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Described by some as ‘Britain’s Pompeii’, the excavation of the Roman fort at Binchester (County Durham in north-east England) is revealing the remains of buildings whose walls still stand above head height. Among many extraordinary finds is a silver ring (above) its semi-precious (carnelian) stone is engraved with an anchor and two fish and is reputed to be one of the earliest pieces of evidence for Christianity in Roman Britain.

Follow the Roman Binchester blog here. The fort is open to the public every year, from the Easter weekend through to the 30 September. Details on the Roman Binchester Research Project here.


Ancient Stones on Old Postcards by Jerry Bird

Victorian and Edwardian age postcards of Old Stone monuments and prehistoric remains in the English countryside presented for the first time. Every page has a full-size reproduction of an original card with an essay on the subject shown and map references and description of how to find the site arranged by areas. Written with enthusiasm and full of lively commentary, descriptions of both famous and little-known sites are enhanced with local mythology, superstitions and folklore. These are the best from Jerry Bird’s classic collection which he has spent a lifetime building. For the traveller to England this will be an ideal companion for the Antiquarian explorer, Pilgrim or Druid, as well as the everyday enthusiast.

A beautiful book based on a splendid idea: Ronald Hutton.
Will delight the intrepid antiquarian: Geoff Ward, author of Spirals.

Paperback. 226 pages. Published in 2011 by Green Magic. ISBN 9780956188632.

One of the 4,000 year-old gilded bronze masks from the Sanxingdui archaeological site in Sichuan, China
Image credit: momo – Flickr: Gold Mask (黄金面罩). Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
New three-part series beginning on BBC4 TV from 9:00pm, Wednesday 30 July.
Andrew Graham-Dixon pieces together the spectacular recent discoveries of ancient art that are re-defining China’s understanding of its origins. He comes face to face with an extraordinary collection of sophisticated alien-like bronze masks created nearly four millennia ago and travels to the Yellow River to explore the tomb of a warrior empress where he discovers the origins of calligraphy.
Always seeking to understand art in its historical context, Andrew visits the tomb of the first emperor and comes face to face with the Terracotta Army. He ends his journey in western China, looking at the impact of the arrival of Buddhism from India on the wondrous paintings and sculptures of the Dunhuang caves.
More on the BBC website here.
“What has it got in its pocketses?” hissed Gollum to Bilbo in the Riddles in the Dark chapter of J R R Tolkien’s The Hobbit. We all know what it was – the ‘One Ring to rule them all.’ It was Gollum’s obsession with the One Ring that eventually led to his fall into the fiery depths on Mount Doom.
And that, in a nutshell is it. The obsession to ‘own’ something (or someone) and in so doing control its destiny. There’s something even worse than just ‘control’ however, it’s the owning of something and the not sharing of it with the rest of humanity. The denying to humanity its common heritage. We saw that recently with the sale at Christie’s in London of the Egyptian Sekhemka statue which was taken from the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery and sold to a private collector who now wishes to remain anonymous (the statue hasn’t been seen in public since the sale and may never be seen by the public again).
The Meiyintang “Chicken Cup” from the Chinese Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
And now we have the curious case of the Shanghai-based art collector Mr Liu Yiqian who recently spent some £21 million ($36 million) at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong on a tiny porcelain cup decorated with a rooster, hen and their chicks. Mr Liu bought the cup at the Sotheby’s auction last week during a bidding war that lasted seven minutes. He paid the hammer price of $36.3 million by swiping his American Express card 24 times through the card reader and then took a celebratory sip from his new purchase. Images of Mr Liu sipping away went viral last weekend and sparked condemnation from Chinese observers. One Weibo user wrote, “You think you can drink from the cup and become immortal? Or that it will extend your life? In fact, isn’t it just a way to satisfy your vanity?” The same can be said for all who would satisfy their vanity by denying the rest of humanity their common heritage (whether art, wildlife or the natural world) and perhaps such people should remember the words of Gollum as he plunged to his death in the fires of Mount Doom –
‘Precious, precious, precious!’ Gollum cried. My precious! o my precious! And with that, even as his eyes were lifted up to gloat on his prize, he stepped too far, toppled, wavered for a moment on the brink, and then with a shriek he fell. Out of the depths came his last wail Precious, and he was gone.
Let’s hope Mr Liu (and others like him) will do the noble thing and donate, or put on permanent loan, his new acquisition. Shanghai Museum’s splendid Gallery of Chinese Ancient Ceramics might be the place to start. There, both his countrymen and people from around the world could, metaphorically speaking, also drink from the Meiyintang cup and toast the man who was willing to share it with them.
The tomb of a priest discovered just 1,000 feet (300 meters) from the Great Pyramid at Giza
From Photo by Photo courtesy of Maksim Lebedev
Yahoo News reports –
A wall painting, dating back over 4,300 years, has been discovered in a tomb located just east of the Great Pyramid of Giza. The painting shows vivid scenes of life, including boats sailing south on the Nile River, a bird hunting trip in a marsh and a man named Perseneb who’s shown with his wife and dog. While Giza is famous for its pyramids, the site also contains fields of tombs that sprawl to the east and west of the Great Pyramid. These tombs were created for private individuals who held varying degrees of rank and power during the Old Kingdom (2649-2150 B.C.), the age when the Giza pyramids were built. The new painting was discovered in 2012 by a team from the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which has been excavating these tombs since 1996.
Full article here.
We highlighted this issue earlier in the year here and here. On the Letters’ page of today’s Telegraph the issue is raised yet again. The time to ratify the convention is now long overdue and should be done without further delay. The letter, and the signatories to it, are as follows –
SIR – In 1954, the international community agreed the Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, following the devastating impact of the Second World War on some of Europe’s most valued heritage, including paintings by Van Gogh and Caravaggio; the St Petersburg amber room; and architecture such as St Mary’s Church, Lübeck, and the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino.
After the looting in 2003 of museums and archaeological sites in Iraq, Britain announced its intention to ratify the convention. A decade later, we have yet to honour this commitment.
Britain is the most significant worldwide military power not to have ratified the convention, the United States having done so in 2009.
In 2008 a draft Cultural Property Protection (Armed Conflict) Bill passed through parliamentary scrutiny with only minor revisions suggested. Ministers of successive governments have pledged their commitment to ratification as soon as parliamentary time can be found.
This commitment is to be applauded, but continuing failure to ratify is mystifying. It has all-party support. Protecting cultural property in conflict is seen by the Armed Forces as a “force multiplier” – something that makes their job easier.
The latest Queen’s Speech left ample parliamentary time free to pass additional legislation in the current session. So the Government should delay no further in introducing the necessary legislation to ratify this important treaty.
Earl of Clancarty
London SW1
Professor Peter Stone
Secretary General of the Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield; Head of the School of Arts and Cultures, Newcastle University
Sir Laurie Magnus
Chairman English Heritage
Sir Simon Jenkins
Chairman National Trust
Lucy Worsley
Chief curator Historic Royal Palaces
Michael Palin
David Anderson
President, Museums Association; Director General, National Museums Wales
Dan Snow
President, Council for British Archaeology
Amanda Foreman
Dame Rosemary Cramp
Professor Emeritus, Durham University
Sir Adam Roberts
Senior Research Fellow in International Relations, Oxford University
Dame Fiona Reynolds
Master, Emmanuel College, Cambridge
Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn
Chairman, all-party parliamentary archaeology group
Lady Antonia Fraser
Sir Barry Cunliffe
Loyd Grossman
Chairman, Heritage Alliance
Sir Tony Robinson
David Starkey
Bettany Hughes
Baroness Andrews
Lord Stern of Brentford
President, British Academy
Lord Cormack
Peter Hinton
Chief Executive, Institute for Archaeologists
Dame Margaret Drabble
Sue Cole
International Council on Monuments and Sites UK
Lord Howarth
Gillian Slovo
Baroness Bonham-Carter
Professor Stephen Shennan
Director of the Institute of Archaeology, University College London
Lord Maclennan of Rogart
Dr Neil Curtis
Convenor of University Museums in Scotland
Nick Poole
Chief Executive Officer Collections Trust
Baroness Young of Hornsey
Professor Mike Robinson
Director, Ironbridge International Institute for Cultural Heritage
Dr Eleanor Robson
Chairman, British Institute for the Study of Iraq
Sir Bob Russell MP
Dr Mike Heyworth
Director, Council for British Archaeology
Kamila Shamsie
Lord Roper
Professor Andrew Wilson
Head of the School of Archaeology, University of Oxford
Glenda Jackson MP
Iain Watson
Director Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums
Susan Ronald
Peter Trowles
Mackintosh Curator, Archives and Collections Centre, Glasgow School of Art
Lord Collins of Highbury
David Mander
Chairman, Archives and Records Association
Professor Nicholas Thomas
Director, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge
Baroness Butler-Sloss
Dr Jonathan Tubb
Keeper at the Middle East Department, British Museum
Dr Robin Skeates
Director, Museum and Artefact Studies, Durham University
Professor Niall Sharples
Head of Department of Archaeology, University of Cardiff
Dr John Schofield
Head of Department of Archaeology, University of York
Lord Colville
Peter Ride
Research Fellow in Visual Culture, University of Westminster
Dr Joshua Pollard
Head of Archaeology, University of Southampton
John McDonnell MP
Dr Dominic Perring
Director Centre of Applied Archaeology, University College, London
Dr Mark Pearce
Head of Department of Archaeology, University of Nottingham
Dr Alan Outram
Head of Department of Archaeology, University of Exeter
Lord Redesdale
Dr Nick Merriman
Director, Manchester Museum, University of Manchester
Dr Antoinette McKane
Programme leader, Museum and Heritage Studies, Liverpool Hope University
Dr Sam McGuiness
Head of School of Education, University of Ulster
Professor Tom Jackson
Director of Centre for Information Management, Loughborough University
Professor Audrey Horning
Head of School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology, University of Belfast
Professor Carl Heron
Head of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford
Professor Roberta Gilchrist
Head of School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science, University of Reading
Professor Chris Gerrard
Head of Department of Archaeology, Durham University
Dr Allen Foster
Head of Department of Information Studies, University of Wales
Dr Andrew Flinn
Director, International Centre for Archives and Records Management Research, University College, London
Professor Keith Dobney
Head of Department of Archaeology, University of Aberdeen
Professor Tim Darvill
Director, Centre for Archaeology, University of Bournemouth
Dr Vicki Cummings
Reader in Archaeology, School of Forensic and Investigative Sciences, University of Central Lancashire
Professor Jim Crow
Head of Archaeology, University of Edinburgh
Dr Gillian Carr
Director of Studies in Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge
Professor Stuart Campbell
Head of School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, University of Manchester
Dr Alexandrina Buchanan
Chair of the Forum for Archives and Records Management in Education and Research; Co-director, Centre for Archive Studies, University of Liverpool
Dr Andrew Bracey
Senior Lecturer in Fine Art, University of Lincoln
Professor Graeme Barker
Director McDonald Institute for Archaeology, Cambridge University
Professor Douglas Baird
Head of Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, University of Liverpool
Dr Ian Anderson
Coordinator of Museum Studies, University of Glasgow
Adrian Sanders MP
Mike Williams
Secretary of the Nautical Archaeology Society
Hafed Walda
Archaeologist, King’s College London
Dr Lutgarde Vandeput
Director, British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara
Bijan Rouhani
Vice-president, International Scientific Committee on Risk Preparedness
Julian Radcliffe
Chairman, Art Loss Register
Dr Nigel Pollard
Swansea University
Jan Picton
Secretary of the British Association of Near Eastern Archaeologists
Suzanna Pembroke
Fiona Macalister
John Lewis
General Secretary and Chief Executive Officer of the Society of Antiquaries of London
David Lakin
Paul Fox
University of York and University College London
Peter Clayton
Hugo Clarke
UK National Committee of the Blue Shield
Dr Neil Brodie
Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, University of Glasgow
Dr Suzanne Macleod
Bizen-ware pot containing more than 40,000 15th century Japanese coins
Image credit Tsuyoshi Sato
Tsuyoshi Sato, Staff Writer for The Asahi Shimbun, reports on the 9 July that construction workers in Kyoto’s central Kawaramachi shopping district had unearthed a huge Bizen-ware (備前焼) pot containing more than 40,000 coins. The coins date from the 15th century and were found during work for an apartment complex.
The 66-centimeter-tall Bizen ware pot was found 50 cm below the surface in the city’s Shimogyo Ward. The site lies toward the southern side of Takashimaya Kyoto Store. The coins, each drilled through the center, are tied together in bundles of 97 by thongs. It was customary during the Muromachi Period (1338-1573) to count a bundle of 97 coins as 100, Ibisoku officials said
The coins are estimated to be worth some 4 million yen (£23,000) and the Kansai (western Japan) branch of the Ibisoku Archaeological Research Company has announced that it is considering putting the find on public display.
Iron Age coin die (late 200ce)
Portable Antiquities Scheme
In an interview with Jennifer Jackson, the Finds Liaison Officer for Kent, Ben Miller, for Culture24, reports on Jennifer’s choice of three formidable archaeological discoveries. The first is an Iron Age coin die (above). The second is the extraordinary Boughton Malherbe hoard of 1,150-600bce which is the –
…third-largest Bronze Age hoard ever found in Britain. It was found in 2011 but it’s very recently been acquired and gone on display at Maidstone Museum – not all of it, because it’s 252 objects, but the highlights are on display there at the moment so people can go and see it. Most of the objects are broken in some way. It’s got things like the moulds to make the axes, which are made of copper alloy – the same metal as the axes, but with a slightly different composition. It shows how ancient metal skills were so sophisticated. They could make moulds that would hold metal of a different temperature and mould it 2,500 years ago. They weren’t messing around: they were highly efficient metal workers. You can see how they create three-part moulds for an axe, with a hole in the middle.
Jennifer Jackson’s third choice is a medieval finger ring. Full Culture24 article here.
On Silbury Hill by Adam Thorpe
Her [Silbury] base covers five acres of Wiltshire turf, the equivalent of three football pitches. Five acres that have not seen sunlight or stars for some 4,300 years and will never see sunlight again until, possibly, the ice of the next Ice Age to extend as far as southern England scratches her away like a pimple. In her day she must have been almost unimaginably colossal, since nothing else man-made came anywhere near. She was probably as white, when completed, as the dome of the Taj Mahal – not with marble, but with ungrassed chalk. To visitors seeing her for the first time, she would have seemed otherworldly, miraculous, impossibly smooth and symmetrical…
Adam Thorpe
More here. See also the review by Paul Farley in the Guardian.

Mike Pitts – Digging Deeper

Salisbury MuseumSalisbury Museum

Is anyone watching out for early depictions of Stonehenge? Like illustrations of Easter Island, they come and go through salerooms, and every so often something pops up that can help us understand part of the story. My friend Paul Stamper has directed me to a new catalogue from RG Watkins Books & Prints in Somerset. Among the lots are an early photo of Stonehenge, and two little sepia and wash sketches.

The latter (no 132, £250 the pair) are described as “Signed, titled and dated ‘S. Wilson R.M. Academy 5 April 1845 and 16 Nov 1845”. Sylvester Wilson, says Watkins, was appointed cadet at the Royal Military Academy in 1843, but was “discharged at the request of his friends” in July 1846. So he would have been in the army when he drew Stonehenge, based in Woolwich, London. “It is scarce”, says Watkins, “to find early dated drawings…

View original post 169 more words

Sutton Hoo and Europe, AD 300–1100. Room 41. The Sir Paul and Lady Ruddock Gallery
Image © The Trustees of the British Museum

In 1939, archaeologist Basil Brown investigated the largest of many Anglo-Saxon burial mounds on the property of Mrs Edith Pretty in Sutton Hoo. He made one of the most spectacular archaeological discoveries of all time – an undisturbed burial of an important early 7th-century East Anglian. To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the excavation, come to the British Museum for a lecture on Friday 25 July where John Preston, nephew of Mrs Pretty, will relate the story behind the excavation.

The National Trust are celebrating the anniversary with a grand 1930s garden party on Saturday 26 & Sunday 27 July at the National Trust Visitor Centre at Sutton Hoo. There’ll be music, entertainment, tours of the mounds, cream teas, vintage cars, and much more!

The remarkable treasures are on display in the Museum’s newly refurbished Room 41. You can also learn more about the Sutton Hoo ship burial with a tour on Google Cultural Institute.

Source: The British Museum.


On Friday, 11 July, the Art Fund released a statement on the sale of the Sekhemka statue. In part it reads –
The Art Fund supports careful collections management, which includes responsible deaccessioning, ideally with an item being freely transferred to another body so it can remain on public display. However, in line with the Museum Association’s Code of Ethics for museums, we remain strongly opposed to deaccessioning any item for financial reasons except in exceptional circumstances, where the funds will directly benefit the museum collection and only after all other options have been explored.
This is not the case with the sale of Sekhemka and as such, having gone against the sector’s ethical guidance, it risks being stripped of its accredited status. This is therefore a financially as well as morally harmful decision for Northampton Borough Council to take. Not only will they receive only 55% of the final hammer price of £15.8m, but Northampton Museum and Art Gallery will no longer be eligible to apply to us and other major funders for funding for acquisitions, capital projects (including the planned £14m extension), and artistic or educational programming.
Selling items from collections, as Northampton and Croydon have both done in recent months, does not just impact on one particular museum and its visitors; it reduces public trust and risks lessening donors’ desire to give items to museums for their long-term safe-keeping.
Full statement here. See also Mike Pitts’ feature Six things about Sekhemka, and our earlier feature here.

Every year the Council for British Archaeology encourages people, young and old alike who love history, to explore their local area and get hands-on experience through a series of events held across the country. This year the Festival of Archaeology 2014 runs from Saturday, 12 to Sunday, 27 July. More here.

See also moss’ comment above on Kitty Knowles’ article in The Independent: Britain must dig deeper to save its archaeology.

The Egyptian Sekhemka statue (2,400-2,300bce)

BREAKING NEWS: The item sold for £15,762,500. High price, low morals. Shame on them. Read the feature by Andy Brockman in HeritageDaily here.
While Britain seems poised to enter yet another scandal centred around Westminster, and other sectors of the Establishment, so serious that it threatens to shake our society to its roots, we learn today that Northampton Borough Council is not above doing a bit of stooping itself, and is about to sell off one of the objects held by the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. The object is the 2,400-2,300bce year-old Egyptian Sekhemka statue of a priest (or court official) and is said to be worth up to £6m. It will go under the hammer at Christie’s in London today (10 July). The sale begins at 7pm British Summer Time.

Northampton Borough Council claim that the sale is to help fund a £14m extension to the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. However, ignoring protestations from Egypt’s Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty, and concerned bodies and individuals in Britain (the Museums Association  has sent a final warning to Northampton Borough Council saying it will review the authority’s membership status if it sells the statue), a spokesperson for Northampton Borough Council is reported as saying, “We contacted the Egyptian government two years ago regarding our plans to sell Sekhemka. According to Unesco’s 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, Egypt has no right to claim the recovery of the statue.”

Our understanding is that Egypt is not claiming ‘recovery’ of the statue at all; it is objecting (and rightly so) to the sale by Northampton Borough Council of a statue held by the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery, a statue that was gifted to the Museum by the 4th Marquis of Northampton in 1880. We learn, too, that if the sale of the statue does go ahead the proceeds will be shared with the present Lord Northampton (the Eton-educated peer whose fortune is estimated at £120m and which includes two stately homes, land, valuable paintings, furniture and a disputed Roman treasure hoard) who will receive some 45% of the proceeds.

This is another example of a dangerous trend in the selling off of public property (see also Croydon Council’s sale of Chinese ceramics last year here) and must be stopped before it is too late. If you feel that the sale of the Sekhemka statue should be halted please consider signing the Save Sekhemka Action Group petition here and the STOP THE SALE OF SEKHEMKA BY NORTHAMPTON COUNCIL petition here.

See also the Culture24 article and video here.
Before heavy ploughing threatened our past. Ploughing 51 B.C. by W M Goodes
In his thought-provoking articles on the pros of metal detecting (In praise of metal detecting 1-10) John Hooker writes –
Even since the adoption of the tractor, agricultural machinery has been getting much heavier and this has resulted in speedier soil compaction. A hard layer will form in the earth where water will not drain easily. If all of this was not bad enough, the actions of fertilizers and pesticides also destroy the equilibrium between the interior of an object and its environment… in certain environments, freeze and thaw cycles can also attack the integrity of the object once it gets to within five to three inches of the surface. Monoculture and the absence of allowing fields to fallow adds to the problem…
Thus, the detectorist automatically becomes an environmentalist and conservator by their very actions. The idea that the archaeologists will eventually save everything, and do this faster than nature can destroy it is an absurdity…
Sadly, there are activities by some metal detectorists that are illegal and which are also damaging our past. We must not, however, ignore the fact that objects can and are being destroyed by both intensive farming practices as well as through other manmade (and natural) land disturbances. Nor should we ignore the fact that, without the contribution of responsible metal detectorists, we would not now be gleaning so much information (not to mention cultural appreciation) from finds such as the Staffordshire and Bedale Hoards.
Before heavy ploughing threatened our past. Ploughing 1950ce
Above, tractor driver Tom Rout holding a gold torc from the Snettisham Hoard. Tom discovered the Icenian torc at Ken Hill, Snettisham, Norfolk, south-east England while ploughing there in 1950. The Iceni were a British tribe who inhabited (1bce-1ce) an area corresponding (approximately) to modern-day Norfolk. Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni, led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire in 60ce or 61ce, during which an estimated 70,000-80,000 British and Roman lives were lost.
The Great Torc from the Snettisham Hoard, now centrepiece of the Snettisham Hoard display at the British Museum
The Trustees of the British Museum
See also our earlier feature, The Mildenhall Treasure by Roald Dahl, where Roald Dahl, in the preface to his book, The Mildenhall Treasure explains how, in 1946, he read a newspaper article about the remarkable find of a hoard of 4th century Roman silver unearthed by Gordon Butcher, a ploughman, in a field in Suffolk, England (the Mildenhall Treasure is now also on permanent display at the British Museum).



July 2014
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