Last year, an intriguing new clue to the fate of the lost colony of Roanoke was found hidden under a patch on a 16th century map of Chesapeake Bay. The map in question was drawn by artist, cartographer and governor John White who founded the settlement on Roanoke Island that so famously disappeared when he was overseas attempting to secure supplies for them. It’s called La Virginea Pars (a partial map of the Virginia territory) and it is an impressively accurate survey of the east coast of North America from present-day Cape Henry, Virginia, to Cape Lookout, North Carolina. Originally made for Sir Walter Raleigh around 1585, the map has been owned by the British Museum since the mid-18th century.
There are two patches on the map, one at the southern end over the coast of what is today Pamlico Sound, the other on the northern part of the map where the Roanoke and the Chowan Rivers meet on Albemarle Sound. Adding paper patches to the maps to correct errors was common practice at the time so nobody thought much of it until last year when Dr. Brent Lane of the First Colony Foundation asked the museum to investigate them. He was researching the location of the Algonkian village of Secotan noted on White’s map and it occurred to him there might be some relevant information hidden under the patches.
Because the patches are original and were thoroughly glued in place by White, they cannot be removed without damaging the map. The British Museum therefore used a variety of imaging techniques including transmitted visible light (shine a light through the map in a light box), infrared and ultraviolet. They found that the southern patch was indeed covering an earlier, less accurate drawing of the coastline, as expected. The northern patch, on the other hand, was obscuring a large four-pointed star outlined in blue and filled in red. There was also a small red circle on the coast to the right of lozenge.
The First Colony Foundation historians believe the four-pointed star marked the location of a fort whose presence was a military secret, hence the cover-up in case the map fell into unfriendly hands. This is highly significant to the question of the Lost Colony because there are contemporary reports from the Jamestown colonists that the fleeing colonists were sighted in the Albemarle Sound area.
A quick recap of how the colony got lost: In 1587, Raleigh, holder of the Virginia land patent, assigned White the task of assembling settlers for a permanent colony in the Chesapeake Bay area. Unlike the previous expedition by Sir Ralph Lane in 1585, this colony was meant to be self-sustaining and thus included women and children. Among them was John White’s daughter Eleanor and her husband Ananias Dare. The new colony of 118 souls was established on Roanoke Island in late July 1587. They used the buildings left behind by the Lane expedition and built new ones. Just a couple of weeks later, on August 18th, 1587, Virgina Dare was born to Eleanor and Ananias. She was the first English child born in North America.
Her grandfather tried to make friends with the local Native Americans, but they weren’t having it. There was still tension leftover from their encounters with the Lane group and they were in no mood to sustain more hapless English who had arrived too late to plant any crops. Realizing they would have a hideous time of it once the ship supplies ran out, White left Roanoke in late August to return to England for fresh supplies. He arrived in November but was unable to turn right back around. Then there was the small matter of the Spanish Armada and subsequent brouhahas that made his return trip impossible for two more years.
When he finally landed on Roanoke in August of 1590, he found the island deserted. The colonists had built a fort and on an entrance post they left behind White’s only clue to where they might have gone: the word “CROATOAN.” This was the name of a friendly Indian tribe and the name of an island 50 miles south of Roanoke (today known as Hatteras Island) that they inhabited. John White searched for them for a short while, but weather prevented him from reaching Hatteras and when he started to run out of food and water, White was compelled to return to England. White never saw his daughter and granddaughter again. Nobody that we know of ever saw any of them again.
Later colonists, like those at Jamestown in 1607, looked for the Roanoke settlers. For centuries there have been rumors of east coast Indians with blue eyes and English-sounding words, but hard evidence of where they went has been nonexistent. They weren’t all slaughtered on the spot as the colony buildings appear to have been broken down in an orderly fashion. The likeliest scenario is that they broke up into small groups and sought shelter with local tribes none of which could have supported 119 people on their own.
The discovery that there may have been a fort on Albemarle Sound increases the possibility that the Roanoke colonists moved west inland rather than south to Croatoan Island. It was a much shorter and less treacherous trip and the location at the mouth of two well-trafficked rivers with establish trade routes to other Native American tribes, some of them friendly, would have given the displaced settlers a variety of options.
Archaeologists couldn’t just pack up their gear and start digging, though, because the spot marked by the X is privately owned. This year researchers got permission to scan the area using magnetometers and ground-penetrating radar.
[Elizabeth City State University research associate Malcolm] LeCompte and his team found a previously undiscovered pattern that indicated the possibility of multiple wooden structures approximately 3 feet underground.
“I don’t know if it’s one or a group [of structures],” he said, adding that they “could be joined or they could be close together.”
The mere presence of the buried structure indicates that there was a colonial presence in the area.
That’s not evidence of Roanoke colonists’ presence in the area, of course. The structure could be the remnants of the fort White documented or of something else entirely. We won’t know what it means until the landowners agree to allow digging and the funds are raised for an archaeological excavation.
Great Lakes shipwreck hunter David Trotter has found the wreck of the Keystone State, a wooden sidewheel steamer that sank into the cold, clear waters of Lake Huron with all 33 hands on board in November of 1861. It was discovered about 50 miles north of Port Austin, the last place it was sighted already in distress, and unlike some of the other 100 shipwrecks Trotter’s team has found which sank straight down and remained virtually intact on the lake floor, much of the Keystone State was found scattered along the bottom. However its most dramatic features — two massive paddle wheels 40 feet in diameter, its engine and two boilers — were standing where they fell in 175 feet of water.
The Keystone State was both a jewel and a workhorse in its day. It was built in Buffalo in 1849, a 288-foot steamship designed for the transportation of rich travelers, poor immigrants and considerable cargo.
It was the second-largest steamship on the Great Lakes at the time and was among a class known as palace steamers, said maritime historian, author and artist Robert McGreevy.
“The interiors were made to look like the finest hotels. They were quite beautiful inside,” he said. “They had leaded glass windows and carved arches and mahogany trim.”
Along with posh accommodations for the wealthy, its steerage had plenty of space for immigrant travelers heading from Buffalo to destinations like Chicago or Milwaukee. Records show the boat also had room for 6,000 barrels of freight.
It was almost passé from the time when it was born, thanks to the advent of the railroads which would soon make canal and lake transportation obsolete, and in 1857 it was taken out of operation because it cost more to run than it could make. With the arrival of the Civil War, the old wooden steamships were pulled out of mothballs because there was profiteering to be done. The Keystone State was refurbished and sent to Detroit to pick up its cargo.
The planned route was hugging the western coast of Lake Huron up to Cheboygan, then crossing the Straits of Mackinac into Lake Michigan and going south to its final destination in Milwaukee. The ship was last seen by witnesses off the coast of Port Austin around November 9th, 1861, then nobody heard or saw anything of it for the next couple of days. Finally some wreckage washed up in Lexington, south of Port Austin closer to where the ship began its journey than where it ended.
This final voyage was a mysterious one. It left in a hurry without any lifeboats. Its cargo manifest claimed it was hauling iron hardware, farm equipment and grain, but who buys that stuff in November in Wisconsin? It’s not exactly prime planting or threshing season. Also, given the inclement weather on the Great Lakes in November, hauling farm gear doesn’t seem like sufficient motivation to brave the journey so late in the year. Rumors quickly sprung up that she was on a secret mission, surreptitiously carrying Civil War arms and munitions or gold bullion or gold coins.
The diving team saw no evidence of mysterious cargo or the gleam of golden treasure in more than 30 dives to the site from July through September of this year. The cargo hold was completely empty, perhaps because the crew dumped its freight in a desperate attempt to save the disabled ship. Thus the mystery of the Keystone State‘s last trip remains unsolved.
Here’s a video describing the significance of the wreck and the discovery. The boat work start around 1:55. You can see the wreck beginning at the three minute mark. Those paddle wheels look magnificent in the crisp blue waters of Lake Huron.
More than 1,600 archaeological bones, mainly Medieval, from collections across the UK have been scanned and digitized to create a rich online database of pathological specimens accessible to all. These bones cannot be seen in person by laypeople because they are restricted to scholarly research. In some cases, they are so fragile that even scientists aren’t allowed to handle them. The Digital Diseases team has used 3D laser scanning, computer tomography scans and high resolution photography to create photo-realistic 3D digital models that visitors to the website will be able to examine at a forensic level of detail that wouldn’t be possible in person.
This record of bones affected by more than 90 pathological conditions like leprosy, bone tumors, tuberculosis, congenital deformations, force trauma both sharp and blunt will be an invaluable resource for medical students, doctors, historians and researchers all over the world who have no access to pathological specimens. The fact that they’re archaeological remains makes them particularly significant because researchers will be able to study the skeletal impact of disease and injury on people who in all likelihood experienced nothing or very little in the way of effective medical intervention. It also gives archaeologists the chance to examine bones taking all the time they need without concern that they won’t be finished before legal reburial requirements kick in.
“We believe this will be a unique resource both for archaeologists and medical historians to identify diseases in ancient specimens, but also for clinicians who can see extreme forms of chronic diseases which they would never see nowadays in their consulting rooms, left to progress unchecked before any medical treatment was available. These bones show conditions only available before either by travelling to see them, or in grainy black and white photographs in old textbooks,” said Andrew Wilson, senior lecturer in forensic and archaeological sciences at the University of Bradford and the lead researcher on the project He added: “I do think members of the public will also find them gripping – they do have what one observer called ‘a grotesque beauty’.”
They’re also just plain interesting. You don’t have to have an aesthetic appreciation of, say, a giant benign bone tumor on a mandible, to find it worth examining and reading about.
The Digital Diseases website officially opens any minute now. It is being launched at an event at the Royal College of Surgeons in London and judging from the project’s Twitter feed, the party has started. The site has a preview on the landing page, but hasn’t gone fully live yet as of this typing. Some images are still missing, some menu links go nowhere, there’s no search function I could find and the home page doesn’t quite exist yet. Still, you can browse categories and click on some examples for more details. Once it is live, visitors will be able to examine bone models in 3D via their web browsers or to download them to their smartphone or tablet device.
The project’s blog is a good place to start right now while the site is still being tinkered with. During the course of the two years spent digitizing the specimens, team members have been blogging about their efforts and particularly interesting bone pathologies they’ve encountered. Take a look at the big hole in this right femur.
That’s some gunshot wound. There’s no date on it (I’m sure once the site is functioning we can find that info there), but judging from the big round hole, that was ball shot, like from a musket. Amazingly, the bone is healed, so the injury did not prove to be fatal.
This vertebral column and ribs is an example of advanced ankylosing spondylitis, a chronic inflammatory arthritis that can eventually result in fusion of the spine. That’s what has happened here. Even the ribs have fused to the vertebrae via the ossification of the ligaments attaching them to the spine. Galen first documented some symptoms as distinct from rheumatoid arthritis in the second century A.D., but it wasn’t until the late 19th century that doctors fully identified the disease.
This skull has played a supporting role in the archaeological story of the year/decade/century, the discovery of the skeletal remains of King Richard III. It once belonged to a man who met a bloody end along with so many others during the War of the Roses at the Battle of Towton on March 29th, 1461, Palm Sunday. Inside a mass grave from the battle discovered in 1996, archaeologists found the full articulated remains of 37 men. This was a highly significant find because often in mass graves the remains are so jumbled up it’s impossible to put individuals back together. Articulated skeletons can tell us much more about the injuries sustained in battle and before.
This skull and other bones from the Battle of Towton grave were used by University of Leicester osteologist Dr. Jo Appleby to compare wounds with the skull of the scoliotic skeleton found at the Greyfriars dig site. Richard III and this anonymous but not forgotten fellow both fought and died in the same war, albeit more than 20 years apart (Richard was killed at the Battle of Bosworth on August 25th, 1485). To confirm that the Richard III candidate’s extensive head wounds properly fit the period’s weapons and battle tactics, Dr. Appleby and Bob Woosnam-Savage, Senior Curator of European Edged Weapons at the Royal Armouries, examined the Towton skull’s peri-mortem weapon injuries. As we now know, they were found to be compatible.
The Digital Diseases database will make that kind of work possible on a far vaster scale since most people in the world aren’t able to visit these collections in person.
Esy-Chees-Mkg-art (10K) 11/30/13 "Easy Cheese Making - Acid-Coagulated Soft Cheeses in Your Own Kitchen" by Lady Wenyeva atte grene.
verjuice-msg (164K) 11/24/13 Medieval verjuice. Modern substitutions.
pot-lck-ideas-msg (25K) 11/24/13 Menu ideas for pot luck feasts and revels.
9-Worthies-art (19K) 11/19/13 "The Nine Worthies" by Kurios Halfdan "Two Bears" Ôzurrson.
When the life-sized clay statue of the Buddhist deity Shukongojin was made for the Todaiji Temple in Nara, southeastern Japan, in 733 A.D., it was painted in vibrant colors and liberally gilded. Although much of the polychromy has been lost over time, there’s still an unusual amount of color paint and gilding surviving on the surface. So much has pigment has survived because Shukongojin is a hidden god — he is extra powerful because he is kept behind closed doors at all times and only revealed to the public one day a year — and has therefore been protected from exposure to the elements and our various emanations and effluvia.
The particularly great state of preservation of this oldest Shukongojin figure in the country has made it possible to extrapolate what the whole statue looked like when it was new 1,280 years ago. Researchers from the Tokyo University of the Arts and the Tokyo University of Science spent two years studying the statue to detect trace pigment remnants and recreating the original colors digitally.
The result is as striking in 8th century clay as it is in first century marble:
Gold was an indicator of divinity in Japanese Buddhist iconography, while red symbolized the quelling of demons and protection from illness. Shukongojin is a protector deity, the thunderbolt-bearing guardian of the laws of Buddhism and its faithful. His furious expression, crowned in bright red hair, and his thunderbolt ready to strike ward off the evil spirits who would bedevil the devoted at prayer in the temple. He was originally an Indian deity, one of the vajrapani or thunderbolt-holders who were said to have been personal guardians of the historical Buddha. His thunderbolt broke everything it was flung at while being itself unbreakable, a symbol of faith’s ability to destroy evil without being damaged by the encounter.
The bright colors and elaborate adornment served a political function as well. Emperor Shomu (reigned 724-749 A.D.) saw the establishment of government-controlled Buddhist temples and shrines as a means to unify and protect the country. His reign had been plagued with rebellions, smallpox outbreaks and crop failures. In 743, he issued an edict requiring people to help build temples and shrines in every province, with Todaiji as the head of all provincial temples. He believed a new, widespread piety would appeal to the Buddha and spare the country further disasters. Shukongojin, with his full armour, gold shine, blinding colors and powerful intensity of expression, was modeled after depictions of Chinese guardian generals. His role is religious, but his intimidating presence and elaborately decorated outfit are meant to convey the protection of a unified faith, already well-established in India and China, a protection inextricably linked to the emperor’s government at this time.
This particular Shukongojin has another connection to the early history of Buddhism in Japan. According to the Nihon Ryoiki, the oldest collection of Buddhist myths and legends in Japan (it dates to the late 8th/early 9th centuries), the monk Roben, second patriarch of the Kegon school of Buddhism and founder of the Todaiji Temple, was helped in the creation of the temple by a magical sculpture of Shikkongoushin. Tradition has it that this is that very Shikkongoushin who supported Roben’s work. It was first made for the Kinshoji, the temple Roben established in 733 a decade before the emperor ordered construction of Todaiji. The former Kinshoji is now the Hokkedo (Lotus Hall), the oldest building in the Todaiji temple complex, and is still Shikkongoushin’s home today.
A cast iron Mr. Peanut who once stood debonair watch on the fence post of a Planters factory will now stand debonair watch at the National Museum of American History. It was donated by Kraft Foods, which acquired the Planters brand when it bought Nabisco in 2000, and will be part of the museum’s upcoming American Enterprise exhibition which opens in 2015. Mr. Peanut will adorn the exhibition’s Marketing Moments section, as suits so iconic a brand logo.
“American advertising has gone through a tremendous transformation since the early years of the nation,” said John Gray, director of the museum. “But while it has become a high-tech industry deeply affecting the American experience, icons like Mr. Peanut demonstrate the resilience of branding and the use of spokes-characters throughout much of that transformation.”
It’s fitting that an exhibition on the history of American business should prominently feature the work of two first-generation Italian immigrants and one second-generation. The Planters Peanut Company was founded in 1906 by 29-year-old Amedeo Obici, an immigrant who had left his hometown of Oderzo, 40 miles northeast of Venice, when he was just 11 years old to join his uncle in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He worked at a cigar factory making 80 cents a week while he learned English going to night school. A year later he moved to Wilkes-Barre where he worked at a fruit stand that also sold roasted peanuts.
This inspired the young Amedeo to get a fruit stand of his own with a peanut cart and a cheap roaster that he modified himself from scrapyard parts. He added a steam whistle so his cart would go off like a tea kettle when the roasting was done and an automated stirring mechanism which allowed him to focus on his customers without concern that the peanuts would burn. Showing an early understanding of marketing that would soon blossom into the dandiest of anthropomorphic peanuts, Obici called himself “The Peanut Specialist” and was soon doing very brisk business from the back of a horse-drawn wagon. By the time he was 18 years old in 1895, Amedeo had saved enough money to bring his mother and siblings to live with him in the United States and still had money left over to buy his own restaurant that specialized in roasted nuts and, weirdly, oyster stew.
There he experimented further with the roasting process. He added salt — can you imagine the days before peanuts were a salty snack? — and, since salt sticks better to peeled and skinned peanuts, started blanching them first to remove their outerwear before roasting them in oil and salting them. He also made chocolate-covered peanuts to cover all bases, savory and sweet.
It was when he joined forces with his future brother-in-law Mario Peruzzi that the Planters we know today was born. Peruzzi invented a superior process for blanching and roasting whole peanuts. When the Planters Peanut Company opened its doors in 1906, their focus was on quality. Obici wanted to elevate the lowly peanut, then considered animal feed, or at best for people who couldn’t afford anything better (hence the phrase “peanut gallery,” meaning the distant seats cheap enough for peanut-eaters). That’s why he picked the name “Planters,” because the thought it redolent of the landed aristocracy.
The company was successful, its product genuinely superior to many of its competitors’. To cut out the middlemen and decrease exorbitant transportation costs, in 1913 Obici moved the main peanut processing factory to Suffolk, Virginia, where the peanut plantations were. That’s where the second-generation Italian comes into the picture. In 1916, annoyed by the many inferior imitations of Planters’ roasted nuts that had sprung up in the wake of their success, the company ran a contest for a new trademark design that would appeal to adults and children alike. The chosen design would win five dollars. The lucky winner was a 13-year-old Suffolk boy by the name of Anthony Gentile. He drew a smiling peanut in the shell with arms, legs and in at least one drawing, a cane. He named it “Mr. P. Nut Planter — from Virginia.”
There is some question as to whether there may have been some bias in the selection. The Italian community in Suffolk was small and it’s highly unlikely that the Obicis and Gentiles were strangers. They certainly weren’t from that point forward. Amedeo Obici payed Anthony’s way through college and medical school, and he paid for the college education of all of Anthony’s surviving siblings (minus one who didn’t want to go). Anthony Gentile died of a heart attack when he was just 36 years old.
He lives on his immortal creation, however. Obici sent Anthony’s drawings to a commercial artist in Wilkes-Barre to gussy them up for the campaign. The artist, whose name has sadly not come down to us, added the top hat, white gloves, monocle and spats to give Mr. Peanut that classy look Mr. Obici was always keen to project on his modest far. The first official Mr. Peanut made his debut in the April 20th, 1918, issue of the Saturday Evening Post. Notice the focus in the early ads on branding, on the unmistakable identification of the quality genuine Planters peanut versus the pale imitators who have neither the transparent bag nor the Fred Astaire of peanuts to distinguish them. This was the first national advertising campaign for roast salted nuts.
He was a raging success, soon becoming a highly coveted item in his own right thanks to the company’s vast array of promotional products. Cast iron versions like the one now in the Smithsonian decorated Planters factories and along with other such pieces pioneered the practice of outdoor three-dimensional advertising. He was even enlisted in the war effort, appearing butched up and stripped of all his fancy accessories on one of the greatest of all World War II propaganda posters issued by the Department of Agriculture to promote the many uses of peanuts in wartime.
To this day Mr. Peanut remains highly collectible and widely beloved. Planters ran an online poll in 2006 asking which new accessory — bow tie, cufflinks or pocketwatch — Mr. Peanut should don and all were rejected in favor of keeping him just as he is.
For more about the National Museum of American History’s American Enterprise exhibition, see its dedicated website. It has an overview of the show and some interesting articles like this one about the history of pawnshops and their symbol.
Two large Neolithic wood tridents of unknown purpose have gone on display in the Tullie House Museum’s Border Gallery The artifacts were donated to the Carlisle museum, which is currently also hosting the spectacular Crosby-Garret Helmet, by the Cumbria County Council which owned the land on which they were found. The museum is delighted by the donation as it would have been hard pressed to afford them on the open market.
The tridents were discovered in 2009 during an archaeological survey in advance of the construction of the Carlisle Northern Development Route. They found such an incredible bonanza of Neolithic and Mesolithic artifacts that the excavation intended to last three mounts wound up taking three years to complete. Mesolithic flints alone were found in staggering numbers: 1,500 buckets of earth were sieved every week, a total of 270,000 liters of soil, in which around 314,000 stone pieces were discovered, including used tools and waste flakes. The site, an island between two paleochannels, was a major production center for stone tools in the late Mesolithic.
Its location in the flood plain of the River Eden also saw to the preservation of organic materials, thanks to the archaeologists’ best friend (because of how it preserves perishable remains) and worst enemy (because of the painful digging conditions requiring constant pumping and rubber trousers): waterlogged soil. Among many wooden artifacts retrieved from the watery pit were the two tridents. Carved out of a single piece of mature oak (the three was approximately 300 years old when felled), the tridents are two meters (six feet) long and have three straight-sided tines, although one tine is broken off on the most complete example and two tines are missing altogether on the other.
Radiocarbon dating of the sapwood at the outer edges of the trident revealed they date to between 3,900 and 3,300 B.C. Whoever carved those tridents from a mature hardwood only had stone tools to do the job. They must have been extremely difficult pieces to craft. Judging from the placement of the complete trident — the broken tine was carefully tucked beneath it — they weren’t simply discarded.
Unlike modern pitchforks, where the tines split from the haft is a horizontal step of sorts which adds to the mystery of what these tridents were used for. They were too heavy and blunt for use as fishing spears or digging forks. The tines could have been wrapped in skins and used as paddles, but this too is a far from ideal design for the task. Also, there’s also no evidence of use, no wear patterns, no chips or gouges.
There are only six of these rare pieces known to exist, and the other four were all discovered in the 19th century, two in Cumbria after the draining of Ehenside Tarn in the 19th century (find published in 1873), the other two in a peat bog in County Armargh, Ireland (published in 1857). Now that two more have been found in Cumbria again, archaeologists are wondering if there was some trade or cultural link between the Neolithic Cumbrians and the people in Neolithic Northern Ireland.
Andrew Mackay, Head of Collections & Programming at Tullie House said: “These tridents are so rare that they of national importance so it is a great thrill to have them available to show to the visitors of Tullie House. We are very keen to canvass opinion on what they might be so I’d like to encourage everyone to come and see them and let us know what they think.”
For more about the excavation and to browse tons of pictures of the finds, see Oxford Archaeology North’s fantastic website about the project.
A limestone head of Jupiter unearthed at the Earith quarry near Colne Fen in Cambridgeshire, eastern England, has been donated to Cambridge University’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The sculpture dates to between the 2nd and 4th centuries A.D. and was discovered during 10 years of excavations (1997 – 2007) done by the Cambridge Archaeological Unit. It was donated to the museum by Hanson Aggregates, the owners of the quarry, and will go on display starting December 10th.
The sculpture’s rough appearance belies its historical significance. It is considered one of the finest Roman sculptures ever discovered in East Anglia.
Imogen Gunn, 33, collections manager for archaeology at the museum, said: “There’s a relatively small corpus of Roman sculpture from this area and this is definitely one of the best.
“And it’s always nice to be able to display things that are found locally – it always grabs people.”
Carved out of non-local limestone from Upwell in Norfolk, this Jupiter was once part of a larger monument. You can see a pair of paws perched above the cornice. Experts believe there was a lion, griffin or sphinx there once, but extensive excavation of the find site recovered no further fragments of the piece that might illuminate its full scope. That suggests the Jupiter section was brought to the area after it had already been separated from the rest of the monument.
Even as a fragment it would have been an expensive piece. It was probably reused as a funerary monument at The Camp Ground, telegraphing the wealth and importance of the deceased. Skeletal remains were discovered close by, but there’s no way of knowing if they were associated with the Earith Jupiter.
It was discovered at a site called The Camp Ground, in Roman times an inland port on the Car Dyke canal system with a settlement of 50 to 200 people on the edge of the marshy Fens. This was a large village for a Fenland community, probably a market center where people from neighboring farms came to sell, buy and trade their produce and stock. Because the canal system gave them access to the rest of the country and, via its link to the sea, lands foreign as well, a Norfolk limestone carving could easily, albeit not cheaply, have made its way to Earith over water.
On an unrelated note, museum volunteers made an amusing discovery while going through a collection of more than 1,000 animal bones found in a fish pond in the nearby town of St Neots in 1961. One of the bones, a bovine shoulder blade dating to the 16th century, had “I absolutely hate bones!” scribbled on it in marker along with an irate stick figure with a beehive hairdo and a skirt stamping her feet and making a hand gesture that looks distinctly like flipping the bird.
Ms Gunn said: “We have more than 1,000 bones from this dig. They would all have to be washed and marked with a site number and site code. There’s quite a lot of admin. You can see how that would start to get very boring. I’ve certainly felt that way, but I’ve never scribbled it on to a bone!” [...]
Ms Gunn added: “This is now the most interesting thing about these bones. It adds to their story.”
Excavations at Riparo Bombrini, a collapsed rock shelter in the Balzi Rossi Paleolithic site complex in Liguria, near the Italian-French border, have revealed that the Neanderthals who lived there for thousands of years in the late Middle Paleolithic organized their living spaces much like modern humans. (The full paper published in the Canadian Journal of Archaeology can be read gratis here.) Many researchers have identified clearly structured and patterned uses of space as a marker of modern human behavior, but some recent discoveries of Neanderthal dwellings have cast doubt on that classification. The Riparo Bombrini finds provide extensive evidence that the Neanderthals of the Late Mousterian era (the oldest there date to around 45,000 years ago) compartmentalized the space by usage.
There are three main groupings of Mousterian occupation levels in the rock shelter. These are palimpsests, to be clear, composites of varied dates within a range, not individually dated occupation levels. The top level (labeled Level MS) appears to have been a task site likely dedicated to the slaughter, butchering and perhaps skin processing of game. Researchers found a dense concentration of animal bones in the top level towards the back of the shelter, the densest anywhere on the site. They also found abundant evidence of ochre in the same area. They don’t know what it was used for, but it has several work applications — tanning, gluing — or it could have had some ritual purpose.
The middle group (Levels M1-M5) was a long-term logistical base camp, as evidenced by a high density of animal bones, shells from edible shellfish and stone tools in the front of shelter’s mouth and a hearth at the back bounded by a clear area. The occupants appear to have done all the work that might result in irritating or dangerous debris at the mouth of the shelter and kept the back of the shelter, where people slept and socialized around the fire, clean.
Researchers believe the bottom group (Levels M6-M7) served as a short-term base camp. Unlike the other levels, here the remains of fauna are sparse while lithic debris (fragments of stone chipped away in the making and use of tools) is relatively dense. There is more stone debris just inside the shelter than outside in these levels, an indication that the area was used for temporary work stints, like for making tools, in the opening of the shelter where sunlight would have been most plentiful. It could also have been used as a dump site of sorts, to contain potentially dangerous discards like sharp flint fragments.
“This is ongoing work, but the big picture in this study is that we have one more example that Neanderthals used some kind of logic for organizing their living sites,” [University of Colorado Denver anthropologist Julien] Riel-Salvatore said. “This is still more evidence that they were more sophisticated than many have given them credit for. If we are going to identify modern human behavior on the basis of organized spatial patterns, then you have to extend it to Neanderthals as well.”
Interestingly, Riel-Salvatore’s team published a study in 2011 that found no differentiation in the spatial patterning of artifacts in the Mousterian levels of Riparo Bombrini. This time around they analyzed the data considering mobility strategies of the hominids using the space and the size of the excavated areas and the piles of shells, bones and stones revealed themselves to have clear patterns. It’s important for the study of other Neanderthal sites going forward because it gives researchers an approach that might expose spatial patterning that went unnoticed in earlier explorations.
Riparo Bombrini also has the advantage of having been used by a later hominid group from the Aurignac culture (45,000 to 35,000 years ago), the early modern humans who made some of the earliest known examples of figurative art (like Lion Man and the Chauvet cave paintings). The research team plans to examine the Aurignacian levels for spatial patterning as well, which will allow them to compare Neanderthal and homo sapiens usage of the same space, thereby ruling out differences in site form and structure as a reason for any differences between the two.
Yesterday the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, blew out 250 candles on its metaphoric cake. Built between 1759 and 1763 by English architect Peter Harrison, it was the second synagogue constructed in what would become the United States. The first was built in 1730 for the Congregation Shearith Israel on Mill Street in lower Manhattan, but that was demolished in 1818 to make room for a larger synagogue on the same spot leaving the Touro Synagogue the oldest synagogue in the country. It is now the only surviving synagogue from the colonial era.
Newport had had a small but vibrant Jewish community since the first 15 families arrived from Barbados in 1658. These were Spanish and Portuguese Jews, a subset of Sephardic Jews descended from conversos, forced converts to Christianity under the Inquisition who reverted to their ancestral Judaism when they left Spain and Portugal for more tolerant pastures, including colonies in South America and the West Indies. The Shearith Israel congregation was established in New Amsterdam against the strident wishes of Governor Peter Stuyvesant thanks to the intervention of Jewish directors of the Dutch West India Company, while Jews were banned from British North America as they had been in all British territory since King Edward I’s Edict of Expulsion in 1290. It was Oliver Cromwell who, in exchange for financing, let them come back almost 400 years later in 1657. That opened the door in the colonies as well, and the Newport Jews were the first to walk through.
They still have to deal with colonial laws that prohibited them from public worship, from holding office and from voting. The Jewish congregations in New York and Rhode Island used their private homes as synagogues for decades until in the laws changed in the first half of the 18th century. The Shearith Israel synagogue was built at the first opportunity to attend to the spiritual needs of the relatively large Manhattan congregation. The smaller Congregation Yeshuat Israel in Newport reached a critical mass of about 70 congregants three decades later and what is now known as the Touro Synagogue was built.
Peter Harrison was a self-taught architect who is known for being the first to introduce Palladian design to colonial America. The elegant exterior of the Newport synagogue has Palladian elements while for the interior he relied on the memory of cantor Isaac Touro, a recent arrival from Amsterdam via the West Indies. He described to Harrison the Sephardic synagogues he had known in Amsterdam and they informed the architects’ design. The Yeshuat Israel synagogue was dedicated on during Chanukah celebrations on December 2nd, 1763.
On the eve of the Revolution, there were an estimated 1,175 Jews in Newport, 300 of them regular attendants at the synagogue. Newport was hard hit by the onset of hostilities. The English took the city in the fall of 1776, confiscating patriot ships, buildings and businesses. Many pro-Independence residents fled to Massachusetts and elsewhere. A few stayed behind at great risk to themselves, among them Isaac Touro and Moses Seixas, an ardent patriot and the founder of the King David Masonic Lodge in Newport, the oldest Jewish lodge in the country. They kept watch over the synagogue which had been commandeered by the British for use as a hospital and public assembly hall. Its usefulness is what kept it intact even as the British demolished a great many colonial Newport structures to burn their wood during the winter.
The British left Newport in 1779 and the ousted patriots began to return to put their homes and businesses back together. In September of 1780, the first post-occupation General Assembly of the State of Rhode Island convened in the synagogue. Ten years later on August 17-18th, 1790, the Congregation Yeshuat Israel played host to President George Washington, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Governor George Clinton of New York, U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Blair of Virginia, and U.S. Congressman William Loughton Smith of South Carolina. Rhode Island had a long tradition of religious tolerance going back to its founder Roger Williams who was banished from Massachusetts for his heretical religious beliefs, so it was the last state to ratify the Constitution on May 29, 1790, and only did so after it was assured that a Bill of Rights would be added. Washington visited Newport, and very pointedly the synagogue, to rally support for the Bill of Rights which was still being debated in the legislatures of Virginia, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Georgia at the time.
At the time of his visit, Moses Seixas was the president of the synagogue. As a fellow high-ranking mason, a civilian hero of the Revolution and the brother of Shearith Israel Congregation’s Rabbi Gershon Mendes Seixas, aka the “patriot rabbi” who was one of 14 religious leaders to officiate at Washington’s 1789 Inauguration, Moses was tasked with delivering a welcome address to the President. His eloquent words in favor of democracy and freedom of conscience and George Washington’s quotation of them in his response have gone down in history as a seminal exchange on the subject of religious freedom at the dawn of the United States.
The key passage from the Seixas address:
Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free Citizens, we now with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all events behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People — a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance — but generously affording to all Liberty of conscience, and immunities of Citizenship: deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue, or language equal parts of the great governmental Machine[.]
On August 21nd, 1790, George Washington sent a letter to the Congregation Yeshuat Israel in response. The oft-quoted passage therefrom:
The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support. [...]
May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.
Washington’s reply, in particular his repetition of Moses Seixas’ phrase, “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance,” has become emblematic of the new nation’s dedication to religious liberty and the separation of church and state. The original manuscript of the address is part of the George Washington Papers in the Library of Congress and the original Washington response belongs to Frederick Phillips of New York, but so important is this exchange that even contemporary newspaper print versions are incredibly valuable. The address and letter were printed in the Gazette of the United States, an early Federal newspaper in Philadelphia, on September 15th, 1790. That page and another from the September 11th, 1790, issue that describes the President’s visit to Newport are going on sale at a Bonhams’ Judaica auction on December 10th. The pre-sale estimate is $80,000 – $100,000.
The Congregation Yeshuat Israel synagogue went through some hard times after Washington’s visit. In 1791 regular services stopped as the once bustling commercial life of Newport slumped and much of the merchant class moved to New York. The Jewish community was reduced to a few longtime residents and regular visitors who returned to attend an occasional holy day service or funeral. The cemetery continued to be used as former residents often asked to be buried in the traditional cemetery of their fathers. It was the Touro family, Isaac’s sons Abraham and Judah, who donated money to fund maintenance on the synagogue and cemetery in their old hometown. In the first half of the 19th century, they both made substantial bequests to the state of Rhode Island for the perpetual care of the Congregation properties. That’s when the synagogue became known as the Touro Synagogue
It wasn’t until the population of Jews in Newport was boosted by Eastern European immigrants in 1883 that the synagogue reopened for regular worship again. Although the Jewish population of Newport is small today — an estimated 200 people — the synagogue’s commitment to its rich history is unflagging and it is visited by thousands of tourists a year. The synagogue holds an annual public reading of George Washington’s famous letter that is so popular you have to make reservations to attend. This year the keynote speaker was Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan who said: “In the early years of the Republic, every word George Washington said was addressed to the larger country, and every aspect of that lesson resonates today as strongly as it did in 1790.”
“When he told me it was an ancient gold ring, it felt like a gift from the underworld,” Lundin told The Local. “It was my magnificent ring. I didn’t want to give it up.”
Because Swedish law requires that any potential archaeological artifact made out of gold, silver, or bronze must be reported to the state, Lundin reported the find to the Swedish National Heritage Board. The finder can keep anything more than a 100 years old, but the state gets first dibs on objects made out of precious metals. If the Board determines that it’s of sufficient historical significance to be of interest to them, the state pays the finder fair market value and keeps the artifact. Lundin didn’t want the money, though. She wanted to keep the ring.
The Board found the object was a 2,000-year-old gold ring from the Roman Iron Age. They wanted to explore the discovery site to see if there were any other pieces from the period in the field.
Lundin discovered the trinket in June 2011, but due to planting seasons the Board was unable to investigate the field until autumn. The research and paperwork took more than two years, but for Lundin it all paid off. After searching the farm for similar artefacts on two separate occasions, the state offered Lundin 11,000 kronor ($1,672) for the ring.
“I guess I knew right away it was special, but I had no idea just how valuable it was,” said Lundin, who confessed she still felt slightly disappointed to lose the ring. “I haven’t decided what to do with the money yet, but it will definitely be something special. Maybe I’ll travel somewhere.”
I love how she grudgingly took the money for it because the state compelled the sale but the treasure was worth so much more to her than its monetary value. In her place, I’d feel exactly the same way.
Lorenzo Ghiberti, the sculptor and goldsmith who created the gilded bronze doors to Florence’s Baptistery of San Giovanni that Michelangelo considered “so beautiful that they would do well for the gates of Paradise”, started out with a more modest assignment. The Arte di Calimala, the cloth importers guild of Florence, held a contest in 1401 to design a new set of doors for the Baptistery that would complement the bronze ones made by Andrea Pisano in 1330. Pisano’s doors graced the east side of the Baptistery in place of pride facing the Duomo, and consisted of 28 barbed quatrefoil panels depicting the life of St. John the Baptist and the eight virtues. Each contestant was given a year to submit a test panel on the subject of The Sacrifice of Isaac.
Vasari describes each submission in his Lives of the Artists and it’s clear that in his opinion Ghiberti’s was superior to everyone’s, including Donatello’s and Jacopo della Quercia’s. The two finalists were the young Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi, future builder of the Duomo’s dome. Ghiberti claims in his autobiography that he was the unanimous winner; Vasari agrees. Brunelleschi’s biographer Antonio Manetti says Giberti and Brunelleschi were both given the assignment but Brunelleschi had no interest in collaborating so he went off to study architecture in Rome and left Ghiberti to do all the work himself.
Ghiberti spent 21 years from 1403 to 1424 crafting his 28 barbed quatrefoil panels depicting the life of Christ, the four evangelists and the Church Fathers. The high relief gilded bronze scenes demonstrated his impressive command of design and casting. The dimension and dynamism of the composition eclipsed the more static, flat designs of Pisano’s making the doors huge hits and the artist famous. Pisano’s doors were moved to the west portal (later moved again to the south portal) and Ghiberti’s new ones took pole position on the east side.
So thrilled was the Calimala organization with the doors, as soon as they were installed the guild commissioned Ghiberti to make a new set. This time they put no conditions on him whatsoever, no need to match the look of the Pisano doors and therefore no need to squeeze 28 small scenes into barbed quatrefoil borders. For this project Ghiberti chose to expand his canvas, dividing the door into 10 large squares that could accommodate his novel vision of several scenes from Old Testament episodes sharing space on the same panel. He used deep perspective and different depths of relief to capture figures in motion, taking full advantage of the architectural space. It took him 27 years to make these doors, his masterpiece, which would become known as the Gates of Paradise.
When complete, they were installed in the east portal. Ghiberti’s first doors were moved to the north portal where they still stand today. Centuries of pollution, vandalism, aggressive polishing and exposure to the elements coated the panels with thick blank gunk and damaged the gilding that remained underneath it. In 1980, experts with the Opificio delle Pietre Dure di Firenze, a public art restoration institute, initiated a long-term plan of study and conservation of the Gates of Paradise. The learning curve was steep; new laser technology even had to be developed to clean the gilding without overheating it. After 27 years of intensive work, the gleaming gold Gates of Paradise were returned to their former splendor and put on display in the Museo dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. (A replica is in place in the Baptistery.)
Now it’s the north doors’ turn. All the hard-learned lessons from the restoration of the Gates of Paradise has drastically decreased the time projected to clean the north doors. In just a few months, already two of the panels, The Baptism of Christ and The Temptation of Christ have gone from black to shiny gold. The remaining 26 panels, the decorative borders, the 47 heads of prophets, sibyls and Ghiberti himself wearing a dashing turban are scheduled to be completed in autumn of 2015, after which they will go on permanent display in a compressed air case next to the Gates of Paradise in the new Museo dell’Opera.
evnt-stewards-msg (54K) 11/17/13 Suggestions for event stewards. (autocrats)
East-hist-msg (67K) 11/16/13 Histories of the East Kingdom.
fd-Japan-msg (4K) 11/17/13 Food of medieval Japan.
fd-New-World-msg (57K) 11/16/08 16th C. food of and from the New World.
ambergris-msg (15K) 10/17/13 Use of ambergris in period.