premi letterari inclusività diversità literary prizes inclusivity diversity fiction

From Booker to Strega: diversity and inclusivity in literary prizes

As I was reading, a few weeks ago, the names in the Booker Prize 2020 shortlist, I was caught by a fleeting yet well-defined thought: how depressing can it be to make a comparison between this shortlist and those of the most prestigious Italian prizes for fiction?

premi letterari inclusività diversità
Literary prizes, inclusivity, diversity. Picture by Roberta Berardi


The answer is quite simple: very depressing. Not because the literary quality of those English novels which ended up being finalists for the Booker Prize is necessarily higher than the quality those written in Italian and selected by the committees of the Strega and Campiello prizes– I haven’t read them all, I wouldn’t know how to judge – but for the disturbing dominance, in Italian prizes, of the writing phenotype of the “white male”.
Italy saw some mild turbulence in the debate on this topic, when Valeria Parrella, the only woman in the Strega shortlist, reacted in an understandably resented way, when, during her interview on the award ceremony, had to sadly realise that a debate on the relationship between the #MeToo movement and literature would happen between two men: “e lei ne vuole parlare con Augias? Auguri!” (“and you want to discuss that with Augias [editor's note: a man]? Good luck!”, said Parrella to the journalist, manifesting a resentment which would be easily shared by many female writers, or simply many women.

Valeria Parrella’s resentment deserves to be charged with further significance if we look at the names of the finalists in the three abovementioned prizes.

For the Strega, all six writer were white and five out of six were men. The longlist was not more encouraging, if we think that besides Valeria Parrella, there were only two more women, Marta Barone e Silvia Ballestra. For the Campiello, the situation was quite similar: once again, all writers were white, and only one was a woman. Moreover, she was not even a novelist. We are talking about Patrizia Cavalli, an undoubtedly illustrious author, but in truth a poet attempting to turn to prose only now, at a later stage of her career, almost as a form of self-celebration. The Booker Prize, instead, among its six finalists, presents four people of colour of which only one is a man. The longlist was equally widely populated with talented women.

If about racial issues, someone might be naive and object that in Italy most writers are in fact white, on gender issues Italy seems to have no excuses. Contemporary Italian fiction has a panorama abounding in women, with a long- or short-lived career. Female writers with talent and original ideas.
The problem seems to occur with similar practices also in other realities of continental Europe: in France, the Goncourt prize has currently only four women out of fifteen in the longlist.

It appears that anglophone prizes, on the contrary, have decided to invest on the principles of diversity and inclusivity, making sure that their selection mirrors the actuality of the society literature represents. The choices of the Booker committee are well matched with those of the American National Book Award, whose longlist is extremely variegated both in terms of genders and of writers’ cultural backgrounds. Needless to remind that the Pulitzer prize for fiction this year was assigned for the second time to Colson Whitehead, a black writer.

It’s easy to brand these choices as banal and comfortable publicity moves. It is undeniable that they are political choices, but their necessity in undeniable in this historical moment. They act as signals, as messages aimed at a mentality change, which is not only desirable but also compelling. They are signals that must arrive from those who hold the power in publishing and media in general. Signals that other countries, like Italy, persists to give only in a fictitious form, relegating them to a surface level, when to a the duty and the honour to debate female literature is given to a man, in the reassuring certainty that the problem of being politically correct can now be filed, and that we can finally go back - without too many subtleties – to awarding the prize to a male writer.


details courtyard Alhambra

Unknown details identified in the Lions' Courtyard at the Alhambra

Through drawings, researchers from the University of Seville, the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland) and the University of Granada have identified details hitherto unknown in the muqarnas of the temples of the Lions' Courtyard at the Alhambra in Granada, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
templetes Patio de los Leones Alhambra Granada, España
Lions' Courtyard at the Alhambra, Granada (Spain)

In order to better understand and facilitate the conservation of these fourteenth-century architectural elements, following a review of numerous repairs performed over the intervening centuries, a novel methodology was followed based on three complementary graphic analyses: first, outstanding images from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries were reviewed; then new computer drawings were made of their muqarnas, following the theoretical principles of their geometrical grouping; and finally, a three-dimensional scan was made to ascertain their precise current state from the point cloud obtained.

The comparison of drawings has allowed us to verify for the first time that the muqarnas of the two temples have a different configuration and different number of pieces. In addition, geometric deformations have been detected in the original Nasrid design, identifying hitherto unknown pieces, plus other deformations due to the various repairs from major threats that the temples and their muqarnas have survived for centuries, despite their fragile construction.

"For the first time, this article documents and analyses details that were hitherto practically absent from the scientific literature", says Antonio Gámiz, professor at the University of Seville and co-author of this work.

The muqarnas are one of the most unique architectural episodes of the Nasrid Alhambra and of medieval Islamic art because of their sophisticated three-dimensional geometrical construction. They are small prisms that are grouped together and create a great diversity of spatial configurations, adapting their composition to very diverse architectural situations in cornices, arches, capitals and vaults. They reached a virtuous zenith during the reign of Muhammad V (1354-1359 and 1362-1391) when crucial works were undertaken in the palaces of the Alhambra.

This research was supported by the Patronato de la Alhambra and Generalife.

Full bibliographic information

Antonio Gámiz Gordo; Ignacio Ferrer Pérez-Blanco; Juan Francisco Reinoso Gordo (2020): The Pavilions at the Alhambra's Court of the Lions: Graphic Analysis of Muqarnas. Sustainability, 12 (16), 6556 (Special Issue Cultural Heritage and Natural Disasters) MDPI, Switzerland. ISSN 2071-1050. DOI: 10.3390/su12166556

Press release from the Universidad de Sevilla and the Universidad de Granada on the study that has identified details hitherto unknown in the muqarnas of the temples of the Lions' Courtyard at the Alhambra in Granada.


molar size hominins

New study of molar size regulation in hominins

New study of molar size regulation in hominins

The Dental Anthropology Group at the CENIEH has tested the inhibitory cascade model to see whether it explains the size relationships and differences in shape between the different kinds of teeth, in the molar sample from the individuals identified at the Sima de los Huesos site in the Sierra de Atapuerca.
Mandíbula AT-1 de la Sima de los Huesos. Credits: Mario Modesto

The molar size relationship is one of the peculiar characteristics of the different species of hominins and various theories have been proposed to account for this, as well as the differences in shape between the different kinds of teeth (incisors, canines, premolars and molars). The latest theory, called the inhibitory cascade model, arose out of experiments with mice embryos, and in 2016 it was applied theoretically to fossil hominins, with satisfactory results.

It appeared that all hominins satisfy the inhibitory cascade model. In a paper by the Dental Anthropology Group at the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la evolución Humana (CENIEH), published recently in the Journal of Anatomy, this model was tested on the molar sample from the individuals identified at the Sima de los Huesos site, situated in the Sierra de Atapuerca (Burgos).

The results match the model generated in mice extraordinarily well, thus confirming the theory's utility once more. “Nevertheless, our conclusions have brought out an anomaly in the model, when it is applied to the oldest species of the genus Homo”, explains José María Bermúdez de Castro, Paleobiology Program Coordinator at the CENIEH and lead author of this work.

Increasing and decreasing patterns

In the genera Ardipithecus, Australopithecus and Paranthropus, as well as in Homo habilis, the size pattern is increasing and fits the premises of the inhibitory cascade model perfectly. The same thing happens in Homo sapiens, except that the pattern is decreasing, with the first molar larger than the second, which in turn is bigger than the third one (wisdom tooth).

Application of the inhibitory cascade model had led to the assumption that the switch from increasing to decreasing pattern would have arisen a little under two million years ago, perhaps coinciding with the transition between the genera Australopithecus and Homo. “However, in our work we noticed that this change could have required at least a million years to take place”, states Bermúdez de Castro.

The hominins from the Sima de los Huesos, which are around 430,000 years old, are a good example of that transition, whereas most specimens of Homo ergaster, Homo erectus, Homo antecessor and Homo heidelbergensis, as well as other species, do not fit the inhibitory cascade model. “Our idea is to continue our research to determine which genetic mechanisms lie behind this anomaly in the model”, says Bermúdez de Castro.

Full bibliographic information

Bermúdez de Castro et al. 2020. Testing the inhibitory cascade model in the Middle Pleistocene Sima de los Huesos (Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain) hominin sample. Journal of Anatomy. DOI: 10.1111/joa.13292
Press release from CENIEH.

The temporal lobes of Homo erectus were proportionally smaller than in H. sapiens

The temporal lobes of Homo erectus were proportionally smaller than in H. sapiens

The CENIEH has contributed to a paleoneurological study published in the journal Quaternary International, on the brain of Homo erectus, which analyzes its temporal lobes and compares these with other species like H. ergaster and H. sapiens
temporal lobes erectus sapiens ergaster
Pearson at al.

Emiliano Bruner, a paleoneurologist at the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH), has participated in a study published in the journal Quaternary International, on the anatomy of the temporal lobes in the brain of Homo erectus, which establishes that they were proportionally smaller than in modern humans.

In H. sapiens, the temporal lobes are relatively more highly developed than in other primates, although little is known about their anatomy in extinct human species, because they are housed in a very delicate region of the cranium known as the middle cranial fossa, which is often not conserved in fossil individuals.

An earlier study by the same team had shown that the size of the middle cranial fossa can be used to deduce the volume of the temporal lobes. In this new study, three anatomical diameters were analyzed in fossils of H. erectus and H. ergaster, and compared with the corresponding measurements for 51 modern humans. The results suggest that both fossil species had temporal lobes proportionally smaller than in humans today.

Moreover, “The Asiatic individuals, namely Homo erectus, had larger temporal lobes than in the African ones, Homo ergaster, although the scanty fossil record does not allow us to tell whether this is due to chance or a paleoneurological difference between the two species”, says Bruner.

As the temporal lobe is a brain region involved in the integration of many cognitive functions, such as memory, the emotions, hearing, social relations and language, any change in their sizes or proportions is of transcendent importance, as this could reveal variations in the development of their neurons or their connections, and therefore in the cognitive functions associated to this region of the cerebral cortex.

This study has been conducted by Alannah Pearson, a doctoral student of Emiliano Bruner at the Australian National University in Canberra (Australia), in collaboration with Professor David Polly, of Indiana University (USA).

 

Full bibliographic information

Pearson, A., Polly, P. D., & Bruner, E. (2020). Temporal lobe evolution in Javanese Homo erectus and African Homo ergaster: inferences from the cranial base. Quaternary International (0). doi: 10.1016/j.quaint.2020.07.048.

 

Press release from CENIEH


cultura muerte neandertales humanos modernos Nohemi Sala culture death neanderthals humans

Does the culture of death predate the Neanderthals and modern humans?

Does the culture of death predate the Neanderthals and modern humans?

The CENIEH researcher Nohemi Sala has been awarded 1.5 million euros by the European Research Council through an ERC-Starting Grant, to scour the fossil record for the roots and evolution of our ancestors' funerary behavior.

cultura muerte neandertales humanos modernos Nohemi Sala
Nohemi Sala, ERC-Starting Grant proyect IP.Credits: N. Sala

All societies existing today possess some kind of funerary culture, and this is one of the behaviors that takes us closest to how complex the human mind is. However, the emergence of this behavior is one of the most controversial topics in the field of human evolution. When did our ancestors start to acquire a culture of death? How was this behavior manifested over time and space? Did this practice appear independently in different species?

There are different ways to tackle these questions, and the more specific one of whether the culture ofdeath precedes Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans. To date, analyses in Paleolithic archaeology have centered on the archaeological context: that is, whether skeletons are preserved completely, the existence of a grave cut or whether objects that could be interpreted as symbolic elements or grave goods are present. This vision restricts funerary behavior almost exclusively to burials, something that was exceptionally rare before the Late Pleistocene, which began 127,000 years ago.

Thus, there is a need to find new methodological approaches so that what has been preserved up to our own time is right at the center: human bones. The European fossil record is a fundamental source of information due to the abundance of fossil skeletons. This is where forensic taphonomy, a discipline that can help to shed light on fundamental issues in this field, comes in. Applying this would be something like carrying out “autopsies” of human fossils to try to learn how they died and, above all, what happened to the remains of the individual between death and modern excavation.

This line of research has crystallized in a project entitled DEATHREVOL. The roots and evolution of the culture-of-death. A taphonomic research of the European Paleolithic record, which has been selected to receive financing under the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation program, and which will be conducted over the next five years at the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH).

“This is the first large-scale project centering on an exhaustive taphonomic study of the European fossil record”, explains the CENIEH taphonomy specialist Sala, a member of the Atapuerca research team and a researcher under the Juan de la Cierva-Incorporación program, who has obtained 1.5 million euros in funding for this project submitted to the 2020 call.

Carrying this out will require the participation of a large team of academics and a network of methods which include taphonomic analyses, virtual reconstructions for forensic analyses, studying spatial distribution patterns, the overall relations between different sites and mathematical models to interconnect the broad spectrum of data compiled.

Highly competitive projects

The European Research Council (ERC) projects known as “Starting Grants” are aimed at early-career researchers with post-doctoral experience of between 2 and 7 years, who have an outstanding research record and submit an excellent scientific project on the frontiers of knowledge. These are considered the most prestigious awards in the sphere of European research and, therefore, are highly competitive.

In the 2020 call, 436 researchers from 25 countries in the European Union and associated countries were selected, and 23 of the projects will be conducted at Spanish research centers. Of these 23, four are in the field of humanities and only one is centered on Paleoanthropology.

 

Press release from CENIEH on the Starting Grant for the research about the culture of death preceding Neanderthals and modern humans.


Jess Kohl Anime Salve

ANIME SALVE. A series of photographs by Jess Kohl

ANIME SALVE
A series of photographs by Jess Kohl
11-27 settembre 2020

PAN - Palazzo delle Arti Napoli, Via dei Mille, 60, 80121 Napoli (NA), Italy

PAN is open from 9:30 am to 7:30 pm every day except Tuesdays Sunday: 9:30 AM to 2:30 pm, free of charge.
Access is permitted upon reservation at http://ingressi.comune.napoli.it

Anime Salve Jess Kohl
Collettivo Zero is pleased to invite you to the photographic exhibition Anime Salve, British photographer and director Jess Kohl's first solo presentation in Italy, a project by ShowDesk, curated by Collettivo Zero, in collaboration with Comune di Napoli, promoted by Assessorato alla Cultura e Turismo di Napoli and by PAN - Palazzo delle Arti di Napoli.

These images introduce part of an ongoing project that will culminate in Kohl's first feature documentary, extending and developing the filmmaker’s anthropological interest in gender identity and society's fringes. Taken over the last two years, including during a residency with ShowDesk, Anime Salve presents an intimate exploration of gender non-conformity in a city where spirituality, gender and sexuality have co-existed for generations. The infamous suburban landscape of Scampia provides a backdrop for a series that emblematises an area undergoing extraordinary transformation.

At first drawn to the region for its historically liberal attitudes towards queerness, Kohl’s work traces how the figure of the ‘femminielli’ - a word used to describe an effeminate man, traditionally seen as bringing good luck - has bled into modern society in Neapolitan culture.

The exhibition follows the lives of five individuals, many of them living in Scampia, with intimate portraits often taken at home. Alessia is pictured living with her elderly mother, Amalia. Tenderly intertwined, the two women’s lives shift and change along with the city that surrounds them: in March 2020, the destruction of one of four remaining ‘Sails’ began. Built in the 70’s as a social housing prototype, The Sails quickly fell into disrepair. Neglected by the state, the north western suburb became a playground for the Camorra - a criminal organisation originating in the region, dating back to the 17th century. Known locally as ‘The Monsters’, The Sails are seen as symbols of Scampia’s traumatic past.

Documenting her subjects over a period of multiple years, enables Kohl to provide an authentic representation of marginalised individuals experiencing going through change. Titled ANIME SALVE, (the title of a famous album by Fabrizio De André which literally means “solitary spirits”) the exhibition begins with monochromatic photographs, which document the architectural and developmental modifications the Scampian urban landscape has undergone over the last three years. Kohl then begins to introduce different local characters who embody an intersection between queerness and Catholicism, between Napoli and Scampia. Religious symbolism repeats and reverberates throughout the series. One room has been transformed to resemble a sanctuary, where Kohl has included images of homemade shrines, drenched in neon light and scattered across the city as a sign of protection and to remember the dead.

Drawing connection between the traditions of the femminielli and modern day trans lives, Kohl includes images taken at the Matrimonio de la Zeza, an annual ancient ritual that takes place in the town of Pagani, Campania. This is a farcical wedding between two men, celebrated passionately by the local residents.

The exhibition closes with two screens side by side, showing super 8 portraits taken in Naples and also Koovagam, India. Including the latter, an ancient religious festival in India where trans women gather, encourages the viewer to draw a comparison between these two uniquely similar cultures, despite their geographical distance. Both of these cultures' histories include liberal attitudes towards queerness, yet over time, those not prescribing to gender norms have been pushed to the margins seeking solace through community and spirituality.

Jess Kohl (b. 1989 London) is an award-winning filmmaker and photographer. Her work marries a raw, intimate style with a focus on queerness and marginalised communities. In 2015 she graduated from Central St Martins with a BA in Moving Image. In 2017 she completed an MA at Goldsmiths in Cinematography. After graduating, she quickly carved a niche creating strong emotional narratives that tell the stories of those existing on the fringes of society. Whether documenting the UK queer Jewish underground in her film ‘Buttmitzvah, following a group of rebel Filipino punks living under president Rodrigo Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ in her film ‘Anarchy in the Philippines, or highlighting the contrast between Indian and western queerness in her award winning ‘Nirvana’, Jess’ work seeks to authentically document those searching for acceptance in their communities, religions, races and culture’s.

Jess Kohl

ANIME SALVE. A series of photographs by Jess Kohl
11-27 settembre 2020

Collettivo Zero is pleased to invite you to the photographic exhibition Anime Salve, a first italian solo show by the British photographer and director Jess Kohl

Works on display take place from the artist residency in Naples thanks to the collaboration with the association ShowDesk, which is involved for a long time in the organization for artist residencies, students, curators, gallerists and keen on art.

The British artist presents her latest project made between Scampia’s buildings, showing us the most intimate sides of the Neapolitan “femminielli”community, strongly tied to a territory rich in contradictions where gender non-conformity has met the sacred, becoming tradition. 

The exhibition promoted by the city of Naples will be located at the PAN - Palazzo delle arti Napoli -, from 11 to 27 September 2020 and will be open from Monday to Saturday: h 10:00 - h 19:00 (last entry h 18:00); Sunday: h 10:00 - 14:00 (last entry h 13:00).

Access is permitted upon reservation at http://ingressi.comune.napoli.it.

It is allowed to book for max 4 visitors per email address. Each address can make up to 1 reservation per week. At the time of the visit, the confirmation code given on the booking form must be provided in paper or electronic form. After checking availability it is possible to book even before accessing the PAN, by connecting to the link and registering in the way indicated.

In order to ensure the best possible protection for the visitors and to minimise the risk of infection, the necessary safety measures for the containment of COVID-19 have been activated. 

Access to the PAN is facilitated by the presence of specific signs, including directional signs. 

In addition:

  • during the visit, for the whole period of stay within the structure it is necessary to always maintain the interpersonal safety distance (2 meters), avoiding crowds;
  • the use of the mask is compulsory;
  • hygienic gel dispensers will be placed at the entrance of the facility;
  • access to exhibition halls is subject to a fixed number.

 

Press release and pictures from Collettivo Zero

 

 

 


Highest award from China's government for outstanding PhD research into ancient Chinese musical chime stones

A MUSIC archaeological study of ancient Chinese chime stones dating back to 2400BC to 8AD conducted by a PhD graduate from the University of Huddersfield has been deemed a remarkable achievement by the Chinese Government and has been conferred a coveted award.

Dr Xueyang Fang, from the city of Tianjin in north-eastern China, graduated this year with a PhD in music. Her extensive research, the first comprehensive study of its kind, has earned her the ‘Chinese Government Award for Outstanding Self-financed Students Abroad’ from the China Scholarship Council.

The award was set up in 2003 to honour overseas Chinese students with outstanding academic accomplishments and is the highest award Chinese Government can give to graduate students studying outside China. An estimated half a million Chinese students leave China to study abroad each year, making this prestigious award highly competitive.

“Only those with outstanding performance in their PhD studies are considered by the award selection panel and each year no more than 500 young talented researchers are granted this annual award,” said the China Scholarship Council’s Secretary-General, Sheng Jianxue.

“Xueyang Fang stood out from the competition and I would like to express my sincere gratitude for Professor Rupert Till’s support and conscientious supervision, which have contributed to her remarkable achievements,” he added.

A comprehensive and exhaustive analysis

Dr Fang’s thesis, supervised by Professor Rupert Till from the University’s Department of Music and Drama, is the first significant study of Chinese chime stones to be published in English and has created a new taxonomy, as well as collecting previous research published largely in Chinese.

On top of the comprehensive and exhaustive analysis of hundreds of specimens of chime stones, including their archaeological sites, periods and multiple categories of co-existent discoveries, Dr Fang’s fieldwork has produced a large amount of data that can be used for future research. This includes materials from Chinese museums and original sound recordings for analysis.

A journal article, written by Dr Fang in collaboration with Professor Till, explained how chime stones were often used in Royal court music performances, which were usually a combination of chime bells and other musical instruments and often represented high-ranking status in ancient Chinese society, especially in pre-imperial China.

Chinese chime stones PhD
Ancient musical Chinese chime stones had a cultural and ritual significance

Their cultural and ritual significance

In China, chime stones have important cultural and ritual significance and were significant enough to be buried with ruling people and so were a core symbol for social rank and authority.

“Burying these stones with this individual was clearly a significant act,” said Dr Fang, when referring to an excavation of nine chime stones found in an Eastern Zhou Tomb in Hebi, China between 2009 and 2010.

“Returning these stones to the ground has perhaps extra poignancy, in the knowledge that they have remained intact and indeed in tune, while their owner’s body has decomposed,” she added.

Dr Xueyang Fang's extensive research into ancient Chinese chime stones, the first comprehensive study of its kind, has earned her the 'Chinese Government Award for Outstanding Self-financed Students Abroad' from the China Scholarship Council. The award was set up in 2003 to honour overseas Chinese students with outstanding academic accomplishments and is the highest award Chinese Government can give to graduate students studying outside China. An estimated half a million Chinese students leave China to study abroad each year, making this prestigious award highly competitive. Credits: Dr Xueyang Fang, University of Huddersfield

The European Music Archaeology Project (EMAP)

Dr Fang was initially prompted to pursue advanced study in the UK after reading numerous articles written by Professor Till, an affiliate of the European Music Archaeology Project (EMAP) and the Associate Dean International for the School of Music, Humanities and Media.

For the EMAP series, Professor Till recorded a wide range of ancient European instruments and investigated the acoustics of the places where they were once played.  These included the Tombs of the Kings, a World Heritage Site in Cyprus and the Isturitz caves in France, where artefacts discovered included a pre-historic bone flute.

As a result of his research, she began to explore the journey of music archaeology with profound interest and says deciding to carry out her PhD at the University of Huddersfield, under Professor Till’s supervision, was the best decision she ever made.

Dr Xueyang Fang graduated this year from the University of Huddersfield with a PhD in Music and was supervised by Professor Rupert Till for her thesis, the first significant study of Chinese chime stones to be published in English

Throughout her doctoral research Professor Till encouraged Dr Fang to take part in several international conferences, such as the 10th Symposium of the International Study Group for Music Archaeology (ISGMA) held in Wuhan, China, the University of New York’s 14th Music Iconography Conference and the 15th Symposium of the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM) Study Group on Music Archaeology in Slovenia.

“Through participation of these conferences, not only did my experience and self-confidence increase, but I also gained greater interdisciplinary knowledge during my periods of study,” she said.

“To anyone who is wondering whether to come and study here at the University, I want to implore that my Alma Mater will provide the platform you need to succeed, whatever your plans for the future. I strongly recommend the University of Huddersfield for those who want to further their studies.”

 

 

Press release from the University of Huddersfield on the outstanding PhD research into ancient Chinese musical chime stones.


Earliest art in British Isles discovered in Jersey

Earliest art in British Isles discovered in Jersey

Prehistoric societies in the British Isles were creating artistic designs on rock as long ago as the late Ice Age, archaeologists have confirmed.

Rare evidence

The plaquettes provide the earliest evidence of artistic expression discovered in the British IslesFor the first time, archaeologists have analysed the ancient markings made on a group of flat stones, known as plaquettes, uncovered at Les Varines, Jersey, and believe they date from the late ice age – some 15,000 years ago.

Ten fragments of stone plaquettes extensively engraved with abstract designs were uncovered at Les Varines, Jersey, between 2014 and 2018. Since then, a team of archaeologists led by Newcastle University, working with the Natural History Museum, have been analysing the prehistoric markings and believe they represent the earliest evidence of artistic expression discovered in the British Isles.

The plaquettes are believed to have been made by the Magdalenians, an early hunter gatherer culture dating from between 23,000 and 14,000 years ago. The Magdalenian era saw a flourishing of early art, from cave art and the decoration of tools and weapons to the engraving of stones and bones.

Examples of etched Magdalenian plaquettes have previously been discovered at sites in France, Spain and Portugal. Although Magdalenian settlements are known to have existed as far north-west as Britain, no similar examples of artistic expression have previously been discovered in the British Isles of such an early date. The engraved fragments represent the first evidence of engraved stone plaquettes found in the British Isles and Ireland, seemingly predating cave art and engraved bone found previously at Creswell Crags, Derbyshire.

The research and excavation team, which also included experts from the UCL Institute of Archaeology, the universities of St. Andrews, Strathclyde, Liverpool, Wales Trinity St David, and York, as well as the British Museum, analysed the stones for traces of how the markings were made.

The analysis revealed that the plaquettes are engraved with groups of fine lines, thought to have been purposefully made using stone tools. The geometric designs are made up of a combination of straight lines more or less parallel to each other and longer, curved incisions. The research team say that the two types of marks are likely to have been produced using the same tools, possibly by the same engraver and in short succession, giving new insight into the processes used to create the ancient designs.

Dr Chantal Conneller, Senior Lecturer, Newcastle University, said: “These engraved stone fragments provide exciting and rare evidence of artistic expression at what was the farthest edge of the Magdalenian world.”

The designs were only briefly viewed by their makers. Engraving soft stone creates a powder within the incisions that makes them visible. This swiftly disperses, meaning that the engravings are only clear at the moment of their making. “In this context, the act or moment of engraving, was more meaningful than the object itself,” explained Dr Conneller.

art British Isles prehistoric

Purposeful artistic direction

Dr Silvia Bello, Researcher at the Natural History Museum, London, added: “Microscopic analysis indicates that many of the lines, including the curved, concentric designs, appear to have been made through layered or repeated incisions, suggesting that it is unlikely that they resulted from the stones being used for a functional purpose. The majority of the designs are purely abstract, but others could depict basic forms such as animals, landscapes or people. This strongly suggests that the plaquettes at Les Varines were engraved for purposeful artistic decoration.”

The stones discovered at Les Varines, in the south east of Jersey, were found in an area thought to have been used as a hearth. Three of the fragments had been recovered from an area of granite slabs which may have served as paving, highlighting that the plaquettes were engraved in a domestic context.

Dr Ed Blinkhorn, Senior Geoarchaeologist at University College London and director of excavations at the site, said: "The plaquettes were tricky to pick apart from the natural geology at the site - every stone needed turning. Their discovery amongst hearths, pits, paving, specialist tools, and thousands of flints shows that creating art was an important part of the Magdalenian pioneer toolkit, as much at camp as within caves."

 “The engraved stones are firmly domestic art - this may have been important as people moved back into northern Europe towards the end of the last Ice Age,” added Dr Conneller. “The people at Les Varines are likely to have been pioneer colonisers of the region and creating engraved objects at new settlements may have been a way of creating symbolic relationships with new places.”

The research took place as part of the Ice Age Island project, funded by Jersey Heritage, the British Academy, the Society of Antiquaries and the British Museum and the ‘Human behaviour in 3D’ project funded by the Calleva Fundation and is published in PLOS ONE.

 

Reference: “Artists on the edge of the world: An integrated approach to the study of Magdalenian engraved stone plaquettes from Jersey (Channel Islands)” by Silvia M. Bello, Edward Blinkhorn, Andrew Needham, Martin Bates, Sarah Duffy, Aimée Little, Matt Pope, Beccy Scott, Andrew Shaw, Mark D. Welch, Tim Kinnaird, Lisa Millar, Ruth Robinson, Chantal Conneller. PLOS ONE https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0236875

 

 

 

Press release from the Newcastle University on the prehistoric markings that represent the earliest evidence of art discovered in the British Isles


Cremation in the Middle East dates as far back as 7,000 B.C.

The gender of the human remains found inside a cremation pyre pit in Beisamoun, Israel remains unknown. What is known is that the individual was a young adult injured by a flint projectile several months prior to their death in spring some 9,000 years ago. Preserved due to it being buried, the pit represents the oldest proof of direct (1) cremation in the Middle East.

cremation Middle East Beisamoun
Flint point thrust inside a burnt shoulder blade
© mission Beisamoun

An international team lead by CNRS archaeo-anthropologist Fanny Bocquentin (2)with aid from PhD candidate Marie Anton and several experts in animal, plant, and mineral remains, discovered and studied the bones found inside the pyre. An analysis of the clay used to coat the inside of the pit showed the 355 bone fragments, some of which were burnt, were exposed to temperatures reaching 700°C. The position of the bones and the preserved joints seem to indicate the body was placed seated onto the pyre and was not moved during or after cremation.

Excavations of the pyre pit.
© mission Beisamoun

Whether used as fuel, as ornamentation, or as a scent, siliceous traces indicated the presence of flowering plants, which made it possible to identify the season the person died. In addition to the exceptional pyre pit, the cremated remains of five other adults were discovered at the site. They dated back to the same period as burials whose traces were discovered among the ruins of abandoned dwellings.

cremation Middle East Beisamoun Israel
Archaeological site at Beisamoun, Israel. © mission Beisamoun

The use of cremation indicates an evolution of the relationship to death in the region. The veneration of ancestors and lengthy funerary practices seem to have given way to shorter rituals. This could be evidence of a transition phase because, some two to three centuries later, the dead were no longer buried inside or near villages and their traces are much more difficult to find.

The study is based on joint archaeological digs completed between 2007-2016 by the CNRS, the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs and the Israel Antiquities Authority.

A section of the Beisamoun site (Israel) where the pyre pit is visible.
© mission Beisamoun
Bibliography

Emergence of corpse cremation during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic of the Southern Levant: A multidisciplinary study of a pyre-pit burial, Fanny Bocquentin, Marie Anton, Francesco Berna, Arlene Rosen, Hamoudi Khalaily, Harris Greenberg, Thomas C. Hart, Omri Lernau, Liora Kolska Horwitz. PLOS ONE, 12 August 2020. DOI : 10.1371/journal.pone.0235386

Notes

(1) The body was cremated directly, as opposed to other practices where dried exhumed bones were burnt.

(2) Member of the Prehistoric ethnology team at the Archéologies et sciences de l'Antiquité laboratory (CNRS/Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne/Université Paris Nanterre/French Ministry of Culture). This study also involved a PhD candidate from the Eco-anthropologie laboratory (CNRS/Museum national d’Histoire naturelle) with support from the Centre de recherche français à Jérusalem (CNRS/French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs/Aix-Marseille Université).

Press release from CNRS on the cremation pyre pit in Beisamoun, Israel, Middle East.


Temple of Augustus Leptis Magna Surrey

The Temple of Augustus: an artificial landscape in Surrey

The Temple of Augustus: How ruins from Libya became the focal point of an artificial landscape in Surrey

Leptis Magna ruins to right of carriage path

 

Walking around the artificial lake of Virginia Water, past the artificial cascade, you come across the ‘Temple of Augustus’, another artificial addition to the royal landscapes of Surrey. But how did these Libyan ruins come to make up part of the grounds of Windsor Great Park?

Bridge adorned with cornice fragments

The city of Leptis Magna was founded in the 7th Century BC and rose to prominence in 193 AD under Emperor Septimius Severus who initiated a programme of enhancement through the provision of incredible docks, and a huge basilica complete with classical style columns. After his death in 211 the city began to decline, with the destructive tsunami of 365 and the invasion of the Vandals in the 5th Century.

1816, Hanmer Warrington arrived in Leptis Magna with friend, Augustus Earle. Only a few years earlier, Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin had been hailed a hero by the British government on return from Greece with the stripped marble of the Parthenon, a response Warrington hoped to achieve with his presentation of the Leptis Magna ruins.

Louis XIV had taken 600 columns from the site and installed them in his palace in Versailles in the 17th century, whilst Rouen Cathedral and Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Preps in Paris also sported Leptis columns.

Upon commissioning ships and creating an agreement with the Local Governor, Warrington came across resistance of the local Libyan people. Not a conservation effort, but a local quarrying issue, they defied the removal of the ruins. Cut stone had often been collected from these sites to aid building work whilst round columns were used as mill stones. They took to destroying the collected ruins as they were being loaded onto ships, leading to 3 columns still lying on the beach, having been abandoned by Warrington’s team.

After the destruction was accounted for, Warrington collected a vast collection made up of 25 pedestals, 15 marble columns, 22 granite columns, 10 capitals, 5 inscribed slabs and fragments of stone and sculpture. On arrival in Britain he was met with an unenthusiastic government who it is said were not ‘at all impressed or convinced of the value, either aesthetic or intrinsic, of the cargo.’

Temple of Augustus
Leptis Magna ruins beyond the bridge

Having sat in the forecourt of the British Museum for 8 years, King George IV’s architect, Jeffry Wyatville expressed an interest in using them to create a folly in the grounds of Windsor Castle, which then stretched as far as Virginia Water.

Temple of Augustus
Part of the Temple of Augustus

Named the ‘Temple of Augustus’, possibly as a reference to the King’s full name, George Augustus Frederick, the site consisted of the 15 columns arranged in a semi-circle, and 2 parallel colonnades. Down the centre of the ruins ran a carriage road, allowing King George IV to pass under the road to Ascot. Wyatville placed fragments of cornices along the bridge mimicking an arch in a city wall.

Leptis Magna Ruins

Knowledge of the classics was important in high society, and the introduction of follies, ornamental ruins built to serve purely as landscape features, showed a level of class and sophistication. As William Gilpin, contemporary architect, noted about the importance of a fake authenticity, “if the ivy refuses to mantle over your buttress… you may as well write over the gate, Built in the year 1772.”

Temple of Augustus
Leptis Magna ruins to left of carriage path

 

All pictures taken by Scout Newby.

 

Bibliography

An Unusual Gift (2018) <exploringsurreyspast.org.uk> [accessed 25th July 2020].

Archaeological Site of Leptis Magna <whc.unesco.org> [accessed 25th July 2020].

Bovill, E.W., ‘Colonel Warrington’, The Geographical Journal, Vol.131 (1965), pp.161-166.

Chambers, G.E., ‘The Ruins at Virginia Water’, Berkshire Archaeological Journal, Vol.54 (1954), pp.39-52.

Cooper, P., ‘How Ancient Roman Ruins Ended up 2,000 Miles Away in a British Garden’, The Atlantic, 10th January 2018.

Earle, A., ‘Watercolour of The Ruins at Lebida (Leptis Magna), near Tripoli’, (1793-1838), RCIN 917055 <rct.uk/collection> [accessed 23rd July 2020].

Gilpin, W., Observations on Several Parts of England relative chiefly to Picturesque Beauty (London; Strahan and Prefton, 1808), pp.69-75.

Sham Ruins’, Foll-e, Vol.45 (2012), pp.1-4.

Unknown, ‘The Leptis Magna ruins, Virginia Water’, (c.1865), RCIN 2923207 <rct.uk/collection> [accessed 22nd July 2020]

The Temple of Augustus (2019) <odddaysout.co.uk> [accessed 20th July 2020].

Lane, A., ‘The Ruins of Virginia Water’, Libyan Studies (Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp.67-94.