That Crucifixion Nail

After a busy week, I can finally look into some of the things flittering across my twitterfeed and facing me on Facebook and filling my email box. Apparently, a nail believed to be from the crucifixion (not just any crucifixion, of course, although it seems to be mostly the headline writers who make this connection) has been found in a ‘former Templar stronghold’ in Portugal. Here’s an excerpt from the Telegraph coverage:

The four-inch long nail is thought to be one of thousands used in crucifixions across the Roman empire.

Archaeologists believe it dates from either the first or second century AD.

The nail was found last summer in a decorated box in a fort on the tiny isle of Ilheu de Pontinha, just off the coast of Madeira.

Pontinha was thought to have been held by the Knights Templar, the religious order that was part of the Christian forces which occupied Jerusalem during the Crusades in the 12th century.

The knights were part of the plot of Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, The Da Vinci Code.

Bryn Walters, an archaeologist, said the iron nail’s remarkable condition suggested it had been handed with extreme care, as if it was a relic.

“It dates from the first to second centuries,” he told the Daily Mirror.

While one would expect the surface to be “pitted and rough” he said on this nail the surface was smooth.

That suggested that many people had handled it over the centuries, with the acid on their hands giving it a “peculiar finish”.

Four inches is pretty substantial; most of the coverage includes this photo:

from the Telegraph

For comparanda purposes, we should obviously note the Givat Hamivtar nail, which currently resides in the Israel Museum and is (as far as I’m aware) our only genuine evidence of crucifixion using nails. Here’s a photo:

from the Israel Museum

That particular nail is 12 cm (a bit longer than this new find) and strikes me as ‘thicker’ in all its aspects, but that just might be the result of corrosion vel simm.. I think it’s safe to say this likely isn’t “from Christ’s crucifixion”, but it is possible the Templar types who owned it (if they did) probably believed that.

Here’s the coverage so far:

See also the interesting coverage/reactions on other points:

Roger Travis’ Latin Role Playing

Seen in the Chronicle:

A classics professor says students in his Latin classes are usually lousy translators of Horace and Ovid—mainly because they don’t understand the cultural references in their poetry.

So now the professor, Roger Mr. Travis Jr., requires students to do weekly role-playing exercises online to put themselves in the shoes (or sandals) of the ancient Romans.

For Mr. Travis, an associate professor of classics and ancient Mediterranean studies at the University of Connecticut, the experiment is part of a broader exploration of using games in the classroom, which he describes on his blog, Living Epic: Video Games in the Ancient World.

He has tried using virtual worlds in the past, where students can build avatars for their characters and move in video-game-like realms. But this semester he’s using Google Wave, and limiting interactions to text (and a few old maps he links to). Each week he creates a new discussion thread using the service, which lets multiple users collaborate on a shared online document. He begins with a fictional scenario related to the material students are learning. Then students, who have been assigned roles in advance, write how they would react to the situation.

Mr. Travis assigns what he calls Latinity Points to clever responses, and the role-playing exercise counts for about 20 percent of a student’s final grade in the course.

“You cannot undersand Latin without understanding Roman culture,” he said. “This is the best way I have ever found to actually get my students to pay attention to Roman culture.”

via Classics Professor Requires Latin Students to Play Ancient Roman Roles Online | The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Citanda: Whatever happened to classics?

Charlotte Higgins writes an interesting piece in Varsity … here’s the concluding bit:

The value of the classics, like the value of the arts, is difficult to articulate, verging on the intangible. Their value is about their very remoteness from ordinary life – the fact that they can provide a place where the intellect can range freely over subjects taken more or less in the abstract, rather than snagging on the barbs and hooks of the everyday. Their value is that they offer a playground for the imagination, in which our very disconnectedness from ancient Greece and Rome invites the willing mind to elaborate the gaps and lacunae. Their value is that they are removed from our busy, relevant, modern society and from the forces that conspire to factory-make mini-consumers in the guise of educating our children.

via Whatever happened to classics? | Varsity Online.