Friday, October 19, 2018
Despite being one of the most intensely studied civilizations, ancient Egypt still has its secrets. Today, however, there’s one fewer mystery.
A team of multidisciplinary researchers has established the first absolute chronology for pre-Dynastic Egypt, upending previous theories about the pace of the state’s development. The prehistoric Egyptians, a nomadic, pastoral society, transformed into a formal state with an apparently divine ruler much more quickly than earlier studies suggested, according to findings published today, in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A.
Clues in the Clay
Archeologists had previously established a relative chronology (one whose dates are relative to one another, rather than absolute) based on the evolution of pottery styles typically found at funerary sites. The radiocarbon dating method they used offered an important, if imprecise, timeline with limited context about broader cultural trends. It estimated the Naqada period, which marked the transition away from an unorganized society, to have begun around 4000 BCE and the date of the foundation of the Egyptian state as ranging from 3400 to 2900 BCE.
Researchers were eager to narrow that 500 year range, however, to solidify the relationship between the rise of the world’s first formal state, the advent of a system of writing and widespread adaptation of intensive agricultural practices, all of which seem to have developed in Egypt around the same time.
Analyzing Ancient Egypt
The new approach combined archeological data and radiocarbon dating with statistical modeling. Using 186 radiocarbon-dated samples from museum collections and the field, the team applied Bayesian analysis, which models probabilities based on logical beliefs. For example, when testing a sample that included charcoal remains, researchers assumed that the tree from which the charcoal was derived was older than the sample itself logically, it would have to be, since a tree could not grow, be felled, burned and its charcoal used all at once. Additional modeling, based on other reliably-dated samples, was applied to refine the results.
Using this more precise, multidisciplinary method to create the absolute chronology, researchers established that the Naqada Period began 3800-3700 BCE, about 300 years later than previously theorized, while the Egyptian state’s foundation dates to 3100-3050 BCE, earlier than many estimates. The new timeline means the period of organization from a pastoral society to the world’s first formal state was only 600-700 years.
Although the rapidity of the state’s formation is itself of interest, the team’s establishment of an absolute chronology will also allow greater accuracy and depth of understanding in future research on the Pre-Dynastic period.
Pictures of Ancient Egypt
Thursday, October 18, 2018
The phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” was coined by American newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane in 1911. It’s a simple notion that applies to many aspects of our lives, but especially to historical photography. Sometimes, one simple picture can tell you more about history than any story you might read or any document you might analyze.
These photographs all tell stories about the historical figures or events that they represent. Once taken simply to document their present, they now help us witness the past. Many photographs only become iconic shots years later, once we understand their importance and historical context. From historical landmarks and famous people to the basic daily routines of the past, these pictures portray the past in a way that we can empathize with and understand more intimately.
Perhaps the wars, poverty, fights for freedom and little miracles of the past have lessons for us that we can use today?
Wildlife Picture of the Year
It turns out they are watching a big barney between members of their troop.
This image of apparent serenity versus commotion is the overall winner of the 2018 Wildlife Photograph of the Year competition, announced at a gala dinner at London's Natural History Museum. The picture was taken by Marsel van Oosten in China's Qinling Mountains.
The Dutchman had to follow the troop for many days to understand the animals' dynamics and predict their behavior. His goal was to show in one shot the beautiful hair on a male snub-nosed monkey's back, and the creature's blue face. Marsel's perseverance eventually paid off with this exquisite composition that includes a smaller female behind.
The photographer told BBC News he was "shocked and honored" to receive the award. "I am happy that it is with this particular image because it is an endangered species and one that very few people even know exists and it is important that we realize that there are a lot of species on this planet that are under threat.
"It is not only rhinos, tigers and polar bears; and these kind of species deserve a lot more attention and all the protection they can get."
The image is not showy or shocking as WPY winners sometimes are. But there is something enthralling there that pulls you in, says Roz Kidman Cox, the chair of the competition's judges.
"As we were going through the entries, we just kept coming back to this one," she recalls. "It's almost like a stage set. I think what makes it are the colors and the lighting.
"These monkeys normally feed in the trees, but somehow Marsel's managed to catch them on the ground, and he's carefully thrown a very gentle flash on to the scene to illuminate that amazing fur."
Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Neil Jenney is a contemporary American painter known for his “Bad Paintings” of the 1960's and early 1970's. Works such as Sawn and Saw (1969) and Girl and Doll (1969) were a reaction to Minimalism and aesthetic taste, with their purposeful rejection of painterly skill and diagrammatic subject matter. “Ivan Karp was showing photo realists with (Leo) Castelli, and then he opened up his own gallery and got guys like Richard Estes and Duane Hansen. I felt like it was just second generation Pop - pretty but a stale idea,” he has explained. “So I told a friend it would be better to have a good idea and do it terrible!”
Born in 1945 in Torrington, Connecticut, U.S.A., he attended the Massachusetts College of Art in 1964 before moving to New York two years later. Originally producing sculptural works, Jenney reacted to the tides of both Pop Art and Minimalism with his brushy paintings of fallen trees, white fences, and other deadpan subjects which often hint at environmental destruction. The artist’s reputation largely fell from public discourse while he continued to evolve as a painter, producing works he refers to as “Good Paintings.”
These works, such as Meltdown Morning (1975), instead adopted the sensitivity to light found in the Luminist paintings of John Fredrick Kensett. Jenney currently lives and works in New York City, New York State, U.S.A. Today, the artist’s works are held in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., among other.
Art by Neil Jenney