February 27, 2003

Mystery mummy goes home to Egypt



AN EGYPTIAN royal mummy displayed in a Niagara Falls freak show for more than a century is to be returned to Cairo. The quality of the mummification and the position of the arms suggest that the body belongs to one of the missing pharaohs of the New Kingdom, perhaps Ramesses I or Ramesses VII; it could also be the mummy of Horemheb, the next-but-one successor to Tutanhkamun, experts suggest.

The mummy was looted in the mid-19th century and bought by James Douglas, a Canadian doctor “for Mr Barnett, of Niagara Museum, for seven pounds”. The vendors were probably the Rassul brothers, tomb-robbers who found and plundered the famous royal cache of reburied mummies at Deir el-Bahri, as recounted in the prizewinning Egyptian film The Night of Counting the Years.

Whether the Niagara mummy came from this cache is uncertain: Mark Rose notes in the forthcoming issue of the American journal Archaeology that the Rassuls were looting the cache by 1869 at the latest, while Douglas’s purchase was made a decade earlier. Its high status seems certain, however. “Obviously it is royal because of its arm position,” says Salima Ikram, of the American University in Cairo. The forearms are crossed over the chest, the hands closed as though to grip the royal accoutrements of crook and flail.

“I first met this particular mummy some ten years ago, when I went to Niagara,” Dr Aidan Dodson, of Bristol University, says. “I looked at it, and said ‘Oh, my God, it looks like a New Kingdom pharaoh’s mummy’. The question is, which one?”

One clue lies in the high position of the arms, which suggests the late New Kingdom date, between about 1300BC and 1000BC This is the period of the final 18th Dynasty pharaohs, Ay and Horemheb, the 19th Dynasty from Ramesses I (died 1296BC) to Siptah (died 1189BC), and the 20th Dynasty from Sethnakhte and Ramesses III to Ramesses XI in 1064BC. Later dynasties employed a lower arm position.

Several royal mummies of this period are missing, and it is among these that scholars are seeking an identity for the Niagara individual, currently being studied at Emory University in Atlanta. “The missing kings are Ramesses I, Amenmesses, Ramesses VII, VIII, X and XI,” says Dr Dodson, but the last two were probably buried in the delta where their capital lay, and their bodies are unlikely to have survived the wetter conditions there.

Amenmesses was a usurper and may not have had a formal burial, and Ramesses VIII reigned for only a few months; his tomb site is not even known, Dr Dodson says, and he probably did not have an elaborate mummification and burial. That leaves Ramesses I and Ramesses VII, the latter reigning from 1133 to 1125BC

“The mummy looks early 19th Dynasty to me,” Dr Ikram says, because it lacks painted-on eyebrows and the stuffing of the eye-sockets that you get later on. Also the linen scraps that remain on the otherwise stripped-down body are like those on the mummy of Seti I, who reigned from 1296 to 1279BC as the immediate successor to Ramesses I.

X-rays and CAT-scans confirm the earlier date, showing resin-soaked linen rolls inside the body cavity and resin half-filling the skull. Dr Dodson notes that later royal mummies have “rather unusual packing” ranging from dried lichens to sawdust.

While Ramesses I seems the favoured candidate, Dr Ikram suggests that Horemheb is equally possible; even though bones were found in his sarcophagus when it was discovered in 1908. She believes that they may have been dumped there long after his death when reburials occurred.

While DNA testing might give some clues, the Egyptian authorities will not at present allow the vital comparative sampling from the royal mummies in the Cairo Museum. “It is not always accurate and cannot be done with complete success when dealing with mummies. Until we know for sure that it is accurate, we will not use it in our research,” Dr Zahi Hawass, of the Supreme Council of Archaeology, says. Whoever the Niagara mummy was, he will return to the land of his birth in at least temporary anonymity

World's oldest wheel found in Slovenia, claim archaeologists

Archaeologists claim to have unearthed the world's oldest wheel in Slovenia.

Experts estimate that the wheel is between 5,100 and 5,350 years old.

That makes it just 100 years older than the previous record-holders from Switzerland and southern Germany.

The wheel, which is made of ash and oak, has a radius of 70 centimetres and is five centimetres thick.

It was found buried beneath an ancient marsh settlement near the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana.

Dr Anton Veluscek, from the Archeological Institute at the Slovenian Academy of Arts and Sciences, was part of the team that made the find.

He said: "The wheel is surprisingly technologically advanced - much more so than the later models found in Switzerland and Germany."

Story filed: 10:29 Tuesday 25th February 2003


February 26, 2003

Open house after 2,000 years



THE authorities at Pompeii have announced that the long buried Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum, which is believed to contain a tantalising “lost library” of Latin and Greek poetic and philosophical masterpieces, will be opened to the public from this Saturday for the first time since it was entombed in mud and lava 2,000 years ago.

But Pier Giovanni Guzzo, the superintendent of Pompeii, said that although funding was being assembled for a renewed dig to uncover the “Holy Grail of Latin scholarship”, a feasibility study on whether to resume excavations was still in progress. Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, director of the British School at Rome, said the priority was to “conserve what has already been uncovered”.

Professor Wallace-Hadrill said the decision to open the restored site to the public had been made possible by conservation work funded by the Packard Humanities Institute, the Campania region and the EU.

The villa, which had suffered from neglect over the years because of the sporadic and interrupted excavations, will be open to visitors by arrangement in groups of 25 on weekend mornings so that people can see for themselves what has been done and what remains to be done.

The villa, which belonged to Lucius Calpurnius Piso, the father-in-law of Julius Caesar, once occupied an area of 30,000sq ft overlooking the sea near Naples. Considered one of the most magnificent villas of the Roman world, it was “recreated” in the 1970s in California by Paul Getty, whose art museum at Malibu is a replica of how the villa is thought to have looked.

Like Pompeii nearby, the villa was overwhelmed when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD79. Whereas Pompeii was preserved under layers of ash however, and therefore easier to excavate, the Villa of the Papyri is buried in solid volcanic rock formed by the solidified mud which rolled over it. The villa was first discovered in the 18th century by tunnellers exploring a well shaft. More of it came to light a decade ago when modern archaeologists drove a crater 100ft deep into the rock.

The crater, however, is vulnerable to flooding, and scholars disagree over the high cost and feasibility of digging through the rock in seach of a treasure which may or may not be there. The difficulties are compounded by the fact that much of the villa now lies beneath modern housing.

Nearly 2,000 scrolls have been found since the first dig in 1752, and most have been painstakingly unrolled. They have proved, however, to consist largely of the works of the Greek Epicurean philosopher Philodemus, who lived at Piso’s seaside villa and enjoyed his patronage.

Last year a group of British and American classical experts led by Professor Robert Flower, HO Wills Professor of Greek at the University of Bristol, appealed in a letter to The Times for the excavations to be resumed so that lost works by Virgil, Horace and others could be retrieved.

They were supported by the Prince of Wales when he visited Herculaneum last November during a tour of Italy. The Prince, however, also acknowledged the problematic nature of the site and the need for conservation as well as excavation.


Lost glories of Pompeii revealed for the first time

By Bruce Johnston in Rome

(Filed: 20/02/2003)


Many of Pompeii's greatest archaeological finds are to be put on public display for the first time.

The celebrated Villa of the Papyri will open its doors for the first time next month while a major exhibition will show the best objects unearthed from the villa and the Pompeii area.

The villa, one of the most important and evocative ancient sites in Italy, was the rambling, stately retreat in Herculaneum of Julius Caesar's father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso.

Stumbled upon in 1752, it was then only partially excavated, when 1,800 papyrus scrolls of classical works, statues and artefacts, were found. It then fell into neglect.

Much of the villa's 30,000 square-foot area has yet to be uncovered. Scholars believe it may conceal a second library, containing lost works such as the missing volumes of Livy's History of Rome.

New digs have now begun but work is being hampered by the proximity of modern housing and the expense of digging through 100ft of solidified mud (as opposed to the ash that covered Pompeii) which covered nearby Herculaneum when Vesuvius erupted in 79AD.

While the opening of the villa is certain to fascinate scholars, the Story of an Eruption exhibition at the Archaeological Museum of Naples may be more striking because of its portrayal of the end of Pompeii in agonisingly human terms.

"For the first time the show will not only examine the history and archaeological relevance of the finds, but also recount the stories of the people who perished as they fled," Pompeii's fine arts department expert said yesterday.

"Death will form an important part of the exhibition, lending it a strong emotive quality." The show will feature dozens of plaster casts of victims' remains, which left an imprint in the ash of the volcano when they were burned alive.

Their story will be narrated through personal effects, furniture and decorations recreating their surroundings just before tragedy struck.

On display will be 11 groups of plaster casts of the skeletons of victims which solidified after a burning hot cloud of gas and cinders vaporised their flesh.

The first exhibit will feature a group of 24 people who had been hiding in a grotto used to store boats at Herculaneum's seafront when they were overcome by the searing toxic cloud.

Among the casts is one of a prostitute, identified by the tell-tale inscription on her bracelet, and another of an infant abandoned in his cot.

Experts have carried out tests on the remains in the first studies of a cross-section of people who did not die of illness or old age.

Exhibits include jewellery, furniture, sculptures, frescoes and a decorated strongbox, all unearthed in or around Pompeii, and the finest of the 135 artefacts found at the Villa of the Papyri.

The most recent finds are the skeleton of a slave - complete with ankle chain - found one month ago, and all nine frescoes discovered at Moregine on the outskirts of Pompeii during work on a new motorway lane.

The Moregine site was initially thought to have been that of an ancient Roman luxury hotel or an upmarket brothel. However, experts are now convinced that it was a villa built for the emperor Nero to house him and his party during a visit to the area.

The stunning frescoes will be arranged to re-create three rooms found on the original site, which has now been covered with the motorway lane.

Roman wall builds heritage claim

A Roman frontier which is Scotland's answer to Hadrian's Wall could be awarded World Heritage site status.

The Antonine Wall runs from Bo'ness, near Falkirk to Old Kirkpatrick in West Dunbartonshire.

It was built in 140 AD to keep Scots warriors out of the Roman Empire after the conquest of southern Scotland.

Now Historic Scotland hopes to attract thousands of tourists each year to see the turf wall by securing protection from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

The 37-mile (59km) long wall was named after Antoninus Pius, Roman emperor for 23 years from 138 AD and adopted son of the emperor Hadrian.

It replaced Hadrian's Wall, in Northumberland, as the northern frontier of Roman Britain, despite being only half the length of its predecessor.

The Antonine Wall was abandoned in 160 AD and ruined parts of it survive to this day in Falkirk, Kirkintilloch, Polmont and Bearsden.

But much has been bulldozed to make way for houses, factories and roads.

Dr David Breeze, of Historic Scotland, said the wall would have been about four metres high with a ditch on either side of forts housing legionaries every two miles.

About 8,000 soldiers would have been needed to patrol the ramparts to repel potential invasions from rebellious Scots.

"These soldiers would not have been Romans from Italy.

"We have an inscription from a tombstone which reveals the fact that the soldier (whose tomb it was) was a member of one of the tribes of the Brigantes from the north of England.

"This is a very good example of the recruitment of the Roman Empire - most of the people in Britain would have been Britons, Gauls or Germans."

Dr Breeze said despite an initially large military presence, the wall was abandoned 20 years later after Antoninus Pius was replaced by Marcus Aurelius.

"He had taken over a military dictatorship and he had not been in the military and he needed to show he was the best.

"He took this forward and proclaimed himself conqueror and got his military grounding.

"The next emperor had already done that and so he pulled away from it."

The Antonine Wall bid forms part of a joint application with Austria, Germany and Slovakia to secure protection for the empire's boundaries, which stretched from Iraq to the Black Sea.

The bid's success should be known within three years.

Hadrian's Wall became one of only 600 World Heritage sites globally in 1988 and currently attracts around 1.25 million visitors per year.

'Wealth of culture'

Dr Elaine Murray, deputy tourism minister, said the bid was "excellent news" for tourism in Scotland.

She said: "Scotland's wealth of culture is a major draw for tourism, our biggest industry.

"Our world class natural and culture heritage is essential in maintaining and improving our share of the tourism market, and we are committed to ensuring it remains in good condition and receives the recognition it deserves."

Scotland's four current UNESCO World Heritage sites are Edinburgh's Old and New Towns, St Kilda in the Western Isles, New Lanark, South Lanarkshire and parts of Neolithic Orkney.


Scottish forts were the first frontier of Roman empire


SCOTLAND has the earliest frontier in the Roman empire, according to new evidence that shows they colonised Perthshire 15-20 years before previously thought.


The study suggests that Scots engaged in trading with the Romans, giving them beer and mutton in return for the Mediterranean delights of wine and olive oil.


Traditional academic research had indicated that Gnaeus Julius Agricola, who became the Emperor of Britain in AD78, headed Rome’s first futile push northwards after his Welsh campaign.


After getting past Dunblane and Perth, his troops were thought to have built a 20-mile long series of wooden forts and watchtowers - known as the Gask Ridge - about AD80.


The Romans were assumed to have then only managed to stay in Scotland for about 18 months.


However, archaeologists from the University of Manchester have uncovered evidence that shows the ridge, known to be Britain’s oldest frontier, was actually built at least a decade earlier - pre-dating a barrier in Germany and making it the oldest such structure in the whole of the Roman Empire.


Dr David Woolliscroft, the director of the Roman Gask Project, a long-term archaeological study which started in 1995, said his team’s research has uncovered traces of rebuilding work and artefacts showing the Gask Ridge was, in fact, built in about AD70.


Dr Woolliscroft added: "We’ve found lots of coins and bits of pottery from the AD70s, and, because the average Roman army tended to bring new stuff with them when they invaded new lands, this gives a fairly good date."


Previously, historians had believed the Wetterau Limes, north of the German city of Frankfurt, which was built in the early AD80s, was the first great frontier ordered by Rome. Studies now place this structure, which had similar wooden watchtowers to the Gask Ridge, at about AD105.


With the Antonine Wall built a good 60 years later than the Gask structure, and construction on Hadrian’s Wall started some 40 years afterwards, this would make the Gask Ridge the oldest by a fair margin.


Dr Woolliscroft said their studies have found that the wooden watchtowers on the wall, which stretched for 20 miles through the Perthshire and Stirlingshire countryside, were rebuilt, sometimes twice or more, suggesting that the Romans had stayed there for up to 15 years.


If true, the archaeological finds cast doubt on Agricola being the first Roman governor in Scotland.


This, Dr Woolliscroft says, points to an earlier invasion by Petilius Cerealis, probably the greatest general in the entire Roman Empire at the time, who he believes arrived fresh from putting down a bloody uprising in Holland.


However, rather than the previously-held belief that a bloody conflict ensued, Dr Woolliscroft says, scientific evidence also points to a relatively easy conquest of Scotland.


Organic remains in the native settlements show no sign of being destroyed, while farming appears to have flourished.


This is shown by the remains of pollen buried in the soil, which indicate that, soon after the Roman conquest, the numbers of weeds started to fall, suggesting cattle were grazing the land more intensely.


Dr Woolliscroft said: "You can tell from the number of weeds it was low-level grazing before the Romans arrived and afterwards more animals must have been raised, leading to more grazing. The surprise is how peaceful it all seems to be. Wherever we’ve looked, we’ve found peace, tranquillity and prosperity, which is not all what we were expecting.


"If it had been a bloody war of conquest we would have expected agriculture to go into decline because many of the farmers would have been killed, but we find it was flourishing."


Dr Woolliscroft added their research suggests that the Gask lime was built not to keep the Scottish nation at bay, but to protect their newly-found trading partners - the farmers - from roaming gangs of thieves sweeping down from the Highlands.



Wednesday, 26th February 2003

The Scotsman

English Heritage Press Release

26th Feb 2003



English Heritage today (26 February 2003) announced a £250,000 grant towards repairs to save the oldest known timber-framed shop in the country. The 13th century structure was discovered by chance by local builders once they began work on what appeared to be a Victorian property at 173 Berkhamsted High Street, Hertfordshire.


The owners, who live locally and wish to remain anonymous, immediately called in specialists from English Heritage and Dacorum Borough Council who recognised the importance and rarity of the medieval structure.


Dendrochronological (tree ring dating) tests were then carried out by University College, London, which revealed that the timbers had been felled some time between 1277 and 1297. Interpretation of the layout of the building points to its use as a shop. A historic well located at the back of the property is also believed to have been part of a workshop.


Dr Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said: "This is an amazing discovery. It gives an extraordinary insight into how Berkhamsted High Street would have looked in medieval times. English Heritage's support, added to considerable financial commitment from the owners, has proved vital in safeguarding the future of this important Grade II* 'Building at Risk'."


Andrew Derrick, Assistant Regional Director for the East of England for English Heritage, said: "This is an exceptional grant for an exceptional building, the true significance of which has been revealed by sophisticated dating techniques. We are delighted that the building is to be repaired and returned to its historic use as a commercial premises with living accommodation on the upper floor."


With its attractive Victorian façade, 173 Berkhamsted High Street thrived as the town's pharmacy from 1840. The present owners purchased the property in spring 2000 at which time its condition was giving increasing cause for concern. Following investigations into the history of the building, works to upgrade the shop into an office and reinstate living accommodation are now ready to start. Specialist carpenters and craftsmen will re-work parts of the walls, preserving the timbers and beams, as well as retaining and repairing the roof structure. The recently uncovered historic well will also be incorporated in the design. The new building is due to open with special public access in autumn 2003.


Overseeing the repair and conservation work, historic building consultant, Richard Oxley, said: "The uniqueness and value of 173 Berkhamsted High Street means that a very sensitive approach must be adopted to its repair. A team of skilled craftspeople and historic building consultants will use a variety of traditional repair methods to safeguard and utilise the historic fabric of the building. The repair project will breathe new life into this important property in the centre of Berkhamsted."




In 2002-2003 English Heritage will offer approximately £35 million in grants for the repair of the historic environment (including places of worship and cathedrals, historic buildings and monuments and conservation areas).


English Heritage's Buildings at Risk register exists to highlight the plight of some of England's most important historic buildings facing threat and decay. There are currently 1,398 Grade I and Grade II* listed buildings on the register. English Heritage has given over £22 million to Buildings at Risk over the past five years but the subsidy needed to save all of these buildings is around £400 million.