Monday, August 31, 2009

Caroline Dunn wins Dissertation award for research on the abduction of women in Medieval England

Caroline Dunn, assistant professor of history at Clemson University, has won the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools 2009 Annual Dissertation Award for her PhD thesis on "Damsels in Distress or Partners in Crime? The Abduction of Women in Medieval England."

Dunn wrote her thesis at Fordham University in 2007, under the supervision of Maryanne Kowaleski. The award comes with a $1000 prize.

Dunn first came across the practice of wife abduction in the Middle Ages as an undergraduate reading an obscure biography of Thomas of Lancaster, the Second Earl of Lancaster and erstwhile rival to King Edward II of England.

“The biographer briefly mentioned that Lancaster’s wife was abducted, almost in passing,” said Dunn. “I had no idea if wife stealing was a common occurrence or if this was just one case. Honestly, I was surprised it wasn’t just a literary theme.”

Dunn explored the legal idea of raptus, or ravishment, in medieval England, specifically in four counties—Bedfordshire, Devon, Northumberland and London/Middlesex—between 1150 and 1500 to figure out the legal realities behind these dramatic tales.

What she discovered surprised her. “Many so-called ‘wife-thefts’ were not actually forced abductions, but cases of adultery framed as abduction by wives trying to avoid adultery charges or by husbands suing to receive financial compensation for their losses,” she said. “My dissertation broadens the understanding of the role of women in the legal system and provides a means for analyzing male control over female bodies, sexuality and access to the courts. But it also reveals ways in which females could maneuver around such controls.”

While Dunn acknowledges some medieval Englishwomen who endured abduction were raped or coerced into marriage, she said legal documents reveal a significant amount of consensual elopements or abductions.

“I was quite pleased to see some women maneuvering around at least some of the controls of a male-dominated world and a male-dominated hierarchy,” she said. “They had more freedom to live a life they wanted to lead.”

Dunn’s thesis recently caught the attention of the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools (NAGS), which represents universities in eastern Canada and the northeastern states of the United States. NAGS presented her with its Dissertation Award, an annual prize for an outstanding thesis produced by a Ph.D. candidate within the past five years.

“It hasn’t quite sunk in yet,” admitted Dunn. “Work is never perfect and scholarship is always ongoing, so I guess this just goes to show that it can be good even if it’s not perfect.”

Dunn conducted her research at Fordham University and at the National Archives in the United Kingdom, where she sifted through more than 750 cases of female abductions, as recorded in royal administrative and judicial sources.

Eventually, she came across a 1285 statute that allowed husbands to protect their assets—and their children’s legacies—against former wives via an abduction prosecution.

“Increasing concern about elopement led late-thirteenth-century lawmakers to adapt a definition of raptus which conflated rape and abduction, in order to target elopement,” she said. “The statute contributed to a six-fold increase in allegations of abduction charges and points to a certain degree of greater social freedom for women—and men.”

Whether she ran off with another man or truly was a damsel in distress, the wife forfeited any future claims to the husband’s estate upon his death. It was a clean break, freeing the husband from any financial obligations to his former wife. At the same time, the former wife was allowed to marry again, not unlike the Wife of Bath in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.

A later statute, issued in 1382, legislated that husbands had recourse to enact the wives’ forfeitures during their own lifetimes, essentially putting an end to previous prosecutions, according to Dunn.

“There was a certain degree of marital fluidity,” she said, “which I think helps confirm that the lower classes in the twelfth through fourteenth centuries were much more free than originally presumed.”

Major Viking hoard acquired by two British Museums

The Vale of York hoard has been acquired through a unique partnership between the York Museums Trust (York) and the British Museum (London).

This major Viking hoard, an important and exciting find, is joint-owned and will be displayed equally between the two partners. Highlights of the hoard will be displayed initially at the Yorkshire Museum in York (17 September – 1 November 2009). It will then travel to the British Museum.

Jonathan Williams, Keeper of Prehistory and Europe at the British Museum, said: “This find is of global importance, as well as having huge significance for the history of England and Yorkshire. York Museum Trust and the British Museum have worked together to acquire, interpret and exhibit the hoard to make it accessible to the widest possible public. We are hugely grateful to all funders whose generosity has meant we were able to acquire the hoard”.

The hoard was declared Treasure and was valued at £1,082,000 by the independent Treasure Valuation Committee. The Vale of York hoard has been acquired with the substantial and generous support of a National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) grant of £507,100, and a £250,000 grant from independent charity The Art Fund. Additional funding came from the Challenge Fund (£97,500) and York Museums Trust (£30,000). A huge sum of £200,000 was raised through public appeal with many individual generous donations from the British Museum Friends. Additional funds were raised to cover conservation costs.

Andrew Macdonald, Acting Director of The Art Fund, said: “A treasure hunter’s dream, the Vale of York hoard is an extraordinary collection of artefacts that gives new insight into the vast trading networks – from Islamic Central Asia to Scandinavia and the Baltic – of 10th century Britain. The Art Fund is delighted to have helped York Museums Trust and the British Museum acquire this rare and exciting find.”

The size and quality of the material in the hoard is remarkable, making it the most important find of its type in Britain for over 150 years. It was discovered in the Harrogate area in January 2007 by two metal-detectorists, David and Andrew Whelan, who kept the find intact and promptly reported it to their local Finds Liaison Officer.

David and Andrew Whelan, the finders of the hoard, said “Being keen metal detectorists we always dreamt of finding a hoard, but to find one from such a fantastic period of history, is just unbelievable. The contents of the hoard we found went far beyond our wildest dreams and hopefully people will love seeing the objects on display in York and London for many, many years to come”.

The hoard contains a mixture of different precious metal objects, including coins, complete ornaments, ingots (bars) and chopped-up fragments known as hack-silver (67 objects in total and 617 coins). It shows the diversity of cultural contacts in the medieval world, with objects coming from as far apart as Afghanistan in the East and Ireland in the West, as well as Russia, Scandinavia and continental Europe.

The most spectacular single object is a gilt silver vessel, made in what is now France or western Germany around the middle of the ninth century. It was apparently intended for use in church services, and was probably either looted from a monastery by Vikings, or given to them in tribute. Most of the smaller objects were hidden inside this vessel, which was itself protected by some form of lead container. As a result, the hoard was extremely well-preserved. Other star objects include a rare gold arm-ring, and 617 coins, including several new or rare types. These provide valuable new information about the history of England in the early tenth century, as well as Yorkshire’s wider cultural contacts in the period. Interestingly, the hoard contains coins relating to Islam and to the pre-Christian religion of the Vikings, as well as to Christianity.

The hoard was probably buried for safety by a wealthy Viking leader during the unrest that followed the conquest of the Viking kingdom of Northumbria in AD 927 by the Anglo-Saxon king Athelstan (924-39).

Dr Robert Bewley, Director of Operations at the National Heritage Memorial Fund, said: “This archaeological find provides us with a unique and wonderful snapshot of troubled times in Britain and Europe, over a thousand years ago. We’re particularly pleased to see that our funding is helping to facilitate important joint working between the British Museum and York Museums Trust. This should ensure that these treasures can be enjoyed, in a variety of locations, by visitors from both this country and further afield.”

Conservation work has recently started on the hoard to restore it to its former glory. More information on the hoard has come to light through this process. The vessel which contained most of the hoard can now be seen to be decorated with niello (a black metal inlay), as well as extensive gilding. New details are also visible in the decoration of some of the silver jewellery fragments, and in the designs and inscriptions of the coins. The first newly conserved objects will be revealed on 27 August.

The Vale of York hoard is the largest and most important Viking hoard from Britain since the hoard found at Cuerdale in Lancashire in 1840. Objects from the Cuerdale hoard are now on display in several museums around the UK, with the largest group housed in the British Museum.

A Viking army conquered the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria in AD 869. The area remained under Viking control until it was conquered by Athelstan in 927. The area had another brief period of independence following Athelstan’s death in 939, which lasted until the death of the Viking ruler Eric Bloodaxe in 954. The Vikings made a lasting impact in Britain, including place-names, sculpture and influence on the English language, as well as archaeological remains. Yorkshire is one of the areas which shows the strongest Viking influence.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hunt for the 'Battle of Anghiari' at standstill

The effort to discover if one of Leonardo da Vinci's long lost masterpieces is hidden within the walls of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy, have ground to a halt.

Maurizio Seracini, an Italian expert in high-technology art analysis, was trying to get access to the Florentine palace so he could use thermographic cameras and other techniques to locate 'The Battle of Anghiari' which Leonardo painted in 1505.

But in an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, Seracini complains that after 15 months of delays in getting permission to conduct his investigation, "the search has stopped."

Seracini says "the problem is purely political, the change of administration has blocked the investigation."

"There is no logical explanation," he adds. "These studies have not cost the government even one euro" since funding has been supplied by private donors.

Seracini hopes that Matteo Renzi, who was elected mayor of Florence in June, will allow him to continue his investigation. In the meantime, Seracini and his team are now working on the Palazzo Medici, where they hope to discover traces of the original art work on its walls as well as evidence of a secret tunnel that connected the 15th century palace to the Basilica of San Lorenzo.

The Battle of Anghiari was seen in the Palazzo Vecchio until the mid-16th century, when a renovation was undertaken by Giorgio Vasari. For centuries, most scholars believed that Da Vinci's work was destroyed during the renovation, but Seracini believes that Vasari would not have destroyed the masterpiece and somehow had it preserved.

Using non-invasive techniques, such as a high-frequency, surface-penetrating radar and thermographic camera, Seracini made a survey of the main hall within the Palazoo Vecchio. Among other conclusions, he found out that Vasari had built another wall in front of the east wall where the original fresco of Leonardo da Vinci was reported to be located. He found a gap of 1 to 3 centimeters between the two walls, large enough for the older fresco to be preserved.

Here is a 2007 report on the Lost Leonardo:

The Bayeux Tapestry: New Interpretations

A new book on The Bayeux Tapestry has just been released which offers a wide variety of new ideas about the famous embroidered cloth. The Bayeux Tapestry: New Interpretations, published by Boydell and Brewer, gives eleven essays on the Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts events leading up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and scenes from the battle iself, and is renowned among scholars of medieval history, art and literature.

Edited by Dan Terkla, Martin Foys and Karen Eileen Overbey, the book is a collection from a combination of well-established scholars and voices new to Tapestry studies. “We truly hope to live up to the title of the book, New Interpretations,” said Terkla. “Not only does the book take a multi-disciplinary approach, with scholars from fields ranging from history to art to Anglo-Saxon studies contributing, but its particular mix of seasoned and young scholars can provide a new perspective.”

Terkla’s chapter, titled “From Hastingus to Hastings and Beyond: Inexorable Inevitability on the Bayeux Tapestry,” situates the Norman invasion of 1066 in a context that reaches back to the first Viking ruler in Normandy, Hastingus, forward to William and the Norman invasion, and beyond to the broader history of Norman conquests. Setting the Tapestry in this broad context causes one to wonder, as Terkla does, “Did Hastingus’s presence in Normandy set into motion an inevitable link that runs all the way to William?” He argues that the Tapestry’s design creates a sense of historical inevitability through its use of line.

“You can look at the Tapestry and see the ways in which the ground and waterlines run, how gestures are configured,” said Terkla. “It all pulls the eyes from left to right. All of the visual elements come together to imply the inevitability of this Norman conquest and future conquests.”

The idea for the book surfaced during a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar, directed by R. Howard Bloch at Yale, that Terkla attended in 2005. Inspired by the seminar, he co-organized sessions in 2006 for the International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds, England, and then co-organized an international conference at the British Museum dedicated to the Tapestry in 2008.

“The Tapestry has captured the interest of scholars and leaders for centuries,” said Terkla, who noted that Napoleon and the Nazis studied it for tips on invading England. The Tapestry “invites viewers to see it as part of a continuum of history. I am hoping the book encourages readers to step back and discover something they have not realized about the Tapestry before.”


Problematizing Patronage: Odo of Bayeux and the Bayeux Tapestry, by Elizabeth Carson Pastan and Stephen D White

Auctoritas, Consilium et Auxilium: Images of Authority in the Bayeux Tapestry, by Shirley Ann Brown

Taking Place: Reliquaries and Territorial Authority in the Bayeux Embroidery, by Karen Eileen Overbey

On the Nature of Things in the Bayeux Tapestry and its World, by Valerie Allen

Making Sounds Visible in the Bayeux Tapestry, by R. Brilliant

Anglo-Saxon Women, Norman Knights and a 'Third Sex' in the Bayeux Embroidery, by Madeline H. Caviness

Behind the Bayeux Tapestry, by Gale R. Owen-Crocker

Embroidery Errors in the Bayeux Tapestry and Their Relevance for Understanding Its Design and Production, by Michael Lewis

From Hasting to Hastings and Beyond: Inexorable Inevitability on the Bayeux Tapestry, by Daniel Terkla

Pulling the Arrow Out: The Legend of Harold's Death and the Bayeux Tapestry, by Martin Foys

The Bayeux Tapestry: A Selective Bibliography, by Daniel Terkla

Please also see our featured section The Bayeux Tapestry for more articles and news

Click here to purchase The Bayeux Tapestry: New Interpretations from

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Letter shows another late medieval expedition to Canada

Evidence of a previously unknown voyage to North America in 1499, led by a Bristol explorer, is to be published in the academic journal Historical Research.

The article, 'Henry VII and the Bristol expeditions to North America: the Condon documents' by Dr Evan Jones, a historian at Bristol University, suggests that a Bristol merchant, William Weston, undertook a voyage to the ‘New Found Land’ just two years after the first voyage of Venetian explorer John Cabot who sailed from Bristol to ‘discover’ North America in 1497.

Cabot led a second, larger, expedition the following year (1498) to explore the new land, with support from King Henry VII. However, a third expedition undertaken by Weston in 1499 with the support of the King, has remained unknown until now.

The main evidence for the voyage comes from a personal letter written by the King to his Lord Chancellor on 12 March 1499. In this, Henry VII instructs his minister to suspend an injunction served against Weston in the Court of Chancery because Weston shall shortly ‘with God’s grace pass and sail for to search and find if he can the new found land’.

While this was an independent voyage, it seems that Weston was permitted to undertake it because he was one of Cabot’s chief supporters in Bristol. This meant that, although Cabot had received monopoly rights for westwards exploration from England, Weston was covered by the terms of Cabot’s royal patent.

Dr Evan Jones said “Henry VII’s letter is an exciting find because so little is known about the early English voyages of discovery. We knew that our knowledge of the first English expeditions to the New World was very incomplete. But this is beginning to show just how incomplete it is. Up till now, no one has ever even heard of William Weston. Yet this letter reveals him to be the first Englishman to lead an expedition to North America.”

Although the letter itself does not reveal what Weston achieved, research suggests that his expedition took him up into the Labrador Sea, possibly reaching as far as the Hudson Straits. “If so”, Dr Jones continued, “this can probably be counted as the first Northwest Passage expedition, commencing a centuries-long search to locate a sea-route around North America.”

Although the publication of this research is entirely new, Dr Jones is keen to stress that the letter itself was found thirty years ago, miscataloged among a bundle of Chancery files in what is now The National Archives. The archivist who found the letter, Miss Margaret Condon, passed on the information to the eminent discovery historian, Professor David Beers Quinn in 1981. He, however, failed to publish the information because he wanted to wait for another historian, Dr Alwyn Ruddock, to publish her research on the Cabot voyages first. This, however, never happened, leaving the letter unpublished at the time of Quinn’s death in 2002.

That the letter ever came to light was only the result of a bizarre twist in events. In 2005, Dr Alwyn Ruddock died, leaving instructions that all her research notes be destroyed. This was despite the fact that, during the forty years she had been researching the Cabot voyages, she had apparently made discoveries that looked set to revolutionise the field.

Following her death, Dr Jones commenced a search to discover just what Ruddock had found, his investigations being published in a earlier edition of Historical Research. Ruddock had apparently uncovered evidence that Cabot and his supporters had explored a large section of the coast of North America from 1498-1500 and, moreover, that an offshoot of his expedition established the Continent’s first Christian community in Newfoundland. It was while investigating Ruddock’s claims that Dr Jones found out about the discoveries of Margaret Condon, made decades before.

Jones and Condon have now teamed up with researchers in Canada to carry out more work on the early voyages. “When I first started investigating Ruddock’s claims’, Dr Jones said, “some people were somewhat sceptical about her claims. It was perhaps easier to think that she might have gone a bit ‘batty’ in her old age than to believe that her extraordinary claims might be true. Now though, with the bits and pieces of evidence falling into place, the hunt to relocate the material that she found, is certainly on.”

Click here to read an earlier article: Remains of only medieval church in North America could be buried in Newfoundland

Sunday, August 23, 2009

English crusaders settled in 12th century Spain, study finds

A recent article in the Journal of Medieval History has found records indicating that a group of crusaders from England and Wales took part in the siege and conquest of the Spanish city of Tortosa in 1148, and that some of them decided to stay and live in the area.

In his article "Angli cum multis aliis alienigenis: crusade settlers in Tortosa," Antoni Virgili on the University of Barcelona traces the records of about twenty individuals who lived in and around Tortosa during the second half of the twelfth century. He identifies these people as being from England and Wales, including some people who became wealthy and important members of the local oligarchy.

In the spring of 1147 Anglo-Norman and Flemish crusaders set out from Dartmouth in the direction of the Holy Land to take part in the Second Crusade. On their way they participated in the siege of Lisbon (October 1147) and the campaign against Tortosa which finished with the surrender of the city on the last day of 1148.

After the city fell, Ramon Berenguer IV, Count of Barcelona, began encouraging people to settle in his newly-conquered territories, offering them free land. Along with Catalans and Aragonese, this offer attracted Italian, French and other European settlers.

Virgili focuses on twenty of these individuals who he believes came from England or Wales, and provides biographical information about them. They include Guilabertus Anglicus, who is mentioned in 56 documents dating from between 1151 and 1180. He was given several homes in Tortosa by Count Ramon and over the years built up his landed property. His will and other documents showed that he supported the Templars and several local religious groups.

The documents researched by Virgili show that these English settlers were active in acquiring and selling property in and around Tortosa. In 1165, Rotbertus Otonensis and his wife Guia sold to the Templar commandery at Tortosa an orchard at Palomera for 25 gold morabetins lupins. In that same year, Osbertus Anglicus paid 55 gold morabetins to purchase an orchard in Vilanova held by a Jewish man named Haio Azus.

The article is available in Volume 35, Number 3 of the Journal of Medieval History, which can be accessed from this website.

Germany spends stimulus money on its medieval castles

Dozens of medieval castles in Germany will soon be receiving more than 320 million euros to help with restoration work, with the money coming from the countries economic stimulus package.

The latest cash injection was announced earlier this week when the federal government and the states of Berlin and Brandenburg pledged €155 million for the Foundation of Prussian Palaces and Gardens for the period through 2017. The government has already made 150 million euros available for the preservation of the country's 33 UNESCO World Heritage sites such as the historic town center of Quedlinburg and the castles of the Rhine. Another 20 million euros had already been earmarked in January for the restoration of other historical buildings.

"We're happy. This is a positive development," said Gerhard Wagner, Secretary-General of the German Castles association. "Repair work we might only have got round to in 20 years can now be done in the next five."

He added, "We had thought the stimulus money would go into autobahns and things like that, so we were surprised and overjoyed that people thought about our historic monuments. It means we're now able to tackle projects that we otherwise wouldn't have gotten to for another 20 years."

The owners of castles along the 65-kilometer stretch of the Rhine Valley designated as a World Heritage site have applied for a total of €14 million in government funds.

Marksburg Castle, the only hill-top castle on the Rhine never to have been destroyed in its more than 800-year history has been awarded €700,000 for roof repairs and improvements to an access road.

Nearby castles, the medieval Burg Eltz and the 18th century Schloss Malberg, were each granted money to make repairs. Burg Eltz is receiving more than €2 million to retile roofs and to fit iron anchors to secure a 40-meter tower which is at risk of collapse. Malberg will have €1 million to restore its vast roofs and walls.

Burg Eltz can only be visited in a guided tour and despite the recession, guest numbers have increased in 2009, although it's not just Germans accounting for the increase. Large numbers of Belgians, Dutch and even British tourists are defying the recession and flocking to the castle to marvel at its original medieval halls, suits of armor and tapestries.

Tourism is up at many historic monuments across Germany -- Marksburg castle expects 145,000 visitors in 2009, up from 142,000 last year, and Rheinstein, another privately owned castle that guards the Rhine near the town of Bingen, is confident it will crack 30,000 this year, up from 2008.

With all the building contracts being awarded, it's getting increasingly hard to recruit local contractors skilled in restoring medieval buildings, castle owners say. Medieval mortar requires a special type of plaster to make it weather proof, for example.

Rheinstein looks set to be one of the few Rhine castles unspoiled by scaffolding in the years to come because it has already undergone €2 million worth of refurbishment over the last decade, with government help.

"One has to keep begging and applying for public funds because there are so many historical buildings in this region," Rheinstein's owner Markus Hecher, whose father, an opera singer, bought the castle in the 1970s.

Owning a castle may sound like a dream come true but it's also a constant challenge, said Hecher. "A few years ago our cesspits collapsed and we had to fix them right away because we're not attached to the public sewage system. That came out of the blue and cost €24,000. And because we get all our water from wells in the forest, we have to keep maintaining the four kilometers of pipes leading there. Blocked filters sometimes shut off our supply."

Germany has an estimated 15,000 preserved fortresses, palaces and ruins.

Call for Papers - Medieval Conferences

We have posted the details of several calls for papers for various medieval studies conferences that will be taking place next year.

This includes the 45th International Congress on Medieval Studies, which again takes place at Western Michigan University on May 13-16, 2010. Click here to access the Calls for Papers for nine different sessions.

Plymouth State University is holding its 31st Annual Medieval and Renaissance Forum on April 16-17, 2010. This year's theme is “Time, Temporality, History”. Click here for details.

The 4th Annual Sacred Leaves Graduate Symposium is taking place at the University of South Florida on February 18-19, 2010. This year's theme is "Encountering the “Other” in the Medieval World: Textual Examinations of Resistance and Reconciliation Across the Traditions, 500-1500". Click here for details.

If you wish to post your call for papers or conference announcement, please contact us at

Valencian Tiles found in medieval English royal palace

Archaeologists examining the Woking Palace in the English county of Surrey have discovered rare 15th century Valencian tiles.

The archaeological dig took place from July 22 to August 9, which included over 100 volunteers participating, and helped to uncover evidence that the site was being used as early 1200 AD.

Originally a royal manner, Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, had it rebuilt into a palace. Henry VII was a frequent visitor to Woking Palace, while his son Henry VIII extended and enlarged the Palace between 1515 and 1543. Further work was carried out between 1565 and 1594 during Elizabeth I’s reign.

The most exciting finds were rare Valencian tiles which were made in Valencia, Spain, and date back to between 1450 and 1490. They have only been found in a few other locations across the UK according to the archaeologists working at the dig site.

Rob Poulton, one of the archaeologists working on the site, remarked: "We've found a lot of information about the walls and other elements underneath the ground and we can see that there were more extensive elements to the palace than we previously knew and we are beginning to get an idea how royalty in particular Henry VII and Henry VIII adapted the palace to suit there greater needs than were required in the medieval period so were learning an awful lot we've got some really interesting finds but really with this kind of work its afterwards when you piece together the finds the evidence of the records what we can see in the ground and what we knew already to make a much more coherent story of what to say as time goes on."

The findings from the dig will be revealed as part of the Royals and Revolutions lecture series at the Surrey History Centre during November. The programme of lectures will look at the history of the county during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Details of the event will be confimed in due course.

The Palace once owned by Henry VIII fell into disrepair after 1620. Its new owner demolished large parts of it and the building materials were taken away for re-use in the local area, so there is little left standing today.

The community archaeological excavation of Woking Palace has been organised by Surrey County Archaeological Unit (part of Surrey County Council) and Surrey Archaeological Society, with the support of Woking Borough Council.

Click here to watch a video discussing the archaeological dig

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Castle discovered in South Northamptonshire

A team of archaeologists has uncovered what they believe could be remains of the only medieval stone castle in South Northamptonshire, United Kingdom.

According to a report in the Northampton Chron and Echo newspaper, archaeologists from Northamptonshire made the discovery at The Mount in Alderton, near Towcester, after they picked up where Time Team’s archaeologists left off eight years ago.

Experts from the Channel 4 programme carried out excavation work at the site in 2001.

But, the team’s digs are limited to three days and they only managed to scratch the surface of the history of the site, where work to build the long-since-vanished castle began soon after the Norman Conquest in 1066.

Tim Upson Smith, from Northamptonshire County Council’s archaeological unit, supervised the three-week dig, and described the discovery of a substantial stone building and wall as “exciting”.

“We got the corner of a stone building which was on the edge of our excavation. We went looking for a timber castle and we discovered stone, which is really exciting from an archaeological point of view. It means the castle was in use longer than we thought and was developed,” he said.

“We are hoping to go back next year,” he added.

The dig finished on August 7, and due to funding and permission requirements, the dig could not go further to unearth more of the castle this time around, but the archaeological team hopes to discover even more about the site when they revisit it.

Medieval Sundial found at Inchcolm Abbey

With no clocks or watches – how did the medieval brethren at the island abbey of Inchcolm know when to eat, sleep and pray?

The Augustinian canons lived according to a strict routine, and it was essential that everyone in the community did the right thing at the right time.

A new discovery at Inchcolm Abbey, in the Firth of Forth, reveals that the Augustinian canons who once lived on the island measured time using a mass dial. This specialised form of sundial was carved into the south-facing walls of some churches and monastic buildings.

While well-known in England, the British Sundial Society says relatively few are known in Scotland.

The one at Inchcolm, which has been broken in two, was discovered by Historic Scotland collections registrar Hugh Morrison and medieval stones expert Mary Márkus.

They were carrying out preparatory work for a project to examine and catalogue a collection of around 50 pieces of carved medieval stone which are in safe keeping at the abbey but have never been studied.

Hugh said: “While sorting through the stones I found a fragment with distinctive radial markings carved on it that reminded me of mass dials that I had seen on churches in Gloucestershire.

“In a separate location I turned over another stone and was really pleased to discover that it fitted together with the other half of the mass dial.

“Better still, it still has the corroded stub of the iron gnomon which would have once cast its shadow along the radial markings of the dial.

“It was good to be able to reunite the two pieces again. Eventually it may even be possible to find its original location on the south side of the abbey.”

More than 7,000 detached carved stones have been documented at Historic Scotland properties.

They often provide key evidence for reconstructing long-lost features from castles, palaces, abbeys and many other monuments.

The mass dial will help visitors gain an insight into medieval life by showing how time was measured, and how people organised their lives, before the arrival of clocks and watches.

Hugh said: “Medieval timekeeping was very different from our present day dependency on the accurate measurement of time for catching trains, getting to work or viewing TV programs.

“Changing seasons and weather meant that mass dials could not always be used but when the sun shone they provided a relative means of coordinating community activities.”

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Most Luxurious Trip in the World is a Mongol Hunting Expedition

A vacation opportunity billed as 'The Most Luxurious Trip in the World' is being promoted by a travel company called Urbane Nomads. It would allow participants to recreate the grand hunting expeditions of Kubilai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan who conquered China and established the Yuan Dynasty in 1271.

The trip is touted as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, which involves travelling through the western part of Mongolia to experience horseback riding and eagle hunting. Guests will be accompanied by a private chef, a private butler, and a spa therapist.

The cost of the trip starts at $2 million US.

The comedy news show the Colbert Report poked fun at this trip on their August 19th episode. You can watch the clip below (the segment starts about one minute into this video):

More information on Urbane Nomads can be found on:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Archaeological discoveries from Iceland

An archaeological project in northern Iceland has made important discoveries this summer, including a cowshed dating back to the 10th century, and shark teeth from the 12th century.

The archaeological project is centered in Skagafjördur, where one of Iceland's two medieval bishopric's, Hólar, was situated. Research has been taking place over the last several years, and includes discoveries of other buildings from the 11th and 12th centuries.

The cowshed is ten meters long and four meters wide, made from rock and turf. The floor is paved with stones, which still are in place. On both sides of the floor are low steps for eighteen or twenty stalls.

The east end has been damaged, and partially used to build another house in the 11th century, but the western side is very well preserved. The floor appears to have been covered in turf, so that every stall must have been smooth and dry. Wooden panels appear to have separated the stalls.

The shark teeth, discovered near Kolkuós in Skagafjördur, are another clue of a diverse industry in the area, according to archeologist Ragnheidur Traustadóttir, who leads the project. Kolkuós was the main harbor in Skagafjördur in medieval times and a center for international trade.

“The teeth indicate [shark] processing at Kolkuós at that time. The oil from the liver was good for lighting and the shark meat was eaten. There was a lot of shark in Skagafjördur and early in the 20th century people only had to row for a half an hour to find good shark waters,” said Traustadóttir.

This is the seventh summer in a row that excavation takes place at Kolkuós in relation to the archeological research at Hólar, an ancient bishopric.

Traustadóttir believes that the harbor at Kolkuós was most definitely the deciding factor when Hólar was chosen for a bishopric in 1106. The harbor was damaged in the 16th century and the power of the bishops at Hólar may possibly have decreased as a consequence.

In addition to shark processing, indications of iron and coal production have been found at Kolkuós, carving and carpentry was likely practiced there, along with fishing and bird hunting.

Furthermore, indications of the import of various products and material have been found, such as flint, sharpeners, baking trays from Norway, clay vessels, knives, nails and other tools.

Bones from domestic animals have been found, including some from small dogs, which Traustadóttir says were a status symbol in the Middle Ages. A pagan grave, silver coins from southern Germany and England and a medieval anchor are also among discoveries.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Report on medieval finds in Scotland released

The Scottish government has released its fourth annual Treasure Trove Report, which details archaeological finds in the region between April 2008 and March 2009.

According to Scottish law, all discovered items found by chance, metal detecting or by archaeological excavation must be handed over to the Crown. Some of the finds are then handed over to local museums, while others get returned to their finders. If the object is handed to a museum, the person who found the item is given an award.

The report shows that 86 artefacts were claimed by the Crown before being given to museums and 90 were reported but returned to the finder. The total money spent on awards to finders was £10,590 with individual payments ranging from £10 to £1,250.

One of the most notable finds was a medieval gold ring with a blue sapphire found in field in Lamington, South Lanarkshire, by tanker driver Gordon Innes. It is now on display at the Biggar Museum. Mr Innes, a member of the Scottish Artefact Recovery Group in Bonnybridge, Stirlingshire, found the ring just three inches below ground.

It has been identified as a bishop's consecration ring and would have been buried with him, making the find of major historical interest. It is the only complete-shaped and polished ring of its kind found in Scotland.

In an interview with the Scotsman, Tam Ward, archaeologist at Biggar Museum, said: "We are very pleased to have the ring which is so delicate and small, it looks almost as if it could have been made for a woman. It has beautiful detail with chevron-like details engraved on it.

"However, we are a bit annoyed we have not been told the exact spot it was found in as we had hoped to go and excavate there because it could have come from ground ploughed from a grave in a cemetery which would be of great interest to us."

Other items listed in this year's Treasure Trove include:

- A fragment of Pictish symbol stone from Mail, Shetland
- A Pictish penannular brooch from Culross, Fife
- A hoard of medieval silver coins from Dumfries, Dumfries and Galloway
- A medieval pilgrim badge from Crail, Fife
- A 14th century gold florin of Florence, from Jedburgh, Scottish Borders
- A medieval silver gilt finger ring, Inchaffray, Perth and Kinross

Click here to read the Treasure Trove Report

Call for medieval battlefields to be preserved in Wales

Welsh historians and politicians are calling for efforts to be made to preserve some forgotten historical sites, including several medieval battlefields.

According to a report in the Western Mail, Kirsty Williams, the leader of one Wales main political parties is asking the British government to preserve a 10-acre hillside where the Battle of Pilleth was fought in 1402. This landmark victory in Owain Glyndwàr's fight for Welsh independence. In June 1402, Glyndwàr defeated a formidable force led by Edmund Mortimer, one of King Henry IV's Marcher barons at Bryn Glas, near Knighton.

"This site is an integral part of our history as a nation and the scant interest it has been given officially is in complete contrast to the Bannockburn site, which has been accorded national status in Scotland," Ms Williams said.

Locals would like to see a tourist information site at Pilleth, showing visitors who Glyndwàr was, what happened and what the troops were wearing, rather than just drive by oblivious to the site or its significance.

Historian Martin Hackett wants the site of the Battle of Buttington near Welshpool, promoted as well. Buttington is where a Viking Army was defeated by King Alfred the Great allied to the Welsh under King Merfyn of Powys in the Severn Valley in 893.

He said: "Historians often have difficulty identifying battle sites because of a lack of archaeological records and historical references.

"But for the Battle of Buttington, we have both these things which is very rare and the battle is mentioned in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. It says the Danes had made their way up the Thames and the Severn rivers, probably by boat, and occupied an existing fort possibly on a mound where Buttington church is now.

"The Danes were then besieged by the English and Welsh armies for some weeks before being forced to fight their way out, in the hope of gaining their freedom.

"Around 400 skulls plus limbs were discovered that showed signs of battle scars and a horse's skull, which the soldiers would have eaten before the fight."

Medieval battlefields have received much attention in other parts of the United Kingdom. In Scotland, the site of the Battle of Bannockburn (1314), in the war for independence, is heavily promoted. while in England, people interested in the Battle of Hastings (1066) can visit an interactive visitor centre.

Martin Hackett added that "Welshpool is privileged sitting amidst battles that run from Roman times to the English Civil War - all of them significant.

"There is enough material in this area, which includes the site of the Battle of Montgomery - probably the biggest battle ever fought in Wales - for Welshpool to become an historical military mecca.

"Surely with the new Welshpool livestock market being built on the site of iron-age/Celtic remains and the new Tesco coming on the site of the old livestock market, commitment could be given to building a new visitor centre.

"Tourists could explore these local sites of national and in the case of the Battle of Buttington, international significance, that could attract Danish tourists in particular. Welshpool is perfect for walkers, with castles, hill forts, battle sites and Offa's Dyke, linked in some cases by the canal."

A Welsh Assembly Government spokesperson said: "Cadw, with the assistance of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, is currently carrying out research into the feasibility of creating a register of nationally important battlefield sites in Wales.

"If the register goes ahead, the battlefield at Pilleth would be one of the key sites to be considered for inclusion on a register."

Possible medieval battlefields in Wales would include:

The Battle of Buttington, 893 - The Danish Army was defeated by King Alfred the Great allied to the Welsh under King Merfyn of Powys in the Severn Valley in 893.

Mynydd Carn, 1081 - Gruffudd ap Cynan, claimant to the kingdom of Gwynedd, and Rhys ap Tudor, king of Deheubarth, defeated Gruffudd's enemies and Caradog ap Gruffudd of Morgannwg on the borders of Dyfed. Coleshill, 1157 Owain Gwynedd defeated an army led by Henry II on the Dee Estuary in 1157 but was forced to recognise Henry's control over lands to the east of the River Clwyd. Crug Mawr, 1136 Rhys ap Gruffydd led Welsh forces from Gwynedd and Deheubarth to a decisive victory against Norman forces from all the South Wales lordships.

Maes Gwenllian, 1136 - Princess Gwenllian, sister of Owain Gwynedd, led her husband Gruffydd ap Rhys's troops against a Norman army while he was away, but died afterwards. Painscastle, 1198 Llywelyn ab Iorwerth's troops were slaughtered under the leadership of Prince Gwenwynwyn - the Normans sustained three casualties compared to 3,000 Welsh.

Pilleth, 1402 - Between 1,000 and 7,000 men are buried on the 11-acre battle site that changed Welsh history.

Craig-y-dorth, 1404 - On this occasion Glyndwàr won on the southern outskirts of Monmouth, between Penyclawdd and Monmouth town, when most of the English were slaughtered and chased to the town gate.

Grosmont, 1405 - English forces under Sir John Talbot defeated Welsh rebels.

Campston Hill, 1404 - Owain Glyndwàr's forces defeated here and at Grosmont.

Pwll Melyn, 1405 - Owain Glyndwàr's troops attacked Usk Castle, but were forced back to Mynydd Pwll Melyn - the Hill of the Yellow Pool - where they were routed trying to fight the English advance.

Twthill, 1461 - The series of civil wars fought over the throne of England between the House of Lancaster and the House of York spills into Wales.

Fifth century cathedral discovered in northeastern Syria

A small cathedral with a skeleton remains in it, dating back to the Byzantine era, was unearthed by the Syrian excavation team in Tal Al-Hasaka site, northeastern Syria.

The cathedral, which dates back to the fifth century, is 18 meters long, and includes a four meter wide northern hall, a 6.5 meter wide middle hall and a three meter wide southern hall, Al-Hasaka Archeology Director Abdul-Maseeh Baghdo said in a press release on Saturday.

It also includes two column bases, and the floor is inlayed with reddish-yellow baked clay.

In the cathedral's northern hall, an entrance leading to the service area was discovered where a grape squeezer and a skeleton of a human who died of torture were found.

The excavation team also found the cathedral's stairway exit consisting of four steps, with another four steps facing them the opposite way.

Moreover, the team found intact columns reaching five meters in height with ornaments, as well as the cathedral's collapsed ceiling which was built from baked clay and basalt stones.

A bimah - a platform where a religious preacher stands - was uncovered, confirming that this site is a cathedral, according to the Archeological director.

University of Glasgow graduate database goes back to the 15th century

The University of Glasgow in Scotland has launched an online database which gives details of all of the people who graduated from the university from its foundation in 1451 until 1896.

It can be found as part of the The University of Glasgow Story at , where people can browse or search through the details of the 13,000 graduates.

Lesley Richmond, Director of Archive Services said: "This is a fantastic resource for family historians. University Graduates to 1896 opens up the University’s archives to researchers around the world so that research that would have previously required contact with Archive Services can now be carried out online."

The very first graduates of the University were Nicholaus Bully, Michael Levinstone and Alexander Levinstone, who all graduated Bachelors of Arts in 1451.

University Graduates to 1896 provides access to other notable ‘first’ graduates from the University, including Alexander Sinclair, the first international graduate. Alexander, who graduated Masters of Arts in 1461, was born in Orkney in the 1440s when it was under Norwegian rule. In between 1451 and 1499 there are 301 graduates

Alongside the records of the University’s eminent and well-known graduates are the records of the men and women who studied at the University and went on to make a significant contribution to their local communities.

To support the records of their graduation, Archive Services are working on building up biographies of selected graduates. Basic biographical details are available for a number of graduates from the seventeenth centuries onwards, allowing researchers to build up fuller pictures of their ancestors lives.

Some additional information is also known for a handful of the medieval graduates. For example, Robertus Colquhone, who graduated in 1470, was referred to as a Canon of Glasgow (canonicus Glasguensis).

The Archives welcome details from descendants of these graduates to help them provide additional biographies online.

Medieval Charnel House discovered in Slovakia

Archaeological research near the church of St. Nicolaus in the town of Trnava in Slovakia has uncovered the largest charnel house ever found in Slovakia. A charnel house, or ossuary, is a vault used to hold the bones of the dead.

The medieval charnel house in its original state was apparently a rotunda, about six and a half metres across and six metres high. Its function was two-fold. Below the ground it held the bones of the dead; above the ground it was a church.

“It is the oldest church building ever discovered in Trnava,” explaied Erik Hrnčiarik, the chair of classical archaeology at University of Trnava. “Its foundation dates to the 11th century.”

The archaeologists were able to date the rotunda from broken ceramic fragments found in the structure. According to Hrnčiarik, it ceased to function as a church or charnel house some time around 1360. He added that the nearest similar constructions are in southern Austria.

Besides the rotunda, other important findings have been made in the area including remains of a sacristy of the Church of St. Michael as well as a 16th century graveyard. “We found 20 graves of apparently well-off Trnava inhabitants,” Hrnčiarik said.

The most important finding according to Hrnčiarik is the well-preserved skull of a woman wearing a crown. Some crosses were also found, as well as a precious medallion with ivory inlays dating back to 15th century.

Following the archaeological research, art and history experts will analyse the newly discovered data. These investigations will be funded by the town of Trnava which has already allocated €17,593.

The archaeological research was begun last year as a part of a project to reconstruct the church of St. Nicolas.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Castles for Sale in France

We have updated our popular Castle for Sale section with some new castles for sale in France.

The first castle for sale in France is Le Château de Bazaneix, which is located in the south-central part of the country. The castle was first built in the fourteenth century and saw action in the Hundred Years War.

The second is a castle in the Epte Valley in Normandy which dates back to the late-eleventh or early-twelfth century. The castle, which is in a ruined state, is for sale for 430 000 euros.

The third castle is located in Dordogne region of France, and is also in ruins. Dating back to the thirteenth or fourteenth century, this castle comes with over ninety acres of heavily wooded land.

We also have included a Castle for Sale in Italy, which can be found just south of Ancona. Rocco di Bolignano was built in the early fourteenth century to help defend the city from its neighbours.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Halesowen Abbey Trust looking for volunteers

A group of volunteers who successfully opened Halesowen Abbey to the public for the first time in eight years want to open the medieval monument up for the whole summer next year.

Halesowen News reports that the medieval ruin was first closed by the foot-and-mouth outbreak of 2001 (the abbey is located within a 242-acre working farm).

When the ban on public attractions was lifted following the disease, the site was deemed unfit for public use because landowner Chris Tudor was having building work done on his nearby home. But after strenuous efforts from the voluntary Halesowen Abbey Trust and English Heritage the site was once again opened last month.

There will be further openings in the weekends of the 29 and 30 of August, the 26 and 27 of September and on a weekend in October yet to be finalised. And as an added bonus the site will also be opened for English Heritage’s national open day on Saturday, September 12.

“It is wonderful to have the abbey open to the public again and we couldn’t have done it without the support of English Heritage and the landowner,” said Mick Freer, honorary secretary of Halesowen Abbey Trust.

“The people who staff the site are volunteers and we want more people with an enthusiasm for history to come forward and help. If we can recruit more volunteers we can open the abbey every weekend next summer.”

Halesowen Abbey dates back to 1215, the site being granted by King John to French monks. For over 300 years, the monks controlled around 4,000 hectares of land around Halesowen and ruled the area with a rod of iron.

An uprising was eventually staged against the Abbot who had forced Halesowen people to pay a series of unpopular taxes.

The site, in Manor Way, acted as not only a place of worship, but a court, a fish farm and mill. It was also a money spinning stop off point for pilgrims to the neighbouring St Kenelm’s spring.

The comfortable lifestyle was only ended by the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century, leaving the buildings in ruins.

The surviving written records from the abbey are among the best preserved in England and show the huge quantities of goods consumed by the stream of pilgrims to the abbey who came to see the grisly relic of St Barbara’s head, before continuing to St Kenelm’s Church.

Anyone interested in helping out at the abbey can call Mr Freer on 07855 473045.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

15th-century Fresco discovered in ruins of L'Aquila earthquake

People in the quake-hit mountain village of Onna, near l'Aquila, are talking of a miracle after officials announced Wednesday the discovery of a 15th-century fresco during work on a church.

The discovery came during renovation work in the village, reduced to rubble by the devastating April 6 earthquake, which also killed 40 of its inhabitants.

"While clearing away the walls of the San Pietro Apostolo Church on Tuesday, coloured elements appeared," Luciano Marchetti, the civil protection official responsible for cultural artefacts in L'Aquila, told AFP.

Careful probing uncovered a fresco of more than four square metres, he added.

The work, hidden under a layer of plaster, was the first to be uncovered by the shock of the earthquake.

It is particularly interesting to the experts because unusually, it depicts the Virgin Mary above the figure of Christ. The two figures are surrounded by angels gathering their blood.

"It's a beautiful slice of history that we have had brought to light," said Marchetti.

"We hope that the renovation of the churches will bring us a lot of other finds of this kind," he added.

The earthquake, in the central Abruzzo region, claimed nearly 300 lives in the region and damaged some 1,500 churches, many of them dating back to the Middle Ages.

1000 year old marks in tree found near Prague

Czech archaeologists have uncovered a unique 1000-year-old mark engraved into an oak tree the remains of which were found near Celakovice in Prague, which is probably the oldest preserved sign of this kind in the world.

According to a report from the Czech News Agency, the real meaning of the 10-cm star-shaped mark on the oak trunk is not certain. Experts say it may have marked the territory or serve some iconic purposes.

This find is rare as so old engraved signs were not previously mapped and they are not systematically searched for either, archaeologist Jana Marikova of the Academy of Sciences (AV)'s Archaeological Institute, said.

Geologist Radek Mikulas, from the AV's Geological Institute, found the engraved sign by accident when he was searching for the actual age and state of the old oak trunks that were lifted near Celakovice during sand and gravel strip mining.

The mark was engraved into the trunk after the bark was removed from the spot, and this is why its traces were preserved. Experts estimate that the oaks were standing near the Labe (Elbe) River between 600-800 A.D. and the engraved symbol must originate from the early Middle Ages.

Archaeologist Dagmar Dreslerova points out that the tradition of engraving signs and ornaments date back to the Palaeolithic Era (Old Stone Age). However, only engravings made on stone, rocks and exceptionally on bones have been preserved, as wood and other organic material decompose with time.

The first written sources mentioning signs engraved into trees to mark land borders and paths come from antiquity.

More archaeological discoveries in Bulgaria

Bulgaria's top archaeologist, Professor Nikolay Ovcharov, showed Bulgarian media artifacts and jewelry that he discovered recently in Veliko Tarnovo, the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD).

Ovcharov has discovered the remains of the medieval St. Peter and St. Paul Monastery and the St. Ivan of Rila Church, which both provide information about the life of the medieval Bulgarian capital that had never been available before.

The finds include a gold ring with an amethyst, a golden earring, a silver gilded pin with a massive pearl - part of the more than 100 objects of precious metal dating from the 13th through the 18th century.

Ovcharov has found 20 silver rings, and a massive 23-gram male ring of 21-carat gold that he showed at a special press conference in Sofia.

Another silver ring dated back to the 13th century has an image of lilies, the symbol of the French royal court, and according to Ovcharov was made in Aquitaine, France, and probably brought to Bulgaria through the Crusades.

More than 600 artefacts from the digs, which began in 2008, will be shown at a temporary exhibition hosted by the Regional Museum of History in Turnovo before year's end.

In addition to the jewellery, remains of valuable cloth were found in many of the graves which, according to the archaeologists, refutes the opinion that the Bulgarian aristocracy was destroyed after the Ottoman invasion at the end of the 14th century.

Professor Ovcharov has also discovered the grave of a 17-18 year old girl that he believes was a Bulgarian princess. His team is yet to study her origin. The team also found parts of murals and interesting architectural remains.

Ovcharov and the archaeologists believe that the St. Peter and St. Paul Monastery was the largest monastery complex in Bulgaria in that period (12-14 century). They believe that the St. Ivan of Rila Church two stories high, and was a site where the relics of St. Ivan of Rila (870-940 AD).

Excavations will continue next year.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Road excavation reveals an early medieval mill site in Ireland

A leading archaeologist in Ireland has described the discovery of an early medieval mill site in South Roscommon during excavations on Athlone to Ballinasloe motorway project as "very important".

According to the the Westmeath Independent, the mill site, located in Kilbegley townland in the parish of Moore is estimated to be 1,200 to 1,300 years old. It is one of only a handful of excavated mill sites in Ireland at present and is thought to one of the best kept in Europe.

Jerry O'Sullivan, Archaeologist with the National Roads Authority, said, "It is very important because the parts were very well preserved. After the mill was abandoned it quickly became immersed in peat. This prevented the timbers from being colonised by insects and fungi, and this arrested the normal decay process that would otherwise have destroyed the mill timbers within a few years."

Archaeological investigations commenced along the motorway route back in September 2006, with a phase of test excavations throughout the whole footprint of the scheme, and more detailed investigation of ten new sites that were discovered was completed in August 2007.

Post and wattle mill-races, a millpond, the near complete remains of the lower floor of the mill, also known as the undercroft, a flume, which was used to channel the water on to the water wheel and a large tail race, to allow for the exit of water from the wheel area all survived.

Mr. O'Sullivan said, "They had an excellent understanding of basic engineering that is reflected in their use of the terrain, the natural hydrology, and their skill with timber-built structures. For example, the mill was certainly built by professional millwrights who could cut, shape and join large timbers to create a robust structure, capable of withstanding all the pressures of a dynamic mechanical and hydraulic environment."

He continued: "The main surviving element of the mill is the 'undercroft' or basement level. This had to support the millhouse overhead (this did not survive) and also withstand the pressure of waters passing through it and the rotation of a heavy stone millwheel on its axle.

Big oak timbers were used for this but the millwrights were capable of delicate work too and understood the qualities of different sorts of timber. For instance, yew - which is an especially dense, hard timber, but also rare - was used for a finely worked valve plate that could be adjusted to moderate or stop the flow of water being jetted onto the millwheel."

Located close to the old churchyard in Kilbegley, a couple of miles east of Ballinasloe, the mill probably belonged to a small monastic church, on the hillside south of the new road, and would have been worked by tenants on the monastic estate. Monasteries in early medieval Ireland were supported by their estates, Mr O'Sullivan enthused with lands donated to the Church by its patrons among the local Gaelic tribes. These lands were worked by monastic tenants. Archaeologists and historians believe the grain that was processed at Kilbegly would have come from these estates.

The churchyard in Kilbegly is still in use as a burial ground today but it contains the ruins of a medieval church, and the big, circular earth and stone bank that surrounds it probably dates to the 6th or 7th century. In fact, historically Kilbegly was on a very ancient route way into Connacht, from a crossing place on the Shannon at Snámh dá Éain, meaning Swim two Birds after the two islands in the river there, a placename immortalised in the comic novel by Flann O'Brien.

The NRA hopes to display the remains of the mill site in Kilbegley and artefacts found during excavations along the Athlone to Ballinasloe motorway route to the public some time next year. At present, the mill timbers are being conserved by the York Archaeological Trust in England with a view to bringing them back to Ireland next year for permanent public display.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Rare Becket medieval art revealed

Rare medieval paintings telling the story of the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket have been revealed in Spain.

Please also see our previous article:

Thomas Becket paintings unveiled in Spain

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Medieval churches being destroyed and looted in Northern Cyprus, experts say

Many medieval churches and buildings in northern Cyprus are being looted or destroyed, according to a report issued last month by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, an agency of the United States government.

The report, "Cyprus’ Religious Cultural Heritage in Peril" was authored by Byzantine art history experts Dr. Charalampos Chotzakoglou and Dr. Klaus Gallas, as well as by the journalist Michael Jansen, who has written the book “War and Cultural Heritage: Cyprus After the 1974 Turkish Invasion”. They claim that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which rules the northern third of the island, and the Turkish military, have been supporting the removal of artifacts from abandoned Christian churches and selling them internationally.

There are over 500 churches and other religious sites in northern Cyprus, and the authors state that nearly all of them have been damaged or looted. Michael Jansen states, "The movable property of almost every church was looted. Most of the mural or mosaic decorations were stripped away and a considerable number were located in international art markets abroad."

Dr. Gallas explained that when he visited the Ajios Euphemianos Church, near Famagusta, before 1974, he saw and was "overwhelmed by the glowing colors and expressive features of the Byzantine murals dating from the 14th century." But when he returned to the church in 1989, the frescos from the walls and ceiling had been removed, despite the fact that the site was surrounded by a Turkish military barrack. This case and others, Dr. Gallas points out, "is symptomatic of the organized crime of ripping items of cultural heritage out of their context and, by doing so, destroying them forever."

There have been court cases in the United States and Germany where international art dealers have had artifacts from northern Cyprus taken away from them, on grounds that they had been looted and illegally smuggled out of the island. In other cases, private benefactors have intervened to save artifacts that were being sold internationally.

These include thirteenth-century Byzantine frescoes which were taken from a small chapel in Lysi, Cyprus. These frescos were preserved by the efforts of a museum in Houston - for details of this, please go to the Menil Collection website - after it purchased them for $850 000.

They also point out that many sites are being converted into hotels or other uses. For example, a 13th century Templar church is now being used as a nightclub. Dr. Chotzakoglou points out that other churchs have been turned in "into military camps, mosques, stables, hencoops, ox and sheep stalls. In addition, some are being used today as wheat chambers, storerooms and granaries while a number were rented or sold to private individuals, who use them as art studios, carpentry workshops, parking stations, coffee shops, residences, cultural centers, gym centers, ceramic workshops, hotels, pubs, theaters, nightclubs, museums, Ottoman baths – hamam, sport clubs and dancing schools."

The website has developed a database of the state of churches and mosques on both the northern and southern halves of the island, many of which are abandoned in ruined or deteriotating condition. A pilot project is now underway between representatives of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot governments to each restore one religious building - a church and a mosque - from the other side.

In 1974, Greece, which was then ruled by a military dictatorship, attempted a coup d'etat in Cyprus as part of their efforts to bring the island under Greek control. This led Turkey to invade the island in order to protect its Turkish-Muslim minority. After a short war, a ceasefire left the island divided and saw large numbers of Greek and Turkish Cypriots forced from their homes. Today, only about 600 Greek Cypriots live in the northern part of Cyprus, which is governed by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

In recent years, politicians from both communities have been searching for a solution to end the conflict and reunite Cyprus. In 2004 the Turkish Cypriot community approved of a United Nations–brokered peace settlement which would have reunified the island, but the Greek Cypriots rejected the plan in their referendum.

For those trying to preserve the history of the island, these efforts might be too late. Dr. Gallas sadly asks, "how many treasures altogether have actually been taken between 1974 and 2009 and are now lost to us forever through having already been sold to collectors in all corners of the world? How many fortunes have the art thieves amassed for themselves in the meantime through these outrageous acts? They must amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. None of the plundered churches will ever sparkle again as they did in the light of days gone by."

Click here to read the report Destruction of Cultural Property in the Northern Part of Cyprus and Violations of International Law.

1,400-year-old ancient city discovered in Turkey

A team of archaeologists has discovered a castle and an ancient city thought to be almost 1,400 years old in southern Osmaniye province in Turkey.

According to a report in Today's Zaman, excavations in the area, carried out by teams from Kocaeli University's archaeology department with the permission of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, first revealed the ruins in 2006.

Associate Professor Fusun Tulek said that the castle and the ancient city were surrounded by city walls and that they have found ceramic pieces. "We found Umayyad ceramics dating back to the late seventh and early eighth centuries. We also frequently encountered ceramics from the ninth century. Yet, we did not find ceramics dating earlier than the seventh century. We are certain that the castle and ancient city belong to the early Islamic period."

Tulek also said that the palaces, mosques, baths and military structures in the city feature elements of Umayyad architecture.

"This city is on the route to Baghdad and the Silk Road. This city, from the early Islamic period, is older than Anavarza Castle, which was managed by a Turkish emir during the Abbasid era," he said.

Highlighting that the Umayyads chose flat regions when constructing cities, Tulek said, "The castle was on both a military route and a trade route and served military, political and commercial purposes for a long time. Then, it fell into disrepair."

Friday, August 07, 2009

13th Century Shipwreck Sheds New Light On Medieval Trade in Finland

An underwater archeological investigation of the wreck of a 13th century ship in Finnish waters is providing new insights into Baltic maritime trade during the Middle Ages. Divers this summer have been bringing up unusually well-preserved ceramic and bronze artifacts.

An exceptionally large number of artifacts have been discovered in the wreck of a ship that went down in the Finnish archipelago sometime in the late 1200s or early 1300s.

The Engelskär wreck in Nauvo, as it's called, was first discovered in 1996 by marine biologists working in the area. This summer, the site is the most important field operation for archeologists from the National Board of Antiquities.

Over the past four weeks, divers have found an unusually large number of artifacts including many well-preserved ceramics, such as medieval beer mugs, rare in being nearly complete 800 year old specimens.

"For us researchers, these are unique and valuable. Archeological digs on land usually only turn up fragments. At sea, some of these are preserved well and whole," says team member Riikka Tevali. Earlier finds also include a bronze church bell.

Scientists say that their work will shed new light on the role of medieval maritime trade in the Baltic.

"We have some wrong pre-conceptions about maritime history. In the Middle Ages, the sea was the superhighway along which people and a lot of goods travelled," points out Research Director Stefan Wessman.

Luckily for scientists the wreck was untouched even though it lies under only 10 meters of water. It is expected to keep archeologists busy for many more years.

The archaeological finds in the wreck in Nauvo have a lot to offer to the medieval research also for the reason that medieval archive information about e.g. cargoes is very scattered and nearly non-existent. When it comes to the Baltic countries, there are very few archive notes from the times before the middle of the 14th century. For example, the oldest Hanseatic customs lists and other catalogues that would tell us about sea trade are from the end of the 14th century.

What is also noteworthy in the wreck in Nauvo is the fact that many of the dishes in the cargo are either unbroken or in big pieces. Dishes found on dry land are usually thrown away intentionally and they are thus in very many small pieces, which have then grinded in the ground in the course of time. Because archaeological finds preserve very well in the Baltic Sea, the ceramics and other artefacts in the wreck in Nauvo are unique research material for those who study the Middle Ages in Finland and in all Europe.

Click here to go to website for the National Board of Antiquities' section on the Medieval site in Nauvo.

Medieval mass performed at York church

A church will celebrate Mass as it would have been performed 600 years ago thanks to a partnership with the University of York.

PhD student Eleanor McCullough pieced together the Mass used in York churches in the 14th Century based on manuscripts from the period held by York Minster and the Bodleian Library.

It was used in a special ceremony last month at All Saints Church North Street, in York, to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of North Street.

Eleanor McCullough, a PhD student in the Centre for Medieval Studies and holder of the All Saints North Street Fellowship, spent nine months researching the Mass.

She said: "Recreating the Mass was a complex task as in this period there were different elements for special feast days, and instructions for use were not always written down since priests were expected to know them.

“In addition, each diocese had its own special hymns and prayers for the feast days and sometimes only the opening lines were given so other sources had to be consulted to find the prayers in full.

“This may well be the first time that a York Lady Mass has been reconstructed and performed from the medieval manuscripts here in York since the Reformation."

In addition to the Mass, the research also uncovered plainchant that would have been sung in the same period and was performed by The Ebor Singers for the service.

All Saints Church will be holding a series of events on Saturday as part of the Festival of British Archaeology organised by The Council for British Archaeology.

All Saints North Street stands on a site used for worship for more than 1,100 years and contains one of the most important displays of medieval stained glass in the British Isles.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

More discoveries at Hagia Sophia

In its nearly 1,700 years, the Byzantine church Hagia Sophia in Istanbul has been harbouring many exciting mysteries, which today are brought to light one by one.

According to the Bulgarian News Agency, a team of Turkish divers and speleologists uncovered some of the underground secrets, kept by the church during the ages. The team's findings, which are featured in a 50-minute documentary, throw light on some of the mysteries buried beneath, while at the same time dispel some of the myths.

The team went down 283 metres and filmed two underground stone-tiled passages. According to one theory, the Byzantine emperor Theodosius II used one of the passages when he wanted to sneak unnoticed to the Hippodrome. The Hippodrome was an arena where races and gladiator fights were held, which is why some call it Istanbul's Colosseum.

In the floor right under the magnificent dome of Hagia Sophia lies the cover of the main water reservoir, which is 12 m deep. The team has found two rooms of 5 sq m each, containing bones and fragments from drinking vessels. The remains are believed to be of Saint Antinegenos, a child saint, who is the only human being buried in Hagia Sophia up until the 13th century and of Patriarch Athanasius, who died in the 15th century and was buried in the church. The two rooms are most likely burial chambers.

Meanwhile, Turkish media report that three more mosaics of angels will soon be uncovered. Turkey's Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Güna was commenting on the recent discovery of a mosaic depicting an angel in the church. “For the first time in my life, I am a part of an endeavor this exciting,” Günay said at a press conference he held at Hagia Sophia, where he added that three more similar mosaics will be uncovered in the future.

“This endeavor made at the northeast quarter of the dome is a very important one for Hagia Sophia and, I believe, for Christian theology,” Günay added. The angel mosaic’s true age will be assessed after an analysis by the Hagia Sofia Science Board compares it to similar mosaics. Its six-winged figure depicts the seraphim, an angel described in the biblical book of Isaiah.

“The last ones to see those [the mosaics] were Sultan Abdülmecid and Fossati the architect. Today, after 160 years, we will announce them to the world. We will let people who visit Istanbul, the 2010 European Capital of Culture, witness them too.”

The minister said he hopes to learn all about Hagia Sophia, preserve the important building and promote it to the world.

Present day Hagia Sophia was built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 532-537. But even earlier, during the time of Emperor Constanine the Great a church stood on the site. For over 900 years Hagia Sophia was the main church of the Christian world and Turkey's principal mosque for over four centuries. Today, the church, which features on the UNESCO World Heritage List, attracts over 2 million visitors every year.

Please also see our article from last month Mosiac uncovered in Hagia Sophia

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Oxford academic brings music to Dover Castle

An Oxford academic has played a key part in the new installation in The Great Tower at Dover Castle, which launched last weekend.

Alexandra Buckle, a junior research fellow in the Music Faculty at Oxford University, was employed by English Heritage as a music consultant for the project.

The Tower was lavished with money by Henry II to show off to pilgrims coming over from France to visit Thomas Becket’s shrine at Canterbury. He spent more money on Dover Castle than any other castle and now it has undergone a £2.45m restoration.

The new installation is full of colour and all the furniture is based on contemporary manuscript images. Last Saturday images of motifs inside the castle were projected on its 100ft walls.

Alexandra Buckle said: "This is the first time English Heritage have employed a special music consultant alongside a team of historians and it is great to see music being incorporated into the installation.

"There is a feel of theatre as one walks through the Great Tower, from the Pepper’s Ghosts (costume interpreters who are filmed and projected onto transparent material) to music playing, and voices talking. There are also two contemporary musical instruments on show and two places where music is piped through."

Visitors see a chapel as they enter the Tower and are greeted by a ‘ghost’ chaplain talking. Upstairs in the main part of the Tower is the King’s Hall and King’s Chamber. There is a musical instrument displayed there to reflect the relaxed nature of this room, made following contemporary designs.

"You can also imagine how Henry and his courtiers may have sat and listened to music or even played it," said Alexandra Buckle. "There were important developments in string playing and lyric poetry in this period (1150–1200) and it is great to see a string instrument incorporated into the scheme. At this time, there was no French or English music – the music was of the Angevin Court – and so lots of the big developments in secular music and string playing, principally begun on the continent, made their way to England. This is not surprising as Henry II was married to Eleanore of Aquitaine, a lifelong patron of the troubadours and someone who is credited with spreading the influence of the troubadours to England. Therefore we hear troubadour music in the Guest Hall downstairs, reflecting this."

There is a harp displayed in the Guest Chamber, which is sturdier than the other instrument on display and is not fixed to the table. Children are allowed to pick it up so they can engage with the era.

Alexandra Buckle said: "I am so pleased to have been involved in this scheme and hope English Heritage will continue to value the role of music in medieval society and in their new installations. Music – sacred and secular – was, after all, an indispensable part of such a building, and society, at this time."

Please also see our previous story: Medieval Royal Palace at Dover Castle to Re-open