Salon Archive

Issue: 57

Meeting report

At this week�s meeting, Dr Konstantinos Politis gave an account of his excavation of a remarkable sixth-century monastic complex in the Jordan Valley built around the cave in which Lot is assumed to have lived with his two daughters after the destruction of the infamous Cities of the Plain, Sodom and Gomorrah.

A full report of the weekly meeting can be found on the Fellows� pages of the Society�s website.

Art by Fellows

Prior to Thursday�s meeting, the President opened an exhibition of paintings by Fellows, staff and friends of the Society, saying that it was interesting to see Fellows in a different light � as artists rather than as scholars. The exhibition, mounted in the entrance hall to Burlington House, is open daily until the Summer Soir�e on 19 June. Works for sale include mosaics in gouache by David Neal, FSA, pen and ink drawings of London pubs by Peter Jackson, FSA, and a watercolour reconstruction of Norman Westminster by Terry Ball, FSA. The President said that all the proceeds from the sale would go to the Library Fund, and that a significant sum would be raised if all the pictures were sold.

Forthcoming meeting

Next week's meeting, on 19 June,is the last of the current season and takes the form of a Miscellany of Papers, followed by the Summer Soir�e.

Fellows� news

As reported in Salon 56, Ann Hamlin, FSA, passed away on 5 June 2003 (and not 4 June as we originally said) at the age of 62. Nick Brannon, FSA, represented the Society at her funeral service, which was held at Roselawn Crematorium, in Belfast, on 12 June.

Honours for services to heritage

The Queen�s Birthday Honours list for 2003 includes thirty people honoured for their contribution to heritage. Charles Nunneley, retiring Chairman of the National Trust, is made a Knight Bachelor, and CBEs are awarded to our Fellow, Professor Joseph Crook, for services to architectural history, as well as to Anthea Case, recently retired Chairman of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Professor Alan Britten, recently retired Chairman of the English Tourism Council, and

Our Fellow Bridget Cherry receives an OBE, as does Norman Hudson, of the Historic Houses Association, Inqval Maxwell of Historic Scotland and Campbell Tweed of the Historic Monuments Council for Northern Ireland.

William Morris and the case of the arsenic-laced wallpaper

William Morris was accused this week of taking risks with the health of his staff and clients by continuing to use an arsenic-based pigment for printing one of his wallpaper designs, despite widespread public concern at the potentially toxic effects. Professor Andy Meharg, of Aberdeen University�s School of Biological Science, has found green copper arsenic salt in Morris�s �Trellis� wallpaper, produced from 1864, and the firm�s first commercial wallpaper design. Such salts were commonly used at the time in paints, clothing dyes, printing and even in food. But articles in The Lancet on the effects of arsenic salts led to widespread public concern. Exposed to damp, a common condition in Victorian houses, they produced the poisonous gas, trimethylarsine, which led to serious illness and death.

By 1875, Morris & Co had ceased to use arsenic, though Morris himself remained sceptical of what he termed �the arsenic scare�. In a letter to his dye manufacturers dated 1885, Morris stated that �the doctors were being bitten by witch fever�. In another letter he says that if customers were being poisoned by the wallpapers, �a great number of people would be in the same plight and we would be sure to hear of it�.

Iraq � the backlash and the UK Government�s latest response

Black propaganda and lazy journalism is leading to a spate of stories in the press accusing archaeologists of over-reacting to the looting of the Baghdad National Museum. One leading newspaper has even accused the staff of the museum of complicity in the looting, while others are now repeating the official American line that �only a handful of items from the museum remains unaccounted for, and that these are mostly not of exhibition quality�.

Even the UK Government seems to be downplaying the seriousness of the situation, saying in a statement released by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) last week that: �it appears that the scale of the overall losses from the National Museum�s collection is significantly less than initially reported with estimates of up to 170,000 lost or looted items now being re-estimated at nearer to 3,000. The majority of the museum�s collection, including the Nimrud treasures, was removed for safekeeping before the start of the conflict.�

Dr Harriet Crawford, Chairman of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq, was quick to respond with a letter to The Guardian pointing out that it was journalists themselves who invented the figure of 170,000 lost items, and that that figure is exaggerated as it represents the entire content of the museum. Dr Dony George, the museum�s research director, has never put a precise figure on the losses, but has always said that plundered artefacts number �thousands� not hundreds of thousands. And in addition to the loss of artefacts, Dr Crawford points out, the museum�s records were all destroyed.

Heritage Link has also responded by writing to DCMS to point out that the problem of antiquities looting in Iraq was never just an issue about losses from the National Museum. Of greater concern by far is the systematic looting of ancient monuments in post-war Iraq. Heritage Link has called on the UK Government to maintain pressure wherever necessary to achieve effective policing in Iraq to prevent this continuing loss to the world's heritage.

Last week�s DCMS statement says that the Government is �working within the Office of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq (OCPA) to support the Iraqi people in the protection and reconstruction of key heritage institutions and sites. An Iraqi Cabinet for Culture has been established to determine priority actions�. It adds that it endorses the British Museum�s efforts to co-ordinate support from the international museum community for the restoration of the National Museum in Baghdad. A team of curators and conservators from the British Museum is travelling to Iraq shortly to carry out assessment work. The UK Government has also offered to make arrangements for a group of Iraqi culture specialists to visit the UK as soon as possible for appropriate training.

Trafficking in cultural heritage

The latest news on Richard Allan�s private members bill introducing new legislation to clamp down on the international black market in looted cultural objects has passed its Commons Committee Stage without amendment, and will have its Report and Third Reading on 4 July.

The scale of the problem was illustrated last week in an article by Dalya Alberge in The Times, reporting on the looting of Afghanistan's ancient heritage. The report said that Scotland Yard had just seized several hoards of recently illegally excavated sculptures in stone, bronze and terracotta that may have come from temple sites, and that range in date from the third millennium BC to the 5th century AD. Hundreds of other ancient pieces in ivory, gold and silver are reported to be on sale in Pakistani bazaars before heading for private collections worldwide. Unesco is so concerned that it is appealing to governments to fund a �heritage army� to guard some of Afghanistan�s key sites. It argues that such an army was successful in preventing looting in Cambodia.

Robert Knox, FSA, the British Museum�s Keeper of the Department of Asia, is working closely with Unesco and Scotland Yard. He said: �It�s a very serious matter. So much is coming out. It�s a free-for-all. Their country is being ravaged. There�s no security left. The poor Afghans are unable to protect what they have. If there were a functioning police force, there would be some protection.�

Rothschild's treasure stolen from Waddesdon Manor

Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild�s curiosity cabinet at Waddesdon Manor was ransacked by thieves in the early hours of the morning on 10 June. More than a hundred eighteenth-century gold boxes were stolen, which Pippa Shirley, head of collections, described as �The jewels in the crown of Baron Rothschild�s collection�. The boxes were flourished as status symbols at the court of Versailles. Some were used as snuff boxes, while others were used by women in the circle of Madame de Pompadour to store their beauty spots. Many feature flattering miniature portraits of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The raid was remarkably similar to one carried out in 1983, when a reward was offered, something the manor is now considering. Eighteen months later the boxes were recovered and the thief caught. Richard Haynes, also known as Raffles, was released from prison several years ago.

Turner project finds 2,200 missing works

In a week full of depressing news, it is pleasing to be able to report that Tate Gallery experts have located 2,200 lost works by Turner, which they now intend to add to the Turner Online inventory.

The Turner Worldwide project was set up just a year ago with the aim of finding all of the artist�s missing works. So far, the project has located the whereabouts of 200 oil paintings, 1,800 watercolours and 200 drawings. Some 1,700 of those are either in store, or hanging but misattributed in small galleries around the world. Around 500 are now in private collections. One of the most striking examples is Harlech Castle, a watercolour painted in the 1830s which John Ruskin purchased for �63 in 1840. It was subsequently sold in 1882 and not heard of again until traced last year to a private collection in the US.

Details have been posted on the same website of some 400 paintings by Turner that remain unaccounted for. And inevitably the project has also resulted in disappointment for some collectors who thought they owned Turner paintings: a number of �Turners� have proved to be the work of other nineteenth-century artists who imitated his style.

Our earliest ancestor

Last week the journal Nature reported the discovery of three well-preserved Homo sapiens skulls (two adults and a child) dating from between 154,000 and 160,000 years ago. Professor White, of the University of California, found the skulls in a valley near the village of Herto, 140 miles north-east of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, in 1997. The site is being eroded by heavy seasonal rains and has proved rich in tools and fossil remains. The skulls were sandwiched between two volcanic layers that have been accurately dated using argon dating techniques.

This find is the first physical proof that anatomically modern human beings date back this far, and it meshes well with the theory (derived from the study of DNA mutation) that all humans are descended from a single woman (known as �mitochondrial Eve�) who lived in Africa between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago. The previous oldest H. sapiens find � from Omo Kibish in Ethiopia � dates from about 130,000 years ago.

Professor White says that the find also lays to rest once and for all the theory that Neanderthals disappeared because they evolved into modern humans. Genetic studies have already shown that Neanderthals are a separate species that evolved 690,000 years ago and contributed nothing to human DNA. This find reinforces the conclusion that Neanderthals are not a stage in human evolution by showing that anatomically modern H. sapiens predates the last Neanderthal by 130,000 years.

The three Ethiopian skulls have been classified as H. sapiens idaltu (meaning �elder� in the Afar language of the Herto region of Ethiopia), making them a separate subspecies of H. sapiens from ourselves.

Cut marks on all three skulls indicate that they were subject to defleshing, and polished surfaces on the child�s skull suggest repeated handling after death � all of which points to the practice of mortuary rituals and the conservation and worship of ancestors. All three skulls were probably carried to the find site rather than buried there. They were found in association with some 600 stone tools as well as butchered hippopotamus and antelope bones.

AHRB research grants

Several Fellows have recently been awarded grants by the Arts and Humanities Research Board, whose April awards list has just been posted on the Board�s website.

They include Professor Alasdair Whittle, FSA, who receives �171,888 on behalf of Cardiff University towards dating causewayed enclosures of the early Neolithic in southern Britain; Dr Mark Horton, FSA, who receives �82,810 on behalf of Bristol University towards the cost of digitising the papers of Isambard Kingdom Brunel; Professor Peter Ucko, FSA, at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, who receives �163,020 for a project to reassess ancient Egyptian crops, crop husbandry and the agrarian landscape; Professor Graeme Barker, FSA, at the University of Leicester, who receives �202,916 to study the initial colonisation and exploitation of rainforests in South-east Asia based on results from work at the Niah Cave, in Sarawak; and Dr Andrew Poulter, of Nottingham University, who receives �204,840 to study the transition to Late Antiquity of the lower Danube region.

Other major archaeological and ancient history projects being funded by the AHRB include Dr James Adams� �Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources� (University of Oxford, �539,763); Professor Leo Jeffcott�s palaeopathological study of the origins and evolution of horse husbandry (University of Cambridge, �315,660); and Dr Lawrence Barham�s study of the prehistoric settlement in the Luangwa Rift Valley, Zambia (University of Bristol, �243,439).

Britain�s oldest runes

An Anglo-Saxon cruciform brooch found at the West Heslerton cemetery, in North Yorkshire, has turned out to be inscribed with the runic letters for N, E, I and M. The letters are scratched on the back of the brooch, which is dated to around AD 650. Dominic Powlesland, director of the English-Heritage funded excavation, says that: �This could well be the earliest example of written English ... only one or two runic inscriptions from around this period have been found ... whether it is a charm of some form, or a person�s initials or the first letters of a phrase is something only future research will be able to determine�.

2002 Conference on Managing Library and Archive Collections

Papers given at the annual conference of the National Preservation Office on the theme of Managing Library and Archive Collections in Historic Buildings have now been published and are available from Vanessa Marshall at the British Library. The proceedings include papers on cathedral libraries by Sheila Hingley, the Heritage Lottery Funds Policy on funding library conservation by Judy Aitken and the environmental management of libraries in historic houses by Sarah Staniforth, as well as a summing up by Mirjam Foot, FSA.


English Heritage: Research Assistant to Director of Research and Standards
Salary �24,000, closing date 27 June 2003

Dr Edward Impey, FSA, is seeking a research assistant to support the work of the Research and Standards Group at English Heritage, which includes the National Monuments Record Centre, and the departments responsible for Properties Presentation, Conservation, Archaeology, and Building History. The work involves drafting articles, letters and speeches, drawing on primary documentary research and requiring a broad general knowledge of English history and architecture. Further details from Simon Nicholson, Human Resources Department, Room 409, English Heritage, 23 Savile Row, London W1S 2ET, quoting reference number R/83/03 and enclosing an A4-sized self-addressed envelope (no stamp needed).

Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England: Assistant Secretary
Salary �28,423, closing date 27 June 2003

Supporting the Secretary in the exercise of the Commission�s functions, with particular responsibility for undertaking casework. For an application pack, email

Regional Museum Hub Managers
Salary �33,642 to �35,934, closing date 23 June 2003

Hub Managers are being sought for three more regional hubs under the Renaissance in the Regions vision for delivering future museum services. For further information about the North East Regional Hub Manager�s post, contact Peter Cartman at Tyne and Wear Museums; for the South West, contact; and for the West Midlands, telephone 0121 303 4253 and quote job reference LM16MR.