Peter O’Tombarolo?

I’m sure many readers of rogueclassicism were saddened to read of the death of Peter O’Toole this past weekend, especially considering how many ‘classical’ roles he played. Indeed, I was one of many folks on Twitter retweeting obits and the like … all of which makes the following somewhat disturbing/uncomfortable. The Guardian has a thing wherein Malcolm McDowell (of Caligula fame, natch) is reminiscing about his experiences with O’Toole on the set. Inter alia we read:

I do recall one particular night shoot… We were called to the set at four o’clock in the afternoon. As usual, nothing was ready. They’d built a set of Tiberius’s grotto, on three acres, and were assembling all of the extras and background. The producers worriedly asked if I would go into Peter’s trailer (he was playing Tiberius) and go through the lines with him, which we did few times.

And then he told me the most remarkable story – whether it is true or not I have no idea – about his grave-robbing Etruscan tombs. He said the best way to find Etruscan jewellery and artefacts was to find the drains in the tombs, and very gingerly sift through them with your fingers because, as the bodies decompose, all of the artifacts deposit themselves into the channels. The thought of Peter O’Toole on his hands and knees in an Etruscan catacomb makes for a lovely image. […]

A lovely image? It gets a bit more sinister … Sian Philips’ Public Places: My Life in the Theater, with Peter O’Toole and Beyond, which is available at Google Books. Check this excerpt (from Chapter 20) out:

otoole1 copy

Is this something that Classicists were aware of? Should someone be looking into these Etruscan-associated activities?

Mysteries at the UPenn Museum

From Penn News:

A select group of local young authors is looking to unlock a mystery.

Following in the footsteps of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who penned Sherlock Holmes, or Agatha Christie, who wrote Murder on the Orient Express, a small group of up-and-coming mystery writers headed to the Penn Museum in April to research a historic whodunit: “The Mystery of the 26 Helmets.”

In the 6th Century B.C., Etruscan traders set out on a journey to transport 26 new solid cast bronze helmets manufactured in the City of Vulci (northwest of Rome). They were headed to the town of Negau, located in what’s now Slovenia, which is situated to the north and east of Italy.

They made it past the Alps. And they were never seen again.

The traders disappeared – and so did their 26 helmets.

That is, until the 1800s, when a German archaeologist was digging in a nearby forest. The archeological dig yielded the untouched 26 bronze cast helmets, carefully packed in a wooden chest and buried six feet under the forest floor.

What happened to the Etruscan traders? How could they just simply vanish? What would cause them to bury these 26 helmets so deep underground in the forest? Was foul play involved? Were shenanigans afoot?

The mystery writers-to-be are planning to answer those questions and more.

As a part of a new, 90-minute interactive educational program, seven fifth-grade students from the Henry C. Lea Elementary School were selected for this special activity. Their goal was to visit the artifacts in the Penn Museum’s Etruscan Gallery and strengthen their creative writing skills by tying in elements of mystery and historical fiction based on actual events.

These seven were chosen from among 30 students in two 5th grade classes at Lea.

According to their teacher, these students have really grown as writers.

“They were really excited about creative writing, but more importantly, they represent Lea’s shining stars,” says Lindsey Coyne, a fifth- grade teacher at Lea Elementary. “We’re so thankful that Penn has opened its doors to us,” she adds.. “We walked here, and we’re exposing them to all of this history and culture at the museum, just a few blocks away.”

Penn’s many activities involving the Lea School reflect President Amy Gutmann’s institutional priorities, including the University’s commitment to local engagement.

The students will weave historical facts throughout their mysteries, and what they learned at the Penn Museum will help them to generate ideas for their story settings, characters and plot developments.

Benjamin Ashcom, a docent for the Etruscan Gallery and Roman Gallery at the Museum, provided background information to the students about the Etruscans and their culture. He talked about how the Etruscans did not have an organized military, but if the city was threatened, all males would serve as soldiers to defend it. He told the students of the Etruscans’ resources, how they had access to the copper mines to make bronze armor, art and hardware and how the society had many factories to produce shoes, fabrics, gold, jewelry, pottery, ships, chariots and wagons.

Ashcom delved into how implements of war and their production and manufacturing were highly profitable – and how the Etruscans were an entrepreneurial bunch, selling their wares to the Greeks, Romans and even their sworn enemy, the Gauls.

Now the students are armed with a review of the facts, it’s up to them to “fill in the blanks” in this unique creative writing activity, which is a part of a mystery-writing unit, based on the common-core standards.

Ashcom provided printed background information, including photographs of artifacts, and regional maps to encourage the students to start thinking like historians –- or, at least, like historical fiction writers –- in order to recreate the story leading up to the disappearance of the Etruscan traders and their 26 helmets.

“Your imagination is the only thing that counts,” Ashcom told the class.

He distributed faux coins featuring the Greek goddess Athena, the goddess of wisdom, inspiration and the arts, so that students could have them nearby to stimulate creativity as they write their stories. And, he gave each student three passes for free admission to the Penn Museum, so they can share the source of their mysterious, historical, creative-writing adventure with their loved ones.

Ashcom says that he’s looking forward to reading each version of “The Mystery of the 26 Helmets,” which may be on display in the Penn Museum or at the Lea School.

The students plan to start writing their stories this week.

… and interesting assignment … the Wikipedia article on the Negau Helmet will give you some more background on the actual artifact(s) …

Etruscan ‘Pyramids’ Beneath Orvieto?

Tip o’ the pileus to Explorator reader Don Buck for pointing us to a version of this story, which really should be getting wider attention. Here’s the version from St Anselm College:

Classics professor David George and a group of Saint Anselm students and alumni discovered for the first time a series of pyramidal structures under the city of Orvieto, Italy.

For 20 years, George has led students to archaeological dig sites to uncover the mysteries of the past including trips to Greece and most recently Castel Viscardo and Orvieto, towns in the southwest edge of Umbria, Italy.

This year, George and co-driector, Claudio Bizzarri of the Parco Archeogico Ambientale dell’Orvietanoas, an expert in Orvieto archaeology, worked at a second site in addition to the first at Castel Viscardo. There they discovered pyramids dating to at least the 5th Century BCE carved into the plateau rock on which Orvieto stands.

The archaeologists and students uncovered a series of Etruscan tunnels, 5th century BCE Etruscan pottery, as well as material dating back to 1200 BCE. George believes the subterranean pyramids were likely tombs or part of a sanctuary. He says there are no parallels to this anywhere in Italy.

“We know its not a quarry or a cistern; the walls are too well dressed to be a quarry and there is no evidence of mud which would point to a cistern. That leaves just a couple of things, some sort of a religious structure or a tomb, both of which are without precedent here,” says George.

At the time of their discovery, the structures were filled, covered by a top floor that had been modified for modern use, most currently, a wine cellar. Upon noting some Etruscan construction techniques in the stone stairwell, Drs. George and Bizzarri obtained a permit to dig deeper.

Excavating Pyramids

Excavation of the site began on May 21 where the group dug through a mid 20th century floor reaching a medieval floor. Immediately beneath this subfloor, George and Bizzarri with their team excavated a layer of fill containing materials and artifacts ranging from the middle of the 5th century BCE to 1000 BCE.

The archaeologists believe they are currently at least 12 meters from the bottom, having already dug down 5 meters. The Etruscan stone steps continue to descend and the group discovered a caniculo leading into the second pyramid. The site will sit idle until May 2013, when Drs. George and Bizzarri return with their crews.

What’s Next
In May 2013, George will also resume his work at the original site in Coriglia, near Castel Viscardo for his eighth season. You can read about George and his crew at Over the past seven seasons, they have uncovered evidence for occupation of the site dating from the 10th c. BCE all the way to the 16th c. CE (as well as random regalia from World War II). To date, the site’s strongest phases are Etruscan and Roman (Republican, Early Imperial, and Late Antique). This year they discovered an Etruscan foundation deposit dating to the 6th century BCE underneath one of the walls.

The original article has links to a flickr set of photos from the dig (including one which will, not doubt, have some group claiming the Egyptians were in Italy). There is also a link to this interview with Dr George by an Italian station taken inside the ‘pyramid’:

Also worth a look is the news and video coverage from WMUR:

In Search of a Missing Helmet

Interesting story in the Oxford Mail:

AN OXFORD archaeologist is facing one of the greatest challenges of his career, tracking down a 2,500-year-old Greek helmet that has been lost for 30 years.

In the early 1980s, Mensun Bound took part in the excavation of a 2,500-year-old Etruscan vessel off the island of Giglio, Italy.

But of the many artefacts he brought to the surface, the Oxford University archaeologist always felt the ancient wreck was robbed of its crowning glory.

A bronze helmet, believed to be worth millions, had already been taken by a German diver when the vessel was discovered 20 years earlier. Mr Bound has spent decades hot on its trail, and has now been asked by the Italians to head an international appeal to finally track it down.

They hope to house it in a museum on Giglio alongside artefacts from the wreck.

He tracked it down in Germany in 1982 when he traced the diver by phoning everybody of the same name. Because of its high value it was being kept in a bank.

Mr Bound photographed it, made drawings and even wore it. But it was to be the last time he saw it.

The 59-year-old, a research fellow at St Peter’s College, said: “It is hoped the museum will one day become a permanent home for the helmet, which is the most spectacular item ever to have come from the island and one of the most important finds made in Italy.
Related links

More Oxford news

“I have seen all the Greek helmets in existence, and this is by far the most beautiful. It is even more important because it comes from a known archaeological site of the very early 6th century BC.

“Beaten from a single sheet of bronze and decorated with snakes and wild boars, there is nothing else like it in the world. It is a masterpiece of ancient art and technology that could not be duplicated by a modern craftsman.”

Eight years ago, Mr Bound, who lives in Horspath, was asked by dealers to authenticate a helmet in Switzerland. But it never went to auction. Before he could fly over, the helmet had been sold in a private sale.

Mr Bound suspects the helmet is now in a private collection. The initial challenge is to find the owner before negotiations with the Italian authorities may begin.

The mayor of Giglio, Sergio Ortelli, said: “I’d like to talk to whoever has the helmet, and in the spirit of friendship, and on behalf of the people of Giglio, to ask for it back.

“And also to invite whoever has it to a ceremony to mark the return of our island’s lost treasure.”

I’m not sure if the helmet in question is the one which graced the cover of the January 1990 edition of Minerva (I don’t have access to read the article, alas).