Archive for the ‘Medieval’ Category

Largest known child sacrifice found in Peru

Friday, April 27th, 2018

The remains of more than 140 children and 200 young llamas have been unearthed at a Chimú Empire site on the northern coast of Peru. It’s the largest known mass sacrifice in history.

While incidents of human sacrifice among the Aztec, Maya, and Inca have been recorded in colonial-era Spanish chronicles and documented in modern scientific excavations, the discovery of a large-scale child sacrifice event in the little-known pre-Columbian Chimú civilization is unprecedented in the Americas—if not in the entire world. […]

Huanchaquito-Las Llamas (generally referred to by the researchers as “Las Llamas,”) first made headlines in 2011, when the remains of 42 children and 76 llamas were found during an emergency dig directed by study co-author Prieto. An archaeologist and Huanchaco native, Prieto was excavating a 3,500-year-old temple down the road from the sacrifice site when local residents first alerted him to human remains eroding from nearby coastal dunes.

By the time excavations concluded at Las Llamas in 2016, more than 140 sets of child remains and 200 juvenile llamas had been discovered at the site; rope and textiles found in the burials are radiocarbon dated to between 1400 and 1450.

The tell-tale marks of sacrificial killing are on their skeletal remains. There are cut marks on the sternum, dislocated ribs, likely from when they were pulled apart to access the heart.
The lack of hesitation marks suggests this was done by a very practiced and steady hand or hands. The children were between five and 14 years old, most of them between eight and 12. The llamas were even younger, less than 18 months old.

The evidence indicates all this killing took place at one extended event rather than having been spaced out over time.

The investigators believe all of the human and animal victims were ritually killed in a single event, based on evidence from a dried mud layer found in the eastern, least disturbed part of the 7,500-square-foot site. They believe the mud layer once covered the entire sandy dune where the ritual took place, and it was disturbed during the preparation of the burial pits and the subsequent sacrifice event.

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City Hall excavation rewrites Copenhagen’s history

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

Last December, archaeologists began a secret excavation under City Hall Square in the heart of Copenhagen. It was kept scrupulously under wraps until February to give the team the opportunity to excavate what is thought to be the oldest burial ground in Copenhagen without risking contamination of the site by curious onlookers. Between December and the end of February, the remains of 20 men, women and children who lived around 1,000 years ago were unearthed just three feet under Denmark’s busiest square.

This is a highly significant find because by the known chronology, these individuals were the first Copenhagers, and archaeologists believe there are even more human remains to be found, at least another two layers of burials underneath the 20 already excavated. Since February, another 10 skeletons have been discovered. These 30 skeletons predate the legendary founding of the city by Bishop Absalon, who was said to have been given the site as a gift from King Valdemar in the 1160s, by at least a century, and upends the received wisdom that before Absalon built his castle Copenhagen was just a sleepy fishing village under the shadow of the neighboring urban center of Roskilde.

The human remains are now at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen where they are undergoing further tests, including DNA analysis. Once the testing is done, they will be studied in more depth at the Natural History Museum of Denmark. This research will rewrite the history of Copenhagen’s earliest days, replacing the founding myth with a whole different category of information grounded in the biological data of the first residents of what would become Denmark’s capital city.

Meanwhile, the excavation at City Hall Square continues and has now added structural evidence to the new history of Copenhagen’s founding. Archaeologists have unearthed a stone foundation that they think belonged to the first church built in the city.

“If it is a church, it would further prove that Copenhagen was an established city at the start of the Middle Ages,” Lars Ewald Jensen, the archaeological head of the Museum of Copenhagen, told Videnskab.dk.

“You can have a burial site without an established city, because there needs to be more elements present before one can call it a city. But then again, you can’t have a city without having a church.” […]

The stone foundation bears witness to either a church being at the location at some point or a dyke that has split the graveyard into two sections.

“We hope we have discovered the foundation of a church building, in which case it would be a church that co-existed with St Clemens Church, which was excavated in 2008, or is older. Potentially, we have discovered the oldest church in Copenhagen,” Stine Damsbo Winther, an archaeologist with the Museum of Copenhagen, told Videnskab.dk.

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Teacher and student find Harald Bluetooth silver

Monday, April 16th, 2018

Metal detector enthusiast Rene Schoen and his student, 13-year-old Luca Malaschnitschenko, were exploring a field near the village of Schaprode on the island of Ruegen in Northern Germany when they came across a circular piece of metal. At first Schoen thought it was a random bit of aluminium. After cleaning off some of the dirt and taking a closer look, he realized it was a coin.

Schoen is a volunteer with the Mecklenburg-West Pomerania state archaeology office, so he immediately reported the find. State archaeologists identified it as a silver coin from trading settlement of Hedeby. To prevent the treasure-hunters descending like locusts, they asked Schoen and Malaschnitschenko to keep their find a secret until the Office could arrange a thorough excavation of the site.

The coin was discovered in January, and archaeologists only broke ground this weekend. Still, in this brief period the team has excavated more than 4,000 square feet of the find site. The results have been nothing short of spectacular. They have unearthed a treasure far beyond the expectations set by a single silver coin, a hoard that could very well have belonged to King Harald Gormsson (r. 958-986), aka Harald Bluetooth, himself.

Braided necklaces, pearls, brooches, a Thor’s hammer, rings and up to 600 chipped coins were found, including more than 100 that date back to Bluetooth’s era, when he ruled over what is now Denmark, northern Germany, southern Sweden and parts of Norway.

“This trove is the biggest single discovery of Bluetooth coins in the southern Baltic Sea region and is therefore of great significance,” the lead archaeologist, Michael Schirren, told national news agency DPA.

The oldest coin is a Damascus dirham dating to 714 while the most recent is a penny dating to 983.

The find suggests that the treasure may have been buried in the late 980s – also the period when Bluetooth was known to have fled to Pomerania, where he died in 987.

“We have here the rare case of a discovery that appears to corroborate historical sources,” said the archaeologist Detlef Jantzen.

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Medieval cheating dice found at Bergen

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

Archaeologists from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) excavating a medieval neighborhood of Bergen, Norway, have discovered a die with a non-standard numbering system (to put it extremely charitably) on four of its faces. Where the numbers one and two should be, there are an extra four and five instead giving this die a limited but suspiciously valuable range of rolling options: three through six.

In other words, somebody 600 years ago was either playing a game none of us today know about, or they had them some cheatin’ dice. The first interpretation is the least plausible. Plenty of dice have been found in Bergen from this period (more than 30), and none of them have idiosyncratic numeration like this one.

“The dice were found close to a wooden street that dates back to the 1400s. So when looking at the context and the dice design, there is just as much chance that someone has got rid of it, as they have lost it,” says Per Christian Underhaug who is the project manager for the excavations in Bergen,

“This part of Bergen was a densely populated district with several inns and pubs, and it is not unlikely that there were lots of games being played in them,” says Underhaug.

It’s very likely, as a matter of fact. Gambling was so widespread in Bergen that in 1276 the city banned it. Violators were subject to having all the money on the table confiscated and paying a significant fine on top of that. The prohibition of gambling didn’t stop it, of course, which is why more than a century later people were still playing dice games and finding ways to sweeten the odds.

The excavation is one of several taking place Vågsbunnen, one of the city’s lesser known medieval districts. Archaeologists hoped to make different finds here than in the other medieval areas of Bergen because it hasn’t been explored so thoroughly and because it was a working class neighborhood rather than a wealthy one. Also, once you dig down to cultural levels, the soil is very wet. This dig required use of a concrete coffer dam, lowered into the trench as soon as the team reached the first artifact layer, to keep them from being swamped. The challenges of excavating such an environment are offset by the potential preservation of organic material, as in the case of this discovery of the wooden die in fine condition.

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Met returns two stolen artifacts to Nepal

Sunday, April 8th, 2018

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has returned two stolen religious icons to Nepal more than 30 years after they were looted. One is a 11th-12th century Standing Buddha that was stolen from a shrine in the Yatkha Tole neighborhood of Kathmandu in 1986. The other is a stele known as the Uma Maheshwor idol that depicts the god Shiva and his wife Parvati and is estimated to date to the 12th-13th century. It was stolen from the Tangal Hiti temple in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Patan in the Kathmandu Valley. The third largest city in Nepal, Patan is famed for its temples, palaces and rich tradition of artisan crafts.

The Met was given the Uma Maheshwor by a private collector in 1983. It wasn’t until the donation of the Standing Buddha in 2015 that the museum realized both pieces had been looted. Both statues feature in a 1989 book entitled Stolen Images of Nepal by Nepalese art expert Lain Singh Bangdel documenting the uncontrolled rash of thefts that ravaged Nepal from the 1950s through the 1980s. Temple deities were particular targets, stolen by the thousands. Easily portable — nobody thought to anchor them firmly when they were created a thousand or so years ago — and highly desirable to collectors, they weren’t guarded by security personnel. The local residents who worshipped them and prayed to them didn’t imagine they’d be ripped off and sold to unscrupulous Western collectors and institutions.

To its credit, the Metropolitan Museum of Art reached out to Nepal once it became aware the pieces were stolen. On March 6th, museum officials and Nepal’s Consul General in New York City signed a repatriation agreement, and less than a month later both idols were back in their native land.

The sculptures arrived at the Department of Archaeology in Kathmandu last Wednesday, April 4th. After the crates were opened, three men from the city of Patan traveled to Kathmandu to see their revered Uma Maheshwor stele for the first time in 35 years. The moment was all the more meaningful because Patan was devastated by the Gorkha earthquake that struck on April 25th, 2015, and many historical and religious structures and art works were damaged or destroyed.

Both works will now go the National Museum of Nepal in Kathmandu. This decision is not an uncontroversial one. The idols have profound spiritual meaning to the communities from which they were looted. They are considered living representations of deities. When they are put on display in a museum, they are exhibited as mere art pieces, a sharp decline in significance compared to the reverence they receive in their communities of origin.

There is a chance they might return to their shrines, however. By the terms of Nepal’s Ancient Monument Preservation Act 1956, communities can apply to have idols returned to them, but they have to prove they can secure them effectively. If they can convince the Department of Archaeology that the sculptures won’t be in danger of theft again, they will be returned. It’s a slim chance at best.

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Synchrotron reads erased Galen

Tuesday, March 27th, 2018

Our ultrabright friend, the synchrotron X-ray, continues to pierce the veil of history. This time it has turned its unblinking eye on the Syriac Galen Palimpsest, a manuscript known to contain the traces of a 6th century translation of a work by the physician Galen, father of pharmacology, that was erased and overwritten with psalms in the 11th century.

Other imaging techniques had revealed the presence of ancient text under the medieval, but it was so faint and hard to read that the concerted efforts of multiple institutions and experts over the course of a decade have not been successful in making out much of it. The later writers had used ink very similar to the original to write over the parchment once they’d erased the 6th text with calcium, and researchers feared there might not be enough trace iron left for even the synchroton to pick up clear wording.

A study at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory is scanning a section of the Syriac Palimpsest using X-ray fluorescence (XRF) which takes a more nuanced approached to trace elements.

With the XRF technique, the synchrotron X-rays knock out electrons close to the nuclei of metal atoms, and these holes are filled with outer electrons resulting in characteristic X-ray fluorescence that can be picked up by a sensitive detector.

These fluorescent X-rays can penetrate through layers of text and calcium, and the hidden Galen text and the newer religious text fluoresce in slightly different ways because their inks contain different combinations of metals such as iron, zinc, mercury and copper.

“We’re also interested in the background composition of the parchment and the calcium that covers the original text” says Nicholas Edwards, a research associate at SSRL. “That additional information may allow us to distinguish between the layers of the text.”

For the Galen document, a scan takes about 10 hours for each of the 26 pages. The experiment has collected vast amounts of nuanced data from the X-ray scans, and the researchers are now applying data processing tools, including machine learning, to pull out the information they seek.

“Hidden in all this data, there’s information trying to get out,” says William Sellers, an expert in data processing and the director of the University of Manchester’s zoology department. “And there’s just too much data for humans alone to sift through.”

The early imaging results are very encouraging, with Galen’s original text clearly visible in green behind the medieval text.

Once the scans are complete, they will be added to an online collection of high-resolution photographs of the Syriac Galen Palimpsest as it has been scanned with different imaging techniques over almost a decade of wide-ranging studies. Many earlier files have already been added to the online collection of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries and are available to the scholarly community and world at large. It’s a fascinating record of both an ancient document and modern advances in technology.

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1000 years of St. Albans Abbey’s history revealed

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018

Our friends at the Canterbury Archaeological Trust (CAT) aren’t just busy inventorying their recovered artifacts. They’ve got excavations to do and archaeological treasures to unearth. One of their recent projects is a dig at the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Albans which just came to a close last month. The excavation began in August 2017 in advance of the construction of a new Welcome Center for the church and focused on a burial ground known as Monks’ Cemetery which was in use from the 18th through the mid-19th century. They recovered 120 inhumed bodies from that cemetery, out of the more the 170 recorded burials before the cemetery’s closure in 1852.

But that’s far from all they unearthed. Not surprisingly, the burial ground lived several previous lives. Under the more recent graves, the archaeological team discovered the remains of a rectangular 15th century building. Two stories high, the building was an addition to the cathedral and is believed to have contained the treasury, sacristy, vestry and two chapels, all accessible from the main building’s transept and presbytery. It was likely razed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

It’s possible, albeit not confirmed, that the abbot’s quarters were also in the 15th century structure. It is confirmed that one abbot in particular was buried under the larger of the two chapels. The excavation unearthed a brick-lined grave containing the body of an adult man. Interred with him with three Papal bullae, lead seals that were attached to official papal decrees known as bulls. While only the obverse of the seals is even partially legible, experts were able to make out the name “Martinus,” which dates the bullae to the papacy of Martin V who occupied the Throne of Peter from 1417 to 1431.

It’s extremely rare to find a grave that contains more than one of these seals. According to Professor Martin Biddle who is working with the CAT team, the discovery of three is in fact “a unique discovery in archaeology.” This strongly indicates the deceased was someone of great importance in the Church. The dates and further archival research point to this having been John of Wheathampstead. John was the Abbot of St. Albans from 1420-1440, and again from 1451 until his death in 1465. He personally undertook the arduous journey to Rome in 1423 and was granted an audience with Pope Martin V. The abbot asked the pontiff for three privileges and Martin granted all three of them. The deal was sealed with, well, seals, two of them dated November 19th, 1423, and the third November 24th, 1423. Abbot John returned with them to the St. Albans where he was celebrated for his successful mission.

The Dean of St Albans, the Very Rev’d Dr Jeffrey John, said, “It is a wonderful thing to have found the grave and relics of John of Wheathampstead, one of the most interesting and successful of the Abbots of St Albans. The papal seals that were found in his grave are a reminder of some of the privileges that he won for his monastery, and of his own national and international influence on the Church at a time when (not unlike today) it was faced with threats of division and decline”.

He continued, “Abbot John added a great deal to the renown and the beauty of the Abbey, and attracted many new pilgrims from Britain and overseas. He also defended the Abbey from destruction during the Wars of the Roses and was proud to say that he had preserved its treasures for future generations. It seems appropriate that he should appear just as we are trying to do the same through the ‘Alban, Britain’s First Saint‘ project, which aims to make the Abbey much better known, and to provide better resources to welcome and inform new visitors. As John would certainly wish, in due course his body will be laid to rest again, with proper prayer and ceremony. We trust he prays for us, as we do for him.”

But it’s not abbots all the way down. Beneath the foundations of the 15th century building the CAT team found the foundations of Norman chapels that were in the apse of the original St. Albans Cathedral built just over a decade after the Norman conquest of England. Paul of Caen, a very well-connected Benedictine monk, became abbot in 1077 and immediately initiated an ambitious building project, replacing the 8th century Anglo-Saxon church with a new one in Norman style. He used materials pilfered by previous abbots from the ruins of the Roman town of Verulamium, just across the river Ver from the abbey, to create a large cruciform structure that was at that time the largest abbey in England. Some of his arches still stand in the nave, as does the tower built at the intersection of the four arms of the crucifix shape (known as a crossing tower). It is the only 11th century crossing tower still extant in England.

Paul of Caen’s particular attention to building massive foundations is a large part of the reason the tower and arches are still standing to this day, so it’s fitting that even though later construction tore up the walls of the Norman apsidal chapels, the foundations were down there just waiting for archaeologists to find them.

St Albans Abbey has been confirmed as one of England’s early Norman cathedrals after experts uncovered foundations of the early church. […]

The abbey is known as the oldest place of continuous Christian worship in the country and this find pre-dates that.

The site director said: “We knew it was probably there but this confirms it.” […]

“[Our find shows] that it was and is an important site of premier status,” site director Ross Lane said.

“One of our major aims was to confirm its presence and confirm the abbey was one of the early Norman cathedrals.”

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Arrest made in Canterbury break-in!

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

The good news keeps coming regarding the break-in at the Canterbury Archaeological Trust. Kent police have made an arrest and recovered more of the missing loot. On Monday, March 19th, the police received a report of a man “acting suspiciously” in front of a building on Sturry Road.

Officers attended and located a 36-year-old man of no fixed address who was arrested on suspicion of burglary.

A number of historical artefacts were recovered by attending officers, which are believed to been reported stolen in January from the Canterbury Archaeological Trust in Kingsmead Road.

So that confirms the ignorant clown theory. I seriously doubt this one drifter was able to cut through the walls of the Kingsmead stores and make off with thousands of artifacts on his own, however. That strikes me as a little above the acting-suspiciously-on-the-street pay grade. I’m thinking patsy.

The suspect is being held in custody as the investigation continues.

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Objects stolen from Canterbury Archaeological Trust recovered

Saturday, March 17th, 2018

Great news to report on this day of lucky shamrocks: most of the estimated 2,000 artifacts stolen during a destructive break-in at the Canterbury Archaeological Trust’s Kingsmead stores have been recovered. Kent Police received a tip that the loot had been dumped in a derelict house on Military Road. Officers from the Canterbury Community Policing Team and Canterbury Archaeological Trust staff went to the property and discovered boxes full of the stolen artifacts, including coins, axes, coins, metalwork, jewelry, carved bone artifacts and the full complement of more than 850 Anglo-Saxon glass beads.

Almost all of the archaeological material stolen in the raid is now back where it belongs. In other good news, because like so many thieves who steal cultural heritage these guys were a bunch of ignorant clowns who had no idea what to do with the material once it was in their grimy clutches, they didn’t even remove the objects from their labelled bags. That will make it a comparatively easy task for the museum staff to inventory and re-archive them.

Not found in the stash were the stolen educational materials, replica Bronze Axe axe-heads, replica Beaker pots and coins, that are actually expensive to produce although not worth much in terms of market value. See above re ignorant clowns.

Trust director Paul Bennett said: “We are hugely relieved to have got back such vital material which is of huge importance to the history of the city.

“We were overwhelmed by the support we got from around the world after we were raided. To get back such a significant proportion is fantastic and we would like to thank the police for their quick response.”

The raid on the store left property scattered about and a huge job for staff and volunteers to catalogue what was missing.

“The thieves probably didn’t know what to do with it because many of the items don’t have great monetary value. Some of the missing items may probably end up being sold at fairs.

“But we still hold out hope of getting some more of it back.”

The police investigation continues in the hope of recovering all of the stolen objects and, of course, the culprits. They have yet to be identified and the authorities are keeping mum on whether they have any leads to specific individuals.

The Canterbury Archaeological Trust is moving from Kingsmead, now afflicted with exposed asbestos and stripped copper wires thanks to the savage break-in, to a new facility in Wincheap later this year. The trust hopes to create a resource center there that will make their collection both more secure and more widely available to researchers and the public.

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Richard III’s Cornwall accounts for fiscal year 1483 found in 1930s royal souvenir trinket box

Thursday, March 1st, 2018

An antiques dealer has discovered the yearly income records for the Duchy of Cornwall under King Richard III in a box of 1930s royal memorabilia he acquired as a single lot in an estate sale. The compotus rolls, the accounts of the monarchical estates in the Duchy of Cornwall under King Richard III (and for a brief window nominally under his nephew Edward V who was never crowned and whom Richard deposed two months after his ascension), were drawn up for Richard after he took the throne and covered the period from Michaelmas (September 29) 1482 until Michaelmas 1483.

Written in Latin on 11 thin parchment membranes by a scribe with an elegant hand for calligraphy initials, the rolls record that profits were handsome in the Duchy of Cornwall in 1483. The annual income from the Cornish manors, burghs, courts and tin mines, plus a handful of Devon manors totalled around £500. A labourer made about £2 a year.

The accounts show detailed showing totals for rents, sales and court receipts for manors within the Duchy and in Devon.

Also detailed are the names of bailiffs who supervised work on the each manor and would act as a link between the serfs and their feudal lord. The amounts raised from each manorial lord amounted to between £12 and £30 per annum.

Overall, the Duchy of Cornwall’s seigneurial records have survived unusually well, retained for generations by manorial archives, county archives and by duchy management. Today almost all of the accounts between 1300 and 1500 and beyond can be found in the county Public Records and the Duchy of Cornwall Office. This scroll is one of only a handful to survive in private hands.

The owner didn’t know exactly what was now in his private hands until a medieval manuscripts expert from Bonhams examined the parchment. He has now put it up for auction in Bonhams upcoming Fine Books and Manuscripts auction on March 21st in London. The pre-sale estimate is $5,500 – 8,300.

Peter Hammond, president of the Richard III society, said: “It is a very important record and we don’t know how many of these 15th century documents still exist.

“It gives us a handle on the kind of income that was coming in to keep the country running. The bureaucracy was alive and well in the 15th century – they kept amazing records.”

Historian hope the document will remain in Britain following the sale and be made available for public research.

Mr Hammond said: “It would be good if it was bought by the Cornwall Record office or the National Archives and it would be great if people were then able to see it.”

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