Thursday, May 31, 2012

Vikings grew barley in Greenland

A sensational find at the bottom of an ancient rubbish heap in Greenland suggests that Vikings grew barley on the island 1,000 years ago.

The Vikings are both famous and notorious for their like of beer and mead, and archaeologists have discussed for years whether Eric the Red (ca. 950-1010) and his followers had to make do without the golden drink when they settled in Greenland around the year 1,000.

The Greenland climate was mild when they landed, but was it warm enough for growing corn?

Researchers from the National Museum in Copenhagen say the answer to the question is ‘yes’. In a unique find, they uncovered very small pieces of charred grains of barley in a Viking rubbish heap on Greenland.

The find is final proof that the first Vikings to live in Greenland did grow barley – the most important ingredient in brewing beer, making a form of porridge or baking bread, traditionally seen as staple foods in the Vikings’ nutritional diet.

“Archaeologists have always believed that the Vikings tried to cultivate the soil on their farms in fertile southern Greenland,” says Peter Steen Henriksen, who holds an MSc in agriculture. “But this hasn’t been proved until now.”

Click here to read this article from ScienceNordic

Click here to see our feature on Vikings in Greenland

New Vikings MLitt offered by University of the Highlands and Islands

Runes, place-names and heavy metal; these are just some of the topics in a new University of the Highlands and Islands’ course. The postgraduate qualification in Viking Studies has been developed by the University’s Centre for Nordic Studies. Modules include Viking History, Runology (the study of Runes) and Vikings in Popular Culture which looks at the way Vikings are portrayed in films, comics, music and the media.

Although the Centre for Nordic Studies is based on Orkney and Shetland, the new MLitt can be studied part or full-time from anywhere in the world. Tutors will use resources such as video-conferencing technology and a virtual learning environment to teach students wherever they are based. Enrolment opened this month, with the first intake of students starting in autumn.

Click here to read this article from

Denmark: Dyed clothes came into fashion in early Iron Age

Clothes in the early Iron Age were not grey and dull, as previously assumed. They were colourful and patterned.

This new discovery comes as a result of new analyses of 180 textile samples from 26 different bog finds, carried out by Ulla Mannering, a senior researcher and archaeologist at the Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre for Textile Research at the National Museum.

“The beginning of the Iron Age sparked a revolution in fashion in which clothes became coloured and patterned,” she says.

The conventional theory has so far been that colourful textiles only emerged in the centuries after the birth of Christ.

“But our analyses show – quite surprisingly – that colour and pattern came into fashion in the earliest part of the Iron Age. That’s 500 years earlier than previously thought.”

The new analyses also show that the bodies, buried in an ancient sacrificial bog, from which the textiles were taken are older than previously thought. Most of them date back to the centuries leading up to Christ’s birth, which makes them more than 2,000 years old.

Click here to read this article from ScienceNordic

Click here to visit the Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre for Textile Research website

Immigration in the Viking era

Knut Kjeldstadli of the University of Oslo has led a group a researchers who have studied Norway’s immigration history from the Viking Age up to the present. He says the tracks left by immigrants and visitors traverse the entire period.

“Irish slaves came in the Viking Age. And around the year 1000 another import came that was to have a huge impact on Norwegian culture: Christianity," says the history professor.

The kings brought along specialists in Christianising people. These were priests and monks from Germany and England. Even the Anglo-Saxon bishop and advisor – who canonised Olaf Haraldsson, was a Brit.

Kjeldstadli points out that multiple groups immigrated to Norway in the Middle Ages.

At the bottom of the social ladder were the Irish slaves, or thralls. They might not have had too much of an impact on the culture. Around 1250 the first refugees came from Russia. They had been pressed westward by Mongolian tribes.

But a number of career immigrants − specialists in various professions − probably had the biggest influence. Some followed in the wake of the new religion.

“The men of the church in this context were not just the priests and monks, but also stonemasons and other craftsmen,” says Kjeldstadli.

Click here to read this article from ScienceNordic

Friends of Cosmeston Medieval Village pledge to set up charity

Friends of Cosmeston Medieval Village held their first public meeting – and pledged to set up a registered charity to operate activities at the village.

Held on May 16 at the Lower Penarth Community Centre on Brockhill Way, around 40 people attended, including archaeologists, living history enthusiasts, local residents and newly elected councillors.

The meeting, organised by archeologist Karl-James Langford, campaigner Valerie Poole, and councillors Tracey Alexander and Mark Wilson, saw a steering committee established to run the charity.

Karl-James Langford, a senior archeologist with Archaeology Cymru, said the ultimate aim was to lease the village from the Vale Council and get visitors to return to the increasingly desolate site.

Click here to read this article from the Penarth Times

Click here to visit the Cosmeston Medieval Village website

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

16th-Century Korean Mummy Provides Clue to Hepatitis B Virus Genetic Code

The discovery of a mummified Korean child with relatively preserved organs enabled an Israeli-South Korean scientific team to conduct a genetic analysis on a liver biopsy which revealed a unique hepatitis B virus (HBV) genotype C2 sequence common in Southeast Asia.

 Additional analysis of the medieval HBV genomes may be used as a model to study the evolution of chronic hepatitis B and help understand the spread of the virus, possibly from Africa to East-Asia. It also may shed further light on the migratory pathway of hepatitis B in the Far East from China and Japan to Korea as well as to other regions in Asia and Australia where it is a major cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer.

 The reconstruction of the medieval hepatitis B virus genetic code is the oldest full viral genome described in the scientific literature to date. It was reported in the May 21 edition of the scientific journal Hepathology by a research team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Koret School of Veterinary Medicine, the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment; the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine, the Hadassah Medical Center’s Liver Unit; Dankook University and Seoul National University in South Korea.

Click here to read this article from

Outrage over plan to dump rubbish at Hadrian's villa

Emperor Hadrian, the famously cultured Hellophile, is probably spinning in his tomb by the banks of the Tiber.

 If the current state of his beloved Greece weren't enough, his celebrated Tivoli villa complex, a World Heritage site, is about to suffer the indignity of having Europe's biggest rubbish dump arrive next door.

 Unesco says the second century Villa Adriana, 15 miles east of Rome, "uniquely brings together the highest expressions of the material cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world".

But that hasn't prevented years of neglect and degradation, which have prompted comparisons with the crumbling state of the Pompeii site 130 miles to the south. Now, with Rome's main dump at full capacity, local authorities are planning to use the site at Corcolle, 700 metres from Villa Adriana, to take the overflow – infuriating heritage and environmental campaigners. A "Save Hadrian's Villa" petition has already gathered more than 6,000 signatures from historians and archaeologists.

Click here to read this article from The Independent

Two Roman shipwrecks found in deep waters around Greece

Two Roman-era shipwrecks have been found in deep water off a western Greek island, challenging the conventional theory that ancient shipmasters stuck to coastal routes rather than risking the open sea, an official said Tuesday.

 Greece's culture ministry said the two third-century wrecks were discovered earlier this month during a survey of an area where a Greek-Italian gas pipeline is to be sunk. They lay between 1.2 and 1.4 kilometers (0.7-0.9 miles) deep in the sea between Corfu and Italy. That would place them among the deepest known ancient wrecks in the Mediterranean, apart from remains found in 1999 of an older vessel some 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) deep off Cyprus.

 Angeliki Simossi, head of Greece's underwater antiquities department, said sunken ancient ships are generally found 30-40 meters (100-130 feet) deep. Most scholars believe that ancient traders were unwilling to veer far offshore, unlike warships which were unburdened by ballast and cargo.

 "There are many Roman shipwrecks, but these are in deep waters. They were not sailing close to the coast," Simossi said.

 "The conventional theory was that, as these were small vessels up to 25 meters (80 feet) long, they did not have the capacity to navigate far from the coast, so that if there was a wreck they would be close enough to the coast to save the crew," she said.

Click here to read this article from NRToday

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

An Ancient Civilization, Upended by Climate Change

The Vedas, a collection of texts composed over 3,000 years ago in India, speak of a mythical sacred river called the Sarasvati from which the Hindu goddess of science and learning emerged. Hers was a river “surpassing in majesty and might all other waters.” But around 4,000 years ago, all was lost when climate change kicked in.

 That is the conclusion of a group of geologists, geomorphologists, archaeologists and mathematicians who joined forces to answer a question that has dogged scholars for centuries: what became of the Indus civilization?

 This colossal civilization rose about 4,500 years ago, flourished for 600 years and then began a steady and relentless decline. Previous scholars hypothesized that regional strife or a foreign invasion led to its unraveling, while others suggested that environmental factors may have been to blame. The researchers who took part in the new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, had a hunch that the latter theory was correct.

 “What we thought was missing was how to link climate to people,” said Liviu Giosan, a geologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and the lead author of the study. “The answer came when we looked at the wide-scale morphology.”

Click here to read this article from the New York Times

See also Migration of monsoons created, then killed Harappan civilization

The Great Lost Library of Alcuin’s York exhibition to take place at the University of York

A new series of multimedia exhibitions at the University of York will begin next month starting with the fascinating story of the great lost library of Alcuin and the research of Dr Mary Garrison from the University’s Department of History.

 In the eighth century, York owed its reputation as one of the most intellectually influential cities in Europe to the library and school headed by the scholar Alcuin. However, the library has vanished; no books now exist that can be proven to have come from it. The disappearance of the library is a mystery. Was it destroyed in the violence of ninth-century Viking conquest, or were some books from it exported and recopied? The exhibition allows visitors to follow the clues to this mystery.

 Open to all, the free exhibition ‘The Great Lost Library of Alcuin’s York’ uses photographs, primarily of eighth-century books in Anglo-Saxon and Caroline minuscule, alongside specially made work by local calligraphers Dorothy Wilkinson, Sue Sparrow and Angela Dalleywater, to tell the story of the lost library.

Click here to read this article from

Monday, May 28, 2012

Newport's medieval ship set to mark decade of discovery

A decade of the Newport Medieval Ship will be celebrated next month at the site of the original discovery.

 ‘The Newport Medieval Ship: A Decade of Discovery’ event will be held at The Riverfront on June 1. Visitors will be taken on a journey from the initial excavation to present day discoveries.

 Speakers will include the Friends of the Newport Ship and local historian Bob Trett. The National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke will also debut her poem marking the anniversary.

Click here to read this article from the South Wales Argus Click here to see more videos about the Newport Ship

Dogs, booze and bling: Northern Ireland's medieval shopping mall

Excavations on Dunnyneil Island in Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland, have revealed a seventh century trading emporium frequented by merchants from as far afield as modern day Russia, Germany, Iceland and France.

 Back in early medieval times, there was no cash economy, few buyers, and even fewer sellers, but there are surprising parallels between these ancient trading outposts and modern shopping centres.

 According to archaeologist Dr Philip MacDonald, who led the dig on Dunnyneil, merchants would have brought wine and other luxury products to Ireland to exchange at emporia for furs, seal skin, slaves and famed Irish wolfhounds.

 "High status members of the Dal Fiatach [the local dynasty whose royal centre was Downpatrick, County Down] and local traders, would have frequented the island," he said.

 In medieval times, the king controlled trade and wealthy merchants travelled the seas to buy and sell goods. The trade in imported prestige items would have been important for the king of Dal Fiatach, to signify his status and power.

Click here to read this article from the BBC

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Top historian urges rethink on Catholic archives split

A leading historian has begged Cardinal Keith O'Brien to reconsider "frankly appalling" plans to relocate two priceless collections of manuscripts, books and letters from the archives of the Catholic Church in Scotland.

 The collections, which are of international significance, are to be relocated to Aberdeen University from their current locations in Edinburgh. Archbishop Mario Conti, president of the Heritage Commission of the Bishops' Conference of Scotland, said the decision would preserve the integrity of the collections, while making them available to scholars, students and researchers in a safe location.

 But Dr Jenny Wormald, chairwoman of the Society for Scottish Medieval and Renaissance Studies and an honorary fellow in history at Edinburgh University, said the scholarly world would be "irrevocably impoverished" by the decision.

 Ms Wormald said no serious academic case for the proposal had been presented and it was "quite impossible to overstate the society's horror" at the plan. In a letter to Cardinal O'Brien, Britain's most senior Catholic, she said: "The idea of dividing the archives up and sending them off to two quite different parts of the country, is frankly appalling. The scholarly world would be irrevocably impoverished."

 The row centres on plans to move the main historical archive, which includes papers dating back to the 12th century as well as letters from Mary Queen of Scots, from Columba House, in Edinburgh, where the Scottish Catholic Archive is located.

Click here to read this article from the Herald Scotland

Friday, May 25, 2012

Censorship of 16th-Century Big Thinker Erasmus Revealed

More than 400 years before modern-day governments tried shutting down blogs or blocking tweets, two people tasked with censoring a sometimes-critic of the Catholic Church in Renaissance Europe took to their duties in very different ways: one with great beauty, the other with glue and, it appears, a message.

Now, two books, housed at separate libraries at the University of Toronto, illustrate two unusual approaches censors took when dealing with the same author, Erasmus.

Born in Rotterdam around 1466, Erasmus was a prolific writer who sought out wisdom in ancient Greek and Latin texts. His writings, mass produced thanks to the printing press, were at times critical of the Catholic Church.

By the time he died in 1536 the church was breaking apart, with splinter groups known as Protestants coming into conflict with the Catholics. English king Henry VIII was one of the most famous examples of a Protestant, creating a Church of England separate from church authorities in Rome.

Click here to read this article from LiveScience

See also Erasmus Redacted from the Thomas Fisher Library

New facial recognition software to help solve art mysteries

Anyone who has admired centuries-old sculptures and portraits displayed in museums and galleries around the world at some point has asked one question: Who is that?

Three University of California, Riverside scholars have launched a research project to test — for the first time — the use of facial recognition software to help identify these unknown subjects of portrait art, a project that ultimately may enrich the understanding of European political, social and religious history.

Funded by an initial grant of $25,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the research project — “FACES: Faces, Art, and Computerized Evaluation Systems” — will apply state-of-the-art facial recognition technology used in the fight against terrorism to solve old and vexing art historical problems, said Conrad Rudolph, professor of art history and project director.

“Almost every portrait painted before the 19th century was of a person of some importance,” Rudolph explained. “As families fell on hard times, many of these portraits were sold and the identities of these subjects were lost. The question we hope to answer is, can we restore these identities?”

Click here to read this article from

Thursday, May 24, 2012

How universities helped transform the medieval world

We like to think that we have moved on from the Middle Ages, but do universities from that period have something to teach us about the role of government in education? This column thinks so.

How does a new form of knowledge enter the public sphere and what are the consequences for economic activity? Today, thousands of students are pursuing university degrees in biotechnologies and computer sciences in order to enter the high-tech labour force or to become entrepreneurs. Do the institutions that train them generate economic growth? What roles can governments play in establishing educational institutions and supporting investments in the new forms of human capital they produce?

These are not new issues: around 100 years ago, the modern American research university – often supported by public funds – was taking shape, training scientists and engineers who were employed in the burgeoning industries of the early 20th century (Goldin and Katz 1999). Perhaps surprisingly, by going even further back in history – all the way to medieval Europe – we can learn important lessons about the relationships among public policy, educational institutions, educational content, and economic development.

Click here to read this article from VOX

Interactive map of the Roman Empire now online

Imagine you’re in Rome, it’s 205 CE, and you’ve got to figure out the quickest way to transport wheat to Virunum, in what’s now Austria. Your transportation choices are limited: ox cart, mule, ship or by foot, and your budget is tight. What do you do?

Enter ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World. With it, you can survey the options that would have been available to an ancient Roman in that very predicament with the ease of getting directions via GPS.

Type in your starting point, destination, the goods you need to move, and the time of year. Voila! You can quickly see the most cost-effective way to transport the grain.

By generating new information about the ancient Roman transport network, ORBIS demonstrates how, more than anything else, the expansion of the empire was a function of cost.

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

Burgers in the Bodleian? Professors fume (quietly)

Academics are aghast that manuscripts and rare books in one of the world's great research libraries may soon be mauled by undergraduates munching fast food.

 Paradoxically, what many see as a threat to the status of the Bodleian, founded in 1602, results from a £1 million ($1.6m) grant from the University of Oxford's most generous benefactor.

The university accepted the grant from the Oxford Martin School, a research institute endowed in 2005 by James Martin, an IT entrepreneur who has donated almost £100m to Oxford. In return,the school gets exclusive use of the university's Old Indian Institute building, displacing a large collection of history books.

Click here to read this article from The Australian

Giotto frescoes could suffer "irreversible damage" from development plans

They are regarded as a supreme masterpiece of medieval Western art and are admired by thousands of visitors to the city of Padua each year.

But frescoes by the Italian Renaissance painter, Giotto di Bondone, in the 14th century Scrovegni Chapel, are now said to be threatened by a symbol of the modern world: a futuristic 30-storey tower of flats, shops and offices. Three leading academics have launched a public petition which has attracted thousands of signatures from all over Italy in an attempt to halt the construction of the two-pronged tower, designed by a Serbian-born archutect, Boris Podrecca, who is regarded as a pioneer of post-modernism. It is part of a €160 million development just across the river from the chapel.

Critics, who are backed by local environmental groups, warn that digging the tower's foundations will affect drainage across the area and could cause subsidence of the chapel walls, on which the frescoes are painted.

At the same time, say opponents of the plan, humidity may be raised - posing a particular threat to the delicate surface of the brilliantly-coloured images.

Click here to read this article from the Telegraph

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Early Christian manuscripts discovered

Michael Licona interviews Dan Wallace about the new manuscript discoveries related to Early Christianity.

Click here to visit the Pen and Parchment Blog

See also Earliest Manuscript of the New Testament Discovered?

Museum thefts: Are budget cuts to blame?

A rare bronze Medieval jug, Chinese treasures and items that once belonged to Admiral Lord Nelson have all been stolen from museums in England this year. But while the theft of ancient artefacts in Greece has been blamed on austerity measures and the recession, could the financial climate be a factor behind recent crimes in the UK?

 Cuts to local authority finances have already resulted in museums across the country having their budgets slashed. Last year the Museums Association reported 73% of museums that had seen their budgets cut had reduced staffing levels.

 The report's authors interviewed staff representing 140 museum services and found many were worried about the future impact on visitors. But are the cuts already having an effect?

Click here to read this article from the BBC

See also Wenlok Jug, medieval bronze treasure, stolen from museum

France: A Medieval Castle in the Making

The construction of Guédelon about 100 miles southeast of Paris has already been underway for 15 years, yet workers are proud about how long it’s taking. That’s because you don’t build a medieval castle in a day using 13th-century techniques only.

 The project, begun in 1997, is the brainchild—or, as it was said at the time, the idée folle—of Michel Guyot, an architectural historian who restored the nearby Château de St.-Fargeau. In the process he discovered the remains of a castle that predated the elegant 17th manor. Fascinated by the building they suggested, he decided to recreate it in the forest a dozen miles from St.-Fargeau, enlisting experts who studied illuminated manuscripts, stained-glass windows and extant medieval structures to devise a fully authentic design.

 With Guédelon now on the rise, no one’s calling Guyot crazy and the point of the exercise grows ever more apparent. Like one of those illustrated children’s books by David Macaulay—”Cathedral,” “Castle,“ “City,“ “Pyramid”—it is aimed at answering a question everyone asks when visiting remarkable edifices from the Middle Ages: How did workers do it without trucks, bulldozers and power tools?

Click here to read this article from

Click here to visit the Castle's website

Monday, May 21, 2012

Medieval 'cursing stone' discovered on Scottish island

An ancient stone thought to have been used for Christian prayers or curses has been uncovered on a Scottish island. A farm manager chanced upon Scotland's first known example of a bullaun stone on the Isle of Canna, in the Inner Hebrides.

Dating from around 800AD, the stones are associated with early Christian crosses like the one on Canna, and there are several well-known examples in Ireland. The stone is approximately 25cm in diameter, engraved with an early Christian cross and fits exactly into a worn hole in a large rectangular stone at base of the Canna cross.

National Trust for Scotland head of archaeology Derek Alexander said: "This is an amazing find. Bullaun stones tend to be found close to early Christian crosses in Ireland, but this is the first find in Scotland."

He added: "Canna has a long and fascinating history, and this find just tells us even more about the treasure trove that we have in the Trust's care. However, it is also a hugely important find for Scotland, adding more to our knowledge of this distant period in our nation's past. It will be interesting to see if more bullaun stones emerge around Scotland."

Click here to read this article from the UK Press Association

Medicine in the Byzantine Empire

Unlike the west, Byzantium inherited a multitude of medical schools from its ancient past. It was able to draw on these, in particular the prognostications of Hippocrates and the analytical and philosophical skills of Galen and to develop a highly sophisticated medical system, capable of identifying and dealing with many diseases that were only rediscovered in the later part of the millennium.

The basis of Byzantine medical theory was two-pronged. The first took inspiration from the neo-Platonist philosophers of the Hellenistic era and the writings of Saint Athanasius, celebrating the immortality and purity of the soul while understanding that the nature of the body is weak and corruptible.

 Thus much emphasis was placed upon spiritual as well as physical healing, the maxim healthy mind in a healthy body being much valued. The theological basis behind physical healing, was that man had been created in God's image. The human body belonged to God and had to be properly looked after. Byzantine theory also provided an explanation for the origin of sickness. Adam and Eve's disobedience in Eden had brought disease and death into the world.

 Byzantium also had an ultimate role model, of greater standing than Asclepius or Hippocrates of the Ancients. Christ, the Son of God healed the sick and exhorted his apostles and disciples to give proofs of His own divine powers by acts of healing. Some thirty five miracles are recorded in the Bible and the apostles exercises healing as a 'gift of the holy spirit.' As a result, a plethora of icons and miraculous relics proliferated throughout the Empire.

Click here to read part 1 from

Click here to read part 2 from 

Barn again: 15th century farm building restored to former glory

A 15th century barn that was once threatened with demolition has been restored to its former glory after an award-winning refurbishment. Tithe Barn in Shirehampton opened its doors to the public at the weekend following a long campaign of fundraising to save the historic building.

Inside the Tithe Barn Opening Day. Photo: Bob Pitchford

 The medieval barn was earmarked for closure and the site faced redevelopment in the 1990s. But a determined campaign from the local community saved the Grade II* listed building and a mixture of private and public investment funded the £1.2 million refurbishment.

 The medieval building was purchased by St Mary’s Church in 2008 in a poor state of repair. At the weekend it opened as a community centre with five separate meeting spaces with the help of £200,000-worth or funding from the church.

 Click here to read this article from This is Somerset 

 Click here to see more photos from the Shirehampton village website

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Crunch time: making money from a medieval extreme sport

Bathurst-based entrepreneur Rod Walker promotes what the History Channel calls “the most dangerous collision sport in history”: jousting.

The former coal miner keen on horses graduated to jousting by way of foot combat. His jousting business, Full Tilt, “kicked off” in 2003.

“Before that, jousting was just a hobby club,” says Walker, 41. “In a club,” he says, “everyone wants to do things their way - and if you’re trying to present a professional presentation, some people aren’t up for that and still want their say.”

In comparison, starting a business, being the boss and hiring people seemed easy, he says. The jousting shows he stages across Australia soon gathered steam.

Click here to read this article from the Sydney Morning Herald

Anglo-Saxons and hand-saex

As an invitation to explore the wonders of Old English, hand-saex is certainly arresting.

The Dictionary of Old English, based at the University of Toronto (, offered hand-saex as last week’s “word of the week.” Reader Susannah Cameron spotted it and sent the reference to Word Play. “Have to admit it caught my attention,” she said.

 Sadly for anyone expecting new insight into the intimate practices of Anglo-Saxons between the years 600 and 1150, the word refers to a knife or dagger. The knife was a saex, also spelled seax and (yes) sex, and a hand-saex was a weapon held in one hand. The word for hand in Old English was hand. Very handy.

 Saex comes from a Germanic root (sah or sag) meaning to cut. It survives today only in the narrowly defined word sax, a tool used to trim roofing slates. But before the Norman Conquest of 1066 reshaped the English language and gave us Middle English – a process that took about a century to filter down to ordinary folks – saex was all the rage.

Click here to read this article from The Globe and Mail

Friday, May 18, 2012

How did medieval Europeans deal with Greek debt? They sacked their capital city

Historians of the Fourth Crusade (1202-04) have been seeking explanations why the crusaders decided to sail to the Byzantine capital of Constantinople instead of Egypt. Some believe that the crusaders were tricked into doing it by the Doge of Venice or some other conspirator, while others argue that the decision to go to Constantinople was almost an accident, where unforeseen events led to the crusader army.

But Savvas Neocleous, writing in the latest issue of the Journal of Medieval History, states ”the real reason for the diversion to Constantinople in 1203 by the Venetians and the crusaders, and for their subsequent attack on the imperial capital in 1204, was a simpler and, in their minds, increasingly pressing concern: the payment of outstanding debts.”

Click here to read this article from

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Archaeologists to examine underground chamber in medieval church

A mysterious chamber buried beneath the central part of St Winwaloe’s Church at East Portlemouth in southwest England will be examined by archaeologists thanks to a grant of £12,400 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), it was announced this week.

The present church in the Devon village of East Portlemouth was built around 1200 and enlarged in the 15th century. However, indications that there might have been an earlier church on the site led to a ground penetrating radar study in December 2006, which showed what appears to be the buried chamber under what was the nave in the 12th century. The floor of the chamber is about 8 feet below the present floor with walls rising from it along both its sides and its centre.

Click here to read this article from

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Coventry Cathedral ruins benefit from £100,000 donation for restoration

American Express has donated $150,000 to help preserve the ruins of Coventry's old cathedral.

The finance company has promised the money - about £100,000 - after an appeal for more than £2 million was launched last year when a large crack appeared in one of the walls.

The cathedral is on the World Monuments Fund 2012 Watch List, a register of buildings worthy of preservation.

Funds will help restore the ruins and the original stained glass windows.

Click here to read this article from the BBC

New Norway Viking settlement discovered

Using a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and magnetometer, surveys have revealed the settlement in Sandefjord in Gokstadhaugen, eastern Norway, has 15 buildings, an 80-metre long street and a port.

Archaeologists from Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History and the Norwegian Institute for Cultural heritage Research (NIKU) were among those that made the discovery, in cooperation with Vestfold County.

Work in Gokstadhaugen began in 2011 with drilling there, as well as experts making geophysical surveys from the sea a northwards in what is called Gokstad Valley (Gokstaddalen).

NIKU’s Knut Paashe told Aftenposten, “There is no doubt that we have encountered a market town-like structure from the Viking age with houses and streets.”

Click here to read this article from The Foriegner

A Mummy Switcheroo

Min, the ancient Egyptian god of phallus and fertility, might have brought some worldy advantages to his male worshippers, but offered little protection when it came to spiritual life.

Researchers at the Mummy Project-Fatebenefratelli hospital in Milan, Italy, established that one of Min's priests at Akhmim, Ankhpakhered, was not resting peacefully in his finely painted sarcophagus.

"We discovered that the sarcophagus does not contain the mummy of the priest, but the remains of another man dating between 400 and 100 BC," Egyptologist Sabina Malgora said.

According to the researchers, the finding could point to a theft more than 2000 years ago. The relatives of the mysterious man may have stolen the beautiful sarcophagus, which dates to a period between the 22nd 23rd Dynasty (about 945-715 BC), to assure their loved one a proper burial and afterlife.

Click here to read this article from Discovery News

Iron and sulphur compounds threaten old shipwrecks

Sulphur and iron compounds have now been found in shipwrecks both in the Baltic and off the west coast of Sweden. The group behind the results, presented in the Journal of Archaeological Science, includes scientists from the University of Gothenburg and Stockholm University.

A few years ago scientists reported large quantities of sulphur and iron compounds in the salvaged 17th century warship Vasa, resulting in the development of sulphuric acid and acidic salt precipitates on the surface of the hull and loose wooden objects.

Similar sulphur compounds have now been discovered also in other shipwrecks both from the Baltic and off the west coast of Sweden, including fellow 17th century warships Kronan, Riksnyckeln and Stora Sofia, the 17th century merchant vessel in Gothenburg known as the Göta wreck, and the Viking ships excavated at Skuldelev in Denmark.

Click here to read this article from

Renovation of medieval church to begin

The first phase of the emergency renovation of an historic 13th century church has begun after donors gave more than £250,000.

Conservationists at St Mary’s Church, in Lydiard Park, have begun the vital high-level and emergency repair works necessary to make the building wind and watertight.

Since launching the appeal last May, the church has successfully raised the money needed to carry out the work, through a combination of local fundraising by the congregation and the wider public, along with grants from a number of bodies including English Heritage and Wiltshire Historic Churches Trust.

Work to begin the cleaning and conservation of the unique wall paintings in the church is now nearing completion.

Click here to read this article from the Swindon Advertiser

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Thousands of Irish Medieval Documents now available online

Trinity College Dublin historians have reconstructed invaluable medieval documents destroyed during the bombardment of the Four Courts in 1922. The Four Courts was the home of the Public Record Office, which was catastrophically destroyed when it was bombed in the conflict between pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty forces at the start of the Irish Civil War. It was previously thought that the entire medieval archive had been destroyed, but forty years’ work by a team of researchers at Trinity has led to the reconstruction of more than 20,000 hugely important government documents produced by the medieval chancery of Ireland. From today, the Irish chancery letters are available again in a new publicly accessible and free internet resource known as CIRCLE: A Calendar of Irish Chancery Letters, c.1244–1509.

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Civil partnership, medieval style: In the days when same-sex marriage was a Christian rite

Same-sex unions in Christian churches were held as long ago as the Middle Ages, research shows.

Historians say the ceremonies included many of the acts involved in heterosexual marriages, with the whole community gathering in a church, the blessing of the couple before an altar and an exchange of holy vows. A priest officiated in the taking of the Eucharist and there was a wedding feast for guests afterwards.

All of these elements are depicted in contemporary illustrations of the holy union of the Byzantine Warrior-Emperor, Basil the First (867-886 AD) and his companion John, an article published on the I Heart Chaos blog this week says.

And Prof John Boswell, the late chairman of Yale University’s history department, found there were ceremonies called the Office of Same-Sex Union and the Order for Uniting Two Men in the 10th to 12th centuries.

The medievalist published Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century in 1980.

Click here to read this article from the Daily Mail

Click here to see Same-Sex Relations in the Middle Ages from

Illuminating the Surprisingly Accessible Market for Medieval Books of Hours

During the Middle Ages, books of hours were more popular than any other text, even the Bible. These intricately illustrated devotional texts began to appear around 1250 and contained a series of psalms meant to be read at eight specific hours of the day, hence their name. Hymns, lessons, and biblical readings were rendered with varying degrees of color and ornamentation. The books were widely owned in Europe until their use was prohibited by the church in the 16th century. Today, says dealer Sam Fogg, of London, books of hours are “almost the only way you can acquire medieval painting that looks like it was when it was new, with the colors still glowing and the gold still shining.”

Where to Find

“People aren’t aware that you can just buy these things,” says Timothy Bolton, deputy director of Western medieval manuscripts at Sotheby’s London. Experts estimate that approximately 100 books of hours change hands every year at auction or through a dozen or so private dealers. “Of all the types of manuscripts extant from the Middle Ages, books of hours are easiest to acquire, because so many remain in private hands,” notes Sandra Hindman, owner of Les Enluminures, a gallery in Chicago, Paris, and, as of this month, New York, that specializes in the books.

Click here to read this article from Blouin Artinfo

Wenlok Jug, medieval bronze treasure, stolen from museum

A "nationally significant" bronze medieval jug has been stolen from a Bedfordshire museum.

The Wenlok Jug was taken from the Stockwood Discovery Centre in Luton at about 23:00 BST on Saturday.

In 2005 it was nearly sold abroad, but a temporary export ban provided the opportunity for Luton Museum to raise the £750,000 needed to buy it.

Director of Museums, Karen Perkins, called the theft "extremely serious and upsetting".

She said: "We are extremely proud that the Wenlok Jug is part of the collections at Stockwood Discovery Centre and are working extremely closely with police and investigators to do all we can to recover it.

"The Wenlok Jug is a nationally significant medieval object."

The jug is a very rare example of metalwork that can be associated with royalty from the 1400s.

Click here to read this article from the BBC

Rare medieval jug stolen in Luton

The jug was on display in a high security display cabinet when it was taken on Saturday between 11pm and 11.25pm.

‘The Wenlok Jug’ bronze jug is a rare example of metalwork that can be associated with royalty from the 1400s. It stands at 31.5cm in height, weighing 6.1kgs and it's decorated with coats of arms, inscribed with the words “My Lord Wenlok”.

Karen Perkins, Director of Museums, said: "This is an extremely serious and upsetting situation.

"The Wenlok Jug is a nationally significant medieval object, which came close to being lost to the UK when it went up for sale with Sotheby’s in May 2005."

Click here to read this article from ITV

Monday, May 14, 2012

Margot Fassler wins 2012 Otto Gründler Book Prize

Margot Fassler, Keough-Hesburgh Professor of Music History and Liturgy at the University of Notre Dame, was awarded the 2012 Otto Gründler Book Prize for her book The Virgin of Chartres: Making History Through Liturgy and the Arts.

The prize was announced on Friday at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University. Her book examines the history of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Chartres, France, drawing on local histories, letters, obituaries, chants, liturgical sources, and reports of miracles to explore the cult of the Virgin of Chartres and its development in the 11th and 12th centuries. The book explores how the past was made in the central Middle Ages and argues for an understanding of the liturgical framework of time.

“It was especially meaningful to win this prestigious award in 2012,” Fassler says, “because I am the third Notre Dame faculty member in a row to win, joining my colleagues John Van Engen and Thomas Noble— all three of us fellows of Notre Dame’s Medieval Institute.”

Click here to read this article from

47th International Congress on Medieval Studies draws over 3000 medievalists

Over 3000 scholars, historians, writers, students and medievalists came to Kalamazoo, Michigan over the last four days, where they took part in the 47th International Congress on Medieval Studies.

Through 547 sessions, papers were delivered on a wide variety of topics, ranging from “The Trial of the Templars in Germany” to “What Can Games Teach Us and Our Students about the Middle Ages?” Some historical events celebrating anniversaries, such as the 800th anniversary of the Battle of Las Novas de Tolosa, and the 600th birthday of Joan of Arc, provided the theme for several sessions.

Noah Guynn, from the University of California Davis, told that the congress is “the place where you see everyone from different disciplines. For medieval studies, it’s the most important conference and it always has been.”

Click here to read this article from

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Research uncovers new details about John Cabot’s voyage to North America

Evidence that a Florentine merchant house financed the earliest English voyages to North America, has been published on-line in the academic journal Historical Research. 

The article by Dr Francesco Guidi-Bruscoli, a member of a project based at the University of Bristol, indicates that the Venetian merchant John Cabot (alias Zuan Caboto) received funding in April 1496 from the Bardi banking house in London.

The payment of 50 nobles (£16 13s. 4d.) was made so that ‘Giovanni Chabotte’ of Venice, as he is styled in the document, could undertake expeditions ‘to go and find the new land’.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Glass discovered at Glastonbury Abbey dates back to 7th century, researchers find

New research led by the University of Reading has revealed that finds at Glastonbury Abbey provide the earliest archaeological evidence of glass-making in Britain.

Professor Roberta Gilchrist, from the Department of Archaeology, has re-examined the records of excavations that took place at Glastonbury in the 1950s and 1960s.

Glass furnaces recorded in 1955-7 were previously thought to date from before the Norman Conquest. However, radiocarbon dating has now revealed that they date approximately to the 680s, and are likely to be associated with a major rebuilding of the abbey undertaken by King Ine of Wessex. Glass-making at York and Wearmouth is recorded in historical documents in the 670s but Glastonbury provides the earliest and most substantial archaeological evidence for glass-making in Saxon Britain.

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Teen finds something wrong with Byzantine map at The Met

A Connecticut seventh-grader says workers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City didn't believe him when he pointed out an inaccuracy with a map that was on exhibit.

The map purported to show the Byzantine Empire at its largest size in the 6th century, but he noticed that Spain and part of Africa were missing from the depiction. Benjamin Lerman Coady knew he was right, because he had just studied the empire in school before last summer's trip to the museum with his mother.

He was told to fill out a form. "The front desk didn't believe me," Benjamin told The Hartford Courant. "I'm only a kid."

The 13-year-old West Hartford resident filled out the form and never expected a response, but a museum official wrote him in September saying his comments were under review. Then came an email in January from Helen Evans, the museum's curator for Byzantine art.

Click here to read this article from the Seattle Times

Click here to read 13-Year-Old West Hartford Student Tells Metropolitan: 'Your Map Is Wrong'

Book Review: The First Crusade: The Call From the East, by Peter Frankopan

“Deus vult!” — God wills it! — was the battle cry of the First Crusade, in which armies of Europe, at the very end of the 11th century, marched off to liberate the holy city of Jerusalem and conquer the infidel Turks, who were then sweeping all before them in Asia Minor.

 Whatever God’s actual intentions in the matter, and He is known to move in mysterious ways, His representatives on earth, Pope Urban II in Rome and the Emperor Alexios in Constantinople, quite clearly fostered this great martial enterprise for political purposes of their own. The emperor, assailed by enemies on his frontiers and by rivals within his family, was desperate for military aid, just as the pope was comparably eager for a galvanizing cause that would confirm his primacy as the leader of the Christian world.

Click here to read this review from the Washington Post

Monday, May 07, 2012

Norwich medieval masterpieces saved for the county

Four medieval stained glass windows made in Norwich are to stay in the county after almost £200,000 was raised to buy them.

Experts believe the rare circular windows, known as roundels, were made in the 16th century by city artist John Wattok for the home of former Norwich Mayor Thomas Pykerell. In the 19th century they moved to Brandiston Hall near Reepham, but in the 1980s scholars lost track of where they had gone.

Last year they were acquired by a London dealer and offered for sale. To prevent them ending up in private hands, Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery raised £194,000 to snap them up, with the cash coming from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund, the Friends of Norwich Museums, the Pilgrim Trust, The Ruddock Foundation for the Arts and the Paul Bassham Charitable Trust.

Click here to read this article from EDP24

Saturday, May 05, 2012

France celebrates Joan of Arc's 600th birthday

The normally tranquil city of Orleans is buzzing with festivities over the next two weeks to mark the 600th birthday of one of France's best cultural exports: Joan of Arc.

Looking appropriately cinematic, the Loire River swarmed with wooden boats carrying locals in medieval garb last week, re-enacting Joan of Arc's famous entry into the city in 1429.

The day that saw Orleans liberated from English invaders has been dramatized in film the world over, most famously in 1948's Oscar-winning epic of the French martyr with Ingrid Bergman, and more recently, in Luc Besson's award-winning 1999 blockbuster with Milla Jovovich.

Joan's place in the history books has not only been sealed through cinema, but also through myriad novels, poems, rock songs, operas and plays over the centuries — making her one of the most talked-about figures in history.

Click here to read this article from the Chicago Daily Herald

See more articles about Joan of Arc

Friday, May 04, 2012

Elizabethan Map of America provides clue to ‘Lost Colony’

After decades of unsuccessful searching, archaeologists may have their best evidence ever of the possible fate of Sir Walter Raleigh’s “Lost Colony.” It comes in the form of a clue from Sir Walter himself, secreted within the 425 year old “Virginea Pars” map drawn by his expedition to site the first English colony in the New World.

At a conference held yesterday at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, archaeologists and scholars from the First Colony Foundation and the British Museum discussed the newly discovered information previously hidden within the map and possible implications for understanding the eventual fate of Raleigh’s “lost colonists.”

The “Virginea Pars” map was produced from explorations conducted by members of Sir Walter Raleigh’s Roanoke Colony of 1584-1590. The remarkably-accurate map depicts the coastal area from Chesapeake Bay to Cape Lookout, including the location of many native American villages visited by the colonists. However, until now the map provided little information about the location of his planned “Cittie of Ralegh.”

Click here to read this article from Early Modern England

Scotland: Archaeologists uncover medieval defences on grounds of historic castle

Archaeologists have unearthed a surprising discovery on the grounds of an Aberdeenshire castle.

Experts excavating at Fyvie Castle, near Turriff, expected to uncover a 400-year-old garden.

Instead they have discovered what they believe to be an 800-year-old defence system which they say teaches them a lot more about the castle's history.

Archaeologist Alison Cameron said: "Initially when I was digging down one of these post holes I found a huge piece of 13th century pottery which I knew hadn't been moved around a lot, so I was thinking there was probably some structure underneath."

Click here to read this article from STV

Amateur treasure hunter finds tiny 14th century heart-shaped gold brooch worth £25,000

Shaped like a heart - and with two hands clasped together in decorative sleeves at its base - this piece of jewellery may be tiny but it was to prove an enormous find for one lucky metal detector enthusiast.

Stan Cooper, 60, unearthed the 2.5cm gold brooch beneath the soil in a farmer's field near Sandbach, Cheshire - and was initially unaware of its true provenance.

But the item - no bigger than a pound coin - has now been dated to between 1350 and 1450 and is thought to have originally been a betrothal gift because the hands appear to be male and female.
Furthermore, it is worth an astonishing £25,000.

Click here to read this article from the Daily Mail

Wales: Historic village gets extra protection

A historic Monmouthshire village’s character will be preserved for future generations, after being designated a conservation area.

The decision by Monmouthshire council means any plans submitted to the local authority regarding Trellech, near Monmouth, must preserve or enhance the character of the village.

Trellech is of archaeological and historical importance as a medieval town, which was confirmed in 2004.

The main archaeological sites include Trellech Churchyard Cross and base, The Virtuous Well, St Nicholas’ Church and Trellech Sunken Medieval Village.

Click here to read this article from the South Wales Argus

Thursday, May 03, 2012

How to build a better trebuchet

The assignment was to build a trebuchet, a kind of medieval catapult, and bomb the cardboard castle with marshmallows.

But before the teams of students were allowed to start tinkering with their materials – bits of jinx wood, string and glue – they had to brainstorm 50 ideas in 20 minutes about how to do it.

This problem-solving technique, which was developed at one of Canada’s most competitive business schools, is being introduced for the first time to students in kindergarten through Grade 8 at Ledbury Park Elementary and Middle School in North York. Five Toronto private schools, including Branksome Hall and Upper Canada College, began integrating the Rotman School of Management’s I-Think program into secondary and middle-school classes in recent years, but the Toronto District School Board is the first to integrate it at the elementary level.

It made for better trebuchets in Brent Charpentier’s Grade 8 classroom. One had perfect accuracy, and another launched a marshmallow 7.65 metres.

Click here to read this article from The Globe and Mail

Click here to read more about making trebuchets in the classroom

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Ancient seal discovered in Jerusalem

In archaeological work in the 2,000 year-old drainage channel between the City of David and the Jerusalem Archaeological Garden, remains were discovered of the building closest to the First Temple exposed so far in archaeological excavations.

 The remains of a building dating to the end of the First Temple period (1006 – 586 BCE) were discovered below the base of the ancient drainage channel that is currently being exposed in Israel Antiquities Authority excavations beneath Robinson’s Arch in the Jerusalem Archaeological Garden, adjacent to the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. This building is the closest structure to the First Temple found to date in archaeological excavations.

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

Exhibition reveals the genius of Leonardo’s anatomical work

Leonardo da Vinci’s ground-breaking studies of the human body and anatomy are to go on display this week in London, England. The exhibition, which takes place almost 500 years after his death, will feature 87 pages from Leonardo’s notebooks, including 24 sides of previously unexhibited material. Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist opens at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, on Friday, 4 May.

 Although Leonardo is recognised as one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance, he was also one of the most original and perceptive anatomists of all time. The exhibition tells the story of his greatest challenge as he embarked upon a campaign of dissection in hospitals and medical schools to investigate bones, muscles, vessels and organs. Had Leonardo’s studies been published, they would have formed the most influential work on the human body ever produced. Some of his findings were not to be repeated for hundreds of years.

Click here to read this article from

See also Is Leonardo da Vinci a great artist or a great scientist?

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Marco Polo really did go to China, new study finds

It has been said that Marco Polo did not really go to China; that he merely cobbled together his information about it from journeys to the Black Sea, Constantinople and Persia and from talking to merchants and reading now-lost Persian books. But in Marco Polo was in China: New Evidence from Currencies, Salts and Revenues, Hans Ulrich Vogel, Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Tübingen, puts paid to such rumors.

He begins with a comprehensive review of the arguments for and against, and follows it up with evidence from relevant Chinese, Japanese, Italian, French, German and Spanish literature. The result is compelling: despite a few, well-known problems with Marco Polo’s writings, they are supported by an overwhelming number of verified accounts about China containing unique information given over centuries.

Click here to read this article from

Smuggled cargo found on Roman shipwreck

Evidence of ancient smuggling activity has emerged from a Roman shipwreck, according to Italian archaeologists who have investigated the vessel's cargo.

Dating to the third century AD, the large sunken ship was fully recovered six months ago at a depth of 7 feet near the shore of Marausa Lido, a beach resort near Trapani.

Her cargo, officially consisting of assorted jars once filled with walnuts, figs, olives, wine, oil and fish sauce, also contained many unusual tubular tiles.

The unique tiles were apparently valuable enough for sailors to smuggle them from North Africa to Rome, where they sold for higher prices.

Click here to read this article from Discovery News

Ancient tombs discovered on Cyprus

Ancient tombs hailing from the Phoenician period between the 4th and 6th century BCE were discovered on Sunday on Faneromeni Avenue in Larnaca during work on the town’s sewage system.

According to archaeologists, the graves may be an extension of the ancient tomb known as the catacomb which dates back to the 4th century BCE and can be found under the old church of Panayia Faneromeni.

Larnaca mayor Andreas Louroutziatis said work on the sewerage system will stop temporarily at the site until a decision is taken in collaboration with the antiquities department on whether excavations should continue to find any new possible archaeological discoveries.

Click here to read this article from the Cyprus Mail