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The headless sculpture, in the British Museum, of the river god Ilissos from the Parthenon frieze

In the November/December issue of Cultural Affairs, James Cuno, President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, writes persuadingly against repatriating museum artefacts –

In December 2007, the Italian government opened an exhibition in Rome of 69 artifacts that four major U.S. museums had agreed to return to Italy on the grounds that they had been illegally excavated and exported from the country. Leading nearly 200 journalists through the exhibition, Francesco Rutelli, Italy’s then cultural minister, proclaimed, “The odyssey of these objects, which started with their brutal removal from the bowels of the earth, didn’t end on the shelf of some American museum. With nostalgia, they have returned. These beautiful pieces have reconquered their souls.” Rutelli was not just anthropomorphizing ancient artifacts by giving them souls. By insisting that they were the property of Italy and important to its national identity, he was also giving them citizenship.

Rutelli has hardly been the only government official to insist that artifacts belong to the places from which they originally came. In 2011, the German government agreed to return to Turkey a 3,000-year-old sphinx that German archaeologists had excavated from central Anatolia in the early twentieth century. Afterward, the Turkish minister of culture, Ertugrul Gunay, declared that “each and every antiquity in any part of the world should eventually go back to its homeland.”

Such claims on the national identity of antiquities are at the root of many states’ cultural property laws, which in the last few decades have been used by governments to reclaim objects from museums and other collections abroad. Despite UNESCO’s declaration that “no culture is a hermetically sealed entity,” governments are increasingly making claims of ownership of cultural property on the basis of self-proclaimed and fixed state-based identities. Many use ancient cultural objects to affirm continuity with a glorious and powerful past as a way of burnishing their modern political image — Egypt with the Pharaonic era, Iran with ancient Persia, Italy with the Roman Empire. These arguments amount to protectionist claims on culture. Rather than acknowledge that culture is in a state of constant flux, modern governments present it as standing still, in order to use cultural objects to promote their own states’ national identities.

In the battle over cultural heritage, repatriation claims based strictly on national origin are more than just denials of cultural exchange: they are also arguments against the promise of encyclopedic museums — a category that includes the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York; the British Museum, in London; and the Louvre, in Paris. By presenting the artifacts of one time and one culture next to those of other times and cultures, encyclopedic museums encourage curiosity about the world and its many peoples. They also promote a cosmopolitan worldview, as opposed to a nationalist concept of cultural identity. In an era of globalization that is nonetheless marked by resurgent nationalism and sectarianism, antiquities and their history should not be used to stoke such narrow identities. Instead, they should express the guiding principles of the world’s great museums: pluralism, diversity, and the idea that culture shouldn’t stop at borders — and nor, for that matter, should the cosmopolitan ideals represented by encyclopedic museums. Rather than acquiesce to frivolous, if stubborn, calls for repatriation, often accompanied by threats of cultural embargoes, encyclopedic museums should encourage the development of mutually beneficial relationships with museums everywhere in the world that share their cosmopolitan vision. Cultural property should be recognized for what it is: the legacy of humankind and not of the modern nation-state, subject to the political agenda of its current ruling elite.

The rest of James Cuno’s article in Cultural Affairs, Culture War: The Case Against Repatriating Museum Artifacts, is here.

   

Created by Dimitrios Tsalkanis
©
2014
 
A digital 3d reconstruction of the newly discovered tomb in Kasta hill of ancient Amphipolis, in Macedonia, Greece. Published on 13 December 2014. Disclaimer: The reconstruction is an artistic representation, based on the details published so far by the Greek Ministry of Culture.
 
For more info:
 
 
Moonstone
by
30cm x 21cm approx. Pencil on paper
 
 
The Tristan Stone
 
A 1,500 year-old standing stone in Cornwall, marking the grave of a king’s nephew who inspired the Tristan and Isolde legend, is being moved to make way for Wainhomes to build a housing estate and Park and Ride facility. Harriet Arkell, writing in the Mail Online, reports –
 
The ‘Tristan Stone’ was erected 1,500 years ago, reputedly to show the final resting place of Tristan, whose forbidden affair with the beautiful Irish princess Isolde has inspired poets for centuries. But a council has now given a developer permission to move the stone, described by English Heritage as ‘a significant scheduled monument’, to a nearby field so that they can build a housing estate and park and ride next to the site.
 
Mr Bert Bisco , an Independent Councillor on Cornwall Council, is reported by the Mail as saying that, “Such desecration is the equivalent of Napoleon shooting at the Sphinx for target practice.” Mr Biscoe, condemned the decision to shift the ancient obelisk as ‘cultural violence’ and one of the ‘worst attacks on heritage in the world’. He said, “How dare anybody presume to shift it without good reason? Building mundane houses in its vicinity is not good reason.”
 
More here.
 
 
Tristan and Iseult as depicted by Herbert Draper (1863–1920)
Source Wikimedia Commons
   

Marconi’s wireless factory in Chelmsford, Essex, England

The world’s first wireless factory in Chelmsford, Essex, England may be turned into apartments if developers get their way. The Old Silk Mill building in Hall Street, in the centre of the city, was the world’s first factory for wireless production. “Originally built by John Hall as a silk warehouse in 1861, it was bought by Courtaulds to be used as a silk weaving mill between 1865 and 1894.” The building was opened in 1898 by one of radio’s pioneers, Guglielmo Marconi. It has been empty since 2010 but there are now plans to convert it into apartments (four on the first floor and two on the ground floor) together with some commercial facilities which would entail internal alterations including partitions and two new staircases. Alterations to windows and doors, addition of windows, bin storage area and railings would also be introduced.

Marconi’s wireless factory today
©
The Heritage Trust
 

Chris Neale, from the Marconi Heritage Group, is reported as saying that he would rather the building be used as a community space, to display information about the city’s Marconi history and for educational activities. “Our concern is that this is the only industrial building left in Chelmsford which hasn’t been converted into something other than what it was used for,” said Mr Neal.

Marconi’s wireless factory with men in the ground floor machine shop

Chelmsford City Council will meet to discuss the proposed plans this week. A Planning Application Summary, with comments on the proposal, can be found here. See also our earlier feature on Chelmsford here.

   

Mongol invaders (left) fire on Takezaki Suenaga (on horseback) while a tetsuhau or ceramic projectile bomb explodes overhead
From the 13th century Mōko Shūrai Ekotoba (蒙古襲来絵詞) Japanese handscroll of the Mongol Invasion of Japan

Museum of the Imperial Collections, Tokyo Imperial Palace
Source Wikimedia Commons

Tasuku Ueda, Staff Writer, for the Asahi Shimbun, reports on the possible discovery of Kublai Khan’s invading fleet to Japan –

Matsuura, Nagasaki Prefecture: A wreck found off Takashima Island here is likely part of a Mongol invasion fleet that came to grief in a typhoon more than 700 years ago. The discovery was announced Oct. 2 by archaeologists with the University of the Ryukyus and the Matsuura City board of education who are researching the Takashima Kozaki underwater historic site.

Numerous artefacts have been recovered from the seabed from wrecks of fleets dispatched in 1274 and 1281 to invade Japan. In both invasion attempts, battles were fought in northern Kyushu. The fleet of 4,400 vessels sent by Kublai Khan in 1281 was wrecked near Takashima Island in a storm the Japanese dubbed ‘Kamikaze’ (divine wind) for ultimately saving their homeland from the Mongols.

An earlier report in Archaeology by James P. Delgado describes the discovery by Kenzo Hayashida of the Kyushu Okinawa Society for Underwater Archaeology (KOSUWA) of a, “…tetsuhau or ceramic projectile bomb. KOSUWA has recovered six of these from the wreck. They are the world’s earliest known exploding projectiles and the earliest direct archaeological evidence of seagoing ordnance.” Delado writes –

Chinese alchemists invented gunpowder around A.D. 300, and by 1100 huge paper bombs much like giant firecrackers were being used in battle. Chinese sources refer to catapult-launched exploding projectiles in 1221, but some historians have argued that the references date to later rewritings of the sources. In his recent book In Little Need of Divine Intervention, which analyses two Japanese scrolls that depict the Mongol invasion, Bowdoin College historian Thomas Conlan suggests that a scene showing a samurai falling from his horse as a bomb explodes over him was a later addition. Conlan’s research masterfully refutes many of the traditional myths and commonly held perceptions of the invasion, downplaying the number of ships and troops involved and arguing that it was not the storms but the Japanese defenders ashore, as well as confusion and a lack of coordination, that thwarted the khan’s two invasions. But his suggestion that the exploding bomb is an anachronism has now been demolished by solid archaeological evidence. Moreover, when the Japanese x-rayed two intact bombs, they found that one was filled just with gunpowder while the other was packed with gunpowder and more than a dozen square pieces of iron shrapnel intended to cut down the enemy.

More here and in Archaeology here.

 

 
Trethevy Quoit, Cornwall, photographed at the beginning of the 20th century
 
See all our other features on Trethevy Quoit by typing Trethevy Quoit into the search box above.
 
 
 
Greenpeace’s publicity stunt adjacent to the famous Nazca hummingbird geoglyph in Peru
Photo credit Thomas Reinecke/TV News
 
While Greenpeace does an excellent job highlighting to the world serious environmental issues, the organization seems to have seriously slipped up this time. During the night a group of Greenpeace activists entered the protected Nazca site and unfurled large yellow letters reading –
 
TIME
FOR CHANGE!
THE FUTURE  IS RENEWABLE
GREENPEACE
 
The Guardian reports today Peru’s vice-minister for culture, Luis Jaime Castillo, as saying, “This has been done without any respect for our laws. It was done in the middle of the night. They went ahead and stepped on our hummingbird, and looking at the pictures we can see there’s very severe damage,” Castillo said. “Nobody can go on these lines without permission – not even the president of Peru!”
 
We agree, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that in April last year part of the Nazca geoglyphs were torn up by heavy machinery owned by a mining company which operates a limestone quarry in the area (please see our earlier feature Lines of Nazca damaged). The company responsible is reported as saying that they had upgraded their operation a few months earlier to produce construction material and, as their land is privately owned, they are free to operate on it as they wish. We would be interested to hear from Peru’s vice-minister for culture, Luis Jaime Castillo, how he feels about this mining activity and what steps have been taken to halt it.
 
Meanwhile Greenpeace has apologised for its latest publicity stunt but, “…last week [it] projected a message promoting solar energy on to Huayna Picchu, the mountain that overlooks the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, another protected archaeological site in Peru.” Greenpeace really should know better than to use heritage sites to promote its own agendas – no matter how worthy those agendas may be.
 
More here with video.
 
 
Reproduction of a bison from one of the Altamira cave paintings
Source Wikimedia Commons. Image credit Rameessos
 
Leeds Inspired is part of the Leeds City Council (West Yorkshire, England) cultural programme that, “…celebrates arts, sport and heritage events throughout the year” and which, supports culture in the city through the Leeds Inspired website, their grants schemes and commissions.”
 
The Leeds Inspired what’s on website brings together the city’s annual highlights alongside independent events and fleet-of-foot DIY happenings to create an ever changing inspirational cultural calendar. Through our annual grants schemes and commissions we fund cultural projects that create high quality, accessible cultural experiences for Leeds’ residents and visitors alike.
 
Leeds Inspired is a Leeds City Council initiative and is led by a steering group of partners including West Yorkshire Playhouse, SAA-UK, Cultivate, Leeds Young Authors, Leeds Initiative, Leeds Met Gallery, Phoenix Dance and Duke Studios.
 
Today (10 December 2014) from 7:00-8:00pm Leeds Inspired welcomes –
 
David Veron to Otley Library where he will be talking about art through the ages, from cave painting to the work of modern artists, focusing on when these became recognized and accepted as art. David will also talk about his own journey as an artist and the influences that have informed his approach to painting.
 
David Veron is an accomplished artist specialising in oils, who has been painting since he was fourteen and has practised full time since 2004. His work has been widely exhibited and is owned by private collectors throughout Europe.
 
Free event. No booking required. More information here.
     

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Old Sarum, Wiltshire, England
Image credit English Heritage
 

David Keys, Archaeology Correspondent for The Independent, reports on the discovery in Southern England of –

…what may be one of the largest medieval royal palaces ever found – buried under the ground inside a vast prehistoric fortress.

The probable 12th century palace was discovered by archaeologists, using geophysical ground-penetrating ‘x-ray’ technology to map a long-vanished medieval city which has lain under grass on the site for more than 700 years. Located inside the massive earthwork defences of an Iron Age hill fort at Old Sarum in Wiltshire, the medieval city was largely founded by William the Conqueror who made it the venue for one of Norman England’s most important political events – a gathering of the country’s nobility at which all England’s mainly Norman barons and lords swore loyalty to William.

More here.

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Section of the ditch at Old Sarum
©
The Heritage Trust

“The Parthenon sculptures raises the bar for all of us… and it includes everybody all over the world… and is for all of us, all over the world.”

 

Playwright, author and British Museum trustee, Bonnie Greer celebrates the enduring beauty and humanity of the Parthenon Sculptures

The Parthenon was built as a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. It was the centrepiece of an ambitious building programme on the Acropolis of Athens. The temple’s great size and lavish use of white marble was intended to show off the city’s power and wealth at the height of its empire.

For our earlier features on the Parthenon sculptures type Elgin Marbles into the search box above.

 

 
 
Mark Strauss, writing for KINJA, reports on the earliest know decoration by a Homo erectus
 
Archaeologist Stephen Munro nearly fell off his chair when he noticed patterns of straight lines purposefully etched on a fossilized clamshell. The engravings were half a million years old, which meant they’d been made by a Homo erectus—an extinct human species that predated Homo sapiens by upwards of 300,000 years.
 
In addition to the engravings, Munroe and his colleagues found shells that were carefully crafted into specialized tools. Taken together, these discoveries suggest that Homo erectus was far more sophisticated than previously believed and capable of symbolic thought.
 
“It is a fascinating discovery,” says Colin Renfrew, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge. “The earliest abstract decoration in the world is really big news.”
 
The shells, which previously had been sitting in a museum, were collected more than a century ago by Dutch archaeologist Eugene Dubois on the Indonesian island of Java. Dubois had obtained the specimens from the same excavation site where, in the 1890s, he discovered the first-known remains of Homo erectus. In 2007, Leiden University archaeologist Josephine Joordens began studying the shells, looking for clues about what the environment had been like for humanity’s ancestors. It was then that her colleague, Munro, noticed the etchings.
 
In the seven years since, a team of scientists led by Joordens have been studying the shells, confirming their age and that the lines had not been made by animals. The results of their research have been published in Nature.
 
More here here.
   
 
The headless sculpture, in the British Museum, of the river god Ilissos from the Parthenon frieze
 
BBC News, Entertainment & Arts reports today on the British Museum’s loan to Russia of the headless sculpture of the river god Ilissos from the Parthenon frieze –
 
The British Museum has loaned one of the Elgin Marbles for the first time. A headless depiction of the river god Ilissos has been sent to Russia to go on display in St Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum until mid-January. It is one of a number of relics acquired by Lord Elgin in Athens in the early 19th Century, now known collectively as the Elgin Marbles.
 
Ownership of the artefacts, once part of the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple, is disputed by Greece. It maintains that Lord Elgin removed them illegally while the country was under Turkish occupation as part of the Ottoman Empire. The items have remained in the British Museum ever since.
 
The museum’s director, Neil MacGregor, said: “The British Museum is a museum of the world, for the world and nothing demonstrates this more than the loan of a Parthenon sculpture to the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg to celebrate its 250th anniversary.”
 
“The greatest things in the world should be… shared and enjoyed by as many people in as many countries as possible”
 
Neil MacGregor
Director, British Museum.
 
More here. See also our earlier features on the sculptures by typing Elgin Marbles into the search box above.
 

The Making of a Roman Silver Cup. Getty Museum

Ancient Roman silversmiths developed their craft to the highest levels of refinement and beauty. Applying fire and basic tools to the shaping of precious metals, many of their sophisticated techniques are still used today. This video illustrates the making of a stunning silver cup that has survived from the first century, A.D.

This cup is on view at the Getty Villa from November 19, 2014 to August 17, 2015 in the exhibition Ancient Luxury and the Roman Silver Treasure from Berthouville.

Subscribe NOW to the Getty Museum channel.

 

 

 
DW reports on a new exhibition of the 2,600 year-old burial chamber of a ‘Celtic Princess’ which was first discovered near Stuttgart in 2010.
 
The burial chamber of the “Celtic Princess of the Danube” unearthed in 2010 remains one of the most important archeological finds of the past decades in Germany. A new exhibition in Stuttgart allows the public to contemplate the riches found in the 2,600-year old grave. Even in plain view, the princess holds on to many secrets which keep puzzling archeologists.
 
No one knows whether the mysteries preserved in this astonishing grave will ever be solved. Archaeologists expect to spend many more years on the case. Before the artifacts go back to the lab for research, the secrets of the Celtic princess are on display in an exhibition center in the courtyard of the New Palace in Stuttgart through December 14, 2014.
 
 

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