Archive for September, 2018

Rare 12th c. seal found at Lincoln Cathedral

Thursday, September 20th, 2018

A rare silver seal matrix from the 12th century has been found in the stores of Lincoln Cathedral. Collections and engagement officer Fern Dawson discovered the artifact in an uncatalogued box during an audit of the cathedral’s holdings. The box was full of seals, but they were all replicas. At first the 12th century piece was believed to be one of them, a Victorian-era reproduction, but experts examined it and identified it as the original matrix used by the medieval Dean and Chapter of Lincoln Cathedral to create the wax seals affixed to official documents.

The obverse of the seal depicts the Virgin Mary, crowned and enthroned, holding the Christ child in her lap. The reverse features the enthroned adult Christ. Mary is the patron saint of Lincoln Cathedral, aka Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln. The seal matrix was made in the early years of the cathedral’s long life. The first wood church was completed in 1092. It was rebuilt in the second quarter of the 12th century and then again after a massive earthquake in 1185.

Lloyd de Beer, Ferguson Curator of Medieval Europe at the British Museum, said: “Institutional seal matrices like this are extremely rare, especially in silver and from such an early date. The Lincoln seal is a joy to behold. It is a masterpiece of micro sculpture made by a truly skilled goldsmith. What’s more, the reverse contains beautiful swirls of niello surrounding an enthroned Christ.”

Its prior existence was known of, and “the Great Seal of the Chapter of Lincoln Cathedral” had a world-wide reputation as a rare piece of 12th century craftsmanship, but until recently no one in living memory had seen or handled the real object.

“Since 1893, important Cathedral documents have been sealed using an electrotyped copy while the true matrix has lain hidden and unrecognised within the Cathedral store,” explained expert in medieval ecclesiastical treasures, Dr Lesley Milner FSA.

“It was a hugely exciting moment for us all when this forgotten art work was rediscovered and put into the hands of Professor Sandy Heslop, an authority on 12th century metalwork. For a moment there was silence and then he said ‘Wow!’, realising that Lincoln had re-acquired a supreme piece of Norman art.”

Two other original medieval seal matrices were found next to the 12th century one in the box full of replicas. There was also a 13th century one of the Vicars Choral and a 14th century Sacrist’s Seal, a personal seal matrix for a cleric named John. The three seals went on display in the Lincoln Cathedral treasury on September 15th. They will remain on public view in the treasury until they are moved to the new visitor center when it opens in 2020.

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Mushroom picker finds Bronze Age helmets

Wednesday, September 19th, 2018

A forager gathering mushrooms near the village of Trhovište in the Kosice Region of eastern Slovakia last year found a Bronze Age deposit so rare that even that distinguished archaeological treasure hound Monty couldn’t help but be impressed: two Bronze Age helmets plus accessories. The helmets, discovered stuck to each by thousands of years of corrosion, were buried with a matched pair of cheek protectors and two spiral arm guards.

The objects are made of bronze and based on the style are around 3,200 years old. The helmets were constructed from two sheets of bronze fashioned into curved plates slightly flattened on the top of the head. The plates are joined down the middle of the head by a central trident crest that has a hole through which a plume could be threaded. The sides are decorated with concentric circles, a shape also seen on the cheek pads. There are also holes on the bottom side through which the cheek pads were attached.

The finder, who wishes to remain anonymous, brought the helmets and associated gear to the Eastern Slovakia Museum in Košice this January. The museum reported the discover to the regional authorities. Museum archaeologist Dárius Gašaj and a regional heritage official searched the find site for any information the context could provide and any other artifacts that may have still been there. The pieces had been buried together at one time in a single hole. There were no other objects found.

Bronze Age helmets are rare in Europe and vanishingly so in Slovakia. Only three examples in this style of manufacture are known, all of them discovered in the Eastern Alps significantly to the west of Slovakia. Archaeologists believe they may have been made in a workshop in the northern Apennines and then wound their way through the Alpine passes eventually reaching the Carpathian basin. The spiral arm guards were likely produced locally. They are of a type that has been found before in Slovakia.

The armature will be studied and conserved further by experts at the Eastern Slovakia Museum where it has made its public debut as part of a display on ancient armour.

The origin of the helmets from Trhovište remains unclear. They were probably traded objects imported for the highest society elite – military chiefs. The helmets were used and repaired. They were more a symbol of the status of the bearer, a symbol of his position and power than protective equipment.

The display also includes the back part of some plate armour plate that was found long ago in Čierna nad Tisou and also some fragments discovered in Šarišské Michaľany.

Similar helmets have been found in Lúčky, Spišská Belá and Žaškov but they were made only from one sheet of bronze. They originated between the 12th and 10th century BC.

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Very good boy discovers Bronze Age hoard

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018

Very good boy Monty was enjoying the many sights and scents of the Orlické mountains on a walk with his owner near the northern Bohemian village of Kostelecké Horky this March when something caught his nose. He began digging frenetically to get to it. Monty’s owner, Mr. Frankona, watched as the pup unearthed a sickle-shaped artifact. By the time the two of them were done, they had picked up 13 bronze sickles, three axes, two spear points and several bracelets.

Frankona handed them in to the Museum and Gallery of Orlické Mountains in the nearby town of Rychnov. Experts examined the group and determined the objects are more than 3,000 years old. Made of bronze, they are in excellent condition despite their advanced age. They are intact with no damage from extensive use or from the millennia spent underground.

“In addition to its professional value, the discovery has a high aesthetic value. It is a find of whole tools and jewels, it is beautiful and there are several stories behind it. Most likely, it is a sacrifice and leads us into a world that is only rarely opened on the basis of material finds. The other level of his knowledge is indicative of intense contacts and acceptance of patterns from southern neighbors – there is a habit of storing all objects. Equally important is the evidence of technological excellence and aesthetic feelings of local craftsmen, ” explains Martina Bekova, archeologist at the Museum and Gallery of the Orlické Mountains.

In the vicinity of the find, archaeologists carried out another survey using a metal detector. The discovery is really unique. The surrounding terrain has been greatly changed in the past, and it can not be ruled out that something has already been destroyed or that the layers still conceal some surprises. The vast majority of treasures will be found by amateurs. The explanation is quite simple – depots, whether they were meant as hidden treasures, reserves, warehouses, sacrifices – were practically always deposited outside commonly populated sites and outside the burial ground. Only rarely will there be a common archaeological research, which is dedicated to housing estates and burial grounds.

This kind of find is very rare in the region. The last time anything similar was found in Eastern Bohemia was in 1953. Mr. Frankona received a reward of 7860 Czech koruna ($360) from the government of the Hradec Králové Region. No word on whether he cut Monty in on the deal.

The artifacts went on display in the Journey to the Beginning of Time exhibition at the New Castle museum in Kostelec nad Orlicí on September 13th for a week. September 21st is their last day as part of the show. After that, the bronze objects will be studied and conserved. Once they are stabilized, they will go on permanent display at the New Castle.

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Gold treasure illuminates 6th c. darkness

Monday, September 17th, 2018

A treasure of gold artifacts from the German Iron Age has been discovered on the island of Hjarnø in the Horsens Fjord area off the eastern coast of Jutland. The first pieces of gold, small pendants were found by dental assistant and metal detectorist Terese Frydensberg Refsgaard and her fellow amateur archaeologist Brian Kristensen in 2017. They brought their finds to the museum in nearby Vejle where the experts told her to keep her discovery and its location under wraps to prevent treasure hunters from despoiling the place. Archaeologists followed up with a full excavation.

They were not disappointed. Between Refsgaard’s initial find and the professional dig, 32 different precious objects were unearthed. They include gold beads, pendants, a needle, and a number small gold fragments, clippings from larger pieces, usually coins, that were used as a currency. All of the artifacts are tiny, some of them more detailed than expected with designs the archaeologists have not seen before. They had to have been the product of highly advanced goldsmithing.

Mads Ravn, head of research at Vejle Museums, said the gold was thought to date from just before the Viking period and was likely buried around 500 CE.

The find suggests that people from Hjarnø had contact with the Roman empire, Ravn said.

“They probably took part in raids there, so our find is a small legacy from a turbulent time in world history in which gold speaks its own clear language” Ravn told DR.

The newly-found designs and craftsman skills will shed new light on a chaotic period when even the break-down of the Roman Empire paled in comparison to natural cataclysms that wracked the continent and beyond after a massive volcanic eruption in Llopango, El Salvador. The ash cloud spread from Central America to Europe, Turkey, Mongolia, China and Africa, blocking the sun and creating a mini ice age a decade long. Widespread famine and loss of human and animal life was the result.

Archaeologists hope their analyses will discover where the gold was originally mined, how the objects were made, where they made and how and why they wound up on Hjarnø facing the sea to south. It’s possible the objects were deliberately laid as a sacrifice to petition the gods for survival during the long, cold darkness.

The artifacts will be going on temporary display at Vejle’s Museum of Cultural History in an exhibition dedicated to the upheaval of the post-volcanic 6th century, after which it will go to the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen for further study.

This Dutch-language video is worth viewing even if you can’t understand a word they’re saying because you get an idea of the minuscule size of some of the pieces that the photographs can’t convey. If any of our Dutch speaking readers would care to post a summary or highlights of the discussion, I would be ever so grateful. :thanks:

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Likely home where Henry VII was born found

Sunday, September 16th, 2018

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a house on the grounds of Pembroke Castle that is probably the house when the future King Henry VII was born. Previous aerial photography and a geophysical survey had found evidence of a possible building on the site and this two-week excavation was an exploratory dig to see if there really was something there worth pursuing. That question has been answered loud and clear.

Just days into an initial dig, archaeologists have uncovered up to half a metre of the building’s walls – and they are yet to reach the main floor levels. One wall is a metre thick.

They have also unearthed so many slates and tiles that they are concluding it had a slate roof. Green-glazed ridge tiles have also been found, which suggest a particularly imposing building, while other finds include a curving stair from a spiral staircase.

James Meek, who is heading the excavation for the Dyfed Archaeological Trust, said such finds are already suggesting “a fairly showy building” inside of the outer walls of the castle.

It is about the size of two tennis courts, while the scale of the walls suggests a structure of a considerable height.

The thick walls also map out a floor plan characteristic of a late medieval hall house you’d find in the later 15th century. That’s when the castle was granted to Jasper Tudor, Henry’s uncle. According to legend, little Henry Tudor was born in the 13th century tower of the 11th century castle, but then again, the arch-rival for the throne he would defeat so soundly, Richard III, was said the have been born with a full set of teeth and a tail, so yeah, there’s a lot of tall-taleism to sift through in accounts of rulers’ lives. Documentary evidence confirms that he was born at Pembroke Castle, but it’s far more likely he was born in a large, comfortable mansion on the grounds of his uncle Jasper’s castle than in the guard tower.

Expressing surprise over how much of this structure has survived, Meek said: “It tells a very different story for how we think outer walls of castles were used in that later medieval period … it was always the thought that they [castles] were full of smaller timber buildings of lesser status than the rest of the court rooms and the administrative functions of the castle itself. Whereas here, you’ve got one high-status residential structure.”

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To the victor belong the miniature spoils?

Saturday, September 15th, 2018

The Launching Of English Fire Ships On The Spanish Fleet Off Calais depicts Queen Elizabeth I watching from the shore as her navy attacks the Spanish Armada on the night of August 7th, 1588. A horseback gentleman next to her is believed to represent Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. The broad panorama, Spanish on the left, English on the right, English fireships in the center, belies its small dimensions. The gouache on vellum laid down on panel is just 5½ x 13¾ inches, but it is of such significant stature that it was on display at the Rijksmuseum for twenty years (1975-1995).

Painted around 1600, it is one of only two known examples of gouache miniatures depicting this momentous event close to when it occurred. The other has been in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich since 1938, and while they share the same theme, they are not the copies of each other. The NMM’s piece has no Queen Elizabeth, most notably, nor any shore in view whatsoever.

Both of the works were made by unknown artists in the Flemish style. Later prints and an oil painting also created by Dutch artists underscore the significance of the defeat of the Spanish Armada to England’s Protestant allies.

The miniature was recently sold at auction to an overseas buyer who applied for an export licence. Michael Ellis, Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, has placed a temporary export bar on the painting because of its immense value as a contemporary rendition of one Britain’s most important events. British institutions now have until December 13th to show that they can raise the price of £210,000 (plus VAT) to acquire the painting. If they’ve gotten a reasonable way to the goal, the Minister can extend the bar another three months.

Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest member Peter Barber said:

“This vibrant miniature is one of the earliest and most vivid depictions of an episode of crucial importance for the history of England. That it is the work of a Flemish artist and shows the role played by Dutch ships, additionally underline the Armada’s European-wide significance. Yet, familiar though the overall story may be, the miniature includes many intriguing details that need further investigation, such as the prominence given to the ship and arms of the commander of the English forces, Lord Howard of Effingham.

There can be few items more justly called a ‘national treasure’ and it needs to be retained in this country so that it can be further studied and enjoyed.”

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Maya altar found in Guatemala

Friday, September 14th, 2018

An engraved stone altar attesting to the political vicissitudes of 6th century Maya city-states has been found in La Corona, Guatemala. The limestone block is 4.8 x 4 feet and weighs close to a ton. It was discovered in the remains of a temple and can be precisely dated thanks to the inscription and the awesomeness of the Maya calendar to May 12th, 544 A.D.

The carved stone depicts a ruler of La Corona named Chak Took Ich’aak. His dynamic representation is on the top center of the stone. He holds a ceremonial bar, a symbol of leadership, shaped like a double-headed serpent. Emerging from each of the two heads are the patron deities of the city: Chak Wayis Chahk to the right, Yaxal Ajaw on the left side. On the right edge of the stone is a hieroglyphic inscription which includes the precise date. Lining the bottom edge is the head of a supernatural being adorned with aquatic plants.

In 544, La Corona was ruled by the Kaanul kingdom, the powerful Snake dynasty that was then centered in the city of Dzibanche (the dynasty’s seat moved to Calakmul around 580-590). La Corona under Chak Took Ich’aak was one of Kaanul’s allies/vassal city-states. He was still king almost 20 years after the inscription was dedicated when in 562 Kaanul defeated its greatest rival, Tikal. When Tikal fell, Kaanul gained control over all of Peten.

Like the Centipede dynasty king K’inich Bahlam II who would rule El Perú-Waka 100 years later, Chak Took Ich’aak cemented his alliance and position by marriage to a princess from the Snake dynasty. Dynastic marriages were an essential tool in the Snake kingdom’s box, tying a panoply of Maya cities around Tikal to the dynasty and forming a sort of political and military cordon to support Kaanul’s final assault. The Snake lords ruled Peten for two centuries after that victory.

[Tomas Barrientos, co-director of excavations and investigations], said the altar “fills in the gaps” and “pieces together the puzzle” of the Mayan culture’s political relationships.

“It’s a high quality work of art that shows us they were rulers entering into a period of great power and who were allying themselves with others to compete, in this case, with Tikal.”

La Corona “was the place where the most important historical Mayan political movement began to take shape.”

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Unique Roman eagle-head basin found

Thursday, September 13th, 2018

Archaeologists in Rijnsburg in the western Netherlands region of South Holland have discovered a unique eagle-headed basin from the Roman era. The site was being excavated in 2016 in advance of development of a new park when the team discovered a cremation grave from the late Roman period. Inside the grave were dozens of bronze fragments mixed in with cinerary remains of three individuals.

For more than a year restorers worked to puzzle the fragments back together revealing a bronze washing basin of exceptional quality. The bowl is shell-shaped, 16.5 inches in diameter with a rim four inches high. There are 33 ridges undulating across the bottom and wall. Those ridges become stylized wings where the wall transitions into the shoulders and neck of the bird of prey. The eagle’s head, its beak and eyes, are engraved in exquisite detail down to the tiny feathers on its cheeks. There are floral designs engraved on the bottom of the bowl and in a band marking the border between the wall and the wings of the eagle.

This was not locally produced. Objects of this quality and craftsmanship were not locally produced. It was probably crafted in a specialized workshop in Italy and made its way up north with a Roman officer stationed at the nearby limes, the northern boundary of empire. Only ten such vessels have been found in Europe. This is the first one from the Netherlands, and is entirely unique in its eagle decoration.

Archaeologists believe it predates the burial. Other artifacts found in the grave, like combs made in northern Germany, indicate the deceased were likely Germanic. Their remains were buried around 330 A.D., but the basin is at least 50 years older than the other grave goods and could have been made as early as 250 A.D. It was later reused as a cinerary urn because of its great value and beauty.

[Provincial archaeologist René] Proos said the find could have been used to bribe a Germanic tribal chief: Roman generals and diplomats tried to buy the loyalty of local chiefs with gold, jewellery and bronze and silver objects.

Historians assumed the Romans left the Netherlands in the 3rd century. However, says Proos, this find, along with others from the last ten years, could mean the Roman army settled in the area again at the end of third or the beginning of the fourth century, perhaps by bribing the local chiefs.

The basin is now on display indefinitely in the Netherlands in Roman times exhibit at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden. It has been 3D scanned and a model created so its remarkable features can be explored in detail.

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Study the Book of Kells in free online course

Wednesday, September 12th, 2018

The Book of Kells, the 9th century illuminated Gospel manuscript that is one of the greatest masterpieces of medieval calligraphy and illumination (if not the greatest), is on display at the Library of Trinity College Dublin, but you can’t check it out or leaf through it, for obvious reasons. As Ireland’s best known and beloved cultural treasure, it is kept in a secure, climate-controlled display case.

The Book of Kells exhibition is artfully curated with large blow-ups of key pages of the manuscript so people can get a good look at some of the book’s contents in replica form. Visitors get an information leaflet and can rent audio tours. There are no guided tours and no photography is allowed.

Trinity College Dublin has created an online course for the many, many people around the world thirsty to see more of and learn more about the Book of Kells. The Book of Kells: Exploring an Irish Medieval Masterpiece is a four-week course offered through FutureLearn free of charge to all comers.

The Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) has been designed by academics from the School of Histories and Humanities, the School of Religion and staff from the Library. Using the Book of Kells as a window the course will explore the landscape, history, theology, and politics of early medieval Ireland and explore how that past is understood in modern Ireland. Rachel Moss, Associate Professor in the History of Art and Architecture, and one of the course designers, commented: “Every year the campus of Trinity fills with expectant visitors, keen to see the world famous Book of Kells for themselves. There are few experiences to beat the experience of gazing on these precious pages, and imagining who else has shared that privilege over the past 1,200 years. The longer you dwell, the more detail reveals itself, and the more intriguing the manuscript becomes.”

“In this course we look forward to being able to share the manuscript with those who have yet to see it for themselves, and share it again with those that have. The course will bring the learner beyond that initial encounter to explore its minute and intricate art, how it was made and what it might have meant to its makers. The course will not just dwell in the past. The manuscript is extraordinary in the way in which it has managed to grip the public imagination up to the present day. Despite centuries of scholarship, new research continues to disentangle some of the enigmas that it presents.”

A different aspect of the book will be the focus of each week, exploring how it relates to the wider context of Irish art. The course will cover the illumination and calligraphy as well as the substance of the Latin Gospel text and the physical object of the book itself. I hope some of the new research addressed in the course is the study of parchment that was able to extract DNA from Staedtler Mars eraser crumbs. Trinity College Dublin was part of the research team.

At the end of the course learners will be able to explain the function and meanings of medieval Irish art; understand how medieval manuscripts were made and engage critically with methodologies and scholarly debates which have shaped interpretations of the period. The course will also equip learners with knowledge of the distinctive features of the Irish Church in this era and an understanding of the visual, theological and historical characteristics of medieval material culture.

The course starts on my birthday, October 8th. Is that not the best present a history nerd could ask for? Downright auspicious, I call it. Register for The Book of Kells: Exploring an Irish Medieval Masterpiece here.

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Tomb of Mehu opened to visitors for 1st time

Tuesday, September 11th, 2018

The tomb of Mehu in the the Saqqara necropolis is open to visitors for the first time since it was discovered in 1940 and it was worth the long wait. Mehu was a vizier at the court of Sixth Dynasty pharaoh Pepy (ca. 2300 B.C.), a position of great power in the pharaonic administration. His tomb was designed to bear eternal witness to his high rank. It is a mastaba, a mud brick rectangular structure with a flat roof, of monumental size in a prime location 20 feet south of the southern enclosure wall around the step pyramid of Djoser.

When it was excavated by an Egyptian mission led by Egyptologist Zaki Saad, the tomb was found to contain one long, narrow corridor with six chambers. A sarcophagus and lid were found in the main burial chamber, but it was what was on the walls that made the greatest impression. Mehu’s name and titles were inscribed there; he had 48 of them, including “the scrub of the royal documents” and “Head of the Juries.” The accolades were enhanced by exceptional paintings covering the walls of four of the chambers.

Dr. Mustafa Waziri Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities said that the tomb is one of the most beautiful in Saqqara Necropolis because it still keep its vivid colours and distinguished scenes. Among the most strange scenes is the one depicting the marriage of crocodiles with the existence of a turtle.

Among the most important scenes shown on walls are those featuring the owner of the tomb during hunting in jungle or fishing as well as those showing the good harvesting scenes, cooking and dancing acrobatic dance, which was not previously shown in Saqqara before the sixth Dynasty.

Another inscription of major archaeological significance is the name of the deity Khenti-Amentiu, an early iteration of Osiris. Before the discovery of the tomb, references to Khenti-Amentiu had only been found in Upper Egypt. Mehu’s walls were the first evidence that he was worshiped in the Nile delta as well.

Mehu’s tomb was a family affair. Buried in two of the other chambers were his son Mery Re Ankh and grandson Hetep Ka II. This is another testament to Mehu’s power because most royal officials of his time were not allowed to be buried with their families. That privilege was usually reserved for the pharaoh. Both of Mehu’s descendants had important jobs and many titles, although nowhere near as extensive and important as their father/grandfather’s. Mery had 23 titles engraved on the wall of his chamber; Hetep 10.

The tomb has undergone a program of restoration to showcase the color and richness of the wall paintings. The Ministry of Antiquities has endeavored to stabilize the paint and develop a subtle, non-invasive but functional lighting system to allow visitors to see the beautiful 4,000-year-old art without damaging it.

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