Archive for April, 2018

Britain’s oldest gold bought at car boot sale

Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

Some of Britain’s oldest gold has been declared treasure two years after it was found in a box of assorted watch parts bought by John Workman at the Berinsfield Car Boot sale in south Oxfordshire. The Oxford Coroner’s Court ruled on April 17th that the folded gold strip dating to the Early Bronze Age qualifies as treasure on the grounds of its prehistoric age and its high percentage of precious metal content.

The number of objects of this age and type discovered in Britain can literally be counted on the fingers of one hand. They date to around 2400-200 B.C., which make them the earliest gold artifacts in Britain. The strip is now in two pieces but that happened after it was folded and lost. Even put together the two pieces do not make up the complete original and because there is no find site or any way of locating it, the odds of finding missing fragments are infinitesimally small.

There are punched dots along the edge of the tapered end and three circles pierced through another terminal in a triangular shape. These could be decorative features or evidence that the gold was once mounted to something — a scabbard, jewelry, clothing. A similar strip found near Winchester in 2000 and now in the collection of the British Museum is also perforated at the terminal in a triangular shape.

Mr Workman spotted the unusual piece and showed it to friends who had interest in metal detecting and was encouraged to get in touch with the British Museum.

[Oxfordshire Finds liaison officer Anni] Byard described the piece as ‘exceptionally rare’ and said ‘very rare doesn’t seem to do it justice’.

She added: “As soon as I heard about it I knew it was Bronze Age and realised it was pretty unusual and quite rare.

“Because they are so rare we don’t know what they would have been used for, it could have been on the side of a sword or could have been worn around the neck as jewellery. We just don’t know.”

Now that it has been ruled official treasure, the gold strip is property of the crown and will be assessed for fair market value. A local museum will be given first dibs at acquiring it for the assessed value, the award to go to the finder. The Oxfordshire Museum is keen to secure the piece for the county. The monetary value won’t be prohibitive. The Winchester strip was valued at £2,000, and while this piece is a little larger and gold has increased in value since then, it should still be well within reach of the Oxfordshire Museum. Its historic value, of course, is inestimable.

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Mosaic looted from Cyprus church repatriated

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

In the aftermath of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, the island’s cultural patrimony was ravaged by looting, particularly in the Turkish-controlled area of Northern Cyprus. The northeastern Karpass peninsula was heavily targeted by heritage despoilers, with thefts going on for years after the invasion. The church of Panagia Kanakaria in the village of Lythrangomi, an extremely rare survival of a 6th century monastery church famed for its Byzantine mosaics, was pillaged by Turkish occupation troops in 1979. Its mosaics of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and apostles, iconographically unique masterpieces of Early Christian mosaic art, were stripped off the walls and sold to antiquities buyers who didn’t give a damn about the brutality underpinning their acquisitions.

The looting was reported to UNESCO, other international heritage and policing organizations. Experts in Byzantine art were also notified so they could keep an eye out for the mosaics in institutions and collections. In 1983, two of the Apostle medallions that once adorned the apse of the church were located by a London art dealer and returned through Germany.

In 1988, US dealer Peg Goldberg bought four Panagia Kanakaria mosaics for $1 million. She then turned around and tried to sell them to the J. Paul Getty Museum in California, but the Getty was suspicious and alerted Greek Cypriot authorities. The Autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus filed a restitution claim in an Indianapolis federal court. Goldberg fought back, but her look-the-other-wayism was so egregious — the dealer claimed he had found the priceless mosaics “in an abandoned church,” she knew one of the middlemen was a convicted art forger, she only inspected the mosaics for a moment in the middle of the Geneva airport — that the US District Court for the Southern District of Indiana sided with the plaintiffs and ordered the mosaics returned to the Church. They were repatriated in August of 1991 and are now Byzantine Museum in Nicosia.

Turkish art dealer Aydin Dikmen was arrested in 1998 for having sold the looted Kanakaria mosaics to Peg Goldberg as well as other artifacts ripped from the walls of churches and monasteries. Greek Cypriot police and Department of Antiquities officials suspect him of having been instrumental in the savaging of Cyprus’ patrimony after the invasion and then spending decades selling his ill-gotten gains.

Another of the missing medallions, the one depicting the Apostle Thomas, was found in Dikmen’s possession during a police sting in October of 1997. Thaddeus was found the month before that. The hands of Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary were found the month after that. More of them have been recovered since, leaving only two Apostle medallions still missing.

Now one of those last remaining two, a vividly colored depiction of St. Andrew, has been recovered and repatriated to Cyprus.

The mosaic was found in 2014 by the art historian Maria Paphiti. The last buyer of the mosaic acquired it as part of a larger collection of artworks in 2010. She asked Paphiti to prepare an exhibition for her pieces.

Paphiti told her about the origin of the mosaic and after a long period of negotiations, the owner finally agreed to hand it over to the Church of Cyprus without litigation and for only a symbolic sum.

Dr Andreas Pittas, president of Medochemie and Roys Poyiadjis, a Cypriot businessman, based in New York, covered the cost and restoration.

During the ceremony, the Medal of Apostle Andreas, the highest distinction of the Archbishopric of Cyprus was awarded to Paphiti, Poyiadjis and Pittas for their contribution to the repatriation of the mosaic.

I hope it doesn’t take another four decades to find the last mission medallion, St. Luke.

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UofT acquires oldest English-language book in Canada

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

The University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library celebrated World Book Day today by announcing the acquisition of the Caxton Cicero. Printed in 1481, only four decades after the invention of the printing press in the West, the volume is believed to be the oldest English-language book in Canada, and it’s certainly the oldest in the library’s collection, eclipsing the previous record-holder (a copy of The Golden Legend printed by Caxton in 1507) by a quarter century.

William Caxton, the man who introduced movable type to England, included three translated Latin treatises in the untitled book: De Amicitia (“On Friendship”) and De Senectute (“On Old Age”) by Marcus Tullius Cicero, and De Nobilitate (“On Nobility”) by early 15th century humanist Giovane Buonaccorso da Montemagno the Younger. This was the first book by a classical ancient author to be translated into English, as well as the first Renaissance humanist author translated into English.

Unlike The Golden Legend, of which thousands of manuscripts and printed editions survive, there are only 13 known extant copies of the Caxton Cicero.

At the end of the first text, Caxton includes a colophon […], which is an imprint by the printer that includes information about the book’s publication.

The printed text states that the book is “imprinted by me simple person William Caxton into English at the pleasure, solace and reverence of men growing into old age.” The writing in ink below the statement is likely a person practising their handwriting, trying to emulate the type – likely from the end of the 15th century, says [interim head of rare books and manuscripts at Fisher Library, Pearce] Carefoote.

Through clues buried inside the book, one can trace the history of the Caxton Cicero back to one of its first owners, Thomas Shupton – thought to be a monk during the time of Henry VIII. It was then given to 16th-century politician Sir Robert Coke, who passed it on to his nephew. After his nephew’s death, the book was given to Sion College in London, which kept it until 1977 when it was bought by Mexican author Roberto Salinas Price through a rare book dealer.

U of T acquired the text from Price’s estate, which was made possible by many donors, led by the B.H. Breslauer Foundation and with the support from the University of Toronto through a matching grant.

In a random but satisfying numerological coincidence, it is the 15th millionth book in the Fisher Library collection. It will be of inestimable scholarly value to students of the classics, Renaissance, the history of the English language (Caxton’s publications were instrumental in establishing the primacy of the London dialect, standardizing English and spreading literacy), the physical object of the book and more. Library staff also plan to digitize the book so that it can be accessed by interested parties all over the world.

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Marcus Aurelius head found at Kom Ombo Temple

Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

Dashing off a quick one tonight — little more than a picture, truth be told — due to extreme business/tiredness, if you’ll forgive me.

Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a bust of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius at the Temple of Kom Ombo, about 600 miles south of Cairo. The team was working on a groundwater reduction project at the temple when they came across the sculpture. The head is made of marble and is very finely carved, depicting the emperor with his characteristic wavy hair and beard. The find is noteworthy because statues of Marcus Aurelius are very rarely seen in Egypt, and this one is a particularly quality example.

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Happy Birthday, Rome, from the Antonine Wall.

Saturday, April 21st, 2018

It’s April 21st, the traditional founding day of the city of Rome when, according to legend (one of them, anyway) Romulus ploughed a furrow laying out the boundaries of the city, sacrificed to the gods and became the first king of Rome by popular acclaim. Ancient sources vary on the date of this mythical event (in fact, archaeological evidence indicates Rome has been inhabited since Paleolithic times, ca. 14,000 years ago) but for the past couple of thousand years the most widely accepted date for the founding is 753 B.C., which makes the Eternal City 2,772 years old today.

It was a comparative baby of 895 years old when its legions built the Antonine Wall across the width of Scotland, a series of defensive ramparts, ditches and forts marking the furthest northwestern boundary of the empire. The soldiers left distance stones, slabs with reliefs and inscriptions documenting how much of the wall they’d built, features unique to the Antonine Wall.

A new study by University of Glasgow archaeologist Dr. Louisa Campbell has found that those distance slabs, now worn down to their natural sandstone, were originally painted in bright red and yellow. She used X-ray and laser technology to analyze the Second Legion’s distance stone, found at Summerston Farm in the 17th century.

Inscribed with a dedication to Antoninus Pius (“For the Emperor Caesar Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus Pius, father of his country, the Second Augustan Legion completed [this work] over a distance of 3666.5 paces”), the stone depicts Roman cavalry with two captives on the left of the inscription, and an eagle on top of a capricorn (emblem of the Second Legion) on the right. It is currently on display at the University of Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum.

Dr. Campbell used portable X-Ray Flourescence and Raman Spectroscopic technology to analyze the traces of pigment remaining on several distance stones, including the Summerston stone. They identified a limited palette of vibrant red and yellow that was used as visually impactful propaganda that would have conveyed a clear message to indigenous peoples about the power and strength of the Roman empire.

There is a clear format to the application of pigments in the Roman Empire with specific colours expected to appear in certain contexts, eg reds in letters and Roman cloaks and military standards, different colours of red depicting spilled blood of indigenous captive warriors and ochres probably applied in layers to provide life-like skin tones, as evidenced on marble statuary.

There is even evidence for red on the beak of the Roman eagle which Dr Campbell suggests symbolises the eagle feasting on the flesh of her enemies.

A base layer of gesso was applied to the stones in the first instance which was then painted onto, but conservation practices appear to have negatively impacted the survival of these exquisite sculptures.

This is innovative work that has not previously been attempted. It presented some challenges which have now been mitigated and the next phase of the research seeks to determine whether other stone statuary, including Pictish symbol stones and other early medieval sculpture was adorned in colour.

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Roman Republic coin collection digitzed

Friday, April 20th, 2018

Rutgers University has digitized its Ernst Badian Collection of Roman coins from the Republican era, a group of more than 1,200 coins that cover the period from 280 B.C. through 31 B.C. and the end of the Republic. Numismatics provide a unique perspective on history, not just monetary but political and social. The Badian Collection’s focus on Republican Rome makes it an invaluable (pun intended) resource for students of a period that in the earliest years of coin production has limited surviving contemporary historical documentation.

The collection begins with examples of cast bronze coinage, used in the earliest stages of monetization. The Republic moved to struck coins, some made of silver as the standard metal for coins. The denarius, half-denarius and quinarius all were struck from silver. Smaller denominations continued to be struck from bronze. Early coins found in the collection often imitate examples from the Greek colonies in southern Italy (Magna Graecia). The movement to silver denominations, like the denarius, unique to Rome, also is documented. There also are examples of brockage, an error caused when a coin adhered to the die and was struck a second time.

Coins in the collection also document the political aspects of striking coins unique to Rome. Young politicians served as official moneyers (tresviri monetales). They put their names on coins and selected motifs that conveyed messages about their families’ histories and the virtues they claimed these had. The most common message was the importance of military virtues. Patriotic images like the helmeted head of Rome and the she wolf appear together with images of deities. Reflecting affairs in Italy and beyond, changes in money weights and the addition of victory motifs show the fortunes of a rising empire. This includes evidence of the difficulties of the Republic during the Second Punic War, when Hannibal campaigned in Italy. An unusual use of gold as an “emergency” coinage during the Second Punic War is represented among the coins at Rutgers. The collection also documents financial pressures that caused debasement of currency in the same period. Victories were commemorated with special coins and the use of images of trophies won by the armies of the Republic.




The collection thus illustrates comprehensively the progressively heated political climate of the later Republic, and the various fortunes of charismatic leaders such as Marius, Sulla, Crassus, Pompey, Julius Caesar, Lepidus and Marc Antony, as well as those of numerous other ambitious families and individuals.

In-person access to the collection is limited by preservation and security concerns, so the digitization project opens up previously closed doors not just to scholars and academics, but to everyone who is interested in Roman and numismatic history. Rutgers graduate students did the work, spending four years photographing every coin from multiple angles and uploading the images to the dedicated website. They can be searched by keyword, which makes it easy to use the coins for research on a subject that is not literal monetary history.

The coins were collected by Harvard professor Ernst Badian who donated the coins to Rutgers in 2001. Professor Badian researched his own collection assiduously and wrote notes on many individual coins. Those hand-written notes identifying the coins, their dates, inscriptions and iconography have also been digitized so you can see scans of the original notes in his hand as well as transcriptions.

To search or browse the Ernst Badian Collection, click here.



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Update: Ponte Vedra shipwreck moved to safety

Thursday, April 19th, 2018

Weeks after it washed up on Ponte Vedra Beach, the remains of a shipwreck have been safely removed from the beach to the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve. Construction Debris Removal Inc. donated their time and equipment and experts from the Lighthouse Archeological Maritime Program (LAMP) collaborated to prepare the delicate wooden hull for transport and move it to its new home just over the highway. The team worked all day in the hot sun to make it happen, finally getting the ship to a protected location near the Guana Dam at the end of the afternoon.

The 48-foot-long section of a ship is a weighty thing, hence the front loader. The head of the construction company estimates that it weighed 6,000 pounds. Archaeologists think, based on its dimensions and construction, that the complete ship would have been something in the neighborhood of 100-150 feet long and was probably a coastal trading ship with a crew of around 20 men.

Chuck Meide, director of maritime research at the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, thinks it was built in the southeast in first half the 19th century, not the 18th century as originally speculated.

That, [Meide] said, he and others based not only on the size of the frame members, or what are called “futtocks,” but also those deteriorating surface features that could be seen on them.

Marks on them, Meide said, appear to have been made by band saws and circular saws. Those would have been steam powered and not in widespread use until the 1830s, he said

What Meide called a “deliberate pattern” of alternating softwood and hardwood timbers for the futtocks also added another clue about origin.

“That’s kind of interesting,” he said.

It suggests that the builder was taking advantage of the strength of the hardwood, “but the abundance of softwood would have made it a lot cheaper,” he explained. That points to a smaller shipbuilder in the South as opposed to a more industrial shipyard in the north that would have been more likely to use all hardwoods, Meide said.

The hot sun and roiling waters of the Florida beach were major threats to this intriguing relic. Just as it washed ashore during a spring break storm, it could have been swept back out to the Atlantic ocean at any time. Even as the thousands of people who flocked to see the wreck and read about it in national news reports hoped it would be rescued before that happened, the logistics proved challenging and several attempts at salvage failed. Meanwhile, the sun had three weeks to dry the wood and bake away the extremely rare surviving chisel marks, graffiti and Roman numerals left by the builders that had been clearly visible when the ship first appeared on the beach.

Even though the building marks have faded significantly, it seems the deterioration has stabilized for now. Conservators will now be able to work to preserve the shipwreck for the long-term. The GTM Research Reserve is committed to research and protection of of its estuarine environment, but it doesn’t have the budget or expertise to conserve a wooden hull. The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum is taking on that task, and they need funding to do it.

The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum is trying to raise money to pay for further study of the shipwreck, which includes archaeological analysis, the generation of three-dimensional computer models of the shipwreck, wood species identification, and tree-ring dating. With your help the Museum will be able to pay for the production of interpretive signage so that at least a portion of the shipwreck can be saved and displayed for the public to see. We hope that will be at the Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas Research Reserve, which has a Visitor Center very close to where the shipwreck was found, but our Museum will be in charge of the archaeology and interpretation.

The museum has set up a donate link on its Facebook page. So far only $620 have been raised. The goal is $10,000.

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Unbelievable 3D-printed 1st c. Roman helmet

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

Custom Prototypes has created what can only be described as a masterpiece of historical recreation. It’s made of 3D-printed stainless steel and resin (aka stereolithography or SLA plastic), which sounds easy but is far, far from it. For one thing, steel doesn’t come out of the printer all shiny and pretty. The helmet started out as a dull plastic-looking affair requiring a bristling mass of supports in what would become the hollow part that needed to be removed before the finished product could look anything like the original.

Then all the individually printed stainless steel parts — helmet base, decorative elements — had to be sanded, polished and buffed to a high gloss. Once that was done, the resin pieces were printed in clear plastic, including the fantastic mohawk, and then painted and dyed to look like gemstones. That’s not an easy process either, making little plastic bits look like jade or lapis lazuli or feathers.

It helps to elevate the material when you electroplate the base, figures and reliefs with nickel, copper, chrome and just for good measure, 24 carat gold. Pieced all together the final work may bear zero relation to any actual Roman helmet that ever existed, but it sure looks spectacular.

Most of all, it’s a testament to how much is possible with 3D printing technology and months of hard work. This video documents the fascinating process.

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City Hall excavation rewrites Copenhagen’s history

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

Last December, archaeologists began a secret excavation under City Hall Square in the heart of Copenhagen. It was kept scrupulously under wraps until February to give the team the opportunity to excavate what is thought to be the oldest burial ground in Copenhagen without risking contamination of the site by curious onlookers. Between December and the end of February, the remains of 20 men, women and children who lived around 1,000 years ago were unearthed just three feet under Denmark’s busiest square.

This is a highly significant find because by the known chronology, these individuals were the first Copenhagers, and archaeologists believe there are even more human remains to be found, at least another two layers of burials underneath the 20 already excavated. Since February, another 10 skeletons have been discovered. These 30 skeletons predate the legendary founding of the city by Bishop Absalon, who was said to have been given the site as a gift from King Valdemar in the 1160s, by at least a century, and upends the received wisdom that before Absalon built his castle Copenhagen was just a sleepy fishing village under the shadow of the neighboring urban center of Roskilde.

The human remains are now at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen where they are undergoing further tests, including DNA analysis. Once the testing is done, they will be studied in more depth at the Natural History Museum of Denmark. This research will rewrite the history of Copenhagen’s earliest days, replacing the founding myth with a whole different category of information grounded in the biological data of the first residents of what would become Denmark’s capital city.

Meanwhile, the excavation at City Hall Square continues and has now added structural evidence to the new history of Copenhagen’s founding. Archaeologists have unearthed a stone foundation that they think belonged to the first church built in the city.

“If it is a church, it would further prove that Copenhagen was an established city at the start of the Middle Ages,” Lars Ewald Jensen, the archaeological head of the Museum of Copenhagen, told Videnskab.dk.

“You can have a burial site without an established city, because there needs to be more elements present before one can call it a city. But then again, you can’t have a city without having a church.” […]

The stone foundation bears witness to either a church being at the location at some point or a dyke that has split the graveyard into two sections.

“We hope we have discovered the foundation of a church building, in which case it would be a church that co-existed with St Clemens Church, which was excavated in 2008, or is older. Potentially, we have discovered the oldest church in Copenhagen,” Stine Damsbo Winther, an archaeologist with the Museum of Copenhagen, told Videnskab.dk.

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Teacher and student find Harald Bluetooth silver

Monday, April 16th, 2018

Metal detector enthusiast Rene Schoen and his student, 13-year-old Luca Malaschnitschenko, were exploring a field near the village of Schaprode on the island of Ruegen in Northern Germany when they came across a circular piece of metal. At first Schoen thought it was a random bit of aluminium. After cleaning off some of the dirt and taking a closer look, he realized it was a coin.

Schoen is a volunteer with the Mecklenburg-West Pomerania state archaeology office, so he immediately reported the find. State archaeologists identified it as a silver coin from trading settlement of Hedeby. To prevent the treasure-hunters descending like locusts, they asked Schoen and Malaschnitschenko to keep their find a secret until the Office could arrange a thorough excavation of the site.

The coin was discovered in January, and archaeologists only broke ground this weekend. Still, in this brief period the team has excavated more than 4,000 square feet of the find site. The results have been nothing short of spectacular. They have unearthed a treasure far beyond the expectations set by a single silver coin, a hoard that could very well have belonged to King Harald Gormsson (r. 958-986), aka Harald Bluetooth, himself.

Braided necklaces, pearls, brooches, a Thor’s hammer, rings and up to 600 chipped coins were found, including more than 100 that date back to Bluetooth’s era, when he ruled over what is now Denmark, northern Germany, southern Sweden and parts of Norway.

“This trove is the biggest single discovery of Bluetooth coins in the southern Baltic Sea region and is therefore of great significance,” the lead archaeologist, Michael Schirren, told national news agency DPA.

The oldest coin is a Damascus dirham dating to 714 while the most recent is a penny dating to 983.

The find suggests that the treasure may have been buried in the late 980s – also the period when Bluetooth was known to have fled to Pomerania, where he died in 987.

“We have here the rare case of a discovery that appears to corroborate historical sources,” said the archaeologist Detlef Jantzen.

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