Archive for May, 2017

Restored frescoes in Domitilla catacomb unveiled

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

The catacombs of Santa Domitilla, the oldest network of early Christian burials, covers 7.4 miles and goes down four levels and 200 feet with 26,250 individual tombs. Flavia Domitilla was the niece of the emperor Vespasian who was exiled by her cousin Domitian for religious irregularities (ancient Roman sources say she was convicted of Atheism, the Talmud says she was a convert to Judaism, Eusebius and Jerome say she was condemned as a Christian). She was not buried in the catacomb that bears her name, but it was her property — a farm outside the city — and she permitted its use as a cemetery for Christians, first members of her household, then whoever. The burials in the catacombs date from the 2nd to the 5th centuries.

Because of its great size and complexity and extremely high moisture levels (it’s 90-100% humidity at all times down there), the Domitilla catacomb has long been a conservation challenge. Traditional restoration methods aren’t effective in this environment, but moss, algae, mold, smoke, dirt and calcium carbonate concretions thrive, so much so that they completely obscured the frescoes beneath. In 2009, lasers came into the mix when the entire rabbit warren was 3D scanned and mapped down to the smallest detail for the first time.

Three years ago, lasers rode to the rescue again, only this time they were used to clean the dirt and contaminants from the blackened frescoes on the ceilings and walls of unrestored chambers. This week, the Vatican unveiled to the press the first laser-restored spaces in the catacombs of Santa Domitilla.

“The walls and ceilings were covered in algae, smoke residue and calcium from the damp,” said Barbara Mazzei, who led the team. “We knew there were frescoes­ under there, and the lasers­ let us get to them.”

Ms Mazzei said developments in laser technology had allowed the frescoes to be exposed without the risk of damage that ­removing the grime manually might have caused.

The frequency of the 2mm laser beams can be adjusted to eliminate certain colours — in this case the black of the hard residue. “We worked millimetre by millimetre to lift the grime off,” Ms Mazzei said.

Working in two tombs, they found stunning biblical images, including Jesus feeding the 5000 with bread and fish, as well as a baker with a grain measure and a cycle of frescoes showing grain arriving by ship in Rome from Egypt and bread being sold in the city. “These were rich bakers who had real prestige in Rome because the emperor guaranteed bread, as well as circuses, to the people,” Ms Mazzei said.

Two areas have been fully restored. The first is a 3rd century chamber decorated with frescoes that include multiple pagan motifs. Cupids are popular in this space, mainly in smaller tombs that were probably used to inter children. This area also shows the scars of medieval looters. Frescoes were stripped from the walls by tomb raiders who made a pretty penny cutting the art off the walls and selling them or keeping them as personal trophies.

The second restored space is the cubicle of the bakers (“dei fornai”). Christ and the Apostles decorate the walls alongside scenes of bakers. As well as glorifying the profession and their sponsors, the frescoes also have great symbolic significance because bread loomed large in Christian iconography (loaves and fishes, Last Supper, etc.).

Also looming large on the frescoes in this cubicle is a name written in all caps in black charcoal: BOSIO. This was not left in antiquity. It’s the name of the man who rediscovered the catacomb almost a thousand years after it had fallen into disuse and been forgotten.

Antonio Bosio was the illegitimate son of Giovanni Ottone Bosio, a Knight of Malta who fought in and assiduously documented the Great Siege of Malta when the Ottoman Empire tried and failed to invade the island in 1565. When he wasn’t defending against far superior forces in months-long sieges, Giovanni Ottone busied himself having sex with a servants and murdering a fellow knight from an opposing political faction in St. Peter’s Square. He eventually got amnesty for the latter activity; he got a son from the former.

Antonio was born in 1575 and was raised by his uncle Giacomo in Rome. Giacomo adopted the boy and saw to it he received a thorough education in the humanities. This was a seminal time in the history of paleochristian archaeology. The catacomb of the Giordani was discovered in 1578, a major find during a period when only a handful of early Christian underground burial galleries were known. The Giordani Catacomb, a great labyrinthine structure replete with frescoes and inscriptions in Greek and Latin, was larger and more complex than any of them.

He was just a child when Antonio first learned about the vast cities of the dead underneath his feet from his teachers and friends of his uncle’s. His fascination with these places was sealed then and only increased over time. Antonio Bosio left his name on the catacomb wall on December 10th, 1593, when he was just 17 years old. At the time he thought this network was part of the large complex of the catacombs of Saint Calixtus. It wouldn’t be recognized as the Domitilla catacomb until the 19th century, thanks to the efforts of archaeologist Giovanni Battista de Rossi.

Bosio’s foray into Domitilla’s realm was also his first brush with death in the catacombs. Young Antonio, antiquary Pompeo Ugonio and a small group of other foolhardy explorers went too deep into the tunnels and couldn’t make out their return path. Then their lights went out because they’d been down there longer than they planned. Bosio would later say about this experience: “I began to fear that I should defile by my vile corpse the sepulchres of the martyrs.”

They made it out alive in the end, and Antonio spent the next 36 years studying the catacombs and all the relevant literature he could read, including all the lives of saints, histories of the church, patristic writings in Greek and Latin. Whenever he encountered a reference in the ancient sources to a possible site of a catacomb, he would explore the area over and over, looking for possible entry sites. If he heard of an accidental archaeological find during construction of a basement or foundations, he dropped everything to check it out, taking enormous personal risks to crawl through structurally unsound, collapsed structures.

Even if the roof didn’t fall in on him, exploring the catacombs could still be fatal because the warrens of corridors, chambers and niches are so complex it’s far easier to get lost in them than it is to find your way out. His graffiti had the practical purpose of marking his path should he lose his way. Perhaps his giant John Hancock in the cubicle of the Bakers helped save his life.

Bosio was a true pioneer in this field of study, so even though his methods bear no relevance to archaeology as we know it today, and he had an unfortunate habit of writing his name all over ancient frescoes, he earned the appellation he is still known by today, the Christopher Columbus of the Subterranean New World, fair and square.

The upgrades to the Domitilla catacombs include a new, small but well-appointed museum in the catacomb. It features artifacts like sarcophagus fragments, busts and inscriptions discovered during the excavations and restoration, and underscores the overlap between the art of early Christianity and Roman polytheism. The museum isn’t ready for the public yet. The hope is it will be open by the end of June. The newly restored areas of the catacombs won’t be open to visitors for months.

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Prince of Lavau begins to reveal his secrets

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

In 2015, archaeologists from France’s National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) discovered a princely tomb from the early 5th century B.C. in Lavau, Champagne. The skeletal remains of a richly adorned individual were found next to two-wheeled chariot. Around his neck was a solid gold torc weighing 1.28 pounds, each wrist sported a gold bangle and he wore a finely decorated fibula and belt. A fluted knife in its sheath was also found in his grave. The star of the show was a large bronze cauldron three feet in diameter with four handles hanging from the mouth of river-god Achelous and eight lion heads adorning the rim. It was part of an expensive wine service that included an Attic black figure ceramic oinochoe with gold decoration added to the foot and rim, perforated spoons used as sieves to filter the solids out of the wine and a number of smaller bronze vessels.

The Ministry of Culture enlisted the aid of the Center for Research and Restoration of Museums of France (C2RMF) to take on the study of this incredible wealth of artifacts with all the technology and expertise at their disposal. Their approach focuses on structure and assembly of the artifacts and the composition of the materials. To achieve their goals, the C2RMF team will employ structural and compositional analytical techniques, 3D photography, organic analysis and X-rays and X-ray tomography.

Because the artifacts are going straight from the excavation to the lab (the C2RMF usually has to deal with artifacts that have been repeatedly restored or treated for display), the team has the rare opportunity to examine the objects in their original condition. The downside of that is that they have to work quickly to clean the artifacts and keep them under the most ideal conservation conditions to ensure they don’t deteriorate rapidly.

The first information on the condition and characteristics of the Prince of Lavau’s artifacts from X-rays and X-ray tomography has now been released.

So far, X-ray radiography shows that the belt worn by the prince is decorated with threads of silver, assembled together to form Celtic motifs. This is a unique object, as none similar have ever been recovered elsewhere before.

Furthermore, an analysis of the metals in the bronze cauldron – one of the most elaborate artefacts recovered from the grave – suggests that the people who created it perfectly mastered smelting and engraving techniques.

More importantly perhaps, 3D photography and chemical analyses of the objects reveal influences from different cultures in the way they were decorated. For instance, a large jar used to pour wine is made up of Greek-style ceramic and decorated with golden Etruscan motifs and silver Celtic designs.

These findings reveal that cultural and economic interactions were taking place between the Celtic and Mediterranean worlds at the time the Lavau Celtic Prince was alive.

X-rays were also used as blueprint to guide the cleaning of the knife and sheath. They revealed that the sheath was made of damask woven with bronze threads. The bronze cauldron, bucket and other vessels have been confirmed as exceptional examples of foundry work. The bucket, made of coils of looped bronze with a high tin content of around 12%, required enormous technical virtuosity as it was painstakingly hammered together. High-resolution 3D imaging found wear patterns on the gold torque and bangles caused by repeated rubbing against the skin or clothes of the Prince of the Lavau, which means he must have worn them in life.

Researchers were able to confirm that the Prince of Lavau was indeed a man. A sheathed knife found in the grave suggested the deceased was male, but the presence of a weapon doesn’t exclude the possibility of a woman having been buried in the grave, and the gold bangles on the wrists are more characteristic of female adornment than male. In the past, gender conclusions were drawn based on the goods in wealthy Celtic graves like those of the Lady of Vix and the Princess of Reinheim, but in both those cases acidic soil had left no skeletal remains for analysis. The Prince of Lavau, on the other hand, left behind a fully articulated skeleton, which allowed experts to determine his sex from the size and shape of his pelvic bone.

The study has only just begun. C2RMF will continue to analyze the Prince of Lavau’s funerary accoutrements until 2019, and will use all available technologies throughout the process, including the stunning synchrotron imaging which did an amazing job with little 17th century clay medallions, so just imagine what it can do with these ancient artifacts of international significance.

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Skrydstrup Woman wasn’t from Denmark either

Monday, May 29th, 2017

In 2015, a team of researchers from the National Museum of Denmark and the University of Copenhagen announced that Egtved Girl, a Bronze Age woman whose well-preserved, beautifully appointed oak burial has made her an icon of Danish archaeology, was not from Denmark. Strontium isotope analysis of her molar and wool fibers found in the grave found that she most probably from southern Germany, most likely the Black Forest area.

Egtved Girl isn’t the only Bronze Age woman in Denmark buried in a hollowed-out oak coffin discovered in an exceptional state of preservation. Researchers have targeted three of them — Egtved Girl, Skrydstrup Woman and the Borum Eshøj Woman — as part of a study that examines the origins and mobility of these women whose rich grave goods and elaborate burials attest to their high social status. The Tales of Bronze Age Women study aims to understand how elite women were perceived in Bronze Age society and what their origins and movements over time can tell us about their roles in establishing and reinforcing long-distance trade networks, political alliances and cultural exchanges.

Skrydstrup Woman was certainly a person of great importance in her community. Her remains were unearthed in a burial mound in Southern Jutland in 1935. One of the richest Bronze Age burials ever discovered, her wool skirt and sweater were in exceptional condition. Attached to her woven belt was an ornate comb made of horn. She wore two large spiral earrings made of gold and a necklace. Her blonde hair was two feet long, intricately plaited in multiple braids then drawn up into an updo bound by a horse-hair hairnet. Her teeth were in fantastic condition, with thick, clean layers of enamel and not a single cavity, evidence that she had had a healthy, varied diet as a child.

Her elaborate hairstyle and clothing, too large and bulky to be practical for moving around in, had to have been arranged as part of her funerary treatment. It must have taken hours for the hair to be braided and styled, and the skirt, made from a single two meter-wide piece of fabric that was repeatedly folded at the waist to create even pleats that went all the way around the body, was also an extremely labour-intensive endeavor. The tumulus she was buried in was 13 meters (42.6 feet) in diameter and 1.75 meters (5.7 feet) high, all formed from thousands of pounds of peat that had to be harvested and arranged into the mound shape. The entire community had to be involved in creating such a time-consuming and resource-intensive grave.

Since the sensational discovery of Egtved Girl’s origins, the research team has discovered that Skrydstrup Woman also moved to Denmark from foreign parts. Like Egtved Girl, she was only around 17 years old when she died in about 1300 B.C., but unlike Egtved Girl, who arrived on Jutland a year or so before her death, she had lived in Skydstrup for three or four years at the time of her death. Before she moved to Denmark as a young teen 13 or 14 years of age, Skydstrup Woman lived hundreds of kilometers away. The strontium isotope signature couldn’t pinpoint the exact location, but likely candidates include what are today the Czech Republic, France or central Germany.

The new information about the famous Bronze Age remains was revealed on national broadcaster DR’s big-budget documentary series Historien om Danmark (The History of Denmark).

“This is going to change a whole lot about our understanding of the entire Bronze Age,” Professor Karin Margarita Frei of the National Museum of Denmark says in the programme. […]

“The result is important because it shows that the Egtved girl was not a freak occurrence. It appears there is a pattern that is telling us how people, and in this instance women, moved around during the Bronze Age,” Frei, who also led the Egtved girl study, told the broadcaster. [..]

The sudden long-distance migration may be the sign of an alliance between tribes or an arranged marriage, Frei told DR.

For more about the Tales of Bronze Age Women project, watch this overview video from the National Museum.
[youtube=https://youtu.be/JwCIkQGTTIw&w=430]

This video gives more detail about how strontium isotopes act as “nature’s GPS.”
[youtube=https://youtu.be/RHvy2Io0d94&w=430]

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Watch Irving Finkel play the Royal Game of Ur

Sunday, May 28th, 2017

If you’ve the day off Memorial Day, or if you just have 25 minutes to spare during the course of your day, you can finally luxuriate in the nerdly delights of watching Dr. Irving Finkel, one of the world’s foremost experts in cuneiform and the man who deciphered the oldest game rulebook in the world, playing the Royal Game of Ur. His opponent is YouTuber Tom Scott, who seems a bright, capable fellow and who is, of course, completely outclassed. He’s very cheerful about it, though, and puts up a fine fight.

This is not the amazing open tournament Dr. Finkel played at the Getty on April 2nd about which I promised a glowing write-up to any reader who attended and reported on the experience. It was a private game filmed and uploaded to the British Museum’s YouTube channel, and I suspect that makes for a far more entertaining video. The asides to the camera and the dry repartee between the players are sheer joy, and they’ve added a helpful graphic to show the progress of each players’ pieces which are otherwise hard to distinguish on the board itself. There are also captions explaining the action and some of the historical context, as well as letting viewers know of coming attractions like Scott’s exploration of probability. Then there’s the slow-mo instant replay of key moments — mainly involving Finkel’s killer moves — that would otherwise have been missed.

Royal Game of Ur, ca. 2600 B.C. Photo courtesy the Trustees of the British Museum.The version of the game they’re playing is highly simplified. They’re using a replica of the beautiful lapis lazuli, shell and wood board that was unearthed by Leonard Woolley in Iraq’s Royal Cemetery of Ur in 1926-1927, and ridiculously cool tetrahedral dice. The best part, other than just seeing the game played by the man who has researched it for decades and the unsuspecting lad who found himself in Dr. Finkel’s crosshairs, is that these guys are just plain funny. The little burns never end. Finkel wins all the points for his aside to the camera in reaction to Scott’s probability thing: “I’m rather intrigued to discover that my opponent, who looks like a perfectly civilized person, is in fact mathematically capable.”

On a personal note, watching Irving Finkel be awesome makes me think of Livy’s account of the sack of Rome by the Gauls under Brennus in 390 B.C. Brennus’ men were so awestruck by the immovable dignity of the elderly patricians who had refused to leave their homes and remained seated stock-still in their chairs while the Gauls plundered the city that at first all they could do was stare at them. When one of them could no longer contain himself and stroked the beard of patrician M. Papirius, Papirius responded by striking him with his ivory staff. That broke the spell. Papirius was the first to be killed. The rest of the patricians were next. Then the Gauls killed everyone else and burned the city to the ground.

I’m not saying I would disrespect the purity and greatness of Dr. Finkel’s snowy beard by daring to put my filthy mitts upon it, but I now understand the powerful draw Brennus’ men must have felt more than I ever did.

But I digress. Watch this game. It’s a blast.

[youtube=https://youtu.be/WZskjLq040I&w=430]

 

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Two WWII B-25 bombers found off Papua New Guinea

Saturday, May 27th, 2017

Photomosaic of B-25 bomber wreck discovered off Papua New Guinea. Photo courtesy Project Recover.Researchers from Project Recover have discovered the wrecks of two B-25 bombers that went missing over the waters off Papua New Guinea during World War II. Papua New Guinea saw a great deal of action in the Pacific theater between 1942 and 1945, and many US aircraft were lost, their crews listed as Missing in Action. The archaeologists, marine scientists and volunteers dedicated to the recovery of the remains of the fallen in action that make up the Project Recover team have been working since February to systematically map the seafloor in the search for lost B-25s.

In its search of nearly 10 square kilometers, Project Recover located the debris field of a B-25 bomber that had been missing for over 70 years, associated with a crew of six MIAs.

“People have this mental image of an airplane resting intact on the sea floor, but the reality is that most planes were often already damaged before crashing, or broke up upon impact. And, after soaking in the sea for decades, they are often unrecognizable to the untrained eye, often covered in corals and other sea-life,” said Katy O’Connell, Project Recover’s Executive Director, who is based at the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment. “Our use of advanced technologies, which led to the discovery of the B-25, enables us to accelerate and enhance the discovery and eventual recovery of our missing servicemen.”

Project Recover blends historical and archival data from multiple sources to narrow underwater search regions, then surveys the areas with scanning sonars, high definition imagers, advanced diving, and unmanned aerial and underwater robotic technologies.

Diver inspects wreckage of B-25 bomber discovered off Papua New Guinea. Photo courtesy Project Recover.The second B-25 was actually known to have crashed in Papua New Guinea’s Madang Harbor. Residents and scuba divers had seen the wreck over the past 30 years, but no archaeologists had surveyed the site. Six crewmen were on board that aircraft when it went down. Five of them survived and were taken as prisoners of war by the Japanese. The sixth is believed to have gone down with the plane and is listed as MIA.

It’s because of that sixth crew member that Project Recover made it a priority to properly document the wreck site. Their scientifically precise documentation will be of paramount importance to the US military should they attempt to locate and recover potential remains of the missing airman or any other soldier associated with the information about the wreck.

Gun turret of B-25 bomber wreck discovered off Papua New Guinea. Photo courtesy Project Recover.Project Recover also enlisted the aid of oral histories from local residents who heard the wartime stories passed down from their fathers and grandfathers. These accounts proved invaluable to researchers. Not only did they learn about the downed B-25s, but they also learned of burial sites on Papua New Guinea and another airplane that crashed on land instead of in the ocean.

In the cases of the B-25 wrecks as with all such finds, Project Recover forwards all information about the craft, any identifying information and all possible crewmen associated with the wreck to the Department of Defense’s Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA). It is the DPAA that pursues all potential recovery and repatriation of MIA remains and that notifies surviving family members.

“Any find in the field is treated with the utmost care, respect and solemnity,” said O’Connell. “There are still over 73,000 U.S. service members unaccounted for from World War II, leaving families with unanswered questions about their loved ones. We hope that our global efforts can help to bring closure and honor the service of the fallen.”

 

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Roman bathhouse found under Carlisle Cricket Club

Friday, May 26th, 2017

Excavation at Carlisle Cricket Club unearths Roman bathhouse. Photo by Stuart Walker, The Cumberland News.An archaeological survey at the Carlisle Cricket Club’s Edenside ground has discovered the remains of an extraordinarily important Roman bathhouse and dozens of artifacts. Archaeology contractors Wardell Armstrong were called in to survey the site of a proposed new floodproof pavilion, expecting to find little more than random fill dumped during the construction of the nearby Hardwicke Circus roundabout. Instead, they unearthed entire rooms from the ancient bathhouse, intact floors, the remains of a hypocaust system, terracotta water pipes, coins, arrowheads, hair pins, painted tiles and fragments of cooking pots including one with a handsome pouring spout in the shape of a lion’s head.

Terracotta water pipe. Photo by Stuart Walker, The Cumberland News.This was a military bathhouse, used by the elite Ala Petriana cavalry regiment. The 1,000-strong garrison was stationed at the Roman fort of Uxelodunum (later known as Petriana after the regiment it housed) on Hadrian’s Wall. It was the largest regiment on the wall manning the largest fort on the wall. The Ala Petriana was a highly prestigious regiment — its members were all granted Roman citizenship for valour on the field — and despite its remote location at the northernmost frontier of the empire, their fort had all the upscale amenities the cream of the Roman cavalry might expect.

Today whatever is left of the former fort lies underneath the Carlisle suburb of Stanwix, but very little of it has been excavated because it has been so extensively overbuilt.

“This site is highly significant,” said [Wardell Armstrong technical director Frank] Giecco.

“We’re just beneath the site of the Roman fort at Stanwix and, until now, we never knew where the fort’s bath-house was. The obvious place was near the river. There are blackened areas, probably where they had the furnaces for burning wood to heat the water.

“There were 1,000 men based here, members of the prestigious Ala Petriana and they were paid more than the other soldiers stationed here. The bath-house was a very important part of life for these cavalrymen – a meeting place and there would have been a lot of gambling and coins lost.”

Frank Giecco, archaeologist with Wardell Armstrong, views the inscription carved onto a piece of sandstone. Photo by Stuart Walker, The Cumberland News.One notable artifact is a carved sandstone block bearing an inscription with a tribute to Julia Domna, mother of Emperor Caracalla and an able administrator, philosopher, and cultural leader with great hair. Born in Homs, Syria, a city that has been tragically brutalized in the ongoing civil war, to a noble priestly family, she married the future emperor Septimius Severus who showered her with honors including Mater Castorum (mother of the camp or army), Mater Augustus (mother of Augustus, i.e., the Emperor) and Mater Senatus et Patriae (mother of the Senate and fatherland). She was so indispensable to her husband that he took her with him on his military campaign in Caledonia in 208. She was with him when he died in York in 211. Carlisle is just 40 miles northwest of York. It’s not clear to me whether the inscription dates to the reign of Caracalla alone (he was his father’s co-emperor from 198 until 211, becoming sole emperor after he had his brother Gaeta killed that same year and reigning until his own assassination in 217 A.D.). Archaeologists say the inscription was dedicated by her son, but the honorifics on the inscription referring to her as mother of Augustus predate Septimius Severus’ death, so that’s not dispositive; moreover, Caracalla led several incursions north of the Antonine Wall in the last two years of his father’s life, so we know he was in the area when his father still reigned.

Frank Giecco examines some of the artifacts found. Photo by Stuart Walker, The Cumberland News.The excavations were done on the quiet over the past few weeks to avoid drawing unwanted attention from looters. The site and a selection of artifacts were opened to the public on Friday afternoon so visitors could see the finds and the archaeologists at work. Now all the portable finds have been removed and the remains are being covered with a protective membrane. What happens going forward has yet to be decided. The Carlisle Cricket Club still wants to build their pavilion, but have no desire to screw with this nationally important find. They plan to work with the city council to figure out how to have their pavilion without damaging or obscuring the Roman bathhouse remains. See-through floor, man. All the cool kids from Iceland to Turkey to Rome are doing it.

“The archaeology they’ve found here is absolutely stunning,” said Carlisle City Council leader Colin Glover. “It’s a fantastic site. It’s been a dream for a long time to find Roman archaeology in Carlisle that is good enough to show to the public.

Kevin Mounsey with excellent example of terracotta water pipe. Photo by Stuart Walker, The Cumberland News.“We’ve already found lots of good Roman artefacts elsewhere in Carlisle and much of it is at Tullie House Museum where it helps tell the story of Roman Carlisle. […]

“This is something we can do something with long-term. We want to work closely with the cricket club to make the best of this exciting discovery. There are also discussions that we can have with the Heritage Lottery Fund. It’s really exciting to see a place and artefacts that Romans were using in this city almost 2,000 years ago.

“It would be wonderful if we could develop something long-term just a 10-minute walk from the city centre.”

There’s a mini-tour of the hypocaust system and a good shot of the inscribed sandstone fragment in this ITV news story. The following brief Cumberland News video has some good wider views of the excavation.

 

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Franz Xaver Mozart finally steps out of his dad’s shadow

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart, lithograph by Josef Kriehuber, 1844.Born on July 26th, 1791, Franz Xaver Mozart was barely four months old when his father Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart breathed his last on December 5th, 1791. He and his older brother Karl Thomas were the only two of Wolfgang and Constanze’s six children to survive to adulthood, and almost from birth he was doomed to carry the burden of his father’s musical genius. Karl showed early promise as a pianist, but avoided the trap of being molded into a crappier version of his father by focusing on the business side. He took on an apprenticeship in a trading company when he was 13 years old with the eventual aim of opening his own piano store. The store never materialized, and instead he built a career in the Austrian civil service in Milan.

Alas, Franz was not so fortunate. When he was an infant, his father declared him to be “a true Mozart” because the baby once cried in tune with a piece he was playing on the piano. After Mozart’s death, Constanze poured all her hopes and dreams into little Franz, calling him Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Jr., and deciding he would become a composer and musician like his daddy when he was two years old. He was just five years old when his mother sent him on a concert tour to Prague where he stayed with professor and family friend Franz Xaver Niemetschek. There he received his first formal piano lessons.

Portrait of Constanze Mozart by Hans Hansen, 1802.Back in Vienna, he took lessons from prominent instructors including Johann Andreas Streicher (piano), Sigismund Neukomm, Georg Joseph Vogler and Johann Georg Albrechtsberger (music composition) and Antonio Salieri (general music training). Still a young child at this point, Franz was under unrelenting pressure to develop as a prodigy the way his father had. You can get a taste of that pressure in this entry Constanze wrote in her nine-year-old son’s autograph book, which should probably go in the encyclopedia under the NO WIRE HANGERS EVER category of mothering philosophies.

“A child that offends his parents, / one that wishes them bad luck, / one that does not seek the blessing of his parents, / will be publicly cursed by God, / His end will be horrible; / He will encounter shame and pain. / This is a warning to my dear Wowi, / from his loving mother / Constance Mozart / Vienna, June 20, 1801.”

(Dear Mom, Thank you for having a very different definition of “loving mother” than Constanze Mozart or, say, Medea. Love you!)

At the age of 13, Franz made his debut in Vienna as a pianist and composer of a cantata. A review published on April 8th, 1805, in Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, Leipzig, might as well have been a harbinger of doom:

“Young Mozart’s mother presented him to the public, which greeted him with loud applause. He played the great and beautiful piano concert by his father in C major, in a somewhat slow tempo, yet well and with precision. He also showed a lot of potential…. The cantata following the concert was, according to the program, composed by young Mozart for Haydn’s 73rd birthday. It is almost unbelievable that the entire orchestration could be by the boy […] May the well-earned applause that young Mozart received be a double incentive for the budding artist to follow the footsteps of his great father! May he never forget that the name Mozart now grants him clemency, but will
later confront him with high demands and expectations….

Later? He was confronted with those expectations when he was literally in diapers. This was not lost on him at any point. It wasn’t just a question of musical skill either. Reserved and plagued with self-doubt, he couldn’t help but suffer in comparison to his extroverted and confident father.

His old teacher Niemetschek said in his biography of Mozart, Sr., that Franz (then 17 years old) was certainly gifted, but unlike his father, he lacked the firm guidance that Wolfgang’s father Leopold had provided his son, without which his brilliance might never have flourished. “The first fruits of his musical talent have been well received by the public. His piano playing is distinguished by fine expression and precision. […] Apparently, the spirit of his father lives on in him. However, the son is missing an educating fatherly hand like the one that excellently guided and cultivated the genius of his own father.”

In 1808, he turned to teaching to make a living. He moved to Galicia where he taught Count Wiktor Baworowski in Podkamień for a few years before taking a job as piano teacher to Count Tomasz Janiszewski near Lviv in 1811. He would continue to teach the aristocratic families of Galicia for many years, with occasional concert tours and visits to his mother in Salzburg. In 1838 he moved back to Vienna, still employed as teacher and music master for the daughters of the noble Baroni-Cavalcabò family. (Their mother Josephine was his long-time lover.)

Back in his father’s old stomping grounds, Franz was invited to participate in the celebrations of Wolfgang Amadeus’ life and music. In 1839, he was asked to compose a cantata in his father’s honor for the dedication of the Mozart-Monument in Salzburg. He was so insecure about his “lacking ability” (those are his own words), he declined the commission at first. Eventually he took the job, transforming two of Wolfgang Amadeus’ unfinished works (the Offertorium Venite populi and the Adagio for piano) into a cantata he performed at the 1842 dedication of the monument.

In 1841 he was appointed Honorary Music Director of the newly-founded Cathedral Music Association and Mozarteum in Salzburg. Alas, his days were numbered. He died of a “hardening of the stomach,” i.e., stomach cancer, in the Czech spa town of Carlsbad in 1844. On his tombstone was engraved this sad testament: “May his father’s name be his epitaph, as his veneration for him was the essence of his life.”

Portrait of Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart on display at 2016 exhibition at the Mozart Residence. Photo by AFP.In his will, he named Josephine Baroni-Cavalcabò as his sole heiress, but he had told her explicitly before his death that he wanted his personal library and all of his father’s materials — correspondence, autograph manuscripts, music, sketches and family portraits — to go to the Cathedral Music Association and Mozarteum. The successor of that organization, the International Mozarteum Foundation, today owns a great part of the Mozart estate thanks largely to Franz Xaver’s generosity.

Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart finally got his own exhibition at the Mozart Residence museum in Salzburg last year. Original documents, letters, and compositions traced Franz’s life on its own terms for a change, and he got the credit he deserved for preserving and bequeathing the rich legacy of Mozartiana that Salzburg is so strongly identified with today.

 

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Tiny medieval bird found at Bamburgh Castle

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

Bamburgh copper alloy bird mount, ca. 8th century. Photo courtesy the Bamburgh Research Project.Archaeologists excavating Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland have discovered an artifact whose historical significance is as large as its dimensions are small: a copper alloy fragment decorated with a stylized representation of a bird of a type often found in early medieval art from northern Europe. Just 23mm by 12mm (.9 by .5 inches) in size, the artifact is thin and flat with decoration only on one side. It was likely mounted on a larger object as a decorative element.

Harry Francis, part of the Bamburgh Research Project (BRP), found the piece at the end of last summer’s dig season on a cobbled surface just below a 9th century building used for metal working. Archaeologists believe based on the layers that the bird dates to the 8th century. The decorative style is more in keeping with eagle and bird of prey motifs from earlier 6th and 7th century artworks, which makes the bird mount unique with no known parallels in the archaeological record. It’s possible this was a local evolution of Anglo-Saxon art from a century or two before.

In the 8th century, Northumbria was one of about a dozen small kingdoms in the territory that would become unified England under Æthelstan in the 10th century. Bamburgh was a major political and military center in the Kingdom of Northumbria at that time.

Bamburgh Research Project Director, Graeme Young:

“The palace fortress of Bamburgh was one of the most important places in the kingdom and we have evidence of metal working, probably associated with the production of arms and armour for the warriors of the royal court in our excavation.

“In summer 2017 we will continue our investigations of the find spot and we hope to discover if it represents an earlier period of metal working or some other activity.

“At the moment our investigation of this horizon is at such an early stage we are unsure if the find came from within a building or from a yard surface or path where it may have been dropped. We are very much looking forward to getting back on site and continuing our excavations. Who knows what other finds await us this summer!”

Bamburgh copper alloy bird after conservation. Photo courtesy the Bamburgh Research Project.Conservators have been cleaning and stabilizing the bird mount since its discovery, and the first publication on the artifact is scheduled for later this year. Meanwhile, the bird is on display at Bamburgh Castle until October 29th alongside other archaeological materials like swords and elaborately decorated gold pieces unearthed during the project. Bamburgh Research Project archaeologists will be on site between June 11th and 15th and will be available to answer questions and chat about their finds with visitors to the castle.

 

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Test of Rollo’s descendants’ bones gangs agley

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

Researchers exhume bones from Fécamp Abbey, February 29th, 2016. Photo by Vegard Strømsodd.Last year, a team of French, Danish and Norwegian researchers exhumed skeletal remains from the tombs of two medieval dukes of Normandy, direct descendants of Rollo, the 10th century Viking raider who so effectively plundered the towns along the Seine that King Charles the Simple had to bribe him with great swaths of property. Those lands would become the Duchy of Normandy, and one of those dukes, Rollo’s three times great-grandson William the Bastard, would conquer England.

The lead ossuaries buried in the graves of Rollo’s grandson Richard I (known as Richard the Fearless) and his great-grandson Richard II (Richard the Good) were raised from under the floor of Fécamp Abbey on February 29th, 2016. The researchers’ aim was to recover teeth that might contain extractable DNA. The DNA might then answer a question that has long bedeviled historians: was Rollo Norwegian or Danish? Medieval chronicles and sagas differ on the subject. Per Holck, Professor Emeritus at the University of Oslo, and University of Copenhagen geneticist Andaine Seguin Orlando got permission from the French government to open the ossuaries in the hope genetic testing might resolve the debate over Rollo’s origins once and for all.

Richard I statue on the west facade of Fécamp Abbey. Photo by Giogo.They were lucky at first. One of the ossuaries, the one purportedly containing the remains of Duke Richard II, included a lower mandible with eight teeth. Because recovering nuclear DNA from ancient remains is always difficult, often impossible, due to degradation of organic remains and environmental contaminants, teeth provide the best opportunity to retrieve viable, clean DNA because the genetic material is in the pulp, encased in and protected by layers of dentin and enamel. The team was allowed to keep five of the teeth which they sent to the University of Oslo and the University of Copenhagen’s Centre for GeoGenetics for testing.

That’s where their good luck ended. They were unable to extract any DNA from the teeth, which were too old, had been exposed to high moisture levels and contaminated by decades spent in a lead ossuary. After hitting the wall on genetic analysis, researchers decided they might as well date the bones. When the radiocarbon dating results came in they blew apart any chance of the remains providing new information about Rollo. The bones in the ossuaries do not belong to Richard I and Richard II of Normandy. They long predate the Richards. In fact, they long predate Rollo himself. One of them dates to 704 (+/- 28 years), the Merovingian era, so more than 200 years before Rollo started marauding on the Seine. The bones belonged to a man, tall for his time at 1.8 meters (5’11”), and because his right forearm is slightly longer than his left, he was likely a warrior. The other is even older than that, like a thousand years older. It dates to 286 B.C. (+/- 27 years), which means it not only predates the Viking era, it predates the Roman occupation of the area.

Richard II statue on the west facade of Fécamp Abbey. Photo by Giogo.It’s not a huge shock that the ossuaries did not contain the remains of Richard I and II. As I noted in last year’s article about the exhumation, the remains were repeatedly moved over the centuries. The Dukes were buried outside the Church of the Holy Trinity in Fécamp, consecrated in 990. They both requested that they be buried under a water channel so their sins could be washed away for eternity. Their remains were moved and buried inside the new Romanesque church in 1162 by order of Henry II of England, Duke Richard II’s three times great-grandson. They were moved again in 1518 to the high altar of the Gothic church, and again in 1748. The remains were rediscovered in 1942 when work was done on the church, and the bones were reburied in 1947. They were moved one last time in 1956 when they were placed in those lead boxes and moved to the southern transept where researchers at the time believed was the closest spot to the original burial location.

Gothic church of Fécamp Abbey. Photo by Urban.Somewhere in the middle of all that, the bones of a man from the 8th century and one from the 3rd century B.C. were confused for those of two dukes of Normandy. So the Rollo thing is a total bust, but now there’s a whole new bag of issues to keep researchers busy. The biggest surprise is the pre-Roman skeleton. How such an ancient personage wound up riding the reburial carousel is inexplicable right now. Researchers can only speculate that he may have been an early Celtic chieftain buried in a ritually significant spot — he is far older than the city of Fécamp — that was then reused as the site of Christian churches. The research team has sent one of his teeth for strontium isotope analysis. If all goes well, the results will pinpoint where the man spent his childhood.

 

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Henge, human remains found in Warwickshire

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

An archaeological excavation of a field slated for development in Newbold-on-Stour near Stratford, Warwickshire, has discovered traces of a Neolithic henge and rare human remains dating back almost 6,000 years to around 4,000 or 3,000 B.C. A geophysical survey indicated the possible presence of something of archaeological interest resulting in a preliminary dig last year, but this year’s excavation found that what archaeologists suspected was a burial mound was in a fact a ritual site of religious significance.

Aerial view of circular henge remains and burials. Photo by Archaeology Warwickshire.The henge was a simple earthwork structure, not the wooden or grand monumental stone architecture of Britain’s more famous henges. It was composed of a segmented circular trench with an exterior bank built from the dug up soil. This ditch and embankment combination would not have had a defensive purpose, but rather served to enclose the interior circular space to mark it out for whatever religious or celebratory uses to which it was dedicated. What’s left of it today is the shallow circular ditch with an inner diameter of about nine meters (30 feet).

Five articulated skeletons were found buried in one of the segments of the circular trench. This is an exceptionally rare find, not only because of the great historical significance of the Neolithic henge context, but because the soil in the area is extremely acidic and ancient bone rarely survives at all. Intact, articulated skeletons, especially ones as old as these, are a gift from the archaeological gods.

The people had been buried carefully as none of the bodies had been placed on top of another. The three middle burials were facing west, out from the henge, while the two outer ones were facing east, into the henge.

The apparently deliberate arrangement suggests the people being buried were a group of some kind – possibly family members – and the people burying them knew where the others were buried. […]

Archaeology Warwickshire Project Officer Nigel Page, who excavated the site said: […]

Henge burial detail. Photo by Archaeology Warwickshire.“The skeletons have been recovered from the site and will undergo scientific analysis to try to answer the many questions that their presence on the site has raised. For example, it is hoped that the sex and age of the people can be established and it may also be possible to determine if there was a family connection between them.

“The rare survival of the skeletons will provide an important opportunity to gain a unique insight into the lives of the people who not only knew the henge and its landscape, but who were probably some of the region’s earliest residents”.

Radiocarbon dating results on the skeletons are expected in June.

Archaeology Warwickshire Business Manager Stuart Palmer said: “This exciting discovery is of national importance as it provides tangible evidence for cult or religious belief in late Stone Age Warwickshire.

“Amazingly it is the second such find by the team. In 2015 a group of four henges was excavated in Bidford although the burials at this site were all cremated. Prior to this there were no known henges in Warwickshire leading some archaeologists to believe that a different kind of cult was prevalent in the region.”

 

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