First-ever funerary garden found in Luxor

May 4th, 2017

Funerary garden discovered at the entrance to a tomb at Draa Abul Nagaa on Luxor's West Bank, ca. 4,000 years old. Photo courtesy CSIC Comunicación.Archaeologists from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) have discovered the first-ever funerary garden at the entrance of a Middle Kingdom (1980-1790 B.C.) tomb on the Draa Abul Naga hill on Luxor’s west bank. Egyptologists have known about these gardens from iconographic depictions on tomb walls and at the entrances to tombs, but this is the first time archaeological remains of a Detail of painting from the Remini tomb showing a funerary garden. Photo courtesy CSIC Comunicación.physical funerary garden have been found. The discovery of the garden and archaeobotanical analysis of its remains will confirm what Egyptologists have learned from the paintings and provide new information about plants and the environment of Middle Kingdom Thebes and the role of botany in funerary rituals. Along with the sun, the plant world was the best expression of the Egyptian idea of perpetual rebirth and resurrection.

Overhead view of funerary garden showing grid division. Photo courtesy CSIC Comunicación.The funeral garden was found in a courtyard at the entrance to a rock-cut tomb believed to date to the Twelfth Dynasty, about 4,000 years ago. The garden is a rectangle that measures about 3×2 meters (10×6.5 feet) and is raised about a foot and a half off the ground. It is divided into a grid with rows of five or seven beds each about a foot square. Experts think each of the small beds contained different plants. In the middle of the garden are two beds slightly higher than the surrounding ones that likely contained small trees or shrubs. Thanks to the wonders of desert preservation, archaeologists found a tamarisk shrub in one corner of the garden. It was still upright with intact Bowl with dates and seeds, likely offerings, found next to the garden. Photo courtesy CSIC Comunicación.roots and foot-long trunk. Next to it was a bowl containing the remains of dates and other fruit that was probably an offering.

CSIC professor and dig leader José Manuel Galán:

“The plants grown there would have had a symbolic meaning and may have played a role in funerary rituals. Therefore, the garden will also provide information about Digital reconstruction of the garden with plants. Photo courtesy CSIC Comunicación.religious beliefs and practices as well as the culture and society at the time of the Twelfth Dynasty when Thebes became the capital of the unified kingdom of Upper and Lower Egypt for the first time. We know that palm, sycamore and Persea trees were associated with the deceased’s power of resurrection. Similarly, plants such as the lettuce had connotations with fertility and therefore a return to life. Now we must wait to see what plants we can identify by analysing the seeds we have collected. It is a spectacular and quite unique find which opens up multiple avenues of research”.

Digital reconstruction of the garden, overhead view. Photo courtesy CSIC Comunicación.“Digging in a necropolis not only allows us to discover details about the world of funerals, religious beliefs and funerary practices, it also helps us discover details about daily life, about society and about the physical environment, both plant and animal. The necropolis thus becomes, as the ancient Egyptians themselves believed, the best way to understand and embrace life,” concludes the CSIC researcher.

Facade of mud-brick chapel with three stelae. Photo courtesy CSIC Comunicación.Besides the garden, the excavation team discovered a mud-brick chapel attached to the facade of the rock-cut tomb. There are three stelae on the exterior. One of them is dedicated to one Renef-seneb, another to “the soldier (“citizen”) Khememi, the son of the lady of the house, Satidenu.” The stelae also include references to a local Theban deity named Montu and the gods Ptah, Sokar and Osiris. The chapel and stelae date to the Thirteenth Dynasty (around 1800 B.C.), so they are later than the garden and rock-cut tomb.

The Djehuty Project, now in its 16th dig season, is exploring that key period when ancient Thebes became the capital of unified Egypt about 4,000 years ago. This season’s discovery of the garden and the tomb and chapel underscore how important the Dra Abu el-Naga hill was during this period as a center of funerary and religious activity.

José Manuel Galán stands next to rock-cut figure. Photo courtesy CSIC Comunicación.In this Spanish-language video, José Manuel Galán discusses the discovery of the funerary garden. It’s not subtitled, but the visuals speak for themselves. He starts by explaining where the garden was found and its archaeological significance. Around the 20 second mark, there are images of the garden iconography found in tombs. Overhead views of the excavated garden begin around the 30 second mark, with film of the excavation itself starting at 40 seconds. At 55 seconds, there’s an amazing scene of an archaeologist recovering seeds from one of the beds with tweezers. At 1:12 is a nifty digital reconstruction of the garden and the plants that might have grown there. At 1:54 you can see the excavation of the tamarisk trunk. Professor Galán points out in the voice-over that the tamarisk had a funerary association in Egyptian religion. The soul of the deceased would fly onto a branch of the tamarisk and perch there waiting for offerings.

 

Share

Restoration of Mausoleum of Augustus begins

May 3rd, 2017

Restoration of the Mausoleum of Augustus begins. Photo by Ettore Ferrari/ANSA.Remember when I wrote that article on the history of the Mausoleum of Augustus, how it got to its current derelict condition and how the mayor of Rome planned to get a restoration started by the end of the year to coincide with the 2000th anniversary of Augustus’ death? That was 2014. The restoration did not get started by the end of 2014. Nor by the end of 2015. Or 2016. But at long last, the Mausoleum’s day has finally dawned. The old mayor, Ignazio Marino, is gone and the new mayor, Virginia Raggi, officially inaugurated the 10-million-euro ($10.9 million) restoration project on Tuesday.

Six million of the total cost was raised from a private donor, not the mysterious Saudi prince who was bandied about by the former mayor as a potential funding source, but the Italian telecom brand TIM. The rest of the money was contributed by the city of Rome and Italy’s culture ministry.

The refurbishment, which will end in a grand reopening in April 2019, will include 3-D effects and the restoration of the 13,000 square metres of a monument that is even bigger than the famed Castel Sant-Angelo, built over the tomb of a later emperor, Hadrian.

The project represents a “model of public and private collaboration we hope will become a model,” said Raggi.

Reconstruction of Mausoleum of Augustus during its heyday.It doesn’t look bigger than Castel Sant’Angelo today, but when Augustus built it when he returned to Rome in 31 B.C. after his final defeat of Mark Anthony at the Battle of Actium, its grandeur was without parallel. It had a lot of competition because the Campus Martius, the “Field of Mars” where troops mustered and tribes gathered to vote just outside the pomerium, the city’s ancient religious boundary, had become a popular location for new temples, public buildings, artworks and the tombs of the rich and noble. Now the sole ruler of Rome, Augustus planned his Mausoleum to contain his ashes and those of his whole family. Made of brick clad in white marble, the interior had a vaulted ceiling and separate corridors for each family member. The entry was flanked by two pink granite obelisks Augustus looted from Egypt, and an earthen tumulus planted with cypresses topped the roof. When it was finished in 28 B.C., the Mausoleum was 295 feet in diameter and an estimated 137 feet high.

Markers for the remains of Agrippina, Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus (Augustus' stepson) and the Emperor Tiberius inside the Mausoleum of Augustus. Photo by Ettore Ferrari/ANSA.Everyone who was anyone in the Julio-Claudian line — minus Augustus’ disgraced daughter Julia, her disgraced daughter Julia and the Emperor Nero who was buried in the tomb of his paternal family — was buried in the Mausoleum, and it was one of the great icons of Rome until the 5th century when the Visigoths plundered it. Following in the Visigoths’ footsteps were the usual suspects of Marker for the remains of  Marcellus, Augustus’ nephew. Photo by Ettore Ferrari/ANSA.late ancient and medieval Rome — popes and endlessly squabbling Roman nobles — who stripped the building of its marble and converted it into a fortress. That’s what happened to Castel Sant’Angelo, formerly the mausoleum of the Emperor Hadrian, too, but Castel Sant’Angelo remained in use as a papal fortress and prison for centuries, while the fortifications of Augustus’ tomb were destroyed during a petty war between noble families only decades later.

Stripping the fortress left the Mausoleum in a ruinous state. It found new life in the Renaissance as a sculpture garden, Interior of the Mausoleum of Augustus with marker for remains of Augustus' grandson Gaius Caesar. Photo by Ettore Ferrari/ANSA.amphitheater, a sort of sideshow spectacle venue, and in the early 20th century, an Art Nouveau theater. Then came Benito Mussolini. In 1936, he decided he’d return the Mausoleum to its true Roman origins and tore down all the later additions and modifications, leaving the original brick walls. He planted cypresses on top of the walls in the mistaken belief that Augustus’ architects were as simple as he was, even though anyone who’s ever even seen what trees and vines can do to buildings would have realized this was an incredibly dumb idea.

Back view of Mausoleum of Augustus today. Photo by Ettore Ferrari/ANSA.The Mausoleum never recovered from that disastrous “restoration.” It was closed to the public in the 1970s because it was structurally unsound and dangerous. For decades it has been a crumbling shadow of its former self, a virtually unknown and unrecognized ruin in the middle of a wide Fascist-era piazza, shelter to homeless people and junkies, used as a litter receptacle by passersby.

The restoration project will hopefully reverse this appalling history of neglect and incompetence. The tomb will be closed to the public for the duration, although some “special” visits may be arranged for small groups (VIPs, I’m guessing), until the grand reopening in 2019.

 

Share

24 Bronze Age axes found in Norway

May 2nd, 2017

January finds of axeheads and spearhead on a bed of antlers. Photo by Jørgen Korstad.The first finds were made by metal detecting brothers Joakim and Jørgen Korstad on January 25th of this year. Scanning a field in the village of Hegra, about 25 miles east of Trondheim, Norway, they discovered nine socketed axes (known as Celts), a spearhead, a casting mould and a fragment that may be a piece of an ancient horn called a lur. Realizing they had stumbled on an archaeological mother lode, the brothers called Nord-Trøndelag County Council archaeologist Eirik Solheim, who immediately had the area secured and inspected the finds on the spot. He dated the axe heads and other artifacts to the Late Bronze Age, between 1100-500 B.C.

Bronze Age axehead unearthed in Hegra, Norway. Photo by Eirik Solheim.Last week, a more thorough excavation of the site was undertaken funded by Cultural Heritage and the Nord-Trøndelag County Council. The Korstad brothers and their trusty metal detectors aided Eirik Solheim archaeologist Merete Moe Henriksen from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). The second search unearthed another 15 axeheads and additional metal objects and fragments. That brings the total of the Hegra Bronze Age hoard up to 30 artifacts, 24 of them axes.

Hegra Hoard on display for the press at NTNU. Photo by Terje Svaan.This is the largest number of axes ever found in a single deposit in Norway. As if that weren’t significant enough, only about 800 metal artifacts from the Bronze Age have been recovered in Norway, so 30 in one fell swoop is a finding of sizeable proportions. In the county of Trøndelag only about 150 metal objects from the period have been unearthed, so the county’s Bronze Age metallic artifacts have just increased by 20 percent.

Stjørdal municipality is one of the areas in central Norway that has a concentration of ancient rock art and rock carvings. Solheim has wished for a museum to showcase the rock art of the area.

“We know that there’s been a lot of activity in this area, but we’ve lacked artefacts. Now this shows up and it’s infinitely more than we could have asked for. It’s so spectacular and totally cool,” he says.

The axeheads' small size becomes obvious next to a coin. Photo by Terje Svaan.NTNU researchers will now study the objects in the hope of determining the nature of the hoard, why the artifacts were buried there. The always popular religious ritual is a possibility, but there may have been a more practical motive as well. They could have been hoarded temporarily for safekeeping before being melted down and recast, only for the plan to be interrupted.

X-ray of Hegra axes shows metal elements inside them. Photo by NTNU.The axeheads have already revealed a Kinder egg-like surprise inside: there appear to be other metal objects encased within some of them. The team will also test the objects using XRF analysis to determine what alloy they are composed of. The type of alloy will indicate whether the axes were tools used for work or if they were decorative. Small samples of the metal will be analyzed to determine the origin of the copper. Copper is known to have been mined locally in the Bronze Age, including in what is now the municipality of Meråker, about 50 miles east of Trondheim.

Archaeologists hope to return to Hegra in the fall to look for more artifacts and get some answers to some of the questions about this unique hoard.

Detail of cleaned axeheads and spearhead. Photo by Terje Svaan.

 

Share

Rodin’s unique Absolution on display for the first time

May 1st, 2017

Absolution on display in Kiefer-Rodin exhibit, Musée Rodin, Paris. Photo courtesy the Musée Rodin, Paris.Absolution, a unique and mysterious work by Auguste Rodin, has gone on display at Paris’ Musée Rodin for the first time since its creation in around 1900. Very little is known about this sculpture. There is no documentation about it in the artist’s archives, and he never made a marble, terracotta or bronze version of it. It’s such an experimental piece with no directly comparable works in Rodin’s oeuvre that curators aren’t even sure if it’s finished. The fact that he kept it at all suggests Rodin was at least satisfied with it.

Absolution before treatment. Photo courtesy the Musée Rodin, Paris.It has never been exhibited before because it is incredibly fragile. Three plaster sculptures are draped with a fabric coated in plaster, the latter of which posed a particularly thorny conservation challenge. It was kept in storage wrapped in paper, and when conservators removed the wrapping, they found the piece coated in dust and broken in several places. The three plaster figures had come apart and the fabric had lost a good portion of its plaster coating. In order to even get to the figures, the draping had to be lifted which, given its extreme fragility, was a risky operation. Then the broken figures had to be put back together and the fabric, cleaned and repaired, put back in place. They had to accomplish all of this with just an old black and white photograph of how the sculpture had once looked to go on.

This video shows the difficulties conservators had to overcome to stabilize Absolution enough to put it on display, albeit in a glass box to protect it from even the smallest breeze that might cause the textile to move.

Ugolino absolved by the Earth in "Absolution," during conservation. Photo courtesy the Musée Rodin, Paris.Rodin was one of the first sculptors to include textiles in his artworks. He took advantage of the flexibility of the medium to drape and mold the fabric, which he would then coat in plaster. The integration of textiles lent his sculptures a soft, fluid element in marked contrast with the hardness of plaster and stone. In Absolution the textile envelopes the figures of a man, Ugolino della Gherardesca, betrayer of his benefactor, condemned to the lowest circle of Hell in Dante’s Inferno; a woman, representing the Earth; and the head of a martyr. The draping obscures many details of the sculpture within, framing and highlighting the thematic significance of the kiss of forgiveness, the eponymous absolution.

Scaffolding erected around "Absolution" for conservation. Photo courtesy the Musée Rodin, Paris.Absolution has been on display since last month at the Kiefer-Rodin exhibit. The exhibition commemorates the centenary of Rodin’s death by pairing his work with pieces by contemporary artist Anselm Kiefer that were inspired by sculptures and drawings by Rodin. Like Rodin, Kiefer experimented with contrasting media, hard and soft, textile and stone. By putting Kiefer and Rodin together, the exhibition emphasizes the modernity of Rodin’s vision. It will run through the end of the year.

Conservators use an old photograph as a guide during conservation. Photo courtesy the Musée Rodin, Paris.The original plan was for Absolution to travel to the Barnes in Philadelphia where it would be on display from November 2017 until March 2018 before returning for permanent display in Paris, but the Musée Rodin’s conservators determined that it is impossible to transport the delicate sculpture anywhere, never mind across the Atlantic, without damaging it. The textile is the main sticking point. Any vibration or movement can cause the gypsum to flake off, and because of the way it is draped over the plaster figures, it can’t be packed or wedged in a way that supports it during transit. Figuring out protective packaging for the textile would be so complex and experimental an engineering challenge that the Musée Rodin is unwilling to take the risk.

So Absolution is staying in Paris, safe from people’s breath and air currents in its glass box.

 

Share

Denmark’s oldest grape seeds were locally grown

April 30th, 2017

Archaeologists have found evidence of homegrown grapes in late Iron Age and Viking Denmark: two charred grape seeds unearthed from a site on the west shore of Lake Tissø, Western Zealand. This is one of the richest sites from the late Germanic Iron Age and Viking Age ever discovered in Denmark. Since the 1990s, excavations have unearthed two aristocratic residences (one dating to 550–700 A.D., the second to 700–1050 A.D.), pit houses, assembly places, a market and artisan workshop area and ritual sites.

Denmark's earliest grape seeds, ca. 550-980 A.D. Photo courtesy Peter Steen Henriksen.In the 2012-2013 dig season, the team collected soil samples for macrofossil analysis from both the aristocratic residences. In 2015, archaeobotanist and curator at the National Museum Peter Steen Henriksen recovered one charred seed while sifting through a five liter soil sample from Bulbrogård, the oldest of the royal complexes. Examining it under the microscope, Henriksen could see that it looked like a grape seed; the charring had not altered its shape. A colleague confirmed the identification. It was indeed a seed from the common grapevine (Vitis vinifera). He found a second grape seed in a soil sample taken from the later royal complex, Fugledegård.

Before this find, the earliest grape seeds found in Denmark date to the late Middle Ages, and historical records from the 13th century support that grapes were grown in Denmark during the medieval warm period. Because this was such an exceptional discovery, the grape seeds were studied in further detail. Each seed was subjected to archaeobotanical analysis. One of them, the one from Fugledegård was radiocarbon tested. The C14 result dated it to between 780 and 980 A.D., the Viking Age. The Bulbrogård was not dated because researchers wanted to preserve it for strontium isotope analysis. (The testable cores of the seeds are so small it wasn’t possible to run both tests on each.) The strontium isotope results placed the grape seed squarely in the range characteristic for Denmark, specifically Zealand.

Map showing grape seed find spots at Lake Tissø site. Drawing courtesy Peter Steen Henriksen.They are by far the oldest grape seeds discovered in Denmark, and the first potential evidence of local viticulture in late Iron Age/Viking Age Denmark. There’s no way to confirm the seeds were used to grow grapes at Lake Tissø. They could have been in the lees of a wine barrel, although that would not explain how the seeds were found in two complexes that were 600 meters and at least a hundred years apart. Besides, it’s hardly an import if the raw material was grown on the island.

“This is the first discovery and sign of wine production in Denmark, with all that that entails in terms of status and power. We do not know how [the grapes] were used – it may have been just to have a pretty bunch of grapes decorating a table, for example – but it is reasonable to believe that they made wine,” archaeological botanist and museum curator Peter Steen Henriksen of Denmark’s National Museum told Videnskab.dk. [...]

“Before we only had suspicions, but now we can see that they actually had grapes and therefore the resources to produce [wine] themselves. Suddenly it all becomes very real,” professor Karin Margarita Frei of the National Museum told Videnskab.dk.

The results of the study have been published in the Danish Journal of Archaeology and can be read here.

 

Share

Guennol Stargazer sells for $14,471,500, or does it?

April 29th, 2017

The Guennol Stargazer, ca. 3000-2200 B.C. Photo courtesy Christie's.The Guennol Stargazer, an Anatolian marble idol carved in the Chalcolithic period, around 3000-2200 B.C., sold at Christie’s Exceptional Sale in New York on Friday for $14,471,500. The idol is of the Kiliya type, a stylized, geometric female figure known as “Stargazers” because their flat, wedge-shaped heads perched on slender necks give the appearance that they are looking up at the skies. They’re usually found in fragments — breaking them at the necks may have been part of a ritual burial of the figurines — and broken heads and bodies are fairly common.

This example, however, is one of only about 15 complete Stargazers (it has been repaired to reattach the head to the neck), and it is widely acknowledged as the greatest of them all. She is the tallest at nine inches and is more long-limbed than her sisters, who tend towards a squatter proportion. The Schuster Stargazer, the last marble Kiliya-type idol to sell at auction, went for a bargain $1,808,000 in 2005. It’s not surprising that the Guennol Stargazer as the preeminent example of the type smashed through that ceiling. While some press outlets reported an estimated sale price of $3 million, Christie’s did not have a pre-sale estimate posted on its website like it usually does. They made one available by request only, which may be an indication that they knew the sky was the limit. Also, estimates usually rely on comparables as well as market determinations, and in terms of quality, design and provenance, the Guennol is in a category of her own.

The fact that it was part of the Guennol Collection is a testament to its exceptional quality and enhances its already superlative reputation. Edith and Alastair Martin began collecting ancient works of art in 1947 when they were ensourceled into obsession by a few pieces they’d acquired. Their approach was not the usual one. They did not focus on a particular time period, geographical area or motif. They simply bought pieces that they and the experts they consulted with thought were exceptionally beautiful examples of their art. The Guennol Collection (so named because Guennol is the Welsh word for Martin, and they spent their honeymoon in Wales) was small — at around a hundred pieces — but so prestigious that the Metropolitan Museum of Art was thrilled to exhibit it in its entirety for years. Another figurine from the collection, the powerful and evocative Guennol Lioness, set a still-unbroken record for an ancient work of art when it sold in 2007 for $57.2 million. (Aww, look at my dinky old entry. And the nice picture I added just now because the original was 1) a terrible thumbnail, and 2) broken.)

There is something of a cliffhanger ending to this episode. The person who made the winning bid may or may not get his or her hands on the Stargazer after all. Culture Minister Nabi Avcı announced to the press on Friday that Turkey has opened proceedings in US court to stop the sale. The Turkish government believes the idol was unearthed in Gallipoli (Kilia, the town where the first figure of the type was found, is on the Gallipoli peninsula) and that it is therefore the legitimate owner.

The Guennol Stargazer, side view. Photo courtesy Christie's.Because the Martins have owned the Guennol Stargazer since 1948, comfortably before the 1970 cutoff date established by the UNESCO Convention, Turkey’s legal claim is grounded in Turkish law. There has been a law on the books since 1906, when Turkey was still the Ottoman Empire, decreeing that all antiquities discovered on private or public land are the property of the state and cannot be legally exported from the country. That decree was maintained with the adoption of the Turkish Civil Code in the newly formed Republic of Turkey in 1926. It was in effect until 1973 when a new law was written which again declared all antiquities property of the state. This was broadened in 1983 to change “antiquities” to “cultural and natural properties requiring protection.”

In order to successfully pursue its case in a US court, Turkey needs to have relevant law establishing state ownership of antiquities, which it clearly has, and, the big challenge in this instance, it has to prove that the disputed artifact was unearthed within its national boundaries. The court has given Turkey 60 days to provide said proof. Minister Avcı says they have the “necessary scientific reports showing the statue belongs to Turkey” and will submit them within the two month deadline.

Meanwhile, Christie’s is enjoined from transferring the Guennol Stargazer to the buyer until the case has been decided.

 

Share

Quiver of arrows found in Fregerslev Viking grave

April 28th, 2017

Bundle of arrowheads in Fregerslev Viking grave. Photo courtesy the Skanderborg Museum.Archaeologists excavating the Fregerslev Viking grave south of Hørning near Skanderborg in Jutland, Denmark, have discovered a bundle of arrowheads at the bottom of the grave. The bundle appears to contain six heart-shaped iron arrowheads. There’s a layer of black organic material at the pointed end of the arrowheads that archaeologists believe to be the remnants of the quiver, long-since decayed.

These were probably not weapons of war. They were likely used for hunting deer and wild boar. It’s even more evidence of what an elevated position the Fregerslev Viking held in society. Only the elite would have had the opportunity and means to go hunting, so the bundle of arrows buried with him are symbols of high status.

X-ray of soil block shows with more cross-shaped horse bridle fittings. Photo courtesy the Skanderborg Museum.Arrowheads are very rare discoveries in Viking rider graves. A whole quiver of them is practically unheard of, and the Skanderborg Museum archaeologists are justifiably elated by the find. As with the other rich discoveries in the grave, the arrowheads were not fully excavated in situ. They were removed in a soil block earlier this week and taken to the museum laboratory to be X-rayed. The X-ray should show archaeologists how many arrows are in the bundle and give them a roadmap for excavation of the block in the lab.

Reaching the bottom of the rider’s grave is an important milestone. It’s only 28 centimeters (11 inches) deep at the deepest point — it’s a miracle that it wasn’t destroyed by agricultural activity — but the sheer amount of corrosion from metals including gold, bronze and silver visible on the surface of the trench indicates there are still an extraordinary number of expensive grave goods under there.

X-ray of soil block shows new types of silver buckles from horse gear. Photo courtesy the Skanderborg Museum.Experts are still in the process of X-raying the soil blocks that have already been removed. One lifted from the foot of the grave near the block that was already found to contain star-shaped bridle fittings contains even more fittings. The ones showing as bright white in the X-ray are silver or silver-plated. There are new types of hardware in the block that archaeologists believe to be decorative elements from a harness and/or stirrups. There is no sign of the stirrups themselves, however, which the team are keen to find. They hope excavation and X-rays of other soil blocks will find evidence of the stirrups.

The shiny things aren’t the only archaeological treasures in the grave. Archaeologists will be using the latest and greatest technology to analyze the soil for microscopic remains that will allow them to identify species of plants that were once inside the grave but have decayed along with the human and horse remains. They’re also going to look for DNA in the soil. German archaeologists have recently had a breakthrough in this cutting-edge technology, successfully isolating prehistoric DNA from the soil and clay of caves with nary a bone or tooth in sight.

 

Share

Tour Ireland’s Sheela-na-Gigs with Heritage Maps

April 27th, 2017

Sheela-na-Gig, Kilpeck Church. Photo by Nessy-Pic.Ireland’s Heritage Council and Heritage Maps have launched a new dataset mapping all the Sheela-na-Gigs in situ and in collections around Ireland. Sheela-na-Gigs are female figures often characterized by bands across the forehead, visible ribs, and most notably, their hands spreading their vulvas wide open. They are found in the UK and to a lesser degree on the continent (mainly France and Spain), but Ireland has the greatest number of Sheela-na-Gigs. They are most commonly seen in churches and monasteries, usually ones of medieval Romanesque design or in newer ones that incorporate salvaged elements of earlier religious structures on the site. They are also found in lay buildings like castles.

Discussing the launch of this new cultural resource and the St. Patrick connection, renowned UCC folklorist Shane Lehane suggests “that perhaps the key to understanding the inherited notion that St Patrick had a wife, Sheela, is to explore the hugely interesting archaeological manifestation that also bears her name: the Sheela-na-Gig”.

Sheela-na-Gig, Cavan County Museum.“In Ireland, there are over 110 examples of these, oft misunderstood, medieval stone carvings of naked, old women exposing their genitalia. They are often positioned in medieval tower-houses, medieval church sites and holy wells. Up to recently these were seen as figures representing the evils of lust or as ways of averting the ‘evil eye’. More convincing reassessments have reinterpreted the Sheela-na-gig, in line with the Cailleach, as belonging to the realm of vernacular folk deities associated with the life-giving powers of birth and death. Placed with the cycles of both the natural and agricultural year and the human life cycle, she can be regarded as the embodiment of the cycle of fertility that overarches natural, agricultural and human procreation and death”.

Speaking about the launch of the Sheela-na-Gig map, Beatrice Kelly, Heritage Council Head of Policy & Research, stated, “Sheela-na-Gigs are very evocative symbols of the feminine in old Irish culture and their prominent positions in medieval churches and castles attests to the importance of the female in Irish society. As modern Ireland strives for equality in all aspects of life this map can help us all to understand the important place women have traditionally held within our culture and society.”

There are probably more Sheelas that haven’t been officially documented yet. The Heritage Council is hoping to add to the layer with new information and asks that members of the public contact them if they know of any Sheela-na-Gigs that are not yet marked on the map.

As the name suggests, Heritage Maps is a collection of culture-related data sets marked on a map of Ireland. You can select different layers to view on the map — shipwrecks, UNESCO World Heritage sites, burial grounds, walled towns, museums, protected architectural sites, and hundreds more — and create the mother of all heritage tours customized to your interests. There are more than 150,000 sites pinpointed in all of the layers, and the number increases all the time.

To view the new Sheela-na-Gig dataset, click on the Archaeology category in the Layer List and check the Sheela-na-Gig box. You’ll see the map populate with data points. Click on one of the points and then on the right arrow after the name for the full information to drop down, including a photo (just thumbnails, alas).

 

Share

Massasoit Ousamequin’s relics to be reburied

April 26th, 2017

Statue of Massasoit Ousamequin in Plymouth, Massachusetts, erected in 1921.Artifacts and remains of the Wampanoag leader who forged the first alliance with the Pilgrims are being reburied in his original grave after a two-decade search for the scattered relics.

The Pilgrims called him Massasoit as if it were his first name and it has stuck, but in fact it’s a hereditary title meaning “Great Leader.” His name was Ousamequin. As Great Leader of the Pokanoket Wampanoags, he held the allegiance of numerous chieftains and villages in the Wampanoag Confederation stretching from Narragansett Bay east to Cape Cod, most of modern-day southeastern Massachusetts.

In the six years before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth, two smallpox outbreaks had decimated the Pokanoket, reducing their warrior ranks from a formidable 3,000 to a mere 300. With their enemies the Narragansetts at their doorstep (they controlled the territory west of Narragansett Bay), ready to take advantage of the Pokanoket’s military weakness, in March of 1621 Ousamequin entered into a treaty of nonaggression and mutual defense with the newly arrived English colonists. They agreed not to attack each other and to come to each other’s aid if either one were attacked by third parties.

Massasoit Ousamequin smoking a peace pipe with Governor John Carver when the alliance was made in 1621.The English had weapons and the ability to use them; the Pokanoket knew how to grow, make and find food. The military alliance was advantageous to both, since the Narragansetts were as ill-disposed towards the English as they were toward the Pokanoket, and good relations with their indigenous neighbors were essential to the survival of the colony. Without them, the Plymouth colony would quickly go the way of their countrymen at Jamestown and starve to death. As it was, they only had a place to live because they had moved into a Pokanoket village (Patuxet) left abandoned after a smallpox epidemic, and although Ousamequin didn’t know this, at the time of the alliance barely three months after their arrival, almost half of the colonists and Mayflower crew had already died from diseases contracted during the Atlantic crossing.

The alliance lasted 40 years, ending only with Massasoit Ousamequin’s death in 1661. English sources acknowledge that the colony would almost certainly have died on the vine in those difficult first few years without his invaluable aid and recognized him as a man of unimpeachable integrity, loyalty and generosity. That didn’t stop the growing colony from encroaching ever more on Pokanoket lands, of course, and as the decades passed, the alliance became increasingly strained. Under pressure from all sides, Ousamequin chose to keep the alliance together and repeatedly sold the colonists ever-larger sections of Pokanoket territory. In 1653, he and his eldest son Wamsutta sold land known as Sowams which included most of the present-day towns of Warren and Barrington, Rhode Island, and Somerset, Massachusetts, for 35 pounds sterling. The buyers were a who’s who of early New England history: Miles Standish, Josiah Winslow, William Bradford, John Winslow, et al.

Marker noting supposed location of Massasoit Spring in Warren, Rhode Island. Photo by Christopher Hightower.One small piece of Sowams was not part of the sale: the “neck,” meaning the uplands overlooking the bay. Called Montaup, anglicized as Mount Hope, this was Ousamequin’s hometown and was to be reserved for the Pokanoket until such time as they chose to leave. After his death, he was buried there. By the end of King Philip’s War (King Philip was the English name of Massasoit Metacom, Ousamequin’s second son, who took up arms against the Plymouth Colony in 1675 to stop their untrammeled expansionism) in 1678, the surviving Pokanoket fled to Maine and Mount Hope Neck was absorbed into Warren, Rhode Island.

Massasoit Ousamequin's knife, recovered artifact to be reburied. Photo courtesy the  Wampanoag Confederation.Neglected and unprotected, Massasoit Ousamequin’s grave was destroyed during construction of the Providence, Warren and Bristol Railroad, which opened in Warren on July 4th, 1851, 190 years after Massasoit’s death. His wasn’t the only grave on the hilltop, and souvenir hunters and archaeologists (who at this time were also largely souvenir hunters) dug up the site, collecting artifacts and human remains which wound up dispersed throughout personal collections and museums.

In 1990, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act made it federal law that grave goods and human remains held in collections, institutions of learning and museums be returned to related tribes for reburial according to their religious traditions.

Massasoit Ousamequin's beads, artifact to be reburied. Photo courtesy the Wampanoag Confederation.Members of the Wampanoag Nation have spent 20 years tracking down the remains and artifacts of Massasoit Ousamequin. It was their “spiritual and cultural obligation,” said Ramona Peters, who coordinated the effort. [...]

Ousamequin’s artifacts include a pipe, knife, beads and arrowheads.

The Rhode Island Historical Society has repatriated about 75 items to the appropriate tribes since the law’s passage, including artifacts belong [sic] to Ousamequin. They were donated as relics in the 1800s, but collections aren’t assembled in that way today, said Kirsten Hammerstrom, director of collections.

“Grave goods are not something we dig up and accept. They belong to the tribe,” she said. [...]

The Wampanoags have collected hundreds of funerary objects that were removed from the burial ground on the hill and held dozens of burials for their ancestors whose graves were disturbed, Peters said.

“It is an honor and a privilege to be able to do this for our ancestors,” she said.

Now it’s Massasoit Ousamequin’s turn.

Massasoit Ousamequin's pipe, one of the recovered artifacts to be reburied. Photo courtesy the  Wampanoag Confederation.

 

Share

Church mural painted by Jewish “degenerate artist” revealed after 44 years

April 25th, 2017

Mural reappears behind piles of brick from demolished wall. Photo courtesy the Coventry Telegraph.A monumental mural painted by Jewish artist Hans Feibusch in St Mark’s Church in Coventry has been revealed after spending 44 years hidden behind a brick wall. It’s been hidden more than four times longer than it was in view, but now it’s out in the open for good.

A Victorian Gothic Revival church built in 1868, St Mark’s managed to survive the levelling of the Medieval city of Coventry by German bombing raids in World War II. The great stained glass window in the west wall was the only casualty. The church couldn’t afford to replace the window in the lean war and post-war years, so they bricked up the hole and the church was left with a very large, very plain wall where the window had once been.

Hans Feibusch paints "Ascension" at St Mark's Church, April 2nd, 1963. Photo courtesy the Coventry Telegraph.In 1963, Hans Feibusch was commissioned to paint a mural depicting the Ascension of Christ on that plain wall. Born in Frankfurt in 1898, Feibusch served two years on the Eastern Front during World War I. After the war, he studied art and began working as a professional artist in 1925. He was quickly successful, winning an award from the Prussian Academy of Arts in 1931. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Feibusch saw the writing on the wall and hightailed it out of Germany to England.

Hitler visits the blockbuster Degenerate Art exhibition in 1937.While he built a new life for himself in England, back in Germany Hitler’s personal taste in art was being enshrined as the ideal while the avant-garde that had thrived under the Weimar Republic was reviled as “degenerate,” the nobility of classical forms distorted and deformed by Jewish contamination of the culture. In 1937, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels put together a Degenerate Art (Entartete Kunst) exhibition in Munich that collected the modern art his ministry had pulled from the walls of galleries, museums and private collections. Feibusch’s work was displayed alongside Jankel Adler’s and Marc Chagall’s next to the slogan “Revelation of the Jewish racial soul” written on the wall.

Detail illustrating man's brutality to man in the bottom right of the "Ascension" mural. Photo courtesy the Coventry Telegraph.Feibusch’s career really took off in England after the end of World War II, thanks largely to the destruction wrought by German bombs. He became known as a muralist, especially as a church muralist. His main patron was the Bishop of Chichester Dr. G.K.A. Bell, who commissioned murals in Chichester Cathedral and in the bishop’s palace. Churches in Brighton, Portsmouth, Eastbourne and other cities small and large also commissioned murals from Feibusch. He ultimately painted murals for 30 churches, including St Mark’s, and major civic buildings like Dudley Town Hall in Worcestershire.

St Mark’s Church was deconsecrated in 1973 and converted into the outpatients department of the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital. For the mural’s own protection (and maybe to make the space a little less obviously a church), the Ascension was bricked over. Even though out of view, it wasn’t forgotten.

Feibusch's mural revealed. Photo courtesy the Coventry Telegraph.The Coventry Society said: “Feibusch’s work is now recognised as being of national importance. In 2011 the Coventry Society noted that the listing particulars for the building did not include the mural. We therefore put in a formal request to English Heritage to amend the listing to include the mural and revise other details of the listing. This was approved by the Secretary of State for Culture, Leisure and Sport in January 2013.”

“In March 2017 it was announced that the building is to be re-opened as a City Centre Resource Church in September 2017. We are delighted to learn that the future of the building is now safe and that it is going to be restored.”

Hans Feibusch lived a very long life, dying four weeks shy of his 100th birthday in 1998. He not only outlived all of the Nazis who labelled his art degenerate, but also all of his fellow so-called “degenerate artists.” He is buried in Golders Green Jewish Cemetery.

 

Share

Navigation

Search

Archives

May 2017
S M T W T F S
« Apr    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  

Other

Add to Technorati Favorites

Syndication