Archive for the ‘Modern(ish)’ Category

Bronze Age jewelry found in Slovakia

Thursday, December 6th, 2018

Archaeologists excavating in the village of Hozelec in northern Slovakia have unearthed a unique trove of Bronze Age jewelry. The site was excavated from April to July of this year as part of a study of Hozeleck’s history, but nobody expected to find Bronze Age artifacts. The team discovered small fragments of bronze spirals, funnel-shaped pins and three bronze discs.

The funnel-shaped objects are highly unusual because they seem to be made of a white metal. It’s possible that it’s bronze with a high tin content in the alloy. Another possibility is that the alloy was treated by some means, perhaps etched with an organic acid or heated to the exact temperature necessary to raise the white metal to the surface. Either way, the whiteness of the funnel pins indicates advanced metallurgic techniques that were previously unknown in Bronze Age finds in Slovakia.

Rarest of all, remnants of leather were found attached to the spirals, funnels and discs. This is likely all that’s left of the bag the spirals and funnels were buried in, with the perforated discs used to sew the top of the bag shut. The organic remains were radiocarbon dated to approximately 3,000 years ago. That dates the metal artifacts to the Middle or Late Bronze Age. It’s also only the second time ever that Bronze Age hide has been found in Slovakia, and the last time was 40 years ago.

The Bronze Age pieces were discovered early in the dig. Artifacts of much younger age were discovered in subsequent weeks, including Celtic buckles, a spade, firearm and horseshoes from the Middle Ages, a 1616 solidus coin, a link chain, a copper hook, knives and assorted other objects that were likely accidentally lost.

The finds have been put on temporary display at the Spiš Museum’s Historical Town Hall. Museum experts will study them further before a permanent exhibition is arranged.

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A Roman sarcophagus fit for a pug

Wednesday, December 5th, 2018


A marble sarcophagus in which a young Roman man and then a show business pug (retired) were laid to their putative eternal rest could not perform its duties. The remains of both are long gone, and the coffin sold for its handsomely stark design, good condition and its checkered past.

The sarcophagus was made in late 3rd, early 4th century Rome (the city, not the Empire in general). The vertical striggilations around a central tabula ansata (tablet with handles) were typical design elements for sarcophagi of the period. The tabula is inscribed with seven lines of Latin that translate to: “To the Spirits of the departed. To Gaius Messius Sequmdinus [i.e. Secundinus], who lived 17 years and four months.”

Young Gaius’ family could afford an expensive marble sarcophagus and a prime burial location. It was unearthed in 1828 on the Appia near the tomb of Cecilia Metella by Richard Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville, 1st Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. The grandson of one Prime Minister (George Grenville) and nephew of another (William Grenville), Richard Grenville was an Oxford alumn, Member of Parliament, Privy Councillor, Knight of the Garter and holder of a number of other sinecure positions granted by his uncle.

He’d already climbed the political ladder as far as he could be bothered and squandered absurd amount of cash on a variety of dissipated pursuits when he hit the continent for the Grand Tour. He was past 50, so not your usual British Grand Tourist. More like a fugitive from irate creditors. Still he spent, indulging his penchant for archaeology by excavating the burial sites outside the walls of Rome. Gaius Messius Sequmdinus’ sarcophagus was a good enough find to schlep all the way back to Buckinghamshire. His remains, on the other hand, were left behind.

In 1837, Gaius Messius’ coffin was pressed into service again when the Duke’s beloved pug Harlequin died of advanced old age. The Duke was inconsolable over the loss of his dog. Harlequin was placed in the sarcophagus and buried on the grounds of Stowe House, seat of the Dukes of Buckingham.

Unfortunately for the pug (and for the family, I suppose) the next Duke of Buckingham was as terrible with money as his father had been. He was such a spendthrift that by 1847 he was forced to take a page out of Daddy’s book and run to Europe to dodge the creditors he owed a million a half pounds. The next year there was nowhere left to run and the patrimony of the Grenvilles and of all those heiresses whose maiden names got integrated into the hyper-hyphenation was sold to the highest bidder in a much-celebrated auction at Stowe.

The sarcophagus is listed as a lot in the catalogue, but it’s almost incidental. The real star is Harlequin.

A Roman sarcophagus, found by the late Duke of Buckingham, in an excavation made by him at Rome, in 1828, near the tomb of Cecilia Metella. It then contained the skeleton of the Roman youth whose name it bears – the bones of which were carefully replaced in the earth. It recently stood in the flower-garden at Stowe, and in it were deposited the remains of the late Duke’s favorite dog, who died of extreme old age in 1837. This trifling circumstance is mentioned because to all the Duke’s numerous visitors and friends, this little dog Harlequin was well known as a most sagacious and intelligent little animal; and his attachment to his master was very extraordinary. He was a native of Bologna, of a very rare family called the red-nosed pugs. He was small in stature, but of the utmost symmetry of form. His latter years were embittered by the effects of a quarrel with a large poodle, arising from jealousy, and in this encounter, he lost one of his eyes, by a bite from his furious rival. When the Duke met with him at Bologna, he was a chief actor in a travelling showman’s company; but he could be seldom prevailed upon to display his talents in dancing, after he was purchased from his former master, and promoted into a higher grade of society.

It wouldn’t do to have an actor in the family donchaknow. Fortune-dissipating wastrels, sure. We’ll crank those by the score until there’s nothing left to squander, but a trained dancer is a step too far.

The sarcophagus sold at Sotheby’s Ancient Sculpture sale on Tuesday for £40,000 ($51,000) edging out the high side of the pre-sale estimate by £5,000.

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Ohio university returns looted mosaics to Turkey

Sunday, December 2nd, 2018

Bowling Green State University has agreed to repatriate 12 mosaics to Turkey after discovering they had been looted from the ancient site of Zeugma. The university bought the mosaics in 1965 for $35,000 from New York antiquities dealer Peter Marks. There was little paperwork on the provenance of these mosaics, but the claim was that they were from Antioch, modern-day Antakya also in Turkey, raised by Princeton University archaeologists in an approved excavation in the 1930s and exported legally as their share of the finds according to the old partage system.

Those excavations, led by eminent archaeologist George W. Elderkin, discovered literally hundreds of mosaics in elite villas of the ancient city which had been one of the most important in the Roman Empire. Many of them were lifted, divided among the sponsors and either stored, exhibited or installed as architectural features. Princeton had a bit of mosaic fire sale in the early 1960s, and many smaller institutions scored Antioch mosaic panels at that time.

So the Antioch origin wasn’t an outlandish proposition in and of itself, but there was some shadiness. For example, the fact that 11 of the 12 mosaics panels were pulled up in a haphazard fashion with ragged, broken floral and geometric pieces attached the main figural panel should have raise red flags. It didn’t.

Many decades later in 2012, the sections were conserved so they could go on display in a handsomely lit underfloor installation covered with a thick coating of protective glass in the newly opened Wolfe Center for the Arts at BSGU. Dr. Stephanie Langin-Hooper, then assistant professor of ancient art history at BSGU, was asked to find out more about the mosaics and present her findings at a symposium dedicated to the artworks. She invited colleague Dr. Rebecca Molholt, an expert in Roman mosaics at Brown University, to work with her in researching the pieces.

They looked for the mosaics in Princeton’s enormous archaeological archive documentating more than a hundred excavations including the Elderkin digs. They couldn’t find the BGSU mosaics anywhere in the archive. When they looked further afield, they discovered the far more likely source was ancient Zeugma, only this was no approved excavation and partage arrangement.

“That site had been extensively looted … and comparing photographs of looted sites, we were able to pinpoint the exact location, the particular room in a mosaic house, where the fragments came from,” Ms. Langin-Hooper said. “A lot of the mosaic was looted and BGSU does not have all of it. Some of the mosaic, we don’t know where it is. It could be at another university, or lost or who knows, but there was enough there, the particular geometric patterning, the coloring, the size of the tesserae, the individual tiles, everything was a match.”

The pieces of chiseled stone and glass depicting masks of ancient Greek figures and birds surrounded by geometric and floral patterns in yellows, whites, reds, greens, and browns, formed part of a frame of a mosaic panel known as “Gypsy Girl,” a symbol for the city of Gaziantep. The professors discovered that 11 of the pieces, measuring about 12 by 12 inches, were part of the same floor. The 12th piece, 2 by 3 feet in size, depicts the mask of an ancient Greek female figure and was determined by Ms. Langin-Hooper and Ms. Molholt to have come from the same villa.

“Its edges are straight and even, indicating that they were cleaned up and possibly repaired or restored, sometime before the mosaic was purchased by BGSU,” Ms. Langin-Hooper wrote in an article.

To BGSU’s major credit, they contacted the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism and informed them of the recent findings. Ministry experts investigated the mosaics and confirmed that the professors’ were right.

“As a public university, we have a special obligation to contribute to the public good. That obligation extends to the global community,” Rogers said. “The preservation and care of the mosaics has been a priority for BGSU for the last 53 years. We have relied upon the expertise of scholars to guide us, both when we acquired the pieces and now. Thanks to the work of Dr. Langin-Hooper and others, it is clear today that the best place for these precious artifacts is back in the Republic of Turkey at the Zeugma Mosaic Museum. We greatly appreciate the collegiality of the Turkish Ministry of Culture in working with us through this process.”

The agreement was signed on Monday, November 19th. Its terms stipulate that the mosaics will be crated, packed and transported the long way home. The cost will be paid by Turkey’s directorate. When they arrive, conservators will puzzle the mosaic panels together with other pieces found during legal excavations at Zeugma in the 1990s. BGSU will receive high-quality replicas of the mosaics and a plaque explaining the whole story. It hasn’t been decided yet where they will be displayed.

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Prison inmates find Ottoman coin hoard

Saturday, December 1st, 2018

Inmates from Pleven Prison in northern Bulgaria have unearthed a large hoard of Ottoman silver coins. The inmates were doing agricultural work on prison grounds on November 9th when they accidentally dug up some coins about a foot under the surface. The coins were cached in two large pots and buried in the 19th century. There are 7,046 of them weighing a combined total of 18.4 pounds.

They are all Ottoman Turkish akçes, the chief monetary unit of the Ottoman Empire from the 15th century until 1687 when they were replaced by the kuruş. After that, the gradual devaluation increased to Weimar-like levels. By the time they were buried, an akçe contained a meager 0.048 grams of silver, a steep plummet from their original .85 gram content.

“They are from different coin issues, and of different face value, and they were probably collected over many years,” says archaeologist Vladimir Naydenov, as cited by the press service of Pleven Municipality.

“It is curious that at the time, this amount of money could buy three houses in Odrin [Edirne] (a former capital of the Ottoman Empire, and a major city in today’s European Turkey – editor’s note),” he adds.

“The 19th century is actually not that well known that is why the treasure is valuable as a source of historical information,” the archaeologist notes.

The experts from the Pleven Museum of History hypothesize that larger Ottoman coins might have also been buried where the hoard from the treasure pot was discovered. Yet, for the time being no more coins have been found at the spot.

This is the third time pots full of treasure have been unearthed in Bulgaria in this year alone. One was of 18th century coins, the other of Tartar loot from around 1400. Their coin counts were far lower but they also included jewelry.

The coins and pots are now at the Pleven Regional Museum of History where they will be thoroughly cleaned, conserved and restored. Numismatists will analyze them to identify with as much precision possible the date and location they were minted. They also hope to discover more about when they buried and why.

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Garage sale toothbrush cup is 4,000 years old

Friday, November 30th, 2018

A pottery vessel bought at a garage sale for a pittance turns out to be a 4,000-year-old archaeological treasure. An avid collector of antiquities and oddities, Karl Martin bought this pot and another at a car boot sale in Willington, Derbyshire, for £4 (a whopping five bucks and a dime at the current rate of exchange). He thought it might be old, very old even, and he liked its simple line painted animal figures, but he didn’t research it further at the time. He just put it to use in his bathroom to hold his toothbrush and paste. Martin says he even got a few toothpaste smears on it and thought nothing of it.

He didn’t follow up on his old toothbrush pot, even though his passion for antiquities had inspired him to get a job at Hansons Auctioneers two years before his bargain purchase. He was at work, in fact, when he saw line painted pottery that reminded him of his old toothbrush holder and asked Hansons’ antiquities expert James Brenchley to look at his pot. He identified it as an ancient piece of pottery made in the Indus Valley area in around 1900 B.C.

James Brenchley, head of antiquities at Hansons Auctioneers, said: “This is an Indus Valley Harappan Civilisation pottery jar dating back to 1900 BC. This was a Bronze Age civilisation mainly in the north western regions of South Asia.

“Along with Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, it was one of three early cradles of civilisations of the Old World, and of the three, the most widespread. The civilisation was primarily located in modern-day India and Pakistan as well as Afghanistan.”

“I do come across items like this from time to time and was familiar with the painting technique. It was probably brought back to the UK years ago by wealthy travellers.”

Martin decided to put up for auction at Hansons’ antiquities sale November 26th. He made a tidy profit considering his £4 investment but it was no windfall. The hammer price was £80.

“Perhaps I should have held on to it. I feel a bit guilty about keeping my toothbrush in it now.”

Uh, yeah friend. Of course you should have kept it. I’ll take free and clear title to a cool ancient pot over a hundred bucks any day. Besides, you owed it a little mantelpiece display or something after all those years it suffered watching you spit into a sink.

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More than 100 funerary bundles found in Bolivia

Sunday, November 18th, 2018

The remains of more than 100 individuals and grave goods have been discovered in a quarry near the modern-day town of Viacha, Bolivia, 18 miles southwest of La Paz. Archaeological material was first found at the site by miners three months ago. They reported it to the authorities and Bolivian government archaeologists began official excavations.

They first encountered two tombs in an underground necropolis carved into the limestone. One chamber contained about 108 funerary bundles. It had been looted and the human remains had suffered significant deterioration, but many grave goods still remained. A small circular hole just 27.5 inches in diameter opened to a chimney nine feet deep. When archaeologists lowered themselves down, they discovered another two tombs, these intact and unlooted.

There were wood and pottery artifacts in the tombs, and more than 150 pieces of bronze jewelry — necklaces, bracelets, brooches, women’s hair ornaments and two rare u-shaped headbands worn by nobility. Also in the tomb with the bundles were 30 intact pottery vessels of a type used by the Inca for burial rites. Some of the skulls are elongated, evidence of intentional cranial deformation, a common practice in the Americas (and world-wide) that was often a signifier of high social status. The skulls and diverse artifacts indicate people on different rungs of the social ladder were all buried together in the communal graves.

The burials date to around 1100-1200 A.D. in the period after the decline of the Tiwanaku Empire which had been the dominant polity in western Bolivia between 600 and 1000. They belonged to the Pacajes people, part of the Aymara kingdom which spread over the Andean highlands of western Bolivia, southern Peru and northern Chile from at least 1200. The area was conquered by the Inca during the reign of Huayna Capac (1493–1524) who expanded the empire to its greatest extent before dying of the smallpox the Spanish brought to America.

Little is known about when the Inca conquered the Aymara and exactly what the power dynamics were. It’s believed the Aymara had some level of autonomy. The discovery of Inca pottery in the Pacajes tombs is therefore of major historical significance as it is a unique find that attests to the blending of cultural practices after the Inca take-over in the 15th century.

The remains, especially the soft tissues, quickly began to deteriorate further when exposed to microorganisms, humidity and saline air, so archaeologist have removed the contents of the tombs to an archaeological center where they will be studied and conserved in controlled conditions. At this point, the remains and artifacts have not yet been declared national patrimony which means the local municipality of Viacha bears the responsibility of finding a permanent place for them that will provide the conditions for their preservation.

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If these gilded Chippendale torchères could talk…

Saturday, November 10th, 2018

A pair of five-foot torchères made by iconic cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale that witnessed some of the juiciest scandals of the Georgian era have entered the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art and are now on display there. The museum acquired the candle-holders for $640,000 in a July sale of Thomas Chippendale works at Christie’s London. The seller was Washington D.C. collector S. Jon Gerstenfeld who had owned them since 1995. In the 220 years before then, the giltwood torchères illuminated the sexy goings-on at Brocket Hall in Hertforshire.

Of columnar form with finely carved acanthus leaves, swags, fluting, and oval masks depicting the Roman goddess Diana, these remarkable works exhibit Chippendale’s masterful understanding of neoclassical proportion, scale, and ornament. Monumental in size, they were designed in 1773 for the grand drawing room of Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire, England, the county seat of Sir Peniston Lamb.

Thomas Chippendale is perhaps best known for his landmark book of furniture designs, The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director (first published in 1754), which was highly admired and widely used as a source of inspiration by cabinetmakers and architects in both Europe and America. As such, Chippendale is most often associated with the many works in mahogany or walnut that follow his designs. These torchères are among the very few pieces made by the master himself and are therefore considered exceedingly rare.

Originally part of a set of four (the other pair were sold separately in 1994), the candle holders adorned a room that was already replete with Chippendale furnishings. The estate of Brocket Hall was purchased in 1746 by Matthew Lamb, a wealthy barrister and Member of Parliament who would be enobled nine years later and created 1st Baronet of Brocket Hall. In 1760 he built the stately neoclassical mansion that stands today. The Grand Saloon, a banquet hall built sparing no expense to make it fine enough to receive royalty, was filled with furniture custom-made by Thomas Chippendale. This room alone cost £1,500, the price to construct an entire mansion at that time.

When his father died in 1768, Peniston Lamb acceded to the baronetcy and became the master of Brocket Hall. He married Elizabeth Milbanke in April of 1769 and significantly boosted by her beauty, charm and facility for making friends and lovers at the highest levels of English society, Lord and Lady Melbourne quickly advanced socially and politically. The fact that less than a year after their marriage Lord Melbourne was already cavorting with an actress better known for her private performances posed no obstacle.

The actress in question, Sophia Baddeley, wrote in her memoirs (published under the pseudonym Elizabeth Steele in the voice of a faux roommate following “as told to” convention) about Lord Melbourne’s pursuit of her.

This gentleman was about twenty-one years of age, and had been married about ten months to a very amiable woman. For a length of time, he used every means to engage her [Sophia’s] attention at Ranelagh, but finding that an improper place for an interview, at least such a one as he wished, he applied to a friend, in confidence, to make her, in his name, an offer of share in his fortune, in exchange for the possession of her heart. This friend brought her a letter, including a bill for 300£. which he very politely pressed her acceptance of, as a bagatelle, and to consider it only as a proof of his esteem, and that liberality which his affection for her would study to convince her of.

Sophia of course nobly declined this offer on the grounds that Lamb should pay all this attention and consideration to his lovely wife, not her. He redoubled his efforts and next thing you know, they were found together “drinking tea,” her memoirs would have it. Melbourne “threw up the parlour window, and precipitately leaped out.” My, such a guilty reaction for someone caught in the innocuous act of sipping tea. Oh and, just out sheer politeness, I’m sure, “as an atonement for his intrusion,” Melbourne “left bank notes on the parlous table, to the amount of two hundred pounds.”

Lady Melbourne was no slouch in the extramarital activities department. She caught the eye of the Prince of Wales, the future King George IV, when she was in her early 30s, had been married for a decade and was in an active relationship with George Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont, widely believed to be the father of her second son William, the future Lord Melbourne, who would find himself notoriously cuckholded when his wife, Lady Caroline Lamb, had a scandalous affair with Lord Byron. She famously had (Lady Melbourne hated her daughter-in-law but was a friend and confidant to Byron even during the intensely public affair that so humiliated her son. Byron would later marry her niece.)

MP and historian Sir Nathaniel Wraxall wrote about her in his posthumous memoirs:

“A commanding figure, exceeding the middle height, full of grace and dignity, an animated countenance, intelligent features, captivating manners and conversation; all these, and many other attractions, enlived by coquetry, met in Lady Melbourne. Her husband had been principally known by the distinguished place that he occupies in the annals of meretricious pleasure, the memoirs of Mrs. Bellamy or Mrs. Baddeley, the syrens and courtesans of a former age.

The annals of meretricious pleasure were surely illuminated by the Chippendale torchères. The Prince of Wales was a frequent vision to Brocket Hall where he enjoyed the liberal hospitality of the lady of the house without complaint from its lord. And what did have to complain about when there was so much benefit to be had from his wife’s liaisons with the highest aristocracy in the land? Melbourne’s irrelevance in Parliament and penchant for ladies of ill-repute were no barrier to advancement. In 1770, he was made an Irish Baron. In 1781 he got bumped up to Viscount (also Irish) and in 1784 he was appointed Gentleman of the Bedchamber to his Royal Highness, who was (not coincidentally) entertaining Lady Melbourne in that bedchamber at the time. In 1815, during the Regency of the Prince, Melbourne got the boost all the way up the Peerage ladder when he was created Baron of the United Kingdom.

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17th c. wood palisade found in Québec City

Wednesday, November 7th, 2018

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a 17th century defensive fortification in Québec City that was the first reinforced wood palisade in North America. The structure was unearthed by archaeological contractors during the renovations of a building on Sainte-Ursule Street in Old Québec. A construction worker spotted a small piece of wood sticking out of the sand below street level. From that small fragment excavation revealed a tract more than 65 feet long of a thick wooden structure. The remains of the palisades are in extraordinary condition. The waterlogged clay soil preserved the organic remains for 325 years.

The rempart de Beaucours was built in 1693 to protect Québec City from artillery attack. It replaced a wood stockade built in 1690, the first landward defenses to encircle the city. The stockade ran between 11 small masonry redoubts for gun batteries and artillery defense. It was built under pressure of an invasion from England’s Massachusetts Bay Colony and given its limitations, it would perform admirably during the Battle of Quebec in October of that year. It withstood a six-day siege leaving the English forces soundly spanked.

That victory was at least in part due to good luck, however — English commander Sir William Phips made a bunch of unforced errors — and as a consequence of the close call Governor-General Louis de Buade de Frontenac commissioned Ingénieur du Roi Josué Berthelot de Beaucours to build a rampart strong enough to withstand a frontal assault from full English cannon, strength that Phips had not deployed. Construction began in summer of 1693 and 500 men (the city’s population was between 2,000 and 3,000 at that time) built two wooden walls 13 feet high. The walls were anchored in a trench and the space between them filled with sand. That’s what allowed them to absorb the impact of heavy artillery. The tops where fitted with pointed wooden stakes.

The palisade was replaced during another period of high tension with Britain. In 1745, the city got new defensive walls, these ones made of stone. The masonry walls still encircle the Old City today, part of the most complete set of city colonial fortifications preserved in North America. There are elements ranging in date from the founding of Quebec in 1608 until the British garrison’s departure in 1871. Beaucours’ palisades were known from maps and historical accounts, but no remains of them have been found before. The discovery fills an extremely significant gap in the evolution of the city’s defenses.

Teams are now working to extract the artifacts as quickly as possible before temperatures plummet and jeopardize the site.

Several pieces of wood have already been dug out and carefully brought indoors, where they will be dried out over a two-year period.

A large central beam will likely have to be hauled out with a crane, said [archeologist Jean-Yves] Pintal.

Once the wood has been dried and stabilized, the reconstructed palisade will go on display at a location yet to be determined.

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Bag that may have held Walter Raleigh’s head found in attic

Monday, November 5th, 2018

A red silk velvet bag found in the attic of West Horsley Place in Surrey may have been used to carry an illustriously gory cargo: the embalmed head of Sir Walter Raleigh. It’s a long shot. There is no organic residue visible to the naked eye that suggests the bag was used to hold the decapitated head of a man executed for treason and the soft, elegant bag is not the type that would have been used to place the head immediately after the execution.

Raleigh’s head had an extensive history continuing long after it was separated from his neck. Sir Walter was arrested in July 1603, less than four months after the death of Queen Elizabeth, for conspiring to overthrow King James I. At his trial that November, Raleigh denied vociferously having plotted against the king. The only evidence was the written confession of his alleged co-conspirator who was not allowed to testify and be cross-examined at trial.

Nonetheless, Raleigh was convicted. His death sentence was commuted by King James and he remained imprisoned in the Tower of London until 1617 when the king pardoned him so he could go on yet another epic voyage of discovery, this time seeking out the mythical city of El Dorado in Venezuela. James had ended two decades of war with Spain when he signed the Treaty of London with King Philip III in 1604, so part of the deal with the pardon was that Raleigh wouldn’t resume his old pirating ways and interfere with Spanish colonies or shipping.

When Raleigh’s men disregarded that stricture and raided the settlement of Santo Tomé de Guayana, Raleigh lost his son Walter and sealed his own fate. Upon his return to England in June 1618, he was arrested for the 1603 treason conviction, his pardon now invalidated by the violence against the Spanish colony. He was in poor health and was escorted to London very slowly. A couple of months and a couple of failed escape attempts later, Sir Walter Raleigh was back in the Tower of London where he would spend his last days.

The Royal Warrant for the execution dated October 28th, 1618, specified Raleigh would not be drawn, hanged and quartered, the usual execution method for traitors, but rather the king’s “pleasure is to have the head only of the said Sir Walter Raleigh cut off at or within our palace of Westminster.” The king’s pleasure would not have to wait long, likely driven by his desire to clear the diplomatic slate of the Raleigh imbroglio so he could get back to the business of arranging his son’s marriage to the Spanish Infanta. The next morning, October 29th, 1618, Raleigh was taken to the Old Palace Yard at Westminster Palace where he was beheaded.

The body was buried in St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster, out of sheer expediency. It was the closest to the palace, and this whole business was done in haste in the hopes of avoiding angry crowds. Raleigh was a national hero; popular sentiment was very much on his side. Shipping his headless body to Beddington where Raleigh and his wife had planned to be buried together would have run the risk of drawing far too much attention.

According to the earliest known published account of the execution, Sir Walter’s head “was shewed on each side of the Scaffold, and then put into a red leather bag and his wrought velvet gowne throwne over it, which was afterwards conveyed away in a mourning coach of his Ladyes.” Lady Raleigh had the head embalmed and kept it with her for the remaining 29 years of her life. One source, 18th century antiquarian William Oldys, reported that she preserved the head “in a case.”

Carew Raleigh, the only son of Sir Walter to survive his father, inherited West Horsley Place upon the death of his maternal uncle Sir Nicholas Carew in 1643. He lived there with his mother until her death in 1647. Sir Walter Raleigh’s head lived with them too. After Bess’ death, the head passed to Carew. He told Elias Ashmole (the man the Oxford University’s Ashmolean Museum is named after) that he still had his father’s skull in the 1660s.

Carew sold West Horsley Place to Sir E Nicholas in 1665 and moved to London where he died the next year. He was buried with his father’s body at St. Margaret’s Church, but it was his two eldest sons Walter and Carew who would go to their eternal rest with Sir Walter Raleigh’s head at St Mary’s Church in West Horsley.

Beheadings are something of a recurring motif in the history of West Horsley Place. Nobody that we know of was actually executed there, but several of its owners have met the slicing side of the headsman’s axe and last year conservators assessing the condition of the building discovered an actual executioner’s axe.

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Greek vase looted from Warsaw museum during WWII returned

Sunday, November 4th, 2018

A 4th century B.C. Greek vase that was stolen from the National Museum in Warsaw by German occupiers has been returned to Poland. The red figure lekythos with a rare sphinx design, one of very few in Poland, is a small piece at just 3.7 inches high and 2.4 inches wide, but it is of immense historical importance because it is the first archaeological object plundered during the war that has been recovered by the nation.

The vessel, made to store oils and perfumes, was discovered during excavations in the east Crimean town of Kerch, one of the most ancient cities in Crimea which was founded as the Greek colony of Panticapaeum 2,600 years ago. By the early 20th century, it belonged to Józef Choynowski, a Polish collector who was born in the Kiev area. An avid archaeologist, he participated in digs in Ukraine and elsewhere in Russia and amassed a large, ecclectic collection of prehistoric crafts, prints, paintings, osteological remains and archaeological material.

In 1901, Choynowski decided he would exhibit his entire collection in Warsaw and then donate it to the museum. The exhibition opened in the autumn of 1902. A few months later, on March 19th, 1903, Józef Choynowski officially donated his collection to the Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts in Warsaw, stipulating that it must be permanently on display and that no part of it would ever be loaned or moved out of Warsaw. In December of 1923, Choynowski’s collection of 4380 objects was transferred to the National Museum in Warsaw.

It would know less than 20 years of peace. Art historian, archaeologist and SS Untersturmführer Peter Paulsen was in Poland within days of Warsaw’s surrender on September 27th, 1939. As leader of the Sonderkommando Paulsen, his brief was to “secure” objects of archaeological and historic significance from the conquered territory. Nazi officials from Hitler on down had no high opinion of Poland’s cultural patrimony, so the artworks and antiquities deemed to be “Germanic” cultural assets were the explicit focus of the SS special command. The Veit Stoss altarpiece in Krakow, for example, the largest Gothic alterpiece in the world made in the late 15th century specifically for the High altar of Krakow’s St. Mary’s Basilica, counted as German because the sculptor Veit Stoss was originally from Nuremburg, even though he lived and worked in Krakow for 20 years and the altarpiece had been commissioned by the regent of Poland.

In the end, the Sonderkommando Paulsen just stole everything it could and shipped it to Germany to stash in museums, castles, salt mines wherever they had a nook or cranny to accommodate the ever-expanding collection of patrimony plundered from occupied countries. Warsaw’s library and the national museum were stripped of far more than the few items listed as desirable in lead-up to the invasion. The Choynowski collection was plundered and many of its most prized pieces exported to Germany.

Without any clear records of what was taken by the SS, dispersed or destroyed by the ravages of war, Poland’s Ministry of Culture has struggled since the war to figure out which of Choynowski’s pieces are missing. Its database of war losses currently lists about 60 objects from the collection, but that is in no way definitive.

Thankfully, it was enough to get this one little lekythos back. The vase was slated to be sold in 2017 at the Gerhard Hirsch Nachfolger auction house in Munich. The auctioneers checked the database, saw that it was looted from Poland during war and alerted the ministry. The seller was Ingrid Haack. It had been in her family for decades and she had no idea of its ugly ownership history. She promptly agreed to withdraw it from the sale and return it to Poland.

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