18th c. brass writing kit found at New York fort site

November 15th, 2019

Archaeologists have discovered an 18th century field writing kit at the site of a British fort on Rogers Island, in northeastern New York. The writing kit is made of brass and consists of an ink pot and long quill holder. The word “Barker” is etched on the base of the writing implement, the mark of a German company that manufactured writing tools for centuries.

Rogers Island, located at a strategically significant bend of the Hudson River that was  the portage site between the Hudson River and Lake Champlain, was part of the Fort Edward complex built by the British in the 1750s during the French and Indian War. It was a staging area for incursions into New France and from 1756 to 1759, was used by Major Robert Rogers has the base camp for a company of irregular troops. His 28 “Rules of Ranging” combined guerrilla and traditional warfare with Rogers’ own unique concepts to create a rugged, versatile fighting force adapted to the terrain. Rogers’ Rangers are considered the ancestors of today’s United States Army Rangers.

Fort Edward was evacuated in 1766 and the structures abandoned. By the time of the Revolutionary War, the fort was a dilapidated ruin, but the barracks that were still standing were used by Continental soldiers until General Burgoyne took the fort on his way to ultimate defeat in Saratoga. Some homes were built on the island in the 19th century and it saw its last use in the training of troops during the Civil War.

It was during Rogers’ time that barracks, a blockhouse, Ranger huts, a smallpox hospital and the officers house were built.

“We have never found a beautiful brass writing implement in any of our excavations,” [lead archaeologist David] Starbuck said in a phone interview Tuesday. “That, to me, says literate people were inside that building.” The items are more evidence to tell the story of the French and Indian War site that once housed British officers. Starbuck said he is still unsure if the house held one high-ranking officer or several.

The writing kit isn’t the only unique find this year. The team also unearthed a lead ingot, likely destined to be melted down for musket balls, and a metal fireplace spit. Some of the other items found on Rogers Island include the head of a broad axe, and cuff links. Butchered animal bones were also found in the officers house.

The animal bones and spit indicate the officers (or officer) ate fresh meat, unlike common soldiers, who would have eaten dried beef or pork, “which would have tasted awful,” Starbuck said.

Based on where things were found, Starbuck believes the hut originally had a dirt floor. He said “lots of things were walked on and pressed into the floor. Later they built a wood floor, which is now totally gone.”

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Spyros’ skyphos returned to Greece

November 14th, 2019

An ancient drinking cup given to the first marathon winner in Olympic history has been returned to Greece from the University of Münster in Germany. The 6th century B.C. black-figure skyphos depicting two and two Hellanodikai (judges at the ancient Olympic games) was given to Spyridon “Spyros” Louis after he won the 25-mile race from Marathon to Athens at the 1896 Olympic Games.

Greek officials announced that the skyphos would be given a place of honour in the Museum of the History of the Ancient Olympic Games (formerly the Archaeological Museum) in Olympia. “Its future place of honour is where the skyphos was naturally meant to be. I am very happy that the University of Münster could help make this possible,” underlined Münster University’s Rector Prof. Johannes Wessels.

The vessel was part of the Peek Antiquities Collection acquired by the university in 1986. The collection of 70 ancient Greek ceramic vessels was assembled by German epigraphist Werner Peek who lived in Athens from 1930 to 1937. How Peek came across Spyros Louis’ skyphos is unknown.

Born to a poor family in the village of Marousi outside of Athens, Spyros Louis was a 23-year- old water carrier when he qualified as a runner in the marathon. This was a new event, never held in the ancient games but conceived to connect the modern games to the traditions of antiquity by making a foot race out of the story of the messenger Pheidippides who heroically ran from Marathon to Athens to deliver the news of the Athenian victory against the Persians and dropped dead upon arrival. There was an enormous amount of excitement over the marathon, and when a Greek peasant defeated some of the world’s best trained runners in so storied a race, Spyros Louis became a national hero.

Spyros died in 1940.  The official prizes he had received for winning the first marathon — including the silver medal (until 1904, first place winners received silver medals and second place bronze) and the silver Bréal Cup — passed to his children. His grandson sold the Bréal Cup at auction in 2012 where it set a new record for Olympic memorabilia.

He received a plethora of other gifts and prizes from ecstatic fans in the wake of his win, everything from gold watches to two coffees a day at a local bar and free haircuts for life. The skyphos was a gift from numismatist Ioannis Lambros who had a private collection of artifacts. He was so inspired by the very idea of the marathon that before the games he wrote to Crown Prince Constantine:

“Your Royal Highness, The distinction, which the Marathon Race is called upon to give to the Olympic Games, joined to the ancient reminiscences, which this difficult race is sure to awake, have suggested to me the idea of offering as a most appropriate prize to the winner, who will be worthy of so much glory, an ancient vase, which I have in my collection; on it are represented a dolichodrome under the guidance of Hellanodices. May I hope that Your Royal Highness will allow me to add this prize to the Silver Cup, which Professor Bréal has donated. Antiquity seems in this way to contribute to celebrate the victory of the winner of the Marathon Race.”

Articles about the vessel in the press at the time described it as having been found in a grave in Thebes believed to have belonged to a victorious runner in one of the ancient games. An 1896 issue of Scribers Magazine claimed Spyros had given the skyphos to the National Archeological Museum, but there were no records of such a donation or even a loan, and the vessel was very famous, even appearing on a Greek stamp celebrating the Pre-Olympic Games in 1967.

It was rediscovered in 2014 by Dr. Georgos Kavvadias of the Greek National Museum who recognized it from a picture in a University of Münster monograph. He worked with the university’s researchers to confirm its identity and, once confirmed, to facilitate its repatriation.

“The skyphos has a highly symbolic significance for Greece, the birthplace of the Olympic Games. We naturally wanted to give it back,” explained the director of the Archaeological Museum of the University of Münster, Prof. Dr Achim Lichtenberger, who also participated in the ceremony. “Morally speaking and with respect to sports history, this piece belongs in Greece,” added museum curator Dr Helge Nieswandt.

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An auction you can sink your gold and hippo ivory teeth into

November 13th, 2019

A set of early 19th century dentures made of gold and hippo ivory that was discovered by a metal detector hobbyist is going up for auction this month. The dentures were unearthed by bricklayer Peter Cross, an avid metal detectorist for the past 40 years, in Waterstock, Oxfordshire. 

The ingenious false teeth were carved by hand from a single piece of ivory, the natural curvature of the tusk used to match the curvature of the jaw. Once carved, the ivory tooth arch was mounted to a gold base plate with pins. While parts of the gold plate have bent away from the ivory over the years, it would originally have been formed by hand on a swage block to fit a plaster model of the wearer’s jaw.

The front six teeth are carved in naturalistic shape and size and the original enamel has been preserved keeping them white in color. The enamel was carved away from the “gum” area exposing an inner layer that is a brownish shade resembling real gums. The teeth in the back are more crudely carved as they didn’t have to put on so much of a show. Still, the craftsman bothered to incise lines to suggest individual teeth and cross-hatching on top of the teeth creating a textured surface.

On the side is a surviving spring connected to a rivet. This is how the top and bottom parts of the dentures were connected to each other. Only the upper section has been found. Cross returned to the field several times in the hope of discovering the bottom half of the set, to no avail.

Mr Cross, who made the find in March this year, said: “I know this sounds crazy but when I first pulled them up out of the ground, I thought they were sheep’s teeth. When I began to clean off the mud and clay, I could see there was a gold plate – and that they were human false teeth.

“They would have belonged to a very wealthy person. They date back to between 1800 and 1850 and would have cost a fortune at the time. A dentist friend said the owner would have paid between £200 to £300 in the 1800s and that would have bought half the houses in Brill back then – a very affluent village.

“I’ve shown the teeth to many people and consulted the British Dental Association and the British Museum. Everyone’s amazed – and everyone wants to take a photo of them. They’re unique.

“I’m only aware of one other slightly similar set of false teeth and they belonged to American president George Washington and date back to the late 1700s. They’re on display in the States.”

There are quite a few gold and silver plates from historic dentures in the Portable Antiquities Scheme database, but only two of them still have teeth attached, and only a single tooth apiece. In both of those examples the teeth are porcelain. The Wellcome Collection has all kinds of historic dentures in its vaults and on display, including several carved entirely out of hippo ivory, plate and teeth together, and this striking example of an ivory upper with human front teeth.

George Washington’s surviving set of false teeth is much more elaborate than the recently-discovered set. We know from his diaries and correspondence that despite his overall excellent health and attention to dental hygiene, Washington’s teeth and gums were a mess from when he was a young man. By the time he was inaugurated the first President of the United States in 1789, he only had one of his original teeth left. He had many dentures over the years, none of them with the wood teeth of lore; some were carved out of animal ivory or actual animal teeth (horses, cows, donkeys), some used human teeth extracted Fantine-style from poor or enslaved people who were paid per tooth. The sole complete set of Washington’s dentures extant today is on display at Mount Vernon.

The antique chompers will go under the hammer at Hansons on November 25th. The presale estimate is £3,000 – £5,000 ($3,900 – $6,400). The sale price will be divided 50/25/25 between landowner, Mr. Cross and Diana Wild, his metal detecting buddy on the day of the find.

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Let the meming commence

November 12th, 2019

The Nationalmuseum in Stockholm has acquired two self-portraits by French painter and Very Big Deal on the Internet, Joseph Ducreux. If you don’t know his name, you know his face and forefinger, internationally famous stars of the archaic rap meme.

Already established as a portraitist to the Parisian bourgeoisie, Ducreux got his big break in 1769 when he was commissioned to make a miniature of 13-year-old Maria Antonia, Archduchess of Austria so her prospective husband, the Dauphin of France, could see what she looked like before they met in person. The future Queen Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI were pleased with the result and Ducreux was made a baron and appointed First Painter to the Queen.

It was in the 1780s that Ducreux began to experiment with a new, highly expressive style of self-portraiture. He used his face and body to explore how character and personality can be depicted through exaggerated postures and facial expressions, even costumes on occasion. By the end of the decade, his mischievous self-portraits were well-known as among the best exponents of physiognomy.

Despite his popularity among the aristocracy of France and deep connections to the royal family in the waning days of the Ancien Regime, he managed to turn Revolutionary enough to survive unscathed. After spending some time in London in 1791, he returned to Paris and, helped by his good friend and foremost painter of the Revolution Jacques-Louis David, he painted and drew portraits of moderate leaders like Mirabeau, Antoine Barnave and Pierre Manuel. In 1793 he sketched the last portrait of the deposed King Louis days before his execution and upon his return to Paris, from not-so-moderate leaders including the Jacobin triumvirate of Maximilien Robespierre, Louis Antoine de Saint-Just and Georges Couthon.

There are few facts about Ducreux’s activities during this brief period [in London in 1791], but we know that he exhibited portraits and self-portraits at the Royal Academy of Arts, including two that were called Surprise mixte [sic] with Terror and Surprise, respectively. Most likely, one of the portraits that Nationalmuseum has now acquired was a later version of the first of the two aforementioned works that had been exhibited in London. The facial expression of the artist is permeated with exaggerated surprise mixed with terror, as shown in his large eyes, gaping mouth and dramatically extended right hand. There is no doubt that these works are self-portraits, but their titles, which describe emotions, such as surprise, show that they were also intended to focus on physiognomy as a phenomenon, in itself. […]

By August 1791, he once again exhibited his work in the Salon in Paris. One example is a work that the catalogue calls Silence, which is currently in the collection of the Spencer Museum of Art in Kansas. Ducreux’s expressive oil portraits, however, were met with both praise and scorn, but regardless garnered a great deal of notoriety, which, in turn, increased the demand for additional works of this sort. Nationalmuseum’s Silence is probably a later version by Ducreux of the work exhibited at the Salon. The artist is portrayed with a powdered wig, a top hat and a brown coat. As often was the case, some of the powder is seen on the artist’s shoulders and coat collar. The portrait depicts his upper body in profile, but the head is turned to the viewer. His right index finger is lifted to his mouth to clearly communicate the need to keep silent.

Ducreux’s interest in physiognomy reflects his time and can more generally be indicative of the favourite scientific theme of the Enlightenment. By combining an expressly physiognomic perspective with a self-portrait, this work may well be viewed as having laid the foundation for new directions in portraiture. This is in no way any kind of caricature, but neither does it any longer have anything of the formal and serious nature of traditional portraiture. Ducreux has attempted to capture in himself, facial expressions that we can see every day, on people, in general. It is perhaps not at all surprising that one of Ducreux’s self-portraits of this type has now become a popular on-line meme, which, in itself, shows this artist’s timeless playfulness and desire to experiment.

Self-portrait Le Silence by Joseph Ducreux, ca. 1790. Photo courtesy the Nationalmuseum. Self-portrait Le Surprise by Joseph Ducreux, ca. 1790. Photo courtesy the Nationalmuseum.

Joseph Ducreux died in 1802 of a suspected stroke. He was 67 years old. His fame faded after his death, until the mystical forces of Internet macros brought him to a prominence he could never have imagined achieving in life.

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Confirmed: Dingwall stone is Pictish cross slab

November 11th, 2019

The Pictish symbol stone reused as a headstone in the 18th century that was discovered at an early Christian site near Dingwall in the Scottish Highlands has been confirmed to be an extremely rare cross slab. Found during a North of Scotland Archaeological Society (NOSAS) survey of a cemetery now on private land, the stone was embedded in the topsoil and partially covered by vegetation. NOSAS member Anne MacInnes spotted a foot carved on the surface and her fellow members confirmed it was a Pictish symbol stone. They reported it to the Highland Council archaeologist and the slab was excavated and safely removed.

When the stone was first found, it was reverse side up, the name and date of the deceased inscribed on the upper left corner. There was no cross on the exposed side, and because the back was coated with soil, when the slab was lifted archaeologists couldn’t see whether there was a cross carved on the other side either. Until they cleaned it, they wouldn’t know if it was one 350 or so extant symbol stones or in the much more elite club of 50 Pictish cross slabs.

Now that it has been cleaned and dried, the cross on the obverse is clear, but that’s not the only notable feature. The intricate cross is flanked on both sides by toothy beasts who, with massive canines and lolling tongues, face each other over the top of the cross. The fanged serpent-like creatures are unique in the iconography of Pictish carving. The imagery on the reverse of the stone — oxen, an animal-headed armed warrior, a double disc, a z rod symbol — are traditional Pictish symbols seen on other cross slabs.

It is believed to have been carved around 1,200 years ago, during the period when the Picts were becoming Christianised. […] This find has been described as being ‘of national importance’ by experts, as it is one of only 50 complete or near-complete Pictish cross-slabs known, and one of the first to be found on the Scottish mainland for many years. It is also the first object of this type found in this location and therefore suggests that the site dates back much further than was previously thought.

The cross slab needs further conservation and repair before it can be put on display at Dingwall Museum in Easter Ross. Most of the work will be funded by grants, but the NoSAS and The Pictish Arts Society have started a crowdfunding campaign to raise the remaining £20,000. With £12,208 raised from 106 supporters, the campaign is at 61% of the target.

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Alan woman buried with Roman jewels found

November 10th, 2019

A grave containing the remains of an Alan woman lavishly adorned with Roman jewelry has been unearthed in the Zayukovo-2 burial ground in Kabardino-Balkaria in Russia’s North Caucasus region. She was found in a group grave, probably a family tomb, along with three other men. Artifacts found inside the graves date it to the 1st century or early 2nd.

“She had two rings on her fingers manufactured with the use of quite a complex technology,” said archaeologist Anna Kadieva, head of an expedition at Zayukovo-2 burial site.

Ms Kadieva said the fact the jewelry was Roman-made is “beyond any doubt.”

She added: “It is quite expensive for the time, and priceless for the barbarian world because there was no glass production in the North Caucasus back then.”

The beads on her shoes were made of glass but also contained an orange-colored mineral called carnelian that is part of the Quartz family.

She also wore two rings on her fingers manufactured with the use of quite a complex technology. Each of them was cast from transparent white glass with golden fibers from the same material, with a dark glass installation in the middle[…]

The woman was also discovered wearing a bright violet amethyst medallion as seen in this picture. The team say this would have been ‘priceless’ for the region as they had no glass blowing technology at the time

Archaeologists think she was the wife or close family member of an important warrior or chieftain. The sheer density of expensive imported jewelry is evidence of significant wealth, and may represent a trend among the elite Alan warrior class of gifting Roman jewelry to their nearest and dearest. Or maybe she was just lucky.

One of the men in the grave with her was buried with accessories indicating he was a warrior. A fibula of the Aucissa type, a hinged brooch with a high semi-circular arched bow that attached to a foot. The type is named after the word “AVCISSA” inscribed over the hinge of most of these fibulae. It is the maker’s mark of a workshop that mass-produced them starting in the 1st century A.D.; Aucissa fibulae have been found most often in the graves of Roman soldiers.

The deceased was also buried wearing two Roman buckles in silver and bronze, one on each shoe. A horse bridle with cheek pieces attached to the ends of the bit found in the grave was also of Roman manufacture. It’s possible these were spoils of battle, but archaeologists believe it’s more likely this was a local warrior who fought for Rome.

In the 1st century, the Alani migrated westward to the Pontic steppe and settled north of the Caucasus. Incursions south into Sarmatian territory in the foothills of the Caucasus resulted in cultural interchange seen in the funerary practices. Some of the Alan burials in  Zayukovo-2 have Sarmatian features as well as their own culturally distinctive ones.

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17th c. wreck may be Vasa’s sister ship

November 9th, 2019

Two wrecks of 17th century warships, one of them believed to be the sister ship of King Gustav II Adolf’s flagship Vasa which famously sank less than a mile from the dock on its maiden voyage on August 10th, 1628, have been discovered in the Swedish archipelago in a strait outside the town of Vaxholm.

“When I came down as the first diver… I saw this wall 5-6 metres high and I came up and there was a massive warship,” diver and maritime archaeologist Jim Hansson told AFP, adding that “it was a thrilling feeling”.

The wrecks are in good condition, preserved in the cold, brackish waters of Lake Mälaren. Not the kind of condition the Vasa is in, salvaged from Stockholm bay in 1961, but that’s to be expected because unlike their ill-fated cousin, these ships actually served in Sweden’s navy, fought battles, and were deliberately scuttled at the end of their topside lifespan to serve in their watery graves as defensive spike strips to damage any enemy ships seeking to attack Stockholm through the straight.

Henrik Hybertsson, the Dutch master shipwright who made the Vasa at the Stockholm navy yard, was commissioned to build four ships in total, two larger ones with 135-foot keels (Vasa and Äpplet) and two smaller ones (Kronan and Scepter) with 108-foot keels. Archaeologists think one of the two newly-discovered wrecks may be Äpplet as it appears to match Vasa in design and size. It was laid down in 1627 and launched in 1629.

The divers took wood samples of the ships which will be sent to a laboratory for dating.

“Then we can even see where the timber has been cut down and then we can go back and look in the archives and I think we have good chances to tell exactly which ship this is,” Hansson said.

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Dive the sunken basilica of Nicaea

November 8th, 2019

The ancient early Christian basilica that sank into Nicaea’s Lake Ascanius (modern-day Lake Iznik) in the 8th century has opened as an underwater archaeological museum for visitors to explore using specialized diving equipment.

The basilica was spotted during an aerial photography survey of Iznik in early 2014. The mission was to make a thorough inventory of the historical sites in the city, and the structure in the lake with its unmistakable basilica floorplan was clearly visible from above.

The church, built in the 4th century, was dedicated to Saint Neophytos who had been martyred in 303 A.D., just 10 years before the Edict of Milan proclaiming religious toleration in the Roman Empire was issued by emperors Constantine and Licinius. It was built on the shore of Lake Ascanius on the spot where he was said to have been killed.

The basilica became a site of pilgrimage in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, but it was felled by a catastrophic earthquake that devastated Nicaea in 740 A.D. Since its rediscovery, underwater archaeologists have been excavating the site and have found evidence of visitors from distant lands — a memorial stamp of the Scottish knights who are believed to have been the first foreign pilgrims to the church of Saint Neophytos — as well as artifacts predating the construction of the basilica. Coins from the reign of  emperor Antoninus Pius (r. 138-161 A.D.) indicate the site may have had a pre-Christian temple or public building (like, oh, say, a basilica whose basic architectural plan formed the core of the Christian churches that took their name).

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First-ever mammoth trap found in Mexico

November 7th, 2019

A 15,000-year-old mammoth hunting trap has been discovered in Tultepec, a town 25 miles north of Mexico City. This is first discovery of a deliberate trap set by humans to capture mammoths (as opposed to natural traps like swamps which humans also took advantage of) and judging by the number of bones found, it was a raging success. In nine months of excavations, archaeologists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) have recovered 824 bones from 14 of the Pleistocene giants.

A very rare almost complete skeleton of a Columbian mammoth was discovered by accident during sewer construction in another neighborhood of Tultepec in December 2015, so when INAH was alerted that crews working on the municipal landfill had found massive bones on January 29th of this year, archaeologists were deployed to excavate the remains. The context of the 2015 discovery indicated the mammoth met its end at human hands after getting stuck in the mud. The bones were mostly disarticulated, with only the largest (skull, pelvis) found in the proper anatomical relationship to each other, suggesting the animal was butchered. The newly-discovered mammoth bones were also disarticulated, but in a marked difference from the previous find, the excavation revealed vertical cuts in the archaeological layers. The cuts formed two trenches five and a half feet deep and more than 80 feet in diameter. The walls go straight down at an almost 90 degree angle. Stratigraphic analysis dates these pits to 14,700  years ago, thanks to the tell-tale five inches of ash from the eruption of the Popocatepetl volcano that took place then.

Archaeologists also discovered the molar of a horse, the mandible and two vertebrae of a camel, but there’s no evidence those animals were hunted. The size of the pits and the huge number of mammoth bones found inside them make it clear that these traps were meant specifically to catch mammoth. INAH archaeologist Luis Córdoba Barradas believes the two pits were not isolated, but part of a line of traps that would allow hunters to maximum their results and minimize labour. Chasing megafauna into a trap is risky, exhausting business. With a series of traps, they didn’t have to pull all their mammoths in one basket, so to speak. Should one change direction at the last minute away from the trap, the hunting party could try again directing it to the next one.

The bone evidence confirms this was an organized, thorough system that made the most of every catch. The ribs were used as cutting tools to butcher the animals, an ulna believed to have removed subcutaneous fat. The skulls are often found upside down, an indication that the community ate the animals’ brains, and a hefty meal they would have made at up to 25 pounds a pop.

There is also evidence of ritual or at least reverent treatment of the remains. One specimen, of which two-thirds of the bones have been unearthed, was arranged in an unusual configuration: his scapulae stacked and placed on the left side of the skull, a dorsal vertebra between the tusks, and embracing this tableau the 10-foot-long curved tusk of another mammoth. The bones of this individual bear a mark from a previous attack and the left tusk is shorter than the right because it broke and regrew. This suggests the hunters had knew of this one particular mammoth, had battled him before and perhaps positioned his remains as a means of paying their respects.

The skeletal remains of the 14 mammoths found at the site will be transported to the Museum of the Mammoth in Tultepec where the one excavated in 2016 is currently on display. Mineralized bones can be surprisingly delicate, so they will have to be carefully conserved and stabilized before going on display.

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Today in People Are the Worst news

November 6th, 2019

On the night of Sunday, November 3rd, three complete and utter douchebags strapped a tree trunk to the hood of their car and rammed through a medieval side door of the UNESCO World Heritage Oloron-Sainte-Marie cathedral in southwest France. Once inside, they cut through steel bars protecting the chapel using a power grinder to create a large enough opening to go through. The sparks thrown by the power tool ignited a curtain in the chapel, but thankfully nothing else burned. They then smashed the display case glass and emptied it of its contents: gold chalices, monstrances, crosses, an 18th century nativity scene and a precious set of white and gold liturgical garments donated to the Bishop of Orlon by Francis I of France (r. 1515-1547). The church’s collection of vestments from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were found dumped unceremoniously in a pile on the floor. A statue and vase that were not stolen appear to have been deliberately vandalized.

These objects survived the orgy of anti-religious and anti-monarchical iconoclasm that saw so much of France’s cultural patrimony destroyed during the French Revolution. They are of inestimable historical value and were being kept in very fine condition by the church. The textiles were recently treated and being kept in conservation conditions.

The attack took place around 2:00 AM Monday. A neighbor heard the ruckus and reported it shortly before 2:30 AM. The gendarms and mayor arrived on the scene quickly, but the thieves had already escaped with the loot. They left the car which was damaged in the ramming behind and fled in a second vehicle. Props to the sturdiness of medieval wood doors for inflicting a small hit of instant karma on those jackasses.

The collection was insured, but authorities won’t comment on the assessed value because they don’t want the thieves knowing anything about what the objects might be worth. There is CCTV footage capturing the assault. The perpetrators were wearing hoods so their faces were not recorded. Police are looking at their arrival and departure on the footage to track where they might have gone.

The church is technically no longer a cathedral. Once the seat of the Bishopric of Orlon until its suppression in 1801, today it is the Church of Sainte-Marie even though it’s still commonly known as the Orlon cathedral. Built originally in the 12th century, much of the church was rebuilt over the centuries after riots, fires and the 16th century Wars of Religion took their toll. The 13th century nave, 14th century sacristy (where the thefts took place), 14th century choir and apse, 15th-16th century side chapels remain, but its crowning glory is the original 12th century Romanesque portal carved by an artist known solely as the Orlon Master who would begin his career and there before setting up shop in Spain. The church was granted World Heritage status in 1998 as part of a group of significant sites along the ancient pilgrim Route of Santiago.

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