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Fascinating Lebanon (Book Review)

catalogueFascinating Lebanon: Sixty Centuries of Religious History, Art, and Archaeology (French: Fascination du Liban: Soixante siècles d’historie de religions, d’art et d’archéologie) is the exhibition catalogue of the eponymous show at the Musée Rath (associated with the Musées d’Art et d’Histoire de Genève) in Geneva, Switzerland. This publication is edited by a talented and international group of researchers from Europe and the Middle East: Claude Doumet-Serhal (British Museum, London); Helga Seeden and Hermann Genz (American University of Beirut); Jean-Paul Thalmann (Université de Paris I Sorbonne); Henri-Charles Loffet (Docteur en égyptologie-École Pratique des Hautes Études-Paris); Maria-Eugenia Aubet (University of Barcelona); Julien Aliquot (CNRS-Maison de l’Orient et de la Méditerranée); Jean-Baptiste Yon (Université de Lyon); Tomas Walizewski (University of Warsaw); Grace Homsy (Université Saint Esprit de Kaslik); and Hala Boustany (Université de Paris IV Sorbonne). Highlighting the religious and cultural diversity of Lebanon, this catalogue succeeds in delineating Lebanon’s importance at the nexus of trade, religion, and cross-cultural exchange for thousands of years.

From Paleolithic artifacts to Ottoman textiles, Phoenician sarcophagi to rare Melkite icons, this lavishly illustrated catalogue shares an unprecedented selection of unseen archaeological treasures. Each theme or historic era is introduced through an essay, which frames a particular topic or site. While the introductory essays are succinct, they will not frustrate the novice or bore the expert. Written by leading professionals in the fields of archaeology and art history, the information rendered is thought-provoking, pertinent, and perhaps even tantalizing. With over 350 artifacts presented in just 271 pages, readers will marvel at the range and rarity of items showcased within this publication.

While the presentation and analysis of Greco-Roman artifacts–like that of the sarcophagus depicting the “Judgment of Orestes”–and Phoenician objects of devotion is impressive, the book’s most interesting in chapters encompass Lebanon’s forgotten golden age during Late Antiquity (c. 330-800 CE). During the transition from paganism to Christianity, and in turn to that of Islam, Lebanese artisans created spectacular works of art. Few are aware that purple dye brought enormous prosperity to coastal regions of Lebanon during the Roman, Byzantine, and early Islamic periods. Increased wealth lead to increased artistic and agricultural production, helping to stimulate an international trade of silks and other goods. Mosaics from the Basilica of Chhîm, incense holders from Marjhine, and fragments from the former Umayyad palace at Anjar recreate a pulsating world of power, economic prosperity, and sustained socio-religious evolution.

The Ancient History Encyclopedia highly recommends this stunning catalogue to art historians, archaeologists with an interest in the Levant, and those scholars interested in Late Antiquity. Medievalists will also appreciate this work as a many artifacts pertain to the Crusaders, Mamlukes, Ottomans, and Melkite Christians. The annex includes a list of abbreviations and an extensive, but useful bibliography with works in French, English, and German. Our sole regret is that this publication is only available in French; however, this volume is published in accessible French via Skira Publications (2012). Those with a reading-knowledge of the language should not encounter many difficulties. It is currently available for purchase from the Museum and Amazon.fr.

Please be sure to read our interview with Dr. Marielle Martiniani-Reber, Curator-in-Chief of Applied Arts, Byzantine and post-Byzantine collections at the Musées d’Art et d’Histoire de Genève, who helped organize this extraordinary display of Lebanese patrimony.

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Princesses of the Mediterranean in the Dawn of History (Book Review)

Princesses of the Mediterannean in the Dawn of History is the companion exhibition catalogue of a major retrospective on show at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens, Greece. Edited by Drs. Nicholas Chr. Stampolidis and Mimika Giannopoulou, and translated by Ms. Maria Xanthopoulou, the catalogue presents the personal belongings 24 “princesses” or elite women, who lived in Greece, Cyprus, and Italy from c. 1000-500 BCE.

Whether royal princesses or members of the merchant elite, doctors or priestesses, intriguing, personal artifacts reveal the extent to which these women shaped ancient Mediterranean cultures, contributing to artistic, economic, and religious development. With over 500 artifacts presented in just 447 pages, the reader is dazzled by the splendor and rarity of items showcased within the exhibition: large bronze vases; intact glass and faience objects, terracotta items; in addition to bronze and ivory figurines.

Art historians interested in jewelry and craftsmanship during the Greek Dark Ages (c. 1200-750 BCE) will be particularly delighted with this catalogue as some of the finest archaeological items ever discovered are also highlighted: beautiful bracelets and armbands; belts; bronze breastplates; jewelry in gold, silver and bronze; golden masks; beads of faience; and exquisite foreign pendants and charms. When viewed collectively, it is difficult not to acknowledge the power of high art” with a feminine accent. Moreover, one is consistently struck by the fact that these material goods belonged to real women “of flesh and bone.”

The 24 women are meticulously presented with pertinent observations from leading archaeologists. In addition to its comprehensive and humanizing presentation of objects, the catalogue also contains expansive introductory texts and a full bibliography.

The Ancient History Encyclopedia highly recommends this stunning publication to art historians, archaeologists, and academics interested in women’s history. Comparative historians will also appreciate this work as its format and structure lends itself well to comparative analysis. This volume is published in English, Italian, and Greek editions, via the Museum of Cycladic Art. It is currently available for purchase.

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Polynesians in California: Evidence for an Ancient Exchange?

tomoloFor several decades, scholars have been searching for tangible evidence of Pre-Columbian contacts between the Old and New Worlds. Whether based on cross-cultural comparisons, historical records, studies of linguistics, or anthropological inquiry, these claims have stimulated heated debates and controversy in various fields. In recent times however, there appears to be a growing body of evidence to suggest that there were exchanges between Polynesian seafarers and native peoples in the Americas. From c. 300 to c. 1450 CE, the Polynesians traversed the Pacific Ocean, settling remote island chains like those of present-day Hawaii, New Zealand, and Easter Island. Could they have also made it to the New World?

The Chumash had the most highly developed coastal technologies in North America.

In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener of the Ancient History Encyclopedia speaks with Dr. Terry L. Jones, an archaeologist and Professor of Anthropology at the California Polytechnic State University, with regard to his assertion that there were technological and linguistic exchanges between the Chumash and Gabrielino tribes of California with ancient Polynesians.

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Ancient History Maps Now Online

Map of the Ancient World
After much preparation and a lot of work (which is far from being finished), we are pleased to include an interactive map section on Ancient History Encyclopedia. You can now geographically explore the ancient world and gain a much deeper understanding of not only geography and location, but also interconnections between civilizations and empires.

The first map is a political map of ancient times that lets you set the date you want to view, and you will see the cities and state borders at that time (all searchable, of course). The terrain shows the original natural terrain in ancient times, not the modern landscape. It’s a custom-built map, and it’s not complete: At the moment you can only see borders until around 270 BCE, even though cities are already placed until a much later date.

The second map is a Map of the Roman Empire (and the Classical World), created by the Pelagios Project. It doesn’t allow you to change the date or see state borders, but it offers a far more detailed view of the Roman world, showing not only cities but also roads, fortresses, and other important landmarks. It is highly zoomable and also searchable.

We hope that you are going to enjoy viewing these new maps. Let us know what you think!

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Interviews

Unearthing Ancient Sweden Through Archaeology

With over 25,000 Iron Age graveyards and burial mounds, 1,140 megalithic structures of all sizes, and about 2,500 large rune stones, Sweden is an archaeologist’s paradise. While recognized predominantly for its colorful Viking past and picturesque medieval towns, Sweden has a history that extends far beyond the the Middle Ages. In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener of the Ancient History Encyclopedia speaks to Dr. Martin Rundkvist, a Swedish archaeologist, about his most recent work in attempting to locate a Geatish mead-hall in the archaeologically rich province of Östergötland. With humor and insight, Rundkvist shares his thoughts and enthusiasm.

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Trading Cultures Along The Silk Road: An Interview with Professor Valerie Hansen

MiranWingedFigureFor many the “Silk Road” conjures images of exotic goods, verdant desert oases, and the bustling markets of ancient China. However, the Silk Road was also a conduit of ideas, technologies, diseases, the arts, and even fashion. Spread across nearly 6,500 km (4,000 mi), the Silk Road affected the course of history, molding civilizations in Europe, Arabia, Persia, India, and China.

In this media interview, James Blake Wiener of the Ancient History Encyclopedia speaks with Professor Valerie Hansen, author of The Silk Road: A New History and Professor of History at Yale University. Approaching the importance of cultural transmission through archaeology and material history, Hansen reveals new perspectives while narrating a fascinating story of early global exchange.