Town mouse on ancient cultures

If I had a Tardis, I’d head straight for ancient Rome or Egypt, probably causing chaos in the process by wearing a watch or leaving tyre tracks (like those in Ben-Hur), or trying to evacuate Pompeii.

This week, I feel like I’ve had the next best thing, and all it took was paint. As with the frescoes at Pompeii, I can never get over how vibrant the colours can be on artefacts that are thousands of years old. At an event organised by Abercrombie and Kent, Dr Zahi Hawass, the Egyptian Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, spoke with passion and enthusiasm for his country and its rich history.

Some of the mummies he showed us astonishingly still bore all their bright decoration, as if they’d been painted yesterday. These were echoed in the 1st-century painted mummy portraits at the British Museum’s ‘Hadrian: Empire and Conflict’ exhibition. With their expressive brown eyes, they were so full of life that I half expected them to move and speak to me. But what really spoke across the centuries was a handful of the tablets found at Vindolanda near Hadrian’s Wall—the report called us Brittunculi or ‘nasty little Brits’. Another thing that doesn’t seem to have changed over time