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This #archaeology thread is about #context – where we find our artifacts – and why that matters

I’ll start w/ the 1st site I ever dug at, the cave of Fontéchevade in France, and then I’ll look at the ancient trade in painted ceramics from Athens (*CW: graphic ancient sex)
Fontéchevade was found in the late 19th century and dug by a series of “educated amateurs” whose goal was “to procure collectible items.” Some were sold, others went to museums, but info on where most collectible items from this period of archaeology came from was scarce
Germaine Henri-Martin started systematic excavations in 1937

Originally a violinist, she became an archaeologist to keep her father’s lab and legacy alive. She biked many kilometers to the cave. She was clearly a real badass
The results from Henri-Martin’s excavation made Fontéchevade a famous type-site. A few pieces of hominid skull were identified as belonging to the “presapiens” a purported group of modern human ancestors in Europe before the Neandertals
The “prepresapiens” at Fontéchevade were found along hearths & a crude stone tool technology called “the Tayacian”

After Henri-Martin’s publication of the details, many more archaeologists started identifying crude Tayacian tools elsewhere

A prehistoric “culture” was born
However, after the most famous “presapiens” skeleton – the Piltdown man – was revealed as a hoax, Fontéchevade became the key site for this hypothesis

Recent excavations using modern archaeological methods analyzed the cave, its sediments, and its bone and stone items
@spmcpherron Everything was “shot in” or mapped in 3D w/ the total station’s laser: locations with accuracy to a cm (1/2 an inch) or less

Even better! You can also take 2 locations on longer stone objects or bones to record an orientation

But who cares where things are found to the cm?
If you overlay the orientations of all the longer stone tools or animal bones, in many levels they’re aligned parallel and perpendicular to each other. This is strange, why would “presapiens” throw out their trash so that it oriented with itself?

short answer = they wouldn’t!
Debris flows can cause artifacts to orient. Geological examinations show most everything in the cave flowed in from a natural chimney

The hominid remains = later intrusions

The hearths = manganese stains

The crude Tayacian industry = damage due to water-rolling and frost
With the “presapiens” and “Tayacian” resigned to the trash bin of prehistory, let’s explore the #context of sexy Athenian painted pots

These 2500 yr old NSFW paintings are still popular today, redrawn in a “stylish” manner for decks of cards sold at kiosks in downtown Athens
It’s easy to think of Athenian paintings as representing life in ancient Athens. And in some cases they do, in an idealized way

But these aren’t photographs, they were painted decoration for ceramic vessels, which were sold to people who used them (not like that below)
In many cases, the artists painted scenes appropriate for the context in which the pots would be used

Some water-vessels (hydriai) have paintings of women using hydriai to fetch water at a fountain. We have special marriage vessels that depict weddings. #TheOriginalMeta
At times, we can see the intentions of the artists, and how they thought the viewer or customer would engage with the painting

As you sip your dark, red wine you slowly reveal a painting of a vomiting drunk, perhaps your future later in the night?
But, most of the painted Athenian pots you see in museums came from tombs. After all, the pots thrown away in the trash typically broke into small pieces

In early Athens, huge pots (some decorated w/ funeral scenes) were even used as grave markers
By the Archaic & Classical periods (6th-4th c BCE, the hey-day of Athenian painted pottery), the Athenians left specific types of pots in their graves: commonly these white-ground lekythoi

Some fittingly depict paintings of tombs with white-ground lekythoi as grave goods
But the Athenians rarely placed the elaborate black-figure and red-figure pottery in their own graves. Most of these pieces you see in museums were exported from Athens. They were really popular

So, we find these pots in graves outside of Athens
A whole bunch of Athenian pots were found in Etruscan tombs in Italy. While Athenian painted pots were popular elsewhere, the Etruscans sure loved their Athenian pottery

Over time, aspects of their own ceramic industry began to imitate Athenian trends
Sometimes Athenian pots were painted differently for the Etruscan market

Ancient Greeks famously played sports nude (the sunburn was worth it). Heck, in paintings they wore “heroic nudity” for many activities

@metmuseum @HoodMuseum But there’s a whole group of Athenian painted pots showing athletes & others wearing jock-straps (perizoma)

Those with known #context were found in Etruscan tombs. They’re all from the same painting workshop and on pots that imitate the shape of Etruscan pots
OK, I know. I said this thread would be about SEX

So, there’s something odd about the sex scenes below? Look at them closely, and from an ancient Athenian perspective, tell me what it is
Ding ding ding. They’re very odd. They’re all depicting heterosexual intercourse. And it’s graphic, acrobatic sex

And yup, you guessed it, they’re all found in Etruscan tombs, and some locally made Etruscan pots show similarly acrobatic sex
As Kathleen Lynch has noted, erotic scenes on Athenian pots found in Athens typically do not depict heterosexual intercourse. They predominantly depict homosexual intercrural sex or courtship before intercourse (either heterosexual or homosexual in nature)
Only a couple sherds from Athens depict heterosexual intercourse, they’re from the sanctuaries on the Athenian acropolis. It’s a strange pattern, with all our Etruscan-found examples of graphic sex

In Athens, sex is pretty bland compared to the acrobatics found in Etruria
So, the Etruscans liked Attic pots depicting graphic heterosexual sex. They put them in their tombs, alongside their coffins with images symbolizing their matrimonial love

And the Athenians were only too happy to oblige, producing graphic images for the Etruscan market
#context matters because Athenians and Etruscans had very different cultures

It’s difficult to know how the Etruscans viewed these graphic scenes. Lynch suggests the Etruscans perhaps saw the scenes as depicting not themselves but a fantasy of oversexed, exotic Greeks
Early archaeologists were like Indiana Jones: they cared about pretty objects, not #context

We don’t know where many famous pieces in museums were found. So, many think about Athenian paintings as depicting Athens

But, the relationship b/t painter & market was complex
For archaeologists, looting destroys half of the information about an artifact: where it was found

#context is so, so IMPORTANT

Seriously, centimeters (meaning in a different layer of dirt) can make huge differences in our interpretation
Never buy or sell archaeological artifacts!

Objects w/ #context are rarely legal. Those w/o #context likely came from looters. Buying a coin or a pot supports looting, which is often associated with terrorist or violent criminal groups

@DrKillgrove If you want more reading and citations for images, see thread below

Thanks to my Dad (Harold was co-director at Fontéchevade) and to Kathleen Lynch (my PhD adviser) for training me to understand archaeological #context

@DrKillgrove Thanks for reading along. If you liked it, scroll up and give it a retweet!

For more threads on #archaeology click below
For more incentive not to buy artifacts, at all but especially from shady or illegal antiquities market, check out this article by @DSAArchaeology

Seriously don't buy antiquities, it only supports ripping artifacts from their #context & we need #context…
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