Sarcophagus Fragment, Roman, ca. 240-250 CE, The Art Institute of Chicago

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Roman-era necropolis for the poor found intact

In my last post, I talked about how finding everyday cargo in sunken ancient ships helps us to understand the common man in the ancient world. This newly found necropolis takes that frame of though even further; by studying the ancient common man himself. The skeletons found in these 1-2nd century CE tombs represent the huge class divisions within the "Pax Romana." These laborers likely have skeletal damage similar to those of other contemporary burials found thoughout the empire. For everyone but the super rich and powerful, life was hard and the tolls taken by the body led to injury and early death. The Emperor Augustus lived to be 75. The unprivileged laborer or slave probably would have been lucky to see 40. The disparities in the lifestyle of classes in ancient Rome is nothing new and is a topic that has been well documented in recent years. What really peeks my interest about this necropolis is the male skeleton with the fused jaw. Today, differently-abled individual are treated as equal members of society, as of course they should be. The ancient world had different views. It was common practice in ancient Rome for the father of a new born the "judge" the child before accepting it into his household. Physically deformed children were commonly exposed, either to die or possibly be snatched up for the purpose of slavery. Physical deformities where not looked kindly upon, whether it be a new born or grown person. The Roman virtue of constantinum was at odds with being physically infirm. That's not to say that disabled people where rounded up the disposed of, but they weren't generally accepted as important members of society. Of course, I'm speaking in generalizations here, so let me not stray from my point. Ancient Roman sources are mute about such people, as they are mute about most people outside their social class. What this new found skeleton shows us is that we need to take a second look on how these people where treated in society. Someone obviously helped care for this person, though to what extent and how long we can not tell. Regardless, though, our perceptions on the treatment of physically disabled people in the ancient world need to re reexamined.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ancient ship was carrying the finest wine

I love nautical archeology. I've always loved the ocean, and I've always loved archeology, so I guess it's a natural fit. There have been many famous Greek and Roman discoveries made underwater, probably the most important being the Antikythera mechanism. Ancient shipwrecks that are discovered today provide us with a rare look into the the seafaring side of ancient civilizations. More often that not, it is the cargoes of these ships that provide the greatest amount of information, not the ships themselves. If you're looking to find an ancient wooden ship sitting quietly on the sea floor, the Mediterranean is a bad place to look. Shipworm and the passage of thousands of years eat away most wood and other biodegradable material. There have been several notable ships found, mostly burried in sand and mud, but these are more likely to be found close to shore or in rivers and lakes. It's the cargo, though, that really gives us incite into the ancient world. What the cargo is, where it was found and when it sank all help to paint a clearer picture of what ancient sea trade was like. Finds like the garum carrying ship a few years ago, and the wine carrying ship from the article above are important not because of sunken gold or statutes, but because of the seemingly mundane cargo of bulk goods. Though gold, coins, statues and such are indeed important artifacts, it's the cargo of these merchant ships that help us understand the "lower" aspects of Greek and Roman life. Much is knows about the Caesars and Senators ruling over Rome, or of great figures and philosophers of Greece, but studying the cargoes of merchant ships can put us in touch with the lower classes of ancient society. Cicero didn't neatly stack up those amphora full of fish sauce, a slave or pleb did. It's their story that is so often left untold, but by looking past the gold coins and studying the pottery shards encrusted with garum or wine residue, perhaps we'll be one step closer to hearing it.

Ancient Greek grave found during subway work

I touched base on the topic in a previous blog, and I have a feeling that I'm going to be writing about finds like this for the foreseeable future. I mentioned in a previous blog about the new subway in Naples, the construction of which has turned up some interesting Roman artifacts. Check out Archeology Magazine for more info on that dig. It's always fun to wonder what is under our feet waiting to be dug up.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Getty Adds to Antiquities With Third-Century Work

Getty Adds to Antiquities With Third-Century Work

When the story first broke years ago about the Marion True/Robert Hecht illegal antiquities trading conspiracy, I was afraid that the end was near for the industry. I was concerned that great works would be crated up and sent over seas and that American museums would never again buy a Greek red-figure vase or Roman bust. Well, I didn't really think that would happen, but I was worried that museums would treat antiquities like they had some disease and stay far away from them. But, every time I hear of an institution obtaining a new piece, my fears are relieved. The new guidelines put in place by the Association of Art Museum Directors (see previous blog) will hopefully usher in a new ear for the antiquities trading industry, but illegal dealings are still a problem and unfortunately will continue to be so for a long time. But, at least museums are trying to right past wrongs and are continuing to enrich us with artifacts from the past.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Museums Set Stricter Guidelines for Acquiring Antiquities

As someone who plans on working in a museum one day, I have been following the saga of illegally purchased antiquities for quite some time. The news in this article is refreshing, and I hope the introduction on the new Association of Art Museum Directors' guidelines help stem the trade of illegal artifacts. Unfortunately, illicit antiquities dealing if still a problem throughout the world, so I doubt this is the last time we hear about it in the news.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Roman remains found buried at infirmary site

I've said it several times now, and I'm going to say it again. Britain continues to dominate the news with important Roman finds and I'm convinced that it's only going to produce more valuable information in years to come. This new site found in Worcester in intriguing. Aside from the evidence of trade between Gaul and Britannia in the form of pottery shards, the "mysterious circular ditch" could prove to be very interesting. Hopefully new studies will determine it's function. Until then, keep on eye on Britain, because there's a lot still buried there waiting to be discovered.