Walker steps on 2,150 medieval silver coins in Czech Republic

A woman taking a walk through a field in Kutnohorsk, a city 50 miles southeast of Prague, stumbled on a few silver coins that turned out to be the advance guard of one of the largest early medieval coin hoards ever found in the Czech Republic. She reported the find to heritage authorities and archaeologists were dispatched to scan the field with metal detectors themselves and then excavating the areas of interest. They ultimately unearthed more than 2,150 silver deniers minted by Bohemian rulers King Vratislav II. and princes Břetislav II. and Bořivoje II, between 1085 and 1107.

Archaeologists believe the hoard was buried in the first quarter of the 12th century, a turbulent period characterized by various members of the Přemyslid dynasty, rulers of Bohemia, fighting each other over the ducal throne. Duke of Bohemia Vratislaus II was granted the royal title of King of Bohemia by the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV in 1085, but it was not an inherited title and his brothers, nephews and sons squabbled constantly over who got what title. After his death, the throne of Bohemia was a carousel of expulsions, assassinations and competing claims from Přemyslid cousins, brothers and uncles.

The hoard was originally buried in a ceramic container, but over the centuries the vessel was destroyed by plowing. Archaeologists were only able to find the bottom of it, but it is evidence that this fortune in coins was amassed and buried in one deposit, even though the deniers were later scattered.

“The coins were most likely minted in the Prague mint from silver that was imported to Bohemia at the time ,” says Lenka Mazačová, director of the Czech Silver Museum in Kutnohorsk.

The deniers were made from a mint alloy, which, in addition to silver, also contains copper, lead and trace amounts of other metals. Determining this particular composition can also help determine the origin of the silver used.

“Unfortunately, for the turn of 11th-12th century, we lack data on the purchasing power of the contemporary coin. But it was a huge amount, unimaginable for an ordinary person and at the same time unaffordable. It can be compared to winning a million in the jackpot ,” explains Filip Velímský.

Due to the frequent battles for the Prague princely throne, the armies of individual rival princes repeatedly marched through today’s Kutnohorsk Region. Experts do not rule out the possibility that the found depot represents cash for paying wages or war booty.

The coins are now being examined by experts from the Institute of Archeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague, and the Czech Silver Museum in Kutnohorsk. Each coin will be recorded, cleaned, photographed and assessed for any conservation needs. The coins will also be X-rayed and subjected to spectral analysis to determine their metal composition. Once all the work has been completed and a full catalogue of the hoard created, the hoard will be exhibited to the public in the Czech Silver Museum, hopefully by the summer of 2025.

Ritual burial of dozens of horses from Gallic Wars found

Nine pits containing skeletons of horses buried during the Gallic Wars have been discovered in Villedieu-sur-Indre, central France. Radiocarbon dating of the horse bones found the burials date to the late Gallic/early Roman period, ca. 100 B.C. – 100 A.D.

The 1.3 hectare site is being excavated by archaeologists from France’s National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) before road construction. The investigation revealed evidence of buildings, ditches, pits and a path from an early medieval (5th-6th century A.D.) settlement, as well as the much older horse burial pits.

Only two of the nine pits have been fully excavated so far, the first of them containing the remains of 10 horses, the second containing the remains of only two horses. The skeletons in both pits were complete and articulated. They were carefully and deliberately placed in the pits lying on their right side with their heads pointing south. The horses in the larger pit were arranged in two rows and two layers. The smaller pit had its only two horses in a single row.

All of the horses were adult males over four years of age at time of death. They are small, about 11.8 hands (just under four feet) high at the withers. The positioning and the way the bones of different horses connect in the pit indicates they were all buried at the same time very soon after they died.

Between the two horse pits is another animal burial pit, this one containing the skeletal remains of two adult dogs of medium size. They were also placed with deliberation and care, on their left sides with their heads pointing west.

The remaining pits are being excavated now, and the bones that have emerges thus far bring the total number of horses up to 28. There will be many more added to the tally by time the excavation is complete. Archaeologists hope they will be able to unravel the cause of death. We know it was not an epidemic or the horses would not have been all adult males of the same age.

Similar clusters of horse burials from this period have been found at sites in the Gergovia plain, where the Arverni tribe had their capital and where their chieftain Vercingetorix led his cavalry against the Roman army of Julius Caesar in 52 B.C. and won. Two months later, Caesar won decisively at the Battle of Alesia, forcing Vercingetorix to surrender and ending the Gallic Wars. Villedieu-sur-Indre was also close to a battle between Romans and Gauls. Caesar didn’t record it in Gallic Wars, but Roman sling bullets have been found in the nearby oppidium, so the area was definitely in the thick of the conflict.

Archaeologists believe there is therefore a connection between the horse burials and the battles of the Gallic Wars. The burials are too consistent and tidy for the horses to have been killed in battle. The current hypothesis is that the burials were part of an unknown ritual, that the horses were sacrificed. If so, it would have been a ritual of enormous significance to require the destruction of the core of the battle-seasoned herd.

Remains of saint’s reliquary found in church crypt

The remains of the reliquary of St. Svithun, long believed to have been sent to Denmark and melted down 500 years ago, have been found in the crypt of the church dedicated to him in Stavanger, Norway.

The find consists of a gilded copper plate measuring five by ten centimeters with small holes along the edges which indicate that it has been attached to a larger object, for example a wooden plate. The archaeologists see this in connection with a gilded silver medallion with an animal motif, and several decorative glass gems.

“We were very surprised when we carried out an X-ray examination of the copper plate. The image clearly reveals a church building with tower and roof, columns and windows,” says conservator Bettina Ebert.

According to the archaeologists, all these finds can be connected to the reliquary of St. Svithun.

St. Swithun was the Anglo-Saxon Bishop of Winchester from 852 until his death in 863. His remains were translated to a shrine inside the new cathedral at Winchester a century later, and so many miracles occurred during and after the move that the Winchester monks lodged a protest at having to drop everything and go to church to celebrate every time a miracle happened, even multiple times a night. They gave up when Swithun appeared in a dream and told them they had to go to church or he’d stop doing miracles. He was thereafter canonized a saint by popular acclaim.

His relics were translated again when the new Norman cathedral was built in 1093, and while most of the core set remained there, some of his bones were shared with other parishes and shrines in the Middle Ages. The Winchester shrine and St. Swithun’s remains were destroyed in the frenzy of the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII in 1538.

Stavanger got the saint’s arm bone because its first bishop, Bishop Reinald, came to the newly-established bishopric from Winchester and began construction of its cathedral in around 1100. Contemporary sources say Reinald already had the arm in Stavanger in 1112. The cathedral was completed in 1125.

The excavation of the basement of the church was triggered by the chance discovery of a 700-year-old ivory figurine of Melchior, one of the Three Kings, kneeling before the Christ Child. The follow-up investigation unearthed an ivory of the Virgin Mary. They were parts of two different altarpieces.

Many precious objects followed the discovery of the ivory figurines: gilded fragments of liturgical objects, hundreds of pieces from the old stained glass windows, a burial chamber, likely of a bishop, a woven gold band from the fine vestments of a church official, the papal seal of Boniface VIII (r. 1294–1303), and an enameled metalwork fitting with an intricate geometric decoration. Also found in the excavation were 160 coin and bracteates plus 60 fragments of coins and bracteates. This is Stavanger’s largest ever medieval coin discovery. More utilitarian objects from daily life were uncovered as well, like a tablespoon and an ear spoon.

While there is no detailed description of the reliquary that held the holy humerus (or ulna, or radius), reliquaries shaped like churches studded with colorful gem-like stones were popular in medieval Norway. That means somebody defied the Reformation zealots who busted up the cathedral’s stained glass windows for their idolatrous Catholic imagery and secreted the saint’s relics under the North Tower to keep them from being destroyed.

“In terms of quantity and significance, the finds in the basement have exceeded all expectations and reflect more than 1,000 years of Stavanger’s history. They demonstrate the cathedral and city’s clerical wealth and contact with Rome in a way not previously seen in the archaeological material,” [excavation leader Sean] Denham says.

Visitors will be able to see these treasures and more in the museum’s 2025 exhibition celebrating the cathedral’s 900th anniversary.

Neolithic mammoth bones found in Austrian wine cellar

A winemaker in Gobelsburg, Lower Austria, renovating his wine cellar stumbled on some large bones that have proved to be 30,000-40,000-year-old mammoth remains. This is the most significant mammoth bone finding in Austria in more than a century, and the first to be excavated with modern methods.

The winemaker, Andreas Pernerstorfer, discovered the first bone in March, and he thought it was an old piece of wood left by his grandfather. After digging it up a little more, he began to suspect it wasn’t wood. He recalled his grandfather had told Andreas years ago that he had found teeth in the cellar, and that made him suspect his new discovery was a mammoth too.

He reported his discovery to the Federal Monuments Office and they called in a team of archaeologists from the Austrian Archaeological Institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW) to investigate the find. Since the excavation began in mid-May, they have unearthed several dense layers of mammoth bones containing the skeletal remains of at least three different mammoths. The team carefully recovered each bone, revealing multiple interlocking bones.

The last comparable discovery in Austria was made not far from the current excavation site: 150 years ago, in an adjacent wine cellar in Gobelsburg, “a mighty bone layer as well as cultural layers with flint artifacts, decorative fossils and charcoal” were also discovered in the ÖAW release: “ During the excavation there, the affected cellars were completely cleared out, and other comparable sites in Austria and neighboring countries were mostly dug at least 100 years ago and are largely lost to modern research.

Stone artifacts and charcoal remains also came to light in the area of ​​the new excavation. Based on this, the team dated the bone remains to be between 30,000 and 40,000 years old. This could have been a place where Stone Age people once rounded up the massive animals or drove them into a trap and killed them. It is hoped that the unusual discovery situation will provide new information about how people organized and carried out the hunt for the animals back then: “We know that people hunted mammoths, but we still know little about how they did it,” [excavation leader Hannah] Parow-Souchon said.

The ÖAW team is recording the site with 3D mapping technology. They hope it will shed light on how the animals died and, if they’re right about the case of death, on how human hunters were able to take down such massive prey.

Once the bones are fully excavated, they will be transferred to the Natural History Museum (NHM) Vienna for additional study and restoration.

Book with notes by John Milton found in Phoenix public library

A rare book with handwritten annotations by Paradise Lost author John Milton has been discovered in a public library in Phoenix, Arizona. This is only the third book with Milton’s notes known to survive, and one of only nine surviving books from his library.

The notes in two volumes of Holinshed’s Chronicles, a history of England, Ireland and Scotland published in 1587, were spotted by researchers in the Rare Book Room of the Burton Barr Central Library this March. Arizona State University faculty invited four visiting scholars to examine a selection of books collected by Alfred Knight, a real estate magnate, bibliophile and philanthropist who bequeathed his collection of more than 2,300 items, including a wide range of literary output from illuminated manuscripts to cuneiform tablets, Shakespeare folios and rare first editions, to the people of Phoenix in 1958. Knight had two fine first editions Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667–8) and collected prose (1697), but he had no idea that his copy of Holinshed was part of the great author’s personal library.

The Holinshed was among the books pulled for the research forum, and two of the visiting researchers recognized the distinctive italic handwriting in the notes as that of John Milton. Dr Aaron Pratt, Curator of Early Books & Manuscripts at University of Texas, was the first to notice that a letter “e” looked a lot like Milton’s “e.” Claire Bourne, the associate professor of English at Penn State who in 2019 had found Milton’s annotations in Shakespeare’s First Folio at the Philadelphia Free Library, compared the Holinshed’s notes to the Shakespeare ones, and found them so similar, she sent photos of the notes to Professor Jason Scott-Warren at the University of Cambridge. He didn’t hesitate to agree that this was Milton’s hand.

John Milton censors Raphael Holinshed's lewd anecdote about the mother of William the Conqueror, Arlete. Milton crosses the passage out with a diagonal line and adds a note saying: "an unbecom[ing] / tale for a hist[ory] / and as pedlerl[y] / expresst". Photo courtesy the Phoenix Public Library.The researchers found more than 100 annotations in the first volume alone. In one of them he takes umbrage at a passage, striking the entire paragraph with a diagonal line on the grounds that it is “an unbecoming tale for a history and as pedlerly expresst.” “Pedlerly” means junky, like something a peddler would sell. Milton was clutching his pearls over a rather juicy story, to be fair: the conception of William the Bastard, later known as William the Conqueror.

In the yéere of Christ 1030, Robert, the second sonne of Richard the second duke of Normandie, and brother to Richard the third duke of that name there having with great honour and wisedome gouerned his dukedome seven yéeres, for performance of a penance that he had set to himselfe, appointed a pilgrimage to Jerusalem; leaving behind him this William a yoong prince, whome seven yéeres before he had begotten upon his paramour Arlete (whom after he held as his wife) with whose beautifull favour, lovelie grace and presence, at hir dansing on a time then as he was tenderlie touched, for familiar utterance of his mind what he had further to say, would néeds that night she should be his bedfellow, who else as wivelesse should have lien alone: where when she was bestowed, thinking that if she should have laid hir selfe naked, it might have séemed not so maidenlie a part: so when the duke was about (as the maner is) to have lift up hir linnen, she in an humble modestie staid hir lords hand, and rent downe hir smocke asunder, from the collar to the verie skirt. Heereat the duke all smiling did aske hir what thereby she ment? In great lowlines, with a feate question she answerd againe; “My lord, were it méet that any part of my garments dependant about me downeward, should presume to be mountant to my sovereignes mouth vpward? Let your grace pardon me.” He liked hir answer: and so and so foorth for that time.

So basically, instead of letting Robert I take her shirt off, Arlete tore it off her body Chippendales’ style from neckline to waist. Nine months later, a bouncing baby Conqueror was born.

The researchers believe that the discovery opens up new perspectives on his engagement with a major source for his writings, including Of “Reformation “(1641) and “The History of Britain” (1670). He would have been working on both around the time—or shortly after—he was reading the “Chronicles”.

Several of Milton’s notes cite other books known to have been in his library. These include John Stow’s “Annales”, another key source of historical information. Milton also marked out Holinshed quoting Giovanni Villani’s “Chroniche di Firenze” (“Chronicles of Florence”), a book which Milton included in the curriculum he developed for his nephews in the 1640s.

The notes also emphasize Milton’s interest in continental poetry. Under Holinshed’s assertion that Richard the Lionheart was “not very notorious,” Milton added, “the booke of Provenzall poets numbers him in / the catalogue, telling of his poetrie, and his Provenzal / mistresses.” The researchers believe this book refers to Jean de Nostredame’s “Les vies des plus célèbres et anciens poètes provençaux” (Lyon, 1575), which discusses Richard’s poetry and mistresses.