Category: lyn - Part 3

Light Up! Light Up! Hadrian’s Wall to get Spectacular Light Show

Iluminating Hadrian's WallHadrians Wall all 84 miles of it will be bathed in light for one night only in March.

A spectacular line of light will run along the entire coast-to-coast Hadrians Wall Path National Trail on Saturday, March 13.

Lights will be placed at 250m intervals along the route thats around 500 illuminated spots stretching from Wallsend to Bowness-on-Solway in Cumbria. The Romans built fortlets, known as milecastles, along the Wall at intervals of one Roman mile. Between each milecastle, and spaced one third of a Roman mile apart, were a series of turrets. The plan is to create a point of light where all the milefortlets and turrets were located, with an additional point of light between each of them. There will also be a number of stewarded points along the wall where people will be able to view the line of light.

The Illuminating Hadrians Wall project coincides with British Tourism Week 2010 (March 15-21) and is the brainchild of Hadrians Wall Heritage Ltd, who are planning a massive eco-revamp of the site over the next five years.

It is one of a number of events being held in the North East of England and Cumbria presented by Kendal Arts International and Manchester International Arts. It forms part of the events and festivals programme for culture10 in the North East of England and the Lakes Alive festival in Cumbria.

It really is a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a line of light stretching from one side of England to the other.

Linda Tuttiett, the Chief Executive of Hadrians Wall Heritage Ltd, says the light project will bring to life Britains longest and greatest piece of heritage and celebrate the landscape of Hadrians Wall Country.

What could be more spectacular than a line of light that will stretch from coast to coast illuminating this stunning World Heritage Site?

The event is being produced by John Farquhar-Smith who was the technical director for the 8-minute handover ceremony for London 2012 at the closing of the Beijing 2008 Olympics.

It really is a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a line of light stretching from one side of England to the other, he says. Our aim is to capture the publics imagination with an event that will show the immense scale and beauty of Hadrians Wall and the countryside, villages, towns and cities that it runs through. It will be a celebration of a truly iconic piece of World heritage.

Sharing the Light

A camera crew will film the line of light as it makes its way from coast to coast from a helicopter and the pictures will be beamed to giant screens as part events in the North East and at Carlisle.

Stella Hall, Creative Director of culture10 said, We are delighted to celebrate the lighting of the iconic Hadrians Wall, and hope that audiences will join us on the evening of March 13 at the events in Carlisle and Wallsend where we can share in this once in a lifetime experience.

Julie Tait, director of Lakes Alive, says the project is part of a four-year programme building up to the London 2012 Olympics. [It] is all about bringing to life the rich and spectacular landscapes and heritage of Cumbria, she says.

Hadrians Wall formed the Roman frontier across the north of England for almost 300 years. It was built in AD122 by the Roman army on the orders of the Emperor Hadrian. In 1987 it was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and in 2005 became part of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site.

Today it attracts visitors from all over the world, and is a firm favourite with the nation’s children, who voted it second only to Stonehenge in a recent poll, in which it beat attractions such as the London Eye hands down.

Also about the ‘Light Up’ of Hadrian’s Wall on Heritage Key:

Human Ashes at Uluru Could Affect Dating Work

Uluru sunsetDating work at Uluru Australias most famous ancient landmark is at risk following the revelation that tourists have been scattering the ashes of dead loved ones at the site.

Mick Starkey, a spokesman for the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park, told ABCNews that human ashes had been discovered at two separate rock art sites over the past month. He said the practice could contaminate the sites and hinder efforts to date and record ancient art.

“Obviously some people (have) been bringing and dropping their ashes off here,” he said, “and it’s going to cause a bit of problem if they put them in our art sites because we won’t be able to do some dating later on in life.

“It’s starting to be a little bit of a problem.”

Controversy at ‘The Rock’

This is the latest in a series of rows involving visitors to Uluru. The future of the controversial tourist climb to the top of

In a separate controversy, a local tour operator complained in September that tourists had been defecating and relieving their bladders upon reaching the summit (there are no toilets at the top…)

the site is under review by the Australian federal government after a draft management plan for the Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park recommended closing the tourist access. Traditional owners have long opposed the climb, saying it disrespects their heritage, but the climb is also said to cause environmental damage and risk the safety of those who attempt to make it to the top 35 tourists have died scaling the landmark in the last 20 years.

Anecdotal reports suggest some tourists have travelled to Uluru in recent months specifically to climb the site before the official path is closed.

There are ongoing efforts to discourage visitors from stamping all over this sacred Aboriginal site. A new viewing platform has just opened to give tourists as elevated view of the Uluru without having to climb it. Commentators say the platform was designed to provide an additional visitors facility for after the climbs inevitable closure.

In a separate controversy, a local tour operator complained in September that tourists had been defecating and relieving their bladders upon reaching the summit (there are no toilets at the top…). It’s a practice that not only disrespects the beliefs of the traditional owners, but also contaminates a sacred pool at the foot of the site.

Impressive Qantas Advert Features Ancient Language and Sites

For the first time ever, a major Australian brand has used an ancient indigenous language as part of a mainstream marketing campaign. For a taste of how Australians sounded tens of thousands of years ago, check out the new Qantas ad screening down under. The ad sees 13-year-old Tyus Arndt sing the first verse of Peter Allens famous I Still Call Australia Home in the ancient dialect Kala Lagaw Ya, which is still spoken in the Torres Strait Islands. Tyus and his fellow choristers from the Gondwana National Indigenous Childrens Choir, the Australian Girls Choir and the National Boys Choir switch to English for the latter verses.

According to Paul Smitz and Barry Blake in Australian Language and Culture, Kala Lagaw Ya is an original indigenous language of the Torres Strait: “Kala Lagaw Ya is spoken by the people of the western islands of Saibai (and thus now in Seisia and Bamaga), Dauan, Boigu, Mabuiag, Muralag, Badu, Moa (Kubin) and Narupai, and the central islands of Masig, Purma, Yam and Warraber.” Kala Lagaw Ya is related to Aboriginal Australian languages, whereas Meriam Mir, another language of the Torres Strait (spoken on eastern islands rather than on the western ones), belongs to the Trans Fly family of languages from the Papuan coast. Several thousand people are thought to still speak Kala Lagaw Ya today, often as a first language.

It was from the Torres Strait that the first significant indigenous land rights victory was fought when in 1992 the High Court overturned the notion of terra nullius the legal term that stated that Australia was empty of inhabitants prior to European arrival. The case saw Eddie Mabo, of Murray Island, recognised as the owner of his traditional land. The Mabo ruling, as it came to be known, opened the door for other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to claim the ancestral land.

Breaking New Ground

The ad has generated considerable debate on media websites such as Mumbrella, and reviewers have praised it for its integration of ancient and modern Australia. Qantas directors should be ashamed of presiding over such an obscene, retch-inducing executive payout, yet their ad people deserve credit for taking an ancient Australian tongue and putting it on our prime-time screens, wrote Tim Dick in the Sydney Morning Herald.

The advertisement also features some key ancient historical sites, such as the UNESCO World Heritage site Purnululu National Park, and Cathedral Cave in the Carnarvon Gorge in central Queensland. Aborigines are known to have inhabited the Carnarvon Gorge area for more than 35,000 years prior to European arrival, and extensive artwork remains within the cave system.

This is the latest instalment in long-running series of Qantas ads, all set to the Peter Allen song and featuring distinctive sites in Australia and around the world. The Great Wall of China makes an appearance here, while previous ads have featured Rome and numerous other heritage sites.

Stealing the Show

Perhaps the only thing more impressive than the scenery is the boy leading the choir. Tyus Arndt hails from Thursday Island, the administrative centre of the Torres Strait Islands, between the Australian mainland and Papua New Guinea. His ancestors are thought to have arrived from the islands of todays Indonesia some 70,000 years ago.

Photographer Interview: John Gollings on Kashgar

John GollingsKashgar has for centuries been a destination for visitors from all over the world. Originally, it was a pivotal point on the ancient Silk Road trading routes, standing at the crossroads of the route linking Kyrgyzstan to Islamabad in Pakistan, and the one heading to modern-day Istanbul and Damascus from the larger Chinese cities to the east.

Today, a team from the Asia Institute at Australia’s Monash University, working with Chinas Xinjiang Normal University, is hoping to help put Kashgar back on on the traveller’s map this time not as a trade destination, but as a tourist one.

Monash’s Kashgar project team invited John Gollings, one of Australia’s most celebrated photographers, to create a book of photo essays Kashgar: Oasis on Chinas Old Silk Road to help illustrate the vibrancy and colour of one of China’s most important western outposts. It is hoped the book will inspire tourism to the region, and also promote other forms of cultural and economic development.

We caught up with John Gollings to chat about his work photographing Kashgar.

KashgarWhat fascinates you most about Kashgar?

Its historic connection to the Western world as an entry point to China its remoteness contradicts the knowledge that it was the centre of the ancient world of trade and commerce.

What sets it apart from other Chinese cities?

Its Islamic civic architecture and the medieval mud city itself. It’s rare to be able to visit a living city unchanged for hundreds of years.

How long did you spend there? You shot upwards of 7,000 photos…

The trip was well researched before we left, with categories to be covered, like archeology, architecture, portraits, daily life, religion, and so forth, so it was possible to do in just under three weeks of non-stop shooting and travelling. I had very good local guides, both Han and Uigar, who facilitated local access to houses and mosques.

KashgarYour photos capture remarkably clearly the daily lives of local people. Flicking through the chapter called Merchants and Markets, it is almost possible to hear the vibrancy of the markets and smell the fresh produce and the animals. The markets have always been a lifeblood of Kashgar. Can you tell us a bit about the time you spent shooting this section of the book?

The area is remarkably fertile and trading is the lifeblood of Kashgar, so the markets are extensive this made it easy to find material. However I shot a lot of images of each area, and I was constantly looking for compositions that had their own power and sense of balance. I tend to use either very long lenses or very wide angle as a way of quickly building a narrative into the image. I believe a well composed image gives credibility to the story and sets it apart from a gratuitously attractive snapshot.

Animals feature prominently in your photos particularly working animals like donkeys, camels and horses. Was this deliberate?

It was deliberate, but only because the animals are central to the life of the place and I was struck by the sense of equivalence to the Western world: the donkey is the family sedan, the camel is the tractor, and the horse is the semi-trailer! The animal as the automobile is as pervasive as the car in the West and as normal.

You also go inside people’s homes, into mosques, shrines and other private places. How difficult was it to secure access and gain the trust of the people?

We asked permission, worked quickly, didn’t rearrange anything, accepted hospitality and respected traditions as the local guides explained them. However, it was generallyspontaneous, occasionally a call had been made the day before to make a time, but most people were much more open and generous than in the West, and less suspicious of our motives.

KashgarCan you tell us a bit about your time in the Old City?

The architecture of the Old City is a mix of English ‘colonial’, eclectic Victoriana, with the mud brick style of oasis cities around the world. It’s simple and pragmatic, with narrow streets and a close community spirit. It is unique and timeless, and to the visitor the thrill is the time travel back some 500 years a priceless education. The Chinese are all for ‘modernisation’, some buildings are being pulled down to make freeways and roads, other parts because the Chinese fear the Old City is a breeding ground for terrorists. Equally, the locals don’t want to live in a museum without urban services like sewerage, water and power, and they don’t understand the tourist potential or the cultural value of their own city, so it is very threatened by both Uigar and Han.


The area surrounding Mauri Tim appears desolate and vast in your photos almost eerie…

It’s a moonscape and cold and empty, especially in winter. It is so rugged one can only have respect for the inhabitants and their integration with nature and its forces. It also explains the very fatty diet which keeps them warm.

The Grotto of the Three Immortal Buddhas is also vast …

Equally true of the landscape, but the religious plurality is emphasised as you travel across the mountains.

Sites like Mauri Tim and the Grotto of the Three Immortal Buddhas are little known outside archaeological circles, and much of the area is yet to be properly excavated. Can you see this changing?

Monash University are pushing hard to change this but it is physically and politically frustrating. It will be slow!

kashgarKashgar was the scene of a terrorist attack during the Olympics what impact has this had on the city and its spirit?

And the recent riots as well! It is devastating and divisive and has set back the integration many years. There are moral, ethical and geo-political issues of nationalism and economic imperatives that are hard to resolve happily. It had seemed to exist as a mutually profitable detente between Uigar and Han, but there is much more suspicion now.

What do you hope this book achieves?

More outside knowledge of the area and some greater tourism, which would reinforce local pride and respect for protecting their own culture.

Finally, you have travelled to and worked in many other ancient cities. What have been some of your favourites?

I’ve done a lot of work in India and Cambodia, documenting imperial cities of the 1st millennia, in particular Vijayanagara and Angkor Wat which are both now world heritage sites.

All images by John Gollings, and reproduced from Kashgar: Oasis on Chinas Old Silk Road

Free Beer: Dogfish Head Brewery and Biomolecular Archaeologists Recreate Ancient Beer and Wine

Forget Oktoberfest – if you really want to combine culture with beer the place to be this month is the Penn Museum. The latest biomolecular archaeology techniques pioneered by the University of Pennsylvania have led to reproductions of ancient ales, which will be available to sample at an event on 8th October. The University’s Patrick McGovern, the worlds leading authority on ancient brewing, has worked with the innovative American brewer Dogfish Head to develop the beers, which are not too dissimilar to what it the ancients are thought to have enjoyed.

Breathing New Life into Ancient Brews

Based on evidence found at archaeological digs, and using the techniques and ingredients of ancient times, Dogfish Head has produced several ancient beers for the modern beer connoisseur.

There are brews based on indigenous Peruvian traditions, like the Chicha, and the Chateau Jiahu, based on a 9000-year-old rice, honey and fruit recipe deriving from the Neolithic village of Jiahu in Chinas Henan province.

The Theobroma or food of the gods, meanwhile, is based on an alcoholic chocolate drink enjoyed in 1200BC in what is now Honduras.

Then, of course, theres the Midas Touch, which was Dogfish Heads first foray into the ancient world. Its based on the oldest-known fermented beverage a 2,700-year-old recipe pieced together after the discovery of drinking vessels in the tomb of King Midas in Turkey.

Get the Recipe!

You can read the full (rather lengthy) story of Dogfish Head and its innovative approach to making ancient (and other extreme) beers in this New Yorker article.

Better still, if you’re in the area, get yourself along to the Uncorking the Past beer-tasting and talks event at at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology this Thursday, October 8.

The night coincides with the release of Patrick McGoverns new book, Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages. McGovern and Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione will both be giving talks on ancient brewing techniques. More importantly, there will be tastings of Midas Touch, Chateau Jiahu and Theobroma on offer, along with wine from the Nile Delta. If you can’t make this one, there are various other Dogfish tasting events coming up in the States over the coming weeks.

Two Major Publishers go Bust as Recession Bites into Historical Book World

The recession isnt being kind to the ancient world. Two leading publishers of history titles have just gone bust, and there are fears that more will follow. Italian publishers White Star have become the latest victim, following British publisher Thalamus into receivership last month.

White Star, which opened in 1984, was one of Italys leading publishing house and one of Italian publishings star exporters. Its extensive multi-lingual catalogue features more than 600 titles ranging from archaeology, art and nature to technology, photography, ethnology, mountaineering and marine biology. Its impressive archaeology and civilisations collections alone carry something from every corner of the ancient world, including Cambodia, China, Greece and Egypt. The Incas, the Aztecs and ancient Islam also feature. HK Heritage Experts Kent Weeks and Zahi Hawass are just two distinguished names featuring on White Star authors list.

White Star enjoyed prestigious partnerships the world over, including exclusive contracts with the National Geographic Society and collaborations with publishing giants such as Rizzoli International and Random House.

Hope for White Star Revival

A cloud now hangs over it all, with a creditors meeting on October 22 set to discuss the future of the company and its catalogue. Heritage Key understands media and publishing group De Agostini has teamed up with a private investment fund to bid for White Stars assets, a move that if successful could see the retention of the White Star brand and the survival of its catalogue.

There is also hope that the Thalamus titles or at least their content will survive, with managing director Roger Michael Kean in ongoing discussions with other publishing houses to find a home for some (or all) of his wonderfully researched and illustrated books. Its catalogue covers everything from Egypt, the Ottomans and Rome through to Byzantium, pirates and modern interpretations of ancient cities.

Thalamus went into receivership just a few months shy of its 10th anniversary. The company formed in December 1999 after Prima Creative Media, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Prima Publishing Group in California, cut back on its European operations. Kean then working for Prima and several colleagues took Prima titles and continued them at a new company, Thalamus.

A Different Publishing Environment

At the time, the co-edition publishing business was still in a healthy condition, says Kean now. For years, American publishers had looked to Britain for high-quality packagers of hard-back books, and we found a ready market with publishers such as Facts On File, Inc. (Chelsea House), Barons Educational Series, The Lyons Press, Stackpole Publishing and Barnes & Noble. We sold regularly to Weltbild in Germany, Tosa in Austria, ICOB-Atrium in Holland and generally to about 17 countries, printing their foreign-language editions at the same time.

With so many publishing partners, it was easy to generate a lot of new material, keeping more than 10 authors, specialists in their subjects, busy. Until a few years ago, Thalamus did not publish in the UK under its own imprint many titles were sold to the Caxton Press under their Mercury label, but recently we did print for ourselves to sell into the UK trade.

Kean blames the companys demise on a number of factors, including changing publishing industry trends, cuts to education and cultural budgets in the US and the growth of internet resources such as Wikipedia. The recession, he says, was the final straw.

Its difficult usually impossible to discover who wrote the chunk of history youre reading on Wikipedia

A growing awareness in the USA that American creatives could also package other publishers books for themselves led to a slow decline in American contracts, he says. The Second Gulf War also had a terrible effect on publishers who relied heavily on the schools and library markets, with President Bush effectively robbing schools of a great part of their book purchase subsidies. This as in Britain pushed schools and colleges towards eBooks and online teaching.

The popular belief that everything required for supporting students particularly in history can be found on the internet has hit reference publishers hard in both the USA and Europe.

Seeing the Future

Kean gave a talk at Ludlow Library in the UK last year, touching on this very subject. Here are selected extracts from that speech:

As long ago as 2000, we heard people glancing quickly through our books say, but surely all this info is available online?

“Well, no, not really was and still is the answer. What you get from the web is undigested. Its not organised in a way that makes understanding easy and quick links between pages and different sites dont stand in for scholarly editing and cross-referencing.

“Im not referring here to dedicated history sites, those which tend to concentrate on specific periods or regions, which usually provide a sound basis for learning and general interest. The problem lies with the likes of Wikipedia and the plethora of Wiki-copyists, which basically claim to offer the lot: thats whats undigested and certainly unedited.

“When you pick up an academic tome or a general reference book, you know who the author is, which gives important indications such as their attitude to the subject, quality of knowledge and depth of research. By contrast, its difficult usually impossible to discover who wrote the chunk of history youre reading on Wikipedia.

“Is Thalamus Publishing worried about our future prospects as publisher of illustrated history reference books? The answer to that has to be Yes theres always risk in periods of cultural and technical change. It may be reasonable of us to argue that content of a Thalamus book is not available on the web, but if people believe it is, theyre likely to say to themselves, I dont need to buy that book. That attitude is certainly a problem we face as a publisher of traditionally printed media.

Reality Bites

Kean was right to be worried. The internet certainly has had a negative effect on book sales, especially in the UK, where they were never as good as in the USA or Europe, he told Heritage Key this week. I recall a publisher at Hamlyn telling me that in the 1980s they confidently expected to sell between 20,000 and 30,00 copies of, say, The Hamlyn Guide to Ancient Egypt, but by the mid-1990s, that figure had dropped to below 10,000. By 2002, a sales figure of 3,000 would have been a smash hit.

So it was only the sales to international publishers that made Thalamus viable. When the economic crisis bit, sales crashed everywhere. In 1999, Prima sold five titles to German publisher Weltbild, with a total of 135,000 copies. In 2009, when Weltbild reluctantly pulled out of the only two deals intended for the year, they were ordering 8,000 copies of each.

Roger Michael Kean says he is proud of what Thalamus achieved: a solid back list of well researched, attractively illustrated books, with mapping that aroused sighs of admiration. Our remit was to produce books which would be read by teenagers as well as adults young and old, he says. Little of it was aimed at the academic; we saw ourselves as providing a solid introduction to a subject that would arouse a greater interest in the subject, perhaps even to the point of concentrating on narrower fields of study, and I think we succeeded.

“And in spite of the company’s collapse, we leave hardly any debts except for the printer in China, who in any case just managed to deliver over a thousand copies of the New History of the Roman Emperors to our partner in Australia with two sections of the German version bound in”

Kean, who has clearly managed to retain his sense of humour, is now working on a series of rewrites of the novels of Victorian author GA Henty. He is also reviewing books for us here at Heritage Key.

Aborigines fight for the repatriation of ‘racist’ artworks

TrugininiThe fight goes on for the repatriation of Australian Aboriginal remains stored in museums across the world, with two artworks now added to the list of artifacts campaigers want returned Down Under.

A delegation from the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre in Hobart is in the UK this week to lobby institutions among them the Wellcome Trust, and Oxford and Cambridge universities to return the skulls, bones and other Aboriginal remains held in their collections.

This follows their success earlier this month in having the remains of a skull from a Tasmanian Aborigine returned to Australia from the National Museum of Scotland.

Demand Made For Sculptures

The delegation led by Sara Maynard, a legal field officer at the centre will also lobby the British Museum for the return of two artworks sculpted by Englishman Benjamin Law in 1835. The busts depict Tasmanias last full-blood Aborigine Truganini, and her husband Woureddy. The British Museum is one of some 30 institutions with copies of the busts, though the museum does not display them. Two busts were set for auction by Sothebys in Melbourne last month until campaigners intervened.

Truganini was the last of her original tribe to survive after European settlement of Tasmania resulted in the decimation of the Aboriginal community there. Truganini and around 100 of her people were relocated to Flinders Island in 1873, but she became the sole survivor after disease swept through the settlement (Aborigines were highly susceptible to diseases introduced to the country by European settlers.)

To our community, these busts represent the attempts to exterminate our people. It’s like displaying victims of the extermination of Jews as art without permission.

She died three years later, with her body buried and then exhumed, and her skeleton going on display at the Royal Society of Tasmania. In 1997 the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter returned a necklace and bracelet belonging to Truganini, while samples of her hair and skin were returned to Tasmania for burial after they were found among the Royal College of Surgeons collections in 2002.

We are outraged that these busts have been put on display without permission in museums across the world, Sara Maynard told the The Guardian. To our community they represent the attempts to exterminate our people. It’s like displaying victims of the extermination of Jews as art without permission.

She also objects to the common description of Truganini as the last full blood Aborigine, saying it suggests modern-day Aborigines are impure. “This is why we call it racist art,” she said. “We want to collect all the busts and take them home for the community to decide what to do with them.”

The Bigger Picture

As with the return of remains, its not just a matter of righting wrongs for the Aboriginal community, but of ensuring the spirits of their ancestors are at peace. Spirits are an important element of the ancient beliefs system upon which Aboriginal culture is based, and can be traced back to the Dreamtime.

Banjo Clarke, a descendant of Truganini, told his story and those of his people to biographer Camilla Chance over the course of some 27 years. It words were faithfully dictated and published in 1993 as Wisdom Man.

In the book, he discusses the spirit world: “We feel very close to people’s spirits, and people from the spirit world let us know things. That’s the Aboriginal tradition. Speak that way to any Aboriginal, and he’ll understand exactly what you’re talking about. I would tell my children that often the spirit of someone what has passed on will come to you in a dream, or you’ll get a warning that a friend or relation is sick. Something strange happens, and you know it’s a message from the spirit world. Aboriginals live alert to these things all their lives. But we don’t tell people about them. We are afraid of being laughed at over things which are absolutely true.”

He gives further insight into life after European settlement for his people in this video recording, which also describes how his childhood was not that disimiliar to those of his ancestors thousands of years ago.

Does Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol Cut it as Historical Fiction?

The literary world is waiting for a bombshell. Controversial Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown is about to release his latest historical fantasy tale – The Lost Symbol – on the public. But what does this mean for the history books industry at large, and should the work of Dan Brown be considered historical fiction at all, or merely fantasy?

Judging by the healthy state of historical fiction at the moment, it could be that history pulp has helped stimulate readers’ and writers’ interest in proper historical fiction. In his review of Ben Kanes The Forgotten Legion, Roger Michael Kean points out that Rome is a popular backdrop for novels at the moment. Aside from Ben Kane, Harry Sidebottoms Warrior of Rome series, RS Downies Ruso, and Simon Scarrows epics are all selling off the back of the Roman Empire.

Then theres The Eagle of the Ninth, Rosemary Sutcliffs childrens classic. Set in Roman Britain, its now finding a new audience thanks in no small part to its forthcoming big-screen adaptations.

But its not just Rome ancient Egypt is becoming a popular backdrop for fiction. Nick Drake is there with books on Tutankhamun and Nefertiti, while the prolific Michele Moran keeps popping up too. Most recently, she boldly refused to move the September 15 American launch date of Cleopatras Daughter, despite it clashing with the release of The Lost Symbol the long-awaited follow-up to The Da Vinci Code.

Taking On Dan Brown

Morans American publisher, Crown Publishing, was understandably nervous. “There’s major apprehension about Michelle’s book going up head-to-head against Dan Brown,” Gaylene Murphy, a spokesperson for the publisher, told the Los Angeles Daily News. “In the publishing industry, they’re calling Sept. 15 D-Day, for Dan Brown, who’s not just a best-selling author he’s a phenomenon.”

The Da Vinci Code sold an astounding 81 million copies worldwide making it the biggest selling historical fiction book of all time. Or was it?

Some 6.5 million first edition copies of The Lost Symbol were released Random Houses biggest ever first print run. This follows the phenomenal success of The Da Vinci Code, which sold an astounding 81 million copies worldwide making it the biggest selling historical fiction book of all time.

Or was it? Exactly how historically accurate must a work of fiction be before it moves from fiction to historical fiction?

Historical Fiction or Fantasy?

If The Da Vinci Code broke records for sales, it also broke records for causing controversy. The book follows Browns lead character, Robert Langdon, as he works to solve a murder in the Louvre. In the course of his investigations, the book raises numerous questions relating to Christian beliefs, most notably it questions Mary Magdalenes role and status in the church, and raises the possibility of Mary having married Jesus and giving birth to his child.

But it doesnt stop there. The book also claims that the Olympics were originally a tribute to Aphrodite, when in fact it is generally accepted that they were in honour of Zeus and Pelops. Then there are complaints about Browns poor use of French, his lack of research on astronomy, and issues relating to witches, engineering and the Holy Grail. There is a comprehensive overview here.

In fact, refuting Dan Brown has become a literary genre in itself!Marcia Ford lists a selection of books that argue there is nothing historically worthy at all about Browns first book. Ford writes:

Regardless of whether you agree with Brown’s conclusions, it’s clear that his history is largely fanciful, which means he and his publisher have violated a long-held if unspoken agreement with the reader: Fiction that purports to present historical facts should be researched as carefully as a non-fiction book would be.

Calling In The Big Guns

So its to the Historical Novel Society that we go in search of a definition of historical fiction. And this is what we find:

There are problems with defining historical novels, as with defining any genre. When does ‘contemporary’ end, and ‘historical’ begin? What about novels that are part historical, part contemporary? And how much distortion of history will we allow before a book becomes more fantasy than historical?

There will never be a satisfactory answer to these questions, but these are the arbitrary decisions we’ve made.

To be deemed historical (in our sense), a novel must have been written at least fifty years after the events described, or have been written by someone who was not alive at the time of those events (who therefore approaches them only by research).

“We also consider the following styles of novel to be historical fiction for our purposes: alternate histories (e.g. Robert Harris’ Fatherland), pseudo-histories (eg. Umberto Eco’s Island of the Day Before), time-slip novels (e.g. Barbara Erskine’s Lady of Hay), historical fantasies (eg. Bernard Cornwell’s King Arthur trilogy) and multiple-time novels (e.g. Michael Cunningham’s The Hours).

Which, by this definition, makes The Da Vinci Code a work of historical fiction just a poorly written and researched one that’s sold millions of copies and made Dan Brown one of the most famous people on the planet.

Tourists taking the piss – literally – when it comes to Uluru

Uluru by Stuart EdwardsTourists are taking the piss quite literally when it comes to Uluru, the sacred Aboriginal ‘rock’ in the middle of the Australian desert.

Andrew Simpson is the general manager of Anangu Waai, an Aboriginal-owned company that runs culturally sensitive tours of the World Heritage-listed Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. He claims that tourists are not only disrespecting local heritage and beliefs by climbing Uluru in the first place, but they are “shitting on a sacred site” when they get to the top.

Waiting half an hour to get to the bottom again, he says, is just too much of an effort for some visitors.

“That’s been going on for years,” he told the NT News. “Most of them have a toilet roll tucked away.”

Closing The Toilet Door

In his submission in response to a draft management plan for the national park, Mr Simpson said there were concerns that the human waste along with other slightly less offensive forms of rubbish had been ending up in a sacred pool at the foot of the rock.

That’s been going on for years … most [tourists] have a toilet roll tucked away.

The draft plan includes a proposal to stop visitors climbing the rock. More than 150 submissions had been received when the consultation period closed on Friday. The response is believed to be the largest to any draft plan for an Australian national park.

Uluru also known as Ayer’s Rock is viewed as sacred by the local Aangu people because it forms a direct link to the Dreamtime.

The area around around the monolith has many rock caves and rock paintings, with archaeologists and geologists dating human activity in the area back some 10,000 to 20,000 years.

But the site is also one of Australia’s most popular visitor attractions, and tourist authorities fear that closing the climb would affect tourist numbers. Almost half a million people currently visit Uluru each year.

What Will The Government Do?

The future of the rock climb now rests in the hands of Australia’s environment minister, Peter Garrett. And this is where it all gets interesting.

Prior to turning to politics, Garrett, a lawyer by trade, was perhaps better known as the lead singer of the internationally successful Australian rock band Midnight Oil. The band was among the most politically active of the 1980s and 1990s, and was at the forefront of environmental and indigenous rights campaigns.

The band’s most notable political statement came during the closing ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympics when they performed their hit song Beds Are Burning, a protest song in support of Aboriginal land rights. In front of billions of television viewers and the then-prime minister John Howard, the band members all wore black, save for the word ‘sorry’ stamped across their clothing. This was in reference to Howard’s blatant refusal to apologise on behalf of the nation for the way the country’s indigenous people had been treated since European settlement.

After coming to power, one of the first things the current prime minister (and Garrett’s boss) Kevin Rudd did was to say sorry. Rudd, however, has since gone on record opposing the closure of the Uluru climb.

Peter Garrett is known worldwide for his outspoken views on Aboriginal land rights and for his campaigning for respect for this ancient (and decimated) culture. He is now in a position to turn his words to actions. Will he prove the ultimate hypocrite and allow the Uluru climb to stay open in the face of opposition from its traditional owners?

A decision is expected next year.

Uluru photo by Stuart Edwards

Photographer insight: Ethel Davies Captures Roman Africa

Ethel DaviesTravel writer and photographer Ethel Davies knows the Roman coast of North Africa better than most (see her top 10 sites here). We asked her to give us an insight into how her favourite image came about.

“As a professional travel photographer, I accrued a great number of images over the course of the two years of intensive work and study for North Africa: The Roman Coast (not to mention the various trips I took before my research began),” says Ethel. “Its virtually impossible to choose a favourite, as each image represents a place, an experience and even a feeling.

“If you have even the slightest bit of interest and ability, its difficult not to take a good photo when travelling through the magnificent Roman sites in North Africa. In general, the light is good, especially early and late, when the honey-pink hue of the stones glows. As well as the magnificent assembly of buildings, look out for details. Intact inscriptions can often be lying on the ground and, occasionally, its possible to find faces and torsos of statues scattered around some distance away from their original homes. Dont be limited to the well-trodden routes that the guides follow, either there is much to be seen that hasnt yet made it on to the tourist trail.”

Unable to choose her favourite image, Ethel instead sent us three of her best:

Djemila, Algeria: North Forum Arches

On the day before Christmas, at an altitude of 900 metres, the weather wasnt being very cooperative. Clouds were obscuring the sun and a cold wind was blowing. Although the site was extensive and impressive, I wasnt getting the shots I wanted due to the dull nature of the sky. Suddenly, after a few hours, breaks appeared in the mist and beams of light shone through. To take advantage of this fleeting illumination, I dashed back to my favourite remains, and en route caught a glimpse through this archway. The way the ancient paving stones gleamed, passing through the triumphal arches of emperors long gone, provided almost a better sense of looking into the past than my straightforward, conventionally lit shots.

Between the late time of year and the North African latitude, the sun was bright and I used the first arch to block its flare. I overexposed slightly to get more detail in the shadows, but even so, the light was strong, and the lack of action allowed me to set a small aperture with a longer time. I didnt need to take many shots, only varying between portrait and landscape versions, as the subject and composition seemed obvious to me. Besides, I still had a lot more left to document, and only limited time and fleeting decent weather available to me.

Leptis MagnaLeptis Magna, Libya: The Severan Forum

Picture the superb remains of an ancient Roman city with its excavated area stretching out for thousands of metres until it hits the sea and then imagine there are only about a dozen people on the entire site.

Leptis Magna is a photographers dream, with extraordinary remnants of its glory days lying about and very few humans to get in the way! Indicative, and frequently photographed, is the Severan Forum. The new central square built by the citys native son, Emperor Septimius Severus, replaced the old one that predated his reign. Almost 2,000 years later, Italian archaeologists used this huge area to house all the bits and pieces waiting to be resurrected in place. Among the columns and sculpted details gathered from various buildings are the Medusa heads, their quantity indicating that they were common images throughout the city. In this now somewhat overgrown plaza, these haunting faces appear, propped up on pedestals, leaning against walls and peaking through the grass. Their presence gets to be unnerving after a while, giving the sense that the photographic observer her/himself is being watched.

This image was taken on a perfect October day. The subtle shadowing of the mid morning gave definition to the subjects without my having to worry about later retrieving detail in Photoshop. In addition, the sun was still low enough to allow retention of the subtle variations of the colour of the stones. The brightness of the light allowed me to use a narrow aperture. I particularly like the way the grass crisscrosses the staring Medusa face. This picture is one among many, not because I struggled with the composition, but because at every turn was another shot.

Sabratha, Libya: The Seaward Baths

Sabratha is a wonderful site along the Mediterranean Sea with one of the most magnificent theatres still left standing in whats left of the Roman world. If time allows, however, there is much more to see and one of the great surprises is this mosaic. Part of a bathhouse, typically where some of the best examples of this art form are generally found, its most likely that in its day, this leisure area was situated some distance from the sea. Over time, the constant erosion drew the water closer and closer, and today, the colour of the tiny stones provides a delightful contrast to the blue of the Mediterranean. Its rare to find mosaics still in their original location, as most have been carted away to museums for preservation, and even more unusual to find them in such good condition.

I was here in mid-autumn and the storm season that prevented the ancients from sailing the Mediterranean was already starting. I had to dash between the raindrops, but the sun, when it finally came out, and the shine left over from the rain, brought out the fine points of this site. Speed, both of the camera and the photographer, was important, as I wanted to stop the action of waves in the photo, and to get as many views before the clouds gathered again.