Bits and Pieces. Christmas 2018

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VIENNA (AFP).- Police are searching for three men after the theft of a painting by French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir from an auction house in central Vienna, police said Wednesday.

The landscape was due to go under the hammer on Wednesday but is thought to have been taken from the Dorotheum auction house late on Monday afternoon.

Police have released security camera images of three men who entered the auction house at around 5:15 pm (1615 GMT). After making straight for the painting on the second floor they are thought to have left through different exits.

"They were probably professionals," Vienna police spokesman Patrick Maierhofer told the APA agency.

The landscape painting, "Bay, Sea, Green Cliffs", dates from 1895.

It measures 27 centimetres by 40 centimetres (10 by 15 inches) and was valued at 120,000-160,000 euros ($136,000-180,000).


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Brazil recovers ancient human fossil fragments from burnt Rio museum

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP).- Brazilian officials said Friday they have recovered pieces of a 12,000-year-old fossil of a neolithic woman that was among the prized artifacts in Rio de Janeiro's burnt down National Museum.

"We found almost all of the skull and 80 percent of its fragments have been identified," museum director Alexander Kellner said, adding that fragments of a femur were also uncovered from the ashes.

The fossil, nicknamed "Luzia," was discovered in 1970 in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais by a French-led expedition.

A Manchester University team later did a digital face reconstruction based on the skull, which was used to model a sculpture of the ancient woman.

That sculpture went up in flames on September 2 along with most of the museum's 20 million artifacts. But the original skull fragments, kept in a metal urn in a closet, were found a few days ago.

"They've suffered alterations, damage. But we're very optimistic at the find and all it represents," said Claudia Rodrigues, a professor at the museum who has been picking through the debris.

The 200-year-old institution was considered the main natural history museum in Latin America, and was known for its paleontology department and its 26,000 fossils.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

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2,000-year-old inscription spells Jerusalem as Israel does today

JERUSALEM (AFP).- Israel unveiled Tuesday a stone pillar engraved with an ancient inscription showing that the spelling of Jerusalem in its present-day Hebrew form was already in common use some 2,000 years ago.

During construction work in February in Jerusalem, archaeologists unearthed the pillar with the inscription "Hananiah son of Dodalos of Jerusalem," written in Aramaic with Hebrew letters.

The Hebrew spelling of the city -- pronounced Yerushalayim -- is the same today.

The name of the city in that form appears only rarely from the period of the second Jewish temple (first century AD) and usually in religious and political contexts, said David Mevorach of the Israel Museum, where the stone is now being exhibited.

The city's name appears several hundred times in the Bible, almost always in the slightly different form of Yerushalem and only five times as Yerushalayim, said Yuval Baruch of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Yerushalayim is also used on a Jewish coin dating from the time of the Great Revolt against the Romans (66-70 AD).

"This inscription is important because it's a daily thing," said Mevorach.

"It's not for any religious or messianic or propaganda purposes. It's a person identifying himself from the city."

Baruch said "right now we understand that, for sure, in the second temple period, some people in this area of Jerusalem, when they want to say or to read or to spell the name of the city, they use the same way as we use today, Yerushalayim."

"We understand that the name has a very deep root... It's not something that was created in the diaspora."

He added that "even if you are a kid in school... they can read 50 percent of the letters."

The stone was originally part of a Jewish potter's village dating to the second century BC near Jerusalem.

The site, now inside the city, became the Roman 10th Legion's workshop in the early second century AD for ceramic building material.

It was the same legion that destroyed Jerusalem and the second Jewish temple in 70 AD.

The stone was reused as part of a row of columns along a basin.

Since it was removed from its original spot, details of its previous use are unclear.

Mevorach said Hananiah may have been an artist or artisan advertising his workshop or the stone could have resulted from a donation to a public structure.

As for Dodalos, it may have been a nickname referring to Daedalus, the craftsman in Greek mythology, said Mevorach.

It "hints to this long-time tradition of Jews living here adopting the ways of the Greeks" after the conquest of Alexander the Great, he said.

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Old Master? Cave paintings from 40,000 years ago are world's earliest figurative art

TOKYO (AFP).- A painting of an animal in an Indonesian cave dates from at least 40,000 years ago, making it the world's oldest piece of figurative art, new research has shown.

The painting in Borneo, possibly depicting a native type of wild cattle, is among thousands of artworks discovered decades ago in the remote region.

But it was only using technology called uranium series analysis that researchers have finally been able to work out just when they were painted.

The discovery adds to a growing body of evidence that cave painting did not emerge only in Europe, as was once thought.

"We can see that figurative art developed and evolved more or less at the same time in Asia and in Europe," researcher Maxime Aubert told AFP.

In 2014, researchers dated figurative art on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi to 35,000 years ago, but some of the paintings examined by Aubert and his team in nearby Borneo were produced at least 5,000 years earlier.

Aubert, an associate professor at Australia's Griffith University, worked with a team in remote and inaccessible caves in the East Kalimantan area of Borneo to date the paintings.

The team, whose research was published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, looked at multiple layers of artwork painted on top of each other.

The bottom-most and oldest layer featured paintings of animals, mostly a local type of cattle, as well as hand stencils in a reddish colour.

On top of those artworks were hand stencils in a mulberry colour grouped in patterns and embellished with lines and dots, as well as small stick-like human figures in the same colour.

The final layer featured people, boats and geometric designs.

'An intimate window'

Aubert and his team employed a technique called uranium series dating, which involves analysing layers of the mineral calcite that formed on top of the painting over the years, as well as the material underneath the art.

They removed samples smaller than one centimetre (half an inch) across from the artworks and found one painting of an animal had been produced at least 40,000 years ago, and possibly nearly 52,000 years ago.

"To our knowledge, the large animal painting... is the oldest figurative rock art image in the world," the team's study said.

The painting is in fact one of the earliest-known representations of any kind of an animal, dating from a similar period to mammoth-ivory figurines found in Germany, the study added.

For many years, cave art was thought to have emerged from Europe, where famed pieces have been discovered and dated in Spain, Italy and France.

But the Indonesian paintings challenge that theory.

"It now seems that two early cave art provinces arose at a similar time in remote corners of Palaeolithic Eurasia: one in Europe and one in Indonesia, at the opposite end of this ice age world," said Adam Brum, an archeologist involved in the study, in a press release issued by Griffith University.

The second layer of artwork dates to around 20,000 years ago, and suggests an interesting evolution in the artwork of the era.

"Around 20,000 years ago, painting becomes of the human world, not the animal world. We see the same thing in Europe at more or less the same time," Aubert told AFP.

He plans to carry out further testing of other artwork in Indonesia, as well as pieces in Australia, and said he felt a personal connection to the past when examining the paintings.

"It's amazing to see that. It's an intimate window into the past."

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Relic of Quebec ramparts unearthed by Canadian archaeologists in 'major' find

MONTREAL (AFP).- Archeologists in Canada's Quebec City have found a well-preserved relic of the settlement's first fortifications built by French settlers more than 300 years ago, they said on Tuesday.

The foundations of the palisaded ramparts date from 1693 and are about 20 meters long (22 yards).

They were uncovered during initial construction work at a residential project in the city, whose old quarter is a World Heritage site.

"We found a small piece of wood driven into dark soil. We got out our trowels and scraped the dirt very delicately, and realized that we had found a hugely important relic, very well preserved," said Jean-Yves Pintal, head of the archeological team.

The relic was part of an enclosure erected according to the plans of French military engineer Josue Dubois Berthelot de Beaucours between 1693 and 1694 to replace a temporary system built in 1690 to defend the city against possible English artillery fire.

Built by 500 troops and residents of Quebec, these fortifications consisted of "a wooden frame made of massive pieces of cedar cut with axes," Pintal said.

"It's a major discovery for Quebec City but also for all Quebec," said the French-speaking province's Premier Francois Legault, who underlined the "exceptional" conservation of the material which was buried in clay.

The ramparts will be recovered from the earth and the wood dried in an operation that will take two years.

They will then be put on display.

Nathalie Roy, Quebec's Minister of Culture, called the palisade "priceless," while Mayor Regis Labeaume said it was "one of the secrets" that needed to be cleared up about the city's history.

"There remains a big one," he added, "and that is the tomb of Champlain."

Samuel de Champlain founded the city in 1608, and Pintal has given himself one year to find his resting place, the mayor said.

Quebec's historic district, unique in North America, is considered "a remarkable example of a fortified colonial town" by UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency which includes the area on its World Heritage list.

British General James Wolfe defeated General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm in 1759 to secure control of New France for the British.

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