Garforth Roman lead coffin to go on display

The Roman lead coffin discovered in Garforth, near Leeds, in 2022 will go on display for the first time in an exhibition at the Leeds City Museum next month.

The coffin was unearthed in an excavation of a previously unknown cemetery containing burials of more than 60 men, women and children from the late Roman and early Saxon periods. The lead coffin was used as the inner lining of a larger wood coffin which has decayed leaving only the metal interior in place. Lead coffins were expensive and rare, only affordable by the elite of Romano- British society. Pieces of jewelry — a bracelet, glass bead necklace and ring — were found inside the coffin, confirming the aristocratic status of the deceased.

When it was first discovered, the skeletal remains of an adult woman between 25 and 35 years of age were found inside the coffin. Later analysis of the contents of the lead coffin found the partial remains of a young child buried at the same time as the woman.

The coffin and its lid are currently being conserved and stabilised for display at Leeds City Museum, as part of the new exhibition Living with Death.

Kat Baxter, Leeds Museums and Galleries’ curator of archaeology, said: “This is a truly unique and remarkable find which has potentially huge implications for our understanding of the history of early Leeds and those who made their home here.”

She added: “The discovery of the remains of a second individual within the coffin is fascinating, particularly as they belonged to a child.

“It poses some interesting questions about how people more than 1,600 years ago treated their dead.”

Ms Baxter explained the Roman lead coffin was the only one of its kind ever discovered in West Yorkshire.

“We’re delighted to be able to display the coffin so quickly after excavation, and we’re looking forward to sharing this amazing piece of history with our visitors,” she said.

1777 eye-witness sketch of camp followers donated to Museum of the American Revolution

A previously unknown and unpublished sketch depicting soldiers and camp followers marching through Philadelphia in 1777, has been donated to the Museum of the American Revolution. The soldiers were troops from the North Carolina Brigade, and this pen-and-ink drawing is the first depiction of them known. It is the second known eye-witness drawing of camp followers.

The sketch captures the North Carolina Brigade going through Philly on August 25, 1777, on their way to join the Continental Army before the Battle of Brandywine (September 11, 1777). Two soldiers walk in front of a large open wagon. The wagon driver is on horseback between them and an officer on horseback takes up the rear. The wagon carries two women, one holding a baby.

The inclusion of female camp followers – who shared life on campaign with enlisted husbands and fathers and supported the troops by sewing, doing laundry, and selling food – exemplifies a direct defiance of known regulations at the time about how women following the army could use wagons. Earlier in August, before the march depicted in the sketch took place, Washington himself brought up issues of women and children slowing down his troops, calling them “a clog upon every movement.”

The reverse of the page has sketches of five men in dynamic action, three of them captured drawing their swords from different angles, two throwing punches.

The scene was identified by an inscription written underneath it: “an exact representation of a waggon belonging to the north carolina brigade of continental troops which passed thro Philadelphia august done by …” Unfortunately, the name of the artist was lost in an old attempt to repair the paper. Museum curator Matthew Skic analyzed the handwriting and compared the style of the drawing to other works from the period, ultimately identifying the artist as Pierre Eugène du Simitiére, a portrait painter, naturalist and coin collector born in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1737 who became a naturalized citizen of New York in 1769. He moved to Philadelphia in 1774.

It’s more than fitting that this unique view of history penned by du Simitiére should join the collection of the Museum of the American Revolution. He was a dedicated collector. He founded the first museum of natural history in the United States from his private collection of specimens and his coin collection was the first to be sold in America. He assiduously documented the Revolution as it happened, before it was even a revolution, in fact. He collected ephemera (pamphlets, broadsides, communications, newspaper stories) of democratic uprisings in America going back to the 17th century. He attempted to publish his massive history of the American Revolution, but his appeal to Congress for financial report failed. His art put food on the table, and even then he was deeply involved in the newly-independent country. He was a consultant for the committees who designed the Great Seal of the United States, and he added the Eye of Providence to the pyramid.

“We were thrilled to piece together the many illuminating and significant parts of this sketch’s history through our unparalleled scholarship here at the Museum of the American Revolution,” said Dr. R. Scott Stephenson, President and CEO of the Museum. “As we round out our celebration of Women’s History Month, we revel in the discovery of this new depiction of female camp followers as highlighting the lesser-known stories and critical roles of women throughout the American Revolution are at the heart of the Museum’s offerings.”

Hallaton Roman cavalry parade helmet recreated

Two replicas of the gilded silver Roman cavalry helmet found at Hallaton have been created, one by silversmith Rajesh Gogna using computer aided-design and 3D printing, the other by archaeologist Francesco Galluccio using traditional tools Roman smiths would have used. They are now both on display, one at the Hallaton Museum, the other at the Harborough Museum in Market Harborough alongside the original helmet.

An important Iron Age British shrine was discovered outside the village of Hallaton in Leicestershire in 2000. Dating to around the time of the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 A.D., it was a ritual enclosure of great significance to the local Corieltavi tribe who held feasts there and made offerings of animals and valuables. In 2001, excavations unearthed more than 5,500 British and Roman coins, jewelry and animal bones as well as a helmet which would have been worn by a Roman cavalry officer.

The helmet was in thousands of pieces when it was found embedded in thick mud. Archaeologists weren’t even sure what it was until they excavated the soil block in a conservation laboratory and uncovered the larger fragments, including a cheekpiece adorned with a relief of an emperor trampling a barbarian under the hooves of his horse while a winged Victory holds a laurel wreath over his head. Conservators worked for ten years to excavate the fragments from the soil block. In 2011, the conservation team revealed they’d found seven cheekpieces (obviously not all from a single helmet) and a helmet bowl.

The fragments were painstakingly conserved and pieced back together and today the helmet is 80% complete with some gaps filled to give it structural support. It was made of an iron sheet covered with a thin sheet of gilded silver. The decorative designs — a laurel wreath encircling the bowl, a scrolling foliate pattern on the neckguard, swags and the high-relief bust of woman flanked by lions and rams on the browguard — were made with the repousse technique, ie, hammered into the surface from the back. The raised decorations were gilded and would have stood out against the silver background. Only a handful of silver Roman cavalry helmets are known, and so early an example in a freshly-conquered part of the empire is a unique find.

Two thousand years buried in mud corroded and damaged its once-shiny surface. It looks sort of lumpy and brown today and the details of the decoration are hard to make out with the naked eye. In order to create the replicas, museum curators, art historians, illustrators and conservators worked together to re-examine the helmet, photographing it under bright light looking for shapes and motifs that were then cross-referenced with other art pieces from the mid-1st century. The archaeological illustrator used the annotated pictures and 3D scans as a guide to recreating the areas where the decoration was missing. The process revealed a previously-undetected pair of griffins holding an amphora between them on the rear of the helmet bowl.

Rajesh Gogna transformed the archaeological drawing into a 3D model and then 3D printed it in resin. He used modern techniques of copper electroforming, silver-plating and gilding to recreate the helmet, adding hand-crafted elements (brass fastening loops, rivets, hinge pins). Thanks to the 3D printing, he was able to create an identical second copy. Meanwhile, Rome-based archaeologist and replica maker Francesco Galluccio went old school, utilizing his expertise in recreating Roman armor to manufacture a replica with traditional tools the original maker of the helmet would have recognized.

The original helmet is now being exhibited in a new case, with both cheekpieces reattached. The other five cheekpieces found at the Hallaton ritual site are on display with it.

Only surviving full Māori green parrot feather cloak goes on display in Perth

The kahu kākāpō, after conservation ©2022 Trustees of the British Museum, ©2022 Culture Perth and Kinross.The only surviving complete example of a Māori kahu kākāpō, a traditional cloak made of the feathers of the critically endangered green, ground-dwelling kākāpō parrot, has been restored and put on display for the grand opening of the new Perth Museum in Perth, Scotland.

The kākāpō, charmingly nicknamed the moss chicken, is the world’s only flightless parrot and was once common on the three main islands of New Zealand. Its population began to decline with the arrival of Polynesian settlers. The humans hunted them for their meat and feathers and the rats the humans brought with them devastated their eggs and chicks. The arrival of Europeans drove them to the brink of extinction. Attempts to maintain populations of the birds in nature preserves began in the late 19th century, but were thwarted by introduced predators like stoats and feral cats. Finally in the 1980s the Kākāpō Recovery plan was developed, establishing populations on islands cleared of predators. Breeding and feeding programs have helped bring a small population of around 270 back, and just last year the first kākāpō were reintroduced to the mainland.

The cloak was collected by David Ramsay, a native of Perth who sailed to Australia as a ship’s surgeon in 1823 and stayed there. He gave the kahu kākāpō and the rest of his collection to the Perth Literary and Antiquarian Society in 1842. The cloak is believed to have been made in the early 1800s, after contact with Europeans, and was well-preserved overall, but the feathers and plant fibers it is made of are so inherently fragile that any handling at all can cause damage and loss.

Today the kahu is in the permanent collection of the Perth Museum and Art Gallery (PMAG). PMAG turned to the British Museum’s Organic Artefact Conservation studio for expert assistance in treating the delicate materials and brought in a Māori curatorial advisor from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa to ensure the taonga (meaning “treasure”) was treated in keeping with Māori cultural practices.

Once arrived at the British Museum, the cloak was examined to determine the areas of greatest concern. The feather shafts and the dried, unprocessed stands of New Zealand flax (pōkinikini) required urgent stabilization.

The feathers of the kākāpō had been woven into the ground weave of the cloak by their very fine, thin shafts. Over time, some of the feathers had become bent, partially split at their shafts, or completely detached from the weave. To support them, a strong but lightweight mulberry paper was used, after being toned and cut to match the colour and very narrow lengths of each damaged shaft, which were often less than 2mm wide. Each piece was then carefully secured along individual shafts with a conservation grade adhesive and left to dry under gentle pressure.

The treatment of the pōkinikini required similarly delicate care. The black, dyed sections along the pōkinikini lengths were likely coloured with an iron-tannin dye, which over time had eaten away at the fibres, making the dyed areas exceedingly weak.

To support these areas, narrow strips of lightweight mulberry paper were toned to match the pokinikini’s alternating dyed and undyed stripes. The paper strips were then applied as discreet bridges, linking sections of damaged pōkinikini to ensure no areas were lost. For other types of damage, toned mulberry paper was pulped into fibres, and then carefully inserted into the centre of the cylindrical pōkinikini strand to bring together and support the split fibres. Overall, the treatment for these fragile elements required more than 100 hours of sustained focus and manual dexterity, along with very fine-tipped forceps and strong magnification!

To investigate how this cloak was worn, the team made a mock-up of a stand to drape it on. They realized the wear pattern in the feathers on the left and top edges suggests the cloak was worn with an opening on the right. The holds where the laces were threaded through were barely stretched at all, indicating the cloak was worn rarely. The museum then made a custom mount so it can be displayed safely.

The new Perth Museum, located in the former Perth City Hall, officially opened its doors Saturday, March 30th, with the kahu kākāpō one of the key displays.

The portrait that ensnared a king restored

The iconic portrait of Anne of Cleves, fourth wife of Henry VIII, that enchanted the king into marrying her, has been cleaned and conserved by Louvre experts for the first time since it was painted, restoring its original colors and glow. The portrait, painted by Henry’s court painter Hans Holbein the Younger, is much lighter now that the yellowed varnish layer is gone. The formerly murky teal background is a bright blue; the gold and jewels of her gown and headdress visible in great detail. Her skin, once sallow, is a dewy pink again.

In 1538, Henry sent his court painter Holbein to Düren to capture Anne of Cleves’ likeness so Henry could see her before deciding whether to marry her. For ease of transportation, it was painted on vellum that was later glued to wood instead of painting directly onto wood panel. Holbein was usually known for the verisimilitude of his portraits, but he had to thread a bit of a diplomatic needle with this commission. He couldn’t flatter Anne too much or Henry would be deceived in his future wife’s features, but the officials of Cleves would vet it before it was sent to England, so too much realism wouldn’t do either.

Holbein depicts Anne dressed in an opulent red silk gown with gold and pearl trim, her round, cherubic face looking placidly at the viewer through lidded eyes. Her features are petite and symmetrical and her expressionless face evocative of the highly stylized archaic smile of a kouros statue. The Anne in the portrait appealed to Henry well enough, and as an alliance to the powerful, rich Protestant Duchy of Cleves even more so. It would give isolated England a whole new friend group among the central and northern European Lutheran countries. The marriage moved forward.

The woman herself, however, repulsed him. Rather than a petite, delicate cypher, she was tall and broad. When he saw her in person for the first time, he felt the portrait had deceived him. Her did not find her physically attractive, nor did she attract him with her personality. She spoke no English, played no instruments and was generally a listless companion for a social butterfly like Henry. To preserve England’s relationship with the Protestant rulers of Europe, Henry VIII negotiated a very generous divorce agreement and six months after their marriage, Anne of Cleves graduated from fourth wife to “sister of the King,” and left the throne laden with riches and properties. She was friends with Henry for the rest of his life, and lived a long one herself, spending her fortune on sumptuous clothes, fine dining, gambling and hunting.