April 8th, 2010

never there

Egypt's Lost Tomb; Seven Ages of Britain

We started the evening with another programme about Egypt that J had recorded the night before - on the website it said it was about tomb KV5 and we thought we might've seen it before, but we recorded it anyway as the programme guide on the TV said it was about KV63. Good thing we did, coz it was the guide on the TV that was right, and it wasn't one we'd seen before. It was a bit of an odd programme - the first two-thirds of it were good (if a little oddly focused) and the last third was pure filler. Basically KV63 was discovered very recently (~2005) - Tutankhamun's tomb was KV62 and was the last one to be discovered, they're numbered sequentially in order of discovery with the initials KV standing for Kings' Valley. Although at first it was thought to be a tomb it's now thought to be an embalmers' cache - some coffins, and various other things used for embalming bodies. The programme had clearly been written as it was going along including the voice-over, and then not re-done to match the outcome. So the whole thing was building up to the opening of a sealed coffin from right at the back of the "tomb" which might have a mummy in it, then it didn't. And the last third or so of it was Zahi Hawass speculating on whose tomb it might've been despite the lack of body in the coffin. Which felt very odd to us for the whole programme as we already knew it wasn't thought to be a tomb any more, and even if we hadn't known in advance it would've felt weird by the end. I just can't imagine why they didn't do a new voice-over and re-cut the footage once they knew what was going to be found, then there would've been more of a coherent story (and possibly less filler) and more of an emphasis on how neat the discoveries were anyway.

It was, however, an interesting and entertaining programme despite this. They had filmed the archaeologists as they were actually working - getting them to explain what they were doing, and watching them discover things. Including some footage of Salima Ikram (who appears in a lot of programmes about ancient Egypt, always explaining things in professional mode) squealing with glee as she discovered fragments of pottery with inscriptions on in one of the storage jars from the "tomb". There was also a lot of footage of how much work they had to put into conserving the wood of the 7 coffins they found before they could move them - a painstaking task that took months, and very nerve-wracking as they moved them. One of the coffins was full of pillows - linen covers at 30-40 threads/cm (I think), filled with feathers. Still fairly intact, too, and the oldest examples ever found. The coffin that they thought might contain a mummy was jammed full of various artifacts, a treasure trove as one of the archaeologists said. They also showed some of the realities of archaeological work in Egypt both weatherwise & politically - baking hot down in the tomb, and when they found names in the inscriptions nothing was revealed even to the camera crew making this documentary until the Supreme Council of Antiquities had signed off on it. And when they came to open the last coffin (that they hoped had a mummy) Zahi Hawass himself came to do it, followed by an entire zoo of media.

And after a short break we moved on to the next episode of Seven Ages of Britain - The Age of Revolution. Covering, obviously, the Stuarts and the Civil War and subsequent Restoration of the Monarchy. I'm vaguely inclined towards being a royalist, personally, but Charles I did rather bring it all upon himself by his arrogance. There were quite a few fun sequences in this programme - Dimbleby haranguing a group of "drunken" young people with words from a puritan tract, Civil War re-enactors. The art looked at included the Van Dyck pictures of Charles I's court, and Cromwell's changeableness about his own image. First he was represented almost as a king, then painted "warts and all" to play up his ordinariness, then back to a more pompous representation on a coin as a roman emperor. And once Charles II was invited back the changed nature of the monarchy was mentioned (not by divine right, but by the request of his people) as we looked at the Lely paintings of the women of the court - Charles II being somewhat of a playboy ;) The programme also showed the scientific advances that were beginning to be made - including showing us Hooke's Micrographia, which would be fascinating to have a look at. And ended up with the great fire of London, and Wren (and Hooke)'s plans to rebuild - none of which happened except St Paul's cathedral. (The radio programme we listened to on Monday touched on this, actually - because the land was all privately owned the owners wanted to build their houses again, not have them swept away into these plans for broad avenues and squares.)