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A fleet of eight prehistoric boats, including one almost nine metres long, has been discovered in a Cambridgeshire quarry on the outskirts of Peterborough.
The vessels, all deliberately sunk more than 3,000 years ago, are the largest group of bronze age boats ever found in the same UK site and most are startlingly well preserved. One is covered inside and out with decorative carving described by conservator Ian Panter as looking “as if they’d been playing noughts and crosses all over it”. Another has handles carved from the oak tree trunk for lifting it out of the water. One still floated after 3,000 years and one has traces of fires lit on the wide flat deck on which the catch was evidently cooked.
Several had ancient repairs, including clay patches and an extra section shaped and pinned in where a branch was cut away. They were preserved by the waterlogged silt in the bed of a long-dried-up creek, a tributary of the river Nene, which buried them deep below the ground.
Destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79, Pompeii survived excavation starting in the 18th century and has stoically borne the wear and tear of millions of modern-day tourists.
But now, its deep-hued frescoes, brick walls and elegant tile mosaics appear to be at risk from an even greater threat: the bureaucracy of the Italian state.
In recent years, collapses at the site have alarmed conservationists, who warn that this ancient Roman city is dangerously exposed to the elements — and is poorly served by the red tape, the lack of strategic planning and the limited personnel of the site’s troubled management.
The site’s decline has captured the attention of the European Union, which began a $137 million effort in February that aims to balance preservation with accessibility to tourists. Called the Great Pompeii Project, the effort also seeks to foster a culture-driven economy in an area dominated by the Neapolitan Mafia.
Rachel Donadio and Elisabetta Povoledo
New York Times
The increasingly dire state of conservation of much of Naples’s cultural heritage—its churches, monuments, libraries and palaces—has been highlighted by a damning news report published by one of Italy’s leading papers, the Corriere della Sera, in January.
The online report revealed an alarming statistic: Naples has around 200 closed and abandoned churches. Some have been stripped of all their furnishings including works of art, some never received the funds they had been promised, while others received them but never embarked on the agreed conservation projects. Others still were closed down, restored and then never opened again.
The report points to years of neglect and mismanagement by the local and national government, as well as by the Church and the regional arm of the ministry of culture.
The city’s historic centre, the largest in Europe, has been listed as a Unesco World Heritage site for the last 17 years, however the city’s residents have long bemoaned the state of their heritage, so much so that a petition, signed by 16 civic committees and 60 leading intellectual figures, was circulated at the end of last year calling for the city to be stripped of its Unesco title.
The Art Newspaper
A preservation fight has erupted over LG Electronics’ plan to build a headquarters that would compromise the Cloisters museum’s view across the Hudson River. (Photo: Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times)
After John D. Rockefeller Jr. donated land for the Cloisters museum in northern Manhattan, he went a step further in the 1930s and bought the cliffs across the Hudson River in New Jersey to preserve the museum’s pristine view of the Palisades.
Now his grandson Larry Rockefeller; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which owns the Cloisters; and other groups are fighting to preserve that vista, which they say is threatened by a new corporate headquarters to be built in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.
As designed, the headquarters for LG Electronics USA, a major employer and taxpayer in that borough, would be 143 feet tall and rise several stories above the tree line.
“The Palisades really rests at the heart of the conservation legacy, if you will, which our family has left, and is leaving, to America,” Mr. Rockefeller, 68, said in a telephone interview from the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, which his family also helped preserve.
“No one’s opposed to the building per se,” he continued. “I’m certainly not. It’s just the design of it being tall and so visible.”
New York Times
Few people have ever visited the long network of underground tunnels under the public baths of Caracalla, which date back to the third century AD and are considered by many archaeologists to be the grandest public baths in Rome. This underground network, which is due to be reopened in December, is also home to a separate structure, the largest Mithraeum in the Roman Empire, according to its director Marina Piranomonte. The Mithraeum has just reopened after a year of restoration work which cost the city’s archaeological authorities around €360,000.
To celebrate the reopening, Michelangelo Pistoletto has installed his conceptual work Il Terzo Paradiso (the third heaven), which he first presented at the 2005 Venice Biennale, in the gardens surrounding the public baths. The work, made of ancient stone fragments and pieces of columns arranged in a triple loop, represents the harmonious union of the natural and technological worlds, according to the artist. It will be on view until 6 January 2013.
Federico Castelli Gattinara and Ermanno Rivetti
The Art Newspaper
Ancient hunters and gatherers etched vivid petroglyphs on cliffs in the Eastern Sierra that withstood winds, flash floods and earthquakes for more than 3,500 years. Thieves needed only a few hours to cut them down and haul them away.
Federal authorities say at least four petroglyphs have been taken from the site. A fifth was defaced with deep saw cuts on three sides. A sixth had been removed and broken during the theft, then propped against a boulder near a visitor parking lot.
Dozens of other petroglyphs were scarred by hammer strikes and saw cuts.
“The individuals who did this were not surgeons, they were smashing and grabbing,” U.S. Bureau of Land Management archaeologist Greg Haverstock said last week as he examined the damage. “This was the worst act of vandalism ever seen” on the 750,000 acres of public land managed by the BLM field office in Bishop.
The theft required extraordinary effort: Ladders, electric generators and power saws had to be driven into the remote and arid high desert site near Bishop. Thieves gouged holes in the rock and sheared off slabs that were up to 15 feet above ground and 2 feet high and wide.
Los Angeles Times
Art restorers working on frescoes in a forgotten chapel in Assisi believe they have stumbled across proof that stunning images found under layers of grime are the work of medieval artist Giotto.
The discovery of the artist’s initials on the frescoes follows two years of restoration work in the Chapel of St Nicholas in the lower basilica of Saint Francis. The work was prompted by a 1997 earthquake that damaged the basilica.
Experts have argued that the frescoes in the chapel, which has been closed to the public and neglected for years, were at best the work of Giotto’s followers in the 14th century.
But restorers claim the letters GB – standing for Giotto di Bondone, his full name – prove the cleaned-up images were his.
The cleaning of an Elizabethan tapestry map has revealed what may be the earliest depiction of the Rollright Stones, a series of Neolithic and Bronze Age megaliths in the English Midlands, says Maggie Wood, the keeper of social history at Warwickshire Museum. What appears to be a small stone circle is now visible in the lower right-hand corner of the Sheldon Tapestry Map of Warwickshire. Other details, including tiny cottages nestled among the trees, are also now visible. The textile was cleaned and conserved in 2011 in preparation for its inclusion in the British Museum’s exhibition “Shakespeare: Staging the World” (until 25 November).
The tapestry, along with four other textile maps (one of which is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London), was commissioned in the late 1580s by Ralph Sheldon for his stately home in Long Compton, near the stones. The textile was bought in 1781 by Horace Walpole and passed through various hands before entering the collection of the Warwickshire Museum in the 1960s.
The Art Newspaper
Djenne-Djenno, one of the best-known archaeological sites in sub-Saharan Africa, spreads over several acres of rutted fields near the present city of Djenne in central Mali. The ruts are partly caused by erosion, but they’re also scars from decades of digging, by archaeologists in search of history and looters looking for art to sell.
When I was there last fall, a few archaeology students were in evidence. These days, with Mali in the throes of political chaos, it’s unlikely that anyone is doing much work at all at the site, though history and art are visible everywhere. Ancient pottery shards litter the ground. Here and there the mouths of large clay urns, of a kind once used for food storage or human burial, emerge from the earth’s surface, the vessels themselves still submerged.
The image of an abandoned battlefield comes to mind, but that’s only half-accurate. Physical assaults on Djenne-Djenno may be, at least temporarily, in abeyance. But ethical battles surrounding the ownership of, and right to control and dispose of, art from the past rage on in Africa, as in other parts of the world.
A few weeks ago the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, announced the acquisition of an American private collection of 32 exquisite bronze and ivory sculptures produced in what is now Nigeria between the 13th and 16th centuries. Within days the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments claimed, via an Internet statement, that the objects had been pillaged by the British military in the late 19th century and should be given back.
More chilling were reports last month of cultural property being destroyed in Timbuktu, Mali, some 200 miles north of Djenne. Islamist groups, affiliated with Al Qaeda, have singled out Sufism, a moderate, mystical form of Islam widespread in Mali, for attack. In Timbuktu, with its Koranic schools and manuscript libraries, they have begun leveling the tombs of Sufi saints, objects of popular devotion.
New York Times