July 2014

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. (TV shows without full posts will not be linked, but will be listed.)

Course

Archaeology of Portus - a course on Future Learn about the history & archaeology of the main port of Rome.

Total: 1

Films

Hamlet - the BBC production from 2009 with David Tennant and Patrick Stewart in it.

Total: 1

Photos

On Guard.

Total: 1

Radio

Domesday Book - In Our Time episode about the Domesday Book.

Total: 1

Talks

Peeling Back the Shadows (SSAE Chesterfield Study Day 12 July 2014) - talk from Chris Naunton about Tutankhamun, and Barry Kemp about Amarna.

"Up the Nile with Amelia" Clive Barham Carter - EEG meeting talk in July.

"Vikings: Life and Legend" Thomas Wililams. Talk at the British Museum Members' Open Evening on 16 June 2014, given by one of the curators of the Vikings exhibition.

Total: 3

Television

Non-Fiction

The Birth of Empire: The East India Company - Dan Snow presenting a two part series about the history of the East India Company.

Britain Underwater - Panorama episode that aired in February about the flooding in the Somerset Levels (and other areas of the UK). Depressing, and looked at how there are no long term answers that will keep everybody from being flooded.

The First Georgians: The German Kings Who Made Britain - Lucy Worsley talking about the Georgian Kings.

ISIS - Terror in Iraq - Panorama episode about the disintegration of Iraq and the rise of the ISIS Islamic state. Thoroughly depressing, full of atrocities committed by ISIS - the conclusion seems to be that as they want to spread throughout the world the question isn't if the West end up in conflict with them, but rather when.

How the Wild West Was Won with Ray Mears - a look at how the geography of the USA affected the colonisation and history of the Wild West.

Secrets of Bones - series about bones, their biology & evolution.

The Secret Life of the Sun - one-off programme with Kate Humble and Helen Czerski looking at the sun and the solar cycle. Lots I didn't know or only had a vague idea about (like how long it takes for photons to get out of the sun!).

Tigers About the House - series following 2 Sumatran tiger cubs being brought up at a zoo keeper's house in Australia for the first few months of their lives.

Tropic of Cancer - repeat of a series where Simon Reeve travels round the world visiting the countries that the Tropic of Cancer runs through.

Voyager: To the Final Frontier - one off programme about the Voyager missions, the space probes that were launched in the 1970s and flew past the outer planets of the solar system before heading out into deep space. Interesting both for the data they sent back of the planets, and also just for the fact that 1970s tech was capable of building and launching them.

Total: 10

Tags: Admin

Anna lent us the DVD of the BBC's 2009 production of Hamlet back when I'd just finished the MOOC I did on the play (post). We finally got round to watching it a few days ago! This is the production that has David Tennant as Hamlet, and Patrick Stewart as Claudius (and the ghost of dead King Hamlet). I think some of the others in the cast as names one would recognise if one knew about Shakespearean actors, but I don't :) As with many of my film reviews this is a selection of things I liked or that caught my attention rather than a coherent review per se.

I'm not sure I can remember the last time I watched a Shakespeare play or film adaption of one - at school perhaps? Which would make it 25 years ago, or thereabouts, as I dropped English after GCSE. Even despite having read Hamlet a few times during the course I did I still found the language a bit difficult to follow at times - particularly in some of the soliloquies where the meaning had a tendency to vanish in the word salad. Which isn't helped by some of it being supposed to be nonsensical! Still, even though there were bits of it that I felt we should've put subtitles on for (and possibly read the footnotes in my book of the plays) most of it was OK to follow and we got the gist of the rest of it.

I liked the way they dressed the cast. When I was doing the Hamlet course there were quite a lot of other people on the course who got all up in arms about how modern-dress productions were ruining Shakespeare. (A few of the purists also seemed to hate this particular production anyway coz it's got Doctor Who and Captain Picard in it, and so the "wrong" people were watching it for the "wrong" reasons ...) I disagree, because I think if they'd put them all in Elizabethan dress then we wouldn't've had any of the visual cues that the clothing is meant to convey. Whereas it was immediately obvious when people were formally dressed v. informally dressed and who was dressed appropriately or inappropriately for the scene at hand. Which is exactly what the Elizabethan dress would've been conveying to the original audiences - we just don't know how to read that any more.

I also liked the way it was shot, and the use of cameras within the production. The security cameras, and the way they were used to demonstrate the ghost's ghostliness were particularly neat. And again when Hamlet yanks one off the wall to say "now I'm alone" before one soliloquy - and yet he's still observed because we're still watching ... That also makes a neat juxtaposition with the play-within-a-play, which they flag up rather nicely with Hamlet filming the play within the play (and the audience) and finally talking direct to camera himself. So you have the cameras that are our way of seeing this production, and then you have the cameras within the world as well.

Thinking of juxtapositions - Hamlet telling the actors how to act came across very "hypocritically teaching one's grandma how to suck eggs" after the way Tennant-playing-Hamlet had been chewing up the scenery all the way through! Tho it does highlight one of the oddities of the play (for me) - the gap difference between Hamlet's stated age (early 30s) and the way his behaviour comes across to me (teenage). I think I preferred the other actors' performances - in particular the actress playing Gertrude. From reading the play I'm intrigued by Gertrude anyway - and her character does make it obvious how much this play is focussed on Hamlet junior. It's unclear if Gertrude knew about the murder of Hamlet senior, it's unclear if she marries Claudius out of love or self-protection (or self-promotion) or as part of the plan, it's unclear if she knows at the end that the cup she drinks from is poisoned or not. Those are all things that each production and actress has to decide for themselves. And was Hamlet senior really such an all round nice guy and fantastic King and so on and so forth? We know Hamlet junior thinks so but no-one else seems to be all that bothered that he's gone until he starts walking around as a ghost. You could construct a whole story where actually Hamlet senior was an abusive so-and-so who was also a bad King, and maybe it's a good thing he's gone - and Hamlet junior is too blinded by his idolisation of his father to see reality. And maybe you'd have to change how some of the lines of the play were delivered, but I'm not sure you'd have to alter the text.

One thing that struck both J and I is that the pacing feels very different to a modern film (perhaps not to a modern play, I wouldn't know I haven't seen one!). The choices Shakespeare made for what to include and what not to include sometimes seem strange. The Fortinbras sub-plot, for instance, feels superfluous to me - it's set up almost as the A-plot with the as-you-know-Bob speech between Horatio and the guards in Act 1 scene 1, and the prominent mention of it in Act 1 scene 2. And then it just kinda vanishes - in this production there's really just that one bit nearer the end with the army in the snow and then nothing. And in the rush to the climax there are some odd jumps: Ophelia's death is off-stage and Laertes goes from pointing a gun at Claudius to plotting & scheming with him off-stage too.

It was fun to watch, tho. Maybe I'll see if the library has some of the other recent BBC Shakespeare productions - tho I'd want to space them out a bit I think.

After a bit of a hiatus J and I once again listened to an In Our Time episode with our Sunday breakfast. As the programme itself is now on hiatus until late September we're cherry-picking interesting looking recent(ish) episodes we haven't listened to yet. Today we picked out the one on The Domesday Book from mid-April this year. The Domesday Book is a great survey of the land and land-holdings of England produced in 1086AD for William the Conqueror's administration. The original manuscript still exists, and was still being referred to until relatively recently. The three experts on the programme were Stephen Baxter (Kings College London), Elisabeth van Houts (University of Cambridge) and David Bates (University of East Anglia).

They started, as always, by giving us some context for the subject at hand. In this case that meant a brief overview of the changes the Norman Conquest had made to the people of England. The Anglo-Saxon England of the 11th Century was one of the richest countries in Western Europe, which made it a tempting target for would-be rulers like the Danes and William the Conqueror. After William won at Hastings he used the rhetoric of legitimacy to establish his new regime, and to dispossess the Anglo-Saxon nobility of their lands. He declared himself to've been Edward the Confessor's legitimate heir, so anyone who fought on the side of Harold was a traitor and thus their lands were forfeit. Although the aristocracy was almost completely replaced the underlying structure of the administration was not - the country was still organised into shires and hundreds within them. This was most efficient for William as it was already a working taxation system.

It's not known why William decided to conduct this survey. Bates suggested (slightly tongue in cheek?) that one of the inspirations for it might be the biblical story of Augustus Caesar's survey (which leads to Jesus being born in a stable). It probably served multiple purposes including valuation of everyone's landholdings for taxation purposes, and for feudal purposes (how many men at arms each lord needed to provide and such like). It's also important to remember that England was now part of an empire - William also ruled Normandy and had recently conquered Maine in modern day France. The focus of the empire was more on the French side of the channel - England's role was provider of revenue and other resources. A comprehensive list of what there is to squeeze wealth out of would be useful in that context.

Once decided on it all happened very quickly - this is one of the impressive parts of it, that the 11th Century administration was capable of surveying the entire country and producing a (large) book with a summary of the data within seven months. The starting point for the data collection was the shire & hundred system. Possibly the major tenants (the lords etc) had provided overview details of their holdings as a basis for the detailed survey. The data was collected from each hundred via meetings with the villagers of the villages in the hundred. This was a multi-lingual event, the villagers would speak Anglo-Saxon, the higher levels of society & the clerks and data collectors probably were French speaking and this oral testimony would have then been written down in Latin.

After the data was all collected in documents for each shire or collection of shires this was then summarised into the final document (organised feudally by landholder rather than geographically as the original documents were). The Great Domesday Book contains the majority of the country, and was written by a single scribe. There is also the Little Domesday Book which was written by several scribes and covers Suffolk, Norfolk and (I think) Cambridgeshire - this isn't duplicated in the other book, possibly because it was sufficiently well written and organised to make re-summarising unnecessary. Some large towns (like London and Winchester) are missing - there is space left for those as if the scribe expected to come back to it later. And also most of the north of the country is missing - North Yorkshire, County Durham, Northumberland and most of Cumberland. This is probably because they weren't part of the shire & hundred system.

The information recorded in the Great Domesday Book does vary across the country, but generally always includes land ownership and value at three points in the present & recent past. Firstly, the state of affairs on the day of King Edward's death (in January 1066) - which is intended as the last legitimate point of Anglo-Saxon rule. Secondly what happened to the land after the Conquest in late 1066. And finally who owns the land now, and what it's worth. This gives a good sense to the historian of what happened in the country after the Norman Conquest. It was also very useful for settling disputes in later centuries about who controlled what land - a bit hard to claim "my ancestors always had" if clearly written down in 1086 was something else.

All three experts were keen to talk about how much more there is recorded in the Domesday Book than just the dry facts of land value and ownership. It's a great source for the social history of the time, and for stories about individuals. Elisabeth van Hout talked about what we can glean from it about what happened to the women who were widowed in the Norman Conquest. You can see the patterns of marriages (mostly like forced) as a way of conveying land in their names to new Norman lords. At lower levels of society there's at least one story where the land is in 1086 by a Breton soldier who has it by right of the woman he fell in love with (this is the only time the word "love" is used in the survey - I think she said it was in the Little Domesday Book).

There is also a lot of evidence about the effects of the imposition of the new Norman regime on the country. The Harrying of the North is the best known example of land being laid waste after the Conquest but there are also many other smaller scale examples. Baxter explained that laying waste to the land means the destruction of the property - burning buildings and land, killing livestock, taking away or destroying grain stores. This leaves the people who live off that land with no food, and no way to replace it. In towns this destruction of property was often partly intended to clear land for the new castles and cathedrals that William was building to assert his authority and control his new territory. The entries in the Domesday Book show the reduction caused to property value even a decade or two after the land in question was laid waste.

William the Conqueror probably never saw the completed work - he left England for his lands on the continent with a lot of money raised through taxing the English "as was his custom" (according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) in 1086 and never returned (he died in 1087). As I mentioned at the start the Domesday Book was used as a reference in land disputes for many centuries afterwards, even down to relatively modern times. And it was also used in the late Middle Ages by villagers who wanted to prove they had the privileges accorded to a royal manor in 1086. In several cases villagers would club together to buy an excerpt from the Domesday Book which they hoped would demonstrate their status - often they were wrong, but obviously would've had to pay anyway.

An interesting programme - I've always been a bit fascinated by the Domesday Book since we did a project on it at school in 1986 - it was a country wide thing, generating a new "Domesday Book" 900 years on from the original. I thought it was up online now, but I think that may've been transitory which is a shame (although I haven't searched very hard so I may be wrong).

On Saturday J and I visited Chesterfield to go to a study day being held there by the SSAE called Peeling Back the Shadows. This consisted of two talks (each split into two parts), one given by Chris Naunton about Tutankhamun and one given by Barry Kemp about the latest work at Amarna. We'd originally signed up for it because the holiday we were booked to go on last year was accompanied by Barry Kemp - that holiday got cancelled, but when we signed up for the study day we were signed up for it again for this year so this seemed a neat way to get a preview of our holiday. Sadly it got cancelled again (due to Foreign Office advice about travel to Middle Egypt) and we're actually going on a different holiday (still to Egypt) this year instead. However, it was still an interesting study day to go to!

"What Killed Tutankhamun?" Chris Naunton

Chris Naunton started his talk by explaining that he'd deliberately chosen the title to be sensational and that he doesn't have a definitive answer, just one that he thinks is plausible. This talk is a companion piece to a documentary that aired in two different forms last autumn (my post about the two hour version, and the one hour version).

The point of the documentary and of Naunton's research about Tutankhamun was to revisit what is known about the Pharaoh and see if there was any more information that could be gleaned from the evidence we have. So he started with Howard Carter - in order to properly understand the records Carter left of the excavation of Tutankhamun's tomb it's a good idea to be aware of the context of these records. So Naunton gave us an overview of Carter's biography up to the point of the tomb discovery. Carter first became involved in excavation in Egypt when he was brought in as an artist and epigrapher for Griffith's Archaeological Survey of Egypt. This project was intended to record all the standing monuments (tombs, temples etc) in Egypt in the late 19th Century - a scope that was a bit too ambitious, but they did record several sites. Prior to Carter's involvement the recording of the reliefs was fairly basic and although the hieroglyphs and the basic outline of the artwork was recorded many of the nuances were lost. Even though Carter was only in his late teens at the time he joined the project he was a trained artist, who had great talent at watercolours. He revolutionised the recording of the reliefs, capturing much more of the detail than before - and this achievement wasn't superseded until photography became the routine way of recording them.

Carter was trained as an archaeologist by Petrie - almost by accident, as the person who had been intended to be Petrie's apprentice that season had been sent home in disgrace. He became regarded as a competent and reliable archaeologist, and in this capacity he was a member of the EES expedition to excavate Hatshepsut's temple at Deir el-Bahri. The leader of that particular expedition was Édouard Naville, who is not regarded as a particularly good archaeologist any more - even at the time he was thought of as a bit slapdash, hence Carter's inclusion on the team. Carter continued to establish himself as prominent Egyptologist, even becoming Chief Inspector of the Egyptian Antiquities Service.

After this biography of Carter, Naunton moved on to the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb. At the time at which it was discovered there was a strand of thought that held that the Valley of the Kings was exhausted - that all discoveries that could be made had been made. This was definitely the opinion of Theodore Davis who had made many discoveries there at the beginning of the 20th Century - he even thought he'd found Tutankhamun's tomb, but we now know what he found was a cache of discarded mummification materials associated with Tutankhamun. Carter disagreed with this assessment, so was still looking for tombs - and famously found the tomb of Tutankhamun in what was the last season he had funding for from Lord Canarvon. Another important piece of context for this discovery is that prior to finding his tomb egyptologists didn't know much about Tutankhamun. His name was known, and where he fits in the succession (post-Akhenaten, pre-Horemheb) and that was about it. It was also known that his reign was the one during which the old religion was restored after the heresy of Akhenaten.

In some senses Carter was overwhelmed by the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb. There was so much material in the tomb that he spent the next several years removing and cataloguing it, but not much research or examination was undertaken. And this is still the case - even the major iconic objects haven't been thoroughly examined and those that aren't on display may not even have been seen for decades. We don't actually know that much more about the Pharaoh than we did before his tomb was discovered.

Up until now Naunton was explaining the context for his decision to re-examine some of the evidence we have about Tutankhamun. The second half of his talk then covered much the same ground as the documentary. Most of the work that has been done on Tutankhamun has focused on his mummy, and there has been a lot of speculation about what he died of. The only definite fact is that he died between the ages of 17 and 19 - so given we know he took the throne at 9 years old he had a short reign of a little less than a decade. There have only been four first-hand studies of the mummy of Tutankhamun, around which there have been built many many theories. The first was Carter's initial examination (with the help of an anatomist) in 1925. In 1968 the mummy was x-rayed for the first time, and this work is where the murder theories have come from - well, not from the study itself, but from the subsequent media speculation. In those x-rays there seemed to be a portion of the skull that had been damaged as if it had been hit hard by a blunt weapon - but subsequent work suggests that this happened post-mortem, perhaps during the mummification or afterwards. In 1978 further X-rays were taken, concentrating on the teeth and skull. And in 2005 Zahi Hawass's team CT scanned the mummy.

There are many theories about Tutankhamun's death which generally fall into a couple of categories. The first is that Tutankhamun was murdered - and mostly these come from the 1968 X-rays, which are generally not considered to support this hypothesis by people who know what they're looking at. The second category of death causes are those that speculate that Tutankhamun wasn't a very healthy individual. There have been many proposed defects - some of which build on physical data, and some on the objects in the tomb (which included a large collection of walking sticks, and at least one decorative panel not from the tomb which may show Tutankhamun using a walking stick much like a crutch). Naunton put the list of proposed illnesses up on a slide and there were far too many to remember - Salima Ikram has published a thorough review of all the relevant literature and Naunton quoted her conclusions as being reasonably dismissive of the idea that there is any overwhelming evidence for any of these.

Naunton's own theory concentrates on the torso of the mummy - most of the previous theories have been concerned with the head or the legs of the mummy. He was careful to point out that not everyone agrees with him that the damage on the torso is linked with Tutankhamun's death - some experts say that this damage occurred after death. Naunton explained some of his evidence that the damage was least relatively soon post-mortem. Part of his rationale was that examination of the broken edges of the ribs shows that they were cleanly broken. Over time dead bone becomes more fragile and the bone won't break cleanly - so the damage must've been either during death or fairly soon after death.

This theory is the one that he explained in the documentary, so I'll only given an overview here - basically the damage along the left side of the torso can be explained as resulting from a chariot wheel running into/over Tutankhamun when he was in a kneeling position on the ground. Naunton hypothesises that the Pharoah had fallen out of his chariot and then was run over by it. Perhaps on the battlefield, perhaps while out for a ride in the desert. Originally it was thought it couldn't be military, because there are no known battles during Tutankhamun's reign. But careful analysis of battle scenes depicting him suggest that these aren't generic "Pharaoh in Battle" scenes. There are enough unique details to indicate that they are intended to represent a particular event - so perhaps Tutankhamun did see battle.

The other oddity that Naunton re-examined was the state of the mummy. Carter several times in his notes discussed the charred appearance of the mummy and its wrappings. It has been suggested that this was damage caused by Carter (he did use heat to get the mummy out of its case) - but Naunton thinks Carter would've mentioned that in his notes. Generally he recorded what actually happened even if it might be seen as an error. Again the theory that Naunton puts forward was in the documentary - he believes that the mummification of Tutankhamun was done in a hurry and the body was sealed in the coffin before the oils on the wrappings were dry. It's possible for some types of oils (including some of those known to be used in mummification) to spontaneously combust - and Naunton believes this is what happened to Tutankhamun's mummy.

To conclude Naunton pointed out that we still don't know very much detail about Tutankhamun, but his name and image are now some of the most iconic representations of Ancient Egypt in modern culture. And in many ways this is what the Pharaoh would've wanted - one of the key tenets of the Egyptian beliefs about the afterlife were that if your name and image were known then you would be immortal.

This was an interesting & entertaining talk, despite a lot of it being stuff I'd seen or heard before because it had been in the documentary. Naunton presented it from a different angle this time by including the context for Carter & his discovery of the tomb. I was particularly struck, as I am every time it comes up, how little of the tomb contents have been properly examined and published!

"The House of the Aten at Amarna" Barry Kemp

The second talk of the day was of a very different style - Barry Kemp was giving us an overview of the most recent work his team have done at Amarna. I was at a slight disadvantage here because I think his talk assumed you had more context than I actually did, even though he gave a brief overview of the history of the excavation at the site. But by the end I think I'd put together a coherent picture of what he was talking about, so that's OK :) A lot of the talk was showing us pictures of the area that they've excavated or diagrams of the site and artists impressions of the building, which is hard to summarise in text - I'll give it a go, tho.

The main focus of the work, and thus of his talk, recently has been on the Great Aten Temple in Amarna. The site was first excavated by Petrie during his seasons in Amarna, and subsequently by Pendlebury. In recent years the modern cemetery immediately next to the archaeological remains has been expanding, and so Kemp has focussed on the temple site both to record it more thoroughly before any (more) of it vanishes and to clearly demarcate the boundary between the land the villagers can use and the land that's for the archaeologists to study.

It has been generally assumed that we know what the temple looked like when it was standing - there are pictures of it in the reliefs on tomb walls in Amarna (such as the tomb of the Priest of the Aten Meryra). These depict a fairly standard looking temple entrance with pylons, flag posts and a courtyard in front of it with eight columns on each side. Behind this there is a very large courtyard filled with offering tables. Kemp's more recent work shows that while some of this is accurate some of it is artistic licence - in particular the flag poles, which can't be where they are depicted as there isn't room!

Petrie had plotted out the basic foundations of the entrance, plus a large group of offering tables to the south of the temple. Next to excavate was Pendlebury, assisted (amongst others) by Ralph Lavers who drew a plan of the site. It's not entirely clear how much, if any, extra work Pendlebury did on the bits that Petrie had already discovered - all the photos were taken after Pendlebury's team had cleared the site so you can't tell which pits were already there! Lavers plan is a pretty good representation of what was known to be there, Kemp's work has more been filling in the detail rather than changing that overview.

Kemp's team have been undertaking two main strands of work on the temple site. One is excavation work - re-excavating Pendlebury's spoil heaps (which include significant amounts of archaeological material that Pendlebury missed in his haste) and also new excavation of the entrance to the temple and the offering table area to the south. The other strand is to re-create parts of the temple layout in order to mark it out clearly. This involves capping the foundations with low modern mudbrick walls in order to protect the archaeological remains. They have laid out their best guesses for the walls and the columns when there aren't foundations to follow. Doors are hardest to locate, but they can make assumptions based on other places.

The excavations at the temple have revealed the foundations of the pylons at the entrance, and a courtyard with the bases of eight columns on either side. This is as expected from the depictions in the tomb paintings - the difference is that the columns are so close to the pylons that there doesn't seem to be space for flagpoles. Around the columns, and leading to the north of the structure, is what appears to be the remains of the the construction ramp for the columns. And next to the columns at the front is a part of the foundations that appears reinforced to take a particularly heavy object. Kemp speculates that this might be an obelisk - the temple was also known as the Temple of the Ben-Ben (the sacred stone) and an obelisk would be particularly appropriate in that context. Whether or not it was ever put in place is unknown.

There are now known to've been two building phases of this temple - I'm assuming this is from earlier work done by Kemp and his team. The offering tables to the south that had been found by Petrie are now shown to be from the first phase - Kemp has discovered their bases were covered by the rubble and floor of the second phase. This building rubble includes pieces of stone with carvings on them. They are mostly what is known as "sculptor's trial pieces". But some appear to've been pieces of statuary from the first phase of the temple that were then deliberately broken and used as rubble rather than be re-used in the second phase. Which seems wasteful of the Egyptians, but Kemp doesn't know the reason for it. This class of object includes a torso from a very fine statue that was almost certainly of Nefertiti, and probably at least one other figure. The piece doesn't match any other statue (available for comparison) so the rest is possibly still to be discovered in this rubble layer.

Some of the second phase rubble layer also gives clues as to the dating of the first and second phases. There are fragments of cartouches containing the name of the Aten from the first phase which use the later form name of the Aten - so these date to somewhere after Year 9 of Akhenaten's reign (or thereabouts). Under the platforms for the columns at the front they have discovered a wine label, dating to Year 12 of Akhenaten's reign. So the first phase of the temple was built sometime after Year 9, and it is then torn down and rebuilt sometime after Year 12. Obviously it must pre-date Year 17 (as that's the when Akhenaten dies). Kemp said that it's possible that this second very ambitious temple wasn't completed in Akhenaten's lifetime (and thus not completed at all). Even if it was finished then Akhenaten didn't have many years to worship in it.

Kemp also told us about the evidence for popular participation in the religion of the Aten. This is a matter of some debate - was this just a state religion in which the elite participated with everyone else carrying on worshipping the gods they always did? Or was it something that percolated down through all levels of society? Or something of a mix of the two? There are two pieces of evidence that Kemp has uncovered that fit on both sides of this spectrum. The first of these is a rather interesting grave of a child partly under the phase 2 rubble layer. It had been robbed, but a small, and rather rough, pendant remained - probably representing the god Ptah. By context this must be from the early Amarna era, but by style it looks a lot more like a Late Period piece. As it seems to represent one of the old gods at least some people (probably of low status, given the workmanship) were still worshipping those rather than the Aten. The other piece of evidence he talked about was from some basins that they have discovered outside the front of the temple complex. Kemp said that these might be evidence for popular participation in the Aten religion (but I can't remember what reasoning he gave).

This was a fascinating talk about the detail of the current work at Amarna. The most interesting part was the last section of it where Kemp gave us a glimpse into how the archaeologists build up a picture of what happened when and where - the little details of dating and so on.

Huge four winged dinosaur fossils have been found!

Kinda neat - there's a project to record medieval graffiti in churches.

TV I have set to record last week and this week:

Tags: Links
On Guard
Tags: Photo

The First Georgians: The Kings Who Made Britain was a series presented by Lucy Worsley which ties into an exhibition at Buckingham Palace this year to mark the 300th anniversary of George I taking the throne. The series (and presumably exhibition?) focussed on Georges I and II who are often overlooked a bit in the rush to get to George III and the madness and loss of the American colonies. As well as the two monarchs Worsley also looked at the other important members of the family during this time - starting with the Electress Sophia of Hanover, who was the originally designated heir to Queen Anne. Sophia didn't live long enough to take the throne, so it was her eldest son George who did. Other members of the royal family discussed were the spouses of the two Georges: Sophia and Caroline; and Frederick Prince of Wales (son of George II and father of George III).

The Hanoverians were brought in as monarchs of the United Kingdom by an Act of Parliament designed to avoid the "disaster" of a Catholic monarch. This of course was fertile ground for conflict - which boiled over in 1715 and 1745 with the Jacobite rebellions. As well as being Protestant they had another advantage - they were a family, with more than one heir already lined up! It was hope this would usher in a period of a stable Protestant monarchy. And it did, in one sense, but they were a pretty dysfunctional family. George I's wife spent the last 30 years of her life locked up after having an affair, George I and George II did not get on, neither did George II and his son, Frederick. As well as all their disastrous fallings out the family also had some problems with being accepted by the populace of their new country - they were seen as foreigners, and George III was the first of the dynasty to be born in England! Both George I and George II were seen as more interested in Hanover than they were in the UK, Frederick was the first to truly put the UK first - mostly as it would annoy his father.

This was a time of great change in British society, and Worsley's thesis was that some of this was due the trickle down effect of the Georges' on the society around them. For instance in George II's reign the concept of "the opposition" in parliament began to rise. This is because Frederick provided a secondary focus for the politicians - a place in the political system where you could disagree with the King whilst still being loyal to your country.

A good series about a couple of Kings I often overlook at bit, and it has definitely made me want to see the exhibition.


Tigers About the House was something completely different :) Giles Clark is a zookeeper who is in part of the team who look after the Sumatran tigers in a zoo in Australia, and for the first couple of months of the lives of a pair of cubs he was bringing them up at home. The tigers in the zoo aren't ever going to be reintroduced to the wild, and are handled often by the keepers (and sometimes by the public) so this was a good way to familiarise the cubs with humans while they were young. But it wasn't in any way domesticating them - it seemed more like the keepers ended up as friends of the tigers (whilst still respecting them). As well as the strand of "ooooh, cute tiger babies" the programme also had a message about conservation. One of the reasons this Australian zoo is so keen to have their tigers handleable, including by the public, is that this encourages people to contribute to conservation funds. Sumatran tigers are being hunted to extinction by poachers in the wild, because their bodies are used in traditional medicines and as luxury goods - there are only a few hundred tigers left in the wild, and they may become extinct in the wild in the next few decades.

A very cute series, which did its job at raising awareness of the tigers plight in the wild.


The Birth of Empire: The East India Company was a two part series presented by Dan Snow looking at the history of the East India Company, and how they accidentally established the British Empire. It was full, as you might expect, of British people behaving poorly towards the Indians. But different phases of the history had different sorts of poor behaviour. Snow split it into two halves for the two episodes - in the first part of the history the Company was wholly independent from the British Government, and wholly concerned with profit. Going to India as a member of the East India Company was a good way to become spectacularly rich - providing you survived the climate and the diseases that came with the climate. It also seemed to have less formalised racism - men who went to India with the Company frequently married or otherwise had relationships with local women, and could take on some of the local customs (including but not limited to polygamy). But profit was the main focus, and this lead to the spectacularly poor management of a famine in Bangladesh (including selling food out of the region in order to make a profit rather than feeding the people) that appalled the public in Britain. The Company was brought under the oversight of Government after this, and the second phase of its history began.

This phase was to see the rise of the civil service and also increasing education of the the Indians. But it also started to move from trade with India to ruling India. In part because the Government oversight was back in London and couldn't really do much to restrain the ambitions of the men on the ground in India. This era also saw the rise of a much more racist attitude towards the Indians, regarding them as innately inferior. And it was this attitude that lead to increasing tensions between the Indians and the Company - and this boiled over in the Indian Mutiny (otherwise known as India's First War of Independence) in 1857. There were atrocities on both sides, and public sentiment in Britain was that the Company had been at fault in letting it happen. This was the catalyst for the British Government taking over ruling India and the end of the East India Company.

An interesting series that reminded me (again) how little I know of the history of India - I need to add a book about the subject to my (huge) list of books to read :)


Over the last couple of weeks we've also watched:

Episode 4 and 5 of Secrets of Bones - series about bones, their biology & evolution.

Episode 1 and 2 of Tropic of Cancer - repeat of a series where Simon Reeve travels round the world visiting the countries that the Tropic of Cancer runs through.

The Secret Life of the Sun - one-off programme with Kate Humble and Helen Czerski looking at the sun and the solar cycle. Lots I didn't know or only had a vague idea about (like how long it takes for photons to get out of the sun!).

ISIS - Terror in Iraq - Panorama episode about the disintegration of Iraq and the rise of the ISIS Islamic state. Thoroughly depressing, full of atrocities committed by ISIS - the conclusion seems to be that as they want to spread throughout the world the question isn't if the West end up in conflict with them, but rather when.

Britain Underwater - Panorama episode that aired in February about the flooding in the Somerset Levels (and other areas of the UK). Depressing, and looked at how there are no long term answers that will keep everybody from being flooded.

On Sunday Clive Barham Carter came to the Essex Egyptology Group to talk to us about Amelia Edwards. She was a rather formidable Victorian woman who was the driving force behind the founding of the Egypt Exploration Fund (which became the Egypt Exploration Society). Carter told us about her life, frequently reading from Amelia's own writings and illustrated by her own watercolour paintings (as far as possible). Amelia was born in the 1830s in Islington, the only child of rather older parents. She described her father as having "indifferent health" and Carter pointed out that this was probably due to her father's days as a soldier. He'd been a lieutenant in Wellington's army in the 1812-1815 campaigns which were particularly harsh. Amelia was a multi-talented child - she painted watercolours, she was a musician and she also liked to read. I think Carter said she was educated by tutors, and that her neighbour (a satirical cartoonist) regarded her as having great potential as an artist and so offered to teach her. However her parents didn't think this was a suitable career for a young lady, and so she became a musician.

When she was 19 she suffered a bout of illness, that coincided with the loss of her position as a church organist and with the break-up of her engagement. I'm not sure whether the illness was cause, effect or coincidental! She then turned to another of her talents in order to make a living. She'd been a published writer since she was 6 years old, but now she made this her main work. She published many short stories in Charles Dickens's periodicals, including a series of ghost stories (one every Christmas). She also began to write novels, many of which were best-sellers and translated into several languages. In her early 30s she suffered a series of bereavements - first her parents both died very soon after each other, Carter suggested this was in one of the last cholera epidemics in London. After that she moved in with a friend of hers, and her friend's mother, who lived nearby. But her friend sadly died not long afterwards. Amelia, and her friend's mother, then moved out of London (feeling it wasn't a particularly good place to thrive!) to a village that's now a suburb of Bristol.

Amelia had also enjoyed travelling, and had family in places like Ireland and Paris who she'd visited frequently. In the 1860s and 1870s she began to travel more adventurously - in part to generate material for travelogue books. As a woman of that era couldn't travel alone she joined forces with a friend, a lady of a similar age to herself who was of independent means (having a wealthy father) and who also wanted to travel. Their first trip was to the Dolomites, where they spent some months walking about visiting the region and Amelia made lots of sketches and several more finished paintings. As an indication of how formidable these two ladies were - they took a maid with them initially, but she went home after a day because it was all too much. When Amelia returned to England she wrote (and provided the illustrations for) a very successful book called "Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys: A Midsummer Ramble in the Dolomites".

In 1874 Amelia and her friend set off on a another journey - in the book that resulted ("A Thousand Miles Up the Nile") Amelia says they ended up in Egypt by chance. They were travelling south from Paris, through France and then Italy, and Amelia says it just kept raining and they just kept heading south until they found themselves in Cairo (where it wasn't raining). This isn't likely to be true - not only has a recent biographer checked the weather reports for the time period and places in question and seen that it wasn't raining the whole time, but also Amelia had been interested in Egypt since she was a young child. Once in Cairo, they hired a dahabiyeh (a sort of boat) and sailed up the Nile as far as Abu Simbel and back. Again Amelia painted as she went - both sketches and more ambitious paintings. Carter showed us several of these, which he pointed out compare favourably with other more well known artists of the time who painted Egyptian scenes (like David Roberts). You can see a progression as the journey goes on - her heiroglyphs and reproductions of the scenes on the temples get more accurate. Sadly the versions of her paintings that ended up reproduced in her book aren't nearly as good - they are prints made by an engraver and a lot of the vibrancy and delicacy of her work is lost.

During this journey Amelia began to get concerned about the state that the Egyptian temples were in, and this is what lead to her formation of the EEF. She also gathered the start of a collection of Egyptian objects, which she continued to add to for the rest of her life. Carter spent a bit of time talking about the relationship (professional & friendship) between Amelia and Flinders Petrie - which presented a rather more human side to Petrie than one normally sees! Despite not being able to be on the board of the EEF (unsuitable for a woman) Amelia continued to work tirelessly to raise funds and raise awareness. This included a lectureship tour of the USA, which she subsequently published as a book.

Amelia died in 1892 after contracting pneumonia. Apparently during one of her last conversations she said "I think I'm better, but don't tell anyone in case I'm wrong"! She left her papers, collection of Egyptian artifacts and her paintings to be split between Somerville College, Oxford and University College, London. The choice of institutions was significant - both were involved in the education of women, and Amelia had felt later in life that she'd missed out by not being able to study archaeology properly when she was younger. She had also met the Mary Somerville after whom Somerville College was named.

This was a really interesting talk. Clive Barham Carter was a good speaker, who brought his subject to life. And Amelia Edwards sounds like she was formidable, but had a great sense of humour and seems like someone it might've been fun to know.

A group of embroiderers have created an ending section to the Bayeux Tapestry.

TV I'm recording this week:

Tags: Links

How the Wild West Was Won with Ray Mears was a three part series that looked at how the geography of North America affected the westward movement of the USA. Mears was concentrating on the 19th Century, which is when most of the westward expansion took place. Each episode looked at a different aspect of the landscape. We started with mountains, both the eastern Appalachians and the two great western ranges (the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada). All of these provided resources for the USA during the 19th Century - including wood from the Appalachians, fur from the Rockies and gold from the Sierra Nevada. But in the west this terrain was also a death trap - to get to the west as a settler you could only cross the mountains when the weather was good enough for the passes to be open. One of the places he visited was where the Donner Party were forced to spend the winter when they were caught by bad weather in the mountains on the way to California.

The second episode was about the Great Plains - which used to be the home of the buffalo before the settlers came and killed them all. That episode looked both at how difficult it was for the people who settled in the plains, and at how difficult it was to cross as you made your way west in your wagon. This is also the landscape of the cowboy - driving vast herds of cattle for days across the plains to be sold. And the third episode was about the deserts in the south west of the USA. Even today 2000 people a year die trying to cross the Sonoran desert in Arizona (mostly trying to cross from Mexico into the USA), these are not forgiving regions. Some of the things Mears talked about in this programme were the difficulties the army faced trying to set up outposts in the south west USA, and also the lawless towns that grew up during the gold rush.

As well as talking about the difficulties and opportunities that the new settlers faced on the westward journey Mears also spent quite a lot of each episode talking to the Native American people whose ancestors had lived in those landscapes for generations before the Europeans turned up. He talked to them about the various traditions and skills they had which were suited to whichever environment they lived in. And he also made sure to cover the various atrocities committed during the westward push of the USA including the displacement by force of the native peoples.

It was an interesting series which focused on the two things that always strike me when watching programmes about the history of the USA - how much bigger the landscape is than what we have in Britain and how recent all the history is!


Other TV watched over the last two weeks:

Episodes 1 and 2 of The First Georgians: The German Kings Who Made Britain - Lucy Worsley talking about the Georgian Kings.

Episodes 2 and 3 of Secrets of Bones - series about bones, their biology & evolution.

Episodes 1 and 2 of Tigers About the House - series following 2 Sumatran tiger cubs being brought up at a zoo keeper's house in Australia for the first few months of their lives.

Voyager: To the Final Frontier - one off programme about the Voyager missions, the space probes that were launched in the 1970s and flew past the outer planets of the solar system before heading out into deep space. Interesting both for the data they sent back of the planets, and also just for the fact that 1970s tech was capable of building and launching them.

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