OCTOBER 23-25: BACK TO WINDY ENGLAND (BRIGHTON) AND THE BRITISH MUSEUM

Posted on Mar 13, 2012 in category

Spanish airports like Spanish roads and rail are first class. Spanish sovereign debt may be large at over 60% of GDP along with high unemployment of 23% but some of the government’s previous spending was visionary. I left Spain feeling that yes the mood is a little sombre among the people and that austere change was in the warm air but the country has a special cultural heritage and a complicated history that was well worth the investigative trip.

 

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Pablo Ruiz Picasso Terminal (3) at Malaga Airport.

 

Landing at Gatwick Airport, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the authorities were gearing up for the London Olympics in 2012. Passengers were speedily processed through Customs and baggage. After a relatively short wait on Gatwick Airport Station, we were headed for ‘sunny’ Brighton on the southern coast. Thankfully, Brighton was sunny; but, it was also windy. Even the giant seagulls seemed to be awkwardly hovering above the pebbly beach.

 

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Dodo-bird-sized seagulls were quite aggressive around food

 

The skeleton of Brighton’s original pier still shakes about some of its remaining rusty bones. Constructed in 1823 as an old chain pier to disembark passengers from Dieppe, France, the old pier failed to survive a series of severe storms over the following decade. A storm in 1889 finally did the old pier in.

 

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“Bones. Bones Bones!”

The old sea dog moans.

 

It took another 10 years to build a new pier, Brighton Palace Pier, opening in grand style on 20th May 1899 costing a hefty £27,000. Pier masters in uniform administered the pier until the 1970’s and amusement machines were introduced in 1905. Today there was no shortage of slot machine patronage. Rides were riding high too!

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It takes three months every year to repaint the pier and 67,000 lights are proudly illuminated every night.

 

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Riding high on Brighton Pier. During World War 2 authorities dismantled sections of the pier fearing a German seaborne invasion. Guards were posted.

 

Another icon of Brighton is Brighton Pavilion. In the 1780’s George, Prince of Wales, enjoyed the therapeutic sea water treatments in Brighton; thus, beginning his desire to build a bigger and better palace to entertain his guests. In 1811 George became Prince Regent because his father George III was deemed insane. In 1815 John Nash was commissioned to make a difference by transforming George’s then relatively modest abode into an Oriental palace. A vast iron frame was superimposed over the earlier building enabling minarets, onion domes and pinnacles to be assembled to Nash’s construction collage. George IV became King in 1820 with little time to enjoy his former playground although it didn’t stop him constructing an expensive tunnel from his palace to his horse stables in order to remain hidden from the populace. He died in 1830.

 

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Conservation and restoration work has been a battle with the shape of the roof causing water damage over the years. Entrance fees are steep at 9.80 pounds; it was 6d. in the 1920’s.

 

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Servants were accommodated inside the ‘Saloon Bottle’ or main onion dome (note circular glass windows). For a tour of this peculiar accommodation see:

http://brightonmuseums-paviliontour.org.uk/tour/?language=english-standard-tour/

 

Returning to London on British Rail, we checked in our luggage at Victoria Station and set forth on our third visit to the British Museum. The Minoan display was my first objective. Here are a few interesting artefacts from this fascinating civilisation:

 

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A spouted early Minoan vase called ‘Vassiliki Ware’ or ‘Mottled Ware’ 2500-2300 B.C.

 

In A.D.1913 archaeologists discovered Bronze Age pottery in a cave near Kamares, located on the southern side of Mount Ida in Crete. The style included a black slip background with several colours such as white, red and orange added to highlight this black background. Mostly concentrated (but not necessarily produced en masse) in palace workshops at Knossos, Phaestos and Mallia, Kamares Ware started using spiral patterns then other patterns followed such as coils and petals. Furthermore, natural patterns like grass and flowers were also combined with earlier patterns to create sophisticated Middle Minoan pottery.

 

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Kamares style pottery with spiral pattern from Kato Zakro in eastern Crete (1700-1550 B.C.)

 

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Kamares Ware with white spray patterns and red bands found at Knossos (1700-1600 B.C.)

 

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Kamares Ware: red and white ‘hatching’ (1950-1850 B.C.) is on the left; red and white stripes (1950-1850 B.C.) on the right of picture. Both were found at Knossos and donated by Sir Arthur Evans.

 

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Kamares Ware with impressed decoration found at Knossos (1850-1800 B.C.)

 

 

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Middle Minoan III bridge-spouted vase 1700-1550 B.C. found in eastern Crete at Palaikastro.

 

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An unusual jar with splash and trickle pattern found in Kamares Cave (1700-1550 B.C.)

 

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A tripod bowl with white painted decoration from Palaikastro (1850-1700 B.C.)

 

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‘Marine’ style pottery of the New Palace period with an octopus design (1550-1450 B.C.) found at Palaikastro in eastern Crete.

 

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Imported Melian (island of Melos in Cyclades) bird vase found in the ‘Temple Repositories’ cists along with the snake goddesses at Palace of Knossos (1700-1550 B.C.).

 

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A pottery bowl with ripple decoration found in a Minoan house at Kato Zakro (1550-1500 B.C.)

Apart from developing distinctive pottery styles, the Minoans were such inspired artisans of gold/silver jewellery, seal stones, stone vessels, frescoes and bronze sculptures.

 

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A bee or fly (top), two lions’ heads (middle) and a goat with three suspended discs (bottom) all made from gold sheet.

 

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A silver pendant found by Sir Flinders Petrie in Tell el-Daba (Avaris) in Egypt of Minoan origins.

 

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A gold falcon with inlaid wings with Egyptian influence but made and found in Crete (1700-1550 B.C.).

 

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 A bronze bull-leaper found in south-west Crete (1550-1450 B.C.)

 

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No typical wasp-waist for this Minoan worshipper (bronze, 1700-1450 B.C.).

 

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Part of the ‘Aigina Treasure’, a collection of jewellery and a single cup, found on the island of Aigina (Greece) but believed to be of Minoan origin (1850-1550 B.C.). Here the ‘Master/Mistress of the Animals’ stands among lotus flowers revealing another link with Egypt. The four curving shapes are believed to be two sets of bulls’ horns.

 

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The ‘Aigina Treasure’. Minoan colonists lived on the island so this treasure may have come from tombs on the island.

 

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‘Aigina Treasure’ was found near the Bronze Age site of Windmill Hill ,Kolonna on the island of Aigina. A Minoan stone hammer used in sacral rites has been found at Kolonna as well as ashlar stone masonry with inscribed double axes.

 

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Three lentoid seals with animals: a grazing bull (left), three goats carved on agate (middle) and a goat among plants (right). Seal stones were made from serpentine, chlorite and steatite in Crete whilst jasper and cornelian were imported from Aegean islands and agate and amethyst came from Egypt (2000-1600 B.C.).

 

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A fresco replica of the famous bull-leaping fresco or ‘Toreador Fresco’ from the ‘Court of the Stone Spout’, Palace of Knossos. It is likely that these events were held in the Central Courts of the palaces because one sound theory proposes that the similar 2:1 dimensions of the central courts are like the strict measurements for competitive sporting grounds today. Interestingly in Seville’s bullring, which is rather large, most of the bull fighting was only carried out in the shade close to the more expensive seating (approximately 1/3 of the arena).

 

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The Mycenaeans controlled Crete from circa 1600-1450 B.C (experts disagree about timing of takeover and reasons); however, this pot from Mycenae in Greece reveals the Minoan double-axe design and at least, the artistic influence of the culture on the mainland.

 

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A shallow Mycenaean pottery cup with ivy leaves decoration – very Minoan! (1450-1400 B.C., Mycenae)

 

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An ointment jar showing seaweed and struggling argonauts. This Mycenaean jar, that has Minoan-influenced ‘Marine’ style, was excavated in Egypt and is evidence of the beginning of Mycenaean trade with Egypt around the time of their Minoan takeover (1600-1450 B.C.).

The Egyptian section of the BM is mindboggling too. The ‘Rosetta Stone’ takes a worthy pride of place in the Egyptian hall. Unearthed in el-Rashid (Rosetta) by Napoleon’s French troops whilst building a fort, the Rosetta Stone of basalt has three identical scripts on the one slab of rock: hieroglyphics, demotic and Greek. Its discovery enabled scholars to decipher hieroglyphics. This priestly declaration was issued in honour of 13 year old Ptolemy V’s first cult anniversary (196 B.C.). A frenzy of photographers buzzing around the exhibit turned me off taking a photo so here are a few other special Egyptian exhibits worth mentioning:

1. Rameses II ‘List of Kings’ from his Abydos Temple (1250 B.C.). Along with other lists such as Menetho’s list in the 3rd century B.C., stone inscriptions and papyrus records, Rameses II’s ‘List of Kings’ as well as his father’s identical list (Sety I) have allowed Egyptologists to compose a fairly accurate timeline of pharaohs. Rameses I’s list combined with his father Sety I’s list are valuable because they are the only lists of kings between the known rulers of the 6th dynasty (2375-2187 B.C.) and those known in the 11th dynasty (2125-1985 B.C.) .However, omitted from the lists are pharaohs from the Amarna dynasty such as Akhenaten, Smenkhare, Tutankhamen and Ay in addition to the two Intermediate periods’ kings.

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Dedicated to the cult of Osiris in Abydos, Rameses II’s ‘List of Kings’ depicts each king with their cartouche.

 

2. Officials and commoners also mimicked pharaonic funerary habits during the New Kingdom. Funerary stone stelae were normally positioned at the entrance to rock cut tombs which enabled commoners to leave a legacy extolling their first life virtues to deities.

 

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Sobkhotpe (18th dynasty 1400 B.C.) was scribe of the wine cellar. He’s praying to Osiris and Anubis whilst his kids offer him goodies in the lower register (left); Penbuwy was a royal tomb builder who lived in the village of Deir-el-Medina about 1200 B.C. (19th dynasty). His god Ptah is seated in the upper register (middle); Sapair and his wife lived in the 18th dynasty circa. 1400 B.C. Their god is Osiris-Khentamentiu and the lower register depicts his kids offering food to their seated parents.

 

3.Egyptian stone sculpture can assume enormous proportions. The artisans of stone masonry worked in well organised and trained groups to produce such large sculptures of pharaohs, queens and officials alike.

 

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Gargantuan sculptures that pack a punch with visitors

 

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Goddess Hathor from the Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III (Akhenaten’s father) whose mortuary temple contained over 1000 large statues. Only two remain, the ‘Colossi of Memnon’ (circa.1400 B.C.).

 

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Definitely a pharaoh to look up to – Rameses II. His bust was taken from the Ramesseum or mortuary temple (1250 B.C.). Interestingly, during Rameses III’s rule, the first recorded workers’ strike occurred at the Ramesseum. Royal tomb workers had not received their wages (wheat!) so they downed tools and walked to the Ramasseum for the first solidarity ‘sit-in’.

 

Our final BM display was the famous ‘Sutton Hoo Burial’. In May 1939 a treasure of Anglo-Saxon objects was discovered by archaeologist, Basil Brown, at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. The landowner, Mrs Edith Pretty, had four mounds on her property she wished to be investigated (17 mounds in total). Two of the mounds unearthed cremation remains and a few funerary objects; however, the larger mound labelled ‘Mound 2’ had within it a partly robbed Anglo-Saxon ship burial with the rusty ship rivets still lodged in the excavated ground. Fragments of a sword, a glass vessel, silver-gilt mounts from drinking horns and a silver buckle revealed an elite burial. The final mound and largest was excavated the next year. ‘Mound 1’ was the eureka moment. Robbers had missed their prize, an undisturbed burial chamber within the ship. Brown left the rivets in situ thus allowing dimensions of the ship to be verified: 27 metres long x 4.5 metres wide.

A court battle followed: although not legally classified as a ‘Treasure Trove’ and therefore the property of the Crown, but rather a ‘grave’ belonging to the property owner, the Sutton Hoo burial artefacts were nevertheless generously donated to the British Museum by Mrs Pretty. World War 2 interrupted the excavation causing damage to the site. Mrs Pretty’s death meant she never knew the full extent of the rich finds. Later a 10 year study (1983-1993) by Professor Martin Carver of York University dated the graves along with several others in the area at the late sixth and seventh centuries A.D. A grisly discovery found that the site was also an execution ground until the 11th century A.D.

Who were the Anglo-Saxons?

With the collapse of the Roman empire in the 5th century A.D. the first Anglo-Saxon settlers in England were probably mercenaries or Germanic warriors employed by local ‘Romanised’ rulers who were trying desperately to maintain their privileged positions. By the 6th century A.D. a mass migration of tribal peoples from Scandinavia, northern Germany and the Netherlands was swamping most of England. By the end of the seventh century A.D. only Wales, north-west and south-west England remained under native British control. The Sutton Hoo burial is located in the territory of the kingdom of the East Angles and was the burial ground of the early kings of the East Angles.

 

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Reconstruction of the shield from the Sutton Hoo ship burial with gold, garnet, copper-alloy and iron fittings. Diameter 91.4 centimetres.

 

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A close-up of the shield’s central iron boss that is decorated with pairs of intertwined horses. Other decorative motifs on the shield include interlacing animals and dragons’ heads with beady garnet eyes. An iron grip behind the boss is also ornamented with dragon and bird heads. The ceremonial shield was positioned on the west wall of the burial chamber along with 5 thrusting spears and three throwing spears.

 

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The helmet was found in some 500 fragments. The burial chamber had withstood the elements for some time before collapsing. The helmet had oxidised before the collapse so it broke up into many pieces rather than buckle and twist if the burial chamber had collapsed shortly after burial. Although the helmet was a big jigsaw puzzle, this was preferable to restorers than the mangled alternative . Unsatisfactorily ‘reconstructed’ in 1947, the helmet was pulled apart again and more thoroughly studied. The key to the jigsaw puzzle was the formation of the crest that runs from the back to the front beginning and ending in flying dragon heads. The rest of the helmet fell into place around this ‘Nordic crest’ – a hollow iron tube inlaid with silver wires that create a geometric pattern. Similar ‘cousin’ helmets have been found in Valsgarde, Vendel, Helvi, Halla and Gamla Uppsala in Sweden.

 

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Seventh century A.D. sword with gold and cloisonné garnet fittings found in the Sutton Hoo burial chamber. In the background of this photo, chain mail armour found in Sutton Hoo has formed a mass of rusted iron. An example of chain mail in normal state is placed alongside of it (top left of photo).

 

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Rear view of reconstructed shield and helmet.

 

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A sceptre made from fine grey stone. It was first thought to be a whetstone but there is little evidence on the stone itself to support this suggestion. A copper alloy stag sits on top. A six stringed maple wood lyre from the burial is in the background.

 

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Largest of the three bronze hanging bowls found in Sutton Hoo burial. Red enamel and glass plaques are used in the decoration. The rotating fish below the hanging bowl was part of the cooking utensil.

 

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Very large drinking horns. The horns had decomposed but the gold fittings reveal that aurochs’ horns were probably used (now extinct).

 

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A gold-gilt hollow buckle with hinged back-plate weighing 412.7 grams. Birds and beasts are interlaced with three gold bosses. On the same belt was a purse with a gold purse lid decorated with garnets and glass. Thirty seven gold Frankish coins were inside the purse dated late 6th and early 7th centuries A.D.

 

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37 gold Frankish coins, three blanks and two ingots were found in the purse. The earliest coin is dated 595 A.D. and the latest at 640 A.D.

 

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A close-up of the purse’s lid. Whale bone ivory backing probably supported this ornate lid. Two men are standing between two wolves and two eagles are swooping on their prey.

 

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16 pieces of silver tableware were found in the burial chamber. The largest platter dates from 491-518 A.D. and is called the ‘Anastasius platter’ after the Roman emperor whose control mark it bears. Germanic warriors in the Roman army were often rewarded with silver plate. It was a family heirloom.

 

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A reproduction of one of the three buckets found in the burial chamber using the original iron fittings.

 

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An iron lamp still had remains of beeswax in the round bowl but no trace of a wick.

 

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An artist’s interpretation of the Sutton Hoo burial ship (Mound 1); Mound 2 burial ship had the timber burial chamber built first beneath ground level; then, the ship was placed above it and the mound followed. For numerous detailed analses of exhibits see: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/medieval-world/early-medieval/a/the-sutton-hoo-ship-burial

 

I hope you enjoyed my historical adventure to England and Spain. Thanks for sharing this journey with me!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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