So my nerdy excitement levels are way high at the moment, because today I found – in Ballarat of all places! – a copy of a magazine I’ve never heard of: British Archaeology. I subscribe to the American one, which comes from the American Institute for Archaeology; this one is put out by the Council for Brisitsh Archaeology. Now, it was quite expensive, but it is beautifully printed and – although short – it seems to have only about 2 full page ads in the entire 66 or so pages! Compared to the American one, and even BBC History (which I also subscribe to), this is quite amazing. Anyway – I’m very pleased, and I’m looking forward to reading it. Most of it, of course, is British – which is fun – and a cursory glance seems to indicate that it will be like the American one in terms of being reasonably good history and good archae, and being populist at the same time.
Hurrah for me.
I love my Archaeology, oh yes I do.
Kristin M Romey, writing about the “Archaeology in Conflict” conference in London last year, touched on an issue that I often think about. Apparently one of the presenters asked, presumably rhetorically, whether the audience thought Iraqis would prefer they be talking about how to provide them with clean water rather than preserving their ancient monuments – and got a very negative reaction. Romey asks whether archaeologists see artefacts as non-renewable and people as renewable, to have this sort of attitude. Which is just a bit frightening, I think. I am all for preservation, but I think sometimes there are hard decisions to be made, and maybe human life has to win out over old stone. Controversial, I know.
This links neatly with another article, called “The Battle over Amaknak Bridge” – an Alaskan community is redeveloping the bridge which connects it (an island) with another island, because this will help boost their economy. But the new road will go straight through a hugely important (apparently) archaeological site, where they’ve been digging up cool stuff from the Aleut past – going back 4000 years or so. So, in this case, which wins? The road could go another way, at a substantially larger (again, apparently) cost – is spending the money to move the infrastructure worth it, to save this historical site? Or should progress and economic benefit for the people who are there now win out? For me, the former would be my preference: preserving the history of the Aleutians and being able to discover, at leisure, all the secrets hidden on this site is worth spending lots of money on. But if the road absolutely had to go through it, then… I think modern people would win.
Which again, rather neatly, links to an article called “The Slum and the Sacred Cave.” I know little about Indian history, so I had never heard of these magnificent Buddhist and Hindu caves, which are apparently famous. This article focusses on one called Jogeshwari Cave, which has been neglected by everyone, for numerous reasons. Right now – and for some time – it is in grave danger because of the slum around it: sewerage and rain is destroying it, along with rubbish and other detritus, and human activity too. So one of the question is how you preserve this 1,500 year old cave and its art, and what to do with the human activity around it. Legally, there’s meant to be something like 330 feet of no buildings in the vicinity of monuments – but that would mean destroying hundreds (I think) of houses. And these were originally built as shrines, so do you prevent people from using them as such?
On a completely different note is the article by Bob Brier (some of whose books I think I have read), “How to Build a Pyramid,” about a French suggestion that Khufu’s pyramid (weird thing I found out: Khufu is still inside his burial chamber!) was built using an internal ramp. Makes a lot of sense, and apparently has quite a lot of evidence to back it up. I hope they get their permission to survey the pyramid.
Also unrelated, except in so far as they were both empires and this is about one of its symbols, is “Emblems of Empire” – the discovery of the signa imperii on the Palatine. The pictures of the lance and the spheres of chalcedony are really cool. I don’t quite understand how they can be claiming they belong to Maxentius, though. I read a lot about this online when the discovery was first announced, so it’s nice to see visuals.
One thing about Andrew Curry’s “The Viking Experiment” really annoyed me: there were two captions that described the early Medieval period as ‘the Dark Ages’. This phrase is not used in the article itself, though, so I wonder if this is stupid editorial interpolation – since I didn’t think that any self-respecting historian used that term these days. Aside from that, I really liked the article – and the idea of experimental archaeology is just so cool. How different textiles wear, what marks a sword leaves on a shield… it’s just such a great idea to get out there and try this stuff with as much authenticity as can be managed. And if it is done authentically, surely archaeologists/historians can only benefit from it.
I went to a public physics lecture a few years ago about radioactive isotopes and the like. The main reason I went – aside from that stuff just being fun – was that half the lecture was given by a physicist (he was great), and the other half by his brother, an archaeologist (he was boring). I thought about that when I read “Written in Bone,” about tracking the amounts of strontium in bones and therefore figuring out whether people had migrated or stayed in one place, and even trying to figure out where they had migrated from. I think it’s fascinating technology, but there wasn’t much in the article to say whether this actually is a widely recognised and accepted technique.
Finally, the magazine finishes with an article on archaeology in the Channel Islands, off California, and the prehistoric (14,000 years old, some of it) stuff they’re finding there, and what it suggests about hunting patterns, for example. All in all, this is one of the most consistently interesting issues I’ve read in a while; in fact, I read the whole thing cover to cover while not writing reports this afternoon.
Good thing I finished this recently, since April just arrived!
Just a quick review of this issue, looking at some of the articles that I really enjoyed:
“Bomber Boys,” by Patrick Bishop, was fascinating – I had no idea that the bomber crews had got a rough ride after the war, but it does make sense (not that they should have, I mean, but the way it was done, or not done… does that itself make sense??). The sheer statistics of artillery and casualties and damage done, by and to both sides, was staggering. And the picture of Cologne in 1945 is … well. Devestating.
David Okuefuna looking at Albert Kahn and the photographers he patronised, in “Bringing Colour to a Pre-War World,” was brilliant. The pictures themselves are amazing, and the stories of the photographers just added poignancy to the stories of the subjects. I am a firm believer in the idea that knowing about the producer/author/artist can, indeed, add to your understanding of a piece of art – at least give it context, if not enrich it greatly.
I didn’t reliase that there was some ‘cash for peerages’ scandal surrounding Tony Blair. How interesting. The double-page spread looking at the precedents for that sort of thing was illuminating (bad, bad James I and Bill Gladstone!).
I loved the article about Mr Stanley. All I really knew about the man was his “Mr Livingstone, I presume?” – which he probably never actually said, surprise surprise. I had no idea he had been reviled as cruel and so on, although I am terribly surprised by that, either. And sometimes, I just love revisionist history.
Cannibals! And medicine! And Europeans! Never knew that powdered corpse had been used for medicinal purposes, But, with the idea of sympathetic magic – I mean, medicine – it’s no huge leap, I suppose.
I had never heard of the Hottentot Venus. Truly people did (do) weird and bizarre things when they thought (think) they were (are) superiod racially etc… I wonder if there is antything that ‘rational’, ‘moral’ beings do today that will be reviled in 200 years?
The booklet about the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade was brilliant – worth getting this issue just for it. The background to the law being passed, the stress of getting it passed, and the consequences… plus people reflecting on its ramifications, or lack thereof, and the legacy of slavery today, was riveting. I have to admit – and I apologise to Toyin Agbetu for this, and thank him for pointing it out – that I had been thoughtless of my terminology up to this point: it is very easy to keep referring to Africans who were enslaved as ‘slaves’, rather than ‘enslaved Africans’ – a small but, I think, vital difference.
And then there’s “‘I Defy Them All!'” – about 17th century women; particularly the Verney women. Illegit pregnancies, fiance-stealing, blackmail… they did the lot. I appreciated that at the end Adrian Tinniswood concedes that this may not have been the norm, since up to that point I wondered if that was what he was driving at… it is interesting to think about just how many, and how much, women at the time ‘broke the rules.’
Lots of reviews. Places to go, but too late since I won’t be going back for ever such a long time.
Since the March edition arrived today, I thought I should finally finish the Feb edition. Some of the highlights:
An overview of the Basque issue – I’ve been fascinated by Basques since I was at school; I loved Mark thingo’s book about how Basques changed the world.
Two contrasting articles about the Suffragettes – one that essentially argued that they were essentially terrorists, and they didn’t have much popular support; the other saying that view is a load of bollocks. As a chick, I found it troubling to have the women who I thought had gained me my right to vote might be terrorists. One woman’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter… I’m not sure where I stand on this issue now. I definitely don’t hold with violence at any time, and never have, but the question of whether violence was necessary to gain suffrage… we’ll never know, I do certainly approve of exploding (tee hee) too-rosy mythology about historical events, especially ones so recent and still so pertinent.
The article on ‘the ghost that convicted the bishop’ was a bizarre look into the mindset of at some people in the seventeenth century… and a rather dismal look at the state of the church.
One of the big article is about Little Bighorn, and the possibility that one main reason why Custer was defeated was because his deputy Capt Benteen hated his guts. I am a military history baby, and the detailed stuff about directions etc really don’t work for me (the map helped a bit), but the stuff about how the two men interacted was quite interesting.
Another big article was about Klaus Fuchs, who passed nuclear secrets from the Anglo-American research he was involved in onto the USSR. Complements a BBC series, which hopefully the ABC will pick up sometime; very interesting because it mostly looked at his motivations and attitudes.
Two articles about Tudors – 1534, when Henry VIII officially decalred his ’empire’, and the consequences of this for the entire British Isles and Ireland… and a quick look at how Elizabeth I treated Dudley, and how she was regarded because of it, compared with Catherine of Russia and Potemkin, and Anne Stuart and the Churchills.
â€œNew Science on Ancient Livesâ€
Dr Karin Sowada, assistant curator at the Nicholson Museum, Uni of Sydney. Spoke at the Melbourne Museum last year.
*Mummies currently held by the Nicholson; had never been studied before this.
*Two have coffins; one an inscription. Curators were trying to see what they could find out from textiles etc, not just the body.
*Why mummify at all?
–probably arose through seeing natural mummification in the desert sand.
–once you start building structures for holding bodies, you remove them from the sand and heat, so you need to do it artificially.
–to be recognisable to the soul coming back
–be identified with Osiris
NB: mumiya = bitumen (in Arabic); in the 19th century, it was thought that bitumen was used on the mummies, because of the colour.
*A very well-decorated coffin.
*Possibly priestly; has the title â€˜Beloved of the Godâ€™ – not really sure what this means.
*Name is Padiashaikhet, meaning â€œOne given by Ashaikhetâ€; a very unusual name, because Ashaikhet is a personal name, not a god. Could be some sort of debt the parents had??
*Wrapped in used linens, despite signs of his obvious wealth and status.
*Nothing left in the body, not even the heart; no broken bones.
*Possibly died of dental abscesses (ouch).
*Female, from c.1950BC. Her name was Meruah (sp??). Had priestly duties.
*Highly decorated coffin. People couldnâ€™t afford big funerary houses, so coffins get the pictures usually found on the walls.
*Torso filled with something. The mummy encased in a plaster carapace! Painted red over face, green over body (for Osiris).
*But: the DNA says the body is male! Red face of carapace is the colour used for males on coffins. Shows re-use of funerary stuff? Or, possibly, that it was done by a nineteenth-century dealerâ€¦.
**Huge issues over whether you can actually trust that the coffin and body match in other cases**
*A child, 7-9 years old. From early second century AD, so Roman.
*No coffin accompanying the mummy. Has a painted mask. The linen wrappings were once dyed red, blue and yellow. The colours have probably faded after arriving in Sydney – was stored in a large, airy room, with lots of indirect sunlight; no knowledge of this.
*All organs removed; linen plug at the incision site. Some sort of package inside; no idea what.
*No DNA sample taken because the wrappings are so thick.
My take: this was a great lecture; it was fascinating to hear about the processes undergone to examine the mummies, as well as the sort of stuff that could be learnt. And just bizarre to think that these mummies had never really been examined before.