Dr Zahi Hawass, has been promoted in the shake up of Egyptian President’s Hosni Mubarak’s new cabinet according to a report from AP. Formerly the Vice Minister for Culture, and the Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), Dr Hawass will now take the role as Minister of a newly created department – the State Ministry for Antiquities. Literary critic Dr Gaber Asfour has been named the new Minister of Culture, replacing the long-serving Farouk Hosni.
The cabinet shake up comes in the wake of political turmoil across Egypt, which saw a lack of police protection for key sites such as Cairo’s Egyptian Museum. Looting at the museum saw damage caused to several artefacts including those discovered in the famous Tomb of King Tutankhamun, as well as reports of severe looting at sites including Saqqara, Memphis Museum and Abusir. Former director of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Wafaa el-Saddik, also revealed that museums in Egypt do not have insurance.
Last year, Dr Hawass was installed by President Mubarak as the Vice Minister for Culture in a move to allow him to postpone his pending mandatory retirement as the Secretary General of the SCA, as Egyptian ministers do not have a set age for retirement.
With several museums and heritage sites across Egypt in a state of disarray, Dr Hawass’ first priority will be to account for the missing artefacts, begin the restoration of damaged historical treasure and reopen museums and popular tourist spots such as the Great Pyramids of Giza as soon as possible.
As the protests in Egypt gained momentum over the weekend, reports came out that the ruling National Democratic Party headquarters were ablaze, a building which is next door to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, where looters damaged several priceless artefacts and mummies, including contents of King Tutankhamun’s Tomb.
When a curfew was declared at 6pm in Cairo, all but three police officers abandoned their posts at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, the heart of the capital where protesters are focussing their anger against President Hosni Mubarak.
Like many famous Egyptian attractions such as the Pyramids of Giza, the Egyptian Museum had been closed all day because of the violent demonstrations, but as the Director of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities Dr Zahi Hawass explained, once the police had left their positions guarding the museum, people began to enter the museum. Bound indoors by the strict curfew, Dr Hawass spent the night at his home fretting about the fate of his nation’s treasures.
Of course I was worried, he said. I have been protecting antiquities all my life. I felt if the Cairo museum is robbed, Egypt will never be able to get up again. Dr Hawass shared his love for the artefacts in the Egyptian Museum in a video with Heritage Key (Watch the video).
It was only by sheer luck that the looters who climbed over the walls and forced their way via a skylight into one of the world’s greatest museums did not realise that they were, in fact, raiding the gift shop.
Though looters also ransacked the ticket office, ten of the intruders forced access into the museum itself. They were looking for gold, Dr Hawass told TIME magazine, but not finding what they were looking for in the museum’s vast expanses, they instead damaged priceless artefacts in 13 glass display cases, as well as astatues of King Tutankhamun on a Panther and King Tut hunting a Hippopotamus in the King Tut gallery. Also, as indentified on the Eloquent Peasant, one of King Tut’s golden fans was spotted damaged. King Tutankhamun’s tomb is famous for being the only intact tomb found in the Valley of the Kings (Watch the Video). Al-Jazeera, who have now been banned from reporting within Egypt, broadcasted video footage of some of the destruction in the Cairo Museum.
Though not officially identified, one of the damaged mummies briefly shown in the Al-Jazeera footage shot inside the museum appears to be of the Mummy of Queen Tuya.
Reports began to break on Twitter on Saturday evening that hundreds of protesters outside the museum had linked arms together to form a human barrier around the building until the military arrived at 10pm to take over security duties. One man pleaded outside the museum gates to people, shouting We are not like Baghdad, referencing the raiding of the National Museum in Baghdad as the 2003 invasion of Iraq began.
The alleged looters who broke into the museum were apprehended and caught with two mummy skulls and a statue of Isis. Crowds chanted Thief, Thief! as troops hit a man with the butt of their rifles and then sat him down with others apparently caught inside. Dr Hawass insisted nothing was missing from the museum though about 100 artefacts had been damaged, adding that They’re easy to restore.
The Former Director of the Egyptian Museum, Wafaa el-Saddik told German newspaper Die Zeit that some of the looters were the museum’s own guards, who she blamed their low wages to account for their actions.
“I have been protecting antiquities all my life. I felt if the Cairo museum is robbed, Egypt will never be able to get up again.”
Dr Hawass paid tribute to the citizens who took stand in Tahrir Square to protect the Cairo Museum and its many treasures, saying “They stood beside me. They know this museum is their cultural heritage…Thank God, we are protecting the sites”.
However, not all museums across Egypt were as lucky as the Cairo Museum. The Memphis Museum had been completely robbed on Saturday morning, as well as heavy looting reported across Saqqara. The storage of the Port Said Museum was raided by a large armed group, raiding boxes of their priceless artefacts. Additionally, the stores at Abusir were also looted.
Other groups attempted to enter the Coptic Museum, the National Museum of Alexandria and the El Manial Museum. An attempt to raid the Royal Jewellery Museum proved fruitless as foresighted museum staff moved all of the objects into the sealed basement before leaving. El-Saddik also noted that none of the museums in Egypt are insured.
Video:Al-Jazeera’s Report on Looting in the Cairo Museum, Egypt.
Security of key cultural points across Egypt has now been taken over by the military, who are safeguarding Egypt’s history. Summarising the situation, Dr Hawass told reporters “My heart is broken and my blood is boiling. I feel that everything I have done in the last nine years has been destroyed in one day.”
Museums across the world are participating in the “Ask a Curator” event, which uses social networking service Twitter to let the public ask questions to the people curating some of the biggest cultural establishments across the globe. With over 300 experts participating in 23 countries, you can find out the answer to all those questions you may have been wondering regarding the behind-the-scenes runnings of a museum, such as how big those hidden basements full of artefacts (Check out the Basement of the Cairo Museum in this Video) really are, and how does a museum decide what exhibitions to put on? They might even know some of the answers to Heritage Key’s History FAQ!
You can join in the event by signing up to Twitter and then using the “Ask a Curator” website to find the museum in particular you’d like to ask a question to. Alternatively, you can ask a general question to all the museums participating in the event by just adding the hashtag #askacurator.
The event is organised by museum marketing specialist Jim Richardson, who was also behind the popular Follow A Museum Day on Twitter earlier this year to raise public awareness of arts and cultural institutions using the social network.
The sunny, dry spells of May and June over Britain were enjoyed immensely by the populace, but it wasn’t just Brits who were taking advantage of the soaring temperatures. Archaeologists were taking to the skies to observe cropmarks which occur when wheat or barley crops grown over ancient buried sites at a different rate. The aerial surveys have produced many new discoveries, including newly-discovered Roman and prehistoric settlements, representing the most successful summer flights since the drought of 1976.
Results of the flight have revealed the Roman fort in Newton Kyme, North Yorkshire to be bigger than previously thought, with a larger, stronger defence built in 290AD covering seven hectares, with stone walls up to three metres thick and a ditch 15 metres wide. Large ditches of the defences were visible, along with many signs of buildings, roads and other activity within the fort.
Click the images to see a larger version.
New discoveries included a Roman fort discovered in Dorest, a region where only three other known forts are known. The fort, near Bradford Abbas, is a lightly built defensive enclosure that provided basic protection for Roman soldiers while on manoeuvres in the 1st century AD. It was noticed during June after three sides became visible in the drought-ridden fields of crops. Flights over the Holderness area of the East Riding uncovered about 60 new sites including livestock and settlement enclosures, mainly from the prehistoric era.
The summer of the Icelandic ash cloud which saw many flights across Britain (including new flights to Iraq) grounded surprisingly proved advantageous to the aerial researchers, who conducted their flights using piston-powered Cessna aircraft, which were unaffected by the flight ban. The quieter skies meant flights could be carried out over airspace normally used by traffic to Gatwick, Standsted, Bristol and Luton.
Dave MacLeod, English Heritage Senior Investigator based in York, said: Its hard to remember a better year. Cropmarks are always at their best in dry weather, but the last few summers have been a disappointment. This year we have taken full advantage of the conditions. We try to concentrate on areas that in an average year dont produce much archaeology. Sorties to the West Midlands and Cumbria, together with more local areas such as the Yorkshire Wolds and Vale of York, have all been very rewarding.
Damian Grady, a Swindon-based English Heritage senior investigator added: ”It will take some time to take stock of all the sites we have photographed, but we expect to discover several hundred new sites across England.”
The only complete example of a Roman lantern to have been found in Britain was discovered in Autumn 2009 by a metal detector user. Danny Mills found the large bronze object whilst scanning a field near Sudbury, and immediately notified the discovery to the Suffolk Archaeological Unit. The find is significant as only fragments of similar lanterns are held at the British Museum, and the closest complete example was excavated in Pompeii. The interest in the lantern even earned it a feature in the BBCseries “Digging for Britain”!
The Roman lantern dates from between 43-300AD, and is similar to a modern hurricane lamp, with the naked flame protected by a thin sheet of horn which would have been scraped and shaped until it was see-through and then wrapped around the bronze frame of the lantern to protect the flame from the elements. As the horn shield is an organic material, it would have rotted away over time and did not survive when the discovery was made. The flame of the lantern would have been ignited by lighting a wick placed in olive oil, held at the base of the lamp, in a similar way as a modern tea light candle.
The lamp, found on land belonging to Mr and Mrs PMillar, has been donated to the Ipswich Museum, where work began immediately to stabilise and protect the fragile lantern from further decay. Of particular note is the chains which the lantern would have been suspended from were still intact, and look and move as any modern chain would rather than corroding into a metal lump over the centuries. Suffolk is known to have been a hot spot for Roman villas and country estates in the 2nd Century AD, and it is thought this lamp could have been used to move between a villa and an outhouse during the dark.
HD Video: Roman Lantern sheds light on the past
Once the lamp had undergone conservation, it was then observed under microscopes to prepare it for public display. Emma Hogarth, Conservator at Colchester and Ipswich Museums said, It has been a pleasure to work on such a magnificent object. The generosity of Mr and Mrs Miller and the actions of Danny Mills has ensured that it is now on public display and can be enjoyed by all visitors to Ipswich Museum.
The discovery is yet further proof that amazing objects from our cultural heritage still remain undiscovered under our feet, and it is not just archaeologists and museums who play the role in saving our past, but everyone can participate.
A BBCFour series presented by historian Michael Wood will be examining “The English Story”, which will be exploring the history of England not through monarchs and aristocrats, but through ordinary people. The programmes will be centred around the old parish of Kibworth, Leicestershire in the heart of England, which has a history rooted in Roman occupation, and found itself on the frontline between the Saxon and Viking territories.
The series will explore the people of Kibworth’s past through letters, diaries, censuses, medieval tax rolls and the Domesday Book (Find your own past on the Online Domesday Book here), as well as bringing in the current residents to help. Families who have generations of history in the villages were asked to provide a DNA sample so their ancestory could be traced back, and to build a picture of how inhabitants over time came to Kibworth, and how the three villages in the old parish flourished.
The villages – Kibworth Beauchamp, Kibworth Harcourt and Smeeton Westerby have a combined population of approximately 6,000 people who over the past year have been the focus of the new BBC Four series. Notably, the village of Smeeton Westerby is a name of mixed heritage roots – Smeeton, the home of the smiths, is Saxon; Westerby, or western farm, is Viking.
With assistance from the University of Leicester and Cambridge University, residents were invited to dig a small test pit in their gardens to see what was uncovered, with some hope resting on Saxon finds (perhaps the optimists were hoping to uncover a gold horde?). Even the local Coach and Horses pub had the tarmac ripped off it’s car park to excavate the ground underneath!
Finds from the dig, which will be revealed in full when the programmes air this Autumn, included Samian pottery from Roman times, part of an Anglo-Saxon bone comb, 1,200 year old Middle Saxon pottery and prehistoric flint blades. All of the digs were recorded and then analysed in Cambridge.
The programme’s presenter Michael Wood told the BBC, “I’m hoping you’ll get this impression of the fabulous richness of the history at the roots of ordinary people. The farmers, the traders, the railways navis, the canal engineers, the sort of people who made our history not at the level of kings and queens.”
“The English Story” will air this Autumn on BBCFour.
An interesting concept powers a new website launched by the BBC called Dimensions, which uses data from historical sources to map the area of ancient sites such as the Long Walls of Athens, Stonehenge and the Great Library of Alexandria. The outline of these heritage sites can then be overlayed on top of any other area, so you can see the size of the ancient cities relative to where you live yourself!
In a similar sort of scheme as the recent oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico (which saw the British Museum targetted as part of a protest against BP) where an outline of the spillage area could be overlayed anywhere in the world to scope the magnitude of the disaster, the BBCDimensions website allows you to explore the magnitude of how big the cities and key monuments of our ancient ancestors’ world were.
It’s not just sizes of ancient world sites which feature in the website, however, as other outlines developed include the route of Hannibal as he marched from Spain over the Pyrenees and Alps mountain ranges using elephants and led the invasion of Italy, defeating the Romans in numerous battles. And speaking of the Romans, you can also see how large the city of Rome was under the rule of Augustus, as he embarked on the huge rebuilding and social reform project around 15BC. Though if you’re from a small town like me, maybe you’d feel more in scale just to see how large the Colosseum was compared to your local stadium!
It’s certainly an interesting project, and allows users to compare the scale of what the ancient world achieved when compared to the modern age. Check it out over at BBCDimensions, and let us know if you find any interesting comparisons!
Located on what is an ancient worship site, the discovery of over 5,000 statues arespread over 15 square kilometres and the vast majority are believed to have been carved before the Qin dynasty era.
The anthropoid stone statues range from 30cm to 100cm in height, and take the form of several ranks of soldiers and military officiers, as well as civilian officials and pregnant women. Some are believed to be buried up to two metres below the ground.
Guizai Mountain, part of the Nanling Mountain range, is believed to have been chosen as an altar by a prehistoric civilisation in the region and adorned the site with sculptured stone statues for ritualistic and commemorative purposes.
Tang Zhongyong, director of the Dao County Administrative Office, described the statues to China’s People’s Daily as being “another wonder of the world”. The mountain’s name is derived from locals’ name for the statues – “Guizaizai”.
The announcement comes during the Xiang Gan Yue Gui Archaeology Summit Forum held in Yongzhou, Hunan Province and the find represents some of the oldest stone statues to have been found in China with a third of the stone sculptures dating back over 5,000 years. The remainder are believed to have been produced between 2,000 to 5,000 years ago during the Qin, Han, Wei and Jan dynastic eras.
It seems the first time that the British Museum has offered a teaser video on Youtube, and hopefully won’t be the last!A glimpse into the behind the scenes work that goes on inside the British Museum is rarely seen by the public as they wander through the many galleries. I’m sure people will be as fascinated by the processes which keep these ancient artefacts looking their best as they are observing them inside the museum.
Video: Ancient Egyptian Coffin Mask of Nesbanebdjed
In a previous Heritage Key article, “Riddle of the Sphinx”, Robert Cook wrote about the legend that Napoleon’s troops used the Sphinx’s nose as target practice during the French invasion of Egypt in 1798. But did they really have such a disregard for thousands of years of history that they purposefully destroyed the nose of the Great Sphinx?
It’s a bit of a confusing mystery, mainly because of the poetic license employed by some of those who knew how to draw back in the 18th century. It wasn’t so much a case of there being a nose or not, but that the artists felt the Sphinx would be much more attractive and exotic to those viewing the works back in Europe if the monument didn’t have a ruined nose. After all, there’s not a demand for cats with missing noses in Battersea animal shelter.
Click images for a larger version
In 1743, British traveller and writer Richard Pococke published an account of visiting the Great Sphinx of Giza, and his bookincluded a sketch of the monument with it appearing to show the nose intact. Pococke visited Egypt six years prior to publication, so his actual visit was in 1737. However, on a later visit in a book published in 1767, Pococke remarks that when “you arrive at the Sphinx [sic], whole enormous bulk attracts your admiration: but it is scarce possible to avoid feeling some indignation at those who have strangely disfigured its nose.”
An interesting statement from Richard Pococke, as it suggests that the lack of nose on the Sphinx may not actually have been as a result of thousands of years of erosion, but was ruined in a purposeful or accidental action. The previous sketch from 1737, assuming Pococke didn’t employ poetic license in the creation of it, would provide a date when the nose was still intact. Indeed, a prior sketch from Cornelis de Brujin in 1698 (Reizen van Cornelis de Bruyn door de vermaardste Deelen van Klein Asia, 1698) also showed the Great Sphinx of Egypt complete with a slightly odd looking nose. Perhaps if the original nose actually looked like the sketch by Cornelis de Brujin, that was reason enough to blast it off? Or maybe the sketch is just a dodgy scan..
Regardless, sketches drawn in 1755 by Frederic Louis Norden in‘Voyage d’gypte et de Nubie” (1755)of the Great Sphinx quite clearly show the nose is not there. It seems pretty unlikely to me that Norden would use poetic license to remove the nose from his sketches (unless he was into that sort of thing) so it’s reasonable to conclude that by this time, the nose was already missing for whatever reason. What it does prove is that Napoleon and his troops didn’t shoot off the nose of the Great Sphinx, as they didn’t launch an invasion of Egypt for another 40 years.
So that leaves a period of some 18 years (again assuming that everybody was sketching it accurately) when the nose was removed, and if you want to believe in Pococke’s account, destroyed by man. During the first half of the 18th Century, Egypt was in the midst of a power struggle between the Ottomans and the Mamluks, so perhaps this could be related to the missing nose of the Great Sphinx?Or maybe you have a better explanation?Feel free to leave a comment below!
HD Video: Drilling under the Sphinx (Featuring Dr Zahi Hawass and Dr Mark Lehner)