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Yesterday, I picked up a book from the New Acquisitions’ shelf at the Humanistic Studies’ section of the University of Bergen’s library. I had already seen the book while it was still being registered at the office of Pål Steiner, academic librarian, good friend and colleague, leading figure in the Egyptological circle in Norway. He knows our passion with all things Nubian and we were recently talking about the author. And I knew that I will read very quickly the 136 pages of text – the shortest book that to the best of my knowledge he has ever written.

Despite this fact, both the depth of the analysis and the richness of the references was once again astonishing. Note 10 in pages 2 and 3 for example is one of the most complete and to the point recapitulations of the main publications on Nubian Studies. Useful not only for students of the discipline, but for all those who will learn in this book for the first time about Nubia, getting the fine new publication by Brill in their hands because their interest lies with the main figure whose relations with Nubia are treated in the book: Herodotus.

But things Nubiological are not the only treasures to be gleaned by historians and philologists of the classical world that will read “Herodotus in Nubia”. They will moreover confront themselves both with an acute critic of the way the archaeological record is often forgotten when we exercise “traditional” Quellenforschung with classical texts (pp. 15-18); but also of the way historians forget that their object is not single and uniform, but that rather the quest for universal historical truth proves the multiplicity and almost autobiographical character of the histor-ies (pp. 133-136).

I would never dare claim though that I have read the whole book in a day. For example, I did not even touch the pages of the second chapter with the fresh translation in English of the original Herodotian text. I know the details of what we call the Aithopian Logos, although I had never thought that this is not a proper Herodotian Logos, since it does not function in the same manner that the other Logoi in the Herodotian work do. I understood the difference today, and I quote from page 52:

Uniting as an experiment the Aithiopian passages into a hypothetical Aithiopian logos, we would find that the history of Aithiopia – as far as this ‘reconstructed’ narrative has a historical dimension at all – has only Egyptian references. … It may thus be concluded that Herodotus did not collect material for, and/or compose an Aithiopian logos dealing with the historical kingdom of Kush lying south of Egypt’s southern border, whose kings also ruled over Egypt for a period of time some centuries before Herodotus’ day. Instead, he described…

…an imaginary world inspired by the Homeric traditions and a real world that he got a glimpse of from his own experiences in the Nile Valley. But I will reveal nothing more from what was magisterially proven in the pages that constitute Chapter 3 titled “The Problem of the ‘Aithiopian’ Logos”, nor from the dazzling shedding of light in the difference between ” ‘Fiction’ and ‘Reality’ ” in the Herodotian narrative(s) – which is the title of Chapter 4. I will only return to the title of the book – shared with the concluding chapter 5 – because in the opening Chapter about “Herodotus’ Nubia in Modern Scholarship” my favorite passage from the book describes in the most playful manner a plausible answer to the question: Was Herodotus in Nubia? I quote first from page 8:

Preceding the first enlargement of the original Aswan Dam, in the first systematic record of the monuments and the archaeological sites of Lower Nubia, the archaeologist Arthur Weigall added the following remark to his description of the Eighteenth Dynasty temple at Amada:

On the roof of the temple there are a few Coptic inscriptions of no interest. There is here an interesting forgery probably dating from the Middle Ages. It is a Greek inscription reading “Herodotus of Halicarnassus beheld and admired” and near it in a later style of writing is “No he did not“.

And then from page 9:

I prefer to date a hoax of this type to the nineteenth century, picturing a party of high-spirited scholars visiting the monuments of Egypt and Nubia or else some well-educated young gentlemen on their Grand Tour travelling along the Nile with the respectful expectation that they find remains of things described by Herodotus, Strabo, Diodorus, Pliny and other ancient writers, but at the same time mocking their guides’ priggish habit of elevating the value of a site or monument by directly associating it with some famous personality of antiquity.

This was in fact precisely the topic of the first direct encounter I had with our author. During a workshop on ancient and medieval languages of Sudan in the frame of the 11th International Congress of Nubian Studies, I referred to an inscription in Greek naming a king of peoples Alexander on the back wall of the main temple of the Great Enclosure at Musawwarat es-Sufra that I believed should be dated in an early period of the medieval era, since it was written with a kind of Nubian majuscules using what seemed to me a Meroitic letter for the sound X in the name of the most renown Greek king of the ancient world. I was corrected by professor László Török that this was a graffito made by a Greek guide of an early traveller in Sudan!

book cover

Professor Török writes as a dedication of his latest book “Herodotus in Nubia”:

In memory of my wife Elizabeth

24 February 1943-8 August 2012

[Post written in Bergen on the 24th of February 2015]

 

 

A meeting at Trondheim

Let me remind you one of the photos from the opening day at Yannis’ venue at Trondheim:

IMG_1230

Let’s zoom in to one person:

bjørn røe

Bjørn Røe, professor emeritus of NTNU, department of Urban Design and Planning. Father-in-law of Alexandra Angeletaki, the person who put the Organization for Greek-Norwegian cooperation in contact with Vitenskapsmuseet and supported as best as possible the success of the venue. For example, half of the visitors at the opening day were there thanks to her! With one of them, professor Axel Christophersen, we contemplate already some future cooperation. But this will remain a project to talk about in the future. Today we will write about the meeting with Bjørn Røe. Bjørn speaks Greek fluently – with his Greek wife, Annouso, beside him, you could hardly make out that he is not Greek, but Norwegian! They have a summer house in Mykonos, Annouso is from there, and that’s where they spend their summers. But I bet you that their Mykonos has nothing to do with the jetset “reality” of the island promoted in the media… In any case, Bjørn Røe has lived also in Athens where he studied the metropolitan planning of the Greek capital. It was with Athens as his base, that he traveled in 1992 to 9 cities in Africa (Cairo, Khartoum, Addis Ababa, Nairobi, Dar es Salam) and Asia (Karachi, Bombay, Colombo, Bangkok) for comparative reasons with the main study of urban planning in Athens. This comparative approach should be understood in the framework of Ekistics, a term coined in 1942 by Konstantinos Doxiades and referring to the science of human settlements. Interestingly, Røe was working for Doxiades Associates in Athens between January 1963 and August 1966 and is a member of the World Society of Ekistics since 1969. The Greek urban planner Doxiades is a person of particular interest, as we will see shortly. Bjørn set out for his research trip on February 22 and he was in Khartoum by the end of the month. He stayed there for only one day, since the conditions of work were difficult. The new regime (Bashir seized power in 1989) was sympathetic to his cause for only one reason: he could be shown on TV in conversation with the president and thus become material for upraising the profile of the ruler abroad. Bjørn remembers that back in those days there was a daily TV show presenting such visits of foreigners to Bashir’s office. He had come himself to the president to ask for assistance for his field trip, but instead of that he got proposals for university collaborations! In any case, the remarks that one can find in Røe’s report though about the Sudanese capital are very interesting. I am copying hereby the main paragraph about Khartoum, from p. 11 of his report: KRT From some other references in the report we gather that the growth of the Sudanese capital is mainly due to the refugees from the Civil War that by July 2011 split up the country in two. I have not been to the country since then, but Khartoum must have changed a lot without the southerners, the income from the oil in their territory, and a good deal less humanitarian investment that used to be channelled to the needy South through Khartoum. But have the conditions of living changed for the poor in Khartoum in the 23 years that have passed since Bjørn Røe visited the city? Before one answers the question, it is important to raise the view outside the core urban areas and examine what’s happening in the far away neighborhoods, marginal suburbs and so on. The surprises are not that often so positive… Anyway, nobody can guarantee that if some theory of the group of the Ekistics was applied to the letter the future would have been that different. The housing conditions at New Extension are indeed nice if one lives in the amaras (large family domiciles with two floors and a garden) of this part of the town. However, what percentage of the Khartoum inhabitants can afford such housing conditions? Moreover: Is it really true what the Greeks say that the whole area was planned and built by Doxiades? I had heard many stories about the Doxiades’ involvement in Khartoum urbanism, but never had an inside view on what actually happened. For the first time in this report, I learnt that Doxiades’ plans were never adopted, but that they were used as guides (…) for development. Please do read some work by Doxiades, like his article “Ekistics and Traffic” from 1963 (where in fact Khartoum is mentioned in pp. 9-10, and you will realize that this guide was not really followed with any degree of respect to the model. On the contrary, reading this paper created to my mind a strong contrast with the memories of everyday commuting in Khartoum. To express this contrast with an example: If things have not changed that dramatically since my last visit to Khartoum, it should not be a far fetched guess that my blog entry (including Doxiades’ article!) could be read while trying to drive in peak hours over one of the bridges that connect the three towns of the Sudanese capital…

Universitetsmuseene

I think that this is the first time that an entry in this blog has a title in Norwegian. The reason is simple: there are a couple of things I’d wish to write about my experience working at NTNU-Vitenskapsmuseet and perhaps it will reach more people if the title is in Norwegian.

In fact, in the last days two articles on the topic of financing of the University Museums in Norway have appeared both in printed press and online.

The first one I found in Klassekampen’s issue of Friday the 6th of February. With the eloquent title “Save the University Museums” and signed by the rector of the University of Oslo along with the two directors of the University Museums for Natural History and Cultural History in Oslo, the article stresses the “golden opportunity” to reconsider the financing model of these important institutions in the frame of the reshaping of the financing system of Universities and Colleges in Norway.

On Sunday the 8th of February, the rector of the University of Oslo repeated the call in his own blog, stressing the urgency by using the title “Why forget the University Museums?

I did not gain such good insight to the functioning of the University Museums after just a couple of days of work there, but there are two things that become clear for anyone who sees the museum from the inside:

1. Øylov Cyvin seemed to me as a lone rider with no real support from others when it comes to building up the display of the temporary exhibition that brought us in collaboration. Neither Yannis nor myself insisted that she should be at the museum on Saturday to complete the work that we had not finished when we left the museum at 21:00 on Friday, and nobody would ever expect that either us or her would clean up the room after the work. But there was nobody else there to do the work either…

2. Temporary exhibitions tend to remain at place for much longer than initially planned. As for the permanent exhibits, well, who remembers when was the last time that they were renovated? In Sudan, visitors and researchers were complaining that the displays had never been renewed since they were first set up in the 1960s. I bet that the archaeological exhibition at NTNU-Vitenskapsmuseet is older than that…

Of course not all things are dark. Most importantly, it is the staff of the museum that brings shining brightness to the monumental building. And the quality of the new exhibitions is very high. I very much enjoyed the exhibition on The Middle Ages in Trondheim, for its atmosphere, its well-thought paths, the objects displayed.

And it was a lovely moment when I stopped in front of two architectural spolia to photograph a pattern that seems so similar to one that we find on Sai…

pattern on spolia

…and then turning on the other side, I found an inscription in Greek letters carved on a small piece of wood!

XPS

It was an abbreviation of the name Christ, in the form XP(ICTO)C, and although – or perhaps because – it was both transcribed and described wrongly (XPS identified as a monogram), it inspired the entire blog entry that I hoped you found as interesting to read as it was to compose.

We arrived at the museum today early enough to check that all was ready to receive the first visitors at the Trondheim venue of “Descending North”.

Descending

The welcoming was informal, but informative, warm, and cordial.

welcoming

People were magnetized by the images that Yannis has put together, and those who had also descended north in their lives talked with him about their own experiences of being Greeks in Norway.

Gradually, the visitors started moving towards the table with the publications by Yannis and with the comments’ book. With the exhibition at a cross point of the museum’s building, it is sure that Yannis will have hundreds of comments to read by the time his photographs will be packed in May to go to their next destination.

A last round of talks with those closest to Yannis at the set-up of the venue at Trondheim…

…and we had some time left to visit another exhibition that NTNU-Vitenskapsmuseet was hosting these days.

But more on the other exhibits at NTNU in retrospect when I am back to Bergen tomorrow.

The weather forecast had announced extreme conditions for Trøndelag for today. And it was indeed the case.

However, work had to be completed at NTNU-Vitenskapsmuseet where tomorrow at 13:00, the photo exhibition by Yannis Skoulas, Descending North, is opening to the public.

It was a great experience to be part of the setting up of the display, working with Yannis and Øylov Cyvin, the key person for the exhibitions at the museum.

Looking forward to seeing the reactions of the visitors tomorrow, meeting the Greeks of the town, colleagues from the university – and all of you who will honour us with your presence :-)

We just came back from the third course of Greek language that the Organization for Greek-Norwegian cooperation in the field of culture and humanities is offering (for a very reasonable price) to all interested in Bergen. It has been a very long day, just as all days with an afternoon course are…

In fact, this semester Alexandros is responsible for the four groups of students who are following the introductory course on Ancient Religions of the Mediterranean and the Middle East, plus Nordic and Sami religions, at the Department of Religious Studies at the Institute of Archaeology, History, Cultural and Religious Studies at the University of Bergen, and all four groups are in after-noon hours. Tough weekdays…

With this and that it has become a luxury to write in our blog, although in several occasions there were things we wanted to share from here.

For example, we were very happy to see that the 50 years anniversary of the School of Social Anthropology at the University of Bergen was celebrated with special references to Gunnar Haaland and Fredrik Barth, the whole net-presentation being accompanied by images that we have put online in the “Darfur Before” internet-exhibition.

On the other hand we were not happy to have our fears confirmed from friends on the field at Sai that the so-called Cathedral site has received no protection either against the electrical company which has placed the main pylon next to the ruins, or against the looters who seem to continue illegal digging as a side-activity to gold mining…

Especially since we really wish to find a way to return to the field, starting with work on the pottery masses that have accumulated in the two years of digging…

Actually, it sounded even intriguing to consider contributing to the planned volume on Egyptian pottery in Ancient Sudan – a publication project launched by Romain David with whom we have had such fine time and good collaboration on Sai Island – using the material from the earliest phases of the Christian era. But this decision will have to wait.

In the meantime, we are enjoying glimpses of the island and archaeology on it through the very good blog of Julia Budka: http://acrossborders.oeaw.ac.at

Things are not uninteresting in the North though. For obvious reasons the venue that stands out, at least for Alexandros, is the lecture that Joost Hagen will give in Oxford next Friday the 13th of February about Four Coptic letters from Qasr Ibrim concerning the relations between Christian Nubia, Muslim Egypt and the Blemmyes/Beja in the summer of 760 AD. Hope some friends who promised to attend will report back the juicy contents that surely Joost will offer to his audience!

As for us, well, we’ll close the post as we opened it: with a reference to the activities that are taking place in the frame of the Organization for Greek-Norwegian cooperation in the fields of culture and humanities:

Poster "en sydlig tur mot nord"

Yes, the marvelous exhibition by Yannis Skoulas will be hosted in Trondheim and we invite you warmly to attend the opening, at least those of you who can make it to the Science Museum of the University of Trondheim on Sunday at 13:00!

Invitation en sydlig tur mot nord

As promised in the previous entry, we are continuing posting in our blog, since there is a couple of things that we would like to share before the year is over.

The two stories of today’s post have to do with news that found us while in Greece, and both concern outcomes from the visit of the two Sudan specialists in Bergen last month.

First, a fantastic result from Cornelia Kleinitz’s talk on Rock Art and Graffiti from Ancient Sudan: Ole Unhammer, a student who came to that talk has joined the graffiti team of Musawwarat es-Sufra and will do photogrammetry for the Humboldt Mission there already in March!!! Indirectly, Bergen gained a new Sudan archaeology enthusiast! Looking already forward to meeting Ole in January in Bergen…

We were also looking very much forward to meeting here in Athens, our new friend and specialist of Sudan pottery, Dr. John Gait. He presented his work using ceramic petrology and macroscopic analyses of A-Group and C-Group pots in Bergen in November. John is working at the Fitch Laboratory in the British School at Athens. We went there last week to visit him and get a tour of the lab.

John Gait at BSA

While ceramic petrology is a new method for studying pottery production along the Middle Nile, it has been used for several decades on material from the Aegean.

The Fitch Laboratory was founded in 1974, and it was then the first archaeological sciences’ lab in Greece. The lab was developed with help of the archaeological sciences lab of Oxford University, and it was initially housed in a small store room built by the Red Cross after WWII. The lab moved into its current beautiful columned building in the garden of the British School at Athens in 1988.

BSA Art Collection_Fitch Lab

The lab is organizing the Fitch-Wiener Laboratories seminar once a month, and the latest contribution was by John with the title “Forming cultures: technological choice in pottery production in the Lower Nubian Nile Valley during the 3rd and 4th millennia BC”. We were sorry to miss that event!

Since its beginning the lab has processed more than 30.000 samples of potsherds from the Aegean, so that it now houses a large reference collection for provenancing pottery fabrics from this area. In addition, the lab has also analyzed numerous samples from other projects in the Aegean and elsewhere.

pottery sample

The method of ceramic petrology consists of preparing thin-sections of pottery samples by grinding a pot sherd that is glued to a glass slide down to c. 0,03 mm thickness. The mineralogical and microstructural composition of the sample is then examined under a polarizing microscope in order to investigate aspects of the technology of pottery making. Using information on the local and regional geology, together with thin-section reference collections, it may be possible to determine the provenance of the raw materials used to make the pots.

For those interested in learning more about ceramic petrology, the Fitch Laboratory is organizing a two-week postgraduate training course in May 2015, for more information and application form, see here.

Fitch ceramic petrology course

Since petrographic research in Sudan archaeology is still in its infancy, it can mainly be used for studying the technological choices made by the ancient potters. However, John would like to continue his research in this area, and hopes in the course of future work to build up a database of thin-sections that can be used comparatively for identifying the place where a pot was produced. This would be particularly interesting for the study of the magnificent A-Group pots called eggshell ware or exterior painted ware. John presented his results from studying these pots from a few sites in the conference Nubia before the New Kingdom in Leicester two years ago.

The most important museum collection to work on in order to increase the database would be the material from the royal A-Group cemetery at Qustul, which is housed in the Oriental Institute Museum in Chicago. In the graves at Qustul, both complete pots and fragments from several hundred exterior painted bowls were found. Since Alexandros is already working for the publication project of the material from the sites Qasr el-Wizz (editor Artur Obluski) and Serra East (editor Bruce Williams), which were excavated by the same archaeological expedition from the Oriental Institute as the one working at Qustul, it would be interesting if John and Henriette could set up a project out of revisiting the archaeological record of the royal A-Group cemetery at Qustul.

It is true that the site was meticulously presented by Bruce Williams’ The Royal Cemetery at Qustul (1986) (for a PDF of this publication, see here), but over the years since this publication, new finds have been made, different perspectives have gained popularity, and novel archaeological methods have been developed. A new approach to the royal cemetery could thus throw new light on this very important site in the history of civilization on the Nile. Ceramic petrology should be part of this, and it should be used for more than the fine wares.

But pottery is not only part of the academic side of our life in Greece! We also use it for fun when playing on the beaches in Attica, so this “beach art” made out of pottery sherds will be our way to wish everyone a Merry Christmas :-)

Pottery beach art

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