Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Pyrrhic Victory

A superbly struck example of a rare gold stater from the ancient Greek city state of Taras (Tarentum) in southern Italy, a.k.a.Calabria. The 8.55 g coin dates from 276-272 BC. The obverse shows the head of Zeus. On the reverse an eagle with wings displayed perches on a thunderbolt.
$ 18,000 in VF.
Taras or Tarentum, in Calabria, is modern Taranto in southern Italy.
When the Romans broke a treaty with Taras to subdue an adjacent Greek city, Taras forcibly expelled the Roman garrison from the captured township. The Romans were not impressed and sought revenge. Taras appealed for help to King Pyrrhos of Epirus in northwestern Greece. Pyrrhos duly arrived to embark upon the great Pyrrhic War of 280-275 B.C.E. He defeated the Roman armies in two battles but found he could not crush Rome itself.

The two conflicts had delivered Pyrrhos massive casualties. He remarked, if “we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.” The expression “Pyrrhic victory” entered the world’s lexicon.

Bust of Pyrrhos
In 278 B.C.E. Pyrrhos abandoned Taras to its fate. He did return in 275 B.C.E. for another round with the Roman legions, but was soundly defeated and returned to Epirus. Three years later Taras was besieged and the city finally fell to the Romans.

Monday, 27 March 2017

500 BC Celtic tomb reveals Gold

In 2015 French archaeologists completed excavations of an ancient burial site revealing the decorated skeleton of a Celtic prince. The tomb was discovered in an industrial area of Lavau, a village near Troyes, about 150km southeast of Paris.

The finding was described as "extraordinary" by experts. Buried with a two-wheeled chariot, the body is believed to be a high-ranked aristocrat from the so-called Hallstatt culture that dominated central Europe during the Early Iron Age.

The skeleton sported ancient pieces of jewellery including a richly decorated gold torque weighing more than half a kilogram and gold bracelets.

Remains of the deceased's clothing, such as shoe parts, finely worked amber beads that formed a necklace or hair decoration, and iron and coral hooks that attached to a piece of clothing were also retrieved.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

The Lamassu

A lamassu is an Assyrian protective deity, often depicted as having a human's head, a body of an ox or a lion, and bird's wings. The Lammasu or Lumasi represent the zodiacs, parent-stars or constellations. Large lamassu figures up to 5 metres high are showpieces in Assyrian sculpture, where they are the largest figures known to have been made.
In art, lamassu were depicted as hybrids, either winged bulls or lions with the head of a human male. The motif of a winged animal with a human head is common to the Near East, first recorded in Ebla around 3000 BC.
The lamassu appears frequently in Mesopotamian art. The lamassu and shedu were household protective spirits of the common Babylonian people, becoming associated later as royal protectors, and were placed as sentinels at entrances.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Mummies Revealed

Now at the American Museum of Natural History, a new “Mummies” exhibition explores how two civilizations on opposite sides of the globe, ancient Egypt and pre-Columbian Peru, both embraced mummification.

Though mummies are linked to Egypt, it was Peru’s Chinchorro people who first began mummifying their dead, some 7,000 years ago. The Gilded Lady has a face adorned with a thin layer of gold. CT scanning reveals she likely died in her 40s of tuberculosis, and had curly hair and an overbite.
The headdress is made of cartonnage, a papier-mâché like substance made from glued layers of papyrus or linen, then covered with gilding, a thin layer of gold. Ancient Egyptians believed the gold would enable the person’s eyes, nose, and mouth to stay intact for the afterlife. The golden skin was used to show divinity because after death, she would be transformed into the god Osiris, who had skin of gold.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Crusader-era Gold found off coast in Northern Israel

Thirty gold coins were found amid the remains of a Crusader-era shipwreck discovered off the coast of Acre in northern Israel. The city of Acre sits on Israel’s Mediterranean coast, just north of Haifa. In the 13th century it was one of the most important strongholds left to European Crusaders in the Holy Land. Archaeologists dated the shipwreck's wood to 1250 A.D. But the golden coins showed that the ship likely sailed later than that. The coins were golden florins, minted in Florence, Italy, starting in 1252. The ship must have sailed sometime in the last half of the 13th century.

Crusader Fortress : Old City of Acre – Northern Israel
At the siege of Acre, as Christians made a desperate attempt to flee the city, the knights made their doomed last stand.

As the Mamluks of Egyptian sultan Al-Ashraf Khalil were digging tunnels to get inside, the castle’s foundation collapsed, burying the doomed Templars. The sultan’s flag soon flew over Acre, and the Egyptian forces systematically dismantled the Crusader city, leaving its seaport in ruin.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Evolution of Lipstick

While there is no evidence, historians say it’s likely that lipstick, like humans themselves, evolved from prehistoric times when they started to smear plant juices on their faces for religious ceremonies — and perhaps just to make themselves more attractive to that cute Neanderthal next door.

As early as 2500 BC, and certainly by 1000 BC, Sumerian men and women in southern Mesopotamia invented and wore lipstick. They are thought to have crushed gemstones and used them to decorate their faces, mainly on the lips and around the eyes. Egyptians also adopted this fashion craze. According to records, they mixed a red dye extracted from seaweed with iodine and bromine mannite, which can be highly toxic. Over time a safer lipstick made from crushed carmine beetles and ants was used.
In ancient Greece only prostitutes were allowed to flaunt scarlet lip paint. This led to the first known law related to lipstick, which dictated that prostitutes could be punished for improperly posing as ladies if they appeared in public without their designated lip paint. In ancient Rome both genders used lipstick to distinguish social class and rank. Around 1000 AD famed physician and chemist Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi perfected a formula for solid lipsticks, and these perfumed sticks became the basis for today’s cosmetics.
For the next 1,000 years lipstick was both revered and despised. During the Middle Ages religious groups condemned makeup for “challenging God and his workmanship.” In the 1500s, English pastors denounced lip painting as “the devil’s work,” but that didn’t stop Queen Elizabeth I from using a mix of cochineal, gum Arabic, egg white and fig milk to produce crimson lips that became the rage. In 1770, Britain passed a law that condemned lipstick on the grounds that “women found guilty of seducing men into matrimony by cosmetic means could be tried for witchcraft.”
It wasn’t until the late 1800s that lipstick started coming out of the closet. Famed actress Sarah Berhardt shocked the world by daring to apply lipstick in public. By 1912, suffragettes marched down the streets of New York proudly wearing their bright red lipstick. Red lipstick became the 'it' symbol of female rebellion.

According to various studies and surveys, the average woman today will use 9 pounds of lipstick in her lifetime and nearly half say they own more than 20 at any given time. Lipstick had truly arrived.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Napoleon's Treasure

In October, 1812, Napoleon’s troops were leaving Moscow. Five weeks before that, they had been looting not only the citizens’ private houses but also the Kremlin and Moscow’s churches.

The French even removed the gilded cross from the Russian capital’s famous Ivan the Great Bell Tower. When leaving Moscow, each of Napoleon’s soldiers was loaded with stolen valuables.
October 25th 1812 became the first day of Napoleon troops’ genuine retreat. Over 14,000 mounted cavalry, nearly 90,000 boot-borne troops and some 12,000 non-combatant and ill soldiers passed through the Kaluga Gate - a total of 116,000 people and 569 hardware items.
Bonaparte ordered his troops to blow up the Kremlin in revenge for the three unsuccessful offers of peace to Russian Emperor Alexander I. As a result, several Kremlin towers were ruined, as well as some of its walls, the Arsenal’s building, the Assumption Belfry and the Filaret Annex next to the Ivan the Great Bell Tower.

The transportation of the emperor’s loot required 200 horse-drawn wagons. Napoleon had two wagon trains: the so-called “golden train,” carrying valuables looted from the Kremlin; and the iron train, full of ancient weaponry. As they retreated, Napoleon's exhausted army was forced to abandon their spoils.

Historians believe the valuables were thrown into one of the lakes west of the Smolensk Region.
Over the years there have been many attempts to find the abandoned loot.

The lakes around Smolensk in particular is among the most popular destination for seekers of the lost Napoleonic hoard.
Archaeologists excavated a mass grave in Vilnius, Lithuania in 2015. The jumbled bones, haphazardly oriented, were punctuated with finds of shoes and clothing. Buttons revealed the identity of the dead: over 40 different regiments were represented, all from Napoleon’s Grande Armée.

Archaeologists had found the final resting place of over three thousand men who perished during Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in 1812.
About 675,000 men of Napoleon's Grand Army set out for Moscow to conquer Russia in June 1812.

By the time of the retreat from Moscow, the army, which had swelled to 900,000, was reduced to 100,000.
When the retreating troops finally reached Vilnius in Lithuania, Napoleon's Grand Army was not so grand: they had been reduced to about 50,000 vermin-bitten, diseased, cold, and starving men.
As the European soldiers died of starvation, disease and the cold, locals burned the bodies. But the stench was so great that the locals started burying them en masse, using trenches the soldiers had dug on their way to Russia as graves.

In 2007 one of Napoleon's swords was sold for more than US$6.4 million. The sword, used in battle some 200 years ago, is believed to be the last of Napoleon's blades in private hands.