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Medieval Selfies?

The Norfolk graffiti survey is the gift that keeps on giving!

A survey of graffiti in churches in Norfolk has uncovered hundreds of "medieval selfies", hidden for centuries under limewash. They were found by volunteers with the Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey.

Project archaeologist Matt Champion said what made the images special was they were of "medieval commoners" who lived their lives "leaving barely a mark on history".

Some of the images are related to devotion with hands raised in prayer, but others appear to be caricatures of real people.

Mr Champion said "faces and human figures are amongst some of the most common finds in medieval English church graffiti", but for him they were "really magical images".

"You can be shining your light across the surface... all of a sudden the wall is staring right back at you," he said.

"When you find yourself face to face with a representation of a real person, a long-dead parishioner or parish priest, the hairs do go up on the back of your neck."

See them at the source!

Places to Visit in London

Happy International Archives Day today!

Something my brother linked me to tonight. 10 of the most unusual historical sites in London - I thought I'd already know most of these but I was (happily) wrong :)
A really incredible story I saw today on twitter!

A lead coffin housing the remarkably well-preserved body of a 17th century noblewoman – still wearing her shoes and cap – has been unearthed in the north-western French city of Rennes.

The 1.45 metre (five feet) corpse was discovered in a stone tomb in the chapel of the Saint-Joseph convent in March last year.

The remains are most likely those of Louise de Quengo, a widow of Breton nobility who died in 1656 when she was in her 60s.

The heart of her husband, Toussaint de Perrein, was found nearby, archaeologists said on Tuesday.

The body was found at a construction site for a convention centre.

Four other lead coffins dating back to the 17th century were also found in the convent, as well as 800 other graves, but they contained only skeletons, unlike the fully preserved de Quenga.

Probably choosing to live out her last days at the convent, the widow was found wearing a no-frills outfit consisting of a cape, a coarse habit, a linen shirt, cork-soled shoes, woollen breeches, a shroud over her face, and several caps.

Read more here (warning for graphic photographs)

Gold Bongs Discovered in Russia

Some news from Russia!

The “once-in-a-century” discovery of a set of solid gold bongs has offered a glimpse into the little-understood lives of Scythians, who ruled vast areas of Eurasia for a thousand years 2,400 years ago.

Ornately embellished with depictions of humans and animals, archaeologists found the golden vessels in a vast grave mound in the Caucasus Mountains of southern Russia, where the Scythians ruled between 9th century BC and 4th century AD.

Analysis on a sticky black residue in the golden cups revealed the objects were used to hold a concoction of opium and cannabis, which mirror the writings of Greek historian Herodotus, who said: “Scythians used a plant to produce smoke that no Grecian vapour-bath can surpass which made them shout aloud.”

The bongs were discovered in 2013, as the burial ground, or kurgan, was cleared to make way for a power-line.

Experts hope the highly detailed scenes which decorate the objects - including an elderly bearded man killing young warriors and griffons attacking a horse and a stag – will shed light on Scythian culture.

Pictures at the source

Medieval Convent Explored

Excavations at an Oxfordshire convent has revealed some darker aspects of medieval religious life.

The excavation of the Littlemore Priory, which was founded in 1110 and dissolved in 1525, has revealed nearly 100 skeletons of men, women and children.

Among these are a series of “very unusual burials”, including the remains of a woman buried in the face-down position, a position sometimes reserved for women believed to be witches.

Other remains revealed a victim who was the victim of a blunt force trauma to the back of the head, a stillborn child and a leper.

The priory had a controversial history. In her book Medieval English Nunneries, Eileen Power describes it as “in such grave disorder that it might justly be described as one of the worst nunneries of which records survived.

You can read more at the source.
An incredible find in Kenya!

Scientists working in the desert badlands of northwestern Kenya have found stone tools dating back 3.3 million years, long before the advent of modern humans, and by far the oldest such artifacts yet discovered. The tools, whose makers may or may not have been some sort of human ancestor, push the known date of such tools back by 700,000 years; they also may challenge the notion that our own most direct ancestors were the first to pound two rocks together to create a new technology.

The discovery is the first evidence that an even earlier group of proto-humans may have had the thinking abilities needed to figure out how to make sharp-edged tools. The stone tools mark "a new beginning to the known archaeological record," say the authors of a new paper about the discovery, published today in the leading scientific journal Nature.

"The whole site's surprising, it just rewrites the book on a lot of things that we thought were true," said geologist Chris Lepre of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Rutgers University, a co-author of the paper who precisely dated the artifacts.

The tools "shed light on an unexpected and previously unknown period of hominin behavior and can tell us a lot about cognitive development in our ancestors that we can't understand from fossils alone," said lead author Sonia Harmand, of the Turkana Basin Institute at Stony Brook University and the Universite Paris Ouest Nanterre.

Read more here

How Indiana Jones Changed Archaeology

This sounds like a wonderful and original exhibition and I kind of wish I could teleport across the ocean and go to it :)

Three decades ago, Indiana Jones’s swashbuckling brand of archaeology inspired a generation of moviegoers. Now a new exhibit at the National Geographic Museum pays homage to the actual artifacts and archaeologists that inspired Indy’s creation.

Opening Thursday, “Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology” brings together movie memorabilia from LucasFilm Ltd., ancient objects from the Penn Museum, and historical materials from the National Geographic Society archives.

Some of the artifacts are real, including the world’s oldest map (a cuneiform tablet showing the city of Nippur), pieces of 5,000-year-old Mesopotamian jewelry, and iconographic clay pots that helped unlock the mystery of the Nazca Lines.

Other objects—like the Sankara Stones, the Cross of Coronado, and a Chachapoyan fertility idol—were imagined for the movies. And then there are some that hover in the fact-or-fiction netherworld: the Holy Grail, for instance, and the Ark of the Covenant. (Since no actual Ark has ever been found, the one built for Raiders of the Lost Ark, on display here, has become the iconic image—a case of life imitating art.)

The point, says exhibit curator Fred Hiebert, a renowned archaeological fellow at National Geographic, is “to show how much these films have broadened the scope of archaeology and made the field more relevant—and exciting—to people everywhere.”

Read the full article and see the pictures HERE

The York Gospels

I finally went to look round York Minster yesterday and I think my favourite thing was the beautiful 'York Gospels,' the oldest book owned by the Minster and the only one to pre-date the Norman Conquest. It was written c.1020.

An Anglo-Saxon book containing the four Gospels, rather than the whole Bible, if features beautiful illustrations and, in addition to the Gospels, it contains some interesting documents.

Louise Hampson, the collections manager of York Minster, explains the book's significance.
"The York Gospels is an Anglo-Saxon Gospel book. It was made in Canterbury, rather than York as you might imagine. The book came to York sometime around 1020 with Archbishop Wulfstan.
"As well as the four Gospels the book also contains the oaths taken by the Dean and Canons when they're installed, and documents about land ownership. One interesting thing is a letter from King Canute who, when he wasn't busy literally holding back the tide, was busy holding back the Danes. That's dated to around 1019.

"Those were copied into the book because that gave them a status of authority. The main function for us today is the book is used as the oath book, and that's almost certainly why it survived the reformation. It's one of the very few items that's survived to us from the Saxon Minster."


The Codex Gigas

The Codex Gigas is all over the news today so here is a handy guide to just what it is and why people are talking about it. I admit I only knew it as 'that huge medieval book.'

Gigas is Latin for giant, so the translation of the Codex Gigas is "giant book." An apt name, as this codex is the largest single volume religious text surviving from 13th Century monks. The codex is thought to be from a Benedictine monastery of Podlažice in the modern Czech Republic (then called Bohemia), but the codex became a spoil of Swedish Army after the Thirty Year's War.

Each one of its pages is handwritten, likely by a single scribe over his lifetime, with the codex three feet tall by a little over three feet wide when opened. Only 10 pages are missing from the codex - none of the texts are affected. Scholars believe the missing pages likely detailed a series of rules for the monastery.

Within the codex is the sum of the Latin Vulgate Bible at the time, along with several contemporary histories, a comparative alphabet, medical texts, a calendar, and a few spells. The Old Testament and New Testament are separated and in an unusual order, with a number of works placed in between and after the religious texts, including Flavius Josephus' 1st century history of the Jewish people and a history of the area of Bohemia.

Lore behind the codex suggests the book was the effort of one monk's labor in a single night. After breaking the rules of the monastery, he'd been sentenced to a slow death - he'd be walled up in a room of bricks. The night before his sentence would be executed, the monk decided to write his last work, an evil book written on animal skins. He realized that finishing the book before imprisonment would be impossible, so he made a Faustian deal at midnight with Lucifer to finish the book, with the devil signing the document by painting a portrait of himself on the 290th leaf.

See it here!

Saxon Child Burial Found at Hereford

The Hereford Cathedral work is continuing to turn up interesting, if sad, finds.

The remains of a Saxon child estimated to have been between the ages of ten and 12 at the time of death were unearthed at Hereford Cathedral as part of an excavation funded by the Heritage Lottery. At the time of the burial, a Saxon palace is thought to have stood on the site. “We are still investigating it. The child seems to have been a very poorly young person but was buried with dignity,” Andy Boucher of Headland Archaeology told BBC News.

The remains of thousands of people buried from the eleventh to the nineteenth centuries were uncovered during the restoration of the church’s grounds.

Read more here


Ramblings of a Historical Nature

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