Documentaries for December

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Often during the holiday season I get rather bored so have a tendency to watch large numbers of documentaries. As many of you are also documentary buffs here are some for the month. Enjoy.

BBC – Treasures of the Lourve

Paris-based writer Andrew Hussey travels through the glorious art and surprising history of an extraordinary French institution to show that the story of the Louvre is the story of France. As well as exploring the masterpieces of painters such as Veronese, Rubens, David, Chardin, Gericault and Delacroix, he examines the changing face of the Louvre itself through its architecture and design. Medieval fortress, Renaissance palace, luxurious home to kings, emperors and more recently civil servants, today it attracts eight million visitors a year. The documentary also reflects the very latest transformation of the Louvre – the museum’s recently-opened Islamic Gallery.

The Search for the Crystal Skulls

From the Nazis’ search for the Holy Grail, to the Americans who hunted for pirate treasure in Vietnam; from the true story of the crystal skulls to the mystery of King Solomon’s mines – this series uncovers the truth behind some of the most fabulous, romantic and deranged treasure hunts in modern history.

Note this link may not be available outside Australasia.


A History of Art in Three Colours – Gold

For the very first civilisations and also our own, the yellow lustre of gold is the most alluring and intoxicating colour of all. From the midst of pre-history to a bunker deep beneath the Bank of England, Dr James Fox reveals how golden treasures made across the ages reflect everything we have held as sacred.

A History of Art in Three Colours – Blue

Dr James Fox explores how, in the hands of artists, the colours gold, blue and white have stirred our emotions, changed the way we behave and even altered the course of history.

When, in the Middle Ages, the precious blue stone lapis lazuli arrived in Europe from the East, blue became the most exotic and mysterious of colours. And it was artists who used it to offer us tantalising glimpses of other worlds beyond our own.

A History of Art in Three Colours – White, Part 1

In the Age of Reason, it was the rediscovery of the white columns and marbles of antiquity that made white the most virtuous of colours. For the flamboyant JJ Wickelmann and the British genius Josiah Wedgewood, white embodied all the Enlightenment values of justice, equality and reason.

Pompeii: The Mystery Of People Frozen In Time

n a one off landmark drama documentary for BBC One, Dr Margaret Mountford presents Pompeii: The Mystery Of The People Frozen In Time.

The city of Pompeii uniquely captures the public’s imagination; in 79AD a legendary volcanic disaster left its citizens preserved in ashes to this very day. Yet no-one has been able to unravel the full story that is at the heart of our fascination: how did those bodies become frozen in time?

The Other Pompeii: Life and Death in Herculaneum

Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill presents a documentary following the scientific investigation that aims to lift the lid on what life was like in the small Roman town of Herculaneum, moments before it was destroyed by a volcanic erruption. The investigation, based arround the discovery of 12 arched vaults, reveals in great detail the lives of the ill-fated town’s residents, and unique aerial photography gives a behind-the-scenes look at the town from the skies. With contributions from the forensic scientists leading the investigation, the film uncovers the minutiae of daily life in Herculaneum, including not just what residents ate but how they ate it, and why most of the skeletons found on the coast were men and those in the vaults, women and children.

The Secret of El Dorado: The Discovery of Biochar

n 1542, the Spanish Conquistador, Francisco de Orellana ventured along the Rio Negro, one of the Amazon Basin’s great rivers. Hunting a hidden city of gold, his expedition found a network of farms, villages and even huge walled cities. At least that is what he told an eager audience on his return to Spain.

BBC – An Islamic History of Europe

n this 90-minute documentary, Rageh Omaar uncovers the hidden story of Europe’s Islamic past and looks back to a golden age when European civilization was enriched by Islamic learning.

Rageh travels across medieval Muslim Europe to reveal the vibrant civilization that Muslims brought to the West.

This evocative film brings to life a time when emirs and caliphs dominated Spain and Sicily and Islamic scholarship swept into the major cities of Europe.

BBC Simon Schama: A History of Britain, Part 1 (Beginnings)

A study of the history of the British Isles, each of the 15 episodes allows Schama to examine a particular period and tell of its events in his own style. All the programmes are of 59 minutes’ duration and were broadcast over three series, ending 18 June 2002.
The series was produced in conjunction with The History Channel and the executive producer was Martin Davidson. The music was composed by John Harle, whose work was augmented by vocal soloists such as Emma Kirkby and Lucie Skeaping. Schama’s illustrative presentation was aided by readings from actors, including Lindsay Duncan, Michael Kitchen, Christian Rodska, Samuel West and David Threlfall.


Welcome to GraecoMuse!

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This site is aimed at similar people who are interested in archaeology, ancient history, philology and epigraphy. Interesting stories, archaeological tidbits and blogs will be put up as I partake in digs myself and come across things to share.

This page can also be followed on FACEBOOK and TWITTER for regular discussions and news updates. Enjoy and please comment and share.

Please SCROLL DOWN for the most recent posts. Previous posts can be searched through the search bar or browsed in the archives by month on the right hand side bar.

Archaeological Beginnings: A Brief Discussion on the Start of the Archaeology Discipline

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Bowl barrow from an engraving of barrow types,...
Bowl barrow from an engraving of barrow types, from Colt Hoare’s introduction to “The Ancient History of Wiltshire”.

Archaeology has become an established and well-thought out discipline with set processes and methodologies. But the beginnings of archaeology were a little less professional. Archaeology as we understand it only really appeared in the 19th century. Before this there was a series of business ventures, treasure hunters, and few researchers. The 18th century especially saw archaeology with a sense of adventure especially with the discovery and initial looting of prominent sites like Pompeii. I call it looting rather than excavating because essentially it was. For instance, tunnels being dug through ceilings and walls to find and collect precious items, statues and frescos. Many of which still have unfortunately not been recovered.

Some of the first scientific excavations were carried out in the early 19th century by Thomas Jefferson, later to become the third president of the United States. In 1784 he decided to investigate some mounds on his property in Virginia and did so by digging a trench across the mound. Jefferson was ahead of his time and adopted a scientific approach while testing his ideas about the mounds with the evidence that was found in the trench and hence the mound itself. He recognised that there were different layers in the trench and established that this formed a timeline of sorts. Jefferson’s sound approach led to fairly logical deductions from carefully excavated archaeological evidence. In some ways he created a basis for modern excavations but this was not taken up by any of his immediate successors in America. And so we move over to Europe…

During the 19th century extension excavation was carried out at sites around Europe. One of the first to begin this was an Englishman by the name of Richard Colt Hoare (1758-1838). Colt Hoare started extensive excavations at a number of burial grounds in southern England using a more scientific approach. However, none of his excavations advanced the interpretation of the evidence by much because of the current biblical framework of ideas which he was subject to. This framework insisted particularly significantly a shorter time-span for human existence.

Charles Lyell 1875
Charles Lyell 1875

It wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that the discipline of archaeology began to be properly established. New studies in geology assisted in this basis through increased knowledge of land formation and contributing factors. Scottish geologist James Hutton was one of the first to establish principles which were to become the basis of archaeological excavations. Hutton demonstrated that the stratification of rocks were due to continuing processes that could still be seen continuing in seas, rivers and lakes in the present day. From this knowledge Hutton established the basis principle of uniformtarianism. This principle, which is too long to type again, was argued by fellow geologist Charles Lyell in his book on the ‘Principles of Geography’ in 1833. Lyell argued that the ancient geological conditions were in essence the same of those of the present era, hence ‘uniform with’. With this principle the idea came about that this could also be applied to the human past also, on the basis that ancient humans were still like modern humans in needs, wares and thoughts. While placing modern ideals on ancient history is highly questionable, the essence of the idea was that we are all human. And thus was born the discipline of archaeology.

Check out

Archaeology: theories, methods and practice – Colin Renfrew and Paul Bahn

Handbook Of Archaeological Methods

Archaeological Method and Theory: An Encyclopedia

Field Archaeology: An Introduction

Archaeology: An Introduction: The History, Principles and Methods

Women in Roman Religious Life

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Lefkowitz and Fant assert that the politically oppressed often turn to ecstasy as a temporary means of possessing the power they otherwise lack.  In relation to this assertion we see from a number of ancient texts and archaeological evidence that Roman women had an important place in the religious life of the empire and had a number of important roles. So here is a brief overview for you in light of the Roman religious festival of Saturnalia.

One of the most significant roles of women in Roman religion is found in the Roman cults and festivals.  Several of these were confined to women and were used to enlist divine aid and designed to uphold ideals of female conduct.  Pomeroy outlines that cults and festivals involving Fortuna were an important part of women’s religious life and roles.  Fortuna Virginalis, for instance, protected adolescent girls who ceremonially dedicated their small togas to her when they came of age and donned a stola while transferring to the protection of Fortuna primigenia.  This is just one example of how females interwove with religious activities as through the worship of these goddesses ensured the protection of those who would go on to produce the children of the state.  Women also played a role in the commendation of relatives to the divine powers.  For instance, the commendation of nieces and nephews at the Matralia which was only attended to by respectable women.  The role of women in the worship of goddesses and festivals was a significant part of state interests such as with the worship by women of the verticordia which was associated with domestic harmony, virtue and marital fidelity.  Augustus often emphasized such cults to do with women in the interest of the state.  Juvenal on the other hand, condemned many of these cults and practices and presents a more distorted picture based on women neglecting the cults designed for them.

From the statue in Rome. Costume of a chief ve...
From the statue in Rome. Costume of a chief vestal

The roles of women were not just confined to Roman cults, but also associated with a number of foreign cults that had made their way into the body of Roman religious importance.  Pomeroy explains that one such cult was the cult of Isis which made its way throughout the Roman Empire and while in often dramatic contrast to many of the traditional cults was especially attractive.  This attraction was caused by the way that anyone could relate to Isis and this was particular the case with women who had a massive role to play in its upkeep.  Archaeology and written evidence from Pompeii illustrates that many women were affiliated with this cult, such as one so called Julia who was a public priestess of the cult at Pompeii.  This individual woman also shows us that such women could hold a certain authority in their localities, as Julia while holding this title of Priestess of Isis also had a number of businesses and authority over her own estates and income, as well as being a prominent member of society.  This illustrates Pomeroy’s assertion that religion afforded an outlet for those whos lives were circumcised in other ways.

Imperial and ordinary women also held a large role in Roman religious activity even outside the priesthood.  Cicero, while often oversimplifying the association between women and religion, shows that women had a significant sense of obligation and participation in relation to religion.  This is seen in accounts of how his wife Terentia would associate herself with religion and take part in a number of religious ceremonies and practices as an obligation to the divine and state.  Plutarch also describes such roles of women in religious activities such as with the Bona Dea (the good goddess) when sacrifice was offered to the goddess annually in the house of the consul by either his wife or mother.  Plutarch also tells of certain festivals where women had roles even in earlier times, such as the Agrionia where the daughters of Minyas were chased by a priest ceremonially.

One of the most significant roles that a woman could have in Roman religion was that of a Vestal virgin.  Wildfang tells us that the vestals were inseparable from the Roman’s view of themselves and the state, which illustrates just how important the Vestals were to the state.  This in itself is indicative of the kind of power that the vestals held in the minds of the Romans and the kind of authority.  Juvenal would not even go as far to criticise the vestals.  These virgin priestesses belonged to no man and could incarnate the collective, the city itself.  And the hearth they tended with its undying flame was symbolic of the continuation of both family and community, as Pomeroy explains.  Their role was so entwined with the interests of the state that, as Livy explains, vestals often came under suspicion for it was conceivable that their misconduct had contributed to the misfortunes of the state.  This is a specific example of the firmly established principle of Greek and Roman thought connecting the virtue of women and the welfare of the state.  Aristotle also alludes to this ideology blaming Spartan women for the deterioration of Sparta; as does the Emperor Domitian who perceived a connection between popular morality and female degeneracy.  While the lives of vestals were severely regulated they held an emancipation and authority which other women did not.  The XII Tables show this, telling of how the vestals were to be freed from the power of their pater familias and the Vestals looked after a fire whose quenching threatened the very fundament of the city’s existence, the pax decorum.  Augustus tells of how the vestals had increased privileges like all ‘priests’, which could be taken to mean that they had the same authority as their male counterparts in the priesthood.  Suetonius and Vetruvius also indicate the privilege and authority of these women, telling us that they alone of women held seats in the imperial podium.

The vestals were not though the only public priestesses to hold authority in the Roman Empire.  The priestesses of Ceres, for instance, along with those of Fortuna were also entwined with the interests of the state and held the prestigious duty of administering a state cult.  Pomeroy tells that the cult of the Hellenized Ceres was exclusively in the hands of women and excluded men and those of low birth.  The Priestesses of these cults and other had the exclusive privilege of representing the city in the performance of holy rites.  Miletus explains that it was the role of the priestesses to throw meat on behalf of the city and no one else was to do so before them.  This indicates a certain control over religious matters on the part of the female.  Other evidence also pertains to the role of the priestess in religious practices.  An epitaph for a priestess from Rome around the end of the third century explains that such women were in charge of sacred objects and implements and marched in processions of religious significance before the whole city.  The authority of such Priestesses is again seen in example like from Pompeii with the Genius of Augustus dedicated by the Priestess Mamia with the use of her own funds and land.

To Pass Knowledge on to the Younger Generations

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I swear that the scariest audience when presenting is kids. They ask odd questions and seem to know a lot more than you realise. In a way they are rather like academics which makes them good practice. Last week I spread my wings a bit and took archaeology to a special education school at the university. It was eye-opening and the feedback heart lifting so I thought I’d share it with you while showing why it is important to teach the newer generations about history and archaeology.

These kids suffer from a range of severe learning and behavioural disabilities and yet seem to have a wish to learn like no other. Some university students could learn from them.

Here is the evidence to make one smile (complete with spelling mistakes):

“On Tuesday an archaeologist named Dr. J [came to visit]. She showed us some of the preveos artefacts she found. Dr J told us about Pompeii in Italy and now it is an archaeologist wonderland. Dr J named all of her diging tools. My faverote is the trowel.”

“Yesterday J came for a visit. We looked at some artefacts. We looked at the pictures in the white board. J had been to many countries. J told us about Italy, Greece and Egypt. She used a trowel, brush, spade and a shovel. I liked her visit.”

“On Tuesday Dr J came to our school. She told us about Greece, Egypt and Italy. J told us about the olden day toilet. She showed us some tools that she used for digging. She showed us a trowel, a brush and a leaf trowel. It was fun.”

Seeing the enthusiasm on the faces of these kids reminds me why it is important to teach them about new and exciting things. They will struggle more than any other students and yet so many of them want to be there. By showing them some of the fantastic things in this world they can aspire to continue learning despite their disadvantages. I’m no primary school teacher, but I’d happily go back and talk to kids because not only are they interested in what I’m talking about, they remember it and take it in.

An “archaeologist wonderland” was came up by the kid herself by the way. That’s pretty cool! And to remember something as obscure as a leaf trowel. I’m impressed!

So spread the word fellow historians and archaeologists! If you get a chance to talk to children, take it because they might be our successors one day and it really is fun.