Saturday, 13 June 2015

Bran, Brasov, and Bucharest

Bran Castle. Photo: Garry Shaw
As many of you know, as well as my Egyptology work I also write travel articles. My latest article for Timeless Travels magazine is about exploring Romania and the story of Vlad the Impaler (and his association with the Dracula story).

Here's the opening paragraph: 

'We cannot say that Vlad the Impaler was entirely sane, but he is a great hero to us,' said Andrei, my guide, as we departed Bucharest, driving north out of the Romanian capital. The car pulling away, I watched a black cat delicately pick its way across a window ledge on a distant neoclassical building, like a passing shadow. This wasn't the only dark omen. A couple of hours later, leaving sunny Wallachia Province behind, we entered Transylvania. The weather abruptly changed. Mist rose. Snow fell. The sky darkened. The car bumped along a potholed road. A Roma village, full of colourful wooden houses, bounced by. In the distance, a fortress perched upon a craggy mountain. 'A peasant fortress,' Andrei explained, pointing. 'The people ran there in times of trouble.' Just the type of thing you want to hear on the way to the famed 'Dracula Castle,' I thought, increasingly convinced that the Romanian tourist board had staged it all.

You can download a pdf of the article here: Exploring Bran, Brasov and Bucharest

And if you enjoy it, please download the rest of the Summer 2015 issue of Timeless Travels (it's free!). It's full of wonderful history-themed travel pieces. You can find it at:

Friday, 12 June 2015

Great Dam of Marib and Al-Qahira castle in Yemen damaged by Saudi airstrikes

My latest article for The Art Newspaper...

Recent Saudi airstrikes have caused further damage to heritage sites across Yemen. Among them is the eighth-century Great Dam of Marib, “one of the most important cultural heritage sites in Yemen and in the Arabian Peninsula”, according to Unesco director-general Irina Bokova. Images taken after the airstrike reveal that part of the dam’s wall has collapsed, and ancient Sabaean inscriptions at the site may also have been affected.

To read more, click here...

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Mummies Alive: The Pharaoh's Secret - Some Comments - Updated 11th June 2015

It was fun to see myself on TV last night (and to find that the narration incorporated a lot of my work). But as well as noting that my shirt looked terrible, I was excited to hear Dr. Shepherd's new theory on how Seqenenre Tao died. Interesting stuff! And for the purpose of taking the debate further in future, here are my thoughts on it all:

Dr. Shepherd suggests that various wounds to Seqenenre's head showed signs of healing. I'm not sure why he thinks this. A study from 1978 suggested that the lower frontal wound had possibly healed. But as has been argued since, this wound was inflicted by an axe that was long enough to penetrate the brain (and in fact the wound was found surrounded by brain matter). There's no chance that he survived this blow. I've not read a report arguing that any other wounds had healed (the 1978 study only talked about the wounds to the top of the head). If Dr Shepherd has found evidence of healing among the head's other wounds, I'd love to read about it, as it would be rather important new evidence.

Though seemingly agreeing that Seqenenre wouldn't have been fighting (backed up by the lack of any wounds to any other part of the body than the head), Dr. Shepherd argued that Seqenenre had somehow managed to receive an axe blow beneath his left eye, a mace blow to the centre-right of his face, and a spear thrust below the left ear, all of which he survived. In a time before modern medicine and any sort of painkillers, it's rather unlikely that a man would've survived a stone mace blow (or thrust from the back of an axe) to the face, particularly one that utterly disintegrated one of his eye sockets and destroyed his nose.

Dr. Shepherd then says that the spear was thrust into Seqenenre's spine, below the left ear (and the video implies that this occurred as he lay on the battlefield). It would seem a bit odd for the attacker to simply leave the king paralyzed. If the enemy leader was lying there, defeated, why not just finish him off? Why be happy to leave him paralyzed?

The reconstruction of the assassination glossed over the fact that the two upper wounds to the head (the death blows according to Dr. Shepherd's new theory) were inflicted by two different weapons. Did the assassin decide to switch axes in-between blows (Egyptian axe for Hyksos axe)? Did two people turn up to attack Seqenenre as he lay paralyzed, each with different axes? How did they get past the royal bodyguards?

If he was assassinated in the palace, why was he mummified in so poor a manner? To quote from my JARCE article: "Clearly, those that performed the embalming did not have access to the proper materials necessary: natron was not used, causing body fluids to remain, and no attempt had been made to remove the brain or insert linen. If the king had been killed in the palace by officials who had respect for the Theban monarchy yet wanted a new king to come to power, perhaps due to some weakness of Seqenenre, or if the king had been killed by Hyksos assassins, it would be expected that his body would be mummified properly. If he had been killed by people wishing to overthrow his dynasty—people who would have no need to show his body respect—they would have simply ignored or destroyed the corpse, rather than attempt to mummify it without the proper materials. Essentially, natron would surely have been used in any scenario in which some level of respect would need to have been shown to the body. The lack of this fundamental element of mummification practice shows that embalming occurred when there was no access to it, most probably when Seqenenre was away from Thebes or a major Theban controlled settlement."

Seqenenre's hand positions were probably simply a result of him lying on his front for some time after death, and need not be explained by paralysis.

Just some thoughts. Always good to see people discussing Seqenenre, and definitely interesting to hear the opinions of a forensic expert! I look forward to reading what future studies find!

June 11th Update

I recently received an email from a retired medical doctor, currently undertaking a PhD on mummies at Manchester Museum, regarding the medical analysis of Seqenenre in the show. Here's his comments:
I recently viewed the "Mummies Alive" programme on Seqenenre Tao. The point of particular interest at present is the claim by the Forensic Pathologist that Seqenenre might have been paralysed by a spear penetration between the occiput and the atlas and subsequently lived on for a significant period before death caused by a second episode of head trauma!
As a retired Orthopaedic Surgeon this concept fails to ring true. The reason is that for the person to have continued living whilst paralysed would (OBVIOUSLY!!) have required continued breathing!! The respiratory muscles fall, broadly, into three groups:- i) the intercostal muscles; ii) the diaphragm and; iii) the accessory muscles of respiration (in the neck and shoulders).
The intercostal muscles require a nerve supply - in other words continuity between brain and spinal cord - down to somewhere between the first and twelfth thoracic level.
The diaphragm requires continuity down to the fourth cervical level and the accessory muscles continuity to the first cervical level without any damage to the Accessory Nerve (which lies, in part of its course in the altanto-occipital region).
 It can be seen, therefore, that an injury to the region of the atlas and foramen magnum (clearly illustrated by the pathologist & attributed to a spear blow) would have, almost certainly, rendered the victim UNABLE TO BREATH!! Therefore this injury would be lethal and not rendered the victim paralysed and alive.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Mummies Alive! How did King Seqenenre Tao Die?

Quick post: Last year, I filmed an interview about King Seqenenre Tao, chatting about what we know about the king's life and ho
w he might have died. Well, tonight is its premier, so if you're free at 9pm tonight, catch it on Yesterday Channel UK. For those of you in Canada, its also on History Channel Canada tonight at 9pm, and I think on the US Smithsonian Channel on June 28th, 9pm.

If you want to learn more about my theories surrounding Seqenenre's death, check out my blog post "The Curious Tale of King Seqenenre Tao" - 

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Yemen’s historic sites damaged in airstrikes after ceasefire fails

My latest article for The Art Newspaper...

Unlike the widely reported attacks by Islamic State on historic sites in Syria and Iraq, the loss of Yemen’s cultural heritage due to continued violence and political instability has received little media attention. According to Unesco, many historic buildings were bombed on 11 May in the Old City of Sana’a, a World Heritage Site. The Old City of Saa’dah, submitted by Yemen as a tentative site to the World Heritage List, and the historic city of Baraqish were also reportedly damaged.

To read more, click here...

Friday, 15 May 2015

Racing Animal Mummies at the Louvre

Or are they running from the embalmers? Maybe they were scared by the recent animal mummies documentary on BBC2...