History fetish? What history fetish?
Updated: 13 min 1 sec ago
The diary of Nazi Party leader, racist philosopher and close Hitler confidant Alfred Rosenberg was officially handed over to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum on Tuesday. Museum staff must have had access to the diary before then, because the entire 400 pages plus of loose-leaf paper have been digitized and uploaded to the web. Each page is scanned in readably high resolution and accompanied by a transcript.
“The Museum encourages people to think about why the Holocaust happened and how it was possible in such an advanced society,” said United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Director Sara J. Bloomfield. “The Rosenberg diary will add to our understanding of the ideas that animated the extremist ideology of Nazism. We are grateful to our partners at ICE who helped us secure this important piece of history, a significant addition in our urgent efforts to rescue the evidence of the Holocaust.”
Alfred Rosenberg played a key role in the development of Nazi anti-semitic policy, both philosophically and practically. In 1930, he wrote The Myth of the Twentieth Century, an impenetrable tome nobody read about the noble Aryan struggle against the insidious Jew, liberal and Bolshevik. He was instrumental in promoting the theory of Lebensraum and as Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories organized the deportations of Eastern European Jews to concentration camps. As head of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (Reichsleiter Rosenberg Taskforce), he was also directly responsible for the orgy of looting of art and antiquities from occupied territories.
He was captured by Allied forces in May of 1945. His papers, including the diary, were confiscated in August and used as evidence against him at the Nuremburg Trials. He was tried for conspiracy to commit aggressive warfare, crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity and convicted on all counts. Alfred Rosenberg was hanged on October 16th, 1946.
After that, the diary and many other papers disappeared, probably taken by Dr. Robert Kempner, a German-Jewish lawyer who had fled Germany in 1939 and returned after the war to serve as deputy chief counsel at the Nuremberg Trials. When he went back home to the United States after the trials, he brought a great number of unclassified documents with him, including apparently the Rosenberg diary. Kempner practiced law, focusing mainly on Nazi restitution cases, and published his own personal research, including several papers that quoted parts of the Rosenberg diary nobody else had ever seen.
After Kempner’s 1993 death, his heirs decide to donate many of the documents. A 1997 inventory of the Kempner papers did not find the diary. The museum continued to search for it for years, until in November of 2012 they discovered the information that would break the case. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) found the long-lost diary in April of this year at the home of an individual in home in Lewiston, north of Buffalo, New York. Authorities have still not announced who that individual was, but one possibility is Robert Kempner’s former secretary.
Because of their checkered trajectory, the Rosenberg diary pages have been separated. The ones at the Holocaust Museum are the bulk of the diary, covering years 1936 through 1944. Earlier entries from 1934 to 1935 are part of the collection of the National Archives and Records Administration.
The archaeological site of Old Dongola in what is today Sudan has a rich history. Originally built as a fortress in the fifth century, Dongola grew into a prosperous town thanks to its Nile-side location and, after its conversion to Christianity by the end of the sixth century, became the capital of the Coptic Christian kingdom of Makuria. In the seventh century, Makuria was able to defeat the forces of the Rashidun Caliphate after its successful invasion of Egypt. The ensuing peace treaty established trade relationships between Muslim Egypt and Christian Nubia that lasted for 600 years, a long period of stability that allowed the Kingdom of Makuria to flourish. The kingdom’s power began to wane in the 12th century and it was finally defeated by the Sultan of Egypt in the 14th century.
In 1993, the Polish Archaeological Mission (PAM) discovered three burial crypts in the northwest annex of a monastery in Old Dongola. Archaeologists believe they were part of a commemorative complex built either at the direction of or for the burial of Archbishop Georgios, Dongola’s primary cleric who was appointed directly by the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria rather than via a national church hierarchy. According to a funerary stele found in the annex near the crypts, the archbishop died in 1113 A.D. when he was 82 years old.
Inside each chamber were several natural mummies, some wrapped in textiles, and the walls of the southernmost crypt were covered with inscriptions written in Greek and Sahidic Coptic. The crypts were photographed and then resealed to preserve the contents until a more thorough excavation could be done. That finally happened in 2009.
They found that the southern crypt (crypt 1) held seven mummies, one of which is thought to be the body of Archbishop Georgios. Archaeologists were not able to single out which of the bodies, if any, was the Archbishop’s. They are all adult males older than 40 and, judging from the extensive evidence of chronic and degenerative illnesses, probably older than that at the time of death. The bodies were dressed fairly modestly, mainly in linen garments, wrapped in shrouds and then interred in the crypt over a course of years. Four pectoral crosses were found in the crypt as well, two of them wood, one of them stone, one of them glass.
The inscriptions on the walls of crypt 1 provide a particularly fascinating glimpse into Makuria’s unique religious culture. Painted in black ink over a thin layer of whitewash, they cover the four walls of the barrel chamber almost entirely. They are in very good condition, except for areas where the walls themselves were damaged. The writing was all done by the same person, one Ioannes, who did us the favor of signing his name at the end of the inscriptions on the north, east and south walls. He probably signed the west wall too, but it was lost due to damage.
Ioannes was better at Coptic than he was at Greek. There are copious errors in the Greek, some of which he covered with whitewash and redid, like Medieval white-out, which suggests he may have been trying to copy a text, which suggests he had access to a library, either in the monastery or perhaps the private library of the archbishop. It’s a reversal of what you might expect, since Greek was still going great guns in the Eastern Church while Sahidic Coptic was already a dying language by the end of the 11th century.
The inscriptions begin on the west wall with an invocation of the Holy Trinity. Underneath that the writings are defined as a phylakterion malakias, a phylactery or amulet against weakness. A series of magical symbols in a frame follow, and beneath them are two lists, one of numerical cryptograms representing the names of god and angels, the other of magical divine names. Quotations from the gospels and prayers in Greek are next. One of the prayers, said to by the Virgin Mary, is well-known in a languages from Coptic to Arabic, but this is the first time it’s ever been found in Greek. Since Greek was probably its original language, it’s a highly significant find. The prayer ends abruptly with the invocation of a magical ritual meant to chase evil spirits from the tomb.
The inscription on the east wall quotes from the Gospel of Luke in Greek then moves on to a Coptic piece on the death of the Virgin Mary. It includes the prayer she spoke before she died and describes her final scene. This is an excerpt from a popular fourth century Coptic work by Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, but unlike every other extant version of the text known, the crypt inscription has a curious line: after Mary finishes praying, death appears to her “in the form of a rooster.”
From the paper on the inscriptions in the journal Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean by University of Warsaw professor Adam Łajtar:
The decoration of the burial vault may therefore be properly described as a silent ritual, intended to safeguard not only the tomb, but primarily those who were buried inside of it during the dangerous liminal period between the moment of dying and their appearance before the throne of God. The entire ensemble of texts and architecture must be considered a unique and important witness to the funerary beliefs and practices of Christian northeastern Africa in medieval times.
A manuscript at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library has been authenticated as the prison memoir of 19th century African-American inmate Austin Reed. Finding a previously-unknown Black writer from the before the Civil War is extremely rare, and this work stands out as the earliest prison memoir ever written by an African-American (that we know of). A rare book dealer purchased the notebook and two sewn folios at an estate sale Rochester, western New York state, some years ago. The family selling it had no information about it other than it had been in their family for as long as anyone could remember. The Beinecke bought it from the dealer in 2009 and set about researching the 304-page memoir and its author.
The unpublished book is entitled The Life and Adventures of a Haunted Convict, or the Inmate of a Gloomy Prison by Rob Reed and it’s an autobiography of Reed’s experiences in the criminal justice system from the 1830s to the 1850s. Most of that time he served for theft at Auburn Prison, the second state prison in New York and the oldest prison in the country still in use today. The traditional horizontal black and white striped prison uniform was invented at Auburn, and the first electric chair execution took place there in 1890.
Built in 1816, Auburn Prison was relatively new when Reed was a guest. Its approach was novel because the focus was on rehabilitation, but the Auburn System, as it became known, was hardly touchy-feely. The aim was instill dedication to work and responsibility by breaking down prisoners’ sense of self and community with other inmates. Prisoners to work for at least 10 hours a day, to live in solitary confinement when not working, to march in lockstep exactly one arm’s width from each other while looking at the side and never looking at the guards or other inmates, and to observe complete silence at all times.
Punishments for violations of the rules including floggings with whips and cat-o-nine-tails, the “shower bath,” an elaborate form of waterboarding, and the “yoke,” a 40-pound bar of iron attached to the back of the prisoner’s neck and both hands.
Reed’s memoir was intended to introduce a curious public to life in the new institution – the solitary cells, the dining hall and the hospital, the work to be done in the various workshops, and regulations for inmate conduct. Reed’s account also aimed to expose the unusual and brutal punishments inflicted on dissenters, and he made a pointed comparison between New York prisons and the slaveholding South.
“The Reed prison narrative manuscript is a revelation. Nothing quite like it exists,” says Blight. “Reed is a crafty and manipulative storyteller, and perhaps above all he left an insider’s look at the American world of crime, prisons, and the brutal state of race relations in the middle of the 19th century.”
Yale English professor Caleb Smith worked with Beinecke archivists and Christine McKay, a genealogical researcher at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, to research Austin Reed and authenticate the manuscript. Using newspaper articles, court records and prison files, they were able to identify “Rob Reed” as Austin Reed, a free Black man born near Rochester. He was in trouble with the law from an early age and spent time in the House of Refuge in Manhattan, a reformatory school where he learned to read and write. It was a letter Reed wrote to the warden of the House of Refuge that linked Austin Reed to his nom de plume. In it, he gives some of his background and asks whether the House has kept any of his juvenile records. He was researching his youth, apparently, to include in the memoir.
“The Reed manuscript is an astonishing discovery and a unique resource documenting the lives of African-American prisoners in antebellum America,” says Nancy Kuhl, curator of poetry for the Yale Collection of American Literature. “Handwritten manuscripts of novels and memoirs by 19th-century African Americans remain extraordinarily rare. The Reed manuscript significantly enriches the canon of 19th-century African-American Literature and deepens our understanding of all 19th-century America.”
The memoir never made it into print, despite Reed’s clear intention that it be published, but that will soon change. Caleb Smith is preparing an annotated version of the manuscript for print. Meanwhile, the Beinecke Library has scanned and uploaded every page of the notebook and folios. You can view them here. The handwriting is impressively legible. There are grammatical and spelling errors, but nothing that makes it hard to read.
Seven months after the Metropolitan Museum of Art returned a pair of 10th-century Khmer statues known as the Kneeling Attendants that had been looted from the Prasat Chen temple in Koh Ker, Cambodia, Sotheby’s has agreed to return a statue looted from the same temple that has been blocked from sale for two years. It’s been a long, arduous process of diplomacy, negotiation and legal wrangling, none of it pretty and some of it impressively nasty, even for a cultural property dispute.
Our story begins more than a 1,000 years ago when King Jayavarman IV moved the capital of the Khmer Empire to Koh Ker, a remote site 75 miles northeast of Siem Reap and the previous capital of Angkor. It was 928 A.D. and up until this point, Khmer sculptural art was characterized by static figures, most of them carved bas reliefs of Hindu deities and mythology. Jayavarman IV commissioned a whole new style of carving for his new capital. In Koh Ker, statues of gods and warriors were made to be freestanding, their poses dynamic captures of figures in movement. One group in front of the western pavilion of Prasat Chen Temple featured 12 statues depicting the final battle between Duryodhana and his nemesis Bhima from the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata. Massive 500-pound sandstone statues of the two enemies were posed facing each mid-fight, surrounded by their supporters.
Koh Ker only remained capital until 944, after which it decayed into ruin while the jungle reclaimed its former dominance. The site’s remoteness was both a blessing and a curse, contributing to its decay and keeping it safe from the kind of predation Angkor was victim to. It wasn’t until the 1950s that French archaeologists recognized Koh Ker’s historical significance and paid regular attention to it. In 1965, the site was explored and documented by Madeleine Giteau, curator of the National Museum, who found it exceptionally well-preserved with the statues and structures virtually untouched. When a French archaeologist returned two years later, he found looting had already begun, thanks in large part to the construction of a new road which made the removal of artifacts to Thailand for sale more practical. Political upheaval and spillover from the Vietnam War put a lot of local armed insurgent groups and foreign fighters in the area and made looting antiquities to sell for hard cash a particularly attractive prospect.
According to an amended complaint from the United States Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York, the statue of Duryodhana was cut off its base in around 1972 by an organized network of looters and sold to a dealer in Bangkok. There it was purchased by Douglas Latchford, the same collector of Khmer art who donated the bodies of both Kneeling Attendants and one of their heads to the Met, who arranged for the illegal export of the statue to the London auction house of Spink & Son, the same auction house from which he either bought the Kneeling Attendants directly or acted as a front for the Met to buy them from, depending on whose story you believe. Spink & Son sold Duryodhana to a Belgian collector in 1975. The widow of said collector, Decia Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa, consigned the statue to Sotheby’s for sale in 2010.
Duryodhana became the centerpiece of Sotheby’s Asian sale in March of 2011. He was on the cover of the catalog and was extolled as a unique and exceptional example of Khmer artistry. Just hours before it was to go on the block, Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An sent a letter to the auction house officially requesting the return of the statue as an artifact illegally exported from Cambodia. Sotheby’s withdrew its flagship artifact, estimated to sell for $3 million – $4 million, from the sale. For a year after the first blocked sale attempt, Sotheby’s negotiated with the government of Cambodia to arrange a private sale. Hungarian art collector Istvan Zelnik volunteered to buy the statue for $1 million and donate it to Cambodia.
The talks fell through — Sotheby’s claimed it was the Department of Homeland Security’s fault because they pressured the Cambodian government not to agree to the sale so they could get all the kudos for a diplomatic arrangement; the US Attorney said it was Sotheby’s fault because they turned down the million dollar offer — and in April of 2012, the U.S. Attorney filed a civil suit in federal court seeking forfeiture of the statue on Cambodia’s behalf. Sotheby’s denied strenuously that there was sufficient evidence to prove the statue was looted (even though its matching feet are still in place in Koh Ker), denied knowing all along that it was stolen (even though there’s a long email discussion between the auction house and an expert they contracted to write up the statue before sale in which the expert underscores that it was recently removed from the temple but ultimately suggests they go ahead with the sale because her Cambodian sources say they have no interest in contesting it) and denied that there’s even an applicable law in Cambodian that makes the export of 1,000-year-old Khmer statues illegal.
On Thursday, December 12th, truce was called. Sotheby’s, Decia Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa and the federal government have come to an agreement and I’d say it’s a big win for Cambodia, although as so often happens everyone still gets to deny having willfully trafficked in stolen antiquities.
The Belgian woman who had consigned it for sale in 2011 will receive no compensation for the statue from Cambodia, and Sotheby’s has expressed a willingness to pick up the cost of shipping the 500-pound sandstone antiquity to that country within the next 90 days.
At the same time, lawyers from the United States Attorney’s Office in Manhattan who had been pursuing the statue on Cambodia’s behalf agreed to withdraw allegations that the auction house and the consignor knew of the statue’s disputed provenance before importing it for sale.
The accord said the consignor, Decia Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa, who had long owned the statue, and Sotheby’s had “voluntarily determined, in the interests of promoting cooperation and collaboration with respect to cultural heritage,” that it should be returned.
Andrew Gully, a spokesman for Sotheby’s, said the auction house was gladdened that “the agreement confirms that Sotheby’s and its client acted properly at all times.”
Oh yes, ever so properly. At all times. And ever so voluntary too. It just took them two years and a federal court case to volunteer.
Now we’ll see if the last domino falls: the Norton Simon Art Foundation in Pasadena which owns Duryodhana’s counterpart, Bhima.
One of the most famous masterpieces of Hellenistic sculpture, The Dying Gaul, has taken its first trip abroad since 1816 when it returned to Rome from 20 years’ exile in Paris, a sentence suffered by so much of Italy’s historical patrimony at Napoleon’s grasping hand. It is on view through March 16th, 2014, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., star of its own exhibition, The Dying Gaul: An Ancient Roman Masterpiece from the Capitoline Museum, Rome. The sculpture has been beautifully situated in a rotunda modeled after the Pantheon in Rome, underneath a banner with a detail of Giovanni Paolo Panini’s Ancient Rome, a capriccio, aka a fantasy scene in which all of ancient Rome’s greatest art and architecture is on display in a single gallery with The Dying Gaul in the left foreground.
This exhibition is the only time the masterpiece has ever been to the United States and it won’t be traveling to any other museums. If you want to see this incredible portrait of mortally wounded strength and nobility, you have three months to get to D.C.
The Dying Gaul is a 1st or 2nd century A.D. marble copy of what was probably a Hellenistic bronze original made between 230 B.C. and 220 B.C. to celebrate the victory of King Attalus I of Pergamon over the Celtic tribes of Galatia, an area of central Anatolia, now in Turkey. Gauls had immigrated there from Thrace after their invasion of the Balkans in 279 B.C. They had a reputation as fierce warriors and often sold their soldiering services to the squabbling factions of Asia Minor. Attalus’ defeat of them was considered a great victory because of their reputed strength in battle and the theme of defeated Gauls, stoic and powerful to the end, became a popular motif in Hellenistic art for several decades.
Pliny mentions in his Natural History that Epigonus, court sculptor to the Attalid kings of Pergamon, created a group of bronze sculptures of dying Gauls to decorate the terrace of the Temple of Athena Nikephoros in honor of Attalus’ victory. The original Dying Gaul is thought to have been one of them, as is the original of Gaul Killing Himself and His Wife. The Roman copies of both of those pieces were documented for the first time on the November 2nd, 1623, inventory of the Ludovisi collection. The estate of the powerful papal Ludovisi family corresponded with the famed Gardens of Sallust, a property outside of Rome that had once belonged to Julius Caesar and was later purchased by the Roman historian Sallust who made it into a lush garden so beautiful it was confiscated by Roman emperors and maintained for centuries as a public garden.
When the Ludovisi family began building their complex on the grounds in the early 17th century, they dug up Roman sculptures in impressive quantities and even more impressive quality. (See this entry for more about the Ludovisi collection and its painful dispersion in the 19th century.) The Dying Gaul, then thought to be a dying gladiator, was recognized as a masterpiece right away. Artist Ippolito Buzzi restored it with a comparatively light hand, more modest and respectful of the original than many of the other 17th and 18th century restorations. On March 29th, 1737, Pope Clement XII bought The Dying Gaul for 6,000 scudi, a huge amount at the time, and installed it in the Capitoline Museums.
There it remained for 60 years until Napoleon stepped into the picture. By the terms of the Treaty of Tolentino, the 1797 peace treaty between Directory France and the Papal States, all the art French troops had looted became official French property. the treaty also gave French officials the untrammeled right to literally walk into any building in the territory and pick whatever they wanted to send back to France. Napoleon had experts on the scene to ensure Italy’s greatest treasures would become France’s for the duration of his rule. After Napoleon’s final defeat, the Tolentino plunder was returned to Italy.
The timing was perfect for The Dying Gaul to seduce the flocks of Romantic artists and Grand Tourists. Lord Byron wrote about him in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (Canto IV, Stanza CXL) just two years after the statue’s return to the Capitoline Museum.
I see before me the Gladiator lie:
Many literary luminaries followed in his wake. Mark Twain gave The Dying Gaul a rare unsarcastic positive review in Innocents Abroad. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun opens on the sculpture. Henry James called it the “lion of the collection” in The Portrait of a Lady. The Gaul even gets a passing reference in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations (bottom of the page here).
Because one of the greatest works of ancient art surviving doesn’t budge unless compelled by terms of sale or at bayonet-point, copies of The Dying Gaul are in museums, institutions of higher learning and private collections all over the world. Smugglerius is my personal favorite. Until his debut at the NGA last Thursday, that was as close as anybody outside of Italy was going to get to seeing him.
Seventeen hundred years or so before the Majapahit Empire made the first piggy banks, the Messapii people in the heel of Italy were making baby bottles shaped like pigs. An excavation this May in Manduria, a town about 20 miles east of Taranto in the region of Puglia, unearthed a cut rock tomb painted with ocher, red and blue bands dating to around 4th century B.C. Inside the eight by four-foot tomb were the remains of two adults and approximately 30 funerary artifacts including an iron knife blade, pottery plates, vases, statuettes and three gutti, vessels with narrow necks and small openings from which liquids could be poured slowly, even in drops.
Gutti were used for pouring libations in sacrifices, to oil up bodies before scraping with a strigil and as baby bottles. Two of them were fairly plain, as is customary with gutti, but the third was shaped like an adorable piggy. Discovered completely intact, the piggy guttus has pointy ears and painted on human-like eyes with long, sweet eyelashes outlined in white. The elongated, slender snout is pierced at the end. That’s what the baby nursed from. It served another function too. Inside the pig’s body are small pieces of terracotta that made the pig a rattle once all the milk was finished. Feed the baby, then rattle him to sleep. It’s a clever combination and an extremely rare one.
Despite the presence of two baby bottles, one baby bottle/rattle and two female figurines characteristic of burials of young girls in Messapii graves, no infant remains were found. It’s possible that one of the adults was pregnant when she died and was poignantly buried with the artifacts she’d accumulated in expectation. It’s also possible that an infant was buried there but her delicate bones have disintegrated over time. The tomb is almost certainly familial, in keeping with Messapian custom.
Objects such as a black painted basin and an iron blade of a knife suggest a male burial, while a strong clue for a female burial came from a special Messapian pottery vase called trozzella. Featuring four little wheels at the tops of its handle, versions of the vase are often found in the graves of Messapian women.
“Analysis of the funerary objects and their context suggest that the two burials followed one another in the Hellenistic period, between the end of the fourth and the third-second centuries B.C.,” Alessio said.
This is the second largest Messapian tomb found in Manduria, which is notable because the town was an important city in the Messapii dodecapolis, a confederation of 12 cities which, while ruled by their own individual kings, came together for self-defense or in case of other need. The need arose pretty frequently, thanks to their frequent battles with, among others, the Greek colonists of Tarentum (now Taranto), although they had cordial trading relationships with other cities of Magna Grecia. Messapian fighters were renown for their cavalry and archery. Archidamus III, King of Sparta from 360 B.C. to 338 B.C., felt Messapian strength most keenly when he died at the walls of Manduria while aiding Tarentum in its war against several local Italic tribes.
The Messapii were conquered by Rome in 280 B.C. Their Indo-European language died out and was replaced by Latin and Greek. Inscriptions have survived but the language is still not fully translated.
Metal detectorist Morten Kris Nielsen was exploring a farmer’s field near Spentrup on the Danish peninsula of Jutland when he found a gold fibula, a brooch used to fasten a cloak. Without even cleaning it, Nielsen brought it directly to archaeologist Benita Clemmensen at the Museum of Jutland. He was sure there was more where that came from, so that same day he returned to the find site and unearthed a second piece of the fibula and two crescent-shaped gold pendants with stylized birds’ heads at each end of the crescents. Museum archaeologists then excavated the spot and found another eight gold pendants, four of them in bird patterns, and a gold ring.
The archaeologists found that this small but extremely rare and valuable hoard was deposited in a bog, probably as a religious sacrifice, in the early 6th century A.D. Because Nielsen was so conscientious in reporting his finds without so much as rinsing them off, museum experts were able to find traces of dissolved glass in some of the many intricate channels of the fibula. There are surviving red semi-precious stones thought to be garnets on the piece, and the remains of a yellowish-green mass which may be glass.
The total gold weight of the hoard is 35 grams which is relatively modest, but the quality of the pieces is thoroughly immodest. The fibula is eight centimeters (just over three inches) long and is made out of a gold sheet wrapped around a clay core. The surface is festooned in tiny gold circles. Even tinier beads of gold like strands of pearls follow the edge of every section of the piece. In the second fragment of the fibula — a circle with stones or glass between spokes — there’s a gold waffle pattern underneath the stone settings that is reminiscent of some of the garnet pieces from the Staffordshire Hoard (see this hilt fitting, for instance).
On the bottom section of the buckle is a bird, outlined in gold with the tail, head, body and beak formed by inset red stones. The eye of the bird is cut into the middle of the head’s stone. Archaeologists think the fibula’s bird and the bird heads on six of the pendants probably represent ravens, important figures in Norse mythology (Odin had a pair named Huginn and Muninn who brought him news of the world every day) that are common motifs on jewelry from this period and later.
According to National Museum of Denmark archaeologist Peter Vang Petersen, only a few large gold fibulae of this type have been found in Denmark. They were made locally out of Roman gold with semi-precious stones imported from Scandinavia and Central Europe. This was high craftsmanship. The woman whose cloak this held together had to have been immensely wealthy and important, and the fact that she was able to sacrifice such riches suggests that she was wealthy beyond the mean of the Spentrup area which has never seen a treasure find like this before.
As for why she might have felt compelled to sacrifice such valuable pieces, it’s because the Norse gods preferred gold, not surprisingly, and when circumstances were grim, that was the kind of sacrifice you’d make. This period, the early sixth century, in the middle of the turbulent Migration Period, saw a great many gold votive deposits. On top of the political upheaval and mass movement of populations, the first half of the sixth century saw a climactic disruption that is recorded by historians from the Byzantine Empire to China to the Middle East to Europe. Probably as the result of a volcanic eruption, in 535-6 there was no summer and the sun’s rays were wan like during an eclipse. Famine, crop failure, freezing rivers followed, an unending winter that was a sure sign to the Norse that Ragnarok, the apocalyptic Twilight of the Gods, was nigh.
The Mosegård Church Hoard, as the gold has been dubbed because of its find site near the church, is on display at the Museum of East Jutland in Randers until December 19th, 2013, after which it will move to the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen where it will be part of its Treasure Trove exhibition opening in January.
Last year, an intriguing new clue to the fate of the lost colony of Roanoke was found hidden under a patch on a 16th century map of Chesapeake Bay. The map in question was drawn by artist, cartographer and governor John White who founded the settlement on Roanoke Island that so famously disappeared when he was overseas attempting to secure supplies for them. It’s called La Virginea Pars (a partial map of the Virginia territory) and it is an impressively accurate survey of the east coast of North America from present-day Cape Henry, Virginia, to Cape Lookout, North Carolina. Originally made for Sir Walter Raleigh around 1585, the map has been owned by the British Museum since the mid-18th century.
There are two patches on the map, one at the southern end over the coast of what is today Pamlico Sound, the other on the northern part of the map where the Roanoke and the Chowan Rivers meet on Albemarle Sound. Adding paper patches to the maps to correct errors was common practice at the time so nobody thought much of it until last year when Dr. Brent Lane of the First Colony Foundation asked the museum to investigate them. He was researching the location of the Algonkian village of Secotan noted on White’s map and it occurred to him there might be some relevant information hidden under the patches.
Because the patches are original and were thoroughly glued in place by White, they cannot be removed without damaging the map. The British Museum therefore used a variety of imaging techniques including transmitted visible light (shine a light through the map in a light box), infrared and ultraviolet. They found that the southern patch was indeed covering an earlier, less accurate drawing of the coastline, as expected. The northern patch, on the other hand, was obscuring a large four-pointed star outlined in blue and filled in red. There was also a small red circle on the coast to the right of lozenge.
The First Colony Foundation historians believe the four-pointed star marked the location of a fort whose presence was a military secret, hence the cover-up in case the map fell into unfriendly hands. This is highly significant to the question of the Lost Colony because there are contemporary reports from the Jamestown colonists that the fleeing colonists were sighted in the Albemarle Sound area.
A quick recap of how the colony got lost: In 1587, Raleigh, holder of the Virginia land patent, assigned White the task of assembling settlers for a permanent colony in the Chesapeake Bay area. Unlike the previous expedition by Sir Ralph Lane in 1585, this colony was meant to be self-sustaining and thus included women and children. Among them was John White’s daughter Eleanor and her husband Ananias Dare. The new colony of 118 souls was established on Roanoke Island in late July 1587. They used the buildings left behind by the Lane expedition and built new ones. Just a couple of weeks later, on August 18th, 1587, Virgina Dare was born to Eleanor and Ananias. She was the first English child born in North America.
Her grandfather tried to make friends with the local Native Americans, but they weren’t having it. There was still tension leftover from their encounters with the Lane group and they were in no mood to sustain more hapless English who had arrived too late to plant any crops. Realizing they would have a hideous time of it once the ship supplies ran out, White left Roanoke in late August to return to England for fresh supplies. He arrived in November but was unable to turn right back around. Then there was the small matter of the Spanish Armada and subsequent brouhahas that made his return trip impossible for two more years.
When he finally landed on Roanoke in August of 1590, he found the island deserted. The colonists had built a fort and on an entrance post they left behind White’s only clue to where they might have gone: the word “CROATOAN.” This was the name of a friendly Indian tribe and the name of an island 50 miles south of Roanoke (today known as Hatteras Island) that they inhabited. John White searched for them for a short while, but weather prevented him from reaching Hatteras and when he started to run out of food and water, White was compelled to return to England. White never saw his daughter and granddaughter again. Nobody that we know of ever saw any of them again.
Later colonists, like those at Jamestown in 1607, looked for the Roanoke settlers. For centuries there have been rumors of east coast Indians with blue eyes and English-sounding words, but hard evidence of where they went has been nonexistent. They weren’t all slaughtered on the spot as the colony buildings appear to have been broken down in an orderly fashion. The likeliest scenario is that they broke up into small groups and sought shelter with local tribes none of which could have supported 119 people on their own.
The discovery that there may have been a fort on Albemarle Sound increases the possibility that the Roanoke colonists moved west inland rather than south to Croatoan Island. It was a much shorter and less treacherous trip and the location at the mouth of two well-trafficked rivers with establish trade routes to other Native American tribes, some of them friendly, would have given the displaced settlers a variety of options.
Archaeologists couldn’t just pack up their gear and start digging, though, because the spot marked by the X is privately owned. This year researchers got permission to scan the area using magnetometers and ground-penetrating radar.
[Elizabeth City State University research associate Malcolm] LeCompte and his team found a previously undiscovered pattern that indicated the possibility of multiple wooden structures approximately 3 feet underground.
“I don’t know if it’s one or a group [of structures],” he said, adding that they “could be joined or they could be close together.”
The mere presence of the buried structure indicates that there was a colonial presence in the area.
That’s not evidence of Roanoke colonists’ presence in the area, of course. The structure could be the remnants of the fort White documented or of something else entirely. We won’t know what it means until the landowners agree to allow digging and the funds are raised for an archaeological excavation.
Great Lakes shipwreck hunter David Trotter has found the wreck of the Keystone State, a wooden sidewheel steamer that sank into the cold, clear waters of Lake Huron with all 33 hands on board in November of 1861. It was discovered about 50 miles north of Port Austin, the last place it was sighted already in distress, and unlike some of the other 100 shipwrecks Trotter’s team has found which sank straight down and remained virtually intact on the lake floor, much of the Keystone State was found scattered along the bottom. However its most dramatic features — two massive paddle wheels 40 feet in diameter, its engine and two boilers — were standing where they fell in 175 feet of water.
The Keystone State was both a jewel and a workhorse in its day. It was built in Buffalo in 1849, a 288-foot steamship designed for the transportation of rich travelers, poor immigrants and considerable cargo.
It was the second-largest steamship on the Great Lakes at the time and was among a class known as palace steamers, said maritime historian, author and artist Robert McGreevy.
“The interiors were made to look like the finest hotels. They were quite beautiful inside,” he said. “They had leaded glass windows and carved arches and mahogany trim.”
Along with posh accommodations for the wealthy, its steerage had plenty of space for immigrant travelers heading from Buffalo to destinations like Chicago or Milwaukee. Records show the boat also had room for 6,000 barrels of freight.
It was almost passé from the time when it was born, thanks to the advent of the railroads which would soon make canal and lake transportation obsolete, and in 1857 it was taken out of operation because it cost more to run than it could make. With the arrival of the Civil War, the old wooden steamships were pulled out of mothballs because there was profiteering to be done. The Keystone State was refurbished and sent to Detroit to pick up its cargo.
The planned route was hugging the western coast of Lake Huron up to Cheboygan, then crossing the Straits of Mackinac into Lake Michigan and going south to its final destination in Milwaukee. The ship was last seen by witnesses off the coast of Port Austin around November 9th, 1861, then nobody heard or saw anything of it for the next couple of days. Finally some wreckage washed up in Lexington, south of Port Austin closer to where the ship began its journey than where it ended.
This final voyage was a mysterious one. It left in a hurry without any lifeboats. Its cargo manifest claimed it was hauling iron hardware, farm equipment and grain, but who buys that stuff in November in Wisconsin? It’s not exactly prime planting or threshing season. Also, given the inclement weather on the Great Lakes in November, hauling farm gear doesn’t seem like sufficient motivation to brave the journey so late in the year. Rumors quickly sprung up that she was on a secret mission, surreptitiously carrying Civil War arms and munitions or gold bullion or gold coins.
The diving team saw no evidence of mysterious cargo or the gleam of golden treasure in more than 30 dives to the site from July through September of this year. The cargo hold was completely empty, perhaps because the crew dumped its freight in a desperate attempt to save the disabled ship. Thus the mystery of the Keystone State‘s last trip remains unsolved.
Here’s a video describing the significance of the wreck and the discovery. The boat work start around 1:55. You can see the wreck beginning at the three minute mark. Those paddle wheels look magnificent in the crisp blue waters of Lake Huron.
More than 1,600 archaeological bones, mainly Medieval, from collections across the UK have been scanned and digitized to create a rich online database of pathological specimens accessible to all. These bones cannot be seen in person by laypeople because they are restricted to scholarly research. In some cases, they are so fragile that even scientists aren’t allowed to handle them. The Digital Diseases team has used 3D laser scanning, computer tomography scans and high resolution photography to create photo-realistic 3D digital models that visitors to the website will be able to examine at a forensic level of detail that wouldn’t be possible in person.
This record of bones affected by more than 90 pathological conditions like leprosy, bone tumors, tuberculosis, congenital deformations, force trauma both sharp and blunt will be an invaluable resource for medical students, doctors, historians and researchers all over the world who have no access to pathological specimens. The fact that they’re archaeological remains makes them particularly significant because researchers will be able to study the skeletal impact of disease and injury on people who in all likelihood experienced nothing or very little in the way of effective medical intervention. It also gives archaeologists the chance to examine bones taking all the time they need without concern that they won’t be finished before legal reburial requirements kick in.
“We believe this will be a unique resource both for archaeologists and medical historians to identify diseases in ancient specimens, but also for clinicians who can see extreme forms of chronic diseases which they would never see nowadays in their consulting rooms, left to progress unchecked before any medical treatment was available. These bones show conditions only available before either by travelling to see them, or in grainy black and white photographs in old textbooks,” said Andrew Wilson, senior lecturer in forensic and archaeological sciences at the University of Bradford and the lead researcher on the project He added: “I do think members of the public will also find them gripping – they do have what one observer called ‘a grotesque beauty’.”
They’re also just plain interesting. You don’t have to have an aesthetic appreciation of, say, a giant benign bone tumor on a mandible, to find it worth examining and reading about.
The Digital Diseases website officially opens any minute now. It is being launched at an event at the Royal College of Surgeons in London and judging from the project’s Twitter feed, the party has started. The site has a preview on the landing page, but hasn’t gone fully live yet as of this typing. Some images are still missing, some menu links go nowhere, there’s no search function I could find and the home page doesn’t quite exist yet. Still, you can browse categories and click on some examples for more details. Once it is live, visitors will be able to examine bone models in 3D via their web browsers or to download them to their smartphone or tablet device.
The project’s blog is a good place to start right now while the site is still being tinkered with. During the course of the two years spent digitizing the specimens, team members have been blogging about their efforts and particularly interesting bone pathologies they’ve encountered. Take a look at the big hole in this right femur.
That’s some gunshot wound. There’s no date on it (I’m sure once the site is functioning we can find that info there), but judging from the big round hole, that was ball shot, like from a musket. Amazingly, the bone is healed, so the injury did not prove to be fatal.
This vertebral column and ribs is an example of advanced ankylosing spondylitis, a chronic inflammatory arthritis that can eventually result in fusion of the spine. That’s what has happened here. Even the ribs have fused to the vertebrae via the ossification of the ligaments attaching them to the spine. Galen first documented some symptoms as distinct from rheumatoid arthritis in the second century A.D., but it wasn’t until the late 19th century that doctors fully identified the disease.
This skull has played a supporting role in the archaeological story of the year/decade/century, the discovery of the skeletal remains of King Richard III. It once belonged to a man who met a bloody end along with so many others during the War of the Roses at the Battle of Towton on March 29th, 1461, Palm Sunday. Inside a mass grave from the battle discovered in 1996, archaeologists found the full articulated remains of 37 men. This was a highly significant find because often in mass graves the remains are so jumbled up it’s impossible to put individuals back together. Articulated skeletons can tell us much more about the injuries sustained in battle and before.
This skull and other bones from the Battle of Towton grave were used by University of Leicester osteologist Dr. Jo Appleby to compare wounds with the skull of the scoliotic skeleton found at the Greyfriars dig site. Richard III and this anonymous but not forgotten fellow both fought and died in the same war, albeit more than 20 years apart (Richard was killed at the Battle of Bosworth on August 25th, 1485). To confirm that the Richard III candidate’s extensive head wounds properly fit the period’s weapons and battle tactics, Dr. Appleby and Bob Woosnam-Savage, Senior Curator of European Edged Weapons at the Royal Armouries, examined the Towton skull’s peri-mortem weapon injuries. As we now know, they were found to be compatible.
The Digital Diseases database will make that kind of work possible on a far vaster scale since most people in the world aren’t able to visit these collections in person.
When the life-sized clay statue of the Buddhist deity Shukongojin was made for the Todaiji Temple in Nara, southeastern Japan, in 733 A.D., it was painted in vibrant colors and liberally gilded. Although much of the polychromy has been lost over time, there’s still an unusual amount of color paint and gilding surviving on the surface. So much has pigment has survived because Shukongojin is a hidden god — he is extra powerful because he is kept behind closed doors at all times and only revealed to the public one day a year — and has therefore been protected from exposure to the elements and our various emanations and effluvia.
The particularly great state of preservation of this oldest Shukongojin figure in the country has made it possible to extrapolate what the whole statue looked like when it was new 1,280 years ago. Researchers from the Tokyo University of the Arts and the Tokyo University of Science spent two years studying the statue to detect trace pigment remnants and recreating the original colors digitally.
The result is as striking in 8th century clay as it is in first century marble:
Gold was an indicator of divinity in Japanese Buddhist iconography, while red symbolized the quelling of demons and protection from illness. Shukongojin is a protector deity, the thunderbolt-bearing guardian of the laws of Buddhism and its faithful. His furious expression, crowned in bright red hair, and his thunderbolt ready to strike ward off the evil spirits who would bedevil the devoted at prayer in the temple. He was originally an Indian deity, one of the vajrapani or thunderbolt-holders who were said to have been personal guardians of the historical Buddha. His thunderbolt broke everything it was flung at while being itself unbreakable, a symbol of faith’s ability to destroy evil without being damaged by the encounter.
The bright colors and elaborate adornment served a political function as well. Emperor Shomu (reigned 724-749 A.D.) saw the establishment of government-controlled Buddhist temples and shrines as a means to unify and protect the country. His reign had been plagued with rebellions, smallpox outbreaks and crop failures. In 743, he issued an edict requiring people to help build temples and shrines in every province, with Todaiji as the head of all provincial temples. He believed a new, widespread piety would appeal to the Buddha and spare the country further disasters. Shukongojin, with his full armour, gold shine, blinding colors and powerful intensity of expression, was modeled after depictions of Chinese guardian generals. His role is religious, but his intimidating presence and elaborately decorated outfit are meant to convey the protection of a unified faith, already well-established in India and China, a protection inextricably linked to the emperor’s government at this time.
This particular Shukongojin has another connection to the early history of Buddhism in Japan. According to the Nihon Ryoiki, the oldest collection of Buddhist myths and legends in Japan (it dates to the late 8th/early 9th centuries), the monk Roben, second patriarch of the Kegon school of Buddhism and founder of the Todaiji Temple, was helped in the creation of the temple by a magical sculpture of Shikkongoushin. Tradition has it that this is that very Shikkongoushin who supported Roben’s work. It was first made for the Kinshoji, the temple Roben established in 733 a decade before the emperor ordered construction of Todaiji. The former Kinshoji is now the Hokkedo (Lotus Hall), the oldest building in the Todaiji temple complex, and is still Shikkongoushin’s home today.
A cast iron Mr. Peanut who once stood debonair watch on the fence post of a Planters factory will now stand debonair watch at the National Museum of American History. It was donated by Kraft Foods, which acquired the Planters brand when it bought Nabisco in 2000, and will be part of the museum’s upcoming American Enterprise exhibition which opens in 2015. Mr. Peanut will adorn the exhibition’s Marketing Moments section, as suits so iconic a brand logo.
“American advertising has gone through a tremendous transformation since the early years of the nation,” said John Gray, director of the museum. “But while it has become a high-tech industry deeply affecting the American experience, icons like Mr. Peanut demonstrate the resilience of branding and the use of spokes-characters throughout much of that transformation.”
It’s fitting that an exhibition on the history of American business should prominently feature the work of two first-generation Italian immigrants and one second-generation. The Planters Peanut Company was founded in 1906 by 29-year-old Amedeo Obici, an immigrant who had left his hometown of Oderzo, 40 miles northeast of Venice, when he was just 11 years old to join his uncle in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He worked at a cigar factory making 80 cents a week while he learned English going to night school. A year later he moved to Wilkes-Barre where he worked at a fruit stand that also sold roasted peanuts.
This inspired the young Amedeo to get a fruit stand of his own with a peanut cart and a cheap roaster that he modified himself from scrapyard parts. He added a steam whistle so his cart would go off like a tea kettle when the roasting was done and an automated stirring mechanism which allowed him to focus on his customers without concern that the peanuts would burn. Showing an early understanding of marketing that would soon blossom into the dandiest of anthropomorphic peanuts, Obici called himself “The Peanut Specialist” and was soon doing very brisk business from the back of a horse-drawn wagon. By the time he was 18 years old in 1895, Amedeo had saved enough money to bring his mother and siblings to live with him in the United States and still had money left over to buy his own restaurant that specialized in roasted nuts and, weirdly, oyster stew.
There he experimented further with the roasting process. He added salt — can you imagine the days before peanuts were a salty snack? — and, since salt sticks better to peeled and skinned peanuts, started blanching them first to remove their outerwear before roasting them in oil and salting them. He also made chocolate-covered peanuts to cover all bases, savory and sweet.
It was when he joined forces with his future brother-in-law Mario Peruzzi that the Planters we know today was born. Peruzzi invented a superior process for blanching and roasting whole peanuts. When the Planters Peanut Company opened its doors in 1906, their focus was on quality. Obici wanted to elevate the lowly peanut, then considered animal feed, or at best for people who couldn’t afford anything better (hence the phrase “peanut gallery,” meaning the distant seats cheap enough for peanut-eaters). That’s why he picked the name “Planters,” because the thought it redolent of the landed aristocracy.
The company was successful, its product genuinely superior to many of its competitors’. To cut out the middlemen and decrease exorbitant transportation costs, in 1913 Obici moved the main peanut processing factory to Suffolk, Virginia, where the peanut plantations were. That’s where the second-generation Italian comes into the picture. In 1916, annoyed by the many inferior imitations of Planters’ roasted nuts that had sprung up in the wake of their success, the company ran a contest for a new trademark design that would appeal to adults and children alike. The chosen design would win five dollars. The lucky winner was a 13-year-old Suffolk boy by the name of Anthony Gentile. He drew a smiling peanut in the shell with arms, legs and in at least one drawing, a cane. He named it “Mr. P. Nut Planter — from Virginia.”
There is some question as to whether there may have been some bias in the selection. The Italian community in Suffolk was small and it’s highly unlikely that the Obicis and Gentiles were strangers. They certainly weren’t from that point forward. Amedeo Obici payed Anthony’s way through college and medical school, and he paid for the college education of all of Anthony’s surviving siblings (minus one who didn’t want to go). Anthony Gentile died of a heart attack when he was just 36 years old.
He lives on his immortal creation, however. Obici sent Anthony’s drawings to a commercial artist in Wilkes-Barre to gussy them up for the campaign. The artist, whose name has sadly not come down to us, added the top hat, white gloves, monocle and spats to give Mr. Peanut that classy look Mr. Obici was always keen to project on his modest far. The first official Mr. Peanut made his debut in the April 20th, 1918, issue of the Saturday Evening Post. Notice the focus in the early ads on branding, on the unmistakable identification of the quality genuine Planters peanut versus the pale imitators who have neither the transparent bag nor the Fred Astaire of peanuts to distinguish them. This was the first national advertising campaign for roast salted nuts.
He was a raging success, soon becoming a highly coveted item in his own right thanks to the company’s vast array of promotional products. Cast iron versions like the one now in the Smithsonian decorated Planters factories and along with other such pieces pioneered the practice of outdoor three-dimensional advertising. He was even enlisted in the war effort, appearing butched up and stripped of all his fancy accessories on one of the greatest of all World War II propaganda posters issued by the Department of Agriculture to promote the many uses of peanuts in wartime.
To this day Mr. Peanut remains highly collectible and widely beloved. Planters ran an online poll in 2006 asking which new accessory — bow tie, cufflinks or pocketwatch — Mr. Peanut should don and all were rejected in favor of keeping him just as he is.
For more about the National Museum of American History’s American Enterprise exhibition, see its dedicated website. It has an overview of the show and some interesting articles like this one about the history of pawnshops and their symbol.
Two large Neolithic wood tridents of unknown purpose have gone on display in the Tullie House Museum’s Border Gallery The artifacts were donated to the Carlisle museum, which is currently also hosting the spectacular Crosby-Garret Helmet, by the Cumbria County Council which owned the land on which they were found. The museum is delighted by the donation as it would have been hard pressed to afford them on the open market.
The tridents were discovered in 2009 during an archaeological survey in advance of the construction of the Carlisle Northern Development Route. They found such an incredible bonanza of Neolithic and Mesolithic artifacts that the excavation intended to last three mounts wound up taking three years to complete. Mesolithic flints alone were found in staggering numbers: 1,500 buckets of earth were sieved every week, a total of 270,000 liters of soil, in which around 314,000 stone pieces were discovered, including used tools and waste flakes. The site, an island between two paleochannels, was a major production center for stone tools in the late Mesolithic.
Its location in the flood plain of the River Eden also saw to the preservation of organic materials, thanks to the archaeologists’ best friend (because of how it preserves perishable remains) and worst enemy (because of the painful digging conditions requiring constant pumping and rubber trousers): waterlogged soil. Among many wooden artifacts retrieved from the watery pit were the two tridents. Carved out of a single piece of mature oak (the three was approximately 300 years old when felled), the tridents are two meters (six feet) long and have three straight-sided tines, although one tine is broken off on the most complete example and two tines are missing altogether on the other.
Radiocarbon dating of the sapwood at the outer edges of the trident revealed they date to between 3,900 and 3,300 B.C. Whoever carved those tridents from a mature hardwood only had stone tools to do the job. They must have been extremely difficult pieces to craft. Judging from the placement of the complete trident — the broken tine was carefully tucked beneath it — they weren’t simply discarded.
Unlike modern pitchforks, where the tines split from the haft is a horizontal step of sorts which adds to the mystery of what these tridents were used for. They were too heavy and blunt for use as fishing spears or digging forks. The tines could have been wrapped in skins and used as paddles, but this too is a far from ideal design for the task. Also, there’s also no evidence of use, no wear patterns, no chips or gouges.
There are only six of these rare pieces known to exist, and the other four were all discovered in the 19th century, two in Cumbria after the draining of Ehenside Tarn in the 19th century (find published in 1873), the other two in a peat bog in County Armargh, Ireland (published in 1857). Now that two more have been found in Cumbria again, archaeologists are wondering if there was some trade or cultural link between the Neolithic Cumbrians and the people in Neolithic Northern Ireland.
Andrew Mackay, Head of Collections & Programming at Tullie House said: “These tridents are so rare that they of national importance so it is a great thrill to have them available to show to the visitors of Tullie House. We are very keen to canvass opinion on what they might be so I’d like to encourage everyone to come and see them and let us know what they think.”
For more about the excavation and to browse tons of pictures of the finds, see Oxford Archaeology North’s fantastic website about the project.
A limestone head of Jupiter unearthed at the Earith quarry near Colne Fen in Cambridgeshire, eastern England, has been donated to Cambridge University’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The sculpture dates to between the 2nd and 4th centuries A.D. and was discovered during 10 years of excavations (1997 – 2007) done by the Cambridge Archaeological Unit. It was donated to the museum by Hanson Aggregates, the owners of the quarry, and will go on display starting December 10th.
The sculpture’s rough appearance belies its historical significance. It is considered one of the finest Roman sculptures ever discovered in East Anglia.
Imogen Gunn, 33, collections manager for archaeology at the museum, said: “There’s a relatively small corpus of Roman sculpture from this area and this is definitely one of the best.
“And it’s always nice to be able to display things that are found locally – it always grabs people.”
Carved out of non-local limestone from Upwell in Norfolk, this Jupiter was once part of a larger monument. You can see a pair of paws perched above the cornice. Experts believe there was a lion, griffin or sphinx there once, but extensive excavation of the find site recovered no further fragments of the piece that might illuminate its full scope. That suggests the Jupiter section was brought to the area after it had already been separated from the rest of the monument.
Even as a fragment it would have been an expensive piece. It was probably reused as a funerary monument at The Camp Ground, telegraphing the wealth and importance of the deceased. Skeletal remains were discovered close by, but there’s no way of knowing if they were associated with the Earith Jupiter.
It was discovered at a site called The Camp Ground, in Roman times an inland port on the Car Dyke canal system with a settlement of 50 to 200 people on the edge of the marshy Fens. This was a large village for a Fenland community, probably a market center where people from neighboring farms came to sell, buy and trade their produce and stock. Because the canal system gave them access to the rest of the country and, via its link to the sea, lands foreign as well, a Norfolk limestone carving could easily, albeit not cheaply, have made its way to Earith over water.
On an unrelated note, museum volunteers made an amusing discovery while going through a collection of more than 1,000 animal bones found in a fish pond in the nearby town of St Neots in 1961. One of the bones, a bovine shoulder blade dating to the 16th century, had “I absolutely hate bones!” scribbled on it in marker along with an irate stick figure with a beehive hairdo and a skirt stamping her feet and making a hand gesture that looks distinctly like flipping the bird.
Ms Gunn said: “We have more than 1,000 bones from this dig. They would all have to be washed and marked with a site number and site code. There’s quite a lot of admin. You can see how that would start to get very boring. I’ve certainly felt that way, but I’ve never scribbled it on to a bone!” [...]
Ms Gunn added: “This is now the most interesting thing about these bones. It adds to their story.”
Excavations at Riparo Bombrini, a collapsed rock shelter in the Balzi Rossi Paleolithic site complex in Liguria, near the Italian-French border, have revealed that the Neanderthals who lived there for thousands of years in the late Middle Paleolithic organized their living spaces much like modern humans. (The full paper published in the Canadian Journal of Archaeology can be read gratis here.) Many researchers have identified clearly structured and patterned uses of space as a marker of modern human behavior, but some recent discoveries of Neanderthal dwellings have cast doubt on that classification. The Riparo Bombrini finds provide extensive evidence that the Neanderthals of the Late Mousterian era (the oldest there date to around 45,000 years ago) compartmentalized the space by usage.
There are three main groupings of Mousterian occupation levels in the rock shelter. These are palimpsests, to be clear, composites of varied dates within a range, not individually dated occupation levels. The top level (labeled Level MS) appears to have been a task site likely dedicated to the slaughter, butchering and perhaps skin processing of game. Researchers found a dense concentration of animal bones in the top level towards the back of the shelter, the densest anywhere on the site. They also found abundant evidence of ochre in the same area. They don’t know what it was used for, but it has several work applications — tanning, gluing — or it could have had some ritual purpose.
The middle group (Levels M1-M5) was a long-term logistical base camp, as evidenced by a high density of animal bones, shells from edible shellfish and stone tools in the front of shelter’s mouth and a hearth at the back bounded by a clear area. The occupants appear to have done all the work that might result in irritating or dangerous debris at the mouth of the shelter and kept the back of the shelter, where people slept and socialized around the fire, clean.
Researchers believe the bottom group (Levels M6-M7) served as a short-term base camp. Unlike the other levels, here the remains of fauna are sparse while lithic debris (fragments of stone chipped away in the making and use of tools) is relatively dense. There is more stone debris just inside the shelter than outside in these levels, an indication that the area was used for temporary work stints, like for making tools, in the opening of the shelter where sunlight would have been most plentiful. It could also have been used as a dump site of sorts, to contain potentially dangerous discards like sharp flint fragments.
“This is ongoing work, but the big picture in this study is that we have one more example that Neanderthals used some kind of logic for organizing their living sites,” [University of Colorado Denver anthropologist Julien] Riel-Salvatore said. “This is still more evidence that they were more sophisticated than many have given them credit for. If we are going to identify modern human behavior on the basis of organized spatial patterns, then you have to extend it to Neanderthals as well.”
Interestingly, Riel-Salvatore’s team published a study in 2011 that found no differentiation in the spatial patterning of artifacts in the Mousterian levels of Riparo Bombrini. This time around they analyzed the data considering mobility strategies of the hominids using the space and the size of the excavated areas and the piles of shells, bones and stones revealed themselves to have clear patterns. It’s important for the study of other Neanderthal sites going forward because it gives researchers an approach that might expose spatial patterning that went unnoticed in earlier explorations.
Riparo Bombrini also has the advantage of having been used by a later hominid group from the Aurignac culture (45,000 to 35,000 years ago), the early modern humans who made some of the earliest known examples of figurative art (like Lion Man and the Chauvet cave paintings). The research team plans to examine the Aurignacian levels for spatial patterning as well, which will allow them to compare Neanderthal and homo sapiens usage of the same space, thereby ruling out differences in site form and structure as a reason for any differences between the two.
Yesterday the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, blew out 250 candles on its metaphoric cake. Built between 1759 and 1763 by English architect Peter Harrison, it was the second synagogue constructed in what would become the United States. The first was built in 1730 for the Congregation Shearith Israel on Mill Street in lower Manhattan, but that was demolished in 1818 to make room for a larger synagogue on the same spot leaving the Touro Synagogue the oldest synagogue in the country. It is now the only surviving synagogue from the colonial era.
Newport had had a small but vibrant Jewish community since the first 15 families arrived from Barbados in 1658. These were Spanish and Portuguese Jews, a subset of Sephardic Jews descended from conversos, forced converts to Christianity under the Inquisition who reverted to their ancestral Judaism when they left Spain and Portugal for more tolerant pastures, including colonies in South America and the West Indies. The Shearith Israel congregation was established in New Amsterdam against the strident wishes of Governor Peter Stuyvesant thanks to the intervention of Jewish directors of the Dutch West India Company, while Jews were banned from British North America as they had been in all British territory since King Edward I’s Edict of Expulsion in 1290. It was Oliver Cromwell who, in exchange for financing, let them come back almost 400 years later in 1657. That opened the door in the colonies as well, and the Newport Jews were the first to walk through.
They still have to deal with colonial laws that prohibited them from public worship, from holding office and from voting. The Jewish congregations in New York and Rhode Island used their private homes as synagogues for decades until in the laws changed in the first half of the 18th century. The Shearith Israel synagogue was built at the first opportunity to attend to the spiritual needs of the relatively large Manhattan congregation. The smaller Congregation Yeshuat Israel in Newport reached a critical mass of about 70 congregants three decades later and what is now known as the Touro Synagogue was built.
Peter Harrison was a self-taught architect who is known for being the first to introduce Palladian design to colonial America. The elegant exterior of the Newport synagogue has Palladian elements while for the interior he relied on the memory of cantor Isaac Touro, a recent arrival from Amsterdam via the West Indies. He described to Harrison the Sephardic synagogues he had known in Amsterdam and they informed the architects’ design. The Yeshuat Israel synagogue was dedicated on during Chanukah celebrations on December 2nd, 1763.
On the eve of the Revolution, there were an estimated 1,175 Jews in Newport, 300 of them regular attendants at the synagogue. Newport was hard hit by the onset of hostilities. The English took the city in the fall of 1776, confiscating patriot ships, buildings and businesses. Many pro-Independence residents fled to Massachusetts and elsewhere. A few stayed behind at great risk to themselves, among them Isaac Touro and Moses Seixas, an ardent patriot and the founder of the King David Masonic Lodge in Newport, the oldest Jewish lodge in the country. They kept watch over the synagogue which had been commandeered by the British for use as a hospital and public assembly hall. Its usefulness is what kept it intact even as the British demolished a great many colonial Newport structures to burn their wood during the winter.
The British left Newport in 1779 and the ousted patriots began to return to put their homes and businesses back together. In September of 1780, the first post-occupation General Assembly of the State of Rhode Island convened in the synagogue. Ten years later on August 17-18th, 1790, the Congregation Yeshuat Israel played host to President George Washington, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Governor George Clinton of New York, U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Blair of Virginia, and U.S. Congressman William Loughton Smith of South Carolina. Rhode Island had a long tradition of religious tolerance going back to its founder Roger Williams who was banished from Massachusetts for his heretical religious beliefs, so it was the last state to ratify the Constitution on May 29, 1790, and only did so after it was assured that a Bill of Rights would be added. Washington visited Newport, and very pointedly the synagogue, to rally support for the Bill of Rights which was still being debated in the legislatures of Virginia, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Georgia at the time.
At the time of his visit, Moses Seixas was the president of the synagogue. As a fellow high-ranking mason, a civilian hero of the Revolution and the brother of Shearith Israel Congregation’s Rabbi Gershon Mendes Seixas, aka the “patriot rabbi” who was one of 14 religious leaders to officiate at Washington’s 1789 Inauguration, Moses was tasked with delivering a welcome address to the President. His eloquent words in favor of democracy and freedom of conscience and George Washington’s quotation of them in his response have gone down in history as a seminal exchange on the subject of religious freedom at the dawn of the United States.
The key passage from the Seixas address:
Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free Citizens, we now with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all events behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People — a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance — but generously affording to all Liberty of conscience, and immunities of Citizenship: deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue, or language equal parts of the great governmental Machine[.]
On August 21nd, 1790, George Washington sent a letter to the Congregation Yeshuat Israel in response. The oft-quoted passage therefrom:
The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support. [...]
May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.
Washington’s reply, in particular his repetition of Moses Seixas’ phrase, “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance,” has become emblematic of the new nation’s dedication to religious liberty and the separation of church and state. The original manuscript of the address is part of the George Washington Papers in the Library of Congress and the original Washington response belongs to Frederick Phillips of New York, but so important is this exchange that even contemporary newspaper print versions are incredibly valuable. The address and letter were printed in the Gazette of the United States, an early Federal newspaper in Philadelphia, on September 15th, 1790. That page and another from the September 11th, 1790, issue that describes the President’s visit to Newport are going on sale at a Bonhams’ Judaica auction on December 10th. The pre-sale estimate is $80,000 – $100,000.
The Congregation Yeshuat Israel synagogue went through some hard times after Washington’s visit. In 1791 regular services stopped as the once bustling commercial life of Newport slumped and much of the merchant class moved to New York. The Jewish community was reduced to a few longtime residents and regular visitors who returned to attend an occasional holy day service or funeral. The cemetery continued to be used as former residents often asked to be buried in the traditional cemetery of their fathers. It was the Touro family, Isaac’s sons Abraham and Judah, who donated money to fund maintenance on the synagogue and cemetery in their old hometown. In the first half of the 19th century, they both made substantial bequests to the state of Rhode Island for the perpetual care of the Congregation properties. That’s when the synagogue became known as the Touro Synagogue
It wasn’t until the population of Jews in Newport was boosted by Eastern European immigrants in 1883 that the synagogue reopened for regular worship again. Although the Jewish population of Newport is small today — an estimated 200 people — the synagogue’s commitment to its rich history is unflagging and it is visited by thousands of tourists a year. The synagogue holds an annual public reading of George Washington’s famous letter that is so popular you have to make reservations to attend. This year the keynote speaker was Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan who said: “In the early years of the Republic, every word George Washington said was addressed to the larger country, and every aspect of that lesson resonates today as strongly as it did in 1790.”
“When he told me it was an ancient gold ring, it felt like a gift from the underworld,” Lundin told The Local. “It was my magnificent ring. I didn’t want to give it up.”
Because Swedish law requires that any potential archaeological artifact made out of gold, silver, or bronze must be reported to the state, Lundin reported the find to the Swedish National Heritage Board. The finder can keep anything more than a 100 years old, but the state gets first dibs on objects made out of precious metals. If the Board determines that it’s of sufficient historical significance to be of interest to them, the state pays the finder fair market value and keeps the artifact. Lundin didn’t want the money, though. She wanted to keep the ring.
The Board found the object was a 2,000-year-old gold ring from the Roman Iron Age. They wanted to explore the discovery site to see if there were any other pieces from the period in the field.
Lundin discovered the trinket in June 2011, but due to planting seasons the Board was unable to investigate the field until autumn. The research and paperwork took more than two years, but for Lundin it all paid off. After searching the farm for similar artefacts on two separate occasions, the state offered Lundin 11,000 kronor ($1,672) for the ring.
“I guess I knew right away it was special, but I had no idea just how valuable it was,” said Lundin, who confessed she still felt slightly disappointed to lose the ring. “I haven’t decided what to do with the money yet, but it will definitely be something special. Maybe I’ll travel somewhere.”
I love how she grudgingly took the money for it because the state compelled the sale but the treasure was worth so much more to her than its monetary value. In her place, I’d feel exactly the same way.
Lorenzo Ghiberti, the sculptor and goldsmith who created the gilded bronze doors to Florence’s Baptistery of San Giovanni that Michelangelo considered “so beautiful that they would do well for the gates of Paradise”, started out with a more modest assignment. The Arte di Calimala, the cloth importers guild of Florence, held a contest in 1401 to design a new set of doors for the Baptistery that would complement the bronze ones made by Andrea Pisano in 1330. Pisano’s doors graced the east side of the Baptistery in place of pride facing the Duomo, and consisted of 28 barbed quatrefoil panels depicting the life of St. John the Baptist and the eight virtues. Each contestant was given a year to submit a test panel on the subject of The Sacrifice of Isaac.
Vasari describes each submission in his Lives of the Artists and it’s clear that in his opinion Ghiberti’s was superior to everyone’s, including Donatello’s and Jacopo della Quercia’s. The two finalists were the young Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi, future builder of the Duomo’s dome. Ghiberti claims in his autobiography that he was the unanimous winner; Vasari agrees. Brunelleschi’s biographer Antonio Manetti says Giberti and Brunelleschi were both given the assignment but Brunelleschi had no interest in collaborating so he went off to study architecture in Rome and left Ghiberti to do all the work himself.
Ghiberti spent 21 years from 1403 to 1424 crafting his 28 barbed quatrefoil panels depicting the life of Christ, the four evangelists and the Church Fathers. The high relief gilded bronze scenes demonstrated his impressive command of design and casting. The dimension and dynamism of the composition eclipsed the more static, flat designs of Pisano’s making the doors huge hits and the artist famous. Pisano’s doors were moved to the west portal (later moved again to the south portal) and Ghiberti’s new ones took pole position on the east side.
So thrilled was the Calimala organization with the doors, as soon as they were installed the guild commissioned Ghiberti to make a new set. This time they put no conditions on him whatsoever, no need to match the look of the Pisano doors and therefore no need to squeeze 28 small scenes into barbed quatrefoil borders. For this project Ghiberti chose to expand his canvas, dividing the door into 10 large squares that could accommodate his novel vision of several scenes from Old Testament episodes sharing space on the same panel. He used deep perspective and different depths of relief to capture figures in motion, taking full advantage of the architectural space. It took him 27 years to make these doors, his masterpiece, which would become known as the Gates of Paradise.
When complete, they were installed in the east portal. Ghiberti’s first doors were moved to the north portal where they still stand today. Centuries of pollution, vandalism, aggressive polishing and exposure to the elements coated the panels with thick blank gunk and damaged the gilding that remained underneath it. In 1980, experts with the Opificio delle Pietre Dure di Firenze, a public art restoration institute, initiated a long-term plan of study and conservation of the Gates of Paradise. The learning curve was steep; new laser technology even had to be developed to clean the gilding without overheating it. After 27 years of intensive work, the gleaming gold Gates of Paradise were returned to their former splendor and put on display in the Museo dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. (A replica is in place in the Baptistery.)
Now it’s the north doors’ turn. All the hard-learned lessons from the restoration of the Gates of Paradise has drastically decreased the time projected to clean the north doors. In just a few months, already two of the panels, The Baptism of Christ and The Temptation of Christ have gone from black to shiny gold. The remaining 26 panels, the decorative borders, the 47 heads of prophets, sibyls and Ghiberti himself wearing a dashing turban are scheduled to be completed in autumn of 2015, after which they will go on permanent display in a compressed air case next to the Gates of Paradise in the new Museo dell’Opera.
Archaeologists digging in the Maya Devi Temple in Lumbini, Nepal, have unearthed the remains of a timber structure around an open space dating back to the sixth century B.C. which would make it the earliest known Buddhist shrine.
Tradition has it that Lumbini is where Siddhārtha Gautama was born. The Maya Devi Temple is one of four major pilgrimage sites for Buddhists today (the other three are the places of his enlightenment, first discourse, and death as identified by the Buddha in the Parinibbana Sutta) and pilgrims have been visiting the temple as the Buddha’s place of birth since at least the third century B.C. A large stone found in 1996 was installed in the third century B.C. to mark the precise spot.
Buddhist tradition records that Queen Maya Devi, the mother of the Buddha, gave birth to him while holding on to the branch of a tree within the Lumbini Garden, midway between the kingdoms of her husband and parents. Coningham and his colleagues postulate that the open space in the center of the most ancient, timber shrine may have accommodated a tree. Brick temples built later above the timber one also were arranged around the central space, which was unroofed.
To determine the dates of the timber shrine and a previously unknown early brick structure above it, fragments of charcoal and grains of sand were tested using a combination of radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence techniques. Geoarchaeological research has confirmed the presence of ancient tree roots within the temple’s central void.
There is a debate about when the Buddha was born — historians have theorized anywhere between 623 BC and 340 B.C. — and until now, the earliest archaeological evidence of Buddhist temples dates to the reign of Indian Emperor Ashoka (reigned 269 B.C. to 232 B.C.), a convert to Buddhism who built stupas, monasteries and shrines all over his empire. One of them was a brick cross-wall temple at Lumbini, in fact, under whose remains the archaeological team dug to find the earlier shrine.
It was an engraved pillar erected by Ashoka that identified Lumbini after it was lost to the jungle for centuries. In 1896, German archaeologist Dr. Alois Anton Fuhrer (who was later revealed to have been a prolific forger of Buddhist relics) found a 22-foot pillar inscribed “Twenty years after his coronation, Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi [aka Ashoka], visited this place and worshiped because here the Buddha, the sage of the Sakyans, was born. He had a stone figure and a pillar set up and because the Lord was born here, the village of Lumbini was exempted from tax and required to pay only one eighth of the produce.”
Another inscription found higher up on the pillar where pilgrims left their marks in the centuries after Ashoka was made by King Ripu Malla in the early 14th century. Somewhere in the 15th century, the temple stopped drawing pilgrims for unknown reasons and the buildings fell into ruin. The rediscovery of the site in the late 19th century re-established it as an important pilgrimage destination and made excavating down to the earliest levels impossible until recently. Archaeologists dug inside the central temple building as monks and pilgrims prayed around them.
Having said all this, there is no specific evidence that proves this 6th century shrine was dedicated to the Buddha. Tree shrines have a history in South Asia long predating Buddhism, perhaps going as far back as the Neolithic, and in the early days of Buddhism there were other active religions in the mix like Jainism, Brahmanism and local cults. It’s still an exciting find with great potential to elucidate a time we know very little about.
In June of 2003, builder Richard Mason was renovating a home on Lindisfarne, the tidal island also known as the Holy Island because of the 7th century monastery founded by Saint Aidan that brought Christianity to the north of England, when he found a funny old jug while hand digging under a drain pipe. He looked inside, didn’t see anything and tossed it in the back of his van. He stored the jug in his father’s basement and thought nothing of it until Christmas of 2011 when he decided to clean all the mud and muck off of it and give it another look. During the cleaning process, Mason tipped the jar upside down and a little shower of gold and silver coins fell out.
When the holidays were over, Richard brought the jug and its contents to a local historian in his hometown of Rothbury, Northumberland, who referred the find as potential treasure to experts at the British Museum. They determined that the vessel is a Frechen stoneware Bartmann jug from the Rhineland area. It has a brown glaze characteristic of Frechen vessels and its design is of type fabricated between 1551 and 1700. Its contents were deemed treasure trove at a recent coroner’s inquest in Northumberland.
The jug holds 10 gold and seven silver coins ranging in date from the 1430s to the 1560s. They were minted in England, France, Italy, Saxony and the Burgundian Netherlands (Belgium today). Most of the coins are English, four of them from the time of the Great Debasement (1542–1551), when Henry VIII and Edward VI replaced a portion of the precious metals in minted coins with base metals like copper. Even so, the three debased gold coins are still more than 80% fine metal, which is an excellent figure for debased coinage. The rest of the silver and gold coins are over 90% fine.
One the coins stands out as a particular rarity. It’s a scudo from the central Italian city of Ancona and it’s so rare that the Italian coin experts Mason sought out only know of one other similar but not identical example. It bears the Medici crest and the name of Pope Clement VII, aka Giulio de’ Medici. Ancona was an oligarchic republic until 1532 when it became part of the Papal States and Clement died in 1534, so the coin must have been minted inside that two-year window.
The scudo is the most valuable coin in the group and because of its rarity, the most difficult to assess. A silver thaler minted in Annaberg, Saxony, in 1548, is another unusual find in England. The total value of the 17 coins in the 16th century would have been around £6, just over half the yearly pay of the average worker at the time (£10) and just under a seventh of what a gentleman would need to live on (£40).
The Treasure Valuation Committee is currently studying the coins to assess their fair market value. Once they’ve made their determination (the announcement is planned for December 5th), the Great North Museum at Hancock in Newcastle hopes to raise the money and acquire the hoard for permanent display. The finder and the landowner will split the proceeds and the finder will receive something even more precious albeit intangible: the hoard will be named after his family.
When it goes on show, The British Museum will refer to the collection as “The Mason Hoard”. “It’s something to tell the grandbairns about,” said Mr Mason.
“I’m honoured to have the family name attributed to such a find. My dad is in his 70s and he still works with me on the building sites six days a week.
“He volunteers with the local history society and having his name in The British Museum will mean a lot.
The house the Masons were renovating when Richard found the hoard was built in 1962, but underneath it lie the remains of a building from the 14th century. Based on the date of the more recent coin and their overall condition, experts believe the hoard was probably buried around 1562. In a freakish coincidence, another coin hoard from around the same time was buried in the exact same spot. It was 50 silver coins, the latest from 1562, found in a Bartmann jug, no less. It was unearthed by builder Alan Short in 1962 when they installed the drainpipe that Richard Mason dug under to find this hoard. The Great North Museum has the hoard Short found as well.
Not freakish enough a coincidence for you? Here’s another:
Although it was an exciting discovery at the time, it was even more interesting when Mr Mason found himself in the company of Mr Short by sheer coincidence 40 years later.
“We were both working on the same building job,” he said. “We were both sat eating our sandwiches, when we started to talk about the sorts of things we’d found while working on jobs.
“I said I’d dug up a pot filled with coins on a site at Holy Island that was now in a museum and he said he’d dug up a similar pot in almost the same place 40 years earlier. It’s unbelieveable how small a world it is.”