Wednesday, June 30, 2010

12th-century Crusader fresco to go on display in Israel

An enormous Crusader-era fresco that was discovered in Jerusalem will go on display next month at the Israel Museum. At nine meters long and 2.7 meters high, it is the largest painting ever discovered by archaeologists in Israel....

Click here to read the full article on

International Medieval Congress to focus on Travel and Exploration

The International Medieval Congress (IMC), the largest academic conference in Great Britain, will be featuring some of the world’s finest medieval minds as they present the advantages yet inevitable dangers of travel in the medieval world.

From 12-15 July, over 1,500 scholars from around the world will gather at the University of Leeds for the eighteenth International Medieval Congress...

Click here to read the full article on

Textus Roffensis: Law, Language and Libraries in Early Medieval England – conference at the University of Kent

A three-day conference on the Textus Roffensis, the priceless 12th century Rochester Cathedral manuscript which was named Britain’s ‘Hidden Treasure’ by the British Library, will take place at the University of Kent between July 25-27.

Textus Roffensis is a Rochester Cathedral book of the early 12th century that holds some of the most significant texts issued by England’s various early medieval kingdoms going back to the laws of King Æthelbert of Kent (c. 604). It also preserves abundant records from one of England’s earliest episcopal sees....

To read the full article, please go to

Monday, June 28, 2010

Project Gargoyle begins in Leicestershire

An unusal project in Leicestershire, England, is hunting down gargoyles in order to help understand the region's gothic art. Project Gargoyle has been set up to create a brand new resource capturing Leicestershire's wealth of medieval sculpture.

The first of its kind in the country, a 50-strong team of volunteers is now in place and busy taking photographs of figurative church carvings such as gargoyles. Around 300 churches locally feature stylised or caricatured human heads and weird and wonderful imaginary beasts which so far, have failed to attract the interests of art historians or specialists.

The information collected through Project Gargoyle, led by volunteer Bob Trubshaw and supported by the County Council, will become a digital resource offering fascinating insights into medieval minds.

Mr. Trubshaw said, "Leicestershire has a wealth of wonderful medieval art decorating its churches but to date, no one knows exactly what we have. Many of these carvings are superb examples of medieval art and deserve to be much better known and understood.

"At this stage we simply do not know how many carvings there - we think there are around 10,000 ranging from gargoyles which are pulling faces or poking their tongues out, to ones depicting fantasy entities such as green men or dragons."

Byron Rhodes, County Council Cabinet Member for the historic and natural environment, added, "This innovative project is run entirely by volunteers and I'd like to thank them for helping to record an important chapter in Leicestershire's art history.

"When complete, it will be a tremendous addition to the county's archives and hopefully inspire other areas to document their medieval carvings in a similar manner."

The Diocese of Leicester, the Diocese of Peterborough and Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society are involved in the initiative which was first set up last year.

For more information on the project, please visit the County Council's website - or contact co-ordinator Bob Trubshaw on 01509 880725 or email

Source: Leicestershire County Council

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The ultimate cold case: Anthropologist 'bones up' on site of early medieval invasion

The body was found in a small, graffiti-stained tunnel. Robbery was likely not the motive, as his possessions and cash were found with him.

The University of Alberta's Sandra Garvie-Lok can't tell exactly how the victim on her table died, but she has a good idea. Given the visible previous cranial trauma on the body, the events that took place around the time of the murder and the location where his remains were found, she is willing to bet that this John Doe was murdered. Yet, no suspect will ever be tried or convicted for the crime. And she's OK with that.

That's because Garvie-Lok is an anthropologist, and her "victim" died almost 1,500 years ago in the ancient Greek city of Nemea during the Slavic invasion of Greece. Garvie-Lok, whose findings on her deceased subject were recently published in the International Journal of Historical Archaeology, suggests the victim was likely an eyewitness to Slavic invasion of Nemea. The deceased possibly used the tunnel entrance as an escape from the invaders, where he died/was killed.

"The Slavs and Avars (another group of eastern European peoples) were pretty brutal," said Garvie-Lok, a professor in the department of anthropology. "If he was hiding in that unpleasant place, he was probably in a lot of danger. So, he hid out, but he didn't make it."

A specialist in osteology—a field of anthropology that studies bones—Garvie-Lok was called in to the site to try to determine how the subject died. However, aside from the damage to the skull, which Garvie-Lok says are not related to the fatal injury that caused his death, there are no markings on the bones that would give her a definitive idea of the circumstances of the victim's final hours or days.

But, she knows from the region's history, and from how he was found, that he lived during a very turbulent time. Like a detective, she pieces together a probable scenario of what happened to around the time he succumbed to his injuries. Add into the mystery that he was found with some personal possession and several coins, and Garvie-Lok can put a bit more together about his life.

"It was common in Greece when things fell apart like this for people to bury coins under a rock or inside a wall, hoping that whoever was coming through wouldn't find it and maybe they could collect the coins and move on after things calmed down," said Garvie-Lok. "Of course, things didn't calm down for this guy."

The ancient fatality was likely just a local peasant farmer and not a soldier, she noted, since it was uncommon for the leaders of the Byzantine Empire to conscript. While it is possible that he was simply a "wrong place, wrong time" victim of a gallop-by spearing, Garvie-Lok says he may have decided to join the fight in the hopes of defending himself, his family and his community. "Or he was pressed into service because everything was just going south, we can't be sure," says Garvie-Lok. "Either way, that he was hiding with his possession when he died is a pretty clear reflection that, for him, his world was ending," she said.

If her work sounds a lot like a form of ancient-crime CSI, Garvie-Lok agrees that while there are some parallels to solving mysteries, both ancient and current-day, her job demands far more time and scrutiny than an hour-long television show depicts. Observing the surroundings of where things are found, looking for small clues and piecing together tiny bits of detail to try to put together a probable theory of what happened are traits that anthropologists have in common in with police scientists. The advantage in current crime-scene investigation is that police can formulate and hypothesize about how a crime was committed and then fill in more details when a suspect confesses. Her work, she muses, is a little more vague.

"In this job, you're always talking about likelihoods," she said."Until we develop a time machine, we can't go back and know for sure."

For the would-be forensics technician who expects that the work will be much like it is on TV—"the whole 'we've-got-the-answer-in-12-hours' thing"—as she puts it, Garvie-Lok cautions that her work is much more laborious and time-consuming. Working in often-adverse conditions and facing long hours poring over the minutiae of a site—or a body—is what it is all about. That is where the story is found, and that is what draws her to this work.

"This kind of connection to people's lives is why I got into this," said Garvie-Lok. "I really do feel while I'm studying the bones that I'm touching someone else's life, I'm reaching out to the past. That's why I like this job."

The article, "A Possible Witness to the Sixth Century Slavic Invasion of Greece from the Stadium Tunnel at Ancient Nemea," by Sandra Garvie-Lok is in International Journal of Historical Archaeology, Volume 14, Number 2 (June 2010). Click here to see the article on the SpringerLink website.

Source: Eurek Alert

Friday, June 25, 2010

Call for Papers: Love, Friendship, Marriage, at the Plymouth State University Medieval and Renaissance Forum

Plymouth State University
32nd Annual Medieval and Renaissance Forum
Friday and Saturday April 15-16, 2011

Call for Papers and Sessions
“Love, Friendship, Marriage”

We invite abstracts in medieval and Early Modern studies that consider how secular and religious love, affection, and devotion were perceived and expressed in a variety of contexts. Papers need not be confined to the theme, but may cover many aspects of medieval and Renaissance life, literature, languages, art, philosophy, theology, history and music. Student sessions with faculty sponsorship welcome.

This year’s keynote speaker is Dr. Thomas Luxon, Professor of English and Cheheyl Professor and Director of the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning at Dartmouth College. Dr. Luxon has published widely on Milton, Shakespeare, and Early Modern England. He is the author of Single Imperfection: Milton, Marriage and Friendship (Duquesne University Press, 2005), and Literal Figures: Puritan Allegory and the Reformation Crisis in Representation (The University of Chicago Press, 1995), and the creator/editor of The Milton Reading Room, a web edition of Milton’s poetry and selected prose.

The conference will conclude with a lesson in Renaissance dance and a performance by the Ken Pierce Dance Company. Students, faculty, and independent scholars are welcome.

For more information visit

Please submit abstracts and full contact information (email and post mail addresses) to Dr. Karolyn Kinane at

Or via US mail:
Dr. Karolyn Kinane, Director
Medieval and Renaissance Forum
Dept. of English MSC 40
17 High Street
Plymouth State University
Plymouth, NH 03264

Abstract deadline: January 21, 2011
Presenters and early registration: March 15, 2011

Please send any further inquiries to:
Dr. Karolyn Kinane

Harold Bluetooth's Palace discovered and other medieval archaeology news

Here are several reports of medieval archaeological finds this month:

Royal Palace of Harold Bluetooth Discovered in Denmark

Archaeologists from the University of Aarhus in Denmark have discovered a royal palace belonging to Harald Bluetooth, who ruled both Denmark and Norway during the later years of the tenth century.

Mads Dengsø Jessen, the archaeologist from Århus University who led the dig said four buildings from Harald’s time had been discovered at the site, which is in southern Jutland. The buildings are characteristic of those built at round fortresses known as Trelleborg.

Jessen explained, "Here we have found four houses of Trelleborg type from Harald Bluetooth's time which lies within the palisade and are of the same type as the barracks houses that are known from the ring fortresses Aggersborg, Fyrkat and Trelleborg. This tells us that we have uncovered a large complex, and the strict geometrical construction is a typical example of Harald’s work. The finds show that there was a royal construction of dimensions that could compare with similar building complexes on the continent, such as those by the Holy Roman Emperor in Germany."

The archaeologists also believe that Harald's royal hall is probably underneath a church on the site. The site is located in the village of Jelling, which is famous as the place where two great Tumulus mounds were erected in the late 900s. They seem to have been the burial mounds for Harald's parents. Also, Harald erected two large stones with runic inscriptions in this area, known as the Jelling Stones.

The research being done on this site is likely to change medieval historians perceptions about these Scandinavian fortresses. Jessen noted that, "The traditional interpretation is that they served only as military installations, but the identification of a large royal courtyard in Jelling with the same type of architecture that suggests ring fortresses also served as a hangout for the king when he traveled around the kingdom."

Dereham, England

Archaeologists working in the English county of Norfolk uncovered two oyster shells in the churchyard of St. Nicholas' Church in Dereham. One of the shells contained remains of several paints, including yellow, a reddish, earthy brown colour and a small spot of black. The archaeologists believe that this shell was used as a palette for an artist working in the medieval period, perhaps the 12th or 13th centuries.

The discovery was part of a dig on the boundary wall of St. Nicholas' Church - last year a 20th century wall was removed from this spot, allowing archaeologists to dig a trench which discovered the shells, along with an ivory handle and a knife with antler handle. It is believed that these artifacts were rubbish from the church of a wealthy household living nearby. Click here to see some images from this dig on Flikr.

York, England

Workman digging in the English city of York have come across the remains of two human bodies in Lansdowne Terrance. Police determined that the remains were historical and have turned the investigation over to the York Archaeological Trust.

Martin Stockwell, field manager at the trust, told the York Press that “The builders have been doing some work there to build a new extension and located some human remains. We think this may have been part of St Edward’s Church which was located on the site. It was a medieval parish church taken down in the early 1500s.

“When they constructed Lansdowne Terrace, there is a story of the contractor who was carrying out the work finding a tonne of human remains so it looks like there was an extensive burial ground there.”

Peterborough, England

Archaeologists were surprised to discover a medieval burial ground just outside St John’s Church in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire. The bodies of four people, which are at least 500 years old, were uncovered during preparations for a redevelopment in Peterborough's city centre.

Adam Yates, project manager for Northamptonshire Archaeologists, told the Peterborough Today, “Records make no reference to a grave yard next to the church, so it was a surprise all round to find burials had taken place there. The burial ground itself probably dates back to the early days of the church, in or around the 15th century. They are consistent with churchyard burials as they are all lined up.”

East Lothian, Scotland

An archaeological dig in East Lothian, Scotland has uncovered a medieval pit with a number of pottery shards dating back to the late-12th and 13th centuries. Tom Addyman, director of Addyman Archaeology, told the annual conference of the Medieval Pottery Research Group that "this is an extremely important find. The pit itself is a very odd feature. It appears to be some sort of rubbish pit or latrine but we don't know exactly what it was used for so that is being investigated at the moment."

He added, "I was very hopeful that we might find something, though I felt it might be a long shot to find anything of great significance, so I was absolutely delighted when this was uncovered. In spite of their date the pieces were most beautifully made by a potter of great competence working at a fast wheel to produce straight sided vessels whose ribbed sides are only millimetres thick."

Gaza Strip

The Ministry of Tourism and Archaeology in the Palestinian territory of Gaza has announced the discovery of a house believed to be about 800 years old. Workers digging in a street in the old center of the city of Gaza came across the remains of the building, which may have been a house or a tomb. Further digging has revealed several arches inscribed with multiple bright motifs.

Sources: University of AarhusAntiquarian's Attic, York Press, Peterborough TodayEast Lothian CourierMiddle East Monitor,

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Project reveals 1300 years of history for Peterborough and its Cathedral

A ‘treasure trove’ of ancient records dating back over 1,300 years to the origins of the English city of Peterborough will be unveiled at Peterborough Cathedral’s Deanery on Saturday 3 July at 12 noon.

The archaeological records, maps, drawings and photographs focusing on the Cathedral Precincts have been compiled under a joint project by the Cathedral and Peterborough City Council.

Archaeologists and planning officers have compiled the records, which will eventually be made available online, with support from English Heritage, the Church Commissioners, the Institute for Archaeologists, the Anthony Mellows Memorial Trust and the Marc Fitch Fund.

The Dean of Peterborough, the Very Reverend Charles Taylor, said: “We are delighted that the partnership between the Cathedral and the city council means this fascinating survey is now ready to be launched into the public domain. We are grateful to all who have worked on the project and I hope that many people will now take the opportunity to find out more about Peterborough's rich history and heritage.”

City council deputy leader Councillor Matthew Lee added: “The Cathedral Precincts area contains archaeological remains dating from the establishment of the first abbey in the Anglo-Saxon era. The compilation of these historical documents brings together a valuable resource that will benefit academic and casual students of the city’s heritage.”

The project was undertaken by a team led by cathedral archaeologist Dr Jackie Hall and former city council archaeologist Dr Ben Robinson. They were helped by Matt Bradley of Oxford Archaeology, who re-surveyed the Precincts.

Dr Hall said: “For local history and archaeology enthusiasts, for students, school children and heritage professionals, this project marks a big step forwards in our knowledge and understanding of the origins and development of the abbey, the city and the cathedral.

“The project has assembled hundreds of diverse images and documents including buildings that have vanished, Victorian excavations, ancient maps or World War II bomb shelters. Some of the records are already available and they will shortly be accessible online.

Dr Rebecca Casa-Hatton, the city council’s historic environment record officer, added: “Peterborough’s origins date from the founding of an Anglo-Saxon Abbey in 655 AD on the site of what is today the cathedral so we hope people have fun investigating its origins and archaeology.”

The material examined includes medieval historical documents, photographs, engravings, archaeological and architectural drawings, newspaper cuttings and cathedral chapter minutes. When it is fully online, people will be able to conduct an armchair survey from the comfort of their home. Additional guidance will also be available from Peterborough Museum or the local studies room at Peterborough Central Library.

For more information about the project contact Dr Hall via the Peterborough Cathedral Chapter Office (Telephone: 01733 355315 or email or Dr Casa-Hatton (Telephone: 01733 864702 or email

Source: Peterborough City Council

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Staffordshire Hoard nominated Best Archaeological Discovery in Great Britain

The Staffordshire Hoard is among three nominees for Best Archaeological Discovery in the British Archaeological Awards. The nominees in six categories were announced last week with the awards ceremony taking place next month at the British Museum.

The Staffordshire Hoard discovery was made in July 2009 by Terry Herbert, a metal detector enthusiast, near Lichfield, Staffordshire. The items he discovered – over 1,500 pieces of beautifully crafted gold and silver from the 7th century Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia - amount to the most valuable treasure hoard ever discovered in the UK, worth £3.3 million.

The other two nominees in this category are a Neolithic carving of a face, found in the Orkney Islands, and Late Bronze Age Copper and Tin Ingots from Moor Sand, off the south coast of Devon.

The Chairman of the British Archaeological Awards trustees, Dr Mike Heyworth MBE, said “The wide-ranging nominations for the 2010 British Archaeological Awards demonstrate the high standard of work going on in archaeology across the United Kingdom. There is huge public interest in archaeology and increasing opportunities for everyone to get involved in archaeological projects in their area. We congratulate all the nominated projects and look forward to a lively ceremony in July when the winners of the Awards will be announced.”

The archaeological dig at another medieval site - Wisbech Castle in Cambridgeshire, has been nominated for Best Community Archaeology Project, while the new Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) website has been shortlisted in the 'archaeological innovation' category. The PAS website includes the scheme's database of almost 600,000 archaeological objects found and registered by members of the public across England and Wales.

“Making the shortlist in this year’s awards is a fitting tribute for the work that our regional FLOs and the public of England and Wales have put in to making the Scheme’s database such an essential resource for studying the archaeology of this country," explained Roger Bland, Head of Portable Antiquities and Treasure at the British Museum.

"Hopefully, this news and the story of the Staffordshire Hoard, will make people more aware about the potential uses of these data and raise public awareness of their local archaeology.”

Established in 1976, the British Archaeological Awards are a showcase for the best in British archaeology and a central event in the archaeological calendar. The awards are handed out every two years.

The winners of the six Awards will be announced at the 2010 Awards ceremony which will take place on 19 July at the British Museum, hosted by historian and broadcaster Michael Wood. The ceremony will be a major event within the Council for British Archaeology's Festival of British Archaeology, a huge UK-wide celebration of archaeology with more than 650 events attended by more than 250,000 people, which will attract huge national TV, radio, newspaper and magazine coverage.

Here is the full list of nominees:

Best Archaeological Project:
1) Archaeology of Inchmarnock Research Project
2) Mellor Heritage Project 2007-9
3) The Tarbat Discovery Programme

Best Community Archaeology Project:
1) 'Discover the Lost Bishop's Palace' - Wisbech Castle Community Archaeology Project
2) Fin Cop - Solving a Derbyshire Mystery
3) Mellor Heritage Project 2007-9

Best Archaeological Book:
1) Britain's Oldest Art: The Ice Age Cave Art of Creswell Crags by Paul Bahn and Paul Pettitt
2) Europe's Lost World: the re-discovery of Doggerland by Vince Gaffney, Simon Fitch and David Smith
3) The Rose and The Globe, playhouses of Shakespeare's Bankside, Southwark: Excavations 1988-1991 by Julian Bowsher and Pat Miller

Best Representation of Archaeology in the Media:
1) Tinderbox Productions for BBC Radio 4: In Pursuit of Treasure and The Voices Who Dug Up The Past
2) Time Team Series 16, Episode 5: Blood, Sweat and Beers - Risehill, North Yorks
3) The Thames Discovery Programme web site

Best Archaeological Innovation:
1) Integrated Archaeological Database
2) Lindow Man: a Bog Body Mystery Exhibition at the Manchester Museum
3) The Portable Antiquities Scheme web site

Best Archaeological Discovery:
1) Late Bronze Age Copper and Tin Ingots from Moor Sand
2) Links of Noltland excavations - discovery of Orkney Venus figurine
3) The Staffordshire Hoard

Click here to see our special Feature on the Staffordshire Hoard

Sources: British Archaeology Awards, British Museum

Monday, June 21, 2010

Archaeologists find remains of Nevern Castle in Wales

Archaeological excavations on the site of Nevern Castle in Wales has revealed a large group of buildings thought to date from the 12th century. It is hoped that the discovery will provide new details on the history of the Norman fortress that was built in 1108.

The excavations were directed by Dr Chris Caple from Durham University and supported by Peter Crane, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Archaeologist. The team also included students from Durham and Lampeter University and local volunteers from Cardigan, Newport and the Nevern area.

Speaking of the finds, Dr Chris Caple said: “This season’s excavations enabled us to make good progress in revealing and understanding the structures of the 12th century occupation (two towers and three hall-like buildings) of Nevern Castle. These constructions now appear to have been a highly desirable stone residence, a visible display of wealth and significant technical achievement.

“The recent excavation has revealed substantial evidence for buildings. On the inner castle the remains of a square stone tower have started to appear – the top of the remaining walls must be over two metres higher than ground on which it was built. Beside this tower was evidence of a lean-to structure against the castle’s perimeter wall.

“Elsewhere in the castle, and probably of similar date, the extent of what was probably the Great Hall was uncovered. It was built of stone and some twenty- two metres long by eight metres wide and, given the width of the walls, was probably a two storey building. This hall was constructed against another building, possibly a chapel or high class accommodation, to be investigated in the next phase of excavation.”

Until this discover, little of Nevern Castle could be seen. Located in Pembrokeshire, the castle was built by the Norman marcher lord Robert fitz Martin around 1108. The castle was destroyed and rebuilt during the 12th century but after 1197 was abandoned. A Norman church remains near the site of the castle. The site also has a Celtic cross, which dates from the 9th or 10th century (see the video below).

This third season of the Nevern Castle excavation took place over four weeks. The project is run by a partnership of Nevern Community Council, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority and Durham University and is funded through Cadw, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Park Authority, who manage the project. Also working on the project are Dyfed Archaeological Trust, with additional funding from PLANED.

The next phase of the excavation is now taking place and will continue until July 16th. There will be guided tours at 2.45pm for approximately half an hour each day except Thursdays or in very poor weather.

Amazing Celtic cross
Uploaded by doggietwo. - Explore exotic destinations and travel videos.

For details of the excavation, Duncan Schlee from the Dyfed Archaeology Trust has created a ‘dig diary’ at

Source: Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority

BBC History Magazine's June issue has a medieval focus

The June issue of BBC History Magazine contains three features which have a Medieval focus. It begins with the article ‘King John and the French invasion of England’, written by Sean McGlynn, author of Blood Cries Afar: The Forgotten Invasion of England 1216. McGlynn tells the story of how King John fared in the Baron’s Revolt at the end of his reign, and asks whether he did his subjects a favour by taking his bow at an opportune time.

Next, with Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood now on the big screen with Russell Crowe as the legendary hero, Hugh Doherty's article ‘The Real Robin Hoods’ looks at the judicial process of outlawry in medieval England and examines what it really meant to be declared an outlaw.

Finally, Mark Glancy reviews three previous Robin Hood films, including Kevin Costner's version in Prince of Thieves, and offers his own views on their performance and historical accuracy. This article, Robin Hood: Three Films, is available online at the BBC History Magazine website.

Robert Attar, Features Editor of BBC History Magazine, commented “Medieval history is very popular among our readers, judging by our postbag and the success of issues with Medieval themed covers. We’ve been fortunate to have some of the leading Medievalists write for us in recent months on subjects as diverse as Robin Hood, Richard III, Agincourt and the Norman Conquest.”

For more information, please go to the BBC History Magazine website.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Likeness of the King: A Prehistory of Portraiture in Late Medieval France wins award

The Likeness of the King: A Prehistory of Portraiture in Late Medieval France, by Stephen Perkinson has been awarded the Morris D. Forkosch Prize, which goes to the best book by a first-time author in the field of intellectual history. The award is presented by the Journal of History of Ideas.

Perkinson, who is an Associate Professor of Art History at Bowdoin College, takes a fresh look at the development of portraiture, and takes readers through a fascinating tour of late Medieval history, literature, science, philosophy—ultimately using the face to enter the subtle, very human underpinnings of court life.

The book was recognized for offering "an interdisciplinary approach to visual and textual cultures [that] will prove deeply rewarding and inspiring to scholars across a wide range of customary academic boundaries."

"It's a real honor, it's very flattering," says Perkinson. "Especially since the book was so fun to write."

Whereas earlier studies tended to treat the invention of portraiture as a sign of artistic progress, The Likeness of the King examines it as part of an important shift in the history of ideas.

"For most of the Middle Ages, people made pictures of people, of rulers, that looked generic to our eyes, though they represented specific people," says Perkinson. "Their felt that facial features were an unreliable way of representing people, because your face is always in flux, you age, it's transitory. They used more stable signs of identity: names, coats of arms and heraldry."

Something changed in the late 14th century. Portraits began to include distinctly personal details. The standard account in art history is that artists developed better skills, that they became more knowledgeable about people as individuals.

Perkinson argues that this evolution came about as a result of social, political and scientific changes. "It's no coincidence that these changes we look at in portraiture occur at late medieval aristocratic courts, with their complex political and social structure," notes Perkinson. "If you're an artist and can, seemingly effortlessly, replicate the features of your lord, your ruler, that's a sign that you have a strong memory of that person. You're displaying your loyalty.

"That's critical at these courts, a way of currying the favor of the king. It works for artists, it also works for the person paying for the portrait as a gift. There is a connection between likeness and loyalty."

Although he traveled to France to study texts relating to the Valois court, one of the primary focuses of the work, Perkinson says many of the surprising directions of the research were uncovered at Bowdoin.

"This is very much a Bowdoin book as it required me to move among a range of fields, some I'm comfortable with, some farther afield: political theory, the history of science, theories of vision and memory, optics. I was able to discuss ideas with colleagues, and search through our Special Collections. I spent my junior sabbatical holed up in the Bowdoin library.

'Sometimes I'd spend weeks just reading old French romances to get an understanding of how people used concepts of likeness in literary sources, or how they talk about memory. Then I'd get to shift gears and spend time reading medieval theories of visions, or political treatises, or other sources. It was great fun, because the project got me connected with a really wide variety of ideas and topics."

The Journal of the History of Ideas awards the Morris D. Forkosch Prize each year, with $2000 going to the winner. To be eligible it must be the first book published by a single author, and must pertain to one or more of the disciplines associated with intellectual history and the history of ideas, including history, philosophy, political thought, the social sciences and literature.

Sources: Bowdoin College, Journal of the History of Ideas

Friday, June 18, 2010

Preview of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood

Previews of Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, the third video game in the Assassin's Creed franchise, were released at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, California, this week. The much-hyped video game will offer a multi-player version in this version, which takes place in and around Rome at the turn of the 16th century.

Assassin's Creed Brotherhood is developed by Ubisoft Montreal, and will be released on the Playstation and X-Box platforms on November 16, 2010. The first Assassin's Creed game was released in 2007, and its sequel last year. Both of the previous games were considered to bestsellers worldwide.

Here are several videos recently released about the game, including its official trailer:

Finally, this clever little video will give you the 3 minute version of what the whole plot is for the Assassin's Creed series

God’s Philosophers: How the medieval world laid the foundations of modern science

The Royal Society has unveiled its longlist for Prize for Science Books, the world’s most prestigious award for science writing, which includes a book about science in the Middle Ages. God’s Philosophers: How the medieval world laid the foundations of modern science, by James Hannam, debunks many of the myths and stereotypes about science and technological advancement during the Middle Ages, and profiles some of the important thinkers of period, such as Thomas Aquinas, Nicole Oresme and William of Ockham.

The five-member committee who made the choice said that Hannam's book "is a revelation, contradicting the popular idea of the Middle Ages as the “dark” ages, mapping key progressions during an era none of us associate with scientific advances and celebrating the lesser known mathematicians, 'philosophers' and anatomists on whose shoulders modern science stands."

Eleven other books also made the longlist, including Darwin’s Island: The Galapagos in the Garden of England by Steve Jones. This year’s longlist includes eight authors who are new to the prize, three who have been previously shortlisted and one previous winner (Jones, who won in 1994).

Maggie Philbin, Chair of the judges, said: “There were some fascinating books in this year’s entries, all of which explore science in very different ways. Narrowing it down to just twelve was very challenging and left us with a wonderful, diverse longlist that we’re all looking forward to really getting our teeth into. "

The shortlist will be announced on 24th August 2010. The winner will be announced at a ceremony at the Royal Society on 21st October 2010 and awarded £10,000. The authors of each shortlisted book will receive £1000.

God’s Philosophers has received very positive reviews since being released last year. James Hannan has also set up a website Medieval Science and Philosophy and a Facebook page to promote his book.

Click here to see the full list of books up for this year's prize

See also the page for Aladdin’s Lamp: How Greek Science Came to Europe Through the Islamic World

Source: Royal Society

Medievalist awarded Guggenheim Fellowship to research Chaucer

Sarah Stanbury, English professor at the College of the Holy Cross, has recently been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, a prestigious annual award that funds travel and research needs. Stanbury, who joined the Holy Cross faculty in 1992, was one of 180 recipients selected from a pool of nearly 3,000 applicants, and will begin her fellowship in January 2011..

Stanbury won for her proposed manuscript, titled Creole Things in Chaucer’s World, which investigates the significance of manmade objects in the writing of Geoffrey Chaucer and by some of his 15th-century successors. In order to complete her research, Stanbury plans to travel to London, Prague and parts of Italy.

According to Stanbury, the idea for her manuscript evolved from previous work she had done on the work of Chaucer, one of her areas of interest.

“My work on Chaucer lately emerged from a book that I wrote in 2008, called The Visual Object of Desire in Late Medieval England,” says Stanbury, who will be on leave for three semesters, having also won a fellowship through Holy Cross. “That book talked about the way people in England wrote about religious objects, like the crucifix or statues of the Virgin Mary. I became interested in how ordinary household objects could be viewed. So this current research I am doing grew right out of my earlier work.”

Stanbury received tenure in 1996, serving as chair of the English department from 1997-99. The author of numerous articles and books, including The Visual Object of Desire in Late Medieval England (University of Pennsylvania Press, Middle Ages Series, 2008), Pearl (Medieval Institute Publications, 2001) and Seeing the Gawain-Poet: Description and the Act of Perception, (Middle Ages Series, 1991), Stanbury has also won the O’Leary Faculty Recognition Award. Stanbury earned her B.A. in literature at Bennington College and her Ph.D. in English at Duke University.

The Guggenheim Fellowship competition is in its 86th year and awards are given to a diverse group of applicants, from artists to scientists, based on a candidate’s accomplishments and the promise of their project

Source: Holy Cross

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Tests confirm that bones are from a medieval queen

Bones excavated in Magdeburg Cathedral in 2008 are those of Saxon Princess Eadgyth who died in AD 946, experts at the University of Bristol confirmed today. The crucial scientific evidence came from the teeth preserved in the upper jaw. The bones are the oldest surviving remains of an English royal burial.

Eadgyth was the granddaughter of Alfred the Great and the half sister of Athelstan, the first acknowledged King of England. She was sent to marry Otto, the king of Saxony in AD 929, and bore him at least two children, before her death at around the age of 36.

She lived most of her married life at Magdeburg and was buried in the monastery of St Maurice. Her bones were moved on at least three occasions, before being interred in an elaborated tomb in Magdeburg Cathedral in 1510.

It was this tomb that was opened by German archaeologists in 2008, a tomb long expected to be empty. Instead they found it contained a lead box, with the inscription “EDIT REGINE CINERES HIC SARCOPHAGVS HABET...” (The remains of Queen Eadgyth are in this sarcophagus...).

When the box was opened, partial skeletal remains were found, along with textile material and organic residues. The challenge facing the archaeologists was to show that the remains, which had been moved so often, and could easily have been substituted by others, were indeed those of Queen Eadgyth.

Director of the project, Professor Harald Meller of the State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology, Saxony-Anhalt, commented: “Medieval bones were moved frequently, and often mixed up, so it required some exceptional science to prove that they are indeed those of Eadgyth. It is incredible that we have been able to do this using the most recent analytical techniques.”

Anthropological study of the bones, undertaken at the University of Mainz by Professor Kurt Alt, confirmed that the remains belonged to a single female individual, who died between 30 and 40 years of age. One of the femur heads showed evidence that the individual was a frequent horse rider, thus hinting at her nobility.

Unfortunately vital parts were missing, including hands and feet, and much of the skull, of which only the upper jaw survived. These losses are probably due to their collection as medieval relics. Isotope analysis of the bones suggested that she enjoyed a high protein diet, including a large quantity of fish. All these results suggest a high status aristocratic lady.

It was hoped that radiocarbon dating would help in the identification of the bones, but the results proved to be some 200 years too early. This presented a real problem, as dating of the associated textiles in the lead box produced the correct range of dates for Eadgyth. It was also hoped that DNA might be extracted from the remains but this proved impossible, most likely due to the box’s bad state of preservation because the burial was in a tomb.

The crucial scientific evidence came from the study of the teeth preserved in the upper jaw. This used a technique that measures the strontium and oxygen isotopes that are mineralised in the teeth as they are formed. The value of these isotopes depends on the local environment and its underlying geology that is then locked into the teeth. Samples of the teeth were studied at the University of Bristol’s Department of Archaeology and the Institute of Anthropology at the University of Mainz.

Dr Alistair Pike, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at Bristol University, explained: “Strontium isotopes on tiny samples of tooth enamel have been measured. By micro sampling, using a laser, we can reconstruct the sequence of a person’s whereabouts, month by month up to the age of 14.”

By combining oxygen and strontium results, it was possible to ‘triangulate’ the location of the first 14 years of this individual’s life. The results unambiguously pinpointed the chalk regions of southern Britain. The findings were compared to isotope values measured in teeth from other burials from Magdeburg by Corina Knipper at the University of Mainz.

Ms Knipper, a researcher in Professor Alt’s team, said: “The isotopes in the teeth supposed to be Eadgyth’s are completely different from those in the people local to Magdeburg. This individual cannot have spent her childhood in Magdeburg.”

The remarkable discovery was, however, that these isotope results matched exactly the historical records of Eadgyth’s childhood and adolescence in Wessex.

Mark Horton, Professor in Archaeology at Bristol University, added: “Eadgyth seems to have spent the first eight years of her life in southern England, but changed her domicile frequently, matching quite variable strontium ratios in her teeth. Only from the age of nine do the isotope values remain constant.

“Eadgyth must have moved around the kingdom following her father, King Edward the Elder during his reign. When her mother was divorced in 919 – Eadgyth was between nine and ten at that point – both were banished to a monastery, maybe Winchester or Wilton in Salisbury.”

Trauma was also indicated in her skeleton around this same age, suggesting a dramatic change in her circumstances. Her monastic life, and a diet of fish also explain the problematic radiocarbon dates, which tend to appear older with heavily fish-based diets.

Grave goods, as was common for Christian burials, did not accompany Eadgyth’s bones. However, they were wrapped in extremely expensive and rare silks using the most expensive colorants of the time.

The bones will be reburied in Magdeburg Cathedral later in the year, exactly 500 after their last interment in 1510.

See our earlier article: Remains of Eadgyth, Anglo-Saxon Queen, discovered in German Cathedral

Source: University of Bristol

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Medieval Badge with Three Lions Discovered - an omen for England at the World Cup?

The discovery of a medieval artifact in Warwickshiure is raising hopes that England's football team will have luck on their side in the World Cup. Caroline Rann, a field archaeologist with Warwickshire County Council’s Archaeology Projects Group, has recently found a 13th century copper badge emblazoned with the three lions, an emblem very similar to that of the country's football team.

Caroline Rann said: “I found the badge when I was investigating a medieval stone wall in Parkside, Coventry. The badge was lodged between the sandstone blocks and may have fallen in while it was being built.

“This has been hidden for hundreds of years and for it to appear now has to be a sign that England will go all the way in the World Cup!”

The badge, which may have originally come from a horse harness, is believed to be from the 13th century.

The three lions of the arms of England was first used by Henry II (1154-89) who added a third lion to the previous coat of arms, which only had two. This continued up until 1340, when the royal coat of arms was quartered with those of France in order to back up Edward III claim to the French throne.

The archaeologists were working on behalf of Provision for the Christian Life Ministries at Parkside in Coventry, as part of the planning process.

See also: The bewties of the fut-ball: Reactions and references to this boysterous sport in English writings, 1175-1815

Source: Warwickshire County Council

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Westgate Tower Museum in Canterbury is saved from closure

A medieval landmark in Canterbury, England, which was facing closure because of lack of revenues, will now be kept open and leased to a local businessman. The Westgate Tower Museum, the largest medieval gateway in Great Britain, will now be operated by Charles Lambie, who owns an old jail next door to the museum. Mr. Lambie has already donated £250,000 to the Canterbury City Council to keep the museum open.

Mr. Lambie plans to combine the museum and old jail into one attraction that will include a cafe. In an interview with the BBC, he described the Westgate Tower as "Canterbury's second most iconic building after the cathedral. If ever I have visitors coming to Canterbury I always start by taking them to the Westgate Towers, go up those wonderful staircases, and you can look over the whole city. You can see Canterbury in minutes."

The Westgate Tower was built around 1380. Its museum houses artefacts related to the city's military history. In February the city council decided to close the museum, along with Roman Museum and the Herne's Bay Museum, because of a lack of funds. The decision was met with protests from the local community, and efforts have been made to seek another solution to the situation.

See also the Facebook Group: Save Canterbury's Museums

Sources: BBC, Canterbury City Council

Monday, June 14, 2010

Letter of Sir William Wallace to be studied by historians

A group of historians and archivists will be taking a closer look at a letter widely believed to have been in the possession of the medieval Scottish warrior Sir William Wallace.

Scotland's Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop has asked the Keeper of the National Archives of Scotland to assemble a group of experts that would be best-placed to establish exactly where and why the letter was produced. The medieval history experts - from Scotland, England and France - will investigate the 700 year old document, held at The National Archives in London, and be reporting in the spring of 2011 to Scottish and UK Government Ministers that will then allow discussions on whether to move the document to Scotland.

The National Archives of Scotland also plans to develop a website about William Wallace and the surviving documents from  his time, which will include a voiced version and 3D virtualised images.

Ms Hyslop explained that, "There has always been tremendous interest in this letter and repeated claims that it should rightfully reside in Scotland's National Archives. It is right that we revisit such a case and I am delighted that such a distinguished group will be reviewing the evidence.

"The wonders of modern technology will allow people interested in this important document to follow the progress of the research group online and to make up their own minds on the letter by zooming in on the document in minute detail.

"I look forward to hearing the group's findings, which will no doubt be keenly anticipated by those interested in this document, in William Wallace and in this important part of Scotland's history."

George MacKenzie, Keeper of the Records of Scotland, said: "It is remarkable how a 700 year old document still stirs such emotion today. This letter is still a mystery, but I hope that working with our colleagues at The National Archives in London, and with the help of these distinguished historians and archivists, we can begin to solve that mystery."

Oliver Morley, Chief Executive of The National Archives, said: "The National Archives welcomes the opportunity for academic discussion on this subject and looks forward to concluding on the purpose and origin of this valuable and historic document."

Sir William Wallace was a minor Scottish noble who rose to fame in the late 13th century leading his countrymen in war against the English under Edward I. After winning the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297, Wallace served as the 'Guardian of Scotland' until his forces were defeated at the Battle of Falkirk in the following year. He was later captured and executed by the English in 1305, but the story of his adventures has remained popular to modern times. The 1995 film Braveheart, which starred Mel Gibson as Wallace, won Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

The letter being evaluated by the National Archives of Scotland was written in 1300 by the French king Philip IV where he calls on his agents at the Papal court in Rome to assist Wallace, who going to seek the support of the Pope in his battles against the English. Only three lines long, the Latin document reads:

Philip by the grace of God King of the French to my loved and faithful my agents appointed to the Roman Court, greetings and love. We command/ you to request the Supreme Pontiff to hold our loved William le Walois [Wallace] of Scotland, knight, recommen/ded to his favour in those things which he has to transact with him. Given at Pierrefonds on Monday after the feast of All Saints.

The document was discovered among the English chancery records in the 1830s and was deposited into the Public Record Office in London (later renamed the National Archives) in 1838.

Click here to view an image of the Letter

Sources Government of Scotland, National Archives of Scotland

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Medieval Castle begins to emerge in America's heartland

With the official launch last month, a team of French and American architectural experts, historians and entrepreneurs have embarked on a 20 year project to build a medieval castle in the American state of Arkansas. The Ozark Medieval Fortress was officially opened to the public on May 1 as an educational project and tourist attraction.

The creation is the brainchild of Michel Guyot - after restoring four castles decided that he wanted to recreate his own 13th century style fortress. He started building Guédelon Castle in Burgundy, France in 1997 - it is due to be completed sometime in the 2020s.

Another opportunity presented itself in 2008 when a retired French couple, Solange and Jean-Marc Mirat, decided to offer Guyot some of their land in northern Arkansas town of Lead Hill. After raising $1.5 million in investments, Guyot bought the 50-acre property and started construction.

The Ozark Medieval Fortress aims to be a full-sized, fortified castle, with 45 foot high towers, a drawbridge, and 6 foot wide stone walls surrounding an expansive inner courtyard, using the materials, techniques, and rules of the 13th century. Thirty masons, carpenters and stone carvers authentically dressed, plan to work year-round for twenty years before the project is complete.

One of the goals of the building project is to reproduce with utmost authenticity the technology used in the 13th century, with the exception of adhering to modern safety standards. Historians, such as Professor Andrew Tallon of Vassar University, are monitoring the construction.

Like the Guédelon Castle project, the organizers believe that the castle will be a fascinating educational opportunity for students, offering what they call an "open air classroom focused on the Middle Ages."

Organizers are hoping to draw 150,000 visitors a year to the castle - in the first month they welcomed about a thousand people, but hard work at public relations is getting them extensive media attention. Noémi Brunet, Marketing and Public Relations manager for the Ozark Medieval Fortress, tells "We are socializing like mad on Twitter and Facebook. In 6 months we had 70 000 visitors on our website."

It is still too early to tell if this medieval castle will be a financial success, but for everyone involved, it should be a memorable experience.

If everything goes to plan, this is how the castle will look like in 2030



Ozark Medieval Fortress website

Their Facebook page and Twitter feed

Frenchman Builds a Dream Château on a Grand Estate in the Ozarks - Wall Street Journal article

Experience the Middle Ages at a Fortress Being Built in Arkansas - NPR article

Breaking Old Ground - from Walrus Magazine, about the French castle

Source: Ozark Medieval Fortress

Friday, June 11, 2010

Medieval Teen Saint died of cardiac embolism, study says

Scholars researching the heart of a 13th century Italian saint believe that she died of a cardiac embolism. Their study, "The Heart of Santa Rosa" was published online today by The Lancet, deals with Saint Rose of Viterbo, who died in 1252.

As a young child Saint Rose had taken up Franciscan values and began preaching penance in her home town of Viterbo. According to medieval chroniclers, she prophesied the death of Emperor Frederick II and stood for three hours in the flames of a burning pyre in order to disprove the powers of a supposed sorceress. She died on March 6, 1252 and her bodied was preserved in the Santa Rosa monastery in Viterbo. Previous research determined that she was 18 or 19 when she died.

The researchers, led by Professor Ruggero D'Anastasio of G. d'Annunzio University, were able to obtain Rose's heart, which had been mummified and kept in a reliquary. After taking x-rays of the heart, the researchers found that "the low intensity radiograph shows a right deviation of the ventricular septum and the presence of a mass, probably a thrombus, between the apex of the left ventricle and the entry of the diverticulum. Ventricular diverticulum is one of the most common heart defects described in patients with Cantrell’s syndrome and is frequently associated with development of thrombus and subsequent embolisation."

Cantrell's syndrome is a rare heart disorder. Frank Ruehli of the University of Zurich told the Associated Press that Saint Rose may have had an enlarged heart or that people could see it pumping slightly visible beneath the skin. "People might have been aware of her being special in a medical sense," he added.

It was previously thought that Saint Rose died of tuberculosis, but the researchers found no evidence of this. Professor D'Anastasio said to the BBC that "In the future we hope to analyse the heart with more modern technologies."

Sources: The Lancet, AP, BBC

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Coolness in the Pacific changed medieval Europe's climate, study says

A cooler central Pacific Ocean has been connected with drought conditions in medieval Europe and North America, and may also have been responsible for famines and the disappearance of cliff dwelling people in the American West.

A new study from the University of Miami (UM) has found a connection between La Niña-like sea surface temperatures in the central Pacific and droughts in western Europe and in what later became the southwestern United States and Mexico, as published in a recent issue of Geophysical Research Letters.

"We've known for some time the connection between El Niño and La Niña and the weather conditions in North America and Europe," said Robert Burgman, a climate scientist at UM's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. "La Niña-like conditions, such as those we found, can cause persistent drought, and as we know warm conditions cause increased precipitation."

Using cores of fossil coral from the Palmyra Atoll in the central Pacific Ocean, Burgman and a team used reconstructed sea surface temperatures from the period 1320 to 1462 to simulate medieval climate conditions with a state-of-the-art climate model. When the differences between medieval and modern climate simulations were compared with paleo-records like tree-rings and sediment cores from around the globe, the authors found remarkable agreement.

During the 142-year study period, the sea surface temperature dropped only one-tenth of one degree, but it was enough to cause arid conditions in North America and Europe.

In Europe, the study period was preceded by three years of torrential rains, which led to the Great Famine from 1315 to 1320, and marked the transition from the Medieval Warm Period to the Little Ice Age, which began in the mid 1500s. During that time, extreme weather conditions were thought to be responsible for continued localized crop failures and famines throughout Europe during the remainder of the 14th Century.

In North America, the Anastazi people—who lived in dramatic cliff dwellings near what later became known as the "Four Corners" area at the intersection of the state of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona—left their settlements at Mesa Verde and other locations some 600 years ago without explanation. A prolonged drought is thought to be one of the contributing factors to their departure.

"The marriage of complex climate models with paleo-records of sea surface temperature and other climate variables provide valuable insight to climate scientists who wish to understand climate variability and change before the instrumental record," said Burgman.

Warning that the Palmyra Atoll data only represents one data point, Burgman emphasized that he would like to test his thesis with data from other oceans. "If we can fill in the gaps with data from corals and other records from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans, we'll have a better idea of what has happened to the global climate over time," he added.

In the study, Burgman and his colleagues used the reconstructed tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures to create a 16-member ensemble of atmospheric general circulation model (ACGM) simulations, coupled with a one-layer ocean model outside of the tropical Pacific. When the ACGM simulations were compared with the modern climate simulations, they were able to reproduce many aspects of the medieval climate found in observational records for much of the Western Hemisphere, northern Eurasia, and the northern tropics. These results suggest that many features of global medieval hydroclimate changes can be explained by tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures.

Source: EurekAlert

Digging under the Bosphorus - Video Report

Last month we reported on the discovery of an animal bone that contained Arabic writing from the 8th-century. The find came from construction taking place in Istanbul - the Marmaray project, which will create a link between Asia and Europe underneath the Bosphorus. Here, Dorian Jones of Eurasianet provides a detailed video report about the project and the archaeological finds it has led to, including the discovery of the city’s largest Byzantine-era harbor, Port Theodosias.

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