Archive for June, 2013

Amistad letters at Connecticut Historical Society

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

On March 21st, 2013, the Connecticut Historical Society acquired a collection of 91 letters written by Charlotte Cowles, a young girl from Farmington, Connecticut, to her brother Samuel between 1833 and 1846, and three letters from Samuel to Charlotte. With a final cost of $66,000 including buyer’s premium, this was a major purchase, requiring contributions from Farmington Historical Society, Farmington Bank as well as private donors. The reason these letters are worth tens of thousands of dollars is they include beautifully detailed accounts of the Mende captives who overthrew their Spanish captors on the ship La Amistad.


In 1839, 54 captives, 50 adults and four children, were kidnapped in what is today Sierra Leone and taken to Havana, Cuba, aboard the slave ship Tecora. The international slave trade had been outlawed by this point, with Great Britain, Spain and the United States all signatories to various treaties abolishing it. According to Spanish law, as soon as the captives landed in Cuba, they were free, but their captors fraudulently claimed they were Cuban-born slaves and sold them to local plantation owners. The Mende were loaded onto the schooner La Amistad headed for a sugar plantation in Puerto del Principe, Cuba.

Before they reached their destination, the captives, led by Sengbe Pieh, aka Joseph Cinqué, broke free and took control of the ship, killing some of the crew and demanding the survivors take them back home. Ship navigator Don Pedro Montez agreed, but instead steered the ship north along the east coast of the United States. As Montez had hoped, La Amistad was intercepted by a United States Revenue Cutter Service ship on the eastern point of Long Island. Hoping to claim the men under the admiralty salvage law, Lt. Thomas R. Gedney, commander of the revenue cutter, took the Mende to Connecticut where slavery was still technically legal (it was illegal in New York).

The Africans were imprisoned in New Haven, Connecticut, while their case went to court. It was a complex case with many interested parties from Gedney to the plantation owners to the captives themselves who insisted they were nobody’s property. The case was decided in the kidnapped Africans’ favor by a federal district court in 1840, and the decision was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court the next year. On March 9, 1841, the Supreme Court ruled that the Mende were free and should be allowed to go home.

This is the point where Charlotte Cowles steps into the picture. Charlotte’s father Horace Cowles was a conductor on the Farmington Underground Railroad and an active abolitionist. When the Africans were released, Cowles and other abolitionist leaders known as the Amistad Committee who had helped with the legal defense hosted the Amistad captives in their homes. While they raised money to fund their return to Sierra Leone, the Committee members taught the Africans to speak and read English and attempted to convert them to Christianity.

Charlotte’s letters to her brother begin when she is just 13 years old. As she grows up, her writings expand from fabric and friends to an increasing abolitionist social consciousness. Her brother becomes editor of The Charter Oak, a Connecticut abolitionist newspaper, and Charlotte co-founds the Farmington Ladies Anti-Slavery Society. By 1838, she is fully involved in abolitionist causes, telling her brother about the passengers on the Underground Railroad staying at their house on their way to Canada.

When the Amistad Africans were released, the Cowles family hosted one of the children, a girl named Te-meh which Charlotte spells Tenyeh. It takes the Amistad Committee a year to raise the money for the return trip and during that year Charlotte tells her brother all about her guest and the rest of the Mende. From a letter written April 8th, 1841:

Cinque is as choice of his dignity as ever, yet he is often very affable, but none of them are so easy to converse with as Kinna because he speaks English so much more fluently — He is so modest and gentle too, and every one thinks him very fine-looking. Little Fouli is all animation and yet so timid, and little Ka-le is so very bright, and Ya-bo-i is so full of good humor. — I do not know how to say enough about any of them. But Mary’s and my principal favorite, just now at least, is one whom I never heard mentioned. His name is sometimes spelled Ba-gua, but it is entirely unpronounceable, so we call it Banyeh. He is about eighteen, and the most splendid specimen of African beauty I ever saw. I have read in books of this style of beauty, but I never before believed it possible for an African to be very handsome. But if any one sees no beauty in his beaming face and sparkling eyes, all I can say is that their prejudices are control their whole souls and even their fancies. If he were painted for an Othello, the whole beau monde would be delighted. The most remarkable thing about him however is a certain dashing elegance of manner which none of the others possess at all—which is indeed the rarest accomplishment in the most polished society. […]

After all, can you begin to realize that these interesting creatures are but a very small specimen of the victims which the merciless slave- trade is every week—now, this very moment — seizing and destroying! The idea of Cinque and Kinna and Banyeh toiling on a plantation seems incredible. I feel that I never had the least conception before of the horrors of that accursed business, or of the mass of misery that exists in this world; and now, how inadequate!

I could quote the whole letter because every line is an eye-opening record of the Amistad refugees and of abolitionist society. The whole collection is a unique glimpse into the life of a young girl in 1830s Connecticut who grapples with the most quotidian things to issues so huge that 20 years later they would tear the country apart. Even the smallest details — like how hard it is for Charlotte to get to Hartford, which is just 10 miles away from Farmington, to purchase the red and burgundy striped fabric she wants — are fascinating.

The letters are now on display at the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford. The exhibition opened on June 19th in celebration of Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating of the end of slavery in Texas on June 19th, 1865, and features the original letters and transcripts. Scans of the letters and slightly annoyingly formatted transcripts (every other word is underscored as a search keyword) have also been uploaded to Connecticut History Online. Search for “Charlotte Cowles” to see them all.

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Napoleon’s death mask sells for $260,000

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

One of only two plaster death masks of Napoleon Bonaparte remaining in private hands sold on Wednesday at Bonhams’ Book, Map and Manuscript sale in London for £169,250 ($260,000). The death mask was made by surgeon Francis Burton of Britain’s Sixty-Sixth Regiment of Foot on May 7th, 1821, two days after Napoleon’s death on St. Helena. Madame Bertrand, the former emperor’s attendant in exile and wife of General Bertrand, Napoleon’s Grand Marshal, insisted the death mask be taken even though plaster was hard to come by on the remote Atlantic island. By the time enough plaster was scared up on a neighboring island, Napoleon’s body had begun to decompose so even though she initially refused to let an Englishman make a mould of Napoleon’s face, Madame succumbed to the inevitable: it was either the Englishman or nobody.

Burton’s mould was done in at least two sections — face from eyebrows to chin, back of the head (possibly in two parts) — and at some point in the process Napoleon’s Corsican doctor Francesco Antommarchi, who had earlier insisted a death mask could not be made due the dearth of materials, joined the work in process. The next day, Burton made a positive cast from the moulds, but the face cast stuck to the original mould which could then only be removed by destroying it, so all that was left of Napoleon’s death mask was the mould of the back of his head and the positive cast.

While the face cast was drying, Burton left Longwood House, Napoleon’s residence, and Mme Bernard took advantage of the opportunity to take the cast so copies can be made in Europe, leaving dirty English hands out of it. Burton was promised a copy, but never received one. He had to settle for keeping the moulds of the back of the head which he reportedly destroyed in rage after his attempts to secure the promised copy failed.

Antommarchi and Bertrand remained on St. Helena until the end of the month. A source of plaster was fortuitously discovered on the island giving them the opportunity to work on a complete death mask. Since they’d pissed off Burton, they didn’t have access to the ears, neck, upper forehead, etc., so they enlisted the aid of artist and miniaturist Joseph William Rubidge who was the only professional artist on the island and whose drawing of the dead emperor would later become a popular print in its own right. Rubidge recreated the missing parts and combined them with the positive face cast to create the one authentic death mask.

Before the group’s departure, two casts made from the prototype were given to the Reverend Richard Boys, Senior Chaplain of St. Helena, who despite his Englishness was popular with the French contingent. He remained on the island for eight years after Napoleon’s death. Upon his return, he carried the death masks and several other mementos of the emperor. He gave one mask to his daughter Mrs. Sankey (ie, the Sankey cast, now at the Maison Française d’Oxford) and the other to his son, the Venerable Archdeacon Markby Boys (ie, the Boys cast). The latter has remained in the Boys family until now. The seller, Andrew Boys, is the great-great-great-great-great nephew of Rev. Richard Boys.

Owner of the mask, Andrew Boys, explains how it came down through his family and into his hands: “At a family funeral I was rather surprised and taken aback, to hear that I had been left this mask. After a while I realized its significance but I was not sure what to do with it beyond ensuring its safety. To date it has been confined to an attic but I most definitely did not want this to happen for another generation. I came to the conclusion that the best thing to do was to offer it for sale in the hope that, as a result, it was something more people would then be able to see and enjoy”.

A donation to a museum might have been a more secure way of seeing that dream come true. There’s no news on who the buyer is.

Anyway, on May 27th, 1821, Bertrand and the rest of the French contingent left the island, the prototype cast stashed in Antommarchi’s bag. That prototype would be used to make plaster and bronze copies which would be sold all over Europe. It would become so recognizable an image that surrealist artist René Magritte painted a blue sky and clouds over no fewer than five plaster copies of Napoleon’s face mask to represent L’Avenir des Statues (The Future of Statues). Here’s one of them at the Tate.

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Powhatan’s capital will be preserved for posterity

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

The archaeological site of Werowocomoco, Chief Powhatan’s capital city when the Jamestown colony was founded in 1607, is no longer in danger of development and destruction thanks to a new agreement between the property owners and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. The conservation easement will protect the site from development and keep it open to future archaeological exploration.

Examining records and maps left by explorer Captain John Smith, among other primary sources, in 2003 historians identified the 57 acre site overlooking the York River in Tidewater, Virginia, as the likely center of Powhatan’s vast chiefdom. Subsequent archaeological excavations confirmed the identification, but they’ve barely scraped the surface. Only 2% of the site has been explored thus far. Landowners Robert and Lynn Ripley have generously allowed archaeologists to excavate the site for the past decade, and now that the easement agreement has been made, their generosity will extend in perpetuity giving researchers all the time they need to dig wider and deeper.

Werowocomoco means “place of chiefs” or “place of power” in the Powhatan language and it was no overstatement. Chief Powhatan — real name Wahunsunacawh — created a confederation of tribes whose territory, called Tsenacommacah meaning “densely-populated land,” stretched from the Eastern Shore of Virginia west to a fall line near I-95. All the tribes had their own chiefs who all paid tribute to Wahunsunacawh. Werowocomoco was the seat of religious and temporal power of the Powhatan paramountcy.

Powhatan’s chiefdom covered 30 political divisions and a population of 15,000 to 20,000 people while Jamestown settlers struggled to survive. Excavations have yielded the outline of the largest longhouse ever found in Virginia and a system of ditches that may have separated sacred and secular areas.

Randolph Turner, a retired state archaeologist whose hunt for Werewocomoco dates to the 1970s, said Powhatan’s empire was “one of the most complex political entities in all of eastern North America.” The leader “had the power of life and death” and expanded his empire through warfare or the threat of warfare.

“He’s one of the most interesting political and military figures that I’ve ever read about,” Turner said. “And we’re just getting hints in the historical records of all he accomplished in his lifetime.”

Werowocomoco is an invaluable resource on the life of Powhatan, his chiefdom and culture, all the more so because much of what is commonly known about the great man has been filtered through the perspective of the Jamestown colonists. Notice the title of the article about the easement: “Virginia site of Pocahontas rescue will be preserved.” That’s a reference to the almost certainly apocryphal story that Chief Powhatan’s daughter Pocahontas threw herself bodily over John Smith to save him from being executed by her father in 1607.

Members of the area’s Pamunkey tribe have been involved in the excavations from the beginning, getting their hands dirty in the dig, working with archaeologists to ensure the site is treated with respect and burial grounds are not disturbed. The preservation and continuing exploration of Werowocomoco will reveal their history without the constant and irritating forced connection to Jamestown and the various associated legends.

Ashley Atkins, a Pamunkey member and College of William & Mary doctoral candidate put its neatly: “I want people to understand there was a real civilization, a complex cultural community that existed prior to European colonization. Europeans didn’t bring civilization. They brought a lot of other things, some good, some bad.”

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1500-year-old Chinese tomb murals salvaged

Monday, June 17th, 2013

In the summer of 2008, experts from the Shanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology and Shanxi Museum found a tomb in the ancient Fanwangsi Cemetery of Shuozhou City, a town in Shanxi province 200 miles southwest of Beijing, China. Built 1,500 years ago in the Northern Qi Dynasty, the tomb had been repeatedly looted and the only grave goods left were fragments from lower quality pottery figurines and glazed vessels. Besides those pieces, some wooden structural elements and a few iron nails that were probably once part of a canopy over the coffin were the only contents of the tomb remaining. Even the fan-shaped architrave over the doorway had been pried off.

Archaeologists were just in time, however, to save the true crowning glory of this tomb: richly colored murals painted on plastered walls and ceilings. Looters had already marked them for removal. There were blue lines drawn dividing the murals into discrete sections to guide the cutting tools and gauze fabric stuck to the murals in order to keep them from falling apart during the theft. Between June and August, the archaeological team excavated the tomb. In order to keep the paintings safe, to repair environmental and human damage and to ensure their rare ancient color remained brilliant, archaeologists decided to remove the murals. By the end of the summer, 860 square feet of murals were being restored at the Center for the Preservation of Cultural Relics of the Shanxi Museum.

The murals begin on the walls of the passage tunnel leading into the main burial chamber. There are red ochre clouds on the vaulted ceiling and armed guards and cavalry troops on both sides of the tunnel. There’s a single door guard on the west wall leaning against his sword and a pair of honor guards inside the door frame. They too lean on their swords as they face each other. Approaching from a distance are three units of cavalry troops. The same types of figures are on the east wall, the only difference being the orientation of the cavalry.

Passing from the tunnel through the doorway into the tomb chamber, the murals cover the floor to the ceiling in three sections. The domed ceiling is painted with a sky map. A dark grey background symbolizes celestial infinity and the silver river winding through the grey is the Milky Way. White dots on both sides of the Milky Way are stars. On the east side of the heavens is a solar orb with a crow in the middle. Across from it on the west side of the ceiling is the moon with the Lunar Hare and toad inside.

Beneath the sky map are the Four Supernatural Beings — the Green Dragon, White Tiger, Scarlet Bird and Black Tortoise — each guarding one of the cardinal directions. Beneath the Supernatural Beings the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac frolic counter-clockwise in a band around the dome.

Human figures come back into prominence on the walls of the burial chamber. On the north wall a man and a woman sit underneath a canopy at a banquet. These are probably images of the occupants of the tomb. On one side of the canopy female attendants stand, on the other male and female musicians entertain. The women attendants and the hostess wear their hair in the distinctive flying bird style.

The banquet is guarded by more cavalrymen and honor guards on the east wall. Of particular note is a tall light red horse in the center of the image. A line of honor guards stand in front of the horse and attendants carry equipment while in the distance two lines of cavalry approach. It’s a proud display, a procession moving from south to north.

On the west wall is a procession going in the other direction, north to south. In the center of this panel is an ox cart with an arched canopy and awnings. The ox is being driven by two non-Chinese men, so identified by their curly beards. Female attendants with flying bird chignons follow the cart, and yet another honor guard of five men on horses holding pennants are painted above the ox.

The last wall, the south wall, has the doorway in the middle. Around the entrance are two symmetrical sets of musicians. They stand side by side facing each other as they hold long horns so they cross each other at the top.

Such an elaborate set of murals suggest this was the tomb of a high-ranking official. Researchers believe he may have been the local militia leader under the Northern Qi Dynasty, a turbulent period of less than 30 years (550 to 577 A.D.) in which military leaders would have been very highly valued indeed. There are few records covering the history of Shuozhou City during the Northern Qi, and very few archaeological remains have been excavated. This was the first proper scientific excavation of a Northern Qi tomb in Shuozhou and is thus an invaluable source of information about an obscure period.

It took four years of work to restore the murals. They are now divided into 31 sections on aviation aluminum panels so they can be dismantled and transported for exhibition.

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The tombstone of Britain’s first Roman legionary

Sunday, June 16th, 2013

The tombstone of Lucius Valerius Geminus, veteran of the Legio II Augusta, one of the elite legions that first invaded Britain in 43 A.D. under the Emperor Claudius, the legion which defeated Boudica and built Hadrian’s wall, is going on public display at the Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock for the first time since its discovery in 2003.

The tombstone was found in the foundations of the town wall near the west gate of Alchester, a Roman town two miles south of the modern Oxfordshire town of Bicester. The stone had been broken into 20 pieces and reused for rubble in the foundations of the stone wall which we know from coin evidence was built after 260 A.D. and before the abandonment of the town in the 5th century. The town was preceded by a Roman military base the construction of which, thanks to dendrochronological analysis of two wooden gateposts found at the front gate preserved by waterlogged ground, we can date incredibly precisely to between October of 44 A.D. and March of 45 A.D.

What makes this tombstone such a significant find is the biographical detail in the inscription describing a soldier who most likely participated in the initial conquest of Britain and then settled in the province after his retirement. It’s the only personal biography we have of anyone living in Oxfordshire before the Middle Ages, and the first for an individual veteran in the entire province of Britannia.

Here is the text of the inscription:

Dis. Manibus/ L(ucius) Val(erius) L(uci filius) Pol(lia tribu) Gemi/nus For(o) Germ(anorum)/ vet(eranus) Leg(ionis) [I]I Aug(ustae)/ an(norum) L. h(ic) s(itus) e(st)/ he(res) c(uravit)/ e(x) t(estamento)

“To the souls of the departed: Lucius Valerius Geminus, the son of Lucius, of the Pollia voting tribe, from Forum Germanorum, veteran of the Second Augustan Legion, aged 50(?), lies here. His heir had this set up in accordance with his will.”

Forum Germanorum was a one-horse town in north-west Italy at the base of the Alps in what is today the Piemonte region. It was once part of the province of Gallia Cisalpina (Gaul on this side of the Alps) but had been granted Latin Rights in 89 B.C. under a law promoted by (and maybe even written by) Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo, father of the triumvir Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus. Lucius Valerius’s epitaph was inscribed 70 or so years later and his membership in the Pollia voting tribe still ranked a mention.

Since we know that he had to have died before the garrison left Alchester around 60 A.D., his approximate age at death (50), the general age of army recruits (17-25) and the standard term of service for a legionary (25-30 years), we can deduce he joined the legions during the reign of Tiberius (14-37 A.D.). The base of the Second Augustan Legion at that time was Strasbourg from which he may have participated in Caligula’s quasi campaign (he just executed a bunch of his own people and moved around, really) in Germany from 39-40 A.D. Less than two years later, the future emperor Vespasian became commander of Legio II Augusta and it was he who brought it from Strasbourg to Britain in 43 A.D.

It’s unlikely that Lucius Valerius died away from home and was buried on the spot. As noted in the inscription, the gravestone was inscribed and installed according to the explicit instructions in his will. Obviously he felt no need to be interred back home in Forum Germanorum — he’d probably been gone decades by then — because it wasn’t at all unheard of for soldiers on expedition to be returned home for burial even over great distances but he chose to rest eternally in British soil.

No accompanying burial was found during the 2003 excavation of the Alchester walls. This makes sense because he would have been buried outside of the city, probably along a road. What seems most likely to have happened is a couple of hundred years after his death and burial, Lucius’ gravestone was broken up and moved by cart to the construction site of the new town walls. It was probably a deliberate breakage and transport rather than someone collecting random broken stones because so much of it was found in the rubble foundation.

After its discovery, the tombstone was studied and painstakingly piece back together by experts at the Oxfordshire Museum. Starting July 20th, the gravestone of Lucius Valerius Geminus, first known legionary of Britannia, will be on display in the museum’s History in the Making Exhibition.

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1,200-year-old lost city found in Cambodia

Saturday, June 15th, 2013

A team from the University of Sydney’s Australian Centre for Asian Art and Archaeology has discovered a previously unknown city from the early Khmer Empire on Phnom Kulen mountain, 25 miles of Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Archaeologists knew that there were a few scattered temples on the site because the ruins are still visible through the jungle growth, but when they attached Lidar to a helicopter and then flew over the area for seven days, the remote sensing technology revealed much more than a handful of isolated temples.

Lidar, a portmanteau of laser and radar, points a laser beam at a target and then determined distances by analyzing the reflected light. It’s a highly effective (and highly expensive) tool for mapping architectural features hidden underneath thick jungle canopies. What the Lidar found was more than two dozen new temples, plus canals, roads and dykes indicating the site was a major city complex. Many of the temples are invisible to the naked eye and show no sign of having been interfered with by looters, a rare boon to archaeologists.

In effect the Lidar technology peeled away the jungle canopy using billions of laser pulses, allowing archaeologists to see for the first time structures that were in perfect squares, completing a map of the city which years of painstaking ground research had been unable to achieve.

The archaeologists were amazed to see that 36 previously recorded ruins scattered across the mountain were linked by an intricate network of gridded roads, dykes, ponds and temples divided into regular city blocks.

The team believes these structures belong to the ancient city of Mahendraparvata, the capital built by the founder of the Khmer Empire, Jayavarman II. Scriptures describe a great ceremony held by Jayavarman II on Phnom Kulen mountain in 802 A.D. to celebrate Cambodia’s freedom from Javanese control. He was proclaimed God King at this ceremony and built a city on the sacred mountain and ushered in the glories of the new Angkor era. Angkor Wat was built more than 300 years later in the 12th century.

Like Angkor Wat, the Mahendraparvata city grid is oriented east-west and north-south, but Angkor Wat was built on a flat plain while Mahendraparvata was built on a mountain side. Clearing the area of vegetation and building in neat geometries was an exceptional feat of engineering for the newborn empire. That deforestation may have been an important contributing factor to the demise of the city because stripped of its natural ecology, the city became dependent on water management systems which could not support its population as it grew.

Much more investigation much be done before the question of what happened to Mahendraparvata is answered. Archaeologists believe the Lidar only covered the tip of the iceberg over those seven days. They think the city is far vaster and they want to return with a more extensive Lidar exploration. It’s an expensive proposition so they’ll need to raise funds before they come back with more Lidar, but in the meantime they have a rich new archaeological site to explore the old-fashioned way.

Here’s a video of them tramping the jungle, looking for the structures revealed in the Lidar data. Watch the whole thing because it’s amazing to see just how little of the archaeology can be seen with the naked eye. One of the temples is under a rice field and there is exactly one partial brick on the surface testifying to what’s underneath.

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Rosenberg’s diary found in New York state 67 years after Nuremberg Trials

Friday, June 14th, 2013

The diary of high-ranking Nazi Party ideologue Alfred Rosenberg, missing since it was used as evidence in the Nuremberg Trials, has been found in western New York. The 400 loose-leaf pages were written from 1936 through 1944. During the pre-war years he was, among other things, the head of the Nazi party’s foreign affairs department and during the war years he was in charge of looting cultural property all over Europe and, after the invasion of the Soviet Union, he served as Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories.

Rosenberg was one of the first members of the Nazi Party, beating even Adolph Hitler who joined nine months after him in October 1919. After the failure of the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, Hitler, in prison for treason, appointed Rosenberg temporary leader of the party during his absence. He was editor of the Nazi paper Völkischer Beobachter and a profound anti-Semite and Aryan supremacist who expounded his racist and pagan philosophy in his best-selling but rarely read 1930 book, The Myth of the Twentieth Century. He was influential in the development of key Nazi ideas like Lebensraum (“living room,” or Germany’s need to stretch its legs all over Europe using the local population as a footstool) and the persecution and mass-murder of European Jews. As Reich Minister, he was directly involved in deportation of civilians in his territories to forced labor camps and in the deportation of Jews to death camps.

The papers were seized by Allied troops in August of 1945 and relayed to the U.S. Army’s Records Subsection of the Documents Unit of the War Crimes Branch. Rosenberg was also captured after the war and was tried for conspiracy to commit aggressive warfare, crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was convicted of all four charges and was hanged on October 16th, 1946. When asked if he had any last words, Rosenberg was reportedly the only executed Nazi war criminal to decline, replying simply “No.”

Some time after the trial, the diary disappeared. Authorities believe it was taken by Dr. Robert Kempner, the deputy chief counsel at the Nuremberg Trials and chief prosecutor of the Ministries Trial, the 11th of the 12 Nuremberg trials. As chief prosecutor, he had access to all Nazi documents even though he wasn’t personally involved in the prosecution of Rosenberg. Kempner was a German lawyer who fled to the United States during the war. When the trials were over, he returned to the US and lived in Pennsylvania. He was given permission by the Office of the Chief of Counsel of War Crimes to keep some of the unclassified documents for his personal study and without oversight he helped himself to a great many papers, including apparently the Rosenberg diary.

Kempner died in 1993 and in 1997, his heirs told the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum they wanted to donate his papers. Museum staff documented the collection at that time and the diary was not there. After a two-year dispute with the estate, museum experts returned to document the collection again and found things missing. Papers continued to disappear and reappear for the next few years, but the diary was not among them.

The museum kept looking, though, and in November of 2012, an art security specialist working with the museum contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents with new information about the Rosenberg Diary. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s and HSI worked together on the case, ultimately serving a search warrant in April of this year and seizing the long-lost documents.

The authorities are not releasing any names or exact locations, but the scuttlebutt is that the diary wound up with Kempner’s former secretary after his death. She lived in western New York.

“Thanks to the tireless investigative work of HSI special agents, and years of perseverance by both the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the long-lost Rosenberg Diary has been recovered, not in Germany but in the United States,” said Director Morton. “This important record of the crimes of the Third Reich and the Holocaust is now preserved for all to see, study and learn from. The work of combating the international theft of cultural heritage is a key part of our work, and no matter how long these items may appear to be lost to history, that hard but important work will continue.”

“This seizure is the result of the joint efforts of this office and Homeland Security Investigations,” said U.S. Attorney Oberly. “The discovery and return of this long-lost, important historical document to the government of the United States is a significant achievement. Although it is a reminder of a dark time, the Rosenberg Diary is important to our understanding of history. Our hope is that it will provide valuable insight to historians.”

“The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is thrilled to have recovered the diary of Alfred Rosenberg, a leading Nazi ideologue,” said U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Director Sara J. Bloomfield. “As we build the collection of record on the Holocaust, having material that documents the actions of both perpetrators and victims is crucial to helping scholars understand how and why the Holocaust happened. The story of this diary demonstrates how much material remains to be collected and why rescuing this evidence is such an important museum priority.”

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Lost medieval inscribed stone found in Wales stream

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Archaeologists on a walk stumbled on a long-lost inscribed stone dating to the 9th or 10th century in the Nant Tawelan river in the village of Silian, County Ceredigion, mid-west Wales. Nikki Vousden, staff member of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, and University of Wales archaeologist Dr. Roderick Bale were taking a stroll along the stream one bank holiday when they noticed one of the wet stones had an inscription. The water glinting off the surface highlighted the unusual pattern: a linear Latin cross with a lozenge shaped ring at the upper end.

There are only three stones known with a cross and lozenge pattern. One of them is at St. David’s Church in Llanllawer, the other at St. Tecwyn’s Church, Llandecwyn, and the third has been missing for longer than anyone knows. Its existence was documented by Dr. Victor Erle Nash-Williams in his 1950 reference The Early Christian Monuments of Wales, but his sources were a cast of the surface and a photograph of the stone kept at the National Museum of Wales. A label on the picture identified the stone as coming from Silian, but there was no record of who took the photograph, who made the cast or the context of the original find.

So at some point somebody knew it was historically significant enough to make a cast of the inscription. How the stone went from museum cast-worthy to sitting in a stream 40 miles south of St. Sulien’s Church, Silian, is a mystery. The stone is being kept at St. Sulien’s right now, which has two other inscribed stones. The earliest, inscribed “Silbandus lies” with a linear Latin cross superimposed over the words, dates to the 7th-9th century and is now built into the church’s external south wall. The second dates to the 9th or 10th century and has a pattern of linked knots on one side and square frets on the other. It was discovered in the churchyard in 1808 and was moved to the interior south wall of the church in 1960.

The newly rediscovered stone is called Silian 3 because it’s the third of St. Sulien’s three stones. Silian 3’s inscription is made of punch marks clustered close together. The design wasn’t carved into the surface with a chisel; it was punched out in divots with a metal tool. According to Professor Nancy Edwards of Bangor University, author of the three-volume A Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales, the Silian 3 inscription is unique. Although they share the cross and lozenge imagery, the other two stones are different in overall pattern.

There are 534 documented early medieval inscribed stones and sculptures in Wales. Find sites cluster around churches and burial grounds. Some of the inscriptions indicate they were used as grave markers, and indeed there are extant stones that bear clear marks of having been embedded vertically into the ground. However, not a single inscribed stone has ever been discovered in context attached to a grave. Nancy Edwards believes (pdf), and inscriptions back her up, they were also used as boundary markers of church property, to record a donation of land to the church, or in the case of the larger works, as unmistakable signs of sacred ground. They may also have been placed along roadsides to serve as prayer stations, much like statues of saints and whatnot are still used in Italy to this day.

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X-rays restore lost aria from Cherubini’s Médée

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

Researchers at Stanford University’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have recovered the final aria of Luigi Cherubini’s opera Médée 216 years after the composer destroyed it in a fit of pique. When Médée debuted on March 13th, 1797, at the Théâtre Feydeau in Paris where he was the house composer, critics were unimpressed, declaring it too long. As the story goes, in response to this slight, Cherubini blackened out the last aria, “Du trouble affreux qui me dévore” (“The terrible disorder that consumes me”), with charcoal. Just like that, 500 bars were gone.

The opera is now acknowledged as the artist’s greatest masterpiece, but for almost 200 years it wasn’t even performed in the original French. Cherubini produced an Italian translation, Medea, which premiered in Vienna in 1802, and in 1855 German composer Franz Lachner staged a German translation of the Vienna version to which he added recitatives in place of the original dialogue. Lachner’s iteration was then translated back into Italian and it’s that version which became the popular staging for most of the 20th century. In the 1980s, the French opera began to be performed again, and in 1997 an unabridged version was staged at Lincoln Center in honor of the opera’s 200th birthday.

Unabridged except for those missing 500 bars, that is. Those seemed to be lost for good, until Heiko Cullmann, a Berlin music scholar visiting Stanford University, read about the SLAC’s successes using the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) to reveal writing concealed by other writing, like the Archimedes palimpsest and explorer David Livingstone’s berry ink diary. He suggested SLAC turn its blindingly bright light onto Cherubini’s original manuscript at the Stanford Library to scan the blacked out aria.

When Cherubini composed Médée in 1797, ink contained a large amount of metal. In the case of Cherubini’s manuscript, the handwritten notes were written with iron gall ink, which, as the name suggests, contained a large amount of iron. The manuscript pages Cherubini wrote on came preprinted with the horizontal lines of the musical staff. These printed lines contained a high level of zinc.

By setting their sensors to look for X-ray energies associated with zinc and iron, the scientists literally had X-ray vision: The charcoal smudges – and even the paper itself – mostly contained carbon and would be almost completely transparent to the X-ray beam.

The scientists focused their X-ray beam down to 50 microns across – smaller than the width of a human hair. Slowly the scientists scanned the document line by line, moving left to right and right to left as the beam worked its way down the page. Each side of the page took about eight hours to scan.

Since the carbon is invisible, after hours of scanning researchers had a jumble of notes because Cherubini wrote on the front and back of the page. They surmounted this obstacle in a delightfully low-tech way: by collating according to note orientation. The composer consistently wrote notes with the ball at the bottom facing right, so the team went through the scans by hand and separated the right-facing from the left-facing notes. Literally overnight, the aria that had been lost for centuries was found.

As a musician, Bergmann did worry that he was violating Cherubini’s artistic choices by uncovering the aria the maestro had hidden, but ultimately he concluded that Cherubini probably wouldn’t mind that more than two centuries after Parisian critics pooh-poohed his masterpiece, people still want to hear it as he first wrote it.

The complete sheet music is now available and some opera company is sure to stage the full Médée soon. Without further ado, here is “Du trouble affreux qui me dévore.”

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Boston hospital cleans its mummy in public view

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

The mummy of a 6th century Egyptian stone cutter that has been on display at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston since 1823 was removed from his sarcophagus for a professional cleaning on Friday, June 7th. His name is Padihershef and salts used in the mummification process have been gradually seeping out of him for centuries. Peabody Essex Museum conservator Mimi Leveque was contracted to remove the salt deposits from his face and linens. She used cotton swabs moistened with saliva — looks like Mom was right all along about saliva’s face cleaning properties — to wipe the salts off his blackened visage, small brushes and a vacuum to remove dust and dirt from the surface.

Leveque’s work was open to the public from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM in the Ether Dome, a historic operating theater where the first public use of inhaled ether as an anesthetic took place on October 16th, 1846. The Ether Dome began its historic run as an operating room in 1821; Padihershef moved in two years later after he was given to the museum by the city of Boston. The city had received him as a gift from Dutch merchant Jacob Van Lennep, the Netherlands Consul General in Smyrna, Ottoman Empire, who donated the mummy so it could “be given to some pubic establishment as a mark of respect to that city.”

Van Lennep’s company did a great deal of business in the US — it imported the first cargo of figs into the country — but it’s unclear why Van Lennep went to so much trouble to acquire a mummy for Boston. He asked his cousin Lee, the British Consul in Alexandria, to score him a mummy and when Lee couldn’t find any good ones in Alexandria or Cairo, he sent a dogsbody to Thebes to dig up a new one. Padihershef was in excellent condition and was considered the best mummy to have been found in decades.

His elaborately decorated sarcophagus told us most of what we know about him. Padihershef was a bachelor, son of father Iref-iaen-Hershef and mother Her-ibes-enes. He worked in the City of the Dead in Thebes, tunneling into cliffs to make tombs for the wealthy. Born on August 5th, 662 B.C., he was in his 40s when he died.

Van Lennep sent Padi to Boston on the ship Sally Ann along with his standard shipment of raisins, wool, rugs and opium. He arrived at Boston Harbor on April 25th, 1823, and was given to the hospital on May 4th. Padihershef was the first mummy ever shipped to the United States, as far as we know. He caused a sensation and was promptly put to use raising funds for the hospital which charged the curious 25 cents a visit. He was briefly leased to an oddities impresario who took him on a tour of American cities so visitors could pay $2.50 to catch a glimpse of him.

With the exception of that tour, Padi’s has resided in the Ether Dome for almost 200 years. He and his coffin have been standing vertically in cases in the front of the operating theater and both the body and the sarcophagus need some touching up. This conservation project began in March after an anonymous donor gave Mass General $5,000 to examine Padihershef in detail. He’s been X-rayed at the hospital before, once in 1931 and once in 1976. Both historical X-rays indicated stunted bone growth from severe childhood illness, but there’s so much more data that can be revealed with X-rays today and CT scans collect information in three dimensions about soft tissues as well as bones. In fact, the March scans discovered that there’s a broom handle inside Padi’s torso, possibly the result of some long-forgotten conservation attempt to keep his head attached to the body. The team hopes to find out more about Padi’s life, diet, illnesses and death this time around.

Experts are working to restore and stabilize his coffin and linens. Once he’s clean and composed, Padi will go on temporary display at the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts, after which he will return to the Ether Dome. He and his coffins will be placed in new horizontal custom designed display cases which will be much more comfortable for them since they won’t have to fight gravity.

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