Art & Archaeology

Video: Reimagining of ‘Ballet des Porcelaines’ probes the complex cultural work behind the making of porcelain

By Lisa McDonald / November 16, 2022

When art historian Meredith Martin was introduced to an 18th-century ballet that allegorically depicts Europe’s pursuit of porcelain, she knew pursuing a historically accurate reconstruction of the ballet would risk reinforcing harmful racial stereotypes and exoticization of Asian cultures. Instead, she and choreographer Phil Chan conceived of a restaging that would center Asian American experience within this history.

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Mundane objects offer novel insights: Characterization of ancient glass beads provides clues to Middle Age trade networks

By Lisa McDonald / November 15, 2022

Glass beads, though likely considered mundane at the time, now offer rich insight into the Middle Ages. Danish researchers dug deeper into the history of these beads by analyzing glass samples from two different workshops at the historical Ribe trading site in Denmark.

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Video: James Madison’s glass flute graces the stage at Lizzo concert

By Lisa McDonald / October 5, 2022

With more than 100 million items in the Library of Congress collections, it can be difficult for Library staff to showcase all the wonderful items in storage and educate the public on their importance. Last week, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden realized the perfect opportunity to highlight one very special item—a glass flute gifted to U.S. president James Madison—through a collaboration with pop megastar and classically trained flutist Lizzo.

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Video: ‘Shattered glass of Beirut’ exhibit reflects Lebanon’s road to recovery

By Lisa McDonald / August 31, 2022

More than two years have passed since a massive stockpile of ammonium nitrate exploded at the port of Beirut, killing hundreds and displacing thousands in the capital of Lebanon. The restoration of some shattered ancient glass vessels by a collaborative international partnership serves as a microcosm for the larger restoration efforts.

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Pottery probe shows continuity of southeastern Hispaniola cultures

By Lisa McDonald / August 30, 2022

Mona Passage, a strait which separates the islands of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico, is believed to have served as a reception area for migration groups during the early Common Era. A recent open-access study contends that despite there being a broader regional network of interaction, the stable manufacturing tradition suggests a cultural continuity in the communities that lived there.

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Illuminating the past through modern techniques: A review of computer-based methods for archaeological pottery analysis

By Lisa McDonald / July 1, 2022

Computer-based methods aid in identification, classification, and reconstruction of ancient artifacts. A recent review paper outlines the strengths and weaknesses of current state-of-the-art computer-based methods for analyzing archaeological pottery.

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Revealing secrets of the past—nanoscale engineering gave historic glaze its iridescence

By Lisa McDonald / May 13, 2022

As new analysis methods are developed and refined, researchers can illuminate the science behind past techniques that were designed through trial and error. A group led by researchers from the California Institute of Technology used advanced analytical techniques to show how nanoscale engineering gave a historic purple overglaze its distinctive iridescence.

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Let there be (controlled) light—new calibration method eliminates illumination variations in scans of stained-glass windows

By Lisa McDonald / April 1, 2022

Hyperspectral imaging has gained much attention in the field of cultural heritage, but there are difficulties using it outdoors due to ever-changing levels of light. Researchers looked to overcome this limitation by developing a calibration method that can account for and eliminate variations in illumination.

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Video: Europe’s gas crisis comes for Venice glassblowers

By Lisa McDonald / March 16, 2022

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is contributing to an ongoing surge in fuel prices that has greatly affected numerous European industries since last fall. Last November we reported on challenges faced by the ceramics industry, and today we look at the struggles of Venice glassblowers to keep their centuries-old tradition alive.

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Ceramic characterization reveals the practices of a late medieval brass foundry

By Lisa McDonald / March 11, 2022

Historical research on the trade of metal supplies and objects often overshadows studies on the practices, recipes, and supplies of clays used by metallurgists of the time. Researchers in Belgium and France characterized metallurgical ceramic samples from the remains of a Late Medieval Period foundry in Brussels and found the analyses, in conjunction with written sources, highlight the mobility of clay materials, not just metal.

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