A Symphony of Cultures

The British Museum’s . Read about it in this post reblogged from the BM… and there is a mention of ancient Egyptian music (just in case you are wondering!).

Bach’s Mass in B Minor, chants in praise of Vishnu in south India and the magnificent vocals and drums of qawwali music breaking like waves at a shrine in Pakistan. All these sounds are in praise of a deity – and show how music, all over the world, is used to elevate us from earthly…

via Music of the world: a symphony of cultures — The British Museum Blog

Sutton Hoo Ship Burial

My ARCHAEO-Crush for the first month of 2017 is an Anglo-Saxon treasure discovered in 1939 in Suffolk, England.


Type: funerary tumulus containing a ship burial and various artefacts
England, Anglo-saxon kingdom of East-Anglia
Date: Middle Ages, 7th century

ARCHAEO-Crush: The treasure of Sutton Hoo is one of the most important discoveries in British archaeology because it brought a wealth of material evidence to a historical period until then lacking in artefacts. The site of Sutton Hoo is located on a rise near the River Deben and includes several tumuli containing burials–several of which had been plundered prior to the 1939 excavations.  The treasure presented here today was discovered in mound no. 1.  The excavations revealed ship burial belonging in all likelihood to a king, who was buried with spectacular funerary goods. Other than the 27 metre-long ship (of which only a ghost form–wood stains in the sand–a few planks and iron rivets survive), we find personal effects of gold and garnet such as a large belt buckle, the ornamental lid of a now-disintegrated leather purse, shoulder-clasps for a stiff leather cuirass as well as more utilitarian objects like drinking horns, bowls, spoons, textiles, a cushion stuffed with feather and combs, amongst others.
However, the most spectacular find was that of a long coat of ring-mail (hauberk), a round wooden shield of which only the metal fittings remain, an iron sword, spears… and a magnificent parade helmet. It is an extremely rare artefact and it took a British Museum conservator several years to reconstruct the helmet–at least what’s left of it. (That would be about 500 small pieces.)  A full replica of the helmet can be found in the same vitrine.
The artefacts has been placed around the body of the deceased, which had completely decomposed in the acidic soil. Initially, the lack of a body led scholars to believe the burial was a cenotaph. However, in 1967 traces of phosphates discovered in the soil after scientific analyses indicated that a body had decomposed there.  The identity of the deceased cannot be known, but that King Rædwald or his (step-)son Sigeberht are possibilities.  Even more fascinating is the fact that this ship burial is one of the very, very few burials of this type outside of Scandinavia.

Bucket list status: I have seen the Sutton Hoo treasure during  a month-long research trip at the British Museum in 2008. Even though I was researching Egyptian art, I absolutely had to see the Sutton Hoo helmet about which I had heard so much.  I am fascinated by British history (although I am not quite sure why) and this was on my list of things to see. The craftsman ship of the artefacts is astonishing and the connections between other European cultures during this area are quite interesting.

Additional information: According to the laws in England at beginning of the 20th century, the owner of the treasure was to be the owner  of the land on which it had been found. In a most magnanimous gesture, Mrs Edith Pretty, the owner  of the land, gave the entire treasure to the kingdom, for all to enjoy and learn from.  This kind of selfless generosity is as rare as the Sutton Hoo treasure itself.  Thanks to Mrs. Pretty, the helmet and the other wonderful artefacts can now be found in Room 41 at the  British Museum.

Things you didn’t know about the British Museum

I found today this fun post on the British Museum blog that contains interesting facts most people don’t know about the BM.  Did you know that the most searched-for thing on their website is ‘Egypt’? Or that the 1972 exhibition of Tutankhamun’s treasure was the most popular. Ever?  Those didn’t surprise me at all and I knew of some other facts mentioned in the listicle; however, there were some cool things I wasn’t aware of…

Take a look here: 29 Things you (probably) didn’t know about the British Museum.

Millennial Court at the British Museum during my 2003 visit.

Millennial Court at the British Museum during my 2003 visit.



Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds

Today opens at the British Museum a new and very interesting exhibition: Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds.

Sunken below the waters of the Mediterranean for over 1000 years, the cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus as well as their recently recovered underwater treasures are the subject of this blockbuster exhibition.  Not to be missed if you’re in London between 19 May and 27 November.


The Head of Augustus from Meroe

December’s ARCHAEO-Crush is one of my favourite artefacts at the British Museum that comes from the site of Meroe in Sudan.

The so-called ‘Meroe Head’ (or Head of Augustus) at the British Museum is a magnificent bronze head of Emperor Augustus excavated in Meroe, Sudan.


Type: artefact (statue fragment)
Civilisation: Roman Empire, rule of Augustus, 27 BC – AD 14
Date:  27 BC – 25 BC
ARCHAEO-Crush: I have mentioned elsewhere that I have a soft spot for Augustus, the first emperor of Rome,  but I’m not quite sure why. (I mean the guy defeated Cleopatra and Antony at Actium and Egypt became a Roman province. I’m an Egyptologist… I shouldn’t like Augustus!) It might be that I am partial to his statues’ beautiful features–his idealised boyish good looks found in both marble and bronze. And, in this particular case, his eyes! These amazing eyes are the original inlays with glass pupils set in metal rings and irises made of calcite.  However, of all the statues of Augustus an archaeologist (or a tourist) will come across, this one is the most amazing in my very humble opinion…  Even more so because it was not found in any part of the Roman Empire… it was discovered in Sudan at the Royal City of Meroe!
This story includes the Romans getting their butts kicked by a girl, the great Meroitic Candace Amanirenas (perhaps more on that another day), whose army looted statues of Augustus that were set up at Aswan during the Kushite attack in 25 BC (remember Egypt had become a province of the Empire and there were statues of the emperor all over the place). The booty was taken back home to Meroe, capital of the Kingdom of Kush. Clearly, not all statues were returned after the Romans and the Kushites negotiated a peace treaty because this more than life-size head of Augustus was excavated by John Garstang at Meroe in 1910 (you’ll find great pics here).  Interestingly, the bronze head of Augustus was discovered underneath the steps of a temple, metaphorically being trampled by the feet of those entering (needless to say it was deliberately placed there). The lovely head’s fate is a remarkable illustration of the Kushites’ opposition to the Roman rule of Egypt.  The Romans never controlled Kush…
Bucket list status:
I have seen this fabulous bronze head a few times, but, strangely enough, I photographed it only once–the first time I went to the BM–before I even owned a digital camera. I had been wanting to blog about it, but had wait until I came home for Christmas to scan the picture because the original was at my parents’ house!
Additional information: 
The accession number for this object is 1911,0901.1 and you can read more about it on the British Museum website.  It was featured in the BM’s wonderful series History of the World in 100 Objects as object #35, and you can listen to the entry by clicking on the pink button using the link.

Hoa Hakananai’a, Moai from Easter Island

My ARCHAEO-Crush for the month of June is a statue you will seldom see in a museum…

A boy sketches Hoa Hakananai'a, the moai at the British Museum.

A boy sketches Hoa Hakananai’a, the moai at the British Museum.














Type: artefact (stone statue)
Civilisation: Polynesia, Easter Island (Rapa Nui)
Date: circa 1000 CE.
ARCHAEO-Crush: The moai (statues) on Easter Island are rather mysterious and I find them interesting. However, I can’t say that I know much about them. I like their imposing presence on the island landscape and their minimalist aesthetics. The statue on the photo is called Hoa Hakananai’a (which apparently means ‘hidden or stolen friend’) and is one of the smaller statues: it measures 2.42m tall and weighs about 4 tons. Imagine the size and weight of the larger moai! Hoa Hakananai’a was brought back from Rapa Nui on the HMS Topaze and was offered to the British Admiralty, who in turn offered it to Queen Victoria, who gave it to the British Museum in 1869…
Bucket list status: I saw Hoa Hakananai’a at the British Museum a few years ago. I had no idea there was a moai at the BM and I spent a long while staring at it, thinking I might never have the chance to see a moai again.  I go say hello each time I visit the BM; he used to be in the corner of the Millennium Court, but now he’s in the Wellcome Gallery, looking more majestic than ever.  If I have the opportunity of going to Rapa Nui, I shall go see the moai…
Additional information: Hoa Hakananai’a is one of the rare moai outside of Easter Island. Rapa Nui National Park is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, number 715.

The shock of the nude

A beautiful post on the Greek nude from Ian Jenkins at the British Museum. If you ever wondered about the nude statues in Classical sculpture galleries at various museums but were afraid to ask, you should read this.

British Museum blog

Ian Jenkins, Exhibition Curator, British Museum

I’m currently working on the Museum’s major exhibition Defining beauty: the body in ancient Greek art, which opens 26 March 2015. When you see the sculptures on display, you might be forgiven for thinking that the standard dress for men, in ancient Athens especially, was a state of undress. The Greeks, if their art is anything to go by, spent a lot of time starkers.

Although we must separate art from life, nevertheless, they enjoyed many more occasions for nudity than any other European civilisation before or since. The reason why they performed athletics in the nude was said to be because, in the early Olympic Games, a runner lost his knickers and as a result also lost the race. That story may be true or not but either way, it doesn’t explain the true nature of Greek athletic nudity as an expression of…

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