Archive for the ‘Modern(ish)’ Category

British Museum uncovers origin of looted objects, returns them to Iraq

Sunday, August 12th, 2018

Researchers at the British Museum solved a mystery both ancient and modern when they discovered the origin site of eight artifacts looted from Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Thanks to their efforts, the objects are now on their way back to Iraq.

The orphaned artifacts were in custody of the British Museum after having been seized in a police raid on a London antiquities dealer in May 2003. The dealer had no proof of ownership — I guess he hadn’t gotten around to forging a “Swiss private collection” document yet — or any other documentation about the artifacts, so they were confiscated by the authorities and were in storage for almost 15 years.

The cold case was heated up when the Metropolitan Police reformed its art and antiquities squad. The squad gave the objects to the British Museum this year in the hope that its experts might be able to figure out where the pieces came from so they could be repatriated. As it turned out, the British Museum was uniquely well-positioned to uncover the truth about these objects.

The eight artifacts consist of three fired clay cones with Sumerian cuneiform inscriptions, a fragment of a white gypsum mace-head inscribed in Sumerian, a polished river pebble with a cuneiform inscription in Sumerian, one red marble and one white marble stamp-seal amulet from the Jemdet Nasr period (ca. 3000 B.C.) in the form of a reclining sheep and one banded white chalcedony seal of a reclining sphinx from the Achaemenid period.

It was the three cones that gave the British Museum the information they needed to pinpoint the origin site. The all bore the identical Sumerian inscription, one that is also know from other inscribed ancient artifacts. It reads: “For Ningirsu, Enlil’s mighty warrior, Gudea, ruler of Lagash, made things function as they should (and) he built and restored for him his Eninnu, the White Thunderbird.” This inscription identified the cones as coming from the archaeological city of Girsu (modern-day Tello) in southern Iraq where the Eninnu temple once stood. The temple was sacred Eninnu’s patron god Ningirsu.

The great temple complex is in the Tell A area of Tello where ongoing excavations have found artifacts and remains elucidating the plan, size and design of the temple. Archaeologists from the British Museum have been excavating Tell A since 2016 as part of the Iraq Emergency Heritage Management Training Scheme, a program set up in response to the IS destruction of cultural patrimony that trains staff from the Iraq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage in the latest techniques of rescue archaeology. The initial survey of Tello in 2015 and 2016 found dozens of looter pits. They were shallow and appear to have been targeted, small-scale efforts probably done at night by a few individuals rather than the massive looting operations that ran roughshod over Iraq’s ancient sites in 2003.

The British Museum team at Tello found broken cones identical to those seized in London. Their shape was an imitation of tent pegs and they were originally placed in holes in the temple wall, offerings to the Sumerian Thunderbird, the lion-headed god who roared thunder and flashed lightning bolts from his body. That’s how the researchers were able to discover not just the site where the objects had been looted from, but the actual wall they had been inserted in originally.

On Friday, August 10th, the artifacts were officially returned to the Iraqi ambassador Salih Husain Ali in a ceremony at the British Museum.

Iraqi ambassador Salih Husain Ali … said the protection of antiquities was an international responsibility and praised the British Museum and its staff “for their exceptional efforts in the process of identifying and returning looted antiquities to Iraq. Such collaboration between Iraq and the United Kingdom is vital for the preservation of Iraqi heritage.”

St John Simpson, the assistant keeper at the Middle East department of the museum, said: “Uniquely we could trace them not just to the site but to within inches of where they were stolen from. This is a very happy outcome, nothing like this has happened for a very, very long time if ever.”

They will be returned to the national museum in Baghdad and reunited with many objects from the recent excavations, and may eventually be loaned to a museum near the site.

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How to make an equestrian bronze monument

Saturday, August 11th, 2018

If you’ve ever wondered how giant bronze statues could be cast in one piece, the Getty Research Institute is here to cool your fevered brow. It has created a great video explaining all the steps in the casting and installation of Edme Bouchardon’s equestrian statue of King Louis XV that stood in the Place Louis XV, today known as the Place de la Concorde.

The video was created for the exhibition Bouchardon: Royal Artist of the Enlightenment to illustrate the complex process of casting a massive bronze equestrian statue. Because of the hardships inherent in the project and his own meticulous standards, Bouchardon didn’t live to see the end of that process. He died in July of 1762. The 17-foot high (39 feet including the pedestal) depiction of the king garbed like a Roman general, laurel wreath on his head and baton of command in his raised right hand, was erected in 1763.

After all that trouble, Bouchardon’s masterpiece only outlived its maker by three decades. The anti-monarchical iconoclasm of the French Revolution which decimated so much of France’s cultural patrimony struck the bronze in the wake of the overthrow of the monarchy in the Insurrection of August 10, 1792. Bouchardon’s rigorousness almost defeated them, however, as they found it almost impossible to destroy the statue. They thought they could just loop some ropes over it and pull it down, but it was connected to the pedestal with long iron tenons from its casting and the 30 tons of bronze could not be budged. In the end, they had to get a metal saw and cut through the left feet in order to break the monument at its weakest points.

The bulk of the statue was melted down. The right hand which had held the baton of command survived, first on the ground of the newly renamed Place de la Révolution, a mute but powerful witness to the death of the ancien regime. It was still there seven months later when Louis XV’s grandson was guillotined in front of the pedestal that had once supported the symbol of royal power. Later the hand was gifted to Jean Henri Latude, a rather fabulous scammer who had spent decades in the Bastille by order of Louis XV and had escaped by fashioning a ladder out of scraps of his clothing and parts of a chair. The Council of the Municipality of Paris thought it fitting that he should receive the hand that had once signed the order sending him to the Bastille. That hand is now in the Louvre and was loaned to the Getty for the Boucheron exhibition.

The video explains how the casting was done and the massive statue installed by animating contemporary engravings of the casting process printed in Description des travaux qui ont précédé, accompagné et suivi la fonte en bronze d’un seul jet de la statue équestre de Louis XV, le Bien-Aimé, (Description of the works that preceded, accompanied and followed the bronze casting of the equestrian statue of Louis XV, the Beloved) by Jean Pierre Mariette, published in 1768 when Louis XV was still alive (hence le Bien-Aimé). The Getty Research Institute has also digitized the volume. You can read it or, if you can’t read French, just leaf through the killer architectural drawings here.

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UK bars export of Dickens’ study table

Saturday, August 4th, 2018

MP Michael Ellis, the UK’s Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, has temporarily barred the export of an antique table not so much because of its intrinsic value, but because it was a long-time beloved companion of Charles Dickens. The piece is a gem in its own right, mind you. It’s a handsome William IV mahogany round table three and a half feet in diameter on a solid central pedestal with an acanthus collar at the base and paw feet. It was either made or sold by one M. Wilson whose name is impressed in one of the drawers.

Estimated to have been made in around 1835, the round table has a revolving drum top above eight drawers and is covered in green leather. It was used by Dickens during most of his career – first in his London home at Devonshire Terrace; then his offices on Wellington Street where he published Household Words and All the Year Round; and finally in his library at Gad’s Hill Place in Higham, Kent where he died in 1870.

It is also known to have contained the keys to his wine cellar, and appears to be one of the very first objects to have been formally labelled with Dickens’ name; one drawer contains an oval silver plaque stating that the table stood in his library.

The full inscription on the silver plaque reads: “‘Charles Dickens’ Library Table / which stood in / his Library at Gad’s Hill.” It was made by Robert Hennell and his cypher dates it to 1873, just three years after Dickens’ death. While the movements of the table cannot been documented with mathematical precision, experts believe it remained at Gad’s Hill Place. Charles Dickens’ first son Charles Dickens Jr. bought Gad’s Hill at auction in 1870 after his father’s death. Financial troubles compelled him to sell the estate in 1878. His younger brother Sir Henry Fielding Dickens, a successful barrister, acquired Gad’s Hill Place and thus the table, keeping it in the family.

The table remained in the family by descent until it was put up for auction in December of 2017. It sold at Christie’s London for £67,600 ($88,000), apparently to a foreign buyer who applied for an export license. The independent advisory committee that reviews export requests and recommends whether the Ministry should allow or bar them determined Dickens’ table was of national importance.

Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest member Christopher Rowell said:

“On one occasion, when he was abroad, Dickens precisely described this table and its position in his Library so that a friend could locate a set of keys in one of its drawers. His art criticism as well as his descriptive writing reveal his aesthetic sensibility and this elegant, if workmanlike, leather-covered mahogany library table was clearly valued by him. Its associations are of considerable interest to lovers of Dickens’ novels and writings.”

The status of the table will be in limbo until October 26th, 2018. If a party shows serious intent and ability to raise the necessary funds to reimburse the purchase price, that deadline could be extended to January 26th, 2019.

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Spanish ingot thieves found; ingot lost forever

Wednesday, August 1st, 2018

Two men who stole a 17th century Spanish gold ingot from the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum in Key West in 2010 were finally found in January and arrested. (Why it took the feds more than seven years to find two monster douchebags filmed by security cameras during the crime remains unexplained.) Richard Johnson and Jarred Goldman were charged with conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States and theft of an object of cultural patrimony. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of five years, the theft ten.

The men have now been convicted and sentenced to jail time. Johnson, who broke into the display case in broad daylight and walked out casually past security with the priceless object in his pocket was sentenced to serve 63 months (five years and three months). Goldman, who acted as a lookout, was sentenced to 40 months (three years and four months). Considering they could each have gotten 15 years, they both got off easy.

Unfortunately whatever time they end up doing will not be in a prison hulk, oubliette, dungeon or Roman silver mines even though retributive justice cries out for a prolonged period experiencing history’s most foul forms of punishment because of what they did to that ingot. They did not sell it to an unscrupulous collector. Like so many of these two-bit clowns, they wouldn’t have the first idea of how to unload so famous and specific an artifact. They didn’t have the 9th grade level of chemistry knowledge to melt it down and sell the gold for its market value. Instead they cut it up into small pieces and sold snippets in Las Vegas for pennies on the dollar. Obviously when I wrote that I hoped they wouldn’t just melt it for 70 grand worth of meth, I was way overestimating their abilities. Johnson doesn’t even have the decency to be addicted to meth. He blames a risibly expensive pot habit ($700 a week, really?) for driving him to it. That and childhood abuse at the hand of an uncle.

Those are just excuses thrown like spaghetti against the courtroom wall to see if any of them would stick and get him a lighter sentence. The museum offered a $10,000 reward for the return of the ingot. He didn’t have to destroy an irreplaceable historic artifact for loose change, no matter how refined his taste in weed.

Johnson cooperated with the feds and testified against Goldman at his trial, hence his far too generous sentence. He also provided information that allowed authorities to recover one of the snippets he cut off the ingot. It’s about 1/30th of the whole so it’s not much consolation.

Both men must also pay $570,195 in restitution to the museum for the bar, which the museum valued at over $560,000 at the time of the theft. Martinez said he didn’t expect either convict would be able to come up with much money.

Insurance paid the museum about $100,000 for the bar, which was recovered in 1980 by treasure hunter Mel Fisher and his team from a centuries-old shipwreck off the Florida Keys. […]

“That’s the point of view of insurance companies and jewelers,” museum CEO Melissa Kendrick testified Monday as Johnson’s attorney, Chad Piotrowski, argued the bar was worth the rate of gold and no more in an effort to secure a lesser sentence for his client. “As professionals, we don’t see it that way.”

Kendrick said, “The cultural community doesn’t value a Rembrandt for the cost of canvas and the paint.”

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Farmer wins big on gilded horse head

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018


Way back in the short-n-sweet days of this here blog, almost a decade ago now, I reported on the discovery in Germany of an exceptionally well-preserved bronze horse head from a Roman-era equestrian statue. Archaeologists unearthed the life-sized equine head made of gilded bronze and a single human foot from the same statue near Waldgirmes in the central German state of Hesse on August 12th, 2009.

Waldgirmes is not mentioned in the historical record, but there was a Roman town there. The remains of a forum are the oldest known stone building foundation in Germany. Roman coins found at the site bear the profile of Publius Quinctilius Varus, the first governor appointed of the newly-official Roman province of Germania in 7 A.D. and notorious loser of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest two years later.

The style and quality of the horse head date to the earliest period in the area’s Roman history. The horse’s bridle is decorated with reliefs of Mars, god of war, and Victoria, personification of Victory. It was likely part of an equestrian statue of the Emperor Augustus which stood in the settlement since its foundation in around 4 or 5 A.D. and was destroyed by the victorious Germanic tribes after the Battle of Teutoburg Forest. They dismembered the symbol of imperial domination and tossed the head and foot into a well. Very much contrary to their intent, the waterlogged environment preserved the broken pieces in exceptional condition.

At the time of the discovery, the state of Hesse paid the landowner of the find site 48,000 euros in recompense for the head and foot in accordance with the regional cultural patrimony laws, but the farmer was not satisfied that the accounting was accurate. Comments like this one from Eva Kuehne-Hoermann, Hesse’s state minister for science, at the Frankfurt unveiling of the gilded horse head: “This bronze sculpture counts among the best pieces to have ever been found from the area of the former Roman empire. Nowhere else is there a finding of this form or quality.” might have tipped him off.

A new ruling from a regional court backs the farmer’s position.

The Limburg regional court said Friday that, according to state law at the time, the farmer was eligible to half the value of the head, which an expert estimated at around 1.6 million euros. He would also be entitled to interest.

That makes for a grand total of 773,000 euros (nearly $904,000) owed to the landowner by the state government, plus any interest that has accrued in the nine years since the discovery. The ruling can be appealed so it’s not necessarily the final determination.

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Cache of 18th c. rockets found in India

Monday, July 30th, 2018

A cache of more than 1,000 18th century artillery “rockets” has been found in the village of Bidanuru in the Shimoga district of Karnataka, southwestern India. Workers found the early shells while digging out an abandoned dry well. The iron cylinders used by the King of Mysore, Tipu Sultan, to fight against the British forces that would, after his death, conquer the subcontinent, were recognized by the diggers as the king’s rockets and archaeologists were called in to the excavate them.

“Excavation of the open well led to unearthing of over 1,000 corroded rockets that were stored during Tipu’s times for use in wars,” R Shejeshwara Nayaka told Agence France-Presse from the site, 240 miles north-west of the state capital, Bangalore.

“Digging of the dry well where its mud was smelling like gunpowder led to the discovery of the rockets and shells in a pile.”

It took three days for the 15-member team of archaeologists, excavators and labourers to unearth the armoury and ammunition.

Tipu Sultan came to throne already in a state of war against the British. His father Haider Ali had fought them off an on (mainly on) since 1767, and after his death from cancer on December 7th, 1782, Tipu Sultan picked up where Haider Ali had left off fighting the Second Anglo-Mysore War. His success on the battlefield forced the British to sue for peace in 1784, the last time they would come to the treaty table as supplicants in India.

Tipu was known as a strong warrior from an early age. His father, keenly conscious of his own illiteracy, had ensured his son had the very best education, particularly in military matters, available. French officers in the employ of Haider Ali tutored his son in arms and combat and they were apparently damn good at it. Tipu first accompanied his father on campaign, the invasion of Malabar, when he was 15. By the time he was 16, he was commanding cavalry corps and competently, no less.

Haider Ali began using iron rockets in the 1780s — he had more than a thousand men in his rocket corps — but it was in the Third Anglo-Mysore War (1790–1792) that Tipu Sultan turned it up to eleven, increasing his rocket men to 5,000, developing the iron-encased artillery shell to peak power and precision and pioneering its use in mass rocket attacks against the British East India Company and its Indian allies.

Measuring around 10 inches long, the enclosed iron tubes were filled with gunpowder and tied to the end of a bamboo shaft. That made them portable and compact enough to be launched by an individual soldier. The black powder combusted inside the iron chamber and acted as a propellant to give the shells lift and reach. Some would burst in the air at the target; others would bounce on the ground until the charge was spent.

Mysorean rockets were significantly more accurate and nimble than European artillery. Their range was over a mile and they could be aimed with great precision. European rockets weren’t made of iron and so were not strong enough to stay intact and contain the combustion of the powder so they had a more limited reach. They were the first iron-encased rockets to be successfully deployed in combat and indeed were so successful that the British took note, using them as the prototype for their own foray into the iron rocket business, the Congreve rockets developed by Sir William Congreve in 1804 and immediately put to use in the Napoleonic wars.

Some of Tipu Sultain’s rockets have been unearthed before near the current find site, but never in so great a number. Tipu, whose father had conquered Karnataka in 1763 and absorbed it into the Kingdom of Mysore, appears to have used the spot as a hidden weapons depot to use against British forces in a pinch. It was not enough to save his kingdom or his life. Tipu Sultan died on May 4th, 1799, while valiantly defending his fort of Srirangapatna during the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War. The British victory was decisive, ending the Kingdom of Mysore, installing puppet princes from the feudal dynasty Haider Ali had ousted who reigned in name only until India became an independent republic in 1947.

The cache will be conserved and displayed in a “rocket gallery” in the Shivappa Nayaka Palace Museum in Shivamogga city, a palace built, as it happens, by Haider Ali, even though it bears the name of the Nayaka dynasty he overthrew.

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Joe the Quilter’s cottage rebuilt at Beamish

Thursday, July 26th, 2018

The cottage in which Joe the Quilter lived, worked and died from murder most foul has been rebuilt at Beamish Museum. The remains of the cottage where the infamous murder took place were unearthed in late 2015 by a team of experts from the museum and volunteers. Although the cottage was demolished in 1872 and a field boundary later cut through the location, significant parts of the dwelling were still in situ, among them the flagstone floor on which the skilled needleworker once walked and the bases of three of the walls.

The remains were raised, numbered and transported to Beamish, an open-air history museum near Stanley, County Durham, northeast England, where they have a section dedicated to life in northern England in 1820s. The component parts of the cottage were first kept in storage as the museum raised funds to recreate it on site combining the original remains with a historically accurate reconstruction of the rest.

This was only possible because Joseph Hedley, aka Joe the Quilter, was internationally known for his beautiful needlework quilts, so when a person or persons unknown brutally slew the impoverished, kindly 75-year-old man in his cottage with 44 cuts to the head, neck and chest, the murder made news all over the country. The government offered a large reward for any information about the crime, even offering immunity to accomplices as long as they had not committed the violence themselves. Nobody ever came forward and the crime was never solved.

A detailed drawing of the cottage was printed in the press and on postcards, and the scene was described in numerous stories and police reports complete with architectural plans. The little cottages of the working poor of Georgian England were not documented in that kind of detail, so Joe’s cottage gives a very rare insight into how the vast majority of people lived in that era. Experts were able to rebuild the cottage with a high degree of accuracy, down to the crack in the front wall and the little built-in stone bench next to the door, thanks to that unique documentation.

The reconstructed cottage is the first new exhibition in the Remaking Beamish project, an ambitious £18 million endeavor that is the biggest development in the museum’s history. The project is in large part funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund which has awarded it a £10.9 million grant. The living history museum will be significantly expanded with a full 1950s town, 1950s farm and, in the Georgian section where Joe the Quilter’s cottage now stands, a period coaching inn where visitors to the museum can spend the night as travelers to the area would have done in the early 19th century (with the addition of certain modern conveniences like flush toilets, of course).

Richard Evans, Beamish’s Director, said: “This is a really exciting moment for us all at Beamish. After years of planning we are finally opening the first of many new exhibits that are part of Remaking Beamish, a major £18million development that is currently underway at the museum.

“This beautifully-crafted, heather-thatched cottage gives us a rare chance to understand what everyday life was like in the North East during the early part of the 19th century.

“The quality of this latest addition to Beamish is outstanding – the result of many years of research, painstaking craftsmanship and the involvement of local community groups and schools. It is a real credit to the dedication and talent of our staff and volunteers, who have created this fascinating new experience for our visitors.”

Beamish Museum has created a video that tells the story of the cottage, its reconstruction and the new exhibition centered on cottage industry and the museum’s exceptional collection of 400 quilts, including one exceedingly rare piece by Joseph Hedley himself.

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17th c. Copenhagen poop reveals its secrets

Sunday, July 22nd, 2018

It’s archaeological poop time! This blog has been deprived of essential fiber for too long and I’m sure you’ve missed having a solid, well-formed poop story as much as I have. Today’s satisfying movement is brought to you by Denmark, bless its organic material-preserving waterlogged soil. Two latrines were discovered during an excavation of Kultorvet square in Copenhagen in 2011-12. The square in the city center was built over the ruins of an old Renaissance neighborhood that had burned down in 1728, and thanks to a road that had been built 40 years earlier, the latrines could be conclusively dated to the 1680s.

Like the barrels full of 14th century excrement found in Odense that were originally used to transport herring, these too were trade containers repurposed into latrines. They held Rhineland wine before finding their true vocation of converting human feces into archaeological gold. They were three feet wide and had been dug into the ground a foot apart from each other. Both were about two-thirds full of excrementitious organic material. Wood remains found around the barrels attest to there having been a shed built over them.

Archaeologists could see right away that the contents were very well-preserved. Seeds and pits were clearly visible in situ. The barrels were cut in half vertically while still in the ground to determine if they had internal stratigraphy to sample. The western barrel was all one mass, while the eastern barrel had two defined deposit layers – an upper layer of feces and straw and a lower rubble layer with very little organic material — so it was selected for analysis of its contents.

The study is more far-reaching than others performed on similar deposits. In addition to analyzing grains, fruits and seeds found in the cess, researchers also tested for pollen, parasites and animal bones. The parasite eggs were DNA-tested to determine conclusively whether they were human parasites found in feces, or had hitched a ride with animal remains discarded in the latrines.

Large samples were taken from each of the two layers and then divided into sub-samples for analyses of four different categories: grains/fruits/seeds, pollen and spores, parasite eggs and animal bones. The samples from both layers were rich in plant remains. In the upper layer, 66% of the contents were food plants while 34% were wild taxa, primarily field weeds. In the bottom layer, the proportion of culinary to wild taxa was 60%-40%.

Out of the cereal bran soup, only barley, oats and rye could be securely identified. Within the soup were a plethora of fruit seeds, first and foremost figs. There were so many fig seeds in the barrel, in fact, that archaeologists identified them during the excavation. Other fruits found in the sample included grapes, apples, pears, raspberries, blackberries, black currants, elderberries, citrus (likely either lemon or bitter orange) wild cherries, wild plums and wild strawberries. There were herbs – ground elder, dill, coriander – and seeds – mustard, flax – and in the bottom layer, a small amount of hazelnut.

Pollen species were 49% crops, 45% of that barley, with dryland species, mostly grasses, taking second place at 43% of the pollen counts.

The parasite analysis identified eggs from roundworm, whipworm and tapeworm, far more of them on the top of the latrine than the bottom. This is the first evidence of human tapeworm found in an archaeological context in Denmark.

There were an impressive variety of animal bones: 162 bone fragments in the two samples. Most of them came from the bottom layer and included the bones of herring, eel and cat. The top layer had fragments of herring, eel, cod, bird and pig bones.

The results attest to the varied diet the residents of this area of late 17th century Copenhagen had. While cereals, likely in the form of bread, porridge and beer, form the basis of their diet, they clearly had access to a wide selection of fruits either from their own gardens or from the market. Figs, grapes and citrus are Mediterranean fruits and while they can all grow in Denmark in warm, sheltered places or in greenhouses, this deposit is the first time citrus has been found in an archaeological context in Denmark. They were probably expensive imports, dried fruits or jams rather than fresh.

“The people whose latrines we have investigated were well-fed on bread, fish and meat, alongside a variety of fruit, herbs and spices,” said lead study researcher Mette Marie Hald, a senior researcher of environmental archaeology at The National Museum of Denmark.

“Most of the food items were locally grown,” she added, “but some of the food plants were exotics, showing us that it was possible to buy, for instance, cloves, which would have come all the way from Indonesia.”

The mere presence of these cloves indicates that Copenhageners had access to goods from long-distance trade, probably through the Dutch trading companies, as Indonesia was a Dutch colony at the time, Hald said.

“We know that Dutch traders lived in Copenhagen in the 1680s,” she noted. “It’s fun to think of the fact that 300 years ago, we were already part of a global trading network.”

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New discoveries from the warship Mars

Saturday, July 21st, 2018

The exploration of the wreck of the 16th century Swedish warship Mars 250 feet under the surface of the cold, dark Baltic Sea has been ongoing since its discovery in 2011, and despite the zero visibility and the life-threatening challenges involved in diving the wreck, new finds continue to be made.

“This year, we have come closer to the people aboard. We found more skeletal parts, including a femur with trauma around the knee which we believe to stem from a sharp-edged weapon,” says maritime archaeologist Rolf Fabricius Warming, who is one of the researchers involved in the investigation.

“We also found large guns and a hand grenade. We can see from the wreckage that it was a very intense and tough battle. Between 800 and 1,000 men were on board. That is comparable to the population of an entire medium-sized town at the time. Most of them died in the explosion or when the ship sank into the watery depths,” he says.

The ship was the largest in the fleet of King Eric XIV (r. 1560-1568), capable of carrying a crew of 800. The reason for the estimate of how many went down with the ship is that it sank mid-boarding. The Swedish navy engaged in battle against Denmark, Lübeck and the Polish–Lithuanian Union off the coast of Öland on May 30th, 1564. On the second day of ferocious fighting, the Mars was boarded by the Danish and Lübeckian forces who didn’t know that the ship was already on fire from a cannon shot. The gunpowder stores exploded with enormous force, blowing the front of the ship clean off — that part of the wreck was found 130 feet away from the main body of the ship — and killing whatever crew had survived up until that point died along with the enemy they had been fighting. Historians estimate that at least 300 of the dead of the Mars were Danish-Lübeckian boarders.

The diving team has also discovered a historic first this season.

This time, one of the most spectacular finds was a large grapnel (grappling hook) an anchor-like hook, which hung from the bowsprits of warships and was used to cling onto another ships in order to board it.

Grapnels are illustrated in historical sources from the 16th century, but no actual surviving examples are known apart from this particular one, says Warming.

“It’s totally unique. Together with other exciting finds, it can shed new light on Medieval and Early Modern naval warfare,” he says, and adds that the divers also found remains of possible arms and armour, including helmets and swords.

Alas, there are no pictures of the grappling hook which is a bummer, but we must forgive because visibility down there is so terrible that it’s a miracle we get any photos at all, never mind the exceptional ones we’ve gotten so far. The divers have to use high-intensity bright lights to see a foot in front of their masks and they film everything they see for the archaeologists to examine. They do this carrying big tanks with a special gas mixture to keep them from getting the bends/dying and under a crazy time crunch because for their own safety, they can only dive 40 minutes at a time.

That precious footage they’ve shot is being used to create a detailed ultra high-resolution 3D model of the shipwreck. It’s not complete yet, but here’s an all-too brief demo of the 3D photogrammetry model of the Mars and it’s awesome.

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A riveting look at the Gardner heist via podcast

Friday, July 20th, 2018

Boston’s National Public Radio station WBUR and the Boston Globe have produced a podcast series dubbed Last Seen on the greatest unsolved art crime in history, the theft of 13 masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on March 18th, 1990. The case has bedeviled authorities local and federal for 28 years and is still being actively investigated. The reward money is now up to $10 million, and yet, concrete evidence of any kind remains elusive.

The 10-episode series will look at the events of March 18th, 1990 and follow the track of the investigations, but it won’t be a retelling of what went down. There will be interviews with people who have never been interviewed before, among them the second security guard on duty that night and in-depth examinations of the investigative trail over the decades. The reporters have been given unprecedented access to the Gardner heist materials and many of those materials will be posted online in tandem with the podcasts.

“Our reporters have spoken to key people who have never before publicly talked. They have seen places and documents that no other reporters have seen before. Their work even led federal authorities to conduct a high-stakes excavation in a residential neighborhood in Florida. It all comes together in a provocative look not only at the crime and all the colorful characters around it, but at the investigation that has failed to solve it,” said Jane Bowman, Vice President, Marketing and Strategic Partnerships, The Boston Globe. […]

Who pulled off what the FBI describes as the largest property crime case in U.S. history? Was it a mob associate who ran the TRC Auto Electric repair shop in Dorchester, the Irish Republican Army and Whitey Bulger, two wannabe rock ‘n’ rollers or someone else entirely? Last Seen looks at these and many more suspects as hosts Horan and Rodolico travel from Boston to Philadelphia, Florida, Ireland and Italy investigating motives, scenarios and dead bodies with key players and leading experts on the robbery.

The series begins on September 17th and subsequent episodes will air every Monday. There’s an associated Facebook group you can join to comment on the podcasts and discuss it with other listeners. If you have iTunes (I broke up with it years ago and it was a nasty split), you can subscribe to the podcast here. The podcast will also be available for streaming on WBUR’s Last Seen page and for streaming and download in any other of your favorite podcast purveyors (here it is on Podbay.fm, for example).

Get a tantalizing taste of Last Seen in this excellent trailer. That old-time radio announcer opening and the clips of statements from investigators, witnesses and suspects give it a genuinely haunted crime-thriller vibe.

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