Category: sean-williams - Part 21

Visit some Romans in Residence at the National Museum, Wales

Romans in ResidenceThe Festival of British Archaeology 2009 may have officially ended on Sunday, but the summer spirit of historical adventure lives on thanks to the National Museum WalesNational Roman Legion Museum – where visitors can get involved in Gwent’s prosperous Roman past with a big dose of living history.

Caerleon was once the site of an important Roman legionary fortress, named Isca Augusta, which housed over 5,000 soldiers, and by 75 AD had become the headquarters of the illustrious 2nd Legion Augusta during Sextus Julius Frontinus‘ conquest of Wales. The town was also the site of two famous Christian martyrdoms; those of Saints Julius and Aaron.

MarcusToday the Roman Legion Museum takes visitors around the ancient fortress, and gives them a glimpse of what life was like in one of the most successful legions in the Roman Empire. And its Romans in Residence exhibition, running from July 27 to August 23, celebrates Caerleon’s Roman heritage with a series of characters and stalls. You could meet Marcus the gardener, or get some medicine from Victoria the doctor.

Why not meet Marcus the gardener, Victoria the doctor – or even visit the ‘Jolly Boar’ for some Roman refreshment

The ‘Jolly Boar’ tavern sees Flavia and Olivia serving drinks to the soldiers, and a market sells Roman wares. If you want a bit of high life you could visit Lady Helena in her villa, and the army are always looking for some brave young people to help fight the barbarian tribes of Roman Wales. Those wanting to explore the museum can get guided tours throughout the event

Images by National Museum Wales.

The Mystery of Palenque and Pacal Brought to the Web

PalenqueGood news for Maya fans feeling the pinch of recession – Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology (INA) has brought the enigmatic 7th century AD city of Palenque into everyone’s homes with an exciting new online virtual experience.

Located in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, Palenque has long been a place of mystery; its majestic buildings, wrapped in a harlequin layer of vines and other flora, evoking dreams of adventure and romance. You almost want to slap on a fedora and crack a whip when you look at the unhinged magnitude of the Temple of Inscriptions, or the crumbling beauty of the Temple of the Skull.

You almost want to slap on a fedora and crack a whip when you lay eyes on the wild beauty of Palenque

Yet one of the ancient city’s most famous sites, the tomb of K’inich Janaab’ Pakal – or Pacal the Great – has been kept under lock and key by the Mexican government for the past five years, in a bid to prolong its posterity. A heartbreaker for those travelling to the tropical climes of one of Mexico’s top tourist attractions, but for those behind a computer screen. The new tour allows 360-degree panoramic views of all the Maya buildings, allowing online enthusiasts the chance to see Pacal’s funerary chamber for the first time in over half a decade.

Each building has its own pop-up information box (in Spanish, mind) – with particular objects of interest available to see in closer detail. The tour doesn’t stop there, either: the foreboding lost Maya city of Yaxchiln is equally surveyed by the excellent project, demures of each city by showing their partial reclamation by nature.

It follows the emergence of the US University of Berkeley’s virtual tour of the 7th century Khmer city of Sambor Prei Kuk, the Virtual Qumran project – and of course, Heritage Key’s very own Virtual King Tut, which takes your avatar to the pulsing heart of the Valley of the Kings. The INA’s model may not be what the other two would consider a virtual world, but it does provide some spectacular views of one of the planet’s great ancient cities.

Images by Steve Bridger andNational Institute of Anthropology.

Carnarvons’ Highclere Castle Could Become Financial Ruin

It may once have funded the most famous ever excavation in Egypt. But the modern-day plight of Berkshire’s Highclere Castle couldn’t be further from the dripping opulence of King Tut’s tomb. For the stately manor, once home to Howard Carter‘s esteemed cohort Lord Carnarvon (orGeorge Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon to give him his full name), needs a staggering level of funding if it is to survive the most difficult period in its history. No less than 12 million pounds are needed to repair the building’s sagging treasures – and its current occupant, the Lord’s great grandson the 8th Earl of Carnarvon, admits he’s losing sleep over the manor’s delicate future.

Once a showcase for austere English architecture and glamour, Highclere has witnessed a sharp decline since the superstardom of Lord Carnarvon, who became an overnight celebrity alongside Carter following their earth-shattering discoverys in Egypt.

Images of the castle’s interior published in the Mail Online today reveal mouldy walls, piles of rubble, and collapsed ceilings.

Lord Carnarvon and his wife Lady Almina on a visit to Egypt in 1921.Even some of the pharaohs’ own residences are in better shape than Highclere, which the 8th Earl, 52, argues needs immediate repair work totalling 1.8 million. Stonework is crumbling and ceilings are being soaked into an early grave; even the castle’s inspired stone turrets are on the brink of extinction unless urgent work is carried out. In fact, only the ground floor remains intact thanks to six-figure repair bills, and provides some revenue by hosting weddings and parties. Various fundraising ideas have been mooted by the Earl – most controverially the building of a housing estate in the castle’s grounds. One venture which appears to be working is the castle’s Egyptian exhibition, held in its cellars, alongside two books written by Fiona, 8th Countess of Carnarvon: Carnarvon& Carterand Egypt at Highclere: The Discovery of Tutankhamun. But he admits he fears for the future of a great building which can count itself one of the south of England’s most lavish abodes since its 14th century birth.

“Worrying about how I am going to keep it all going does give me sleepless nights,” the Earl explains to the Daily Mail. “It is a wonderful responsibility and a great privilege to live at Highclere Castle, which is part of the most beautiful landscape in southern England. It is a quite incredible house, set in beautiful 18th century grounds – but with that comes a great responsibility for the building and everything else that encompasses the estate.” How times have changed: just a few years back Highclere was paid regular visits by Her Majesty, a great friend of the Earl’s father. Nowadays the majestic castle faces ruin, and barely makes money from kitschy celeb nuptials, like the wedding of Peter Andr and Jordan in 2005. It may have funded the greatest archaeological discovery of all time, but time is exactly what Highclere doesn’t have right now.

Watch a video featuring Lord and Lady Carnarvon, on the discovery of Tutankhamun, here. You can also purchase Fiona Carnarvon’s books right here at Heritage Key –

Buy Carnarvon & CarterHERE

Buy Egypt at Highclere: The Discovery of Tutankhamun HERE

Image by JB + UK_Planet.

Humans and Hobbits ‘Lived Together’

Six years ago, archaeologists digging in Liang Bua Cave on the Indonesian island of Flores made one of the most shocking and controversial discoveries in scientific history. They found a brilliantly preserved, one metre-high skeleton which would soon be known as Homo floresiensis – or the Hobbit, as it has become affectionately known. Some were gobsmacked by the find, believing it to throw open the theory of evolution; others scoffed, believing it to be nothing more than a human being struck by a deformity known as microcephaly. Many believe the hobbit to have lived as late as 12,000 years ago, and a new paper hopes to prove this monumental paradigm correct. Debbie Argue, a PhD student from the Australian National University (ANU)’s Archaeology and Anthropology, has been comparing bone fragments of the Hobbit with other hominids, and believes that its inception overlapped with the emergence of our own species, Homo sapiens. This would shatter conventional wisdom, which says that we were the only hominids left on the planet following the demise of Homo erectus and the Neanderthals.

The aptly-named Ms Argue has had her contentious work published in the Journal of Human Evolution, and tells Australia’s ABC News she believes the paper to be a paradigm shift in the field: “We compared (the Hobbits) with almost every species in our genus, as well as Australopithecine, which was a genus before Homo evolved. Of course, we included Homo Sapiens. We discovered that Homo floresiensis ranged off the family tree almost at the beginning of the evolution of our genus, Homo. So that would have been over two million years ago, and as such a very, very primitive being.” Ms Argue is cautious about the proof of her work, but is confident it blows apart existing theories on the evolution of man. “This is science, so maybe [it’s] not the definitive proof but a very, very solid hypothesis,” she said. “This is the first time such a huge and comprehensive set of characteristics about the whole of the body of Homo floresiensis has been but into one analysis. This means that something very, very primitive came out of Africa.

“Here we were sharing the planet, where we thought we’d been the only people that survived after the end of the Neanderthals.”

“Previous to this we thought that what came out of Africa had modern body proportions and an expanded brain case, but this is a much more primitive being,” Ms Argue adds. “We know that Homo floresiensis was, in Flores at least, from 100,000 years ago to about 12,000 years ago. And at that time, or at least from 40,000 years ago, we had modern humans in Asia and New Guinea and Australia. So here we were sharing the planet where we thought we’d been the only people that survived after the end of the Neanderthals.”

Images by Rosinoand Ryan Somma.

Chasing the Bulgarian Treasure Hunters

Roman Forum and modern underpassThere has been no shortage of sad stories surrounding the economic hardship of those living in the former Soviet Union. Nearly all of its satellite states, as well as the Russian homeland, have suffered an economic black hole after the Berlin Wall came down, where a tremendous chasm swells between the monied Mafioso and super-rich oligarchy, and the rural peasantry and jobless. And in Bulgaria, a country hiding millennia of prosperity beneath its soil, the tragedy has extended below surface level – as thousands of people loot national treasures to make ends meet. Prehistoric and Neolithic tribes, Ancient Thracians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, early Bulgars, Crusaders and the Ottomans have all left their marks on the unstable Balkan state, leaving it as one of the world’s truly stunning treasure troves.

Gold jewellery and iconography, Thracian tombs, prolific ancient cities like Seuthopolis and Roman arsenals litter the countryside, making the country an archaeologist’s dream. But a combination of modern technology, zealous profiteering and lack of state intervention are quickly stripping Bulgaria of its greatest possessions – a sad state of affairs illustrated by Sofia-based journalist Ivan Dikov, who spent some time shadowing Australian wordsmith David O’Shea searching two major archaeological sites for news agency Novinite: Ulpia Ratiaria, in the country’s north western corner, and the village of Ohotnik, where the pair met museum curator and archaeologist Georgi Ganetovski at a Neolithic settlement.

Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak

Ganetovski tells Dikov about his first encounter with the treasure hunters: “There were two of them with a luxury Jeep and a metal detector for dozens of thousands of Euros; I had never seen one like that in my life. They were very anxious,” he says. Scared for his well-being, Ganetovski let the hunters pace up and down with their metal detectors, knowing that the Neolithic culture he was examining didn’t have metal objects.

Luckily the danger passed and the men retreated to their luxury transport. The metal detectors hunters are using were a by-product of the fall of the iron curtain. Now there are thousands in circulation, the staple tool of the looter. “Earlier there was a lot of work, we were working all the time. We used to work at a military factory,” a low-level hunter tells Dikov. “We would never have thought of doing this before. But then it all ended, there was no work, we had a lot of free time on our hands. This is how we decided to try this kind of work.” Early hunters were usually careful peasants who left site undisturbed as they took anything of value. Nowadays, with fewer treasures about, hunters are resorting to more destructive methods, like tearing up soil with industrial diggers, to get the job done: ripping apart centuries of history in the process.

This process has razed much of the Roman arsenal town of Ulpia Ratiaria, which has become a haven for hunters who sell their ill-gotten bounties on site much to the chagrin of O’Shea: The real tragedy in a place like Ratiaria is that the people searching for treasure are looking for a couple of bucks here and there, where what they could be doing is sitting in a thriving tourist center. There could be hotels, and bars, and restaurants, and tourists everywhere just like there are in Rome, or Athens. That’s the real tragedy.

The solution? Tricky. The Bulgarian government has done little to prevent the pillaging (many believe it to be party to the illicit trade), and even a recent ‘Cultural Heritage Act’ which prohibits treasure hunting has been disputed on individual property grounds. The police are underpaid and frequently in the pockets of the traders, and there seems little public outcry at the looting of a nation whose historical story, though vast and impressive, is rarely told. O’Shea takes a rather nihilist view of it all: I wonder whether it’s all too little too late, because in the 20 years that this has been going on as a free for all, so much has been lost to Bulgaria that I wonder whether anything now will (be returned).

Images by Ribizlifozelek

and Gerry van Gent.

East London Lives Exhibition Touring the Capital

East London Line, Selby StreetNo doubt plenty of our London-based readers have been getting hot under the collar over the past few years, as the East London line tube extension bumbles its way towards completion before the 2012 Olympics. Yet amongst the plumes of grime and grinding dirge of diggers, archaeologists have been burrowing beneath the tracks to unearth some remarkable objects from the city’s immense past. And Transport for London (TfL) and the Museum of London have teamed up to showcase some of the best finds at some of the capital’s smaller heritage venues. Beginning in June at the Hackney Museum, the exhibition will tour Islington Library (July 7 – August 16), Blackheath’s Age Exchange Museum (August 18 – September 16), and culminate in an extended and as-yet unspecified run at the Museum of London Docklands.

As well as plying visitors with some much-needed PRon the future of the East London line (including models of the new stations), the exhibition’s vast array of curios will educate on the prehistoric, ancient, medieval and modern history of one of the world’s most connected and cosmopolitan metropolises. Objects include stone tools, pottery and jewellery, and the exhibition will provide a welcome follow-up for London’s historical enthusiasts, after the successes of the Museum of London’s myriad events during the Festival of British Archaeology 2009.

Image by Julian.

‘Egyptological Colloquium could have been Better’

Book of The Dead

This year’s Egyptological Colloquium was roundly regarded as a success, as eighteen top Egyptological minds converged on London’s British Museum for two intense days of lectures, opinions and debate on the Book of the Dead. One of the most stunning pieces of Egyptian liturgy, yet a much maligned forum for study, the Colloquium promised some fascinating and truly groundbreaking discoveries on a visually engaging subject. Heritage Key took some time out at the end of the event to speak to a few audience members, and found a somewhat mixed response. Some were keen to stress their enjoyment of the colloquium, while others weren’t so sure it held up to some of its more recent forebears.

Barbara Pentlow is an accountant who loves the ancient world, and Egypt in particular. She says she’s never really been interested in the Book of the Dead before, but was ‘pleasantly surprised’ with what she learnt at the colloquium. “You suddenly find, ‘Wow, it’s a lot more interesting than I thought.’ I’ve gone to virtually all of the colloquiums, which they have here nearly every year. So the subject matter is very much the luck of the draw.” Rod Burridge and Jim Smith are both retired businessmen who have been visiting the colloquium for about six years now. “I enjoyed two others better than this,” Jim says. “There was one concerning the wars between the Egyptians and the Hittites after the New Kingdom; another about the ancient roads in the desert that was very good.” Was the colloquium rather inaccessible at times? “I have to say that I haven’t got quite as much out of it as I have from some of the other topics they discussed,” Rod adds. “It is a very limited and complex area, some of the presentations were very specific indeed. As far as I’m glad scholars are engaging with the subject, what difference does it make to the pattern of world history?”

Egyptological Colloquium 2009 - Reception

While some experts have praised the youthfulness of the colloquium’s speakers, Barbara Pentlow thought it could have been slightly more dynamic: “It was relatively staid in the sense that you didn’t have too many people asking questions and provoking the equivalent of a punch-up.” This is echoed in John Gee’s surprise that his paper on the Book of the Dead as canon didn’t receive a more hostile reception; something he found rather annoying. “It was disappointing that there wasn’t more discussion,” Jim Smith agreed. “It opened your eyes to another field of study, but I didn’t find this as interesting as others I’ve been to before – sorry!”

So it seems that while the audience were stimulated by the colloquium, there were more than a couple of dissenting voices, not least on the lack of debate and discussion. The fact that some found the material slightly impervious to the outside observer raises the question of how much events like this should be open to all levels of knowledge. Should academic papers be scaled down somewhat to suit the general public, or should the emphasis be placed upon the benefits for the academic world and its scholars?

Images by Monkey River Town and Ann Wuyts.

The British Museum on Pigments and Fading in the Book of the Dead

Egyptological Colloquium 2009 - Richard Parkinson & Bridget LeachThe Egyptological Colloquium 2009, held on Tuesday and Wednesday this week, saw a glut of eager experts propose dozens of theories on the making, scribing and significance of the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. Some were more in-depth than others; some were downright inaccessible to all but the longest-serving Egyptologists. But one lecture that really caught the eye was the British Museum‘s very own Richard Parkinson and Bridget Leach‘s talk, on the colours and pigments which went into making the Book of the Dead such a technicolour masterpiece. In particular, the pair and their BM collegues have researched their material using the museum’s famous Papyrus of Ani; research going on for over ten years.

Parkinson and Leach compelled the audience by exploring colours and pigments which went into making the Book of the Dead such a technicolour masterpiece

The lecture, to give it its full, scholarly title, is Creative Borders – observations on pigments and fading on the Papyrus of Ani. In particular the red and yellow pigments which went into making the Book of the Dead are explored – colours whose provenance and discovery provide some fascinating insight, into both the technical wizardy of the Egyptians and the detective work of modern times. As well as the expected use of red and yellow ochres, the arsenic pigments red-orange realgar and yellow opriment were also found. Added to these were also traces of red lead and cinnabar. The varying degrees of fading these materials underwent has allowed the museum to reveal where each pigment was used, and even to determine that the papyrus was made up of several separate rolls which were pre-bordered before going into production.

Parkinson and Leach then showed the audience how some of the subsequent joins were actually pretty shoddy, with plenty of mistakes visible on closer attention. It was then suggested that, rather than having a definite system of production, some papyri were pre-bordered where others weren’t. This lends weight to the argument that Book of the Dead production was far from a uniform, industrial affair. It was also particularly interesting to note how the Egyptians got their colours. As Parkinson explained, even the Greek historian Strabo noted that there were slave mines in Anatolia (modern Turkey), where workers would invariably suffer early deaths due to the bad air.

All this to draw in colour? You would have thought they could get their hands on some Crayola by then! Drs Parkinson and Leach really drew the eye with some stunning photos (not all too difficult when dealing with as beautiful an artefact as the Papyrus of Ani), and their assertions really got the applause they deserved.

Images by Ann Wuytsand Lenka P.

Experts Rush to Solve Riddle of ‘Britain’s Atlantis’

Dunwich Greyfriars

By the middle of the 13th century, Dunwich was a prosperous coastal city with a fearsome royal flotilla, extravagant priories and thousands of happy inhabitants. It was a genuine rival to London, and the envy of Europe. But just two hundred years later the city lay in ruins, torn to shreds by the tyrannical tides of the East Anglian coast; its once-illustrious ramparts reduced to ruins at the bottom of the North Sea. Today the town remains a stunning coastal retreat, and the shattered pieces of its greyfriars’ abbey broods beatifully across the beach. But now a team of experts believe new technology will allow them to observe the sunken remains of Dunwich, through the thick silt of its watery grave.

Stuart Bacon is a marine archaeologist who has spent 30 years of his life chasing Britain’s Atlantis. He has dived to the bottom of the sea over a thousand times and felt Dunwich’s submerged relics by hand using a 1587 map, but with sporadic success. Now he is hoping a partnership with a University of Southampton team, led by Professor David Sear, as well as new imaging technology will allow him to see his white whale for the first time. The 25,000 expedition, backed by English Heritage and the Esme Fairbairn Foundation, will use the latest underwater acoustic imaging technology to search for any remains lying between 10ft (3m) and 50ft (15m) down.

Prof. Sear is confident the equipment with unlock some of Dunwich’s long-lost riddles: “Technical advances, such as side-scan multibeam sonar have massively improved our ability to create accurate acoustic images of the seafloor, and this survey should greatly enhance our knowledge of the site. We will be scanning the sea floor in grids,” he continues. “We know from maps and documents that many structures existed, but we do not know where they were, and this will solve that puzzle.” Prof. Sear was quick to allay any notion the team would find standing buildings in the sea, however, stressing that they had fallen from cliffs to their current home.

Dunwich Beach, Suffolk

Dunwich rose to prosperity during the Medieval Period, when it was prominent enough to proffer a place in the 1086 Domesday Book. By 1205 there were five royal galleons in the city – comparable to London – at at its pomp later that century the city counted eight churches, 80 ships, five religious orders and a bustling wool, grain, fish and fur trade. It was even granted two Parliamentary seats; such was its prosperity. Yet it was hit by a huge surge in 1286 which took houses and several other buildings. Storms in 1328 and 1348 destroyed over 400 houses, two priories, a Benedictine cell, two churches, shops and windmills. By the turn of the 16th century Dunwich was a shell; a pier erected to shelter it from the elements consigned too to the sea. Today it survives as little more than a quaint village and local legend: this latest project, however, hopes to bring Dunwich back into the public eye – not least because of its striking, if modern, resemblance to Plato‘s famous Atlantis myth.

Images by Gavin Stewart.

Where’s Atlantis? Find Out Now with our Interactive Google Flyover

Atlantis has got to be one of the world’s most longstanding myths. Devised by Plato over 2,500 years ago, its popularity has rarely waned, and has been the birthplace for some of humanity’s most truly bizarre theories. From Gibraltar to the Aegean, it seems everyone’s had their say on the whereabouts of the mysterious island, that was supposedly created by Poseidon. Not all of Atlantis’ proponents, it must be said, are total crackpots. There’s logic, bathymetric studies and topographical data to back their claims – however spurious they may frequently seem. Others most definitely do fit the conspiracy theorist bill, however, and you’ll see from some of these possibilities that Plato’s baby has been stretched to within an inch of its life to squeeze some credibility into a hopeless hunch. Yet despite all this hot air – or because of it – Atlantis still manages to capture the imagination of people the world over, and is rarely out of the news across the globe.

“Not all Atlantis theorists are crackpots. Some, but not all.”

But don’t worry about reading books and sexed-up tabloid reports, HK is here for you with an interactive Google Map outlining some of the best-known theories on Atlantis’ whereabouts. We’ve condensed them into palatable little bite-sized packages for you to perouse, as well as letting you know where they rise and inevitably fall flat on their backsides. Maybe there’s one here that particularly appeals to you?All you need is a bit of time, some odd-looking facts and a keyboard and you could be making this map in a year’s time!

The tour enables you to fly over and explore the sites and their surroundings, and where you see a Heritage Key logo, you can click it and you’ll see more information about the adjacent landmark.

To view this Google Earth Tour, you will need to download additional software created by Google. You will require Google Earth 5.0 which will need to be installed in order to explore the aerial photography in a 3D environment. Once the software is installed, you will need to return to this webpage and download Google Earth Plugin (Your browser should meet minimum requirements). the Plugin can be downloaded by selecting it in the panel below:

To open webpages in a new window, right click the link in the information window and select “Open link in new window”. This will enable you to view the link in a full web browser.

You can also download this tour to your computer by clicking here, selecting “Save” and then running the file. It will automatically open Google Earth and begin the Heritage Key: Ancient Rome tour.

Keep an eye out for more Google Earth tours from Heritage Key!