Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday Archaeology Blogging
Pre-Roman Italy Edition

So, I thought today that I'd babble on about some of the peoples inhabiting Italy prior to the Roman domination. There were quite a number, many of them ethnically or linguistically related to the Romans, and some of them definitely not. Here's a small sample, working roughly from the South of the peninsula to the North. I've provided only very brief notes about them - perhaps I'll take one of them and do a much fuller Friday Archaeology Blogging about them at another time.

Lucanians: A people related to the Samnites, the Lucanians took over the southern part of Italy during the 5th century B.C., expelling the previous inhabitants (the Oenotrii and Ausones on the map). They almost immediately lost the region of the Calabria to insurrection on the part of the Bruttii, however. The Lucanians fairly quickly got crosswise of the Romans, and suffered badly after backing Hannibal during the 2nd Punic War (218-202 B.C., roughly). Although they managed to get up again to fight the Romans in 90-88 B.C., during the so-called Social War, they were beaten badly again, and faded into insignificance.

The Lucanian sanctuary at Rossano di Vaglio - I was there this summer!

Samnites: Of all the indigenous peoples of Italy (leaving aside the Etruscans for the moment), the Samnites probably came closest to upstaging the Romans. In fact, they came very, very close. In 321 B.C., the Samnites inflicted upon the Romans a humiliating defeat at the Battle of the Caudine Forks in south-central Italy, forcing the defeated Roman survivors to pass under a yoke as a symbol of their surrender.

The Samnites inhabited the region of the Appennine Mountains, just to the South of Rome, bordering Lucanian territories, and spoke a language related to Latin. They warred with the Romans throughout the last half of the fourth century B.C., before being overcome early in the third. A brief rebellion in the 80s B.C. was, according to the sources, punished with extreme ferocity by Lucius Cornelius Sulla, and the Samnites basically fade from history at that point, although the name "Samnite" was given to a particular style of gladiator (there is, in fact, some evidence that the Romans copied the conept of gladiatorial combat from the Samnites).

A Samnite bronze helmet.

Umbrians: The Umbrians were a very, very old people, first attested archaeologically in the 9th century B.C. Dwelling in what is still called Umbria, to the East of the Etruscans, they spoke a language related to Latin. Although conquered by the Romans in the third century B.C., the Umbrians generally managed to avoid the kind of devastation that was visited on peoples like the Lucanians; they seem to have simply gradually romanized over time. They were granted Roman citizenship in 90 B.C., mostly as a reward for not opposing Rome too energetically during the Social War.

Etruscans: Ah, the mysterious Etruscans... Speaking a language that is most definitely not related to Latin, and in fact may even be non-Indo-European, the Etruscans exercised dominion over North-central Italy until the rise of Roman powers. Indeed, the Etruscans in fact at times held considerable power over Rome itself. Even after the end of Etruscan independance (more or less the beginning of the first century B.C.), ethnic Etruscans continued to occupy important positions in the Roman political hierarchy.

The main debate over the Etruscans, of course, revolves around who the heck they were. Some scholars have proposed a middle-eastern origin for them (the foundation myths of some Etruscan cities involve the fall of Troy), while others suggest that the Etruscans were in fact autochthonous, descendants of the earlier Villanovan culture. The jury is pretty much still out on this one.

An Etruscan fresco from Orvieto.

Non-Indigenous Inhabitants: A brief word is in order about those peoples who came to Italy from elsewhere before the rise of the Romans. The main group here is the Greeks, who had heavily colonized the southern part of the peninsula and Sicily beginning in about the 7th century B.C. Sicily, in particular, became a fairly major player in the Greek world before finally being absorbed by the Romans. They had significant contact, obviously, with the Lucanians, and there's a fair bit of research that's being done (some of it by a very good friend of mine), on exactly what that relationship was like. The influence of the Greeks on southern Italy cannot be overstated; to this day, there are remote communities in Calabria whose dialect of "Italian" is in fact ancient Greek.

The other non-indigenous group roaming around Italy during the pre-Roman period that bears mentioning is the Celts. The Celts, at various times, passed through and even settled in parts of Italy. In fact, in 390 B.C. they sacked and burned the city of Rome, in retaliation for the Romans having opposed them in an earlier fight against a different city. The only reason, according to legend, that Rome survived at all, was that many of its inhabitants took shelter in the town's citadel, a relatively defensible position. An attempted night raid on the citadel by the Celts had the misfortune to stumble into an enclosure containing sacred geese, who objected loudly to this intrusion and woke the defenders. One group of Celts who are known to have been in Italy is the tribe known as the Boii, who inhabited the Adriatic coast for a while. Upon being driven from Italy, the moved North, and settled in the area of modern Slovakia, a region to which they gave the name "Bohemia."

I realize here that I have not even barely scratched the surface of the topic of pre-Roman Italy; indeed, there are scholars who base their life's work on minor aspects of even one of the cultures listed above (or of one of a number of other pre-Roman cultures - I've by no means been comprehensive here!). However, I think it's worthwhile just to get the names out there, and to remind people that the Italian peninsula was not a monolithically Roman geographic entity!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Fun With U.S. College Football

I'm not the biggest fan of college football, although a brief inhabitation of Ypsilanti, Michigan, during the 1990s (reason: there was a girl) means that I keep a bit an eye on the fate of the University of Michigan Wolverines. However, this fall there have been a number of laugh-out-loud incidents in the collegiate gridiron game south of the border. Allow me to share a few of them, in lieu of doing anything that requires thought this evening:

1. In our first clip, a TV commentator struggles to concentrate on the game before him while suffering angst over a major current-events issue. The best part of this clip is the (understandable) incredulity of his colour commentator. The saddest part is what it says about the decline of ESPN...

2. In clip #2, a college referee waxes poetic in describing the circumstances surrounding a penalty call.

3. And, finally, a member of law enforcement expresses an opinion on an Auburn player.


Saturday, November 24, 2007

Australia Punts Bush Supporter

Australia sweeps Rudd into power

Australia's opposition Labor Party under Kevin Rudd has won a sweeping general election victory, removing PM John Howard after an 11-year term.

Mr Rudd said Australia had "looked to the future" and that he would be "a prime minister for all Australians".

Correspondents say key changes will be the start of a troop pullout from Iraq and the signing of the Kyoto protocol on climate change.

Although not surprising, it's still nice to read, as it makes Mr. Bush a little bit lonelier in world affairs (I particularly like the fact that Rudd announced right away that he was doing a 180 on Iraq and Kyoto). Now, if we could just persuade the Canadian electorate to step up to the plate like that...
Friday Archaeology Blogging
Slightly Less Late Edition.

Some time ago, we did a post on the discovery of Lupercale, the cave wherein the ancient Romans believed that Romulus and Remus had been nursed by a she-wolf. Well, we finally have pictures!

As you can see, the mosaic decorations in the cave are extremely elaborate, as would befit a place with that type of ritual significance. However, wait a second:

Italian expert skeptical of sacred Roman cave
Sat Nov 24, 2007 12:47am IST
By Silvia Aloisi

ROME (Reuters) - A leading Italian archaeologist said Friday that the grotto whose discovery was announced this week in Rome is not the sacred cave linked to the myth of the city's foundation by Romulus and Remus.

Now, archaeologists disagreeing is not really news, and some extremely reputable archaeologists (Andrea Carandini among them), have opined that the cave is in fact Lupercale, so I would hesitate to leap in and claim that this fellow has a point. Furthermore, he bases his argument against the identification of the cave as Lupercale largely on the writings of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, a first-century B.C. historian who may be interpreted as having situated the Lupercale elsewhere on the Palatine Hill. While Dionysius has a decent reputation as a historian, it's always a bit dodgy to base archaeological hypotheses ancient written sources. So, it will be interesting to see how this all plays out! In the meantime, we'll look at the pretty mosaics...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Hmmm... This Could Become An Election Issue

So, the good people of Calgary-Egmont have gone ahead and nominated Craig Chandler as Tory candidate in the upcoming provincial election. However, hang on a sec':

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach says Tory party officials will review the nomination of a candidate who was sanctioned by the Canadian Human Rights Commission for hateful remarks about gays.

I bet it'll be reviewed. If he lets Chandler run for his party, Stelmach is putting a ginormous club in the hand of the Liberals and NDP. However, Chandler can take heart; even if the Tories punt him, I'm sure he'll be able to find somewhere he'll feel welcome (go here for more Oi! Thump!-brand snark about that lot).

Monday, November 19, 2007

Friday Archaeology Blogging
On Monday Edition.

My favourite type of Roman pottery is the shiny red fineward known technically as "Italian Terra Sigillata", usually abbreviated to "ITS". Yes, I have a favourite type of Roman pottery. Anyhoo, ITS (also known as "Arretine Ware" or "Samian Ware") first developed in Etruria, in and around the Roman city of Arretium (modern Arezzo) roughly during the middle of the first century B.C. Later, its manufacture spread throughout northern Italy and southern Gaul, before the pottery was finally replaced as the dominant form of fineware in the early second century A.D.

ITS pottery had a number of basic forms. Among them were moulded "chalices," often portraying extremely intricate designs showing scenes from mythology, erotica, bucolic scenes, and the like:

ITS Chalice - Click for larger image.

However, a great many ITS forms were what are generally referred to as "plainware" - pieces of extremely high quality, but without the extensive moulded decoration. Such decoration as exists on these pieces is often applied rather than part of the original moulded vessel. However, the vessels could be completely undecorated, as was often the case with the large platters which were a signature form of ITS:

ITS Platter, top view - Click for larger image.

Helpfully, ITS potters were not shy about stamping their names on their products. Originally, these stamps took a simple rectangular form, as below:

Maker's Stamp of Gaius Sertorius Proculus (or possibly from the workshop of Gaius Sertorius, which the actual craftsman being a slave named Proculus), from Arezzo, 15 B.C.-A.D.5. Click to enlarge.

However, during the later history of ITS, the so-called "foot stamps" became very popular, as well as evidence for a rather whimsical sense of humour. With foot stamps, the maker's name is actual enclosed in the shape of foot, a nod to the stamp's usual location on the foot of the vessel.

Maker's Stamp probably of Quintus Castricius (the meaning of the "VE" at the end is unknown), location unknown, but dating to the latter half of the first century A.D. Click to enlarge.

So, why do I like ITS so much? Well, it is genuinly beautiful pottery, with a smooth, strong glaze. It's also the signature Roman fineware; even though it went out of general use relatively early, it continued to exert stylistic influence over what came after it. Finally, it's one of the forms of pottery with which I am really familiar, which is a weak reason I know, but still...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Craving Forgiveness

Friday Archaeology Blogging will be along this weekend at some point, but not today, since, ironically, I'm off to the reunion party for this summer's dig crew. Anyway, F.A.B., when it does occur, will be about pottery.

In the meantime, enjoy this archaeological video (Watch out for the surprise ending!):

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Goodbye, Public Sympathy for the RCMP!

Alison at Creekside has taken the big stick to the RCMP over the death-by-taser of Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport (BBC story here).

What a horrendous, awful, event that was, and a systemic failure every step of the way. That nobody at the airport could figure out how to get Mr. Dziekanski and his mother together for six hours. That the victim was left alone and lost for a further four. That there was no attempt to find anybody who could speak Polish. That tasers were used despite the fact that the victim was offering no resistance. That, having been tasered a number of times, Mr. Dziekanski was then jumped upon by about four officers. That the RCMP have followed this up by apparently lying their asses off about the incident.

There's really nothing left to say, is there...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Off to Drayton Valley this evening, so no real blogging until tomorrow.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Aw, Crap, here we go again...

Weekend Italian matches called off

This weekend's football matches in Serie B and Serie C have been postponed in the wake of Sunday's violence in the Italian league.

The country's football federation (FIGC) announced the decision this evening following a series of meetings during the day.

And Giancarlo Abete, president of the country's football federation (FIGC), has not ruled out the possibility of the postponements continuing after the international break.

'We don't intend to restart all tournaments from Sunday 25,' he said.

A bizarre one, this. An apparently innocent fan caught up in a fight and accidentally shot by the police, thus provoking major rioting in Rome and elsewhere.

Unlike last time, I don't think you can lay this one at the feet of the Ultra'. Rather, it has more to do with the fraught relationship between Italian society at large and the police. Part of the problem goes back to mid/late-1970s (I believe). At that time, in response to a number of murders of policemen by outfits like the Brigate Rosse and various organized crime crews, the Italian parliament broadened, greatly, the definition of when the police were legally allowed to use lethal force. The result was twofold: First of all, the Italian police killed about 600 people throught the decade of the 1980s (once again, I believe). Secondly, it provoked deep distrust for the police among Italians in general, especially those who could remember fascism. Things are better now, but events like Saturday's do cause some of the old bitterness to come to the fore again.

Anyway, it looks like, once again, calcio is going to take a little time off, and hopefully allow cooler heads to prevail.
Belated Remembrance Day Post


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Ah, Ted, How We Missed You...

During our recent sabbatical from blogging ( "yeah, 'sabbatical', that's it..." * looks shifty * ), we were vaguely aware of some foofera going on about the amount of money owed to, and collected by, the Alberta government from the oil companies for the rights to drill in the province. To make a long story quite short, Ed Stelmach decided to raise the royalty rates, eventually, but not by as much as he'd been told to. Even this modest increase (and the promise to actually collect the money this time), displeased some people. As exhibit A, we present Ted Byfield crying out that the bolsheviks are at the door:

Shades of Tommy Douglas!
Alberta has basked in prosperity until Honest Ed came along and changed the rules

How many Albertans, you wonder, are conscious of the sharp change in direction Ed Stelmach has made in our government.

No, I don't, particularly.

He has done something not one of his five predecessor premiers ever attempted.

He has turned Albertans against the industry that has made them prosper and has made their province great.

No, this is not what Stelmach did. All he did was ask the oil companies to pay a little bit more than they already do for the right to get stinkin' rich off Alberta's resources.

How else can you interpret his new royalty regime, imposed without negotiation on the province's central economic engine?

Um, about that "without negotiation" thing? You may have missed the bit about the group together by Stelmach go over the royalty issue and negotiate some solutions to it, a group that, in Sam Spanglet, included at least one guy directly employed by the oil industry. Anyway, it was in all the papers.

If you believe the polls, he has persuaded Albertans the oil and gas producers are robbing them blind and that he, Ed Stelmach, will defend them.

Actually, not so much. While he did persuade a lot of us that the oil and gas companies were making out like bandits, the jury's still out on whether his measures will in fact defend us from this.

Shades of Tommy Douglas!

And Ted kicks it old school, going with a vintage bit of red-scaring!

Ironically, it was exactly 60 years ago that Imperial Oil, after drilling more than 100 dry wells, finally found a major oil pool near Leduc.

It is said the discovery rig had been moved into Alberta from Saskatchewan.

By whom is this said? Cite sources, please, sir!

There, the renowned Premier T.C. "Tommy" Douglas, Canada's first socialist head of state, had declared he would defend his people against exploitation by "Big Oil."

He would never allow the vicious multi-nationals to reap their customary "huge profits" out of Saskatchewan.

Well, he was certainly as good as his word.

Yeah, that evil communist bastard, rigging the geology so that Saskatchewan possesses "approximately a quarter of the ultimately recoverable conventional oil resources, and less than 5% of ultimately recoverable natural gas resources" in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin (go read the linked article on the oil and gas industry in Saskatchewan. It's very interesting). The history of the oil industry in Saskatchewan is roughly akin to said history in Alberta, except with less oil. This is because there is actually less fucking oil in Saskatchewan, not because of Lenin.

Anyway, Ted blathers on, like the craven twit that he is, about the dangers of Saskatchewan-style socialism and angering the oil companies for awhile. I'll spare you all that, and jump to his final pronouncement:

There goes our carefully nurtured reputation for stability and dependability.

Actually, and only if Stelmach actually has the guts to follow through on the royalty increases (and collect them), there goes our reputation for being patsies.
Submitted Without Comment
...via Chironboy.

This site is certified 27% EVIL by the Gematriculator

Friday, November 09, 2007

"Raaaaah! I'm Friday Archaeology Blogging, and I'm back from the dead!"

Friday Archaeology Blogging
More Mummies Edition

So, what better way to revive this dormant franchise than through a chat about everybody's favourite ancient Egyptian thing, the redoubtable mummy. We have blogged about mummies before, but for this once we're going to concentrate on the well-known Egyptian variety.

The practice of mummification began very early in Egyptian history, possibly as early as 3300 B.C., and was probably originally accidental. One famous early mummy is one jokingly named "Ginger," on account of his hair colour, who is on display at the British Museum. It used to be, and perhaps still is, common practice among veteran security guards there to send new recruits to "take a cup of coffee to Ginger in the Egyptology department." One assumes that hilarity ensues.


However, within about seven centuries (!), Egyptians had begun to preserve their dead deliberately, through a process that took over two months, and involved removal of internal organs, packing of the body cavity with a particular type of salt, and a number of other things besides. In the 5th century B.C., the Greek historian Herodotus described the Egyptian process of mummification as follows:

"There are men whose sole business this is and who have this special craft. [2] When a dead body is brought to them, they show those who brought it wooden models of corpses, painted likenesses; the most perfect way of embalming belongs, they say, to One whose name it would be impious for me to mention in treating such a matter; the second way, which they show, is less perfect than the first, and cheaper; and the third is the least costly of all. Having shown these, they ask those who brought the body in which way they desire to have it prepared. [3] Having agreed on a price, the bearers go away, and the workmen, left alone in their place, embalm the body. If they do this in the most perfect way, they first draw out part of the brain through the nostrils with an iron hook, and inject certain drugs into the rest. [4] Then, making a cut near the flank with a sharp knife of Ethiopian stone, they take out all the intestines, and clean the belly, rinsing it with palm wine and bruised spices; [5] they sew it up again after filling the belly with pure ground myrrh and casia and any other spices, except frankincense. After doing this, they conceal the body for seventy days, embalmed in saltpetre; no longer time is allowed for the embalming; [6] and when the seventy days have passed, they wash the body and wrap the whole of it in bandages of fine linen cloth, anointed with gum, which the Egyptians mostly use instead of glue; [7] then they give the dead man back to his friends. These make a hollow wooden figure like a man, in which they enclose the corpse, shut it up, and keep it safe in a coffin-chamber, placed erect against a wall." (Herodotus, Histories, II.86)

Interestingly, it was not only humans who were mummified. Mummified animals included:


Cat Mummy


Dog Mummy


Mummified Crocodile


Mummified Hawk


A mummified monkey of some sort

and even Gazelle:

Mummified Gazelle

Why mummify animals? Well, reasons related to Egyptian religion, and its focus on animals, are a strong possibility, but no stronger, in my opinion, than the "beloved pet" explanation.

The word "mummy" itself first appears in English with its modern meaning in the 17th century, having drawn on Medieval Latin and Arabic sources. It is likely that the word has descended from an ancient Persian word meaning "wax."

So why bring all this up now? We'll, I'll admit that part of it involves getting back into the swing of blogging. However, mummies have been in the news in the past week or so as well, as the mummified body of the Pharaoh Tutankhamon, who reigned from 1333 B.C. to 1323 B.C., has gone on public display for the first time ever, in Luxor, Egypt.

Head of King Tutankhamen

That's all, archaeology-wise for this week, but there will be more on a variety of topics as we get this thing back up and running!

Beginning Re-Start-up Procedure...

De-calcifying blog-coils...
Re-calibrating outrage-a-tron...
Archaeology Friday ignition sequence ignited...

Content soon. In the meantime, have a video: