Tomb of the Griffin Warrior

An article I was reading this morning replaced at the last minute what I had planned for February’s ARCHAEO-Crush.  Yes, this Mycenaean treasure is super cool…

TOMB OF THE GRIFFIN WARRIOR

Type: burial (intact, no less!)
Civilisation: Ancient Greece, Mycenaean civilisation, circa 1600-1100 BCE
Date: circa 1450 BCE

ARCHAEO-Crush: The Tomb of the Griffin Warrior (so-named because of an ivory plaque featuring a griffon found between the man’s legs) was discovered at Pylos (Greece) in May 2015 and excavated during that summer by a team from the University of Cincinnati, led by archaeologists Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker.
Situated in an unexplored field near the Palace of Nestor (erected later), the tomb has remained undisturbed for 3,500 years, from the day the warrior was laid to rest until today. The discovery came as a surprise to the archaeologists, who were flabbergasted at the richness of the tomb’s contents.  Surprisingly amongst the numerous pots, cups, pitchers, and basins deposited into the grave, none are actually made of ceramic. They are all made of metal–bronze, silver or gold–speaking to the power and wealth of the man buried therein. There are several weapons, various pieces of jewellery, including hundreds of gold, carnelian, amethyst and amber beads, combs and mirrors as well as hundreds and hundreds of other objects. (More than 1500 artefacts were discovered in this tomb alone!) What most impressed me, however, were the perforated wild boar’s teeth that were part of the warrior’s helmet–just like the one given to Odysseus in Homer’s Iliad! (I don’t recall ever seeing one before, but there was a drawing that struck me in the article and you can actually find real examples in museums. A Google search led me to this one at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.)
Because of the early date of the burial (this is the beginning of Mycenaean civilisation), it is interesting to note that most objects are in the Minoan style, the previous Bronze Age civilisation of ancient Greece (circa 3650 BCE –1450 BCE). There are many other very interesting things to learn about this tomb and its fabulous contents, but it is too much to present here. I will leave the reading to you: you can find several articles here. The write-up I was reading this morning is this one.

Bucket list status: It’s a treasure I have yet to see with my own eyes. I have been discussing Mycenaean art with a colleague the last couple of weeks and when he sent me an article about the tomb this morning, I remembered that I had only glanced at the announcement of this discovery. As I actually read in depth the article, I thought it would make a great ARCHAEO-Crush post.
Additional information:  There is an official website entirely dedicated to the ‘Grave of the Griffin Warrior.‘  You can find out more about the discovery and the project, and find great shots of the excavations as well.

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Off view

If you were to take a walk in the Classical galleries at the museum this week and the next, you’d notice that some vitrines are completely empty of artefacts. The reason? These are being studied by private objects conservator Corey Smith Riley.

Corey’s looking at material, manufacture, condition and previous conservation treatments for all the Greek objects (ceramics and bronze). It’s part of the research project I have been managing for the last three years, the study of the Classical collection for the catalogue. Corey’s work is a follow-up to Taking a look at Greek ceramics.

The Barberini Faun

My ARCHAEO-Crush for February is my favourite Classical sculpture of all times.

THE BARBERINI FAUN

Type: sculpture (marble)
Civilisation: Ancient Greece
Date: Hellenistic period, 323 -146 BCE (but could be a very high quality Roman copy)
ARCHAEO-Crush: I have always had a soft spot for marble statuary and this magnificent sculpture really amazed me when I first learned of it in art history class. Although partially restored during the 17th and 18th century (notably the legs, which were apparently not positioned quite as high), this is a masterpiece on several levels, including the execution. The position of the body is not only rather unusual, but also extremely challenging for a sculptor; the musculature is wonderful and remarkably detailed; the face is expressive; the sculpture is exquisite.
The blatant sexuality of the sculpture can be chocking to some, but in Greek art nudity was common-place and normal, part of the notions of Greek ideal. Despite the provocative pose, there is also a certain vulnerability to be found in this sculpture, a vulnerability that is just as enticing as the sleeping male, a vulnerability not often associated with men. I think that this vulnerability makes us forget that the youth sprawled on a panther skin on the rocks is not a man…
In fact, it is a faun or, more fitting for a Hellenistic statue, a satyr–a woodland creature from Greek mythology with equine features, notably horse tail and ears, and ithyphallic. (The faun of Roman mythology is half-man, half-goat with hairy legs and hooves, pointy ears and horns).  During Antiquity, the appearance of satyrs and fauns became more and more human-like and one must pay close attention to details to determine the identity of the subject. Here, the human legs of the youth belie its animal nature but a short tail is visible on the lower back and the pointy ears are hidden by the wreath of ivy. Yet the wreath is quite telling in and of itself… it is one of the symbols of Dionysos, the Greek god of wine, drunkenness, ritual madness, theatre and tragedy.  Satyrs are his randy, drinking companions.  The (terribly sexy) young satyr represented here is exhausted from excessive partying…
Bucket list status: I drop by the Glyptothek every time I am in Munich just to see this wonderful sculpture. And I’m usually not the only one spending long minutes staring at its wonderful physique.
Additional information:
The statue has the inventory number 218.  There is a post about the Barberini Faun on Khan Academy

 

Bronze statue of the Boxer at Rest

My ARCHAEO-Crush for the month of May is a fabulous Greek bronze found in a museum in Rome.

An original Greek bronze sculpture of a boxer at rest.

An original Greek bronze sculpture of a boxer at rest.

THE BOXER AT REST
Type: artefact (bronze statue, lost-wax process)
Civilisation: Ancient Greece
Date: Between the 4th and 2nd century BCE (Hellenistic period)
ARCHAEO-Crush: Greek bronzes are rare not only because bronze was expensive, but also because it could be melted down and reused. However, the examples that survived the millennia–like the Boxer at Rest–show an exceptional mastery of technique and breath-taking details.  The boxer was found in 1885 on the Quirinal, near the baths of Constantine. It is a Hellenistic masterpiece representing a professional athlete.  My photo does not do justice to this remarkable work of art.   The pugilist is resting after receiving quite a beating: he has broken nose, cauliflower ears and he might have lost some teeth.  His face is scarred and bruised, and has bleeding cuts. What is quite amazing is the fact that artist has used red copper inlays to indicate the bloody cuts and there are even a few drops and trickles of blood shown on his right  shoulder, forearm, caestus (leather glove) and thigh, as if they have fallen there after he moved his head! You will find an interesting video about the Boxer at Rest on the site of  Khan Academy.
Bucket list status: I saw this astounding bronze statue during the summer of 2014 while in Rome. It was not on my bucket list because I was not aware of this statue (I came upon it quite by chance), but it is now one of my favourites at the Palazzo Massimo.
Additional info:
The work is on view at the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme (one of the branches of the Museo nazionale romano) and its inventory number is 1055. Should you be in Rome, I would highly recommend visiting the museum just to see this work.  The Palazzo Massimo is not far from Termini station, you can walk there.

Who Mourns for Adonais?

A couple of days ago, I watched ‘Who Mourns for Adonais,’ a Star Trek episode that features the Greek god Apollo and I have been meaning to write a post about it ever since. In light of today’s sad news—the passing of Leonard Nimoy, who played the unflappable Mr. Spock—I thought this might be the time to post my entry.

This is an episode of which I have always been rather fond because it features a female officer named Carolyn, who is an archaeologist and a specialist of ancient civilisations, relics and myths. (Does this sound like anyone you know?!) The gist of the episode is that the Enterprise is seized by Apollo—an alien being who was once worshipped by the ancient Greeks as a god of Olympus (along with others of his race, the remaining deities of the Greek pantheon). After the landing party arrives, Apollo insists that the rest of crew beam down and worship him as humans had done millennia before. Mayhem ensues, as you can imagine. The idea I have always liked about that episode is that gods cannot exist without love, admiration and worship; yet people cannot be forced to worship a deity in which they do not believe. People evolve, cultures change… and, as Apollo eventually admits, gods eventually die.

The episode appeals to me because it deals with antiquity, ancient myths and deities, and the evolution of cultures. That’s what anthropology and archaeology are all about: the advancement of humans and their various cultures–how things have changed (or haven’t) over millennia. How we learn, adapt and grow. We’re studying the past… and people from the future will undoubtedly study us in a similar manner. Fascinating.

In memory of Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015).

The shock of the nude

A beautiful post on the Greek nude from Ian Jenkins at the British Museum. If you ever wondered about the nude statues in Classical sculpture galleries at various museums but were afraid to ask, you should read this.

British Museum blog

Ian Jenkins, Exhibition Curator, British Museum

I’m currently working on the Museum’s major exhibition Defining beauty: the body in ancient Greek art, which opens 26 March 2015. When you see the sculptures on display, you might be forgiven for thinking that the standard dress for men, in ancient Athens especially, was a state of undress. The Greeks, if their art is anything to go by, spent a lot of time starkers.

Although we must separate art from life, nevertheless, they enjoyed many more occasions for nudity than any other European civilisation before or since. The reason why they performed athletics in the nude was said to be because, in the early Olympic Games, a runner lost his knickers and as a result also lost the race. That story may be true or not but either way, it doesn’t explain the true nature of Greek athletic nudity as an expression of…

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A Greek god?!

This evening, as I entered the classroom for my Italian course offered by Wake Tech Community College at a local high school, I noticed a phrase written on the whiteboard that made me blink a couple of times and bite my lip, trying not to laugh.  Under the title “Europe 2016” was written this phrase: Isn’t herpes a Greek god? 

Ahem… well, no. That would be Hermes.