In The News: King Tut's Beard Is Back!

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

 (  source  )

In January of 2015, I wrote a post in response to news stories that were reporting on how the beard on King Tut's burial mask was damaged beyond repair. In an effort to keep the mask on display and tourism numbers up in Egypt, the beard was repaired hastily with a product that was thought to have ruined the ancient artifact. 

Well, (happily) it looks like the experts were wrong!

According to the latest news, a 9-week restoration process of the mask was undertaken on the mask to great success! Working slowly, a team removed the incorrectly applied glue using wooden tools to carefully scrape it off after rising the temperature of the mask. This took four weeks. They then reattached the beard using beeswax as an adhesive.

In addition to reattaching the beard, there was also a comprehensive 3D scan done of the mask, which had never been completed before. It showed that the beard had, in fact, been detached once in 1946! 

The information gathered from the scans, and the details of the restoration will be published in a upcoming book.

The mask is now back on display in Cairo. 

The Watch List: Hunting Hitler

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

I recently started watching the eight-part mini-series Hunting Hitler on the History Channel and I am totally hooked.

The show's premise?

Answering the question: Did Hitler survive WWII?

I know, In know — on the surface this sounds like a crazy conspiracy theory. BUT, in 2014 hundreds of FBI documents were declassified revealing that the United States government has been actively searching for Hitler since the end of the second world war!  

"A memo from J. Edgar Hoover himself states: American Army officials in Germany have not located Hitler's body nor is there any reliable source that will say definitely that Hitler is dead." (source)

According to the documents, Hitler's body has never been identified, and there are no witness accounts of his death, or an identification of his body! 

The show follows a team of highly-trained experts as they examine the clues laid out in the declassified documents. So far, there have been some surprising discoveries, eyewitnesses and very convincing evidence that Hitler may have secretly escaped from Germany at the end of the war! 

Watch full episodes here

Visiting The U.S.S. Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

We've all heard of Pearl Harbor.

Usually in the context of WWII history and the bombing that took place there ushering the US into the war and (depending on what textbook you read), giving the Allies the leg up they needed to defeat the Nazis. 

A huge, beautiful natural harbor on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, this was a key position for the Allies in the Pacific arena, and the home of the US Pacific Fleet. On December 7, 1941, more than 350 Japanese planes attacked the harbor, sinking 21 ships, damaging 347 airplanes, and killing 2335 people — 1177 of these people were aboard the U.S.S. Arizona.

It's hard to really understand what a sunken, massive military ship really looks like until you are standing on top of it peering into it's rusty hull — and you can do just that on a visit to the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial. 

One of Hawaii's most visited tourist attractions, a tour of the memorial begins with a documentary film featuring actual footage of the attack and accounts from witnesses of the bombing. 

After the film, you will be ushered into a boat that steers you past massive aircraft carriers and other US military ships to the white, 184 foot memorial built in 1962 that sits atop, but doesn't touch, the sunken ship.

The memorial contains a wall with the names of the soldiers that died carved into it — the average age of the men aboard was 19 years old. 

There are a few rusty portions of the ship that sit above the water, and the rest is visible just 8 feet below the surface. Because of the chaos of the attack and the rush to prepare for war, the navy decided not to recover the bodies and so they lay forever entombed in the hull of ship, buried at sea. 

Because it is part of the military base, you can only visit the memorial on a tour. Tours run every 15 minutes and operate on a first-come, first-served basis throughout the day. 

Will Big Ben Fall Silent?

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

An iconic piece of London's history for more than 150 years (and a major tourist attraction), the Elizabeth Tower, known to many as Big Ben ('Big Ben' is actually the name of the bell, not the tower itself), may soon fall silent. 

According to news outlets, the bell and mechanisms of the clock (sources are saying that the clock's hands might soon fall off!) are in dire need of repair — 40 million pounds worth!

Apparently the clock has slowed down over the years as well, and caretakers have remedied this by placing old pennies on the pendulum to speed it up or slow it down as needed. But this is just a bandaid on a much larger problem.   

Though there are 7 billion pounds set aside for the restoration of the entire Palace of Westminster (the official name for the stunning London Parliament buildings that Big Ben is attached to) at the end of the decade, it looks like the clock tower won't be able to wait that long. 

Once repairs begin, it could be months or even years before it's running again. 

I once had someone from Europe tell me that they feel a huge responsibility living somewhere that has so much important human history to be maintained. It means that it falls on them to keep their streets, buildings and monuments safe so that they are preserved for the rest of the world and future generations. I expect that those deciding how to go about fixing Big Ben are feeling the same pressure.

What is the "Memory of the World"?

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

Documents at the library in the Strahov Monastery in Prague, Czech Republic 

The Memory of The World sounds like something out of a movie (when I first heard the term, I pictured never-ending rows of mahogany bookshelves stretching for miles under elaborately painted ceilings) but it is actually very real and absolutely fascinating. 

It is a program started and maintained by UNESCO that, according to the website, "is an international initiative launched to safeguard the documentary heritage of humanity against collective amnesia, neglect, the ravages of time and climatic conditions, and willful and deliberate destruction."

Founded in 1992, it was started because scholars and leaders were concerned about important historic documents being lost, falling into disrepair, or not being accessible to the general population. And, countries in the midst of war or social upheaval run the risk of loosing these documents through looting, destruction, and black market trading. 

Now, the Memory of The World is the home to a quickly growing collection of historic documents, photographs, and artifacts from all over the world that are being safely preserved, and transferred onto contemporary technology when possible, so that they can be shared. 

These priceless historic artifacts come from governments, museums, private citizens, and other sources. Some of the documents (showcasing both the best and worst of humankind) that have been gathered include more than one rare codex, a collection of old postcards from French West Africa, Confucian printing woodblocks, The Churchill Papers, and documents from the Nanjing Massacre

There is something very comforting knowing that there is an organization actively working to preserve human history, while still making it accessible to anyone. 

One Of The Oldest Maps In The World

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

This ancient clay tablet is inscribed in cuneiform with a map of the countryside around the important Mesopotamian city of Nippur, now part of southeastern Iraq, south of Baghdad. Written in cuneiform, it is dated to some point in the 14th-13th century BC, making is one of the oldest known maps in the world! 

Cuneiform is one of the earliest types of writing, probably invented around 3000 BC, to communicate in Sumerian and then Akkadian, Hurrian, Elamite, and Urartian (all ancient languages as well). 

It was discovered during excavations at the site that began in 1851 and continue still today. I took this photo, and got to see the piece in person, while it was part of the Indiana Jones and The Adventure of Archaeology exhibit. It is currently travelling with the exhibit on loan from the Penn Museum

Reading Ancient Texts From Herculaneum

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

When Mount Vesuvius exploded in Italy in AD 79, it not only buried the city of Pompeii, but a lot of the surrounding homes as well. One of the most luxuries properties that was engulfed by layers of ash was the Villa of Papyri located in Herculaneum. 

The huge, sprawling mansion (interestingly, the J. Paul Getty Museum in LA is modelled after the villa) contained countless sculptures, mosaics, and paintings, but the most valuable artifacts were discovered in the mid-eighteenth century in the villa's library. More than 1,800 (!) papyrus scrolls were found, thought to be the only library from antiquity to have survived. (We're talking the level of writing that was thought to be lost from the Library of Alexandria). 

While the blast of hot gas and ash is what preserved the scrolls as carbonized lumps, it has also made them next-to-impossible to open and read without completely destroying them. Their delicacy hasn't prevented scholars from trying to read them however, and many have been found to contain rare Greek texts on Epicurean philosophy. But, examining these documents risks completely destroying them, and many of the scrolls have been lost. 

But all this may soon change.

According to an article in Archaeology Magazine, scientists have found that a technique called "X-ray phase-contract tomography (XPCT)" can be used to potentially read the scrolls without having to attempt to unravel them! Using the technique, the team was able to discover that one of the scrolls that they were examining was an unknown work by the important philosopher Philodemus.

Why should you care?

Many of the world's most important texts — texts that helped to shape the modern world and create the rules, and religions that are integral to our lives — have been lost for thousands of years. We only know of them because they are mentioned in other texts that were written at the time or right after. These lost texts could be right under our noses as part of the library of Herculaneum, and now we have the technology that could potentially rediscover them!!