Book on Early Islamic Palestine in Oxbow Bargain Catalogue

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 02/12/2018 - 10:23pm in

Another book I found in the Oxbow Book Catalogue, which might be of interest to some readers of this blog, is Jodi Magness’ Archaeology of the Early Islamic Settlement in Palestine. The blurb for this runs

Archaeological evidence is frequently cited by scholars as proof that Palestine declined after the Muslim conquest, and especially after the rise of the Abbasids in the mid-eighth century. Instead, Magness argues that the archaeological evidence supports the idea that Palestine and Syria experienced a tremendous growth in population and prosperity between the mid-sixth and mid-seventh centuries.

The book’s published by Eisenbrauns. It’s normal price is 42.95 pounds, but it’s being offered by Oxbow at 14.95.

I’ve no doubt that the area did receive a boost after the Islamic conquest. The Muslims were helped to seize the region by its indigenous peoples, including Christians. Many of them belonged to sects which were judged heretical by the Byzantine Empire, and so were terribly persecuted. Quite apart from the fact that Byzantine Empire was declining economically and demographically, so that many Byzantine towns dwindled to villages or vanished during the centuries of the Empire’s fall before the conquest of Constantinople in the 15th century by the Ottomans. The Muslims were aided in their conquest of Palestine and Egypt by indigenous peoples of those countries because they offered them tolerance and peace. And materially, inclusion in the new Arab Empire made them part of state that stretched right across north Africa, Arabia and the former Persian Empire to the borders of India, and into Spain, which obviously gave a massive boost to long distance trade.

The book also adds more evidence against the Israeli assertion, completely disproven but still being repeated, that Palestine was empty before the Israelis arrived, and that the Palestinians who occupied it only arrived comparatively recently.

Book on Ancient Philosophy in Gaza

Similarly, the catalogue also includes book on ancient Greek philosophy in the Palestinian city of Gaza. This is Explaining the Cosmos, by Michael W. Champion. The blurb for this reads

This volume analyses the writings of three thinkers associated with Gaza, Aeneas, Zacharias and Procopius. Together, they offer a case study for the appropriation, adaptation and transformation of classical philosophy in late antiquity, and for cultural transitions more generally in Gaza.

That’s by the Oxford University Press. It was 62.00 pounds, but is now 14.95

The philosophers studied in the book seem to be Christian Greeks, rather than Jews or Syriac Christians. Nevertheless, this shows that Gaza, now a beleaguered ghetto under the Israelis, was a centre for intellectual enquiry and learning when it was part of the Byzantine Empire, the Greek Roman Empire of the East.

Book on Nubia in the Oxbow Bargain Books Catalogue

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 02/12/2018 - 5:39am in

I got the latest issue of Oxbow Books’ bargain catalogue through the post earlier this week for Winter 2018. Oxbow specializes in books on history and archaeology. In the ‘Asia, America and Egypt’ section of the catalogue on age 11 is a book on ancient Nubia, Acta Nubica, edited by I. Caneva and Alessandro Roccati. The blurb for this read

This substantial volume resulting from the Tenth International Conference of the Nubian Society held in 2002, surveys the recently discovered antiquities of the Nile Valley and beyond, throughout Egypt and the Sudan. In these numerous archaeological, archaeometrical, and epigraphical discoveries, scientists present new groundwork the understanding of Egypt, not as a lone oasis of civilization, but rather as a key part of a larger ancient world.

The original published price was 150 pounds, but it’s been reduced to 19.95.

The book’s clearly aimed at academics, but it might be of interest to some ordinary people with an interest in ancient Egypt, Nubia and African civilisations.

Zarjaz! Rebellion to Open Studio for 2000AD Films

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 27/11/2018 - 5:45am in

Here’s a piece of good news for the Squaxx dek Thargo, the Friends of Tharg, editor of the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic. According to today’s I, 26th November 2018, Rebellion, the comic’s current owners, have bought a film studio and plan to make movies based on 2000AD characters. The article, on page 2, says

A disused printing factory in Oxfordshire is to be converted into a major film studio. The site in Didcot has been purchased by Judge Dredd publisher Rebellion to film adaptations from its 2000 AD comic strips. The media company based in Oxford hopes to create 500 jobs and attract outside contractors.

Judge Dredd, the toughest lawman of the dystopian nightmare of Megacity 1, has been filmed twice, once as Judge Dredd in the 1990s, starring Sylvester Stallone as Dredd, and then six years ago in 2012, as Dredd, with Karl Urban in the starring role. The Stallone version was a flop and widely criticized. The Dredd film was acclaimed by fans and critics, but still didn’t do very well. Two possible reasons are that Dredd is very much a British take on the weird absurdities of American culture, and so doesn’t appeal very much to an American audience. The other problem is that Dredd is very much an ambiguous hero. He’s very much a comment on Fascism, and was initially suggested by co-creator Pat Mills as a satire of American Fascistic policing. The strip has a very strong satirical element, but nevertheless it means that the reader is expected to identify at least partly with a Fascist, though recognizing just how dreadful Megacity 1 and its justice system is. It nevertheless requires some intellectual tight rope walking, though it’s one that Dredd fans have shown themselves more than capable of doing. Except some of the really hardcore fans, who see Dredd as a role model. In interviews Mills has wondered where these people live. Did they have their own weird chapterhouse somewhere?

Other 2000AD strips that looked like they were going to make the transition from the printed page to the screen, albeit the small one of television, were Strontium Dog and Dan Dare. Dare, of course, was the Pilot of Future, created by Marcus Morris for the Eagle, and superbly drawn by Franks Hampson and Bellamy. He was revived for 2000 AD when it was launched in the 1970s, where he was intended to be the lead strip before losing this to Dredd. The strip was then revived again for the Eagle, when this was relaunched in the 1980s. As I remember, Edward Norton was to star as Dare.

Strontium Dog came from 2000 AD’s companion SF comic, StarLord, and was the tale of Johnny Alpha, a mutant bounty hunter, his norm partner, the Viking Wulf, and the Gronk, a cowardly alien that suffered from a lisp and a serious heart condition, but who could eat metal. It was set in a future, where the Earth had been devastated by a nuclear war. Mutants were a barely tolerated minority, forced to live in ghettos after rising in rebellion against an extermination campaign against them by Alpha’s bigoted father, Nelson Bunker Kreelman. Alpha and his fellow muties worked as bounty hunters, the only job they could legally do, hunting down the galaxy’s crims and villains.

Back in the 1990s the comic’s then publishers tried to negotiate a series of deals with Hollywood for the translation on their heroes on to the big screen. These were largely unsuccessful, and intensely controversial. In one deal, the rights for one character was sold for only a pound, over the heads of the creators. They weren’t consulted, and naturally felt very angry and bitter about the deal.

This time, it all looks a lot more optimistic. I’d like to see more 2000 AD characters come to life, on either the big screen or TV. Apart from Dredd, it’d good to see Strontium Dog and Dare be realized for screen at last. Other strips I think should be adapted are Slaine, the ABC Warriors and The Ballad of Halo Jones. Slaine, a Celtic warrior strip set in the period before rising sea levels separated Britain, Ireland and Europe, and based on Celtic myths, legends and folklore, is very much set in Britain and Ireland. It could therefore be filmed using some of the megalithic remains, hillforts and ancient barrows as locations, in both the UK and Eire. The ABC Warriors, robotic soldiers fighting injustice, as well as the Volgan Republic, on Earth and Mars, would possibly be a little more difficult to make. It would require both CGI and robotics engineers to create the Warriors. But nevertheless, it could be done. There was a very good recreation of an ABC Warrior in the 1990s Judge Dredd movie, although this didn’t do much more than run amok killing the judges. It was a genuine machine, however, rather than either a man in a costume or animation, either with a model or by computer graphics. And the 1980s SF movie Hardware, which ripped off the ‘Shock!’ tale from 2000AD, showed that it was possible to create a very convincing robot character on a low budget.

The Ballad of Halo Jones might be more problematic, but for different reasons. The strip told the story of a young woman, who managed to escape the floating slum of an ocean colony to go to New York. She then signed on as a waitress aboard a space liner, before joining the army to fight in a galactic war. It was one of the comic’s favourite strips in the 1980s, and for some of its male readers it was their first exposure to something with a feminist message. According to Neil Gaiman, the strip’s creator, Alan Moore, had Jones’ whole life plotted out, but the story ended with Jones’ killing of the Terran leader, General Cannibal, on the high-gravity planet Moab. There was a dispute over the ownership of the strip and pay between Moore and IPC. Moore felt he was treated badly by the comics company, and left for DC, never to return to 2000 AD’s pages. Halo Jones was turned into a stage play by one of the northern theatres, and I don’t doubt that even after a space of thirty years after she first appeared, Jones would still be very popular. But for it to be properly adapted for film or television, it would have to be done involving the character’s creators, Moore and Ian Gibson. Just as the cinematic treatment of the other characters should involve their creators. And this might be difficult, given that Moore understandably feels cheated of the ownership of his characters after the film treatments of Watchmen and V For Vendetta.

I hope that there will be no problems getting the other 2000 AD creators on board, and that we can soon look forward to some of the comics many great strips finally getting on to the big screen.

Splundig vur thrig, as the Mighty One would say.

Jai Singh’s Observatory in India: A Great Location for Dr. Who

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 18/11/2018 - 9:13pm in

Maharaja Jai Singh’s observatory in Jaipur, as photographed by the Archaeological Survey of India

Last week on Dr. Who, the Doctor and her friends traveled back seventy years to the partition of India to uncover the secret of Yas’ grandmother’s marriage. Yas is surprised to find that the man her gran, a Muslim married, was a Hindu. And as nationalism and ethnic tensions surged on both sides, her groom was murdered by his own brother as a traitor. Yas’ gran survived, and held on to the watch her husband of only a few hours had given her as a treasured token of their doomed love.

It was a story of family history, doomed romance set against the bloodshed of the Partition, which resulted in 4 million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs being slaughtered in bloody massacres. And its central theme was the inevitability of history, as Yas could do nothing to save her gran’s first husband. It was similar in this respect to the Classic Star Trek episode, ‘The City on the Edge of Forever’. Written by Harlan Ellison, this had Spock, Kirk and McCoy travel back to Depression-era America. There Kirk falls in love with a woman running a soup kitchen. But she’s an opponent of America entering the war in Europe, who dies in car accident. If she lives, America will not enter World War II, and humanity will never go to the stars. Kirk is thus faced with the terrible necessity of letting the woman he loves die in order to preserve history.

It’s a good story, though I would have preferred one with a bit more science in it. The two aliens that appear, who the Doctor first believes are assassins and responsible for the murder of the Hindu holy man, who was to marry the happy couple, turn out instead to have reformed. Returning to find their homeworld had been destroyed, the two now travel through the universe to witness the deaths of those who pass unnoticed. They reminded me of the Soul Hunters in Babylon 5, an alien race, who travel through the universe to extract and preserve the souls of the dying at the moment of death. They are interested in ‘dreamers, poets, thinkers, blessed lunatics’, creative visionaries whose genius they want to preserve against dissolution.

Dr. Who has a tradition of the Doctor going back in time to meet important figures of the past. One such influential figure in India was Maharaja Jai Singh of Jaipur, who constructed great observatories in Jaipur and Delhi. As you can see from the piccy at the top, the measuring instruments used in astronomy at the time were built out of stone there. To my eyes, the observatories thus have the shape of the weird, alien architecture portrayed by SF artists like Chris Foss, as if they were monuments left by some strange future extraterrestrial civilization.

B.V. Subbarayappa, in his ‘Indian Astronomy: an historical perspective’, in S.K. Biswas, D.C.V. Mallik and C.V. Viveshwara, eds., Cosmic Perspectives: Essays dedicated to the memory of M.K.V. Bappu pp.41-50, writes of the Maharaja

In this respect, special mention needs to be made of Majaraja Sawai Jai Sing II (1688-1743) of Jaipur, who was not only an able king but also a skilled astronomer and patron of learning. He built five observatories in different locations in Northern India. The observatories now standing majestic and serene in Jaipur and Delhi bear testimony to his abiding interest in astronomy and to his efforts for augmenting the astronomical tradition with an open-mindedness. The observatory at Jaipur has a large number of instruments – huge sun-dials, hemispherical dial, meridian circle, a graduated meridianal arc, sextants, zodiacal complex, a circular protractor (which are masonry instruments), as well as huge astrolabes. Sawai Jai Singh II meticulously studied the Hindu, Arabic and the European systems of astronomy. He was well aware of Ptolemy’s Almagest (in its Arabic version), as also the works of Central Asian astronomers – Nasir al-Din at-Tusi, Al-Gurgani, Jamshid Kashi and, more importantly, of Ulugh Bek – the builder of the Samarqand observatory. In fact, it was the Samarqand school of astronomy that appears to have been a great source of inspiration to Jai Singh in his astronomical endeavours.

No less was his interest in European astronomy. In his court was a French Jesuit missionary who was an able astronomer and whom Jai Singh sent to Europe to procure for him some of the important contemporary European works on astronomy. He studied Flansteed’s Historia Coelestis Britannica, La Hire’s Tabula Astronomicae and other works. He was well aware ot he use of telescope in Europe and he spared no efforts in having small telescopes constructed in his own city. In the introduction to his manum opus, Zij Muhammad Shahi, which is preserved both in Persian and Sanskrit, he has recorded that telescopes were being constructed during his lifetime and that he did make use of a telescope for observing the sun-spots, the four moons of Jupiter, phases of Mercury and Venus, etc. However, in the absence of a critical evaluation of his treatise, it is rather difficult to opine whether Jai Singh was able to determine the planetary positions or movements with the help of a telescope and whether he recorded them. No positive evidence has yet been unearthed.

The principal court astronomer of Jai Singh II was Jagganatha who was not only well versed in Arabic and Persian but also a profound scholar of Hindu astronomy. He translated Ptolemy’s Almagest and Euclid’s Elements from their Arabic versions into Sanskrit. The Samrat Siddhanta, the Sanskrit title of the Almagest, is indeed a glorious example of the open-mindedness and generous scientific attitude of Indian astronomers. (pp. 36-8).

It would be brilliant if there was a Dr. Who story using this fascinating, historic location, but as it’s almost certainly a prized national monument, I doubt very much the Beeb would be allowed to film there. Still, perhaps something could be done using CGI and a lot of imagination.

Book Review: Archaeologists in Print: Publishing for the People by Amara Thornton

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 06/09/2018 - 8:38pm in



In Archaeologists in Print: Publishing for the PeopleAmara Thornton explores the relationship between archaeologists, publishing houses and the British public’s understandings of antiquity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Nicholas Barron recommends the book – available to download from UCL Press here – as a highly readable and detailed exploration of the institutional networks of archaeological knowledge production that will appeal to readers interested in the links between empire, tourism, science and publishing at the turn of the twentieth century.

Archaeologists in Print: Publishing for the People. Amara Thornton. UCL Press. 2018.

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In Archaeologists in Print: Publishing for the People, Amara Thornton unpacks a largely underexplored area in the history of the social sciences – the relationship between archaeologists, publishing houses and public perceptions of the ancient past. Leveraging the archival holdings of several notable publishers, Thornton explores the variable ways in which archaeologists shaped the British’s public understanding of antiquity through the ‘scripting’ of archaeological labour during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

By scripting, Thornton refers to the process of ‘bringing the results of [archaeological] research to the attention of the wider public, where it was – and continues to be – boiled down and built up, cut and recast’ (1). The scripting of archaeology came in the form of radio broadcasts, photographs, memoirs and even fiction. However, the book primarily addresses the production of ‘subject-specific serialized compendiums’, published largely by non-academic presses with an extensive reach amongst the reading public (75, 95). Thornton argues that these scriptings, embedded within growing networks of empire and tourism, functioned as a significant means by which British reading audiences experienced North Africa and the Middle East. Equally interesting, these same texts conditioned people’s view of the quintessential archaeologist as a ‘free spirited international traveller, adaptable, adventurous and scientific’ (2-3).

To illustrate this history, Thornton begins with an overview of the training of archaeologists at the turn of the century as well as the central role of travel in the construction of archaeological knowledge. While Thornton employs a ‘deliberately loose’ definition of an archaeologist that includes ‘anyone studying or operating within archaeological contexts or working with remains of the human past’ (5), she is attentive to the more formal institutional paths by which individuals were funded and trained in this nascent field of inquiry. This includes excavation societies, governmental antiquities departments, museums and British universities (namely University College in London and the Universities of Liverpool, Oxford and Cambridge). Moreover, Thornton is cautious of the central role of British imperial expansion and the subsequent construction of circuits of tourism that necessitated a need for archaeological knowledge (32-34, 47).

Image Credit: (scienceatlife CC BY SA 2.0)

In Chapter Three, Thornton turns to the experiences of various women archaeologists, exploring the ways in which archaeology, travel and publishing generated new avenues for women to ‘build visibility for themselves both within and outside the “professional” sphere’ (74). Chapters Four and Five delve more directly into the promotion, circulation and reception of archaeological knowledge through the production of relatively affordable compendiums on North Africa and the Middle East (95). Thornton identifies an interesting religious influence through organisations like the Religious Tract Society, an evangelical group founded in the eighteenth century, which supported the publishing of titles exploring Biblical lands with a ‘Christian tone’ (105).

With Chapters Six and Seven, the book probes specific publishing houses (John Murray; Macmillan and Company; and Penguin), their relationship with archaeologists as authors and the ways in which these relationships shaped the production and reception of archaeology in Britain at a particular moment in time. Penguin books with its nonfiction Pelican series emerges as a particularly successful attempt to build a larger audience for archaeologists and their writings (172, 178).  After a consideration of the ‘fictional field’ of spadework, wherein archaeologists and their experiences were funnelled through the genres of romance, horror/fantasy and crime (188), Thornton concludes with a brief mediation on the nature of publishing today. She observes that the need to present one’s work to the public has taken on a new form in the contemporary moment where novel technologies and the oppressive publishing expectations of the academy create new avenues of scripting archaeology outside of traditional academic presses (e.g. digital open access platforms) (212).

Thornton’s ability to marshal archival data and cultivate grounded interpretations makes for several interventions in the wide-ranging fields of history and science studies. With her detailed focus on the relationship between archaeologists and publishers, Thornton makes a vital contribution to an underexplored dimension of the history of archaeology/anthropology. Since the postmodern critiques of the 1980s, studies of the discipline have often focused on the history of methods and ideas, experiences of researchers in the field and the politics of writing. This has come at the expense of an examination of the more mundane means by which knowledge is materialised and distributed to the world. By taking an ‘in the round’ approach to the history of archaeology that uses the role of publishing as its anchor point, Thornton provides a more detailed view of the wider and politically-charged context in which archaeological knowledge made its way to a reading public (3). Additionally, Thornton helps identify the ways in which the professionalisation of archaeology occurred beyond the parameters of the university system. In various corners of the British empire at the intersections of museum collecting, tourism and a growing public fascination with the ancient and exotic, Archaeologists in Print details how archaeology began to develop as a discrete occupation both within and outside of academia.

One area that could benefit from further explication is the intriguing early assertion that archaeologists were seen as ‘dangerously exotic and semi-foreign (even quasi-anarchistic)’ (2-3). This point is most convincingly articulated in Thornton’s analysis of the fictional field, where the works of Agatha Christie and other novelists adopt archaeologists and digs as signifiers of the exotic. This would suggest a role for archaeological publishing in the construction of what Edward Said famously characterised as ‘a political vision of reality whose structure promoted the difference between the familiar (Europe, the West, “us”) and the strange (the Orient, the East, “them”)’ (Orientalism, 45-46). One then wonders about the broader political effects of these texts. Beyond framing understandings of the past, how might these books have participated in the construction and regulation of the borders between ‘us’ and ‘them’? How might these scripted imaginaries, born of imperial networks of power, have eventually looped back into the very systems that gave rise to them? Did they change them in the process? These lingering questions perhaps speak more to the generative nature of Thornton’s topic of research than a fault in her analysis, which is quite illuminating.

Regardless, Thornton has provided a highly readable and detailed exploration of the institutional networks of archaeological knowledge production at the turn of the century. Despite its regional and temporal specificity, Archaeologists in Print will appeal to a cross-disciplinary readership as both a pedagogical tool and research aid. The author’s exceptionally clear and cogent writing style makes for a highly digestible teaching tool at undergraduate and graduate level. Moreover, Thornton’s careful analysis of the intertwined issues of empire, tourism, science and publishing will be of interest to those conducting research within and across these fields of inquiry.

Nicholas Barron is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. His research interests include the history and sociology of science, historical anthropology and imperial/colonial studies. Funded by the University of New Mexico and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, his doctoral research explores the co-production of anthropology and Indigenous politics in the US Southwest. Nicholas also serves as an editor for the History of Anthropology Newsletter.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 

Images of Mithra

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 03/07/2017 - 11:35pm in

Book at Lunchtime discussion

Messages through Ashmolean Portraits

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/06/2016 - 11:54pm in



Vicky McGuinness's bite-sized talk at Ashmolean LiveFriday: Framed Vicky McGuinness explores the historical contexts and identities communicated by some of the portraits to be found on objects in the Ashmolean Museum's collections, taking a journey from the ancient world of Alexander the Great and his afterlives to Elizabeth I's assertions of royal power and authority.