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Roman bathhouse found under Carlisle Cricket Club

Fri, 2017-05-26 23:23

An archaeological survey at the Carlisle Cricket Club’s Edenside ground has discovered the remains of an extraordinarily important Roman bathhouse and dozens of artifacts. Archaeology contractors Wardell Armstrong were called in to survey the site of a proposed new floodproof pavilion, expecting to find little more than random fill dumped during the construction of the nearby Hardwicke Circus roundabout. Instead, they unearthed entire rooms from the ancient bathhouse, intact floors, the remains of a hypocaust system, terracotta water pipes, coins, arrowheads, hair pins, painted tiles and fragments of cooking pots including one with a handsome pouring spout in the shape of a lion’s head.

This was a military bathhouse, used by the elite Ala Petriana cavalry regiment. The 1,000-strong garrison was stationed at the Roman fort of Uxelodunum (later known as Petriana after the regiment it housed) on Hadrian’s Wall. It was the largest regiment on the wall manning the largest fort on the wall. The Ala Petriana was a highly prestigious regiment — its members were all granted Roman citizenship for valour on the field — and despite its remote location at the northernmost frontier of the empire, their fort had all the upscale amenities the cream of the Roman cavalry might expect.

Today whatever is left of the former fort lies underneath the Carlisle suburb of Stanwix, but very little of it has been excavated because it has been so extensively overbuilt.

“This site is highly significant,” said [Wardell Armstrong technical director Frank] Giecco.

“We’re just beneath the site of the Roman fort at Stanwix and, until now, we never knew where the fort’s bath-house was. The obvious place was near the river. There are blackened areas, probably where they had the furnaces for burning wood to heat the water.

“There were 1,000 men based here, members of the prestigious Ala Petriana and they were paid more than the other soldiers stationed here. The bath-house was a very important part of life for these cavalrymen – a meeting place and there would have been a lot of gambling and coins lost.”

One notable artifact is a carved sandstone block bearing an inscription with a tribute to Julia Domna, mother of Emperor Caracalla and an able administrator, philosopher, and cultural leader with great hair. Born in Homs, Syria, a city that has been tragically brutalized in the ongoing civil war, to a noble priestly family, she married the future emperor Septimius Severus who showered her with honors including Mater Castorum (mother of the camp or army), Mater Augustus (mother of Augustus, i.e., the Emperor) and Mater Senatus et Patriae (mother of the Senate and fatherland). She was so indispensable to her husband that he took her with him on his military campaign in Caledonia in 208. She was with him when he died in York in 211. Carlisle is just 40 miles northwest of York. It’s not clear to me whether the inscription dates to the reign of Caracalla alone (he was his father’s co-emperor from 198 until 211, becoming sole emperor after he had his brother Gaeta killed that same year and reigning until his own assassination in 217 A.D.). Archaeologists say the inscription was dedicated by her son, but the honorifics on the inscription referring to her as mother of Augustus predate Septimius Severus’ death, so that’s not dispositive; moreover, Caracalla led several incursions north of the Antonine Wall in the last two years of his father’s life, so we know he was in the area when his father still reigned.

The excavations were done on the quiet over the past few weeks to avoid drawing unwanted attention from looters. The site and a selection of artifacts were opened to the public on Friday afternoon so visitors could see the finds and the archaeologists at work. Now all the portable finds have been removed and the remains are being covered with a protective membrane. What happens going forward has yet to be decided. The Carlisle Cricket Club still wants to build their pavilion, but have no desire to screw with this nationally important find. They plan to work with the city council to figure out how to have their pavilion without damaging or obscuring the Roman bathhouse remains. See-through floor, man. All the cool kids from Iceland to Turkey to Rome are doing it.

“The archaeology they’ve found here is absolutely stunning,” said Carlisle City Council leader Colin Glover. “It’s a fantastic site. It’s been a dream for a long time to find Roman archaeology in Carlisle that is good enough to show to the public.

“We’ve already found lots of good Roman artefacts elsewhere in Carlisle and much of it is at Tullie House Museum where it helps tell the story of Roman Carlisle. [...]

“This is something we can do something with long-term. We want to work closely with the cricket club to make the best of this exciting discovery. There are also discussions that we can have with the Heritage Lottery Fund. It’s really exciting to see a place and artefacts that Romans were using in this city almost 2,000 years ago.

“It would be wonderful if we could develop something long-term just a 10-minute walk from the city centre.”

There’s a mini-tour of the hypocaust system and a good shot of the inscribed sandstone fragment in this ITV news story. The following brief Cumberland News video has some good wider views of the excavation.

 

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Franz Xaver Mozart finally steps out of his dad’s shadow

Thu, 2017-05-25 23:48

Born on July 26th, 1791, Franz Xaver Mozart was barely four months old when his father Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart breathed his last on December 5th, 1791. He and his older brother Karl Thomas were the only two of Wolfgang and Constanze’s six children to survive to adulthood, and almost from birth he was doomed to carry the burden of his father’s musical genius. Karl showed early promise as a pianist, but avoided the trap of being molded into a crappier version of his father by focusing on the business side. He took on an apprenticeship in a trading company when he was 13 years old with the eventual aim of opening his own piano store. The store never materialized, and instead he built a career in the Austrian civil service in Milan.

Alas, Franz was not so fortunate. When he was an infant, his father declared him to be “a true Mozart” because the baby once cried in tune with a piece he was playing on the piano. After Mozart’s death, Constanze poured all her hopes and dreams into little Franz, calling him Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Jr., and deciding he would become a composer and musician like his daddy when he was two years old. He was just five years old when his mother sent him on a concert tour to Prague where he stayed with professor and family friend Franz Xaver Niemetschek. There he received his first formal piano lessons.

Back in Vienna, he took lessons from prominent instructors including Johann Andreas Streicher (piano), Sigismund Neukomm, Georg Joseph Vogler and Johann Georg Albrechtsberger (music composition) and Antonio Salieri (general music training). Still a young child at this point, Franz was under unrelenting pressure to develop as a prodigy the way his father had. You can get a taste of that pressure in this entry Constanze wrote in her nine-year-old son’s autograph book, which should probably go in the encyclopedia under the NO WIRE HANGERS EVER category of mothering philosophies.

“A child that offends his parents, / one that wishes them bad luck, / one that does not seek the blessing of his parents, / will be publicly cursed by God, / His end will be horrible; / He will encounter shame and pain. / This is a warning to my dear Wowi, / from his loving mother / Constance Mozart / Vienna, June 20, 1801.”

(Dear Mom, Thank you for having a very different definition of “loving mother” than Constanze Mozart or, say, Medea. Love you!)

At the age of 13, Franz made his debut in Vienna as a pianist and composer of a cantata. A review published on April 8th, 1805, in Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, Leipzig, might as well have been a harbinger of doom:

“Young Mozart’s mother presented him to the public, which greeted him with loud applause. He played the great and beautiful piano concert by his father in C major, in a somewhat slow tempo, yet well and with precision. He also showed a lot of potential…. The cantata following the concert was, according to the program, composed by young Mozart for Haydn’s 73rd birthday. It is almost unbelievable that the entire orchestration could be by the boy [...] May the well-earned applause that young Mozart received be a double incentive for the budding artist to follow the footsteps of his great father! May he never forget that the name Mozart now grants him clemency, but will
later confront him with high demands and expectations….

Later? He was confronted with those expectations when he was literally in diapers. This was not lost on him at any point. It wasn’t just a question of musical skill either. Reserved and plagued with self-doubt, he couldn’t help but suffer in comparison to his extroverted and confident father.

His old teacher Niemetschek said in his biography of Mozart, Sr., that Franz (then 17 years old) was certainly gifted, but unlike his father, he lacked the firm guidance that Wolfgang’s father Leopold had provided his son, without which his brilliance might never have flourished. “The first fruits of his musical talent have been well received by the public. His piano playing is distinguished by fine expression and precision. [...] Apparently, the spirit of his father lives on in him. However, the son is missing an educating fatherly hand like the one that excellently guided and cultivated the genius of his own father.”

In 1808, he turned to teaching to make a living. He moved to Galicia where he taught Count Wiktor Baworowski in Podkamień for a few years before taking a job as piano teacher to Count Tomasz Janiszewski near Lviv in 1811. He would continue to teach the aristocratic families of Galicia for many years, with occasional concert tours and visits to his mother in Salzburg. In 1838 he moved back to Vienna, still employed as teacher and music master for the daughters of the noble Baroni-Cavalcabò family. (Their mother Josephine was his long-time lover.)

Back in his father’s old stomping grounds, Franz was invited to participate in the celebrations of Wolfgang Amadeus’ life and music. In 1839, he was asked to compose a cantata in his father’s honor for the dedication of the Mozart-Monument in Salzburg. He was so insecure about his “lacking ability” (those are his own words), he declined the commission at first. Eventually he took the job, transforming two of Wolfgang Amadeus’ unfinished works (the Offertorium Venite populi and the Adagio for piano) into a cantata he performed at the 1842 dedication of the monument.

In 1841 he was appointed Honorary Music Director of the newly-founded Cathedral Music Association and Mozarteum in Salzburg. Alas, his days were numbered. He died of a “hardening of the stomach,” i.e., stomach cancer, in the Czech spa town of Carlsbad in 1844. On his tombstone was engraved this sad testament: “May his father’s name be his epitaph, as his veneration for him was the essence of his life.”

In his will, he named Josephine Baroni-Cavalcabò as his sole heiress, but he had told her explicitly before his death that he wanted his personal library and all of his father’s materials — correspondence, autograph manuscripts, music, sketches and family portraits — to go to the Cathedral Music Association and Mozarteum. The successor of that organization, the International Mozarteum Foundation, today owns a great part of the Mozart estate thanks largely to Franz Xaver’s generosity.

Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart finally got his own exhibition at the Mozart Residence museum in Salzburg last year. Original documents, letters, and compositions traced Franz’s life on its own terms for a change, and he got the credit he deserved for preserving and bequeathing the rich legacy of Mozartiana that Salzburg is so strongly identified with today.

 

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Tiny medieval bird found at Bamburgh Castle

Wed, 2017-05-24 23:46

Archaeologists excavating Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland have discovered an artifact whose historical significance is as large as its dimensions are small: a copper alloy fragment decorated with a stylized representation of a bird of a type often found in early medieval art from northern Europe. Just 23mm by 12mm (.9 by .5 inches) in size, the artifact is thin and flat with decoration only on one side. It was likely mounted on a larger object as a decorative element.

Harry Francis, part of the Bamburgh Research Project (BRP), found the piece at the end of last summer’s dig season on a cobbled surface just below a 9th century building used for metal working. Archaeologists believe based on the layers that the bird dates to the 8th century. The decorative style is more in keeping with eagle and bird of prey motifs from earlier 6th and 7th century artworks, which makes the bird mount unique with no known parallels in the archaeological record. It’s possible this was a local evolution of Anglo-Saxon art from a century or two before.

In the 8th century, Northumbria was one of about a dozen small kingdoms in the territory that would become unified England under Æthelstan in the 10th century. Bamburgh was a major political and military center in the Kingdom of Northumbria at that time.

Bamburgh Research Project Director, Graeme Young:

“The palace fortress of Bamburgh was one of the most important places in the kingdom and we have evidence of metal working, probably associated with the production of arms and armour for the warriors of the royal court in our excavation.

“In summer 2017 we will continue our investigations of the find spot and we hope to discover if it represents an earlier period of metal working or some other activity.

“At the moment our investigation of this horizon is at such an early stage we are unsure if the find came from within a building or from a yard surface or path where it may have been dropped. We are very much looking forward to getting back on site and continuing our excavations. Who knows what other finds await us this summer!”

Conservators have been cleaning and stabilizing the bird mount since its discovery, and the first publication on the artifact is scheduled for later this year. Meanwhile, the bird is on display at Bamburgh Castle until October 29th alongside other archaeological materials like swords and elaborately decorated gold pieces unearthed during the project. Bamburgh Research Project archaeologists will be on site between June 11th and 15th and will be available to answer questions and chat about their finds with visitors to the castle.

 

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Test of Rollo’s descendants’ bones gangs agley

Tue, 2017-05-23 23:44

Last year, a team of French, Danish and Norwegian researchers exhumed skeletal remains from the tombs of two medieval dukes of Normandy, direct descendants of Rollo, the 10th century Viking raider who so effectively plundered the towns along the Seine that King Charles the Simple had to bribe him with great swaths of property. Those lands would become the Duchy of Normandy, and one of those dukes, Rollo’s three times great-grandson William the Bastard, would conquer England.

The lead ossuaries buried in the graves of Rollo’s grandson Richard I (known as Richard the Fearless) and his great-grandson Richard II (Richard the Good) were raised from under the floor of Fécamp Abbey on February 29th, 2016. The researchers’ aim was to recover teeth that might contain extractable DNA. The DNA might then answer a question that has long bedeviled historians: was Rollo Norwegian or Danish? Medieval chronicles and sagas differ on the subject. Per Holck, Professor Emeritus at the University of Oslo, and University of Copenhagen geneticist Andaine Seguin Orlando got permission from the French government to open the ossuaries in the hope genetic testing might resolve the debate over Rollo’s origins once and for all.

They were lucky at first. One of the ossuaries, the one purportedly containing the remains of Duke Richard II, included a lower mandible with eight teeth. Because recovering nuclear DNA from ancient remains is always difficult, often impossible, due to degradation of organic remains and environmental contaminants, teeth provide the best opportunity to retrieve viable, clean DNA because the genetic material is in the pulp, encased in and protected by layers of dentin and enamel. The team was allowed to keep five of the teeth which they sent to the University of Oslo and the University of Copenhagen’s Centre for GeoGenetics for testing.

That’s where their good luck ended. They were unable to extract any DNA from the teeth, which were too old, had been exposed to high moisture levels and contaminated by decades spent in a lead ossuary. After hitting the wall on genetic analysis, researchers decided they might as well date the bones. When the radiocarbon dating results came in they blew apart any chance of the remains providing new information about Rollo. The bones in the ossuaries do not belong to Richard I and Richard II of Normandy. They long predate the Richards. In fact, they long predate Rollo himself. One of them dates to 704 (+/- 28 years), the Merovingian era, so more than 200 years before Rollo started marauding on the Seine. The bones belonged to a man, tall for his time at 1.8 meters (5’11″), and because his right forearm is slightly longer than his left, he was likely a warrior. The other is even older than that, like a thousand years older. It dates to 286 B.C. (+/- 27 years), which means it not only predates the Viking era, it predates the Roman occupation of the area.

It’s not a huge shock that the ossuaries did not contain the remains of Richard I and II. As I noted in last year’s article about the exhumation, the remains were repeatedly moved over the centuries. The Dukes were buried outside the Church of the Holy Trinity in Fécamp, consecrated in 990. They both requested that they be buried under a water channel so their sins could be washed away for eternity. Their remains were moved and buried inside the new Romanesque church in 1162 by order of Henry II of England, Duke Richard II’s three times great-grandson. They were moved again in 1518 to the high altar of the Gothic church, and again in 1748. The remains were rediscovered in 1942 when work was done on the church, and the bones were reburied in 1947. They were moved one last time in 1956 when they were placed in those lead boxes and moved to the southern transept where researchers at the time believed was the closest spot to the original burial location.

Somewhere in the middle of all that, the bones of a man from the 8th century and one from the 3rd century B.C. were confused for those of two dukes of Normandy. So the Rollo thing is a total bust, but now there’s a whole new bag of issues to keep researchers busy. The biggest surprise is the pre-Roman skeleton. How such an ancient personage wound up riding the reburial carousel is inexplicable right now. Researchers can only speculate that he may have been an early Celtic chieftain buried in a ritually significant spot — he is far older than the city of Fécamp — that was then reused as the site of Christian churches. The research team has sent one of his teeth for strontium isotope analysis. If all goes well, the results will pinpoint where the man spent his childhood.

 

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Henge, human remains found in Warwickshire

Mon, 2017-05-22 22:29

An archaeological excavation of a field slated for development in Newbold-on-Stour near Stratford, Warwickshire, has discovered traces of a Neolithic henge and rare human remains dating back almost 6,000 years to around 4,000 or 3,000 B.C. A geophysical survey indicated the possible presence of something of archaeological interest resulting in a preliminary dig last year, but this year’s excavation found that what archaeologists suspected was a burial mound was in a fact a ritual site of religious significance.

The henge was a simple earthwork structure, not the wooden or grand monumental stone architecture of Britain’s more famous henges. It was composed of a segmented circular trench with an exterior bank built from the dug up soil. This ditch and embankment combination would not have had a defensive purpose, but rather served to enclose the interior circular space to mark it out for whatever religious or celebratory uses to which it was dedicated. What’s left of it today is the shallow circular ditch with an inner diameter of about nine meters (30 feet).

Five articulated skeletons were found buried in one of the segments of the circular trench. This is an exceptionally rare find, not only because of the great historical significance of the Neolithic henge context, but because the soil in the area is extremely acidic and ancient bone rarely survives at all. Intact, articulated skeletons, especially ones as old as these, are a gift from the archaeological gods.

The people had been buried carefully as none of the bodies had been placed on top of another. The three middle burials were facing west, out from the henge, while the two outer ones were facing east, into the henge.

The apparently deliberate arrangement suggests the people being buried were a group of some kind – possibly family members – and the people burying them knew where the others were buried. [...]

Archaeology Warwickshire Project Officer Nigel Page, who excavated the site said: [...]

“The skeletons have been recovered from the site and will undergo scientific analysis to try to answer the many questions that their presence on the site has raised. For example, it is hoped that the sex and age of the people can be established and it may also be possible to determine if there was a family connection between them.

“The rare survival of the skeletons will provide an important opportunity to gain a unique insight into the lives of the people who not only knew the henge and its landscape, but who were probably some of the region’s earliest residents”.

Radiocarbon dating results on the skeletons are expected in June.

Archaeology Warwickshire Business Manager Stuart Palmer said: “This exciting discovery is of national importance as it provides tangible evidence for cult or religious belief in late Stone Age Warwickshire.

“Amazingly it is the second such find by the team. In 2015 a group of four henges was excavated in Bidford although the burials at this site were all cremated. Prior to this there were no known henges in Warwickshire leading some archaeologists to believe that a different kind of cult was prevalent in the region.”

 

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Large cache of embalming materials found in Middle Kingdom tomb

Sun, 2017-05-21 23:39

Archaeologists with the Middle Kingdom Theban Project have rediscovered a large cache of mummification materials in the necropolis of Deir el-Bahari on the West Bank of the Nile at Luxor. The Spanish archaeological mission, led by Dr. Antonio Morales, found 56 amphorae and close to 300 linen packets of natron and other materials used in the embalming process in a well a few feet northeast of the entrance to the tomb of Ipi.

The Middle Kingdom Theban Project studies two tombs in the Deir el-Bahari necropolis, the tomb of Henenu and the tomb of Ipi, to investigate the development of the Egyptian state as reflected in the religious, artistic, epigraphic and archaeological features of the tombs of important officials during the transformative period at the dawn of the Middle Kingdom. Many of the aspects of later Pharaonic periods first evolved during this period in the wake of Egypt’s unification after centuries of conflict. The evolution of mummification procedures, so strongly associated with Pharaonic Egypt, is one of those aspects.

The tomb of Ipi is on the northern hill of the necropolis in front of the now-destroyed temple of Dynasty XI pharaoh Mentuhotep II, a privileged location where the most important officials of the early Middle Kingdom were buried. Ipi was a vizier, a high advisor to Pharaoh Amenemhat I of the early 12th Dynasty, and the overseer of ancient Thebes. The tomb was first explored in 1921-1922 by American Egyptologist Herbert Winlock of the Metropolitan Museum of New York. He found the mummification materials during that excavation, but had no real understanding of their importance. Interested in them for their aesthetic value only, he removed four of the amphorae and left everything else in the room without cleaning or documenting them. Winlock never got back to them, and people forgot they were there until now.

Dr. Mahmoud Afifi, head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Department, points out that the discovery of such extensive materials directly connected to the mummification of a high official adds significantly to our understanding of the kind of embalming techniques, tools, textiles, chemicals and unguents used in the early Middle Kingdom which is when the mummification procedures that would reach their peak in the New Kingdom began to take form.

Dr. Antonio Morales the Head of Spanish Mission said that the deposit of the mummification materials used for Ipi include inscriptions, various shrouds and linen sheets (4 m. long) shawls, and rolls of wide bandages, in addition to further types of cloths, rags, and pieces of slender wrappings destined to cover fingers, toes, and other parts of the vizier’s corpse.

Dr. Morales explained that jars contained around 300 sacks with natron salt, oils, sand, and other substances, as well as the stoppers of the jars and a scraper are also found. [A]mong the most outstanding pieces of the collection are the Nile clay and marl large jars, some with potmarks and hieratic.

Because these items were used in the embalming process and were therefore impure, they couldn’t be included in the burial chamber with the sarcophagus. Biological remains including blood stains and clots were found on the bandages, and one of the linen packets contained Ipi’s heart. While the brain and heart were removed for optimal preservation by the time the embalming art reached its zenith in the New Kingdom, they were usually left in the body in the early Middle Kingdom. The fact that Ipi’s heart was removed and left in the materials dump rather than in a canopic jar as his stomach, intestines, lungs and liver were is likely an indication that his embalmers cut some corners.

The materials are so extensive that the Middle Kingdom Theban Project team will have to work on them for at least one more campaign season. The linen strips will be analyzed by gas chromatography, mass spectrometry and other technologies that will identify trace substances like natron and other chemical and biological remains. From a scientific perspective, it’s a great thing that Winlock ignored this find. That left organic materials untouched and in their original environment so they could be preserved until there was such a thing as a gas chromatograph.

Here’s some excellent film of the discovery of the room and its wealth of mummification materials.


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Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Ancient bronze stud stolen from Pompeii exhibition

Sat, 2017-05-20 22:49

Today in people are the worst news, a bronze artifact from the 6th century B.C. has been stolen from an exhibition at the archaeological site of Pompeii. The object was a door ornament on loan from the National Archaeological Museum of Basilicata in Potenza. It’s not of great monetary value. Just 7.3 inches in diameter and relatively plain in decoration, it was insured for 300 euros ($333).

The piece is of great historical meaning to Basilicata, however, as it was discovered at one of the most important archaeological sites in the region: a hill known as Torre di Satriano where a Norman castle, of which only the tower remains, once dominated the land. Excavations beginning in the 1960s (the first led by pioneer of early Italian archaeology R. Ross Holloway) have discovered evidence of human habitation of the site going back to the second millennium B.C., developing into a complex system of terraced settlements in the 8th century B.C. inhabited by the Peuketiantes, a local people who by the 6th century B.C. were building elaborate multi-use structures influenced by artistic and architectural styles of Greek colonies in Taranto and Corinth. One of the archaeologists who has excavated Torre di Satriano is Massimo Osanna, today the director of the archaeological site of Pompeii.

Massimo Osanna, the director general of the Pompeii archaeological site, expressed dismay. “In addition to being a gesture that injures Pompeii and Italy’s cultural heritage, even though it is not a priceless piece, it hits me on a personal level and it was an area where I had conducted the excavation myself,” he said.

The bronze stud was an example of that connection between one of the ancient Italic peoples of southern Italy and the colonies of Magna Grecia, which is why it was on display in the Pompeii and the Greeks exhibit in Pompeii’s Palestra Grande (the large gym). One of several bronze ornaments unearthed at the 6th century structure at Torre di Satriano, the wooden door they once adorned had long since decayed. For the exhibition, the stud was set down the middle of a cartoon-like replica of the door with three others just like it, while two larger, highly ornamented bronze knockers were placed on each side, recreating what archaeologists believe was the original placement.

The director of the Basilicata Regional Museum Hub, Marta Ragozzino, voiced “solidarity to my friend and colleague Massimo Osanna”.

“Above and beyond its extraordinary Lucanian context, which Osanna himself investigated and which the show on Pompeii and the Greeks has finally unveiled to the public, the stolen relic has modest value,” she said.

“But a gesture of this kind leaves us incredulous and pained, a gesture that attacks and wounds the cultural heritage that belongs to the community and, when brought to Pompeii, the whole world”.

The theft was discovered by security guards on the evening of Wednesday, May 17th, at around 8:00 PM. That means the stud was stolen during visiting hours, a bold and/or foolhardy choice since the thieves would have had to get behind the protective plexiglass panel in full public view and unscrew the bronze piece from the door-like panel. After hours, the room is under video surveillance. Police are now reviewing the tapes to see if the perpetrators can be identified.

There have been rumblings about the quality of the security — the ALES firm has the security contract for the Ministry of Cultural Heritage — for some time. To have an artifact stolen in front of the guards’ noses in broad daylight hasn’t exactly silenced the doubters.

 

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Human blood found on Revolutionary War musket ball

Fri, 2017-05-19 23:12

Archaeologists have discovered remnants of human blood on a musket ball discovered at Monmouth Battlefield Park in New Jersey, site of the June 28th, 1778, Battle of Monmouth. This is the first time human blood has been found on Revolutionary War artillery shot. The site has been excavated regularly for close to 30 years by the Battlefield Restoration and Archaeological Volunteer Organization (BRAVO). They’ve unearthed thousands of artifacts, including musket balls, but none of them showed any evidence of having struck anybody.

On April 16th of last year, BRAVO volunteer Bill Hermstedt found yet another musket ball. It was a piece of canister shot, one of multiple lead or iron balls packed into a metal canister and shot out of a cannon spraying the field with shrapnel. This one wasn’t like the many previous such discoveries. Battlefield archaeologist Dan Sivilich noticed upon close examination that there seemed to be an impression of fabric on the surface, perhaps made when the ball hit someone, tearing through his uniform. A second shot also appeared to have a possible textile imprint. In addition to being a battlefield archaeologist and president of BRAVO, Sivilich is an expert in musket and lead shot. He quite literally wrote the book about them — Musket Ball and Small Shot Identification: A Guide — so he knows a stand-out find when he sees one.

BRAVO sent the two balls with fabric impressions and two other artillery shots of interest to PaleoResearch Institute, Inc. in Golden, Colorado for analysis. One of them, the musket ball, came back positive for proteins found in human blood.

The canister shot in question was fired, Sivilich said, by the Americans into the British 42nd regiment. “They were trapped in an orchard just outside of Route 522,” Sivilich explained. “The American artillery line had them pinned down for a while.”

Legend has it that Molly Pitcher was shuttling water to the artillery from a nearby spring when her husband, William Hays, became incapacitated. She took his place at the cannon, so the story goes. When the smoke cleared, according to accounts from the period, the orchard was strewn with dead and injured British soldiers. The bloody piece of canister shot “may have been sitting underneath a piece of corn stalk,” Sivilich said. “We just got lucky.” [...]

“Based on its deformation, it did not appear to hit bone,” Sivilich said. “It hit soft tissue, went through the body and obviously ended up in the ground. It could have gone through a thigh, an arm, or it could have been a belly wound. We don’t know if it was fatal or not.”

Fought between George Washington’s Continental Army and the British Army under the new Commander-in-Chief for North America Sir Henry Clinton, the Battle of Monmouth resulted in a stand-off, but in effect it was a significant victory for Washington because for the first time the rag-tag Continental Army had succeeded in a pitched battle against the larger, better trained and better armed British. Fortified with French support and after a long, cold winter of constant drills and training in Valley Forge, the Americans finally proved themselves as a viable fighting force on the field at Monmouth.

 

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Rijksmuseum acquires 1st photo illustrated book by 1st female photographer

Thu, 2017-05-18 21:08

The Rijksmuseum has acquired an extremely rare copy of the first photographically illustrated book, a compendium of British algae created and privately published by botanist Anna Atkins. The museum bought the book from a private collector for €450,000 ($500,000) with funding from the lottery and family foundations.

These were contact prints, technically photograms rather than photographs, made by placing the dried botanical specimen on cyanotype paper. The process was developed in 1842 by astronomer Sir John Herschel who used it as a tool to make quick copies of his notes and drawings (architects quickly followed suit, hence the blueprint). It was Anna Atkins, a personal friend of Sir John’s, who saw the potential of cyanotypes as scientifically accurate illustrations of botanical specimens.

Born in Tunbridge, Kent, in 1799, Anna Atkins was raised by her father, John George Children, after her mother died when Anna was still a baby from the effects of childbirth. Children was an accomplished chemist, mineralogist and zoologist who worked as a librarian in the British Library, was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1807 and served as its Secretary in the 1820s and 30s. Under her father’s care, Anna received a rigorous scientific education that was extremely rare for girls of her time. She married in 1825, but continued to pursue her interests in the natural sciences, collecting and drying botanical specimens.

Her collection of dried plants gained recognition in the scientific community for its depth and breadth. She gave some of her specimens to the Kew Gardens museum and became a member of the Botanical Society of London in 1839. She would ultimately gift her vast collection to the British Museum in 1865.

She began to experiment with photography in 1841, buying a camera on the advice of William Henry Fox Talbot, an old family friend who in addition to being a mathematician and optician was the inventor of the salted paper and calotype processes. Atkins is often credited with being the first female photographer, although Constance Talbot, William’s wife, has a competing claim to the title. Neither’s photographs have survived, so there’s no way to adjudicate the dispute.

As a young woman, Anna had laboured extensively to create 250 engravings to illustrate her father’s translation of Lamarck’s Genera of Shells (published anonymously in 1823). She was intrigued by the idea of a system that would reproduce plant specimens more precisely instead of relying on the artistic talent of the engraver. Twenty years after she produced engravings of shells for her father’s treatise, Anna Atkins had mastered Sir John Herschel’s cyanotype process and went to work documenting her collection of seaweed specimens. Between 1843 and 1853, she made photograms and published them in a series of handwritten volumes.

For the various editions, Atkins produced thousands of cyanotypes, or blueprints. In those days, this photographic technique was a relatively simple and inexpensive way of making contact prints. By using two ferric salts, and exposure to strong light, a Prussian blue colour is created. Nevertheless, this process took a great deal of time and effort. All the stages had to be performed by hand: light sensitising the paper, exposure, rinsing and drying. The prints could only be made when there was sufficient sunlight, which is one more reason why Atkins took 10 years to complete her work.

During those 10 years, Atkins produced editions of different size and length. Today fewer than 20 are known to exist, many of them incomplete. The British Library has an extra-long edition (429 pages), which they have digitized so you can browse page by page. The Royal Society’s copy (389 plates on 403 pages) is believed to be the one which comes closest to Anna Atkins’ original plan for the book. The version acquired by the Rijksmuseum is an especially fine edition because it contains 307 photograms, all in excellent condition, and because it retains its original 19th century binding.

Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions will go on display at the Rijksmuseum’s New Realities. Photography in the Nineteenth Century exhibition which runs from June 17th to September 17th of this year.

 

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Ashmolean acquires unique Civil War painting

Wed, 2017-05-17 23:44

The Ashmolean Museum has acquired an exceptional group painting by Civil War-era court painter William Dobson. It was acquired through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, which allows donation of nationally significant artworks and antiquities in place of payment of taxes owing, and allocated to the Ashmolean because of the painting’s unique relevance to Oxford during the Civil War.

The work was commissioned by Colonel John Russell, commander of Prince Rupert’s elite Bluecoats regiment, in the winter of 1645–6, less than a year before Dobson’s death. The painting captures three of the Royalist commanders: Prince Rupert, King Charles I’s nephew, Colonel William Legge, the Governor of Oxford, and John Russell. This was a tough time for the three men and for the Royalist cause in general. Rupert, the figure on the left, had just been defeated at Bristol, surrendering the main Royalist port to the Parliamentarians. John Russell, a supporter of Rupert’s who had valiantly fought at the Battle of Naseby and barely survived to fight again at Bristol, is on the right. Legge stands in the center.

The painting is filled with symbols and references to the recent discord between the King and his nephew and to Rupert’s enduring loyalty. The scroll which Rupert holds in his right hand may refer to the blank sheet which Charles had sent to him on which to compose his confession. Instead, being innocent, Rupert asked Legge to return the letter empty, which greatly moved the King and resulted in a pardon. Rupert has also discarded his scarlet cloak which he was recorded as wearing when he rode out of Bristol following his surrender.

Beside the cloak is a dog wearing a collar with the initials ‘P.R.’ The dog is a motif traditionally associated with faithfulness and may, in this painting, be intended to stand for Boye, Rupert’s famed white poodle who rode into battle with the Prince and was killed in 1644 at Marston Moor. To Parliamentarian pamphleteers Boye was a ‘devil dog’ credited with supernatural powers, such as being weapon-proof and able to catch bullets with his teeth. Among Royalists, Boye was also immensely popular and as ‘Sergeant-Major-General Boy’, he became the army’s mascot. There is also, in the painting, hints of revenge likely to be directed towards George Digby, 2nd Earl of Bristol, who led the faction against Rupert and tried to convince the King that his nephew was a traitor. The central figure dips his cockade in the glass of wine which evokes biblical episodes where clothing stained with wine symbolized vengeance.

Oxford became the new Royalist capital in 1642 after Parliamentarians took London and King Charles I fled. There he established his court in exile where it remained until the city was successfully besieged by Parliamentarian forces in 1646 and Charles escaped yet again, this time disguised as a servant.

Elias Ashmole was a staunch Royalist. He left London in 1642 too, and moved to Oxford in 1644 where he was appointed an ordnance officer for the King’s army. A lawyer by trade, Ashmole was a man of eclectic interests including alchemy, botany, astronomy and collecting antiques, coins and books. He took full advantage of the opportunities his new town had to offer. In 1645 he was accepted to Brasenose College where he would pursue his studies in natural philosophy, mathematics, astronomy and astrology.

Long after the Civil War was over and just a year before the Restoration, Ashmole’s renowned collection of coins, book and manuscripts was geometrically expanded when John Tradescant the Younger, who like his father was a famed gardener (they’re both buried in the St. Mary-at-Lambeth churchyard) and collector of varied treasures from books and coins to weapons, taxidermied animals and curiosities of natural science, either gave his collection to Ashmole or was conned out of it by Ashmole in 1659.

The Ashmole-Tradescant collection was bequeathed to Oxford by Ashmole in 1677. In 1683 he had the whole kit and caboodle moved to a new museum on Broad Street custom-built to house the treasures. The collection was by then so large that it filled 26 great chests and had to be moved to the museum by barge. Unlike its predecessors, which were either private holdings or used for institutional research and teaching, the original Ashmolean was the first modern public museum, forming the blueprint for museums as we know them today. That first Ashmolean building on Broad Street still stands, now as the Museum of the History of Science.

Friday, May 19th, is the 400th anniversary of Elias Ashmole’s birthday. The Ashmolean will be celebrating their founder’s 400th birthday with a grand parade down Broad Street by Civil War reenactors. King Charles I will lead the procession at the head of his army. When they reach the Ashmolean, they will join Elias Ashmole’s birthday party where reenactors will bring to life the characters in his 400th birthday present painting.

 

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Nodosaur fossil so well-preserved it boggles minds

Tue, 2017-05-16 23:20


A dinosaur fossil that was discovered in a bitumen pit in Alberta, Canada, in 2011 is the best-preserved specimen of a nodosaur ever discovered, and it is truly a spectacle to behold. The herbivore died between 110 and 112 million years ago in a riverbed and was swept to sea where it was swiftly buried in the mud and sediment of the seabed. Resting on its back, the nodosaur’s soft tissues, armour plating and thorny ridges became mineralized, preserving its form in stone.

Scientists think the entire body was fossilized, but by the time mechanical excavator operator Shawn Funk unearthed it in the Millennium Mine, the front half of it from nose to hips, about nine feet long, was all that could be recovered. Nodosaurs averaged about 18 feet in length and weighed 3,000 pounds, so they were formidable creatures, although they lacked the flashy spiked tail club their ankylosaur cousins used to break the shins of would-be predators.

The nodosaur is now in the capable hands of the experts at the fossil prep lab at Alberta’s Royal Tyrrell Museum. They determined that it is a new species of nodosaur as well as the oldest dinosaur ever discovered in Alberta. The painstaking work of excavating the mineralized beast from the surrounding rock has been visible to the public through the lab gallery window since its discovery.

For those of us not in Alberta, National Geographic has been granted exclusive access to this extraordinary find. Photographer Robert Clark took many exceptional photographs, and even he, who has doubtless seen many wonders as a National Geographic photographer, was dumbfounded by the preservation of the nodosaur.

The more I look at it, the more mind-boggling it becomes. Fossilized remnants of skin still cover the bumpy armor plates dotting the animal’s skull. Its right forefoot lies by its side, its five digits splayed upward. I can count the scales on its sole. Caleb Brown, a postdoctoral researcher at the museum, grins at my astonishment. “We don’t just have a skeleton,” he tells me later. “We have a dinosaur as it would have been.”

For paleontologists the dinosaur’s amazing level of fossilization—caused by its rapid undersea burial—is as rare as winning the lottery. Usually just the bones and teeth are preserved, and only rarely do minerals replace soft tissues before they rot away. There’s also no guarantee that a fossil will keep its true-to-life shape. Feathered dinosaurs found in China, for example, were squished flat, and North America’s “mummified” duck-billed dinosaurs, among the most complete ever found, look withered and sun dried.

Paleobiologist Jakob Vinther, an expert on animal coloration from the U.K.’s University of Bristol, has studied some of the world’s best fossils for signs of the pigment melanin. But after four days of working on this one—delicately scraping off samples smaller than flecks of grated Parmesan—even he is astounded. The dinosaur is so well preserved that it “might have been walking around a couple of weeks ago,” Vinther says. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Some people are making Zuul comparisons, but scientists already snagged that little pop culture gem as the official name of an ankylosaur unearthed in Montana which also had spectacular soft-tissue fossilization. They called it Zuul crurivastator, meaning “Zuul, destroyer of shins,” which I think we can all agree is one of the all-time great feats of nomenclature. I think the Alberta nodosaur bears a more notable resemblance to the Gorn, of original Star Trek fame. That glaring blank eyesocket with the thorny brow ridge is so Gorny.

National Geographic has created a 3D virtual model of the nodosaur fossil that is one of the best I’ve ever seen. As you might expect, you can zoom in and out, turn it around and view it from different perspectives, but this one has tons of additional features. As you scroll, the parts are exploded and labeled so you can get a thorough idea of what bits go where and what function they performed. A drawing of a complete nodosaur as it would have looked in life is used to diagram what parts of it have survived in the fossil.

 

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Edward Hopper in Motion

Mon, 2017-05-15 22:13

It’s the 50th anniversary of Edward Hopper’s death today. To celebrate the realist painter’s oeuvre, Orbitz (yes, the discount travel site) has created animated versions of nine of his most recognizable and iconic works.

I generally enjoy attempts to add dimension to stills or artworks, for instance the recent trend in documentaries to give a 3D effect to old photographs. A subtle animated element can be effective as long as it makes sense in the context of the scene and it isn’t just distracting. All in all, I find the Hopper animations fairly good. There are some things I’d do differently, mainly fewer short repetitive loops and more smooth continuous action. Some elements — smoke over coffee cups, flickering neon signs — look too rushed. However, Hopper’s characteristic urban scenes often depicted through a window with us as the voyeurs lend themselves well to this sort of treatment. With a few adjustments, it would make a damn cool Tumblr.

Morning Sun and New York Movie are probably my favorites. The slow brightening of the scene in the former brings the title into the action, and the moving picture actually moving is nicely handled in the latter. The flicker in the theater is a bit overdone, in my opinion, with too strong a contrast of light and dark. It doesn’t match what’s being shown on the screen.

I was most looking forward to Nighthawks, but alas, it’s my least favorite of the animations. The blinking light is on too short of a loop and it doesn’t really match the scene because it’s the interior lighting of the diner that flickers instead of a neon sign like Chop Suey. Neon signs flicker all the time. The blinking neon light has become an iconic representation of night life — a little rundown, a little busted, but still vital in its color and brightness. If all the lights in a diner kept turning off and on, you’d just call the power company, and you certainly wouldn’t settle in for the night to enjoy the splendid urban isolation because it would be freaking torture.

The descriptive blurbs on the side are well done. My one criticism there is that they should link to the original paintings instead of just telling you which museums they’re in now.


Edward Hopper In Motion by Orbitz


 

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

National Museums Scotland gets Galloway Hoard for £1.98 million

Sun, 2017-05-14 23:05

The Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer (QLTR) has allocated the Galloway Viking Hoard to the National Museums Scotland (NMS) on the condition that they make an ex gratia payment of £1.98 million ($2,550,000) to the finder Derek McLennan who discovered the hoard in 2014. NMS has until November of this year to raise the sum. They’ve set up a donation site (which is showing me a DNS error at the moment, probably because it’s brand new).

The bulk of the find is a rich Viking-age hoard of silver jewellery and ingots. However, it also contains an outstanding range of exceptional precious metal and jewelled items including a rare gold ingot, a gold bird-shaped pin and a decorated silver-gilt cup of Continental or Byzantine origin. The cup is carefully wrapped in textiles and is the only complete lidded vessel of its type ever discovered in Britain or Ireland. This vessel contains further unusual objects: beads; amulets of glass and rock crystal; pilgrimage relics; a silver penannular brooch; another rare gold ingot; five Anglo-Saxon disc brooches of a kind not found in Scotland before; and jewelled aestels, pointers used to read and mark places within medieval manuscripts.

Other finds from around Britain or Ireland have been exceptional for a single type of object—for example, silver brooches or armlets. However, the Galloway Hoard is unique in bringing together a remarkable variety of objects in one discovery, hinting at hitherto unknown connections between people across Europe and beyond. It also contains objects which have never before been discovered in a hoard of this age. Incredibly, fragile textiles, leather and wooden fragments have also survived, providing an extremely rare opportunity to research and reveal many lost aspects of the Viking Age.

The Dumfries and Galloway Council, which launched a campaign earlier this year to keep the hoard in the county where it was discovered, is less than pleased with the QLTR’s decision.

Cathy Agnew, Campaign chair, said: “This treasure was buried in Galloway for safekeeping 1,000 years ago – it is deeply disappointing that the QLTR believes it should be allocated to the National Museum in Edinburgh where it will potentially be lost amongst so many other wonderful artefacts.

“This is a most unfortunate decision for the region and for Scotland. It is doubly disappointing that a more enlightened approach has not been taken, especially as 2017 is Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.

“The support from the public, from academics, politicians of all parties, and so many others – across Scotland and the world – to keep the hoard in Galloway, where it would be cherished, has been magnificent. It is a real shame their voices and their passion have gone unheeded.”

It’s hard for a county council to win against the resources of a national museum, especially when the local museum that would house the hoard has not actually been built yet. They made a valiant effort, drastically increasing the budget for the new Kirkcudbright Art Gallery and raising a great deal of money and support for the cause of keeping the hoard in Dumfries and Galloway. They knew it was a long shot, however, and all the while hoped to be able to come to an agreement with NMS for joint ownership.

National Museums Scotland showed no interest in shared custody. It thinks it is the proper home for a treasure of international significance, because they have the wherewithal and expertise to give it all the care and security such complex, delicate archaeological materials need. The preservation of the extremely rare surviving organic remains in particular requires specialists and facilities that the National Museums can provide. Its location in Edinburgh will also “ensure that the Hoard is seen by the maximum number of people, from Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, the UK and internationally.”

In its press release on the allocation of the hoard, NMS had this to say on Dumfries and Galloway’s involvement:

National Museums believes that it is important there is a display of the Hoard in Dumfries and Galloway, and intends to continue to seek a dialogue with Dumfries and Galloway Council to ensure that a representative portion of the Hoard goes on long-term display in Kirkcudbright Art Gallery.

It’s not joint ownership, but it’s something. Had they made a tandem bid that was accepted, the bigger museum would almost certainly have had the greater say in the division and exhibition of assets anyway, so in the end the Kirkcudbright Art Gallery might well end up with much the same sort of display it would have had if they had partnered with NMS.

 

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Tomb with 17 mummies found in Minya, Egypt

Sat, 2017-05-13 23:32

Archaeologists have discovered a tomb containing at least 17 mummies near Minya, Upper Egypt. The tomb was found more than 25 feet under the village of Tuna al-Gabal where a number of necropolises have been unearthed containing the mummified remains of animals. This one contained some animal coffins (baboons) too, but the stand-out finds are eight limestone and clay sarcophaguses holding well-preserved, linen-wrapped mummified human remains as well as stacked human remains without coffins. Archaeologists also found two papyri inscribed with Demotic script.

The underground burial chamber was first spotted last year by Cairo University students using ground-penetrating radar, but they only knew it was a hollow space until the excavation this week discovered it was a cachette, an unmarked burial site where mummies were secreted to keep them safe from grave robbers. (The endeavor was of limited success; the site does appear to have been interfered with in antiquity or more recently.) The remains have yet to be radiocarbon dated. Researchers believe they may date to the Late Period — from around 600 B.C. until the conquest of Alexander in 332 B.C. — or possibly to the Greco-Roman period dating from Alexander’s conquest to around 300 A.D.

About 150 miles south of Cairo, Minya is the capital of the Minya Governorate, a province rich in archaeological sites including the city of Amarna, built by the Pharaoh Akhetaten and abandoned after his death; Hermopolis Magna, the cult center of the god Toth in ancient Egypt and an important Greco-Roman city where in some Christian traditions the Holy Family was said to have lived after their escape from Herod’s baby killers; Antinopolis, founded by the Emperor Hadrian in honor of his dearest companion Antinous whom he deified after his death by drowning in the Nile; and the Beni Hasan tombs of mongoose-on-a-leash fame.

With such a dense concentration of significant sites spanning the ages from the Old Kingdom to the modern era, you’d think a tomb with a bunch of mummies would hardly be headline news, but this one is unique. For one thing, it’s been a long time since any mummies were found in the area. Not since the discovery of the animal and bird necropolises between 1931 and 1954 have any kind of remains been discovered in Minya. Even more significantly, it’s the first human necropolis discovered in central Egypt to contain such a large number of mummies.

Last but certainly not least:

Archeologists believe that it is the first time to unearth a burial tomb with that number of mummies for ordinary people and in catacombs style. Inside the catacomb, Khaled Anani, Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities referred to the gaps inside the catacombs saying “The more we drill the more we find.”

The Telegraph was given access to the tomb. Four wells of eight meters deep were unearthed, which lead to catacombs where mummies of men, women and children are laid in good shape.

In one chamber inside the tunnels, human bones and skulls are piled. Most of the mummies were laid in lines in both of its sides. While some them were left in plain stone and wooden sarcophagi, others were piled on top of each other.

The well-preserved mummies inside the coffins were given expensive treatment, so it’s likely they were not just regular Joes off the street. Since Minya was known as a center for the worship of the god Toth, they could have been priests associated with his temple.

The excavation has only just begun, and archaeologists expect to find more of the catacomb and more human remains as they proceed. The papyri are being moved to the Grand Egyptian Museum for conservation.

 

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Unknown Caxton leaf found in university archive

Fri, 2017-05-12 21:47

A two-sided page from a 15th century priest handbook printed by William Caxton has been discovered in archives of the University of Reading. Written in Medieval Latin, the leaf was part of a book called the Sarum Ordinal or Sarum Pye, a manual for priests on managing feast days for English saints during the ecclesiastical year. It was printed by William Caxton in his shop, the Red Pale, in late 1476 or early 1477 and was one of the first books printed in England. The University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library has a notice from Caxton’s shop promoting the manual which is the earliest surviving printed advertisement in English publishing history.

One of only two known surviving fragments from this enormously significant edition in the history of English publishing, the leaf is in very good condition even though it hasn’t exactly been treated with kid gloves over the years. For three centuries it was glued into the spine of another book to reinforce the binding. It was saved from that ignominy by a University of Cambridge librarian in 1820 who put it in a scrapbook along with other fragments rescued from bindings, but not even he recognized it as an original Caxton page.

University of Reading Special Collections librarian Erika Delbecque, on the other hand, knew right away she had struck gold.

“I suspected it was special as soon as I saw it. The trademark blackletter typeface, layout and red paragraph marks indicate it is very early western European printing. It is incredibly rare to find an unknown Caxton leaf, and astonishing that it has been under our noses for so long.”

The pages are part of the John and Griselda Lewis Collection. John Lewis was a typographer and pioneering scholar in the field of printed ephemera. Griselda was a writer. Between them, they amassed a collection of more than 20,000 items pertaining to the history of printing. The University bought the John Lewis Printing Collection at auction in 1997 for £70,000 ($90,000), with the aid of a £60,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The collection is stored in 87 boxes at the University of Reading’s Centre for Ephemera Studies in the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication.

The collection is still in the process of being catalogued, which is what Erika Delbecque was doing when she came across the Caxton leaf.

Copies of the Sarum Ordinal were produced in Westminster, before the Reformation, and consisted of around 160 leaves. The text was originally established as a manuscript by St Osmund, the Bishop of Salisbury, in the 11th century. It would have been owned by clergymen and consulted on a regular basis, but was discarded after the Reformation.

Only one other surviving fragment of the book exists, consisting of eight double-sided leaves, which are held at the British Library in London.

The University of Reading’s leaf is from a different part of the book than the British Library’s pages, so it is unique.

The Caxton leaf is on display at the University’s Special Collections department at the Museum of English Rural Life on London Road through the end of the month. Admission is free.

 

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Ammonite’s epic final drag mark immortalized

Thu, 2017-05-11 23:51

Every once in a great while, a track or drag mark left by a long-dead animal is discovered in the fossil record. The most commonly found ones are known as mortichnia and are the traces of arthropods, bivalves, fish and other animals left just before their death. The longest mortichnial trackway recorded is 9.7 meters (32 feet) long and was left by a horseshoe crab in the Upper Jurassic Solnhofen Lithographic Limestone near Wintershof, Germany. (Solnhofen limestones are among the richest sources of fossilized tracks and drag marks in the world.)

Finding both a fossilized drag mark and the fossil of the creature that left it is exceptionally rare. An ammonite fossil discovered in the late 1990s in the Upper Jurassic limestone of a quarry near the village Solnhofen in Bavaria put even the rarest of its brethren to shame by leaving a fossilized drag mark an unheard of 8.5 meters (28 feet) long. All the examples of ammonite drag marks found before this one were less than one meter in length.

The ammonite in question (Subplanites rueppellianus) was dead and drifting when it left its final testament: multiple continuous parallel lines dug into the sediment of what was then the sea floor by the ribs of the shell. At first glance, it’s not a terribly impressive specimen. A sub-adult male, it’s comparatively small at 114 x 101 mm (4.5 x 4 inches) and poorly preserved. It was damaged when it was collected; there’s a crack running through it, and a separate fragment was reattached during restoration.

The little guy’s drag mark, on the other hand, is in excellent condition. It was recovered in multiple pieces and put back together. Its dramatic length isn’t even complete, because the spot where the ammonite first began to drag along the sediment did not survive. Based on the depth of the furrows, researchers believe the ammonite started off buoyant courtesy of the gases in its shell generated by the decay of the dead animal. The drag marks start off light, then get deeper as the gases wear off and the ammonite shell drops lower onto the top layer of carbonate mud substrate.

The preserved start begins with two prominent ridges, with a single furrow. Here, the mark width measures 5.7 mm. From this point, the drag mark width was measured at approximately every 50 cm (Table 1). At one metre, additional ridges created by the ribs of the ammonite appear in the substrate, but they are faint and poorly preserved. Noticeably, at 1.7 m, an additional three ridges are present but disappear again.

Four ridges appear consistently from around 2 m (Fig 1), until about 6.5 m, where five prominent ridges appear. At approximately 7.5 m, only four prominent ridges can be seen, but beyond this point the drag mark preserves five very prominent ridges. It is not until the drag mark is nearly terminating, at 30 cm anterior to the ammonite, where six ridges are present and prominent. At 3 cm from the ammonite, the number of ridges increases to 11, showing that more of the ammonite is clearly in contact with the substrate (Fig 3). Here, the orientation of the ridges turns from being parallel to the long axis of the specimen to almost perpendicular to it, and increase in number to 18. Here, the ridges and furrows in the substrate mirror the spacing of the ammonite ribs that are well preserved, indicative of a touch down mark (Fig 3).

The shell was likely bounced along the substrate by currents and waves, not by another animal. The exceptional length of this drag mark indicates a very stable, calm current that was steady enough to keep the ammonite shell moving without tumbling or excessive rotating while not disturbing the sediment on the sea floor.

A digital model of the full surviving drag mark has been created using photogrammetry, a high-resolution composite generated from 645 photographs. And thus the ammonite with his epic drag mark, already preserved by fossilization, achieves digital immortality as well.

 

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Girl found in coffin under San Francisco home identified

Wed, 2017-05-10 23:26

Last year, construction workers digging underneath a garage in San Francisco unearthed a child’s coffin. The bronze casket was three-and-a-half feet long and had two leaded glass windows, a popular design in the Victorian era for those who could afford it. Through the windows the well-preserved body of a little girl could be seen. She was wearing a white lace christening dress and ankle high shoes. She was also wearing a long necklace and holding a single flower which was at first believed to be a rose, but later found to be a purple nightshade flower. Little purple flowers had been woven into her hair and roses, baby’s breath and eucalyptus leaves were placed around her body.

The find was poignant, but not surprising. The home is in the Richmond District, which in the 19th century was the site of multiple cemeteries. When the real estate value of the district outpaced its value as a (not so) eternal resting place in the early 20th century, San Francisco evicted the underground tenants from Richmond and almost every other cemetery within city limits, leaving only two cemeteries of 26 intact. The city claimed this mass exhumation was necessary to prevent the spread of disease, but nobody was fooled. The remains of about 300,000 people were exhumed and reburied south of the city in Colma, which a decade later would be officially founded by cemetery owners as a necropolis that would never be subject to the political considerations that had spurred the liquidation of San Francisco’s graveyards. The little girl was one of 26,000 people buried in the Odd Fellow’s Cemetery, most of whom were moved to Colma’s Greenlawn Memorial Park in around 1920.

The medical examiner’s office examined the body in situ, but told homeowner Ericka Karner that it was entirely her responsibility to see to its disposition because the child was found on her property. She looked into reburial options, but the most modest estimate was $7,000. The priciest quote was $22,000. Meanwhile, the casket had been unsealed during the examination and the remains of the child, whom she named Miranda Eve, were beginning to deteriorate.

With the body of a little girl decaying in her backyard, Karner called City Hall. They wouldn’t take responsibility for the remains their predecessors had so half-assedly overlooked either, but they did put her in touch with the Garden of Innocence, a non-profit organization that arranges dignified burials for unknown or abandoned children. Elissa Davey, genealogist and founder of Garden of Innocence, raised money and arranged donations for the reburial. A month after she was found, Miranda Eve was reburied in a donated plot in Greenlawn Memorial Park. She was placed in her original bronze coffin, and it was placed inside a new wood casket inspired by the two-window design of the original.

Davey didn’t stop there. She wanted to give Miranda Eve her identity back. The task was monumental. First they were able to discover the manufacturer of the coffin: N. Gray & Co. Undertakers. Then they found a map of the Old Fellow’s Cemetery which they compared with modern street and other maps to pinpoint the location of the burial. It took more than 1,000 hours of research and a year of assiduous work, but the Garden of Innocence team was finally able to discover Miranda Eve’s real name. She was Edith Howard Cook, daughter of Horatio Nelson and Edith Scooffy Cook, who died on October 13th, 1876, when she was less than two months short of her third birthday.

Funeral home records show Edith died from marasmus, or severe undernourishment. It’s not clear what caused the illness, but in late 1800s urban living could have led to an infectious disease, the nonprofit said.

Information released Tuesday reveals that Edith was born into two prominent families in the world of commerce and society. Her mother was born into a San Francisco pioneer family, as her father Peter Scooffy was an original member of the Society of California Pioneers.

Horatio Cook and Edith Scooffy married in 1870 and baby Edith’s father tanned hides and manufactured leather belts. He also served as Consul for Greece.

After her death at a young age, Edith’s parents had another daughter, Ethel Cook, who was declared by a Russian nobleman as the most beautiful woman in America, the nonprofit reported.

Her identity was confirmed by DNA which was a match with the DNA of Edith’s grand-nephew Peter Cook. The headstone of “Miranda Eve” was left blank on the back so they could engrave her real name on it, should it ever be found. Now that it has, Edith Howard Cook will have her name on her headstone again.

The Garden of Innocence website has uploaded a detailed report of the discovery, reburial and their exceptional research on their website.

 

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Mongoose on a leash identified in Middle Kingdom tomb

Tue, 2017-05-09 23:30

The Egyptian mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon) was one of the many animals in the Egyptian bestiary that figures in tomb decorations going back to the Old Kingdom. They were depicted mainly in hunting scenes, stalking their prey in the swampy riverlands, climbing a papyrus stalk to snatch hatchlings from a nest, feasting on a fish in the rushes, even attacking a goose mid-flight.

They are easily recognizable in this context and from the animal’s characteristic features — short legs, long tail, long body, short snout and small ears — but divorced from its natural setting, one depiction of a mongoose has been the subject of debate for more than a century. A new field study of wall paintings in the cemetery of Beni Hassan has identified an Egyptian mongoose being led on a leash in the 11th Dynasty tomb of Baqet I (Tomb 29). This is the only known depiction of a mongoose on a leash in ancient Egyptian art.

Beni Hassan is a Middle Kingdom (21st to 17th centuries B.C.) cemetery about 12 miles south of the modern city of Minya in Middle Egypt. There are almost a thousand rock-cut and shaft tombs in the cemetery. The rock-cut tombs are carved into the limestone cliff face that overlooks the lower part of the cemetery where the shaft tombs are located. The elite, mainly hereditary nomarchs (regional governors) were buried in the upper cemetery, their rock-cut tombs elaborately decorated with animals and scenes from daily life (wrestling, chipping flint tools, spinning, playing music, pot making, smelting, feeding oryxes).

Several of the decorated tombs were documented by Egyptologists in the 19th century, including luminaries of the field like Jean-François Champollion and, most notably, Scottish pioneer Robert Hay, who undertook the first exceptionally thorough project to illustrate, trace and draw every ancient Egyptian tomb and temple he encountered in the 1820s and 30s. By the time of British Egyptologist Percy Newberry’s expedition to Beni Hassan in 1890, the paintings in one of the tombs Hay had documented (Tomb 3) were so faded and damaged that Newberry had to rely on Hay’s 60-year-old work in his own publications. Newberry’s team made important new tomb discoveries and meticulously illustrated every painting found, tracing them in full-size or drawing them from life. One of the draughtsmen on that team was a young Howard Carter. Newberry would be part of his team 30 years later when Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun.

Newberry noted the unusual image of the leashed animal in his reports, suggesting it might be a mongoose, but other scholars disagreed with his identification. The Egyptian Antiquities Ministry team has recently conserved and cleaned the Beni Hassan tombs, and Professor Linda Evans of Macquarie University in Australia has surveyed the refreshed paintings using the latest technology.

The conservation and recording has “revealed many scenes not found in Newberry’s reports,” wrote Evans. In addition, the new work has identified creatures in the drawings that Newberry had been uncertain about. [...]

Evans’ team determined that the animal is “morphologically identical” to the Egyptian mongoose, wrote Evans, noting that the animal is also clearly depicted on a leash. “The animal clearly sports a gray collar that tapers to join a long, gray leash, which is held in the left hand of a bearer, who also holds the leash of a spotted hunting dog situated below the mongoose,” Evans said. [...]

“While mongooses have never been fully domesticated — that is, subjected to controlled breeding — some cultures have chosen to keep the animals as pets in order to control unwanted pests, such as snakes, rats and mice,” Evans wrote.

Evans speculates that the mongoose could have been used the way some bird dogs are used today, to scare birds out of the bush so hunters can have at them. That’s one possibility, but there’s no reason they couldn’t have been used to stalk and catch prey as well.

My grandmother told me that her mother, my very formidable great-grandmother who was reputedly a crack shot, used to hunt rabbits with ferrets. Their long, tubular bodies easily fit into warrens, and they had an implacable drive to get to the other side of whatever tunnel they were in and to kill whatever might be in their way. They’d clear a warren in no time, keeping the rabbit population under control and providing the family with much-needed food.

I had pet ferrets at the time, which is what inspired the story-telling, and according to my grandmother they bore only superficial resemblance to the ones my great-grandmother used for ferreting. The hunters were much larger and much, much meaner. My guys were sweet and cute and funny with the vestiges of that powerful prey drive turned into quirky, charming behaviors like stealing keys out of guest’s purses and hiding them under the bed. That’s because they were fully domesticated, bearing as much relation to their wild cousins as that tabbycat on your lap does to a serval. Maybe the ancient Egyptians went mongoosing just like my great-grandmother went ferreting. (People still use ferrets to hunt today, btw, especially in the UK.)

 

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

Mode Persuasive Cartography collection digitized

Mon, 2017-05-08 23:22

Persuasive cartography is decidedly more the former than the latter. Its aim is to sell a product or influence opinion using the aesthetic allure and/or the impression of scientific rigor conveyed by maps. The actual science of mapmaking — accurate renditions of land masses, roads, structures, topographical features — isn’t the point, except insofar as it lends the cachet of objectivity to a pitch.

Retired lawyer PJ Mode began collecting maps after seeing an exhibition of old and unusual maps at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 1980. Over the years he began to narrow his focus to maps of the persuasive persuasion, fascinated by the reasoning behind them. With the advent of the Internet, finding new cartographical gems and researching their background has become increasingly accessible. Today PJ Mode has more than 800 persuasive maps in his collection.

Last month, more than 500 of them were digitized by the Cornell University Library. Now there are 862 of them. They can be browsed by subject or date, you can just load the whole shebang and go through them front to back, or you can limit by date, date range, creator or subject from there. I’m partial to the subject divisions which convey a real sense of how far-reaching this medium was. Almost 200 of the maps are in the Advertising & Promotion category, and they are some of the most aesthetically interesting. The Niagara Belt Line uses one of the most spectacular views in the world to promote its electric trolley line.

A good image can sell even the worst product, as any advertiser knows. Patent medicines, most of which were useless at best, active poisons at worst, needed all the colorful artwork they could get: see Peruvian Bitters, for example, which used a literal bird carrying an ad for the product over a bird’s-eye view of San Francisco to flog its bogus cure for malaria, dyspepsia, addiction and unhappiness.

Even the plain ones without fancy graphics are intriguing because the dry presentation is often used to legitimize an extremely questionable proposition, like the Northern Pacific Railroad Gold Bonds or the Two Queens Mines in Australia, which was a straight-up scam.

The greatest number of maps, 349, are in the pictorial subject which covers an extraordinary amount of ground from military to political to moral advocacy. There’s even an edition of a map very similar to one I own in giant foldout poster form: a timeline of world history from a Biblically literal creationist perspective. Other subject categories you can browse include Alcohol, Heaven & Hell (schematics of Dante’s Inferno are always popular), Poverty, Prostitution, Crime, Slavery, Suffrage, Railroads, and lots and lots of wars.

All of the digitized maps are available for download in high resolution (the full Niagara view was so huge my server couldn’t even handle it, and my server is used to the strain, believe me), or if you prefer, can be zoomed in extreme closeup on the Cornell site itself. Fair warning: this is a timesink of gloriously massive proportions. The information on each entry was written by PJ Mode himself based on his research. He makes no claim to flawless understanding, so if you find something you think might be inaccurate, you’re encouraged to click on the “Contact” link at the bottom of the page and let folks know.

Speaking of which, the following video is 50 minutes long, but it’s so worth it. It’s a talk PJ Mode delivered last year to The Grolier Club and the New York Map Society about persuasive cartography. Unlike most lecture videos, the people doing the talking only appear rarely. The vast majority of the presentation is of the maps being projected. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been irritated by the neglect of the visual aids in recordings of these types of events. Whoever filmed this talk deserves an award. Be sure to watch it full screen so you can see the small details of the map as large as possible.

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History

7,000 bodies from asylum may be buried under Mississippi campus

Sun, 2017-05-07 23:49

In 2013, workers building a new road on the campus of the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) in Jackson unearthed the remains of 66 individuals buried in pine coffins. These were remains of patients of the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum, in operation between 1855 and 1935, who had been buried in an area of the campus that is now known as Asylum Hill, for obvious reasons. The remains were removed to the Mississippi State University anthropology department for study before reburial in the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s cemetery where donated anatomical and past archaeological human remains are interred. Road construction continued.

Remains have been found before on Asylum Hill, but after the discovery of the 66 coffins, tests were done on 20 acres of the UMMC campus where extensive construction was planned, and experts found evidence of 1,000 bodies buried there, maybe more. Now a ground-penetrating radar study has found there are at least 2,000 bodies buried on those 20 acres, and there may be as many as 7,000. The staggering numbers pose a thorny problem, because it costs $3,000 to exhume and rebury a single body. At a $21 million price tag, it would be prohibitively expensive to rebury all of the dead, even if they had room in the UMMC cemetery to accommodate so many bodies.

It’s also far from an ideal solution for the many descendants who are desperate for information about their relatives and for a proper burial where they can pay their respects. Read the comments on my previous article for just a tiny sample of people who have searched high and low for any clue about the fate and whereabouts of their family members. Perhaps there’s a solution that can address both the financial hardships and give solace to the survivors of the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum’s patients.

Now UMMC is studying the cheaper alternative of handling those exhumations in-house, at a cost of $400,000 a year for at least eight years. It also would create a memorial that would preserve the remains with a visitors center and a lab that could be used to study the remains as well as the remnants of clothing and coffins.

Ralph Didlake, who oversees UMMC’s Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities, believes the lab would be the first of its kind in the nation — giving researchers insight into life in the asylum in the 1800s and early 1900s.

“It would be a unique resource for Mississippi,” said Molly Zuckerman, associate professor in Mississippi State’s department of anthropology and Middle Eastern cultures. “It would make Mississippi a national center on historical records relating to health in the pre-modern period, particularly those being institutionalized.”

There were no dedicated state facilities for the mentally ill in Mississippi before the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum was built. The insane were kept at home, when families could handle it, and chained up in prisons with criminals when they couldn’t. Conditions were opprobrious. The Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum was designed according to the Kirkbride Plan, a new approach to the treatment of mental illness devised by Quaker physician Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride premised on the then-novel theory that insanity could be curable and that the environment in which patients were treated played a key role in their recovery. The facilities had to be cheerful, airy, with social spaces like dining rooms and parlors reminiscent of home. Patients were to get plenty of time enjoying the grounds, both for pleasure and to farm the land as an early form of occupational therapy.

The problem with the Kirkbride Plan when implemented by state asylums is that it required no more than 250 patients be admitted at one time. That was the magic number to ensure the space was conducive to healing and that there was sufficient staff to provide individual attention. But the states who invested serious money building these asylums — it took almost five years for the Mississippi legislature to appropriate funding for construction of theirs — had big problems adhering to Kirkbride’s ideal population density.

The Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum started off with the best of intentions. There were 150 inmates when it opened in 1855. After the Civil War, the numbers started to rise. In 1870 there were 300 patients. By the end of Reconstruction in 1877, the Mississippi legislature stopped funding maintenance and oversight, and as a result the asylum rapidly declined. Within a year the new superintendent described the conditions as “verging on what the original Bedlam must have been like.” The inmate population continued to rise through fires, polluted water, desultory repairs and additions. In 1920 there were 1,670 patients. In 1930, there were 2,649. At its peak, there were 6,000 patients. Finally the run-down, massively overcrowded conditions could no longer be ignored. When a new state hospital opened in Whitfield in 1935, the old one was closed and all remaining patients were moved to the new facility.

The structure was demolished, and in 1954 the University Medical Center was built on the site. Construction workers have encountered bodies and headstones ever since, but nobody did a thorough investigation or really conceived of the massive scale of burials until the 2013 discovery.

Didlake, Zuckerman and others have formed the Asylum Hill Research Consortium, made up of anthropologists, archaeologists, historians and even an expert in dating the wood of the coffins.

It was the consortium that developed the memorial/visitors center/lab plans.

“We have inherited these patients,” Didlake said. “We want to show them care and respectful management.”

That’s an important step in the right direction, but I like Karen Clark’s idea cited in the news article to collect DNA from descendants so there’s a chance the bodies could be identified. Her three-times great-grandfather, Isham Earnest, was an inmate at the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum in its early days and is believed to have died there in the late 1850s. Depending on conditions of the remains, nuclear DNA may not be retrievable, although mitochondrial DNA is much hardier. The oldest of the remains are just over 150 years old, which is quite fresh, really, from an archaeological perspective, so it’s certainly within the realm of possibility. It’s an ambitious project and would require significant additional funding. It would so worthwhile, though.

 

Categories: Arts and Sciences, History