Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage (IICAH)

The Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage (IICAHA) started training Iraqi cultural heritage professionals in 2009.  I was delighted to know that the IICAH is continuing its work with a new cohort of museum professionals/students.  Congratulations to all involved in this very important project! We will be following your work! 

See details about the training here
See the IICAH students' blog here.
See the IICAH Facebook page here

Egypt's Lost Cities

Yesterday I watched a television programme called "Egypt's Lost Cities" on BBC 1. If you haven't seen it, do that now! You can watch it back on the BBC website during the next 6 days. The accompanying article to the show can be read here.

Basically the programme was about a lady (Sarah Parcak) who was/is trying to create a map of all the ancient archaeological sites in Egypt using infra-red satellite images (if I remember correctly, she got these from NASA?).

Some things about the show were a bit odd though... Like the fact that Parcak found it necessary to carry a huge interactive television screen around with her, just so she could set it up in a tent somewhere in the middle of the desert (powered by a generator I assume?) to show the camera man and the team infra-red satellite images of ancient cities. Not only that, but our Space archaeologist had an IPad as well! (Somewhere out there I can hear a Classical archaeologist sobbing over her/his notepad and pencil).

Of course, Egypt being Egypt, there was plenty of Zahi Hawass to go around as well. Including Hawass and the team climbing into the large Pyramid of Giza in order to look at some 18th-19th century graffiti (I did not really see the relevance of this to the story).
Friend: Zahi Hawass needs to work out more. He's in a very bad shape.
Zahi Hawass: *pant* Graffiti *wheeze*
Me: Those British soldiers had no respect for ancient Egypt whatsoever. Can't someone clean this s*** up?
Friend: No, you can't do that! It's part of the Pyramid's history!
Me: Nnnggg....

But the best part about the entire programme? Reconstructing time warping sandstorms. I'll leave you with that image...

Friday, 20 May 2011

Patrimonio y Desarrollo, from Cuba

Two new issues of Patrimonio y Desarrollo are partially available online.  In case you want to know what Cuban conservators have been up to. 

Published by Centro Nacional de Conservación, Restauración y Museología (CENCREM)
Antiguo Convento de Santa Clara de Asís
Calle Cuba No. 610 e/ Sol y Luz, La Habana Vieja
Ciudad de La Habana, Cuba
C.P. 10 100

Selling Heritage

Found something interesting in the Evening Standard yesterday. It concerned an article and a page sized advertisement by BMI (British Midland International). If you're not sure yet where to go on holiday this summer, you might consider booking a trip to a World Heritage Site with BMI.

Copied from the Evening Standard:
"HERE'S the scenario - you're itching to get away but you really want something a bit more fulfilling than your usual beach break. Sure you want good weather as we're in the summer now but you also want a good dose of culture to tell your friends about.
Now BMI has launched a series of promotional routes to six UNESCO World Heritage Sites, making that history trip abroad much closer than you think."

It sounds interesting and a good way of promoting World Heritage, but, I don't know... The idea of promoting heritage for the sake of tourism (making money) always makes me feel uneasy.

Then there's the page sized advertisement. Yes, the pictures look nice, but the way they were framed in cards made it look like they were part of the game "Go Fish" or rather "Quartet".
Person 1: Do you have, for me, World Heritage Site Petra. Destination: Amman. Prices from: 299 pounds rtn?
Person 2: No... But do you have World Heritage Site El Jadida? Destination: Casablanca. Prices from: 149 pounds rtn?
Person 1: Yes, dammit! I was going to go there! D:
It all looked, dare I say it, a bit tacky?

The prices are good though, so if you were interested in going to one of those places, it might be worth checking out. More about the BMI World Heritage Promotion on their site. Offer ends 27 May, so you have to be quick!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Bank of America Merrill Lynch Art Conservation Project

Bank of America Merrill Lynch has opened applications for its 2011 Art Conservation Project.
Applications are welcome from non-profit cultural institutions across EMEA, the USA and Asia Pacific.
Deadline for submissions: 30th  June 2011

See details here

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Conserve this: Babel Tower in Buenos Aires

Babel Tower hits Baires
Argentinian artist Marta Minujin conceived a Babel tower made out of books to celebrate Buenos Aires' title of World Book Capital of 2011

The 28-metre high structure, inaugurated earlier this week, is made of a steel spiral partially lined with a metal netting onto which 30 thousand books from 54 countries were attached.  It will be up for a month. 

The books are inside plastic bags. Not sure this should mean "Panic!" or "Don't Panic!". So, who you gonna call? Books or objects conservators? 

There are contradictory reports about what will happen to the books afterwards. Some say members of the public will be allowed to help uninstall the structure by choosing a book they like. Others say the books will be donated to a library. 

See more on You TubeFolha de Sao Paulo or at Art News   

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Sada Mire's fascinating work in Somaliland

CNN African Voices this week featured Dr Sada Mire, former UCL researcher, and her sister Tohur talking about their work; Sada as an archaeologist and Tohur as a medical doctor. Sada talks about the impact of having discovered 5,000-year-old rock art in the Somaliland.She is now on a mission to protect the material fabric of the site but also trying to explore its possible impact for the local community. 

Sada says: "So for me, finding an extraordinary archaeological site I had to think how is this going to help these people and not just me as a researcher... My hope for this is to be able to set up an institution which can help produce students -- Somali archaeologists, Somali cultural heritage managers."

Let us know if you need conservators, Sada! 

Collection of Aztatlan Archaeological Pieces handed over to INAH, in Mexico

Mexican artist Vladimir Cora handed over to INAH around 300 archaeological artefacts he kept together for the past 25 years. The pieces, believed to form one of the most important collections of Aztatlan Culture, are dated between 200 and 1350AD.  They will now be studied and conserved by specialists from INAH - an exhibition at the Museo Regional de Nayarit is planned for 2012. 

Museo Regional de Nayarit. Image by Christian Frausto Bernal 
Art Daily reports: 
"The collection of Prehispanic objects will allow specialists to deepen in the knowledge of ceremonial practices of Aztatlan civilization, and is integrated by ceramic pieces such as vessels decorated with ritual sacrifice and solar cult designs, as well as copper rattles, shell and greenstone beads, and travertine zoomorphic urns. ... Seals, simple and decorated spindles, projectile heads and figurines, some of them of Mazapa style, anthropomorphic still conserve pigment residues."

The collection will now be studied and conserved by specialists from INAH - an exhibition at the Museo Regional de Nayarit is planned for 2012. 

See the whole piece here
See more information about Nayarit here

Friday, 13 May 2011

Restoration of vandalized rock art getting under way


Copyright: Las Vegas Sun

"Work to restore vandalized ancient rock art in the “Sistine Chapel” of Red Rock Canyon is finally getting under way.

The art, left by American Indians thousands of years ago, was the target of graffiti vandals in November. Areas as large as 9 feet wide were covered with maroon spray paint, apparently for the shock value of the damage, police said.

The Bureau of Land Management has worked with two non-profit groups that support the park — the Red Rock Canyon Interpretive Association and the Friends of Red Rock Canyon — to hire an international expert to remove the graffiti and restore the art."

Fortunately one of the criminals connected with the vandalism has been arrested.

"In December, Metro Police arrested a 17-year-old on a count of placing graffiti with a gang enhancement, a felony that carries a possible five-year jail sentence and a fine up to $100,000."

The Civil War: 150 Years

Oh Smithsonian. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

The Smithsonian has posted a poll in their online magazine in which you can vote on Who had the best Civil War Facial Hair.
"Among the many officers who fought in the U.S. Civil War, who wore their beard, mustache, mutton chops or sideburns the best? Click each photo to learn more about the contestants."
When you click on the image of one of the officers, you can learn something about their life and their role in the Civil War.

I have to say that this is certainly a way to make history more interesting! I know very little about the Civil War, but after clicking on my "preferred candidate" Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside I actually learnt something about it. I thought it was just a happy coincidence that the officer with sideburns was called "Burnside"... Little did I know that this particular style of facial hair is actually named after him!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The Getty gets a new president

Just received an E-mail with some surprising news (or maybe not so surprising to some...)! Apparently yesterday James Cuno (see picture below) was appointed the new president of the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles. It was reported in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.

James Cuno means business! Copyright: New York Times.

I think this is a victory for the Encyclopaedic museums! Colin Renfrew is certainly already starting to get worried...
"...if he maintains the new acquisition policy, he may do no harm," Renfrew says. "If he persuades the trustees to renege on that policy he will make the Getty once again the black sheep of the Western world. We shall have to wait and see."

For the moment however, Cuno doesn't seem intent on changing the museum's acquisition policy. Cuno says: "No, I'm certain they won't change. The decisions that the Getty made were absolutely right for the Getty."

However, then there's the following comment, also made by Cuno.
"In terms of my criticism of cultural property laws, I think reasonable people can disagree on these matters, and I very much look forward to engaging in conversations with colleagues around the world. I think we are all seeking the same thing: to preserve the objects of antiquity and broaden public and scholarly access to them."

To be continued I'm sure...

Saturday, 7 May 2011


Two weeks ago I visited the Netherlands with a friend, so of course I had to show her the RMO - Rijksmuseum van Oudheden' (translation: Dutch National Museum of Antiquities). They had a statue in the museum of Nehalennia, a Romanised Celtic/German goddess (see first image).

We also went to Archeon, which is an archaeological themepark that I love to visit. I'm not overly fond of reconstructions (to put it mildly), but I do love replicas! At Archeon they had made a replica of both the temple (let's not talk about the "accuracy" of that one) that was dedicated to the goddess and a replica of the statue that is currently situated in the RMO (See second image).

What bothers me about the replica is that I have no idea how accurate it is, as Archeon offered no information about its creation. As you can see in the first image, some parts of the original statue were missing. I know that the replica was made by taking other images/statues of Nehalennia into account. So the basket that the replica is holding is based on a votive stone and an altar stone of the goddess, both in which she held a basket with apples. But I have no idea how they decided what colours to use on the statue! The statue was recovered from the sea, so I highly doubt that there was still paint left on it. Or if there was, the RMO failed to mention this to the audience in the exhibition in the museum.

Free tip of the day: I you go to the RMO and you study at any archaeological faculty, show your student ID card and you'll gain free entrance! This doesn't work for non-archaeology students and they don't advertise this information, so you'll have to ask for your "discount" at the counter. It's worth keeping in mind though, because otherwise you'll have to pay the normal adult rate, which is 9 euros.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Codename "Geronimo"

Geronimo (1829-1909), a Chiricahua Apache leader

There were details of the killing of Osama Bin Laden on various newspapers and websites yesterday. You may have noticed that some mentioned he had been codenamed Geronimo by the US military.

Calling US enemy number one Geronimo, the name of a legendary Chiricahua Apache leader, is indeed disturbing. It understandbly caused consternation in various  Indian communities across the US. Lise Balk King  writes for the Indian Country:

"It is being interpreted as a slap in the face of Native people, a disturbing message that equates an iconic symbol of Native American pride with the most hated evildoer since Adolf Hitler...The death of bin Laden is arguably the most important news story of the year, and embedded within it is a message that an Indian warrior, a symbol of Native American survival in the face of racial annihilation, is associated with modern terrorism and the attacks on 9/11."

Various news sites are now correcting the information and emphasizing that the mission was codenamed Geronimo, not Osama Bin Laden. 
See more details on Indian Country. A piece on the Washington Post today  discusses the impact of using Geronimo's name and another on the ABC website asserts this will be discussed in the US Congress. See a letter the Chairman of Fort Sill Apache wrote to President Obama here

See Geronimo's entry on Wikipedia here

Monday, 2 May 2011

Fontana di Trevi and D'Artagnan

Have you ever thrown coins in to the Fontana di Trevi? It is estimated 2 to 3 thousand euros are thrown into the fountain each day. 

Do you know what happens to this money? In theory, it is supposed to go to a charity. But apparently most of it is collected by someone called D'Artagnan. Last week an Italian television channel showed footage of this man's activities  around the fountain, with the apparent involvement of the police. 

Things have been a bit uneasy around the fountain since then. The Guardian reports that "Outraged at the threat to what he regards as an honest living, D'Artagnan – real name Roberto Cercelletta – staged a gory protest on Thursday by repeatedly slashing his stomach and then clambering onto the rocks surrounding the fountain to display his wounds. In 2003 a judge ruled that coins thrown into the Trevi fountain had been discarded by theirs owners and could not therefore be stolen."

One of the many videos made of D'Artagnan's grim performance can be seen here. The impact of the tv programme was huge, endangering not only Mr D'Artagnan's 'job' but also the mayor's. Well done!

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Looting, exhibitions & conservation

Various interesting debates emerged this week. Although they are not directly concerned with conservation they are certainly relevant.

First there were news of illicitly acquired artefacts being returned to Egypt by the Mexican government. It is interesting to see Mexico at this end of the negotiation. As Mexico is one of the countries that had its material culture plundered in the past, they certainly know what it is like to be at the opposite end.

There were also news about the reconstruction of four halls at the Baghdad Museum despite the fact that it is closed to the public until further notice. One of the halls will display artefacts recovered after the 2003 looting. According to the reports the museum managed to recover more than 750 objects from Syria, 2,000 from Jordan, and unclosed numbers from the US, Holland, Sweden, Germany, Poland and Peru.

Quite a lot of space has been dedicated to the discussion of an exhibition organized by the government of Singapore in collaboration with the Smithsonian Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. The material to be displayed was salvaged by a privately-held German company from a shipwreck off the Indonesian coast. It includes pottery, rare pieces of porcelain , silver and gold. Although there has not been a final decision, the exhibition is tentatively scheduled for the spring of 2012. The company  is said to have sold the salvaged material to the Singapore government. It is worth to note that Indonesia has not ratified the 2001 UNESCO convention, therefore, this kind of operation is considered legal.

This has generated a lot of concern in the last few weeks and the Smithsonian is being asked to terminate the collaboration. The NYT, for example, reports that the Advisory Council on Underwater Archaeology said that by proceeding with the exhibition the Smithsonian would be violating its own set of professional ethics and promoting the looting of archaeological sites. Various archaeological organizations have expressed similar views.

The board of directors for the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery is said to be studying the case and a final decision is expected for May. Given the amount of planning necessary for an exhibition of this scale I cannot even begin to think of how much pressure this is generating for the conservators behind the scenes!

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