Tag Archives: Archaeology

Wishful thinking of Egyptologists

Image: dailymail.co.uk

Image: dailymail.co.uk

An interesting story appeared in the news the other day. Nicholas Reeves from the University of Arizona has been studying detailed scans of the inside of Tutankamun’s tomb, made by Factum Arte, which were produced in order to make a facsimile of the tomb. He believes that he has found on the images evidence that points to a hidden, sealed doorway within the tomb that may lead to an undiscovered chamber or series of chambers. All very exciting stuff. However, he also thinks that these chambers could house the remains of Nefertiti, the consort of Akenaten, and the woman who some believe may have been the mother of King Tut. I was slightly surprised when I first read this, as I thought she’d already been found in KV35 in the Valley of the Kings with a cache of other royal mummies, but after doing a bit of digging (no pun intended), it seems as though she was just one possible contender for these remains, and DNA testing carried out a few years back has disproved this and the maternity issue. However, I can’t help but feel that this suggestion is a bit premature, and is purely designed to provoke speculation, interest, media coverage, and increase the chance of permission being granted for work to take place in the tomb. Where is the evidence for this? It would be amazing if it was the case, but an undiscovered chamber of Tut-related tomb goods would be just as interesting and archaeologically valuable. I don’t think I’ll hold my breath on this one, but would love to be proved wrong.

Bust of Nefertiti. Image: en.wikipedia.org

Bust of Nefertiti. Image: en.wikipedia.org

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New books: July

I promise that I will give up buying books for a while now after this month. Having no shelving as of yet for books means that I just keep piling ‘em up and hoping that they will fit somewhere when we move, and I can’t keep on. However, this month has seen me tempted terribly by both pretty classics (Penguin and Oxford, I’m looking at you), and a ridiculous book sale in the only independent bookshop left in Stoke-on-Trent. It would be bad not to patronise them when they have a sale on, surely?

Webberley's Bookshop

Webberley’s Bookshop

All but five of the following books were from the sale, bought over four visits.

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  • Allen Ginsberg – Howl, Kaddish and Other Poems £2.99
  • Daljit Nagra – Look we have coming to Dover!*
  • Thomas Hardy – Wessex Poems*
  • Ian Duhig – The Speed of Dark*
  • Maurice Riordan – Floods*

The Ginsberg was spied in the Oxfam on Turl Street in the centre of Oxford when I went down at the start of the month with a group of Y10 and ex-Y11 students from work for a two-day (one night) residential at my college, St. Hugh’s. I did visit The Last Bookshop (as mentioned in a previous book-haul post), but didn’t come away with anything from there.

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  • Federico Garcia Lorca – The House of Bernarda Alba and Other Plays*
  • Sophocles – The Theban Plays**
  • Bertolt Brecht – The Good Woman of Setzuan*
  • William Shakespeare – Love’s Labour’s Lost*          –               Four Comedies : The Taming of the Shrew – A Midsummer Night’s Dream – As You Like It – Twelfth Night*            –               Anthony and Cleopatra**
  • Oscar Wilde – A Woman of No Importance*           –               Salome*

I already own a copy of the Sophocles plays (the Oedipus trilogy) in a Robert Fagles translation, but this is a different translation, which I thought would be interesting to compare it with. Also it’s a nice Penguin Classics edition.

In the same way, I already own a copy of The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night, but for the price I thought it daft not to get this four-in-one text; it works out at 5p a play. Also, it frees up some room, as the four-in-one take up far less room than my copies of those two plays do individually.

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  • Sivadasa – The Five-and-Twenty Tales of the Genie***
  • The Tain***
  • William Beckford – Vathek**
  • W. Somerset Maugham – Liza of Lambeth*
  • Colette – Cheri**
  • Jane Austen – Emma***
  • Henry James – Washington Square**
  • Henry Mackenzie – The Man of Feeling**

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  • Laura Schwartz – A Serious Endeavour: Gender, education and community at St. Hugh’s, 1886-2011             £10
  • Philip Ardagh – The Archaeologist’s Handbook**
  • Tracey Turner – Foul Facts from the Perilous Past**
  • Richard Mackay – The Atlas of Endangered Species***

The first of these was also bought when I was down in Oxford, from St. Hugh’s College itself. It was written for the 125th anniversary of the college in 2011, but I never got a copy when I was actually studying. The other three of these are for use at work.

Now, the next book (I hope) speaks for itself:

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How ACE. This was also from the book sale (**)

Now, lastly, these weren’t:

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  • Virginia Woolf – The Lady in the Looking-Glass**
  • Voltaire – Candide and Other Stories         99p
  • Marcel Mauss – The Gift £1.49

The Gift is one of the key texts that I used at Uni, and which I’ve meant to get my own copy of ever since I was studying. Also, on the subject of this book (and more specifically it’s author), our youngest son has a toy mouse that we’ve named Marcel. Only us…

Now- NO MORE BOOK BUYING!


* 20p

** 50p

*** £1

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Strange gold spirals from Denmark

This is a short mention of an interesting archaeology story that came out at the start of the month. An excavation in Boeslunde, south-west Zealand, Denmark, has revealed an unusual find of around 2,000 fine gold spirals, dating to around 900-700 B.C. Previous excavations here have brought up 10 gold rings- six of which were large and heavy, and four of which may have been ‘oath rings’ (typically found in sacrificial settings). With this new find, the site has now provided the most gold artefacts by weight from the Northern European Bronze Age. The spirals are made from extremely pure gold that was hammered flat to just 0.1 millimetre thick, and all together weigh between 200 to 300 grams (7-10 ounces). It has been suggested that the spirals may have once been woven into hair or used on some ceremonial clothing or headdress of some kind. A large lump of the coils may have sat originally in a birch wood box with a leather lining, based on remnants found at the scene, with others found in bunches of three or four, but archaeologists don’t seem to know what they were used for (they were probably ritual then…). To my mind they seem to look more like shavings or waste product from some sort of manufactory process, but what seems like careful disposal would make this unlikely. I don’t know- I’m probably wrong. If anyone reading this post does know any more about this find or have any theories, please feel free to post these below- I’d be glad to hear them!

Image: Morten Petersen / Zealand Museum.

Image: Morten Petersen / Zealand Museum.

Spiral in situ surrounded by birch fragments. Image: Flemming Kaul / National Museum of Denmark.

Spirals in situ surrounded by birch fragments. Image: Flemming Kaul / National Museum of Denmark.

Image: Flemming Kaul / National Museum of Denmark.

Image: Flemming Kaul / National Museum of Denmark.

Image: Morten Petersen / Museum Vestsjælland.

Image: Morten Petersen / Museum Vestsjælland.

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New books: May

Yep. I’m behind again. I’ve still got book reviews to type, and a few archaeology and anthropology posts to do. Will I ever get round to them? Perhaps not. For now, May’s books:

May books

  • Bob Dylan –  Tarantula     50p
  • Roald Dahl –  Rhyme Stew     50p
  • J.B.Priestley –  An Inspector Calls and Other Plays     £2.99
  • William Shakespeare –  Julius Caesar     20p
  • Bret Easton Ellis –  American Psycho     50p

I also picked up this:

Me, somewhat surprised with myself. I mean, come on- it's shit, isn't it? ...Isn't it...?

Me, somewhat surprised with myself. I mean, come on- it’s shit, isn’t it?

Don’t shoot me- I know it is shite, and just a cursory glance across the text and its grainy b&w plates reinforces the level of pseudo-archaeological, cod-scientific bull crap that it contains, but it is the book that got my Tutor at Oxford into archaeology, and I thought it worth buying just for that, and the comedy value. It was also only 50p. Expect a scathing deconstruction of this at some point, as I do intend on reading it soon.

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A Viking Hoard from Scotland

I don’t know if you saw this in the news a few days ago, but a metal detectorist has discovered a hoard containing over 100 gold and silver Viking items in Dumfries and Galloway, which is thought to be the largest Viking hoard discovered in recent times, and contains many unique items. One of the most impressive items is a silver enamelled cross on a chain from the 9th-10th century, with depictions of what could be the four Evangelists (this will become clearer after the artefact has been cleaned), but there were also dozens of silver ingots and arm rings, as well as an interesting bird-shaped pin, gold rings and other items. Below the initial assemblage was then found a further collection of objects, and it was here that there was found a complete Carolingian silver vessel with the lid still in place, from about 100 years before the rest of the hoard. This item poses interesting questions about the trade links and connections that the Vikings in this region had, and allows us to speculate what may have been kept inside or may still be inside, before it is opened and analysed. It is though that this may be the largest Carolingian silver vessel ever discovered. As with many other hoards, It is unknown why this collection of rich material was buried and why it was never reclaimed, but I look forward to hearing more about this as the conservation gets underway.

The silver cross, chain and several of the arm band sin situ. Image: Derek McLennan

The silver cross, chain and several of the arm band sin situ. Image: Derek McLennan

The silver cross, with visible enamel decoration. Image: Derek McLennan

The silver cross, with visible enamel decoration. Image: Derek McLennan

Gold bird pin. Image: Derek McLennan

Gold bird pin. Image: Derek McLennan

Intact Carolingian vessel, thought to be about 100 years older than the other items in the hoard. Image: Derek McLennan

Intact Carolingian vessel, thought to be about 100 years older than the other items in the hoard. Image: Derek McLennan

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I do like the movies – honest!

Following on from the last cartoon that I posted here, I thought I’d add this before getting onto serious archaeology:

Image: conormchale.blogspot.com

Image: conormchale.blogspot.com

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Let’s hope it squishes him

Image: Archaeosoup

Image: Archaeosoup

This made me laugh, so I thought that I’d share it. Interestingly, I shared that clip from Indiana Jones in the first Archaeology lesson I taught this week just gone, as a prime example of how said explorer is not an archaeologist. I mean, come on. We all know that archaeology is not like that, and that real archaeologists would have been more interested in the rolling ball scene in the inscriptions on the walls, in the way that the traps worked, in the poison used on the darts, in the construction techniques of the temple itself, and indeed everything else, with the gold statuette coming rather low down the list of informative and interesting things to look for and study. Also, there is no recording carried out of the findspot for the statuette either. All very infuriating.

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Sekhemka update

Well it definitely looks like Northampton Museum won’t be getting an Alan Moore manuscript. Following my last post about Northampton Council’s plans to sell an ancient Egyptian statue, I’m a tad irritated to say that the sale went ahead on the 10th July, with Sekhemka selling for the ridiculous sum of £15,762,500- about two-and-a-half-times the expected sale price. The good news for the council is that they won’t need to raise as much money as they had planned to in order to go ahead with their new construction work- they need £14m, and have got about £10m towards that once the 45% of the sale price owed to the Marquis of Northampton has been paid. This interesting arrangement highlights the somewhat dodge nature of the sale, as the question arises whether it was actually the property of the council to sell in the first place, and makes the legal position one to watch.

However, probably the most interesting thing about the sale was the fact that it drew attention from Egyptian government officials, who seemed quite concerned that their heritage was being sold off in another country, and that the object shouldn’t be sold anyway, as it had been stolen from Egypt. Yep; this would be the same Egyptian government who are quite happy to allow the heritage in their own country to crumble, be looted and blown up without a care, as it doesn’t reflect the true people of the country (i.e. those who live there now). I would laugh if it weren’t so tragic.

Christie's staff view the statue. Image: mirror.co.uk

Christie’s staff view the statue. Image: mirror.co.uk

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Alan Moore and Sekhemka

I never thought that the topics of graphic novels and ancient Egyptian archaeology would ever come up in the same post, but it seems that they will now. One  example (out of many, many examples) of a council being idiotic has been playing away in the news for a few weeks, but now I thought that it would make an interesting post, what with the introduction of Alan Moore- of ‘Watchmen’ and ‘V for  Vendetta’ fame- to the fray.

v-for-vendetta

Northampton Borough Council has decided that the best way for it to raise the eight-figure sum that it needs to cover the cost of “a new entrance to the Guildhall Road site, new galleries, a Shoe Resource Centre, education spaces and retail, food and drink facilities as part of the town’s Cultural Quarter” (according to culture24.org.uk) is to sell an Egyptian statue in its collection. This 4,500-year-old statue of Sekhemka was collected by Spencer Joshua Alwyne Compton, 2nd Marquess of Northampton (1790-1851), in Egypt between December 1849 and April 1850, and donated to the people of the city by the 4th Marquis of Northampton in 1880. His descendant Lord Northampton has reached an agreement to share the proceeds of the sale with the council, and it is expected to make £6m at Christie’s on 10th July.

Image: nordonart.wordpress.com

Image: nordonart.wordpress.com

Here is a description taken from the sale catalogue:

Lot 10. AN EXCEPTIONAL EGYPTIAN PAINTED LIMESTONE STATUE FOR THE INSPECTOR OF THE SCRIBES SEKHEMKA
OLD KINGDOM, DYNASTY 5, CIRCA 2400-2300 B.C.
Depicted seated, wearing a tight-fitting wig with rows of carefully-cut curls, his expressive face intact and beautifully carved with subtly moulded brows, his eyes looking slightly downward, with a short nose and a softly modelled mouth, the slightly smiling lips outlined by a raised vermillion line, wearing a short pleated kilt with a knotted belt and a pleated tab angled above, holding a partially unrolled papyrus scroll on his lap with a hieroglyphic inscription listing twenty-two varied offerings, his powerful bare chest with clearly indicated collar bones, muscular arms and strong legs, his hands finely detailed, a hieroglyphic inscription on the seat reading: “Inspector of the scribes of the house of the master of largess, one revered before the great god, Sekhemka”; to his right, his wife in much smaller scale kneeling, her left leg bent elegantly beneath her right, her left arm tenderly embracing Sekhemka’s right leg, wearing a tight-fitting ankle-length dress, the accompanying inscription reading: “The one concerned with the affairs of the king, one revered before the great god, Sitmeret”; to his left a young man sculpted in raised relief, most probably his son, with an inscription reading: “Scribe of the master of largess, Seshemnefer”; the three sides of the cubic seat sculpted in shallow raised relief with a ceremonial procession of male offering bearers bringing a duck, geese, a calf, lotus flowers, unguent and incense
29 ½ in. (75 cm.) high; 12 ¼ in. (31.2 cm.) wide; 17 3/8 in. (44.1 cm.) deep
Estimate: £4-6 million ($6,784,000-10,176,000)
Provenance
Probably from the Royal Cemeteries, Saqqara.
Acquired by Spencer Joshua Alwyne Compton, 2nd Marquess of Northampton (1790-1851), in Egypt between December 1849 and April 1850.
Presented to the Northampton Museums and Art Gallery by either Charles Douglas-Compton, 3rd Marquess of Northampton (1816-1877) or Admiral William Compton, 4th Marquess of Northampton (1818-1897).
Exhibited
The Northampton Museum, Northampton, general exhibition, 1866–1899.
The Abington Museum, Northampton, Egyptian room, 1899–1950s.
General exhibition, Northampton Central Museum, Northampton, from 1960.
The Abington Museum, Northampton, Ancient Egypt – Land of Mystery, 1977.
Northampton Central Museum and Art Gallery, Northampton, Mummies and Megaliths – the Bronze Age in Britain and Egypt, 1983.
Northampton Central Museum and Art Gallery, Northampton, Ancient Egypt: The Northampton Collection, 1988.
General exhibition, Northampton Museum and Art Gallery, Northampton, 2001-2012.

However, the Museums Association has warned that Northamptons future loans and fundraising prospects would be in jeopardy if the sale goes ahead, as members of the Arts Council are allowed to exchange items with other accredited venues and apply for grants and funding, but14m from once they have their share of the sale proceeds, if their most likely source of funding will be cut following the sale. Ironically, Councillor Brandon Eldred, of Northampton Borough Council, said before a ‘public consultation’ in 2012 that the money from the sale would be used to to a wider audience.

“The statue of Sekhemka is a valuable asset and we do appreciate its significance as an artefact,” he insisted. Hmmm.

“But we have decided to sell it and reinvest the money back into developing Northampton Museum and other parts of our cultural heritage. Every penny raised will go into projects that help to tell the story of our town’s history.”

Hmmm. I can’t help but feel that Northampton are shooting themselves in the foot somewhat with this. What could surely be made into a major attraction for people to the museum is being taken away in favour of what sounds to be a mediocre and somewhat substance-less redevelopment that would take away much of the heritage of the place.

Now, I hear you shout- where does the bearded cartoon god come in? Well, read this:

Image: Northants Herald & Post / Save Sekhemka Action Group (Facebook page)

Image: Northants Herald & Post / Save Sekhemka Action Group (Facebook page)

I think that he makes a valid argument, to be honest. Why would you willingly donate to an institution that is happy to sell its collections and donations to raise funds rather than raising them in the usual ways? Collect donations, charge entry, receive grants. I hope that the museum doesn’t manage to raise the rest of the money needed, and that the statue is purchased by another museum or institution to show Northampton up.

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It seems that the Christie’s catalogue actually provides quite a bit of information regarding the statue. This text is taken from nordonart.wordpress.com, which quotes from the sale catalogue extensively.

SCULPTURE IN THE OLD KINGDOM 2500 B.C. – ETERNITY

Life after death was the primary belief in ancient Egypt and preparing for one’s welfare after death was the project of a lifetime. A tomb needed to be built, funerary equipment had to be arranged, and the mortuary cult needed to be performed. Aside from the royal family, only the elite had the resources to fully realise these demands. The tomb was made in two parts, comprising a substructure where the sarcophagus was placed, and a superstructure with decorated rooms and chapels. It was a favour of the king to be permitted to have a sumptuously decorated tomb, given only to esteemed members of the administration. Artisans from the royal workshop would create the colourfully decorated walls and lifelike statues representing the deceased and his family.

Group sculptures representing the royal family are known since the early Dynastic period, circa 3000-2650 B.C. A relief fragment from Heliopolis shows an early depiction of king Djoser with his family gathered around his legs. The intimate attitude of the wife kneeling on the ground, her legs tucked to one side, her arm around her husband’s legs was reserved only for royal women in the 4th dynasty (circa 2600-2450 B.C.). Only in the 5th dynasty did non-ruling members of the royal family adopt this style, as with the example of the statue of princess Nebibnebty and her husband Seankhuptah, dating to circa 2450-2300 B.C. This type was subsequently gradually adopted by high officials and entered private statuary shortly after.

Only one other statue is attributed to Sekhemka, Inspector of the Scribes, and is in the Brooklyn Museum. The kneeling figure is made of diorite, the base is in limestone, painted to imitate diorite and is decorated as an offering table. It is suggested that Sekhemka may have had a discarded royal sculpture repaired and a base added to it. The similar quality of the carving between this and the present lot certainly serves to link the two pieces. Moreover, both statues were brought out of Egypt at around the same time; Dr. Henry Abbott, the original owner of the Brooklyn Sekhemka, returned with his collection in 1851.

SESHEMNEFER

On the front of the cubic seat, to the right of Sekhemka, is a figure of a young man, Seshemnefer, walking to the left. He is depicted nude, a sign of youth, and holds a large lotus flower with long stem in his left hand, the symbol of rebirth. As well as providing his name, the hieroglyphic inscription above his head identifies him as a scribe of the master of largess, which suggests that he worked in the same office as his father. That such a young man already has a work title may appear incongruous, however this is a depiction of Sekhemka’s son as an idealized youth. His presence reinforces the carefully constructed image of an idyllic, young and fecund family.

Image: nordonart.wordpress.com

Image: nordonart.wordpress.com

SITMERIT AND INTIMACY IN ANCIENT EGYPT

Sekhemka’s wife, Sitmerit, meaning literally “The Daughter of Merit”, is shown kneeling to his right. Though diminutive in scale, her refined features are stately and beautiful. Her imposing wide wig frames her round face, whilst rows of straight and curling natural hair appear on her forehead. Her eyes gaze upwards, in the same direction as Sekhemka’s. She is wearing a tight-fitted white linen dress, revealing the shape of her body. The dress was patterned in blue and orange around her breasts, as the remains of pigment behind her shoulders reveal. Her wrists and ankles are adorned with bracelets and traces of a broad collar are visible on her neck. She is delicately embracing her husband’s right leg, with her left hand carved on the inside of his calf.

Canons in Egyptian art were established by the royal family and followed by the elite, who were always trying to emulate their sovereign. Although appearing quite static at first glance, representations of royal and private couples always have an element of intimacy, showing conjugal affection. In the 4th dynasty, the wife is only touching her husband with one hand, but by the 5th dynasty, she will be gently brushing his calf with her fingertips. Later examples show husband and wife holding hands, arm in arm, or even embracing by the shoulders.

Here, the position of Sitmerit’s body, as well as her composed expression is perhaps what gives peacefulness and harmony to this family portrait. It shows the close link between husband and wife, and their attachment to their family. The smaller scale is not a symbol of women’s place in society; rather, it is an artistic choice, for women had an equal status with men. She provides the love and support that her family needs. She prompts desire, gives life, and watches over her loved ones. She has a protective role and is the grounding force for the family.

Image: nordonart.wordpress.com

Image: nordonart.wordpress.com

THE SCROLL

Sekhemka holds a papyrus scroll open on his lap. The hieroglyphic inscription lists offerings, with much detail about type and quantity, including food, beverages, unguents and liquids, incense and cosmetics, funerary equipment and royal gifts. These are the essential offerings that Sekhemka will need to subsist comfortably in in the afterlife.

Register I
Water-pouring
Incense
Festival perfume, one jar
Hekenu-oil, one jar
Sefet-oil, one jar
Nehenem-oil, one jar
Tuaut-oil, one jar
First quality cedar oil, one jar
First quality Libyan oil, one jar
Green eye-paint, one bag
Black eye-paint, one bag

Register II
Cloth strips, a pair
Incense
Cool water; two pellets (of natron)
An offering-table
Royal offering, two cakes (?)
Royal offering of the hall, two cakes (?)
Sitting
Breakfast, bread and beer
One Tetu-loaf
One Te-reteh-loaf
One Nemeset-jar of beer

Image: nordonaet.wordpress.com

Image: nordonaet.wordpress.com

 

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Pleistocene Park

Image: Archaeosoup Productions

Image: Archaeosoup Productions

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Skulls and flints

Image: BlackChocolateCo.

Image: BlackChocolateCo.

These may look like skulls, and in a way they are, but in a rather macabre way they are edible. The image source under the picture may give it away slightly- they are made of chocolate, and are actually life-size, having been made from a mould of an actual human skull. I don’t know if that makes the whole thing even creepier. However, this also makes for a ridiculously convincing and realistic product, that can be bought for the bargain price… of £68… here:

https://www.etsy.com/listing/115839827/100-chocolate-skulls-anatomically

Also of note in the Archaeology-gifts category are these rather fetching earrings:

I really like these, but sadly don’t have pierced ears- otherwise I’d happily rock about with a pair (sorry for that terrible joke). If you’re interested, you can purchase these here:

http://www.archtools.eu/barbed-and-tanged-arrowhead-earings.html

With both products, each one is completely individual too. Perfect for the archaeologist in your life!

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Vindolanda gold

The remains of the fort being visited my modern tourists. Image: Vindolanda Trust

The remains of the fort being visited my modern tourists. Image: Vindolanda Trust

A nice story to emerge in the past few days- after nearly 50 years of excavation, the first Roman gold coin has been discovered at the fort of Vindolanda, Hadrian’s Wall. This may sound like nothing more than a magpie response, but in fact the presence of such an object can provide us with questions regarding the people who were living and working at the camp. The gold aureus was in circulation for around three centuries, and  dates from A.D. 64-65 , depicting the emperor Nero. The coin would have been worth 6 months pay to a soldier stationed at the fort, and it is the value of the piece that makes the find so unusual. The owner of such a high-denomination coin would be unexpected to lose something so valuable, hence there being no other such examples found at Vindolanda, and it is unlikely that any more will be found.

vindolanda gold coin

The coin. Image: Vindolanda Trust

The coin will go on display at Vindolanda after being intensely studied and analysed, and a last point to make is that it was not discovered by a professional archaeologist, but rather a regular volunteer at site. Now, Vindolanda is an interesting site, as the excavations that take place here are heavily paid-volunteer-based. If you are interested in joining a dig here, or simply want to learn more about the site, click on this link:

http://www.vindolanda.com/

 

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Skulls for sale

I mentioned in my last post that I had recently come across a story regarding the sale of  human remains. Well, at the start of this month, an auction was prevented from taking place in the US town of Hagerstown, Maryland, of the skull of a soldier killed in battle during the Civil War. This skull was uncovered on a farm in Gettysburg in 1949  and was thought to be the first sale of its kind, but was stopped after the hotel carrying out the auction received numerous complaints. Now, the skull has been ‘donated’ to the United States Parks Services in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, who can provide a proper burial.

Now, I don’t really think that I need to explain why I take issue with the thought of selling human remains- the fact that this was a part of a deceased individual’s body make the whole concept of possession and ownership faintly ludicrous. I can’t just go and sell a person, or remove their limb and then sell it, so why should this be okay and permissible once they are dead? The same issue arises for me with human remains in anthropological and museum collections, and even more so with the sickeningly immoral practice of one Gunter Von Hagen, who sells jewellery and framed images containing thin slices of preserved corpses. No thank you. You do not buy or sell the dead. People are people, and people were people, not commodities. I could get into a whole new Anthropology debate here over consumerism and consumption, but I won’t.

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Dulux paints from history: Mummy Brown

'Examination of a Mummy – A priestess of Amman' by Paul Dominique Philippoteaux c 1891. Image: Peter Nahum at The Leicester Gallery, London

‘Examination of a Mummy – A priestess of Amman’ by Paul Dominique Philippoteaux c 1891. Image: Peter Nahum at The Leicester Gallery, London

I don’t often do this, as I’m sure that nobody ever bothers to click on the links I provide, but in case anyone is interested, here is a ridiculously fascinating article about the trade in and use of Egyptian mummies for medicinal purposes and paint pigment up until the early 20th century. I learnt a great deal from this, and was somewhat repulsed and upset by it. Just think of all that history that we have lost due to the plundering of Egypt by Western nations for various reasons, and that blatant economic exploitation of the remains of the dead (which incidentally reminds me of another post I must write shortly, which I meant to get up last week but which totally slipped my mind), with no regard for their status as once-living individuals, and for what they could have told us about the past. How many famous pharaohs were there for the discovery, only to be ground up as cod-scientific medicines thanks to a misunderstanding of Egyptian embalming techniques? As an Archaeologist, it’s truly heartbreaking to think about, but all we can do is make the most of the knowledge and resources that we have now, conserve what we have of the past still to hand, and take these tales from history as both lessons in bad practice, and as interesting chapters in the history of the discipline. Spilt milk, and all that. Anyway- here’s the article. Do take a few minutes out to read it- it is well worth it.

http://www.artinsociety.com/the-life-and-death-of-mummy-brown.html

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New Books: April

As promised on my last book-purchases post, here are my new acquisitions from April (albeit a tad late):

 

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  • Geoffrey Berg- The Six Ways of Atheism: New Logical Disproofs of the Existence of God     10p
  • Patrick Moore- The Guinness Book of Astronomy     10p
  • Lesley and Roy Adkins- The Keys to Egypt: The Race to Read the Hieroglyphics     20p
  • Suetonius- The Twelve Caesars    99p
  • Caesar- The Conquest of Gaul     99p
  • The Paston Letters     10p

 

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  • Charles Dickens- Great Expectations     20p
  • E. W. Hornung- Raffles     20p
  • Penelope Lively- Moon Tiger     20p
  • Yevgeny Zamyatin- We     £2
  • Ralph Ellison- Invisible Man     £2
  • Leo Tolstoy- War and Peace     50p
  • Mary Shelley- Frankenstein     10p
  • Philip K. Dick- The Man in the High Castle     50p
  • Jonathan Swift- Poems Selected by Derek Mahon     Bought for me
  • William Shakespeare- Henry IV Part 2, The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night     50p each

 

Also, I had these bought for me (which I’d asked for):

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  • Timothy Taylor- The Prehistory of Sex: Four Million Years of Human Sexual Culture
  • Evelyn Waugh- Brideshead Revisited
  • Hermann Hesse- Strange News from Another Star and Other Stories
  • Dante- The Divine Comedy Volume I: Inferno, The Divine Comedy II: Purgatory, The Divine Comedy III: Paradise (I translated by Mark Musa; II translated by Dorothy L. Sayers; III translated by Dorothy L. Sayers and Barbara Reynolds)

 

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A British Chalcolithic?

A recent excavation of the  Neolithic portal dolmen of Perthi Duon on the island of Anglesey has revealed the following artifact:

 

Copper Artifact from Anglesey

Image: Dr George Nash

Now, this may not look like much, but this small piece of metal may prove to be very important in terms of the chronology of prehistoric Britain. It is thought that this small artifact is a piece of copper, and if this is the case, then it may provide evidence for a British ‘Copper Age’. The Copper Age (or Chalcolithic) was a period at the beginning of the Bronze Age, before the discovery of the technique to produce bronze by mixing tin and copper, and has been evidenced in the archaeological record on the European continent. However, it is unknown whether such a period can be defined for Britain, or whether the process of bronze production was brought to this island without copper being used first. It is hoped that this small piece could provide evidence for such a period here, however it is going to need testing and analysing first before such a claim can be satisfactorily made. It may turn out to have entered Britain as a completed object, meaning that the technology may not have been brought, and bronze could have been made here first, or it could have been formed here, suggesting the technology for copper working was in place in Britain. I am personally quite excited by the prospect of a British Chalcolithic, but am hesitant to jump to too many conclusions on the basis of this one object. I shall look out for updates with interest though.

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The truth of archaeology- BEWARE!

Image: Archaeology Trowels and Tools (https://www.facebook.com/archstore)

Image: Archaeology Trowels and Tools (https://www.facebook.com/archstore)

Yup- archaeology isn’t all Indiana Jones. It’s a hell of a lot better.

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A new low for TV and a slap in the face to proper archaeology

I’ve only heard about this programme recently, and so am aware that much has already been said about it, but National Geographic are planning on 13th May to air in the UK a ‘documentary’ entitled ‘Nazi War Diggers’. The clips of this show already released were quickly taken off the internet after the negative comments started, and to be honest, it is easy to see why. The programme sees a group of individuals (I can’t call them archaeologists, for the simple reason that they aren’t) digging up remains of fallen Second World War soldiers in Latvia, with the proposed intentions of  ‘sav[ing] this history from being looted or lost’.

However, the only ‘looting’ that seems to be taking place is that by the presenters of this programme. I have seen several television documentaries where battlefield archaeologists excavate French trenches and battlefields from WWI in order to return the bodies of loved ones to their families for proper reinterment. These excavations are carried out with sensitivity, for a legitimate reason, and by professionally trained archaeologists and osteologists using correct archaeological excavation procedures. I do not have an issue with this, and if this is what ‘Nazi War Diggers’ was about, then there would be no issue. The footage, however, that was released and the images abounding on the ‘net that have been taken from the programme or used to publicise it show a group of inept amateurs digging away with no regard for archaeological techniques or contexts (for example, using sharp tools close to bones, not recording the material found in any way, and pulling bones out of the ground using brute force, rather than carefully and slowly excavating around them), and much less regard for the individuals whose remains they are removing.

Dr Tony Pollard, the Director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at Glasgow University, has said this about the programme:

I’m appalled that a major broadcaster has sunk to the levels of exploitation television. I’ve been at the forefront of battlefield archaeology for fifteen years, and I have spent much time getting the subject taken seriously.

This just looks like they’ve gone around digging up bodies, because TV likes a dead body.

This shows no evidence of even the most basic archaeological principles – this is treasure hunting not archaeology.

I have seen human remains brandished like trophies before but in dodgy YouTube videos. The fact that this comes from a commissioned TV series is quite beyond belief.

The trailer on the internet was absolutely shocking, and very damaging for National Geographic.

Whether these bodies are those of Allied soldiers, German soldiers, or soldiers of any other nation, they should not be handled and removed in such a way that shows such basic disregard for common decency, human morality, the ethics of the past, or for people who were someone’s son, friend, father or brother. A pile of human bones is not just a collection of objects (it is indeed that, but not just that)- it is the physical presence of a person who is no longer alive and who is no longer in the world to defend and protect themself. There is no reason why these remains should be treated with any less respect than those buried in cemeteries or those held in museums, and the trivialisation of their removal and handling is lamentable. Not only do the diggers (I can’t call them excavators, because this suggests some sort of archaeological methodology has been adhered to) pull bones out of the ground, but they blatantly show scant knowledge of osteology or human anatomy, and worryingly little evidence of what they do with the bodies once they have removed them.

Not only is this programme a new low for television and its need to broadcast crap catering to the lowest common denominator, but it is also a shot in the foot for the once-respectable National Geographic, and a body-blow to the good name of archaeology, and battlefield archaeology in particular (which has a bad enough time of it as it is, with many people against such excavation, and which often finds itself having to defend itself way too much). I shall not be watching this programme for fear of throwing something through my screen whilst it is on, and have decided against posting any images to illustrate this rant, as I do not want to condone what those idiots have done in any way. As an archaeologist, I see the historic, scientific, practical and moral need to excavate human remains, and in recent years massive steps have been made in this field when it comes to repatriation of bones and body parts to those of other cultures, and in the general handling and study of such material. This, though, does not mean that I condone the gratuitous unearthing of individuals when there is no motive other than selfish self-publicity and the need to increase television viewing figures. Will the production team carry out tests on the bodies in order to return them to the families for reburial? Will they rebury them in a manner befitting a dead soldier? I think not, and it is truly shameful.

One last thought: I wonder if such a programme would be permissable were it Allied soldiers being excavated in France or Belgium in such a way? Is it because these individuals were ‘Nazis’ that such ill treatment is possible? Are we still to retain such pointless and ridiculous prejudices?

 

 

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An intact Bronze Age burial on Dartmoor

Okay, this post is a little late considering this story was in the media almost two weeks ago, but just incase you may have missed it, I thought I’d put it up anyway. Better late than never and all that.

In 2011, a Bronze Age cist was discovered on Dartmoor on Whitehorse Hill, near Chagford, containing an intact cremation burial.

The excavated cist being recorded. Image: Dartmoor National Park Authority

The excavated cist being recorded. Image: Dartmoor National Park Authority

Remarkable in itself for being undisturbed, this burial has been described as one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the last 100 years, as well as the most important ancient find on the moor, and the contents are soon to go on display to the public.

The cremation was wrapped in an animal pelt that had survived incredibly due to being buried in peat, and this fur also contained a fragment of textile (possibly a belt or sash) with a leather fringe, a bracelet (which I will discuss below), and a coil-made basket. Within this basket were discovered about 200 beads, with some made from shale, and others of amber traded from the Baltic, a flint flake and wooden disks believed to have been used as either stud earrings or inserted into a belt, made from spindle wood. This is a hard, fine-grained tree that grows on Dartmoor, which traditionally is used to make knitting needles, and these pieces are the earliest examples of wood-turning in Britain, being unique in the archaeological record of the island. Prior to this find, only eight beads had been found on Dartmoor from the Bronze Age within the last 100 years, and so this discovery has greatly increased the volume of material from this period that is available for study. 

The basket removed from the burial, which contained the beads, wooden earrings and flint flake. Image: BBC

The basket removed from the burial, which contained the beads, wooden earrings and flint flake. Image: BBC

A selection of amber beads and wooden earrings from within the basket. Image: BBC

A selection of beads and wooden earrings from within the basket. Image: BBC

However, despite the presence of amber suggesting a high status individual due to the magical associations with this material and its part in long-distance Continental trade, it is the bracelet that is of real interest due to the decoration included. The bracelet itself is made from woven cow hair, with 35 studs originally included (three are now missing) as decoration made from worked tin. This is particularly interesting, as it provides the earliest example of worked tin from the South West of Britain, and tin in itself is rare in the prehistoric record as decoration. As well as the bracelet, this excavation also revealed a bead made from tin.

The woven bracelet with tin decoration. Image: Dartmoor National Park Authority

The woven bracelet with tin decoration. Image: Dartmoor National Park Authority

It is believed that this burial belonged to a female aged between 14 and 25 who was of  a high social standing, and the location of the cist on a site 600 metres above sea level that would have been visible to much of the surrounding landscape suggests a person who needed to be seen and remembered by many people over a wide region.

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2013- Electric Puppet’s first 5 months in review

2014

Well- it’s New Year’s Eve, and time to reflect on what has gone on over the past year. For my family, this has been a big year, as we left the comfort and splendour of Oxford to return to our home city of Stoke-on-Trent; I graduated from university; I got my first job; we decided where we want to go with our life in the near and more distant future, thanks to an American man and his family on YouTube; I completed my first book of poetry, which had been languishing prior to this summer; I took the plunge and begun this blog, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a while; and have got back in contact with several family members that I haven’t seen for the best part of a decade thanks to Facebook. It has been eventful, and had also been emotional and tiring for all of us. Also, with any luck, next year should be just as eventful- beginning work; trying to get my book published; endeavouring to write the novel and short story collection that I’ve been planning for a month or so; and getting married. Yes: my partner and I are getting married next year!

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In terms of this blog, I will be getting up several ‘Thoughts on…’ posts for the books I have read recently- the first two Adrian Mole books, Penelope Lively’s ‘Heat Wave’, Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’, and Tove Jansson’s ‘Finn Family Moomintroll’- in the new year, and hopefully will get the first few up on New Year’s Day. For now, though, I thought that I would highlight a selection of posts from this blog that have proved popular, may have been overlooked, or are of relative interest for me.

I think that’s enough links to my other posts to be getting on with for now. Anyway- check some of these out if you haven’t already, or have a browse of the blog and see what you come across. Also, you can follow Electric Puppet on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/electricpuppetblog

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Lastly, here are a few fellow bloggers that I’ve come across in the past few months that you may find of interest:

Don’t Bend, Ascend

These Bones of Mine

Bones Don’t Lie

A Corner Of Tenth-Century Europe (written by one of my Anglo-Saxon lecturers from Oxford; he has since moved on to work at Birmingham University)

Museum Postcard

Prehistories

Interesting Literature

I hope you have a very happy New Year, and that 2014 will be good for you.

Image: The Telegraph

Image: The Telegraph

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Banksy’s ‘Cave Painting’

banksy cave art

 

Just a quick post- I came across this earlier, and wish I’d known about it sooner. I love it! I’m a fan of Banksy anyway, but adore this image due to it not only including a mocked-up archaeological image, but also because it comments powerfully on the treatment of and attitude towards graffiti art in the 21st century. Historical and archaeological graffiti, whether it is cave “art”, or the scrawled latin phrases seen at Pompeii and other Roman sites is seen as a record of past views, thoughts, styles and cultures, whereas recent graffiti is something to be despised and abhorred if it not in the correct place or of a temporary nature. Why can’t modern graffiti to the character and history of a place or a building in the same way? It is the archaeology of the present, and we will mourn it when it is gone. Anyway- something to think about!

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The Strange Case of the Spontaneously Combusting Mummy

I haven’t posted on here for a few days, and am planning to get up a grand total of 4 ‘Thoughts on…’ posts (I’ve been reading quite a bit recently), but this caught my attention.

I have harboured an interest in the ancient Egyptians since I was 10, and before having children, I had intended this to be my chosen area of study, and later employment. Life intervened, however, and since then I have now realised that my real love in archaeology is the landscape and the Early Medieval period in England and Europe. Despite this change in focus, I have still held an interest and fascination in Egypt, and it was with great joy that I travelled several years ago with a very good friend of mine to the O2 in London to see the exhibition of treasures from the tomb of Tutankhamun.

tutankhamun-exhibition-london1

I cannot adequately describe my amazement at the grave-goods on display- “Wonderful things” indeed- in part due to the sheer quality and the beauty of the craftsmanship, and also because of the fame of some of the items that I was able to see in the flesh, as it were. However, since then I think any further discovery surrounding the boy pharaoh has paled in comparison, and I have paid these new finds about the cause of death or his life less and less attention. Until now, that is.

Egyptologist Dr Chris Naunton has re-examined some of the notes made by Howard Carter back in 1922 and analysed a fragment of flesh that was removed from the mummy to reveal that a chemical reaction caused by the embalming oils used led the body to burn within the inner-most coffin once it had been sealed. I don’t know the ins and outs of this research, as I can’t find a lot of information regarding it, but there is a programme on Channel 4 later in the week, and so I hope to be able to say slightly more on this once I’ve watched it.

Personally, I think that this sounds an interesting idea, and when you look at some parts of the body, it does perhaps look as though it may have been burnt, but… I don’t know. I’m not entirely convinced, to be honest. Surely there would have been some sort of heat damage to the inner-most coffin and the bandages, and Carter does record some sort of burn damage, but- I need to find out more to make any proper comment. Expect a follow-up post to this one!

 

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The best Roman sculpture ever found in Britain: An eagle in London

roman eagle

Image: PA/MOLA

If any of you have ever seen Channel 4’s ‘Time Team’, you will be familiar with the idea that on archaeological excavation, many of the best and most exceptional finds are discovered right at the end of the last day of digging. Sadly, this is often not the case in non-televised archaeology, but in this one instance, it was the case. Archaeologists had been digging just outside the City of London on what is going to become a 16-storey, 291-bedroom hotel for several months when they uncovered the magnificent statue shown above in literally the last few hours of the last day of excavating. It was originally thought to have been a Victorian garden ornament due to its condition, but was soon recognised as being within Roman contexts; lying in a site known to have been a Roman cemetery. It has since been dated to the 1st or 2nd century AD, and is carved from Oolitic Cotswold limestone, standing 65cm tall and 55cm wide. A well-known school of sculptors worked in that area, and it is thought that this statue may prove the biggest and best example of their work so far unearthed. Indeed, the sculpture has been described as one of the best statues discovered from Roman Britain. It was found lying next to the foundations of a mausoleum, and is believed to have once adorned this, standing within an alcove that protected it from erosion by the elements. Such a location also explains the statue having a plain back.

The statue depicts an eagle devouring a serpent, and is seen to be a representation of good and life triumphing over evil and death. The image was therefore a popular one in funerary contexts, and eagles are also seen in Roman art as carrying the souls of the emperors to the gods- allowing the mortal to become divine. There is also the possibility that it could have adorned the tomb of a member of the ‘cult of Jupiter’ that was popular at the time the statue is thought to date from, and as such would have also provided a protective role for the deceased.

Prior to this discovery in September, a fragment of what is thought to have been a similar statue was found at Keynsham Villa, Somerset:

The statue fragment from Keynsham Villa, Somerset, with possible reconstruction. Image: Anthony Beeson.

The statue fragment from Keynsham Villa, Somerset, with possible reconstruction. Image: Anthony Beeson.

The only other (near) complete example of such an eagle eating a snake was found at Khirbet et Tannur,  Jordan in 1937, and is now held in the Cincinnati Art Museum:

The eagle and snake statue from Khirbet et Tannur, Jordan. Image: Cincinnati Art Museum.

The eagle and snake statue from Khirbet et Tannur, Jordan. Image: Cincinnati Art Museum.

The statue is on display at the Museum of London for 6 months from yesterday, and will be well worth a look if you happen to be in the area. personally, I think that it is a truly superb find, and just hope that the rest of the site managed to reveal many further secrets even if they were not as visually striking as this piece. Also, it just shows that occasionally, real archaeology can be like ‘Time Team’!

 

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The jewelled saints of 16th century Europe, and other beautifications of the dead

The hand of St. Valentin. Image:  Paul Koudounaris

The hand of St. Valentin. Image: Paul Koudounaris

It has been a well-known fact in Christianity for much of its history that the presence of a saint’s body at a religious site makes it a much more enticing prospect for pilgrims, and by extension a very lucrative form of income. As such, there are numerous examples of monasteries and cathedrals throughout Europe that claim to hold saints remains- either entire bodies, particular body parts or items that belonged to a person or had touched a body- and in many cases several sites profess to possess the same relic. Some saints can quite comfortably be said to be where they are thought to be, such as St. Cuthbert at Durham Cathedral, whose elevation at Lindisfarne and subsequent removal to Durham was well documented. However, many others, such as the remains of John the Baptist, or pieces of the ‘True Cross’ are more suspect. Often, this dubious nature is down to enterprising, exploiting and morally corrupt clergy, who created false relics using randomly-discovered or disinterred bones to knowingly hoodwink unsuspecting and gullible pilgrims. However, sometimes this is down to simple confusion or misplaced assumption. It seems that both could be the case here.

In 1578, rumour spread that there had been found catacombs below Rome containing the bodies of thousands of early Christian martyrs. Many of these skeletons were removed from their resting places and transported to religious houses around Europe to replace relics that had been lost under the Reformation that had swept the Continent earlier that century. Whether or not these were actually the remains of the saints that they were believed to be will probably never be known, but I can see that misattributions may in many cases have been accidental and down to simple confusion. However, there is also the rather large possibility that some unscrupulous individuals did probably attribute remains to people that they may not have belonged to, and personally I think that many of the complete skeletons sent about the Continent may actually be composed of the bones of several individuals due to the often fragmented and jumbled nature of remains in catacombs.

This aside, the new relics were graciously received, and once they had been reassembled, they were often enshrined and decorated in costumes, wigs, jewels, crowns, gold lace, and armour as a physical reminder of the heavenly treasures that awaited in the afterlife. Many of these bodies have never been seen by the wider world outside of the religious institutions they are housed in, and have been recently photographed for the first time by the photographer Paul Koudounaris.

St. Albertus. Image: P.K.

St. Albertus. Image: P.K.

St. Benedictus. Image: P.K.

St. Benedictus. Image: P.K.

St. Deodatus

St. Deodatus. Image: P.K.

St. Friedrich. Image: P.K.

St. Friedrich. Image: P.K.

St. Getreu. Image: P.K.

St. Getreu. Image: P.K.

St. Valentius. Image: P.K.

St. Valentius. Image: P.K.

St. Valerius. Image: P.K.

St. Valerius. Image: P.K.

The whole enterprise may look somewhat bizarre and macabre to us now, but this is by no means the only time that such ornamentation has been employed, or the only culture in which it has been carried out. For example, that last image of St. Valerius has had jewelled eyes inserted into the orbits which is reminiscent of the cowrie shells inserted into the skulls of the Neolithic dead in Jericho around 6000-7000 BC.

JerichoSkullsLater, we see similar practices amongst the Aztecs:

A skull partially covered in jade, from Monte Alban Tomb 7. Interestingly, this skull was heald for a time at a convent.

A skull partially covered in jade, from Monte Alban Tomb 7. Interestingly, this skull was held for a time at a convent.

A mask made from a human skull with the back removed and lined with dear skin to be worn as a mask. This is meant to represent Tezcatlipoca, or ‘Smoking Mirror’, one of the four Aztec creator deities.

A mask made from a human skull with the back removed and lined with deer skin to be worn as a mask. This is meant to represent Tezcatlipoca, or ‘Smoking Mirror’, one of the four Aztec creator deities. Image: The British Museum.

Indeed, the Aztecs and other Meso- and South American cultures had a tradition of adorning corpses of ancestors and royalty when displaying them around the inside of their temples, and anthropological cases exist of extant tribes around the world carrying out such elaborate rituals of adorning the dead for display purposes. We could even include this famous piece of ‘art’:

'For the love of God' by Damian Hirst. image: Getty Images.

‘For the love of God’ by Damian Hirst. image: Getty Images.

All very interesting, and all very macabre!

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LiDAR and landscape archaeology in the New Forest

LiDAR- Light Detection and Ranging- systems work by firing a pulsed laser beam from an aircraft many thousands of times a second. These pulses then pass through any vegetation or undergrowth and bounce off the ground, to be picked up by on-board detectors, and then converted into 3D CGI images. Such systems are used in the archaeological study of landscapes to build up a better and clearer ideas of the way sites in the past interacted with on another and fit into the topography of the landscape, showing the lines of sight and viewsheds available, as well as a plethora of other uses. One of these other uses is to find hidden and buried features, and this has been employed to spectacular effect recently by archaeologists in the New Forest, Hampshire. The New Forest National Park Authority (NPA) has said that experts have surveyed a 350-square-mile region, with much being hidden under dense forest, but the really exciting thing about this is the fact that over 3,500 new sites and areas of interest have been discovered. Amongst the finds have been prehistoric field systems, Bronze Age burial mounds and an Iron Age hill fort, with the new surveys contributing to our knowledge of two Bronze Age barrows on Beaulieu Heath. All-in-all, this seems to have been a very profitable piece of landscape archaeology, and should produce fruitful study and research opportunities for many decades to come. I shall look out for further findings with interest!

LiDAR scan of Bratley Inclosure by the A31, showing the archaeology. Imahe: New Forest National Park Authority.

LiDAR scan of Bratley Inclosure by the A31, showing the archaeology. Image: New Forest National Park Authority.

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More Iron Age treasures from Norway.

It seems at the moment as though glaciers are becoming as prevalent for archaeology as car parks. A few weeks ago, I posted a piece about an Iron Age tunic and arrows that have been found due to thawing ice, and now the Lendbreen glacier near Lillehammer, Norway, has thrown up another Iron Age item of interest: a horse. This perhaps doesn’t sound too exciting in itself, but it is actually rather interesting as it is one of the only examples of a horse discovered from this period that is at such a high altitude. It is thought that this glacier was used from the Late Iron Age to the Early Medieval period as a short cut across the mountains, but the view proposed by Lars Pilø, the Head of Snow Archaeology* at Oppland council, is that this animal would once have been used to transport reindeer carcasses down the mountains. In the summer months, horseflies affect the deer and force them to higher altitudes where the insects cannot survive, which also makes the ice the perfect hunting ground due to its lack of cover and good visibility (i.e. dark animal on white snow). Personally, I am unsure how we can really say which theory is correct, as any load would have been removed from the horse once it had died and therefore there would be little to inform us of its original purpose in that location. However, it does show us again that this glacier (and presumably many more glaciers besides this one) have a vast number of secrets still to tell us.

iron age horse

Main image: Preserved Iron Age horse manure. Inset (L): A piece of the horse’s skull. Inset (R): An Iron Age horse-shoe. Image: Oppland County Council

* I’m intrigued! Snow archaeology? Is the study of features highlighted by the snow a distinct area of archaeology or does it come under landscape and reconnaissance? Or is it something different? I think I may need to do a bit of research!

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An extraordinary kurgan discovery

Now, until I studied A Level Archaeology, I had believed a kurgan to be a villain from the 1986 film ‘Highlander’: 

Very nice, but he doesn't look much like a burial mound...

Very nice, but he doesn’t look much like a burial mound…

However, I am now older and slightly wiser, and can see the fascinating insights that these kurgans in their archaeological sense can provide us with. I can across an article earlier today on a Sarmatian kurgan excavated in the Russian Southern Ural steppes by the Institute of Archaeology (Russian Academy of Sciences), and it is truelly amazing what has been discovered. Until this point, I did not really know anything about Russian (or indeed any European) nomads except that some actually practised tattooing several millenia ago, but this find from the 1st millennium BC is the Iron Age equivelant to our own dear Sutton Hoo. These Sarmatians and other nomads called Scythians interacted with both Persian and Classical Greek culture whilst managing to retain their own distinct style that can be illustrated in some of the amazing artifacts uncovered from this recently-excavated kurgan. The finds are believed to suggest that this burial contained a woman- assuming that you subscribe to the dated and gender stereotyped view of 1970’s archaeological theory that women can be identified in the burial record by jewellery and mirrors. Osteological indications suggest a man, however, and I would be more inclined to believe this, to be honest.

The burial chamber showing the body, and some of the grave goods. The mirror is visible to the middle right of the image, and the silver container on the top left.

The burial chamber showing the body, and some of the grave goods. The mirror is visible to the middle right of the image, and the silver container on the top left. Image: Leonid Yablonsky.

Apparently, this particular mound had been excavated 20 years ago and had revealed 26 “golden” deer statuettes, but the section unearthed this year had been left unexplored. In a passage near the enterance the team found a cast bronze cauldron with a diameter of 102 cm, with handles decorated in a Scythian-Siberian animal style showing two griffins beak-to-beak:

The bronze cauldron. Image: Leonid Yablonsky

The bronze cauldron. Image: L.Y.

Detail of cauldron handle showing beak-to-beak griffins. Image: Leonid Yablonsky

Detail of cauldron handle showing beak-to-beak griffins. Image: L.Y.

Within the intact burial chamber, which measured 4x5m and was 4m deep, there was found a skeleton, and near to the skull, a wicker chest. This may have been a ‘vanity case’, and was filled with items including: a cast silver container with a lid; a gold pectoral; a wooden box; cages; glass; silver and earthenware bathroom flasks; leather pouches and horse teeth containing red pigments. There was also a large silver mirror, as well as items of clothing decorated with several plaques that showed flowers, rosettes and a panther leaping on a saiga’s (antelope) back. Breeches, a shirt and a scarf were found to have 395 pressed pieces of gold leaf sewn onto them, with the shirt having its sleeves embellished with multicoloured beads, and a fringed shawl was held together with a golden chain. Also, two cast gold earrings were decorated in places with cloisonné enamel and found on the skeleton, suggesting that they had been worn on the corpse. Less ornate were two stone mixing palettes that were discovered, along with gold-plated iron needles and bone spoons and pens decorated with animals- but it is believed that these were used to carry out tattooing. In all, there were over 1000 artifacts uncovered, and a few can be seen below:

Silver mirror. Image: L. Y.

Silver mirror. Image: L.Y.

Silver container. Image: L.Y.

Silver container. Image: L.Y.

Gold plague depicting a panther catching an antelope- not a particularly Russian image! Image: L.Y.

Gold plague depicting a panther catching an antelope- not a particularly Russian image! Image: L.Y.

Earring with visible enamel cloisonné detailing. Image: L.Y.

Earring with visible enamel cloisonné detailing. Image: L.Y.

This excavation has certainly opened my eyes to a society that I previously knew next to nothing about, and has certainly excited me to find out more about these Iron Age peoples. A couple of days of research are in order over the next few weeks, I think.!

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A new theory on why civilisation dawned

That’s an interesting image to be at the top of a post about the dawn of civilisation. It would be assumed that it would be more apt for a post about the end of civilisation, but no. The idea that all life on Earth came from outer space via an asteroid has recently gained credence, with scientists expressive the belief that said asteroid could have come from Mars and brought primitive life from there, and I for one find the arguments in favour highly compelling. However, I came across an article earlier today on ‘The Times’ website that suggests a meteor may also have had something to do with man’s (and woman’s) move to sedentary living and life within urban centres (I won’t call them ‘cities’, as I don’t want to get onto that debate…).

The idea is that a meteor struck in Quebec, Canada, around 12,900 years ago, and caused the onset of the colder, drier period known as the Younger Dryas. Previously, it was thought that this change in climate came about due to the rupturing of an ice dam that let a vast quantity of fresh water into the Atlantic and subsequently stopped currents carrying warm tropical waters towards Europe. Small droplets of molten rock known as spherules have been discovered in Pennsylvania and New Jersey that match chemical fingerprints of rocks in Quebec, and which suggest that they were formed under the high pressures and heat of a meteor impact in Canada. No crater has been found yet, but it suggests that the shift to agriculture as a more reliable source of food and thus eventually sedentary living that came about due to the change in climate may have been a fluke brought about by events that begun many millions of miles away from Earth. Also, this is one of the more rare occasions where two of my loves- namely archaeology and space- can come together in the same article! I am very intrigued to see whether this is definitively proved (or at least proved as much as is possible).

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Treasure from the Norwegian ice

tunic

The woolen tunic discovered, believed to date between 230 AD and 390 AD

The gradual melting of the world’s glaciers has proved interesting recently for archaeologists, with the Lendbreen glacier in Norway revealing a fantasticlly well preserved Iron Age tunic, and a number of Neolithic bows and arrows. The arrows were shorter than earlier Mesolithic shafts found elsewhere in Europe, and this is possibly due to the heavy weight of the points, made out of slate- an odd choice for such weapons. The tunic is one of only a number of such items that have been found from this period, and shows signs of wear, use and even repairs that have been made.

However, this melting of the ice may have proved fortuitous in this case (as it also did in the case of Otzi the Iceman discovered on the Austrian-Italian border), but it also highlights a growing concern that many more delicate items could thaw out of the ice and degrade or be destroyed before anyone has the opportunity to recover them, meaning that many artifacts could be lost forever. Oh, and there is also the small matter of the issues this raises concerning Global Warming…

Anyhoo- here is a link to two articles on the discovery from the wonderful ‘Antiquity’ journal, if anyone is interested:

http://antiquity.ac.uk/ant/087/ant0870728.htm

http://antiquity.ac.uk/ant/087/ant0870788.htm 

(The articles are also linked to the images, so alternatively, click on the pictures).

arrows

A selection of the arrowheads uncovered

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