Renovation of Seville tapas bar reveals 12th c. bathhouse

February 19th, 2021

Renovations of a Seville tapas bar have uncovered the remains a 12th century Islamic bathhouse with uniquely rich decorations. The Cervecería Giralda in the historic center of Seville has been one of the city’s most popular bars since it opened in 1923. The building has soaring vaulted ceilings supported by four columns, typical of the medieval bathhouses or hammams, and there are records going back to 1281 referencing a bathhouse that had existed in the area, but there was no archaeological evidence to confirm this was it, and the building was widely thought to be more Neo-Mudéjar (ie, Moorish Revival) than the genuine article.

The descendants of Roman baths, hammams served the same hygiene and socialization functions as their predecessors as well as performing a religious role as facilities for the full-body ablutions mandated in the Quran for ritual purification. There were hundreds of them in the Muslim-ruled cities. In Spain, Christian rulers who conquered those cities frequently destroyed the bathhouses, built over them or converted them to other uses.

Seville became the capital of Al-Andalus under the Almohad Caliphate which ousted the Almoravid dynasty in a series of battles between 1146 and 1173. They conquered Seville early, transferring the capital from Cordoba to Seville in 1150, but their rule would be short-lived. Seville was conquered by Ferdinand III of Castile in 1248.

Much of Seville’s extant Moorish style architecture was actually built by Christian rulers who appropriated the aesthetic even as they demolished or radically altered the original structures. Today there is only a smattering of original architecture from the Almohad period, including the Giralda bell tower of Seville Cathedral, formerly a minaret of the Great Mosque of Seville, the Patio del Yeso (Courtyard of Plaster) in the Alcázar royal palace, the Patio de los Naranjos, once part of the mosque and now annexed to the Seville Cathedral.

As the name suggests, the Cervecería Giralda is only feet away from the former mosque. The earliest documentary evidence of a bathhouse at the site dates to 1281 and refers to the “baths of García Jofre” adjacent to the cathedral being donated to the Church by King Alfonso X. By the 17th century, the great vaulted building’s history as a hammam was already forgotten. A major reconstruction divided the high ceilings of the warm room into two stories, replaced the original columns and closed the skylights. Historians contended it was the remains of an ancient amphitheater rather than a bath, or a newer construction from the 15th-16th century done in Moorish style.

Fran Díaz, the architect in charge of the modernization project, was labouring under that same misapprehension when he began renovations last year. He was disabused of the notion when probes behind the false ceiling revealed the presence of skylights known as luceras, decorative cutouts in the ceiling characteristic of hammam architecture. In the wake of the discovery, renovators stepped back so archaeologists could take over to fully explore the remains of the bathhouse.

Skylights in the vaulted ceiling. Photo courtesy Fernando Amores.They found 88 skylights in several different shapes — eight-pointed stars, six-pointed stars, octagons, quadrifoils — that are far more elaborate than those found in other Muslim baths of the period. An entirely unprecedented discovery were geometric murals. Nothing like them has been found before in the Iberian peninsula. Painted in red ochre against a white background, the latticed pattern likely represented water. Large sections of it have survived on the walls and ceilings. Archaeologists believe that the entire bathhouse from ceiling to floor was originally painted with these decorations. This is the only known hammam with surviving original wall and ceiling painted decoration. The only other examples of integral decoration in bathhouses stopped at the baseboards.

Entrance to main room of Cervecería Giralda with 12th century vault and geometric murals. Photo by Paco Puentes, El Pais.The main space of the bar was the hammam’s warm room. One wall opens into a smaller rectangular space with a barrel-vaulted ceiling that was originally the bathhouse’s cold room. That’s where the skylights are. What is now the kitchen area was the hot room, but most of the original structure was destroyed so all that remains is a partial arch. That the skylights and priceless murals survived at all is thanks to Vicente Traver, the architect who renovated the building in the early 20th century. He could have torn down what was left of the bathhouse, or redone it so invasively that little of the original elements remained. Instead he created the false ceiling and protected the fragile remains.

The discovery of the baths spurred a new concept for the renovation of the bar. To preserve the 12th century marvel while still making the space a functioning bar, architectures installed a metal cornice above Traver’s wall tiles. Renovations are scheduled to be completed next month, after which the Cervecería Giralda will reopen with a newly fabulous interior that maintains the striking features of the early 20th century renovation that have become integral to the establishment’s character with the magnificence of the original Almohad hammam.

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Millstone with phallus found during roadwork

February 18th, 2021

A rare Roman millstone engraved with a phallus was discovered during highway expansion work in Cambridgeshire. It was unearthed in 2017-2018, but the was the phallus relief was not recognized until post-excavation cleaning and documentation. As utilitarian objects, millstones were rarely decorated. Of the 20,000 archaeological millstones and querns unearthed in Britain, only four are decorated.

Archaeologist MOLA Headland Infrastructure and its partner Oxford Archaeology examined the millstone.

They discovered two crosses inscribed on the circumference of the quern, a simple hand mill for grinding corn, typically consisting of two circular stones.

They also found the phallus carving on its upper face.

The millstone had been broken during its use and was then adapted, which preserved the carvings as it was then reversed to be used as a saddle quern, one of the bed stones used in the grinding process, hiding the genital carving.

Phalluses were widely used in the Greco-Roman world as apotropaic symbols, talismans to ward off evil. The powers of the fascinus, the erect phallus, sometimes winged, were deployed for personal protection in the form of pendants, to fend off trespassers and welcome the well-intentioned at boundaries and over doorways, to shield against danger in public baths and to guard valuables and businesses from the Evil Eye of the envious. The higher the value, the greater the risk from envy, and anything associated with wealth and pleasure was at particular threat from the envious. As both a great pleasure and a necessity of life, food was in critical need of protection.

The phallic symbol’s most obvious connotation was fertility which was bound to the idea of proliferation, fecundity, productivity. Thus a phallus played multiple roles for a business. It warded off evil while drawing in luck, happiness and prosperity. Pompeii provides a stellar example of this confluence in the carved relief of a phallus with the inscription “His Habitat Felicitas” found above a bakery. Felicitas means both happiness (as in “felicitations!”) and luck (as in “felicitous”), from the root word “felix” meaning “fertile.” There’s an additional layer of association between the phallus as inseminator and grains, themselves symbols of fecundity.

Dr Ruth Shaffrey, from Oxford Archaeology, said: “As one of only four known examples of Romano-British millstones decorated this way, the A14 millstone is a highly significant find.

“It offers insights into the importance of the mill to the local community and to the protective properties bestowed upon the millstone and its produce (the flour) by the depiction of a phallus on its upper surface.”

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CT scans reveal execution of pharaoh

February 17th, 2021

CT scans of the mummy of 17th Dynasty pharaoh Seqenenre-Taa-II have revealed new details about his violent death. Seqenenre ruled southern Egypt at the end of the Second Intermediate Period when Egypt was occupied by the Hyksos. His reign was brief — ca. 1558–1553 B.C. — but consequential, as his death in battle helped spur the ultimate defeat of the Hyksos and reunification of Egypt in 1550 B.C. by Seqenenre’s son, founder of the 18th Dynasty Ahmose I.

The Hyksos, a Greek version of the Egyptian term for “foreign rulers,” occupied Egypt for about a century. They established their capital in Avaris (present-day Tell el-Dab’a) and directly ruled over Lower and Middle Egypt while extracting tribute from the Egyptian pharaohs who still ruled a much-reduced kingdom centered in Thebes. Simmering tensions finally exploded into all-out war in the reign of Seqenenre.

It all started, as so many deadly conflicts do, with a noise complaint. According to The Quarrel of Apophis and Seqenenre, a sebayt (ancient Egyptian wisdom literature meant to impart lessons) written in the 19th Dynasty, Hyksos king Apophis wrote a deliberately inflammatory letter to Seqenenre demanding that he get rid of a sacred pool of hippopotami in Thebes whose vocalizations were disturbing his sleep 400 miles away. The ending of the fable is lost, but the last surviving fragment of papyrus says Seqenenre called his high officials and every ranking soldier in his army to inform them of Apophis’ provocation, which suggests preparation for war.

Hard archaeological evidence of the 17th Dynasty Hyksos wars is thin on the ground. Inscriptions point to Deir el-Ballas, a settlement north of Thebes founded by Seqenenre, having been used as a staging ground for war, but there is nothing in the record about how it all played out between Seqenenre and the Hyksos, just about how his sons battled them concluding with Ahmose’s victory.

The mummified remains of Seqenenre were discovered at the Deir el-Bahari mortuary complex outside of Thebes in 1881. The mummy was unwrapped five years later at the Cairo Museum. Inscriptions on the linen wrappings identified it as the mummy of Seqenenre-Taa. It was clear from that initial examination that the remains were not mummified in the royal workshops. The mummification was incomplete and the remains had putrefied. Several head wounds were also evident. Later studies noted that there were five distinct head injuries and that there were no wounds anywhere else on the body.

The question whether the wounds and hasty mummification were the result of a death in battle, post-capture execution or palace assassination has been subject of debate since 1886. In 2019, researchers re-examined the mummy of Seqenenre with a CT scanner that allowed them to create a full 3D reconstruction of the body. The imaging data was then compared to five Asian Middle Bronze Age weapons from the Hyksos period that were discovered in Avaris and are now in the collection of the Egyptian Museum. The weapons — three daggers, a battle axe and a spearhead — date to around the reign of Seqenenre, so if they were found to match his wounds, it would be solid evidence that he died at the hands of the Hyksos.

The scans found that the bones within the wrappings were partly disarticulated, but researchers were nonetheless able to estimate his age at death to be around 40 years old and his height to be around 5’5″, give or take an inch. The dessicated remnants of his brain are still present on the left side of his cranium. The usual procedures of mummification removed the brain, but there is no evidence that was even attempted here. The viscera were removed, however, and resins and linen bundles packed into the cavities.

The 3D scan of the head found a profusion of injuries: a massive cut fracture of the frontal bone, a puncture fracture above the right eyebrow, fractures to the nose, right eye socket and right cheekbone caused by blunt trauma. There’s a cut wound on the left cheekbone and a fracture of the left side of the mandible. A fracture in the foramen magnum was caused by a penetrating injury through the back of the skull.

The forehead cut fracture was likely inflicted by a heavy sharp weapon like a sword or battle axe by an assailant who was above Seqenenre, for example, standing above the kneeling king or on horseback while the pharaoh was on foot. The puncture fracture above the right eyebrow was inflicted by a double-edge blade wielded by an assailant standing in front of him slightly to the right. The foramen fracture was inflicted with a long sharp weapon wielded from Seqenenre’s left side. Any one of these blows could have been fatal.

The broken nose, right eye socket and cheekbone were caused by repeated blows with a blunt object like a club or axe handle. He was struck diagonally from above. The left cheek fracture was caused by a heavy blade like a sword or axe. The bronze battle axe fit the size and shape of the wound.

We confirm in this CT study that Seqenenre’s craniofacial injuries were inflicted around the time of the King’s death (perimortem) as there is no evidence of healing. Such severe craniofacial trauma could have caused fatal shock, blood loss, and/or intracranial trauma.

The variety in attack angle, as well the wide range of weapons we believe to have caused the King’s injuries, indicate that Seqenenre was killed in battle by numerous enemy attackers. The match between weapons and the morphology of the injuries strongly suggests that Seqenenre was killed during a war between the Egyptians and the Hyksos.

Typically, when people suffer such massive injuries to the face, there are defensive wounds to the arm because people reflexively put their arms up to ward off the blows. There are no such injuries to Seqenenre’s arms, but his hands are flexed at the wrist and the fingers are stiff. Researchers believe they were tied together behind his back when he died, and the muscles became rigid in that position.

We argue that Seqenenre fought the Hyksos, was captured, and that his hands were cuffed.[…] We assume that the King was at a lower position than his assailant(s), possibly kneeling at least for some time during the attack. This position explains the high forehead injury that could have been the first blow the king received, inflicted by a sword or an ax. The strong hit must have caused the King to fall down, possibly on his back. The King may have received several attacks from the assailant with the Hyksos battle ax, possibly using its blade to inflict the fracture above the right eyebrow (right supra-orbital). Then a thick stick (possibly the handle of the ax) was used to smash the nose and the right eye of the King. The assailant hit the King’s left side of the face with the ax. Another assailant at the left side used a spear horizontally to pierce deeply the lower part of the left ear (mastoid) and reached the foramen magnum. We assume that the King was dead at this point, and that his body was rolled to lie at his left side where he received several blows to the right side of the skull possibly by a dagger. The dead King likely stayed lying down on his left side for some time enough for the body to start decomposition as the brain shifted to this dependent side.

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Augsburg Cathedral murals are 1,000 years old

February 16th, 2021

Murals on the south transept of Augsburg Cathedral have been newly dated to around 1000 A.D., making them the oldest known paintings in a cathedral north of the Alps.

The murals depicting scenes from the life of John the Baptist were painted on the south transept at the time of the construction of the Romanesque church (completed 1065). They were whitewashed during the iconoclastic fervor of the Protestant Reformation centuries ago and their existence was forgotten until they were rediscovered when the whitewash was removed during renovations in the 1930s. Further elements were revealed during renovations in the 1980s. The murals had suffered extensive paint loss and nobody realized at the time of the rediscoveries their age and significance.

The first inkling of their great age came after structural repairs to the roof in 2009 exposed wall paintings that could only date to the original construction of the cathedral. Similarities in style between the construction period paint and the south transept murals suggested the faded murals may be far older than anyone realized.

In fact, they are older than the anyone realized the church was.

Dendrochronological tests revealed that wood in the masonry dated from AD1000, contradicting the previously held dating of the cathedral to around AD1065. The new dating “fits with what we know about a massive destruction in 994,” says Birgit Neuhäuser, a spokeswoman for the Bavarian State Office for Heritage Protection.

“The oldest frescoes are the first layer above the masonry, and are therefore part of the original decor of the church,” Neuhäuser says. “We can assume that in the case of an important Episcopal church, the frescoes would have been painted soon after the construction, so soon after AD1000.”

A team of restorers and researchers from the Bavarian State Office for the Preservation of Historical Buildings has spent months studying, cleaning and conserving the murals for the first time. They have been able to identify two scenes and the remains of a third despite the extensive paint loss. The scene on the east wall depicts the beheading of John the Baptist. Herod sits on the throne in the upper part of the panel while two disciples mourn the execution of the Baptist. The west wall mural depicts the entombment. The third scene was on the south wall but was destroyed in the 14th century when a Gothic window was constructed. Researchers believe it was probably the birth and naming of John the Baptist.

Given the height of the frescoes in the church, there is no need for special conservation measures in the long term, according to Neuhäuser. “They are not under any particular stress” from the humidity or heat generated by visitors’ traffic, she says. “After cleaning and conservation, they are in a stable and sustainable condition.”

The team plans to examine the roof area and the northern transept of the church for further fresco remnants.

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ID tags of Jewish children found at Sobibor

February 15th, 2021

Excavations of the extermination camp of Sobibor in Poland have uncovered four id tags of Jewish children slaughtered there. All four of them were from Amsterdam, part of the targeted extermination of Dutch Jews in spring and summer of 1943. They were:

  • Annie Kapper, born January 9, 1931, murdered April 2, 1943,
  • David Juda Van der Velde, born November 21, 1932, murdered April 2, 1943,
  • David “Deddie” Jacob Zak born February 23, 1935, murdered June 1943,
  • Lea Judith de la Penha, born May 11, 1937, murdered July 1943.

Annie Kapper was the oldest of the four. Born in January 1931, she was all of 12 years old when she was sent to Sobibor with her family on March 30, 1943. The trains arrived on April 2nd and all 1255 Jews on board were sent to the gas chambers. Her aluminum tag was discovered near one of the camp’s mass graves.

David Yehuda Van der Velde was part of the same transport as Annie Kapper. He was 11 years old when he and his family were deported from Camp Westerbork to Sobibor on March 30th and gassed to death on April 2nd. His aluminum tag, the right side broken off, was discovered just west of the gas chambers.

Deddie Zak’s tag was found at the site of one of Sobibor’s crematoria. Heartbreakingly, the tag had been burned. Deddie had been imprisoned at Camp Vught, a concentration camp in the southern Netherlands, and was part of the mass deportation of Jewish children from Camp Vught to the transit camp at Westerbork on June 6th and 7th, 1943. More than 1,000 children from age 0 to 16 were transported to their deaths, including 119 small infants, 55 babies and 123 toddlers. On June 8th, they were loaded onto freight trains and sent to Sobibor. They were gassed to death immediately upon arrival on June 11th.

Lea Judith de la Penha, her mother Judith and father David were arrested and held in Westerbork in July 1943. On July 6th, they were deported to Sobibor in a transport of 2,417 Jews. They arrived on July 9th. Mother, father and little girl were murdered that day. She was six years old. Her tag was found near the camp’s railway platform.

Yoram Haimi [of the Israeli Antiquities Authority[said: “As far as we know, identity tags with children’s names have only been found at Sobibor, and nowhere else. Since the tags are very different from each other, it is evident that this was probably not some organised effort. The children’s identity tags were prepared by their parents, who were probably desperate to ensure that the children’s relatives could be located in the chaos of the Second World War. Lea, Annie and Deddie’s tags have enabled us to link faces and stories to the names, which until now had only been anonymous entries in Nazi lists. Archaeological excavation provides us with an opportunity to tell the victims’ stories and to honour their memory.”

Researchers were able to trace the childrens’ final movements because they were all sent to Camp Westerbork before their final deportation to Sobibor. Today the Herinneringscentrum Kamp Westerbork is a memorial center dedicated to the 102,000 people who were imprisoned there. Records of the four children, their happy pasts, their tragic ends, were found in the center’s archives.

Mr Haimi recalled: “I have been excavating at Sobibor for ten years, but this is the hardest day I have ever had. As we stood holding the tags in the field, beside the crematoria, we contacted the centre and we gave them the names. They responded immediately. By phone, we received photos of smiling young children. The hardest thing was to learn that some of the children whose tags we held in our hands reached Sobibor on a children’s transport– 1,300 little children, aged four to eight, who were sent here to die alone, without their parents. I looked at the photos and asked myself, how could anyone have been so cruel?”

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Exceptionally rare Chinese bowl found in Dresden museum

February 14th, 2021

A small porcelain bowl in the collection of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (SKD) has been newly identified as an extremely rare piece produced by the Ru kilns of the Northern Song Dynasty  (960–1127). Ru ware is the rarest of all Chinese ceramic types; this is only the 88th example of Ru pottery known in the world.

Ru was the official ware of the Northern Song dynasty. These were some of the first ceramics produced exclusively for the imperial court. It operated uniquely small kilns (no more than 6.5 feet in diameter) and production was limited because all pieces were fired individually rather than stacked and were perched on stilts. They were also fired twice, greatly increasing the odds that of failure. The Ru kilns were only in production for 20 years. The rapid decline of the late Northern Song made the Ru works a flash in the pan, but their rarity and quality exerted a massive cultural influence that has only strengthened over the centuries. Today Ru ware is revered as the pinnacle of Chinese imperial ceramic.

Five inches in diameter, the shallow bowl has rounded sides and stands on a narrow curving foot. It is a brush washer, the most popular surviving form of Ru porcelain with 34 of them known, including this one. Its translucent green-blue glaze is crazed with a pattern known as ice crackle. Ru ware was the first Chinese ceramic to embrace the faceted reflectivity of crazing as an asset. The effect is caused by the body and glaze contracting at different rates and it cannot be controlled.

The brush washer was acquired by German doctor and avid collector of Chinese porcelain Oscar Rücker-Embden when he was in China in 1913-4. He sold it to Ernst Albert Zimmermann, director of the Porzellansammlung, in 1927. While Zimmermann was a top expert on East Asian porcelain at the time, the bowl was believed to be a Korean work from the 10th-13th centuries which have very similar features and are far less rare than Ru ceramics.

The bowl’s true identity was discovered during an exhaustive inventory of East Asian porcelains at the Porzellansammlung, the SKD’s porcelain collection. An international team of experts was enlisted to study the collection, and in 2018, staff from the Palace Museum in Beijing alerted the SKD that their “Korean” bowl might actually be a Ru piece. That has now been confirmed by Regina Krahl, one of the world’s foremost experts in Ru ware. That makes this one little bowl worth something north of $40 million. An almost identical Ru brush washer sold at Sotheby’s for $37.7 million in 2017.

Julia Weber, director of the Porzellansammlung: “Of course, we knew that there are precious treasures to be found in Dresden’s Porzellansammlung, some of them little-known. But the fact that they include one of these legendary Ru ceramics is a real sensation. The bowl is one of the very first ceramics to be made exclusively for the Chinese imperial court more than 900 years ago. As the Song dynasty was driven into the south of China by invaders shortly afterwards, Ru ceramics already became a mythologised memento of an idealised lost past immediately after their creation. To this day they are considered icons of Chinese culture, though their extreme rarity means that few have the chance to admire an original, let alone own one. This history-steeped little bowl is very much at home in Dresden, where Augustus the Strong assembled the largest collection of Chinese porcelain outside Asia.”

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Runes on rib bone oldest script used by Slavs

February 13th, 2021

A bovine rib bone inscribed in Elder Futhark runes is the oldest writing system ever used by ancient Slavs. It is also the first archaeological evidence of direct contact between the Germanic tribes of Central Europe and the Early Slavs.

The bone was discovered in Břeclav-Lány, South Moravia, Czech Republic, in a 2017 excavation of an Early Slavic settlement occuped from the 6th-7th century to the 9th. It was in a pit with other animal bones, handmade pottery and clay pans. Radiocarbon analysis of the inner section of the bone dates it to between 585-640 A.D. The date range makes this pit the earliest absolute dated Early Slavic feature in the Czech Republic and Austria.

The inscription consists of six of the last eight runes of Elder Futhark. The vast majority of the 430 extant examples of Elder Futhark are personal names. Only 17 of them are abecedaries, whole or partial, and this is the only one with the final part of the runic alphabet; the others are missing the last three runes. It is also the first one found in a non-Germanic archaeological context.

Archaeologists believe that bone originally contained the entire alphabet but only the broken end of it has survived. Because it’s an abecedary rather than a word, it’s likely the bone was used as a teaching tool. The carver appears to have been inexperienced. In addition to the missing runes l and ŋ, there are errors of proportion and extra lines from repeated attempts at a rune.

Before this discovery, the earliest script encountered by the Slavic people was believed to be Glagolitic, an alphabet invented in the 9th century A.D. by Saints Cyril and Methodius of Byzantium to translate the Gospels into Slavic languages. The rune bone indicates that Slavs encountered a form of writing almost 300 years earlier than previously believed.

This ground-breaking discovery made by archaeologists from Masaryk University demonstrates that before the introduction of the Glagolitic script the Slavs had come into contact with runes, which they may have used for counting or divination, for example. This finding also calls into question whether cultural differences between Germanic and Slavic Europe were so clear cut. “The fact that it is the earliest evidence of writing among Slavs is certainly interesting for the nearly 300 million people who speak Slavic languages,” added Macháček.

The study has been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science and can be read here.

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World’s oldest conch shell horn sounds again after 18,000 years

February 12th, 2021

A prehistoric conch shell that was adapted into a musical instrument 18,000 years ago has been played again. Discovered in 1931 at the entrance to the Maroulas cave located in the foothills of the Pyrenees in southwestern France, it is the earliest known conch shell horn in the world and the only prehistoric one.

When it was first published in 1933, the Charonia lampas shell was believed to be a “loving cup,” a ceremonial drinking vessel. Its broken apex and outer lip were presumed to be natural damage, not the result of human intervention. Acclaimed at the time as an “exceptional discovery,” the shell entered the collection of the Natural History Museum of Toulouse and faded into obscurity until 2016 when researchers looked at it with fresh eyes and even fresher technology as part of a study of the cultural context of the Maroulas cave paintings.

Analysis with modern imaging techniques found that the shell was in fact deliberately altered by the late Upper Palaeolithic Magdalenian people who occupied the cave. CT scans, photogrammetry and examination with a medical camera found considerable evidence of human transformation of the shell that enabled it to be blown. The apex of the shell, the toughest part of it, was broken off deliberately by being repeatedly struck. This could not have happened accidentally, by wave action when it was still in the ocean, say.

A hole running from the break in the apex into the interior of the shell is also man-made. It is extremely narrow with regular striations on its edge, indicating that it was drilled. Researchers believe the apex was destroyed and the hole was created so a tubular mouthpiece, the hollow bird of a bone, for example, could be mounted to the shell. A residue of brown organic matter along the broken edge of the apex may be the remains of a resin or wax used to adhere the mouthpiece, something seen in less ancient examples of conch horns found in Syria and New Zealand. The labrum, the outer lip of the shell was also chipped off to make a finer, more regular edge.

Enhanced imaging further revealed faded remains of red ochre pigment dots on the columella (the inside of the wide opening) that are very similar to ones used to form a bison image on the wall of the cave. There are also very fine engravings under the pigment on the inner lip of the shell opening.

The musical dimension of the conch shell from Marsoulas provides outstanding information on the symbolic activities linked to cave art. […]

We now have strong evidence that the Marsoulas shell comes from the archaeological level attributed to the beginning of the Magdalenian period. Its decoration with red pigments and graphic elements that exist on the walls of the cave supports this attribution. This is the first time that a symbolic link is attested between an ornate cave and a musical instrument. As with art, music is a production of social interactions. The strong link that must exist between image and sound certainly had a social function, which was to take its importance in social practices and rituals.

To test whether the shell was playable, the research team enlisted the aid of a musicologist and wind instrument specialist from the University of Toulouse. Jean-Michel Court played it by vibrating his lips as when playing a trumpet or trombone. Different notes depend on the tension of the lips and the amount of air blown into the cavity. Even with the sharp edges of the apex posing a grave risk of lip injury, Court was able to produce three distinct notes from the shell horn — C, D and C sharp.

Here they are:

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Dorset County Museum saves Dewlish mosaic

February 11th, 2021

The internationally significant Roman mosaic of a leopard attacking a gazelle that was sold to a foreign buyer in 2020 and was at risk of export has been saved for the nation. After the Culture Minister imposed a temporary export bar last summer, the Dorset County Museum was able to raise £150,000 ($207,000), the price paid by the buyer, to acquire the mosaic.

The museum’s fundraising campaign achieved its goal thanks to grants from non-profits, trusts, heritage organizations and donations from the public. One large donation came from San Francisco financier Richard Beleson who went to elementary school in Britain and is a passionate supporter of keeping archaeological artifacts in as close to their original context as possible.

The leopard and gazelle mosaic was part of a large pavement in Room 11 of the Roman villa whose remains were found on the grounds of the 18th century stately mansion of Dewlish House in 1974. It dates to the second half of the 4th century and is a unique example of the Durnovarian (modern-day Dorchester) school of mosaicists. These were the top flight mosaicists in late Roman Britain.

Dewlish mosaic, 4th century A.D. Photo courtesy the Dorset County Museum.

Dr Clare Randall, archaeologist and Vice-Chairman of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society said: “We are delighted to be able to retain the Leopard and Gazelle mosaic from Dewlish villa within the area from which it originated. The mosaic is not only beautiful, and one of the finest examples of figure work from Roman Britain, but it is part of the story of the Dewlish villa and its inhabitants. There were people living in Roman Dorset with wealth, connections and exquisite artistic taste, and it is objects like this that give us a chance to glimpse their lives.”

The mosaic will go on public display with two other mosaics recovered from excavations of the Roman villa in Dewlish already in the collection of the Dorset County Museum. The museum is in the process of expansion and refurbishment and the mosaics will be installed in the new galleries scheduled to open later this year.

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Entire Bayeux Tapestry FINALLY in high res

February 10th, 2021

Good high resolution photographs of the iconic Bayeux Tapestry have been largely impossible to find online. The internet is lousy with meme versions of the tapestry (including custom ones created with a dedicated generator), but if you wanted to browse the real thing you were out of luck.

Well, the long, dark night is over. The Bayeux Museum has digitized the entire tapestry and made it freely available on its website. The embroidered linen illustrated retelling of the Norman conquest of Britain in 1066 is 68.38 meters (224 feet) long and 70 centimeters (2’4″) long. High resolution photographs were digitally stitched together to create a panorama that you can scroll through from beginning to end, zooming in close enough to see every stitch of the embroidery and the weave of the linen. You can also jump from scene to scene. Click the Text button on the right side menu for transcriptions and translations in English and French of the Latin inscriptions.

The photographs were taken in 2017 as part of an unprecedented three-year study of the Bayeux Tapestry to determine its conservation needs. The condition report found there are 24,202 spots, 16,445 folds, 9,646 gaps in the canvas or the embroidery and 30 unstabilized tears. The first few feet are significantly weaker than the rest of the tapestry. It is not in immediate danger, but the determination of the committee in charge of monitoring the condition of the work is that it does need a comprehensive restoration focused on repair and stabilizing areas of damage that are not integral to its long history. Some issues that bear witness to its past — nail holes from previous hangings, wax stains from candles — will be left as is unless deemed to be a danger to the tapestry.

The project will be a complex one. Just to begin with, the current backing, installed in 1982, will have to be dismantled. The 18th century liner and a band applied to the lower part of the tapestry in the 19th century have to be removed to free the medieval linen from excess tension. Since the museum will be undergoing a vast refurbishment in 2024 and will shut its doors for new construction, the conservation is tentatively scheduled to take place during the museum’s closure.

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