Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Monasteries of Ely and Bury St Edmunds feuded over church

A major conservation project recently completed in a remote Suffolk church has unearthed startling evidence of a medieval conflict between two of the most powerful religious establishments in England.

The project, undertaken to conserve the medieval wall paintings in the church of St Mary the Virgin, Lakenheath, led to the discovery of a number of previously unidentified images. These paintings, combined with a documentary research project, point to a power struggle between two of the richest monasteries in England that reached down into the very heart of the parish church.

The church at Lakenheath still retains large fragments of at least five different paint schemes that cover a period of over four centuries. However, the recent project has linked the three earliest of these schemes, dating between circa 1220 and 1360, with a series of conflicts and legal battles between the religious houses of Ely and Bury St Edmunds. It is recorded that the church itself was owned by the monks at Ely, who spent a great deal upon its expansion and rebuilding, yet it sat just within the ‘Liberty of Saint Edmund’ – the area of land over which the Abbey at nearby Bury St Edmunds had almost complete legal control.

It has always been known that Lakenheath was the focus for conflict between the major religious houses at Bury St Edmunds and Ely. In 1221 the monks of Ely obtained a charter allowing them to hold a market within the parish. The monks of Bury St Edmunds objected strongly to, what they believed to be, an infringement of their own rights and the case was actually put before the king. Although the king found in favour of Bury St Edmunds the monks of Ely carried on with their market. Eventually the Abbot of Bury was forced to send a group of armed men into the parish to forcibly close down the market and carry away the goods. The conflict between Bury and Ely didn’t end with the markets closure and ill feeling rumbled on for centuries to come.

“The two earliest schemes”, explains project manager, Matthew Champion, “show a marked devotion by the parish to the churches owners at Ely. However, in the years immediately after the Black Death, the monks at Ely took a very hard line with their tenants, particularly here in Lakenheath. It appears that this turned the parish against their own landlords and thereby encouraged them to switch their personal allegiance to the more kindly neighbouring house at Bury St Edmunds. It was in these chaotic years immediately following the plague that the church was redecorated for a third time. In this scheme the old political loyalty to Ely appears entirely cast aside. Instead, in the most prominent position in the church, we find a new painting of St Edmund. It was a very bold statement indeed and would have been the first thing you saw as you walked in the door. It was a real slap in the face.”

“What’s really fascinating”, continues Matthew Champion, “is that the conflict between the two religious houses appears to have reached right down to the parish level. It went beyond the financial and legal posturing of two great local powers and split the very parish church in two. The Chancel was devoted to Saint Audrey and Ely whilst the local parishioners, who controlled the Nave of the church, were openly declaring their devotion to the rival Saint Edmund.”

The discovery of the significance of the Saint Edmund painting hasn’t been the only surprise to come out of the project. Although the wall paintings in the church were known to be significant the recent work that has been carried out has highlighted a number of other important features. Most importantly was the discovery of an almost complete paint scheme that leading wall painting expert David Park, of the Courtauld Institute, has dated to circa 1220-30.

“This early scheme is a tremendous find”, states the Reverend Robert Leach, Vicar of St Mary the Virgin, “that was entirely unexpected. The early paintings are almost complete on one whole side of the nave. In effect, it allows us to visualize exactly how the inside of the parish church must have looked nearly eight centuries ago. I believe that painted decoration as early as this is quite a rarity and that this is one of the earliest complete schemes surviving anywhere in the country. We in the parish feel immensely privileged to worship in such a building.”

Macclesfield Alphabet Book bought by British Library

A rare medieval alphabet book will remain in Great Britain, after the British Library announced that it had raised the £600,000 needed to purchase the manuscript.

According to the Guardian newspaper, the British Library was able to match the price the Getty Library in California had offered for the Macclesfield Alphabet Book. The British government had earlier blocked the export of the manuscript to allow the British Library the time needed to raise money for the purchase.

This extremely rare manuscript, produced at the end of the fifteenth century, is written on parchment and has 46 leaves. t is held within an early 18th-century English calf binding and has been in the library of the Earls of Macclesfield since around 1750, and until recently its existence was completely unknown.

The manuscript contains 14 different types of decorative alphabets. These include an alphabet of decorative initials with faces; foliate alphabets; a zoomorphic alphabet of initials, and alphabets in Gothic script. In addition there are large coloured anthropomorphic initials modelled after fifteenth-century woodcuts or engravings, as well as two sets of different types of borders, some of which are fully illuminated in colours and gold.

This manuscript is thought to have been used as a pattern book for an artist's workshop for the transmission of ideas to assistants, or as a 'sample' book to show to potential customers.

Only a handful of these books survive and as a result, the discovery of the Macclesfield Alphabet Book, filled with designs for different types of script, letters, initials, and borders is of outstanding significance and will contribute to a greater understanding of how these books were produced and used in the Middle Ages, as well as aid the study of material culture and art history.

The Macclesfield Alphabet Book sheds light on how such tomes were produced. They did not always rely on the creative expertise of the artist, since alphabets and illustrations similar to some of the Macclesfield examples have been found in earlier books and woodcuts.

Kathleen Doyle, curator of illuminated manuscripts at the British Library, described the acquisition as "tremendously exciting". "It is the most complete set of designs for manuscript decoration known to have survived from late-medieval Britain. The 'abcs' are wonderfully illustrated ‑ including letters formed using animals and people ‑ and I hope that those who go to see it on display at the British Library will be captivated by its inventiveness, and that researchers will begin an interesting debate on its origin, models, and function."

The manuscript will be available for the public to view in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery by the end of the week.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

International Society of Anglo-Saxonists' conference begins in Newfoundland

Memorial University in St.John's, Newfoundland begins hosting the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists' biennial conference on Sunday. Over 100 participants from around the world will be attending the six day event, with this year's theme being the maritime world of the Anglo-Saxons, focusing on the Anglo-Saxon understanding and use of their maritime environment as reflected in textual and material culture.

“We have a range of papers being presented and all are very closely connected to the sea,” said Dr. Bill Schipper, conference organizer and chair. Topics covered address travel and adventure, trade and maritime networks, the fishery, floral and fauna of maritime regions, the sea and the imagination and the symbolism of the sea.

There are three keynote addresses which are open to the public. On Tuesday, July 28, Dr. Allen Frantzen of Loyola University will speak on "Over, In, and Under Water: Connecting Food and Identity in Anglo-Saxon England." Dr. Martin Carver of York University will discuss "The Anglo-Saxons and the Sea: Travels on the Water and in the Mind" on Thursday, July 30. Friday’s session will be given by Dr. Gale Owen-Crocker of Manchester University on "Sea crossing in the Bayeux tapestry."

To read the abstracts for all the papers, please click here.

There will also be presentations at the conference for three publication prizes, for best article, best first book and best edition. Arizona State University has already announced that one of their faculty members, English Professor Robert Bjork will receive the 2009 Best Edition Award for Klaeber's Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg. This book, which is edited by Professor Bjork along with R.D. Fulk and John D. Niles, was recognized by the prize committee as "a legendary accomplishment that will exert a powerful influence on Beowulf studies for years to come."

A tour of L'Anse aux Meadows, the site of the only known Viking colony in North America, will also be available for the conference participants. For more information about L'Anse aux Meadows, please click here.

Jorvik Viking Centre to have £1 million redevelopment

The Minister for Culture, Creative Industries and Tourism has hailed £1 million plans to redevelop the world-famous Jorvik Viking Centre a ‘major boost’ to tourism in the region.

Speaking at the Viking Centre about York Archaeological Trust’s £1 million plans to redevelop the centre during a visit to York on Tuesday, Barbara Follett said: “This is a major boost for tourism in Yorkshire. The Jorvik Viking Centre is without doubt one of the region’s flagship attractions. It has become one of the cultural ‘rites of passage’ for children, and investing in its future will help ensure that the tourism sector in the region remains buoyant.”

Since it opened in York 25 years ago, the Viking Centre has had more than 15 million visitors and has become one of the cultural ‘rites of passage’ for children throughout the UK.

Trust chief executive, John Walker, says the redevelopment plans for the centre reflect the charity’s commitment to supporting the wider regional drive to increase annual visitor spend in Yorkshire by £300 million over the next three years. He says:
“Domestic tourism is seeing a boost as the recession bites, but we want to see visitor numbers continue to climb as the economy recovers. It’s vital that the UK tourism industry – and historic attractions in particular – invests in its facilities to remain competitive in a fast moving world by staying relevant, interesting and inspiring.

“Our feedback shows that visitors to Jorvik are immensely interested in the authentic archaeology behind the centre, and this is at the heart of the

The plans include an underfoot reconstruction of the original Coppergate excavation on which the Viking Centre was built; new, state of the art animatronics and the reconstruction of a new Viking-age house and backyard.

Work will start on the redevelopment in November this year for completion by February 2010. Director of attractions, Sarah Maltby, says the Viking Centre will remain open throughout the majority of the redevelopment programme, with a 25% discount on admission prices through November and December. It will close in January 2010 for four weeks.

She says; “People often forget that at Jorvik Viking Centre you are standing on the site of one of the most famous and astounding discoveries of modern archaeology.

“Thirty years ago, York Archaeological Trust archaeologists revealed the houses, workshops and backyards of the Viking-Age city of Jorvik as it stood 1,000 years ago.
“We built the JORVIK Viking Centre on that excavation site, creating a ground breaking visitor experience that changed the face of museums. Our determination to recreate a Viking city as authentically as possible brought in techniques and technology that were then copied by museums all over the world.

“We plan to bring that excavation to life within the Viking Centre as part of the redevelopment, as well as installing new, lifelike animatronics, displaying never before seen Viking-age objects and incorporating recent research that has added to the picture of what life was like in 10th century York.

“York Archaeological Trust continues to unearth breathtaking discoveries that bring us closer to understanding the everyday lives of our ancestors. From 2009 our explorations will develop further afield and, who knows, there may be another breakthrough just around the corner.”

Mosiac uncovered in Hagia Sophia

Experts have uncovered one of the six angel mosaics within the world-famous Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul after it had been hidden for 160 years behind plaster and a metal mask.

The mosaic, which measures 1.5 meters by 1 meter, was last seen by Swiss architect Gaspare Fossati, who headed restoration efforts at the museum between 1847 and 1849, and Ottoman Sultan Abdülmecid. Experts were surprised to see that the mosaic, believed to date from the 14th century, was so well preserved.

The mosaics were plastered over according to Muslim custom that prohibits the representation of humans.

Some of the mosaics were revealed when the domed complex was turned into a museum in 1935, but the seraphim had largely remained covered, Ahmet Emre Bilgili, who heads culture and tourism affairs in Istanbul, told The Associated Press.

"It is the first time that the angel is being revealed," he said, adding that the figure had been covered with metal and plaster. "It is very well preserved."

Experts would now work to uncover the second seraphim, which was also plastered over and covered by metal, Bilgili said.

The uncovered mosaic is located in the pendentive, an arched triangular section supporting the building’s huge dome. After 10 days of work on the area, experts removed several layers of plaster and the metal mask to uncover the angel.

The mosaic’s true age will be assessed after an analysis by the Hagia Sofia Science Board compares it to similar mosaics. According to the Bible, the six-winged angels are called Seraphim. They are the closest angels to God. They surround God's throne. There are four Seraphim corresponding to the four winds of the world. They each have six wings corresponding to the six days of creation.

Hagia Sophia has been a Christian place of worship for 916 years, then converted into a mosque and served Muslims for 481 years. Hagia Sophia Museum was opened in 1935 and ever since it has been attracting thousands of visitors every year.

According to Byzantine historians the first building of Hagia Sophia church was established during the reign of Constantius I (324 – 337 AD). It was a basilica with a wooden roof, and it was burned down during a revolt.

During the reign of emperor Theodosius Hagia Sophia was built for the second time and opened to the public in 415 AD. The basilica was again burned down during the Nika Revolt in 532 AD. Some ruins of this building were discovered during excavations in 1936. There were stairs indicating the entrance of the building, columns, capitals and other fragments of the building.

Emperor Justinian (527 – 565 AD) wanted to build a church bigger than two previous ones, which would represent the power and magnificence of empire. The new building of Hagia Sophia was designed by two famous architects of that era – Isidoros from Miletos and Anthemios of Tralles. Many columns, capitals, marble and colourful stone were brought to Istanbul from various ancient cities in Anatolia and used in construction works of Hagia Sophia.

The works were commenced on December 23, 532 AD and completed on December 27, 537. The new building consisted of a large central nave and two side aisles, separated by columns, apse, inner and outer narthex. The size of the inner space of basilica is 100 X 70m and it is covered by the magnificent dome (diametre 30.31 m), supported by the four large piers, 55 m high.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hundred Years War Online Database Launched

250,000 medieval soldier service records published online offer a unique insight into social mobility in the ranks of England's first professional army.

An invaluable new resource for genealogists and people interested in social, political and military history has been launched this week. An online database containing 250,000 service records of soldiers who saw active duty in the latter phases of the Hundred Years War, has been published as part of the Medieval Soldier Research project.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the researchers at the University of Reading and University of Southampton have analysed historic sources such as muster rolls records in the National Archives at Kew and the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris ( for records of English garrisons in France ). The resulting Medieval Soldier database enables people to search for soldiers by surname, rank or year of service.

Using resources such as the proceedings of the Court of Chivalry, the researchers have also been able to build a picture of career progression and class mobility through what they believe are the origins of England's first professional army, creating complex profiles of individual soldiers. The database includes, for example, the names of many archers who served with Henry V at Agincourt.

The researchers have been able to identify where individual soldiers fought and for how long, who advanced in rank as a result of military success, which campaigns they fought in, what they were paid, who was off work sick, who was knighted, how much they received in ransoms, who was the most modest, the youngest or even who rode the furthest. Examples include Thomas, Lord Despencer, who began his career in arms at just 12 years old in 1385 or Thomas Gloucestre, esquire, who fought at Agincourt, and whose career can be traced over a 43 year period from Prussia to Jerusalem.

Dr Adrian Bell, Senior Lecturer at the ICMA Centre, Henley Business School, University of Reading, said: "The service records survive because the English Exchequer had a very modern obsession with wanting to be sure that the Government's money was being spent as intended. Therefore we have the remarkable survival of indentures for service detailing the forces to be raised; muster rolls showing this service and naming every soldier from Duke to Archer; accounts from the captains demonstrating how the money had been spent; and entries showing when the Exchequer made the requested payments.

"It is the survival of the muster roll evidence that allows us to begin to reconstruct the service of soldiers. This allows us to look for repeated service in the retinues of particular captains, and also service alongside a network of colleagues and family members. We can see that careers in arms regularly lasted over 20 years, and soldiers served from their teenage years to their 60s and older!"

The social mobility made possible by progressing through the ranks is demonstrated by the case of Robert de Fishlake. He enlisted, aged 16, in 1378 and progressed from humble archer to man-at-arms through the military campaigns at St Malo in 1378; the Duke of Buckingham's expedition to Brittany in 1380 and subsequent campaigns in Scotland. He even visited the Middle East. His stature had increased sufficiently to be called as a witness, aged 46, by Sir Edward Hastings at a Court of Chivalry.

Volunteers have played a large part in helping to build profiles of individual medieval soldiers, such as that of Robert de Fishlake. David Judd, volunteer, said: "The project has given me a feel for my medieval ancestors, who I had an inkling may have been Men at Arms or Archers but never had the evidence to prove it. With the soldier database I now have the evidence and material with which to research and add to my knowledge of early medieval family. It is absolutely fascinating to learn more about the detail of my medieval ancestors who must have lived through very troubled times."

Dr Bell recognises the involvement of the volunteers in the project: "Putting these records freely online has inspired a number of interested volunteers to write 'soldier profiles' of ancestors or of interesting individuals. The quality of the work by the contributing authors is of a very high standard, and demonstrates what can be produced, once original sources have been made accessible online."

The project was undertaken jointly by Dr Adrian Bell at the ICMA Centre, Henley Business School, University of Reading and Professor Anne Curry of the University of Southampton.

You can access the database here.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Vinland Map is authentic, expert confirms

The 15th century Vinland Map, the first known map to show part of America before explorer Christopher Columbus landed on the continent, is almost certainly genuine, a Danish expert said Friday.

Controversy has swirled around the map since it came to light in the 1950s, many scholars suspecting it was a hoax meant to prove that Vikings were the first Europeans to land in North America -- a claim confirmed by a 1960 archaeological find.

Doubts about the map lingered even after the use of carbon dating as a way of establishing the age of an object.

"All the tests that we have done over the past five years -- on the materials and other aspects -- do not show any signs of forgery," Rene Larsen, rector of the School of Conservation under the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.

He presented his team's findings at the 23rd International Conference on the History of Cartography in Copenhagen on Friday. His paper was entitled,'Facts and Myths about the Vinland Map and its Context'.

The map shows both Greenland and a western Atlantic island "Vinilanda Insula," the Vinland of the Icelandic sagas, now linked by scholars to Newfoundland where Norsemen under Leif Eriksson settled around AD 1000.

Larsen said his team carried out studies of the ink, writing, wormholes and parchment of the map, which is housed at Yale University in the United States.

He said wormholes, caused by wood beetles, were consistent with wormholes in the books with which the map was bound.

He said claims the ink was too recent because it contained a substance called anatase titanium dioxide could be rejected because medieval maps have been found with the same substance, which probably came from sand used to dry wet ink.

American scholars have carbon dated the map to about 1440, about 50 years before Columbus "discovered" the New World in 1492. Scholars believe it was produced for a 1440 church council at Basel, Switzerland.

The Vinland Map is not a "Viking map" and does not alter the historical understanding of who first sailed to North America. But if it is genuine, it shows that the New World was known not only to Norsemen but also to other Europeans at least half a century before Columbus's voyage.

It was bought from a Swiss dealer by an American after the British Museum turned it down in 1957. It was subsequently bought for Yale University by a wealthy Yale alumnus, Paul Mellon, and published with fanfare in 1965.

The lack of a provenance has caused much of the controversy. Where the map came from and how it came into the hands of the Swiss dealer after World War Two remain a mystery.

Medieval massacre site found in Dorset

In June archaeologists and workers expanding a road in Dorset discovered the site of a grizzly medieval massacre, which perhaps was the result of Viking raids in the tenth or early eleventh century.

They found the skeletal remains of fifty-one men, all decapitated before their bodies were thrown in a pit. Their heads were also found, stacked to one side.

At first, the bodies were believed to have been from people who lived in ancient or Roman times, but radio-carbon dating revealed that they were killed between 890 and 1034, when the South of England was pillaged by Viking raiders from Scandinavia.

What they found shook even experienced archaeologists used to dealing with the remains of the long dead. David Score, of Oxford Archaeology, the project manager, said: "When you are there surrounded by bones with a pile of skulls grimacing back at you, you can't help but imagine how they met their end. It would have been a scene of absolute horror."

Nothing else has been found in the grave so far. Mr Score said: "You might expect them to have been stripped of weapons and jewellery before execution, but the fact we haven't found so much as a bone toggle suggests they were naked when they were executed."

Angela Boyle, senior osteologist, said: "The overwhelming majority are aged from their late teens to about 25-years-old, with just a small number of older individuals. As a general group they are tall, robust in stature with good teeth and appear to have had healthy lifestyles.

"Most of the skulls exhibit evidence of multiple blows to the vertebrae, jawbones and skulls with a large, very sharp weapon such as a sword."

The identity of the skeletons may be revealed by their teeth. Isotopes in the enamel formed while the men were growing up will reveal whether their origins were in Scandinavia, Wessex — Alfred's kingdom — or northern England, where large numbers of Danes had settled.

David Score add, "The time period we’re now looking at is one of considerable conflict between the resident Saxon population and invading Danes. Viking raids were common and there were a series of major battles in the south of England as successive Saxon kings and Viking leaders fought for control.

"It is hoped that further radio carbon dating will be able to define the date range much more closely and other scientific techniques may be able to establish the origin of the individuals; were they Saxons or Vikings?”

The pit was discovered during road construction between Dorchester and Weymouth, venue for sailing events in the 2012 Olympics. A team of archaeologists had been following builders widening the A354 where it crosses the Ridgeway, a prehistoric track along the crest of the limestone hills of south Dorset.

Archaeological Discoveries in Bulgaria go back to the 13th century

A team of Bulgarian archaeologists led by Professor Nikolay Ovcharov has made unique excavation discoveries from the pinnacle of the Second Bulgarian Empire.

In the yard of the St Peter and St. Paul Church in the medieval Bulgarian capital of Veliko Tarnovo, Ovcharov and his team found part of a wall and medieval coins within it that are dated from 1210 to 1240.

Ovcharov believes that this was part of the Monastery of the Bulgarian Patriarch in the 13th century. This was the time of the Bulgarian Tsars Kaloyan (1197-1207), Boril (1207-1218), and Ivan Asen II (1218-1241).

The monastery is believed to have been the center of the Tarnovo Patriarchate at the time of the Union of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church with the Catholic Church in the Vatican that latest from 1204, when Pope Innocent III declared Kaloyan "Emperors of Wallachians and Bulgarians" ("Rex Wallahorum et Bulgarorum"), until 1246.

The monastery was reconstructed after Veliko Tarnovo's conquest by the Ottoman Turkish Empire in 1393, later hosted the Tarnovo Bishop. Its remains were fully destroyed in 1913 by an earthquake.

The team of archaeologist Nikolay Ovcharov also found a 30-gram silver ring with a figure of lilies (fleur-de-lis) during their excavations in the church yard.

Ovcharov is 100% sure that the ring originated in medieval France since its decoration with enamel is typical of the French goldsmiths, and the fleur-de-lis (lilies) were the sign of the French rulers.

"I don't claim that the ring began to a king but it certainly was worn by a notable. Whether the notable buried there was a French or a Bulgarian notable, we cannot say for sure but we are certain that at that time the Bulgarian high-life was already influenced by French "fashion" and style of clothing and jewelry that was brought by the Crusades", Professor Ovcharov said.

His team has also discovered a number of other items that include two more rings, one of which has an inscription dated back to the beginning of the 15th century with the name "Simonis" or "Simeonis", and a silver gold-coated earring from the beginning of the 13th century, and a female belt.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Call for Papers for Undergraduate Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Studies

Arizona State University issued the following news release:

Put down your preconceived notions. The global universe that we live in today is not a modern invention. It is as old as time.

That, says Arizona State University assistant professor of English Mary Bjork, is one of a number of topics that are open to presentation, discussion and exploration during the second annual Undergraduate Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Studies, "Discipuli Juncti: Students Connected Through the Middle Ages and Renaissance." The conference is scheduled to take place at ASU's West campus on October 30 and is presented by the university's New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences and the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (ACMRS), a tri-university research center (ASU, University of Arizona, Northern Arizona University) on ASU's Tempe campus.

Before then, however, comes the call for papers and presentations, the very stuff of which the fall conference is made.

"This is an opportunity for undergraduate students who are interested in Medieval or Renaissance culture to present their research or project to a group of peers and others," says Bjork, a faculty member in New College's Department of Humanities, Arts & Cultural Studies on the West campus.

"Increasingly, students are being called upon to become professionalized earlier and earlier. Graduate schools and professional programs seek applicants who have demonstrated a commitment to their areas of study. This conference was conceived as a way to help give students the confidence to think seriously about presenting themselves as professionals."

The deadline to submit a short abstract of 200 words for a 15- to 20-minute presentation is July 31, and Spring 2009 graduates are still eligible to participate.

Last year's inaugural conference featured 30 students from ASU and universities in Kansas, Ohio, Florida, Texas and Canada, who presented research on subjects ranging from Beowulf to Milton. The top three papers were selected to be presented at the ACMRS international conference last February, a practice that will continue this year. This year's best conference papers will also be published online on the ACMRS Web site, www.asu.edu/clas/acmrs.

The Latin discipuli juncti translates as "students connected."

"We wanted a name that reflected the importance of the contact between students that is at the heart of this endeavor and the multi-disciplinary nature of the conference while also acknowledging its placement in the Middle Ages and Renaissance," says Bjork. "In the years roughly between the 5th century and the 17th century, Latin enabled people who otherwise would not have shared a language to communicate with each other."

Bjork says the study of the Middle Ages, commonly dated from the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century to the beginning of the Early Modern Period in the 16th century, and the Renaissance, a European cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, is important in gaining a greater understanding of the world we live in today and even what lies ahead.

"Pre-modern studies are by definition global studies," says Bjork, who is an editorial board member of the Mediterranean Studies Association and is working on a book about Renaissance playwright John Fletcher. "The way we understand borders and identity was born in these periods. Many of the conflicts the world is still engaged in today - Islam vs. Christianity, for example - were born centuries ago.

"During the Renaissance, merchants in general tended to care less about a person's national or religious identity than they did about making a good business deal, even if that business came at the expense of people with whom they shared cultural values. As we think about the ways in which multi-national corporations function today, this begins to sound very familiar.

"By understanding the ways in which the people of the past attempted to make sense of the world in which they lived, we stand a better chance of making sense of our own times and even, perhaps, of negotiating a more viable and equitable future."

Students presenting an abstract and application form will be notified of acceptance by August 31. Once accepted, in advance of the conference each student will work with a faculty mentor who will advise and assist in the development of the student's project for a conference-level presentation. Paper proposals on all topics and in all formats, including visual and aural media, or any creative form of research, are welcome.

Bjork says she expects this year's conference to attract more students, and that she has already received inquiries from prospective participants from ASU and from universities in California, Ohio and New York.

The conference is an outgrowth of a talk she was invited to give by former ASU faculty associate Claudia Tomany, who is now a tenure-track professor at the University of Minnesota, Mankato. Bjork's presentation coincided with Mankato's Undergraduate Research Conference.

Late Medieval Farmhouse for sale in Devon

Situated down a long drive flanked by mature broadleaved woodland, Powlesland Farm, Spreyton, near Crediton is an historic, private and pretty farmstead, surrounded by a superb block of productive land.

Centred around a Grade II Listed, late-medieval farmhouse, it is believed that the Powlesland family began farming at Powlesland Farm in 1274. For over 700 years the family have lived at the property and farmed the land, but are leaving through lack of successors.

The attractive farmhouse has a number of historic features, adding charm and character to the comfortable accommodation, which includes an entrance hall, sitting room with open fireplace and oak screen, dining room, study, kitchen, utility, downstairs bathroom, with three bedrooms and a family bathroom on the first floor. Adjoining the farmhouse is a former garage and log shed, with a tallett above offering further potential.

Outside to the front of the house is a pretty cottage garden with a lawn bordered by mature shrubs to the rear. There is a magnificent former threshing barn along with the former bakehouse cottage with further scope for a variety of uses.

In addition, there is a range of modern farm buildings currently used for machinery and grain storage, with the potential for alternative farm enterprises or other non-agricultural uses.

The land extends to approximately 156 acres of productive arable and pasture. The land, which has good access from internal tracks and direct road frontage, is currently let on a cropping licence for the 2009 growing season.

It is bordered on the northern boundary by the River Yeo and in addition there are pockets of mature broadleaved woodland throughout the farm, adding to the amenity and sporting appeal of the property.

The nearby village of Spreyton has a thriving rural community with primary school, village hall and pub.

Penny Dart, head of Savills Farm Agency, (01392 455747) said: "Powlesland is an attractive holding offering a wonderful lifestyle and commercial farming opportunity."

The property has been launched by Savills Farm Agency to the market, either as a whole or in three lots, with a guide of £1.3 million for the whole.

For more details go to this website.

Irish Museum receives grant to display Viking treasure

The Waterford Museum of Treasures is to receive a development grant of €16,000 to assist in creating a new space within the permanent exhibition area to display internationally important objects recently discovered at the Viking site at Woodstown.

The allocation as been made by Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Martin Cullen, under his depart-ment’s support for the regional museums programme.

The archaeological material that will be on display resulting from the funding will include Viking warrior grave goods which are the only complete set of warrior weapons found to date in Ireland.

This exhibition will also benefit business tourism in Waterford city as the Minister said the new exhibition will coincide with an "interna-tional conference on the Viking site at Woodstown in autumn".

Acknowledging the country’s regional museum contributions to cultural tourism, Minister Cullen added, "Our regional museums, including our Museum of Treasures, are an essential part of our Water-ford tourism product mix. I am delighted to allocate

Dante's Descendant wants to promote his legacy in Italy

A direct descendant of Dante on Tuesday called on the new city council of Florence to promote his ancestor's legacy by teaming up with other cities in which the poet spent his life.

Count Pieralvise Serego Alighieri, a winemaker and 21st direct descendant of Dante, appealed to mayor Matteo Renzi, who was elected in June, for a "commitment that will give Dante and his cities the value they deserve."

"I hope the new city council will take up my old dream: an accord between the three Dante cities of Florence, Verona and Ravenna to promote coordinated initiatives," he said.

"I haven't heard anything from the new council so far," he added.

Italy's greatest poet, Dante (1265-1321) lived and worked in Florence until he was forced to flee in 1302 because of fighting between political factions.

He spent the last 19 years of his life in exile, six of which he spent in Verona as a guest of his hero Cangrande della Scala, before dying in Ravenna.

Last year Serego Alighieri was set to accept Florence's apology for banishing his famous ancestor but pulled out at the last minute citing hurtful remarks made by some political parties.

He was to have received the city's highest honour, the Golden Florin, as a sign of its regret for forcing Dante into exile for the rest of his life.

The motion called for the formal revocation of the 1302 verdict which sentenced Dante to be burned at the stake if he ever set foot in his beloved city again.

Historians say the sentence, based on charges of fraud, perjury and extortion, was trumped up by the enemies of the poet, who was very active in the politics of his day.

But Serego Alighieri said Florence's apology was not acceptable.

"When I read about the council session I realised it wouldn't be a heartfelt, collective 'mea culpa' at all," the count said.

"My heart sank when I read certain remarks from the Communist and Green councillors who voted against the motion".

Serego Alighieri is the leading member of the 21st generation of Dante's descendants. He runs a Valpolicella vineyard near Verona which was originally bought by the poet's son Pietro in 1353.

This year he has also produced a Tuscan red wine at a new winery near Montalcino, signalling the return of the Alighieri family to Tuscany for the first time in 650 years.

The Ravenna monks who guard Dante's ashes have refused several pleas from Florence to return the poet's remains. Dante's tomb in the northeastern Italian city is a big tourist draw, rivalling the lure of its Byzantine mosaics.

Florence has had to be content with an empty tomb in the Santa Croce church, built in the early 19th century, which some tourists think is the real thing.

Experts believe he began writing the Divine Comedy, which comprises Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso (Hell, Purgatory and Paradise), in 1308, finishing just before his death in 1321.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Was the Mabinobigion written by a woman?

A new book coming out this month suggests that the Mabinoigion, a medieval masterpiece of Welsh literature, was written, at least in part, by a Welsh princess. In The Origins of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi
Dr. Andrew Breeze of University of Navarre argues that The Mabinogion's first four stories were the work of a female, which he beieves was Gwenllian, daughter of Gruffudd ap Cynan, King of Gwynedd.

In an interview with the Western Mail, Dr. Breeze explains some of his reasons behind his theory: "What we can say about these stories is that they are very good at describing children, babies, breast feeding, motherhood, and even though warfare occurs the writer is not interested in swords and daggers and axes. Then we get these small characters like Rhiannon and Branwen and in some cases they get the better of their men."

He adds, "Then we get these small characters like Rhiannon and Branwen and in some cases they get the better of their men."

Other Welsh literature scholars are not convinved by Dr. Breeze's arguments. Iestyn Daniel, of the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, said: "I don't think he is correct in deducing it is the work of a woman.

"Personally I think it is by a Dominican [monk]. If the author were a Dominican he might well have been experienced in treating women's spiritual needs and that might have been reflected in The Mabinogi."

He added: "What he has written is valuable in that it draws attention to the feminine element but I don't think it follows that the author was therefore a woman."

Dr Sioned Davies, the head of the school of Welsh at Cardiff University, was more forthright in her criticism. She said: "I know Andrew Breeze well and he is a good academic. But he has a bee in his bonnet about the conceit that a woman wrote it.

"Nothing would give me more pleasure than discovering this, but scholars have shown quite clearly that his arguments are unfounded. We cannot even date the Four Branches of the Mabinogi so he has a rather circular argument.

"And the level (of argument) is not what I would expect of a someone of his calibre."

But Dr Breeze respond against his critics by saying, "People are unwilling to change their minds. In a tiny way I feel like Galileo."

The Mabinobigion is a collection of eleven prose stories from medieval Welsh manuscripts. The tales of the Mabinogion were preserved in two manuscripts, White Book of Rhydderch (c. 1325) and the Red Book of Hergest (c. 1400).

The Mabinogion was first translated into English by Lady Charlotte Guest. It was Lady Charlotte who gave the title of "Mabinogion" to this collection of tales. Also, Lady Charlotte had included a twelfth tale, called Hanes Taliesin ("Tale of Taliesin"), belonging to the Independent group. However, the Hanes Taliesin was not found in the two early manuscripts, so some of the later translations of the Mabinogion do not include the story of Taliesin.

The tales from the Mabinogion can be divided into three categories. The first four tales belonged to the Four Branches of the Mabinogi ("Pedair Cainc y Mabinogi"). The next four (or five, if including Taliesin) were the Independent tales, two tales of which Arthur appeared in the scene. While the last three tales falls into a category known as the Welsh romances, similar to those of the French romances written by Chretien de Troyes.

Dr. Breeze's presumed author of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, Princess Gwenllian, is also famous for her role in the wars between Wales and England. Born in 1098, she lived in the valleys around Dinefwr, then dense with protective forests, where she married and raised four sons: Morgan, Maelgwn, Maredued and Rhys. In 1136 an attack was launched on the Normans and her husband left to join the battle. While he was away, Maurice of London and other Normans led raids against their territory, and Gwenllian was compelled to raise an army for their defense. In a battle fought near Kidwelly Castle, Gwenllian's army was routed, and she was captured and beheaded by the Normans. In the battle her son Morgan was also slain and another Maelgwen captured and executed. Gerald Cambrensis, writing later that century, said: "She marched like the Queen of the Amazons and a second Penthesileia leading her army."

Córdoba's Medina Azahara loses out on World Heritage Site status

One of Córdoba's greatest cultural jewels, the medieval archeological site of Medina Azahara, has been excluded from the list of candidates to become a Unesco World Heritage Site.

The news has raised a few eyebrows, but not among the advisory bodies to the international organization, which include a Spanish committee called Icomos (International Council of Monuments and Historical-Artistic Sites). Experts who sit on this committee, such as its deputy secretary, Víctor Fernández, point at the 240 illegal homes that were built nearby as the main reason for leaving this priceless site out of the running.

But local authorities insist that the unlawful construction is not a good reason to snub the former palatial city, whose wealth and power were once legendary across the Arab world. "The nearest villa is built 800 meters from Medina's outer wall," says a spokesperson for City Hall.

The Córdoba city authorities and the regional government of Andalusia recently agreed to create a technical office to keep tabs on what goes on near Medina Azahara. Andalusian authorities also promised to work to have the site nominated once again.

But the Icomos experts are adamant. "It comes as no surprise that Medina Azahara is not on the list. In order to make the World Heritage Site list, a monument must not just be exceptional, complete and authentic; it must also be demonstrated that it is well managed and enjoys a comprehensive protection plan," says Fernández. "First you have to prove all this, and then you make the list. Although Medina Azahara has a lot going for it, it is perfectly possible to understand why it is not on the list: because it is not in the best possible condition."

He adds: "The main issue is for the people of Córdoba to ask themselves why these illegal estates were allowed to go up near Medina Azahara in the mid-1990s. That is when City Hall and locals should have been aware of how important this cultural asset is. Instead, there was a feeling of goodwill towards the real estate project."

Icomos believes that Medina Azahara has more than enough merits to make the list, and that Córdoba would profit enormously from having another World Heritage Site besides its historical center, which already has that honor.

However, getting it declared a World Heritage Site, if that ever happens, might take years. Construction of the Information Center has taken so long that some had lost hope of ever seeing it with their own eyes. Construction began in 2003 and, if all goes well, it will open to the public in September of this year. Besides offering visitors information about the site, authorities hope that it will turn Córdoba into an international reference for research on Islamic culture.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

International Medieval Congress - Interview with Axel E. W. Müller

The largest annual conference in the United Kingdom is set to begin next week. The International Medieval Congress will again take place at the University of Leeds, and features over a thousand papers on a wide variety of topics on the Middle Ages.

The congress begins on July 13th and runs for four days. Already 1551 people have registered to attend the congress, coming from over 40 countries to take part.

We interviewed Axel E. W. Müller, Director of the International Medieval Congress, who heads up a team of six people who directly organize the congress (as well as hundreds of others who are actively involved in developing its programme. We asked Professor Müller a few questions about the congress:

How does the International Medieval Congress differ from other medieval conferences held in the United Kingdom?

The most obvious difference of the IMC to other conferences (on aspects of the Study of the European Middle Ages) in the United Kingdom or in Europe is its size. With an average between 1400 and 1500 participants from around the world, it is only trumped by the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan in the United States. This size gives it a few advantages over other conferences on medieval studies in the UK; this allows the congress to have a broad academic scope which attracts a wide corpus of scholars in a variety of disciplines who would not necessarily meet at smaller conferences, and offers a chance for multi and interdisciplinary interaction that one would rarely get at other conferences on medieval studies.

Each year the congress has a theme - this year it is 'Heresy and Orthodoxy', and in 2010 it will be 'Travel and Exploration'. Why do you choose to have special themes and how do you go about making the choice for one?

The special thematic strands, like 'Heresy and Orthodoxy' and 'Travel and Exploration' exist in order to give a certain focus to the congress. A lot of planning time and man hours go into the programming of each Congress. We have subdivided Medieval Studies in 35 thematic areas in order to a) have a good range of presence of scholarship and research from all fields and disciplines, b) to enable a comprehensive programming...

In addition to those 'core strands', we select each year one special thematic strand (not as an exclusive theme) which aims to identify upcoming areas of research or encouraging burgeoning fields, and sections within Medieval Studies which we feel are worth exploring beyond conventional boundaries. Participants are by no means required to submit papers that fit with the special theme (and usually around 1/3 of papers submitted fit with the special thematic area).

However, we find that it is a good way for participants to focus their thinking, it presents a cohesive strand of scholarship, and attracts new participants to come. The special themes are broad enough to encompass a wide variety of scholarship from a variety of different disciplinary approaches, and we attempt to make it inclusive enough to be something that everyone attending the congress could engage with and find useful.

The lead-in time for these strands is quite substantial and currently we are fine-tuning Special Thematic Strands (through the Congress Standing Committee and Programming Committee) for 2012 and 2013. How do we decide? A long consultation process - we are always open for suggestions and proposals. Once a year the Standing Committee makes a short list which is then passed on to the Programming Committee for further suggestions which get fed back to the Standing Committee which finally decides.

One of the unique features of the International Medieval Congress is that attendees have the opportunity to participate in a number of events and excursions. Could you tell us more about them and highlight some of this year's excursions and events?

Every year at the IMC participants are welcome to partake in a number of excursions, fairs and special events that give the conferenceg oers the chance to go to places, or see and do things that are both relevant to their work as medieval academics, but also are fun and interesting. This year we are hosting the regular book fair (with over 80 stands), but also an antiquarian and second-hand book fair, a medieval craft fair and an historical societies fair. Special events this year include performances of medieval stories, music and dance, as well as workshops on liturgical music, medieval textile production, medieval cosmetics and a medieval summer feast complete with the requisite boar’s head.

Yorkshire is an exceptionally rich medieval landscape, full to the brim with Medieval culture, artifacts and architecture. Our excursions are aimed to show people many of those sites, often with behind the scene views, to get a real insight in sites, places and surroundings, which is why we ensure that all trips are led by experts on the particular landmark they are visiting. Each year, we are spoilt for choice by so many options to chose from - but we try to find something for a range of interests. This year, we'll Byland, Kirkstall and Fountain’s Abbeys, as well as Skipton and Conisborough castles. There will also be a behind-the-scenes tour of the Royal Armouries in Leeds with curators from the museum, the British national collection of arms and armour and the finest collection of medieval martial material culture in England.

In addition, to go a little bit further afield, after the congress there is a special three-day tour which participants can sign up for; this year will be touring "Hadrian’s Wall country in the early middle ages", including stops in Bede’s home town Jarrow, the roman forts of Bewcastle, and Vindolanda, as well as the Anglo-Saxon churches at Corbridge and Bywell. The tour culminates in full day’s exploration of the holy isle of Lindisfarne.

For those coming to Leeds and the Congress for the first time, what advise might you give about what people might want to see and do while on their stay here?

Well, as I mentioned above, Yorkshire and the North of England more generally is an area particularly ripe for medievalists. Within Leeds itself, I would recommend that the must-see attraction for medievalists is the Royal Armouries museum, which houses a spectacular medieval collection. Leeds is also home to Kirkstall Abbey, and a 12th century church in nearby Adel both of which are easily accessible by bus. The newly reopened Leeds city museum also has a medieval collection. The medieval city of York is only about 25 minutes away by train, which has the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe, intact medieval city walls, spectacular Viking archeological finds and the majority of surviving extant medieval stained glass in England. If the conferencegoer has access to a car, the countryside is dotted with abbeys like Fountain’s, Ripon, Bolton or Rievaulx, medieval parish churches (many of which are filled with Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Scandanavian sculpture), and medieval castles in Knaresborough and Pickering. And, there is, of course, the Congress - which should deserve a visit in its own right.

We thank Professor Müller for answering our questions. For more information about the International Medieval Congress, please visit their website. Check back with the News for Medievalists section to get further updates about the congress.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Florentine Crucifix the work of Giotto

A crucifix in the Florence church of All Saints is the work of Giotto, restorers said Wednesday.

The Ognissanti Crucifix was previously thought to have been by a relative or pupil of Giotto, but a four-year project at Italy's top restoration laboratory, the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence, has convinced experts that Giotto himself is responsible for the painted cross.

"To remove the layers of grime and dust that covered the work we used water-based solvents that did not affect the tempera base of the painting," Opificio Director Marco Ciatti told Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

"The cleaning revealed a painting in an excellent state.. and of the highest quality, that leads us to question the attribution to a so-called 'relative of Giotto'," he said.

The Crucifix dates to the second decade of the 1300s and measures 453x360 cm, although a lower section at least a metre in length thought to have shown Golgotha has been lost.

Giotto would have painted the cross some 20 years after completing his famous monumental crucifix in Florence's Santa Maria Novella church.

Ciatti said the next step would be for the work to undergo an infrared reflectography exam, which will allow experts to discover preparatory drawings under the painting. The restoration of the crucifix will be presented at the end of the year.

Although renowned for his skill at life drawings at a time when stylised Byzantine art dominated, much of Giotto's life, travels and training remains shrouded in mystery.

He was born in Tuscany of a father named Bondone, studied with Cimabue, one of the greatest painters of his day, and completed his greatest masterpiece, the decoration of the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, in around 1305.

However, the year and precise place of his birth and his family's background remain subjects of dispute, as does the order in which he completed his works and even their attribution. Photo: Giotto crucifix in Santa Maria Novella church.

Medieval remains found at heart of Cambridge University

A hoard of historic finds, including Roman pottery, medieval remains and the bones of an 11th-century dog have been found at the heart of Cambridge University during an excavation to mark its 800th anniversary.

The dig, which has been taking place eight feet underneath a staff tea room in the University's central offices, known as the Old Schools, has uncovered material which is believed to pre-date the Norman Conquest.

It is the first hard evidence that more than 150 years before the University's foundation in 1209, the area which now forms its administrative hub was occupied by a bustling Anglo-Saxon community.

Archaeologists have unearthed a number of animal bones, boundary markings and signs of quarrying, which suggest that in the final decades of the Saxon era, the foundations of what was to become the middle of the university city were being laid.

Higher up, at what is being referred to as the "1209 level", other materials have helped to provide a snapshot of life at the time of the University's foundation 800 years ago.

"The site has enabled us to prove what we previously had no proof for - that by the time of the Norman Conquest, there was a thriving settlement in the middle of Cambridge," Richard Newman, site director with the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, said.

"Until now this was one of the least-investigated parts of the city. What it has shown is that a century and a half before the University arrived and 300 years before it started to build in this area, people were already living and working here. The boundaries marking where their homes begin and end do not change for several centuries, until the University moved in."

The dig has reached what would have been ground level in ancient times, before even the Saxons arrived. Cambridge was founded by the Romans, who occupied the area on the other side of the River Cam, and pieces of Roman pottery which were probably unearthed as the land was ploughed by later generations have also been found on the site.

In Anglo-Saxon times, a cluster of domestic properties started to emerge. The dog, which appears to date back to that period, would probably have been a valuable ally for the self-sufficient family that owned it.

"It would have been a working animal and an essential part of the household at the time, used for tasks such as catching rabbits," Newman added. "A dog would also have given people security, it was useful when it came to protecting your possessions, and it was cheaper than a lock!"

By the time the first scholars arrived to found the University in 1209, the area was a busy commercial centre. At the 1209 level, archaeologists have found the remains of a number of 13th century houses, large quantities of "Stamford Ware" pottery which was popular at the time, and the bones of cattle and sheep that would have been reared and eaten by the people who lived there.

The original frontage of the Old Schools, now part of one of the most iconic and photographed sites in England, has also been found. Although the early academic community lived and lectured in private houses in the medieval town, by the late 13th century it had begun to organise itself into something resembling a small but structured university.

In 1275, Nigel de Thornton, a Doctor of Physic, gave much of the land on which the buildings now stand to the University and the construction of a Divinity School and University offices began. The first building was finished around 1400 and further construction followed. In 1754, the eastern façade of the schools was given a grand redesign, creating the white, neo-classical frontage visitors see today.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Codex Sinaiticus, the World's Oldest Bible, now online

The NPR radio program All Things Considered has an interview with Scot McKendrick, curator at the British Library, about the international project to create an online edition of the Codex Sinaiticus, the world's oldest known Christian Bible

The Codex Sinaiticus, or Sinai Book, was at the Monastery of St. Catherine in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula until 1859, when the book was divided. Part of it remained there, while other parts were taken to Britain, Germany and Russia.

Now, scholars from those four countries have virtually reassembled the 1,600-year-old work and made it available to anyone who wants to look at it for free.

"The whole project rests on an agreement between the four institutions. Each one committed themselves to ... the greater good of the whole to present this virtual codex," Scot McKendrick, chairman of the multinational group that worked on the project, tells Robert Siegel.

McKendrick, the British Library's head of Western manuscripts, says the codex offers an insight into what was happening in the fourth century.

"This is the point at which Christianity is becoming authorized, accepted by authority, and this book very much reflects that," he says. "It also reflects a point where there is still a discussion going on about which texts are in the Bible and which order they should be presented in."

The Codex Sinaiticus Web site is a veritable treasure trove for researchers and others. The site grants access not only to images of the pages, but also to the new transcription of the text, McKendrick says, which allows scholars to search for word patterns, among other uses. The digitized version offers breathtaking detail of the codex, which is written by hand in Greek on animal skin.

"The Web site is wonderful in that it allows you to see that physicality, see a thumbprint of a 1,600-year-old scribe, an insect that bit the animal that the page has come from," he says. "It's like a window in that ... critical era."

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Clopton Charter at Brock University

We have posted a feature article on our main Medievalists.net website about the discovery of a 13th century document at Brock University in Canada. The document, which details a land transfer between Robert de Clopton and his son, was hidden away in a drawer at the University's archive for over 30 years.

Last month, we published an article about the discovery, and since then we have interviewed all the people involved in researching this manuscript. We now are publishing new details about charter as well as images of it.

Click here to access The Clopton Charter at Brock University.

8th century Islamic vase found in Japan

Pieces of an Islamic ceramic vase dating back to the late eighth century have been discovered in Nara Prefecture, making it possibly the oldest Islamic porcelain found in Japan, Nara city government researchers said Friday.

Nineteen pieces with a blue-green exterior and dark green interior surface were unearthed at Saidaiji Temple in the ancient Japanese capital, they said without giving the specific date of the discovery.

The excavation team also unearthed a piece of wood bearing Chinese characters indicating the year of the reigning Japanese emperor, corresponding to 768 AD, which led the researchers to determine the era in which the Islamic vase was made.

Keisuke Morishita, the head of the western city's research center for buried cultural property, described the discovery as providing "first-class historical data that indicates there was a 'Silk Road of the Sea' linking eastern and western Asia."

The Nara researchers believe the vase was more than 50 centimeters high and had a diameter of 11 to 12 cm at its base, adding it was likely that the vase was used to carry spices or dates.

What were previously thought to be the oldest Islamic ceramics in Japan were found in Fukuoka Prefecture, but the latest find from the Abbasid Caliphate appears roughly a century older, they said.

The pieces will be on display at the Nara research center from Monday until the end of the month and then at Nara city hall from Aug. 10 to 31, according to the center.

Etruscans did not become the Tuscans, study shows

The current population of Tuscany is not descended from the Etruscans, the people that lived in the region during the Bronze Age, a new Italian study has shown.

Researchers at the universities of Florence, Ferrara, Pisa, Venice and Parma discovered the genealogical discontinuity by testing samples of mitochondrial DNA from remains of Etruscans and 27 people who lived in the Middle Ages (between the 10th and 15th centuries) as well as from people living in the region today.

While there was a clear genetic link between Medieval Tuscans and the current population, the relationship between modern Tuscans and their Bronze Age ancestors could not be proven, the study showed.

"Some people have hypothesised that the most ancient DNA sequences, those from the Etruscan era, could contain errors or have been contaminated but tests conducted with new methods exclude this," said David Caramelli of Florence University and Guido Barbujani of Ferrara University.

"The most simple explanation is that the structure of the Tuscan population underwent important demographic changes in the first millennium before Christ," they said.

"Immigration and forced migration have diluted the Etruscan genetic inheritance so much as to make it difficult to recognise."

The scientific data does not necessarily mean that the Etruscans died out, the researchers said.

Teams from Florence and Ferrara universities are working to identify whether traces of the Etruscans' genetic inheritance may still exist in people living in isolated locations in the region.

The new study, Genealogical discontinuities among Etruscan, Medieval and contemporary Tuscans, is published online by the scientific journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

The Etruscans lived mainly between the rivers Tiber and Arno in modern-day Umbria, Lazio and Tuscany, in the first millennium BC.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

English Historical Review - June 2009

The June 2009 issue of the English Historical Review (Volume 124, Number 508) has now been published, and it includes a couple of articles that would be of interest to medievalists.

History and Hagiography in the Late Eleventh Century: The Life and Work of Herman the Archdeacon, Monk of Bury St Edmunds, by Tom Licence

Pages 516-544
Abstract: During the 1090s, a monk of Bury St Edmunds, called Herman, wrote an account of St Edmund's miracles by weaving them into a historical framework founded on the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. His aim was to portray St Edmund as a national saint whose mercies had helped to shape the fortunes of the English people. Herman's work is an invaluable source for historians working on the eleventh century, but his identity is in doubt with the consequence that even his name is disputed. Antonia Gransden argues that ‘Herman’ in fact was a French hagiographer called Bertran who came to England c. 1090. The present article overturns this theory, painting quite a different picture of the monk whose work sheds new light on historical writing and intellectual culture at his monastery. Formerly a senior cleric in the bishop's household, Herman had spent up to thirty years or more in East Anglia, managing the bishop's correspondence with the king and dealing with major players who feature in his history. As a senior monk at Bury St Edmunds he would preach to the common people and invite them to revere the saint's relics. Moreover, he had an ambitious vision for his written project, which was uniquely innovative for its time as much in its portrayal of history as in its design.

Making Sense of the Early Middle Ages, by Roger Collins

Pages 641-665

Synopsis: A review of five recent books: The New Cambridge Medieval History. Vol. I: c.500–c.700, edited by Paul Fouracre; Framing the Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400–800, by Chris Wickham; Paradigms and Methods in Early Medieval Studies, edited by Chazelle Celia and Felice Lifshitz; Europe after Rome: A New Cultural History 500–1000, by Julia M.H. Smith; and The Early Middle Ages: The Birth of Europe, by Lynette Olson. Professor Collins offers a negative opinion of the current work being done here, concluding that, "Many historians of the period are apparently unwilling to write in clear and comprehensible English for the enthusiastic readership that exists for historical works, preferring to cloak their meaning in language that is aimed only at an initiated élite. All in all, there seems to be far too much navel-gazing going on, and generally there is greater danger of intellectual paralysis than of over-confidence."

For more information on accessing these articles, please see the Oxford University Press website.

Remains of a medieval castle found at St. Adrian's tunnel in Basque Region

Those responsible for leading excavations into the St Adrian tunnel (between Gipuzkoa and Alava) which started a year ago have been amazed by recent findings.

"This is double what we expected (to find)," said one archaeologist. "Without doubt, what is emerging here is a big surprise."

Remains which have been found inside the tunnel, where today only the old Roman road and an ancient chapel still stand, have lead archaeologists to conclude that there once stool a medieval castle of some magnitude, as well as possibly an inn and a cemetery. All of these are evidence of the importance of the underpass which joins the Basque provinces of Gipuzkoa and Alava.

The Lizarate pass, better known as the San Adrian tunnel, was once the entrance to Gipuzkoa and the Roman road that runs through it united the medieval kingdom of Castile with France.

"It was like the N1 (an important highway that runs from Madrid to the Basque town of Irun) of its day ... marketers, princesses,.. everybody traveling between Castile and France would have to have passed through here," explained one of the diggers.

Furthermore, remains have also been found from the Bronze Age, two metres below where the current archway stands, proving that the passageway was previously much wider.

Representatives from the council of Gipuzkoa will continue to encourage the archaeological exploration of the site with the objective of retrieving this historically strategic spot of the Aizkorri Aratz national park.

As one council deputy explained: "Firstly what we want to do is preserve the site and then of course give it the importance that is warrants."