Wednesday, February 29, 2012

15th-century frescoes identified in Polish church, money being raised to restore them

Frescoes discovered on the walls of an Orthodox Church in Poland have been identified as 15th-century art works, and funds are being raised to restore them.

Art historian Jaroslaw Giemza said Tuesday that recent research on the frescoes at the ancient church in the eastern village of Posada Rybotycka have dated them to that late Middle Age period.

White paint had concealed the frescoes for a long time, and they were first partly uncovered in the 1960s.

Click here to read this article from the Boston Globe

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Jerusalem Tomb Reveals First Archaeological Evidence of Christianity from the Time of Jesus

The archaeological examination by robotic camera of an intact first century tomb in Jerusalem has revealed a set of limestone Jewish ossuaries or “bone boxes” that are engraved with a rare Greek inscription and a unique iconographic image that the scholars involved identify as distinctly Christian.

The four-line Greek inscription on one ossuary refers to God “raising up” someone and a carved image found on an adjacent ossuary shows what appears to be a large fish with a human stick figure in its mouth, interpreted by the excavation team to be an image evoking the biblical story of Jonah.

In the earliest gospel materials the “sign of Jonah,” as mentioned by Jesus, has been interpreted as a symbol of his resurrection. Jonah images in later “early” Christian art, such as images found in the Roman catacombs, are the most common motif found on tombs as a symbol of Christian resurrection hope. In contrast, the story of Jonah is not depicted in any first century Jewish art and iconographic images on ossuaries are extremely rare, given the prohibition within Judaism of making images of people or animals.

Click here to read this article from History of the Ancient World

Book Review: The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer

Ian Mortimer’s The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England was a surprise bestseller in 2009, introducing the reader to the customs and mores of 14th-century England without any of the history, so that even if you did not know that England was at war with France, say, you would at least know what to wear and how to act so as to blend in with the locals. It was a lovely, lively book, full of startling details and clearly the work of a thoughtful historian with a tremendous grasp of his period.

The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England is just as good, and only suffers by comparison because it does not come as such a surprise. In a sense, though, Mortimer seems even more sure of himself here, and perhaps because there are more sources available, or because he has written a couple of novels set in the period, this is even richer than his medieval guide. You can almost feel the texture of the times, and you can imagine exactly how its men and women might think.

Inevitably Mortimer addresses many of the same themes as in his earlier book – the nuts and bolts of travel: what you could expect to eat and how much you could expect to pay for it. This sort of material is a boon for historical novelists short on time for research, and I found myself hoping he had slipped in one or two deliberate errors to trip the unwary.

Click here to read this review from the Daily Telegraph

See also our interview with Ian Mortimer

Monday, February 27, 2012

Arabic sources show extreme weather hit medieval Baghdad

Medieval manuscripts written by Arabic scholars can provide valuable meteorological information to help modern scientists reconstruct the climate of the past, a new study has revealed. The research, published in Weather, analyses the writings of scholars, historians and diarists in Iraq during the Islamic Golden Age between 816-1009 AD for evidence of extreme weather in Iraq, including snowfalls and hailstorms in Baghdad.

Reconstructing climates from the past provides historical comparison to modern weather events and valuable context for climate change. In the natural world trees, ice cores and coral provide evidence of past weather, but from human sources scientists are limited by the historical information available.

Click here to read this article from

The Ghent Altarpiece in 100 Billion Pixels

It is now possible to zoom into the intricate, breathtaking details of one of the most important works of art from the medieval world, thanks to a newly completed website focused on the Ghent Altarpiece.

A stunning and highly complex painting composed of separate oak panels, The Mystic Lamb of 1432 by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, known as the Ghent Altarpiece, recently underwent much-needed emergency conservation within the Villa Chapel in St. Bavo Cathedral in Ghent. As part of this work, the altarpiece was removed from its glass enclosure and temporarily dismantled—a rare event which also made it possible to undertake a comprehensive examination and documentation, supported by the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles.

Click here to read this article from

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ireland: So what have the Romans ever done for us?

The Roman General Agricola reportedly says he can take and hold Ireland with a single legion. Some archaeologists have claimed the Romans did campaign in Ireland, but most see no evidence for an invasion. Imperial Rome and this island on its far western perimeter did share interesting links, however.

The Discovery Programme, a Dublin-based public institution for advanced research in archaeology, is to investigate Ireland’s interactions with the empire and with Roman Britain, aiming to fill gaps in the story of the Irish iron age, the first 500 years after the birth of Christ.

The project, Late Iron Age and Roman Ireland (Liari) could uncover a surprising role for Roman culture, predicts Dr Jacqueline Cahill Wilson, project leader. It offers “a new narrative for this formative period of early Irish history”.

Science is going to drive the project, and the interpretation presented by the researchers will be based on science as much as the archaeology, Cahill Wilson explains. Roman artifacts including coins, glass beads and brooches turn up in many Irish counties, especially in the east.

Click here to read this article from The Irish Times

Click here to visit the Discovery Programme website

History of Math: The Chinese side of the equation

One of the more perplexing questions of history asks why China - the birthplace of many technological discoveries at the heart of civilisation - took so long to achieve industrial revolution, centuries after it had come and gone in the West.

Perhaps we should blame Emperor Kangxi. As China's longest serving leader - his 61-year rule ended in 1722 - Kangxi was politically astute and also a deeply curious man. For hours every day, he would discuss the latest advances in maths and sciences developing in Europe with visiting Jesuit missionaries, moving deftly between affairs of state and the life of the mind.

At the turn of the 18th century, China's own mathematics was languishing in the shadow of the all-important state examinations, which emphasised scholars' ability to write literary and political essays. Had Kangxi decided to make the Jesuits' knowledge central to the national education system, China's progress would likely have come much faster.

That is the argument of Siu Man-keung, a maths professor retired from the University of Hong Kong. Siu's theory is more than just an indulgence in the burgeoning "what if" trend of alternate history. He argues the story of China can't be told fully without grasping the role maths played across the centuries, and conversely, maths cannot be taught to Chinese pupils today without putting it in the historical context.

Click here to read this article from the South China Morning Post

We can learn lessons from Vikings to adapt to global change

History can teach us how best to respond to climate change, economic turmoil and cultural upheaval, which seems to be pressing concerns of today, scientists have suggested.

Scientists studying the past environments and archaeological remains of Greenland and Iceland ave been able to analyse how well the Norse responded to changes in the economy, trade, politics and technology, against a backdrop of changing climate.

They found that Norse societies fared best by keeping their options open when managing their long-term sustainability, adapting their trade links, turning their backs on some economic options and acquiring food from a variety of wild and farmed sources. The researchers say their findings could help inform decisions on how modern society responds to global challenges.

In the middle ages, people in Iceland embraced economic changes sweeping Europe, eveloped trading in fish and wool and endured very hard times to build a flourishing modern society.

Click here to read this article from Yahoo News

Click here to read 'Scientists suggest looking into history to learn climate change lessons'

A People’s History of Robin Hood

In the late 1950s, a handful of peaceniks protested mandatory ROTC on a major U.S. university campus by carrying signs and wearing green buttons. Back when The Adventures of Robin Hood was a giant hit on television, most everybody knew that green was Robin Hood’s color and that Robin could not side with the king’s soldiers or future soldiers of any empire. Five decades later, the lead protagonist of a cult favorite American cable show, Leverage, announces at the beginning of each episode: “The rich and the powerful take what they want; we steal it back for you.”

It’s a fitting motto for heroes of the 21st century. Admittedly, resistance to injustice has not as yet returned to the level of the apprentices and craftsmen in Edinburgh, Scotland, who in 1561 chose to come together “efter the auld wikid maner of Robene Hude”: they elected a leader as “Lord of Inobedience” and stormed past the magistrates, through the city gates, up to Castle Hill where they displayed their unwillingness to accept current work-and-wage conditions. But as a global society, we are clearly still thinking about the need for Robin Hood.

After all, we live in something rapidly approaching a Robin Hood era. The rich and powerful now command almost every corner of the planet and, in order to maintain their control, threaten to despoil every natural resource to the point of exhaustion. Meanwhile, billions of people are impoverished below levels of decency maintained during centuries of subsistence living. In this historical moment, the organized forces of egalitarian resistance and even their ideologies seem to be reduced to near nonexistence, or turned against themselves in the name of supreme individualism. Robin’s Greenwood, the global forest, is disappearing chunks at a time. Yet resistance to authority, of one kind or another, continues, and, given worsening conditions, is likely to increase.

Click here to read this article from Yes! Magazine

Archaeologists begin restoring ancient boat near pyramids

Archaeologists on Monday began restoration on a 4,500-year-old wooden boat found next to the pyramids, one of Egypt's main tourist attractions.

The boat is one of two that were buried next to the Pharaoh Khufu, spokesmen for a joint Egyptian-Japanese team of archeologists said. The boats are believed to have been intended to carry pharaohs into the afterlife.

Khufu, also known as Cheops, is credited with building the Great Pyramid of Giza, the largest of the pyramids. Khufu, son of Snefru, was the second ruler of the 4th Dynasty around 2680 B.C. and ruled Egypt for 23 years.

Both boats, made from Lebanese cedar and Egyptian acacia trees, were originally discovered in 1954. One of the boats is on display at a museum near the pyramids.

The second boat, which is now undergoing the restoration, remained buried. It is thought to be smaller than its sister ship, which is about 140 feet (43 meters) long.

Click here to read this article from

Scholars Analyze Jewish Travel

Travel as ennobling -- an educational pursuit that broadens knowledge and sharpens perceptions -- is a 20th century concept, according to German-born scholar Martin Jacobs.

In earlier periods, and especially in antiquity, he continued, travel was far less grand, more practical and personal -- a series of encounters between people that elicited many different responses, both conscious and unconscious.

"While traveling," explained Jacobs, "you always encounter others, and you encounter yourself in unknown situations, and you need to respond. There is no choice except to engage with other people, due to a lack of linguistic skills or because you don't know the schedule or the road map. These are situations that force you to respond in different ways -- and also to reflect upon yourself."

And the study of travel as an academic pursuit? That's a newer phenomenon altogether, one that's taking place right here in Philadelphia.

Jacobs is one of three academics who put together "On the Road: Travel in Jewish History," this year's topic of study for the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Each year, the program invites scholars from around the world to analyze a particular aspect of Jewish culture from new perspectives.

Click here to read this article from the Jewish Exponent

Princeton Museum returns artifacts to Italy after legal conflict

The University Art Museum returned six works of art to the country of Italy in December, ending a major decade-long international legal battle with the country over the ownership of the works. The transfer completed an agreement signed with Italy on June 2, 2011.

In a January statement, the University claimed that they returned the artworks after an internal investigation into the ownership of certain items in the University’s collection.

The items transferred were a black-glazed askos, two female statuettes, four fragments of a red-figure calyx krater, fragments of an architectural relief, a pithos in white-on-red style and a group of fragmentary architectural revetments.

Click here to read this article from the Daily Princetonian

Lively Version of Beowulf to be Performed at Georgetown

A rare opportunity to hear world-renowned vocalist and harp player Benjamin Bagby perform his interpretation of the medieval poem "Beowulf" takes place tomorrow night in Georgetown’s historic Gaston Hall.

“Wherever there’s a strong medieval studies department there’s usually a lot of interest in oral poetry and in the reconstruction of lost oral traditions,” says Bagby, who was invited by the university’s Medieval Studies Program.

Bagby, who has been performing the poem in Old English for 20 years, has been interested in the famous tale of heroes and monsters since he was a child.

“In most cultures of the world, stories are transmitted orally and are only written down later on,” he adds. “That’s the case with the 'Beowulf' epic. It was probably transmitted for hundreds of years orally before being written down by Christian monks in about the year 1000.”

Click here to read this article from Georgetown University

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

11th century medallion from Portugal found in a shark off Malaysia

A medieval medallion, believed to be from the 11th century, was found in the stomach of a baby shark in southern Malaysia, a news report said Wednesday.

The medallion, engraved with a profile of a woman on one side and a crucifix with inscription ANTONII on the other side, was recovered Tuesday by a housewife while cleaning the fish to be cooked.

The artifact was believed to have been worn by Portuguese soldiers, who colonized Malaysia in 1511, for divine protection.

Suseela Menon, 47, a resident of Klebang town in the state of Malacca, about 120 kilometres south of Kuala Lumpur, said she was cleaning the shark she bought from the market when she saw the medallion inside its stomach.

Click here to read this article from Times Live

Book Review: The Friar of Carcassonne

For a medieval saga of heresy, witchcraft or sedition to work really well, it requires the payoff scene where the hero or heroine gets burned at the stake. This is the template that has reaped such a rich harvest with Joan of Arc, John Hus, Thomas Cranmer, the Knights Templar and that old standby, Savonarola. In a pinch – say, in the case of William (Braveheart) Wallace – the tried-and-true technique of hanging, drawing and quartering will do, as will more traditional methods such as flaying, stoning, beheading, impalement and crucifixion.

But if an author gets to the end of his narrative and the shadowy medieval figure he is attempting to rescue from putatively undeserved oblivion fails to be set ablaze, the historian finds that he has backed himself into a real corner. Nobody remembers Custer if he doesn’t wind up dead at the Little Big Horn. Nobody remembers John Wilkes Booth if he doesn’t shoot Lincoln. And in a medieval setting, the formula for achieving immortality is unforgivingly rigid: No flame, no fame.

Stephen O’Shea recognizes that he has given himself a tough nut to crack in The Friar of Carcassonne. The book is largely the saga of Franciscan brother Bernard Délicieux, a courageous civic leader who laboured mightily to lift the yolk imposed on the people of southwestern France by the Inquisition in the late 13th and early 14th century. Délicieux is a heroic figure, to be sure, and his tale is well worth telling, but perhaps not at book length. Since his revolt against the Inquisition, which was led by the remorseless Dominicans, mostly consisted of legal squabbles, audiences with the king of France and ceaseless litigation, this book has a jarringly Jesuitical flavour.

Click here to read this review from The Globe and Mail

See also our interview with Stephen O'Shea

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Prehistoric architecture found in Jordan from 20,000 years ago

Some of the earliest evidence of prehistoric architecture has been discovered in the Jordanian desert, providing archaeologists with a new perspective on how humans lived 20,000 years ago.

The ancient hut structures in eastern Jordan were discovered by a team of archaeologists including academics from The University of Nottingham. The finding suggests that the area was once intensively occupied and that the origins of architecture in the region date back 20 millennia, well before the emergence of agriculture.

The research by a joint British, Danish, American and Jordanian team, published recently in the peer-reviewed science journal PLoS One, describes huts that hunter-gatherers used as long-term homes and suggests that many behaviours associated with later cultures and communities, such as a growing attachment to a location and a far-reaching social network, existed up to 10,000 years earlier than previously thought.

Click here to read this article from History of the Ancient World

Judgement Day is on the way: Leicester historian on Medieval ‘end of days’ research

The English scholar Bede (c.673-735) is often regarded as the father of English history, principally because of his five-volume epic Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum. But a new volume by Dr Peter Darby from our School of Historical Studies concentrates on a less well known aspect of Bede’s multi-faceted career.

Using his extensive Biblical knowledge and the impressive library of the monastery at Wearmouth-Jarrow where he spent his life, Bede wrote many works of theology and exegesis (the interpretation of biblical texts). Within these volumes Bede dealt at length with eschatology, the study of the end of days, and this is the subject of Dr Darby’s new book, Bede and the End of Time.

At this point, the Bible (still in Latin and copied by hand of course) was regarded as the definitive, literal work of God which, as well as describing history – the Old Testament period (from the Garden of Eden onwards) and the New Testament accounts of Christ’s life and times – also provided a framework for what was going to happen before, during and after Judgement Day. Bede was able to use his detailed memory of scripture to pick references to future events from throughout the Old and New Testaments and then sought to correlate them into a workable whole, including resolutions of the contradictions and paradoxes which he encountered.

Click here to read this article from the University of Leicester

University of Tennessee hosts Symposium on Reading, Writing in Pre-modern World

What did it mean to read or write a book in the Middle Ages or the Renaissance? This question is at the heart of “Grounding the Book: Readers, Writers, and Places in the Pre-Modern World,” a symposium to be hosted on March 1 to 3 by the Marco Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

The keynote address and all lectures are free and open to the public. The symposium will be held in the Hodges Library auditorium. Parking is available at the Carolyn P. Brown Memorial University Center parking garage.

Now in its tenth year, the symposium will feature a stellar line-up of specialists in the interdisciplinary field of book history who will explore the complex interaction between pre-modern writers and readers, their books, and the places—libraries, museums, monasteries, university classrooms, the courts of patrons—where they used them.

Click here to read this article from

Monday, February 20, 2012

Minnesota professor receives funding to research medieval religious women in Germany

In the past year, Jennifer Deane, associate professor of history at the University of Minnesota Morris, has received two grants: the University of Minnesota Grant-in-Aid-of-Research and a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend, which fund her research on the “beguines” or lay religious women of medieval Germany. The grants have enabled her to make several trips to archives and libraries in Germany, and to share ideas and research findings with European colleagues.

For years, Deane has been passionate about studying the lay religious women of medieval Europe often known as “beguines”, whose hundreds of independent communities were mainly centered in the Low Countries, the Rhine region, France, and German-speaking lands. Beguines were not nuns, but single laywomen who gathered in pious households and observed a chaste and humble lifestyle in some ways similar to that within a monastery. However, they were also deeply embedded in local communities, had strong connections to secular and religious authorities, and provided charitable service such as prayer and teaching children. Despite their modest and innocuous existence, beguines’ semi-religious status drew inquisitorial attention in the fourteenth century, distorting their image to this day—for those who have even heard of them.

Click here to read this article from

Swansea Castle to be opened to visitors this weekend

Swansea Castle in Wales will be opened up for public tours this weekend, allowing people to explore the medieval Welsh ruin. It’s only the third time in decades that people will have the chance to explore the historic attraction.

As part of the festivities surrounding St.David’s Week in Swansea, the local council has allowed for public tours to take place on Saturday February 25 and Sunday February 26. Tours will take place every half-hour between 10am and 4pm on the Saturday and 11am and 3.30pm on the Sunday.

Click here to read the full article from

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Seabed with 13th century Mongol shipwreck may become historic site

The Agency for Cultural Affairs plans to have the seabed off Nagasaki Prefecture where the wreck of a ship believed to have been used by 13th century Mongol invaders has been found declared a national historical site, agency sources said.

The declaration would make the area off Takashima Island in Matsuura, Nagasaki Prefecture, the first underwater ruins to be registered as such a site in Japan. The designation will in principle prohibit the area from being altered.

The agency sees the need to take immediate measures in the area, given that the relics there are expected to provide archeologists with crucial information on the 1274 and 1281 Mongol attacks that, until the discovery of the relatively intact shipwreck, has mostly been available only from documents and drawings.

Click here to read this article from the Japan Times

Friday, February 17, 2012

Old Irish words deciphered from Stowe Missal

Research into the Stowe Missal, an Irish manuscript written around 800 A.D., has led to the exciting discoveries of two new Old Irish verbs and several nouns from the text, which will help unlock mysteries in other Old Irish scripts.

Professor David Stifter detailed his findings at a lecture earlier this month at the National University of Ireland – Maynooth. In his lecture, Professor Stifter described his work, part of which involves the translation of a text in a famous liturgical manuscript, which is housed in the Royal Irish Academy, and is the source of much fascination to linguists, with many passages hitherto considered incomprehensible.

Click here to read this article from

Robbery at Ancient Olympia museum

Armed robbers have stolen dozens of artefacts from a museum in Olympia dedicated to the history Olympics. Officials say two masked men smashed glass display cabinets after overpowering a guard.

Local mayor Thymios Kotzias said items of "incalculable" value had been stolen, but gave no details.

Culture Minister Pavlos Geroulanos has tendered his resignation, but it has so far not been accepted. He is on his way to the site in western Greece.

The armed thieves are reported to have entered the Museum of the History of the Olympic Games in Antiquity at 07:30 on Friday (05:30 GMT) and demanded that a female employee hand over various objects. When the employee refused she was tied up and gagged. The two men then smashed cabinets, stealing more than about 60 items, mostly bronze and clay statuettes, officials say.

Click here to read this article from the BBC

Museum Robbed at Greece's Ancient Olympia

Armed robbers on Friday seized dozens of items on display at the antiquities museum in Ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the ancient Olympics in southern Greece, after tying up an employee. Greece's Culture Minister Pavlos Geroulanos submitted his resignation after the robbery, state television reported.

Police and museum authorities did not have an immediate account of the items taken from smashed display cases, but local authorities and police said about 60 artifacts are estimated to have snatched.

Click here to read this article from Time

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Snow damages Colosseum, Medieval churches in Italy

Heavy snow in recent weeks has already wreaked havoc across Europe -- now it is damaging some of the continent's most recognized historic monuments.

The Colosseum in Rome has been forced to shut after small pieces of its walls crumbled away as a result of freezing temperatures.

And buildings in the historic walled town of Urbino -- a UNESCO World Heritage Site -- are reported to be at risk of collapse under the weight of snow, following unprecedented blizzards in the area.

In the Italian capital, thousands of tourists have been disappointed to discover the Colosseum, one of the city's most popular attractions, is closed to visitors, while checks are carried out to determine the extent of the damage and to help prevent further movement.

Click here to read this article from CNN

Archaeologists strike gold in quest to find Queen of Sheba's wealth

A British excavation has struck archaeological gold with a discovery that may solve the mystery of where the Queen of Sheba of biblical legend derived her fabled treasures.

Almost 3,000 years ago, the ruler of Sheba, which spanned modern-day Ethiopia and Yemen, arrived in Jerusalem with vast quantities of gold to give to King Solomon. Now an enormous ancient goldmine, together with the ruins of a temple and the site of a battlefield, have been discovered in her former territory.

An Ethiopian fresco of the Queen of Sheba travelling to Solomon.
Louise Schofield, an archaeologist and former British Museum curator, who headed the excavation on the high Gheralta plateau in northern Ethiopia, said: "One of the things I've always loved about archaeology is the way it can tie up with legends and myths. The fact that we might have the Queen of Sheba's mines is extraordinary."

Click here to read this article from The Guardian

Mapping the Medieval Countryside project receives £528,000 in funding

A new project from King’s College London and the University of Winchester will allow researchers to explore the lands of medieval England as never before has received over half a million pounds in funding.

The three-year project is led by medieval historian Professor Michael Hicks at Winchester, and Paul Spence, Senior Lecturer at Kings’ College London’s Department of Digital Humanities. It will digitise hundreds of years worth of records showing the land held by tenants at the time of their death. The ‘Mapping the Medieval Countryside: The Fifteenth Century Inquisitions Post Mortem’ project has been made possible by a £528,000 grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Click here to read this article from

Book by WUSTL English professor examines themes of medieval love poetry

This Valentine’s Day, flip through cable TV listings and you’ll see a bevy of romances. While those movies may feature modern actors and storylines, many of the common themes and conflicts can be traced back to medieval times.

What is considered “romantic” in contemporary Western society — love from afar, willingness to suffer, idealization of the love object — is partly a legacy of themes in medieval romantic poetry, says Jessica Rosenfeld, PhD, assistant professor of English in Arts and Sciences at Washington University in St.Louis and author of the book Ethics and Enjoyment in Late Medieval Poetry: Love after Aristotle (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

It was those medieval writers who first “defined love and made it the topic for literature,” Rosenfeld says. And movies.

Those medieval writers include Marie de France, Dante, Petrarch and Geoffrey Chaucer. “Chaucer is best known for the Canterbury Tales, but his Troilus and Criseyde is one of the great medieval romances,” Rosenfeld says.

Much medieval love poetry emphasizes suffering for love that can seem morbid or perverse, Rosenfeld says. “We still enjoy a story of love overcoming obstacles, but in medieval poetry, it can often seem as though the obstacles and the pain are in fact the goal,” she says. “One of the things I write about in my book is the way that certain authors found this odd and perverse themselves, and tried to depict the pursuit of love as the pursuit of happiness rather than suffering.”

Click here to read this article from Washington University in St.Louis

Mischievous Monks and Naughty Nuns? Scholar re-examines the illicit sexual accusations against monasteries in England during the dissolution

When King Henry VIII on England set about the dissolution of monasteries in the years 1536 to 1541, one of the main reasons given the English government for the suppression of hundreds of religious communities was accusations of widespread illicit sex by monks and nuns. Now research by a scholar at the University of Toronto has shown that the evidence collected by King Henry’s officials did not even show many sexual crimes, but instead used accusations of masturbation to make the monastic communities seem like they were deviant.

Christian Knudsen, a PhD student at the Canadian university, presented his findings at a paper entitled ‘Sodomitic Monks and Other Dissolution Myths: The Late Medieval Monastic Decline Narrative Re-visited.’ They were presented this week to fellow medievalists on the campus of the University of Toronto. He makes use of the few available records about the state visitations that took place in 1535 and 1536, where about 85% of the monasteries in England were inspected by royal bureaucrats who were collecting evidence that would help Henry dissolve the monasteries.

Click here to read this article from

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day kisses continue odd human tradition

A kiss may be just a kiss, but when sweethearts pucker up on Valentine's Day, they will be participating in one of the most bizarre and unlikely of human activities.

Experts say kissing evolved from sniffing, which people did centuries ago as a way of learning about each other.

"At some point, they slipped and ended up on the lips, and they thought that was a lot better," said Vaughn Bryant, an anthropologist at Texas A&M University and an authority on the evolution of human kissing. "You got a lot more bang for your buck."

For most of early human history, smell was more important than any other sense for human relationships, said Sheril Kirshenbaum, author of "The Science of Kissing." People would use smell to determine a person's mood, their health and their social status, she said.

"There were a lot of sniff greetings," said Kirshenbaum, director of the Project on Energy Communication at the University of Texas. "They would brush the nose across the face, because there are scent glands on our faces, and over time the brush of the face became a brush of the lips, and the social greeting was born that way."

Click here to read this article from the Montreal Gazette

Monday, February 13, 2012

President Obama to award National Humanities Medal to medievalist

UCLA’s Teofilo F. Ruiz, an internationally recognized historian whose work focuses on medieval Spain and Europe, will be awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama today.

Ruiz, who is among nine intellectuals nationwide selected this year for the prestigious honor, will receive the medal at a White House ceremony, after delivering brief remarks about his work at the headquarters of the National Endowment for the Humanities. A reception with the president and first lady will follow the ceremony.

The National Humanities Medal, inaugurated by the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1996, honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities, broadened the engagement of American citizens with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand access to important resources in the humanities. Previous medalists have included Nobel Prize–winning author Toni Morrison, novelist John Updike, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and author Elie Wiesel, and filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

Click here to read this article from

Shoes from the Middle Ages, Early Modern Period, topic of lecture in London

From the skin-tight boots sported by dandies in the early 19th century to the brothel-creepers currently making a come-back on the streets of trendy East London, footwear has long played a powerful role in the human imagination as a signifier of rank and status. On the eve of London Fashion Week, Cambridge University historian Dr Ulinka Rublack, a specialist in the cultural history of early modern Europe, will give a public talk in London tomorrow on the topic of luxury items – an exploration of the past through the life of things.

In investigating the history of the intricate interplay between people and their belongings, she will focus on leather and, in particular, on shoes and their potency as objects of desire in the 16th century. She will argue that in seeking to understand the Renaissance as a cultural movement we should not confine our gaze to the development of the fine arts – such as painting and sculpture – but should also explore the role of the decorative arts and crafts – such as fashion and textiles – with an open mind.

Dr Rublack challenges the unspoken hierarchy that frames our picture of the past: a ranking system that puts painting on a pedestal and confines many of the objects made to be worn and handled to the side-lines. She argues that it is only by looking at the ways in which objects were crafted and re-crafted that we get closer to the mind-set of those who lived during a period we think of as pivotal in ushering in a new age. “Design came first, whether bags or belts, hats or head-dresses, and the paintings portraying these items followed,” she said.

Click here to read this article from

The Flowering of Hellenic Studies at Princeton University

Princeton University has been an international leader in the study of Greek culture for a long time, but the creation of the new Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies promises to bring up more blooms in that already flowering garden.

“Princeton is now one of the world’s great centers for the study of Greece and the transformative influence of Greek ideas across times and cultures”, said Princeton president Shirley M. Tilghman when she and her colleagues on the Academic Planning Group approved the creation of the Center in May 2011.

Princeton’s Program in Hellenic Studies was founded in 1981 with a two million dollar gift presented to the University by the passionate philhellene Stanley J. Seeger Jr., in 1979. The Stanley J. Seeger Hellenic Fund continued to contribute additional monies over the years, and now that gift is the primary support of the new Center named in his honor. Seeger, a 52 (and ’56) Princeton alumnus who out of love for the country became a citizen of Greece, died in July 2011.

Lecturer in Classics, Dimitri Gondicas, previously the Executive Director of the Program in Hellenic Studies and now the first Director of the Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies, believes that Princeton’s principal and lasting contribution to Hellenism in America is its deep commitment to academic excellence in teaching, in high-level research, and in international academic exchanges, rather than large-scale cultural events.

Click here to read this article from Greek News

See also Princeton establishes Stanley J. Seeger '52 Center for Hellenic Studies

Medieval graves discovered at St Giles’ Church in Pontefract, England

Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a medieval burial ground at St Giles’ Church in Pontefract. Ten medieval graves were unexpectedly discovered during ongoing building works at the site.

Archaeologists from West Yorkshire Archaeological Services (WYAS) also uncovered the foundations of what is believed to have been the earliest church to occupy the Market Place site.

Ian Roberts, archaeologist overseeing the work for WYAS and the Wakefield Diocese, said: “Churches invariably preserve some of the earliest medieval archaeology in our historic towns and it is only occasionally that the opportunity arises to investigate, evaluate and record the evidence that survives. The findings at St Giles’ are extremely significant, enabling us to clarify just what was seen in the Victorian period, so contributing to our better understanding of early medieval Pontefract. Luckily the work required at St Giles’ will not involve the destruction of any of the medieval wall remains or the graves, which will be protected and preserved in situ.”

Click here to read this article from the Pontefract and Castleford Express

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Who gave King Arthur “a crippling blow”? It was St. George, argues scholar

One of the key figures associated with the Middle Ages in England has been King Arthur, the legendary ruler who was made popular in medieval romances and chronicles. But in a recent lecture, Professor Henrietta Leyser argues that the Arthurian legend declined sharply in the later Middle Ages, replaced by a new hero emerged for the English people – St.George the Dragonslayer.

Leyser, Emeritus Fellow at the University of Oxford, spoke at the University of Toronto last month, where she is serving as a Distinguished Visiting Scholar. Her paper “Why Arthur is Never Enough: Identity Myths and Crises in the English Middle Ages”, was given to a large audience on the campus. In it, Leyser examines the role of Arthur during the High and Later Middle Ages, from the accounts by Geoffrey of Monmouth to Henry VIII, who reportedly hated the idea of King Arthur. In it she asks, “Why did the legend of Arthur tarnish?”

Click here to read this article from

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Try Medieval Hot Pants? Surely, You Joust

Television shows will do almost anything to generate publicity, but it would not be correct to say that the people at the History channel locked me in this suffocating metal container until I agreed to write something about their new series. I actually asked them to lock me in here.

That was about 10 minutes ago. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, though, I’m thinking better of it. When I can think at all. Which I can do only intermittently on account of the oxygen deprivation.

The series “Full Metal Jousting” has its premiere Sunday night, and it features the real thing, not the fake theatrical jousting you see at Renaissance fairs. Guys on horseback charge at each other with 11-foot wooden lances. They’re wearing armor. Which is how I came to be sealed up in this sartorial sardine can.

We’re in a press room at Madison Square Garden, where Shane Adams, the show’s genial ringmaster and a champion jouster himself, has arranged to put on a demonstration at halftime during a bull-riding event. And while waiting his turn in front of the Garden crowd, he has agreed to let me try on a suit of the armor being used in the show.

Click here to read this article from the New York Times

Friday, February 10, 2012

Istanbul to launch replica of Byzantine ship

Turkey is going to build the perfect replica of a Byzantine ship for scientific purposes. The copy of the medieval ship, nearly 10 metres long and more than 2.5 metres wide, will be put to sea next year under the name ''Yenikapi 12''.

The project of the Istanbul University's Cultural Artifacts Protection and Restoration Department was recently announced by a Turkish news website and ANSAmed has received photos of the initiative from the University. Construction will start this summer and the ship's launch is scheduled "mid-2013". The organisers of the project suggested that visitors will have an opportunity to come on board: "they will have a magnificent experience in a boat from the Middle Ages," they announced.

The ship will be the same type of one of the 36 that were found, along with thousands of other artifacts, during the ongoing excavations for the Istanbul underground that started in Yenikapi in 2004. It will also be exhibited to the public, probably in a museum, before being launched. The shipwrecks that were found on the coasts of Istanbul are estimated to have been constructed between the fifth and 10th century AD, are regarded as the world's largest shipwreck collection, associate professor of the Department that leads the initiative Isil Kocabas said. The ships shed light on the construction technology that was used in the Byzantine era. A doctorate thesis has already shown how the "Yenikapi 12" was designed and constructed, indicating the process of making its replica.

Click here to read this article from ANSAmed

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Byzantine bother: Artifacts back in German museum after decades

A Berlin museum is celebrating the return of dozens of Byzantine artifacts, which spent years in Soviet Russia after World War Two. Some date back as far as the 4th century – yet it is their recent history that reads like a real detective story.

By the end of the war in 1945, the Byzantine collection of Berlin’s Bode Museum totaled some 6,000 objects. To save them from Soviet hands and keep them in Germany, the artifacts were divided into groups, stored in crates and spirited away.

Almost half of the hidden treasures were however found and taken to the USSR, where they stayed for over a decade.

In 1958, the gems were brought back to Germany. But instead of being identified and sent back where they belonged, they got mixed up with other artifacts and ended up in Leipzig University’s Egyptian Museum for decades.

Click here to read this article from Russia Today

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

New Website Showcases Suffolk’s Medieval Masterpieces

This month sees the launch of a new website designed to showcase one of the most important sets of medieval wall paintings to be found in East Anglia. The Lakenheath wall paintings website is the final stage in a project designed to conserve and interpret the superb examples of medieval art. The wall paintings, all located in the church of St Mary the Virgin, Lakenheath, have recently undergone a £54,000 programme of conservation which will ensure their preservation for many years to come.

The Lakenheath Wall Paintings Project was established after it was realised that the wall paintings in the church were in dire need of conservation. Having first been uncovered in the late 19th century the paintings had been exposed to the elements for over a century and had begun to suffer a number of problems that threatened their survival. All the paintings had been damaged by historic leaks in the roof and a general build up of dirt and grime. More worryingly, certain of the medieval images were found to be actually detaching themselves from the walls upon which they were painted. Urgent conservation work was needed to stop them simply falling off the walls.

Click here to read this article from

Austria's crown jewels offer a unique insight into medieval Europe

The octagonal crown fashioned from pure gold is studded with 144 precious stones and just as many pearls yet it is a priceless artifact for other reasons
The crown almost certainly once graced the head of the first German emperor Otto I more than 1,000 years ago. For hundreds of years it has been one of the most potent symbols of the Holy Roman Empire, the German kingdom which stretched across most of Central Europe.

Today it rests together with the other Austrian crown jewels behind reinforced glass in the Imperial Treasury or 'Schatzkammer' at the Hofburg palace in the Austrian capital Vienna.

'Around 280,000 visitors come here every year,' said Anja Priewe who works for the marketing department of the city's tourist authority. Tourists flock to see the imperial regalia but few of them take the time to look closely at particular objects.

Click here to read this article from Monsters and Critics

Professor awarded grant to research medieval philosophy

University of Scranton Professor Andrew LaZella, Ph.D., received a development intercession grant from the University for a research project focused on medieval philosopher John Duns Scotus and his analysis of some of Aristotle’s major works, especially “The Categories.” The project is titled “Univocity, Equivocity, and Proper Concepts in Duns Scotus’s Quaestiones Super Praedicamenta Aristotelis.”

Dr. LaZella, an assistant professor in philosophy, said that he researched “in the general area” of this topic for his doctoral dissertation and is excited to delve further into the subject. He said that an interesting part of this project is the difference in Scotus’ ideas in his early works compared to his later writings.

“This is a very early work of (Duns Scotus),” Dr. LaZella said. “The question becomes did he change his mind, or are the early and late works compatible?

Click here to read this article from The Times-Tribune

Monday, February 06, 2012

Countless Treasures Found in the Excavations for the Subway in Thessaloniki

Macedonians discovered a valuable treasure hid in the bowels of the earth, thanks to the methodical excavations undertaken in the construction of the Thessaloniki metro.

Many artifacts found in the excavation, from items such as gold hoops, benches, and thousands of everyday objects, up to whole churches, remnants of the glorious, long history of Thessaloniki, have come to light. The excavations were completed by the end of the year, leaving behind thousands of “mosaics” of cultures that flourished in the city.

Archaeologists are revealing a palimpsest of the city, a city that has undergone constant and continuous phases of occupation from the 4th century BC, when it was founded in Thessaloniki, until now! “In Byzantium, Thessalonica was described as the second city of Constantinople, precisely because of its extremely important historical position in the region.” They emphasized, among other things, that the general secretary of the Ministry of Culture, Lina Mendoni, spoke to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Economic Affairs of the House, ahead of signing an additional contract to perform archaeological work. "In terms of area stations, there are mainly archaeological investigations in the order of 17,000 sq.m. In essence, speaking of the area of ​​excavation, we speak about 28,000 square meters," explained Ms. Mendoni.

Click here to read this article from The Greek Reporter

The First Crusade, by Peter Frankopan

The epic song cycles of the First Crusade, like Led Zeppelin’s debut album, plucked the same brash chord that was heard in Crusades Two, Three, Four and Five. They presented a Western view of the Byzantine Emperor, from which he never recovered, as a treacherous double-dealer, in sympathy with Islam, who knowingly encouraged up to nine-tenths of a Crusader force of 80,000 to their doom. This vitriolic portrait resounded through the centuries and was strummed in the 18th by a misled Edward Gibbon who claimed the Emperor’s widow inscribed on his tomb: “You die as you lived – an HYPOCRITE.”

Not true, says Peter Frankopan, an Oxford historian whose ambition is to restore Alexios I to his bold and rightful position, from which French and Italian chroniclers airbrushed him: as a figure who was crucial in galvanising a moribund 11th-century Europe to expand its horizons. “After more than 900 years in the gloom, Alexios should once again take centre stage in the history of the First Crusade.”

The First Crusade reshaped the medieval world. It restored the authority of a divided papacy set the course for the Reformation and is “one of the most written-about events in history”. And yet its narrative is one-sided, Frankopan argues, dominated by Western voices and by grossly over-promoted characters like the Frankish Prince Bohemond, a charismatic liability who failed three times to capture Ephesus and was not even present at the fall of Jerusalem in 1099.

Click here to read this review from the Daily Telegraph

Medieval coins found in Cumbrian garden declared as 'treasure'

A hoard of more than 300 medieval silver coins unearthed in a Maryport garden has been declared as treasure.

The find was uncovered in the foundations of an old wall by workers using a digger at the property in Ellenborough.

The bulk of them are silver pennies from England of a type introduced by Edward I in the national recoinage of 1279, a series that runs through to Edward III’s reign.

Most of the English coins are pennies, although there are a number of halfpennies and farthings. There are also coins from Ireland, from the Berwick mint and coins of King Alexander of Scotland.

Click here to read this article from The News and Star

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Halstead: Future of medieval church secured by restoration

The future of a historic medieval church has been secured after the completion of a long-term project to structurally restore it.

St Barnabas Church, in Alphamstone, was originally built in the 14th century and is a Grade One listed building.

Churchwarden Charles Dinwiddy said: “The main concern was that the church was shifting a little bit and while we were investigating that we discovered the roof needed repair.

“The work done has also managed to stop damp coming in."

Click here to read this article from the Harwich and Manningtree Standard

What a Real-Time Copy of the Mona Lisa Reveals About Leonardo

The most mysterious painting in the history of European art just got a little more mysterious. For centuries, Madrid's Prado Museum has held what was believed to be a mere replica of Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, the Mona Lisa. But researchers at the museum recently discovered that their copy wasn't just any copy. Thanks to the use of infrared technology, they deduced that the work was not only painted in Leonardo's workshop, by one of his students, but that it was done at the same time as the master was completing the original.

Although the copy, which depicts La Gioconda with a narrower face, redder dress and significantly more pronounced eyebrows than the original, has been in the Prado's collection for centuries, no one thought much of it, and it was generally attributed to an unknown Flemish artist. But when the Prado's conservators began to study it in preparation for an upcoming show in Paris, they realized there might be more to the work than previously recognized. Using infrared technology, they detected a lush Tuscan landscape — the same as in Leonardo's original — hiding beneath the coat of black varnish that had been added probably in the 18th century and obscured the original background.

Click here to read this article from Time Magazine

Friday, February 03, 2012

U.S. National Archives releases videos on Magna Carta project

The U.S. National Archives in Washington D.C. prepares to return its copy of the 1297 Magna Care to public display, they have released a short documentary video, “The Encasement of Magna Carta,” which details its state-of-the-art encasement. The Magna Carta will go back on display on February 17, 2012. The video is part of the ongoing series Inside the Vaults.

The video shows the fascinating behind-the-scenes creation of the case which will display the 715-year-old document for the world’s viewing. The 1297 Magna Carta being encased is one of only four remaining 1297 originals. Magna Carta is said to have influenced early American settlers and been an inspiration for the Constitution of the United States.

This copy of the Magna Carta is on loan to the National Archives from its owner, philanthropist and co-founder of the Carlyle Group, David M. Rubenstein. Mr. Rubenstein underwrote the conservation treatment of the document and the fabrication of its new encasement. The encasement was designed by the National Archives in cooperation with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) who fabricated the encasement.

Click here to read this article from

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Second oldest case of Prostate Cancer discovered in Egyptian mummy

Recent radiological findings led by experts from the American University in Cairo may potentially dispel the long held-belief that cancer is a man-made, modern-day disease. With the diagnosis of the first real case of prostate cancer in a mummy, researchers say the causes of cancer may be more genetic than was originally thought.

The study, published in the International Journal of Paleopathology and conducted in Lisbon’s National Archaeology Museum, initially examined three mummies through the use of X-rays and advanced computerized tomography scans. Those of M1, a male Ptolemaic Egyptian mummy, were particularly of interest as they revealed several dense bone lesions located mainly on the spine, pelvis and proximal limbs, leading to the diagnosis of metastatic prostate cancer.

Click here to read this article from History of the Ancient World

Objects of Devotion: The Material Culture of Italian Renaissance Piety, 1400–1600

An earthquake ravages a small town in central Italy. Catastrophic fissures rip through the buildings; desperate cries can be heard from those whose houses are collapsing; others try to attract attention by standing on rooftops and waving their hands but to no avail. Only one home stands firm while the buildings all around it crumble to the ground. Here, the Viadana family kneels in quiet prayer; husband, wife and four sons, all neatly attired and strikingly tranquil amid the chaos, appeal to their local saint, Nicholas of Tolentino.

This compelling image is preserved among the remarkable collection of ex votos at Tolentino, in the Marche region of central Italy: nearly 400 painted wooden boards, dating from the 15th to the 19th centuries, usually about a foot long and orientated horizontally, purchased or commissioned by those who had been granted a miracle thanks to the intervention of St Nicholas.

Ex voto means ‘in fulfilment of a vow’ and the idea was that when one prayed to the Virgin Mary or to the saints for a miracle one would promise to leave an offering in return for a favour granted. This is why, in Italy and in other Catholic countries, shrines are sometimes bursting with objects and pictures like this one, each recording the miraculous activities of God’s busiest saints.

I have been drawn to thinking about ex votos as part of my project on ‘Objects of Devotion: The Material Culture of Italian Renaissance Piety, 1400–1600’ funded by a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship. My research reacts against the common misconception of the Renaissance as a secular age, characterised by luxury, individualism, worldliness and scepticism.

Click here to read this article from

A medieval Irish castle and a Dublin gem give couples a taste of town and country

Ireland might not pop to mind as the most romantic of destinations, but the Emerald Isle’s charms can be quite seductive.

Dublin has a youthful, energetic vibe, while the rolling countryside beckons with its peaceful, quiet beauty. Couples can sample a little bit of both with the six-night “Town and Country Experience.” The package includes three nights each at a pair of historic Irish properties: The Merrion in Dublin and Ashford Castle in County Mayo.

Originally built in the 13th century as a monastery, Ashford Castle eventually fell into the hands of the Guinness family who turned it into their country estate. It became a hotel in 1939. Set on 350 acres of gardens and forest, the imposing gray castle looks like something out of a fairytale.

Click here to read this article from the Chicago Sun Times

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Reconstruction of Frankfurt's Old Town begins

Over the next few weeks, people walking across the Romerberg on their way to the Emperor's Cathedral will automatically find themselves facing a gigantic construction site. What's happening here in the heart of Frankfurt's old town, passers-by may ask. It is, simply put, one of the most controversial and, at the same time, one of the most spectacular reconstruction projects currently going on in Germany. While other cities squabble over the reconstruction of individual buildings, Frankfurt am Main has been discussing the reconstruction of an entire quarter.

The chronology of the steps it took to bring the project to fruition says much about the general state of mind of Frankfurt's citizenry, for it was they that helped to bring about what the casual observer might call the obvious solution. But the influence exerted by Frankfurt's inhabitants is not surprising, really. After all, the city has been referred to as the "cradle of German democracy" since the landmark events of 1848.

The approximately 7,000-square-metre area in the heart of Frankfurt's old town will now be reconstructed on the basis of the original blueprints of the quarter. Once completed, it will comprise nearly 30 townhouses, eight of which being exact replicas of their historical predecessors. An entire housing row will be rebuilt along the path of the former alley "Hinter dem Lammchen", these houses being formerly known as "Junger Esslinger", "Alter Esslinger", "Goldenes Lammchen" and "Klein Nurnberg". Two further townhouses, named "Goldene Waage" and "Rotes Haus", will be reconstructed just north of the archaeological gardens. These gardens were set up right alongside Frankfurt's famous cathedral in 1972/73, a more or less unintentional by-product of the subway line construction that took place then. Various historical eras and styles are on display here, the reconstructed walls and bronze sculptures representing Roman times, the High Middle Ages and the typical design of the imperial palaces of the time.

Click here to read this article from Travel Daily News

Volcanic activity behind Little Ice Age

Melting icefields on Baffin Island, one of the clearest signs of climate change on Earth, have yielded the strongest evidence yet for the timing and cause of another major climate event from the planet's past: the so-called Little Ice Age, a sudden and mysterious cooling of the globe that began about 700 years ago.

Recently exposed remains of plants that had been buried under Baffin Island ice for centuries provided the crucial clue that has led an international team of researchers to conclude the Little Ice Age was triggered by volcanic eruptions between 1275 and 1300 and was sustained by changes in Arctic sea-ice cover that lasted several centuries.

Writing in the latest issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the team of 13 scientists from the U.S., Iceland and Britain notes that, "there is no clear consensus on the timing, duration, or controlling mechanisms" of the Little Ice Age, which has been attributed by some experts to the onset of a period of reduced heat from the sun.

Click here to read this article from the Vancouver Sun

See also Volcanoes and the Little Ice Age: Not the Smoking Gun? - from