Bloomsbury Summer School (text)

Bloomsbury Summer School

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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 – 2017

8th April 2017

The Indus Civilisation: lost and found

Indus Valley seal

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:

 

 

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

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

 

1st July 2016

Shipwrecks and Sunken Cities: maritime archaeology shedding light on Egypt and the Mediterranean’s ancient navigation, trade, industry and religion

Paul Roberts and Ross Iain Thomas

Study Day speakers Paul Roberts and Ross Iain Thomas

Peter Campbell & Aurélia Masson-Berghoff

Peter Campbell and Aurélia Masson-Berghoff

Underwater archaeologists, Bay of Abukir, Egypt’s.

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

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:

 

11th June 2016

Unique Discoveries and New Ideas: Exciting Times at Hierakonpolis

Dr Renée Friedman

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:

 

8th December 2015

Magic and Medicine in Ancient Mesopotamia

Dr Irving Finkel holding cuneiform tablet

Dr Irving Finkel, a scholar passionate about cuneiform tablets.

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:

 

29th June 2015 (updated 12/12/15)

When Science and Archaeology Collide: a day of discovery with Dr Jo Marchant

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:

 

The Great Oasis: history and archaeology of Egypt’s Kharga and
Dakhla Oases

Salima Ikram.

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:

You can read more about Salima’s research on the rock art of Kharga Oasis by downloading the following PDF files:

Adobe PDF icon Salima Ikram Kharga Oasis Rock Art a.pdf


Adobe PDF icon Salima Ikram Kharga Oasis Rock Art b.pdf

 

5th March 2015

The Wonder of Cuneiform: a passionate exploration of some of Mesopotamia’s most important ancient records

Dr Irving Finkel holding the 'Ark Tablet'.

Dr Irving Finkel and the ‘Ark Tablet’

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

 

25th November 2014

Mosaics to Mummy Portraits: the arts, architecture and people of Roman Sicily, Syria and North Africa

Dr Paul Roberts

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

Paul Collins

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:

 

21st April 2014

A New Chronology for Early Egypt

Dr Alice Stevenson and Dr Michael Dee

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.

The lectures:

 

14th May 2013

Lost Languages: the enigma of the world’s undeciphered scripts

Andrew Robinson

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.

The lectures:

 

10th September 2012

Pompeii and Herculaneum AD 79 (Vesuvius, Naples, London)

Dr Paul Roberts at BSS study day

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:

Paul gave the last lecture with Project Curator for the exhibition, Vanessa Baldwin.

 

14th May 2012

Ancient Egypt: myth and history

John Romer, Medinet-Habu

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:

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.