Bloomsbury Summer School
Fascinated by ancient civilisations?
We offer anyone with any level of knowledge, inspiring short courses on ancient Egypt and other areas of the ancient world.
BSS Study Days archive: 2012 – 2022
Embodied Forms: Non-royal statuary in the late period
Saturday 26 June 2021
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic this event was run online only. Delivery was via the Zoom video communication platform. Zoom registration and login details were provided to participants via email upon enrolment.
Speaker: Dr Campbell Price (University of Manchester)
Temple statuary was the chief medium for elite self-presentation in the Late Period (c.750–30 BCE). Dedication of such monuments at the vast complex of Karnak was a privilege of the priestly elite.
This study day explored the forms and inscriptions of some of these statues. These give an important insight into conceptions of divinity, materiality, and expectations of how the statues were conceived to function for eternity in temples frequented by gods, the living, and the dead.
15th January 2021
(Re)Discovering Life in the Nile Valley: New technologies for studying ancient remains – How well do they work?
Saturday 19 September 2020
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic this event was run online only. Delivery was via the Zoom video communication platform. Zoom registration and login details were provided to participants via email upon enrolment.
Speakers: Dr Lidija McKnight and Dr Iwona Kozieradzka-Ogunmakin
To what extent do scientific techniques help us understand the archaeology of the Nile Valley? Recent years have seen a surge in scientific analyses of archaeological remains — but with varying degrees of success and sparking considerable debate. This study day will focus on the current state of research on the Nile Valley pertaining to human and animal remains, and what they reveal about the cultures of ancient Egypt and Nubia.
The day’s lectures presented a variety of fascinating case studies where archaeology and science have been used together to investigate life and death along the Nile. Throughout the day, we were actively encouraged to think critically and consider difficult questions. For example, is excavating more graves really necessary and can it be justified? Is it ethical to unwrap a mummy or scan human remains? Is it wrong to undertake destructive analysis of human and animal remains? Lidija and Iwona engaged us in discussing these controversial issues in the light of new scientific techniques and their future direction in the study of ancient Egypt and Nubia.
The lectures were recorded so those who could not attend the live event were able to have access the video recordings.
- View timetable and lecture summaries
- Find out more about the speakers: McKnight / Kozieradzka-Ogunmakin
19th August 2020
Festivals and Celebration in Ancient Egypt
Saturday 4 July 2020
Speakers: Dr Campbell Price, Dr José Ramón Pérez-Accino, Dr Claire Malleson, and Mr John J. Johnston
Delivered online via the Zoom video communication platform.
This year we invited four outstanding Egyptologists to join us for BSS Online in July to share their fascinating areas of expertise, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of BSS. Campbell is Curator of Egypt and Sudan at the University of Manchester’s Manchester Museum, José is Assistant Professor of Egyptology and Ancient History at the Universidad Complutense of Madrid, and Claire is Assistant Professor of Archaeology at the American University of Beirut. John is a freelance Egyptologist, Classicist, and cultural historian; he was Vice-Chair of the EES during 2010–2015.
“Millions of Jubilees”: Celebrating and interpreting the “Heb-Sed”
One of the most well-known rituals of ancient Egyptian kingship, the “heb-sed” was a key affirmation and rejuvenation of a Pharaoh's power. Yet few kings ever actually celebrated such an event on their 30-year jubilee, as Egyptologists believe they were supposed to have done. This lecture examines some of the evidence for the ritual – or simply its depiction - and attempts to assess its significance for the ancient Egyptian king, the populace at large, and Egyptological interpreters today.
The Art of Celebration in Ancient Egypt: Dress, adornment, music, and poetry
This lecture explores how the ancient Egyptians marked festive and other happy occasions through the clothing they wore and how they adorned their bodies. The use of music and dance to celebrate special occasions will also be examined together with texts, including poetry, that also shed light on Egyptian traditions of celebration.
“If there is beer you never ask for me!” Festive Food and Drink in Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egyptians probably enjoyed parties as much as we do, but, what did they eat and drink during celebrations and festivals? Certainly not jelly and ice-cream! This lecture presents evidence for the kinds of food and drink they might have consumed, as well as exploring Egyptian attitudes towards gluttony and drunkenness.
“Oh, it’s such a perfect day”: Celebrations from ancient Egypt onwards
The calendar of the ancient Egyptians was replete with religious and commemorative festivals, feast days, and celebrations. It therefore seems appropriate to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the founding of Bloomsbury Summer School with a lecture considering, with a plethora of illustrative material, certain of these festivals and their subsequent transmission and reception within modern contexts and popular culture.
In addition to hearing four engaging lectures on suitably festive Egyptological topics, there was plenty of opportunity to ask questions in the online Q&A session.
11th June 2019
Of Caravans and Crossroads: Cultures of Central Asia and the Silk Road in Antiquity
Map of the Silk Road
Gai Jorayev, Lucia Gahlin and Paul Wordsworth
Saturday 8th June 2019
This was our 2019 study day with lectures given by Dr Paul Wordsworth of the University of Oxford’s Oriental Institute, and Dr Gai Jorayev of UCL’s Institute of Archaeology.
In this information-packed study day our two extremely knowledgeable speakers delved into the origins of the famous Silk Roads and explored the ways in which commerce and travel shaped the cultural connections of a continent. They looked in detail at the societies of Central Asia and their fundamental role in transforming the ancient and medieval world, and untangled some of the pervasive myths of this network over a thousand years of its history. They focused on the extraordinary polities of the region from the Sogdians to the Samanids - long overlooked in the grand historical narratives of Western Europe - whose ground-breaking innovations underpinned long-distance trade in silk and other exotic goods, but also promoted extraordinary travel. In addition to examining the fragments of histories and personal narratives which illuminate this colourful past, our lecturers drew upon the astonishing archaeological and architectural remains of Central Asia, which are testament to the wealth and knowledge associated with the region often described as the ultimate cultural crossroads.
The first three lectures were given by Dr Paul Wordsworth, and the fourth by Dr Gai Jorayev.
The lectures were:
- The Origins of the Silk Road and the Genesis of Trans-Asian Connections
- Whither the Sogdians? Central Asian Traders and their Culture in the Classical and Late Antique Periods
- Islam on the High-Roads of Asia: travel in the Medieval period through the lands of Bukhara and Samarkand
- The Heritage of the Great Silk Roads
6th June 2018
Tombs and Temples of El Kab: current fieldwork and research
Vivian Davies, Luigi Prada, Liam McNamara and Susanne Woodhouse during the Q&A at our 2018 study day
Saturday 2nd June 2018
This was our 2018 study day with members of The Oxford University Expedition: Dr Vivian Davies, Dr Luigi Prada, Dr Susanne Woodhouse and Dr Liam McNamara.
El Kab is one of the oldest sites in Egypt. It was the ancient town of Nekheb, home of Nekhbet, the tutelary vulture goddess of Upper Egypt. The monuments here date from the Prehistoric to Roman Period. The tombs include the 18th Dynasty tomb of Ahmose, son of Abana with its inscription concerning the expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt; while its temples include a desert shrine to Nekhbet built by Amenhotep III. This study day explored The Oxford University Expedition’s current fieldwork at this important site, and the latest related research.
Lectures were given by Dr Vivian Davies, former Keeper of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at The British Museum and Director of The Oxford University Expedition at El Kab; Dr Luigi Prada, Research Associate in Egyptology at the University of Oxford and Visiting Associate Professor in Egyptology at the University of Copenhagen; Dr Susanne Woodhouse, Griffith Librarian for Egyptology and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at the Univeristy of Oxford’s Sackler Library; Dr Liam McNamara, Assistant Keeper for Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, and Director of the Griffith Institute, University of Oxford.
The four lectures were:
- Dr Vivian Davies: The Major Decorated Tombs: introduction and review
- Dr Luigi Prada: The Tombs and Temples: recovering history from visitors’ graffiti
- Dr Susanne Woodhouse: Monuments from the Tomb of Ahmose-Pennekhbet and the Ramesside Shrines: a project of reconstruction
- Dr Liam McNamara: Elkab in Oxford.
8th April 2017
The Indus Civilisation: lost and found
Indus Valley seal from Mohenjo-daro, c.2000BC
This was our Spring 2017 study day with Andrew Robinson, author of The Indus: Lost Civilizations (Reaktion), India: A Short History (Thames & Hudson) and Writing and Script: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press).
When Alexander the Great invaded the Indus Valley in the fourth century BC, he was wholly unaware that this region of north western India was once the centre of a civilisation with more than a thousand settlements, worthy of comparison with ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. The Indus civilisation flourished from about 2600-1900 BC, when it mysteriously declined and was forgotten until its ruins were discovered in the 1920s by British and Indian archaeologists. Today, after much excavation, it is regarded as the beginning of Indian civilisation and possibly the origin of Hinduism. The two largest Indus cities, Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, boasted street planning and house drainage worthy of the 20th century AD, including the world’s first toilets, along with complex stone weights, finely drilled gemstone necklaces (much prized in Mesopotamia) and an exquisite, part-pictographic, script carved on seal stones that has defied numerous attempts to decipher its language. Astonishingly, there is no evidence for armies or warfare. Andrew Robinson discussed a civilisation that apparently combined artistic excellence, technological sophistication and economic vigour with social egalitarianism, political freedom and religious moderation.
Andrew’s four lectures were:
- What is the Indus Civilisation? Its Rise, Eclipse and 20th-Century Rediscovery
- At the Sign of the Unicorn and the Swastika: The Challenge of the Indus Script
- A Utopian Society? Technology, Creativity and the Mystery of Indus Decline
- Contested Inheritance: Indus Origins of Hinduism and Indian Civilisation.
12nd December 2016
Ancient Records, Ancient Lives? The History of Ancient Egypt from the Time of the Great Pyramid to the Ending of the Middle Kingdom
John Romer at Medinet Habu
This was a rare opportunity to hear John Romer lecture in the UK. His four excellent and extremely thought-provoking lectures provided an overview of the invention and re-invention of pharaonic culture during the second millennium BC incorporating the remarkable research of the last two decades. The day tied in with his new book, Volume 2 of his History of Ancient Egypt.
John Romer was Field Director of The Brooklyn Museum Theban Expedition, which conducted the first physical survey and conservation studies in the Valley of the Kings. He has dedicated a great part of his life to archaeological conservation and, as an aid to raising public awareness of the importance and fragility of the past, has made many TV and radio documentaries. His books include The Valley of the Kings, Ancient Lives, The Great Pyramid, A History of Ancient Egypt Volume 1: from the first farmers to the Great Pyramid and this year … A History of Ancient Egypt Volume 2: from the Great Pyramid to the fall of the Middle Kingdom.
His four lectures were
- Reading the Pharaonic State, marking out the past. From Hardjedef to Champollion, writing changes everything. Counting kings, making histories.
- The Silent Histories. Sacred or Secular? Mortal and Immortal. The eloquence of statues: the world of the Old Kingdom, the royal household, its craftsmen, courtiers and priests, its sailors and caravans.
- Telling Stories, Re-peopling the Old Kingdom and the savour of a courtly past. Brief Lives. Pharaoh's letters, the courtiers' biographies and the voice inside the pyramids. The Pyramid Texts, the Berlin School and the invention of scientific history.
- Stops and Starts. Lamentations and Admonitions.Why the centre had not held. Tombs of the times. Ankhtifi at Mo'alla, the Intefs at Karnak, Hekanakht and Weni. War, water and fortresses. The Middle Kingdom's remarkable revision of Old Kingdom pharaonic culture.
1st July 2016
Shipwrecks and Sunken Cities: maritime archaeology shedding light on Egypt and the Mediterranean’s ancient navigation, trade, industry and religion
Study Day speakers Paul Roberts and Ross Iain Thomas
Peter Campbell and Aurélia Masson-Berghoff
Underwater archaeologists in Egypt’s bay of Abukir on the Mediterranean coast (Photo: Chris Gerigk © Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation).
This was our September 2016 study day with Dr Aurélia Masson-Berghoff, Lead Curator of the British Museum’s blockbuster exhibition, Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds. Find out more about Dr Aurélia Masson-Berghoff, and find out more about this exhibition here
- Mr Peter Campbell, Underwater Archaeologist & Project Co-Director, RPM Nautical Foundation. Find out more about Peter Campbell
- Dr Ross Iain Thomas, Curator, Department of Greece and Rome, The British Museum. Find out more about Dr Ross Iain Thomas
- Dr Paul Roberts, Keeper of Antiquities & Co-Curator of Storms, War and Shipwrecks: treasures from the Sicilian Seas exhibition, Ashmolean Museum. Find out more about this exhibition
The summer of 2016 has been fabulous for those fascinated by underwater archaeology. It was the focus of exhibitions at both the British Museum and Ashmolean Museum. The curators of these spectacular exhibitions shared with us the stories behind the displays. One focused on Canopus and Thonis Heracleion, Egyptian centres of religion and commerce, sunk beneath the Mediterranean Sea; the other featured the shipwrecks of the Sicilian Seas. We had a day exploring hubs of ancient cultural and commercial contact, including Naukratis, the Egyptian Delta port with its ongoing British Museum field project. Shipwreck archaeology in the Fourni archipelago is revealing so much about ancient trade from the Black Sea and North Aegean to Cyprus, the Levant, and Egypt.This study day brought together museum curators and archaeologists to share their recent exciting discoveries and stunning exhibitions with us.
The four lectures were:
Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds
Dr Aurélia Masson-Berghoff, Department of Egypt and Sudan, The British Museum
Submerged beneath the waters of the Mediterranean for over a thousand years, the lost cities of Canopus and Thonis-Heracleion, which lay at the mouth of the Nile, have recently been rediscovered. Their story was told for the first time in the recent exhibition at the British Museum. Thonis-Heracleion was one of Egypt’s most important commercial centres for trade with the Mediterranean world. Together with Canopus, it was also a major religious centre. Spectacular underwater finds tell stories of political power and popular belief, myth and migration. Their amazing discovery is transforming our understanding of the deep connections between the great ancient civilisations of Egypt and Greece. The exhibition’s lead curator told us the story behind the exhibition.
The Aegean’s Largest Ship Graveyard: ancient trade networks of the Eastern Mediterranean
Mr Peter Campbell, Cave Archaeology Investigation & Research Network; Albanian Center for Marine Research; RPM Nautical Foundation
The Fourni archipelago is a small collection of islands near the large islands of Ikaria and Samos, not far from the coast of Turkey. Fourni was a key anchorage along an arterial trade route connecting the Black Sea and North Aegean to Cyprus, the Levant, and Egypt. Overlooked until recently, Fourni is revealing a wealth of information on ancient navigation and trade.
Naukratis: recent discoveries from the international port of Egypt
Dr Ross Iain Thomas, Department of Greece and Rome, The British Museum
Naukratis was the Mediterranean port of Egypt from its founding in c.620BC until the construction of Alexandria by Kleomenes of Naukratis, on behalf of Alexander the Great. Long after the construction of Alexandria, Naukratis remained an important city, boasting the oldest Greek sanctuaries in Egypt and an impressive industrial centre and river port on the main transport route to Memphis from the Mediterranean, along the Canopic branch of the Nile. This presentation focused on the most recent discoveries by the British Museum fieldwork project in Naukratis, and attempts to reconstruct the city and understand its inhabitants.
Below the Surface at Storms, War and Shipwrecks: Treasures from the Sicilian Seas
Dr Paul Roberts, Department of Antiquities, Ashmolean Museum
Storms, War and Shipwrecks at the Ashmolean Museum used maritime archaeological discoveries to tell the extraordinary story of Sicily, crossroads of the Mediterranean. For millenia, great ancient civilisations - Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Normans - met and fought in Sicily and created a rich, varied and distinctive culture. The exhibition explored the roots of this multi-cultural heritage through objects from the bottom of the sea – from chance finds to excavated shipwrecks, from the pioneering Phoenician traders to the Emperors of Byzantium. The exhibition’s co-curator shared with us the exhibition’s main themes and star pieces and gave us an idea of how the exhibition came together.
11th June 2016
Unique Discoveries and New Ideas: Exciting Times at Hierakonpolis
Dr Renée Friedman, Director of the Hierakonpolis Expedition
This was our Summer 2016 study day with Dr Renée Friedman, Director of the Hierakonpolis Expedition, and members of her archaeological team: Dr Stan Hendrickx, Mr Liam McNamara and Dr Wim Van Neer.
Of all the fascinating archaeological sites in Egypt, the ancient site of Hierakonpolis is one of the earliest to see pharaonic culture blossom. It is the largest site of the Predynastic Period still extant and accessible anywhere in the Nile Valley, and its exploration and study continues to revolutionise our view of this formative time of Egyptian civilisation. Our study day drew together members of the Hierakonpolis archaeological and research team, headed by Dr Renée Friedman, who has been directing the expedition since 1996. This was a rare opportunity to hear the archaeologists themselves explain their recent exciting discoveries and current research projects. They guided us through the latest interpretations of their unique findings at Hierakonpolis, and their significance for our understanding of the Predynastic and Early Dynastic occupation of the site and Early Egyptian society in general.
The four lectures were:
- Hierakonpolis: a tour through town - Dr Renee Friedman, Director, Hierakonpolis Expedition
- The Role of Animals in Subsistence and Ritual at Hierakonpolis – Dr Wim Van Neer, Royal Belgian Museum of Natural History, Brussels
- Holy rubbish? Re-interpreting the Hierakonpolis Main Deposit – Mr Liam McNamara, Curator for Ancient Egypt and Sudan, Ashmolean Museum Oxford
- Hierakonpolis and the Development of Formal Egyptian Culture – Dr Stan Hendrickx, Lecturer in History of Art in the Media, Arts & Design Faculty, Hasselt, Belgium.
8th December 2015
Magic and Medicine in Ancient Mesopotamia
This was a study day with Assyriologist Dr Irving Finkel, British Museum Keeper of Ancient Mesopotamian Scripts, Languages and Cultures. Irving brought us his infectious passion for ancient Mesopotamian back to BSS. His study day on cuneiform texts in 2015 was such a resounding success, that we invited him back to inform and entertain us once again. In four lectures, Irving investigated magical and medical activity in ancient Mesopotamia on the basis of written evidence, archaeological objects and ancient representations. There is rich and plentiful material, but the idea for this study day was to distil an intelligible and undistorted understanding of how the Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians tried to prevent illness and misfortune from happening, and how to deal with them when they occurred. We met doctors, exorcists, patients, pharmacologists, devils, demons, hypochondriacs and other assorted individuals. Irving has made some interesting recent discoveries about dyeing in Ancient Mesopotamia and he also shared these with us, on what turned out to be another fantastic day.
The four lectures were:
- Ancient Mesopotamian Magic and Medicine
- Ancient Mesopotamian Medicine and Magic
- Babylonian Blues: A Tablet of Dyeing Recipes
- Thinking Outside the Box: object + text = discovery
29th June 2015 (updated 12/12/15)
When Science and Archaeology Collide: a day of discovery with Dr Jo Marchant
Jo Marchant in BBC 'Meet the Author' interview: bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-23270737
This was a day of intriguing lectures given by acclaimed science writer Dr Jo Marchant on Tutankhamun and Amarna royal mummies DNA, a 2000 year old computer, and the oldest known cave art.
It was a perfect mix of adventure, discovery and science with Jo Marchant, a respected science journalist with a particular interest in the ancient world. In this study day she shared the secrets behind a variety of her intriguing research interests. The day started with two lectures on Tutankhamun and the royal mummies of the Valley of the Kings, from the fascinating stories of their discoveries to researchers’ controversial attempts to study them with DNA tests and CT scans. She considered with us what science can really tell us about how these royals were related, and about how Tutankhamun died. Then in the afternoon, we learnt about the race to decode the 2000-year-old “Antikythera mechanism” – a mysterious and sophisticated device that proves the ancient Greeks were capable of far more than we ever thought – and we were given an update on recent results from excavations of the shipwreck on which the mechanism was found. We ended the day with the latest news from archaeologists studying 40,000-year-old cave art in Sulawesi, Indonesia – with results that are helping to rewrite ideas about the birth of human creativity.
Her four lectures were:
- Clues by Candlelight: how the royal mummies of the Valley of the Kings were found
- Curse of the Pharaoh’s DNA: the science of Tutankhamun and the Amarna Period mummies
- Decoding the Heavens: uncovering the secrets of the 2000-year-old Antikythera mechanism
- Dawn of Creativity: the discovery of 40,000-year-old cave art in Sulawesi, Indonesia
18th October 2015
The Great Oasis: history and archaeology of Egypt’s Kharga and
Professor Salima Ikram excavating at Kharga Oasis.
Our Autumn study day was a day of lectures with Professor Salima Ikram, Head of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, and Director of the North Kharga Oasis Survey, Salima flew to London specially to give this study day on a fascinating area of her current excavation and research.
The words ‘Sahara Desert’ conjure up visions of endless miles of undulating sand dunes shimmering under the burning sun, punctuated by occasional pockets of green oases housing fierce Bedouin tribes. The Sahara in Egypt goes some way to fulfilling this stereotype …. but with added glamour. Egypt's Western Desert is home to extraordinary landforms and sites dating from the Prehistoric Period onwards. Among the five oases of the Western Desert, Kharga and Dakhla stand out as host to an extraordinary number of temples, tombs, settlements, rock art, and ancient routes. This study day offered the opportunity to explore the history of these oases from c.10,000 BC until the Roman Period, with a lecturer who is both a leading scholar in Egyptian funerary archaeology, and an archaeologist who has worked at sites such as Giza, Saqqara, Abusir, the Valley of the Kings, and of course the Western Desert Oases.
Her four lectures were:
- The Great Oasis: An Introduction and History
- The Prehistory of the Pre-Oases: rock art and the environment
- Governors and Priests: the oases from the Old Kingdom to the Late Period
- Routes and Romans: the oases from the Late Period through to the Romans
You can read more about Salima’s research on the rock art of Kharga Oasis by downloading the following PDF files:
5th March 2015
The Wonder of Cuneiform: a passionate exploration of some of Mesopotamia’s most important ancient records
Our Spring study day was given by the Assyriologist Dr Irving Finkel, The British Museum’s Assistant Keeper of Ancient Mesopotamian Scripts, Languages and Cultures. Irving is in charge of the British Museum’s cuneiform inscriptions on clay tablets from ancient Mesopotamia, of which the British Museum has the largest collection (c.130,000).
Irving brought his infectious passion for ancient Mesopotamian cuneiform to BSS, and it was a fantastic day. In four lectures, he investigated how the world’s oldest writing came into being and how it developed. He took us on a magical journey, following the story of some of the most remarkable cuneiform documents he has worked on in the British Museum over the last 34 years – the Cyrus Cylinder, the Royal Game of Ur, and the Ark Tablet, his recent discovery of which caused a media sensation and is the subject of his latest book, The Ark Before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood.
The lectures were
- Cuneiform Writing: the world’s oldest and most marvellous writing
- The Cyrus Cylinder: unexpected discoveries and the recovery of meaning
- The Royal Game of Ur: from ancient grave to modern rebirth
- The Ark Tablet: how the life of an Assyriologist could be transformed by a single tablet with 60 lines of writing.
25th November 2014
Mosaics to Mummy Portraits: the arts, architecture and people of Roman Sicily, Syria and North Africa
Paul Roberts captivates a BSS audience at our Autumn study day on Pompeii in 2012. Photo: Sven Klinge
Our Autumn Study Day was a day of lectures on some of the most fascinating of the southern and eastern provinces of the mighty Roman Empire, given by Dr Paul Roberts, Head of the British Museum’s Roman collections, Curator of Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum and Co-Curator of Ancient Faces.
We began our day in Sicily, the breadbasket of Rome. In From Greece to the Normans: the Splendour of Sicily we looked at the rich architectural and artistic heritage of the largest and one of the wealthiest islands of the ancient Mediterranean. We learnt that many of Sicily’s treasures will be coming to the British Museum in a spectacular exhibition in 2016. We then made the short crossing to North Africa. In Rome in Africa, Africa in Rome we saw how Rome conquered North Africa, and how North Africa conquered Rome. We looked at mighty cities such as Carthage and Cyrene and traced Rome’s impact on their art and daily lives. We also explored the profound effect that Africa, in particular Egypt, had on Roman Art and society. We saw ‘Egyptomania’ in Roman art, from Nilotic mosaics and wall paintings, to statues and temples of deities such as Isis and Serapis. In Ancient Faces we examined the beautiful and intriguing mummy portraits of Roman Egypt, excavated by Flinders Petrie at Hawara, as works of art, actual likenesses and archaeological artefacts. We finished by heading to Rome’s eastern frontier, to Syria. In Palmyra, Bride of the Desert we gained insight into this desert caravan city with its rich culture and gorgeous architecture and scenery, sadly impossible to visit today.
12th May 2014
Kingship and the Gods: the origins of Egypt, Mesopotamia and Iran
Dr Paul Collins explaining the Uruk Phenomenon at our May study day. Photo: Sven Klinge
Our second study day this Spring brought together some of the current research at the University of Oxford and UCL, under the direction of BSS favourite, Dr Paul Collins, Assistant Keeper for Ancient Near East at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. He was joined by Dr Alice Stevenson, Curator of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL; Dr Jacob Dahl, Lecturer in Assyriology for the Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford; Ms Kathryn Kelley of the University of Oxford’s Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative.
In the period 3500-2900 BC, the world's first cities and states arose in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Iran. Traditionally, these centres have been examined independently although there is fascinating evidence for their interaction in the centuries around 3000 BC. This took the form of shared imagery, architecture and ideas (perhaps including the earliest writing) that were closely associated with notions of kingship and relationships with the gods. This study day revisited the evidence to explore how and why these connections over vast distances occurred. Why was the shared imagery later abandoned so that each region developed along very different trajectories? How did this crucial period help to shape the emergence of the city-states of Sumer and the first dynasties of a unified Egypt?
The sessions were:
- Connections: what, where and when? (Dr Paul Collins)
- The Uruk Phenomenon (Dr Paul Collins)
- The Origins of Kingship in Egypt (Dr Alice Stevenson)
- Authority in Early Iran: something very different (Dr Jacob Dahl and Ms Kathryn Kelley)
- Connections: how and why? Panel and Audience Discussion
21st April 2014
A New Chronology for Early Egypt
Dr Alice Stevenson and Dr Michael Dee fascinated us at our March study day
Our first study day this Spring focused on the current Leverhulme-funded research establishing a new chronology for the emergence of the Ancient Egyptian state, findings which have caused quite a stir. Our lecturers were Dr Alice Stevenson, Curator of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology and Dr Michael Dee, Research Fellow at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, University of Oxford.
There had been much excitement in the press about the re-dating of the beginnings of Egyptian civilisation. Two scholars at the forefront of this research explained their findings and the implications. They the question of how archaeologists date and analyse developments in prehistory when there are no written records. They explored the history and methodologies used by archaeologists to understand this crucial period from 4500 BC to 2900 BC, and the emergence of the first rulers of Egypt. Discussion ranged from Flinders Petrie’s groundbreaking sequencing of prehistoric pottery to the most recent set of radiocarbon dates obtained by scientists at the University of Oxford. This day provided us with a framework in which to understand the emergence of the ancient Egyptian state.
- Making time for Early Egypt: the archaeology of the 4th millennium BC (Dr Alice Stevenson)
- Radiocarbon dating: principles and methods (Dr Michael Dee)
- Stories from the store: excavating museums for modern research (Dr Alice Stevenson)
- A new chronology for Egypt: results and implications (Dr Michael Dee)
14th May 2013
Lost Languages: the enigma of the world’s undeciphered scripts
Andrew Robinson looking at an Indus Valley inscription
Our Spring Study Day was a fascinating day of lectures given by the distinguished writer Andrew Robinson, author of Lost Languages: The Enigma of the World's Undeciphered Scripts, John Bennet, Professor of Aegean Archaeology at the University of Sheffield, and Robert Morkot, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Exeter.
We learnt a huge amount about undeciphered scripts which have long tantalized not only archaeologists but anyone interested in past civilizations. No one knows how Indian history began, for example, because the exquisitely inscribed Indus Valley seal script of the third millennium BC has remained undeciphered since its discovery in the 1920s. This study day began with the stories of the great decipherments and decipherers, such as those of Egyptian hieroglyphs, Minoan Linear B and the Mayan glyphs. Robinson went on to dissect the most well-known and enigmatic undeciphered scripts from around the world, such as the Proto-Elamite script of Iran, the Etruscan alphabet of Italy, and the Rongorongo script of Easter Island. In the afternoon there were two special lectures by experts on Minoan Linear A and the Meroitic script of Nubia and Sudan.
- Lives of the Code Breakers: Champollion, Ventris, Knorozov and Other Great Decipherers (Andrew Robinson)
- Decoding Antiquity: Undeciphered Scripts, from Proto-Elamite to Rongorongo (Andrew Robinson)
- Writing in Minoan Crete: what we know and what we don't know (John Bennet)
- When even deciphering doesn't help much: the case of Meroitic (Robert Morkot)
10th September 2012
Pompeii and Herculaneum AD 79 (Vesuvius, Naples, London)
Dr Paul Roberts at BSS study day. Photo: Sven Klinge
Our Autumn study day was a day of lectures by Dr Paul Roberts preparing us for next year’s big exhibition at the British Museum.
Dr Paul Roberts is Curator of Roman Art and Archaeology at the British Museum, and Curator of next year’s Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition at the British Museum. His research focuses on aspects of the daily life of the ordinary people of the Roman world. He has excavated in Italy, Greece, Libya and Turkey. He co-directs the excavations at Forum Novum, north of Rome.
The subject matter:
In AD 79 two cities on the Bay of Naples in southern Italy were buried by a catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Preserved deep under the ash the cities of Vesuvius and Herculaneum provide one of the most remarkable, immediate and moving glimpses of the Roman world. There are stately public buildings, such as theatres and baths, streets filled with shops and bars and houses of all shapes and sizes from luxurious mansions to flats above shops. Sculptures of emperors, gods and benefactors, inscriptions, electoral notices and graffiti filled the streets. In the houses were stunning mosaics and wall paintings showing everything from mythological scenes to still life, and sex, as well as jewellery, objects of silver, glass and even wooden furniture miraculously preserved. Most importantly there were the ordinary people of Pompeii and Herculaneum, their lives, their loves and their deaths on that fateful day in August AD79.
Many of the beautiful (and ordinary) household objects from the cities will be brought to London for a major exhibition in 2013. As part of our study day we also looked at the exhibition itself, including new discoveries from Herculaneum, shown in London for the first time, and the world behind the scenes, putting together the exhibition.
The lecture titles:
- Ordinary Cities, Extraordinary Events: Public life of Pompeii and Herculaneum
- At Home with the Romans: Domestic Life in Pompeii and Herculaneum
- Life and Death. Pompeii and Herculaneum. The Cities come to London
Ancient Store Rooms, New Discoveries. Behind the Scenes and the Making of the Exhibition
Paul gave the last lecture with Project Curator for the exhibition, Vanessa Baldwin.
14th May 2012
Ancient Egypt: myth and history
John Romer at Medinet Habu
Our Spring 2012 study day was a day of lectures by renowned Egyptologist John Romer
John Romer lived and worked in Luxor for over forty years, serving on American and German expeditions and acting as Field Director of The Brooklyn Museum Theban Expedition, which conducted the first physical survey and conservation studies in the Valley of the Kings and the clearance and epigraphic study of the tomb of Ramesses XI. He has also dedicated a great part of his time to archaeological conservation and, as an aid to raising public awareness of the importance and fragility of the past, has made many TV and radio documentaries. His books include The Valley of the Kings, Ancient Lives and The Great Pyramid.
John gave four lectures on the subject of his latest research:
- Views of Egypt: An overview of the histories of 'ancient Egypt' from the volumes of Rector Rollins (Paris 1730) to the modern Oxford History (2000). Attitudes and preoccupations; continuities and disconnections.
- Pharaonic Plots: The popular image of 'Egypt of the Pharaohs'; classical ideas of history and the origins of the modern concepts of myth.
- Darwin's Plots: Tales of savagery and progress from Flinders Petrie to the 'New Archaeology', that underlie current visions of Egyptian prehistory.
- Voyages on an Unknown River: Fitting it all back together, new approaches to the history of ancient Egypt. Seeing afresh, the ancient Egyptians’ astonishing originality and the extraordinary impact that they have had upon the modern world.
This was a rare opportunity to hear John Romer speak in this country; to ask him questions; and socialise with him during the coffee/tea breaks.