Category: sean-williams

Bettany Hughes Publications you Can’t go Without

is Britain’s best-loved and most prolific pop historian. She has appeared in no fewer than 11 television programmes in the past four months, with hotly-anticipated The Hemlock Cup, a major new book on legendary philosopher Socrates, out this October.

With Hughes’ formidable CV in mind here’s a handy list of her publications on Heritage Key – they’re available to buy right here, so if one takes your fancy just click the title or the book’s cover.

When the Moors Ruled in Europe

This rangy DVD sees Hughes exploring one of Europe’s least-known eras: the Islamic occupation of Iberia, today’s Spain and Portugal, between the 7th and 14th centuries AD.

When the Moors Ruled in Europe

It’s a hidden history partly because subsequent Christian kings sought to wipe any trace of the Moors’ influence on their nation, following the brutal Spanish Inquisition.

But it’s still there, and via interviews, careful study and the unveiling of the mathematical secrets behind Granada’s inimitable Alhambra Palace Hughes lifts the lid on what many believe is the basis of western culture.

Other stunning sites are visited, primarily in the arid southern lands of Andaluca. The programme was rated highly on its 2004 debt:the Wall Street Journal notes that it is “infused with important complexity”, while the Guardian describes it as “inspiring”.

The Minotaur’s Island

5,000 years ago on the Greek island of Crete an incredible civilisation grew. Yet the Minoans, who dominated their environment long before the period we know as Classical Greece arrived, are best-known for the tale of the Minotaur, a fearsome creature who roamed a labyrinth beneath the magnificent Palace of Knossos.

What was the significance of the great culture? How did they build warren-like palaces with hinged doors and flushing toilets, and what is the significance of their mysterious bull-leapers? Hughes steps back in time to explore the enigmatic people and debunk many of the myths surrounding them.

Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore

Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore (book) & Helen of Troy (DVD)

Helen of Troy: the face that launched 3,000 ships. Since her entry into the annals of ancient history, barely a recognised writer didn’t attempt to eulogise her beauty and influence. But who was she? In this book Hughes dismantles life for a woman in the Bronze Age, showing the life Helen would have lived through her palaces, slaves, jewellery, feasts and religious beliefs.

Was Helen of Troy an elegant leader of men, or troublesome home-wrecker? Some say she was the reason for enduring bitterness between east and west because of her double marriage to the kings of Greece and the Hittite Empire – but others view her as a hero, a unifying entity in a world ravaged by war and greed. This book aims to explain her life through factual, rather than literary, evidence.

The accompanying DVD, which aired originally in the US, was equally as well-received as the book, and sees Hughes roaming the labyrinthine passageways of some of ancient Greece’s greatest landmarks in search of the real Helen. You can read a review of the show here.

The Seven Ages of Britain

The Seven Ages of Britain

This highly-rated TV show, based on the book – foreworded by Hughes – by Justin Pollard, chronicles the history of the British Isles through, unsurprisingly, seven ages, from the Ice Age to the Industrial Revolution. Thousands of years ago Britain wasn’t even an island, and prehistoric cave-dwellers forged a meagre existence among its frozen forests and fields.

Today Britain is one of the world’s major nations, with sprawling urban developments and multi-national industry. How did the country come to be, and what are the pivotal moments in Britain’s history? This series was viewed warmly by critics. One Daily Mail critic wrote: “Bettany Hughes is to factual history what Charlotte Uhlenbroek is to natural history the perfect televisual combination of brains and beauty.

The Spartans

Everyone loves the Spartans, right? From hairbrained comedies to Hollywood bloodfests the brutal ancient empire have never been far from the public eye, and this three-part Channel 4 show, available to buy on DVD, runs through the revolutionary society that made the Spartans such a deadly force in Greece.

The first part deals with the inception of Sparta, and the legendary Battle of Thermopylae which has made it into so many popular outlets. The second part reveals the relationship between Sparta and Athens, first allies then mortal enemies, and the third and final episode goes from the war with Athens and Sparta’s eventual demise following the Battle of Leuctra. 300 director Zack Snyder cited Hughes’ documentary as a major influence on his multi-million dollar-grossing epic: she is even interviewed in the DVD extras.

Athens: Dawn of Democracy

Everyone knows Athens as a paragon of philosophical and artistic brilliance, a centre of commerce and a thriving intellectual hub. But what really went on in the world’s first democracy? Hughes discovers a world run on slavery, a brutal governmental regime and obsession with wiping out the opposition.

This documentary, aired in the US, is a fascinating insight into one of the world’s most recognised ancient civilisations, and allows Bettany Hughes to get stuck into Athenian life, her specialist subject. The famous polis is picked apart in style and day-to-day secrets of the empire, that allowed it to flourish at the expense of others, are exposed.

Work Begins on Ancient Stone Circle ‘Ten-Times Bigger that Stonehenge’

Marden henge

Archaeologists began working on one of Britain’s most mysterious ancient landmarks this Monday, as they aim to unravel its many hidden secrets (UPDATE: Click here to read about some of the finds). And while Marden Henge in Wiltshire may be almost unknown alongside its neighbour at Stonehenge, it is at least ten times bigger, making it one of Britain’s biggest stone circles.

Unlike Stonehenge, and nearby Avebury, Marden contains no standing stones. Yet the six-week project by English Heritage, fresh from their visitor centre disappointment, will probe the site for clues as to whether it once did, and what it was used for after its construction around 2,400 BC. The henge, close to the source of the River Avon, could prove this year’s biggest Stonehenge-related discovery after last year’s unveiling of Bluestonehenge, a smaller circle also by the river.

The henge has plenty of features that are getting experts excited about the dig. In the centre is a huge mound, similar to nearby Silbury Hill, which collapsed in 1806 and was completely flattened by 1817. The team hopes to date material in its centre. A large circular feature, surrounded by a bank and gullies, will also be scoured as the mystery of Marden becomes clearer.

“The study of prehistory is entering a very exciting phase.”

Geophysical and topographical studies will accompany the archaeology, as the team aims to understand and preserve what English Heritage archaeologist Jim Leary thinks is an ancient sleeping giant. “Marden Henge deserves to be understood more partly because of its size, but also due to its proximity to the more famous stone circles at Avebury and Stonehenge,” he says.

“The relationship between the latter two sites – chronology of their construction, whether it is built by the same people, how they were used, etc – is of immense interest” adds Leary.

Stonehenge Summer Solstice 2010 - The Sun Rises Behind the Stone<br /> Circle

“How Marden relates to them is another layer of interest which we want to study. We are potentially looking at a much more intricate system of Neolithic ritual sites in this part of the world than we previously thought.”

Wiltshire is one of the world’s richest Neolithic regions, and is littered with mysterious monuments such as Woodhenge, West Kennet Barrow and Durrington Walls, an ancient settlement you can explore now at Stonehenge Virtual. Leary hopes that the work at Marden can be as groundbreaking as Durrington’s discovery was. “The study of prehistory is entering a very exciting phase with lots of fascinating research and dating techniques emerging,” he says.

“The stunning discovery of Neolithic houses at Durrington Walls near Stonehenge a few years’ ago, for example, has really turned things on its head,” adds Leary. “We certainly hope that this excavation will bring more pieces of the puzzle to light.” Perhaps people will be visiting Marden, rather than Stonehenge, for the summer solstice in years to come.

See the sun rise over Stonehenge from your own home with Stonehenge Virtual. Meet Neolithic builders, touch the stones and even try putting a trithlon up yourself.

‘Rock Drawings were Prehistoric Movies’ – Most Obvious Archaeology Ever?

Old Art

My award for archaeology’s equivalent of an IgNoble prize goes to boffins at Cambridge University and Austria’s Sankt Poelten University, who have triumphantly announced that rock engravings from the Copper Age in Europe were ancient movies (as opposed to doodles).

Was this not a hopelessly obvious conclusion? Not to Cambridge’s Frederick Baker yesterday (June 29): “The cliff engravings…in our opinion are not just pictures but are part of an audiovisual performance.”

“There was still no moving image but (the pictures) created sequences like in animation,” adds Baker. “This was not just a treat for the eyes but also for the ears, as these rock engravings are especially found in locations with particular echoes. In this sense, the rock engravings are not just static images but pictures that created a story in the mind of the viewer: just like at the cinema.”

“There was no moving image but (the pictures) created sequences like in animation.”

Rock art was meant as a treat for the eyes? In caves that echoed? And the experience was ‘just like the cinema’? I’m not sure James Cameron would be too impressed with the comparison: look out next week, when the team plan to announce the Earth’s roundness, and that King Tut enjoyed using gold from time to time.

On a more promising note the team have launched the ‘Prehistoric Picture Project’ alongside Germany’s Bauhaus University. The project aims to recreate the ‘movies’, dating from 6,000 to 3,000 years old and frequently showing hunting, dancing or fighting scenes, as moving images. The project is being carried out in Valcamonica in Lombardy, Italy, where some 100,000 engravings are found.

Lost Town ‘that Launched Ships to Troy’ Discovered in Greece

&Kappa;&Upsilon;&Pi;&Alpha;&Rho;&Iota;&Sigma;&Sigma;&Iota;&Alpha; - KYPARISSIA - MESSINIA - GREECE

An ancient town that once may have launched ships to Troy has been discovered in a town in Greece. Archaeologists at the site in Kyparissia, on the western Pelopennese, have unearthed the outlines of buildings and ancient tiling ahead of roadworks, reports Hamara. The discovery will also be a boost for those who have long argued that the picturesque town, once known as Arkadia, supplied ships to Troy in antiquity.

Yet the find is shrouded in controversy:some parts of the ancient town are higher than the depths of a neighbouring swimming pool complex – suggesting its owner knew of the archaeological remains but kept quiet to avoid losing land to the government. The water park has been shut while excavations continue, and its owner could face heavy state sanctions.

Kyparissia is a popular tourist town on the western edge of the Pelopennese containing several ancient Greek, Byzantine, Frankish and Ottoman sites. Though situated over 250km from Greek capital city Athens, home to the Acropolis and Parthenon, the town played a significant role in the Greek War of Independence, and is home to many neo-classical buildings. The Homerian epics of Troy are among Greece’s greatest enduring legends, and were the obsession of German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann.

King Tut’s Penis ‘Swapped for Being Too Small’

King Tut appeared to have a rather modest-sized penis. Image Copyright - The Griffith Institute.Tutankhamun’s penis was swapped because it was too small, according to a media report. New Scientist writer Jo Marchant believes the young pharaoh may have suffered from a rare genetic defect which, among other issues, causes under-developed genitalia. Antley-Bixler syndrome also results in elongated skulls, which could account for stylistic depictions of King Tut’s proposed father Akhenaten(read our recent article on how the boy-king could have died from sickle-cell disease here).

Marchant claims the modest penis was most probably broken off “during a particularly brutal autopsy“, yet others say it could easily have been damaged during its early years of display in the tomb (which you can see online right now), when security wasn’t overly tight. Marchant takes this arugment a step, or ten, further: could modern Egyptian experts have replaced the ancient king’s penis to save his blushes?

Dr Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s antiquities chief, rejects the theory, arguing that Tut’s penis is “well-developed”. Yet its provenance and whereabouts have been the subject of speculation for decades since Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922.

Photos of the boy-king’s mummy taken by Harry Burton upon his discovery clearly show the penis attached. Yet it was declared missing in 1968. Many proposed it had been stolen or destroyed, until a 2006 CT-scan rediscovered it, unattached in the sand around the pharaoh’s body.

Thus ensues one of archaeology’s oddest arguments, in which a writer and world-famous archaeologist debate the locker-room credentials of a 3,000-year-old Egyptian royal. Call me cynical but Ms Marchant is most probably living in the realm of fantasy with this conspiracy theory, and it’s not a fantasy I’d like to consider too much.

Youths Arrested over Amesbury Summer Solstice Bus Joyride

The youths left a trail of damage across Amesbury after a 12 mile joyride.A troublemaking trio have filmed a trail of destruction, as they stole a double-decker bus and crashed it causing 30,000 damage in the Stonehenge town of Amesbury. The three, two 16-year-old girls and a man, 21, have been arrested and released on bail after shooting ‘stolen bus solstice 2010 hoodies amesbury (sic)’ which they posted to YouTube.

The video has proved an instant hit on the site, registering almost 50,000 views. Yet it won’t be much use to the owners of two parked cars and three buses the yobs wrecked, on their Mad Max-style rampage through the Wiltshire town, just two miles from Stonehenge, on Friday 18 June.

The reckless group ploughed the bus out of a depot before embarking on their terrifying trip, weaving across roundabouts and dodging cars before hitting two, spinning 90 degrees and coming to a halt 40 yards down the road. Wiltshire and Dorset bus company tells British tabloid The Sun the incident was a foolish crime.

It was a sour note for Amesbury during a week in which its ancient neighbour Stonehenge welcomed over 20,000 revellers for its famous solstice celebrations, passing with little incident (read a report here). The event is a tradition for Druids, pagans and partygoers who come from all over the world, on one of only four days a year you can touch the stones (watch a video from this year’s spring equinox here). If you missed it, you can see the sun rise over Stonehenge every day at Stonehenge Virtual.

England’s World Cup Woe is an Ancient Affair

Triesman slammed the Spanish, then we berated an Italian before surrendering to the Germans. But it’s a Macedonian England’s hierarchy should have studied before the country’s calamitous World Cup campaign. Alexander the Great didn’t get his name for nothing, but the way in which his empire imploded should have been a lesson to the FA long before its capitulation on Sunday.

The Lesson

Alexander the Great was born to be a leader. A son of Philip II of Macedon, Alexander enjoyed an unrivalled education under the tutelage of Aristotle. Aged just 19 he’d been handed the reigns of the empire, packing fearsome oratory skills and deadly military nous. Brandishing an terrifying army Alexander marmalised Persians, Egyptians and other enemies, stopping short of conquering India.

Yet Alexander’s empire was built on sand. His father had left monumental debts, and Alexander’s military had an equally voracious appetite. Eastern lands were conquered on commercial backhanders and land-grabs, and future subjects were, compared to those of the Romans, given an easy economic ride. Come Alexander’s death in 323 BC aged just 32, Macedonia was on its knees financially. He had also created an extremist authoritarian state, where he as ‘King of Kings’ ruled absolutely, killing any potential rivals.

As the empire swelled outwards on foreign money, Alexander’s selfish role left his beloved empire destitute, and it duly crumbled from within soon after his death. Building and military costs abroad had caused an economy and talent black hole back home.

From Bactria to Bloemfontein

World Cup - England fans

Ring any bells? It should. England’s footballers were the sporting equivalent of Monty Python’s Mr Creosote in South Africa: sitting in gilded thrones and stroking swollen egos, unaware of their imminent doom. But the cats got fat for a reason: England’s Premiership may be the fastest, most exciting and widest-watched of all domestic club competitions. Yet in recent years it has become a billionaire’s toy box built on predicted figures and an ever-growing influx of foreign talent, at the expense of home-grown players and staff.

Just look at the nation’s biggest club. Fifteen years ago Manchester United, owned by an panel of Brits, produced some of the country’s best talent in a single generation: David Beckham, Paul Scholes and the Neville brothers all made their name in the era winning countless trophies while galvanising an England which, while winning nothing, performed with immeasurably more passion than Capello’s lame did in South Africa.

Fast forward and United, now owned by the American Glazer family, have produced almost no home-grown talent, relying on foreigners like Dimitar Berbatov, Nemanja Vidic and the da Silva brothers to win trophies which the owners are gambling the club’s future on each year. United have bought their British talent for huge sums, and even young blood now comes from all over the world.

Two Empires Built on Sand

The symbol of an empire they should be emulating. Image by Aaron Logan

Alexander built extensively during his reign, despite an economy teetering on the brink. Stone had been used almost exclusively for religious sites, but Alexander stamped his mark with entire cities made from it. Likewise the paradoxical expenditure of top-flight clubs on stadia and training facilities – 196m in 2008/09, “the third highest level of capital expenditure on developing projects since the formation of the Premier League in 1992” reports Contruction News – illustrates an industry out of touch with the global economy.

Players are paid astronomical sums while youth systems and the lower leagues struggle for air, just as Macedonian client kings were paid off rather than conquered. Owners from every continent are betting the future of England’s beloved clubs and national team on a whim, and the nation laps it up for three of every four years. But when it comes to the crunch, just as when Alexander died, everyone discovers an empire built on sand, suffocated by its need to spread as far wide as possible.

That Sunday’s cringing coup de gras was delivered by a young German side whose clubs are still largely owned by local members, with an emphasis on stability, was all the more telling. Alexander’s fateful exploits were studied by the Romans, who imposed strict tax laws and a ruthless government based in Rome to build an empire lasting centuries. Unless England’s ruling bodies follow suit and impose stricter rules on the running of clubs, tighter measures on ‘fit and proper’ owners, and enforced investment in youth leagues, systems and facilities, England fans will be getting the Bloemfontein blues for years to come.

Other lessons from the ancient world:

Chocolate Terracotta Warriors to Tour Taiwan

Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway

Taiwan will get a taste of China’s Terracotta Warriors this Saturday, as 400 chocolate miniatures make their way from a popular show in Beijing. ‘World Chocolate Wonderland’, at Taipei’s National Taiwan Science Education Center, also features a chocolate-hewn Great Wall of China. It attracted over 400,000 visitors in the Chinese capital, not least for the pint-sized ancient warriors, who measure just 35cm each.

Each exhibit at the show must be kept in temperature-controlled rooms to avoid melting. Taiwan baker Lee Kyo-yi battled fine margins to create his chocolate Taipei 101, Taiwan’s, and at one point the planet’s, tallest skyscraper. “The biggest challenge is how to keep the chocolate in perfect condition,” he tellsFocus Taiwan. Chocolate melts at 20C while cracking at anything below 0C.

“Chocolate is not only edible – it can be used as a material in art.”

Artsource Corp, a Taipei-based art management firm, is supplying most of the exhibition’s artwork. Spokeswoman Sherry Wung tells AFP the show aims to change people’s minds about chocolate:”People visiting the exhibition will be able to feel that chocolate is not only edible, but also can be used as a material in art.” Among the show’s ancient exhibits are models of China’s mysterious Mogao Caves, a group of 2,400-year-old Buddhist temples near Dunhuang.

More Terracotta Warriors are excavated each year at the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang, unified China’s first emperor. Just a few weeks ago 114 more were added to the many thousands on show in China and across the world.

Colchester Mummy Scan Reveals ‘Strange Bones’ in Skull

Colchester's mummy scan showed she was healthy with no bone defects, and had died of natural causes aged in her mid-twenties. Image courtesy of Colchester and Ipswich Museums.The skull of an ancient Egyptian mummy in Colchester is packed with ‘strange bones’, a CT-scan has revealed. The scan on 2,500-year-old Lady Ta-Hathor yesterday also revealed an odd bundle between her thighs, thought to be the remains of her organs.

Full results from the scan, made ahead of Ta-Hathor’s display at Ipswich Museum’s new Egyptian Gallery, are expected only after an assessment by a team in Manchester. Yet it immediately showed she was healthy with no bone defects, and had died of natural causes aged in her mid-twenties – not far off the era’s life expectancy of 30. Ta-Hathor’s heart had been placed back in her body, a vital step on her journey to the afterlife.

Yet the mysterious bones inside Ta-Hathor’s skull will be of most interest to experts including Caroline McDonald, curator of archaeology at Colchester and Ipswich Museums. “It appears as if the skull cavity has been packed with linen,” says McDonald. “There are some strange bone fragments in the skull that we cant currently account for and we hope experts will be able to reveal this particular secret.”

There does appear to be a bundle of some description between (Ta-Hathor’s) thighs which may be a parcel containing her other organs such as the lungs and intestines,” adds McDonald. “In early Egyptian history these were placed in separate containers known as canopic jars but later they were simply wrapped and placed back in the body. Again, analysis will confirm this for us.”

Ta-Hathor’s brain was also removed during mummification. All organs would be removed in the process apart from the heart, which would be weighed against the ‘feather of truth’ according to the Book of the Dead. If the heart weighed less than the feather, the deceased could continue their journey. If not they would be eaten by a fearsome crocodile-headed god named Ammut.

Newly-Discovered Roman Gladiator Skeleton goes on Display in York

A Roman skeleton discovered recently at ‘the world’s only well-preserved gladiator cemetery’ has gone on display in York. The skeleton, one of 80 found in the city over the past seven years, went on show at the Jorvik Viking Centre on Tuesday (June 22) and promises to be a hit with visitors.

The skeleton is one of the dig’s most important, bearing bite marks from a large carnivore. Experts have claimed it as proof gladiators were made to fight wild animals, such as bears and tigers, in the arena. The excavation itself has aroused huge interest across worldwide, and was recently the subject of a Channel 4 documentary on the grisly lives of gladiators in Roman Britain (read a review here).

John Walker, chief executive of York Archaeological Trust, tells York Press the gladiator’s display will allow locals the chance to see archaeology in action: “The skeletons have been the subject of global interest over the last week. We want to give people the opportunity to see for themselves some of the evidence that our archaeologists have worked with to develop their theories on the skeletons origins.”

York, Roman name Eboracum, was an important town close to the edge of the Roman Empire. Though the cemetery’s discovery suggests the existence of an amphitheatre like one beneath London’s Guildhall(watch a video on Roman London here), none such site has been unearthed in York.