Monday, May 31, 2010

8th century Arabic text found in Istanbul

Archaeologists working on the Marmaray project in Istanbul have discovered a piece of Arabic text that dates back to the 8th century. According to Turkish media, the 13 lines were found on the shoulder-blade of animal and were written in black ink.

Gunay Paksoy of the Istanbul Archaeology Museum believes the writing is either a letter or part of an amulet. "There are four names, Ahmad, Mohammad, Amir and Mawali in the text" he notes, adding that the first three lines may be part of a phrase from the Quran.

The Marmaray project is an attempt to build an undersea rail tunnel linking the European and Asian sections of Istanbul, running under the Bosphorus strait. The project began in 2004, but has experienced numerous delays because of the large amount of archaeological discoveries made while digging. This includes remains from the 4th-century port of Theodosius, traces of the city wall of Constantine the Great, and the remains of several ships. Two other fragments of Arabic text have also been discovered by archaeologists, but were unreadable.

The document may come from the episode when Constantinople was besieged for a second time by Arab forces in the years 717-718. The siege, first led by Umayyad Caliph Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik and then by his successor Umar II, was a major attempt at taking the Byzantine capital using land and naval forces. Unable to breach the city walls and being attacked by the Byzantine allies the Bulgars, the Arab forces retreated - the loss being one of the causes of the collapse of the Umayyad Dynasty.

Sources: Izmirde Yasim, World Bulletin

Art works by van Eyck, Vasari, receive money for preservation

The Getty Foundation has awarded $630,000 for the preservation of two major works of art: The Mystic Lamb by Hubert and Jan van Eyck (the Ghent Altarpiece) of 1432 and The Last Supper by Giorgio Vasari of 1546. These grants are part of the Getty’s Panel Paintings Initiative, an international effort to train conservation specialists to ensure that important and intricate works of art such as these survive for future generations.

The tradition of painting on wood panels was widespread in Europe from the late 12th through the 17th centuries. Panel paintings are among the most significant works in American, European, and Russian museum collections and in religious buildings, including works by Duccio di Buoninsegna, Leonardo da Vinci, Peter Paul Rubens, and Rembrandt van Rijn. Unfortunately, many of these works are now threatened by serious problems due to the warping, cracking, and splitting of the wood on which they are painted, requiring highly specialized care and conservation not only of the painted surface, but also of the underlying structure.

It takes years of practice for a conservator to develop the surgical skills required for intervention and treatment. Today, there are only a handful of experts fully qualified to conserve these paintings, and nearly all of these experts will retire within the next decade. The Getty Foundation, Getty Conservation Institute, and J. Paul Getty Museum together designed the Panel Paintings Initiative to ensure that the next generation of conservators is prepared to take their place.

The new grants, totaling $630,000, to De Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, or NWO), and the Opificio delle Pietre Dure e Laboratori di Restauro (OPD in Florence, Italy), bring the total amount awarded by the Getty Foundation through the Panel Paintings Initiative to nearly $1 million. Previous grants have funded a survey of significant museum collections of panel paintings and of professionals in the field undertaken by the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen, and a collaborative project between the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Prado Museum in Madrid that resulted in the conservation of the great Adam and Eve by Albrecht Dürer.

The new grants were be announced during press conferences on May 5 in Ghent, Belgium, and May 12 in Florence, Italy, and will detail conservation projects for the Ghent Altarpiece and The Last Supper, respectively. The NWO and OPD will use the funds to train advanced, mid-career, and young conservators working alongside world-renowned experts on the conservation of these historic paintings.

“We are delighted to provide these grants and to collaborate with the OPD and the NWO,” said Dr. Deborah Marrow, director of the Getty Foundation. “The complexity of the work on the Ghent Altarpiece and Vasari’s The Last Supper will afford an unparalleled learning experience for future panel conservators under expert supervision. These significant projects will serve as models for future grants in our larger Panel Paintings Initiative.”

Added Getty Foundation Program Officer Antoine Wilmering: “This initiative would not be possible without the group of international experts with whom we are working. Their commitment to reaching out to the next generation of conservators and passing on their acquired knowledge is essential to the success of the program.”

The Ghent Altarpiece is one of the most recognized works of art in the world. Begun by Hubert van Eyck and completed by his brother Jan in 1432, the altarpiece was painted for the Saint Bavo Cathedral of Ghent. It is a structurally complex work of art, composed of 18 separate oak panels, that has suffered many types of damage during its long history.

In the 16th century, the altarpiece was dismantled and hidden twice for protection from iconoclastic riots and then during the Calvinistic Republic. Two centuries later, it was taken to Paris by French troops as a war trophy. During the 19th century, six panels of the wings of the altarpiece were sold off separately, split lengthwise, and “cradled” – a popular but damaging restoration process of the past that forced the panels to lie straight and flat. The work, reassembled after World War I, subsequently had one panel stolen, and was hidden again during World War II, recovered by Allied forces and finally, brought back to the Ghent Cathedral, where it has since remained. Over the centuries, the large altarpiece (measuring 11 by 14 feet) has undergone numerous cleanings and conservation efforts, the last of which took place in the early 1950s. Despite regular care provided through the Diocese of Ghent, today its paint is lifting and joints are splitting.

The $230,000 Getty grant to the NWO covers a state-of-the-art conservation investigation, a condition assessment, and training for three post-graduate and several mid-career conservators to work with experts under general project supervision provided by Professors Anne van Grevenstein-Kruse and Ron Spronk.

“We are very pleased to work with the Getty Foundation and the international team of experts led by Professor Anne van Grevenstein-Kruse and Professor Ron Spronk on this important project,” said Dr. Louis B.J. Vertegaal, director at NWO of a science cluster which includes Chemistry, Computer Sciences and Mathematics. “This project brings together art historians, scientists, and conservators to contribute to a more integrated and objective approach to conservation practice and to educate the next generation of multidisciplinary researchers in the field.”

The Ghent project began last month and is slated for completion in December 2010, when the results will be shared with experts and the public through lectures, seminars and workshops, as well as on the Web.

Giorgio Vasari, the 16th century painter and architect, is perhaps best known as the “father of art history” because he originated the genre of artist biographies. Among his many paintings in Florence is the monumental Last Supper, commissioned in 1546 by the nuns of the Florentine Murate Convent. This large painting was moved several times over the centuries before it was relocated in the early 19th century to the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence.

In 1966 the Last Supper was severely damaged during the disastrous flooding of the Arno River, and the public has not seen it since. Although the painting received emergency treatment after the flood, due to the complexity of its conservation challenges it was never fully restored, and it remains one of the most significant works of art to survive the onslaught of mud and water. Comprised of five major panels, it is large in scale (more than 8 by 21 feet). In 2004, the painting was transferred to the Fortezza da Basso for further study and analysis by the OPD.

With the Getty grant to the OPD of $400,000, seven conservators at the advanced, mid-level and post-graduate levels will have the unique opportunity to train side-by-side with leaders in the conservation field, Ciro Castelli and Mauro Parri.

"The Opificio delle Pietre Dure e Laboratori di Restauro has a long history in the conservation of panel paintings, as well as a long relationship with the Getty,” said Isabella Lapi Ballerini, superintendent of the OPD, one of the world's most prestigious art conservation and restoration laboratories. "We share the Getty’s concern for the need to prepare future conservators so they have the proper skills to care for panel paintings. We are grateful for the opportunity to work in partnership with the Getty in restoring Vasari’s Last Supper and to make it once again accessible to the public."

The project is scheduled to begin in May and is expected to be complete by mid-2013. The finished result will be shared through a joint exhibition with the OPD and the Opera di Santa Croce Museum, and in a book on the restoration process.

Source: J. Paul Getty Museum

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Spinning in the Era of the Spinning Wheel, 1400-1800

A University of Hertfordshire historian has received a European Union grant to conduct the first ever study into spinning before the Industrial Revolution. The grant for €823,150 has been awarded by the European Research Council so that Professor John Styles can undertake a five-year research project into Spinning in the Era of the Spinning Wheel, 1400-1800, which begins on 1 June 2010.

"When people today think about spinning wheels, they usually think of Sleeping Beauty, a fairytale princess, pricking her finger. In fact, working by hand at a spinning wheel was what most ordinary women in England did for the 400 years before the Industrial Revolution," said Professor Styles. "This was a skilled occupation, vital to the success of the textile industries that made England rich. Yet historians often dismiss hand spinning as part-time, unskilled work for ignorant country women. They treat it as an inefficient obstacle to increased productivity, ripe for replacement by the mechanical inventions of the Industrial Revolution."

According to Professor Styles, the absence of a study into hand spinning has become increasingly anomalous. Recent years have witnessed a huge expansion of historical research into the history of late-medieval and early-modern England. It has revealed that already, before the Industrial Revolution, England had become one of the world’s richest, most successful economies. The quality of English cloth, and the spun yarn from which it was made, was crucial to this success.

In the course of this new research, historians have explored all kinds of subjects that have to do with spinning, including gender relations, consumption, fashion, technological innovation, household economics, labour relations, globalization and economic policy making. “Yet we still lack a study that focuses specifically on spinning, which was, by the eighteenth century, the most common form of non-agricultural work in England,” said Professor Styles. “Spinning in the Era of the Spinning Wheel, 1400-1800 will fill that gap.”

Spinning in the Era of the Spinning Wheel, 1400-1800 aims to provide a comprehensive history of hand spinning in England between 1400 and 1800, a history that approaches the subject from the whole range of relevant perspectives, treating spinning as a practice that was at one and the same time material, technological, economic, commercial, legal, cultural, gendered, and global.

Source: University of Hertfordshire

Friday, May 28, 2010

Umayyad coin discovered in Egypt

Egypt's Cultural Minister, Farouk Hosni, announced that a gold Umayyad coin was unearthed last Thursday during an excavation at Deir Yehnes el-Koseir (Monastery of St. John the Little), an area in Wadi el-Natrun. The excavation is a joint venture between Yale University in the USA and the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA).

Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the SCA, explained that the coin is very well preserved and both sides are decorated with kufi inscriptions. The first side of the coin bears the name of Allah and the second side is inscribed: “in the name of God the Merciful.” The edge of the coin is decorated with the year when it was minted.

The coin can be dated to the year 103 of Higra (721 AD) during the reign of the Umayyad Caliph, Yazid Ibn Abdel Malek Ibn Marawan.

Source: Dr Hawass

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Archaeological project to look for medieval and ancient remains in Oxford

A major new archaeology project, starting in early October 2010, will uncover the rich history of the eastern districts of Oxford City. The wide-ranging project has been made possible by a £330,700 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and a grant of £49,787 from the University of Oxford’s John Fell Fund.

The three-year project will involve volunteers and local communities in hands-on investigation of the local landscape, recording discoveries, and presenting interpretations of the results. The University of Oxford’s Department for Continuing Education will run the project, working with other departments, schools and museums in Oxford.

East Oxford is a large and diverse area of Oxford City situated across the River Cherwell from the city centre. Investigation of East Oxford has often been overshadowed by the world-famous heritage of the Oxford colleges. However its landscape includes many open spaces and green areas offering excellent opportunities for exploring the archaeology of the area. Exciting traces are already known of Iron Age, Roman and Viking settlements, a medieval leper hospital still with its original chapel, Civil War siege works dating to the time when Oxford was the Royalist capital, and the area has a rich industrial and modern heritage.

Stuart McLeod, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund for South East England, said: “This project seeks to connect local residents with a history of their neighbourhoods that few can have imagined. In so doing, it turns them into landscape detectives, provides skills training and gives them a stake in preserving their heritage.”

Director of the University’s Department for Continuing Education, Professor Jonathan Michie, said: “We are delighted to be able to host this important project, helping to connect Oxford University’s expertise in research and education with the community in East Oxford. We will be working very hard to provide new opportunities for many people who have never had the chance to learn about their local heritage. We are most grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund and the John Fell Fund for giving us the means to do this”.

Local history societies, community organisations and many individual volunteers are keen to discover more about the heritage of their neighbourhoods. The Blackbird Leys estate, for example, is built in an area where a major pottery industry flourished in Roman times. Archaeologists and historians will run training workshops to enable volunteers of all ages and backgrounds to get involved in researching their own areas, dig test pits and take part in archaeological excavations. Finds will be documented and reports written up, and the discoveries will also used to inspire a range of books, articles, pod-casts, programmes and displays as well as art and drama.

The information uncovered by the project will cast new light on the development of the city and provide valuable data for future planning and development. The project website – - will be expanded to help detail the progress of the project and provide a lasting record of the discoveries.

Source: Archaeology of East Oxford

Researchers track climate change in northwest Africa back to the Middle Ages

An international research team has figured out northwest Africa's climate history by using the information recorded in tree rings. The trees sampled contain climate data from the medieval period, including one from Morocco that dates back to the year 883.

The climate of a region that includes Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia has now been analyzed back to the year 1179 and shows that frequent and severe droughts occurred during the 13th and 16th centuries.

"Water issues in this part of the world are vital," said lead researcher Ramzi Touchan of the University of Arizona. "This is the first regional climate reconstruction that can be used by water resource managers."

In most of North Africa, instruments have been recording weather information for 50 years or less, too short a time to provide the long-term understanding of regional climate needed for resource planning, he said.

"One of the most important ways to understand the climate variability is to use the proxy record, and one of the most reliable proxy records is tree rings," said Touchan, an associate research professor at UA's Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research.

The team has developed the first systematically sampled network of tree-ring chronologies across Northwest Africa, said co-author David Meko, also of UA's Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research.

The network allowed the researchers to analyze the patterns of past droughts over the whole region, said Meko, a UA associate research professor. The width of the annual growth rings on trees in semi-arid environments is highly correlated with the amount of precipitation.

The team found the region's 20th-century drying trend matches what climate models predict will occur as the climate warms. The research is the first to compare projections from climate models with tree-ring-based reconstructions of the region's past climate.

The region's trees and dead wood needed to do such research are disappearing rapidly from a combination of a massive die-off of trees, logging and population pressures, Touchan said.

"We have a chance to do what we call salvage dendrochronology," Touchan said. These are areas where we need to get this information now or it's going to disappear."

Pointing to a cross-section of an old tree from Morocco, he said, "This is from 883–and this is from a stump. If we don't take them, they're gone. So this is a real treasure."

The team's paper, "Spatiotemporal drought variability in northwestern Africa over the last nine centuries," is now available online and will be published in a future issue of the journal Climate Dynamics. The National Science Foundation funded the research.

The team sampled several different species of conifer and oak trees, because research indicates that testing several different species from the same region provides a better indicator of regional climate.

The current tree-ring chronology builds on previous work in Northwest Africa by this team and by other researchers. The chronology incorporates samples from at least 20 trees from each of 39 different sites.

Persistent drought was more widespread across Northwest Africa before the year 1500 than for the four centuries following, the researchers found. However, the pattern of widespread regional drought then seems to re-emerge in the late 20th century.

The spatial extent of the new regional tree-ring chronology revealed that drought in Morocco is not driven by the same kinds of oceanic and atmospheric conditions as drought in Algeria and Tunisia.

Drought in Morocco is strongly related to the north/south seesaw of air-pressure anomalies in the North Atlantic Ocean called the North Atlantic Oscillation. However, drought in Morocco is only weakly related to El Nino. By contrast, drought in Algeria and Tunisia appears more linked to a warm tropical Atlantic Ocean.

Touchan hopes to expand the new network's geographic reach to across North Africa, including Libya and additional parts of Algeria. In addition, he wants to extend the chronology back in time to bridge the gap to archaeological material.

Tree-ring chronologies exist for centuries deep in the past, but they are "floating," meaning that there is no continuous record linking those chronologies to ones that reach back from the present, he said. "If we can bridge this gap, it will be a discovery for the world," Touchan added.

Touchan and Meko's co-authors are Kevin J. Anchukaitis of Columbia University's Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y.; Mohamed Sabir of the National School of Forest Engineering in Sale, Morocco; Said Attalah of the University of Ourgla in Algeria; and Ali Aloui of the Institute of Sylvo-Pastoral of Tabarka in Tunisia.

Click here to access the article from SpringerLink

See also The development of an Early Historic tree-ring chronology for Scotland

Source: University of Arizona

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Manitoba medievalist earns prestigious scholarship

Julia Gamble, an anthropology PhD student at the University of Manitoba, is one of three graduate students at that university to be awarded by the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships program. This will allow Gamble to proceed with research on health in medieval Denmark.

Considered the Canadian equivalent to the United Kingdom’s Rhode’s Scholarship, the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship is a tool to recruit and retain top doctoral students from across Canada and around the world. Each of the 174 winners across the country will receive $50,000 annually for up to three years to assist them during their studies. Canada’s three federal granting agencies – the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council – administer the scholarships.

They recognize students who demonstrate leadership skills and a high standard of scholarly achievement in graduate studies in the social sciences and humanities, natural sciences and engineering, and health. Students are nominated by their university. Nominees are evaluated by multi-disciplinary peer-review committees and selected by a board composed of world-renowned Canadian and international experts.

Gamble's research aims to better understand if and how our health in childhood affects our health as adults. She’ll analyze the enamel on the teeth of the remains of a large Danish medieval population who experienced significant socio-economic change. Growth lines in the enamel reveal if and when our bodies were under stress. Enamel formation is disrupted when our bodies are fighting disease, a parasitic infection or even nutritional deficiency. She is the first to look at both the surface and the internal microstructure of tooth enamel.

Gamble will compare her findings with health information about the given population recorded in historical literature. Her quest to figure out if a connection exists between our health as kids and our health later in life includes determining how that might affect our longevity.

The other two PhD students from the University of Manitoba to be awarded the scholarship are Oleksandr Maizlish, a mathematician, and Renée El-Gabalawy, a clinical psychologist.

John (Jay) Doering, dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies at the University of Manitoba, said, “I congratulate our recipients, who have been recognized as being among the world’s top students. They are well deserving of this prestigious honour. We are very proud of them.”

Source: University of Manitoba

Monday, May 24, 2010

Controversy over medieval conference location

The site of next year's annual meeting of the Medieval Academy of America is in doubt after scholars raised objections that it is being held in Arizona, the US state which recently passed controversial legislation against illegal immigration. As several scholars have made calls for the conference to be boycotted, officials with the academy have confirmed that they are examining several options, including moving the meeting out-of-state.

Medieval blogs such as In the Middle have raised the issue in the last few days, and have drawn extensive discussion and interest. One of the In the Middle's editors, Jeffrey J. Cohen, has published an open letter to the Medieval Academy of America (MAA) calling on them to "seriously consider not holding its planned annual meeting" in Tempe, Arizona. Over seventy other scholars have also signed the letter.

Their main objection is the immigration law passed in Arizona last month which makes it a crime to be in the United States illegally. The law also requires legal immigrants to carry their registration documents at all times and allows police officers to ask people about their immigration status if they have reasonable grounds for suspicion. Critics of the law have called it racist and unconstitutional, and that is aimed against the large Hispanic community in Arizona.

The law, considered to be the toughest in the United States, has generated a great deal of debate across the country. Cohen, a professor of English and Director of the Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute at George Washington University, wrote that the the law is "almost carte blanche for police intimidation and harassment is, to my mind, racist and just wrong."

Dozens of other medieval scholars and bloggers added their views about the law. In an interview with, Cohen said, "I've been a bit surprised at -- and heartened by -- the passion medievalists have brought to the discussion. Despite the fact that most of us study a time period a millennium away, we obviously care deeply about contemporary social justice. Some of the comments made in support of not holding the annual meeting were personal, and affecting: one from someone who'd grown up in apartheid South Africa and seen how a boycott could work; another from someone who'd suffered from being labeled an alien herself.

"But I also liked that despite the way this Arizona law makes many of us feel, the discussion has been cautious and mainly level-headed. People have emphasized the complexity of the situation, and most trust that the MAA will make the right choice here. So it's good to see the confidence in the integrity of our professional organization and its elected leaders."

Officials with the Medieval Academy of America have already made responses to the situation. MAA President Elizabeth A.R. Brown wrote to Professor Cohen and remarked that "We have been concerned about this problem from the moment the governor of Arizona signed the bill concerning immigrants. We are all following developments closely and are keenly aware of the importance of the issues that are at stake."

MAA Executive Director Paul E. Szarmach told that the controversy over the Arizona location has only emerged in the few last weeks, and that they are currently gathering views and suggestions on which course of action to take. He has confirmed that they are examining the option of moving the conference outside of Arizona, but that they would have to pay a cancellation fee of $30 000 to the Chaparral Suites Hotel. He notes that their are "strong feelings, strong ideas" about the issue, and that "people want to do the right thing." Szarmach expects a decision to be made within the next few weeks.

The annual meeting of the Medieval Academy of America is one of the largest medieval studies conferences in North America - the 2010 meeting was held at Yale University and drew over 150 speakers to give papers and participate in round table discussions. The location of the annual meeting changes every year, and it was last held in Tempe in 2001 - it is hosted by the Arizona State University, which is home to the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. The decision to have the 2011 annual meeting be held in Arizona was made over two years ago, long before the anti-immigration legislation was even proposed.

Medievalists are not the only people thinking of boycotting the state - since the immigration law was passed at least 19 conferences have been cancelled in Arizona, and there have been calls for Major League Baseball to move its 2011 All Star Game from Pheonix unless the law is repealed.

Here are some background videos about the Immigration Law in Arizona:

Sources: In the Middle, Medieval Academy of America

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Copernicus reburied in Poland

The remains of Nicolaus Copernicus, the 16th century astronomer who first theorized that the earth revolved around the sun, were reburied on Saturday in the cathedral of Frombork in northern Poland.

Scientists have been examining Copernicus’s skull and leg bones since they were discovered by archaeologists three years ago in an unmarked grave in the cathedral. Testing revealed that the body was of a 70 year old man, and that he had a broken nose, which would have the same age and condition of the Polish scientist when he died. Furthermore, DNA taken from teeth and bones matched hairs that were found in one of his books, and they ultimately concluded that they had found Copernicus.

Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) was a church cannon and doctor living in northern Poland, who spent years studying astronomy. His book, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), was published just before his death in 1543 and is considered one of the most important works in the history of astronomy. But it also was considered heretical by the Catholic Church because it implied that the Earth and humanity were not at the centre of the universe.

The Catholic church is now more supportive of Copernicus - the local archbishop Wojciech Ziemba, said the Church was honouring the man because of "his hard work, devotion and above all of his scientific genius."

See also: Nicolaus Copernicus, Astronomer and Physician

Sources: Radio Poland, Associated Press

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Medievalists running to support MS treatment and research

A group of medieval historians from the University of St Andrews are preparing to swap their gowns for shorts at the Edinburgh marathon on Sunday, May 23rd.

Running in aid of MS Scotland, in support of a former student who has multiple sclerosis, the group have almost raised their target of £2,000.

They will run as four teams, called The Medievalists, Dry Island Buffalo Jump, Medieval Fury/ Team Jumieges and Dead on Arrival.

They said, "We chose to run for MS Scotland as Multiple Sclerosis affects one of our former students. We hope to raise money to fund further research into the condition. Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is the most common disabling neurological condition affecting young adults. Around 85,000 people in the UK have MS. In Scotland it is estimated that there are 10,500 people with MS – more people per capita than anywhere else in the world."

Currently, the group has raised £1,739.52 and have almost reached their goal.

To support them visit:

Source: University of St Andrews

Friday, May 21, 2010

Life of Welsh Warrior Poet to be examined at forum on Saturday

Guto’r Glyn (Guto of the Glyn) is widely regarded as being one of the foremost poets of Wales’s golden age of poetry – the period following the end of Owain Glyndwr’s rebellion in the first decades of the 15th century until the Act of Union in 1536.

The life and times of the medieval poet will be examined in a one-day forum taking place tomorrow, entitled "Guto’r Glyn and Valle Crucis: A fifteenth-century poet in the Llangollen area". Hosted by the University of Wales' Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies (CAWCS), the conference will be held at the Royal International Pavilion in Llangollen.

The university's Guto’r Glyn project has been operating since 2008, owing largely to a substantial grant awarded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), that has enabled a team of researchers at CAWCS, based in Aberystwyth, to conduct an extensive reappraisal of Guto’s prolific literary legacy.

The six papers given at the forum, which can be heard in English or Welsh, include "The Life of Guto’r Glyn," Barry J. Lewis; "Guto’r Glyn’s poetry to the families of Pengwern, Bryncunallt and Plasnewydd," by Ann Parry Owen and "The Architecture of Happiness in Late-medieval Wales," by Richard Suggett.

Guto'r Glyn was born around 1435 and became famous for his Welsh praise-poetry. Among his benefactors was Sir William Herbert of Raglan in Gwent, who sponsored Guto throughout much of his professional life. As a close friend to Sir William’s family, Guto would regularly recite poetry and sing at their home. When Sir William was killed at the Battle of Banbury in 1469, Guto – a staunch supporter of the Yorkist cause - sang his elegy at the funeral. Today, the written record of this poem now stands as a rich historical document tracing the trials and fortunes of Welsh politics during the War of the Roses.

King Edward IV was also another prominent figure to have commissioned Guto’s poems of praise. As well as having travelled extensively throughout the country winning the praise and patronage of noblemen and clergymen, Guto'r Glyn also served as an archer in the English army’s campaign in France during the latter part of the Hundred Years War.

Guto spent his last years as a lay guest at the Cistercian abbey of Valle Crucis, near Llangollen. Though blind and deaf, the poems he wrote during this time are among the most powerful poems of the Welsh language. At the end of the forum there will be an opportunity to visit the stiriking abbey itself, no doubt still a great source of inspiration for aspiring poets looking to follow in Guto’s footsteps.

As part of the Guto'r Glyn Project, the University of Wales will publish an online electronic edition of his works in 2012, which will include English translation of his poems and notes on key issues of interest. The website will also provide an insight to life in fifteenth-century Wales, using Guto’r Glyn’s poetry as a starting-point. A printed edition of his poetry and two volumes of scholarly articles will also be published.

Click here for more information about the Forum

Source: University of Wales

Ivy offers protection for historical buildings, study says

It has been thought that ivy can cause damage to medieval and other historical buildings because of its roots slowly breaking into walls. But a new study suggests that the protective benefits of the plant are far more helpful for preserving heritage structures.

English Heritage commissioned a team of Oxford University academics to research the likely effects of ivy on historic buildings. In the three-year project, Oxford researchers analysed the effects of ivy growing on buildings in five different parts of England and discovered that the plant plays a protective role. They found that an ivy canopy was like a thermal shield, combating the extremes of temperature which often cause walls to crack.

Professor Heather Viles from Oxford University analysed the effect of common ivy (Hedera helix) to guide English Heritage in its important role as the steward of hundreds of historical sites. Professor Viles’s research team monitored the effect of ivy on walls situated in different parts of the country – with varying climates and challenges. They found that ivy acted as a thermal blanket, warming up walls by an average of 15 per cent in cold weather and cooling the surface temperature of the wall in hot weather by an average of 36 per cent. The ivy was also found to absorb some of the harmful pollutants in the atmosphere. Walls where ivy was growing were less prone to the damaging effects of freezing temperatures, temperature fluctuations, pollution and salts than exposed walls without ivy.

Heather Viles, Professor of Biogeomorphology and Heritage Conservation, said: "Ivy has been accused of destroying everything in its path and threatening some of our best loved heritage sites. Yet these findings suggest that there are many benefits to having ivy growing on the wall. It not only provides colourful foliage but also provides walls with weather-proofing and protection from the effects of pollution."

Garden walls at some of Oxford University ’s old colleges (Trinity, Pembroke and Worcester Colleges ) as well as the Old City Wall were test-sites in Oxfordshire. .

Other walls were tested at Byland, North Yorkshire; Nailsea near Bristol, and Leicester in the Midlands. The Oxford team used resistivity methods to monitor wall moisture levels and fixed monitors to measure the temperature and relative humidity of the microclimate beneath the ivy canopy as compared with uncovered walls. They also conducted laboratory analyses to examine the role of ivy in more detail.

The findings suggest that ivy has protective qualities for buildings that are intact; but they also showed that where walls are already damaged ivy rapidly finds its way into existing cracks and holes in walls. The researchers have built a test wall, planting ivy at the base, at Wytham Woods in Oxfordshire. The cube-shaped wall contains different flaws so researchers can measure and compare the different deterioration rates with and without ivy. The project provides those working for English Heritage as well as gardeners up and down the land with a better idea of how to treat ivy. Many might otherwise be unclear about whether to cut down ivy climbing up the walls of their garden and home.

Alan Cathersides, Senior Landscape Manager at English Heritage, said: "English Heritage are always keen to avoid unnecessary work to monuments and hope this research will lead to a more balanced approach to ivy. Removal should not be automatic as so often in the past, but a carefully considered element of long term management."

Source: English Heritage

Scanner sheds light on hidden words in medieval manuscripts

Scholars at the University of Copenhagen are now able to decipher hidden and illegible texts in damaged medieval manuscripts thanks to a special scanner that was donated to the university. Linguist Michael Lerche and his colleagues from the Department of Scandinavian Research used it to discover what were the runic letters on the cover of a 700-year-old medieval manuscript. In just a few minutes the scanner came up with the answer - an odd Latin proveb, which roughly translated says, "A countryman decided to adopt a strange habit: to put his legs in his wallet and walk on his teeth!"

Associate professor and runologist Michael Lerche had almost given up on the runic text, but new technology - a so-called multispectral scanner - helped to overcome the stains and smears that many medieval manuscripts are marred by because they have been conserved with water, urine and other liquids.

Michael Lerche explains, "The scanner employs technology that we all know from digital photography, but the difference is that it is capable of recording 19 images of the manuscript in different wavelengths, and those 19 images are layered and fed into computer software that compares the 19 layers and finds the differences between them; in this fashion we can enhance things, which are hidden in some of the layers that we humans cannot perceive with the naked eye, e.g. ink hidden under a stain."

With the scanner to hand, it took Michael Lerche a mere day to decipher the runic text and find the original source of the Latin proverb, a 16th century collection of proverbs - something that no other scholar has succeeded in doing before.

Lerche adds, "The runes that the scribe used when he copied the proverb are clearly influenced by Latin manuscript culture, and this is consistent with our knowledge that Latin proverbs were used to teach Latin. The proverb is a rather absurd one, but according to our Latin experts it simply means that time is out of joint."

According to Lerche, what makes the multispectral scanner unique - and why researchers, who are interested in medieval manuscripts, find it so promising - is that is very easy to operate for the researchers themselves; they do not have to send their manuscripts away to labs and wait months for results, but can work with the manuscripts in a process of trial and error in the comfort of their own offices. At the same time, and this is a crucial for the scholars, the scanner never touches the fragile manuscripts and therefore makes for a completely non-invasive investigative technique.

"Most medieval manuscripts contain passages that are illegible because of the ways in which they used to be stored, conserved and cleaned, and this is deeply frustrating for us. The scanner will help us read the manuscripts and also increase our knowledge of the liquids and materials they applied to the manuscripts in the past. The scanner will, in effect, make a tremendous difference to our research into Danish and Scandinavian languages and history," he concludes.

Source: University of Copenhagen

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Anglo-Saxon settlement discovered in Gloucestershire

Construction work in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire has led to the discovery of a previously unknown Anglo-Saxon settlement.

Monitoring of groundworks by Cotswold Archaeology during the construction of All Saints' Academy in Cheltenham led to the discovery of two skeletons that may be Saxon. Also found was a pit containing large pieces of Anglo-Saxon pottery. Further work in the area revealed further Saxon ditches, and most spectacularly, a large timber hall built from substantial posts. The hall would have been around 11m long by 6m wide and been used for communal events including feasts.

Steve Sheldon of Cotswold Archaeology, who is directing the excavation, said it was one of the best finds of his career: "To be honest I didn't really expect to find too much when we started work on the site."

The settlement probably dates to the 6th to 8th century AD, and is of significance as it lies only a short distance from Gloucester. It is generally thought that the area around Gloucester did not succumb to Saxon control in this period, but remained a largely independent British kingdom.

Cliff Bateman, Project Manager at Cotswold Archaeology, said: "It would now appear that there were more pockets of Anglo-Saxon control in the Severn Valley than we previously thought. Anglo-Saxon burials have been found in Bishops Cleeve and Tewkesbury, but this discovery shows Saxon influence right on the very doorstep of Gloucester."

Students from two other schools, Christ College and Kingsmead School, will have the opportunity to examine the site and look at the finds in situ before they are removed for dating and recording. All of the finds will then be donated to Cheltenham Museum.

Teresa Gilpin, Headteacher of Christ College, said: "These remarkable finds have given Christ College pupils a unique contact with people 1,300 years older than them. The Academy's pupils will also benefit from the knowledge that people inhabited their site so many years previously."

Cllr Jackie Hall, Cabinet Member for Schools, said: "This is a very exciting find and I am glad some of the students are going to get to see the relics in place before they are removed and building work continues."

Cllr Suzanne Williams, County Councillor for Springbank, said: "This is an absolutely amazing find in an area that has been well used for a number of years. I hope that some kind of visual evidence will be retained for future use by the school. What better inspiration could pupils have to explore the lives of our ancestors, than physical evidence on their doorstep?"

Helena Arnold, Director of the Children and Young People's Department, Gloucester Diocese, said: "We are delighted that the results of the archaeological dig can be shared with students. This will provide an excellent learning opportunity for students even before the construction process is underway. Whilst the Academy looks to the future to provide first class facilities for the 21st century, the archaeological find is an opportunity to for students to learn about the past and the culture from which we have developed."

Source: Gloucestershire County Council

See also our articles: Two videos on the construction of early medieval buildings

Medieval Glass for Popes, Princes, and Peasants

The Corning Museum of Glass in New York State has opened a new exhibit displaying over a hundred examples of glass that were made in the Middle Ages. The exhibition Medieval Glass for Popes, Princes, and Peasants will follow the evolution of glass production over 1,000 years, from its height in the Roman Empire until the golden age of Venetian glassmaking during the Renaissance.

The glass vessels and objects in the exhibit will range from highly decorated drinking vessels to church reliquaries—highlighting the many uses of glass in medieval society, and the significance of the material to local economies, religious ceremonies and scientific developments.

“The phrase ‘medieval glass’ often evokes an image of stained glass windows, but there exists a remarkable range of glass objects made for daily use which provide rare insight into a cross section of medieval society,” explains Dr. David Whitehouse, executive director of The Corning Museum of Glass and curator of this exhibition. “The objects in the exhibition trace the history of the Middle Ages in Europe through the lens of glassmaking. The story touches on politics, trade, urbanization and the disintegration of cities, religion, science, and technology and highlights the importance of the material to the development of the world we know today. Its arc spans a period of 1,000 years – nearly one quarter of the history of glassmaking – and depicts the rise of glassmaking from a dark period of reduced knowledge to an era of innovation.”

Glassmaking saw its greatest era in the ancient world during the Roman Empire, when glassmakers used a rich variety of techniques to meet the demands of wealthy patrons. As the Roman Empire disintegrated and Europe became politically fragmented, there were fewer glassmaking centers. The demand for glass and other luxury goods was reduced, and many glassmaking techniques were lost. It was not until the late Middle Ages, with the rise of craft guilds and cities, that glassmaking techniques were revived, setting the stage for the next great era of glassmaking: the emergence of Venice as the principal glassmaking center in the Renaissance.

The more than 100 objects in Medieval Glass are drawn from the Corning Museum’s collection, as well as from museums and cathedral treasuries in Europe, where many pieces were held for centuries without being properly identified. Some were discovered during archeological excavations—which gave scholars and archeologists a groundbreaking new vision of the richness and variety of medieval glass, its production centers and techniques used by medieval glassmakers.

One area of the exhibit will display glass objects used for eating and drinking, arranged chronologically to show the evolution of glass tableware through this thousand-year period, and to illustrate the increase in the decoration and complexity of the glass vessels as glassmaking techniques were rediscovered in the late Middle Ages. Copies of illuminated manuscripts and paintings throughout the exhibit will illustrate how these glass objects were used and valued in medieval society.

Other sections of the exhibit explore glass for the church and treasury, and glass used for science and medicine—including glass used in scientific instruments, for medical diagnosis and alchemy, as well as the critical development of reading spectacles and other lenses. A gallery reminiscent of a medieval cathedral will feature the sole stained glass window in the exhibition, as well as highlights of glass used in the church: ceremonial lamps, drinking vessels and glasses used to preserve relics. Examples of the rare and mysterious group of objects known as “Hedwig” beakers are a highlight of this section.

These beautiful glass cups, found in treasuries across Europe, are unlike any other medieval objects of glass or rock crystal from the Islamic world, Byzantium or western Christiandom. The group is named after Saint Hedwig of Silesia (d. 1243), a Germanic queen who was canonized as a saint for her piety—which extended to abstaining from wine drinking, much to the disdain and social embarrassment of her husband. Miraculously, her glass beakers, which bore the same engraving as the beakers in the exhibition, would fill with wine whenever the king’s spies were nearby. Scholars have variously argued about the origination of the beakers and many believe they were made in the medieval Islamic world. In this exhibition, Whitehouse attributes the beakers’ origination to glassmakers in Palermo, Sicily, under the reign of a Norman king. The objects likely made their way to Germany after the marriage of the king to a German noblewoman.

Videos in the galleries will illustrate how modern glassmakers have experimented with medieval techniques to identify and understand these objects in the exhibition were made.

The Corning Museum of Glass offers live glassblowing demonstrations all day, every day, as part of the visitor experience. At select shows each day during the run of the exhibition, visitors will be able to see how certain objects in the Medieval Glass exhibition were made.

The exhibition runs until January 3, 2011. The Corning Museum of Glass is located in the Finger Lakes Wine Country of New York State. Click here to go to their website.

Source: Corning Museum of Glass

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

New Online Medieval Manuscript Database has over 7000 pages

Over 7000 pages from medieval and early modern manuscripts have been put online by the University of Texas at Austin. They come from a collection of 215 items from the Harry Ransom Center, which date from the 11th to the 17th centuries.

The Ransom Center is digitizing all of the collection items, which will be added to the database as they are completed. At present, digital images are available for 27 of the items for a total of 7,288 pages.

The database contains item-level descriptions for all 215 items, and the collection is searchable by keyword and any combination of the following categories: name, country of origin, century, language, format (such as charters or diaries), subject and physical features (such as musical notation or wax seals).

The medieval and early modern manuscripts collection is a rich resource for many areas of research. Scholars may use the collection to trace typographical developments in printing, compare different versions of the same text or examine a manuscript's composition, decoration and binding to study the history of the book. The collection may also be valuable for those studying the history of liturgy and music.

"The new database for the Ransom Center's medieval and early modern manuscripts collection is a wonderful resource for students and teachers here at the university and for scholars everywhere," said Marjorie Curry Woods, professor of English and comparative literature at The University of Texas at Austin. "The detailed descriptions will help researchers working on individual manuscripts, provide a model for students learning palaeography and codicology, and allow scholars elsewhere to explore possible connections between the Ransom Center's manuscripts and those in other collections.

"The complete digitized versions of manuscripts are invaluable. Manuscripts that are now too fragile to be handled are still available for research and teaching, and those that have small, difficult-to-read glosses and marginalia now can be deciphered with relative ease. In addition, digitized manuscripts can be projected for class presentations and can be consulted by scholars working collaboratively but in different locations. Access to the Ransom Center's valuable early holdings is increased exponentially while at the same time reducing wear and tear on the manuscripts themselves."

The collection is particularly strong in humanistic manuscripts, vernacular literature and religious documents. Other represented subjects include alchemy, architecture, astronomy, botany, cartography, classical literature, diplomacy, drama, genealogy, government, heraldry, history, kings and rulers, law, mathematics, medicine, monasticism and religious orders, music, philosophy, poetry, science and war.

The earliest item in the collection is the Tegernsee Miscellany manuscript, an 11th-century Austrian codex of various texts compiled by Abbot Ellinger of Tegernsee. Other highlights include 11 Books of Hours, most notably the "Belleville Hours," and a 15th-century German ferial psalter and hymnal, significant because of its possible stylistic relationship to the Gutenberg Bible and early printed psalters.

The collection contains classical texts, including copies of works by Cicero, Horace, Ovid and Plato, and medieval literary works by Geoffrey Chaucer, Dante and Petrarch.

The historical documents in the collection represent numerous European monarchs, such as Henry VIII of England, Louis XIII of France and Philip III of Spain. Notable historical figures represented in the collection include Oliver Cromwell, Martin Luther, John Milton, Sir Isaac Newton, Abraham Ortelius and Sir Walter Raleigh. Document types include charters, commonplace books, contracts, correspondence, decrees, deeds, diaries, government records, indentures, letters patent, minutes, notarial documents, notes, papal bulls, petitions, pontificals, receipts, reports, speeches and writs.

The manuscripts represent numerous countries and historical regions, including Austria, Bohemia, Bolivia, Byzantium, England, Flanders, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Scotland, Spain and the United States. The represented languages include Dutch, English, Flemish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Middle English, Old English and Spanish.

Click here to go to the Harry Ransom Center's Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts Collection:
Database and Digital Images

Source: University of Texas at Austin

Grave of Charlemagne remains a mystery

Archaeologists searching for the burial place of Charlemagne have failed to find any evidence that the body of the Carolingian emperor was placed in the atrium of Aachen Cathedral.

Andreas Schaub has led a team of archeologists for over three years in an attempt to find the exact spot within the cathedral where the medieval ruler was buried on the 28th January 814. But the dig within the atrium of the 8th century cathedral has only turned up material dating back to the 13th century.

There have been several archaeological investigations of the cathedral. Andreas Schaub noted that "since the 1980s, the theory persisted that the grave is in the atrium." With this news, focus on the whereabouts of Charlemagne will turn to the Cathedral's Court.

Charlemagne was buried in Aachen on the same day he died. Although the Carolingian emperor had previously made it known that he was to be buried near Paris, his court officials decided to bury him in Aachen because of the difficulty in transporting his body in cold weather.

The body of Charlemagne has had an eventful existence since his death. In the year 1000, Otto III had Charlemagne's vault opened. The Chronicle of Novalesia records how Otto and one of his courtiers saw when they entered the vault:

"So we went in to Charles. He did not lie, as the dead otherwise do, but sat as if he were living. He was crowned with a golden crown and held in his gloved hands a sceptre; the fingernails had penetrated through the gloves and stuck out. Above him was a canopy of limestone and marble. Entering, we broke through this. Upon our entrance, a strong smell struck us. Kneeling, we gave Emperor Charles our homage, and put in order the damage that had been done. Emperor Charles had not lost any of his members to decay, except only the tip of his nose. Emperor Otto replaced this with gold, took a tooth from Charles’s mouth, walled up the entrance to the chamber, and withdrew again."

In 1165, Emperor Frederick Barbarossa again opened the vault and placed the remains in a sculptured sarcophagus made of Parian marble, said to have been the one in which Augustus Caesar was buried. The bones lay in this until 1215, when Frederick II had them put in a casket of gold and silver. A vellum codex found interred with him was removed.

There have been eight theories about the burial place of the Carolingian ruler. "We have definitely ruled out five of these with the recent excavations," explained Cathedral architect Helmut Maintz. "But there are fortunately a few theories left, so I am not hopeless."

Sources: Earth Times, Spiegel

Bloggers report on the International Congress on Medieval Studies

Several medieval bloggers have posted their own reports about the International Congress on Medieval Studies, which concluded on Sunday.  We have found several posts so far that talk about the sessions and other interesting things that occurred during the conference, which was held at Western Michigan University.

One of the big news for medieval bloggers was that the identity of the person behind Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog was revealed - here is the report on that event from In the Middle.

Speaking of In the Middle, they discuss several things about the congress, including the reception held to promote the journal postmedieval, which is co-edited by Eileen Joy.

Tom Elrod of Wordisms gives his reports about the congress: Day 1, Day 2 and Postscript - Day 2 includes the text of his own paper: Responding to Chaucer: The Place of Fortune in Robert Henryson's The Testament of Cresseid

Steven Muhlberger gives his readers some insights into the research he is doing about the Chronicle of the Good Duke, which is the subject of the paper he gave at the congress.

Heavenfield has reviewed Day 1 and Day 2 of the Congress so far.

Curt Emanuel (aka Medieval History Geek) posted updates for each day of the congress - here is post for the last day.

Timothy Heines gives his Kalamazoo Report on HeinesSite.

Heptarchy Herald offers his views on the congress here.

Finally, here is our own summary and thoughts about the congress. We are also posting reports on the individual papers given at the congress, which will be listed here. This section will be updated for the next couple of weeks with new papers.

If you know of other posts about the International Congress on Medieval Studies, please email us at so we can add it to this list.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Restoration completed in Chapter House of Westminster Abbey

English Heritage has completed a major repair and conservation project for one of London’s oldest buildings and a meeting place for the early House of Commons – the Chapter House at Westminster Abbey. Over the past 18 months, a team of 20 master carvers and stonemasons have painstakingly cleaned, repaired, and conserved the badly weathered gargoyles, stone floral friezes, flying buttresses and stained glass windows. This month, the colossal scaffolding has come down to reveal the majestic exterior completely refreshed, revived and weather-tight.

Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said, “The Chapter House is one of England's most interesting and significant monuments, witness to great events in our early history and repository of the nation’s history and memories for 300 years. I'm proud to say that English Heritage has been able to secure its future with one of our most comprehensive programmes of conservation ever.”

In keeping with both the medieval tradition and the great Victorian reconstruction of the Chapter House in 1866 by architect George Gilbert Scott, today’s stone carvers have added 32 new heads to the building’s eight pinnacles, replacing those Victorian heads which had become unstable through erosion. There are 64 heads in total across eight pinnacles, and the new heads are portraits of the people involved in the ambitious project. They include the masons and architects, members of the Westminster Abbey clergy, and the project team from English Heritage. Four new striking gargoyles have also been created. The new carvings add a layer of 21st-century history to the Chapter House and are a testament to the outstanding quality of work of today’s carvers and craftsmen.

The Chapter House was completed around 1255 and described as ‘beyond compare’, the octagonal chamber served not only as the daily meeting place for the monks of Westminster Abbey but as one of the venues for King Henry III’s Great Council and the Commons, predecessors of today’s Parliament. In the mid-16th century, the Chapter House became a store-house for the records of the Exchequer, eventually requiring massive alterations to create more floors for document cupboards, and to make the building stable: by the middle of the 19th century, its original form was unrecognisable.

Between 1867 and 1872, Scott led the thorough restoration of the Chapter House, re-creating the medieval exterior and revealing the original tiled floors and wall paintings inside the building. It was opened to the public as a historic monument and today – given its royal past as a meeting place, parliament chamber and record office.

The Very Reverend Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster, said, "The Chapter House is a remarkable building and a very significant part of the 13th century monastic enclosure, happily now open to all the Abbey's many visitors. It now once again looks strikingly beautiful as a result of the initiative and excellent work of English Heritage, with whom the Dean and Chapter of Westminster are delighted to be in partnership."

In the 140 years since Scott’s ‘makeover’, ivy, decades of smoke from Battersea Power Station, traffic pollution and the weather had all taken their toll on the building’s stone exterior. Nimbus Conservation was contracted by English Heritage to undertake the £3m programme of repairs. The Chicksgrove Quarry in Wiltshire has been their source for 60 tonnes of new stone – a type that most closely matches the Chilmark stone used by Scott’s masons and is remarkably resilient to weathering. Many hours have been spent in creating drawings and clay models. The majority of the stone was carved on site by Nimbus’ team of masons and master craftsmen.

Angus Lawrence of Nimbus Conservation, said, “Nimbus has been able to assemble an unrivalled team of talented craftsmen and women covering a diverse range of skills. Everyone, from the labourer to the master carver has made an important contribution to the conservation of this wonderful building and we are all extremely proud of the end result."

The Chapter House is in the East Cloister of Westminster Abbey. Admission is free via the Cloister Entrance in Dean’s Yard. It is under the care and management of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster. For more information please visit

Click here to see more pictures of the Chapter House Restoration

See also our article: 700 Year Old Coronation Chair to be Restored

Sources: English Heritage

Monday, May 17, 2010

Face of a Medieval Knight revealed

Historic Scotland has released an image showing the dramatic reconstruction of a medieval knight whose skeleton was discovered at Stirling Castle.

The skeleton was discovered with nine other individuals, including two children, during preparatory work for Historic Scotland’s £12 million refurbishment of the castle’s Renaissance royal palace. All of the remains date from between the 13th and 15th centuries and were buried in what was the grounds of royal chapel within the castle.

Richard Strachan, Historic Scotland Senior Archaeologist, said: “The facial reconstruction of the knight gives a powerful impression of what a warrior who died in the 1300s may have looked like.

“He was a very strong and fit nobleman, with the physique of a professional rugby player, who would have been trained since boyhood to handle heavy swords and other weapons and who would have spent a great deal of time on horseback.

Further work will be carried out by Dr Jo Buckberry of the University of Bradford and archaeological scientists Dr Janet Montgomery (University of Bradford) and Professor Julia Lee-Thorp (University of Oxford).

Richard Strachan added that they will be able “to use the latest archaeological techniques to discover more about the lives and origins of all the people found buried in the chapel.

“This includes where they were brought up and the food they ate, where they were from, how they died and possibly why they were buried in the castle.”

One intriguing avenue of research will be to compare the results from the Stirling skeletons to those of soldiers found in mass graves who were killed at the Battle of Towton, the decisive clash of England’s Wars of the Roses, in 1461.

Dr Buckberry, a biological anthropologist, said: “Techniques have advanced a long way since the skeletons were discovered in 1997 and we can now tell much more about where people came from, their lifestyles and causes of death.

“This group is highly unusual, because of where and when the people were buried, suggesting that they might have been socially important and have died during extreme events such as sieges.

“As the castle changed hands a number of times these are people who could have come from Scotland, England or even France and one of my hopes is that we will be able to find out where at least some of them originated.”

Last year Historic Scotland released details about this individual, noting that while he was only in his mid-20s he appears to have suffered several serious wounds in earlier fights. He may have been living for some time with a large arrowhead in his chest. Bone re-growth around a dent in the front of the skull suggest he had recovered from a severe blow, possibly from an axe. The fatal wound, however, occurred when something, possibly a sword, sliced through his nose and jaw.

New evidence about this man, and a woman who was found buried nearby, will be revealed on the BBC program History Cold Case. A team led by Professor Sue Black, a world-renowned forensic anthropologist from Dundee University, wanted to find out how, why and when the man and woman met their violent ends. The programme website promises to show how the "forensic trail leads to a unique and extraordinary 600 year old document and the team is shocked to discover the skeleton's likely identity."

This episode of History Cold Case will be aired on BBC 2 on Thursday. An academic article and public lectures are also being planned to detail the findings.

Part of the project involves the creation of superb new displays telling the story of the castle through the centuries.

Gillian MacDonald, Stirling Castle Executive Manager, said: “The BBC’s research, and the further investigations we are carrying out, will be an important part of the new exhibitions that visitors will be able to enjoy next spring.

“They will be able to see the reconstruction of the knight, who seems to have survived many terrible wounds before finally being killed.

“The displays will tell the castle’s story from its days as a royal stronghold through to more recent times. These and the newly refurbished apartments in the royal palace will mean there is lots more for visitors to do and see.”

Source: Historic Scotland, BBC

See also our earlier article: Stirling Castle Skeleton Reveals Violent Life Of A Medieval Knight