archaeologist

Photo Credit: Jack DuFon | Daily Texan Staff

Textiles from ancient Italy provide insight into the complexity of ancient societal rituals, such as weddings and funerals, and shed surprising light on the role of women in Etruscan society, according to archaeologist Gretchen Meyers.

Meyers, who spoke Tuesday at the Art Building, said the three main materials she focused on in her archaeological excavations were textiles, textile tools and visual representations that depicted women in Etruscan society. She said she focused her study on Poggio Colla, an Etruscan archaeological site in Vicchio, Italy.

“Cloth, whether we can consider that worn or draped over something, can communicate a great deal of information,” Meyers said.

The Etruscans were an ancient civilization that lived around the eighth century B.C. in Italy, before the Romans came to power. Many historians believe some of the characteristics of Rome’s government originated in Etruria.

Meyers showed several images of Estruscan artifacts, including a scene of several figures working on a giant textile loom carved in a wooden chair. She said the scene reveals that textiles were more than just a domestic hobby or craft but rather a public display that required intricate and large equipment to perform.

“There are examples on the visual record in the early part of the Etrsucan period that [show] they are taking time to represent women making textiles,” Meyers said. “Not just for a domestic use, but for a ceremonial purpose or function.”

Meyers showed further examples of excavated artifacts from Poggio Colla, such as cloth, ceramic visuals and a sarcophagus lid that showed images of textile production on a large scale. She said the Etruscans are known for portraying “transitions of life” moments such as weddings and funerals.

Classics graduate student Zachary Leh said Meyers’ research on gender in the Etruscan period explores an area that is not commonly talked about in her field of study.

“I think a lot of people who look into classics fail to consider … some things like gender inequality and sexuality,” Leh said. “But [Meyers] is really digging into what is happening with gender during this time period.”

Michael Thomas, director for the Center for the Study of Ancient Italy, said most archeological evidence supports the standard view of women as domesticated textile artisans, but Meyers’ evidence proves otherwise.  

“Textiles can be indicative than something greater than this accepted role of women in the ancient world,” Thomas said. “Textile production isn’t just this thing that’s happening in a house. … These [productions] may have been put on display as symbols of wealth and status.”

Archaeologist Steve Bourget presented findings on campus Saturday from his work in northern Peru and said different civilizations can be connected based on the designs found in medallions and ceramics.

Bourget said he and his team spent a lot of their time at Huaca el Pueblo, where they found a lot of similarities in artifacts to those of the old lord of Sipan, which were uncovered at another site.

“We were blessed enough to find the tomb of a high-ranking individual and we excavated this in 2008,” Bourget said. “The tomb was extremely rich. It took us four years of restoration to restore everything in the tomb.”

Inside the tomb, Bourget said his team found a collection of 11 diadems and 10 crowns, along with ceramic beads and other pottery. According to Bourget, the two individuals in the tombs could have known each other, but there is no evidence of that. Bourget said these two would have lived during the same generation, which could possibly be why they had similar styles.

During this time in Peru, Bourget said he found more information and ties between Huaca el Pueblo and another site, Dos Cabezas. Bourget said the sites provided insight to the calendar systems used by the people.

“During earlier time … they built their calendar right in front of the Huaca and then during the middle when things change — there was a new political administration at Dos Cabezas — this guy decided to build a bigger temple 600 meters from the site and there make a very impressive calendar.”

Bourget said the civilization could have operated under a lunisolar calendar, marking the date by both the phase of the moon and the solstices.

Ellie Brady, a local who attended Bourget’s lecture, said she was interested in how many calendars each civilization had and how they spread the information about the calendars to others.

“All the math that’s involved with archaeology was really cool … and the digging that you have to do,” Brady said.

Maline Werness-Rude, UT alum and a former student of Bourget’s, attended the lecture and said she really enjoyed hearing about the alignments between the different sites.

“I think that he’s fairly convincing so far on the setup of the calendar structure … then also showing the exact parallels between the alignments I thought was really demonstrative of parallels in social structure,” Werness-Rude said. 

JERUSALEM — Israel’s national museum said Tuesday it will open what it calls the world’s first exhibition devoted to the architectural legacy of biblical King Herod, the Jewish proxy monarch who ruled Jerusalem and the Holy Land under Roman occupation two millennia ago.

The display includes the reconstructed tomb and sarcophagus of one of antiquity’s most notable and despised figures, curators say.

Modern-day politics are intruding into this ancient find. Palestinians object to the showing of artifacts found in the West Bank. The Israeli museum insists it will return the finds once the
exhibit closes.

About 30 tons of artifacts — including hundreds of tiny shattered shards pieced back together — are going on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem in a nine-month exhibition opening Feb. 12.

Museum director James Snyder said the exhibit, “Herod the Great,” is the museum’s largest and most expensive archaeological project to date.

“It’s a name that’s always on everyone’s lips,” Snyder said, “And yet there has never been an exhibit devoted to his material.”

Herod was vilified in the New Testament as a bloodthirsty tyrant who massacred Bethlehem’s male children to try to prevent the prophesied birth of Jesus. He is also said to have murdered his wife and sons.

Herod was also revered for his ambitious building projects, including his lavish desert palaces and an expansion of the Second Jewish Temple complex in Jerusalem. The Western Wall, today the holiest site where Jews are permitted to pray, was a retaining wall for the compound.

Herod’s final grandiose project was to prepare for death. Curators believe Herod constructed an extravagant, 80-foot-high tomb. Israeli archaeologist Ehud Netzer spent 35 years of his career searching for it.

In 2007, Netzer drew international attention when he announced he had found what he believed was the tomb at the Herodion, the ruler’s winter palace, located on a cone-like hill that still today juts out prominently in the barren landscape of the Judean Desert, near the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

In 2008, the archaeologist approached the Israel Museum about creating an exhibit that would display artifacts from one of the greatest finds of his career. While surveying the Herodion site with museum staff, Netzer fell to his death. Museum staff pushed forward with planning the exhibit.

In 2011, the museum used a crane to remove dozens of half-ton columns and the roof of what Netzer identified as the top floor of Herod’s tomb, which he thought held his sarcophagus. Each stone was affixed with an electronic chip so it could be more easily put back together at the
Israel Museum.

Three sarcophagi were found at the site, and curators believe one was Herod’s. Although it bears no inscription, it is made of a special reddish stone, found smashed into hundreds of pieces. The Jewish zealots who took over the Herodion after Herod’s death likely smashed the sarcophagus to pieces, destroying the symbol of a man who worked with the empire they were rebelling against, curators said.

“It’s not 100 percent. But archaeology is never about 100 percent,” said co-curator Dudi Mevorah. “The circumstantial evidence points to one man.” The sarcophagus will also be on display.

Archaeologist Joe Zias, who did not participate in the excavation or the exhibition, said he believes the tomb was likely that of Herod.

“It’s a monumental tomb out in the middle of nowhere in a place he built for himself,” Zias said. “It’s as authentic as one could ask for.”

The museum exhibit also features a reconstructed throne room from one of Herod’s palaces in Jericho, and a full-sized replica of Herod’s theater viewing room at the Herodion, incorporating detailed fresco wall paintings and other decorative elements that museum staff collected on site.

There are still pieces of the puzzle left to assemble. At the museum’s lab Tuesday, workers were still rushing to fit together all the small stucco wall lining pieces found to display in the exhibit. One fresco wall painting, found in tiny fragments, has taken two and a half years to reassemble.

The museum’s exhibit is almost entirely made up of finds from the West Bank — a point of contention with the Palestinians.