I have just finished watching Art of Persia, a three-part series on the BBC (still available on iPlayer). It is a stunning portrayal of an amazing country and its fabulous historical and cultural treasures and it made me long to go back. Visiting ancient archaeological sites and beautiful mosques and learning about the Sufi poets, Samira Ahmed was the perfect presenter - interested and enquiring, but making her presentation all about the sites she was seeing and not about her. She reveals how narrow the West’s understanding of Persian culture is. Yet, for 3,000 years, Persia has influenced culture across the world. This was one of the few nations to defeat the Roman Empire. Yet, for most of its existence, Persia was isolated, not least because it held on its own language, even when overrun by Islamic, Arabic-speaking, invaders. Even today, Iran is the only non-Arabic speaking country in the Middle East. The ethos of being Persian is still an integral part of Iranian culture today. Whatever your political views, it is a country well-worth visiting and the local people will welcome you with open arms and generous hospitality.
Back in 2018 I wrote about the 12-week old Weimaraner puppy that had joined Boston Museum of Fine Arts’ Protective Services Team. Riley’s job is to sniff out bugs that can damage textiles in museum collections and, thereby, prevent an infestation taking hold.
I’m delighted to announce that an extended version of my post about Riley has been published on the Sniffing the Past blog. This site, edited by one of my doctoral supervisors, Chris Pearson, presents reflections about dogs in history and is well worth a read. I also write about dogs being trained to sniff out stolen historic artefacts and trafficked antiquities. Hats off to our canine companions who are starting to play a key role in the preservation of our culture and heritage.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna has discovered an ancient Egyptian scroll hidden inside a vessel containing a mummified ibis. The rolled-up papyrus, wrapped in two layers of linen, was found when conservators were examining their animal mummies before moving them to a new storage depot. The crucial question was whether the papyrus was inserted in the clay vessel in antiquity or in modern times, when it was in the Miramar collection, owned by Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, who acquired the object in Egypt in the mid-19th century. After his execution in 1867, Maximilian’s collection passed to his Habsburg brother, the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, and in 1883 it entered the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Samples of the mummy’s linen covering and the two pieces of fabric used to wrap the scroll were sent for radiocarbon testing to determine the dating. The results showed that the scroll’s inner wrapping dates from around 1100BC, while the other fabrics are both much younger, around 400BC. Regina Hölzl, the director of the museum’s Egyptian and Near Eastern collection, believes it very likely that the scroll was deliberately inserted into the ibis cone in Ptolemaic times to raise the votive value of the mummy. The discovery suggests that other ibis mummies could also hold papyri.
Conservators had to devise a special method to flatten the text. Because of its brittle condition, it was first treated in a humid chamber to restore the flexibility of the fibres. The papyrus was then treated with cellulose and smoothed with the aid of a suction table and weights. The text was in hieratic cursive writing used for everyday documents. Robert Demarée of the University of Leiden, who deciphered it, was able to confirm that the scroll was written by the scribe Thutmose who records his name in the document. His handwriting is also known from examples in a number of museums including the British Museum, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and the Egyptian Museum in Turin. The text is the equivalent of a notebook or cashbook in which Thutmose recorded his business transactions. He listed supplies that he used, such as copper, turquoise and lapis lazuli, and objects he bought, including amulets and jewellery. Thutmose also recorded that some clothing was stolen from his house and he named the suspected thieves: Amenhotep son of Qenna, Nesamenope son of Hay, and Pentawemet.
Currently enjoying the “Museum of Lost Objects” series on BBC radio 4, which is tracing the stories of ten artefacts or sites in Syria and Iraq that have been lost through damage or looting, including the winged bull of Nineveh, the temple of Bel in Palmyra (see also my post of 12 September 2015) and the minaret of the Umayyed mosque in Aleppo. Having visited both Palmyra and Aleppo I found this particularly poignant.
Can the situation in Iraq and Syria get any worse? Not only have ISIL extremists spread fear and terror amongst the population of those countries and elsewhere, they are now destroying culture and heritage which belongs to the world. In February they released videos of ancient statues being smashed in the museum at Mosul, and later bulldozed Nimrud, the ancient Assyrian capital. Since overrunning Palmyra in May they have started to systematically destroy that beautiful and impressive city. The murder of Khaled al-Asaad was unbelievable. This renowned scholar of antiquities was interrogated for a month – probably tortured – but refused to tell them where valuable artefacts had been hidden and was brutally killed in retaliation. He was a brave and honourable man. How many of us would be prepared to give our lives in such circumstances? And the irony is that ISIL claims that such sites are idolatrous yet it does not destroy everything for it is happy to sell looted artefacts to fund its murderous activities.
My thoughts, views and musings about what's happening in the world of archives and records management, information and governance, heritage and culture