Monday, April 20, 2015

The art of Cloisonné enamel jewellery

The Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi has a small exhibition, from 23 December 2013 to 30 April 2015, on the making of a piece of Cloisonne enamel jewellery, called Revival of Lost Technologies - Cloisonne Enamel. The main item on exhibit is the cloisonné enamel medallion of Saint Simon the Apostle – it is a copy from the Khakhuli Triptych Icon of the All-Holy Mother of God. Accompanying the exhibition is a brief documentary (a few minutes long). The metalworking profession originated in the 2nd century AD and continued until the middle of the 15th century, when the techniques were no longer used.

The gold ornaments with cloisonné inlays of almandine and coloured glass plaques were found in the graves of nobility from the Kingdom of Kartli (Iberia). The gold ring, circa 4th century AD, with cloisonné enamel is from the Armaziskhevi Necropolis, grave No. 13, which represents the earliest examples of cloisonné enamel jewellery in Georgia. The bronze buckle, circa 3nd century AD, has chamleve enamel, and was found in grave No. 1.

Led by Ermile Maghradze, the project called In the Footsteps of Lost Technologies-Cloisonne Enamel, initiated by the Georgian National Museum, was financed by UNESCO. The project involved the study of the technological processes in the metalwork. All tools required to make cloisonné enamel were reconstructed. 

During the archaeological digs in 1966 in the former town of Vani, a conical iron hood with apertures was found. The function of the ‘Colchian hood’ proved to be a tool for goldsmithing, specifically for soldering precious metals. 

The culmination of the project was the making of a copy of a cloisonné enamel medallion of Saint Simon, using the reconstructed anciet tools.

Georgian ancient arms and weaponry exhibition

The Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi is holding an exhibition on Georgian weaponry. Various ancient arms and weaponry exhibits from the 17th to the 20th century are on display. These include sabres, daggers, guns, pistols, catapults (woven slings), shields, and cannons – both offensive and defensive weapons.

The exhibition focuses on the Georgian and Caucasian manufacturing technologies, as well as weaponry that belonged to previous kings and lords in the region.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Dmanisi hominin fossils in Georgia: human skeletons

At the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi is an exhibit of the Dmanisi hominin (human) fossils. Dmanisi is a region in southern Georgia, and is the most productive early paleolithic archeological site in the world. To date it has produced five individual human skeletons from over 60 cranial (skull) and post-cranial remains. The five individuals are sub-adult, adult, and an older adult.

The Dmanisi hominin fossils share similar morphological traits with early human fossils from Africa, such as the more forward projecting face and U-shaped jaw. The Dmanisi hominin fossils were fully bipedal (standing on two legs).

One of the Dmanisi hominin fossils is a toothless skull and mandible of an old adult. It is thought that he or she lived for several years without teeth before the person died. The person could only eat food that did not require heavy chewing. This edentulous person raises interesting questions about social structures, such as whether the person relied on others in the community for procuring or processing food, or whether he/she only ate soft plants or animal parts. It is the earliest known specimen of a severe masticatory (chewing) impairment in hominin fossil records.

The Dmanisi human fossils date back to about 1.8 million years, and are dubbed Homo Georgicus.

First selfie?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Ali and Nino by Kurban Said: book review

Ali and Nino (1937, English version 2000), is set in Baku, Azerbaijan, from 1914-1920, during the First World War, and the short-lived (23-month) Azerbaijan independence from 1918-1920. It ends with the Russian “re-conquest” in 1920.

The novel is heavily influenced by war, but it is also about love. A statue in Batumi, Georgia, commemorates the love of Ali and Nino. Created by Tamar Kvesitadze, it is seven meters high, of steel and lights, and every ten minutes the figures move toward each other and merge as one. The author’s identity, through the use of a pseudonym, was speculative for 30 years, adding another layer to the book’s fascination.

Azerbaijan is between Europe and the Asiatic – the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. Its boundaries include the Caspian Sea to the east, Georgia and Turkey to the northwest, Armenia to the west, Russia to the north, and Iran to the south.

It is in Baku that the story commences. Ali Khan Shirvanshir is an 18-year-old Muslim madly in love with Nino Kipiani, an almost 17-year-old Christian from an illustrious Georgian family, living the “English way.” He has just finished his exams and it is summer holidays. The Kipiani family are going to Shusha in Karabakh. For graduation, Ali Khan’s father has granted his son three wishes. For the first wish, Ali Khan asks to spend the summer holiday in Shusha, alone, so that he can spend time with Nino. His wish is granted.

They discuss getting married when she graduates from school the following year. Already they ask questions about the future – will Ali Khan expect Nino to wear a veil, and what religion will their children have?

Karabakh (now in Armenia) was the bridge between the Caucasian countries Iran and Turkey, part of the Elisabethpol Governorate administration of Russia. While on holiday, the First World War was declared, and they rush back to Baku. Azerbaijan men were great warriors, but Ali Khan did not want to go to war. He wanted to stay in Baku and marry Nino. For his second wish, Ali Khan requests that he draws his sword when he wants to. His wish is granted, but to his father, Ali Khan was “sitting on the carpet of cowardice.”

To marry, the parents of both sides must consent. Ali Khan’s father consents, but Nino must first finish school and Ali Khan must “not let her bring the foreign faith into our home.” Nino’s father suggests that they wait until the war ends. Ali Khan cannot wait to marry Nino. Consequently his friend, Melik Nachararyan, an Armenian and member of the noblest family in Karabakh, negotiates with both families until they agree – he has “changed fate.”

A year later, with school examinations passed, they travel to Tiflis (Tbilisi), the capital of Georgia, to arrange their wedding. With war still raging, Georgia was “in between two claws of a pair of red-hot tongs. If the Germans win—it’s the end of the land of Tamar. If the Russians win—what then?” Nachararyan steps in to save Nino from the war – he professes his love for her, saying he will take her to Sweden, a neutral country. But now Armenia has joined with the Soviet Union against Azerbaijan. Ali Khan expresses his outrage in the severest manner.

Ali Khan has decisions to make. “My life has become a tangle. The road to the front is barred, Nino has forgotten how to laugh, and I shed ink instead of blood.” He chooses “utter submission” – an act in which Nino had “suddenly seen the abyss dividing us.” What is Ali Khan’s third wish?

War heightens differences – ideologies, family cultures, religions, east and west, alliances and allegiances. They return to Baku. The Soviet Union and Turkey are fighting in Baku, both wanting the land of Azerbaijan, and then - the English occupation. “New Zealanders, Canadians and Australians flooded our town.” Azerbaijan is liberated and seeks independence. Less than two years later, the Russians arrive, again.

Ali Khan’s love for Baku remains strong. But, in times of war, is it his country or Nino that Ali Khan chooses to live and die for?

Despite the time of the writing, the novel is evocative and rich in descriptions of places, people, events, culture, philosophies, and feelings. It is both poignant and passionate. It is well paced and enticingly engaging. It doesn’t lose its grip until long after the end.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Le Verrier: French mathematician with celestial aspirations

In the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris is a distinctive statue with a large stone celestial globe. He was “the man who discovered a planet with the point of his pen.”

It is the gravestone of French mathematician, Urbain Jean Joseph Le Verrier (1811-1877), born in Saint-Lo, Manche. He specialized in celestial mechanics and predicted the existence and position of the unknown planet Neptune, using only mathematical calculations. It was the discovery of the planet that placed Le Verrier among a unique circle of scholars – one that discovered a planet without a telescope.

He also worked on comet theories while he was stationed at the Paris Observatory. He was a member of the French Academy of Sciences, and in 1855 became an elected foreign member of the Swedish Academy of Sciences.

His name is one of the 72 names etched on the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Martina Nicolls is the author of Bardot's Comet.