Category: jon-himoff

Some Egypt Tour Operators Offering Full Refunds

Museum-ProtectionUK travel company Bales Worldwide which runs specialist Egyptian package holiday operator Ancient World Tours says it is following industry practice andis offering full refunds for a limited timeas the situation in Egypt changes.

The British Foreign & CommonwealthOffice (FCO) is advising to avoid any non-essential travel to Egypt as well as urging people to leave the country via commercial transport. Check the latest FCO advisory here.

British Airways is also offering refunds and exchanges:

“Even if your flight is operating, the following options are available to you if you are due to travel to or from Cairo and purchased your ticket on or before 28 January 2011. If you are due to travel on or before 3 February 2011, you can: 1)Change the date of travel to a later date up to 28 February 2011. 2)Cancel your booking and obtain a refund to the original form of payment. 3)Use the value of your ticket towards the purchase of a new ticket to any other destination. or 4)If you are due to travel in or out of Cairo you may choose to travel in or out of Sharm El Sheikh. See the latest BA details here.

Cairo BurnsOn the site of STA Travel however, they are showing their policy that will not give any refunds for what they call “changes beyond our control”.

They further explain:”Compensation will not apply if a significant change is made for reasons beyond our control. These include: war, threat of war, riots, civil disturbances, terrorist activity, industrial disputes, natural and nuclear disasters, fire, epidemics, health risks, changes due to rescheduling or cancellation of flights by an airline…”

You might find that your tour operator has additional conditions regarding refunds.

Also,check your travel insurance or credit card coverage to see what might be protected. ABTA the travel association offers some steps for resolving complaints with its member tour operators.

More than 1.3 million people visited Egypt from the UK in 2009.Tourism in Egypt is reported to be 7.3 billion a year in 2009 and employing 12% of the population.

Roman Pub Discovered Under New Luxury Hotel in London Syon Park

During excavation work in 2008 to build a new luxury hotel on the grounds of Syon Park in west London on the bank of the Thames workers encountered buried objects. The Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) department now confirms that these are Roman artefacts dating from the 1st century AD.

Thousands of artefacts have been collected during the field work including a late bronze age gold bracelet, which has no context in the Roman settlement. Additionally notes the Museum: “Human skeletons found, could have been the remains of former occupants of the settlement, although the placing of the skeletons in ditches is particularly curious and more research is currently being undertaken.”

Jo Lyon, Senior Archaeologist at MOLA says “we have collected more than 11,500 pottery fragments, some of high status as well as many coins and jewellery. It is really just someone else’s rubbish–but it is treasure to us. We can now understand daily life during the mid-Romanization of Britain period. It was the height of their empire and they were spreading out. The area was settled for a sequence of 300 years.”

“The human remains,” comments Lyon, “were not found in a cemetery, but sort of in the back garden. It is extremely casual–odd even.”

The artefacts were found very close to the surface, less than 0.5 meter deep. The artefacts are all now in the MOLA lab being studied further. Hopefully there will be more to learn from this activity still.

The location is on the road between major Roman cities of Londinium (take a video tour of Londinium with history-buff Ian Smith) and Silchester and the settlement was likely a resting point for travellers. Interesting then that a new hotel is being placed in same area thousands of years later. It is a lovely spot overlooking the river. The new Waldorf Astoria hotel is planned to open in 2011 and may show some of the artefacts on their site. Hopefully the best pieces will not be auctioned-off to a private buyer like the Crosby Garret Cavalary Helmetthat fetched 2 million. However, the artefacts are on the property of the Duke of Northumberland, one of the wealthiest men in Britain, so it will be interesting to see what he decides to do with these discoveries.

The Museum of London Archaeology department is quite active helping construction companies to preserve the ancient heritage while still advancing the modern skyline and new buildings.

Chasing Fame and Mummies: Zahi Hawass Goes Global

Dr. Zahi Hawass at the British Museum - SpeechThere is a billboard on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles where Zahi Hawass is framed in the photo to look bigger than the Great Pyramid.Supposedly, it is all a matter of perspective.

In the same way you can take your own view on the reality television series “Chasing Mummies” from History Channel.

(If anyone in LA can snap a good shot of that billboard, please add it to the comments below.)

In terms of realityTV fare on the tube, I guess this show is pretty good. It is action packed. The series has a strongstar driving the drama andmany interesting, unexpected things randomly happening. All of this is set inamazing places, like the Giza plateau, Saqqara and the tomb of Seti I.

Even the hapless intern Zoe d’Amato is -nothwithstanding her bladder size- starting to grow on me. They shoot her as a kinda dopey, mousey klutz, but actually she seems very pretty and smart on her website.Will shetransform into a butterfly by the last show?

Yet, the producers seem to have a lack of imagination on what makes the show truly dramatic. Wouldn’t it begreat to see Zahi negotiate the King Tut exhibition deals worth $ millions to Egypt? What about following the Egyptology tsar to Berlin, in order to discuss Nefertiti’s repatriation?Or Dr Zahi personally chasing looters and evil antiquity traders out of Egypt?

Education by accident might be the result.

What more could you expect from the History Channel that also airs shows like “Pawn Stars” and “Ice Road Truckers”. Personally, I’d ratherwatch a bit of Caribbean Cops for this kind of stuff.

If you were expecting somethinglike History Channel’s “King Arthur’s Round Table Revealed”, more a docu-CSI-mystery format, then probably you will be disappointed with the frenetic Cairo driving or claustrophobic scenes inside the narrow chambers with Dr. Hawass – it does look pretty hot in there.

However, at least a lot of people zapping on the tube will get some information and ideas about Egyptian culture. Education by accident might be the result.The general state of awareness of history by the reality tv viewing audience should get a little lift in any case?

Just maybe Chasing Mummies will inspire some people to watch Zahi’s more serious stuff (check out some of our picks here), to learn more about the Ancient World – or even to visit a museum.

In the video on the right, Dr Zahi explains his motivation for the series to Associated Press.

Hawass is also doing the radio talk show circuit and spoke to the gang at WOC1420 radio which you can listen to here:
Zahi Hawass on WOC Morning Report 23 June 2010.

Chasing Fame,
Reality or

The main criticism about the show seems to be about how much of it is scripted; “Is Chasing Mummiesreal?!”.

Indeed, it is a bit hard to believe so many wacky things could happen all at once. The outcome is more like a “Seinfeld” episode than “Big Brother.”

Zoe D'Amato - Actress and Model Zoe D'Amato - Baghaded ER Negative SandwichArchaelogy moves a much slower pace than tomb raiding with Lara Croft or Indiana Jones, but would watching people painstackingly brush sand for artefacts be good viewing?

Probably all these kinds of things did really happen and do happen, but the show format seems to be in-between re-enactment and reality. It’s just confusing.They could have just let Zahi tell stories about what did happen and flashback re-enactments. That wouldhave been more genuine.

Zahi Hawass definitelyhas the adventures to share, and the passion to makethemexciting -all the noise about the disorganized film crew just gets in the way.

Sure DrZahi is a tough love, screaming person. That is for real. You have to have the volume on 11 to get above the sounds of the sandstorms in the desert.

Zahi is the sheriff out there. He makes and enforces the law about how things can and cannot be done.

It is also the communication style of that part of the world to scream and wave hands around a lot. I think though some of the sense is lost in the translation to the tube.

The Pharaoh bit in the promo is a bit too much and – unfortunately – overstepping seems to diminish Zahi’s statur. But’Chasing Mummies’ surelyis entertaining and audiences respond to the pretense?

Check out this video of Dr Zahi under the Cairo Egyptian Museum where you get that calm, wise, personal feel for what he is about.

What do you think? Is it possible to consider ‘Chasing Mummies’ to be edutainment and/or suitable for kids to watch?Isthe showdoing Egyptology – and archaeology – any favours?Should Dr Hawass have passed for the show? Or is it the producers to blame? And err.. where did Dr Hawass’ all-Egyptian team (reclaiming Egyptology) go?

Culture Beyond Oil Spills Inside British Museum: Activism or Terrorism?

BP oil disaster strikes British MuseumA group of three people dressed in black veils entered the British Museum and solemnly spilled an oil substance near the iconic Eastern Island Moai statue as a form of protest against BP for the Gulf Oil spill disaster. According to blog Culture24 they choose the Hoa Hakananai because of “its fabled links with the sudden demise of reputedly strong civilisations.”

BP is a major sponsor for the British Museum as well as other art institutions including the Tate and Royal Opera.

Says activist Ben Cooper: “Just like the forests on Easter Island, oil represents a resource being over-exploited despite massively increasing risks. “

“With our relentless search for oil we are risking the collapse of the ecosystems on which we depend just as the inhabitants of Easter Island did 2,000 years ago.”

It is certainly a high profile attack on the British Museum and was covered across the papers in London today.

Is it fair pressure to put on the Museum though, especially when they are trying to deal with potential major funding cuts?

Should Museum management be forced to vet companies that they take money from? Where would you need to draw the line then–would some of their bank or law firm supporters also merit protest and attack within the Museum itself? (see the list of BM global sponsors here). And what about all the BP pensioners, should there be protests in their homes?

I think it is absolutely fair enough to protest BP, but it should never be inside the Museum. It is simply too risky have random activity near such priceless objects. Museums are not organized to deal with this type of threat–even if done “responsibly” (by masked people). We don’t want to have Museums forced to implement airport-level security. This “Culture Beyond Oil” group could have made a protest outside the Museum gates. While provocative and flashy, this particular stunt was enormously irresponsible.

Perhaps it is also time to consider the debate as to whether or not the British Museum should still be free to access.

If the Museums were more directly connected with admissions fees, perhaps they would be less reliant on Sponsors to top-up their revenues.

The Museum is now facing a discussion with the Government about dramatic funding cuts up to 30%.

Adding more security costsis not at all going to help the public explore the vast and amazing collection.

On the right,submissions to the Greenpeace “Behind the Logo” competition to redesign the BP logo.

Chasing Mummies: History Channel and Zahi Hawass Bringing Hell to the Pyramids

Zahi Hawass has a new television show coming out on History Channel tomorrow, called “Chasing Mummies“. We had a look at the trailer and it seems like they are going for a highly pop-culture adventure-like, make-the-big-finds angle to attract the thrill-seekers. You had Ice Road Truckers, now get ready for Sand Dead Diggers starring the High Plains Sifter?

It all has to be good for making archeology more exciting and discovering history more fun. But at the same time, you have to wonder if the History Channel, on the heels of Discovery Channel’s King Tut Unwrapped, is mixing up the medium too much and overshadowing the message. Or in other words, as you can see in the action-figure type trailer below — are they taking the piss in the pyramids?

Zahi Hawass‘s reputation is already legendary, global and seems to be growing. Could this sensational format put him into a new level of celebrity? He has made fantastic strides to protect and share the amazing Egyptian heritage (check some of our HKZahi Hawass videos here, including his plan to discover Seti I tomb that recently was concluded). Sure he rules the Supreme Council of Antiquites (SCA) with an iron hand — but it also seems to need that.

Chasing Mummies or Hell’s Pyramids?

Yet, can the likes of Zahi keep pace with tomb raiders like sexy shooter Lara Croft? With whom would you rather slide through hidden passages in dark burial grounds? Is fantasy the more popular window on the past?

Or more importantly, should personalities cater to what is popular at the expense of missing the opportunity to do more? Do you get the audience first and then deliver the message inside the package in a unexpected way?

At least LaraCroft is taking us on an adventure together in an interactive, 3D way. But History Channel would rather put Zahi above us on the untouchable celeb stage.The intro to the third episode of the series called “Lost” reads: “Most people experience something rare or exceptional once or twice in a lifetime, but Zahi Hawass, unimpeded by his tireless lust for adventure, lives many lifetimes in a single day.”

All the aggression in the trailer suggest the show will have the world’s best known archeologist more like the irate, Gordon Ramsay screaming at the moronic chefs that are about to poision their customers. Is “Hell’s Pyramid” the best they could think up? You can almost hear the screams about King Tut’s missing penis.

They did an open casting call for people to participate in the series.

You can see some of the posts up on YouTube like this one from Casey Fitchner, who is probably really glad not to be getting blasted at point blank range by the “daddy of all mummies.”

It will be interesting to see what is really on offer beyond the hype of the trailer.

I hope there are some of the great moments where Zahi, set in a breathtaking Nile setting, looks into the camera and shares his passion and his unique insights, but leaves the lust for the american docu-makers in the dust of the desert.

I guess if it takes a little sizzle to set that scene, then it might be worth waiting and watching.

real men mummies

On the left, my avatar has a virtual Zahi Hawass hat that you can try to win in one of our quests at the Heritage Key virtual experience.

There are a lot of events and contests running so check here to see what is going on now.

Better Way to Experience Virtual Online with Our Browser Viewer

In-browser preview virtual experience ft Unity 3D viewerWe are testing out a new way to let visitors see and explore great discoveries and artefacts online virtually. The new viewer runs right inside your browser, so there is no need for downloading a new application. You will need to add the Unity3D plug-in (sort of like Flash) to your browser unless you already have it.

We are releasing this first areas “the Gallery Preview” as Alpha now and appreciate . You will need to Register/Login now to have a look, but once we get some feedback we will make the public. There is only one type of avatar, so it might be a little confusing when you run into other visitors. Have fun, click and try to break it! More technical information about this prototype can be found on our company blog .

You need to be a registereduser to use the demo.
So, please,REGISTER(don’t worry, it’s free) or LOGIN

Lingering Whispers: Gothic Modern Art Exhibit in London’s St Pancras Church Crypt

The exhibition called "Lingering Whispers" will run until 6th June. Click image to skip to the video.

The St Pancras Church in the center of London sends us signals about the ancient Greeks with the recreation of the Erechtheum, or ‘Porch of the Maidens’, from the Acropolis in Athens. I always get a more gothic feel from the four powerful female figures at the front of the church. Maybe it’s the bright red doors or the streaks of caked-on grime that seem more Victorian than classical? Today the crypt below the Caryatids at the rear of the building is the venue for 40 international artists in the group show called Lingering Whispers, which runs until 06 June 2010.

The challenge put to visitors: “Does self expression flourish under pressure? Is creativity at its most acute in times of social, political and financial crises? More than anything, do the Arts provide hope during periods of extreme difficulty?”

These are questions of hope and prayer fitting for the venue. The Greek Caryatids were at first priestesses for Artemis in the greek village of Karyai. There seems even to be some link with Helen of Troy in ancient times. Regardless, these iconic statues represent the force of female beauty. The Romans used simillar figures in buildings across their Empire. Lord Elgin took one of the original Erectheum Caryatids from the site and brought it to his home in Scotland, later selling it to the British Museum with the Parthenon Marbles. Elgin had also tried to take a second Caryatid, but shattered it in the attempt to remove it.

So maybe the theme of commercialism is also infused into the art, which is of course on sale. Michal Ohana Cole has some interesting pieces made from sliced-up money in the shape of Princess Diana that stir-up, and perhaps confuse, our own sense of value.

Lingering Whispers is at the Crypt, St Pancras Church, Euston Road, London NW1 2BA until 6th June 2010. Entry is free, and the exhibition is open 11am-6pm, with weekly ‘meet the artist’ sessions on Saturdays from 3-4 pm. Check the video below for a taster on what is on offer. Special thanks to artist Michal Ohana Cole and show producer Virginie Puertolas-Syn. More information for LingerWhisper on the web.

HD Video: Lingering Whispers at the Crypt of St Pancras Church, London

St Pancras Church is one of our top 10 places to experience ancient Greece in London – find out what else made our hitlist here.

Lost in the Museum — Slideshow from the Louvre Ancient World Collections

Sometimes getting lost in the museum is the most interesting way to find something. Notwithstanding the Louvre in Paris being an expansive, vast area, wandering the rooms in search of a specific place you may not find (read more about the long walk here) is a good way to discover something–even if that something wasn’t what you had planned to find.

Below is short slideshow of some of the objects we ran across in our short visit to the Louvre. It is a fairly random collection of artefacts from Assyria, Greece, Crete and Egypt. Mainly these photos are the images that were better lit. I hope I got all the titles right, even haven taken photos of the tags didn’t make it that easy to figure out what is what now that I am back in front of the computer. It is a bit of a wonder why they place these incredible things around the museum with such care, but don’t bother much helping you understand what you are looking. Is the purpose of a museum just to show stuff or to make sense of things? Anyway, these objects are certainly beautiful and proof that the ancient world continues to reach across time and mesmerize us.

I think the images are a lot sharper when shooting close with a wider angle on the zoom. I tried to adjust the distortion in photoshop as well as correct the lighting to get a more realistic white balance. Even with the auto white balance all the different lighting types scrambled up my light meter.

Lost in the Museum — Oolala Louvre

I had a great break last weekend and made a one-day shot London/Paris/London via the Eurostar (which is best way to travel this itinerary) to join some family for a special celebration. After lunch we also had (not enough) time to make a quick visit to the Louvre Museum. Given the recent incident where the Louvre was busted by Zahi Hawass for taking “hot” artefacts from Egypt, we decided to go have a look at the Egyptian Collection. The Louvre is even bigger than I had remembered it. Getting to the Egyptian area was not very easy.

Louvre, Paris view on Glass Pyramid from Egyptian Gallery

So the first major tip on visiting the Louvre is to try to avoid the big lines to buy tickets (9 for permanent collection 14 for specials exhibitions combo ticket) you can find ticket machines or shops in the shopping center area near the Metro side entrance level. You can also buy tickets online or at FNAC. The lines can be very long, so getting a ticket is an important part of your gameplan.

Louvre bastet the cat

As it turns out we made a big mistake in selecting our entrance to the Museum. We went into the gate marked “Richelieu” (probably because we saw too many 3 Musketeer movies). In fact, to strike toward the Egyptian collection you would be better off entering via “Sully.” Ithink the scale on the map doesn’t really give an accurate idea on just how far you need to walk across the Louvre if you choose the wrong starting point. In general, the walk is across many amazing things, but we were pressed for time. The rooms of the museum are almost as interesting as the objects on display. You really need to look around, check the spectacularly painted ceilings and (and out the windows where I was able to take the photo of the Pyramid above). It is truly a stunning place. It must be the most gorgeous museum in the world (like Paris is the most beautiful city anyway).

Louvre A King Ramses ii maybe detail

We eventually made it to the start of the Egyptian Antiquities area (Room 30 on the 1st Floor). My mission was to get to see the Akhenaton pillar fragment highlighted in the map in Room 25. It seemed a lot like the monumental sculpture of Akhenaton in the Cairo Museum that Ihad the chance to see last year. The representation of Akhenaton are usually so distorted and trippy.

The first piece that I noticed was a very nice Bastet the Cat (watch video: Animal Cults in Egypt). This particular cat has lovely blue lines around the eyes. It seems amazingly serene and wise.

A bit further along was this very interesting wooden piece marked “a King, possibly Ramses II”. Iliked the sequin-looking beads that must have been a shimmering crown when it was originally made. The mummy of Ramses II is in the Cairo Museum in their very creepy mummy room. Bob Brier, aka Mr Mummy, writes that Ramses II hair has been studied and shows that the famed ruler was red headed. (Interested to know about how mummies are made? Check this step-by-step mummy recipe and also a video here.)

By this time we were within 20 minutes of the the 6pm museum closing. We had no chance really of making it more than 50 more meters down the galleries. There are some many amazing small object to catch your eye. I could have spent hours there. We could see though that the museum staff were in fact eager to get out and back home even sooner than the closing time. They are starting to push us and the rest of the weary visitors out as fast as they could herd us (5:50pm on my watch).

Fortunately we were close to the beautiful Stele of Taperete. At first glance it is hard to believe that this wooden panel is around 3,000 years old. The colors are vibrant and the lines sharp. It is interesting to see her in some appreciation of two different forms of the sun god Ra. I really like what seems to be flowers shining/flowing down to her from the sun disk. The opposite side panel has this unexpected, amazing giant, nude female figure arched over the scene with her fingers gently touching the ground. Really it is quite stunning, almost like something from a Klimt painting. It is always impressive how much Egyptian artefacts seem so modern and famillar considering how ancient they are.

Louvre Stele of Taperete (with Ra-Horakhty)

Louvre Stele of Taperete

The good news is that getting out of the Louvre is a lot easier than trying to find a specific area. We came out onto the street level from inside the glass pyramid. The lights of the Louvre reflected on the pools around the exit. We enjoyed a walk down the dark autumn evening at Tulleries garden. A little more than three hours later I was back in the center of London.

Top Ten Artefacts at the Neues Museum in Berlin

The Neues Museum re-establishes itself as one of the premier ancient world destination in Europe–and the world really– after being closed since 1939. The collection combined with the restored/re-imagined building delivers an experience that every real ancient world explorer needs to embrace.

Neues Museum - Main Entrance Stairs

You need to get straight to the Main Stairs to start your exploration of the Neues. Feel the vibrations of history from the not so old Soviet bullet holes that still pepper the structural walls nearest the windows to the romanesque columns and classical castings from the Parthenon. Use the modern stairs to transport yourself across time and history at the Neues.

I made a fast blast through the museum this week and here is my short list of 10 items not to miss when you make your visit. Ilisted them in a sort of random tour as well. It jumps you across the Museum, perhaps not in the most efficient manner, but if you are in a rush, well plan a better day out and take your time to breathe it all in. (Don’t worry I will also share more photos and comments about more of the collection as well).

Nefertiti Bust Photo Slideshow

The Nefertiti Bust

1351 BC – Amarna, Egypt (Room 210)

Certainly the most famous and iconic of all the pieces in the Neues Collection, Nefertiti is the reigning Queen of Berlin’s Museum Island. I suppose she has gained a most unexpected afterlife.

The presentation of this artefact is stunning and impacts us to link the ancient with the modern world. I would go straight to this piece, via the main staircase, when first visiting the Neues and then come back again before you leave.

Helios at the Neues Museum Berlin, Oct 15, 2009


136AD – Lycopolis, Egypt (Room 2003)

Facing Nefertiti from the furtherest end of the Neues to the other is the roman statue of Helios discovered at Lycopolis, theGraeco-Roman name for the modern day city of Asyut.

Isuppose it is some sense of humor to have Nefertiti, the wife of Akhenaten–the Sun God/King, facing the Sun God.

collection house altar

The House Alatar

(Room 209)

Take a loop across the 2nd Floor and come all the back around to see this incredible family scene of Akhenaten and Nefertiti with their children. The scene is rich in meaning as well as being incredily sharp and well preserved.

collection gold hat

The Golden Hat

5th to 8th Century BC, Discovery Site Unknown (Room 305)

Leap up and way across the 3rd floor to see the weird, shimmering Gold Hat. You can imagine how the archaeologists that discovered this artefact must have been thinking at first “what is this thing?”

700,000 Years Old Biface

700,000 years old (Room 302)

Let your mind loose to consider the ocean of time that we are swimming in. Early man carved tools, such as this neolithic biface, to hunt and cut things. Have we really changed that much?

Troy Gold at Neues Museum Berlin, Oct 15, 2009

Schlieman’s Troy Treasures

(Room 103-104)

Ithink understanding Schlieman will also help understand the somewhat eccentric feel of the Neues Museum. Here are some of his great discoveries from Troy in his adventures to discover the heroes from Homer’s legends of the Illiad and Odyssey.

You can also note the comments about how some much of the German collections were sacked by the Soviets and still are in Russia to this day.

collection lion sarc

Lion Sarcophagus

3rd Century AD – Rome, Italy (Room 012)

The way the Lions curl away from this sarcophagus is extraordinary. They are the fierce guardains of the spirit of the dead.

collection dionysus vert


2nd half 1st Century BC – Rome (Room 004)

The statue of Dionysus is a very elegant and well presented sculpture.

collection amenemhat long

King Amenemhat III

1840 BC – Memphis, Egypt (Room 110)

The walk down the hall to see the statue of Amenemhat III is perhaps the highlight of the entire Neues Museum–you are meant to start your visit here I think, but Iwould put it in the end of a tour as it makes you see the entire collection fresh.

The mix of ancient, streamlined sculptures and the shabby-chic wall decorations are inspiring.

collection seti column tight

Seti I

Valley of the Kings, Egypt (Room 110)

A section from probably the most gorgeous tomb ever discovered. The discovery of Seti I’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings was the greatest find prior to King Tut.

Now the tomb is closed, so seeing this great column section in Neues is a spectacular treat. The colors and detail are awesome.

There are of course many, many more things to see at the Neues. At least the Top 10 items above will give you a flavour of what is awaiting every ancient world explorer at the newest part of Berlin’s Museum Island.