East Asian Innovative Technology News

Dunhuang Research Redux

The New Yorker recently ran a story about the Dunhuang Library and the efforts to digitize the large cache of materials originally discovered in a cave outside Dunhuang, in the Gobi Desert in western China in 1900. That original discovery revealed a chamber with more than five hundred cubic feet of bundled manuscripts in 17 languages and 24 scripts. The sheer size of the find is not its only extraordinary feature. Other significant discoveries were revealed, including the oldest known example of a printed book—out dating Gutenberg’s press for sure.

In 1994, the British Library created a team with partners in China, France, Germany, Japan, and Korea to digitize the cache of Dunhuang library materials. Called the International Dunhuang Project, its efforts are two-fold: they want to make the documents accessible to researchers around the world in addition to preserving them. The International Dunhuang Project’s database is freely accessible and provides high quality images of manuscripts ad other materials along with robust cataloging information.

Another fantastic research pertaining to Dunhuang is the Mellon International Dunhuang Archive avaialble in ARTstor. With funding from the Mellon Foundation, a team from Northwestern university photographed (in extremely high resolution) more than 40 of the cave grottos at Dunhuang. The photographs they took were stitched together to create 2-and 3-D representations of the caves that can be viewed using QTVR (QuickTime Virtual Reality) technology.

Via the New Yorker.

Images on the Web Innovative Technology Museums

Penn Museum’s Digital Resources for Archaeology and Anthropology

The Penn Museum in Philadelphia, the University of Pennslyvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, recently launched two new digital endeavors for researchers.

The newly revamped Collections Database includes more than 690,000 objects and more than 95,000 images. The database records are robust, with links to related objects and bibliographic citations of where the image has been published.

The Penn Museum also allows users to download data files of its object records under a Creative Commons license. You can download datasets on all objects or by cultural group, including African, American, Asian, Egyptian, European, Historic, Mediterranean, Near Eastern, and Oceanian. The datasets include physical information, its provenance, and materialiaty but not images of the objects and the objects’ publication and exhibition histories.

The Research Map and Timeline provides interactive documentation and information about the museum’s research expeditions and projects since the 1880s. Users can browse projects geographically or chronologically, and the website provides a record of the dates, researchers, and time period studied as well as a brief description of the work done and key discoveries.

Via ArtDaily

News Precolumbian VRC

Maya Blue Paint

Maya painters used a blue paint that proved to be very durable—its hue remains vivid today—on murals, ceramics, and in their codices and manuscripts. While the ingredients of the blue paint have been known for years, scientists in Spain recently discovered that the method of preparation “cooked” the mixture of pigments and clay to stabilize the paint.

Scientists have long known the two chief ingredients of the intense blue pigment: indigo, a plant dye that’s used today to color denim; and palygorskite, a type of clay. But how the Maya cooked up the unfading paint remained a mystery. Now Spanish researchers report that they found traces of another pigment in Maya Blue, which they say gives clues about how the color was made.

“We detected a second pigment in the samples, dehydroindigo, which must have formed through oxidation of the indigo when it underwent exposure to the heat that is required to prepare Maya Blue,” Antonio Doménech, a researcher from the University of Valencia, said in a statement.

The VRC is often adding new groups Mayan and Mesoamerican images to our LUNA database, so be sure to check it out our resources for murals, pottery, and more!

Via A Blog About History and LiveScience.

Image credit: Bonampak Murals. Copy. 692. Harvard University. Peabody Museum. ©Kathleen Cohen. Copy by Antonio Teleda in 1948.

Innovative Technology Museums

Harvard Archaeologists Use 3D-Printing to Repair Ancient Artiacts

Two archaeologists at Harvard University’s Semitic Museum have begun using 3D-scanning and 3D printing to repair a ceramic artifact that was partially destroyed 3,000 years ago during an attack by the Assyrian army. They envision that this kind of work will be useful for conservation, research, and teaching purposes. The archaeologists describe their project:

Using a process called photomodeling, the Harvard team photographed sculpture fragments in the museum’s collection from hundreds of angles to create 3-D renderings of each piece, then meshed them together to form a semi-complete 3-D model of the original artifact. They compared the digital model to scans of full statues found in the same location, noting the gaps and creating the missing pieces and support structures out of 3-D printed parts and CNC carved foam. The technique worked successfully: The reconstituted sculpture will be displayed at the museum when this gallery is reinstated in 2014-15, but will likely be online well before that.

Via Wired


Maya Tomb at Palenque Explored & Photographed for First Time

National Geographic recently published an article about a Maya tomb at Palenque, which was discovered in 1999. In late November, researchers from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History entered the tomb for the first time. Last summer, NatGeo published photographs of the temple, which was explored remotely using a small camera (1.6 x 2.4 in.) pushed through a 6 in. hole.

Temple 20 at Palenque contains a royal tomb, well-preserved murals, 11 vessels, and pieces of jade and shell. Because the temple has been inaccessible for so long, its contents are well-preserved. At this point, researchers are not certain who the tomb belongs to.

Via A Blog About History

Images from National Geographic: Entrance to Temple 20, Palenque; “Snake Jaguar” King

News Precolumbian VRC

Tomb of Lady K’abel, Maya Queen, Found in Guatemala

Archaeologists from Washington University in St. Louis have discovered the tomb of Lady K’abel in the royal Maya city of El Perú-Waka’ in northern Petén, Guatemala. Lady K’abel was a seventh-century Maya Holy Snake Lord and is considered one of the great queens of Classic Maya civilization.

Washington University reports:

A small, carved alabaster jar found in the burial chamber caused the archaeologists to conclude the tomb was that of Lady K’abel.

The white jar is carved as a conch shell, with a head and arm of an aged woman emerging from the opening. The depiction of the woman, mature with a lined face and a strand of hair in front of her ear, and four glyphs carved into the jar, point to the jar as belonging to K’abel.

For more information on the excavation and the site of the tomb, check out the news release here, which also contains a link to the full report by the archaeologists on the discovery.

Additionally, Lady K’abel is depicted on Stela 34 of El Perú, located at the Cleveland Art Museum. Her husband, K’inich Bahlam, is depicted on Stela 33.

Front Face of a Stela, 692, Mesoamerica, Southern Lowlands, Maya People. Cleveland Art Museum, Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund, 1967.29.

News Precolumbian

Newly Discovered Maya Temple a “Gold Mine” of Information for Precolumbian Scholars

Deep in the heart of the Guatemalan jungle, archaeologists have unearthed an important Maya temple thought to be at least 1,600 years old. Distinguished by giant masked faces depicting the sun god, the “Temple of the Night Sun” at El Zotz holds great potential for helping researchers further their understanding of Early Classic Maya religious practices.

Project leader Stephen Houston of Brown University explains that since Maya culture closely linked the sun god with kingship and the sun with new beginnings, the temple’s emphasis on the sun suggests that the individual buried inside was El Zotz’s first king. Furthermore, the Maya considered the structure itself to be a living being, which propelled them to continuously add new layers to its exterior. Systematic mutilation of the masks’ noses, mouths, and eyes, Houston believes, can also be thought of as “deactivation” of those features: “It’s as if they’re turning the masks off in preparation for replicating them in subsequent layers … It’s not an act of disrespect. It’s quite the opposite.”

This discovery is newly relevant to the University of Chicago art history department, since Fall 2012 marks the welcoming of Assistant Professor Claudia Brittenham, who will instruct students in Precolumbian art. In preparation for her arrival, student catalogers and scanners at the Visual Resources Center have been hard at work digitizing images for Professor Brittenham’s classes and research. Be on the lookout for an abundance of new images relating to Precolumbian art set to be uploaded to LUNA by the end of the summer!

–Emilia Mickevicius

Via National Geographic.

East Asian News

New-Terra Cotta Warriors Unearthed in China

New Trove of Terra-Cotta Warriors Unearthed in China: Archeologists at work on Saturday.

From the New York Times’ ArtsBeat:

Chinese archaeologists have unearthed 110 new terra-cotta soldiers of the kind that stunned the world in the 1970s when thousands of such figures were discovered at Xian in central China, part of a tomb army built to guard China’s first emperor in the afterlife.

Agence France-Presse reported that the newly excavated life-size warriors were found near the Qin emperor Ying Zheng’s mausoleum over the course of three years and that archaeologists also uncovered 12 pottery horses and parts of chariots, as well as weapons and tools.

Ancient Images on the Web Islamic Museums

The Nicholar Artamonoff Collection at Dumbarton Oaks

The Nicholar Artamonoff Collection at Dumbarton Oaks, an archive of historical photographs of Byzantine Turkey, is available online.

The Nicholas V. Artamonoff Collection includes 543 photographs taken in Istanbul and five archaeological sites in Western Turkey (Ephesus, Hierapolis, Laodicea on the Lycus, Pergamum, Priene) from 1935 to 1945. The high quality photographs are of great value as they show buildings, sites, and objects that no longer exist or are in a better state of preservation than today.

Photographs may be browsed by tag (keyword), site name, and geography. Each photograph also includes a correlating Google Map, allowing visitors to see historical

Images on the Web Islamic

Copper Mining Threatens Afghan Site

A recent article in the LA Times describes the threats faced by an ancient Afghan archaeological site, Mes Aynak. The threats include war, looting, and now bulldozing by a Chinese mining company searching for copper.

…a dozen archaeologists and 100 Afghan laborers are working like army ants to finish the dig. Many valuable relics were looted long ago, and the archaeologists won’t be able to save the ancient edifices from the mining company. But they can remove the statues, pottery and gold and silver coins still buried within the buildings.

“We don’t know exactly how much time we have to excavate the site. Sometimes the deadline is 14 months and sometimes it’s two years.”

Photographs of the excavation published online by the LA Times are available here.