Georgia Museum of Art housing interdisciplinary study of ancient Roman marble Relief

October 2, 2012 -  The Georgia Museum of Art (GMOA) at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia, in collaboration with UGA's Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and the University of Mississippi Museum, will conduct the "Object in Focus: The Orpheus Relief Project" from Sept. 30, 2012, to March 31, 2013. The project involves the public exhibition and interdisciplinary study of an important but little-known ancient marble relief sculpture with vestiges of ancient painting, which is in the David M. Robinson Memorial Collection of Greek and Roman Art at the University of Mississippi Museum. Mark Abbe, assistant professor of ancient art at UGA's Lamar Dodd School of Art serves as designer of the project, which will involve working with UGA's Center for Applied Isotope Studies, department of chemistry and department of classics.

The youthful figure of Hermes, the Greek messenger god, survives from a larger, three figured composition depicting the god escorting Eurydice to the Underworld during her final parting from Orpheus. This larger composition, known as the Orpheus Relief, is one of the most celebrated examples of Greek sculpture from the High Classical period, ca. 450-400 B.C. The relief fragment is on display to the public in the Georgia Museum of Art's Samuel H. Kress Gallery.

Three nearly complete Roman copies of this relief composition are preserved in Naples, Rome and Paris. They reproduce a lost Greek sculpture from the last decades of the 5th century B.C. in the elevated realistic style of the sculptures of the Parthenon. From the 1st century B.C. to the 2nd century A.D., precise marble reproductions of such esteemed "antique" works of Greek art were produced for display in the private luxury villas of the Roman elite. The exhibited example, seemingly carved in Greek marble, is said to be from central Italy (Tarquinia).

In antiquity, Greek and Roman marble sculpture was not pristine white but colorfully painted. The exhibited relief is the only replica of the Orpheus Relief known to preserve remains of ancient coloration, including visible red pigment on Hermes' garments.

Abbe expressed his excitement for "the opportunity to exhibit at the museum and on UGA's campus this important, but little-known ancient work of art and to combine its study with the interdisciplinary educational aims of the university." Students from many UGA departments will have the chance to participate in the research as it unfolds, including those enrolled in Abbe's mixed graduate/advance undergraduate course "Overcoming Chromophobia: Color in Ancient Art," currently underway.

Jeff Speakman, associate director of the Center for Applied Isotope Studies, will conduct in situ non-destructive materials analysis by X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy and will direct the characterization of the relief's white marble.

Tina Salguero, assistant professor of chemistry, will characterize materials at the nano- and micro-length scales and apply a variety of scientific techniques to the minute amounts of pigments and binding media that remain on the surface of the relief. Salguero said, "It is uncommon for a project to be so interdisciplinary, and I'm excited about the prospects of bringing together equal parts of cutting-edge science, art history and archaeology."

The resulting research may be tracked at the blog The project participants will jointly present the result of their interdisciplinary research at a public lecture and discussion at the Georgia Museum of Art on March 28, 2013, at 5:30 p.m.

The relief has a documented historic provenance prior to the 1970 UNESCO Conventions. It was acquired by David M. Robinson, president of the Archaeological Institute of America, in Rome prior to 1948.

Museum Information Partial support for the exhibitions and programs at the Georgia Museum of Art is provided by the Georgia Council for the Arts through appropriations of the Georgia General Assembly. The council is a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts. Individuals, foundations and corporations provide additional museum support through their gifts to the University of Georgia Foundation. The Georgia Museum of Art is located in the Performing and Visual Arts Complex on the East Campus of the University of Georgia. The address is 90 Carlton Street, University of Georgia, Athens, Ga. 30602-6719. For more information, including hours, see or call 706.542.GMOA (4662).

PXRF "Shootout" Organized at 2012 SAA Meeting

Over the past 10 years, widespread availability in portable XRF (PXRF) instrumentation has resulted in a major paradigmatic shift in how obsidian source studies are conducted. This has resulted in concerns by some about the potential misuse of this emerging technology as well as a host of questions regarding accuracy, precision, and reproducibility.

Following concerns raised in Shackley's recent SAA Archaeological Record essay (see here), Jeff Speakman (UGA CAIS), Steve Shackley (Berkeley), Mike Glascock (U. Missouri), and Arlen Heginbotham (J. Paul Getty Museum) organized a PXRF "shootout" at the 2012 SAA Meeting in Memphis.

The primary purpose of this round robin exercise was to evaluate the current state of inter-laboratory reproducibility when conducting quantitative portable XRF analyses of obsidian.

The results of this study which includes data from about 20 institutions will be summarized in an upcoming paper.

The obsidian round robin is the second in a series of exercises designed to evaluate accuracy, precision, and reproducibility among XRF users and is based largely on ASTM standard E1601, Standard Practice for Conducting an Interlaboratory Study to Evaluate the Performance of an Analytical Method.

An earlier study based on the analyses of copper alloys recently was published, and we are currently planning our next interlaboratory comparison (ceramics) which will be held in 2013. Click here for a graph comparing expected concentrations and normalized counts in obsidian reference materials.

 Back to top.

Jawbone of extinct whale discovered by UGA researchers

April 1, 2012 - There was a time when both the North Atlantic right whale and the now extinct Atlantic gray whale swam in the waters of the southeastern United States; perhaps the two baleen whales both even swam in what is now the Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary. Both whales were popular prey for the whaling boats that plied coastal waters in the 1600s and 1700s because they could be found relatively close to shore.

The right whale was considered the "right" whale to hunt by whalers because they were easy to kill and floated for a long time after they died making harvesting their blubber for oil easier.
The North Atlantic right whale survived the whaling years, though with extremely depleted numbers. Today, Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary participates in several management efforts to conserve the remaining population of North Atlantic right whales.

The Atlantic gray whale was not so lucky; it was considered functionally extinct by the early 1700s and no sightings were recorded after about 1740 - until recently when part of a five-foot- long jawbone of the extinct whale was discovered by University of Georgia researchers diving about 20 miles off Georgia's coast. The bone dates back 36,000 years, to a time when gray whales were populous on both coasts of the U.S. and Europe. Scott Noakes will discuss the discovery, which is the oldest known fossil of the gray whale, in upcoming Georgia Aquarium Lecture on August 23.

For additional information on the gray whale discovery click here.
To reserve your seat at the Georgia Aquarium lecture click here.

 Back to top.

CAIS develops Marine Lander Survey Vehicle

April 2, 2012 -  The University of Georgia's Center for Applied Isotope Studies, in partnership with SRI, Inc., has developed a Marine Lander Survey Vehicle to study gas hydrate sites. The system integrates a high throughput deep water filtration system (DWFS) for microbiological and geochemical sampling and a membrane introduction mass spectrometer (MIMS) for chemical analysis. The Lander will significantly increase the efficiency of locating methane "hot spots" at gas hydrate sites.

The multi-filter capability will allow the Lander to be deployed for an extended duration and will enhance microbial/geochemical research at the sites.

It will also provide an instrument test bed for introducing new sensing capabilities for studying chemical, physical, and microbiological dynamics at targeted seafloor locations.

For additional information on the Lander and Marine-based research at CAIS, contact us at (706) 542-1395.

 Back to top.

CAIS commissions second accelerator

February 9, 2012 - The University of Georgia's Center for Applied Isotope Studies has installed a second accelerator for measurement of carbon isotopes by accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS). Used for radiocarbon dating and natural products authenticity testing, the new National Electrostatics Corporation SSAMS-250 accelerator counts the number of C-14 atoms in a sample at high precision, so that even very small samples can be used for quantitative determinations of low-level isotopic concentrations.

CAIS also operates a National Electrostatics Corporation Model 1.5SDH-1 Pelletron AMS, which is used for measurement of carbon isotopes C-12, C-13, and C-14 at extremely low (parts per quadrillion) concentration levels. Since installation of this instrument in 2001, CAIS has analyzed more than 20,000 samples for researchers and industry worldwide.

For more information on AMS and other analytical services available from CAIS, contact us at (706) 542-1395.

 Back to top.