Month: August 2016

Month: August 2016

Dashes and Alephs

Photograph of a forest on hills disappearing into fog
At least I am not claiming that I got lost in the mountains, although that is easier in Innsbruck this summer than you might think.

While troubles with my Internet connection have prevented me from posting anything substantial, this week I added a paragraph to my post on how to interpret the special characters in Latinizations of Near Eastern languages. Transliterations of Semitic names often contain dashes (<->) and alephs (<ˀ> or <‘>) and these can look a bit mysterious to the uninitated.

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Some Gargoyles in Prague

One of the original gargoyles from the Gunpowder Tower, Prague, now on display inside the attic of the tower.
One of the original gargoyles from the Gunpowder Tower, Prague, now on display inside the attic of the tower.

Because the Scholarly Skater has not been able to post for a few weeks, the supply of gargoyles on the Internet has been in decline. It is a little known fact that just as gargoyles in the real world channel away water away from flooding or dissolving the building to places where it can be used for irrigation and other useful purposes, gargoyles on the Internet channel spam and trolls so that instead of clogging the tubes they are safely redirected to a server farm in California where they keep spies and PhDs in Physics harmlessly busy. This week, I thought I would step in and fill the gap.

Although Prague is not known for its ancient history, I have some Achaemenid content at the end of this post.

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A Bronze-Age Solution

I was recently in Prague on the way back from a visit to another city, and in their National Gallery I noticed this:

A cord-and-wax seal on a door in the National Gallery, Prague.  Photo by Sean Manning, August 2016.
A cord-and-wax seal on a door in the National Gallery, Prague. Photo by Sean Manning, August 2016.

Art galleries in big old buildings often need to keep people from going un-noticed into areas which are not on public display, without blocking the connection completely. I saw the same solution at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg:

A cord-and-wax seal in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg.  Photo by Sean Manning, September 2015.
A cord-and-wax seal in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg. Photo by Sean Manning, September 2015.

But I knew it of old, because when I was growing up I had a book on Tutankhamun’s tomb which showed the cord-and-wax seal to the door of the shrine around his sarcophagus. The mourners who sealed Tut’s tomb added a special knot in the cord which thieves might find difficult to forge, but he was Pharaoh after all.

Photo by Harry Burton (1922) courtesy of the National Geographic Society and rarehistoricalphotos.com

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An Armoured Horseman on a Sasanid Bulla

Clay bulla of a rider on an armoured horse in style of 6th or 7th century CE (late Sasanid period).  "Returned from the USA" to the National Archaeological Museum, Tehran.
Clay bulla of a rider on an armoured horse in style of 6th or 7th century CE (late Sasanid period). “Returned from the USA” to the National Archaeological Museum, Tehran.

In the national archaeological musuem in Tehran were a cluster of a dozen or so clay bullae: hanging attachments to a skin or papyrus document which could take a seal. The name is medieval, but the technique is much older. These ones come from the Sasanid period (6th or 7th century CE), and I suspect that they turned up on the art market or in a private collection and the Iranian government was able to show that they had left the country without permission. Several of them show armed men riding armoured horses.

Unfortunately, I had very limited time to take photos of the whole museum, and I do not have a polarizing filter for my camera to reduce glare from the case. The photo above is my best, but I have include several other legible photos below the fold. All are of the same bulla, but there were one or two others with armed men on them which I was not successful in photographing.

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The Forces of Madness Make a Classic Blunder

Components of a quilted doublet spread on the floor showing that one breast has blue cloth on the inside and one has brown there
The four modules of the doublet, laid with their ‘right’ side facing the ground and their ‘wrong’ side facing the camera. Something is wrong with this picture.

While getting involved in a land war in Asia and going in against a Sicilian when death is on the line are classic blunders, most scholars agree that quilting a garment before you have made sure that you really have one right and one left breast is a good one too. Fortunately, that is a mistake which just costs time and thread to fix.

Solution below the fold.
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