Monday, 24 February 2020

Pandora's box

Pandora's box is connected with the myth of Pandora in Hesiod's 'Works and Days'. The container in the original story was a large storage jar but the word was later mistranslated as "box".

When Prometheus stole fire from heaven, Zeus took vengeance by presenting Pandora to Prometheus' brother Epimetheus. Pandora opened a jar left in his care containing sickness, death and other evils which were released into the world.
Though Pandora tried to close the jar, only one thing was left behind – usually translated as Hope.

From this story has grown the idiom "to open a Pandora's box", meaning to do some small act that will cause great and unforeseen harm.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

The curse of Pompeii

Most tourists who visit Pompeii every year leave with nothing but memories. Some take away a little extra – pieces of Pompeii. Many of those who have slipped a piece of one the world’s most important archaeological sites into their pockets have come to regret it.

Tourists who take relics from the ruined Roman town have been returning them to the site, claiming they are cursed.
One man wrote from Latin America saying that he and his entire family had experienced “trauma after trauma” after he took a piece of stone from Pompeii.

Massimo Osanna, Pompeii’s archaeological superintendent, said he had received up to a hundred packages from across the world in recent years containing items from the site, often with letters explaining the objects had brought bad luck.
The “curse of Pompeii” says the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 was punishment of the gods after legionaries destroyed holy buildings.

“At a certain point, people started believing in this story again,” said Osanna. “Even proper thieves have returned things to us.”

Thursday, 20 February 2020

The Bactrian Treasure - Hill of Gold - Tillya Tepe

The Bactrian Treasure is a massive gold hoard that lay under the 'Hill of Gold' in Afghanistan, known as Bactria when Alexander the Great conquered the country 2100 years ago.

The hoard is a spectacular collection of about 20,600 gold ornaments found in six burial mounds just beyond the oasis town of Sheberghan in northern Afghanistan.

This is the treasure of Tillya Tepe, the Hill of Gold.

The treasure lay undisturbed until Soviet archeologists exposed it shortly before the 1979 invasion. Soon after the discovery, a guerrilla war against the Soviet occupation began, followed by civil war.

During those years the treasure was kept in the Kabul Museum, which has since been looted. The day before the Russians fled Kabul in February 1989, the treasure was moved to the presidential compound, the safest place in the capital.

Gold stater of the Greco-Bactrian king Eucratides, Weight: 169.2 gm., Diam: 58 mm., the largest gold coin of antiquity.

The treasure remained safe due to the efforts of one man: Mr. Ameruddin Askarzai, a security guard of the central bank who has been guardian of the vaults for 30 years. He is one of the few people in history to have seen the entire collection of gold objects. "It's the best heritage of our country," he said.

Mr Askerzai helped to seal the treasure in seven trunks and guarded it along with the assets of the central bank - gold bars the "size of your arm" worth about £50 million - also kept in the presidential palace. The real threat to the treasure came when the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996. A delegation of 10 mullahs arrived with a jeweller to inspect the vaults. A pistol held against his head, he opened the combination lock so they could inspect the gold bars.
They had found the second prize, but did not realize the real treasure was in a vault above their heads. The Taliban asked if there was any other gold, but Mr Askerzai remained silent. He was imprisoned for three months and 17 days, during which he was beaten and tortured, but he did not reveal anything. "I wasn't scared," he said. "I didn't care for my life. They were foreigners. They were not Afghans."

On the Taliban's last night in power, as coalition forces pounded the country with bombs, the Taliban stuffed the central bank's cash reserves into tin trunks and arrived at the vault for the gold bars. They spent four hours trying to open the vault. Mr Askerzai watched. Unknown to them, five years earlier he had broken the key and left it in the lock. The Taliban gave up and fled Kabul as Northern Alliance forces edged closer. That saved the treasure.
In 2003 the vault was opened. Since then, the National Geographic Society has catalogued the collection, which appears to be complete. Also witnessing the re-opening was the archaeologist who originally found the hoard, Viktor Sarianidi.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

The Boscoreale Treasure

Skeleton cups of the Boscoreale Treasure The Boscoreale Treasure is a large collection of exquisite silver and gold Roman objects discovered in the ruins of an ancient villa at Boscoreale, near Pompeii. It consists of over a hundred pieces of silver, as well as gold coins and jewellery.

Among those who escaped Mt. Vesuvius was the owner of Villa Pisanella, a popular wine producing villa. It's believed that the owner was Lucius Caecilius Iucundus, a wealthy merchant and banker who was the son of a freed slave.
In 1895, 109 gold and silver plates and hundreds of gold aurei were found.
The coins were stored in an empty cistern in the wine cellar. With a general exchange rate of one aureus as pay for one month of work, it is a significant sum.

The coins are known as “Boscoreale” aurei because of the distinctive toning found on many of them. Gold itself is inert, but when made into coins, it is alloyed with small amounts of silver and copper which are susceptible to toning.
Over the 1,800 years that the coins spent buried beneath the ash and pumice from Vesuvius, some examples developed significant toning.

Monday, 17 February 2020

Chinese Porcelain Vase found in a shoebox sells for $19 Million

In 2018 an 18th century Chinese vase found in a shoebox in an attic and forgotten for decades was sold in France for 16.2 million euros ($19 million) at auction in Paris. The price was more than 20 times the estimate Sotheby's had put on the item. It was the highest price reached for a single item sold by Sotheby's in France.

The 30 cm, bulb-shaped vase, painted in delicate shades of green, blue, yellow and purple, was described as an exceptionally well-preserved porcelain vessel made for an emperor of the Qing dynasty. The vase bears a mark of the Qianlong Emperor who ruled China from 1736 to 1796.