29 April 2012

Tomb of the McMummies

Tomb of the McMummies: an exhibit by artist Beneverywhere, featuring a life-sized mummy and other weird stuff made out of McDonalds food. (hat tip to Patrick Crowley for this one!)

Squid Ink at the LA Weekly interviewed him about the piece:
SI: Why McDonald's and not, say, In-N-Out?
BC: McDonald's is more iconic and has a rich lexicon of symbols, kind of like hieroglyphs in a way. It could really be about any fast food place. I personally doubt the food is much different from place to place.
SI: Can you describe the mummy construction process?
BC: The food was dried out first, then run through a blender, mixed with resin, packed into rubber molds that I made beforehand, and finally the cast pieces were bonded together with more of the mixture and cleaned up.
SI: Where does a person keep this sort of thing -- and what are you planning on doing with it exactly?
BC: Right now it's in storage covered with air hoses and other tools. For now I'm going to display it as part of a larger art show about McDonald's and Egypt. Eventually though, I'd like to find a buyer for it -- like Ripley's, Charlie Sheen, or somebody who might enjoy it.
Be careful, the mummy's got friends.
See more after the jump.

Lego Terracotta Army: in Chalk

A LEGO terracotta army somehow got buried in Sarasota, Florida. It was excavated in November by Dutch street artist Leon Keer.

Here's a couple 'making of' clips that explain the epic trompe l'œil. It's the latest part of the evolving mythos of mysterious giant Lego maker Ego Leonard. Check out how crazy it looks from any other angle!

26 April 2012

Drink Beer, Make Armor


via Geekologie

Photo Jay Adan
via Burntembers

via Crafty Mommy


I’m sure that anywhere between 3,000 BC and 2,000 BC, the constructors of Stonehenge definitely didn’t envision it as a bouncy playground for adults and kids alike! This inflatable version of Stonehenge, entitled Sacrilege, is the vision of British artist Jeremy Deller. "It's something for people to interact with, it's a big public sculpture," says Deller. "It is also a way of interacting with history and archaeology and culture in a wider sense."
The installation, placed in Glasgow Green for the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Arts, is Deller’s first major public project in Scotland. The festival website explains, “Visual art happens all year round in Glasgow but for two weeks every two years, [the Festival] puts it firmly in the spotlight. From artists’ studios through to major museums, by way of a vast range of venues new and old, the Festival is the perfect moment to get to know more about contemporary art and how and where it takes place in Glasgow.”
It takes just minutes to deflate the bouncy Stonehenge every evening and re-inflate it every morning, just in time for participants to toss their shoes aside and climb onto the fun and playful public installation. Sacrilege will be at Glasgow Green for 18 days of the festival and then will be shipped off to ultimately arrive in London for the Olympic Games.

25 April 2012

More Crowdsourcing: Track Illicit Antiquities with Wikiloot

Crowdsourcing is going to play a big role in archaeology's future. This month I'm bringing you four projects that use it to harness the enthusiasm of ordinary people to fuel innovative research. 

WikiLoot is a project by Jason Felch, one of the authors of Chasing Aphrodite: the Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World's Richest Museum. The idea is to "create an open source web platform, or wiki, for the publication and analysis of a unique archive of primary source records and photographs documenting the illicit trade in looted antiquities." Says Felch:
The inspiration for WikiLoot is the vast amount of documentation seized by European investigators over the past two decades during investigations of the illicit trade in Classical antiquities smuggled (primarily) out of Greece and Italy. The business records, journals, correspondence and photographs seized from looters and middlemen during those investigations comprise a unique record of the black market.
Much of that documentation remains tangled in legal cases that are likely to end inconclusively, like that of former Getty antiquities curator Marion True and dealer Robert Hecht. Despite remarkable investigative work by authorities in Italy and Greece, only the trial of Italian dealer Giacomo Medici reached a verdict.

WikiLoot will make these records and photographs publicly available on the web and will enlist collaborators around the world to tag and analyze them. As with Wikipedia, participants will be given credit for their contributions. Ultimately, we hope to create the world’s most authoritative dataset of a black market whose size and reach is still poorly understood. (Estimates of the illicit antiquities trade range from $200 million a year to $10 billion dollars a year.)
This Polaroid seized from the warehouse of dealer Giacomo Medici shows the Getty Museum's Statue of Apollo shortly after it was looted from a tomb in Southern Italy.
Researchers and the interested public are invited to collaborate to help fight the destruction of archaeological sites for the antiquities trade. They've applied for funding from the Knight News Challenge.

While the project is still in development, the WikiLoot Facebook page has become a nexus for fascinating discussions about collecting, looting and museums. The posts and comment threads are a regular who's who of scholars and journalists researching the antiquities trade, including David Gill, Derek Fincham, Larry Rothfeld, Neil Brodie, Fabio Isman, and others. This is a project worth following - it has the potential to not only be tremendous fun but also an innovative precedent for future research projects.

14 April 2012

Throw some unicorn on the grill

The British Library has discovered a long-lost medieval cookbook. The highlight? Roasted unicorn.
After recipes for herring, tripe and codswallop (fish stew, a popular dish in the Middle Ages) comes that beginning "Taketh one unicorne". The recipe calls for the beast to be marinaded in cloves and garlic, and then roasted on a griddle. The cookbook's compiler, doubtless Geoffrey Fule himself, added pictures in its margins, depicting the unicorn being prepared and then served.
This is so f-ed up but I can't stop laughing. More illuminations after the jump. 

13 April 2012

Must Read: How Europe Hawks its Monuments

In the midst of its worst crisis in generations, Greece is trying to make more money from heritage, stirring up a hornets' nest of protest. But is commercializing heritage really something new? Dieter Baretzko in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung puts it in context (h/t Elginism).
Greece pimps its ancient monuments to bring in the tourists, lovers of cultural heritage are up in arms. But the country is only doing openly what the whole of Europe is: looting historic sites to drum up more ready cash. 
Disparaging comments went to press practically before the Greek government spokesman had even reached the end of his declaration that the country’s ancient monuments would be used in future for commercial purposes. The Acropolis is thus to become a stage for advertisements and action movies; the Athens’ Agora, birthplace of parliamentary democracy, a playground for fashion shows and 007 stunts; and the Kerameikos, the nearly three-thousand-year-old cemetery, will become the backdrop for commercials featured perfumed sex maniacs touching themselves in their sleep. That’s more or less the future for Greece’s ancient cultural heritage in the looming shadow of the European financial crisis, as cultural pessimists paint it.
One could believe that almost overnight the impending bankruptcy of Greece has turned the country from the cradle of European culture and democracy into a whore ready for anything. But Greece’s negligence towards its ancient world heritage is not a new phenomenon. During the preparations for the Olympic Games in 2004 famous ancient sites such as Marathon were crudely worked up into competition venues and prettified with questionable reproductions of vanished monuments from antiquity. Even the decades-long reconstruction of the Parthenon, which not only wishes to rebuild damaged parts but also missing ones as well, has been grounded as deeply in tourism’s taste for pristine intact sites as in a taste archaeological knowledge. 
If one were to look for an event that may have sparked this, then the discovery of the tomb of Philip II of Macedonia in 1977 – in Vergina (Aigai in antiquity) in northern Greece – might spring to mind. It was a sensational discovery: the very tomb of the father of Alexander the Great, with untold wealth in gold and silver treasure, and the ashes of the ruler wrapped in a gold-embroidered purple cloth. 
Delphi and the Palace of Knossos – open-air studios
Everyone involved grasped that tourists woul queue all night to see the exhibit and got busy straight away preparing a spectacular exhibition. Inquiries to specialists in antique fabrics, however, revealed that unfolding and preserving the purple fabric would take years. One restorer, though, spoke of months – on condition that only one part of the cloth would be saved. The offer was accepted, and the exhibit opened on schedule in Thessaloniki. Record crowds streamed through. 
Decades of neglect had prepared the terrain for this opening of the floodgates. The Greek parliament now intends that Delphi and the Palace of Knossos on Crete be rented out as open-air studios, for good money – and not at intervals of four years, like the Olympics, but as often as possible. 
Is that really any reason, though, to point an accusing finger at Greece? Was anyone offended in 2010 when Italy’s cultural authorities allowed Pompeii’s ancient theatre to be crammed with new seats and clunky containers for stage technicians and sanitary needs to allow lucrative concerts to be held there again – concerts that had been banned in 1976 after audiences caused immense damage? Does anyone still recall the recent scandal that shocked Rome when stones tumbled down off the Coliseum, which has been trampled across for decades by the tourist trade? 
“Dracula’s Wedding – a delicious dinner show with bite”
The laws of the free market have applied to monuments too, for a long time now. All European countries have polished up their historic sites to bring in money. From Vienna’s Museum Quarter, which since 1998 has seen the Baroque court stables converted into the “eighth largest cultural area in the world” thanks to an eccentric new museum, to Germany’s tiny town of Xanten whose ancient Roman core has been enlarged into an open-air museum where waiters in antique costume serve visitors ancient cuisine in reconstructed baths and taverns, ancient sites across Europe are turning into “location factors” that open up new sources of revenue for economically ailing communities.
Germany, formerly resistant to the crisis, is no exception. Take Dresden, which likes to boast of itself as the crown of the Baroque era. There, in 2010, after an endless and futile search for investors, the ravishingly beautiful Kurlander Palace, bombed out in February 1945, was rebuilt. Not as a museum, concert hall or other place of culture, but as an “event location”. One could, so the operators promise on the internet, “rediscover a fairy-tale palace brought back to life,” including its “magic, which is still pervasive.” The main attraction in the former ballroom of the Kurlander Palace is described as “Dracula’s Wedding – a delicious dinner show with bite.” 
What is the difference here with the culture-peddlers in Greece? In the shadow of the euro crisis, everywhere greed and lack of money are going hand in hand. In Athens, with their backs to the wall, the Greeks are just doing publicly what others have been practicing under the cover of relative stability. The victims are always the monuments – and lovers of culture too, who in place of historical sites are more and more frequently being offered “event locations”. At a good price, of course. 
Translated from the German by Anton Baer

12 April 2012

Centurions Occupy Colosseum, Fight With Cops

If you've been to the Colosseum in Rome, you've seen the guys in Roman centurion uniforms dunning the tourists for a couple lire or euro in exchange for some photos.  It's cheesy but I never minded - only wished they had a little bit more authentic armor.

This week the routine got exciting: a group of angry centurions occupied the Colosseum before Easter in protest at new rules removing them from archaeological areas, as part of the Soprintendenza Archeologica's initiative to 'clean up' the area from illegal vendors. Yesterday they escalated: centurions climbed up to the second level of the Colosseum and hung banners, demanding legalization of their work. Passing tourists cheered them on as a scuffle broke out between the cops and the reenactors.
"Hey hey, ho ho, our tax free income's got to go!"

This must have been the only profession in Italy that doesn't require at least five official permits. The protesters' demands are kind of bizarre: according to AFP, they want to be regulated!
"Rome city hall has agreed to give a work permit to historical impersonators like centurions. But these are just promises. The last negotiation was yesterday. We still haven't received anything concrete," Sonnino said.
"We want rules, we want to pay taxes!" he added.
It's apparently a competitive job: an article in Time last year  described cops who went undercover as gladiators but got beat down by the reenactor mafia:
Officers strapped on togas and sandals themselves to investigate the costumed combatants. When the disguised gladiator officers attempted to take pictures with tourists, the rival gladiators allegedly attacked them. That’s when other undercover police, dressed as tourists and garbage collectors, swooped in to arrest the aggressors. According to the BBC, the domineering gladiators were working with five tourist agencies to control the market.
Italy is such an alternate reality sometimes.

Video of the brief cop-centurion smackdown below.

Read on for more archaeo-protests from Egypt, Libya, Mexico, Greece, and, yes, Rome!

Corriere della Sera has video:


04 April 2012

Crowdsourcing Week: Valley of the Khans Project, Mongolia

Crowdsourcing is going to play a big role in archaeology's future. This week I'm bringing you four projects that use it to harness the enthusiasm of ordinary people to fuel innovative research. 
National Geographic
The Valley of the Khans Project  is using non-invasive methods to map and discover archaeological sites in a remote part of Mongolia traditionally considered the homeland of Genghis Khan. Led by UCSD researcher Albert Lin, the project relies on a combination of high-tech remote sensing with a huge amount of free unskilled labor.

Procrastinators with a computer (or 'Citizen Scientists' as the project calls them) can go to the National Geographic website and scan high-resolution satellite photos, tagging interesting features like roads, rivers, ancient structures, and modern features. Lin explains how it works:

The interface is easy and fun to use, and it's fascinating to see the variety of Mongolian landscapes: deserts, deep forests, rivers, steppe. There's plenty of empty images but a surprising number of features to find. So far 16,000 volunteers have placed over one million tags on 785,000 image tiles. That's several years of drudgery, virtually for free. Go over to NatGeo and check it out!

The key to getting good results with crowdsourcing is repetition. The 'average' person doesn't spot everything, but show the same image to a hundred people and their cumulative responses will catch almost everything. Once interesting features are identified, the research team is using a host of high-tech contraptions - including electro-resistive tomography, ground-penetrating radar, and a remote-controlled, six-blade helicopter (!) - to ground truth them. 

The 'hexacopter', probably the most ridiculously high-tech archaeology gadget ever (Nat Geo)
The era of the lone researcher sitting at a desk is coming to an end. This here is the future of archaeology: non-invasive methods and public participation.  

Pork Eating Crusaders

Apparently some Nato troops in Afghanistan have taken to the 'Infidel' label. Recently a German soldier was spotted there sporting this nifty 'Pork Eating Crusader' patch, with a helpful translation into Arabic just in case the image wasn't clear enough.  

Business Insider, via Islamic Awakening
It's great when the public takes an interest in the past, right? Love the chainmail duds. According to Military Times:
It started as a humorous tactic for poking fun at intolerant Islamists ignorant of American ideals.

Clayton Montgomery, owner of a well-known online vendor called Mil-Spec Monkey and designer of some infidel patches, said his most popular item has been his “Pork-Eating Crusader” patch, which includes a translation into Arabic.

“Everybody sort of hates occupying forces anyway, so it’s kind of embracing that,” he told Military.com “If you are going to hate us anyway, we might as well pretend to be the great white devil.”

Continued Montgomery: “Originally, when we made the patch, we thought it would be this small thing, the equivalent of an ‘I’m with stupid’ T-shirt. We didn’t think we would sell many, but the demand was there,” Montgomery said, describing how his company has sold about 10,000 of the patches.
Of course, this is a stupid thing to allow your troops to wear. Muslims still think of the crusades as a war of extermination. On the other hand I get why the troops love it: it's a tiny island of honesty in a war full of lies. NATO likes to pretend all these heavily armed Europeans to be buddies with the Afghans, just helping out you know? No foreign occupying army here! I imagine the troops on the ground have something of a different experience.  

02 April 2012

Crowdsourcing Week: Save Flag Fen!

Crowdsourcing is going to play a big role in archaeology's future. This week I'm bringing you four projects that use it to harness the enthusiasm of ordinary people to fuel innovative research.

Digventures and Crowdsourcing at Flag Fen
The Museum at Flag Fen
Flag Fen is one of Britain's most important Late Bronze Age sites. Between about 1300 and 1000 BC a huge timber ceremonial  platform was built out into a marsh near Peterborough, surrounded by a palisade of around 60,000 wooden posts. Marshy conditions have preserved the timbers and other artifacts, which offer amazing insights into Bronze Age life. Drainage of surrounding land, however, threatens the site - if the wood dries out, it will immediately decay. Flag Fen has only a couple decades left, at maximum - making continued excavation urgent.
3000-year-old preserved timbers
Enter Digventures, who this summer will carry out 'Europe's first ever crowd-sourced and crowd-funded archaeological excavation'. They've got one month left to raise £25,000 to support the field season. A sponsorship gives you inside access to the project (you can even go in the field with them!):
Starting at the £10 level, you will have a ‘backstage’ pass to the Site Hut, a password-protected area on our website offering daily updates on the project, and loads of original content including apps, blogs, on site streaming, interviews, lectures from archaeological superstars, photos, finds news and more. This access is for the duration of one year, until the 2013 season gets underway next April.
The field school at Flag Fen (for those who purchase a benefit at £125 and above) will be really exciting this year. We’ve put a lot of thinking into making this the best experience possible, whether you are digging for a day, a week, two weeks, or the whole project. There will be dedicated staff providing orientation, training and instruction, as well as evening lectures, fun outings and plenty of time for questions. And some surprises, of course!
Places in the field school (from 23rd July – 12th August 2012) are limited and will be available on a first-come, first-served basis, and are only for those aged 17 and older.
This is a pilot project: Digventures plans to expand. It's mission is to provide
seed capital and build audiences for archaeology projects worldwide. We’re changing the game, by putting the public in the driver’s seat – and giving you the chance to get on site, digging with us. All of us here at DV mission control are archaeologists; we come from all aspects of the discipline, and have an international perspective on what’s working, and what isn’t. Let’s be honest: the economy isn’t great, and for lots of reasons that means that archaeology is under threat. We’ve joined forces to try something new.
Given the ongoing global massacre of funding for anything not controlled by a former Goldman Sachs employee, the idea is timely. It's also smart: there's a huge amount of enthusiasm and interest in archaeology but few ways to channel it productively into saving sites. I'm interested to see how it goes over the next few years, especially if Digventures expands into countries with less well-developed traditions of public giving and participation than the UK or the US. (In Italy, for instance, charitable giving by individuals is almost unknown.)

For a bit more, check out archaeologist Francis Pryor on the discovery of Flag Fen and the threats facing it today:

More chainmail pets

Everyone loved the dachsund in chainmail we saw last month. Guess what?!?!?! HERE'S MORE PETS IN CHAINMAIL.

Deviantart user Rossic has a well-protected cat:

Lest you disbelieve that a cat would consent to wear this, here's video proof:

 This here, however, is the pro version kombat kitteh:
Fab.com, vis jcschokl
Apparently hamster chainmail has also been attempted. I don't fancy trying to get the hamster in there though.
Via Ansarum on Deviant Art
And finally, another one of our original dachsund friend. At least I think it is. It's got a coat of arms too! Adorable.

Dog lover? Read on:

A Dachsund Wearing Chainmail
Playing Fetch in the Palaeolithic
Adopt a Dog from Pompeii