News Article | April 30, 2017
China's President Xi Jinping is expected to visit for the July 1 anniversary (AFP Photo/Anthony WALLACE) A multi-million dollar programme of events in Hong Kong will mark 20 years since the city was handed back to China by colonial ruler Britain, but critics say the show is out of step with political tensions. The large-scale celebrations come despite increased concerns over Beijing meddling in the semi-autonomous city and deep political divisions between Hong Kong's pro-democracy and pro-China camps. China's President Xi Jinping is expected to visit for the July 1 anniversary, with security exercises under way in preparation. Hundreds of events, from art exhibitions to sports tournaments, will take place between now and the end of the year as part of the festivities, with the government proposing to spend HK$640 million ($82 million). Coloured lights and rainbow posters already adorn local neighbourhoods under the slogan "Together, Progress, Opportunity". An official video of Canto pop stars performing a new song "Hong Kong, our home" is frequently broadcast on television networks. The city's unpopular outgoing leader Leung Chun-ying said the celebrations reflected the city's "vision of tomorrow", and aimed to engage all residents. "The handover to me is historically significant and worth commemorating because Hong Kong is originally a part of China," a 51-year-old resident who gave his name as Michael said. "The (anniversary) is important for Hong Kong because we are all Chinese," he said. But others were sceptical. "Are we celebrating the fact that we don't have freedom and have no democracy?" 67-year-old Ales Li asked. "Why don't they use all these resources to mend divisions?" The agreement made between Britain and China in 1997 was designed to secure Hong Kong's semi-autonomous status, protecting its freedoms and way of life for 50 years. But Beijing stands accused of undermining the deal, triggering protests and a fledgling independence movement. Some young residents told AFP they felt the celebrations were simply a stunt. "It isn't really helpful towards anyone," said university student Miranda Yeung, 20. "It's a great publicity campaign and it looks very exciting for a tourist, but it doesn't really mean that much." Others said the amount of money being spent was a waste in a city with a yawning wealth gap. Frustration over a lack of political reform despite mass pro-democracy protests in 2014 has led to the emergence of groups demanding self-determination for Hong Kong or even a full split from China. That has sparked a backlash from Beijing, with Chinese authorities intervening to effectively bar two democratically elected pro-independence lawmakers from taking up their parliamentary seats in Hong Kong last year. The pair are now facing criminal charges over their behaviour in parliament. There are also concerns Beijing is interfering in other areas, from media to education. Those fears were heightened by the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers known for publishing salacious titles about Chinese leaders in 2015. All five resurfaced on the mainland. Some believe a visit to the city by President Xi -- his first to Hong Kong since coming to power in 2012 -- could be incendiary in the current climate. "The angry people will become more angry," said student Yeung. Former Chinese leader Hu Jintao came to mark the 15th handover anniversary in 2012 and swore in city leader Leung, triggering hundreds of thousands to take to the streets in protest. Hong Kong's new pro-China leader Carrie Lam -- hated by the city's pro-democracy activists -- will be sworn in on July 1. She has vowed to heal divisions but critics say the extensive handover festivities are unlikely to help. Art works from the Louvre, Egyptian mummies from the British Museum and an exhibition from Beijing's Palace Museum will be on show as part of the celebrations. Other events include jiansi tournament -- a game where participants kick a shuttlecock about -- and a performance by renowned Chinese pianist Lang Lang. Authorities said government ministers would visit communities to "show care" to the vulnerable and elderly, including giving out gifts and care packages as part of the anniversary programme. But political analyst Willy Lam said the festivities were a display for Beijing. Both Leung and Lam would want to give the impression that the public was "ecstatic about China's support for Hong Kong" to counteract the recent political turbulence, he said. Lam predicted a Xi visit would be a red rag to some activists. "I expect there will be ugly scenes," he said. "The police will be under heavy pressure to ensure that Xi Jinping will be out of earshot."
News Article | April 17, 2017
Archaeologists and scientists from the Universities of Bristol and Durham and the British Museum are using cutting edge technology to crack a conundrum surrounding the ancient trade in ostrich eggs. Decorated ostrich eggs were traded as luxury items from the Middle East to the Western Mediterranean during the Iron Age (1200-300 BC). Several beautiful examples - both intact and in fragments - have been part of the British Museum's collection since the nineteenth century. The eggs were engraved, painted and occasionally embellished with ivory, precious metals and faience fittings. They were found in elite contexts from Spain to Iraq. The research team wants to find out where the eggs were laid and whether the birds laying them were wild or captive. Dr Tamar Hodos, Reader in Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Bristol's Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, said: "Apart from noting their presence as unusual vessels in funerary and celebratory settings, surprisingly little is known about where they actually come from or who decorated them, much less how they circulated." Using the British Museum's collection of ostrich eggs from the Mediterranean and Middle East, isotopic analyses of strontium, oxygen and carbon in the eggshells are being used to investigate where the eggs were laid and whether the ostriches were captive or wild, by detecting what and where the mother was eating and drinking during ovulation. Detailed study of the eggshells' intricate decoration via scanning electron microscopy will allow the research team to compare carving techniques, helping them understand how they were created. Dr Alexandra Fletcher, Curator in the Middle East Department at the British Museum, said: "We really want to find out more about how this trade worked. Were eggs gathered from nests in the wild, given that this was a potentially dangerous activity? Or is it possible that ostriches were kept in captivity to ensure the luxury trade had a supply of eggs readily available?" The question of captivity is an important one. Images on objects such as cylinder seals from the same period show ostriches as dangerous and fierce creatures. One has an ancient king strangling an ostrich while the bird kicks him in the stomach, for example. It seems, however, that some members of these ancient societies were adept at catching and handling dangerous beasts. The famous Assyrian reliefs at the British Museum show that royal 'lion hunts' were staged affairs. Captured lions were released from cages directly into the path of their hunters. Could the ostriches also have been captive creatures? It is hoped that the information held in the ostrich eggshells themselves will tell us more about how they were obtained, decorated and traded, which will in turn reveal more about both the people who supplied these luxury goods and those who coveted them.
News Article | April 24, 2017
UK’s largest architectural firm says nearly 100 staff will go, mainly from its London headquartersBritain’s largest architectural firm, Foster + Partners, plans to lay off nearly 100 people, and blamed the uncertainty around construction projects caused by last summer’s Brexit vote.The company, whose London projects have included the Millennium Bridge, the Great Hall redevelopment at the British Museum and the Gherkin tower, said the cuts would mainly affect staff at its headquarters in Battersea, south-west London. It said “a cross-section of the team” would be affected, from administrators to architects. The move was first reported by Construction News and its sister title the Architects’ Journal. Continue reading...
News Article | May 24, 2017
What do bloodletting, slavery, journal editing and a silver penis protector have in common? The eighteenth-century physician, collector and president of the Royal Society Hans Sloane. In Collecting the World, historian James Delbourgo charts Sloane's rags-to-riches transformation, from his birth in 1660 into a family of domestic servants in the north of Ireland, to his death in 1753 as one of the most influential figures in England. Sloane became medic to the rich and famous and used his personal wealth to amass the most celebrated cabinet of curiosities of the age. Despite his celebrity in life, Sloane has managed to slip almost into obscurity: his name lives on mostly in a handful of street and place names, such as London's Sloane Square. And he remains a shadowy figure in Delbourgo's book. There is little about what he looked like, or about his family life — perhaps because his archives are full of letters to, rather than from, him. But Delbourgo sheds magnificent light on Sloane's larger world, providing great insight into the evolution of Britain's early scientific and global ambitions. At the age of 16, Sloane survived a “violent haemorrhage”, a formative experience from which he emerged with intense ambition. Moving from Ulster to London in 1679 to study medicine, he developed a talent for self-advancement. He exploited the close-knit Anglo-Irish diaspora to cultivate a connection with chemist and fellow of the Royal Society Robert Boyle, and was introduced to philosopher John Locke, naturalist John Ray and physician Thomas Sydenham. Within a decade, Sloane had emerged as a prominent London doctor, and in 1687 he travelled to Jamaica as physician to the island's new governor, the Duke of Albemarle. Sloane's timing couldn't have been better: he arrived as the island and its sugar plantations were beginning to assume a pivotal role in Britain's empire. Delbourgo does not shy away from the savagery of the slavery from which the colonists profited — violence and oppression that don't seem to have worried Sloane. Indeed, Sloane's description of public tortures and executions is “eerily dispassionate”. When not attending the duke, plantation owners or their slaves, Sloane indulged his dream of universal knowledge. This resulted in his natural history of the region: a lavish folio published in two volumes (in 1707 and 1725), filled with hundreds of detailed, life-sized engravings of local plants, animals and curios. The work set a new standard for scientific illustration, from which botanists such as Carl Linnaeus would benefit. Sloane distributed copies like calling cards, spreading his work and fame. There seems no limit to Sloane's curiosity, although he was scathing about witchcraft and magic, and paid special attention to anything that could be transformed into a commodity. Natural history, for him, was “a speculative exercise in scouring the globe for things that might seem odd or trivial ... but which could ultimately triumph in the discovery of prized new resources and goods”, writes Delbourgo. Sloane's account of the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus) is a perfect example of what Delbourgo calls “total commercial cataloguing”. The creatures were “reckon'd extraordinary food”; their cured flesh could last “without corruption ... never turning rancid”; the skeletons, ground to a powder, had medicinal properties; and the hides could be transformed into either fine shoes or “whips for beating slaves”. After his return to London in 1689, Sloane married the widow of one of Jamaica's foremost slave owners and bought property in on-the-up Chelsea. In spite of his reliance on treatments such as “superpurgations”, he seems to have killed fewer patients than other doctors of his day, bringing him a huge income and the presidency of the Royal College of Physicians in 1719. As the editor of the Royal Society's journal Philosophical Transactions, he became “one of the pivotal information brokers in the Republic of Letters”. Not everything he published was palatable to learned society — including a second-hand report of a 68-year-old woman who had breastfed her grandchildren. Such “vulgar wondermongering”, notes Delbourgo, led some to view him as gullible and guilty of distasteful self-promotion: Isaac Newton is said to have described Sloane as “a villain and rascal” and “a very tricking fellow”. This didn't stop Sloane from succeeding Newton as president of the Royal Society in 1727. “With exemplary sociability, redoubtable shrewdness and unflappable patience, he had installed himself at the centre of British society,” writes Delbourgo. As Sloane's star rose, he found it easier to access objects and anecdotes for his personal museum. With immense skill, Delbourgo mines Sloane's vast correspondence to uncover the global networks on which he relied to accumulate miscellanea. The number, variety and curious nature of these objects is enthralling; they include blocks of rock from the Giant's Causeway in Ireland, an arrow-shooter from Indonesia and that silver penis protector, from Panama. Sloane catalogued these and thousands of other books, coins, precious stones, animals and oddities. In his will, he drew up a guest list for his own funeral, and offered his collection to the nation, presumably as part of his “personal desire for immortality”, as Delbourgo puts it. In this mission, he seems to have failed: his name is today rarely linked to the British Museum, the British Library or the Natural History Museum, although all were founded from his collections. “Sloane is nowhere because he was everywhere,” suggests Delbourgo. Sloane's character doesn't lend itself to modern fame: his purging medicine and “hopelessly eclectic” brand of natural history are hard to fathom, and his collections have been buried in later acquisitions. In Collecting the World, Delbourgo brings brilliant resolution to the life and extraordinary times of a fascinating enigma.
News Article | February 5, 2017
A rare frog that had not been seen in decades has been found in Zimbabwe, researchers have said. The Arthroleptis troglodytes, also known as the “cave squeaker” because of its preferred habitat, was discovered in 1962, but there were no reported sightings since then. An international red list of threatened species tagged the frog as critically endangered and possibly extinct. Robert Hopkins, a researcher at the natural history museum in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, said his team found four specimens of the frog in its known habitat of Chimanimani, a mountainous area in the east. The team found the first male specimen on 3 December after following an animal call that they had not heard before, Hopkins said. They then discovered another two males and a female. Hopkins said he been looking for the cave squeaker for eight years. “I was not with my team when they were found. I was at the base. I can no longer climb the mountains as I am 75,” Hopkins said. Researchers plan to breed more of the frogs and then reintroduce them to the mountain summit. The frog is tiny and light-brown with dark spots. Authorities fear for the frogs’ security, especially from “the scientific world” whose huge interest could result in the frogs being captured and illegally exported. Hopkins said 16 specimens are on display at various museums, including the British Museum. “We are expecting an influx of scientists looking for it. We will do everything in our power to protect and conserve the frog,” said Caroline Washaya-Moyo, spokeswoman for the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. She said a park management plan will be devised to protect the cave squeaker.
News Article | May 12, 2017
A recent conference in Bahrain brought together experts in Islamic archaeology to discuss the lessons of the past and how to safeguard Muslim heritage for future generations. Under the blistering Bahraini sun archaeologist Salman Al Mahari and his team are excavating a section on the western side of the Al-Khamis mosque site. With its twin minarets the mosque used to act as a landmark for ships at sea guiding them to land in the 14th century. But today, excavating the mosque has a far more important function as Islamic archaeology takes on the extremists at their own game. At a recent conference in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, archaeologists working in over 14 Islamic countries around the world participated in a first of its kind conference. Islamic Archaeology in Global Perspective brought together some of the most distinguished scholars working in the field of Islamic archaeology to share first hand their recent practical experience in countries torn apart by war, and to investigate the various influences on the science of archaeology. New Zealander, Alan Walmsley, Professor of Islamic Archaeology and Art at the University of Copenhagen says his investigations aim to disseminate a fuller account of social, cultural, and economic developments in Arab and Islamic history. "I interrogate faded and misinformed historical narratives," he explains. He begins by unpicking past Western interest in Bilad Al-Sham, an historic region of the Middle East known as Greater Syria. "Islamic discoveries were incidental to the objective of archaeological interest in Greater Syria," he says."The focus of digs were on the Biblical, Hellenistic and Classical past. These earlier periods took precedence in research." Animosity between Islam and the West compounded the lack of interest in Muslim remains according to Alastair Northedge, professor at the Universites de Paris 1. He spoke in the context of his recent trip to Iraq, about the West's overwhelming concerns with their own past. "There is quite a good example in Iraq," he says. "Babylon seems to belong to the West." Corisande Fenwick, a lecturer in Archaeology of the Mediterranean at University College London (UCL) took time to describe painstaking research into food remains indicating when pork was no longer consumed and so revealing the pace at which Islam was established across the Maghreb region. She attributes the Western assessment of archaeological finds prior to the mid-1950s to a colonial interpretation. "If you go back before independence, archaeology is all driven by colonial scholars," she says. "They were attracted by the exotic nature of their finds. That reinforced the idea that the Islamic world was somehow different and needed to be controlled by colonial powers," she adds. But it is not just a Western agenda that has shaped excavations in the Muslim world. Alastair Northedge also notes that Muslims themselves have not always been concerned with protecting the material heritage of the great spiritual sanctuaries. "It is not just Mecca and Medina, but also Shia shrines in Najaf and Karbala in Iraq" he says. "There seems to be a preference for building something new rather than conserving the old because the emphasis is on the spiritual nature of these places not their materiality." But a wider vision is coming and the rise in the number of excavations throughout the Gulf area attests to a burgeoning interest in the material past. St John Simpson, archaeologist and senior curator at the British Museum, says that a revival of interest in Islamic archaeology is long overdue. "It's part and parcel of a search for Muslim cultural identity," he explains. It is also an opportunity to redress earlier misconceptions. "Since the 19th century and continuing though much of the 20th century commercial excavations led by dealers have in parts of the world flooded the market with objects which were traditionally celebrated by art historians," Dr Simpson says. "They celebrated the beauty of those pieces and therefore reconstructed material cultures on the basis of those objects." This world of appreciation driven by beauty is the natural perspective of art historians who rate aesthetics over function. "So metal ware, certain types of glass and glazed ceramics are elevated slightly disproportionately to their real functional value in the past. "Metal ware, glass and glazed ceramics are more highly rated than pottery, brass or plain glass and unfortunately that gives a rather skewed impression," he says. This new phase is also putting the spotlight on less well known aspects of the Muslim world. Saudi Arabian archaeologist Saad bin Abdulaziz Al Rashid says the Saudi Authority for Tourism and Heritage is in the process of broadening its scope beyond the Holy Places. "Dams, wells, springs, fortresses along pilgrim tourist routes are all key to the understanding of the spread of Islam," he says. "We are maintaining the Islamic cultural identity while ensuring their future sustainability," he asserts. "These sites are significant not only to Muslims at large, but also to non-Muslim scholars and as part of the archaeological work we are supporting the transference and dissemination of the facts surrounding Islamic history." Saad in Abdulaziz Al Rashid goes on to cite the rich remains of the Nabataean cities of Al Ula and Mada'n Saleh, the furthest western outpost of the civilisation centred at Petra in Jordan. "These first century tombs are now a tourist attraction." he states. Meanwhile Alastair Northedge notes that the contemporary, more comprehensive vision of Islam counterbalances the extremist fixation with the time of the Prophet. "All that millennium and a half of great Islamic civilisation, the golden age, has tended to disappear," he comments. "That means forgetting discoveries in philosophy, science that can tell us so much." Now educated mainstream Muslims are seeking an intelligent tolerant Islam they can relate to and which is absent from Islamic State (IS) discourse. Today's archaeologist may cross modern political frontiers shattering paradigms created within borders. A globalised archaeology sees expert working collaboratively in diverse countries across the Muslim world. St John Simpson says that the British Museum is already working with Iraqi archaeologists to build capacity for a whole new generation. "For a post-Daesh world where we can dig across Iraq safely, training schemes in southern and northern Iraq are helping prepare archaeologists." Some Iraqi trainees are currently working in Mosul at a time of conflict making assessments of the archaeology and the damage to cultural property with a view that when peace is restored there can be reconstruction. Nor far away from the conference taking place in Bahrain's National Theatre, Salman al-Mahari is looking at some newly unearthed tombstones. "These are the same type of stones found in Shiraz, in south-central, Iran," he confirms. "They reflect the cultural and economic exchange between these two places dating from the 11th centuries and perhaps even earlier." As well as introducing the notion of globalism to modern Islamic archaeology, the conference holds out the prospect of an objective assessment of current and previous findings that will offer a more balanced and revisionist account of the social history of Islam.
Agency: European Commission | Branch: FP7 | Program: ERC-SyG | Phase: ERC-2013-SyG | Award Amount: 8.05M | Year: 2014
The Gupta dynasty dominated South Asia during the 4th and 5th centuries. Their period was marked by political stability and an astonishing florescence in every field of endeavor. The Gupta kingdom and its networks had an enduring impact on India and a profound reach across Central and Southeast Asia in a host of cultural, religious and socio-political spheres. Sometimes characterized as a Golden Age, this was a pivotal moment in Asian history. The Guptas have received considerable scholarly attention over the last century, as have, separately, the kingdoms of Central and Southeast Asia. Recent advances notwithstanding, knowledge and research activity are fragmented by entrenched disciplinary protocols, distorted by nationalist historiographies and constrained by regional languages and associated cultural and political agendas. Hemmed in by modern intellectual, geographical and political boundaries, the diverse cultures, complex polities and varied networks of the Gupta period remain specialist subjects, little-mentioned outside area studies and traditional disciplinary frameworks. The aim of this project is to work beyond these boundaries for the first time and so recover this profoundly influential dispensation, presenting it as a vibrant entity with connections across several regions and sub-continental areas. To address this aim, three PIs have formed an interdisciplinary team spanning linguistics, history, religious studies, geography, archaeology, Indology, Sinology and GIS/IT technologies. This team will establish a scientific laboratory in London that will generate the synergies needed to delineate and assess the significance of the Gupta Age and its pan-Asian impacts. The projects wider objective is to place Central,South and Southeast Asia on the global historical stage, significantly influence practices in Asian research and support EU leadership in Asian studies.
Agency: European Commission | Branch: H2020 | Program: RIA | Phase: REFLECTIVE-7-2014 | Award Amount: 2.59M | Year: 2015
The overall objectives of the GRAVITATE project are to create a set of software tools that will allow archaeologists and curators to reconstruct shattered or broken cultural objects, to identify and re-unify parts of a cultural object that has been separated across collections and to recognise associations between cultural artefacts that will allow new knowledge and understanding of past societies to be inferred. The project involves, as partners, a world-renowned museum, an archaeology institute, and research partners working in the manipulation of 3-D objects, semantic analysis and ICT integration. The project is driven by the needs of the archaeological institutes, exemplified by a pertinent use case, the Salamis collection shared between Cyprus and the British Museum. Expertise in 3-D scanning from previous project experience enables the partners to embark on a programme of geometrical feature extraction and matching on the one hand, and semantic annotation and matching on the other. The integration of these approaches into a single decision support platform, with a full suite of visualisation tools will provide a unique resource for the cultural heritage research community. We anticipate that the insights to be gained from the use of these tools will lead to faster and more accurate reconstruction of cultural heritage objects for study and exhibition, to greater opportunities for reunification of objects between collections and greater insights into relationships between past societies which can be communicated as coherent narratives to the public through new forms of virtual and tangible displays, involving the reconstructed objects themselves as well as 3-D printed objects and digital visualisations.
Agency: European Commission | Branch: H2020 | Program: ERC-ADG | Phase: ERC-ADG-2015 | Award Amount: 3.17M | Year: 2016
The origins, adoption and use of pottery vessels are among archaeologys most compelling issues. Pottery vessels are no longer viewed in western archaeology as a material correlate of sedentary farming life in the Neolithic. Despite recognition of pottery vessels in hunter-gatherer contexts in some parts of northern Europe and the former Soviet Union, their impact on, and role in, hunter-gatherer lifeways has been regarded as peripheral to mainstream European prehistory. This proposal seeks to rebalance the evidence and the debate, placing the innovation, dispersal and use of pottery vessels among hunter-gatherers in NE Europe at the heart of the enquiry. Virtually nothing is known of the choices underlying the adoption of pottery vessels or the uses to which they were put. Similarly, there is little understanding of the environmental contexts that led to the emergence of pottery or the timing and dynamics of its apparent westward dispersal across NE Europe, nor its legacy following the introduction of food production. Addressing these lacunae is the motivation for this proposal. INDUCE will tackle these important challenges with an integrated approach to reconstructing the contextual life histories of over 2000 pottery vessels, enhancing chronological control of early pottery horizons through 600 14C dates, investigating the typology of several thousand vessels from across the study region, creating spatio-temporal models for the spread of different pottery traditions and documenting the impact of the introduction of farming on the use of vessels for resource utilisation. This new understanding of pottery manufacture, dispersal and use across NE Europe will inspire a fundamental re-evaluation of later hunter-gatherer prehistory and culminate in an alternative narrative for the Neolithisation of Europe.
Agency: European Commission | Branch: H2020 | Program: RIA | Phase: INFRAIA-1-2014-2015 | Award Amount: 8.16M | Year: 2015
IPERION CH aims to establish the unique pan-European research infrastructure in Heritage Science by integrating national world-class facilities at research centres, universities and museums. The cross-disciplinary consortium of 23 partners (from 12 Member States and the US) offers access to instruments, methodologies and data for advancing knowledge and innovation in the conservation and restoration of cultural heritage. Fourth in a line of successful projects (CHARISMA-FP7, Eu-ARTECH-FP6 and LabS-TECH network-FP5), IPERION CH widens trans-national access by adding new providers with new expertise and instruments to the three existing complementary platforms ARCHLAB, FIXLAB and MOLAB. The quality of access services will be improved through joint research activities focused on development of new advanced diagnostic techniques and (with DARIAH ERIC) tools for storing and sharing scientific cultural heritage data. Networking activities will (a) promote innovation through technology transfer and dynamic involvement of SMEs; (b) improve access procedures by setting up a coordinated and integrated approach for harmonising and enhancing interoperability among the facilities; (c) identify future scientific challenges, best practices and protocols for measurements; (d) optimise the use of digital tools in Heritage Science. To advance the international role of EU cultural heritage research, IPERION CH will generate social and cultural innovation by training a new generation of researchers and professionals and by worldwide dissemination and communication to diverse audiences. To ensure long-term sustainability, the advanced community of IPERION CH will work towards inclusion in the new ESFRI Roadmap and constitution of a RI with its own EU legal entity (e.g. ERIC). Synergies with national and local bodies, and with managing authorities in charge of ESIF, will expand the scope and impact of IPERION CH in terms of competitiveness, innovation, growth and jobs in ERA.