Richard III reburied today

March 26th, 2015

More than 35,000 people lined the cortege route on Sunday, and more than 20,000 visitors have queued up to pay their respects to the mortal remains of Richard III in the three days the coffin has been on view at Leicester Cathedral. The culmination of this week of events is today’s reburial service.

A few tidbits about the service:

  • The current royal family will be represented by the Countess of Wessex, wife of Prince Edward, and the Duke of Gloucester who shares a title Richard held before he was king, but Queen Elizabeth II has written a tribute to Richard that will be printed in the service program.
  • After the service the coffin will be lowered into a tomb built of Yorkshire Swaledale stone. This is the first time the public will witness the actual lowering of a monarch’s coffin into the grave.
  • Descendents of people who fought at the Battle of Bosworth will be present.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch, who is playing Richard III in an upcoming BBC series based on Shakespeare’s relevant histories, will read a poem called Richard written for the occasion by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. Also University of Leicester historian Kevin Schürer found Benedict Cumberbatch and Richard III are second cousins 16 times removed, see abridged genealogy here (pdf).
  • After the service the Cathedral will be closed to the public until Friday when the new memorial will be in place.

If you missed the transfer of the remains from the University of Leicester to the Cathedral and the Compline service that followed, Channel 4 has their entire coverage of the event available on their website. They will again be the only television channel broadcasting the reinterment live, but it looks like a sure bet that they’ll have that video available on their website if you miss it live.

Channel 4′s live coverage begins at 10:00 AM GMT (6:00 AM EST). In addition to airing the service itself, it will include discussions with some of the guests and the people involved in the discovery and reburial. The program will last three hours until 1:00 PM GMT. They’ll air a one-hour highlight reel at 8:00 PM GMT.

Needless to say, I’ll be watching live.

6:00 AM EDIT: Or rather I would be, if the Channel 4 viewer weren’t giving me an error. :angry:

7:06 AM: I can’t get it to work, dammit. I’ll have to watch it on demand later. For now, I’m listening to BBC Radio Leicester’s live coverage and following the Twitter RichardReburied hashtag.

The Leicester Mercury is liveblogging the reburial, as is the city’s dedicated King Richard in Leicester website.

7:23 AM: Here’s Queen Elizabeth II’s message:

7:31 AM: Professor Gordon Campbell, the University of Leicester’s public orator (dude, they have a public orator!) opened with a euology that was a brief, dry summary of Richard’s life, the discovery of his remains and the significance of his mitochondrial DNA. They don’t orate like they used to, man.

7:37 AM: The Dean just placed Richard’s personal Book of Hours, found in his tent after the Battle of Bosworth, on a cushion in front of the coffin.

7:49 AM: Check out this amazing headshake and eyeroll from John Ashdown-Hill of the Richard III Society. That’s Philippa Langley sitting next to him. I’m guessing is has something to do with insufficent recognition of Langley and the Society’s work in making this day come to pass.

7:58 AM: What a poetic sermon from the Bishop of Leicester.

8:02 AM: Here’s a neat story about the artist who made the ceramic vessels to hold the soils of Fotheringhay, Middleham and Fenn Lane that were blessed on Sunday and will be interred with Richard’s remains today. Michael Ibsen made the box, and a handsome one it is.

8:07 AM: Classic ashes to ashes dust to dust reading over the coffin which is now being lowered into the tomb.

8:08 AM: Apparently the soils will be sprinkled over the coffin, not placed in the tomb in the handsome box.

8:14 AM: “Grant me the carving of my name…” Dame Carol Ann Duffy’s poem is beautiful and moving and Benedict Cumberbatch recited it like, well, a pro.

Richard

My bones, scripted in light, upon cold soil,
a human braille. My skull, scarred by a crown,
emptied of history. Describe my soul
as incense, votive, vanishing; your own
the same. Grant me the carving of my name.

These relics, bless. Imagine you re-tie
a broken string and on it thread a cross,
the symbol severed from me when I died.
The end of time – an unknown, unfelt loss –
unless the Resurrection of the Dead…

or I once dreamed of this, your future breath
in prayer for me, lost long, forever found;
or sensed you from the backstage of my death,
as kings glimpse shadows on a battleground.

8:27 AM: And that’s all, folks. The luminaries are processing out. It was less than an hour long. No long, boring speeches. Beautiful music. Great poem. Epic Ricardian eyeroll. I couldn’t ask for more.

8:35 AM: Channel 4′s coverage continues with interviews of some of the principals — Langley, Ibsen, etc. I wonder if they’ll ask Philippa about the epic eyeroll. If, like me, you’re having trouble viewing the broadcast on Channel 4′s website, you can watch it online here instead. Wish I had remembered that an hour ago. :blankstare:

8:41 AM: They did ask John Ashdown-Hill about his eyeroll and he minced no words. He hoped the service would be peaceful, but “we still seem to be dealing with some lies from Leicester.” Daaaaamn… He wouldn’t specify the lies beyond saying they got Richard’s birthday wrong on the program.

8:45 AM: Benedict Cumberbatch was blown away by the poem. He looks stylish wearing a white rose lapel pin.

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Boy it sure got quiet in here

March 25th, 2015

At first I just assumed I’d bored everyone to death once and for all. When I found myself all alone nerding out over Richard III’s cortege for 18 hours or so, I was bummed, but still not suspicious. Yes, it took another three days of complete radio silence in my comments for it to dawn on me that something might just be rotten in technological Denmark. So I looked under the hood and lo and behold, the last comment was posted on March 16th and on March 17th I installed an update to the anti-spam plugin. Coincidence or just two things happening at the same time? Neither! There was, gasp, a causal relationship between the two events.

So now I have a new anti-spam plugin that is not dead set on silencing you and eviscerating my self-esteem. Group hug!

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Neanderthals made jewelry from eagle talons 130,000 years ago

March 25th, 2015

A set of white-tailed eagle talons recovered from the 130,000-year-old Krapina Neanderthal site in Croatia have multiple cut marks, notches and polished facets that indicate the talons were once mounted in a piece of jewelry. Individual talons thought to have been used as pendants have been found at Neanderthal sites before, but this group of eight talons collected from at least three eagles was used for a more elaborate ornament that likely held symbolic meaning. Crafted early in the Middle Paleolithic era long before anatomically modern humans arrived in Europe about 45,000 years ago, the talons are evidence that Neanderthals created complex ornaments with symbolic significance independently of any later interactions with Homo sapiens sapiens.

The eight talons and one pedal phalanx (the toe bone associated with one of the talons) were found in the same level of a rock shelter on Hušnjak hill, near the Croatian town of Krapina, that was excavated by Croatian paleontologist Dragutin Gorjanović-Kramberger from 1899 to 1905. They were in the uppermost level which Gorjanović-Kramberger called the “Ursus spelaeus zone” because of its many cave bear bones. Although most of the Neanderthal bones were found more than halfway down site (level 4 on the diagram, labeled “Homo sapiens” because when it was drawn they hadn’t figured out yet that the bones belonged to another species of human), stone tools and one hearth were also found on the bear level confirming its use by Neanderthals. The entire site from top to bottom has a relatively short date span of about 10,000 years.

Only the cliff face is left today, but Gorjanović-Kramberger extensively documented and published the site and its contents — hundreds of Neanderthal bones and teeth, 2800 faunal remains, more than 800 stone tools — have been preserved at the Croatian Natural History Museum in Zagreb where he was head of the Geological-Paleontological Department. Davorka Radovcic was reviewing the Natural History Museum’s Krapina Neanderthal collection in late 2013 after she was appointed its curator when she noticed the cut marks on the phalanx bone from the eagle talon set. Radovcic realized that the marks were made by humans. An international study of the talons ensued, the results of which were published earlier this month in the journal PLOS ONE.

The study examined each bone in microscopic detail and found that four of the talons and the phalanx have multiple cut marks whose edges have been smoothed, eight talons have been polished and/or abraded and three have notches in approximately the same area. Those smooth edges are how we know the cuts weren’t the result of butchering. Other fauna in the rock shelter bears the sharp cut marks of the butchering process and none of them have smoothed edges. This was done deliberately, probably by wrapping the talon in a fiber of some kind. The shiny polished areas look like what happens when bone rubs against bone. The research team believes these are the tell-tale signs of the claws having been mounted in a necklace or bracelet.

At Krapina, cut marks on the pedal phalanx and talons are not related to feather removal or subsistence, so these must be the result of severing tendons for talon acquisition. Further evidence for combining these in jewelry is edge smoothing of the cut marks, the small polished facets, medial/lateral sheen and nicks on some specimens. All are a likely manifestation of the separating the bones from the foot and the attachment of the talons to a string or sinew. Cut marks on many aspects, but not the plantar surfaces, illustrate the numerous approaches the Neandertals had for severing the bones and mounting them into a piece of jewelry.

As in ethnohistoric-present societies, the Neandertals’ practice of catching eagles very likely involved planning and ceremony. We cannot know the way they were captured, but if collected from carcasses it must have taken keen eyes to locate the dead birds as rare as they were in the prehistoric avifauna. We suspect that the collection of talons from at least three different white-tailed eagles mitigates against recovering carcasses in the field, but more likely represents evidence for live capture. In any case, these talons provide multiple new lines of evidence for Neandertals’ abilities and cultural sophistication. They are the earliest evidence for jewelry in the European fossil record and demonstrate that Neandertals possessed a symbolic culture long before more modern human forms arrived in Europe.

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Rubens’ Three Magi reunited after 130 years

March 24th, 2015

Individual portraits of the Three Wise Men painted by Peter Paul Rubens in 1618 are back together for the first time in 130 years at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The three works, uniquely intimate bust views of the Biblical personages, are normally separated by many miles and one large ocean. Melchior, also known as the Assyrian King, is part of the permanent collection of the NGA while Gaspar, also known as the Oldest King, belongs to the Museo de Arte de Ponce near San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Balthasar, the Moorish or Young King, is owned by the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp, Belgium. Melchior cannot leave the NGA by the terms of a bequest, so this is a unique opportunity to see all three of the original paintings together.

Rubens created the Three Magi on commission from Antwerp printing magnate Balthasar I Moretus after having painted the Adoration of the Magi the year before for the Church of St. John in Mechelen. Indeed there are marked similarities in the depictions of the Three Kings in the Adoration and in the ones he made for Moretus, but the individual portraits take a much more personal approach, starting with the fact that they’re in separate paintings at all when they whole point of them in terms of Christian iconography is for them to be together. There’s a reason for this.

Balthasar Moretus was head of the Officina Plantiniana (Plantin Press), a printing company founded by his grandfather Christophe Plantin which was the largest publisher in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries. He had been close friends with Rubens since they were schoolkids and once he and his brother became heads of the company after their father’s death in 1610, Moretus regularly commissioned Rubens to make illustrations and title pages for Officina publications. He also commissioned 19 portraits of friends and family including ones of his deceased father and grandfather.

The Three Magi were an extension of those family portraits. Balthasar’s father Jan I Moretus had started at Plantin Press as an assistant when he was 15 years old and worked his way up the ladder to become Christophe Plantin’s indispensable right hand man. After his marriage to Plantin’s second daughter Martina, who ran a successful lace and linen business of her own, he became Plantin’s son-in-law and presumptive successor too. In a letter to his father, Jan explained that Moretus was the Latinized version of his last name Moerentorf and that he had chosen it as a reference to “Morus,” the Moorish king who was one of the Three Magi. He placed the king and the Star of Bethlehem on his insignia along with the motto “ratione recta” (“right reason”) because he held the star to be a symbol of reason.

He carried that theme into the family nomenclature when he and Martina named three of their 10 children after the Magi. Balthasar, obviously, was one of the three. When he became head of the Platin Press he took a page out of his father’s book, no pun intended, put the Star of Bethlehem into the company’s golden compass printer’s device and adopted the motto “stella duce” (“with the star as guide”). The Three Magi Rubens painted for him, therefore, were avatars of the brothers, the family and its vocation on top of their religious meaning.

Many of the portraits Rubens painted for the publishing dynasty still hang on the wall of the main gallery of Plantin-Moretus Museum, a museum dedicated to the Plantin Press and Plantin-Moretus families that is located in the Renaissance-style palace that housed both the family and the business from the 16th century through the late 19th. The lavishly decorated building and its extraordinary contents — Flemish Baroque Old Master paintings, rare books, the two oldest surviving printing presses in the world (from around 1600), complete sets of punches, dies, matrices, type in multiple languages and an almost unbroken archive of the Plantin Press business records from 1555 to 1876 — are on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

The Moretus family thankfully kept most everything that crossed the transom and, after Balthasar I expanded the house and annexed the printing shop to it, made few changes to the property until Edward Moretus sold the company to the city of Antwerp in 1876. Within a year it was a museum for the public to enjoy the gorgeousness of the home (never mind the priceless art on the wall, the woodwork is INSANE) and the utilitarian beauty of the printing offices. The Three Magi were long gone by then, however. The family had sold the Three Kings to Graaf Van de Werve de Vosselaer of Antwerp in 1781. They were still together until they were dispersed at the Paris auction of the John William Wilson collection in 1881.

The old king (Gaspar) and the middle-aged king (Melchior) went to the United States. Gaspar returned to Europe in 1962 where it was sold at a Sotheby’s auction in London. The Museo de Arte de Ponce was the buyer. Melchior was donated to the National Gallery of Art in 1943 by collector Chester Dale who bequeathed almost his entire art collection to the museum in 1962. Balthasar had a more troubling road. Somehow he found his way into the collection Hermann Goering amassed from the confiscation, coercive sale and outright theft of Jewish property and looting of occupied territories during the war. After that ugly spell, Balthasar became part of a private collection in Brussels before eventually being reacquired by the Plantin-Moretus Museum.

The Three Kings will be together again at the National Gallery of Art from March 17th through July 5th, 2015.

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Queen Anne coronation medal designed by Isaac Newton

March 23rd, 2015


Oxford University PhD student James Hone has discovered a manuscript in the National Archives at Kew that proves Isaac Newton personally designed the coronation medal commemorating the accession of Queen Anne in 1702. Newton was Master of the Mint at the time, but before this discovery scholars believed that the medal was designed by court painter Sir Godfrey Kneller.

[T]he notes show Newton switching ideas from science to maths, classical history, politics and literature.
“It tells us that Newton didn’t conceive of himself as a scientist, but a master of lots of trades. The understanding of him as a great scientist is a later imposition, he would have seen himself more as a public servant.”

Finding a manuscript in Newton’s own hand complete with sketches and explanations of the metaphors woven into the design lends new insight into the man, his work at the mint and the seething cauldron of politics bubbling around Queen Anne’s coronation.

Official commemorative medals were struck for every coronation of a Stuart monarch. There were gold versions to hand out to the peers and diplomats attending the coronation and cheaper silver versions to throw into the crowds gathered at Westminster Abbey. Original documentation about the design and production of most of the Stuart tokens has not survived. That makes the Isaac Newton papers on the creation of the 1702 medal all the more significant.

Hone was doing research for the Stuart Successions Project, a joint study by Exeter University and Oxford University of printed material written during and about the succession crises in Britain between 1603 and 1702, when he came across a set of manuscripts from Newton’s time as Master of the Mint. One of them was a 50-page document that, judging from the completely rusted clasp keeping the pages together, hadn’t been read for years. The manuscript detailed the design of the first coronation medal and other prospective medals as well.

Newton was in his mid-50s when he was appointed Warden of the Royal Mint in 1696 during the reign of King William III. He was enlisted by Secretary to the Treasury William Lowndes to help in the Great Recoinage of 1696, an attempt by the government to solve a currency crisis by taking old, badly clipped silver coins and counterfeits out of circulation. Newton committed to the task with characteristic vigor, going undercover in taverns and dark alleys to gather information on counterfeiters. He personally interrogated suspects and witnesses and prosecuted dozens, securing convictions in 28 cases. He also helped establish the Bank of England as ordered by Acts of Parliament.

He was appointed Master of the Mint in 1699, and even though both the mint positions he held were widely considered sinecures, Isaac Newton took the second one as seriously as he had the first. He retired as Member of Parliament for the Cambridge University constituency to dedicate himself to the job. Little surprise, then, that he was writing 50-page treatises on commemorative medals when his predecessors had left that sort of thing to Mint minions. He put his extensive knowledge of mythology and allegory to work crafting a doozy of a propaganda piece.

The obverse of the medal is profile of Queen Anne similar to what you’d find on the regular coinage inscribed “ANNA D.G. MAG. BR. FRA. ET. HIB REGINA” (“Anne, by the grace of God, Queen of Great Britain, France and Ireland”). The reverse is the juicy bit. Anne is depicted as the Greek warrior goddess Pallas Athena standing on a hill with the rays of the sun shining down upon her. She holds three bolts of lightning upraised in her right hand and her aegis in the left. At her feet is an aggressive monster with two heads, four arms (two of them hold clubs, the other two rocks) and eight snakes in place of legs. This side is inscribed “VICEM GERIT ILLA TONANTIS” or “She is the Thunderer’s viceregent” across the top and “INAUGURAT XXIII AP MDCCII” (“Crowned April 23, 1702″) across the bottom.

The multi-headed serpent element suggests this monster is the Hydra, classical symbol of a complex and die-hard enemy that springs two new heads for every one you cut off. Before now scholars have thought the monster represented a domestic faction opposed to Anne’s rule. Hone discovered that Newton had a whole other think going.

But Newton, in his own notes on the design, describes it as a symbol of “any Enemy with which Her Majesty hath or may have War”. In other words, the monster presents the double threat posed by Louis XIV and James Francis Edward Stuart [Anne's exiled half-brother, the Catholic son of James II], the Old Pretender. The motto looks back to William and Mary. By describing Anne as a “Thunderer”, Newton explains that he was alluding to the coronation medal of 1689, which likewise portrayed William as a thundering Jupiter. In a sentence, Newton explains that the coronation medal “signifies that her Majesty continues the scene of the last reign”.

The messages of the medal were not lost at the time. Some of William’s allies used the medal to suggest that Anne was William redivivus. William’s Tory enemies, on the other hand, considered it a potentially seditious object. The High Tory Vice Chancellor of Oxford even banned students from discussing the medal in their panegyrics to the new queen! This medal, it seems, had political bite.

The medal’s depiction of Anne as the warrior queen continuing where King William had left off seems to have made people nervous in other ways as well. She never again appeared as a fighter. There were two other medals cast after this one in 1702. The second featured her profile on the obverse and her husband Prince George of Denmark on the reverse. The third had the usual profile obverse and a European town under siege on the reverse. The inscription says “VIRES ANIMUMQUE MINISTRAT,” meaning “She gives strength and courage.” Gone was the warrior goddess vanquishing the country’s enemies with her terrible power of the thunderbolt. In a matter of months her she was whittled down into an inspiration, a sort of spiritual Betty Grable pin-up shoring up troop morale. That shift became permanent, and it’s very noticeable because there were multiple issues of Queen Anne commemorative medals with battle scenes on the reverse.

Hone thinks Newton’s work at the mint may have played a part in his knighthood. Queen Anne knighted Isaac Newton in 1705, three years to the month after her coronation, during her visit to Cambridge. He was running for Cambridge MP at the time and the election was a month away, so historians generally believe the knighting was a political gesture rather than recognition of his work for the crown or his scientific accomplishments. Newton was only the second scientist ever knighted. Sir Francis Bacon was the first to receive the honor in 1603.

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Happy Richard III cortege day!

March 22nd, 2015

I’ve been listening to BBC Radio Leicester for the past half hour because they said coverage would start then. “Coverage” turned out to have been used loosely — there’s only so much 70s easy listening and random gospel music I can take (Ooh! Woman in Love by Barbra Streisand! I had forgotten that song existed) — but there have been a couple of neat descriptions of the town being decked out in bunting, people already beginning to congregate, some historical background tidbits and a lovely, moving interview with a reenactor chap who was part of a dawn bonfire vigil at Fenn Lane Farm.

I’m keeping my eye on the RichardReburied hashtag on Twitter in the hopes of locating some live video once the actual events begin at 10:50 AM GMT (6:50 AM EST). Meanwhile, the city of Leicester’s Richard III website has started live blogging the day, although there isn’t much up as of yet.

I’ll keep updating this entry as the day progresses.

3:00 White boar pennant in Leicester! So cute.

3:11 Dammit. I just got rickrolled by BBC Radio Leicester.

3:23 Coolness: when the cortege stops at St. James’ Church in Sutton Cheney (Richard heard his last mass the night before the Battle of Bosworth at Sutton Cheney Manor which sadly no longer stands), one of the VIPs at the brief 10-minute service will be Dominic Smee, the young man with scoliosis who was given custom armor and taught to fight in a test of Richard’s capabilities and completely aced it.

3:50 Judith Bingham composed an anthem for the Cathedral service that was inspired by a book Richard III owned. When she was preparing to write, she was given access to some of Richard’s books. One of them was an English copy of The Book of Ghostly Grace by 13th century Saxon Christian mystic Saint Mechtilde of Hackeborn which Richard’s mother had given to him. Inside the book in spidery brown ink Richard had written his name, “R. Gloucester,” and his wife’s “Anne Warwick.” Bingham found it deeply compelling and ultimately titled her piece Ghostly Grace.

5:15 A live blog from the BBC will have news, pictures and video of today’s events.

You know, it’s crazy to me that nobody seems to have full day video coverage. I assumed it was just not available online, but it seems no television channels are doing it either, just highlights here and there.

6:08 The hearse has arrived at the University of Leicester.

6:18 BBC News has a segment from the University right now. I bet they’ll show the coffin reveal live. EDIT – Confirmed! News guy just said they’ll be back live when the coffin moves. If you’re not in the UK, you can watch it here.

6:50 The coffin just came out! Six pallbearers carried the oak and yew coffin to a stand in front of guests and podium. Speech now. It’s on BBC News live.

Finally a live stream! It’s from The Mirror and I have no idea if they’ll cover the entire cortege or just pop in and out like the BBC is doing.

7:04 Members of the excavation and research team — Richard Buckley, Matthew Morris, Turi King, Jill Appleby, among others — are placing white roses on top of Richard’s coffin.

7:07 Also members of the Richard III society, Philippa Langley in high relief, and now members of Richard’s family Michael Ibsen, Jeff Ibsen and Wendy Duldig, all placing roses.

7:17 Coffin loaded onto the hearse. These pallbearers are amazing. They have a changing of the guard-like precision of movement.

8:50 The cortege has stopped at Fenn Lane Farm, close to the spot where archaeologists believe Richard III fell in battle.

Revd Hilary Surridge leads the short service on the field where it is believed King Richard III #richardreburied

A photo posted by KRIIILeicester (@kriiileicester) on

9:05 Dr. Alexandra Buckle, expert in medieval music and member of the Reinterment of King Richard III committee, has created a blog dedicated to her research on medieval reburial ceremonies. She’s been posting on it this month to celebrate the reinterment. It’s fascinating: How to Rebury a King.

9:11 The cortege is off to Dadlington where some of the dead from the Battle of Bosworth are believed to be buried.

9:21 There are two men in plate armour leading the cortege on horseback. They’re being called “mounted heralds.”

10:26 The hearse is about to arrive at the Bosworth Battlefield Centre. There are people in medieval costume lined up waiting for him. BBC News is covering it live.

10:42 The coffin is at the Bosworth Battlefield Centre being escorted through the field by a military procession. Modern Lancers cadets, camo and black berets, not knights in armour.

11:09 The Duke of Gloucester (Richard’s title before he was king) lit a flaming beacon and it was extremely cool.

11:42 The Hinckley Times has an excellent live blog of today’s events. It’s the best I’ve seen today at covering the cortege and filling in the blanks with relevant detail.

1:23 The horse-drawn gun carriage bearing the coffin is slowly processing towards the Cathedral. Channel 4 is covering live now and will continue to do so for the next three hours.

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Richard III cortege through Leicester on Sunday

March 21st, 2015

The week of events leading to the reinterment of King Richard III on Thursday, March 26th, begins this Sunday with a cortege bearing his coffin from the University of Leicester to the Leicester Cathedral. After emerging from the university’s Fielding Johnson Building, the coffin holding Richard III’s remains will depart in a hearse at 11:40 AM and begin a slow procession stopping at historical sites from Richard’s last days.

The first stop is Fenn Lane Farm, the spot where archaeologists believe Richard III died at the Battle of Bosworth on August 22, 1485. There the Reverend Hilary Surridge will lead a private ceremony bringing together soil from three locations of significance in the king’s life: Fotheringhay (where he was born), Middleham (where he spent his early teens learning the knightly arts), and Fenn Lane (where he died).

Further stops include the Sutton Cheney church, the nearby Bosworth Heritage Centre and Bow Bridge, the medieval boundary of Leicester where the City Mayor, Lord Mayor and Gild of Freemen will welcome the remains. The cortege will then follow on foot to St. Nicholas Church where after a brief service the coffin will be transferred to a horse-drawn hearth to process through the city center.

The final stop at 5:45 PM is Leicester Cathedral where the king’s remains will be formally handed over from the University, holder of the Ministry of Justice exhumation license, to the Cathedral Church of St Martin, Leicester. The congregation will hold a service of Compline with a sermon preached by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster. On Monday the Cathedral will open to members of the public who wish to view the coffin and pay their respects. It will remain open during the week.

I haven’t been able to find any live video feeds of the entire cortege, but BBC Radio Leicester will be covering it. Listen live here. Channel 4 television will be covering the reinterment live on Thursday but is only scheduled to broadcast the arrival of Richard’s coffin at Leicester Cathedral on Sunday at 5:10 PM GMT.

Leicester has a website dedicated to reinterment week with lots of information and details about the events. The BBC has interactive maps of the cortege’s stops outside and inside the city. I’m hoping the University of Leicester’s YouTube channel, which has been replete with Ricardian goodness in anticipation of the reinternment, will have complete video of all the ceremonies.

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Celtic 3rd c. BC bronze anklet found in Poland

March 20th, 2015

On February 28th of this year, Peter Kotowicz, an archaeologist with the Historical Museum of Sanok, received a phone call from a history-loving friend named Tomasz Podolak who told him he had found something interesting, possibly treasure, in the village of Pakoszówka near Sanok in southeastern Poland. Podolak has discovered ancient bronze artifacts before that are now in the museum — he received an award by the Minister of Culture last year for the finds and his reporting of the objects while they were still in situ — so as soon as Kotowicz hung up he got in his car and started driving.

When he arrived at the find site, he saw several shallow wells in the earth, each containing some bronze fragments. One of them held a larger piece with only the tip showing above the soil. At first glance, Kotowicz was unable to identify the objects although he suspected they might be of Celtic origin. When he excavated the initial finds and an area of approximately 20 feet around them, he realized the fragments were all pieces of a single item of a jewelry: a bronze anklet in a characteristic Celtic design from the 3rd century B.C.

The largest piece formed about half the ring. The traces of two hinges are visible on the end pieces. The edges of the fragments suggest the jewel broke apart in antiquity rather than as a result of modern activity. As one piece was found more than 50 feet away from the central cluster, it’s possible the anklet had been deliberately destroyed and its fragments strewn about, perhaps for ritual purposes.

Known by German term hohlbuckelringe, meaning hollow bulge ring, these ornaments are among the most distinctive Celtic designs. You can follow the trail of Celtic expansion into eastern Europe in the 3rd century B.C. by following the hohlbuckelringe like breadcrumbs. They first appear in southern German and the territories of the Boii tribe in what is today Bohemia, Czech Republic, in the early 3rd century. As the Celtic tribes moved east, so did the hohlbuckelringe. Examples have been unearthed in Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and southeast from there into Asia Minor.

While Celts were known to have settled in the Sanok area during the La Tène period (450 B.C. – 1 B.C.), very little of their material culture has been recovered from this part of Poland. Almost nothing was known of the Celtic presence in the San river valley until excavations in the 1990s found evidence of settlement like pottery sherds, fragments of a glass bracelet, a hearth, an iron sword and, the most prized Celtic artifact in the Historical Museum of Sanok, a gold coin discovered by happenstance in the village of Trepcza.

So while this newly discovered anklet is in pieces, incomplete and plain in decoration (more elaborate versions were made from precious metals and added swirls and bumps to the bulges), it’s a significant and unique find. No other examples of this archtypical form of Celtic female adornment have been unearthed in the region. Kotowicz believes that after the gold coin and the iron sword in the Regional Museum in Rzeszów, this ankle ring is the most exceptional Celtic artifact south of the Carpathians.

The location where the hohlbuckelringe was discovered has not previously been considered of archaeological import. Archaeologists plan to thoroughly scan the area with metal detectors. They’re also hoping to secure funding for more in depth research and additional excavations, but that will depend on the assessment of the regional conservation office.

The ankle ring is now being conserved at the museum in Sanok. It will go on display later this year in one of the underground exhibition halls of Sanok castle.

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Microsoft co-founder finds wreck of Musashi

March 19th, 2015

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and his underwater research team have discovered the wreck of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s World War II battleship Musashi. Musashi was the younger of the two Yamato class ships, the heaviest and most armed battleships ever constructed. The ship went down in the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, an engagement of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle of World War II, on October 24th, 1944. The Sibuyan Sea is between the Visayan Islands and the island of Luzon in the Philippines, so the general area where the ship went down was known, but even with numerous extant eyewitness accounts of the battle, the shipwreck’s precise location was unknown. The wreck of Musashi‘s older sister ship Yamato, sunk in August of 1945, was found in 1982 leaving Musashi the largest of history’s undiscovered shipwrecks.

Paul Allen being a billionaire and a history nerd with a particular fascination for World War II, put together a team of researchers eight years ago with the goal of finding the elusive giant. They scoured historical records from four countries and deployed the latest and greatest technology to survey the floor of the Sibuyan Sea. The multi-beam bathymetric survey of the seafloor didn’t find the wreck, but it did allow the team to eliminate large areas from the search and, on a cool oceanographic note, identified five previously unknown geographic features.

In February of this year, Allen and his team took his superyacht M/Y Octopus equipped with submersible vehicles to search underwater for the wreck. They first deployed an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV). Thanks to the survey’s elimination of large swaths of the area, the AUV found the wreck on the third dive on March 2nd, 2015. Researchers then sent a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) with an HD camera to explore the wreck and find identifying features. It was a valve wheel that provided the first confirmation that the wreck was of a Japanese ship. It had Kanji on it that read “open” and “main valve handle.”

Japanese warships didn’t have their names written on their sides, so identifying the Musashi requires an accumulation of circumstantial evidence and it’s challenging because the ship, which went down whole, apparently exploded at least once underwater. There’s a vast debris field 2,600 feet by 1,640 feet wide with pieces of the ship scattered all around. They found the mount for the teak chrysanthemum, the Imperial Seal of Japan, on the bow, the teak flower long since rotted away, and a catapult used to launch the six or seven float planes the Musashi carried. They also found the main gun turret mount and beneath it damage from US torpedoes that matched the known hits.

On March 13th, Paul Allen and the Musashi Expedition team sent the ROV back down to explore the wreck and released a live feed of the video on the Internet. The quality of the footage is amazing at 3,280 feet below the surface, and even though the ship is torn to bits, you can still see just how massive it was.

One of the viewers of the live feed doesn’t need to wait for official confirmation to know it’s the wreck of the Musashi.

Also watching the feed in Japan was 94 year-old Shigeru Nakajima, one of those who survived the Japanese battleship’s sinking. He said he was certain the wreckage was that of the ship he was aboard 71 years ago when it was sunk by U.S. forces. [..]

“I am certain that this is the Musashi by now looking at the images such as the anchor, the imperial seal of the chrysanthemum,” Nakajima told the Associated Press as he watched the video.

Nakajima was an electrical technician for the sub battery on the vessel. He survived the torpedo attack by jumping into the water as he was ordered to evacuate by his senior officer.

Nakajima, who became the chef at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo after the war, said he had no words but “thank you” for the team that found the wreckage, adding that the ship’s captain Toshihira Inoguchi and other crew members who perished “must be delighted to hear this news… in heaven.”

As large (862 feet long displacing 72,800 tonnes at full load), powerful and armed to the teeth as the Musashi was (it had 18-inch armor plating and nine 18-inch Type 94 main guns, the largest calibre guns ever mounted on a warship), the ship saw limited engagement during the war. She had suffered significant damage after being torpedoed by the submarine USS Tunny in Palau on March 29th, 1944, but two weeks of repair work fixed the 19-foot hole and new anti-aircraft armament was added.

On October 22th, both the Musashi and the Yamato along with the main Japanese fleet were deployed to Leyte in the Philippine where American forces, including General Douglas MacArthur who famously declared “I have returned” when he came ashore, had landed on the island on October 20th, 1944. The fleet was spotted by a US aircraft at 8:10 AM on October 24th, 1944. Just over two hours later, 30 American planes were heading for it, focusing their attack on Musashi.

The Japanese fleet did not have sufficient air cover to defend against the American planes. Musashi used its anti-aircraft guns to create a canopy of flak over the fleet and shot its Type 94 guns into the water to create geysers massive enough to take down American bombers. It’s a testament to how powerful those guns were that the tactic almost worked. TBF Avenger pilot Ensign Jack Lawton described them thus: “Running into one of these geysers would be like running into a mountain. I felt the muzzle blast each time they fired. I could swear the wings were ready to fold every tie these huge shockwaves hit us.”

It wasn’t enough to counter the battering they were getting from the air, or from under the sea, for that matter. Over the course of the afternoon, the Musashi was attacked by wave after wave of bombs and torpedoes. The final attack ended at 3:30 PM. By then 19 torpedoes and 17 bombs had torn through her and she was in very bad shape. Moving north with a heavy cruiser and two destroyers escorting her, she got slower and slower, began to list to starboard and was increasingly down by bow as her hull took on more and more water. Attempts to correct the list failed.

When the list reached 12 degrees at 7:15 PM, Musashi‘s commander Vice Admiral Toshihira Inoguchi gave the standby to abandon ship order and retired to his cabin where he would go down with the Musashi. The list reached 30 degrees at 7:30 and the order to abandon ship was given. The Musashi capsized and sank at 7:36 PM. Although more than half of the crew was rescued, a staggering 1,023 people died aboard Musashi, including Inoguchi, out of a crew of 2,399.

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Ring with Arabic inscription found in Viking grave

March 18th, 2015


A finger ring discovered in a grave in the Viking trading center of Birka on Björkö Island, Sweden, in the 19th century is the only ring with an Arabic inscription ever found at a Scandinavian archaeological site. It was unearthed by archaeologist Hjalmar Stolpe during his two-decade-long (1872–1895) excavation of the Birka burial grounds in the grave of a woman dating to around 850 A.D. Although the skeleton was completely decomposed, the grave goods — two oval brooches, one with a needle case hanging in a chain, one with a pair of scissors underneath that were probably attached with a string, an equal-armed brooch, a row of glass, rock crystal and carnelian beads — and remains of clothing — a flax undergarment and a blue wool garment — identify the deceased as female.

The ring was found inside the wooden coffin where her chest would have been, next to the scissors under the right oval brooch. Either it too was connected to the brooch with a now-decayed string, or the woman’s hands may have been placed on her chest when she was placed in the coffin. It is made of silver and set with a translucent purple cabochon stone engraved with Arabic Kufic script. Rings of similar design have been found in Viking graves before, including three in graves at Birka, and in Eastern European graves of the period, but none of them have inscriptions.

The ring is part of the collection of the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm now, but it has never been scientifically analyzed. To answer some questions about its material and construction, the ring was recently subjected to non-invasive examination while a replica took its place on display. Researchers studied the ring under a standard optical stereomicroscope and a scanning electron microscope (SEM) equipped for elemental analysis which would allow them to determine the metal content and identify the stone without having to take any destructive samples.

They found that the museum’s interpretation of the ring was wrong on several counts. The museum’s inventory catalogue describes its as a gilded silver signet ring set with an engraved violet amethyst. It’s not gilded silver. It is a high-grade silver alloy consisting of 94.5% silver and 5.5% copper. The stone is not an amethyst. It is not even a stone. It’s colored soda-lime glass, which isn’t to say it was cheap or a fake because glass was a prized luxury import in Viking Scandinavia. The inscription, engraved in an angular form of Arabic Kufic script that was in use from the 7th century through the 12th, reads, researchers believe, “il-la-lah”, or “For/to Allah.” Interpretation is challenging due to the stylized script, so it could be saying something else, but Allah is definitely a part of it, which means that it’s not a signet ring.

The ring shank was at some point in its history broken in three places and then glued back together. This couldn’t have been done before the burial because the glue is a polymer rather than an animal glue and the latter wouldn’t have been strong enough to keep the ring together anyway. It’s more likely that it was either found broken or damaged in the excavation and then glued back together. There is no documentation of any such action being taken.

Researchers also found that the metal surface of the ring bears parallel striations that are likely file marks left by the original maker when he filed the ring to remove flash and mold lines left by the casting process. There are file marks on the prongs as well, which means the filing was done before the glass was added. These marks would normally be eroded away by usage. The fact that they’re still everywhere on the ring body indicates the ring was barely used before being buried. That suggests it didn’t gradually wend its way to Sweden trade by trade, but rather got from the maker to the deceased with no or very few other owners in between.

The glass, on the other hand, has the scratches and dents of moderate use. It may have been recycled from an older piece, or it may just be the victim of how far it juts out from the ring and of glass’ inherent softness compared to the silver of the ring body.

Nobody’s disappointed that the ring isn’t gilded and the stone isn’t a gemstone. The value of this ring is not in its materials, but in the historical significance of the inscription which connects it to the Islamic world. In fact, gilding would have obscured the file marks and those marks are key archaeological evidence of direct or at least very close interaction between Viking Scandinavia and the Caliphate. There are historical records documenting direct contact (The 13th Warrior, man! Just because it’s a bad movie doesn’t mean it’s not awesome.) and archaeological evidence of direct contact in Spain and Eastern Europe, but not in Scandinavia itself. That’s what makes this ring so important.

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