Monday, April 30, 2012

Study examines rise of agriculture in Stone Age Northern Europe

One of the most debated developments in human history is the transition from hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies. This week’s edition of Science presents the genetic findings of a Swedish-Danish research team, which show that agriculture spread to Northern Europe via migration from Southern Europe.

“We have been able to show that the genetic variation of today’s Europeans was strongly affected by immigrant Stone Age farmers, though a number of hunter-gatherer genes remain,” says Assistant Professor Anders Götherström of the Evolutionary Biology Centre, who, along with Assistant Professor Mattias Jakobsson, co-led the study, a collaboration with Stockholm University and the University of Copenhagen.

“What is interesting and surprising is that Stone Age farmers and hunter-gatherers from the same time had entirely different genetic backgrounds and lived side by side for more than a thousand years, to finally interbreed,” Mattias Jakobsson says.

Click here to read this article from History of the Ancient World

Ancient Egyptian Mummy Suffered Rare and Painful Disease

Around 2,900 years ago, an ancient Egyptian man, likely in his 20s, passed away after suffering from a rare, cancer-like disease that may also have left him with a type of diabetes.

When he died he was mummified, following the procedure of the time. The embalmers removed his brain (through the nose it appears), poured resin-like fluid into his head and pelvis, took out some of his organs and inserted four linen “packets” into his body. At some point the mummy was transferred to the 2,300 year-old sarcophagus of a woman named Kareset, an artifact that is now in the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb, Croatia.

The mummy transfer may have been the work of 19th-century antiquity traders keen on selling Kareset's coffin but wanting to have a mummy inside to raise the price.

Until now, scientists had assumed a female mummy was inside the Egyptian coffin. The new research reveals not only that the body does not belong to Kareset, but the male mummy inside was sick. His body showed telltale signs that he suffered from Hand-Schuller-Christian disease, an enigmatic condition in which Langerhans cells, a type of immune cell found in the skin, multiply rapidly.

Click here to read this article by Owen Jarus from LiveScience

Ten top tips for getting into archaeology

Joe Flatman, author of the award-winning book ‘Becoming an archaeologist: a guide to professional pathways’, tell us his 10 top tips for getting into archaeology.

 Archaeology offers tremendous opportunities for involvement, whether a lifelong interest alongside another career, or a career in itself. It is never too early or too late to become involved in archaeology, and archaeology transcends borders, cultures, languages and social and economic divisions. Anyone anywhere can become involved in archaeology if they wish, and the opportunities to become involved improve all the time.

 The best way to get involved in archaeology is to find out what opportunities for participation are available in your own neighbourhood, through your local archaeology or history society or club, national organisations or local government, schools or universities.There are talks, walks, guides and events on nearly every week around the world; there are also hundreds of opportunities every year to go on more formal training in archaeological techniques and so become involved in actual fieldwork. Many of these events are free; even the ones that charge are rarely all that expensive. Archaeologists are well aware that people don’t have that much money to spare and fight to keep costs of events down. Almost all events are advertised online.Membership of local or national archaeology organizations is similarly cheap and extremely good value. Membership brings you into contact with likeminded people in your neighbourhood and provides access to information and resources like newsletters and magazines, events and even library facilities.

Click here to read this article from Current Archaeology

Sunday, April 29, 2012

International Congress on Medieval Studies coming next month

Western Michigan University will stage its 47th International Congress on Medieval Studies, the largest, most comprehensive academic conference of its kind in the world, Thursday through Sunday, May 10-13. Worldwide, the congress annually attracts some 3,000 medievalists--professional academics, students and enthusiasts interested in the Middle Ages.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the event, which began as a biennial gathering in 1962 and grew to become an annual event in 1970. Now named the International Congress on Medieval Studies, it is sponsored by WMU's Medieval Institute and held primarily in venues on the University's main campus in Kalamazoo.

 The Medieval Institute, also founded 50 years ago, ranks among the top 10 North American institutes, centers and programs that focus on medieval studies. Established for instruction and research in the history and culture of the Middle Ages, its pioneering function was to introduce the first Master of Arts in Medieval Studies offered at a state-supported university in the United States.

 A half century later, WMU remains one of the few public colleges and universities in the nation with an interdisciplinary graduate program in medieval studies, with the Medieval Institute having earned a global reputation for its academic programs, medieval congress, notable research activities and longstanding scholarly publications program.

Click here to read the full article from Western Michigan University

See also our videos from last year's Congress:

Friday, April 27, 2012

Conference explores land and sea in Middle Ages

The great religious, political and economic upheaval of the early medieval era has been the topic of conversation at a meeting of international scholars at The University of Queensland this week.

 The Land and Sea in the Early Middle Ages Conference focused on the 300-1100 period and featured a range of research papers on topics including Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Arthurian travel, medieval naval warfare, rebel Roman emperors, harbours in Constantinople, and piracy.

 “The Early Middle Ages was a time of great religious, political and economic change,” said conference convener Dr Amelia Brown, from UQ's School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics. “A number of creative new political, religious and economic systems that were born in this era still flourish today. New technologies were advancing knowledge and quality of life, and many of these related to seafaring.

 “The sea allowed for intensive communication between the newly Christianised and Islamized coastal areas, in a way that continues up until now — for good (exchange of ideas, trade, knowledge) and for bad (refugees, warfare, the Crusades).”

The conference, held between April 26 and 28, explored the persistence of contact by sea across coastal and riverine landscapes from Late Antiquity into the Middle Ages, in areas ranging from Ireland to the Levant, and Scandinavia to the shores of North Africa.

“By comparing ancient and modern responses to the same landscape, we can learn about human capabilities, and answer some long-running questions about the development of religious, political and economic systems in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa,” Dr Brown said.

Click here to read this article from the University of Queensland

Click here to visit the conference website

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The ideal medieval Jewish woman

Whenever one reads about Jewish women in medieval Ashkenaz, the name of Dolce of Worms is certain to appear. (Dolce is derived from the Latin for pleasant or charming). Her life is described in the famous elegy composed by her widowed husband which is his version of “A Woman of Valor” (Proverbs 31). This poetic composition is preceded by two paragraphs in prose that provide graphic details of her death in 1196.

The poem contains the author’s name, R. Elazar, in an internal acrostic; its content portrays an ideal woman who seems to have been involved in an unbelievable number of activities. Dolce and Elazar were German Jewish pietists, known as Hasidei Ashkenaz. Thus the emphasis in the elegy on her piety, her God-fearing lifestyle and her saintliness are part and parcel of the values of this society.

It seems as though Dolce never sat still for a moment, or at least not according to her husband’s account. She engaged in the usual wifely activities expected of an Orthodox woman, cooking for her family and allowing her learned husband to be totally involved in Torah study and good deeds and encouraging her sons to study. This might seem to have been enough to occupy her time, but Elazar was nowhere near finished. As it turns out, Dolce was busy spinning thread for tefillin and for binding books as well as scrolls. According to this report, she sewed approximately 40 Torah scrolls and prepared the wool for prayer shawl fringes.

Click here to read this article from the Jerusalem Post

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Near-infrared spectroscopy illuminates medieval art

Scientists in the US and Italy have borrowed a technique more usually associated with geophysical remote sensing and applied it to medieval artwork - with stunning results. The near-infrared hyperspectral imaging of a leaf from a 15th century illuminated manuscript has produced a map of the pigment binders used by the artist.

The technique will not only allow conservation specialists to better plan strategies for restoring and stabilising paintings, but will also give art historians new insights into the materials and methods favoured by individual artists. Art historians and conservationists need detailed information about materials used by artists, such as the pigments and the organic binding agents, for example gum Arabic or egg white, which were used to carry the pigment.

In some cases it is possible to remove tiny samples from the artwork for analysis, or to use imaging techniques on a small area of the work. But until now it has been difficult to obtain an overview of the materials used across the work as a whole.

Click here to read this article from Chemistry World

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

$800-million ancient Rome theme park planned - in Rome

The wonders of the ancient city of Rome will be re-created as a gigantic theme park a few kilometres from the original monuments, if Gianni Alemanno, the mayor, has his way.

The grandiose project is being nicknamed the Disneyland of Ancient Rome or Romaland. Those backing the project envisage millions of tourists having the chance to stroll through the ancient forum, race chariots around the Circus Maximus, climb down into the catacombs or loll in the Baths of Caracalla.

Visitors will get to watch gladiator fights and battle re-enactments in the Colosseum, although officials say it is unlikely that a full-size version will be built. "The idea is to give the visitor a sense of what the ancient life of Rome was. That's the target," Antonio Gazzellone, Rome's leading tourist official, said.

The plans call for a 240-hectare site on the outskirts of Rome with five hotels, all of which will generate 9,000 jobs. The designers say that an estimated five million foreigners and three million Italians will visit the park every year.

Click here to read this article from the Ottawa Citizen

See also Qatar could invest in ancient Rome theme park: reports

An Algorithm for Preserving Art

Paolo Dionisi Vici's life's work is preserving aging art made from wood. He gets misty-eyed encountering rare artifacts from his hometown in Tuscany. He looks strikingly like Frank Zappa.

In other words, Dionisi Vici seems an unlikely person to get excited about the wireless sensors that are typically used to monitor the temperature of busy computers packed into IBM data servers. But that's exactly what he was excited about on April 6 in the busy halls of the Cloisters, the Metropolitan Museum of Art's upper Manhattan branch, which contains some 3,000 medieval works.

With technical assistance from IBM, Dionisi Vici, an associate research scientist for the Met, has deployed 120 low-power temperature and humidity sensors there since June of last year in his quest to determine the ideal environmental conditions for priceless wood works.

Click here to read this article from Technology Review

See also our profile of The Cloisters

Monday, April 23, 2012

What can dirt on pages tell us about medieval manuscripts and their readers?

For the first time a new scientific technique has allowed us into the minds and motivations of medieval people – through their dirty books. A new technique invented by Dr Kathryn Rudy, lecturer in the School of Art History at the University of St Andrews, can measure which pages in medieval manuscripts are the dirtiest, and therefore, the most read.

 A machine called a densitometer allows the dirt contained within the pages of books centuries old to reveal the inner thoughts of our ancestors. Dr Rudy’s new technique with the machine, used on medieval prayer books, has shown people were as self-interested, and afraid of illness as today. The ground-breaking research has even managed to pinpoint the moment that people fell asleep reading the same book.

Click here to read this article from

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Kalamazoo, and Tolkien Too

Every year about 3,000 medievalists descend on Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, MI for the International Congress on Medieval Studies, but tucked into the over 600 sessions on every medieval topic imaginable, you can find 6 or 7 sessions on Tolkien, often referred to as “Tolkien at Kalamazoo.” You don’t have to be a medieval scholar to attend this conference, though I should say that it is meant to be a scholarly event — still, there’s lots of fun to be had, especially in the Friday night “Tolkien Unbound” entertainment, or the Saturday night dance, or in some of the gaming sessions, or dinner at Bilbo’s Restaurant.

Click here to read this article from The One Ring

Friday, April 20, 2012

Europe's 'ugliest castle' celebrates 1000 years

A new exhibition in Carlisle Castle's Militia Store tells the near 1000 year story of the often battered castle – at various times a Norman castle, frontier fortress, administrative centre, royal palace and garrison.

Nearby is the Captain's Tower, probably built by Henry II in the 1180s, and open to the public for the first time in 25 years.

New research is also being carried out on a number of intriguing medieval stone carvings in an upper floor of the Keep. The intricate carvings, now thought to have probably been made by bored guards, include images of mermaids, stags and heraldic devises. These have been subjected to a new specialist survey technique called photogrammetry.

Click here to read this article from The Guardian

Warning signs from ancient Greek tsunami

In the winter of 479 B.C., a tsunami was the savior of Potidaea, drowning hundreds of Persian invaders as they lay siege to the ancient Greek village. New geological evidence suggests that the region may still be vulnerable to tsunami events, according to Klaus Reicherter of Aachen University in Germany and his colleagues.

The Greek historian Herodotus described the strange retreat of the tide and massive waves at Potidaea, making his account the first description of a historical tsunami. Reicherter and colleagues have added to the story by sampling sediments on the Possidi peninsula in northern Greece where Potidaea (and its modern counterpart, Nea Potidea) is located. The sediment cores show signs of “high-energy” marine events like significant waves, and excavations in the suburbs of the nearby ancient city of Mende have uncovered a high-energy level dated to the 5th century B.C. The Mende layer contains much older marine seashells that were probably scoured from the ocean bed and deposited during a tsunami.

Click here to read this article from History of the Ancient World

Medieval treasures discovered in English abbey

An archaeological investigation at Furness Abbey in northwest England has uncovered the grave of an abbot, which includes an extremely rare medieval silver-gilt crozier and bejewelled ring.

The grave, which could date back to the 12th century, was uncovered by Oxford Archaeology North, as they were investigated ways to repair the sinking foundations of the ruined abbey. An initial examination of his skeleton, which is currently in the care of Oxford Archaeology North, indicated that he was probably between 40 and 50 years old when he died. Like many monastic burials of middle-aged and older men, he had a pathological condition of the spine often considered to be associated with obesity and mature-onset (Type II) diabetes. Tests will soon be carried out to determine a more exact date of when  the abbot died.

The grave was situated in the presbytery, the most prestigious position in the church and generally reserved for the richest benefactors. Most Cistercian abbots were buried in the chapter house.

Click here to read this article from

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Rare Ancient Statue Depicts Topless Female Gladiator

A small bronze statue dating back nearly 2,000 years may be that of a female gladiator, a victorious one at that, suggests a new study.

If confirmed the statue would represent only the second depiction of a woman gladiator known to exist.

The gladiator statue shows a topless woman, wearing only a loincloth and a bandage around her left knee. Her hair is long, although neat, and in the air she raises what the researcher, Alfonso Manas of the University of Granada, believes is a sica, a short curved sword used by gladiators. The gesture she gives is a "salute to the people, to the crowd," Manas said, an action done by victorious gladiators at the end of a fight.

The female fighter is looking down at the ground, presumably at her fallen opponent.

Click here to read this article by Owen Jarus from LiveScience

British Library purchases the St Cuthbert Gospel for £9 million

The British Library has announced that it has successfully acquired the St Cuthbert Gospel, a miraculously well-preserved 7th century manuscript that is the oldest European book to survive fully intact and therefore one of the world’s most important books.

The £9 million purchase price for the Gospel has been secured following the largest and most successful fundraising campaign in the British Library’s history.

The single largest contribution to the campaign was a £4.5 million grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) together with major gifts from the Art Fund, Garfield Weston Foundation and the Foyle Foundation. In addition, the campaign received a number of significant donations from charitable trusts, foundations and major individual donors, along with gifts from members of the public.

Click here to read this article from

Early printed book contains rare evidence of medieval spectacles

Many scholars rank the invention of eyeglasses among the most important contributions to humankind in the last 2,000 years. Yet, the inventor of this now thoroughly quotidian piece of technology remains anonymous. Indeed the inventor (or inventors) will almost certainly never be known, given the numerous conflicting claims, lack of specificity, and scarcity of surviving documentation.

What scholars do know about the history of eyeglasses is that they were probably invented at the end of the thirteenth century by a craftsman living near Pisa. The evidence originates from a passage by Friar Giordano da Pisa who recounts having met the anonymous craftsman in 1286. A friend of Giordano named Friar Allesandro della Spina learned how to make them shortly thereafter and shared the secret with the public. A number of other possible inventors of eyeglasses have been posited over the centuries, all of which have finally been proven spurious in recent scholarship.

During the early period of the production of eyeglasses, they were referred to as vitreos ab oculis ad legendum (eyeglasses for eyes for reading) and oglarios de vitro (spectacles with glass lenses). Eventually these rather clunky terms were shortened to occhiali and ocularia. Either way, the evidence indicates that spectacles were probably invented in Italy at the end of the thirteenth century, and by the early fourteenth century, they were being produced and sold in Venice.

Click here to read this article from the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin

Medieval Congress free to local residents registering now

Kalamazoo County residents and members of the Western Michigan University community may attend the 47th International Congress on Medieval Studies for free if they register online or in person by the Wednesday, April 25, deadline for early registration.
WMU's congress is the world's largest annual gathering of people interested in the Middle Ages. This year's event will take place Thursday through Sunday, May 10-13, primarily at venues on the WMU campus in Kalamazoo. It is hosted by the University's Medieval Institute.

Organizers expect some 3,000 people to register for the 2012 congress, and those interested in attending for free are encouraged to register by the early registration deadline.

The event will include more than 550 sessions featuring the presentation of scholarly papers, panel discussions, roundtables, workshops and performances.

Click here to read this article from Western Michigan University

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Viking-era 'piggy bank' yields silver treasure

A bronze, Viking-era "piggy-bank" containing thousands silver coins dating from the 11th century has been unearthed on the Baltic island of Gotland in what Swedish archaeologists have described as a "fantastic" treasure find.

The silver treasure was found last Thursday during an archaeological examination of a field in Rone, on southern Gotland.

"We had an expert out there with a metal detector who got a signal that he's found something pretty big," Per Widerström, an archaeologist with the Gotland Museum, told The Local.

The same field has yielded previous treasure finds, including a well-known discovery from the 1880s, when a collection of nearly 6,000 coins dating from the 11th century were uncovered.

Click here to read this article from The Local

Medieval fragments found sewn into Latin bible

A Waikato academic has found fragments of centuries-old manuscripts sewn into the bindings of books at Auckland's Central City Library.

Alexandra Barratt, emeritus professor at Waikato University, was going through the pages of a 15th century Latin bible when she discovered the fragments.

"I noticed in the middle of some of the quires [booklets within the bible] there were strips of parchment and I thought they actually looked much earlier than the sort of manuscript that I'm used to dealing with."

An English expert, with an interest in manuscripts in New Zealand, she believes they are from early ninth century and are the earliest example of Western manuscripts in Australasia and possibly the southern hemisphere.

"I was very surprised because these Carolingian manuscripts are early and quite rare and I never expected to see one in Auckland. It's a very unlikely place to see something quite as old as that."

Click here to read this article from

Monday, April 16, 2012

Genghis Khan sculpture unveiled in London

A bronze sculpture of Mongolian warrior Genghis Khan has been unveiled at Marble Arch in central London.
The 16ft tall (5m) statue captures the legendary leader wearing Mongolian armour on his steed.
The sculpture by artist Dashi Namdakov will stand next to Cumberland Gate until early September.
The artist, who had an interest in the nomadic tribes of Mongolia, wanted to honour the warrior on the 850th anniversary of his birth.
He said: "If I wanted to show him as a warrior I would have shown him as a warrior, but he is a thinker in this case. He is a divine figure in my country."

Click here to read this article from the BBC

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Medieval lecturer uses role-playing to teach history

The black-robed women in Tony Silvestri's Medieval Experience course at Washburn University sat in a circle in the International House as guest lecturer Carla Tilghman showed them how to embroider running and chain stitches on a small square of fabric. Sewing was a skill they needed to master if they wanted to improve their lot in life and "marry up," said Tilghman, who teaches art history at the university. "If a woman doesn't marry, she's a burden on her family," she confided.
As the young women continued to maneuver their needles through the fabric, Tilghman, dressed in an early 12th-century ensemble of handwoven, embroidered cloth, talked about the roles of women, poetry and the fate of unfaithful spouses. On the other side of the classroom, male students — also wearing black academic robes — quietly studied under Silvestri's supervision. Click here to read this article from The Topeka Capital-Journal

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Riddle Of Mark Twain's Passion For Joan Of Arc

Mark Twain’s obsession with Joan of Arc has to rank among the most baffling and least talked about enigmas in American literature. Even for those entrenched within the competitive world of Twain scholarship, stories like the one above are usually treated as interesting, but ultimately trifling, anecdotes, illustrative of the eccentricities of a predictably unconventional man.

 The same might also be said of his book about the French heroine. Published in 1896, when its author was 61, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc has long been viewed as something of an aberration, a curio—the type of genre-bending work that a bored, established writer often undertakes in order to buck audience expectations. Narrated by a fictionalized version of Joan’s servant and scribe, Sieur Louis de Conte, the book spans the majority of Joan’s life, beginning with her childhood in eastern France and ending with her questionable trial and execution. While other Twain novels such as A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and The Prince and the Pauper are also set in medieval Europe, far from the author’s more familiar milieu of mid-19th century Missouri, Recollections is unique in its somber tone.

Click here to read this article from The Awl

Friday, April 13, 2012

Israel's Other Temple: Research Reveals Ancient Struggle over Holy Land Supremacy

The Jews had significant competition in antiquity when it came to worshipping Yahweh. Archeologists have discovered a second great temple not far from Jerusalem that predates its better known cousin. It belonged to the Samaritans, and may have been edited out of the Bible once the rivalry had been decided.

Clad in gray coat, Aharon ben Ab-Chisda ben Yaacob, 85, is sitting in the dim light of his house. He strikes up a throaty chant, a litany in ancient Hebrew. He has a full beard and is wearing a red kippah on his head.

The man is a high priest -- and his family tree goes back 132 generations. He says: "I am a direct descendent of Aaron, the brother of the prophet Moses" -- who lived perhaps over 3,000 years ago.
Ab-Chisda is the spiritual leader of the Samaritans, a sect that is so strict that its members are not even allowed to turn on the heat on the Sabbath. They never eat shrimp and only marry among themselves. Their women are said to be so impure during menstruation that they are secluded in special rooms for seven days.

Click here to read this article from Der Spiegel

Timbuktu: Mali's treasure at risk from armed uprising

For centuries, Timbuktu has existed in the Western imagination as a byword for the most exotic, far-flung place conceivable. Situated on the southern edge of the Sahara, it acquired a near-mythical status in distant countries for its fabled inaccessibility, and for the accounts of the dazzling material and intellectual wealth to be found there.

Intrigued visitors continue to be drawn by the treasures that survive from the city's medieval golden age as an important academic, religious and mercantile center -- its great earthen mosques, and hundreds of thousands of scholarly manuscripts held in public and private collections.

The city, today part of present-day Mali and known as the "city of 333 saints" for the Sufi imams, sheiks and scholars buried there, was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988.

But there are fears this carefully preserved legacy could be under threat from groups of armed rebels who have overrun the ancient city this month, in the vacuum left by retreating Malian government forces.

Click here to read this article from CNN

Graffiti at St Leonard's Hospital 'attack on York heritage'

Graffiti daubed on the ruins of a medieval building in York has been described by police as "a disgusting attack" on the city's heritage.

Vandals used black paint and marker pen on the walls of St Leonard's Hospital, which dates back to the 12th Century.

A North Yorkshire Police spokesman said: "This is a disgusting attack on York's heritage and those responsible should be deeply ashamed."

He urged anyone with information about the attack to contact police.

Click here to read this article from the BBC

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Norway: Ancient coins offer clues about medieval society

Norway’s economic system in the Middle Ages was more sophisticated than previously thought. This claim is based on research on coin circulation in Norwegian society in the years between 1050 to 1320. In this period the use of coins was widespread and frequent, according to historian Svein Gullbekk at the University of Oslo. His study, The velocity of circulation of Norwegian coins c. 1050 to c. 1320 was recently published in a history periodical.

“This debate has been going on for 10 to 15 years,” says Svein Gullbekk. “The main question has been if goods were paid for by coins or commodities.”

The answer to the question reaches further than one might think. Coin circulation in a medieval society says something about its economic system, and whether it was possible for the national government to organize, carry out, and maintain a system based on a fixed currency.

Click here to read this article from ScienceNordic

Papyri reveal new aspects of Antiquity

Some of the most important papyri on magic in the world are housed at the University of Oslo. Papyri show that though we tend to associate Antiquity with rationality and science, it was also characterised by several alien and obscure practices.

"Papyri are the closest we get to the people of the Antiquity. Nowhere else do they emerge so vividly; people wrote down texts and recorded important life events on rolls and fragments of papyrus. When we study these fragments today, we get a direct view of everyday life in Egypt under Greek, and later Roman, rule", says Anastasia Maravela. The papyri in the University of Oslo Library collection are very diverse and include private letters, horoscopes, dinner invitations, culinary and medical recipes, school texts, marriage and divorce papers, arrest orders for tax evaders, accounts, death notices, fragments of literature, and an entire roll of magic formulas.

Maravela is Associate Professor in Ancient Greek, and is the first UiO scholar in many years to research papyri.

"UiO papyrologists were once considered among the best in the world. We are renewing that tradition, and have re-established UiO as an important centre for research on papyri from Egypt, with a great deal of important texts that have not yet been studied", she remarks.

UiO has the largest papyrus collection north of Berlin. The collection consists of nearly 2300 papyrus fragments, in addition to 27 ostracka (inscribed potsherds), some parchments, some text on mummy labels and one mummy-shroud.

How did so many papyri end up in Oslo? How did the academic papyrus research community become so strong in Oslo?

Click here to read this article from the University of Oslo

Archaeology becomes Greece's Achilles heel

Faced with massive public debt, Greece is finding that its fabled antiquity heritage is proving a growing burden — with licensed digs postponed, illegal ones proliferating, museum staff trimmed and valuable pieces stolen.

“Greece's historic remains have become our curse,” whispered an archaeologist at a recent media event organized to protest spending cuts imposed on the country for the past two years as a condition for European Union and International Monetary Fund loans.

With Greece moving into a fifth year of recession, licensed archaeology digs are finding it ever harder to obtain public funds while antiquity smuggling is on the rise, archaeologists warned at the meeting.

“There are an increasing number of illegal digs near archaeological sites,” said Despina Koutsoumba, head of the association of Greek archaeologists.

Click here to read this article from the China Post

Skeletons found at mass burial site in Oxford could be ’10th-century Viking raiders’

Thirty-seven skeletons found in a mass burial site in the grounds of St John’s College in Oxford may not be who they initially seemed, according to Oxford University researchers studying the remains.

When the bodies were discovered in the grounds of the college in 2008 by Thames Valley Archaeological Services, archaeologists speculated that they could have been part of the St Brice’s Day Massacre in Oxford – a well documented event in 1002, in which King Aethelred the Unredy ordered the killing of ‘all Danes living in England’.

However, a new research paper, led by Oxford University, has thrown up a new theory – that the skeletons may have been Viking raiders who were captured and then executed.

Click here to read this article from

University of Oxford and Vatican to digitize 1.5 million pages of historical texts

A collaboration between the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana at the Vatican will bring historical texts dating back to the Middle Ages into the digital era. 1.5 million pages from both collections will be digitised and made publicly available.

The Bodleian Libraries and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana will embark on a new collaborative digitisation project with the aim of opening up repositories of medieval and early modern texts and making a selection of their remarkable treasures freely available online to researchers and the general public worldwide.

The digitised collections will be in three subject areas: Greek manuscripts, 15th-century printed books (incunabula) and Hebrew manuscripts and early printed books. These areas have been chosen for the strength of the collections in both libraries and their importance for scholarship in their respective fields. The project will span four years and will result in approximately 1.5 million pages being made available in digital format

Click here to read this article from

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Tunis reopens ancient Islamic college to counter radicals

Watched by residents of the old quarter of Tunis, a court official stepped forward and unlocked the huge wooden doors. From the gloom within, volunteers began to bring out stools and chairs that had gathered dust and cobwebs for half a century.

The school at Tunisia's 8th-century Zaitouna Mosque, one of the world's leading centers of Islamic learning, was closed by independence leader and secularist strongman Habib Bourguiba in 1964 as part of an effort to curb the influence of religion. Its ancient university was merged with the state's Tunis University.

The college reopened its ancient doors to students on Monday, part of a drive by religious scholars and activists to revive Zaitouna's moderate brand of Islam, which once dominated North Africa, and counter the spread of more radical views.

Click here to read this article from Reuters

What's the closest thing to a medieval dining experience in London?

Short of inventing a time machine or getting a surprise invite to one of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s dinner parties, the chances of sniffing out a medieval feast in the capital will lead you to one place and one place only – St Katherine’s Dock (E1W 1BP).

This is the home of Medieval Banquet London. Think brave knights, troubadours, minstrels with lutes and jugglers (all played by professional actors), turning your meal into a medieval extravaganza. Enjoy music from 800-year-old manuscripts, hire medieval costumes and bang your fists on the table to demand more food from your serving wench.

Click here to read this article from the Daily Telegraph

Click here to visit the Medieval Banquet London website

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Medieval Monastic Library of Lorsch recreated online

The unique holdings of the medieval monastic library of Lorsch, currently scattered over 68 libraries worldwide, are being re-compiled into a virtual library. Heidelberg University Library and local government officials in Germany have been working since March of 2010 to publish the 330 surviving Lorsch manuscripts and manuscript fragments online. The project by the name of “Bibliotheca Laureshamensis – digital” is being funded by the State of Hesse with 450.000 euros and will continue through 2013.

“The virtual reconstruction of the former library of Lorsch Abbey, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, gives us the chance to study the abbey’s intellectual foundation, and the Carolingian world view in general, in depth for the first time”, said Eva Kühne-Hörmann, the Hessian Minister of Higher Education, Research and the Arts, during the presentation of the project. “This outstanding endeavour, which is of great interest to the State of Hesse, has united experts from Hesse and Baden-Württemberg in an exemplary, cross-border cooperative effort that reflects the historic significance and geographical location of the monastic library of Lorsch between the palatinate and the diocese of Mainz.”

The Bibliotheca Laureshamensis – digital project will see the digitisation of the abbey’s codices. In addition, scientific descriptions detailing the origin, owners, appearance, handwriting and content of the library’s manuscripts will be compiled in a project database. For the first time, researchers will have comprehensive and systematic access to the Lorsch manuscripts, a fact that opens up entirely new possibilities of research.

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Ancient Egyptian cotton unveils secrets of agricultural evolution

Scientists studying 1,600-year-old cotton from the banks of the Nile have found what they believe is the first evidence that punctuated evolution has occurred in a major crop group within the relatively short history of plant domestication.

The findings offer an insight into the dynamics of agriculture in the ancient world and could also help today’s domestic crops face challenges such as climate change and water scarcity.

The researchers, led by Dr Robin Allaby from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Warwick, examined the remains of ancient cotton at Qasr Ibrim in Egypt’s Upper Nile using high throughput sequencing technologies.

Click here to read this article from History of the Ancient World

Thomas Becket by John Guy: review

Few figures in medieval history are as famous as Thomas Becket, and fewer have been subject to such utterly differing interpretations. To pious Englishmen up to the Reformation, he was a miracle-working saint, whose blood (widely available in diluted form) could heal lepers, make the blind see, and raise babies from the dead. To Henry VIII, who closed down the shrine at Canterbury and had his bones burned, he was “a rebel and traitor to his prince”.

To TS Eliot, he was a strangely modern Catholic intellectual, fortified by moral and theological principles but ravaged by self-doubt. To Lewis Warren, author of the classic modern biography of Henry II (Becket’s great adversary), he was a “theological dinosaur” whose resistance to his sovereign was based on little more than “narrow clericalism”.

While the interpretations are many and conflicting, the basic facts about Becket’s life are not in doubt. Born in London in 1120, he was the son of a Norman immigrant who had become a well-to-do merchant; there was money in Becket’s background but not high social status, and his aristocratic enemies would always enjoy reminding him of his humble origins. But with education and talent he was able to rise quite rapidly, working in the household of the then Archbishop of Canterbury. This brought him to the attention of the young King Henry II, who made him his Chancellor; by the age of 34, Becket was helping to run the country.

Click here to read this article from The Telegraph

Monday, April 09, 2012

Medieval walk organisers hope to rival Spanish pilgrimage tradition

A medieval pilgrimage route to major historic religious site is to be resurrected – and organisers hope it will grow to rival a similar event in Spain.

The Way of St Andrews will allow travellers to a route taken by 11th and 12th century Christian devotees who flocked to the Fife town, once home to the largest church in Scotland.

Those behind the trail hope the 62 mile trip, starting from St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh, could prove as popular as the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain.

Click here to read this article from Deadline News

See also Supporters hope revived ‘Way of St Andrews’ will attract tourists

Click here to visit the Way of St Andrews website

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Gallery to bring Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts to New York International Antiquarian Book Fair

For more than half a century the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair has attracted thousands of book collectors and connoisseurs to see important acquisitions presented by as many as 200 of the world’s most renowned dealers in rare and collectible books and manuscripts.

This year is no exception as Les Enluminures gallery of Paris and Chicago is bringing what owner Sandra calls, “A wonderful Rare First Edition of a geographical, historical and linguistic account of Helvetia or the Swiss Confederacy composed in hexameters by Henricus Glareanus. He was a nationalist who was one of the foremost humanists of the period. Finely rubricated and hand-colored, this 1514 copy includes extensive annotations and a contemporary manuscript section by an unknown author, likely a student in the close circle of Glareanus and Osvaldus Myconius which, with modifications, was used for the commentary published under the name of Myconius in the second Basel 1519 edition.”

“This Glareanus is in Latin with German translation and with a few words in Greek and German. It is an imprint on paper, hand-colored. The manuscript is on paper. The imprint is Basel, Adam Petri, 1514 and Basel c1515.”

Click here to read this article from the Art Daily

Lust, Lies And Empire: The Fishy Tale Behind Eating Fish On Friday

It sounds like the plot of a Dan Brown thriller: A powerful medieval pope makes a secret pact to prop up the fishing industry that ultimately alters global economics. The result: Millions of Catholics around the world end up eating fish on Fridays as part of a religious observance.

This "realpolitik" explanation of why Catholics eat fish on Friday has circulated for so long, many people grew up believing it as fact. Some, myself included, even learned it in Catholic school. It's a humdinger of a tale — the kind conspiracy theorists can really sink their teeth into. But is it true?

"Many people have searched the Vatican archives on this, but they have found nothing," says Brian Fagan, a professor emeritus of archaeology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, whose book, Fish On Friday, explores the impact of this practice on Western culture.

The real story behind fish on Fridays turns out to be much better.

Click here to read this article from NPR

Saturday, April 07, 2012

9 Most Important Medieval Assassinations

The mythos of the assassin fascinates even as it horrifies. It fascinates because it allows for the actions of one to bring down a corrupt or tyrannical regime that has no avenue of redress for those not in power. It horrifies because the sudden actions of one can threaten an entire nation--or in the case of World War I--the world's stability.

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that our political discourse and disagreement has never been more bitter and divisive. And while it is bad, there have been many periods in history that were equally--if not more--vitriolic and downright nasty. Take the Middle Ages, for one. Not only was it a politically raw and power hungry time, but the average citizen had very little say in matters of government.

Historian Barbara Tuchman suggests this might be attributed to the fact that the Middle Ages was a very young society, with over half the population under 21. Many of the leaders of medieval kingdoms and dynasties were on the tail end of adolescence--or younger. William, Duke of Normandy, later known as William the Conqueror of England, was only seven years old when he became duke. Charles VII of France was 19 when he was crowned king, and Louis I, became Duke of Orleans at the ripe old age of 20. All that power un-tempered by age or wisdom was a heady thing and ripe for abuse. Assassination was an oft-used tool in their arsenal.

Click here to read this article from the Huffington Post

Friday, April 06, 2012

Remembering China’s forgotten Jewish community at Passover

It should therefore come as no surprise that Chinese and Persian Jewish scholars, Fook-Kong Wong and Dalia Yasharpour, have just jointly published a well-annotated reproduction of the Passover Haggadah of that now defunct Jewish community of indigenous Jews in Western China who once lived and prospered in the city of Kaifeng. As the community most probably came from Persia before establishing itself there more than a thousand years ago, the Haggadah and its commentary makes use of Hebrew, Aramaic and the Judeo-Persian language.

The rise of the Islamic empire in the 8th century AD and the subsequent urbanization of the Jews of Islam created of this once agricultural people a religious minority that was spread across both the Islamic and Christian worlds during late antiquity and the early middle ages. Medieval Arab geographers of the time describe one group of Jewish traders called the Radanites, who were said to have trading networks that included both France and China at either end.

Click here to read this article from the National Post

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Guest professor talks medieval connection to modern issues

Lisa Lampert-Weissig, author and professor from the University of California, San Diego, held a lecture titled “Reading the Palimpsest of Race: Medieval Traces in Modern Discourse” in Swan Hall yesterday she discussed the issues highlighted in her latest book, Medieval Literature and Postcolonial Studies.

In her work, she connected medieval subject matters, such as post-colonialism studies and orientalism, to contemporary problems in today’s society, including Islamophobia and racial profiling. According to her body of work, in order to think about current issues regarding race in an intelligent and political way, it is important to also think about how these subject matters were handled in medieval literature and culture. This is because history is a palimpsest, said Lampert-Weissig, and it is something that is meant to be read.

“A palimpsest is a writing material, such as a parchment or tablet, used one or more times after an earlier writing has been erased,” Lampert-Weissig said, quoting Merriam-Webster Dictionary. “It is also something that has diverse aspects or layers beneath the surface. History can be a palimpsest of place, and it can relate to a person’s identity.”

Click here to read this article from The Good 5 Cent Cigar

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Illegal exodus: Israel authorities seize remains of ancient Egypt coffin

The lids of two lavish ancient ritual coffins were seized in Israel after being smuggled from Egypt via Dubai, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said on Tuesday.

In an announcement released just days before the celebration of Passover – marking the Israelites Exodus from Egypt – the IAA indicated the rare artifacts were uncovered a few months ago during a raid of antiques shops in Jerusalem's Old City.

The wooden lids are coated with plaster and decorated with paintings and hieroglyphics; a carbon-dating examination by IAA officials determined that the artifacts were indeed authentic, with one dating to sometime between the 10th and the 8th centuries B.C.E. and the second to between the 16th and the 14th centuries B.C.E.

Click here to read this article from Haaretz

University of Wisconsin-Madison hosts symposium on medieval Spanish literature

The University of Wisconsin-Madison will host an international symposium to celebrate two of the greatest works of Spanish literature: the 14th-century "Book of Good Love" and the late 15th-century "Celestina."

Events will begin Sunday, April 15 and run through Tuesday, April 17, with related activities on Wednesday, April 18.

The conference will be a triple celebration: first, a commemoration of the two Spanish literary masterpieces and the scholarship of María Rosa Lida de Malkiel, one of the greatest 20th-century scholars in the field of medieval Hispanic studies, who wrote some of her most important critical work on the two texts.

Second, it will recognize UW-Madison's distinguished scholarly tradition in Hispano-medievalism, celebrating the important publications of its faculty and staff and illustrious alums. Finally, it will be a celebration of the dramatic tradition of "Celestina" on the Madison campus in three productions from the 1950s and 1970s, all directed by emeritus professor Roberto G. Sánchez.

The symposium will bring together some of the most world-renown experts in the field, including several Madison graduatess, from the United Kingdom, Spain, Canada, and across the United States; members of María Rosa Lida de Malkiel's family; and UW-Madison students and faculty.

Events will include roundtable discussions, dramatic readings of the "Book of Good Love" and "Celestina" presented in English translation by UW-Madison students, and an array of conference papers and lectures. All events will be free and open to the public and will take place at several venues on campus, including the Memorial Library, the Pyle Center and Van Hise Hall.

Click here to see more details about the Symposium

Medieval Ship will not be excavated in Estonia

Remnants of a relatively well-preserved 13-century ship discovered under a Tallinn warehouse will remain unresearched for the time being due to a lack of funds.

A recent radiocarbon dating of excavated wooden details conducted by the Tallinn University of Technology put the ship's construction date between 1210 and 1280. There is now reason to believe that the ship, discovered in the fall of 2009 by builders pouring concrete below Lootsi street near the Old City Harbor's D-terminal, is the best-preserved late medieval era ship discovered in Estonia so far.

Click here to read this article from Estonian Public Broadcasting

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Birds’ Head Haggadah – scholar gives new insights into Jewish medieval text

The Birds’ Head Haggadah, a manuscript dating from around the year 1300, is considered one of the most interesting and mysterious pieces of Jewish art from the Middle Ages. In “Birds Head Revisited: Identity, Politics and Polemics the Birds’ Head Haggadah”, a special lecture held at the University of Toronto last month, Professor Marc Michael Epstein offered some new insights into this work, the earliest surviving illustrated version of the Haggadah text.

Readers of this particular Haggadah, which is a collection of prayers, illustrations, and stories recited on the Jewish holiday of Passover, will immediately notice that all of the illustrated Jewish figures are not depicted as people, but appear to have bird’s heads on the bodies of human beings. Epstein, Professor of Religion at Vassar College, explains that the figures are drawn to be Griffins, which were very popular figures in medieval Jewish literature.

Click here to read this article from

Medievalists uncover "lost" recipe for roasted unicorn

As an April Fools' Day prank, the curators of the British Library's Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts Blog wrote up an entirely straight-faced account of a "spine-tingling" discovery — a cookbook that details the proper way to prepare unicorn. This history-changing find is tinged with staid hyperbole of the highest order and some lovely artwork.

Click here to read this article from IO9

Click here to read "Unicorn Cookbook Found at the British Library"

Monday, April 02, 2012

Zahi Hawass facing charges in Egypt

Zahi Hawass, the former minister of state for antiquities faces charges of breaking Egypt's antiquities law when he agreed to display rare Egyptian objects in Australia and the US.

General Prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud on Monday referred charges of wasting public money and stealing Egyptian antiquities against Zahi Hawass, former minister of state for antiquities to the Public Fund Prosecution office.

Nour El-Din Abdul-Samad, Director of Archeological Sites, had filed the accusations against Hawass, and requested that the objects in question be returned to the Egyptian Museum.

The Public Funds Prosecution office also received other charges accusing Hawass of wasting public money and exposing Egyptian antiquities to stealing in collaboration with former regime members.

Click here to read this article from Ahram Online

Rome cracks down on marauding centurions

Rome has given the centurions a deadline to clear out. The solders in question aren't from the ranks of an ancient legion, but are modern-day performers who pose for tourist photos at the Colosseum.

Men and women decked out in chest plates and helmets eke out a tax-free living at Rome’s most popular attraction, posing for photos with foreign visitors for 5 or 10 euros. Disoriented, jet lagged, or simply scared, tourists have been known to pay up to 50 euros ($67). Some have been roughed up when they refuse.

Arrests were made last summer in an undercover operation with police in tunics and sandals handcuffing centurions and gladiators for ripping off tourists. A recent Italian media report cited a policeman as saying the centurions are all ex-convicts, “every last one of them.”

Now the city government says “basta!” and wants them to pack up their swords, shields, and ensigns and clear out by April 6.

Click here to read this article from the Christian Science Monitor

Medieval and Renaissance conference returns to New College bigger, better than ever

For some, the word “Medieval” conjures mental images of kings, peasants, knights in shining armor and damsels in distress. Others may be inclined to think of watching underpaid actors joust while wearing a paper crown and eating greasy food without napkins or utensils, or perhaps a climactic scene from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. As for the term “Renaissance,” it might well evoke the image of a fun time at an outdoor fair, such as the one Catalyst staffer and thesis student Alexis Santos attended this week (for this writer, it primarily brings to mind the Ninja Turtles).

For the nearly-200-strong group of professors and scholars flocking to the Sudakoff Center this past weekend, however, all things Medieval-minded and Renaissance-related represented an opportunity to take center stage and demonstrate one’s impressive knowledge to a crowd of like-minded peers. Such was the concept driving the 18th Annual New College Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

The conference has taken place at New College every other spring semester ever since the inaugural event 36 years ago. “Lee Snyder, who was a professor of Medieval History before Professor [Carrie] Beneš and Professor [Thomas] McCarthy, started it as, basically, just a little thing to try to bring local Florida Medievalists together,” Professor of English and Conference Committee Co-Chair (alongside Beneš) Nova Myhill told the Catalyst. “It was originally something like for a day, a day and a half. As it led on, he discovered that actually, not that many people from Florida wanted to come, but people from all over the country … and also a lot of different countries wanted to come … so it just grew."

Click here to read this article from The Catalyst

Medieval professor continues novel series

“Peaceweaver,” the recently published second book in Rebecca Barnhouse’s historical-fantasy series aimed at young adult readers, picks up where her first book ended.

But although it’s a companion to “The Coming of the Dragon,” the new novel stands alone. A reader needs no prior knowledge to understand or enjoy it.

Barnhouse is an English professor at Youngstown State University and an expert in medieval literature.

Like all of her books, “Peaceweaver” is rooted in ancient literature — “Beowulf” in this case. Barnhouse creates characters and stories that fit into the framework created by the ancient poem.

Click here to read this article from

Click here to visit Rebecca Barnhouse's website

Norman residents, students enjoy annual Medieval Fair over weekend

The annual Medieval Fair took place this weekend, bringing thousands of Norman residents out to Reaves Park.

While most people milled around the fair shopping and throwing axes at a wall, local actors and actresses were in full performance-mode to help bring the medieval times to life.

The royal court is a fair staple. They spend their days parading through the park, holding court, dancing and providing extra entertainment aside from the games and shops.

OU alumnus Cody Clark, who played King Edward III in this year’s royal court, said the royal court of the Medieval Fair is the structure that holds the fair together.

The parades and ceremonies are not as dominant in the fair as the vendors and games, but they bind everything together to create the second largest, weekend festivity in Oklahoma, Clark said.

Click here to read this article from the Oklahoma Daily