Category: jon-himoff - Part 2

Nefertiti’s New ‘Heimat’ – Neues Museum in Berlin Open Again

The Neues Museum will reopen on 17 October after being closed for more than 70 years. It will be a great moment in German history as well as a major milestone for world culture. The collection of ancient world objects is outstanding, and their presentation helps place them in the context of their original era, whilst adding to our understanding of the world in which we now live.

Neues Museum Main StairsThe renovation of the 8,000 square meter museum cost about 220 million (about $328 million and a lot more than the brand new build the New Acropolis Museum, which reportedly cost $200 million).

There are more than 9,000 objects on display with large collections from pre-history and ancient Egypt. The collections are mainly shown thematically, often by contrasting objects, which works well and engages the visitor. The Neues Museum is part of the Berlin Museum Island which now can be considered to be one of the best – if not the best – ancient world destinations in Europe.

Neues Museum Re-Opens, Germany Re-Connects History

nefertiti unveiled neues

Enter the Neues Museum and be ready to travel across time. Run your hand across the Soviet bullet holes in the exterior walls, and think about what this building has witnessed since it first opened in 1859. Consider the Prussian ambitions that ended in Nazi realities. Does history endlessly repeat itself, from power and rebellion in the era of Akhenaten to the time of the Romans to lives of the Romanovs?

We have won this building back from ruins, says Michael Eissenhauer, General Director of the National Museums in Berlin (SMB). Perhaps Germany, a leading world economy already, can mark also having won itself back too with this opening, 20 years on from pulling down the Wall. In the 19th century, Bismark wanted to show the world that Germany was among the world powers by having it’s own collection of masterpieces across history. What Germany could never achieve in War it may have gained in Peace.

The Renovation of the Neues Museum

Clearly thrilled to finally be able to share the Neues with the public, Eissenhauer explains: No one could have expected this complete renovation to have happened. Neues is part of five historical buildings that were like a row of pearls, but all damaged during the War. The first shell hit the Neues Museum in 1943 near where the minimalist main staircase now carries you up toward the Nefertiti Dome gallery (watch a slideshow of the Queen on display in room 210). By 1945 an entire third of this architecturally significant 19th century building was destroyed. The building lay in weed-infested shambles for more than 40 years.

David Chipperfield, the UK architect who won the competition for the design, had an almost unsolvable task, continues Eissenhauer. How to restore the builidng while maintaining the work of the original architect Friedrich August Stler. When we started the renovation there was a tree in the middle of the site that was more than 30 years old

The German Democratic Republic (Die Deutsche Demokratische Republik, DDR) made some attempt to redevelop the Museum complex, but mainly all they were able to do was open the Pergamon Altar (which actually I saw in 1985).

Neues Press Conference 1 text

Eissenhauer credits Chipperfield with staying true to the spirt of the technical innovations that the building reflected back in the 19th Century (see a collection of images of the Neues before the War here):

Chipperfield was able to withdraw himself from the need to make his own statement in the renovation. Instead he treated the design with great respect and focused on the functions that the new rooms had to deliver.

But it is not an easy design to appreciate on a first visit. Eissenhauer shared with me that his initial impression was not very positive. At first I even felt very lost entering room 108. The function though is to store tombs and now that the artefacts and walls are installed everything fits. Architecture has delivered the purpose of the room without getting in the way of the content. I must say though that I shared his first impression and room 108 and the rest of the new sections left me cold compared to the restored areas. So another good reason to go back! Maybe it gets even better.

More images from the press conference at the Neues Museum:

neues conference pano 1 full
Panorama view of the Greek Courtyard at the Neues Museum where the re-opening press conference was held on 15th October 2009

neues eissenhauer 1Michael Eissenhauser, General Director National Museums Berlin (left), Matthias Wemhoff, Director of Museum of Prehistory and Early History (right)

neues seyfried
Friederike Seyfried, Director Egyptian and Papyrus Collection at Neues Museum (center) Hermann Parzinger, President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (right), Andreas Scholl, Director Classical Antiquites (left)

The strongest visual impression I want to share is the stunning juxtaposition of the ancient Egyptian sculptures against the rich, textured walls which are quasi-restored/decorated in remains from the original building. I have tons of photos (see them here) showing the simplified Egyptian styles against really almost ‘shabby chic’ style walls . The mash-up of the straight-edge modern with the classical column peppered with more Soviet bullet holes overwhelms you in the great staircase in the center of the building. This place seems to be the heart of the design. It hits us with many signals from our learnings, notions and forces us into a new space where we can experience the impact of this significant collection fresh. Neues has the feel of an eccentric’s vast castle and you are a welcomed visitor.

Schlieman and Looted Art and Artefacts

Perhaps this is also some legacy from Henrich Schlieman, the tycoon who went in search of Homer’s heroesand perhaps found them in Mycenae and Troy. At Neues, Schlieman finally gets the stage he deserves. Yet, Schlieman is a very controversial figure, as even the Museum Guidebook points out: Schlieman violated contractual agreements with the Turkish authorities by having [the Troy] treasure transported to his house in Athens. He was ordered to pay 10,000 gold francs, but actually paid three times that amount. As a result, the treasure and many of the other artefacts became legally his property. Even 30,000 gold francs seems like quite a good deal for a priceless treasure. The discoveries at Troy, possibly from King Priam, includes 8,830 items of gold, silver, electrum and copper. According to a sign at the Museum, many of these artefacts are still in Russia.

And what about the Russians – ahem, Soviets? Why are there so many digs at their sacking the collection at the end of the war? On relations with the Russians Eissenhauer advised that they are aware of the locations of all the missing objects from the Neues Museum that were sacked at the end of the War. The Germans have access to Schlieman’s discoveries at Troy in particular, but would like to see more free exchange of research.

Nonetheless, there are some plaques on the exhibition entitled Looted Art which would suggest that there are some stronger feelings within (at least amongst the people who write the tags for exhibits – there a some more sharp comments on tags at the Pergamon Altar also) that the Russians are holding the artefacts against international law. This is of course wobbly ground with respect to the Germans’ still questionable claim to the bust of Nefertiti – as well as invading countries during the War and other actions that were against international law as well.

German Chancellor Merkel will be making a formal opening speech on 16 October at the larger space over at the Pergamon Museum. No doubt she will take the chance to appreciate this moment in re-connecting Germany with the best parts of its own heritage as well as welcome the world to Berlin to discover the great heritage common to us all.

Neues Museum Re-Opens Soon on Berlin Museum Island

I am making a short expedition to Berlin’s Museum Island which is establishing itself firmly as a major destination in Europe for Ancient World artefacts. This week the Neues Museum is re-opening to the public after a massive renovation project. The place looks amazing and is as much about the modern world as the ancient. Iwill be traveling over there to learn more about the design of this impressive building and complex of museums as well as to get a good look at one of the most iconic artefacts on display anywhere in the world — the Nefertiti Bust (Nofretete in german).

Neues Museum Reopens in Berlin

Nefertiti will have a special hall now (which would certainly make it hard to imagine that she is not intended to stay as the centerpiece of the Neues collection). As the Neues brochure eloquent explains: “the exhibition concept places special emphasis on giving visitors a good idea of what the Ancient Egyptains looked like, through a series of sculptures arranged in several rooms according to various viewpoints, the apotheosis of which is formed by the display of the bust of Nefertiti.” There are many, many more pieces of course in this gigantic collection.

Karl Lagerfeld shooting at the Neues Museum, Berlin - Photo by Achim Kleuker. Courtesy Neues Museum.The Gold Hat is a spectacular item: according to the Neues: “Golden hats were most likely used as cult objects and worn over a period of hundreds of years by political or religious leaders during ceremonial and cultural events. Only four golden hats stemming from the Bronze Age survive in Europe today. The Berlin Gold Hat is made from gold leaf, hammered until wafer-thin. The conical hat is adorned with chased patterns arranged to form horizontal bands.”

I will be shooting tons of photos (on my new 8gig compact flash card). So I hope to share some highlights soon here on Heritage Key. I already have some shots from the Altes and Pergamon Museum on my Flickr stream here.

Karl Lagerfeld also made a visit to the Neues recently (I probably won’t wear my leather clothes, although I like the stance!). His photos of the Neues are due out in the 30th anniversary edition of German Vogue.

Berlin’s Museum Island gained World Heritage Site status in 1999 and consists of the Neues, Altes, Pergamon (featuring the Zeus Altar), Bode and Alte National Museums.


Gods Versus Giants: Scenes From Gigantomachy, the Pergamon Altar at Berlin’s Museum Island

The Pergamon Altar,also called the Zeus Altar, in Pergamon Museum on Berlin’s Museum Island, is a must see for anyone serious about understanding the ancient world. The scenes of the ‘Gigantomachy’, depicting the battle of the Greek gods against the giants is one of the most spectacular examples of Hellenic art and is presented in an impressive quasi-reconstruction.

The backstory of how the the Pergamon Altar is even in Berlin is also a great drama – a drama that bears an uncanny resemblance to that of the Elgin Marbles.

The Pergamon Altar was originally from Bergama, Turkey, where remains of the Pergamon Acropolis still can be seen. In 1864/65 Carl Humann, a german engineer, first visited the site noting: “to the casual observer it looks like one big field of rubble covered with grass and low bushes.”

Beneath the dirt, though, lay the ruins of what Lucius Ampelius, the roman teacher/historian called in his Liber Memorialis‘a great marble altar, 40 feet high, with remarkable statues, and the entire is surrounded by a Battle of the Giants’. In 1878 the then Prussians, having declared the German Empire in 1871, paid 20,000 marks for permission from the Ottomans to excavate the site and take the discovery back to Berlin.

The Prussians viewed the Pergamon Altar as an opportunity to prove their status on the world stage with a major cultural trophy. When it first opened to visitors in the 1900’s it did impress the world. Later, Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect, took inspiration from the Altar for the design of his Zeppelintribne (featured in Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will) which took the architectural elements and exploded them onto an even larger scale (read more about Nazi Archaeology).

Was it also a key reference for Lenin’s Masoleum? It is a bit hard to see the direct references. Nonetheless, in 1948 the Soviets took the Pergamon Altar, according to the Berlin Museum, “along with thousands of other objects”. Ten years later, the USSR returned the Altar to East Berlin. Now the Pergamon Altar is a key part of the new Berlin Museum Island 233 million renovation project, which will challenge the British Museum as a top Ancient World visitor destination.

Scenes from “Gigantomachy” the Battle of the Gods and Giants

“Gigantomachy” – The Epic Battle Between the Gods and Giants

The battle between the gods and giants is sort of the sequel to the how the Greek gods vanquished the Titans. Cronus, who had killed his own father, learned of the prophecy that he himself would be over-thrown by his child. So, he ate all his children. Rhea, the mother of Demeter, Hera, Hades, Hestia and Poseidon begged Gaia, Cronus’s mother, for help and specifically to protect Zeus who had just been secretly born in Crete. Rhea gave Cronus a stone, the Omphalos Stone according to legend, wrapped in linens and convinced Cronus is has another baby. When Zeus was older he led the revolt against his father, the “Titanomachy”, first giving Cronus a poison supplied by Gaia that forced Cronus to vomit up all the children. But the political structure of the greek gods remained unstable and later Gaia, Zeus’ grandmother, supported the giants, also her children, in yet another fierce battle for supremacy.

However, Hercules had discovered a magical herb that gave the Olympian gods strength/immortality. Aided with this force the gods engaged the giants and ultimately defeated them, sending them into the earth. So Hercules shares the center of the Pergamon Eastern Frieze in honor of his key role in victory.

– The Eastern Frieze

The Eastern Frieze would have been at the rear of the structure, first to see the sun in the morning. Visitors to Pergamon in 2nd Century BC would have entered from the West. Standing at the Altar around sunset would have been amazing as the glow of the sun radiated through all the columns and covered the marble in rich golden colors.

The intensity of the epic fight is overwhelming – even in the partial fragments that can be seen today. (See slideshow by clicking here) Imagine what it would have been like complete and in color! It must have been a breath-taking sight for the people of the day.

The first scene on the Eastern Frieze shows us Hekate, the triple-bodied Titan, goddes of witchcraft and magic, along with her Molossian dog, battling the giant Klytios, who although out-armed against Hekate’s combined parry of torch, sword and lance attempts to hurl a rock. I love the giant’s legs being made of huge snakes, that are concurrently attacking back.

Toward the center of the Eastern Frieze is Hera (mainly in fragments) driving the winged horses Notos, Boreas, Zephyros and Euros over the top of flailing giants, crushing them. In the original Hercules would have had the center stage as, according to the legend, he was key in helping the gods claim victory for the battle. All that we can see are the paws from his lion skin. But there is a fantastic torso of Zeus and his eagle fighting the leader of the giants Poryphyrion.

On the Eastern Frieze toward the right hand side, we can see Athena firmly holding the hair of the muscle-clad giant Alkyoneus. It looks as if she is within seconds of snapping his neck as his mother Gaia watches helplessly, herself caught in the fray and pushed down to the ground. In contrast, behind them is Athena’s form as Nike, Winged Victory lifting off into flight.

– The ‘Laokoon’

Laokoon Group - Vatican Collection

This scene depicted in ‘Laokoon’ was a major part of the discovery for Humann’s team. There is a famous roman copy of this statue which is now in the Vatican Museum. Laokoon was a Trojan priest, who tried to warn his people that the legendary Trojan Horse – a gift from the Greeks – was a trick. Nobody believed him, and he was eventually killed by serpents.

– The Northern Frieze

On the Northern Frieze the engagement between the forces is equally ferocious. The Moirea – the goddesses who decide the destiny of man – smash down giants, again over-powering even their snapping snake-legs.

Toward the end of the Northern Frieze, Keto, the lion goddess, sets her creatures into the mix. Ketos (greek for whale) is also the mother of sea monsters. Posiedon would have been to her right, riding a set of sea horses one of which is partically present.

The watery action wraps around to the North Projecting stairway where Triton, son of Posiedon, and Amphrite Triton’s mother vanquish giants.

Germany Takes England to Museum Shoot-out

Hercules, Altes Museum, BerlinGermany is investing more than 233 million to renovate Museum Island in Berlin reports Spiegel Online. Coming soon is the new home for the Nefertiti Bust and the vast collection of Egyptian artefacts. As it seems with all the new Museums these days, the architecture of the building itself is as noteworthy as the collection. Berlin is hoping that more than 4.0 million people will visit each year, which will make it a top destination for Ancient World explorers and a serious challenge to the British Museum.

Spiegel explains: “When the Neues Museum reopens in October, the city’s famous Egyptian collection, evacuated from the building before the war, will be returned to its original home for the first time since 1939. It includes one of Berlin’s most famous artifacts, the bust of Queen Nefertiti.” Neferititi is in her own special hall–so I guess at least a few people think it is authentic or at least so iconic that it is important anyway. More about the overall plan for Berlin Museums on their official site (watch their very cool 3D walkthrough movie).

Museum Island hightlights

The British Museum continues to see massive museum visits reporting more than 6.0 million people coming in 2007/2008 and 2009/2010 could be equally strong as well (BMstats here). The Louvre gets more than 8.0 million visitors per year, but of course they have a large non-ancient world collection also. The Metropolitan in New York hosts more than 5.0 million visits per year, but again, they also have a very broad collection. So it really does seem that the big league Ancient World museum battle will be between Germany and England–at least until the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) opens circa 2013 AD (but of course that will be only Egyptian artefacts).

When the Neues Museum reopens in October, the city’s famous Egyptian collection, evacuated from the building before the war, will be returned to its original home for the first time since 1939

I made a fast blast through the Altes and Pergamon Museums and the collections are outstanding and overwhelming. Ihad actually been to the Pergamon Museum in 1984 when it was the trophy of East Berlin. It is quite impressive to see the Great Pergamon Altar (again). It gives a major impact when you can walk up the steps and get a sense of the structure. The scale model also helps you understand the epic nature of the original building which held the frieze showing the dramatic battle of the Greek Gods against the Giants. “The Gigantomachy” is a fierce scene. For me, it is much more exciting than the Elgin Marbles.

But there are also several other large scale structures inside Pergamon–including the technocolor Ishtar Gate and Processional Way and the Market Gate of Miletus.

If you visit Berlin’s Museum island, wear comfortable shoes and be ready to get transported to the ancient world. (If you aren’t in Berlin you can kick-off your shoes and visit our Virtual King Tut now!)

Tips for iPhone To Make Photos

Actually the old iPhone camera is not so bad. The new iphone seems to be even better (finally). It isn’t a digtial single lens reflex (DSLR)with a wi-fi memory card but it is quite handy and you can blast your photos across the internet and now even MMS! Check my iphone photos here on my flickr stream.

above: iphone photos that I sent to my Flickr stream using AirMe

A few tips:

* The lens is not that sharp, so best to shoot stuff within 5 meters (15 feet). Closer the better really.

* It behaves like a 35mm more or less. These guys pulled it apart and listed all kinds of techie info (that apple doesn’t tell you btw) which is kinda interesting. But mainly the lens is slow, fuzzy and dark–and has no movement stabilizer. So you need to shoot in bright enough light and hold the camera still enough.

* There is a fair amount of distortion out from the center of the lens. So if you are shooting people try to get them in the center of the image and shoot a little down on their face. Especially with kids…

* Remember to clean the lens

A few tools:

* the easy to use tool that I most often use is CameraBag. It is useful to give the photos some feel. Lolo and Helga rock.

11 May 2009

* Polarize (like Polariod, not polarizer filter), makes a faux instant photo format and you can scribble your own short title. There is a large PolarizeProject group on flickr with tons more info. Polarize is free.

* Fancier tools from the filter gurus at Tiffen in the PhotoFx app .There are many xlent filters here. I especially like the blur filter to create a little depth of field. You can also crop images which make things a lot more interesting. $

* If you do try to shoot in dark conditions the NightCamera helps a lot. It waits until the iphone is stable and then takes a shot.

* Pano helps you to make panoramic photos. It sorta works, but you will need some patience to make a great image. It ghosts the previous image up to let you try to match it to the next panel you shoot. I have only been able to get so, so results, but I think better images than mine are possible.

* Quad Camera is a lot of fun. You can get people to make all kinds of silly faces when you pull out your iphone. It is sort of like a portable photomat! It has lots of settings as well, so plenty of things to amuse the phototaker/camera geek.

* AirMe is a useful tool to upload images (although you can also just email them to your flickr email address) but you can also post to Twitter, Facebook and some others from AirMe and link the photo which is very useful. It will add tags, location info and even put stuff on your flickr map.

Sunrise at Stonehenge

It was much colder than Ihad expected.It was icy, damp and windy and of course dark at 04:30 when we made our way over to Stonehenge to see the sun rise at 06:05am. There was a crunchy frost on the ground. It is kind of hard to imagine the ancient days when standing on a motorway and staring at a chainlink fence. It seems more like a golf course that you can’t play. At first we could see the moon over the stones. It was starting to get light and there was a light violet color washing over them. We began to get oriented and realized that the best angle would be from the hill looking down on the area. (Ann’s tips for shooting photos of Stonehenge here)

Actually it didn’t seem like we were going to see the sun rise that morning. It was brightening for some time, but then seemed overcast. Then just before 06:00 a sliver of burning orange started to edge upward on the horizon. It was orange like an egg yolk, maybe darker and redder. We could see that we were there on a good day all of a sudden. Soon this rich, burning disk, very large as well, made its move into the sky. It was very powerful. The stones framed it all spectacularly.

It all moved very quickly after that and then it seemed to get brighter and whiter. It is a real shame that Stonehenge is overwhelmed by traffic noise from two active motorways. It breaks an incredible moment where you might imagine yourself back thousands and thousands of years ago, watching the sun rise in the same place over the same stones.

Without knowing much about Stonehenge, you can still understand that people who made it had an appreciation for the sun. They lived with the sun a way that we don’t in our modern lives. The sun told them about when to plant, when to harvest. They built Stonehenge, it seems to me to show how well they understood the movements of the sun. It would seem that this structure was as much a showcase for their appreciation as well as for the benefits this understanding brought them. What would a hunting tribe have seen if they gazed upon sun rise over the full, unbroken set of stones? Would they have been in awe of the people that could trap the sun for moments in their monument?

As no person really knows why Stonehenge was made, it can remain a cold mystery. Or we can consider more about the ancient world and what messages it sent to the people that lived in it.

Describing the Ancient World

I have been browsing of our ever-growing Flickr group focused on Ancient World sites, artefacts and adventurers exploring, and have been thinking about what the ancient world is all about (power tips for browsing Flickr here). It seems unnecessary to drop a definition on what the ancient world is–but we can certainly describe it.

My top ten ways for describing Ancient World sites and artefacts:

10. The Ancient World is Old

First of all the Ancient World is really old–from a long time ago. It is much, much older than any one now alive could possibly remember. Even generations older than an account heard from someone who had witnessed it first-hand. Probably it is older than most people can trace their family tree back to (although some people seem to be getting pretty good at this). So it is older than anything that is directly related to us or our family or the world in which we live in today.

So we must read about it or investigate the available source materials to understand things. We must follow the traces and the trails. Here is where the investigation, mystery and misinformation get into the mix. The Ancient World is often misunderstood, shrouded in incomplete facts or even the object of anecdotal guessing and folk tales. We need to work a bit to piece together all the science, the random factoids and develop our own ideas.

How many years ago? Our understanding of man, actually the first woman perhaps, goes back to the time of Mitochrondrial Eve about 175,000 years ago (see Alec MacAndrews interesting analysis). Then there was the last ice age which started 110,000 years ago, hit the max around 20,000 years ago and then ended 12,000 years ago. So we can perhaps start our study of the ancient world from inside the caves in which the first homo sapiens lived. Their amazing paintings tell stories of vast herds of powerful animals which either they hunted or were hunted by.

Lions of the stone age cave of "Chauvet" Patagonia Argentina

Of course things can be much more recent than prehistoric cave paintings and still be old enough to be ancient.

9. In Ruins

From scattered stones to delicate shards of pottery to the skeletons of entire cities, we can go to sites and touch the spots that were once new. The Romans seem to have left the most behind in this regard. The great Roman Empire, founded in 753BC (according to the legendary fight between the twin brothers raised on wolves milk) dominated Europe, the Mediterrean and points into Asia for more than 1,000 years leaving behind a visible and impressive legacy.

Arnes de Nmes

You can often get access to ruins and walk around while you try to imagine what people were doing in these places. Some ruins have been restored enough to be venues for modern day theatrical and sporting events. Seeing a greek tragedy at the Acropolis in Athens is a fantastic experience (check listings for the summer festival here).

Were their lives that different from ours–yes! Ruins are certainly romantic in our understanding now. Yet, they often served very specific purposes that may not be that appealing to us now. Don’t forget though, they were often painted and had vast decorations back in their day.

8. Monumental Scale = Big and Many

cave 20

When an ancient world leader wanted to make a point–they went for it. The Great Pyramid in Egypt, rising to about 50 modern stories tall, was the tallest man-made construction in the world for thousands and thousands of years. Sites are also filled with almost countless number of things–sculptures, paintings some with intricate detailing. It must have been a staggering investment of resource and GDP to make these places. There were no movies or tv back then (no internet either) so one can only begin to imagine the impact these gigantic places had on the common people. Which also makes one think about just what message some of these sites were meant to deliver. Awesomeness and infinite power of the rulers and their unique rights seems to be high priorities. Rights for individuals? Well the Magna Carta wasn’t written until 1215AD.

7. Lost Cultures

Hattusas, Capital of the Hittites

Cultures seemed to have blended into one another more than our history books or a neat timeline would suggest. Sure the Romans re-purposed as much as they could from their predecessors and their conquered cultures. Over time popular beliefs and myths may get disconnected from their actual sources, and in so doing leave entire cultures in obscurity. For instance, many of the early kingdoms in and around mesopotamia have not maintained their identity even though they had their moment–some of which last hundreds of years. Our interest in cultures are often also stirred by popular movies or new discoveries. The Hittites or the Assyrians are not that widely appreciated, although the lands they covered are still very much in the news on a daily basis.

Or what about the Celts? Most people associate this culture with the modern Irish and British culture. But the Celts covered Europe at one point–founding Vienna in 15BC. The Romans called them Gauls. Some theories suggest that the Celts evolved from the people of the inhabited the Stonehenge area.

6. Abandoned Cities

For many reasons, entire cities have moved or simply been abandoned. Often we can guess about environmental changes that dramatically made the city too difficult to support–like water supply or a major natural disaster. In some cases we just don’t know why–plague? attack? poor planning to begin with? These outlines of daily life are fascinating and you can walk streets and view the remnants of the mundane as well as the regal. Wander places like Pompei, Ephesus, Machu Pichu or Angkor Wat and get a flavor of how these places were designed. How were people meant to live and work. What was the overall purpose of the construction. We are also finding many, many digital reconstructions of cities like Karnak as well as great buildings that will help us imagine how people lived and what choices they had to face in their lives.

5. Hidden Tombs

Pit 1 at the Terracotta Horse and Warrior Site in Xi'an China. A hidden tomb only found in 1974 and to this day only partially uncovered. The great wonders of the Qin Emperor's Masoleum still remains under a man-made mountain. Image by Fraggle Rockstar, on Flickr

Death was a major part of daily life and awareness. Life was short and harsh. People with great power and control often started planning for their afterlife from their birth. Vast and amazing treasures were made as admission offerings to the next life and challenges that were expected.

It is no surprise then that these valuable tombs were well hidden. Maps were possibly destroyed and plans burned to reduce the chance that someone could uncover these structures and raid the contents. For centuries these tombs rested silently in the ground with few people ever knowing they existed. It is hard to believe that before 04 November 1922 only two men had a belief that KV62 held the treasures of King Tutankhamun. The discovery changed the world. It wasn’t until 1974 that local farmers dug up the first pieces of the vast Terracotta Warrior pits in Xi’an China and opened the door to the eternal army of the First Emperor of China.

4. Amazing Treasures

Tut Ankh Amon Coffin, Egyptian Museum, Cairo, Egypt

The 3 gold coffins and the gold death mask of King Tut are truly spectacular creations. We have been studying them quite closely as we have been making the King Tut Virtual Exhibition areas. The smaller pieces are also breath-taking. Many have been created with valuable stones and metals, usually crafted with expert finish and made to tell important stories. But these artefacts are just a few of the more than five thousands pieces catalogued by Howard Carter. Museums are filled with examples of finely made objects made with primitive, but effective tools of the day. Imagine the cost and effort to make such pieces today (take a look at Kate Moss in gold here).

3. Covered in Strange Languages

Berlin Pergamon Museum 6.jpg

It sometimes looks like a type of programming code to open a portal to the afterlife. The written forms of ancient languages seem totally alien to us–without lines, without punctuation. They seem beyond deciphering on a quick glance, but clearly they have been translated yielding their magnificent words and stories. Sumerian cuneiform, egyptian hieroglyphs, aramaic all seem to add excitment to the encrypted legacy that we are curious to decode.

2. Undiscovered

Each digging season in Egypt yeilds new findings and artefacts. The next big discovery may only be a few meters of desert earth away. Image of Zahi Hawass in the Valley of the Kings by FAMSF, on Flickr

Archaeology itself is a fairly recent undertaking and perhaps there is more to be discovered in the next fifty years than has been discovered to date? No one really knows what is beyond the next scrapping tool or fine brush sweep. Our entire understanding of huge chunks of history may in fact need to be re-assessed. Egypt is a major area for ongoing excavations and a regular flow of new discoveries. Yet, there are many active digs across the world right now.

We can also take a new look at existing information and re-discover things that we may only have taken a superficial look upon. We have the benefit of thousands of years to explore but at the same time there is a lot to learn about and the details can get confusing. So it can be that you can look at something many times and in fact only start to really see it once you have more understanding of the ancient world.

and finally the top best way to describe the Ancient World…

1. Worth Exploring

Angkor Wat a city swallowed-up by the jungle, visible from the space station and now open to tourists. Orange monk in Angkor Wat. Image by rufus.rafkat, on Flickr

I think we gain a lot of perspective and often some context about our daily lives from considering the ancient world. Exploring is also fun and a way to meet people with a common interest. In addition to the sites and artefacts, there are also massive bodies of literature and drama that fill-in the picture of how these things were used. You can share your ideas or opinions about why these places were so important.

We can reflect upon how life is the same or in fact very different. Our explorations may take us to an unknown part of the world physically. We may wander from web link to web link to find some common themes across time and cultures. Some interesting common trends may appear to us. Why were there some many pyramids?

Exploration is also a physical activity. So many people have climbed the Mayan temples it seems. They gain the prize of seeing the jungle canopy spread out like an endless green sea of trees before them. Imagine how such a strong sensation would have impacted participants in a sacrificial ceremony.

We hope that Heritage Key will entice and support this type of exploration.

What is the Ancient World?

As we have been developing the Heritage Key online areas, we have tried to find a good working definition of the “Ancient World.” On some levels this is easy to do. We can draw a crude line at the Middle Ages and say everything before that is Ancient. So we then might conclude that anything made by man before 565AD, the death of the roman emperor Justinian, could be called Ancient. Some things are more Ancient than others.

In the 6th Century AD the Eastern Roman Empire was based out of Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) and the Emperor Justinian ordered the building of Hagia Sophia, the first great domed church. Hagia Sophia is the ultimate architectural expression of the Byzantine period and certainly a milestone in world history. It was the largest cathedral on earth for almost 1,000 years.

There was also in 541-542AD the start of the Bubonic Plague, which Justinian contracted and survived, which dramatically impacted the population in Europe (estimates range from 25% to 60%) killing tens of millions of people through to 700AD. It may have been a flea, carried on a rat from the Gobi desert, that brought this disease into Byzantium and then across Europe. The world was an inter-connected network even 1,500 years and more ago. The Silk Road was the main trading link between Europe and Asia for thousands and thousands of years at this time.

There is a break at some point, perhaps 565AD is good enough for Europe, but China had dynasties from 211BC to 1912AD.
In the sense that Modern is what you make of it, so must be the Ancient.

While the 6th century has major changing events, can we really consider a definition of the entire Ancient World without thinking beyond a European perspective? There are cultures in Asia that have come and gone since 565AD that seem very ancient indeed. Take the Khmer who over a 37 year period finished the spectacular Angkor Wat city which is one of the greatest places ever ever constructed (and visible from the space station apparently). Take the Easter Island giant Moai which were made in 400AD or maybe as late as 1700AD. Or consider the ruins of the Inca’s Machu Picchu, delicately positioned on the edge of tall mountains, which was build in 1430AD. All of these sites seem to be the essence of the ancient world that we are keen to visit and learn more about.

So then what is it that sparks our interest about places that seem Ancient? It is certainly digging into mystery and the excitement of discovery. Our imaginations buzz when we guess about the people that used Stonehenge in 2,500 BC. What was life like in Jericho, the longest constantly inhabited city, 9,000 years ago? Did the walls really come down? Why did the hunter-gatherer Natufians stop wandering and build the first towns 12,500 years ago? And stare in awe at paintings from the cave of Chauvet made by the first artists 35,000 years ago.

The scale of construction in the ancient world amazes us. We stand below the great pyramid in Egypt and try to figure out how such a thing could be made so long ago. How could the first emperor of China have produced more than 8,000 life size terracotta warriors–fully armed at the time. And what about the city of Alexandria having a population of more than 1 million people back in 100BC!

heritage key ancient world

The Mask by Mykreeve on Flickr

Stonehenge by VicWJ on Flickr

Tipasa by Marco P.S. on Flickr

Uxmal by M_cardos on Flickr

Buddha's Hand by Velovotee on Flickr

Angkor Wat from Space / thanks NASA

And of course it is also the ruins. From scatter pieces of stones to the skeletons of entire urban areas such as Ephesus or the uniquely flash frozen Pompei, we love to touch and seek the connection to these lost cultures. We enjoy imagining what these broken structures looked like when they were new and what impact did they have on the people that first gazed upon them.

The Ancient World seems very different from our present day.

In the end, I think it is best not to worry too much about defining what should be “Ancient” or not.We should rather share our impressions about the sites, artefacts and legends that seem so very different and far away from our present day lives. Most importantly we should get out or get online and explore. There is a break at some point, perhaps 565AD is good enough for Europe, but China had dynasties from 211BC to 1912AD. In the sense that Modern is what you make of it, so must be the Ancient.

Power Tips for Using Flickr

We make a lot of use out of Flickr. It is one of the best community sites and photo sharing servces online. You can make it work even better with a little effort.

We use Flickr to do a couple of main things:

  • post and share photos
  • find photos to link to them

First thing is to use Firefox (huh? download it here.) to browse Flickr and get the Greasemonkey add-on. Greasemonkey (GM) allows you to add GM scripts that will automate tasks and rework your view of web pages. Yeah, it is cool enuough really. In fact there are tons of GMscripts to consider, but I will stay on the Flickr ones in this post.

The other really xlent tool to add to your Flickr experience is Cooliris. It is a viewing tool that will generate that fluid carosel view of a set of images. It works on any web page, but I find it most useful on image gallery pages.

Then of course there is the Flickr Uploadr tool which makes posting batches of photos really easy. You can also set your Flickr account to automatically post images when you email them. This is very handy for iphone posts.

Useful GMScripts (install greasemonkey firefox add-on first and restart firefox before installing below scripts):

  • Autopage — endless stream of photos. Runs directly on Flickr so it seems a better alternative to Flickr River (which is very cool btw).
  • Move Comments Up. This puts the comments box directly under the photo, saving time to scroll around.
  • Steeev’s Power Tools — tons of scripts here for administering groups and large contacts. Mult-group sender is very good. Steeev has a lot to offer here–but maybe also be careful not to overload your add-ons as some of them may junk up your page or even conflict. I think best to only keep the ones you really use often installed.
  • No Awards. Get rid of those really dopey awards that clog your page.