14th century latrine raised in Berlin

A latrine from the 14th century has been raised intact from its find site on Fischerinsel, central Berlin, so it can be preserved, studied and eventually put on display. Just under six feet square and 6.5 feet deep, the latrine was built using large-format bricks and is one of the oldest secular brick structures surviving in Berlin.

Fischerinsel, the south section of Spree Island on the River Spree, is where the city of Cölln was founded in the 13th century. Its twin city Altberlin (Old Berlin) was founded on the other bank of the Spree shortly thereafter. They shared a common administration — city hall was built literally in the middle of a bridge between them — for centuries until Frederick I of Prussia officially merged the two to form the single city of Berlin in 1710.

Grabungsnummer 2179

As the germ cell of what would become Berlin, Fischerinsel is an archaeologically sensitive area, so it was excavated in 2016 in advance of a planned real estate development at the site. The dig revealed traces of the city going back to its earliest days around 1200, including cellars, foundations, courtyards, paths, wells and the prize pig at the fair: the brick latrine.

The fill inside of it — animal bones, broken pottery — dates to the 14th century, which is the source of the tentative dating of the latrine, but these were filled and emptied repeatedly over the course of their use, so the latrine itself could be a little older. The use of brick is an example of how the city was growing as prospering so soon after its founding. Most of the early structures of Cölln and Altberlin were made of wood. The latrine was an expensive feature, likely built for a private dwelling.

The real estate development is moving forward and has now reached the stage where the latrine had to be removed to make way for new construction. (Full disclosure: I tried to insert a “shit or get off the pot” gag here, but couldn’t figure out how to phrase it. I refuse to just walk away, though, hence this interjection.) To put as little stress as possible on the structure, it was stabilized in situ. Restorers strengthened the mortar, filled large cracks and packaged it with reinforced padding before building a custom crate around it. That crate was then craned to an interim storage area right next to the excavation pit.

The latrine will remain there until 2023 when it will be moved to a green space of the new building. A pavilion will be built around it to protect it from the elements while still making it accessible to the public.

Medieval sword set found in Poland

A sword and the metal parts of a scabbard, belt and two knives dating to the late 14th/early 15th century have been unearthed near the Olsztyn, northeastern Poland. Except for a coating of rust, the sword is in excellent condition. The exact location of the find is being kept secret to deter treasure hunters while an archaeologist prepare to excavate the find site.

The sword was discovered by metal detectorist Aleksander Miedwiediew who found two 15th century battle axe heads last summer at a metal detector rally at the site of the Battle of Grunwald. He’s basically a medieval weapons magnet. He’s a very responsible one, thankfully, and he turned the sword set in to the Marshal of Warmia and Masuria.

It’s possible that this set too is related to the battle which took place near Stębark, less than 30 miles southwest of Olsztyn, on July 15th, 1410. More than 50,000 combatants, allied Polish and Lithuanian forces against the German Teutonic Knights, took the field there. It was one of the largest battles of medieval Europe and the Teutonic Knights were beaten so decisively that they lost their entire leadership to death or imprisonment. With an encounter of so enormous a scale, operations go beyond the boundaries of the battlefield, so the sword may have been lost in the maelstrom.

How exactly it could have been lost is a mystery. The sword was a very high-value item, the equivalent of a new car today, so it would not have been discarded.

 “It’s puzzling that no one had taken hold of these items, very precious at the time. Maybe we will find the remains of a knight whom these things belonged to,” [director of the Battle of Grunwald Museum Szymon] Drej added.

The sword and accessories have been transferred to the Battle of Grunwald Museum where they will be cleaned and conserved.

“The weapons will now undergo conservation and research process. We have a theory as to the sword’s medieval owner’s status, and we’re curious what’s underneath the layer of rust” – Drej added.

Scarf mourning Alexander Hamilton’s death goes under the hammer

Scarf mourning the death of Alexander Hamilton, ca. 1804. Photo courtesy Heritage Auctions.

An exceedingly rare cotton printed scarf mourning the death of Alexander Hamilton in 1804 will be coming up for auction on May 15th. The scarf is unusually large – 24″ x 20 1/2″ framed to 30 1/2″ x 27″ — and features two portraits of the Founding Father, one in portrait miniature style at the top in his Revolutionary War uniform, and one marble bust in Roman style in the central roundel. The bust is perched atop his tomb (a fantasy version, not his actual tomb) where women weep for the fallen hero. To their left is a small hut with palm trees, symbolizing Hamilton’s birth and childhood in Nevis. To the right is a tree with a cut limb, symbolizing his life cut short.

The portrait miniature hangs from the center of a ribbon held by an eagle on the left and cherubs on the right. Written on the banner is “IN MEMORY OF THE LAMENTED HAMILTON.” In the bottom left is a women with three children sitting under a tree, likely a representation of his wife, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, and family, as the panegyric extolls him as “honourably united in marriage” and laments that “he has left behind him a numerous family to deplore the loss of his protecting arm and directive talents.” In the bottom right, a Black woman mourns at an effigied tomb or bier.

Among the text on the scarf is an encomium (middle left) that studiously avoids the words “duel,” “Aaron” or “Burr” even as it praises his life and recounts its loss.

Endowed with many noble qualities, high in rank as an Officer; enlightened and ardent as a Statesman; preeminent as a Lawyer; rever’d as a Citizen; beloved as a friend; affectionate as a Husband and Father. To the regret of all the great and good, this distinguished Character fell, in an unhappy rencounter, July 11th, 1804; in the 48th year of his AGE.

On the right side is an appeal to legislators to take action against the deadly practice of dueling. Again, the word “duel” does not appear.

Health and Honour to the Senator who shall devise the most effectual means of abolishing that fatal practice which deprived AMERICA prematurely of the talents and virtues of her much lamented HAMILTON!

The scarf has intersecting diagonal lines of stitching that indicate it was once incorporated into a quilt or bedspread. That only adds to its character as the sewing is discrete and does not interfere with the print which is in excellent condition. The only other known example of this scarf, now part of the collection of the Hamilton Grange National Memorial in Manhattan, has no stitching, but it has suffered significant fading and staining.

The pre-sale estimate is $20,000, but Hamilton memorabilia is insanely desirable due to the explosion of interest in the wake of the musical about his life. The Alexander Hamilton powder horn which bears his name and family iconography but is otherwise entirely devoid of any proven connection to the man himself, sold at auction in January 2016 for $115,620, including buyer’s premium.

I can’t let mention of the Hamilton Grange National Memorial pass without paying homage to the amazing feat of conservatorial skill that has saved and revitalized it. When Alexander Hamilton had his handsome Federal-style home built in 1802, it was on 32 bucolic acres in upper Manhattan. They didn’t remain bucolic, needless to say, and in 1889 the house was slated for demolition because it jutted into the street and was in the way of the development of the Manhattan’s street grid. Its neighbor, the Episcopal Church of St. Luke in the Fields bought the house and moved it two blocks away where it no longer impeded the grid.

It became a museum in 1933 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960, but, hemmed in by an apartment building on one side and St. Luke’s on the other, many features of the home were obscured and it was in dire need of major restoration. So they moved it again. They jacked the whole house up, building Jenga-like wood block cribbing underneath it as it rose to sustain its weight. On June 7th, 2008, the Grange was moved at a snail’s pace one block east and one block south to its new location on St. Nicholas Park where it was once again in bucolic surroundings.

It was a much-covered event and I watched it in real time, but the blog was in its dormant phase before I would resurrect it in December of that year, so there was no post about the great move of the only house Alexander Hamilton ever owned. Now I right that wrong.

Here is a time-lapse video of Hamilton Grange 30 feet in the air being moved from its tight quarters between the apartments and church onto the street:

The six-hour move in 39 seconds:

Its installation on new foundations at St. Nicholas Park:

First intact bed burial found in Greece

The first intact bed burial ever found in Greece has been unearthed in Mavropigi, a village in the Kozani regional unit of Western Macedonia. The 1st century B.C. grave was discovered when a modern home was demolished as part of the expansion of a lignite mine. Under the foundations of the demolished house where the skeletal remains of an adult woman who had been laid to her eternal rest atop a bronze and wood bed. The wood decomposed over the century, but the bronze rails and bedposts survived intact.

The practice of laying the dead on beds in their graves was widespread in this part of Macedonia during the 2nd and 1st century B.C., but they were made out of wood so the only archaeological material to survive decomposition was the iron nails. Archaeologists have only been able to infer from the placement of the nails that a grave was a bed burial. The Mavropigi grave is the first to preserve all non-organic elements of the bed in situ which makes it the only confirmed ancient bed burial in Greece.

Expensively furnished, such graves are often indicators of the deceased’s high status, and the woman in this grave was buried so richly archaeologists have reason to believe she belonged to the royal family who ruled the area in the late Hellenistic period. The bed would have been the apex of luxury in its time. It is two meters (6.5 feet) long, 90 cm (three feet) wide and 40 cm high (1.3 feet) and was decorated with fine carvings including the head of a mermaid and a long-legged aquatic bird holding a snake in its mouth.

Other exceptional grave goods attest to her great wealth and status. She had a gold plate in her mouth and ten gold double laurel leaves were found on her head. The leaves are pierced, so they were probably part of a wreath or veil made of leather or fabric that has disintegrated. Gold threads were found in her right hand, perhaps the remnants of an embroidered textile that she wore or that was draped over her. She was also buried with a bone needle and four clay censers, one glass censer and a clay amphora.

The laurel leaf is the sacred plant of Apollo, and the snake in the bed decoration may also be connected to Apollo in his role as slayer of the giant serpent Python. The remains of a sanctuary dedicated to Apollo have been found in Mavropigi, so it’s possible the woman in the bed burial held a position of religious authority in connection to the worship of Apollo.

The skeletal remains have been transferred to the conservation laboratory of the Archaeological Museum of Aiani where they will be studied to confirm sex and age and hopefully cause of death. Archaeologists have created a miniature model reconstructing the bed with its wooden parts.  They estimated the placement of the missing elements based on excavation data, radiography and CT scans of the bedposts. The Ephorate of Antiquities of Kozani wants to create a full-size replica to put on permanent display at the Archaeological Museum of Aiani.

Celtic bucket fitting found in Norway

A Celtic ornament likely looted from Ireland by Vikings has been discovered in Trondheim, Norway. The object has two rounded ends with a square between them. One of the ends is engraved with what looks like a face. The other end probably is as well, but you can’t see facial features through the encrusted soil. The square section is decorated with enameled shapes.

The shape and design mark it as a bucket fitting manufactured between 500 and 700 A.D. A similar albeit more elaborate example adorns one of the wooden buckets found in the Oseberg ship burial.

“It seems to be a fitting that was attached to an Irish bronze hanging vessel, which came to Norway during the Viking Age. We see this especially in the enamel in the middle of the fitting. Originally, each vessel had two or three such fittings, and they are quite rare. It is actually the first of its kind in Trøndelag, and the fourth find of this type in Norway, [archaeologist Aina Heen] Pettersen [of the NTNU Science Museum] states.”

It was found last weekend by three metal detecting brothers scanning a farmer’s field. They also discovered an ancient Islamic Dirham coin, dating to around 800 A.D. The brothers reported the find to the Archaeological Museum in Trondheim where it will be cleaned and conserved.