Sunday, 16 April 2017

The second best

I woke up to act just during the last few weeks of the touring exhibition of the replicas of the grave goods of the tomb of Tutankhamun, named Tutankhamun – Graven och skatterna (tomb and treasures). First I had considered not going due to the high cost of tickets and the fact that the artefacts there are not real, but replicas. But then in the end the curiosity was too much after I got quite good feedback from my colleagues.

The price was high – and higher on Sundays. You can guess which weekday I was visiting the exhibition. The location was unusual. The exhibition had moved to the Magasin 9 in the Frihamn area. I had to consult my map and Google Maps before going. Luckily, nowadays it is easy to check which buses go where online or on a mobile phone app. The SL provided the potential routes to the place.

The exhibition itself is a commercial venture, I believe, even if the Egyptian archaeological authorities are involved somehow and the former chief inspector and minister Zahi Hawass visited Stockholm during the exhibition. A similar exhibition is currently advertised for Dorchester, Dorset, on the Internet, but according to Wikipedia this exhibition is permanent. The web page was almost identical, so the organization behind it is the same. According Wikipedia, the touring exhibition has been in Zürich, Brno, Munich, and Barcelona among other places.

The entrance to the exhibition was slightly chaotic with the obligatory information panels of the Egyptian chronology, the station to deliver the audioguides and the area to queue to the film and through it to the main exhibits occupying more or less the same space. The whole exhibition is based on audioguides and I must say that the texts were at the same time thorough and targeted to the general audience. The number of stops had also been carefully considered and the exhibition lasted about two hours when one listened all the 22 texts and saw the movie.

The exhibits in the area before the movie concentrated on the finding Tutankhamun, how archaeologists found about him and how long it took from Howard Carter to find the tomb. Many have not considered that he was on the trail of the boy pharaoh for about 15 years. Naturally, this section covered the death of Lord Carnarvon and the curse of the pharaoh. The film afterwards also concentrated on Howard Carter and the finding of the tomb. After the film we were presented with the tomb itself so everything proceeded in a chronological order.

The tomb section was a disappointment of the exhibition: one could not walk among the stacked items but only see reproductions at a distance. The spaces presented also omitted the Annex, so not all rooms were reproduced. However, for a non-egyptologist what followed was engaging and spectacular. I am usually a purist and frown somewhat the exhibitions where there are few or no original objects, but here my childhood love of all things Tut won, and I enjoyed the exhibition fully.

I did not find the mask of the Tutankhamun very exciting but I thought the displays got better towards the end where the chariot and the famous throne were presented. These are fantastic objects and the copies will do when presented in a professional matter. I also learned new or forgotten things. I found the fact that an aborted fetus and a stillborn baby had been buried with the boy king very touching and it was revealing to see the copies of the actual small sarcophagi that were very small in comparison with the huge copies of the real Tut things.

Inadvertedly, the exhibits showed how the selection of objects only gives us a glimpse what the real treasures of the pharaohs were. The throne may have been Ekhnaten’s, the baby’s mask was too big and could not be fitted on the little mummy to make it fit the sarcophagus, and there were also other recycled items. This tomb had also been robbed soon after the funeral and all objects in precious metals that were not inside the sarcophagi had vanished. The wooden items covered in leaf gold were left to reflect the splendours of the past.

Was the exhibition value for money (195 Swedish krona)? Well, it was until I check the price of the adult tickets in the Dorchester exhibition. It is £8.99 that would be a price one would have a casual walk through the galleries. With the Swedish price one does spend more time and effort in marveling the exhibits.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Terror

Yesterday was a peaceful day until I checked my phone at 4 pm in the afternoon. I was working in the Royal Library (Kungliga Biblioteket or KB to the familiar crowd) in Stockholm and finished making notes on a book. It was almost the time to leave, but I decided to check if nothing new had come to my phone or happened in the world. To my surprise I had both some Messanger messages and a text message. My husband wanted to know how I was and this made me a little surprised. I answered something along the line explaining that I was working in the library. Then I read a message from my boss explaining that a lorry had driven to the crowds and checking if I was in the library. I said yes and started to scan the news.

Donald Trump got the days wrong. He was expecting a terror attack or criminality in Stockholm when there was none. However, suddenly there was an attack against shoppers on Drottningsgatan and a lorry had hit the wall of the Åhlens department store and caught fire. The driver had escaped and people were asked to leave the centre. When I looked out of the window in the library, people were walking peacefully in the park in Humlegården. I could not even hear a helicopter. I was checking the news for a while but then I decided to go.

I had got news that trains were not running and at least one of the underground lines was down. I left the building and found out that it had closed. Men stood to at the side door to see that those who wanted to leave could but that nobody came inside. I was walking like many others in the park and everything was like normally. Except there were guards outside the nearby hotel. And there were hardly any cars. Suddenly a people carrier drove by and I realized it was filled with police in full combat gear. The nearby square was closed and there were armed police and police cars guarding it. A police van had a loudspeaker telling people to go home. Nevertheless, the underground was closed and there was no way to get to the suburbs.

All the bars were closed but an Expresso House was open and I bought a cappuccino and sit down to recharge my mobile phone. I was asked how to get to Sundbyberg, but I could not help. There were very few indications from where the public transport was running. It was clear that the centre was closed. There was only a police van driving on Birger Jarlsgatan. It took a while to get a confirmation which lines where closed and where one could go. Slowly I found out where I could have gone if I had needed to get to the north or to the south. But I was heading west, so I stayed a put. The waiters in the cafeteria were staying since they could not go themselves either.

When almost everybody else had left and my mobile had a decent recharge, I texted a friend and asked if I could pass by. I could so I started a hike through the closed down city centre to the other side. I was not the only one. Many people where making walks through the town with their smart phone on hand to reach home or some refuge. When I passed the police lines I noticed that many were phoning lifts. But I had nobody to drive me.

Suddenly quite amazingly I heard familiar voice behind. Two of my work mates came from a side road and we exchanged pleasantries and continued our different ways. I could stay in my friend’s place so I did not have to face the deserted roads or test how the trains were running after they got a go ahead. My day in the city got a peaceful ending with a shared meal and watching the news coming from the city centre. It was terror, but my terror was quiet and peaceful.

It is horrible to think that four people lost their lives. And many others have lost theirs in the similar attacks in Nice, Berlin and London. The terror was so near, but I did only see the police and the walking crowds. I was sending messages that I was OK, but I had not even been in danger. But other people had and they were not as lucky as I was. I can only feel for their families.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Punk archaeology


John Schofield examines the graffiti left by Sex Pistols
(linked from the University of York page)

This blog should have been written last year, around the 40th anniversary of publishing the God Save the Queen by Sex Pistols. However, at that point I had not heard John Schofield giving his talk about Sex Pistols and the archaeology related to them. Thus, I am behind my times. Actually, I am quite an archaeologist since I am talking literarily about the past, even it is contemporary past in so many levels.

Sex Pistols and archaeology did make the news – in November 2011. That was the year when Paul Graves-Brown and John Schofield published their article ‘The filth and the fury: 6 Denmark Street (London) and the Sex Pistols’ in the journal Antiquity. This article made newspapers to write all kinds of articles on their pages. First the mood was stunned but then some papers like The Guardian got the idea and did not find it infuriating. To be honest, at the beginning they were puzzled and horrified how the archaeologists could compare the drawings of John Lydon, Johnny Rotten, to the Paleolithic cave paintings but after Paul Graves-Brown wrote a piece on their pages. However, the Daily Mail could not quite forget the upset the band caused in their hayday and kept their negative tone.

In the whole saga, Historic England came out as a progressive body. The archaeology Paul Graves-Brown and John Schofield had discussed were the drawings on the wall made by John Lydon while the band was living on 6 Denmark Street, the so-called Tin Pan Alley of the music business. The drawings had been found under the wallpaper undamaged and the archaeologists got a change to record them in the nowadays backroom of a guitar shop. They managed to photograph them all in their time there. This archaeology then made one part of the reasons why the building became II* graded listed building – on the 40th anniversary of publishing the God Save the Queen. That I call being progressive. Although one has to point out that the houses in question are unusually lovely examples of the 17th century traders’ houses that have not survived elsewhere.

These events had totally passed me by until John Schofield came to Stockholm and gave a talk to them. So here you have it: old news with a contemporary twist. John Schofield wants to promote so-called ‘punk archaeology’ that similarly to punk allows all to have a say in heritage. 6 Denmark Road he and his co-author have named anti-heritage because it was anti-establishment. If I understood correctly, their intension is more to let normal people to have say what they see as their heritage than clash with the government. This sound quite a lot of the community projects different bodies have been engaged lately. We could now see crowd-sourcing and crowdfunding as punk. But how bottom-to-top is that in the current heritage climate?

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Best in 2016


The hafted axe from Must Farm
(Cambridge Archaeological Unit, linked from the BBC site)

This is the time of the year when different organisations and media outlets have been naming the most important archaeological sites or finds. When looking at Britain there is no match to Must Farm, the water-logged Bronze Age sites named a northern Pompeii. The site was destroyed in a fire and the remains that collapsed into water have revealed unexpected insights to the daily life and technology, including all the wooden details of then everyday. This site was Heritage Daily’s number 1. The number 2 went for a Swedish find, albeit in Greece. The archaeologists from the University of Gothenburg have found an unknown Greek town from Thessaly.

Must Farm was also BBC’s number 1. They also acknowledged the start of the Anthropocene from AD 1950. However, they also pointed out how human activities have influenced environment long before modern times. It is suggested that the beginning of agriculture meant that the World was warming up already then thousands of years ago, perhaps leading to an avoidance of a new Ice Age.

On the Live Science web site the list of the finds of 2016 is naturally deprived of Must Farm, being a company with a major presence in the States. They do have offices in Europe, In the UK, Germany, France and Italy, but their list if filled with the more main stream, ‘exotic’ archaeological sites, including the reopening and the study of Jesus’s tomb and new piece of the Dead Sea Scroll. They also list the youngest individual mummified in ancient Egypt, a perhaps 20 weeks old foetus in the collections of Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. They also notify El Castillo pyramid at Chichén Itzá including three pyramids one above each other on the same spot ranging from c. AD 600–800 to the date just before year AD 1000.

The reality is that it is very difficult to surpass Must Farm and its hafted bronze tools and other magnificient finds. However, Must Farm is only one of the nominees for the Current Archaeology Awards 2017. You can go and vote for the innovation of the last 50 years and the book of the year among different categories, voted by the general public. In that way, you can participate in archaeology right at the beginning of 2017.