Woman buried with heavy bronze jewelry found in in Siberia

The remains of a woman buried with a rich array of heavy bronze jewelry have been unearthed in what is now the  Republic of Khakassia, southern Siberia. The intact grave was discovered in the Askiz-17 burial ground and dates to the 8-10th century B.C.

She was found in a small, relatively shallow burial pit attached to the western side of a stone mound whose central grave had been pillaged centuries earlier. Only 30 inches deep, the pit managed to avoid being damaged or destroyed by the construction of highways and railroads that has taken a heavy toll on the visible structures of the prehistoric burial ground.

The woman was placed in a supine position with her head in a southeastern orientation. Animal remains — the shoulder blade and front leg of a large horned mammal — were tidily placed to the side of her left foot as funerary offerings. The broken blade of a bronze knife was laid next to them. A large round pottery vessel with an ornamented rim was placed next to her head. It is in fragments, smashed over time by the stone filling of the burial pit.

The bones are in poor condition, but they are still for the most part articulated in their original anatomical order. It is what her bones are wearing that identifies her as part of the Karasuk culture, skilled metal workers renown for their high-quality bronze cast in wax.

A large bronze bracelet with checkered ornament was placed above her wrist, four fingers of her left hand had large bronze rings, each with two pearl-shaped bronze decorations.

To each side of the woman’s skull were 3 temple rings; two triangle plates were next to her head.

By her right elbow archeologists found a round bronze plate, 9 centimetre in diameter, and 8 small bronze buttons.

Archaeologists believe this was a custom-made funerary set, not jewelry the woman would have worn during her lifetime. There are no signs of wear and tear, not even the small scratches you’d expect from any kind of use at all. The sheer weight of the jewelry would have made them uncomfortable and unwieldy to wear under regular ambulatory circumstances.

All pieces from the small buttons, which once adorned burial clothes that have long-since decomposed, to the massive bracelet are made in the same artistic style typical of the the Minusinsk Basin in the Late Bronze Age. They were likely cast to order from one foundry. Her entire outfit, clothes and jewels, was a matched set created by a single master bronzesmith to send the deceased off in a style befitting her wealth and high status.

Rediscovered early drawing by Van Gogh on display

An early preparatory drawing made by Vincent van Gogh in 1882 has been rediscovered and was presented to the public for the first time on Thursday at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. The pencil drawing depicts an old man in patched bombazine overalls sitting on a chair with his head in his fists. It is a preliminary study for the final pencil drawing Worn Out and the lithograph At Eternity’s Gate.

Teio Meedendorp (senior researcher Van Gogh Museum): “Stylistically, it fits effortlessly between the many figure studies we know of Van Gogh from his time in The Hague, and the link with Worn out  is obvious. Van Gogh started by applying a grid on the paper, which indicates the use of a perspective frame. He did this to quickly outline a figure in correct proportions. The further elaboration was done in an expressive style characteristic of him: not refined, but with energetic scratches and strokes, the initiation of contours, in search of a concise representation with attention to light-dark effects.”

Meedendorp: “In terms of the use of materials, you also come across everything you would expect in a Van Gogh drawing from this period: thick carpenter’s pencil as a medium, coarse watercolor paper as a carrier, fixing it afterwards with a mixture of water and milk. The back of the drawing has damage on the corners, which can be related to the usual way in which Van Gogh attached a sheet of paper to his drawing board, namely with wads of starch.”

The sitter was one of Van Gogh’s favorite models from this period, 70-year-old war veteran Adrianus Jacobus Zuyderland, who lived in the Old Men’s and Women’s Home in the Hague, an almshouse supported by the Dutch Reformed parish. He features in more than 40 works by the artist. Van Gogh first mentions him coming to sit for him a letter on September 19th, 1882, and he appears regularly in his correspondence, often dubbed “the orphan man” as elderly men from the almshouse were apparently called “orphans” too, for the duration of his stay in The Hague. In a letter to his brother Theo a couple of weeks later, Vincent described Zuyderland as having “an interesting bald head — big ears.”

But the drawings of Zuyderland precede the first explicit mention of him in letters. He writes about Worn Out in a letter to his friend, artist Anthon von Rappard, on October 15th, 1881, and it’s clear from context Vincent has already shown one version of the work to Anthon, and is planning on showing him a larger one. It comes up again in a letter to van Rappard from November 24h, 1882.

You remember that drawing Worn out? In the last few days I’ve done it again no fewer than three times with two models, and will labour on it some more. For the present I have one that will be the subject of a fifth stone, which thus depicts an old working man who sits and ponders with his elbows on his knees and his head (a bald crown this time) in his hands.

He writes about it to Theo too, on the same day. The Van Gogh Museum experts believe both the preparatory study and the final drawing were made on the same day right around when those two letters were written, either on November 24th, or the day before.

The preliminary study is different from the final drawing and lithograph, in large part because Van Gogh was sitting close to the model when he did the study, and standing a little further back when he drew the final piece. The angle of the sitter changes, the legs are closer together, the elbows tighter to the body.

The study has been in the family of the current owners (whose identities are being kept under wraps at their request) since 1910, and they have never wanted it publically displayed. Privately, several scholars have examined it over the years and there has been debate as to its authenticity. The owners asked the Van Gogh Museum to examine it and if possible confirm its attribution. They determined it to be an authentic work by Vincent van Gogh. The owners chose not to make the attribution public, and kept the good news quiet until Thursday when the drawing’s authentication and its public exhibition were announced at the same time.

Study for ‘Worn Out’ will be on display alongside the final drawing and the lithograph which are in the permanent collection of the Van Gogh Museum. The study will be exhibited only until January 2, 2022, after which it will be returned to its elusive owners.

Hispano-Visigothic grave found at Spain cave hermitage

Archaeologists have excavated a Hispano-Visigothic tomb in embedded in the rock next to the cave hermitage of San Tirso and San Bernabé in Burgos, northern Spain. A team from the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH) unearthed the skeletal remains of an adult in a limestone slab tomb that dates to the late 7th, early 8th century. This discovery pushes back the evidence of the site’s use for Christian worship by centuries.

The anthropological studies, especially the analyses of stable isotopes of hydrogen, carbon and strontium, together with the dating for the remains, offer us a glimpse into the life of this person, who could have been associated with the first hermits who sought a retreat in this idyllic setting where they could live in isolation, during centuries of great turbulence linked to the arrival of the Moors, just as was the case elsewhere close to the upper course of the River Ebro and its tributaries in the south of the province of Cantabria, the north of Burgos, Álava and La Rioja.

The hermitage was built into the caves of the karst complex of Ojo Guareña, a network of 400 caves and 70 miles of galleries eroded out of the rock by the Trema and Guareña rivers. Humans have left their marks on the caves since the Middle Paleolithic. The earliest evidence of human usage are lithic from flint knapping about 70,000 years ago. There is cave art created as far back as 10,000 years through the beginning of the Bronze Age.

The cave chapel that is now dedicated to Christian saints Tirso and Bernabé was built at the site of a much earlier pagan sanctuary. The dates of construction are unknown. The first hermitage was dedicated to Saint Tirso, possibly as early as the 9th century, more likely the 13th. By the 18th century the hermitage was dedicated to a second saint, Bernabé, and between 1705 and 1877, the natural vaulted ceiling of the cave was painted with brightly colored murals depicting the miracles and martydoms of the saints.

Once the excavation has concluded and the human remains have been recovered, these will be consolidated and restored at the CENIEH. They will subsequently be subjected to dating, morphometric and paleopathological studies, while Ana Belén Marín and Borja González, researchers from the EvoAdapta R+D+i Group at the Universidad de Cantabria, will participate in isotopic studies.

Wood lion head recovered from Finnish shipwreck

A carved wooden lion head has been recovered from an 18th century shipwreck 200 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Finland. This is a rare occasion as shipwrecks in Finland are protected and left as they are on the seabed; only pictures are taken, typically, not artifacts.

The shipwreck was discovered off the coast of Kirkkonummi in southern Finland decades ago, but has barely been explored. When it was photographed by volunteer divers from Badewanne, a non-profit organization dedicated to documenting shipwrecks in the Gulf of Finland, in 2005, the carved head was in place at the end of a long beam on the side of the bow. The beam was part of the mechanism that operated the ship’s anchors, and the ends of them were so frequently carved into feline faces that the beam was dubbed the cathead.

When divers photographed it again this season, they found the cat head carving had fallen off the cathead and was face-down on the seabed. They found that one of the two iron bolts in the cat’s mouth that mounted it to the beam was missing and the other was heavily corroded.

To preserve the carving from being abraded to nothingness by the rough stony bottom, the Finnish Heritage Agency decided to raise it. The team used 3D photogrammetry to measure the carving precisely in order to customize the lifting case for a perfect fit so the head could be raised to the surface without damaging it. The operation was a complete success and the lion head has been transported to the National Museum Conservation Centre lab for study and conservation.

The ship’s identity and country of origin is currently unknown. All we really know is its age and that it was a three-masted sailing vessels 100 feet long. Archaeologists hope examination of the carving will shed some light on the wreck’s history. Once the wood has been stabilized, the head will go on display at the Maritime Museum of Finland in Kotka.

Renaissance shield looted by Nazis returned to Czech Republic

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has agreed to return a 16th century shield that was looted by Nazis during World War II to the Czech Republic. The pageant shield, elaborately decorated with a scene of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus capturing what is now Cartagena in southern Spain during the Second Punic War, was created by  Girolamo di Tommaso da Treviso around 1535 out of wood, linen, gesso, gold and pigment. It was part of the collection of Konopiště Castle in Benešov, about 25 miles southeast of Prague, that was stripped bare during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. It will now go back on display in the castle 80 years after it was stolen.

The complex battle scene of the Roman army assaulting the rounded crenelated towers of the city was based on a tapestry from a series depicting scenes from the life of Scipio designed by Giulio Romano for King Francis I of France. Romano drew the cartoons for the tapestries in 1531-1533. The tapestries were then woven in Brussels and sent to the king in 1535. They fell victim to the French Revolution’s orgy of anti-monarchical iconoclasm in 1797, destroyed to harvest the gold and silver threads used in the weaving. Copies of the Scipio tapestries commissioned by Louis XIV in 1688 survived the Revolution and are now in the Louvre.

(Wee digression: Cartagena was founded by Hasdrubal Barca, Hannibal’s younger brother, in 228 B.C. at the site of an earlier Iberian settlement. The Punic name for Carthage was Qart Hadasht, meaning New City, because it was founded by Phoenician colonists from Tyre (the old city). Hasdrubal named his foothold in Spain Qart Hadasht too. It was Scipio Africanus who renamed it Carthago Nova after his conquest of it in 209 B.C. to differentiate it from the original, so he basically copyedited Hasdrubal, correcting New City into the more precise New New City.)

Twenty-four inches in diameter, the round shield was made for ceremonial purposes, and the subject matter may have been chosen in homage to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V who in 1535 captured Tunis, née Carthage, from the Ottoman Empire. Charles V’s victory over the Ottoman corsairs was analogized to Scipio’s defeat of Carthage, and upon his return, the Emperor was feted all over Italy.

The shield was not presented to Charles V. It stayed in Italy for more than three centuries. In the 1700s it was in the Castello del Catajo outside Padua, part of the vast collection of arms and armature amassed by the marquess Tommaso degli Obizzi. He was the last to hold the title, and he left his all of his family’s wealth and possessions to the House of Este. Those lands, estates and collections were absorbed into the Ducal House of Austria-Este, the fruit of a marriage between Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, son of Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa, and Maria Beatrice Este, last surviving heir of the Este family.

That wealth paid for Konopiště Castle. Originally built in the late 13th century, the castle was refashioned into a Baroque palace in the 1730s and 40s, but had fallen into disrepair by the end of the 19th century. Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, whose assassination in 1914 would set alight the powder keg that exploded into World War I, bought the castle in 1887 with money he inherited after the death of the last scion of the Austria-Este ducal house. That inheritance included the Obizzi-Este collection of arms and armature, the third largest collection of armory and medieval weapons in Europe.

The collection, including the da Treviso shield, was installed in Konopiště Castle in 1896 where it remained even after the demise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire birthed Czechoslovakia. Then came the Second World War.

In 1939 the Nazi government annexed the part of Czechoslovakia where Konopiště was located, and in 1943 the German army (Wehrmacht) confiscated the Konopiště Castle armor collection, including the shield, and took it to Prague to be housed in a new military museum. However, Adolf Hitler’s arms and armor curator, Leopold Ruprecht, soon skimmed off the cream of the collection, inventoried it, and dispatched it to Vienna, intending the best for Hitler’s planned mega-museum in Linz, Austria. At the end of the war, large groups of Konopiště objects were recovered by the Allies and returned to Czech authorities in 1946, but among 15 objects that remained missing was a shield whose description was similar to the pageant shield.

Thirty years later, the pageant shield was bequeathed to the Philadelphia Museum of Art by avid collector of medieval arms Carl Otto Kretzschmar von Kienbusch. Its ownership history was threadbare and previous attempts to determine whether it was indeed the looted Konopiště Castle shield were inconclusive.

Since 2016, the museum has been collaborating with historians in the Czech Republic to evaluate the history and provenance of the Italian pageant shield. Recent research identified pre-WWII inventories which, in tandem with a photograph, dated to around 1913, showing the museum’s shield as displayed at Konopiště Castle provided by the museum, persuasively identify the shield as the one illegally taken from Konopiště Castle by the Nazis and never restituted. Based on these revelations, the Board of Trustees of the Philadelphia Museum of Art unanimously concluded that rightful title in the work belonged to the Czech Republic and approved the return of the armor at its meeting of June 17, 2021.