Purported Parthenon Pediment Image from ‘Bethsaida’: Followup

A few days ago we made mention of an article in Ha’aretz in which it was claimed that a fragment of ‘Apulian’ pottery from one of the sites in Israel identified as the ancient Bethsaida included an image from the pediment of the Parthenon in Athens (‘Parthenon Pediment’ Image from Bethsaida: Yeah … about that.). Our piece tracked down the original excavation report, questioned the identification as ‘Apulian Ware’, and also questioned the identification of the scene. Today we get another version of the story (tip o’ the pileus to Joseph Lauer for sending it along) from the Times of Israel which provides some clarification, but doesn’t really provide anything to support the ‘Parthenon Pediment’ connection.

The Times of Israel coverage (Imaging technology reveals birth of Athena on 2,300-year-old shard from Galilee) adds some important details, from the folks at U Nebraska (including director Rami Arav) who conducted the dig which recovered the fragment, inter alia:

The Bethsaida shard, said Arav, which is now black with an inner color of light brown or red, likely dates to 2nd century BCE. According to dig director Arav, the shard is what could be considered a contemporary knock off of “Apulian pottery,” a style of pottery painting which began in circa 7th century BCE based in southern Italy and has come to typify the archetypical “Grecian urn” look.

However, like today’s imitation “Gucci” cases that are made in Hong Kong not Italy, the Bethsaida copy of the Parthenon scene most likely originates from the Phoenician coast, said Arav.

So they don’t even think it was Apulian Ware; being generous, it would appear that Ha’aretz misheard what they were told.  We also note the caption to a very large photo of the shard in the Times of Israel:

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So the image that we’ve been looking is actually an image via Reflective Transformation Imaging, which explains its definitely non-Apulian appearance. The Times of Israel piece does include a nice little video on what RTI is (and chats with the photographer of the Bethsaida piece), but for its application to Greek pottery I’d suggest this lecture is rather more appropriate (via: Applications of Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) in a Fine Arts Museum: Examination, Documentation, and Beyond):

Watching that video and looking at RTI images of Greek pots suggests that the ‘Bethsaida’ piece is moulded and not incised, so any further identification (if any) will have to take that into account. Megarian Ware would be in play, but the ‘Phoenician Coast’ suggestion by Arav is probably in play as well.

Arav continues:

There is a lot to learn about the settlers of Bethsaida based on this pottery shard, said Arav.

“It tells me that in spite of being remote from Athens, Rome and the big cultural centers of the world of that time, and despite the fact that they did not have newspapers, radio, television, internet connection, and things that we think today that connects us to the world, people were very much connected,” he said.

“Looking at their coins they could tell who the current rulers were, what there is to see in the cities that minted their coins. Pictures on ceramic vases could tell them about the monuments in the cities, remind them of stories they were told about their gods and goddesses, and local heroes,” said Arav.

The pot shard allowed the Galilean settlers have an idea how the pediments on the Parthenon were decorated, without making the trip to Athens.

“It is similar to tourists traveling to Paris and bringing back home a miniatures of Eiffel Tower. They show it to their families and say: ‘See, this is what there is to see in Paris.’ We are not that much different,” said Arav.

Unfortunately, there still is no solid reason to connect this with the Parthenon. The image is clearly of a seated person, possibly female (likely) or possibly male. The lack of a head and face is not helpful. Whether there are two people sitting side by side is debatable and one might suggest it is someone holding a lyre and sitting in ‘playing mode’, which would be a common enough motif on a Greek pot from practically any period. What I genuinely find interesting, however, is that the figure is sitting on a rather ornate stool of some sort with legs reminiscent (but obviously not related to) the porphyry columns in the Vatican. Most seating of people on Greek pots is on something akin to a folding chair or (if divine) something that looks kind of like a modern day dresser or a rock. It also looks like there is an animal skin on the seat, which is also common enough. If I were to speculate a divinity on it, I might go for Dionysus, but there isn’t enough here to form a judgement like that, still less to make connections to a Greek temple thousands of kilometres away.

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More Antiquities on the Mentor?

According to the Greek Reporter, there are at least some coins (?):

The underwater shipwreck excavation of the wreck of the ship Mentor, that sank off the island of Kythera in 1802 while carrying goods plundered from the Parthenon by British diplomat Lord Elgin has proved to be a treasure trove of personal items from the passengers and crew.

A greater number of coins were also found, at least two ancient silver coins which were antiquities acquired by Elgin, passengers or the crew,along with two gold coins, used as currency at the time, from the late 1700’s. Other coins were also recovered but require conservation before they can be identified. Some of these may also be ancient.

Finding three ancient coins on the wreck last year created international news, prompting a question about what other antiquities Elgin was transporting, in addition to crates of Parthenon marbles and sculptures. There may be even more questions from this year’s finds, after conservation of currently unidentified coins is completed.

Another pistol was recovered, a fob (pocket) watch, personal seal with a cannon on it and gold chain, a pipe, ring, part of navigation instruments, bottles, musket balls, cannon balls, crockery and ceramics possibly from the galley (kitchen) area. The Mentor was a small Brig, carrying 16 crates of Parthenon sculptures and a marble throne, en-route to Malta and then the United Kingdom.

Diaries from the time reveal that the Parthenon sculptures and marble throne were recovered by sponge divers from Simi and Kalymnos in 1802-1804 but it’s unknown what else remains buried on the bottom of the sea, near Avlemonas.

Dimitris Kourkoumelis, an archaeologist in Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities is going to give a speech on Nov. 26 in the auditorium of the National Archaeological Museum on the Mentor Shipwreck at Kythera, will be held on the occasion of the lecture program organized by the Association of Friends of National Archaeological Museum.

Latest in the Parthenon/Elgin Marbles Repatriation Issue

From Kathimerini:

Alternate Culture Minister Costas Tzavaras on Wednesday announced the creation of a special advisory committee that is to coordinate a strategic national effort to secure the return of the Parthenon Marbles, a longstanding demand of the Greek authorities.

Speaking a few weeks after the British Museum denied reports that it was considering returning fragments of sculptures from the Parthenon to Greece, Tzavaras said the ministry was bringing together “individuals of influence, knowledge and long experience of efforts to repatriate the Marbles.”

The committee includes lawyers, archaeologists and senior government officials. “Greece’s moral right ranks above every objection based on arguments aimed at procrastinating and ignoring the basic principle which applies worldwide and demands that cultural monuments are repatriated,” Tzavaras said.

In a related development, a decision by the Central Archaeological Council has given the go-ahead for two movie projects to use the Acropolis and other archaeological landmarks as filming locations. The first film, called “Two Faces of January” and based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, is to star Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst under the direction of Iranian-British screenwriter Hossein Amini.

Scenes are to be filmed on the Acropolis in Athens and at Knossos on Crete though the crew has not been granted permission to film within the columns of the cordoned-off Parthenon. The crew reportedly had asked to film scenes depicting laborers on scaffolding around the Acropolis in the 1960s but were informed that there had been no works under way on the monument at that time and that such scenes would be anachronistic.

The second film that has been given a license to film on the Acropolis is an adaptation of “The Valley of the Roses” — a novel by the Swiss philhellene Paul Amadeus Dienach — to be filmed by Greek director Nikos Panagiotopoulos.

In January, Greek authorities said they would reduce filming fees for the use of the country’s archaeological sites in a bid to lure production companies and bring in much-needed revenue. Officials stressed that approved projects would not put any monuments at risk.

Parthenon Marbles Discussion Progress?

This just-emerging story seems to be making the rounds of assorted European papers … the only English version, however, is in the Hong Kong Standard:

Greece is holding talks with the British Museum on the return of fragments from the Parthenon Marbles, the director of the Acropolis Museum in Athens said today.
Demetrios Pantermalis said he had made a proposal on the issue at a UNESCO meeting in June and that talks would be held in Athens in the coming weeks, AFP reports.
“I proposed an arrangement to colleagues from the British Museum, involving pieces — hands, heads, legs — that belong to bodies from the Parthenon sculptures and can be reattached,” Pantermalis told Skai Radio. “The proposal has been accepted in principle, we will have a discussion in the autumn.”
Greece has long campaigned for the return of the priceless friezes, removed in 1806 by Lord Elgin when Greece was occupied by the Ottoman Empire and later sold to the British Museum.
The British Museum has turned down successive Greek calls for their return, arguing that the sculptures are part of world heritage and are more accessible to visitors in London.
Inaugurated in June 2009, the new Acropolis Museum includes a section reserved for the disputed collection.
Pantermalis said the Marbles issue remained “taboo” and that the new proposal involving smaller pieces could be a way to “unravel the thread”.
As culture minister in 2009, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras had turned down a British Museum loan offer for the Marbles, arguing that acceptance would “legalise their snatching” by the 19th century British diplomat.
“The government, as any other Greek government would have done in its place, is obliged to turn down the offer,” Samaras had said at the time.
“This is because accepting it would legalise the snatching of the Marbles and the monument’s carve-up,” Samaras said.
British Museum spokeswoman Hannah Boulton had then told Skai Radio that her museum could consider loaning the Marbles to Greece for three months on condition that Athens recognise the museum’s ownership rights to the sculptures.

Skai Radio is a Greek station (if you were wondering) … I’m kind of confused, though … is the idea the BC would lend body parts or that Greece would provide missing parts? Or both? Stay tuned …