Coachman’s great-grandson donates Victorian carriage to museum

January 5th, 2022

The descendant of coachman Thomas Pedler has donated the carriage his great-grandfather drove in the Victorian era to the National Trust Carriage Museum at Arlington Court in Devonshire. The carriage belonged to Robert Chichester, cousin of Colonel John Chichester who built the current Arlington Court in the 1820s, so the donation still keeps this glorious conveyance in the family.

The museum in the stables of Arlington Court houses more than 40 carriages from a range of backgrounds and purposes, including the gilded Speaker’s State Coach, a glass hearse, an entirely utilitarian servant’s cart and private luxury coaches like this one. The collection began in 1964 with a donation of eight carriages from the Marquess of Bute. The National Trust set them up in the Victorian stable block of Arlington Court because the stables were still present, in good condition and empty instead of having been converted to other uses (cafes, shops, public restrooms) like many of the stables under the Trust’s care. The collection grew from there, even requiring construction of an annex to fit them. This is the first carriage with any connection to the Chichester family in the museum.

Robert Chichester and family lived in a manor named Hall near the village of Bishop’s Tawton in North Devon. The estate had been in Chichester family since the 16th century, but Robert built the current mansion between 1844 and 1847. The carriage followed. After its heyday, it was retired into one of the outbuildings where it was neglected, literally used as a chicken coop, until its rediscovery in 1996. It was sold at auction that year.

Painted a distinctive bright yellow with a black roof over the passenger compartment, the carriage still carries the crest of the Chichester family on the doors. It was originally designed as a family travelling carriage or town chariot, it was converted at a later point in the 19th century to a slightly larger and less formal carriage for regular family use.

Thomas Pedler’s great grandson, Mr Garth Pedler, acquired the carriage in 1996 when it came up for sale, because of the family connection. He had some conservation work carried out on the carriage and has since gifted it to the National Trust, who will be doing further conservation on it.  […]

Joanna Cairns, National Trust registrar said: ‘The process of moving the Victorian carriage from its current home near Totnes to Arlington has been fascinating. Due to its size and age, a specialist art handling company transported the carriage to Arlington Court. Once here it was then transferred into another specialist lorry where it went through a 24-hour process of warm air treatment to kill woodworm (and any other pests). Once it had the all-clear, it was admitted into the museum to ensure no pests could affect the rest of the collection.’

Now that it has been officially introduced to the museum, the carriage will undergo extensive analysis and conservation. Conservation of carriages is complicated because there are so many moving parts and different materials, all of which require specialized treatment. This one’s stint as a chicken coop adds a layer of difficulty, albeit not as much as you might think thanks to Garth Pedler who engaged National Trust Carriage Museum experts to conserve the carriage after he acquired it in 1996.

Conservators will also make a detailed study of the carriage’s construction and modification because they are significant examples of local craftsmanship with several unusual features (ie, a u-shaped window in the front quarter panels, a step and join where the lace of the front interior meets the rest of the interior). The carriage was built by Pettle of Barnstaple, a carriage-building company less than 10 miles from Arlington Court. His name is on the hub caps of the carriage wheels.

As of last month, the carriage has been put on display at Arlington Court’s National Trust Carriage Museum.


Louvre raises funds to reunite Venus cameo cup

January 4th, 2022

The Louvre has launched a fundraising campaign to acquire an exquisitely carved Italian Renaissance agate cameo of Venus and Cupid that once belonged to Louis XIV. If the campaign succeeds, the cameo will be reunited with its original carved stone and silver-gilt cup for the first time since it disappeared into private collections after the French Revolution.

Carved in meticulous detail from a single agate stone from Graubünden, Germany, the cameo depicts Venus at languid rest on a shell (the one she was born in, perhaps) with her son Cupid curled up next to her holding her hand. The carving takes full advantage of the natural color variations and swirls of the agate to set Venus’ pearlescent pale skin against the rich ochres of the shell underneath her. The cameo is rimmed with a silver-gilt border and a gilt swan, neck elegantly curved, wings outstretched, overlooks the loving scene of mother and babe.

It was made in the early 17th century by Giovanni Ambrogio Miseroni, scion of a Milanese family of hardstone carvers whose works were prized among the aristocracy and nobility of Europe for hundreds of years. (Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II was so pleased with their work he ennobled Giovanni and his brothers around the same time this cameo was carved.) Miseroni mounted the cameo as a lid onto a carved agate cup which was a hardstone masterpiece in its own right.

The cameo first appears on the historical record in 1661 in the inventory of the massive collection of Cardinal Jules Mazarin after his death. The inventory listing describes the vessel  thus:

A large shell-shaped cup carved from a single piece of German agate, upheld by a silver-gilt dolphin placed on a shell that is also of silver gilt, with another large German shell as its lid, also shell-shaped, carved with a nude Venus lying on a drapery next to a small Cupid and decorated with a silver-gilt rim.

It was one of the three most valuable vessels in the Mazarin collection, and Louis XIV acquired all three of them after the Cardinal’s death. They were in the royal collection until 1796 when they fell victim to a shortsighted (to put it mildly) scheme by the Revolutionary government to pay off creditors in kind with objects from the onetime royal collection. The Miseroni cup disappeared into a private collection, untraced and unpublished, for almost 200 years.

During that time, the cameo was detached from the cup. The cup emerged at auction on its own in 1968 and was acquired the Louvre. It has been on display with other masterpieces of hardstone art in the Galerie d’Apollon ever since.

Because the cameo disappeared without a trace long before it could be photographed, it was only known from written descriptions. When the lost cameo was included in a 2001 catalogue of the hardstone vessels in the royal collection, the owner recognized it from the description. It was sold at auction in London in 2011 and the Louvre tried but failed to buy it then. Now it has another bite at the apple, and the museum is aiming high so it doesn’t get outsold this time. The total price is 2.6 million euros. The public fundraising goal is at least one million euros before February 25th. Click here to contribute.


Cowardly Lion dog found in Rome tomb

January 3rd, 2022

A terracotta dog bearing a startling resemblance to the Cowardly Lion as portrayed by Bert Lahr in The Wizard of Oz has been discovered in ancient tombs in the Appio Latino neighborhood of Rome. Three small tombs were found in a preventative archaeological excavation before water line maintenance on Via Luigi Tosti, a mile south of the Porta Latina gate in the Aurelian Walls. They date to between the 1st century B.C. and the 1st century A.D.

Discovered just a foot and a half under the current road level, much of the tombs’ structure has been damaged by later construction. Blocks of yellow tufa wall remain of one tomb, a section of opus reticulatum (diamond-shaped tufa bricks) survives in a second, and the stone plinth of the third. Evidence of combustion on one of the tombs may explain their destruction and ultimate abandonment.

Archaeologists believe the three tombs were part of a modest complex of tombs constructed using the front of an abandoned pozzolana (the volcanic ash that was a key ingredient in the extraordinary longevity of Roman concrete) quarry. It was an early iteration of what a century later would grow into a group of sizeable above-ground tombs and underground chambers. Today that short stretch of the ancient Via Latina is an archaeological park dedicated to the tombs, but the recently-discovered ones are older and closer to the city. The tombs and catacombs in the Via Latina archaeological park date to between the 2nd and 4th centuries and are a mile further southeast along the Via Latina.

The terracotta dog likely predates the tombs. It was found in an earlier archaeological layer that also contained copious fragments of frescoed plaster. It depicts the head and forequarters of a dog, his pointy ears standing straight up and expression alert, for all its Bert Lahriness. This type of artifact is usually seen as an architectural feature, a decorative spout used to channel water away from the roof, but this particular example has no holes in it, so it cannot have been used for that purpose.


Medieval Pomerian elite burial with bronze bowl, amber rings found in Poland

January 2nd, 2022

A high-status burial from the late 11th/early 12th century containing an intact bronze bowl and rare matched pair of amber rings has been discovered in Ostrowite in Poland’s Pomeranian Voivodeship.

Two burials with bronze bowls had been found at the site before, one by the farmer during agricultural work in 2007 (precise location unknown) and the other in 2010 by archaeologists. Fragments of bronze bowls have been found throughout the site, however, and in 2020 and 2021, the team worked with volunteer metal detectorists  to pinpoint the likely location of a bowl and therefore a grave.

They hit paydirt in 2020 when a trench dug in an area with a concentration of detected bowl fragments unearthed an east-west orientated grave with a bronze bowl at the legs of the deceased (Tomb 80), then they hit it again in 2021 with an even more richly furnished bowl tomb (Tomb 81). While the organic structure of the tomb has not survived, the shape and size indicates it was a wooden chamber grave, a type used by the early medieval elites of Pomerania. Tomb 81 is larger than most at 9.7 feet long and five feet wide. (The average dimensions of the bowl tombs are 8 x 3 feet, and that’s larger than the average size of a non-bowl grave.)

Bronze bowls from the early Middle Ages in Poland are exclusively found in the graves of men. Inside the bowl were two pieces of wood. They were resting on top of the complete bowl, and archaeologists believe they were not left inside of it for funerary purposes, but rather are surviving fragments of the tomb’s wooden roof. Other organic materials have been found on the bowl’s surface  (fragments of textiles and their imprints) and underside (small fragments of leather, probably remnants of the deceased’s shoes preserved by the copper oxides in the bowl). The knife sheath has similar textile traces preserved on the surface as well.

Archaeologists also found an iron knife in a leather sheath with bronze fittings, two coin fragments and two amber finger rings buried in thegrave. The first ring was found where the bones of the right hand would have been (the small hand bones have not survived). The second ring was on a finger of the left hand on other side of the body. Amber rings are extremely uncommon grave goods, and finding two in one grave is unique.

“The deceased was most likely a representative of the local Pomeranian elite” – Dr. hab. Jerzy Sikora from the Institute of Archeology of the University of Lodz, who has been leading research in Ostrowit for several years. The deceased was placed in a wooden structure of the burial chamber, resembling a very large chest or a small house. Archaeologists call this type of burial, associated with the early medieval elites, chambered. The fact that the buried person was a Christian is evidenced by the fact that he was not incinerated after his death. In addition, the body was placed on the east-west axis, which was also a practice for Christians.

Tomb 81 is located near two other burials that likely belonged to the elite. They too have the dimensions and shape of a wooden chamber burial, but no clearly identifiable remains of the structures have been found.


Inscription found inside Etruscan helmet

January 1st, 2022

Archaeologists have found an Etruscan inscription inside a 2,400-year-old bronze helmet that was discovered 91 years ago in a tomb in Vulci, on the Tyrrhenian coast of Umbria in central Italy. It is an exceptionally rare find. Of all the known Etruscan helmets found in funerary contexts from the 6th through 3rd centuries B.C., there are no more than a dozen with inscriptions, and this one has been hidden in the plainest of sight: on public display since 1935 at the National Etruscan Museum of the Villa Giulia in Rome.

Discovered in Tomb LV of the small necropolis of the Osteria just north of Vulci in 1930, the bronze helmet can be dated from its typology and in comparison to the other grave goods in the richly furnished tomb to the middle of the 4th century B.C. This was a contentious time in the Italian peninsula, with local peoples vying on the battlefield for territorial control and against invaders like the Celts who sacked Rome in 390 B.C.

In 2019, the helmet was re-examined to assess its conservation needs and fully recorded as part of an effort to digitize the absolutely massive holdings of the Villa Giulia (plan at least three whole days if you want to see everything, like bare minimum, seriously). The new study revealed for the first time the existence of an inscription on the interior of the helmet.

The epigraph was inscribed inside the neck roll of the helmet after its manufacture. It is a complete sequence of seven letters reading HARN STE. (The space is there because there’s a rivet between the N and the S, but  Harnste is a single word.) While it is impossible to say with certainty that this was a personal name inscribed by the helmet’s owner like your mom Sharpied your name on the waistband of your undies when you went to camp, only the owner would be familiar enough with the inside of his helmet to put a name on it.

Vulci was famous in its time for its bronze work and the helmet was assumed to be of local manufacture when it was first discovered, but more recent scholarship and closer examination of the helmet points towards it having been made in Perugia where the vast majority of helmets of this type, midway between the early Etruscan Negau type and the Celtic Montefortino type, have been found. The name “Harnste” also provides a linguistic link to Perugia, as the name of an Etruscan woman “Harnustia” was found in an epigraph near the  Hypogeum of the Volumni in a suburb of Perugia.

The Villa Giulia museum has temporarily put the helmet in a new display case so visitors can examine it up close. After the Epiphany, it will be returned to its usual location, on display with other objects recovered from Tomb LV.

Here’s a 360-degree video of it in its temporary display location.


Happy New Year!

December 31st, 2021

Here’s to a 2022 replete with long-delayed archaeological digs, museum exhibitions attended by record-breaking crowds and lots of history nerd-themed travel. And if circumstances continue to make such resolutions too hard to keep, then we’ll just have keep the nerdfires burning virtually right here. :cool:


Decapitated horse found in Merovingian grave

December 30th, 2021

Archaeologists have unearthed a Merovingian-era cemetery in Knittlingen, southwestern Germany, that includes a beheaded horse laid to rest alongside his warrior rider. The excavation revealed more than 110 graves containing the remains of the local elite.

Today’s Knittlingen was founded in the Merovingian period (the first written record of it is Carolingian, dating to 843), but there is archaeological evidence of settlement going back to the Neolithic era. Graves from the Merovingian burial ground were first discovered in 1920 during construction of a narrow-gauge railway that was never completed. When real estate development was planned at the site in the 1980s, an archaeological survey encountered a few more graves, but the development did not move forward and the site was not thoroughly excavated until this summer.

The  Baden-Württemberg State Office for Monument Preservation (LAD) employed contractors ArchaeoBW to explore the area. As expected, the team encountered prehistoric findings, post holes, pits and trenches from Neolithic structures and fragments of ceramics dating to around 5000 B.C.

The main focus of the excavation, however, was the Merovingian cemetery. The goal was to uncover all of the inhumation burials at the site, and even though excavations will continue through the spring of 2022, archaeologists believe the cemetery has been fully revealed.

The graves were laid out in regular rows in largely chronological order, but the graves of some of the more notable members of the societal elite were out of sequence, buried within a circular ditch. Some of the graves were simple cut holes, but some individuals were buried in wooden coffins, and there were also more elaborate wooden chambers built to contain the remains of people of highest status.

While the cemetery was extensively looted in the Middle Ages, archaeologists were able to recover a wide range of funerary artifacts, including pearl necklaces, fibulae, earrings, arm rings, disc brooches, belt fittings and utilitarian objects like knives and combs. Weapons — swords, spears, shields, arrowheads — were found in male burials. Pottery containing the remnants of food were interred as funerary offerings.

“Despite their fragmentation due to the ancient robbery, the finds give indications of the social status of the dead,” said [LAD officer Dr. Folke] Damminger. The comparatively rich burials from the second half of the sixth century are remarkable in Knittlingen. One woman was buried with almost complete fibula outfits typical of the time. A gold disc brooch worn individually from a somewhat younger grave, on the other hand, heralds the fashion of the seventh century. Some of the men’s graves identified the deceased as cavalrymen. A decapitated horse was buried in the vicinity of one of these burials. Bronze bowls testify to table manners based on the courtly model.

The accessory ensembles of the late seventh century, on the other hand, looked somewhat more modest. It is not known whether this is due to a decline in prosperity or to a change in the staging of the funerals of the local elites.


Mummy of Pharaoh Amenhotep I digitally unwrapped

December 29th, 2021

The mummy of Pharaoh Amenhotep I is a unique survivor of the destructive fashion for unwrapping mummies in the late 19th and early 20th century. It has managed to survive the 140 years since its discovery untampered with, thanks largely to the pristine beauty of its wrapping, complete with floral garlands and lifelike wood and cartonnage face mask. It is still pristine, but now thanks to CT scanning, the mummy of Amenhotep I has been unwrapped virtually.

Amenhotep I was the second pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty, who ruled Egypt for two decades, from ca. 1524 to 1504 B.C. His original tomb has never been found, but his mummy was discovered in 1881 at the Deir el-Bahari Royal Cache in Luxor, hidden by priests of the 21st Dynasty to protect royal mummies from being damaged or destroyed by tomb raiders. The mummy was found in a wood coffin inscribed with the pharaoh’s name and recording that Amenhotep I had been rewrapped twice by 21st Dynasty priests of Amun. The pristine wrapping, therefore, was not original to his burial, but a later restoration dating to his reburial in the Royal Cache.

(Three thousand years later, Gaston Maspero, noted French Egyptologist and director-general of the antiquities of Egypt from 1881 until 1914, took over where the priests of Amun had left off. In his dogged pursuit of antiquities traffickers, he arrested the men who had secretly found the Deir el-Bahari cache of royal mummies and they confessed to their find under torture. Maspero quickly had the mummies moved to Cairo to protect them from tomb raiders. He was also responsible for the decision to keep Amenhotep I’s exceptional wrapping intact.)

The mummy was X-rayed in the 1930s and again in the 1960s, but the technology wasn’t refined enough to provide much in the way of information about the pharaoh’s body. CT scans allowed the creation of a 3D model that can be visualized in its different compositional layers.

“This fact that Amenhotep I’s mummy had never been unwrapped in modern times gave us a unique opportunity: not just to study how he had originally been mummified and buried, but also how he had been treated and reburied twice, centuries after his death, by High Priests of Amun,” said Dr. Sahar Saleem, professor of radiology at the Faculty of Medicine at Cairo University and the radiologist of the Egyptian Mummy Project, the study’s first author. […]

We show that Amenhotep I was approximately 35 years old when he died. He was approximately 169cm tall, circumcized, and had good teeth. Within his wrappings, he wore 30 amulets and a unique golden girdle with gold beads.”

“Amenhotep I seems to have physically resembled his father: he had a narrow chin, a small narrow nose, curly hair, and mildly protruding upper teeth.”

Saleem continued: “We couldn’t find any wounds or disfigurement due to disease to justify the cause of death, except numerous mutiliations post mortem, presumably by grave robbers after his first burial. His entrails had been removed by the first mummifiers, but not his brain or heart.”

The scans also revealed that contrary to previous scholarship (including Saleem’s), the 21st Dynasty priests had carefully repaired mummies damaged by looters at the end of the 20th Dynasty, not used them as mines of prestige funerary materials. All of Amenhotep’s jewelry and amulets were preserved in the linen wrapping.

The research has been published in the journal Frontiers in Medicine and can be read in its entirety here.


Jersey acquires world’s largest Iron Age hoard

December 28th, 2021

The world’s largest Iron Age coin hoard, discovered on Jersey nine years ago, has been acquired by the Government of Jersey for £4.25 million ($5.7 million). The Council of Ministers dipped into the civil asset recovery fund (moneys confiscated from criminal activities) to pay Her Majesty’s Receiver General, administrator of the Crown estate in Jersey, for the right to keep their own patrimony.

The Le Catillon II hoard was discovered by a pair of metal detectorists in February 2012. They had been searching that field for 30 years, looking for a coin treasure based on a tale they’d heard from the previous landowner’s daughter that she and her father had found coins in a jar buried in the field when she was a little girl. After three decades of fruitless searching, Reg Mead and Richard Miles found 60 coins of the Coriosolite tribe in what is now Brittany in one location. They dug down and encountered the top of what would prove to be a massive group of Celtic coins.

The find site was then thoroughly excavated by archaeologists who wrapped the mass of coins, hardened by corrosion into a half-ton block, and raised it in one giant chunk for excavation at the Jersey Museum in view of the public. Initial estimates of how many coins were crammed in there ranged from 30,000 to 50,000.  As excavation continued, the estimate increased to 70,000; this turned out to be the accurate figure. Conservators then encountered a surprise: a section about the size of a shoebox containing six gold torcs. They also found other pieces of jewelry, glass beads, a leather purse and a woven bag containing silver and gold jewelry. It took five years to fully excavate the block. The last coin was removed in 2017.

Treasure finds on Jersey are legally complicated because of its status as a self-governing Crown Dependency. The finders wanted the Le Catillon II hoard declared treasure under the UK’s legislation or, if the French law was applied, that it belonged to the finders and landowner. They tried to make a case of it, to loosen up the Crown Dependency chains a little bit, but nothing came of it, and a decade later it came down to a buyout. The hoard’s value was initially estimated at £10 million, so at least they got charged the friends price.

The historic collection of coins will now remain in Jersey Heritage’s care.

Part of the financial settlement included a £250,000 payment to Jersey Heritage for their work towards dismantling the coins, and an additional £250,000 which will be used to establish a trust. […]

The Crown will now undertake the work to establish an independent trust to promote scientific and educational research into the historic discovery.

Chief Minister John Le Fondre said the purchase was made “in the interest of the island”.

He said: “This is an outcome which will ensure that this unique part of Jersey’s history remains in the island for this and future generations.”


Riches, horses found in graves of “amber elites”

December 27th, 2021

Archaeologists have unearthed richly furnished graves in a 3rd-7th century A.D. burial ground on the Sambian peninsula in Russia’s Kaliningrad oblast. They belonged to the elite of the late Roman, Migration Period and early Middle Ages, many of whom prospered thanks to the enduring trade in Baltic amber as well as other prized commodities like fur, homey and wax. The graves prove that a distinctive elite arose in the area in the 3rd century, two centuries earlier than previously believed.

A team from the Institute of Archeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences began excavating the Putilovo-2 cemetery site three miles from the shores of the Baltic in 2015 for the first time in 150 years. In four years of exploration, they have revealed a two-acre burial ground. Excavations expanded this year in anticipation of new highway construction in the area.

Most of them are cremation burials with cinerary remains interred in urns. They range from simple vessels buried in a small pit to large, elaborate urns buried in wooden boxes with extensive grave goods. The urns and coffins were covered with large slabs and then topped with stones. While the burials were extensively looted in the Middle Ages, both for their metal contents and for the slab stone reused by the Teutonic knights in castle construction. Ironically, slabs that collapsed into the graves ended up protecting the contents from looters as the broken slabs were no longer usable and thieves assumed there was nothing left under the busted roof.

Grave goods that have been discovered thus far include pottery, jewelry of bronze, silver and gold, fibulae in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, torques, bangles, belt buckles, amber beads, weapons and tools. Roman silver and brass coins minted in the 1st and 2nd centuries were found in large numbers in the 4th-5th century graves. By this time they weren’t simple currency so much as objects of great symbolic value. Archaeologists believe they may have been deemed to have currency value in the afterlife, which is why they were found in the graves of people of all ages and classes.

Four of the graves were marked as members of the local elite by their contents. One features a large urn buried with a jar, a spearhead, a bronze dagger, a fibula, scissors, a gold ring, an iron shield boss and a unique large set of glass game pieces for the board game Ludus latrunculorum. The game was popular throughout the Roman Empire and environs including modern-day Poland and Scandinavia. This set is extraordinary because there are almost 100 pieces that were preserved in a pouch. Nothing like it has been found in the Kaliningrad region for 170 years, and never before in the Sambian peninsula.

This man in this grave was so important that he was buried with not one, not two, but three horses. One of them still had its bronze bridle on its mandible and another was buried with his grooming kit bag. There were other horse burials in the cemetery, but this is the only triple header.

The excavation is scheduled to continue for another six months. The artifacts will be cleaned and conserved for eventual display in area museums.





January 2022


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