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A guest feature by Littlestone.
The Dali Museum, Florida, United States
Image credit Matthew Paulson. Source Wikimedia Commons
Not all is doom and gloom… at least not when it comes to the number of museums in the United States. According to Christopher Ingraham, writing for The Washington Post, there are roughly 11,000 Starbucks and about 14,000 McDonald’s in the country – a total of some 25,000 outlets. That’s a lot, but not as many as there are museums, which weigh in at a whopping 35,000!
According to Mr Ingraham –
…the latest data release from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, an independent government agency that tallies the number and type of museums in this country. By their count the 35,000 active museums represent a doubling from the number estimated in the 1990s.
While most of us think of massive institutions like the Smithsonian and the Guggenheim when we think of museums, one lesson of the new data is that the majority of U.S. museums are small, nearly mom-and-pop affairs. Of the roughly 25,000 museums with income data in the file, 15,000 of them  reported an annual income of less than $10,000 on their latest IRS returns.
Well done the United States! (full Washington Post article here). Meanwhile, if you feel you can help support museums in Britain, please consider offering some of your time to them, making a donation or buying books etc directly from a museum shop rather than going through one of the big retailers. The Beck Isle Museum in Pickering, North Yorkshire is a good example of how we can support the smaller museum, and the British Museum shop an example of how direct purchasing will help support larger museums and their varied activities.
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 –
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.
Facade of one of the Mayan cities recently discovered in a Mexican jungle. According to Ivan Sprajc, expedition leader, Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, the entrance represents the open jaws of an earth monster, a Maya earth deity related to fertility. Such doorways ‘symbolised the entrance to a cave and, in general, to the watery underworld. The place of the mythological origin of maize and the abode of the ancestors.’
Image credit Ivan Sprajc
April Holloway, writing for Ancient Origins, reports on the discovery and rediscovery of two ancient Maya cities –
In an amazing new discovery in the jungles of Mexico, archaeologists have uncovered two ancient Mayan cities, including ruined pyramid temples, palace remains, a monster mouth gateway, a ball court, altars, and other stone monuments, according to a new release by Discovery News. One of the cities had been found decades ago but all attempts to relocate it had failed. The other city was previously unknown and is a brand new discovery, shedding new light on the ancient Mayan civilization.
More here.

The Lunder Conservation Center, Smithsonian American Art Museum

At the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Lunder Conservation Center, visitors have the unique opportunity to see conservators at work in five different laboratories and studios. The Center features floor-to-ceiling glass walls that allow the public to view all aspects of conservation work–work that is traditionally done behind the scenes at other museums and conservation centers


Ancient cave paintings of white-lipped peccaries discovered by researchers in Brazil’s Pantanal and Cerrado biome
Image credit: Liana Joseph/WCS
The Wildlife Conservation Society reports on 8 November 203 that –
Researchers tracking white-lipped peccaries in Brazil got the surprise of a lifetime. The team discovered ancient cave drawings made by hunter-gatherer societies thousands of years ago. The remarkable drawings are diverse and add significantly to our knowledge of rock art from the Cerrado plateau region.
The extraordinary discovery was made on Brazil’s Cerrado plateau in 2009, while the team was conducting surveys and collecting data on the pig-like peccaries. These animals are important indicators of healthy forests but are sadly disappearing from the area due to deforestation and hunting.
More here.

Three scout leaders in the United States are to face criminal charges after filming themselves destroying a natural, mushroom-shaped rock formation (known as a hoodoo) in Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park. The three men (Dave Hall, Glenn Taylor and Dylan Taylor) are seen in their own video toppling the formation while one of them is heard to say, “Some little kid was about ready to walk down here and die and Glenn saved his life by getting the boulder out of the way, so it’s all about saving lives here at Goblin Valley.”

Hoodoos take millions of years to form and there are thousands of them in Goblin Valley State Park. Spokesman Eugene Swalberg said, “It is not only wrong, but there will be consequences. This is highly, highly inappropriate. This is not what you do at state parks. It’s disturbing and upsetting.” It certainly is inappropriate; let’s hope better signage will be put in place warning visitors of the consequences of damaging the park’s features and that this particular hoodoo can be re-erected.


While the New York Post runs a feature called Get Banksy! the mayor of the city, Michael Bloomberg, is reported as saying Banksy is a vandal, not an artist, telling reporters, “You running up to somebody’s property or public property and defacing it is not my definition of art.” It’d be interesting to know what Bloomberg’s definition of art is but, more interestingly, why is Banksy in New York at all, apparently thumbing his nose at the authorities along with some of the art merchants there as well.
Earlier this year we ran several features on Banksy focusing on the removal of one of his works from a wall in North London and its subsequent sale to an American collector for £75,000. It’s interesting now to see that original signed canvasses by the artist were on sale at a one-day stall in New York’s Central Park recently for just £38 ($60) each! Is Banksy biting back? We can’t help thinking that he is, and is quite literally taking his art to the streets of New York to be enjoyed for nothing, and even bought for next-to-nothing (many of the pieces at the stall were estimated to be worth up to £20,000 each but remained unsold at the end of the day!). Sadly some of the residents, including the mayor of New York and the NYPD don’t quite seem to have got that message.
Banksy is in New York all this month during which time he has promised a new piece of street art every day. Entitled Better Out Than In, daily postings of his public New York art show can be seen on his website here. This is his work for 17 October –
Bed Stuy / Williamsburg by Banksy
Beyond El Dorado: power and gold in ancient Colombia
Organised with Museo del Oro, Bogotá and on show at the British Museum from 17 October 2013 – 23 March 2014


The myths of El Dorado

For centuries Europeans were dazzled by the legend of El Dorado – literally ‘the golden one’. Many different stories were told of El Dorado – sometimes it was imagined as a lost city of gold, sometimes as a man covered in powdered gold who plunged into the middle of Lake Guatavita (near modern Bogotá). The exhibition uncovers the fascinating truth behind some of these myths. Unlike in Europe, gold was not valued as currency in pre-Hispanic Colombia. Instead it had great symbolic meaning, facilitating all kinds of social and spiritual transformations. It was one way the elite could publicly assert their rank, both in life and in death.

Details here.


A mechanical digger belonging to a construction company destroys the side of a Mayan pyramid
Image credit Jaime Awe/AP
The Guardian reports earlier this month that –
A construction company has essentially destroyed one of Belize’s largest Mayan pyramids with diggers and bulldozers to extract crushed rock for a road-building project, authorities have announced.
The head of the Belize Institute of Archaeology, Jaime Awe, said on Tuesday that the destruction at the Nohmul complex in northern Belize was detected late last week. The ceremonial centre dates back at least 2,300 years and is the most important site in northern Belize, near the border with Mexico. “It’s a feeling of incredible disbelief because of the ignorance and the insensitivity … they were using this for road fill,” Awe said. “It’s like being punched in the stomach, it’s just so horrendous.”
Nohmul was in the middle of a privately owned sugar cane field, and lacked the even stone sides frequently seen in reconstructed or better-preserved pyramids. But Awe said the builders could not possibly have mistaken the pyramid mound, which is about 30 metres (100ft) tall, for a natural hill because the ruins were well known and the landscape there was naturally flat.
Full article here.

Palygorskite. Image credit Wiki Commons

HeritageDaily reports on the 12 April that –

The recipe and process for preparing Maya Blue, a highly-resistant pigment used for centuries in Mesoamerica, were lost. We know that the ingredients are a plant dye, indigo, and a type of clay known as palygorskite, but scientists do not know how they were ‘cooked’ and combined together. Now, a team of chemists from the University of Valencia and the Polythecnic University of Valencia (Spain) have come up with a new hypothesis about how it was prepared.

Full article here.



A monkey geoglyph in the Lines of Nazca complex

Writing in yesterday, Michael Allan McCrae reports that –

A portion of the Nazca Lines, massive ancient geoglyphs in southern Peru, were torn up by heavy machinery, reports El Comercio (Spanish).

The Nazca Lines, which were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, are large figures etched into the desert between 400 and 650 AD. The company that is accused of the damage, which operates a limestone quarry and upgraded their operation a few months ago to produce construction material, says their land is privately owned and they are free to operate on it as they wish. A researcher is pushing back…

Full article here. See also our latest Greenpeace, you really should know better… feature.

Writing in The Los Angeles Times on the 18 November, Louis Sahagun reports on the theft, damage and desecration of 3,500 year old petroglyphs on cliffs in the Eastern Sierra –

BISHOP, Calif. — Ancient hunters and gatherers etched vivid petroglyphs on cliffs in the Eastern Sierra that withstood winds, flash floods and earthquakes for more than 3,500 years. Thieves needed only a few hours to cut them down and haul them away.

Federal authorities say at least four petroglyphs have been taken from the site. A fifth was defaced with deep saw cuts on three sides. A sixth had been removed and broken during the theft, then propped against a boulder near a visitor parking lot. Dozens of other petroglyphs were scarred by hammer strikes and saw cuts.

The region is known as Volcanic Tableland. It is held sacred by Native Americans whose ancestors adorned hundreds of lava boulders with spiritual renderings: concentric circles, deer, rattlesnakes, bighorn sheep, and hunters with bows and arrows. For generations, Paiute-Shoshone tribal members and whites have lived side by side but not together in Bishop. But desecration of the site, which Native Americans still use in spiritual ceremonies, has forced reservation officials and U.S. authorities to come together and ask a tough question: Can further vandalism be prevented?

Full article and video here. For photos see The Daily Mail article here.


Writing for Dustin Naef reports that –

Native Americans of the Mt. Shasta region have maintained ceremonial sites on and around the mountain for thousands of years, but the locations of these sites have not been disclosed to the public, and are not talked about – and well, one can hardly blame or criticize them for it, because most Native Americans would like to enjoy the areas that they deem sacred without the intrusion of the public who have been known to desecrate their ancestral lands, and carry away sacred objects as souvenirs.

After all, how would some people like it if someone came into their church to have a picnic, and then carried off an urn? Some sacred sites already no longer exist, or have been defiled (like Pluto’s Cave) as a result of development and intrusion, and others are in jeopardy. (Native American Interview By Dorothea J. Theodoratus and Nancy H. Evans ).

Many Native Americans view any development on Mt. Shasta, or indigenous sacred sites anywhere, as dangerous to all people in the vicinity, because most believe that the spirits who reside there will find a way to destroy any such construction, or punish intrusions upon their sacred ground. Their concern is that further development and intrusions will harm the energy and strength of the mountain, which connects to the whole topology of the region, and perhaps dislocate the spirits who reside there.

Sacred Land Film Project (SLFP)’s mission is to create and distribute media and educational materials to deepen public understanding of sacred sites, indigenous cultures and environmental justice. A sponsored project of Earth Island Institute in Berkeley, California since 1984, SLFP is a 501(c)3 non-profit funded entirely through grants and individual donations. If you enjoy this clip, please consider making a donation to SLFP. Your contribution will make it possible for us to complete our newest documentary series, Losing Sacred Ground, which will bring the stories of these indigenous communities to a national television audience.



Chimney Rock Archaeological Site: Image credit US National Forest Service

Writing in The Examiner on Friday, 21 September, Stacey Witting reports that –

Today, President Obama exercised his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate a new national monument at Chimney Rock Archaeological Area in Colorado. The president’s decision provides this irreplaceable site — sometimes called “America’s Stonehenge” — with permanent protection and a designation equal to its historic and cultural importance. The 4,726-acre Chimney Rock Archaeological area located in San Juan National Forest which is a mecca for hikers.

President Obama’s decision—only the third time he has exercised his authority [in this way] — comes in response to a grassroots campaign conceived and led by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which engaged a diverse coalition including a bipartisan group of local and statewide elected officials, Puebloan and tribal leaders and private citizens. In May, the National Trust named Chimney Rock a National Treasure, one of the irreplaceable places that epitomize the American story but face distinct threats.

The history and cultural significance of Chimney Rock predate the exploration and settlement of North America. Between A.D. 925 and 1125, the Chacoans built a residential and ceremonial village and inhabited the Chimney Rock mesa, establishing the most northeastern and highest known Chacoan site.

The ancient Chacoans were great engineers, architects and astronomers. Among their ceremonial and residential structures on the mesa is the Great House Pueblo which was likely used as an observatory for the rare Northern Lunar Standstill. During the standstill the moon aligns between Chimney Rock’s double spires. This extraordinary lunar alignment has earned Chimney Rock the nickname “America’s Stonehenge.”

Full article here.

Senior conservator, Stefano Scafetta, works on a portrait of a young Menominee boy by George Catalin

In this studio [at the Smithsonian American Art Museum] conservators restore the surface of paintings to a condition that most closely resembles an earlier unaltered or undamaged state. The two most common procedures that take place here are cleaning and inpainting. During cleaning, conservators carefully remove layers of accumulated grime; darkened varnish; and old, discolored retouching from the surface of paintings. To restore areas of lost paint, conservators fill the areas of loss with gesso, and inpaint them to match surrounding areas of original paint. They use easily reversible materials and take great care not to cover any of the original paint that had been applied by the artist.



June 2022
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