Archive for the ‘Medieval’ Category

Test of Rollo’s descendants’ bones gangs agley

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

Researchers exhume bones from Fécamp Abbey, February 29th, 2016. Photo by Vegard Strømsodd.Last year, a team of French, Danish and Norwegian researchers exhumed skeletal remains from the tombs of two medieval dukes of Normandy, direct descendants of Rollo, the 10th century Viking raider who so effectively plundered the towns along the Seine that King Charles the Simple had to bribe him with great swaths of property. Those lands would become the Duchy of Normandy, and one of those dukes, Rollo’s three times great-grandson William the Bastard, would conquer England.

The lead ossuaries buried in the graves of Rollo’s grandson Richard I (known as Richard the Fearless) and his great-grandson Richard II (Richard the Good) were raised from under the floor of Fécamp Abbey on February 29th, 2016. The researchers’ aim was to recover teeth that might contain extractable DNA. The DNA might then answer a question that has long bedeviled historians: was Rollo Norwegian or Danish? Medieval chronicles and sagas differ on the subject. Per Holck, Professor Emeritus at the University of Oslo, and University of Copenhagen geneticist Andaine Seguin Orlando got permission from the French government to open the ossuaries in the hope genetic testing might resolve the debate over Rollo’s origins once and for all.

Richard I statue on the west facade of Fécamp Abbey. Photo by Giogo.They were lucky at first. One of the ossuaries, the one purportedly containing the remains of Duke Richard II, included a lower mandible with eight teeth. Because recovering nuclear DNA from ancient remains is always difficult, often impossible, due to degradation of organic remains and environmental contaminants, teeth provide the best opportunity to retrieve viable, clean DNA because the genetic material is in the pulp, encased in and protected by layers of dentin and enamel. The team was allowed to keep five of the teeth which they sent to the University of Oslo and the University of Copenhagen’s Centre for GeoGenetics for testing.

That’s where their good luck ended. They were unable to extract any DNA from the teeth, which were too old, had been exposed to high moisture levels and contaminated by decades spent in a lead ossuary. After hitting the wall on genetic analysis, researchers decided they might as well date the bones. When the radiocarbon dating results came in they blew apart any chance of the remains providing new information about Rollo. The bones in the ossuaries do not belong to Richard I and Richard II of Normandy. They long predate the Richards. In fact, they long predate Rollo himself. One of them dates to 704 (+/- 28 years), the Merovingian era, so more than 200 years before Rollo started marauding on the Seine. The bones belonged to a man, tall for his time at 1.8 meters (5’11″), and because his right forearm is slightly longer than his left, he was likely a warrior. The other is even older than that, like a thousand years older. It dates to 286 B.C. (+/- 27 years), which means it not only predates the Viking era, it predates the Roman occupation of the area.

Richard II statue on the west facade of Fécamp Abbey. Photo by Giogo.It’s not a huge shock that the ossuaries did not contain the remains of Richard I and II. As I noted in last year’s article about the exhumation, the remains were repeatedly moved over the centuries. The Dukes were buried outside the Church of the Holy Trinity in Fécamp, consecrated in 990. They both requested that they be buried under a water channel so their sins could be washed away for eternity. Their remains were moved and buried inside the new Romanesque church in 1162 by order of Henry II of England, Duke Richard II’s three times great-grandson. They were moved again in 1518 to the high altar of the Gothic church, and again in 1748. The remains were rediscovered in 1942 when work was done on the church, and the bones were reburied in 1947. They were moved one last time in 1956 when they were placed in those lead boxes and moved to the southern transept where researchers at the time believed was the closest spot to the original burial location.

Gothic church of Fécamp Abbey. Photo by Urban.Somewhere in the middle of all that, the bones of a man from the 8th century and one from the 3rd century B.C. were confused for those of two dukes of Normandy. So the Rollo thing is a total bust, but now there’s a whole new bag of issues to keep researchers busy. The biggest surprise is the pre-Roman skeleton. How such an ancient personage wound up riding the reburial carousel is inexplicable right now. Researchers can only speculate that he may have been an early Celtic chieftain buried in a ritually significant spot — he is far older than the city of Fécamp — that was then reused as the site of Christian churches. The research team has sent one of his teeth for strontium isotope analysis. If all goes well, the results will pinpoint where the man spent his childhood.

 

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National Museums Scotland gets Galloway Hoard for £1.98 million

Sunday, May 14th, 2017

Selections from the Galloway Hoard. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland.The Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer (QLTR) has allocated the Galloway Viking Hoard to the National Museums Scotland (NMS) on the condition that they make an ex gratia payment of £1.98 million ($2,550,000) to the finder Derek McLennan who discovered the hoard in 2014. NMS has until November of this year to raise the sum. They’ve set up a donation site (which is showing me a DNS error at the moment, probably because it’s brand new).

Unique gold bird pin from the Galloway Hoard. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland.The bulk of the find is a rich Viking-age hoard of silver jewellery and ingots. However, it also contains an outstanding range of exceptional precious metal and jewelled items including a rare gold ingot, a gold bird-shaped pin and a decorated silver-gilt cup of Continental or Byzantine origin. The cup is carefully wrapped in textiles and is the only complete lidded vessel of its type ever discovered in Britain or Ireland. This vessel contains further unusual objects: Glass beads from Scandinavia. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland.beads; amulets of glass and rock crystal; pilgrimage relics; a silver penannular brooch; another rare gold ingot; five Anglo-Saxon disc brooches of a kind not found in Scotland before; and jewelled aestels, pointers used to read and mark places within medieval manuscripts.

Other finds from around Britain or Ireland have been exceptional for a single type of object—for example, silver brooches or armlets. However, the Galloway Hoard is unique in bringing Stamp-decorated bracelets from Ireland. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland.together a remarkable variety of objects in one discovery, hinting at hitherto unknown connections between people across Europe and beyond. It also contains objects which have never before been discovered in a hoard of this age. Incredibly, fragile textiles, leather and wooden fragments have also survived, providing an extremely rare opportunity to research and reveal many lost aspects of the Viking Age.

The Dumfries and Galloway Council, which launched a campaign earlier this year to keep the hoard in the county where it was discovered, is less than pleased with the QLTR’s decision.

Cathy Agnew, Campaign chair, said: “This treasure was buried in Galloway for safekeeping 1,000 years ago – it is deeply disappointing that the QLTR believes it should be allocated to the National Museum in Edinburgh where it will potentially be lost amongst so many other wonderful artefacts.

Silver ingots. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland.“This is a most unfortunate decision for the region and for Scotland. It is doubly disappointing that a more enlightened approach has not been taken, especially as 2017 is Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.

“The support from the public, from academics, politicians of all parties, and so many others – across Scotland and the world – to keep the hoard in Galloway, where it would be cherished, has been magnificent. It is a real shame their voices and their passion have gone unheeded.”

Brooch from Galloway Hoard. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland.It’s hard for a county council to win against the resources of a national museum, especially when the local museum that would house the hoard has not actually been built yet. They made a valiant effort, drastically increasing the budget for the new Kirkcudbright Art Gallery and raising a great deal of money and support for the cause of keeping the hoard in Dumfries and Galloway. They knew it was a long shot, however, and all the while hoped to be able to come to an agreement with NMS for joint ownership.

Detail of brooch decoration. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland.National Museums Scotland showed no interest in shared custody. It thinks it is the proper home for a treasure of international significance, because they have the wherewithal and expertise to give it all the care and security such complex, delicate archaeological materials need. The preservation of the extremely rare surviving organic remains in particular requires specialists and facilities that the National Museums can provide. Its location in Edinburgh will also “ensure that the Hoard is seen by the maximum number of people, from Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, the UK and internationally.”

Brooch from Galloway Hoard. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland.In its press release on the allocation of the hoard, NMS had this to say on Dumfries and Galloway’s involvement:

National Museums believes that it is important there is a display of the Hoard in Dumfries and Galloway, and intends to continue to seek a dialogue with Dumfries and Galloway Council to ensure that a representative portion of the Hoard goes on long-term display in Kirkcudbright Art Gallery.

Runes inscribed on silver ingot. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland.It’s not joint ownership, but it’s something. Had they made a tandem bid that was accepted, the bigger museum would almost certainly have had the greater say in the division and exhibition of assets anyway, so in the end the Kirkcudbright Art Gallery might well end up with much the same sort of display it would have had if they had partnered with NMS.

 

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Unknown Caxton leaf found in university archive

Friday, May 12th, 2017

The newly discovered Caxton leaf. Photo courtesy the University of Reading.A two-sided page from a 15th century priest handbook printed by William Caxton has been discovered in archives of the University of Reading. Written in Medieval Latin, the leaf was part of a book called the Sarum Ordinal or Sarum Pye, a manual for priests on managing feast days for English saints during the ecclesiastical year. It was printed by William Caxton in his shop, the Red Pale, in late 1476 or early 1477 and was one of the first books printed in England. The University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library has a notice from Caxton’s shop promoting the manual which is the earliest surviving printed advertisement in English publishing history.

One of only two known surviving fragments from this enormously significant edition in the history of English publishing, the leaf is in very good condition even though it hasn’t exactly been treated with kid gloves over the years. For three centuries it was glued into the spine of another book to reinforce the binding. It was saved from that ignominy by a University of Cambridge librarian in 1820 who put it in a scrapbook along with other fragments rescued from bindings, but not even he recognized it as an original Caxton page.

Erika Delbecque with the Caxton leaf. Photo courtesy the University of Reading.University of Reading Special Collections librarian Erika Delbecque, on the other hand, knew right away she had struck gold.

“I suspected it was special as soon as I saw it. The trademark blackletter typeface, layout and red paragraph marks indicate it is very early western European printing. It is incredibly rare to find an unknown Caxton leaf, and astonishing that it has been under our noses for so long.”

The pages are part of the John and Griselda Lewis Collection. John Lewis was a typographer and pioneering scholar in the field of printed ephemera. Griselda was a writer. Between them, they amassed a collection of more than 20,000 items pertaining to the history of printing. The University bought the John Lewis Printing Collection at auction in 1997 for £70,000 ($90,000), with the aid of a £60,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The collection is stored in 87 boxes at the University of Reading’s Centre for Ephemera Studies in the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication.

The collection is still in the process of being catalogued, which is what Erika Delbecque was doing when she came across the Caxton leaf.

Copies of the Sarum Ordinal were produced in Westminster, before the Reformation, and consisted of around 160 leaves. The text was originally established as a manuscript by St Osmund, the Bishop of Salisbury, in the 11th century. It would have been owned by clergymen and consulted on a regular basis, but was discarded after the Reformation.

Only one other surviving fragment of the book exists, consisting of eight double-sided leaves, which are held at the British Library in London.

The Caxton Advertisement. Copyright © Oxford University Images / Bodleian Library.The University of Reading’s leaf is from a different part of the book than the British Library’s pages, so it is unique.

The Caxton leaf is on display at the University’s Special Collections department at the Museum of English Rural Life on London Road through the end of the month. Admission is free.

 

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Denmark’s oldest grape seeds were locally grown

Sunday, April 30th, 2017

Archaeologists have found evidence of homegrown grapes in late Iron Age and Viking Denmark: two charred grape seeds unearthed from a site on the west shore of Lake Tissø, Western Zealand. This is one of the richest sites from the late Germanic Iron Age and Viking Age ever discovered in Denmark. Since the 1990s, excavations have unearthed two aristocratic residences (one dating to 550–700 A.D., the second to 700–1050 A.D.), pit houses, assembly places, a market and artisan workshop area and ritual sites.

Denmark's earliest grape seeds, ca. 550-980 A.D. Photo courtesy Peter Steen Henriksen.In the 2012-2013 dig season, the team collected soil samples for macrofossil analysis from both the aristocratic residences. In 2015, archaeobotanist and curator at the National Museum Peter Steen Henriksen recovered one charred seed while sifting through a five liter soil sample from Bulbrogård, the oldest of the royal complexes. Examining it under the microscope, Henriksen could see that it looked like a grape seed; the charring had not altered its shape. A colleague confirmed the identification. It was indeed a seed from the common grapevine (Vitis vinifera). He found a second grape seed in a soil sample taken from the later royal complex, Fugledegård.

Before this find, the earliest grape seeds found in Denmark date to the late Middle Ages, and historical records from the 13th century support that grapes were grown in Denmark during the medieval warm period. Because this was such an exceptional discovery, the grape seeds were studied in further detail. Each seed was subjected to archaeobotanical analysis. One of them, the one from Fugledegård was radiocarbon tested. The C14 result dated it to between 780 and 980 A.D., the Viking Age. The Bulbrogård was not dated because researchers wanted to preserve it for strontium isotope analysis. (The testable cores of the seeds are so small it wasn’t possible to run both tests on each.) The strontium isotope results placed the grape seed squarely in the range characteristic for Denmark, specifically Zealand.

Map showing grape seed find spots at Lake Tissø site. Drawing courtesy Peter Steen Henriksen.They are by far the oldest grape seeds discovered in Denmark, and the first potential evidence of local viticulture in late Iron Age/Viking Age Denmark. There’s no way to confirm the seeds were used to grow grapes at Lake Tissø. They could have been in the lees of a wine barrel, although that would not explain how the seeds were found in two complexes that were 600 meters and at least a hundred years apart. Besides, it’s hardly an import if the raw material was grown on the island.

“This is the first discovery and sign of wine production in Denmark, with all that that entails in terms of status and power. We do not know how [the grapes] were used – it may have been just to have a pretty bunch of grapes decorating a table, for example – but it is reasonable to believe that they made wine,” archaeological botanist and museum curator Peter Steen Henriksen of Denmark’s National Museum told Videnskab.dk. [...]

“Before we only had suspicions, but now we can see that they actually had grapes and therefore the resources to produce [wine] themselves. Suddenly it all becomes very real,” professor Karin Margarita Frei of the National Museum told Videnskab.dk.

The results of the study have been published in the Danish Journal of Archaeology and can be read here.

 

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Quiver of arrows found in Fregerslev Viking grave

Friday, April 28th, 2017

Bundle of arrowheads in Fregerslev Viking grave. Photo courtesy the Skanderborg Museum.Archaeologists excavating the Fregerslev Viking grave south of Hørning near Skanderborg in Jutland, Denmark, have discovered a bundle of arrowheads at the bottom of the grave. The bundle appears to contain six heart-shaped iron arrowheads. There’s a layer of black organic material at the pointed end of the arrowheads that archaeologists believe to be the remnants of the quiver, long-since decayed.

These were probably not weapons of war. They were likely used for hunting deer and wild boar. It’s even more evidence of what an elevated position the Fregerslev Viking held in society. Only the elite would have had the opportunity and means to go hunting, so the bundle of arrows buried with him are symbols of high status.

X-ray of soil block shows with more cross-shaped horse bridle fittings. Photo courtesy the Skanderborg Museum.Arrowheads are very rare discoveries in Viking rider graves. A whole quiver of them is practically unheard of, and the Skanderborg Museum archaeologists are justifiably elated by the find. As with the other rich discoveries in the grave, the arrowheads were not fully excavated in situ. They were removed in a soil block earlier this week and taken to the museum laboratory to be X-rayed. The X-ray should show archaeologists how many arrows are in the bundle and give them a roadmap for excavation of the block in the lab.

Reaching the bottom of the rider’s grave is an important milestone. It’s only 28 centimeters (11 inches) deep at the deepest point — it’s a miracle that it wasn’t destroyed by agricultural activity — but the sheer amount of corrosion from metals including gold, bronze and silver visible on the surface of the trench indicates there are still an extraordinary number of expensive grave goods under there.

X-ray of soil block shows new types of silver buckles from horse gear. Photo courtesy the Skanderborg Museum.Experts are still in the process of X-raying the soil blocks that have already been removed. One lifted from the foot of the grave near the block that was already found to contain star-shaped bridle fittings contains even more fittings. The ones showing as bright white in the X-ray are silver or silver-plated. There are new types of hardware in the block that archaeologists believe to be decorative elements from a harness and/or stirrups. There is no sign of the stirrups themselves, however, which the team are keen to find. They hope excavation and X-rays of other soil blocks will find evidence of the stirrups.

The shiny things aren’t the only archaeological treasures in the grave. Archaeologists will be using the latest and greatest technology to analyze the soil for microscopic remains that will allow them to identify species of plants that were once inside the grave but have decayed along with the human and horse remains. They’re also going to look for DNA in the soil. German archaeologists have recently had a breakthrough in this cutting-edge technology, successfully isolating prehistoric DNA from the soil and clay of caves with nary a bone or tooth in sight.

 

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Tour Ireland’s Sheela-na-Gigs with Heritage Maps

Thursday, April 27th, 2017

Sheela-na-Gig, Kilpeck Church. Photo by Nessy-Pic.Ireland’s Heritage Council and Heritage Maps have launched a new dataset mapping all the Sheela-na-Gigs in situ and in collections around Ireland. Sheela-na-Gigs are female figures often characterized by bands across the forehead, visible ribs, and most notably, their hands spreading their vulvas wide open. They are found in the UK and to a lesser degree on the continent (mainly France and Spain), but Ireland has the greatest number of Sheela-na-Gigs. They are most commonly seen in churches and monasteries, usually ones of medieval Romanesque design or in newer ones that incorporate salvaged elements of earlier religious structures on the site. They are also found in lay buildings like castles.

Discussing the launch of this new cultural resource and the St. Patrick connection, renowned UCC folklorist Shane Lehane suggests “that perhaps the key to understanding the inherited notion that St Patrick had a wife, Sheela, is to explore the hugely interesting archaeological manifestation that also bears her name: the Sheela-na-Gig”.

Sheela-na-Gig, Cavan County Museum.“In Ireland, there are over 110 examples of these, oft misunderstood, medieval stone carvings of naked, old women exposing their genitalia. They are often positioned in medieval tower-houses, medieval church sites and holy wells. Up to recently these were seen as figures representing the evils of lust or as ways of averting the ‘evil eye’. More convincing reassessments have reinterpreted the Sheela-na-gig, in line with the Cailleach, as belonging to the realm of vernacular folk deities associated with the life-giving powers of birth and death. Placed with the cycles of both the natural and agricultural year and the human life cycle, she can be regarded as the embodiment of the cycle of fertility that overarches natural, agricultural and human procreation and death”.

Speaking about the launch of the Sheela-na-Gig map, Beatrice Kelly, Heritage Council Head of Policy & Research, stated, “Sheela-na-Gigs are very evocative symbols of the feminine in old Irish culture and their prominent positions in medieval churches and castles attests to the importance of the female in Irish society. As modern Ireland strives for equality in all aspects of life this map can help us all to understand the important place women have traditionally held within our culture and society.”

There are probably more Sheelas that haven’t been officially documented yet. The Heritage Council is hoping to add to the layer with new information and asks that members of the public contact them if they know of any Sheela-na-Gigs that are not yet marked on the map.

As the name suggests, Heritage Maps is a collection of culture-related data sets marked on a map of Ireland. You can select different layers to view on the map — shipwrecks, UNESCO World Heritage sites, burial grounds, walled towns, museums, protected architectural sites, and hundreds more — and create the mother of all heritage tours customized to your interests. There are more than 150,000 sites pinpointed in all of the layers, and the number increases all the time.

To view the new Sheela-na-Gig dataset, click on the Archaeology category in the Layer List and check the Sheela-na-Gig box. You’ll see the map populate with data points. Click on one of the points and then on the right arrow after the name for the full information to drop down, including a photo (just thumbnails, alas).

 

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5 Archbishops of Canterbury found under a church floor

Sunday, April 16th, 2017

The mortal remains of five Archbishops of Canterbury have been discovered in a hidden chamber underneath the floor of the deconsecrated church of St Mary-at-Lambeth in London. The surprise find was made last year during renovations to the building, now the home of the Museum of Garden History, but was kept quiet to protect the crypt until it was stabilized.

Contractors discovered the secret entrance to the crypt when removing some York stone pavers to even out the treacherous floor and make the altar area wheelchair accessible. Lifting the flagstones, contractors found the entrance to a passageway with a staircase going down into the darkness. They attached a cellphone to a long stick and filmed the brick-lined vault. They were shocked to discover it was crammed from floor to ceiling with lead coffins, 30 of them. One of the coffins, they noted, had a red and gold pointed hat perched upon it, the mitre of an Archbishop.

Two of the coffins had nameplates – one for Richard Bancroft (in office from 1604 to 1610) and one for John Moore (1783 to 1805) whose wife, Catherine Moore, also had a coffin plate.

Bancroft was the chief overseer of the publication of a new English translation of the Bible – the King James Bible – which began in 1604 and was published in 1611.

According to Mr Mount, St Mary-at-Lambeth’s records have since revealed that a further three archbishops were probably buried in the vault: Frederick Cornwallis (in office 1768 to 1783), Matthew Hutton (1757 to 1758) and Thomas Tenison (1695 to 1715). [...]

Also identified from coffin plates was the Dean of Arches John Bettesworth (who lived from 1677 to 1751) – the judge who sits at the ecclesiastical court of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Because the church had been extensively rebuilt in the Victorian era, nobody thought there was still a crypt underneath it. The church is so close to the Thames that any underground space would have been dangerously flood-prone, and it was believed that any vaults under the church were cleared out by the Victorians and filled with soil. That was almost true. Most of the vaults were cleared of their coffins and filled in, but one of them, the crypt underneath the altar, the holiest location in the church and thus the burial place for multiple Archbishops of Canterbury, was left alone.

The church of St Mary-at-Lambeth has a very long and storied connection to the Archbishops of Canterbury. Edward the Confessor commissioned the construction of the first Westminster Abbey in 1042. The Romanesque church was still being built when Edward’s sister Goda had a more modest wooden church built across the river on her manor of Lambeth. St Mary’s was rebuilt in stone a few decades later. By the end of the 12th century the manor of Lambeth belonged to the Archbishop of Canterbury, which elevated its profile considerably. The Archbishop’s residence, Lambeth Palace, was built next door in 1197, and St. Mary’s graduated from the parish church of a small manor to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s palace church.

Almost entirely rebuilt in 1851, St Mary-at-Lambeth was used for burials until 1854. An estimated 26,000 burials took place there, nearly 16,000 of them in just two decades (1790-1810). Prominent residents were buried at St Mary’s. There are three Grade II listed graves in the churchyard, those of Captain Bligh of The Mutiny on the Bounty fame, pioneering plant collector and royal gardener John Tradescant and artificial stone manufacturer John Sealy.

Fallen into disrepair, its parishioners depleted by neighborhood blight, St Mary-at-Lambeth was deconsecrated in 1972 and was slated for demolition to make way for a parking lot. It was saved from that dire fate by one Rosemary Nicholson, a gardening history buff who had sought out the dilapidated church to visit the overgrown and neglected tomb of John Tradescant. She appealed directly to the Archbishop of Canterbury and with her husband John founded the Tradescant Trust to rescue the church and burial ground. They were extraordinarily successful, raising money for much-needed repairs and securing a 99-year lease on the church and property from the Diocese of Southwark. The Trust gave St Mary-at-Lambeth new life as the Museum of Garden History, the first of its kind in the world.

The Garden Museum closed in October 2015 for a major £7.5 million ($9,400,000) refurbishment. It will reopen on May 22nd with a new glass panel in the floor that will allow visitors to view the staircase into the crypt. The coffins, which have been left untouched in the chamber, will not be accessible.

 

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Jorvik Viking Centre reopens 16 months after flood

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

HRH Prince Charles with archaeologists Peter Addyman and Richard Hall at the Coppergate dig in 1976. Photo courtesy York Archaeological Trust.On December 27, 2015, the Jorvik Viking Centre was flooded by the heavy rains that submerged downtown York. One of York’s most popular attractions, the Jorvik Centre is a recreation of the streets of Viking York whose foundations were discovered on and around Coppergate Street during an excavation by the York Archaeological Trust from 1976 to 1981. The excavations unearthed artifacts like a silk cap, coins, amber and cowrie shells that proved 10th century Viking York had extensive trade links stretching as far as the Byzantine Empire and beyond.

(The Lloyds Bank Coprolite. Photo courtesy the York Archaeological Trust.Coppergate is also the find spot for a record-breaking archaeological treasure: the Lloyds Bank Coprolite, discovered in 1972 at the construction site of the bank branch. It is the largest known human coprolite, a majestic turd eight inches long by two inches wide, that was mineralized and thus preserved in exceptional condition. The crap provided a rich glimpse into the life of a 10th century York Viking. He or she subsisted mainly on bread and meat, which explains the sheer size of that beast, and was riddled with parasites and parasite eggs.

This video featuring York Archaeological Trust paleoscatologist Dr. Andrew Jones talking about the coprolite beats raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens by a mile on my personal favorite things scale.

(Pardon the digression. You know I can never resist archaeological poop.)

Foundations of Coppergate's Viking streets under the museum floor. Photo by Anthony Chappel-Ross courtesy the Jorvik Viking Centre.Curators were able to rescue the large collection of artifacts unearthed in Coppergate from the floodwaters, but the mannikins of Vikings going about their daily lives and their recreated homes and businesses could not be moved. They stewed in the murky water that filled the first floor of the museum until it receded. The damage to the exhibits and the facilities was extensive.

New recreation of Viking latrine being flushed. Photo by Anthony Chappel-Ross courtesy the Jorvik Viking Centre.Insurance payments and copious fundraising allowed the Jorvik Centre to rebuild and expand, improving some of the tableaux, adding new stinks to the beloved smell-o-vision feature of the recreations, and creating a new gallery that will allow the museum to securely host important loans from other institutions. After 16 months and £4.3 million ($5,380,000), the newly renovated Jorvik Viking Centre reopened to the public on April 8th.

York Helmet. Photo courtesy the York Archaeological Trust.One of the centerpieces of the grand reopening is the Coppergate or York Helmet, an 8th century Anglo-Saxon helmet that was found in a wood-lined well during construction of a shopping center in 1982. The pit was near the site where the remains of Viking York were discovered that is now the Jorvik Viking Centre. Even though the helmet was damaged by the mechanical digger that found it, conservators at the British Museum were able to reconstruct it to its original condition. It is one of only three intact Anglian helmets ever discovered in Britain.

The York Helmet’s permanent home is the Yorkshire Museum. It will be on display at the Jorvik Centre for four weeks in honor of the reopening.

“Although itself not strictly Viking, it is likely that it was appropriated and used by one of the Viking settlers into the late ninth century. It is a prestigious piece of armour, so it could have been buried in its wood-lined pit by the new owner to hide it, but for some reason, was never reclaimed, and remained underground until the very last excavations of the Coppergate dig in 1982,” comments director of attractions for York Archaeological Trust, Sarah Maltby. “We are looking forward to bringing the helmet back in Coppergate — it is a real treat for those visiting during our first month of re-opening that they will see it in almost exactly the same spot as it was unearthed.”

Bedale Hoard after conservation. Photo courtesy the Yorkshire Museum.After this brief visit to its old stomping grounds, the helmet will return to the Yorkshire Museum for a new exhibition Viking: Rediscover the Legend. A collaboration with the British Museum, the exhibition will bring together for the first time some of the greatest Viking and Anglo-Saxon archaeological treasures ever discovered, including the Bedale Hoard, the Vale of York Hoard, the Gilling Sword and the Lewis Chessmen. It opens at the Yorkshire Museum on May 19th and runs through November 5th before touring the country, stopping at the University of Nottingham, The Atkinson, Southport, Aberdeen Art Gallery and Norwich Castle Museum.

Jorvik Viking Centre's new boat recreation. Photo by Anthony Chappel-Ross courtesy the Jorvik Viking Centre. Blacksmith recreation at the Jorvik Viking Centre. Photo by Anthony Chappel-Ross courtesy the Jorvik Viking Centre.

 

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Mosaic floors, first remains of ancient city, found in France

Thursday, March 30th, 2017

Uzès excavation site. Denis Gliksman, INRAP.An excavation on the site of a boarding school in Uzès, southern France, has unearthed ancient remains from the 1st century B.C. through the 7th century and beyond into the Middle Ages. The most dramatic discovery is a pair of large mosaic floors of superlative quality from around the 1st century A.D. The aesthetic value of the mosaics would make this a find of international significance in any context, but the historical import compounds its value because these are the first significant archaeological remains discovered from the Roman city of Ucetia. A smattering of mosaic fragments have been unearthed over the years in Uzès, but before now, the existence of the town was documented archaeologically solely by its mention in a geographical inscription in Nîmes.

Ancient Ucetia emerges in modern Uzès. Denis Gliksman, INRAP.Ucetia was founded in the 1st century B.C. as a Gallo-Roman oppidium (fortified settlement) at the source of the Alzon river, a strategically important location that only increased in significance as the starting point of the Augustan-era aqueduct that carried water 15 miles south to the important Roman colony and regional capital of Nîmes. The magnificent Pont du Gard is part of this aqueduct system.

Overhead view of mosaic floors during cleaning. Denis Gliksman, INRAP.The earliest finds unearthed by the team from France’s National Institute for Preventative Archaeology (INRAP) excavating the 43,000 square-foot site are walls and masonry from a structure dating to the Roman Republican period shortly after the conquest of Gaul. They found the hearth of a bread oven in one of the rooms, and a later dolium, a massive ceramic jar probably used to store foodstuffs.

Central mosaic. Denis Gliksman, INRAP.In another part of the site, archaeologists discovered a large colonnaded building which may have begun as a public building and later been converted to a private dwelling. There are four connected rooms, two of them with concrete floors and painted plaster walls, one with a mortar floor embedded with opus signinum tiles. That room leads to the largest, most glamorous of the four: a 645-square-foot space with two large mosaics in the floor.

Owl detail. Denis Gliksman, INRAP.The most spectacular mosaic is bordered with geometric designs — meanders, checkerboards, waves, stripes — surrounding a medallion with rays and chevrons. At the four corners of the medallion are four polychrome animals: a duck, an eagle, a fawn and an owl so enchanting it gives that enameled Roman fibula a run for its money. The second mosaic is much the same size, but its central motif — also geometric borders around a medallion with rays — is much smaller, so there’s a lot more white tile covering the surface area.

Ray motif detail from less intricate mosaic. Denis Gliksman, INRAP.The building was in use until the end of the 1st century A.D. After that, the space was rebuilt several times and the mosaics, damaged over the years, were not repaired. The clean mortar floors were also damaged, but replaced with cheaper, rougher concrete.

Other buildings found on the site include a large structure that was probably a 1st century A.D. domus, a large single-family Hypocaust system. Gwénaël Herviaux, INRAP.home. Multiple dolia were found in this building, indicating the location was used for wine storage and/or production. There was a mosaic floor found in this dwelling as well, made of individual tesserae in a geometric pattern with dolphins on each of the four corners. This building too was restructured in the late imperial era. A new hypocaust-heated room was built, all of which remains now are the brick piles that allowed the hot air to heat the floor. The building appears to have been in use until the very latest antiquity, through the 7th century.

Overhead view of building from late antiquity, 6th c. A.D. Denis Gliksman, INRAP.The site will be open to visitors this weekend who will get tours of the finds guided by INRAP experts. This is a one-time deal, I’m afraid, as the current plan is for the mosaics and all the other above-ground elements to be dismantled and raised next month. The dig will continue until the end of the year and the construction of the school is scheduled to be completed in 2019.

Wave motif detail. Denis Gliksman, INRAP. Greek key motif detail. Denis Gliksman, INRAP. Eagle and ray motif from most complex mosaic. Denis Gliksman, INRAP.
Fawn det. Denis Gliksman, INRAP. Geometric design det. Denis Gliksman, INRAP.

 

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Medieval Jewish cemetery unearthed in Trastevere

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

Medieval Jewish cemetery discovered in Trastevere. Photo courtesy the Superintendency for the Archaeological Heritage of Rome.Archaeologists have unearthed a medieval Jewish cemetery in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome. The discovery was announced last week, but it was made over the course of six years of excavations done in conjunction with the restoration of the Palazzo Leonori, now the new headquarters of the Assicurazioni di Roma insurance company. It was under the palazzo’s courtyard that 38 graves were found, neatly aligned in rows. Iron nails and wood fragments indicate the bodies were buried in coffins, now long-decayed.

Each grave contained a well-preserved, intact, articulated skeleton. The remains are of adult men and women, mostly men, and contain almost no grave goods. The only exceptions were two of the women, found wearing small gold rings, and one man who was buried with a set of iron scales, perhaps an indication of his profession or a metaphoric representation of a just man. Examination of the bones found signs of malnutrition and protein deficiencies. These were not wealthy people.

Gold ring worn by one of the women interred in the cemetery. Photo courtesy the Superintendency for the Archaeological Heritage of Rome.Because there were no grave markers discovered and with the excavation area limited by later construction, at first archaeologists weren’t sure whose bodies they’d found. They searched archives for maps and documents that might shed light on the question, and the find spot was marked on several maps as the Campus Iudeorum, or Field of the Jews, the cemetery of the Jewish community that lived in Trastevere from the mid-14th century through the mid-16th. Radiocarbon dating of the remains returned dates within that range. The lack of grave goods is also characteristic of Jewish burials. The last piece of the puzzle fell into place when a marble fragment inscribed in Hebrew with the words “here lies” was discovered nearby.

Jews have lived in Rome since the Maccabees sent a delegation in the 2nd century B.C., and by the Middle Ages the Trastevere area, with its bustling Tiber-side commerce and diverse population, was one of Rome’s main Jewish quarters. That ended abruptly in 1555, when all the Jews in Rome were ordered to pay for the privilege of being forced into the waterless, claustrophobic, flood-prone, malarial ghetto by the virulently anti-semitic Pope Paul IV. His Papal Bull, Cum nimis absurdum, decreeing their confinement to the ghetto and many other hateful provisions, minces no words. It opens:

Since it is completely senseless and inappropriate to be in a situation where Christian piety allows the Jews (whose guilt-all of their own doing-has condemned them to eternal slavery) access to our society and even to live among us; indeed, they are without gratitude to Christians, as, instead of thanks for gracious treatment, they return invective, and among themselves, instead of the slavery, which they deserve, they manage to claim superiority….

Skeleton unearthed at Jewish cemetery in Trastevere. Photo courtesy the Superintendency for the Archaeological Heritage of Rome.So the living Jews who stayed in Rome after 1555 moved across the river into the ghetto hellhole. Their deceased ancestors remained in place. It was not to be a peaceful sleep of death, alas. In 1625, our Barberini friend Pope Urban VIII found the time between tapestry appreciation, adding bees to everything and stripping ancient bronze off the Pantheon to decree that all Jews in Rome must be buried in unmarked graves. No names of Jews were to be carved in stone, period. (Exceptions were occasionally made for very prominent rabbis or wealthy men.) Extant gravestones were to be destroyed. Then in 1645, the cemetery was built over when a new city wall was constructed. This is why only a single fragment of a headstone was found in the excavation.

The Jews were allowed to move what remains they could to a new cemetery on the Aventine, but struggle followed them. Giambattista Nolli’s 1748 map of Rome marks the spot as the “Ortaccio degli Ebrei,” meaning “Garden of the Jews,” although that doesn’t convey the pejorative connotation of the suffix -accio. (The Ortaccio was the name for 16th century Rome’s red light district where the prostitutes were walled in much like Jews were in the ghetto.) Interestingly, Nolli’s map also shows how the Jews were forced to move across the river to the Aventine and may have been bumped one more time after that. The Trastevere cemetery site is on the left side of the map outlined in green. On the right side outlined in red is another “Ortaccio degli Ebrei,” presumably the active one in Nolli’s time, directly overlooking the Circus Maximus, which was itself divided into farmland. Just a hop to the southwest outlined in blue is the “Ortaccio Vecchio degli Ebrei,” or the “Old Garden of the Jews.” If that was the old one, the other one must have been (relatively) new.

Three Ortacci degli Ebrei outlined in green, red and blue on Giambattista Nolli's Map of Rome, 1748.

The Aventine cemetery had an even shorter life than the Trastevere one. It was destroyed in 1934, this time courtesy of Mussolini’s grandiose plan to redesign Rome to showcase its ancient glories. Workers dug up all of the graves, put the bones in boxes and moved them to the Campo Verano cemetery outside the Roman walls where they were reburied in the Jewish section. The last Garden of the Jews is now a rose garden. Today only a modest memorial records what had once been a field of white gravestones with generations of Roman Jews buried beneath them.

Tannery tubs and foundations, 3rd century A.D. Photo courtesy the Superintendency for the Archaeological Heritage of Rome.The Palazzo Leonori site will become a mini-museum where some of the discoveries made in the six years of excavation will be on display. Large plastered tubs identified by an inscription as part of the Coraria Septimiana, 3rd century A.D. tanneries built by the emperor Septimius Severus to tan leather products for exclusive supply to the Roman army, will be viewable to the public in the courtyard of Palazzo Leonardi, a sort of mini-archaeological park.

The human remains will not be part of any future such plans, nor will they be studied further out of respect for the dead. Presumably they will be reinterred, but no decision has been announced at this time. The archaeological team is working closely with rabbinical authorities, among them Rome’s Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, to determine the next steps.

 

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