Thursday, 14 May 2020

Reinventing the wheel (or hook)

Back in November 2019, I noticed a somewhat awkward description of a Roman object on the PAS database (SOM-EFC2F3). Although the object was correctly identified as a 'lamp hook', there seemed to be some doubt and some sort of medical implement was offered as an alternative.
"The finder has suggested that the artefact may instead have been a medical implement. The small diameter of the hooks, their position, with one curving up and one down, and the small suspension loop, all suggest it would be hard to securely suspend a lamp calling in to doubt the existing interpretation."
I used the 'Report a mistake' button at the bottom of the PAS page. I pointed out that the object was indeed undoubtedly a lamp hook and that the confusion may have been due to the fact that the hook was depicted upside down.

It's not a fish hook - designed to dangle in a river. It's a suspension hook - much like that on a coat hanger - designed to hang something from a peg or whatever. The object is much easier to understand when it's the right way up.

The object was not hung from the "suspension loop" (the hole is at the bottom of the object, not "at its top"); it was hung from the large hook near the top and a lamp would have been attached by chains to the hole at the bottom. An example on my website explains their use in more detail.

And as proof of their use, there are many lamps where the hook is still attached. Here are two museum examples.

I received a cordial reply from the FLO. She thanked me and stated she would amend the PAS record. That was back in November but I imagine both the backlog of other work and the disruption of COVID-19 have since delayed that intention.

In the meantime, I have posted this as a reminder to anyone else who is puzzled by such objects. There's no need to reinvent the wheel; the research has already been done long ago and the hooks get a chapter all to themselves in D.M. Bailey, A Catalogue of Lamps in the British Museum, Vol. IV, 1996.

Friday, 3 April 2020

Leather books from Turkey: more thoughts

Further to my earlier post on the phenomenon of a constant stream of 'Golden Brownies' (GBs) emerging in Turkey, I note that yet another "Torah" (curious that almost all of these fake manuscripts are from religious minorities in that region) has been trumpeted in the Turkish press (Daily Sabah, 'Turkish police nab 3 suspects trying to sell ancient Torah for $1.25M', 25 March 2020; Hurriyet Daily News, 'Gendarmerie seizes historical Torah in Turkey’s Mus', undated). Not only is the object not even remotely a Torah (the first five books of Moses typically in scroll form), it is so obviously a modern piece of tat that a mere moggy can spot it as farcical.

Pages from another so-called "Torah", announced by the Daily Sabah in 2018 ...

Of particular concern is that the spurious imagery and concocted provenances of these GBs have been eagerly picked up by far-right conspiracy websites (such as The European Union Times) and heralded as confirmation that "Judaism is Satanism". Dr Sam Hardy has provided some interesting insights into the situation (Conflict Antiquities, 2 April 2020). (A link to the EU Times rant is included under Dr Hardy's blog post.)

I had initially assumed that the Satanic and Illuminati symbolism in these fake Turkish/Syrian manuscripts merely reflected the 'Jewish conspiracy' mythology endemic in that part of the world and accepted as fact by their ignorant non-Jewish authors. And thus, almost incidental to the main goal of making money from selling them.

However, I am now beginning to see that symbolism not as merely incidental but as at least one of the prime motivations for their manufacture in the first place - to present these supposedly ancient manuscripts as proof that the mythology is true.

Perhaps even more worrying than the fact that the GBs are being produced is the thought that the Turkish police and media are happily complicit in validating and publicising them. I have an uneasy feeling that their widespread publicity in that country is not so much a way of praising the police force.

Have any of these insanely-priced GBs ever actually been sold at all or were they intended to serve another purpose? It's strangely convenient that their purported "sellers" are constantly being caught, it's strangely unnatural that they are seldom found with anything else of remotely comparable value, and I sense a possibility that the whole operation may have been deliberately engineered as a sickening political tool - a devious way of covertly promulgating antisemitic propaganda in broad daylight. Any other artefacts supposedly "recovered" with the GBs would be merely 'smoke and mirrors'.

What better way to ensure support for an authoritarian regime than to stimulate mass fear of a 'hidden enemy'? It matters nothing that a few scholars recognise the fakery; the target is the general public and neither Turkey nor Syria will be the first country to fall for that fear tactic and endorse a tyrant.

Is apparently busting the illegal antiquities trade in Turkey really only a front for performing something far more sinister? Just a thought ...

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Lesson from Croatia

Seismic Map
Zagreb is located in a zone of high seismic activity and a 5.3 magnitude earthquake struck a wide area around the city on Sunday, 22 March. Fortunately, there were few human casualties but the earthquake caused some heartbreaking damage to its cathedral and museums.

Moral: If you live in a known earthquake zone, make sure any antiquities in a display case are securely mounted.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

An enduring tradition

I noted a truly amazing supply of bronze lamps offered by Artemission, a dealer based in London, over five years ago. Far from being exhausted, that supply continues to this day. And, true to tradition, this example below bears an uncanny resemblance to a series of very obvious fakes ...

It can be yours for a mere $900 ...

This version below - with not only two nozzles at ridiculous angles but also a head plunked on top - may be even more tempting. Just stump up $2,200 for this one ...

In these times of a pandemic crisis it's heart-warming to see that some old customs remain unchanged. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Thursday, 26 December 2019

PAS: Just nod meekly or you're blocked

Ha! That was an interesting outcome. Paul Barford, an archaeologist, highlighted a recent Twitter announcement by Jo Ahmet, the Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) for Kent:

Kent FLO:
Heard about this fantastic #AngloSaxon #Treasure #Donation to @MaidstoneMuseum ? Before It goes on display, get a sneak peak now and hear the finder talk about its' discovery. video/maidstone-museum receives
find more info below: database record 917780
#ResponsibleDetecting #Thanks 

Barford let the insane superfluity of hashtags (#Thanks - seriously?!) pass without comment but he did rib Ahmet about his apostrophe abuse in the phrase "its' discovery". When David Petts, a Durham academic, leapt to the FLO's defence, the FLO tweeted his gratitude:

Kent FLO:
Thank you David. Also, for once despite my specific learning difficulty I believe ” its’ “, in this context is correct. Being as the sentence is possessive....”it is discovery” is not what I had intended to say 

He then followed that with a GIF of Obama shrugging, as if to ask why the fuss since he was perfectly right anyway.


Okay, it's a small point but having worked as a copy editor myself, I thought I'd just set the record straight. Without making any comment whatsoever on the FLO's content or anything else, I simply posted a single tweet to point out the correct grammar:

I thought no more about it but a couple of days later I idly wondered if he had thanked, or at least acknowledged, me. Here's what I found:

Whoa! A trifle touchy? If the representative of an organisation seeking 'outreach' to the public is so averse even to someone politely trying to settle a minor point about grammar, I can only imagine what the reaction would be if another member of the public had the audacity to question his attribution of a find. Something like this perhaps?

Kent FLO: Heard about this fantastic #AngloSaxon #Treasure?

Fred Bloggs: I believe the artefact actually dates from the Roman period.

Kent FLO: You're BLOCKED! You can't follow or see my Tweets any longer!


I'm pretty casual with spelling and grammar in private emails to friends or even in posts on my personal page on Facebook. No big deal. However, perhaps the era of Political Correctness has changed everything but when I was at college we were told that public announcements are a different thing (Ahmet tweeted under the official 'Kent FLO' banner).

It was instilled into us that poor spelling and grammar not only diminish your own credibility, they reflect on the image and standards of the whole institution on whose behalf you are writing. Time to take EXTRA care - especially if you know you have a "specific learning difficulty". After all, finding correct spelling and grammar nowadays is only a mouse-click away.

I suppose you can take the other route - not give a flying fig about the image of the PAS or the British Museum - and I doubt an errant apostrophe is a capital offence even in the leafy suburbs of Kent but crudely blocking someone who merely confirms correct usage seems a bizarre overreaction. I've always had a fond respect for the institution behind the PAS and I'm not sure that somewhat paranoid response is the message its official representative should be sending out to members of the public.

Surely, a simple thanks (or even #Thanks) would have done the trick.

Friday, 16 August 2019

Please Do NOT Wash

An eBay seller based in East Sussex states "Here for Sale is a Very High Quality Roman Bronze Double Spouted, Double Busted Oil Lamp. Dating From Around 200 - 400 AD" and makes an earnest plea to the successful buyer:

"Please Do NOT Wash as This May Cause Damage to The Item."

I can totally understand his worry. It must have taken ages to put all that fake orange crap on the item in the first place. It would be tragic to wash it off and reveal the brand new shiny metal underneath.

(A genuine patina would of course be unaffected by soap and water - and does not wash off.)

But perhaps more worryingly, the fact that the item doesn't even remotely resemble any real Roman lamp (or is even a decent replica) appears to be lost on the people bidding for it.


UPDATE: Sold for £118.

It's a trifle disconcerting to see how readily some people are parted from their money. I could understand someone willing to pay, say, £50 or even £60 for a really good-quality accurate replica of a Roman bronze lamp to use in an historical re-enactment - but that thing is nothing even remotely like a real Roman lamp. If they turned up with it in front of knowledgeable people, it would just be a laughing stock.

But then, perhaps I'm being too much of a purist. I watched a bit of the 2014 movie Exodus: Gods and Kings on TV last night and winced as I noticed the pharaoh was happily using Hellenistic lamps that hadn't even been invented until over a thousand years after the supposed events in the movie. I'm guessing Ridley Scott wasn't overly bothered by anachronisms.

The most disconcerting thought is the niggling suspicion that at least some of the people bidding for that eBay monstrosity were under the impression that it was actually genuine - despite clearly not having the vaguest idea of what a genuine example looks like. At that level of brainlessness, I imagine they would still be none the wiser even if they DID wash it and saw the brand new shiny metal underneath.

Sigh, I give up hope in humanity!

Friday, 19 July 2019

Gaza Apollo - the story continues

Ever since a bronze statue of Apollo surfaced - and then promptly disappeared - in Gaza over five years ago, historians, curators, collectors, political groups and just about everyone have been yearning to either possess it or at least get a better look and know more about it. Currently, it appears to be in the custody of Hamas - and perhaps not likely to re-emerge any time soon.

In the meantime, a documentary by Nicolas Wadimoff was released last year and Al Jazeera have announced an abridged version. See it here while it lasts (until 14 August 2019). Frankly, I could do without the cheesy philosophical interludes but the film does offer a few excellent insights into some of the context and characters involved.

My personal thoughts? I suspect the statue is authentic (ancient Greek or a Roman copy) but its condition does not seem to suggest that it was lying under the sea for centuries. I tend to think it was originally found on dry land and perhaps, as one of the people in the film speculates, dropped overboard for some reason while being transported in modern times. It's quite possible it was being smuggled by boat between two other countries and jettisoned or lost off the Gazan coast when the venture was inconveniently interrupted. Who knows?

At any rate, whatever its origin, my two greatest concerns - assuming the statue really is authentic - are that it is likely to be in urgent need of conservation and that it eventually ends up properly curated on public display.

My thanks to Michael Press for publicising this news.



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