Viking hoard dodges auction bullet

April 29th, 2022

Here’s an intriguing case of unintended consequences in cultural heritage law.  Meet the Everlöv Hoard:

The Everlöv Hoard is a large group of more than 950 silver objects –912 coins, 40 pieces of jewelry — from the Viking Age discovered in southern Sweden’s Skåne province in the 1980s. The oldest coin dates to the 9th century, the youngest to 1018, indicating the hoard was assembled in the late Viking era. The composition of the objects mark them as a single deposition, but the original find site is unknown.

Many of coins are from Bavaria, which is unusual in Swedish hoards. The hoard also contains an unusually high number of Anglo-Scandinavian coins, ie, coins struck by Scandinavian kings in imitation of the ones struck by the king of England. Among the objects are several extremely rare pieces: a buckle with intricately enlaced zoomorphic figures decorated with filigree and granulation, a Slavic lunula and an oversized jewelry bracteate minted by Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor, aka Saint Henry the Exuberant.

The discovery was not made in the usual way; nobody found it by metal detecting or in a happy ploughing accident. It was not dug up at all, in fact. The current owner found it in a chiffonier that had been passed down through generations of the family. (Side note: finding a Viking silver hoard in an old piece furniture has to be in my top 3 greatest lifetime fantasies.)

The hoard was catalogued and briefly exhibited in 1986 at Lund University’s Historical Museum. The museum didn’t get to keep it, however. They didn’t even get to study it. The hoard remained in private hands and was never exhibited again nor made available to researchers.

According to the Swedish Historic Environment Law, any archaeological finds are property of the state and must be reported to county officials. The state can then choose whether to redeem them for a fee. A version of this law has been on the books for centuries, so whoever found this hoard and stashed it in the chiffonier was breaking the law, but that person has been dead a long time. If an ancient artifact qualifies as an inheritance — like, say, if it was found inside heirloom furniture — then ownership goes to the individual who found it.

The state tried to redeem the hoard anyway when it emerged in the 1980s, but the atypical circumstances made it a thorny legal issue and a court ruled that the hoard was owned by the person who found it in the chiffonier. As the law is currently written, there is no mechanism for the state to claim an archaeological object on the grounds of its cultural importance regardless of how or when it was discovered, so that was that. The hoard all but disappeared.

Earlier this month, news broke that the Everlöv Hoard would be sold at auction on April 29th. Even worse, it was being offered in individual lots, so the whole hoard could have been scattered to the four winds. An uproar ensued as archaeologists and researchers protested the sale. The hoard as a whole is far more significant than the sum of its parts, especially the Bavarian through-line which might indicate a previously unknown trade route linking Sweden and southern Germany. Besides, the case could create a dangerous precedent wherein bad actors could claim a fresh find was a surprise legacy.

Literally the day before the scheduled auction, the Everlöv Hoard was saved from dispersal by the Gunnar Ekström Foundation for Numismatic Research and the Sven Svensson Foundation for Numismatic Research who pooled their resources and bought the whole kit and kaboodle behind the scenes. The auction is off and the hoard will now enter the collection of the Royal Coin Cabinet at Stockholm’s Economy Museum where it can and will be studied to the nerdiest heart’s content.

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Terrible Tilly lighthouse for sale

April 28th, 2022

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse off the north coast of Oregon is perched on a storm-tossed rocky island that can only be reached by helicopter. It is covered in bird guano and sea lion excrement and the windows are all boarded up. The sea lions have knocked down the door. The interior is being used as a columbarium, a depository for human cinerary remains, including those of the parents of the current owner. It is a National Wildlife Refuge and cannot be visited during nesting season from April to September. And all of this can be yours for $6.5 million.

Terrible Tilly, so dubbed for its terrible storms and dangerous navigation conditions, was commissioned by Congress in 1878. Construction on the remote basalt stack in the middle of stormy seas was challenging, and the lighthouse took a year and a half to build. One man, a surveyor, was swept out to sea and drowned in the planning stage, cementing Tilly’s Terrible reputation before the first brick was laid.

The first-order fresnel lens was first lit on January 21st, 1881. By the time it was decommissioned in 1957, it had become the most expensive lighthouse in the United States to operate. Tilly then passed into private ownership, changing hands several times. It was acquired by the Eternity at Sea Columbarium in 1980, but they lost their license in 1999 for violations including proper storage.

Legal difficulties notwithstanding, the columbarium is still the crux of the sales pitch.

The plan is for the lighthouse to appeal as an alternative to scattering cremated remains at sea, by encasing them in titanium urns in a bank of niches.

David Adams, a funeral business consultant with the Johnson Consulting Group in Scottsdale, Arizona, who is brokering the sale, is aiming for an official pitch by Memorial Day.

“It’s going to have to take somebody with an entrepreneurial spirit,” he said.

The cremation rate in the United States was low when Morissette, a 77-year-old Oregon resident with a background in real estate development, purchased the lighthouse over four decades ago. The rate reached 56% in 2020 and is rising, the Cremation Association of North America said.

“I find it intriguing some people still like the romance of scattering ashes at sea: ‘Dad’s out in the ocean and Mom’s still floating with sharks,'” Adams said.

“Although romantic in many regards, it is somewhat final. There is no real place to focus on, to go back and memorialize,” he said.

The lighthouse, he added, “gives them a specific focal point.”

Well yes, but a specific focal point that can only accessed half the year and then only by chartering a helicopter. On the other hand, what a view:

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Phoenician necropolis found in southern Spain

April 27th, 2022

A Phoenician necropolis from the 4th or 5th century B.C. has been unearthed in Osuna, southern Spain. The necropolis, discovered during water utility upgrades, contains limestone vaults that are in an excellent state of preservation. It is a unique find because the only comparable necropolises that have been unearthed so far are coastal, dotting the area around the ancient Phoenician colony of Cádiz. Osuna is inland, about 55 miles east of Seville.

An archaeological investigation of the site has revealed eight burial vaults with stairways and entrance atria. These were elite graves, and unprecedented in what would have been practically the hinterlands of Phoenician Spain.

The lead archaeologist, Mario Delgado, described the discovery as very significant and very unexpected. “To find a necropolis from the Phoenician and Carthaginian era with these characteristics – with eight well tombs, atriums and staircase access – you’d have to look to Sardinia or even Carthage itself,” he said.

“We thought we might find remains from the imperial Roman age, which would be more in keeping with the surroundings, so we were surprised when we found these structures carved from the rock – hypogea [subterranean vaults] – perfectly preserved beneath the Roman levels.”

Phoenicians settled southern Spain from around 800 B.C., not long after the founding of Phoenicia’s greatest colony, Carthage. They set to work exploiting the region’s rich and untapped deposits of tin, gold and silver and expanding their trade networks. The trade of metals and consumer goods (fish, textiles) made the Phoenician settlements of what is now Andalusia enormously prosperous. Archaeologists believe that the rich tombs found on the coast were built for the shipping dynasties that ran Phoenician commerce.

The mayor said that while more research needed to be done, the luxurious nature of the necropolis suggested it had been built for those at “the highest level” of the social hierarchy.

“The operation isn’t over yet and there’s still more to be discovered,” she said. “But the team has already come up with reliable information that attests to the historical importance of all this. Both the graves themselves and the ritual spaces that are being examined suggest that this wasn’t any old burial site.”

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18th c. gold box recovered 19 years after manor raid

April 26th, 2022

An 18th century gold box stolen from the Rothschild estate of Waddesdon Manor 19 years ago has been recovered. The box was one of more than 100 stolen by a gang of masked men in blue boilersuits in the wee hours of June 10th, 2003. They broke a window and raided the Rothschild collection of small boxes, rings, bottles and watches, stealing millions of dollars worth of highly portable precious objects in less than four minutes.

The manor had excellent security and the thieves were so precise in targeting the high-value pieces that police believe they were professionals working on commission. They disappeared without a trace and the police investigation went nowhere. Only a handful of the looted objects have been found in the two decades since the theft.

Last August, one of the stolen gold boxes resurfaced at a small regional auction. The auction house contacted the Art Loss Register (ALR), an international database of stolen art, as part of their due diligence process and ALR experts flagged it as one of the boxes taken in the Waddesdon raid. Staff at Waddesdon confirmed the identification.

The gold box that has surfaced is a French bonbonniere dated 1775-1781 and made in Paris, a centre for the production of gold boxes in the 18th century. These small circular boxes were personal accessories, kept in a pocket, in a boudoir or salon, and used for sweets. Often embellished with painted or enamelled scenes, this one has a miniature of an unknown woman holding a basket of roses on its lid. It is decorated with gold piqué (inlaid) stars on a dark blue ground and has a tortoiseshell interior. […]

The box has now been returned to Waddesdon and will go on display from 27 April in the Rothschild Treasury, a gallery that houses more than 300 objects made from rare and precious materials that celebrates the Rothschild family as collectors of extraordinary objects.

This is serendipitous timing for this particular gold box to return home to Waddesdon, as it was acquired by Alice de Rothschild (1847-1922). Alice was the sister of Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-1898), who built Waddesdon, and she inherited the Manor and its contents from him. This spring Waddesdon is marking the centenary of her death by celebrating her life, collections and legacy with Alice’s Wonderlands – a comprehensive programme of exhibitions and displays that highlight her pivotal role in Waddesdon’s history.

Pippa Shirley, Director of Collections, Historic properties and Landscapes at Waddesdon says “I am absolutely delighted that this box has returned, and very grateful to the Art Loss Register for its part in its successful recovery. The 2003 theft was deeply traumatic for everyone at Waddesdon – I remember it vividly – and this feels such a positive outcome and gives us hope that the other boxes may yet come back to us. It is also such a happy coincidence that it should reappear in the year in which we are celebrating Alice de Rothschild and her extraordinary contribution to the collections here.”

The bonbonnière will be in the most august of company in the Rothschild Treasury gallery. It goes on display next gifts of jewelry from Queen Victoria, gold tableware, a Boucheron diamond and pearl tiara, and a carved amber casket from 1660 the glows like fire in the light and is believed to have been purchased by the founder of the Rothschild dynasty, banker Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812). There’s also a literal august object: a cameo portrait of Augustus Caesar’s grandson Gaius.

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Museum acquires lost Charlotte Brontë mini-book

April 25th, 2022

The Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, West Yorkshire, has acquired A Book of Rhymes, a newly-rediscovered miniature manuscript  written and hand-bound by Charlotte Brontë in 1829. Just 3.8 x 2.5 inches, smaller than a playing card, the 15-page manuscript was the last mini-book of Charlotte Brontë’s known to be in private hands. It will now return to Charlotte’s childhood home where it was written.

Between August and December of 1829, Charlotte and her brother Branwell produced six issues of a miniature magazine they named Blackwood’s Young Men’s Magazine. In 1830 they rebranded the publication as The Young Men’s Magazine and released another six issues between August and December. The manuscripts were written in tiny handwriting mimicking the regularity of print and bound with hand-sewn covers made of sugar paper.

They were inspired by the real literary periodicals like Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine that the family read avidly. Each issue contained short stories, poetry, art critiques and even advertisements, all set against the context of the city of Glasstown, capital of Angria, the imaginary world the Brontë siblings had invented as the background story for a box of 12 toy soldiers Branwell had been given for his 9th birthday.

A BOOK OF RHYMES comprises : i). The Beauty of Nature; ii). A Short Poem; iii). Meditations while Journeying in a Canadian Forest; iv). Song of an Exile; v). On Seeing the Ruins of the Tower of Babel; vi). A Thing of fourteen lines; vii). A Bit of a rhyme; viii). Lines written on the Bank of a River one fine Summer Evening; ix). Spring, a Song; x). Autumn, a Song. xi). Contents.

On the verso of her title page, Charlotte writes: “The following are attempts at rhyming of an inferior nature it must be acknowledged but they are nevertheless my best.” At the end of this Book of “Ryhmes” she refers to the secondary world created by the Brontë children amongst themselves, while asserting her authorship and creative control over that world:

“This book is written by myself but I pretend that the Marquis of Duro & Lord Charles Wellesley in the Young Men’s World have written one like it, & the Songs marked in the Index so * are written by the Marquis of Duro and those marked so † are written by Lord Charles Wellesley.” At the head of the page she also alludes to one of her best known early productions, Tales of the Islanders: “I began this book, the second volume of the Tales of the Islanders, 2 magazines for December, and the Characters of the most Celebrated Men of the Present time on the 26th of October, 1829, & finished them all by the 17 of December, 1829”.

The mini-manuscripts were kept together for decades after Charlotte’s death in 1855, first by her widower Rev. A.B. Nicholls, then by the reverend’s second wife. A Book of Rhymes was known to Brontë scholars because the 10 poems in the book were listed in the catalogue of works Charlotte compiled in her own hand and mentioned in Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1857 biography of Charlotte, but none of the poems had ever been published. After the second Mrs. Nicholls died, the manuscripts were sold off by her estate and dispersed into British and US collections.

A Book of Rhymes was last seen in November 1916 when it was sold in New York and then disappeared from public view altogether for more than a century. It emerged again four weeks ago when James Cummins Bookseller announced it had been rediscovered in a private collection and would be sold at the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair on April 21st. The price tag was $1.25 million.

The seller was an anonymous private collector who thankfully prioritized the long-term preservation of the book. James Cummins Bookseller reached out to the Friends of the National Libraries in the UK and offered them first dibs if they could raise the purchase price. They only had two weeks to accomplish this daunting task. The organization reached out to multiple institutional and private donors and was able to meet the goal just under the wire. Once the sale was made, the Friends of the National Libraries donated the little book to the Haworth Parsonage Museum which is already home to nine other little books and will soon welcome another seven from the Blavatnik Honresfield Library.

The Haworth Parsonage Museum  will conserve and digitize A Book of Ryhmes before putting it on display later this year.

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Roman-era pottery workshop found in Alexandria

April 24th, 2022

Archaeologists have discovered a Roman-era pottery workshop at the site of Tibet Mutawah, west of Alexandria. The archaeological mission unearthed an industrial space containing kilns, two of which were carved into the rock. One of them is in excellent condition, preserving its structure and clarifying how it was used to fire pottery: the entrance of the kiln was closed off with clay blocks and potsherds, and then the fuel introduced through a rock-carved ramp below the entrance.

There is evidence that the facility was in use both before and after the Roman pottery concerned was established at the site. Nearly 100 burials found at the site pre-date the pottery concern. An area just north of the Roman-era furnaces had a lime-making kiln believed to date to the Byzantine era. It would be reused as a burial ground in the Middle Ages, with two burials, one a pregnant woman, found inside the Byzantine kiln. Another structure south of the kilns appears to have been used to store utensils, primarily kitchen cookware and tableware.

The team discovered a group of limestone rooms from the Ptolemaic era that were dedicated to a variety of purposes. Thirteen of them were used as temporary housing for workers; others were used to manufacture or utilitarian items like grinders, pestles, amphorae, weights and spindles. Still others were dedicated to cooking. The remains of amphorae containing animal bones(fish, pigs, goats, sheep) were found, alongside stoves. At least one room had a religious function. Terracotta statues of deities and pharaohs were on a platform in this room.

Head of the mission Mohga Ramadan Abdel Kader indicated that the mission also succeeded in discovering a large group of coins, most of which span back to the Ptolemaic era. The mission restored a number of the coins, some of which were carved with the faces of Alexander the Great, Queen Cleopatra and the ancient deity Zeus.

The mission also found parts of terracotta statues of deities and elite women, and an amulet and feathered crown for the deity Bes, part of a statue associated with fertility, and parts of the fishing hooks used by the inhabitants of the area at the time, and the anchor of one of the boats.

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Theater of Herculaneum reopens

April 23rd, 2022

Herculaneum’s theater was built in the 1st century A.D. during the reign of Augustus. Iniscriptions found at the site document the name of the sponsor — Lucius Annius Mammianus Rufus — and of the architect — Publius Numisius. It had a capacity of about 2,500 people (half of Pompeii’s theater) and was designed in the traditional Roman fashion with a cavea divided into three horizontal orders corresponding to the social status of the ticket-holder.

The ancient theater was the first monument to remerge from the hardened volcanic rock that had covered the Vesuvian sites for 1,650 years. What would later prove to be the ruins of the theater were first encountered by a farmer digging a well the early 1700s. When the news that ancient remains had been found filtered back to local potentate Prince Emanuele Maurizio of Lorraine, Duke of Elbeuf, in 1709 he bought the property and funded excavations that recovered, among other artworks, three statues of women that were the first major sculptures recovered from Herculaneum.

The Herculaneum women, elegantly garbed in draped gowns, originally decorated the stage of the Roman theater. Representing honorable women of the elite, they are copies of Greek originals from the 4th century B.C. that were popular throughout the Mediterranean in the imperial era. Unearthed just before excavations ceased in 1711 out of concern that the modern town above would collapse, the statues are now in the Dresden Skulpturensammlung.

The prince had no idea what he was pillaging. He thought it was a Temple to Hercules. It wasn’t identified as a theater until excavations resumed in 1738 by order of King of Naples and Sicily Charles III Bourbon. Much like the Duke of Elbeuf, his aim had little to do with archaeology and everything to do with harvesting statuary and antiquities to furnish his new palace, and they were systematic about it, digging tunnels that paralleled the architecture to strip it of its decorative statuary, including portraits of the imperial family, local magistrates, gilt bronze equestrian statues and chariots with bronze horses. Even the columns were pillaged. The Bourbon looting program ended in 1762 under pressure from renown art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann who had sternly criticized the treasure hunting approach to excavation.

It was a popular stop on the Grand Tour in the 18th and 19th centuries, accessed by a Bourbon-era staircase built 65 feet down into the hardened volcanic rock separating the ancient city from the modern one. Visitors today will tread the same path, descending into the theater through the 18th century tunnels. All tours will be guided and limited to no more than 10 people at a time.

“The theater is located in a nerve center for the restitching of the two Herculaneums, the ancient and the modern, where we have concentrated the efforts of urban regeneration to create new public spaces with the collaboration of the Municipality and the Packard Humanities Institute. The theater area is also a privileged place to access the famous Resina market and the historic center of Herculaneum…. “The visit will be a real exploration experience,” says park director Sirano, “on the trail of visitors who over the centuries have passed through the wells and tunnels created by the engineers of the Bourbon army by torchlight. An underground path that transports us back through the centuries and makes us the protagonists of a discovery that is renewed every time before our astonished eyes.”

The theater will be open to visitors ever Saturday from now until December, minus a two-month summer break in July and August.

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Dog finds bracteate hoard in Poland

April 22nd, 2022

A very good boy has unearthed a large hoard of medieval bracteate coins near Wałbrzych in southwestern Poland that is the largest hoard found in Poland in a 100 years. Kajtuś was out on a walk earlier this month when his canine senses prompted him to dig and dig he did, until he hit a pot filled with coins.

His owner reported Kajtuś’ find to the Lower Silesia Heritage Protection Office who dispatched a team of archaeologists to survey the site. They excavated the coins and the pieces of the earthenware pot containing them. Archaeologists identified the coins as bracteates minted in Bandenburg, Saxony or Silesia in the first half of the 13th century. They are in excellent condition, well-stamped with clear, sharp images of griffins, mermaids, angels and architectural features.

Bracteates were made from thin sheet metal, so thin that they were only stamped on the obverse with just a negative of the impression appearing on the reverse of the coin. They quickly got threadbare with use and were regularly taken out of circulation to be melted down and restamped, so bracteate hoards are relatively uncommon, and large hoards like this one even rarer.

“The idea of stamping coins from a thin plate was caused by the low availability of ore – silver or, more rarely, gold, and the reserves of the mint. Kings, dukes, and bishops could mint coins,” the heritage protection office explains.

Only with the discovery of silver deposits near Prague did the “euro of medieval Europe”, the Prague groschen, begin to be minted, which gradually took over from bracteates.

The coins are archaeological heritage and will therefore eventually make their way into a museum rather than onto the numismatic market. First, however, they need to be properly studied and conserved – which will require time as well as academic grants.

Before this find, the largest bracteate hoards in Poland were found in the  Warsaw and Kraków areas. The discovery of a large hoard in Lower Silesia will stimulate new interest in the medieval history of the area. Officials are keeping the exact number of coins and find site secret for now to make it hard on any loot-minded tourists who might want to try their luck with surreptitious metal detecting.

Kajtuś does not appear to be letting the fame go to his head.

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Oldest foundry in Padua excavated 20 years after discovery

April 21st, 2022

The remains of the oldest foundry in Padua is just now being excavated from the soil block in which it has been encased for 21 years. The foundry was discovered in an excavation under Paduan police headquarters that revealed evidence of earth and wood dwellings from the 9th through the 7th century B.C. The work surface of the foundry, a large section of archaeological layers dense with ceramic fragments, was removed en bloc and stored in a laboratory until funding could be secured for a comprehensive excavation. As of this month, the funding has finally come through, and it’s sufficient to include the latest and greatest scientific analyses like gas chromatography–mass spectrometry.

The ceramic fragments, some of them quite large, can be stylistically dated to the 8th century B.C. They were deliberately arranged in a thick layer known in Italian as a “wasp’s nest,” a ventilated underlayer which in this case was installed to absorb moisture from the humid alluvial soil and isolate the foundry from water penetration.

There is no doubt about the fact that it is a foundry , perhaps the only entirely stratigraphically excavated [foundry] in Italian protohistory, identifiable thanks to the presence of some pits for these metallurgical activities and a fragment of the casting matrix. The archaeological deposit is rich in ceramics, also for cooking, which may have retained traces of the food material contained in its porosity, which can now be analyzed through archaeometric investigations. This also applies to the materials that make up the ceramic, and to the numerous coals found in situ, which are sampled and subsequently analyzed. Provenance, manufacturing technique, any remains of content, dating and other data will then flow into the research , which may open a glimpse of a Padua “before Padua”, whose foundation, as we know, dates back to about 3,000 years ago.

The excavation has only just begun, but archaeologists have already cleaned, documented and numbered hundreds of ceramic fragments. Only a few of them have been removed from the soil for further examination and cleaning. They cannot be cleaned with water, however, because researchers will analyze the ceramic for residues of liquids that may have seeped into the vessel walls when they were intact and any wet cleaning will inject modern liquids into the mix.

Archaeologists have no idea what’s under the top layer ceramic fragments. They hope to find a similar but older ceramic layer that would indicate the foundry was in use for years. The laboratory at the Department of Cultural Heritage (Unipd) will be opened to the public for guided tours of the excavation in progress.

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13th c. Hanseatic ship found in Tallinn

April 20th, 2022

A 13th century merchant trading vessel of the Hanseatic League has been unearthed during construction work in downtown Tallinn, Estonia. Found under a highway, the vessel is a cog, the workhorse of the Hanseatic League’s shipping networks across the North and Baltic seas. Dendrochronological analysis dates to the wreck to 1298.

The cog was the primary ship used by Hanseatic merchants. The single-masted vessel had a flat bottom and no keel so it could move through shallow waters and was easily maneuvered by a small crew, even when laden with up to 90 tons of cargo. They could be built quickly at low expense and could even be armed for defense when pressed.

They ranged in size from 15 to 25 meters (50-82 feet) long, so at 79 feet long and 30 feet wide, the Taillinn cog is at the very top of the range. It was a clinker-built boat — made of overlapping oak planks sealed with animal hair and tar.

The area where the ship was found was underwater for centuries. When it sank near the mouth of the Härjapea River (a waterway that no longer exists today) 800 years ago, the spot was under seven feet of water, and the ship was quickly covered by the shifting sand ridges. The site was still submersed in the 18th century.

The waterlogged environments preserved the organic materials. The ship is in excellent condition with oak boards intact up to 10 feet from the bottom. Archaeologists have also recovered wool used for packing cargo, tools and leather shoes. In preservation it is comparable to the Bremen Cog, found during dredging operations in Bremen, Germany, in 1962 and now on permanent display at the German Maritime Museum in Bremerhaven. The Taillinn cog is larger and 82 years older than the Bremen Cog.

The ship will have to be be removed from the find site so that construction can continue. Unfortunately it is too big to be removed in one piece. It will be taken out in sections, conserved and reconstructed either at the maritime museum in Taillinn or the wreck preservation area in Tallinn Bay

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