Archive for the ‘Medieval’ Category

15th c. sauna found in Mexico City

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020

Archaeologists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) have unearthed the remains of a pre-Hispanic sweat lodge dating to the 14th century. It was made out of adobe and tezontle, a local volcanic rock, and then coated with stucco. A large section of walls, the central tub and a bench along the side are extant. The sweat house would have been about 16 feet long and 10 feet wide when intact.

Known in Nahuatl as temazcals, these mud-brick or stone structures were domed sweat lodges with warm water pools or steam baths, a lower heat version of the Roman sudatorium. Unlike the Roman bathing practice, temazcals were used for ritual and medicinal purposes. They were also used by women in childbirth.

The temazcal was discovered in the La Merced neighborhood. The remains of the sweat lodge are the first concrete archaeological evidence that what is now La Merced was originally Temazcaltitlan, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Tenochtitlan. It was known from written sources from the colonial era including  the Nahuatl-language Crónica Mexicayotl and Aubin Codex and the Sigüenza Map, a cartographic history of the migration of the Mexica  from Aztlán to Tenochtitlan.

The account of the settlement of Tenochtitlan in Crónica Mexicayotl describes the temazcal as pretty much the first thing built by the handful of nobles who founded the city before the wider population of Mexica followed. They had been violently expelled from Tizapán and fled to the swamps around the central lagoon of what would become Tenochtitlan. During the dangerous escape, Quetzalmoyahuatzin, daughter of one of the Mexica nobles, gave birth. The founders erected a sweat house there where they bathed her and themselves. The spot was named Temazcaltitlan after the temazcal.

The head of the INAH team that found the temazcal said the discovery is the first concrete evidence of Temazcaltitlan’s vocation as a center of bathing and purification.

Víctor Esperón Calleja said the neighborhood belonged to the district of Teopan (also known as Zoquipan), which was the first territory built on Lake Texcoco and occupied by the Mexicas. It is believed that the female deities of earth, fertility, water and the pre-Hispanic beverage pulque were also worshipped in Temazcaltitlan.

On the west side of the site, the INAH team unearthed the remains of an early colonial house with several rooms built over the temazcal. It was constructed using both pre-Hispanic and European techniques, so archaeologists believe it belonged to a high-status indigenous family in the immediate wake of the Spanish Conquest, between 1521 and 1620. A hundred years later under the Spanish Viceroyalty (1720-1820), a tannery was built on the site.

This video in Spanish (the auto-translate captions are, as usual, bad, but at least vaguely understandable) has great shots of the site. 

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Largest 15th c. ship being pieced back together

Tuesday, January 21st, 2020

The Newport Ship, the largest, best-preserved 15th century ship ever found, is being pieced back together like a giant jigsaw puzzle in a warehouse in Newport, Wales.

The remains of the massive merchant ship about 400 tons displacement and 100 feet long were discovered in June 2002 during construction of an arts center on the banks of the River Usk. Archaeologists from the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust (GGAT) built a coffer-dam around the site and excavated the remains of the large vessel capable of carrying a load of about 200 tons.

The ship was not laden with cargo, belongings or even ballast. It was in dock when it gave up the ghost, slated for repair or demolition. One coin – a French petit blanc — placed in the keel likely for good luck, dated the ship to the late 1440s. A smattering of other artifacts were found, including a gaming piece, a brass fitting from a helmet, stone shot for a swivel gun, a bilge bump and the ubiquitous nit comb. The artifacts and tree-ring analysis of the timbers indicate the ship was built in the Basque Country in 1449, and carried wine on the Lisbon-Bristol trade route for the next 20 years. While it was docked in Newport, the ship collapsed and the hull flooded. The part of the ship that could be easily accessed was disassembled leaving the lower part of the hull for archaeologists to discover 600 years later.

Bob Evans, chairman of the Friends of the Newport Ship:

“There are no other surviving vessels from the early 15th century; a time when ship design was developing rapidly and we have much to learn from the way in which she was built and how she would have sailed”.

At first the plan was to preserve only a few representative timbers, but when the discovery of the Newport Ship made the press, a public campaign persuaded the Welsh National Assembly to budget the time and £3.5 million for a full excavation. In order to preserve the ship, it was taken apart timber by timber, each piece numbered and placed into freshwater tanks for storage. The last piece of the puzzle, massive keel, had to be cut into sections. It was removed in November 2002.

It takes a long, long time to stabilize waterlogged shipwrecks. The Mary Rose was hosed down in polyethylene glycol (PEG) for three decades. Because the Newport Ship was recovered in approximately 3,000 pieces rather than as a whole hull, the timbers could be soaked simultaneously and evenly in the tanks. Conservators soaked the timbers an ammonium citrate solution to remove iron salts before soaking in PEG. Then they shortened the treatment period (and cost in materials; PEG is a petroleum product and very expensive) by freeze-drying the PEG-saturated timbers.

The conservation process is almost complete now and reassembly is the next frontier. The total weight of the timbers is more than 25 tons. Friends of the Newport Ship are working with experts from Swansea University to design and built a cradle as a support structure

“We have received two further shipments of dried timbers during the year so that we now have around three quarters of the recovered timbers preserved and ready for reassembly,” explained Mr Evans.

“We aim to have the remaining timbers back at the Newport Ship Centre by the end of 2020. The latest shipment includes some of the big framing timbers which are very impressive in terms of their size and the high standard of carpentry they exhibit. […]

He added: “We do not want to put it together in the wrong way or have to take it apart again, so we must be certain that we know exactly how each timber fits together before we start.

“Work continues on finding a building in the Newport area which is big enough to house the Ship and we hope to make an announcement on this in a few months’ time.”

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Oldest known city view of Venice identified

Thursday, January 16th, 2020

A pen and ink drawing in a 14th century travelogue is the oldest known city view of Venice. The image was drawn by Niccolò da Poggibonsi, a Franciscan friar who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Egypt in 1345-50, in his account of his travels now in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence. He wrote his travelogue the Libro d’oltramare, after his return to Italy. While the manuscript has been published before, the drawing has not. It was identified by Dr. Sandra Toffolo from the University of St Andrews’ School of History.

When Dr Toffolo discovered the image, she realised that the city view of Venice predates all previously known views of the city, excluding maps and portolan charts. The oldest extant map of Venice was made by Fra Paolino, a Franciscan friar from Venice, and dates from around 1330. Since the discovery, Dr Toffolo has spent the last several months verifying the image through consulting books, manuscripts and articles.

A series of small pinpricks discovered on the original manuscript image also suggests that the city view was more widely circulated. This technique was used to copy images: powder was sifted through the pinpricks onto another surface, thereby transferring the outlines of the image.

Dr Toffolo said: “The presence of these pinpricks is a strong indication that this city view was copied. Indeed, there are several images in manuscripts and early printed books that are clearly based on the image in the manuscript in Florence.

Niccolò left Poggibonsi in Tuscany in March of 1345 and went through Florence, Bologna, Ferrara, Chioggia before arriving in Venice. It’s the first city he writes about it in detail. Since his epic voyage was a pilgrimage, Venice gets air time for its many holy relics.

“In this city there are many saints’ bodies, like of Saint Mark the Evangelist, even though it’s not on display. But I saw the whole body of Saint Lucia and of Saint Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, whole and entire, and Saints Cosmas and Damian, and the foot of Saint Mary of Egypt, and saw the thigh bone of Saint Christopher and I measured it — it was from hip to knee four spans long — and other saints’ bodies did I visit.

But the city itself made a big impression with the traveler. The canal system even got its own chapter.

This is a noble city, and it sustains itself better as a community than any other place in the world, and all the men are merchants and the women work by hand, because every necessity of life they have to bring in from the outside for money. The reason is because Venice is all in the sea, has no land around it where they might harvest grain or other to live off of.

Regarding this land, meaning Venice, it is made differently from other places in that the whole city there are no streets on land. Their streets, small and large, are canals of water, and so by water, ie, by boat, one travels everywhere. […] And the city is full of beautiful houses with many bell towers that are so tilted that it seems they’ll fall from the bad foundations. They can’t make better ones because of the sea.

I think it is the most regal port in the world where you can always find ships to navigate anywhere in any country a man has business to visit.

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Export blocked for unique anchorite manual

Wednesday, January 15th, 2020

UK Arts Minister Helen Whately has blocked export of a unique 15th century Middle English manuscript. The Speculum Inclusorum (the Mirror of Recluses) was written by an unknown author as a manual for women who chose to become anchorites, a type of religious recluse that gained some popularity in medieval England.

Anchorites dedicated their lives to god by enclosing themselves in a small cell attached to a church. They were usually lay people, not nuns or priests, who chose isolation and self-abnegation inspired by the example of the ascetic Desert Fathers of the 3rd century. Instead of the sacrament of Holy Orders received by priests or the symbolic Marriage to Christ of nuns, anchorites received an enclosure service modeled on the mass said for the dead. The officiant even sprinkled the anchorite with dirt reciting the “ashes to ashes” bit, just like with a casket at a funeral.

The place in which they would be enclosed for life was known as the anchorhold. It had three windows: one slit through which they could observe mass and take communion, one through which servants would deliver food and remove waste, one to the outside world to receive visitors or the sacrament of Confession. While visitors were very rare — the whole point was to be a recluse living a life of isolation, denial and prayer — anchorites were considered extra holy for having chosen enclosure and pilgrims did seek out their council. Julian of Norwich (1342-ca. 1420), an anchoress and author of the oldest surviving English book written by a woman (Revelations of Divine Love), was a spiritual adviser to, among others, Margery Kempe, author of the first autobiography written in English.

Once enclosed in their anchorhold, that was that. There was no leaving the 12×12-foot room, nor any way out even if they’d wanted to. It was referred to as a tomb and that wasn’t just a metaphor. Some had literal graves dug in the ground, open and in full view of the anchorite who for the duration of her entombed life could contemplate the actual tomb she’d occupy when that life was over. (The practice of burying anchorites in their anchorholds appears to have petered off in the 14th century, replaced by churchyard burials.)

As extreme a lifestyle as it was, it was a bit of a trend in the Middle Ages. Researchers have traced about 100 anchorites in 12th century England, and the figure doubles to 200 between the 13th and 15th centuries. Women were particularly drawn to enclosure. There were three times as many anchoresses as anchorites in the 13th century, and twice as many in the 14th and 15th centuries. These were people of means. They had to apply for the position to the bishop and prove they had the financial wherewithal to support themselves for the duration of their enclosure, be it long or short. They paid all costs — food, clothes, furnishings, attendants — which could add up over decades even for the most ascetic anchorite.

They were also more likely to be literate, and a number of guides were written to acquaint the would-be anchorite with their new way of life. The Ancrene Wisse, an anonymous manuscript in Middle English from the early 13th century, advises anchorites not to eat with visitors because it’s too familiar and too unlike the unworldly dead they’re supposed to be, to avoid being vain about their lily-white hands by digging up the dirt floor of their anchorholds “from the grave in which they will rot.” On the plus side, the author recommends against mortification of the flesh via self-flagellation with lead whips, holly or brambles, or by wearing iron, hair or hedgehog skin shirts. (This is the first I’ve heard of hedgehog skin shirts. Presumably worn spines-in for maximum pain. Puts regular hair shirts to shame.)

The Mirror of Recluses was written two centuries later and is specifically directed to women embracing enclosure. Only one other copy was known to exist before the export-barred manuscript appeared at auction in 2014. It is in the collection of the British Library and it is incomplete. The prologue is missing as is a third of the rest of the book.

Being unique and previously unknown, the prologue is of central importance for understanding the origin and authorship of the translation. It provides for the first time a precise date for the work: ‘This Wednysday bi the morow the even of the blissed virgyne seynt Alburgh the secunde yeere of the worthy christen prince kyng Henry the fift’ (i.e. 1414). The wording of the prologue suggests that the manuscript was written within a few years of 1414, because it continues ‘Whos longe lif and hy prosperite the kynge of al kynges kepe and maynten for the sure and holsum governaunce of this regioun’, which strongly suggests that Henry V was still alive, and would thus date the manuscript before his death in 1422. W.W. Skeat’s initial opinion was that, ‘it is an original of the date it professes to be’ (f.iii), but he subsequently felt that it was mid-century.

The location where the author was writing is perhaps suggested by his repeated references to St ‘Alburgh’: in addition to his dating clause cited above, he mentions ‘oure lady seynt Marie and of my forsaide lady seynt Alburgh’. She must be one of two saints: either Alburga/Aethelburh/Ethelburga of Wilton or, more likely, the saint of the same name of Barking (it cannot be Ethelburga of Kent, who was married, not a virgin), each of whom was an abbess of a nunnery. The morrow (day after) the 11 October feast of Ethelburga of Barking was indeed a Wednesday in 1414 (but so too was the day after the 25 December feast of Ethelburga of Wilton, so at present it is difficult to know conclusively which saint and feast-day is being referred to).

The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA) recommended that export be barred because of its irreplaceable value to scholarship.

Committee Member Leslie Webster said:

Unknown to scholarship until recently, this handsomely decorated copy of a guide to the austere life of an anchorite offers a rich new avenue of exploration into the nature of women’s religious education in the early fifteenth century, and how such texts were circulated. Almost certainly written for female anchorites, the text seems to be linked to the Benedictine nuns at Barking Abbey, a foundation dating back to Anglo-Saxon times, and in the fifteenth century, renowned as a house of educated women, inspired by its Abbess, Sybil de Felton.

Amongst other unique content, this particular manuscript also gives a precise date for the beginning of the text’s composition: ‘this Wednysday bi the morrow, the even of the blissed virgyne seynt Alburgh, the secunde yeere of the worthy christen prince oure souerayn liege lord the kyng Henry the Fiftis’ – or Wednesday, 10 October 1414. Such contemporary detail makes the manuscript a vivid witness to the period, as well as of great importance to our understanding of later medieval thought and society. It is a fascinating treasure that deserves to be saved.

The export license will be deferred until April 13th to give local institutions the chance to raise the purchase price of £168,750. That can be extended to August if someone shows serious intent to raise the money.

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Surprise cemetery found in Trondheim

Saturday, January 11th, 2020

Archaeologists excavating in Trondheim, Norway, have discovered a surprise cemetery with individual burials dating to the Middle Ages. The site is in the medieval town center of Trondheim. Whenever new construction is planned in this area, an archaeological survey is automatically triggered. With a new art gallery scheduled to be built at 36-38 Kjøpmannsgata, archaeologists from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) were engaged to excavate from June to October.

The team expected to find the remains of dwellings, evidence of the metal crafts that were centered there and traces of the town’s beach and coves going back to the 1000s. The soil is sandy — having once been waterfront property — which makes for poor conservation conditions, so they weren’t expecting much in the way organic archaeological material.

They certainly were not expecting to find a previously unrecorded medieval cemetery. So far approximately 130 square feet of the site have been excavated, and 15 individual graves unearthed. Seven of the interred are adults, five children and the skeletal remains of the other three have not yet been revealed. There are also three mass burial pits. One of those pits was the first discovery indicating the presence of a surprise cemetery. The mass graves turn out to be reinterrals, bones that were removed from other graves and reburied in deep wood-lined pits when the street was developed in the 17th century.

“There are probably even more graves further down. All of these individual graves are in situ, i.e. located in the same place as when they were buried, but several have been partially destroyed. In many cases only the upper body has been preserved. The lower half can be cut by, for example, other graves being laid over or by later excavation work.” Those were the words of NIKU project manager Silje Rullestad.

The cemetery has been clearly impacted by several stages of building work, but the team can nevertheless see a clear structure. The northern boundary of the area appears to be marked by a ditch, while four post holes suggest a clear boundary mark.

Excavations are ongoing, now under a heated tent on account of it’s Norway. They expect to find at least another 15 individual graves. The team will also take samples of soil and of the bones to subject them to laboratory analyses.

“From the archaeological excavation of the St. Clement’s Church churchyard, large variations in the degree of conservation of the skeletons were observed. We also see the same here in Kjøpmannsgata. Using the study, we will try to map out why the differences in conservation conditions vary within small distances,” says Rullestad.

The survey could provide a better understanding of the conditions that affect the preservation of human remains.

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Warrior tribe weapons found in cemetery in Poland

Sunday, January 5th, 2020

A medieval cemetery of the Yotvingian people replete with weapons has been discovered near the city of Suwałki in northeastern Poland. It dates to between the 11th and 13th centuries and is a rare layered cremation cemetery featuring the remains of collective funerary pyres with large numbers of grave goods, likely added to the pyre late so they would not be destroyed by the fire.

The Yotvingians (also known as Sudovians) were a Baltic tribe who lived in parts of what are now Poland, Lithuania and Belarus from the 5th century B.C. to the Middle Ages and beyond. They were known for their skill in battle, feared as raiders and alternately serving as mercenaries for princes of the Kievan Rus and being conquered by them. They also clashed with Polish princes and the Teutonic Knights. In 1422, Yotvingia was conquered by the Teutonic Order and its territories partitioned between the Knights, Poland and Lithuania, but elements of Yotvingian ethnicity, language and culture persisted through the 19th century.

A Yotvingian barrow cemetery in use between 2nd and 5th centuries A.D. was discovered in the suburbs of Suwałki in the 1950s. It was very rich in grave goods, many of them weapons. The newly discovered cemetery is at least as significant in terms of recovered archaeological artifacts and is the largest known Yotvingian cemetery from the early Middle Ages. So far only 1,000 square feet have been excavated of the half hectare (ca. 54,000 square feet) site, and the team has found more than 500 important objects — swords, knives, arrowheads, spurs, buckles, horse fittings — and several thousand smaller artifacts.

With the remains found just 8 to 12 inches below the surface, layered cemeteries from this period are often destroyed by agricultural work, making this discovery exceptional. Unfortunately, looters found it first. The signs of illegal excavation are what alerted authorities to the site. The subsequent investigation found evidence that around 1,000 artifacts were stolen before the area was secured.

The artifacts will be studied and conserved at the Regional Museum in Suwałki and a selection of them are planned to go on display at a new exhibition in late May.

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France blocks export of kitchen Cimabue

Friday, December 27th, 2019

The panel painting by Cimabue that was found in an elderly woman’s kitchen outside Compiegne and sold at auction for $26.6 million in October won’t be leaving France anytime soon. Minister of Culture Franck Riester has refused to issue an export certificate the buyers. Now France has 30 months to scrape up the hefty sum necessary to claim the masterpiece for the national collections.

Christ Mocked is a 10-inch panel painted by the late medieval pioneer Cenni di Pepo, aka Cimabue, in around 1280 as part of an altarpiece diptych. Two other panels believed to be part of the altarpiece are in the Frick Collection in New York and National Gallery, London. The three panels share significant detail — the architecture, the gold background, the rich pigments and the design of the halos — and the poplar plank serving as a support to Christ Mocked and the National Gallery’s panel matches precisely. They were once a single continuous piece.

With only 11 other Cimabue works known to exist, all of them in museums, the bidding for this panel was hot, to say the least. The Acteon auction house did not reveal the buyer’s identity, but it did obliquely refer to a “foreign museum” having been among the bidders. That turns out to have been the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which, despite its copious funding, was only the second-to-last man standing. The Met lost out to the Alana collection, a private collection of Italian Renaissance art based in the United States. It applied for an export license that was denied on Monday, December 23rd.

Following the opinion of the Advisory Committee on National Treasures, the Minister of Culture signed the decree refusing the export certificate last December for this rare panel, thus conferring on it the status of national treasure for a period thirty months which will start from the notification of this decision to the owner of the painting. This period will be used to raise the funds necessary to carry out an acquisition for the benefit of public national collections in order to allow this panel to join the Maesta of the Italian master already kept at the Louvre museum.

“I salute the eminent role played by the export control system for cultural goods for the protection and enrichment of the national heritage and I thank the members of the Advisory Committee on National Treasures, under the leadership of its chairman, Edmond Honorat, whose careful examination of the certificate refusal proposals clarifies my decisions. Thanks to the time given by this measure, all efforts can be mobilized so that this exceptional work can enrich national collections,” declared Franck Riester.

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Rimini Altarpiece conserved at long last

Thursday, December 26th, 2019

The Rimini Altarpiece, a masterpiece of late medieval figural sculpture that is the highlight of Frankfurt’s Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung, is undergoing a comprehensive multi-year conservation project that will restore the luminous transparency of the alabaster it was made out of and repair the damage done by past invasive restoration attempts.

The altarpiece consists of 18 white alabaster figures and groups depicting the Crucifixion and apostles. The centerpiece is a very high crucifix with the figure of Mary Magdalen at its base hugging the cross. Flanking it are the two thieves, much smaller in scale. At the base of the left thief are the three Maries, the Roman soldier Longinus who speared Christ in the side and a servant. The base of the right thief features Stephaton, the man who offered Jesus the sponge soaked in vinegar, a centurion and a bare-footed youth. A freestanding figure of John the Baptist stands by the group. The 12 apostles, each individually carved, stand on both sides of the Calvary groups.

Traces of surviving pigment have been found on the white alabaster attesting to it having been partially polychrome originally. This Master of the Rimini Altarpiece embraced the idealized forms of the International Gothic style while also incorporating the anatomical realism of the Renaissance, in the contorted arms and bodies of the crucified thieves flanking Christ, for example. It was carved in the round and mounted in a framework, now lost, to display its exceptionally detailed carving on the church altar. Without the framework, scholars don’t know how it was originally arranged.

It was carved by a specialist alabaster workshop in Northern France or the Southern Netherlands in around 1430 to adorn the altar of the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Rimini. It remained in the church until 1910 when the Franciscans brothers sold it to an antiques dealer in Rome. The museum acquired it from him in 1913.

As unique and important as it is, the altarpiece has not been very well conserved. The last time it received thorough treatment was in the late 1960s, but the materials they used have discolored, penetrating the stone and making it more and more brittle.

Above all, however, the last restoration involved a massive alteration to the very structure of the altarpiece. For purely aesthetic and subjective reasons based on art-historical considerations – but justifiable neither objectively nor in terms of art technology – the original appearance of the central Crucifixion group was substantially altered. Using model plaster and iron reinforcements, the upright element of the cross was lengthened by more than half a metre and the crossbeam by several centimetres. And this is not only an aesthetic problem: the materials chosen at the time now confront us with extremely serious conservation problems, as they have led not only to extensive corrosion but also to a dramatic loss of stability. As a result, the object is almost impossible to move without risk of damage, although the changing exhibitions at the Liebieghaus make it absolutely necessary to move it. In addition, the fragility of the cross has made it quite impossible for the piece to be lent to other museums, enabling it to be shown in other countries.

Lastly, no fundamental technological analysis of the ensemble has ever been carried out. In the work on the “Rimini Altarpiece” that has now begun and is scheduled to take place over the next two or three years, the initial task will be to carry out and document a precise technological examination of the entire ensemble in preparation for its restoration. This will include, among other things, a meticulous analysis of the present condition of the stone as well as an examination of the figures for traces of the earlier polychromy, likewise a measure that has not been systematically undertaken before.

As alabaster is one of the most sensitive types of stone, which immediately rules out many of the standard methods of restoration, several series of tests will first have to be carried out in order to ensure the object’s gentlest possible restoration. For visitors to the museum there will be a conservation studio on view, complemented by a film and also, in due course, glass cases with educational material, while on our website we will publish results of the ongoing research and restoration. In these various ways, we aim to enable interested members of the public to follow and share in all the further phases of the work as the project progresses.

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British Museum acquires Seal of Wulfric

Monday, December 23rd, 2019

The British Museum has acquired a rare Anglo-Saxon seal matrix predating the Norman Conquest. It was discovered in a box in a garden shed in Sittingbourne, Kent, in 1976, and the British Museum has been trying to add it to its collection ever since. Now, thanks to funding from John H Rassweiler, the Ruddock Foundation for the Arts, the Henry Moore Foundation and British Museum Patrons, it has finally succeeded.

Shortly after its discovery, the circular piece 4 cm in diameter was identified by archaeologists as an exceedingly rare early 11th century seal Anglo-Saxon seal matrix, one of only five surviving seal matrices predating the Norman Conquest and one of only three made of walrus ivory. Comparison with other seals from the period pointed to a date of around 1040-1050.

It is carved out of walrus ivory and is inscribed “SIGILLUM WULFRICI +” (meaning “seal of Wulfric”) in Anglo-Saxon all caps. In the middle is the 3/4 length figure of a bearded man holding an upraised sword in his right hand. He faces left and points with his left hand. A flange above the matrix is in the form of a bird-headed dragon or serpent entwined with itself, biting its tail. It is perforated, indicating it was a suspension lug so the seal could be worn as a pendant.

The sword indicates that Wulfric was a secular figure rather than a cleric. He had to have been of high rank in order to have a seal, and based on comparisons to the closest of the other surviving Anglo-Saxon seals (the Godwin seal, also in the British Museum), he could have been a theyn or minister to the King of England.

It was sold at Christie’s auction in March of 1977 where the British Museum was outbid by the British Rail Pension Fund. The BRPF loaned the seal to the British Museum for almost two decades before deciding to sell the piece at auction in 1996. The museum tried a second time to acquire it, but again was outbid, this time by Norwegian shipping heir and avid manuscript collector Martin Schøyen. When the Schøyen Collection put its entire collection of medieval seal matrices up for auction this summer, the British Museum took no chances. They ensured that the third time would be the charm and arranged a private sale of the Seal of Wulfric beforehand.

Lloyd de Beer, the Ferguson curator of Medieval Britain and Europe at the British Museum said: “We’re delighted to have this incredible object join our collection. These things are extremely rare and it is an object that brings us close to a pivotal moment in history. Within a generation England would be completely transformed, and this object introduces us to one of its people.”

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Rare box-shaped Viking brooch found in Estonia

Wednesday, November 27th, 2019

A rare early Viking brooch has been found in the village of Varja, northeastern Estonia. The box-shaped brooch is one of only two of its kind ever discovered in Estonia, and the other one has not been handed in to heritage authorities yet. The other one is also of later date.

The Varja brooch was made of bronze cast in a single piece. It is in excellent condition, intact with only minor damage to the surface, likely from agricultural activity disturbing it when it was underground, and its steel pin missing.

The decoration is of the Broa or Oseberg style, characterized by sinuous animal figures and “gripping beast” motifs (creatures grasping the borders around them in their paws, usually their own serpentine bodies or another animal). The Boa style dates the brooch to between the late 8th century and the mid-9th.

The brooch was unearthed at the site of an ancient wetland which is believed to have had a single farm during the Viking era.

Kiudsoo explained that the village of Varja is situated in the northeastern part of the ancient parish of Askälä, and that this region on Estonia’s northern coast, between Purtse River and the present-day city of Kohtla-Järve, stands out for its exceptionally rich archaeological find material. The Eastern Route, an important Viking-era trade route, ran along Estonia’s northern coast.

The archaeologist said that he believes that the brooch found at Varja belonged to a woman born on the island of Gotland, who took up residence in the Viru region of Estonia later in her life. Supporting this hypothesis is the fact that similar decorative items were in widespread use in Gotland during the Viking era, but are not common elsewhere. Kiudsoo said that hundreds of box-shaped brooches like the one recently found in Estonia have been found in Gotland.

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