After 40 years a decision has finally been taken to construct a tunnel to carry the A303 under Stonehenge. I am in two minds. Yes, it will ease congestion and improve the views. But, the work to create the tunnel will do permanent, irreversible, harm to the surrounding landscape. One archaeologist estimates that around half a million artefacts could be lost as a result. UNESCO may also take a dim view of the proposal and withdraw World Heritage Status from the site.
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.
The impact of the Coronavirus on the heritage sector has hit close to home this week with the sad news that Fishbourne Palace may have to close. Fishbourne, situated just outside Chichester, is a Roman villa on a monumental scale that was comprised of four large residential wings around a courtyard garden. It is the largest residential building from the Roman period found in Britain. The outline of the walls, together with many stunning and elaborate mosaics, survives. It was built around 70AD by Tiberius Claudius Togidubnus, king of the Regni, who was granted Roman citizenship and became fully assimilated into the Roman way of life. The site also houses the archaeological collections for Chichester District and serves as an important hub for academic research and both school-age and adult education, because it is a key site in explaining how the newly conquered province of Britain came to be absorbed culturally into the Roman empire.
Fishbourne is one of eight sites owned by the Sussex Archaeological Society (SAS), also known as Sussex Past, that have all been affected by the loss of visitors. SAS says that all its sites are threatened with closure due to a shortfall of £1 million in lost income. Next year marks the 175th anniversary of the founding of SAS and an appeal has been launched, supported by the historian, Tom Holland. Let’s hope it makes it to this momentous milestone.
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.
My thoughts, views and musings about what's happening in the world of archives and records management, information and governance, heritage and culture