This week: Pacopampa

Understanding burial practices and funerary customs is a vital part of any attempt to understand an ancient culture – for while the need to separate the living from the dead is common to all human societies, the way in which this has been done over the centuries varies widely according…

This week: Water in Istanbul

Today, Istanbul – formerly Constantinople – is Europe’s largest metropolis, having grown dramatically in size since the 1970s to reach a population in excess of 17 million. But despite the gleaming modern towers, busy expressways and seemingly endless urban sprawl, the city’s long history as an imperial capital – first…

This week: Military disasters

It is hard to disagree with the observation, made by the distinguished military historian John Keegan (1934-2012), that ‘all battles are in some degree… disasters’. But if the brutal nature of warfare means that all such conflicts end in calamity, it should be added (as Keegan himself noted) that not…

This week: The Harpole Treasure

It was, according to Levente Bence Balázs, the leader of the Museum of London team that made the discovery, a moment that might most accurately be described as ‘an archaeologist’s dream’. On 11 April 2022, Balázs was overseeing the penultimate day of an otherwise-routine dig in the village of Harpole,…

This week: the year in review

It has been a year of non-stop turbulence in the news – from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to the continuing upheaval of Covid-19, and from record-breaking heatwaves to the return of rampant inflation. These seismic events have provided us with daily reminders that the study of history – both ancient…

This week: A pagan Christmas?

These days, some would have us believe that Christmas has been ‘hijacked’ – that the season of good cheer has been rudely stripped of its religious connotation (of ‘mass on Christ’s day’) and replaced instead by a secular and commercially dubious celebration of family, community, and the joys of eating…

This week: Alexander in the East

He is one of the most famous figures in human history, the subject of countless legends, and a commander regularly claimed as the greatest of all time. But who was Alexander the Great really? We know that he was born in 356 BC, in Pella, the capital of the ancient…

This week: Roman frescoes

Over the past few centuries of European history, we have grown used to the notion of the artist as celebrity. As far back as the Italian Renaissance, Leonardo and Michelangelo were famous in their own lifetimes. More recently, we can see from the careers of many modern artists – Picasso…

This week: Royal residences

They are sometimes said to be the nation’s real crown jewels: the various palaces, castles and other grand houses which for centuries have formed the backdrop to royal life in the United Kingdom – from Sandringham and Windsor in England to Hillsborough in Northern Ireland, and from Balmoral and Holyrood…

This week: Tutankhamun

He died while still in his teens, and his tomb was the smallest of any pharaoh in the Valley of the Kings. Yet Tutankhamun remains without doubt the most celebrated figure to emerge from ancient Egypt, and arguably one of the most famous people in all human history. One hundred…

This week: the ‘Qurna Queen’

It is a curious coincidence that the 100th and 200th anniversaries respectively of perhaps the two most famous events in Egyptology should both fall in 2022. First up, in September, came the 200th anniversary of the decoding of the Rosetta Stone by the French philologist Jean-François Champollion – a breakthrough…

This week: Dunkirk

The events of late May and early June 1940 have long been the stuff of patriotic British legend, celebrated in classic war movies (most recently Christopher Nolan’s 2017 blockbuster), and hailed by Winston Churchill as a ‘miracle of deliverance’. For generations of Britons, this miraculous narrative has run along conventional…

This week: Roman silver

Back in 1919, when the spectacular Traprain Hoard was unearthed at an Iron Age hillfort outside Edinburgh, it must have been tempting to view this unmatched assemblage of Late Roman ‘hacksilver’ (silver items and objects which have deliberately been cut, chopped and crushed into fragments) simply as evidence of the…

This week: Public executions

These days in Britain, we like to think of public executions as belonging to a distant and more barbaric age – one far removed from the modern world in which we now live. It is sobering, therefore, to reflect that when crowds flocked to see the last public execution in…

This week: Danish treasure

No written records exist to explain why people in early medieval Europe chose to bury collections of their most valuable objects or artefacts – known to archaeologists as ‘hoards’ – though logic suggests that burying your treasures at moments of danger may have seemed like a sensible precaution at the…

This week: Ancient writing

Today, we live in a world of too much information: one in which a staggering 231,400,000 emails are sent out on average every single minute, according to the consumer data company Statista, along with countless million more text messages and social-media updates, and even the occasional old-fashioned letter. Against this…

This week: Archaeogenetics

In the decades since the cracking of the human genome, the study of ancient DNA – known as archaeogenetics – has had a dramatic effect on our understanding of the distant past. The analysis of genetic material preserved in archaeological remains, such as bones and preserved tissues, has provided us…

This week: Mithras

There are some things we can say with certainty about the Roman god Mithras. We know, for instance, that this wonderfully enigmatic deity flourished between the 1st and 4th centuries AD, but was inspired by the much more ancient Indo-Iranian god Mithra. We know that his cult was popular among…

This week: Japanese stone circles

A fascinating exhibition opening at the Stonehenge Visitor Centre this autumn shines new light on a remarkable group of ancient stone circles. Spread across 17 sites, and mostly dating from c.2500 to 300 BC, these extraordinary monuments served for centuries as the focus for ceremonies associated with solar alignments and…

This week: submarines

Underwater warfare came of age on 15 September 1914, when Germany’s U-21 became the first submarine to sink a ship with a self-propelled torpedo. The U-boat’s devastating surprise attack, off the Firth of Forth, sank the British cruiser HMS Pathfinder in just six minutes, with the loss of all but…

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