Category: lyn

King Arthur’s Real Round Table Revealed

An excerpt from The History Channel's 'King Arthur's Round Table Revealed'.King Arthurs Round Table wasnt just the romantic meeting place of Arthurs warriors but a massive building on the edge of a huge Roman city. What’s more, it was a powerful symbol of Roman authority that survived for some 600 years after the Romans left Britain. (Skip to the Video)

Thats the bold conclusion made by archaeologists in a new documentary that shows how the monumental Roman structure was transformed from an amphitheatre into a fortified stronghold.

King Arthurs Round Table Revealed explores this and other mysteries surrounding by the iconic British hero King Arthur.

The documentary is an exploration of what archaeology today is revealing about King Arthurs world. It follows life in Dark Age Britain after the fall of Rome resulted in chaos, anarchy and inter-ethnic strife. It all led to the rise or warlords including King Arthur, who led the resistance against the Saxon insurgency.

The refortification of Roman sites, the vital strategic importance of the road system and the use of Christianity as a rallying point against the pagan Saxons are all studied. There are some excellent reconstructions of Arthurian warfare by Comitatus and Regia Anglorum; scientific analysis of one of the skeletons from a Dark Age mass grave outside Chester; and high quality replicas showing the distinctive military fittings which characterised the armies of the British warlords.

Chester King Arthur’s Stronghold

The programme uses Dark Age texts to track down traces of Arthur on the ground, while at the same time taking in archaeological evidence relating to key sites such as Hadrians Wall, Silchester and, crucially, Chester. Here, finds in the huge amphitheatre confirm the identity of Chester with the City of the Legion, site of two of the first Christian martyrdoms in Britain and one of King Arthurs famous 12 battles.

Christopher Gidlow, author ofRevealing King Arthur, is one of the programme’s consultants. He describes the documentary as convincing and powerfully told.

You wont have seen a programme like this, he says. The scholarship is cutting edge and the list of contributors is a whos who of the most respected archaeologists working in the field. The part which sees the forensic scientist Malin Holst examine the body of a slain Saxon warrior is incredible. Tony Wilmott of English Heritage conveys a real sense of the awe he and his team felt confronted with the evidence of the Christian martyr from the Chester Amphitheatre. There is also some great CGI and the reconstructions of the Romanised British army fighting the invaders are the best Ive seen. King Arthurs Round Table Revealed will have you thinking this has got to be right.

One of the programme’s other contributors, Stuart Laycock himself an expert on post-Roman rule in Britain has described Gidlow as the most credible proponent of a historical Arthur.

I take this as meaning that I keep up to date with modern scholarship and that I dont have a blinkered attachment to proving that King Arthur shared my postcode or that some other shadowy Dark Age character is hiding behind the Arthur mask, says Gidlow.

HD Video: Legend of King Arthur’s Round Table based on Roman Amphitheatre

You can read an extract from Gidlow’s Revealing King Arthur on the Tintagel Stone in Cornwall here on HK.And also trace his Top 10 Archaeological Clues to the Real King Arthur.

(Click here for a transcription)

King Arthurs Round Table Revealed (video trailer) will air in the UK on the HISTORY channel (Sky Channel 529 and Sky Channel 545) from Monday, July 19 to Sunday, July 25, 8pm-11pm.

Woman Filmed Dancing Topless on Uluru Causes Outrage in Australia

Topless dancing on Uluru, Australia is a No, noDancing semi-naked on top of Australia’s most famous ancient site isn’t the best way to ingratiate yourself with the locals, as a 25-year-old ‘exotic dancer’ has found out.

French-born Alizee Sery had a friend film her climbing Uluru, stripping off and dancing in bikini bottoms, cowboy boots and a bushman’s hat. The video, which appeared on a Northern Territory news site, has sparked outrage among Australia’s indigenous leaders, who have likened Sery’s actions to someone “defacating on the steps of the Vatican”.

Sery was unapologetic, claiming that her performance was a “tribute” to the traditional owners. “My project is a tribute to the greatness of the Rock. What we need to remember is that traditionally, the Aboriginal people were living naked,” Sery told the Sunday Territorian newspaper, which broke the story. “So stripping down was a return to what it was like. I do not mean in any way for this video to offend the Aboriginal culture. I am aware that Uluru is sacred in their culture.”

Alizee Sery’s ‘sacred dance’ on top of the Uluru

Climbing Uluru was “one of those things that we must experience in a lifetime”, Sery said. “I thought that if I’m only going to climb the Rock once in my entire life, when I reach the top I must do something out of the ordinary, something catchy, something crazy,” she said. “I want to give people the courage to believe in themselves. If I can do a strip on Ayer’s Rock, then anything is possible.”

But Alison Hunt, a member of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Board of Management, was “angry and disgusted”, she said. “It’s not a tribute to the traditional owners, it’s an insult. This is an important spiritual place. We try to share our land and work together and we think it is disgusting for someone to try and make money out of our sacred land.”

The traditional owners of Uluru ask visitors not to climb the rock because ancient Dreamtime spiritual lines cross the site. The owners the local Anangu people also feel a sense of responsibility for the safety of those who undertake the rigorous climb, which continues to claim lives.

The Central Land Council, which represents the traditional owners, has called on the Australian prime minister Julia Gillard to deport the dancer.

That may not be necessary, however, because Sery says she may now set her sights on the Great Wall of China as she “works her way round the world one bra strap at a time”.

Lonely Planet Travel Awards: What’s the Best Journey in the World?

The Pyramids of Giza, EgyptBritish politicians, ancient Roman rulers, and Art galleries arent the only ones doing battle for your vote during the month of May the ancient world needs your support too as it takes on those pesky modern upstarts in a new worldwide travel poll.

Ancient destinations feature prominently on the shortlist for the inaugural Lonely Planet Travel Awards, which seek to find the worlds most popular and interesting travel experiences.

Voting is open until May 31, 2010, with the results published online and in Lonely Planet Magazine from August 19, 2010. Everyone who votes has the chance to win a trip to Angkor Wat.

Each question comes with a shortlist drawn up by a panel of Lonely Planet experts including co-founder Tony Wheeler, Travel Editor Tom Hall and Lonely Planet Magazine Editor Peter Grunert.

Great Journeys

Great Wall of China - Bandaling

In the greatest journey category, driving the Silk Road from Tashkent to Xian, sailing down the Nile, going overland from Cairo to Cape Town, island-hopping in the Greek Cyclades and the Trans-Siberian Railway to Beijing all take in ancient sites. Theyre up against journeys as diverse as Switzerlands Glacier Express, an Amazon cruise, Californias Pacific Coast Highway, Scotlands West Highland Railway, and Australias Ghan train.

Gladiators at the Colosseum, the Acropolis and New Acropolis Museum, the Mayan temples at Tikal, the Pyramids of Giza, Aboriginal culture in Australia, and Hadrians Wall all feature in the greatest historical experience category.

Other categories that don’t include ancient sites on the shortlist but do provide the option for voters to nominate their own include: most under-rated British day out, greatest cultural experience, greatest outdoors activity.

Were pleased to report no ancient sites made the I wouldn’t go there if you paid me shortlist.

Heritage Key chatted to Lonely Planets Tom Hall about the awards and also asked him for his views on heritage-related tourism in general.

HK: You’ve placed modern history (Anne Frank, the Iron Curtain, etc) up against ancient history (Hadrian, the Acropolis, the Pyramids, Rome, etc). How do you expect these young upstarts to go against the more traditional historical experiences?

TH: One of the most interesting developments in European travel has been the establishment of modern historys must-sees to rival timeless sites. Europe has layer upon layer of remarkable history and in covering many eras we were looking to acknowledge this. Id expect classical sites to endure, but younger attractions to continue to grow in popularity.

HK: The greatest journeys category includes the Silk Road theres huge potential there, too.

Whats amazing about Britain’s prehistory is how the more you see of it the more you realise how average Stonehenge really is

TH: The Silk Road has always been the greatest overland adventure. However, its now more a collection of routes due to its lack of a definite starting and finishing point. The other thing holding Central Asia back as a destination is visa restrictions travel there is not as free as in other parts of Asia. Still, that gives following Marco Polos trail a rarity value that makes other travellers ears prick up. It will get more popular the key question is how.

HK: Hearing Aboriginal stories round a camp fire in Australia could have appeared in the historical category or the cultural one…

TH: More and more visitors to Australia realise that history didnt begin with Captain Cook (who discovered Australia and claimed it for England). In some areas, Aboriginal people still maintain traditions that are among the oldest in the world. These are better understood now than ever before and a visit to an Aboriginal area and a cultural tour is increasingly popular for visitors to Australia. We wanted to reflect this in the awards.

HK: In the person I’d most like to travel with category, you have Michael Palin, historian Dan Cruickshank, adventurer Charlie Boorman, chef Gordon Ramsay but no room for Herodotus chasing Persians, Howard Carter in search of the Pyramids or Agatha Christie digging around in Iraq… Oh, hang on, you mean ‘alive’ people

TH: Yes, though a trip around the Med in Herodotus day would have been an incredible journey. If I had to answer this one, Id choose to travel with Saladin when he evicted the Franks from Jerusalem.

HK: In the British categories, it’s good to see Hadrian’s Wall get a nomination but there are so many other great historical sites as well and not all of them are called Stonehenge. What needs to be done to promote Britain’s oldest cultures its prehistoric sites, its Roman legacy and its Anglo-Saxon heritage? Is the tourism sector missing a beat?

TH: Whats amazing about Britains prehistory is how the more you see of it the more you realise how average Stonehenge really is. Average setting, overpriced and overcrowded. The Bronze Age circles and houses on Orkney and in the Western Isles knock it for six, and are deserted and usually free. As for Anglo-Saxon and Roman, I find it amazing how little is communicated of what a dynamic area of history this is. Its one area were still discovering all the time the Staffordshire Hoard is an excellent example. Id be promoting this as an area of history where the scope to make fresh discoveries is huge its a book that has yet to be fully written and one that is hugely exciting. More exciting than solstice at Stonehenge anyway.

HK: What is your view of historical and cultural tourism and its potential both worldwide and in the UK?

TH: History is one of the most important themes in tourism and, as an area of the market, it has grown considerably more popular and more specialised in recent years. Its safe to say theres much more to come, in particular from big-hitters like Petra, where visitor number are up 50% year-on-year. Following the journeys of great explorers is another popular growth area. History buffs are travelling further than ever before and theyre looking to explore their own particular interests I know this because I spent two days in Eritrea following the path of a dismantled cable-car which once linked the capital with the sea.

HK: What’s the ‘next big thing’ in historical and cultural tourism?

TH: I wish I knew! But people tend to like sites associated with death and depravity, so probably something along those lines.

Voting ends 31st May – click here to support the ancients!

Interview: Esther Jacobson-Tepfer on the Hidden Archaeology of Mongolia’s Altai Mountains

Archaeology and Landscape in the Altai Mountains of Mongolia is an ambitious project designed to provide the first ever in-depth survey of the cultural landscape of one of the most remote regions of the world. The Altai Mountains are on the western edge of Mongolia, wedged along the borders of China and Russia, and home to archaeological marvels such as engraved standing stones and rock art. We spoke to project leader Esther Jacobson-Tepfer, a Professor of Asian Art at the University of Oregon, whose first visit to the Altai (or Altay) Mountains in 1994 became the catalyst for the project, an initiative undertaken with Mongolian and Russian researchers.

The region’s human history dates back thousands of years but is little documented until now.

A new book, Archaeology and Landscape in the Mongolian Altai: An Atlas, documents the work undertaken by Dr Jacobson-Tepfer and her team, and is complemented by an extensive website that gives the world a long-awaited insight into this little explored region.

In this interview with Heritage Key, Dr Jacobson-Tepfer explains how the project came about and what she hopes it will achieve.

HK: Most people know very little about Mongolia, and even less about the specifics of the Altai Mountains. Can you explain why the region is so important from an archaeological perspective?

The study area in the Altai Mountains.EJT: Scientists have long recognized that Mongolia (especially the Gobi Region) was a significant cultural hearth in the Paleolithic Period. With its endless steppe, Mongolia was also a major stage for the emergence of North Asian pastoralism in the pre-Bronze Age and its spread in the Bronze Age.

More specifically, the Altai Mountains appear to have constituted a singularly generative cultural region through that period and right up through the Turkic Period. This is probably due to several factors. With their distinctive mountain steppe environment, the Altai served as a transition zone between forest steppe (to the north) and desert steppe (to the south), thus providing a rich biosphere for early hunters and pastoralists, both sedentary and mobile.

Secondly, the Altai Mountains can be seen as both dividing Central from North Asia and joining them. In addition, they have traditionally been an important source of metals. For these reasons, undoubtedly, they are unusually rich in the archaeology of the Bronze and Early Iron ages, but also for the archaeology of the iron-working Trks.

HK: Would it be fair to say that until your project, little of archaeological interest was properly documented in the region and, since V.V. Sapozhnikov first explored it in the early 1900s, little has probably changed, either?

EJT: I think that is generally correct. A number of Mongolian and Russian archaeologists undertook surveys during the 20th century, but almost no-one went back to document that material. An exception to this is represented by the survey of Turkic image stones by Bayar and Erdenebaatar that I refer to in the book; their work, however, published in Mongolian, focused primarily on materials within well-known valleys and within the eastern sector of Bayan lgiy. When we first went into the Mongolian Altai, in 1994, I think the region looked pretty much as it was seen by Sapozhnikov except that the glaciers had greatly receded in the preceding 80 years.

HK: We don’t know a great deal about Bronze and Iron Age people of the region probably we know less about these people than their contemporaries anywhere else in the world…

EJT: That is probably correct with regard to the cultures and peoples of the Bronze Age. As far as the Early Iron Age goes, our knowledge is much more extensive. Unfortunately, virtually all of the written documentation of the important Turkic cultures of the Altai and adjoining Sayan regions are in Mongolian or Russian and have not been translated; for that reason, they are more or less out of the reach of interested Westerners.

HK: What were your original goals when you started the project? Did you foresee that it would become such a large-scale project stretching over so many years?

EJT: That is a big question! When we first began to survey the area that became our study region, we were interested only in rock art: in identifying concentrations and in documenting them. One might say that we had no idea of the potential enormity of our project. Only as it became clear that we had identified two of the largest rock art concentrations in North and Central Asia and one of the oldest did we begin to recognize the possible scope of our work. By 1997, I had also become very interested in the other monument types and had begun to document them more deliberatively and in a more organized fashion. It was then that I began to formulate the larger, long-range project with my colleagues, James Meacham and Gary Tepfer.

HK: The Altai project had its origins in Russia following your first visit there in 1989. Can you tell us how this came about and some of the challenges particularly as an American you originally encountered studying the region?

EJT: As so often happens, I fell into a series of unexpected opportunities. As as scholar of the art of the Early Nomads of the Eurasian Steppe, I had become impatient with the limitations imposed by un-provenanced (for the most part) materials in museums and publications. I wanted to look for materials in the field that would corroborate or clarify my understandings. By good fortune I had been put into contact with a researcher who was interested in collaboration with a foreign scholar in the Russian Altai.

When I began to go into that region between 1989 and 1993, the closer we got to the border with Mongolia, the richer the archaeology seemed to become; or, I should say, the more interesting to me became the surface archaeology in the Steppe region of southeastern Altai and the more I sensed that the material would be even more considerable on the Mongolian side of the border.

In those years, the challenges of going into that remote region of South Siberia were still considerable and included everything from getting the right permissions to getting flights out to Siberia to transferring the funding that was necessary to mount our expeditions. At the beginning it was even a problem getting down into the Altai region since we had to go through then-closed cities. And, of course, working in a foreign language with people who had had little contact with Americans raised its own, interesting, challenges.

HK: The Altai, while predominantly in Mongolia, do straddle the borders with China, Russia and even Kazakhstan did this present any problems with bureaucracy or having to deal with various cultures or laws?

EJT: Not really, since we were never able to cross borders in that part of the world. In order to get to the Russian Altai, we had to go through Russia; and in order to work on the Mongolian side, we still had to go through Ulaanbaatar. Our Russian colleagues could go back and forth across the border, but even that was frequently difficult and fraught with many financial and political problems.

Chance encounters or long talks with herders often gave us invaluable information about where to seek archaeological concentrations.

HK: You talk in the introduction to the book about getting to know the local herders. Can you tell us more about how important the support and friendship of the local people has been?

EJT: One of the most important aspects of our relationship with the Kazakh and Tuvan herders with whom we became acquainted was that their daily lives and seasonal movements up and down the valleys mirrored the lives of herders in that region for the last few thousand years.

For example, working on a rock art site high on a hillside and documenting several caravan scenes from the Bronze Age, we could look down on households hundreds of animals, loaded camels led by men and women on horseback, occasional trucks full of belongings moving down to lower pastures for the autumn.

The only difference between the ancient scenes we were recording and what we saw below us was that then they used yaks instead of camels or trucks and they moved on foot and not on horseback. But beyond that mirroring of the past, our friends offered us gracious hospitality that was particularly welcome in the difficult working conditions of the Altai. By being able, in turn, to offer them both hospitality in our modest tents or even, occasionally, essential help, we were able to cement our relationships with several families. Chance encounters or long talks with herders often gave us invaluable information about where to seek archaeological concentrations; these conversations also enlightened us about aspects of their daily lives that are not particularly visible to outsiders.

HK: Mongolians and nomadic herders in particular are such a resilient people, having to withstand harsh climates and terrains. What can archaeology tell us about their lives, and the ancient ways they still use today?

EJT: That is a difficult question and one that would really demand a very long answer. It is a question that caused me to conceive of and bring the atlas to completion. The archaeology we have recorded falls into two broad categories. The first reflects the ritual or ceremonial aspects of ancient lives: how people and cultures organized their monuments in space, how they constructed them according to apparent ritual requirements, where they buried their dead, and so forth. Within the atlas we have tried to elaborate on these issues, identifying patterns of structure, location, and orientation, for example, and speculating on the concerns underlying those patterns.

The second category of ancient monuments is that occupied by rock art, such as we discuss in the atlas and such as I have written about more extensively in other publications. Rock art invariably reflects the concerns of daily lifeherding, hunting, household scenes, for example and even the concerns of individuals. In a real sense, it allows us to penetrate back through time to observe the workings of individual people male and female, adult and even child.

HK: The area around Ulaanbataar is increasingly familiar to Westerners thanks to the emergence of the Trans-Siberian as a popular overland tourist route, and the Nadam festival is generally included on most international tourism calendars. What is the potential for tourism to develop westwards, and can archaeology and cultural heritage play a role in this?

EJT: Over the years we worked in our study region, we were increasingly aware of the destruction of archaeological materials and of the landscape, primarily through the activities of local herders and thoughtless tourists. Would silence be better in that situation or would it be better to speak out?

Mongolia is contemplating building a large motor route between Ulaanbaatar and the western aimags. That would certainly increase the tourism pressure on a region that is already unprepared to deal with the tourist traffic it has. In publishing the atlas, we struggled between two considerations: that making this material known would only increase the destructive pressure on the region and its cultural heritage; and, conversely, that only by making it known would it be possible to develop protective measures to secure that heritage.

We decided that the second hypothesis was more accurate; and that offering a means for educating tour leaders and tourists would ultimately serve our concerns for preservation. But I have also been working with a number of cultural heritage initiatives primarily related to UNESCO‘s World Heritage program. I would hope that these initiatives, as well as the self-interest of local communities and authorities would help to secure the preservation of their cultural heritage.

HK: The book that has resulted from the project is so much more than a photographic journey through the region, or even an atlas. It’s a self-contained library of images, history, archaeology and culture. The maps, the photos and the accompanying words are all very detailed, and everything is integrated online. Was this your original intention?

EJT: Yes, this is exactly what we wanted to do. In this we were aided by three important factors. The first was the receipt of a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The second was that our publisher, ESRI, agreed to have us take over much of the design of the book while at the same time retaining important editorial oversight. The third factor was that we have within the University of Oregon’s Knight Library an excellent team for the development of internet-based portals. It was a great pleasure for Jim (Meacham) and I to work with our colleagues there – to have someone who could translate our rather developed conception into reality. (The website can be viewed here.)

HK: What have been some of the challenges of juggling such a large project and so much information?

EJT: The development of this project and then its multi-year completion have been for me, over many years, all-consuming. When we undertook this project, there were no models for us to follow in either the development of the database or the organization of materials over such a large space and time. Working out the basic organizing principles was a huge project; and keeping all that information in order really stretched my organizational skills!

HK: How important has mapping technology and modeling been to the project?

EJT: Mapping and modeling have been central to the success of the project, both in its development and in its completion. It is one thing to talk about the distribution of a monument type, for example, and to show a few pictures; but to actually display that distribution on a map and to compare it with the distribution of other monument typologies offers a far deeper understanding, I think, of the region’s cultural past. Mapping allowed me to see what was actually going on with all the data recording we were doing in the field; and maps have allowed us to convey to others the region’s rich archaeological textures over both space and over time.

HK: What does the future hold for the project, and what more needs to be done to document and protect the cultural heritage of the region?

EJT: With the publication of the atlas, website, and Mongolian Altai Image Collection, we have brought this particular project to completion. It has not, however, come to an end. I am continuing to work with Jim Meacham and his colleagues on the refinement of the database so that it would be more transparent to other scholars in the field. I hope, also, that other scholars will expand what we have done in our study area by documenting and analyzing the very rich archaeological heritage of southern Bayan lgiy and Khovd aimags.

My own major project now is to archive the vast amount of material I have on Altai rock art and to develop some publicly accessible means (print or web-based) to help people navigate through this material. It is, in my opinion, a priceless part of Mongolia’s cultural heritage and I want it to help preserve it as a part of human knowledge and as a major element in the region’s cultural heritage. I anticipate that this endeavor, together with my work with UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre on a number of Altai Mountain initiatives, will take several years.

Bob Geldof’s Garden Being Searched for Iron Age Treasures

Anti-poverty campaigner Bob Geldof has done his bit to help preserve the heritage of Kent by allowing local archaeologists to carry out a geophysical survey on his land.

The Faversham Society Archaeological Research Group is undertaking the survey and a series of mini digs this year in search of Iron Age and medieval remains thought to have been lost in the 1950s and 1960s when Dark Hill, a road near Geldofs Davington Priory home, was widened.

Dig leader Dr Pat Reid told the Kent News the project had already turned up late Iron Age flint-tempered pottery. There is also evidence the (road) widening affected standing remains or other ruins right on the edge to the south, and there is a good chance some of these have survived underground, she said.

We would love to know if anyone remembers seeing them. We just need to know more about what happened when the Dark Hill cutting was doubled in size. In those days, of course, no-one gave a thought to archaeology. Everything was just swept aside and destroyed.

She said the group had obtained permission to survey many private gardens in the vicinity of the road works, including Geldofs. We already have permission to survey many gardens … but would like to examine as many as possible, she said.

Rich Local History

Lawrence Young, manager of the Faversham Enterprise Partnership, said Favershams history stretched back to the Stone Age but that this particular area in Davington has never been examined before.

Faversham and the countryside that surrounds it is rich in archaeology, much of it untouched by redevelopment, according to the research group. The town has nearly 500 listed buildings, and was mentioned in the Domesday Book. Two of the towns most famous archaeological finds have been the Graveney Boat, an Anglo-Saxon clinker-built boat, and Faversham Abbey.

It is hoped the findings of the current survey and dig will be ready for the Davington History Conference at Davington Primary School on October 9. The conference will also feature tours of important local historical sites.

London Flights to Iran and Iraq Open up Cradle of Civilization to Tourists

Persepolis 3 - Shiraz - Iran |   -  - As volcanic ash from Iceland’s volcano continues to cause chaos, there is news that access to Iran‘s ancient sites could soon become easier. From June to October this year, IranAir plans to operate a weekly non-stop flight from London Heathrow to Shiraz. The Saturday service will operate alongside the airlines existing three-day-a-week London-Tehran service, and see a return Shiraz-London flight offered every Sunday. Internal flights already operate from Tehran to Isafahan, Mashhad and Tabriz, as well as to Shiraz. The news comes at a time when Iraq is also opening up to tourists. When the ash clears, adventurous travellers will also be able to fly directly from London to Baghdad, making journeys from London to the cradle of civilization a whole lot more civilized than before.

The new Iran flight coincides with an aggressive pricing policy by the airline which is intended to further boost interest in family, tourist and business travel to the country. A publicity campaign, run in conjunction with online flight specialists Alternative Airlines, has seen London-Tehran fares offered for as little as 318, inclusive of taxes and charges. The fares will go some way to making some of the countrys key ancient sites including Persepolis and Naqsh-e-Rostam more accessible and affordable for visitors.

Boom in Iran Visitor Numbers

UK General Manager of IranAir, Daryoush Niknam, said the fares reflected increased interest in Iran: “We understand that whilst the demand for air travel to Iran continues to grow in terms of business traffic, as well as leisure and VFR (visits to family and relatives), it is a price sensitive market, he said. Even with our direct flights, we need to establish IranAir as a year-round price competitive airline.”

Managing Director of Alternative Airlines, John Pope, said there had been a sharp rise in online bookings via the IranAir website: We took twice as many online bookings for IranAir in September (2009) as we did in August and then doubled the number of bookings again for October, he said. With these new fares now available for 2010, we are expecting online bookings to continue to grow rapidly.

Tom Hall, of Lonely Planet, which produces a guide to Iran, described the new flights as good news for Irans burgeoning tourist sector.

New air links, especially those going to the heart Irans historical attractions, will help to raise the profile of the country, he said. However, Iran still has some way to go in comparison with destinations like Jordan, Syria and Lebanon in attracting curious travellers. Places like Shiraz, the gateway to Persepolis, Yazd and Esfahan are iconic names for many travellers, but visiting these places still requires an element of consideration and hesitation. This is the next obstacle for Iranian tourism.

Holidaying in the Axis of Evil

Getting a visa is still the biggest headache and remains unnecessarily bureaucratic and complex. Then comes the perception of political instability, which even if not correct puts people off visiting. Finally, theres convincing would-be travel partners and friends and family that going to a country dubbed one of the Axis of Evil is a good idea.

However he said the country had a lot to offer travellers determined to scale these hurdles. Irans mix of near-Asian hospitality and unique history make it a draw, plus theres the added advantage of a lack of crowds visitors can often find that they get to experience key historic sites all on their own. Its also a little-known ski and trekking destination. This is a rare mix for people wanting to travel to it as a stand-alone destination or pass through on an extended overland route like Istanbul to Kathmandu. On the politics front, for many, the cache of visiting such a controversial destination will be part of the appeal, not a deterrent.

Ancient Mesopotamia, which thrived in the area of modern day Iran and Iraq, is considered by many to be the ‘cradle’ or ‘birthplace’ of civilization. The area lays claim to the first written language (cuneiform) and the first cities, and a wealth of stunning artefacts. Sites and artefacts from both countries have suffered extensive war damage and looting, but there have been concerted – even heroic – efforts to retrieve many artefacts and protect what remains. Army sargeant Sgt. Ronald Peters is attempting to map out a plan to protect the ancient archaeology of Iraq, and marine, boxer, Classics scholar and author Matthew Bogdanos has been instrumental in getting thousands of artefacts returned to the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad.

Read our interview with author Hilary Smith on why she loves Iran, and read her pick of the best places to visit when you get there.

Will Volcanic Ash Delay Start of New Commercial Flights Between London and Iraq?

ishtar processional way lion detail pergamonThis week, the UK skies fell oddly silent due to flight cancellations caused by the eruption of a volcano in Iceland. As business and holiday travellers fret over changed plans and lost vacation, one particularly symbolic flight hangs in the balance. Passengers booked onto the 11am Iraqi Airways flight to Baghdad on Saturday, April 17 are awaiting news of whether their flight will board tomorrow, Sunday or Monday. When it does take off, it will be the first direct commercial service between the British capital and Iraq in almost 20 years, and it represents another small step on Iraq’s long road to recovery.

Saad al-Khafaji, the general manager of the Iraqi Airways office in the UK, told Travel Weekly the airline has planned to operate five flights a week within the next three months, with the increased activity aiding the countrys recovery following the 2003 invasion. Plans in 2007 to resume a direct service were shelved.

Iraqi Airways uses IKB Travel and Tours as its principal agent in the UK and Ireland.

With visa regulations on entry into Iraq still tight and the security situation remains dire, the London-Baghdad services are likely to be used by ex-pat Iraqis and the relatives and friends of Iraqi citizens, as well as non-governmental organisations, government officials and others working to rebuild and stabilise the country.

Access to Ancient Sites

However it is hoped the route will one day also be used by tourists, researchers and students of history wanting to experience the country’s rich ancient culture, including the site of Babylon and the rebuilt National Museum in Baghdad. These sites, like many other ancient wonders across the country, were largely destroyed during the war or in its aftermath.

Lonely Planets Tom Hall, says it’s impossible to predict when this might happen. I would be very surprised if flights to Baghdad resulted in a growth of tourist traffic there in the near future, he said. It is simply far too early for that.

Turkish Airlines became the first major international carrier to resume flights to Iraq when it opened its Istanbul-Baghdad route in October 2008. Etihad Airways, Gulf Air and Royal Jordanian are among the other commercial operators currently flying to Baghdad Al Muthana International Airport, however Iraqi Airways is the only one offering a direct service from the British capital; Gulf Air flies to London via its hub in Bahrain. Lufthansa plans to reopen Frankfurt and Munich services to Baghdad this European summer its first flights to Iraq in two decades.

FedEx and DHL operate civilian and military cargo services to the airport, which is located 10 miles west of the city. The airport was known as Saddam International Airport prior to the 2003 invasion, and reverted to civilian control in August 2004. The passenger terminal has three gate areas which were originally named after the ancient sites of Babylon, Samarra, and Nineveh; today they are known only as A, B and C.

The first commercial flight from the UK may yet take off on schedule, but European tourism to some the world’s most fascinating ancient sites has without a doubt experienced significant delays up to now.

Did Ryszard Kapuściński Follow Herodotus’ Example and Make Things Up?

Ryszard Kapuciski, one of journalism’s most feted names, is the subject of controversy following the release in Poland of a new biography of his life.

In Kapuscinski: Non-fiction, the Polish journalist Artur Domoslawski alleges that some of Kapuscinski’s acclaimed writings were nothing short of lies. Domoslawski argues that Kapuscinski embellished some of the stories he included in his books and, worse, claimed to be present at historic events when he was elsewhere. He is also accused of never having met famous and influential people such as Che Guevara whom he wrote about befriending.

The allegations have been met with outrage by Kapuscinski’s widow, Alicja, whose bid to have publication of the book blocked in the Polish courts failed.

What’s particularly fascinating about this story is that Kapuscinski’s last book was Travels With Herodotus, a memoir in which he traces his career from his first days as a foreign correspondent. On his journeys across the globe, he takes a copy of Herodotus’ The Histories, a book that educates and informs him, and introduces him to journalism’s first-ever reporter.

Travelling With Herodotus

It’s ironic, given the controversy over the integrity of Kapuscinski’s own work, that this final book published before his death in 2007 was based on these travels with Herodotus. The ‘Father of History’ was many things: the world’s first journalist and travel writer, an anthropologist and a historian. And, as Kapuscinski would no doubt have agreed, Herodotus was also a great embellisher, an astute scribe who could dress up a nice story and transform it into a gripping tale of lust or adventure or bravery. Giant camel-eating ants, the mating habits of various ethnic groups and the effects of fire on Egyptian cats all had a place in the Histories. Plutarch went as far as to publish On the Malignity of Herodotus, a critique of Herodotus’ more fanciful ‘lies’, while Thucydides and Lucian of Samosata are others who can hardly be described as admirers of Herodotus’ one-hit wonder.

provides a robust defence of Kapuciski and his writings: “Almost all journalists, except for a handful of saints, do on occasion sharpen up quotes or slightly shift around times and placesto heighten effect. Perhaps they should not, but they we do,” he writes. “Kapuciski used to talk about ‘literary reportage’. You’re meant to believe what you are being told, but not in every literal detail.”

He goes on: “A good example comes in his best-known book, The Emperor. Kapuciski is visiting Addis Ababa after the deposition and death of Haile Selassie, and interviewing old, frightened men who were his courtiers. In the book, they speak to Kapuciski in exquisite, almost Biblical cadences … It’s all slightly too good to be true. Did he embroider these speeches, or could they be entirely fictional? I think that what he did was to select from his notes, perhaps change the order in which things were said, drop passages which did not interest him and then burnish up the best bits for literary effect. What emerges in the book, and from these speeches, is the most touching and revealing account of a court that almost extinct institution which once governed most of humanity I’ve ever read: entirely convincing, even if the reader can’t be sure that those were precisely the words the courtiers used.”

Ascherson’s analysis is astute, and the parallels here between Kapuciski’s embellishments (if ture) and the writings of Herodotus are stark. Ascherson says Kapuciski carried two types of notebook: one for his factual agency dispatches, and one for his more personal observations. It was the latter type that Ascherson argues may have been ‘polished’ for literary effect and reproduced in book format.

Fighting Memory Loss

It’s doubtful that Herodotus had the luxury of a choice of notebooks. Writing in the 5th century, it’s likely that most of the material he collected on his travels was etched into his brain, and transcribed at a later date, perhaps years later when he sat down to finally write his Histories. In Travels With Herodotus, Kapuciski discusses Herodotus’ obsession with memory, and argues that it is at the heart of his hero’s need to write the Histories and “prevent the traces of human events from being erased by time”.

Writes Kapuciski: He [Herodotus] felt that memory is something defective, fragile, impermanent illusory, even. That whatever it contained, whatever it is storing, can evaporate, simply vanish without a trace.

“… Man does not obsess about memory today as he once did because he lives surrounded by stockpiles of it. Everything is at his fingertips encyclopedias, textbooks, dictionaries, compendia, search engines … If he is a child, his teacher will tell him everything he needs to know; if he is a university student, he will be informed by his professors.

“Of course none, or almost none, of these institutions, devices, or techniques existed in Herodotus’ time. Man knew as much, and only as much, as his mind managed to preserve.

“In the world of Herodotus, the only real repository of memory is the individual. In order to find out that which has been remembered, one must reach this person. If he lives far away, one has to go to him, to set out on a journey. And after finally encountering him, one must sit down and listen to what he has to say to listen, remember, perhaps write it down. That is how reportage begins; of such circumstances it is born.”

Herodotus Would Have Been Proud

Just about every passage in Travels With Herodotus is captivating, but these early passages are particularly engaging. It’s a wonderful, modern memoir that uses events originally reported in the 5th century as its inspiration. I don’t know if Kapuciski embellished parts of it, or filled in the gaps in his own “repository of memory” decades after he’d left Poland or India or Africa. Unless he faithfully recorded every conversation and wrote down everything he ate for breakfast just in case he one day wanted to write a book, it’s likely that he, like Herodotus, was forced to fill in the blanks or rely on the memories of others. Whereas Kapuciski would have been aware of any technical breaches, Herodotus likely believed what he was told he had no choice, after all, because there were no telephones he could use to phone a friend, no Google to search for secondary sources, no experts at universities busying themselves with their next research paper.

It’s too early to tell if one of the great modern reportage writers like Herodotus thousands of years before him let elements of fiction creep in among his facts. And with Kapuciski now gone, we may never know the truth. What we do know is that Kapuciski left a body of work that has enlightened, informed and entertained millions. It’s a body of work that would no doubt have made his hero Herodotus proud.

People Power Could Signal the End of Uluru Tourist Climb

The tourist climb to the top of Australia’s most famous ancient site, Uluru, could be closed following the approval of a new management plan for the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Uluu-Kata Tjua National Park. However the final decision to close the controversial climb will not be made until one of the following three conditions is met.

  1. The number of people climbing the ancient icon drops from the current 38% to less than 20%
  2. The climb is no longer the major reason visitors travel to Uluru
  3. A range of new experiences are in place for visitors.

It could therefore take years for local Aboriginal people the ancestral guardians of Uluru to get their wish and see the climb closed to the public. Even when the decision is finally made, tourism operators have been promised at least 18 months warning prior to the actual closure.

The Waiting Game

Aboriginal activists and environmental campaigners had hoped the new management plan would include a clear directive to close the climb. The local Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara (or Aangu) people consider Uluru to be a sacred site because it links them to their ancestors and to the story of the Dreamtime. Indigenous Australians have lived near Uluru for more than 40,000 years.

It was hoped that Environment Minister Peter Garratt former Midnight Oil frontman and outspoken campaigner on Aboriginal issues would rule in favour of the ban, but his boss, the Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, was outspoken in his opposition to it.

Meeting the Criteria

Of the three conditions, it could be argued that the third to provide alternative experiences for visitors has already been met. A new viewing platform opened in October to give visitors an ‘elevated’ view of the rock without having to climb it. At the time, Tourism Australia released a statement saying “the new viewing platform will offer an alternative for visitors who want more than a base view”. The $20m (10m) platform caters for 3,000 visitors, and is supported by a scenic road around the rock, plus a new coach area and car park. Local indigenous-run companies already offer guided walks and cultural excursions in the national park.

There is also evidence to suggest the second condition that climbing Uluru is not the principal reason people visit Australia’s Red Centre was met years ago. Studies in 2003, 2004 and again in 2006 by the Australian National University geographer Richard Baker found that as many as 98% of those interviewed said they would have still visited Uluru had climbing been banned.

However it’s the compliance of the first condition that is most likely to eventually signal the end of the Uluru climb because it is this condition that is most quantifiable. If people aren’t climbing, the decision is a no-brainer and the problem quietly goes away. So, over to you

There are a number of Facebook groups aimed at raising awareness of the issue and encouraging people not to climb. The most popular one has more than 3,500 members.

Can the Power of Social Networks Save Palaeography at King’s College London?


Since the economic downturn, colleges and universities around the world have found themselves in a pickle: their income is not what it used to be. Endowment-rich, private American institutions have seen an unprecedented decline in the value of their investments, while publicly funded universities around the world have seen their tax-generated budgets shrunken by unimaginable margins. For the first time in a long time (or, perhaps, for the first time ever) publicly funded and privately funded universities are in the same boat and that boat is sinking.

Academics have reluctantly begun to accept that cuts are inevitable. Sometimes small things are let go refreshments at convocations and concerts, office supplies, coffee in the faculty lounge but more often, the cuts are serious. Lost jobs, lost research funds, and lost students have sadly become commonplace. Drowning in a sea of bad news about the state of the academy far and wide, I admit that I have become numb to news of academic downsizing. I was not, however, too numb to notice some truly shocking news from King’s College, London, where the cuts proposed would not only be bad for King’s, but it would be bad for us all.

As is now well known, King’s College London is proposing to do away with 22 positions in its School of Arts and Humanities as part of a massive reorganisation scheme brought about by a staggering reduction in budget. While the losses at King’s are distressing across the board, one of the most devastating proposals is the elimination of the prestigious Chair in Palaeography, currently held by David Ganz.

Why Palaeography Matters

The Maughan Library - King's College London from Fetter Lane, City of London - royal coat of armsPalaeography is the science of studying, understanding and deciphering ancient forms of handwriting, such as those found in Medieval manuscripts. And while such a course might seem ripe to be plucked in a time of economic hardship, I would in fact argue that palaeography should be the last to go.

The point about palaeography is not simply that there is great value in being able to decipher ancient texts this, believe it or not, is the easy part but that there are only a handful of scholars on Earth who have the expertise necessary to help the rest of us understand what the handwriting and the construction of the book can tell us about the people who wrote the text down.

Put differently, while it is often assumed that the text itself is the greatest treasure hiding within the leaves of a Medieval manuscript, often it is the portrait of the people who created the manuscript that is more valuable to us. What glimpse of the past does the handwriting afford us to see that would not be discoverable by any other means? This is the true task of the palaeographer. The type of pen used and how it was held, the colour and consistency of the parchment and ink, the shape of individual letters and layout of lines and pages all of these tell a story about the writer or writers of the book, a story that only the palaeographer can piece together. Which of the subtle details are telling signs, and which are nothing at all?

Join the Campaign

Palaeography is not a skill that one can learn from a textbook. There is no computer program to do it for you and certainly no iPhone app (at least not yet). Rather, one learns how to read ancient script and how to interpret what the script can tells us about the people who wrote it by spending a lifetime reading and studying manuscripts. There is no substitution. A palaeographer, therefore, is the rarest of all academics: his skill is honed by a lifetime of hands-on experience, there but to be forgotten if the master has no apprentice no students.

The Chair in Palaeography at Kings is the only of its kind in the United Kingdom, but the loss of this post would reach far beyond. Not only is there very real risk that our collective ability to decipher and interpret ancient texts will suffer as a consequence of the elimination of this single post, but I fear what this cut will reveal about our generation to future generations. We are, no doubt, a generation that understands costs. The real question is whether we want to be remembered as the generation that lost track of its values?

To help save Palaeography at Kings College London, sign this petition. There is also a Facebook group with more information about how to get involved in saving palaeography (including a letter-writing campaign).

Daniel J. DiCenso is a Doctoral Candidate in the Faculty of Music, University of Cambridge. He is the creator and administrator of the Save Palaeography at King’s London Facebook group.