Thursday, October 14, 2004

Cool Stuff, Huh?

I don't blog about my other interests as much as I'd like -- politics is just too important right now, something I hope that'll, at least for me, change after November.

Anyway, other interests. I've been an archaeology junkie ever since I was very small and would go with my grandfather to "treasure hunt" (metal detecting) and "rock hunt" (look for Native American points, which used to be plentiful and fairly easily found after a hard spring rain). For most of my teenage years, it was what I wanted to do with my life.

But then in my first semester of college, I learned two crucial things about archaeology that spoiled the subject for me. For one, it is a mind-numbingly anal retentive science; for another, professional archaeologists despise the amateur or the dilettante. Now, the latter is a general attitude in Academe, but with archaeology, it's quintessential and especially virulent. Amateurs = Collectors = "Looters" = Evil. Of course this is legit when it refers to pothunting and grave-robbing, which are a lucrative and, unfortunately, fairly common where I come from. But hobbiest folk who walk the fields looking for exposed artefacts hardly qualify as cultural rapists. There are other things about archeologists that I could bitch about, but I'll stop now. Anyway, the last few years, inspired by my girlfriend, I've rekindled my interest in the anthropological part of the field, which is more rewarding and practical, I think, with regard to politics and everyday living.

All the above crap is just an excuse to post two stories I found on Yahoo without jarring readers too much, and all three of whom would sensibly regard that topic as something of a non sequitur.

Thracian mausoleum packed with precious objects unearthed in Bulgaria.

Bulgaria Discovery Sheds Light On Ancient Thracians.

The reasons why, in the last few years, major work has been done and discoveries made in Eastern Europe should be obvious considering the politics, and this should not be taken to necessarily be a compliment to capitalism. But things do seem to be turning up more often (much of the Roman coins on the market seem to be coming from this area). This, however, may just be an illusion by comparison, since it's rare to find such glamourous things in Western Europe anymore, aside the occasion coin hoard, an odd Celtic torque here and there, a bog body; no Indiana Jones stuff that everyone hopes their local museum will someday get to display.

The Thracians, like many of the barbarian tribes to the north of the classical world, are fairly mysterious. On the identity politics front, this sort of discovery should be pleasing to the millions of "European Heinz 57" people like myself, whose political ancestry is Greco-Roman but whose genetic ancestry is more wholly (if not holy) barbarian than not.

But it's interesting to see how much classical culture leaked into that of the barbarians and vice-versa. One finds Greek art stylings in Danish artefacts and finds goods from colonial Greece in German-Celtic tombs. Look at the crown found in Bulgaria:

Note the oak leaves and acorns, and compare with this:

The second crown is that of Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great. The Thracian crown is older. Now, I'm not going to be fraudulent, pretending, Neosporin-like, an expertise in something I know only a little about; I'm no art historian. But isn't the at worst superficial similarity interesting? Was this design originally from Thrace, then travelled south to Macedonia, at the time the northern frontier of Magna Graeca? Or vice-versa?

Either way, it's not really suprising that Philip would favour a design at least at some time apparently popular in the North; the "real" classical Greeks always considered the Macedonians hicks from the sticks, which doubtless contributed to Macedonian self-pity and inferiority complexes. (As such, Alexander becomes first in the line of many short insecure tyrants who sought to prevail over their adopted country and beyond: Napoleon the Corsican, Stalin the Georgian, Hitler the Austrian. Alfred Adler was no complete fool.)

The relics from Philip's tomb, discovered in 1977, are awesome. Such things may gain a new interest when the new Alexander movie comes out; though its producers foolishly cast Colin Farrell as The Emperor, they almost made up for this gaffe by casting Val Kilmer as Philip. Now it's been years since I read Plutarch, and my copy of Green's Alexander is now in Poland, but I remember Philip being every bit as interesting as his more famous son, if, of course, less successful. He was also every bit as bisexual, though I'm sure the film's producers will neatly excise that fact from the record lest red-blooded and red-stated Americans be offended. It's an article of faith that macho world conquerors (or their fathers) cannot be gay. To further destroy stereotypes, Philip was a tough bastard: he's one of two Kings I know of to have had his eye put out by arrows (for the other, King Harold of Saxon England, the injury proved fatal).

Anything to encourage interest in these subjects I consider a plus.

--**Edited in an attempt to clarify