Ashmolean acquires unique Civil War painting

May 17th, 2017

Group portrait of Prince Rupert, Colonel William Legge and Colonel John Russell by William Dobson, ca. 1645, 150 x 198 cm © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.The Ashmolean Museum has acquired an exceptional group painting by Civil War-era court painter William Dobson. It was acquired through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, which allows donation of nationally significant artworks and antiquities in place of payment of taxes owing, and allocated to the Ashmolean because of the painting’s unique relevance to Oxford during the Civil War.

The work was commissioned by Colonel John Russell, commander of Prince Rupert’s elite Bluecoats regiment, in the winter of 1645–6, less than a year before Dobson’s death. The painting captures three of the Royalist commanders: Prince Rupert, King Charles I’s nephew, Colonel William Legge, the Governor of Oxford, and John Russell. This was a tough time for the three men and for the Royalist cause in general. Rupert, the figure on the left, had just been defeated at Bristol, surrendering the main Royalist port to the Parliamentarians. John Russell, a supporter of Rupert’s who had valiantly fought at the Battle of Naseby and barely survived to fight again at Bristol, is on the right. Legge stands in the center.

The painting is filled with symbols and references to the recent discord between the King and his nephew and to Rupert’s enduring loyalty. The scroll which Rupert holds in his right hand may refer to the blank sheet which Charles had sent to him on which to compose his confession. Instead, being innocent, Rupert asked Legge to return the letter empty, which greatly moved the King and resulted in a pardon. Rupert has also discarded his scarlet cloak which he was recorded as wearing when he rode out of Bristol following his surrender.

Beside the cloak is a dog wearing a collar with the initials ‘P.R.’ The dog is a motif traditionally associated with faithfulness and may, in this painting, be intended to stand for Boye, Rupert’s famed white poodle who rode into battle with the Prince and was killed in 1644 at Marston Moor. To Parliamentarian pamphleteers Boye was a ‘devil dog’ credited with supernatural powers, such as being weapon-proof and able to catch bullets with his teeth. Among Royalists, Boye was also immensely popular and as ‘Sergeant-Major-General Boy’, he became the army’s mascot. There is also, in the painting, hints of revenge likely to be directed towards George Digby, 2nd Earl of Bristol, who led the faction against Rupert and tried to convince the King that his nephew was a traitor. The central figure dips his cockade in the glass of wine which evokes biblical episodes where clothing stained with wine symbolized vengeance.

Oxford became the new Royalist capital in 1642 after Parliamentarians took London and King Charles I fled. There he established his court in exile where it remained until the city was successfully besieged by Parliamentarian forces in 1646 and Charles escaped yet again, this time disguised as a servant.

Elias Ashmole by John Riley (1646–91). Oil on canvas, 124 x 101 cm © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.Elias Ashmole was a staunch Royalist. He left London in 1642 too, and moved to Oxford in 1644 where he was appointed an ordnance officer for the King’s army. A lawyer by trade, Ashmole was a man of eclectic interests including alchemy, botany, astronomy and collecting antiques, coins and books. He took full advantage of the opportunities his new town had to offer. In 1645 he was accepted to Brasenose College where he would pursue his studies in natural philosophy, mathematics, astronomy and astrology.

Long after the Civil War was over and just a year before the Restoration, Ashmole’s renowned collection of coins, book and manuscripts was geometrically expanded when John Tradescant the Younger, who like his father was a famed gardener (they’re both buried in the St. Mary-at-Lambeth churchyard) and collector of varied treasures from books and coins to weapons, taxidermied animals and curiosities of natural science, either gave his collection to Ashmole or was conned out of it by Ashmole in 1659.

The Statutes of the Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.The Ashmole-Tradescant collection was bequeathed to Oxford by Ashmole in 1677. In 1683 he had the whole kit and caboodle moved to a new museum on Broad Street custom-built to house the treasures. The collection was by then so large that it filled 26 great chests and had to be moved to the museum by barge. Unlike its predecessors, which were either private holdings or used for institutional research and teaching, the original Ashmolean was the first modern public museum, forming the blueprint for museums as we know them today. That first Ashmolean building on Broad Street still stands, now as the Museum of the History of Science.

Friday, May 19th, is the 400th anniversary of Elias Ashmole’s birthday. The Ashmolean will be celebrating their founder’s 400th birthday with a grand parade down Broad Street by Civil War reenactors. King Charles I will lead the procession at the head of his army. When they reach the Ashmolean, they will join Elias Ashmole’s birthday party where reenactors will bring to life the characters in his 400th birthday present painting.

 

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Nodosaur fossil so well-preserved it boggles minds

May 16th, 2017

Nodosaur fossil discovered in Alberta bitumen pit in 2011, about 110-112 million years old. Photo by Robert Clark for National Geographic.

A dinosaur fossil that was discovered in a bitumen pit in Alberta, Canada, in 2011 is the best-preserved specimen of a nodosaur ever discovered, and it is truly a spectacle to behold. The herbivore died between 110 and 112 million years ago in a riverbed and was swept to sea where it was swiftly buried in the mud and sediment of the seabed. Resting on its back, the nodosaur’s soft tissues, armour plating and thorny ridges became mineralized, preserving its form in stone.

Composite of 8 images showing the fossil from overhead view. Photo by Robert Clark for National Geographic.Scientists think the entire body was fossilized, but by the time mechanical excavator operator Shawn Funk unearthed it in the Millennium Mine, the front half of it from nose to hips, about nine feet long, was all that could be recovered. Nodosaurs averaged about 18 feet in length and weighed 3,000 pounds, so they were formidable creatures, although they lacked the flashy spiked tail club their ankylosaur cousins used to break the shins of would-be predators.

Royal Tyrrell Museum technician Mark Mitchell frees foot and scaly footpad from surrounding rock. Photo by Robert Clark for National Geographic.The nodosaur is now in the capable hands of the experts at the fossil prep lab at Alberta’s Royal Tyrrell Museum. They determined that it is a new species of nodosaur as well as the oldest dinosaur ever discovered in Alberta. The painstaking work of excavating the mineralized beast from the surrounding rock has been visible to the public through the lab gallery window since its discovery.

Nodosaur's armour ridges. Photo by Robert Clark for National Geographic.For those of us not in Alberta, National Geographic has been granted exclusive access to this extraordinary find. Photographer Robert Clark took many exceptional photographs, and even he, who has doubtless seen many wonders as a National Geographic photographer, was dumbfounded by the preservation of the nodosaur.

20-inch spikes jutting from nodosaur's shoulders. Photo by Robert Clark for National Geographic.The more I look at it, the more mind-boggling it becomes. Fossilized remnants of skin still cover the bumpy armor plates dotting the animal’s skull. Its right forefoot lies by its side, its five digits splayed upward. I can count the scales on its sole. Caleb Brown, a postdoctoral researcher at the museum, grins at my astonishment. “We don’t just have a skeleton,” he tells me later. “We have a dinosaur as it would have been.”

Ripple through the stone traces right shoulder blade. Photo by Robert Clark for National Geographic.For paleontologists the dinosaur’s amazing level of fossilization—caused by its rapid undersea burial—is as rare as winning the lottery. Usually just the bones and teeth are preserved, and only rarely do minerals replace soft tissues before they rot away. There’s also no guarantee that a fossil will keep its true-to-life shape. Feathered dinosaurs found in China, for example, were squished flat, and North America’s “mummified” duck-billed dinosaurs, among the most complete ever found, look withered and sun dried.

Ribs in dark brown, osteoderms in light brown woven through with grey-blue stone. Photo by Robert Clark for National Geographic.Paleobiologist Jakob Vinther, an expert on animal coloration from the U.K.’s University of Bristol, has studied some of the world’s best fossils for signs of the pigment melanin. But after four days of working on this one—delicately scraping off samples smaller than flecks of grated Parmesan—even he is astounded. The dinosaur is so well preserved that it “might have been walking around a couple of weeks ago,” Vinther says. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

The right side of nodosaur's head. Photo by Robert Clark for National Geographic.Some people are making Zuul comparisons, but scientists already snagged that little pop culture gem as the official name of an ankylosaur unearthed in Montana which also had spectacular soft-tissue fossilization. They called it Zuul crurivastator, meaning “Zuul, destroyer of shins,” which I think we can all agree is one of the all-time great feats of nomenclature. I think the Alberta nodosaur bears a more notable resemblance to the Gorn, of original Star Trek fame. That glaring blank eyesocket with the thorny brow ridge is so Gorny.

Nodosaur sees what you did there. Photo by Robert Clark for National Geographic.National Geographic has created a 3D virtual model of the nodosaur fossil that is one of the best I’ve ever seen. As you might expect, you can zoom in and out, turn it around and view it from different perspectives, but this one has tons of additional features. As you scroll, the parts are exploded and labeled so you can get a thorough idea of what bits go where and what function they performed. A drawing of a complete nodosaur as it would have looked in life is used to diagram what parts of it have survived in the fossil.

 

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Edward Hopper in Motion

May 15th, 2017

It’s the 50th anniversary of Edward Hopper’s death today. To celebrate the realist painter’s oeuvre, Orbitz (yes, the discount travel site) has created animated versions of nine of his most recognizable and iconic works.

I generally enjoy attempts to add dimension to stills or artworks, for instance the recent trend in documentaries to give a 3D effect to old photographs. A subtle animated element can be effective as long as it makes sense in the context of the scene and it isn’t just distracting. All in all, I find the Hopper animations fairly good. There are some things I’d do differently, mainly fewer short repetitive loops and more smooth continuous action. Some elements — smoke over coffee cups, flickering neon signs — look too rushed. However, Hopper’s characteristic urban scenes often depicted through a window with us as the voyeurs lend themselves well to this sort of treatment. With a few adjustments, it would make a damn cool Tumblr.

Morning Sun and New York Movie are probably my favorites. The slow brightening of the scene in the former brings the title into the action, and the moving picture actually moving is nicely handled in the latter. The flicker in the theater is a bit overdone, in my opinion, with too strong a contrast of light and dark. It doesn’t match what’s being shown on the screen.

I was most looking forward to Nighthawks, but alas, it’s my least favorite of the animations. The blinking light is on too short of a loop and it doesn’t really match the scene because it’s the interior lighting of the diner that flickers instead of a neon sign like Chop Suey. Neon signs flicker all the time. The blinking neon light has become an iconic representation of night life — a little rundown, a little busted, but still vital in its color and brightness. If all the lights in a diner kept turning off and on, you’d just call the power company, and you certainly wouldn’t settle in for the night to enjoy the splendid urban isolation because it would be freaking torture.

The descriptive blurbs on the side are well done. My one criticism there is that they should link to the original paintings instead of just telling you which museums they’re in now.



 

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National Museums Scotland gets Galloway Hoard for £1.98 million

May 14th, 2017

Selections from the Galloway Hoard. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland.The Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer (QLTR) has allocated the Galloway Viking Hoard to the National Museums Scotland (NMS) on the condition that they make an ex gratia payment of £1.98 million ($2,550,000) to the finder Derek McLennan who discovered the hoard in 2014. NMS has until November of this year to raise the sum. They’ve set up a donation site (which is showing me a DNS error at the moment, probably because it’s brand new).

Unique gold bird pin from the Galloway Hoard. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland.The bulk of the find is a rich Viking-age hoard of silver jewellery and ingots. However, it also contains an outstanding range of exceptional precious metal and jewelled items including a rare gold ingot, a gold bird-shaped pin and a decorated silver-gilt cup of Continental or Byzantine origin. The cup is carefully wrapped in textiles and is the only complete lidded vessel of its type ever discovered in Britain or Ireland. This vessel contains further unusual objects: Glass beads from Scandinavia. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland.beads; amulets of glass and rock crystal; pilgrimage relics; a silver penannular brooch; another rare gold ingot; five Anglo-Saxon disc brooches of a kind not found in Scotland before; and jewelled aestels, pointers used to read and mark places within medieval manuscripts.

Other finds from around Britain or Ireland have been exceptional for a single type of object—for example, silver brooches or armlets. However, the Galloway Hoard is unique in bringing Stamp-decorated bracelets from Ireland. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland.together a remarkable variety of objects in one discovery, hinting at hitherto unknown connections between people across Europe and beyond. It also contains objects which have never before been discovered in a hoard of this age. Incredibly, fragile textiles, leather and wooden fragments have also survived, providing an extremely rare opportunity to research and reveal many lost aspects of the Viking Age.

The Dumfries and Galloway Council, which launched a campaign earlier this year to keep the hoard in the county where it was discovered, is less than pleased with the QLTR’s decision.

Cathy Agnew, Campaign chair, said: “This treasure was buried in Galloway for safekeeping 1,000 years ago – it is deeply disappointing that the QLTR believes it should be allocated to the National Museum in Edinburgh where it will potentially be lost amongst so many other wonderful artefacts.

Silver ingots. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland.“This is a most unfortunate decision for the region and for Scotland. It is doubly disappointing that a more enlightened approach has not been taken, especially as 2017 is Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.

“The support from the public, from academics, politicians of all parties, and so many others – across Scotland and the world – to keep the hoard in Galloway, where it would be cherished, has been magnificent. It is a real shame their voices and their passion have gone unheeded.”

Brooch from Galloway Hoard. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland.It’s hard for a county council to win against the resources of a national museum, especially when the local museum that would house the hoard has not actually been built yet. They made a valiant effort, drastically increasing the budget for the new Kirkcudbright Art Gallery and raising a great deal of money and support for the cause of keeping the hoard in Dumfries and Galloway. They knew it was a long shot, however, and all the while hoped to be able to come to an agreement with NMS for joint ownership.

Detail of brooch decoration. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland.National Museums Scotland showed no interest in shared custody. It thinks it is the proper home for a treasure of international significance, because they have the wherewithal and expertise to give it all the care and security such complex, delicate archaeological materials need. The preservation of the extremely rare surviving organic remains in particular requires specialists and facilities that the National Museums can provide. Its location in Edinburgh will also “ensure that the Hoard is seen by the maximum number of people, from Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, the UK and internationally.”

Brooch from Galloway Hoard. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland.In its press release on the allocation of the hoard, NMS had this to say on Dumfries and Galloway’s involvement:

National Museums believes that it is important there is a display of the Hoard in Dumfries and Galloway, and intends to continue to seek a dialogue with Dumfries and Galloway Council to ensure that a representative portion of the Hoard goes on long-term display in Kirkcudbright Art Gallery.

Runes inscribed on silver ingot. Photo courtesy National Museums Scotland.It’s not joint ownership, but it’s something. Had they made a tandem bid that was accepted, the bigger museum would almost certainly have had the greater say in the division and exhibition of assets anyway, so in the end the Kirkcudbright Art Gallery might well end up with much the same sort of display it would have had if they had partnered with NMS.

 

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Tomb with 17 mummies found in Minya, Egypt

May 13th, 2017

Mummies lined up inside the newly discovered burial site in Minya. Photo by REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany.Archaeologists have discovered a tomb containing at least 17 mummies near Minya, Upper Egypt. The tomb was found more than 25 feet under the village of Tuna al-Gabal where a number of necropolises have been unearthed containing the mummified remains of animals. This one contained some animal coffins (baboons) too, but the stand-out finds are eight limestone and clay sarcophaguses holding well-preserved, linen-wrapped mummified human remains as well as stacked human remains without coffins. Archaeologists also found two papyri inscribed with Demotic script.

Limestone coffins and mummies inside burial site. Photo by REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany.The underground burial chamber was first spotted last year by Cairo University students using ground-penetrating radar, but they only knew it was a hollow space until the excavation this week discovered it was a cachette, an unmarked burial site where mummies were secreted to keep them safe from grave robbers. (The endeavor was of limited success; the site does appear to have been interfered with in antiquity or more recently.) The remains have yet to be radiocarbon dated. Researchers believe they may date to the Late Period — from around 600 B.C. until the conquest of Alexander in 332 B.C. — or possibly to the Greco-Roman period dating from Alexander’s conquest to around 300 A.D.

Detail of mummy inside limestone coffin. Photo by REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany.About 150 miles south of Cairo, Minya is the capital of the Minya Governorate, a province rich in archaeological sites including the city of Amarna, built by the Pharaoh Akhetaten and abandoned after his death; Hermopolis Magna, the cult center of the god Toth in ancient Egypt and an important Greco-Roman city where in some Christian traditions the Holy Family was said to have lived after their escape from Herod’s baby killers; Antinopolis, founded by the Emperor Hadrian in honor of his dearest companion Antinous whom he deified after his death by drowning in the Nile; and the Beni Hasan tombs of mongoose-on-a-leash fame.

A mummified dog inside an animal necropolis in Minya. Photo by REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany.With such a dense concentration of significant sites spanning the ages from the Old Kingdom to the modern era, you’d think a tomb with a bunch of mummies would hardly be headline news, but this one is unique. For one thing, it’s been a long time since any mummies were found in the area. Not since the discovery of the animal and bird necropolises between 1931 and 1954 have any kind of remains been discovered in Minya. Even more significantly, it’s the first human necropolis discovered in central Egypt to contain such a large number of mummies.

Last but certainly not least:

Archeologists believe that it is the first time to unearth a burial tomb with that number of mummies for ordinary people and in catacombs style. Inside the catacomb, Khaled Anani, Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities referred to the gaps inside the catacombs saying “The more we drill the more we find.”

Skulls buried in the sand inside a newly discovered burial site in Minya. Photo by REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany.The Telegraph was given access to the tomb. Four wells of eight meters deep were unearthed, which lead to catacombs where mummies of men, women and children are laid in good shape.

In one chamber inside the tunnels, human bones and skulls are piled. Most of the mummies were laid in lines in both of its sides. While some them were left in plain stone and wooden sarcophagi, others were piled on top of each other.

Minya mummies in the catacomb. Photo by AFP.The well-preserved mummies inside the coffins were given expensive treatment, so it’s likely they were not just regular Joes off the street. Since Minya was known as a center for the worship of the god Toth, they could have been priests associated with his temple.

The excavation has only just begun, and archaeologists expect to find more of the catacomb and more human remains as they proceed. The papyri are being moved to the Grand Egyptian Museum for conservation.

 

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Unknown Caxton leaf found in university archive

May 12th, 2017

The newly discovered Caxton leaf. Photo courtesy the University of Reading.A two-sided page from a 15th century priest handbook printed by William Caxton has been discovered in archives of the University of Reading. Written in Medieval Latin, the leaf was part of a book called the Sarum Ordinal or Sarum Pye, a manual for priests on managing feast days for English saints during the ecclesiastical year. It was printed by William Caxton in his shop, the Red Pale, in late 1476 or early 1477 and was one of the first books printed in England. The University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library has a notice from Caxton’s shop promoting the manual which is the earliest surviving printed advertisement in English publishing history.

One of only two known surviving fragments from this enormously significant edition in the history of English publishing, the leaf is in very good condition even though it hasn’t exactly been treated with kid gloves over the years. For three centuries it was glued into the spine of another book to reinforce the binding. It was saved from that ignominy by a University of Cambridge librarian in 1820 who put it in a scrapbook along with other fragments rescued from bindings, but not even he recognized it as an original Caxton page.

Erika Delbecque with the Caxton leaf. Photo courtesy the University of Reading.University of Reading Special Collections librarian Erika Delbecque, on the other hand, knew right away she had struck gold.

“I suspected it was special as soon as I saw it. The trademark blackletter typeface, layout and red paragraph marks indicate it is very early western European printing. It is incredibly rare to find an unknown Caxton leaf, and astonishing that it has been under our noses for so long.”

The pages are part of the John and Griselda Lewis Collection. John Lewis was a typographer and pioneering scholar in the field of printed ephemera. Griselda was a writer. Between them, they amassed a collection of more than 20,000 items pertaining to the history of printing. The University bought the John Lewis Printing Collection at auction in 1997 for £70,000 ($90,000), with the aid of a £60,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The collection is stored in 87 boxes at the University of Reading’s Centre for Ephemera Studies in the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication.

The collection is still in the process of being catalogued, which is what Erika Delbecque was doing when she came across the Caxton leaf.

Copies of the Sarum Ordinal were produced in Westminster, before the Reformation, and consisted of around 160 leaves. The text was originally established as a manuscript by St Osmund, the Bishop of Salisbury, in the 11th century. It would have been owned by clergymen and consulted on a regular basis, but was discarded after the Reformation.

Only one other surviving fragment of the book exists, consisting of eight double-sided leaves, which are held at the British Library in London.

The Caxton Advertisement. Copyright © Oxford University Images / Bodleian Library.The University of Reading’s leaf is from a different part of the book than the British Library’s pages, so it is unique.

The Caxton leaf is on display at the University’s Special Collections department at the Museum of English Rural Life on London Road through the end of the month. Admission is free.

 

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Ammonite’s epic final drag mark immortalized

May 11th, 2017

Every once in a great while, a track or drag mark left by a long-dead animal is discovered in the fossil record. The most commonly found ones are known as mortichnia and are the traces of arthropods, bivalves, fish and other animals left just before their death. The longest mortichnial trackway recorded is 9.7 meters (32 feet) long and was left by a horseshoe crab in the Upper Jurassic Solnhofen Lithographic Limestone near Wintershof, Germany. (Solnhofen limestones are among the richest sources of fossilized tracks and drag marks in the world.)

Finding both a fossilized drag mark and the fossil of the creature that left it is exceptionally rare. An ammonite fossil discovered in the late 1990s in the Upper Jurassic limestone of a quarry near the village Solnhofen in Bavaria put even the rarest of its brethren to shame by leaving a fossilized drag mark an unheard of 8.5 meters (28 feet) long. All the examples of ammonite drag marks found before this one were less than one meter in length.

Fossil of ammonite Subplanites rueppellianus, producer of the 8.5-meter drag mark. Touchdown mark bottom left. Lomax DR, Falkingham PL, Schweigert G, Jiménez AP (2017)The ammonite in question (Subplanites rueppellianus) was dead and drifting when it left its final testament: multiple continuous parallel lines dug into the sediment of what was then the sea floor by the ribs of the shell. At first glance, it’s not a terribly impressive specimen. A sub-adult male, it’s comparatively small at 114 x 101 mm (4.5 x 4 inches) and poorly preserved. It was damaged when it was collected; there’s a crack running through it, and a separate fragment was reattached during restoration.

The little guy’s drag mark, on the other hand, is in excellent condition. It was recovered in multiple pieces and put back together. Its dramatic length isn’t even complete, because the spot where the ammonite first began to drag along the sediment did not survive. Based on the depth of the furrows, researchers believe the ammonite started off buoyant courtesy of the gases in its shell generated by the decay of the dead animal. The drag marks start off light, then get deeper as the gases wear off and the ammonite shell drops lower onto the top layer of carbonate mud substrate.

Entire drag mark with close-ups of some portions. Lomax DR, Falkingham PL, Schweigert G, Jiménez AP (2017)

The preserved start begins with two prominent ridges, with a single furrow. Here, the mark width measures 5.7 mm. From this point, the drag mark width was measured at approximately every 50 cm (Table 1). At one metre, additional ridges created by the ribs of the ammonite appear in the substrate, but they are faint and poorly preserved. Noticeably, at 1.7 m, an additional three ridges are present but disappear again.

Four ridges appear consistently from around 2 m (Fig 1), until about 6.5 m, where five prominent ridges appear. At approximately 7.5 m, only four prominent ridges can be seen, but beyond this point the drag mark preserves five very prominent ridges. It is not until the drag mark is nearly terminating, at 30 cm anterior to the ammonite, where six ridges are present and prominent. At 3 cm from the ammonite, the number of ridges increases to 11, showing that more of the ammonite is clearly in contact with the substrate (Fig 3). Here, the orientation of the ridges turns from being parallel to the long axis of the specimen to almost perpendicular to it, and increase in number to 18. Here, the ridges and furrows in the substrate mirror the spacing of the ammonite ribs that are well preserved, indicative of a touch down mark (Fig 3).

The shell was likely bounced along the substrate by currents and waves, not by another animal. The exceptional length of this drag mark indicates a very stable, calm current that was steady enough to keep the ammonite shell moving without tumbling or excessive rotating while not disturbing the sediment on the sea floor.

A digital model of the full surviving drag mark has been created using photogrammetry, a high-resolution composite generated from 645 photographs. And thus the ammonite with his epic drag mark, already preserved by fossilization, achieves digital immortality as well.

 

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Girl found in coffin under San Francisco home identified

May 10th, 2017

Coffin of little girl found under San Francisco home. Photo courtesy Elissa Davey.Last year, construction workers digging underneath a garage in San Francisco unearthed a child’s coffin. The bronze casket was three-and-a-half feet long and had two leaded glass windows, a popular design in the Victorian era for those who could afford it. Through the windows the well-preserved body of a little girl could be seen. She was wearing a white lace christening dress and ankle high shoes. She was also wearing a long necklace and holding a single flower which was at first believed to be a rose, but later found to be a purple nightshade flower. Little purple flowers had been woven into her hair and roses, baby’s breath and eucalyptus leaves were placed around her body.

Workers remove bodies from a San Francisco graveyard. Photo courtesy Colma Historical Association.The find was poignant, but not surprising. The home is in the Richmond District, which in the 19th century was the site of multiple cemeteries. When the real estate value of the district outpaced its value as a (not so) eternal resting place in the early 20th century, San Francisco evicted the underground tenants from Richmond and almost every other cemetery within city limits, leaving only two cemeteries of 26 intact. The city claimed this mass exhumation was necessary to prevent the spread of disease, but nobody was fooled. The remains of about 300,000 people were exhumed and reburied south of the city in Colma, which a decade later would be officially founded by cemetery owners as a necropolis that would never be subject to the political considerations that had spurred the liquidation of San Francisco’s graveyards. The little girl was one of 26,000 people buried in the Odd Fellow’s Cemetery, most of whom were moved to Colma’s Greenlawn Memorial Park in around 1920.

The medical examiner’s office examined the body in situ, but told homeowner Ericka Karner that it was entirely her responsibility to see to its disposition because the child was found on her property. She looked into reburial options, but the most modest estimate was $7,000. The priciest quote was $22,000. Meanwhile, the casket had been unsealed during the examination and the remains of the child, whom she named Miranda Eve, were beginning to deteriorate.

Knights of Columbus stand guard during reburial. Photo by Michael Macor, San Francisco Chronicle.With the body of a little girl decaying in her backyard, Karner called City Hall. They wouldn’t take responsibility for the remains their predecessors had so half-assedly overlooked either, but they did put her in touch with the Garden of Innocence, a non-profit organization that arranges dignified burials for unknown or abandoned children. Elissa Davey, genealogist and founder of Garden of Innocence, raised money and arranged donations for the reburial. A month after she was found, Miranda Eve was reburied in a donated plot in Greenlawn Memorial Park. She was placed in her original bronze coffin, and it was placed inside a new wood casket inspired by the two-window design of the original.

Edith Cook's Christening dress and flowers. Photo courtesy Garden of Innocence.Davey didn’t stop there. She wanted to give Miranda Eve her identity back. The task was monumental. First they were able to discover the manufacturer of the coffin: N. Gray & Co. Undertakers. Then they found a map of the Old Fellow’s Cemetery which they compared with modern street and other maps to pinpoint the location of the burial. It took more than 1,000 hours of research and a year of assiduous work, but the Garden of Innocence team was finally able to discover Miranda Eve’s real name. She was Edith Howard Cook, daughter of Horatio Nelson and Edith Scooffy Cook, who died on October 13th, 1876, when she was less than two months short of her third birthday.

Funeral home records show Edith died from marasmus, or severe undernourishment. It’s not clear what caused the illness, but in late 1800s urban living could have led to an infectious disease, the nonprofit said.

Information released Tuesday reveals that Edith was born into two prominent families in the world of commerce and society. Her mother was born into a San Francisco pioneer family, as her father Peter Scooffy was an original member of the Society of California Pioneers.

Horatio Cook and Edith Scooffy married in 1870 and baby Edith’s father tanned hides and manufactured leather belts. He also served as Consul for Greece.

After her death at a young age, Edith’s parents had another daughter, Ethel Cook, who was declared by a Russian nobleman as the most beautiful woman in America, the nonprofit reported.

"Miranda Eve's" gravestone at the reburial. Photo by Michael Macor, San Francisco Chronicle.Her identity was confirmed by DNA which was a match with the DNA of Edith’s grand-nephew Peter Cook. The headstone of “Miranda Eve” was left blank on the back so they could engrave her real name on it, should it ever be found. Now that it has, Edith Howard Cook will have her name on her headstone again.

The Garden of Innocence website has uploaded a detailed report of the discovery, reburial and their exceptional research on their website.

 

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Mongoose on a leash identified in Middle Kingdom tomb

May 9th, 2017

The Egyptian mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon) was one of the many animals in the Egyptian bestiary that figures in tomb decorations going back to the Old Kingdom. They were depicted mainly in hunting scenes, stalking their prey in the swampy riverlands, climbing a papyrus stalk to snatch hatchlings from a nest, feasting on a fish in the rushes, even attacking a goose mid-flight.

Hunter holds leashes of a dog (bottom) and an Egyptian mongoose (top) in the 11th Dynasty tomb of Baqet I at Beni Hassan. Photo copyright Linda Evans/Australian Center for Egyptology, Macquarie University, Sydney.They are easily recognizable in this context and from the animal’s characteristic features — short legs, long tail, long body, short snout and small ears — but divorced from its natural setting, one depiction of a mongoose has been the subject of debate for more than a century. A new field study of wall paintings in the cemetery of Beni Hassan has identified an Egyptian mongoose being led on a leash in the 11th Dynasty tomb of Baqet I (Tomb 29). This is the only known depiction of a mongoose on a leash in ancient Egyptian art.

Beni Hassan is a Middle Kingdom (21st to 17th centuries B.C.) cemetery about 12 miles south of the modern city of Minya in Middle Egypt. There are almost a thousand rock-cut and shaft tombs in the cemetery. The rock-cut tombs are carved into the limestone cliff face that overlooks the lower part of the cemetery where the shaft tombs are located. The elite, mainly hereditary nomarchs (regional governors) were buried in the upper cemetery, their rock-cut tombs elaborately decorated with animals and scenes from daily life (wrestling, chipping flint tools, spinning, playing music, pot making, smelting, feeding oryxes).

Man spinning thread illustrated by Robert Hay, Tomb 3.Several of the decorated tombs were documented by Egyptologists in the 19th century, including luminaries of the field like Jean-François Champollion and, most notably, Scottish pioneer Robert Hay, who undertook the first exceptionally thorough project to illustrate, trace and draw every ancient Egyptian tomb and temple he encountered in the 1820s and 30s. By the time of British Egyptologist Percy Newberry’s expedition to Beni Hassan in 1890, the paintings in one of the tombs Hay had documented (Tomb 3) were so faded and damaged that Newberry had to rely on Hay’s 60-year-old work in his own publications. Newberry’s team made important new tomb discoveries and meticulously illustrated every painting found, tracing them in full-size or drawing them from life. One of the draughtsmen on that team was a young Howard Carter. Newberry would be part of his team 30 years later when Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun.

Newberry noted the unusual image of the leashed animal in his reports, suggesting it might be a mongoose, but other scholars disagreed with his identification. The Egyptian Antiquities Ministry team has recently conserved and cleaned the Beni Hassan tombs, and Professor Linda Evans of Macquarie University in Australia has surveyed the refreshed paintings using the latest technology.

The conservation and recording has “revealed many scenes not found in Newberry’s reports,” wrote Evans. In addition, the new work has identified creatures in the drawings that Newberry had been uncertain about. [...]

Drawing of the hunting party with the leashed mongoose and dog. Photo copyright Linda Evans/Australian Center for Egyptology, Macquarie University, Sydney.Evans’ team determined that the animal is “morphologically identical” to the Egyptian mongoose, wrote Evans, noting that the animal is also clearly depicted on a leash. “The animal clearly sports a gray collar that tapers to join a long, gray leash, which is held in the left hand of a bearer, who also holds the leash of a spotted hunting dog situated below the mongoose,” Evans said. [...]

“While mongooses have never been fully domesticated — that is, subjected to controlled breeding — some cultures have chosen to keep the animals as pets in order to control unwanted pests, such as snakes, rats and mice,” Evans wrote.

Evans speculates that the mongoose could have been used the way some bird dogs are used today, to scare birds out of the bush so hunters can have at them. That’s one possibility, but there’s no reason they couldn’t have been used to stalk and catch prey as well.

Egyptian mongoose eating a catfish. Photo by Artemy Voikhansk.My grandmother told me that her mother, my very formidable great-grandmother who was reputedly a crack shot, used to hunt rabbits with ferrets. Their long, tubular bodies easily fit into warrens, and they had an implacable drive to get to the other side of whatever tunnel they were in and to kill whatever might be in their way. They’d clear a warren in no time, keeping the rabbit population under control and providing the family with much-needed food.

I had pet ferrets at the time, which is what inspired the story-telling, and according to my grandmother they bore only superficial resemblance to the ones my great-grandmother used for ferreting. The hunters were much larger and much, much meaner. My guys were sweet and cute and funny with the vestiges of that powerful prey drive turned into quirky, charming behaviors like stealing keys out of guest’s purses and hiding them under the bed. That’s because they were fully domesticated, bearing as much relation to their wild cousins as that tabbycat on your lap does to a serval. Maybe the ancient Egyptians went mongoosing just like my great-grandmother went ferreting. (People still use ferrets to hunt today, btw, especially in the UK.)

 

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Mode Persuasive Cartography collection digitized

May 8th, 2017

Map Showing Isle of Pleasure by H.J. Lawrence, 1931. Satire of Prohibition shortly before its repeal. Image courtesy the PJ Mode Collection.Persuasive cartography is decidedly more the former than the latter. Its aim is to sell a product or influence opinion using the aesthetic allure and/or the impression of scientific rigor conveyed by maps. The actual science of mapmaking — accurate renditions of land masses, roads, structures, topographical features — isn’t the point, except insofar as it lends the cachet of objectivity to a pitch.

Retired lawyer PJ Mode began collecting maps after seeing an exhibition of old and unusual maps at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 1980. Over the years he began to narrow his focus to maps of the persuasive persuasion, fascinated by the reasoning behind them. With the advent of the Internet, finding new cartographical gems and researching their background has become increasingly accessible. Today PJ Mode has more than 800 persuasive maps in his collection.

Last month, more than 500 of them were digitized by the Cornell University Library. Now there are 862 of them. They can be browsed by subject or date, you can just load the whole shebang and go through them front to back, or you can limit by date, date range, creator or subject from there. I’m partial to the subject divisions which convey a real sense of how far-reaching this medium was. Almost 200 of the maps are in the Advertising & Promotion category, and they are some of the most aesthetically interesting. The Niagara Belt Line uses one of the most spectacular views in the world to promote its electric trolley line.

The Niagara Belt Line by Hiram Harold Green, 1917. Image courtesy the PJ Mode Collection.

Birds-Eye View of San Francisco by Peruvian Bitters, 1880. Image courtesy the PJ Mode Collection.A good image can sell even the worst product, as any advertiser knows. Patent medicines, most of which were useless at best, active poisons at worst, needed all the colorful artwork they could get: see Peruvian Bitters, for example, which used a literal bird carrying an ad for the product over a bird’s-eye view of San Francisco to flog its bogus cure for malaria, dyspepsia, addiction and unhappiness.

Two Queens Mines by Raymond T May, 1907. Image courtesy the PJ Mode Collection.Even the plain ones without fancy graphics are intriguing because the dry presentation is often used to legitimize an extremely questionable proposition, like the Northern Pacific Railroad Gold Bonds or the Two Queens Mines in Australia, which was a straight-up scam.

The greatest number of maps, 349, are in the pictorial subject which covers an extraordinary amount of ground from military to political to moral advocacy. There’s even an edition of a map very similar to one I own in giant foldout poster form: a timeline of world history from a Genealogical Chronological & Geographical Chart by Jacob Skeen, 1887. Image courtesy the PJ Mode Collection.Biblically literal creationist perspective. Other subject categories you can browse include Alcohol, Heaven & Hell (schematics of Dante’s Inferno are always popular), Poverty, Prostitution, Crime, Slavery, Suffrage, Railroads, and lots and lots of wars.

All of the digitized maps are available for download in high resolution (the full Niagara view was so huge my server couldn’t even handle it, and my server is used to the strain, believe me), or if you prefer, can be zoomed in extreme closeup on the Cornell site itself. Fair warning: this is a timesink of gloriously massive proportions. The How Japan Could Attack U.S. by Howard Burke for the Los Angeles Examiner, November 7, 1937. A prescient map of how Japan could attack the US starting with Hawaii. Image courtesy the PJ Mode Collection.information on each entry was written by PJ Mode himself based on his research. He makes no claim to flawless understanding, so if you find something you think might be inaccurate, you’re encouraged to click on the “Contact” link at the bottom of the page and let folks know.

Speaking of which, the following video is 50 minutes long, but it’s so worth it. It’s a talk PJ Mode delivered last year to The Grolier Club and the New York Map Society about persuasive cartography. Unlike most lecture videos, the people doing the talking only appear rarely. The vast majority of the presentation is of the maps being projected. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been irritated by the neglect of the visual aids in recordings of these types of events. Whoever filmed this talk deserves an award. Be sure to watch it full screen so you can see the small details of the map as large as possible.

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