Glass is odd stuff. We've been making it so long that one tends to forget that it's both artificial and really quite odd. The In Our Time episode about glass talked both the science of glass and glass-making, and the history of it. The experts discussing it were Dame Athene Donald (University of Cambridge, current Master of Churchill College, my old college, but here in her context as a physicist), Jim Bennett (University of Oxford) and Paul McMillan (University College London).

On the programme they intertwined the historical and the scientific discussion, but I thought the joins showed rather more than they usually do and so I'm going to split the threads up in my writeup. We first know of glass manufacturing about 5,000 years ago, by the ancient Egyptians who made beads of it initially. Over time they learnt to make larger and more complex objects like bottles & ornaments. The Romans developed the technology further. They invented most of the techniques that were used before the Industrial Revolution, like glass blowing for example. In ancient Egypt glass was primarily used for decorative or luxury goods, but the Romans used glass for both everyday and finer objects - including wine bottles (which struck me as an awfully modern way to store wine!).

In the Renaissance era the Venetians were famed for making particularly fine quality glass. The city attempted to keep a monopoly on glass-making by keeping their methods secret & forbidding glass-makers to leave the city. Which didn't entirely work, unsurprisingly. One of their secrets was a way of making very transparent glass which was useful for lenses. Something I learnt from this programme was that spectacles first appear in the 13th Century AD which is much earlier than I'd assumed. Once lenses were being made to correct people's sight it was only a relatively short step to making lenses for scientific instruments. Glass is part of the Enlightenment's scientific revolution - not just lenses but also for making scientific instruments or vessels. There is a feedback loop between the demands of the scientific experiments driving new glass making technology and better glass instruments expanding the possible experiments that can be done. Industrial production of glass as we know it today begins in the Industrial Revolution.

The whole of the history discussion was very Eurocentric so I had a little look on wikipedia after we'd listened to the programme to see whether this was a fair reflection of the world history of glassmaking. The answer (based on a tiny amount of effort on my part) is ... maybe? Glass making in China appears to've arrived late - during the Han Dynasty and probably influenced by trade goods from the Roman Empire. I didn't find anything about the Americas, so I don't know if that means they didn't invent glass making or if no-one cared enough to add it to wikipedia. It's odd to think that something so ubiquitous today might've been discovered once & once only.

Making glass (not good glass, just glass) is deceptively simple. In essence the process is to heat up sand till it melts, and then cool it very quickly and you end up with the transparent solid that we call glass. One of the experts pointed out that the necessary temperatures are those that would be reached by a bonfire on a beach - so it was probably discovered in Egypt by people (briskly) putting out campfires in the desert. Although a large body of empirical knowledge of how to make glass was built up over the next 5,000 years it was only relatively recently that we gained any understanding of what is actually going on, and the science of glass & glass-making is still not entirely understood. It's actually more difficult to make glass out of pure sand than when there are impurities present, pure sand needs a quicker cooling step. So when making glass other things are often added - like potash or lime.

One of the complicated things about glass formation is that the phase transition from liquid sand to glass is not well defined - which is an oddity in physics. An example of a well defined phase transition is that from liquid water to ice: it happens at 0°C no matter how you cool the water. But the point at which liquid sand becomes glass depends on the precise starting conditions and the precise heating & cooling regimen - and it isn't predictable using the current state of knowledge. Glass isn't even a usual solid - it's not crystalline, and that's why the speed of cooling is important. If it cools too slowly it will crystalise and you don't get glass. So instead of the atoms lining up in neat little rows they appear to just stop where they are. This non-crystalline nature of glass is what gives it some of its characteristic properties. It is brittle because there are no planes of atoms able to spread over each other when pressure is applied. I think they also said that the transparency is down to there being more routes for light to take through the structure, but I'm not sure that makes sense to me so I may've mis-remembered.

Glass in the technical sense is a broader term than just silicon glass (the stuff we generally call glass). You can make a glass using sugar - that's what sweets like glacier mints are made of. And something I knew but had never really thought about is that spectacles & things like motorbike crash helmet visors aren't made from silicon glass. Instead they are made using large polycarbon molecules - these can never crystallise so are much easier to work with. And the glass produced is not prone to fracturing, which is obviously important in those usages. I assume there are other downsides which mean we don't use these glasses for all applications.

From the title I hadn't expected this to be as interesting as it was - I didn't realise how much wasn't known about glass (nor how unique a discovery it was).

This is an index and summary of the things I've talked about over the last month. Links for multi-post subjects go to the first post (even if it's before this month), you can follow the internal navigation links from there.

Radio

Josephus - In Our Time episode about the 1st Century AD Jewish Roman historian Josephus.

Total: 1

Talks

"Understanding Egypt: Language, Layers and Meaning in the Nile Valley" Carl Graves - October EEG meeting talk.

Total: 1

Television

Fiction

Doctor Who: Under the Lake.

Total: 1

Non-Fiction

Armada: 12 Days to Save England - series about the Spanish Armada presented by Dan Snow.

Total: 1

Trip

Egypt Holiday 2014: Deir el Bahri.

Total: 1

Tags: Admin

Back in June of this year the BBC did a three part series about the Spanish Armada and how (astonishingly) England wasn't conquered by Spain in 1588. It was billed as "part dramatisation, part documentary" so I was a bit concerned in advance that it wouldn't be my cup of tea. But it turned out to be on the right side of the line for my tastes - a selection of set pieces but mostly a straightforward documentary series. The main presenter was Dan Snow, who we've seen do a selection of history documentaries in the past, more than one with a naval theme. There were several talking heads throughout the series - the primary one was Geoffrey Parker, who is an expert on James II of Spain. He's discovered & researched a lot of documentation kept by James II on the Armada including a report from the second in command of the fleet which gave his opinions on why the invasion failed. Another strand of the documentary segments was two naval historians discussing the tactics the Spanish & English fleets used, and showed us them by pushing ships about on a battle map. Of the two, I recognised Sam Willis who we've seen present other documentaries and I forget who the other chap was. The conversations between the two of them were sadly a bit stilted and at times made it feel like Willis was explaining himself and his theories to his PhD supervisor in a meeting!

The two main threads running through the series were the naval tactics of the two sides and the more human side of the personalities & foibles of the key players in the war. I'm not really interested in military history per se so I hadn't looked into the details of the Armada before - just absorbed the narrative of "superpower of the day goes up against plucky minor country and somehow fails, mostly due to inclement weather". God Is On Our Side, and all that sort of thing. The reality is, of course, more nuanced than that. Whilst the storms around the north & west of the British Isles are what finally finished off a lot of the Spainish fleet, they'd actually already lost before they sailed through the storms. The English had got the upper hand through better tech and new tactics to go with it (including sailing in to their own gun range to fire on the Spanish, then sailing away before getting to a range where the Spanish could reply). However supply issues (Elizabeth I was both unwilling and unable to pay for sufficient ammo, or even food for the sailors) meant that this wasn't decisive. The Spanish also lost by their own actions, largely due to a strict adherence to the original plan by the commander despite that plan having fatal flaws from its conception let alone after they met the opposing fleet.

The two fleets had similar command structures - political appointment at the top, second in command an experienced seaman. The key difference was that Francis Drake (the English second in command) was actually listened to. The Duke of Medina Sidonia (commander of the Spanish fleet) had been Spain's second choice and wasn't keen on taking the job because he had no naval expertise - but sadly for the Spanish his reservations about his own abilities meant he insisted on following James II of Spain's original plan to the letter. This plan was that the fleet would sail round to the English Channel and pick up the Spanish army in Holland, together the combined forces would invade England (from Kent, iirc). But the plan didn't include any detail for how the navy & the army would combine and communication between the two was not established in time for the plan to be put into action. And eventually after several failures to co-ordinate with the army, and battles with the English where the Spanish were at a disadvantage to begin with and then loss, finally the Duke's nerve broke and he took the fleet round to the north & west to get away from the English fleet and back to Spain. His second in command repeatedly suggested alternate courses of action: a pre-emptive strike on Portsmouth to bottle up the English fleet; capture a deep harbour on the English coast and settle in to figure out how to meet up with the army in relative safety; etc. But the Duke wouldn't deviate from the plan, and so they lost.

Part of the Duke of Medina Sidonia's problem was that James II was something of a control freak. I knew pretty much nothing about James prior to this program other than: married Mary I of England, failed to have children; tried to marry Elizabeth, was refused; tried to conquer England, failed. So the characterisation of James in this documentary was particularly interesting to me (and I should really add a biography of him to my to-read mountain). He was a deeply pious man, and this fuelled much of his desire to get England under his control - rescuing it from the taint of Protestant heresy. He was also a micro-manager. In this case he'd laid down a Plan, and left the Duke of Medina Sidonia in no doubt that if he deviated from The Plan then there would be trouble. He was also a compulsive note-taker and prefered to communicate with his underlings by the written word. Which is why we know he was a micro-manager - there are archives full of his notes.

I liked the characterisation of Elizabeth I in this programme - the Gloriana myth she and her PR team promoted was talked about, but they portrayed the woman herself as the Tudor she was. Mean (in the financial sense), paranoid and a control freak. Made me think of the biography of Henry VII that I read several years ago (and am convinced I wrote up a review for a previous incarnation of this blog, but now cannot find): "Winter King" by Thomas Penn.

Overall I enjoyed this series - made me aware how little I actually knew about the Spanish Armada (and Spanish history) and then educated me about it :)

Hatshepshut's Memorial Temple at Deir el Bahri

Hatshepsut's Memorial Temple at Deir el Bahri is one of the sites everyone goes to on the West Bank at Luxor. Rightly so, as it's a very impressive temple (although I perhaps don't rate it as highly as Kent Weeks does in his Luxor guidebook which waxes lyrical about it being the most beautiful temple). It's also unusual in immediate appearance, as it's very cleverly designed to look from a distance as if it's organically formed within the cliff face. The thought that stops me categorising it as "most beautiful" is that from a distance it also is reminiscent of fascist architectural style. When initially discovered by Westerners it was in a very ruined state, with a Coptic monastery built in & on the top level of the temple from which the site takes its name. As part of the restoration and excavation of the temple this monastery was removed because only the antiquities were considered interesting.

My photos from this site are, as usual, on flickr - click here for the full set or on any individual photo to go to the larger version on flickr.

Tombs in the Rock Face

We started our visit by walking from the coach park to the temple - there's a little road train to take tourists to the temple which we'd used the last time we visited (in 2009) as the timing was quite tight that time. Walking is a much better option, however, as you get good views of the temple. And a chance to look up at the cliff to the north which has several tombs in it (tho I don't think those are open to the public). There were noticeably more tourists at this site than there had been anywhere else we'd visited, and also more signs of archaeological activity. There were several people working above the temple - I'm not sure if they were excavating or just clearing debris (or both, of course!). There was also someone doing some epigraphic work in one of the colonnades, tracing a relief onto a transparency.

Medhat wasn't giving us a tour here, instead we were sent off to explore by ourselves. The temple is on three levels, which look vertically aligned from a distance but up close it's clear that there are three courtyards arranged like giant steps in a staircase, each with a colonnade at the back in two parts flanking a ramp leading up to the next level. J and I mostly looked at the reliefs on the middle colonnade, plus the two chapels on that level. Then a little time on the top level before we had to head back to the coaches.

Reliefs of the Expedition to Punt

We started by looking at the famous reliefs of the expedition that Hatshepsut sent to Punt, which are in the southern part of the middle colonnade. Punt is somewhere to the south of Egypt, but exactly where is uncertain. Previously it was thought to be on the Arabian Peninsula, but modern scholars think it was on the east coast of Africa around about where modern Somalia or Eritrea are. This is due in part to the flora & fauna depicted in these reliefs. The reliefs depict both the land of Punt (and the people who live in it and rule over it) and the goods that the expedition brought back with them. The most famous part of the scene is probably the Queen of Punt - a very large woman - and the original piece of stone showing her is in the Cairo Museum with just a replica at Deir el Bahri. The cargo they brought back included vast quantities of frankincense and gold. One of the scenes shows a large set of scales with three oxen on one pan and a large quantity of gold rings on the other! The reliefs are pretty damaged now and it can be hard to pick out the details, so we spent quite a while looking at these to see what we could pick out. I've played around a lot with the contrast on my photos to try & bring out the details a bit more clearly.

Hathor Shrine

Next we moved on to the Hathor temple to the south of the colonnade which has Hathor-headed columns as well as several fine depictions of Hathor as a cow on the walls. From there we also had a good view of the remains of the older temple that Hatshepshut built hers next to. It dates from the Middle Kingdom, and is the Mortuary Temple of Montuhotep II. Linking herself in this way with this Pharaoh who was responsible for re-uniting Egypt at the start of the Middle Kingdom was a good PR move for Hatshepsut.

Anubis Shrine

We didn't really look very long at the northern part of the middle colonnade, instead we looked at the Anubis temple at the northern end of it. It's particularly interesting as it is unusual to find a temple to Anubis. The decoration is in good condition and there is a lot of colour remaining on it. The northern part of the colonnade has scenes of Hatshepsut's divine birth - the first known examples of this sort of scene. Later Pharaohs like Amenhotep III would also claim divine paternity, on reliefs in Luxor Temple for instance (post).

Hatshepshut's Memorial Temple at Deir el Bahri

We then made our way up to the top level of the temple. There are several fine statues of Hatshepsut as Osiris on the colonnade at this level, as well as a terrace behind them with some pillars still standing in a ruined state. There are side chapels off this terrace, and I think J got to have a look in one of them but I mostly looked at the views back towards the Nile which were spectacular. And by this point we were running out of time, so we slowly made our way back down to the coach - we didn't really have a chance to look at any of the bits we'd missed out on the way up tho.

Hatshepshut's Memorial Temple at Deir el Bahri

Josephus was a Jewish and Roman historian in the 1st Century AD who wrote (amongst other things) about the Roman-Jewish war that lead to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. In the 18th Century this book was widely read by Christians as it appears to provide historical evidence for Jesus; and Josephus was held up as one of the great historians. However to Jews he was a much more controversial figure and wasn't read or referred to until much later in the Enlightenment. Talking about Josephus's life, times and legacy on In Our Time were Tessa Rajak (University of Reading), Philip Alexander (University of Manchester) and Martin Goodman (University of Oxford and the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies).

They started the programme with some context for the Jewish-Roman war. In the 2nd & 1st Century BC under the rulership of the Maccabees Judah had become independent. During this period it had formed a sense of itself as a Jewish nation, and so when it became a province in the Roman Empire Judah didn't assimilate into the Empire as well as the Romans would've liked. To some extent the province had a special status - they had a bit more independence than was generally the case. The Jews & their religion were well treated and the Herods ruled as client kings of the Romans. However there was a strand of thought within Judean society that they should be independent, and this was particularly pronounced in the priestly classes and the elite.

Josephus was born in 37AD to a family in Jerusalem who were members of the priestly elite. He was highly intelligent and well educated. Stories about his education have parallels to the stories told about Jesus's education - the bright boy who quickly surpasses his teachers in knowledge and understanding of the scriptures. When the Jewish-Roman War broke out in 66AD he, along with many other intelligent educated sons of the priestly elite, became a general. He had no experience in leading troops, nor did his fellow generals. Unsurprisingly the war is a disaster for the Jews, and the Romans quickly put down what they see as a rebellion of one of their provinces. However, it's important to remember that most of what we know about this war comes from Josephus. And he wrote about it after the fact when he had become Romanised and for a Roman audience. So his bias is against the Jews.

Josephus doesn't entirely whitewash his own actions in the war when he's writing about it. One of the stories he tells reflects badly (by the standards of his community) on him - possibly he only tells it because it was widely known and so better to put his own spin on it rather than miss it out completely. During the war he was leading troops who were holding out against a siege, but they were losing. The acceptable thing to do in these circumstances was to commit suicide rather than surrender, and this is what the others want to do. Technically it's not suicide - each man is to kill another until there is only one left who will commit suicide. Josephus tries to talk his troops out of this, but fails. Eventually there are only two people left, Josephus and one other, and finally Josephus succeeds in talking this other man into surrendering rather than dying. This failure to pursue the honourable path is one of the things that shaped Josephus's later legacy amongst the Jews.

When he surrenders Josephus is captured by Vespasian and taken to Rome as a slave. He tells Vespasian that he has had a vision that Vespasian will become Emperor - which at the time seems extremely unlikely. However, two years later this comes to pass. This little story needs to be taken with a large pinch of salt as the only sources for the vision and timing of the revelation of said vision are Vespasian and Josephus who both have vested interests in it being true.

Josephus worked for Vespasian as a scholar and interpreter, first as a slave and later as a Roman citizen. He wrote a history of the Jewish-Roman War, which is one of the books that he is remembered for. This was written for a Roman audience, and so it was tailored to please his masters and his potential customers for the book. For instance Josephus justifies his defection to Rome by saying that he believes God has withdrawn his blessing from the Jews and it has passed to the Romans. He does also explain the Jewish side of the war and this theme is taken up again in a later book about Jewish history, laws and customs. This is again written with his Roman audience in mind, and is a thorough explanation of his home culture to the people of his new culture.

Josephus's legacy is two-fold. Amongst early & medieval Christians he was revered as a historian, in large part because there is a passage in the Jewish history book which refers to Jesus. This would be the earliest historical (i.e. non-Biblical) reference to Jesus and was tremendously important to Christian readers of his books. The experts all agreed that this reference was almost certainly inserted into the text in the 3rd Century AD by a Christian bishop. It's possible that there was some stub of a reference to Jesus but not the longer description and reference to his Christian followers that is in the version that we now know. The originals of his works did fall into obscurity but in the 18th Century were rediscovered and re-translated. And at that time his history books were widely read by ordinary Christians.

His legacy amongst the Jews was much less positive. He was remembered as a traitor - both for failing to commit suicide when he should've and for later becoming a Roman citizen (and for his belief that God had changed his mind about who His chosen people were). As a result his books were not much read by the Jews, and were not translated into Hebrew. However much later, in the Enlightenment, there was a shift in attitude to the story of Judaism in some parts of the Jewish community. Some wanted their history told in the new scientific style of the Enlightenment era, which was quite a change from the Rabbinical tradition (which is fairly ahistorical). Josephus's works are a good source for what Judaism was like before the Temple was destroyed. They also provide perspective on the immediate impact of the Temple's destruction - as at the time it was assumed it was a temporary setback, not the permanent disaster hindsight showed it to be.

On 4th October Carl Graves came to talk to us at the Essex Egyptology Group about the work he's doing for his PhD on the landscape of the Nile Valley as interacted with & perceived by the ancient Egyptians. The concept of "landscape" is a technical term in geography, and so Graves spent the first half of his talk explaining this concept and its theoretical underpinnings so that they made sense to us, before moving on to talk about ancient Egypt.

He began by getting us all to stand up and look around the room and to think about the space we were in: had we been there before (most of us had), who the people were that we knew in the room, had anyone been there for other non-EEG events and so on. These memories and meanings that we attach to somewhere are what turns it from a space to a place. Later on in the talk he came back to the same idea using the difference between the idea of a house (which is really just a building) and a home (which is where you live, where your life is). Graves then used his own hometown of Withernsea in East Yorkshire to illustrate how landscape and identity are always changing over time. It's easier to illustrate with a modern town as we have maps and satellite imagery to show what things used to be like as compared to now. So for instance 300 years ago Withernsea wasn't on the coast, yet by the early 20th Century and the tourism boom it was coastal, and had a pier and a railway station. Both of those are long gone now, but the street names keep their ghosts alive: Pier Road, Station Road and Railway Crescent. And these sorts of things happened in ancient Egypt too - it's just harder to discover because they didn't leave us maps.

Why study landscapes? Graves' answer to this is that it provides a big picture view of Egyptian society & life over time, rather than the details you get from texts & monuments & tombs. He talked about the generally accepted idea that 70% of all ancient Egyptian sites are undiscovered, largely because they are underneath the current urban landscape. One method of making further discoveries is one that the Egyptian government have tried in the past - displace the people and bulldoze their houses so that the antiquities underneath can be excavated and turned into tourist attractions. (This is the sort of thing Andrew Bednarski was talking to the EEG about last month). But this understandably antagonises people and makes them more likely to hide things or to dig up anything valuable looking themselves and sell it anonymously. One of the Egyptian scholars who studied at the EES in London this summer who works in the Suez Canal area has taken a different approach. In a similar way to how archaeology is handled in London he and his colleagues conduct mini-excavations whenever a piece of land is cleared for building work so that what's under there is properly recorded before it's covered up again. This leads to much better relations between the locals and the archaeologists, and there is also less illicit digging in the area. How does this tie into the study of landscape? Having an idea of the big picture lets you prioritise these mini-digs when resources are limited.

The next obvious question is what do we mean by "landscape" as a technical term. It's quite a difficult term to define and Graves said that (particularly in Egyptology) it's a relatively recent theoretical concept. The definition he gave us was from a US geographer who says that landscape is to do with a man-made or man-modified environment to create infrastructure or background for collective existence. One of the reasons that landscape is difficult to define is that the perception of landscape is personal - everyone's meanings are different. For instance an artist or photographer will see the landscape primarily in terms of aesthetics, a farmer in terms of wealth or fertility and so on.

The personal, cultural and changing nature of landscape and its meaning make it difficult to discover what the ancient Egyptian landscape was like. But there are clear indications in the texts & so on that we have that nature and culture were linked in ancient Egypt. For instance deities were considered to inhabit particular features of the natural landscape (like Meretseger in the mountain above the Valley of the Kings, or a mountain at Abydos which is referred in texts as Anubis's Mountain). And if you look at the decoration of tombs (such as that of Nebamun) you see nature and garden scenes appearing with symbolic meanings. Graves thinks it's important to understand the ancient Egyptian landscape as it will cast more light on the everyday lives of the Egyptians. It also links together the ancient and modern uses of the Nile Valley, rather than keeping the separation between old (and interesting) vs. new (and irrelevant).

After a break for coffee and cake Graves moved on from the theoretical underpinnings of his research to the area of Egypt he has studied. This is the 16th Nome of ancient Egypt, the Oryx Nome. The ancient Egyptian bureaucracy divided the country into Nomes, which is roughly analogous to how the UK is divided into counties. Beni Hassan is often regarded as the capital of that Nome (although as Graves pointed out there has been no urban settlement discovered at Beni Hassan only a cemetery so this can't be quite right).

Graves is particularly interested in the Middle Kingdom period in the 16th Nome, but in order to give us proper context for the physical side of the landscape of the area he started by looking at the geological history of the wider area. 7 million years ago the Nile Valley looked very like the Grand Canyon does today, only on a far larger scale. The Nile River was a local river running only through the area that would become Egypt, and had cut a channel through the rock down to a depth of 4km. At the time the Mediterranean basin was not a sea, when there was a tectonic shift that returned water to the basin it flooded into this canyon and filled it with sea water down as far as Aswan. Over time the canyon silted up, the cliffs on the banks of the Nile are the remains of the canyon walls with just a relatively little bit poking up above the surface.

The Nile as we know it, running from Ethiopia rather than just locally within Egypt, was formed during the Ice Age around 12,500 years ago. And then after the end of the Ice Age between around 10,000 years ago and 4,500 years ago was a period of wetter climate. The deserts that currently surround Egypt were fertile. The Old Kingdom period of Egyptian history is at the end of this wet period, and it's the gradual reduction of fertile land concentrating the people into the Nile area that is key in forming Egyptian culture in the pre-Dynastic era & Old Kingdom.

The Nile and the flooding of the Nile are key to the ancient Egyptian landscape. The Nile flood changes the landscape every year, and the level of flooding is different each year. So some years houses might wash away, other years not enough silt would be deposited to make all the fields fertile. The course of the Nile might also change quite quickly with the channel easily jumping from one side of an island to another when the waters go down after the flood. Longer term the course of the Nile changes by 2-9km/1000 years, which is significant in an area like the 16th Nome where the land between the two cliff faces is only 20km wide. As a result of their landscape the ancient Egyptians would have different associations with urban settlements than we do. We see the urban landscape as something permanent. But the Egyptians were more likely to see it as moveable and temporary - their mudbrick structures might be washed away with the next flood and need rebuilding. Or the course of the river altered sufficiently that they needed to build new fishing quays closer to the new route.

As Graves is interested in a particular Nome he needs to know where this is located in the physical landscape of Egypt. The Egyptians didn't leave us maps, so the evidence has to be gathered from the texts that do mention geography. One of these is a list of Nomes on the White Chapel of Senusret I (which is in Karnak Temple Open Air Museum) - these have the names of the Nomes and measurements, which are plausibly the distances along the Nile between the Nomes. Of course you can't just look at the present day Nile and measure it, because variations in the course of the Nile will alter the distance between two points - you'd need to know the course the river took in Senusret I's time to be accurate. However you can still get a reasonable idea of where the Nomes are from that.

There are 60 different tel sites across the area covered by the 16th Nome - a tel is a mound that has been created by human occupation of a site. (And Arabic placenames of the type Tel el-Amarna are referring to these mounds.) If you look at their layout in a satellite image then you can see they're aligned with previous (or the current) paths of the Nile. When the Nile changed course they may've been abandoned or the settlement might've migrated closer to the Nile by stabilising the new land of the river bank with pottery & rubbish and then building on top of it. Obviously to discover what is under each tel and when it dates to you'd need to visit and at the very least do a surface inspection if not a full excavation. However by looking at available texts, the evidence gathered by previous archaeological surveys and the evidence of the Egyptian landscape Graves has possibly identified the sites of 4 towns that were important to the inhabitants of the 16th Nome during the Middle Kingdom.

There are four towns mentioned in inscriptions in the tombs of Beni Hassan (which was where the elite of the 16th Nome were buried during the Middle Kingdom), three of which are also mentioned in a 21st Dynasty papyrus called the Onomasticon of Amenope. Why is one of them not mentioned in the Onomasticon? There are a few possible reasons - maybe it wasn't important to Amenope, maybe it vanished or changed name between the two sets of texts. And perhaps it also illustrates the way that the cultural differences between us & the Egyptians can trip us up when interpreting ancient texts. The Onomasticon of Amenope is a collection of lists of things, and one of the lists is at first glance a list of towns - that's where you find three of these towns listed. But closer inspection the category being listed isn't "town" as we think of it - there are sites we know had urban settlements during the 21st Dynasty that aren't mentioned, and sites listed that don't seem to have much, if any, urban settlement during this time period. Instead these are most likely to be quays. In our modern perception of landscape if we listed important places in the country we'd list the major urban settlements, in the Egyptian perception of landscape it was more interesting/useful to list places you would stop at along the Nile as you travelled.

The four towns he talked about were Hebenn, Her-wer, Neferusi and Menat-Khufu. I think he did show us where he thinks they were - but I didn't make a note of that (and reproducing it from a scribbled drawing would be difficult anyway!). Hebenn was a royal foundation, which had a temple for the cult of Horus (the royal cult). Her-wer had no administrative importance, just religious significance. Neferusi was the local cult centre of Hathor, and was somehow linked to both Her-wer and to the south of the region - which links make it plausible that it's in the southern part of the Nome. It was also an unlucky town - the site of a siege during Khamose's battles against the Hyksos when Egypt was being re-unified at the start of the Middle Kingdom. And later destroyed during Piankhi's time (the Kushite founder of the 25th Dynasty). Menat-Khufu is the town that wasn't mentioned in the Onomaticon. It was the site from which the Eastern Desert was controlled, where the overseers of the desert region were based, and thus was probably on the Eastern side of the Nome.

Graves had no firm conclusions for the end of his talk (which he apologised for but I don't think he needed to), but he had some concluding remarks. It's clear that the Ancient Egyptians had a different perception of landscape to our own and recognised natural and cultural features in the landscape around them. They divided the landscape into categories that made sense in their own cultural context, but perhaps not in ours. By trying to understand the Egyptian perception of landscape archaeologists and historians can not only understand Egyptian culture more completely, but can also target their investigations to areas that are mostly likely to yield interesting results.

I've ended up writing a lot about this talk - the theoretical side of it was quite new to me, I've not thought about geography as an academic discipline since my GCSEs. And so I wanted to make sure I understood it, and remembered it, by writing it out in more detail. It was an interesting talk, although it did end up feeling like it was two separate parts - theory before coffee and Egypt after coffee.

Another two-parter! Which is a little annoying as we're extremely unlikely to get a chance to watch the next one live ... OK so fewer people I read/follow online seem to be talking about Doctor Who so there's less chance of inadvertent spoilers, but even so it's a bit annoying to have to wait even longer to find out what happens!

SPOILERS AHEAD! Hover mouse over text to read, or read on entry page:

Felt like a very classic Who episode in some ways - a locked base episode with running down corridors as the dominant activity, complete with monster of the week that baffles/intrigues the Doctor and a Reason the TARDIS won't be terribly useful. A big difference, tho, was that once the Doctor introduces himself everyone (nearly?) is all "oh, the Doctor, UNIT, yes we know these things", he probably didn't even need the psychic paper. So we don't have so much faffing about with people trying to assert authority (except Pritchard and it was quickly established he was the one no-one was going to miss when he died).

Ended with a somewhat less easy to unpick cliff-hanger than the last one. I mean, it's again obvious that the Doctor isn't dead just like Clara & Missy weren't. But I've less of any idea of how they're sorting it out: teleport seems less plausible ... holograms? we've had that flagged as a possibility by the Clara-hologram in the "faraday" cage room (so not a faraday cage, but hey it's science fantasy not science fiction, that's the mantra to keep in mind). J pointed out that two of the deaths previously were off-stage with no body visible (top-hat-alien dude and the heroic commander) so maybe the ghosts don't require death to be formed, but in the case of Pritchard the Creepy Corporation Guy we did actually see his body so that too seems less than plausible. We'll find out in a week (or two) I guess :)

I liked that Cass (second in command, deaf) was characterised primarily as "cleverest in the room when the Doctor steps out" and "sensible", and deaf was not her defining feature. I think it's going to turn out to be plot relevant though - we had her skill at lip reading used this episode. But the thing we had flagged up several times during the episode and not resolved was that she won't let her translator into the ship because it's dangerous. So she's perceiving something the others aren't - could be just she's the cleverest one, but also maybe not a coincidence that "earworm" was the analogy the Doctor chose?

Odd little interlude in the middle with the Doctor cautioning Clara about "going native", and the offhand reference to the TARDIS only being big enough for one of him. Clara as wannabe-Doctor or Apprentice Doctor (to be more fair) has been a running theme for most of the time she's been in the show. That and her seeming inability to take any of the threats seriously - it's all an adventure and she quickly forgets/doesn't care about the risks. They'll win in the end, right? No-one important dies ... Which sits oddly against the compassion>* theme of the previous episode. So, yes, odd. Also odd was the Doctor being again ill at ease with the social politnesses of human society - I have a feeling that Moffat Who in general has been keen to use such things to play up the alieness of the Doctor. But it doesn't sit well with me - in that I don't expect the Doctor to need cue cards and Clara's help to remember to say "oops, yes, sorry for your loss" when he tactlessly holds forth about the exciting possibilities of someone's friend's death. I do think the tactlessness in the first place is in character tho ;)

I don't think the titles have anything particularly season-arc significant about them after all, in fact I'm at a loss there - either there's nothing obvious for the red-thread running through the season or I'm being dumb. Both are eminently possible ... and I did forget to look for the wedding ring this time, I don't think it was a shoved under our metaphorical noses. I like that the sunglasses are a Thing that we appear to be keeping - fits with the "don't believe what you see" sort of themes too, changing perceptions though the right lenses etc. Even if not significant to the arc (if they're not) titles are still interesting to think about - I so rarely notice titles (yes, I know, bad reader/viewer, no biscuit) that I forget to think about how they tie into what they're titling. Under the Lake still pings as Arthurian to me, and we do have a sword popping up as prominent feature of the episode, abeit not literally. Before the Flood is more biblical tho: the sinful world before it was cleansed. And an Ark, a survival pod if you will ...

This is an index and summary of the things I've talked about over the last month. Links for multi-post subjects go to the first post (even if it's before this month), you can follow the internal navigation links from there.

Radio

The Lancashire Cotton Famine - In Our Time episode about the effect that the US Civil War had on the cotton industry in Lancashire.

Total: 1

Talks

"Rescuing History: ARCE Recording Sheikh Abd el-Gurneh" Andrew Bednarski - September EEG meeting talk.

Total: 1

Television

Fiction

Doctor Who: The Magician's Apprentice.

Doctor Who: The Witch's Familiar.

Total: 2

Non-Fiction

The Greatest Knight: William the Marshal - programme presented by Thomas Ashbridge about the life & times of William the Marshal.

Total: 1

Trip

Egypt Holiday 2014: Deir el Medina.

Egypt Holiday 2014: Medinet Habu.

Total: 2

Tags: Admin

Perhaps the hardest bit of these posts is coming up with something for spoiler space when I advertise them over on Facebook or G+! This evening I'm all out of random witty thoughts to share, so hopefully a couple of sentences saying that will suffice.

SPOILERS AHEAD! Hover mouse over text to read, or read on entry page:

It seems the moral of the story is "don't do what you're told", particularly if it's an ancient sociopath that's doing the telling ... a sensible idea. But overall a reasonably subversive set of messages we're being sent so far this season. If you're shown something, don't believe it; if you're given an order, don't blindly obey. Or perhaps just: think for yourself.

Obviously Clara and Missy survived, and the Doctor didn't kill Davros-the-child, nor Davros-the-old-man. Although I suppose the implication is that the Dalek sewers/graveyard are going to kill Davros and all the Daleks, but that'll just be a localised problem that they overcome easily and off camera before the next story they show up in. I wasn't actually that keen on the reveal that the Doctor had somehow planned to give his regeneration energy to the sewers to spoil Davros's victory. I know they had to come up with some way to have the Doctor win in the end and escape, but I thought that undermined the difference between Davros & the Doctor that was set up - that the Doctor can have compassion even for his enemy. Though maybe it wasn't really the Doctor's plan, maybe he was just using the "cat defence" when he realised he'd been tricked - "I totally meant to do that".

J was right - Clara was the Witch's Familiar, with Missy in the role of the Wicked Witch. Another compare & contrast set up - again we're shown that no matter the Doctor's faults, the point is that he cares and treats people as people not just as particularly useful pointy sticks. Another parallel between the two halves of the plot is neither Clara nor the Doctor being all that convincing with their "how dare you I'll kill you" threats. Although the Doctor at least didn't actually utter the threat just tried to imply it without saying it. But the Daleks didn't believe him any more than Missy believed Clara.

Seems the season arc this time is about why the Doctor really left Gallifrey, although I'm guessing that just as we never found out the Doctor's name we won't find this out either. But we've had Missy rubbing it in Clara's face about her shared past with the Doctor (did she really say "when we had a daughter"? I only half caught that). And Davros overtly mentioning it too. Moffat also clearly wants us to remember the confession disc/last will & testament or whatever that disc really is. (I did like the double fake out with that - the Doctor grabs the glasses and Davros & we assume him to be playing the fool, then it turns out the sunglasses are the new screwdriver (at least for now)). Oh and the ring the Doctor is wearing ... called to our attention several times towards the end of the episode. I can't remember if he wore a wedding ring before or not but it couldn't've been pointed out more if it had had a flashing neon sign above it this episode.

Nice call back to Clara's initial story with her inside the Dalek. And I liked thematically the idea that Daleks are all about taking emotion and feeding that energy into negativity & destruction. For me it fits into the "think for yourself" theme that these two episodes have - after all how many times does one see a picture or headline in the media or in a widely shared facebook post that's designed to tug at the heartstrings or generate outrage, and then the story attached encourages the reader to hate "those responsible". And often if you take the time to look into the story properly it turns out to be bobbins - but it served its purpose in getting people worked up and their hatred pointed in the direction the original authors wanted.

Curious to see if the title of the next episode (Under the Lake) continues to be significant ... though that may've just been a thing for that two-parter. All "Under the Lake" makes me think of in that sort of context is Excalibur, and nymphs, so perhaps just literal this time. (No spoilers for that episode in comments please, J prefers to remain totally unspoiled.)

So Doctor Who is back - that kinda snuck up on me, I didn't notice till about a week ago that it was coming up. It's about the only fiction I watch on TV and pretty much the only thing I write up for this blog in a timely fashion - more a stream of consciousness bit of chat about the episode than a review per se, and probably won't make much sense if you didn't watch it. And yes, I'm waffling right now in this intro paragraph as its sole purpose is to not have spoilers in the entry preview on facebook/G+ ;)

SPOILERS AHEAD! Hover mouse over text to read, or read on entry page:

So now we're past the spoiler warning let's start with the end! Believe nothing you see is my takeaway from the rest of the episode. That was pretty much the theme running through the whole thing - not just the walking out into Skaros when they thought they were on a space station. But also the snakey-dude and the crypto-Dalek. And of course Missy who wasn't as dead as all that at the end of last season (I mean, we knew she wasn't but we "saw" a "death" for her). So I don't believe any of that ending either: not the deaths, not the destroyed TARDIS, not the Doctor going back to kill child-Davros. (Did we even see the deaths live? Or did we just see both on Davros's screens as the Doctor did? You can do a lot with special effects after all ;) ) Of course, I'm just left wondering what else I've forgotten to disbelieve ...

Oh and I think one shouldn't believe Missy with that "you're the puppy" line to Clara. Missy came to Clara for help, the Doctor seemed to react worse to Clara's potential death than Missy's ... if she's just a pet, she's not just the cute puppydog. After all, it's not like Missy turned good, as she demonstrated herself.

Damnit, wrote the above paragraph and it was niggling at me why that felt significant and I got about three lines further into this post & I think it's just come to me. Look at the title of the episode: "The Magician's Apprentice". Isn't that Clara's relationship to the Doctor? Next episode: "The Witch's Familiar". Clara again? Or is Missy the Witch rather than the Doctor? Or Clara the Witch for that matter? (Or I'm totally off-base with this, but I must pay more attention to the titles than I usually do.)

It really wasn't where I expected the season to start. I mean: the Daleks, the Master (Mistress, whatever), a two-parter. That feels season finale rather than opener. And more self-contained than a Moffat season normally starts off like - by which I mean that if there is a season arc/season big-bad set up in this one then I didn't spot it. Moffat may've just got more subtle tho ;) Or I've missed something blindingly obvious ... or believed something I shouldn't've. I'd call out the fairy-tale feel of the episode titles, but after a few seasons I think fairy-tale is just part of the underpinnings of Moffat Who.

I liked the 80s cheesey music vibe running through this. And the Doctor's "axe fight" was awesome :D As were the crap jokes that were only going to work in a few hundred years time. Clara's levelled up in badass too - both in terms of leather jacket wearing motor bike riding, and in terms of being called in by UNIT as much in her own right as because she's the conduit to the Doctor, and facing down Missy. Obvious film reference was Star Wars, and I did enjoy seeing the seedy spaceport bar Doctor Who style.

Looking forward to finding out what happens next, about the only thing I'm sure about is it won't be what I expect.

Pages

Subscribe to