Benvenuti in queste pagine dedicate all'archeologia. Amelia Carolina Sparavigna

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Caligula's Floating Palaces

"Caligula was a man of many passions, and he indulged nearly all of them, including his passions for chariot racing, theatrical performances, gladiatorial games, and ships. During his brief rule from A.D. 37 to 41, he had two enormous ships--a sailing ship and an oared galley--built and anchored on Lake Nemi as pleasure craft. Pillaged and deliberately sunk later in the first century, they were recovered in a feat of engineering sponsored by Benito Mussolini in the 1930s, but destroyed during a German retreat in 1944."  http://www.archaeology.org/0205/abstracts/caligula.html

Here an interesting description, written by Colonel Maceroni, in 1838.

A very singular piece of antiquity exists in the lake of Nemi, of which I have never seen any mention made by travellers. On the north-east side of the lake, in about forty feet water, lie the ruins of a large floating palace constructed by the Emperor Claudius or by Nero (in fact, Caligula). The lakes of Albano and Nemi are the craters of extinct volcanos, from which, at the time when they were covered by the sea, has proceeded all that vast quantity of tuffo and puzzolana which covers the Campagna di Roma. The high, steep banks of these circular lakes, covered with most beautiful trees and villas, cause one side of the water below to be constantly sheltered from the wind. Hence a floating habitation will give the choice of shade and shelter, or sunshine as the season may require. The way in which I became acquainted with this sunken palace was quite accidental. Being one evening in my punt about to lay some eel lines, the fisherman whom I employed told me, that the best place in that vicinity was "about the old palace". I stared and looked about. "What palace?" said I. I see plenty of houses and cottages, and ruins, on the hills around, but they are not even quite at the water's edge. My man rejoined : "I mean about the wooden palace under water in which the Emperor Claudius used to live." Delighted and excited by this announcement more than I should have been by the capture of a thousand eels as big as the mast of a ship, I hastened to the spot, but the declining sun had sunk below the high crater wood-clothed margin of the lake, and looking down into the limpid waters, all seemed dark and blue, and nothing could be seen but the hills and trees, and my own anxious physiognomy reflected in the watery mirror. However, I laid my lines, the hooks being baited with the thighs of frogs, and next morning I found fourteen eels, all about a pound a piece, and some of three pounds weight. Moreover, a brilliant sunshine enabled me to see the sunken palace, which appeared to be about one hundred feet square and fifteen to twenty feet high. How did I then regret not having the command of a diving-bell! What most curious and precious objects of antiquity might not be found in the interior of this construction? But this discovery I must leave to some future traveller, who may have the means of causing a diving-bell to be constructed at Rome, and know how to use it. As for myself, I mentioned the discovery to General Miolis, the imperial locum tenens, or Governor of Rome, and also to the learned antiquary, Mr. Norviuse de Monbreton, but nothing was done.


Museo in 3D

Dettaglio di una scultura indiana, da vedere in 3D con gli occhialini rosso/ciano.
Museo Arte Orientale

Archimedes's steam cannon

A steam cannon is a cannon where projectiles are launched by steam. The first steam cannon was designed by Archimedes during the Siege of Syracuse. Leonardo da Vinci was also known to have designed one. The device is metal tube, which would be placed in a furnace: one end of the tube is closed and the other loaded with a projectile. Once the tube reached a high enough temperature, a small amount of water in injected in behind the projectile. Leonardo da Vinci guessed that the water would rapidly expand into vapour, blasting the projectile out the front of the barrel.
See how the ArchiMITes cannon is working: http://web.mit.edu/2.009/www//experiments/steamCannon/ArchimedesSteamCannon.html

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Antikythera mechanism

Il meccanismo è un "antichissimo calcolatore per il calendario solare e lunare, le cui ruote dentate potevano riprodurre il rapporto di 254:19 necessario a ricostruire il moto della Luna in rapporto al Sole (la Luna compie 254 rivoluzioni siderali ogni 19 anni solari). L'estrema complessità del congegno era inoltre dovuta al fatto che tale rapporto veniva riprodotto tramite l'utilizzo di una ventina di ruote dentate e di un differenziale, un meccanismo che permetteva di ottenere una rotazione di velocità pari alla somma o alla differenza di due rotazioni date. Il suo scopo era quello di mostrare, oltre ai mesi lunari siderali, anche le lunazioni, ottenute dalla sottrazione del moto solare al moto lunare siderale.Sulla base della sua ricerca, Price concluse che, contrariamente a quanto si era creduto in precedenza, nella Grecia del II secolo a.C. esisteva effettivamente una tradizione di altissima tecnologia." More http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macchina_di_Anticitera and also, a longer discussion, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antikythera_mechanism

I have prepared the following image, using a picture after enhancement and a schematic view, both from Wiki. 


Antikythera is a Greek island. It is known for being the location of the discovery of the Antikythera mechanism and for the Antikythera wreck, a shipwreck from the 1st or 2nd century BC. It was discovered by sponge divers in the early 1900s. The wreck produced numerous statues and a mechanism, considered as the world's oldest known analog computer.
In October 1900, a team of sponge divers led by Captain Dimitrios Kondos began diving off the coastline of Antikythera island. At that time, divers wore as diving equipment a canvas suit and copper helmet, which allowed them to dive deeper and to stay submerged longer. "The first to lay eyes on the shipwreck 60 metres down was Elias Stadiatos, who quickly signaled to be pulled to the surface. He described the scene as a heap of rotting corpses and horses lying on the sea bed. Thinking the diver had gone mad from too much carbon dioxide in his helmet, Kondos himself dove into the water, soon returning with a bronze arm of a statue." more Wiki.
On 17 May 1902, archaeologist Valerios Stais made the most celebrated find. He was diving to search the area of the wreck and noticed that one of the pieces of rock near him had a gear wheel embedded in it. He found what is now known as the "Antikythera mechanism".

Crystal skull

Small crystal skull, a few centimeters, Palazzo Madama, Torino

Sunday, 9 January 2011


Garamantes lived in fertile areas of Sahara, corresponding to the southwestern Libya, which had not always been a desert. In a period lasting from about 10,000 to 6,000 before current era, the country was like a savanna, with some perennial lakes. During the sixth millennium, several great droughts forced people to abandon the region. The lakes disappeared, leaving large fields of salt, one of the main articles of future Garamantian trade.
more http://www.livius.org/ga-gh/garamantes/garamantes.html

Ivory from the melting permafrost

Trade in the ivory from the tusks of dead mammoths has occurred for 300 years and continues to be legal. Mammoth ivory is rare and costly, because mammoths have been extinct for millennia: in fact this trade does not threaten any living species. However, this uncontrolled extraction of mammoth remains from the melting Siberian permafrost is a problem. fromWiki
From a NY Times item:"There's a kind of discomfort when you're a scientist and you see something that could have scientific value being carved up and destroyed," Haynes said. "But this is the trade-off," he added. "I see the businessman's arguments, too. Mammoths are already extinct and people need an economy." In addition, the Russian government examines the tusks to make sure none bearing disease, prehistoric human markings or other scientifically valuable elements are exported.

Ramses II, Museo Egizio Torino


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

- Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1818

Testa osiriaca danneggiata

"Uno dei pezzi esibiti alla mostra di antichità del Museo Egizio di Torino a Shizuoka (Giappone), durante i lavori di imballo/trasporto, ha subito un grave danno. Si tratta della testa osiriaca che era a suo tempo stata riparata con l'aggiunta di una corona bianca, non sua. Viva preoccupazione degli Egittologi italiani."

Egyptian Museum, Torino
This head has been damaged during the packaging after an exhibition in Japan

Thera and the biblical plagues

Thera, a volcano in the Mediterranean sea, produced with its explosion around 3,500 year ago, one of the biggest cataclysms in the human history. The remains of Thera are the Mediterranean islands of Santorini, north of Crete. As we can read from an article of Telegraph, the volcanic ash of eruption could have clashed with thunderstorms above Egypt, producing severe hail storms (one of the biblical plagues).
According to Prof.Trevisanato, a Canadian biologist, another plague, the locusts, could be explained by the volcanic fall out from the ash. The ash fall out caused weather anomalies, which produced higher precipitations and humidity, fostering the presence of the locusts. The volcanic ash could also have caused the plague of darkness. In fact, pumice stones have been found during excavations of Egyptian ruins despite there not being any volcanoes in Egypt.
Very interesting article.

Museo Egizio, wood and faience

Wood and faience objects at the Egyptian Museum

Isis and Harpocrates

In late Greek mythology as developed in Ptolemaic Alexandria, Harpocrates is the god of silence, adapted from the Egyptian child god Horus. To the ancient Egyptians, Horus represented the new-born Sun, rising each day at dawn. When the Greeks conquered Egypt under Alexander the Great, they transformed the Egyptian Horus into their Hellenistic god known as Harpocrates, a rendering from Egyptian Har-pa-khered or Heru-pa-khered (meaning "Har, the Child"). Horus was conceived by Isis, the mother goddess, from Osiris, the original god-king of Egypt, who had been murdered by his brother Set. Among the Egyptians the full-grown Horus was considered the victorious god of the Sun who each day overcomes darkness. In this way Harpocrates, the child Horus, personifies the newborn sun each day, the first strength of the winter sun, and also the image of early vegetation. Egyptian statues represent the child Horus, pictured as a naked boy with his finger on his mouth, a realization of the hieroglyph for "child" , or with the mother Isis.
From Wiki

Isis and the child Harpocrates - Museo Egizio