Archive for July, 2013

Stolen £1.2m Stradivarius violin found after 3 years

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

A Stradivarius violin stolen from South Korean violinist Min-Jin Kym on November 29th, 2010, when she was having a gnosh with her cellist boyfriend at a Pret a Manger in London’s Euston station has been recovered by the British Transport Police (BTP). The violin, crafted by the great Cremona master Antonio Stradivari in 1698, is worth an estimated £1.2 million ($1.82 million). It was in a black carrying case that also held two valuable bows, a Peccatte bow worth £62,000 ($94,000) and a bow from the Bazin school worth more than £5,000 ($7,600). Ms. Kym placed the case on the floor for a few minutes while she ate and the next thing she knew, it was gone.

She immediately called the police to report the theft. The British Transport Police looked at CCTV footage of the station and identified the thief as an adult man who sat next to Kym while she ate her £2.95 ($4.50) sandwich and made a phone call. Two teenagers distracted the staff so the thief could take the case without being noticed, and then the three of them quickly left the Pret a Manger.

Min-Jin Kym (34) bought the violin in 2000 for £750,000 ($1.14 million), her life savings. She had been playing the Stradivarius since it was first loaned to her when she was a teenager (her international debut was with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra when she was just 13 years old). She had the instrument insured by Lloyd’s Canopius Group for the amount she paid for it, but over the decade it had increased in market value, and most importantly, it was priceless to the artist, part of her identity as a musician and a precious treasure to the musical world that she felt herself a custodian of more than just an owner. The insurance company offered a £15,000 ($22,000) reward for the instrument’s return and the authorities made a public appeal for information. The CCTV images were released to the BBC program Crimewatch.

Four weeks after the episode aired, the police had the three culprits in custody: Dublin-born Irish traveller John Maughan (40 years old when captured), a career criminal with 65 convictions on his record, most of them for the theft, who has used more than 40 aliases with 26 different birthdays, and two youths aged 14 and 16 who cannot be named because they’re not adults. None of them had any idea what a rare artifact they had so larcenously acquired.

The day after the theft, Maughan and his accomplices went to an internet café in Tottenham Court Road where they Googled “Stradivarius” and “1698,” the year of the violin’s manufacture. Somebody sitting next to them noticed their search terms and they engaged him in conversation. Proving yet again how many thieves are complete idiots, they tried to sell the violin to this random guy in an internet café for £100 ($151). He refused, and he actually told them this, because his daughter already has a musical instrument: a recorder.

In March of 2011, Maughan was sentenced to four and a half years in jail. His accomplices were remanded to juvenile detention. All three were said to be cooperating with police in the recovery of the violin, but to no avail. The violin, bows and case were still missing. In February of this year a purported Stradivarius violin turned up in a sting in Bulgaria. The BTP investigated if it might be Min-Jin Kym’s, but it turned out to be a fake, made no more than 100 years ago.

The BTP never thought the violin had left the county, so they kept working their leads UK-side. Last week, the real thing was found in a property in the Midlands. Police aren’t providing any details about how this came about other than to say it was the result of a line of enquiry they’d been pursuing for some time. The violin appears to be in good condition, with only minor damage visible. It is being kept at an undisclosed London location where experts are assessing its needs.

Since the insurance company paid out after the theft, it is now the technical owner of the violin. They don’t want to be mean about it, though, and will be working on a deal so that Min-Jin Kym can buy her precious back.

Here’s Kym talking about the crushing guilt she felt at having lost her Stadivarius and her reaction to the great news:

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Inca child sacrifices were drunk, high before death

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

An international team of researchers studying the three Inca mummies discovered in 1999 in an ice pit atop Llullaillaco volcano in the Argentinian Andes has found that the children drank alcohol and chewed coca leaves regularly for up to a year before they were sacrificed. The children died approximately 500 years ago in a sacrificial harvest ritual called capacocha. They walked to Cuzco, the seat of the emperor, and back again to participate in ceremonies and then were taken to the top of the volcano where they were given a maize beer called chicha until they passed out. Once they were unconscious, the priests carefully placed them in underground niches. There they froze to death.

The cold, arid, thin air of the high Andes (the summit where the children were found is 6,739 meters, more than 22,000 feet, high, the highest elevation where Inca sacrificial victims have ever been discovered) created natural mummies so well preserved that they still look like sleeping children. Many of their internal organs are intact; there is brain matter in the skull, blood in the heart and lungs, skin and hair in place.

Subsequent DNA analysis found that none of the three were related to each other. They were also in good physical condition before their death — well-fed, no injuries, no signs of violent death, although the boy was bound around the time of his death and blood on his clothing may indicate he suffocated from a pulmonary edema, a potentially fatal side-effect of altitude sickness. The eldest girl, dubbed “La Doncella” meaning “The Maiden,” had sinusitis a lung infection when she died. The younger girl was struck by lightning some time after her death, hence her nickname “La Niña del Rayo” (the lightning girl).

Flecks of coca leaf were found around the Maiden’s lips, so archaeologists have known for years that she was chewing on it right before she died. Given their long journey high up the volcano, coca leaf would have been a helpful, even necessary tool to combat altitude sickness. It was also a ritual substance used reverently for ceremonial purposes. The chicha had a ceremonial and practical role as well: it was symbolic, a product of the harvest being celebrated and it put the children to sleep to enable their death from exposure.

By studying the hair of the mummies — the long braids of the Maiden and the shorter cropped tresses of the younger children — researchers were able to put together a timeline of coca and alcohol consumption. Since the Maiden had much longer hair than the little kids, her timeline spans the last 21 months of her life. Only the last nine months of the two younger mummies’ lives could be plotted. The team discovered that the two young ones drank alcohol and chewed coca at a steady pace over their last nine months. The Maiden ingested far greater amounts of coca in the last year of her life than in the nine months before that and large amounts of alcohol in her final weeks.

At about six months before death, there was a ceremony that involved ritual hair cutting — some clippings were found with the mummies — and that coincides with a peak in coca consumption.

The coca consumption and alcohol use then begin to rise sharply again in the weeks before death, probably as the Ice Maiden and two younger children were marched from Cusco to the volcano, stopping along the way for ceremonies that likely involved large amounts of coca and chicha. [...]

These festivals en route to the mountain, [Tulane University anthropologist John] Verano noted, could explain why the Ice Maiden was drinking so much corn beer along with elevated coca chewing in her final weeks.

It’s also possible, he added, that “she had a drinking problem. Maybe she started drinking beer the last year of her life and just found it to be pleasant or particularly soothing.”

She also would have realized what was coming more fully than the little ones, so maybe she had more of a reason to drink heavily.

A hair study in 2007 found that the three children ate better in their final year than they had early in life. They subsisted mainly on potatoes when they were very young, but their diets late in life consisted of llama meat and maize, elite foods in Incan society. This strongly suggests all three children were peasants who were chosen, thanks to their physical “perfection,” for ritual sacrifice. Once they were in the hands of the priests, they were fattened up and plied with alcohol and coca to prepare them for their ceremonial roles. Being chosen to die was considered a great honor and according to Incan beliefs, the sacrificed did not die but become angels guarding over their people from the mountain heights.

That the children were intoxicated just for the final ceremony isn’t the only received wisdom the new study has upended. The Maiden was previously thought to be 15 years old at the time of her death, Lightning Girl six and the boy seven. CT scans from this project found that they are all two years younger than their estimates. The Maiden was 13, the girl four and the boy five. Archaeologists also thought that the two young children may have come from nobility because their heads show sign of deliberate malformation, but if that were the case, they would not have lived on potatoes for the first years of their lives.

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Grey Friars stone coffin opened to reveal lead coffin

Monday, July 29th, 2013

On Tuesday, July 23rd, the University of Leicester team excavating the Grey Friars site set about taking the lid off the medieval stone coffin discovered last September during the Richard III dig in what was once the choir of the church. Made out of carved limestone, it’s the first intact medieval stone coffin ever discovered during an archaeological dig in Leicester. The box is 2.12 meters long (seven feet), .6 meters (two feet) wide at the wide end were the head would be placed, .3 meters (one foot) wide at the narrow feet end and .3 meters deep. The heavy stone lid does not match the coffin and the mortar is damaged in some areas, suggesting it may have been added after the original internment, then removed or at least tampered with.

After a night of rain, the entire site was pockmarked with puddles, but the team had thoughtfully put a tent over the stone coffin so they wouldn’t have to wade hip-deep into mud to examine it. The team cut the mortar seal all the way around and placed straps under the lid. Eight people were enlisted to hold on to the straps and lift the solid stone lid up and to the side where it was set down carefully on the ground. Inside was another coffin, this one a lead wrapper 5 millimeters-thick embracing the body. We know there’s a body inside because the bottom of the lead coffin was damaged leaving the feet exposed. This is further evidence that the coffin was exhumed, opened and re-buried.

No identifying marks have been spotted on either of the coffins, which is a shame because a nice handy label is the only way to know for sure who was buried in them. There was a rough cross soldered into the lead, which could suggest it contained someone or something (a relic, for example) of religious significance. Then again, anybody Christian buried in two expensive coffins in a prime position under a church choir is just as likely to have a little cross iconography in the mix somewhere.

It was certainly someone of great consequence. Likely candidates include Peter Swynsfeld (d. 1272), William of Nottingham (d. 1330), both leaders of the English Grey Friars order, and a man described in the documentary record as “a knight called Mutton, sometime mayor of Leicester,” who researchers believe was Sir William de Moton of Peckleton (d. between 1356 and 1362). A large limestone coffin would have been difficult and expensive to make. Sufficient lead to make a wrap-around coffin was also extremely expensive.

The lead coffin reminds me of the late Roman “burrito” sarcophagus found in a necropolis at the Etruscan site of Gabii in 2009. At a half a ton in lead, it was considerably bulkier than the Leicester coffin, but they are both major signifiers of wealth. Lead coffins tend to preserve remains relatively well, as long as they’re not damaged (like the Grey Friars one) or filled with earth (like the Gabii one). They certainly pose a great challenge to conservators because you can’t just open them and see what’s in there. Lead is highly malleable and easy to damage. Any rough handling would harm the artifact (hence the dangling feet situation) and therefore the human remains within.

The lead coffin was lifted out of the stone coffin and sent to the University of Leicester lab for analysis where researchers will try to figure out a way to examine the contents without damaging the artifact or the remains.

The second dig at Grey Friars is now officially over. The decapitated monks were not found, nor were they able to find the remains of the nave. It seems a large portion of the church was completely destroyed by later construction, no foundations left or anything, which makes the discovery of Richard III’s skeleton even more insanely improbable.

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More panels of large Greek mosaic found in Calabria

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

Last year, on the last day of the 25th consecutive year of excavations, large panels depicting a 20-by-13-foot dragon, a sea serpent, a large rosette and multiple panels of floral designs from a large Hellenistic mosaic were uncovered in the ancient Greek colony of Kaulon or Kaulonia, today the city of Monasterace Marina outside of Reggio Calabria, the toe of the Italian boot. Archaeologists and students from Italy and Argentina were digging on the site of a monumental bath from the 4th century B.C. when they unearthed a long pool. At the end of the pool, they found a floor covered with a vast maritime-themed mosaic that covered an area of 25 square meters (260 square feet) and they had only uncovered two-thirds of it.

Now archaeologists have found more panels of the same mosaic adding another five square meters (54 square feet) to the total and making this the largest Hellenistic mosaic ever discovered in Magna Graecia (Greater Greece, ie, Greece’s colonies in southern Italy). The new panels feature another dragon, a small dolphin and a larger dolphin facing off against the dragon. The space has thus been dubbed “the room of dragons and dolphins.” Its Hellenistic style dates the mosaic to between 323 and 146 B.C., a period when the city was on the come up after some rough treatment with the tyrants of Syracuse.

Legend has it that the city of Kaulon was founded by Caulon, the son of Clete, an Amazon warrior who was Queen Penthesilea’s nurse and one of the twelve women who followed her to Troy. After Penthesilea was killed by Achilles, Clete left Troy to return home but a storm drove her ship off-course. She landed in Calabria and founded the city of Clete (Cleto). Her son Caulon struck out on his own, taking after Mom and naming a new town after himself. He and his mother are both said to have died fighting to defend their cities from the city of Croton.

Whatever the kernel of truth there may or may not be in the foundational mythology, the city of Kaulon was prosperous and independent for centuries after its founding in the 8th century B.C. It had a large port and supplied timber to the Athenians during the Peloponnesian War. It also traded in stone, salt, gold, lead, ceramics and metal objects. With all this trade income coming in, the city minted its own coins.

In 389 B.C., Kaulon was conquered by Dionysius I, the tyrant of Syracuse, who had in fact conquered Croton 10 years before and would hold it for another two years after the fall of Kaulon. He destroyed the city and deported all its residents to Syracuse. Kaulon was rebuilt by the tyrant’s son Dionysius II. He was visiting it in 357 B.C. when his uncle Dion, a philosopher student of Plato’s who, having failed to convert his dissipated and cruel nephew to enlightened despotism, overthrew him instead and established a quasi-democracy/senatorial republic/slightly less abusive tyranny in Syracuse. Dion was assassinated by his soldiers in 354 B.C. and Dionysius II stepped back into the breach in the chaos that followed.

(Dionysius II is also the star of the story of Damocles’ sword. Damocles was a courtier who flattered the king, exclaiming upon what a fortunate man he was to wield so much power and wealth. Dionysius had him sit on his throne so he could experience the good fortune of kingship himself, then hung a large pointy sword above his head hanging from a thread the thickness of a single horse hair. Damocles thus realized that all the trappings of wealth of power come at a huge price: constant fear.)

Kaulon took up with Hannibal during the Second Punic War and was destroyed for good by the Romans around 200 B.C. When people rebuilt, they moved inland creating the ancestor of the town of Monasterace, leaving the Greek city in ruin.

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Cheapside Hoard watch looks like the Enterprise

Saturday, July 27th, 2013

In anticipation of the upcoming exhibition of the Cheapside Hoard at the Museum of London, Birmingham City University researchers are examining select pieces from the hoard with the latest technology to investigate how they were made. Using laser scanning technology, artCAD (artistic Computer-Aided Design) and CAM (Computer-Aided Manufacturing) software, experts have collected as much data as they can about the construction of the jewelry and then recreated them digitally.

“Our forensic analysis has revealed the amazing technologies which craftsman of this period were using – and we fear some of these 400-year-old processes may now be lost to us,” said Dr Carey.

“It is has been a fascinating investigation. We think of our own time as one of impressive technological advances but we must look at the Elizabethan and Jacobean age as being just as advanced in some ways.”

Just what those technologies were has not been specified.

Some of the pieces were so damaged researchers have to restore them digitally before they could study their craftsmanship. The Ferlite watch, for instance, a gilded brass verge watch signed by G. Ferlite, is severely damaged in a number of areas and corrosion has eaten away at the pendant, case and dials. It was Laser scanned but the results were disappointing because highly reflective surfaces like glass and polished gold can’t be scanned easily. The scans had to be enhanced and interpreted through CAD in order for a full picture to emerge.

This kind of highly technical approach went outside the usual curatorial purview, so experts from other university departments were enlisted. Keith Adcock, Senior CAD CAM Technologist at the University of Birmingham’s Jewellery Industry Innovation Centre (JIIC) and Birmingham Institute of Art and Design (BIAD), worked on the watch in CAD/CAM.

Keith imported a photograph of the watch face and using ArtCAM’s “Relief from Image” tool created a model surface. This removed the need to trace around every part of the imported image to create the vector artwork. Keith comments, “ArtCAM is absolutely fabulous for interpreting photographs and creating textures.”

However, due to the effects of the corrosion on areas such as the day-dial on the right hand side of the watch face, Keith needed to alter some of the automatically generated reliefs. Fading out the photo, Keith used ArtCAM’s advanced vector drawing tools to quickly trace around the parts he wanted. He then remodelled areas using ArtCAM’s “Shape Editor” and combined these with the reliefs generated from the scan data. Smoothing tools were then used to soften the surface finish before ArtCAM rendered the piece as it would have looked prior to receiving its enamel finish.

Once the digital model was complete, it was rendered in 3D and printed out of resin on a 3D printer. With the specialized supports created in CAD and printed in 3D, the watch resin model looks like the Enterprise with a custom clockface body kit.

Another piece of the Cheapside Hoard, an elaborate cage pendant (possibly worn as a headpiece) festooned with pearls, was recreated in bronze instead of printed in resin. Stripped of its pearl adornments, the intricate egg-shaped cage structure of the object is exposed.

I actually like it better without the pearls carbuncling things up.

Until we get details about the construction methods used to create these jewels, my favorite part about this research is that the 3D models and recreations will take part in the Museum of London’s Cheapside Hoard exhibition to show visitors how the pieces were made and, best of all, so that the vision impaired can touch, palpate and explore them at will. I think that’s a genius idea, one that I hope to see in implemented widely in the future.

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18th c. wooden railway found in Newcastle shipyard

Friday, July 26th, 2013

Archaeologists excavating the site of the Neptune Shipyard in Newcastle upon Tyne, northeastern England, before development have discovered a 25-meter (82 feet) stretch of an 18th century wooden railway. These rails weren’t transporting trains — they wouldn’t be invented until the next century — but rather wooden wagons, aka chaldrons, pulled by horses. This is a section of the Willington Waggonway built in the 1760s to transport coal from several local collieries to the river Tyne.

Coal mining defined Newcastle starting in the Middle Ages (the expression “carrying coal to Newcastle” meaning a pointless activity dates to the 1600s) and the networks of waggonways were essential to the development of the industry. They enabled collieries to transport far more coal than wagons on traditional roads. One horse could deliver between 10 to 13 long tons of coal per trip along the waggonways, four times more than that same horse could deliver off track. They were built like Roman aqueducts, at a slight downhill incline from colliery to dock, whenever possible so gravity could help drive the wagons.

The archaeologists were expecting to find Roman remains because the fort of Segedunum, the easternmost fort on Hadrian’s Wall, is less than five miles away, but they were far from disappointed with what they found instead. It’s a discovery of major historical significance, not just because of its importance to the history of the region, but because the rail gauge is standard gauge, still the most widely used rail width in the world. This is the earliest example of it known to survive and it’s exceptionally well preserved, thanks yet again to a waterlogged environment.

Historians can now see something in three dimensions that they’ve only been able to study in books, drawings and paintings.

Archaeologists have revealed a “main way” heavy duty waggonway lined with double wooden rails, one laid on top of the other to prolong the life of the system. A loop from the main line enters a dip which would once have been a pond into which the wooden wheels of the coal wagons would have been immersed to stop them from drying out and cracking. [...]

The pond loop has a stone central section between the rails which the horse drawing the waggon would have used to stay dry.

It’s no coincidence that the steam locomotives which replaced the wagon transport came to share Willington Waggonway’s gauge. The collieries along the Tyne used a variety of gauges ranging from as small as 3’10″ to as wide as 5’0″. George Stephenson, later known as the “Father of the Railways,” worked for the collieries from a very young age, starting out as a picker cleaning coal of stones and other debris, then rose through the ranks. By the age of 15 he was a fireman. By the age of 17, he was an engineer of a stationary fire engine. The next year he went to night school where he learned to read for the first time. In 1802, when he was 21 years old, he worked as a brakesman at a coal pit in Willington Quay.

That same year, Cornishman Richard Trevithick designed the first steam engine tramway locomotive. That designed came to fruition two years later, hauling 10 tons of iron on February 22, 1804, for the iron works at Penydarren in Wales. It only made three trips before the seven-ton engine broke the cast iron rails, so the iron works abandoned it as impractical. Trevithick built his second locomotive in 1805 for the Wylam Colliery in Tyneside. This was one weighed a mere 4.5 tons but it was using 5′ wooden tracks built for the wagons in 1748. Again, the tracks could not handle Trevithick’s engine.

George Stephenson watched the trials and was impressed despite the ultimate failure of the locomotive. His early experience with fire engines and hard-won education developed into an engineering career. By 1813, he was the engine-wright at the Killington Colliery, improving many of their mining machines and in charge of all steam engines. In 1814, Stephenson built his first locomotive for the Killingworth Waggonway which had been joined to the Willington line in 1801. He used the gauge that he was most familiar with from his years of work on the line: Willington Waggonway’s 4’8″ gauge.

Stephenson’s locomotive worked. On its first trip it drew eight loaded wagons weighing 30 tons at four miles per hour. Thereafter it went into regular operation on the Killingworth Waggonway. (Fun fact: that first locomotive was named Blücher after Prussian general Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher. Anybody who has seen Young Frankenstein knows how to respond.) He spent the next years building railways, locomotives and stationary steam engines for many of the area collieries. Some of those locomotives remained in use for decades.

In 1823, Stephenson was appointed Chief Engineer of the Stockton & Darlington Railway. He designed the whole thing from top to bottom — selecting the locations, building the tracks, structures, trains, everything. Again he used the 4’8″ gauge that he knew best. On September 27th, 1825, the first railway built to carry the general public rather than an industrial product opened. He then moved on to build the Liverpool & Manchester railway, the first inter-urban passenger railway with timetables and tickets for passenger travel. It also carried raw and finished materials between the port of Liverpool and the textile mills of Manchester. The first run was on September 15th, 1830, and you guessed it, it was on 4’8″ gauge tracks.

At some point in the 1830s an extra half-inch was added to the Liverpool & Manchester tracks to give the flanges a little extra space for lateral movement during higher speed runs and to reduce binding between the train’s wheels and the track on curves. Because Liverpool’s port was such an important hub for industrial transportation, L&M’s tracks became the British standard when it was established by the Railway Regulation Act of 1846. Because of Britain’s global empire and economic power, other countries employed the same standard.

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Reconstructed Chinese altar dedicated at Deadwood

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

The Gold Rush boomtown of Deadwood in the Black Hills of what is today South Dakota drew thousands of people of all ethnicities to its mining industry and associated trades. By 1880, Deadwood was a well-established town, a transportation hub for the Dakota Territory and home to almost 5,000 souls making it one of the largest cities in the territory. There were Chinese immigrants in Deadwood from the beginning in the early 1870s when it was an illegal settlement in Indian territory. They set up homes and businesses clustered around the lower end of Main Street which became known as Chinatown although there were people of various ethnicities living there. Calamity Jane is said to have lived in Chinatown off and on.

According to the 1880 census, there were 116 Chinese residents in Deadwood, more than anywhere else in the Dakota Territory, but many local historians believe the Chinese population was sorely undercounted by the census takers and that in fact it was closer to 400. The population was mostly young men in their 20s and 30s at this time, with the traditional familial structures replaced by community bonds and organizations like the Chinese Masons. Deadwood was seen initially by the Chinese as by pretty much everyone else as a temporary opportunity to make money in the mines or off the miners. This changed over the last two decades of the 19th century until by 1900 the Chinese population was half women.

However, the overall number of Chinese residents began to decline after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 which prohibited the immigration into the United States of all Chinese laborers, skilled and unskilled, and all Chinese “employed in mining.” This had a strong impact on the Chinese community of Deadwood who were mostly laborers and miners. No new workers could come to replace the deceased and the people who chose to stay could no longer bring their families to join them. Many of them returned to China rather than be parted from their loved ones forever, and others moved to cities like San Francisco with large Chinese communities.

By 1900, the census recorded only 73 Chinese residents of Deadwood, and they were rapidly aging (the mean age in 1880 was 30.6; in 1900 it was 39.4). Observing their cultural funerary traditions had always been important, but perhaps even more so now that the small community was getting older and dying. In 1908, the Chinese residents built a ceremonial altar and burner used in funerary rituals and ancestor worship in Section Six of Deadwood’s Mt. Moriah Cemetery. The altar was in regular use for the next two decades, but fell into disrepair in the 1930s with the Chinese community in its death throes. Ching “Teeter” Ong, the last of the original Chinese Deadwoodians, left in 1931 after living there for 45 years. In the 1940s, the burner and altar were destroyed leaving behind only the concrete pad on which it had been built.

In 2003, the Deadwood Historic Preservation Commission excavated the site of the altar hoping to find out more about the Chinese community’s mortuary rituals. Devastatingly, just two years later one of the only remaining original structure from Deadwood’s Chinatown, the building that once housed the Wing Tsue Emporium, was illegally demolished by the property owner Gene Johner. This caused enormous controversy and upset in Deadwood which is very keen to preserve its historic character.

Wing Tsue, meaning “Assembly of Glories,” was a thriving shop located at 566 Main Street which carried luxury imports like silk, tea, porcelain and a large assortment of Chinese foods and herbs. (See this entry about the Golden Flower of Prosperity Company in Oregon for a fascinating example of Chinese retail from this period.) It was founded, owned and operated by Fee Lee Wong, an original 76er who became a prominent and wealthy citizen thanks to the success of his emporium. His son Hong Quong, born in 1884, was the first Chinese child born in Deadwood. Fee Lee Wong left Deadwood permanently in 1919 to rejoin his family who had returned to Canton, China, in 1902. Some of his descendants still live in California today.

With Deadwood’s Chinese history decimated, the Deadwood Historic Preservation Commission decided to rebuild the altar and burner on the excavated concrete foundation. Using $31,105 from the Deadwood Historic Preservation fund, the altar was rebuilt with scrupulous attention to original detail according to the Secretary of Interior’s standards for reconstruction of historic properties. Researchers examined archaeological information from the dig and historic photographs to determine the exact size and dimensions of the altar and burner. The structure was then reconstructed using bricks salvaged from the Wing Tsue building.

On Tuesday, July 23rd, the Deadwood Historic Preservation Committee, city leaders and descendants of Fee Lee Wong came together at Mt. Moriah Cemetery to celebrate the recreation of an important part of Chinese life in Deadwood.

Following brief remarks and a history of the project from Deadwood Historic Preservation Officer Kevin Kuchenbecker, Edith Wong invited the audience to take part in the first ceremonies at the altar of the Chinese burner. After the unveiling and the lighting of incense, a parade of participants took turns setting fake 100-million-yen notes ablaze in the burner, sending them to recipients in the afterlife.

“I’m sorry there’s no whole roasted pig in Deadwood today,” Wong said to a chorus of laughs as smoke wafted from the burner’s chimney.

Beatrice Wong, 82, said she was extremely pleased that clay bricks, salvaged from the Wing Tsue building that housed her grandfather’s modest empire, were used to reconstruct the Chinese burner. The historic Main Street building was demolished on Christmas Eve 2005.

“Chinatown was virtually wiped from the face of Deadwood,” she said. “Today, we replaced a piece of Chinese history in this town. We have deep gratitude to the Historic Preservation Commission and the people of Deadwood.”

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Elite Viking jewelry found on modest Denmark farm

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

An extensive archaeological survey of a farmstead on the Danish island of Zealand slated for residential development uncovered traces of a Late Iron Age/Viking Age settlement and several pieces of important metal jewelry from that era. Between April and December of 2007, experts from Roskilde Museum excavated a total of approximately 27,000 square meters (290,000 square feet) on the 15 hectare Vestervang farm. They found the remains of 18 longhouses and 21 pit houses of modest size — none were more than 65 feet long — which weren’t all constructed at the same time. This wasn’t a town but rather a single farm built up over time in six phases between the late seventh century and the early 11th.

The jewelry unearthed on the site of this farm is far more luxurious than you might expect to find at a modest farm size. There are gilded pieces, intricately carved pendants and brooches, probably imports like a trefoil brooch from 850-950 A.D. designed in a Carolingian style and a pre-Viking brooch with a gold accents in a waffle texture and Christian cross motif in red glass that reminds me of some of the Staffordshire Hoard pieces.

The star of the show is a copper alloy piece 2.9 inches in diameter with a central animal figure wearing a beaded chain around its neck. Three masked figures with moustaches are placed around the object, one on either side of the main character, one across from it. Four holes between the masked men suggest there was additional decoration, perhaps two more animal figures like the central one. Experts believe it may have been part of a necklace.

According to the archaeologist Ole Thirup Kastholm, author of a paper on the excavation published in the latest issue of the Danish Journal of Archaeology, this is a rare piece and would have been extremely high-end in Viking times.

He said that the animal image itself seems to be anthropomorphic, something not unusual in Viking age art. “Some of these anthropomorphic pictures, though, might be seen as representations of ‘shamanic’ actions, i.e. as mediators between the ‘real’ world and the ‘other’ world,” Kastholm wrote in an email to LiveScience. He can’t say for sure who would have worn it, but it “certainly (was) a person with connections to the elite milieu of the Viking age.”

The Christian cross also must have adorned a person of rank. Made between 500 and 750 A.D., it’s not the product of local artisans. It was in all likelihood manufactured in continental Europe and decades or centuries later made its way to Southern Scandinavia, either through trade networks or perhaps carried by a Christian visitor.

What would make this tidy but seemingly unremarkable farm a magnet for such expensive, rare jewelry? Kastholm thinks the key is the farm’s proximity to Lejre, a site just six miles away which according to Beowulf and the Saga of King Hrolf Kraki was the royal seat of the legendary first ruling Danish dynasty the Skjöldung or Scylding clan.

In the 1960s, there was vast residential development in the area of Vestervang, but maps that predate the development show two villages near the site with “Karleby” in their name, something that may signify that the area was given to retainers of Lejre’s ruler.

“The old Scandinavian term karl, corresponding with the old English ceorl, refers to a member of the king’s professional warrior escort, the hirð,” Kastholm writes in the journal article.

Together, the rich jewelry finds at Vestervang, the site’s proximity to Lejre and the presence of two nearby villages with the names “Karleby” reveal what life may have been like at Vestervang.

It “seems probable that the settlement of Vestervang was a farm controlled by a Lejre superior and given to generations of retainers, i.e. to a karl of the hirð,” Kastholm writes. “This would explain the extraordinary character of the stray finds contrasting with the somewhat ordinary traces of settlement.”

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Hidden chambers, 14th c. toilet found in Drum Castle

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Conservators restoring the late 13th/early 14th century square tower of Drum Castle 10 miles from Aberdeen, Scotland, have discovered two hidden chambers not documented on the plans of the castle. One is a garderobe, a toilet with its stone seat still intact. The other is a double chamber, two rooms connected by a doorway.

The chambers were not visible on the inside because they had been walled up during the construction of a library in the medieval keep during the 1840s. There are windows that can be seen from the outside, however, so the conservation team knew there was something between the outer wall and the Victorian library. It could have just been rubble filling an old passage, but since everyone wants to know what’s hidden behind castle walls, Dr. Jonathan Clark of FAS Heritage unblocked the three windows so he could look in from the outside.

Lit solely by a flashlight, the garderobe and its instantly recognizable toilet first greeted his eyes. Then he saw the entrance doorway, long since sealed up by wooden slats with mortar spilling through them. Two of the unblocked windows looked in on this toilet chamber. The third window looked in on second chamber of notable size. Dr. Clark took pictures of the chambers to document them as best he could, and I have to take a moment to slow clap the skills because any photographs I attempted to take by snaking a digital camera through a window slit in a massive medieval wall would come out looking hopelessly drunk. Hell, I’ve seen formal auction pictures that were blurry and poorly framed. My working theory is that Dr. Jonathan Clark has a bionic arm.

In the first flush of excitement, speculation was rife that this might be the secret room in which Alexander Irvine, 17th laird of Drum and committed Jacobite, was hidden by his sister Mary after he fought for Bonnie Prince Charlie on the losing side of the Battle of Culloden (April 16th, 1746). Legend has it that she secreted him away in the keep while the loyalist troops of Prince William, Duke of Cumberland, son of King George II, ransacked the castle. Could this be the very room in which Alexander hid from the Redcoats?

No, it could not be. These chambers weren’t hidden in the 18th century. They were just part of the keep. On Friday conservators sent a remote video camera through the windows and discovered that the one large chamber actually has an adjoining second chamber. They weren’t able to explore it so all they could see was the throughway, but the location of this double chamber strongly suggests a far more pedestrian use as a butchery and pantry. It’s on the end of the lower hall against a north-facing wall. This would be the coldest place in the building where it makes little sense to have living spaces but a great deal of sense to have a food preparation and preservation area.

Since conservators have no other way to explore the chambers, we don’t know if there are any artifacts left inside. The space is too dark for eyeball examination and too large for their cameras to explore thoroughly. On Tuesday, a camera crew from local television station STV news threaded a specialized extending camera through the windows to investigate the double chamber. The segment hasn’t aired yet so keep an eye on the website.

Even though these aren’t secret castle chambers in the Gothic romance sense, finding a garderobe, butchery and pantry from the earliest days of Drum Castle is exciting. Drum’s keep is the oldest in Scotland, probably built by Richard Cementarius (Richard the Mason), architect and Provost of Aberdeen, by order of King Alexander III around 1280. It’s next to the Royal Forest of Drum where the kings of Scotland hunted for generations, so it may have been a powerfully reinforced hunting lodge of sorts. In 1323, Robert the Bruce gave the Barony of Drum and its castle to his friend, neighbor, armour-bearer and secretary William de Irwin in recognition of his 20 years of service.

For centuries Drum Castle was the seat of Clan Irvine. A mansion was added to the keep in the 17th century. The old tower was integrated into the new construction and appears to have been occupied for some time after the Jacobean mansion was built, but documentary evidence indicates that by the 18th century the keep was no longer in regular use. The tower was refurbished by the Victorian Irvines. This is when our medieval toilet and pantries were walled up and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves installed for the new library on the lower floor. The top floor was transformed into a dovecote.

The castle remained in the Irvine family from 1323 until 1975 when it was ceded to the National Trust for Scotland. The keep is the Trust’s oldest intact building. Conservators are working today to keep it intact. The plan is to remove all the cementatious mortars added over the years and replace them with lime mortars that match the mortar used in original construction. Dr. Clark notes that mixing materials in historical properties is never a good idea, and cement is particularly injurious to stone structure. Unlike lime mortar, cement doesn’t breathe so when moisture seeps in, it can’t escape through the mortar joints and has no way to get out except through the stone masonry itself. Then when winter strikes, all that damp freezes in the stonework, causing it to crack and crumble. The moisture trapped inside the building is also damaging the library and its extensive collection of books.

Scaffolding went up in March and conservators hope to be finished with the project in September. So far everything is going according to schedule.

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Cat people vampire burials found in Poland

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Archaeologists excavating the site of future road construction near the town of Gliwice in Silesia, southern Poland, discovered four skeletons buried with their heads between their knees. Stones were placed on the skulls. Further digging unearthed another nine skeletons buried with their heads out of place. Eleven were found with the skull between the legs, one with skull between the hands, two with the skull perched directly on the shoulders. Most of the skeletons found buried this way appear to be female.

Putting the head anywhere but on top of the neck was a common folk practice in Slavic countries for ensuring that the dead would not rise from the grave to harry the living. The idea was that if the dead person attempted to rise, without her head in place she wouldn’t be able to see his victims or even coordinate the climb out of the grave. Other practices — binding feet and hands, pressing with a heavy boulder, pinning the body to the ground by embedding an object in the chest — were also used to ensure the undead would not be able to budge.

Fear of vampirism is not the only possible explanation for the burials, however. There was a gallows near the site of the graveyard. In the Middle Ages, the executed were sometimes left to hang until their corpses rotted and the head disconnected from the body. The decomposed body would then be buried with the head deliberately not placed atop the neck because convicts didn’t deserve a decent burial. That’s not mutually exclusive with the vampirism hypothesis. Locals would have good reason to ensure those executed and left to rot didn’t come back to seek revenge. The deceased might also have been victims of a mass killing — a battle or slaughtered civilians — during the turbulent times of the early Middle Ages, or of a cholera epidemic.

There were no grave goods, not even the remains of clothing like buttons, in the initial discoveries that could give an idea of when they were buried. The ritual was in regular use in Poland from the arrival of Christianity in the 10th century until the First World War (the last known vampire burial in Poland took place in the east-central village of Old Mierzwice in 1914), so that doesn’t help narrow it down. Finally on Thursday, July 18th, archaeologists found a female skeleton buried with two small artifacts. They may be the key to dating these burials. Her bones were also charred, indicating deliberating burning.

Researchers are analyzing the remains now which will hopefully pinpoint a burial date and possible causes of death. Osteological examination has already returned extraordinary results: the eye sockets are much larger than average while the nasomaxillary area (the part between the nose and the upper jaw) is narrower than average. This would have given them a cat-like appearance, a genetic mutation that suggests the deceased are related and that might explain why this group of people were seen as dangerous by their community.

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