Monday, August 04, 2008

Canterbury Astrolabe Quadrant purchased by the British Museum

31 July 2008
Press Association Regional Newswire - London

A "calculator" used in the time of Geoffrey Chaucer and described as one of the most sophisticated such tools before the computer is to remain in London.

The Canterbury Astrolabe Quadrant is one of only eight instruments of this type known to have survived from the Middle Ages, the British Museum said. The museum tried to buy the object last year but was outbid at auction.

But it has now been able to acquire it for £350,000 due to a £125,000 grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, £50,000 from The Art Fund and £175,000 from British Museum Friends and other sources. It will go on display in the museum early next month.

David Barrie, director of The Art Fund, said the author of the bawdy Canterbury Tales was an expert on such objects, then seen as cutting edge. He said: "The Canterbury Astrolabe Quadrant offers an extraordinary insight into the scientific and technological capabilities of Chaucer's England. Chaucer himself was an expert on astrolabes and wrote in the Canterbury Tales about men's love of 'newfangleness'."

Made of brass with a radius of 70mm, the object is the only example certain to have been made for use in England and was found in July 2005 by Andrew Linklater of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust at the House of St Agnes in Canterbury, Kent. The instrument will take centre stage in the British Museum's new medieval gallery, Europe 1000 - 1500, when it opens next year.