This week: Hadrian’s Wall

This week on The Past, we are delighted to celebrate a very special milestone: the 400th issue of our sister publication Current Archaeology – the ground-breaking specialist magazine, first published in March 1967, that is now firmly established as Britain’s favourite archaeology title. Over more than five decades, CA has…

This week: Ancient fortifications

The obvious comparison, here in Britain, is with Hadrian’s Wall – the great Roman fortification that stretches for 73 miles across the country from coast to coast. Yet the Great Wall of Gorgan – built just a few hundred years later by the Sasanian dynasty, who ruled Persia (modern Iran)…

This week: The Neolithic

If the past is a foreign country – as the novelist L.P. Hartley famously suggested in the opening line to The Go-Between (1953) – then prehistory is surely a whole other world entirely. With little physical evidence often to guide us, and with no contemporary accounts to instruct us in…

This week: The American Civil War

The most important event in the history of the USA began with a disagreement – over the place of slavery in a democratic society. By the time it ended, more than 620,000 Union and Confederate soldiers had given their lives – roughly equivalent to the number of Americans killed in…

This week: Coronations

It seems likely that Harold Godwinson was the first king to be crowned at Westminster Abbey, though there is no documentary evidence from the time to confirm this. As a result, that honour is accorded officially to Harold’s successor, William the Conqueror, whose coronation we know with certainty to have…

This week: Scent and smells

As consumers, we are well aware that scent sells. Supermarkets have for years been luring us in with delicious (if artificial) aromas of fresh coffee and newly baked baguettes, while cinema-owners’ profits have long been boosted by the wafting smell of popcorn. The commercial logic of such ‘scent marketing’ is…

This week: Elites

These days, it sometimes seems hard to read a newspaper, or scan a news website, without coming across an article about the ‘new elites’ who run our world. Often this is in reference to the richest ‘1 percent’, who are said to have hoovered up most of the money, property,…

This week: Pharaohs

For almost 200 years, visitors to the British Museum have stood in awe in front of the statue known as the Younger Memnon – one of two colossal granite heads which originally flanked the entrance to the Ramesseum mortuary temple in the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes. Even before its…

This week: Shipwrecks

There are, according to the heritage body Historic England, at least 37,000 shipwrecks strewn along the country’s coastline – a legacy of more than 6,000 years of maritime trade, exploration and warfare. Such a torturous proliferation offers a poignant reminder that a sailor’s life in British waters has always been…

This week: Roman battles

As any Asterix fan will tell you, the siege of AlΓ©sia occupies a special place in the French psyche. The climactic action of Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul took place in September 52 BC – two years before the adventures described in Goscinny and Uderzo’s indomitable tales – and is…

This week: Roman forts

It is understandable perhaps, here in Britain, that we have a somewhat partial understanding of Ancient Rome’s border defences – with most attention focused naturally on Hadrian’s Wall, the extraordinary fortified structure that is the largest Roman artefact anywhere in the world. But while Hadrian’s Wall is unique in many…

This week: The Vietnam War

It began as an anticolonial struggle against the French, and ended as the Cold War’s bloodiest battleground. By the time the last US troops were withdrawn on 29 March 1973 – fifty years ago this month – it had cost the lives of around 58,000 Americans, and anywhere between 600,000…

This week: Churchill’s US arsenal

He is, without doubt, the most quoted prime minister in British history. But even by his own standards, the speech that Winston Churchill made on 5 March 1946 stands out. Addressing an audience in Fulton, Missouri, he warned that an ‘iron curtain’ had descended over Europe (a reference to the…

This week: Gladiators

At its height, the Roman Empire grew to an area of around two million square miles, stretching from Mesopotamia in the east to Lusitania (modern-day Portugal) in the west – a distance of some 4,000 miles. But for all our knowledge of the empire’s vast extent, it still seems incongruous…

This week: Knossos

According to the catalogue for the new exhibition at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum, Knossos is the place where ‘myth, archaeology and reinforced concrete come together’ – a neat encapsulation of some of the world famous site’s many complexities. Perched on a low Cretan hillside, King Minos’ palace attracts up to 8,000…

This week: Signature style

With no contemporary written record to guide us, we cannot know the precise meaning behind the many depictions of human hands featured in prehistoric cave art around the world – the oldest known examples of which are believed to have been created more than 40,000 years ago on the island…

This week: Mummies

The ancient Egyptian process of mummification holds a unique place in the popular imagination – inspiring exhibitions, movies, books, and countless school trips. As we learn this week on The Past, however, Western responses to this extraordinary and costly practice are often still based on ideas and attitudes that have…

St Bartholomew the Great

Packed tightly between Smithfield meat market and the Barbican’s brutalist towers, St Bartholomew the Great (or Great St Bart’s, as it is often called) is London’s oldest surviving parish church, and also one of its most atmospheric. Founded by Henry I’s minstrel and courtier Rahere in 1123, it is unique…

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…

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