Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hildegard of Bingen's music gets modern twist in new album

A medieval nun is poised to become an unlikely chart star after her liturgical chants were transformed into music by Madonna’s record producer.

A series of compositions by Hildegard of Bingen, a Benedictine abbess who died in 1179, have been released as an album, the Telegraph reported.

The producer, Guy Sigsworth, has reworked them to create “ambient remixes.”

Sigsworth is a classically trained musician known for his work with Madonna, Britney Spears and Seal.

The album, Hildegard, is being released by Decca and industry experts predict it will become a chart success.

Sigsworth worked with Stevie Wishart, a composer who studied medieval music and has long been fascinated by Hildegard’s compositions.

Click here to read this article from Truthdrive

See also Hildegard, Sinfonye, classical album of the week

Medieval Norse Trappers On Baffin Island

Icelandic sagas and a single archaeological site in Newfoundland document a Viking Period presence of Norse people in the Americas. Now National Geographic’s November issue has a piece on new work in the field, lab and museum collections by Dr. Patricia Sutherland of the Memorial University in Newfoundland that points to a group of additional and somewhat later sites that may expand that evidence. She kindly answered some questions of mine via e-mail.

The best site is near Tanfield on the south coast of Baffin Island. Dr. Sutherland emphasises the following evidence as suggesting the presence of people with life-ways set apart from the local Inuit-speaking Dorset culture.

Click here to read this article from ScienceBlogs

See also Vikings and Native Americans

Anglo-Saxon feasting hall discovered in Kent

Archaeologists from the University of Reading have uncovered the remains of Anglo-Saxon hall that would have accommodated at least 60 people. The discovery has been made at the Lyminge Archaeological project, which has already produced several important finds.

The archaeological team has been able to completely uncover the outline of the hall, which measures 21 metres by 8.5 metres, and believe that it dates from the late sixth or early seventh century.

Gabor Thomas, who is leading the archaeological dig, told the Guardian “This would undoubtedly have been the scene of many Beowulfy type activities, great assemblies for feasts that lasted for days, much drinking and story-telling, rich gifts like arm rings being presented, all of that. There could have been no more visible sign of wealth and status than raising a hall like this.”

Click here to read this article from

Monday, October 29, 2012

Turkey: Ancient mosaics found in Anatolian city

An archaeological city dating back 1,700 years has been unearthed during excavations in İzmir’s Kemalpaşa neighborhood, raising officials’ hopes the area will draw tourists’ attention.

The Cultural Beings and Museums’ General Director Osman Murat Süslü held a press conference Oct. 21 regarding the discovery of the archaeological city, which Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay has defined as “good news that will draw the world’s attention.”

Drilling work had started in the area, which is now categorized as a third degree archaeological site, before the construction of a warehouse company was scheduled to begin. Excavations were begun due to an abundance of signs the area may be a hotspot for archaeological treasures, Süslü said. “Scientific excavations started Oct. 1 and a layer from the 4th Century B.C. has been unearthed,” he said.

The newly-unearthed city is believed to date back to around the late Roman or Byzantium period, Süslü said. It was home to a 550-square-meter villa complex with 105-centimeter-thick walls, water channels and 11 rooms.

Click here to read this article from the Hurriyet Daily News

Time Team to end in 2013

The television show that showed off the archaeological riches on the United Kingdom will be coming to an end in 2013. Time Team, which ran for 18 years on Britain’s Channel 4, will be airing one more season next year.

The series featured a roving team of archaeologists who dig at a different site each week in order to uncover the mystery of what lies beneath. Ranging from prehistoric to early modern sites, Time would give themselves only three days to excavate the area and see what they found. They have explored the remains of cathedrals, castles, monasteries and houses that had disappeared hundreds of years earlier.

Click here to read this article from

Witch history takes flight in rare University of Alberta manuscript

It is a book of remarkable beauty — and unspeakable evil.It’s testament to timely artistry, and to the eternal dangers of hate and fear.

University of Alberta history professor Andrew Gow and his former PhD student, Rob Desjardins, hand me the manuscript, bound in brass-studded brown silk velvet, with care. No wonder: It may be the single most valuable volume in the university’s Peel Special Collections library. Gow and Desjardins theorize it belonged to Edward IV of England, who died in 1483.

Market price? “Incalculable,” says Gow.

What I hold is a 1465 manuscript, known as Invectives Against the Sect of Waldensians.

The Waldensians were medieval heretics who disavowed the power of priests and allowed women to preach.

But for the author of this book, Dominican inquisitor Johannes Tinctor, Waldensian was code — a synonym for witch.

Click here to read this article from the Edmonton Journal

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Environmental choices the Romans made

The Roman Empire was the world's first superpower and controlled millions of square miles at its height — everything between modern-day Spain up to England and across to Armenia, down through Egypt and over to Morocco. Millions of people from different tribes and cultures were governed by Roman law, mixing and mingling their respective religions, technology, customs and knowledge. Roman thinkers, artists, writers and philosophers helped expand our understanding of engineering, agriculture, architecture, law and the arts.

 At its most populated, the city of Rome had more than 1 million citizens living within its borders. Most people lived in apartment buildings, and the city held a number of industrial businesses like blacksmiths, tanneries, slaughterhouses and concrete manufacturers. The dense concentration of people and industry created a lot of pollution — especially with thousands of smoky fires for cooking and heating burning daily.

Click here to read this article from the Mother Nature Network

Urgent call for repairs to medieval churches in Honing and Crostwight

An unusual series of medieval paintings depicting the seven deadly sins could be lost from the walls of All Saints Church at Crostwight near North Walsham unless £150,000 can be found to re thatch the leaky roof, re-render the walls and repair the exterior flint work, windows and lime plaster, which has become loose close to the paintings.

 Honing Church needs the same amount for urgent work, including repairs to the already leaking roof and some replastering.

 Rector the Rev Barry Furness said: “We are blessed in Norfolk to have the largest collection of medieval churches in the UK. Churches like Crostwight and Honing are typical examples of these beautiful churches which have to be preserved for future generations. If repairs are not carried out buildings can deteriorate to the point where they are lost.”

Click here to read this article from the North Norfolk News

Deadly Dancing: Could a Nocebo Effect Explain Medieval Europe's Dancing Plagues?

Excerpt from Mind Over Mind: The Surprising Power of Expectations, by Chris Berdik.

The largest wave of compulsive dancing hit Strasbourg in the summer of 1518. By the end of August, hundreds of people were dancing wildly throughout the city. Town officials overruled local physicians who said the dancers should be bled, but their chosen prescription was just as alarming: more dancing! They gathered the stricken into guildhalls and even built a stage for them in the public square. They hired dancers to keep up the energy and musicians to play a lively accompaniment. Not surprisingly, the dancers kept going and kept dying. Eventually the town leaders changed their minds and deemed the dancing a curse from an angry Saint Vitus, an early Christian whom the Romans tossed into a cauldron of boiling oil and then to the lions for refusing to renounce his faith. By the fourteenth century, the Vatican declared Saint Vitus a "holy helper" who could answer the prayers of people who had epilepsy or trouble conceiving. On his feast day, it was customary to dance at his shrine. However, saints who could heal when venerated could afflict when angered, so the town's next remedy for the dancing was civic contrition—which meant cracking down on gambling and prostitution, and the banishment of those known to traffic in vice.

Click here to read more of the excerpt from the Huffington Post

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Archaeological research reveals new insights about the Vikings in Wales

Recent excavations by archaeologists from the National Museum Wales at the Viking age settlement of Llanbedrgoch on the east side of Anglesey have shed important new light on the impact of Anglo-Saxon and Viking-age worlds operating around the Irish Sea.

The new discovery of a skeleton in a shallow grave and the unusual (during this period in Wales) non-Christian orientation of the body, and its treatment, point to distinctions being made in the burial practices for Christians and other communities during the tenth century.

The burial is an unexpected addition to a group of five (two adolescents, two adult males and one woman) discovered in 1998-99. Originally thought to be victims of Viking raiding, which began in the 850s, this interpretation is now being revised. Stable isotope analysis by Dr Katie Hemer of Sheffield University indicates that the males were not local to Anglesey, but may have spent their early years (at least up to the age of seven) in North West Scotland or Scandinavia. The new burial will provide important additional evidence to shed light on the context of their unceremonious burial in shallow graves outside the elite fortified settlement in the later tenth century.

Click here to read this article from

Researchers ‘closer than ever’ to cracking 5000 year old writings

New technology has allowed researchers to come closer than ever to cracking the world’s oldest undeciphered writing system.

Researchers from the University of Oxford and the University of Southampton have developed a Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) System for Ancient Documentary Artefacts to capture images of some of the world’s most important historical documents. Recently this system was used on objects held in the vaults of the Louvre Museum in Paris.

These images have now been made available online for free public access on the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative website.

Among the documents are manuscripts written in the so-called proto-Elamite writing system used in ancient Iran from 3,200 to 3,000 BC and which is the oldest undeciphered writing system currently known. By viewing extremely high quality images of these documents, and by sharing them with a community of scholars worldwide, the Oxford University team hope to crack the code once and for all.

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

Archaeological dig uncovers castle walls in Northampton

Remains of the walls of Northampton Castle have been discovered at an archeological dig ahead of the £20 million redevelopment of Northampton railway station.

 Preparations for the development start at the end of the week, and the dig is taking place until Thursday to learn more about the building which once stood on the site.

 Experts from Northamptonshire Archaeology dug a trench will be within the area currently used for short-stay car parking, and discovered part of an old stone wall, a stone line drain and a late-Saxon pit. 

Northampton Castle was situated on part of the current station site, but it is believed most remains were destroyed and displaced over time as the railway was developed.

Click here to read this article from the Northampton Chronicle and Echo

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Medieval Norfolk church wins heritage award

A rescued Norfolk church is among the winners of this year's English Heritage Angel Awards.St Mary's, West Somerton, has a thatched roof and medieval round tower, as well as wall paintings from the 14th century.

Pauline Burkitt and Simon Pleasley oversaw a major restoration project to replace the thatched roof, restore the plastering and install new drains to keep the magnificent wall paintings dry.

Mr Pleasley said: "Because we are church wardens we are responsible for the fabric of the church. People don't realise that. They think 'oh it's the church that does it'. It isn't. The church hasn't got the money. It has to be individuals who are prepared to stick their necks out and raise enough money to stop these places from falling down."

Click here to read this article from Christian Today

Click here to read more about the winners of the English Heritage Angel Awards from English Heritage

Monday, October 22, 2012

Daniel Hobbins joins the University of Notre Dame

Associate Professor Daniel Hobbins’s arrival at the University of Notre Dame this fall is a homecoming of sorts.

 A cultural and intellectual historian of the late middle ages, Hobbins received his Ph.D. in medieval history from Notre Dame’s Medieval Institute in 2002 and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University in 2004.

 Most recently an associate professor of history at The Ohio State University, Hobbins says his reasons for wanting to return to Notre Dame were both personal and professional. One of the most important factors, he says, is the University’s commitment to medieval studies.

 “Notre Dame has a very, very strong program,” Hobbins says. “It’s a great place to be a medievalist.”

Click here to read this article from the University of Notre Dame

Old books hide even older secrets from Middle Ages

The book before me is huge and heavy, bound, not in paper or cardboard, but with planks of solid oak, held together by thick cords. It looks like a prop from a fantasy film. It’s actually a Latin dictionary, published in the early 1700s.

It’s normally held in a vault in the Bruce Peel Special Collections Library, underground at the University of Alberta. The library has no record of when or how this book arrived in its collection. But as old as the dictionary appears, it hides a secret far older.

Inside the heavy oak cover is a parchment liner. Other pieces of the same parchment are stuffed into the spine, to bind the book block together. The parchment wrapper is far older than the dictionary: a medieval manuscript, hand-written on calfskin vellum.

Erik Kwakkel, 42, is a codicologist — an expert on books as physical objects — at Leiden University in the Netherlands. His particular expertise is the history of 12th and 13th century manuscripts. He’s in Edmonton this month as a distinguished guest lecturer at the University of Alberta — and at the moment, he’s leading an enthusiastic group of students and staff on a treasure hunt.

Click here to read this article from the Edmonton Journal

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Meet Mansa Musa I of Mali – the richest human being in all history

When we think of the world’s all-time richest people, names like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and John D Rockefeller immediately come to mind. But few would have thought, or even heard of, Mansa Musa I of Mali – the obscure 14th century African king who was today named the richest person in all history.

With an inflation adjusted fortune of $400 billion, Mansa Musa I would have been considerably richer than the world’s current richest man, Carlos Slim, who ranks in 22nd place with a relatively paltry $68 billion.

 The list, compiled by the Celebrity Net Worth website, ranks the world’s 24 richest people of all time. The list advertises itself as the top 25, but 26 names appear in the list.

Click here to read this article from The Independent

Evidence of Viking Outpost Found in Canada

For the past 50 years—since the discovery of a thousand-year-old Viking way station in Newfoundland—archaeologists and amateur historians have combed North America's east coast searching for traces of Viking visitors.

 It has been a long, fruitless quest, littered with bizarre claims and embarrassing failures. But at a conference in Canada earlier this month, archaeologist Patricia Sutherland announced new evidence that points strongly to the discovery of the second Viking outpost ever discovered in the Americas. 

While digging in the ruins of a centuries-old building on Baffin Island, far above the Arctic Circle, a team led by Sutherland, adjunct professor of archaeology at Memorial University in Newfoundland and a research fellow at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, found some very intriguing whetstones. Wear grooves in the blade-sharpening tools bear traces of copper alloys such as bronze—materials known to have been made by Viking metalsmiths but unknown among the Arctic's native inhabitants.

 Taken together with her earlier discoveries, Sutherland's new findings further strengthen the case for a Viking camp on Baffin Island. "While her evidence was compelling before, I find it convincing now," said James Tuck, professor emeritus of archaeology, also at Memorial University.

Click here to read this article from National Geographic

See also our feature on L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland

Friday, October 19, 2012

New image of Henry VIII discovered

One of the earliest and most remarkable depictions of the prince who was to become England’s King Henry VIII has been discovered at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. Poignantly, he is shown as a mourning 11 year old boy, weeping at the empty death-bed of his mother. 

A detailed re-interpretation of clues in a manuscript donated to the Library by philanthropists Miss Gwendoline and Miss Margaret Davies of Gregynog in 1921 led Manuscripts Librarian Dr Maredudd ap Huw to conclude that the volume was a long-lost treasure from the royal library of King Henry VII.

Click here to read this article from Early Modern England

Graveyard dating back to the Middle Ages found in Southwark, England

More than 500 skeletons, some dating back to the Middle Ages, have been discovered by archaeologists in Southwark, which lies on the Thames River across from London. The work has delayed the demolition of the current leisure centre at the Elephant and Castle ahead of a new £20m state-of-the-art facility.

The local council anticipated that archaeology and pre-demolition works would begin and be completed by July this year, but following some archaeological discoveries during this phase, it will now be later in the year before demolition is expected to begin. Before the current leisure centre was built, the ground it was built on was originally home to a church and graveyard.

The council expected that part of its archaeological work would unearth remains from the burial site, which dates back to medieval times. However, after initial excavations, it was discovered that the extent of the findings is greater than what was anticipated.

Councillor Peter John, Leader of Southwark Council, said:" The remains will be treated respectfully and we will be following the Ministry of Justice's guidance to peacefully re-bury or relocate them. The leisure centre work will resume as soon as we've sensitively dealt with this issue."

Click here to read more from Southwark Council

Successful hunt for lost Dartmoor Manor

A recent archaeological excavation to discover the remains of the lost manor of North Hall in Widecombe-in-the-Moor has been heralded a success. The community excavation was led by Andy Crabb, Archaeologist for Dartmoor National Park Authority.

Andy Crabb said: ‘In five days of digging, well over 50 individual volunteers helped out - a fantastic achievement. The volunteers came from Widecombe village, the Widecombe Local History Group and from the wider local community. Despite some wet summer weather at the start of the dig, all seemed to greatly enjoy their experience of archaeological excavation with many returning again and again throughout the week. Groups of local school children from Widecombe-in-the-Moor and Ilsington Primary Schools also enjoyed visits to the site and helped out with the digging.’

The dig was the culmination of many years of research by Peter Rennells of the Widecombe History Group who has been a leading light in investigating the history of the manor and its location. The excavation revealed that soon after the site was abandoned it was extensively robbed for building stone. Evidence for this came from the spreads of stone rubble, layers of mortar and broken roofing slates discovered. The foundation courses of a substantial wall 1.5m wide and made of clay-bonded granite indicate that a large building was once present on site. It is probable that the stone was collected from the manor site in order to re-build Widecombe Church Tower in the 1640s.

The stone was also probably used in the construction of other buildings in the area. Other interesting discoveries include an earlier boundary that surrounded the site. Underneath the existing moat bank an earlier sequence of ditch, bank and possible palisade was identified. A small piece of high status 15th century pottery from Islamic Spain was also found, suggesting the site was once home to wealthy and well connected people.

Click here to read more from the Dartmoor National Park Authority

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

María Rosa Menocal, medieval historian, passes away

María Rosa Menocal, a renowned scholar and historian of medieval culture and literature, passed away on October 15th after a three-year battle with melanoma.

 Menocal, Sterling Professor of the Humanities at Yale and former director of the Whitney Humanities Center, focused her research on the literary traditions of the Middle Ages and on the interaction of various religious and cultural groups in medieval Spain.

 Her 2002 book, The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain, describes the rich cross-fertilization that took place among those religious groups. The book placed the interactions of Jews, Christians and Muslims at the heart of the formation of a diverse and vibrant Western culture, and posed a vigorous challenge to the notion of inevitable polarization of Islam and the West in the popular imagination. It has been published in numerous languages, and received wide critical acclaim. A documentary for public television based on the book is under development.

 Menocal once noted that she was inspired to write the book because "... the medieval period has been, and continues to be, so grossly misrepresented in almost all of our histories — from the fact that we have so little knowledge that medieval European culture included, centrally, the study of Greek philosophy as it was interpreted by hundreds of years of Muslim and Jewish commentaries to the fact that we still use the word medieval to mean 'dark' and 'unenlightened' when, in some respects, Europe has never been as enlightened … as it was then."

Click here to read the full obituary from Yale University

See also Culture in the Time of Tolerance: Al-Andalus as a Model for Our Time 

See also her website for more information about María Rosa Menocal

Monday, October 15, 2012

Hun tombs discovered in Mongolia

Scientists and researchers from the Institute of History of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences (IHMAS) have found tombs from the Hun people dating back to the 2nd century BC. In total, 31 Huns were buried in the tombs that were discovered at the foot of Salkhit of Rashaant Soum in Khuvsgul Province. After three years of research and excavation, the experts from IHMAS finally found the tombs of the Huns. Further detailed information about the tombs will be available to the public soon.

Below is an interview from Unuudur Newspaper with S.Ulziibayar, an expert on the research on Ancient History at the IHMAS.

Unprecedented finds were discovered from the tombs of the Huns in Khuvsgul. Can you give us more information on the discovery? 

There are indeed numerous finds with the potential of creating a stir. We conducted an excavation at the foot of Salkhit, which lies four kilometres away from the Rashaant Soum of Khuvsgul Province. A joint expedition, with officials from IHMAS and the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology from the National University of Mongolia discovered the tombs in 2006, and excavation work continued from 2009 to 2011. As the anniversary of the first state of Mongolia, the Huns, occurred in 2011, we were able to conduct the excavation rather intensely last year using the funds received from the Anniversary Commission. We excavated 29 separate tombs in total and the field research has now finished. Our institute is set to release a book about the tombs discovered at Salkhit. As we didn’t announce the book formally through a research conference, it’s too early to publicise it. We also want to make people aware that we didn’t cooperate with any foreign partners on this excavation. It was the first ever joint expedition of native Mongolians during the past 20 years in this country.

Click here to read the full interview from The UB Post

Medieval Studies Expert Fiona Somerset Joins University of Connecticut

The voices of the Middle Ages are everywhere in Fiona Somerset’s office at UConn, filling hundreds of books that line her shelves and waiting inside the old microfilm rolls ready to be spooled into her reader in the corner.

 Somerset, who joined UConn’s Department of English this year from Duke, says she has been fascinated throughout her career by connections between those long-ago voices and the issues facing people and society today.

 Now, she’s bringing that curiosity and a wealth of expertise to UConn, drawn by its ambitious program to hire hundreds of new faculty members across the disciplines.

 From Geoffrey Chaucer to William Langland to the mysterious “Pearl Poet,” Somerset is bringing their voices and those of their characters to a new generation of UConn students – and, she hopes, sparking in them the kind of contemplation that launched her own career.

Click here to read this article from UConn Today

Sunday, October 14, 2012

In everything we say, there is an echo of 1066

It’s Sunday, and let us hope that you are about to have lunch. As you prepare to enjoy the roast beef, it may, possibly, occur to you that but for an event on this date, October 14, centuries ago, you might be about to eat the same joint but you wouldn’t be calling it beef. That event was the Battle of Hastings (aka Senlac Hill) in 1066, as a result of which William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, became William the Conqueror, King of England.

The English language is unusual in that we have different names for farm animals in the field or byre, and the flesh of these animals when they appear on the table. In Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe, a Saxon peasant explains that the oxen, calves, swine and sheep are good Saxons tended by Saxons when alive, but turn into Norman-French when they are ready to be eaten as beef (or beeves), veal, pork and mutton.

So, if you were to begin by asking, in Monty Python style, “what have the Normans ever done for us?” you might first reply that the most enduring consequence of the Conquest is the richness of the English language, with its Anglo-Saxon base and Franco-Latin superstructure. This mixture gives us a huge vocabulary, and many words with essentially the same meaning, yet a different shade of emphasis: fatherly and paternal, for example.

Click here to read this article from The Telegraph

Rain cancels Battle of Hastings re-enactment

A re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings on what is believed to be the original battlefield has been cancelled because of torrential rain.

 English Heritage said for safety reasons the event could not go ahead because of unacceptable levels of mud on the battlefield and public areas.

 Sunday's re-enactment marked the 946th anniversary of the battle when William the Conqueror defeated King Harold.

 Hastings Borough Council said the cancellation was a disappointment. "It is understandable but it is a real shame because the organisers put a lot of time and money into organising and advertising it," said spokesman Kevin Boorman.

Click here to read this article from the BBC

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Julius Caesar was stabbed right here, researchers claim

On March 15, 44 BC, a group of Roman senators set upon Julius Caesar in the Curia of Pompey. As they stabbed him with daggers, their murder would mark one of the most important events of ancient Rome. Now, 2056 years later, a team of researchers from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) has found the exact plot where the Roman leader was stabbed.

A concrete structure of three meters wide and over two meters high, placed by order of Augustus (adoptive son and successor of Julius Caesar) to condemn the assassination of his father, has given the key to the scientists. This finding confirms that the General was stabbed right at the bottom of the Curia of Pompey while he was presiding, sitting on a chair, over a meeting of the Senate. Currently, the remains of this building are located in the archaeological area of Torre Argentina, right in the historic centre of the Roman capital.

Antonio Monterroso, CSIC researcher from the Institute of History of the Center for Humanities and Social Sciences (CCHS‐CSIC), states: “We always knew that Julius Caesar was killed in the Curia of Pompey on March 15th 44 BC because the classical texts pass on so, but so far no material evidence of this fact, so often depicted in historical painting and cinema, had been recovered”

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

Wanted! Limerick men with Viking blood for tests

If you ever wondered whether you are you descended from the Vikings or the Normans, now is the time to find out.

A network of academics led by Dr Catherine Swift of Mary Immaculate College, and Dr Turi King of the Department of Genetics, University of Leicester are using scientific techniques and the traditional tools of the historian in an attempt to identify what percentage of the Irish population are descended from Vikings.

Volunteers with certain surnames - including English, Stokes and Noonan, amongst many others - will be tested at Fennessey’s pub, New Street, Sunday, October 21, at 12 noon.

“Limerick is a very interesting location for our project as it is known to be a vital Viking trading centre,” said Dr Swift.

Click here to read this article from the Limerick Leader

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

New excavations begin at Bulgaria’s medieval Urvich fortress

Archaeologists began new excavations at the medieval Urvich fortress 20km from Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia at the beginning of October 2012, with the first finds including silver rings, earrings and bronze and iron personal items, Bulgarian archaeology professor Nikolai Ovcharov said.

Urvich fortress is near the banks of the Iskar River in the Pancharevo area close to the road from Sofia to Samokov.

The fortress is estimated to date from the 13th century CE, during the time of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom.

Ovcharov told a news conference that work was to begin at a large necropolis near the fortress and the monastery.

Click here to read this article from the Sofia Globe

Monday, October 08, 2012

English Civil war grave found in Northamptonshire village

Archaeologists believe they have discovered a site where soldiers were buried after the Battle of Naseby was fought in Northamptonshire.

 Experts from Cranfield University carried out a study of the battlefield at the end of last month. They believe they have found the spot where dozens of soldiers from Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army were buried immediately after the battle was fought on June 14, 1645.

 Naseby expert, Martin Marix Evans, said: “It would be a guess at the moment, but I would imagine we’re probably looking at a site containing anywhere between 30 and 60 bodies.

 “And we hope this will be the start of a series of archaeological studies of parts of the battlefield which will reveal more of the events of 1645.”

Click here to read the full article from the Northampton Chronicle and Echo

Chester Farm project gets funding for archaeological study to examine thousands of years of history

A project that will reveal thousands of years of central England’s archaeology and heritage has taken a major step forward following an announcement by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) today. The Chester Farm project in Northamptonshire has been granted £135,800 in development funding, the first step in receiving £4.1 millon the project is looking for.

 The Chester Farm site, near Wellingborough, provides evidence of thousands of years of settlement, from at least Mesolithic times to the present day.

 The site includes traces of Iron Age enclosures and ancient field systems. Below ground there is extensive Roman settlement including a Roman walled town and recent excavation has shown that key elements of the town, such as roads, temples and other buildings, have survived. There was also medieval settlement on the site including the remains of the deserted village of Chester-by-the-Water.

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

If you love history, read on

Lovers of great history books, awake! Next week, Canada’s Cundill Prize, the richest non-fiction prize in the world ($75,000 to the winner), will announce its list of six books for the 2012 award.

 Someone in a position to have the list is going to publish it here, as a help to those who love history or to those who just like a large read on big subjects.

 A word about the prize. It was established in 2008 by Peter Cundill, a McGill University graduate who set aside money for his alma mater to give this prize in history (he died in January, 2011). The university selects jurors from different countries, usually the United States, Britain and Canada, because the prize goes to the best book written in, or translated into, English in the wide field of history. The general criteria for the shortlisted books and, of course, the eventual winner: a book whose author wears great learning lightly.

Click here to read this article from The Globe and Mail

Click here to visit the Cundill Prize website

How Columbus Day Fell Victim to Its Own Success

Today is Columbus Day, a solemn occasion marked by parades, pageantry, and buckets of fake blood splashed on statues of its namesake. Activists have turned the commemoration of Columbus' landfall in the New World into an annual protest against "the celebration of genocide." What the protesters may not know, however, is that the holiday they are protesting once played a crucial role in forging a society capable of listening to their concerns. This is the curious tale of how Columbus Day fell victim to its own remarkable success.

 Christopher Columbus has been, from the first, a powerful symbol of American nationalism. In the early American republic, Columbus provided a convenient means for the new nation to differentiate itself from the old world. His name, rendered as Columbia, became a byword for the United States. Americans represented their nation as a woman named Columbia, adopted Hail, Columbia! as an unofficial anthem, and located their capitol in the District of Columbia.

 Italian-Americans, arriving in large numbers in the late nineteenth century, took note of the reverence which their famous countryman enjoyed. It was a far cry from the treatment they themselves received. Many Americans believed Italians to be racially inferior, their difference made visible by their "swarthy" or "brown" skins. They were often portrayed as primitive, violent, and unassimilable, and their Catholicism brought them in for further abuse. After an 1891 lynching of Italians in New Orleans, a New York Times editorial proclaimed Sicilians "a pest without mitigation," adding, for good measure, that "our own rattlesnakes are as good citizens as they."

 Italians quickly adopted Columbus as a shield against the ethnic, racial, and religious discrimination they faced in their adoptive country. They promoted a narrative of national origins that traced back beyond Plymouth or Jamestown, all the way to San Salvador. How could a nation, they asked, reject the compatriots of its own discoverer?

Click here to read this article from The Atlantic

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Thousand-year-old Buddhist statue was created from a meteorite, new study reveals

It sounds like an artifact from an Indiana Jones film; a 1,000 year-old ancient Buddhist statue which was first recovered by a Nazi expedition in 1938 has been analysed by scientists and has been found to be carved from a meteorite. The findings, published in Meteoritics and Planetary Science, reveal the priceless statue to be a rare ataxite class of meteorite.

 The statue, known as the Iron Man, weighs 10kg and is believed to represent a stylistic hybrid between the Buddhist and pre-Buddhist Bon culture that portrays the god Vaisravana, the Buddhist King of the North, also known as Jambhala in Tibet.

Click here to read this article from

Friday, October 05, 2012

Maurice Keen, historian (1933-2012)

Until the second world war, most British medieval historians avoided cultural history, remaining more concerned with the church, government or the law; institutions and politics. Except for the literate pious, what might have made medieval people tick was treated as self-evident, immaterial or unknowable. In the subsequent revolution of approaches, Maurice Keen, who has died aged 78, played a seminal role, even if his unshakable modesty would probably have denied it.

 His major book, Chivalry (1984), which won the Wolfson prize that year, remains one of the great works of history in English of the past 70 years, comparable with such landmarks as his old tutor Richard Southern's The Making of the Middle Ages or Peter Brown's The World of Late Antiquity. After Chivalry, no one could look at Keen's subject, the knightly life, unaffected by his comprehensive and nuanced exposition of the nature and significance of the culture of those who ruled western Europe for half a millennium.

 Keen demonstrated that chivalry existed as a serious feature of medieval politics, religion, nobility and society, not an exotic distraction. Using a vast array of literary, visual, legal, academic and archival evidence, he dismantled the then prevalent view associated with the Dutch cultural historian Johan Huizinga that chivalry was a decadent expression of the waning of the middle ages.

Click here to read this article from The Guardian

See also: The Telegraph's obituary of Maurice Keen

See also: Maurice H. Keen Dies at 78; Redefined Chivalry, from The New York Times

Thursday, October 04, 2012

War of the Roses history is brought to life at historic Bradford hall

Discover what life was like in Bradford during the War of the Roses at a medieval living history weekend at Bolling Hall.

 For the second year, re-enactment group the Frei Compagnie will present a weekend of domestic and military demonstrations of life during the 15th century conflict. The free event will be held at the Bradford Council historic home on Saturday and Sunday between 10am and 4pm.

 It will include longbow archery and firepower demonstrations, the opportunity to watch a knight prepare for battle as he dons his armour, and the chance to learn about falconry. A doctor will also be on hand to dispense gruesome medical remedies.

Click here to read this article from the Telegraph and Argus

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Ancient burial cloth reveals Bronze Age trade connections

A piece of nettle cloth retrieved from Denmark’s richest known Bronze Age burial mound Lusehøj may actually derive from Austria, new findings suggest. The cloth thus tells a surprising story about long-distance Bronze Age trade connections around 800 BC. The findings have just been published in Nature’s online journal Scientific Reports.

2,800 years ago, one of Denmark’s richest and most powerful men died. His body was burned. And the bereaved wrapped his bones in a cloth made from stinging nettle and put them in a stately bronze container, which also functioned as urn.

Now new findings suggest that the man’s voyage to his final resting place may have been longer than such voyages usually were during the Bronze Age: the nettle cloth, which was wrapped around the deceased’s bones, was not made in Denmark, and the evidence points to present-day Austria as the place of origin.

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

Palaeography: A Crucial Specialty for Successful Genealogy

Palaeography. I'll admit it right off. The first time I came across this specialty I was not familiar with it. I'll also grant you that it is not a word that we tend to use all the time, nor one that trips easily off the tongue. However, if you are a family historian or genealogist, I would strongly suggest that you consider using an expert palaeographer from time to time in your efforts. A world-class palaeographer can make a world of difference in your genealogy, open amazing windows into the past, uncover leads, and add tremendous value to your family history.

First, what exactly is Palaeography? The Oxford Dictionaries define palaeography (in the U.S. spelt paleography) as follows:

"Palaeography Noun (mass noun): The study of ancient writing systems and the deciphering and dating of historical manuscripts."

If you have worked with any manuscripts, wills, indentures, deeds, etc. from before the invention of the typewriter, then you know this isn't your father's handwriting we often find ourselves dealing with in our family history. This can be particularly true if you happen to be lucky enough to be working with items from medieval times. They can be chock-full of amazing detail and information and incredibly hard to read given our unfamiliarity with secretary script used in medieval times!

Click here to read this article from the Huffington Post

Restoring medieval frescoes in Rome

The Superintendence for Archaeological Heritage of Rome announces the extraordinary opening to the public of the restoration site of the early medieval frescoes of Santa Maria Antiqua in the Roman Forum. Guided tours of the church will be held until November 4, 2012, which can be arranged by visiting

Monday, October 01, 2012

An earlier version of the Mona Lisa?

The Swiss-based Mona Lisa Foundation believes they have proven that Leonardo da Vinci painted an earlier version of the Mona Lisa.

 Known as the Isleworth Mona Lisa, the canvas painting is larger the original Mona Lisa, as well being brighter and with a different background. It appears to depict the famous lady in the Mona Lisa portrait, which is thought to be Lisa Del Giocondo, the wife of a wealthy Florentine merchant. Experts have debated if the work has also been an original Da Vinci work, but the Mona Lisa Foundation believes that its scientific tests prove that it was made about ten years earlier than the masterpiece.

Click here to read this article from