Category: sean-williams - Part 3

How Many Ancient Artefacts Are on Display at the British Museum?

Great Court of the British Museum. Image Credit - Prad Patel.

How many ancient artefacts are on show at the British Museum? Sounds like an easy question: after all, surely it’s just a case of finding the right person and writing down a figure, right? I mean, the British Museum is the second most visited museum on the planet behind the Louvre, and well over half the Louvre’s collection is non-ancient (for an explanation of what ‘ancient’ actually is check out Jon’s blog here) – someone must know how much stuff is on show. For the short story, the numbers and how I came to my conclusions click here. If not read on and suffer with me.

First port of call: the museum’s press office, who could only tell me the museum holds a total of around 6,000,000 artefacts. Around? It’s not a great omen if the press office doesn’t even know its own total collection, let alone how much of that has made it from storage into display cases. I was whisked off to another department:”We have around six million items in total, sir, but I’m not sure of the number on display – maybe one of our guidebooks has what you’re after.”

Sounds like an easy question, right? Wrong.

No other web source had the answer, unsurprisingly, so it was off to the BM itself, on a balmy summer’s afternoon, to find out for myself just what its magic number was. My first port of call was the information desk. By definition that was where I should be looking, right? Again, no. I had a very nice flick through some of the museum’s guidebooks, and a perfectly pleasant conversation, but no number. So armed with nothing but a phone, notepad and a C in GCSE Maths I set off in search of the British Museum’s magic number (see the British Museum’s top ten treaures here).

I quick foray into the Egyptian Gallery later I’d noted 160 Egyptian artefacts, alongside 100 Near Eastern pieces (I counted the Assyrian Lion Hunt as one item). There were even fewer in the nearby Greek marbles room – just thirty with the controversial Elgin Marbles counted as one. But these were three of what I’ve cleverly dubbed the BM’s ‘big’ rooms, the showcase bits with the headline treasures like the aforementioned marbles and the Rosetta Stone. On my reckoning there are eight of these, counting the famously beautiful stair wells.

The Rosetta Stone is one of the many treasures of the British Museum. Image Credit - Diana Yako.

That leaves another 87 rooms unaccounted for 85 when you consider that two of the rooms, ‘Enlightenment’ and ‘Life and Death’ are non-ancient. So I headed up to some of the ‘small’ rooms to see what they would add to the number. ‘Greeks in Italy’: 740 (roughly, mind I couldn’t count each and every item individually). ‘Cyprus’: 400; ‘Tomb of Nebamun’: 100 and the upstairs Egyptian galleries a whopping 1,500 between the four of them. Based on that information, and by checking how large or small the rooms are, I finally found my (rough) answer: 43,000.

How did I get 43,000? I flattened out each ‘big’ room’s items at 100, and multiplied by six. I then added this figure to that of the smaller rooms, which I averaged at 500 items per room. I then rounded down ever-so-slightly, though I think this number is fairly accurate. Even if I’m a fair distance out my number betrays a massive discrepancy between the museum’s six million artefacts in total and what’s on show: less than one per cent. I think we’d all like to explore the British Museum’s vast archives, but judging by this you’d be dead before you made it halfway.

Heritage Key is completing a list of the world’s greatest museums, taking in visitor numbers, collections and great treasures. We’ll also have an amazing map of the top museums for you to enjoy!

Ancient Egyptian Mummy coming to Dick Institute, Kilmarnock

Kilmarnock’s Dick Institute is the latest museum to be hit by mummymania, as it welcomes the mummy and coffin of an ancient Egyptian High Priest to an otherworldly exhibition. ‘The Journey Beyond – Ancient Egypt and Prehistoric Ayrshire’ will compare attitudes to life and death in two very different corners of the world: Egypt and southwest Scotland.

Local Neolithic, Iron Age and Bronze Age burial items from Ayrshire will show how Scotland’s early inhabitants held strong views about life after death. Yet the star of the show is bound to be the mummy and coffin of Iufenamun, a 21st – 22nd Dynasty (1077-716 BC) High Priest of the Temple of Karnak, near modern Luxor. His highly-decorated coffin and mummified remains were given to engineer Sir Colin Scott-Moncrieff by Egypt in the 20th century, for his work on the Nile.

Recent state-of-the-art scanning techniques mean a facial reconstruction of Iufenamun, meaning ‘he belongs to Amun’, will go on show at the National Museum of Scotland when it reopens next year. For now though, visitors to the Dick Institute can see how Iufenamun’s ornate coffin unearths the religious beliefs of ancient Egypt.

“It’s amazing to see these exhibits and artefacts at such close quarters.”

“It’s amazing to see these exhibits and artefacts at such close quarters,” says local council leader Douglas Reid. “The mummy itself appears to be in incredible condition.” Mummymania appears to have gripped Kilmarnock, as rebel knitters – aka ‘yarn bombers’ – have been leaving knitted models of the Pyramids of Giza on the steps of the Institute. Watch a video on Egyptomania in London here.

A replica Iron Age ‘cist’ burial and a series of photographs entitled ‘Ultima Thule’ (the northern frontier) by Stephen Vaughan are among the exhibition’s other highlights. The photographs, which look at connections between geology, archaeology and history, are founded on the work of ancient Greek explorer Pytheas, who was allegedly the first man to map Britain around the 4th century BC.

‘The Journey Beyond – Ancient Egypt and Prehistoric Ayrshire’ runs until 28th August 2010.

University of Hamburg Fighting to Save Egyptology Department

The University of Hamburg’s Egyptology department is facing a last-chance vote to avoid oblivion. The department, one of Germany’s most prestigious, is facing the axe for economic reasons. But a petition organised by protesters outside the city’s Tutankhamun: His Tomb and his Treasures exhibition has gathered over 66,000 signatures, meaning the department’s future is now in the hands of an internal vote.

The department’s closure would be a body blow for Egyptology in Germany, which remains popular thanks to world-renowned museums like the Neues in Berlin, and great artefacts such as the Bust of Nefertiti, the home of which has been debated for decades.

A number of high-profile figures have voiced concern over the imminent closure. Famed photographer Sandro Vannini (click here to see his spectacular work) this Tuesday noted the difference between public interest in Egypt and the funding it is allowed at a conference for his Hamburg-based show A Secret Voyage: Mysterious Egypt. The show accompanies two books, written with Egyptian antiquities chief Zahi Hawass: Inside the Egyptian Museumand A Secret Voyage.

Hawass has fiercely criticised Germany’s possession of treasures such as Nefertiti, or the Statue of Hemiunu in Hildesheim’s Pelizaeus Museum. Yet he admits the department’s closure would be a black mark on Egyptology worldwide.

“The officials of the city or university never thought the residents of Hamburg would protest the decision.”

I was saddened to learn that the University of Hamburg decided to shut down its Egyptology department due to the economic difficulties the city was facing,” Hawass tells Arabic newspaper Asharq Alawsat. “The officials of the city or university never thought that the residents of Hamburg would protest the decision and put together a petition.

I believe that the Egyptology department, which has become the main topic of discussion at restaurants, cafes and gatherings, will remain open,” adds Hawass (watch his top ten videos here). “This is a testimony to the greatness of the ancient Egyptians who managed to capture the hearts of the German people.”

German experts have long been at the forefront of Egyptology. Ludwig Borchardt was a prolific archaeologist in Egypt, who brought back some of the country’s finest relics including the Nefertiti Bust. Karl Richard Lepsius is probably Germany’s – then Prussia’s – most famous Egyptologist though, having led the way in deciphering hieroglyphs. His greatest achievement was to bring together Egypt’s best known works of papyri, which he then called the ‘Book of the Dead’.

Prehistoric Gilf Kebir Cave Paintings to Unlock Secrets of Ancient Egypt

Prehistoric cave painters in the Sahara Desert gave rise to ancient Egyptian civilisation, according to a German archaeological team. The paintings in a caves in Gilf Kebir, a vast sandstone plateau near the Egyptian-Libyan border, may be over 400 miles from the River Nile. But the team claims it was once a thriving community which later spread east to create Egypt’s famous cities and landmarks.

The plateau, a Martian landscape the size of Switzerland, is home to two famous caves, the ‘Cave of the Swimmers’ and the ‘Cave of the Beasts’ – Watch our amazing video of the caves and their paintings here. The former was discovered by Hungarian explorer Lszl Almsy and immortalised in the novel and Academy Award-winning movie The English Patient. But it is the latter which the team believe could unlock the secrets of how ancient Egypt began.

Rudolf Kuper, of Kln’s Heinrich Barth Institute, believes the Cave of the Beasts’ detail dates it back around 8,000 years. He claims its artists’ descendents would eventually emigrate to the Nile Valley to create pharaonic Egypt. “It is the most amazing cave … in North Africa and Egypt,” German expert Karin Kindermann tells AP. “You take a piece of the puzzle and see where it could fit. This is an important piece.”

“You take a piece of the puzzle and see where it could fit. This is an important piece.”

The Eastern Sahara is the world’s largest warm dry desert. Modern Egyptians refer to it as the ‘Great Barrier’, known further afield as the Great Sand Sea. Yet at around 8,500 BC the region enjoyed seasonal rainfall and became a fertile savannah. By contrast the Nile Valley was an inhospitable swampland. Settlements sprang up across Gilf Kebir, but the rainfall slowly subsided. By 5,300 BC it has stopped altogether, and by 3,500 BC the settlements had disappeared completely. Ancient Egypt would appear along the now-bountiful Nile just a couple of hundred years later.

“After 3 – 4,000 years of savanna life environment in the Sahara, the desert returned and people were forced to move eastwards to the Nile Valley, contributing to the foundation of Egyptian civilisation, and southwards to the African continent,” says Kuper. “It was a movement, I think, step-by-step, because the desert didn’t rush in. The rains would withdraw, then return, and so on. But step by step it became more dry, and people moved toward the Nile Valley or toward the south.”

HD Video: Prehistoric Paintings in the Gilf Kebir

Read the transcript of this video here

Kuper and his team are conducting tests on the geological, botanical and archaeological evidence at the cave, and will compare it to other sites in the region. They have already discovered more drawings in the cave, which extend up to 80cm below the sand. “It seems that the paintings of the Cave of the Beasts pre-date the introduction of domesticated animals,” Kuper told AP. “That means they predate 6000 BC. That is what we dare to say.”

The Eastern Sahara has been home to some of archaeology’s strangest stories in recent years, including the theory that a necklace belonging to Tutankhamun came from outer space. A pair of Italian brothers also claimed to have discovered a lost Persian army who made a fateful detour through the area, yet the discovery has come under intense scrutiny. Kuper claims his team’s work is further enhancing the area’s profile as a key prehistoric site. “Now we have increasing evidence how rich the prehistoric culture in the Eastern Sahara was,” he says.

Calling Ancient World Museums – Share your Visitor Figures and Collections Data!

2008-03-22 03-23 Boston 088 Museum of Fine Arts

Are you a museum director, curator, employee, scholar, fan or friend of someone in the know? We want to hear from you! We’re working on an ambitious new project at Heritage Key to list the world’s top 100 ancient world museums by visitor and collection numbers.

In the future we’ll have interactive maps, lists of the greatest artefacts in each museum and much more, as the list becomes the world’s most comprehensive chart of the planet’s biggest ancient world institutions.

Why should I nominate my museum?

Just look at others: the Art Newspaper’s art museums list and the Times’ 100 Companies list have become institutions in their field, and have brought a huge amount of public awareness to their respective fields. Our project is a celebration of museums: we want to get the world passionate about the ancient world – and get more people flocking to museums everywhere.

Information required

Many of the largest museums make the info we need publicly available, but to be considered for our list museums need to let us know a few important things:

  • Visitor figures dating back to 2007. If the museum is part of a wider group of museums (eg the Smithsonian museums, many of which hold no ancient artefacts) just tell us numbers for the one museum.
  • The total number of ancient artefacts in the museum’s collection. If you’re unsure about what ‘ancient’ is, take a look at Jon’s blog here.
  • The total number of these artefacts currently on display in the museum.

We need all three of these figures for your museum to be inaugurated on our list, which promises to be a spectacular and unprecedented database of the world’s greatest ancient world museums and artefacts. If you have access to the above info let us know as soon as possible via our contact email, or .

Who Has Conquered the Middle East throughout History? Mapsofwar’s Interactive Map

My generation has grown up almost exclusively exposed to war in the Middle East. Two wars in Iraq, one in Afghanistan and countless battles between neighbouring nations in the region. The Middle East has been a battleground since time began – and now you can see exactly who has conquered it through the ages with‘s great-looking 90 second walkthrough.

The map begins in 3,000 BC with the invention of the Egyptian Empire – though there’s no mention of the Sumerian states which comprised the Cradle of Civilization – and shows the spread of the Hittites, Israelis, Assyrians and Babylonians before Cyrus the Great’s Persians swept all in their path, forging an empire which stretched from Libya and Greece to Syria from 550 to 330 BC.

Alexander the GreatHeritage Key’s ancient election 2010 victor – then wiped out Persian resistance, establishing Hellenistic rule from his native Macedon to Pakistan. Alexander’s mighty empire would soon collapse under civil and economic unrest, and the Roman Empire controlled the Mediterranean as far east as the Persian Gulf.

The Byzantines and Sassanids then conquered various parts of the Middle East, until the rise of Islam resulted in the Caliphate around the 6th and 7th centuries AD. Great leaders such as Saladin and, of course, Genghis Khan, then stamped their mark on the continent before the Middle East moved out of the ancient period. The map is a great way to see how the world’s greatest empires have evolved over time. Let’s face it: there are much worse ways to spend 90 seconds!

British Builder to Walk Full Length of Hadrian’s Wall…as a Roman Soldier

A british amateur archaeologist is to walk the entire length of Hadrian’s Wall this summer – clad in full Roman military armour. Builder Duane Alexander, 38, will also enjoy authentic Roman rations as he hauls 90lbs of equipment across the 100-mile route along the wall, in the north of England.

Duane plans to sleep outdoors, and educate visitors on life in the Roman army as he conquers the wall to raise money for Cancer Research over the August bank holiday. He initially had the idea in 1996, but had to shelve plans after a near-fatal sailing accident in the Orkneys 14 years ago.

Now Duane is fighting fit to complete the Hadrian’s Wall trek, spending up to two hours a day in the gym, and pacing up and down his garden in the armour. He’ll be supported by four friends, but says his family still think the idea is outrageous. “It’s going to be hard work. Everyone thinks I’ve lost the plot and mum would think I was bonkers but I think she’d be glad I was doing it,” Duane tells the Lakeland Echo.

“Everyone thinks I’ve lost the plot!”

“There were quite a few amused looking drivers and my neighbour’s daughter got a shock when she saw me in the garden (in the armour),” he adds. Hadrian’s Wall is a huge stonework built in 122 AD by the Roman Emperor Hadrian to mark the limits of Roman Britian. It is lined with military forts and towns, including Vindolanda, where a series of ancient tablets were found. Today the wall remains a popular tourist attraction – and was ceremonially lit earlier this year to mark the 1,600th anniversary of the Romans’ British exit.Click here for Britain’s top ten Roman walls.

HD Video: Episode 7 – Light Up!Hadrian’s Wall Illuminations

(Transcription of this video.)

Human-Headed Dragon Sarcophagus Discovered in Gianyar, Bali

kemenuh waterfall

An ancient sarcophagus depicting a ‘human-headed dragon’ has been discovered on the Indonesian island of Bali. The 2,000-year-old artefact was found by brick-makers in the village of Blahbatu, in the historical district of Gianyar, last weekend. It is thought to have been uncovered by heavy rains.

The sarcophagus was found just 100m from the spot where another similar one was excavated some months ago, which carried a turtle’s head design. Yet the latest find is thought to bear more resemblance to ancient sarcophagi discovered at the neighbouring town of Keramas.

Bali’s Gianyar district is rich in ancient history, having been the home to an advanced rice-farming culture over 2,000 years ago. It is home to several Hindu and Buddhist temples, as well as the ‘Goa Gajah’, or ‘Elephant Cave’, a 9th century AD rock-cut sanctuary. Its most famous artefact, however, is the ‘Moon of Pejeng’, the world’s oldest single-cast bronze kettle drum. The drum dates back to around 300 BC, and is considered sacred by many locals.

Today Bali serves as a popular stop-off on the traditional backpackers’ route, with Gianyar its cultural and artistic centre. Indonesia is also home to Borobudur, a spectacular 1,200-year-old Javanese Buddhist temple, and Liang Bua Cave, home to the Homo-floresciensis hominid species, aka the ‘Hobbit’.

Mariah Carey Performs at Fiery Gig at Giza Pyramids, Egypt

Mariah Carey performed at the Pyramids of Giza, Cairo. Image Credit - David Shankbone

Mariah Carey performed at what must be the world’s most awe-inspiring concert venue this week, as she belted out a set at the pyramids of Giza in Cairo, Egypt. The ancient backdrop surprised even the diva herself, who exclaimed to the 3,000-strong crowd, “Wow! I can’t believe I’m standing here!

“Wow! I can’t believe I’m standing here!”

“I mean you guys you’re maybe used to it, but us,” added Carey, pointing to backing singer Trey Lorenz, “that man comes from a town with 300 people only, and and I’m from New York.” The gig, for Middle Eastern telecommunications firm Etisalat’s third anniversary, was the hottest ticket in Cairo on Monday night – so hot, in fact, that even the stage caught fire: “In Egypt getting ready to go on stage and suddenly there was a surge of power and an electrical fire started under my feet!” the star tweeted.

Carey’s 13 song set included crowd favourites like ‘Always be my Baby’ and ‘Hero’, while last year’s single ‘Obsessed’ also featured. And as the video below shows, Carey may have had ancient Egyptian fashion in mind when she chose to perform in a typically chastening ankle-length dress.

Celebrities frequently visit the pyramids: last year saw newly-elected US president Barack Obama taken round the ancient landmarks by Egypt’s antiquities chief Zahi Hawass(click here to watch a video). Yet some stars aren’t always given a warm welcome. Last year saw Hawass embroiled in a mini-scandal when he described RnB singer Beyonc Knowles as ‘stupid’.

Charlemagne’s Grave ‘May Never be Found’

Aachener Dom bei Nacht

The grave of Charlemagne, the Frankish king whose empire comprised most of western Europe in the 8th and 9th centuries AD, may be lost forever according to archaeologists. Experts have finally dispelled the popular theory that Charlemagne was buried in the atrium of Aachen Cathedral, finding no evidence earlier than the 13th century.

Charlemagne, who was declared Emperor of the Romans by the Pope during his reign, is still thought to have been buried in the area. But with this setback experts are increasingly doubtful as to whether it will ever be discovered. Aachen archaeologist Andreas Schaub, who has worked on the cathedral project for the past three years, remains upbeat about finding the grave. “Since the 1980s, the theory persisted that the grave is in the atrium,” he tells news24. “It is certain that Charlemagne was buried in Aachen, and certain that it was in the area of the church.”

“It is certain that Charlemagne was buried in Aachen, and certain that it was in the area of the church.”

Most Frankish kings were afforded lavish ceremonial burials. Yet Charlemagne’s was rushed after his death in 814 due to poor weather and his having succumbed to pleurisy. The knowledge of its whereabouts was lost after Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa exhumed his bones 250 years later, placing them in the shrine of Aachen Cathedral.

Charlemagne’s Carolingian Empire stretched through France, Germany, Italy, Austria and the Low Countries. Yet the man himself remains very much a mystery: his native tongue, siblings and and birthplace are still debated by historians. Charlemagne’s religious, political and educational forms are legendary: even today the Charlemagne Award celebrates European co-operation, and the Economist magazine runs a European politics page in his name.

Visitors to Aachen Cathedral, a UNESCOWorld Heritage Site and the oldest cathedral in northern Europe, can also see Charlemagne’s throne, and every seven years priests display the cathedral’s religious artefacts, which include the cloak of St Mary and the cloth that held the head of John the Baptist. It’s not the first time this year a German cathedral has made the headlines: January saw the Cathedral of Magdeburg confirmed as the burial place of Saxon Queen Edith of England.