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History

Archaeologists Uncover a Lavish Marble Floor from Ancient Rome in Southern France

March 3, 2021

Grace Ebert

Image © Bertrand Houix, Inrap . All images courtesy of Inrap, shared with permission

Developers of an apartment building in Nîmes, France, had to halt construction last month when archaeologists discovered an opulent tiled floor that once blanketed a Roman villa, or domu. Dating back to 1-2 A.D., the checkered design is comprised of marble from multiple empirical provinces that’s inlaid into the foundation, a style called opus sectile that was prevalent during ancient times. Spanning multiple feet, the multi-colored pattern is thought to occupy what once was a reception area.

During their dig, archaeologists also uncovered plaster sheets that had caved in on the impeccably preserved tiles featuring classic frescoes on red and black panels. Lines score the back of the decorative pieces, which would have helped them adhere to the earthen walls. Other findings indicate that this domu, along with another nearby, were particularly lavish and featured a private bath, a concrete floor speckled with decorative gemstones, and a large central fountain made from Carrara white marble. One room even had remains of hypocaust heating, an inventive system that sent hot air underneath the flooring to warm the home. (via The History Blog)

 

Image © Charlotte Gleize, Inrap

Sheets of decorative plaster covering the tile floor. Image © Pascal Druelle, Inrap

Image © Pascal Druelle, Inrap

Two rooms of the domu, with evidence of the heating system on the left. Image © Charlotte Gleize, Inrap

Marble gemstones decorate the concrete floor. Image © Bertrand Houix, Inrap

 

 



Art Documentary History

'Black Art: In the Absence of Light,' a New Documentary, Celebrates the Rich Legacy of Black Art

February 17, 2021

Grace Ebert

“I saw the need to build cultural awareness by helping to revise and redefine American art,” says the renowned professor, artist, and curator David Driskell in Black Art: In the Absence of Light. His words echo throughout the new HBO documentary—which was directed by Sam Pollard, with executive producers Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Jacqueline Glover—that uncovers the rich and underappreciated lineage of Black art.

Structured chronologically, the feature-length film was released earlier this month and stems from Driskell’s revolutionary exhibition Two Centuries of Black American Art, which opened in 1979 at LACMA and surveyed more than 200 works dating back to 1750 from 63 artists. The formative show went on to major museums in Dallas, Atlanta, and Brooklyn, breaking attendance records despite its unenthusiastic response from some critics and institutions, including two in Chicago and Detroit that rejected its visit entirely.

 

David Driskell in his studio

Two Centuries of Black American Art, though, had a widespread and profound impact, which the documentary explores through interviews with artists working today. Many conversations begin with Driskell, who died last April from the coronavirus before Black Art‘s release. The film probes a vast archive from Chicago artists like Kerry James Marshall (previously) and Theaster Gates (previously), alongside Amy Sherald (previously), Kehinde Wiley (previously), and Jordan Casteel, among others.

Through a multi-generational lens, the documentary examines the nuanced effects of these figures’ contributions to the broader field of contemporary American art as it shares footage of their practices and reactions to their works. For example, Fred Wilson unveils what’s hidden within museum collections, while Wiley and Sherald both comment on the profound experience of painting the Obamas’ official portraits. Additional insights from Studio Museum director and chief curator Thelma Golden, who also is a consulting producer, are woven throughout the film.

 

Amy Sherald working on Michelle Obama’s portrait

Beyond galleries and museums, much of Black Art centers on the value of representation and unearthing a narrative that’s been obscured or outright dismissed. In particular, it considers the role of collectives like Sprial, which was founded in 1963 by Romare Bearden and Norman Lewis in order to highlight the work generated by Black artists in the Civil Rights Movement. While Sprial drew attention to otherwise ignored projects, it was largely dominated by men, a problem Faith Ringgold speaks to as she describes being rejected from the group. Sprial only admitted one woman, Emma Amos.

The final segment focuses on the importance of collectors investing in Black artists, in addition to the long history of spaces like Studio Museum and historically Black colleges and universities. These institutions continue to foster communities that honor the legacy of those who’ve come before while backing those forging new ground, prompting questions like this one from Theaster Gates: “We are part of a continued renaissance—it’s been happening. What I’m most excited about is, do we have the capacity to be great makers in the absence of light?”

Black Art is streaming on HBO Max through March 17. Educators also can download a coinciding curriculum with research tools and discussion prompts, in addition to another filled with activities designed to spur creativity.

 

Kerry James Marshall in his studio

 

 



Art History

This Warty Pig Painting Is Thought To Be the Oldest Cave Art in the World

January 14, 2021

Grace Ebert

Deep within Leang Tedongnge, a cave tucked away on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, archaeologists discovered this mulberry-hued painting of a warty pig and two hand silhouettes potentially belonging to the artist, which is now believed to be the oldest figurative work in the world. A study published in Science Advances this week says the impeccably preserved rendering is at least 45,500 years old, which predates previously discovered depictions of mythical creatures in the region. Those prior findings date back about 43,900 years.

Questions remain about the exact age of the work and who made it. Archaeologists from Griffith University, who helmed the mission, utilized uranium-series dating to determine how old the speleothem, or mineral deposits, of the cave is rather than the actual painting. There’s also debate about whether modern humans are responsible for the renderings, a question that’s complicated by the fact that the only skeletal remains that date back at least 45,500 years in Sulawesi belong to early hominins.

Dr. Adam Brumm, who co-authored the study, told The New York Times that researchers expect to discover similar artworks in the region, although the cave paintings are deteriorating at a rapid rate and could fade before they’re ever uncovered. “It is very worrying, and given the current situation the end result is likely to be the eventual destruction of this ice age Indonesian art, perhaps even within our lifetime,” Brumm said.

 

 

 

 



Food History

Archaeologists Have Uncovered an Impeccably Preserved Food Stand in Pompeii

December 28, 2020

Grace Ebert

All images via Pompeii sites

Mallard to go, anyone? Archaeologists have unearthed an ancient thermopolium—aka the Roman equivalent of a street food vendor—at the Regio V site in Pompeii. The well-preserved stand is decorated with multiple frescoes featuring a nereid (nymphs of Greek mythology) riding a sea horse, tall jars with two-handles that commonly were used for storage, and some of the formerly available fare, like mallards and chickens. A rendering of a muscular dog adorns another side of the stand with the insult, “Nicia cineadecacator,” scribed nearby. Various food-based remnants were found, as well, including duck bones, fava beans, wine, and a paella-style dish of pork, goat, bird, fish, and snail, alongside cooking dishes, flasks, and storage vessels.

This thermopolium is thought to be one of about eighty in the Italian city, and excavation on the site began in 2019. When archaeologists discovered that the counter was still in-tact, they extended the project to uncover more of the area. Additional findings now include a small dog’s skeleton and two sets of human bones from people who were trapped when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. Although the remains were disassembled by scavengers who dug up the site in the 17th Century, there’s evidence that one of the individuals was about 50 years and lying down on a bed when the volcano buried the area.

The site is slated to open to the public in the spring of 2021 and is just one of the impressive discoveries in Pompeii during 2020. Watch the video below, which is in Italian, to see the excavation process. (via designboom)

 

 

 



Art History

New Photos from the ‘Sistine Chapel of the Ancients’ Reveal Details About Prehistoric Amazonian Life—Like a Fondness for Bungee Jumping

December 4, 2020

Grace Ebert

All images © José Iriarte, shared with permission

Who knew people have been flinging themselves into open air since ancient times? Earlier this week, we reported on a massive collection of prehistoric art deep in the Colombian Amazon, and new photographs of the findings reveal early humans bungee jumping just like modern adventurers.

Spanning nearly eight miles, the paintings date back about 12,500 years when people first arrived on the continent. Thanks to José Iriarte—who is a professor of archaeology at Exeter University and an expert on the Amazon and pre-Columbian history—we’re able to share up-close images of the terracotta-colored renderings. Scroll down to see a range of extinct animals, oversized armadillos and sloths, and group ceremonies that make up the 100,000-plus individual paintings, which will be part of a documentary titled Jungle Mystery: Lost Kingdoms of the Amazon airing this month.

Update: This article originally framed the prehistoric art as a discovery, which was inaccurate considering Colombians and Indigenous peoples have known about and studied the area for decades. Patricio von Hildebrand, Thomas van der Hammen, and Carlos Castaño-Uribe have made significant contributions, in addition to researchers at the National University of Colombia and the University of Antioquia. We regret the error and erasure.

 

 

 



Art History

'Sistine Chapel of the Ancients': A Remote Area of the Amazon Boasts Tens of Thousands of Ice-Age Paintings

December 2, 2020

Grace Ebert

All images via Marie-Claire Thomas/Wild Blue Media/Channel 4

New photographs reveal an enormous collection of prehistoric art that spreads across a nearly eight-mile-long cliff within the Amazon rainforest. Now dubbed as the “Sistine Chapel of the ancients,” tens of thousands of paintings depict humans and animals like sloths, horses, and the now-extinct palaeolama and mastodon. The latter creatures haven’t occupied regions in South America for almost 12,000 years, which has provided the British-Colombian archaeology team with a timeline for the artworks’ origins.

The collection has been known to Colombians and Indigenous peoples for decades and now will be presented as part of a Channel 4 documentary titled Jungle Mystery: Lost Kingdoms of the Amazon, which airs this month. Archaeologist Ella Al-Shamahi, who is leading the television series, told The Guardian that the site, which is located in the Serranía de la Lindosa, required a two-hour drive from San José del Guaviare and an additional four-hour trek on foot to reach. “When we entered Farc territory, it was exactly as a few of us have been screaming about for a long time,” Al-Shamahi said. “Exploration is not over. Scientific discovery is not over but the big discoveries now are going to be found in places that are disputed or hostile,” noting that Colombia has been ravaged by civil war for decades.

Because of the breadth of the paintings—some are so high on the cliff that they only can be studied with drones—these researchers believe they will take generations to study. So far, though, they’ve found traces of ochre pigments, in addition to renderings of hallucinogenic plants and depictions of people who appear to be bungee jumping.

Update: This article originally framed the prehistoric art as a discovery, which was inaccurate considering Colombians and Indigenous peoples have known about and studied the area for decades. Patricio von Hildebrand, Thomas van der Hammen, and Carlos Castaño-Uribe have made significant contributions, in addition to researchers at the National University of Colombia and the University of Antioquia. We regret the error and erasure.