Small Viking hoard with huge brooch declared treasure

A hoard of jewelry from the Viking era found on the Isle of Man has been declared official Treasure. The objects are small in number but large in significance and one of them is large in the literal sense too.

The hoard was discovered last December by Kath Giles, a retired police officer, while metal detecting on private land. The first thing she found when he brushed away the soil was a spherical terminal of a brooch. The rest of it — a long pin and a hoop — emerged next, followed by a braided gold arm ring and pieces of a broken silver armband.

She notified Manx National Heritage and archaeologists identified the objects as Viking jewelry dating to around 950 A.D. Viking gold and silver jewelry have been found on the Isle of Man before, but this is the first time this type of gold arm-ring and brooch have been unearthed on the island.

The gold arm ring is made of three thick rods of gold plaited together. The terminals are joined by flat band decorated with a stamped dot pattern. It was extremely valuable in the Viking era when gold artifacts are rare, worth the equivalent of 900 silver coins.

The pin is a thistle brooch of ball type, named after the ball-shaped terminals and pin head with brambling decoration reminiscent of the bushy little flower. The brambling — tiny cones that just out from the cast silver ball — were created by making diagonal criss-cross cuts and then punching out some of them. The example in the hoard has incised designs along with the brambling on the head and terminals.

It is a giant of a jewel, with the pin approximately 20 inches long and the hoop about eight inches in diameter. Originally a Celtic form of normal size, these types of penannular brooches were prized by the Vikings who settled in Ireland and put their own stamp on the Celtic design, greatly increasing their size and decreasing their decorative intricacy. They were signifiers of wealth and status, so the bigger the better, as far as the Vikings were concerned, even though it made them notably impractical as fasteners. Because of their massive size and weight, they could only have been worn on very thick outerwear like furs or skins. The pin was worn at the shoulder with the sharp point facing upwards.

Allison [Fox, Curator for Archaeology for Manx National Heritage] said:

“Vikings arrived on the Isle of Man in the 800s, firstly trading and eventually settling.  Kath’s hoard can be dated on stylistic and comparative grounds to around AD 950, a time when the Isle of Man was  right in the middle of an important trading and economic zone.  But elsewhere to the east and west, Viking rule was coming to an end and perhaps this encouraged further Viking settlement on the Island.  The Viking and Norse influence remained strong on the Island for a further three hundred years, long after much of the rest of the British Isles.

The arm-ring, brooch and cut armband are all high-status personal ornaments and represent a large amount of accumulated wealth.  Finding just one of these items would be of significance.  The fact that all were found together, associated with one single deposition event, suggests that whoever buried them was extremely wealthy and probably felt immediately and acutely threatened.”

The hoard went on temporary display in the Viking and Medieval Gallery at the Manx Museum. It will be assessed by a committee of experts to determine its value and conserved before permanent display is arranged.

Munch wrote The Scream was “painted by a madman” on The Scream

A graffito in the orange sky of Edvard Munch’s first version of The Scream declaring it “Can only have been painted by a madman” has been identified as an addition by the artist himself. Painted in 1893, The Scream was on display in Copenhagen in 1904 when the handwritten line was first noticed by a Danish art critic. He assumed one of the visitors to the exhibition had written his disapproval of the maker on the work. Later art historians posited that Munch was the author, but scholars as recently as 2008 have disputed that he was the writer of the inscription.

Experts at the National Museum of Norway have taken advantage of the closure of the museum during renovations to conserve and study The Scream. Examination under a microscope confirmed that the pencil lines were written on top of the dried paint after the painting was finished, but the inscription is faint and hard to read. Photographed in infrared, however, the carbon from the pencil graphite stands out from the brightly painted background making detailed handwriting analysis possible. The analysis left no doubt that Munch authored the inscription.

It was likely written around two years after he made the painting. Munch exhibited The Scream in Norway in October 1895. By then it had already been seen in several other countries, but this was the first exhibition of the work for the Norwegian public. It did not go well. One art critic wrote that The Scream showed that Munch was not “a serious man with a normal brain.”

There was much buzz about the subject of the painting being Munch himself screaming in his madness. Speculation on his mental state was rife a discussion of the exhibition at the Students Association in Kristiania. One medical student, Johan Scharffenberg, armchair diagnosed Munch as insane based on his work. Munch followed all this chatter and it troubled him deeply.

“We know that he we was very upset when critics of his work questioned his sanity and called his paintings a disgrace,” National Museum curator Mai Britt Guleng told ARTnews. “Mental illness was a sore point for Munch because there was a history of mental illness in his close family.”

Both Munch’s father and sister suffered bouts of depression, and the latter was also diagnosed with schizophrenia. By his own admission, Munch had neither a happy childhood nor a smooth adult life. “Disease, insanity, and death were the angels that attended my cradle, and since then have followed me throughout my life,” he once wrote. Exacerbated by his alcoholism, Munch was finally hospitalized after a nervous breakdown in 1908.

He explicitly wrestled with depression, loss, and anxiety in his paintings, which often featured phantoms of lost love and family. According to a diary entry, Munch conceived of The Scream while walking out at sunset in Kristiania where, upon viewing the blood red clouds, he sensed an “infinite scream passing through nature.”

Guleng believes the inscription was added after the Kristiania discussion, so late 1895 or early 1896. His intent in writing it can’t be scried with infrared. It could have been an ironic statement spurred by all the critics calling him crazy, or an impulsive reaction to his own concerns that they might be right.

The Scream will be back on public display when the new National Museum opens in 2022, alongside Self-Portrait with Cigarette, the painting that Scharffenberg presented as proof that Munch was not of sound mind.

Southern Urals warrior found in Scythian burial mound

Archaeologists have discovered an unusual resident in a Scythian burial mound in Rostov, southwestern Russia: a warrior from the Southern Urals. He was buried with an Scythian leader in the 4th century B.C., but the central burial was looted in antiquity leaving his bodyguard as the stand-out discovery.

The presence of the burial mound was first noted by archaeologists in 1976, but thorough professional excavations only began last September. An initial geophysical survey revealed that the mound contained a profusion of burials from different periods, and the subsequent excavation confirmed the range of dates, with the oldest artifact a stone axe from the Cimmerian period (8th-7th centuries B.C.).

When the archaeologists reached the central burial 18 feet below the surface, all that was left of the Scythian ruler buried there was one skull. Of his grave goods, only five amphorae remained. The plunderers missed his attendant, however. The man was exceptionally tall, about 6’6″, and his skeletal remains indicate he was ritually killed to accompany his master in death.

His burial was richly furnished. He wore a very fine gold chain, and a full complement of weapons were by his side: a slingshot, a quiver, arrows, two spears, darts and iron sword with a hilt wrapped in gold foil. There is also a Greek lekythos vessel for incense or oil. Above him are the remains of a horse.

It was the sword that provided the first clue to the man’s origin. Even though the blade was heavily corroded, archaeologists identified it as a type used by the nomadic peoples of the Southern Urals at that time. Other objects confirmed his origin. The horse wore a deer-shaped nosepiece typical of the Urals or Altai mountains. A large bronze cauldron with horizontal handles is also typical of the Southern Urals. Scythian cauldrons had vertical handles.

Sergey Lukyashko, Ph. D, professor from the Don State Technical University, commented on the find: “As we can see, this burial is not typical. Here we see many eastern artefacts, but also objects from the Greek world. We have a hypothesis, that these people have come from the east, however, we cannot say for certain judging by just this one burial.”

The artefacts and the warlord’s remains will be sent for anthropological research to the Institute of Archaeology (Russian Academy of Sciences), where the scientists will determine the man’s age and place of birth.

Celtic business in the front, party in the back

A Celtic figurine discovered at the Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire is sporting a distinctive mullet, a possible indicator of hair styling fashion in Late Iron Age Britain. The 1st century A.D. copper alloy object is just two inches high and depicts a male figure holding a torc in his hands. He has oval eyes typical of Celtic design, a moustache and keeps his hair trimmed extra short in front, straight and long down his neck.

The figurine was unearthed in July 2018 during the excavation of the Late Iron Age settlement at Lamp Hill. Volunteer metal detectorists scanned the excavation ditches and found the tiny mulletted man. The piece was at first believed to be a representation of the Celtic fertility god Cernunnos, but now that it has been cleaned and studied by specialists, it’s clear that he does not bear the attributes of Cernunnos. He may be a deity of unknown type with his Iron Age Billy Rae Cyrus look a distinguishing characteristic of a god with no other recorded likeness. He may also be a simple anthropomorphic figure whose hair reflects the tonsorial trends of his time.

It was not originally designed as a freestanding piece or cult figure. It was a decorative fitting, probably the handle of a spatula. The circular recess inside the torc probably held an inlay that is now lost.

Chris Thatcher from Oxford Archaeology East explained: “Finds such as this give a rare and fascinating insight into aesthetics and symbolism in the latest Iron Age. The extent to which his hairstyle is typical of contemporary styles will never be known for certain. However, we think the combination of him holding a torc – associated with status – and forming the handle of a spatula – either used to mix medicines, or wax for writing tablets – speak of influence and power. The fact that he was found on a site with so much other evidence for it being a local hub is wonderful and appropriate.”

Renovation of Seville tapas bar reveals 12th c. bathhouse

Renovations of a Seville tapas bar have uncovered the remains a 12th century Islamic bathhouse with uniquely rich decorations. The Cervecería Giralda in the historic center of Seville has been one of the city’s most popular bars since it opened in 1923. The building has soaring vaulted ceilings supported by four columns, typical of the medieval bathhouses or hammams, and there are records going back to 1281 referencing a bathhouse that had existed in the area, but there was no archaeological evidence to confirm this was it, and the building was widely thought to be more Neo-Mudéjar (ie, Moorish Revival) than the genuine article.

The descendants of Roman baths, hammams served the same hygiene and socialization functions as their predecessors as well as performing a religious role as facilities for the full-body ablutions mandated in the Quran for ritual purification. There were hundreds of them in the Muslim-ruled cities. In Spain, Christian rulers who conquered those cities frequently destroyed the bathhouses, built over them or converted them to other uses.

Seville became the capital of Al-Andalus under the Almohad Caliphate which ousted the Almoravid dynasty in a series of battles between 1146 and 1173. They conquered Seville early, transferring the capital from Cordoba to Seville in 1150, but their rule would be short-lived. Seville was conquered by Ferdinand III of Castile in 1248.

Much of Seville’s extant Moorish style architecture was actually built by Christian rulers who appropriated the aesthetic even as they demolished or radically altered the original structures. Today there is only a smattering of original architecture from the Almohad period, including the Giralda bell tower of Seville Cathedral, formerly a minaret of the Great Mosque of Seville, the Patio del Yeso (Courtyard of Plaster) in the Alcázar royal palace, the Patio de los Naranjos, once part of the mosque and now annexed to the Seville Cathedral.

As the name suggests, the Cervecería Giralda is only feet away from the former mosque. The earliest documentary evidence of a bathhouse at the site dates to 1281 and refers to the “baths of García Jofre” adjacent to the cathedral being donated to the Church by King Alfonso X. By the 17th century, the great vaulted building’s history as a hammam was already forgotten. A major reconstruction divided the high ceilings of the warm room into two stories, replaced the original columns and closed the skylights. Historians contended it was the remains of an ancient amphitheater rather than a bath, or a newer construction from the 15th-16th century done in Moorish style.

Fran Díaz, the architect in charge of the modernization project, was labouring under that same misapprehension when he began renovations last year. He was disabused of the notion when probes behind the false ceiling revealed the presence of skylights known as luceras, decorative cutouts in the ceiling characteristic of hammam architecture. In the wake of the discovery, renovators stepped back so archaeologists could take over to fully explore the remains of the bathhouse.

Skylights in the vaulted ceiling. Photo courtesy Fernando Amores.They found 88 skylights in several different shapes — eight-pointed stars, six-pointed stars, octagons, quadrifoils — that are far more elaborate than those found in other Muslim baths of the period. An entirely unprecedented discovery were geometric murals. Nothing like them has been found before in the Iberian peninsula. Painted in red ochre against a white background, the latticed pattern likely represented water. Large sections of it have survived on the walls and ceilings. Archaeologists believe that the entire bathhouse from ceiling to floor was originally painted with these decorations. This is the only known hammam with surviving original wall and ceiling painted decoration. The only other examples of integral decoration in bathhouses stopped at the baseboards.

Entrance to main room of Cervecería Giralda with 12th century vault and geometric murals. Photo by Paco Puentes, El Pais.The main space of the bar was the hammam’s warm room. One wall opens into a smaller rectangular space with a barrel-vaulted ceiling that was originally the bathhouse’s cold room. That’s where the skylights are. What is now the kitchen area was the hot room, but most of the original structure was destroyed so all that remains is a partial arch. That the skylights and priceless murals survived at all is thanks to Vicente Traver, the architect who renovated the building in the early 20th century. He could have torn down what was left of the bathhouse, or redone it so invasively that little of the original elements remained. Instead he created the false ceiling and protected the fragile remains.

The discovery of the baths spurred a new concept for the renovation of the bar. To preserve the 12th century marvel while still making the space a functioning bar, architectures installed a metal cornice above Traver’s wall tiles. Renovations are scheduled to be completed next month, after which the Cervecería Giralda will reopen with a newly fabulous interior that maintains the striking features of the early 20th century renovation that have become integral to the establishment’s character with the magnificence of the original Almohad hammam.