On observing the headline "Vladimir Putin's Fake Jugs", I successfully managed to spit tea all over my computer console..
...really? His jugs are fake.....?
I know that during the relentlessly macho (and wonderfully hilarious) series of 2011 pre election photo opportunities (Putin naked from the waist up whilst fishing / naked from the waist up whilst riding a horse / naked from the waist up whilst wrestling a bear / naked from the waist up whilst wrestling another man naked from the waist up etc) the Russian dictator (sorry, democratically elected president) proudly carried an impressively eye wateringly clean-shaven pair of man boobs...but could they really be fake? - and what, in all seriousness, would be the point of that? Do moobs win votes? It's been a while since I was last in
, but I wasn't sure that the electorate's tastes had changed all that much. Was Putin deliberately displaying his maternal side in order to win votes? Was he carrying his packed lunch in them? Were they especially designed secret weapons created by the fiendishly clever Russian equivalent of Q-Branch (and perhaps housing Putin's own special variety of interballistic missile)? Russia
The mind boggled.
Then it dawned on me. The 'Fake Jugs' were not in fact those belonging to the president (thankfully), but the two artefacts allegedly recovered by him from the bottom of the Black Sea during his brief foray into marine archaeology last August.
The heroic leader, unfortunately clad in wet suit (I’m sure he could have been naked from the waist up if he’d really tried) emerged from the water, (Greek) jugs in hand, to wave them (his Greek jugs) to a wildly appreciative audience. The jugs ‘had been waiting for him since the 6th century AD at a depth of two metres’ gushed one State-owned paper in awe of their leader's new found archaeo-prowess.
I remember thinking at the time that it was odd that the jugs - let’s call them urns shall we – were rather too ‘clean’ and ‘unarchaeological’, whilst all the archaeologists in the background of the photo shoot, instead of grinning like they had just won the lottery, all looked a tad shifty, as if they’d just buried all their scruples in a great big box and politely nudged them down a mine shaft, but hey, I guess everyone needs a bit of publicity now and then. Putin waves his jugs (and adds another tick to his list of heroic activities, which include killing a fierce tiger (and saving the lives of a TV crew who just happened to be there), riding a wet horse through wet water and leading some lost Siberian cranes to safety whilst piloting a deltaplane), some archaeology is saved, Sochi, the nearby Black Sea resort hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics, gets a plug and eco-friendly tourism gets mentioned….job done.
Except, of course, it isn’t…the jugs (sorry urns) were planted, it would appear, for Vlad to find. What a shock - really - well, at least for all those who know nothing about archaeology anyway (and at least the planting of archaeological finds for a photo-opprtunity is only ‘mildly unethical’, the killing of a pre-tranquilised tiger for the purpose of gaining TV coverage is something else entirely).
If one puts the complete abandonment of archaeological ethics to one side (and that's a big IF), we are left with the curious thought that archaeological fieldwork was top of Vladimir Putin’s list of ‘Things to be seen doing’ in his pre election campaign. Perhaps this was because, in his own world of horse riding, fish wrestling and moob shaving, archaeology is a gloriously heroic, Indiana Jones style, gung-ho, rip-roaring, tomb-raiding type of adventure of the sort guarateed to improve one’s standing, win votes and show-off on TV. Alternatively, perhaps, Vladimir is really a caring, sharing, eco-friendly archaeo-activist with a deep and abiding love of salvaging the remains of lost civilisations....