Archive for January, 2016

Neglected remains from Newburgh Colored Burial Ground finally get attention

Monday, January 11th, 2016

The remains of more than 100 African Americans buried in the Colored Burial Ground in Newburgh, New York, that have been languishing in storage for seven years due to the neglect of the City Council are finally getting some attention. The bones were unearthed in 2008 by archaeological contractors Landmark Archaeology who surveyed the site of the former Broadway School before it was renovated into the city court building. The city agreed to pay $75,400 for the excavation and the archaeology report necessary for reburial of the remains. Only $52,000 was paid because they had raised the funds through a bond. The remaining $23,000 for the report was supposed to come out of the general fund, but the Newburgh City Council never authorized payment. The bones were stuck in the limbo of storage in a climate-controlled facility at SUNY New Paltz while the years passed. Today, the City Council will finally vote on a resolution to pay Landmark Archaeology and get the ball rolling on a the long-denied dignified reburial of the human remains.

This is one in a long line of indignities inflicted on the bodies of deceased black citizens of Newburgh. The Colored Burial Ground, like its equivalents in every other city in the United States, was in an isolated, undeveloped area of the town when it was first founded in around 1832. What was out of the way farmland in 1832, however, was rapidly industrializing by the late 1860s. An oilcloth factory was built on the east and north borders of the cemetery. A new road, Robinson Avenue, was built to its immediate west in 1873. By 1869 foot and wagon traffic had encroached on the burial ground to such a degree that erosion exposed some of the bodies. When Robinson Avenue was constructed, they found remains in their way and moved them to the Alms House Cemetery.

In 1905, the oilcloth factory was demolished and both its property and the burial ground were slated for construction of a new elementary school, the Broadway School. This time the disinterred remains were moved to the colored section of Woodlawn Cemetery and nothing of the cemetery above ground — gravestones, monuments — remained. If there was an effort to fully clear the Colored Burial Ground and remove all the remains to proper graves, they royally half-assed it, clearing some of the area they wanted to use and washing their hands of the rest, even constructing the very building directly on top of some of the bodies still in their graves. The 2008 excavation found graves cut into by utility lines, others missing the sidewalk by mere inches. There were skeletons literally sticking out of the walls.

Here’s a description of the approach taken in the July 3rd, 1908 issue of The Newburgh Democrat & Register newspaper:

It was a grewsome [sic] sight that was observed at the grounds now being excavated for the foundation of the new Grammar School Building, on Broadway at the corner of Robinson Avenue, last evening by a Democratic representative.

There was a procession of boys marching to the unmusical melody furnished by the beating of a tin pan with a stick. At the front and head was the leader, bearing aloft on a piece of pine scantling what had at one time been the skull of a human being.

When the oil cloth factory was removed from the site on which excavation is now in progress two or three years, in clearing up the debris and grading down the grounds to make the place look presentable, a number of human bones were found, hence it was not surprising that since the men had been excavating to a general depth over a tract of ground that other bones should be found by laborers. It was one of the skulls thus unearthed that the boy had taken from the box into which pieces were thrown and with the general disregard boys have for things of a serious character had started in to head a parade with it. […]

Yesterday there was unearthed a box containing the remains of a person who had been buried with his boots and work clothes on. As soon as the air struck the remains everything except the boots crumbled to dust. Last evening there was another box partially exposed to view at the grounds. This will doubtless be unearthed this morning during the day. The bodies that were left in the ground after the general transfer of remains to Woodlawn were those of persons whose graves had not been marked and consequently no investigation was made as to their whereabouts.

More than a century later, with the defunct Broadway School about to be converted into the city courthouse, the extent of earlier neglect became clear when Landmark Archaeology’s excavation revealed more than 100 graves to the west and northwest of the courthouse. They were in seven quite even rows, burials on an east-west axis, feet pointing east, as is traditional in the Christian religion. This is the first indication of the original configuration of the cemetery.

One of the rows continues beyond the property western boundary of the school/courthouse, which suggests there may be more remains to be found heading west beneath Robinson Avenue that were ignored during construction of the road. It’s also likely that the rows continued north under what is now the courthouse parking lot. Archaeologists weren’t able to remove all of the remains; the ones pinned underneath the courthouse walls couldn’t be moved. There could well be more remains underneath the bulk of the building too; we only know about the ones that were findable along the edges.

Unfortunately there are very few extant records that can tell us anything about the Newburgh Colored Burial Ground, or about the African American community of Newburgh in the 19th century, for that matter. Based on census data, we know that there were 148 free “colored” people living in Newburgh in 1822. (New York profited mightily from slavery and it was legal for decades after the neighboring New England states had outlawed it.) There were two black churches near the cemetery, but there no associated burial records have survived, so we don’t know if the cemetery was associated with a specific church, was privately owned or a segregated cemetery for the poor. Burial permits were not required by the state until 1866, so the few records we do have of burials in the graveyard date to 1866 and 1867. It didn’t even appear on a map (that we know of) until 1869 when the City Surveyor marked the spot as the “Colored Burial Ground” in his survey of the area before the construction of Robinson Avenue.

Analysis of human remains and artifacts found at the cemetery, therefore, will fill blanks in a historical record that is all but devoid of information about the cemetery and the black citizens of Newburgh. Once the report is completed and filed, the City Council will have to figure out where and how to reinter the remains. They may even build a memorial in the courthouse parking lot unceremoniously plonked on top of the dead. After being treated with such callousness for 150 years, they’ve earned a little care and respect.

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More 1917 blackboards found in Oklahoma school

Sunday, January 10th, 2016

More frozen-in-time blackboards from 1917 have been found at Emerson High School in Oklahoma City. While the students were home for winter break, workers pulling old blackboards and corkboards from the wall of a classroom on the third floor discovered slate blackboards with the lessons still fresh as the day Miss Walker first chalked them for classes 7A and 7B on December 10th, 1917.

There’s a December calendar with a beautiful floral header in colored chalk, a sentence being diagrammed, studies of how to draw a three-dimensional cube, a geometry lesson with parallel lines, triangles, rectangles, a square and diamond shape. Those shapes are then deployed in a charming drawing of a cottage. While there are no colorful little girls or turkeys in this set, there is an exquisite color drawing of a home with trees covered in pink and white flowers in the foreground. It looks like something Monet would have drawn on a chalkboard.

Of particular historical significance is a map of Indian Territory, modern-day eastern Oklahoma, marking the tribal boundaries and capitals. This is historically significant because the state of Oklahoma was formed by combining the Oklahoma Territory in the west with the Indian Territory in the east. While this had been Congress’ plan since the 1890 passage of the Oklahoma Organic Act, the people of the Indian Territory resisted being forced into a state with their land-grabbing neighbors to the west. As late as 1905 Indian Territory attempted to join the Union as its own state, the State of Sequoyah, but were refused. Instead President Roosevelt encouraged passage of the Oklahoma Enabling Act in 1906 which allowed delegates from both territories to come together for a state constitutional convention with a view to creating a single state. The combined Oklahoma and Indian Territories officially became the State of Oklahoma in November of 1907. That’s just 10 years before the teacher drew that map on the chalkboard. It was practically current events.

The first group of historic chalkboards was discovered last June in four classrooms on the second floor that were having their old blackboards replaced with whiteboards and smart boards. Underneath the blackboards were thin slate boards covered in math, music and handwriting lessons, hygiene tips, student names and brilliantly colored chalk drawings dated November 30th and December 4th, 1917.

It seems when the old slate boards were covered with new ones over a couple of weeks in late November, early December of 1917, several teachers decided to leave their work up, dating it and signing it for posterity. The new boards were mounted on top of the old ones in wood casings with enough of a snug fit to keep the 1917 chalk from wearing away.

Now that they’ve been revealed, school district officials need to figure out how best to preserve them going forward. They can’t just keep them up as is because these are classrooms and wall space is a basic necessity of instruction. Besides, the chalk will fade quickly exposed to the elements (not to mention the little angels with their poor impulse control and inability to fully grasp long-term consequences). The slate boards cannot be removed and reinstalled elsewhere because the slate is so thin it would turn into a pile of debris as soon as someone started to pry it off.

One of the smaller boards found last year with eight handsome red stars outlined in white has been preserved under plexiglass as a test subject. So far so good. The rest of the boards have been covered up with wood so classes can go on as normal. The covers are removable, however, and the school will uncover the chalk work for viewing on occasion. If the plexi works, perhaps the historic boards can be made visible to viewing while teachers still have space to do their daily work on top of them. I’m thinking like a sliding screen sort of jobby.

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Remains of Settlement Era Reykjavík longhouse to be preserved

Saturday, January 9th, 2016

The remains of the Icelandic Settlement Era (874-930 A.D.) Viking longhouse discovered by surprise last summer in downtown Reykjavík will be preserved and integrated into the hotel that will be built on the lot. The longhouse was an unexpected find because archaeologists thought Settlement Era Reykjavík started and ended significantly west of modern-day Lækjargata street. The discovery of the remains has dramatically altered our understanding of the size and breadth of the early city. Add to that the fact that it’s one of the largest longhouses ever found in Iceland — the central fire pit was 17 feet long — and the incentive to preserve this groundbreaking find was strong.

When the archaeological survey of the parking lot on Lækjargata began in advance of construction of a new hotel, the team led by Iceland Institute of Archaeology archaeologist Lisabet Guðmundsdóttir expected to find the remains of a 1799 turf farm known to have been on the site. They had a plan in place to remove all archaeological remains and artifacts to a local museum. They did find the turf farm, but when they then unearthed the history-changing longhouse, the removal plan had to be revisited.

The hotel developers were amenable to the idea that the remains stay in situ and be somehow incorporated into the hotel. The city quickly formed an advisory committee to explore their options. Last week the Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland announced that the remains would stay put and the hotel would have to work around them. They did compromise, however.

Archaeologist Lísbet Guðmundsdóttir, who oversaw the dig which discovered the ruins, told RÚV that all un-organic remains will be preserved on location. Turf from the walls will not be reserved because completely intact because of cost. “Moreover, their preservation adds very little to people’s understanding of the remains we have here,” she adds.

I don’t know about that. The longhouse was dated by analysing the volcanic ash captured in the turf, so it seems to add a great deal to everyone’s understanding of the remains. Also, Iceland has a great tradition of turf houses dating back to the first settlement days and continuing well into the 20th century. The turf walls of the longhouse are an important part of that history. By the same token I understand that it would have been a logistical nightmare for the hotel trying to keep the turf from drying out and crumbling to dust.

Based on the location of the fireplace, which was always at the center of a longhouse, archaeologists believe the structure extended well into the center of what is now Skólabrú street. There will be no excavation into the busy city street (archaeologists believe the construction of the road in the early 20th century destroyed any surviving longhouse remains) but already excavated sections of the longhouse that abut the street, including the central fireplace and trough, but are outside of the hotel’s boundary line will be part of the larger exhibition. The perimeter outline of the longhouse will be marked inside the hotel and on the sidewalk.

The architecture of the hotel will have to be changed to accommodate the remains. That’s going to take more expertise, time and money, of course, but once it opens the hotel is sure to profit from being on top of so important an archaeological site. Besides, if the plans for the soon-to-be-completed Antakya Hilton Museum Hotel on the site of a 2,000-year-old, 9,000-square-foot mosaic in the ancient city of Antioch are anything to go by, the new hotel is going to be about a million times cooler than whatever the original design was.

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Joe the Quilter’s murder cottage found

Friday, January 8th, 2016

The evening of Tuesday, January 3rd, 1826, began like so many others for Joseph Hedley. He bought a pound of sugar, picked up a pitcher of fresh milk, a sheep’s head and pluck (an offal package of heart, liver, spleen, sweetbread and lungs often sold with the head) from Mrs. Colbeck, the wife of a local farmer, and headed home to his secluded cottage on the outskirts of Warden, Northumberland. At 6:00 PM, labourer William Herdman stopped by the cottage on his way back from his job at the paper mill and spent a few moments visiting with Joe. They sat by the fire and chatted while Joe prepared some potatoes for his dinner. At around 7:00 PM a peddler named Mrs. Biggs asked Joe for directions having missed her turn in the dark. That was the last time he was seen alive, except by his murderer.

Four days later, some of his neighbors grew so concerned by their elderly friend’s absence that they broke into his house. They found the food he’d gotten Tuesday evening on the table as if he’d just walked in and set it down. They found Joseph lying a pool of blood in a small inner room where he kept his chickens and wood for the fire. He had been cut 44 times on his head, face, chest and neck. His hands had deep defensive wounds inflicted during the old man’s desperate struggle to fend off his attacker. A garden hoe with blood and grey hairs on the handle and head lay across his chest.

The cottage bore the evidence of his brutal last struggle. The bed tester was torn down. Blood was found on the door lintels, the chimney, the walls, the plates on the table, and splattered on the walls and floor. His clogs were found outside, lost in a futile attempt to flee, an attempt also testified to by the muddy state of his clothes.

The tiny cottage had been ransacked. All of the drawers and containers were open and the contents strewn about, but as far as could be ascertained, only a handful of Hedley’s few possessions — two silver table spoons, four tea spoons, two silver salt cellars — seemed to be missing. Authorities suspected the motive for the murder and destruction was theft. Despite his humble means, there was a completely unfounded rumor going around that the 75-year-old man on parish relief had secret riches stashed in the house. It seemed someone of malicious intent had heard the gossip and was willing to chop an old man to ribbons to get to the non-existent treasure.

The brutal murder of Joseph Hedley made news around the country. A widower who had cared tenderly for his bed-ridden wife for eight years before her death, Hedley was reputedly a kind, charitable man who gave to those in need even though he himself had very little and relied on the likes of Mrs. Colbeck and the support of the parish to survive. He was more than gainfully employed, however. In fact, he was widely known as Joe the Quilter due to his gifts with the needle.

Joe the Quilter started out as a tailor, but didn’t take to the trade. Pattern-cutting and seam-sewing were not for him. Decorative stitching, on the other hand, was. He became adept at stitching floral patterns, geometrics and figures onto linen and cotton. He would cut the patterns on cardboard, put the template on the fabric stretched across a frame and pencil through the holes, creating the outline of the design on the textile. Over time Joe developed an impressive collection of designs for his clients to pick from when ordering a quilt. And order they did, from Ireland and the United States as well as closer to home. Very few of his works have survived. The ones that have are in museums.

His fame as an artisan ensured the government made a genuine effort to find the perpetrator of this heinous crime. Home Secretary Robert Peel offered His Majesty’s full pardon to any accomplices who came forward with information, as long as they were not ones who wielded the weapon. The Overseers of the Poor of Warden offered a 100 guinea reward for information leading to the capture of the culprit. A few people were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the murder, but they were released shortly thereafter. The trail went cold and the murder of Joe the Quilter was never solved.

The cottage was demolished in 1872. By 1887, the location of the cottage was lost. Last year, student archaeologists from University College London and Newcastle University and local volunteers led by experts from the Beamish Museum began looking for the cottage. Because of the sensational murder, the cottage was recorded in architectural detail by police, journalists and others, giving researchers today rare insight into the living quarters of the working poor in Georgian England who did not, as a rule, have elevations and floor plans of their hovels drawn up for posterity.

The initial exploration in November of 2014 discovered promising clues that they might have found the cottage site. It was covered for the winter and excavation resumed last September. The dig has unearthed the bases of three walls, part of the flagstone floor, one side of the brick fireplace, evidence of a wooden partition that once separated the main room from the chicken room. About one third of the width of the cottage, including what would have been the front wall, was trimmed off when a field boundary cut through the home’s footprint. The cottage turns out to have been slightly larger than reported, about 30 feet long by 20 feet wide, or 600 square feet total surface area.

The team has also found hundreds of pottery fragments, iron nails, buttons, a four-penny silver groat used for Maundy money (charitable giving) and a bone pick, a tool used by quilters. One key artifact discovered is a copper alloy name badge inscribed “Rev R. Clarke, Walwick.” A Reverend Clarke is known to have trudged through almost impassable snow to bring succor to Joe when he was trapped by the snow and “perishing of want” during the winter of 1823. The copper plate probably came off his saddle.

The remains of the cottage have been numbered brick by brick, stone by stone, and will be removed to storage at the Beamish Museum. Beamish is an open air museum telling the stories of daily life in north England in the 1820s, 1900s and 1940s. A new project entitled Remaking Beamish will expand the museum to include a new typical 1950s town and to enlarge the 1820s section. Joe the Quilter’s cottage will be rebuilt, complete with the original flagstones his clogs once trod, as part of the enlarged Georgian exhibition, a poor working’s man dwelling to contrast with the Pockerley manor house of the local gentleman farmer which is in the section.

For more about the discovery of the cottage and its significance, see the Beamish Buildings blog

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Run those medieval fingerprints through AFIS

Thursday, January 7th, 2016

A new study will apply modern forensic crime solving techniques to the Middle Ages by examining the hand and fingerprints left on wax seals from the 12th to 14th centuries. The three-year research project will collect the prints left on seals attached to a variety of documents in the collections of Exeter, Hereford and Lincoln cathedrals, Westminster Abbey and the National Library of Wales. Project leaders Professor Philippa Hoskin from the University of Lincoln and Dr. Elizabeth New from Aberystwyth University will explore what the prints call tell us about authority, bureaucracy, authentication and the law in medieval England and Wales.

The prints will also literally be run through AFIS, comparing fingerprints that are at least 700 years old to modern ones. Researchers are looking for any close or approximate matches even over centuries. Any such discoveries will contribute significantly the study of print identification, which isn’t as well-established, scientifically speaking, as some TV programs would have you believe. Having said that, I really hope someone films Professor Hoskin or Dr. New looking at a fingerprint on a wax seal and saying “Let’s run it through AFIS.”

Because many of the seals are found on financial documents — property sales, business contracts, assorted transactions — there’s even a chance the study will veer from CSI into Cold Case as the fingerprint comparisons might detect 900-year-old fraud or forgery.

Wax seals were ubiquitous by the 12th century, used as a secure mark of the owner’s agreement the way a valid signature is
today on any legal document. Administrative documents of any kind required seals to be validated. Despite their legal significance when the seals were first pressed into wax, the seals themselves have rarely been studied. Historians tend to focus on the documents, not the dangly bits, except insofar as they hold identifying information regarding the parties to the documents. The Imprint study is breaking new ground.

Dr Elizabeth New, Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at Aberystwyth University, comments that: “Hand prints on wax seals bring us close to medieval people in a very tangible way. It is important to remember that seals were not just the preserve of kings and great nobles: men and women from all levels of society also set their seals on documents.

“Medieval seals contained a variety of images and words, providing strong statements of identity and very valuable sources of information about people, culture and society. The images can tell us what things actually looked like, and provide glimpses of humour, piety and family pride. They also enabled otherwise illiterate men and women the means to ‘write’ their name.

“These small objects have always had great significance, and are rich time-capsules that can open exciting windows into past lives. Examining the hand prints left – both accidentally and deliberately – in the wax along with impressions of seal matrices provides further important opportunities to deepen our understanding of our medieval ancestors.”

All the prints collected will be entered into an online database along with information about the documents and the seals the prints were taken from. That archive will be made accessible to researchers and the general public.

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George III’s huge map collection digitized

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

The British Library has begun a massive project to digitize all of King George III’s 50,000-piece map collection. George III was an avid collector, not just of things he personally loved but in true Enlightenment style, of things he thought would be of intellectual value to the nation. He added significantly to the royal art collection, dedicated a lifetime to collecting books that he made available to all scholars (not even John Adams was barred) and put together an extensive collection of mathematical and scientific instruments.

Maps and topography were a genuine passion of the king’s and had been since he was a young boy. There’s a well-known portrait of George III when he was Prince of Wales with his younger brother Edward Augustus at their lessons with tutor Francis Ayscough. Next to the future king is a globe, a book with an imprint of the Prince of Wales’ feathers leaning against it. It’s a prescient image. Once he was king, his love of geography became professionally important as well, and there are accounts of his dedication to learning every detail about the topographical details of ports, fortresses and cities.

While British monarchs before him had squirreled away maps and atlases in various nooks of royal palaces, it was George III who brought them all together into a single collection that he then added to extensively. He had agents scouring Europe to acquire important pieces and even whole collections. He incorporated all gifts of maps and atlases to the monarch from his subjects into the collection. He even straight-up stole from royal engineers, military and colonial mapmakers who sent drawings, prints and watercolors for his inspection. Late 18th century land surveys done by British military surveyors for the American Board of Trade, for example, never made it to their commissioner. George was so enthralled with the series, which included a map of the Florida coast more than 22 feet long, that he just kept them all, bless his heart, and added them to the ever-expanding collection kept in a room next to his sleeping chamber in Buckingham House, then not yet an official palace.

By the time of King George III’s death in 1820, the Topographical Collection included 60,000 drawings, watercolors, manuscripts, prints, letters, reports and atlases dating from 1500 to the then-present. Half of the material covers Britain and its colonies (or former colonies after the American Revolution) while about 30% covers European countries like Italy and France that were popular Grand Tour destinations. The map collection was gifted to the nation by his son, George IV, along with the late king’s book collection. (He kept all the military maps for national security purposes.)

Originally dispatched to the British Museum, George III’s Topographical Collection was moved to the British Library. Despite its royal pedigree and historical significance, the full collection was never thoroughly catalogued. The British Library moved to remedy that in 2013, raising funds from private donors to catalogue, conserve and digitize George’s beloved maps. It’s a massive job, expensive in time and money, and the library still doesn’t have the funds needed to complete it. They’ve started piecemeal using the donations they have. So far they have conserved, catalogued and digitized all color views, the maps and atlases of South and North America, China, Scotland, southwest England, Spain and 30% of London and southeast England. As of last month, about 25% of the collection has been digitized.

Right now the project is working on the gem of the collection, the gigantic The Klencke Atlas which was the world’s largest atlas until the publication of the Earth Platinum atlas in 2012 which is new so as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t count. At 5’9″ by 6’3″ when open, the atlas is literally man-sized. It wasn’t actually one of George III’s acquisitions. The atlas was given to King Charles II, a known map aficionado, in 1660 by a group of Dutch merchants led by sugar merchant Johannes Klencke as a gift celebrating the king’s restoration to the throne. On its huge pages are 41 walls maps of Europe, Britain, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. Charles II liked it so much he put it with his most prized objects in his cabinet of curiosities at Whitehall Palace.

The Klencke Atlas has long been a favorite with British Library staff — there are photographs of curators being dwarfed by it going back to the 19th century — but photographing the giant pages themselves in any kind of quality was all but impossible until recently. The technology now makes it possible to capture high resolution images of sections of every page and digitally knit them together into a single image. This will give viewers the chance to the see both the big picture, as it were, of each page and to zoom in on the tiny details — names, labels, etc. — that would have been too blurred out to read a decade ago.

The digitization of the Klencke Atlas and 80 other pieces was funded by a donation from rare book seller Daniel Crouch who has a lovely outlook on the matter.

Crouch admits that it is “an unsexy cause — it’s not like naming a gallery. It is the digitisation of a lot of old stuff.” He stresses that, although “it doesn’t sound important or life-saving, it actually is. It’s the kind of resource that will be used in years to come and will make the holdings of the British Library accessible to all.”

The digitization of the Klencke Atlas is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2016. Meanwhile, there’s the other 75% of the Topographical Collection that still needs love and attention before we can spend entire weekends on a nerd bender of George III’s maps. The British Library needs another £500,000 ($730,000) to finish the job. To donate to the digitization project, go here and select “Unlock London maps” from the dropdown (it should be selected by default) once you’ve chosen an amount and clicked through.

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18th c. scuttled ship found on Potomac riverfront

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

Archaeologists overseeing construction on the Potomac riverfront in Alexandria, Virginia, have found the well-preserved remains of a ship that was scuttled in the late 18th century. The 50-foot section of the port side of the hull, an estimated 1/3 of the original length of the ship, including some of the keel, frame, bow stem, stern and exterior boards and interior flooring, survived the centuries thanks to the waterlogged soil which kept oxygen and microbes from devouring the wood.

The ship is being thoroughly documented in situ via 3D laser scanning, high resolution photography and precise measurement. Each layer of the wood — archaeologists believe there are at least three — will be scanned and photographed before removal. An expert will examine the remains to identify the wood and date it precisely with dendrochronological analysis. The dismantled ship parts will be kept under water for preservation purposes — a lab has yet to be found that can accommodate it — while the city decides seeks funding for long-term conservation, study and possible display.

While we await an exact date based on when the trees were cut, historians have already pinpointed a tight date range by documentary study. The site was originally located on a bluff overlooking a Potomac cove. That cove was filled in to extend the property in the late 1700s. Historical maps showing how the shoreline changed in the second half of the 18th century provide a possible window for when the ship was buried of between 1775 and 1798.

The frame sections were placed very close together, an indication that the ship was built to carry heavy loads. It was likely a coast-hugging vessel rather than ocean-going, and while archaeologists tentatively believe it was a merchant ship, they cannot yet rule out that it had a military use. There is evidence of deliberate chopping of the hull, probably with a broad axe. This may have been done during the filling in the cove as the ship was chopped up to fit into the given space.

The site of the future Indigo Hotel at 220 S. Union Street is part of a major redevelopment project of Alexandria’s historic waterfront. The ship is the second significant historical find in the one-block site. In September archaeologists unearthed the remains of a warehouse built in 1755 that is thought to be the first public building erected in Alexandria which was only six years old at the time. Historical records of a June 18th, 1755, meeting of the Trustees of Alexandria document their order that a warehouse “One hundred feet long twenty four feet wide thirteen feet Pitch’d To be three Divisions double strided” be constructed, and archaeologists found almost exactly that: the outline of a wooden building 90 feet long and 24 feet wide. The 10 missing feet were destroyed by later construction on the site.

With the stone foundations, large beam framing and even sections of the floor and interior walls surviving, the warehouse remains give historians the unique chance to explore mid-18th century construction elements like the extensive use of mortise and tenon joints even in the studs and beams, and to study the city’s very early commercial history. It was dismantled and sent to the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab in St. Leonard to be preserved in its tanks.

Unlike the warehouse whose location was recorded in the Trustees meeting, the discovery ship came as a complete surprise to excavators. There are no surviving records known that document its scuttling and installation, nor are any expected to be found.

“It’s very rare. This almost never happens,” said Dan Baicy, the hard-hatted field director for Thunderbird Archeology, the firm watching for historic evidence during construction. “In 15 years that I’ve done this work, I’ve never run into this kind of preservation in an urban environment where there’s so much disturbance.”

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Skeleton found under Scottish school playground may have been a pirate

Monday, January 4th, 2016

An excavation at Edinburgh’s Victoria Primary School last year unearthed the skeletal remains of what may have been a 16th century pirate.

Founded in the 1840s, Victoria Primary School is the oldest working elementary school in Edinburgh and is housed in a historic building in the neighborhood of Newhaven which was once a thriving fishing village with a harbour on the Firth of Forth. In the early 1500s, King James IV, visions of a great Scottish navy dancing in his head, established a deep-water port with a dock for the construction of large warships in Newhaven. The first ship constructed at the Newhaven port was the Great Michael, the largest ship in the world when it launched in 1511 with twice the displacement of its exact contemporary and King Henry VIII’s pride and joy, the Mary Rose.

When the City of Edinburgh Council decided to build an addition to the primary school building, AOC Archaeology was contracted to do a thorough archaeological survey before construction. With the school near the present harbour and practically on top of the original one, archaeologists expected to find the remains of structures from the old harbour and the shipbuilding concerns that once proliferated there. Instead they found skeletal remains in very poor condition.

Because of its condition and because shards of 4,000-year-old Bronze Age pottery were unearthed alongside the skeleton, the archaeological team at first thought the remains were very ancient. Radiocarbon dating performed by AOC Archaeology revealed that in fact the remains date to the 16th century or 17th century. The date, location and condition of the remains suggest this man, who was about 50 years old at the time of death, did not die a peaceful death and go to a respectful repose.

At that time, there was a gibbet on the Newhaven dockyards where pirates and others convicted of capital crimes would be hung for weeks until their bodies rotted away. Pirates were particularly popular candidates for the Newhaven gibbet because hanging their decaying bodies in plain view of the ships in the harbour was meant to be a deterrent to any other would-be scurvy dogs. Whatever was left of the body would eventually be taken down and buried wherever. The Victoria Primary School skeleton was buried in a shallow grave close to the shore, not in one of three graveyards in the area.

Laura Thompson, Head Teacher at Victoria Primary School, added: “As the oldest working primary school in Edinburgh, we are proud of our history and heritage and the school even has a dedicated museum to the local area.

“The pupils think it’s fantastic that a skeleton was found deep underneath their playground. The archaeologists will hold a special lesson with some of the children about how they have used science to analyse the remains and it will be a good learning opportunity for them.”

Not to mention an outstanding opportunity for pirate-themed recess games.

Forensic artist Hayley Fisher has made a facial reconstruction of what the man may have looked like from the remains of the skull. He looks a little young for a 50-year-old pirate/criminal. Needs more weather beating.

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Ginger Churchill goes to hell on Austrian church ceiling

Sunday, January 3rd, 2016

On the ceiling of the Three Kings’ church in Hittisau, western Austria, is a large scale painting of The Last Judgement. That is not unusual. What is unusual is that one of the figures depicted going to hell is Winston Churchill in a red wig.

The Roman Catholic parish church of Hittisau was built in 1842, funded by a bequest from priest Josef Schnell who stipulated in his will that construction on the new church would have to begin within five years of his death or no dice. Schnell died in 1838, so they just made it in under the wire. The Three Kings’ church was completed in 1845. In 1850, artist Josef Bucher made three altarpieces to adorn the high altar, but other than that the interior decoration was quite spare.

When Father Josef Maisburger was assigned to the parish church in 1934, he wanted to gussy it up a little. In 1936 he contacted well-known Munich artist Waldemar Kolmsperger the Younger to explore the idea of painting a mural on the ceiling. Waldemar Kolmsperger the Younger followed in the footsteps of his father Waldemar Kolmsperger the Elder (1852-1945) whose Neo-Baroque extravaganzas earned him the title of the “last Baroque painter.” The younger Kolmsperger specialized in church decoration, a signature of the elder, and worked in a style reminiscent of the Baroque flourishes that had made his father famous. A professor of the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, the son of a famous artist and a leading church painter in his own time, Kolmsperger the Younger didn’t come cheap. His final price was too high for a small village church budget, so Maisburger packed his dreams away for a rainy day.

That rainy day came in 1940. Now Austria and Germany were the same country, and it was a country at war. New church mural commissions were few and far between and this time when Maisburger reached out to Kolmsperger, his fee had dropped enough to make him affordable for the Three King’s church. The linked article says Kolmsperger was motivated to accept this small-potatoes gig in a tiny village in rural Austria in part because he feared conscription, but he was born in 1881 and I seriously doubt 60-year-old men were in fear of the draft, not in 1940 at any rate. It was at the end of the war when old men and young boys were dragged into service.

As the Battle of Britian raged in the late summer and fall of 1940, Waldemar Kolmsperger began work on the Apotheosis of Christ in Heaven and Hell. He worked behind a white sheet so people didn’t see the painting until after it was completed in 1941. When the work was finally revealed to the public, the people of Hittisau were horrified to find that Kolmsperger had not only flipped the entire village the bird, but he had pulled a Dante and put a living political figure in hell.

Hans Weiss said: “The fresco did not include on one side heaven and hell on the other, apparently the artist disliked the area so much, he decided to paint two hells.

“Secondly, there was quite noticeably a picture of Winston Churchill right at the heart of the hill where Judgement Day was being carried out, showing him carrying a huge bag of money which represented his ill-gotten gains for his treacherous behaviour, and containing the writing “100,000 pounds”.

“Despite the protests of locals the artist refused to change it, and there was a huge row that went right up to the bishop. Locals were convinced that once bomber command found out about the insult, they would deliberately target the church in order to eradicate it.

“The Bishop apparently agreed and he eventually ordered the artist to disguise Churchill by giving him a red wig, and to change the word pounds to gold.”

So Kolmsperger grudgingly made the changes, plopping a ginger Moe wig on Churchill’s head so instead of looking like a bomb-baiting Winston Churchill, he looked like a bomb-baiting Winston Churchill in a ginger Moe wig. He wasn’t happy about it, though, and apparently plotted revenge. His plan was to add a few of the locals to the hellscape, and since he’d already put a couple of topless ladies in the mural who were eerily similar to women from the village who Kolmsperger was suspected of having bedded, nobody put it past him. The villagers are said to have chased him out of town before he could make his final alteration.

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Ivan the Terrible-era weapons cache found

Saturday, January 2nd, 2016

Archaeologists excavating the site of future highway construction near Zvenigorod, a medieval town in the Moscow Oblast about 40 miles west of the capital, have unearthed a cache of weapons from the era of Ivan the Terrible (r. 1547-1584). The arsenal was discovered alongside the remains of the 16th century village of Ignatievskoe. The team unearthed about 60 buildings from the village. One of them had burned down in the mid-16th century but its basement survived remarkably unscathed. It’s in the underground timber-lined storage room that archaeologists discovered what they believe was the private arsenal of one of Ivan the Terrible’s elite cadre of knights.

They found helmets stored in leather boxes, kolchugs (a kind of cuirass), sections of military sabres, belts, and arrows and more. It seems possible that this was a cache of weapons for a military expedition, stored in special boxes, including even sections of camp tents and billy cans. This warlike inventory, along with the status of its owner, probably indicated the existence of a standing army of troops in readiness, who were armed, billeted and fed at the cost of members of the nobility as part of their responsibility as courtiers.

The spherical helmets with the pointed spikes decorated with gold and silver fittings are particularly splendid examples. There are similar ones in major Russian museums today, but these are the only ones ever found still inside their leather storage boxes with their fabric linings and ear-pieces intact.

The identity of the cache’s owner is unknown, but Ignatievskoe which was the home of the Dobrynins, an important boyar family who had at least one son among the oprichniki, a personal guard hand-picked by Ivan to police an area that was under his exclusive control. Ivan had demanded the creation of this new region as a condition of his return to Moscow after his sudden December 1564 departure. Distrustful of many nobles and clergy who he was certain were a pack of treasonous thieves, Ivan had left Moscow and sent a letter announcing his abdication. The boyar court was terrified that Moscow would fall into violence and chaos without Ivan’s leadership, so they agreed to all of his terms. Ivan decreed the creation of the oprichnina, a territory that he thought was rife with rebellious nobles (and, coincidentally of course, valuable industry), over which he had absolute power, including the power to execute anyone he wanted no matter how aristocratic without having to justify himself to the boyar council. Even family wasn’t exempt. Ivan’s cousin Vladimir of Staritsa, the grandson and nephew of Tsars, was one of the nobles who was executed and had his property confiscated under the oprichnina.

His army of a thousand men swore loyalty to him alone. Famed for their black horses and ruthless application of Ivan’s notion of justice, the oprichniki killed thousands, noble and peasant. Their unchecked violence culminated in the 1570 Massacre of Novgorod when more than 1500 nobles and uncounted numbers of commoners were tortured, killed or kicked out of the city to die from exposure and starvation. The massacre turned the tide against the oprichniki so decisively that Ivan was compelled to disband it in 1572.

Ignatievskoe was in the middle of several towns in the Moscow Oblast added to the oprichnina. It’s possible the arsenal was intended to arm Ivan’s terrible black-horsed guard in the performance of their brutal duties. It’s also possible that it was meant for other campaigns as the late 16th century was plagued by incursions from the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth as well as internal conflict.

“This gives us a much better idea how a Russian noble would have prepared for setting out on a military campaign—each nobleman would have had his own arsenal in readiness. This excavation enables us to ‘see’ for the first time the preparations made by the noblemen who made up the officer corps elite of the Russian army at the time of the flowering of Muscovy as a Russian state,” Mr. Alexeyev remarked.

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