Archive for the ‘Modern(ish)’ Category

Tiepolo drawing of gnocchi clowns found in attic

Sunday, October 24th, 2021

A drawing by Rococo master Giovanni Battista Tiepolo has been rediscovered in the attic of Weston Hall, the Northamptonshire seat of the literary Sitwell family. The pen, ink and wash drawing depicts a group of Punchinelli, a buffoonish commedia dell’arte stock character that Tiepolo drew repeatedly from the late 1720s through the early 1760s. This is an earlier example, dating to the early 1730s, and is one of the largest, most populated and most detailed of the three dozen or so Tiepolo Punchinello drawings.

Tiepolo, in contrast to his son Domenico, who shows Punchinelli engaged in everyday activities in his Divertimento per li Regazzi, portrays his Punchinelli making and eating gnocchi, and suffering from the excesses of overindulgence. The subject derives from a regional festival, “venerdì gnoccolare”, which took place in Verona on the last Friday of Carnival.

George Knox, the Tiepolo art historian, suggests that this drawing is among the earliest of the Punchinello drawings because of its fine line and delicate, even use of wash. He further proposes that this drawing may be linked stylistically with the studies for the Villa Loschi at Biron, executed around 1734. The present drawing, and others of this period, undoubtedly mark the moment that Tiepolo’s draftsmanship assumes its mature form.

The drawing was acquired by Sir Osbert Sitwell at a Christie’s auction of the famous collection of Old Master drawings of the late London banker and art collector Henry Oppenheimer in July 1936. For some inexplicable reason, the drawing wound up forgotten in one of Weston Hall’s attics. It was only rediscovered last year when Henrietta Sitwell, Osbert’s grand-niece, found it leaning against the attic wall and peeled back the bubble wrap it was swaddled in to find a surprise Old Master.

The Tiepolo drawing will go under the hammer at Dreweatts auction house with the other contents of Weston Hall at a two-day sale on November 16th and 17th. It has been conservatively estimated to sell between £150,000-£250,000 ($207,000-344,000), but a comparable piece sold at auction in New York in 2013 for $542,500, so even the high end of the range is something of a low-ball figure.

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Microscope Darwin gave to his son up for auction

Tuesday, October 19th, 2021

A microscope gifted by naturalist Charles Darwin to his 14-year-old son Leonard is being sold by the family almost 200 years after Darwin acquired it. The microscope, complete with all accessories in its original 3 x 3.5″ mahogany case, is the only Darwin microscope ever offered at auction. Little wonder, as there are only six surviving microscopes known to have belonged to Charles Darwin (including this one).

It is the oldest one of the six, made by Charles Gould for the firm of instrument-maker William Cary around 1825. The Gould Improved Pocket Microscope was comparatively inexpensive and rapidly became so popular that it was endlessly copied, patents be damned. It was originally designed for observing microorganisms in water which was all the rage in the 1820s. Viewing the “animalcules” in water was literally entertainment and people paid for it. Travelling showmen used portable microscopes like this one to show off all the beasties people were shocked and fascinated to discover they’d been drinking all their lives.

Darwin was into the hobby too, so much so that initially it was actually a detriment to his studies. This very microscope is believed to have been the one he used to blow off med school.

Charles Darwin’s research career began with his investigation into the sea creatures being dredged up from Scotland’s Firth of Forth while trying to avoid his medical studies at the University of Edinburgh. Darwin’s studies of these strange ‘zoophytes’ began in 1826 and reached a successful conclusion in the spring of 1827, when he presented his first scientific paper to the University’s Plinian Society. These dates coincide with the appearance of the present microscope on the market, which was designed by Charles Gould for the firm Cary around 1825. Of the six surviving microscopes associated with Charles Darwin, four are known to have been acquired later (two in 1831, one each in 1847 and around 1848), and the other cannot be used for studying marine invertebrates. In this early research Darwin was contributing to Robert Grant’s radical reinterpretation of the animal kingdom, in which apparently simple creatures – like the ‘zoophytes’ – were understood to be at the beginning of a natural order that led up to Homo sapiens. This preoccupation with the ‘first’ creatures was picked up again by Darwin in the crucial period during and immediately following the Beagle Voyage.

By the time Charles gave Leonard the scope it was already 30 years old, but he took the same joy in it as his father had when collecting water from the Firth of Forth instead of studying medicine. Four years later, Leonard was a committed microscopist, as Charles recorded in an 1858 letter to his eldest son: “Lenny was dissecting under my microscope and he turned round very gravely & said ‘don’t you think, papa, that I shall be very glad of this all my future life.'”

The presale estimate is £250,000-350,000 ($354,000-483,000), and when the hammer falls at Christie’s on December 15th, that estimate is very likely to be exceeded.

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Tomb of Caecilia Metella reveals secrets of Roman concrete resilience

Saturday, October 9th, 2021

The tomb of Caecilia Metella, the turret-shaped funerary monument on the Via Appia Antica outside the ancient walls of Rome, was built out of concrete, brick and travertine between 30 and 10 B.C., a time when Roman architecture saw major advances in concrete construction. The circular concrete tomb was faced with blocks of travertine and built on a square foundation of concrete with volcanic stone aggregrate. Inside is a conical burial chamber with an oculus opening in the ceiling. The sepulchral corridor was constructed of brick-faced concrete that is one of the first examples in Rome, built to the highest possible standards of the time.

The tomb is located on the northern tip of the Capo di Bove lava flow; its lower chamber was dug through the tephra deposited hundreds and thousands of years ago in the eruption of the Alban Hills volcano. The same volcano also deposited tephra in a lava flow, the Pozzolane Rosse, less than a half mile away northwest of the tomb.

The builders of the Tomb of Caecilia Metella sourced their aggregate from both fields, using the Capo di Bove lava for the outer structure’s concrete, brick mortar and interior concrete. The sepulchral corridor (the wettest part of the tomb, exposed to rainwater falling through the oculus as well as ground water penetration) used the tephra from the Pozzolane Rosse flow, the same aggregate employed in the construction of the walls of the Markets of Trajan 120 years later. They too are still standing.

Roman concrete construction like this tomb, bridge piers and breakwaters has shown itself uniquely capable of withstanding thousands of years of water exposure, even submersion, whereas modern concrete, made with cement binders that Roman concrete does not have, cracks and crumbles comparatively speedily under pressure from water. Modern marine concrete has an expected lifespan of just 50 years.

A new study looks at mortar samples taken from the sepulchral corridor of the Tomb of Caecilia Metella to learn more about the mineral structure of the concrete hoping to shed light on its extraordinary longevity.

In previous analysis of the Markets of Trajan mortar, Jackson, Tamura and their colleagues explored the “glue” of the mortar, a building block called the C-A-S-H binding phase (calcium-aluminum-silicate-hydrate), along with a mineral called strätlingite. The strätlingite crystals block the propagation of microcracks in the mortar, preventing them from linking together and fracturing the concrete structure.

But the tephra the Romans used for the Caecilia Metella mortar was more abundant in potassium-rich leucite. Centuries of rainwater and groundwater percolating through the tomb’s walls dissolved the leucite and released the potassium into the mortar. In modern concrete, such a flood of potassium would create expansive gels that would cause microcracking and eventual spalling and deterioration of the structure.

In the tomb, however, the potassium dissolved and reconfigured the C-A-S-H binding phase. Seymour says that X-ray microdiffraction and Raman spectroscopy techniques allowed them to explore how the mortar had changed. “We saw C-A-S-H domains that were intact after 2,050 years and some that were splitting, wispy or otherwise different in morphology,” she says. X-ray microdiffraction, in particular, allowed an analysis of the wispy domains down to their atomic structure. “We see that the wispy domains are taking on a nano-crystalline nature,” she says.

The remodeled domains “evidently create robust components of cohesion in the concrete,” says Jackson. In these structures, unlike in the Markets of Trajan, there’s much less strätlingite formed. […]

Admir Masic, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at MIT, says that the interface between the aggregates and the mortar of any concrete is fundamental to the structure’s durability. In modern concrete, he says, the alkali-silica reactions that form expansive gels may compromise the interfaces of even the most hardened concrete.

“It turns out that the interfacial zones in the ancient Roman concrete of the tomb of Caecilia Metella are constantly evolving through long-term remodeling,” he says. “These remodeling processes reinforce interfacial zones and potentially contribute to improved mechanical performance and resistance to failure of the ancient material.”

The study is part a U.S. Department of Energy  ARPA-e project that hopes to use ancient Roman know-how to create more durable and energy-efficient concrete. It has been published in the Journal of the American Ceramic Society and can be read in its entirety here.

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3D model reveals Easter Island writing

Friday, October 8th, 2021

A 3D model of a wooden tablet from Easter Island has revealed engravings in the rongorongo writing system invisible to the naked eye. A new study of a tablet now in the collection of the Berlin Ethnographic Museum, employed photogrammetry to create a high-precision digital reconstruction of the wood surface

Researchers estimated that there are about 600 characters of rongorongo. Among them there are representations resembling human figures, characterized by supernaturally long arms, shown in various arrangements, as well as animals: birds, fish, sharks and rats. No other Polynesian peoples invented the script. Scientists are now making efforts to read the mysterious writing. Despite many question marks, researchers of the mysterious writing have established a few facts. First of all, it is known that it was used by the aristocracy living on the island – so it was not a commonly used script. Sentences were read in the inverted boustrophedon system – the object had to be rotated while reading.

Because the island of Rapa Nui is so remote its culture developed in total isolation from the Polynesian settlement in the 12th or 13th century until the arrival of Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen in 1722. The first westerner to encountered rongorongo was French missionary Eugène Eyraud who saw the symbols in islanders’ homes on his first mission to Rapa Nui in 1864. By then the system had rapidly fallen into disuse, believed to be a result of its writing elite being captured and enslaved in the Peruvian raids of the early 1860s. In a December 1864 letter to the Father Superior of his order in Paris, Eyraud wrote:

In all the homes there were wooden tablets covered with many types of hieroglyphic characters, which are symbols of animals that do not exist on the island and which the natives incise with a sharp stone. Each symbol has a name but the minimal fuss that the natives make of these tablets leads me to believe that these symbols, the remains of a primitive writing system, represent a custom that they continue to practice without trying to recall its meaning.

A piece of an engraved tablet was gifted to Bishop Tepano Jaussen of Tahiti in 1869, and he encouraged the collection of all other tablets with inscriptions still surviving on Rapa Nui. Ravaged by slave raids, deforestation, the invasive Polynesian rat and massive emigration, the population of the island collapsed in the 1870s.

Today only 23 rongorongo-engraved artifacts are known to exist, none of them on Rapa Nui. Rongorongo’s origins are unknown and the glyphs are as yet undeciphered, but if it is confirmed to be a writing system, it will be one of very few examples of an independently invented script in human history.

The Berlin Tablet was made from a large curved tree branch with the sides carved out to form flattened surfaces for incision. It is 3’4″ long and weighs 5.7 lbs, making it the heaviest rongorongo artifact surviving. It was one of three belonging to Chief Hangeto that were sold to Germany in 1882. It is in a poor state of preservation, heavily damaged on one side that is believed to have been facing the soil of a cave floor for years before it was collected. Woodlice, centipedes and woodworms also made a tasty meal of it.

The new study took tiny samples from the damaged side of the tablet for botanical identification and radiocarbon dating. The wood was identified as T. hespesia populnea, the Pacific rosewood which was one of the only naturally occurring tree species on Easter Island. Radiocarbon dating found that it was made between 1830 and 1870.

“On the other side of the tablet and on its edges, we managed to see invisible to the naked eye symbols that have so far eluded researchers, as well as grooves – similar ones are present on some other rongorongo tablets. They served as lines delimiting the text and were to facilitate writing”- specified [Dr Rafał Wieczorek]. On this basis, the researchers were able to estimate the size of the entire text on the plate at approx. symbols.

“If the tablet had been preserved in its entirety, it would have been the longest Rongorongo script in the world. Currently, most signs are on the so-called the staff of Santiago. There are about 2.3 thousand of them there.” the scientist pointed out. The Berlin plate – according to the Polish researcher – probably contains a list of names and a descriptive part.

Only 387 glyphs are legible half of one side of the tablet today, but researchers estimated based on the geometry of the tablet that it originally covered with over 5000 signs, which is more than double the number of the next longest rongorongo inscription.

The new study has been published in the Journal of Island and Coastal Archeology and can be read in its entirety here.

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French manor reno coins sell for $1.2 million

Thursday, September 30th, 2021

The stash of 17th century gold coins found during the renovation of a mansion in Plozévet, Brittany, has sold at auction for a collective €1 million ($1.2 million), far exceeding the pre-sale estimate of  €250,000-300,000 ($296,000-$355,000).

The coins were discovered by stonemasons in 2019. They were in two separate stashes, one set in a metal box in one wall, the other in a bag in another wall. The grand total was 239 coins, all gold, 23 of them minted under Louis XIII, 216 during the reign of Louis XIV. Property owners Véronique and François Mion kept four as souvenirs and put the rest up for auction. There were so many interested buyers at the September 23rd auction and bidding was so intense that it took five hours to get through all the coins.

Bidding opened at 8,000 euros for a very rare double Louis d’Or [with a long lock] , depicting Louis XIV and dating back to 1646. It went for 46,000 euros, the same price as a Louis d’Or from Paris dated 1640 and stamped with the Templar’s Cross.

“Bids were flying from everywhere – in the room, on internet and on the telephone,” said auctioneer Florian D’Oysonville.

France passed a treasure law in 2016 that claims all archaeological materials found as property of the state, but it was not retroactive. Because the owners bought the property in 2012, they were able to sell the coins at auction and split the proceeds of the sale 50/50 with the stonemasons who actually found the treasure.

Museums do get one other bite at the apple, however. French institutions have the right of preemption, meaning they can claim any lot offered at auction for the final price after the hammer falls. The Monnaie de Paris, France’s national mint which has been in continuous operation since 864 A.D., made liberal use of their statutory rights in the sale of the Plozevet Treasure. They preempted 19 of the 235 coins sold. I’d bet a Louis d’Or that the long lock and templar coins were among them. (Spoiler: I do not have a Louis d’Or.)

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‘Cake mummy’ survived WWII bombing of Lübeck

Tuesday, September 21st, 2021

A hazelnut cake complete with swirls of frosting carbonized in the bombing of Lübeck in 1942 has been discovered in a cellar in the city’s historic old town. No food preserved in the firestorm of the bombing has been discovered before in Lübeck. Nor are there any comparable survivors from Hamburg or Dresden, two other German cities that were famously devastated by Allied firebombing.

City archaeologists unearthed the cake in April during an excavation under a house on the Alfstrasse, a street that leads from the Trave river to Lübeck’s iconic 13th century St. Mary’s Church. Built in 1159, barely 15 years after the city’s founding, Alfstrasse is one of the oldest streets in the Lübeck located in the very heart of the city’s founding district.

Lübeck was bombed by the Royal Air Force the night of March 28-29th, 1942, and the fires that resulted destroyed large parts of its medieval city center. St. Mary’s was all but levelled (it was reconstructed after the war), as was the merchants’ quarter. The house on Alfstrasse was destroyed in the bombing, but by a miraculous cake-preserving fluke, a cavity formed under the rubble that insulated the dessert from annihilation in the fires or from being crushed in the house’s collapse.

“From the point of view of a restorer, it is the most exciting object that I have ever worked on,” says [conservator Sylvia] Morgenstern. “I first have to wait for the laboratory analyzes. Only then can I decide whether I can clean the find with water and which substance is suitable for stabilization,” she says.

But just like the question of preserving the cake, the archaeologists are concerned with the story behind it. In addition to the charred cake, a coffee service and several records were also found. “Possibly the pastry was intended for a confirmation ceremony. It used to take place on Palm Sunday,” said Schneider. “We hope that we can clarify this with the help of the city archives at some point.” […]

“The cake find is so special because it goes back to an event – namely the bombing raid on Lübeck – that is still present in the minds of the city,” says Doris Mührenberg, who is in charge of the Lübeck Archeology magazine. This is where the “cake mummy” will later find its place – if it is possible to preserve it permanently.

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Rediscovered early drawing by Van Gogh on display

Saturday, September 18th, 2021

An early preparatory drawing made by Vincent van Gogh in 1882 has been rediscovered and was presented to the public for the first time on Thursday at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. The pencil drawing depicts an old man in patched bombazine overalls sitting on a chair with his head in his fists. It is a preliminary study for the final pencil drawing Worn Out and the lithograph At Eternity’s Gate.

Teio Meedendorp (senior researcher Van Gogh Museum): “Stylistically, it fits effortlessly between the many figure studies we know of Van Gogh from his time in The Hague, and the link with Worn out  is obvious. Van Gogh started by applying a grid on the paper, which indicates the use of a perspective frame. He did this to quickly outline a figure in correct proportions. The further elaboration was done in an expressive style characteristic of him: not refined, but with energetic scratches and strokes, the initiation of contours, in search of a concise representation with attention to light-dark effects.”

Meedendorp: “In terms of the use of materials, you also come across everything you would expect in a Van Gogh drawing from this period: thick carpenter’s pencil as a medium, coarse watercolor paper as a carrier, fixing it afterwards with a mixture of water and milk. The back of the drawing has damage on the corners, which can be related to the usual way in which Van Gogh attached a sheet of paper to his drawing board, namely with wads of starch.”

The sitter was one of Van Gogh’s favorite models from this period, 70-year-old war veteran Adrianus Jacobus Zuyderland, who lived in the Old Men’s and Women’s Home in the Hague, an almshouse supported by the Dutch Reformed parish. He features in more than 40 works by the artist. Van Gogh first mentions him coming to sit for him a letter on September 19th, 1882, and he appears regularly in his correspondence, often dubbed “the orphan man” as elderly men from the almshouse were apparently called “orphans” too, for the duration of his stay in The Hague. In a letter to his brother Theo a couple of weeks later, Vincent described Zuyderland as having “an interesting bald head — big ears.”

But the drawings of Zuyderland precede the first explicit mention of him in letters. He writes about Worn Out in a letter to his friend, artist Anthon von Rappard, on October 15th, 1881, and it’s clear from context Vincent has already shown one version of the work to Anthon, and is planning on showing him a larger one. It comes up again in a letter to van Rappard from November 24h, 1882.

You remember that drawing Worn out? In the last few days I’ve done it again no fewer than three times with two models, and will labour on it some more. For the present I have one that will be the subject of a fifth stone, which thus depicts an old working man who sits and ponders with his elbows on his knees and his head (a bald crown this time) in his hands.

He writes about it to Theo too, on the same day. The Van Gogh Museum experts believe both the preparatory study and the final drawing were made on the same day right around when those two letters were written, either on November 24th, or the day before.

The preliminary study is different from the final drawing and lithograph, in large part because Van Gogh was sitting close to the model when he did the study, and standing a little further back when he drew the final piece. The angle of the sitter changes, the legs are closer together, the elbows tighter to the body.

The study has been in the family of the current owners (whose identities are being kept under wraps at their request) since 1910, and they have never wanted it publically displayed. Privately, several scholars have examined it over the years and there has been debate as to its authenticity. The owners asked the Van Gogh Museum to examine it and if possible confirm its attribution. They determined it to be an authentic work by Vincent van Gogh. The owners chose not to make the attribution public, and kept the good news quiet until Thursday when the drawing’s authentication and its public exhibition were announced at the same time.

Study for ‘Worn Out’ will be on display alongside the final drawing and the lithograph which are in the permanent collection of the Van Gogh Museum. The study will be exhibited only until January 2, 2022, after which it will be returned to its elusive owners.

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Wood lion head recovered from Finnish shipwreck

Thursday, September 16th, 2021

A carved wooden lion head has been recovered from an 18th century shipwreck 200 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Finland. This is a rare occasion as shipwrecks in Finland are protected and left as they are on the seabed; only pictures are taken, typically, not artifacts.

The shipwreck was discovered off the coast of Kirkkonummi in southern Finland decades ago, but has barely been explored. When it was photographed by volunteer divers from Badewanne, a non-profit organization dedicated to documenting shipwrecks in the Gulf of Finland, in 2005, the carved head was in place at the end of a long beam on the side of the bow. The beam was part of the mechanism that operated the ship’s anchors, and the ends of them were so frequently carved into feline faces that the beam was dubbed the cathead.

When divers photographed it again this season, they found the cat head carving had fallen off the cathead and was face-down on the seabed. They found that one of the two iron bolts in the cat’s mouth that mounted it to the beam was missing and the other was heavily corroded.

To preserve the carving from being abraded to nothingness by the rough stony bottom, the Finnish Heritage Agency decided to raise it. The team used 3D photogrammetry to measure the carving precisely in order to customize the lifting case for a perfect fit so the head could be raised to the surface without damaging it. The operation was a complete success and the lion head has been transported to the National Museum Conservation Centre lab for study and conservation.

The ship’s identity and country of origin is currently unknown. All we really know is its age and that it was a three-masted sailing vessels 100 feet long. Archaeologists hope examination of the carving will shed some light on the wreck’s history. Once the wood has been stabilized, the head will go on display at the Maritime Museum of Finland in Kotka.

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Ears on skull are more skull, not ears

Tuesday, September 7th, 2021

The 14th century Church of Santa Luciella ai Librai in Naples’ ancient historic center is one of the architectural and artistic gem boxes of the city. Beneath the majolica tile floor, through the sacristy and down a staircase is a hypogeum containing dozens of skulls arranged along shelves high on the walls. One of them has ears.

The small church was founded around 1327 by Bartholemew of Capua, legal and political adviser to Charles II of Anjou, then king of Naples. By 1629 it was dedicated to the guild of millers, but shortly thereafter it switched to the pipernieri, the sculptors who carved piperno marble and other hard stones. They dedicated the church to  Saint Lucy, protector of eyesight, to keep their eyes safe from the sharp fragments that flew everywhere when they chiseled stone.

For centuries the eared skull in the basement was venerated, a unique example of Naples’ cult of souls of in Purgatory. People would sort of adopt the disarticulated skull of an unknown and pray for its abandoned soul. That soul, once lifted out of Purgatory into Paradise, would then return the favor by extending grace to the person who had helped them get there. The skull with ears held special attraction because its auricular appendages, believed to be ear cartilage that was naturally mummified, could “hear” the prayers and petitions for grace.

Santa Luciella was taken over by another confraternity in 1748 which extensively refurbished it. The current configuration of the church largely dates to this period. It was still in use until the end of the 20th century. The earthquake that devastated Naples in 1980 heavily damaged the church and it was closed for safety reasons. The church was abandoned and the skull with ears became relegated to the ranks of legend.

It re-emerged as fact when a local organization restored the church and reopened it in 2019. They found the fabled eared skull in the hypogeum, unmoved and undamaged by the earthquake. Researchers have embarked on a new multidisciplinary study of the unique piece. Analysis found that the skull consists of the braincase and nasal bones. It belonged to an adult male who suffered from Porotic hyperostosis, a condition that causes spongy or porous tissue on the cranium, likely the result of chronic malnutrition. He is also missing a sagittal suture. Radiocarbon testing dates the remains to between 1631 and 1668. Naples was struck by a terrible outbreak of plague in 1656, so it’s possible our eared friend was one its many thousands of victims.

The ears held the real surprises. They were not the product of ossified or mummified ear cartilage. Instead they were formed by the squamous portion of the temporal bone at the side of the head were rotated so the curved edges pointed outwards. This gave the skull ear-like protuberances reminiscent of the famous memento mori mosaic from Pompeii that is now in Naples’ National Archaeological Museum.

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17th c. gold coin treasure found during manor home reno

Thursday, September 2nd, 2021

A treasure of 17th century gold coins has been discovered during renovation of a mansion in Plozévet, Brittany, northwestern France. The coins were found in 2019 when the mansion’s owners, Véronique and François Mion, decided to connect two buildings (a barn and a plant nursery). Three stonemasons working on an interior wall came across a metal box filled with gold coins embedded in the wall. Three days later, they found a fabric bag of coins stashed over a beam on another wall.

All told, they recovered 239 gold coins, 23 minted under Louis XIII, 216 under Louis XIV. The coins were minted between 1638 and 1692. There are two stand-out pieces: a Louis d’or with the Templar Cross, struck by the Dijon mint and issued by King Louis XIII in 1640, and a Double Louis d’or with a long lock (referring to the tendril of hair curling down Louis’ neck) minted in Paris and issued by King Louis XIV in 1646 when he was all of eight years old. There are only 120 known examples of the Double Louis with long lock known to exist.

The earliest parts of the manor date to the 13th century. The estate is believed to have belonged to a family of wealthy merchants. The last known residents (before the current owners) lived there in the mid-18th century. The area was lively with trade in the 17th century, a stop on the network transporting Bordeaux wines to England and grains to northern Europe. The growth of ports in Normandy poached a lot of that business and the area suffered a steep economic decline between 1750 and 1850. Because the coins were minted in 19 different cities, archaeologists believe they were collected by a single individual, likely a merchant, who traveled for business.

The coins will be going under the hammer on September 23 in Angers. The pre-sale estimates for most of the coins range from €600 to €1200 . The Cross of the Templar coins is estimated to sell for €7,000-8,000. The estimate for the final take of all 239 coins is €250,000-300,000 ($296,000-$355,000).

By the terms of the 2016 Treasure law, all archaeological materials recovered in the country, including on private property, belong to the state. Because the Mions bought the mansion in 2012, the finds made within its walls are grandfathered in under the previous law, thus the proceeds of the auction will be split in half, with one share divided equally between the three stonemasons who found the coins and the other half going to the property owners. The Mions plan to use their windfall to pay down the ungodly sums this restoration is costing them.

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