The Year in History Blog History

This year The History Blog celebrated its 10th anniverary. The Six Million Dollar Man didn’t make an appearance at this party like he did at the Six Millionth View party last year, but we made up for it with a really great comment thread. I love when readers who rarely (or never!) comment mingle with the regular commenters to say nice things about the blog. It’s downright invigorating. (No, that is not a prompt for more of same in the comments on this post. Okay it kind of is. Not that you need prompting.)

It’s the on-topic posts that capture people’s attention on the larger web. The article about the 17th century silk gown found on the Texel shipwreck was the runaway most visited of the year with 11,555 views. The story of the murder of Joe the Quilter and the discovery of the remains of his cottage was the second most popular of the year with 6,276 views. It was also one of my favorites. The tragic story, Joe’s outstanding artisanship, the rare survival of a labourer’s cottage from the 1820s and my first encounter with the Beamish Museum all captivated my attention. Then the modern Joe the Quilter topped it all off by commenting.

That wasn’t the only murderous story of the year. I was particularly interested in the story of Martha Brown, the woman who killed her abusive husband and was hanged for it. Among the thousands of people who attended her execution was a 16-year-old Thomas Hardy. Years later he would write Tess of the d’Urbervilles about a woman who kills her abuser and is hanged for murder. The century-old cold case of the Fontaubert bones only has the legend of a gloriously lurid murder behind it, but maybe the new forensic investigation will turn up something if not equally interesting, at least mildly so. Then there was the first known boomerang victim, killed in the 13th century by a fighting boomerang, a heavy, sharp-edged wood weapon that cut through his bone like metal. I’m still keeping my fingers crossed that the remains of the victim of a huge 17th century royal sex scandal have been found, but the odds are slim.

I allowed myself some shameless photographic indulgences this year. The Australian quilts were probably my richest haul in a single post, but in sheer size and beauty, the Dream Garden Tiffany mosaic gets very high ranking in the end of the year summary even though I only just posted it a couple of days ago. Another December entry gave me my greatest source of photographic gluttony, however. It’s the boxwood miniatures. When the Art Gallery of Ontario gave me access to their folder of high resolution photographs, I seriously got a rush. It’s because the carving is so, so small. Having gigantic pictures where the details could be seen in extreme close-up totally made my year.

Along similar lines, I love how high resolution 3D scans of artifacts and remains are becoming more common. This year alone we saw 3D scans of Chinese oracle bones, the Dandaleith Pictish stone, a Pictish cross slab, an Anglo-Saxon name stone found at Lindisfarne, bones and objects from the Tudor flagship Mary Rose, the first church where Norway’s Viking saint king Olaf II was buried and the irrepressible charm of the Skara Brae “Buddo” figurine.

Some of my favorite finds of the year were inscriptions. There was the Etruscan stele found in the foundations of an ancient temple in Tuscany, later found to include the name of the goddess Uni. Newly discovered Etruscan inscriptions are always cause for celebration, and this one is very long and very old. I also loved the two from modern-day Turkey, the 2,000-year-old horse racing rules and the amazing 2,200-year-old lease contract. It’s a contract! Literally carved in stone! And thus metaphor becomes literal.

With no particular thread connecting them other than my personal interest, I got a big kick out of discoveries from all over the world. There was that group of small ceremonial iron weapons found in Oman, the small fragment of 13th century pottery from Teruel, Spain, decorated with a unique depiction of a Jewish man, the Tuscan villa of Vettius Agorius Praetextatus, a 4th century senator and one of the last politically prominent adherents of traditional Roman religion to fight for its preservation, that freaking huge gold torc found in Cambridgeshire and the unbearable cuteness of the Canaanite “Thinker” figurine.

In the ephemera category, the only copy of Utrecht’s first newspaper, published in 1623, was found in a hand-bound anthology in the City Archives and Athenaeum Library in Deventer, the Netherlands. The news wasn’t fresh (even our Dutch-speaking readers struggled to follow it), but the history of newspapers was entirely unknown to me before I researched the find. Fascinating subject. The account of another battle of Thermopylae, this one between invading Goths and a combined Roman-Greek force during the 3rd century Gothic wars, discovered in a palimpsest in Vienna is a stand-out of the year. It’s a previously unknown passage in the Scythica, a history of the wars written by Athenian historian P. Herennius Dexippus who lived through them. Only a few fragments from this history survived quoted in later books. The palimpsest gave us by far the longest surviving passage, and a riveting one at that.

Denmark may win the award this year for most exciting finds in one country. There was the wee gold pendant found by a metal detectorist that is the earliest figure of Christ found in Denmark, the lead amulet invoking elves and the Christian Trinity, the rediscovery of the long-lost Ydby Runestone, the stabby beauty of the Viking treasure hoard found in Lille Karleby, the
two pounds of Viking gold bangles, the Viking toolbox unearthed at Borgring, and that amazingly smooth giant Neolithic flint axe. But of all the great and wondrous treasures Denmark has brought us this year, the greatest of them all was the 17th century bishop’s turd. The title alone made me laugh for a solid two days.

The hoards of the Danes had sturdy competition this year from Spain and Switzerland. The sheer quantity, 1,300 pounds of Roman coins, found in Tomares outside Seville, Spain, would have been impressive enough on its own, but they came in custom matching amphorae of a type never seen before. Researchers are still going through the tens of thousands of coins from the late 3rd, early 4th century. It’s not cash or pounds of gold, but the Roman lamp hoard found in Switzerland stands next to these glories with its head held high, just because it’s so pristine and unique.

I think the highlight of the year, maybe the highlight of the first decade of The History Blog history, was the chilling Halloween three-parter about the Harrison Horror (part I, part II, part III). I’d been thinking about writing a serial for years, and a long-form treatment of the body-snatching of John Scott Harrison and Augustus Devin for at least two years. I finally did it and it was so, so worth it. I’m warning you, though, there is no way I’m even trying to top it next year, not for Halloween anyway. Maybe some other theme will inspire me, or maybe it’ll just be something that I randomly stumble across. Stay tuned to find out!

I wish you all the very best of New Years, full of prosperity, peace and nerdery. I will continue to do my utmost to contribute to the last of those.


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Comment by Audrey Burtrum-Stanley
2016-12-31 23:31:48

Oh dear History Writer…

My your life be enriched with the knowledge from books and your heart be blessed knowing of the affection of countless admirers of your compositions. May 2017 bring you all the beatitudes of wild honey on a spring afternoon…
Thank you — AUDREY

Comment by beck
2016-12-31 23:38:52

happy new year to all.

Comment by Hels
2017-01-01 02:11:16

How super to find a copy of Utrecht’s first newspaper. I have been very interested in modern (i.e 19th century) news agencies but going back to 1623 was even more impressive. I am not surprised the news was somewhat out of date :)

Have a successful New Year!

Comment by C.A.
2017-01-01 05:29:53

Happy New Year, Livius Drusus!

May 2017 be joyful and prosperous as well as full of amazing stories!

Be well and thank you for letting us tag along!

Comment by Apuleius
2017-01-01 06:44:41

I’m one of those readers who never comments, but I read your History Blog daily, and it’s a highlight of every day and usually sends me scurrying for more info (which I love to do!).

Thank you so much for this blog and all the work that goes into it. I wish you a happy and healthy 2017!

Comment by Shannon
2017-01-01 08:23:43

Thank you again, for such a fantastic blog. What I like about it so much – that I look forward to readIng it each day – is the variety of subjects, the photos, and your great commentaries. Don’t change a thing!

Many blessings for a wonderful new year!

Comment by Virginia Burton
2017-01-01 08:42:18

Thank you for all your hard work. I wish there were a “Donate” button on your blog–I feel guilty getting all this pleasure without contributing to its upkeep. You’re amazing!

Comment by Laura
2017-01-01 09:08:06

Happy New Year! I read your blog every morning, although I’ve never commented. It is always fascinating. Thank you!

Comment by CinTam
2017-01-01 09:25:27

I LOVE this blog and check it every single day for the latest fascinating article, which usually leads to a lot of Googling enjoyment. Love the photos and detailed posts. Am constantly amazed at the finds all over the world from all time periods…so many incredible objects and artifacts are out there, waiting to be found, and I know your blog will keep me up on them! Thank you for all you do. Thank you for this great blog! Happy New Year! :notworthy:

Comment by Don
2017-01-01 09:37:07

Love reading the articles every day,and am always impressed , Thanks for the wonderful sight.

Comment by BillBC
2017-01-01 09:37:41

Don’t ever stop. This is a daily must-read for me

Comment by Kelly
2017-01-01 10:09:31

This is perhaps my most favorite website/ blog. Consistent, interesting, and clever. I recommend it to everyone, history lover or not, the little nuggets of knowledge to be found here are endless. Thank you for all of your hard work!! Keep it up ;) Happy New Year!

Comment by Michael
2017-01-01 10:14:55

I enjoy reading your blog almost every day. Of course, it can lead me into long searches for “more,” which is perfectly fine.

Thanks for the effort!

Comment by Wolf Tadellöser
2017-01-01 10:52:11

Thank you for yet an other year of interesting news about History. I have made it a habit to post every new article you write in ‘History News’ a Facebook group I manage.


Comment by dearieme
2017-01-01 10:58:51

John Reith would have approved. Keep up the good work. Happy New Year.

Comment by Cordate
2017-01-01 11:52:00

Super thanks for another year of lovely articles!

I think I have recommended The History Blog to friends and co-workers more this past year than any prior :)

Comment by clio85718
2017-01-01 11:53:04

I very rarely comment but I read this blog everyday. Thank you so much for all your work here, your knowledge, insights and willingness to share with all of us.

Comment by Sebastian
2017-01-01 13:25:40

I just wanted to thank you for all the work you put into this!
I check daily to see what’s new :-)


Comment by Urspo
2017-01-01 14:32:47

thank you very much for all you do.

Comment by Cheryl
2017-01-01 14:54:50

I’ve been reading your blog daily for years now, and I hope to keep doing so for many years to come! Thank you so much!

Comment by Roma
2017-01-01 15:03:18

Thank you very much for keeping interest in history alive! Reading History Blog is like wearing Indiana Jones hat while exploring the dusty dungeons and caverns of the past in search for historical artefacts :)

Comment by Susie
2017-01-01 15:58:59

Thank you so much for such an interesting and special blog. Please keep it coming for…. forever! All the best for the new year

Comment by Rebecca
2017-01-01 16:41:30

Dear Livius Drusus —

I always love your end of year roundup because even though I think I read your blog assiduously every single day, I always manage to miss something wonderful that you point out in your summary. This year it was the rosewood beads! I was traveling that day, must have accidentally deleted the post. What a marvel! I’ve seen them in museums before but the level of detail in the reproductions was a revelation. My favorite post this year though was purely personal: a close friend of mine is the granddaughter of Hugo Bettauer, and when I forwarded her your post on Stadt ohne Juden, she was absolutely floored. I also appreciate (especially against the backdrop of horrible political news) all the good news you manage to drop in our inboxes: the paintings found, the stolen items repatriated, the luck of the metal detector enthusiasts. Thank you for all the work and all the love you put into The History Blog. I love you right back! Happy New Year!

Comment by bort
2017-01-01 17:23:02
Comment by Anne Grace
2017-01-01 20:41:44

What everybody else said, again.


Comment by SC
2017-01-02 01:52:25

A happy new year to you and best wishes on continuing this wonderful blog. I love the depth you often go into in your posts! :hattip:

Comment by Layne
2017-01-02 17:27:55

What have you done?! Now I have to go back and read EVERY SINGLE ONE of the posts you mentioned in this round-up! So much for my work productivity resolutions:) I’m kind of surprised I missed any, they must be early ones, because if I miss a day or two of The History Blog, I’m unhappy until I catch back up. Now I have dozens of “new” ones to read! It’s wonderful, you’re wonderful, THANK YOU, and Happy New Year!

Comment by Patti
2017-01-02 20:22:20

thank you. thank you. thank you. for intelligent writing and research and photos with a click get large enough to see. I wish I could say I read it everyday, but life gets in the way. You are on my ighome page though and I share you to friends and facebook and save you to pinterest. SO glad that I found your blog.

Comment by Kristine
2017-01-02 20:49:32

I actually don’t read your fascinating blog every day. Instead I wait for days, sometimes weeks, and then spend hours savoring your delicious finds. Thanks so much for the time you take to pass on your knowledge to us. Blessings to you and yours in 2017.

Comment by Tatjana
2017-01-03 03:42:33

Happy New Year, Livius! Thank you from me and the members of my LinkedIn forum “Arts and Cultures: Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque” in which I shared many of your posts.

Comment by Albertus Minimus
2017-01-03 10:37:14

Well-deserved maximum congratulations; as a former blogger, I have a little understanding about the effort required to keep up a good blog, never mind an excellent one like yours. May you and The History Blog live long and prosper.

Comment by Mike Benz
2017-01-03 11:46:11

I am a lawyer in Chicago. This is my #1 favorite daily internet stop. Thank you so much for the work you put into this blog.

Comment by Clay
2017-01-03 12:11:26

Happy New Year Livius. and thanks for all the incredible stories in 2016!

I read The History Blog every day (well, except for weekends, but that’s okay because it means I get to read 3 stories on Monday).

The little boy in me has to admit that stories of treasure troves of coins and other valuables that keep showing up in Europe are my favorites.

Comment by Chloe
2017-01-03 14:16:15

Ditto, ditto, ditto! Thank you for all your hard work. Your blog postings are like sunshine through the clouds on many of my days.

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