Substantive Education

October 30, 2008

Aegean Art – Part 1 The Cyclades

Filed under: Art,Fine Art,Friday classes,Uncategorized — kbagdanov @ 2:11 am
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Again, continuing to post information so my students can review what we have been doing in class…here is the ancient art from the area around the Aegean Sea.

The first art that we encounter was produced by the Cycladic people (3,000-1100 BC) who inhabited the Cycladic Islands.  They were excellent seafarers and farmers.  They had established trade with Egypt and other early civilizations in the Near East.  One of the hallmarks of this society was the use of Bronze, an alloy made from copper.  They had to import the metal ores needed to mix with the copper.

Because we have not been able to figure out how to read all of their writing, their art has become a major source on information about them.  Among the most unusual products of the Cycladic artist were strange, unidentifiable objects made of terra-cotta.  They were ornamented with stylized designs and either painted or incised before firing.  The example pictured is from 2500-2200 BC.  The incised panel is called a ‘frying pan’ not because it was used for that purpose, but because it is descriptive of it’s shape. 

“This piece consists of a wide, geometric border encircling a scene showing a boat on a sea of waves depicted as linked spirals.  With its long hull and banks of oars, the boat resembles those seen in Neolithic Egyptian art.  The large fish to the left might be a carved prow ornament.”  pg. 92 of Art History by Marilyn Stokstad.

The Cyclades had an ample supply of white marble which was used by sculptors.  In this piece we have a seated harp player who is fully developed in a sculpture in the round.  It’s body shape is reduced to geometric figures, but retains those elements essential to an actual musician.  The harpist sits on a high-backed chair with a splayed base, his head is tilted back as if singing, and his knees and feet are separated for stability.  The harp is braced on one arm, with the other left free to pluck.

Another unique kind of sculpture found in the Cyclades were nudes that could range in size from a few inches to 5 feet tall.  The sculptures were generally of females and were often found laying on graves.  The figures are fairly flat, simple geometric features and bodies, and by the angles of their feet it is apparent that they were laid flat as they could not be displayed standing.  Their arms are shown crossed on their bodies, toes pointed as if they are asleep or dead.  Originally these statues were painted black, red, and blue.  Besides having facial features painted on they would also have had hair added.

Although we cannot know the precise purpose or use of these statues one interpretation has been that they were used for worship in the home and then buried with their owners.  This would explain why many are found around graves.  According to this theory, the larger statues were set up for communal worship, either to represent the supernatural deities, or as votive figures.


October 25, 2008

Animal Grossology Field Trip

Last Tuesday we went to the Reuben H. Fleet Museum to visit the Animal Grossology exhibit, along with the rest of the exhibits. The exhibit focuses on all things gross. There are displays on a cows many stomachs, the way a fly vomits onto it’s food before it eats, and the many colors of blood. We played games about animals that use slime and games about beetles that lay eggs in dung. There were poop exhibits next to exhibits on hair balls and tape worms. It was an elementary school boys dream. Absolutely disgusting. Here are some photos…you’ve been warned:)

October 23, 2008

Make a Chicken Mummy

Since we have been studying Ancient Egypt I thought I’d post this activity for those of you who want to try it.  These directions were found in The Story of The World, Activity Book One.  The photos are not mine, but copied from sites that have tried this.  Try looking at this site to see additional things you can do with your mummy, like measuring how many ounces the chicken loses during the process.  Fun stuff.

What you will need:

3 cans of baking powder

3 boxes of baking soda

chicken (whole, uncooked, small is better)  I suppose you could try this with a cornish game hen and it wouldn’t take as long.

Freezer bags…large and lots of them

Plastic gloves

rubbing alcohol, Egyptians used wine, but that would be a bit pricey.

salt, several boxes

If you wish scented oils…recipe below if you want to make your own.

various spices, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, you don’t have to use the spices if the expense is an issue

white glue

white linen type fabric, other fabric you have on hand will work, but won’t look very mummyish


1.  Put on your gloves!  Chicken can harbor nasty bacteria.

2.  Remove the neck and package of liver, heart etc. from the inside of the chicken.  You can mummify these, but they will continue to smell, even after being dried.  If you do mummify them, the heart is usually wrapped in linen, and stuffed back inside the body.  The other parts are put in canopic jars.  Dry them following the same method as for the chicken.

3.  Wash the chicken well in hot running water.  Pat dry with paper towels.  Wash again with alcohol and pat dry.  Don’t forget to wash inside the cavity of the chicken as well.  This helps to reduce the amount of bacteria that will grow on the bird.  Dry as much as possible.

4.  Mis 1/2 box of baking soda with 1/2 can of baking powder and 2 boxes of salt.  The addition of baking powder and baking soda will increase the acidity of the salt mixture reducing the amount of bacteria that can grow.  This will also make the salt mixture more similar to the natron salt used by the ancient Egyptians which consisted of three salts plus sodium sulfate.  If you like, you can also mix spices into the mixture.

5.  Pour some of this mixture into the cavity of the chicken until it is full.  Then, pour some into a large freezer bag.  Put the chicken in the bag, and add the rest of the salt mixture.  The chicken should be completely covered.  Seal the bag.  Put the sealed bag into a second bag and seal.

6.  Check the chicken everyday for a week.  If the salt is wet, put on some gloves, remove the chicken dust off the salt and repeat step 4.  You will likely have to do this several times.

7.  After the first week, you only need to check the chicken once a week.  If the salt is wet proceed as above.

8.  At the end of the 6th week, put on your gloves, remove the chicken from the bag, dust off the salt as completely as you can.  Wet a paper towel and wipe any remaining salt off the bird.  Be sure to dry immediately.

9.  Rub the fragrance oil into the chicken, inside and out.  If you are using unscented oil, you may rub spices into the chicken and then the oil.

10.  Stuff the inside of the bird with fabric, you could also use sawdust and spices.

11.  Dip the strips of linen into the glue and begin wrapping.  Wrap the wings and legs seperately from the body.  Once3 that is complete wrap the body again, without the glue another 2 to 3 times.  You can wrap trinkets in if you wish, like the Egyptians wrapped in amulets.

Making the Scented Oil

Fill a jar to the top with a combination of spices (cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg work well)

Add oil to the jar and close the lid

Set it in a sunny location for a week.  Shake the jar well 2-3 times per day.

Drain the oil to use, or repeat the above steps for another week for stronger oil/perfume.

To make Canopic Jars for your organs

Clean off a small jar with screw top lid (or several jars, generally only one organ was placed in a jar)

Put paper scraps and water into a blender an puree (you can use packaged paper mache if you prefer)

drain water and mix in some glue.

Mould the pulp onto the lid into the shape of the head of one of Horus’s sons.  (Horus had four sons, Imsety was human and his jar protected the liver, Duamutef was a jackal and protected the stomach, Hapy was a baboon and protected the lungs, and Qebhsemuf was a falcon and protected the intenstines.)  Let dry completely.

Paint on details to the sculpture you made on the top, and onto the jars, writing in hieroglyphics if you want.

October 22, 2008

Art History Hittites

Filed under: Art,History,Uncategorized — kbagdanov @ 12:25 am
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Anatolia, or modern day Turkey, is the home of the Hittite civilization. The Hittites were Indo-Europeans and recognized equality between men and women. Their laws even incorporated rights for slaves. No other legal system in the world at that time was so advanced. At a time in the Near East when flaying and impaling enemies was the rule, the Hittites were humane and civilized, even by today’s standards.

Although the monarchy passed from father to son, this was a kingship based on the idea of “primus inter pares”, first among equals, for the ruler was required to bring many matters before a senate.

It is possible that the Hitties were the first people to work in iron.  They were skilled at using iron to fashion chariot fittings and weapons. They used blocks of stone to decorated in high relief to decorate their gateways, some of these guardian figures were 7 feet tall.  The illustrations included here show a few of these guardians. 

October 21, 2008

Art History, Assyria

Filed under: Art,History — kbagdanov @ 12:09 pm
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Continuing from yesterday’s post let’s look at the art of the Assyrian culture.

As struggles continued in the area that was once Sumer the Assyrians rose to dominate northern Mesopotamia.  In terms of art several interesting changes were happening.  In the past most art revolved around the building and decorating of temples, celebrating religious and mythical stories.  The shift has begun to an emphasis on palaces and celebrating human rulers.  Large palace complexes were built and decorated to show the power and importance of the King.  Art was used as propaganda to support the political power of the ruling classes.  Reliefs and murals were used to decorate buildings and streets to declare the ruler strong, invincible, just, and empowered by the gods.  A favorite image used in art was that of conquered dignitaries coming to pay tribute to the king, showing the vastness of his kingdom.

Assurnasirpal II established his capital in Nimrod on the bank of the Tigris.  His architects surrounded the city with walls that were 5 miles long and 42 feet high.  According to an inscription when the complex was completed Assurnasirpall gave a banquet for 69,574 people.  Most of the walls were made of mud bricks and then decorated with limestone and alabaster.  In the above relief the King is shown with his Queen in a garden.  The tranquil scene includes the severed head hanging in a tree on the far left.  It was common during this period to display the heads and corpses of enemies.  They were considered a type of trophy and also served as psychological warfare, instilling fear in those who would challenge the King.

Guardian figures flanked the important doorways and gates, and panels covered the walls in low relief showing the king participating in a variety of activities.  The above is one of the most famous guardian figures.  It is a human-headed Winged lion and was the gateway support from the palace of Assurnasirpal.  You will note that he has 5 legs, from the front it looks as if he is standing still and from the side he is mid-stride.  It is only if you view the statue from an angle that you can see all 5 legs.

In this vivid lion-hunting scene Assurnasirpal stands in a chariot pulled by galloping horses and draws his bow against an attaking lion that already has several bows protruding from it’s body.  This was probably a ceremonial hunt.

One of the most spectacular archaeological finds in the Near East was the discover in 1988 of mor than a thousand pieces of jewelry found in three royal Assyrian tombs.  When a museum in Germany wanted to display the collection no insurance company was willing to insure it due to it’s incredible worth.  During the recent invasion of Iraq the Museum in Baghdad was looted and much of this treasure was taken.

Fortunately, many of the missing pieces have been recovered.  Matthew Bogdanos was a Marine reservist, an assistant district attorney in Manhattan and a student of the classics.  He helped to organize the effort to recover the priceless artifacts that had been stolen.  He has written a book called, the Thieves of Baghdad, where you can read about the adventure of recovering stolen art in the chaotic world of post-war Baghdad.

Here are the facts on just a few of the pieces recovered that we have studied.  The Mask of Warka, believed to be the world’s oldest known natural sculpture of a human face was found buried in the backyard of a farmhouse.  The Bassetki Statue, cast in pure copper dating from 2250 B.C. was found submerged in a cesspool.  The Clay Pot from Tell Hassuna, made in 1500 years before the wheel was returned in a garbage bag.

The items were stolen to sell to fund terrorism and the insurgency in Iraq.  The following has happened repeatedly…marines operating alongside Iraqi security forces arrested 5 terrorists in their underground bunkers.  The bunkers were filled with automatic weapons, ammunition, ski masks, night vision goggles and more than 30 artifacts from the Iraq Museum.  One of the many disturbing aspects of these crimes is that they could not occur without the complicity of museums and experts.  In order to sell these pieces they must be authenticated and while the thieves and smugglers might be caught, they would not have a business without the dealers and collectors…and the experts used to authenticate pieces.

October 20, 2008

Art History

Along with homeschooling my own children I also teach some classes.  I’ve been using the pages feature of this blog to keep my students updated on their homework assignments, which takes up a great deal of time and keeps me from adding new posts to this site.  I’ve decided to add some of my class notes for Ancient Art  and History classes here, because I’ve found it fascinating, so hopefully you will too.  Most of my information from Marilyn Stokstad’s textbook, Art History and the images from various museum collection I found on the web.  I’m breaking up the information into several posts.   Enjoy

The Art of Babylon

The Amorites were a Semitic speaking people from the Arabian desert who moved west and reunited Sumer under the leadership of Hammurabi. Hammurabi built his capital in Babylon and his people became known as Babylonians.  His most notable achievement was a written legal code.  During the history of Babylonian dominence they were able to expand their empire beyond the Fertile Crescent into Egypt, Anatolia (modern day Turkey) and east into what is today Iraq. Ruling a vast empire with limited transportation options and no mass communication presented challenges we can hardly understand.  Yet, it would appear Hammurabi was a wise and fair ruler who managed it.  Up to this point the law was at the discretion of the ruler and was often unfair and arbitrary.  The rich could, and were expected to, bribe their way out of trouble and laws rarely applied to them.  Kings and rulers were above the law. Although we would be horrified at many of Hammurabi’s laws they were a huge step forward.  It is true they were biased in terms of wealth, class, and gender.  For instance, a woman commiting incest was burned, a man banished, however neither escaped judgement.  It is hard for us to appreciate what a giant step forward this was.  He was attempting, for the first time, to create a society regulated by published laws and their consequences…not on the whim of rulers.

Hammurabi’s codes were written on what is called a Stele.  The one pictured her is currently at the Louvre in Paris.  The Stele (or megalith) is made of black basalt and stands 7 feet high.  In the tradition of Ancient art It depicts a legendary event, the conversation about justice between god and man.  At the same timing it is an historical document recording laws and their punishments.

At the top of the stele we see Hammurabi and Shamash, the sun god and god of justice conversing.  They are on a mountain top indicated by the three tiers on which Shamash rests his feet.  Hammurabi stands in an attitude of prayer and attentiveness as he listens carefully.  Shamash sits on a backless throne, dressed in a traditional flounced robe wearing a cylindrical hat.  Flames rise from his shoulders and additional symbols of power include a measuring rod and rope.  He gives Hammurabi the laws because he is the intermediary between the god and his people.  From the base of this scene the laws are recorded in horizontal bands flowing to the base of the stele.  The words are written in cuneform.  The writing includes a prologue which tells of Hammurabi’s restoration of temples and his role as a peacemaker seeking to ensure uniform treatment of his subjects.   One sentence declares, “to cause justice to prevail in the land and to destroy the wicked and the evil, that the strong might not oppress the weak nor the weak the strong”

The concept of god-given laws engraved in stone is a longstanding tradition in the Ancient Near East.  You have probably noted the similarities to the story of Moses, known as the Lawgiver of Israel, who received the law from God on Mt. Sinai.  God wrote these laws on two stone tablets.

Hammurabi ruled Babylon from 1792 until 1750 B.C.  Babylon was in power for several centuries, eventually being conquered by the Assyrians.  We will get to them in a moment…but first let’s continue with Babylon which had a rebirth in 615 B.C.   This new Babylon or Neo-Babylon’s most famous ruler was Nebuchadnezzar II who we remember for his suppression of the Jews recorded in the book of Daniel.  He was a great patron of architecture and transformed the city of Babylon.  The city was traversed by the Processional Way.  In some places it was 66 feet wide and was used for religious processions.  It ended at the Ishtar Gate, the ceremonial entrance to the city.  The walls on either side of the route were faced with dark blue bricks.  Against this background specially molded turquoise, blue and gold bricks formed the images of striding lions which were the image of the goddess Ishtar.

The double arched Istar Gate was a symbol of Babylonian power.  It was guarded by four crenellated (notched) towers and decorated with horned dragons that had the head and body of a snake, the forelegs of a lion, and the hind legs of a bird of prey.  These were considered sacred the god Marduk.  Other animals and dieties were also honored on the gates.  The Istar Gate has been reconstructed inside of a Berlin Museum.

New-Babylon was also renowned for containing one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World…the fabled terraced and irrigated Hanging Gardens.  This is just an artist renderings of what we believe the gardens would have looked like.

I think that is enough for today.  Tomorrow we will look at Assyrian art.

October 3, 2008

Masters of the Night: The True Story of Bats

Filed under: Field Trips,Science — kbagdanov @ 12:55 am
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Unfortunately, we don’t have time to go to the exhibit as a group, but for those of you who want to check it out, it looks like fun. The Discovery Center is in Santa Ana at 2500 North Main Street. For other information about the Discovery Center visit their homepage at Here is the information from their website.

October 4, 2008 – January 4, 2009

Discovery Science Center is bringing the mystery surrounding bats out of the dark!

Bats are a mystery to most people. Very few have ever seen a bat up close. What little most people know comes from folklore, myth or superstition. The truth about bats is they are gentle, beneficial, and amazing animals. Their value has been overshadowed by their tainted reputation – a reputation based on ignorance and fear of the unknown. With lifelike cave piece sets, models and interactives, the ecological importance of bats is revealed, and visitors are given a true appreciation of the wonders of the bat world.

From medieval gothic lore to the beneficial nature of these agile creatures of the night, Masters of the Night: The True Story of Bats dispels misconceptions, while engaging children and adults alike. The exhibit brings the mystery surrounding these nocturnal creatures out of the dark. It’s the real story behind these fascinating animals and their unique appearance and skills.

October 1, 2008

Play Dough

Filed under: Art,Education,Homeschooling — kbagdanov @ 9:22 pm
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Play dough is a favorite of kids and making your own is inexpensive and fun. My boys not only enjoyed playing with this play dough, but also enjoyed helping make it.

This method requires cooking and makes a nice smooth dough. At first it will seem to be a mess, but keep the heat low and continue to stir till it comes together. Once the dough starts to come together it will go quickly so be careful, you don’t want to burn it. (You can also microwave the dough for about 5 minutes. I haven’t had as much luck with the microwave.)

Mix in a saucepan 2 cups water, 2 cups flour, 1 cup salt, 4 Tablespoons vegetable oil (not olive oil, first it’s expensive, second the smell is pretty strong) 4 teaspoons Cream of Tartar, Food coloring, and if you like a drop of scented oil.

Once everything is mixed turn on a low heat and heat the ingredients through, stirring continually.

After the dough has come together dump it on a floured surface and knead for a few minutes. Kids like to help at this stage, just be sure the dough isn’t too hot.

You’re ready to go, get out the rolling pins, cookie cutters, and garlic press. My kids loved using the garlic press to make hair for their creations. When your done, just pop in a ziplock and store in the fridge.

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