Only known Henry VIII mural found during home reno

A couple in Milverton, Somerset removed layers of old wood panels, plaster and wallpaper from their living room wall to get it ready for repainting only to find a a large mural of Henry VIII had already claimed the space in the early 16th century. This mural is the only one known of Henry VIII. There was another one decorating a wall in the Palace of Whitehall, but it burned down in the 1698 fire that destroyed the palace complex. (Hans Holbein’s iconic portrait of Henry VIII was also destroyed in that fire. We only know of it now from copies.)

The artist is unknown, but the home, categorized as a “particularly important building of more than special interest” on England’s Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest, belonged to Thomas Cranmer who was Archdeacon of Taunton at the time the mural was painted (ca. 1530). The personal chaplain of the Boleyn family, Cranmer was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by Henry in October of 1532, and on May 23, 1533, two months after his consecration, he ruled Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon null and void. Five days later he declared Henry and Anne’s secret January marriage valid. Four days after that he crown Anne Queen of England.

You can see why he might have enjoyed an enormous mural of the king in his home.

Henry VIII mural, detailMichael Liversidge, former head of history of art department at Bristol University, said the discovery was “totally fascinating” and of “enormous importance and significance”.

“It would have been an expression of loyalty,” he said.

“Cranmer could have done it as a tribute to Henry and that would make it an object of great importance and significance. It is a unique image.”

Once the 20-foot-wide, 6-foot-high mural was revealed, homeowners Angie and Rhodri Powell brought in conservation experts to clean off the plaster, glue and assorted building materials and to fill in holes behind the facade.

Conservator Ann Ballatyne said: “This is quite special. I’ve not seen anything like it and I’ve been working on wall paintings since 1966.

“I’ve not seen anything as magnificent as this.”

You can see some BBC video of the mural and its conservation here.

Hawass: the Situation in Egyptian Antiquities Today

Zahi Hawass has posted a statement on his website describing what exactly went down at the Cairo Museum and giving a brief overview of reports he’s received from his inspectors in other cities. I’m going to repost it here in its entirety because the Internet is still down in Egypt and its websites are not always accessible. In fact, Hawass had to do a fax relay just to get this statement posted on his site.

On Friday, January 28, 2011, when the protest marches began in Cairo, I heard that a curfew had been issued that started at 6.00pm on Friday evening until 7.00am on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, on that day the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, was not well guarded. About a thousand people began to jump over the wall on the eastern side of the museum into the courtyard. On the western side of the museum, we recently finished something I was very proud of, a beautiful gift shop, restaurant and cafeteria. The people entered the gift shop and stole all the jewellery and escaped; they thought the shop was the museum, thank God! However, ten people entered the museum when they found the fire exit stairs located at the back of it.

As every one knows, the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, is naturally lit and due to the architectural style of it, there are glass windows on its roof. The criminals broke the glass windows and used ropes to get inside, there is a distance of four metres from the ceiling to the ground of the museum. The ten people broke in when I was at home and, although I desperately wanted to go to the museum, I could not leave my house due to the curfew. In the morning, as soon as I woke up, I went directly there. When I arrived, I found out that, the night before, three tourist police officers had stayed there overnight because they were not able to get out before the curfew was put in place. These officers, and many young Egyptians who were also there, helped to stop more people from entering the museum. Thankfully, at 10.00pm on Friday night, the army arrived at the museum and gave additional security assistance.

I found out that one criminal was still at the museum, too. When he had asked the people guarding the museum for water, they took his hands and tied him to the door that lead to the gift shop so that he could not escape! Luckily, the criminals who stole the jewellery from the gift shop did not know where the jewellery inside the museum is kept. They went into the Late Period gallery but, when they found no gold, they broke thirteen vitrines and threw the antiquities on the floor. Then the criminals went to the King Tutankhamun galleries. Thank God they opened only one case! The criminals found a statue of the king on a panther, broke it, and threw it on the floor. I am very thankful that all of the antiquities that were damaged in the museum can be restored, and the tourist police caught all of the criminals that broke into it. On Saturday, the army secured the museum again and guarded it from all sides. I left the museum at 3.00pm on Saturday, 29, 2011.

What is really beautiful is that not all Egyptians were involved in the looting of the museum. A very small number of people tried to break, steal and rob. Sadly, one criminal voice is louder than one hundred voices of peace. The Egyptian people are calling for freedom, not destruction. When I left the museum on Saturday, I was met outside by many Egyptians, who asked if the museum was safe and what they could do to help. The people were happy to see an Egyptian official leave his home and come to Tahrir Square without fear; they loved that I came to the museum.

The curfew started again on Saturday afternoon at 4.00pm, and I was receiving messages all night from my inspectors at Saqqara, Dahsur, and Mit Rahina. The magazines and stores of Abusir were opened, and I could not find anyone to protect the antiquities at the site. At this time I still do not know what has happened at Saqqara, but I expect to hear from the inspectors there soon. East of Qantara in the Sinai, we have a large store containing antiquities from the Port Said Museum. Sadly, a large group, armed with guns and a truck, entered the store, opened the boxes in the magazine and took the precious objects. Other groups attempted to enter the Coptic Museum, Royal Jewellery Museum, National Museum of Alexandria, and El Manial Museum. Luckily, the foresighted employees of the Royal Jewellery Museum moved all of the objects into the basement, and sealed it before leaving.

My heart is broken and my blood is boiling. I feel that everything I have done in the last nine years has been destroyed in one day, but all the inspectors, young archaeologists, and administrators, are calling me from sites and museums all over Egypt to tell me that they will give their life to protect our antiquities. Many young Egyptians are in the streets trying to stop the criminals. Due to the circumstances, this behaviour is not surprising; criminals and people without a conscience will rob their own country. If the lights went off in New York City, or London, even if only for an hour, criminal behaviour will occur. I am very proud that Egyptians want to stop these criminals to protect Egypt and its heritage.

At this time, the Internet has not been restored in Egypt. I had to fax this statement to my colleagues in Italy for it to be uploaded in London on my website.

Update: 2 mummies destroyed in Cairo Museum

A quick update as I continue to be riveted by the events in Egypt: Zahi Hawass said on State TV that he examined the museum this morning and found that some looters had indeed broken in at some point last night before the building was secured.

“I felt deeply sorry today when I came this morning to the Egyptian Museum and found that some had tried to raid the museum by force last night,” Zahi Hawass, chairman of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said on Saturday.

“Egyptian citizens tried to prevent them and were joined by the tourism police, but some (looters) managed to enter from above and they destroyed two of the mummies,” he said.

They ripped off their heads, to be precise. The mummies appear to have been from the Pharaonic period. The ticket office and gift shop were also stripped bare. I’m guessing looters were looking for cash and easily salable items, hence the focus on the museum administration rather than on the collection of 120,000 priceless ancient artifacts.

Broken display case in Cairo Museum, still from Al Jazeera footageAn AP camera crew allowed inside the museum reported seeing at least ten broken display cases and the artifacts they had contained scattered and damaged. All of them were found in the building, however, and Hawass is optimistic that the broken pieces can be restored.

Damaged artifact in Cairo Museum, still from Al Jazeera footageThe NDP building continues to burn, but firefighting crews are now handling the blaze. Hawass remains deeply concerned that the burning building could damage the museum if it collapses, and even if it does remain standing, between the fire, smoke and now water there are many ways the museum and its contents could suffer from the proximity.

Elsewhere in the country, other ancient sites and museums are also in peril. Hawass says the army has yet to answer his call to protect sites in areas where people have been evacuated. There have been local efforts to ensure the security of Egypt’s heritage. Authorities erected barriers and put guards around the temple of Karnak in Luxor, and there’s a ring of tanks, no less, around Luxor’s museum.

Protesters outside Cairo museum, NDP building burning next to it

Army, Protesters protect imperiled Cairo Museum

NDP headquarters in flames, January 28th, CairoThe Egyptian Museum in Cairo has found itself in a perilous location because of the anti-government protests that have rocked the country over the past few days. It is next door to the headquarters of the National Democratic Party in Tahrir Square, a focal point of protest. There have been reports of government buildings being looted, continuing explosions downtown and the NDP headquarters is burning with no firefighters on the way.

Unconfirmed stories emerged earlier today that people were attempting to break into the museum to plunder it. Al Jazeera’s live feed reported that thousands of civilian protesters formed a human chain around the Egyptian Museum to keep any would-be looters away. That story appears to be true.

The greatest threat to the Egyptian Museum first appeared to come from the fire enguling the ruling party headquarters next door on Friday night as anti-government protests roiled the country.

Then dozens of would-be thieves started entering the grounds surrounding the museum.

Suddenly other young men — some armed with truncheons taken from the police — formed a human chain outside the main gates on Tahrir Square in an attempt to protect the collection inside.

“I’m standing here to defend and to protect our national treasure,” said one of the men, Farid Saad, a 40-year-old engineer.

Another man, 26-year-old Ahmed Ibrahim, said it was important to guard the museum because it “has 5,000 years of our history. If they steal it, we’ll never find it again.”

Finally, four armored vehicles took up posts outside the massive coral-colored building in downtown Cairo. Soldiers surrounded the building and moved inside to protect mummies, monumental stone statues, ornate royal jewelry and other pharaonic artifacts.

It’s a beautiful thing, and a testament to the profound connection contemporary Egyptians have to their ancient past.

Unfortunately neither the army nor a human cordon can keep the museum from catching fire, so it’s still in urgent peril. The building doesn’t even have to catastrophically burn down for sparks and smoke to cause enormous damage to the precious antiquities within. Egypt’s dry climate means a great number of highly flammable ancient organic materials have survived the millennia. The museum is packed with wood furniture, papyri, ancient textiles, even food and, of course, human bodies. The golden death mask of Tutankhamun is a lot less danger than they are.

Vietnam’s own “Great Wall” rediscovered

Andrew Hardy (center) and Nguyen Tien Dong (left) in front of wallAfter five years of exploration and excavation, archaeologists from Hanoi’s École Française d’Extrême-Orient and the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences have uncovered a 79 mile-long wall. The locals apparently call it “Vietnam’s Great Wall,” even though it’s far less imposing — it alternates masonry and earth ramparts, the highest parts of the wall reaching a mere four feet — and ancient.

Built in the early 19th century under Emperor Gia Long of the Nguyen Dynasty, the Long Wall of Quang Ngai was built to demarcate the border between rival ethnic groups in Quang Ngai Province of central Vietnam. It reaches from northern Quang Ngai down south to Binh Dinh Province and is a prime candidate for the greatest feat of engineering of the Nguyen Dynasty.

Despite the locals’ nickname referencing the Great Wall of China, the Vietnam Wall is more like Hadrian’s Wall — a Roman-era wall on the border of England and Scotland.

Like Hadrian’s Wall, the Quang Ngai wall was built along a pre-existing road. More than 50 ancient forts have been identified along its length, established to maintain security and levy taxes. There is evidence to suggest that many of the forts, markets and temples built along the road are much older than the wall itself.

It served to demarcate territory and regulate trade and travel between the Viet in the plains and the Hrê tribes in the mountain valleys. Research suggests it may have been built in cooperation between both the Viet and the Hrê.

According to experts, the wall’s construction was in the interests of both communities, and inhabitants in both zones tell stories about how their respective ancestors built the wall to protect their territory from incursions by the other side.

Despite its relatively recent prominence, the wall became overgrown and unknown. Five years ago, Dr. Andrew Hardy, head of the Hanoi branch of École Française d’Extrême-Orient, found a reference to the wall in a geography report compiled by a Nguyen Dynasty courtier in 1885. Intrigued, he teamed up with Dr. Nguyen Tien Dong of the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences and they put together the excavation project which has now borne fruit.