Looted Amenhotep I relief found in London

September 23rd, 2018

A relief of the cartouche of Amenhotep I, second pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty, has been found in London and is on its way back to Egypt. The relief was looted in 1988 from the Karnak Temple Complex in Luxor, an open-air museum so huge that it is conceivable someone could snatch a piece of limestone inscribed with the birth name of a pharaoh.

The object was rediscovered by an unnamed archaeologist who spotted it at a London auction a few months ago. He recognized it as the relief stolen from Karnak 30 years ago and alerted the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. The Ministry stopped the piece from being auctioned and worked with British authorities to arrange for its repatriation. The relief was officially returned to the Egyptian embassy in London on Friday.

Very little information about the reign of Amenhotep I (r. 1526-1506 B.C.) has survived. There are only a few relevant inscriptions, one of which was found in the tomb of his architect Ineni. Ineni’s biographical inscription records that Amenhotep ordered the expansion of the Temple of Karnak with the construction of several new structures. None of them stood for long. The remains of some of them were found in the fill of later construction from the reign of Amenhotep III (ca. 1386-1349 B.C.).

On a personal note, it just so happens that I was at Karnak in 1988. I swear I didn’t swipe any cartouches, though. I didn’t even buy my mother a pendant cartouche of her name from the local souvenir shop, something she was bummed about for 25 years or so until she and my father finally went to Egypt and she bought for herself the cartouche pendant I had so brutally denied her when I was a dumb teenager. (It was expensive! I didn’t want to spend such a large amount of my cash at the beginning of the trip! I thought I’d have another chance! Reasons!)

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Gutenberg Bible gets new digs at Library of Congress

September 22nd, 2018

The Gutenberg Bible is prized as the earliest full-size book printed in Europe with moveable type. Johann Gutenberg and his colleagues Johann Fust and Peter Schoeffer printed the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible written by Saint Jerome in the 5th century, in Mainz in 1455. Of that first run of the first printed book, 48 copies have survived, only twenty of them complete. It is so important and so rare that collectors spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on individual pages of a Gutenberg Bible.

The Library of Congress’ copy is especially rare. It was printed on vellum (animal skin parchment), not paper. Of the 48 surviving Gutenberg Bibles, 12 were printed on vellum and only three of those perfect, complete, intact copies of the Bible on vellum are known to survive. The LoC’s is one of the three complete ones and it is the only one of them to have been printed in three volumes. It is a spectacular example, the type deeply and cleanly impressed even though it was one of the first works produced on the brand-new moveable type printing press. The other vellum Bibles are at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris and the British Library in London.

For more than 350 years after its publication, the Bible belonged to the Benedictine abbey of St. Blasius in the Black Forest, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. In 1809, it was transferred to Abbey of St. Paul in Carinthia, southern Austria. It was bought by inventor, chemist and avid collector Otto Vollbehr for $250,000 in 1926. Vollbehr never actually held the book in his extensive collection. He planned to sell it in the United States — part of the sales pitch he made to St. Paul’s, in fact, was that he would sell it to an “American church prince” — but since he was hardly going to schlepp the precious and delicate three volume set all over the States, he made a sort of preview pamphlet and schlepped that around the country instead along with a collection of thousands of incunabula he was trying to sell.

In 1928 the incunabula went on display at the Library of Congress. Vollbehr offered to sell the collection and the Bible to the Library. It took some doing in the wake of the Great Depression, but on July 6th, 1930, President Herbert Hoover signed the act of Congress authorizing the purchase of 3,255 volumes and the St. Blasius-St. Paul Gutenberg Bible for a total of $1.5 million.

It has been on display in the corridor off of the Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building, originally out in the open on a handsome wooden display, then in a closed case. The case is no longer up to snuff so it is being replaced with a new one custom designed to exhibit and protect one of the most precious books in history.

An 11-foot-tall vertical case has been designed for the Gutenberg Bible to meet exact specifications for its long-term conservation. It will be kept at a consistent, cool temperature of 50 degrees and a consistent humidity to help preserve the 563-year-old book, according to Elmer Eusman, chief of the Library’s Conservation Division. The case also includes a new early warning system for fire prevention that will constantly monitor the air.

Frosted mirrors and illumination within the display will create a special effect, emphasizing the Bible in a new way. Resting on a small cradle, the Bible will appear as if it’s floating. The design is meant to celebrate the historic book. Exhibition text will be presented on one side of the case for visitors.

On Friday, the Bible was taken off public view for the first time in more than 70 years to make the necessary arrangements for the installation of the new case. The case was built off site and will have to be broken down into component parts, moved to the Library of Congress and rebuilt The new case has been built by a vendor off site. It will be deconstructed, moved into the Library and rebuilt on site in the Thomas Jefferson Building. That will take place on October 29th. The Bible will move in to its new digs a month or so later after thorough environmental testing has been performed.

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Is Lincoln’s iconic stovepipe hat really Lincoln’s?

September 21st, 2018

The most prized possession of many important artifacts in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum in Springfield, Illinois, is a stovepipe hat belonging to the president. The hat appears to have an impeccable provenance. Lincoln bought the beaver-fur stovepipe hat from a shop in Springfield in the mid-1850s, a period when he was active in state politics while aiming for national office, loudly voicing his opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act and transitioning from the dying Whig party to the Republican party. He paid $4.00 for it.

Lincoln’s tall stovepipe hat is so strongly associated with him that the outline alone is an iconic representation of the slain president. It was a deliberate choice of Abraham Lincoln’s to wear an extra tall chapeau to emphasize his atypical height. He was 6’4″ in an era when the average height for an adult male was 5’7″ and the hat is seven inches high. That made him just shy of seven feet tall when he wore it, a veritable giant even today.

Only three of Lincoln’s stovepipe hats are known to survive and the Springfield museum’s beaver hat is believed to be the oldest. The only problem is there is no hard evidence that the hat really did belong to Abraham Lincoln. The museum acquired it at auction in 2007. It was one of 1,600 Lincoln-related artifacts from collector Louise Taper that were bought for $25 million. The hat alone cost $6.5 million.

You’d think at those nosebleed prices the non-profit Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation (ALPLF) would investigate thoroughly before going deep into debt to buy the collection. Louise Taper was on the board of the foundation in 2007. That may or may not have played a part in the acquisition. She isn’t talking and neither is the foundation.

Since the hat entered the museum collection, the story told was that Lincoln had given the hat as a thank-you gift to an Illinois farmer in 1858. A descendant of the farmer signed an affidavit in 1958 confirming the gift, only she said Lincoln had given it to him during the farmer’s visit to Washington after 1861. The person who appraised the hat for millions of dollars did no personal research, relying solely on a report of research done by the foundation, a report that is nowhere to be found today.

In 2013, experts at the Smithsonian and Chicago History Museum reported that there was simply insufficient evidence to claim it as Lincoln’s hat. The affidavit is basically all they have to go on, and it contradicts the museum’s own statements. Without documentation of the hat having belonged to Lincoln, the museum should strongly qualify its claim that it was Lincoln’s stovepipe hat, the report concluded.

With $9.7 million still outstanding on the sale price and much fundraising needed to pay it off, in 2017 the ALPLF secretly asked the FBI to DNA-test residue on the hat in the hopes it might confirm conclusively that it once had topped Abraham Lincoln’s noggin. The conclusion was … inconclusive. No period DNA could be recovered, only contemporary DNA from someone who had handled it in comparatively recent years.

The hat may not have recoverable DNA, but it does bear some evidence of its wearer. It bears the mark of a hatmaker who was working in Springfield in the mid-1850s. It is Lincoln’s hat size. The band is stretched out from having had important papers stuffed inside of it, a practice Lincoln was known to indulge in. The are wear marks from two fingers on the brim, indicating that it was worn regularly by one individual for a very long time.

Museum chief Alan Lowe expressed frustration over the foundation’s secrecy, but downplayed the DNA test results, saying it would be hard to get a perfect match from an 180-year-old item handled by many people.

“It is important to understand that neither of these initiatives produced new evidence about the hat’s origins,” Lowe said in a statement.

Thanks to the publicity, the museum will begin a new search for evidence about the hat’s past, he added.

“What we learn, no matter what it says about the hat’s origins, will be shared with the public.”

Meanwhile, the pride and joy of the museum has been removed from public display. Once the research is done, the museum will decide whether the hat goes back on display at Lincoln’s lid or remains in the shadows as a $6.5 million pig in a poke.

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Rare 12th c. seal found at Lincoln Cathedral

September 20th, 2018

A rare silver seal matrix from the 12th century has been found in the stores of Lincoln Cathedral. Collections and engagement officer Fern Dawson discovered the artifact in an uncatalogued box during an audit of the cathedral’s holdings. The box was full of seals, but they were all replicas. At first the 12th century piece was believed to be one of them, a Victorian-era reproduction, but experts examined it and identified it as the original matrix used by the medieval Dean and Chapter of Lincoln Cathedral to create the wax seals affixed to official documents.

The obverse of the seal depicts the Virgin Mary, crowned and enthroned, holding the Christ child in her lap. The reverse features the enthroned adult Christ. Mary is the patron saint of Lincoln Cathedral, aka Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln. The seal matrix was made in the early years of the cathedral’s long life. The first wood church was completed in 1092. It was rebuilt in the second quarter of the 12th century and then again after a massive earthquake in 1185.

Lloyd de Beer, Ferguson Curator of Medieval Europe at the British Museum, said: “Institutional seal matrices like this are extremely rare, especially in silver and from such an early date. The Lincoln seal is a joy to behold. It is a masterpiece of micro sculpture made by a truly skilled goldsmith. What’s more, the reverse contains beautiful swirls of niello surrounding an enthroned Christ.”

Its prior existence was known of, and “the Great Seal of the Chapter of Lincoln Cathedral” had a world-wide reputation as a rare piece of 12th century craftsmanship, but until recently no one in living memory had seen or handled the real object.

“Since 1893, important Cathedral documents have been sealed using an electrotyped copy while the true matrix has lain hidden and unrecognised within the Cathedral store,” explained expert in medieval ecclesiastical treasures, Dr Lesley Milner FSA.

“It was a hugely exciting moment for us all when this forgotten art work was rediscovered and put into the hands of Professor Sandy Heslop, an authority on 12th century metalwork. For a moment there was silence and then he said ‘Wow!’, realising that Lincoln had re-acquired a supreme piece of Norman art.”

Two other original medieval seal matrices were found next to the 12th century one in the box full of replicas. There was also a 13th century one of the Vicars Choral and a 14th century Sacrist’s Seal, a personal seal matrix for a cleric named John. The three seals went on display in the Lincoln Cathedral treasury on September 15th. They will remain on public view in the treasury until they are moved to the new visitor center when it opens in 2020.

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Mushroom picker finds Bronze Age helmets

September 19th, 2018

A forager gathering mushrooms near the village of Trhovište in the Kosice Region of eastern Slovakia last year found a Bronze Age deposit so rare that even that distinguished archaeological treasure hound Monty couldn’t help but be impressed: two Bronze Age helmets plus accessories. The helmets, discovered stuck to each by thousands of years of corrosion, were buried with a matched pair of cheek protectors and two spiral arm guards.

The objects are made of bronze and based on the style are around 3,200 years old. The helmets were constructed from two sheets of bronze fashioned into curved plates slightly flattened on the top of the head. The plates are joined down the middle of the head by a central trident crest that has a hole through which a plume could be threaded. The sides are decorated with concentric circles, a shape also seen on the cheek pads. There are also holes on the bottom side through which the cheek pads were attached.

The finder, who wishes to remain anonymous, brought the helmets and associated gear to the Eastern Slovakia Museum in Košice this January. The museum reported the discover to the regional authorities. Museum archaeologist Dárius Gašaj and a regional heritage official searched the find site for any information the context could provide and any other artifacts that may have still been there. The pieces had been buried together at one time in a single hole. There were no other objects found.

Bronze Age helmets are rare in Europe and vanishingly so in Slovakia. Only three examples in this style of manufacture are known, all of them discovered in the Eastern Alps significantly to the west of Slovakia. Archaeologists believe they may have been made in a workshop in the northern Apennines and then wound their way through the Alpine passes eventually reaching the Carpathian basin. The spiral arm guards were likely produced locally. They are of a type that has been found before in Slovakia.

The armature will be studied and conserved further by experts at the Eastern Slovakia Museum where it has made its public debut as part of a display on ancient armour.

The origin of the helmets from Trhovište remains unclear. They were probably traded objects imported for the highest society elite – military chiefs. The helmets were used and repaired. They were more a symbol of the status of the bearer, a symbol of his position and power than protective equipment.

The display also includes the back part of some plate armour plate that was found long ago in Čierna nad Tisou and also some fragments discovered in Šarišské Michaľany.

Similar helmets have been found in Lúčky, Spišská Belá and Žaškov but they were made only from one sheet of bronze. They originated between the 12th and 10th century BC.

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Very good boy discovers Bronze Age hoard

September 18th, 2018

Very good boy Monty was enjoying the many sights and scents of the Orlické mountains on a walk with his owner near the northern Bohemian village of Kostelecké Horky this March when something caught his nose. He began digging frenetically to get to it. Monty’s owner, Mr. Frankona, watched as the pup unearthed a sickle-shaped artifact. By the time the two of them were done, they had picked up 13 bronze sickles, three axes, two spear points and several bracelets.

Frankona handed them in to the Museum and Gallery of Orlické Mountains in the nearby town of Rychnov. Experts examined the group and determined the objects are more than 3,000 years old. Made of bronze, they are in excellent condition despite their advanced age. They are intact with no damage from extensive use or from the millennia spent underground.

“In addition to its professional value, the discovery has a high aesthetic value. It is a find of whole tools and jewels, it is beautiful and there are several stories behind it. Most likely, it is a sacrifice and leads us into a world that is only rarely opened on the basis of material finds. The other level of his knowledge is indicative of intense contacts and acceptance of patterns from southern neighbors – there is a habit of storing all objects. Equally important is the evidence of technological excellence and aesthetic feelings of local craftsmen, ” explains Martina Bekova, archeologist at the Museum and Gallery of the Orlické Mountains.

In the vicinity of the find, archaeologists carried out another survey using a metal detector. The discovery is really unique. The surrounding terrain has been greatly changed in the past, and it can not be ruled out that something has already been destroyed or that the layers still conceal some surprises. The vast majority of treasures will be found by amateurs. The explanation is quite simple – depots, whether they were meant as hidden treasures, reserves, warehouses, sacrifices – were practically always deposited outside commonly populated sites and outside the burial ground. Only rarely will there be a common archaeological research, which is dedicated to housing estates and burial grounds.

This kind of find is very rare in the region. The last time anything similar was found in Eastern Bohemia was in 1953. Mr. Frankona received a reward of 7860 Czech koruna ($360) from the government of the Hradec Králové Region. No word on whether he cut Monty in on the deal.

The artifacts went on display in the Journey to the Beginning of Time exhibition at the New Castle museum in Kostelec nad Orlicí on September 13th for a week. September 21st is their last day as part of the show. After that, the bronze objects will be studied and conserved. Once they are stabilized, they will go on permanent display at the New Castle.

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Gold treasure illuminates 6th c. darkness

September 17th, 2018

A treasure of gold artifacts from the German Iron Age has been discovered on the island of Hjarnø in the Horsens Fjord area off the eastern coast of Jutland. The first pieces of gold, small pendants were found by dental assistant and metal detectorist Terese Frydensberg Refsgaard and her fellow amateur archaeologist Brian Kristensen in 2017. They brought their finds to the museum in nearby Vejle where the experts told her to keep her discovery and its location under wraps to prevent treasure hunters from despoiling the place. Archaeologists followed up with a full excavation.

They were not disappointed. Between Refsgaard’s initial find and the professional dig, 32 different precious objects were unearthed. They include gold beads, pendants, a needle, and a number small gold fragments, clippings from larger pieces, usually coins, that were used as a currency. All of the artifacts are tiny, some of them more detailed than expected with designs the archaeologists have not seen before. They had to have been the product of highly advanced goldsmithing.

Mads Ravn, head of research at Vejle Museums, said the gold was thought to date from just before the Viking period and was likely buried around 500 CE.

The find suggests that people from Hjarnø had contact with the Roman empire, Ravn said.

“They probably took part in raids there, so our find is a small legacy from a turbulent time in world history in which gold speaks its own clear language” Ravn told DR.

The newly-found designs and craftsman skills will shed new light on a chaotic period when even the break-down of the Roman Empire paled in comparison to natural cataclysms that wracked the continent and beyond after a massive volcanic eruption in Llopango, El Salvador. The ash cloud spread from Central America to Europe, Turkey, Mongolia, China and Africa, blocking the sun and creating a mini ice age a decade long. Widespread famine and loss of human and animal life was the result.

Archaeologists hope their analyses will discover where the gold was originally mined, how the objects were made, where they made and how and why they wound up on Hjarnø facing the sea to south. It’s possible the objects were deliberately laid as a sacrifice to petition the gods for survival during the long, cold darkness.

The artifacts will be going on temporary display at Vejle’s Museum of Cultural History in an exhibition dedicated to the upheaval of the post-volcanic 6th century, after which it will go to the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen for further study.

This Dutch-language video is worth viewing even if you can’t understand a word they’re saying because you get an idea of the minuscule size of some of the pieces that the photographs can’t convey. If any of our Dutch speaking readers would care to post a summary or highlights of the discussion, I would be ever so grateful. :thanks:

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Likely home where Henry VII was born found

September 16th, 2018

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a house on the grounds of Pembroke Castle that is probably the house when the future King Henry VII was born. Previous aerial photography and a geophysical survey had found evidence of a possible building on the site and this two-week excavation was an exploratory dig to see if there really was something there worth pursuing. That question has been answered loud and clear.

Just days into an initial dig, archaeologists have uncovered up to half a metre of the building’s walls – and they are yet to reach the main floor levels. One wall is a metre thick.

They have also unearthed so many slates and tiles that they are concluding it had a slate roof. Green-glazed ridge tiles have also been found, which suggest a particularly imposing building, while other finds include a curving stair from a spiral staircase.

James Meek, who is heading the excavation for the Dyfed Archaeological Trust, said such finds are already suggesting “a fairly showy building” inside of the outer walls of the castle.

It is about the size of two tennis courts, while the scale of the walls suggests a structure of a considerable height.

The thick walls also map out a floor plan characteristic of a late medieval hall house you’d find in the later 15th century. That’s when the castle was granted to Jasper Tudor, Henry’s uncle. According to legend, little Henry Tudor was born in the 13th century tower of the 11th century castle, but then again, the arch-rival for the throne he would defeat so soundly, Richard III, was said the have been born with a full set of teeth and a tail, so yeah, there’s a lot of tall-taleism to sift through in accounts of rulers’ lives. Documentary evidence confirms that he was born at Pembroke Castle, but it’s far more likely he was born in a large, comfortable mansion on the grounds of his uncle Jasper’s castle than in the guard tower.

Expressing surprise over how much of this structure has survived, Meek said: “It tells a very different story for how we think outer walls of castles were used in that later medieval period … it was always the thought that they [castles] were full of smaller timber buildings of lesser status than the rest of the court rooms and the administrative functions of the castle itself. Whereas here, you’ve got one high-status residential structure.”

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To the victor belong the miniature spoils?

September 15th, 2018

The Launching Of English Fire Ships On The Spanish Fleet Off Calais depicts Queen Elizabeth I watching from the shore as her navy attacks the Spanish Armada on the night of August 7th, 1588. A horseback gentleman next to her is believed to represent Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. The broad panorama, Spanish on the left, English on the right, English fireships in the center, belies its small dimensions. The gouache on vellum laid down on panel is just 5½ x 13¾ inches, but it is of such significant stature that it was on display at the Rijksmuseum for twenty years (1975-1995).

Painted around 1600, it is one of only two known examples of gouache miniatures depicting this momentous event close to when it occurred. The other has been in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich since 1938, and while they share the same theme, they are not the copies of each other. The NMM’s piece has no Queen Elizabeth, most notably, nor any shore in view whatsoever.

Both of the works were made by unknown artists in the Flemish style. Later prints and an oil painting also created by Dutch artists underscore the significance of the defeat of the Spanish Armada to England’s Protestant allies.

The miniature was recently sold at auction to an overseas buyer who applied for an export licence. Michael Ellis, Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, has placed a temporary export bar on the painting because of its immense value as a contemporary rendition of one Britain’s most important events. British institutions now have until December 13th to show that they can raise the price of £210,000 (plus VAT) to acquire the painting. If they’ve gotten a reasonable way to the goal, the Minister can extend the bar another three months.

Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest member Peter Barber said:

“This vibrant miniature is one of the earliest and most vivid depictions of an episode of crucial importance for the history of England. That it is the work of a Flemish artist and shows the role played by Dutch ships, additionally underline the Armada’s European-wide significance. Yet, familiar though the overall story may be, the miniature includes many intriguing details that need further investigation, such as the prominence given to the ship and arms of the commander of the English forces, Lord Howard of Effingham.

There can be few items more justly called a ‘national treasure’ and it needs to be retained in this country so that it can be further studied and enjoyed.”

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Maya altar found in Guatemala

September 14th, 2018

An engraved stone altar attesting to the political vicissitudes of 6th century Maya city-states has been found in La Corona, Guatemala. The limestone block is 4.8 x 4 feet and weighs close to a ton. It was discovered in the remains of a temple and can be precisely dated thanks to the inscription and the awesomeness of the Maya calendar to May 12th, 544 A.D.

The carved stone depicts a ruler of La Corona named Chak Took Ich’aak. His dynamic representation is on the top center of the stone. He holds a ceremonial bar, a symbol of leadership, shaped like a double-headed serpent. Emerging from each of the two heads are the patron deities of the city: Chak Wayis Chahk to the right, Yaxal Ajaw on the left side. On the right edge of the stone is a hieroglyphic inscription which includes the precise date. Lining the bottom edge is the head of a supernatural being adorned with aquatic plants.

In 544, La Corona was ruled by the Kaanul kingdom, the powerful Snake dynasty that was then centered in the city of Dzibanche (the dynasty’s seat moved to Calakmul around 580-590). La Corona under Chak Took Ich’aak was one of Kaanul’s allies/vassal city-states. He was still king almost 20 years after the inscription was dedicated when in 562 Kaanul defeated its greatest rival, Tikal. When Tikal fell, Kaanul gained control over all of Peten.

Like the Centipede dynasty king K’inich Bahlam II who would rule El Perú-Waka 100 years later, Chak Took Ich’aak cemented his alliance and position by marriage to a princess from the Snake dynasty. Dynastic marriages were an essential tool in the Snake kingdom’s box, tying a panoply of Maya cities around Tikal to the dynasty and forming a sort of political and military cordon to support Kaanul’s final assault. The Snake lords ruled Peten for two centuries after that victory.

[Tomas Barrientos, co-director of excavations and investigations], said the altar “fills in the gaps” and “pieces together the puzzle” of the Mayan culture’s political relationships.

“It’s a high quality work of art that shows us they were rulers entering into a period of great power and who were allying themselves with others to compete, in this case, with Tikal.”

La Corona “was the place where the most important historical Mayan political movement began to take shape.”

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