Category: Art (Page 1 of 4)

Archimedes Palimpsest at Walters Art Museum

The Walters Museum in Baltimore has some leaves from the Archimedes Palimpsest on exhibit (through Jan 1, 2012). I took the kids to visit the exhibit today.

Very nice venue, and the exhibit was well laid out. While the museum is kid-friendly (they hand out satchels with crafts/activities related to the exhibit for the kids to work on), looking at “old books” didn’t hold the attention of a 5-year old for more than 30 minutes (which I thought was a lot). Granted, about 10 of those were a video presentation. Little Olivia fell asleep in her stroller…

The Archimedes Palimpsest is a Medieval parchment manuscript. The currently visible part of the manuscript is a Byzantine Prayer book, written around 1229 AD. What makes it interesting is that the parchment used for the prayer book is actually comprised of previous manuscripts from about the 10th century. The scribe in the 13th century used a knife and scraped off the older text so as to reuse the parchment for the prayer book (“Palimpsest” is from the Greek, meaning “scraped again”). You can do this with parchment (sheep skin) as it is quite durable. The previous manuscripts comprise some 7 treatises by Archimedes – and for 2 of these there was no known existing text. Now there is!

The underlying Archimedes text is revealed via a technique called “multispectral imaging”. Basically, many digital images are taken of the parchment, each at a different wavelength of light – some in the ultraviolet, invisible to the eye. These images are further processed to get the best resolution of the underlying text. Not every page of the manuscript was in great condition, so sometimes images were enhanced by using high-intensity X-rays (which would basically scatter off the iron in the older ink). All-in-all this was a very time-consuming process, not the least of which was actually dismantling the palimpsest so the imaging could be done.

Non-flash photography is allowed, so:

Archimedes Palimpsest
Normal (left) and multispectral (right) image of a leaf from the Archimedes Palimpsest. Archimedes’ hidden text shows up in red (in two columns, vertically) on the multispectral image. In the right-hand image you can make out a mathematical diagram in the bottom of the first column. Click to enlarge…

Why is the older Archimedes text perpendicular to the overlaid text? Because the previous manuscript was folded/creased, so the scribe would cut it in half for re-use, then re-fold it again after turning it.

Symposium: Dawn of the Andean Civilization

Jaguar - from adobe mural at Huaca Partida, Nepeña Valley, Peru.
Last Saturday I attended a very interesting all-day seminar in Washington, DC. The Pre-Columbian Society of Washington DC has an annual symposium at the U.S. Navy Memorial’s Naval Heritage Center. At right is the design on the symposium T-shirt. It is a feline character (I’m going to assume a jaguar) from an adobe mural at Huaca Partida, Nepeña Valley, Peru (something like > 1500 years ago). Neat.

This location is very convenient; right at the Archives Metro stop on the Green line. This year’s topic was “The Dawn of the Andean Civilization. The link above goes to the symposium website; here is a synopsis:

Chavín de Huántar, the massive ceremonial center constructed more than 3,000 years ago high in the Peruvian Andes, attests to the great antiquity of Andean civilization, but the roots of this florescence occurred at least two and possibly three millennia earlier. During this one-day symposium some of the world’s most renowned Andean scholars will present new research that challenges current notions about the genesis of Andean society. Did a singular, linear progression emanating from one early center lead to the magnificence of Chavín de Huántar and, later, the splendor of the Moche kings and the majesty of Tiwanaku? Or did the many pinnacles of achievement that make up the rich tapestry of ancient Andean culture emanate from multiple centers? Did different traditions emerge along the coast and in the highlands? In the north and in the south? Did these developments occur everywhere at the same time? This symposium will examine these and other questions, revealing a dynamic period that witnessed the first large-scale monumental architecture, large permanent settlements, intensive food production, social stratification, and widespread distribution of shared art forms and religious practices. So please join us for a day of new insights into the dawn of Andean civilization.

I really enjoyed the seminar; I have visited Peru (on my honeymoon) but that was basically to see Machu Picchu (Incan, ca. 1500 AD). This seminar focused on the northern coast of Peru (north of Machu Picchu), from about 1200 BC to 600 AD – much earlier. Prior to this series of talks, I had almost no knowledge of the Pre- Moche civilizations of the Andes so this was a very enlightening day.

Plenty of breaks, and for lunch I visited Teaism (right across the street) for a delicious “chicken curry” dish and an IPA. Then back for more talks. I’ll post a synopsis of the talks from my notes at a later time…

8:15 a.m. — REGISTRATION, Morning Refreshments
9:15 a.m. — Playing in the Dark: Archaeological Analysis and Evidence at the Dawn of Andean Civilization *Tom Dillehay
10:15 a.m. — BREAK
10:45 a.m. — Household Archaeology and the Emergence of Social Complexity at Peru’s North Central Coast: New Perspectives from the Late Preceramic Site of Bandurria, Huacho Alejandro Chu
11:35 a.m. — The Role of the Casma Valley in the Development of Early Andean Civilization Tom and Shelia Pozorski
12:25 p.m. — LUNCH
1:45 p.m. — The Settling of the Landscape: What This Meant to Formative People in the Titicaca Basin, Bolivia Christine Hastorf
2:35 p.m. — Changing Views on the Andean Formative Period: The Perspective from Chavín de Huántar John Rick
3:25 p.m. — BREAK
3:50 p.m. — The Dawn of Andean Civilization as Viewed from the Shores of Peru’s Central Coast Richard Burger and Lucy Salazar
4:50 p.m. — Panel Discussion All Speakers (Moderated by Dr. Dillehay)

Mrs. Kemble’s Tempest at Baltimore Shakespeare Festival

Last Saturday Kirsten and I went to see Mrs. Kemble’s Tempest, a play by Tom Ziegler and directed by Lee Mikeska Gardner. We absolutely loved it! This coming weekend is the final weekend. Grab tickets and go, you won’t be disappointed. It is basically a one-woman play (Kimberly Schraf plays Mrs. Kemble).

The Fascinating story of Fanny Kemble; one of the most famous actresses to grace the 19th century American stage, an early feminist, and abolitionists. This evening is her farewell tour, as her extraordinary solo performance of the Tempest interweaves with episodes from her own tempestuous life. –(from

Mrs. Kemble's Tempest

Kimberly Schraf as Mrs. Kemble in Mrs Kemble's Tempest

There is another actor (no speaking role, but very good) who plays the part of Mrs. Kemble’s onstage pianist. Ms. Schraf was just wonderful; I’m always amazed when an actor can pull off a single-person play like this. How do they ever memorize the whole shebang? Anyway, I was mesmerized by the story and the acting.

The venue itself is great – an old church (St. Mary’s in Baltimore) with good acoustics and seating.

Mrs Kemble's Tempest

Mrs Kemble's Tempest at the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival

Chautauqua Institution

Last month, our extended family had a wonderful vacation at the Chautauqua Institution, in Chautauqua, NY (upstate, western NY state). Highlights of the week were lectures by Professor Donald Johanson (pictured below signing my copy of Lucy’s Legacy), as well as:

Lucy's Legacy

Dr. Johanson

Dr. Johanson signing my copy of Lucy's Legacy

We rented a house on the grounds, and spent a week enjoying lectures, concerts, beautiful weather, and wonderful grounds. It’s like a really nice small town, gated. It’s a very family-friendly environment, and there is nice beach on the lake.

The Catholic House sponsored a couple of excellent lectures as well, and Mass was offered daily. Did I mention the weather was wonderful? We’ll be going back next year; I can see why people go back to Chautauqua religiously (no pun intended :) ).

Chautauqua 2009

Chautauqua 2009

Chautauqua 2009

Chautauqua 2009

Chautauqua 2009

Chautauqua 2009

More pictures are on the Picture page (Chautauqua)

Author roundtable with Catherine Asaro, Greg Bear, etc.

Tonight I went to a booksigning and a panel of SF authors at Reiter’s Scientific Bookstore in DC. Among the authors present were: Dr. Catherine Asaro, Greg Bear, Bud Sparhawk, Tom Purdom, Tom Ligon, Yoji Kondo (Eric Kotani), John Hemry (Jack Campbell), Charles E. Gannon, and Dr. Arlan Andrews. The roundtable discussion topic was “How Science Fiction Changes Everything” – How Science Fiction Serves the National Interest. The Washington Science Fiction Association also sponsored the event.

Catherine Asaro

Catherine Asaro

Some (all?) members of the panel are also members of SIGMA:

SIGMA is a group of science fiction writers who offer futurism consulting to the United States government and appropriate NGOs. We provide a new concept in public service “think tanks”– an association of speculative writers who have spent careers exploring the future. Many of us have earned Ph.D.s in high tech fields, and some presently hold Federal and defense industry positions. Each is an accomplished science fiction author who has postulated new technologies, new problems and new societies, explaining the possible science and speculating about the effects on the human race.

The event was mostly the panel fielding questions from the audience. I enjoyed the evening; it was quite interesting to hear the viewpoints of various SF authors, especially Bear and Asaro, as I’m a fan of both. At the signing Dr. Asaro mentioned that the cover of Alpha was her favorite. The artist was going to go with a flowing gown, but she told him, no, I’d rather look like this:

SF Authors:  Bear, Asaro, etc. Roundtable at Reiter's Bookstore

SF Authors: Bear, Asaro, etc. Roundtable at Reiter's Bookstore

Greg Bear

Greg Bear

Greg Bear

Greg Bear

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