The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut, reopened in September of 2015 after a five-year renovation that fixed structural issues, redesigned all the galleries and storage facilities, updated the climate control systems and technology. The refurbished museum was a huge hit with critics and visitors alike, but people who visited before last October of who stuck to the exhibition galleries have missed a long-lost gem: a 3rd century mosaic floor from Antioch in the Loctite Lobby of the Aetna Theater that was hidden for decades under atrocious convention hall carpeting.
The 13-by-10 foot mosaic is composed of limestone and multicolored glass tiles. A white border with small black stepped diamonds surrounds panels of theatrical masks, male and female, comic and tragic, young and old. Deep cuboids in perspective outline the mask panels. What was once the central panel is now almost entirely gone. Only the bottom left corner depicting a pair of sandaled feet on a footstool survives.
It was discovered in Room 2 of a private dwelling known as the House of the Mysteries of Isis because two of the mosaics in the house show scenes from Isian ritual. It was excavated in the 1930s by an archaeological team led by Princeton University which excavated ancient Antioch (modern-day Antakya, Turkey) from 1932 through 1939. As per the partage system which was customary at the time, the spoils of archaeological digs were divided among interested parties — involved institutions, financial supporters, local government. More than 300 mosaics and untold numbers of artifacts were unearthed during the seven years of Antioch excavations. Princeton’s share is now in the University Art Museum.
The Wadsworth was not one of the interested parties. The mosaic was purchased for $300 in 1940 by Atheneum director Chick Austin and was installed in the theater lobby. It had been raised in two sections back in the 1930s. When they were embedded in the terrazzo floor, the sections were put back together in a configuration that minimized gaps but paid no heed to the original logic and composition of the piece. Then, for reasons unknown and unfathomable today, the whole floor was covered in hideous wall-to-wall carpeting in the 1960s or 70s. Granted, those were dark days for interior decorating, but this seems extreme even for the era of avocado appliances.
“People knew it was there, but as the years went by it was less on everybody’s radar,” conservator Alan Kosanovich said.
Last October, the carpeting was pulled up “to give the lobby a fresher look,” he said. The mosaic and the terrazzo floor surrounding it were revealed. After Kosanovich cleaned and toned the piece, a railing was installed around it. Now, Atheneum visitors can see it, but not walk on it. [...]
The mosaic can be seen by all museum visitors, although those not going to a film screening or a live performance might not think to go to the basement theater to see it. It’s worth a trek down the stairs, to see an intriguing piece of ancient history, which sat ignored for decades under a common carpet.
Getting covered by hideous 1970s motel carpet isn’t the worst treatment received by an Antioch mosaic. In 1951 Princeton installed a small rectangular mosaic, once the border of a larger piece, raised during the university’s Antioch excavations in the vestibule of the Architecture Laboratory. Out in the open where an endless parade of students and faculty tramped on it daily and it was at the mercy of the vagaries of New Jersey weather for decades. You’d think an ancient mosaic literally at the threshold of an architecture lab would be handled with some basic level of competence, but you would be wrong. Every time some of the tesserae got loose, they just slapped a layer of cement on top.
Sixty years after it was installed, the mosaic finally got some attention. Conservators removed it in July 2011 and transported it to the Art Conservation Group’s Brooklyn studio for cleaning, consolidation and restoration. It was reinstalled, indoors this time, at the School of Architecture on March 19th, 2013. The removal and reinstallation was filmed, and it’s an interesting look not just as modern conservation methods, but also at how these mosaics were raised in the first place.
The head of a monumental Buddha statue has emerged from a reservoir in eastern China’s Jiangxi Province. When a hydropower gate renovation project dropped the water levels in Hongmen Reservoir 10 meters (33 feet) last month, local villages spotted the head in an alcove carved into the cliff face. A team of underwater archaeologists were dispatched by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage and the Jiangxi Provincial Research Institute of Archaeology to examine the carving.
The initial investigation, concluded on January 15th, found the statue depicts the Gautama Buddha sitting on a lotus flower. It is 3.8 meters (12.5 feet) high and the style of carving, particularly the head shape, suggests it was made in the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), although it may edge over into the earlier Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). Over the Buddha’s alcove two wide chevrons resembling the peaked roofs of temples were carved. A path, an inscription with 30 characters, and chisel marks were found to the north and south of the statue, respectively. There are also rectangular holes carved into the stone, the remnants of architectural features. Under the water in front the clifface with the statue divers found stonework from the foundations of hall a massive 165 square meters (1776 square feet) in area.
Local records indicate the reservoir was built on the site of the ancient town of Xiaoshi. The underwater archaeology team came across its remains in the lake. In its heyday it was a thriving center of commerce, a hub for water transportation between Jiangxi and Fujian provinces, felicitously located at the intersection of two rivers. According to local lore, the Buddha was carved at that intersection to protect boats from the strong cross-currents.
It was submerged in 1958 when the reservoir was built. With no cultural patrimony protections in place to block the project and no practical way to recover or shield the temple, it was simply written off. That turned out to be a good thing, because benign neglect under a man-made lake sure beats the Cultural Revolution and the mass destruction of historic and religious heritage it spawned. The waters preserved the Buddha carving in very good condition, protecting it from weathering and pollution as well as human malice.
Many local residents were forced to move to make way for the new reservoir. Some have now come back to witness the reemergence of the Buddha.
“I went to the temple in 1952 and saw the Buddha statue for the first time. I remember the statue was gilded at that time,” said Huang.
He recalled that there was a small temple at the foot of the Buddha statue and many of the villagers held Buddhist beliefs.
The water levels will rise again in March with the annual spring flood. Everything now exposed will be submerged again. The archaeological team is working on a plan to protect the carving, temple and township remains. They also plan to expand their research into the area surrounding the lake temple.
This video has underwater footage of the Buddha statue. Visibility is poor and it’s hard to make out what you’re seeing other than stone parts.
Archaeologists have discovered a rare and poignant pendant that belonged to a teen girl with a possible connection to Anne Frank in an excavation of the site of the Sobibor death camp. The camp, which was razed to the ground by the Nazis after a daring uprising in October 1943 which saw half the prisoners escape, has been excavated since 2007. Past digs have unearthed the foundations of the gas chambers, the train station platform and a myriad small artifacts, the treasured belongings of Sobibor’s victims.
This year the brief was to excavate the site of where female prisoners were made to strip naked and had their heads shaved before being forced down the “Road to Heaven,” ie, the path to the gas chambers 40 meters (130 feet) south of the undressing and shaving hut. Close to what had once been the entrance of the building, the team discovered some small personal items that probably fell through the floorboards onto the foundations. They include a lady’s watch, a stone pendant, a Star of David necklace and a metal locket covered with glass and painted with a depiction of Moses holding the Ten Commandments on the front the Jewish prayer “Shema” on the back.
One of those artifacts is a little triangular pendant. On one side is engraved the phrase “Mazel Tov” in Hebrew, the city “Frankfurt am Main” in German and the date July 3, 1929. The other side has the Hebrew letter “ה” (“He”), used to symbolize the name of God (“He” stands for “Hashem”, which means “The Name,” so it’s a way of referring to God without using His name), and three Stars of David. It’s very difficult to connect an artifact with one individual of hundreds of thousands of camp victims, the date and city gave researchers a rare opportunity. Yad Vashem researchers were able to pinpoint exactly one person who fit the parameters of the pendant: Karoline Cohn, born in Frankfurt on July 3, 1929, and deported to the Minsk ghetto in November of 1941.
Buoyed by their early military successes in Soviet territories, in October of 1941 the Nazi command began a program of deportations, removing Jews from the Third Reich (Germany, Austria, Bohemia, Moravia) to freshly conquered cities in Eastern Europe. The deportations continued through 1945, targeting big cities which had the largest concentrations of Jews. Frankfurt had the highest percentage of Jews in pre-war Germany (4.7% of the population in 1933, as opposed to Berlin’s 3.8%), so it was a priority. In the less than four years between 1941 and 1945, 10,600 Frankfurt Jews were sent east to concentration camps in 25 deportations. Fewer than 600 Jews from Frankfurt survived the Holocaust, and only nine of the Jews deported from Frankfurt to Minsk lived to see the end of the war.
Karoline Cohn was not one of them. When the Minsk ghetto was liquidated in September of 1943, the 2,000 Jews still living were shipped to almost certain death in Sobibor. Either she or someone else carried her pendant to the camp where it fell through the floorboards of the shaving hut only to be found 70 years later.
In a historical fluke of almost unbelievable proportions, Anne Frank had a pendant exactly like it. The only difference is the dates on the front of the pendants. Anne’s was June 12th, 1929. No other such medallions have been found — before the Sobibor discovery, Anne’s was the only one of its kind known, saved by her cousin Buddy Elias — so they weren’t something produced en masse and widely distributed. Anne was also born in Frankfurt just three weeks before Karoline.
Yad Vashem is reaching out to any surviving family members of the Cohns and Franks in the hope they might be able to establish a clear connection, familial or otherwise. Researchers ask that relatives or members of the public who know anything at all about Karoline or about Sophie Kollmann, who in April 1978 wrote Pages of Testimony about Richard Else Cohn and Karoline Cohn, to contact Yoram Haimi at email@example.com.
by Duchess Dorinda Courtenay,
What a great day for the arts in Heronter!
We had an A&S competition, with 7 entries.
Debby Schmoker Cowan entered the most brilliant purple hand dyed wool I have ever seen! Lord Uriel Isaacovich performed two period magic tricks for the judges and the Queen – I think there is a trick to your work, friend!
Charles Cowan entered a basket that caught the eye of everyone, but as the Crown comes first, King Marcus and Queen Margerite named it their choice.
Lady Ginevra Isabetta Del Dolce brought several illuminated pieces. She took the extra time to put them on easels and include the exemplar from which she was working, and was recognized with “best display”.
Lastly, Broddr Reffson entered a knife and scabbard – hand made and with decorative details appropriate to the early period. He was named winner of the contest. I loved the variety and the skill shown by all of these entries! Thank you to Duchess Siobhan for helping me judge and to TRM’s for taking the time to view the work.
In addition, THL Eleanore Godwin ran a scribal table, and Mistress Lydia Allen spent hours talking with newcomer Naomi Baldwin about the fiber arts. Viscountess Eira of Attemark provided a hand made string of Viking beads that was a hot commodity in the silent auction. (What is the Swedish phrase for “bidding war?”) People wore their best garb.
We also cannot end without talking about the gorgeous hall! THL Lodthinn Vikarsson not only did his stellar job of decorating, he added some touches from the various Tudor videos people were studying to prep for the event. (What was the giant ring of greens called?) It was a stunning atmosphere for us to ring in the new year together.
Thank you all for making it a great day!
A study of a bronze model of a Roman racing chariot dating to the 1st-2nd c. A.D. has revealed new information on how the vehicles were built. The model, recovered from the Tiber in the 1890s, is now in the collection of the British Museum. It is a biga, a two-horse chariot, although one of the original horse figures is missing, as is the charioteer. The piece is a petite 10 inches long and eight inches high, but its significance is as oversized as the model is small.
While the remains of close to 300 ancient Etruscan and Italian war and ceremonial chariots have been discovered in funerary contexts, no racing chariots from Republican or Imperial Rome have ever been found. Written descriptions and visual representations are all we have to go on to understand how they were constructed. Most of the chariots depicted in monumental art are triumphal chariots which were used in solemn processionals and bore only a superficial resemblance (ie, number of wheels, long axle) to the racing chariot. Racing chariots are depicted in carved reliefs, frescoes and mosaics of circus race scenes.
The little Tiber model, with its precision details and proportions, is the greatest source of information we have about the Roman racing chariot. It was a luxury item, the kind of toy chariot that only the very wealthy could afford. (Nero was fond of toy chariots, according to Suetonius, although his were ivory.) The wheels, now fixed, turned on the axle so it could be vigorously vroom-vroomed by its owner. Its creator certainly knew a great deal about chariot construction.
It has a long, straight axle, small wheels to help keep the base stable around tight corners, a small body, low to the ground, just big enough to fit one man snugly. The yoke pole has a decorative ram’s head at the end of it. The front of the car wasn’t the solid, highly decorated panel reaching Charlton Heston’s armpits seen in big screen versions of Roman chariot races. The car was basically a frame, bent pieces of wood lashed together. The front had a piece of leather or fabric tied to the frame, while the floor was woven straps which provided a little much-needed springiness for the charioteer.
Close examination of the model in the new study found that the right wheel, and only the right wheel, had a thin iron rim surrounding the wood.
“The basic wheels were always of wood, animal hide glue, and rawhide strips (at critical joints) that tighten upon drying, like clamps,” explained author Bela Sandor, professor emeritus of engineering physics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. “Any iron tire for racing would be a very thin strip of iron on the outside of the wooden rim, best when heat-shrunk on the wood, to consolidate the whole wheel.
Adding the strip of iron to the right wheel improved a charioteer’s chances of winning a race to roughly 80 percent, according to a study published in the latest issue of the Journal of Roman Archaeology. [...]
Since it was easier to guide the horses into left-turning bends, most races ran anti-clockwise. “Indeed, the right side tire works best in oval-shaped arenas if the turning is always leftward,” Sandor said.
Sandor explained that some of the Romans strengthened the right wheels only because all chariots leaned to the right and overloaded just the right wheels during the left turns. “This makes total sense to everybody who understands the dynamics of a turning vehicle. It’s a common sensation to people riding in a fast-turning vehicle; standing and lurching sideways in a turning bus is a good example,” Sandor said.
The right-side iron tire didn’t necessarily make the chariot move faster. Its job was reinforcement, to keep the wheel under highest pressure from collapse and thus prevent disaster on the track. The right wheel failed far more than the left so it needed the metallic boost. The left wheel didn’t need the added support and the additional weight of a second iron rim would have slowed down chariot enough to make a victory in the circus all but impossible.
“A racing chariot with an iron tire on the right wheel only was the best compromise in terms of safety, durability and winning probability,” Sandor said. “As the finest available representation of a Roman racing chariot, the Tiber model gives us a glimpse into the Romans’ probabilistic thinking for winning races and bets.”
We would like to announce that today at our Shire of Heronter 12th night we gave Duke Matthew Blackleaf a writ to the Order of the Pelican. Time and date of elevation to be determined.
Marcus & Margerite
(Writ Tankard scroll by Liadain ní Dheirdre Chaomhánaigh)
Jean-Etienne Liotard (1702-1789) was a Swiss-French artist of Huguenot extraction who is best known today for his very fine pastels. Trained as a miniaturist in Geneva and portrait painter in Paris, Liotard preferred medium was pastel on paper. They make up the overwhelming majority of his surviving work, 540 individual pieces, as opposed to only 30 oil-on-canvas paintings. In his time, Liotard was very much in demand as a portraitist and miniaturist. He travelled extensively through Europe, staying in Paris, Naples, Florence and Rome before going to Constantinople in 1738 where he lived for four years.
He returned from Constantinople with a great big bushy beard, a taste for Turkish dress and the crowned heads of Europe lining up for his services. He lived in Vienna from 1743 to 1745 where he made several portraits of the Empress Maria Theresa and her family. In 1748 he was in Paris painting King Louis XV and his family. In 1755 it was London and the Prince of Wales’ turn. His portraits were notoriously expensive, driving the bitter rival artist Andrea Soldi to grumble that the English measured “the value of his works by the length of his beard.”
After his London sojourn, Liotard went to Holland. He stayed for a year, studying the masters of the Dutch Golden Age and building a collection of more than 60 paintings from the period. He also found himself a wife: Marie Fargue, a Dutch Huguenot who posed in Turkish dress for one of his loveliest pastel portraits, now in the collection of the Rijksmuseum.
Liotard was strongly influenced by the Dutch artists of the 17th century. Even before his sojourn in Holland, his portraits were unusually restrained and naturalistic at a time when the fashion was for very stylized portraits with contrived poses, symbolic gestures and accoutrements conveying the wealth, power, profession and/or abilities of the subject. The intimate spaces, plain painted walls, varied textures and scenes from daily life captured in the works of Jan van Huysum, Gerrit Dou, Frans van Mieris and Johannes Vermeer inspired Liotard.
With one small oil-on-canvas painting, A Dutch girl at breakfast, Liotard became one of the first non-Dutch 18th century artists to create an explicit homage to the Golden Age masters. The painting depicts a modestly attired young woman seated a tripod table pouring a beverage (both coffee and chocolate have been proposed) into a cup. She sits in a classically Dutch interior. There’s a simple wood armoire against the wall, a foot-warmer on the floor beside her chair and, just in case the reference wasn’t clear enough, there’s a 17th-century Dutch painting of a church on the wall.
One of less than three dozen Liotard oil paintings and one of the only genre paintings he did (he was well-known for genre treatments in pastel, but not in oil), A Dutch girl at breakfast is rare and of great art historical significance as an example of the spreading influence of Dutch Golden Age painters. Liotard kept the painting for close to 20 years. He finally sold it in 1774 at a Christie’s auction. The buyer was Sir William Ponsonby, 2nd Earl of Bessborough, an old friend and patron of Liotard who had traveled with him in 1738 and would go on to become his biggest supporter, buying more than 70 of his works over the decades.
A Dutch girl at breakfast stayed in the Ponsonby family for 242 years until it was sold at Sotheby’s in July 2016 for $5,695,000. The buyer was revealed last month as the Rijksmuseum which has now installed Liotard’s Dutch girl next to Vermeer’s Milkmaid in the Gallery of Honour. Inspiration and inspired will only briefly be side by side. By the end of the month, the painting will be installed in its permanent location, the 18th century arts gallery. There it will be reunited with a host of brothers and sisters, the museum’s extensive collection of Liotard pastels that were donated by descendants of his and Marie Fargue’s eldest son.
The new website build is ready for public preview to receive any needed corrections and constructive feedback. Our new site has a mobile version, if you wish to look at it on a tablet or cell phone.
Some other items of note on our new site:
Please note some upcoming projects on the Website and from the Webminister Office:
The dev site can be found here.
All corrections and updates are respectfully requested to be submitted on the Website Correction Form found here. A link to this form can also be found at the bottom of the announcements on the right side of the front page.
All questions should be directed to me at the firstname.lastname@example.org email address.
Thank you all very much for your continued support of the Webminister’s Office!
From the Chancellor of the Exchequer:
The term of office for the East Kingdom Chancellor of the Exchequer will expire in June 2017. Applications are now being accepted for this office. The initial term for this office is two years. There is the option to request an additional two terms at one year each. Please note that I am NOT going to be requesting the last additional term. Having served 3 years in this office, I now need to place my attention elsewhere.
Applicant letters of intent, resumes and questions are to be sent to these three addresses/offices.
The duties and requirements of the office include:
Additional descriptions, expectations and or detailed requirements of
Maestra Ignacia la Ciega, East Kingdom Chancellor of the Exchequer
Filed under: Announcements Tagged: Exchequer, kingdom officers
The Rialto is by far the oldest and most famous of the four bridges that span the Grand Canal of Venice. Until the 19th century, it was the only bridge across the canal. The first iteration was built out of wood in 1255. The two sides of the bridge inclined upwards towards a central platform that could be removed to allow for the passage of taller ships. It was called the Bridge of Coin then, because of the toll for pedestrian passage. In 1458 shops were added to the sides and it was renamed the Rialto Bridge. With the popular Rialto market on the eastern bank and the bridge being the only non-nautical means to cross to Grand Canal, it had to withstand an enormous amount of traffic. It collapsed twice from the weight of crowds and had to be rebuilt. Another time the crowds viewing the passage of the spectacular 1,500-people-strong cortège of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III in 1468 put so much pressure on the iron railings that they collapsed, dozens of spectators fell into the canal and died.
In the 16th century, Venetian authorities began to explore the possibility of replacing the wooden bridge with a stone bridge. It took almost the whole century to go from concept to execution. In 1551, top architects were invited to submit stone bridge ideas, but none of the submissions were deemed acceptable because they employed multiple Roman-style arches which would be a problem for boat traffic. The great Venetian architect Andrea Palladio envisioned a three-arch bridge topped with a monumental temple-like structure that would have dwarfed the mighty Mississip’. Finally architect and engineer Antonio da Ponte designed a single-span stone bridge very similar in shape, elevation and structure to the wooden bridge. Construction began in 1588 and was completed in 1591.
Legend has it that Antonio da Ponte paid dearly for having created an icon of La Serenissima. When the bridge was almost done, the Devil himself approached the architect and demanded an offering of the first soul to cross the bridge. If da Ponte refused, Satan would forever prevent the completion of the Rialto Bridge. Unable to refuse, he tried to outsmart the Devil, arranging for a rooster to be the first living being to cross the bridge. The Devil was furious. He promised to punish the architect dearly, and so he did. In disguise, he went to da Ponte’s house and told his pregnant wife that her husband was waiting for her on the other side of the bridge. She ran across and unwittingly doomed the life she was carrying. The baby was stillborn. For years the baby’s spirit was said to haunt the Rialto until a kindly gondolier finally helped him rest in peace.
The bridge’s design caused some consternation at the time. Without arches, the full weight of the structure was shouldered entirely by the two pylons and foundations and each end. There were grave doubts among some architects, most notably Vincenzo Scamozzi, that the heavy stone bridge could stand without additional supports. And yet, it stood. Over the centuries it was repeatedly altered and repaired. The first major restoration was in 1740, but it stipulated that the arch itself could not be touched. The repairs focused on the stairs, balustrade, colonnade and paving tiles. Later restorations took a similar tack, fixing the peripherals — steps, drainage issues, shops.
More than 400 years would pass before the Rialto Bridge got a thorough top-to-bottom restoration. That’s a good thing from a historical preservation perspective, because it leaves conservators with a great deal of original material and limits the damage inflicted by well-intentioned but overly invasive interventions.
The restoration project started in 2011 with an extensive nine-phase preliminary investigation of the bridge: 1) a historical survey analyzing all the different phases of construction and repair over the centuries, 2) a photogrammetric and laser scanning survey of the bridge surface to gather precise measurements, 3) geotechnical drilling into the soil of the bridge foundations, 4) underwater inspection of the foundations, 5) archaeological analysis of the foundation coring samples, 6) monitoring a year’s worth of geological stresses and shifts, 7) a structural survey of the bridge, 8) research and analysis of the bridge’s petrographic materials and state of conservation or decay, and 9) identification of underground utilities.
Armed with reams of hard data, conservators began the hands-on part in May of 2015.
The restoration has systemically treated all of the bridge’s structural elements for the first time in more than 400 years. A team of 25 conservators dismantled the sandstone paving on the central steps and the two exterior ramps for cleaning, while workers relaid the telephone, gas and electric cables powering the bridge’s 24 shops. They strengthened the walls of the arcades and added a further layer of waterproof insulation, as well as new internal sheets to the 700 sq. m of lead sheets covering the roofs.
To protect the northern and southern balustrades from the lagoon’s brackish waters, as well as the thousands of tourists who walk across it each year, the banisters were reinforced using carbon-fibre bandages and duplex stainless steel brackets that resist corrosion. The 364 columns, which presented fractures on their capitals and bases, were also reset in molten lead and some of the cornerstones were completely replaced.
This was all done piecemeal so the bridge was never closed to visitors. Unsightly scaffolding was the worst of it. Shocking everyone who has ever had needed any construction done in Italy, the restoration finished on time (but not on budget, of course) and reusing 99% of the bridge’s materials. The remaining 1% requiring replacement was mostly paving.
The scaffolding is down now, but the official opening will take place in May at the Venice Biennale.
Artifacts from an early Anglo-Saxon settlement have been unearthed at the site of a future housing development in Cherry Hinton, a suburb of Cambridge. Developers Weston Homes hired Oxford Archaeology East to excavate the construction site on the corner of Hatherdene Close and Coldham’s Lane after test pits identified an area of particular archaeological interest. The excavation discovered architectural remains of a village and a range of artifacts from the utilitarian to the rarified.
The team unearthed expensive, high-end jewelry including brooches, multi-colored glass, amber beads, rings and hairpins from the 6th century. There were tools including small knives and larger weapons, and intact pottery vases and bowls. The greatest stand-out piece is a glass vessel known as a claw beaker, so named because of the H.R. Giger-like claw-shaped handles attached to the conical walls. The glass is tinted amber or brown. These vases were very highly prized, probably imported from Germany, and have mainly been found as grave goods in 5th and 6th century Anglo-Saxon burials.
Duncan Hawkins, Head of Archaeology and Build Heritage for CgMs, said: “Evidence of the time period 5th to 7th century AD is almost non-existent so this gives us a highly important window into understanding how people lived in that era, their trade activities and behaviours.
“The academic value of this collection is therefore immeasurable. The site fell out of use in the 7th century but we discovered evidence of 8th century Middle Saxon activity including post-built structures, possibly workshops and livestock pens.
“Pits dug in this attest to local industrial activity and further processing of soil samples should help us understand what these were used for.”
The excavation also unearthed Roman dishware, early Roman kilns and a network of Late Iron Age and Roman boundary ditches. After the Middle Saxon settlement, there was a manor house built on the site in the 9th or 10th century. In the 11th century, Hinton Manor was one of several Cambridgeshire holdings of Edith the Fair, aka Edith Swanneck, first wife of Harold II. They were married in accordance with the more danico, a traditional Norse form of marriage, which is why nobody raised the bigamy issue when Harold married a Welsh princess in a Christian ceremony in 1066. Edith is best known for having identified Harold’s mutilated body after the Battle of Hastings, ostensibly from marks that only she knew he had on his chest. (One 19th century poet alleged they were hickeys.)
The town of Cherry Hinton appears in the Domesday Book (1086) listed as “Hintone: Count Alan. 4 mills.” Count Alan was Alan Rufus, a kinsman of William the Conqueror’s who fought with him at the Battle of Hastings. After the Norman Conquest, he took Hinton Manor from Edith. He got the lion’s share of her properties, in fact, sweeping up all but one of her Cambridgeshire estates.
The housing development of 60 homes will still be built on the site. All the artifacts have been recovered. They will be documented, conserved and exhibited in local museums.
Salutations à la population de l’Est !
Nous espérons que cette nouvelle année vous trouve en santé et comble vos espérances!
La date limite pour soumettre une recommandation pour le premier scrutin d’un de nos ordres votants sera le 20 janvier 2017. Veuillez envoyer vos recommandations par le site www.eastkingdom.org.
Nous attendons d’avoir de vos nouvelles.
Avec émotion et grand enthousiasme pour le futur,
Traduction par: Behi Kirsa Oyutai
Filed under: Announcements, En français, Official Notices
By Elska á Fjárfella of the Dominion of Myrkfaelinn, 2016
As part of my Viking persona the need for some sort of magical amulet devolved into another research project. I had heard about thunderstones, and straightforward that I am, assumed those would have been made out of fulgurites, which form of melted sand from lightning striking the beach. But just to be on the safe side I looked into these fascinating talismans and found that throughout history many, many objects had been perceived as thunderstones. For a very long time thunderstones were believed to be the physical remains of thunderbolts or lightning strikes endowed with the power to avert evil or bad luck, and to protect the house, property and family against lightning and by association, storms and fire. In the words of 17th century Adrianus Tollius “Thunderstones are generated in the sky by a fulgureous exhalation (whatever that may look like) conglobed in a cloud by a circumfixed humour, and baked hard, as it were, by intense heat”…
As much as that almost seems plausible, what did they expect those exhalations to look like? Most thunderstones seem to fall into one of three categories: they look like weapons (the sky gods used lightning as a weapon, like Thor’s hammer Mjöllnir), they are associated with thunderstorms (for instance resemble hail) or have lightning like properties (spark fire). Preferably they are found in conjunction with lightning storms and lightning strikes: objects that were not there before the storm but were there after – washed out of the ground by heavy rains but attributed to having fallen out of the sky; like stone objects with a peculiar shape, with holes in them or sharp ends, polished, chipped (proof they fell from the sky), perfectly round, smooth, with a projectile shape, like pointed, arrow like etc…
Thunderstone amulets could be categorized in three classes: the minerals, the fossils and the ceraunia. Examples of minerals would be those unusually shaped stones; fire sparking stones like flint, iron pyrite and bog iron; fulgurites (found by digging out the lightning strike site, looking for the magical core) and meteorites, especially those with remaglypts which do kinda look like fingerprints of the gods! Only a couple types of fossils are considered thunderstones: sharks teeth and Belemnites (squid) resemble weapons, and Echinoids are rather round with a, to us, familiar five pointed pattern. But the most interesting are the ceraunia. These stone age tools were crafted by early man, but as this knowledge had been forgotten, the sometimes abundantly found stone weapons became part of thunderstone myths instead!
In archaeology, thunderstones are most often found in grave finds and in house foundations. This is interpreted as a wish to protect the dead and help them into the afterlife, and to protect the house and family from lightning strikes and fire. As thunderstones were seen as the manifestation of lightning strike cores, and throughout history the myth (hope) of “lightning/disaster never strikes twice” prevailed (even today, as shown by the Norse disaster protection rune on our modern day ambulances), having a thunderstone in your house or on your person would, therefore, exempt you from being hit.
The connection between thunderstones and burial could come from their connection to faeries. The Fae were thought to be the inhabitants of a mystical, enchanted world, with plenty of honey and wine, feasts, playing and drinking, and where you’d never grow old (sound familiar?). The Celts believed that this Otherworld could be accessed from the real world through Neolithic and bronze age barrows – which would have stone tools – and thought that Otherworld was the land of the dead. Placing echinoids (called faerie loaves) or stone tools in burial sites would help guide the spirits of the dead on their journey into Otherworld, or the afterlife.
In Norse mythology Thor’s hammer Mjöllnir was thought to have the power to call up the dead to renewed life and placing the sign of Mjöllnir, either as a fossil echinoid or a stone axe, in burials can therefore be seen as an act of symbolizing rebirth after death. Thunderstones were believed to fall from the sky during thunderstorms; missiles hurled by Thor to keep the wandering trolls under control. If a thunderstone struck a troll careless enough to be out in a thunderstorm, instant death followed. If it were not for Thor’s missiles, the Norse believed, the trolls would have spread across the earth like a plague! Thor’s hammer Mjöllnir also represents the lightning as when thrown it magically returns to Thor’s hand, just as natural lightning is seen to strike the earth (leader) and then fly black to the skies (return stroke).
There is also a connection between thunderstones and the use of iron. Revered for its transformative qualities by way of smelting and smithing, the transformation of iron into a new state could be regarded as a parallel for the path of the body and soul through burial rituals and might seem as a good catalyst to assist the dead to do the same, similar to the believe of stone tools and echinoids. According to Norse belief, placing objects of iron in and around the grave site is a most reliable way of ensuring the dead stayed bound to their proper place (the Norse draugr are zombies, apparently risen from the grave due to lack of iron, or thunderstones!). Iron is also used to wire wrap thunderstones to wear as amulets as iron would trap the magic and keep the thunderstone ‘loaded’. Popular myth also mentions faeries can be deterred/trapped or hurt/killed with pure iron, which concurs with thunderstone myths.
Apparently thunderstones were seen as pretty darn useful: tools & echinoids would be included in graves to protect souls, guide travel into the afterlife and keep evil spirits away. They would be placed inside walls, under the floor or the threshold or kept under eaves or staircases of buildings to protect the owner and his house from being struck by lightning, fire and storms, and would be worn to avoid dying at sea, losing in battles, and to guarantee good sleep at night.
Echinoids placed on shelves in the pantry would keep the milk fresh and cause plenty of cream, and were hung around the necks of cattle. They guaranteed good breeding luck and good hunting & fishing luck. And thunderstone echinoids made the beer ferment.
Who finds a thunderstone should not give it away, otherwise he loses his luck. In Norse mythology they were thought to keep trolls and witches (or general evil) away, and bring good luck. They were also thought to protect the unchristened child against being “changed”. And thunderstones were considered to be good protection against elfish malice, the evil eye and especially, the Devil.
Thunderstone echinoids were even assimilated into Christian culture as a protection sign against evil. In some parts of England, openings like doors and windows on the north side of a church, which in medieval and earlier times was known as the Devil’s side of the church, would be rimmed with echinoids (called shepherd’s crowns), all with the five pointed side visible. Echinoids naturally display a five pointed star, the forbearer of the pentagram, which became symbolic of the power of good over evil!
To keep up with demand, objects that looked like magical items became regarded as similar, and were believed to take on the same magic, which is called the Theory of Similars (or Sympathetic Magic). This explains the prevalence of manmade Thor’s hammer amulets in later period, from very crude (as part of iron amulet rings which were believed to keep the spirits of the dead confined to the grave) to elaborate jewelry pieces, all used as protection amulets and talismans. And how the five pointed star of the echinoid likely evolved into the powerful symbol the pentagram, which took with it several of the thunderstones protections, including safeguarding brewing (Scandinavian), protection against witches & general evil and especially protection against the Devil.
Interestingly, the word “urchin” for modern sea urchins likely came by way of thunderstones: fossil echinoids, often called fairy loaves, were associated with the Fae, and another word for these creatures was “urchin”. And ironically, it took until contact with Native American Indians in the 16th CE, who at that time still used stone tool technology, for the European scientific community to realize ceraunia were actually stone tools made by an earlier kind of people!
Over time, the powerful thunderstones devolved into no more than talismans, or lucky stones. But remember, next time you find a stone with a hole in, and you just have to put it in your pocket – you’re just following in your ancestors footsteps and there is nothing superstitious about that! Or is there…
The inspiration amulet, my amulet and part of my Thunderstone Amulet display at the Yule Peace Tournament this December. In the foreground is a striker (to demonstrate how well flint sparks fire) and a piece of naturally found flint from England (shaped like a tube as the flint formed in a prehistoric animal seafloor tunnel). Thank you, Angelika for loaning the striker and the replica stone tools, Edward Harbinger for the real stone arrow point and Artemius of Delftwood for the belemnite. The rest of the collection comes from my personal stash collected during years of wandering all over the place picking up whatever looked unusual!
McGinnis M., Meghan P. Ring Out Your Dead. Stockholm: Stockholms Universitet, 2016
http://www.archaeology.su.se/polopoly_fs/1.288568.1467018819!/menu/standard/file/Mattsson_McGinnis_Meghan_Paalz-Ring_Out_Your_Dead.pdf Fig a & b are attributed to this text.
Johanson, Kristiina. The Changing Meaning of ‘Thunderbolts’.
McNamara, Kenneth J. Shepherds’ crowns, fairy loaves and thunderstones: the mythology of fossil echinoids in England. Myth and Geology. London: Geological Society, 2007. Fig 4 & 8 are attributed to this text.
Report of the U.S National Museum, Part I. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1899.
Ravilious, K. “Thor’s Hammer” Found in Viking Graves. National Geographic News, 2010.
Seigfried, Karl E. H. The Norse Mythology Blog. 2010
Dian-stanes and “Thunderstones”. Orkneyjar, the heritage of the Orkney Islands.
Sibley, Jane The Divine Thunderbolt USA: XLibris, 2009
Extant piece found at http://www.geolsba.dk/echinoids/dan/Galerites-vikingesmykke.html
One of very few English-made statues of Catholic iconography to survive the Reformation has been acquired by the British Museum and will return to its homeland after centuries abroad. The alabaster figure of Virgin and Child was made in England, likely in the Midlands area, by an unknown artist in around 1350-75. Alabaster was highly prized by carvers in the 14th century because of its translucent glow, ivory tones and a surface that welcomed painting and gilding. Cheaper and easier to carve than marble, gypsum alabaster was extensively quarried in the Midlands during the 14th and 15th centuries. During this period, Nottingham had an active and lucrative trade in small devotional statues and reliefs, buoyed by the rich supply of local raw materials.
How this statue survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the destruction of icons of the Protestant Reformation is unknown.
Early religious royal injunctions issued by Henry VIII had merely called for objects of religious “idolatry” to be taken down, citing the words of the second commandment: “Thou shalt make thee no graven image, neither any similitude of things that are in heaven above, neither that are in the earth beneath, nor that are in the waters under the earth.”
But a more severe injunction followed after the succession of his son, Edward VI, in 1547. It called for the clergy “to take away, utterly extinct and destroy all shrines, coverings of shrines, all tables, candlesticks, trindles or rolls of wax, pictures, paintings, and all other monuments of feigned miracles, pilgrimages, idolatry, and superstition: so that there remain no memory of the same in walls, glass-windows or elsewhere within their churches or houses. And they shall exhort their parishioners to do the like within their several houses.”
In the following months religious statues were smashed, while a few were hidden behind walls and under floorboards. Some had their eyes deliberately damaged or their heads lopped off.
All we know is that at some point after it was created, the Madonna and Child made its way to Saint Truiden Abbey, in the Flemish province of Limburg, Belgium. Founded in the 7th century by Saint Trudo, aka Saint Truiden, the monastery was an important site of pilgrimage for centuries during the Middle Ages. A deep-pocketed pilgrim could have bought the statue in England and gifted it to the abbey shortly after it was created. Or it could have been saved from destruction in the 16th century and smuggled out of the country.
It then survived another orgy of destruction: the French Revolution. French Revolutionary forces arrived at Saint Truiden in 1794. They looted and pillaged the abbey and church, setting the latter on fire. Everything of value was stripped and sold for cash, from the artworks to the building materials. Perhaps the statue survived by being sold.
It first appears on the historical record in Brussels in 1864 where it was exhibited and purchased by Austrian collector, Dr. Albert Figdor. After his death it was acquired by an anonymous European family who put it up for auction. That’s where it was spotted by the British Museum who arranged a sale through art dealers Sam Fogg with funding from the Art Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund.
Whatever traumas it has experienced, the statue is in incredible condition. It still retains some of its polychrome paint and gilding. Quite a signficant amount of red and gold still decorates Mary’s crown. Most of the visible wear is the result of devotion, not violence. The faces of both Mother and Child and foot of the Child are worn from centuries of kisses and caresses from pilgrims.
The statue is now on display in the British Museum’s medieval gallery next to the South Cerney head and foot. The head and one foot of Christ are all that remain of the wooden crucifix of All Hallows Church in South Cerney, Gloucestershire. They were found hidden behind the wall of the church’s nave in 1915. It seems it was secreted whole, a desperate attempt to save it from destruction, and then over the centuries most of the crucifix rotted away leaving only the head and foot. The placement illustrates the shared context of the still-beautiful Madonna and Child and the ruins of the crucifix.
3D model time! I enjoyed zooming in and searching for polychrome paint remnants.
We are pleased to announce the several new officer positions and change overs.
We would thank Duchess Tessa the Huntress for her work as Our Earl Marshal and welcome Master Will Parris as our new Earl Marshal. Duchess Tessa has agreed to continue to bring her depth of knowledge to the newly created position of Pennsic Marshal. Duke Maynard von dem Steine has accepted the newly created position as Rattan Marshal. We expect many good things from this.
We would thank Master Master Benedict Fergus Atte Mede for his work as Kingdom Rapier Marshal and welcome Don Diego Munoz to that position. The position of Kingdom Rapier Marshal was well vied for and a very tough decision for us. We would thank all of the candidates who applied and know that you will continue to support fencing as you have done so in the past.
We would thank Master Augusto Giuseppe da San Donato for his work as Our Kingdom Thrown Weapons Marshal and welcome Master Antonio de Luna to that stead.
Mistress Arianna of Wynthrope has agreed to continue as our Youth Combat Marshal.
We thank Master Fridrikr Tomasson Baroness Orianna Fridrikskona for their willingness to continue as Ministers of Arts & Sciences and Mistress Alicia Langland as Chancellor of the Æcademy.
We thank Chatelaine Baroness Desiderata Drake for her service as Our Kingdom Chatelaine (especially her work at Pennsic with Newcomers Point) and welcome THLady Rois O`Faye (called Rosheen) to this position.
As always We thank you for your continued service to Æthelmearc. Without your good works to keep Our kingdom running smoothly We would not be able to do our part. We realize this and appreciate you.
Marcus & Margerite
Single-use paper or plastic cups are products of modern consumer culture, cheap, convenient, plentiful and easily discarded. You never have to worry about cleaning them or potential damage to wedding registry china or beloved “#1 Dad” mugs. In the 15th century there were no red Solo cups to fill at the keg line, but that didn’t mean some people couldn’t enjoy the convenience of not having to clean their drinkware or worry that a vessel might slip through drunken fingers to its untimely demise. They just had to be rich and like to show it.
Wittenberg castle, historic residence of the Electors of Saxony, has been undergoing an archaeological excavation since November in advance of the installation of a new sewage pipeline. The team has unearthed the remains of a ring wall encircling the castle site and courtyard pavers from the first castle built by the House of Ascania which ruled the Electorate of Saxony until the branch of the family died out in 1422. After that, the Duchy of Saxony passed to the House of Wettin. The third Elector from the Wettin dynasty, Frederick III, built the current castle on the site of the old Ascanian castle in 1480.
Multi-colored oven tiles decorated with secular and Biblical motifs found during the excavation date to Frederick’s time. They are very rare surviving examples of the original fixtures of the electoral castle. Ovens with such fancy tiles were hugely expensive, the kind of equipment found only in the grand homes of high-ranking aristocrats and ecclesiastical authorities. Martin Luther, who in 1517 famously nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church Frederick had built, was known to have owned one of these luxury tiled ovens. It had to have been a gift from someone very wealthy and powerful.
But it’s the fragments from thousands of porcelain cups found in the castle courtyard that captures the 15th century Electors of Saxony’s version of conspicuous consumption. The cups all date to the 15th century. They are decorated in a variety of patterns, styles and colors. Some have elaborate scrollwork or masks, some are smooth. There are fragments of bright green and yellow, and in neutral shades of brown, grey and ochre red. Except for having been smashed to bits, they are brand new. Archaeologists believe they were used only one time. Once the beverage was quaffed, the imbiber tossed his cup was over his shoulder. It shattered on the courtyard floor and servants quickly supplied the guest with a new filled cup.
“We found entire layers of cups and animal bones. They ate a lot of wild meat, especially venison,” Holger Rode, the archaeologist in charge of the dig in the castle’s courtyard in Wittenberg, told German news service dpa. “The parties took place in the summer here in the courtyard. The cups were simply thrown away. That’s equivalent to paper cups today.”
Except that porcelain mugs decorated with roll stamps and mask designs likely provided a more luxurious drinking experience. Disposable dishes were a sign of great wealth at the time and only the nobility used them at the castle.
This massive porcelain cup graveyard is unique to the castle site. Nothing like it has been found in the city of Wittenberg itself. In fact, very few individual cups from this period have been found at all, nevermind broken to pieces in huge quantities. Archaeologists think large numbers of cups were made to order before each feast to supply guests with single-use porcelain to showcase the host’s devil-may-care wealth.
Dearest Æthelmearc, your Queen is traveling to other Kingdoms and needs your assistance!
Her Majesty will be traveling to Market Day at Birka in the East Kingdom the weekend of January 27 to 29.. She will need retainers for the day and especially during Court. (Birka Court is historically very long, usually 2 to 3 hours. There’s lots of schtick, though, so it’s fun.)
In March, Her Majesty will travel to the Southern Kingdom of Gleann Abhann to participate in Gulf Wars. Again, she will need retainers for the duration of her stay and during Court.
For both events, if you are attending and can retain at any time, please contact me via Facebook Messenger (Sue Klinger O’Donovan) or email (sodtigger AT gmail DOT com) and include the following details:
Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend either event due to mundane considerations, but there will be a head retainer available for both events.
In service, Baroness Rowena Moore
The ancient Latin city of Lavinium, according to legend founded by Aeneas, son of Venus, hero of Troy and ancestor of Julius Caesar, has some of the most significant archaeological remains predating the ascendance of Rome. Less than 20 miles from the modern city of Rome, the archaeological site was first excavated in the mid-1950s by Professor Ferdinando Castagnoli from the University of La Sapienza’s Topographical Institute. He and his archaeologist colleague Lucos Cozza unearthed a tumulus 60 feet in diameter richly furnished with more than 60 grave goods dating to the 7th century B.C., including a chariot, weapons, objects made of precious metals and vases for the funerary banquet. It was modified in the 4th century B.C.; a square room with a large tufa door was added. Research found that the Romans called this tumulus the Heroon of Aeneas (a heroon is a shrine dedicated to a hero, usually believed to be built over his tomb or to hold his relics).
Later excavations discovered what would become known as the Sanctuary of the XIII Altars, a cult center where 13 altars made of soft volcanic tufa were carefully lined up for religious rituals. A 14th altar was recently unearthed, and all appear to have been made between the 6th and the 4th century B.C. Archaeologists believe Lavinium was the main religious center of Latium at that time, and that the altars represent each of the important Latin cities. Excavations also unearthed an archaic temple to Minerva and two kilns used to make terracotta votive statuary.
Archaeological evidence indicates the town is very ancient indeed, going back to the 12th century B.C., the Bronze Age. It expanded in the 8th century B.C. and achieved its greatest size in the 6th century B.C. It began to decline in the 5th century, possibly after suffering damage in an earthquake, and by the 2nd century was no longer a religious center for the region having been eclipsed by its putative descendant, Rome.
The legend connecting Lavinium to Aeneas and the future capital of an empire only grew in prominence as the town itself shrank into a sleepy suburb of Rome. After years of exciting adventures, Aeneas landed in Latium where the gods and his dead father Anchises had told him he would found the greatest of all cities and sire the greatest of all lineages. Latinus, king of the Latins, welcomed Aeneas and offered him the hand of his daughter Lavinia in marriage. He accepted, married the princess and founded a new city which he named after her. His son Ascanius founded the town of Alba Longa where he and his descendants ruled for generation upon generation. The twins Romulus and Remus were born to one of those descendants, Rhea Silvia, courtesy of divine impregnation. Then there was the whole she-wolf thing and the fratricide and the Rape of the Sabine Women and voila! Rome.
The founding of ancient Rome traced to the heroes of Troy has come down to us from historian writing hundreds of years after the events they purported to describe. Early Greek historians proposed a bewildering combination of founding legends, the earliest of whom was Helanicus of Lesbos (5th century B.C.) who claimed Aeneas founded the city of Rome itself and named it after a Trojan woman. The oldest surviving source on the Lavinium version is Quintus Fabius Pictor, a third century B.C. senator from the patrician gens Fabia who is considered the first Roman historian, but all we have of his history of Rome are a few quotations and references cited by later writers including Polybius, Livy and Plutarch. The first book of Livy’s great compendium of all of Roman history, Ab Urbe Condita (“From the Founding of the City”), written between 27 and 9 B.C., recounts the story of Aeneas’ arrival in Latium, his marriage to Lavinia and his founding of Lavinium. By Livy’s time, this was the story that had stuck. Livy’s contemporary Virgil wrote about it in The Aeneid which sealed its popularity for 2,000 years.
Despite the endurance of the legend, the ancient city itself faded as the Western Empire fell apart. Around 1200, the walled medieval burg of Pratica di Mare was built over the remains of Lavinium’s ancient acropolis. It was owned by Benedictine monks until the 14th century when it passed into the hands of a succession of noble Roman families. The last of these was the Borghese family which took ownership of Practica di Mare in 1617. It is still their private property. They have an obligation to maintain the medieval town and any dispositions made regarding the archaeological site and the nature preserve that surrounds it must go through the Borgheses.
Because of this, it has been very difficult for people to get access to the ancient remains. On very rare occasions they would be open to the public, but otherwise arranging a visit to the altars or the heroon took a lot of jumping through behind-the-scenes hoops. In 2005, the Lavinium Archaeological Museum opened, giving tourists a chance to enjoy some of the archaeological treasures of Lavinium. It focuses on the legendary connection to Aeneas. Video installations tell the story of his eventful voyage after the fall of Troy and follow a virtual priest through the Sanctuary of the Altars. The terracotta statues made in the kilns are on display, as is an archaic statue of Minerva found at her temple and the tufa door from the Heroon of Aeneas.
Now a new agreement has been struck between the Commune of Pomezia, the Archaeological Superintendency for metropolitan Rome and the Borghese family to open the archaeological site of Lavinium to visitors. January 7th was the first day. It’s a wonderful opportunity for anyone in Rome or environs to see ancient Latin archaeology before the distinction between Rome and its neighbors was blurred by empire and expansion. You can’t find this kind of thing in Rome. Archaeology from the legendary days, even from the kings and early Republic, is all but non-existent.
The Egg Float Test explained, for period Soapmakers, Cooks, and Brewers.
By Unnr in elska á Fjárfella (Susan Verberg, 2017).
Sometime in the middle of the 16th century someone figured out that a fresh laid chicken egg has a similar density as certain strengths of solutions. The egg will float instead of sink as it would in plain water, indicating a specific strength or density. First mentioned in soap making manuals to check the strength of lye (1558), it quickly surfaced both in cooking recipes to check the strength of brine (1597), a solution of salt & water, and brewing recipes to check the strength of must (1594), a solution of fruit or honey sugars & water.
Initially the only available references for the egg test in brewing were from the copious but out of period 1669 cookbook The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digby Knight Opened. Even though this manuscript came from Digby’s lifelong collection of recipes and was posthumously published several years after his death so could be seen as probably period, his recipes are much more contemporary to 17th century recipes than to what is found before. For instance, many recipes mentioned in Digby use ingredients and techniques not yet found, or commonly used, in our period of study. The addition of citrus, like lemons, and the use of raisins, which is common in Digby, is not found in any of the pre 1600 recipes. And the technique of aging in the bottle, often for a sparkling beverage, is something that does not match with the medieval method of serving mead young or aging in wooden casks and barrels either. But even though the recipes themselves may not be period, they do tend to include more information on the actual process and can serve as a good almost period explanation on previously unexplained techniques.
It was not until I delved deeper into period mead making that I came across four late 16th century brewing recipes mentioning the egg float test, and was finally able to firmly place this technique within our time of study for all three crafts: soap making, cooking and brewing. This article explores the underlying process and easy application of this intriguing trick of science!
But doesn’t a floating egg mean the egg is spoiled? It depends. The floating egg technique works by way of the internal design of an egg, which includes an air sack at the rounded end of the egg for the bird embryo to breath. A fresh egg has a relatively small air sack but as the egg shell is slightly porous over time the size of the air sack increases as the contents of the egg slowly evaporate and dry out. As an old egg will have a large air sack, when put into water it will bob up and float. This test is still used in our modern times to test to see if an egg is fit to eat before cracking it and not be surprised with a sulfur bomb!
Because the size of the air sack changes over time, interfering with the results of our density test, it is very important to use a fresh egg which has not yet had time to evaporate. It is also important to check the supposedly fresh egg as eggs sold in the supermarket are not always as fresh as you might assume (check the sell by dates or even better, get a local backyard egg). To do this, before every density test calibrate your egg in plain water to make sure it sinks flat to the bottom, with both butt and tip level. Use a wide mouth glass jar and tongs to place the egg on the bottom as it can sink so fast it cracks in bigger jars.
The density or specific gravity of water is 1. When minerals like salts or sugars are dissolved into water the extra particles change the density of the solution by making it more crowded, or dense. A fresh egg has a density between 1.03-1.1 g/ml which means it would be borne, or float, by a solution of a density matching or exceeding 1.03-1.1 g/ml. A saturated salt solution, or brine, has a density of about 1.2 g/ml, a wood ash lye solution for laundry soap a density of about 1.11 g/ml and a brewing solution would be between 1.06-1.1 g/ml – all fairly close together and why using the egg test works, in some way or another, for all three.
In modern brewing a hydrometer is used to take a starting (before fermentation) and finishing (after fermentation) gravity reading. Determining the difference of sugars between start and end makes it possible to calculate the percentage of alcohol produced by the yeast from that difference (what is gone has been consumed by the yeast and thus converted into alcohol). As medieval brewers were not aware of the micro-biology involved in brewing and artificially stopping the yeast for a specific alcohol content was not understood (how they wished to know what caused the summer ‘boiling’ and consequent explosions of wine!), all the brewer needed to know was if there was the right amount of sugar for proper fermentation.
Most recipes ask for so many pounds of honey to so much water, why should you go through the trouble of checking the density to make must? For two reasons, the first being that not all honey is created equal. A thick syrupy honey created in a dry year will have more sugar per liquid volume than a thin, runny honey. Both will make mead, but if you measured a thin honey to make sweet mead you might be unpleasantly surprised at the dry white wine-like mead you ended up with… Secondly, in period all honey would have been used for brewing, not just the easy to extract. The centrifuge type honey extruder is a modern convenience and allows for high yield with minimal processing. In period honey would be extracted by hand, first by breaking up the combs to leak out as much as they could, and then by washing the broken up combs in warm water to dissolve the remaining and any crystallized honey. This honey/water mixture would be of unknown strength and would have to be checked before brewing, as not enough fermentable sugars could result in an easily spoiled brew and too much sugar can inhibit yeast growth, stalling fermentation and giving competitors a change. I don’t doubt master brewers of the time could eyeball or taste and have a perfect brew each time, but for the less initiated household brewer (and modern re-enactor) it is nice to be able to check with a visual aide, as the Digby recipe Mr. Pierce’s Excellent White Metheglin confirms:
“When it is blood-warm, put the honey to it, about one part, to four of water; but because this doth not determine the proportions exactly (for some honey will make it stronger then other) you must do that by bearing up an Egge.”
Would any kind of fresh egg work? Not until the Digby recipe Mr. Corsellises Antwerp Meath did a recipe specify that the egg should be a hen’s egg “as above, an Hens Egge may swim with the point upwards”. Even so, with differences in breed, health, age and diet the egg size & shape can differ as well. For the best results, Digby’s Mr. Pierce’s recipe advises to test several eggs and pick out the most average one, both in freshness and shape.
“… and put a good number, (ten or twelve) New-laid-eggs into it, and as round ones as may be; For long ones will deceive you in the swiming; and stale ones, being lighter then new, will emerge out of the Liquor, the breadth of a sixpence, when new ones will not a groats-breadth. Therefore you take many, that you make a medium of their several emergings; unless you be certain, that they which you use, are immediately then laid and very round.”
But what does “beare an egge” mean? How does that look like? It depends on the density you’re looking for and the solution you are playing with. For instance, in soap making two densities are used; a strong one to make laundry soap and a weaker one to make body soap. While in the laundry soap recipe the egg is floating horizontally at the surface (with about the size of a quarter above the surface), as the The seconde part of the Secretes of Master Alexis of Piemont of 1560 puts “the Egge into it, and whiles the egge remaineth aboue”; the body soap recipe for shampoo uses “stronge lye that will beare an egge swimminge betwene two waters”, or, the egg is suspended in the middle.
Soapmaking lye looks like: laundry strength lye, and shampoo strength lye.
This shampoo recipe is the earliest sample I’ve found of the egg float density test and is part of the 1558 manuscript The secretes of the reuerende Maister Alexis of Piemount Containyng excellent remedies against diuers disease by Girolamo Ruscelli.
”A very exquisite soap, made of diverse things.
Take aluminis catini (burnt cream of tartar), quicklime one part, strong lye that will suspend and egg in the middle, three pottels, a pot of common oil; mix all well together, put into it the white of an egg well beaten (dispersant), and a dishful of wheat flour (thickener), and an ounce of roman vitriol (cupric sulfate), or red lead (lead oxide pigment) well beaten into powder, an mix continuously for the space of three hours, then let it rest, by the space of a day, and it will be right and perfect. Finally, take it out, and cut it in pieces: afterwards set it to dry two days, in the wind, but not in the sun. Always use this soap, when you want to wash your hair, for it is very wholesome, and makes fair hair.” (Translated by Susan Verberg)
As the density of a saturated salt solution is fairly strong, the egg in a salt solution would also float horizontally at the surface, similar to laundry soap strength lye. The recipe in the 1597 cookbook The second part of the good hus-wiues iewell by Thomas Dawson uses this technique to make sure the brine is saturated and is the earliest mention I’ve found of the egg float test in a cookbook. Apparently, it is also used for numerous pickling recipes of the new world colonies but I have not found any period mentions of that as of yet.
Cut your lard in faire peeces, and salt it well with white salte, euery péece with your hand, and lay it in a close vessel then take faire running water, and much white salt in it, to make it brine, the~ boile it vntill it beare an Egge, then put it into your Lard and keepe it close.”
Like with soap, brewing with different sugar strengths makes for different types of brews. The stronger the mead the longer it can keep, as Digby’s To Make Metheglin advises: “If you would have it to drink within two or three months, let it be no stronger then to bear an Egg to the top of the water. If you would have it keep six months, or longer, before you drink it, let it bear up the Egg the breadth of two pence above the water. This is the surer way to proportion your honey then by measure.” Medieval meads are usually fermented using ale yeast, which generally dies off once the alcohol level reaches about 10%. As an alcohol level of about 10-12% will kill off most contaminants responsible for spoiling meads and fruit wines, a higher starting sugar level resulting in a higher alcohol percentage would therefore allow the mead to keep longer. Unlike the soap & brine recipes, the brewing egg does not float horizontal but vertical, as Digby’s Mr. Corsellises Antwerp Meath mentions “so strong that an Egge may swim in it with the end upwards”, indicating an intermediate strength between suspended and floating.
Both the soap making recipes and the brine recipes indicate to boil first, then measure – the brewing recipes are not so certain and often recommend to test the strength before boiling, as Digby’s To Make Metheglin shows: “And the time of the tryal of the strength is, when you incorporate the honey and water together, before the boiling of it.” apparently not realizing boiling evaporates water thereby changing the density. The recipes can also not quite make up their mind if the must should be cold, blood warm or boiling, which could indicate they did not understand how temperature affects specific gravity either, as shown in the 1597 Dutch beekeeping manual “Van de Byen” by Theodorus Clutius; “and let it cook / until an Egg can float in the liquid / then set it off the fire”, which could also resulted in a nicely boiled egg if the egg is not removed… As medieval recipes over many disciplines have a tendency to be brief to the point of missing pertinent information, it is entirely possible the period brewer knew to remove the egg and cool down the must, but did not bother to note that down. The 1616 Danish cookbook Koge Bog advises to “put an egg or two into this lukewarm brew so that there is a part of egg as big as a 2 shilling over the water then it is sweet and fat enough” which probably is the most accurate measurement.
Following are two 16th century recipes which specifically mention using the egg float test:
Jewell House of Art and Nature by Hugh Platt, 1594.
76 A receipt for the making of an artificiall Malmesey.
Take four gallons of conduit water, into the which put one gallon of good English honie, stirre the honie well till it be dissolved in the water, set this water in a copper pan upon a gentle fire, & as there ariseth any skumme take it off with a goose wing or a Skimmer, and when it hath simpered about an hour, then put in a new laid egge into the water, which will sinke presentlie, then continue your first fire without any great encrease, and also your skimming so long as any skim doth arise, and when this egge beginneth to floate aloft and sinketh no more, then put in another new laide egge, which wil sinke likewise, & when that second egge doth also swim aloft with the fyrst egge, let the water continue on the fyre a Paternoster while, then take it off, and beeing colde, put the same into some roundelet, fylling the roundelet brimful. And in the middest of this roudelet hand a bagge, wherein first put some reasonable weight or peize, and to everie eight gallons of liquor two nutmegges groselie beaten, twentie Cloves, a rase or two of Ginger, and a sticke of Cynamon of a fynger length. Set your roundelet in the sunne, in some hot Leades or other place, where the sunne shineth continuallie for three whole monethes, covering the bung-hole from the raine, and now and then fylling it uppe with more of the same composition as it wasteth. This I learned of an English traveyler, who advised me to make the same alwaies about the middest of Maie, that it might have 3. hot moneths togither to work it to his ful perfection. […]
“Van de Byen” (Of the Bees) by Theodorus Clutius, 1597
To make mead.
One shall take the rest that stayed in the basket / from the dripping of the raw honey or zeem / and wash it with hot water / so that all the sweetness goes into the water / until you have a tub full or two / or as much as you want: Then put this liquid in the kettle / and let it cook / until an Egg can float in the liquid / then set it off the fire / and pour it into the barrels and let it cool / add some yeast of beer / and set it to rise and work / and althus filling the barrel / so the filthiness may overflow / and when it does not bubble or work / so shall one close up the barrel / and let it rest. This is the way to make mead / some put in a piece of tied cloth some cinnamon / ginger / nutmeg / cloves and similar spices / to give the mead a good taste and scent. (Translated by Susan Verberg)
Between the end of the 16th century and the publishing of Digby’s cookbook a number of mead recipes are found to use a similar egg float technique as described in Digby, but with old-fashioned ingredients and techniques. This is an interesting time of transition, as by the 16th century not only could the average person read, due to cheaper & more extensive trade unusual ingredients like spices, sugar, citrus, chemicals & pigments became available to the common man. It was a time of great exploration, both of the sea and in the mind, not in the least helped by the success of the numerous Books of Secrets, each claiming to expose trade secrets never seen before, which greatly helped to spread knowledge before only accessible to the educated elite. This period of transition shows in the difference between Digby’s work and our time of interest, both in ingredients used and in their often elaborate and detailed explanations.
Numerous recipes in Digby mention the use of coins, like the groat & two pence (most with an average diameter of about 20mm) as a size measurement of the bit of shell sticking above the water surface. This type of measurement seems to become fairly universal in later times as observed in many of the Digby recipes and later in the US Colonial soap making lye measurements which often also specify an area the size of a coin, in this case a quarter. Even though coins are mentioned in the barely out of period 1604 Complete Receipt Books of Ladie Elynor Fettiplace “so strong of honie that it will cover an egg to the breadth of two pence”, and the 1609 The Feminine Monarchie “make it to bear an egge the breath of a groat”, the period recipes do not specify how the egg should float, only that is should.
So after all this, where do you start? With a fresh egg no more than two days old, of the roundest kind, weighing less than or about 2 ounces. Making a brine solution is easiest: add enough salt until it stops dissolving, which means a saturated solution is reached, place the egg, and slowly add water until it floats just as the recipe likes it. To test lye for soap making the egg would be used after the heated evaporated lye is cooled down, which allows for contaminant minerals to settle out of solution and thus not interfere with the remaining solution’s density (for more information on leaching lye and making soft soap see the Bibliography). For brewing, make your honey must first, heat and evaporate as needed, let cool down to blood temperature, and add an egg. If the egg sinks the must is too weak, if it floats close to tipping or tips, the must is too strong. As the 1609 beekeeping manual The Feminine Monarchie instructs: “If the liquor be not strong enough to beare an egge the breath of a two-pēce above it, thē put so much of your course hony into it, as wil give it that strength: or rather, when it is so strong powre in more water (stirring it with the liquor) until the egge sinke.” In other words; if it is too weak, add more honey, stir well to make sure the sugars are completely dissolved, and try again. If too strong, add some water, stir well, and try again. As you can imagine, it is easier to start with too strong a solution and dilute it, than to start with a weak solution and try to incrementally dissolve more sugars into it.
The table below matches egg position with specific gravity, giving us an idea of what to aim for. Egg readings are given for both 10% tolerance yeast (ale yeast) and 12% tolerance yeast. (from The Egg Test)mead start SG egg start SG egg style 10% yeast reading 12% yeast reading dry mead 1.085 touches 1.1 20mm Medium 1.095 18mm 1.11 26mm Sweet 1.1 20mm 1.12 30mm Dessert 1.1 + > 20mm 1.2 + 30mm +
To make sure there is enough sugar for the yeast to feed on, the egg should float. But if it starts to tip over and not reliably float point up anymore, the solution has become too strong with too much honey sugar for the yeast to properly work and fermentation will likely stall. The average range of 1.08 to 1.12 g/ml at which the average, round fresh laid egg floats point up is also the ideal range of sugar content for starting a successful mead. And now that you have everything you need to make a successful solution using medieval techniques, whether it be for soapmaking, cooking or brewing, and are able to properly document it, let the experiments begin!
I would like to express my thanks to Mistress Roheisa le Sarjent from Lochac for her article The Egg Test for Period Brewers and Mead Makers. It proved a great starting point as we’re working from similar sources, and I’m grateful to find the heavy lifting of figuring out egg readings already done. Tak!
Digby, Kenelme. The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digby Knight Opened, 1669
The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened. Anne MacDonell (ed.), 2005 https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/16441
Sibly, Belinda. The Egg Test for Period Brewers and Mead Makers, 2004
Mistress Roheisa le Sarjent, Cockatrice, May AS 49, p.20-29.
Butler, Charles. The Feminine Monarchie. Oxford: 1609.
https://books.google.com/books?id=f5tbAAAAMAAJ&dq=the+feminine+monarchie+butler&source=gbs_navlinks_s (1623). Transcription by Susan Verberg.
Platt, Hugh. Jewell House of Art and Nature. 1594.
London: Peter Short. http://eebo.chadwyck.com/ Transcription by Susan Verberg
Anonymous, Koge Bog: Indeholdendis et hundrede fornødene stycker etc. Kiøbenhaffn (Copenhagen): Aff Salomone Sartorio, 1616. http://www.forest.gen.nz/Medieval/articles/cooking/1616.html
Krupp, Christina M. & Gillen, Bill. Making Medieval Mead, or Mead Before Digby. The Compleat Anachronist #120. Milpitas: SCA Inc, 2003. (includes the Complete Receipt Books of Ladie Elynor Fettiplace, 1604).
Ruscelli, Girolamo. The secretes of the reuerende Maister Alexis of Piemount. London: John Kingstone, 1558.
Ruscelli, Girolamo. The seconde part of the Secretes of Master Alexis of Piemont. London: John Kyndon, 1560.
Dawson, Thomas. The second part of the good hus-wiues iewell, London: E. Allde for Edward, 1597.
Clutium, Theodorum Van de Byen. Leyden: Jan Claesz van Dorp, Inde Vergulde Son, 1597.
Transcription by Susan Verberg.
More information on leaching soapmaking lye:
More information on making medieval soft soap:
More information on brewing with honey: Of Hony, a Collection of Medieval Brewing Recipes.
To find a groat, and other period coins: http://alphaofficium.weebly.com/apps/search?q=groat
Image of fresh egg test from http://media.finedictionary.com/pictures/243/38/9971.jpg
Photographs of soap making lye by Susan Verberg, 2016.
Bees coming out of a hive to drive off an intruder.
Museum Meermanno, MMW, 10 B 25, Folio 37r – http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beastgallery260.htm#
“Dryckeslag, Nordisk familjebok” from Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus, by Olaus Magnus, Rome, 1555.
A glass penny, the only known intact survivor of a World War II experiment, sold at auction Friday for $70,500 including buyer’s premium, more than twice its presale estimate of $30,000. The price was driven up in a bidding war between a phone buyer and one present in the room. The phone bidder, an American collector, won.
The metals used to make pennies and nickels — copper, tin and nickel — were needed for the war effort so in 1942 the Treasury experimented with coins made from alternative raw materials. Private contractors, eight plastic manufacturers — Bakelite Corporation (Bloomfield, New Jersey), E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co. (Arlington, New Jersey), Durez Plastics and Chemical, Inc. (North Tonawanda, New York), Patent Button Company Inc (Knoxville, Tennessee), Monsanto Chemical Company (Springfield, Massachusetts), Colt Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company (Hartford, Connecticut), Tennessee Eastman Corporation (Kingsport, Tennessee), Auburn Button Works (Auburn, New York) — and one glass company — Blue Ridge Glass Corporation (Kingsport, Tennessee) — were commissioned to strike coins with a variety of non-critical materials including Bakelite, other plastics, hard rubber, wood pulp and our hero today, glass.
Chief engraver John R. Sinnock created the pattern dies using simple designs. The obverse was a Liberty Head facing right, a copy of the head on the Colombian two centavos coin, with “LIBERTY” and “JUSTICE” on the left and right border and the date 1942 underneath the head. The reverse is a simple olive branch wreath designed by Anthony C. Paquet for a Washington medalet. Washington’s dates in the middle of the wreath were replaced with “UNITED STATES MINT.”
The dies were sent to the manufacturers who struck prototype cents with their experimental materials. The Blue Ridge Glass Corporation struck their pennies on amber tempered glass blanks from Corning Glass Co.
Blue Ridge had considerable difficulty making glass 1942 sample coins. For impressing a design into glass, both glass and the dies had to be very hot — just below glass melting temperature — then the glass had to cool quickly to preserve design detail. But Blue Ridge was not able to heat the die, and the resulting experimental cents were softly detailed and had many minute surface imperfections. Blue Ridge described their process and results in a six-page report, which has been preserved among U.S. Mint documents in the National Archives.
The surface of the glass coins was susceptible to crazing — clearly visible in the “UNITED STATES MINT” on the reverse of the penny that was just sold — but at first that didn’t trouble the Treasury Department. Blue Ridge was led to believe they’d get a contract to produce the glass pennies and even began to expand their facilities and plan the additional security necessary for mint work. Then, all of a sudden, Blue Ridge’s president J.H. Lewis was informed by Treasury that the project was called off. He was not told why.
Official records indicate Treasury thought the glass coinage would be “too brittle,” but that was just a smokescreen. The real reason was as top secret as it gets. The planned production line glass pennies would have contained traces of uranium oxide that would make them fluoresce under ultraviolet light, a cool and ingenious anti-counterfeiting system. But another project that started in 1942 required every molecule of fissionable material that could be scrounged up, so the glass coins were scrapped and Blue Ridge had to send all of its uranium stock to Oak Ridge for use in the Manhattan Project.
None of the plastic, rubber and glass experiments ever went into production. The Treasury doubted if plastic would ever be accepted by the public as legitimate currency and anyway the most successful plastics, urea and phenol, soon made the critical materials list themselves. The glass penny with its poor impressions and secretly invaluable uranium wouldn’t do either. Alternative metals won the day. The wartime penny would be zinc coated steel. It was minted in 1943. For a year it was lighter than the standard 3.11-gram Lincoln Wheat penny that preceded it, weighing 2.7 grams. Starting in 1944, the weight was back up to 3.11 grams and copper was back in the mix with zinc.
Very few of the experimental coins still exist today. The Mint destroyed most of them. A few examples managed to avoid that fate, mostly reddish plastic ones. Only one other glass example is known to have survived, and it is broken in half.