Arts and Sciences
A limestone head of Jupiter unearthed at the Earith quarry near Colne Fen in Cambridgeshire, eastern England, has been donated to Cambridge University’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The sculpture dates to between the 2nd and 4th centuries A.D. and was discovered during 10 years of excavations (1997 – 2007) done by the Cambridge Archaeological Unit. It was donated to the museum by Hanson Aggregates, the owners of the quarry, and will go on display starting December 10th.
The sculpture’s rough appearance belies its historical significance. It is considered one of the finest Roman sculptures ever discovered in East Anglia.
Imogen Gunn, 33, collections manager for archaeology at the museum, said: “There’s a relatively small corpus of Roman sculpture from this area and this is definitely one of the best.
“And it’s always nice to be able to display things that are found locally – it always grabs people.”
Carved out of non-local limestone from Upwell in Norfolk, this Jupiter was once part of a larger monument. You can see a pair of paws perched above the cornice. Experts believe there was a lion, griffin or sphinx there once, but extensive excavation of the find site recovered no further fragments of the piece that might illuminate its full scope. That suggests the Jupiter section was brought to the area after it had already been separated from the rest of the monument.
Even as a fragment it would have been an expensive piece. It was probably reused as a funerary monument at The Camp Ground, telegraphing the wealth and importance of the deceased. Skeletal remains were discovered close by, but there’s no way of knowing if they were associated with the Earith Jupiter.
It was discovered at a site called The Camp Ground, in Roman times an inland port on the Car Dyke canal system with a settlement of 50 to 200 people on the edge of the marshy Fens. This was a large village for a Fenland community, probably a market center where people from neighboring farms came to sell, buy and trade their produce and stock. Because the canal system gave them access to the rest of the country and, via its link to the sea, lands foreign as well, a Norfolk limestone carving could easily, albeit not cheaply, have made its way to Earith over water.
On an unrelated note, museum volunteers made an amusing discovery while going through a collection of more than 1,000 animal bones found in a fish pond in the nearby town of St Neots in 1961. One of the bones, a bovine shoulder blade dating to the 16th century, had “I absolutely hate bones!” scribbled on it in marker along with an irate stick figure with a beehive hairdo and a skirt stamping her feet and making a hand gesture that looks distinctly like flipping the bird.
Ms Gunn said: “We have more than 1,000 bones from this dig. They would all have to be washed and marked with a site number and site code. There’s quite a lot of admin. You can see how that would start to get very boring. I’ve certainly felt that way, but I’ve never scribbled it on to a bone!” [...]
Ms Gunn added: “This is now the most interesting thing about these bones. It adds to their story.”
Excavations at Riparo Bombrini, a collapsed rock shelter in the Balzi Rossi Paleolithic site complex in Liguria, near the Italian-French border, have revealed that the Neanderthals who lived there for thousands of years in the late Middle Paleolithic organized their living spaces much like modern humans. (The full paper published in the Canadian Journal of Archaeology can be read gratis here.) Many researchers have identified clearly structured and patterned uses of space as a marker of modern human behavior, but some recent discoveries of Neanderthal dwellings have cast doubt on that classification. The Riparo Bombrini finds provide extensive evidence that the Neanderthals of the Late Mousterian era (the oldest there date to around 45,000 years ago) compartmentalized the space by usage.
There are three main groupings of Mousterian occupation levels in the rock shelter. These are palimpsests, to be clear, composites of varied dates within a range, not individually dated occupation levels. The top level (labeled Level MS) appears to have been a task site likely dedicated to the slaughter, butchering and perhaps skin processing of game. Researchers found a dense concentration of animal bones in the top level towards the back of the shelter, the densest anywhere on the site. They also found abundant evidence of ochre in the same area. They don’t know what it was used for, but it has several work applications — tanning, gluing — or it could have had some ritual purpose.
The middle group (Levels M1-M5) was a long-term logistical base camp, as evidenced by a high density of animal bones, shells from edible shellfish and stone tools in the front of shelter’s mouth and a hearth at the back bounded by a clear area. The occupants appear to have done all the work that might result in irritating or dangerous debris at the mouth of the shelter and kept the back of the shelter, where people slept and socialized around the fire, clean.
Researchers believe the bottom group (Levels M6-M7) served as a short-term base camp. Unlike the other levels, here the remains of fauna are sparse while lithic debris (fragments of stone chipped away in the making and use of tools) is relatively dense. There is more stone debris just inside the shelter than outside in these levels, an indication that the area was used for temporary work stints, like for making tools, in the opening of the shelter where sunlight would have been most plentiful. It could also have been used as a dump site of sorts, to contain potentially dangerous discards like sharp flint fragments.
“This is ongoing work, but the big picture in this study is that we have one more example that Neanderthals used some kind of logic for organizing their living sites,” [University of Colorado Denver anthropologist Julien] Riel-Salvatore said. “This is still more evidence that they were more sophisticated than many have given them credit for. If we are going to identify modern human behavior on the basis of organized spatial patterns, then you have to extend it to Neanderthals as well.”
Interestingly, Riel-Salvatore’s team published a study in 2011 that found no differentiation in the spatial patterning of artifacts in the Mousterian levels of Riparo Bombrini. This time around they analyzed the data considering mobility strategies of the hominids using the space and the size of the excavated areas and the piles of shells, bones and stones revealed themselves to have clear patterns. It’s important for the study of other Neanderthal sites going forward because it gives researchers an approach that might expose spatial patterning that went unnoticed in earlier explorations.
Riparo Bombrini also has the advantage of having been used by a later hominid group from the Aurignac culture (45,000 to 35,000 years ago), the early modern humans who made some of the earliest known examples of figurative art (like Lion Man and the Chauvet cave paintings). The research team plans to examine the Aurignacian levels for spatial patterning as well, which will allow them to compare Neanderthal and homo sapiens usage of the same space, thereby ruling out differences in site form and structure as a reason for any differences between the two.
Yesterday the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, blew out 250 candles on its metaphoric cake. Built between 1759 and 1763 by English architect Peter Harrison, it was the second synagogue constructed in what would become the United States. The first was built in 1730 for the Congregation Shearith Israel on Mill Street in lower Manhattan, but that was demolished in 1818 to make room for a larger synagogue on the same spot leaving the Touro Synagogue the oldest synagogue in the country. It is now the only surviving synagogue from the colonial era.
Newport had had a small but vibrant Jewish community since the first 15 families arrived from Barbados in 1658. These were Spanish and Portuguese Jews, a subset of Sephardic Jews descended from conversos, forced converts to Christianity under the Inquisition who reverted to their ancestral Judaism when they left Spain and Portugal for more tolerant pastures, including colonies in South America and the West Indies. The Shearith Israel congregation was established in New Amsterdam against the strident wishes of Governor Peter Stuyvesant thanks to the intervention of Jewish directors of the Dutch West India Company, while Jews were banned from British North America as they had been in all British territory since King Edward I’s Edict of Expulsion in 1290. It was Oliver Cromwell who, in exchange for financing, let them come back almost 400 years later in 1657. That opened the door in the colonies as well, and the Newport Jews were the first to walk through.
They still have to deal with colonial laws that prohibited them from public worship, from holding office and from voting. The Jewish congregations in New York and Rhode Island used their private homes as synagogues for decades until in the laws changed in the first half of the 18th century. The Shearith Israel synagogue was built at the first opportunity to attend to the spiritual needs of the relatively large Manhattan congregation. The smaller Congregation Yeshuat Israel in Newport reached a critical mass of about 70 congregants three decades later and what is now known as the Touro Synagogue was built.
Peter Harrison was a self-taught architect who is known for being the first to introduce Palladian design to colonial America. The elegant exterior of the Newport synagogue has Palladian elements while for the interior he relied on the memory of cantor Isaac Touro, a recent arrival from Amsterdam via the West Indies. He described to Harrison the Sephardic synagogues he had known in Amsterdam and they informed the architects’ design. The Yeshuat Israel synagogue was dedicated on during Chanukah celebrations on December 2nd, 1763.
On the eve of the Revolution, there were an estimated 1,175 Jews in Newport, 300 of them regular attendants at the synagogue. Newport was hard hit by the onset of hostilities. The English took the city in the fall of 1776, confiscating patriot ships, buildings and businesses. Many pro-Independence residents fled to Massachusetts and elsewhere. A few stayed behind at great risk to themselves, among them Isaac Touro and Moses Seixas, an ardent patriot and the founder of the King David Masonic Lodge in Newport, the oldest Jewish lodge in the country. They kept watch over the synagogue which had been commandeered by the British for use as a hospital and public assembly hall. Its usefulness is what kept it intact even as the British demolished a great many colonial Newport structures to burn their wood during the winter.
The British left Newport in 1779 and the ousted patriots began to return to put their homes and businesses back together. In September of 1780, the first post-occupation General Assembly of the State of Rhode Island convened in the synagogue. Ten years later on August 17-18th, 1790, the Congregation Yeshuat Israel played host to President George Washington, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Governor George Clinton of New York, U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Blair of Virginia, and U.S. Congressman William Loughton Smith of South Carolina. Rhode Island had a long tradition of religious tolerance going back to its founder Roger Williams who was banished from Massachusetts for his heretical religious beliefs, so it was the last state to ratify the Constitution on May 29, 1790, and only did so after it was assured that a Bill of Rights would be added. Washington visited Newport, and very pointedly the synagogue, to rally support for the Bill of Rights which was still being debated in the legislatures of Virginia, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Georgia at the time.
At the time of his visit, Moses Seixas was the president of the synagogue. As a fellow high-ranking mason, a civilian hero of the Revolution and the brother of Shearith Israel Congregation’s Rabbi Gershon Mendes Seixas, aka the “patriot rabbi” who was one of 14 religious leaders to officiate at Washington’s 1789 Inauguration, Moses was tasked with delivering a welcome address to the President. His eloquent words in favor of democracy and freedom of conscience and George Washington’s quotation of them in his response have gone down in history as a seminal exchange on the subject of religious freedom at the dawn of the United States.
The key passage from the Seixas address:
Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free Citizens, we now with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all events behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People — a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance — but generously affording to all Liberty of conscience, and immunities of Citizenship: deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue, or language equal parts of the great governmental Machine[.]
On August 21nd, 1790, George Washington sent a letter to the Congregation Yeshuat Israel in response. The oft-quoted passage therefrom:
The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support. [...]
May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.
Washington’s reply, in particular his repetition of Moses Seixas’ phrase, “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance,” has become emblematic of the new nation’s dedication to religious liberty and the separation of church and state. The original manuscript of the address is part of the George Washington Papers in the Library of Congress and the original Washington response belongs to Frederick Phillips of New York, but so important is this exchange that even contemporary newspaper print versions are incredibly valuable. The address and letter were printed in the Gazette of the United States, an early Federal newspaper in Philadelphia, on September 15th, 1790. That page and another from the September 11th, 1790, issue that describes the President’s visit to Newport are going on sale at a Bonhams’ Judaica auction on December 10th. The pre-sale estimate is $80,000 – $100,000.
The Congregation Yeshuat Israel synagogue went through some hard times after Washington’s visit. In 1791 regular services stopped as the once bustling commercial life of Newport slumped and much of the merchant class moved to New York. The Jewish community was reduced to a few longtime residents and regular visitors who returned to attend an occasional holy day service or funeral. The cemetery continued to be used as former residents often asked to be buried in the traditional cemetery of their fathers. It was the Touro family, Isaac’s sons Abraham and Judah, who donated money to fund maintenance on the synagogue and cemetery in their old hometown. In the first half of the 19th century, they both made substantial bequests to the state of Rhode Island for the perpetual care of the Congregation properties. That’s when the synagogue became known as the Touro Synagogue
It wasn’t until the population of Jews in Newport was boosted by Eastern European immigrants in 1883 that the synagogue reopened for regular worship again. Although the Jewish population of Newport is small today — an estimated 200 people — the synagogue’s commitment to its rich history is unflagging and it is visited by thousands of tourists a year. The synagogue holds an annual public reading of George Washington’s famous letter that is so popular you have to make reservations to attend. This year the keynote speaker was Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan who said: “In the early years of the Republic, every word George Washington said was addressed to the larger country, and every aspect of that lesson resonates today as strongly as it did in 1790.”
“When he told me it was an ancient gold ring, it felt like a gift from the underworld,” Lundin told The Local. “It was my magnificent ring. I didn’t want to give it up.”
Because Swedish law requires that any potential archaeological artifact made out of gold, silver, or bronze must be reported to the state, Lundin reported the find to the Swedish National Heritage Board. The finder can keep anything more than a 100 years old, but the state gets first dibs on objects made out of precious metals. If the Board determines that it’s of sufficient historical significance to be of interest to them, the state pays the finder fair market value and keeps the artifact. Lundin didn’t want the money, though. She wanted to keep the ring.
The Board found the object was a 2,000-year-old gold ring from the Roman Iron Age. They wanted to explore the discovery site to see if there were any other pieces from the period in the field.
Lundin discovered the trinket in June 2011, but due to planting seasons the Board was unable to investigate the field until autumn. The research and paperwork took more than two years, but for Lundin it all paid off. After searching the farm for similar artefacts on two separate occasions, the state offered Lundin 11,000 kronor ($1,672) for the ring.
“I guess I knew right away it was special, but I had no idea just how valuable it was,” said Lundin, who confessed she still felt slightly disappointed to lose the ring. “I haven’t decided what to do with the money yet, but it will definitely be something special. Maybe I’ll travel somewhere.”
I love how she grudgingly took the money for it because the state compelled the sale but the treasure was worth so much more to her than its monetary value. In her place, I’d feel exactly the same way.
Lorenzo Ghiberti, the sculptor and goldsmith who created the gilded bronze doors to Florence’s Baptistery of San Giovanni that Michelangelo considered “so beautiful that they would do well for the gates of Paradise”, started out with a more modest assignment. The Arte di Calimala, the cloth importers guild of Florence, held a contest in 1401 to design a new set of doors for the Baptistery that would complement the bronze ones made by Andrea Pisano in 1330. Pisano’s doors graced the east side of the Baptistery in place of pride facing the Duomo, and consisted of 28 barbed quatrefoil panels depicting the life of St. John the Baptist and the eight virtues. Each contestant was given a year to submit a test panel on the subject of The Sacrifice of Isaac.
Vasari describes each submission in his Lives of the Artists and it’s clear that in his opinion Ghiberti’s was superior to everyone’s, including Donatello’s and Jacopo della Quercia’s. The two finalists were the young Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi, future builder of the Duomo’s dome. Ghiberti claims in his autobiography that he was the unanimous winner; Vasari agrees. Brunelleschi’s biographer Antonio Manetti says Giberti and Brunelleschi were both given the assignment but Brunelleschi had no interest in collaborating so he went off to study architecture in Rome and left Ghiberti to do all the work himself.
Ghiberti spent 21 years from 1403 to 1424 crafting his 28 barbed quatrefoil panels depicting the life of Christ, the four evangelists and the Church Fathers. The high relief gilded bronze scenes demonstrated his impressive command of design and casting. The dimension and dynamism of the composition eclipsed the more static, flat designs of Pisano’s making the doors huge hits and the artist famous. Pisano’s doors were moved to the west portal (later moved again to the south portal) and Ghiberti’s new ones took pole position on the east side.
So thrilled was the Calimala organization with the doors, as soon as they were installed the guild commissioned Ghiberti to make a new set. This time they put no conditions on him whatsoever, no need to match the look of the Pisano doors and therefore no need to squeeze 28 small scenes into barbed quatrefoil borders. For this project Ghiberti chose to expand his canvas, dividing the door into 10 large squares that could accommodate his novel vision of several scenes from Old Testament episodes sharing space on the same panel. He used deep perspective and different depths of relief to capture figures in motion, taking full advantage of the architectural space. It took him 27 years to make these doors, his masterpiece, which would become known as the Gates of Paradise.
When complete, they were installed in the east portal. Ghiberti’s first doors were moved to the north portal where they still stand today. Centuries of pollution, vandalism, aggressive polishing and exposure to the elements coated the panels with thick blank gunk and damaged the gilding that remained underneath it. In 1980, experts with the Opificio delle Pietre Dure di Firenze, a public art restoration institute, initiated a long-term plan of study and conservation of the Gates of Paradise. The learning curve was steep; new laser technology even had to be developed to clean the gilding without overheating it. After 27 years of intensive work, the gleaming gold Gates of Paradise were returned to their former splendor and put on display in the Museo dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. (A replica is in place in the Baptistery.)
Now it’s the north doors’ turn. All the hard-learned lessons from the restoration of the Gates of Paradise has drastically decreased the time projected to clean the north doors. In just a few months, already two of the panels, The Baptism of Christ and The Temptation of Christ have gone from black to shiny gold. The remaining 26 panels, the decorative borders, the 47 heads of prophets, sibyls and Ghiberti himself wearing a dashing turban are scheduled to be completed in autumn of 2015, after which they will go on permanent display in a compressed air case next to the Gates of Paradise in the new Museo dell’Opera.
evnt-stewards-msg (54K) 11/17/13 Suggestions for event stewards. (autocrats)
East-hist-msg (67K) 11/16/13 Histories of the East Kingdom.
fd-Japan-msg (4K) 11/17/13 Food of medieval Japan.
fd-New-World-msg (57K) 11/16/08 16th C. food of and from the New World.
ambergris-msg (15K) 10/17/13 Use of ambergris in period.
Archaeologists digging in the Maya Devi Temple in Lumbini, Nepal, have unearthed the remains of a timber structure around an open space dating back to the sixth century B.C. which would make it the earliest known Buddhist shrine.
Tradition has it that Lumbini is where Siddhārtha Gautama was born. The Maya Devi Temple is one of four major pilgrimage sites for Buddhists today (the other three are the places of his enlightenment, first discourse, and death as identified by the Buddha in the Parinibbana Sutta) and pilgrims have been visiting the temple as the Buddha’s place of birth since at least the third century B.C. A large stone found in 1996 was installed in the third century B.C. to mark the precise spot.
Buddhist tradition records that Queen Maya Devi, the mother of the Buddha, gave birth to him while holding on to the branch of a tree within the Lumbini Garden, midway between the kingdoms of her husband and parents. Coningham and his colleagues postulate that the open space in the center of the most ancient, timber shrine may have accommodated a tree. Brick temples built later above the timber one also were arranged around the central space, which was unroofed.
To determine the dates of the timber shrine and a previously unknown early brick structure above it, fragments of charcoal and grains of sand were tested using a combination of radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence techniques. Geoarchaeological research has confirmed the presence of ancient tree roots within the temple’s central void.
There is a debate about when the Buddha was born — historians have theorized anywhere between 623 BC and 340 B.C. — and until now, the earliest archaeological evidence of Buddhist temples dates to the reign of Indian Emperor Ashoka (reigned 269 B.C. to 232 B.C.), a convert to Buddhism who built stupas, monasteries and shrines all over his empire. One of them was a brick cross-wall temple at Lumbini, in fact, under whose remains the archaeological team dug to find the earlier shrine.
It was an engraved pillar erected by Ashoka that identified Lumbini after it was lost to the jungle for centuries. In 1896, German archaeologist Dr. Alois Anton Fuhrer (who was later revealed to have been a prolific forger of Buddhist relics) found a 22-foot pillar inscribed “Twenty years after his coronation, Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi [aka Ashoka], visited this place and worshiped because here the Buddha, the sage of the Sakyans, was born. He had a stone figure and a pillar set up and because the Lord was born here, the village of Lumbini was exempted from tax and required to pay only one eighth of the produce.”
Another inscription found higher up on the pillar where pilgrims left their marks in the centuries after Ashoka was made by King Ripu Malla in the early 14th century. Somewhere in the 15th century, the temple stopped drawing pilgrims for unknown reasons and the buildings fell into ruin. The rediscovery of the site in the late 19th century re-established it as an important pilgrimage destination and made excavating down to the earliest levels impossible until recently. Archaeologists dug inside the central temple building as monks and pilgrims prayed around them.
Having said all this, there is no specific evidence that proves this 6th century shrine was dedicated to the Buddha. Tree shrines have a history in South Asia long predating Buddhism, perhaps going as far back as the Neolithic, and in the early days of Buddhism there were other active religions in the mix like Jainism, Brahmanism and local cults. It’s still an exciting find with great potential to elucidate a time we know very little about.
In June of 2003, builder Richard Mason was renovating a home on Lindisfarne, the tidal island also known as the Holy Island because of the 7th century monastery founded by Saint Aidan that brought Christianity to the north of England, when he found a funny old jug while hand digging under a drain pipe. He looked inside, didn’t see anything and tossed it in the back of his van. He stored the jug in his father’s basement and thought nothing of it until Christmas of 2011 when he decided to clean all the mud and muck off of it and give it another look. During the cleaning process, Mason tipped the jar upside down and a little shower of gold and silver coins fell out.
When the holidays were over, Richard brought the jug and its contents to a local historian in his hometown of Rothbury, Northumberland, who referred the find as potential treasure to experts at the British Museum. They determined that the vessel is a Frechen stoneware Bartmann jug from the Rhineland area. It has a brown glaze characteristic of Frechen vessels and its design is of type fabricated between 1551 and 1700. Its contents were deemed treasure trove at a recent coroner’s inquest in Northumberland.
The jug holds 10 gold and seven silver coins ranging in date from the 1430s to the 1560s. They were minted in England, France, Italy, Saxony and the Burgundian Netherlands (Belgium today). Most of the coins are English, four of them from the time of the Great Debasement (1542–1551), when Henry VIII and Edward VI replaced a portion of the precious metals in minted coins with base metals like copper. Even so, the three debased gold coins are still more than 80% fine metal, which is an excellent figure for debased coinage. The rest of the silver and gold coins are over 90% fine.
One the coins stands out as a particular rarity. It’s a scudo from the central Italian city of Ancona and it’s so rare that the Italian coin experts Mason sought out only know of one other similar but not identical example. It bears the Medici crest and the name of Pope Clement VII, aka Giulio de’ Medici. Ancona was an oligarchic republic until 1532 when it became part of the Papal States and Clement died in 1534, so the coin must have been minted inside that two-year window.
The scudo is the most valuable coin in the group and because of its rarity, the most difficult to assess. A silver thaler minted in Annaberg, Saxony, in 1548, is another unusual find in England. The total value of the 17 coins in the 16th century would have been around £6, just over half the yearly pay of the average worker at the time (£10) and just under a seventh of what a gentleman would need to live on (£40).
The Treasure Valuation Committee is currently studying the coins to assess their fair market value. Once they’ve made their determination (the announcement is planned for December 5th), the Great North Museum at Hancock in Newcastle hopes to raise the money and acquire the hoard for permanent display. The finder and the landowner will split the proceeds and the finder will receive something even more precious albeit intangible: the hoard will be named after his family.
When it goes on show, The British Museum will refer to the collection as “The Mason Hoard”. “It’s something to tell the grandbairns about,” said Mr Mason.
“I’m honoured to have the family name attributed to such a find. My dad is in his 70s and he still works with me on the building sites six days a week.
“He volunteers with the local history society and having his name in The British Museum will mean a lot.
The house the Masons were renovating when Richard found the hoard was built in 1962, but underneath it lie the remains of a building from the 14th century. Based on the date of the more recent coin and their overall condition, experts believe the hoard was probably buried around 1562. In a freakish coincidence, another coin hoard from around the same time was buried in the exact same spot. It was 50 silver coins, the latest from 1562, found in a Bartmann jug, no less. It was unearthed by builder Alan Short in 1962 when they installed the drainpipe that Richard Mason dug under to find this hoard. The Great North Museum has the hoard Short found as well.
Not freakish enough a coincidence for you? Here’s another:
Although it was an exciting discovery at the time, it was even more interesting when Mr Mason found himself in the company of Mr Short by sheer coincidence 40 years later.
“We were both working on the same building job,” he said. “We were both sat eating our sandwiches, when we started to talk about the sorts of things we’d found while working on jobs.
“I said I’d dug up a pot filled with coins on a site at Holy Island that was now in a museum and he said he’d dug up a similar pot in almost the same place 40 years earlier. It’s unbelieveable how small a world it is.”
The glass roof covering the Ara Pacis Augustae (the Altar of Augustan Peace) is leaking water over the marble monument built in 9 B.C. to celebrate Augustus’ military success in Hispania and Gaul. Torrential rains in Italy have caused major flooding and even loss of life in Sardinia, the region worst hit by downpours. The new roof, built in 2006, was unable to withstand the pressure and flooded the enclosure the night of Tuesday, November 19th. The night staff didn’t notice, leaving the water to accumulate until the next morning. The museum was closed for the day so conservators could drape the Altar with tarpaulins and mop and vacuum the water off the floor. It reopened on Thursday the 21st.
The enclosure that is supposed to be protecting the symbol of Augustus’victories has been a bone of contention from the beginning. Built in 2006, the airy glass structure was designed by eminent American architect Richard Meier, designer of the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the High Museum in Atlanta. Its modernist design was controversial as many felt it was not in keeping with the classical and Fascist neo-classical architecture of the historic center. Francesco Rutelli, the center-left mayor of Rome when the designs were first proposed in 2000, strongly endorsed Meier’s vision, believing there was room in the ancient and baroque downtown for modernist structures as well.
An aide of Meier’s flew to Rome to determine why the roof leaked. His assessment was that leak was caused by a failure to perform necessary maintenance. If that’s so, then that was a design flaw too because seven-year-old roofs shouldn’t need a lot of maintenance to keep the water out.
On a completely unrelated note, Happy Thanksgiving, USers! I’m going to give thanks for that 30-year warranty on my roof.
The Bay Psalm Book, the first book printed in what would become the United States, has sold at a Sotheby’s auction tonight for $14,165,000. This is a new world record for a printed book, eclipsing the $11.5 million James Audubon’s Birds of America sold for in 2010. Even so, this astronomical figure is below expectations. The pre-sale estimate was $15,000,000 — $30,000,000.
There was much excitement surrounding this sale because there are only 11 surviving copies of the Bay Psalm Book, and only six of them still have their title pages. Seventeen hundred copies of the book were printed in 1640 on a press imported from London and operated in Boston by indentured locksmith Stephen Daye. This was a huge number considering the Massachusetts Bay Colony only had an estimated 3,500 families living there at the time for a total population of around 15,000 or 20,000.
So many were published because the entire congregation singing psalms (as opposed to a dedicated choir) was an important part of Puritan worship and the ministers of the colony were unhappy with the psalm books used by the Church of England and the separatist Pilgrims. The former they deemed to be replete with interpolations and added verbiage not in the original Hebrew; the latter they found difficult to sing. So a group of 30 “pious and learned” ministers were tasked with created a new more literal book of psalms to use a hymnal.
The volume was instantly popular and a later edition continued to be printed well into the 18th century. Because this was a book meant to be used early and often, those original 1,700 copies were hard worn. By the mid-19th century, it was extremely rare and highly sought after by sacrilegiously unscrupulous collectors. By the mid-20th century, Bay Psalm Books were so rare that a 1947 sale of one set a record of its own when it commanded $151,000. That was the last time one came up for public auction until tonight.
That copy, purchased by rare book dealer Abraham Rosenbach acting for a consortium of Yale University alumni, is now in the Yale University Library. Eight of the other surviving copies are also owned by libraries, including the Library of Congress and the Bodleian. The last two are actually in the Boston Public Library, but they belong to Boston’s Old South Church (est. 1669). They decided earlier this year to sell the book because they have another even more pristine copy of it and they needed the money to fund their extensive ministries. They obviously have a very positive attitude and don’t appear to be disappointed at all that it didn’t garner the $30,000,000 figure bandied about.
Nancy S. Taylor, Senior Minister and CEO of Old South Church, said: “Old South Church has millions of reasons to be thankful this Thanksgiving. We have re-acquainted America with this amazing book and its extraordinary story. And, we have turned it into fuel for our ministries – from homelessness to housing, from youth violence prevention to elder care, from food insecurity to public education. We are delighted.”
In a rare break from the endless litany of anonymous private collectors, we actually know who the buyer is and the news is just about as good as it gets. The book was purchased by private equity billionaire and history buff David Rubenstein. He is a philanthropist of the old school and has spent tens of millions preserving history for the public. Last year he donated $7.5 million to restore the Washington Monument after it was damaged by an earthquake in 2011. After buying the only privately-owned copy of the Magna Carta for $21.3 million, he loaned it to the National Archives and then gave them $13.5 million to build it a new custom display case.
His plans for the Bay Psalm Book are equally civic-minded. He will loan the volume to libraries all over the country (interest in this book was so great when the news broke of the impending sale that it traveled to Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland, Houston, San Francisco and Texas, drawing crowds wherever it went) and then will choose one library to place it in on long-term loan.
The LeBeau Plantation mansion in Arabi, St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, was burned to the ground by a group of thwarted ghost hunters in the early hours of Friday, November 22nd. The house had survived war, fire and hurricanes for 160 years and was one of only two plantation houses in the area still standing. Now all that’s left of it are its four chimneys, still surprisingly straight and uncharred amidst the smoldering ruins, and part of an internal brick wall. It is unrecoverable.
The mansion was built around 1854 by Francios Barthelemy LeBeau, a wealthy businessman from New Orleans, as an elegant weekend retreat overlooking the Mississippi River. It was a lavish Greek Revival mansion with a central cupola and 16 rooms spread over 10,000 square feet. The internal doorways were 13 feet high. Although LeBeau built all but the one central staircase outside to avoid the tax on interior staircases, he spared no expense on decorative features like black Egyptian marble mantelpieces, ornamental plaster, imported European wall-to-wall carpeting and nine-foot mirrors in gilt frames. It was the most ornate plantation on the lower Mississippi.
LeBeau died at the young age of 48 just months after construction on the house was completed. His left the property to his son Louis who along with his mother Christine Sylvanie decided to live in the mansion full-time and make it a working plantation. The site had been used to farm everything from cypresses to rice to indigo, but the soil was too impoverished to grow high intensity crops. Instead, they grew oranges and raised cattle for sale to local markets and slaughterhouses.
It remained in the family until 1905 when it was sold to a realty company who converted it into the Friscoville Hotel. This was not just a nice place to spend the night. It was a hotel, bar and casino, the fanciest gambling establishment of several along the Friscoville Road. New Orleans had outlawed gambling in the city limits of Orleans Parish, and Arabi, once part of Orleans Parish but incorporated as a town in St. Bernard Parish in the 1880s, was ideally located to take advantage of the ousted gambling traffic. You could get there on a New Orleans city streetcar.
It was a rollicking spot during Prohibition, a speakeasy and casino that was regularly raided by police. Gun turrets were installed in closets next to the front door, although there is no record of them ever having been used. In 1928, the mansion and the other Friscoville casinos were raided on the orders of Governor Huey Long and 225 people were arrested.
By the 1930s, it was being used as a private home again. It passed through various hands until it was purchased by real estate entrepreneur Joseph Mereux in 1967. The house was in bad shape by then. Mereux installed caretaker on the site and he restored it after a 1986 fire damaged the cupola and interior, but the overall condition of the mansion was still in decline. After Mereux’s death in 1992, he bequeathed the property to the Mereux Foundation which has been administering it ever since. Calls for preservation led the Foundation to stabilize the house in 2003, a project that doubtless saved the home’s life when Hurricane Katrina struck, devastating St. Bernard Parish.
It came out of the storm in terrible condition, with windows broken and holes in the roof. Already a popular spot for vandals and thrill-seekers who had long heard tales of the old house being haunted by mistreated slaves, a woman in white or mysterious lights in the cupola, the damage from the storm made the mansion a target for looters who stripped the interior of many of its prized features.
Still, as long as it stood, there was hope that it might be revived. The Mereux Foundation, widely criticized for its failure to maintain the historic property (among many other controversies), was said to be considering several restoration plans. Those hopes were dashed Friday.
The men, between the ages of 17 and 31, arrived at the home late Thursday night, likely entering through a gap in the fence around the property that had been cut out by other curious trespassers over the years, according to Col. John Doran, who oversees the Sheriff’s Office’s criminal enforcement.
Doran said the men appear to have become frustrated when no ghosts materialized. Police believe that in a haze of alcohol and marijuana, one of them decided to burn the place to the ground.
Seven men have been arrested on arson, burglary, criminal damage and trespassing. Dusten Davenport of Fort Worth, Texas, the genius who started stacking wood to punish the house for not being ghostly enough, is the oldest of the group at 31.
The Maltese Falcon sold for $3,500,000 ($4,085,000 including buyer’s premium) at a Bonhams auction in New York today. It was part of a sale of movie memorabilia curated in conjunction with the eminent film nerds of the Turner Classic Movies cable channel, source of all high-density bottlenecks on my DVR. This particular falcon was one of two surviving lead props made for the classic movie starring Humphrey Bogart as Dashiell Hammett’s private investigator Sam Spade.
When I first wrote about the sale of the iconic Black Bird, I mistakenly thought this example was the second lead prop made by artist Fred Sexton after the first was damaged during shooting. In fact, the one that sold today is the one that was damaged. It has a bent tail garnered in an epic incident on the set.
One of the Taplinger memos [, Robert S. Taplinger was Warner Bros.' Director of Publicity,] mentions a significant incident during filming of the finale: actress Lee Patrick (as Spade’s secretary Effie, the woman who delivers the falcon to his apartment) dropped the statuette while handing it over to Bogart. Bogart pushed Patrick out of the way of the falling bird, but in so doing his own foot caught the brunt of the falcon’s weight, causing him to injure two toenails. The right tail feather of the falcon was reportedly damaged in the fall, and the damage is visible as Sam carries the bird out of his apartment at the end of the film
The stuff that dreams are made of, as Spade described the bird, was the star of the auction, but there were a number of other wonderful pieces. Leaf through the catalog to spot your favorite. I defy you not to swoon at the 1940 Buick Phaeton from Casablanca that was so prominently featured in the immortal final scenes of the movie. This is the vehicle in which Renault drives Rick, Ilsa and Victor to the airport. The “here’s looking at you” final dialogue between Rick and Ilsa takes place next to the car. It unexpectedly sold for $380,000, below the low estimate of $450,000.
On the less expensive end of things, I was charmed by a portrait of Harpo Marx as Gainsborough’s Blue Boy painted by John Decker in the 1930s. It sold for $9,500. Mary Pickford’s monogrammed Louis Vuiton trunk went for $2,600, a steal for vintage Vuiton with Mary Pickford’s initials emblazoned on the side while Mr. Vuiton’s were discretely relegated to the brass locks. It was a subtler time for high fashion.
It wasn’t just the older classics represented. Indy’s braided leather bullwhip from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was bought for $8,000. A can of new! delicious Soylent Green, ostensibly the “miracle food of high energy plankton gathered from the oceans of the world” but I get the feeling they might be leaving out a key ingredient, went for $1,800. It comes with a Soylent Green cracker which is actually a piece of painted balsa wood. Movie magic, y’all.
From the sexy days of pre-code silent films, the snake headdress and pyramid earrings worn by Theda Bara in the 1917 Fox version of Cleopatra sold for $28,000. I wonder if her impressive risqué snake bra has survived. It reminds of Princess Lea’s famous gold bikini from Return of the Jedi, only Theda’s version offers significantly less coverage.
My favorite non-Bogey lot is a 1929 nude portrait of Clara Bow painted by Hungary artist Geza Kende. The portrait was commissioned by a far more famous Hungarian, Bela Lugosi, when he was still treading the boards.
In 1929, Lugosi was touring the United States appearing in the play Dracula, soon to be optioned by Universal for a film adaptation. One of the audience members at a Los Angeles performance was the silent film star Clara Bow. Sound films had recently taken hold in Hollywood and Bow was anxious about whether her thick Brookyln accent would appeal to audiences. Having read in the press that Lugosi spoke his lines phonetically without knowing English, Bow was determined to find out more about the Hungarian actor. Bow biographer David Stenn describes their meeting: “Clara sat transfixed through Dracula, and when the final curtain fell, she made a beeline for Lugosi’s dressing room. ‘How d’ya know your lines?’ she immediately asked him. Lugosi, who still spoke no English, gesticulated that he learned from cues by other actors. Without further ado, Clara invited him home’”
Clara Bow was so game. I love her. Oh, and her accent is basically non-existent, to modern ears anyway. Here she is in 1932′s Call Her Savage:
The painting sold for $24,000.
A team of archaeologists from the University of Valencia, Spain, and the University of San Carlos of Guatemala have discovered the first known Mayan fresco, a mural painted on wet plaster, near the archaeological site of La Blanca in northern Guatemala close to the border with Belize. All the other extant wall paintings done by the Maya were created using a dry paint technique. These frescoes date to the eighth century A.D., the Late Classic period, when they were painted on the walls of room six in Chilonche Palace. The room was sealed in antiquity, leaving the murals in exceptional condition while those in other rooms of the palace have faded to near nothingness.
“It’s an extraordinary discovery because of the information it provides, both historically and because of the pictorial technique and from an artistic point of view they are exceptional. There are three aspects [to this find]: the history, the pictorial technique and the artistic excellence; the great plasticity of the figures, the colors and also for the good state of conservation, very good for a site in tropical conditions, said Cristina Vidal, [scientific director of the archaeological project].
The Maya used natural pigments to create the brilliant colors of their murals. The most famous is Maya blue, still being studied today by scientists keen to understand how its components, mainly indigo and a white clay mineral called palygorskite, came together to create such a rich and durable pigment. The newly discovered frescoes include some Maya blue elements. The dominant color is a red made by mixing ground up iron oxide with water. The white background was made with white lime, the blacks and greys with charcoal and the yellow with the mineral goethite.
There are adult men, women and children depicted in the murals, many of them labelled with their names. Identifying each figure’s name, date and any historical data is a top priority for the team. The paintings show people of all different types and classes bringing an offering to an illustrious personage of some kind. Archaeologists believe this is a historical event being depicted, not a mythological scene.
The Palace of Chilonche, while just 10 miles southwest of the archaeological zone of La Blanca, is on privately held land. This makes it basically impossible to police. The site has been looted on a regular basis and it makes protecting and conserving the finds a challenge. It will therefore not be opened to tourists any time soon.
Now off I go to check every Mayan mural post I ever wrote for sloppy use of the word “fresco.” I know it means wet painting, but in my eternal search for a varied vocabulary, I’m sure I used it to describe what I now know were exclusively dry painted works.
pastry-technq-msg (11K) 10/13/13 Techniques in pastry making.
pot-luck-fsts-msg (22K) 11/24/13 Handling 'pot luck' feasts in the SCA.
p-sumpt-laws-msg (17K) 11/24/13 Period sumptuary laws.