Arts and Sciences

Science reveals Selden Map’s secrets

History Blog - Tue, 2017-02-07 00:16

New research has discovered a fascinating hidden history of the Selden Map, the oldest surviving merchant map in the world. About 60 inches long and 40 inches wide, the map was drawn in ink and hand-painted with watercolors between 1607 and 1619. It plots 18 trade routes in an area of East Asia bounded by Siberia to the north, the Spice Islands to the south, Japan to the east and southern India and Burma to the west. At the top of a map is a compass labeled in Chinese characters to indicate the orientation of the map. The routes all start from the port city of Quanzhou in China’s southern Fujian province, which at the time this map was drawn in the late Ming Dynasty was a major shipping hub for trade between Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

By an unclear route, in the 17th century the map made its way into the possession of an English lawyer, avid Orientalist and collector named John Selden (1584–1654). He valued the map so highly that he granted it its own line-item in his 1653 will: “a Mapp of China made there fairly and done in colloure together with a Sea Compasse of their making and Devisione taken both by an englishe commander.” Selden bequeathed it to the Bodleian and it entered the collection in 1659. The Bodleian’s inventory note described it as “A very odd mapp of China. Very large, & taken from Mr. Selden’s.”

The “very odd” map was often put on display, unfortunately to its detriment, but it fell out of fashion in the 18th century after famed astronomer Edmond Halley declared it cartographically inaccurate. In 1919, the Selden Map was mounted on a linen backing so it could hung on the wall. This would have disastrous consequences. The fabric backing stiffened over time, distorting and cracking the fragile paper, and its brittle condition was exacerbated by being kept rolled up. In the 1970s conservators noted the map’s dire condition, but decades would pass before the conservation issues were addressed.

In 2008, Robert Batchelor, a professor of British and Asian history at Georgia Southern University, sought out the Selden Map. He identified two features on the map which made it unique compared to all other known historic Chinese maps: 1) it’s not a map of China, and 2) the shipping routes plotted from Quanzhou. China was placed in the center of other maps, but in this one it’s just one of many countries around the South China Sea that traded with each other. The shipping routes marked it as the earliest example of Chinese merchant cartography, commissioned by traders, not the imperial court. It also contravenes the received wisdom that China was isolated from the rest of the world during this period. Its merchants were still doing plenty of business.

Batchelor’s research spurred a new conservation and restoration plan. This time conservators took their time, researching past interventions to determine what parts of the map were original and which later alterations, if any, should be kept. They decided to keep a border added the map in the late 17th century because of its historically significant Latin annotations. The linen backing and earlier patching attempts were removed. The restored map was digitized and put online.

The restoration gave researchers the opportunity to learn more about this mysterious cartographical rarity. It was examined with remote multispectral imaging technology which revealed parts of the map invisible to the naked eye. They way the map was drawn, the materials used to make it,

The researchers found the binding medium used for the map was gum Arabic, a gum made from the sap of the acacia tree – typically used by European, south and west Asians – and not animal glue, which was almost always used in Chinese paintings at the time.

Examinations of the pigment used found a mixture of indigo with orpiment, a yellow mineral – rather than gamboge, a yellow dye – to make a green colour, which is also very unusual for a painting in China in this period. And the detection of a basic copper chloride in the green areas suggests an influence from south and west Asia, where it was often used in manuscripts. This green pigment was not typically used in paper-based paintings from China.

The binders and pigments used are more consistent with those found in manuscripts from a Persian or Indo-Persian tradition –and the Islamic world – than the European or Chinese, the researchers state.

Detailed examination even found instances where the cartographer made alterations – some stylistic, others unintentional, and some made as the cartographer’s knowledge of a certain area developed. The scientists were able to identify that the trade routes were laid down before the land was drawn in.

They believe that the cartographer did not plan the full map from the beginning, which was why they had to redraw some of the routes many times – and why they ran out of space at the southern and western points of the map, forcing the trade routes to be off the compass directions. Two trade routes were drawn without their corresponding compass directions, suggesting the map was unfinished.

As a result of this new evidence, the research team proposes that the map was drawn not in China, but in Aceh on the island of Sumatra.

It is the most westerly port in south east Asia marked on the map and has the longest history of the presence of Islam in south east Asia, as well as a long history of Chinese contact.

It is also one of only six ports on the map marked with a red circle – possibly indicating the main trading network of the map’s owner – and is the only port marked on the map to have a magnetic declination in the early 17th Century closest to that indicated by the tilt of the map’s compass rose.

The new research has been published in the journal Heritage Science and can be read in its entirety free of charge here.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Lost songs of Holocaust survivors found

History Blog - Mon, 2017-02-06 00:43

Lost recordings made just after World War II of Holocaust survivors singing songs have been rediscovered at the University of Akron. These recordings were part of a project by Dr. David Boder, a Latvian Jewish psychologist who had settled in the United States in the 1920s and quickly made a name for himself in academia and as a clinician. He became an American citizen in 1932, but he traveled regularly to Europe and kept in touch with his family until the war disrupted movement and communications.

In May of 1945, just days after the Allies accepted Germany’s unconditional surrender, Boder got the idea to interview displaced persons, Holocaust survivors, victims of the dislocations and horrors of World War II. His aim was first to get a record of victims’ experiences while it was all still painfully fresh. It was important to him to ensure Americans understood fully what had happened to people, how they managed to survive in ghettos, concentration camps, labor camps and on the run hiding in forests or barns or wherever shelter was to be found. He hoped that disseminating their stories would generate public support for immigration of war refugees to the US. Also, as a psychologist, he had a broader interest in how people cope with great trauma, a subject he would continue to investigate throughout his professional life.

His plans took a while to come to fruition. Financing the trip, securing the necessary permits to travel through occupied Western Europe delayed his plans for more than a year. Finally in July 1946, he arrived in Paris and dove right in to the project. Using what was then bleeding-edge technology, a wire recorder, Border spent the summer at 16 different locations in France, Switzerland, Italy, and Germany, interviewing 130 displaced persons — mainly Jews, but also 21 non-Jews — in nine languages. The recordings, which included religious services and songs as well as interviews, took up 200 spools of steel wire. Border’s interviews are the earliest extant recordings of Holocaust oral histories today.

David Boder died in 1961. His archives, including the 1946 wire reels, were dispersed among several different institutions. In 1967, 48 spools of Boder’s wire recordings entered the collection of the University of Akron’s Drs. Nicholas and Dorothy Cummings Center for the History of Psychology. They were fully inventoried at the time. Most of the other recordings mentioned in Boder’s writings were at UCLA or were rediscovered in the Library of Congress and the Illinois Institute of Technology in the late 1990s. There was one spool Boder listed that was missing, however. It was songs song in Yiddish and German by Holocaust survivors recorded at a refugee camp in Henonville, France.

Despite years of attempts, researchers at the University of Akron had not been able to play the wire reels. They had some old wire recorders, but they either weren’t compatible or couldn’t be repaired without a major overhaul of the original parts, which is far from ideal, obviously, from a historical preservation perspective. Finally they were able to find one on eBay which they repaired with new and cannibalized parts from other machines. With their new/old Frankenrecorder, the research team was able to convert the spools to digital format.

The digitization project was underway when they found one spool in a tin box that had been inventoried as “Heroville Songs.” It was a mistake. The label on the box actually said “Henonville Songs.” It was the long-lost spool. UA multimedia specialist Jon Endres digitized the song recordings and was the first to hear those haunting voices in decades. You can read his blog entry about the discovery here.

The team shared the digitized content with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., where experts translated the songs, five in Yiddish, one in German, and explained the background.

For [Cummings Center executive director David] Baker, hearing the recording for the first time was exceptionally moving. “There was a Holocaust survivor, after 70 years, singing to us,” he says. “Obviously we had a lot of questions.”

Some of Baker’s questions were soon answered. The singer was Guta Frank, and [U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum musicologist Bret] Werb knew her history. Frank was a Polish Jew who fled from one ghetto to another with her family for four years. Parents and siblings were killed along the way, and she and her sister finally ended up at a forced labor munitions camp outside Czestochowa, Poland. Her sister left behind a memoir, which can be read online.

Werb also provided Baker with a translation of the songs Frank sang to Boder. One, called, “Our Town is Burning,” is a well-known song often performed at Holocaust commemorations. Written shortly before the war broke out, the song calls out the complacency of bystanders watching a town burn and doing nothing to help.

But Frank’s version was different from the standard rendition of that song. She sang: “The Jewish people are burning.” On the recording, Frank tells Boder that the composer’s daughter sang the song in the basements of the Krakow ghetto to inspire people to rebel against the Germans.

A second song sung by Frank was the official song of the labor camp where she was held. Camp commanders encouraged the inmates to sing such songs on their way to work. “They liked it,” says Werb. The lyrics were long known, but the melody had never been heard before. “It’s sung by someone who must have been there,” says Werb.

Here are a selection of clips from the Henonville Songs spool. The first is Dr. Boder’s introduction which explains the interviews are taking place at the Henonville camp. The other three are song clips, the last of which is “Our Camp Stands At The Forest’s Edge,” the song inmates were forced to sing for their commanders’ enjoyment.

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Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Large Roman mosaic floor found in Leicester

History Blog - Sun, 2017-02-05 00:28

Archaeologists from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) have discovered a large Roman mosaic pavement at a construction site in Leicester. The property on the corner of Highcross Street and Vaughan Way has been excavated since November and already archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a Roman street, two other buildings and an elegant villa with mosaic floors. Highcross Street today runs along the path of the Roman road that went from the Roman forum to the north gate of the city. The excavation site covers almost two-thirds of a Roman insula, or city block, which gives archaeologists an incredibly rare view into a cross-section of Roman Leicester.

The Roman house with the mosaic was unearthed on the east side of the site next to the John Lewis parking lot. At least three of its rooms had mosaic floors. One of them has a particularly large extant section about two meters (6.6 feet) by three meters (9.8 feet) in size. Archaeologists estimate this surviving section is about a quarter of the size of the original mosaic. It is the largest Roman mosaic pavement found in Leicester in last 30 years.

Mathew Morris, site director for ULAS, said: “The mosaic is fantastic, it’s been a long time since we’ve found a large, well-preserved mosaic in Leicester. Stylistically, we believe it dates to the early fourth century AD. It would have originally been in a square room in the house. It has a thick border of red tiles surrounding a central square of grey tiles. Picked out in red in the grey square are several decorations, including a geometric border, foliage and a central hexafoil cross. The intricate geometric border follows a pattern known as ‘swastika-meander’. The swastika is an ancient symbol found in most world cultures, and it is a common geometrical motif in Roman mosaics, created by laying out the pattern on a repeating grid of 4 by 4 squares. As part of the project, our plan is to lift and conserve it for future display.”

Another large Roman dwelling was found on the western side of the site. It has two sets of rooms along a corridor with a central courtyard. There are no mosaic floors, but there is a hypocaust system in one of the rooms which means heated flooring or a private bathing facility. This was likely a townhouse, and indeed a very similar townhouse was discovered on nearby Vine Street underneath the John Lewis lot in 2006.

The third Roman building is smaller. It was found in the center of the site and has a peculiar feature: a large sunken room, possibly a cellar. There may be an apse on one side of the sunken room. Archaeologists don’t know what this building was used for or what the purpose of the sunken room may have been. They are a rare feature in Roman architecture.

Mathew Morris added: “At the moment there is a lot of speculation about what this building might be. It could be a large hypocaust but we are still investigating. It seems to be tucked away in yards and gardens in the middle of the insula, giving it privacy away from the surrounding streets; and the possible apse is only really big enough to house something like a statue, which makes us wonder if it is something special like a shrine.”

Developers plan to build apartments on the property, but they are working with ULAS to determine how to construct the new building without destroying ny significant archaeological materials underneath the surface. They’ve removed rubble and soil accumulated from the Victorian era to now to reveal where the Roman and medieval remains are. Archaeologists and architects will collaborate on the ideal placement of the foundations of the new building to ensure remains are either left unmolested in situ or excavated and raised before construction. Most of the archaeology will remain in place under the new building.

The excavation is scheduled to continue through at least February. No medieval structures have been unearthed thus far, but in the 12th century Leicester’s first hospital, St Johns’ Hospital, was founded on the site. The medieval town goal was also there, so archaeologists are hoping to find at least some evidence of these important buildings.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

18th c. pagoda clock automaton enchants at auction

History Blog - Sat, 2017-02-04 00:26

An exquisite 18th century English-made automaton musical clock in the shape of a multi-tiered pagoda sold for just shy of a million dollars ($998,250) at Fontaine’s in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, last month.

Magnificent English made bronze pagoda form automaton table clock, sits on a large black wood base with an engraved chessboard pattern brass top. 5 in. painted metal dials on the front and both sides with Roman hour numerals; 8 day double fusee chain movement, quarter striking on 2 bells and drives 3 dials including sweep seconds on the front dial. The time movement triggers the automaton mechanism once every 2 hours. The heavy bronze case has elegant color paste set jewels around the bezel and at the floral corner spandrels; each side of the upper tiers is gold gilded with silver doorways, pearl studded roof tops with hanging corner bells[....]

The large and powerful double fusee chain automaton movement is responsible for both raising and lowering the pagoda tower in a controlled manner as well as playing 2 different tunes on a nest of 8 bells, including Chinese folk song, Mo Li Hua, which has been popular since before the 18th century in both China and abroad. The pagoda animates every 2 hours, corresponding to the 12 hour Chinese zodiac time system as well as the music, which also plays every 2 hours accompanying the automation of the pagoda.

Produced for the Chinese Qing Imperial Court, the automaton’s striking design was based on the Porcelain Tower of Nanjing, aka, the Temple of Repaid Gratitude, a pagoda built in the 15th century by order of the Yongle emperor (r. 1402–1424), third emperor of the Ming Dynasty. Construction began in 1413 in the imperial capital of Nanjing (then Nanking) and took almost 20 years to complete. Built on an octagonal base, the tower had nine tiers topped with a pineapple-shaped brass sphere. The pagoda soared to a total height of 260 feet. A spiral staircase inside the structure had 184 steps to the top.

It wasn’t the tallest pagoda in the empire, but its white porcelain bricks, decorated with animals, flowers, Buddhist motifs and landscapes in a multi-colored glazes made it the most striking. Bells hung from every corner of every tier, strung from chains connected to roof finials. When the wind blew, their dulcet tones could be heard for miles. It was widely considered the most beautiful of all the pagodas in China, and visitors from the West showered it with praise. Many classified it as one of the (post-medieval) Seven Wonders of the World.

The reports of the wonderous Nanjing tower launched a trend of pagoda construction in 18th century Europe. The fashion for Chinoiserie had exploded, and with pagodas it went big. Kew Gardens in London got itself a pagoda in 1762. The nobility had pagoda follies built on their estates. Smaller versions were popular for interior decoration.

There’s an elaborate nine-foot-high porcelain model of a pagoda in the Victoria & Albert Museum thought to be a replica of the Porcelain Tower. It’s not an exact copy — there are different numbers of tiers and the base is hexagonal — but the polychrome porcelain tiles, animal and plant decorations and the bells hanging from the roof finials and the brass sphere topping the tower identify its inspiration.

The model was made in the first 15 years in the 19th century and was bought by the then-Prince of Wales for the Royal Pavilion, Prince George’s splendid Indo-Saracenic Revival seaside estate at Brighton. Records in the Royal Archive indicate the pagoda was one of six bought by the prince between 1806 and 1816. George’s gluttony for porcelain pagodas is evidence of how extremely fashionable they were at this time, and the archives confirm that they were very expensive, luxurious objects.

The Porcelain Tower was by lightning in 1801 but was repaired. It could not survive the Taiping Rebellion, sadly. In March of 1853, the Taiping took Nanjing. The tower didn’t have much of a chance with the rebels targeting Buddhist iconography and imperial symbols, both of which it incarnated. First to go was the inner staircase, which the Taiping rebels destroyed ostensibly to keep enemy fighters from using the tower as a spying post. Three years later in 1856, the rebels razed it to the ground. Now the replicas, inspired-bys and this fantastic automaton is all we have left of the original.

View this video full screen to see the automaton’s amazing movement at the beginning and around the 1:30 mark.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Ashmolean secures Alfred the Great hoard

History Blog - Fri, 2017-02-03 00:33

The Ashmolean Museum has raised the £1.35 million ($1.7 million) needed to acquire the Watlington Hoard. Discovered on October 7th, 2015, by retired advertising executive and metal detector hobbyist James Mather in Watlington, Oxfordshire, the mixed hoard of Saxon coins and Viking jewelry and ingots is modest in size but grand in historical significance.

James Mather’s cautious, archaeology-focused approach to metal detecting played a large part in preserving the hoard’s integrity. He first found an oval silver bar that he recognized as a Viking ingot similar to ones he’d seen in museums. Digging a few inches under the surface he found a small group of silver pennies. He realized he had a hoard on his hands, but instead of digging it all up, he reburied what he’d already exposed and alerted the Portable Antiquities Scheme. PAS archaeologist David Williams raised the hoard in a soil block so it could be excavated in laboratory conditions.

First the block was X-rayed to provide a roadmap of the artifacts within and where they were located in the thick clay soil. Conservator Pippa Pearce painstakingly excavated the contents of the hoard. The final count was almost 200 coins, some of them fragments, seven pieces of jewelry — three silver bangles, probably arm rings, and four broken silver — and 15 silver ingots. A tiny scrap of twisted gold is the first gold ever discovered in a Viking hoard in Britain.

But the wee bit of gold is overshadowed by the significance of the coins. The hoard contains 13 examples of an extremely rare coin type known as the ‘Two Emperors’ penny which show King Alfred the Great of Wessex (r. 871–899) and King Ceolwulf II of Mercia (r. 874–ca.879) enthroned next to each other under a winged Victory or an angel. Only two examples of these pennies were known before the discovery of the hoard, and both of those were struck in the same year. The coins in the Watlington Hoard were struck in different mints over several years. This is huge news because it proves that Alfred and Ceolwulf II were allies who worked closely together, at least on issuing currency, for years.

It’s a revelation compared to the very little information that has come down to us about Ceolwulf. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a history commissioned by Alfred the Great, dismisses the King of Mercia as “an unwise king’s thane,” who was placed on the throne of Mercia by the Vikings as a puppet. The evidence of the coins suggests Alfred erased their alliance from the history books.

In February of 2016, the Oxfordshire coroner declared the hoard Treasure after which the Treasure Valuation Committee assessed its value a £1.35 million. Since local museums are given first crack at purchasing archaeological treasures found in the area, the Ashmolean began a campaign to raise the money before the January 31st deadline. They went a long way towards achieving their goal last October when the received a grant of £1.05 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). The Art Fund contributed another £150,000 and more than 700 private individuals contributed the rest. The museum reached its £1.35 million target just days before the deadline.

The Watlington Hoard will now go on display in the Ashmolean’s England Gallery along with another Alfred the Great treasure, the Alfred Jewel, a teardrop-shaped piece of rock crystal (likely recycled Roman jewelry) encasing an allegorical or saintly figure in multi-colored cloisonné enamel. On the side of the gold filigree frame is inscribed “AELFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN,” meaning “Alfred ordered me to be made.” It’s one of the most popular, if not the most popular, exhibits in the museum, and it’s one of the only surviving objects directly associated with King Alfred. It will make an ideal companion for the hoard which has rewritten the history of Alfred’s reign.


Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Well-preserved Roman shipwreck found off Mallorca

History Blog - Thu, 2017-02-02 00:31

A Roman shipwreck from the 3rd or 4th century A.D. has been discovered next to the island of Cabrera just south of Mallorca, Spain. Dubbed Cabrera XIV, the wreck is in untouched condition, preserved where it fell for almost 2000 years. Archaeologists Sebastià Munar and Javier Rodríguez Pandozi of the Balearic Institute of Studies in Marine Archeology (IBEAM) describe the find as “the best preserved wreck of the Balearic Islands and, most likely, one of the best preserved in the western Mediterranean.”

“As far as we know, this is the first time that a completely unaltered wreck has been found in Spanish waters,” says Javier Rodríguez, one of the marine archeologists who participated in the exploration and documentation of the remains of the ship, describing it as an “architectural jewel.”

The difficult-to-reach location and the fact the waters are part of a National Park have been key factors in the preservation of the vessel.

The ship was found in waters 70 meters (230 feet) deep in April 2016 after fishermen reporting pulling up some amphora fragments in their nets at that location. IBEAM scouted the site with a robot. The robot’s images revealed a vast mound of amphorae covering 50 feet of the seabed. In October, human divers dove the site, exploring and photographing in greater detail and at the level of the wreck itself. They took more than 2,000 pictures of the site from all angles which allowed experts to determine its size and orientation.

The ship was 20 meters (65 feet) long and carried a cargo of between 1,000 and 2,000 amphorae. Most of them were made in North Africa and are about one meter (3.3 feet) high. The rest were smaller and made in the south of the Iberian peninsula. Both types of jars carried garum, the sauce made from fermented fish intestines that the Romans put on everything.

Archaeologists believe the ship was transporting garum along a trade route between North Africa and Spain with stops in Gaul and Rome. When the ship sank in antiquity, it capsized on the sea floor. The amphora field covered the ship’s hull, preserving it as an oval mound about 15 meters (50 feet) long and 10 meters (33 feet) wide. With the cargo still in the position it landed in after the wreck, archaeologists are optimistic that there may be surviving timbers from the boat preserved underneath the amphorae.

The discovery was kept under wraps until last Friday to keep looters and sightseers from interfering with site. Now that the news is out, the authorities will police and secure the wreck to ensure it is not looted or inadvertently damaged.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Rare Han treasures at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum

History Blog - Wed, 2017-02-01 00:59

A new exhibition opening next month at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco Tomb Treasures: New Discoveries from China’s Han Dynasty will display 160 artifacts discovered in recent archaeological digs of Han dynasty tombs. Very few of these objects have never left China, and this is the show’s only US stop. The exhibition opens on February 17th and runs until May 28th, so don’t dally in making your way there.

The rule of the Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD) is considered the first Chinese golden age, a period of relative peace and great economic prosperity in which the arts, sciences and trades flourished. Most of what we know of the Han emperors and their courts comes from ancient chroniclers, but they tend to focus on major events — wars, diplomacy, political intrigue — paying little attention to the daily lives even of the rich and royal. Because Han nobles built large tomb complexes with multiple rooms filled with every necessity and luxury to ensure their high standard of living would carry over into the afterlife, objects discovered in tombs lend unique insight into the day-to-day of Han dynasty monarchs, their families, functionaries and courtiers.

Most of the artifacts in the exhibition were unearthed from the mausoleum of Liu Fei in China’s eastern Jiangsu province. Liu Fei was the son of Emperor Jing of Han (r. 157–141 B.C.). He ruled the valuable fiefdom Jiangdu from 153 B.C. until his death in 127 B.C. He was interred a vast tomb complex of almost 2.7 MILLION square feet that included the tombs of his wives, concubines and attendants, plus weapons and chariot pits. The tomb was discovered on Dayun Mountain in 2009. Even though it had been looted repeatedly since antiquity, the floors of the outer chambers collapsed early enough in the tomb’s existence to preserve artifacts stored in the chambers below. Archaeologists found more than 10,000 artifacts crammed into storage rooms.

The exhibition is divided into three galleries. The first, Everlasting happiness without end, displays objects that reveal the kinds of entertainment enjoyed in Han dynasty palaces: music, dancing, food, wine. Artifacts include musical instruments, most notably a set of bronze bells and stone chimes that would have been used only on formal court occasions, smoke-eating lamps to keep the party going well into the night and ceramic dancers captured in dynamic movement. Containers used to prepare and eat food held offerings that would nourish the Han ruler in the afterlife had ritual significance in tombs, and elegant dinnerware like jade cups, bronze bowls and tables inlaid with gold and gemstones ensured their heavenly food would be eaten in the high style to which they had become accustomed.

The second, Eternal life without limit, is set in a tomb-like space and features artifacts used to prepare the deceased for the afterlife and to prevent the decay of the flesh. There are medical implements and divination tools, but jade is the star player here. It was used in Chinese burials long before the Han dynasty (or any dynasty at all, for that matter) because it was considered to have the power to prevent the decay of the flesh. The Han took jade funerary artifacts to new heights. They believed that people had two souls, one that went straight to heaven after death, the other that stayed in the body. To keep the latter safe inside an intact body, the dead were covered in jade. Jade plugs were placed in all orifices and jade masks on the face. If the deceased was of high enough rank — emperor, king, important nobles — the body would be put in a suit made from hundreds of jade scales. An exquisite jade suit from the tomb of Queen Lian, Liu Fei’s second and likely favorite wife, is a highlight of this gallery.

The theme of the third gallery is Enduring remembrance without fail. It explores the private, personal spaces of Han palaces, exhibiting objects from people’s bedrooms and bathrooms. Artifacts in this gallery include personal hygiene and grooming tools, a silver bath basin, incense burners, lacquer cosmetics boxes and sex toys. There are gifts from kings to their wives and lovers — silver belt hooks, a bronze mirror, a jade pendant — identifiable as such from inscriptions. There’s even an earthenware model of a toilet from the 2nd century B.C. found in 1995 in the tomb of the King of Chu dug into Jiangsu’s Tuolan Mountain.

I’d like to conclude with a special note of thanks to Zac Rose of the Asian Art Museum for the beautiful photographs and wealth of information he was kind enough to share with me. I’ve written about ancient Chinese tomb discoveries before, and I would have written about more of them had there been any remotely usable pictures. There’s no relief once artifacts are in museums either, since most Chinese museums don’t have detailed pictures of their collection online. Getting such spectacular high resolution shots of recently excavated artifacts from Han tombs is an incredibly rare treat and I’m so grateful.

And now, even more pictures!

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

George Washington’s field tent stands again

History Blog - Tue, 2017-01-31 00:37

George Washington’s Headquarters Tent was his most consistent office, following him on campaigns for almost the entire duration of the Revolutionary War. He slept there (for real this time!), planned battles, wrote letters, met with his staff and visitors. Washington’s portable headquarters was kept in the family with many other artifacts from his service in the Revolutionary War for generations. It was the Civil War that wrested it from the family. The tent belonged to Mary Custis Lee, great-granddaughter of Martha Washington and wife of Robert E. Lee. After her husband resigned his commission in the United States Army on April 20th, 1861, he set out for Richmond within days, leaving Mary behind at Arlington House in Alexandria, Virginia, the estate she’d inherited from her father George Washington Parke Custis (Martha Washington’s grandson).

She, like many on both sides, was sure the war would be over in a matter of months. Mary planned to ride out the short-lived hostilities in the comfort and safety of her home. That fantasy was shattered in less than a month. With the Union troops rapidly approaching, Mary Custis Lee packed a small selection of family treasures, including as many pieces of her Washington collection as she could carry. The headquarters tent and other marquees (she had several Washington tents) were too large to pack, so she locked them in the cellar and gave the keys to her elderly slave Selina Gray. She left Arlington House on May 15, 1861. Union troops occupied it on May 24th, confiscating the Washington field tents and other artifacts. Arlington House became the headquarters of Union General Irvin McDowell and the 1,000-acre plantation became a camp for 14,000 Union soldiers. Mary would never again return to her beloved family home. After the war, the Arlington House plantation was turned into the Arlington National Cemetery.

Meanwhile, the cellar key was burning a hole in Selina Gray’s pocket. McDowell was sympathetic to Mary Custis Lee — he wrote her a very kind letter promising to help safeguard her home — and had the utmost respect for her illustrious ancestry, but as the war dragged on into the end of 1861, he was increasingly unable to keep his restive troops from breaking into the house and pocketing any valuables they could find. When Gray saw that the cellar had been broken into and some of the Washington objects were missing, she told McDowell everything. She told him how historically significant these treasures were, gave him the key and a list of the missing artifacts.

With no realistic way to keep his men from stealing the house blind by dribs and dabs, McDowell wrote to his bosses in Washington that Arlington House was no longer safe “for the preservation of anything that is known to have an historical interest small or great.” In January of 1862, the tents and all other remaining pieces of the Washington patrimony were sent to the Patent Office in Washington where they went on display within two weeks in an exhibition organized by former Congressman Caleb Lyon called Captured at Arlington. Lyon had visited with the Lees before the war, and he personally saw to the packing, shipping, inventorying and installation of the tents in the Patent Office’s main exhibition hall.

The tents remained on display at the Patent Office for almost 20 years. The disastrous 1877 fire which destroyed 80,000 patent models and 300,000 drawings raised concerns about the safety of the Washington artifacts. In 1881 they were moved to more secure facilities at the Smithsonian Institution.

Despite her ailing health, Mary never stopped writing to anyone in the federal government who might help her get back her family heirlooms. She was ignored for years. Then for a moment in 1869 it looked like she might prevail after all when President Andrew Johnson approved the return the “relics of Mount Vernon.” He took it back when the press reported the story as the feds giving away all of the Father of Our Country’s stuff to rebel general Robert E. Lee.

Mary Custis Lee died in 1873 but the struggle lived on with her eldest son George Washington Parke Custis Lee. He petitioned successive administrations for the return of Arlington House and took it all the way to the Supreme Court which ruled in his favor. (Thousands of soldiers were already buried there, so Lee sold the property back to the government. It was the principle of the matter.) Then he hounded them for decades over the Washington memorabilia. Finally it was William McKinley, the last US President to be a Civil War veteran, who ordered the return of the Washington tents and artifacts to George Washington Parke Custis Lee. It was 1901.

After a struggle lasting 40 years, the family heirlooms were back in family hands. The Headquarters Tent was sold by Mary Custis Lee, Robert and Mary’s daughter, in 1909 to raise funds for Confederate widows. The buyer was Reverend W. Herbert Burk who spent a whopping $5,000 on it. An avid history buff, he was the founder of the Valley Forge Historical Society and of the Washington Memorial Chapel built at Valley Forge. He also founded the Valley Forge Museum of American History where the Headquarters Tent was erected outdoors in the snow, just like it was in George Washington’s Day. Burk’s extensive Revolutionary War collection, including the tent, became the core of the new Museum of the American Revolution’s collection in 2003.

Fourteen years later, the tent will one of the jewels of the new museum slated to open at long last this April. It needed a lot of care to make it ready for display. Textile conservator Virginia Whelan had to repair the linen’s 550 holes, a large missing piece (likely a victim of the practice of cutting souvenirs from famous textiles like the poor Star Spangled Banner) and numerous stains.

Wearing a thimble but no gloves, Ms. Whelan layered fine, nearly invisible netting over and under each hole, then used polyester thread finer than human hair to stitch around the damage to prevent further fraying. For large tears and the missing piece, she worked with the faculty of Philadelphia University’s textile design department to make high-resolution images of the fabric, which were printed on polyester with a digital inkjet printer.

The whole effort took 525 hours of handwork by Ms. Whelan and an assistant.

Then they had figure out to erect so fragile a textile. The original wooden poles and tent pegs are extant, but they’d be way too rough on the fabric these days.

Alex Stadel, a structural engineer from Keast & Hood, devised the custom base, which looks like two unfurled umbrellas, standing upright and connected by a ridgepole, adding some upright poles on tracks for additional flexibility.

To attach the walls to the tent top, the team avoided iron hooks and eyes that were used in the original design, and chose rare-earth magnets that tether the fabric in place.

The Museum of the American Revolution opens in the historic center of Philadelphia on April 19th, the anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the opening salvo of the Revolutionary War.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Italy’s greatest detective and master of disguise

History Blog - Sun, 2017-01-29 23:30

Giuseppe Dosi has gone down in history as Italy’s greatest detective, a master of disguise who went undercover to solve the thorniest of crimes and did us the great courtesy of taking pictures of himself in his many disguises. He even had a little postcard-sized contact sheet of a dozen pictures made to give to people. Famous in Italian police circles for his pioneering efforts, Dosi is getting wider attention thanks to the publication of a new biography, the airing of a new documentary about him and the digitization of some his papers, now in the Museum of the Liberation of Rome.

Born in 1891, he had tried his hand at the theater in his youth and even though his stage career was stillborn, he put his love of performance and many other considerable talents into his job as a detective. He wore disguises to alter his appearance, changed his voice, his walk, even his gender when drag was called for. He had at least 17 confirmed disguises — two priests (one foreign, one Italian), a Galician banker, a German doctor, a Yugoslavian merchant, a nihilist, a Czech World War I veteran with a bum leg — and five fully fleshed identities complete with fake documents and background stories.

His enthusiastic embrace of disguises and creating characters in police investigations, known as “fregolismo detectivistico,” (“detectival transformism”) after the actor Leopoldo Fregoli who was so adept at transforming into diverse characters on stage that his last name became a neologism for chameleon-like quick changes. His impersonation of the Czech guy with a limp completely fooled poet and would-be dictator Gabriele D’Annunzio, who in 1922 had fallen or been thrown off a balcony. Dosi went undercover to find out what had happened, a politically sensitive investigation since D’Annunzio’s greatest rival and enemy was one Benito Mussolini, who later that year would march on Rome with his Blackshirts and be appointed the new Prime Minister of Italy. Dosi’s detecting discovered that D’Annunzio had indeed been pushed, not by a political assassin, but by his volatile mistress. The case was quietly closed. He did manage to copy 10 sexually explicit letters D’Annunzio wrote to said mistress before he got out of Dodge, though. The poet called him a “dirty cop” when he found out the limping Czech was really an undercover Roman.

In actual fact he was the polar opposite of a dirty cop. Dosi was a man of resolute integrity, fearless in pursuit of the truth, even when his bosses would have preferred he look the other way, and he paid a very high price for it. In 1927, he took on a case that had bedevilled Rome since 1924. It was a horrific series of crimes, the rape of seven little girls and the murder of five of them, the youngest just three years old. The rapes and murders were breathlessly reported by the sensationalistic press and the city was in turmoil. Mussolini himself, who saw the failure to solve these crimes as an embarrassment because it made it seem like his strident law-and-order party could not deliver on its promises, pressured Chief of Police Arturo Bocchini to arrest someone on the double.

So the police found someone. Sure, Gino Girolimoni didn’t match the description of a tall, middle-aged man with a bristling mustache and an imperfect command of the Italian language — he was average height, in his 30s, clean-shaven and a native Roman — but the mild-mannered photographer and mediator for the destitute in legal cases was a warm body, and between riled up public opinion and Mussolini breathing down their neck, that was enough for the cops. They ginned up some blatantly fake evidence and arrested him in 1927.

It was not enough for Giuseppe Dosi. He knew the evidence against Girolimoni was flimsy and was convinced the real murderer was still out there. He reopened the case, over the objections of his superiors, and quickly zeroed in a more likely suspect: a British Anglican priest named Ralph Lyonel Brydges who had gotten caught molesting a girl in Canada before he moved to Rome. In April of 1928, Dosi got a search warrant for Brydges’ room and found a note in a diary referencing the location of one of the murders, newspaper clippings about the crimes and handkerchiefs identical to the ones used to strangle the little girls. Brydges had friends in high places, however, and diplomatic interference from Britain and Canada (his wife was the daughter of a very prominent Toronto politician) kept him out of jail. He was briefly committed for observation to the insane asylum Santa Maria della Pietà only to be released and flee the country.

With the case against Girolimoni in shambles, charges against him were quietly dropped. Every newspaper in the country had splashed his name and face on their front pages as the “Monster of Rome” when he was arrested. His release was covered in a few cursory articles in the middle of the paper. He could no longer make a decent living because everyone thought he was a child rapist and murderer. He died in 1961, penniless and alone. Only a handful of friends showed up to his funeral. Dosi was one of them.

So now the authorities no longer had their patsy to execute for crimes he didn’t commit, and the only other suspect was far out of reach. Mussolini, who in 1925 after Dosi foiled an assassination plot against him had sung his praises and recommended him for a promotion to whatever role he preferred, was deeply displeased by Dosi’s dogged persistence. Dosi’s police bosses, already antsy about him exposing their corruption and lies setting up poor Girolimoni, also felt the pressure from the top to curb their man’s hubris.

First they fired him. Then they just cut to the chase and arrested him. He was imprisoned in Regina Coeli, a truly scary jail in Rome which during the Fascist period was replete with political prisoners. In case that wasn’t extreme enough, they moved him to Santa Maria della Pietà where the police detective spent 17 months forcibly detained in the same psychiatric facility where Brydges, a certain child molester and possible serial child murderer, had spent a few nights. He was finally released in January 1941.

Before the end of the war, his great courage and initiative would perform another historic service. On June 4th, 1944, Allied troops under General Mark Clark liberated Rome. The Nazi occupiers beat a hasty retreat and a mob assembled at the notorious SS torture prison on Via Tasso to free the political prisoners and Jews who hadn’t been murdered by the Nazis on the way out the door. The Germans had set their papers on fire in the attempt to cover their tracks, as was their wont, and when the mob freed the prisoners, they tossed bunches of records out the window in a sort of riot of de-Nazifying the place.

Dosi, who lived on a neighboring street, showed up with a cart and took it upon himself to enter the burning building and save all the surviving records. He turned them over to the Allied Command who wisely saw this guy was a badass and appointed him special investigator of the Counter Intelligence Corp. His testimony and those records he single-handedly saved from the flames would be crucial in the prosecution of numerous Nazi war criminals, including the list of 75 Jews taken from Regina Coeli to their deaths in the monstrous Ardeatine massacre. In November of 1946, he rejoined the police force as director of the Central Office of International Police.

Over the course of his long and storied career, Dosi put his great energy, dedication and diverse interests into areas of policework that are now standard but were newfangled in his day. He wrote essays on scientific policing, was a vocal advocate for women police officers, promoted photographing and fingerprinting arrestees, the preservation of cultural patrimony and cross-border law enforcement. Not only did he help found the Italian branch of INTERPOL, he coined the name, originally as a telegraphic address for the organization that soon stuck. He retired in 1956 with the title of Chief Inspector General. He wrote several books about his detective work and lived a long life, dying in 1981 at the age of 90.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

38,000-year-old aurochs engraving found in France

History Blog - Sat, 2017-01-28 23:29

An international team of anthropologists has unearthed a 38,000-year-old engraving of an aurochs at the Abri Blanchard site in Dordogne, southwestern France.

First excavated in 1910, the Abri Blanchard rock shelter quickly proved itself to be an enormously rich source of archaeological material from the Aurignacian culture of the Upper Palaeolithic. It’s one of the top three Aurignacian sites in terms of numbers of bone pieces found, and archaeologists also found large quantities of flint tools, weapons and production waste indicating flint tools were being made inside the shelter. It wasn’t all business at Abri Blanchard, however. Decorative ornaments including soapstone beads, pierced shell and animal teeth were unearthed in the prehistoric deposits as were numerous artworks engraved and painted stone blocks and slabs.

As was accepted practice at the time, the finds from the 1910-1912 excavation of Abri Blanchard were sold in batches to collectors and museums and dispersed across Europe and the United States. The widespread selling artifacts was actually encouraged by the archaeological community because it was one of very few reliable sources of funding for future excavations, and it was inconceivable that all of materials recovered from such a rich dig could find a single home in a local or nationally prominent museum. The dig was also poorly documented, with no stratigraphic and spatial mapping, and while remains and objects were found in two archaeological layers, excavation director Louis Didon mingled the discoveries without concern for which layer they came from, grouping them by type or other shared criteria that appealed to buyers.

In 2011, more than a century after the first excavations began, a new research team returned to Abri Blanchard to reexcavate the site armed with modern equipment and modern archaeological standards. In 2012, they unearthed a limestone slab engraved with the image of an aurochs (wild cow once native to Europe and one of my top three favorite extinct animals) decorated with dozens of dots aligned in neat rows.

The aurochs was a popular motif in Aurignacian art. The Abri Blanchard engraving has notable similarities in technique and design to the aurochs painted on the walls of the spectacular Chauvet Cave, and the aligned dots have been found in Chauvet as well as other Aurignacian sites in Germany and France.

“The discovery sheds new light on regional patterning of art and ornamentation across Europe at a time when the first modern humans to enter Europe dispersed westward and northward across the continent,” explains NYU anthropologist Randall White, who led the excavation in France’s Vézère Valley.

The findings, which appear in the journal Quaternary International, center on the early modern humans’ Aurignacian culture, which existed from approximately 43,000 to 33,000 years ago. [...]

White contends that Aurignacian art offers a window into the lives and minds of its makers—and into the societies they created.

“Following their arrival from Africa, groups of modern humans settled into western and Central Europe, showing a broad commonality in graphic expression against which more regionalized characteristics stand out,” he explains. “This pattern fits well with social geography models that see art and personal ornamentation as markers of social identity at regional, group, and individual levels.”

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Fragments found of Amenhotep II box

History Blog - Sat, 2017-01-28 00:34

Recently identified fragments from an elaborately decorated wooden box inscribed with the cartouche of 18th Dynasty Pharaoh Amenhotep II have revealed new information about the original design of the box. The fragments were held by London antiques dealers Charles Ede. Egyptologist Tom Hardwick researched them and discovered their connection to the box in the National Museums Scotland. He alerted the gallery and the gallery alerted the museum. Thanks to financial support from the Art Fund and the National Museums Scotland Charitable Trust, the museum acquired the fragments for £25,000. The reunited box and fragments will go on display at the National Museums Scotland where they will be part of the exhibition The Tomb: Ancient Egyptian Burial which runs from March 31st through September 3rd, 2017.

Made from Lebanese cedar wood, the cylindrical box was made around 1427-1400 B.C. with the finest of raw materials and craftsmanship. It is inlaid with ebony strips and ivory plaques with copper alloy and faience accents. Some of the gilding on the central figure of the god Bes and on three bands encircling the cylinder has survived. Ivory cartouches on the top half of the box contain the throne name of Amenhotep II. Underneath the cartouches are the Egyptian hieroglyph for “gold,” a symbol of the divine and eternal life. Notched ribs from palm tree branches, symbolizing the passage of a year and therefore the portent of a long reign, stand on either side of the cartouches. The cartouches and royal symbols festooned around Bes, fierce protector of hearth and home, suggests the box invoked the protection of a very personal, homebody god to ensure a long reign and life for Amenhotep.

The box has been in the collection of the National Museums Scotland for 160 years, but its origins are nebulous. The first time the box appears in the museum records is in the 1890s when it was first reassembled from fragments by archaeologist and museum director Joseph Anderson. According to an article written in 1895 by renown Egyptologist Sir Flinders Petrie, Anderson found the fragments in a box of odds and ends from the Rhind Collection.

Alexander Henry Rhind was a Scottish archaeologists who excavated Egypt in the mid-19th century and who pioneered detailed archaeological documentation. He brought back hundreds of artifacts now in the collection of the National Museums Scotland, including the full contents of a tomb he’d excavated in Thebes which was built in 1290 B.C. for the Chief of Police, looted repeatedly and reused for more than a 1000 years. When Rhind discovered the tomb, its last occupation from the Roman Egyptian era was undisturbed. Until he took it all to Scotland, of course. This is the tomb that is the focus of the National Museums Scotland’s upcoming exhibition.

Unfortunately, Rhind’s archaeological recording skills did not extend to documenting the discovery of the box fragments, and since he died in 1863 when he was just 29 years old he was no longer around to answer any questions by the time Joseph Anderson stumbled on the pieces. Museum curator and expert in Egyptian art Cyril Aldred studied the box in the 1940s. He made a detailed line drawing and watercolor of it in 1946 and proposed that Rhind had discovered the box in a tomb next to the recycled Roman Egyptian tomb. This tomb held the mummies of Amenhotep II’s granddaughters, among other princesses. They would have had good reason to have an extra fancy box dedicated to the grandpa, and since this was not the mummies’ original resting place but rather a second, less visible location used by priests to spare the royal remains from looting, the box’s fragmentary condition could be explained by the move.

The box was restored again in 1950s, and while it was less terrible than the 19th century attempt (the back is missing, but they still curved into a cylinder even though it was too skinny and the ends didn’t meet or match), conservators had to fill in blanks without references to what it might have looked like when whole. The newly surfaced fragments answer some of those questions and confirm that the last restoration was not accurate.

The decoration on one of the fragments features a motif representing the façade of the royal palace, tying in with the rich royal symbolism on the box, and confirming the object’s royal association. Furthermore, where the decoration of the box differs from that of the fragments, it reveals that the part of the box was incorrectly restored in mid-20th century.

The box is a much more elaborate version of the types of wooden containers often found in ancient Egyptian tombs, other examples of which are in National Museums Scotland’s collections. It was probably used in the royal palace to hold cosmetics or expensive perfumes and likely belonged to a member of the king’s family, most probably one of his granddaughters.

Even with its missing bits and questionable past restorations, the box is widely considered a masterpiece of ancient Egyptian decorative woodwork. Petrie described it as “a very interesting example of the fine work of that most wealthy and luxurious period, the 18th Dynasty.” After their stint on display in the new exhibition, the box and fragments will be kept in storage while the museums constructs a new Ancient Egypt gallery to house it. The new gallery is scheduled to be completed in 2018-2019.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Early aviation collection goes on display for the first time

History Blog - Fri, 2017-01-27 00:47

Evelyn Louise Way was born in Ontario, Canada, in 1893. She graduated from nursing school in 1916 and worked as a nurse. In 1926 she married Massachusetts industrialist Henry Plimpton Kendall who had turned a small, unsuccessful textile mill owned by his mother’s family (the Plimptons of Walpole, MA, whose scions include journalist George Plimpton and actress Martha Plimpton) into a hugely successful textile manufacturing company of national scope. Bought by Palmolive in the 1970s, the Kendall Company still lives today through brands like Curad bandages.

Both Evelyn and Henry were avid philanthropists and collectors with a broad range of interests. Together they assembled museum-quality collections that would eventually become the kernels of more than one museum. Their collection of early South Carolina maps and prints they donated to the University of South Carolina. Evelyn put her collection of dolls on display in the Kendall Doll Museum, now alas closed and the collection dispersed at auction. She donated her collection of antique clothing to the Royal Ontario Museum. The Way’s extensive, world-class collection of whaling artifacts went on display in the Kendall Whaling Museum in 1950, also now closed. The collection was donated to the New Bedford Whaling Museum in 2001.

Perhaps Evelyn Way Kendall’s greatest feat of collecting was the three decades she spent assembling the largest private collection of early aviation memorabilia. We don’t know what inspired this passion for aviation in Evelyn. One possible catalyst was a widely publicized rescue mission of lost balloonists that her father William Beal Way, a regional supervisor with the Canadian National Railroads, had participated in. In December of 1920, two U.S. Navy balloonists had been blown way off course from Long Island to the frozen hinterlands of Hudson Bay. The balloon was lost in the crash but the balloonists survived, braving hunger, Canada’s inclement December-January weather, and long distance travel on foot and by dog sled. William Way wrote a detailed account of their month-long ordeal and rescue which Evelyn apparently found riveting.

Whatever the origin story, from the 1920s until the 1950s, Evelyn amassed 78 original artworks, more than 400 prints, 330 books and manuscripts, historic photographs, portraits, aircraft designs and decorative objects from fans to snuff boxes to jewelry, all relating to ballooning, aeronauts and aeronautical history. Aviation was a popular subject for collectors at that time, thanks largely to the explosion of interest in the use of aeronautics — the Red Baron, the Zeppelin raids — during World War I. The likes Harry Frank Guggenheim and Vanderbilt relation William A.M. Burden collected aviation material, but even with their endlessly deep pockets, they came nowhere near breadth and quality of Evelyn Way Kendall’s collection. As early as 1931, scholars were already beating down her door for access to it.

The collection remained in the family after Evelyn’s death in 1979. In 2014, her descendants donated the Evelyn Way Kendall Ballooning and Early Aviation Collection to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. After documentation and conservation by Smithsonian experts, the unique collection is now going on display for the first time.

When the first balloon rose over the rooftops of Paris in the late 18th century, enormous crowds gathered to watch. This phenomenon spurred a new age of aeronauts dreaming of what else could fly. The excitement of this achievement was captured much like it would be today—in artwork and on memorabilia; objects such as decorative fans, china, snuff boxes and prints will be on display. “Clouds in a Bag” explores the fascination of the first balloon flights through these pieces.

“The invention of the balloon struck the men and women of the late 18th century like a thunderbolt,” said Tom Crouch, senior curator of aeronautics at the National Air and Space Museum. “After centuries of dreaming, we were airborne at last! Visitors to the exhibition will be able to share some of the excitement experienced by those who watched the first aerial travelers rise into the sky.”

The Clouds in a Bag exhibition opens at the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, on Saturday, January 28th, and runs through 2018.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

3,500-year-old jewelry workshop illuminates dark age

History Blog - Thu, 2017-01-26 00:56

Archaeologists have discovered a 3,500-year-old jewelry workshop on the island of Failaka off the coast of Kuwait. Failaka was one of the major hubs of the Bronze Age Dilmun civilization, which at its peak is believed to have covered parts of modern-day Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and coastal Saudi Arabia. From around 2000 B.C., Dilmun held the monopoly on trade in the Persian Gulf. Failaka’s position at the entrance to Kuwait Bay gave it outsized strategic significance.

Dilmun’s ascendance wasn’t uninterrupted. Somewhere around the year 1700 B.C., the well-established trade network collapsed. The temples and cities were abandoned and the tombs of the kings looted. The next century is known as a dark age for Dilmun and Failaka because whatever the cause and effects of the collapse, there is little in the archaeological record that might shed light on the period.

The jewelry workshop is therefore something of a grail-shaped beacon. It was discovered in a building dated to the period between 1700 and 1600 B.C. and it contains very important garbage: small fragments of semi-precious stones including carnelian and jasper discarded as waste. Carnelian and jasper and not native to Failaka. These were imports, probably from Indian and Pakistan, which means trade across vast distances was still active during the so-called dark ages.

Kristoffer Damgaard, an assistant professor in the department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies at the University of Copenhagen, believes that Højlund and his colleagues have made an important discovery.

“I have no doubt that this is an important and historically crucial discovery,” said Damgaard. “These are the raw materials for luxury items for the wealthy that reveals the local elite had the option of long-distance trading in commodities such as precious stones.”

Damgaard said that the find is an “example of how far back globalisation extends”. Højlund believes that the stones show that Kuwait resumed trade during the dark period.

“Kuwait must have re-established the trade routes that collapsed around the year 1700 BC,” he said. “It bears witness to a renaissance in Bahrain and Failaka in around 1600 BC, when it resumed relations eastward to Pakistan and India.”

It’s also relevant to Failaka’s particular archaeological record because Dilmun was known for its circular stamped seals (as opposed to ones that were rolled like the cylinders of Mesopotamia). Dilmunian seals have been unearthed in India, Mesopotamia and in Failaka. A great number of them were found in a square stone building in the Al Hakim Palace and Tower Temple complex. They were of different shapes and sizes — circular, rectangular, square, cylinder scarab-shaped — and bore different inscriptions. The sheer numbers and variety of seals found on Failaka underscore that it was a pivot point of cultural exchange between the civilizations of the Gulf.

Danish archaeologists from the Moesgaard Museum, led by Peter Vilhelm Glob famed as the archaeologist who examined the bog body Tollund Man upon its discovery by peat cutters in 1950, were the first to systematically excavate the Persian Gulf countries in the southern Arabian peninsula beginning in 1953. Glob’s team found the first evidence of the Dilmun civilization in Bahrain and thought it was a local power. When they were invited to excavate Kuwait in 1958, they found Dilmun’s reach extended north as well, that they had colonized Failaka around 2,000 B.C. and used as a political, economic and religious center and headquarters for shipping. This most recent series of excavations on Failaka have been ongoing for nine years.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Ancient skeleton found with tongue replaced by stone

History Blog - Wed, 2017-01-25 00:40

Archaeologists studying a 3rd-4th century Romano-British skeleton unearthed in 1991 at Stanwick in Northamptonshire’s Nene river valley have discovered a unique feature: his tongue was severed and replaced with a flat, round stone. He was buried facedown, a practice believed to be a deliberate act of disrespect for the dead person, or a means of shunning the deceased to counter a perceived danger to the community. This is the first burial from the late Roman period, facedown or otherwise, discovered with a stone in place of the tongue.

Historic England, then called English Heritage, extensively excavated more than 30 hectares the Stanwick site in advance of gravel extraction from 1984 through 1992. They unearthed evidence of human occupation in the early Iron Age. There was an established settlement on the site by the late Iron Age. That developed into an agricultural village from the late 1st century A.D. to the third. The Romano-British village prospered, with increasingly complex stone buildings replacing the circular timber structures. There was a large villa built in the 4th century A.D. and it remained in use even as the rest of the village were abandoned. Bodies were buried outside the villa walls as late as the 6th century.

The eight years of excavations unearthed more than 11,000 individually documented finds, among them more than 3,500 coins, a large collection of stone sculptures believed to have come from two mausoleums, 2.5 tons of Romano-British pottery, 1,600 samples of organic materials (plant fibers, insects, pollen), 1.4 tons of animal bones, cremation burials, 112 complete or close to complete inhumation burials and eight skulls. Thirty-six of the inhumations and one of the isolated skulls were discovered in a cemetery west of the villa. There was very little material in the graves to date them. Pottery fill used in the burials ranges from the Iron Age to the 3rd-4th century which obviously doesn’t help narrow down dates. Two copper alloy bracelets found in one burial are of a type produced in the 5th century. Archaeologists concluded that the cemetery was likely in use from the 3rd to the 5th century.

It has taken decades for archaeologists to document, study and conserve all of this material, which is why they’ve only gotten to the stone tongue skeleton now. Osteological analysis found evidence of infection which supports the idea that the tongue was cut out since that kind of surgical intervention in our bacteria-infested mouths was almost certain to cause infection. The combination of facedown burial and stone might suggest the deceased was a criminal who was punished with tongue amputation.

Mays said: “There are Germanic law codes which talk about cutting people’s tongues out because they spread malicious accusations against other people. We’re looking into it at the moment, but I don’t know whether there are any Roman laws to that effect. Feedback I’ve had hasn’t indicated that there were … although that is of course still possible. We don’t know much about practices in Roman Britain as opposed to Rome itself.”

Asked how archaeologists know the tongue was amputated, Mays explained: “What gave us this idea is that there are other burials from Roman Britain where missing body parts in the grave are replaced by objects at the appropriate anatomical location. There are only about 10 of these that we’ve so far been able to identify. The great majority are decapitations, where you’ve got a stone or a pot placed where the head should be. We thought that, because of this, perhaps a stone could replace the tongue because it’s in the front part of the mouth where the tongue ought to be.” [...]

He added: “The whole idea of replacing a severed body part with an object is interesting in itself. It could be an attempt to complete an incomplete body. Or it could be an attempt to replace part of a body with something obviously inanimate, like a stone or a pot, to prevent the corpse from being complete.”

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

17th c. letters found in Knole House attic

History Blog - Tue, 2017-01-24 00:01

The original Knole House, a stately home in Kent, was a medieval manor house that in 1456 became a palace of the Archbishops of Canterbury who extensively rebuilt and expanded it. It was claimed by Crown during the Reformation; Henry VIII used it as a hunting lodge. In 1603 it was given to Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset, Lord High Treasurer and cousin of Anne Boleyn. Sackville began a years-long program of reconstruction and refurbishment to prepare the house for a visit from King James I that never ended up happening, which is a shame because those protective witchmarks scratched into the wooden beams of the king’s rooms during construction in early 1606 went to waste. His descendants followed in his footsteps, doing extensive renovations at the end of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Over time, the family retreated into the nucleus of the house, leaving many of the grand rooms with the fabled Sackville art collection under dust covers. From a historical preservation perspective, this was a salutary choice. Modern systems were never installed in much of the house. In 1946, the Knole House was acquired by the National Trust in an unusual deal which leased most of the living rooms back to the Sackvilles. The formal rooms and the treasures they contain are now open to the visiting public.

Knole House is currently undergoing a $30 million restoration, the National Trust’s largest conservation project ever, that is repairing the timber-frame structure, documenting every single beam and opening spaces that have long been closed to the public. It’s in two of those spaces, attic rooms, that a volunteer and a contractor discovered three 17th century letters. Volunteer Jim Parker found two letters, one dated May 1603, the other October 1633, under the floorboards in the South Barracks attic. Builder Dan Morrison discovered the third, dated February 1622, in some debris in a ceiling void near the Upper King’s Room. It probably fell through the attic floor above.

After centuries in the dirt and rubble of attics, the letters needed immediate conservation. They were photographed to document their original condition and then conservators cleaned the surface using fine brushes, rubber powders and professional archival cleansers. The crumpled up pages were given a nice, relaxing sauna in a sealed humidifying chamber, after which the wrinkles were smoothed out in a paper press.

Though written at different times by different people, all three letters were written on expensive, high quality rag paper. The paper in one of the letters, the one written in 1622, was in particularly poor shape. It tore during the cleaning process and conservators had to repair the gaps with Japanese tissue paper. With a little help from infra-red imaging, most of the letter was deciphered. It’s seems to be a thank you note from some recipients of a charitable donation.

The xviijth of February 1622

[Received] by us the poore prisoners in [ILLEGIBLE] the [ILLEGIBLE]
[from the] right honourable the Earle of Middlesex our worthy [ILLEGIBLE]
[by the hands] of Mr Ayers the some of three Shillings [ILLEGIBLE]
[ILLEGIBLE] for our releefe & succour for which wee give [good]
[ILLEGIBLE] for all our good benefactors.

Richard Roger [ILLEGIBLE]

The 1633 letter is about house administration. The courteous missive asks that some pewter spoons and other domestic goods be transported from a London home to Copt Hall in Essex.

It reads:

Mr Bilby, I pray p[ro]vide to be sent too morrow in ye Cart some Greenfish, The Lights from my Lady Cranfeild[es] Cham[ber] 2 dozen of Pewter spoon[es]: one greate fireshovell for ye nursery; and ye o[t]hers which were sent to be exchanged for some of a better fashion, a new frying pan together with a note of ye prises of such Commoditie for ye rest.

Your loving friend
Robert Draper

Octobre 1633
Copthall

The Cranfields of Copt Hall had close links to the Sackvilles of Knole House. Frances Cranfield, daughter of Lionel Cranfield, 1st Baron Cranfield and Earl of Middlesex, married Richard Sackville, 5th Earl of Dorset in 1637. Extant archives record that she brought a great many large trunks and pieces of furniture with her. Trunks filled with papers were stashed in the attic. The letters could easily have gotten dislodged during the move and wound up underneath the floorboards.

A lot of the art and furnishings in the Knole collection came from the Copt Hall collection which was moved to Knole in the early 18th century, so this apparently quotidian letter about moving some stuff is a pearl of great price for the National Trust because it sheds light on an important part of Knole House’s history.

Nathalie Cohen, regional archaeologist for the National Trust, said: “It’s extremely rare to uncover letters dating back to the 17th century, let alone those that give us an insight into the management of the households of the wealthy, and the movement of items from one place to another.

“Their good condition makes this a particularly exciting discovery.”

She adds: “At Knole our typical finds relate to the maintenance of the house such as wiring and nails or things visitors have dropped such as cigarette packets and ticket stubs. These letters are significant as artefacts but also for the insights they give us into the correspondence of the early seventeenth century.”

The 1603 letter has not been deciphered yet. All three of the letters are on display in Knole’s Visitor Centre.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Last coins excavated from huge Jersey Celtic hoard

History Blog - Mon, 2017-01-23 00:52

Excavation of the enormous hoard of Celtic coins discovered by metal detectorists on the Channel Island of Jersey in 2012 is finally complete. Comprised of almost 70,000 coins, multiple gold torcs, glass beads and organic materials including plant fibers, a leather bag and a bag woven with silver and gold thread, the Le Catillon II treasure is the largest Celtic coin hoard ever discovered, six times larger than the runner-up.

When Reg Mead and Richard Miles found the hoard after 30 years of searching the same field because of a story they’d heard from the previous landowners daughter, they only dug down to the surface of the mass of coins before alerting Jersey Heritage so the professionals could take over the excavation. With such a great quantity of coins corroded together, archaeologists dug the entire hoard out of the ground in a single soil block measuring 4.5 x 2.6 feet and weighing three quarters of a ton.

The block was transported to the Jersey Museum where it was painstakingly excavated in the glass-walled laboratory in full public view. The museum’s conservator Neil Mahrer worked with a team of experts and volunteers to document, recover, identify and clean every single speck of archaeological material. For the first two years, they focused on removing and cleaning 2,000 loose coins on the surface of the block. In 2014 excavation of the coin mass began. The overwhelming majority of the coins were found to date to 30-50 B.C. and were made by the Coriosolite tribe of what is now Brittany.

Here’s a timelapse video showing the recovery of objects from the block during just one week, November 21-27, 2015.

Before a coin was removed from the block it was laser scanned so its exact position was recorded, and then once it was removed it was laser scanned on its own. One small subblock of coins was not excavated. Instead, it was snugly plastic wrapped and removed whole so that future conservators armed with new technologies have a clean, original section to study.

The scanning and removal of all the rest of the hoard took a lot of time. Four years after the find and almost three years after the excavation of the soil block began, Neil Mahrer scanned and removed the last ten coins of 70,000. Because the Jersey Museum team is composed of wise and provident people with a care for our nerdly needs, they had it filmed.

Neil Mahrer, who has led the conservation project from the beginning, said: “This is a significant milestone for the team. It has been painstaking but thoroughly intriguing work, which has delivered some very unexpected and amazing finds along the way.

“There is still plenty to do and I am sure the hoard will continue to surprise us as we clean and record the material.”

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Is this 1,000-year-old tomb a famous Viking chief’s?

History Blog - Sun, 2017-01-22 00:14

Danish archaeologist Bjarne Henning Nielsen, curator at the Vesthimmerlands Museum in North Jutland, has an entirely speculative but rather nifty idea that a tomb he has been exploring since 2009 may have belonged to the Viking chief Ulv Galiciefarer. A Danish jarl (earl) of high rank with close connections to the royal family, Ulv earned his moniker with a successful series of raids on Galicia, Spain, in the first half of the 11th century. His exploits are recounted in the Knytlinga Saga, an Icelandic saga of the kings of Denmark written around 1250, and his issue would rule Denmark. His granddaughter Boedil was queen consort to King Eric I of Denmark (r. 1095–1103). Their son and heir Canute Lavard was murdered by his cousin in a classic Game of Thrones intrigue. Only days after the assassination, Canute’s son Valdemar was born. He would go on to rule Denmark as Valdemar the Great (r. 1157-1182).

The tomb was discovered near Naesby in Jutland in 1951 during highway construction. An excavation unearthed a broken sword engraved on the blade near the handle. The inscription is worn and hard to read, but may have been INNOMED, meaning “In the name of” or “In His name”. The grave also contained equestrian fittings and a beautiful, rare pair of silver-plated stirrups made in Central Europe. The excavation of the tomb, dubbed the rider’s grave due to the horse-related artifacts, was a rushed affair. The grave was reburied and neglected until the Vesthimmerlands Museum began to re-excavate the site in 2009.

Excavating the grave and the wider site, the museum’s archaeological team discovered a 10 cm fragment of the broken sword found in 1951, plus 24 more graves from the Viking era. The rider’s grave was just the most opulent and prominent of the compound. A small semicircle of stones, the remains of a larger Viking-era rock formation, still marked what had once been a grave mound. The stone circle area is surrounded by dark lines in the soil, traces of long-decayed wood that once bounded the grave. At first Nielsen thought these lines were what was left of a palisade or paddock, like the 10th century death house built over the grave of a Danish noble couple. A survey of the lines revealed that the structure over the rider’s grave would have been more than 100 square meters (1076 square feet). That’s way, way bigger than your usual death house.

Nielsen remembered seeing a similar structure years earlier when he was working on a the grave of a Viking noblewoman outside the city of Randers in eastern Jutland. South of that site, in Horning, another noblewoman’s grave had been found in the early 1960s which had first been a traditional burial mound, only for the mound to be demolished at a later date a wooden church built over the grave. Long after her death and burial, somebody wanted a more elaborate memorial to the deceased constructed on the site.

It suddenly occurred to Bjarne Henning Nielsen like the proverbial eureka in the bathtub that the rider’s grave could have received the same treatment. The mound is gone, only the stone semicircle testifying to its existence. Nielsen thinks the mound was deliberately demolished to make way for a chapel. Death houses were reserved for nobles of very high rank, but architecturally speaking they were fairly rudimentary. A full chapel would indicate an extremely important personage was buried on the spot.

The reason Ulv Galiciefarer popped into Nielsen’s head as a candidate is that the Naesby area is believed to have been part Valdemar the Great’s ancestral heritage, ie, his personal freehold, not Crown property. Contemporary sources note Valdemar donated a large parcel of land in his freehold less than a mile from Naesby to Cistercian monks. He could certainly have ordered the construction of a chapel over the tomb of his famous great-great-grandfather. It would be a display of piety as well as a way to underscore a nationally important figure in his lineage.

“It is private property he inherited from his father’s side, and Galiciefarer is part of the lineage,” said Nielsen.

“There is of course not a note in the grave saying ‘Here lies Ulv’, but the time and place fit and the burial is consistent with that of someone the king would want to honour.”

Nielsen conceded that his theory may be nothing more than a hopeful guess.

“All we can do today is speculate, but someone wanted to honour the great hero who lies there, whose name we unfortunately may never know,” he said.

There’s very little to go on here. The Galiciefarer hypothesis If the grave was the final resting place of a jarl, Ulv or anyone else, it would be the first jarl’s tomb known. Archaeologists haven’t had a template of a jarl’s tomb to use for identification, so the possibility, however remote, that this grave could have been Ulv Galiciefarer’s dangles the tempting prospect of figuring out yarl-specific funerary traditions that could then illuminate future excavations.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Update on the Celtic Princess of the Danube

History Blog - Sat, 2017-01-21 00:54

In late 2010, archaeologists excavating a Celtic cemetery near the Iron Age settlement of Heuneburg unearthed an intact grave. The rest of the cemetery had been extensively looted, so when the team found a gold brooch inside a wooden burial chamber, they realized they had a very special find on their hand. The timbers were preserved in soil waterlogged by a small river that flowed nearby, which may also be the reason the grave was never pillaged. Its water-filled interior and boggy soil made it difficult for would-be thieves to access and loot. With a cemetery full of graves on drier land, looters picked the path of least resistance.

On December 28, 2010, the whole grave, encased in a 25-by-20 foot soil block weighing 80 tons, was raised and transported to the laboratory of the State Office for the Preservation of Monuments in Stuttgart. Archaeologists could now excavate the burial chamber in protected conditions, preserving the prehistoric timbers and any other organic remains, no matter how minute, and take all the time they needed for a thorough excavation. They discovered the contents of the tomb were extremely rich: more than 40 pieces of gold jewelry, more than 100 pieces of amber, plus jet, bronze and boar tusk jewelry and accessories, and an ornamental piece of armour for the head of a horse. This kind of armor was not produced in the Heuneburg area at this time. Part of it is consistent with work produced in northern Italy; some elements appear to be of southern Italian origin. It’s a testament to the variety and extent of the interregional trade in luxury goods during the Early Iron Age.

Most of the jewelry was adorned the skeletal remains of an adult woman. Her immense wealth and the wooden burial chamber, the only one of its kind every found, point to her being in the top echelon of Heuneburg society. The Celtic Princess of the Danube, as the press dubbed her, was between 30 and 40 years old when she died. The trunk of her skeleton was articulated and in place, while the skull was 10 feet away and the mandible in a corner of the chamber. Also in the grave were the remains of young girl around two or three years old. She too wore jewelry and because it is very similar to that found on the adult woman, so similar it was probably created by the same goldsmith, archaeologists believe they were related, likely mother and daughter. According to Dirk Krausse of the State Office for Cultural Heritage, Baden-Wuerttemberg, the matching jewels are “very special. We have no parallels to compare from the other graves. They’re only known up to now from these two graves.”

The style of the jewelry suggested a 7th century B.C. date for the grave. The preserved wooden timbers gave a more precise date: they were cut from a fir tree in 583 B.C. This was a prosperous time at Heuneburg. The Heuneburg hill fort dates to the Hallstatt period or Early Iron Age. The remains of wood and earthwork defensive fortifications from around 700 B.C. have been found, as have houses, burial mounds and expensive imported artifacts. A mud brick citadel wall on a massive limestone foundation 20 feet high was built around 600 B.C., a unique feature for Celtic settlements of this period. From 620 to 470 B.C., an estimated 10,000 people lived in Heuneburg which makes it by far the largest known prehistoric settlement north of the Alps as well as one of the oldest. More recent excavations at the foot of the hill have discovered a secondary housing site with homes grouped in walled compounds, an Iron Age suburban gated community, if you will. This is evidence in favor of classifying Heuneburg as not just a settlement, but an urban center. If so, it would make the hill fort the oldest urban site north of the Alps.

The remains of one other adult woman were found in the burial chamber. She had no jewelry, so researchers suspect she was a servant. At the moment it is not possible to determine whether and how the three individuals in the grave were related to each other.

Biological remains have been retrieved from the woman’s skeleton, but there are not enough remains from the child to do a DNA test, Krausse said. Only the enamel from the child’s teeth now remains.

At the moment, DNA sequencing technology is not advanced enough to work on the fragments of biological remains from the child’s grave. “But in 10 years, 20 years, maybe we will have the technology,” Krausse said.

The research into the Heuneburg grave and its contents is slated to continue until 2018. The latest findings will be published in the journal Antiquity.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Oetzi’s last meal was mountain goat Speck

History Blog - Fri, 2017-01-20 00:53

Oetzi the Iceman was discovered protruding from the ice of a glacier in the Oetzal Alps of the South Tyrol by hikers on September 19th, 1991, and in the years since has become the most studied mummy in the world. Kept in a climate controlled chamber with a viewing window for visitors at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy, Oetzi is under constant monitoring by researchers who use the latest and greatest technology to discover new information about his life and death with as little interference with the remains and artifacts as possible.

The question of what he ate in the day or days before someone shot an arrow in his back severing his subclavian artery — he bled to death within minutes — was previously addressed by analysis of the fecal material found in his bowels. They contained the remains of red deer meat and some kind of cereal eaten at least four hours before his murder. In 2011, microbiologists at the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano reexamined CT scans from 2005 and discovered something previous researchers had missed: Oetzi’s stomach. It had shifted north, which is why it was missed the first time, and it appeared to be full.

A sample of the stomach contents contained animal fibers which DNA analysis identified as Alpine ibex meat. This was his last meal, ingested 30 to 120 minutes before he died. The meat of the Alpine ibex was traditionally believed to have medicinal properties, and since Oetzi suffered from chronic joint pain, Lyme disease, periodontal disease, ulcers and a panoply of non-fatal wounds including knife cuts and blunt force trauma to his teeth received in the days and hours before his death, he had more than enough reasons to seek out healing foods.

New research has been able to narrow down how the Ibex meat was prepared.

Mummy specialist Albert Zink from the European Academy of Bolzano said he was able to analyse the nanostructure of meat fibres from a mountain goat found in Ötzi’s stomach – indicating that the meat was raw and had been dry-cured, and not cooked or grilled, which would have weakened the fibres.

He added that Ötzi did not have a proper hunting bow with him, and probably carried the dried meat with him from his home, as raw meat would have quickly gone bad.

Further analysis of his stomach contents showed that he had not eaten cheese or dairy products, just meat. “It seems probable that his last meal was very fatty, dried meat – perhaps a type of Stone Age Speck or bacon,” Zink said. As Ötzi had hiked down from the South Tyrolean side of the Alps, it’s likely his provisions came from there.

Speck is a famous local delicacy in the Tyrol. Cured with salt and spices and cold-smoked, Tyrolean Speck goes back to the 13th century. Little did we know that it was being made from wild mountain goats in the area 4,000 years before it was made from the hind legs of pigs. I’m not sure how fatty ibex meat can possibly be, though. These animals are accustomed to scrambling up and down the Alps, after all, not chilling in a wallow.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Medieval horse skull found at Colosseum

History Blog - Thu, 2017-01-19 00:59

The Colosseum is in the middle of an extensive 25-million-euro restoration project financed by Tod’s shoe and bag empire. The first phase of the restoration, a thorough cleaning of the exterior, took three years and was completed last summer. The next phases will focus on shoring up the underground vaults, passages and drainage system and constructing a new visitor’s center.

But you don’t have to be in the Colosseum proper to stumble on centuries-old remains. While cleaning the area around the steps around the amphitheater’s foundation, workers with the Archeology Superintendency discovered the skull of a horse buried just a few centimeters under the surface. An archaeozoologist dated the skull to the 12th or 13th century.

In the Middle Ages, the Colosseum was something of a mixed-used development. Until around 1180, the ground level vaults underneath the seating tiers were rented out as apartments and workshops by the church of Santa Maria Nova in the Roman Forum. But by then the state of constant warfare between the Roman nobility had made the Colosseum a strategic prize. Whoever controlled the Colosseum controlled the west and north access to the Pope’s residence in the Lateran Palace. The Frangipani family took over everything but ground floor interior, fortifying the structure by 1130.

This was a direct threat to the papacy, which had very recent reason to be concerned. In 1119, Cencio Frangipani broke into the Lateran Palace, seized the newly elected pope Gelasius II, beat him and threw him in prison. The rioni of Rome revolted, and Frangipani was forced to free the venerable old pontiff. He forgave Cencio, but his successor Pope Callistus II did not. He had the Frangipani castle destroyed in 1121, thus making the Colosseum even more strategically important for them.

Other Roman families were keen to get a piece of that action. In 1216, the Annibaldi family tried to build a tower near the Colosseum but the Frangipani blocked it. The Annibaldi changed course and took it the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. The Frangipani were partisans of the Pope, so Frederick, who would be excommunicated no less than four times during his reign, was more than glad to fight the papacy by proxy through the petty conflicts of Roman nobles. In 1230, he compelled the Frangipani to give half the amphitheater, the half closest to the Lateran Palace, no less, to the Annibaldi. The pope at the time, Gregory IX, who would go on to call Frederick the Antichrist, was still smarting from the very sound spanking the Emperor’s forces had given to the army he sent to invade Frederick’s Sicilian kingdom in 1229 (while Frederick was on Crusade, no less). The enemies were temporarily at truce, so Gregory was in no position to fight battles over the Colosseum.

The skull will be subjected to additional testing, and the excavations around the foundation will continue. I’m secretly hoping they can identify it as a noble steed that may have figured in the endless intramural skirmishes of medieval Rome. Rome Archeology Superintendent Francesco Prosperetti said of the horse skull that it is “evidence, as if it were needed, that the square of the Colosseum is a place waiting to be investigated from an archaeological point of view, and that it holds surprises at every level.”

Here’s a look at phase one of the restoration with some great shots of the painstaking cleaning process and of the newly brightened façade:

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History