Museum acquires rare 17th c. stained glass window

July 19th, 2016

M – Museum Leuven and the City of Leuven have acquired an early stained-glass window by 17th century Flemish master Jan de Caumont. Leuven was a center of stained glass production, and while the museum has an extensive collection of pieces from the 15th through the 19th century, it had no single important stained glass window by Jan de Caumont. This piece plugs a major hole in its collection and will join its series of 27 Caumont glass medallions on display.

Jan de Caumont was born in Doullens, Picardy, northern France, in around 1577. He moved to Leuven, then in the Duchy of Brabant which was part of the Spanish Netherlands, and became a citizen in 1607. He married a local girl, Anna Boels, whose family owned a prominent glass workshop. Jan went to work for his wife’s uncle Simon in the workshop and made a name for himself as a glass painter. In 1626, he took over the company and was appointed the official glass painter of the City of Leuven.

He was commissioned to make stained glass for churches and monasteries in Leuven and all over the duchy. His most famous work was a series of 41 windows he made for the Premonstratensian cloister of Park Abbey, a monastery in Heverlee, two miles south of Leuven. Abbot Jean Maes commissioned the windows depicting scenes from the life of Saint Nortbertus, founder of the order, in 1635. Installation was complete by 1644. The monastery was disrupted by the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars, so much so that in order to revive its fortunes, the monastery sold all 41 windows in 1828. They wound up dispersed in museums and private collections in the UK and US. In the 20th century, three complete windows and several pieces were returned to Park Abbey and are now back in the clerestory bays.

The stained glass produced in the Low Countries in the late 16th and early 17th centuries was different from the medieval style in that artists actually painted on the glass rather than composing a mosaic from pieces of different colored glass. This approach allowed painters to create fine details on panes of glass without thick black lead lines. Jan de Caumont painted grey monochrome details (a technique known as grisaille) on both sides of the glass. On the outside, he applied several shades of silver stain and translucent flesh tones. On the inside, he used shades of blue and purple enamel and opaque red paint. To make green, he combined blue enamel on the inside and silver on the outside.

Those techniques are in fine evidence on the window acquired by the M. Made in 1618, it is a rare example of a window from the early part of his career before his appointment as the city glass painter. It’s a donor window, which makes it even more rare since there are few Flemish donor windows and they’re usually smaller than this one or part of a historical building. The donor in question was Margaretha Vekemans, wife of Alexander van den Broeck, a treasurer of Antwerp and one of the wealthiest men in the city. Margaretha and her daughter are depicted in the window. Dressed in the most fashionable finery of the era, with ermine sashes, lace cuffs, majestic ruffs and jewelry, the ladies are on their knees praying. Behind them stand St Agnes and St Elizabeth of Hungary, respectively embracing mother and daughter.

There is a corresponding window featuring Alexander van den Broeck with St John the Baptist. It is now in the church of Saint Gwenllwyfo in Llanwenllwyfo, Anglesey, Wales. Originally both windows are believed to have been donated by the Vekemans/van den Broeck family to the Carthusian monastery in Lier. It was a common practice for wealthy donors to give something beautiful, expensive and very clearly identifiable as coming from them to their favorite church or monastery.

Must Farm excavation concludes

July 18th, 2016

The excavation of the Bronze Age site of Must Farm in the Cambridgeshire Fens comes to an end this week, alas, but so many archaeological remains in exceptional condition have been found, they will be studied for years to come. The unique conditions of the site — round houses built on stilts on the Nene River channel around 3,000 years ago that caught fire and fell into the river where the fire was extinguished and everything was enveloped in the mud of the rising fen — have preserved the largest collection of Bronze Age artifacts ever found in Britain.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said “Over the past 10 months Must Farm has given us an extraordinary window into how people lived 3,000 years ago. Now we know what this small but wealthy Bronze Age community ate, how they made their homes and where they traded. This has transformed our knowledge of Bronze Age Britain, and there is more to come as we enter a post-excavation phase of research. Archaeologists and scientists around the world are learning from Must Farm and it’s already challenged a number of longstanding perceptions.”

We now know that the homes in this Bronze Age settlement were kitted out with enough household products to put Bed, Bath and Beyond to shame. We know they ate a rich and varied diet include wild animals (boar, red deer, freshwater fish) and domesticated (lambs and calves), plus plants and grains including emmer wheat and barley. We know the roundhouses were recently constructed, only around six months old when tragedy struck and they collapsed into the river.

Earlier this year archaeologists found a complete wood wheel, the oldest in the UK. Since then, they’ve discovered even more thrilling artifacts. The textiles alone are unprecedented, an extensive collection of woven fibers from various stages of production. Some of the linen fibers are as fine as a human hair and are incredibly tightly woven.

Must Farm also has one of the largest collections of Bronze Age glass ever discovered. A large number of beads have been found, many of them glass, others made of amber or jet. One cluster of beads were found grouped together probably because they were once on a necklace. There’s even something threaded in between them, so once the beads are examined in the laboratory, the full necklace may reveal itself. Jet and amber could not be sourced locally; they were likely traded from continental Europe and the Middle East.

A wealth of household goods has been recovered, everything from wooden buckets to large platters to loom weights. Whole groups of pots were found in place, left behind mid-use when the fire broke out, some with food still in them. The Must Farm pots come in a dizzying array of shapes and sizes. The largest examples are coarseware, thick-walled clay reinforced with grog, shell and crushed pieces of fired clay. They were used for storage and cooking. The fineware pieces have thin, delicate walls tempered with sand or very fine shell fragments. While very few are decorated and those only with incised lines, many are polished or burnished. The smallest fineware vessels are little round cups no more than six centimeters (2 inches) high. All of the clay pottery was made with the simple technique of coil building (stacking coils of clay) and then turned (rotated on a board and smoothed with fingers). Some of the fragments and pots still have the marks of fingertips on the surface.

The metalwork discovered at Must Farm is exceptional as well, both in terms of preservation and in the discovery context. Most of the Bronze Age metal weapons and tools found come from sacrificial deposits or some other context divorced from daily use. The pieces at Must Farm, on the other hand, were inside the dwellings when they collapsed into the river. They are domestic objects still in the home, not offerings or discards. Add to that the fact that some of the wood sections, like the hafts of axes and spears, have survived and it gives archaeologists a unique opportunity to examine metalwork as it was actually used. One bronze socketed axe with its wooden haft intact, albeit charred by the flames, may be the most beautiful prehistoric axe I’ve ever seen.

The site is just feet away from a working quarry, so it cannot be converted into an open-air archaeological park. The wood timbers from the roof and floor and the wattle panels of the walls of the most intact of the roundhouses have been recovered for conservation and perhaps a future reconstruction, but the site will be reburied to preserve the rest. There are no current plans for a museum exhibition, but discussions are ongoing. So many great artifacts have been recovered there’s more than enough material to populate a whole new museum dedicated to Must Farm.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Must Farm excavation has one of the greatest online presences for an archaeological project I’ve ever seen, if not the greatest. Their Twitter, Facebook and website are neverending sources of fascinating material and photographs. They will continue to be updated as the artifacts are examined, so just because the excavation is over doesn’t mean it’s too late to follow them.

Largest Anglo-Saxon building in Scotland found

July 17th, 2016

Archaeologists and community volunteers excavating the site of Glebe Field in Aberlady, East Lothian, have discovered the foundations of an Anglo-Saxon building that is the largest Anglo-Saxon structure found on Scotland. In April and May of this year, AOC Archaeology Group collaborated with the Aberlady Conservation and History Society to investigate some features of Glebe Field believed to date from the Anglo-Saxon period (7th-10th century). They were hoping to find evidence of a timber building — postholes, imprints left by decayed material — but instead found a large stone feature with a paved area on the south end.

At first they thought it might be roadway between the local church and the coast, but additional excavation revealed it to be the foundation of a large rectangular building. The feature is 20 meters (66 feet) long and four meters (13 feet) wide. The whole building appears to have been 20 by 40 meters (131 feet). The bones of a large mammal found immediately underneath the stones were radiocarbon dated to between the 7th and 9th centuries.

Ian Malcolm, from Aberlady Conservation and History Society, described the first date evidence from the site as “very, very exciting”.

He said: “It is evidence that it was an important and a wealthy site.” [...]

Mr Malcolm said the structure would have to be significant because of the work that would have been undertaken to build it.

He said: “It may have been monastic, or a feast hall or a royal site. There have been other excavations but no evidence of a structure on this scale has been discovered.”

Aberlady was a port city in the Middle Ages (the port has long since silted up), and was a stop on the road between the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne, about 55 miles to the southeast, and the monastery of Iona in the Inner Hebrides 180 miles to the northwest. Significant Anglo-Saxon remains have been found there before. In 1863 a large fragment of an elaborately carved high cross was discovered in the garden wall of the churchyard. Dating to around the 8th century, the whole cross would have been about 17 feet high. The carving is reminiscent of the bird interlace style of decoration in the Lindisfarne Gospels. In the 1980s, more than 300 Anglo-Saxon coins and the greatest number of stray Anglo-Saxon metallic objects ever discovered in Scotland were found in Aberlady.

The area of the feature with the paving as an open gap left unlined that may indicate something monumental once stood there, perhaps even the base of the Aberlady Cross.

Close to the buildings, archaeologists and volunteers unearthed the remains of small walled structures. A number of large animal bones and shells were found within these walls. The team also discovered a small iron knife blade, of a size that suggests it was used more as a tool than a weapon, perhaps for working leather. Other artifacts found in the cells were an early 9th century Anglo-Saxon coin, an antler carved with the head of an animal or bird, additional antler pieces, a bone comb and a broken piece of bone that appears to have been used to practice decoration techniques for the comb. The style of the comb dates it to the 6th-8th centuries. Because of the nature of the finds inside the small structures, archaeologists believe they may have been workshops.

The group hopes to continue excavations at the site later in the year, but as the site of a scheduled ancient monument, first Historic Environment Scotland must be consulted and give its approval to the intervention.

Sewer workers find Hercules mosaic in Cyprus

July 16th, 2016

Workers digging an extension of a sewer line in Larnaca on the southern coast of Cyprus last month uncovered a large Roman mosaic depicting the Labours of Hercules. Archaeologists took over to excavate the unique work and have thus far unearthed a section 19 meters (62 feet) long by seven meters (23 feet) wide.

The mosaic appears to be part of a baths complex, Antiquities Department Chief Marina Solomidou-Ieronymidou said, adding that it has five sections but only two have been fully uncovered. Crews may have to encroach on private property to unearth more of the baths complex.

Solomonidou-Ieronymidou said it’s the first time that a mosaic has been discovered on the eastern Mediterranean island depicting the 12 Labors of Hercules, difficult tasks that the mythological demi-god had to perform as penance for killing his wife and children when the goddess Hera made him temporarily insane.

The Antiquities Department says the mosaic’s discovery offers important evidence that ancient Kition, on which modern-day Larnaca is built, played a significant role in the establishment of Roman culture in the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.

Kition was founded by Achaean colonists in the 13th century B.C. and was subsequently ruled by Mycenae, Assyria, Phoenicia, Egypt, Persia, and Macedonian general Ptolemy and his descendants, also rulers of Egypt. It became a Roman province in 58 B.C. with a brief interlude back in Ptolemaic hands when Marc Antony declared Cleopatra and Caesarion, her son by Julius Caesar, Queen and King of Cyprus as part of the Donations of Alexandria in 34 B.C. After Antony and Cleopatra’s defeat at the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C., Cyprus returned to Roman control. When the Roman Empire was divided into Western and Eastern in 395 A.D., Cyprus went to the Eastern Empire. It remained Byzantine until the 12th century when it was taken by King Richard the Lionheart of England and became one of the crusader states ruled by Guy de Lusignan and his descendants until 1474. Venice took it from them and the Ottoman Empire took it from Venice in 1571.

Kition, meanwhile, suffered most at the hands of natural disasters. Two massive earthquakes in 322 and 342 A.D. all but leveled the city. Larnaca was built on its ruins but because the harbour had silted over, it moved a little to the south following the new shoreline. The ancient ruins of Kition began to be systematically excavated in the 1920s. Its most ancient remains are Achaean defensive walls from the 13th century B.C. and temples and parts of their Cyclopean walls from the Mycenaean period. Remains have been found from the Assyrian and Phoenician periods as well, including the famous stele of Sargon II, now in the Berlin State Museums, and Phoenician funerary stele now in the British Museum. More than 3,000 tombs were unearthed in a massive Phoenician-era necropolis.

And yet, even with 400 years of Roman rule under its historical belt, Kition has next to no archaeological material to show for it. That’s why the discovery of the mosaic is so significant. It’s not just an important artwork with a theme that has not been found before on Cyprus, but the only remains of a large-scale public building from the Roman period found in Larnaca.

There was some discussion of leaving the mosaic in place, rerouting the road and creating an open-air museum that might prove as much of a draw to tourists as the exquisite mosaic floors found in the remains of four Roman villas in Paphos on the west coast of Cyprus. Larnaca’s Deputy Mayor Petros Christodoulou was quoted as saying “This finding is too important and precious to cover over, or to remove and set up again in another place.” Communications minister Marios Demetriades apparently disagrees, since he told the press on Thursday that the mosaic would suffer damage from water and the elements if it were left in place, so it will be moved to a new dedicated wing of the Archaeological Museum of the Larnaka District. The Department of Antiquities’ very brief statement on the find avoids the question altogether.

Mummified macaw head found in Chihuahua cave

July 15th, 2016

The ancient mummified head of a macaw has been found in a cave in a suburb of San Francisco de Borja, Chihuahua northern Mexico. It was discovered by the what was likely a funerary context. Manuel Rodriguez and his son were leveling the floor of a cave on his property when they came across archaeological remains and artifacts. Though they notified archaeologists of the discovery, unfortunately residents collected objects to hand over rather than leaving the context unmarred. The recovered materials include two adult skulls, several long bones, human hair, a basket, a textile, cotton string, the woven base of a vessel or basket, worked deerskin that may have been part of a bag or a loincloth, a snail and the head of the macaw.

The textile, basketry materials and the head of the macaw are in an excellent state of preservation. The conditions inside the cave naturally mummified the bird remains, even as the human remains were skeletonized. The feathers on the macaw’s head are still bright green. According to the locals who rashly scooped up the objects, the rest of the macaw’s body was also found on the site, but they only picked up the head, leaving the body pieces behind.

Recognizing the significance of the materials, INAH archaeologists explored the cave, hoping to recover what they could of the original context. In a strip 25 meters (82 feet) long and one meter (three feet) wide, they found evidence of a reed and mud wattle housing structure with an earth floor and a the remains of charred corn cob. The cob has been sent to the laboratory for radiocarbon dating. In another area of the strip, archaeologists found a burial: the lower half of an adult human body including pelvis and both legs tied together. It’s possible this was a secondary burial, that the body was buried somewhere else first, and later transferred to this location. Piece of coal, burned corn cobs and arrowheads were also found in this section.

At the end of the excavation, archaeologists had unearthed 30 arrowheads, ears of corn, a gourd, basketry, cordage, human coprolites (mineralized feces) and many pieces of wattle from walls, one of which bears the imprint of a hand left behind when the worker was packing mud into the reeds to make the wall. The style of architecture is typical of the Early-Middle Archaic period (ca. 2500-1000 B.C.), while the arrowheads are in the style of the Middle/Late Archaic or Early Agriculture period (1000 B.C.-700 A.D.).

The structure, arrowheads and the corn cob indicate the cave habitation predates the settlement of Paquimé, one Chihuahua’s largest and most complex prehistoric towns where the first settlements appear in the 8th century. Macaws are known to have been used in religious rituals during the Middle Period of Paquimé (1060-1340 A.D.) and fragments of macaw bones and feathers have been found there in ceremonial and funerary contexts. They were integrated into artifacts, however — bags and earrings. This is the first time an entire bird (although only the head has been recovered due to the interference with the site) has been discovered. Because the site was disturbed, archaeologists can’t say for certain that the macaw was buried along with the human remains for ritual funerary purposes, but that is the likeliest conclusion.

Macaws were prized in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. They had to be imported as they are not native to the north, so were extremely expensive. Their large size and soaring flight connected them symbolically to the sun, and their brilliant green-blue plumage was associated with lifegiving rain and water. By the Middle Period of Paquimé, macaws were being bred there for use in rituals and in commercial goods.

The discovery of the macaw head and the snail indicate the prehistoric cultures in this part of Chihuahua had access to goods traded over significant distances. The snail is native to northwestern Sinaloa region on the Gulf of California, and the macaw had to be imported from the south. Archaeological research elsewhere in Chihuahua has found evidence of trade linking the peoples of the coast and desert north to the south via the mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental, but this is the first evidence of it in San Francisco de Borja. In fact, it’s the first archaeological site ever registered in the municipality.

Eastman museum buys only known box of first Kodak Film

July 14th, 2016

George Eastman was a 23-year-old bank clerk when he caught the photography bug in 1877. While keeping his day job, he began to tinker with camera technology, trying to simplify the complex procedures and bulky apparatus require to take a picture at the time. Negatives were still made on glass plates. Photographers had to coat a plate with a light-sensitive silver nitrate emulsion under a dark drape then quickly slide it into a big, heavy box mounted on a tripod.

Eastman’s idea was to make a dry plate that was evenly and thinly coated ahead of time with silver nitrate and gelatine and dried for easy use. He received a patent for a dry coating apparatus (pdf) on April 13th, 1880. Still working out of his home in Rochester, New York, he founded the Eastman Dry-Plate Company. In 1884 he developed another innovation, flexible photographic film (pdf) that could be rolled for compact storage. The accordingly renamed the Eastman Dry-Plate and Film Company was soon a full-service camera supply company, selling all manner of photography accessories — squeegees, enlargers, roll holders — in addition to its patented dry plates and photographic film.

Its greatest breakthrough came in 1888 when George Eastman patented his first camera (pdf). He called it the Kodak, a name he created by moving letters around on a page until he found a combination that looked sharp and couldn’t be mispronounced. This camera was compact, lightweight, portable and so easy to operate anyone could do it, not just professionals or dedicated amateurs. All the operator had to do was pull up a string to arm the shutter, aim at the subject and press a button.

The Kodak Camera came preloaded with a roll of film that took 100 circular pictures 2.5 inches in diameter. Once the customers had taken their 100 pictures, they would send the camera to the Rochester factory where the film was developed and the photographs printed. The pictures were then returned to the customer along with the camera loaded with a fresh roll of film. The camera cost $25 and the development, printing and reloading cost $10. It was marketed in advertisements with the slogan “You press the button, we do the rest.”

The camera was a huge success, particularly with women. Before the Kodak, buyers of photography products were almost entirely professionals. The Kodak Camera made photography accessible to the general population and the general population thanked him by buying his cameras in droves. In 1892 George acknowledged the fulcrum of his success by changing the name of the company to the Eastman Kodak Company.

Today the George Eastman Museum, formerly housed in George’s Rochester mansion until it outgrew the space, has a vast collection of cameras, photographic materials and films, and is a pioneer in film preservation. The museum recently acquired the only known surviving box of Kodak Film (originally American Film) used in Kodak Camera No. 1, and one of only three boxes known to survive of the 1889 generation of camera film, Kodak Transparent Film.

Now a part of the museum’s internationally renowned technology collection, these unopened boxes of film complete the Eastman Museum’s holdings related to the original Kodak camera — adding to its examples of the camera, case, shipping box, and sample images.

“These two rolls of film make a critical contribution to the Eastman Museum’s holdings of photographic technology—considered the leading collection of its kind in the world,” said Bruce Barnes, Ron and Donna Fielding Director, George Eastman Museum. “Given their importance and rarity, these boxes of film are not only among of the most significant objects in our technology collection, they are also extremely important to the evolution of photography and the history of Rochester, New York.” [...]

Eastman’s Transparent Film was the flexible photographic material used by most people experimenting with early motion pictures. Thomas Edison’s assistant W. K. L. Dickson used Kodak Transparent Film (which was 70 millimeters wide), slit in half to 35mm and then perforated, as the flexible medium to store images to be presented in the Edison Kinetoscope, the first 35mm motion picture viewing device.

The acquisition of the rolls was funded in part by the man who is largely responsible for the demise of film — Steven Sasson, inventor of digital photography — and by former Eastman Kodak employee and current author on Kodak Film Robert Shanebrook and his wife Lynne. The newly acquired boxes of film are now on display at the George Eastman Museum.

Greek archaeologists find 23 shipwrecks in 22 days

July 13th, 2016

The Fournoi archipelago in the eastern Aegean had long been known to local divers and, alas, looters, as an area replete with shipwrecks. Last September, a diving team from the non-profit RPM Nautical Foundation followed up on a tip from a spear-fisher and explored the coastal waters around some of the Fourni islands. It was a short trip, but in just 10 diving days the team found 22 shipwrecks.

This year they returned with a big team of more than two dozen divers, marine archaeologists and conservators and explored the area from June 8th through July 2nd. In those 22 days, they discovered 23 new shipwrecks from the Greek archaic period (8th through 5th century B.C.) through the 19th century. So in less than a year, 45 shipwrecks have been found at Fourni. While Greece’s vast coastline, rich mercantile tradition from antiquity to the present and treacherous waters have claimed many a ship over the millennia, the 45 discovered at Fourni comprise 20% of the all the identified and documented shipwrecks in Greek territorial waters.

It was the topography of the islets which sealed so many ships’ doom. The distribution of the wrecks suggests they were dashed against sheer cliff faces, sometimes while anchored and seeking shelter from powerful storms only for the wind to change the direction and drive the ships against the cliffs. It’s unlikely the crews would have survived such a beating from the elements. Even if they did manage to swim the storm-tossed seas, there were no beaches to clamber up, only steep rocky cliffs.

All the ships found thus far were merchant vessels: small, manned by crews of a dozen men or fewer, dependant on sail power. The wood structure of the vessels did not survive centuries in the sea, but their cargoes of amphorae did. It’s possible to determine what kind of merchandise the ships carried based on the different types of amphorae. It’s also possible to deduce where the jars were made based on their shape and size. The larger amphorae likely carried the three most popular categories of products — olive oil, wine, and garum (the sauce made of fermented fish guts that was ubiquitous in the kitchens of the ancient Mediterranean) — while the smaller jars likely contained specialty items like fruit preserves, nuts and perfumes.

The wrecks discovered last year were all ancient, while this year’s discoveries range from the 6th century B.C. to the early 1800s. Some of the wood of the newer ship has survived, the only one of the Fourni shipwrecks with surviving exposed wood. In addition to the many amphorae, divers found artifacts including anchors, dishware, lamps, cooking pots and ceramics. The most significant finds of the season are amphorae from Knidos and Kos on a ship from the middle of the Hellenistic period, a late archaic/early classical cargo, a Roman-era ship with amphorae from Cape Sinop on the Black Sea, a 3rd-4th century Roman ship from the empire’s North African provinces, and a cargo of tableware also from North Africa. Marine archaeologists also found two stone anchors, the largest ever found in the Aegean.

It is estimated that the area investigated corresponds to less than 15% of the total coastline surrounding the Fournoi island group. It is expected that the ongoing research in the area will lead authorities to locate an even larger number of shipwrecks, allowing archaeologists to understand the use of marine space and study of the maritime navigation and freight traffic in the archipelago in different eras.

Restoration of Napoleon’s horse Vizir begins

July 12th, 2016

The grey-white Arabian stallion Vizir was born in 1793 in the Ottoman Empire. Sultan Selim III presented the steed to then-First Consul of France Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, a diplomatic gift marking the peace treaty between the Ottoman Empire and France after three years of war. According to legend, Selim sent the horse to Napoleon with this final wish: “Go, my dear Vizir. Go for Mahomet, go for your Sultan and become Napoleon’s most famous horse.”

Napoleon had more than a hundred horses, all of them trained to face battle conditions with steely resolve, and several of them became famous by name for participating in important battles and surviving. (Anywhere from 10 to 20 horses were said to have been shot out from under Napoleon in the heat of battle.) Vizir was painted in equestrian portraits with Napoleon by artists including Baron Gros, Hippolyte Bellangé, Charles Thevenin and Horace Vernet for a Sèvres porcelain series on Napoleon’s horses.

He wasn’t just a handsome model. Napoleon first rode Vizir into battle in 1805. Bearing the stamp of the imperial stables, a crowned “N” on his left haunch, Vizir carried the emperor in the Battle of Jena on October 14th, 1806, and in many other battles in the Prussian and Polish campaigns. He was not enlisted for duty during Napoleon’s disastrous Russian campaign, lucky for him, or the subsequent ones in Germany and France because as a 20-year-old, he was considered too old for battle.

Vizir was still beloved by the emperor who took him with him to exile on the island of Elba in 1814, and then back to France again during the Hundred Days, although he kept him safe behind the lines. After Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo in 1815, Vizir retired and was taken in by Philippe de Chaulaire, a squire of the imperial stables. Vizir died on July 30th, 1826, at the venerable age of 33.

M. de Chaulaire had him taxidermied, but fearing the anti-Napoleonic political climate of the Bourbon Restoration, he sold Vizir to William Clark, an Englishman living in northern France. Clark felt the same political pressure after Louis-Napoleon’s failed coup and in 1839 passed Vizir along to another Englishman, John Greaves. Greaves smuggled the stuffed horse out of France into England by dumping the framing, unstitching his skin and stashing it in his suitcase. Safe in England, Vizir was remounted and put on display at Manchester’s Natural History Museum in 1843.

Vizir returned to France in 1868 when the museum, forced to close its doors due to financial problems, gifted him to Louis-Napoleon, now Emperor Napoleon III, during a visit to England. Not knowing what else to do with a large stuffed horse, Napoleon III stored it in the Louvre where it remained in storage for 30 years until it was rediscovered in 1904 and transferred to the newly founded Museum of the Army in 1905. There Vizir would find a permanent home just a few steps from the Invalides where his former master rests eternally.

Very popular with visitors, Vizir has been on display ever since, but his many posthumous adventures have left him in bad shape. In May, the museum launched a crowdfunding project to give them the wherewithal to restore Vizir, and donors met the goal of 15,000 euro within two weeks. The final amount raised was 20,534 euros ($23,130).

Now Yveline Huguet and Jack Thiney, taxidermists and specialists in the restoration of organic material, are hard at work on Vizir’s sadly degraded hide. They have X-rayed him and are working on a thorough cleaning, rehydrating the hide, filling in several large cracks and restoring the color which has turned a sallow yellowish color over the years, a far cry from the white-gray he was famous for. The project is expected to take about four weeks. Once the restoration is complete, Vizir will be displayed in a new climate-controlled case which will prevent further degradation.

Woman with stone tooth inserts, long skull found in Teotihuacan

July 11th, 2016

Archaeologists excavating the ancient Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan in the highlands of central Mexico have unearthed the skeletal remains of a woman who is thus far unique in the archaeological record of Teotihuacan. She was buried in the Barrio Oaxaqueño neighborhood, also known as Tlailotlacan meaning “people from distant lands.” Judging from her extensive body modifications, she lived up to the neighborhood’s billing.

The Barrio Oaxaqueño, with a view of the Avenue of the Dead ahead and the Pyramid of the Sun behind, follows one of the streets that goes up the slope of Cerro Colorado. About three kilometers from the main thoroughfare of Teotihuacan, the neighborhood was settled by immigrants from the Oaxaca Valley in the Sierra Madre Mountains of southern Mexico between 150 and 600 A.D. Thirty housing units have been discovered in the neighborhood, each with multiple rooms, plazas, courtyards and tombs, in which an estimated 1,300 people, mainly from Oaxaca, western Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico, lived.

For the past eight years, National Anthropology and History Institute (INAH) archaeologists have been excavating an area of about 800 square meters in the Barrio Oaxaqueño. This year, under the floor of a room, archaeologists found a cist, a rectangular dugout in which the articulated skeleton of a woman and 19 vessels were discovered. The ceramics and stratigraphy indicate she was buried around 350-400 A.D. Osteological examination found she was between 35 and 40 years old when she died.

Her teeth are of particular note. The central incisors in her upper jaw are embedded with round pyrite stones. This technique required cutting a hole in the enamel of the tooth and inserting the decorative stones. It was practiced in the Mayan cities of southern Mexico (see the jade tooth inserts found in Uxul on the Yucatan peninsula), Guatemala and Belize. One incisor in her lower jaw was replaced with a prosthetic made of serpentine, a green stone carved in the shape of a tooth. This was not of local manufacture and she must have worn it for many years because it shows signs of wear and tartar growth. Researchers are currently studying this tooth looking for evidence of how it was affixed to the jaw, possibly with a cement-like adhesive or some kind of fiber that held it in place.

Her grill isn’t the most extreme of her body mods. The shape of her skull is elongated, an intentional cranial shaping of the tabular erect type produced by fronto-occipital compression likely with a cradleboard when she was a child and her bones were still soft. Hers is an extreme example of the practice. This kind of skull shaping isn’t typical of the Central Highlands. It too is more frequently found in the south.

Her teeth and skull make hers one of the most extensively modified bodies ever discovered at Teotihuacan. It also confirms that the residents of Tlailotlacan weren’t only labourers who were brought to or moved to the big city for work, but people of wealth and status as well. The Lady of Tlailotlacan’s modifications were reserved for the Maya elites.

The ongoing excavation of the neighborhood have revealed that there were Oaxacans and other foreigners living in Teotihuacan from the early days of its rise to prominence until its mysterious fall. They moved 400 miles away from home to take advantage of all the great metropolis had to offer, but they maintained their cultural identities within their living quarters. While the neighborhood follows the standard urban planning design of the city, inside their homes residents integrated their native practices. For example, their burial sites were in place before the dwellings were built, as in the case of the Lady’s underfloor cist. They also used ceramics from their hometowns, or if that wasn’t possible, made reproductions using local clay.

Bones of 18th c. Italian missionary found in Tokyo

July 10th, 2016

The skeleton of 18th century Italian missionary Giovanni Battista Sidotti has been identified in Tokyo. The remains were unearthed in July 2014 during construction of a new upscale condominium development on the site of a long-demolished prison for Christians. Two other skeletons were also discovered near the first. Earthenware fragments and other artifacts found in the layer date it to the early 18th century.

Researchers from the National Museum of Nature and Science pieced together the bone fragments and successfully extracted DNA from a tooth. Analysis revealed that the person was more than 170 centimeters tall, significantly taller than the 156 cm average height for a Japanese man at that time. DNA was found to match the genetic characteristics of modern Italians. Sidotti was reported to be 175-178 cm tall and he was one of only two Italians held in the prison. The other, Giuseppe Chiara, was a much older man, 84 years old at time of death, and his remains were cremated.

Spanish Jesuit and future saint Francis Xavier brought Christianity to Japan in 1549. He, Father Cosme de Torrès, Brother João Fernandes, a Japanese convert named Anjiro and two other Japanese men landed on the southern island of Kyushu and began to preach, which, since only one of the priests had managed to learn a bare smattering of Japanese, mainly consisted of reading from a version of the Catholic catechism Anjiro had translated into Japanese.

The first Christian, called Kirishitan in Japanese, converts were Anjiro’s friends and family. Christianity spread quickly and by 1560, there were 6,000 converts on Kyushu. In 1563 the first daimyo, Omura Sumitada, converted, and in less than a decade had forced everyone in his domain, 35,000 people, to convert as well. Converting daimyos proved essential to the Jesuit mission, because in one fell swoop entire populations would be made to convert by their lord. The daimyos benefited from the Jesuit’s military support, receiving essential materials like saltpeter (used to make gunpowder), weapons and aid in constructing fortifications. Mass baptisms increased the number of Kirishitan exponentially so that there were approximately 130,000 converts within 30 years of Francis Xavier’s arrival. By the early 17th century, there were 250,000 of them.

One of the reasons the new religion made such effective headway is that Xavier used the term “Dainichi,” the Japanese name of the celestial Buddha Vairocana, for God. Shingon Buddhist monks thus welcomed the Jesuits as a fellow Buddhists and in 1551 daimyo Ouchi Yoshitaka gave the missionaries an old Buddhist temple in Yamaguchi describing them as “monks who have come from the western region [meaning India, which was seen as the ultimate in exotic distant lands] to spread the law of Buddha.” Xavier ultimately realized this wasn’t according to Hoyle Christianity, so he stopped using Dainichi and switched to Deusu, a Japonified version of the Latin Deus.

That entre’ via Buddhist terminology and close relationship to warring daimyos would come back to bite Catholic missionaries hard when Japan was unified by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. To hobble the power of the local daimyo, he banished all Christian missionaries from Kyushu in 1587. He still wanted to trade with Portugal and Spain, however, so he didn’t get hardcore about quashing the Kirishitan for another decade even as the Jesuits repeatedly considered an armed campaign against him. That all changed on February 5th, 1597, when he ordered 26 Christians — six Franciscan missionaries, three Japanese Jesuits and 17 Japanese laymen converts — crucified in Nagasaki to discourage conversions.

His successor Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu wanted to maintain friendly relations with Spain and Portugal for trade purposes, but he was convinced that Christianity was inimical to Japanese culture and society and even as he attempted to negotiate trade agreements, asked European powers to take back their missionaries and their religion. Things took an uglier turn after three successive financial scandals involving Christians broke out at court in 1612-3. The central figure in one of the scandals, a former actor named Okubo Nagayasu was rumored to be Christian although there’s no direct evidence of it. He was dead when his financial misdeeds came to light, and in the wake of the scandal, he was accused of having plotted with missionaries to bring a foreign army to protect Kirishitan against the Shogun.

That was the last straw. On Valentine’s Day, 1614, Ieyasu expelled all Catholic missionaries from Japan, closed all the churches and prohibited the practice of Christianity. From the 1614 edict:

The Kirishitan band have come to Japan, not only sending their merchant vessels to exchange commodities, but also longing to disseminate an evil law, to overthrow true doctrine, so that they may change the government of the country, and obtain possession of the land. This is the germ of great disaster, and must be crushed.”

Subsequent Tokugawa rulers enforced the edict with an iron fist, persecuting the Kirishitan, even commoners, who before then had been largely ignored, in order to exterminate the faith from Japanese soil. In every household Christians were identified, forced into apostasy and monitored afterwards to ensure they weren’t secretly following their religion. There were mass executions in which dozens of Christians who refused to renounce their beliefs were burned, crucified or otherwise dispatched publicly.

The fight against Christianity played a significant role in the policy of Sakoku, the national isolation policy that kept foreigners out and Japanese in, enacted in pieces from 1633 through 1639 and continuing for more than two centuries until Commodore Matthew Perry ended it with the business end of his gunboat diplomacy in the mid-19th century. The Shimabara Rebellion, a revolt of mostly Catholic peasants, in 1637-8, ramped up anti-Kirishitan regulations, banning the religion on pain of death.

Propaganda followed, starting with Kirishitan Monogatari (“Tales of the Christians”), a book by an anonymous author published in 1638 which detailed the many crimes and obscenities of missionaries and Christians. It inspired several other books representing Christians as grotesque caricatures. Nambanji Kohai Ki (“Grandeur and Decadence of the Church of the Southern Barbarians”) was published around 1695, 13 years before Giovanni Battista Sidotti made his suicidal attempt to sneak into Japan.

Sidotti, a Sicilian priest, had heard of the martyrdoms in Japan and was keen to brave the risk of death in God’s name. He sought and was granted permission to go to Japan from Pope Clement XI and made his way there from Manila, landing on the island of Yakushima in fall of 1708. His cunning plan was to disguise himself as a samurai, complete with topknot and kimono, just a set of fake buckteeth and glasses away from Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He was quickly spotted by a farmer who denounced him to the authorities.

He was arrested and the next year sent to the Kirishitan Yashiki (“Mansion of the Christians”), a former school in Edo which had been converted into a prison for suspected crypto-Christians and missionaries in 1646. There Japanese Kirishitan were routinely tortured into renouncing their religion. Sidotti received much gentler treatment. He was interrogated by Arai Hakuseki, a renown Confucian scholar and adviser to the Shogun Tokugawa Ienobu and his successor Tokugawa Ietsugu.

Hakuseki came to respect Sidotti’s intellect and extensive knowledge of the world. He also believed him when Sidotti assured him that missionaries were not the advance brigade of a Western invasion. Hakuseki recommended to the Shogun that Sidotti be deported, a shocking departure from the usual death penalty, or failing that, imprisoned. Sidotti was kept in Kirishitan Yashiki under go-nin fuchi house arrest, a status with plenty of food, a comfortable room and two attendants, former Christians Chosuke and Haru, seeing to his needs. It was only when he tried to reconvert them that he was sent to the dungeon where he died of unknown causes in 1714.

Later historical accounts record that he was buried with care, and the discovery of his bones confirms their accuracy.

“His body was laid flat in a casket, a luxurious one as far as I can tell by the brackets,” said Akio Tanigawa, professor of archaeology at Tokyo’s Waseda University and lead researcher on the remains, referring to coffin pieces discovered with the bones.

“People did not bury human bodies like this,” Tanigawa stressed, suggesting Sidotti was likely given a burial “in the Christian way.”

The other two bodies buried near him, one of which was interred in the more typical Edo fashion sitting up in a small tub, may be his attendants Chosuke and Haru.

Hakuseki published his conversations with Sidotti in the first volume of a three-volume book called Seiyo Kibun. The other volumes covered the five continents and an analysis of Christianity. Sidotti’s information also featured in Hakuseki’s five-volume geography Sairan Igen. These books were influential in loosening up the attitude of the shogunate to European intellectual pursuits. For the first time in a century, Western books about science and astronomy were translated into Japanese. Religion was still right out, of course, but gradually attitudes softened there too, and the torture and interrogation of Christians was abolished in 1792. The Kirishitan Yashiki, already damaged by a fire in 1725, was demolished shortly thereafter.

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