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April 2016 Museum Listings

Back by popular demand, Ancient History Encyclopedia will once again share news, on a monthly basis, about select museum exhibitions and events of interest to our global audience via AHetc. Exhibitions are arranged in alphabetical order by geographical location and region within this post: the Americas, United Kingdom, Europe/Middle East, and East Asia/Oceania. Here is a taste of what is on show at major museums around the world in April 2016:

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Visiting The Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art

The Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art (Español: Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino) in Santiago, Chile is a jewel among the world’s museums and a highlight to any trip to the country. Widely regarded as one of the best museums in Latin America, this unique establishment houses an impressive collection of artifacts from ancient Central and South America, which underscores the rich cultural and artistic diversity of the Pre-Columbian Americas.

In this exclusive English language interview, James Blake Wiener, Communications Director at Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE), takes a tour of the museum with Dr. José Berenguer Rodríguez, Curator at the Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, who explains the finer points of the museum’s history, organization, and vast collection.

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A Greek ivory pyxis depicting griffins attacking stags. 15th Century BCE. (Agora Museum, Athens)

Ivory in the Ancient World

Ivory, with its ease of carving and exotic rarity, has been used to make art objects for millennia. True ivory actually refers to only the dentine of elephant tusks but it may also refer to the tusks and teeth of walrus, hippopotamus, narwhal and sperm whales, amongst others. The ancient world acquired its ivory either directly or through trade with Africa and India via the Levant, as attested by the Bronze Age Ulu Burun shipwreck which had ivory as part of its cargo.

In the modern day ivory is, of course, a strictly controlled commodity and its trade and use are illegal if taken from endangered species.  In the ancient world, though, ivory could be carved alone or added to metals or wood and used as inlay. The Egyptians buried ivory objects with the dead, the Greeks used it for giant statues such as the Parthenon Athena, and the Romans even burnt it at funerals.  Below are just some of the objects made from this precious and fragile material which have survived the centuries.

An ivory figurine representating a bull-leaper from a three dimensional composition (with two other figures and a bull) depicting this Minoan sporting or religious activity. Hair would have been added using bronze wire and clothes in gold leaf, 1600-1500 BCE. It is perhaps the earliest known attempt in sculpture to capture free movement in space. (Archaeological Museum Herakleion)

An ivory figurine representating a bull-leaper from a three dimensional composition (with two other figures and a bull) depicting this Minoan sporting or religious activity. Hair would have been added using bronze wire and clothes in gold leaf, 1600-1500 BCE. It is perhaps the earliest known attempt in sculpture to capture free movement in space. Archaeological Museum Herakleion, Crete. Photo © Mark Cartwright

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Malta’s Neolithic Underground

Allow me to share with you my experience of descending into Malta’s Neolithic underground. It is by far of one of the most amazing places that I have ever had the privilege to visit. Malta was discussed in one of my previous posts, 7 Strange Artifacts From Malta, but I didn’t tell you about the Hal Safleni Hypogeum. The phrase “must see” is really an understatement. It’s an amazing adventure to an underground archaeological site that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Inside the Hal Safleni Hypogeum, Malta. Image © Heritage Malta.

Image © Heritage Malta.

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Virtual Rome

Virtual Rome: Interview with Dr. Matthew Nicholls

Dr. Matthew Nicholls, University of Reading, sat down with James Lloyd, AHE’s Video Editor, to discuss his Virtual Rome project.

I first met Dr. Nicholls attending one of his ‘Digital Silchester’ classes. This module teaches students how to understand the history and archaeology of the Roman town of Silchester through digital reconstruction. Matthew’s digital reconstructions have been featured on BBC and Discovery documentaries and he has co-taught the British School at Rome’s undergraduate summer school.

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Art and Sculptures from Hadrian’s Villa: Dancing Female Figure of Praxilla

This month’s sculpture from Hadrian’s Villa is a marble statue of a dancing female figure, thought to be a portrait of Praxilla of Sikyon.

Praxilla was a female poet writing in the mid-fifth century BC. She came from Sikyon, a city situated on a fertile coastal plain beside the Corinthian Gulf in the northeast Peloponnese (see images of the archaeological site here). She wrote, dithyrambs, hymns to the Greek gods as well as drinking songs (skolia). Her skolia were among the most celebrated of her time and were sung at banquets and festivals for over three hundred years.

Dancing female figure, thought to be a portrait of Praxilla of Sikyon (a Greek lyric poet), from the portico of the pecile at Hadrian's Villa, 117 - 138 AD, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome

Dancing female figure, thought to be a portrait of Praxilla of Sikyon, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome. Photo © Carole Raddato

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Detail of an alabaster bas-relief showing a lion being stabbed in the neck. The lion has jumped and reached a critical point very close to the king's chariot. The king's attendants thrust their spears onto the lion's neck to stop the lion; the king, using his right hand, stabs the lion deeply into his neck. The lion's painful facial expression was  depicted very delicately. From Room C of the North Palace, Nineveh (modern-day Kouyunjik, Mosul Governorate), Mesopotamia, Iraq. Circa 645-535 BCE. The British Museum, London. Photo©Osama S.M. Amin.

Assyrian Lion-Hunting at the British Museum

Whoever was privileged to gain access to the North Palace of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal at Nineveh, could consider himself part of something timeless. Thanks to the great work of Hormuzd Rassam (1826-1910), who unveiled a large number of alabaster bas-reliefs, which once decorated the walls of that king’s Palace (built around 645 BCE); the Assyrian lion-hunting scenes!

These extraordinary carvings, so dynamic and full of movements, are so realistic and so accomplished and are some of the most remarkable ancient artifacts ever found. They were discovered by Rassam in the year 1853 and have been housed in the British Museum since 1856. Rassam stated in his autobiography that “one division of the workmen, after 3-4 hours of hard labor, were rewarded by the grand discovery of a beautiful bas-relief in a perfect state of preservation”. Rassam ordered his men to dig a large hole in the mound; after more than 2,000 years, the remains of a royal palace were found. The mud-bricks had disappeared, of course, completely but the reliefs themselves, which once decorated them, have fortunately survived. Read More