Posted in design and architecture, museum, music

Listen to 2,500-year-old music brought back to life

Photograph of the original stone at Delphi con...
Photograph of the original stone at Delphi containing the second of the two hymns to Apollo. The music notation is the line of occasional symbols above the main, uninterrupted line of Greek lettering (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s old music, and then there’s oooollldd music. 2,500 years old.

Music scholars are recreating ancient Greek songs that haven’t been heard for thousands of years. The results aren’t very inspiring, but we’re finally getting a sense of what the ancients were listening to.

Recreating music is a daunting task for historians and musicologists, especially considering that formal music notation wasn’t developed until much later.

Thankfully, these researchers have some clues to go by. And this is precisely what Oxford musician and classics expert Armand D’Angour has been studying.In a recent BBC article written by D’Angour, he points out that the epics of Homer, the love-poems of Sappho, and the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripdes were all originally sung to music performed on the lyre, reed-pipes, and various percussion instruments.

“The rhythms – perhaps the most important aspect of music – are preserved in the words themselves, in the patterns of long and short syllables.”

via Listen to 2,500-year-old music brought back to life.

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Posted in design and architecture

Technology Review: Blogs: arXiv blog: The Mathematical Secret of Viking Jewelry

A long-standing puzzle over the craftsmanship behind Viking bracelets and necklaces has finally been solved–mathematically…

via Technology Review: Blogs: arXiv blog: The Mathematical Secret of Viking Jewelry.

The answer comes today thanks to the work of Kasper Olsen and Jakob Bohr at the Technical University of Denmark. They point out that two wires become maximally twisted when no more rotations can be added with deforming the double helix. They go on to demonstrate the properties of maximally twisted wires.

Posted in communication and networking, design and architecture, museum

Pictish art may have been language

Riders and horn blowers appear next to hunting dogs on what is called the Hilton of Cadboll stone, pictured here.

Thanks, once again, to Boing Boing:

How do you tell the difference between art and written language?

Oh, yeah. It’s math.

[Rob Lee] and colleagues Philip Jonathan and Pauline Ziman analyzed the engravings, found on the few hundred known Pictish Stones. The researchers used a mathematical process known as Shannon entropy to study the order, direction, randomness and other characteristics of each engraving.

The resulting data was compared with that for numerous written languages, such as Egyptian hieroglyphs, Chinese texts and written Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, Ancient Irish, Old Irish and Old Welsh. While the Pictish Stone engravings did not match any of these, they displayed characteristics of writing based on a spoken language.

There is, sadly, not a lot of detail about what specific characteristics make language stand out from decoration. I’m guessing it has something to do finding patterns in the choice of symbols, or the way symbols are oriented, or how the patterns repeat. Wish there was more though. For the record, even if this is language, nobody is even close to deciphering what it means.

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Posted in communication and networking, music

The Oldest Song in the World – Tribute

Completely written By Z of GeekDad and pasted verbatim (WITH any helpful corrections made by me; I can’t help myself, I’m an editor):

I like to think that, of all the ways to express one’s unique brand of nerdery, we music geeks are an extra special breed. Whether you’re a rabid record collector or a burgeoning singer/songwriter or just a guy who can’t sleep until he knows his iPod has been properly charged and synced, you understand that music is more than mere entertainment. It is a primal force nearly as old as humankind itself. But where exactly did it all begin?

While every armchair musicologist has his own theory – mine, for example, closely follows the narrative of Mojo Nixon’s “The Story of One Chord” – it’s a question that can never truly be answered. We have, however, identified the oldest surviving complete musical composition in existence.

Known as the Seikilos epitaph, in reference to the discovery of its lyrics and musical notation engraved on an ancient tombstone, this work dates from between 200 BC and 100 AD. Yet, despite its somber moniker, the song itself is actually quite encouraging. An English translation might read:

As long as you live, shine,
Let nothing grieve you beyond measure.
For your life is short,
and time will claim its toll.

Older surviving fragments of musical works preserved on cuneiform tablets predate the epitaph by up to two millennia, but Seikilos’s song represents our earliest record of a full composition. It sort of puts the true scope of music in perspective. And it’ll also put relativity on your side when the kids start complaining about you listening to 80s New Wave on your next road trip.

Posted in chemistry, design and architecture, electronic imaging and displays, museum

Bug glaze and other ancient pigments

Egyptian leather
Egyptian leather

The August 10th Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences was filled with science and art discoveries.

Marco Leona of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was able to analyze the color of a fragment of leather from an ancient Egyptian quiver. The discovery that the color was madder, a red dye, is the earliest evidence for the complex chemical knowledge needed to extract the dye from a plant and turn it into a pigment, Leona reports. This means that four thousand years ago Egyptians had already mastered the process of making madder.

The find is some 700 years earlier than any previously known use of madder, which became highly popular in the Middle Ages and provides many of the red shades and glazes in the work of the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer.

“Tracing the use of organic colorants offers a way to follow trade routes, identify relations among archaeological objects, detect forgeries and attribute works of art,” Leona wrote.

Leona refined a technique called Raman spectroscopy, which relies on the scattering of light to study materials. That process is not generally suitable for studying madder or some other dyes, but Leona enhanced the result using tiny metal particles that could amplify the findings and detect even very low levels of chemicals.

In addition to tracing madder, he was able to identify as kermes the red in the painting “St. John the Baptist Bearing Witness,” from the workshop of Francesco Granacci in the early 1500s in Florence, Italy. Kermes was a dye made from the bodies of insects and was common in Europe before the importation of cochineal from the New World.

And the red color in the Morgan Madonna, dated at between 1150 and 1210, turned out to be based on lac dye, which originated in Asia and may have been imported to southern Europe by Muslim traders.

This is the first documented example of lac dye in European art before the 15th century, according to Leona. He noted that this sculpture was originally housed in the French region Auvergne, which borders Provence, where commercial records from a few decades later record importation of lac. The French artist who created this wooden sculpture may have been one of the first Europeans to use Lac, an insect-derived pigment.

Art historians knew that the dark red dye, extracted from a resin that the tiny lac insect (Kerria lacca) secretes onto trees to protect itself, was popular in 15th-century Renaissance art, but the Morgan Madonna pre-dates those pieces by about 3 centuries. Leona identified the dye from a 25-micron-wide glaze sample about half the thickness of a human hair. Art historians believe that Lac may have arrived in Europe from India through North African traders.

Posted in design and architecture, electronic imaging and displays

Parthenon once pretty colors

I’m all about colors today!

From Discover Magazine, with additional info provided by yours truly:

Parthenon statueAlthough the image of the Parthenon often featured in history books and tourist brochures is stark white, a new imaging technique revealed that the ancient Greek structure wasn’t always this way. In fact, parts of the building used to be painted blue, like many other sculptures from antiquity.

Pigments remain on other ancient Greek temples, and experts have long suspected that the Parthenon, too, was once brightly colored. But two centuries of searching for minuscule flakes of paint remaining on the Parthenon yielded no results, so it was impossible to confirm that the structure was not always white. To remedy that, a researcher at the British Museum in London created an imaging technique that reveals any remnants of a commonly used ancient pigment known as Egyptian blue, which was commonly used until the year 800 A.D. To use the technique, researcher Giovanni Verri shines red light onto the marble, and any traces of paint that remain absorb the red light and emit infrared light. Viewed through an infrared camera, any parts of the marble that were once blue appear to glow [New Scientist].

Verri recently presented this work at the SPIE Europe Optical Metrology meeting, held 14-18 June.

Because only select areas on the statues and frieze light up, it lends further credence to the idea that the building was painted. Egyptian blue has shown up on the belt of Iris, Poseidon’s messenger goddess, and as a wave pattern along the back of Helios, god of the sun, who is shown rising out of the sea at dawn. It also appears as stripes on the woven mantle draped over another goddess, Dione [New Scientist].

Greek conservators have recently observed greenish flecks on remnants of the Parthenon frieze that are in Athens, but have not reported analyses of them [Nature News]. The Parthenon structures on which the blue pigment was identified are housed in the British Museum, and there is a long-running feud between the British and Greek government over which nation can claim ownership of the marble pieces. That means it might be awhile before the British Museum uses this new technique on parts of the structure that are still in Greece. Verri thinks the recently reported frieze flecks could also be Egyptian blue, and is keen to examine them with his portable detector. But he adds that as diplomatic tensions have flared up again, now might be an insensitive time to offer [Nature News].

The Parthenon today The Parthenon Today

Posted in chemistry, education, food

Archaeology brings us tasty beverages!

Actually, I have no idea if it tastes good, it just sounds cool. Imagine drinking a beverage that was also imbibed by people who lived more than 9,000 years ago (sorry kiddies, it’s an adult beverage)?

University of Pennsylvania molecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern discovered the chemical traces of this alcoholic beverage in 2005 (described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) found on pottery in the Neolithic village of Jiahu in Northern China.  Soon after the publication of his work, McGovern called on Sam Calagione at the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Del., to try and create the ancient recipe .  Called Chateau Jiahu, a blend of rice, honey and fruit was intoxicating Chinese villagers 9,000 years ago—long before grape wine had its start in Mesopotamia.

The brewery will also be bottling up the first large batch of Sah’tea for the general public—a modern update on a ninth-century Finnish beverage. Not to leave out the ancient kingdoms of Mesoamerica,

“Dogfish is also bringing back one of their more unusual forays into alcohol-infused time travel. Called Theobroma, this cocoa-based brew was hatched from a chemical analysis of 3,200-year-old pottery fragments from the Cradle of Chocolate, the Ulua Valley in Honduras. Archaeologist John Henderson at Cornell University first described the beverage in 2007 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pushing the first use of the chocolate plant back by 600 years. The next batch—made from a blend of cocoa, honey, chilies, and annatto—will be on shelves and in taps in July.”

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