Anthony Comfort and Michal Marciak have written a study of the upper Tigris in antiquity, published in August as How Did the Persian King of Kings Get his Wine? (Archaeopress Archaeology, 2018). This monograph examines an area which has been mostly inaccessible to scholars and looks likely to remain so – despite its great interest and strategic importance during the conflict between Rome and Persia.
The publication follows completion of the Ilısu dam, not far from the point at which the modern borders of Turkey, Iraq and Syria meet. When filled the reservoir created by the dam will do serious damage to the environment but also to the cultural heritage of the region; it is obliterating various sites along the river Tigris which are crucial to our understanding of the region’s history and archaeology.
Apart from the importance of the valley for river and road transport, there are also many rock reliefs which are described in the monograph. It is very sad that the current security situation in South-East Turkey makes many of these reliefs, as well as the sites along the river itself, inaccessible. In Iraqi Kurdistan the situation is better but the Tigris valley there is still difficult to visit for researchers and visitors.
At least now the world can have some idea of what is being lost as a result of the Ilısu dam and of what has already disappeared under the waters of the Eski Mosul dam in Iraq. But much of importance remains and needs to be studied further; The monograph provides an introduction to the region’s history and archaeology. The authors intend that it also promote further research in a notoriously difficult part of the world.
Header image: The old bridge at Hasankeyf in May 2006 (photo by Anthony Comfort)
About the Authors
Anthony Comfort is an independent scholar associated with the Centre for the Study of Greek and Roman Antiquity at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. After a career in the secretariat of the European Parliament, he completed a doctoral dissertation dealing with the roads on the frontier between Rome and Persia at Exeter University under the supervision of Stephen Mitchell. He is a specialist in the use of satellite imagery for archaeology in the Middle East but is now responsible for a project concerning the Roman roads of south-west France, where he lives.
Michał Marciak, PhD (2012), Leiden University, is an Assistant Professor at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków (Poland). He has published extensively on Northern Mesopotamia, including two monographs Izates, Helena, and Monobazos of Adiabene (Harrassowitz, 2014) and Sophene, Gordyene, and Adiabene: Three Regna Minora of Northern Mesopotamia Between East and West (Brill, 2017). He is currently also the Principal Investigator of the Gaugamela Project (in cooperation with the Land of Nineveh Archaeological Project of the University of Udine, Italy) which is dedicated to the identification of the site of the Battle of Gaugamela (331 BCE).
Sincerest thanks to Anthony and Michał for preparing this post for the Archaeopress Blog. Their new book is available now in paperback and PDF eBook editions:
Alka Starac describes the surprise discovery of a Roman temple in Pula, Croatia
The rescue excavations during 2005-2009 in the northern part of the ancient centre of Pula, Hrvatska, conducted over an area of 4000 square meters and at an average depth of 6 meters, revealed at first the foundations of St Theodore’s Church along with a female Benedictine monastery built in the 15th century. The church was pulled down during the construction of Austro-Hungarian barracks at the end of the 19th century. It was the only building complex which had definitely been expected to be revealed during the excavations, as it was the only one recorded in historical sources. It was considered likely that there might be Roman city ramparts as well, but it turned out that the assumed ramparts were in fact the wall of a Domus and a sewer situated inside the adjacent Public Thermae, destroyed in Late Antiquity and completely forgotten since then. In addition to the rich and well-preserved Domus and Public Thermae, the remains of an Early Christian and pre-Romanesque church were found below and inside St Theodore’s Church.
The biggest surprise, however, was the discovery of the foundations of a Roman temple surrounded by portico, containing the deposit of more than 2000 almost fully preserved amphorae of Lamboglia 2 type, placed for drainage and levelling of the temple terrace. Excavations at the end of the 19th century only just reached the rear temple foundation wall without entering the sacred enclosed area, so no one could assume the existence of a temple located within the barracks yard and hidden beneath the foundations of the monastery. Also, no one could know that the southern foundation wall of the 15th-century church, reaching five meters in depth, in its lower parts was the southern wall of the Early Christian church and the outer foundation wall of the northern portico wing surrounding the Roman temple, dividing the sacred terrace from the adjacent Thermae located at a lower level. At this point, the continuous sacred verticale measuring five metres in depth was documented, comprising the historical period of 2000 years since the Roman colony of Pola was founded.
But this exciting archaeological story did not end there. Descending into the lower stratigraphical layers in the sacred temple yard, the pre-Roman continuity of the cult place worshipped by the ancient Histri during the Hellenistic period was documented. It turned out that the Histrian cult place, active throughout three centuries until the foundation of the Roman colony, was placed next to a water spring in the karst terrain. A well, four meters deep, was built at the spring during the construction of the temple terrace, appearing above the ground beside the entrance to the temple. A limestone square building block with a club in relief is the only clear link with a certain deity found in the excavations, and this is obviously Hercules. Hercules is well known for having a strong ties with the Roman colony of Pola, honoured as a divine patron of the colony that carried his name among other titles, and a protector of the city Gate of Hercules decorated with his head and club in relief.
My new book, dedicated to the sanctuary of Hercules, deals with the urban history of the Roman temple with portico, the role of Hercules in local tradition and gives an interpretation of the archeological remains. It offers a hypothetical reconstruction of the temple and portico based on the excavated foundations, scarce fragments of architectural decoration and Vitruvian rules. The inscriptions possibly related to the sanctuary are discussed, and finally the hypothetical calculations of the building period duration and construction costs are added.
The discovery of a completely-unknown Roman temple with temenos and portico rarely happens. The entire structure was demolished to the ground and replaced by much more modest buildings in Late Antiquity, so the lack of historical information is unsurprising. This sequence of events resulted in the loss of elements of the architectural decoration; only a few fragments secondarily used in later buildings survived. Instead of a typical Late Republican sanctuary enclosed by a three-winged portico with open front side, Hercules’ sanctuary shows an inverse plan with a portico wing closing the front side of the temple. The foundations of two portico wings were identified, while the third wing remains an assumption. The temple was a tetrastyle prostyle, only a little smaller than the Temple of Rome and Augustus at the forum of Pola. Following the collection of data of the cult of Hercules in Pola, Hercules emerges as the central figure of the sanctuary, which is also related to the presence of a spring as well as an ancestor, hero and founder cult.
I am grateful to David Davison and Rajka Makjanić, who gave me the opportunity to publish the results of my work concerning Hercules’ sanctuary.
Archaeological Museum of Istria
PhD, Senior Museum Counselor, Head of excavations email@example.com
Sincerest thanks to Dr Starac for providing this blog. Her book, Hercules’ Sanctuary in the Quarter of St Theodore, Pula (Archaeopress Archaeology, 2018), is available now in paperback (£32.00) or PDF eBook (from £16+VAT).
David J. Breeze introduces his latest book on the Roman fort at Maryport, Cumbria, where the collection of Roman inscribed stones and sculpture, together with other Roman objects, remains the oldest archaeological collection in Britain still in private hands
On the west coast of Cumbria lies the 18th century planned town of Maryport. On its northern edge, sitting on the seaward side of a whaleback ridge rests a Roman fort, its earthworks still visible. To its north, but not visible, is an extensive extra-mural settlement, larger than the fort. Here probably lived the families of soldiers, merchants, priests, innkeepers, prostitutes and other people eager to relieve the soldiers of their pay. In the 16th century the owners of the estate, the Senhouse family, started collecting the inscriptions and sculpture found on their land. Today, their collection is on display in the Senhouse Roman Museum located just beside the fort.
It is unique in that it is the oldest archaeological collection in Britain still in private hands, though it has been placed in the care of the Senhouse Museum Trust. It is also of international importance. The museum contains many altars dedicated by the commanding officers at the fort. These were probably dedicated annually, on the day that all soldiers swore allegiance to the emperor and the Roman state, or on the birthday of the emperor. Many date to the reign of Hadrian and it would appear that we have one for each year of his reign. From this we can determine that each commander served about 3 years. The altars dedicated by the commanding officers of 3 regiments stationed at Maryport in the second century had interesting careers. Although many originally came from the western provinces of the Empire, including North Africa, their military service took them on to the Danubian provinces and to Judaea. Several rose many grades up the hierarchy, one becoming the chief financial officer of the province of Britain – and played host to the Emperor Hadrian, probably at his home in Italy.
The altars dedicated by the commanding officers and their families were to the gods of Rome, Jupiter, Juno, Mars, Mercury, Neptune and so on. Local gods are represented, including Belatucadrus, the deity of the local tribe. There are also many items of sculpture which provide insights into religious life on the northern frontier. These include depictures of the horned god found elsewhere in northern Britain as well as the unique Serpent Stone, a large phallic stone standing 1.3m high. There is also information on burial practices at the site within the 5 cemeteries which have been identified.
The new book brings together all the known evidence from the fort, its extra-mural settlement, older and more recent excavations and the artefacts, as well as using evidence by analogy, to provide a view of life at a fort on the very edge of the Roman Empire.
Sebastien Rey, Director of the British Museum’s Tello/Ancient Girsu Project and Lead Archaeologist for the Iraq Scheme, provides an introduction and overview for the Tello/Girsu excavations and their place within the Iraq Scheme.
The Iraq Scheme is a programme funded by the UK government, through the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, directed by Jonathan Tubb (keeper of the ME department), and delivered through the British Museum, with the aim of building capacity in the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage by training Iraqi archaeologists in cultural heritage management and practical fieldwork skills. The training is intended to provide participants with the expertise and skills they need to face the challenges of documenting and stabilising severely disrupted and damaged heritage sites in preparation for potential reconstruction. The training consists of two months based in London at the British Museum followed by two months hands-on training on site in Iraq. This practical training takes place at the two field projects of the Iraq Scheme, in the south of Iraq at the site of Tello, and in the north at the Darband-i Rania in the Kurdish Region of Iraq.
Tello, the modern Arabic name for the ancient Sumerian city of Girsu, is one of the earliest known cities of the world together with Uruk, Eridu and Ur. In the 3rd millennium BC Girsu was considered the sanctuary of the Sumerian heroic god. It was the sacred metropolis and centre of a city-state that lay in the south-easternmost part of the Mesopotamian alluvium. Pioneering explorations carried out between 1877 and 1933 and the decipherment of the cuneiform tablets discovered there revealed to the world the existence of the Sumerians who invented writing 5,000 years ago and may have developed a primitive form of democracy or polyarchy well before the ancient Greeks.
Like the recently liberated Assyrian capitals of northern Mesopotamia, Nimrud or Nineveh, Girsu is a mega-site extensively excavated in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with a similar topographical layout shaped by huge excavation pits and spoil heaps. It includes fragile remains of monumental architecture excavated before World War II such as the Bridge of Girsu – the oldest bridge as yet brought to light, which is the focus of site conservation. Tello is therefore a site of the first order, ideal for delivering the training for the Iraqi archaeologists in the context of a fully-fledged research programme.
The story of the renewed field-work at Tello-Girsu, after some eighty years of interruption, is a palimpsest of archaeological layers spanning five thousand years which reflects superimposed or overlapping destinies of gods, demons, and men.
The central protagonist is the mighty god Ningirsu, the tutelary deity of the city who battled fiercely with the demons of the primordial Mountain where both the Tigris and Euphrates originate, and, thus, made possible the introduction of irrigation and agriculture in Sumer. Ningirsu was the god of the thundershowers and floods, and was envisaged originally as the thundercloud. The demigod or demon Imdugud (Anzû), the thunderbird, perceived as a giant lion-headed eagle, was Ningirsu’s avatar or hypostasis, and the emblem of the city.
Other dominant figures of the excavations include the sovereign Gudea who ruled Girsu four-thousand years ago and who, throughout his reign, never ceased to pride himself in his abundant commemorative inscriptions for his zeal in religious behaviour and of having undertaken and completed the construction or renovation of magnificent temples to serve as abodes to the pantheon of Girsu. Adad-nadin-aḫḫe was an enigmatic Babylonian potentate, perhaps the lord of a fiefdom of the fading Seleucid Empire. He built a palace two thousand years after Gudea on the ruined sacred city of Girsu and, truly fascinated by the past, perpetuated the old Sumerian rituals of burying foundation deposits, stamping bricks with his name, in both Aramaic and Greek, and, also, collected Gudea’s statues as holy antiques and embodiments of ancestral kings. Ernest de Sarzec was the last archaeologist-consul of Mesopotamia. Two-thousand years after Adad-nadin-aḫḫe, he resurrected Girsu and its gods only thanks to his fierce desire and determination paying for it with his life.
That Tello/Girsu has a strong connection with the British Museum is proven by the abundant artefacts on display, including a truly unique statue of the ruler Gudea.
Although the god Ningirsu is not represented herein, at least in his anthropomorphic form, the Sumerian galleries are nevertheless charged with his overwhelming divine aura. Many votive artefacts, foundation tablets, and copper figurines of gods were indeed dedicated to the tutelary deity of Girsu. The god appears en majesté in his pre-human form of the tempestbird on the Ninḫursag temple relief from Ubaid, and a votive mace head from Tello, both depicting the lion-headed eagle grasping stags or lions, i.e., mastering the Mesopotamian wilderness. The British Museum also holds the very first rediscovered statue personifying the charismatic ruler Gudea found by William Loftus in 1850 at the site of Tell Hammam which also represents the first Sumerian sculpture to have reached Europe together with the reliefs of the genii accompanying the winged bulls from Khorsabad.
Excavations in the autumn of 2016 and spring of 2017 at Tello were carried out in the heart of the sacred district of Girsu, at Tell A, also-known as the Mound of the Palace. They led to the discovery of extensive mudbrick walls – some ornamented with pilasters and inscribed cones – belonging to the Ningirsu temple constructed and several times renovated by Sumerian rulers, including Ur-Bau and Gudea. This temple called Eninnu: The-White-Thunderbird dedicated to the heroic god was considered in antiquity as one of the most important sacred places of Mesopotamia, praised for its splendour in many contemporary literary compositions. The search for the Eninnu has mesmerized generations of Assyriologists. Known until now only by cuneiform texts and a plan carved on a statue of a worshipping Gudea, its discovery represents a significant milestone in the history of renewed archaeological research in Iraq.
Of this four-thousand-year-old religious complex, were exposed during the first two seasons what appeared to be the central part of the sanctuary: a decorated entrance featuring buttresses, a peripheral ambulatory with in situ cones, the cella composed of an offering altar facing the podium for the divine cult statue, and passageways marked by colossal inscribed stones.
The results of the last autumn 2017 season were extremely successful. In the Mound of the Palace, we continued to excavate the monumental sacred complex belonging to the god Ningirsu. The main highlights were the discovery of the South gate flanked by two towers and the temenos wall which included a foundation box.
The box was unusually big, 9 courses high, with a large Gudea brick as the cover with the inscription face down. Under the cover, a well-preserved impression of a reed mat in bitumen. The box unfortunately had been opened in antiquity and the copper foundation figurine removed. But, at the bottom of the box, we found the stone tablet still in situ. A white square tablet with the inscription in two columns. The tablet was oriented towards the cella and the podium for the divine cult statue. It was buried in a deposit of pure sand and was placed on a small reed mat. Samples of bitumen and soils from the ritual box have been brought back to the British Museum to be analysed.
More than fifteen inscribed cones were found in situ in the walls of the temple. The recording of the exact location of each cone reveals that they were laid in a complex pattern; we are currently analysing this pattern to establish whether it encodes information of magical/religious significance.
Excavations under the temple also led to the discovery of two superimposed monumental platforms, the oldest of which, made of red mudbricks and built in two steps, may be dated to the beginning of the third millennium BC. This is an important discovery since this proto-ziggurat, a precursor to the legendary Tower of Babel, would therefore predate the earliest-known Mesopotamian stepped-terrace by a few hundred years.
Four new soundings were opened in Tell L, situated at the edge of the ancient city in the vicinity of the city wall. They also yielded important results. We have uncovered mudbrick walls, and another foundation box made of fired bricks, unfortunately empty. We have reasons to believe, however, on the basis of inscribed cones in secondary context and others scattered on the surface, that this mound (Tell L) and the one adjacent to it (Tell M) formed a large complex, perhaps a temple gate dedicated to the goddesses Inanna and Nanshe. This new excavation was closely connected to the extensive survey that was carried out in the western residential area, between the Sacred city and Tell L, which yielded important new information on the domestic quarters of the city of Girsu.
New conservation work was initiated on the Bridge of Girsu, discovered and excavated at the end of the 1920s and early 1930s. The preliminary condition assessment of this unique monument of Sumerian architecture, left exposed for 80 years, stressed the urgency of carrying out a larger and more ambitious conservation programme, including preventive excavations.
Since excavation, the site has remained open and exposed, with no identifiable conservation work to address long-term stability or issues of erosion, and no plans to manage the site, or engage with a local or wider audiences.
The objectives of the 2017 autumn season at the bridge site were therefore to understand the structure, record its condition and to test conservation options, as the first steps towards developing a comprehensive conservation plan, with the Iraqi archaeologists involved at every stage.
Excavations to establish the condition and stability of this construction led to the discovery of exceptionally well-preserved deposits of the prehistoric Ubaid period, including painted pottery and uninscribed cones, which yield a wealth of information on the origins of Girsu and consequently the birth of urban centres in Mesopotamia.
All the important finds from these excavations have already been safely delivered to the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, while a column base from the Ningirsu temple will be displayed in the nearby museum of Nasiriya.
Tello-Girsu Autumn 2017 team & Iraqi participants: Sebastien Rey, Fatma Husain, Jon Taylor, Ashley Pooley, Angelo Di Michele, Joanna Skwiercz, Faith Vardy, Elisa Girotto, Ella Egberts, Dita Auzina, Dani Tagen, Andrew Ginns, Luke Jarvis, Thea Rogerson, John Darlington, Zahid Mohammad Oleiwi, Ali Kamil Khazaal, Toufeek Abd Mohammad, Qasim Rashid.
With Special Thanks to Vice Minister Dr Qais Hussein Rasheed, State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, Iraq
Contacts and website
Iraq Emergency Heritage Management Training Scheme
For more information on the Iraq Scheme, contact the Director of the Scheme, Jonathan Tubb (Head of the Middle East Department of the British Museum). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tello-Ancient Girsu Project
For more information on the work at Tello, contact Sebastien Rey (Director of the Tello-Ancient Girsu Project). Email email@example.com
Featured image: Aerial view of the main complex of archaeological mounds of Tello (Tello-Girsu Project, Iraq Scheme, The British Museum)
Sincerest thanks to Sebastien Rey for providing this blog post. Sebastien’s book For the Gods of Girsu: City-State Formation in Ancient Sumer (2016) is available now in paperback and eBook formats. English and Arabic editions available.
Stašo Forenbaher introduces his forthcoming Archaeopress publication, due Spring 2018
May you live in interesting times! While nobody knows the origin of this alleged old Chinese curse, its meaning is clear: in times of upheaval and radical change, most people’s lives are neither safe nor easy. Many archaeologists are drawn to such turbulent periods, marked by rupture and innovation which they can detect in the archaeological record, try to grasp their origin, and explain their consequences.
One might say that prehistory of the Adriatic was always in transition. Step-by-step changes continued in all ages, but their rhythm was not always the same. On several occasions, a series of changes over a relatively short time period resulted in dramatic transformations. Three crucial episodes of change marked the later Adriatic prehistory. The first one, which took place around year 6000 BC, was a transformation of subsistence strategy, transition from hunting and gathering to farming. The second one, which in the absence of a better term I prefer to call the raise of elites, was a social transformation that played out in the third millennium BC, when for the first time we can see the power of individuals clearly expressed by material culture. The third and the last episode, inclusion into the Mediterranean world system and the classic Mediterranean civilization, coincided with the end of prehistory in the Adriatic region.
During all of those episodes, travel and connectivity with distant lands played an exceptionally important role. Under the circumstances, some places gained particular importance due to their unique geographic location. Palagruža is among the most prominent such places, its importance being out of all proportion to its physical size. Adriatic prehistory cannot be told without mentioning Palagruža, and prehistory of Palagruža cannot be understood without knowing Adriatic prehistory. Due to its strategic position in the very center of the Adriatic Sea, due to the mystery born of distance and isolation, due to its wild and spectacular landscape, Palagruža indeed is a special place. A reflection of its specialty is an unexpected abundance of high-grade archaeological evidence, dating precisely from the three aforementioned periods marked by radical change.
I first came to Palagruža in May 1993 as a member of an international archaeological team, led by Branko Kirigin and Timothy Kaiser, that carried out test excavations on the island. But we were not the first archaeologists on the scene: Sir Richard Burton and Carlo Marchesetti have beaten us to it by more than a century. They paid a visit to Palagruža in 1876, only a year after the great lighthouse had been built on its rocky summit. The island’s remoteness fascinated them, and they described in some detail its geology, flora and fauna, as well as the surprisingly abundant evidence of prehistoric, Greek and Roman visitors. Thanks to Burton and Marchesetti, we knew that there were ancient remains on Palagruža waiting to be discovered.
Beginning in 1993, many excavation seasons followed over the next fifteen years, at first with multiannual breaks, later on a regular annual basis, and sometimes even twice within the same year. During four of those seasons, I was privileged to take part in those excavations and to experience the magic of Palagruža in the company of a small Robinsonian community of archaeologists. Thanks to that, Palagruža is a special place for me at a very personal level.
Many of the ideas that I elaborate in my book about prehistory of Palagruža were conceived during frequent periods spent together with Timothy Kaiser. Our friendship, which grew out of joint fieldwork at a series of Dalmatian prehistoric sites, goes back to my beginner’s days. The way I do archaeology owes very much to Tim. But my somewhat unusual orientation of an inlander who does Adriatic prehistory I owe mostly to Branko Kirigin, the main ‘culprit’ for my first fieldwork experiences in Dalmatia. When systematic excavation began on Palagruža, Branko entrusted me with the analysis of prehistoric finds. I admit that I kept him waiting for a long while: a quarter century has passed since his first, unforgettable and decisive visit to Palagruža (as he once vividly described it to me). I hope that my book justifies his expectations.
The first, introductory part of the book discusses geographic location, natural environment and resources of Palagruža, offers an attempted reconstruction of its appearance during Holocene, and describes archaeological investigations that preceded our own work, including the archaeological evidence recovered by the early investigators. The second part of the book provides detailed descriptions of prehistoric sites and finds accumulated during our investigations that lasted from year 1992 until 2007. Most of it is dedicated to Salamandrija, the central and most important prehistoric site on the island, which is dominated by pottery, flaked stone, and ground stone assemblages from the third millennium BC. Among other sites that follow, Jankotova njiva stands out due to its few, but very characteristic, finds from the first half of the sixth millennium BC.
The contributions written by Zlatko Perhoč and Robert H. Tykot on sources of the raw materials for the lithic artifacts from Palagruža are crucially important for our understanding of long-distance connections. Zlatko’s petrographic analyses of chert demonstrated the existence of intensive and persistent trans-Adriatic interaction, while Rob’s analyses of obsidian confirmed occasional contacts with much more distant Mediterranean islands: Lipari in the Tyrrhenian, and Melos in the Aegean Sea.
The third part of the book begins with an analysis of environmental characteristics of all small and remote Adriatic islands, and of peculiar circumstances that predetermined Palagruža’s special role. Discussions follow of its role in the crucial episodes of Adriatic prehistory, eight thousand years ago during the spread of farming into the Adriatic, and five thousand years ago during the rise of the first Adriatic elites. These are accompanied by an additional chapter on Adriatic pottery styles of the third millennium BC, without which it would not have been possible to write coherently about Palagruža, or about the Adriatic, during that period. The fourth part of the book, an appendix containing summary information about more than 150 sites that yielded characteristic finds, supplements the discussion of those styles.
Header image: The author excavating at Palagruža, September 2004.
Stašo Forenbaher is Senior Research Advisor at the Institute for Anthropological Research in Zagreb, Croatia. He studied archaeology at the University of Zagreb (Croatia), and received his PhD from the Southern Methodist University in Dallas (TX). His research interests cover Mediterranean Prehistory with a focus on the Adriatic, and include transition to farming, formation of early elites, archaeology of caves, and lithic analysis. He has excavated at many prehistoric stratified cave sites in the eastern Adriatic, including Pupićina Cave in Istria, Vaganačka Cave in Velebit Mountain, Grapčeva Cave on the island of Hvar, and Nakovana Cave on Pelješac Peninsula. His current fieldwork is focussed on the excavation of Vela Cave on the island of Korčula.
Forthcoming from Archaeopress, due Spring 2018:
Special Place, Interesting Times: The Island of Palagruža and Transitional Periods in Adriatic Prehistory by Stašo Forenbaher (with contributions written by Zlatko Perhoč and Robert H. Tykot). Archaeopress Archaeology, 2018. More details soon.
St John Simpson introduces the BP exhibition ‘Scythians: warriors of ancient Siberia’, open at the British Museum from 14 September 2017-14 January 2018
On 14 September a major new exhibition opened at the British Museum and creates a unique opportunity to see the world of the Scythians, warriors and nomads, in an atmospheric setting and with hundreds of stunning objects. This was organised with the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, from which most of the objects have been very generously loaned, and includes other important loans from the National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Ashmolean Museum and a magnificent portrait of Peter the Great lent by Her Majesty the Queen.
This exhibition was devised four years ago to mark the British Museum’s contribution to the past year of exhibitions and events celebrating Russian art and culture in the UK. The British Museum team was led by St John Simpson, with Svetlana Pankova of the State Hermitage Museum co-ordinating her colleagues in the Departments of Archaeology, Ancient World and Russian Culture: together they have co-edited the sumptuous catalogue published by Thames & Hudson to go with it.
The exhibition is attracting 5* reviews and is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see these objects together. The exhibition begins with some of the first Scythian gold objects to be discovered in the early eighteenth century as explorers during the reign of Peter the Great set out to explore and map newly conquered territories in present-day southern Siberia. These were found in burial mounds and excited huge interest in Russia at the time: they are shown here alongside early eighteenth century watercolours commissioned in St Petersburg, and astonishingly this is the first time they have been exhibited together.
The exhibition continues with a stunning digital panorama based on late nineteenth century Russian watercolours showing parts of the route taken by the Trans-Siberian Railway as it passes through Siberia. They evoke the scenery and show that Siberia is not just the place of hardship, cold and forest that is mentally conjured up in most peoples’ minds but the southern portion was a grassy corridor which connected China with the edge of Europe.
Separate sections in the exhibition then set out to answer common questions with carefully selected objects set against massive landscape backdrops with succinct text panels printed on cloth banners and illustrated with contextual images and accurate reconstructions. Some of the earliest tattoos and a beheaded chieftain’s head illustrate personal appearance and body art. Trousers, a fur-lined coat, exquisite gold dress appliques, an embroidered shoe and a tall woman’s headdress bring home a sense of style. Mirrors, manicured fingernails, a false wig and pouches filled with black hair dye show that vanity is not a modern concept and these men and women were careful to show themselves to best effect. A portable lifestyle meant that possessions had to be easily transported, and people of status wore their wealth on their bodies. Oversized gold buckles demonstrate this in one way; massed rows of miniature gold dress ornaments show it in another and mark the beginning of a very long Eurasian nomad tradition.
A reconstructed miniature tent and a brazier with hemp seeds confirms a famous passage by Herodotus that Scythians appreciated the effect of consuming cannabis in a confined space and enjoyed “hot boxing” so much that they “howled with pleasure”. These nomads moved according to the seasons and the availability of water and pasture, but exhibiting ancient nomads is tough when they leave a light footprint in the landscape. Fortunately they buried their essentials as well as their status items in tombs for an anticipated afterlife. Exceptional preservation in the permanently frozen subsoil beneath these mounds in the Altai mountain region has meant the preservation of all the organic remains: a sable fur bag, leather, wood, felts, rugs, horse harness and even lumps of cheese, labelled with a “best before” date of 300 BC.
Life was tough though and evidence for weapons and trauma on excavated human remains shows that there must have been considerable competition over resources. Showcases contain deadly aerodynamic arrowheads, fired from the famous Scythian bow described by Greek authors, an efficient pointed battle-axe with its original honeysuckle wood handle, wooden shields, armour, a bronze helmet and a serried rank of daggers and short swords. And of course there is the horse-tack: not just bronze horse-bits but complete bridles with leather straps and carved wooden ornaments, and another Scythian invention: the soft saddle, stuffed with straw and deer hair and covered with an extraordinary decorated cover.
Fittingly, the largest object in the exhibition is a super-sized perfectly preserved log coffin from Pazyryk which weighs a third of a ton! Digital media show frozen tombs like this being excavated and how the interiors were encased in solid ice which had built up over centuries inside. Even so, the Pazyryk tombs were robbed in antiquity so although the organics are spectacular there is precious little of intrinsic value: that is where the exhibition has drawn on late eighteenth and nineteenth century tomb finds from the northern Black Sea region (all from the State Hermitage and the Ashmolean) and very recent discoveries in southern Siberia and neighbouring Kazakhstan.
The exhibition closes by looking at life in southern Siberia after the Scythians. Although even the names of the tribes are unknown, the excavated tomb finds show increasing complexity and long-distance connections: the remains of a composite bow, colourful beads imported from the Mediterranean, a scrap of Chinese silk reused along the hem of a toy quiver. The archaeology of the Scythians and other early nomads of Eurasia is a very active field and there are many surprises. New scientific research carried out at the British Museum answered some questions we had about gold objects from the Siberian Collection of Peter the Great, and in fact there is more scientific research on show in this exhibition than in any ever before at the British Museum! One of the last things a visitor sees is the CT-scan of a (post-Scythian) man’s head concealed beneath his painted death-mask and what this brand new piece of Russian research shows is that he has a carefully stitched up scar on his left cheek and the hole where his left temple had been trepanned as part of an embalming ritual.
The subject of continuing new discoveries is the topic of an exciting three-day archaeological conference to be held at the British Museum this coming 27-29 October. This will bring together scholars of all ages and nationalities to share the results of their research projects, latest archaeological discoveries and new scientific research. Many of these results are presented here for the first time and they evoke the world of the steppe: a natural open corridor without borders which connected Russia with Europe, the Middle East and China. There will be papers on Scythians, Hephthalites and other Eurasian nomad economies, tombs, burial rites, gold-working, human remains, the invention of trousers, early Scythian dyes, “Animal Style” art, rock art, connections with China, and some tantalising if not gruesome answers as to where the Scythians got their leather for their bow quivers! This conference is being generously supported by the ERC and the British Museum and is part of the public programme associated with the exhibition. Booking is via the British Museum box office.
A conference, Scythians and early nomads from Siberia to the Black Sea, will be held in the BP Lecture Theatre at the British Museum from 27-29 October 2017. This major three-day conference is open to all. It will include the latest research on early nomads of Eurasia with papers on horseriding, warfare, technology and many other topics. It will also include results of recent archaeological excavations and new scientific research, and poster displays. Click here to view the conference programme.
Header image: Landscape in Southern Siberia courtesy of V. Terebenin.
Sincerest thanks to St John Simpson for providing this latest post for the Archaeopress Blog. We are actively seeking new content for the blog; articles on all aspects of archaeology and related heritage topics will be considered. Perhaps you would like to highlight a small find on an excavation that won’t be fully reported until years from now; an opinion piece; summaries of local activity; introductions to new and ongoing exhibits; conference reports; the list goes on. Articles should be approximately 2,000 words in length with 4-8 accompanying illustrations, but please note this is just a guide and both shorter and longer articles would be considered. Please submit blog proposals to Patrick Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org
A casual reference to a remote Cheshire hamlet begins Mabel Bent’s 5th travel diary, or Chronicle, in January 1888; she (1847-1929) being the indefatigable wife of that great traveller and self-styled archaeologist, James Theodore Bent (1852-1897), who will be sitting close to her, looking at some map or travel permit. Mabel is writing from the Hôtel de Byzance in Istanbul (Constantinople to her, of course), about as far removed from the Norman-founded house of Sutton Hall as one can get. Mabel confides that the explorers were hoping to return to Thásos island to continue their semi-authorised excavations of the season before, but their nemesis, Istanbul Museum director, Hamdi Bey, has steimied them.
Instead, the couple shortly embarked on a sequence of (illicit) investigations along the Turkish littoral (in particular the coastline opposite Rhodes), which proved fruitful: some of Bent’s marbles from this expedition are now in London at the British Museum (and a search of its on-line catalogue will turn them up). Bent briefly wrote up his discoveries of ancient Loryma, Lydae, and Myra for the Journal of Hellenic Studies (1888, Vol. 9, 82-7), but a lengthier account was provided by E. L. Hicks (‘Inscriptions from Casarea, Lydae, Patara, Myra’, 1889, Vol. 10, 46-85), including transcriptions of over forty inscriptions and passages of text from Theodore’s own notebooks (which are rare, as many of his original notebooks are now missing).
But let’s cut back to Mabel in the Hôtel de Byzance, and that reference to Sutton Hall:
‘We left England on January 19th Thursday, travelling from Sutton Hall to Marseilles, which we reached at 12.10 pm on Saturday morning and went to bed at the Station Hotel. We varied our journey by going for our meals to the Waggon Lits dining car. We embarked in the afternoon on board the Messageries steamer La Bourdonnais, with only one passenger besides ourselves and a captain’s wife going to join her husband. We had dreadfully stormy weather after Cape Matapan and had to shelter 20 hours in the island of Seriphos, always eating with fiddles on the table. We only got to Syra on Thursday. We landed and found to our sorrow that our kind consul Mr. Binney was dreadfully ill. At Smyrna we visited Mr. Disinnis and he seemed nearly worn out from nursing his wife. We reached Constantinople on Saturday [January] 21st and after an odious landing in a downpour of rain, our goods being as usual opened in a passage roofed over only, we found ourselves again in the Hôtel de Byzance. There is not much to tell of our stay there. Our great object was to obtain a firman, permitting us to dig in Thasos and have a share of the finds. With this object we went to visit Hamdi Bey, the head of the museum, accompanied by Mr. Wrench, our Consul… Hamdi is a very agreeable foe. He is a painter and has been educated in Paris and has married 2 French wives in succession. We were at his house 2 years ago. He was extremely polite and most willing that we should dig “for the love of science” and the benefit of his museum. His wife is a pretty, bright little woman, who, though she receives everyone at home, has to go out in a yashmak… We went twice, our second visit was to say we had given up wishing for a firman, as we were not justified in digging for nothing. Hamdi seemed annoyed at this but was none the less civil. Mrs. Hamdi took me upstairs to see her 2 children, Leila aged 10 and Edhem 4, called after his grandfather, His Highness Edhem Pasha, who was himself, or was the son of a slave. I also saw her mother, an untidy old woman in a dressing gown, and I had coffee.‘
[The Chronicles of Mabel Bent, Vol. 1, 228-9, Archaeopress, 2006]
And all a long way from rural Cheshire. The modest grand house of Sutton Hall, a few miles from both Macclesfield and Chesterfield, has sturdy Norman roots: for a period of time in the late 19th century it just also happened to be leased to Theodore Bent – arguably one of the pioneers of Cycladic archaeology (1883/4); controversial surveyor of ‘Great Zimbabwe’ for Cecil Rhodes (1891/2); and searcher for traces of the Queen of Sheba along the daunting Hadramawt (1894/5). [A select bibliography follows]
Wikipedia informs us that:
‘The house is constructed partly in stone, and partly in timber framing, with a U-shaped plan. The arms of the “U” end in irregular gables. The left gable is in stone, and the right is timber-framed. The upper storey of the right gable is jettied, the jetty being supported on brackets carved with wooden figures, one a knight in chain mail. Between the two wings is the former great hall. A 16th century chapel at the rear of the house, which has served at different times as stables and as a convent, now serves as the restaurant kitchens. The house is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade II listed building.’
‘Once the property of the Sir Humphrey Davenport, Chief Baron of the Exchequer in 1631, the Manor of Sutton later passed by marriage to Sir Rowland Belasyse, an ancestor of the Earls of Fauconberg. In 1819 it was acquired by the Countess of Lucan and descended to her successors, the Lords Lucan, primarily used as a farmhouse. The countess had been born Elizabeth Belasyse, daughter of Henry Belasyse, 2nd Earl Fauconberg and in 1794 had married Richard Bingham, who became the 2nd Earl of Lucan in 1799. By 1804, after six children, they had separated.’ [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sutton_Hall,_Sutton_Lane_Ends]
In its present incarnation, the erstwhile Bent residence is a pleasant, out-of-the-way gastro-pub and very worthy of a detour and lunch. [GPS= 53.240306854248,-2.1160869598389. A potted history and photo gallery is available at http://www.brunningandprice.co.uk/suttonhall/homepage/%5D
Local historian Alan Dinnis adds:
‘The Bents had been in the Sutton area for some time. Back in 1838-39, when St James’ Church was planned, members of the family contributed a total of ten pounds to the building fund. In the 1860s, when it was customary for church pews to be rented, “The Misses Bent” held eight seats with another four seats for their “domestics”. Theodore owned The Elms in Byron’s Lane and had another house in London. He also held the lease (from the Earl of Lucan) of Sutton Hall, which was occupied by his Aunt Maria.’ [personal communication, Oct 2011]
Sutton Hall was initially leased by Bent’s parents, James Bent and Margaret Eleanor (née Lambert, daughter of wealthy Baildon (near Bradford) locals, John and Ann Lambert of Baildon Hall), who married in April 1848. The Bent family could be traced back some generations in the north of England, related to the splendidly-named Hamlet Bent (1642-1728). Another branch of the family included the distinguished surgeon Sir James Justin Bent, who amputated Josiah Wedgewood’s right leg in May 1768. Sir James resided in Basford Hall (near Leek, Staffordshire) and it was his family crest that was adopted and adapted by other members of the extended family – including Theodore: the ‘demi-lion azure’ featuring on his stationery. One family motto was ‘Nec Temere, Nec Timide’ – ‘neither reckless, nor timid’. Bent was never the latter. (Theodore (he dropped his first given name – James) was born in thriving Victorian Liverpool on 30 March 1852 – an uncle, Sir John Bent, was Lord Mayor of the city in 1850-51.)
The non-medical Bents made their wealth collectively in the pottery and brewing trades – making both beer and the means of supping it being rather canny. The business ‘Bent’s Brewery Co. Ltd.’ only disappeared as a trade name in the 1960s.
As well as their fine home in Baildon, and assorted properties in the area, Theodore’s father (presumably) also leased Sutton Hall, it seems as a home for his sister and those of his brothers, and which was to become the favourite English summer residence of his son Theodore and his wife Mabel.
Within a year of his father’s death, with Theodore 25 and Mabel 30, the couple announced their engagement (the couple having met in Norway) and a few months later, in August 1877, the local Cheshire and Yorkshire newspapers (York Herald, 6 August, and Cheshire Observer, 8 August 1877) printed a marriage notice:
‘On the 2nd inst. at Staplestown Church, county Carlow, Ireland, by the Rev. Charles Lambart, uncle of the bride, assisted by the Rev. H. A. Barker and the Rev. T. Hatchell, James Theodore Bent, of Sutton Hall, in this county, to Mabel Virginia Anna, second sister of the late Robert Westley Hall Dare, of Newtonbarry House, County Wexford.’
In the summer of 1885, Theodore (now comfortably off) put up for sale five freehold cottages and premises (totalling about four hectares) at Brook Hill, Baildon (and a freehold close of land in Slaughter Lane) at auction. The young explorer was left with Baildon House and his property interests in Sutton. (Anglo-Irish Mabel had access to lands of some grandeur in Co. Wexford and Theydon Bois, Essex, where the couple rest together today in the Hall-Dare plot in St Mary’s church.)
From 1880, at least, the Bents also leased property in London. In 1880 they were in 43 Great Cumberland Place (near Marble Arch) and a few years later they were in number 13, in which Mabel continued to reside in rather lonely isolation until her death in 1929. It is unclear what happened to the lease at Sutton Hall up until Mabel’s death in 1929, but at Theodore’s death in 1887 it was incorporated into his trust estate:
‘…I bequeath to my Aunt Maria Bent her executors administrators and assigns absolutely All that my leasehold messuage called Sutton Hall Macclesfield wherein she now resides for all my term and interest therein she paying the rent and observing and performing all the covenants and conditions contained in the lease thereof. I devise all my freehold or copyhold estate at Sutton near Macclesfield aforesaid called “The Gurnett” unto my trustees…Upon trust to permit my said Aunt Maria Bent during her life to receive the rents and profits thereof and from and after her decease I declare that the said freehold or copyhold estate shall sink into and become part of the trust estate hereinafter mentioned…’ [‘Clause in Will of J T Bent, signed 21 Jan 1891 (died May 1897, no other wills known by me but further codicils may have been added)’]
It seems that ‘The Gurnett’ was linked in some way with the property referred to (see above) as ‘The Elms’. This residence was perhaps in turn rented out, as in 1895 it was the residence of one ‘Alderman John Birchenough JP… a prominent local politician and silk manufacturer’, and described as ‘a pretty mansion in Byrons’ Lane, Sutton…’ [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Birchenough]
The Daily News of 21 August 1897 records that Theodore’s personal estate on his death was valued at £21,497, and refers to the deceased as ‘the well-known traveller and archæologist’.
Sutton Hall pub’s own website has an interesting archaeological snippet:
‘In the grounds of Sutton Hall there is a somewhat dilapidated Bronze Age barrow (now the resting-place of a water trough). In 1962 the barrow was again excavated, by James Forde-Johnston of Manchester University, who unearthed evidence of several further cremations. He discovered that the mound had originally been around 100 yards in diameter, but was substantially reduced, with many of the river cobbles having been removed to the nearby farmyard for use in paving, where they can still be seen.’ [http://www.brunningandprice.co.uk/suttonhall/history/]
Bent would most certainly have known of it (probably a cremation site, now much reduced in size), and in all likelihood taken a spade to it, although we have neither record nor proof: although the ‘somewhat dilapidated’ is perhaps one clue (!) and a search for Forde-Johnston’s notes (this current author has not attempted to) might reveal others.
Theodore did however make several notable archaeological discoveries, and very often refers to himself as an ‘archaeologist’, however he is not recognized quite as such by today’s practitioners. Although the discipline was already well advanced by the late 19th century, Theodore was much more artefact- than context-lead as an ‘excavator’, more interested in recovering material to return with to England (and perhaps to deal in) than interpreting and communicating a wider understanding of the site he was excavating. In a similar way, he was often handicapped by his own theories – for example his notorious work at ‘Great Zimbabwe’, the discrediting of which caused Mabel such distress after his death. So, perhaps then archaeologist, no; but explorer-traveller, adventurer, even antiquarian and ethnographer, emphatically yes. Great British travellers, travel-celebrities even, indeed. Bent would be a TV presenter today – Jago Cooper if not Michael Wood.
Sutton’s local church of St James’ contains a sweep of memorial windows to the Bents. Theodore installed one for his father († Dec 1876) and mother († Nov 1873). And their son, in his turn – and nicely depicted as St James – has one donated by his widow. In the church guide we read:
‘This window is dated 1897 and depicts a pilgrim ending life’s journey at the gate of Heaven and being welcomed by an angel. The pilgrim is dressed as St James. There is a scallop shell in his pilgrim’s hat… The window is in memory of J. Theodore Bent, of Baildon House, Yorks, and Sutton Hall, who died on 5th May 1897 aged 45. It was given by his widow Mabel, of 13, Great Cumberland Place, Middlesex.’ [Alan Dinnis, St James’ Church, Sutton: 1840–1990, Macclesfield 1990, 136]
The Cheshire Observer of 27 November 1897 provides more information:
‘Mrs. Mabel V. A. Bent, residing at 13, Great Cumberland Place, London, applied for a faculty to place a stained-glass window at the east end of the church, as a memorial to the late James Theodore Bent, a former parishioner. The cost (£72) would be defrayed by Mrs. Bent. – The faculty was granted.’
It is a fine, long window (dated 1896 curiously), depicting the pilgrim (a.k.a. Bent) being welcomed by an angel at heaven’s gate. The caption reads: ‘To God’s glory and in remembrance of J. Theodore Bent. FRGS, FSA. Son of James and Margaret Eleanor Bent of Baildon House, Yorks, and Sutton Hall. Died May 5 1897, aged 45.’
Mabel specified two quotations: ‘The highways were unoccupied and the travellers walked through byways’ (Judges 5:6) and ‘They were strangers and pilgrims on the earth’ (Hebrews 11:13). Mabel and Theodore are reunited in these lines. (There are other memorials to the Bents and Hall-Dares in Baildon (St John’s), Theydon Bois (St Mary’s), and Bunclody (Co. Wexford, also St Mary’s.)
But Sutton Hall was to remain one of the Bents’ happiest homes and they spent time there as often as they could – their routine from the early 1880s until Theodore’s death in 1897 was to travel in English winters and return to England and Ireland for summers and autumns. As well as visiting family and friends, Theodore would spend these periods writing, lecturing, and preparing for the next season and the beeswaxed and grandfather-clock-ticking rooms of Sutton Hall would have been furnished with the desks and tables on which Theodore worked on many of his books (a select bibliography concludes this essay) as well as the hundreds of letters (his correspondents including Rider Haggard: did he have Bent in mind as Allan Quatermain?), as well as the articles and lectures he generated over the twenty or so years of travel.
As one example, alluded to above, Theodore spent a good deal of the summer and autumn of 1887 trying (unsuccessfully) to drum up enough support to have some of the fine marbles he uncovered on Thásos saved for London; the Turks claimed them, the Greeks were dispossessed – today most are in Istanbul. Letters exist from Theodore at a series of addresses in Herefordshire (mostly vicarages), and Sutton Hall to senior staff at the British Museum:
‘… We have indeed been unfortunate about our treasure trove [sic] but I have hopes still. I sent to Mr. Murray [of the BM] a copy of two letters which recognize the fact that I had permission in Thasos both to dig and to remove… Seriously… Thasos is wonderfully rich and I have some excellent points for future work and if we could by not being over grasping get the Turkish govt. to recognize the [position] I am confident we could produce some excellent results.’ [Bent’s letter to Arthur Smith at the British Museum, 4 Sept 1887]
As for Sutton’s later role in the lives of the Bents, future research, we hope, will uncover the story of Mabel’s holidays, as a widow, at Sutton Hall, but we may assume that Theodore last saw the house in the summer and autumn of 1896 before leaving for Sokotra and Aden – his final journey.
At Aden, the Bents – with their long-serving assistant Matthew Símos (from Anáfi in the Greek Cyclades) – set out on 27 February 1897 for their last explorations together into the territories east of Aden. They were clearly weakened after their stay on Sokotra, and on March 16 Mabel records that: ‘Theodore was in a raging fever so that I had to tell him I was now much better and had got quite strong, so I could take care of him…’ (Mabel’s Chronicle for March 1897), and it was clear that the expedition would have to be aborted: the arduous trek back to the South Arabian coast, and onward boat-journey to Aden, would have to be made as soon as possible. With great difficulty, the stricken travellers were aided down to the coastal town of Shuqra for the 100km return sail to Aden, and by 26 March 1897 they were all in the hospital there.
Mabel’s letter (from London) to Scott Keltie at the Royal Geographical Society, London, just before Theodore’s death, sums up their acute distress at the time:
‘Dear Mr. Keltie… We got home on Saturday night [1 May 1897] in a most wretched state. We have had malarial fever and I have been ‘dangerous’ in Aden and now it is my poor husband’s turn. He got a fresh attack just getting home and pneumonia. He is a little better today but not out of danger – but I have good hopes though awfully anxious as the Drs. shake their heads. We have one sleeping in the house and 2 nurses as I am no good yet. I had to be carried to the steamer in an ambulance litter… We have had an awful time – bad enough without this. I have one of my sisters so have good help. He made little maps fitting on to each other but just yet I seem not to know where they are. When as I can’t help thinking he is better I will ask you to come and see the things. I was pretty lucky with my photos. We nearly got to the coast at Shugra before we got the fever, through part of the Beled Fadhli again – We were in the hospital at Aden… Yours truly, Mabel V. A. Bent’
Despite the attentions of Mabel, her sister Ethel, a resident doctor and two nurses, Theodore did not ‘get better’, succumbing just a few days later on 5 May 1897. (He is buried in his wife’s family plot at St Mary’s, Theydon Bois: there is a memorial stone to them both; you can visit.)
Sutton Hall witnesses this next sad letter written by Mabel, as, on top of everything else, with her uncle Francis also dying in May, she was faced with the melancholy task of unpacking all their botanical specimens for Kew. From Sutton Hall (on black-edged paper), she writes (24 May 1897) to Kew director, Sir William Thiselton-Dyer:
‘I don’t know how to thank you enough for your letter, it was so kind. People have been so good in writing to me and though of course one cannot be consoled it is a pleasure to feel my husband was appreciated and that my friends share my great sorrow. He was always occupied and so happy in his work. Of course he collected some flowers and I shall have to unpack them soon and I should like to take them to you on Friday or Saturday which ever day and time suits you. One of my sisters is with me and we go up to town on Thursday morning to be ready for the valuations and then I must unpack all our ‘long sea’ baggage and camp furniture which will be very sad and painful. [Mabel adds a postscript from London here] I wrote so far but now I find I am not strong enough. I have unpacked this morning and I am sure the things want attending to as the bulbs are growing and I am alarmed about some of the cactuses. Could you send someone to get explanations or come some afternoon. Please let me know when. Soon would be best as after the 1st I think the valuators will infest the house… With kind regards to Mrs Dyer, Yours very truly, Mabel V. A. Bent’ [Black-edged letter, 24 May 1897 from Mabel Bent at Sutton Hall, Macclesfield, to Thiselton-Dyer. On reverse: ‘Ansd 29.v.97. Mr. Watson to go on Monday afternoon. Parcel of dried plants, bulbs, seeds etc. from Arabia and Socotra brought to Kew. Ackd 4.6.97’ (Kew Archives: Directors’ Correspondence, Vol. 179, 8)]
This trip that cost Theodore his life produced the least return. There were no major archaeological finds: a very few artefacts are now in the British Museum and Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. There were some plant specimens for Kew, as usual, and a few land snails are in drawers in the Natural History Museum, London.
We must wait for a suitable Bent memorial at the gastro-pub that Sutton Hall now is (although at the upstairs windows one might glimpse drawn faces still), but just along the church lane, on the little hill that offers up St James’, Theodore, from his stained glass window, looks out south and south-east towards their remarkable routes and researches in the Mediterranean, Africa, and Arabia: thousands of land- and sea-miles, on hundreds of steamers, small boats, horses, mules, camels, and ox-carts to ‘Great Zimbabwe’. Today’s pub visitors have no idea – but, inside, the dark, Victorian rooms crackle with Empire and the small-talk of archaeologists.
(c) Gerald Brisch, August 2017
Acknowledgement: The author would very much like to thank Robin Barber for a communication that inspired the above article.
A select bibliography
Bent, J. T. 1877. A Freak of Freedom (London).
Bent, J. T. 1881. A Life of Garibaldi (London).
Bent, J. T. 1881. Genoa, how the Republic Rose and Fell (London).
Bent, J. T. 1885. The Cyclades; or, Life Among the Insular Greeks (London).
Bent, J. T. 1892. The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland (London).
Bent, J. T. (ed.) 1893. Early Voyages and Travels in the Levant (London).
Bent, J. T. 1893. The Sacred City of the Ethiopians (London).
Bent, J. T. and M. V. A. 1900. Southern Arabia (London).
Bent, J. T. , Bent, M. V. A. and Brisch, G. E. (ed.) 2015. The Dodecanese: Further Travels Among the Insular Greeks (Oxford, Archaeopress).
Bent, M. V. A . and Brisch, G. E. (ed.) 2006. The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J. Theodore Bent. Volume I, Greece and the Levantine Littoral (Oxford, Archaeopress).
Bent, M. V. A . and Brisch, G. E. (ed.) 2012. The Travel Chronicles of Mrs. J. Theodore Bent. Volume II: The African Journeys (Oxford, Archaeopress).
Bent, M. V. A . and Brisch, G. E. (ed.) 2010. The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J. Theodore Bent. Volume III: Southern Arabia and Persia (Oxford, Archaeopress).
A fuller Bent Bibliography and other information on the Bents is available at: www.tambent.com
[All above websites accessed August 2017]
Visit the Archaeopress website to view the 3rdGuides range of publications including Mabel Bent’s Travel Chronicles Vol 1-3, written during the couples’ excursions to Greece, Africa, Arabia and Turkey (1883-1898), a new edition of Theodore Bent’s The Cyclades (1885) accompanied by a newly commissioned biographical introduction and a series of notes including route-planner, and historical and archaeological summaries, and a volume of compiled papers, notes and travel-writings, The Dodecanese(2016).
The above books are available at special prices until 30/09/2017.