Archive for February, 2019

Year of Four Emperors coin hoard found in Warwickshire

Monday, February 18th, 2019

A hoard of Roman coins in a small clay pot has been found in South Warwickshire. There are 78 coins in the collection, all silver denarii, in decent but not great condition. This is the second Roman coin hoard unearthed in Warwickshire since 2015. The first was larger, containing 440 silver denarii stashed in a large clay pot and buried in what is now Edge Hill, but what makes this one unique is that its coins date to 68-69 A.D., from the end of the reign of the Nero through the infamous Year of the Four Emperors.

The overthrow of Nero and his consequent suicide threw the empire into chaos. Competing generals vied for the throne, and coup followed coup installing Galba, Otho and Vitellius successively as emperors for a few months apiece. The civil wars ended when Vespasian became emperor in July of 69 A.D. and founded the Flavian dynasty that would rule Rome for 27 years.

Wars are expensive things and private armies don’t fight just for the principle. Galba found this out from day one, as he’d been acclaimed emperor by the Praetorian Guard who had been promised by their calculating leaders monetary reward for their support, something they had developed a taste for under the Julio-Claudians. But Galba had no intention of paying for the loyalty of his own guard, and with the imperial treasury in the doldrums, the coins he struck weren’t going to line the pockets of soldiers.

Seven months later, Galba was a stabbed and decapitated corpse and Otho, who had bought 23 Praetorians to secure Galba’s fate, was emperor. He couldn’t afford to buy the loyalty, even temporary, of the army of Germania Inferior, however, so three months later he was dead and Vitellius, commander of said army was emperor. He got to enjoy a whole eight months as emperor thanks to that support before he was defeated by Vespasian and the legions of the east.

With this constant turmoil, competing armies, supremely self-interested parties looking to benefit from their selection of one or another candidate for the throne, the emperors made as much use as possible of their minting powers. Yet, surviving coins from this period are exceedingly rare in Britain. The 78 examples found in the clay pot are the largest single collection of coins from the Year of the Four Emperors ever discovered.

The hoard has been declared official Treasure and experts from the British Museum have assessed its market value at £62,000. The local museum closest to the find site, Market Hall Museum in Warwick gets first crack at acquiring the hoard. It is applying for grants, throwing fundraising events and soliciting donations now.

Councillor Dave Reilly, Portfolio Holder for Environment, Heritage and Culture says:

“This is an amazingly important find for Warwickshire and our Roman past. Bringing the hoard back to the county and the Market Hall Museum will mean that Warwickshire’s residents can enjoy them for generations to come. The international significance of some of the coins in this hoard will increase visitors not only to Warwick, but the wider county, which can only contribute to our key objective of making the Warwickshire economy vibrant.”


Still life thought to be fake Van Gogh is real

Sunday, February 17th, 2019

A still life painting long thought to be a fake has been authenticated as a genuine work by Vincent van Gogh by experts from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Still Life with Fruit and Chestnuts has been in the collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco since it was donated by collectors Bruno and Sadie Adriani in 1960. It is unsigned, but an inscription on the back of the painting describes it as “Nature mort, peint par Vincent van Gogh.” Anyone can write anything on the back of a canvas, however, and it doesn’t make it so.

The main sticking point was with the date it was created, which at the time of the donation was believed to be 1884 when Van Gogh was in Nuenen. The coloring was off that period, so experts disputed its authenticity and the painting of two pears and an apple among chestnuts was not included in two of the standard catalogues of the artist’s work and again in a third published in 2013. The Fine Arts Museum mostly chose not to display it, although it has been exhibited for several years at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Museum

For the past two years, Van Gogh Museum scholars have made a painstaking technical and stylistic investigation into the still life, as well as a thorough search through the historical record.

Specialists at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam have now accepted it as authentic. They determined that the canvas and the paints match Van Gogh’s work. Stylistically, it is regarded as fitting in with the still lifes which the artist made in Paris between October and December 1886.

The painting’s provenance can now be traced. There is reference to “pears and chestnuts” in an 1890 inventory, compiled shortly after Van Gogh’s death, with the word “Bernard” added. This is assumed to refer to his friend Emile Bernard. Bernard’s mother sold a work with that title (and the dimensions of the San Francisco picture) to the Parisian dealer Ambroise Vollard in 1899.

The first husband of Sadie acquired the picture in 1922. Sadie, an American artist, later married Bruno Adriani, a German lawyer and cultural official, and they emigrated to America in the 1930s.

Researchers also found a little surprise lurking underneath the fruits and nuts: the canvas was reused so the still life is actually not just an authentic Van Gogh, but two in one. Infrared reflectography found a portrait underneath the visible painting. It’s of a woman wearing a scarf and was likely made shortly before Van Gogh left Antwerp for Paris.

The freshly authenticated Still Life with Fruit and Chestnuts will celebrate its recognition with a trip to Frankfurt this fall. It will be loaned to the Städel Museum for the exhibition Making Van Gogh: A German Love Story which runs from October 23rd until February 16th 2020.

P.S. – I watched At Eternity’s Gate today and thought it was excellent, very evocatively filmed, especially how they shot Vincent-eye-view scenes. Willem Dafoe’s performance was understated and real. I found it so much more genuine and plausible that the than the tortured artist scenery-chewing of Kirk Douglas in Lust for Life which bears no relation, imo, to the Vincent of his correspondence.


I fell for a “Swiss Private Collection” lie, dammit

Saturday, February 16th, 2019

My only excuse, and it’s a terrible one that you should throw back in my face in disgust, is that the Metropolitan Museum of Art fell for it too. Had they accepted a fraudulent ownership record starring a Swiss private collector a few years back I would have laughed mirthlessly at the very idea of it, but the sensitivity to potentially looted artifacts is so much higher now that museums and auction houses have been dragged kicking and screaming into giving a damn by source countries creating legal and PR nightmares for them. That such a recent, high-profile, much-publicized sale could be a looted artifact with phony papers is an ugly testament to how deep the rot runs in the antiquities market.

In September 2017, the Met announced the acquisition of what is without question the most beautiful, perfectly-preserved and uniquely rich cartonnage coffin I’ve ever seen. Made from layers of linen, gesso and resin, covered in gilding front and back and lined with sheets of silver foil inside the lid, the mummiform coffin was the final resting place of Late Ptolemaic official Nedjemankh, a priest of Heryshef in Heracleopolis Magna.

The gilded coffin of Nedjemankh went on display immediately in the museum’s Egyptian Art gallery, and soon got a dedicated exhibition that ran from July 2018 until Tuesday, February 12th. Or at least it was meant to. There was supposed to be an exhibition tour beginning on February 22nd. No longer. I don’t know exactly which day, but the coffin was taken off display this week.

On Friday the museum announced that it was returning the coffin to Egypt because the Manhattan’s DA Office had found evidence that the Swiss private collection and legal export document from 1971 were nothing but happy horseshit conjured up by traffickers in looted antiquities. Not only was it not legally exported in 1971, it didn’t leave Egypt until 2011 and I don’t need to tell you the circumstances were very, very far from legal.

Notwithstanding the representations that the coffin had been exported from Egypt in 1971, recent evidence suggests it was looted from Egypt in 2011. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said, “Stewards of the world’s most important artifacts have a duty to hold their acquisitions to the highest level of scrutiny. Following my Office’s investigation, this beautiful piece of ancient Egyptian history will soon be returned to its rightful place. Our Antiquities Trafficking Unit will continue to root out stolen antiquities in our fight to stop the looting of historic sites and the trade of stolen artifacts around the world.”

The seller was a Paris dealer named Christophe Kunicki. The Met is less than pleased with him having paid 3.5 million euros (just under $4 million) for the coffin in July of 2017, just six years after it was stolen from Egypt. This character has yet to comment on the fraudulent sale and the Met plans to consider “all means,” according to spokesman Kenneth Weine, for the recovery of the $4 million they were conned out of. There is no word on any criminal action that might be taken against him, and there probably won’t be.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced today it will review and revise its acquisitions process. Max Hollein, Director of The Met, said, “Our museum must be a leader among our peers in the respect for cultural property and in the rigor and transparency of the policy and practices that we follow. We will learn from this event—specifically I will be leading a review of our acquisitions program—to understand what more can be done to prevent such events in the future.”

Here’s one revision to any museum or collector’s acquisition policy that needs to be carved in stone from now on: buy nothing purporting to come from Swiss private collections. It’s a scam every damn time. The Met apologized to Egypt profusely and abjectly, as well it should, and I do the same to you, as well I should. I can’t believe I was so thoroughly duped by the oldest lie in the book, one I have mocked and excoriated ad nauseum in this very blog a million times before.


Narcissus fresco found in Leda fresco house

Friday, February 15th, 2019

Another high-quality fresco has been discovered in the house where the fresco depicting the myth of Leda and the Swan was discovered last November in Pompeii. This one was found in the atrium and depicts the myth of Narcissus. The vain hunter is depicted staring at his handsome visage reflected in the pool of water beneath him. He is entranced and cannot be budged despite his hunting dog’s tugging desperately at his robe. Behind them is a winged youth, likely a representation of Eros, son and frequent messenger of Aphrodite who in her guise as Nemesis punished the love-rejecting Narcissus by making him falling in love with his own image.

When Leda was discovered in a bedroom of the villa late last year, archaeologists were concerned that the structure would be endangered by further excavation. The original intent of the dig was consolidation of the excavation fronts along Via Vesuvio in the Regio V neighborhood of the ancient city which has proved an archaeological gold mine beyond even the stratospherically high standards of Pompeii. The slopes of the dig along the 1.8 mile front of Via Vesuvio had put pressure on the already unearthed structures.

The exceptional quality and preservation of the frescoes of Leda and Priapus found in the home motivated the team to remodel of the slopes of the excavation fronts and stabilize the ancient structures. They were then able to proceed with the excavation of the villa and the fresco of Leda. On the other side of the bedroom they unearthed floor-to-ceiling frescoes of intense color, deep red and ochre backdrops to elaborate border decorations and the central panel of Narcissus.

Love and the sweetness of the senses, in all of their varied forms, ooze from the rooms of this elegant dwelling that, even in the entrance hall, welcomed guests with the vigorous and auspicious image of Priapus, which was also documented some months ago and is comparable to the image in the nearby House of the Vettii.

The entire Leda room is characterised by sophisticated Fourth Style decorations, with delicate floral embellishments, interspersed by griffins with cornucopia, winged cupids, still lifes and scenes of combat between animals. The harmony of these exquisite designs even extended to the ceiling, which completely collapsed under the weight of the lapilli, and whose fragments were recovered by restorers and used to reconstruct the story.

Of particular note in the atrium of Narcissus is the still visible trace of the stairs which lead to the upper floor, but above all the rediscovery of a dozen glass containers, eight amphorae and a bronze funnel in the space under the stairs, which was used for storage. A bronze situla (a liquid container) was also found next to the impluvium.

Pompeii Superintendent Massimo Osanna notes that the decorative motifs appear to be thematically connected so that beauty, sensuality and the pleasures of life would accompany the residents and visitors from room to room. The dramatic height of the first floor walls and the frescoes covering them attest to what a luxurious home this was. The colors are so vibrant that it was likely constructed shortly before Pompeii’s sudden cataclysmic demise.


How Victorians trolled Valentine’s Day

Thursday, February 14th, 2019

The tradition of giving cards to loved ones on Valentine’s Day in Britain was already established in the 1700s. Handmade billet doux were sent anonymously or hinting at the identity of the lover. By the 1820s, 200,000 valentines were given yearly in London. That number exploded when reforms to the Royal Mail ushered in a uniform rate of one penny to send letters of less than half an ounce from and to any post office in the British Isles. The Uniform Penny Post was introduced in 1840. By the late 1840s, 400,000 valentines were sent annually in London. By the 1860s it was 800,000. The mail was rife with lace, flowers, birdies, cupids and rhymes, motifs still now associated with Valentine’s Day.

Stationers and cardmakers took full advantage of the advent of inexpensive color printing, offering a wide range of valentines for the romance-mad, from ornate cards on expensive textured papers to simpler prints, some serious, some schmaltzy, some goofy. But with the day mired in saccharine sentimentality, bad poetry and even worse attempts at wit, some cardmakers took the opportunity to appeal to a related and woefully underserved market: people who wanted to send anonymous burns for a penny.

Vinegar Valentines were acidic where valentines were sugary, cheap cardstock took the place of fancy lace embosses, crude inking spilled over the lines of ugly caricatures of romantic motifs. One-liners and short poems delivered rejection, spite, insults and mockery, and not just to would-be lovers, but to friends and acquaintances of all categories. In short, they’re great fun.

The Royal Pavilion & Museums in Brighton has a fine collection of these bizarro-world valentines, and thanks to their digital media bank, you can apply their acid as an oddly soothing balm on the wounds inflicted by all the Cupid’s arrows zinging around today.

The Marriage Sucks Burn:

The Barfly burn:

The Nobody Wants You Anyway burn:

The Vanity burn:

The Cupid’s Arrow Misses Its Target burn:

The You’re No Gentleman burn:

The You Old/Ugly burns:

The Emasculating Tease burn:

Happy Valentine’s Day! :evil:


Verrocchio’s Putto with Dolphin restored

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

Putto with Dolphin, a bronze sculpture by 15th century master Andrea del Verrocchio, is undergoing much-needed restoration in time for a landmark exhibition of Verocchio’s work. This is the first scientific conservation the Putto will have ever undergone, which is remarkable considering it spent the first 500 years of its life outdoors.

The polished bronze depicts a chubby winged boy standing on one leg on a half-sphere. In his arms he holds a squirming dolphin. It was commissioned in 1470 by Lorenzo de’ Medici for Villa Medici at Careggi, one of the family’s country homes in the Tuscan hills. Cosimo died there in 1464, and when his grandson Lorenzo, the future Magnificent, took over as head of the family and de facto ruler of Florence in December 1469, he wasted no time in making improvements the Careggi villa and grounds, especially the gardens. The putto was made to top a fountain in the garden, with a spray of water emerging from the dolphin’s rostrum. In 1557, the bronze was moved to the Palazzo Vecchio where it was placed atop the porphyry fountain in the first courtyard. The priceless masterwork remained there until the 1950s, when it was removed from the fountain and put on display as a museum exhibit on the second floor of the Palazzo Vecchio. A replica was installed in its former position on the fountain.

The restoration project began in 2018 in view of the public in a dedicated workspace in the Palazzo Vecchio. A technical analysis of its condition underneath the surface found evidence of deterioration of the bronze. The surface needed extensive cleaning as calcium and water stains had built up over the centuries. There were also residues left by previous attempts at restoration, some of them using harmful substances. Conservators carefully removed those residues and revealed previously unknown details. They were then able to address the biggest threat: corrosion of the bronze. The last step is to cover the surface with gentle, non-invasive treatments to even out the color and protect the bronze from further corrosion. The process has been thoroughly documented through photographs and videos to learn more about Verrocchio’s sculpture and for the benefit of future conservation efforts.

The restored Putto will go on display next month in Verrocchio, Master of Leonardo at the Palazzo Strozzi, the first ever monographic Verocchio exhibition. It will illuminate his working process thanks to a new technical study of his work, and bring together for the first time more than 120 artworks, paintings, drawings and sculptures by Verrocchio and the masters who learned their art in his workshop. The most important artists of the Renaissance — Leonardo da Vinci, Domenico del Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli and Pietro Perugino — all studied under Verrocchio. Together they defined the artistic output of Lorenzo the Magnificent’s Florence between 1460 and 1490. With loans from major museums worldwide, the show will trace the artistic connections linking Leonardo to Verocchio, reconstructing the formation of his style in the interchange between student and master.

The exhibition begins in Florence, running from March 9th through July 14th at the Palazzo Strozzi, with a special section at the National Museum of the Bargello (home of Verrocchio’s David, iconic symbol of Republicanism). It will then travel to the second and last location, Washington D.C., where the National Gallery of Art will host Verrocchio: Master and Mentor, from September 29th to February 2nd, 2020.


When a nun faked her own death to escape the convent

Tuesday, February 12th, 2019

Sixteen heavy tomes that document 425 years of official business by the archbishops of York are being thoroughly read, translated and indexed for the first time. From the 13th century through the 17th, the registers of the archbishops were carried around wherever they traveled and clerks recorded every act, letter and order in them. After the English Civil War, they were stored in London and ignored until the late 18th century when they were returned to the Diocesan Registry in York Minster.

They are now in the care of the University of York where researchers have been able to publish a few parts of them, but only sporadically and only in Latin. Thanks to an ambitious new project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, medieval historians from the University of York and The National Archives (UK) will transcribe and translate every word in every volume. The entries will be indexed and uploaded to an online database freely accessible to anyone who is interested.

Already fascinating stories are emerging from the records. The register from August 11th, 1318, records a monition, a formal admonishment from the archbishop, to one Joan of Leeds. Archbishop William Melton, future Lord Treasurer of England, warns said Joan, “lately nun of the house of St Clement by York, that she should return to her house” which she had departed in deliciously dramatic fashion.

Melton, writing to inform the Dean of Beverley about the “scandalous rumour” he had heard about the arrival of the Benedictine nun Joan, claimed that Joan had “impudently cast aside the propriety of religion and the modesty of her sex”, and “out of a malicious mind simulating a bodily illness, she pretended to be dead, not dreading for the health of her soul, and with the help of numerous of her accomplices, evildoers, with malice aforethought, crafted a dummy in the likeness of her body in order to mislead the devoted faithful and she had no shame in procuring its burial in a sacred space amongst the religious of that place”.

After faking her own death, he continued, “and, in a cunning, nefarious manner … having turned her back on decency and the good of religion, seduced by indecency, she involved herself irreverently and perverted her path of life arrogantly to the way of carnal lust and away from poverty and obedience, and, having broken her vows and discarded the religious habit, she now wanders at large to the notorious peril to her soul and to the scandal of all of her order.”

There is no follow-up in the register as to whether Joan opted to return to her life of poverty and obedience or stuck with the carnal lust, but given all the Count of Monte Cristo shenanigans she had to go through to free herself of the former, I’d wager she went for the latter. I also can’t help but wonder whether all her sisthren really were deceived by whatever rudimentary dummy Joan could possibly have manufactured. Surely the ones who had direct contact with the non-body had to be willing conspirators.

The logs from Melton’s term as archbishop from his consecration in 1317 until his death in 1340 occupy an impressive five volumes, just shy of a third of the extant registers. He carried them with him as he went about the complex business of archbishopping, lord treasuring and tending to his enormous personal estates and riches. He played an important role in the wars of Scottish independence too, thanks to York’s strategic position on the northern border. In 1319, with England’s fighting men engaged in the Siege of Berwick, Melton mustered priests, clerics and civilians to fight Scottish men-at-arms at Myton on the river Swale. It was a slaughter, needless to say, with thousands of these amateurs either slain by professional fighters or drowned in the Swale. The archbishop barely fled with his life. Researchers hope to find out more about The White Battle, so named because of the high number of clergy, in the registers.

The records will be available via York’s Archbishops Registers Revealed, which currently provides free access to a database of 20,000 images of the registers from 1225 to 1650. So far more than 3700 entries have been indexed and are searchable by keyword, but there are no full transcripts or translations, just summaries. When the digitization project is complete, all of the registers, invaluable records of political, religious, military and family life in medieval York, will be fully searchable and readable for those of us who can barely make out the letters of British Church Latin of the Middle Ages, never mind read any of it.


Decorated Roman lead coffins found in quarry

Monday, February 11th, 2019

Archaeologists excavating a quarry in Surrey have unearthed two Roman-era lead coffins. Lead coffins are rare — only a few hundred have ever been discovered in Britain — and these are even rarer that usual because they are decorated.

The coffins formed part of a group of burials that lay within a small L-shaped cemetery enclosure. Aligned east to west, the caskets were each of similar size, measuring 1.9m long by 0.45m wide and 0.36m high [6’3″ x 1’6″ x 1’2″]. Staining of the soil within the grave fill suggests that they may have originally been encased in larger wooden coffins – something that ongoing scientific analysis is hoped to confirm.

Both coffins were made from soldered sheets of cast lead, and their lids were decorated with images of scallop shells set within triangles and rectangles formed from beaded straps. Scallop motifs are common decorations on the lids of Roman lead coffins, particularly on those found in the Thames Valley area. It is believed that they were associated with the Roman idea of the journey to the underworld, but in the Romano-Celtic culture, it may also refer to fertility and rebirth.

The remains they contain are not in good condition. The coffins’ lids collapsed over time and sand filled the space. The skeletal remains that have survived indicate one of the coffins contained an adult and an infant less than six months old. The other coffin contained an adult.

The Wessex Archaeology team has discovered four more burials in the quarry. They didn’t have lead coffins, but they did have wood ones. Some remnants of the wood from the coffins were found in three of the four graves. Iron nails survive from the fourth coffin which has disintegrated.


State bed of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York restored

Sunday, February 10th, 2019

An age-blackened four-poster bed from the Tudor era that evidence strongly suggests is the first state bed of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York has been restored nine years after it was discovered in shambles.

The Bed of Roses is the only surviving English medieval royal bed and the only known surviving piece of furniture from the Tudor-era Palace of Westminster. Tudor-era royal furnishings suffered wide-scale destruction during the English Civil War. It was made for the wedding of Henry VII (1485-1509) and Elizabeth of York (1485-1503) held at Westminster Abbey on January 18th, 1486.

The bed was dismantled and dumped in a parking lot for the garbage collectors to pick up, only to be rescued and sold at auction in Chester as a “profusely carved Victorian four poster bed with armorial shields.” It was bought online for £2200 by dealer Ian Coulson, owner of the Langley Collection of rare historic furniture. He thought it was a fine example of Arts and Crafts style furniture, but when he picked it up and took his first in-person look at it, he realized the oak parts were far older than 150 years. There were marks of hand tools and numerous repairs done over the course of many more years than

DNA testing of the wood identified it as European oak of a type that grows from southern France to Belarus. This oak was top of the line in the Middle Ages. Unlike the knotty oak native to England, this subspecies was regular enough that it could be sawed on power mills, producing beautiful even boards that were highly sought after by the crowned heads who could afford them. Edward III’s 1360 bed, for example, was made out of Latvian old-growth oak boards. The European oak was uniformly used across the whole bed, and the boards were treated with the same paint. If the frame were a composite made from salvaged elements, there would be inconsistencies that do not exist in this bed frame.

Coal primer was found under the varnish and fragments of what was once a colorful paint job . The remains of that paint were tested and found to include ultramarine, the pigment made from lapis lazuli that was more expensive than gold in the Tudor era.

The bed’s original residents did not have their initials carved onto the bed. No HR to make Henry’s ownership clear. However, the iconography does strongly point to him and his bride. There are single roses, representing the red of rose of Lancaster for Henry VII and the white rose of York for Elizabeth. Only they would use them and only for a few months. The double Tudor rose that would replace the single roses was created in April of 1486. There are also four lion finials and coats of arms of England and France on the headboard and footboard.

The headboard has a central panel showing Adam and Eve facing each other. Between them is a cockatrice (a beaked serpent) and under their feet are a dragon and a lion.Their faces resemble extant portraiture of Henry and Elizabeth, and even with demons and dangers between them and below them, still the serene figures triumph together. They are redemptive, symbols of salvation and the mystical union of God and Mary. The comparison of the King and Queen to saviors from evil were common in the Tudor era, especially so for Henry VII and the union of the warring houses.

The ceremonial bedchamber of Westminster Palace where Henry and Elizabeth would have gotten to work producing an heir to the throne was known as the Painted Chamber after the murals depicting religious royalty themes. In 1819, the mural on the north wall — the coronation of Edward the Confessor — was rediscovered. It burned 25 years later, but records of it indicate the shape of the bed and posts match the arcade at the center of the mural exactly. Symbols of fertility are appropriately present for a state bed. There’s an acorn, a bunch of grapes and a strawberry.

The royal coat of arms, the cross of Edward the Confessor, the roses, the Biblical references, the top-quality craftsmanship, expensive imported wood and insanely expensive ultramarine pigment all strongly indicate that this is the royal letto matrimoniale, but the one fact that would come closest to fully confirming its identity as the marriage bed of Henry and Elizabeth has thus far been impossible to ascertain. All attempts to radiocarbon date the wood have failed due to the layers of varnish. Dendrochronology results have been all over the place. Still, the odds of such an exceptional piece laden with the qualities and symbolism of the royal union that put paid to the Wars of the Roses being any other bed are slim to none.

Owned by the Langley Collection, the Bed of Roses is often loaned or exhibited in museums. Most recently it was displayed at the Victoria & Albert Museum where it was the subject of a symposium on research into the bed’s history.

Ian Coulson had made a documentary about the research into the bed and the restoration process. It’s fantastic. I only wish it were longer.


Prehistoric musical instrument found in Scottish crannog

Saturday, February 9th, 2019

It’s a small piece — a couple of inches of notched wood — but of great significance because it is believed to be a surviving fragment of one of the earliest musical instruments ever discovered in western Europe. It was found last week in the village of Fearnan on the north shore of Loch Tay in Perthshire, central Scotland. An underwater excavation of the banks discovered the object, thought to be the bridge of a plucked string instrument. It dates to around 500 B.C.

Crannogs were dwellings built above the water in lakes as early as 3000 B.C. Some of them were used for centuries, often continuously occupied, repaired and expanded upon until they formed elaborate artificial islands. The waterlogged environment can be a boon for the preservation of organic material

The Scottish Crannog Centre has received a grant from the National Lottery to investigate the bridge and its origins. Founded in 1997 and granted official accredited status by the Museums Galleries Scotland in late 2017, the Centre plans to use the instrument to launch a study of the role music played in Iron Age settlements in the area. A wood of the bridge has been crafted with 3D printing technology by Marco Gilardi of the University of the West of Scotland.

The Centre is a living museum that attracts 25,000 visitors a year, renown locally and abroad for its replica roundhouse built on stilts on the shallow lakeside just as they were in the Iron Age, and participate in period activities using accurate replica artifacts, including weaving, cooking, grinding grain and making fire. Rowing a replica longboat is one for the bucket list. As the museum’s mission is in exploring the daily life of Crannog communities, so having an artifact that exemplifies their music is a unique opportunity to study cultural aspects that rarely appear in the archaeological record.





February 2019


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