18th c. luxury sex toy found in Gdansk latrine

April 16th, 2015

Archaeologists excavating a latrine in the Podwalu suburb of Gdansk, Poland, discovered a 18th century dildo on Tuesday. The sex toy is eight inches long and made of high quality leather with a carved wooden tip. It is filled with bristles. This would have been a very expensive object, and its long sojourn in the low oxygen environment of the latrine has preserved the organic materials in excellent condition. Marcin Tymiński, spokesman for the Regional Office for the Protection of Monuments, noted that it was probably dropped in the toilet, either deliberately or in a tragic slippery fingers accident.

The dig has been ongoing for the past seven months. Most of the discoveries have been small items like fragments of pottery and jewelry, but they also found wooden swords and arrowheads, evidence that the site was once a fencing school. The dildo was found on the last day of excavations. It dates to the second half of the 18th century, the same period when archaeologists believe the fencing school was in operation.

These kinds of artifacts rarely survive, because they were intimate, embarrassing and kept hidden. When people were done with them, they were destroyed, not passed down through the generations. One of the archaeologists on the team recalled finding another archaeological phallus, but it was ancient and made of wood and more likely an object of cult worship. This one most definitely had a utilitarian purpose, not a religious one.

The dildo has now been removed to the Archaeological Museum of Gdansk for conservation. No decision has been made on whether or where it will go on display. You never know how museums are going to react to sexually explicit artifacts. Sometimes they put them in storage for decades and only whip them out on very special occasions; other times they sell replicas in the museum shop for £129 ($191) a pop.

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Family looking for broken sewer pipe finds 2,500 years of history

April 15th, 2015

A family in Lecce, an ancient city on the tip of Italy’s boot heel, found a veritable historical complex under their feet when they began digging to find a faulty sewer pipe in 2000. Luciano Faggiano family had acquired the building at Via Ascanio Grandi 56 planning to use the first floor as a trattoria and live with his wife and youngest son upstairs. It was a historical property — part of the convent of Santa Maria delle Curti which was closed in the 17th century and the remains of whose cells are still visible in the first floor walls — but renovated with all modern conveniences. When one of those conveniences, the toilet, kept backing up, Faggiano enlisted his two older sons who no longer live at home to spend a week helping him dig underneath the house to find the broken sewer pipe causing the problem.

But one week quickly passed, as father and sons discovered a false floor that led down to another floor of medieval stone, which led to a tomb of the Messapians, who lived in the region centuries before the birth of Jesus. Soon, the family discovered a chamber used to store grain by the ancient Romans, and the basement of a Franciscan convent where nuns had once prepared the bodies of the dead.

Faggiano kept digging, removing the spoil in the trunk of his car, even tying a rope around the chest of his 12-year-old son to lower him into passages that were too small for the adults. Mrs. Faggiano was not informed of this. Eventually the neighbors got suspicious and called the cops. Since unapproved archaeological excavations are illegal, even when the original aim was sewer maintenance, the authorities blocked the dig for a year until making a deal with the Faggianos that they could continue under the supervision of archaeologists from the local Superintendence of Archaeological Goods and architects Franco and Maria Antonietta De Paolis.

All of this was done on the Faggianos’ dime and with their labor. The city just watched, ever more excitedly, as the Faggiano family’s excavations revealed the tomb of a Roman infant, other tombs and ossuaries, a deep pit that served as a charnel house where bodies were left to decompose before the bones were recovered and interred, water catchment cisterns, circular postholes cut into rock for Mesappian dwellings, grain silos, an ancient street, a well 10 meters (33 feet) deep that is still fed by the waters of the Idume, an underground river seven kilometers (4.3 miles) long that traverses the city of Lecce before emptying into the Adriatic, tunnels that may have been used by the religious orders — Templars, the Santa Maria convent and Franciscans have all inhabited the place at different times since the Middle Ages — to move around the city without being seen, a Messapian-era pavement (ca. 5th century B.C.), frescoed walls, ancient vases, an early episcopal ring, ceramics from the 1600s, an ancient altar among many other treasures.

More than 4,000 artifacts have been unearthed during the decade-plus of digging. They did find the sewer pipe after a few years, by the way, and it was broken. By then, of course, the trattoria idea was back-burnered and Luciano Faggiano rented one of the floors in the building to help fund this voyage of exploration through the layers of Lecce’s history. He’s still planning to open a trattoria, but in a new building. This one is now the Museum Faggiano where people can go down into the bowels of the structure to see the ancient history for themselves.

The museum’s website has a photo gallery which has sad little low res pictures, but the virtual tour is very satisfying as long as you click on the “View on Google Maps” link in the upper left corner which opens a lovely full screen navigation window with thumbnails to guide you through the highlights.

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The glory of 18th century Swiss automata

April 14th, 2015

A collection of 21 museum-quality automata will be sold at Sotheby’s Important Watches auction in New York on June 11th. The exquisite collection was assembled over 50 years and include late-18th and early-19th century Swiss snuffboxes, music boxes, watches and clocks by the premier craftsmen of the era and later owned by some of the premier collectors, including King Farouk of Egypt. The collection hasn’t been seen since the late 1970s. The crème de la crème of Swiss watchmakers — gold casemaker Jean George Rémond, Piguet & Meylan, Guidon, Guide et Blondel and my personal favorite, Jacquet-Droz — are represented in this elite group.

Pierre Jacquet-Droz, his sons Henri-Louis and Jean-Frédéric Leschot, Pierre’s apprentice who he adopted as a youth, together created three of the most advanced automata of the age. Built between 1768 and 1774, The Writer, The Draughtsman and The Musician toured the royal courts of Europe amazing the aristocracy with their human-like characteristics (The Musician breathes, The Draughtsman blows pencil shards off the paper, The Writer’s eyes follows his quill) and abilities (the Musician’s hands actually play the keyboard instead of moving to a canned tune, the Draughtsman can draw four different designs including portraits of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, the Writer dips his quill in the inkwell, shakes off the excess then writes on a paper that moves). The Writer is the most complex with more than 4,000 components all inside of the figure which, unlike his brother’s and sister’s mechanisms, can be programmed to write anything 40 letters long.

The following video show The Writer in action and explains how the mechanism works. It’s still impressive as hell; you can image how stunned 18th century courtiers were.

The three Jacquet-Droz automata are now the pride and joy of the Neuchâtel Museum of Art and History in Neuchâtel, western Switzerland, which has owned them since 1906 when they were purchased by the Neuchâtel Society of History and Archaeology for 75,000 gold francs and donated to the museum. The automata are played for visitors on the first Sunday of every month.

As wonderous as they were, the automata were really just hype men, advertising for the brilliance of Jacquet-Droz clocks which, unlike the one-of-a-kind demonstration pieces, were actually for sale. In 1775, Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz moved to London and a few years later got into business with James Cox, a goldsmith, inventor and entrepreneur who also made fantastical automata, most famously The Peacock Clock, now in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and the only surviving multi-figure automaton from the 18th century to survive with all its original parts in working condition.

Cox had been producing gold clocks, music boxes and other mechanical devices for trade with the Far East, first India and then China, since the mid-1760s. The Qianlong Emperor (reigned 1736–95) was an avid clock collector and Cox’s pieces were in high demand for years. After some business setbacks (import bans, the American Revolution’s interference with British trade, bankruptcy), Cox got back in the saddle thanks to his deal with Jaquet Droz. From then on almost all of his exports to China were the Swiss watchmaker’s pieces and most of Jaquet Droz’s production went to China. The masterpieces by other watchmakers in the upcoming sale were also made for the Chinese market.

These were small, elegant objects — gold and enameled pocket watches, snuffboxes, music boxes — with moving elements and chimes. They were expensive and hard to make, and like all luxury items worthy of the name, only a small number of them were produced. There are a few hundred Jaquet-Droz pieces still in existence, and most of them are in museums. On the rare occasions that they appear on the market, they sell for high seven figures at least, often crossing over into the million dollar range.

The biggest star of the upcoming sale is a Jaquet-Droz Singing Bird Scent Flask timepiece from around 1785-90. The shape of a perfume flask, it is 16 centimeters (a hair over six inches) high and is made of gold with enamel and jeweled decorations on a field of deep blue guilloche enamel. Inside is a tiny articulated ivory bird less than half an inch high that moves its wee beak and tail while a miniature organ plays his song which sounds like a real birdsong, not some tinny chimes. It is so delicate, so precious and has traveled so many long distances in its life, it’s nigh on unbelievable that it still works. It sounds great, too.

You can see its movement and hear its sound in this video by Sotheby’s which also shows two other glorious pieces in action: The Marriage, a gold two-tune musical automaton snuffbox with an enamel scene of a wedding in classical antiquity on the lid and inside a mechanical workshop where men sharpen and use their tools, also by Jaquet-Droz, and The Fortune Teller, a gold snuffbox with an enamel painting of a fortune teller telling fortunes on the lid and inside a musical automaton of a lady playing the harp and a gentleman playing the lute against a beautifully painted classical interior, made by Piguet & Meylan, case by Jean-George Rémond.

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Bronzes stolen from gallery 32 years ago found

April 13th, 2015

Two bronze sculptures that were stolen from the Hirschl & Adler Gallery in New York in December of 1983 have been found and returned to the gallery. Central Figure of Day by Paul Manship was the first to be stolen from the gallery in broad light on December 3rd, 1983. Three weeks later, Figure of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney by Prince Paul Troubetzkoy was stolen again in the middle of the day. The thefts were reported to the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA) at the time but the case soon went cold.

Last December, both sculptures were consigned for sale by a private collector to the Gerald Peters Gallery. He had owned them since 1985 when he bought them together from a shop in New York’s diamond district. The collector no longer had receipts nor remembered which store he had purchased them from. In advance of their exhibition and sale, the Gerald Peters Gallery did due diligence research into the ownership history of the sculptures and discovered they were stolen property. It then hired Art Recovery International to negotiate between the parties and arrange for the return of both pieces. Two months later on February 6th, 2015, the works were returned to Hirschl & Adler.

The legal process of determining ownership in this case presented very few obstacles. Unlike the legal systems in most European counties, it is a basic tenet of US law that no individual can obtain good title to a stolen work of art – not even when purchased in good faith. The law recognises that a stolen work of art is always stolen property and therefore makes no exceptions for good faith, passage of time or the number of owners since the theft occurred.

It helped that Hirschl & Adler had retained full documentation of their ownership of the statues and of the theft, so there was no question of who held the last legal title. The collector who has owned them for 30 years is not considered a suspect. He just spotted a bargain in a shady store.

Ray Lazerson, Treasurer at Hirschl & Adler Gallery, commented: “There can’t be too many dealers who have to tell their gallery Director twice in three weeks that something has been stolen! We are delighted that these works have been found and grateful for the co-operation of all parties in their recovery.”

Both sculptors are famous for monumental outdoor works: Manship for his 1934 gilded statue of Prometheus overlooking the Lower Plaza of Rockefeller Center and Troubetzkoy for his 1909 equestrian statue of Tsar Alexander III of Russia now in front of the Marble Palace in St. Petersburg. Indeed, Central Figure of Day was done in a similar style to Prometheus, during a period when Manship became fascinated by ancient sculpture after he won the Rome Prize and attended the American Academy on residential fellowship from 1909 until 1912. He also became interested in Indian art at this time, an influence you can see in Central Figure of Day.

Figure of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney was one of a number of sculptures Prince Troubetzkoy made for high society figures of the golden age. Mrs. Whitney was one of the most notable. A succesful sculptor in her own right as well as a society maven, philanthropist and patron of the arts, she is best remembered today as the founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art which she established in 1931 to showcase the works of living American artists who had been rejected by more hide-bound institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Whitney is opening in a new building come May 1st. It would be cool if they acquired the sculpture of their founder in time for the reopening. Troubetzkoy’s bronzes rarely appear on the market, and since this one is believed to have been cast during his lifetime, it is particularly valuable. Together both pieces are valued at around $250,000 now, an exponential growth from their estimated worth of $24,000 each in 1983.

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Roman bronze harpy found in England

April 12th, 2015

A team from the Colchester Archaeological Trust unearthed the rare Roman bronze figurine of a harpy in Brightlingsea on the southeastern coast of England. Archaeologist Ben Holloway discovered the petite four-inch high piece in September of last year during the preventative excavation of a section of the Moverons Quarry before gravel quarrying was slated to begin there. The artifact was in the top layer of fill in a field-boundary ditch that also had Roman pottery sherds and fragments of imbrex, Roman overlapping clay roof tile.

It is quite finely detailed, and is in the form of an upright bird with a woman’s head and with small wings which are fully open. The figure has feathers and talons, and braided hair; however, it seems to have a serpent’s tail which functions as a support. It is standing on a damaged base and also seems to have been attached at the top of the support.

The figurine has not been cleaned or conserved yet, so more details will be forthcoming. There is no indication from the context of why it ended up in the quarry site. It could have been anything from a discard to a votive offering. Its design is similar of the feet found on small, portable charcoal braziers Romans used for indoor heating.

Two braziers donated by Marcus Nigidius Vaccula to the Forum Baths and Stabian Baths of Pompeii in the late 1st century A.D. have harpy feet that look very much like larger versions of the Brightlingsea figurine. A bronze brazier called a foculus was used in the tepidarium to heat the air to a constant warm temperature. Bathers would sit on benches next to the brazier to get a good schphitz (ad flammam sudare) going before moving on to the hot waters of the caldarium.

The tepidarium was often the central room of the Roman bath complex and was the most elaborately decorated. Elegant architectural features like mosaic floors, marble inlays, sculpted support pillars and intricate reliefs were the setting for the most expensive high-end art works. The largest Roman sculptural group ever found, the breathtaking Farnese Bull, was discovered in the tepidarium of the Baths of Caracalla.

Although they have discovered evidence of thousands of years of habitation at the quarry site, from a Bronze Age ring-ditch to Anglo-Saxon huts, archaeologists have not found any conclusive evidence of Roman baths. They closest they came was a tile from a hypocaust, the underfloor hot air system used to heat baths and pricier homes, but they believe it was part of Roma farmhouse or villa in the area. Indeed, archaeologists found the remains of Roman field systems in the quarry, plus three Roman cremation burials from the 2nd-3rd century. If the harpy was part of a brazier, it was likely used in the home.

As an aside, the figurine was found just weeks after this same team found the hoard of jewelry hidden from Boudicca’s army Roman treasure at the Williams & Griffin store excavation in Colchester. What a productive few months they’ve had.

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Here is the first Wonder Woman drawing

April 11th, 2015

This image has made the rounds of a couple of sites (io9, Bleeding Cool) the past few days and it’s so damn cool I had to get on the bandwagon. This article will be factually accurate, however. The other pieces say the original art is for sale at ComicLink, but it’s not. ComicLink sold it in 2006 for $75,000. It’s one of their record sales, so they have a link to the description from the 2006 sale on their homepage. There’s no date under the homepage thumbnail or on the description, which I guess is why the other writers got confused. It was obvious to me that it’s a past sale since the description had no purchase options or auction link anywhere and the homepage noted the $75,000 sale price.

Besides, that price is downright modest. It more than doubled between the work’s first appearance at auction in 2002 when it went for a bargain $33,350 and the sale four years later. There is no way this gorgeous piece of art complete with key notes about the character’s design from Wonder Woman original artist H.G. Peter and creator Dr. William Moulton Marston would go for less than six figures today.

Original Illustration of Wonder Woman by H.G. Peter, ca. 1941

The note in pencil on the left side is from H.G. Peter to William Marston.

“Dear Dr. Marston, I slapped these two out in a hurry. The eagle is tough to handle – when in perspective or in profile, he doesn’t show up clearly – the shoes look like a stenographer’s. I think the idea might be incorporated as a sort of Roman contraption. Peter”.

The note underneath the drawing in red is Marston’s response:

“Dear Pete – I think the gal with hand up is very cute. I like her skirt, legs, hair. Bracelets okay + boots. These probably will work out. See other suggestions enclosed. No on these + stripes — red + white. With eagle’s wings above or below breasts as per enclosed? Leave it to you. Don’t we have to put a red stripe around her waist as belt? I thought Gaines wanted it – don’t remember. Circlet will have to go higher – more like crown – see suggestions enclosed. See you Wednesday morning – WMM.”

Cover of "The Private Life of Caesar"Gaines is Max Gaines, co-founder of All-American Publications, who had hired Marston after reading an interview with him in the October 25th, 1940, issue of The Family Circle magazine entitled “Don’t Laugh at the Comics.” Marston was a Harvard-educated psychologist (that’s where the Dr. came from), the inventor of the polygraph machine (that’s where Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth came from), and the author of a bondage-heavy erotic historical novel called Venus with Us later reissued as The Private Life of Caesar. Gaines saw in him an opportunity to add some scholarly heft to his stable of writers, an important virtue during a time when comics were under constant attack from psychologists and other assorted pearl-clutchers raving against the influence of these lurid picture-books on malleable young minds.

Marston (seated right) gives lie detector test in 1938, Olive Byrne (seated left) takes notesMarston had been making headlines for years with demonstrations of his lie detector (he campaigned vigorously without success for Bruno Hauptmann to be polygraph tested before he was executed for the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby) and his unconventional views on the relations between the sexes. As early as 1931 newspapers reported with aghast titillation on a survey he did as a visiting professor of psychology at Long Island University which purportedly demonstrated that women in college were abandoning the pose of “Victorian timidity” and deliberately cultivating a “red hot baby” reputation, thus reversing the age-old gender roles of hunter and hunted in sexual pursuit. The men weren’t pleased with this change, according to Marston, because they prefer to be “unhappy masters” rather than “happy slaves.”

In 1937 he asserted confidently in a lecture in New York that “the next 100 years will see the beginning of an American matriarchy — a nation of Amazons in the psychological rather than physical sense. In 500 years, there will be a serious sex battle. And in 1,000 years, women will definitely rule this country.” The AP picked up the story and from there it spread to newspapers all over the continent.

In 1939 he determined WITH SCIENCE that gentlemen in fact prefer brunettes. The conclusion was based on a survey of 20,000 men and, Marston contended, it’s all because of the endocrine glands.

“Too much thyroid secretion in your blood, for example, may make your eyes pop out and turn your hair white, then make you bald. This same overdose of thyroid will give you a tense, nervous, sleepless, irritable fear-haunted personality. These subtle chemicals which influence your personality so profoundly reveal their presence by the colors they produce in your skin. For this reason, a girl’s hair becomes a flag which nature compels her to fly, revealing to all who understand the endocrine code her controlling personality traits.”

Therefore, the brunette is the “natural man conqueror.”

Marston family portrait 1947. Standing left to right: Byrne Marston, Moulton (Pete) Marston, Olive Byrne. Seated left to right: Marjorie Wilkes, Olive Ann Marston. William Moulton Marston, Donn Marston, Elizabeth Holloway MarstonDr. Marston practiced what he preached. He was married to Elizabeth Holloway Marston, a psychologist and lawyer who had defied her father to pay her way through Boston University School of Law and who continued to work with much success and to other people’s consternation after she bore their two children. He also had a lover, writer Olive Byrne, who lived with the couple. It was Byrne, incidentally, under the pseudonym Olive Richards, who interviewed Marston for the fateful The Family Circle story that caught Gaines’ eye.

Byrne had two children with Marston who were officially adopted by the married pair, but they all lived together as a single family. When Marston became ill first from polio and then with cancer, Elizabeth supported the family while Olive stayed home taking care of the children and their ailing father. Elizabeth continued to provide for Olive and the children after Marston’s death in 1947, ensuring all the kids received a college education. Marston’s widows, one de jure and one de facto, lived together until Olive’s death in the 1980s. By all accounts, including those of the Marston children, the arrangement worked for them and they were a close-knit, loving, happy family before and after William’s death.

Panel from "America's Guardian Angel" Sensation Comics #12, December 1942It was Elizabeth’s idea for Marston to make his new superhero a woman, an idea that suited him to a T. Marston’s vision of the brunette amazon who makes happy slaves of men easily crossed over from psychology lectures to comic books in the form of Wonder Woman. Olive apparently inspired her look. His bondage fetish — so thoroughly explored in Venus with Us — dominated, as it were, the early issues of Wonder Woman comics. She gets chained or tied up in pretty much every issue, then returns the favor. For a riveting exploration of Marston’s personal and professional life and the early BDSM days of Wonder Woman, read Jill Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman. It is a page-turner of the highest order.

Marston laid it all out, for those with eyes to see, in a 1944 article he wrote for The American Scholar, the journal of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. Hyperbolically titled Why 100,000,000 Americans Read Comics (that figure is not a typo; he included some trumped-up, extrapolated stats to support the contention), the article sings the praises of the visual medium, connects comic book heroes to Homeric progenitors like Achilles and Ulysses, and relays a backstory (minus any references to Elizabeth and Olive) of how the Wonder Woman comic came to be.

Drawing by H.G. Peter inspired by Rogers' suffrage comic; both appeared in Marston's 1944 article in The American Scholar "Why 100,000,000 Americans Read Comics""Tearing off the Bonds," pro-suffrage cartoon by Lou Rogers, Judge Magazine, October 19th, 1912It’s smart to be strong. It’s big to be generous. But it’s sissified, according to exclusively masculine rules, to be tender, loving, affectionate, and alluring. “Aw, that’s girl stuff!” snorts our young comics reader. “Who wants to be a girl?” And that’s the point; not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, power. Not wanting to be girls they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peaceloving, as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weak ones. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of a Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman. This is what I recommended to the comics publisher.

My suggestion was met by a storm of mingled protests and guffaws. Didn’t I know that girl heroines had been tried in pulps and comics and, without exception, found failures? Yes, I pointed out, but they weren’t superwomen, they weren’t superior to men in strength as well as in feminine attraction and love-inspiring qualities. Well, asserted my masculine authorities, if a woman hero were stronger than a man, she would be even less appealing. Boys wouldn’t stand for that; they’d resent the strong gal’s superiority. No, I maintained, men actually submit to women now, they do it on the sly with a sheepish grin because they’re ashamed of being ruled by weaklings. Give them an alluring woman stronger than themselves to submit to and they’ll be proud to become her willing slaves!

 

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Objects from royal yacht shipwreck back in Hawaii

April 10th, 2015

After years of conservation to preserve organic remains, artifacts from the wreck of the 19th century Hawaiian royal yacht the Ha’aheo o Hawai’i have returned to Hawaii. They will become part of the permanent collection of the Kaua’i Museum where they will go on display close to where they spent almost two centuries under the turquoise ocean.

The yacht started out its life in far less congenial waters. Captain George Crowninshield, scion of the prominent Boston Brahmin seafaring family, commissioned Salem’s greatest shipwright Retire Becket to build him the first ocean-going pleasure yacht in the country. Crowninshield was involved in every aspect of construction and he spared no expense. The ship cost $50,000 to build, plus another $50,000 was spent on the furniture and finishes like flamed mahogany and birds-eye maple paneling, custom furniture by Boston’s premier cabinetmaker Thomas Seymour, silk velvet upholstery with gold lace trim, ormulu chandeliers, bespoke sets of silver, porcelain, glass and linens. It even had indoor plumbing. Cleopatra’s Barge, an 83-foot brigantine, was launched on October 21st, 1816. Inclement winter prevented her from sailing right away and the vessel was instantly famous so when the ship was frozen at the dock after a short trial run in December, it was opened up to visitors. Thousands came to see it.

When the ice thawed in late March of 1817, George took Cleopatra’s Barge on a long, leisurely Mediterranean cruise. Everywhere he stopped, Crowninshield was greeted by thousands of admirers wanting to get a glimpse of his luxurious ship. One day in Barcelona the yacht had 8,000 visitors. He was also watched by less friendly people: the British and French navies, who put men-of-war on his tail because they had heard the widespread rumor that Captain George was secretly planning on rescuing Napoleon from St. Helena and bringing the ex-emperor home with him to America. Whether this was truly his cockamamie scheme or not, his actions could certainly be seen in a suspicious light. He got 300 letters of introduction to important people on the continent, stopped at Elba where he met Napoleon’s aides who gave him more letters of introduction to the Bonaparte family, visited with the family in Rome — Napoleon’s sister Paulina Bonaparte, Princess Borghese, gave Crowninshield a snuff-box, her sister Princess Murat, Queen of Naples, gave him a ring, Napoleon’s mother gave him a Sevres chocolate mug and her son’s boots — but ultimately went home without an exiled former emperor on board.

Crowninshield and Cleopatra’s Barge returned to Salem on October 3rd, 1817. George stayed on board making an extremely fancy houseboat out of his yacht. He got less than two months’ use of it, sadly, as he died of a heart attack on board on November 26th, 1817. He was 51 years old. His family stripped the elegant furnishings and used it as a trade vessel for a few years before selling it to another mercantile concern. In November of 1820, Cleopatra’s Barge was sold again, this time to King Kamehameha II (aka “Liholiho”) of Hawaii. The King paid 8,000 piculs (1,064,000 pounds) of sandalwood, an estimated value of $80,000, for the ship and thus Cleopatra’s Barge became the first and only royal yacht in any part of what would become the United States.

Kamehameha II loved his new toy. He outfitted it in additional finery and cannon for ceremonial shots and traveled the islands with it. The honeymoon period was short-lived, however, as by April 1822 it became clear that so much of the wood was rotting the ship would have to be dry-docked and extensively repaired. Fresh lumber had to be secured from the Pacific Northwest so it was more than a year before the yacht was seaworthy again. The king renamed her Ha’aheo o Hawai’i (Pride of Hawaii) and the rebuilt ship was relaunched on May 10th, 1823.

Again his enjoyment of the yacht would be short-lived. King Kamehameha II decided to go to London to meet King George IV. Instead of taking the Ha’aheo o Hawai’i, however, he was persuaded to book passage on the whaler L’Aigle because its crew, led by one Captain Valentine Starbuck (no word on his relation to the Battlestar Galactica pilot), was familiar with the route. The king, his wife Queen Kamāmalu and other Hawaiian notables, left for England in November of 1823. After a stop in Brazil, they arrived in Portsmouth on May 17th, 1824, and then hung around for a few weeks waiting for King George to fix a date for the audience. They were finally scheduled to meet on June 21st, but they had to postpone it when the Hawaiian royals were struck with measles. On July 8th, 1824, Queen Kamāmalu died. King Kamehameha II died six days later. Their bodies returned to Hawaii almost a year later, on May 6th, 1825.

His beloved royal yacht would precede King Kamehameha II to the grave. It ran aground on a reef in Hanalei Bay on the north coast of the island of Kauai. It’s unclear what the ship was doing in such a remote location. The Christian missionaries the king had often given rides to on his ship said it was persistent drunkenness of the crew that led to the Ha’aheo o Hawai’i‘s wreck. An attempt was made to rescue the vessel which was still above the waterline, but it failed, snapping the main mast, and when the news reached the islands that the king was dying, whatever parts of it could be salvaged were and then the ship was abandoned to the surf.

The surf did its job well and the wreck of the opulent royal yacht remained unexplored for more than 170 years. In 1994, Paul Forsythe Johnston, Curator of Maritime History at the Smithsonian Institutions’ National Museum of American History and formerly the curator of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem which has a long history with the yacht from her Cleopatra’s Barge days, applied for and was granted Hawaii’s first underwater archaeological permit to search for the Ha’aheo o Hawai’i. The next year, diver, historian and shipwreck hunter Richard Rogers volunteered his own vessel to help in the search. This video follows the team in the first few weeks of the search:

Hanalei Bay Shipwreck from John Yasunaga on Vimeo.

For four weeks each year between 1995 and 2001, the search party looked for the wreck. At first they only found debris, but a couple of seasons in they finally discovered the wreck under 10 feet of water and 10 feet of sand, documented it thoroughly and recovered some of its artifacts.

All told, more than 1,000 artifacts were retrieved.

“We found gold, silver, Hawaiian poi pounders, gemstones, a boat whistle, knives, forks, mica, things from all over the world, high- and low-end European stuff. Every bit of it is royal treasure,” Rogers said. [...] His favorite discovery was a trumpet shell.

“I found it under a bunch of sand and carried it onto the deck. This was in 1999. I blew it and it made the most beautiful sound going out over Hanalei Bay,” Rogers recalled. “I thought about how it hadn’t been blown in over 170 years.”

The principal value of the artifacts is historical, said Paul F. Johnston, Ph.D., Curator of Maritime History at the National Museum of American History Smithsonian Institution. They represent the only known objects from the short but intense reign of Kamehameha II, the man who abolished the Hawaiian kapu (taboo) socio-cultural system and allowed Christian missionaries into the kingdom.

“He only reigned from 1819 -1824, but Old Hawaii changed forever and irrevocably from the changes he put into place during that short period. He was an important member of our nation’s only authentic royalty,” Johnston said.

The Smithsonian has held the artifacts since their discovery for conservation and study, but they belong to the state of Hawaii. The museum has received four crates of objects recovered from the wreck and is expecting another two. Once everything is in place, curators will open the boxes and start unpacking their royal treasure for display.

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Hungarian mummies had 12 different strains of TB

April 9th, 2015

A newly published study of the mummies in the crypt of the Church of the Whites in the town of Vác, northern Hungary, has found they harbored multiple strains of tuberculosis all descended from a common ancestor in the late Roman period (396-470 A.D.). Contemporary TB infections are usually caused by a single strain.

The remains of 265 townspeople buried in the crypt between 1731 and 1838 were discovered in 1994 by a construction worker doing repairs on the church. The vault had been bricked in decades before and forgotten, leaving the cool, dry air and the anti-bacterial, fluid-absorbing properties of the wood chips placed under their bodies and of their elaborately painted pine coffins to naturally mummify the bodies and preserve even their clothing in the most exceptionally pristine condition. After X-rays at the Hungarian Natural History Museum in Budapest found evidence of tuberculosis in the bones, subsequent studies determined that 89% of the mummies had been infected with the tuberculosis pathogen at some point in their lives although only 35% of them were actively suffering from the disease at the time of their death.

The prevalence of tuberculosis in the group, their apparent resistance to the disease and the pre-Industrial, pre-antibiotic timeline of their deaths provided researchers with a rare opportunity to study tuberculosis during its peak infection years for invaluable information about how it was spread and how people’s immune systems fought the infection. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers from the University of Warwick, the University of Birmingham, University College London, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Hungarian Natural History Museum in Budapest extracted DNA from samples drawn from 26 of the Vác mummies that were known to have harbored TB pathogens. Using a methodology called shotgun metagenomics to extract tuberculosis DNA directly from the samples rather than attempting to isolate and culture the pathogen, the team was able to get results in days rather than weeks.

They found 14 examples of TB DNA in eight bodies. Five of the eight bodies sampled harbored multiple M. tuberculosis genome sequences for a total of 12 different strains. One body had three different strains of tuberculosis. Mixed infections like this are rare in Europe and America today, but in areas of the world where TB is still prevalent one out of five patients have multi-strain infections. The people in this study died when TB was at peak prevalence in Europe, killing millions as the White Plague.

They also discovered that the samples from two bodies known to have been mother and child — Anna Schöner (mother, died 1793) and Terézia Hausmann (daughter, 28 years old, died 1797) — shared the same two genotypes.

Our analyses on these bodies provide the first evidence of an intimate epidemiological link between TB infections in two long-dead individuals, supporting mother–child transmission, or vice versa, or infection from a common source. More striking is that we obtained the same two M. tuberculosis genotypes, albeit in different proportions, from samples from both bodies. It remains unclear whether this shared within-host diversity in mother and daughter stems from multiple episodes of infection or from a single transmission event of more than one strain. These findings add weight to the claim that within-host diversity poses a challenge when attempting to infer the nature and direction of disease transmission. Interestingly, two samples from Terézia Hausmann’s lung yielded different proportions of the two genotypes, perhaps suggesting fine-grained spatial heterogeneity in the distribution of strains

What a complicated disease TB is. No wonder it takes half a year of intense antibiotic treatment to cure (if the strain isn’t resistant, that is).

The metagenomics approach appears to be more effective at identifying multiple TB strains in samples than the microbiological culture approach. This method could prove a signficant improvement in the diagnosis of modern TB infections and opens the door to new treatment possibilities in the age of antibiotic resistance. The Warwick Medical School team has now successfully used metagenomics to identify the lineages of TB bacteria in contemporary samples. That study was published last September, but was actually performed after the pathogen strains were extracted from the Vác mummies, so the 18th century victims of the White Plague have already helped today’s victims by giving them a much faster and more accurate method to identify the bacteria causing their illness. That’s an important step in finding more effective, targeted treatment protocols.

Here, we have confirmed the remarkably high prevalence of TB within an affluent, urbanized, but largely pre-industrial, Central European population. By showing that historical strains can be accurately mapped to contemporary lineages, we have ruled out, for early modern Europe, the kind of scenario recently proposed for the Americas, that is, wholesale replacement of one major lineage by another (with a different host range and presumed pathogen biology) and have confirmed the genotypic continuity of an infection that has ravaged the heart of Europe since prehistoric times. With TB resurgent in many parts of the world, including Hungary, the struggle to control this ancient infection is far from over.

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Two 6th Dynasty priests’ tombs found at Saqqara

April 8th, 2015


Archaeologists excavating the site of Tabit El-Geish, south of Saqqara, have discovered two vividly painted tombs from the reign of 6th Dynasty pharaoh Pepi II (2,278–2,184 B.C. [yes, you read that right, a reign of 94 years, although the end date is disputed so he may have "only" reigned 64 years]). The discovery was made by the mission of the Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale (IFAO) under the direction of Dr. Vassil Dobrev in collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.

Both tombs were built on two levels: a top one on the surface made of mud brick, and a burial chamber below cut out of the white limestone bedrock. The burial chambers were both deep under the ground. The first tomb discovered belonged to a high priest named Ankh Ti and his burial chamber was 12 meters (40 feet) deep. The second tomb belonged to a priest named Sabi whose burial chamber was six meters (20 feet) deep.

The paintings decorate the walls of the limestone burial chambers and they are in excellent condition, their colors still bright more than 4,000 years after they were painted. Ankh Ti’s burial chamber paintings depict scenes of offerings to the gods including seven large jars used to contain the seven sacred oils necessary for the Opening of the Mouth ritual which made it possible for the deceased to eat and drink in the afterlife. On the left wall there is a lists of names of offerings and the quantity offered in a handsomely organized graph. (Old Kingdom Egyptians had spreadsheets down pat for at least three centuries by the time these tombs were built.) Next to the list is a false door with depictions of offerings including meat, birds, bread, vegetables, roses, milk and beer. Other scenes show incense balls, copper burning incense, head rests and the necklaces worn by priests during the performance of these rituals. Sabi’s tomb has similar paintings of the offerings and the list.

Human remains were found inside both burial chambers, but they were scattered about and there were no sarcophagi, the result of looting in antiquity, probably in the waning days of the Old Kingdom during the 7th or 8th Dynasty. The tombs weren’t completely emptied of artifacts by the thieves. Archaeologists found some funerary tools, alabaster jars, pottery and some colored limestone offering models.

The paintings and artifacts indicate Ankh Ti and Sabi were involved in mummification and funerary rituals as part of their priestly duties. The decoration of their tombs and the accessories buried with them were chosen to reflect the work they did in life.

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Skeleton of soldier unearthed at Waterloo identified

April 7th, 2015

The skeletal remains of a soldier unearthed at the Waterloo battlefield in June of 2012 has been identified. He was 23-year-old Friedrich Brandt, a private in the 2nd line battalion of the King’s German Legion, felled by a French musket shot to the chest during the Battle of Waterloo on June 18th, 1815. Although the identification cannot be confirmed with DNA analysis because no descendants are known, the circumstantial evidence makes a strong case.

Like a certain other historical figure whose remains were discovered in 2012, Brandt’s skeleton was found underneath a parking lot (an overspill lot for the battlefield visitor’s center). His skull was destroyed by mechanical diggers clearing the area for the planned reconstruction of the visitor’s center, but as soon as the crew realized they’d unearthed human remains they alerted the Ministry of Archaeology for the region of Walloon Brabant and archaeologists excavated the rest of the skeleton which was virtually intact, missing only a foot and some hand bones. They found the deceased also had something else in common with the other personage found under a parking lot: a spinal curvature that would have rendered him unfit for battle by modern standards. He was slight at just 5’1″ tall.

The young man had been hastily buried under 15 inches of soil, probably by his comrades who carried his moribund or dead body 109 yards behind the British front line in the shadow of what is today Lion Mount — a monument built in 1820 on the site where the Prince of Orange was wounded constructed out of 390,000 cubic yards of earth removed from the battlefield — but which in 1815 was the escarpment at the center of Wellington’s line. Victor Hugo describes the altered terrain poetically in Volume 2, Chapter 7 of Les Misérables:

Where the great pyramid of earth, surmounted by the lion, rises to-day, there was a hillock which descended in an easy slope towards the Nivelles road, but which was almost an escarpment on the side of the highway to Genappe. The elevation of this escarpment can still be measured by the height of the two knolls of the two great sepulchres which enclose the road from Genappe to Brussels: one, the English tomb, is on the left; the other, the German tomb, is on the right. There is no French tomb. The whole of that plain is a sepulchre for France.

Found with the soldier’s remains were 20 coins, an iron spoon, an unidentified wooden object with the initials “CB” and the date 1792 carved into it, the remains of the leather epaulets from his uniform, a flint and a small red sphere that nobody seems interested in explaining but we were all pretty curious about when it was discovered three years ago. The coins were corroded and only a half franc from 1811 could immediately be identified. Once cleaned, the coins were found to be German and French amounting to a month’s wages for a private in the King’s German Legion.

Researchers were hoping the epaulets might help identify which regiment the soldier had belonged to, but alas that came to naught. The only additional piece of evidence they were able to find was on the wooden object with the initials. Additional tests performed this February revealed that there was another initial before the CB, an F.

The discovery of the first initial was the breakthrough Gareth Glover, military historian, former Royal Navy officer and treasurer of the Waterloo Association, needed. KGL troops been positioned close to the area where the remains were found. When he checked the KGL muster rolls, he found only three soldiers with the initial FB. One had survived the battle. One died in the hospital in August of 1815. One was Friedrich Brand.

The King’s German Legion was formed after Napoleon conquered Hanover in 1803 and disbanded its army. King George III of England was also Prince-Elector of Hanover, so when his soldiers fled the French occupation, he welcomed them in England. KGL infantry, when they weren’t fighting the French mainly in Spain and Portugal, were quartered in barracks at Bexhill-on-Sea from 1804 until Napoleon’s first abdication in April 1814. Bexhill was a small village of about 100 houses with a population of 2,000. The arrival of 5,000-6,000 troops was initially jarring to the locals who compared them to Cossacks, but they soon settled in and became valued members of the community.

In August of 1814 the 5,000 KGL troops in Bexhill were ordered to return to the continent, much to the dismay of the Bexhillians who had come to love their German friends who sang so beautifully at St. Peter’s church, spent their wages so generously in the shops and hostelries and married their daughters. When Napoleon returned from exile on Elba and took his final stand at Waterloo, the KGL played a key role in the Allied victory, valiantly defending the farm of La Haye Sante 200 yards in front of the center of the
Allied line from late morning until they ran out of ammunition around 6:00 PM. Out of 360 KGL troops holding La Haye Sante, only 39 survived the French onslaught.

The rest of the King’s German Legion fought on Wellington’s right flank between Merbe Braine and Hougoumont farm. Private Brandt was part of this group. Glover believes he was slain in the early afternoon between 1:00 and 4:00 PM before his battalion advanced on Hougoumont.

Mr Glover said: “No-one can be 100% sure that the skeleton is Friedrich Brandt but with the information we have, this candidate is by far the most likely.”

It’s amazing they got anywhere near so educated a guess. Brandt’s is the only complete skeleton recovered from the Waterloo battlefield in two centuries. Close to 50,000 people died in that battle, but the Allied victors claimed their dead and buried them in consecrated ground while the French were burned or buried in mass graves. The graves were picked clean in the 1830s and 40s, the bones ground up to make valuable fertilizer for farmers and the teeth harvested for dentures that became known by the macabre moniker of “Waterloo teeth.”

To commemorate the bicentennial of the Battle of Waterloo this summer, Belgium is planning a number of special events and exhibitions. The skeleton will be part of an exhibition that opens in May at the Waterloo Battlefield museum, after which I hope he is buried with all due honors.

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