When I was a child, I wanted to grow up to be many things. From policeman to paleontologist, superhero to symphony conductor, it was possible to imagine being all of these things simultaneously even though, practically speaking, such a combination of professions was always going to be impossible. For many, the abandonment of childhood dreams such as these becomes a cause for sadness and disappointment, perhaps even a source of residual bitterness throughout life, because things rarely turn out quite the way we had hoped when we were small.
Yet just because you’re never going to be something like an archaeologist – one of my other fantasy professions – doesn’t mean that your sense of wonder and excitement regarding archaeology has to be put away, left behind to collect dust in some forgotten corner of your mind. In fact, I find that as I grow older, the things which I loved as a child possessed of a very active imagination are the things which still fascinate me today. True, I may never get to find the remains of some undiscovered Egyptian tomb or what really happened to the Roanoke colonists, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t take pleasure in the efforts of those who do manage to go out and do these things.
So although this week’s news roundup is not, strictly speaking, about art, nevertheless I want to encourage you both to read these interesting stories about recent archaeological finds dating from the 1st century AD, and also to think about what it is that you have pushed to the side in your brain, as the concerns of life and work have become more pressing: perhaps they are worth rediscovering.
The English city of Bath, originally a sacred site for the Celts thanks to its hot springs and mineral-rich waters, really took off architecturally speaking when it became a Roman spa resort town known as Aquae Sulis; visitors to the spot can enjoy some of the most extensive Roman ruins in Britian, as well as a wealth of Medieval, Georgian, and Victorian architecture. Recently, a volunteer with the local archaeological society uncovered what are probably the very first mosaic floor tiles plunked down by the Romans in Bath during the 1st century AD, not long after the Emperor Claudius invaded Britain and began to establish colonies on the island. While the mosaics themselves are not particularly impressive, I think the takeaway here is about how average people, who are interested in subjects like art, history, architecture, and the like, can make a significant contribution to our understanding of these subjects. Don’t assume that you have to have a PhD in something in order to be able to make a difference.
Another group of locals, this time in Spain, have helped archaeologists recover Roman ruins from roughly the same period as the newly-discovered Bath mosaics. Last week, an unusually powerful storm revealed the remains of a long-lost Roman aqueduct in Cádiz, in southern Spain; residents out walking on the beach after the storm had passed spotted the ruins, and had the sense to immediately contact local authorities to come out and survey the discoveries. Once one of the largest engineering projects in the Roman Empire, the Aqueduct of Cádiz was built in the 1st century AD to carry fresh water from springs on the Spanish mainland across the bay to what was then an island, where present-day Cádiz was founded some 3,000 years ago, (supposedly) by the legendary Hercules. Amazingly, despite being submerged under sea water for centuries, parts of the structure are still held together by their original mortar.
Seeing Saudi Arabia
In an ongoing effort to change outside perceptions of his country, Crown Prince Mohammed of Saudi Arabia, who supposedly helped to bring about the acquisition of Leonardo’s “Salvator Mundi” for the new Louvre Abu Dhabi, may be making a fascinating archeological site more accessible to researchers and visitors. In today’s edition of The Art Newspaper, Anna Somers Cocks describes her visit to the ancient city of Hegra, modern-day Mada’in Saleh, a UNESCO World Heritage site which sits in the NW Arabian desert about 250 miles from the city of Medina. It was founded in the 1st century AD by the Nabateans, whose rich and bizarre architecture – a mixture of Greek, Roman, Persian, and other influences – will be known to you from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”: the climactic final scenes were shot in the ancient Nabatean city of Petra in modern Jordan. The Saudis want to invest in drawing more interest and visitors to the remote archaeological site, and as there are well over 100 monumental tombs which need to be fully excavated and studied, such a project would likely keep scientists occupied and tourists enthralled for decades.