Cecil Chubb became the last private owner of Stonehenge, having bought the Neolithic monument at auction.
Chubb grew up four miles away from the famous stones in the English village of Shrewton, where his father was the village saddler and harness maker. He won a place at a grammar school and later attended Christ’s College, Cambridge before becoming a barrister.
Chubb had amassed a considerable fortune by the time he attended an auction at the Palace Theatre in Salisbury on 21 September 1915. The company Knight Frank and Rutley auctioned Stonehenge on behalf of its former owners, the aristocratic Antrobus family, who had owned the stones and surrounding land for generations. Lieutenant Edmund Antrobus, the heir to the Baronetcy, was serving with the Grenadier Guards in Belgium when he was killed in action on 24 October 1914. His father, Sir Edmund Antrobus, the fourth Baronet, died just a few months later on 11 February 1915. With no surviving male heirs the line passed to the elder Edmund’s brother Cosmo, who put Stonehenge up for auction.
According to Stonehenge’s curator, Chubb had gone to the auction to buy a pair of curtains and claimed that he only bought the monument ‘on a whim’. There is competing speculation that he may have bought the stones as a romantic gesture for his wife, or that he did so in order to stop a foreign bidder from taking ownership.
Whatever the reason for Chubb’s purchase, on 26 October 1918 he gifted the monument to the nation. As part of the terms of the donation, he stipulated that local people should get in for free and that outsiders should pay no more than one shilling per visit. English Heritage, who now run the site, claim that the current entry price is still within this limit due to wage inflation.
The 24th August AD 79 is traditionally believed to have been the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that wiped out numerous Roman settlements including Pompeii and Herculaneum. Eyewitness accounts of the eruption have survived in the shape of two letters from Pliny the Younger, and the discovery of the astoundingly well-preserved settlements has provided astoundingly detailed evidence about daily Roman life.
It should be noted that there is considerable debate over the accuracy of this date due to archaeological discoveries and recent meteorological research, but the majority of scholars continue to favour the 24th August. This, by unnerving coincidence, was just one day after the annual Roman festival of Vulcanalia, which was held to honour the Roman god of fire.
It’s known that the eruption lasted for two whole days, and released thermal energy that was hundreds of thousands times greater than the atomic bomb. Beginning at around 1pm on the 24th August, Vesuvius sent gas, volcanic ash, and pumice into the stratosphere for up to 20 hours. This was followed by a pyroclastic flow, which carried gas and molten rock down from the volcano and which then buried the previously fallen ash.
It’s believed that the majority of the 1,500 people whose remains or impressions have been discovered died of thermal shock during one of the pyroclastic surges. Others may have suffocated, or been hit by falling rocks and collapsing buildings. There is still a lot of archaeological work to be done, especially at Herculaneum, but digging has been put on hold to focus on the preservation of the areas already uncovered.
Often referred to as the ‘lost city of the Incas’, Machu Picchu was constructed in the middle of the 15th century but was abandoned barely a century later in 1572. Believed by modern archaeologists to have been built as a retreat for Incan royalty, the city was never found by the Spanish conquistadors and its existence slowly became known only to those who lived in the local area.
Although there is evidence that the city had been visited by explorers before Bingham, he was the first to conduct an archaeological survey of the area and to secure worldwide publicity for it. He did so as a result of leading the 1911 Yale Peruvian Expedition, having visited the country three years previously on his way home from the First Pan American Scientific Congress.
Bingham’s expedition travelled down the Urubamba River, seeking local information about Inca ruins. Eventually he met Melchor Arteaga who led him up the Huayna Picchu mountain. Here the eleven-year-old Pablito, the son of a farmer, led him to the main Machu Picchu ruins.
Bingham first saw the site on 24 July, but the intricate stonework was covered in vegetation from five hundred years of disuse. Consequently he only conducted preliminary investigations before continuing the expedition along the river. He returned to the mountain the following year to clear the overgrowth and conduct an archaeological excavation with the support of Yale University and National Geographic. Artefacts taken from the site by Bingham have since been returned to Peru, and Machu Picchu continues to be one of the world’s leading tourist sites.
On the 21st July 1970, construction was completed on the Aswan High Dam in Egypt. Taking just over ten years to build, the High Dam cost nearly $1 billion. However, it’s estimated that this cost was recovered in less than five years thanks to income from increased agricultural production and hydroelectric generation, as well as savings from flood protection and improved navigation.
A dam had already been built across the Nile near the southern Egyptian city of Aswan in 1902. It was designed to store the Nile’s annual floodwater and release it during the dry season in order to irrigate the farms and settlements further downstream. However, despite being heightened twice by the 1930s it still did not provide enough water for future development. Consequently designs for a new dam were sought.
Following the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 led by the Free Officers Movement, President Gamal Abdel Nasser began searching for funding for the new dam. The US, Britain and the USSR all initially offered financial support, but after the USSR promised funding at just 2% interest the other powers pulled out. Income from the Suez Canal following Nasser’s nationalisation of the waterway provided further funds for the construction of the dam.
The completed dam is almost 4km long and 111 metres tall. The 550km long reservoir created when it was flooded is known as Lake Nasser, and holds 132 cubic kilometres of water. The creation of the reservoir forced the relocation of over 100,000 people and a number of archaeological sites that would otherwise have been lost beneath the water.
On the 19th July 1799, an announcement was made of the discovery of a slab of rock covered in carvings by French Lieutenant Pierre-François Bouchard in the area around Fort Julien near the Egyptian town of Rashid or, as it also known, Rosetta. The Rosetta Stone was soon identified as the key to understanding hieroglyphics, but it would be another twenty-five years before the ancient Egyptian language was actually deciphered.
Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt had begun the previous year with the dual aim of protecting French trade in the area and undermining Britain’s access to India. However, his force also included 167 scientists and scholars who had been tasked with various jobs including researching a possible Suez Canal and creating accurate maps of the country.
It was while some of the engineers were working with the army to strengthen Fort Julien that the granodiorite block we now know as the Rosetta Stone was uncovered. It was soon sent to the newly-created Institut d’Égypte in Cairo who announced the find and devised ways to make copies of the inscriptions which soon made their way to universities and museums around the world.
The inscription is a decree written in three different scripts that all say effectively the same thing: Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic, and Ancient Greek. It is because the scripts effectively convey the same message that transliteration was able to take place.
When the British defeated the French army in 1801 they seized a large number of French finds, including the Rosetta Stone. It has been exhibited in the British Museum ever since.
On the 16th February 1923, Howard Carter unsealed the burial chamber of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun. It took two and a half months for his team to catalogue and clear the contents of the antechamber and annex. Having then secured permission from the Department of Antiquities of Egypt to open the fourth sealed door, Carter came face-to-face with the enormous gilt shrine containing the king.
Carter and his sponsor, Lord Carnarvon, had opened the first chamber of the tomb on the 26th November the previous year. They catalogued and removed more than 2,000 artefacts from the antechamber and its annex, during which time they found a doorway with its rope seal still intact. Having opened the door, Carter found the chamber filled with an enormous gilded shrine which, it later emerged, was the outer layer of four nested shrines inside which lay the king’s sarcophagus.
It took Carter and his team 12 months to disassemble the shrines within the tight confines of the tomb and prepare to lift the lid of the sarcophagus, by which time Lord Carnarvon had died. His death in April 1923 contributed to the legend of the “Curse of Tutankhamun”, but was more likely due to complications associated with accidentally infecting a mosquito bite while shaving.
Tutankhamun’s mummy itself wasn’t finally reached until October 1925, while work to remove the remaining artefacts from the tomb continued until the 10th November 1930, eight years after the discovery of the tomb. The artefacts are now housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, while Tutankhamun’s mummy is displayed inside a climate-controlled glass box inside the tomb.
On the 26th November 1922, Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon entered the tomb of Tutankhamun in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. Although in many ways one of the minor Pharaohs, Tutankhamun is significant due to his being the most complete example of a royal tomb.
Having taken part in his first Egyptian excavation in 1891, Carter secured the financial assistance of Lord Carnarvon to lead his own expedition to the Valley of the Kings in 1907. Another archaeologist had recently declared his conviction that the valley contained no more treasures but, despite this dour assessment, Carter searched in vain for the tomb until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Although digging resumed again after the war, he continued to make few finds. The situation was so bleak that at the start of the 1922 season he was warned by Carnarvon that he would only provide one more season of funding.
Having cleared an area of the valley of a series of huts that had been used in previous digs, his crew cleared debris until they hit bedrock. On the 4th November they found a flight of steps that led to a doorway stamped with indistinct oval seals, called cartouches. Carter ordered the stairway be refilled, and waited for Carnarvon to make his way to Egypt.
On the 26th November, with access to the tomb cleared again of debris, Carter made a tiny hole in a doorway and used the light of a candle to peer inside. Carnarvon asked if he could see anything. Carter replied with the famous words: “Yes, wonderful things!”
On the 17th May 1902, an ancient analogue computer known as the Antikythera mechanism was first identified by Greek archaeologist Valerios Stais. The clockwork computer uses a complex system of bronze gears to calculate astronomical phenomena such as eclipses, and the cycle of forthcoming Olympic Games.
Although Stais didn’t discover the mechanism, he was the first to notice inscriptions and a gear wheel embedded in a lump of corroded bronze and wood brought up from an ancient Greek wreck. The wreck itself had been discovered in 1900 by a team of sponge divers, and archaeologists had focused on other more obvious artefacts such as bronze and marble statues. Therefore what is known as the world’s oldest computer had lain in plain view for two years before anyone realised what it was.
To be fair, nobody in 1900 would have expected to find anything like the mechanism, and even modern scientists are still working to uncover its secrets. It’s generally accepted that astronomical clocks of similar complexity didn’t fully emerge until the 14th Century and so the mechanism truly is, as Cardiff University professor Michael Edmunds described it, “just extraordinary, the only thing of its kind”.
The level of complexity identified in the early 1900s led many people who studied the mechanism to declare that it could not be from the time of the other ancient finds from the wreck. Interest in the mechanism therefore waned again, and serious research into the didn’t actually begin until the 1970s. It is still ongoing.