The men who rediscovered Assyria

An Assyrian lamassu being removed under the direction of Austen Henry Layard
An Assyrian lamassu being removed under the direction of Austen Henry Layard

Daniel Silas Adamson has an outstanding longread which lays out the 19th century history of the three figures who were largely responsible for rediscovering Assyrian civiliztion: George Smith, Hormuzd Rassam, and Austen Henry Layard. He also puts the current destruction of art by the so-called Islamic State in context. Here’s a terrific account of the emergence of the epic of Gilgamesh:

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Attack at the Bardo Museum in Tunis

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“Bardo Museum – Carthage room” taken by Bernard Gagnon in 2005 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The BBC is reporting that 19 people, including 17 museum visitors have been killed in an attack at the Bardo Museum in Tunis. Many other visitors were trapped in the museum. No group has claimed responsibility yet, but two gunmen were killed, and there may be some involved in the attack still on the run.

The New York Times reports this afternoon that:

The attack began at a time when hundreds of visitors were on their way into the museum. Interior ministry officials said the gunmen were armed with grenades and assault rifles. Gunfire was first heard around 12:30 p.m.

Helicopters buzzed over the area in the afternoon, and Tunisian state television said they were evacuating people from the area, possibly including those injured in the attack.

The site of the attack, the National Bardo Museum, is in central Tunis near the national Parliament, which was evacuated as police officers responded to the attack and surrounded the area.

The identity and motivation of the attackers were not immediately clear. No group had claimed responsibility for the attack by early evening. An Interior Ministry spokesman said that the gunmen had probably been Tunisians, but their nationality had not been confirmed.

This museum is one of the major cultural institutions in Tunisia. It contains roman mosaics, antiquities from ancient Greek civilizations, and Islamic art.

The 25th Anniversary of the Gardner Heist

The empty frame which once held "Storm on the Sea of Galilee" at the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum
The empty frame which once held Rembrandt’s “Storm on the Sea of Galilee” at the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum

25 years ago tonight, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum suffered a devastating loss to its collection. 13 works of art led to a FBI investigation, and a new Federal Criminal provision. But the works themselves are still lost. Today brings a slew of examinations of the theft and the subsequent investigation.

Stephen Kurkjian, an investigative reporter for the Boston Globe, and author of a new work on the theft, has an extended portion of the book at the Boston Globe. He recounts many details of the efforts in 2013 that many speculated would lead to a break in the case: Continue reading “The 25th Anniversary of the Gardner Heist”

In Praise of the humble Letter

MoreThanWords_web

Letter writing has gone out of fashion. It’s a rare thing to receive physical notes anymore. One of my least favorite tasks every morning is responding to the emails I get from students and others. If only we could add drawings and doodles to our emails. It would add a bit of whimsy and flair perhaps.

That’s one of the main takeaways I have from Liza Kirwin’s terrific collection More than Words: Illustrated Letters from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art. Kirwin serves as the curator of manuscripts at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art. The text offers these illustrated letters along with a short summary. The letters are grouped thematically with headings like “Bon Voyage”, Graphic Instructions, and “Thank-you”. Continue reading “In Praise of the humble Letter”

Kersel on the ‘Archaeological Curation Crisis’

Morag Kersel, an assistant Professor in the Anthropology department at DePaul has published an article in the Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology & Heritage Studies titled “Storage Wars: Solving the Archaeological Curation Crisis?“. She has posted the piece online at academia.edu. From the abstract:

Whether sponsored by academic institutions, governments, international agencies, or private landowners,the results of archaeological investigations are the same: the production of knowledge and an accumulation of things. The material manifestations (artifacts and sam-ples) and the accompanying daily notes, digital records,maps, photographs, and plans together comprise a comprehensive record of the past. Once these items havebeen amassed, they are deposited in dig houses, maga-zines, museums, repositories, storage containers, andsometimes in personal basements and garages to be heldin perpetuity. Across the globe, storage (here implyingcuration and permanent care) is one of the most pressing issues facing archaeology today. Te following examines the curation crisis and some of the traditional and inno-vative solutions to the storage wars, arguing that rather than something that is viewed as a time-consuming,costly afterthought; curation should be an integral part of archaeological praxis. 

Lostal on individual criminal responsibility in Syria

In a 2 April 2014 image, looting on a massive scale is visible at Dura-Europos, with high-density looting (red) visible in the vast majority of the site enclosed by the ancient city wall. In the archaeological areas beyond the wall, highlighted in yellow, the pits are less dense, but similarly extensive. Coordinates: 34.74 N, 40.73 E. Image ©DigitalGlobe | U.S. Department of State, NextView License | Analysis AAAS.
In a 2 April 2014 image, looting on a massive scale is visible at Dura-Europos, with high-density looting (red) visible in the vast majority of the site enclosed by the ancient city wall. In the archaeological areas beyond the wall, highlighted in yellow, the pits are less dense, but similarly extensive. Coordinates: 34.74 N, 40.73 E. Image ©DigitalGlobe | U.S. Department of State, NextView License | Analysis AAAS.

Dr. Marina Lostal, a Lecturer at Xi’an Jiaotong University, School of Law has written an article examining the potential use of individual criminal responsibility in Syria for damage to cultural heritage. Her paper, presented at Qatar University in 2014 looks at the role cultural heritage plays in this armed conflict, and looks to whether prosecution of individuals responsible is a viable option. Here is the abstract

Recent reports have confirmed damage to five of the six Syrian world heritage sites during the current armed conflict as well as extensive looting of several of its archaeological sites on the Syrian Tentative List of world heritage. This article examines the role and fate of Syrian world cultural heritage from the beginning of the conflict, maps out the different cultural property obligations applicable to Syria while illustrating, where possible, how they may have been violated. Then, it assesses if and how those responsible for these acts can be prosecuted and punished. The analysis reveals an accountability gap concerning crimes against Syrian world cultural heritage. As such, the article proposes to reinstate the debate over crimes against common cultural heritage which once arose in the context of the Buddhas of Bamiyan.

Marina Lostal. (2015). Syria’s world cultural heritage and individual criminal responsibility. International Review of Law: Vol. 2015 1, 3.