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.