Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Lost European Culture, Pulled From Obscurity

A Lost European Culture, Pulled From Obscurity

By John Noble Wilford - New York Times - November 30, 2009 - [see above link for images]

Before the glory that was Greece and Rome, even before the first cities of Mesopotamia or temples along the Nile, there lived in the Lower Danube Valley and the Balkan foothills people who were ahead of their time in art, technology and long-distance trade.

For 1,500 years, starting earlier than 5000 B.C., they farmed and built sizable towns, a few with as many as 2,000 dwellings. They mastered large-scale copper smelting, the new technology of the age. Their graves held an impressive array of exquisite headdresses and necklaces and, in one cemetery, the earliest major assemblage of gold artifacts to be found anywhere in the world.

The striking designs of their pottery speak of the refinement of the culture’s visual language. Until recent discoveries, the most intriguing artifacts were the ubiquitous terracotta “goddess” figurines, originally interpreted as evidence of the spiritual and political power of women in society.

New research, archaeologists and historians say, has broadened understanding of this long overlooked culture, which seemed to have approached the threshold of “civilization” status. Writing had yet to be invented, and so no one knows what the people called themselves. To some scholars, the people and the region are simply Old Europe.

The little-known culture is being rescued from obscurity in an exhibition, “The Lost World of Old Europe: the Danube Valley, 5000-3500 B.C.,” which opened last month at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University. More than 250 artifacts from museums in Bulgaria, Moldova and Romania are on display for the first time in the United States. The show will run through April 25.

At its peak, around 4500 B.C., said David W. Anthony, the exhibition’s guest curator, “Old Europe was among the most sophisticated and technologically advanced places in the world” and was developing “many of the political, technological and ideological signs of civilization.”

Dr. Anthony is a professor of anthropology at Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y., and author of “The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World.” Historians suggest that the arrival in southeastern Europe of people from the steppes may have contributed to the collapse of the Old Europe culture by 3500 B.C.

At the exhibition preview, Roger S. Bagnall, director of the institute, confessed that until now “a great many archaeologists had not heard of these Old Europe cultures.” Admiring the colorful ceramics, Dr. Bagnall, a specialist in Egyptian archaeology, remarked that at the time “Egyptians were certainly not making pottery like this.”

A show catalog, published by Princeton University Press, is the first compendium in English of research on Old Europe discoveries. The book, edited by Dr. Anthony, with Jennifer Y. Chi, the institute’s associate director for exhibitions, includes essays by experts from Britain, France, Germany, the United States and the countries where the culture existed.

Dr. Chi said the exhibition reflected the institute’s interest in studying the relationships of well-known cultures and the “underappreciated ones.”

Although excavations over the last century uncovered traces of ancient settlements and the goddess figurines, it was not until local archaeologists in 1972 discovered a large fifth-millennium B.C. cemetery at Varna, Bulgaria, that they began to suspect these were not poor people living in unstructured egalitarian societies. Even then, confined in cold war isolation behind the Iron Curtain, Bulgarians and Romanians were unable to spread their knowledge to the West.

The story now emerging is of pioneer farmers after about 6200 B.C. moving north into Old Europe from Greece and Macedonia, bringing wheat and barley seeds and domesticated cattle and sheep. They established colonies along the Black Sea and in the river plains and hills, and these evolved into related but somewhat distinct cultures, archaeologists have learned. The settlements maintained close contact through networks of trade in copper and gold and also shared patterns of ceramics.

The Spondylus shell from the Aegean Sea was a special item of trade. Perhaps the shells, used in pendants and bracelets, were symbols of their Aegean ancestors. Other scholars view such long-distance acquisitions as being motivated in part by ideology in which goods are not commodities in the modern sense but rather “valuables,” symbols of status and recognition.

Noting the diffusion of these shells at this time, Michel Louis Seferiades, an anthropologist at the National Center for Scientific Research in France, suspects “the objects were part of a halo of mysteries, an ensemble of beliefs and myths.”

In any event, Dr. Seferiades wrote in the exhibition catalog that the prevalence of the shells suggested the culture had links to “a network of access routes and a social framework of elaborate exchange systems — including bartering, gift exchange and reciprocity.”

Over a wide area of what is now Bulgaria and Romania, the people settled into villages of single- and multiroom houses crowded inside palisades. The houses, some with two stories, were framed in wood with clay-plaster walls and beaten-earth floors. For some reason, the people liked making fired clay models of multilevel dwellings, examples of which are exhibited.

A few towns of the Cucuteni people, a later and apparently robust culture in the north of Old Europe, grew to more than 800 acres, which archaeologists consider larger than any other known human settlements at the time. But excavations have yet to turn up definitive evidence of palaces, temples or large civic buildings. Archaeologists concluded that rituals of belief seemed to be practiced in the homes, where cultic artifacts have been found.

The household pottery decorated in diverse, complex styles suggested the practice of elaborate at-home dining rituals. Huge serving bowls on stands were typical of the culture’s “socializing of food presentation,” Dr. Chi said.

At first, the absence of elite architecture led scholars to assume that Old Europe had little or no hierarchical power structure. This was dispelled by the graves in the Varna cemetery. For two decades after 1972, archaeologists found 310 graves dated to about 4500 B.C. Dr. Anthony said this was “the best evidence for the existence of a clearly distinct upper social and political rank.”

Vladimir Slavchev, a curator at the Varna Regional Museum of History, said the “richness and variety of the Varna grave gifts was a surprise,” even to the Bulgarian archaeologist Ivan Ivanov, who directed the discoveries. “Varna is the oldest cemetery yet found where humans were buried with golden ornaments,” Dr. Slavchev said.

More than 3,000 pieces of gold were found in 62 of the graves, along with copper weapons and tools, and ornaments, necklaces and bracelets of the prized Aegean shells. “The concentration of imported prestige objects in a distinct minority of graves suggest that institutionalized higher ranks did exist,” exhibition curators noted in a text panel accompanying the Varna gold.

Yet it is puzzling that the elite seemed not to indulge in private lives of excess. “The people who donned gold costumes for public events while they were alive,” Dr. Anthony wrote, “went home to fairly ordinary houses.”

Copper, not gold, may have been the main source of Old Europe’s economic success, Dr. Anthony said. As copper smelting developed about 5400 B.C., the Old Europe cultures tapped abundant ores in Bulgaria and what is now Serbia and learned the high-heat technique of extracting pure metallic copper.

Smelted copper, cast as axes, hammered into knife blades and coiled in bracelets, became valuable exports. Old Europe copper pieces have been found in graves along the Volga River, 1,200 miles east of Bulgaria. Archaeologists have recovered more than five tons of pieces from Old Europe sites.

An entire gallery is devoted to the figurines, the more familiar and provocative of the culture’s treasures. They have been found in virtually every Old Europe culture and in several contexts: in graves, house shrines and other possibly “religious spaces.”

One of the best known is the fired clay figure of a seated man, his shoulders bent and hands to his face in apparent contemplation. Called the “Thinker,” the piece and a comparable female figurine were found in a cemetery of the Hamangia culture, in Romania. Were they thinking, or mourning?

Many of the figurines represent women in stylized abstraction, with truncated or elongated bodies and heaping breasts and expansive hips. The explicit sexuality of these figurines invites interpretations relating to earthly and human fertility.

An arresting set of 21 small female figurines, seated in a circle, was found at a pre-Cucuteni village site in northeastern Romania. “It is not difficult to imagine,” said Douglass W. Bailey of San Francisco State University, the Old Europe people “arranging sets of seated figurines into one or several groups of miniature activities, perhaps with the smaller figurines at the feet or even on the laps of the larger, seated ones.”

Others imagined the figurines as the “Council of Goddesses.” In her influential books three decades ago, Marija Gimbutas, an anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, offered these and other so-called Venus figurines as representatives of divinities in cults to a Mother Goddess that reigned in prehistoric Europe.

Although the late Dr. Gimbutas still has an ardent following, many scholars hew to more conservative, nondivine explanations. The power of the objects, Dr. Bailey said, was not in any specific reference to the divine, but in “a shared understanding of group identity.”

As Dr. Bailey wrote in the exhibition catalog, the figurines should perhaps be defined only in terms of their actual appearance: miniature, representational depictions of the human form. He thus “assumed (as is justified by our knowledge of human evolution) that the ability to make, use and understand symbolic objects such as figurines is an ability that is shared by all modern humans and thus is a capability that connects you, me, Neolithic men, women and children, and the Paleolithic painters in caves.”

Or else the “Thinker,” for instance, is the image of you, me, the archaeologists and historians confronted and perplexed by a “lost” culture in southeastern Europe that had quite a go with life back before a single word was written or a wheel turned.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Chasing the new 2010 Ferrari 458

Chasing the new 2010 Ferrari 458 Italia! Incredible sound!

From the video description by jorrie2:

Jorrik records the very first Ferrari 458 Italia in the Netherlands!! It just arrived yesterday morning!

We drove on a highway in the Netherlands when a Ferrari 348 past us, so we decided to follow it and we came out at Kroymans (Ferrari/Aston Martin/Maserati) in Hilversum. In the garage we saw this great Ferrari 458 Italia, we waited half an hour and than it came out for a little testride! Please watch the whole vid, at the end can you see how incredible fast this new Ferrari is!
Please rate and leave a comment about the vid or about the car :)

Thanks for watching.



Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Giada De Laurentiis

From Wikipedia -- Giada Pamela De Laurentiis: Born August 22, 1970) is an Italian American chef, writer, television personality, and the host of the current Food Network program Giada at Home. She also appears regularly as a contributor and guest co-host on NBC's Today. De Laurentiis is the founder of the catering business GDL Foods.

You probably have at least seen Giada De Laurentiis, if you have cable tv, probably on the Food Network. Also on many other media and commericial endeavors. Her biography is very interesting, and you can read the rest of it on the above link. She is the granddaughter of the famous Italian film producer Dino De Laurentiis, and has other famous people in her family tree. Since we consider most of Latium and the South Tyrol as being sort've "honorary Padanians," we would consider her as our folk. Although she has some Neapolitan roots (De Laurentiis). It's also interesting that she was born in Rome and grew up in Southern California.

She cooks and gives instruction on her program, 'Giada at Home', with such enthusiasm that someone created one of those virtue posters for her. It's not a bubbly enthusiasm as much as it's a manifestation of super-positive energy. She has reached a point where she is a "celebrity," close to famous.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Italian Swiss Colony reopens as Asti Winery

I had put a lot of the history of the Italian Swiss Colony on an old website, but may have lost it. We'll have to start posting some of that history. Several years ago the winery reopened under the name Asti Winery.

From the video description:

Located on the original property of Asti Winery, located in Northern Sonoma County, Cellar No. 8 pays tribute to the propertys rich history. You might know Asti Winery as the once-famed "Italian Swiss Colony," founded in 1881 by Andrea Sbarboro, who formed an entire community, with other Italian and Swiss immigrants, around the art of winemaking. They focused on using time-honored methods and techniques from the 'Old Country.

In the 1960's, the Italian Swiss Colony was the second largest tourist attraction in California, next to Disneyland. In fact, there are many stories of friends who visited this historic winery as children, whose parents had made Asti Winery a regular vacation destination in Northern California. This was a grand place in its day, which hosted many parties for the California elite, including top government officials.

The Asti Winery has always been a working winery, but only recently reopened its doors to the public as home to Cellar No. 8. Paul Rydquist, Winemaker for Cellar No. 8, prides himself on using traditional winemaking techniques, and handcrafting rich, complex wines from carefully chosen vineyards, making wines in a way that Andrea Sbarboro would approve.

Cellar No. 8 wines are rich in flavor, approachable and affordable. With two different labels and price points, there is something for every palate and pocket. The White Label produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, priced at $10 and is readily available at liquor stores and grocery outlets. The Black Label ranges in price from $15-$25 and can be found at the winery or at Cellar 360 in San Francisco cellar360.com

Cellar No. 8 invites you to visit them at their beautiful historic location and taste a part of California history in their wines. They offer tours daily and encourage you to enjoy a picnic on the beautiful grounds overlooking the scenic palm trees and hills. What better place to escape?

YouTube channel fatbellytraveler



Monday, December 20, 2010

The origin of the Christmas tree

Where did the Christmas tree come from? (from Yahoo Answers)

Where did the idea originate?

The origin of the Christmas tree is obscured by uncertainties of oral histories of pre-literate European cultures. For example, according to Christian lore, the Christmas tree is associated with St Boniface and the German town of Geismar. Sometime in St Boniface's lifetime (c. 672-754) he cut down the tree of Thor in order to disprove the legitimacy of the Norse gods to the local German tribe. St. Boniface saw a fir tree growing in the roots of the old oak. Taking this as a sign of the Christian faith, he said "...let Christ be at the center of your households..." using the fir tree as a symbol of Christianity.

The tradition of the Christmas tree as it is today known is fairly young. It was established by Martin Luther as a Protestant counterpart to the Catholic Nativity scene. Luther established the Christmas tree as a symbol of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden.

The custom of erecting a Christmas Tree can be historically traced to 15th century Livonia (present-day Estonia and Latvia) and 16th century Northern Germany. According to the first documented uses of a Christmas tree in Estonia, in 1441, 1442, and 1514 the Brotherhood of the Blackheads erected a tree for the holidays in their brotherhood house in Reval (now Tallinn). At the last night of the celebrations leading up to the holidays, the tree was taken to the Town Hall Square where the members of the brotherhood danced around it.

In 1584, the pastor and chronicler Balthasar Russow wrote of an established tradition of setting up a decorated spruce at the market square where the young men “went with a flock of maidens and women, first sang and danced there and then set the tree aflame”. In that period, the guilds started erecting Christmas trees in front of their guildhalls: Ingeborg Weber-Kellermann (Marburg professor of European ethnology) found a Bremen guild chronicle of 1570 which reports how a small tree was decorated with "apples, nuts, dates, pretzels and paper flowers" and erected in the guild-house, for the benefit of the guild members' children, who collected the dainties on Christmas Day.

Christmas tree (Wikipedia)


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Riots erupt after Berlusconi survives no-confidence vote

Whenever the subject of Italian politics comes up, it's enough to make one want to close their eyes and shake their head. Our only genuine interest is the founding of a Northern Nation. A spiritual pursuit. An Israel for OUR people, no more, no less. Although we're expected to support Berlusconi, what we really need is a nation state, not a right wing party. Left and right politics have been a disaster there for at least a century, and will not provide the outcome that we want. Now with European bankers running the show through the EU, the odds are stacked against us. In other words, behind the scenes bankers like Lord Carrington, or unelected bureaucrats like Javier Solana, can decide the fate of other peoples.

The politic of the day is fabianism, which in short is far far right economics mixed with far far left socialism. In other words, monopoly capitalism and finance (not free market capitalism) married to social marxism. They make a good pair. The plutocrats at the top, and the sheep at the bottom, forming a symbiotic-globalist status quo. We have the exact same thing in the United States, so it would be highly hypocritical for either side to point the finger at the other.

Throwing Berlusconi out on his ear in favor of someone on the left would be the same as going from Bush to Obama. Just two arms of the same globalist monster, all backed by the same money.

Riots erupt after Berlusconi survives no-confidence vote

Italian premier tarnished by gaffes, sex scandals is left with razor-thin majority

MSNBC.com News Services - December 14, 2010

ROME — Premier Silvio Berlusconi won back-to-back confidence votes Tuesday in the Italian parliament, narrowly surviving one of the toughest fights of his political life. But violent protests greeted his victory, as rioters torched cars, smashed windows and clashed with police.

Riot police fired tear gas to try to disperse the crowds in Rome after earlier trying to cordon off the area around parliament. Clouds of white tear gas and orange flares engulfed some streets, shops full of Christmas goods hurriedly closed down and employees at one bank cowered in fear as waves of stone-throwing youths swept by.

Protesters rampaged in the the area around parliament and Berlusconi's residence, which had been cordoned off by heavy police presence. By sundown, almost 100 people, both protesters and police, were reported injured, including about two dozen hospitalized. About 40 were reportedly taken into police custody.

The chaos followed speculation in recent weeks that the end of the Berlusconi era was near.

Weakened by sex scandals and a bitter breakup with his one-time closest ally, Berlusconi seemed destined to be sent packing. The split with Gianfranco Fini had eroded the premier's once comfortable parliamentary majority and left him vulnerable in the lower house.

But Berlusconi battled back, as he has countless times when his political career seemed to be on the ropes. Tuesday's drama confirmed his status as the ultimate political survivor — but he emerges from the battle severely weakened and one top opposition lawmaker called his success a "Pyrrhic victory."
Newsweek: No-confidence vote will cripple Berlusconi

In the most dramatic and closest of the two tests, Berlusconi survived the no-confidence motion in the lower house by just three votes. Scuffles between lawmakers forced a brief suspension in the voting session.

Earlier in the day, Berlusconi had secured a more comfortable victory in a confidence vote at the Senate.

The vote's slim margin means Berlusconi can no longer count on a secure parliamentary majority for passing legislation. Some experts predict he might resign in upcoming weeks, a move that could lead to early elections, which he hopes to win again.

But Berlusconi has repeatedly defied the skeptics, shrugging off a string of gaffes and scandals to win three elections and transform Italy's political landscape since gaining power for the first time in 1994.

The opposition is too splintered and there are no possible challengers among Berlusconi's allies, according to Richard Bellamy, a political-science professor at University College London.

"He survived many times and I doubt that, even if he loses in the lower house, that will be his end," Bellamy said in a telephone interview. "The challenge is whether there is a credible coalition opposition, as Berlusconi has always benefited from the inability of the center left to win."

Berlusconi triumphed in the upper house, where he has a majority, by 162 to 135, Senate Speaker Renato Schifani said.

An intensive campaign of lobbying and persuasion appears to have won over enough deputies to give Berlusconi a chance of survival; many commentators had estimated the government was likely to have just have the numbers to scrape through.

In speeches to parliament Monday, Berlusconi battled back against his critics and outlined why lawmakers should support his government.

'Continuing with change'

"Today what's at stake isn't the future of the prime minister," Berlusconi said, smiling, as opposition members jeered. "Today, what's in play is the choice between continuing with change or restoring old ways."

He offered to negotiate a new legislative agenda that would allow the government to survive until parliamentary elections are held in 2013. He promised to change the membership of his Cabinet to give government positions to those who support him in the votes.

And he argued that his government had successfully protected Italy from becoming engulfed by the eurozone's debt crisis.

"The last thing Italy needs is a political crisis," Berlusconi said, as his close ally Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern League, sat next to him.

Berlusconi's government has generally won praise for its reaction to the global financial crisis, steadfastly directed by Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti and including a rigorous austerity package.

Italy has a high public debt level, and recently faced renewed economic threats. But it is still widely viewed as low-risk due to the low level of private debt, a relatively sound banking system, and experience in dealing with high public debt levels.

"If your concern over Italy's difficult situation is honest and real, then the only possible way forward is renewing confidence in my government," Berlusconi said. Such a vote, he said, "will be proof of realism and political wisdom."

Berlusconi also defended his friendship with Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin following revelations that the U.S. diplomats were uneasy about the premier's close relationship with Moscow.

He dismissed suggestions that he had personally benefited from business deals between Italian and Russian companies, saying that "not one dollar ... has been put or will ever be put in my pocket."

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Was there an Etruscan Book of the Dead?

In the 1998 movie entitled 'The Eighteenth Angel', the fictional plot revolved around something called "The Etruscan Book of the Dead." However, was this based on ancient reality? Certainly we know that there was the Egyptian "Book of the Dead." Google shows 703 results for an exact search for "Etruscan Book of the Dead," but still, the evidence seems to be lacking. We do know that the plot in 'The Eighteenth Angel' was at least partly based on fiction, as it portrayed the book as having something to do with Satan. Satan was a Christian concept, and would not have been present in ancient Etruria.

One possible answer may be hinted at in the book 'Marcus Aurelius: A Life' (McLynn; 2009). According to the book, the former Emperor of Rome enjoyed talking about local wines and the "Etruscan book of the dead" (in lower case). Therefore, this lowercase "book of the dead" possibly could be merely a nickname for the 'Etrusca Disciplina'. To quote Wikipedia's "Etruscan mythology" page: The Etruscan religion was a revealed one. Its scriptures were a corpus of Etruscan texts termed the Etrusca Disciplina.

According to the Romans, who had vanquished the Etruscans long before, "Etruria" was a dead culture. The early Romans had destroyed virtually everything Etruscan, including its spiritual traditions, therefore, the later generations of Romans would have looked back to the pre-Roman period in the region as mysterious. "The dead." Maybe someone out there could give us a little help here, but it appears that this explanation makes sense.

To quote the MysteriousEtruscans.com Etruscan Religion page:

The disciplina etrusca seems to have comprised three categories of books of fate. The first was that of the libri haruspicini, which dealt with divination from the livers of sacrificed animals; the second, the libri fulgurates, on the interpretation of thunder and lightning; the third, the libri rituales, which covered a variety of matters. They contained, as Festus says, "prescriptions concerning the founding of cities, the consecration of altars and temples, the inviolability of ramparts, the laws relating to city gates, the division into tribes, curiae and centuriae, the constitution and organization of armies, and all other things of this nature concerning war and peace.

Among the libri rituales were also three further categories: the libri fatales, on the division of time and the life-span of individuals and peoples; the libri Acherontici, on the world beyond the grave and the rituals for salvation; and finally, the ostentaria, which gave rules for interpreting signs and portents and laid down the propitiatory and expiatory acts needed to obviate disaster and to placate the gods.

The "Etrucan book of the dead" is probably just a nickname for the 'Disciplina Etrusca' and its "books of fate."