Tag Archives: Ancient

Archaeology in the News: I Wish the News were Better

27 Jun

Usually, I get really excited when archaeology makes the national or world news. (The same type of excitement I reserve for archaeology-themed TV specials and particularly well-researched historical video games and movies.) Unfortunately, the news in this case is really bad.

“Archaeology is destruction” is an oft-used phrase, but it is especially tragic to learn about a site that is slowly self-destructing. I recently read a feature article from the BBC about the site of Mohenjo Daro in Pakistan. The site represents a gigantic Bronze Age (my favorite Age) city- okay, not terribly gigantic under today’s definition, but in the Bronze Age its population of 35,000 would have been positively metropolitan. In fact, it was one of the largest cities in the Indus River Valley civilization. The city is thought to have been first constructed in 2,600 BC and abandoned around 1,800 BC. It is very well laid out (who doesn’t love excellent ancient town planning?), with nice straight streets and amenities like public baths, venues that could hold thousands of people, and is overall a great example of urban infrastructure. (We aren’t talking mere Minoan palace complexes here, people! It’s a whole beautiful city full of innovation!)

The Great Bath and Granary


An aerial view of the impressive city

So what is the sad part of this, you ask? Unfortunately, now that the city has been largely excavated, is had begun to self-construct. The exposed brickwork has been crumbling, which means that the site, which is an amazing example of an Indus (or Harappa) civilization city is at risk of being lost to future visitors and academics. Protected underground for thousands of years, the excavated parts of the site are now exposed to harsh climate conditions and issues. Worse, the site’s lagging popularity as a tourist site means that it had lost needed funding as well (funding issues have put another important site, Pompeii in danger, too). Possibly the most upsetting part of the situation is that “restoration” work (done presumably by archaeologists) is actually contributing to the site continued destruction.

Hearing about things like this makes me depressed. rarely is there the power of funding to help sites like these (and at best, they can only attempt to “arrest” the decay. Thousands of years- it was in the ground for thousands of years! But now, it has been suggested that if there isn’t drastic action, the site could be completely destroyed in the next 20 years. Some birds have longer lifespans than that! These things can’t just be replaced.

Here is the original article from the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18491900


The Ancient Art Form of Spooning and Eating

13 Oct

A lot of the times, I think Romans are pretty awesome (indoor toilets! crosswalks on the street! art!). There are, however, occasions when I think Romans are really strange people, with some interesting and questionable customs. You may be familiar with how Roman houses work. Atrium, gardens, etc. (Maybe you’re not as familiar- its okay. They have atriums…and gardens…) Here’s a picture of a typical Roman house (House, not villa…those are for the countryside):


Getting closer to the point of this post- Romans are really big on eating. They like to have a nice early dinner (those Romans are early to bed, early to rise). Seriously, they would think you’re crazy for eating at the incredibly late hour of 8pm. Anyways, so they love to eat. Romans take their dinner in the triclinium (dining room), which is lined with couches. Okay, so it isn’t at all weird to eat dinner while sitting on a couch (I eat dinner sitting on the couch.), but the Romans aren’t sitting…they’re laying. I suppose reclining and eating isn’t all that radical, but I’m a little weirded out by the Roman’s methods. In order to fit big parties of folks laying down, they had people line up along the couches and cuddle with each other. Check out this diagram:


They are spooning. And eating. Spooning and eating at the same time. It seems like a very uncomfortable way to do dinner. What if you don’t like you you have to lay next to? What if you don’t like the person laying behind you? I’m just imagining how awkward Roman dinner parties are. Maybe that’s why they were drinking so much wine?For those people who love pictures/need a reconstruction of everything, here’s one artist’s view of how it might look:


Thoughts? Comments? Concerns?

Unfortunately Named Person of the Day: Emperor Pupienus

22 Sep

Even Roman Emperors cannot avoid bad names…today’s unfortunately named person of the day is the Marcus Clodius Pupienus Maximus, or just plain Emperor Pupienus.
According to Wikipedia, contemporary texts tend to refer to him incorrectly as “Maximus”, instead of his family name of Pupienus. Really? I can’t imagine why.
Despite a name good enough to grace the pages of history books, poor Pupienus somehow managed slip by under the radar. Probably because he ruled during the Year of Six Emperors, 238 AD, along with Maximus Thrax, Balbinus, and Gordian I, II, and III.
Pupienus was co-emperor with Balbinus, and they apparently did not get along. The story goes that they were in the midst of arguing with eachother when the praetorian guard came in and assassinated them both. But what I’m really wondering is if Pupienus lived long enough to have children…and pass on his fantastic family name.

Reflections on Disney’s Hercules

19 Sep

I recently re-watched the Disney movie Hercules (and by the I mean I recently sung along to the entire movie), and noticed some interesting (or not- depends on your definition of “interesting”) things.

The first thing I noticed is that Baby Hercules starts the movie off as a blonde, then becomes a ginger when he becomes mortal (following Disney’s plot, Hades tries to make Hercules mortal in order to kill him and eventually take over Olympus/the world). Hercules is the only ginger in all of ancient Greece. What are you trying to tell us Disney- that gingers are gods in mortal form? Statistically speaking, its pretty unlikely that Hercules was a ginger (granted, its highly unlikely Hercules actually ever existed at all- sorry to burst any bubbles there).

Second thing: Disney very much Disneyfied the Greek gods, especially Zeus and Hera. The movie portrays them as this 1950s-esque couple with trouble having kids. Then they produce the adorable baby Hercules and all of the gods rejoice on Mount Olympus. Greek myth doesn’t exactly work that way though. A quick read of, well, basically anything involving Greek gods will let you know immediately that Zeus and Hera weren’t married or in any way monogamous. In fact, Zeus had dozens of illegitimate children running around- some with other gods, some with mortal women. He also had this weird bestiality thing going on (swans and bulls, anyone?).

For another thing, did anyone else notice the 5-lady gospel choir that sings most of the songs in the movie (including three titled, “The Gospel of Truth”)? As with ginger Hercules, you have to wonder why. Dear Disney, why is there a 5-lady gospel choir to sing us Hercules’ tale? This is Greek myth, and thus predates the Gospels by a long time- and it predates gospel choirs by even longer. Also, why is one of the singing women short and fat when the rest of them are all lithe? Judging pretty hardcore right now Disney.

Also, Megara (clever naming reference to the Greek megaron?) is by far the most sexed-up Disney character ever. Deep voice, big hair, and an almost physically-impossible hip jut, her character is designed to… distract… Hercules. She spends a lot of time in the movie simpering all over the place). Apparently her character is based on the Greek tragic heroine Alcestis, who died to save her husband. She also (very strangely) has some sort of accent- New Jersey maybe? Why Disney? Why? I don’t understand! In case you’ve forgotten (or never knew in the first place), here’s what Meg and Hercules look like in the movie:

No big deal that Hercules is wearing the tiniest man-skirt ever. Anyways, there are parts of the movie that I really do like. For instance, the temple of Zeus near the beginning, where Hercules comes to find his way. Excellent job with the temple and giant cult statue. It could have looked more chryselephantine (gold and ivory) for authenticity, though. Great job and good movie regardless. I also approve of all the pottery-type animation (red figure and black figure), which is generally reserved for the songs in the movie.