Museum acquires lost Charlotte Brontë mini-book

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.

Roman-era pottery workshop found in Alexandria

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.

Theater of Herculaneum reopens

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.

Dog finds bracteate hoard in Poland

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.

Oldest foundry in Padua excavated 20 years after discovery

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.