Archive for the ‘Museums’ Category

Tate acquires its earliest portrait by woman artist

Saturday, September 24th, 2016

The Tate museum has acquired the earliest portrait in its collection painted by a woman. Portrait of an Unknown Lady (1650-5) was painted by Joan Carlile, one of very few women known to have been a professional portrait artist in 17th century Britain. Museum researchers believe she may even have been the first woman in Britain to be a professional oil portraitist.

The unknown sitter’s pose and elegant white satin appear in two of her other known portraits. This repetition of a composition lends weight to the notion of Carlile as a professional artist. In 1653 her neighbour Brian Duppa noted that ‘the Mistress of the Family intends for London, where she meanes to make use of her skill to som more Advantage then hitherto she hath don’ and in 1654 Carlile is recorded as living in London’s Covent Garden, then the heart of London’s artistic community.

Little is known about Joan Carlile’s early life. She was the daughter of one William Palmer, a senior official at St. James’s Park and its Spring Garden, now open to the public as one of the Royal Parks, but at the time still very much the private reserve of the monarch. In 1626 she married Lodowich Carlile, a playwright and courtier who was Gentleman of the Bows, Groom to the King and Queen’s Privy Chamber and Keeper of the Great Forest at Richmond Park to King Charles I. They lived together at Petersham Lodge, a perk of the Richmond Park gig, which is where they were living when Bishop Brian Duppa was their neighbor. He apparently had a high opinion of Mrs. Carlile’s talents. He wrote to a correspondent in early 1654: “I have had a long studied designe of having yr Picture, and by that Hand rather then by any else.”

He wasn’t alone. King Charles I thought highly of her work, and no lesser a figure than court painter par excellence Anthony van Dyck mentored her. Charles gifted them both with nose-bleedingly expensive ultramarine paint. Even after the beheading of Charles I, Lodowich Carlile retained his job as Keeper, which is unusual for someone who was really quite close to the late king since they had gone hunting together frequently. He kept the job throughout the Commonwealth and into the Restoration.

Their stint as bohemians living the Covent Garden life didn’t last long. They returned to Petersham Lodge in 1656. By then she had established her reputation as a portrait painter in society. Historian and courtier Sir William Sanderson included a reference to her in his 1658 survey on the history of art in England, Graphice, The Excellent Art of Painting. He named her first in a short list of four women artists notable for their oil paintings. Mrs. Carlile, says Sanderson, is a “virtuous” and “worthy” example of his maxim “that the ground of all excellencies in this Art is the Naturall fancie bon-esprite, quick wit and ingenuity, which adds and enables the elaborate.”

The couple moved to London again in 1665, this time residing in the St. James’s Market area. Lodowich died there in 1675, followed four years later by Joan. The newly acquired portrait is one of a handful of works by Joan Carlile known to survive.

Six paintings by Hercules Segers found in private collections

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

Hercules Segers (ca. 1589 – ca. 1638) is not widely known today, but he had an enormous influence on far more famous artists of the Dutch Golden Age and the rediscovery of his works in the 19th century played a major role in the development of the modern graphic arts. Very little is known about his life. He lived and worked in comparative obscurity, experimenting with print media in a way that had never been done before and wouldn’t be done again for 400 years.

After his death, apparently from falling down the stairs while drunk, his innovative work became highly sought after, particularly by fellow artists. It was his innovative approach to printmaking that made his name. Even to contemporary eyes, his prints are incredibly fresh: moody imaginary landscapes, each print unique thanks to his constant experimentation with colored inks, tints, colored paper, cloth, textures and cropping.

There are only 183 Segers prints made from 54 plates known to survive, each of them unique. A print by Rembrandt van Rijn is actually by Hercules Segers too. Rembrandt was an avid fan and collector of Segers’ art, and reworked one of Segers’ copper plates, Tobias and the Angel, into his Flight into Egypt, keeping the landscape unchanged but altering the human figures. Rembrandt also collected Segers’ paintings, owning at least eight of them. Considering that only 12 Segers paintings were known to have survived into our time, that’s an impressive proportion.

Now that number has been expanded by 50% because researchers at the Rijksmuseum have authenticated another six paintings by Hercules Segers, all of them held in private collections. A team of specialists spent two years studying about 100 disputed or possible Segers paintings and prints for an upcoming exhibition, discovering works never before displayed to the public and confirming the authenticity of works that have been deemed doubtful at best for decades. They enlisted the latest and greatest technology in their pursuit, including infrared reflectography, X-ray fluorescence, ultraviolet photography and dendrochronological analysis on the wood panel paintings.

The three paintings, Woodland Path, Panoramic Landscape with a Town on a River and Panoramic Landscape with Two Towers, all owned privately, have never been seen before. The Mountain Landscape from Hovingham Hall in England was last shown almost fifty years ago. Alongside the four works by Segers, there are two other paintings from private collections that have long been considered doubtful but may now also be definitively added to Segers’ oeuvre. They are the River Landscape with Figures and River Landscape with a Mill. Two new prints by the artist have also been found.

The team’s extensive art historical and technical research also revealed new information about Segers’ work and materials. For instance, they found that Segers used painter’s materials in his etchings, using oil paints to make the prints. He used different paper, textiles and paints for every impression, which is why they’re all so different from each other. Hercules Segers was, researchers discovered, the first European artist to use paper from east Asia, beating Rembrandt to the punch by 20 years.

The Rijksmuseum’s research will bear fruit in an unprecedented retrospective bringing together almost all of Hercules Segers’ works. All 18 of his extant paintings and 110 of his prints will be on display at the museum from October 7th, 2016, until January 8th, 2017. At the same time, the Rembrandt House Museum will put on an exhibition, Under the Spell of Hercules Segers, about the influence of Hercules Segers on Rembrandt and other Golden Age Dutch artists, as well as his influence on graphic artists in the 20th century. After it closes at the Rijksmuseum, the Hercules Segers exhibition will then travel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City where it will open on February 13th as The Mysterious Landscapes of Hercules Segers.

Ukraine returns five paintings stolen from Dutch museum

Monday, September 19th, 2016

Five of the 24 paintings stolen from the Westfries Museum in Hoorn, northwestern Netherlands, on January 10th, 2005, have been returned to the Netherlands by the Ukrainian authorities. How they ended up in Ukraine is unclear. Museum officials searched constantly for their purloined works — 17th and 18th century oil paintings by Dutch masters and 70 pieces of silverware — for years before finally spotting a picture of one of the paintings on a Ukrainian website in 2014.

In July of 2015, two members of the ultra-right Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) militia contacted the Dutch embassy in Kiev claiming that their battalion had all 24 of the stolen paintings and all the silverware. They claimed to have found the loot in the villa of one of their political enemies, a crony of the former president, and were willing to sell it back for an astronomical sum based on their groundless assumption that the art and silver were worth 50 million euros, a figure more than 50 times greater than the realistic assessment of expert appraisers.

The museum got the Ukrainian police involved, then the Foreign Ministry, then diplomatic talks ensued. No progress was made. When in December of last year they heard that the militia were looking for other potential buyers, museum officials notified the media and the whole crazy story made international news.

Since then, all kinds of under-the-radar things have been happening. Seemingly out of nowhere and with little explanation of the turn of events, in April of this year four of the 24 paintings were recovered by the Ukrainian secret service (SBU). They announced at a press conference that the recovery was the result of a special operation conducted in 10 regions of Ukraine over the course of four months, but no details were forthcoming about who had them or any legal repercussions for the thieves. All they said is they were found “in the possession of criminal groups,” which yeah, duh.

The four recovered works were The Peasant Wedding by Hendrick Boogaert, Kitchen Piece, by Floris van Schooten, The Return of Jephta and Woman World, both by Jacob Waben. These were the most prized of the stolen paintings and the museum was excited to get them back, especially since curators were concerned about their condition. Two of the paintings were still rolled up after having been cut out of their frames in the heist. Two others had been reframed.

Despite all the publicity about this caper and the artworks, the Ukrainian government dragged its heels about returning the paintings to the Westfries Museum. Officials decided they had to launch their own investigation of the pieces and who the legitimate owner was. The museum had supplied the authorities with ample documentation of their legal claim, which was doubted by nobody, not even the militia members themselves who had reached out to them directly, after all.

Then, in May, a fifth painting emerged, New Street in Hoorn by Izaak Ouwater. This one was handed in to the Dutch embassy in Kiev by an unknown buyer who apparently did not realize it was stolen when he purchased it. Again, no details were forthcoming.

Finally whatever kinks needed working out were worked out and on September 16th, all five of the paintings were formally returned to the Netherlands in a ceremony at the Dutch embassy in Kiev. Museum experts examined the works to authenticate them and assess their condition. The news for some of the works is grim.

[Museum director] Ad Geerdink: “Naturally I am very pleased about the return. But I am very sad about the condition of the paintings A Kitchen Scene by Floris van Schooten and A Peasants Wedding, by Hendrick Boogaert. For years, the paintings have been moved all over the place and they were folded or rolled up. They really suffered a lot. When unrolling them, a piece came loose. Luckily they can still be restored, but it will be a time-consuming effort. The costs will be significant, at least 100,000 Euros. As a museum, we are not able to bear these costs ourselves. We therefore hope that people will help us with the restoration by joining the crowd funding campaign. We will start the crowd funding when the paintings return to Hoorn. In the spring of 2017, we want to let the paintings shine again in full glory in the Westfries Museum.’

The paintings will be back on Dutch soil on October 7th and the museum is planning to welcome them with much happy fanfare. The five works will be briefly on display starting on October 8th and admission will be free for a week so the people of Hoorn can welcome back their long-lost prodigals.

I will post an update when the crowdfunding campaign is launched.

Studies of Brazilian fauna by 17th c. Dutch artist found

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

In 1636, Johan Maurits, Count of Nassau-Siegen, (if the name rings a bell it’s because his house in The Hague is now the magnificent Mauritshuis museum) was appointed the Dutch West India Company (DWIC) governor of what was then the Dutch colony of Brazil. His mission was to stabilized the new colony, wrested from Portugal after nine years of war, expand its territories and increase the number of sugar plantations putting money in the DWIC’s coffers. He landed in Recife in January of 1637 with a large retinue including scientists and artists to document the people, environments, plants and animals they came across.

One of those artists was Frans Post. Born in Haarlem in 1612, he was the son of a noted glass painter and brother of one of the premier architects of the age both of whom taught him to draw and paint when he was a youth. His brother helped him secure a post at court where he spotted by Maurits who invited him to join him in Brazil. Post traveled throughout Dutch Brazil until 1644, sketching and painting landscapes, flora and fauna. He was the first European artist (professional anyway) to paint New World landscapes.

He only completed six paintings (later gifted by Maurits to Louis XIV of France) while still in Brazil, but he continued to paint Brazilian landscapes after his return to the Netherlands for another 25 years. They were very popular and sold briskly, eventually entering the collections of several museums. Art historians suspected that Post must have used studies done during his time in Brazil to create the paintings made in the Netherlands, but not a single sketch or drawing of Brazilian flora or fauna by Post was known to exist.

That changed in 2010 when Alexander de Bruin, curator of the image collection of the Noord-Hollands Archief in Haarlem discovered 34 previously unknown drawings by Frans Post. He found them in a 17th century album of bird drawings by Pieter Holsteijn the Elder and the Younger that he was looking through for a digitization project. The album had been donated in 1888, but nobody noticed the pencil sketches and gouaches of capybaras, jaguars, tapirs, sloths, caymans and other South American animals until de Bruin.

Because the discovery was unprecedented, experts from the Noord-Hollands Archief, the journal Master Drawings, and the Rijksmuseum put their heads together to confirm that the really were the long-suspected Frans Post Brazilian studies. They compared the subjects — individual animals captures in 24 watercolor and gouache drawings and 10 graphite ones — to animals in finished paintings and found that they were indeed studies used in his landscapes. One of the paintings he did in Brazil, for example, now in the Louvre, prominently features a capybara who appears in both a graphite sketch and a gouache. The graphite sketches are captioned in Post’s own hand; the gouaches in an unknown 17th century hand which assures us that armadillo tastes like chicken.

Alexander de Bruin on the find:

“These drawings with their inscriptions have a immediacy about them that makes you feel as if you were looking over Frans Post’s shoulder, as he recorded the fascinating fauna of the New World. The animal studies provide the missing link between Post’s seven-year Brazilian adventure and the paintings he produced on his return to Haarlem.”

The drawings will go on display for the first time in the upcoming Rijksmuseum exhibition Frans Post. Animals in Brazil. Six of his paintings and all of the studies will be exhibited alongside taxidermied specimens from the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden of the animals Post drew. The exhibition opens October 7th and runs through January 8th, 2017.

CBS This Morning to preview National Museum of African American History on Monday

Sunday, September 11th, 2016

CBS This Morning will broadcast live from the Smithsonian’s new National Museum Of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) on Monday, September 12th. The much-anticipated and hard-won museum doesn’t officially open until September 24th and the crowds are certain to be enormous for the forseeable future, so this is a chance to get a preview tour of the museum, and a thorough one at that. Guests include museum director Lonnie Bunch, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Civil Rights icon Representative John Lewis, former Secretary of State General Colin Powell, historians and donors.

The 2-hour broadcast will be presented with limited commercial interruptions and feature interviews with lawmakers, historians, and curators who were part of bringing the museum to life.

Viewers will get a preview of the roughly 36,000 artifacts highlighting African American life, music, sports, and politics.

“It’s going to take you on a historical journey. They’re going to have a slave house. Slave ships. Emmett Till’s coffin. So you go from that, to the election of President Barack Obama all in one building,” said host Gayle King.

CBS This Morning streams live here. I don’t know if the full broadcast will be made available on the website after broadcast or if they’ll save it for CBS’ subscription streaming service.

The museum will be throwing a three-day music festival on the grounds of the Washington monument the weekend before the opening. Freedom Sounds: A Community Celebration features musicians from a panoply of African American musical traditions including jazz, gospel, R&B, brass band and hip-hop. The lineup includes Public Enemy, The Roots, Living Colour and Meshell Ndegeocello. The food concessions look to be scrumptious too.

Tickets to the National Museum Of African American History and Culture on grand opening weekend (September 24-25) are no longer available. Free timed passes were offered through ETIX, but they flew off the proverbial shelves. Because interest is so high and the crowds sure to be huge, the museum is continuing to issue timed passes through the end of the year to ensure visitors can enjoy the experience without being crushed and buffeted in the traffic. Starting Monday, September 26th, visitors can get a timed pass at the museum when they show up on the day, but of course they’ll have to wait until their allotted time, and that’s no guarantee they won’t have a long line to wait in or that they’ll be ushered in the doors precisely on schedule. Advanced passes for September and October released on September 6th, and have already all been snapped up. ETIX only has passes available now for November and December.

The NMAAHC’s website was redone recently and is excellent, with large swaths of its collection digitized. Very much worth a long, leisurely browse.

Athena Parthenos moved to new digs in New York

Thursday, September 8th, 2016

Earlier this year, the Metropolitan Museum of Art presented more than 265 artifacts from the Hellenistic period in the exhibition Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World. As the title suggests, most of the pieces on display came from Pergamon, an ancient city of the Aegean which is now in western Turkey. The largest and most dramatic object on display was a monumental statue of the goddess Athena, on loan from Berlin’s Pergamon Museum.

The exhibition closed on July 17th, but the Pergamon Museum agreed to extend the loan of Athena and another colossal piece, the fragmentary head of a youth, for two more years. The Berlin museum is currently undergoing an extensive refurbishment and will be closed until 2019, so this arrangement is advantageous for both parties.

On August 4th, the statue of Athena was moved to the southern side of the Met’s Great Hall and the installation process was filmed because it’s cool.

The statue was modeled after the famous monumental gold and ivory statue of Athena by Phidias that stood inside the Parthenon in Athens for a thousand years from the 5th century B.C. until the 5th century A.D. Phidias’ vision of the patron goddess of Athens was iconic in antiquity and it was widely copied for centuries. This version was made around 170 B.C. and it’s not an exact replica. It’s smaller in scale — 12 feet high to the original’s 40 feet — with a more simple helmet, no shield, no column on the side and therefore probably no small figure of Nike in Athena’s hand outstretched just above the column, and no serpent sidekick which was a symbol of Athena as protector of the Acropolis and thus not relevant to Pergamon’s interests. On the base is a carved relief with six figures depicting the birth of Pandora, as on the pedestal of the original. The base of the Pergamon statue is heavily damaged, however, with significant chunks of the relief missing.

It was discovered in the Sanctuary of Athena in Pergamon in 1880. The body was found behind the North Stoa in front of the largest rooms in the sanctuary which may have housed the Pergamon Library. The head was found in a courtyard in front of the remains of the North Stoa. The body, head, base and arms of the statue were made separately and joined together, which is why the head fits in like a puzzle piece as you can see in the installation video. The arms are now lost.

The monumental statues will be on display in the Great Hall until fall of 2018.

Mary Rose remains and artifacts in stunning 3D

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

I love a good 3D scan of historical and archeological materials. Be it the Apollo 11 command module, Revolutionary War-era gunboat, Anglo-Saxon stones, Pictish stones, Chinese oracle bones, a king’s grave, or a centenarian ham and peanut, I have spent untold hours turning, zooming and flipping 3D models. So when I say that the recently uploaded 3D scans of one skull and nine artifacts from the Tudor warship the Mary Rose are the best I’ve ever seen, that’s saying something.

It’s been a banner year for the Mary Rose, the flagship of Henry VIII’s navy which sank off the coast of Portsmouth on July 19th, 1545, and whose intact hull still containing the remains of the crew and 19,000 artifacts was raised from the Solent in 1982. This summer, after more than three decades of constant conservation, the stabilized ship was displayed to the public in all its glory in an extensively renovated exhibition hall of the Mary Rose Museum. The museum opened in 2013, but because the ship was still being renovated, it was partially obscured by an intricate network of pipes, sprayers, sheets of glass and scaffolding. Now it can be viewed from three balconies and wall to ceiling windows that give visitors the chance to observe the hull from multiple angles.

The new Mary Rose exhibition humanizes the vast archaeological treasure of the ship by featuring the stories of members of the crew whose remains and/or belongings were discovered on the ship. While their names are unknown, their roles could be deduced by the locations in which they were found (the cook in the galley, the Master Gunner near a gun on the deck), from osteological analysis (the longbow archers suffered from a shoulder blade condition still found in archers today), or from their stuff (the purser had a chest full of coins, the carpenter had his tools).

Yesterday the Mary Rose Museum launched a new website, Virtual Tudors, which focuses on one of those featured crewmen, the carpenter, and the artifacts found with him. He was in his mid-to-late 30s when he went down with the Mary Rose. He was a strong, well-muscled man 5’7″ tall who suffered from arthritis in his spine, ribs and left collar bone. He also had terrible teeth with extensive plaque build up and an abscess in his upper jaw so severe and painful that he could only have been able to chew on the right side of his mouth. Nearby were found a leather shoe (one of nearly 300 shoes found on board), an oak grooving plane (one of 22 found), a poplar whetstone holder and more.

The website is a collaboration of the Mary Rose Trust, Swansea University and Oxford University. For the general public, the skull of the carpenter, the shoe, plane, whetstone holder, plus two knife handles, two carved panels, a wooden spoon, a wooden mirror, and a section of the ship’s rigging have been 3D scanned and uploaded to the site. For the skull alone, 120 high resolution pictures were taken with a 39-megapixel camera. They were then stitched together to create a 15-megapixel 3D model. The level of detail is unbelievable. I must have stared at the rope from the rigging for a solid 30 minutes at the most extreme zoom, and I’ve barely started.

The digitization team is hoping that this project will have research advantages as well. Besides the publically viewable models, another 9 skulls have been scanned exclusively for examination by osteologists all over the world.

Each participant will be given a questionnaire to see what their assessment is of the skulls, which the UK team will then compare.
If the results are good, Dr Johnston said, they might help tackle scepticism from some in the field who insist that physically interacting with specimens is essential.

“Do you really need to hold the skull, or can you tell a lot from the digital one? There’s the potential to speed up science dramatically – but this needs to happen first.”

Because the pool of expertise can be much wider once resources like these are online, there is also the possibility that a new discovery will emerge.

“It might be that somebody in, I don’t know, Arizona, has a particular speciality and they say, ‘Do you realise that this person here has such-and-such a condition?’ It’d be very nice if that happened,” said Swansea biomechanist Nick Owen, who has previously studied the skeletons of archers from the Mary Rose.

Chandos portrait cleaning may reveal the Bard’s true visage

Monday, September 5th, 2016

There are no confirmed portraits of William Shakespeare. Most of them were painted years after his death and there is little reason to believe they accurately reproduce the playwright’s features. The one with the best shot is the Chandos portrait. Painted between 1600 and 1610, a time when author portraits were increasingly popular among the moneyed literati, the Chandos portrait is not only the only extant portrait to have been painted during Shakespeare’s lifetime, but it has also been widely believed to be a portrait of the Bard since the mid-17th century when there were still people living who had known Shakespeare. None of the other contenders have so long a pedigree. It was hanging in Duke’s Theatre in London as a portrait of Shakespeare in the 1660s.

Its early history has come down to us from engraver and antiquarian George Vertue who filled 40 notebooks with his observations on art and artists of the time. Those notebooks, purchased after Vertue’s death by Horace Walpole who used them as the primary source for his five-volume Anecdotes of Painting in England, include a passage written in 1719 about the painting that would become known as the Chandos portrait.

Mr. Betterton told Mr. Keck several times that the Picture of Shakespeare he had, was painted by one John Taylor/a Player, who acted for Shakespear and this John Taylor in his will left it to Sr Willm Davenant. & at the death of Sir Will Davenant — Mr Betterton bought it, & at his death Mr. Keck bought it in whose poss. it now is.

It’s hard to know how accurate this information is. Vertue had to rely on the recollections of Robert Keck, the owner of the portrait in 1719, and there is no independently verifiable source on the mysterious actor John Taylor who purportedly painted his boss. He doesn’t appear on any surviving records of Even if the ownership history is correct, there is no proof that the sitter was William Shakespeare instead of somebody else. John Taylor could have acted in Shakespeare’s company and painted other people.

The portrait was inherited by Keck descendants until 1789 when one of them married James Brydges, 3rd Duke Chandos, who gave the painting its moniker. It remained in the Chandos line until 1848 when it was purchased by Francis Egerton, 1st Earl of Ellesmere, who donated it to the newly formed National Portrait Gallery in 1856. It was the first painting in the museum’s collection, hence its vanity plate-like inventory number of NPG 1.

By then, the portrait was viewed with suspicion by literary critics. Shakespearean scholar George Steevens said of a copy of the Chandos portrait that “our author exhibits the complexion of a Jew, or rather that of a chimney-sweeper in the jaundice.” Essayist James Hain Friswell cast doubt the sitter’s identity in similar racist terms. His argument amounted to that Shakespeare couldn’t possibly have looked like a dirty foreigner.

“One cannot readily imagine our essentially English Shakespeare to have been a dark, heavy man, with a foreign expression, of decidedly Jewish physiognomy, thin curly hair, a somewhat lubricious mouth, red-edged eyes, wanton lips, with a coarse expression and his ears tricked out with earrings.”

The difficulty in the identification of the sitter is compounded by the portrait’s extensive damage over the centuries. It was cleaned with excessive vigour, thinning the paint layers, and is coated in cracked and discolored varnish. Extensive retouching has materially altered the image, lengthening the hair and beard.

Now the NPG is seriously considering cleaning and restoring the portrait for the first time since it darkened the museum’s doorway. Outside specialists have recommended conservation, but the National Portrait Gallery’s trustees will make the final decision on whether to go forward next year.

The Chandos portrait has had no significant conservation treatment since its arrival at the gallery. A decision on cleaning has not yet been made but the work would involve the removal of discoloured varnish. The challenge for conservators will be to determine how much of the later additions to remove.

Most exciting, however, is the prospect that conservation work might provide further clues to determine whether the sitter is indeed the great dramatist—and how different the face was originally from what we see with the portrait’s present condition.

Couple find Bronze Age sword in Danish field

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

Ernst Christiansen and Lise Therkelsen were enjoying a leisurely evening constitutional in a field in Forsinge, western Zealand, when their metal detector signalled the presence of something underground. They dug less than a foot underground and found the tip of what looked a lot like a sword. As experienced and responsible metal detectorists, they recognized the object could be archaeologically significant, so they reburied it and the next morning alerted the Museum Vestsjælland (Museum of West Zealand) to the find.

Curator of the museum’s archaeology department Arne Hedegaard Andersen, with the aid of the finders, excavated the artifact. It’s a sword 82 centimeters (2’8″) long; the blade alone is 67 centimeters (26 inches) long. The sword is astonishingly well preserved: intact from tip to hilt (although the grip, which was likely made of an organic material like wood or horn, is gone) with fine decorations still visible. The edge is even still sharp. Museum experts date it to Phase IV of the Nordic Bronze Age, between 1100 and 900 B.C., so it has kept a keen edge for 3,000 years.

The sword is of a type known in Danish as a hornknapsværd, which translated to a horn button sword. (I wasn’t able to find any English scholarship on the sword type using that translation, so either it has another name in English or it’s enough of a niche area not to have much of a web presence. If anyone knows of an English name for this type sword, please let me know in the comments.) The blade is long and narrow with slightly sloping shoulders leading into the hilt. The grip has a short pair of arms and ends with a long narrow tip. Including that tip, the grip is 10 cm (4 inches) long. The arms are around nine cm wide. The grip is decorated with recessed lines and arches.

The sword will be on public display very briefly on September 7th from 1:00-4:00 PM at the Kalundborg Museum. Finders Ernst Christiansen and Lise Therkildsen and curator/excavator Arne Hedegaard Andersen will be at the special presentation to talk about the sword and answer questions from the visitors. After that quick viewing, the artifact will be processed and catalogued.

Million-year-old mammoth tusks found in Austria

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

A team of paleontologists from Vienna’s Natural History Museum (NHM) has unearthed two large tusks and some vertebrae from a rare mammoth at a site 30 miles north of Vienna in the Weinviertel region of Lower Austria. The fossils were first discovered in mid-August by geologists surveying the site of a highway construction. They were studying the sediment layers when one of the geologists spotted an anomaly that turned out to be the tip of a tusk. The next day, experts from the NHM’s Geology and Palaeontology Department were called in to excavate the find and quickly unearthed a whole tusk and several vertebrae.

They knew there was more to be found, but rain interfered with further exploration for a few days. The delay made researchers antsy since this is a construction site and they didn’t have much time to salvage whatever was there. As soon as the rain let up, they went back to digging and unearthed a second tusk. The tusks are about 2.6 meters (8.5 feet) long now and were probably three meters (9.8 feet) long when they were still attached to their owner.

NHM paleontologists believe the tusks and vertebrae came from a single animal who died in the proto-Zaya river. The shape of the tusks and the sediment layer in which they were found suggest a preliminary date of around one million years ago. The fact that there was a river in which a mammoth’s remains could become embedded in the mud indicates it lived during an interglacial period, of which there were many during the 2.5 million years of the Pleistocene.

The museum’s press release doesn’t name the possible species, referring to it solely as Ur-mammoth, meaning original or primitive mammoth. Maybe the steppe mammoth (Mammuthus trogontherii) which ranged over Eurasia during the Pleistocene? Its ancestor the southern mammoth (Mammuthus meridionalis) died out 1.5 million years ago, so if the provisional dating estimate proves accurate, the steppe mammoth seems the most likely candidate. The descendents of a Siberian population of steppe mammoths evolved into the woolly mammoth about 400,000 years ago, so that might earn it the ur. Also the curved tusks seems most similar to those of Mammuthus trogontherii, to my entirely inexpert eyes.

After they were fully excavated, the tusks were stabilized for transport with the application of a thin coat of plaster bandages and wrapped with damp newspaper. They were then brought to the Natural History Museum in Vienna where they will be conserved and prepared for further study. Researchers are excited to find out all they can, not just about the animal but its environment. Very few remains this old have been discovered in Austria, so there is much to be learned from them and the discovery context.

The museum will keep the remains, but tt’s not known at this juncture whether the tusks and vertebrae will be integrated into the museum’s permanent exhibition. They will be very briefly shown at the a “Behind the Scenes” event at 11:00 AM on November 6th.

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