Thursday, January 31, 2013

Do Not Try to Recreate This 16th-Century German Cat Bomb at Home

Think you're the first person to consider the offensive capabilities of cats and birds in a hypothetical war against zombies space invaders enemies of the Holy Roman Empire? Think again!

Click here to read more from The Atlantic

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bulk of Timbuktu manuscripts survived occupation unharmed

The majority of Timbuktu's ancient manuscripts appear to be safe and unharmed after the Saharan city's 10-month occupation by Islamist rebel fighters, experts said on Wednesday, rejecting some media reports of their widespread destruction.

Denying accounts that told of tens of thousands of priceless papers being burned or stolen by the fleeing rebels, they said the bulk of the Timbuktu texts had been safely hidden well before the city's liberation by French forces on Sunday.

Brittle, written in ornate calligraphy, and ranging from scholarly treatises to old commercial invoices, the Timbuktu texts represent a compendium of human knowledge on everything from law, sciences and medicine to history and politics. Some experts compare them in importance to the Dead Sea Scrolls.

News that they were mostly safe, from people directly involved with conservation of the texts, was a relief to the world's cultural community, which had been dismayed by the prospect of a large-scale loss.

Click here to read this article from Reuters

When Newspapers Were New, or, How Londoners Got Word of the Plague

Daniel Defoe's novel about London's 1665 plague can help us understand new media. No, really.

 The plague was abroad. Londoners knew not where it had come from, only that it was upon Holland. "It was brought, some said from Italy, others from the Levant, among some goods which were brought home by their Turkey fleet; others said it was brought from Candia; others from Cyprus," Daniel Defoe wrote in the opening of his historical novel, A Journal of the Plague Year.

 The book, which many read as something like non-fiction, bore the webby subtitle, being observations or memorials of the most remarkable occurrences, as well public as private, which happened in London during the last great visitation in 1665, and bore stamps of authenticity -- it was "Written by a citizen who remained all the while in London" -- and intrigue, having "Never [been] made public before."

 Which, as a journalist of the web era, made me think: that Defoe knew how to gin up some pageviews! And in fact, Defoe did. (If you can't see the translation to the headline argot du jour, allow me: 73 Amazing and Horrible Things That Happened During the Plague, From Someone Who Saw Them With His Own Two Eyes. And no, I didn't count. But the point is: no one's counting.)

Click here to read this article from The Atlantic

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Priceless manuscripts missing in Timbuktu

The fabled city of Timbuktu, a place of enigma for centuries, has now given the world another mystery: What happened to thousands of priceless, ancient manuscripts that have vanished into the dusty Sahara winds?

 When hundreds of French soldiers rolled into the remote desert city in northern Mali on Monday, cheered by thousands of residents who were ecstatic that the Islamist rebels had fled, one of the biggest fears was the fate of Timbuktu’s ornately crafted manuscripts, as precious to world history as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

 The city’s mayor, exiled far away in Mali’s capital, alleged that the Islamist extremists had torched the manuscript libraries, burning them to the ground. This was quickly disproved by a Sky TV crew embedded with the French soldiers, who found the main library intact, alleviating the worst fears of many scholars.

 Inside the library, television reports showed a few small piles of ash, along with dozens of empty boxes. Up to 10,000 manuscripts were gone. The immediate assumption was that the Islamist militia groups had stolen or destroyed them – although subsequent reports suggested that many of them had been hidden and saved.

Click here to read this article from The Globe and Mail

Monday, January 28, 2013

20 Bizarre Examples Of Medieval Marginalia

Some crazy examples of what people in the Middle Ages drew in their manuscripts. Lots of sex and violence.

Truth, lies and historical fiction; How far can an author go?

Authors Philippa Gregory and Wayne Johnston can tell you that historical novelists have to deal with some odd complaints, most of which stem from the fact that everyone from the living descendents of their fictional characters to the fans of medieval monarchs will cheerfully ignore the words “a novel” blazoned on the cover.

 Gregory has written numerous novels about Tudor and Plantagenet women, including her latest, The Lady of the Rivers, about Jacquetta of Luxembourg, a figure from the War of the Roses. She has also co-authored a history book, The Women of the Cousins’ War, that includes a biography of Jacquetta. 

Johnston’s bestselling 1998 novel The Colony of Unrequited Dreams controversially gave Newfoundland premier Joey Smallwood an unrequited love. Now, Johnston has published A World Elsewhere, which introduces fictional Newfoundlanders into a psychopathic household inspired by Biltmore, George Vanderbilt’s palace in North Carolina.

 Globe and Mail arts writer Kate Taylor, herself the author of a novel based on the Dreyfus Affair, titled A Man in Uniform, asks Gregory and Johnston just how much a historical novelist is allowed to make up.

Click here to read this article from The Globe and Mail

Sunday, January 27, 2013

9 Most Important Medieval Assassinations

The mythos of the assassin fascinates even as it horrifies. It fascinates because it allows for the actions of one to bring down a corrupt or tyrannical regime that has no avenue of redress for those not in power. It horrifies because the sudden actions of one can threaten an entire nation--or in the case of World War I--the world's stability.

 It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that our political discourse and disagreement has never been more bitter and divisive. And while it is bad, there have been many periods in history that were equally--if not more--vitriolic and downright nasty. Take the Middle Ages, for one. Not only was it a politically raw and power hungry time, but the average citizen had very little say in matters of government. 

Historian Barbara Tuchman suggests this might be attributed to the fact that the Middle Ages was a very young society, with over half the population under 21. Many of the leaders of medieval kingdoms and dynasties were on the tail end of adolescence--or younger. William, Duke of Normandy, later known as William the Conqueror of England, was only seven years old when he became duke. Charles VII of France was 19 when he was crowned king, and Louis I, became Duke of Orleans at the ripe old age of 20. All that power un-tempered by age or wisdom was a heady thing and ripe for abuse. Assassination was an oft-used tool in their arsenal.

Click here to read this article from the Huffington Post

Ten Fantastic Facts and Legends of Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

1. Edinburgh Castle is built high on an impressive 700 million year old extinct volcano called Castle Rock, in the middle of what is now the city of Edinburgh. People have lived on Castle Rock since the Bronze Age, around 850 BC, and there has been a royal castle on the site since at least the 12th century.

 5. The ‘Stone of Destiny’ or ‘Stone of Scone’ is kept at the castle with the crown jewels of Scotland. The stone is the traditional coronation stone of all Scottish and English Kings and Queens and has been much fought over by England and Scotland over the ages. As legend has it, the real stone was swapped for a fake either in the 13th century or the 1950’s, and to this day the authentic stone is still secretly hidden.

7. The castle is also one of the most haunted places in Scotland, one famous ghost being the Lone Piper. As the story goes, a few hundred years ago secret tunnels were discovered deep underground, running from the castle to other places in the city. A piper boy was sent down to investigate, instructed to constantly play his pipes, so those above could chart his progress through the tunnels. When the playing suddenly stopped, they went and searched for the piper boy but he had vanished. His ghostly pipes can still be heard playing in the castle to this day, as he eternally walks the dark tunnels beneath. 

Click here to read all Ten Fantastic Facts from Tea Time Magazine

Thursday, January 24, 2013

How the heavy plough changed the world

The world changed when a plough that could plough deep and turn over heavy clay soil was invented in the Middle Ages. Armed with massive amounts of data, researchers are now trying to document how a small technology leap turned the distribution of wealth on its head in medieval Northern Europe.

 The invention of the heavy plough made it possible to harness areas with clay soil, and clay soil was more fertile than the lighter soil types. This led to prosperity and literally created a breeding ground for economic growth and cities – especially in Northern Europe.

 Loose, more sandy and dry soil is more common in Southern Europe, where farmers were doing fine with the earliest functioning plough – known as the ard, or the scratch plough. This type of plough wasn’t, however, very good for ploughing the heavier, more clayey soils up north. For this reason, it was mainly the south that experienced prosperity and growth with growing cities all the way up to the early Middle Ages.

 “The heavy plough turned European agriculture and economy on its head. Suddenly the fields with the heavy, fatty and moist clay soils became those that gave the greatest yields,” explains Professor Thomas Barnebeck Andersen of the University of Southern Denmark.

Click here to read this article from ScienceNordic

Click here to read The Heavy Plough and the European Agricultural Revolution of the Middle Ages

10 Benefits of Establishing a Local Historic District

So you’ve decided you want to establish a local historic district and have considered where its boundaries should be. Now comes perhaps the hardest part: getting your community to buy into the idea.

Shaping local sentiment and opinions is always a complex task, and planning a local historic district is no exception. While the preservation community understands and appreciates its benefits, not everybody might feel as enthusiastic about it.

What’s more, all the local stakeholders -- homeowners, government officials, merchants, and property owners -- will endorse, change, or reject proposals depending on how well they understand the issues involved. So it’s up to the district advocates to make a clear and compelling case about the advantages of a local historic district. Not only will it increase community awareness, but it can also help avoid controversy later by building consensus now.

Here are 10 points you can share with your community stakeholders about what establishing a local historic district will bring to your area.

Click here to read this article from the National Trust for Historic Preservation

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

10 of the best medieval walled cities

By Bruce Holmes

For history buffs, photographers and anyone who’s ever said “Wow!” there’s nothing quite like the sight of a medieval walled city approached from a distance.

Then there are the explorations within, tours of castles, walks along the walls and shops and restaurants in medieval squares.

Many cities still have their medieval walls predominantly intact in various parts of the world. Did I mention my obsession? I’ve visited quite a few.

Click here to see this list from CNN, including Carcassonne, York, Óbidos and even Quebec City

Click here to see more Medieval Travel articles

Richard III: Visions of a villain?

As archaeologists prepare to announce the discovery of Richard III's remains, Alastair Smart looks for clues to the king's much-maligned character in early portraits of him.

Poor old Richard III. King for a mere two years, two months in the 1480s, he was a brave and astute military leader, who also introduced the nation’s first form of legal aid. Yet, still he’s the most reviled monarch in our history, his name even finding its way into cockney rhyming slang to denote excrement.

In large part, this is down to his depiction in Shakespeare’s Richard III (1592) as a “poisonous bunch-back’d toad”, who has his two young nephews murdered in the Tower of London to assure his position as king. No matter that no historical evidence for such a crime exists.

Our grim fascination with Richard shifted to another level in September, when archaeologists – seeking his lost remains near the site of his killing by Henry Tudor’s forces at the Battle of Bosworth – hailed potential success under a car park in Leicester. They will confirm their results, with considerable hoo-ha, any day now.

Click here to read this article from the Daily Telegraph

Click here to read more news about Richard III

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Top 10 Strange Medieval Terms You've (Probably) Never Heard Of

Most likely, you're aware that before it was a chemical to spray into the face of an evil-doer, "mace" was the name of a lethal medieval weapon. Unfortunately, today it's considered a bit of overkill to fight off a mugger or thief off with a blunt, heavy ball on a chain with sharp spikes. More's the pity. See if you have heard of these devices and other terminology of that era. (Special Note: If you have heard of more than a few of these, we suspect you are a medieval scholar or possibly a psychopath.)

Click here to read about words and terms such as Tirocinium, Strappado and "Pear of Anguish" from

Monday, January 21, 2013

Massive Cosmic Explosion 'Struck Medieval Earth'

A massive burst of inter-stellar radiation may have stuck the Earth in the middle ages, researchers have announced. It is thought that the explosion occurred when two black holes or neutron stars collided somewhere in the Milky Way.

 The resultant gamma ray burst sent shockwaves through the galaxy, and hit our planet in the eighth century AD, the German team behind the study told the BBC. It is the latest development of the theory that the middle ages saw a spike in the amount of radiation that can now be found in trees and rocks.

 In 2012 a Japanese team found that ancient cedar trees had high levels of carbon-14, an isotope which is created when radiation strikes atoms in our upper atmosphere. Further research on radiation found in ice in the USA pinned the explosion down to between 774 and 775 AD.

An entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 774 reads: "This year also appeared in the heavens a red crucifix, after sunset; the Mercians and the men of Kent fought at Otford; and wonderful serpents were seen in the land of the South-Saxons." 

Click here to read this article from the Huffington Post 

Click here to read the article: A Galactic short gamma-ray burst as cause for the 14C peak in AD 774/5

5 Artifacts That Will Shatter Your Image of the Middle Ages

I don't know about you, but I always thought the Middle Ages were strictly about dying at age 30 and giant birds posing as doctors. But it turns out that Renaissance Fair jugglers were right -- people of medieval days were actually pretty funny. Like Spencer's novelty gifts funny. For proof, look no further than these hilarious artifacts they left us.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Colosseum Cleaning Yields Ancient Art Discoveries Including Old Frescos, Graffiti

A long-delayed restoration of the Colosseum's only intact internal passageway has yielded ancient traces of red, black, green and blue frescoes – as well as graffiti and drawings of phallic symbols – indicating that the arena where gladiators fought was far more colorful than previously thought. 

Officials unveiled the discoveries Friday and said the passageway – between the second and third levels of the first century Colosseum – would open to the public starting this summer, after the 80,000 euro restoration is completed.

 The frescoes were hidden under decades of calcified rock and grime, and were revealed during a cleaning and restoration project over the last two months. The traces confirmed that while the Colosseum today is a fairly monochrome gray travertine rock, red brick and moss-covered marble, in its day its interior halls were a rich and expensive Technicolor.

 "We're used to thinking that during excavations, archaeological surprises are a risk for builders and for the city's development," Rome archaeological heritage superintendent Mariarosaria Barbera said. "But here is a beautiful archaeological surprise ... a monument that has been studied and known and appreciated across the world, yet still provides surprises."

Click here to read the full article from the Huffington Post

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Scholar to research charity and guilt in medieval Champagne

Adam Davis is a historian whose research causes him to straddle centuries on a daily basis. Now, the associate professor has received a yearlong fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities to dig deeper into the 12th and 13th centuries in Champagne, France. Davis will study hospitals, wills, charitable practices of the day, and even medieval guilt.

 On the face of it, examining the source documents of medieval French hospitals doesn’t sound like uncovering King Solomon’s mines, but Davis begs to differ. He says he’s actually studying a previously unknown charitable revolution.

 In earlier times, monasteries provided care for the poor and sick. But during the 12th and 13th centuries, wealthy laypeople founded hundreds of hospitals to provide for Europe’s needy. In the Middle Ages, hospitals were multifunctional religious institutions—almost a hybrid between a shelter, nursing home, and inn—housing the sick, poor, and powerless, as well as travelers.

“By the 13th century, hospitals had become one of the most popular recipients of charitable bequests,” says Davis. “In a number of regions, well over half of testaments, left by people from all cross-sections of life included bequests for hospices, hospitals, and leprosaries (quarantined houses for patients suffering from leprosy).”

Click here to read this article from Denison University

One in the eye for history: experts still fighting over the site of the Battle of Hastings

It is the most famous battle in British history, fought, as every schoolboy knows, in 1066 at a site now marked by Battle Abbey, near the town of Hastings. But while the date of the Battle of Hastings might still be universally accepted, the location has been called into question, with two experts proposing not one but two different sites for where the fighting actually took place.

They believe that for almost a 1,000 years, the battle has been commemorated at the wrong spot, with one historian claiming the fighting actually occurred a mile to the north, on Caldbec Hill, and another stating it was two miles away, to the south, at a place called Crowhurst.

In an effort to settle the matter for good, a group of historians assembled by the Battlefields Trust have spent months evaluating the three competing claims to decide which one is correct and they believe they are now ready to deliver their ruling.

For nearly a millennium there has been little debate that the encounter between the armies of England's King Harold and William the Conqueror had taken place on the fields around Battle Abbey, a few miles north of Hastings, at a spot known as Senlac Hill.

Click here to read this article from The Telegraph

Click here to read the latest statement from the Battlefields Trust

Click here to read more about The Battle of Hastings

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Algorithms That Automatically Date Medieval Manuscripts

Around a million medieval documents have no date making their historical significance difficult to quantify. But automated computer techniques look set to revolutionise the work for historians.

 An important aspect of any society is the way it keeps records of property and land transactions so that ownership can be properly established and disputes resolved. In medieval Britain, this process was largely carried out by religious or royal institutions which recorded transactions in documents, written in Latin, called charters.

 Today, more than a million charters survive either as originals or more often as ancient copies. They provide a remarkable insight into the pressures at work in medieval politics, economics and society between the tenth and fourteenth centuries in England.

 For example, historians can use these documents to study the rise and fall of military and religious organisations. A good example is the Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, a religious and military organisation set up after the western conquest of Jerusalem in the 11th century (the First Crusade). Historians say the charters clearly show how the organisation became militarised in response to the call for a Second Crusade in 1145, triggered by Muslim forces recapturing various towns in the region. Clearly, these documents have huge historical value but there is a problem: most charters are not dated, particularly during the period of Norman rule between 1066 and 1307.

Click here to read this article from the MIT Technology Review

Click here to read the article Dating medieval English charters

Locked in the Ivory Tower: Why JSTOR Imprisons Academic Research

This morning, I searched for an article about autism on JSTOR, the online database of academic journals. I have a child on the autistic spectrum, and I like to be aware of the latest research on the topic. I could not access any of the first 200 articles that contained the word "autism." That's because, for the most part, only individuals with a college ID card can read academic journal articles. Everyone else, including journalists, non-affiliated scholars, think tanks and curious individuals, must pay a substantial fee per article, if the articles are available at all.

 I later found one article that was available for $38. I'm not sure why one twelve page article costs $38. It takes me about eight minutes to scan a twelve page article. The researcher receives no royalties. Why does it cost so much to read one article?

 The answer lies in the antiquated system of academic publishing.

Click here to read this article from The Atlantic 

Monday, January 14, 2013

New DNA test can determine eye and hair colour from people who lived in the Middle Ages

A team of researchers from Poland and the Netherlands have developed a system that is able to answer what the hair and eye colour is from individuals who lived over 800 years ago.

 The HIrisPlex DNA analysis system was recently recreated for modern forensic research, but the researchers have now shown that this system is sufficiently robust to successfully work on older and more degraded samples from human remains such as teeth and bones. The system looks at 24 DNA polymorphisms (naturally occurring variations) which can be used to predict eye and hair colour.

 In their article, ‘Bona fide colour: DNA prediction of human eye and hair colour from ancient and contemporary skeletal remains’, the researchers examined the remains of Polish General Wladyslaw Sikorski (1881 to 1943) confirming his blue eyes and blond hair.

Click here to read this article from

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Sealed Under Turkish Mud, a Well-Preserved Byzantine Chapel

In the fourth century A.D., a bishop named Nicholas transformed the city of Myra, on the Mediterranean coast of what is now Turkey, into a Christian capital. Nicholas was later canonized, becoming the St. Nicholas of Christmas fame. Myra had a much unhappier fate.

After some 800 years as an important pilgrimage site in the Byzantine Empire it vanished — buried under 18 feet of mud from the rampaging Myros River. All that remained was the Church of St. Nicholas, parts of a Roman amphitheater and tombs cut into the rocky hills.

But now, 700 years later, Myra is reappearing.

Archaeologists first detected the ancient city in 2009 using ground-penetrating radar that revealed anomalies whose shape and size suggested walls and buildings. Over the next two years they excavated a small, stunning 13th-century chapel sealed in an uncanny state of preservation. Carved out of one wall is a cross that, when sunlit, beams its shape onto the altar. Inside is a vibrant fresco that is highly unusual for Turkey.

Click here to read this article from the New York Times

Medieval Painting Hints at Ties Between Blacks and Jews

The anonymous 16th-century painter who recorded a scene of everyday life at the king’s fountain (Chafariz d’El Rei) in Lisbon depicted an impressive range of people and animals. In addition to a swan, a seal, fish, horses, dogs and birds, the artist also included more than 150 human figures. There’s so much going on in the busy scene along Lisbon’s port that Joaneath Spicer, the James A. Murnaghan Curator of Renaissance and Baroque Art at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, can be forgiven for initially overlooking an important detail. Only after she had finished working on the exhibition catalog did Spicer notice how many Jews appeared in the work.

The artist depicted at least half a dozen Jewish men — the women’s religious identities are more difficult to discern — including two Jewish policemen hauling away a black man who appears, according to the wall text, to be “drunk and sheepish.” The latter figure and several other Africans explain the painting’s appearance in the exhibit “Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe,” which is at the Walters through January 21. It subsequently travels to the Princeton University Art Museum, where it will be shown from February 16 to June 9.

“I was really unaware of the presence of so many Jews in this painting until I began to blow up details of a photo in preparation for installing the work,” says Spicer, who recognized the Jewish figures from research she conducted for a 1996 article, “The Star of David and Jewish Culture in Prague around 1600,” which appeared in The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery. “This is the only image I know of — certainly painting from this period that purports to show Jews from life.”

Click here tor read this article from the Jewish Daily Forward

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Medieval Spanish ghost town becomes self-sufficient ecovillage

 It’s a utopian fantasy discover a ghost town and rebuild it in line with your ideals-, but in Spain where there are nearly 3000 abandoned villages (most dating back to the Middle Ages), some big dreamers have spent the past 3 decades doing just that.

 There are now a few dozen “ecoaldeas” – ecovillages – in Spain, most build from the ashes of former Medieval towns. One of the first towns to be rediscovered was a tiny hamlet in the mountains of northern Navarra.

Lakabe was rediscovered in 1980 by a group of people living nearby who had lost their goats and “when they found their goats, they found Lakabe”, explains Mauge Cañada, one of the early pioneers in the repopulation of the town.

 The new inhabitants were all urbanites with no knowledge of country life so no one expected them to stay long. When they first began to rebuild, there was no road up to the town so horses were used to carry construction materials up the mountain. There was no electricity either so they lived with candles and oil lamps.

Click here to read this article from True Activist

Monday, January 07, 2013

English is a Scandinavian language

By Trine Nickelsen

Contrary to popular belief, the British did not 'borrow' words and concepts from the Norwegian and Danish Vikings and their descendants. What we call English is actually a form of Scandinavian.  

"Have you considered how easy it is for us Norwegians to learn English?" asks Jan Terje Faarlund, professor of linguistics at the University of Oslo. "Obviously there are many English words that resemble ours. But there is something more: its fundamental structure is strikingly similar to Norwegian. We avoid many of the usual mistakes because the grammar is more or less the same.

Faarlund and his colleague Joseph Emmonds, visiting professor from Palacký University in the Czech Republic, now believe they can prove that English is in reality a Scandinavian language, in other words it belongs to the Northern Germanic language group, just like Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Icelandic and Faroese. This is totally new and breaks with what other language researchers and the rest of the world believe, namely that English descends directly from Old English. Old English, or Anglo-Saxon, is a West Germanic language, which the Angles and Saxons brought with them from Northern Germany and Southern Jylland when they settled in the British Isles in the fifth century.

"Modern English is a direct descendant of the language of Scandinavians who settled in the British Isles in the course of many centuries, before the French-speaking Normans conquered the country in 1066," says Faarlund. He points out that Old English and Modern English are two very different languages. Why?

"We believe it is because Old English quite simply died out while Scandinavian survived, albeit strongly influenced of course by Old English," he says.

Click here to read this article from the University of Oslo

See also The History of English in Ten Minutes

Rich Man, Poor Man: The radical visions of St. Francis

“Why you?” a man asked Francesco di Bernardone, known to us now as St. Francis of Assisi. Francis (1181/2-1226) was scrawny and plain-looking. He wore a filthy tunic, with a piece of rope as a belt, and no shoes. While preaching, he often would dance, weep, make animal sounds, strip to his underwear, or play the zither. His black eyes sparkled. Many people regarded him as mad, or dangerous. They threw dirt at him. Women locked themselves in their houses.

Francis accepted all this serenely, and the qualities that at the beginning had marked him as an eccentric eventually made him seem holy. His words, one writer said, were “soothing, burning, and penetrating.” He had a way of “making his whole body a tongue.” Now, when he arrived in a town, church bells rang. People stole the water in which he had washed his feet; it was said to cure sick cows.

Years before he died, Francis was considered a saint, and in eight centuries he has lost none of his prestige. Apart from the Virgin Mary, he is the best known and the most honored of Catholic saints. In 1986, when Pope John Paul II organized a conference of world religious leaders to promote peace, he held it in Assisi. Francis is especially loved by partisans of leftist causes: the animal-rights movement, feminism, ecology, vegetarianism (though he was not a vegetarian). But you don’t have to be on the left to love Francis. He is the patron saint (with Catherine and Bernardino of Siena) of the nation of Italy.

Consequently, a vast number of books have been written about him. The first of the biographies appeared a few years after his death, and they’ve been coming ever since. Two more have recently appeared in English. One, Francis of Assisi: The Life and Afterlife of a Medieval Saint (Yale), is by André Vauchez, a professor emeritus of medieval studies at the University of Paris. The book appeared in France in 2009 and has now been published in English, in a translation by Michael F. Cusato. The other volume, Francis of Assisi: A New Biography (Cornell), is by Augustine Thompson, a Dominican priest and professor of history at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. The two books show that the Church is still trembling from the impact of this great reformer.

Click here to read this article from the New Yorker Magazine

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Don’t underestimate Viking women

“To assume that Viking men were ranked above women is to impose modern values on the past, which would be misleading,” cautions Marianne Moen. She has been studying how women’s status and power is expressed through Viking burial findings. Her master’s thesis The Gendered Landscape argues that viking gender roles may have been more complex than we assume.

 Exploring new perspectives of Viking society is a theme which also will be the focus of the forthcoming Viking Worlds conference in March 2013, where Moen is a member of the organising committee.

 Our assumptions of gender roles in viking society could skew the way we interpret burial findings, Moen points out. She uses the 1904 excavation of the Oseberg long boat to illustrate the point. Rather than the skeleton of a powerful king or chieftain, the ship surprisingly contained two female skeletons. “The first theories suggested that this must be the grave of queen Åsa mentioned in Snorri’s Ynglinga saga, and that the other skeleton was her slave servant,” says Moen. Åsa Haraldsdottir was the mother of Viking king Halfdan the Black.

 However, later carbon dating revealed that the buried ship was from around 834 AD - a date which made this theory unfeasible. But the idea of a queen mother and her servant became persistent amongst archaeologists.

Click here to read this article from Science Nordic

Click here to read her thesis The Gendered Landscape: A discussion on gender, status and power expressed in the Viking Age mortuary landscape

Click here to learn more about the Viking Worlds Archaeology Conference, which will be held in Oslo

More pieces from the Staffordshire Hoard discovered

The Staffordshire Hoard has now grown by a further 81 pieces, after a Coroner’s Court declared yesterday that the newly found objects were part of the Anglo-Saxon treasure.

 South Staffordshire Coroner Andrew Haigh ruled that 81 of the 91 pieces found in the field Hammerwich, near Lichfield were treasure. He discounted eight pieces as “modern” and declared that two further pieces, which were found 40 to 50 metres away from the other pieces were not part of the Hoard. Mr Haigh commented that “The Staffordshire Hoard was a magnificent find. I very much hope that these further items will be saved for the nation and added to the Hoard.”

 In November a team of archaeologists and experienced metal detectorists from Archaeology Warwickshire returned to the field when it was ploughed and recovered further material. Many of these items weigh less than a gram. The collection does however, include a possible helmet cheek piece, a cross- shaped mount and an eagle-shaped mount. These are currently being examined and x-rayed at a specialist archives laboratory. The British Museum’s valuation committee to assess their worth of the new discovery by March.

 Click here to read the full article from

Friday, January 04, 2013

Famed Roman shipwreck reveals more secrets

Ancient artifacts resembling the Antikythera mechanism, an ancient bronze clockwork astronomical calculator, may rest amid the larger-than-expected Roman shipwreck that yielded the device in 1901.

Marine archaeologists report they have uncovered new secrets of an ancient Roman shipwreck famed for yielding an amazingly sophisticated astronomical calculator. An international survey team says the ship is twice as long as originally thought and contains many more calcified objects amid the ship's lost cargo that hint at new discoveries.

At the Archaeological Institute of America meeting Friday in Seattle, marine archaeologist Brendan Foley of the Woods Hole (Mass.) Oceanographic Institution, will report on the first survey of Greece's famed Antikythera island shipwreck since 1976. The ancient Roman shipwreck was lost off the Greek coast around 67 BC,filled with statues and the famed astronomical clock.

"The ship was huge for ancient times," Foley says. "Divers a century ago just couldn't conduct this kind of survey but we were surprised when we realized how big it was."

Click here to read this article from USA Today

Medieval church finds home in California

Father Paul Mark Schwan shivers in the morning chill of California's Sacramento Valley, a blue hooded sweatshirt layered over his monk's robes. It's almost eerily quiet at the Abbey of New Clairvaux, an order of Cistercian monks in this town 20 miles north of Chico, where Schwan serves as abbot. A blanket of mist hugs the walnut orchards as the abbot picks his way across the muddy ground.

Before him lies a surreal site: an intact medieval church with vaulted limestone walls and peaked windows, looking as if it was dropped there by accident.

"I believe these stones were going to be used as a changing room for an indoor swimming pool," says Schwan, 56, looking thoughtfully at the building. "Thanks be to God it didn't happen."

This is the famous Chapter House of Ovila - a Spanish Trappist monastery built in the 12th century, rebuilt in the 16th century and with a history so dramatic, it almost belongs in a pulp novel. Originally imported by William Randolph Hearst to be used in a grand estate that never was, the monastery stones were all but abandoned in Golden Gate Park for more than 60 years.

But through the tireless lobbying of Schwan's predecessor, and a 12-year campaign by the monks to raise $7 million for a painstaking reconstruction, those stones found a home in Vina.

Click here to read this article from the San Francisco Gate

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Israeli library unveils medieval manuscript collection discovered in Afghanistan

A trove of ancient manuscripts in Hebrew characters rescued from caves in a Taliban stronghold in northern Afghanistan is providing the first physical evidence of a Jewish community that thrived there a thousand years ago.

 On Thursday Israel's National Library unveiled the cache of recently purchased documents that run the gamut of life experiences, including biblical commentaries, personal letters and financial records. 

Researchers say the "Afghan Genizah" marks the greatest such archive found since the "Cairo Genizah" was discovered in an Egyptian synagogue more than 100 years ago, a vast depository of medieval manuscripts considered to be among the most valuable collections of historical documents ever found.

 The Afghan collection gives an unprecedented look into the lives of Jews in ancient Persia in the 11th century. The paper manuscripts, preserved over the centuries by the dry, shady conditions of the caves, include writings in Hebrew, Aramaic, Judea-Arabic and the unique Judeo-Persian language from that era, which was written in Hebrew letters.

Click here to read this article from NPR

Ancient Carving Shows Stylishly Plump African Princess

By Owen Jarus

A 2,000-year-old relief carved with an image of what appears to be a, stylishly overweight, princess has been discovered in an "extremely fragile" palace in the ancient city of Meroë, in Sudan, archaeologists say.

 At the time the relief was made, Meroë was the center of a kingdom named Kush, its borders stretching as far north as the southern edge of Egypt. It wasn't unusual for queens (sometimes referred to as "Candaces") to rule, facing down the armies of an expanding Rome.

 The sandstone relief shows a woman smiling, her hair carefully dressed and an earring on her left ear. She appears to have a second chin and a bit of fat on her neck, something considered stylish, at the time, among royal women from Kush.

Click here to read this article from LiveScience

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Rare medieval silver gilt seal sells for £1,900 at auction

An ‘extremely rare’ medieval silver gilt seal matrix discovered in a field near East Keal by a man using a metal detector has sold for £1,900 at auction.

The 14th century love or loyalty seal, believed to have been dropped by a nobleman of the day, was bought by a collector from the south of England who was bidding over the telephone during the sale at auctioneers Golding Young & Mawer last month.

Auctioneer John Leatt said: “This seal was discovered in a field in the last two years and was extremely rare.

“We were aware of very few seals of this age that had come onto the market and certainly none that had been in as good condition or quality.

“Before the sale, we had lots of interest from private collectors which was reflected in price achieved on sale day. This seal certainly made a higher price than similar seals offered for sale on the open market.”

Click here to read this article from Skegness Standard

American Historical Association: Openings and New PhDs on the Rise: The 2012 Jobs Report

The number of job openings advertised with the AHA in the 2011–12 academic year increased by 18 percent over the year before—rising for the second time in a row. Unfortunately, other evidence shows the competition for academic positions also continued to grow, and the squeeze on full-time faculty positions continued.

Between June 1, 2011, and May 31, 2012, employers posted 740 positions with the AHA. This is up from a nadir of 569 positions in the 2009–10 academic year, but still well below the all-time peak of 1,064 jobs offered in 2007–08 at the precipice of the recent recession.

Despite the increase in the number of jobs available, there was a slight (0.3 percent) contraction in the number of full-time faculty actually employed in the 686 departments listed in the AHA's Directory of History Departments and Historical Organizations over the past two years. While 187 departments reported a net increase in the number of full-time faculty, and 333 departments were unchanged, 166 departments experienced a net reduction of one faculty member or more when compared to the previous academic year.

Click here to read the full report from the American Historical Association

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

The Magna Carta: an old piece of parchment that made England a nation – let's celebrate it

As a nation we take these things for granted. On a recent trip to Lincoln, ostensibly to visit the magnificent medieval cathedral, I found myself alone in a room in the nearby castle where one of only four original copies of the 1215 Magna Carta is kept. There was no queue to get in, no crush of people jostling for a view.

Yet in 1939, when this very document was put on show for just six months in the British Pavilion at the World Fair in New York, an estimated 14 million people went to see it. When war broke out, it stayed in America, locked away in Fort Knox for safe-keeping.

It was no coincidence that on a recent trip to America, David Cameron was asked while on a talk show to translate the words Magna Carta into English (he failed). Such documents are important to Americans. A trip to the National Archives Building in Washington DC to look at the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights is an essential pilgrimage for any visitor to the capital. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of school children have filed past them.

Why don’t we do the same here?

Click here to read the full article from The Daily Telegraph