The Week in Radio: Tunes from the tomb are something to treasure

Is it possible to hear the past? In one way, obviously. Given the BBC's propensity for repeats, archive documentaries and Hundred Object odysseys, we're hearing it all the time. The impulse to connect with and repackage the past seems ever present. But it's rare to encounter such a shivery sci-fi feeling as in Radio 4's Ghost Music, which this week transported us 3,000 years back to the Valley of the Kings.

While everyone else was focusing on the Egyptian Spring, the thoughts of archaeologists rested more tremulously on the fate of a cache of objects stolen from the Cairo Museum. They included a bronze trumpet, which along with its silver companion, was found in Tutankhamun's tomb. Ghost Music told the story of these trumpets, and in a double reflection of the past, recounted the 1939 experiment in which Rex Keating, a BBC commentator, managed to record them being played.

"I dropped my hand, and sharp and clear this silver music out of Egypt's past goes echoing to the four corners of the Earth," he proclaimed, the way commentators just don't any more. And BBC commentary style isn't all that's changed. "The idea of actually playing a 3,000-year-old trumpet wouldn't be entertained today," shuddered the archaeologist Christine Finn, "but in the gung-ho archaeological heyday of the early 20th century, there were no such qualms." Yet while he may have escaped the opprobrium of historians, Keating did get blamed for invoking the curse of Tutankhamun, and inadvertently starting the Second World War. Meanwhile, how to describe the time-travelling sound of the trumpets? Well, for me (having written a novel about Howard Carter's discovery), it was exquisitely eerie, but I reckon the fanfare that accompanied the dead king to the underworld would have raised the hairs on anyone's neck.

It may be we need to think of new ways to talk about the past, suggested the neuroscientist Raymond Tallis on Radio 3's Belief. "What do we mean by 'move through time?' We spatialise time, we need a way of thinking about time that doesn't reduce it to the emptiness that physics has moved it to," he argued. This is a magnificent series, showing just how important it is to give profound thinkers space to explain their deepest beliefs, and Joan Bakewell is appropriately receptive, providing only gentle touches on the rudder. Born in Liverpool, Tallis acquired "the freefloating scepticism that scousers tend to have", and, as an atheist, he remains sceptical about "any attempt to translate feelings of transcendence into some kind of institutionalised structure". Yet he retains an uplifting belief that there is something about consciousness that science cannot explain. He was also appealingly frank. "I don't understand how mind fits into the world of matter," he said, cheerfully. "But I'm confident no one else does either."

There's an obvious timeliness about Russia: the Wild East, Martin Sixsmith's epic exploration of Russia that started this week, but although the BBC's former Moscow correspondent may bring the necessary insight, the series got off to an underwhelming start. We began in Novgorod with the story of Rurik, the Viking chieftain credited with forming Russia. Suggesting that a craving for centralised power is ingrained in the Russian psyche, Sixsmith explained that the word "state" implies not impartial government but a "Lord-dom" dependent on the whim of an autocratic ruler. Another key development for Russia came when Prince Vladimir chose Christianity over Islam because "drinking is the joy of the Russians". In 1015, his sons Boris and Gleb were murdered and made martyrs for offering no resistance, an act that Sixsmith said entrenched the idea that the good of the state justifies ultimate self sacrifice. Fascinating as this analysis is, it's a shame it has to be delivered in 15-minute, tea-time gobbets. A story as epic as Russia's requires more space – and of course more time.

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'