Officer’s folio found on HMS Erebus

After two years on hold due to COVID-19, the excavation of Captain John Franklin’s ill-fated flagship, HMS Erebus, picked up again this year, providing new insights into the lives of the 129 crew who died in the doomed 1845 expedition to find the elusive Northwest Passage. This year’s field work by Parks Canada’s underwater archaeologists and the Nattilik Heritage Society’s Inuit Guardians explored what is believed to be Second Lieutenant Henry Thomas Dundas le Vesconte’s cabin and continued the excavation of the Third Lieutenant’s cabin and the Captain’s Steward’s pantry.

In April and May, archaeologists and Guardians established an ice camp and used a remotely operated vehicle to collect images and data of the ship 36 feet under the surface. Then in September the team explored the site in person. Over the source of 11 days, the team made 56 individual dives of about two hours each, recovering 275 artifacts from the wreck, including a lens from a pair of glasses, tableware complete with platters and serving dishes, epaulettes from an lieutenant’s uniform still in their box and a green box containing a set of drafting implements, part of the map-making kit of the Second Lieutenant. The stand-out find, however, is a leather-bound notebook that could contain invaluable records of the voyage.

“It’s probably the most remarkable find of the summer,” said [Ryan] Harris, one of the Parks Canada team of archaeologist divers who have been excavating Franklin’s two lost ships since they were found under the Arctic seas.

“We came across a folio — a leather book cover, beautifully embossed — with pages inside. It actually has the feather quill pen still tucked inside the cover like a journal that you might write in and put on your bedside table before turning in.”

Maybe it’s just an inventory of stores or someone’s laundry list. It was found in the pantry. Or maybe it’s more.

“We’re quite excited at the tantalizing possibility that this artifact might have written materials inside,” Harris said. “It’s being analyzed in the lab now.”

The leather folio first emerged when Ryan was dredging the sediment off the wreck. He saw the pages wafting in the water and stopped immediately. It is so delicate and precious that he excavated it with a spoon.

The exploration of Erebus is still in the early stages, with only a few square feet of the wreck explored thus far. And that’s the easy one! Franklin’s other ship, HMS Terror, commanded by Captain Francis Crozier is twice as deep under the icy waters of the aptly named Terror Bay. Its depth actually keeps it safer from the elements than Erebus, so for now the focus is on monitoring, excavating and conserving the more exposed wreck.

Rare Nativity by Renaissance master saved for UK just in time for Christmas

An extremely rare 16th century Nativity by Baldassare Tommaso Peruzzi has been acquired by the National Museums NI, saving it for the UK after an temporary export bar prevented it leaving the country. The £277,990 necessary to buy the piece were raised from contributions by the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Art Fund, Department for Communities NI and the Esme Mitchell Trust.

Peruzzi was a Sienese painter who worked in the Rome in the early 16th century and was a peer and collaborator of Old Masters Raphael and Bramante. He was a true Renaissance man, an able architect, draftsman, theater set designer and painter. Peruzzi was considered an accomplished and innovative architect and artist, employed by the elite of Rome including Popes Julius II and Paul III. He was so highly esteemed by his contemporaries that he was buried in Rome’s Pantheon next to Raphael.

Most of his paintings were frescoes and have been lost to history, and what few painted works of his have survived are in Italy. The Nativity is the only one in the UK.

Painted on wood panel around 1515, the Nativity is depicted as a night scene, an unusual approach for the period. Peruzzi’s innovations in this work — the nocturnal setting, the side lighting — would be adopted a decade later by the likes of Parmigianino, marking it an important transitional piece in the art of Renaissance Italy. It also illustrates Peruzzi’s keen understanding of ancient architecture in the curved façade of its ruined folly behind Joseph.

The painting is currently undergoing conservation at the National Gallery in London.

Anne Stewart, Senior Curator of Art at National Museums NI said:
National Museums NI is delighted that this remarkable painting will be part of our collection which has been made possible with the help and generosity of our partners and funders. Currently, there are no High Renaissance paintings in any public collection in Northern Ireland, so this is truly a Christmas gift to our audiences. We look forward to welcoming visitors to the Ulster Museum when it goes on display in 2023.

Rare Viking grave unearthed in Oslo

A richly furnished Viking grave has been unearthed in western Oslo, the first Viking-era grave replete with artifacts to be archaeologically excavated in the Norwegian capital.

It was discovered on private property on a hill overlooking the Holmendammen pond. Plans to build a new home triggered an excavation of the site by the Oslo Municipality Cultural Heritage Management Office who uncovered the grave under a thin layer of topsoil.

The burial contained cremated human remains and a panoply of grave goods including fragments of a soapstone vessel, a penannular brooch, a sickle, two knives, horse tack that may have been a bridle and a bell and a shield boss. The metal boss would have been in the center of a wooden shield when it was first buried, but now the wood has all rotted away leaving only the shield boss.

The remains have not yet been radiocarbon dated, but the penannular brooch is of a type that were produced between 850 A.D. and the 11th century, mapping rather neatly with the Viking Age (800-1066 A.D.). The brooch is large of a type that was typically used to fasten men’s capes. The shield boss also points to the deceased having been an adult man.

[University of Oslo archaeologist Zanette Tsigaridas] Glørstad says this is the first artefact-rich Viking grave in Oslo that has been excavated by archaeologists. But many objects that can be linked to Viking graves have been found by, among others, construction workers in Oslo over the years.

Glørstad says that they are aware of the discovery of remains from around 60 graves from the Viking Age in Oslo. Most were found around the turn of the century in 1900 when the town expanded to St.Hanshaugen, Grünerløkka, Bjølsen, Tåsen and Sinsen.

These involve many individual items that can perhaps be connected to a grave, and in some cases they are found in a pile or together with burnt bones, says Glørstad.

The artifacts recovered from the grave are heavily corroded and are currently undergoing treatment and analysis in the conservation lab of the University of Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History. The cremated human remains are also being studied, but they were burned thoroughly so no DNA will be able to be extracted from the charred bone fragments.

Judge hits Herefordshire Viking hoard looters where it hurts

George Powell and Layton Davies, the metal detecting looters who stole the Herefordshire Viking hoard, will have to pay through the nose for their greed. Convicted of theft and concealment in 2019, Powell and Davies were sentenced to long prison terms (10 years and 8.5 years respectively). Now a judge has ordered them to cough up more than £600,000 apiece within three months or an additional five years will be added to their sentences.

The hoard of Anglo-Saxon coins, jewelry and silver ingots, buried in the late 9th century, was discovered in 2015 in a field in Eye, near Leominster, Herefordshire, on private property which Powell and Davies did not have permission to scan. They hid the find and made arrangements to sell this archaeological treasure on the black market. By the time authorities became aware of it (thanks to these clowns posting a picture on a metal detecting website of the hoard in situ), most of the coins and all but one ingot were scattered to the four winds. Only 29 of the estimated 300 coins were recovered, a tragic loss considering that the few remaining coins contain extremely rare “Two-Emperor” pennies commemorating an alliance between Alfred the Great of Wessex and Ceolwulf II of Mercia.

Coin dealer Simon Wicks who fenced some of their loot was also convicted of concealment and sentenced to five years in jail. Judge Nicholas Cartwright believes the that Powell and Davies are still holding out on the authorities, that they are still hiding the 270 missing coins or that they at least know where they are. That’s why he’s hitting them in the only place they care about: their wallets.

When the men were sentenced, the judge said that if they had obtained the correct permission they would have gone on to receive up to half the £3m value of the hoard between them.

He said he rejected their accounts that the items were with other people and an auction house in Austria and said the men deliberately stole items.

“They acted together dishonestly. They jointly stole the items and jointly intended to split and sell the bracelet,” Judge Cartwright said.

The 29 coins, one silver ingot, a gold arm bangle with a clasp in the shape of a beast head, a rock crystal sphere encased in an ornately decorated openwork gold frame-like cage believed to be of Frankish manufacture and a gold octagonal ring with black niello inlay are what remains of the hoard at this time. The group is currently on display at Hereford’s Museum Resource and Learning Centre and thanks to a successful fundraising campaign, it will stay in Herefordshire. Funds have been allocated to redevelop the Hereford Museum and Art Gallery (HMAG) into a state-of-the-art cultural destination and the Viking hoard will be its centerpiece.

Medieval gold lynxes to go on display

A pair of medieval gold earrings shaped like lynxes with minutely intricate decoration are going on display for the first time since they were discovered near the medieval Armenian city of Ani in eastern Turkey.

Ani was founded in the 5th century on a hill overlooking the Akhurian River, the modern border between Turkey and Armenia, at the intersection of several important trade routes on the Silk Road. It prospered and grew over the centuries, reaching its peak in the 11th century as the capital of the Bagratid Armenian kingdom with a population of 100,000 inside the citadel walls. The walls could not ultimately defend it from the onslaught of the Mongols in 1236. They sacked the city, leaving it much reduced in population, and an earthquake in 1319 did even more damage to Ani’s famed churches, monasteries and palaces. Shifting trade routes lessened Ani’s regional prominence, and by the end of the 17th century it had become a ghost town.

The gold lynx earrings were discovered in the village of Subatan, less than 10 miles away from Ani on the Silk Road route that traverses the ruins of the citadel. They weigh 22 grams and are decorated with star, teardrop and crescent shapes applied in granulation technique. They are exquisite examples of medieval Armenian art. The museum acquired the earrings in 1994, but they have been kept in protective storage.

Yavuz Çetin, director of Kars Archaeology and Ethnography Museum, told Anadolu Agency (AA) that Kars has hosted many civilizations throughout history as it is located on the border of countries and is on the historical Silk Road’s route. […]

Çetin noted that people have benefited from animals throughout history and attributed physical or characteristic meanings to them.

“The lynx from the feline family is one of these animals. People were influenced by the ferocity and power of this animal and used it in artistic elements,” he said. “The existence of the lynx is also known in our Kars region.”

They will be exhibited next year at the Kars Archaeology and Ethnography Museum.