Archive for September, 2013

Fragment of flag from Battle of Bosworth sold

Monday, September 30th, 2013

A fragment of cloth from a flag the flew over the Battle of Bosworth on August 22, 1485, sold to an anonymous private collector for £3,800 ($6,150) at auction last Saturday. The 6.5-inch by 5.5-inch piece of gold and red fabric is a remnant of the standard of Henry Tudor, who after his victory over King Richard III at Bosworth would become King Henry VII. From the auction house press release:

The fragment had been passed around over the years as an amusing after-dinner thought,” [auctioneer Charles Hanson] said.

“Our vendors are obviously aware of its social value today since the imagination of what happened at the Battle of Bosworth will keep historians debating for years to come. I am just delighted such a fundamental accessory to that 1485 battle has been unearthed only months after finding King Richard III in a Leicester car park. As an auctioneer, I thrive on the social relevance such bygone artefacts had on society. If only this fragment could talk I am sure it could tell us so much.”

The flag fragment is mounted in a frame along with a description of its history dated November 13, 1847. It’s been in the same family ever since then. Doubtless the result of 400 years of oral transmission, aka a very long game of telephone, the description gets some key facts wrong. It claims the piece is:

A relic of the Standard taken from Richard III at the battle of Bosworth Field, August 22, 1485. The enclosed relic was taken from Standard in Stanton Harcourt Church deposited by the tomb of one of the Harcourts, who was the Standard bearer to Richard III.

The glaring inaccuracy in this account is whose standard the fragment came from since we know it to be Henry Tudor’s rather than his royal opponent’s. The piece was taken from the Bosworth flag hung over the tomb of Henry’s standard bearer, Sir Robert Harcourt, Knight of The Bath. Sir Robert died five years after the battle, around 1490, and was buried in the Harcourt Chapel in St Michael’s Church, Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire. The tattered remains of the standard he bore were hung above his effigy.

Across from his tomb is that of his grandfather, also named Sir Robert Harcourt, and his wife Margaret Byron. The elder Sir Robert was initially a Lancastrian with a front row seat to the inception of the War of the Roses. He escorted Margaret of Anjou from France to England in 1445 to marry King Henry VI. Things began to go south in 1448 when he killed fellow Lancastrian Richard Stafford at Coventry. He was pardoned for killing Stafford by the king in 1450, but the murder launched a feud between the families that would last for 38 years, long outliving Robert.

As a result of the feud, Harcourt’s Lancastrian loyalties were sorely tested. He was already suspected of having Yorkist sympathies in 1459 and by 1463 he was a confirmed Yorkist. King Edward IV made him a Knight of the Garter that year and he fought for Edward in the siege of Alnwick Castle. For his great services in the capture of Alnwick, Robert was granted £300 a year for life. He died on November 14th, 1470, at the hands of a bastard son of William Stafford of Grafton and 150 Stafford retainers.

By 1485, the Harcourts were Lancastrian again, now fighting on Henry Tudor’s side. The Staffords took the other side and fought for Richard at Bosworth. The next year, Sir Humphrey Stafford of Grafton and his brother Thomas co-led the first uprising against King Henry VII after Bosworth, conspiring with Francis Lovell, 1st Viscount Lovell. The Stafford and Lovell Rebellion was quickly suppressed. The Staffords picked a fight in Worcester which was a stronghold of support for Henry, while Lovell thought better of putting his neck on the line and fled to Burgundy. The Staffords took cover in a monastery from which Henry removed them by force, engendering a big brouhaha about the right of sanctuary that resulted in a Papal Bull that excluded sanctuary entirely in cases of treason. Thomas Stafford was pardoned. Humphrey Stafford was executed at Tyburn. The feud between the Harcourts and the Staffords died with him.

In an unrelated but nonetheless satisfying coincidence, the Harcourt family, Norman French descendants of the Viking yarl Bernard the Dane, fought with William the Conqueror and settled in England after the Battle of Hastings. William granted them estates in Leicestershire and they made their family seat in, you guessed it, Bosworth. The family seat only moved to Oxforshire in 1191 when yet another Robert de Harcourt inherited the Stanton manor from his wife Isabel de Camville’s father. The town of Stanton was then renamed to Stanton Harcourt and the Harcourts have been there ever since. They still own the manor house although it hasn’t been the family seat since the 19th century.


See La Sagrada Família finished in 90 seconds

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

The church of the Sagrada Família, final masterpiece of architect Antoni Gaudí and an icon of Barcelona, was begun in 131 years ago and is still unfinished. When the cornerstone was laid on March 19th, 1882, the church was to be built according to a neo-Gothic design by the diocesan architect Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano, but he resigned in 1883 over conflicts with consulting architect Joan Martorell and architect Josep Maria Bocabella, founder of the Association of the Devouts of Saint Joseph created to promote the construction of a church dedicated to the Holy Family. Martorell was offered the job of head architect but he declined and suggested his protégé Gaudí.

Gaudí was just 31 years old when he headed the call to build the new church. It would become his life’s work and he committed to it almost exclusively from 1915 until he was hit by the number 30 tram in 1926 and died at the age of 73. He was buried in the crypt of the Sagrada Família. The church was between 15 and 25 percent complete at the time of his death. Construction continued under Domènec Sugrañes i Gras who had worked for Gaudí for 20 years. It was Sugrañes who finished the façade of the Nativity over the next 10 years.

Then the Spanish Civil War ignited and work on the church stopped in 1936. Catalan anarchists set fire to the church crypt, to the school Gaudí had built on the site for the children of the workers, and most damaging of all for the fate of the building, to Gaudí’s workshop which contained all his plans, drawings, notes and models. He didn’t use blue prints, preferring to make 3D models and make changes organically as he went along. Those models were essential, therefore, to the execution of the church Gaudí had envisioned.

In 1939, architect and Gaudí collaborator Francesc de Paula Quintana i Vidal picked up the pieces, restoring the crypt and painstakingly reconstructing the models that had been damaged during the war. Using the rebuilt models as guide’s to Gaudí’s vision, construction resumed on the ravaged church. Since then, a number of architects have taken up the mantle, adapting the design as they deemed necessary, something Gaudí himself did all the time, but since nobody but Gaudí is Gaudí, any and all changes have caused controversy.

Still, construction continues inexorably, sometimes more vigorously than others depending on how well fundraising is going. The church is entirely privately funded and over the years financial bottlenecks have occasionally slowed traffic to a crawl. A major milestone was passed in 2010 when the roof over the main nave was completed and an organ installed. This meant the church could finally be used for services. It was consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI on November 7th, 2010, at a mass attended by 6,500 indoors and 50,000 outside.

In 2011, the construction committee announced a completion date of 2026, the centennial of Gaudí’s death. Sort of. If not 2026, then surely by 2028. Maybe. Let’s face it, they still don’t know. It’s such a complex project and there are so many variables that the only way we’ll know for sure the Sagrada Família is finished is when it’s actually finished.

Since that is indubitably a long way off, here’s a wonderful digital rendering of the remaining construction and the final triumph to tide you over.



US returns silver griffin rhyton to Iran

Saturday, September 28th, 2013

The United States has returned a silver rhyton in the shape of a griffin to Iran 10 years after it was seized by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This is a shocking development, to say the least. When I first wrote about the rhyton languishing forlorn in an ICE warehouse in Queens in 2010, the notion of repatriation was so remote as to seem impossible. ICE special agent in charge of cultural property James McAndrew put it bluntly: “This piece can’t go back.” Arranging for the return of looted artifacts is the kind of thing diplomats do, and the US and Iran haven’t had diplomatic relations since the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

They still don’t, but there were some baby steps taken this week, including the first phone call between the two heads of state since 1979. On Thursday, September 26th, the US State Department took another step in the thawing of relations and returned the silver griffin rhyton. From the State Department’s announcement:

It is considered the premier griffin of antiquity, a gift of the Iranian people to the world, and the United States is pleased to return it to the people of Iran.

The return of the artifact reflects the strong respect the United States has for cultural heritage property — in this case cultural heritage property that was likely looted from Iran and is important to the patrimony of the Iranian people. It also reflects the strong respect the United States has for the Iranian people.

This was a relatively simple gesture to execute with a major payoff in goodwill. As soon as he landed in Tehran President Hassan Rouhani described the return of the rhyton to assembled reporters.

“The Americans contacted us on Thursday [and said that] we have a gift [for you]. They brought this chalice to the [Iranian] mission with due ceremony and said this is our gift to the Iranian nation,” Rouhani said.

He said that the historical artifact was very precious to the Iranian nation and added it should be safeguarded as it is “the symbol of the ancient civilization” of the country.

Iran is justifiably proud of its magnificent history, and this rhyton is an exceptional piece of it that was illegally exported from the country in a particularly painful episode of looting. The ceremonial libation vessel was made around 700 B.C. during the pre-Achaemenid period before the founding of the first Persian Empire by Cyrus the Great in the 6th century B.C. It was stolen by looters from the Kalmakarra Cave, known as the Western Cave, halfway up a cliff in the western highlands of Iran sometime between 1989 and 1992.

The details are nebulous because looters aren’t really into site documentation, and archaeologists weren’t able to explore the find before the vultures descended. Hundreds of artifacts, anywhere from 230 to 500 objects from the 3rd millennium to the 7th century B.C., were found in the cave, a vast compendium of Iranian material history of the highest quality. Silver bowls, vases, dishes, silver human masks from the Akkadian Empire, furniture fittings, some gold ears (probably originally attached to wooden statues of deities) and at least 20 silver zoomorphic figurines and libation vessels in the shapes of ibexes, lions attacking bulls, sheep, goats and one very special imaginary animal: the griffin.

Looters devastated the site, destroying the archaeological context in their thirst for salable treasure and leaving many unanswered, possibly unanswerable, questions about the hoard and how it got there. One working theory is that this was part of the royal treasury of the last kings of Elam hidden from the Assyrians who sacked Susa, the capital of the independent Elamite kingdom, in 647 B.C. Another possibility is that these precious objects belonged to an important temple and were stashed in the cave by devotees to keep them out of Assyrian hands during the same period.

Iranian authorities have worked since 1989 on finding and seizing the stolen artifacts, and it has not been easy. Pieces of the Western Cave Treasure have been found in museums, collections, retail galleries and auction houses in the United States, France, England, Switzerland, Turkey and Japan. The recovered artifacts are now on display in several Iranian museums.

We don’t know what happened to the griffin rhyton for a decade after the discovery of the treasure. It surfaced for the first time in Geneva in March, 1999. It was shown to a private US collector there by antiquities dealer and accomplished loot pimp Hicham Aboutaam of Phoenix Ancient Art. This prominent New York collector, who would later spill the whole story to the US Attorney, was very interested in the griffin, but refused to buy it without confirmation that it was an authentic ancient Iranian piece.

In February of 2000, Hicham Aboutaam packed the rhyton into his suitcase and carried it to Newark International Airport by hand. He submitted a commercial invoice declaring it to be of Syrian origin to Customs, and then spent two years securing expert opinions to reassure the buyer that it was an authentic ancient Iranian piece, specifically one of the artifacts from the great Western Cave Treasure. Three experts weighed in on the artifact, a metallurgist in Los Angeles, a German expert and one in Maryland. The metallurgist confirmed the composition of the silver was in keeping with objects made in 7th century northwest Iran; the German expert straight-up called it as one of the silver pieces from the Cave; the Maryland expert noted the many features it has in common with artifacts in Japan’s Miho Museum reputed to be part of the Cave Treasure.

The last expert (Maryland) signed off on his appraisal in May of 2002. In June, the New York collector wired Hicham Aboutaam the last payment and bought the rhyton for a grand total of $950,000. The Feds got wind of this dirty sale and issued a seizure and arrest warrant for the griffin and Aboutaam in December of 2003. The collector threw Aboutaam under the bus and was not prosecuted. On June 14th, 2004, Aboutaam pleaded guilty to a pathetic single misdemeanor count of presenting a false import claim. The maximum sentence was a year in prison and a fine of $100,000. He was sentenced to pay a $5,000 fine. That’s it. This is why dealers keep selling goods they know to be looted. They literally have nothing to lose. Five grand is tip money to this … person who, let’s recall, made almost a million dollars from the sale.

Okay. Calming down. In with anger out with love. This is a happy day because the rhyton has been liberated from its sad warehouse limbo and been welcomed home where it will join its brethren from the Western Cave Treasure on public display in a museum.


Attic mummy is plastic with real human skull

Friday, September 27th, 2013

The mummy discovered by ten-year-old Alexander Kettler in his grandmother’s attic in Diepholz, northern Germany, in August is neither a mummy nor an ingeniously disguised crime victim. Forensic examination has determined that most of it is a plastic skeleton, possibly a medical school model, of recent manufacture topped with a genuine human skull.

The discovery process led scientists on a merry chase. First, Alexander’s father Lutz Wolfgang Kettler hefted the sarcophagus and other boxes into his Mercedes station wagon and drove the lot to the Archaeological Institute Berlin. The “artifacts” that were found along with the mummy case (an earthenware death mask and a canopic jar) were quickly dismissed as fakes, mainly because they look like they were made by 8th graders out of papier-mâché. Next the experts examined the bandages in which the mummy was wrapped and found they’re machine-made linen or cotton of 20th century manufacture. They did not unwrap the mummy on the off-chance that it might be genuine.

Lutz Kettler wanted to know more, so he took the mummy back home to Diepholz and booked a radiology appointment at a local hospital to see what was inside the wrapping without running the risk of damaging any human remains. CT scans and X-rays found what appeared to be a human skeleton of indeterminate gender inside the linens. The skull had a large arrowhead embedded in the eye socket and was wrapped with a metal “diadem” that looks more like a doubled up version of Björn Borg’s headband or those weird things scrunchy things people put on bald babies’ heads. The rest of the petite 4’10” skeleton seemed to be wrapped in some kind of metal foil which made detailed X-ray analysis impossible. One neck vertebra was missing.

Even though they were unable to confirm whether the skeleton was genuine, the experts who examined it speculated that it might be a composite of several bodies. All they knew for sure after the radiography was that the skull was human. That’s where the authorities stepped in. With a confirmed human skull wrapped in 20th century bandages, police wanted the remains thoroughly examined by forensic experts. After all, wanting to cover up a crime could be a motivation for wrapping the bones in metal foil to keep prying X-rays away from an uncomfortable truth. The authorities confiscated the mummy from Kettler’s garage and brought it to Hamburg so forensic pathologists could determine just when and how this little fellow died.

The pathologists took the plunge and unwrapped the figure. They found it was not a real mummy, nor even a real skeleton. There was no metal foil, but rather a plastic skeleton sprayed with a metallic chemical that blocked X-rays from revealing the plastic within. The skull was real, but the dramatic arrowhead in its eyeball was a child’s plastic toy. The human skull and fake skeleton were packed in kitchen towels used as wadding. The skull shows signs of being a medical school preparation. A circular cut around the skull indicates it was sectioned and opened and then put back together with metallic tape, not baby head scrunchies.

With the forensic examination finding no body and a head that was probably from a med school cadaver, the police determined that there was no crime to investigate further. The Kettlers are still waiting to hear the results of some of the tests done on the skull to determine its age and origin, and Lutz Kettler is still keen to ascertain how this crazy amalgam wound up in his parents’ attic for decades.


Brazil emperor’s toothbrush found in Rio subway dig

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

Archaeologists excavating the site of a future subway extension in Rio de Janeiro have unearthed more than 200,000 artifacts from the 17th to 19th centuries. Many of them are in pristine condition, even fragile pieces like glass bottles and ceramic containers, and they have an illustrious provenance. There was a slaughterhouse on the site between 1853 and 1881, but before that archaeologists believe it was a garbage dump for the nearby imperial palace.

Garbage is often a rich source of archaeological treasure, and this landfill is an outstanding example of that having preserved decades, even centuries of material history of the imperial family and other area residents. It’s a massive combined record of the mundane and rarefied, mundane because they are consumer products like toothbrushes and water bottles, rarefied because what would be an everyday drug store purchase for us peasants was a bespoke, finely crafted and doubtless very expensive import for the emperors of Brazil.

The ivory toothbrush thought to have belonged to Dom Pedro II, who ruled over Brazil from 1831-1889, has turned brown with age. Its boar bristles are long gone, but the inscription remains legible: “His Majesty the Emperor of Brazil.” A round white porcelain pot emblazoned with “to the Queen of Portugal Maria of Saboia” is thought to have contained mint-flavored tooth paste made specially for the queen by a chemist with offices in London and Paris.

The site has also yielded dozens of intact glass and ceramic bottles thought to have once contained water imported from Europe for the imperial family. Six sealed bottles still contain unidentified liquids that the team plans to send to a laboratory for analysis. Dozens of coins and pipes were also found, along with a golden ring and a tie tack.

Archaeologists believe the artifacts survived in such exceptional condition because the area was swampy and waterlogged. The wet conditions provided cushioning and protection for breakable objects like bottles and jars, keeping many of them intact without even a crack.

Excavations have been suspended for the time being for the construction of the new subway tunnels which are part of the city’s preparations for the 2016 Olympics. All the dig trenches have been covered with multiple layers to protect them from damage during construction and to clearly mark the sites. When the tunnels and stations are complete at the end of 2015, excavations will resume. Lead archaeologist Claudio Prado de Mello believes they’ve only scratched the surface, that there may be as many as 800,000 artifacts on this site.

The team of more than 30 archaeologists and historians will spend the next three years working on the vast store of artifacts they’ve unearthed. The finds will be cleaned and catalogued, the broken pieces and fragments will be collected and puzzled together. All the laboratory work is being underwritten by the company that won the subway building contract.


Daughter gets WWII medals, letter from father she never knew

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Twelve years ago, Donna Gregory was helping her then-husband go through his deceased grandparents’ home in Arnold, Missouri, when she came across a box in their bedroom closet labelled “War Department.” Inside she found a collection of documents, clippings and medals belonging to Army private first class John Farrell Eddington, including his Bronze Star, Purple Heart, draft card, dog tags, high school diploma and a letter from the War Department notifying the family that Private Eddington was killed in action in Italy on June 27, 1944. He was 25 years old.

In the box along with 16 letters he had written to his wife, Helen, there was one particularly moving letter Eddington had written to his infant daughter Peggy three weeks after she was born on February 5th, 1944. He was still training in Texas when he wrote the letter, but before he even got a chance to meet his beloved baby girl, John was deployed overseas. He died four months later, never having held little Peggy in his arms.

Touched and fascinated by the history and emotion inside the box, especially in the letter to baby Peggy, Donna Gregory took it home to St. Louis and researched the soldier off and on for the next dozen years. Gregory’s husband at the time had no idea who Eddington was or what connection he might have had to his grandparents. Eddington was born in Leadwood, Missouri, just 50 miles south of Arnold, but that tenuous geographical proximity is the only commonality we know of. Google and the library led her to some more details about John Eddington. She found that he was buried at the Jefferson Barracks in St Louis. Donna was able to trace Peggy to Nevada, but wasn’t able to find a current address.

A few months ago Donna picked up the search again, widening the parameters in the hope she could find John Eddington’s daughter before it was too late. She enlisted the help of friends and random Facebook people who read about the story and the crowdsourced effort worked. She found Peggy’s grandson, then she found her son, and then she found Peggy, now Peggy Eddington-Smith of Dayton, Nevada. Donna called Peggy and told her she had her father’s mementos and most poignantly, the letter he wrote her before he died.

Peggy was shocked. She knew almost nothing about her father other than that he had died in World War II. Her mother had been so devastated by John’s death that she couldn’t bear to speak of him. Helen never remarried because, as she put it the few times she spoke of him, she had once found the perfect man and would never again find the perfect man.

To present Peggy with her father’s things in proper style, Donna raised money to travel to Nevada. She also contacted the Nevada Patriot Guard to see if they could put her in touch with a World War II veteran in Dayton or environs so that he could be the one to place the Purple Heart in Peggy’s hands. The Patriot Guard found Navy veteran Quentin McColl, 93, to perform the duty and they organized a motorcycle escort to accompany Donna from Missouri to Nevada.

On Saturday, September 21st, Donna Gregory arrived at the Dayton Intermediate School gym. In a ceremony attended by Peggy Eddington-Smith, her family, members of Veterans of Foreign Wars who had fought in World War II, local dignitaries and residents, Peggy received her father’s Purple Heart, Bronze Star, personal documents, replicas of his dog tags, gold star flags and the letters. Donna read the very special letter John Eddington wrote to Peggy aloud before giving it to her.

The first page was written to Helen. John hoped she wouldn’t find it “silly” that he was writing to a baby who couldn’t read or understand his words. The next two pages were just pure sweetness from a doting Daddy. I was unable to find a transcript of the entire letter, sadly, but here are bits from various news stories:

My Darling Daughter,

You have never seen me or may never see me for some time. I’m sending you this so that you will always know that you have a very proud daddy somewhere in this world fighting for you and our country.

“I love you so much,” the letter said. “Your mother and daddy … are going to give you everything we can. We will always give you all the love we have.”

Eddington urged his daughter to “always treat your mother right. You have the sweetest mother on the Earth.” He closed the letter by writing, “I love you with all my heart and soul forever and forever. Your loving daddy.”

General sobbing ensued. Peggy, who had told reporters before the ceremony she wasn’t going to get “super-emotional,” abandoned that plan.

“The letter gave me more knowledge of who he was,” she told The Associated Press. “He poured out his heart to me, and a lot of men don’t put that kind of emotion in writing. I’m just overwhelmed by everything, trying to absorb everything.”

Then this happened:

Almost everyone in the crowd in the Dayton Intermediate School gym broke down when the VFW commander called roll for members who served in World War II.

Each old soldier shouted “Here sir.” Then he called for Pvt. John F. Eddington. There was silence. He called for Eddington again. A member replied that Private Eddington was killed in action.

Then the shots of a 21-gun salute rang out outside the gym, and taps was played in his memory.



Head of Aphrodite found during excavation of mosaic

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

The dramatic 1600-square-foot Roman mosaic discovered last year in the ancient town of Antiochia ad Cragum on the southern coast of Turkey continues to bear fruit. Archaeologists excavating the part of the mosaic that was left underground at the end of the last digging season found a life-sized marble head of Aphrodite face down in the soil. The head has been damaged — there are copious chips on the nose, right eye, cheek and chin — and no matching body was found.

This one beaten up head is of disproportionate historical importance because it’s the only piece of monumental sculpture unearthed in eights years of excavations.

The new discoveries add evidence that early residents of Antiochia – which was established at about the time of Emperor Nero in the middle of the first century and flourished during the height of the Roman Empire – adopted many of the trappings of Roman civilization, though they lived in relative isolation a thousand miles from Rome. In the past, scholars believed the region’s culture had been too insular to be heavily impacted by Rome.

Yet [University of Nebraska–Lincoln professor of art history Michael] Hoff and his team have found many signs that contradict that belief.

“We have niches where statues once were. We just didn’t have any statues,” Hoff said. “Finally, we have the head of a statue. It suggests something of how mainstream these people were who were living here, how much they were a part of the overall Greek and Roman traditions.”

Lime kilns have been found near the site which suggests the statuary that once inhabited the niches of Antiochia ad Cragum were burned to make the slaked lime used in concrete. The rise of Christianity in the area in the 4th century may have also played a part as pagan iconography, including statues and figural reliefs, was a particular target of destruction.

The head of Aphrodite wasn’t the only exceptional discovery this season. The team excavated the western half of the large mosaic surrounding the marble-lined swimming pool that was partially unearthed last year. They cleared the pool and found two stairways leading into it and benches along the inner sides. They also found that the elaborate mosaic floor was used as a base for a glass-blowing furnace in the middle of the fourth century, around the same time the lime kilns were in use. Because of these later finds, the date of the mosaic has been moved forward to the late second or early third century.

As if that weren’t enough for three month’s work, the archaeological team also discovered a second mosaic just south of the pool. They excavated a mound where toppled columns were visible above ground and found a square mosaic floor of geometric designs, fruits and flowers. The layout of the remains suggests this structure was a Roman temple which makes the floor even more unusual a find because mosaics floors are rare in Roman temples.

“Everything about it is telling us it’s a temple, but we don’t have much in the way of to whom it was dedicated,” he said. “We’re still analyzing the finds. But the architecture suggests heavily that it was a temple.”

While the larger bath plaza mosaic features large patterned areas, the temple mosaic uses smaller tesserae to compose geometric designs, as well as images of fruit and floral images amidst a chain guilloche of interlocking circles. The temple mosaic measures about 600 square feet.

Both mosaics will eventually be conserved and protected so visitors can enjoy their beauty in situ. For now, conservators repaired some of the damaged areas with a dedicated mortar then covered the mosaics with a conservation blanket and a heavy layer of sand to keep them safe from the elements and looters.


Museum buys Kelly Clarkson’s Jane Austen ring

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

The cabochon turquoise and gold ring that was bought at auction last July by singer Kelly Clarkson will not be departing English soil after all. A local museum has raised the funds to buy it from the singer and keep it in the country.

According to British law, objects of cultural patrimony 50 years old or older and above a certain monetary value must be reviewed by an expert committee before they are licensed for export. If the committee finds that the artifact is of national importance, it recommends that the Culture Ministry block export to give a local buyer time to raise the purchase price.

On the recommendation of the committee, Culture Minister Ed Vaizey blocked the export of the ring because as one of only three surviving pieces of jewelry known to have belonged to Jane Austen (the other two are a topaz cross and a turquoise bracelet), it’s an irreplaceable cultural object. He gave British buyers until September 30th to come up with the £152,450 ($244,000) Clarkson spent on the ring. She agreed that she would willingly sell it so that the bauble could remain in England.

Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire, the house where Austen wrote all six of her finished novels and lived for the last eight years of her life, was keen to secure the ring for the nation and for its permanent collection of Austeniana. The cross and bracelet that are the only other jewels confirmed as having belonged to Jane Austen are part of the Austen House Museum collection and the museum had in fact been one of the bidders for the ring at the auction. Unfortunately, the modest museum wasn’t able to stay in contention as the cost far exceeded the £30,000 pre-sale estimate. After the announcement of the temporary export block in August, Jane Austen’s House Museum launched a fundraiser to give them a second bite at the turquoise apple.

On Monday, just over a week before the September 30th deadline, the museum announced they’ve raised sufficient funds to purchase the ring from Ms. Clarkson. An anonymous donor got the fundraising campaign two-thirds of the way there by pledging £100,000 and Austen fans all over the world donated the remaining £52,450.

Mary Guyatt, curator, said “The Museum has been stunned by the generosity and light-footedness of all those who have supported our campaign to meet the costs of acquiring Jane Austen’s ring for our permanent collection. Visitors come from all around the world to see the house where she once lived and we will now take great pleasure in displaying this pretty ring for their appreciation.”

Kelly Clarkson, who had already accepted the museum’s purchase offer before the announcement was made, graciously responded to the news:

“The ring is a beautiful national treasure and I am happy to know that so many Jane Austen fans will get to see it at Jane Austen’s House Museum.”

The museum hopes Ms. Clarkson will go visit the ring she owned for a short but sweet time. It is scheduled to go on display at the museum come the new year.


Elite Etruscan grave found intact in Tarquinia

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

The intact tomb of an Etruscan aristocrat has been discovered in Tarquinia, a town about 50 miles north of Rome that was the first of the 12 principal cities of Etruria. The Tarquins who ruled Rome before the overthrow of the monarchy and establishment of the Republic came from Tarquinia (called Tarquinii in antiquity), and the newly discovered tomb is adjacent to a large royal tumulus known as the Queen Tomb.

At just six feet in diameter, the new discovery is small compared to the Queen Tomb’s 130-foot diameter, but a location just a few feet away from the Queen’s imposing mound was so prestigious it was saved for the exclusive use of the royal family. The gentleman found buried in the new tomb is probably a prince, therefore, and perhaps even related to a Tarquin since the tomb dates to around 600 B.C., a period during which Lucius Tarquinius Priscus was fifth king of Rome (from 616 to 579 B.C.).

As with the Sarmatian tomb found this summer in Filippovka, the fact that the tomb was not assaulted by grave robbers ancient and modern, but rather has survived for 2,600 years without interference makes it an extremely important archaeological find. Tarquinia has several necropoli with a total of 6,000 tumuli. Those mounds have been targets for looters since they were first carved out of the volcanic tufa rock, so just like the Russian archaeologists, the Italians were expecting to encounter burglarized tombs with some artifacts left behind, not an intact one. The last non-tampered-with tomb in Etruria was found 30 years ago, and it had entirely collapsed so there was little data for archaeologists to retrieved.

The grave goods found inside this tumulus aren’t as glamorous as those found in the Sarmatian tomb or some of the more famous Etruscan burials like the Regolini-Galassi tomb, but an undisturbed context of an ancient people we still know so little about is worth more than piles of gold to archaeologists. The team of archaeologists from the University of Torino and the Superintendence for Archaeological Goods of Southern Etruria were hopeful that they’d find the tomb untouched when they found the stone slab blocking the entrance to the tumulus still perfectly sealed.

After they removed the slab, the first thing they found were remains of a sacrificial offering on the ground by the entrance: a group of jars, vases and a bronze grater all used in funerary rites. The grater was used to grate flours and goat cheeses into a vessel of wine which would then be drunk or poured as a libation.

As the heavy stone slab was removed, [University of Turin Etruscanologist Alessandro] Mandolesi and his team were left breathless. In the small vaulted chamber, the complete skeleton of an individual was resting on a stone bed on the left. A spear lay along the body, while fibulae, or brooches, on the chest indicated that the individual, a man, was probably once dressed with a mantle.

At his feet stood a large bronze basin and a dish with food remains, while the stone table on the right might have contained the incinerated remains of another individual.

Decorated with a red strip, the upper part of the wall featured, along with several nails, a small hanging vase, which might have contained some ointment. A number of grave goods, which included large Greek Corinthian vases and precious ornaments, lay on the floor.

The vases and ornaments on the floor may have once been hanging on the wall like the little aryballos — a vessel for oils and unguents — which was so amazingly still hanging from its nail when the archaeologists opened the tomb. The heavier pieces are thought to have fallen due to structural failings of the tomb and/or seismic activity. Among the vases were seals which might help identify the deceased and fragments of what may have been armour.

The team is still cataloguing the artifacts. Once everything has been inventoried, a panoply of tests will follow. The organic remains of the food offerings will be analyzed. One of the artifacts, a small cylindrical bronze chest, will be opened to see what’s inside. (Archaeologists expect it to contain jewelry, if anything). The tomb itself will also be explored further, in the hope of discovering other organic elements from religious rituals and to conserve the paint which, while modest compared to the elaborate decoration of some of the 200 other tombs in Tarquinia with painted walls, might make the tomb of interest to tourists.


Lost Mary Pickford film found in barn, restored

Saturday, September 21st, 2013

Their First Misunderstanding, a 1911 Independent Moving Picture Co. (IMP) short starring Mary Pickford in her first fully credited film appearance, will make its second debut more than a century after its first at a special screening on October 11th at Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire. It’s a milestone in Mary Pickford’s rise to global superstardom and in the development of the very concept of a movie star. This is the first picture in which she was credited as Mary Pickford rather than “Little Mary.”

Pickford had been working since 1909 for D. W. Griffith’s Biograph Company, cranking out a nickelodeon a week. Although Biograph never listed its actors’ names in the credits, a standard practice in the early days of the industry, Mary was soon very popular with audiences. Movie theater owners tapped into her popularity and advertised her presence in a film describing her as “The Girl with the Golden Curls,” among other nicknames.

She was just 18 years old when she left Biograph to join pioneering film producer Carl Laemmle’s Independent Moving Pictures Company. Laemmle was instrumental in the birth of what would become the Hollywood star system, hiring away the most popular actors from companies where their work was uncredited and giving them marquee billing. He also perpetrated the first fake star death PR hoax in 1910 when he spread around the rumor that Florence Lawrence had been run over by a streetcar in New York City, only to later unveil with great fanfare that she was not dead, but rather shooting the upcoming IMP picture The Broken Oath, soon in theaters near you!

Laemmle poached Mary Pickford from Biograph just as he had Florence Lawrence: by guaranteeing her name billing. Mary also was allowed an impressive amount of control over her IMP pictures. She wrote the screenplay for Their First Misunderstanding and cast her newlywed husband Owen Moore as the newlywed husband in the film. The director is thought to have been the soon-to-be legendary Thomas Ince who also makes a brief appearance in the film.

Like many of the silent pictures from the 1910s and 20s, Their First Misunderstanding was lost, with no known copies in existence for decades. That changed in 2006 when contractor Peter Massie found seven reels of old nitrate film, empty film canisters and a 1934 Monarch silent film projector on the second floor of a barn in Nelson, New Hampshire. Massie was looking through the barn before tearing it down when he hit on this magical little jackpot. Being a film buff, he took the reels and projector home.

Massie contacted Larry Benaquist, founder of Keene State’s film program, to alert him to the finds. Benaquist thinks the films were in the barn because there were several summer camps in Nelson, including a boys camp near the barn in the 1920s. He believes the shorts were shown to the boys on movie night and then tossed in a corner and forgotten. It’s astonishing that the reels and the barn survived. Nitrate film is highly flammable and so are barns.

Last year Benaquist sent two of the nitrate reels which were stuck together to Colorlab, a Maryland company that specializes in restoring volatile nitrate film. They were able to separate the two and identify them: Their First Misunderstanding, and the 1910 Biograph film The Unchanging Sea which also stars Mary Pickford and of which there are plenty of extant copies.

The Library of Congress, which has largest collection of movies by Mary Pickford, funded the restoration, to the tune of an estimated $9,000. It is money well spent. Despite having been stuck to another film and left in the open in a barn for nigh on a century, almost the entire picture has been restored. There are a few spots with missing frames where the action skips, but it doesn’t impede understanding. The restored film is considered complete.

You’ll have to head to New Hampshire on October 11th with $5 in hand to view the entire film. Here’s a clip from the restored Their First Misunderstanding to tide you over. The picture quality is mind-blowing for any 100-year-old film, even more mind-blowing when you consider it was stuck in unhealthy gelatinous co-dependence with The Unchanging Sea for decades.





September 2013


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