Posts Tagged ‘roman’

Photo: Laura Young via LiveAuctioneers.
Laura Young with the Roman sculpture she found at a Goodwill in Austin, Texas.

Here’s a fun story. You may have heard it before as it was all over the media for a while. This version is by Matt Largey, reporting for KUT, an NPR station in Austin, Texas.

“When Laura Young found a human head under a table at the Goodwill store on Far West Boulevard in 2018, she had no idea what she was getting herself into.

“The price tag said $34.99. Seemed like a deal. It was all white. Made of marble. Weighed about 50 pounds.

“ ‘Clearly antique — clearly old,’ said Young, who runs her own business as an antiques dealer and goes to a lot of thrift stores looking for treasures.

“So she bought the head and lugged it out to her car, buckled it into the passenger seat and took it home.

“Young wanted to figure out what the sculpture was, so she did some Googling and she started to piece things together. She contacted an auction house in London that confirmed it was really old — like first century old. Another auction house managed to find the head in a catalog of items from a German museum in the 1920s and 1930s.

“It was listed as a portrait bust of a man named Drusus Germanicus.

“And so began Young’s four-year ordeal trying to get rid of a 2,000-year-old sculpture.

“How did a 2,000-year-old sculpture of a Roman general’s head wind up in a Goodwill in Austin, Texas?

“ ‘There are plenty of Roman portrait sculptures in the world. There’s a lot of them around. They’re generally not in Goodwills,’ joked Stephennie Mulder, an art history professor at UT Austin. ‘So the object itself is not terribly unusual, but the presence of it here is what makes it extraordinary.’ …

“The marble bust was cataloged at a museum called Pompejanum in the German city of Aschaffenburg. The museum was a replica of a villa in Pompeii, which was buried in volcanic ash in the first century. The German king, Ludwig the First, had something of an obsession with Pompeii, so he built this villa in the 1840s to house a bunch of Roman art. Germanicus was among the collection.

“Almost 100 years later, World War II was raging. In spring of 1945, Aschaffenburg was the site of a battle between the Nazis and the U.S. Army. …

“ ‘We know that many of the objects [in the museum] were either destroyed in the Allied bombing campaign or looted afterward,’ Mulder said. ‘So unfortunately in this case, it might have been a U.S. soldier who either looted it himself or purchased it from someone who had looted the object.’ …

“Perhaps the person who took it died or perhaps they gave it away. But somehow, someone decided they didn’t want it anymore and dropped it off at Goodwill. Workers slapped a price tag for $34.99 on it and put it out for sale. …

“Back at home, Young had a problem: She was in possession of a looted piece of ancient art. She couldn’t keep it. She couldn’t sell it. And giving it back to its rightful owners was a lot harder than it sounds.

“ ‘At that point, I realized I was probably going to need some help,’ Young says. ‘I was probably going to need an attorney.’

“So she hired a lawyer in New York who specializes in international art law, Leila Amineddoleh.

“Negotiations began. It was complicated. It takes a long time to figure out all this stuff — even in the best of times. But the pandemic complicated things even further. It was slow going and in the meantime, she was stuck with this 2,000-year-old head on display at her house. …

“It looked great in the house, she says. In a weird way, Young started to get attached. She named him — half-jokingly — after Dennis Reynolds, a narcissist character from the TV show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

“ ‘He was attractive, he was cold, he was aloof. I couldn’t really have him. He was difficult,’ she says. ‘So, yeah, my nickname for him was Dennis.’ …

“Finally, they got a deal: The Germans would take Dennis back. The exact terms of the deal are confidential, but the head will stay in Texas — on display — for about a year. Last month, the movers came to get him. …

“Young says, ‘It’ll be a little bittersweet to see him in the museum, but he needs to go home. He wasn’t supposed to be here.’

“[You] can see Dennis at the San Antonio Museum of Art, which already has a significant Roman antiquities collection.

“ ‘It actually ended up being a really, really good fit. He’s just right down the road,’ Young says. …

“In a way, Dennis will always be with Young. Before she let him go, she had a half-size copy of him 3D-printed. ‘I do have a collection of busts at home,’ she says. ‘So he’s with my other heads.’ “

More at station KUT, here.

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Photo: Andy Chopping/MOLA.
This newly unearthed mosaic is thought to have adorned the floors of a Roman dining room. The spot where it stands is close to London Bridge.

There are still surprises to be found on Planet Earth. Sometimes right beneath your feet. In today’s story, it was a Roman mosaic buried below a parking lot. Wouldn’t you have liked to be the chap who first realized what was there? As often happens in archaeology, the mosaic was discovered in the process of prepping a site for new construction. Jeevan Ravindran had the story at CNN.

“A large area of well-preserved Roman mosaic — parts of it approximately 1,800 years old — has been uncovered in London near one of the city’s most popular landmarks. The mosaic is thought to have adorned the floors of a Roman dining room, and the spot where it stands is near the Shard — the capital’s tallest building, close to London Bridge.

“Archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) unearthed the mosaic earlier this month during an excavation ahead of building work due to take place on the site, which previously served as a car park.

“The find is the largest area of Roman mosaic to have been discovered in London in at least 50 years, according to a press release from MOLA.

” ‘It is a really, really special find,’ Sophie Jackson, MOLA’s director of developer services, told CNN Wednesday, adding that large Roman mosaics were not often built in London due to it being a ‘crowded’ city. …

“The dining room where the mosaic was found is thought to have been part of a Roman ‘mansio,’ or ‘upmarket “motel” offering accommodation, stabling, and dining facilities,’ the team said in the press release. The lavish decorations and size indicated only ‘high-ranking officers and their guests’ would have stayed there.

“The mosaic itself is [composed] of two panels, with the larger dating to the late 2nd or early 3rd century AD. However, the team spotted traces of an earlier mosaic underneath, which Jackson said an expert will now attempt to retrace and reconstruct.

“The larger panel is decorated with ‘large, colorful flowers surrounded by bands of intertwining strands’ and patterns including a Solomon’s knot (a looped motif). …

“As there is an ‘exact parallel’ to this design in a mosaic found in the German city of Trier, the team believes the same artists worked on both, suggesting a tradition of ‘traveling Roman artisans at work in London.’ …

“Near the spot where the mosaic was found, the team also found traces of ‘lavishly’ painted walls, terrazzo-style and mosaic floors, coins, jewelry and decorated bone hairpins, suggesting the area was occupied by wealthy inhabitants.

“Although the mosaic’s future is not yet decided, Jackson said it will likely go on public display. The archaeologists will now proceed to the final stage of the excavation, at a spot that has not previously been examined.”

Bet the folks behind the planned construction are feeling a little frustrated! More at CNN, here.

You may also like to read about the mosaics in Trier, a World Heritage site. Dr. Marcus Reuter, director of the Rheinisches Landesmuseum, says, “Most of the mosaics come from our own excavations in the region. Many impressive objects that point to the Roman city’s significance have been found in the former Roman Imperial Residence of Trier.” More from Germany here.

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The concrete that the ancient Romans created is so durable that it may hold lessons for those who want to reduce carbon emissions.

Paul Preuss, from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, explains.

“The chemical secrets of a concrete Roman breakwater that has spent the last 2,000 years submerged in the Mediterranean Sea have been uncovered by an international team of researchers led by Paulo Monteiro of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.

“Analysis of samples provided by team member Marie Jackson pinpointed why the best Roman concrete was superior to most modern concrete in durability, why its manufacture was less environmentally damaging – and how these improvements could be adopted in the modern world.

“ ‘It’s not that modern concrete isn’t good – it’s so good we use 19 billion tons of it a year,’ says Monteiro. ‘The problem is that manufacturing Portland cement accounts for seven percent of the carbon dioxide that industry puts into the air.’ …

“The Romans made concrete by mixing lime and volcanic rock. For underwater structures, lime and volcanic ash were mixed to form mortar, and this mortar and volcanic tuff were packed into wooden forms. The seawater instantly triggered a hot chemical reaction. The lime was hydrated – incorporating water molecules into its structure – and reacted with the ash to cement the whole mixture together.”

Apparently the key ingredients are found all over the world, enough to make a big difference in construction — and carbon emissions.

There’s more at the Berkeley Lab site for readers who can follow a technical explanation.

Photo: Berkeley Lab

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I don’t know what it is about stories like this, but they really float my boat.

Here is an ordinary woman, a hairdresser who loves hairdressing, who tried to recreate an ancient hairstyle and ended up making a discovery that got published in a scholarly journal. What it took was being openminded, curious, and persistent.

As Abigail Pesta writes in the Wall Street Journal, Janet Stephens tried to re-create on a mannequin a hairdo she had seen on a bust of the Roman empress Julia Domna at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore.

” ‘I couldn’t get it to hold together,’ she says. Turning to the history books for clues, she learned that scholars widely believed the elaborately teased, towering and braided styles of the day were wigs.

“She didn’t buy that. Through trial and error she found that she could achieve the hairstyle by sewing the braids and bits together, using a needle. She dug deeper into art and fashion history books, looking for references to stitching.

“In 2005, she had a breakthrough. Studying translations of Roman literature, Ms. Stephens says, she realized the Latin term ‘acus’ was probably being misunderstood in the context of hairdressing. Acus has several meanings including a ‘single-prong hairpin’ or ‘needle and thread,’ she says. Translators generally went with ‘hairpin.’

“The single-prong pins couldn’t have held the intricate styles in place. But a needle and thread could. It backed up her hair hypothesis.

“In 2007, she sent her findings to the Journal of Roman Archaeology. ‘It’s amazing how much chutzpah you have when you have no idea what you’re doing,’ she says. ‘I don’t write scholarly material. I’m a hairdresser.’

“John Humphrey, the journal’s editor, was intrigued. ‘I could tell even from the first version that it was a very serious piece of experimental archaeology which no scholar who was not a hairdresser—in other words, no scholar—would have been able to write,’ he says.

“He showed it to an expert, who found the needle-and-thread theory ‘entirely original,’ says Mr. Humphrey, whose own scholarly work has examined arenas for Roman chariot racing.

“Ms. Stephens’ article was edited and published in 2008, under the headline ‘Ancient Roman Hairdressing: On (Hair)Pins and Needles.’ ”


Photographs: Janet Stephens

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