Friday, June 19, 2015

Review: Archaeology Hotspot : Egypt by Julian Heath

A history resource article by  © 2015

I just finished the first book in a new series, "Archaeology Hotspot: Egypt" by Julian Heath.  The book's subtitle, "Unearthing the Past for Armchair Archaeologists" describe its target audience and, although the author has an MA in archaeology from the University of Liverpool, the book is relatively free of technical jargon and quite readable.

Heath begins by describing each period of Egypt's past then delves more deeply into archaeological activities within each period.  I was particularly pleased to note that Heath gives attention to the often overlooked pre-dynastic period as well as the more widely studied Old, Middle and New Kingdoms and their associated Intermediate Periods.  I was especially interested in his discussion of the Naqada Period because, not only were many of the traditions of Egypt in their embryonic stage then, but I had the opportunity to photograph Naqada pottery and unusual figurines at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the British Museum.

Beaker with Nile River Scene Early Naqada II
 3650-3500 BCE pottery predynastic Egypt.
Photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
by Mary Harrsch © 2006
Apparently, there were a number of scholars who at one point believed the prehistoric period was a kind of "Golden Age" free of violence and conflict before the vast accumulation of wealth that was a hallmark of the dynastic periods created envy and greed.  But Heath relegated those speculations to the rubbish heap when he described the findings at the cemetery of Gebel Sahaba near the Nubian border.  In a burial of 59 individuals with almost half of them women and children, researchers found outright evidence of violent death (embedded projectile points and/or cut marks) on the remains of 24.

Female Figurines of bone and ivory Predynastic Naqada I
Egypt 4000-3600 BCE.  Photographed at The British Museum
by Mary Harrsch © 2008.
"...disturbingly, the children seem to have been executed by being shot in the head or neck with stone projectiles," Heath states.

Heath also relates the results of a 2012 CT scan on a naturally mummified body of a young man between 18 and 20 years old from the Naqada II period (about 3400 BCE) recovered at Gebelein by Wallis Budge of the British Museum.

"The scan threw up something of a nasty surprise," Heath writes, "as it uncovered compelling evidence that Gebelein Man had been murdered with his killer catching him unawares.  This evidence took the form of a stab wound in his back, just below his left shoulder blade, that had been made by a copper or flint dagger.  The blow that ended Gebelein Man's life had evidently been delivered with some force, as not only had it shattered one of his ribs, causing bone splinters to become embedded into his muscles, but it also penetrated his left lung."

He also pointed out that Gebelein Man had no apparent defensive wounds.

Heath includes a number of examples like this of very recent research in this book so, despite its brevity, the reader comes away with not only a good foundation in the historical periods of Egypt and significant explorations that have revealed the development of its culture but an excellent overview of current research, including technological advances in satellite imagery, ground penetrating radar and digital analyses.  It even touches on the current political and economic issues surrounding the illegal antiquities trade.

Perhaps among the most valuable inclusions in the book were the concluding passages listing museums with the largest collections of Egyptian antiquities (I didn't realize the Museum of Fine Arts Boston was among them so I have added it to my must see list!) and websites where visitors can not only view images of recovered artifacts but browse maps, plans and satellite imagery of archaeological sites and even journals kept by famous archaeologists.  Heath even suggests ways to get involved with current digs.  There are also extensive footnotes listed by chapter and a lengthy bibliography - a virtual handbook for any Egyptian history enthusiast.

I look forward with anticipation to the next book in this series!

Mysterious burial of fetus with 17th century Danish Bishop

A history resource article by  © 2015

Although I usually read and write about the study of Egyptian mummies, I received a press release about Lund University's current research on the mummy of it's 17th century founder, Bishop Peder Winstrup and was intrigued when I read that a 5 - 6 mo. old human fetus was found under the Bishop's feet in his coffin.  Apparently the researchers will be conducting DNA testing to see if the child was related to the Bishop.

Peder Winstrup, a bishop and prominent historical figure in Scandinavia, was one of the founding fathers of Lund University. He died in 1679 and was buried in the famous cathedral in Lund a year later. The coffin, together with its contents, constitutes a unique time capsule from the year 1679 with a well-preserved body, textiles and plant material.

Usually the internal organs would have been removed; in this case, however, the body was not embalmed in a traditional manner but simply dried out naturally. The good condition of the body seems to be the result of several factors in combination: constant air flow, the plant material in the coffin, a long period of illness resulting in the body becoming lean, death and burial during the winter months of December‒January and the general climate and temperature conditions in the cathedral.
In December Peder Winstrup underwent a CT scan at the University hospital in Lund. The preliminary results show that the body is relatively well preserved and it was possible to identify most of the internal organs.

The first results show dried fluid and mucus in the sinuses, indicating that Winstrup had been bedridden for a long period before he died. Calcifications in the lung could indicate both tuberculosis and pneumonia. Plaque was also found in the left coronary artery of the heart, the aorta and the carotid artery, indicating that the bishop suffered from atherosclerosis.

“The gall bladder also has several gallstones, which could indicate a high consumption of fatty food”, says Caroline Ahlström Arcini, an osteologist working on the project.

Peder Winstrup, who lived to the age of 74, also suffered from osteoarthritis in both the knee and hip joints. In addition, he had lost a number of teeth. Traces of caries were found in a couple of the remaining teeth, which would indicate that he had access to sugary foods.

“His right shoulder was slightly higher than his left, due to an injury to a tendon in the shoulder. This would have limited Winstrup’s mobility, making it difficult for him to carry out simple everyday tasks such as putting on a shirt or combing his hair with the comb in his right hand”, says Caroline Ahlström Arcini.

Unexpected discovery of a foetus

An unexpected discovery that emerged from the CT scan was a four- or five-month old foetus, well hidden in the coffin under Winstrup’s feet. Nobody knows who put the foetus there.

“You can only speculate as to whether it was one of Winstrup’s next of kin, or whether someone else took the opportunity while preparing the coffin. But we hope to be able to clarify any kinship through a DNA test”, says Per Karsten.

The next step will be investigations into the textiles in the coffin, as well as further study of the body. Tissue samples from the internal organs are to be removed, among other things. In addition, the extensive plant material in the coffin will be investigated.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

AHC's Gunslingers returns for 2nd Season

A history resource article by  © 2015

Last year I reviewed a couple of episodes of the AHC original docuseries, "Gunslingers".  Now, I see the American Heroes Channel's series returns for a 2nd season in July:

"The 19th-century territory west of the Mississippi was a rough place, swarming with outcasts, murderers, thieves, gamblers and bounty hunters. Throughout this lawless landscape, a few brave men protected the innocent from the endless torment of gun-wielding outlaws. On Sunday, July 19 at 10/9c, American Heroes Channel (AHC) tips its cowboy hat once again to true stories of infamous icons, gun-toting gangs, and fabled conflicts of the Wild West with the second season of its top original series GUNSLINGERS. Each episode profiles a legendary character of the Old West from the unique P.O.V. of the icon himself, exposing their often little-known adventures, and how their fearless pursuit of freedom and profit still resonates in America today. “Behind every great hero is a villain and in the Wild West, where outlaw pursuits and vigilante justice paved the way for modern-day law and order, GUNSLINGERS toed the line between good and evil,” said Kevin Bennett, EVP and General Manager of American Heroes Channel. “Cinematic reenactments, slick special effects, and insightful commentary paint history with a stroke of contemporary attitude, making viewers forget they’re watching a small-screen docuseries, not a big Hollywood Western.” From bank-robbing outlaw Butch Cassidy and hard-nosed enforcer Seth Bullock, to infamous Dodge City sheriff Bat Masterson and lone-ranger Bass Reeves, the unforgivable Wild West kicks into high gear with each episode of GUNSLINGERS. Stories of bravery, survival, and good versus evil offer viewers a thrilling, heart-pounding ride alongside an infamous lawman or outlaw as he navigates his way through a series of pivotal showdowns in a volatile place and time with death lurking around every corner. Juxtaposed with vivid reenactments, expert commentary is layered throughout each episode to ensure the authenticity and historical accuracy of each story. Expert contributors include David Milch, the creator of Deadwood and Bob Boze Bell, the executive editor of True West Magazine.
GUNSLINGERS featured in the first half of the six-part series includes:
 Butch Cassidy – The Perfect CriminalPremieres Sunday, July 19 at 10/9cUntil the day that he died – whenever that was – nobody ever outsmarted Butch Cassidy. He always got away. Cassidy was an outlaw who lived more by his wits than by his gun. It was he and his pal Sundance Kid who first organized crime, masterminding one of the most remarkable crime sprees in American history and making them the most hunted men in America during the early 20th century.
Deadwood Sheriff  and one time
Rough Rider and friend of Teddy Roosevelt,
Seth Bullock.  Image courtesy of
Wikimedia Commons.
Seth Bullock – Sheriff of DeadwoodPremieres Sunday, July 26 at 10/9cIn Deadwood, South Dakota, a mining camp swirling with violence and vice, Seth Bullock is the only stabilizing force standing in the way of utter chaos. Arriving in town at its apex of lawlessness – the very day after Wild Bill Hickok was shot – Bullock is quickly drafted to bring hard justice to the hopeless town. Bullock has his hands full as the mining town is full of prospectors, prostitutes, sharpshooters and outlaws.·         Featured commentator: David Milch, the creator of Deadwood·         Calamity Jane is played by Deadwood actress Robin Weigert Bat Masterson – Defender of DodgePremieres Sunday, Aug. 2 at 10/9cThis well-dressed gunfighter was a gambler, a hunter, an Indian fighter, a scout – but above all else, Bat Masterson was a lawman. As Sheriff of Ford County, Kansas, Bat Masterson kept the peace on the volatile Frontier and earned his fame taming Dodge City – the wildest town in the Old West. He survived the deadliest of shoot-outs on which his legend rests, and lived to tell his tale.
There's been quite a few programs done on Butch Cassidy over the years but I'd never seen anything on Seth Bullock before I watched the HBO miniseries "Deadwood".  In that series, Bullock is played by one of my favorite actors, Timothy Olyphant. (His performances as Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens on the FX series "Justified" kept me riveted for all six seasons of that series, too!)

As a child I grew up watching Gene Barry as Bat Masterson in the late 50s, although the TV series was based on the legend with little of the truth behind this lawman turned journalist.  I have found the AHC docuseries, with its reenactments by professional actors, far more engrossing than the old "talking head" type documentaries and should be especially interesting to American history enthusiasts and even Deadwood fans.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Most extensive WWI patriotic posters collection slated for auction

A history resource article by  © 2015

As someone who appreciates history-related images, I enjoyed viewing examples of one of the most extensive collections of World War I poster art that will be coming up for auction next month. 

Examples of the diverse WWI poster collection assembled by Colonel Edward H. McCrahon.  Image courtesy of Guernsey's.

One of McCrahon's WWI bond
posters.  Image courtesy of
Guernsey's Auction House.
On June 23-24, 2015 New York City-based auction house Guernsey’s will be conducting an unreserved auction of patriotic posters relating to World War I. Roughly half of the approximately 2,000 posters are from the United States, with the balance reflecting the many different nations involved in the Great War. The auction will be held on
The collection was assembled by Brooklyn-born Edward H. McCrahon who was so passionate in his defense of the Allied nations that he joined the French Army two years prior to the United States entering the war. Once the U.S. became involved, McCrahon returned home, enlisted in the U.S. Army, and rose to the rank of Colonel. However, it was during his stint in France when he first became riveted by the compelling graphics of war poster art.  
At the conclusion of the war, McCrahon devoted his energies towards assembling what is ultimately recognized as the most extensive collection of war posters known to exist. By the mid-1930s – after 16 years of collecting – the McCrahon Collection was widely exhibited and acknowledged in countless print articles, and even in Ripley’s Believe It or Not, as the very finest collection of its type.  
The Colonel McCrahon Collection reflects true international flavor of the war, as numerous countries and their respective languages were used to inform and motivate the civilian public during this time of great crisis. (Of note are the many foreign language posters printed here in the United States that functioned as outreach to the large clusters of immigrants in cities such as New York.) Although all are patriotic at their roots, this Collection features posters that cover fundraising, food rationing, enlistment, women’s war efforts, and animal aid. Many of the posters collected by Col. McCrahon are the only known copies  to exist today.  

An example of a WWI French language poster printed in
the United States.  Image courtesy of Guernsey's Auction
Guernsey's auction company has specialized in history-related artifacts and memorabilia for 40 years. The John F. Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, Princess Diana, Elvis Presley, Jerry Garcia, John Coltrane, Dick Clark, Mickey Mantle and The Beatles events were all conducted by Guernsey's.  

Guernsey’s has worked with the Library of Congress in the preservation of the complete Rosa Parks Archive. It has also handled the sale of the Holocaust-related poster collection of Dr. Hans Sachs. Other upcoming sales in 2015 include the Urban Archaeology Collection, Historic Artifacts from the Kennedy White House, Atocha Undersea Treasures, and a recently-discovered work by Pablo Picasso  

I found a really interesting website with information about WWI & II artists who produced posters like these as well as images of combat as many of them also served in the military:

World War Pictures: Posters, Photos, Poets and Artists       

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

USS Constitution slated for three-year restoration

A history resource article by  © 2015

The celebration of George Washington's birthday aboard the USS Constitution in Malta harbor.  Oil on canvas by
James G. Evans.  Courtesy U.S. Naval Academy.
Over 20 years ago I had the opportunity to tour the USS Constitution while I was in Boston for a computer networking conference.  It was in the dead of winter and the wind was biting cold but the crew of the Constitution looked smart in their historical uniforms.  I was surprised to learn that these men and women were actually active duty Navy personnel and not just volunteers placed aboard to answer questions from tourists.  I even remember the Chief rapping out the rules we were to follow while on board the ship and smiled thinking of my father who had served over twenty years in the Navy before his retirement.  Perhaps it is because of my admiration for his service that always draws me to ship tours and was the reason for my visit that day.

A 28-minute history of the USS Constitution:

Over the years I have toured the USS Bowfin, a WW II submarine docked in Oahu, Hawaii and, of course, the USS Arizona Memorial there as well as the famous WWII aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (replacement of the ship of the same name sunk at the battle of Midway) at Patriot's Point Naval and Maritime Museum near Charleston, South Carolina. When the USS Missouri stopped in Oregon for repairs just before it was retired and moved to a permanent dock in Hawaii, my husband and I had the privilege to board it. I have also toured and photographed the tall ships Hawaiian Chieftain and The Lady Washington that travel up and down the west coast from their home port in Grays Harbor, Washington.

A crew member of the tall ship
Lady Washington adjusts a winch
Photo by Mary Harrsch © 2011
In 2004 when I attended yet another technology conference in Baltimore, Maryland I took the opportunity to tour the USS Constellation.  Although the original Constellation was a frigate like the Constitution and commissioned in the same year as the Constitution (1797), it was dismantled in 1853.  It was replaced with a second Constellation designed as a sloop in 1855 and it is that ship that is on display in Baltimore harbor today.

The sloop-of-war USS Constellation docked in Baltimore Harbor.
Photographed by Mary Harrsch © 2004

Now, those of you visiting the Boston area from May 15 to May 29, will have the unique opportunity to see the USS Constitution transported to dry dock for a 3-year restoration.

Here's a schedule of events:

Timeline of Events Associated with Dry Docking

Friday, May 15, 2015 (All times are subject to change)
8:30 a.m. Cassin Young (WW II destroyer) underway by tugboat to basin area
9:30 a.m. USS Constitution underway by tugboat from Pier 1 West to Pier 1 East
10:30 a.m. USS Constitution moored at Pier 1 East
11:00 a.m. Cassin Young back to Pier 1 West

Sunday, May 17, 2015 (All times are subject to change)
7:30 a.m. Dry dock ready for flooding
8:00 a.m. Flood dry dock
11:30 a.m. Remove caisson (door) and tie up behind USS Constitution
1:30-2:00 p.m. Run lines from ship to shore to prepare for the movement of the ship
2:30 p.m. Install temporary lighting and ensure the ship is trim and ready

Monday, May 18, 2015 (All times are subject to change)
7:00 p.m. Divers from Portsmouth Naval Shipyard ensure all is ready for the transit
8:00 p.m. Remove brow (platform to enter or leave the ship); remove shore electrical power
8:20 p.m. Tugboat comes along side USS Constitution
9:20 p.m. Tugboat positions USS Constitution in front of the dry dock
10:20 p.m. USS Constitution guided into the dry dock by three capstans (winches) and line handlers on either side of the dry dock
11:20 p.m. USS Constitution in position in the dry dock
Midnight Caisson (door) reinstalled and dewatering begins

Tuesday, May 19, 2015 (All times are subject to change)
Midnight to 0:45 a.m. Divers standing by front and back to ensure the ship settles on the keel blocks properly
0:45 a.m. Divers verify ship’s position
1:00 a.m. Ship rests on the keel blocks at the bottom of the dry dock
1:10 a.m. Divers confirm keel contact, begin installing sliding side blocks to brace the ship
1:40 a.m. Install addition wood braces to the sides of the ship
2:00 a.m. Divers confirm side blocks are fitted properly to the ship
2:10 a.m. Install gangway
2:15 a.m. Install shore electrical power

I would encourage any of you visiting the Boston area during this time to attend!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Churchill - De Gaulle Exhibit opens in Paris

A history resource article by  © 2015

Winston Churchill at Madame Toussaud's Wax
Museum in London.  Photographed by
Mary Harrsch © 2006
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of famous British statesman Winston Churchill and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of France during World War II, the Musée de l'Armée in Paris is hosting a joint exhibition examining the intertwined careers of Churchill and Charles de Gaulle.

The exhibit begins with the Munich agreement, a settlement permitting Nazi Germany's annexation of portions of Czechoslovakia along the country's borders mainly inhabited by German speakers, for which a new territorial designation "Sudetenland" was coined. The agreement was negotiated at a conference held in Munich, Germany, among the major powers of Europe, excluding the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. Today, it is widely regarded as a failed act of appeasement toward Germany. The agreement was signed in the early hours of 30 September 1938 (but dated 29 September).

"In 1938, Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle did not know yet each other. Their notoriety, for which they were responsible, was not in proportion with one another. However, they shared a very close vision of the rising dangers of the Thirties, as well as the strategic and diplomatic shortcomings of their respective countries. But the politician “in the wilderness” and the military theorist ignored by the military hierarchy were isolated and in the minority in the face of public opinion which was convinced that the Maginot line and the concessions granted to the dictators would prevent a new war. Both therefore react very strongly following the signing of the Munich accords, a simple of this policy of renunciation and cowardice."

Servicemen and politicians, Churchill and De Gaulle were also writers, orators and even, in Churchill’s case, a journalist and a painter. The intersecting paths of these major figures - both allies and enemy brothers - will be explored through objects, paintings, uniforms and archives, some never before exhibited or published. Multimedia displays will provide the military and historic context.

The exhibit will be accompanied by lectures on Churchill and De Gaulle in the media, in North Africa and as subjects of sculptors.  There will also be concerts and a film festival including the late Sir Richard Attenborough's 1972 film "Young Winston", the 2009 Thaddeus O'Sullivan film "Into the Storm" as well as the popular films "The Eagle Has Landed" and "The Day of the Jackal".

The exhibit will be on display until July 26, 2015.

The last time I was in Paris in 2008, I didn't have an opportunity to visit the Musée de l'Armée but I hope one day to return and will place this museum on my itinerary.