31 March 2011

Hawass Back in the Saddle in Egypt

The dead rise! (AFP)
As I suspected - and despite his resignation - we haven't seen the last of Zahi Hawass. AFP and the Middle East News Agency both reported his reappointment as Minister of Antiquities yesterday. The AFP story:
CAIRO — Egypt's chief archaeologist Zahi Hawass, the guardian of some of the world's most important treasures, was on Wednesday named minister of antiquities, the official MENA news agency reported. Hawass had served as head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities and later became minister of state under ousted president Hosni Mubarak. Nationwide protests that erupted on January 25 overthrew Mubarak and saw power handed over to a military council. Hawass's appointment is likely to anger pro-democracy activists who have been calling for the cabinet to purged of all old regime elements.

His nomination comes amid multiplying calls by the UN cultural agency to protect Egypt's heritage after reports of looting and theft during the unrest that followed the popular uprising. UNESCO said on Tuesday that it would write to Egyptian authorities to officially ask for more protection for the country's archaeological sites. Earlier this month, the UN body voiced growing concern for such sites which it said were threatened by pillaging. Robbers raided several warehouses around the country, including one in the Egyptian Museum, after the uprising gave way to looting and insecurity. An antiquities official said last week that 800 relics stolen by armed robbers from a warehouse east of Cairo were still missing.
Hawass' website has no announcement on this yet, so we'll have to wait for his explanation for more detail. I stick with my guess when he resigned - it was a negotiating move to improve his position within the ministry. For more, see Egyptology News' roundup of stories or CultureGrrrl's report.

24 March 2011

Genghis Khan Week: Genghis Khan energy drink

Which great conqueror in history gives you the most energy?! That's right!

Genghis Khaaaaaaaaan

23 March 2011

Genghis Khan Week: Genghis smokes a Century

"Hi, I'm Genghis Khan. In the 1100s we built the Mongolian Empire and changed the face of the world. It was fun! But I'm only doing this commercial to tell you of a real impressive century. This century. When your usual cigarette loses its charm, smoke a century."

One of many, many amusing historically-themed ads for Century 100s produced in the 1960s. Kudos to Youtube user Meatpies62.

22 March 2011

Genghis Khan Week: Dschinghis Khan

Let me introduce you to Germany's 1979 entry into the Eurovision song contest: Dschinghis Khan.

Music starts at 0:46. Some of the finest German historical disco ever produced! The song is basically about Genghis Khan's conquests, loves, horses, etc. Totally mesmerizing faux-Mongol outfits and disco dancing. Read this fantastic DK fan blog for translations of a ton of interviews and lifestyle pieces about the band. The video for 'Moscow' is pretty good too.

Dschinghis Khan was insanely popular, spawning cover versions in English, Estonian, Spanish, Finnish, and especially Japanese. Here's a recent cover by Japanese girl group Berryz Koubou ('Berry Workshop'):

I wish there was a reality where I could sit down with Genghis Khan and show him this video while drinking a Chinggis Beer.

21 March 2011

Genghis Khan Week: Chinggis Beer!

Archaeopop theme weeks continue as we check out pop culture versions of world-conqueror Genghis Khan. Beginning with this ad for Chinggis Beer from 1998.

Glorious and refreshing. Yes, it's in Mongolian. No, I don't understand the voiceover either. But I'm pretty sure that's supposed to be the Great Khan getting turned on to beer by a monk. (Indeed, beer is the most precious contribution of Christian monks to world civilization.)

According to their promo material, the company is a Swiss-Mongolian joint venture that brews according to the 1516 German  beer purity law, the Reinheitsgebot. That would explain why the brewery has a very German-looking beer hall attached, which you can visit if you ever find yourself in Ulan Bator. How's that for globalization and history combined?!?! The Chinggis Beer website is in Mongolian but has a great trance-downtempo-throatsinging soundtrack, check it out.

This is not to be confused with the Genghis Khan Beer of Inner Mongolia (part of China), which "has miraculous health effects to the diseases of gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular systems as well as ten more other diseases. So far it is the only natural health beer in China approved by the Ministry of Public Health of China and it is the first origination in the world." So healthy. (It also says "Guinness" at least twice on the label, whoa!)

20 March 2011

Elginism: For or Against?

From a 2001 print ad by TBWA\Athens highlighting the plight of the Parthenon Marbles. There seems to be no elginism.org any more, but you should definitely be reading elginism.com, a great source of news on repatriation struggles from all over the world. Lord Elgin was the man who ripped the Parthenon Marbles from the Parthenon and brought them back to Britain in 1801.

Via someone's Facebook feed (sorry, forgot who!)

19 March 2011

Ancient Pastoral and Ecocriticism, Part II

Guest blogger Ricardo Apostol of Case Western Reserve University send the second part of his essay on ancient pastoral poetry and modern environmentalism. Catch the first part here!
III You Don’t Win Friends with Salad

As the Simpsons have taught us, it doesn’t do any good to serve a wholesome vegetarian salad if it causes everyone to skip out for a pig roast.  Aside from the untenable and arbitrary nature of the Romantic Nature Myth, pragmatic considerations make it clear that however leafy and green it might be, it is politically unpalatable on the international stage (and arguably even on the American political scene) and must be replaced.  A post-environmental set of values might then be formed in response to the criticisms of the current environmental movement presented in the first part of this article. 

You don't win friends with salad!

Instead of the Nature Myth as the lynchpin of the entire structure, we could recognize a diverse spectrum of landscapes with varying degrees of human presence as acceptable. If Nature no longer has to be pristine or exist in a vacuum, we could shift from a purely ecocentric ethics to the recognition of many valid ethical objects (humans, animals, plants) or even a primarily anthropocentric ethic that takes into account the fact that humans don’t exist in a vacuum any more than nature does. These changes in turn will help create a dialogue that can accommodate locally-based needs, both human and environmental. This makes environmentalism less of an elitist imposition of an inflexible agenda “from above” by wealthy developed nations or special interest groups.

16 March 2011

Donny George Youkhanna, 1950-2011

Dr. Donny George Youkhanna, the former head of the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad, died from a heart attack in Toronto last Friday. He was 60. From the NY Times obituary:
Dr. George was director of research for the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage when United States troops and their allies invaded Iraq. He fought through blocked bridges, explosions and troops to report to the museum in the chaotic days afterward, finding he could not persuade American troops to protect it because no order had been issued to do so.

An estimated 15,000 artifacts were stolen, less than a tenth the initial guesses. Working with Col. Matthew Bogdanos of the Marines to investigate the thefts, they recovered half the stolen the artifacts, partly by granting looters amnesty.

Dr. George soon became head of the museum, then chairman of the antiquities board, replacing a cousin of Saddam Hussein. He slowly put the museum back together, rebuilding damaged walls, fixing the plumbing, installing guard houses and much else. He obtained aid from Italy to build a new Assyrian hall and started a conservation training program.
George's tireless work to recover artifacts and secure help for Iraq's heritage was heroic, and put his life in danger. He was an excavator and a scholar with a distinguished career and many publications on  He left Iraq in 2006 after death threats against him and his family. He behaved admirably in abominable conditions, and did a lot to salvage the wholesale destruction of Iraq's heritage because of the hallucinatory narcissism of American neoconservatives. I met him briefly in 2005 - he was kind but looked very, very tired. I hope wherever he is he has found some rest.

His 2006 interview with Cindy Ho of Saving Antiquities for Everyone gives a sense of the man and his achievements:

15 March 2011

What if the Commies and Muslims become mummies?!?!?!

OMG what if that happened?!?!? Joe McCarthy was probably worried about this.

Cartoon by Mr. Fish. Via Truthdig.

13 March 2011

Asterix and Obelix cause a Roman ruckus

This afternoon I'm hanging out with our lovable Gaulish heroes, Asterix and Obelix.

What a ruckus. I learned more about Roman Gaul from these comix than from taking classes!

10 March 2011

Ghost ships under San Francisco

Being around archaeology and archaeologists makes you convinced that every city is numinous with  subterranean mystery. It's given me an almost theological perspective on my everyday environments.
Archaeologists at work in the bowels of the city (SF Gate)
As if to prove my point, construction workers in my hometown, San Francisco, discovered the remains of two 19th century ships, buried under 14 feet (4 meters) of sand. They were building a new sewer line to serve Visitacion Valley when they found the two 45-foot (14-meter) scow schooners. These were flat-bottomed cargo boats with sails used to deliver materials up and down the city in the later 1800s, which became obsolete after the introduction of motor vehicles in the 1900s. The excavation was contracted to Past Forward, an archaeological consulting firm. From the San Francisco Chronicle:
When engineers working near Candlestick Park last March drilled deep into the ground for soil samples, they pulled up chunks of wood and figured it was an old pier.
They had no idea it was a century-old ship, let alone two.
But that became clear this week when the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission uncovered what maritime experts believe are a pair of scow schooners, 90-foot-long workhorse vessels that plied the bay shallows in the late 1800s to deliver hay, salt, bricks, pork, coal, lumber and other cargo. Buried under more than 14 feet of sand and fill dirt, the 45-foot-long hull sections came to light at the mouth of an enormous trench that will house a new overflow sewage pipe for the Visitacion Valley neighborhood.
"These were the flatbed trucks of San Francisco Bay from the late 19th and early 20th century," said Jim Delgado, director of maritime heritage at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Washington, D.C. "They're largely forgotten now, but these scow schooners moved the goods that built the city and the Bay Area economy."
The Alma: Last surviving scow schooner on the bay (SF Gate
The boats will be recorded but not preserved: waterlogged wood is absurdly expensive to move and curate. It's too bad, since the boats are a last remnant of the weird marginal shoreline communities of southeast San Francisco in the late 1800s:
Before it was piled with fill dirt and paved over for development, the site held a small lagoon and spit that appeared and receded with the bay tides. Archaeologists theorize the bayfront spot became a popular ship graveyard around the turn of the century. Hundreds of vessels were run ashore, stripped of rope, sails and valuable metals, broken apart, burned and left to sink.
I've researched the area before: the shore around Candlestick point was dotted with Chinese shrimp fishing camps, slaughterhouses, shipbreaking yards, and run-down shacks with people doing god-knows-what. It was a kind of stinky-but-romantic isolation from the bustle of the city.  For more, see Pastron and Delgado's article on the shipbreaking yards of Yerba Buena Cove.
And, I couldn't sign off without mentioning San Francisco's long history of underground ship discoveries, dating back to the 1870s. A whole Gold Rush fleet was abandoned on the waterfront, and absorbed into the growing land of the city to form an archipelago of buried ships. At least one of them was turned into a restaurant! They turn up every couple of years, most recently in 2005

09 March 2011

Hawass talks about his resignation

Zahi Hawass, Egypt's former Minister of Antiquities and longtime head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, resigned on March 3. In an interview posted on his website, he gives two reasons why: the lack of police presence at archaeological sites and political opposition within the ministry. The first makes no sense to me; I suspect the second is quite accurate though: Zahi's enemies within the ministry have taken advantage of the revolutionary moment to try to force him out. His rhetoric about the student protests against him is Gaddafi-esque: my enemies were behind it! I'm still undecided if he was really forced out or left voluntarily in order to strengthen his hand in the long run.

I am leaving because of a variety of important reasons. The first reason is that, during the Revolution of January 25th, the Egyptian Army protected our heritage sites and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. However, in the last 10 days the army has left these posts because it has other tasks to do... That is why at the meeting of the Egyptian cabinet yesterday I had my speech prepared already and I said: “I cannot stay in Egypt and see antiquities being stolen when I cannot do anything to stop it!” This situation is not for me! I have always fought to return stolen artifacts to Egypt. I did fight Ahmed Ezz as well, the man in the Parliament, who was the most powerful man, because he wanted to allow antiquities to be sold in Egypt again.

Nefertiti Cigarettes

A 1970 TV ad from Egypt for Nefertiti cigarettes, posted by dianamherrera on Youtube.

It's got cartoons AND stop motion AND a funky song AND pyramids. 'Nuff said.
(Via Heritage Key)

07 March 2011

Ancient Pastoral and Ecocriticism

Our guest blogger is Ricardo Apostol of Case Western Reserve University, with the first part of an essay on ancient pastoral poetry and modern environmentalism. He believes that Classics has important things to say to other disciplines (and much to learn from them, too!).

"There is nothing more natural than nature." Sounds straightforward, but it’s not. “Nature” is first and foremost a concept, and so there is nothing particularly “natural” about it. As a specialist in ancient pastoral literature, I’m hyper-aware of this fact, since the prevailing notion is that pastoral has about as much to do with “real nature” as Marie Antoinette’s country excursions did with real milkmaids and shepherds. Once you start to unravel the cultural constructs that underlie this dismissal, though, you can see that the “modern, scientific” discourse about nature has a role beyond marginalizing the pre-industrial ideas of antiquity. Its broad dismissive sweep shunts aside all traditional and alternative views of nature, including those of people in developing countries today. Paradoxically, this makes classical literature a “fellow traveler” in the contemporary struggle over the environment. All that from the study of classical pastoral, you ask? Or, in other words… 

I What’s Pastoral Got to Do (Got to Do) with It?
Simone Martini, frontispiece to 1366 edition of Vergil
According to traditional ecocriticism, nothing. But I might be getting a little ahead of myself; first of all, a quick-and-dirty introduction to ecocriticism, also known as green criticism in the UK. Ecocriticism is to the ecological movement what feminist lit-crit and post-colonialist lit-crit are to their respective social movements, i.e. a literary branch concerned with a) investigating literature with an eye to uncovering the relevant themes, and b) advocating for texts in accord with the movement’s political values. Although these literary branches can sprout off in their own directions, they tend to at least share basic values, concerns, and goals with the political movements from which they sprang.

Ecocrit is no different, except that it’s even more self-conscious about this relationship; this is because ecocrit is a later development. Somebody woke up one day and noticed that most social movements of the 60’s had resulted in lit-crit branches, but that somehow the ecological movement (a very active part of the same Zeitgeist) had missed the boat; so they decided to make up that lack.

So what values did ecocriticism draw from the environmentalists of the 60’s and 70’s? It boils down to the exaltation of Nature as an end unto itself. Exemplary Ecocritical texts should foreground the natural environment, not simply use it as a framing device; should support the interests of pure Nature as opposed to human interests, and make humans accountable to Nature; they should also display a suitably enlightened understanding of Nature as a process, and not an eternally unchanging given. When you combine this set of values with the fact that most practitioners of ecocriticism reside in modern language departments (and tend to study modern/contemporary literature within them to boot), you end up with a dismissal of older styles of literature involving nature. The big one is, of course, what is described as “classical pastoral”, a category in which a recent introductory ecocrit text lumps all pastoral before the Romantic period, the more efficiently to dismiss it all en masse.
So, what’s classical pastoral got to do with it? Not much; or maybe it’s a poster child for environmentally unsophisticated thinking. Take your pick.

Watteau's Indifferent lover of nature

Now, as a Vergil scholar (quick summary: he was the ancient Roman poet who wrote the Aeneid, but also the Eclogues, probably the key text in the development of the pastoral tradition), this breaks my achy breaky little heart. Sure, I could go on and on about how the descriptions of “classical pastoral” in ecocrit and other modern sources are shallow and uninformed (and how could they not be, when they lump 2000 years of literature from all over Europe and the Mediterranean together as if they were the same thing?). But the real target, as usual, should be the underlying premises that ecocrit inherited from the American ecological movement of a particular time.  This means that I’ve got allies in this argument. Tons of them, in fact.

Some folks are even talking about a “post-environmental movement.” This isn’t a right-wing thing; in fact, a big impetus for the challenge has to do with what many see as the inadequacy of the old movement to deal successfully with new environmental challenges as they must be dealt with, that is, on a global scale. So, yes, to a great extent this is about global warming, and how you might convince countries like the United States, China, Bolivia, etc. to all come to an agreement. Hint: It’s not by telling them that they owe it to Nature to exalt and respect Her for Her own sake.

So authentic... so natural

Major charges against the nationally-based environmental movements include: elitism; excessive ecocentrism; that they uncritically subscribe to a Romantic “Nature Myth”; and that, because their claims are ethical rather than pragmatic, they fail to respect local conditions when making policy recommendations. All of these are closely intertwined. You start by positing an abstract, pure entity, “Nature”, that is, by definition, not-human, not-touched, not-used; and then endow this entity with a kind of spiritual, quasi-living existence, and hence a set of basic rights. Never mind whether humans might be considered animals/part of nature, or whether “pristine” nature really can or does exist. You then center your movement on the rights of this entity, which should ethically and unconditionally override the rights of encroaching humans. This means no local exceptions, and a call to “shared” sacrifice, which is an easy and convenient position for you to maintain since, hey, you’re a (relatively) affluent member of a developed nation.

Stay tuned for our second installment, where we build an alternate set of values for ecocriticism, and show how developing societies ancient and contemporary make natural common cause against “developed” societies’ attempts to marginalize them through myths of modernity and progress. You can get in touch with Ricardo at ricardo.apostol (at) cwru.edu

04 March 2011

Hawass "will not stay on" as Antiquities Head

A pleading look from Zahi (NY Times)
With the resignation of the Shafiq government in Egypt and the appointment of professor and former Transport Minister Essam Sharaf as Prime Minister,  Zahi Hawass has said he will leave his position as head of Egypt's antiquities authority, according to the New York Times:

In the interview, Mr. Hawass lashed out at his critics but said he was leaving his job because he could no longer protect Egypt’s antiquities. “Those people are insects, they are nothing, but what really bothered me is the situation that you read today on my Web site,” he said.

Egyptologists and cultural heritage experts said they did not know who would succeed Mr. Hawass, and one expert expressed concern that his departure would lead to more looting.

“I am terrified by the idea that this might be a sign to potential looters that now that last element of control is gone, and now we have a free hand to continue looting,” said Karl von Habsburg, the president of the Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield, a body that tries to protect cultural heritage in conflict zones. 
I'm really not sure what Hawass' game is here. He doesn't seem like the type to meekly retire, and there is a big rhetorical difference between 'resign' and 'not stay on'. Al Jazeera reports that Hawass was facing opposition from within his own ministry:
Meanwhile on Friday, Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass was quoted in Egyptian newspapers as saying he would not participate in the new government to be led by Sharaf.
Hawass has been a cabinet minister since January 31 when Mubarak named a new government led by Shafiq.
Hawass said he was no longer able to carry out his duties amid what he called a campaign against him by officials at his ministry.
Sounds like the student protests might have been the tip of the iceberg of opposition to Hawass among the archaeological establishment.

Despite the drama of this headline, I would be very, very surprised if this is the end of Zahi Hawass. Among the Egyptology-oriented Facebook posse there is surprise + skepticism. Is this some kind of shock tactic he's using to make a point? I suspect we'll find out soon. Stay tuned.

Tut Week: Sesame Street's 'Telly Tut'

Big Triangle lover, more than any other!

We wrap up Tut week with a homage to Steve Martin's King Tut skit. Superb art direction.

If you like this sort of thing, there's also a Chipmunks version and a Ron Paul version (!?)


This lifted from the past-o-philes at Retronaut. (c) QI / Faber, written by Justin Pollard.

03 March 2011

Tut Week: Steve Martin, 'King Tut'

"He gave his life for tourism"


First aired on Saturday Night Live. Steve Martin spoofs the Tutankhamun mania gripping the USA in 1978: one of the first true international blockbuster exhibits, 'The Treasures of Tutankhamun' attracted more than 8 million visitors in the US.  Between 1976 and 1979 the exhibit was shown at the Field Museum (Chicago), the New Orleans Museum of Art, LACMA, the Seattle Art Museum, the Met (New York), and the de Young (San Francisco) in 1978 to sold-out crowds. My parents took me to the exhibit at the de Young in late 1978 or early 1979, but I was too young to remember it. But I was fascinated by the poster they brought home, showing the boy king's golden sarcophagus, which kicked around our house through the 1980s.

Archaeo-protest: Gaddafi supporters at Sabratha

Let's face it. Ruins make great stage sets, whether you're protesting against education reform, global warming, or for the continuation of Muammar Ghaddafi's glorious fashion sense. This "protest" by paid supporters is at the Roman theater in Sabratha, as Martin Fletcher reports for The Australian:
On its 1800-year-old stage, crazed young men stomped and chanted. "Allah and Libya need Father Muammar," they roared. "Muammar Gaddafi, we will protect you."

It was a sight to make any archeologists blanch and, worse, it was put on to convince Western journalists that support for Libya's embattled leader is much greater than it is.

The previous night, we had asked our government minders if we could visit Sabratha because we had heard of fighting there. After a long delay, we set off late on Monday morning, local time. Predictably, we were greeted in the main square of the town by several hundred finger-jabbing men waving green flags, holding aloft portraits of Colonel Gaddafi and shouting their adoration for the benefit of the cameras.
 The article goes on to note that many of these men despise Gaddafi, but aren't above taking his money to put on a show for the foreign press.

02 March 2011

Tut Week: Toute Uncommon Tattoos

Tut bombing continues today with two pieces of skin art. This back tattoo is SERIOUS.

This one's a little milder, but still expresses COMMITMENT to... what exactly? 

01 March 2011

Heritage OK in Libya... So Far

Leptis Magna
So far, Libya's rich heritage (especially its famous Roman sites) seem to be unscathed by the ongoing revolution. (Though with the near information blackout, I'm not ready to be too optimistic). Marie-Louise Gumuchan of reports for Reuters:
While communication with Libya difficult sketchy amid the uprising against Gaddafi's four decade rule, two archaeologists who frequently work in the country said cultural artefacts appeared to have been spared the ravages suffered during Egypt's recent revolt.
"So far there are no records whatsoever of any areas from the cultural heritage of Libya being affected by the troubles," said Hafed Walda, a Libyan who advises the country's department of antiquities and once led an excavation at Leptis Magna. "We're always worried about this in terms of chaos. It's going in the right direction so far but I'm not sure it will carry on like this. I don't know," he said from his London base.
The theater at Sabratha
 Walda and his colleague Paul Bennett say that local militia, soldiers, and antiquities department staff are protecting sites. The article has an interesting reflection on nationalism and archaeology in Libya:
Libya's archaeological work began in earnest in the 1930s when fascist Italy, the colonial power, hoped to demonstrate the Roman presence and prove Italy's historical dominance of the Mediterranean. That work also led to the discovery of oil. Archaeology took a back seat after Gaddafi's 1969 revolution although some foreign archaeologists continued work, making finds even during the low point of relations with the West.
"It's been neglected by the regime for quite a while. At one time it was seen as not Libyan heritage as such but imperialist," Walda said. The Gaddafi government had sought to improve resources and infrastructure in recent years, he added, amid efforts to develop tourism. "I'm hoping attitudes will change -- we want the department of antiquity to be seen as part of the Libyan identity and the future of Libya," Walda said.

Tut Week: Breakdancing with King Boogaloo Tut

This week I'm bombing you with Tut. Today, let's meet 'Tutting', a funk dance style inspired by Egyptian Hieroglyphs (and a cousin of popping). Check out this 1979 video with Mark Benson AKA King Boogaloo Tut and the dance crew Street Scape:

Those gold knickers... man I wish I could pull that off. The fruity white guy in suspenders is amazing too.
To add a layer of crazy, King Boogaloo Tut says he was inspired by this Bugs Bunny cartoon:

This clip is from 'A Hare Grows in Manhattan' (1947). The cigarette billboard scene was censored in later broadcasts as too un-PC! This scene, of course, has nothing to do with Tutankhamun: but it's a nice illustration of how 'King Tut' functions as a catchall for anything with an Egyptian theme.

Regardless, the sequence Egyptomania > Bugs Bunny > Breakdancing is some serious historical alchemy.

Maybe you want to learn tutting at home? This site will help you. Also check out these crazy videos of 1980s tutting from Soviet Russia: Dontesk 1988 and Palanga Festival 1988.