Friday, June 28, 2013

Crusader Feces, Bat Feces, Latin swear words, and building a village - medieval news roundup

Here are some news stories from the medievalverse, and a few from beyond it...

Crusader Feces

An article in the International Journal of Paleopathology shows that many Crusaders would have been suffering from worms or other diseases. Test done by two researchers from the University of Cambridge at Saranda Kolones castle in Cyrpus showed that two species of parasite, the roundworm and the whipworm, were prevalent among the crusaders. The castle was built after the Third Crusade and abandoned in 1222.

Evilena Anastasiou and Piers D. Mitchell write that "the discovery of these parasites highlights how medieval crusaders may have been at risk of malnutrition at times of siege and famine, as these worms competed with them for nutrients."

You can read more about this story from Reuters.

The article 'Human intestinal parasites from a latrine in the 12th century Frankish castle of Saranda Kolones in Cyprus' is available here.

One stone at a time

While we have reported on groups in France and Arkansas that are building medieval castles, we now have a team of 25 workers in Germany who have just started constructing a replica of a ninth century monastic settlement and town. Bert Geuten is leading the effort to build the medieval site near the southern German town of Me├čkirch in Baden-W├╝rttemberg. Because they are using authentic historical tools and techniques, it will take over 40 years before the project is complete, which will include a 2,000 seat cathedral.

They began last weekend by starting construction on a small church. “In the ninth century the monks would have built a small church first – they didn't want to wait until the cathedral was ready to be able to pray. So we're doing the same,” Geuten explained.

Click here to read the full article from The Local.

Bat Feces

Churches in England are again facing danger, but not from thieves stealing their metal or declining attendance. Instead, bats are the new threat, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph. An environmental directive from the European Union prohibits building owners from killing bats or destroying their roosts, and this is apparently leading to church interiors being contaminated with bat droppings.

Tony Baldry, a Member of Parliament who officially speaks for the Church of England, said, "the church of St Peter ad Vincula at South Newington in my own constituency has some very fine, almost unique, medieval wall paintings which seem to have been spared Thomas Cromwell's men. But having survived the ravages of the Reformation they are now threatened by bat urine. And these are irreplaceable parts of our natural heritage."

Click here to read the article from Daily Telegraph

How to Swear like a Roman

One of my daily reads The Atlantic magazine occasionally has articles related to history. Last month, they looked at ancient cursing with Futuo! How the Romans Swore. It focuses on the new book, Holy Sh*t! A Brief History of Swearing by Melissa Mohr, and explains the meaning behind Latin words such as futuo, landica, cinaedus, mingo, cacare and verecundum. You can read that article here.

What it takes to run the IMC

The International Medieval Congress is taking place at the University of Leeds from June 30th to July 4th. Over 2000 people will be attending (I wish I was there too). Anthony Lowe, event manager for MeetInLeeds is in charge of making sure everything goes smoothly “This has been three years in the planning as it is the largest conference we have hosted on the campus,” he explains to ConferenceNews. “It’s been great working with all the different departments to create a medieval campus, with special exhibitions in the university art gallery, library and academic meeting rooms, as well as themed menus and medieval street food."

He adds, “It’s going to be incredibly busy but we’re extremely well-prepared for it and will be working hard to ensure that everyone has a fabulous experience and remembers their medieval experience for many years to come. Leeds is a very attractive campus and we are looking forward to showing it at its very best.”

Click here to read the full article from ConferenceNews

Social Networking in the 1600s

Tom Standage is the author of the forthcoming book, Writing on the Wall: Social Media — The First 2,000 Years. In this article from the New York Times, he writes about how the coffeehouse was the social-networking site of the 17th century. He explains:

People went to coffeehouses not just to drink coffee, but to read and discuss the latest pamphlets and news-sheets and to catch up on rumor and gossip. Coffeehouses were also used as post offices. Patrons would visit their favorite coffeehouses several times a day to check for new mail, catch up on the news and talk to other coffee drinkers, both friends and strangers. Some coffeehouses specialized in discussion of particular topics, like science, politics, literature or shipping. As customers moved from one to the other, information circulated with them.

You can read the article here.

The Rise of the Novel

Staying in Early Modern England, Penn State News has an interesting profile of Leah Orr, a specialist in 18th-century literature. She just completed her PhD on Did the Novel Rise? Fiction and Print Culture in England, 1690-1730, which "rebuts the longstanding notion that the novel as we now know it became a recognized form and rose to prominence during that time period. That conception of early fiction, she argues, is based on close readings of a few famous texts by major authors, such as Daniel Defoe and Aphra Behn, and neglects the broader literary context in which those texts were written and first read."

Click here to read more from Penn State.

Other news bits:

Medieval herb garden unveiled at Northumberland Park

Medieval Polish Treasures Revealed at Down Museum Exhibition

Rachel Koopmans wins Margaret Wade Labarge Prize for Books in Medieval Studies

Video: Students studying Archaeology at Queen's University take part in an excavation which discovers a Medieval Lime Kiln, which may have been used during the construction of Dundrum Castle.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Gutenberg, Executions, Medicis, Vikings, Hobbits and more - medieval news roundup

A medieval news roundup for the weekend...

If you are a fan of Marshall McLuhan or have an interest in the history of printing, this interview from the Columbia Journalism Review might interest you. In this post, entitled The future is medieval, they talk with Thomas Pettitt and Lars Ole Sauerberg from the University of Southern Denmark about their “Gutenberg Parenthesis” idea. It deals with how digital media will be tipping the scales between oral and print communication, the first change we have seen since Gutenberg started his printing machine. It includes some talk about the medieval period, such as:

The Middle Ages was not strong on membership of communities. They were not obsessive about inside versus outside. They didn’t emphasize, “I’m a denizen of this town, I’m a citizen of this country, I belong in this nation, behind these frontiers.” They saw themselves rather like Hobbits (Tolkien was a medievalist). Hobbits knew their relatives to the seventh degree: second cousins three times removed, and so on. In the Middle Ages people saw themselves as part of a network of connections. They knew their family trees. They knew with whom they were related. They identified themselves as a node in a network and they saw pathways, connections to other people in their extended family. They also saw themselves in terms depending on their profession. If they were in the Church, they saw themselves in the Church hierarchy as being a priest here, subject to the archdeacon here, subject to the bishop there, and the archbishop and the pope. You could have status by being the servant to a servant to someone important.

You can also listen to this talk they were part of from MIT:

Slate magazine offers this fascinating excerpt from The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century, by Joel F. Harrington. It details how 16th century executioners performed their task. For example:

During his own 45-year career and 187 recorded executions with the sword, Meister Frantz required a second stroke only four times (an impressive success rate of 98 percent), yet he dutifully acknowledges each mistake in his journal with the simple annotation botched

The New York Times has a short article about how nine children from the wealthy and poweful Medici family have been found to have rickets, a disease caused by a lack of Vitamin D and usually associated with the poor. In this case, "the researchers said the children were probably deprived of sunlight, which spurs the body to make vitamin D. Wealthy children of that time were often tightly swaddled and kept inside, with suntans discouraged as signs of low standing."

Sticking with the Medici's, Three Pipe Problem (a great blog) has an interview with Edward Goldberg, who does extensive research on that family and on the Jewish community in Renaissance Italy.

ScienceNordic reports that a 1200 year old Carolingian coin has been discovered in Norway. Jon Anders Risvaag, from NTNU University Museum, explains “Two factors make this find stand out. Firstly, this coin is older than the Carolingian coinage reform, and so far the oldest coin from Charlemagne’s reign found in Norway. Secondly, this coin was not found in a grave, in contrast to almost all other coins from Charlemagne and his successors that have been found in Norway.”

If you are interested in the Vikings, go over to Medieval Histories, where Karen Schousboe has written several posts about the Norsemen, including an indepth review of an exhibition Vikings 2013 at the National Museum in Copenhagen.

Finally, the CBC (our public broadcaster here in Canada), has this article Film, TV tourism spikes with Game of Thrones, The Hobbit. Fans seem to be heading to Northern Ireland, Dubrovnik and New Zealand to check out the beautiful backdrops to their favourite shows/movies. New Zealand tourism is cashing on in the Hobbit (like they did with Lord of the Rings movies) with their "100% Middle-earth, 100% Pure New Zealand" campaign.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The first ever comic book?

Damien Kempf on Tumblr writes about this image from a 12th century manuscript known as the Bible of Stephen Harding. This work contains many images, including this page that details the story of King David. Just like a modern day comic book, you are supposed to go through this page from left to write and top to bottom, and read the caption for each box. 

The manuscript - Dijon BM MS.14 - has been scanned and is available on the French government website

You can also follow Damien Kempf on Twitter at @DamienKempf

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Three medieval archaeological discoveries: Newfoundland, Egypt and Cambodia

Here are three reports of medieval discoveries from around the world...


We know that the Vikings tried to create a settlement at L'anse aux Meadows on Newfoundland around the year 1000. A report by Owen Jarus at LiveScience adds that these Norsemen also visited the Notre Dame Bay region of that island as well.

Kevin Smith, deputy director and chief curator of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology at Brown University, explained at a recent conference that two jasper artifacts had been discovered on the site of L'anse aux Meadows, and when they underwent chemical tests it revealed they had most likely come from around Notre Dame Bay, which lies about 230 km southeast of the Viking settlement.

The report also suggests that this might also be the area where the Vikings encountered the Beothuk or other native peoples. Jarus writes, "Ever since the discovery of L'Anse aux Meadows nearly 50 years ago, archaeologists and historians have been trying to uncover the story of Norse exploration in the New World. Previous research has revealed the presence of butternut seeds at L'Anse aux Meadows, indicating the Norse made a trip to the Gulf of St. Lawrence or possibly even a bit beyond. Additionally, Norse artifacts (and possibly a structure) have been discovered in the Canadian Arctic, indicating a trading relationship with the indigenous people there that might have lasted for centuries."

Click here to read the full article


The Atlantic reports on the underwater archaeology that has discovered the remains of the Egyptian port of Heracleion/Thonis. They write that "sometime around the 8th century AD, Thonis sank into the sea. Most scientists believe that a combination of factors contributed to the cataclysm: a rise in sea level, coupled with a sudden collapse of the sediment-heavy earth on which the city was built. Whatever the causes, though, the results were clear: Heracleion -- Thonis -- essentially collapsed into itself. The city built upon the water plunged into it."

In the year 2000, a team led by Franck Goddio found and explored the ruins. Here is their video of what remains of the ancient port:

Click here to read the full article.


Archaeologists from the University of Sydney have discovered the lost city of Mahendraparvata. The Sydney Morning Herald tells the story of how the archaeologists used airborne laser technology to scan the area, which lies in northern Cambodia. Damian Evans, director of the University of Sydney's archaeological research centre in Cambodia, explains "with this instrument - bang - all of a sudden we saw an immediate picture of an entire city that no one knew existed which is just remarkable."

This city was built by the Khmer people in the 5th century AD and included dozens of temples. In 802 AD the famous city of Angkor Wat was founded 40 kilometres to the south. Mahendraparvata was abandoned and gradually became covered over with jungle.

Click here to read the full article.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Reading, Insulting, Taxing, Finding and Stealing - medieval news roundup

What did people read in the Middle Ages?

A new book is looking at how people in late-medieval London read. Arthur Bahr, a professor of literature at MIT, found that many people maintained eclectic reading habits.

In his latest work, Fragments and Assemblages: Forming Compilations in Medieval London, shows the ways people in the Middle Ages would create books that included a wide variety of different texts, including chronicles, letters, literature and religious texts. For example, Andrew Horn, the chamberlain for the city of London in the 1320s, bound together various texts, including legal treatises, French-language poetry, and descriptions of London.

Arthur Bahr comments, “Horn actually uses the construction of his books to create literary puzzles for his reader. One poem just doesn’t make sense, but if you read the poem in juxtaposition with the legal treatise that comes after, then the two pieces make sense. He’s suggesting that the law and literature are sort of the yin and the yang, you need both. And that is kind of amazing, really.”

Click here to read more from MIT News.

Top Five Insults from Medieval Flanders

Jan Dumolyn and Jelle Haemers, who did research on Flemish rebels in the later Middle Ages, found that these men could hurl insults with the best of them. The top five were:

  1.  ‘A bad chicken was brooding’ 
  2.  ‘Son of a bitch’ 
  3.  ‘I shit on you’ 
  4.  ‘Liver eater’ 
  5.  ‘Kill! Kill!’

Some of these insults are rather obvious, others take a bit of understanding. Check out the article The five most common insults and slogans of medieval rebels from Oxford University Press to learn more.

Taxes between Wales and England

Nia M.W. Powell of Bangor University writes about at taxation records from England and Wales between the 13th and 17th centuries. While it seems in the Middle Ages it could be quite difficult for the crown to get consent for tax subsidies from the commons, efforts were made to make a more uniform tax regime during the 16th century.

Powell adds, "Early modern Wales has been presented so frequently as “poor little Wales”, a land of backward impoverishment lagging behind its prosperous and “progressive” English counterpart, a country lacking towns and even rejecting urban civility, a country struggling against the odds.

"This is not the picture drawn by early modern taxation records, particularly with regard to urban life. Port towns in north and south Wales reveal an enviable prosperity among its inhabitants that equalled and surpassed most urban centres in south-west England."

You can read Powell's article Welsh History Month: Tax records throw light on the story of Wales from Wales Online.

Other news bits:

Archaeologists in Estonia have discovered the skeletal remains of a man in Tartu Catherdral. Martin Malve, of the University of Tartu, says, “We can currently say that the skeleton originates from the 13-15th century, when tombs were actively used for burials. The skeleton belonged to a man aged 40-50. Initial examination shows that the teeth were relatively unworn; there were a few teeth missing from when he was alive, as well as plaque and dental cavities. The right elbow [...] had a healed bone fracture that could have resulted from trying to stop a fall,” Read more from Estonia Public Broadcasting

Archaeologist with the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust have discovered a Roman construction camp and early medieval cemetery in Wales. Check out this article from the BBC or read the full archaeological report.

In Ireland thieves stole an entire window from a medieval church.

Finally, did you know that Byzantine art from 1174 influenced this year's fashion trends? No...neither did I. So says The Guardian in this article 12 great years for fashion.