Beyond the Image: Hidden inscriptions on Athenian vases

Just because scholars have analyzed ancient Greek pottery for centuries doesn’t mean they’ve uncovered all their secrets.

Beyond the Image: Hidden inscriptions on Athenian vases
This kylix, or cup, of the Painter of Oedipus began the hunt for messages hidden below
the surface of some ancient Greek pottery [Credit: Vatican Museums]

A researcher announced Thursday the discovery of hidden messages in some artifacts that casts new light on the creative process behind some of the most important art in history.

Mario Iozzo, the director of the National Archaeological Museum in Florence, revealed details of a study that has led him to re-examine hundreds of items. He spoke to an audience of scholars Thursday at a specially arranged lecture in the Vatican Museums.

The path to Thursday’s announcement began almost two years ago as Dr. Iozzo was inspecting a kylix, an ancient Greek cup with handles for drinking wine. It is part of the collection of the Gregorian Etruscan Museum in the Vatican. Painted in a style known as Red-figure and dating from around 470 B.C., the main design on the cup is of Oedipus listening to the riddle of the Sphinx of Thebes. On the underside of the kylix is another mythological scene depicting satyrs.

“It was an afternoon in the fall of 2016,” the curator of the museum, Maurizio Sannibale, recalls. The sun was already low in the sky. “At a certain point, a beam of sunlight came through the window and fell directly on the kylix. In that special light, you could see that something was there.”

The two men were studying the underside of the cup. They could just make out an inscription beneath the paint. The words had to have been inscribed in the clay while it was still moist, and then covered with the black paint that is used in the creation of Red-figure ceramics for the background.

Beyond the Image: Hidden inscriptions on Athenian vases
Maurizio Sannibale, director of the Gregorian Etruscan Museum, part of the Vatican Museums
[Credit: Vatican Museums]

There had been hints before of the existence of hidden writing on classical Greek vases, urns and cups. In 2012, a scholarly paper was published revealing that a verse of poetry had been found beneath the painted surface of another example of the ancient potters’ art. But the paper was more focused on the attribution of the verse than its purpose.

Twenty years earlier, a Canadian scholar, J. Robert Guy, had made out a single word carved into the surface of the kylix in the Vatican, which is why Dr. Iozzo took such a close interest in it. That’s also why he and Dr. Sannibale became excited when they saw in that autumnal light not just one word, but many.

With the help of advanced photographic equipment at the Vatican Museum, Dr. Iozzo established that the inscription on the Oedipus kylix was a message to the painter, telling him what to represent and, to some extent, how. The writing isn’t in the same hand, or even the same dialect, as that used by the painter, so he concluded that it could only have come from the potter.

Dr. Iozzo has since examined several hundred pieces of Red-figure ceramic and found similar inscriptions on seven.

“What we now realize is that the potter had considerable influence over the choice of subject matter,” he says.

Beyond the Image: Hidden inscriptions on Athenian vases
Dr. Mario Iozzo, director of the National Archaeological Museum in Florence, shown checking
 an Etruscan bronze statue [Credit: DPA/ZUMAPRESS]

The messages follow a convention: They start near the mouth of the figure in question, like cartoon bubbles, and extend in the direction to which the figure is turning in the finished painting, suggesting the potters often decided in detail the arrangement of the scene to be depicted and the position of the characters in it.

Why their messages were cut into the surface of only some items isn’t known. Dr. Iozzo’s theory is that they were reserved for the most valuable, luxury products.

He believes his findings, to be published next month in the American Journal of Archaeology, could open up new areas of study. “What we need to do now is to take the ancient Greek ceramics in all the museums of the world and see what is underneath the paint,” he says.

For Dr. Sannibale, it has another significance. He notes that much of the high culture of the ancient Greeks and Romans survived. “Many of their plays, for example, have come down to us,” he says. Yet archaeologists and other specialists are still piecing together the mundane details of everyday life in classical Greece and Italy.

“What this does is to open a gash through which we can peer into a workshop producing ceramics two and half thousand years ago and see how it operated,” he says. “For me, that is more fascinating than the discovery of a [new text by] Cicero.”

Author: John Hooper | Source: Wall Street Journal [June 15, 2018]



Largest pre-Columbian adobe city still holds surprises for archaeologists

The discovery of new murals carved in high relief at the archaeological complex of Chan Chan, the largest pre-Columbian city built of adobe in the Americas, shows once more that it still has surprises in store for archaeologists, thanks to the information it keeps adding about the Chimu, its ancient inhabitants.

Largest pre-Columbian adobe city still holds surprises for archaeologists
Credit: La Republica/Jaime Mendoza

Researchers at these archaeological digs in the northern region of La Libertad, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, have newly discovered a corridor with murals in the excavations at Utzh An (Large House, in the Quinqnam or Chimu language).

This is one of the 10 walled areas that make up Chan Chan, whereas a third system of stairways has also been discovered in the so-called “huaca,” or sacred monument, of Toledo.

Peruvian Culture Minister Patricia Balbuena, who arrived at the arquaeological site on Thursday to officially present the new finds, said the careful conservation work undertaken at Chan Chan preserved the ruins from being destroyed during the recent downpours.

Largest pre-Columbian adobe city still holds surprises for archaeologists
Largest pre-Columbian adobe city still holds surprises for archaeologists
Largest pre-Columbian adobe city still holds surprises for archaeologists
Largest pre-Columbian adobe city still holds surprises for archaeologists
Credit: La Republica/Jaime Mendoza

She also spoke of the investments made by the Culture Ministry in the Chan Chan project, though she noted that it will be “necessary to count on more funding,” and asked that more and larger strategic alliances be established with the private sector.

These newly discovered murals date back to the years 1200-1350 A.D. and have high-relief decorations with oceanic motifs, squares and waves, along with a “lunar animal,” a mythical symbol of different pre-Columbian cultures of the Peruvian coastline.

According to Henry Gayoso Rullier, the archaeologist leading the restoration of this part of the Utzh An walled complex, these newly recovered ruins formed part of a main patio, as shown by the way they are decorated.

Largest pre-Columbian adobe city still holds surprises for archaeologists
Largest pre-Columbian adobe city still holds surprises for archaeologists
Largest pre-Columbian adobe city still holds surprises for archaeologists
Largest pre-Columbian adobe city still holds surprises for archaeologists
Credit: La Republica/Jaime Mendoza

Besides this mural measuring 590 x 370 meters (1,935 x 1,214 feet), another of the discoveries is decorated with feline figures plus more waves and squares, and measures approximately 2.3 by 2 meters.

The Chimu culture, heir of the previous Mochica era, developed on the north coast of Peru between the years 1100 and 1400 A.D., until its people were conquered by the Incas when its leader Minchancaman was defeated by Pachacutec, and became a province of the Inca Empire until the arrival of the Spaniards.

Source: EFE Agencia [June 15, 2018]



Major work starts to boost the luminosity of the LHC

CERN – European Organization for Nuclear Research logo.

15 Jun 2018

Image above: Civil works have begun on the ATLAS and CMS sites to build new underground structures for the High-Luminosity LHC. (Image: Julien Ordan / CERN).

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is officially entering a new stage. Today, a ground-breaking ceremony at CERN celebrates the start of the civil-engineering work for the High-Luminosity LHC (HL-LHC): a new milestone in CERN’s history. By 2026 this major upgrade will have considerably improved the performance of the LHC, by increasing the number of collisions in the large experiments and thus boosting the probability of the discovery of new physics phenomena.

The LHC started colliding particles in 2010. Inside the 27-km LHC ring, bunches of protons travel at almost the speed of light and collide at four interaction points. These collisions generate new particles, which are measured by detectors surrounding the interaction points. By analysing these collisions, physicists from all over the world are deepening our understanding of the laws of nature.

While the LHC is able to produce up to 1 billion proton-proton collisions per second, the HL-LHC will increase this number, referred to by physicists as “luminosity”, by a factor of between five and seven, allowing about 10 times more data to be accumulated between 2026 and 2036. This means that physicists will be able to investigate rare phenomena and make more accurate measurements. For example, the LHC allowed physicists to unearth the Higgs boson in 2012, thereby making great progress in understanding how particles acquire their mass. The HL-LHC upgrade will allow the Higgs boson’s properties to be defined more accurately, and to measure with increased precision how it is produced, how it decays and how it interacts with other particles. In addition, scenarios beyond the Standard Model will be investigated, including supersymmetry (SUSY), theories about extra dimensions and quark substructure (compositeness).

“The High-Luminosity LHC will extend the LHC’s reach beyond its initial mission, bringing new opportunities for discovery, measuring the properties of particles such as the Higgs boson with greater precision, and exploring the fundamental constituents of the universe ever more profoundly,” said CERN Director-General Fabiola Gianotti.

The HL-LHC project started as an international endeavour involving 29 institutes from 13 countries. It began in November 2011 and two years later was identified as one of the main priorities of the European Strategy for Particle Physics, before the project was formally approved by the CERN Council in June 2016. After successful prototyping, many new hardware elements will be constructed and installed in the years to come. Overall, more than 1.2 km of the current machine will need to be replaced with many new high-technology components such as magnets, collimators and radiofrequency cavities. 

Image above: Prototype of a quadrupole magnet for the High-Luminosity LHC. (Image: Robert Hradil, Monika Majer/

The secret to increasing the collision rate is to squeeze the particle beam at the interaction points so that the probability of proton-proton collisions increases. To achieve this, the HL-LHC requires about 130 new magnets, in particular 24 new superconducting focusing quadrupoles to focus the beam and four superconducting dipoles. Both the quadrupoles and dipoles reach a field of about 11.5 tesla, as compared to the 8.3 tesla dipoles currently in use in the LHC. Sixteen brand-new “crab cavities” will also be installed to maximise the overlap of the proton bunches at the collision points. Their function is to tilt the bunches so that they appear to move sideways – just like a crab.

Another key ingredient in increasing the overall luminosity in the LHC is to enhance the machine’s availability and efficiency. For this, the HL-LHC project includes the relocation of some equipment to make it more accessible for maintenance. The power converters of the magnets will thus be moved into separate galleries, connected by new innovative superconducting cables capable of carrying up to 100 kA with almost zero energy dissipation.

“Audacity underpins the history of CERN and the High-Luminosity LHC writes a new chapter, building a bridge to the future,” said CERN’s Director for Accelerators and Technology, Frédérick Bordry. “It will allow new research and with its new innovative technologies, it is also a window to the accelerators of the future and to new applications for society.”

To allow all these improvements to be carried out, major civil-engineering work at two main sites is needed, in Switzerland and in France. This includes the construction of new buildings, shafts, caverns and underground galleries. Tunnels and underground halls will house new cryogenic equipment, the electrical power supply systems and various plants for electricity, cooling and ventilation.

The road to High Luminosity: what’s next for the LHC?

Video above: The LHC will receive a major upgrade and transform into the High-Luminosity LHC over the coming years. But what does this mean and how will its goals be achieved? Find out in this video featuring several people involved in the project. (Video: Polar Media/CERN.).

During the civil engineering work, the LHC will continue to operate, with two long technical stop periods that will allow preparations and installations to be made for high luminosity alongside yearly regular maintenance activities. After completion of this major upgrade, the LHC is expected to produce data in high-luminosity mode from 2026 onwards. By pushing the frontiers of accelerator and detector technology, it will also pave the way for future higher-energy accelerators.


CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one of the world’s largest and most respected centres for scientific research. Its business is fundamental physics, finding out what the Universe is made of and how it works. At CERN, the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments are used to study the basic constituents of matter — the fundamental particles. By studying what happens when these particles collide, physicists learn about the laws of Nature.

The instruments used at CERN are particle accelerators and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before they are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions.

Founded in 1954, the CERN Laboratory sits astride the Franco–Swiss border near Geneva. It was one of Europe’s first joint ventures and now has 22 Member States.

Related links:

Large Hadron Collider (LHC):

High-Luminosity LHC (HL-LHC):

Supersymmetry (SUSY):

Higgs boson:

For more information about European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), Visit:

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: CERN/Corinne Pralavorio.

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