Monday, June 14, 2021

Early thoughts on Peter Riley’s Excavations (2004)


Cover of the book by Peter Riley, Excavations.

The first hundred poems in Peter Riley's Excavations are meditations on prehistoric burials described by J.R. Mortimer in Forty Years’ Researches in British and Saxon Burial Mounds in East Yorkshire (1905); text in italics is mostly verbatim citation of Mortimer’s reports.

It’s impossible to read without wanting to contort one’s body into the positions of the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age deceased described within—preferably with a compass in hand, pointing one’s head north-northeast and facing south-southeast, toward imagined origins. Conceivable too the desire to dislocate one’s jaw to gorge on repasts prepared for eternity:

39.                                                                                                          40

Speech cancelled into music the lower jaw removed and placed, intact, on the chest, teeth down. A small pottery vessel was inserted in its place, touching the palate; its contents included the bones of a small animal. And Lockd me up with a golden Key Head to South facing upwards, legs flexed and turned to West young and slender left hand thrust into groin, right arm across chest two yellow quartz pebbles rounded with use just beyond the fingers of the right hand, beside the left ear | sun pitch, clay star, black blade fracture – speechless with horror. Bite my heart, three-personed sky, and I’ll earn a living, out in the streets and bars of earth. And spend into the whole astrology, at speech’s vigilant reprieve.

Of course the dead, famously, do not bury themselves, nor indeed do their interrers typically write about the process—“Distance joins us by the third person” (n. 6).

Each piece tends toward the opaque on its own; much like prehistoric tumuli themselves, and archaeological phenomena in general, it is in the aggregate that the mass of poems really begin to speak, with their repeated chalk pavements, their curated dismemberment, flint-blade prosthetics and lost eyes. Riley curates the bones of the past, defleshed and capaci—both capacious and capable of—creative reappropriation, laid out with grave goods (“food, rubbish, the usual suspects,” n. 11) in tableaux morts.

So far the first hundred, previously published as Distant Points in 1995, are better than the new set, which follow William Greenwell’s 1877 British Barrows.

Monday, March 30, 2020

An ancient Latin-Gaulish bilingual inscription from Umbria

Having recently (but not that recently, y’know) visited the Vatican Museums, just a quick visit with a friend who was in town, to see the Raphael tapestries hanging in the Sistine Chapel, I realized that I hadn’t been in years and years. It was always a bit of a pain, with the lines stretching down the street and around the corner, and over the past decade or so, it’s become so that there’s not much of an off-season for tourism in Italy. But January and February are better months, in any case, and as I snapped some photos along the way, I made plans to return and spend more time.

I hadn’t been to the Museo Gregoriano Etrusco in probably a decade—it seems they’ve renovated it since then, and I definitely need to spend a day or two in there, once that becomes possible again. Of course, for an ‘Etruscan’ museum, there are an awful lot of Greek pots in there—as you probably know, if you’re a classical archaeologist, and maybe not if you’re not, most of the whole Athenian ‘vases’ we see in books and museums (or, let’s be honest, on the internet) were found in Etruscan tombs. But that’s another story.

One of the non-Greek, non-Etruscan, non-ceramic things that caught my eye was a stone stele, inscribed on both sides, that was found at Todi in the central Italian region of Umbria. It’s a fascinating artifact. It bears inscriptions in both Latin and Gaulish, the language of the Gauls, who lived most famously in what’s now France, but also across northern Italy and nearby regions. Having both languages on a single stone is already pretty unusual—J. N. Adams, who wrote an 800-page book on Bilingualism and the Latin Language, collects exactly two Latin-Gaulish bilingual inscriptions from Italy, one from Vercelli in the north, and this one from Todi. What’s even more unusual about this one is that both sides of the stele bear versions of the text in both languages—so there is both a Latin and a Gaulish text on each side.

The texts in the two languages record the same information in pretty similar ways, on both sides. It’s clear that this is a grave monument, set up in memory of Ategnatus/Ateknatos, the son of Drutos, by his brother Coisos. These are very much Gaulish names, not Latin or Umbrian. What were the Gauls Ategnatus and Coisos doing in Umbria in the later 2nd century BCE (it’s difficult to say when exactly this inscription was carved, but the letter forms and Latin spelling suggest a time between the mid-2nd and mid-1st century BCE)? Umbria by that point was under Roman control, but we know that people moved around for all sorts of reasons, much as they do today, and there weren’t any border controls or passport checks—or passports. We don’t have enough information to be able to say in this case, though to judge from the shape of the letters used in the Gaulish inscriptions, they probably came from Cisalpine Gaul.

On both sides the Latin text comes first, likely an acknowledgement of the political and social realities of the Umbrian context in the 2nd century BCE, but there are reasons to think that the author(s) of the text spoke Latin as a second language. There are a few differences between the two sides, however. On side A the writing is much more deeply cut into the stone, and the shape of the letters differs, to the extent that we can imagine a different scribe working on each side, though inscribing in both languages. The way the words are arranged on the lines also differs, as does the spelling of one of the Latin case-endings. On side A, the Latin genitive Drutei ends in the older form -ei, on side B, in -i (Druti), which is the standard Latin second-declension genitive in most of the Latin that survives.

A major difference between the two sides occurs in the Gaulish texts, where the object(s) that Coisos set up for his brother Ategnatus is/are named differently: in A, he set up artuaš, in B, lokan. The equivalent Latin texts would help us understand the difference, but unfortunately the top part of the stone is broken and the words in question are lost. Artuaš is accusative plural, the object of the verb karnitu ‘set up’/‘establish’ (which is translated by Latin locavit et statuit), and might refer to stones marking the boundaries of the burial monument, or the inscription(s) themselves, as Poccetti has suggested. Lokan, accusative singular, perhaps the burial chamber—but many questions remain open.

An interesting difference between the texts in the two languages is that the Latin specifies that Coisos was Ategnatus’ little brother: frater eius minimus. This detail is absent from the Gaulish texts, however. The meaning of Ateknatos can’t be determined with certainty, but one of the possibilities is ‘Firstborn’ and Poccetti suggests that a Gaulish speaker would have inferred the relationship between the brothers without the need to spell it out on the stone.

More could be (and has been) said about this stele, but I’ll leave it there for now; may pick up the question of locavit statuitque vs. karnitu soon... Some bibliography can be found at the Lexicon Leponticum website at the University of Vienna; Paolo Poccetti’s “L'inscription bilingue gallo-latine deTodi et les enjeux de la traduction” has also been very helpful.

Friday, June 03, 2016


Congratulations to Katherine McDonald, whose always interesting blog has just passed its first birthday. Katherine’s description of the benefits of blogging (interesting things happen! new ideas! feedback! it’s enjoyable!) got me thinking about the blog I used to write.

Tria Corda will turn 11 years old in a few months, but it’s far from being a continuous operation. It was born in autumn of 2005, following my graduation from Penn with a B.A. in Classical Studies and my embarking on an overseas adventure, beginning in Italy but with aspirations to end up in Turkey teaching English. I began, “I’m in the midst of some downtime between my summer employment and the first two weeks of the rest of my life, so I thought I'd start a blog,” but I set expectations low: “Sporadic Italic blogging is all that can be expected.” At the time, I was enamored of what I called the “grey area” of ancient Italy, the non-Roman non-Greek (and sometimes non-Etruscan) blob in the center of the peninsula.

With high spirits I updated a few times a month time in Italy, excavating, traveling, visiting museums, shepherding, and picking olives (I never did make it to Turkey that go round). The pace dropped off rapidly after returning to the States in December 2005, studying German, and taking up a job with David Romano at the Archaeological Mapping Lab (in those days still the Corinth Computer Project, and still at the Penn Museum). I wrote only three posts in 2006, two of them really the tail end of the 2005 season, and one in early December as on update on work. If I wasn’t traveling, I didn’t have as much to say, and I imagine the job kept me busy enough.

Another year went by, until December 2007, when, I wrote, “The recent construction of the Ancient World Bloggers Group in a day has spurred (or rather goaded, in this pre-spur age) me into thinking about a return to blogging.” The first post was a schedule of papers dealing with Italic matters, as I understood them, at the 2008 AIA/APA joint annual meeting in Chicago. This marked the start of a relative flurry of posts during 2008, mostly collating news of discoveries or conferences having to do with pre-Roman Italy (the excavation of Byzantine tombs merited notice because they were found in Molise, where I’d worked). Sometimes I attempted to contextualize a bit; others were bare notices. I also occasionally commented, naively and needlessly pugnaciously, on some of the AIA papers I'd seen.

One of the two posts of 2007 was rather important, however, in signalling a change in my engagement with digital classics. At the end of December 2007 I noted that I’d joined the photo-sharing site flickr; my first uploads were mainly of photos from Italy in 2005, and skewed heavily toward the related subjects of epigraphy and spolia. Since then, although my use of Tria Corda dwindled and then ceased, I have been continually posting photos on flickr, with a much wider range of subjects. (I don’t have an editorial policy, as it were, but I’ve thought about it from time to time).

In 2009 I continued at a similar pace, but began posting more news of Italian archaeology generally, not just the pre-Roman period, especially when it hadn’t yet hit the Anglophone news. In September of that year, I started grad school, and noted “I'm more or less settled in here at Michigan; now that I've got enough work to need distracting from, blogging will continue...” The pace of posts fell off in 2010 and 2011, as course work and exams took up more of my time, and writing began to feel more like a chore. 2012 saw a slight uptick in posts, before a sudden cessation in July, initiating a silence that hasn’t been broken since (aside from a gratuitous Genucilia photo). 

In September of 2012 I began a year as a regular member of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Besides having very little time for blogging and living very much present in the moment, I felt like a lapsed Italianist. Over the past few years, I’d developed a strong interest in the Greek Early Iron Age, which grew out of fieldwork at Mt. Lykaion and a couple of seminars at Michigan my first year there. My potential dissertation topics had very little or nothing to do with matters Italic. I was still very interested in Italy, but it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind.
And, in the meantime, the way that people got their news underwent several changes. Feed-readers came (and went), and the facebook feed (and/or twitter feed) became a primary medium for news—at the news came in ever larger volumes. Blogs didn’t disappear, but they were no longer the prima acies of the Classical internet (See, for example, Sebastian Heath’s last post, or Tom Goskar on Past Past Thinking). Some blogs did disappear, of course; of the 35 listed on Tria Corda’s blogroll, some 10 are either dead links or haven’t had new posts in several years.

Now I’ve become an Italianist again, though not so much an Italicist proper, as I’m working on a dissertation treating the Republican phases of the Roman sanctuary of Fortuna and Mater Matuta in Rome’s Forum Boarium.

So much by way of bringing things up to speed (I could go into more detail, but I suspect it would be purely for my own, questionable, benefit); in the next post—which I intend to write before another four years have gone by—I’ll mull over possible future directions. 

Friday, July 06, 2012

Coin collector busted

silver tetradrachms
A surgeon from Rhode Island--who had ties to RISD and Harvard--pleaded guilty to attempting to sell what he believed to be three silver tetradrachms looted from Sicily. He was secretly recorded saying, "I know this is a fresh coin. This was dug up a few years ago." The coins have since been examined and determined to be "exquisite, extraordinary forgeries, but forgeries nonetheless."
[Seattle Times; more background at Chasing Aphrodite]

Photo by flickr user Cåsbr; used under CC BY 2.0 license.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Gabii 2012

The 2012 season of excavation at Gabii has begun; you can follow the progress on the official dig blog, Lapis Gabinus; on the student blog, Ager Gabinus; on Facebook; and on Twitter.

You can also check out the Gabii team's contribution to the Day of Archaeology 2012.

Beyond Vagnari: new themes in the study of south Italy in the Roman period

International colloquium, University of Edinburgh, 26-28 October 2012
The School of History, Classics and Archaeology is pleased to host an international colloquium on the study of south Italy in the Roman period that will bring together leading archaeologists and historians of ancient Lucania, Apulia and Bruttium. The conference will take place in Edinburgh on 26-28 October 2012.

Following the publication of the excavations at Vagnari by Prof. Alastair Small, an honorary research fellow in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology, the workshop is intended to explore further the historical development of south Italy in Roman imperial times.

Confirmed speakers and chairs include Maureen Carroll (Sheffield), Marcella Chelotti (Bari), Amanda Claridge (RHUL), Michael Crawford (UCL), Helga di Giuseppe (Rome), Lisa Fentress (Rome), Helena Fracchia (Alberta), Maurizio Gualtieri (Perugia), Edward Herring (Galway), Philip Kenrick (Oxford), Maria Luisa Marchi (Foggia), Myles McCallum (Halifax), Tracy Prowse (McMaster), Nicholas Purcell (Oxford), Pasquale Rosafio (Lecce), Christopher Smith (Rome), Hans VanderLeest (Mount Allison), Domenico Vera (Parma), Giuliano Volpe (Foggia), and Douwe Yntema (Amsterdam).

Beyond Vagnari introduction; program and Call for Posters (due 1 September) here.

South Italy, Sicily and the Mediterranean: Cultural Interactions Conference

17th - 21st July 2012
La Trobe University
Melbourne, Australia
This conference will focus on the movement of people and interactions of culture in the Mediterranean region of Southern Italy and Sicily from antiquity until the present. The program will include exhibitions at the Hellenic Museum and the Museo Italiano of ancient Greek vases from Southern Italy and Sicily as well as other pieces from the collection of the Trendall Research Centre...

This inter-disciplinary conference seeks to foster critical analysis of geographical and chronological interconnections in Southern Italy and Sicily. Consideration of cultural interaction, population movements, and changing religious and philosophical ideas over a period of approximately 3000 years will prompt scholarly discussion around continuity and change over time in this region of the Mediterranean.

Program and abstracts available via the conference website. [I note that La Trobe has a TARDIS: Teaching Archaeological Research Discipline In Simulation.]

[Via rogueclassicism and the Classicists list]

Friday, June 29, 2012

Quaternary International 267

A pile of articles on the Early and Middle Pleistocene in Italy in the latest volume of Quaternary International (Volume 267, 26 July 2012):

Santangelo et al., "Palaeolandscapes of Southern Apennines during the late Early and the Middle Pleistocene," 20–29.

Bellucci et al., "The site of Coste San Giacomo (Early Pleistocene, central Italy): Palaeoenvironmental analysis and biochronological overview," 30–39.

Pavia et al., "Stratigraphical and palaeontological data from the Early Pleistocene Pirro 10 site of Pirro Nord (Puglia, south eastern Italy)," 40–55.

Arzarello et al., "Evidence of an Early Pleistocene hominin presence at Pirro Nord (Apricena, Foggia, southern Italy): P13 site," 56–61.

Mancini et al., "Coupling basin infill history and mammal biochronology in a Pleistocene intramontane basin: The case of western L’Aquila Basin (central Apennines, Italy)," 62–77.

Martínez-Navarro et al., "First occurrence of Soergelia (Ovibovini, Bovidae, Mammalia) in the Early Pleistocene of Italy," 98–102.

Sardella and Petrucci, "The earliest Middle Pleistocene Crocuta crocuta (Erxleben, 1777) at Casal Selce (Rome, Italy)," 103–110.