Category: lyn - Part 4

Disney World’s Own Terracotta Warriors

You know something’s in vogue when it pops up on The Onion, the world’s best-known satirical newspaper. And so it was this week that immortality-seeking First Emperor of China Qin Shi Huang made the grade following the ‘discovery’ beneath Disney World in Orlando of a “legion of terra-cotta Mouseketeers”.

According to the spoof article which was kindly sent to us by one of our Heritage Experts, Ethel Davies a Disney World maintenance crew discovered more than 8,000 ‘Mouseketeers’ underneath Cinderella Castle. The statues were thought to date back to 300BC.

It was likely constructed during the Pre-Eisnerian period, one of the bloodiest and most chaotic eras in the history of the Magic Kingdom

Within days of the discovery, the nation’s top archaeologists had begun excavating the massive subterranean army of fresh-faced clay youths, already considered the finest collection of relics from the Early Disney Dynasty ever unearthed,” The Onion reported.

It quoted a lead archaeologist by the name of Dr Robert Moore:

“Very little is known about the early history of the Disney civilization, so this is quite a significant find. By analyzing the crude markings above the doorway to the tomb, we’ve concluded that it was likely constructed during the Pre-Eisnerian period, one of the bloodiest and most chaotic eras in the history of the Magic Kingdom.”

The report goes on the say that the Mouseketeers were arranged according to rank: “The apparent king is shown seated upon a throne of skulls and bears a striking resemblance to Walt Disney.”

Three previous Space Mountains were also discovered at the site.

‘Disney historian’ Margaret Weaver told The Onion that the site also had the “faintest smell of cotton candy” about it.

Images reprinted with permission of THE ONION.
Copyright 2009, by ONION, INC.

Roads Not-So-Less Travelled

A blog by Bija Knowles got me thinking about travel to ancient destinations.

In particular, Bija talks about Libya and its move towards promoting itself more as a tourist destination. Libya has long been one of the Holy Grails of travel writing because it’s been so difficult to get into (and to get around) it independently until now. This story by Jim Keeble has more on how the country is finally opening up to tourism.

It’s the same in countries along the old Silk Road routes, which are more tourist-friendly than ever. This encourages more people to discover the historic trading paths for themselves. And books like Silk Roads: A Route and Planning Guideby Trailblazer make it relatively easy to plan such trips.

The Benefits of Tourism

Tourism doesn’t only bring money to sometimes impoverished regions or leave visitors with stamps from exotic destinations in their passports. It also often draws external attention to local issues and puts previously ignored stories closer to the international spotlight. Would, for instance, an influx of tourism and the publicity surrounding it help preserve sites threatened with destruction, such as Kashgar? George Mitchell’s wonderful photos in Kashgar: Oasis City on China’s Old Silk Road illustrate why the city is worth preserving (and seeing for oneself).

Before Lonely Planet, it was only the daring (or the sometimes daft) who travelled overland through the Middle East

Guide book publishers play a huge role in deciding who goes where and when. Lonely Planet is perhaps the most obvious example of one publisher originally just one couple typing away on their kitchen table changing the travel landscape and opening up new destinations. Before Lonely Planet, it was only the daring (or the sometimes daft) who travelled overland through the Middle East, stopping at the Pyramids and Petra along the way, or who saw Ethiopias ancient churches for themselves. Perhaps they were the lucky ones; people who experienced those magical places before they were forced to share them with busloads of other camera-wielding tourists.

Publishers such as Trailblazer and Bradt are setting themselves apart from the Lonely Planets by presenting formerly off-limits destinations to the mass tourism market. Bradts Iran and North Africa: The Roman Coast are excellent examples.

Regardless of how we get there or whose advice we follow, we are all surely richer for being able to share the worlds ancient wonders. But with this good fortune comes a duty of care and a responsibility to help preserve them. How this is best achieved is a debate for another day.

Multinational to be Prosecuted for Allegedly Destroying Rock Art

Burrup mapThe fight to save ancient treasures goes on. There are the bigger battles, the ones to save important heritage sites from war-time destruction see Kashgar, Iran and Iraq. There are the battles against neglect, as in the case of Libya. Then there are the battles against the downright stupid. The careless. The ignorant. The culturally desolate wastelands that can sometimes be found inside the human body.

In Western Australia, the state government is set to prosecute a cement and quarrying company for allegedly decimating 10,000-year-old Aboriginal rock art.

The Age newspaper reported that the company CEMEX admitted breaching a national heritage zone in Burrup, a protected heritage area in Western Australia’s north. However the company says its actions left no damage. The government contends that CEMEX bulldozed and blasted rocks known to contain important rock art. It says the actions also damaged an ancient Aboriginal quarry that houses archaeologically significant indigenous tools. The Age reported that CEMEX was blaming a manager who has since left the company.

A Giant Of Business

Now CEMEX isnt some little cement company that’s not savvy enough to knows its rights and responsibilities (or the law). Its the Australian arm of the world’s largest building materials supplier and third largest cement producer. The environmental sustainability section of its Australian website is at pains to point out the company’s green credentials “We believe that, as well as complying with the law, we should be progressively reducing the environmental impact of our operations… Our people partner with environmental protection agencies and local school to restore scrub ad wetland habitats and also participate in restoring endangered species habitats…”

Just not, it seems, the habitats of people who lived 40,000 years ago.

Now CEMEX isnt some little cement company that’s not savvy enough to knows its rights and responsibilities (or the law).

Western Australias Department of Indigenous Affairs has been investigating the breach since January, but a local Aboriginal elder and a custodian of the Burrup rock art, Wilfred Hicks, told The Age destruction of rock art in the area had been going on for years.

Whether Mr Hicks alleges this destruction to be at the hands of just CEMEX is unclear. What is clear is that the indigenous custodians of this important site are seemingly powerless to stop what they say is big business destroying important art and other artefacts left by their ancestors.

Under the states heritage laws, fines of up to AUS$5 million can be dished out, along with seven years jail for individuals authorising such destruction. So the question remains: if these penalties dont deter businesses from engaging in cultural vandalism of this type, what will? How do we protect important sites such as the Burrup rock art?

Rediscovered: The Best Aboriginal Books

Prehistory of ozSome 35,000 years before Stonehenge mysteriously appeared on the Salisbury Plains, there was human life Down Under, in the outback and in the bush. Before markings were made at Chauvet or Lascaux, before the pyramids and before Rome rose and fell, what is now known as Australia was inhabited by pockets of tribal hunter-gatherers. They went about their business, surviving one of the harshest environments on Earth, for thousands of years until the white man came along, thrusting them from an ancient world and into a modern one.

For one of the oldest known (and surviving) civilisations, there is surprisingly little written about ancient Aboriginal history. Certainly this is true compared to other ancient civilisations, and it is especially true of publications released in the last 10 years. The overwhelming majority of historic reference material, and of scholarly writing in the fields of archaeology and anthropology, were written and released in the 1980s and the 1990s.

I suspect, though, that unlike the caesars or the pharaohs, tribal hunter-gatherers just arent glamorous enough for mainstream publishers.

On the other hand, there has been a recent mini-boom in the publication of (excellent) books cataloguing the resurgence in the various Aboriginal Australian art movements such as that of the Papunya.

And there is an increasing glut of (again, excellent) children’s books covering Aboriginal culture and the stories of the Dreamtime. These are important books, and ensure that the culture and beliefs of these ancient people are passed down to new generations of Australians (and others), and that children learn that Aboriginal culture was and still is about more than boomerangs and didgeridoos.

Documenting Personal Stories

Building upon this educational theme, there is nothing short of a flood of modern memoirs on Aboriginality. These are stories of survival from children of the ‘stolen generations‘ , Aboriginal survivors of British colonialism, the dispossessed reclaiming a heritage lost. The major publishers in Australia all have a cut of this action, with many of these titles making it onto school reading lists and becoming modern publishing phenomena (show me an Australian teenager of the 90s who hasnt read Sally Morgans My Place).

songlinesAnother mainstay of school reading lists (and for good reason) is Bruce Chatwins 1987 classic, The Songlines. Chatwin in one of earliest and best examples of travel writing exposing the heart of a culture travels across Australia, following the stories of the songlines. These invisible and ancient tracks connect Aboriginal communities, and it was along these lines that the oral traditions of Aborigines thrived as the songs and stories of the Dreamtime made their way from tribe to tribe.

These two books, probably more than any others, helped inspire a generation of Aboriginal people to record their own stories on paper. Aboriginal culture had previously been largely confined to oral traditions, and perhaps this has something to do with the lack of accessible recent history books on the older aspects of the culture. I suspect, though, that unlike the caesars or the pharaohs, tribal hunter-gatherers just arent glamorous enough for mainstream publishers.

Even so, you would think that the beauty and international acclaim of such national treasures as Uluru (Ayers Rock) or Kakadu National Park, both deep in ancient heritage, would have inspired at least a few recent coffee table tomes of note. But no, the offerings are limited and, well, pretty uninspiring. Even Noughties academia has gone quiet on pre-colonial Aboriginal history, culture, art and archaeology.

To The Bargain Bins

Antiquarian bookshops such as the Cornstalk have an interesting range of books on these subjects, otherwise and with the exception perhaps of Peter Hiscocks thorough The Archaeology of Ancient Australia (2007) you need to dig deep in the out-of-print book bins or wade through university library shelves for more insight into the origins or Aboriginal Australia.

original australiansArchaeologist Josephine Flood is among the most prolific writers on the subject, with
Archaeology of the Dreamtime: The Story of Prehistoric Australia and Its People,
The Riches of Ancient Australia: An Indispensable Guide for Exploring Prehistoric Australia
and Rock Art of the Dreamtime: Images of Ancient Australia all released in the 1990s to varying levels of acclaim. The Original Australians: Stories of the Aboriginal People is her most recent offering (2006).

Prehistory of Australia (1999) by John Mulvaney and Johan Kamminga is perhaps a more respected text, exploring the history of the continent and its people. It outlines why this often forgotten archaeological Eden has so many sites that are vital to the understanding of the evolution of man.

Tony Swains 1993 work A Place for Strangers: Towards a History of Australian Aboriginal Being, meanwhile, is a study of the impact of outsiders on the ancient culture. He especially concentrates on Aboriginal myth, rituals and philosophy.

An often quoted and important anthropological study is Continent of Hunter-Gatherers: New Perspectives in Australian Prehistory by Harry Lourandos. Its wide-ranging and detailed analysis argues that ancient Aboriginal societies were complex, dynamic and revolutionary.

A more widely read and reprinted text is the conservative historian Geoffrey Blaineys Triumph of the Nomads: A History of Aboriginal Australia, which became a film of the same name. It was Blainey who coined the term black armband view of history, which was a critical assessment of those who accused previous Australian governments of inflicting genocide on Aboriginal people.

So, no shortage of reading just not many recent releases to challenge previous works or progress debates. Or perhaps the move towards arts publishing, memoirs and works of children’s literature is progress in itself.


Build your own StonehengeSchools out for summer – it’s playtime now. And while there are plenty of computer games to whet your appetite for the ancient world, there’s also still a lot of fun out there to be had with a bit of glue and some decent instructions. From projects for big kids to those with slightly less nimble fingers, there’s something it seems in the ancient world for everyone. Build Your Own Stonehenge from Running Press may not come with the more than 150 rocks that feature in the life-size version, but it does come with a good two dozen that you can arrange at your own leisure. Imitate the original or create a new and improved version for your home. The DIY Stonehenge is the brainchild of Morgan Beard, a journalist and author who is also a practicing pagan.

Also from Running Press comes something for the history buff who has just about everything. The Desktop Heads of Easter Island, which are knowingly subtitled ‘They’re watching you!’, can be arranged in various formations on your desk or in your study (though I’m not entirely sure how creative you need to be to get the best out of the mysterious fellows). Both kits come with a little booklet with some basic information on their respective sites.

Roman things to make and doIf puzzles are more your thing, has a 1000-piece Egypt jigsaw puzzle, which is billed as “a light hearted and hilarious look back in time to Ancient Egypt. Join in the party as the Egyptians entertain us with their antics in this fantastic jigsaw.” It’s more Disney than EA Wallis Budge, but I guess you can’t have everything.

For something a little more bog-standard, there’s the 1000-piece Tutankhamen jigsaw puzzle, which is apparently “a stunning image of the most famous Pharoah of them all … which captures the richness and artistry of the treasures found in Tutankahamun’s tomb and Eyptian [sic] civilisation in general.” There’s an easier 500-piece Colosseum puzzle for Roman fans, plus a cityscape of St Peter’s Square at a more challenging 2000 pieces.

For budding jigsaw aficionados, Usborne has a Greek Myths Jigsaw Book (there’s an Ancient Romans one, too). Also for kids comes Roman Things To Make And Do and Egyptian Things To Make And Do. Both are packed with craft activities for kids with active imaginations. There’s also one on pirates (they’re not old, but they are fun).

Then there’s the plethora of DIY hieroglyphs sets for young and old. The British Museum’s Fun With Hieroglyphs is a good starting point. It comes with 24 rubber stamps and an ink pad. With a little practise, you’ll be reading and writing like an Egyptian in no time.

Imagine climbing the Pyramids!

Would you walk on someone’s grave? Or cross someone’s back yard if they asked you not to? Or risk your life if you knew someone else would feel responsible if you died? They’re simple questions of common sense and respect, but neither comes into the equation when it comes to climbing the world’s most famous monolithic site.

The traditional Aboriginal owners of Australia’s Uluru (also known officially by its European name of Ayer’s Rock), ask tourists to not to climb their sacred site. It’s considered by the local Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara (or Aangu) people to be sacred because it links them to their ancestors and to the story of the Dreamtime. The area around Uluru has many rock caves used by ancient peoples, as well as many paintings left by them.

The climb to the top of the rock is a strenuous 800m uphill hike that takes at least an hour. The path traces the route traditionally taken by a small and select group of indigenous men upon their arrival at Uluru (it is said the path crosses an ancient Dreamtime track). For this reason, and because the Aboriginal owners feel responsible for the safety of those who climb the rock has claimed the lives of 35 novice climbers over the last 20 years they ask people not to climb.

Here is the official government guidance on the matter. It in part states:
“Anangu have not closed the climb. They prefer that you out of education and understanding choose to respect their law and culture by not climbing. Remember that you are a guest on Anangu land. Anangu traditionally have a duty to safeguard visitors to their land. They feel great sadness when a person dies or is hurt.
* Please visit the Cultural Centre to learn more about the significance of Uluru in Anangu law and culture before you decide whether to climb.
* Explore the other walks available around the Park.
* Follow safety information when you are visiting the Park.”

This is all well and good but it’s not strictly true.

The Anangu didn’t ‘choose’ not to close the climb. Keeping the then-established tourist route open was a pre-condition for the government handing the land back to its traditional owners in 1985. The local people were granted a lease over the land, which was subsequently leased back to the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which jointly manages it.

Uluru is at the heart of the Uluu-Kata Tjua National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is one of the world’s most recognisable archaeological sites. Human activity in the area dates back more than 10,000 years, though some archaeologists and geologists put the figure at more than 20,000. It attracts almost half a million tourists each year, and it’s on the short list for the new natural wonders of the world list.

The Australian National University geographer Richard Baker and his colleague Cathy Robinson conducted surveys in 2003 and 2004 to determine what percentage of visitors chose to climb. They found that 35.5% of visitors to the rock in 2004 climbed (or intended to climb) it, compared to 43% the previous year. In June 2006, Baker returned with another researcher, Hannah Hueneke, to conduct another round of surveys and to interview visitors to Uluru. They found that over one-third of those interviewed still planned to climb (or had climbed) the rock.

Baker and Hueneke found that people climb for different reasons, including different cultural beliefs, the desire to be able to say they had reached the top, and the desire to take photos from the top or to see the view. They also found a lack of prior knowledge of the ‘to climb or not to climb’ question, and the short, structured nature of many package trips meant people were often ill-prepared to fully consider the ramifications of their decision to climb. In short, many of the people who chose to climb had travelled thousands of miles to see (and climb) Uluru, and had never heard of the Anangu before arriving, let alone considered their ancient beliefs. The distance travelled (and the money spent) outweighed the call to respect someone else’s property and ancestral home.

Interestingly, 98% of those interviewed by Baker and Hueneke said they would have still visited Uluru had climbing been banned. Some visitors said they wished the climb had been closed so they weren’t forced to make the decision themselves.

Perhaps the last word should go to the traditional owners themselves. David Ross, of the Central Land Council, which represents the Anangu, told the Guardian: “You can’t climb over the Acropolis any more,” he says. “You can’t climb the Pyramids, so how come you can still climb the rock?”

Photo: Kevin Matthews

Bringing history to the masses

Ordinarily, Britain’s Got Talentdoesn’t have a lot in common with history, though I suppose there will be a footnote onSusan Boylein the ‘History of Reality TV’ when it’s finally published. Or in Simon Cowell‘s autobiography.

But none of this matters toMary Beard, whose excellentTimes Online blog, It’s A Don’s Life, covers subjects that have everything and nothing do with history. Beard, aprofessor in classics at Cambridge and the classics editor ofThe Times Literary Supplement, this week confessed to watching the final of BGT, posting a blog under the header: ‘A classicist watches Britain’s Got Talent‘.

The Times describes Beard as a “wickedly subversive commentator on both the modern and the ancient world”. And she is. Her blog not only brings the old and the new worlds together, it also brings down the barriers between academia and ‘normal’ life. Everything from ‘Great lecturing disasters‘ to ‘Ancient Greeks and Global Warming‘ and ‘David Miliband and his (modest) garden expenses‘ is fair game for the blogging Beard. I particularly like ‘What’s the point of library fines?‘, though the one on Roman jokes is good, too (“That slave you sold me died, a man complained to a nutty professor.Well, I swear by all the gods, he never did anything like that when I had him.”)

Boom boom.

Aboriginal remains make the long journey home

Natural History Museum

The University of Oxford is the latest British research institution to agree to return the remains of indigenous Australians to their homeland.

Aboriginal remains are scattered across the globe after they were shipped abroad for ‘research purposes’ following the colonisation of Australia by the British in 1788. It is the intention of the Australian government to repatriate all remains, and the hope of the Aboriginal people to bring all scientific analysis on their ancestors to a halt.

Aborigines, who refer to the colonisation of Australia as ‘invasion’, had occupied the continent for more than 40,000 years prior to the discovery of modern-day Australia by Captain James Cook in 1770. The official version of Australian history is here; a warts and all version goes something like this.

Oxford had held three skulls in its collection, but this month (May 2009) returned them to the Ngarrindjeri, a Tasmanian tribal group. The return had been agreed last year after extensive consultation.

Ongoing efforts in Australia to secure the repatriation of these and other remains poses a dilemma for researchers who argue continued study could provide vital clues to the evolution of one of the world’s oldest civilisations.

The Natural History Museum agreed in 2007 to return the remains of 17 Aborigines it held, but it wanted to finish its studies first. In that case, representatives from the Aboriginal community had to go to the High Court to secure the return of the remains. The case involved protracted legal argument as the Australians sought to halt DNAtesting which scientists believed would provide key genetic information.

Aboriginal people believe that DNA testing and other modern techniques are at odds with the ancient beliefs of their people, and prevent the spirit finding its way home. A spirit is said to be ‘wandering’ until its remains are put to rest among its people.

Image by RalLpez