Friday, February 18, 2011

Ancient Egypt Archaeology

When it comes to ancient history, a lot of digging is involved to try to understand the motivations and lives of the people who came before us. In the case of ancient Egypt, archaeology has its work cut out of it in some respects: many of its monuments and buildings are still very much intact. With pyramids and temples all over the place, as well as the Valley of the Kings, there are plenty of places to find history.

Picture of the Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone

The problem many of the original archaeologists and historians had was that covering the walls and many objects found in various places were symbols that were unreadable to more modern eyes, as the writing style had fallen out of use as other countries invaded Egypt .

Luckily, in 1799, a large piece of granite was found (the Rosetta Stone) that contained the same writing written three times on it: once in hieroglyphic, once in demotic Egyptian, and once in Greek, each written so different groups would understand it. It was translated by the year 1822 and opened the doors of understanding for many interested parties further down the road.

Howard Carter

Howard Carter

In 1922, a man by the name of Howard Carter found what would be the last tomb found in the Valley of the Kings until after the year 2000. This tomb belonged to King Tut, the young king who had died very early in his reign. In the tomb was not only the king's mummy, but many artifacts that had not been taken by grave robbers, as well as the customary wall-covering murals and script.

Finding mummies in the Valley of the Kings was impressive, for many reasons. The tombs themselves had long since been taken care of, and most of the area was covered up. Also, when chambers were found, some were empty because they were storage areas, while others had been burial chambers, but the bodies were moved to save them from being desecrated by grave robbers.

A few mummy caches have been found, most notably one at the mortuary temple at Deir-el Bahri, which held the remains of over 50 kings, queens, and other assorted nobles. Not far from there was another cache of mummies containing the bodies of the priests who had been responsible for making sure the nobles were given the untouched resting places they deserved.

Given the vast size of Egypt itself and the extensive history, there are still many great historical finds left to decipher, uncover, or figure out. Hopefully archaeologists will get to it all before even more sand and buildings are piled up on top of it.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Maritime Asia

Chinese ship

Maritime Asia

Seven shipwrecks

Specific ships:
Tg.Simpang (C10-12)
Turiang (c.1370)
Desaru (c.1845)

Topic pages:
Ship types
1421 bunkum

What's new

Maritime Archaeology Malaysia, an exhibition of the historic shipwrecks discovered around Malaysia, opened at Muzium Negara in Kuala Lumpur in 2001, ran for several years, and was discussed as the nucleus of a new national maritime museum. A major section, Discovering Asia's ceramic development, drew on seven shipwrecks, spanning half a millennium, which were investigated by Sten Sjostrand. Here is the internet version of that exhibition.

The Turiang(1), a Chinese ship, was sailing to Borneo and/or Sulawesi when she sank in the 14th century. Her commercial cargo included ceramics from China, Vietnam and Thailand, plus iron ore and fish... and the discovery provoked a reassessment of Thai ceramic history. This was influenced by the crackdowns of successive Chinese emperors, and casts interesting light on the political as well as the economic and trade history of Asia. A detailed report on the Turiang is available from the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society and online.

The Desaru ship, from China, sank off the southeast coast of Peninsular Malaysia in the 1840s, with a cargo of Chinese ceramics stored in built-in compartments which were well preserved. A written report was submitted to the Malaysian Department of Museums and Antiquities in early 2003, and all essentials are online.

The Tanjung Simpang ship dates from the Northern Song dynasty (960-1126 AD), and could have greatly extended our knowledge of early Southeast Asian trade, but was heavily looted. All information we have is online.

Topic pages are supplementary to these principal sections of the site. 'Malaysia at the crossroads' explains the wealth of historic shipwrecks around the country. Some material on other shipwrecks, the Nanyang, Longquan, Royal Nanhai, Xuande, Singtai and Desaru, will be found in both the exhibition (which is indexed) and the 'other wrecks' section of the Turiang report.

The chronology provides an overview of Asian maritime trade up to 1700, drawing on historical sources from many countries and new archaeological evidence; at the foot of this page is the growing bibliography. This is the page most frequently updated.

  1. Working names were assigned to ships of which the original names are unknown.
Tanjung Simpang ship Desaru ship Turiang ship
Finds from the 'Desaru' shipwreck, c.1830, on display at Muzium Negara.
Finds from the 'Xuande' site, c.1540, at Muzium Negara.
Finds from the 'Royal Nanhai' ship, c.1460, on display at Muzium Negara.

Plates from the 'Royal Nanhai', c.1460, stacked between replica bulkheads at Muzium Negara.

Last modified:
1 June 2010

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