Viking hack silver hoard found in Norway

A hoard of hack silver from the Viking era (8th-11th c.) has been discovered in Stjørdal, central Norway. It consists of 46 objects, all of them silver. Only two of them are intact — whole finger rings — while the rest are broken pieces of coins, bracelets, a braided necklace, chains and wire. They were collected and cut or broken to use for the silver weight. Most examples of hack silver hoards found in Scandinavia contain a fragment from each larger object. This hoard is unusual for containing several fragments from the same object.

The hoard was discovered last December by metal detectorist Pawel Bednarski. He found the two small silver rings first, then more and more pieces began to emerge. Ultimately Bednarski pulled 46 objects from the ground, all of them barely buried between an inch and three inches beneath the surface. After rinsing the clay off of one of the pieces, he realized he had found something of archaeological importance and reported the discovery to municipal authorities.

This is a rather exceptional find. It has been many years since such a large treasure find from the Viking Age has been made in Norway, says archaeologist and researcher Birgit Maixner at the NTNU Science Museum. […]

This find is from a time when silver pieces that were weighed were used as means of payment. This system is called the weight economy, and was in use in the transition between the barter economy and the coin economy, explains Maixner.

The coin economy in continental Europe continued even after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, but in Norway there were no coins minted until the late 9th century. It was a barter economy until the end of the 8th century when the weight economy began to take hold. It was far more agile than barter because instead of having to manage the bulk of goods to be traded, small pieces of silver are easily packed and carried. Valuation is also far easier, requiring nothing more than a scale.

The total of the silver weight in the hoard is 42 grams, which according to the Gulating Act (a collection of Norwegian land laws dating back to around 900 A.D.) would buy you .6 of a cow. Most of the objects weighed less than a gram, so it seems likely they had already been used as currency. Was this perhaps the change drawer of a merchant?

[T]he find contains an almost complete wide, band-shaped bangle, divided into eight pieces. Such broadband bangles, as archaeologists call them, are thought to have been developed in Denmark in the 8th century.

“We can imagine that the owner has prepared for trading by dividing the silver into appropriate weight units. That the person in question had access to entire broadband bracelets, a primary Danish object type, may indicate that the owner was in Denmark before the person traveled up to the Stjørdal area,” says Maixner.

Another unusual feature is the age of the Arabic coins. In an average Norwegian treasure find from the Viking Age, approx. three quarters of the Islamic coins minted between 890 and 950 AD. Only four out of seven coins from this find have been dated, but these date from the end of the 8th century or the beginning of the 8th century to some time in the 8th century.

“The relatively high age of the Islamic coins, broadband bracelets and the large degree of fragmentation of most of the objects is more typical of treasure finds from Denmark than from Norway. These features also make it likely to assume that the treasure is from around 900 AD,” explains Maixner.

Roman water tank with pipes, valves revealed

Archaeologists refurbishing the Villa Adriana in the ancient Roman city of Stabiae on the Bay of Naples have uncovered an exceptionally well-preserved section of the villa’s water system. It consists of a large lead tank with conduits leading in and out, used to regulate the flow of water through the rooms of the villa. There are even stop keys still in place. It is shocking how plausibly modern it looks.

Like its neighbors Pompeii and Herculaneum, Stabiae was destroyed in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. and only began to emerge from under the hardened volcanic rock when tunnelers seeking portable treasures for the Bourbon rulers of Naples reached it in the 18th century. Unlike its neighbors, Stabiae was an exclusive enclave for the wealthy. Built on the slopes of a hill overlooking the Bay of Naples, at least a dozen large mansions have been unearthed at Stabiae, all of them richly appointed and lavishly decorated with frescoes and mosaics. These were known as “Otium” villas, meaning leisure or idleness. Only the richest and most important members of the Roman aristocracy could afford one.

Villa Arianna, named for the vividly-colored fresco of Ariadne abandoned by Theseus found in one of the two triclinia (dining rooms), is the oldest mansion in Stabiae. Its oldest areas — the atrium and surrounding chambers — date to the late Republican period, the beginning of the 1st century B.C. The last additions were made in the Flavian era (69-96 A.D.), but Vesuvius narrows down that date range to the first decade. The villa is famed for the exceptional quality of the frescoes on its walls, including extremely rare examples painted in the first half of the 1st century B.C., a very early phase of the second Pompeian style (ie, in imitation of architectural features).

The lead tank was first identified ten years ago, but only now is it being brought back to light during works to clear out the small peristyle garden of the villa. It is notable for its pristine condition and unusual decoration as well for being still in situ, giving archaeologists new information about how the villa’s plumbing and heating systems worked.

Connected to the central piece, two pipes emerged that fed the thermal plant of the villa and the water feature that probably embellished the impluvium (the central water collection tank) in the atrium.

Finally, the decorations adorned the structure which had to be partially visible, to allow access to the two stop keys that allowed to regulate the flow of water or to close it completely to allow maintenance operations of the systems.

“A tank like this, with its stop keys, is part of that type of systems and preparations that may seem almost modern as they are made and that have always aroused amazement since the first discoveries in Stabia, Pompeii and Oplontis. The ancients also in this case they have not renounced an ornamental element, a relief of an astragalus plant, which perhaps characterized the workshop that produced it, like a modern brand, and which in any case had to be visible, since the tank was placed at the above the floor level. A further example of how accessibility, knowledge and protection are integrated, which we will tell the public during construction in the context of the open construction sites of the Park. “- underlines the Director Gabriel Zuchtriegel.

Scottish museum acquires 8th c. gold sword pommel

An exceptionally rare gold sword pommel that is one of the only ones of its kind ever found in Scotland has been acquired by National Museums Scotland. It was made around 700 A.D. out of solid gold and is decorated with intricate gold filigree, geometric patterns and stylized zoomorphic designs. Garnets are set in the goldwork. Goldwork of any quality from this period is rare in the UK; this object is so rich and so skillfully crafted that it is a unique example on the Scottish archaeological record.

The pommel (the widened fitting atop a sword’s grip) was discovered by a metal detector hobbyist near Blair Drummond in Stirlingshire, Scotland, in late 2019. He reported the find to the Treasure Trove unit but the usual process of determining treasure was disrupted by the pandemic, so only now has the artifact been officially claimed for the Crown and allocated to National Museums Scotland.

“Early medieval Scotland is a really interesting period,” [Dr Alice Blackwell, Senior Curator of Medieval Archaeology and History at National Museums Scotland,] said.

“You have a number of culturally distinct kingdoms and the pommel’s design has taken from the different cultures and melded them together “

That melding of different cultural styles is known as “insular art” style, which was made famous by illuminated manuscripts such as the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Dr Blackwood said this fusion of styles had made it hard to determine where exactly it was made and whom it may have belonged to.

However, she said it potentially could have belonged to royalty due to the higher standard of goldwork the pommel had compared with other goldware found in this period.

Medieval tomb slab with original red paint found

A striking funerary slab with original red paint highlighting its engraved surface still present has been unearthed in Saint-Quentin, northern France. The tomb dates to 1305 and is engraved with the effigy of a robed cleric inside a Gothic arch. The surviving parts of the inscription around the arch identify the deceased as a “chaplain in the church of Monsignor Quentin.” Red paint was applied in the engraved lines of the effigy of the cleric, the border arch and the lettering of the inscription to make the design stand out against the blue stone. The paint often fades to nothingness over time. The red on this slab is still remarkably visible even before conservation.

The city of Saint-Quentin was founded as Augusta Veromanduorum, the Roman capital of the local Viromandui people, during the reign of Augustus (27 B.C. – 14 A.D.). Its location on the Somme river at the crossroads of two important roads made it a commercial center for the region.

In the 4th century it gained new prominence as the purported site of the martyrdom of Caius Quintinus, aka Quentin of Amiens. Quentin was a Roman Christian who followed his missionary zeal to convert the Gauls and was arrested and tortured for his activities. He was able to briefly escape custody in Augusta Veromanduorum, but he just started evangelizing on the spot, so he was tortured, beheaded and his body tossed into the Somme. Years later his remains were found in the marshes and buried on the hill in the middle of the city. A shrine was built there which quickly became a popular site of pilgrimage.

A church was built over the tomb and then expanded and rebuilt numerous times. A community of monks was established there in the 7th century and administered the shrine, but the local count replaced them with secular canons in the 10th century. The current basilica was constructed between the 12th and 15th centuries. It suffered great damage in World War I and it took more than 20 years (plus another world war) to repair and reconstruct it.

In March of this year, archaeologists began to excavate the south side of the basilica in downtown Saint-Quentin. A cloister was known to have stood there in the 14th century, and the excavation quickly confirmed its presence when it encountered the remains of the cloister’s north gallery. In the courtyard between the galleries, a space frequently used for burials in medieval monasteries, the team discovered several burials. One contained a deposit of multiple pottery vessels; another from the Merovingian era had a single intact bowl deposited next to the head of the deceased.

Three tombs were of particular note because they were covered by funerary slabs made of Tournai blue stones. These were reserved for burials of important members of the religious community, specifically the canons. The slab of the canon who died in 1305 is the only one of the three with such a well-preserved carved and painted surface. Another grave covered with a blue stone slab was discovered during an archaeological survey at the site in 2017. It is similarly engraved for the grave of a canon who died in 1302. No paint has survived, however.

Engraved funerary slab of a canon who died in 1302 discovered during the survey of 2017. Photo © E. Mariette, Inrap.

Artemisia’s Allegory to be digitally uncensored

A nude by Artemisia Gentileschi that was censored with extraneous draping is being restored in public at the Casa Buonarroti museum in Florence. The painting of a young woman holding a basin of water containing a compass with a small bright star above her head is the Allegory of Inclination (ie, natural talent for art). When she was painted in 1616, Inclination was nude, but 65 years later a draped cloth was painted over her lap for “modesty.” It is now fully ensconced in the painting’s history and will not be removed, but conservators will use the latest imaging techniques to digitally remove the drapery and reveal Artemisia’s original vision.

Casa Buonarroti was bought by the great Renaissance master Michelangelo in 1508. It was not his primary residence, but he lived there for some time when he was in Florence. He let his nephew Leonardo move in around 1540. He lived there, later with his wife and children, until his death in 1599. Leonardo’s third son was born in that house in 1568, four years after Michelangelo’s death. He was dubbed Michelangelo the Younger after his illustrious great-uncle.

After his father’s death, the Younger undertook extensive renovations on the old family home, enlarging it and hiring the premier artists of the time to adorn it. For the home’s long gallery, he had the coffers in the ceiling painted with different scenes from the life and artistry of Michelangelo the Elder. Artemisia Gentileschi was one of the artists chosen. She was making a splash on the artistic scene in Florence, and Michelangelo the Younger played a big role in that. He was a personal friend of the family, and had in fact happened to be visiting Rome when Artemisia was born and was present for her birth. He considered her a great talent and like a daughter to him. He helped launch her career in Florence after she left Rome, introducing her to high-powered, deep-pocketed members of Florence’s art-buying elite, commissioning work and promoting her talent at the Medici court. For the Allegory, he payed her more than three times what he paid the other artists who painted the coffers in the gallery.

Michelangelo the Younger’s nephew Lionardo inherited the family home. In the early 1680s, he commissioned the artist Baldassarre Franceschini, aka Volterrano, to drape a lap blanket and a veil over Artemisia’s Allegory. Lionardo was concerned about that the naked lady on the ceiling was indecorous for in his home where his wife and “a crowd of young boys” lived. That deed was done with the painting in situ, so the Allegory has not been removed from the ceiling since its creation until now.

Restorers took the painting down and installed it in one of the museum’s halls where it will be studied and conserved in public view from October 2022 to April 2023. Every Friday, conservators at work will answer questions from the public. A companion exhibition at Casa Buonarroti will run from September 2023 to January 2024.

“Through working photographs, diagnostic imaging and analysis, we will be able to determine the exact technique Artemisia used, correctly map the work’s condition, and monitor our treatment plan for the painting,” says US Florence-based conservator Elizabeth Wicks, who heads the project’s state-of-the art team comprising expert technicians and restoration scientists, under the supervision of Casa Buonarroti Director Alessandro Cecchi and Jennifer Celani, official for the Archaeological Superintendence for the Fine Arts and Landscape for the metropolitan city of Florence. “Due to the historic nature of the repaints, it is not possible to remove them from the surface, but the scope of our diagnostics will facilitate the creation of a virtual image of the original that lies beneath the surface of the painting, as we see it today,” Wicks explains. “Next week, we start our virtual journey ‘beneath the veil’ under diffuse and raking light sources, followed by UV and infrared research. Hypercolormetric Multispectral Imaging and examination by digital microscope will then help us learn as much as possible about the condition of the original painting technique and the later repaints. X-ray and high-resolution reflectography and other analytical techniques will follow.”