OMG!

Archaeologist for Hire (that would be me) got hired!!! 😀

I’ll be joining a fantastic team on the production of a rather notable (teehee) History Channel show.

I’ll post more details as they happen and as I’m able to share them!

Thanks for sticking with me, gentle readers! 

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The ancient world was full-on technicolor!

The past was indeed very colorful! Not news, per se, but a lovely update on how technology and archaeology are working together to create awesome things. Thanks to Al and Marci for linking this to me earlier! From the good people at Gizmodo:

Ultraviolet light reveals how ancient Greek statues really looked

Ultraviolet light reveals how ancient Greek statues really lookedOriginal Greek statues were brightly painted, but after thousands of years, those paints have worn away. Find out how shining a light on the statues can be that’s required to see them the way they were thousands of years ago.

Although it seems impossible to think that anything could be left to discover after thousands of years of wind, sun, sand, and art students, finding the long lost patterns on a piece of ancient Greek sculpture can be as easy as shining a lamp on it. A technique called ‘raking light’ has been used to analyze art for a long time. A lamp is positioned carefully enough that the path of the light is almost parallel to the surface of the object. When used on paintings, this makes brushstrokes, grit, and dust obvious. On statues, the effect is more subtle. Brush-strokes are impossible to see, but because different paints wear off at different rates, the stone is raised in some places – protected from erosion by its cap of paint – and lowered in others. Elaborate patterns become visible.

Ultraviolet is also used to discern patterns. UV light makes many organic compounds fluoresce. Art dealers use UV lights to check if art has been touched up, since older paints have a lot of organic compounds and modern paints have relatively little. On ancient Greek statues, tiny fragments of pigment still left on the surface glow bright, illuminating more detailed patterns.

Ultraviolet light reveals how ancient Greek statues really looked

Once the pattern is mapped, there is still the problem of figuring out which paint colors to use. A series of dark blues will create a very different effect than gold and pink. Even if enough pigment is left over so that the naked eye can make out a color, a few thousand years can really change a statue’s complexion. There’s no reason to think that color seen today would be anything like the hues the statues were originally painted.

There is a way around this dilemma. The colors may fade over time, but the original materials – plant and animal-derived pigments, crushed stones or shells – still look the same today as they did thousands of years ago. This can also be discovered using light.

Ultraviolet light reveals how ancient Greek statues really looked

Infrared and X-ray spectroscopy can help researches understand what the paints are made of, and how they looked all that time ago. Spectroscopy relies on the fact that atoms are picky when it comes to what kind of incoming energy they absorb. Certain materials will only accept certain wavelengths of light. Everything else they reflect. Spectroscopes send out a variety of wavelengths, like scouts into a foreign land. Inevitably, a few of these scouts do not come back. By noting which wavelengths are absorbed, scientists can determine what materials the substance is made of. Infrared helps determine organic compounds. X-rays, because of their higher energy level, don’t stop for anything less than the heavier elements, like rocks and minerals. Together, researchers can determine approximately what color a millennia-old statue was painted.

The color? Always something tacky. (Tacky? Um, YOU’RE tacky. These look fantastic and anyone who’s seen remnants of paint on any ancient object [statue, building, etc] knows that paint is one of the most awesome things you can find. I seriously *squee’d* with delight when I discovered the ceilings of pretty much all the Egyptian temple complexes I went to were still painted because they were above the sand line. I plan on recreating the color used by the Egyptians for their night sky in my home someday. Seriously. The statues we’re so used to seeing as stark white [or a little grungy] marble are that way because the paint has come off. Usually due to exposure to elements, the first things to come away from statues are appendages like arms and legs and any outer layers like paint. It’s just the way it goes. Preferred colors in the ancient world were primary colors like reds, blues and yellows along with greens, oranges and blacks if the materials to make them were available. Purples were pretty strictly relegated to fabrics and came once people realized you could gather up THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS of a little shell called murex to create the color favored by the Romans and other royal folks in the ancient world.)

Ultraviolet light reveals how ancient Greek statues really looked

 

More Archaeology on the Internet!

Greetings gentle readers! I bring you news of another exciting offer of archaeological funtimes on the internet. Check out Sexy Archaeology to find out more about the increasing amount of sexiness in the field and also the 2010 Lassen Forest PIT Project! It’s a great opportunity to get involved in some good quality archaeology so if you happen to be in Northern California, be sure to check it out!

Good times and good reads are guaranteed!

Thunderstones!

From our good friends at National Geographic:

“Thor’s Hammer” Found in Viking Graves

Norse warriors saw “thunderstones” as protection against lightning.

 

 

Long dismissed as accidental additions to Viking graves, prehistoric “thunderstones”—fist-size stone tools resembling the Norse god Thor’s hammerhead—were actually purposely placed as good-luck talismans, archaeologists say.

Using fire-starting rock such as flint, Stone Age people originally created the stones to serve as axes. But the Vikings, whose Iron Age heyday lasted from about A.D. 800 to 1050, saw the primitive tools as lightning repellent.

Because the axes predate the Viking age by thousands of years, archaeologists have long seen the stones as random artifacts, perhaps stirred up from earlier, lower burials or dropped in centuries after the Viking era.

But now “we have made enough discoveries of Stone Age artifacts in younger graves to say that they make a clear pattern,” archaeologist Eva Thäte, of the University of Chester in the U.K., said in a statement.

 

Vikings Superstitious?

To solve the thunderstone mystery, Thäte and fellow archaeologist Olle Hemdorff excavated Viking graves in Scandinavia and trawled through catalogs of grave goods from hundreds of Viking burials—all dating to the Iron Age (about 600 A.D. to 1000 A.D.).

For example, in Scandinavia the researchers found about ten Viking burials that held thunderstones up to 5,000 years older than the graves themselves—including a thunderstone in a previously untouched, fifth-century A.D. stone coffin.

In addition, what might be called miniature thunderstones—small, rounded-off flint “eggs”—have been found in Viking graves in Iceland, where flint doesn’t occur naturally.

“These people must have gone to all the effort of bringing these goods over fromNorway, on an exceedingly dangerous boat journey,” Hemdorff, of the University of Stavanger in Norway, told National Geographic News.

“There is no rational explanation as to why they should appear in the graves—the pebbles were far too small to be useful in any way,” Hemdorff said. “It shows that these stones had very special significance and suggests that these people were highly superstitious.”

 

Mighty Thor Connection

The prehistoric stones’ “special significance” to Vikings may have derived from legends of Thor, the Norse thunder god said to create lightning with his battle hammer, Mjöllnir.

To the Vikings, “three things seem to be important when choosing thunderstones,” Hemdorff said.

“The form had to be similar to an ax or a hammer—that is, a ground stone or flint. The stone had to have ‘flaming’ properties, which flint and quartz have. And all the stones were damaged with the edge chipped off—’proof’ that they fell from the sky,” he added.

“Thor’s mission was to protect gods and people against evil and chaos,” he said in a statement. “It was therefore believed that Thor’s rocks protected houses and people.”

Now the new grave survey suggests the rocks were believed to protect souls too, the archaeologists say.

 

Far-Flung Phenomenon?

Similar discoveries in United Kingdom graves suggest that Vikings weren’t the only ancient Europeans who saw millennia-old tools as accoutrements for the afterlife.

“In southeast Britain the Lexden Tumulus—a wealthy late Iron Age burial dating to just before the Roman conquest—included within it not only rich contemporary imports from the classical world but also a Bronze [ax] dating to the Bronze age,” said John Creighton, an Iron Age expert from the University of Reading in the U.K.

When such out-of-date artifacts are found randomly at archaeological sites, “it is easy to explain them away as residual objects,” Creighton said. But when they’re found “sealed in graves, as they occasionally are, they are clearly treasured objects.”

Archaeologist Tim Champion thinks Iron Age people ritually buried prehistoric tools to commemorate more than just deaths.

In southern England grinding stones and Stone Age stone axes have been found in Iron Age ritual pits that aren’t associated with burial but instead may have been used, for example, to mark the end of an occupation of a site, said Champion, of the University of Southampton in the U.K.

“They are a real oddity and were certainly placed there deliberately, but we’re not sure why,” he said. “I suspect that these people were not so very different from us, and they would have had superstitious folk beliefs.”

 

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