Alexandria’s first Roman civil basilica found

July 11th, 2011

Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities officials announced that archaeologists have discovered the first Roman-era civil basilica built in Alexandria. It was found during a five month excavation in the in Semouha district that ended in May when the team hit underground water.

Constructed in the wake of the Augustan conquest of Egypt that ended the reign of the Ptolemies, the basilica was built directly on top of the ruins of a Ptolemaic temple dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis and the Graeco-Egyptian deities Serapis and Harpocrates.

Mohamed Mostafa, director general of Alexandria antiquities, said that excavations have also uncovered two parallel rows of granite and lime stones as well as parts of granite pillars that give the impression that these items were once part of a larger building that can be dated to the Roman period. Early investigations, said Mostafa, reveal that it could be a court, a club, or for trade activities.

For his part, Osama El-Nahas, head of the excavation mission, asserted that unearthing a number of terracotta statues onsite, featuring the goddess Isis breastfeeding her son, and the god Serapis, without religious objects surrounding them, suggests that such an edifice was a Roman civil basilica.

El-Nahas added that the Ptolemaic temple found underneath the basilica was one of two temples mentioned by historian Strabo when he was describing the area during his visit to Alexandria in 24 AD. [...]

“It is a unique discovery in Alexandria,” Minister of State for Antiquities Zahi Hawass told Ahram Online, adding that it is the first time that a civil basilica was found in Alexandria and that it confirms that the area of Al-Baron is the one mentioned by Strabo as Usis province.

The excavation also uncovered a number of ovens, a lead statue of a knight on horseback, and a group of clay lamps decorated with human features. It seems like the basilica, or at least the area, was being used for religious purposes centuries later, though, because there were a series of clay vessels found filled with human bones. The bones date to the 6th c. A.D. and are of youths between 25 and 30 years of age.

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Venta Icenorum bought for public ownership

July 10th, 2011

The Norfolk Archaeological Trust (NAT), thanks to grants from National Heritage, English Heritage and the South Norfolk Council, has purchased the rolling green farmland above the archaeological site of Venta Icenorum, an ancient Roman town outside the modern Norfolk village of Caistor St. Edmund. NAT already has 120 acres of the area under conservation, but the west side of the Roman town was under immediate danger from intense agriculture and unauthorised metal detecting. The purchase of the remaining 55 acres means the whole ancient town is now in public hands.

Only a few banks and fragments of stone walls remain above ground, but beneath the earth there are extensive remains of the Roman town where the mutinous Iceni eventually settled down to live in regularly planned houses and streets.

The crop marks also reveal the end of the straight Roman road from Colchester – so they could march straight up to crush any further stirrings of insurrection. [...]

The land has now been bought with grants of £374,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund – a fund of last resort, which is administered by the Heritage Lottery Fund, but can move faster when a case is seen as urgent – along with £40,000 from English Heritage and £20,000 from South Norfolk council, and money raised by the Norfolk Archaeological Trust, a rare move to bring an archaeology site into public ownership, and the first time the NHMF has bought a site purely for its archaeological value.

Venta Icenorum, meaning “market town of the Iceni,” is a site of rare historical significance. It is though to have been the capital of the Iceni tribe, the tribe that famously revolted against Roman occupation under warrior queen Boudica in 60-61 A.D. A planned Roman town is built on top of earlier Iceni and Iron Age remains. The Roman town built on both sides of the river Tas was an important one politically as it was the capital of Norfolk and Suffolk. Archaeologically it is invaluable because of it is one of only three remaining buried sites in Britain (the other two are Silchester in Hampshire and Wroxeter Roman City in Shropshire) that were never built on by successive settlements.

This is the only one of the three which was also inhabited by Anglo-Saxons after the collapse of Roman control. There is evidence that Venta Icenorum was used by Anglo-Saxons as a market town until it was eventually abandoned in favor of burgeoning Norwich some time after the 5th century. Venta was left to overgrow and provide grazing ground for sheep.

The site is an archaeological gold mine, in other words, a rare opportunity to study the lives of pre-Roman, Roman and Anglo-Saxon Britain and the transitional periods between them without have to deal with medieval through modern habitation and reconstruction. The west and east sides of the town will be reconnected and the entire site will be an open-air archaeological museum open to the public.

The extent of the remains of Venta Icenorum were first realized on July 20, 1928, by the crew of a RAF airplane photographing the area from the sky. That summer was exceptionally dry and the barley that had been planted over the hard structures ripened early, leaving the street plan of the Roman town clearly outlined by the parched white grain. For the first time building like a pair of twin temples in the center. The pictures were published in The Times a year later and the first archaeological excavation of the site followed shortly thereafter.

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Rare Viking silver hoard found in Furness

July 9th, 2011

A local metal detectorist in Furness, northwest England, uncovered a hoard of Viking silver this May. The hoard includes 92 silver coins, including two Arabic dirhams, several ingots and an almost complete silver bracelet. The dirhams, a silver coin circulating in 10th century, are only the fourth and fifth ever reported to have been found.

Experts believe the hoard was interred in the mid-10th century during a period when Viking invaders had established settlements in the area. Despite a panoply of local place names — including Furness itself — of Old Norse derivation, here hasn’t been a great deal of evidence for a strong Norse presence found in the region, just occasional individual artifacts. This is the largest collection of Viking material ever discovered in Furness, and from a critical transitional period between invasion and settlement.

British Museum Viking expert Dr Gareth Williams said: “On the basis of the information and photographs that I have seen so far, this is a fascinating hoard.

“By the mid-950s, most of England had become integrated into a single kingdom, with a regulated coinage, but this part of the north-west was not integrated into the English kingdom until much later, and the hoard reflects that. It is a good reminder of how much finds like this can tell us about the history of different parts of the country.”

The British Museum is studying the hoard right now. Once it’s declared treasure by a coroner’s inquest, it will be officially valued and local museums given the chance to purchase it. The Dock Museum in Barrow, the museum closest to the discovery, is hoping they will be able to buy the hoard and keep it in the area in which was found. Before it moved to the BM for the treasure investigation, the hoard was kept at the Dock Museum.

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Lost Leonardo da Vinci painting discovered

July 8th, 2011

There are a grand total of 14 oil paintings in the world known to have been painted by Leonardo da Vinci, or rather there were 14. Now there are 15 because a Leonardo that was lost centuries ago has been authenticated by experts from the US and UK. The painting depicts Christ as the Salvator Mundi, the Savior of the World, facing forwards with two fingers of his right hand raised in blessing and a crystal globe in his left hand. It’s oil on a walnut panel and is 2 x 1.5 feet (26 x 18 inches, 66 x 45 cm) in size.

The Salvator Mundi was a well-known painting when Leonardo first made it around 1500. That’s why we still know of it despite its having dropped out of circulation for hundreds of years, because there are multiple copies made by his students and other artists in his style. Several of these copies have been put forth as the lost original, but scholars disagreed and none of them was widely accepted. There are also two preparatory drawings by Leonardo in the Royal Library at Windsor which show the drapery of Christ’s robe and raised arm just as seen in the painting.

Our best historical reference is a detailed etching made in 1650 by Wenceslaus Hollar, who was commissioned to make the copy by Henrietta Maria, Queen of England, widow of the freshly decapitated English King Charles I. Hollar captioned the etching “Leonardus da Vinci pinxit. Wenceslaus Hollar fecit Aqua forti, secundum originale. Ao 1650.” (Translation: “Leonardo da Vinci painted it. Wenceslaus Hollar made it out of strong water [ie, nitric acid used for the etching], according to the original. Year 1650.”) There’s a record of the painting in Charles I’s collection in 1649, so it seems Hollar made his drawing from Leonardo’s completed original.

It was sold after the King’s execution but returned to the crown when he son, Charles II, was restored to the monarchy in 1660. From there it went into the Duke of Buckingham’s collection and then dropped out of sight after his son sold it in 1763. The painting cropped up again in 1900 but was very much the worse for wear. It had been overpainted, varnished, poorly restored and damaged past the point of recognition. You can see the repainting in the black and white picture (right) taken after 1900 but before 1912.

When British collector Sir Frederick Cook purchased it that year, he didn’t know it was a Leonardo. It was exhibited as a “Milanese School” painting from ca. 1500 when Sir Frederick put his collection of old masters on display in the 40s. It was attributed to Leonardo’s talented student Boltraffio when the trustees of the Cook collection put the painting up for auction at Sotheby’s London in 1958 after Sir Frederick’s death. It earned them 45 shiny pounds. (You know they are collectively beating themselves in the face right about now.)

Salvator Mundi was in an American private collection from that point until 2005, when it was purchased from what appears to be a consortium of art dealers, but the owners are keeping fairly mum about it. They commissioned New York art historian and dealer Robert Simon to study the piece and he saw through the repaint, dirt, varnish and tragic cleanings past to the details of Leonardo-level quality like the pattern of the stole and the bubbles in the crystal orb.

They still didn’t think it was an actual Leonardo original at that point. It was only after years of cleaning and restoration that the full beauty of the painting gradually revealed itself. In the fall of 2007, they called in the big Leonardo guns.

At that time, the painting was viewed by Mina Gregori (University of Florence) and Nicholas Penny (Director, National Gallery, London; then Curator of Sculpture, National Gallery of Art, Washington). In 2008, the painting was studied at The Metropolitan Museum of Art by museum curators Carmen Bambach, Andrea Bayer, Keith Christiansen, and Everett Fahy, and by Michael Gallagher, head of the Department of Paintings Conservation. In late May 2008, the painting was taken to the National Gallery in London, where it could be directly compared with Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks of approximately the same date. Several specialist Leonardo scholars were also invited to study the two paintings together. These included Carmen Bambach, David Alan Brown (Curator of Italian Painting, National Gallery of Art, Washington), Maria Teresa Fiorio (Raccolta Vinciana, Milan), Martin Kemp (University of Oxford), Pietro C. Marani (Professor of Art History at the Politecnico di Milano), and the gallery’s Curator of Italian paintings Luke Syson. More recently, following the completion of conservation treatment in 2010, the painting has again been studied in New York by several of the above, as well as by David Ekserdjian (University of Leicester).

The study and examination of the painting by these scholars resulted in an unequivocal consensus that the Salvator Mundi was painted by Leonardo da Vinci, and that it is the single original painting from which the many copies and versions depend. Individual opinions vary slightly in the matter of dating. Most place the painting at the end of Leonardo’s Milanese period in the late 1490s, contemporary with the completion of the Last Supper. Others believe it to be slightly later, painted in Florence (where Leonardo moved in 1500), contemporary with the Mona Lisa.

The experts were convinced this was the real Salvator Mundi because of its stylistic adherence to Leonardo’s known work, the high quality execution, its matching the Windsor preparatory drawings and Hollar’s etching, how much better it is than the 20 known copies, plus the discovery of pentimenti, first ideas for the work that were painted over but not seen in the etching or in the copies. The science — chemical analysis of the paint, colors and wood — confirms that the materials are consistent with those used in other works known to be Leonardo’s.

They were so decisively persuaded, in fact, that Salvator Mundi will be shown for the first time at London’s National Gallery Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan show, an unprecedented exhibition of work from Leonardo’s years at the court of Ludovico Sforza, ruler of Milan. Seven of the now 15 known Leonardo paintings will be on display in this show. To say that is unprecedented is an understatement. That’s half of all the remaining Leonardos in one place, one of them the first new Leonardo painting found since 1909, when the Benois Madonna was discovered.

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Stone Age humans buried in Tomb of the Otters

July 7th, 2011

At least a thousand human bones have been found along with otter bones and feces in a 5000-year-old tomb in the Orkney Islands, an archipelago north of Scotland. Property owner Hamish Mowatt discovered the tomb last year when he broke a small hole through the capstones in the ceiling of the tomb and dropped a camera down into the opening. He saw what looked like a human skull floating in water. He reported it to the authorities and a team from the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) came to excavate the site.

In the initial excavation last fall, archaeologists found that the tomb was composed of five chambers that had been built into a rock outcropping by Stone Age inhabitants. Although there was some damage done by modern construction work, the tomb was intact, several of the chambers still sealed. This made the ORCA team happy because it’s been 30 years since an intact tomb was found, so this might be their first chance to recover human remains that would allow the use of modern techniques like isotope analysis and DNA testing to learn more about Orkey’s Neolithic people. They were able to recover the remains of eight people.

Hard rain and wind coupled with a shifting water depth in the tomb kept the initial exploration to a short two weeks, so archaeologists returned this April. That when they found that the bones numbered at least a thousand, possibly twice that many, and belonged to a mixed group of woman, men, children, even babies. They appear to have been buried over the course of many generations, with layers of silt interspersed suggesting there were periods when it was not in use, perhaps due to flooding.

They also found that layered between the human bones were the skeletal and fecal remains of otters. The tomb, officially called the Banks Tomb, was thus dubbed the Tomb of the Otters, as a companion to a well-known Neolithic tomb nearby called the Tomb of the Eagles. The otters were either using the tomb as their own disposal unit since it was built, or the otter remains were deliberately placed there over the years for ceremonial reasons unknown to us.

So far the excavations, led by the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology, have “barely scratched the surface,” [Julie Gibson, county archaeologist for Orkney,] added. The archaeologist is confident that the site will yield important new clues to Neolithic funerary practices.

For instance, researchers hope that DNA and isotopic analysis of the human bones will reveal if the dead were closely related and came from the same tight-knit island community or if the burials include newcomers from overseas.

Archaeologists will also investigate whether bones were removed from the tomb for ritualistic purposes.

“This burial is absolutely packed with remains, but with most [other Stone Age tombs], there are actually not that many people in them at the end,” Gibson noted.

Time remains a factor. The anaerobic waterlogged conditions have kept the remains from deteriorating thus far, but there’s concern that if the water table drops due to the excavation or to external conditions, the remains will be exposed to oxygen and decay before they can be recovered.

You can behold the glamorous profession of archaeology in all its raw beauty in this fantastic YouTube playlist of dispatches from the last fall’s excavation. They’re all brief, but they do a great job of presenting archaeological methods and discoveries in daily increments. When you’re done with season one, here’s the second dig season.

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Vatican Secret Archives to go on display in Rome

July 6th, 2011

But aren’t they always in Rome, you ask? Geographically yes, but politically the Vatican Secret Archives, the Pope’s private document library and subject of much Dan Brown-based intrigue, have never left the confines of Vatican City before. A hundred handpicked documents covering a thousand years of history on all continents will go on display at Rome’s Capitoline Museums from February to September, 2012, to mark the 400th anniversary of the archive’s founding.

The Archivum Secretum Vaticanum was created by Pope Paul V in 1612. Unlike the Vatican Library, they were the personal archives of the Pope, not a Church department administered by the Curia. In fact its description as “Secretum,” which now has such a delicious air of conspiracy, in its ancient usage connotes privacy, not secrecy. The Secret Archive remained the private domain of the Papacy until 1881, when Pope Leo XIII opened the doors to scholars.

Today the 52 miles of shelves holding primary documents and historical texts going back 1500 years remain available to researchers, but they have to go to the Vatican to peruse them. Come February, some of those documents marking history’s most momentous events, will be shown to the public and they will be shown on the Capitoline Hill, the secular civic center of Rome for thousands of years. That’s two big firsts: the first time the Papacy’s personal archive is opened to public view, and the first time the Vatican is making a loan to a museum in the city of Rome.

The oldest document on display will be the “Dictatus Papae” issued by Pope Gregory VII in 1075 (there’s some debate on the date). It’s a list of 27 axioms that form the basis of papal supremacy. The 1245 bull of deposition of Frederick II in which Pope Innocent IV excommunicated the Holy Roman Emperor for defying that supremacy is also part of the exhibit.

My favorite piece is a letter sent to Pope Clement VII in 1530 by over 80 England lords, bishops and cardinals, asking the Pope to get cracking on annulling the marriage between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. Henry VIII had first asked the Pope to annul the marriage in 1527, the same year that Emperor Charles V, Catherine’s nephew, sacked Rome and imprisoned the Pope. Even after Clement returned to Rome in 1528, he was still very much under pressure from Charles. The letter was an attempt to goose Clement out of his frozen posture. It was written on parchment and has long trailing ribbons containing all the red wax seals of England’s peerage. Clement was not impressed with its undeniable coolness. He thought it presumptuous of the nobles to complain about the delay and he didn’t much appreciate the implication that England would respond to a refusal with extreme measures.

The complete minutes from Galileo Galilei’s 1633 trial, signed by Galileo himself and including his scientific manuscripts, will be on display, as well as two letters that are remarkable perhaps less for their content and more for their material. One is a letter written by Empress Helena of China to Innocent X on silk. The other is inscribed on birch bark and was sent to Pope Leo XIII in 1887 by the Ojibwe Indians of Ontario, Canada who address the pope as “Great Master of Prayer, he who holds the place of Jesus.”

The exhibit doesn’t shy entirely away from more contemporary controversies. Documents describing the World War I-era genocide of Armenians by Ottoman Turkey are included, as are some pieces about Pius XII during World War. The latter is quite the shocker given that documents in the Archive are only currently authorized for perusal up until February 1939, the end of Pius XI’s papacy. Pius XII’s reputation has been tarnished by his public silence on the Holocaust and working relationship with Nazi dictatorship, but the Vatican hasn’t allowed historians to study his records because they are in a “closed period,” the time when access is shut down so Vatican archivists can spend years cataloging and collating.

At the press conference about the exhibit, Bishop Sergio Pagano, Prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives, said that the Armenian genocide documents “cause an irrepressible sense of pain and horror” that “make [him] ashamed to be a man,” and that the documents will soon be published in a single volume. He also noted that he thinks the Pius XII archives will be opened over the next two or three years.

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The Victorian murder victim’s skull in David Attenborough’s garden

July 5th, 2011

Sir David Attenborough, famed BBC nature documentarian and narrator, found a skull in his garden last October. Workers building an addition to his house in Richmond, south west London, were digging in his back garden, formerly the site of the Hole in the Wall pub, when they uncovered the skull. Attenborough called the police and they confirmed after forensic testing that it had belonged to a woman of menopausal age with missing teeth. It was found on Victorian-era tiles, and radiocarbon dating placed it between 1650 and 1880.

There was immediate speculation that this was the long-missing head of Julia Thomas, a wealthy 55-year-old widow who had lived almost exactly where Sir David’s house is now and was murdered by her housekeeper, Kate Webster, in March of 1879. The case caused a sensation at the time because of the grisly method Webster employed to dispose of the body. She sawed off Thomas’ head with a razor and meat saw, cut off her limbs with a carving knife, then cooked the arms, legs and torso in a copper laundry cauldron. Julia Thomas’ internal organs she burned. Two boys later testified that she given some of the products of this macabre cuisine to them as delicious free pig lard. (Yay free pig lard!)

Once the body parts were par-boiled, Webster stuffed them into a wooden box, but she couldn’t make one foot and the head fit. She buried the foot in a nearby manure pile, put the head into a black bag and went to visit her friends the Porters. She told them she had inherited a bounty and wanted help selling Once there, she went out again carrying the black bag with her. When she returned to her friends’ house she was bagless. She brought their son Robert back home with her to help her with some stuff, some stuff being the dumping of the wooden box full of boiled corpse. Robert and Kate carried the box to Richmond Bridge. She told him someone was meeting her there to pick it up and shooed him off, then he heard a splash and a few minutes later she caught up with him.

All this time, Webster was a frequent visitor to the Hole in the Wall pub, among other purveyors of strong drink, sometimes wearing Thomas’ clothing. She even called herself Mrs. Thomas when trying to sell her things. The neighbors reported smelling a foul stench coming from the house.

The box was found in the Thames at Barnes Bridge the next day by coal man Henry Wheatley. At first he thought it was butcher’s off-cuts, but when the authorities realized they were human remains, the story made the news as the Barnes Mystery. Julia Thomas hadn’t been reported missing yet but once the story was in the papers, Robert Porter told his father Henry about the box he carried and the splash he heard. Then Webster sold the contents of Thomas’ house to a friend of Henry Porter’s, pub owner John Church, and Mrs. Church found Julia’s diary, purse and a letter from a Mr. Menhennick in one of the dresses.

Church and Porter compared notes and went to call on Mr. Menhennick. Together with Menhennick’s lawyer, the three men went to the police with their evidence that the Barnes Mystery body was Julia Thomas, and her murderer Kate Webster. The police searched the Richmond house and found an axe, razor, charred human bones and the missing handle from the wooden box found in the Thames.

Webster had fled to return to her native Ireland, but was captured and returned to Richmond for trial. She at first blamed it all on John Church, but he had an excellent alibi so charges against him were dropped. She denied her guilt throughout the trial but was convicted. Prior to her execution by hanging on the 29th of July, 1879, Kate Webster confessed to a priest.

“We had an argument which ripened into a quarrel, and in the height of my anger and rage I threw her from the top of the stairs to the ground floor. She had a heavy fall. I felt that she was seriously injured and I became agitated at what had happened, lost all control of myself and to prevent her screaming or getting me into trouble, I caught her by the throat and in the struggle choked her.”

Then dismembered her, boiled her, impersonated her and stole all her stuff.

Acting Detective Inspector David Bolton testified about the circumstances of Julias Thomas’ murder and Kate Webster’s trial at the coroner’s inquest in West London Coroners Court, using period Old Bailey and prison records as well as the results of modern forensic analysis.

ADI Bolton said there was ‘strong circumstantial evidence’ that the skull, which had fracture marks consistent with the fall down the stairs and low collagen levels consistent with it being boiled , belonged to Mrs Thomas.

Coroner Alison Thompson said: Putting all the circumstantial evidence together there is clear, convincing and compelling evidence that this is Julia Martha Thomas. Doing as ‘best she could’ she recorded the cause of death as asphyxia by strangulation and a head injury.

Despite extensive attempts by ADI Bolton, who was commended by the coroner for his work, no family could be traced.

Julia Thomas’ head will at long last now be given a decent burial.

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The Art of War at Fort Ticonderoga

July 4th, 2011

Fort Ticonderoga map, 1758Fort Ticonderoga, built by the French at the south end of Lake Champlain in upstate New York at the beginning of the Seven Years’ War in 1755, is the site of some near-legendary battles. One, when in July 1758 the small French garrison defeated a British force five times their number, held the dubious record for being the bloodiest battle in American history until the Civil War. Another occurred when Ethan Allan, his Green Mountain Boys and Benedict Arnold leading Massachusetts and Connecticut militias took the fort from the British garrison on May 10, 1775.

Less than a month after Lexington and Concord and over a year before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the capture of Fort Ticonderoga was the first American victory of the Revolution. The weapons and heavy artillery recovered from the fort were used to lift the siege of Boston, and Ethan Allan claiming all the credit for taking the fort was a slight that Benedict Arnold never forgot, an important rung in the ladder to his eventual betrayal of the nascent United States.

Fort Ticonderoga's dilapidated Officer's Quarters, late 19th c.In the years following the Revolutionary War, the fort became property of the State of New York, which donated it to local universities, which in 1820 sold it to merchant William Ferris Pell, scion of a wealthy and politically influential family. It would be the Pells who undertook a program of complete restoration of the fort, 91 years after they bought it. It was in desperate condition by then. The British had abandoned it after their defeat in the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, destroying many of its fortifications and buildings on the way out. They withdrew permanently after the surrender at Yorktown in 1781, and then the locals moved in to harvest stone and metal for construction. You can see some late 19th century pictures of Ticonderoga’s dilapidated condition in the Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic pictures at the New York Public Library.

In 1909, Stephen H.P. Pell began the full restoration of Fort Ticonderoga. At the same time, his formidable suffragette wife Sarah restored the King’s Garden, a walled formal garden that is widely considered a masterpiece of period garden design, working with landscape architect Marian Cruger Coffin, the first academically trained woman landscape architect in America. Stephen and Sarah Pell also spent decades collecting period art and armaments to create the core of a museum collection. In 1960 the fort would become one of the country’s first National Historic Landmarks, and is today a museum that boasts one of the most extensive collections of 18th century militaria, rivaling even the collections at the Smithsonian and the Tower of London.

"Gelyna, or a View Near Ticonderoga," by Thomas Cole, 1826This summer and fall, however, it’s not the cannon and muskets that are the focus; it’s the museum’s rarely seen art collection. The Art of War: Ticonderoga as Experienced through the Eyes of America’s Great Artists brings together for the first time 50 pieces from the Fort’s collection to provide a visual history of the Fort and its role in American history and American arts. They’ve been on display at different times, but this is the first exhibit that showcases all of the most important paintings in the collection.

The centerpiece of the exhibit is [Hudson River School founder Thomas] Cole’s 1826 work, “Gelyna, or a View Near Ticonderoga.” Considered the fort’s most valuable and important piece, the painting depicts a fictionalized scene of a British officer coming to the aid of a wounded comrade lying on a wilderness outcropping, while smoke rises in the distant background from the 1758 Battle of Ticonderoga. It’s the earliest known piece signed by Cole, an English-born artist regarded as the founder of the 19th-century American art movement known as the Hudson River School.

“Once his work gained popularity, it seemed the artists who were doing these types of dramatic landscapes began to copy his style,” Fox said.

"The Art of War" exhibit at Fort TiconderogaIt’s not just romanticized war scenes and portraits of George Washington painted by American masters, though. There are also images made during war by the people fighting it. Two powder horns are on display, engraved by the soldiers who carried them with maps and images of what they saw before them. One powder horn was engraved in 1759 with a map of the British siege works outside the fort.

“They can be very important documents of what people were actually seeing,” [Curator of Collections Christopher] Fox said. “I included two powder horns in this exhibit to make the point that art isn’t just paintings and prints that you hang on the wall.”

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The History of English in Ten Minutes

July 3rd, 2011

The Open University is a UK school of higher learning that has no formal entry requirements for admission. The idea is to make learning available to everyone of any age and walk of life, no matter where they live. You don’t have to wait to graduate high school to enroll at OU, and there is no age limit. There are no dorms, no residential component at all, but at more than 250,000 students the OU is the largest university in the UK. Since it was founded in 1969, over 1.6 million people have taken at least one Open University course.

In keeping with their mission of widening access to university-level study, the OU has a put a wealth of materials online. They have a database of research papers that is freely accessible to the public — Open Research Online — and OpenLearn makes available online, free of charge, learning materials used in coursework at The Open University. It’s not accredited so you won’t be able to parlay any of the work you do into an OU degree, but it’s an excellent resource for anyone looking to educate themselves on a subject of interest. There are over 500 free courses, from short introductory overviews to 50-hour advanced study programs, across 12 subject areas you can pursue on OpenLearn.

OL also has a YouTube channel, which brings us to reason for this here entry. Without further ado, please enjoy the History of English in (just over) Ten Minutes.

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Hey Look! We made the news!

July 2nd, 2011

Inforum did a follow-up article on the vicissitudes of Orlando Ferguson’s Square and Stationary Earth map and our supersweet comments thread gets a mention as the place where Jeff and Jeannie, each owners of a copy of Ferguson’s map bringing the known total up to four, first found out about each other.

One map owner is Jeff Speaect of Pierre, S.D. In the mid-to-late 1990s, Speaect, a stamp collector, found the map.

Speaect grew up in Oral, S.D., just outside of Hot Springs where the map published by Orlando Ferguson in 1893 originated.

“I found (the map) in an old trunk of my grandparents’,, in a barn,” he said. “I took it to my grandmother, but she had no recollection of it. There are a couple holes in it, but I had it matted and framed, and it’s been on my wall ever since.”

After hearing about Homuth’s article from his father, Speaect then emailed Robert Morris, senior technical information specialist in the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress, about his map – and then Speaect got in touch with Homuth.

On the side, via a thread discussing Homuth’s map on the The History Blog, Speaect found another “Map of the Square and Stationary Earth” owner – Jeanie Keyser of Hanford, Calif.

It’s fascinating to see the separate lines of interest all coming together, with the cherry on top being the connection between Jeanie’s family and Jeff’s upbringing (Oral, South Dakota, near Hot Springs, is Jeff’s hometown and was named after Jeanie’s grandfather). Many “small world” headlines ensued.

The Grand Forks Herald is carrying the story too. We made the local news and we didn’t even have to commit a deplorable crime or teach a dog to walk on its hind legs to do it. :boogie:

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