2nd Semester - 2004
By definition researcbers dedicated to cryptozoology are convinced that our planet still conceals unknown animals, or ratber those animals that have always seemed to hang about the doors of our bouse, but have never quite entered, arguably because we are unable to entice them into revealing themselves or because they are only elusive chimera. In this half-world, suspended in a timeless dimension, we find giant octopus and yeti, dinosaurs and the Loch Ness monster. They are all descendants of that ancient very varied fauna which the great Borges labelled "fantastic zoology", thus giving scientific and literary dignity to chimera, unicorns, mermaids, hippogriffs, centaurs and rninotaurs.
In a zoo somewhere between myth and reality, which at times has provided us with some incredible surprises (such as the Coelacanth, wbich only relatively recently emerged from the waters of centuries, or the Okapi, which lived hidden in the forests with pygmies). This universe is so vague that many avoid it, so as not to be taken for fools believing in fables. And yet it is inhabited by fascinating creatures, full of poetry and science (at least anthropology!). These emanations from the depths of the human soul deserve an affectionate visit - rather like paying homage to a distant great grandfatber. But to avoid any embarrassment, rather than asking someone to go and visit them, I took it on myself to delve into that world, eyes wide open, ready to admire at times the rather unscientific but thought - provoking marvels in order to be able to retell what I saw and heard. Sabina Melesi undertook a different kind of journey into the world of jewels, to explore the irresistible urge we men and women have always felt to embellish ourselves. To do so we have dressed with up all kinds of objects - shells, stones, crystals, paints, berries, seeds - almost anything you can think of it, provided it is aesthetically appealing. We began by collecting bright pebbles (at least 250,000 years ago), shells to make necklaces (77,000 years ago), and coral branches, pearls, tiny fossils and gold nuggets - all to be used in making trinkets. But we have done so always also seeking for a deeper significance, a symbolic meaning in each of those ornaments, which thus tell us about the identity of the wearer and his or her fears and dreams.
Lucia Simion, on the other hand, takes us on a sea journey to explore the world of sharks. She does so with the usual expertise of someone who has often plunged into underwater worlds clutching her camera. She immediately provides us with some information that will make us revise our ideas. Each year in the world around fifteen people die because of a shark attack, but in the same twelve months, human beings slaughter around l00 million sharks. This massacre is mainly due to the mania of various peoples, almost all from the Far East, for eating shark fin. Having backed off the fins, the sharks are thrown back into the sea as waste. The upshot of all this activity is that around 200 shark species (i.e. around half of those in existence) are in danger of extinction. And since sharks are predators at the top of the food chain in the oceans, a drastic reduction in them will lead to an uncontrollable rise in their prey, causing a loss of species further down the chain, and so on, with deep unpredictable repercussions. Also for humans. In this issue of Ligabue Magazine there is an article by Davide Domenici. Since he is my son I fear I may be accused of nepotism. But I bave a couple of good reasons to justify his inclusion: l) he has been a collaborator with the magazine from way back; 2) he is an archaeologist and deals with pre-Colombian civilisation and therefore is a professional expert in the field. I hope this will clear me of all accusations and allow me to proceed. Davide has tackled a particularly "modern" theme - art and political propaganda - and his main argument is as follows: in pre-Colombian Mesoamerica (where the Olmec, Maya and Aztec civilisations developed) the artists produced thoroughgoing propaganda manifestos for the local rulers. But the various kinds of ruling systems (individual kings, elite groups, etc) actually directly influenced the iconographic and stylistic conventions of the various peoples. You have to read it to believe it. The brilliant Florentine explorer Elio Modigliani was interested in very different peoples. From his travels to the Eastern Indies (Indonesia) he brought back a series of reports and notes which be made public in books, conferences and articles. With great patience and competence, Mila Tommaseo has delved into these precious papers to enable us to savour the "live" atmosphere of the encounter between the polymath scholar and a native world at the time still basically unknown. The result is a very enjoyable brilliant and amusing account, conjuring up a lively portrait of one of the most fascinating Italian explorers. Until recently he had been rather neglected, but then a fine exhibition at the Museum of Anthropology in Florence brought him some deserved attention. The article is accompanied by stunning photographs, now important scientific documents, which Modigliani himself took on his travels. Corrado Lazzari also discusses explorations and discoveries, but not in the traditional sense of the terms. He describes the discovery of the naturalistic aspects of the Venice lagoon and how this knowledge was transformed into books. In reconstructing the story, Lazzari takes us down a path we would never have expected. Plants and spices from exotic far-off countries arrived in Venice, where apothecaries transformed them into medicines and then exported them round the world, bringing Venice wealth and international renown. Obviously the Venetian authorities had to exercise some control over the raw materials brought on the ships and the delicate work of the apothecaries. To do so, they required reference books and documents, and in the 15th century this led to the publication of the first Venetian botanical texts. These books initially dealt with plant species found in the lagoon but then moved on from plants to anirnals, fish and molluscs, marking the beginning of Venetian naturalist publishing. Lastly, I should like to mention the new mini articles of only two pages, dedicated this time to three topics: the automotore (prototype automobile) of 1420, eye glasses in the 12th century and the discovery in a Venetian sbop of an ancient inhabitant of the sea depths.
|Of giant squids and octopuses from the world of fabulous beasts|
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|Plants, apothecaries and printing under the Venetian Republic|
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|Propaganda artists with smashed fingers|
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|Shark-eating man threatens the ocean with eco-disaster|
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|The explorer who bartered a rifle for fifteen human skulls|
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|We are what we wear: jewels and identity|
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