And what about Ravioli?

There is a point where the UNESCO concept of Intangible Cultural Heritage can get a bit ridiculous– moving from protection of traditions to market branding, and ultimately a cultural competition between nations over who can get more items included on the UNESCO list.  That’s what happened to the World Heritage Convention with its yearly beauty contest and winners and losers to be inscribed on the World Heritage list.

But now we have moved on to the Intangible.  The Convention itself was visionary in its emphasis of dynamic process over fossilized product (asserting that Intangible Cultural Heritage “transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity”).  But now it looks like the old ideas of unchanging cultural “icons” and static objects have shouldered aside the process of people making, changing, transforming, adopting, borrowing, and lending that lies at the heart of cultural creativity.

So thanks to yet another failure of UNESCO to go beyond slogans and good intentions, let’s sit back and watch the spectacle of cultural stereotypes being packaged, branded, and declared “authentic” by the experts– while little or nothing is done to protect the distinctive ways of life that created– and still continues to create new forms of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

From The Guardian  27 March 2011:

Italy seeks Unesco protection for Neapolitan pizza

Dish voted by Italians as one that helps sum up nation could be placed on cultural heritage list

Tom Kington in Rome

Neapolitan pizza

Neapolitan pizza could be added to Unesco's cultural heritage list. Photograph: Ciro Fusco/EPA

On a roll after securing Unesco status for the Mediterranean diet, Italy is mulling over an attempt to place the Neapolitan pizza in the pantheon of cultural icons drawn up by the United Nations.

After years of lobbying, Unesco added the Mediterranean diet to its “intangible” cultural heritage list – which recognises festivals, music and crafts alongside its better-known ranking of temples and castles – last year.

Now Italy has put together a shortlist of candidates for consideration in 2011, including pizza from Naples, Sienna’s Palio horse race, violin-making in Cremona, Viareggio’s extravagant carnival procession and ancient festivals in towns such as Nola and Viterbo, where locals carry huge statues on their shoulders and totter round tiny streets.

Also in the running are the small grapevines planted in depressions in the volcanic soil on the island of Pantelleria, where they are sheltered from the fierce sea wind and produce the nectar-like Passito dessert wine.

With only two candidates set to make the final list Italy sends to Unesco for consideration, Corriere della Sera claimed the smart money was on pizza and Cremona’s violin makers, who are fighting off Chinese competition four centuries after Antonio Stradivari opened his workshop there.

But the headlines in Italy have focused on pizza after it was this year voted by Italians as one of the dishes which best sums up their nation. It was narrowly outvoted by pasta with tomato sauce, but beat bruschetta with olive oil into a distant third.

The Unesco shortlist specifies pizza from Naples, where the dish was born in the 1700s, and where a pie topped with mozzarella, tomato and basil leaves – recreating the red, white and green of the Italian flag – was presented to Queen Margherita of Savoy in 1889 and named after her.

Naples’ pizzaioli, the skilled spinners of pizza dough, still insist those three ingredients are all that is required for a perfect pizza and opt for a softer, deeper crust than the thinner, crispier version favoured by Romans.

“A good pizzaiolo leaves the dough to rise for up to 24 hours before baking it in a wood-fired oven to ensure a light, digestible pizza,” the food writer Davide Paolini said.

As the dish edges towards Unesco status, the Italian farmers’ lobby group Coldiretti warned the UN that protection was urgently required.

“Consumers don’t know this, but at least half of all pizzas contain imported ingredients,” it said in a statement, adding that Italians were unwittingly tucking in to Margheritas made with Chinese tomatoes, Tunisian and Spanish olive oil “and even seed oil instead of Italian extra virgin”.

Breaking News: Emergency Authenticity Alert

In light of the still-thriving biblical forgery industry in Israel, encouraged and in fact cheer-led by the Biblical Archaeology Review, by antiquities dealers and collectors, tourism promoters, and religious fundamentalists of various stripes, the sirens went off and the red lights started twirling today when the news of this latest discovery broke:

From BBC.com 29 March 2011

Jordan battles to regain ‘priceless’ Christian relics

By Robert Pigott

BBC News religious affairs correspondent

They could be the earliest Christian writing in existence, surviving almost 2,000 years in a Jordanian cave. They could, just possibly, change our understanding of how Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and how Christianity was born.

A group of 70 or so “books”, each with between five and 15 lead leaves bound by lead rings, was apparently discovered in a remote arid valley in northern Jordan somewhere between 2005 and 2007.

Greatest archaeological find of all time? Photo: David Elkington

A flash flood had exposed two niches inside the cave, one of them marked with a menorah or candlestick, the ancient Jewish religious symbol.

A Jordanian Bedouin opened these plugs, and what he found inside might constitute extremely rare relics of early Christianity.

That is certainly the view of the Jordanian government, which claims they were smuggled into Israel by another Bedouin.

The Israeli Bedouin who currently holds the books has denied smuggling them out of Jordan, and claims they have been in his family for 100 years.

Jordan says it will “exert all efforts at every level” to get the relics repatriated.

Incredible claims

The director of the Jordan’s Department of Antiquities, Ziad al-Saad, says the books might have been made by followers of Jesus in the few decades immediately following his crucifixion.

“They will really match, and perhaps be more significant than, the Dead Sea Scrolls,” says Mr Saad.

“Maybe it will lead to further interpretation and authenticity checks of the material, but the initial information is very encouraging, and it seems that we are looking at a very important and significant discovery, maybe the most important discovery in the history of archaeology.”

They seem almost incredible claims – so what is the evidence?

The books, or “codices”, were apparently cast in lead, before being bound by lead rings.

Their leaves – which are mostly about the size of a credit card – contain text in Ancient Hebrew, most of which is in code.

If the relics are of early Christian origin rather than Jewish, then they are of huge significance.

One of the few people to see the collection is David Elkington, a scholar of ancient religious archaeology who is heading a British team trying to get the lead books safely into a Jordanian museum.

He says they could be “the major discovery of Christian history”, adding: “It’s a breathtaking thought that we have held these objects that might have been held by the early saints of the Church.”

He believes the most telling evidence for an early Christian origin lies in the images decorating the covers of the books and some of the pages of those which have so far been opened.

Mr Elkington says the relics feature signs that early Christians would have interpreted as indicating Jesus, shown side-by-side with others they would have regarded as representing the presence of God.

“It’s talking about the coming of the messiah,” he says.

“In the upper square [of one of the book covers] we have the seven-branch menorah, which Jews were utterly forbidden to represent because it resided in the holiest place in the Temple in the presence of God.

“So we have the coming of the messiah to approach the holy of holies, in other words to get legitimacy from God.”

Location clues

Philip Davies, Emeritus Professor of Old Testament Studies at Sheffield University, says the most powerful evidence for a Christian origin lies in plates cast into a picture map of the holy city of Jerusalem.

“As soon as I saw that, I was dumbstruck. That struck me as so obviously a Christian image,” he says.

“There is a cross in the foreground, and behind it is what has to be the tomb [of Jesus], a small building with an opening, and behind that the walls of the city. There are walls depicted on other pages of these books too and they almost certainly refer to Jerusalem.”

It is the cross that is the most telling feature, in the shape of a capital T, as the crosses used by Romans for crucifixion were.

“It is a Christian crucifixion taking place outside the city walls,” says Mr Davies.

Margaret Barker, an authority on New Testament history, points to the location of the reported discovery as evidence of Christian, rather than purely Jewish, origin.

“We do know that on two occasions groups of refugees from the troubles in Jerusalem fled east, they crossed the Jordan near Jericho and then they fled east to very approximately where these books were said to have been found,” she says.

“[Another] one of the things that is most likely pointing towards a Christian provenance, is that these are not scrolls but books. The Christians were particularly associated with writing in a book form rather than scroll form, and sealed books in particular as part of the secret tradition of early Christianity.”

The Book of Revelation refers to such sealed texts.

Another potential link with the Bible is contained in one of the few fragments of text from the collection to have been translated.

It appears with the image of the menorah and reads “I shall walk uprightly”, a sentence that also appears in the Book of Revelation.

While it could be simply a sentiment common in Judaism, it could here be designed to refer to the resurrection.

It is by no means certain that all of the artefacts in the collection are from the same period.

But tests by metallurgists on the badly corroded lead suggest that the books were not made recently.

The archaeology of early Christianity is particularly sparse.

Little is known of the movement after Jesus’ crucifixion until the letters of Paul several decades later, and they illuminate the westward spread of Christianity outside the Jewish world.

Never has there been a discovery of relics on this scale from the early Christian movement, in its homeland and so early in its history.

*   *   *

Despite the earnestly naive testimonials of the “dumbstruck” biblical scholars, and the breathless prose of the BBC’s “religious affairs correspondent,” one should ask:

1.)  Where were these “books” found and who are the shadowy bedouin who found them?  (Corny Dead Sea Scrolls trope, which is itself suspect)

2.)  Through which (dealers’) hands did this discovery pass in the “several years” since their discovery?

3.)  How much money is involved in Jordanian antiquities director Ziad al-Saad’s assertion (apparently) that Jordan will “exert all efforts at every level” to get the relics repatriated.

4.)  Who exactly is David Elkington?

5.)  Who are the “metallurgists” and what tests did they perform to prove that the artifacts were “not recently made”

6.)  Have any of the above heard the story of the famous discovery at the Hill Cumorah?

Two words for any well-meaning person or organization asked to contribute to this effort:

CAVEAT EMPTOR

Are you listening, Dr. Zahi?

OZYMANDIAS

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

–Percy Bysshe Shelley 1818

First they change the name… then the domain

Interesting signs of the times (and of the increasingly brand-named, officialized, and internetified Heritage World).  Just look at these two recent developments relating to the site of Auschwitz and ponder awhile:

1.)  In the summer of 2007, the World Heritage Committee approved official change of name of World Heritage Site from “The Auschwitz Concentration Camp” to “Auschwitz Birkenau German Nazi Concentration Camp (1940-1945)” upon the request of the Polish government, seeking to distance itself as much as possible in time and responsibility from that very unlovely heritage attraction on their soil.

2.)  And, now in January 2011, as if the clear marking of extraterritorial status for unpleasant heritage sites (and acts!) in the real world were not enough, a similar move has been taken in cyberspace:

From Agence France Press,  February 2,2011

Poland asks Nazi camp museums to drop .pl websites

(AFP) – 3 days ago

WARSAW — Poland’s culture minister said Tuesday he had asked museums at former Nazi death camps to drop their Polish .pl Internet suffix to help counter the false impression they were Polish-run.

The minister, Bogdan Zdrojewski, told Polish news agency PAP he had written to the directors of three museums in Poland asking them to use other suffixes for their websites, such as the more neutral, pan-European .eu.

The three memorial museums, run and largely financed by the Polish state, are Auschwitz-Birkenau (www.auschwitz.org.pl), Majdanek (www.majdanek.pl) and Stutthof (www.stutthof.pl).

“I’ve asked them to use the appropriate term systematically,” Zdrojewski said.

Warsaw keenly watches the global media for descriptions of such camps as “Polish” because it says the term — even if used simply as a geographical indicator — can give the impression that Poland bore responsibility for Nazi Germany’s World War II genocide…

For full article, click here.

*   *   *

Do nation-states have the sovereign right to externalize unpleasant heritage and exclude it from their national internet domains?  At least they seem to have the means…

For Shame!

So we are reassured by the protectors of cultural heritage that Egypt’s antiquities are secure– pompously announced by a newly appointed minister of a brutal government that sends in violent thugs to injure and intimidate the protestors who will not bend to their will!

Shame on those who care most of all for antiquarian relics!  Bloody battles now rage around the Egyptian Museum. What about the people of Egypt?  Are they now more secure as well?

Flanked by special forces, antiquities chief Zahi Hawass speaks at Cairo's Egyptian Museum Monday. Photograph by Tara Todras-Whitehill, AP

From the NY Times 1 Feb 2011

Antiquities Chief Says Sites Are Largely Secure

by Kate Taylor

A vast majority of Egypt’s museums and archaeological sites are secure and have not been looted, Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s chief antiquities official, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. He also rejected comparisons between the current situation in Egypt and scenes of chaos and discord that resulted in the destruction of artifacts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“People are asking me, ‘Do you think Egypt will be like Afghanistan?’ ” he said. “And I say, ‘No, Egyptians are different — they love me because I protect antiquities.’ ”

Mr. Hawass, who has never been shy about promoting his work, described two episodes of looting that he said took place Friday night.

At the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, thieves looking for gold broke 70 objects, including two sculptures of Tutankhamen, and took two skulls from a research lab before being stopped as they were leaving the museum. Mr. Hawass said that they had first been caught by civilians, who fought the thieves until soldiers arrived and detained them. He said that the damaged objects could all be restored.

In the second episode, he said, armed Bedouins looted a storage site on the Sinai Peninsula, where objects were being stored for a future museum, and took six boxes. But Mr. Hawass said that after he made statements on television and radio demanding the objects’ return and warning the thieves that they would not be able to sell them, 288 objects were left in the street on Tuesday morning and recovered by the police. He said he would not know until a review was completed how many objects in all had been taken.

In Saqqara, site of the oldest pyramid in Egypt and a number of important tombs, padlocks on the tombs were broken but nothing was taken, Mr. Hawass said. He said that other sites, including the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, the pyramids of Giza, and all of Egypt’s other museums were safe, and credited not only the army but also average Egyptians, who he said had helped guards protect cultural sites.

“They stood with sticks” along with guards and antiquities inspectors, he said. “They stood in front of outlaws, and they stopped any theft.”

As Egypt’s chief archaeologist, Mr. Hawass has made the return of Egypt’s cultural patrimony his priority. He has called on Germany, for instance, to return the bust of Nefertiti that is in the Neues Museum in Berlin, and on Britain to return the Rosetta Stone.

Mr. Hawass, whose previous title was chairman of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, under the umbrella of the Ministry of Culture, was promoted on Monday to a position in the cabinet of President Hosni Mubarak as minister of antiquities. He said that the government had responded to protesters’ demands and that now people should be patient.

“They should give us the opportunity to change things, and if nothing happens they can march again,” he said. “But you can’t bring in a new president now, in this time. We need Mubarak to stay and make the transition.”

*   *   *

These are outrageous, self-justifying assertions, especially in light of the Mubarak government’s brutal action in Tianamen-Tahrir Square.  It makes one wonders if the reassuring noises coming from Hawass’s fan website are equally cynical disinformation…