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Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum
 
Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, has announced his intention to resign. Neil MacGregor is perhaps best known to the public through his outstanding and highly entertaining Radio 4 A History of the World in 100 objects series (and its accompanying book). The series consisted of a hundred 15-minute episodes based on objects from the British Museum’s collection. This morning, however, Neil MacGregor, announced to his colleagues at the British Museum that he has decided to step down as Director at the end of December 2015. Part of the British Museum press release reads –
 
Neil MacGregor said, “It’s a very difficult thing to leave the British Museum. Working with this collection and above all with the colleagues here has been the greatest privilege of my professional life. But I’ve decided that now is the time to retire from full-time employment and the end of this year seems a good time to go. The new building has been completed, so we at last have proper exhibition space, new conservation and scientific facilities, and first class accommodation for our growing research activities. We have built strong partnerships with fellow museums across the UK, and are rapidly expanding our programme of loans and training around the world.
 
The Heritage Trust would like to thank Neil MacGregor for his outstanding work as Director of the British Museum and to wish him the very best in his new life.
 
Full British Museum press release here.
   

On Silbury Hill by Adam Thorpe

Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4 this week is Adam Thorpe’s On Silbury Hill (see our earlier feature here).

The novel pays personal tribute to the Neolithic monument. The base of Silbury Hill covers five acres of Wiltshire turf that has not seen the daylight for 4,300 years. Adam Thorpe has known the place since he was 13 years old. Abridged by Jill Waters. Read by Philip Franks. Broadcast daily from 9:45am – 10:00am.

 

 
Beowulf: A new translation by Seamus Heaney
 
Again this week, from 9:45am – 10:00am daily, BBC Radio 4 is paying tribute to Seamus Heaney, “Nobel Prize-winning poet, internationally recognised as one of the greatest contemporary voices who passed away [last] month at the age of 74.” by broadcasting a recording of the poet reading from his translation of Beowulf. More here and in our Sixth century Anglo-Saxon warrior and horse skeletons to go on display feature here. While listening to the programme last week one word caught our attention – torque.
 
After Grendel’s defeat, Beowulf is showered with gifts – among them, “…hrægl ond hringas, healsbeaga…” Michael Alexander, in his rendering of Beowulf, translates the passage as “…robes and rings, and the richest collar…” while Seamus Heaney in his rendering translates the passage as, “…a mail-shirt of rings, and the most resplendent torque of gold…”
 
Sweet’s Student’s Dictionary of Anglo-Saxon defines healsbeaga as a necklace; torque, (‘heals’ being ‘neck’ and ‘beaga’ a ‘ring’ – in other words a neck-ring). We can’t recall ever seeing a torque associated with any Anglo-Saxon hoard or burial (though there might be) and wonder if the idea of a torque in Beowulf harks back to an earlier time when there was more interaction between the Germanic tribes and the ‘Celts’. Beowulf, though written down in the eighth century, dates to an earlier oral version from the fifth century at least.
 
There’s something else that’s interesting about the neck-ring (torque) in Beowulf. The poet goes out of the way to emphasise that it was, “…the most resplendent torque of gold I ever heard tell of anywhere on earth or under heaven. (Heaney). Michael Alexander continues with, “Never under heaven have I heard of a finer prize among heroes – since Hama carried off the Brisling necklace to his bright city, that gold-cased jewel…”* Furthermore, the Beowulf poet goes into a sub-plot at this stage, summed up by Heaney when he says, “Gifts presented, including the torque: Beowulf will present in due course to King Hygelac, who will die wearing it.”
 
So there seems to be a bit of specialness associated with this gold gift to the Geats, which perhaps isn’t all that surprising when we remember that there were pieces of Roman glass and two, 1st century pierced (possibly Corieltavi) gold staters which were used as pendants and which were found in the 7th century Saxon Princess’ burial at Street House in North Yorkshire. The question is, was this a torque or a necklace? A torque does seem the more likely for a warrior to wear…
 
* The Brisling, or Brisingamen, necklace belonged to Freya, “…a magical necklace reputedly made of amber and rubies…”
 
 
 
Sixth century Anglo-Saxon warrior and his horse, discovered at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, will be displayed as they were found at the newly extended Mildenhall Museum
 
BBC News Suffolk reports yesterday that –
 
A Suffolk museum has taken delivery of the skeletal remains of an Anglo-Saxon warrior and his horse. The remains were found in 1997 at RAF Lakenheath and they are going on display at nearby Mildenhall Museum. The warrior is thought to have died in about AD 500 and the find included a bridle, sword and shield. The bones are being displayed under glass in the same position they were found in and the public will be able to see them next month. Suffolk Archaeological Service has been in charge of the skeletons, which were part of a cemetery containing 427 graves. The warrior is believed to have been born locally and was about 30 years old when he died.
 
The Museum has been doubled in size to house the new exhibit using £789,813 provided by Forest Heath District Council. The display will be open to the public from 2pm on Wednesday, 9 October 2013.
 
Full article here. See also our earlier features on the Mildenhall Museum here and here.
 
NB. This week, from 9:45am – 10:00am daily, BBC Radio 4 is paying tribute to Seamus Heaney, “Nobel Prize-winning poet, internationally recognised as one of the greatest contemporary voices who passed away earlier this month at the age of 74.” by broadcasting a recording of the poet reading from his translation of Beowulf.
 
More here.
 
 
 
 
A British Druid by William Stukeley
 
In the BBC Radio 4 programme The Druids
 
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Druids, the priests of ancient Europe. Active in Ireland, Britain and Gaul, the Druids were first written about by Roman authors including Julius Caesar and Pliny, who described them as wearing white robes and cutting mistletoe with golden sickles. They were suspected of leading resistance to the Romans, a fact which eventually led to their eradication from ancient Britain. In the early modern era, however, interest in the Druids revived, and later writers reinvented and romanticised their activities. Little is known for certain about their rituals and beliefs, but modern archaeological discoveries have shed new light on them.
 

With:

Barry Cunliffe Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at the University of Oxford

Miranda Aldhouse-Green Professor of Archaeology at Cardiff University

Justin Champion Professor of the History of Early Modern Ideas at Royal Holloway, University of London

Producer: Thomas Morris.

Origin of Our Species by Chris Stringer

In this morning’s BBC Radio 4 The Life Scientific series Jim Al-Khalili meets leading paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer to find who our ancestors were.

As a post graduate Chris went on a road trip with a difference, driving round Europe in an old Morris Minor measuring Neanderthal skulls. After being thrown out of several countries, the results of his analysis led to a controversial theory which ran counter to what many people thought at the time. Chris suggested that our most recent relative originated in Africa. He also reveals how genetics has transformed his work and talks about his own unconventional origins.

That there were cannibals in Somerset is one of the more surprising findings of Chris’ work on early man in Britain and Jim discovers what it’s like to work on an archaeological dig.

Producer: Geraldine Fitzgerald.

Listen Again here.
 
 
 
A Japanese couple wearing kimono. Painting (1899) by Uemura Shōen 上村 松園
 
Has the 1,000 year-old Japanese kimono tradition come to the end of the road? In a BBC Radio 4 programme yesterday, Roland Buerk, BBC’s Japan Correspondent, looks at the crises facing the kimono industry and the crafts related to it.
 
The kimono may be one of Japan’s most enduring cultural symbols, but the kimono industry is now in steep decline, and soon there could be no craftsmen left with the skills to make them. Younger Japanese prefer Western clothes to eye-wateringly expensive and impractical traditional kimonos. As kimonos have gone out of fashion, the number of companies making them has also plummeted. There can be a thousand processes or more involved in making one kimono, each carried out by specialist craftsmen. It takes years to master a single technique, but most craftsmen today are over 80 and within the next 10 years, many will pass away. Can the kimono survive?
 
 

Mastering the Art of the Kimono. Producer: Ruth Evans. A Ruth Evans production for BBC Radio 4.

 

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