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Drone Indiana Jones maps ruins of Italian town

Wed, 2015-01-21 03:21

It’s the first month of the new year and we already have a fine addition to my collection of Pompeii metaphors used to describe archaeological sites that are nothing at all like Pompeii. This time it’s the town of Cerreto Sannita in the southern Italian region of Campania being made to wear the Pompeii colors. The connection is that both cities were struck by a horrific cataclysm, but the comparisons pretty much end there. The town was reduced to rubble by an earthquake in the 17th century and a new Cerreto Sannita was built next to the ruins (to distinguish it from the new town, the site of the medieval ruins is called Cerreto antica). Little of the old city is visible today. Whatever is left is underground.

To ferret out the remnants of Cerreto antica, archaeologists have deployed a drone named Indiana Jones. With its onboard laser and videocamera, Indiana Jones is surveying the site above and below ground. Indiana’s lidar data will be the jumping off point for a hands-on archaeological excavation. The site will then be secured and any structures exposed will be stabilized. Artifacts recovered during the dig will be catalogued, and finally, the drone and dig information will be used to create a 3D model of the complete site. The “Medieval Cerreto” model won’t be just a virtual recreation, but a starting point for exploring the terrain, history and traditions of the town.

The Cerreto project is part of an initiative funded by Ministry of Education, Universities and Research that seeks to addresses issues of structural security while developing methods to integrate the protection, oversight and sustainable redevelopment of historical sites. The aim is to bring added safety and value to sites of cultural interest in seismically active areas, and boy is this area seismically active.

The towns, like Cerreto Sannita, in the environs of Benevento have a long, storied past of earthquake-induced upheaval. In fact, Cerreto itself once prospered mightily from an earthquake that drove residents out of the nearby town of Telesia. For centuries a regional administrative center under Lombard and Norman authorities, Telesia was seat of a bishopric from the 4th century A.D. until a massive series of earthquakes struck the central Apennine regions for an incredible seven months, from January until September of 1349. Sinkholes and landslides filled up with stagnant water, soil became swampy and volcanic fissures that emanated carbon dioxide and sulfur fumes made the air close to unbreathable. Telesia was abandoned and much of the population moved to Cerreto.

This gave the town a major economic, political and demographic boost. In 1593, Bishop Cesare Bellocchi instituted the diocesan seminary in Cerreto Sannita. After his death two years later, the new bishop, Eugenio Savino, moved into a palace in Cerreto donated by a local nobleman and made it the new official seat of the diocese which was renamed the Diocese of Telese or Cerreto Sannita. The town was now an important religious center, replete with churches, monasteries and convents.

Karma struck on June 5th, 1688. Cerreto Sannita was the epicenter of an earthquake estimated by seismologists to have been more than 7.0 on the Richter Scale. More than 4,000 people, half the population of the town, died and the entire town was razed to the ground. Six days later, Bishop Giovanni Battista de Bellis wrote to the head of the Congregation for Bishops reporting on the disaster.

“I am forced, crying, to advise you of the horrific spectacle of desolation in this my diocese, for the earthquake that struck at five the night before Pentecost while I was left weeping for my misery and that of my people. … Telese from ancient times was abandoned and my predecessor bishops moved to Cerreto, already populous, and there built a church, extremely beautiful, and to this church they transferred the services of the Cathedral where 15 Canons officiated. In this land of Cerreto there was the Church of San Martino, parochial and collegial, with 11 Canons and the Archpriest. There was a monastery of Conventual friars, a distinguished place of study, a monastery of Capuchin friars, a convent of the Nuns of the Order of Saint Clair where there were 65 nuns and converts.

Now this land with the churches, monasteries and everything, in the time it takes to recite a Credo, collapsed all, all, all, without there remaining standing even one house to take refuge in, something that anyone who did not see it would scarce believe it.”

The response was sympathetic but laconic. The Bishop went over the Curia’s head and appealed straight to Pope Innocent XI, explaining how the entire town had been leveled, that only three small dwellings belonging to a potter had survived the quake at all, and their walls were either crumbling or about to collapse, listing the numbers of dead in every convent, monastery and church, and asking that Rome help with emergency funds. He received no response. Only with the election of Pope Alexander VIII, a man known for his magnanimity, in 1689 did the diocese receive financial support for the reconstruction of the cathedral.

Unlike Telesia, Cerreto was not abandoned. It was rebuilt from scratch. Count Marzio Carafa stopped residents who were already beginning to rebuild their homes using the rubble and instead turned to royal engineer Giovanni Battista Manni to plan a town with particular attention to seismic stability. Also aided by his bother Marino and Bishop de Bellis, Marzio Carafa moved the city center downvalley onto a broad, low hill that was significantly more stable than the land the old town had been built on. It was all private property which the Count claimed through a sort of medieval version of eminent domain.

He also took out a loan of 3,000 ducats to build one and two-room houses that he sold to residents for manageable sums of 50 to 184 ducats. Since they had lost everything, the Count authorized his debt collector to extend loans for the purchase of the houses with interest-free repayments for three years and 6% interest the fourth. Eight years after the earthquake, the new town was complete and every resident owned his own new home with seismic design features like split support windows.

Inspired by Roman urbs, the new Cerreto Sannita had two major streets (decumani) parallel to each other with one-way traffic in opposite directions running down the length of the town and a number of small streets (cardini) connecting the two arteries. There were no defensive walls, no cramped and crooked alleys. It remains to this day one of the only surviving examples of a pure planned city from the late 17th century.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Better. Stronger. Faster.

Tue, 2015-01-20 10:00

As previously threatened, I am officially marking The History Blog’s passing the six million pageviews milestone with a Steve Austin reference. That’s really the only reason I’m even announcing this particular milestone. One million I announced because it’s a big deal; five million because we got there a lot faster than I expected. The six million figure only means anything to me because to this day I remain inordinately fond of the Six Million Dollar Man, especially the intro. Also, that Lee Majors wore the hell out of suits both track and leisure.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Remains of five people found in Amphipolis tomb

Mon, 2015-01-19 23:55

On Monday Greece’s Ministry of Culture announced the results of the first bone study on the skeletal remains found in the Kasta Tumulus in Amphipolis. Approximately 550 fragments of bone — some crushed, some whole and one skull missing the facial bones and teeth — were found in the tomb. Multidisciplinary teams from the Democritus University of Thrace and the
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki were able to sort 157 of the bone fragments into at least five individuals: a woman more than 60 years old, a man around 35 years old, a man around 45 years old, a neonate of unknown sex and fragments of cremated bones from a person of unknown age and sex.


The woman has the most surviving bones which were found three feet above the floor of the limestone cyst grave. The one almost complete skull is hers and was instrumental, along with the pelvic bones and the long bone measurements, in determining her sex. She was about 157 cm (5’2″) tall and suffered from antemortem tooth loss, degenerative changes of the spine, osteoporosis and frontal hyperostosis. Those conditions led researchers to put her age at over 60 years.


The younger of the men was about 168 cm (5’6″) tall and his bones bear clear unhealed cut marks that indicate he was violently assaulted with a sharp weapon in the left upper thoracic spine, on the nape of his neck and on both his sides. The older of the two was about 162 cm (5’4″) tall. He had fractured his right radius close to the wrist at some point, but it was fully healed before he died. Both men have degenerative osteoarthritis and spondylitis lesions in different areas.


The infant was identified as a newborn by the length and width of the left humerus and mandible. The sex could not be determined because the morphological features that help identify sex are not developed in so young a baby.


The fifth individual was identified from nine fragments of bones that bear the characteristic cracks, deformation and discoloration caused by complete cremations. Researchers believe these are the remains of an adult.

These are just the first round of results. Additional testing will include X-rays to find out more about the lesions and injuries to the bones, electron microscopy, paleogenetic analysis of any DNA recoverable, stable isotope analysis on the bones to identify the types of proteins in their diets, limited strontium analysis on bone samples (there were no teeth recovered except the root of an abscessed right mandibular second premolar, so the usual strontium testing on tooth enamel that can reveal where individuals lived as children is not possible) and Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon dating.

The hope is that researchers will be able to discover the diets, places of origin and, if DNA is cooperative, whether any of the people entombed were related to each other. It’s a long shot. The lack of teeth is a big minus for DNA extraction, and the neonate and cremated individual have such limited sample material that it’s unlikely they’ll produce testable DNA. The AMS radiocarbon dating will be done on the human remains but also on a number of animal bones, probably belonging to a horse, that were discovered in the tomb. If all goes well, the dates will illuminate the order of deposition in the tomb which can’t solely be determined by the excavation strata because the tomb was disturbed.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

The movie history book that cast a spell on young Martin Scorsese

Sun, 2015-01-18 23:18

Some time ago, I watched a documentary called A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies. The title says it all, really. It’s about the movies that influenced Scorsese to become a director, the ones he loved as a boy, the ones that shaped his understanding of film. Since he’s a huge, huge movie nerd, he covers an enormous amount of ground, including pictures that are largely forgotten today. It’s the kind of thing you take notes on in the hope you might get a chance to see some of these films one day.

The documentary opens with a scene from The Bad and the Beautiful, a 1952 movie about movies starring Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, and my secret favorite Dick Powell, in which Kirk Douglas’ producer character argues with the director about how to shoot a scene. At the 3:00 mark, Scorsese appears for the first time, sitting in a chair facing the camera. He’s holding a book. He starts talking:

I guess I have to say that when I was growing up in the 40s and 50s, I spent a lot of time in movie theaters. I became obsessed with movies. At that time there was nothing really available that I could find written on film except one book, sort of my first film book, although I couldn’t really afford to buy it and I couldn’t find a copy except the only one available from the New York Public Library. I borrowed it from the library repeatedly. It’s called A Pictorial History of the Movies by Deems Taylor, and it was a pictorial history of the movies in black and white stills, year by year, up to 1949.

The book cast a spell on me, ’cause back then I hadn’t seen many of the films shown here in the book, so all I had at my disposal to experience these films were these black and white stills. I’d fantasize about them and they’d play into my dreams and I was so tempted to steal some of these pictures from the book. It’s a terrible urge. After all, it’s a book from the public library. Well, I confess: once or twice I did give in to that urge.

This was in an era before the proliferation of university film schools, when the industry was still new enough that taking a scholarly approach to its history seemed incongruous. In fact, when this book was first published in 1943, there was exactly one film school in the entire world: the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography in Moscow, founded in 1919 by director Vladimir Gardin. The next one, the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, was founded in 1946, three years after the first edition of A Pictorial History of the Movies was published. The United States didn’t get a dedicated film school until 1969 when the American Film Institute‘s Conservatory was established.

Scorsese beat the AFI to the punch, graduating with a master’s degree in film from the Graduate Film program of New York University’s School of the Arts (today the Tisch School of the Arts) in 1966, the year after the program was founded and the year that the author of the book that had ensorceled baby Martin Scorsese to deface it died.

Deems Taylor was a well-known composer, commentator and music critic. Born in 1885, like Scorsese, he too was a graduate of NYU who had made a name for himself as a composer of cantatas in the late nineteenteens. He had great success with two operas he composed for the Metropolitan Opera — The King’s Henchman (1927) and Peter Ibbetson (1929) — now all but forgotten. He was a member of the famed Algonquin Roundtable, the New York literati who gathered to skewer each other over lunch at the Algonquin Hotel, and dated the sharpest skewer of them all, Dorothy Parker, for a short time.

While Taylor’s compositions and critiques languish in obscurity today, he was nationally famous in his day. He was on the cover of Time magazine in 1931. He was a pitchman for California wines in 1940, his elegance and erudition lending much-needed panache to an American viticulture industry that had been nearly destroyed by Prohibition. Only fortified desert wines like sherry sold well in the United States (you can see that referenced in the ad) but it wasn’t because they paired well with roasts; it’s because they were taxed at a lower rate than hard liquors but had 20% alcohol so they provided the best bang for one’s buck. Table wines didn’t outsell fortified wines in America until 1968.

Fame is fickle, however, and if Deems Taylor is known at all today it is solely for his role as the Master of Ceremonies who introduces each music segment in Disney’s innovative 1940 masterpiece Fantasia. Walt Disney and the conductor Leopold Stokowski of the Philadelphia Orchestra had heard Taylor doing commentary for radio broadcasts of the New York Philharmonic and brought him in on the project. Taylor contributed to some of the musical selections, advocating strongly for the inclusion of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (the dino wars segment) which even a quarter century after its 1913 premiere in Paris caused an uproar, was still considered controversial.

(Random historical connection: Deems Taylor’s only earlier credited work in films was as composer for 1924′s Janice Meredith, a Revolutionary War period piece that was one of the “serious” movies William Randolph Hearst produced to fancy up his mistress Marion Davies from a bubbly comedienne into a dramatic actress. It was a dismal failure, of course.

This is probably a coincidence but it’s a neat one so I am compelled to point out that at 3:18 in the first segment of A Personal Journey, Scorsese stops on a page in A Pictorial History of the Movies. The bottom left and top right stills are from Fantasia. The bottom right still is from Citizen Kane.)

That was pretty much it as far as Taylor’s film career went. He had a brief cameo playing himself in 1941′s version of Camp Rock, The Hard-Boiled Canary, and the rest is TV appearances, primarily on panel quiz shows like What’s My Line?. He must have caught the bug, though, because the first edition of A Pictorial History of the Movies was printed in 1943, three years after Fantasia hit theaters.

It obviously filled a need, because the book went into a second print run in its first year, and this was during World War II when there was paper rationing. Marilyn Monroe had a copy. Scorsese’s edition was printed in 1950, which means it was updated and reissued at least once at the end of the decade.

This preciousness of this volume to Scorsese makes me appreciate the times we live in, because yesterday while nerding around the Internet Archive, I just happened to come across the second 1943 printing of A Pictorial History of the Movies fully digitized and available for any young movie buffs to access whenever their hearts desire. Good resolution, too. You can see far more detail in the online version of those black and white stills than Martin Scorsese ever could cutting them out of the New York Public Library’s copy. I spent half the weekend reading it, and while it’s obviously dated and limited in scope, it’s still a total page turner, a mini-education in film.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Read and see what Darwin read and saw on the HMS Beagle

Sat, 2015-01-17 23:23

Charles Darwin boarded the HMS Beagle in December of 1831 as a self-funded gentleman naturalist (Josiah Wedgwood II, son of the potter/industrialist and Charles’ uncle by marriage, actually did the funding) on what was supposed to be a two-year survey of the South American coast. He wound up spending five years on board circumnavigating the globe. Darwin was 22 years old and fresh out of Cambridge when his epic voyage began. While the Beagle crew focused on surveying the coasts, Darwin’s job was studying the local flora, fauna and geology. Even though he was an amateur who had only ever put together a beetle collection before, he proved adroit at collecting specimens, over the years amassing a great quantity of them from plankton to Megatherium fossils.

On the Origin of Species was published in 1859, 23 years after the Beagle’s return to England, but the things he saw and the extensive notes and journal he wrote documenting his trip would be invaluable to his understanding that species are not immutable, but rather evolve over time through a process of natural selection. An essential element of Darwin’s growth from talented amateur to scientist was the research library on the Beagle. There were 404 books on board, mostly non-fiction (one exception Darwin is known to have read was a Spanish translation of a racy French novel by Antoine-Toussaint Desquiron de Saint-Agnan about the adultery trial of Queen Caroline, estranged wife of King George IV), almost all of them the property of the ship’s young captain Robert FitzRoy.

The books were kept in cases in the poop cabin at the ship’s stern. Darwin was quartered in the poop cabin, which means for five years he lived in this library. Little wonder, then, that there are obscure notes in his journals that can only be explained by identifying the book referenced. However, the catalogue of the library was lost and the books themselves were dispersed when the Beagle returned home in 1836.

Now a team of researchers led by John van Wyhe, a historian of science at the National University of Singapore, have compiled and digitized every last known title from the Beagle’s library.

Among the titles are all 20 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica, seven volumes of the Natural History of Invertebrate Animals by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, and James Cook’s three-volume account of a Pacific Ocean voyage in the 1770s. [...]

Reconstructing the library provides a more complete picture of Darwin’s world during the expedition. “Darwin literally lived in the library for five years,” said van Wyhe. “The science of his day was already quite sophisticated. All these geology books and all these books on fossils. Darwin could build on what was already known and what had come before.” [...]

The books onboard were identified through a number of methods including letters sent between crew members and their families, lines in Darwin’s notebooks and his surviving book collection. The final number of books digitised for the project is close to a number stated by Robert FitzRoy, captain of the HMS Beagle. In a letter to his sister during an earlier voyage on 16 March 1826, FitzRoy wrote, “I flatter myself I have a complete library in miniature, upwards of 400 volumes!”

Here is the complete Beagle library catalogued by subject, here catalogued by title. There are a total of 195,000 pages in the library with more than 5,000 illustrations.

If you’d like to see some of the sights Darwin saw during his voyage, you’ll enjoy another digitization project: Cambridge University’s scanning of the sketchbooks filled by the Beagle’s artist, Conrad Martens. He documented the sights with lightning drawings, most of them quick pencil sketches with some watercolors, during his altogether too brief time on board the ship. He joined the Beagle crew in November of 1833 at Montevideo and left after they reached Valparaiso in August of 1834 due to budgetary constraints. Leaf through Sketchbook III here and Sketchbook I here. (Those are in date order, despite the counterintuitive numbering.)

 

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Citizen Kane to be screened at Hearst Castle

Fri, 2015-01-16 23:12

There must be some weird spinning noises coming from the Hearst mausoleum at Cypress Lawn Cemetery in Colma, California, because for the first time ever, Citizen Kane, Orson Welles’ greatest masterpiece and William Randolph Hearst’s noirest bête noir, will be screened at Hearst Castle. It will be shown in the castle’s private theater on March 13th as part of the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival. The theater seats 50 people and tickets cost $1,000 a head, with all proceeds benefiting the film festival and The Friends of Hearst Castle, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of the property and its contents. The screening at Hearst Castle will be introduced by Ben Mankiewicz, grandson of Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz and my second-favorite Turner Classic Movies host. (Robert Osborne 4ever!)

The ice was broken in 2012 when Stephen Thompson Hearst, William Randolph’s great-grandson and vice president of the Hearst Corporation’s Western Properties, allowed the first showing of the film at the visitors center two miles from the castle. This time it will be screened in the castle itself, the lavish residence that so loomingly features in Citizen Kane as Xanadu.

The depiction of the opulent, art-crammed, oppressive castle didn’t please William Randolph Hearst, but that wasn’t the main reason he hated Citizen Kane so much. It was the character of Susan Alexander, Charles Foster Kane’s mistress and second wife, who offended Hearst the most. She was widely thought to have been based on Marion Davies, the silent film comedienne and Hearst’s mistress of more than 30 years. Her depiction as a talentless, bitter, lonely drunk imprisoned by her husband in the vast mausoleum of Xanadu was deeply insulting to Hearst, and since Marion was in fact a very popular hostess with tons of friends in the Hollywood community, it earned Citizen Kane an indelible reputation for churlishness before the first showing.

Welles’ insistence that Susan Alexander was actually modeled after an entirely different mistress of an entirely different tycoon made little impression, nor did his insistence that the character of Charles Foster Kane wasn’t modeled after Hearst. There were many points of similarity in the biographies of Kane and Hearst, and bits of several of Hearst’s speeches wound up in Kane’s speeches. Hearst’s avid acquisition of art, including entire rooms exported from grand European historical structures, as well as real estate was also mimicked by Kane.

Welles knew from the time he and former journalist Herman Mankiewicz wrote the screenplay that Hearst would be on him like white on rice over this story, but because he had an unprecedented carte blanche contract with film studio RKO that allowed him complete creative control and final cut, he figured he could just brazen his way through Hearst’s opposition. He was wrong. The movie wasn’t even finished when Hearst’s campaign began. He had gotten an early look at the screenplay, and when gossip columnist Hedda Hopper caught an early screening of the incomplete movie on January 3rd, 1941, she went straight to Hearst with the poop.

Hearst turned his Great Lidless Eye onto Citizen Kane and stared it all the way down. He deployed his newspapers, read by one in five Americans, to expose Welles’ personal and political peccadilloes. Mankiewicz’s DUI arrest got column inches too (although not the part about his acquittal on all charges). Influential Hearst gossip columnist Louella Parsons dressed Welles down repeatedly, mocking him as a “would-be genius” and portraying him as a New York brat swanning around the movie colony with barely disguised contempt. And that was the relatively clean game. Hearst also played dirty, securing the terrified support of studios by threatening to publish all the scabrous stories about their stars he had killed at their request. He also threatened to turn the harsh glare of his papers on something studio heads were even more desperate to keep quiet: how many of them were Jews, and German Jews at that.

Led by Louis B. Mayer, the studio brass passed around the collection plate and offered RKO $800,000 to buy the negative so they could burn it. The movie’s financial backers had a private screening at Radio City Music Hall that all the movie industry big shots attended in the hope they could persuade the shelving of the film for the good of the “industry.” Orson Welles gave a rousing speech at the event, extolling the virtues of free speech in a world increasingly threatened by tyranny. It was enough to keep the negative out of the bonfire, but it wasn’t enough to beat Hearst.

Hearst’s next target was movie theaters. He told the theater chains that if they showed Citizen Kane, he would never allow them to advertise any other movies in one of his newspapers. That was brutally effective. Most theaters refused to show it. New York was the only place where it was widely seen, and it was showered with awards. At the 1942 Academy Awards, on the other hand, where Citizen Kane was nominated for nine awards, every time a nominee was mentioned there was booing in the audience. The movie did manage to win one Oscar for best screenplay, shared by Welles and Mankiewicz.

After all this mess, RKO put the film in the vault and left it there gathering dust for years. Citizen Kane came out of obscurity in 1956 when RKO sold its catalogue to television, the first studio to do so, and by the end of the decade it began its reign at the top of greatest movies of all time lists.

All this drama was water under the bridge, as far as Steve Hearst was concerned. He has seen the movie repeatedly, the first time in junior high, so he hadn’t inherited his great-grandfather’s sensitivity to the subject matter.

Hearst recalled that he first saw “Kane” at school as a seventh grader when he was 11 and was told by his parents that it wasn’t accurate depiction. He’s seen it five other times and believes that it gives the incorrect impression on two fronts — Davies being portrayed as talent-free (“That was a pretty sharp blade”) and Xanadu being a dark, forbidding locale (“It’s where I had fun in the summer, swimming in the Neptune pool”).

Yes I bet you did have fun swimming in the Neptune Pool.

A few years ago HBO made a movie, RKO 281, about the battle between Hearst and Welles over Citizen Kane. The actors are all top-notch (James Cromwell makes a remarkably sympathetic Hearst even with all his control freakery), but the story is fictionalized in key points. It’s only available on DVD, although you can watch a crappy pixellated version with Portuguese subtitles on YouTube.

For the non-fiction version, PBS’ always excellent American Experience dedicated an episode to The Battle Over Citizen Kane. It debuted years ago and it’s not available to watch online on the PBS website. It is on YouTube, but only split up into 12 10-minute videos. That’s a bit too much embedding even for me, so I’ll just get you hooked on the first dose.

 

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

132-year-old Winchester ’73 found leaning against tree

Thu, 2015-01-15 23:26

Eva Jensen, Cultural Resource Program Manager at Great Basin National Park in eastern Nevada’s Snake mountain range, was exploring the park with the archaeology team looking for Native American artifacts on November 6th, 2014, when she spotted an object leaning against a Juniper tree. Upon closer examination, she saw that it was a rifle so cracked and weathered that it was perfectly camouflaged by the cracked and weathered tree behind it.

The grayed wood stock was embedded in the dirt, leaves and rocks at the base of the tree. Eva Jensen had to carefully dig away the debris in order to liberate the rifle. Once able to examine the whole thing, the team spied “Model 1873″ engraved on the iron gun body, the classic imprimatur of the Winchester ’73, “the gun that won the West.” Its characteristic crescent-shaped buttstock identified it as the lever-action repeating rifle form (Winchester also made carbine and musket forms of the Model 1873). The octagonal barrel is chambered for .44-40 cartridges, the original caliber that was manufactured from 1873 until production stopped on the model in 1916, but the rifle was found uncharged.

The team then wrapped the stock in non-adhesive orange flagging to keep it from falling apart. They then placed the rifle on a clean white cloth and in a gun case and transported it to the park’s museum storage. Jensen began researching the weapon starting with looking up the serial number on the lower tang. She turned to the Cody Firearms Museum‘s records office in Cody, Wyoming, which has original factory data for select Winchester serial numbers. The Great Basin Winchester’s serial number identifies it as having been manufactured and shipped from the Connecticut warehouse in 1882, but there was no further information, nothing about who ordered it or where it was shipped to.

So Jensen consulted newspapers of the day — the Ward Reflex and White Pine County Record — that chronicled the then-thriving mining industry in northern Nevada. She found tantalizing tidbits, including ads from dry goods stores selling Winchester rifles, even the name of a gunsmith in the area.

But there were no stories of any gun battle or outlaw search that might have put a history to the gun. She found a picture of a member of a prominent family holding a Winchester, but it was the wrong model.

Jensen and the cultural resource staff will continue to search periodicals and family archives in the likely vain attempt to pinpoint the history of this found rifle, one of the 720,610 the company manufactured during the model’s incredibly successful run. The year this Winchester 73 was made was particularly fruitful thanks to a price drop from $50 to $25 engendered by the decline in the iron and steel industries that ushered in a recession that would last three years; more than 25,000 Winchester Model 1873s were made in 1882.

The rifle will be on display Friday from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM at the Great Basin Visitor Center classroom, and at the Old Sheepherders Gathering at the Border Inn in Baker on Saturday, January 17th, from 2:30 until 5:00 PM. These brief glimpses are all we’ll get for a while. The rifle’s wood needs to be stabilized and conserved for future display. They will not be restoring it, thankfully. The aim of conservation will be to keep it in the condition in which is was found because it’s cool. Once conservation is complete, it will go on display at the Great Basin National Park as part of the celebrations of its 30th anniversary and the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary in 2016.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Museum acquires Anglo-Saxon St. Peter carving used as cat grave marker

Wed, 2015-01-14 23:07


The Museum of Somerset in Taunton has acquired a medieval carving of Saint Peter that for years was used as a marker for a pet cat’s grave. The 18 by 17-inch stone is carved with the tonsured and clean-shaved saint with his head turned slightly to the right and two fingers of his right hand raised to his chest in benediction. A partial inscription on the top left — SC (S) (PE)TRVS — identifies the figure as Saint Peter.

The design is distinctly Anglo-Saxon, with a close parallel found in the figure of Peter the Deacon on the St. Cuthbert stole and maniple, a richly embroidered vestment made in Winchester between 906 and 916. It is a piece of a larger object, possibly a section of a shaft from a free-standing cross or larger relief panel that was later recycled as a building material. It’s made out of oolitic limestone, a stone that’s native to the south Somerset area where it was discovered. There are several religious institutions nearby that could have been the original source: Muchelney Abbey, a Benedictine monastery dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul, was just 10 miles away from Dowlish Wake, while Glastonbury Abbey is 25 miles away.

Knowing the exact location where it was found might answer some of the questions about its original configuration, but it was only recognized as a rare surviving pre-Conquest carving after the stonemason, Johnny Beeston, who first rediscovered it had died. Beeston brought it home and installed it in his garden rockery in Dowlish Wake where it marked the grave of the dearly departed Winkles, a stray cat he had adopted. The person who recognized it was potter and local historian Chris Brewchorne who had a pottery shop across the road. It caught his eye in 2004. By then Johnny had joined Winkles over the rainbow bridge and Mrs. Beeston was willing to sell the piece.

They offered it to the Museum of Somerset for what would turn out to be a bargain price, but the museum didn’t have the funding at the time and declined the offer. So instead it was sold at a Sotheby’s auction in December of 2004 to Milwaukee native, timber and oil heir, art collector and all-around eccentric Stanley J. Seeger for £201,600 ($386,628).

Seeger died in 2011. His extensive collection of art was sold at auction, Sotheby’s again, in March of 2014 and the Peter stone sold for a far more modest £68,500 ($114,532) the second time around. That lower price was good news for the museum who could now arrange to buy it for £150,000 thanks to grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund (who chipped in the largest chunk at £78,600), Art Fund, the Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, the Fairfield Trust, the Friends of the Museum of Somerset and other donors.

The stone will go on public display in the Museum of Somerset, which occupies the great hall and inner ward of Taunton Castle, starting this Saturday, January 17th.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

4,000-year-old copper crown found in India

Tue, 2015-01-13 23:04

This past August, kiln workers discovered human skeletal remains while digging for clay to make bricks in the village of Chandayan, Uttar Pradesh, northern India. The skeleton was wearing a crown, a copper strip with two copper leaves attached to it decorated with a tubular carnelian bead and a faience one. They also found a redware (terracotta) bowl with a collared rim, a miniature pot and a clay sling ball. The local residents were so excited by the discovery that they, along with the police, protected the site, stopping further clay digging.

Word of the find spread over the region, eventually catching the interest of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) which dispatched an archaeological team to Chandayan. They excavated the burial site and found more of the skeleton — a pelvic bone, the left femur — as well as another piece of th crown, potsherds and 21 earthenware pots including storage jars and dish-on-stands. Most of them are plain redware, but there is a grey vessel and some lightly decorated pieces.

About 65 feet away from the burial at the same depth, the team discovered animal bones and more earthenware pots. Archaeologists believe the animal may have been sacrificed during the funerary rites for the crowned person. Another 150 feet from the burial they found evidence of an ancient home: a compacted earth floor, mud walls and postholes.

Carnelian, glazed faience, sling balls and collared pots are artifacts typical of the late Indus Valley (also known as Harappan after the type site discovered in the 1920s) civilization. In fact, work in carnelian and copper metallurgy were innovations introduced in the Indus Valley civilization. The late Indus Valley phase was from 1900 to 1600 B.C., and although burial sites from this period have been found in Uttar Pradesh, this is the first evidence of a habitation site. The crown is also a unique piece. A silver crown from the late Indus Valley period has been found before, but not a copper one.

The crown suggests that the skeleton belonged to someone of importance, perhaps the village chieftain or local leader of some kind. The crudeness of the pottery and the local flavor of the decoration (none of them decorated with the precision and elaborate geometries that make Indus Valley pottery so popular in museums) suggest he was a big fish in a small pond rather than a ruler of a large territory who would have had access to more expensive trade goods. The crown could have had another function or perhaps was merely decorative, so the deceased may have been someone with extravagant taste in jewelry rather than a dominant political figure.

Although with a range of 930,000 square miles it covered far more area than the other great Bronze Age civilizations (Egypt, Mesopotamia and China), the Indus script has yet to be deciphered so there’s still so much we don’t know about the Indus Valley civilization. The large urban centers that have been unearthed are impressive in their meticulous planning, water delivery and drainage systems, public baths, public buildings, residential areas distinct from administrative and/or religious compounds. More than a thousand towns from major cities like Harappa and Mohenjo-daro to small settlements have been found but only about a hundred of them have been excavated. The Chandayan settlement is the easternmost one found yet.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

42 mastodon bones found in Michigan backyard

Mon, 2015-01-12 23:00

Contractor Daniel LaPoint Jr. was digging a poind with an excavator on his neighbor Eric Witzke’s property in Bellevue Township, southern Michigan, last November when he noticed a large bone jutting out of the pile of displaced soil. He pulled it out of the pile and saw it was a curved bone four feet long. Over the next four days, LaPoint and Witzke dug up the yard and unearthed 41 more large bones which at the time they assumed were dinosaur bones due to their impressive dimensions.

They enlisted the aid of Daniel Fisher, director of the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology, who examined the bones and determined they were from a mastodon, not a dinosaur, and are between 10,000 and 14,000 years old.

LaPoint and Witzke’s collection includes several rib bones, leg, shoulder and hip bones, the base of a tusk and pieces of the animal’s vertebrae.

Fisher has spent several hours looking through what they found and believes the mastodon was a 37-year-old male.

“Preliminary examination indicates that the animal may have been butchered by humans,” said Fisher. Bones show what look like tool marks, in places.

Only 330 confirmed mastodon bones have been found in Michigan, so the discovery of 42 in one place is exceptional. Fisher believes there may be more bones to be found in Witzke’s yard, but the wet earth was already difficult to excavate in November. It’s probably close to impenetrable in full winter.

The finders could make a few thousand dollars off the bones if they sold them, but they are awesome people so they’ve decided to keep a few bones as mementos and donate the rest to the museum. The bones will go to the museum at the end of the month. Once they’re there, researchers will radiocarbon date them to narrow down the date range to within a few hundred years.

In further evidence of LaPoint and Witzke’s awesomeness, the pair took the bones to the local middle school so the kids could get the hands-on experience before they disappear into the museum’s stores.

“Once these things go to the museum and get crated up, you’re not going to get to touch them again. It’s over with and I was that kid who wanted to touch that thing on the other side of the glass,” said LaPoint. “All the kids got to pick them up and hold them. Some kids, it was life-changing for them. To change one kid’s life because they got to touch it, I think, is an incredible opportunity.”

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Canada museum buys world’s oldest hockey stick

Sun, 2015-01-11 23:15


The Canadian Museum of History has acquired the oldest known hockey stick for $300,000. The seller was social worker Mark Presley who saw it mounted on the wall of a barbershop and bought it from barber George Ferneyhough in 2008 for $1,000. Fascinated by the small, clearly old hockey stick, Presley traced its ownership history and had it tested extensively to determine its age. (You can read the documentation of his research here.) He discovered that the stick was hand-carved out of a single piece of (what else?) sugar maple between 1835 and 1838 in North Sydney along the northeastern coast of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. The original owners were the Moffatt family, scions of Loyalist shipbuilder Captain James Moffatt, born in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, in 1737, who was one of the first settlers of Upper North Sydney’s Pottle Lake area.

It was a Moffatt, Charlie Moffatt, who had given George Ferneyhough the stick thirty years earlier. Presley tracked Charlie Moffatt down. Then 92 years old, Moffatt told Presley that while he never used it himself, he remembered the old handmade stick hanging on the porch of the family’s homestead on Pottle Lake until the farm with its two acres of waterfront property was expropriated by the government in the 1960s when the lake watershed became the protected potable water source for surrounding municipalities. Charlie’s father Warren told him he and his father Thomas had used the stick to play on Pottle Lake when they were young, and Thomas was born in 1837, so Presley realized this stick could well be very old indeed.

Initials “WM” carved into the blade of the stick when it was still new before any of the many layers of paint were applied indicate that the first owner was William “Dilly” Moffatt, Thomas Moffatt’s brother and Charlie’s great-uncle. Thomas and Dilly’s father John Mumford Moffatt probably carved the stick for his sons, and he did an outstanding job of it, starting with the lumber selection. Experts at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, studied the wood and found the direction of the pith indicates it was taken from a small tree growing outward and upward from a cliff or creek bank. This growth pattern gave the tree’s lumber a natural J-shaped curve. That made the stick easy and fast to carve and extremely strong since the blade was part of the natural sweep of the wood.

The Mount Allison researchers were also able to date the stick by its tree rings. No other antique hockey stick has been able to be dendrochronologically dated because you need a certain number of rings to establish a pattern that can be matched with a previously known chronology and hockey sticks don’t generally have usable ring groups. The experts determined the minimum number of rings they would need was 30. The butt of the Moffatt stick turned out to have 43 rings, a remarkable number for the small diameter of a hockey stick. Matched against a sugar maple chronology established from Pottle Lake trees and adjusted for additional rings and knots, the date the wood was cut determined to be between 1835 and 1838. The paint evidence supported that conclusion, with the first of the five layers being a natural “red earth” pigment based on iron oxides ground up with charcoal that was in common use in Cape Breton between 1800 and 1850.

That makes the Moffatt stick a good 20 years older than any other hockey stick known to survive. The stick previously thought to be the oldest was made between 1852 and 1856 by Glasgow-born Alexander Rutherford who carved it out of hickory at his farm outside Lindsay, Ontario. His son, Alexander Rutherford Jr., played with it before handing it down to his own son Melville Rutherford. Melville gave to his nine-year-old grand-nephew Gord Sharpe who kept it for three decades before putting it on display at Wayne Gretsky’s Toronto restaurant for a few years and then auctioning it off on eBay in 2006. It sold for $2.2 million Canadian. Sharpe gave the profits to a charity he founded and the buyer put the Rutherford stick on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

Given that enticing precedent and needing money to fund his return to college, Mark Presley chose to follow in Sharpe’s footsteps and put the Moffatt stick up for sale on eBay in March of 2014. Excitement was rife with talk of millions of dollars (Mr. Ferneyhough was pretty disgruntled at the prospect) but the highest bid was $118,000 Canadian which failed to meet the reserve.

The Canadian Museum of History, provisioned with moneys from the donor-supported National Collection Fund, was able to make a deal with Presley to secure the world’s oldest known hockey stick for the nation, and boy are they happy about it.

“Hockey is Canada’s game — we developed it and we cherish it like no other country in the world,” said Mark O’Neill, President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of History. “The Moffatt stick is a unique and powerful link to the sport’s earliest days in this country, and is an example of the national treasures Canadians will see in their new national museum of history.”

“Our Government is proud that the Canadian Museum of History has acquired this important part of our history,” said the Honourable Shelly Glover, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages. “Through its acquisitions, the Canadian Museum of History provides Canadians with greater access to our rich and diverse history. As we approach Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017, this is an opportunity for all of us to appreciate our great heritage.”

The Moffatt stick will go on display in the museum’s new Canadian History Hall on the 150th anniversary, Canada Day (July 1st) of 2017.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

The Mauritshuis at a movie theater near you

Sat, 2015-01-10 23:52

When the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, Netherlands, closed for two years so the 17th century palace that houses the exceptional collection of Dutch Golden Age masterpieces could be restored and expanded, a selection of the museum’s most famous pieces went on tour. The Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis exhibition kicked off in Japan with 48 works and it was a smash hit. The show at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum was the world’s most visited exhibition of 2012 with 758,724 total visitors.

When it moved on to the US in 2013, the traveling exhibition stopped at the de Young in San Francisco, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and The Frick Collection in New York City where hundreds of thousands of people went to see Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, Rembrandt van Rijn’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, Paulus Potter’s The Bull and Carel Fabritius’s The Goldfinch, among other treasures. Early last year the show moved to Italy for its last stop at the Palazzo Fava in Bologna and then returned home to The Hague. Over the year and a half the exhibition was on the road, more than 2.2 million people in Japan, the US and Italy saw Girl with a Pearl Earring and friends.

On June 27th, 2014, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands officially reopened the Mauritshuis with much pomp and ceremony, including a living human Girl with a Pearl Earring’s symbolic return to the museum accompanied by six cavalrymen from the Cavalry Escort of Honour. The renovation doubled the museum’s space, thanks to the acquisition of the Sociëteit de Witte building, an Art Deco building across the street, and the construction of an underground tunnel between the old building and the new. The new building, unfortunately named the Royal Dutch Shell Wing after its sponsor, has a new restaurant, gift shop, educational workshop and will host temporary exhibitions. The original museum, built in 1641 as the residence of count John Maurice of Nassau, was extensively refurbished with new systems installed to secure and conserve the paintings in the collection.

So now the collection of almost 850 objects, mainly paintings, is up and running again after two years when 50 of the most prized pieces were traveling and only 100 of the other works in the collection were on display in a temporary Highlights Mauritshuis exhibition
at the Gemeentemuseum modern art museum. For those of us who haven’t had a chance to see the refurbished museum and its superstar with a pearl earring, the fine folks at Exhibition on Screen have made a movie about Girl with a Pearl Earring and the restored Mauritshuis.

Enjoying unparalleled exclusive access to this historical exhibition, the film takes the audience on a journey as it seeks to answer many of the questions surrounding this enigmatic painting and its mysterious creator, Vermeer. Using the recently completed and highly complex makeover of the museum as its starting point, the film goes on a behind the scenes detective journey to seek out the answers that lie within the other masterpieces housed in the collection.

To find a theater screening the movie near you, check this list. Showings begin on January 13th. Until then, here’s a quick preview. (Keep your eyes peeled at the 42 second mark for a quick glimpse of The Goldfinch, the small 1654 panel painting that became the surprise break-out star of the exhibition’s last American leg at the The Frick thanks to the success of the Donna Tartt novel named after and starring the wee bird portrait.)

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Toledo Museum of Art scores Napoleon’s brother’s spiral chandelier

Fri, 2015-01-09 23:22

Ohio’s Toledo Museum of Art was looking for a Neoclassical chandelier to adorn Gallery 31, a room in which paintings from the period, like Napoleon on the Battlefield of Eylau made by Antoine-Jean Gros in 1807 and a smaller 1786 version of Jacques-Louis David’s famous Oath of the Horatii, one of the works that launched the Neoclassical movement, feature prominently. They were able to acquire a chandelier from a Hamburg art dealer, Frank C. Möller Fine Arts, that fit the bill most perfectly because not only is it inspired by classical architecture, it was made for Napoleon’s youngest brother, Jérôme Bonaparte.

The Spiral Chandelier, made by Berlin luxury craftsmen Werner & Mieth, has a skeleton of gilded bronze hung with glass pendants. It is about five-and-a-half feet tall by three feet wide and is in exceptional condition, with the metal armature and almost all of the pendants original to the piece. The white glass pieces are replacements created from a photograph of another Werner & Mieth chandelier ordered by Jérôme Bonaparte for one of his palaces that was sadly destroyed by bombs during World War II.

Werner & Mieth (maker), Berlin, active 1792–1819. Spiral Chandelier for Jérôme Bonaparte, 1810–1811. Cast, chased and fire-gilded bronze (ormolu); cut and polished glass (H. 175 cm; W. 101 cm). Toledo Museum of Art. Purchase with funds from the Florence Scott Libbey Bequest in memory of her father, Maurice A. Scott. 2014. Photo courtesy of Frank C. Möller Fine Arts, Hamburg, Germany.

The Werner & Mieth company, founded in 1792 by Christian Gottlob Werner, Gottfried Mieth and Friedrich Luckau the Younger, was for more than four decades the most important Berlin manufacturer of handcrafted luxury decorative items in gilded bronze, including chandeliers, table centerpieces and candelabras. Their specialty was ormolu, a gilding technique that applied a finely ground mixture of gold and mercury to mercury-treated bronze, copper or brass and then fired the object at a temperature high enough to evaporate mercury, leaving only the gold bonded to the metal. The result was a shiny, bright gilded surface and, importantly for mantel clocks, fireplace tools and chandeliers, non-oxidizing even when exposed to high heat.

The company was immediately successful. In 1794, just two years after opening their doors, Werner & Mieth were given a Royal Appointment. Their chandeliers appeared in all the Hohenzollerns’ great palaces — the Monbijou Palace and Crown Prince’s Palace in Berlin, the Japanese Palace in Dresden, Sans-Souci in Potsdam. King Frederick William II of Prussia, grandson of Frederick William I, nephew and heir to the childless Frederick the Great, in 1797 had 12 Werner & Mieth chandeliers installed in the east wing of Charlottenburg Palace, six in his winter chamber upstairs and six in his summer apartments on the ground floor.

The nobility and aristocracy of other countries followed suit. Even during the upheavals of the Napoleonic wars (Frederick William III was defeated by Napoleon’s armies at the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt in 1806, after which Prussia was carved up and occupied by French troops; its territories and autonomy were fully restored after Waterloo), Werner & Mieth thrived. France, long culturally dominant in the ormolu crafts, imported the Prussian company’s luxury goods. Various members of the Bonaparte family were clients, among them the Empress Josephine herself. In 1810, Werner & Mieth exported chandeliers to capitals of Europe — Paris, London, Stockholm, St. Petersburg, Copenhagen — and as far as Constantinople.

Jérôme Bonaparte got on the chandelier bandwagon that year too. Napoleon had made his youngest brother King of Westphalia, a conglomeration of a bunch of northwestern German states, in 1807. One of those statelets was the principality of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel whose seat was Brunswick Palace in the city of Brunswick. In 1810, Jérôme Bonaparte ordered a Werner & Mieth chandelier inspired by the volutes of the Greek Ionic order of columns (see the swirls on the capital). The company thought this particular model, designed by artist and self-taught architect and archaeologist Hans Christian Genelli, was the most beautiful in their catalogue. Genelli wrote notes on Vitruvius’s De Architectura and drew sections of the Ionic volutes from a much-studied passage in which the great Roman architectural theorist discusses the design of the spirals.

The top ring of the object has six spirals evenly spaced around its perimeter, densely hung with glass drops, which terminate in small suspended rings with glass drops. Curtains of faceted circular beads obscure the central spine, terminating in an opaque white glass receiver bowl. Each of six downward spiraling loops has a candle arm with a pair of candle sockets. [...]

“The design is based on a logarithmic spiral that is moving downwards. The concept of an upside-down, hanging column is a remarkable one — the curling forms of the chandelier are particularly noticeable from below,” [Toledo Museum of Art curator of glass and decorative arts Jutta-Annette] Page said.

Werner & Mieth (maker), Berlin, active 1792–1819. Spiral Chandelier for Jérôme Bonaparte, 1810–1811. Cast, chased and fire-gilded bronze (ormolu); cut and polished glass (H. 175 cm; W. 101 cm). Toledo Museum of Art. Purchase with funds from the Florence Scott Libbey Bequest in memory of her father, Maurice A. Scott. 2014. Photo courtesy of Frank C. Möller Fine Arts, Hamburg, Germany.

Unfortunately for him, Jérôme Bonaparte would never get the chance to enjoy his beautiful spiral chandelier. It was delivered to Brunswick Castle but never installed because he was off fighting with his brother in Russia in 1812, and in 1813 allied Prussian and Russian troops took Kassel, the capital, and dissolved the cobbled-together Kingdom of Westphalia. Jérôme and his wife fled to France. The chandelier became property of the city, along with everything else in the castle, and was sold in the mid-1930s to a Hamburg family. That family has now sold it to the Toledo Museum of Art.

Image courtesy the Toledo Museum of Art.

 

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Large chariot, horse burial found in China

Thu, 2015-01-08 23:38

Archaeologists excavating a tomb complex in Zaoyang in the central Chinese province of Hubei have unearthed 28 chariots and 49 pairs of horses dating to the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 B.C.). The chariots and horses were buried separately. The chariot pit, an impressive 33 meters (108 feet) long and four meters (13 feet) wide, was discovered first. Unlike other ancient chariot burials which feature the vehicles positioned vertically as if ready for use (see this tomb, for instance, discovered in 2011 in Luoyang, about 200 miles north of Zaoyang), the chariots in this pit were dismantled, the wheels laid along the edges and the rest of the parts placed carefully one-by-one between them. Along with the large wooden sections of the chariot, archaeologists found beautifully engraved bronze artifacts. The smaller ones are chariot fittings and parts; long cylindrical pieces were probably axles.

The large square horse pit was found 15 or so feet away. The skeletal remains showed no sign of a struggle, so the beasts were not buried alive. They were killed and then buried on their sides back-to-back in pairs, just as they would have drawn the chariots.

The Spring and Autumn Period was an era in which the power of the Zhou kings was collapsing. In 771 B.C., King You of Zhou, last king of the Wester Zhou, was killed when his father-in-law the Marquess of Shen allied with the northern nomadic Quanrong tribe to overthrow the king who had exiled his daughter and disinherited his grandson in favor of one of his concubines. The Marquess and his supporters put the formerly dispossessed Crown Prince Yijiu on the throne. He took the name King Ping and moved his capital east to Luoyang, away from marauding barbarians, thus kicking off the Eastern Zhou period.

The relatives and favorites who had received territories from the Zhou kings as vassals stepped into the power vacuum and became vassals in name only. The feudal system broke down into smaller and smaller statelets controlled by warlords, some of them the size of a single village or city. This is known as the Spring and Autumn Period after the Spring and Autumn Annals, a chronicle documenting the history of the state of Lu from 722 to 481 B.C. that was once thought to have been edited by Confucius and as such is held to be the first of the Five Classics of Chinese Literature.

The tomb found in Zaoyang must have belonged to one of these local lords. Chariots were very expensive, sophisticated technology that came to their apex of importance in the Spring and Autumn Period. Someone who could afford to be buried with dozens of chariots and their horses was demonstrating great military (and consequently political) power.

Not all of the 30 tombs so far uncovered are this large. There are a variety of sizes and a large number of grave goods. So far archaeologists have excavated only some of the complex but they’ve already unearthed more than 400 bronze and pottery artifacts, including a mystery item that could have been part of a farming implement or chariot fixture that is inscribed with Old Chinese characters. They’ve also discovered the remains of two important musical instruments. One is a Se, a 25-string zither-like instrument, that is the earliest ever recovered. Only half of it still survives, but you can see the holes where the strings were threaded through.

The other is part of a bianzhong set, arrays of bronze chimes mounted on lacquered beams and played by teams of musicians striking the sides and centers with wooden mallets. Although only seven fragments of the bases of the bells and one beam have survived, they indicate this was an extremely important set. The beam is 4.7 meters (15.4 feet) long and the chimes are decorated with dragons and phoenixes, symbols of royalty in Chinese iconography. (Some news stories are reporting it as the longest bianzhong beam ever found, but the long side of the exceptional 64-bell set discovered intact in the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng in 1978 is 7.48 meters (24.5 feet) long. I think the archaeologists meant they had personally never excavated one this size before and it got lost in translation.)

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Boston time capsule from 1795 (and 1855) opened

Wed, 2015-01-07 23:20

The time capsule excavated out of the cornerstone of the Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston last month was opened on Tuesday in front of dignitaries and press at the Museum of Fine Arts. Before the assembled audience including members of the press, Governor Deval Patrick and Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, MFA conservator Pam Hatchfield and Michael Comeau, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Archives, carefully pried open the lid of the 5-1/2 x 7-1/2 x 1-1/2″ box against the fitting backdrop of Thomas Sully’s monumental 1819 painting of George Washington and his ragtag army crossing the frozen Delaware River, The Passage of the Delaware, in the museum’s Art of Americas wing.

The collection, originally in a cowhide pouch, was first placed at the cornerstone by then-Governor of Massachusetts Samuel Adams, silversmith patriot Paul Revere and militia Colonel William Scollay at the dedication of the building in 1795. It was rediscovered during repair work on the Statehouse foundations in 1855 after which officials added a few pieces of their own before sealing the artifacts in a new metal box that was mortared into the underside of the cornerstone.

Technically, it’s not a time capsule because they are deliberately intended to be reopened at some point in the future. This was a foundational offering, part of an ancient tradition of depositing ritually significant objects under new buildings. The original deposit was made at the culmination of a Masonic ceremony celebrating the laying of the cornerstone held on July 4th, 1795. That’s why Paul Revere and William Scollay were so prominently involved: Revere was the “Most Worshipful Grand Master” and Scollay the “Right Worshipful Deputy Grand Master” of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. Governor Adams invited the Grand Lodge to perform the cornerstone ceremony, a traditional Masonic ritual that has been performed for hundreds of years, one of only two Masonic rituals that is performed in public (the other is a funeral).

The massive granite cornerstone was transported in a procession from the Old State House to the site of the new one on a wagon drawn by 15 white horses, one for each of the states in the Union. When it arrived, a troop of fusiliers gave a 15-gun salute and Governor Adams, Paul Revere and William Scollay lay the pouch between two sheets of lead under the cornerstone. Adams declared the building to be constructed upon this stone should be “fixed, unimpaired, in full vigor, till time shall be no more” and Revere gave a supermasonic speech linking the foundation of the new statehouse to the founding of the nation.

Worshipful Brethren, I congratulate you on this auspicious day: — when the Arts and Sciences are establishing themselves in our happy Country, a Country distinguished from the rest of the World, by being a Government of Laws. — Where Liberty has found a Safe and Secure abode, — and where her Sons are determined to support and protect her.

Brethren, we are called this day by our Venerable + patriotic Governor, his Excellency Samuel Adams, to Assist him in laying the Corner Stone of a Building to be erected for the use of the Legislature and Executive branches of Government of this Commonwealth. May we my Brethren, so Square our Actions thro life as to shew to the World of Mankind, that we mean to live within the Compass of Good Citizens that we wish to Stand upon a Level with them that when we part we may be admitted into that Temple where Reigns Silence & peace.

When the artifacts were recovered and reburied in 1855, the Grand Master of the Lodge was asked to do the honors again.

The metal box has been in the MFA laboratory for the past three weeks being examined with non-invasive techniques so conservators had an idea of what to expect when they opened it. X-rays revealed that, as expected, there were coins, a metal plaque and papers inside. X-ray fluorescence determined that the box itself was not copper but rather brass, as are all eight of the screws keeping the capsule shut.

Pam Hatchfield, who had spent six hours on her back in the snow chiseling out the box from the cornerstone, then had more chiseling to do. She removed chunks of plaster from the top of the box and carefully dug away at the plaster around the heads of the screws. A little solvent was applied to help loosen the screws as well. Hatchfield turned her attention to the lead solder sealing the edges of the lid to the box, chiseling it away so the box would actually be openable at the press conference.

When the lid was removed, the first artifacts they found were five folded newspapers from the 19th century. Under them were 23 silver and copper coins dating from 1652 to 1855, a copper medal depicting George Washington, a title page from the Massachusetts Colony Records, a number of calling cards, the seal of the Commonwealth and lastly, a silver plaque inscribed by Paul Revere marking the cornerstone ceremony that still has visible fingerprints on it.

(The 1652 coin is a rare and significant pine tree schilling which may not have been minted in 1652. John Hull and Robert Sanderson established the Boston mint in 1652 by permission of the General Court of Massachusetts and continued to strike pine tree schillings until 1682, but every coin no matter what the production year was stamped with the 1652 date. Some say this was done to commemorate the founding of the first mint in Massachusetts. Others think it was a tricksy way of giving them plausible deniability should the monarch, restored to the throne after the interregnum of the Protectorate, take issue with his colony minting its own currency without his permission. “Oh these coins? Oh yeah those were struck during the late unpleasantness. Nothing to see here, Your Majesty.”)

The artifacts and brass box will go on display at the museum after conservation, but only for a short time. The objects will be returned to the cornerstone. Officials haven’t decided yet whether they’ll add yet another round of mementos to the box. Space is tight in there and Governor Patrick said at the opening that he didn’t want to “taint” the historical nature of the capsule with modern geegaws.

There’s a nice video of the excavation, X-ray and conservator Pam Hatchfield getting the box opened here. Fair warning: it autoplays. Below is film of the entire opening:

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Mark Twain plaque stolen from his grave

Tue, 2015-01-06 23:10

A bronze plaque bearing a profile of Mark Twain has been stolen from a monument on his grave at Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, upstate New York. The missing plaque was reported to cemetery authorities by a visitor to the grave over the holidays. It’s not clear when exactly it was stolen, but it was sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The culprit had to use a ladder to reach the one foot square plaque, so it wasn’t a random vandal, and it’s unlikely to have been stolen just for its scrap value because the plaque right below it depicting Ossip Gabrilowitsch, husband of Twain’s daughter Clara, is still in place.

Mark Twain died in 1910 and was buried in his wife Olivia Langdon’s family plot in her hometown of Elmira. The 12-foot granite monument was commissioned in 1937 by Clara to honor her father and husband. Swedish immigrant and Elmira resident Ernfred Anderson designed the piece after Clara was impressed by a bust he had made of her father. The height of the marker is a deliberate reference to the great author. Twelve feet is two fathoms, the safe depth for a steamboat. Riverboat leadsmen on the Mississippi in the 1850s would call out “mark twain” to alert the crew they were in safe waters. The young Samuel Clemens trained as a pilot aboard a steamboat on the Mighty Mississip from 1857 to 1859 and continued to pilot a riverboat until the Civil War broke out in 1861. He first signed the pen name Mark Twain to an 1863 article for the Territorial Enterprise, a newspaper in Virginia City, Nevada.

Woodlawn workers did a thorough search of the cemetery grounds and adjoining woods looking for the plaque, but there was no sign of it. The Elmira community has rallied around the cause, offering reward money for any information leading to the recovery of the plaque. If worst comes to worst, the Community Foundation of Elmira-Corning and the Finger Lakes has pledged to donated up to $10,000 to replace the plaque. Rare bookseller and Mark Twain expert Kevin MacDonnell has offered the use of a plaster cast of Twain made by Ernfred Anderson to make a new mold for a replacement. It wouldn’t be the same as the missing piece, however, so local artist Denny Smith is working with Anderson’s family to locate the original plaster cast he used to make the bronze plaque.

Next, a foundry and a bronze artist will have to be selected. Also, the replacement plaque will need to be given a patina to match what is already on the Gabrilowitsch plaque so they look similar, she said. Finally, a decision will need to be made on who will install the plaque, she said.

“What’s been wonderful has been the community outpouring,” Hayden said. “Also, the Community Foundation is interested in the future in working with the Friends of Woodlawn to investigate the possibility of installing a security device to see that this doesn’t happen again.”

The cemetery hasn’t given up on getting the original plaque back. They’re asking for anyone who might have information on the theft to contact the Elmira Police Department at (607) 271-HALT or (607) 737-5626.

While we’re on the subject of Mark Twain-related monuments, I have to recommend the outstanding Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, where Mark, Olivia and their children lived from 1874 until money troubles forced them to move to Europe in 1891. Twain still loved the Gothic Revival masterpiece most of all, even though he never lived there again. It’s gorgeous inside and out.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Letters reveal mysterious final illness of Oscar Wilde’s wife

Mon, 2015-01-05 23:32

Constance Lloyd, wife of Oscar Wilde and mother of his two sons, was just 39 years old when she died. It was a botched gynecological operation that claimed her life, but for ten years before that she had suffered from a neurological disorder that hasn’t been identified. Now Merlin Holland, son of Constance and Oscar’s youngest son Vyvyan, has found key evidence in some of her private letters to her brother Otho.

Constance was an accomplished woman in her own right. She was a published author of children’s books and an advocate for dress reform and women’s rights. After the disaster of Wilde’s 1895 criminal libel action against John Douglas, the 9th Marquess of Queensberry, father of his feckless idiot of a lover Alfred Douglas, for accusing him of sodomy and Wilde’s subsequent conviction and imprisonment for homosexual acts, Constance took the kids, changed their last name to Holland, and fled to the continent. They wound up in a small town outside Genoa, a location that would prove fateful since it put her in close proximity to Italian obstetrician and gynecologist Luigi Maria Bossi.

Luigi Maria Bossi was appointed to the first professorship of gynecology in Italy in 1887. He invented a four-pronged dilator to dilate the cervix and speed up delivery in women with eclampsia and other dangerous conditions. The Bossi uterine dilator was an effective device, dilating the cervix in a matter of minutes and giving patients a chance to survive and heal from complications that were often fatal to mother and infant without having to risk surgery, infection and permanent damage to the reproductive organs.

He also opened an ob/gyn clinic in Genoa that reserved half the beds for poor women in labour, was vociferously opposed to the then-common idea that uterine cancer was contagious and advocated that women with tuberculosis not be compelled to terminate their pregnancies. He founded two gynecology and obstetrics journals, one for doctors and one for midwives.

So he wasn’t a total quack, but he had … issues. In 1918 he was suspended from practice at the Institute for Gynecology and Obstetrics of the University of Genoa for two years over a question of “moral character,” which, considering that the next year he would be murdered by the husband of one of his patients, seems likely to have been a grossly unethical personal relationship with a patient (or several patients). Most relevant to his treatment of Constance Lloyd, Bossi was a dedicated proponent of the theory that women’s nervous problems — symptoms including tremors, aches and pains, fainting spells, shortness of breath, fatigue — were caused by their lady parts. Her “neuralgia,” mobility problems, exhaustion and all the rest were symptoms of uterine disorder and the cure for it was to be found in her reproductive organs.

That old hysteria chestnut had plagued Western medicine since Hippocrates first babbled about wandering uteri in the 5th century B.C., but it really took off with the rise of medical gynecology in the second half of the 19th century. The invention of the vibrator to cure hysteria through orgasm was a benign result of this misunderstanding of anatomy and psychology, but there were plenty of monstrous approaches attempted as well, a flurry of medical professionals removing ovaries and uteruses and then congratulating themselves on having “fixed” hysterical symptoms like dysmenhorrea (painful menstruation).

Bossi believed that at least half of all female suicides were of gynecological origin, that suicide was somehow tied to menstruation, and that surgical interventions on the uterus and ovaries could cure the symptoms of hysteria. He persisted in his beliefs long after most of the ob/gyn community had abandoned hysteria to the province of psychiatry, publishing his theories in a German medical journal in 1911. The response was almost unanimous condemnation from gynecologists and psychiatrists. They considered the idea that the uterus was responsible for mental illness medically unfounded and socially dangerous since it would encourage families of mentally ill women to push them into needless gynecological surgery to avoid the madhouse. Only one prominent gynecologist, 84-year-old German gynecology professor Bernhard Schultze (who had for years been an advocate for gynecological surgery on inmates of insane asylums), supported him. Bossi wrote a book on hysteria and gynecology in 1917; it was the last gasp of this ugly chapter in medical history.

The tide turned conclusively against the physiological hysteria theory thanks to painfully obvious studies published in the first couple of years of the 20th century. (It turns out, men had those exact same symptoms too, and they didn’t have any ovaries and uteruses to excise.) That was too late for Constance Lloyd. By the time she sought treatment from Bossi in late 1895, she was having severe difficulty walking. Bossi thought the cause of her mobility issues was a bladder prolapse that he could repair surgically, leaving her right as rain within six weeks. The operation took place in December of 1895. It didn’t work. In April of 1896, Constance declared herself “lamer than ever” and sought alternative therapies — galvanism, hot baths — from a doctor in Heidelberg.

All these therapeutic manoeuvres failed, and by October, 1896, in addition to the persistent lameness of her leg, a tremor appeared in her right arm. This so disrupted her handwriting that she was eventually forced to use a typewriter. “I am tired of doctors and no doctor finding out what to do with me,” she lamented. Moreover, she suffered protracted and excruciating headaches as well as extreme fatigue brought on by the mildest exertion. This was observed by her brother who, in July, 1897, noted that after only a few minutes’ walk to the station she collapsed on the road from exhaustion and had to be dragged to safety. And, if this was not enough, she developed a left facial palsy towards the end of her life.

According to the unpublished correspondence of Constance and her brother, her 9-year illness was characterised by widespread pains, right leg weakness, tremor of the right arm, profound fatigue, and a left facial paralysis. For the first 7 years the clinical picture was dominated by intermittent acute episodes followed by extended periods of recovery; in the last 2 years her disability became permanent with gradual deterioration. A likely diagnosis is multiple sclerosis of the relapsing-remitting type that subsequently developed into secondary progressive multiple sclerosis.

MS had been identified as a distinct disease and named in 1868 by French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot. (Coincidentally, Charcot had some crazy ideas about hysteria too. He thought it was an inherited neurological disorder centered in the ovaries, uncurable but treatable with pressure on the ovary or ovariectomy and observable through hypnosis. Before his death in 1893 he would come to accept that hysteria was psychological in nature rather than neurological.) Multiple sclerosis was described in detail in an important neurology text by Sir William Gowers in 1888, but in the 1890s it still wasn’t widely known in the general medical profession.

In 1898, a desperate Constance returned to Bossi. This time he proposed that the culprit of her genitourinary and mobility problems was a uterine fibroid. She had surgery to remove the putative fibroid on April 2nd, 1898.

On the third or fourth postoperative day, Constance developed intractable vomiting. Profoundly dehydrated and in the absence of intravenous fluids, she grew progressively weaker, lapsed into unconsciousness, and died on April 7, 1898. This sequence of events suggests that she could have developed severe paralytic ileus, either as a direct result of the surgery or secondary to intra-abdominal sepsis.

Multiple sclerosis is associated with genitourinary symptoms in about two-thirds of female patients. It is conceivable, in Constance’s case, that the apparent pressure effects on the bladder (supposedly due to a fibroid) were really a manifestation of multiple sclerosis.

 

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Oliver Cromwell’s burial plate sells for $116,719

Sun, 2015-01-04 23:46

A gilt copper plate that was placed over Oliver Cromwell’s chest when he was laid to rest in his coffin sold at a Sotheby’s auction last month for £74,500 ($116,719), six times its pre-sale estimate of £8,000 – £12,000. Bidding started at the low estimate and rapidly increased in increments of thousands. The hammer price was £60,000 (the rest of the cost is the buyer’s premium) and the buyer, who was in the room, is anonymous.

The plaque is 6.5″ by 5.5″ and is engraved on both sides. The front is engraved with the coat of arms of the Protectorate — the flags of England, Scotland, Ireland with Cromwell’s personal arms, an argent lion rampant borrowed from the arms of his ancestors the Princes of Powys, on an inescutcheon in the center, a crowned English lion supporting the left and the Welsh red dragon (a replacement for the Scottish unicorn James I had placed on the Royal Arms) supporting the right — and the motto “Pax quaeritur bello,” meaning “Peace is sought by war.” The inscription on the back gives Cromwell’s vital statistics: “Oliver Protector of the Republic of England, Scotland and Ireland. Born 25 April year 1599. Inaugurated 16 December 1653. Died 3 September year 1658. Here he lies.”

He didn’t lie there for long. After his death from malarial fever, Cromwell’s body was embalmed and put in a lead anthropoid coffin which was sealed and then placed in an elaborately decorated wooden coffin. The coffin and an effigy of the Lord Protector dressed in velvet, gold lace and ermin accessorized with the Imperial crown, orb and scepter, lay in state at Somerset House from September 20th until early November. The funeral procession took place on November 23rd, but he had already been quietly interred at Westminster Abbey two weeks earlier because his body was poorly embalmed and the stench had become problematic two months after his death. After enough pomp and ceremony to rival any royal funeral (Cromwell’s was in fact modeled after the funerary ceremonies of James I), Cromwell was officially buried in a vault in the Henry VII Lady Chapel.

Less than two years later, Charles I’s son was restored to the throne. Although on August 29th, 1660, the Cavalier Parliament passed the Indemnity and Oblivion Act pardoning almost everyone involved in the execution of Charles I, the 59 signatories of the king’s death warrant were specifically exempt from Charles II’s mercy. That fall, 10 of the regicides still living were tried, convicted and executed. The penalty for High Treason was to be hanged, drawn and quartered; ie, the condemned were tied to a horse and dragged to the gallows where they were hanged until almost dead, then disemboweled, castrated, beheaded and their bodies cut into four sections.

On December 4th, Parliament passed a bill of attainder posthumously declaring Oliver Cromwell, his son-in-law Henry Ireton and John Bradshaw, president of the High Court of Justice for the trial of King Charles I, guilty of High Treason. Bradshaw had died a month after Cromwell and was buried the day before him. Ireton had been dead and buried for nine years. All three were interred in the same chapel at Westminster Abbey. Parliament ordered the bodies exhumed and on January 30th, the 12th anniversary of Charles I’s execution, the corpses were dragged in their coffins to the west London execution site of Tyburn where their shrouded bodies were hanged. After hanging for an hour, the corpses were taken down, decapitated and the bodies tossed in a pit beneath the gallows. The heads were placed on 20-foot spikes in front of Westminster Hall where Charles I’s trial had taken place.

It was during this ugly process that the coffin plate was taken. It was “found in a leaden canister, lying on the breast of the corpse” by James Norfolke, Serjeant-at-Arms to the Speaker of the House of Commons, who had been tasked with exhuming the regicides’ bodies. He helped himself to the plaque and it remained in his family for hundreds of years until it was acquired by the Harcourt family in the 19th century. The sellers have chosen to remain anonymous so we don’t know if it’s been with the Harcourts since then or sold to another party at some point.

Either way, the plaque has had a much easier ride than Cromwell’s head. It stayed on its spike at Westminster Hall for close to 30 years. There are differing reports on what happened to it — blown down in a storm, surreptitiously removed in the dark of night — and the relic went underground until 1710 when it went on display at Claudius Du Puy’s private museum of curiosities in London. After Du Puy’s death, it passed through at least three more hands, including the Hughes brothers who again put it on macabre display, before being purchased by Josiah Henry Wilkinson in 1814. The Wilkinsons kept it in a velvet lined box, whipping it out for house guests to gasp over, for generations until Horace Wilkinson gave it to Cambridge University’s Sidney Sussex College, Cromwell’s alma mater, for proper burial in 1960. The burial was kept secret until 1962 and the exact location has never been revealed.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Digitized Freer|Sackler collections up and running

Sat, 2015-01-03 23:29

As promised, the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery’s digitized collections went live on January 1st, 2015. The new website is called Open F|S and is populated with high resolution images of the museums’ 40,000 works of Asian art. You can search by keyword or browse by object type, topic, name, culture, place, date and whether it’s currently on display.

Just to take the database for a quick spin, I did a keyword search for “peacock” because I am thoroughly obsessed by the Peacock Room, originally a dining/Chinese porcelain display room in the London home of shipping magnate Frederick R. Leyland that was lavishly decorated by James McNeill Whistler in 1876-7. The entire room was purchased in 1904 by future museum founder Charles Lang Freer who had it installed in his Detroit home. It was moved to the new Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., after Freer’s death in 1919. All that moving wasn’t good for the room. Attempts to repair structural damage in the late 1940s neglected much of Whistler’s work, leaving colors darkened and patterns obscured. The room was returned to its early splendour by a punctilious cleaning and conservation in 1993 and is now on display in all its glory.

The Peacock Room exhibition page has a nice image gallery, but the photographs are too small to feast upon the details to my satisfaction. Those dark days are over now. The Open F|S entry on the Peacock Room has four huge pictures that you can click on to zoom in or that you can download.

The peacock search results pointed me to a wealth of other beautiful objects. The textiles are particularly fantastic to view in high resolution because you can see the details of the stitching and fabric, like in this late 18th century painting on silk by Mori Sosen. I also love seeing ceramics, like this gazelle vessel made in 12th-14th century Syria that is part of Freer’s ceramic collection on display in the Peacock Room, in extreme close-up because the cracks and flakes give you a whole new perspective on the glazing and design.

If you plan to enjoy this resource for browsing or to make art work of your own using the Freer and Sackler collection images, consider signing up as a beta tester. They are looking people willing and eager to go down the rabbit holes of this vast digital wonderland and report back on any issues. So far I’ve encountered a couple of minor weirdnesses — the zoom feature cutting the picture in half, difficulty clicking between the different Peacock Room images — but they were quickly resolved by refreshing. The only actual feature that I reported as questionable is that you can zoom past the native resolution which gives you a close-up view of a lot of pixellated, blurry edges. I think the zoom should max out at the highest res. Beta testers will also be given early access to future closed test versions of Open F|S which sounds like good clean fun to me.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

New year of hoards begins with Anglo-Saxon coins

Fri, 2015-01-02 23:46

Barely did the year turn before news broke of a new hoard of coins unearthed by metal detectorists in an English field. The finder, Paul Coleman, was scanning farmland near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, as part of the Weekend Wanderers Detecting Club‘s yearly Christmas rally when he discovered a piece of lead and a silver coin. When he moved a larger fragment of lead, he saw there were rows of coins underneath. Buckinghamshire Finds Liaison Officer Ros Tyrrell was on site in case something notable was found, so she was able to coordinate a proper excavation after the first few coins were exposed.

The area was cordoned off and before an increasingly large crowd of detectorists (there were more than 100 club members at the rally) the find carefully excavated. Silver coins filled a large lead container, apparently a bucket that was folded over at the top to cover the hoard, buried about two feet underground. Portraits on some of the coins identified them as having been minted during the reigns of Ethelred the Unready (reigned 978-1013, 1014-1016 A.D.) and the Danish King Cnute (r. 1016-1035 A.D.).

As the coins were removed from the soil, they were packed in poly bags and then carried to the farmhouse in an orange Sainsburys plastic shopping bag. On the farm’s kitchen table spread with newspapers, the entire hoard was counted out. The final tally was 5251 silver pennies (plus half of another), one of the largest hoards of Anglo-Saxon coins ever discovered.

After the counting was done, Ros Tyrrell brought the coins that night to the Buckinghamshire County Museum in Halton and the next day they were transported by van to the British Museum. It was December 22nd, so much of the staff was on holiday, but the conservator who was at work immediately set about cleaning and cataloguing the coins. The cleaning process went smoothly, revealing coins in excellent condition. They are shiny, unclipped and so free of wear and tear that it seems likely they were never circulated.

There was a Royal Mint in Buckingham during the reign of Ethelred within a day’s walking distance from the find site. Given the dates and flawless condition, it’s possible these coins went straight from the mint into the ground, perhaps to hide them from the army of William the Conqueror as it advanced towards the mint.

There will be a coroner’s inquest to determine whether the hoard qualifies as treasure trove which it certainly will since it’s more than 300 years old and made of precious metal. Once declared treasure, a British Museum valuation team will determine its market value and a local museum will be given the opportunity of acquiring the hoard by paying the amount of the valuation. The fee will then be split between the finder and the landowner. Early speculation puts the possible value as high as $390 a coin for a total of $2 million, but that’s just spitballing based on the Ethelred coins. We won’t have solid figures until every coin has been identified and dated.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History