Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Links: Resources Online

Although term has pretty much ended and few may be interested in, say, learning palaeography for fun, or examining MSS online, or calculating Medieval dates over the summer, I'd like to draw everyone's attention to a site I think well worth book-marking: Dr Dianne Tillotson's Links.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Cathedral gate repairs could cost £100,000

THE cost of repairing the gate outside Peterborough Cathedral left mangled when a car rammed into it last week is likely to be almost £100,000.

A painstaking repair operation has been launched to piece together timber panels left shattered by the impact, with specialist conservator Hugh Harrison engaged to do the meticulous reconstruction.

But first the damaged half of the medieval gate – thought to be the oldest working one in England – will have to be carefully hoisted from the archway and transported to Mr Harrison's workshop in Devon.

Cathedral architect, Julian Limentani, said the heavy oak structure would have to be lifted free mechanically.

He said: "We will need to find someone that can do what is a very difficult operation in a very confined space, lifting between one and two tons of gate without damaging it further.

"It will need some form of lifting gear, but what, we are not 100 per cent sure at present."The gate was damaged in an apparent freak accident last Thursday involving the elderly male driver of a Volkswagen Polo, who lost control of the vehicle.

He was thought to have been heading away from the cathedral precincts and towards Cathedral Square when his vehicle struck a bollard and then the open gate, damaging two low wooden panels and a vertical piece known as a stile.

Mr Limentani said the panels had been broken into bits, but in a procedure more like something from TV scenes-of-crime drama CSI, the fragments were kept where they had fallen and protected with a hoarding.

They have since been photographed in situ by a member of Mr Harrison's staff so they can be put back together like a jigsaw puzzle later.

Mr Limentani said: "The vertical stile where the gates meet has been smashed completely and the first two panels at the low level have been turned into matchwood, so the damage is quite extensive."

But the stile was replaced in the 19th century anyway, so we will replace that again with a new piece of wood and then piece together the 13th century timbers which make up the panels.

"Some of the framing at the back of the door, which is diagonal, almost brace-type framing, has also come off and some of that has been damaged, so that will have to be repaired as well, but that should be the majority of it."

Mr Limentani said nine pieces of stone had been dislodged in the bizarre shunt, most of which would be put back.

Also damaged was some ironwork which blocks the gap between the wall and the gate when it is open, preventing people from slipping into the space to answer the call of nature.

He added: "We think it's going to be close to £100,000. But one of the things we are hoping to do is some dendrochronology (timber dating) to find out precisely the date of the gate, which is known to be at least 13th century, if not 12th."

Police are still investigating the collision and have not brought any charges.

Czech medieval crown jewels go on rare display

The Czech nation's most precious treasure — medieval crown jewels — will soon be put on display for the first time in five years.

President Vaclav Klaus decided to show the priceless treasures at Prague Castle with no admission charge on April 19-29 to mark the 90th anniversary of the establishment of the independent Czechoslovak state.

The centerpiece is the St. Wenceslas crown from the middle of the 14th century. It is accompanied by the royal scepter and orb, both dating to the 16th century. The lot also includes the coronation cross, vestments and a sword.

Seven key holders, including Klaus, gathered Thursday to open the chamber inside Prague's St. Vitus' cathedral where the jewels have been kept since 1791.

Blame Petrarch for covering the world in the darkness of "Renaissance" ignorance...

I may be an idealist, but I have a dream. A dream where the middle ages are not demonized by the general public. A dream where medievalists are afforded even a modicum of respect. A dream where... oh who am I kidding? The middle ages will forever respect barbarism and ignorance in the minds of the uninformed. Curse you Petrarch!

Today in the Middle Ages

19 April, 1012 - Martyrdom of St Alphege in Greenwich, London.

What's it all about Alphege?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Huge Viking Hoard Discovered in Sweden

Hundreds of ancient coins unearthed last week close to Sweden's main international airport suggests the Vikings were bringing home foreign currency earlier than previously thought, archaeologists say.

Buried some 1,150 years ago, the treasure trove is made up mainly of Arabic coins and represents the largest early Viking hoard ever discovered in Sweden.

Archaeologists from the Swedish National Heritage Board unexpectedly found the stash of 472 silver coins while excavating a Bronze Age tomb near Stockholm's Arlanda airport. (See a map of Sweden.)

Kenneth Jonsson, a professor of coin studies at the University of Stockholm, has independently dated the hoard to about A.D. 850.

"That date is very early, because coin imports [by the Vikings] only start in about [A.D.] 800," Jonsson said.

The discovery contains more coins than Sweden's only other known large Viking hoard from the period, which was discovered in 1827, Jonsson added.

"That coins were so important to the Vikings at such an early date is very interesting" and suggests they may have engaged in intensive overseas trade earlier than previously believed, he said.

Viking Treasure

The newfound hoard consists only of eastern coins, which is unsurprising, since early Viking hoards are typically dominated by coins from the Middle East.

Most of the coins were minted in Arab locations such as Baghdad in modern-day Iraq and Damascus in Syria. The youngest coin dates to the A.D. 840s

But the oldest coins came from Persia, said dig team member Karin Beckman-Thoor.
These Persian coins must have been in circulation for centuries before being buried and "were very high quality," she said.

While Swedish Viking hoards are often found on the Baltic island of Gotland, they are much less common on the mainland.

Once thoroughly studied, the hoard "will give us lots of information about the journey it made and also ideas about why it was left in the ground," Beckman-Thoor said.

While Swedish Viking hoards are often found on the Baltic island of Gotland, they are much less common on the mainland.

Once thoroughly studied, the hoard "will give us lots of information about the journey it made and also ideas about why it was left in the ground," Beckman-Thoor said.

Viking Women and the Sea Serpent (1957)

The Juniper Tree (1987)

Hrafninn flýgur (1984)

Ancient abbey attacked by vandals

Vandals who unearthed and damaged ancient stones at a medieval abbey near Stirling are being hunted by police.

Central Scotland Police said those responsible broke an historic moulded stone at Cambuskenneth Abbey and moved others housed in the bell tower.

The damage was caused sometime between 0930 GMT and 1830 GMT on 27 March and was uncovered by a caretaker.

The ancient monument, built circa 1140 on the orders of King David I, was then targeted again by vandals on 3 April.

Chief Insp Kevin Findlater, appealed to the owner of a white minibus who may have been in the area at the time to come forward.

He said: "This type of behaviour will not be tolerated.

"This is a site of historic interest and I urge the public to come forward with any information they may have about these incidents.

"I am particularly interested to speak to anybody who may have been on a white minibus which parked in the area on Thursday March 27."

The chief inspector said patrols in the area had been stepped up.

Dig team finds medieval gateway

Archaeologists in Somerset have uncovered evidence of a medieval gateway at Taunton Castle.

The team made the discovery during excavations as part of the Museum of Somerset Project which will see the castle restored and modernised.

The project has recently been given a boost from the Heritage Lottery Fund of £4.8m.
This will go towards the overall project costs of £6.5m. The excavations form the first stage of the project.

Somerset County Council archaeologist Chris Webster said: "Whenever we have the chance to look at the archaeology of Taunton Castle it always comes up with some surprises.

"We have removed a 20th Century gate post and discovered that a much earlier medieval gateway survives, linking the Castle's inner courtyard with structures currently in the garden of the Castle Hotel.

"Small excavations like this, undertaken with local volunteers, are gradually adding to our plan of the castle - which is, however, still very confused."

European history in cod bones

Trading across medieval Europe revealed in cod bones more than a metre in length.

The catastrophic decline of North Sea cod as the result of over fishing has had an impact on all our menus, from the poshest restaurants to the corner chippie: the fish left are few and small, compared with those of less than a century ago. Cod more than a metre in length are rare these days, whereas archaeological remains show that fish several times that size were common.

A new study shows that cod were exploited in the Middle Ages from many, often distant, fishing grounds, with an international trade in dried stockfish. Some fish eaten in a Yorkshire village may have been some from off the coast of Sweden, while merchants in what is now northern Germany ate cod from Arctic Norway.

Co-operation by archaeologists and scientists from Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Scandinavia and the Baltic states has allowed medieval cod bones recovered from sites as far apart as Poland and Orkney to be analysed for their stable-isotope content. Variation in the isotopes of carbon and nitrogen is regional, “making it possible to identify bones from cod caught in distant waters”, James Barrett and colleagues report in the Journal of Archaeological Science. Their work suggests that this long-distance fish trade had already begun by late Anglo-Saxon times, at the end of the first millennium AD.

Consumption of marine fish such as cod went up sharply about AD1000 in parts of Northern and Western Europe, but until now it was not clear how much this was relatively local fishing, and how much the result of organised long-distance trade. The distinction is important, the team say, because “the emergence of commercial fishing represents a watershed in the intensity of human use of the sea. It is central to an understanding of economic history”.

The study selected skull bones from archaeological sites that were probably fisheries, because traded dried fish are usually decapitated as well as gutted. These were used as control samples.

“Target samples” were bones bearing butchery marks, often vertebrae or the paired cleithra behind the skull which often remain on dried or smoked fish such as kippers.

The control samples from northern Norwegian sites came from Arctic fisheries, unsurprisingly, while those from Orkney were from the northern North Sea and those from eastern England and Belgium came from farther south. Danish samples were from the Kattegat between Denmark and Sweden, and Polish ones from the eastern Baltic. In every case the nearest significant fishing zone was the one exploited.

Some of the target samples showed a similar pattern, but one of two from Wharram Percy, a deserted medieval village on the Yorkshire Wolds, seem to have come from the Kattegat and not the North Sea, while most of those from the western Baltic trading community of Haithabu or Hedeby, near the eastern end of the Kiel Canal across the base of the Jutland peninsula, seem to have come from Arctic Norway and not the Baltic fisheries.

Stable-isotope analysis of fish remains “has the potential to revolutionise our understanding of the origins and growth of commercial fishing in northern Europe, freeing it from the limits of an incomplete historical record”, the team says. Although fisheries farther afield, such as the later Basque exploitation of those off Labrador in northeastern Canada, are not included in the present project, it may help to rewrite the history of North Atlantic as well as North Sea commerce in the second millennium.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ice-cream stick ship sails for England

A Viking ship made from ice-cream sticks set sail for England from the Netherlands on Tuesday.

The 15-metre (50-foot) long ship, named after the Norse god Thor, is made from 15 million recycled ice-cream sticks glued together by U.S.-born stuntman Robert McDonald, his son and more than 5,000 children.

"If you can dream it you can do it ... I want to teach children that anything is possible," McDonald said.

Badly injured as a child in a gas explosion that killed the rest of his family, he has loaded his ship with cuddly toys and plans to reach London and visit children in hospitals.

He and his crew hope to cross the Atlantic later on the ancient Viking route to North America via Iceland and Greenland.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Not an April Fool's joke

An erotic Medieval pilgrim's badge.

Lecture Announcement

Rolf Bremmer: '"Here is Written" - Literacy in Medieval Frisia'.

This lecture examines the emergence and impact of literacy in a medieval society. This case study will focus on medieval Frisia, a region stretching along the northern part of current Holland and Germany.

When literacy took root there over the course of the thirteenth century, it changed social interactions and helped shape a Frisian identity.

Rolf Bremmer is professor of Medieval Frisian Culture and Literature at the University of Leiden, the Netherlands, and will also be speaking at the annual meeting of the Medieval Academy (Vancouver, 3-5 April).

Time and location: Tuesday 1 April 2008, 4:15 PM, David Strong room C 128