Friday, 28 April 2017

Military History Photo Friday: African Shields

A variety of shields. The small round ones in the center are Ethiopian. One on the left has decorated brass fittings. The one next to it is made of hippopotamus hide. I believe the other shields are from the Sudan and Kenya, but I'm not sure. That skinny one on the lower left is a Dinka shield. The Dinka are from south Sudan and their shields only covered the hand, with the rod being used to parry blows. The shield on the right just above the elephant tusk is made of a turtle shell.

One of the more unusual museums I visited on my recent trip to Cairo was the Ethnological Museum. This is a very old-school museum with displays that don't look like they've been changed much in the past fifty years. It contains a good collection of costume, day-to-day objects, and weapons and armor. This includes an impressive array of East African shields that I'm showing here. In the upper floor is the Ethnographic Society with a lovely Victorian lecture hall and a sizeable library.

Located just off Tahrir Square, the heart of the famous 2011 revolution, it's one of the best guarded museums I have ever seen. Part of the grounds have been converted into a police headquarters. To get onto the property I had to go through a metal detector and show my passport. Then a cop with a machine gun escorted me to the museum. From there a museum official followed me from room to room until I left. No one is stealing these shields!

I'm far from an expert on African shields, although I am familiar with the Ethiopian forms. Unfortunately there was no signage in this room to help me. My identifications should thus be taken with a grain of salt. Any help identifying these fascinating pieces of African militaria would be highly appreciated!

The top shield is made of the plastron (belly part of the shell) of a giant turtle.
Two more shields. Like the vast majority of the shields in this collection, they are made of animal hide, which was strong enough to counter blows from clubs, arrows, and spears, but useless against bullets.
Two Ethiopian style shields. They may actually be from Sudan as this shield type was used there as well. They may, in fact, have been captured during the Anglo-Sudan War, when the British fought the Mahdi from 1896-99. Several weapons in the collection certainly come from the Mahdist army. I'll be showing those in a later post.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Travel Tuesday: Ancient Egyptian Shabtis

A variety of shabtis from the 19th and 20th dynasties (1292-1075 BC)

If you've spent much time in the Egyptology section of any good museum, you've probably seen a collection of little figurines that look like miniature mummies. These are called "shabtis", meaning "answerer". They were put in tombs in order to answer the call to work in the afterlife so that the deceased could relax. They'd come to life and do whatever labor the gods called on them to do.

Some shabtis got their own coffin and larger collections were put in decorated boxes like the one on the left.

Shabtis come in a variety of styles and quality and are made of wood, faience, wax, terracotta, or stone. Some tombs had hundreds of them, and they are one of the most common artifacts to find in museums. These are from the archaeological museum in Bologna, Italy.

I recently did a blog post over on Black Gate about shabtis in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo that goes into more detail about these remarkable artifacts. I've also done a post right here on a rare double shabti.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Military History Photo Friday: Roman Crocodile Armor

Yes, it's been almost a month since I posted. Sorry about that! I was on a research trip to Oxford and London, plus I was slammed with a ghostwriting deadline. Hopefully I'm now back on track for more regular blog posts.

I spotted this lovely suit of armor in the British Museum. It's from Manfalout, Egypt, from the 3rd or 4th century AD. This town is in Middle Egypt where there were many sacred grottoes to the crocodile-headed god Sobek, god of the Nile. These grottoes had sacred crocodiles that were often mummified after death. Roman soldiers often took on local religions and the troops in Manfalout were no exception. They would hold religious processions in honor of Sobek while wearing crocodile armor.

Photo copyright Sean McLachlan. Sorry for the reflection in the middle of the shot. I twisted and turned every which way and this was the best I could get. They really needed to invent artifact cases that don't reflect at all!

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Travel Tuesday: Some Tangier Locations From My Novel

"An old man in a brown djellaba hobbled up the hill, his face obscured under the pointed peak of his hood. Tom could tell the man was old only by the way he moved—stiff and slow, yet sure, one foot after another as he ascended the smooth, steep slope of bare stone, rising up over the lip and silhouetted by the water like some pagan sea god. "

When I was writing my novel, The Last Hotel Room, I spent a few months living in Tangier to get the setting and details right. The novel centers around Tom, a broke American who has lost everything and is stuck in Morocco while the last of his money runs out. He's decided to kill himself at that point, but soon finds himself a precarious income helping a crooked cop extort money from tourists. He used much of this money to support Asif, a Syrian refugee boy who's living alone in Tangier.

My publisher, Kindle Press, has put the ebook edition on sale for 99 cents on the Amazon store through April 3. To celebrate, I thought it would be fun to share some of my photos of Tangier along with associate quotes from the text. They're in chronological order. Enjoy!

"On the days he didn’t have tea with Mohammed, he would round the corner to the Petit Socco and sit at one of the caf├ęs, either the Central, with its wicker chairs and awning, or the Tingis, with its little patio on the high end of the Socco, looking down across the plaza’s length."
"The muezzin’s call lilted over the medina, to be picked up by another muezzin in a mosque further away. The alleys echoed and reechoed with their mingled songs as half a dozen mosques near and far sang out the same song a few words apart from one another."
"The tower was square and made of flat bricks faced with a thick coating of plaster, most of which had flaked away. It would take some time to get the details right in his drawing; it was a bit like the tile work on the mosque but with no regular pattern. The general shape looked easy enough: square with saw-toothed battlements on top. The whole thing listed a little over the cliff. Five centuries of Atlantic rain and wind had gnawed away at the cliff until it reached the base of the tower and then taken a big bite out of the tower’s base. As he watched, a couple of teenage boys popped out of its open front (the wall having tumbled down the precipice long ago), edged around the top of the cliff, and sauntered past him."

"Straight ahead the slope plunged steeply down, allowing them an open, sweeping view of the Strait of Gibraltar glittering in the sunset. Asif stepped out to the edge of the slope, looked over his shoulder at Tom with a smile, and then stared out over the water. Tom stepped up beside him and stared too, resting a hand on his shoulder."
“That is the boat from Tarifa, in Spain,” Asif said quietly, pointing at the catamaran. “So easy for them.”
“Spain looks close,” Tom said.
“Fourteen kilometers. Can you get me on the ferry, Tom?”
“You don’t have a visa. They’d never let you on board and they won’t listen to me. There’s nothing I can do. I’m sorry.”
Asif looked disappointed but not surprised.
“I afraid to go the other way,” he whispered, then turned and headed back through the gate. Tom followed, feeling helpless.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Massive Kindle Scout Anniversary Sale With All Ebooks 99 cents!

Kindle Scout is celebrating its second year of reader-powered publishing by running a promotion on the entire Kindle Scout catalog on All Scout-discovered titles are available for purchase for $0.99 from March 20 through April 3. This includes, of course, my novel about the Syrian refugee crisis The Last Hotel Room, which was published last September after getting enough support on Kindle Scout to win a contract with Kindle Press.

I have big hopes for this sale. Kindle Press did a similar promotion for my book for all of February and my ranking leaped up to 10,000 for much of the time, and even reached 6,000 for a few days. Here's hoping I'll top that this time.

There are plenty of other great books in this sale, a total of 215! You can see the entire list here.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Travel Tuesday: Old Kingdom Death Mask from the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo

My recent trip to Egypt was actually the second time I visited that fascinating country. The first was way back in 1991. As I wandered around the sights, I was occasionally hit by deja vu. Other sights I remember clearly from my first visit. One of the latter is this arresting Old Kingdom death mask in the national museum in Cairo.

It stuck in my mind from my first visit because the face looks just like people you see in Egypt today. Indeed, despite Egypt being popularly perceived (and officially titled) an Arab nation, only 17% of the genetic makeup of the modern population is Arabic. A recent study by National Geographic found that the Egyptian population is genetically 68% North African, 17% Arab, 4% Jewish Diaspora, 3% East African, 3% from Asia Minor, and 3% southern European. Thus the modern Egyptian population is much the same as the ancient Egyptian population, and this 4,000 year old mask shows a face that can still be seen on the streets of Cairo today.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Back From A Writing Retreat In Egypt

I'm back from Cairo! Actually I've been back for a few days but returned to a heap of ghostwriting I needed to get done. I'm just now coming up for air.

This is my new writing buddy, the priest Padiamenopet, shown here posing as a scribe. He worked at the vast temple of Ra at Karnak in the 25th dynasty (760-656 BC). His right hand would have held a reed pen, which is now missing. You can see the scroll he's working on. I wonder what his daily word count was? Now he lives in the Egyptian Museum, which was just five minute's walk from my hotel. I ended up going there a lot! I also, of course, visited Giza, Saqqara, and Dashur. The last is the home to the famous Bent Pyramid, seen below. The last time I was in Egypt, way back in 1991, it stood inside a military base and was closed to visitors, so it was nice to finally get there.

I was very fortunate to attend the Cairo Video Festival, an experimental film festival, early in my stay. Because of this I met an interesting circle of Egyptian and Sudanese filmmakers, artists, historians, and writers who kept me busy for the rest of my trip.

Of course I was there for writing, and I got 35,000 words into a novel set in Cairo during the 1919 Revolution, an early major push for independence. Called The Masked Man of Cairo, it's a neo-pulp adventure story of a disfigured WWI veteran who, disgusted with Europe, moves to Egypt and starts a business selling antiquities. Soon he finds just as much trouble as he had during the war! More on that novel as it progresses. Our hero (more like antihero) lives in Old Cairo, a labyrinth of medieval streets and centuries-old buildings. I spent much of my time wandering this wonderful part of the city catching inspiration.

I'll be posting lots of Egyptian photos here and over on Black Gate, where I blog on Wednesdays. You can also see more pictures on my Instagram account. Stay tuned!

Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

You can also find him on his Twitter feed and Facebook page.