Arts and Sciences

Stinky cheese found on 17th c. Swedish shipwreck

History Blog - Wed, 2016-07-27 15:09

Divers have recovered a tin of very old, very stinky cheese from the wreck of the Swedish royal ship Kronan off the coast of Öland in the Baltic Sea. The ship went down in 1676, so the cheese is 340 years old. (One hopes it hadn’t been on the ship a full year or more before it went down.)

“It looks a bit like some kind of granular Roquefort cheese. It’s been in the mud, so it’s reasonably well preserved, but at the same time it has been at the bottom of the sea for 340 years – we’re not talking Tutankhamun’s burial chamber,” [Lars Einarsson of the Kalmar County Museum] said.

Einarsson said the thick, gooey find smells strongly of cheese and yeast.

“I think it smells quite nice, because I like exotic food. But I would not want to taste it.”

I wonder why. What, you can’t handle 340-years worth of bacterial growth in unpasteurized cheese, Mr. Einarsson? Somebody get Andrew Zimmern over there.

The cheese is being kept cool at the Kalmar County Museum for now. It will be subjected to a battery of scientific test to identify it first as cheese (it’s almost certainly a dairy product, but it could have gone bad and been contaminated by God knows what to make it clumpy and smell like cheese), and then perhaps what type it is.

The royal ship Kronan was built by shipwright Francis Sheldon who had fled England after participating in a failed attempt to free King Charles I from prison. He was received in Sweden most warmly by King Charles X Gustavus who promptly put him to work building ships for his navy. In 1655, the Swedish admiralty hired Sheldon as master shipwright of the navy. He was in the right place at the right time. In the 1660s Sweden began a program of replacing its aging fleet with new warships, larger, more heavily armoured and armed, capable of withstanding the popular tactic of brutal broadside attacks that had replaced the old-fashioned style of short-range artillery exchanges culminating in boarding the wounded but functional enemy vessel.

Construction on the Kronan began on October 27th, 1665, when the keel was laid in Stockholm’s royal shipyard. It was meant to replace the previous flagship and bearer of the name which was by then 33 years old. Made entirely out of oak (about 20 acres of a 100-year-old oak forest was cut down to make the ship), the Kronan was 197 feet long and 42 feet wide, the third or fourth largest ship in the world at that time. It took another three years before the hull was laid. The admiralty and Sheldon fought the whole time, them accusing him of delaying construction by working on private projects, including a lucrative side business selling some of that oak to England; he accused them of holding back promised funds making it impossible for him and his crew to do the job.

Finally in 1672 the Kronan was finished. The gaudy ship, so known because of the decorative style meant to intimidate the enemy with gloriously gilded details, sailed for the first time in December in the celebration of Charles XI’s coronation. When loaded for bear, the ship carried 126 bronze cannons on three decks. It was manned by a large crew of 500 sailors and 350 soldiers. In 1675, the new Kronan officially became the flagship of Sweden’s royal navy. It only had a year to live.

During a storm before the beginning of an action at the Battle of Öland on June 1st, 1676, the Kronan capsized after making a sharp turn with too much sail unfurled. The gunpowder stores ignited and the bow of the ship exploded. Laden with cannon, coin, weapons and the personal items of nearly a thousand men who called it home much of the year, the Kronan sank rapidly, taking 800 souls with it. Only 50 men survived. Its fellow gaudy ship the Svärdet, whose wreck was found in 2011, sank after a fireship attack in the same battle, an immense toll on Sweden’s navy inflicted in just one encounter.

Some of the cannons were salvaged from the Kronan wreck in the 1680s, but it wasn’t until 200 years later that the wreck of the Kronan was rediscovered off the southwest coast of Öland and fully explored by maritime archaeologists. It was found by Anders Franzén, famous for having found the exceptional wreck of the Vasa in Stockholm harbour, and has been dived regularly ever since. In the 36 years since its discovery, more than 30,000 artifacts have been recovered from the wreck site, including Sweden’s largest ever find of gold coins — 255 ducats minted in Sweden, central Europe, Egypt, Syria and Turkey — and Sweden’s largest ever find of silver coins.

The dives this month that discovered the cheese also found another 14 gold coins, the most that have been recovered the Kronan in 16 years, a large number of pharmaceuticals, many of them for gastrointestinal illnesses (cheese, we’re looking in your direction), and a very rare gold and diamond ring. A jeweler in Kalmar who examined the ring said it was the oldest diamond ring he’d ever seen.

The wreck is about 90% mapped now. Lars Einarsson estimates it will take another three years of summer dives to complete the survey, which means the Kronan will have provided archaeologists with fascinating new material every year for 40 years. The Kalmar County Museum has a permanent exhibition dedicated to the Kronan with many of the artifacts recovered from wreck on display. Visitors can even load one of the cannons.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Canal system found under Pakal’s tomb

History Blog - Tue, 2016-07-26 11:30

Archaeologists with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) have discovered a system of canals that was built underneath the Temple of Inscriptions in Palenque where the Maya king K’inich Janaab’ Pakal (603-683 A.D.) was buried. The main canal is made of rows of large cut stones, clay and rubble. It has a limestone floor and is capped by a roof made of larger stones. It is a near square at 50 x 40 cm (1.6 x 1.3 feet) and is about 17 meters (55.8 feet) long. The main channel follows a straight line south under the temple, eventually widening into a basin 80 x 90 x 60 cm. To the southeast, there’s a second smaller channel (40 x 20 cm) that runs parallel to the main channel but about 20 cm higher level. The second channel eventually joins the main one which changes direction to the southwest and goes on at least another five meters (16.4 feet).

Because the canals are so small, archaeologists could only explore them by sending a remote-controlled vehicle equipped with a camera. The vehicle could not go around the sharp turn in the main canal, so as of now we don’t know where the canal ends. Archaeologists believe they are connected to an active water source as there is still running water in the canals today. Construction dates to the Maya late Classic Period (600-900 A.D.).

Excavations began in 2012 after a crack developed in the pyramid. A geophysical study found anomalies under the pyramid’s front steps. Concerned there might be a sinkhole or weak spot that could lead to serious structural damage to the pyramid, archaeologists dug test pits at the bottom of the temple’s main facade. They encountered a layer of large stones sealed together with clay. Underneath that was another layer of heavy stones packed with mud, and then a third and fourth layer of the same. It was under the fourth stone layer than the channel was found. The stone layers are all level and their width matches that of the north wall of Pakal’s burial chamber.

Pakal, who ruled the city-state of Palenque for 68 years, the longest known reign of any ruler in the Western hemisphere and the 30th longest reign in the world, began construction of his funerary monument in the last decade of his life. After he died, Pakal was deified and the temple completed by his son and successor K’inich Kan Bahlam II. When the tomb was discovered by archaeologist Alberto Ruz Lhuillier in 1952, Pakal’s remains were found in a sarcophagus with an elaborately carved lid. His face was covered by a jade death mask with large ear flares, also made of jade. The ear pieces have an inscription that claims that in order to be received by the god of the underworld, Pakal had to submerge himself in the waters of the rain god Chaac.

One of the newly discovered canals run directly underneath Pakal’s burial chamber, and the matching dimensions of the stone cap layers are probably not a coincidence. Archaeologists believe the canals were built first, tapping into the unknown source that is still supplying fresh water to the tunnels today, and the funerary pyramid constructed above them. One possibility is that they were originally built to drain rainwater from the terraces of Temple XXIV, just south of the Temple of the Inscriptions, but they wouldn’t need a river or spring source for that purpose. Although there has been no vertical conduit found connecting the burial chamber to the canal below, archaeologists believe there was a religious significance to the canals in keeping with the inscription on the ear flares on top of any practical purpose. The builders may have directed a river to flow under his tomb so that the king’s soul could travel unimpeded to the underworld via the waters of Chaac.

Investigations into the channel system will continue. Archaeologists would like to explore the main channel to its end, if not by remote camera that by using geophysical tools like ground penetrating radar to track the underground architectural features.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Explore the Apollo 11 Command Module

History Blog - Mon, 2016-07-25 02:20

The Smithsonian’s 3D model of the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia is complete and ready to explore with a click of a mouse. The incredibly close quarters were home to Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins during the first manned lunar landing voyage from the launch of the Saturn V rocket on July 16th, 1969, until splashdown on July 24th. (Armstrong and Aldrin spent a day or so on the Lunar Module Eagle.)

The creation of the model was challenging thanks to the reflective aluminium surfaces and the intricacies of the interior dashboard. All the buttons, toggles and gizmos put the laser scanners through their paces, so much so that the technology used by the institution to scan other objects in its collection couldn’t quite cut it. The Smithsonian partnered with Autodesk Inc. whose experts created custom scanning equipment and whose advanced software converted the scan data into a model that is pretty damn amazing, to my civilian eye.

Now you can turn around in the cramped space, examining every detail in high resolution. You couldn’t get anywhere near that close at the National Air and Space Museum. You can’t see inside the Command Module at all, in fact. Click the quote bubble icon on the top left of the screen to get a diagram and annotations about the compartment. If you also click on the marker icon (the one that looks like a Ouija paddle), labels will pop up throughout the space. Click on the labels to get more details. The globe icon at the top gives you an excellent guided tour through the labeled areas. That was my favorite because of how smoothly it moves from stage to stage.

The Smithsonian has also made 3D print ready files available for download should you wish to print up a your own miniature Apollo 11 Command Module, and virtual reality renders for viewing with VR goggles. They have also some of the raw data available in medium resolution. They’re working on getting the highest resolution models available.

This video gives an overview of the complex laser scanning process of the Command Module.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

40,000-year-old rope-making tool found in famed German cave

History Blog - Sun, 2016-07-24 01:06

Archaeologists excavating the Hohle Fels Cave in the Swabian Jura of southwestern Germany have discovered a 40,000-year-old tool used to make rope. The piece was unearthed in August of last year by an international team led by Prof. Nicholas Conard of the University of Tübingen. Carved from mammoth ivory, the object is eight inches long and the wider side is dotted with four holes 7-9 millimeters in diameter. The holes are incised with deep spirals which are not decorative, but practical features that help thread plant fibers into strong rope.

Some of the most important Paleolithic artifacts in the world have been found in the Hohle Fels Cave, including the Venus of Schelklingen, the oldest known human figurative art, and the world’s oldest flutes. The recently discovered tool was found in the same layer of the cave as the Venus and flute, which is how it was dated to around 40,000 years ago.

Rope or string prints have been found before in Paleolithic clay and there are some depictions of ropes in artwork from this period, but next to nothing is known about the process by which the first anatomically modern humans in Europe produced rope.

Similar finds in the past have usually been interpreted as shaft-straighteners, decorated artworks or even musical instruments. Thanks to the exceptional preservation of the find and rigorous testing by the team in Liège, the researchers have demonstrated that the tool was used for making rope out of plant fibers available near Hohle Fels. “This tool answers the question of how rope was made in the Paleolithic”, says Veerle Rots, “a question that has puzzled scientists for decades.”

Excavators found the rope-making tool in archaeological horizon Va near the base of the Aurignacian deposits of the site. Like the famous female figurines and the flutes recovered from the Hohle Fels, the rope-making tool dates to about 40,000 years ago, the time when modern humans arrived in Europe. The discovery underlines the importance of fiber technology and the importance of rope and string for mobile hunters and gatherers trying to cope with challenges of life in the Ice Age.

Researchers from the University of Liège in Belgium demonstrate how the tool was used to make rope from green plants:

Researchers test the durability of the finished rope:

The ivory tool went on display yesterday at the Blaubeuren Prehistoric Museum where the Hohle Fels Venus and three bone and ivory flutes are already on view to the public.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Roman coin hoard found by students in Spain

History Blog - Sat, 2016-07-23 04:00

A team of archaeology students has unearthed a Republican-era Roman coin hoard at the Empúries site on the Costa Brava of Catalonia, northeastern Spain. The hoard was discovered secreted in a hole in the ground inside a 1st century B.C. domus. A small ceramic pot shaped like an amphora contained silver denarii from the same period as the home. This was a great deal of money in the 1st century B.C. when a soldier’s yearly pay was 225 denarii and two denarii would pay rent for a month. There is evidence of a fire destroying the property shortly thereafter, likely making the treasure irretrievable.

The vessel still holding its hoard of coins was carefully excavated in a lab. Much to the archaeologists astonishment, the little amphora held 200 coins, the largest group of coins ever found in the Roman city of Empúries. They appear to be in good condition. Once the coins are cleaned and conserved, they will be identified and catalogued.

The ancient city of Emporion was founded in the 6th century B.C. by Greek colonists from Phocaea in western Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). Its coastal location between Massalia (Marseille), also founded by Phocaeans, and the major trade center of Tartessos in southwestern Iberia, made Emporion a prosperous town. Its population boomed when the Phocaea was conquered by Cyrus II of Persia in 530 B.C. and refugees moved to the colony, making it the largest Greek settlement on the Iberian Peninsula.

When much of the rest of Iberia was conquered by Rome, Emporion was allowed to remain independent, but the city backed the wrong horse during the civil wars of the 1st century B.C., and when Pompey was defeated by Caesar, Emporion was occupied by Roman legions. A new city, Emporiae, was built adjacent to the Greek town and populated by Roman veterans. The domus and insula are part of the Roman city.

The students are part of the Empúries Archaeology Course offered by the Archaeological Museum of Catalonia. It’s open to students working on an Archaeology or History degrees and graduate students, ideally with excavation experience. The program has been running every year without interruption since 1908. This year, the 30 students enrolled in the course have been excavating the tabernae (shops) and living spaces on the southern side of an insula (apartment building), with a particular focus on ceramics from the Late Republican period. The domus and its wine cellar occupied the southern side of Insula 30 in the earliest days of the Roman city. The room with the hoard was on the southwest side of the building.

The pot in which the denarii were stashed puts the discovery of the hoard exactly on topic, plus a nice bonus of 200 silver coins. Even more on topic, the team also found 24 wine amphorae of Italian origin and a bronze simpulum, a long-handled ladle used to extract wine from the large vessels, in the wine cellar of the domus.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Gems of Australia’s rich quilting history

History Blog - Fri, 2016-07-22 06:01

A new exhibit at the National Gallery of Victoria is putting on display an exceptional collection of quilts and related pieces from Australia’s rich history of patchwork. Making the Australian Quilt: 1800–1950 brings together almost 100 quilts, blankets, coverlets, and patchwork clothes from museums and private collections all over the country. They date to the first decades of English colonization through the middle of the 20th century. Some of the pieces have never been on public display, like the Hexagon quilt made in 1811 by Sarah Wall (nee Litherland or Leatherland), an English convict who arrived in Australia about the HMS Earl Cornwallis in 1801, 13 years after the first convicts arrived in Botany Bay and eight years after the first free settlers. Hers is the earliest known pierced hexagon quilt made in Australia.

Others are so fragile they’ve only been shown very rarely. The most signficant of these is The Rajah Quilt, made in 1841 by the female convicts transported to Australia aboard the HMS Rajah. It is the only known surviving quilt made during the voyage from London to Van Diemen’s Land. The necessary supplies were donated by The British Ladies Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners. Founded in 1821 by the Quaker prison reform advocate Elizabeth Fry, the society distributed bibles, combs, sewing supplies for personal use and all the materials needed for a collaborative quilt — 100 needles, pins, white, black, red and blue cotton thread, black wool, 24 hanks of coloured thread, and two pounds of patchwork pieces — to female convicts, first at Newgate prison, and then to transportees.

Elizabeth Fry had a great impact on the way women sentenced to transportation were treated. She ensured they were taken to the ships in closed carriages so they wouldn’t be subject to the stone-throwing, filth projectiles and derision of the public. Loaded onto ships weeks before they sailed, the prisoners were horribly neglected. Fry and the ladies of the Society visited them every day, tending to their needs and giving them care packages that included the needlecraft supplies.

Fry thought patchwork in particular was ideal employment for women prisoners, because it taught them how to sew and, because it’s so complex and time-consuming, it gave them something to focus on during the long dreary hours of confinement. At the end, they’d have new skills and a beautiful result to show for their hard work. Patchwork converted the drudgery of a prison sentence, or a dangerous, unpleasant three-month ship voyage across the world, into productive time. It also had a meditative quality, an inward-looking contemplation which in Fry’s Quaker philosophy led to spiritual salvation.

The 180 female convicts on the Rajah were given patchwork materials by the Society and guidance in the person of Miss Keiza Hayter. Hayter was not a convict. She had worked with Fry at the Millbank Penitentiary, and Fry recommended her to Lady Jane Franklin to help found the Tasmanian Ladies’ Society for the Reformation of Female Prisoners. Yes, that Lady Jane Franklin. John Franklin was lieutenant-governor of Van Diemen’s Land when the Rajah unloaded its women convicts and their quilt, and Lady Franklin was in regular contact with Elizabeth Fry. It was Fry who inspired her prison reform efforts in Tasmania, a colony largely populated with current and former convicts, although Jane did not share Fry’s focus on rehabilitation. Lady Franklin believed hard labour, long stretches of solitary confinement and shaving female prisoners’ heads were more effective means to instill “corrective discipline” than contemplation and job training.

Keiza Hayter’s mission on the Rajah was to instill useful values and skills in the transportees. Part of that was the improvement of their minds and characters through needlework. Experts believe Hayter oversaw the design of the quilt. It has a central square of Broderie Perse (appliquéd chintz that resembles Persian embroidery) from which twelve frames radiate forming a medallion quilt. Florals and birds decorate the center and frames. Experts believe at least 29 of the transportees worked on the quilt. The passenger manifest lists 15 women whose professions were tailoring/needlework, but there’s evidence on the quilt itself that novices worked on it as well. Small bloodstains were probably left by less experienced women when they stuck themselves with needles.

A silk yarn inscription expresses the convicts’ proper sentiments of gratitude and industriousness.

TO THE LADIES
of the
Convict ship committee.
This quilt worked by the Convicts
of the ship Rajah during their voyage
to van Diemans Land is presented as a
testimony to the gratitude with which
they remember their exertions for their
welfare while in England and during
their passage and also as proof that
they have not neglected the Ladies
kind admonition of being industrious.

June 1841

The quilt is now in the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Australia. It has survived in remarkable condition, all told, but it is very fragile and light-sensitive so for conservation’s sake, it is only displayed once a year.

That’s just scratching the surface of the beautiful works on view at this exhibition which opens today and runs through November 16th. Because the museum was kind enough to supply outstanding photographs of many stand-out pieces and because I know there are many needlework afficionados reading this, here’s a generous complement of quilt porn to take you into the weekend. And not just quilts either. The Press Dress, an unbelievable ball gown worn by Mrs. William W. Dobbs to the the Mayor of Melbourne’s fancy dress ball in 1866, was made of silk satin printed with pages of 14 different Melbourne newspapers, including The Age, The Australasian, Herald and Punch. I love the table cover made from cigar silk, too. Oh! And the Westbury Sampler quilt! It’s all deadly.









Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Indigenous, colonial interaction writ on Caribbean cave walls

History Blog - Thu, 2016-07-21 04:16

A team of British and Puerto Rican archaeologists have discovered a collection of early colonial inscriptions alongside earlier indigenous iconography on the walls of a cave on the Caribbean island of Mona. It’s a unique document of the interaction between indigenous and European culture and at the time of their earliest interactions.

Columbus first encountered Mona, a small island between Hispaniola and Puerto Rico, on his second voyage in 1494. Its location within a day’s canoe trip of the larger islands ensured the indios of Mona were well-connected to interregional trade networks, and when the Spanish arrived, the island found itself on one of the main Atlantic routes to and from the Indies. The indigenous population sold supplies to the ships — cassava bread, water — and produced consumer goods like cotton shirts and hammocks to the first settlers. Thus the people of Mona were involved with Europeans from the beginning, modifying their own behaviors and traditions in response to first contact and colonization, and in turn having an impact on the Spanish as they and their children began to forge a new American identity.

The archaeology of Mona reflects this cultural blending process. European glass beads, storage jars, ceramics, coins and the remains of livestock from 1493 through 1590 have been found on the island mixed with indigenous artifacts — ceramics, tools — and equipment for the processing of food. The vast cave networks dotting the Isle of Mona display the same mixing of cultures in the form of art and inscriptions on the walls and ceilings.

Mona is practically more cave than anything else. Sheer limestone cliffs line the shores, peppered with more than 200 cave systems. Because the surface of the island is thick with plant life, the cool, rocky caves became a sort of subway system where the locals could travel to other points without having to hack their way through dense vegetation. The caves were also the island’s sole source of fresh water. Clear indications of indigenous usage has been found in 30 of the 70 cave systems on the island that have been studied by archaeologists since 2013.

The caves of Mona have the greatest variety of surviving indigenous iconography in the Caribbean. Symbols including geometric shapes, swirling meanders, anthropomorphic and anthrozoomorphic figures have been found on the walls and ceilings of cave chambers. The inscribed caves are hard to get to, their entrances small, person-sized holes high up on the cliff face, and the indigenous artwork only appears in the deep dark inside the caves, far from the light of the entrance. These were likely deliberate choices, as caves and the iconography held religious significance. The Europeans followed, perhaps literally, in indigenous footsteps to add their own religious spin to the sacred spaces of Mona.

In Cave 18, archaeologists found 250 indigenous works on the walls and ceilings 10 chambers and tunnels. The soft, swirling motifs were made by “finger-fluting,” ie, dragging one or more fingers through the mineral and organic deposits on the surfaces, and have been radiocarbon dated to the 14th and 15th century. More than 30 inscriptions in Spanish and Latin followed, applied to the same areas. They include proper names, dates and Christian symbols like crosses and the IHS Christogram.

Unlike the locals who climbed and crouched to apply their artwork to a variety of locations, the Europeans added their stuff where they stood, at about 1.8 meters — average height for Europeans at that time — above the floor. Also unlike the locals, they carved their inscriptions with edged tools into the limestone.

Three inscribed phrases are present in chambers H and K: ‘Plura fecit deus’, ‘dios te perdone’ and ‘verbum caro factum est (bernardo)’. Palaeographic analysis of letter forms, the use of abbreviation and writing conventions place these in the sixteenth century…. ‘Plura fecit deus’, or ‘God made many things’, is the first inscription encountered after entering chamber H. There is no obvious contemporary textual source; the commentary appears to be a spontaneous response to whatever the visitor experienced in the cave. There is a strong spatial inference that ‘things’ is a reference to the extensive indigenous iconography present. The phrase may express the theological crisis of the New World discovery, throwing the personal human experience and reaction into sharp relief. [...]

Particularly striking are two depictions of Calvary. The first consists of three crosses, the central one with the Latin inscription ‘Iesus’ (Jesus) set at a height of over 3m in chamber G…. Stylistically, all three are barred cross-on-base motifs, in use in the sixteenth century; similar examples are found from contemporary contexts in Europe and South America…. A second Calvary panel is made up of two crosses, one of which is a barred cross-on-base, the other a simple two-stroke Latin cross. These flank a pre-existing indigenous anthropomorphic figure. This triptych has clear compositional parallels with representations of Calvary in which the central figure is strikingly cast as an indigenous Jesus.

There are 17 more crosses in the cave, from simple downstroke-and-crosstroke Latin crosses to more complex Potent and Calvary crosses. Some are finger-drawn, probably by converted indios. Many of them were made near and above pre-existing indigenous iconography.

We know it wasn’t indigenous converts doing the carving because several of the Spanish artists did us the courtesy of leaving their Kilroy Wuz Here. From the mid-16th century, Myguel Rypoll, Alonso Pérez Roldan el Mozo and Alonso de Contreras signed the wall. The above-mentioned Bernardo signed off on his “verbum caro factum est” line, and one Capitán Francisco Alegre, a royal official in Puerto Rico in the mid-16th century, signed his name. It’s actually quite impressive considering he was carving it in the wall how similar it is to his actual signature on a page.

[Dr. Alice Samson from the University of Leicester School of Archaeology and Ancient History] said the marks were made by some of the earliest colonisers to arrive in the Americas. These colonisers would have been taken to the caves, places considered particularly sacred, and were responding with respect to what they saw, engaging in a religious dialogue.

“We have this idea of when the first Europeans came to the New World of them imposing a very rigid Christianity. We know a lot about the inquisition in Mexico and Peru and the burning of libraries and the persecution of indigenous religions.

“What we are seeing in this Caribbean cave is something different. This is not zealous missionaries coming with their burning crosses, they are people engaging with a new spiritual realm and we get individual responses in the cave and it is not automatically erasure, it is engagement.”

You can read the full paper published in the journal Antiquity free of charge here.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Oldest papyri from oldest port go on display

History Blog - Wed, 2016-07-20 04:39

Dating to around 2600 B.C., the harbor at Wadi al-Jarf on the Red Sea in Egypt is the oldest port complex ever discovered in the world. It was built during the reign of the Pharaoh Snefru (ca. 2620–2580 B.C.), the founder of the 4th Dynasty, and was primarily used for boat travel to the Egypt’s main copper and turquoise mines on the Sinai Peninsula. An L-shaped pier extended east from the shore into the water for 160 meters (525 feet) before turning southeast for 120 meters (394 feet). Its remains are still clearly visible at low tide. The pier created a breakwater and large sheltered area where ships could be moored. This was confirmed when a group of at least 22 limestone ship anchors were found south of the east branch of the pier.

Carved into limestone hills next to a water spring, archaeologists found a warehouse system of 30 storage galleries, the largest of which are more than 100 feet long. They average about 10 feet wide and eight feet high. The galleries were used to store boat parts, shipping materials and food and water supplies for the seafaring voyages. They were also used to make repairs on ships. There are pottery kilns nearby and large quantities of pottery believed to have been used as a water containers have been found in the galleries.

In 2013, archaeologists discovered hundreds of papyrus fragments, some of them more than two feet long. The papyri had been deposited in front of galleries G1 and G2 where large blocking stones were placed to close off the entrance to the galleries. Written in hieratic (simplified hieroglyphics used by priests and scribes), several of the papyri were dated to the end of the reign of the Pharaoh Khufu (ca. 2580–2550 B.C.). One of the documents was very specific, noting it was written the year after the 13th cattle count of Khufu’s reign. The cattle count was done every other year, so the year after the 13th cattle count was the 27th year, which according to our current best information was the last year of his reign. The precise dating identifies this papyrus as the oldest ever discovered in Egypt.

There are two types of documents in the papyrus group: accounts organized in tables anyone who has ever worked in Excel will immediately recognize, and the logbook of a Memphis official named Merer. The accounting tables record deliveries of food from areas elsewhere in Egypt including the Nile Delta. Revenue is recorded in red; outlay in black. Merer’s archive recorded the daily activities of his team of around 200 men, and as archaeological luck would have it, most of the surviving papyri don’t cover the minutiae of their operations at Wadi al-Jarf, but rather their work relating to the construction of the Great Pyramid at Giza. There are descriptions of quarrying the limestone, the transportation over the Nile and canals of massive blocks of stone from the quarries of Tura to the “Horizon of Khufu,” meaning the Giza construction site. These limestone blocks were probably used for the outer layer of the Great Pyramid, now lost, but which would have glowed white in the Egyptian sun.

Merer’s logbook was found in the same archaeological context as the 13th cattle count document. It confirms that in Khufu’s last regnal year, the pyramid was in the final stage of construction. It also identifies the role of a major player, the pharaoh’s half-brother Ankh-haf who as “chief for all the works of the king” was in charge of this last phase of the Great Pyramid’s construction.

A selection of the papyri, including the 13th cattle count document, the largest pieces of Merer’s journal and the accounting spreadsheets have gone on display for the first time at Cairo’s Egyptian Museum. It will be a lightning quick exhibition, unfortunately, so unless you’re in Egypt right now or plan to be there in the next week or so, you’ll miss it. It opened on July 14th and closes on July 29th.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Museum acquires rare 17th c. stained glass window

History Blog - Tue, 2016-07-19 01:45

M – Museum Leuven and the City of Leuven have acquired an early stained-glass window by 17th century Flemish master Jan de Caumont. Leuven was a center of stained glass production, and while the museum has an extensive collection of pieces from the 15th through the 19th century, it had no single important stained glass window by Jan de Caumont. This piece plugs a major hole in its collection and will join its series of 27 Caumont glass medallions on display.

Jan de Caumont was born in Doullens, Picardy, northern France, in around 1577. He moved to Leuven, then in the Duchy of Brabant which was part of the Spanish Netherlands, and became a citizen in 1607. He married a local girl, Anna Boels, whose family owned a prominent glass workshop. Jan went to work for his wife’s uncle Simon in the workshop and made a name for himself as a glass painter. In 1626, he took over the company and was appointed the official glass painter of the City of Leuven.

He was commissioned to make stained glass for churches and monasteries in Leuven and all over the duchy. His most famous work was a series of 41 windows he made for the Premonstratensian cloister of Park Abbey, a monastery in Heverlee, two miles south of Leuven. Abbot Jean Maes commissioned the windows depicting scenes from the life of Saint Nortbertus, founder of the order, in 1635. Installation was complete by 1644. The monastery was disrupted by the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars, so much so that in order to revive its fortunes, the monastery sold all 41 windows in 1828. They wound up dispersed in museums and private collections in the UK and US. In the 20th century, three complete windows and several pieces were returned to Park Abbey and are now back in the clerestory bays.

The stained glass produced in the Low Countries in the late 16th and early 17th centuries was different from the medieval style in that artists actually painted on the glass rather than composing a mosaic from pieces of different colored glass. This approach allowed painters to create fine details on panes of glass without thick black lead lines. Jan de Caumont painted grey monochrome details (a technique known as grisaille) on both sides of the glass. On the outside, he applied several shades of silver stain and translucent flesh tones. On the inside, he used shades of blue and purple enamel and opaque red paint. To make green, he combined blue enamel on the inside and silver on the outside.

Those techniques are in fine evidence on the window acquired by the M. Made in 1618, it is a rare example of a window from the early part of his career before his appointment as the city glass painter. It’s a donor window, which makes it even more rare since there are few Flemish donor windows and they’re usually smaller than this one or part of a historical building. The donor in question was Margaretha Vekemans, wife of Alexander van den Broeck, a treasurer of Antwerp and one of the wealthiest men in the city. Margaretha and her daughter are depicted in the window. Dressed in the most fashionable finery of the era, with ermine sashes, lace cuffs, majestic ruffs and jewelry, the ladies are on their knees praying. Behind them stand St Agnes and St Elizabeth of Hungary, respectively embracing mother and daughter.

There is a corresponding window featuring Alexander van den Broeck with St John the Baptist. It is now in the church of Saint Gwenllwyfo in Llanwenllwyfo, Anglesey, Wales. Originally both windows are believed to have been donated by the Vekemans/van den Broeck family to the Carthusian monastery in Lier. It was a common practice for wealthy donors to give something beautiful, expensive and very clearly identifiable as coming from them to their favorite church or monastery.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Must Farm excavation concludes

History Blog - Mon, 2016-07-18 04:04

The excavation of the Bronze Age site of Must Farm in the Cambridgeshire Fens comes to an end this week, alas, but so many archaeological remains in exceptional condition have been found, they will be studied for years to come. The unique conditions of the site — round houses built on stilts on the Nene River channel around 3,000 years ago that caught fire and fell into the river where the fire was extinguished and everything was enveloped in the mud of the rising fen — have preserved the largest collection of Bronze Age artifacts ever found in Britain.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said “Over the past 10 months Must Farm has given us an extraordinary window into how people lived 3,000 years ago. Now we know what this small but wealthy Bronze Age community ate, how they made their homes and where they traded. This has transformed our knowledge of Bronze Age Britain, and there is more to come as we enter a post-excavation phase of research. Archaeologists and scientists around the world are learning from Must Farm and it’s already challenged a number of longstanding perceptions.”

We now know that the homes in this Bronze Age settlement were kitted out with enough household products to put Bed, Bath and Beyond to shame. We know they ate a rich and varied diet include wild animals (boar, red deer, freshwater fish) and domesticated (lambs and calves), plus plants and grains including emmer wheat and barley. We know the roundhouses were recently constructed, only around six months old when tragedy struck and they collapsed into the river.

Earlier this year archaeologists found a complete wood wheel, the oldest in the UK. Since then, they’ve discovered even more thrilling artifacts. The textiles alone are unprecedented, an extensive collection of woven fibers from various stages of production. Some of the linen fibers are as fine as a human hair and are incredibly tightly woven.

Must Farm also has one of the largest collections of Bronze Age glass ever discovered. A large number of beads have been found, many of them glass, others made of amber or jet. One cluster of beads were found grouped together probably because they were once on a necklace. There’s even something threaded in between them, so once the beads are examined in the laboratory, the full necklace may reveal itself. Jet and amber could not be sourced locally; they were likely traded from continental Europe and the Middle East.

A wealth of household goods has been recovered, everything from wooden buckets to large platters to loom weights. Whole groups of pots were found in place, left behind mid-use when the fire broke out, some with food still in them. The Must Farm pots come in a dizzying array of shapes and sizes. The largest examples are coarseware, thick-walled clay reinforced with grog, shell and crushed pieces of fired clay. They were used for storage and cooking. The fineware pieces have thin, delicate walls tempered with sand or very fine shell fragments. While very few are decorated and those only with incised lines, many are polished or burnished. The smallest fineware vessels are little round cups no more than six centimeters (2 inches) high. All of the clay pottery was made with the simple technique of coil building (stacking coils of clay) and then turned (rotated on a board and smoothed with fingers). Some of the fragments and pots still have the marks of fingertips on the surface.

The metalwork discovered at Must Farm is exceptional as well, both in terms of preservation and in the discovery context. Most of the Bronze Age metal weapons and tools found come from sacrificial deposits or some other context divorced from daily use. The pieces at Must Farm, on the other hand, were inside the dwellings when they collapsed into the river. They are domestic objects still in the home, not offerings or discards. Add to that the fact that some of the wood sections, like the hafts of axes and spears, have survived and it gives archaeologists a unique opportunity to examine metalwork as it was actually used. One bronze socketed axe with its wooden haft intact, albeit charred by the flames, may be the most beautiful prehistoric axe I’ve ever seen.

The site is just feet away from a working quarry, so it cannot be converted into an open-air archaeological park. The wood timbers from the roof and floor and the wattle panels of the walls of the most intact of the roundhouses have been recovered for conservation and perhaps a future reconstruction, but the site will be reburied to preserve the rest. There are no current plans for a museum exhibition, but discussions are ongoing. So many great artifacts have been recovered there’s more than enough material to populate a whole new museum dedicated to Must Farm.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Must Farm excavation has one of the greatest online presences for an archaeological project I’ve ever seen, if not the greatest. Their Twitter, Facebook and website are neverending sources of fascinating material and photographs. They will continue to be updated as the artifacts are examined, so just because the excavation is over doesn’t mean it’s too late to follow them.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Largest Anglo-Saxon building in Scotland found

History Blog - Sun, 2016-07-17 03:05

Archaeologists and community volunteers excavating the site of Glebe Field in Aberlady, East Lothian, have discovered the foundations of an Anglo-Saxon building that is the largest Anglo-Saxon structure found on Scotland. In April and May of this year, AOC Archaeology Group collaborated with the Aberlady Conservation and History Society to investigate some features of Glebe Field believed to date from the Anglo-Saxon period (7th-10th century). They were hoping to find evidence of a timber building — postholes, imprints left by decayed material — but instead found a large stone feature with a paved area on the south end.

At first they thought it might be roadway between the local church and the coast, but additional excavation revealed it to be the foundation of a large rectangular building. The feature is 20 meters (66 feet) long and four meters (13 feet) wide. The whole building appears to have been 20 by 40 meters (131 feet). The bones of a large mammal found immediately underneath the stones were radiocarbon dated to between the 7th and 9th centuries.

Ian Malcolm, from Aberlady Conservation and History Society, described the first date evidence from the site as “very, very exciting”.

He said: “It is evidence that it was an important and a wealthy site.” [...]

Mr Malcolm said the structure would have to be significant because of the work that would have been undertaken to build it.

He said: “It may have been monastic, or a feast hall or a royal site. There have been other excavations but no evidence of a structure on this scale has been discovered.”

Aberlady was a port city in the Middle Ages (the port has long since silted up), and was a stop on the road between the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne, about 55 miles to the southeast, and the monastery of Iona in the Inner Hebrides 180 miles to the northwest. Significant Anglo-Saxon remains have been found there before. In 1863 a large fragment of an elaborately carved high cross was discovered in the garden wall of the churchyard. Dating to around the 8th century, the whole cross would have been about 17 feet high. The carving is reminiscent of the bird interlace style of decoration in the Lindisfarne Gospels. In the 1980s, more than 300 Anglo-Saxon coins and the greatest number of stray Anglo-Saxon metallic objects ever discovered in Scotland were found in Aberlady.

The area of the feature with the paving as an open gap left unlined that may indicate something monumental once stood there, perhaps even the base of the Aberlady Cross.

Close to the buildings, archaeologists and volunteers unearthed the remains of small walled structures. A number of large animal bones and shells were found within these walls. The team also discovered a small iron knife blade, of a size that suggests it was used more as a tool than a weapon, perhaps for working leather. Other artifacts found in the cells were an early 9th century Anglo-Saxon coin, an antler carved with the head of an animal or bird, additional antler pieces, a bone comb and a broken piece of bone that appears to have been used to practice decoration techniques for the comb. The style of the comb dates it to the 6th-8th centuries. Because of the nature of the finds inside the small structures, archaeologists believe they may have been workshops.

The group hopes to continue excavations at the site later in the year, but as the site of a scheduled ancient monument, first Historic Environment Scotland must be consulted and give its approval to the intervention.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Sewer workers find Hercules mosaic in Cyprus

History Blog - Sat, 2016-07-16 12:14

Workers digging an extension of a sewer line in Larnaca on the southern coast of Cyprus last month uncovered a large Roman mosaic depicting the Labours of Hercules. Archaeologists took over to excavate the unique work and have thus far unearthed a section 19 meters (62 feet) long by seven meters (23 feet) wide.

The mosaic appears to be part of a baths complex, Antiquities Department Chief Marina Solomidou-Ieronymidou said, adding that it has five sections but only two have been fully uncovered. Crews may have to encroach on private property to unearth more of the baths complex.

Solomonidou-Ieronymidou said it’s the first time that a mosaic has been discovered on the eastern Mediterranean island depicting the 12 Labors of Hercules, difficult tasks that the mythological demi-god had to perform as penance for killing his wife and children when the goddess Hera made him temporarily insane.

The Antiquities Department says the mosaic’s discovery offers important evidence that ancient Kition, on which modern-day Larnaca is built, played a significant role in the establishment of Roman culture in the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.

Kition was founded by Achaean colonists in the 13th century B.C. and was subsequently ruled by Mycenae, Assyria, Phoenicia, Egypt, Persia, and Macedonian general Ptolemy and his descendants, also rulers of Egypt. It became a Roman province in 58 B.C. with a brief interlude back in Ptolemaic hands when Marc Antony declared Cleopatra and Caesarion, her son by Julius Caesar, Queen and King of Cyprus as part of the Donations of Alexandria in 34 B.C. After Antony and Cleopatra’s defeat at the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C., Cyprus returned to Roman control. When the Roman Empire was divided into Western and Eastern in 395 A.D., Cyprus went to the Eastern Empire. It remained Byzantine until the 12th century when it was taken by King Richard the Lionheart of England and became one of the crusader states ruled by Guy de Lusignan and his descendants until 1474. Venice took it from them and the Ottoman Empire took it from Venice in 1571.

Kition, meanwhile, suffered most at the hands of natural disasters. Two massive earthquakes in 322 and 342 A.D. all but leveled the city. Larnaca was built on its ruins but because the harbour had silted over, it moved a little to the south following the new shoreline. The ancient ruins of Kition began to be systematically excavated in the 1920s. Its most ancient remains are Achaean defensive walls from the 13th century B.C. and temples and parts of their Cyclopean walls from the Mycenaean period. Remains have been found from the Assyrian and Phoenician periods as well, including the famous stele of Sargon II, now in the Berlin State Museums, and Phoenician funerary stele now in the British Museum. More than 3,000 tombs were unearthed in a massive Phoenician-era necropolis.

And yet, even with 400 years of Roman rule under its historical belt, Kition has next to no archaeological material to show for it. That’s why the discovery of the mosaic is so significant. It’s not just an important artwork with a theme that has not been found before on Cyprus, but the only remains of a large-scale public building from the Roman period found in Larnaca.

There was some discussion of leaving the mosaic in place, rerouting the road and creating an open-air museum that might prove as much of a draw to tourists as the exquisite mosaic floors found in the remains of four Roman villas in Paphos on the west coast of Cyprus. Larnaca’s Deputy Mayor Petros Christodoulou was quoted as saying “This finding is too important and precious to cover over, or to remove and set up again in another place.” Communications minister Marios Demetriades apparently disagrees, since he told the press on Thursday that the mosaic would suffer damage from water and the elements if it were left in place, so it will be moved to a new dedicated wing of the Archaeological Museum of the Larnaka District. The Department of Antiquities’ very brief statement on the find avoids the question altogether.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Mummified macaw head found in Chihuahua cave

History Blog - Fri, 2016-07-15 13:34

The ancient mummified head of a macaw has been found in a cave in a suburb of San Francisco de Borja, Chihuahua northern Mexico. It was discovered by the what was likely a funerary context. Manuel Rodriguez and his son were leveling the floor of a cave on his property when they came across archaeological remains and artifacts. Though they notified archaeologists of the discovery, unfortunately residents collected objects to hand over rather than leaving the context unmarred. The recovered materials include two adult skulls, several long bones, human hair, a basket, a textile, cotton string, the woven base of a vessel or basket, worked deerskin that may have been part of a bag or a loincloth, a snail and the head of the macaw.

The textile, basketry materials and the head of the macaw are in an excellent state of preservation. The conditions inside the cave naturally mummified the bird remains, even as the human remains were skeletonized. The feathers on the macaw’s head are still bright green. According to the locals who rashly scooped up the objects, the rest of the macaw’s body was also found on the site, but they only picked up the head, leaving the body pieces behind.

Recognizing the significance of the materials, INAH archaeologists explored the cave, hoping to recover what they could of the original context. In a strip 25 meters (82 feet) long and one meter (three feet) wide, they found evidence of a reed and mud wattle housing structure with an earth floor and a the remains of charred corn cob. The cob has been sent to the laboratory for radiocarbon dating. In another area of the strip, archaeologists found a burial: the lower half of an adult human body including pelvis and both legs tied together. It’s possible this was a secondary burial, that the body was buried somewhere else first, and later transferred to this location. Piece of coal, burned corn cobs and arrowheads were also found in this section.

At the end of the excavation, archaeologists had unearthed 30 arrowheads, ears of corn, a gourd, basketry, cordage, human coprolites (mineralized feces) and many pieces of wattle from walls, one of which bears the imprint of a hand left behind when the worker was packing mud into the reeds to make the wall. The style of architecture is typical of the Early-Middle Archaic period (ca. 2500-1000 B.C.), while the arrowheads are in the style of the Middle/Late Archaic or Early Agriculture period (1000 B.C.-700 A.D.).

The structure, arrowheads and the corn cob indicate the cave habitation predates the settlement of Paquimé, one Chihuahua’s largest and most complex prehistoric towns where the first settlements appear in the 8th century. Macaws are known to have been used in religious rituals during the Middle Period of Paquimé (1060-1340 A.D.) and fragments of macaw bones and feathers have been found there in ceremonial and funerary contexts. They were integrated into artifacts, however — bags and earrings. This is the first time an entire bird (although only the head has been recovered due to the interference with the site) has been discovered. Because the site was disturbed, archaeologists can’t say for certain that the macaw was buried along with the human remains for ritual funerary purposes, but that is the likeliest conclusion.

Macaws were prized in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. They had to be imported as they are not native to the north, so were extremely expensive. Their large size and soaring flight connected them symbolically to the sun, and their brilliant green-blue plumage was associated with lifegiving rain and water. By the Middle Period of Paquimé, macaws were being bred there for use in rituals and in commercial goods.

The discovery of the macaw head and the snail indicate the prehistoric cultures in this part of Chihuahua had access to goods traded over significant distances. The snail is native to northwestern Sinaloa region on the Gulf of California, and the macaw had to be imported from the south. Archaeological research elsewhere in Chihuahua has found evidence of trade linking the peoples of the coast and desert north to the south via the mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental, but this is the first evidence of it in San Francisco de Borja. In fact, it’s the first archaeological site ever registered in the municipality.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Eastman museum buys only known box of first Kodak Film

History Blog - Thu, 2016-07-14 01:24

George Eastman was a 23-year-old bank clerk when he caught the photography bug in 1877. While keeping his day job, he began to tinker with camera technology, trying to simplify the complex procedures and bulky apparatus require to take a picture at the time. Negatives were still made on glass plates. Photographers had to coat a plate with a light-sensitive silver nitrate emulsion under a dark drape then quickly slide it into a big, heavy box mounted on a tripod.

Eastman’s idea was to make a dry plate that was evenly and thinly coated ahead of time with silver nitrate and gelatine and dried for easy use. He received a patent for a dry coating apparatus (pdf) on April 13th, 1880. Still working out of his home in Rochester, New York, he founded the Eastman Dry-Plate Company. In 1884 he developed another innovation, flexible photographic film (pdf) that could be rolled for compact storage. The accordingly renamed the Eastman Dry-Plate and Film Company was soon a full-service camera supply company, selling all manner of photography accessories — squeegees, enlargers, roll holders — in addition to its patented dry plates and photographic film.

Its greatest breakthrough came in 1888 when George Eastman patented his first camera (pdf). He called it the Kodak, a name he created by moving letters around on a page until he found a combination that looked sharp and couldn’t be mispronounced. This camera was compact, lightweight, portable and so easy to operate anyone could do it, not just professionals or dedicated amateurs. All the operator had to do was pull up a string to arm the shutter, aim at the subject and press a button.

The Kodak Camera came preloaded with a roll of film that took 100 circular pictures 2.5 inches in diameter. Once the customers had taken their 100 pictures, they would send the camera to the Rochester factory where the film was developed and the photographs printed. The pictures were then returned to the customer along with the camera loaded with a fresh roll of film. The camera cost $25 and the development, printing and reloading cost $10. It was marketed in advertisements with the slogan “You press the button, we do the rest.”

The camera was a huge success, particularly with women. Before the Kodak, buyers of photography products were almost entirely professionals. The Kodak Camera made photography accessible to the general population and the general population thanked him by buying his cameras in droves. In 1892 George acknowledged the fulcrum of his success by changing the name of the company to the Eastman Kodak Company.

Today the George Eastman Museum, formerly housed in George’s Rochester mansion until it outgrew the space, has a vast collection of cameras, photographic materials and films, and is a pioneer in film preservation. The museum recently acquired the only known surviving box of Kodak Film (originally American Film) used in Kodak Camera No. 1, and one of only three boxes known to survive of the 1889 generation of camera film, Kodak Transparent Film.

Now a part of the museum’s internationally renowned technology collection, these unopened boxes of film complete the Eastman Museum’s holdings related to the original Kodak camera — adding to its examples of the camera, case, shipping box, and sample images.

“These two rolls of film make a critical contribution to the Eastman Museum’s holdings of photographic technology—considered the leading collection of its kind in the world,” said Bruce Barnes, Ron and Donna Fielding Director, George Eastman Museum. “Given their importance and rarity, these boxes of film are not only among of the most significant objects in our technology collection, they are also extremely important to the evolution of photography and the history of Rochester, New York.” [...]

Eastman’s Transparent Film was the flexible photographic material used by most people experimenting with early motion pictures. Thomas Edison’s assistant W. K. L. Dickson used Kodak Transparent Film (which was 70 millimeters wide), slit in half to 35mm and then perforated, as the flexible medium to store images to be presented in the Edison Kinetoscope, the first 35mm motion picture viewing device.

The acquisition of the rolls was funded in part by the man who is largely responsible for the demise of film — Steven Sasson, inventor of digital photography — and by former Eastman Kodak employee and current author on Kodak Film Robert Shanebrook and his wife Lynne. The newly acquired boxes of film are now on display at the George Eastman Museum.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Greek archaeologists find 23 shipwrecks in 22 days

History Blog - Wed, 2016-07-13 02:38

The Fournoi archipelago in the eastern Aegean had long been known to local divers and, alas, looters, as an area replete with shipwrecks. Last September, a diving team from the non-profit RPM Nautical Foundation followed up on a tip from a spear-fisher and explored the coastal waters around some of the Fourni islands. It was a short trip, but in just 10 diving days the team found 22 shipwrecks.

This year they returned with a big team of more than two dozen divers, marine archaeologists and conservators and explored the area from June 8th through July 2nd. In those 22 days, they discovered 23 new shipwrecks from the Greek archaic period (8th through 5th century B.C.) through the 19th century. So in less than a year, 45 shipwrecks have been found at Fourni. While Greece’s vast coastline, rich mercantile tradition from antiquity to the present and treacherous waters have claimed many a ship over the millennia, the 45 discovered at Fourni comprise 20% of the all the identified and documented shipwrecks in Greek territorial waters.

It was the topography of the islets which sealed so many ships’ doom. The distribution of the wrecks suggests they were dashed against sheer cliff faces, sometimes while anchored and seeking shelter from powerful storms only for the wind to change the direction and drive the ships against the cliffs. It’s unlikely the crews would have survived such a beating from the elements. Even if they did manage to swim the storm-tossed seas, there were no beaches to clamber up, only steep rocky cliffs.

All the ships found thus far were merchant vessels: small, manned by crews of a dozen men or fewer, dependant on sail power. The wood structure of the vessels did not survive centuries in the sea, but their cargoes of amphorae did. It’s possible to determine what kind of merchandise the ships carried based on the different types of amphorae. It’s also possible to deduce where the jars were made based on their shape and size. The larger amphorae likely carried the three most popular categories of products — olive oil, wine, and garum (the sauce made of fermented fish guts that was ubiquitous in the kitchens of the ancient Mediterranean) — while the smaller jars likely contained specialty items like fruit preserves, nuts and perfumes.

The wrecks discovered last year were all ancient, while this year’s discoveries range from the 6th century B.C. to the early 1800s. Some of the wood of the newer ship has survived, the only one of the Fourni shipwrecks with surviving exposed wood. In addition to the many amphorae, divers found artifacts including anchors, dishware, lamps, cooking pots and ceramics. The most significant finds of the season are amphorae from Knidos and Kos on a ship from the middle of the Hellenistic period, a late archaic/early classical cargo, a Roman-era ship with amphorae from Cape Sinop on the Black Sea, a 3rd-4th century Roman ship from the empire’s North African provinces, and a cargo of tableware also from North Africa. Marine archaeologists also found two stone anchors, the largest ever found in the Aegean.

It is estimated that the area investigated corresponds to less than 15% of the total coastline surrounding the Fournoi island group. It is expected that the ongoing research in the area will lead authorities to locate an even larger number of shipwrecks, allowing archaeologists to understand the use of marine space and study of the maritime navigation and freight traffic in the archipelago in different eras.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Restoration of Napoleon’s horse Vizir begins

History Blog - Tue, 2016-07-12 02:29

The grey-white Arabian stallion Vizir was born in 1793 in the Ottoman Empire. Sultan Selim III presented the steed to then-First Consul of France Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, a diplomatic gift marking the peace treaty between the Ottoman Empire and France after three years of war. According to legend, Selim sent the horse to Napoleon with this final wish: “Go, my dear Vizir. Go for Mahomet, go for your Sultan and become Napoleon’s most famous horse.”

Napoleon had more than a hundred horses, all of them trained to face battle conditions with steely resolve, and several of them became famous by name for participating in important battles and surviving. (Anywhere from 10 to 20 horses were said to have been shot out from under Napoleon in the heat of battle.) Vizir was painted in equestrian portraits with Napoleon by artists including Baron Gros, Hippolyte Bellangé, Charles Thevenin and Horace Vernet for a Sèvres porcelain series on Napoleon’s horses.

He wasn’t just a handsome model. Napoleon first rode Vizir into battle in 1805. Bearing the stamp of the imperial stables, a crowned “N” on his left haunch, Vizir carried the emperor in the Battle of Jena on October 14th, 1806, and in many other battles in the Prussian and Polish campaigns. He was not enlisted for duty during Napoleon’s disastrous Russian campaign, lucky for him, or the subsequent ones in Germany and France because as a 20-year-old, he was considered too old for battle.

Vizir was still beloved by the emperor who took him with him to exile on the island of Elba in 1814, and then back to France again during the Hundred Days, although he kept him safe behind the lines. After Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo in 1815, Vizir retired and was taken in by Philippe de Chaulaire, a squire of the imperial stables. Vizir died on July 30th, 1826, at the venerable age of 33.

M. de Chaulaire had him taxidermied, but fearing the anti-Napoleonic political climate of the Bourbon Restoration, he sold Vizir to William Clark, an Englishman living in northern France. Clark felt the same political pressure after Louis-Napoleon’s failed coup and in 1839 passed Vizir along to another Englishman, John Greaves. Greaves smuggled the stuffed horse out of France into England by dumping the framing, unstitching his skin and stashing it in his suitcase. Safe in England, Vizir was remounted and put on display at Manchester’s Natural History Museum in 1843.

Vizir returned to France in 1868 when the museum, forced to close its doors due to financial problems, gifted him to Louis-Napoleon, now Emperor Napoleon III, during a visit to England. Not knowing what else to do with a large stuffed horse, Napoleon III stored it in the Louvre where it remained in storage for 30 years until it was rediscovered in 1904 and transferred to the newly founded Museum of the Army in 1905. There Vizir would find a permanent home just a few steps from the Invalides where his former master rests eternally.

Very popular with visitors, Vizir has been on display ever since, but his many posthumous adventures have left him in bad shape. In May, the museum launched a crowdfunding project to give them the wherewithal to restore Vizir, and donors met the goal of 15,000 euro within two weeks. The final amount raised was 20,534 euros ($23,130).

Now Yveline Huguet and Jack Thiney, taxidermists and specialists in the restoration of organic material, are hard at work on Vizir’s sadly degraded hide. They have X-rayed him and are working on a thorough cleaning, rehydrating the hide, filling in several large cracks and restoring the color which has turned a sallow yellowish color over the years, a far cry from the white-gray he was famous for. The project is expected to take about four weeks. Once the restoration is complete, Vizir will be displayed in a new climate-controlled case which will prevent further degradation.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Woman with stone tooth inserts, long skull found in Teotihuacan

History Blog - Mon, 2016-07-11 03:53

Archaeologists excavating the ancient Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan in the highlands of central Mexico have unearthed the skeletal remains of a woman who is thus far unique in the archaeological record of Teotihuacan. She was buried in the Barrio Oaxaqueño neighborhood, also known as Tlailotlacan meaning “people from distant lands.” Judging from her extensive body modifications, she lived up to the neighborhood’s billing.

The Barrio Oaxaqueño, with a view of the Avenue of the Dead ahead and the Pyramid of the Sun behind, follows one of the streets that goes up the slope of Cerro Colorado. About three kilometers from the main thoroughfare of Teotihuacan, the neighborhood was settled by immigrants from the Oaxaca Valley in the Sierra Madre Mountains of southern Mexico between 150 and 600 A.D. Thirty housing units have been discovered in the neighborhood, each with multiple rooms, plazas, courtyards and tombs, in which an estimated 1,300 people, mainly from Oaxaca, western Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico, lived.

For the past eight years, National Anthropology and History Institute (INAH) archaeologists have been excavating an area of about 800 square meters in the Barrio Oaxaqueño. This year, under the floor of a room, archaeologists found a cist, a rectangular dugout in which the articulated skeleton of a woman and 19 vessels were discovered. The ceramics and stratigraphy indicate she was buried around 350-400 A.D. Osteological examination found she was between 35 and 40 years old when she died.

Her teeth are of particular note. The central incisors in her upper jaw are embedded with round pyrite stones. This technique required cutting a hole in the enamel of the tooth and inserting the decorative stones. It was practiced in the Mayan cities of southern Mexico (see the jade tooth inserts found in Uxul on the Yucatan peninsula), Guatemala and Belize. One incisor in her lower jaw was replaced with a prosthetic made of serpentine, a green stone carved in the shape of a tooth. This was not of local manufacture and she must have worn it for many years because it shows signs of wear and tartar growth. Researchers are currently studying this tooth looking for evidence of how it was affixed to the jaw, possibly with a cement-like adhesive or some kind of fiber that held it in place.

Her grill isn’t the most extreme of her body mods. The shape of her skull is elongated, an intentional cranial shaping of the tabular erect type produced by fronto-occipital compression likely with a cradleboard when she was a child and her bones were still soft. Hers is an extreme example of the practice. This kind of skull shaping isn’t typical of the Central Highlands. It too is more frequently found in the south.

Her teeth and skull make hers one of the most extensively modified bodies ever discovered at Teotihuacan. It also confirms that the residents of Tlailotlacan weren’t only labourers who were brought to or moved to the big city for work, but people of wealth and status as well. The Lady of Tlailotlacan’s modifications were reserved for the Maya elites.

The ongoing excavation of the neighborhood have revealed that there were Oaxacans and other foreigners living in Teotihuacan from the early days of its rise to prominence until its mysterious fall. They moved 400 miles away from home to take advantage of all the great metropolis had to offer, but they maintained their cultural identities within their living quarters. While the neighborhood follows the standard urban planning design of the city, inside their homes residents integrated their native practices. For example, their burial sites were in place before the dwellings were built, as in the case of the Lady’s underfloor cist. They also used ceramics from their hometowns, or if that wasn’t possible, made reproductions using local clay.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Bones of 18th c. Italian missionary found in Tokyo

History Blog - Sun, 2016-07-10 20:58

The skeleton of 18th century Italian missionary Giovanni Battista Sidotti has been identified in Tokyo. The remains were unearthed in July 2014 during construction of a new upscale condominium development on the site of a long-demolished prison for Christians. Two other skeletons were also discovered near the first. Earthenware fragments and other artifacts found in the layer date it to the early 18th century.

Researchers from the National Museum of Nature and Science pieced together the bone fragments and successfully extracted DNA from a tooth. Analysis revealed that the person was more than 170 centimeters tall, significantly taller than the 156 cm average height for a Japanese man at that time. DNA was found to match the genetic characteristics of modern Italians. Sidotti was reported to be 175-178 cm tall and he was one of only two Italians held in the prison. The other, Giuseppe Chiara, was a much older man, 84 years old at time of death, and his remains were cremated.

Spanish Jesuit and future saint Francis Xavier brought Christianity to Japan in 1549. He, Father Cosme de Torrès, Brother João Fernandes, a Japanese convert named Anjiro and two other Japanese men landed on the southern island of Kyushu and began to preach, which, since only one of the priests had managed to learn a bare smattering of Japanese, mainly consisted of reading from a version of the Catholic catechism Anjiro had translated into Japanese.

The first Christian, called Kirishitan in Japanese, converts were Anjiro’s friends and family. Christianity spread quickly and by 1560, there were 6,000 converts on Kyushu. In 1563 the first daimyo, Omura Sumitada, converted, and in less than a decade had forced everyone in his domain, 35,000 people, to convert as well. Converting daimyos proved essential to the Jesuit mission, because in one fell swoop entire populations would be made to convert by their lord. The daimyos benefited from the Jesuit’s military support, receiving essential materials like saltpeter (used to make gunpowder), weapons and aid in constructing fortifications. Mass baptisms increased the number of Kirishitan exponentially so that there were approximately 130,000 converts within 30 years of Francis Xavier’s arrival. By the early 17th century, there were 250,000 of them.

One of the reasons the new religion made such effective headway is that Xavier used the term “Dainichi,” the Japanese name of the celestial Buddha Vairocana, for God. Shingon Buddhist monks thus welcomed the Jesuits as a fellow Buddhists and in 1551 daimyo Ouchi Yoshitaka gave the missionaries an old Buddhist temple in Yamaguchi describing them as “monks who have come from the western region [meaning India, which was seen as the ultimate in exotic distant lands] to spread the law of Buddha.” Xavier ultimately realized this wasn’t according to Hoyle Christianity, so he stopped using Dainichi and switched to Deusu, a Japonified version of the Latin Deus.

That entre’ via Buddhist terminology and close relationship to warring daimyos would come back to bite Catholic missionaries hard when Japan was unified by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. To hobble the power of the local daimyo, he banished all Christian missionaries from Kyushu in 1587. He still wanted to trade with Portugal and Spain, however, so he didn’t get hardcore about quashing the Kirishitan for another decade even as the Jesuits repeatedly considered an armed campaign against him. That all changed on February 5th, 1597, when he ordered 26 Christians — six Franciscan missionaries, three Japanese Jesuits and 17 Japanese laymen converts — crucified in Nagasaki to discourage conversions.

His successor Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu wanted to maintain friendly relations with Spain and Portugal for trade purposes, but he was convinced that Christianity was inimical to Japanese culture and society and even as he attempted to negotiate trade agreements, asked European powers to take back their missionaries and their religion. Things took an uglier turn after three successive financial scandals involving Christians broke out at court in 1612-3. The central figure in one of the scandals, a former actor named Okubo Nagayasu was rumored to be Christian although there’s no direct evidence of it. He was dead when his financial misdeeds came to light, and in the wake of the scandal, he was accused of having plotted with missionaries to bring a foreign army to protect Kirishitan against the Shogun.

That was the last straw. On Valentine’s Day, 1614, Ieyasu expelled all Catholic missionaries from Japan, closed all the churches and prohibited the practice of Christianity. From the 1614 edict:

The Kirishitan band have come to Japan, not only sending their merchant vessels to exchange commodities, but also longing to disseminate an evil law, to overthrow true doctrine, so that they may change the government of the country, and obtain possession of the land. This is the germ of great disaster, and must be crushed.”

Subsequent Tokugawa rulers enforced the edict with an iron fist, persecuting the Kirishitan, even commoners, who before then had been largely ignored, in order to exterminate the faith from Japanese soil. In every household Christians were identified, forced into apostasy and monitored afterwards to ensure they weren’t secretly following their religion. There were mass executions in which dozens of Christians who refused to renounce their beliefs were burned, crucified or otherwise dispatched publicly.

The fight against Christianity played a significant role in the policy of Sakoku, the national isolation policy that kept foreigners out and Japanese in, enacted in pieces from 1633 through 1639 and continuing for more than two centuries until Commodore Matthew Perry ended it with the business end of his gunboat diplomacy in the mid-19th century. The Shimabara Rebellion, a revolt of mostly Catholic peasants, in 1637-8, ramped up anti-Kirishitan regulations, banning the religion on pain of death.

Propaganda followed, starting with Kirishitan Monogatari (“Tales of the Christians”), a book by an anonymous author published in 1638 which detailed the many crimes and obscenities of missionaries and Christians. It inspired several other books representing Christians as grotesque caricatures. Nambanji Kohai Ki (“Grandeur and Decadence of the Church of the Southern Barbarians”) was published around 1695, 13 years before Giovanni Battista Sidotti made his suicidal attempt to sneak into Japan.

Sidotti, a Sicilian priest, had heard of the martyrdoms in Japan and was keen to brave the risk of death in God’s name. He sought and was granted permission to go to Japan from Pope Clement XI and made his way there from Manila, landing on the island of Yakushima in fall of 1708. His cunning plan was to disguise himself as a samurai, complete with topknot and kimono, just a set of fake buckteeth and glasses away from Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He was quickly spotted by a farmer who denounced him to the authorities.

He was arrested and the next year sent to the Kirishitan Yashiki (“Mansion of the Christians”), a former school in Edo which had been converted into a prison for suspected crypto-Christians and missionaries in 1646. There Japanese Kirishitan were routinely tortured into renouncing their religion. Sidotti received much gentler treatment. He was interrogated by Arai Hakuseki, a renown Confucian scholar and adviser to the Shogun Tokugawa Ienobu and his successor Tokugawa Ietsugu.

Hakuseki came to respect Sidotti’s intellect and extensive knowledge of the world. He also believed him when Sidotti assured him that missionaries were not the advance brigade of a Western invasion. Hakuseki recommended to the Shogun that Sidotti be deported, a shocking departure from the usual death penalty, or failing that, imprisoned. Sidotti was kept in Kirishitan Yashiki under go-nin fuchi house arrest, a status with plenty of food, a comfortable room and two attendants, former Christians Chosuke and Haru, seeing to his needs. It was only when he tried to reconvert them that he was sent to the dungeon where he died of unknown causes in 1714.

Later historical accounts record that he was buried with care, and the discovery of his bones confirms their accuracy.

“His body was laid flat in a casket, a luxurious one as far as I can tell by the brackets,” said Akio Tanigawa, professor of archaeology at Tokyo’s Waseda University and lead researcher on the remains, referring to coffin pieces discovered with the bones.

“People did not bury human bodies like this,” Tanigawa stressed, suggesting Sidotti was likely given a burial “in the Christian way.”

The other two bodies buried near him, one of which was interred in the more typical Edo fashion sitting up in a small tub, may be his attendants Chosuke and Haru.

Hakuseki published his conversations with Sidotti in the first volume of a three-volume book called Seiyo Kibun. The other volumes covered the five continents and an analysis of Christianity. Sidotti’s information also featured in Hakuseki’s five-volume geography Sairan Igen. These books were influential in loosening up the attitude of the shogunate to European intellectual pursuits. For the first time in a century, Western books about science and astronomy were translated into Japanese. Religion was still right out, of course, but gradually attitudes softened there too, and the torture and interrogation of Christians was abolished in 1792. The Kirishitan Yashiki, already damaged by a fire in 1725, was demolished shortly thereafter.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Lady Jane Franklin’s Egyptian mummy mask

History Blog - Sat, 2016-07-09 21:32

A wood mask that once adorned the head of a mummy from the 18th Dynasty (ca. 1550-1295 B.C.) sold at auction on Thursday for £116,500 ($151,291). A beautifully carved visage with full lips and a small, straight nose features big eyes with stone whites and obsidian pupils. The eyebrows used to be inlaid as well, but the stone is gone leaving only the recess in the wood. Under the chin is a small groove where a false beard was once attached. There are traces of the bitumen used to glue the piece in place still left. The inlay and fine details indicate this was an expensive piece used for a person of high status in New Kingdom society.

In addition to being a beautiful and rare artifact, the mask has another claim to fame: it was first acquired in Egypt by Lady Jane Franklin, wife of that Sir John Franklin who died with all of his crew on a doomed 1845 expedition to find the Northwest Passage. The discovery of one of his ships, the HMS Erebus, has been the subject of many an entry on this blog.

Jane Franklin had even more of a traveling jones as her husband, and she voyaged without the support of a navy often in extremely challenging conditions. She was born Jane Griffin in 1791 to family of means. Her father was a wealthy silk weaver of Huguenot extraction. Her mother, also of Huguenot descent, died when Jane was three years old. Jane was educated at a boarding school for elegant young ladies, but it was insufficiently challenging for a girl of her wits and energy. From the age of 17, she fleshed out her education with extensive travel on the continent, accompanied and supported by her family. She did all the stops of the Grand Tour and more, spending years on the road in France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Holland and Denmark.

Finding a husband does not appear to have been as high on the priority list for Jane as was customary for women of her class in 19th century England. She had a couple of romances, one with medical student Adolphe Butini, another with Dr. Peter Mark Roget of thesaurus fame, but neither got past the chaste yearning stage and both men married other women. Jane was just shy of 37 years old when she married John Franklin, a remarkably advanced age for a woman’s first marriage in 1828. She was his second wife — his first, poet Eleanor Anne Porden who was a good friend of Jane’s, had died in 1825 — and her new marital status changed her peripatetic ways not a bit. The tone was set when they were still engaged and she caught up with in St. Petersburg to travel around Russia together.

After he got a new assignment captaining the HMS Rainbow in the Mediterranean in 1830, Jane took the opportunity to travel widely whenever he was busy, which was often as the area was mired in tension courtesy of the Greek War of Independence. She went to Greece, Turkey, Syria, Palestine and Egypt, traveling independently and often going off the beaten track. In Egypt she sailed from Cairo up the Nile to the Second Cataract, even engaging in a slightly naughty (for the time) flirtation with a Prussian minister on board.

Franklin was called back to London in 1834 while Jane was still traveling in Greece. She kept doing her thing for another year, eventually meeting back up with her husband and joining him in the long voyage down under when he was appointed lieutenant-governor of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1836. Once there, she dedicated her endless energy to founding a museum, a scientific society, acquiring land for a botanical garden, working for prison reform and of course, travel. She was the first European woman to climb Mount Wellington. She took the arduous overland route to Macquarie Harbour along Tasmania’s untamed west coast and traveled from Melbourne to Sydney, likely the first woman to do so.

It wasn’t all voyaging good times. Jane took a liking to an Aboriginal girl named Mathinna and adopted her, ie, just took her from her still-living parents who had already had one child stolen by British authorities to blackmail them into resettlement against their will. That daughter was dumped in an orphanage and died. Now their second daughter became Jane Franklin’s black doll. Mathinna was dressed up pretty, went on carriage rides next to Eleanor, John Franklin’s daughter from his first marriage, and was educated by her governess. When John Franklin’s term as lieutenant-governor ended in 1843, the Franklins returned to London leaving Mathinna behind in the same orphanage where her sister had died. Jerked around for her whole life and left unable to fit in anywhere, Mathinna would die at age 17, apparently from drowning in a puddle while drunk.

The Franklins just went about their business, oblivious to the fate of the little girl they had displaced so callously. Driven in significant part by Jane’s efforts, Sir John Franklin got the chance he had long yearned for to return to the Arctic. This would be his fourth and final expedition. He and a crew of 108 men took HMS Erebus and HMS Terror to Canada in 1845. Arctic Canada would be their graves.

When her husband failed to return in 1847 as planned, Lady Franklin marshalled her considerable resources of finance and dedication to his rescue. In 1848 she offered rewards of $10,000 and $15,000 to anyone who should attempt to bring succor to the missing expedition. In April of 1849, she wrote a letter to the President of the United States, noting that the ships had been provisioned with enough supplies for three years and with four years nearly gone, any survivors would be in extreme need. She hoped to persuade the US to send out rescue ships as the Russian Empire was planning and the British Admiralty had already done.

When other missions failed to find traces of the Franklin expedition, Jane outfitted her own. In the 1850s she poured money into five different search missions. Even though by then there was no chance of anyone having survived, in 1854 she redoubled her efforts after Captain John Rae, first sent by the Admiralty and then by the Hudson Bay Company on a rescue mission, returned with artifacts from the Franklin expedition and Inuit testimony of survival cannabilism among the crew. Disgusted and horrified by Rae’s news, she rejected it vehemently as the gossip of savages and became even more motivated to find what was left of the ships and their logs. She was sure they would prove conclusively that her husband, officers and crew had behaved with nothing but the most British of honor to the last.

Her last attempt to directly fund a search team was the steam yacht Fox captained by Francis Leopold McClintock in 1857. Ice blocked his path for two years, but finally in 1859 he encountered Inuits who told him of the ships crushed by ice off King William Island and of its crew who subsequently died of starvation. When McClintock reached King William Island, he bought several Franklin expedition artifacts from the Inuit. McClintock’s second-in-command, William Hobson, found an Admiralty form in a cairn at Victory Point on King William Island which had a note scrawled in the margin revealing that Franklin had died on June 11th, 1847. These were the only official records of the expedition ever found.

Lady Franklin and Captain McClintock were awarded the 1860 patron’s medal from the Royal Geographical Society. She was the first woman to receive the award, and for many decades the only one. It was exceptionally fitting since the missions she had funded ended up discovering and mapping more of the Canadian Arctic than any explorer ever had, including her husband.

Jane Franklin would outlive Sir John by 30 years, and never stopped traveling the world. She dined with Brigham Young at Salt Lake City, hiked in Yosemite, had an audience with Pope Pius IX in Rome, stipulating ahead of time that she would not be kneeling, climbed Mount Olympus, became friends with Queen Emma of Hawaii, went on her first trip to India when she was 74 years old and traveled the subcontinent for three years.

When she died in 1875 at the age of 84, six Arctic explorers were her pallbearers.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Late Roman bronze belt set found in Leicester

History Blog - Fri, 2016-07-08 02:08

A team from University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) excavating an ancient cemetery in Leicester have unearthed an elaborate bronze belt set typically worn by military commanders or government officials in Late Roman Britain. The cemetery on Western Road was just outside the old Roman city walls near the Fosse Way, an important Roman road which connected the military camps at Isca (Exeter) and Lindum (Lincoln). Archaeologists unearthed 83 skeletons, one of which, in grave 23, was found with the bronze buckle set next to his right hip. It dates to the second half of the 4th century or the early 5th century.

The set is composed of three parts: a belt plate, a buckle and the end of a strap. The belt plate is made from a thin sheet of bronze decorated in the chip-carved style, meaning parts of the sheet were carved away leaving behind an interlocking spiral design. The buckle is decorated with dolphin heads. The strap end has a crouching dog on both sides of the tapered end. The buckle sits in the middle of the plate which would have been riveted to a wide leather belt. The strap that threads through the buckle had bronze cap. The metal parts are all that have survived of the belt, and that’s remarkable enough as it is, because the belt plate is so thin, it could easily have corroded into nothingness.

Other examples of this type of buckle have been found in Late Roman cemeteries in London, Winchester, Dorchester on Thames in Britain, as well as in Oudenburg, Belgium, but they are rare. Pictorial evidence indicates these belts were worn by the elites to convey their power and authority.

This elite fellow’s grave was not built to convey power and authority. It was simply cut into mudstone on the bank of the River Soar and held the remains of an adult man between 36 and 45 years of age at the time of his death. Osteological evidence indicates he was sick as a child, surviving bouts of illness to reach adulthood in comparatively good health. As an adult, he fractured his left forearm in a type of injury known as a “parry fracture” because it is usually incurred by raising an arm to parry a blow. The fracture healed on its own, but his wrist suffered permanent damage from it. He suffered from muscle damage in his upper right arm and shoulder. This could have been caused by exertion either in manual labor or in athletic pursuits like lifting and throwing. They are also commonly seen in professional fighters like gladiators and soldiers.

The belt buckle set and other artifacts discovered at the Western Road excavation will be on display for one day only this Sunday, July 10th, at the Jewry Wall Museum in Leicester from 11:00AM through 4:00 PM. It’s a free event in conjunction with the upcoming Festival of Archaeology. Archaeologists from the dig will be present to talk to visitors about their work and the finds, including the belt buckle.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History