on a rock cut tomb in imitation of generic temples (even if they might be pagan) seen in coins and probably in countless necropoleis in the Eastern Mediterranean, or make it a specifically-crypto-Christian symbol that the Templars were aware of and passed on (of course) to the Priory of Zion yadda yadda yadda. It’s a generic temple facade, not a ‘templar’ facade. I think we need to start emphasizing a ‘Hellenized Jew’ spin in opposition to Professor Jacobovici’s claims.

Cleopatra Murdered? Hmmmm ….

Just saw this post by author Pat Brown, who is promoting her work via the Huffington Post … here’s the incipit:

For 2000 years, historians and Egyptologists have written of Cleopatra VII’s death in 30 BCE, repeating again and again the tale that the last pharaoh of Egypt committed suicide along with her two handmaidens soon after the conquering of her country by Rome.

There has been little dissension in the ranks; Cleopatra is believed to have taken her life to prevent the victorious Roman general Octavian from carrying her back to Rome in chains and humiliating her by displaying her in his triumph. Yet, I have taken a radically different view of this episode of history and that puts me in the rather risky position of upsetting a very beloved apple cart in a field I am not even a part of. But, I cannot back off because I believe that Cleopatra has been misunderstood and misrepresented throughout the last two millennia. I believe the evidence supports my theory that Cleopatra was murdered and that the events leading up to her death are not the ones that have been reported for centuries.

I recently gave a talk on my book at the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) in Washington DC and after I shared my theory of Cleopatra’s life and death with the audience, a woman raised her hand.

“I don’t mean to be rude, but why do you think your theory holds any water if none of the great minds of academia and none of the seasoned historians of the Egyptian and European past have ever come up with your conclusions? ” In other words, who am I to question such authority? Do I consider myself to be smarter than all these other people?

The answer to the latter question is clearly, “No, I am not all that brilliant,” and those who know me well will vouch for my IQ being quite normal; I doubt I have an invitation on the way to join Mensa in the near future. But, I do have something which many in the field of history do not; a way of looking at events from a completely different vantage point – through the eyes of a criminal profiler. I also am not beholden to any mindset or to historical tradition or to any institution. I am free to analyze Cleopatra and her life from a very new perspective, one based on evidence – forensic, behavioral, archeological, cultural, political and historical. I am free to question everything and everyone and to accept and assume nothing. [...]

… I’m going to suspend judgement on this one until I can get a copy of the book (why is there no Kindle edition?). We should remind folks, however, the bit of revisionism from a couple of years ago suggesting drugs rather than asps might be involved (assorted links gathered together here: Death of Cleopatra Revisionism Followup). I must mention, however, that there seems to be a certain arrogance in Brown’s claims of ‘superior knowledge’ and the tenor of her post in general … I do want to see how she handles the ancient accounts, however, as I myself am free to question everything and everyone and to accept and assume nothing — as are the vast majority of the professional scholars who have dealt with this question, believe it or not (he muttered, sarcastically). I do get weary of ‘outsiders’ claiming those who do ancient historical research for a living are necessarily doing flawed research that isn’t based on evidence. Judging from the tenor of the Huffington Post piece, I would be surprised if I wasn’t  labelled a part of some sort of sleeper cell of Plutarchian theology or some such. Still, it will be useful to see that Brown brings to the discussion …

UPDATE (a few minutes later): here’s Pat Brown’s background (via the ARCE DC chapter’s page about her talk … not sure how long it will be there):

Pat Brown is a nationally known criminal profiler, television commentator, author, and founder and CEO of The Sexual Homicide Exchange (SHE) and The Pat Brown Criminal Profiling Agency.

Pat has provided crime commentary, and profiling and forensic analysis in over one thousand television and radio appearances in the United States and across the globe. She can be seen regularly on the Cable Television news programs MSNBC, CNN, and FOX, and is a frequent guest of  Nancy Grace, America’s Most Wanted, and The Montel Williams Show.

Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Latest

This one’s just starting to make the rounds and likely won’t get too much attention. CNN’s Belief Blog has an update of sorts on the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife thing, especially as regards the testing, which, of course, we all await with bated breath. Inter alia:

[...] A dealer took the fragment to King for analysis and translation in 2011. The dealer wishes to remain anonymous, she said.

“We’re moving ahead with the testing, but it is not yet complete, and so the article will await until we have the results,” King said in an email to CNN.

“The owner of the fragment has been making arrangements for further testing and analysis of the fragment, including testing by independent laboratories with the resources and specific expertise necessary to produce and interpret reliable results. This testing is still underway,” Kathyrn Dodgson, director of communications for the Harvard Divinity School, said in a email to CNN.

“Harvard Theological Review is planning to publish Professor King’s paper after conclusion of all the testing so that the results may be incorporated,” Dodgson said. “Until testing is complete, there is nothing more to say at this point.” [...]

As presented, this is a little misleading. The owner of the fragment didn’t just bring the fragment “for analysis and translation”. He (or she) is trying to sell a collection of papyri to Harvard, something which seems often to be missed in all these discussion. At the close of an article in Harvard Magazine, e.g., we see:

The collector (who told King he wishes to remain anonymous to avoid being hounded by people who want to buy the fragment) has recently offered to give it to Harvard as part of a purchase of a substantial portion of his collection. He has told King that the discovery made him realize that these types of things needed to be in the hands of libraries and universities where they could be properly studied and not disappear into private collections. Harvard is now formally deciding if it wishes to acquire the collection.

In his notice of this ‘update’ (GJW update), Jim Davila expresses concern that it is the collector who is having the testing done and wonders whether we will get an answer to the authenticity question. This is a valid concern and we similarly would like more details about who is doing the testing and whether they are legit etc.. But now we do see why this testing has been taking so long — if we put this in the context of Harvard buying the fragment, it is clearly up to the seller to produce the proof of its authenticity and clearly Harvard has listened to the blogosphere in regards to questions thereof. Then again, it seems likely that this sort of thing might be standard procedure whenever there is doubt cast. The longer the owner-initiated testing takes, of course, the more doubt can be cast on the authenticity. For my part, I am beginning to doubt whether we’ll ever hear of test results.

In case you’ve missed the saga (in chronological order):

New Year’s Toasting Redux

We haven’t read claims of the Roman origins of toasting — especially that once-common, and spurious, claim about putting a piece of burnt bread in wine to make it taste better  — for a while, but it seems that the latter-day mythologizers persist in wanting to somehow connect toasting to the Romans. The latest is a piece at NPR (for shame) which has a couple of questionable (perhaps) claims:

“There’s a thin line between history and folklore,” says historian Paul Dickson. He should know. He wrote a book about toasting called Toasts: Over 1,500 of the Best Toasts, Sentiments, Blessings and Graces. “But toasting definitely goes back to the ancient world.”

Ulysses drank to the health of Achilles in The Odyssey, he says. And in Rome, drinking to someone’s health was so important that the Senate demanded that all diners drink to their emperor, Augustus, before every meal.

… thin line indeed, and it seems to be crossed here. Near as I can tell, Achilles’ only appearance in the Odyssey is in book 11 and it’s as a shade of the dead. There is no toasting by Odysseus (why is he always Ulysses in US newspapers) … does Achilles appear elsewhere in a toast-worthy situation? As for the drinking to Augustus, I’d love to hear a source for that … so vague as to be meaningless and if thought about for even a few seconds, it makes no sense (enforceable? penalties? What about folks who couldn’t afford wine with their meal? Did it apply to drunks in tabernae?).

If you’re wondering about the ‘burnt toast’ thing:

Catching Up With the Jordan Codices

I’ve almost got my inbox to zero and finally have a chance to give attention to some things that are a few weeks old. Back at the end of November, the BBC was hyping an exposeish show about David Elkington:

Questions have been raised over the claims of a self-styled archaeologist who is arguing that a set of supposedly ancient Christian books is genuine.

David Elkington, from Gloucestershire, has raised tens of thousands of pounds to support his work proving the authenticity of the Jordan Codices.

A BBC investigation found that academics have cast doubt on Mr Elkington’s claims the codices date back to the 1st Century AD.

Mr Elkington insists the codices are genuine and he will pay back any loans he has received.

Among his backers was Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia, who funded his work and trips to the Middle East.

Film planned

She now believes the codices are not authentic and has asked for the return of her funding.

Mr Elkington’s companies have also received thousands of pounds from investors over the years for a film project, which he says is now on hold.

He now plans to release a book about the codices, called Divine Revelation, and to produce a film based on it. He has also tried to raise sponsorship in America.

Mr Elkington, 50, claims to have previously published a “highly-acclaimed academic thesis” and to have trained under a curator of the Petrie Museum in London.

His book was a self-published work and the woman he trained under was never the curator of the Petrie museum.

He says he has a team of international experts working on the codices but was only prepared to offer the names of two academics currently advising him. They declined to comment.

The codices were found in Jordan but are currently held in Israel.

The Israel Antiquities Authority has examined some of the codices and a spokesman said: “They were shown to experts on the period; all the experts absolutely doubted their authenticity.”

The Jordanian government has yet to make an official announcement.

However, Dr Peter Thonemann, a lecturer in ancient history at Oxford University, said: “I’m as certain as it is possible to be that this entire body of codices are modern fakes. I would stake my academic reputation on it.”


Robert Feather, an author who has also seen the collection, is also sceptical about Mr Elkington’s claims the codices are ancient Christian texts.

He said: “While David Elkington continues to push the idea that these are incredibly important early Christian documents then speculation will be rife and the story will go on and on.”

In a statement, Mr Elkington and his wife said: “We acknowledge a small personal debt owed to (Princess) Elizabeth, which has never been disputed and will be paid back in full.

“David has never claimed to have had any formal qualifications and has been largely self-taught and has worked as an independent scholar. He has always been upfront about this.”

… since that time, the segment of the program (Inside Out West) has made it to Youtube and is definitely worth watching if you’ve been following this story:

In case that gets taken down, here’s the skinny/random notes I scrawled down as I watched:

  • Elkington is referred to as “Gloucester’s own Indiana Jones” … the IJ epithet increasingly seems to mark out folks making outlandish claims
  • Robert Feather and Elkington have had a “falling out” over how the codices were to be “exploited”
  • Feather shows a couple of the codices of the 70 or so he’s seen; he doubts the authenticity of these two in particular
  • Peter Thonemann is willing to stake his reputation that all of them are fakes
  • Apparently Elkington accepted that verdict, but thought that others were genuine
  • Elkington is clinging to the claim that the lead is old and has a team of experts
  • Philip Davis of Sheffield declined to be interviewed
  • Margaret Barker would only take part if she wasn’t edited in any way; the BBC declined
  • then we get all the ‘death threats’ etc., that was part of the story ages ago
  • Elkington was trying to raise money to get things moving
  • Nice segment questioning Elkington’s self-claimed credentials
  • Elkington’s “estranged son from a former marriage” comments on his father’s predeliction for story-telling and the sensationalization of the whole story
  • Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia apparently has lent Elkington “tens of thousands of pounds”, but now has had a falling out as well
  • Elkington declined to appear on camera but issued a statement which attempts to explain some of the discrepancies (not very well)

In other words, Elkington’s credibility seems to be completely and totally shot at this point. We should also point out that just prior to the airing of this program, a pile of photos and posts were taken down from the Jordan Codices facebook page (which undoubtedly was/is an Elkington production).

… and just to ‘catch up’ a bit more, here’s some bloggery worth reading:

Socrates Bashing

I came across these a while ago … figured someone would want to read them. They’re a series about why Socratic philosophy is overrated by someone called ‘Richard in Japan’:

… not sure there’s anything ‘new’ here; seem to be some pretty standard criticisms.