Origin Of Pottery Dates Back To The Last Ice Age
Jun28

Origin Of Pottery Dates Back To The Last Ice Age

Pottery found in a Chinese cave near Xianrendong, about 100 kilometers south of the Yangtze River, is 20,000 years old, say Chinese and American researchers. The announcement pushes back the invention of this craft by 2,000 years, to smack dab in the middle of the last ice age--a time when humans were probably looking for ways to diversify their food supply. (And keep it warm.) Access to pottery allowed hunter-gathers to do more sophisticated cooking, such as grind grains, ferment alcohol and extract marrow from animal bones, explains Harvard anthropologist Ofer Bar-Yosef, who led the research just published in the journal Science. “Pottery making introduces a fundamental shift in human dietary history, and Xianrendong demonstrates that hunter-gatherers in East Asia used pottery for some 10,000 years before they became sedentary or began cultivating plants,” they note. That’s right, folks: we’ve been creating pottery for twice as long as we’ve been sowing...

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Traces Of Tobacco In Mayan Pottery
Jan11

Traces Of Tobacco In Mayan Pottery

Conservation scientists went spelunking in to this Mayan pot from 700 A.D. and found traces of nicotine, the first physical evidence of tobacco use by the ancient civilization. Staff at the Library of Congress, where the pot is housed, might have been tempted to guess that tobacco was indeed inside, since the Mayan script on the container says so. But they were wiser than that. There have been many cases where the inscription outside a vessel does not match what's inside-sometimes intentionally so, as is the case with certain Mayan rituals, the researchers note in their article, which will be imminently published in the journal Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry. In fact this is only the second case to-date (with Mayan artifacts) where the packaging information has accurately matched the goods. The other example dates back to 1989 when scientists found traces of cacao in a correctly-marked Mayan container from Guatemala. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of Albany used a technique called mass spectrometry to identify the traces of nicotine at the bottom of the pot. They were lucky that the residues had not been degraded over the past thousand years and that the pot hadn't been stuffed with iron oxide, a commonly used burial material that would have drowned out the nicotine signal. The analytical technique they used is also helping to identify all sorts of other day-to-day products and ingredients used by ancient civilizations. Researchers at the Louvre have used mass spectrometry to help identify pink powders in ancient Greek and Roman cosmetics, as well as blood in the coating of animal artifacts from Mali--to name only two of many...

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Finish Fetish Chemistry
Oct26

Finish Fetish Chemistry

Consider this cultural cocktail: the 1960s and 70s surfing scene in Los Angeles, that era’s emerging aeronautical and chemical industries, plus a splash of flavor from Hollywood and the Beatniks. The result is a group of artists called the Finish Fetish who produced minimalist sculptures often made from materials newly available in those decades, such as polyester. Finish Fetish is "extra spit and polish in pop and minimal art plus space age materials." This description (from Peter Plagens via artdesigncafe) explains the obsession with "finish"...which should not be confused with the Northern European Finnish. One of the Finish Fetish is an artist called De Wain Valentine. Commercial resin available at the time “wouldn’t allow him to do what he wanted to do--which was to pour really big objects,” says Tom Learner, head of Modern and Contemporary Art Research at the Getty Conservation Institute. Valentine wanted to create his extremely large sculptures in a single pour of polyester resin because creating the artwork in two steps interfered with the seamless look he was after. To get over these technical difficulties, Valentine got—well—technical. He started experimenting with ratios of resin ingredients, Learner says, trying to find the perfect balance between catalyst and resin. “It was all about slowing down the curing time to allow the piece to be a larger volume,” Learner says. Valentine found that “the temperature of the room was really key. The pigment levels were really key. He kept a notebook about proportions and when [a sculpture] failed and cracked he wrote it down. Eventually he came up with a formula that worked.” Valentine took this formula to a polymer salesman he knew, and thus was born a commercially sold resin called Valentine MasKast, Lerner says. Valentine was then able to produce gigantic pieces such as the Gray Column, which is 12 feet wide and 8 feet high. The Getty folks recently produced a documentary that “illustrates the extraordinary measures Valentine undertook to develop a material that would enable him to cast colossal pieces, and the efforts needed to achieve their extremely delicate and pristine surfaces,” notes their website. If you’re near LA on November 2nd, there will be a free screening of the documentary as well as a discussion afterwards with Valentine. For everyone else: You can check out the book which includes the documentary on DVD. Incidentally, to get a sense of the awesomeness of Finish Fetish artwork, check out this fantastic slideshow on the NewYorker...

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