An in-depth analysis of stone objects has yielded new evidence on Minoan stoneworking, with regard to the geological outcrops exploited for the production of certain objects as well as the specific stone materials used for the making of particular shapes.

A team of experts led by archaeologist Dr. Georgia Flouda (Heraklion Archaeological Museum) and consisting of researchers from the Foundation for Research and Technology (IESL-FORTH), performed a series of tests on stone objects from the Minoan Tholos Tomb B at Porti in Crete’s Mesara Plain. The results have just been published through the Journal of Archaeological Science (Vol. 32, August 2020); the article is accessible to view and download here.

Cretan Tholos tombs are much earlier than the more well-known Mycenaean Tholos tombs, do not relate to them, and reflect completely different socio-cultural procedures.  Found in the plain of Mesara, in south-central Crete, the Tholos tomb P at Porti dates to the Early (EBA) to Middle Bronze Age (MBA) (3rd and early 2nd millennium B.C.), (ca. 2700–1700 BCE). According to the researchers, this tomb’s material represents “one of the richest burial assemblages in south-central Crete”, reflecting in many ways the technological and ideological innovations as well as wealth characterizing what is known as Crete’s Prepalatial and Protopalatial periods.

In particular, the mortuary assemblage where the team performed its archaeometry project consists of a group of 59 stone artifacts (vessels, implements, and figurines).

As mentioned in the paper’s abstract, the analysis was based on mobile Raman microspectroscopy, a quick, non-invasive deep scanning archaeometrical method. Mineral identification was possible for over half of the objects examined and the results expand our understanding, originally obtained on the basis of visual and microscopic characterization of the objects. During the project, patterns of variability in the stones investigated are correlated with the typological repertoire of the final products and compared with data from the neighboring site of Apesokari; further inferences on craft specialization issues are finally drawn.

In all, the data obtained lead researchers to suggest that stone vessel manufacture at Porti was predominantly focused on the exploitation of local soft stone outcrops. This hypothesis agrees with the current knowledge concerning the geological formation of the Asterousia area, on the northern fringes of which the site of Porti is located.

In parallel, this research gave the opportunity to the team to assess and discuss the capacity of mobile Raman microspectrometry to contribute to stone object characterization as regards their mineral composition, along with the advantages and limitations of the methodology followed. Raman analysis is performed quickly, non-invasively, directly on the object and over several spots across its surface for probing heterogeneous mineral distributions. The mobile spectrometer permits measurements to be conducted on location, namely within the museum study facilities. A major limitation with respect to obtaining clean analytical information resulted from strong fluorescence emission observed in some of the measurements, which interfered with the Raman scattering signal. These emissions were attributed to organic materials present on the stone surface either as environmental contamination or as a result of previous, often undocumented, conservation treatments.

Finally, experts stressed the need to collect and thoroughly characterize local stone outcrops as well as archaeological stone objects; in so, it is stated that building a representative Raman spectral database will certainly facilitate future studies.
Today in "Did you know?"; kobolts. Because yes, they were known in ancient Hellas!

The kobalos (Κόβαλος) was a sprite from Hellenic mythology, a mischievous creature fond of tricking and frightening mortals. The ancient Hellenic myths depict the kobaloi as 'impudent, thieving, droll, idle, mischievous, gnome-dwarfs', and as 'funny, little triksy elves' of a phallic nature. They were companions of Dionysus and, as choroimanes-aiolomorphos--shapeshifters--could disguise themselves as Dionysos. According to myth, they once robbed Hēraklēs while he slept. He captured them in revenge but took pity on them when he found them amusing. In one version of the myth, Hēraklēs gave them to the Lydian queen Omphale as a gift.

Parents used tales of the kobaloi to frighten children into behaving. The term also means 'impudent knave', or 'arrant rogue' in ancient Greek, and such individuals were thought to invoke kobaloi spirits.
The kobalos is related to two other Hellenic sprites: the kabeiroi and the kerkopes. The kareiroi are pygmies with large phalluses and eventually became equated with the kobalos. Nineteenth Century classicists proposed that other European sprites may derive from belief in kobaloi. This includes spirits such as the Northern English boggart, the Scottish bogle, the French goblin, the Medieval gobelinus, the German kobold, and he English Puck. Likewise, the names of many European spirits may derive from the word 'kobalos'. The word entered Latin as 'cobalus', then possibly French as 'gobelin'. From this, the English 'goblin' and Welsh 'coblyn' may derive.

The kobaloi were thought to live in Euboea or near Thermopylae.
In 1945, as the Second World War was nearing its end, the unimaginable happened. A bunker in the Berlin suburbs, housing more than 1,600 paintings and sculptures from several of The Berlin State Museums, caught fire: not once, but twice, of which one is believed to be arson. In the bunker were objects of art that had been transported from what is now known as the Bode Museum in Berlin, to avoid any possibility of damage during the war. All the paintings burnt to ashes. However, sculptures and decorative arts, though damaged beyond recognition, were retrieved from under the debris, covered in soot and grime.

Six months later, several fragments were sent to the Soviet Union by two trains, marking the start of an effort of mammoth proportions to restore these invaluable works. The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts received them, and by 2010, more than 750 museum objects had been restored.

Thirty of these objects and their journeys have been documented in a photo exhibition, fittingly called Twice Rescued, curated to honour the 75th anniversary of the Allied victory. Though available for viewing online, Chennai will physically experience this exhibition in September, thanks to the Pushkin State Museum’s collaboration with the Russian Centre of Science and Culture.

Borodin Igor Viktorovich, head of the the Pushkin State Museum’s department of conservation, explains over email, “Up to 35 specialists from different institutions in Moscow participated in studying and conserving the pieces. Now, researchers and 15 technical specialists and conservators of metal, ceramics and stone are involved in this project.” He adds that the National Research Center, Kurchatov Institute is helping with research.

In an introductory webinar held last week, Daria Babich, conservator at the museum, also mentioned that restoration project is still underway. She says, “The results were first demonstrated at two exhibitions: Archaeology of War. Return from Nonexistence (2005) and The Art of Ancient Cyprus (2014).” In 2015, together with Bode Museum, they also launched the project Donatello and other Renaissance Master: Research and Conservation.

Each piece has a unique story to tell. Take, for instance, the bust of The Princess of Naples: Today, it is divided in two parts, with the head in Berlin and the rest in Moscow. “At the end of the 19th Century, when German art historian Wilhelm von Bode bought it from the heirs of the ancient Strozzi family in Florence, the bust became famous. The German academic saw in it the legendary work of Desiderio da Settignano. Then he changed his mind, and the bust was attributed to a talented master from Dalmatia, Francesco Laurana, who instantly found posthumous fame, becoming the most popular Renaissance sculptor on the market,” narrates Viktorovich. However, in the 1990s, the bust was declared fake, though even if this was true, he believes that it would not change its illustrious history.

A statue of Zeus from Dodona is another rare artefact that is part of the collection “The author of the original statue is unknown, it is clear only that they worked in the middle of the 4th Century BC, were from the Peloponnese and in terms of skill level were equal to the great Lysippos,” explains Viktorovich. The statuette is also remarkable for the fact that it was found in Dodona, one of the famous oracle sanctuaries in northern Greece.

“The treatments took more than 10 years (the work lasted from 2004 till 2015). The first stage was to identify all the fragments. Then, the fragments had to be consolidated and cleaned both from the traces of the 19th Century restoration and the war-time grime. After that, conservators who worked on the object essentially had to put it together like a puzzle. The losses had to be filled, and a special supporting structure made, considering the vase’s size. Contemporary conservation principles do not allow any structural interference. So, to be able to fill in the missing parts, it was decided to reconstruct it digitally. It took a team of conservators, art historians, artists and IT-specialists a few months to do this.”

Donatello’s St John the Baptist was one of the most damaged statues: missing both feet, and an arm, as well as part of the cape. This priceless piece spent several decades in storage.

“Our conservators were able to recreate the rest thanks to a plaster copy of the statue which was made before the war and is now exhibited at the museum along with the original work. All this work, including the research, took 1.5 years.”

The website that was created specifically for display is maintained in four languages and provides meticulous documentation. In them are answers to larger questions concerning the cultural, political and historical significance of the war.

“The lessons of history teach us a lot. One of the main lessons of the Second World War is that we have to do everything in our power to prevent recurrence of similar events. Working on the art objects which survived the horrors of one of the most destructive wars of the last century, one cannot help but reevaluate the scale of the tragedy.”
Approval of the architectural study of the KastaTomb monumental complex after evaluation by the Central Archaeological Council on December 17, 2019, was followed by the completion of the geotechnical investigation round the burial monument by the relevant services of the Ministry of Culture and Sports (MOCAS) and the research team of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Next week, the static assessment and geotechnical study will be completed as planned by the MOCAS’ Directorate for the Restoration of Ancient Monuments.

In an announcement by the Ministry of Culture, the studies are expected to be submitted to the Central Archaeological Council for approval on July 14, 2020.  The aim is to immediately start the tendering procedure for the first phase of stabilizing and restoration works on the monument complex to begin within the second half of September 2020.

“We are here at the Kasta Tomb,” said Culture and Sports Minister Lina Mendoni, “because we had to look at the course of the studies being prepared, their application in the field and the time required to set up the construction sites. I am entirely satisfied because things are progressing as scheduled. Around July 15, the two studies directly related to the first phase of the works will be presented to the Central Archeological Council(CAC). We hope to start, after the works’ tendering  procedures, around the second fortnight of September. The expropriations that should have been  made and had been completely forgotten until last summer, are already in their final phase. I refer to this as an example of the alertness shown by all services of the Ministry. The expropriations  have already been published in the Government Gazette, while we know that similar procedures needed  a number of years”.

At the same time, in order to properly address, in a scientific manner, issues of studies of the monument in progress (static and geotechnical) and to implement the approved – since 2015 – study of land configuration of the Tomb’s slopes, it became necessary to use an updated high-precision topographic background of the Tomb and its greater area.

The preparation of the new background was undertaken by the Department of Topography of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, in the framework of a Memorandum of Cooperation signed in March 2020, between the University and the Ministry of Culture. The topographic survey was further processed by the Directorate of Restorations for the studies’ immediate support.

In order to restore the original geometry of the Tomb slopes by shifting large amounts of soil removed from its top during the excavations of the last 60 years and spread around the perimeter, distorting its shape, detailed topographic documentation and measurement of their volume was made. Thus, the exact points have been marked where excavation backfilling must be removed  to restore the Tomb’s ancient geometry. A large part of these backfills will be transferred as close as possible to their original location, in an internationally innovative Tomb restoration project, that makes use of  its original material.

For modern interdisciplinary research on the protection of monuments, this original material is perceived as a monument, just as its gradation and layering in the methods of ancient construction are seen as an integral part of its architecture. This is the reason the Restoration Directorate prepared a three-dimensional, exact model of the Tomb, depicting the initial geometry of its slopes, based on data of the architectural restoration study and the precise volume of soil was removed on which work is to be done, while the corresponding backfills were added. Moreover, the east slopes opposite the monument will be configured and stabilized, so that the best-conserved section of the enclosure can be visited during 2020.

From the search for scattered marble material of the enclosure which was recently transferred to the Tomb, 39 members were relocated to their original places in its southeast section, while 45 members are to be immediately positioned west of the Tomb Monument, as part of the launch of a pilot project for restoring a 12.5 meters long section of the enclosure.

At the same time, the research team of Grigoris Tsokas, professor of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, completed the phase of detailed prospecting of the diaphragm walls under the Sphinxes. The prospecting  confirmed the initial hypothesis of the architectural study, prepared by the architect of the Ministry of Culture, Dr. Michalis Lefantzis, on the existence of invisible pillars with congruous half columns to support the architrave , as well as the existence of a base on which the pilaster rests. Namely, in this case there was also a corresponding diaphragm wall with that encountered in the monument’s diaphragm wall with the “Caryatids”. The search continues at this point, so that useful information can be gathered  regarding the construction history of the monument
Thera is an archaeological site and ancient city located on the Greek island of Santorini, also called Thera. The city was founded by Dorian colonists sometime from the 9th century BC. According to mythology – Theras (a descendant of the Phoenician ruler Cadmus and son of the king of Thebes, Autesion) established the city, naming the island and his new settlement, Thera.

The city grew over the centuries into a trading hub, connected to other Greek cities such as Athens, Corinth, Ionia and Rhodes.

By the 3rd century BC, Thera was converted into a major maritime station for the Ptolemaic Navy, and the city was rebuilt using a linear urban grid layout with peristyle houses and mansions for the Navy crews and commanders.

Most of the contemporary buildings excavated by archaeologist’s date from around this period, which includes an Agora (the main square of the city), a large Basilike Stoa (a covered walkway or portico, commonly for public use), a gymnasium of the epheboi, a theatre (with seating for 1,500 people) and several temples and sanctuaries.

By the Roman period, Thera was absorbed into the Roman province of Asia and was maintained as a relatively prosperous settlement. Many existing buildings saw extensive repair, with other Hellenistic buildings such as the Agora expanded with a new Roman bathhouse.

Occupation was maintained through to the Byzantine period, but Thera was in a social and economic decline. The site became abandoned after AD 726, when an eruption of the Santorini volcano buried Thera in pumice and ash.
An international crime gang that ransacked ancient sites in Bulgaria and trafficked stolen archaeological goods whose total worth exceeds several millions of euros has been broken up as a result of an international police operation coordinated by Europol. Eight individuals were arrested and some 4,600 archaeological items were recovered as a result of this sting.

Nicknamed Operation MEDICUS, this effort was led by the General Directorate for the Fight against Organised Crime of the Bulgarian Ministry of Internal Affairs (Главна дирекция “Борба с организираната престъпност” при Министерството на вътрешните работи на Република България) together with the British Metropolitan Police and the German State Criminal Police of Bavaria (Bayerisches Landeskriminalamt). Europol supported the investigation by coordinating the information exchange and holding several operational meetings to prepare for the action day.

Five suspects were arrested in Bulgaria, and three in the United Kingdom (UK) as they entered the UK with a significant quantity of archaeological material concealed within a hide in their vehicle. This operation dates back to October of last year, the details of which can only be released now due to operational reasons.

The investigation which led to these arrests dates back to March 2018 when the Bulgarian police, after being informed by their British counterpart, began looking into this suspicious trafficking of cultural goods out of their country.

Among the trafficked items were ceramics, glass funeral urns, lamps, arrowheads, spears and ancient coins. Most of the seized items date back to the Roman period and come from military camps once located in Northern Bulgaria. Furthermore, some other artefacts belong to Bronze Age, early Iron Age, Middle Ages and Ottoman period.

The illegally excavated archaeological goods were brought out of Bulgaria and smuggled into the UK by means of private transport operators. Germany was their preferred transit country.

This case confirms that the most common way to dispose of archaeological goods illegally excavated is by entering the legitimate art market. This modus operandi takes advantage of the fact that the existence of these goods is not officially known, therefore their illicit origin can be hidden by providing them with a false back story (fake documents of provenance).
I'm short on time today but of course I'll leave you with something, and how about something extremely cute? These are by the incredibly talented Rudy Siswanto, and they are his interpretation of young mythological creatures. Break out the awwww's and check out his ArtStation for more!