Shipwreck from 17th c. battle found in Denmark

Marine archaeologists have discovered the wreck of the Delmenhorst, a Danish warship lost in the Battle of Fehmarn in 1644. It is the last of the ships from that battle to be found. It was discovered during an archaeological survey in advance of construction of the Fehmarn Belt underwater tunnel connecting Denmark and Germany. The wreck was in shallow waters — just 11 feet under the surface — 500 feet off the southern coast of Lolland near the town of Rødbyhavn.

The Delmenhorst was deliberately grounded by Danish forces towards the end of the battle when it became clear that Sweden was winning. They wanted to use its heavy cannon to defend the harbour of Rødbyhavn, but the plan failed when the Swedes set fire to one of their ships and sailed it into the Delmenhorst. The Danish warship caught fire and sank.

The Battle of Fehmarn took place during the Torstenson War between Sweden and Denmark-Norway. The war began in December 1643 with a Swedish invasion of the Danish Duchy of Holstein and ended in the humiliating defeat of Denmark in August 1645. King Christian IV of Denmark lost an eye in the war and Denmark-Norway lost piles of revenue, territories and its domination of the Baltic Sea.

The wreck was first spotted with side-scan sonar. Divers explored the wreckage and found a 20-foot section of keel, charred timbers, the bottom of the hull and ballast stones. Scattered debris around the remains of the ship included the melted, cracked and exploded remains of bronze cannon, evidence of the destructive powder of the Swedish fireships.

A few objects and samples have been raised from the wreck site, but the bulk of it will remain where it is. Because it is in such shallow water making it unhealthily accessible to tourists, the remains of the ship will be buried in sand for its own preservation. Archaeologists from the Viking Ship Museum have taken 30,000 photos of the wreck that will be used to create a digital 3D model that can be studied and exhibited at the museum without disturbing the site itself.

Refurbished Raphael Cartoon Court reopens

The Raphael Court, the V&A gallery dedicated to the seven surviving tapestry cartoons created by Raphael, will reopen in November after a nine-month refurbishment. They’re getting in right under the wire to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death (April 6th, 1520). The upgraded Raphael Court features acoustic paneling, new furniture for more comfortable contemplation of the masterpieces and new LED lighting that reduces glare on the glass and massively improves their visibility.

The cartoons depicting scenes from the lives of Saints Peter and Paul were commissioned by Pope Leo X in 1513. He wanted monumental tapestries to decorate the lower walls of the Sistine Chapel, but to be worthy of the glorious frescoes by Michelangelo on the ceiling and wall behind the altar, the tapestries had to be designed by the greatest artist of the era instead of the staff designers in the workshop of Flemish weaver Pieter van Aelst. Raphael produced 10 elaborate cartoons the full size of the tapestries: 10 feet high and between 10 and 16 feet wide. The designs were rich in character, landscape and architectural detail and Raphael painted them with the same complex palette he used in all his works.

Tapestry cartoons were ephemera, used as weaving templates until they wore out. They were not considered artworks worthy of preservation, and even Raphael’s were only kept because van Aelst used them to make copies of the tapestries for other clients. By the early 1600s, only seven were left. They were acquired by the then-Prince of Wales (future Charles I) for £300, and managed to survive the Civil War, the Cromwellian Commonwealth and the Restoration. In 1865, Queen Victoria lent them to the South Kensington Museum in memory of her late lamented husband. That museum is now named after her and said husband.

In order to display them in a space suited to their original context, the V&A built the Raphael Court in almost identical proportion to the Sistine Chapel. The gallery was last refurbished in the early 90s.

The work on the infrastructure took place with the cartoons in situ as they are far too fragile to get moved around (as are the tapestries they were used to create, now in the collection of the Vatican but almost never displayed). Researchers were able to take advantage of the nine months to unframe the works, scan their surfaces in high-resolution 3D, use infrared imagining and composite photography to enhance our understanding of this unique group of monumental works by one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance. The 3D scans are of special interest with the cartoons because they were punctured in order to transfer the image in the tapestry, giving them a unique texture compared to other drawings and paintings.

All of this new data will be invaluable to researchers and conservators in the study and care of the cartoons. They are also being used to create new interactive features for visitors to the museum to access via QR codes or directly from the V&A’s website.

Imagery and a suite of new interactive interpretation will be available online, accessed in the gallery via QR codes, allowing visitors to engage with the interpretation on site using their own devices. Visitors will be able to zoom in and discover the design and making of the Cartoons and Raphael’s extraordinary creative process through detailed imagery and interactive features that highlight the significance and status of the Cartoons in multiple ways. Stories told will include the Cartoons’ function as full-scale tapestry designs for the Sistine Chapel, the ingenuity of Raphael and his workshop and their design process, the rescue, life and status of the Cartoons in England from their arrival in the 17th century, and the fascination they have provoked since then up to the present day. A new publication, edited by Dr Ana Debenedetti, will further contextualise the creation and afterlife of the Cartoons, shedding light on Raphael’s artistic practice and the organisation of his large workshop, the fate of the tapestries made for the Sistine Chapel, and the rediscovery and reception of the Cartoons, especially in Britain.

Dr Ana Debenedetti, Lead Curator of the Raphael Project and Curator of Paintings at the V&A said:

“The set of seven surviving tapestry Cartoons by Raphael comprise a unique Renaissance treasure, both in terms of aesthetic value and technical achievement. Cutting-edge technology, provided by Factum Foundation, offered non-invasive methods of studying such canonical works of art by allowing us to look beneath the visible layers of paint and discover Raphael’s creative process. It is a feast for the eye to be able to enjoy the extraordinary beauty of these monumental drawings which are over 500 years old. We look forward to sharing this enhanced experience with our visitors when the gallery reopens in November to mark Raphael’s 500th anniversary.”

4th century B.C. cistern excavated in Croatia

A monumental cistern built by Greek colonists in the 4th century B.C. on what is now the Croatian island of Korčula has been fully excavated. The ruins of the ancient cistern were known to exist on Koludrt hill near the town of Lumbarda, but the full extent of this monumental structure was never explored until now.

Archaeologists have been working to clear it to document it thoroughly and preserve it for the future. It is an open-air structure and therefore susceptible to the elements and to damage from human contact. The plaster lining the stone basin, which was necessary to create a waterproof container, is of particular historical interest from an engineering perspective.

“The tank is huge, 10×17 meters in floor plan size and preserved height in the deepest part of 3 and a half meters. That’s a huge amount of water. Technologically, it is a fascinating object that is unique in the Mediterranean,” claims archaeologist Hrvoje Potrebica.

One of the puzzles is that it is open, has no traces of a roof structure, but monumental in its size – there is no Hellenistic building on the east coast of the Adriatic that could match it. That is why the cistern is big news in the world of archeology, and it was recorded with the most modern 3D scanner in the world.

“We currently have the most modern scanner in the world that recorded a tank with 430 million points. So our resolution is one millimeter, so we hope that we will get documentation and an exceptional means of monitoring,” explains Potrebica.

The cistern is also the find site of the oldest written document ever discovered in Croatia: the Lumbarda Psephisma, discovered in 1877. It is a record of the founding of the colony, a contract between the new colonists from Issa (a Greek colony on the Adriatic island of Vis) with the local Illyrian potentates Pyllos and his son Dazos. The inscription stipulates how much land the original colonists who fortified the town will be allotted, how much later colonists will receive and penalties for non-compliance. It closes with an extraordinary list of more than 200 names of the original colonists.

The Psephisma has been dated to the late 4th, early 3rd century B.C., around the same time the cistern was constructed. The water is held would have supplied all the colonists within the fortified walls of the town, perhaps even the very people named on the agreement.

Lydian atonement inscription repatriated to Turkey

A Lydian-era inscribed marble stele has been repatriated to Turkey almost three decades after it was illegally exported from the country. The inscription was looted in the early 1990s from the Temple of Apollo Aksyros in the ancient Lydian city of Saittai, today in the province of Manisa in western Turkey. In 1997, the stele was discovered in a raid on an antique shop in Florence. Italy’s Cultural Patrimony police confirmed its origin with Turkish Interpol, but because the open-air site has not been systematically excavated and documented, there was no hard evidence that it had been stolen and smuggled out of the country illegally.

Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Ministry spent the next 23 years pressing its claim in the Italian courts. On November 5th, 2019, the Florence Court of Appeal finally ruled that Turkey was the legal owner of the inscription triggering the repatriation process. After much diplomatic back-and-forth (and COVID-related delays), the stele was officially handed over to Murat Saim Esenli, Turkish Ambassador to Rome, on September 19th.

The ancient text itself points to its find site. It is an atonement inscription, a public allocution meant to expiate a sin. In this case, the sins of the children were visited upon the parents.

“Melita and Makedon stole Eia’s fishnet and other belongings. Therefore, they were punished by God. Their parents consulted Apollon Aksyros for their sake and made a vow.”

Saittai was one of the 10 cities in the Katakekaumene decapolis, a political union which prospered in the Hellenistic and Roman eras. It had its own mint under Roman rule and at least one emperor, Hadrian, visited it in person. It had temples to several deities, Apollon Aksyros among them. The date of the inscription is not known, but by the 5th century Saittai was the seat of a Christian bishopric and the ancient temples were no longer in active use.

The stele will go on display at the  Anatolian Civilizations Museum in Ankara.

Oldest Roman body armour found in Germany

Archaeologists have discovered the oldest and most complete Roman body armour at the site of the  Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in Kalkriese, Germany. Before this find, the earliest known examples of Roman lorica segmentata — iron plate sections tied together — were found in Corbridge, UK, and date to the 2nd century. Those were fragments. The Kalkriese armor is a complete set, and includes an extremely rare iron collar used to shackle prisoners.

More than 7,000 objects have been found at the Kalkriese battlefield site, from weapons to coins to items of everyday use. In the summer of 2018, a metal detector scan of the side wall of an excavation trench retuned 10 strong signals, indications of a large quantity of metal inside the bank. To ensure whatever was in there wasn’t exposed to the air and rapid oxidization, archaeologists removed the entire soil block containing the mystery metallics.

The first step was to scan the block to see what was inside and map out its excavation. The block was too big for regular X-ray machines, so  they transported the crate to the Münster Osnabrück International Airport where the customs office has a freight-sized X-ray machine. All they could see was nails of the wooden crate and a large black hole in the shape of the soil block.

In 2019, it was sent to the Fraunhofer Institute in Fürth which has the world’s largest CT scanner — a circular platform more than 11 feet in diameter that rotates while the X-ray apparatus moves up and down — more than big enough for the crate to fit and powerful enough to see inside the dense soil block. The scan revealed the remains of a cuirass — the section of a lorica segmentata where the breastplate and back plate are buckled together. The plates of the armour were pushed together like an accordion by the weight of the soil pressing on down them for 2,000 years.

Here’s a nifty digital animation by the Fraunhofer Institute generated from the CT scan data that reveals the armour inside the soil block.

Armed with the detailed scans, restorers were able to begin excavation of the soil block. They found that despite Kalkriese’s highly acidic sandy soil, the armour is relatively well-preserved. There is extensive corrosion of the mental, but the set is uniquely complete with hinges, buckles, bronze bosses and even extremely rare surviving pieces of the leather ties. The plates from the shoulder and chest have been recovered and restored. The belly plates are still in the soil block. There are no arm plates in this early design.

Iron plate armour was introduced by Augustus as an improvement on chain mail. It was relatively light (around 17 pounds) and because the plates were tied together with leather cords, they were much more flexible than chain mail. so it was the latest and greatest technology in 9 A.D. when Publius Quinctilius Varus blundered into a German ambush that obliterated three full Roman legions plus their auxiliaries.

The legionary who wore this armour apparently survived the battle because around his neck/shoulder area was a shrew’s fiddle, also known as a neck violin. This was an iron collar connected to two handcuffs that locked a prisoner’s hands in front of his neck. The Romans used them to shackle prisoners destined for slavery. This time the tables were turned, and the soldier died in shackles.

The restoration is ongoing and is expected to take another two years. Once it’s complete, the armour will go on display in an exhibition at the Kalkriese Museum and Park.