Unbelievable 3D-printed 1st c. Roman helmet

April 18th, 2018

Custom Prototypes has created what can only be described as a masterpiece of historical recreation. It’s made of 3D-printed stainless steel and resin (aka stereolithography or SLA plastic), which sounds easy but is far, far from it. For one thing, steel doesn’t come out of the printer all shiny and pretty. The helmet started out as a dull plastic-looking affair requiring a bristling mass of supports in what would become the hollow part that needed to be removed before the finished product could look anything like the original.

Then all the individually printed stainless steel parts — helmet base, decorative elements — had to be sanded, polished and buffed to a high gloss. Once that was done, the resin pieces were printed in clear plastic, including the fantastic mohawk, and then painted and dyed to look like gemstones. That’s not an easy process either, making little plastic bits look like jade or lapis lazuli or feathers.

It helps to elevate the material when you electroplate the base, figures and reliefs with nickel, copper, chrome and just for good measure, 24 carat gold. Pieced all together the final work may bear zero relation to any actual Roman helmet that ever existed, but it sure looks spectacular.

Most of all, it’s a testament to how much is possible with 3D printing technology and months of hard work. This video documents the fascinating process.

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City Hall excavation rewrites Copenhagen’s history

April 17th, 2018

Last December, archaeologists began a secret excavation under City Hall Square in the heart of Copenhagen. It was kept scrupulously under wraps until February to give the team the opportunity to excavate what is thought to be the oldest burial ground in Copenhagen without risking contamination of the site by curious onlookers. Between December and the end of February, the remains of 20 men, women and children who lived around 1,000 years ago were unearthed just three feet under Denmark’s busiest square.

This is a highly significant find because by the known chronology, these individuals were the first Copenhagers, and archaeologists believe there are even more human remains to be found, at least another two layers of burials underneath the 20 already excavated. Since February, another 10 skeletons have been discovered. These 30 skeletons predate the legendary founding of the city by Bishop Absalon, who was said to have been given the site as a gift from King Valdemar in the 1160s, by at least a century, and upends the received wisdom that before Absalon built his castle Copenhagen was just a sleepy fishing village under the shadow of the neighboring urban center of Roskilde.

The human remains are now at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen where they are undergoing further tests, including DNA analysis. Once the testing is done, they will be studied in more depth at the Natural History Museum of Denmark. This research will rewrite the history of Copenhagen’s earliest days, replacing the founding myth with a whole different category of information grounded in the biological data of the first residents of what would become Denmark’s capital city.

Meanwhile, the excavation at City Hall Square continues and has now added structural evidence to the new history of Copenhagen’s founding. Archaeologists have unearthed a stone foundation that they think belonged to the first church built in the city.

“If it is a church, it would further prove that Copenhagen was an established city at the start of the Middle Ages,” Lars Ewald Jensen, the archaeological head of the Museum of Copenhagen, told Videnskab.dk.

“You can have a burial site without an established city, because there needs to be more elements present before one can call it a city. But then again, you can’t have a city without having a church.” […]

The stone foundation bears witness to either a church being at the location at some point or a dyke that has split the graveyard into two sections.

“We hope we have discovered the foundation of a church building, in which case it would be a church that co-existed with St Clemens Church, which was excavated in 2008, or is older. Potentially, we have discovered the oldest church in Copenhagen,” Stine Damsbo Winther, an archaeologist with the Museum of Copenhagen, told Videnskab.dk.

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Teacher and student find Harald Bluetooth silver

April 16th, 2018

Metal detector enthusiast Rene Schoen and his student, 13-year-old Luca Malaschnitschenko, were exploring a field near the village of Schaprode on the island of Ruegen in Northern Germany when they came across a circular piece of metal. At first Schoen thought it was a random bit of aluminium. After cleaning off some of the dirt and taking a closer look, he realized it was a coin.

Schoen is a volunteer with the Mecklenburg-West Pomerania state archaeology office, so he immediately reported the find. State archaeologists identified it as a silver coin from trading settlement of Hedeby. To prevent the treasure-hunters descending like locusts, they asked Schoen and Malaschnitschenko to keep their find a secret until the Office could arrange a thorough excavation of the site.

The coin was discovered in January, and archaeologists only broke ground this weekend. Still, in this brief period the team has excavated more than 4,000 square feet of the find site. The results have been nothing short of spectacular. They have unearthed a treasure far beyond the expectations set by a single silver coin, a hoard that could very well have belonged to King Harald Gormsson (r. 958-986), aka Harald Bluetooth, himself.

Braided necklaces, pearls, brooches, a Thor’s hammer, rings and up to 600 chipped coins were found, including more than 100 that date back to Bluetooth’s era, when he ruled over what is now Denmark, northern Germany, southern Sweden and parts of Norway.

“This trove is the biggest single discovery of Bluetooth coins in the southern Baltic Sea region and is therefore of great significance,” the lead archaeologist, Michael Schirren, told national news agency DPA.

The oldest coin is a Damascus dirham dating to 714 while the most recent is a penny dating to 983.

The find suggests that the treasure may have been buried in the late 980s – also the period when Bluetooth was known to have fled to Pomerania, where he died in 987.

“We have here the rare case of a discovery that appears to corroborate historical sources,” said the archaeologist Detlef Jantzen.

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18th c. shipwreck hull scanned for posterity

April 15th, 2018

The remains of a rare 18th century shipwreck caused much excitement when they were discovered by beachcombers on Ponte Vedra Beach in northeastern Florida last month. All that’s left of the ship is a large section of wooden hull, but 47-feet sections of 300-year-old ships don’t wash up ashore all in one piece very often, and this one is surprisingly well-preserved. Wooden pegs and Roman numeral markers used in its construction are still intact.

Julia Turner and her eight-year-old son stumbled on the wreckage during a walk on the beach on March 28th, 2018. They had been looking for shark teeth and shells when the found a ship’s hull instead. At first Julia thought it was just some old fencing or maybe part of a pier, but she soon realized it was the remnants of a shipwreck.

Archaeologists from the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum started documenting the discovery that very same day. They made field drawings, mapped the hull and its context. Because it was found on state land — Ponte Vedra is a public beach — the shipwreck cannot be moved or interfered with in any way. Even the archaeologists could only observe very carefully, take copious notes to share with any relevant state authorities who would then determine what to do next. The next day, officials decided to attempt recovery, but the heavy crane necessary to remove such a large and heavy section of ship got stuck in the sand. A second attempt on Friday also came to naught.

The news of the find spread quickly and drew crowds, some of whom were a little too keen to get up close and personal with the wreck. The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office had to deploy a deputy to guard the hull while archaeologists did their thing to keep the overly enthusiastic from interfering with the fragile artifact.

Since archaeologists weren’t officially tasked with salvage and the wreck could be reclaimed by the ocean at any time, the team went with plan B and arranged for a laser scanner to be brought to the site from the University of South Florida. On Saturday, March 31st, four days after the hull washed ashore, it was laser scanned for posterity. Now, barely two weeks later, the first 3D model of the Ponte Vedra Shipwreck has been made available online.

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Coleridge’s remains found in a wine cellar

April 14th, 2018

The remains of poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge have been rediscovered in a bricked-up wine cellar. Their loss was of recent duration. Just before his death in 1834, the author of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner was lodging at the home of a doctor in Highgate, north London, who was attempting to treat him. When those attempts failed to prevent the poet’s death, he was buried in Old Highgate Chapel near the parish church across the street.

In 1961, an alarm was raised about the condition of the vault. It was derelict and Coleridge’s remains were no longer safe. A fundraising campaign that received contributions from all over the world was launched and its success allowed Coleridge’s remains, those of his wife Sarah, his daughter Sarah, her husband and their son to be moved to St. Michael’s Parish Church where they were placed in a section of the crypt that in the 17th century had been a wine cellar. When the church was built on the site of the former Ashhurst House in 1831, the old wine cellar had been absorbed into the large crypt of the new St Michael’s and largely forgotten. Coleridge got a marker in the floor of the church, but the coffins themselves were bricked up and forgotten about.

[I]n the words of Drew Clode, a member of the St Michael’s stewardship committee, “poor Coleridge was moved from a tip to a tip – they put the coffins in a convenient space which was dry and secure, and quite suitable, bricked them up and forgot about them, and never did anything about the rest of the space”.

As people died or moved away from the parish, the exact location of the coffins was forgotten, until a recent excavation revealed the entrance to the wine vault. The gap was just large enough to shine a torch through the ventilation block in the 1960s brick wall, and the excavators discovered the five lead coffins. They lay not where most thought, in the far corner of the crypt, but almost directly below the inscription “Beneath this stone lies the body of Samuel Taylor Coleridge” on the prominent memorial slab in the nave. “So that was a bit of a clue really,” said Clode.

Pilgrims do visit the church to pay their respects to the poet, and it would be nice to have more than just a marker for them to see. St. Michael’s authorities want to clear the crypt and make it accessible without having to follow a labyrinthine path through piles of brick and stone.

“From a safety point of view it would be quite impossible to bring members of the public down here,” said the vicar, Kunle Ayodeji. “But we hope that the whole crypt can be cleared as a space for meetings and other uses, which would also allow access to Coleridge’s cellar. I don’t think we would open up a view of the coffins, but we could place a suitable inscription on the wall.”

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Ancient Peruvians buried with extra limbs

April 13th, 2018

The excavation of the Huanchaco district of Trujillo which last month revealed the remains of sacrificed children of the Chimú civilization has now unearthed another highly unusual burial: people from the Virú culture buried with extra legs. The Las Lomas Rescue Project, a salvage archaeology mission to fully excavate and remove any cultural heritage discovered at the site of sewer and water extensions, has discovered more than 50 Virú burials.

The little-known Virú culture, named for the Virú Valley which runs from the Andes mountains to the Pacific, thrived in the area between A.D. 100 and 750, before the Moche took control of the region. Campaña’s excavations have revealed a small coastal settlement along with the burials.

“It’s a complex little fishing village,” he says.

There’s particular complexity in many of the burials, Campaña adds, noting that around 30 of the 54 mostly adult burials appear to include not only complete skeletons, but also additional body parts. Most of the bonus limbs appear to be arms and legs. In one case, an adult was buried intact, along with two additional left legs interred right beside the body.

Many of the bones show the tell-tale signs of trauma, both sharp and blunt force. Interestingly, the remains with the trauma also had the greater complement of additional limbs.

This practice is specific to the Virú people in Peru. The Moche sometimes buried individuals with their amputated limbs or with sacrificial victims by their sides, but not with additional limbs alone.

At this time, the archaeologists can only speculate about the motivation behind the unusual Virú burials. One suggestion is that the extra limbs may have served as a sacrificial offering to accompany the dead to the afterlife. Additional lab work will determine if there was any sort of relation between the individuals buried and the owners of the additional body parts.

Other items of archaeological interest found in the burials were pottery vessels decorated with anthropomorphic and zoomorphic motifs, coppery sheets, jewelry, and a large copper fish hook wrapped with gold foil around the center of the shaft. The four-inch-long hook is typical of that used to catch sharks and other large fish.

Now is the portion of the entry when I date myself in an extremely dorky way based solely on my reaction to a picture. Does anybody remember those monkey/koala clips people clamped to their pencils in elementary school in the 80s? It was such a huge thing when I was a kid. I know I had at least three of them. Anyway, this Virú monkey pot reminds me of those koala clips, only it’s even cuter.

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FBI recovers stolen Chagall 30 years after theft

April 12th, 2018

A Chagall oil painting that was stolen in a heist of valuables from the apartment of a New York couple in 1988 has been recovered by the FBI. Ernest and Rose Heller were 85 and 88 years old respectively when they returned to their Manhattan apartment after an Aspen vacation to find it had been burgled. Missing along with the Chagall were jewelry, china, silver and 13 other paintings from their small but significant collection by artists including Renoir, Hopper and Picasso. The building’s security system had remained silent the entire time.

Because of security having been neutralized, authorities at the time suspected it was an inside job. One man who worked there and had access to the building’s security system would later be convicted on federal charges of moving stolen goods across state lines. Some of the counts related to the Heller theft, others to art stolen from other New York homes, so it seems the Chagall fell into the hands of a whole theft ring with multi-state operation.

Even with the insider arrested and convicted, none of the loot from the Heller apartment was recovered. Ernest was quoted in the press at the time of the theft saying that he didn’t think he’d ever see any of the pieces from “a lifetime of collecting” again. Sadly, he was right. He and his wife passed away many years ago, leaving their possessions almost entirely to charity.

The FBI’s Art Crime Team tracked down the painting with the help of a gallery in Washington, DC. According to a complaint filed today in US District Court and titled United States v. One Oil Painting Entitled Othello and Desdemona by Marc Chagall for the District of Columbia, “Person 1” approached “Person 2” in the late 1980s or early ’90s, for help selling the stolen Chagall to persons involved with Bulgarian organized crime. The deal fell through, and the first party accused the second, who wound up with the painting, of stealing the work. (Because of the ongoing investigation into the other paintings whereabouts, the FBI is not revealing the names of any of the parties involved.)

Person 2 brought the painting to the DC gallery in 2011, and again in 2017. An unidentified third party had previously brought the painting to the gallery back in 1989. All three times, the dealer said they could not help sell the piece without proof of ownership and provenance. Encouraged by the gallery, Person 2 finally contacted the FBI, who took possession of the painting in January 2017.

Because the insurance company paid out for the stolen objects, it is technically the owner of the painting, and would be even if the Hellers were alive. In this case it has agreed to waive its legitimate ownership claim and the painting will be sold auction to benefit the charities in the Hellers’ will.

Chagall paintings can go for dizzying sums these days. The most recent windfall went to the former owners of Les Amoureux, which sold at Sotheby’s in New York last November for a record $28.45 million. Experts are doubtful that this piece would be one of the artist’s multi-million dollar sellers, however. The image is a little muddy, not particularly appealing and its many decades on the lam have not done its condition any favors. A similar work recently sold for $600,000, so that’s what it’s been appraised at. On the other hand, Ernest Heller was intrigued by its early date — it was painted in 1911 — and his own father bought it in Paris just two years after it was made for $50, likely from Chagall himself. Also its recent history might make it more desirable because heist stories are always juicy.

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Medieval cheating dice found at Bergen

April 11th, 2018

Archaeologists from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) excavating a medieval neighborhood of Bergen, Norway, have discovered a die with a non-standard numbering system (to put it extremely charitably) on four of its faces. Where the numbers one and two should be, there are an extra four and five instead giving this die a limited but suspiciously valuable range of rolling options: three through six.

In other words, somebody 600 years ago was either playing a game none of us today know about, or they had them some cheatin’ dice. The first interpretation is the least plausible. Plenty of dice have been found in Bergen from this period (more than 30), and none of them have idiosyncratic numeration like this one.

“The dice were found close to a wooden street that dates back to the 1400s. So when looking at the context and the dice design, there is just as much chance that someone has got rid of it, as they have lost it,” says Per Christian Underhaug who is the project manager for the excavations in Bergen,

“This part of Bergen was a densely populated district with several inns and pubs, and it is not unlikely that there were lots of games being played in them,” says Underhaug.

It’s very likely, as a matter of fact. Gambling was so widespread in Bergen that in 1276 the city banned it. Violators were subject to having all the money on the table confiscated and paying a significant fine on top of that. The prohibition of gambling didn’t stop it, of course, which is why more than a century later people were still playing dice games and finding ways to sweeten the odds.

The excavation is one of several taking place Vågsbunnen, one of the city’s lesser known medieval districts. Archaeologists hoped to make different finds here than in the other medieval areas of Bergen because it hasn’t been explored so thoroughly and because it was a working class neighborhood rather than a wealthy one. Also, once you dig down to cultural levels, the soil is very wet. This dig required use of a concrete coffer dam, lowered into the trench as soon as the team reached the first artifact layer, to keep them from being swamped. The challenges of excavating such an environment are offset by the potential preservation of organic material, as in the case of this discovery of the wooden die in fine condition.

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One of the earliest Persian garden carpets in the world to go on display in the US for the first time

April 10th, 2018

One of the greatest Persian carpets in the world is traveling from Glasgow to the United States for the first time to go on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The Wagner Garden Carpet was made in Kirman, modern-day southeastern Iran, in the 17th century. It one of the three earliest Persian garden carpets known in the world (the other two are at the Albert Hall in Jaipur, India, and the Museum of Industrial Art in Vienna, Austria) but its design is unique. There are no other carpets known that use its base pattern in whole or in part.

Its four-quartered garden layout is inspired by the Safavid royal gardens and the concept of the earthly paradise described in the Quran. In the middle is a basin where the channels that divide the garden meet. All along the H-shaped channels trees, plants and shrubs flower and animals — birds, butterflies, goats, rabbits, lions, gazelles, peacocks, leopards — roam amidst their lushness. Fish and waterfowl frolic in the canals.

It was named after its German owner who acquired it at the turn of the century. Sir William Burrell bought it in 1939 from the Royal Bank of Scotland. He displayed it in his drawing room at Hutton Castle in Northumberland, but only owned it for five years before donating it to the City of Glasgow.

It is huge, more than 17 feet long and 14 feet wide. The warps are all cotton; the wefts wool, cotton and silk; the pile wool. Because of its massive size and the delicate condition of its textiles, it has only been on display twice in the past three decades, and has never been seen outside the UK since the Burrell purchase in 1939. It is traveling now only because the Burrell Collection closed for an extensive £66 million refurbishment in October 2016 and doesn’t reopen until late 2020.

Dr Frances Fowle, Burrell Trustees chairman, said: “The Burrell Trustees are delighted to support the loan of one of the world’s most spectacular and important carpets to one of the world’s greatest museums.

“The loan will raise international awareness of the significance of Sir William Burrell’s collection while the museum undergoes much-needed refurbishment.” […]

While on display in New York the artwork will accompanied by a supporting display relating to the importance of gardens in Islamic culture and a full public programme including a symposium and a guest lecture by Noorah al Gailani, curator of Islamic Civilisations at Glasgow Museums and the Burrell Collection.

It will be exhibited at the Met’s Islamic Galleries from July 10th through October 7th, 2018.

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Ardennes baker recreates World War I bread

April 9th, 2018

A baker in Sedan, in northeastern France’s Ardennes region, is creating exact replicas of the bread that was distributed to French infantrymen during World War I. The soldiers were nicknamed “poilus,” meaning “hairy ones,” a reference to their propensity for facial hair which was a tell-tale sign of their country rustic origins. Baker Christophe Guénard calls his reproductions of the bread they lived on from 1914 to 1918 “Le pain des poilus” and wraps it in a tricolor ribbon.

Guénard began researching the “pain de guerre” because he wanted to create a leavener from scratch instead of using yeast or chemical leaveners like baking soda. He scoured archives in Paris and zeroed in on the 1914-1918 period when boulangers supplying the infantry on the front lines, bound by the exigencies and deprivations of wartime, had to create the most bare bones product they could. At the same time, this bread would be the main food keeping the poilus on the front lines going. It was the bulk of their intake; they ate half a loaf in the morning, half in the evening.

He found it was made of white flour, but it’s plain, with none of the additives, enzymes, dairy derivatives and other enhancements typical of bread flour. There are no chemical leaveners in the flour, nor was yeast used. Instead, they made a leavener from scratch, the very technique Guénard had been looking for, by macerating raisins in water for 10 days. The liquid (raisins strained out, of course) was then mixed with the plain white flour to create the dough. More flour was added over time to feed the raisin leavener.

“Every day, when I make this bread, I say we did the same during the war,” says Jerome Pirois, floury hands kneading a ball of dough, before a baking at 250° C for 35 minutes.

The baker is busy preparing about sixty loaves for the next day: “This is another way of working bread. When the boss told me about it, I educated myself. There’s a history behind it.”

“It is a great idea, it is this type of popular initiative that must be taken and which people support,” rejoices … Serge Barcellini, Comptroller General of the Armies and President of the French Souvenir, who moved to Sedan.

The bakery sells 120 loaves of Poilus every week for 12.50 euros apiece. A percentage of each sale is donated to Le Souvenir Français, the association that maintains war memorials and keeps the memory of war dead alive. The Ardennes region was one of the epicenters of slaughter of the Western Front, so the dreadful losses of World War I are still very much present in a way they may not be in other parts of France.

With the commemoration of the Centenary coming to an end this year, “the risk is that the memory of 14-18 collapses with memory consequences and economic consequences in the frontline regions,” he says.

But “to enter a bakery and have a direct and authentic memory” of the conflict feeds the interest of the population for this period, he adds.

The bakery now wishes to pass on its recipe to other craftsmen and make it travel out of the department, marked by the battle of the Ardennes in August 1914, to “make the product live”, enthuses Mr. Guénard.

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