For the last few months, I’ve been contributing intermittently to a “blog carnival” on the subject of archaeoblogging–a sort of months-long conference for bloggers, with each month dedicated to a different question. It’s been a lot of fun, and a great way both to find other blogs and reflect on the blogger’s craft. I’ve posted about why I blog in December, and about my best and worst posts in January, and I skipped both “the good, the bad and the ugly” post and the “write whatever you like” post. The whole thing is worth checking out over at Doug’s Archaeology Blog. Thanks, by the way, to Doug–this has all been great!


This is the last month of the carnival, and, fittingly, the question is: “where are you/we going with blogging or would you it like to go? I leave it up to you to choose between reflecting on you and your blog personally or all of archaeology blogging/bloggers or both. Tells us your goals for blogging. Or if you have none why that is? Tell us the direction that you hope blogging takes in archaeology.”

I’ll start with my thoughts about the future of archaeoblogging generally.

I agree with both Doug and Kelly M when they say that archaeoblogging should, for the most part, stay as it is: it’s great that anyone can write an archaeoblog, and that anyone can read one for free. The diversity of archaeoblogs out there is a wonderful thing. One thing I do hope will happen one day, however, is for an Emily Graslie to rise from our midst.

For those who don’t know, Emily Graslie used to be a volunteer at the University of Montana’s Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum, with a cool little tumblr about natural history and museums. Now, through both her own sheer amazingness and a couple of lucky breaks (but mostly her sheer amazingness), she is one of the best-known science vloggers out there, with a series called The Brain Scoop. Now, where is our Anthropology/Archaeology Emily? Someone who is as comfortable among Inka khipus and Maori carvings as Emily is among stuffed raccoons and flesh-eating beetles? I think it would have to be someone who knows both about archaeology and anthropology, since the two benefit so much from being paired together. And they would need a good cameraman/producer/editor like Michael Aranda used to be for the Brain Scoop (and like the new guy, Tom McNamara, presumably will be now). It’s a shame that there isn’t an anthropological/archaeological equivalent to the dissections that are one of the best things about the Brain Scoop, but even without something like that, I think some great videos could still be made.

Who could it be? I don’t know. There are so many excellent archaeobloggers out there who I have a feeling would be great at vlogging as well, and I’ve noticed that Katie Kirby, Emily’s intern, has started regularly posting archaeology/anthropology-related stuff on the Brain Scoop’s facebook group, which is an interesting move. But, for now, as far as I’m aware, this niche has not yet been filled.


As for the future of this particular blog… I have so many thoughts about how my blog could be improved or could change that listing them here might actually help me think through them. And, of course, if you have any advice/opinions, do comment/tweet/email/facebook-message me, or even tell me in person.

The most urgent “problem” I feel like I should solve is my audience problem. I’ve always thought of this blog mostly as something that anyone could stumble upon and read and get excited about, without any previous knowledge of things archaeological. And, to some extent, that has been the case. But, since attempting to broaden my readership by joining twitter, I’ve actually acquired a fair few readers who do know a bit about archaeology, anthropology and museums. So, what should I do? Write some posts for one type  of audience and some for the other? Attempt to create monstrous hybrid posts, or posts that are like those children’s movies with topic references or innuendo included to amuse the parents? Or simply write what I feel like writing about, however I feel like writing it on that particular day?

Also–should I change the blog’s name? “Unearthing” is perhaps too vague/obvious, and I never say “Unearthing” when I talk about it, I just call it “the blog”, perhaps means that I secretly don’t like it. Perhaps I should go for something like “Jade Adze” or “Eccentric Flint“. Or is it too late in the game for me to do that? Would it just be way too confusing? Can I even change a url easily here on WordPress? I don’t know! I’m kind of afraid that, in my attempt to change the name, I’ll end up accidentally deleting the whole blog.

I’d also like to write more about anthropology. Because it’s cool.

One things is certain: I’ll definitely continue blogging, because I enjoy it, and I enjoy experimenting with it. Or, well–I do sometimes feel like I’m a bit of an impostor, not actually having that much excavation experience compared to many other bloggers, or indeed many, many other archaeologists or archaeology students–I do sometimes feel like one of those Victorian gentlemen who never left England but were arrogant enough to think they could write detailed ethnographic treaties about cultures they’d only read about in books. When I feel like this, I end up wondering whether, re: the future of this blog, I should just stop blogging altogether. But, in the end, it’s fun enough, and important enough, that I’ll probably keep going for a while yet.



As some of you may know, I went to Oxford last weekend, and spent a number of hours at the Pitt Rivers, the city’s anthropology and archaeology museum. I’d heard many things about this museum before–that it was a “mess”, or maddeningly dark and cluttered, or antiquated, or that it depicted non-Western cultures as overly weird compared to Western ones–so I was very much looking forward to visiting it myself and forming my own opinion about it.

As it turns out, I think the Pitt Rivers has become my new favourite museum–and here are 7 reasons why.

1. It’s all about celebrating human creativity. Where most museums will divide and display their objects based on their geographic region, the Pitt Rivers divides and displays them according to their function, or the common problems they were meant to solve. So there’s a display that’s all about bagpipes, one that’s all about fire-making technology, one that’s dedicated to traps made to catch small mammals (mostly rats and mice), one that’s dedicated to amulets–and, in each of this display, objects from the South American rainforest will be sitting next to objects from nineteenth-century Naples and ones from modern-day Oxfordshire and ones from Ancient Egypt and ones collected by Captain Cook in the Pacific. So you can compare and contrast the different ways people have done the same things across the world and throughout history and prehistory, and marvel at just how damn inventive humans can be.

A display that's all about hair removal technology--that is, mostly, razors.

A display that’s all about hair removal technology–that is, mostly, razors.

2. Each visit will yield new discoveries. Yes, it’s dark–to see some of the objects, you actually have to ask for a torch at the front desk. And yes, the displays are amazingly cluttered and crowded, with labels inscribed with sometimes really tiny handwriting–for which you may want to ask for a magnifying glass at the front desk, too. But this means that, each time you visit, you’ll definitely find something you hadn’t noticed before. And, since entry to museum’s entry is free, you can visit as many times as you want.

A particularly chaotic display, focussing on human form in art. You could dedicate an entire visit to this one display--or see it every time you visit, and discover something new each time.

A particularly chaotic display, focussing on human form in art. You could dedicate an entire visit to this one display–or see it every time you visit, and discover something new each time.

3. It challenges you to think for yourself. There are no clear start- or end-points by which to organise your visit. This might, at first, cause confusion and a sense of disorientation. But, actually, it’s liberating–you are encouraged to make your own sense of the museum, and draw your own connections. (NB There are a number of hints, here and there, of what the museum wants you to reflect on, but they definitely enhance the visiting experience rather than take away from it.)

3. They take great pains to avoid stereotypes of other cultures being “weird” or “exotic” when compared to Western ones. Specifically, they’ve included a large number of modern-day or relatively recent European objects in the displays–from a breast implant in the display about body modification, to Oxfordshire skates in the skates and snow shoes display, to Eiffel Tower souvenirs, to playing card decks that people still use today in Italy. But most impressive is what they’re doing with the shrunken heads–which merits its own, separate point.

4. What they’re doing with the shrunken heads. Through labels underneath the heads themselves, a cheap pamphlet you can get at the museum shop, and both text and a podcast on the museum website, the Pitt Rivers has made a valiant attempt at explaining that the heads are not something weird and barbaric that some violent and primitive tribe still do in some remote jungle location today, but something that occurred in a particular time and place but doesn’t happen any more, and that, in that particular time and place, it made sense within a particular worldview. Most wonderfully, the museum points out, not only that violence has long been a feature of European life as well, but also that the fact that Europeans collected these heads, and display them in places like museums, is just as interesting to think about, as a cultural phenomenon, as the act of shrinking the heads itself.

5. You can see the following things:

A "philosophical" snakes and ladder set from nineteenth-century India, in which certain squares are inscribed with the word for one of the Hindu virtues, and allow you climb a ladder up to the corresponding reward, while others are inscribed with the word for a sin, and force to slide down a snake towards the corresponding punishment.

A “philosophical” snakes and ladder set from nineteenth-century India, in which certain squares are inscribed with the words for Hindu virtues, and allow you to climb a ladder up to the corresponding reward, while others are inscribed with the words for sins, and force you to slide down a snake towards the corresponding punishment.

A badass helmet made out of a kind of blowfish.

A badass helmet made out of a kind of blowfish, from Kiribati, in Micronesia.

A Micronesian sailing chart from the nineteenth-century–the sticks represent the main directions of wind and currents, and the shells represent islands. Photo courtesy of the Pitt Rivers Museum.

A tiny stick nineteenth-century Chinese barbers used to tickle their customers' eyeballs. The idea was to cleanse the eye by making it shed tears.

A tiny stick nineteenth-century Chinese barbers used to tickle their customers’ eyeballs. The idea was to cleanse the eye by making it shed tears.

A metal collar from Burma, made to be worn by children, so that evil spirits would mistake them for dogs, and leave them alone.

A metal collar from Burma, made to be worn by children, so that evil spirits would mistake them for dogs, and leave them alone.

A policeman's amulet from nineteenth-century France--made out of a coin, a piece of hangman's rope, and the skin of a "sadistic murderer named Campi".

A policeman’s amulet from nineteenth-century France–made out of a coin, a piece of hangman’s rope, and the skin of “a sadistic murderer named Campi”.

6. The amazing website. Seriously, if you can’t visit the museum in person, then the website is a more than adequate substitute. And if you have visited the museum in person, the website has loads of resources through which to find out even more about the objects you’ve seen. My favourite section is probably the one in which you can click through the museum’s huge collection of amulets, but there are also detailed introductions to the museum’s biggest or most important collections (such as the South American rainforest material, the photographs of Native North American life, or the things collected by Captain Cook), and a staggering number of blogs and multimedia projects that I’ve barely had the chance to explore properly.

The Pitt Rivers, like any other museum, is not without its flaws. For example, I think they could do a better job at problematising their Benin collection, which, like the Benin collection at the British Museum and a number of other places both in the UK and in Europe, was forcibly removed (some might say looted) from its country of origin by the British during a “punitive expedition” in 1897. The Pitt Rivers does acknowledge the origin of these objects, but I think they could talk about the ethics of displaying them in the same way that they discuss the ethics of displaying the shrunken heads.

Equally, I’m sure there are other things about the Pitt Rivers that are super-cool, besides the ones I’ve listed, but either I don’t know about them, or don’t know them well enough to write confidently about them.

But the main point of this post is that absolutely fell in love with this museum–and that, hopefully, whoever ends up reading it will want to go, and fall in love with it too.

I know I promised a short series on the Wari, but I was in Paris last week, and I’d like to write down my thoughts on the Musée du Quai Branly while they’re still relatively fresh.

If you want to experience sheer wonder at human creativity and cultural diversity, then the Quai Branly is the museum for you. They’ve got everything there from Easter Island heads to Native American totem poles, from half-caribou half-walrus shaman masks from the Arctic to creepy voodoo doll’s heads from the Caribbean, from contemporary art produced by Australian Aborigines to Medieval Ethiopian murals, and all kinds of masks and costumes, gods and goddesses, weapons and musical instruments. And the way the objects are presented makes them even more spectacular than they would be by themselves: objects that were “sacred” to those who first made and used them are placed into small chapel-like rooms to the gallery’s sides, each one designed in a different way, and, in the main gallery, I was particularly impressed by how the Ghanaian goldweights were arranged–almost as if they were the splendid debris of an explosion frozen in time–or as if they were a particularly fine infographic.

Half-caribou half-walrus mask

Half-caribou half-walrus mask from somewhere in Alaska. I think it’s Yup’ik, if I remember correctly.

Voodoo shrine

Voodoo-related object of worship from the Caribbean. I’ve lost my notes on who made it/when, so if anyone knows, please tell me in the comments!


The Ghanaian golweights display.

But, but, but. When it first opened in 2006, the Quai Branly was widely criticised for a number of practices which seemed a little… anachronistic.

First, a bit of context. Many museum collections have their roots in colonialism. Back when Western nations had empires, it was considered important to collect objects from the farthest reaches of their colonial possessions, and then display them back home. This for a number of reasons, but, in most cases, it would be fair to say that a collection was meant to celebrate, in some way, the colonial endeavour–for example, by demonstrating how “primitive” conquered peoples were and therefore how much they needed white rulers to “civilise” them, or by showcasing the objects as if they were trophies, almost like severed animal heads in hunting lodges.

In recent decades, however, most museums have tried to shake off their colonial undertones. This in a number of ways, including: involving so-called “source” communities (that is, communities whose ancestors manufactured and used the museum’s objects, or ones like them) in the curation of both permanent and temporary exhibitions; ditching words like “primitive” or “advanced”, and any terminology or way of displaying things that might give an impressions that cultures are being ranked from least sophisticated to most sophisticated; trying to give a sense of how cultures change through time, rather than trying to preserve a timeless, “authentic” idea of what the culture is thought to be like; returning certain objects to their place of origin; and even explicitly tackling colonialism and related phenomena (slavery, racism, turn-of-the-century wars) in their labels and exhibitions.

The Quai Branly, however–when it first opened, and during its first few years of business, it did a number of things which people didn’t agree with. In no particular order: they did ditch the word “primitive”, but in favour of the word “first” (as in, they described the arts of Africa, Oceania, the Americas and parts of Asia as “first arts”, les arts premiers), which many see as just as bad as primitive; they refused to repatriate a number of objects, including Maori warrior’s heads from New Zealand; they did not collaborate with source communities (with the exception of a number of Aboriginal artists who designed a few beautiful murals and the painted roof); they presented non-Western cultures as timeless and changeless; they completely failed to mention colonialism or slavery; and so on. They also enshrouded the gallery in darkness, which some saw as an unfortunate reminder of colonial ideas about Africa, Oceania, the Americas and parts of Asia as dangerous places, mostly made up of jungles, forests and caves, with plenty of shadowy spots for predatory animals and “savages” to hide in waiting for the perfect ambushing opportunity.


One of the murals specially commissioned by the Quai Branly to a number of contemporary Australian Aboriginal artists. This particular one depicts the Milky Way, and was designed by Gulumbu Yunupingu. It can only be seen from outside.

It’s been almost eight years now since the Quai Branly first opened, and I think it’s fair to say that an effort has been made (by individual curators? by the administrative board? I don’t know) to change at least some of these things. Loads of new lights have been installed, to dispel the gallery’s darkness. The Maori heads were returned to New Zealand. Some contemporary stuff was acquired, providing visitors with a vague sense that Africa, Oceania, the Americas and Asia change through time as much as Europe does–a few contemporary Aboriginal paintings, and several huge display cases with some really cool stuff from modern-day Bolivia and the Caribbean (which was actually a nice contrast from how museums usually do this sort of thing–that is, by including one painting or art object from one contemporary artist, tucked away in a little corner, or just at the end before the gift shop, where visitors either won’t see it or won’t care).


Costumes for the Devil and his mistress, for the Bolivian Diablada festival. Highlight of my visit.


Costume for the Archangel Michael, also for the Diablada.


This bear (ukuy) is also an important figure in the Diablada–originally it was a spectacled bear, which you can actually see in the Andes (if you’re lucky), but for some reason now it’s a polar bear. The effect of one too many Coke adverts perhaps?

However, besides this, I don’t think the Quai Branly has made any more efforts to collaborate with source communities, nor could I discern any attempt at problematising where their objects come from–I don’t think colonialism is ever mentioned, except perhaps for the Spanish conquest of the Americas, which is simply presented as “the end” of ancient American arts and cultures. Also, they still use the term “first arts”.

And, because this is mostly an archaeology blog, it’s worth pointing out that Quai Branly labels also fail to mention both the illegal trade of antiquities and looting, which is very probably how many of the archaeological objects got there. To be fair, this could be said of most museums, even ones that could otherwise be considered more “enlightened” than the Quai Branly, but it’s still worth pointing out.


“This item was part of a hanging several metres long found on the north coast of Peru in 1951. With its exceptional dimensions, iconography and range of colours, it was divided into several panels to be sold more easily”. This is the only reference to looting and the illegal traffic in cultural material I could find at the Quai Branly–worded in such a way that it almost seems like a reasonable thing for an ancient Peruvian textile to be mutilated this way.


If you see an ancient terracotta from Djenne in a museum that isn’t the one in Bamako (Mali), the likelihood is extremely high that it was looted, and found its way out of Mali by illicit means. Perhaps the label should mention this?

The Quai Branly, then, is an infuriating mixture of absolutely awesome objects and displays, anachronistic display and curatorial practices, and a few successful and semi-successful attempts at correcting some of these practices. If you haven’t been, I recommend you go–both to see the objects on display (especially the Diablada stuff), and to think, how would you do things differently? Is there a way of talking about looting, colonialism or the illegal trade in cultural materials that will actually grab museum visitors’ attention? Is the darkness really an issue, or is it just overthinkers overthinking it? What would you substitute the term “first arts” with, assuming a term like that is needed to describe what the museum is about? And what contemporary cultural phenomena from Africa, Oceania, the Americas and Asia should be included in the display, to give a sense of how non-Western cultures have changed through time?

Answers to these questions, other questions, criticisms, or comments are, as always, very welcome, both from those who’ve been to to the Quai Branly and from those who haven’t.

Doug’s Archaeology is running a blog carnival on archaeology blogging–each month, for the next few months, Doug will ask archaeobloggers a question, which they are invited to answer, about the whys and wherefores of archaeoblogging. This is my belated answer to the November question–Why blogging? – Why did you, or if it was a group- the group, start a blog? 

There are many reasons why I blog about archaeology, but these are the three main ones.

One–I want to be the Emily Graslie of archaeology, or at least an Emily Graslie of archaeology: that is, I want to tell people about awesome stuff they didn’t know about, so that they’re a little bit more amazed about human existence and the world we happen to be in, and a little bit less cynical and jaded about things.

Two–I also want to be an academic, but I figure it’s slightly pointless to come up with cool ideas or write about awesome stuff like Inka politics and the origins of West African urbanism if the only people who will read my articles and books are archaeology students and other academics. So I’m training myself to communicate in an effective and engaging manner with lay audiences. Or, perhaps, if I find out that academia’s not for me, hopefully I’ll have gained enough experience with this blog that I’ll be able to make a living out of whatever the archaeological equivalent of science communication is called. Connected to this, there’s the fact that I think it’s a shame that many of my favourite ideas and things are locked up in articles and books that are unavailable to non-academic audiences. Or, if they are available, people tend not to be aware of them. So I see it as my duty to divulge these ideas and things to those who normally wouldn’t have access to them or wouldn’t even think of searching for them.

Three–I love it. I’m a research-junky, I love to explore things in my own time that were only mentioned briefly in lectures, even when this is unlikely to benefit me in my essays or exams. I don’t particularly enjoy reading non-fiction books: it’s just when I have a burning question, and I feel the need to hunt for answers in a library or online, that my blood gets pumping.

Metropolitan Museum, New York, USA

The Temple of Dendur, at the Metropolitan Museum, New York. Photo credit: Wikipedia.

So the original plan was to write a post about the graffiti, mostly left by nineteenth century travellers/vandals, gracing/defacing the Egyptian Temple of Dendur–which dates to 15 BC, and was donated by the Egyptian Government to the Metropolitan Museum of New York in the seventies.

The graffiti are mostly names and initials, so the original plan was for me to start with the results of my detective work trying to find who the people were behind the names. I would tell you about Luther Bradish, who fought pirates in Costantinople for President Monroe in the 1820s (indirectly, by attempting to form a treaty between Turkey and the US), and, who, having moved back to New York in 1826, would never have imagined that one day his act of youthful vandalism would almost literally follow him all the way back home. I would tell you about Bernardino Drovetti, pioneer Egyptologist (or, depending on your point of view, high-end looter), and the man who was responsible for both eradicating smallpox from Egypt and ensuring that the first giraffe to ever visit Europe since 1486 arrived safely in Paris (he arranged for a hole to be cut through ship for the giraffe, named Zarafa, to poke her head through it; he also arranged for the giraffe to be accompanied by three dairy cows, so it could receive an abundant supply of milk, as well as a number of antelopes and gazelles, perhaps for company.) And I would tell you about the Belmores, an family of adventurous Irish aristocrats who had their servants, James Livingston and John Patterson, carve their names on the temple for them.

LivingstonI would then briefly examine the possible motives for these acts of vandalism–maybe a sort of imperialistic territoriality thing (that is, rich white men making an arrogant claim on another country’s heritage, because the latter was to spectacular to be left to that country’s “backwards” inhabitants), or maybe a tourist fad, or a simple expression of pride at having made it through a fairly arduous journey, or maybe an attempt at gaining immortality by latching their own names, parasite-like, to a structure whose unspeakable age was proof of its resilience in the face of time and the elements.

P1050612Finally, I would say that, whatever the motivation, I’ve always found these graffiti profoundly affecting, because here was a person who, like me, had been on a long journey to see something amazing, and had spent a long time observing this something in utter awe at how incredibly ancient and beautiful it was. And because, even without knowing their stories, the fact that they left their names means that it is much easier to connect with them as people in one’s mind–more so, for example, than the temple’s anonymous stonemasons.

But then I realised that there is something else, another reason why these graffiti have such a hold on me: I am slightly envious of their authors. Specifically, I am envious of the fact that they experienced a smidgen of what it was like, for the authors of the Temple’s hieroglyphs, to carve something on the surface of the building’s soft sandstone. This is where the post became about the way we experience ancient ruins, how we wrap our heads around them.

If you squint, you can see a "Drovetti" in the left half of this photo (all photos mine, by the way, unless otherise stated.)

If you squint, you can see a “Drovetti” in the left half of this photo (all photos mine, by the way, unless otherise stated.)

I don’t condone vandalism, of course. But, sometimes, I grow extremely frustrated that, most of the time, the only way I can experience a lot of amazing things–and, particularly, ruins–is through my eyes. I actually get a little claustrophobic thinking about it. Almost always, I tell myself to look harder–but how does that actually translate into an action that is easy to perform? Looking closer? There’s a risk there in getting lost in the details, and forgetting about the bigger picture. Taking photos? Maybe, but that often feels like I’m adding a filter between myself and the thing I’m observing, and/or I often end up becoming too preoccupied with the quality of the pictures and the originality of the angles, or whatever, to fully appreciate what I’m looking at. Basically, often I feel like I’m trying to use my eyes as sponges–and obviously failing, because I can’t literally take them out of their sockets and press them against Inka walls or Neolithic monoliths. In fact, even if I could, that would accomplish nothing.

P1050615Learning all the facts about a place–what they think this structure was used for, or how many mummies were found and where–is awesome, of course, but often I have trouble squaring that information with what I’m seeing. For example, when I went to Machu Picchu this summer, by the end I felt as if I’d visited two places: the place my guide had described and disclosed fun facts about, and the one I’d walked through and gawked at.

Now, taking apart Machu Picchu and putting it back together again, with all the difficulties that that would entail–that, I feel, would be the proper way of understanding a site, as it would involve re-experiencing all that went into building it, which would give you a practical understanding of why things are where they are, and how they are. Carving your name on the Temple of Dendur is kind of like a very minor version of that–as I said, you’re experiencing a shadow of what the artists experienced who carved hieroglyphs of gods and pharaohs on the temple’s walls two thousand years ago. Although, I suppose that, really, who I should envy here is not so much Drovetti and his contemporaries, but the masons who, in the sixties and seventies, where in charge of taking the temple apart block by block in Egypt, and putting it back together again in New York. (I wonder, at this point, if any are still around, and if they would be available for interviews…)

BelmoreAs I said, I’m not encouraging anyone here to carve their names on ancient ruins. But I find the way in which we tend to experience the latter nowadays extremely frustrating. I wonder, perhaps, if the solution might lie in gaming: something like Prison Architect, maybe, in which you have to build a maximum-security jail while inmates and guards are already in it, but with ancient structures and design conventions instead. Like, again, building Machu Picchu, or a generic “Inka royal court”, around the Emperor, his family and retainers, and his priests–dealing with raw material problems, and trying to align things correctly with important landscape features, and exploiting laws of acoustics, and dealing with people–things like that. Perhaps it wouldn’t give you a tactile experience of the place, but at least it would give you a practical idea of how the place works.

I don’t know though. I have comparatively little experience of gaming, so I don’t feel entirely comfortable going into much more detail than this. Maybe I’ll think about it some more and write another post as a sequel to this. Meanwhile, if there’s anyone out there who does have any ideas about how an ancient architecture game could work (or, indeed, if one exists already), I’d be very happy to talk about it, in the comments section below or however else you want. Or, if you think gaming is not the answer, and something else is, I would love to hear about that too.

Bernadino Drovetti french diplomat and egyptol...

Bernadino Drovetti (1776-1852): “I can supply ALL your exotic animal needs”. Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Suggestions for further reading:

For more on Prison Architect, check out the video-trailer here.

This article on Luther Bradish, President Monroe’s spy in Constantinople, is short and lovely.

People have been scratching their names on ancient things for millennia–there’s nothing special about the Temple of Dendur per se. For cool photos of other graffiti on ancient monuments, have a look at this article. For Viking aficionados out there, and fans of ancient swearing, I’ve also come across some cool stuff on the Maeshowe graffiti.

For more on Zarafa, the first giraffe to visit Europe since 1486, here’s an excerpt from a book written about her journey.

If you speak Italian and want to know more about Drovetti the looting-smallpox-giraffe man, here’s a charmingly biased video made by Italian teenagers.

And for more on the Belmores, you can read most of this chapter on their journey through the Middle East, including an encounter with an Italian strongman, an unpleasant bath in a snake-infested river, and gout.

Last but not least, if you’re curious about the Temple of Dendur and its travels, you can download a PDF version of an excellent booklet on the subject, written by Cyril Aldred, at the bottom of this page.

Finally, for anyone who thinks I’m a bit too obsessed with trying to find a connection with people from a very long time ago, I’ve casually just come across this wonderful cartoon by Tom Gauld (



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