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2018-01-23T17:50:54.409Z
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When last we saw Étienne Léopold Trouvelot, the gifted astronomical observer, artist and accidental destroyer of worlds via his injudicious introduction of the gypsy moth to the US, the 15 impeccably detailed astronomy drawings he chose for publication in 1881 using the new color printing technology of chromolithography had just been digitized by the New York Public Library. Now one of the rare surviving complete sets of Trouvelot chromolithographs is going on public display at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California. The exhibition, Radiant Beauty: E.L. Trouvelot’s Astronomical Drawings, opens April 28th of this year and runs through July 30th in The Huntington Library’s West Hall.

The set of 15 chromolithographs was the crowning achievement of Trouvelot’s career, said curator Krystle Satrum, assistant curator of the Jay T. Last Collection at The Huntington. “He was both an extraordinarily...

Groundbreaking analysis of ancient DNA has answered a century-old question: are a pair of Egyptian mummies from the 12th Dynasty dubbed the Two Brothers actually brothers? One hundred and eleven years after their discovery, we now know the answer is yes. They are half-brothers, same mother, different fathers. This overturns the results from the original 1908 study that indicated no familial relationship between the two men.

The mummies of Khnum-nakht and Nakht-ankh were discovered by renown archaeologist Flinders Petrie in a stone-cut tomb near the village of Deir Rifeh in 1907. Their exquisitely painted coffins were placed next to each other and inscriptions on their sarcophagi identified them as brothers, sons of a local governor (an unnamed “hatia-prince”) and a woman (or women) named Khnum-aa. The richness of the funerary furnishings in the tomb confirmed their high status as the sons of an elite functionary. The style of the tomb dated it to around 1,800 B.C.

Flinders Petrie wrote to the Manchester Museum that his team had discovered a small 12th Dynasty tomb in Rifeh packed tightly with two polychrome painted sarcophagi complete with mummies, two funerary boats with servant figurines, a painted chest with a full set of four canopic jars, five statuettes placed in the coffins and two pottery vessels. All the...

On October 13th, 2017, a massive cache of an estimated 300,000 copper coins for a total weight of 5.6 metric tons were discovered during construction work on the foundations of an old house in Chalian Village, near Jingdezhen in East China’s Jiangxi province. They are wén coins from the Song Dynasty (960–1279). Archaeologists from the Ceramics Archaeology Institute excavated the site starting October 22nd.

The property is 100 square meters in area and is surrounded by village houses. After the coins were discovered, word of the find spread like wildfire. There was intense interest from the locals who wanted to dig up some buried treasure even though experts noted the coppers have little monetary value. Their worth is not in conversion to modern currency via black market sales, but rather in their historical significance.

It is known that the coins date from the time of the Song dynasty (960-1279). The dynasty relocated its capital to Lin’an (Hangzhou today) after the city of Kaifeng was lost to the Jurchen Jin in 1127. Lin’an is near where the coins were found. The problem is that there is no local source of copper, which quickly led what was then the Southern Song dynasty to produce lower quality coins than those issued by the Northern Song dynasty. This also...

Archaeologists excavating the ancient market square in the city of Ribe in southwest Jutland, Denmark, have unearthed a comb from around 800 A.D. that is inscribed with the word “comb” written in runes. They also discovered a second runic inscription on a plaque of bone or antler that has yet to be deciphered.

This is a sensational find, especially for Denmark. Runic inscriptions of any date are rare in Denmark; runes dating to the 9th century are exceptionally rare in Scandinavia period. Almost all of the runes from that period are carved on runestones, not inscribed on combs or bone plates. (Interestingly enough, the oldest Germanic language discovery ever made in central Germany were 3rd century runes also inscribed on a comb.)

So few runes have been found in Denmark that the discovery of two runic inscriptions from around 800 A.D. doubles the number of rune-engraved artifacts found in Ribe. The oldest extant town in Denmark, Ribe was already bustling in 793 A.D. when Viking raiders pillaged the monastery of Lindisfarne launching the Viking Era. Archaeologists have found evidence, however, of peaceful trade between the Norse of Norway and Denmark in Ribe. During an earlier dig season at the Ribe marketplace, antlers from Norwegian...

Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux, an ancient city in southeastern France that boasts a splendid 12th century Romanesque church, medieval town walls and gates and a cobblestoned downtown of considerable charm, can also lay claim to unique vestiges of a small Jewish community that abided there for three centuries or so before the saw the anti-Semitic writing on the all and got out while the going was good.

There was a small but consistent population of Jews in the city from the 12th century well into the 15th. They were ghettoized into a handful of streets on and around the Rue Juiverie, the street that is still named after them centuries after their departure. As was the custom with these segregated neighborhoods, the residents had a curfew and were locked in at night. Still, bounded on one side by the town market and on the other by bishop’s palace, the Jewish quarter was in the very heart of the city and the 70 or so families who lived there made good.

We know there was a synagogue in the neighborhood because a 15th century Holy Ark was found in one of...

A wicked looking copper arrowhead still masterfully attached to a barbed antler shaft discovered in a melting patch of ice in Yukon, Canada’s northwestern most province, in 2016 has been found to be almost 1,000 years old making it one of the earliest copper artifacts ever found in the Territory.

The credit for this discovery goes to a herd of caribou, because even though the arrowhead was found by an archaeologist, he wasn’t at the site to excavate or search for ancient artifacts. Archeologist Greg Hare was flying over the area in a helicopter accompanied by a film crew that was shooting a documentary. He was pointing out some of the sites where he and his colleagues have discovered First Nations hunting weapons when they saw the caribou. The documentarians wanted to get a clean shot of the majestic ruminants so Hare’s helicopter landed to allow the filmmakers in the second copter to get a clean shot.

The...

Funded by a grant of $1.47 million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Michigan State University will create a massive database that brings together scattered information about enslaved people as a priceless research hub for scholars and the public alike. The project, entitled Enslaved: The People of the Historic Slave Trade, will be one-stop-shop for people seeking slave data for academic, genealogical and personal interest purposes. They will be able to search for specific individuals, create charts, map routes and analyze demographic data.

MSU has long been at the forefront of African studies — US News and World Report ranked its African history graduate program the best in the country — and they are eminently equipped to combine scholarship with digital resources that students, researchers and anybody else who wants to delve deeper into the subject can use. This is the raison d’etre of MSU’s Matrix: The Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences which will be one of the databases linked together with other world-class databases to create the Enslaved tool.

“‘Enslaved’ brings new digital tools and analytical approaches to the study of African slavery and the...

Archaeologists have discovered the precise date of the Porta Nigra, the majestic Roman gate in the ancient city walls of Trier that is the largest ancient city gate north of the Alps. Researchers have determined conclusively that the Porta Nigra was built in 170 A.D. Up until now it was only possible to estimate a date range, a fairly broad one at that of between 150 and 320 A.D. Later modifications obscured the original structure, and while there are date markers on some of the sandstone blocks in the western tower, they are incomplete.

Its massive size also suggested that it was built at least in part to fend off regular attacks from Germanic tribes during the turbulent 3rd century like other large, highly fortified gates from the period. The city walls of Trier (Colonia Augusta Treverorum) were built during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180 A.D.) which was relatively peaceful. The battles Marcus Aurelius fought against Germanic tribes were east of the Danube. Trier was way west of the hot zone. There wouldn’t have been an obvious need at that point to build a gate with such extensive defensive features. The need, it turns out, was probably the sort of motivation that often underpins monumental construction: to convey the power and prestige of the city....

The Penn Museum is deploying one of nature’s highest precision weapons, the canine olfactory sense, in the fight against artifact looting. The museum, the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the nonprofit Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law and Policy Research are working together on a project that will train dogs to detect and protect smuggled artifacts.

No longer a matter of local desperadoes trying to make a quick buck, artifact smuggling is big business now, generating an estimated four to six billion a year in blood-drenched profits for the criminal and terrorist organizations.

“[K-9 Artifact Finders is] an innovative way to disrupt the market in illicit antiquities, and that’s really what needs to happen to slow down the pace of looting and theft in conflict zones,” consulting scholar for the Penn Museum and 2000 Penn doctoral graduate Michael Danti said. “Currently, art crime, that means fine arts, antiques, antiquities, is usually ranked as the fourth or fifth largest grossing dollar criminal activity in the world on an annual basis.”

Danti said terrorist organizations often use stolen cultural artifacts to fund their operations, deliberately destroying them and using them for propaganda and “click-bait.” He added that high-profile groups like the Islamic State have continuously done this, setting a precedent for other similar organizations to employ the same techniques.

The K-9 Artifact Finders program is still in the initial setup phase at this point. The plan is divided into three parts, much like Caesar did to Gaul....

Conservators at the Queen Anne’s Revenge Conservation Lab in Greenville, North Carolina, have discovered something they never expected to find on a shipwreck: paper, wadded up into a plug and stuffed down the barrel of a breech-loaded cannon, one that would have been fired by men under the command of infamous English pirate Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard. The Queen Anne’s Revenge was the flagship of his fleet. It ran aground in the treacherous waters of the Inner Banks of North Carolina in 1718 and was discovered in 1997.

The North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources (NCDCR) conservation team have been cleaning, conserving and documenting artifacts from the Queen Anne’s Revenge shipwreck site off the coast of Beaufort Inlet since 2006, and committed to full recovery of all the archaeological materials in 2014. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of objects, 280,000 of them recovered before the decision was made to leave no Blackbeardiana behind. It was during the course of this ambitious project that the paper was found in the cannon.

May Janus make his two (or four) faces to shine down upon your endeavours. May Bacchus’ leopard-drawn chariot safely convey you in whatever condition you happen to find yourself to and from your destinations. May you ring in the New Year with people you love, or at least people you don’t actively hate, and when the clock strikes midnight, raise a glass to we many, we happy many history nerds. Long may we drone on about our favorite subjects to our friends and family until they beg us to shut up for just one second or stuff their ears with dinner table napkins. Hey, it’s a gift.

We’ll meet back here tomorrow for a new post, the yearly retrospective that has become such a firmly established tradition for me now that it wouldn’t feel like the year has turned without it. Have a wonderful night!

P.S. – Aw, I can’t leave you with nothing at all to while away the time between breakfast and party. Janus, donchaknow. One looks back even as one looks forward.

This is a nifty 3D digitial reconstruction of St. Salvator’s Quad and Chapel at the University of St Andrews. The great spire of St. Salvator’s is original to the 15th century structure, but the rest of the quad today bears little resemblance to what it looked like when it opened in 1450. It was altered irrevocably starting with the great upheavals of the Reformation in Scotland, and indeed, a pivotal event in that history...

Many kings have a thing about immortality, usually with good reason because ruling was a high-risk job. The living incarnations of the gods, Egypt’s pharaohs were mummified to extend their physical bodies into the immortal realm. Alexander the Great was said to have sought out a yogi in India so he could discover the secret to eternal life (which he would turn out to need far sooner than he realized). Mithridates of Pontus was reputed to have ingested tiny amounts of every poison known to make himself unkillable (iocane powder was not reportedly among them) after his father was assassinated by poison, and Roman emperors deified their (less reviled) predecessors and were deified themselves posthumously as a matter of rote.

Qin Shi Huang, first emperor of a united China (reined 220–210 B.C.) and founder of the Qin dynasty which barely survived him by three years, had much in common with his fellow monarchs. He’d fought bloody wars his whole life, taking the throne of the Qin kingdom when he was 13 years old and fighting his way to becoming the ultimate victor of China’s Warring States Period 25 years later. Previous dynasts used the word for “king.” Qin Shi Huang literally coined the word for “emperor” which has been used by Chinese monarchs ever since.

As unrelenting as he was in battle he was equally driven to find the secret of eternal life. He covered several bases there, creating the wonder-of-the-world greatness of the Terracotta Army for his huge mausoleum...

Archaeologists excavating the Bronze Age burial ground of Itkol II in the Republic of Khakassia, southern Siberia, have unearthed two children’s toys from the Okunev culture. They’re the heads of figurines. One is a soapstone cylindrical piece about two inches long with finely carved facial features. The striking eyes and long eyelashes or brows may suggest a female face. The other is the head of an animal of undetermined type (horse? dragon? dog? seahorse?) carved out of horn or antler. No remains of the figurines’ bodies, likely made from an organic material or materials, have survived.

Each were discovered in a child’s grave. The burial itself was a simple commoner’s grave, so these were not elite grave goods. (The elite were buried in large, well-appointed tumuli, a distinctly fancier setting than these inhumations.) The lack of symbols, carvings or any other indications of a ritual or religious significance suggests the carvings weren’t talismans or charms to accompany the dead, but the beloved toys of an all too brief childhood.

The Okunev culture is seen as having links to Native Americans – and this is not the first time their toys have been found.

Indeed, the latest finds add to an intriguing collection. A figurine of a pagan god pulled out of a Siberian river by an angler was likely a child’s toy or rattle to ward off evil spirits. It has almond-shaped eyes, a large mouth with full lips, and a ferocious facial expression. On the back is...

The ancient site of Doliche near modern-day Dülük in southern Turkey has done it again. An international team of archaeologists led by Dr. Engelbert Winter of the University of Münster has unearthed more than 1,000 bullae or clay seal impressions from Doliche’s municipal archive.

Doliche was renown throughout the Greek and Roman world for its shrine to Jupiter. Jupiter Dolichenus was a syncretic iteration, a composite of the original Hittite sky/storm god Tesub-Hadad with the Greco-Roman god of lightning Zeus/Jupiter, but the mystery religion spread widely after the Romans conquered the city in 64 B.C. and had adherents all over the empire, including the most desirable adherents a sanctuary might want, i.e., emperors.

Dr. Winter and his team discovered evidence found more than 600 seals in the excavation of 2013. They were votive offerings made to the temple long before the Roman conquest — between the 7th and 4th centuries B.C.) which gave historians a rare chance to study the religious culture and imagery of the ancient city before the deity was absorbed into the Greco-Roman pantheon. The cache discovered this season is later in date (2nd-3rd centuries A.D.) and many pieces of it appear to be official administrative seals from the city archives. Their large size, their discovery in the city rather than the temple...


The Billingford Hutch, a large and sturdily-built oak chest with heavy iron bands, hasps and locks, was used as a strongbox in the late Middle Ages. It’s named after Richard de Billingford, who was the 5th Master of Corpus Christi College (founded in 1352), mastering it for an impressively long stint from 1398 until 1432. In 1420, he started the college’s loan program, donating what was then the princely sum of £20 as seed money to loan to scholars chronically low on cash. They could withdraw funds up to 40 shillings (ca. £2) using their valuables (manuscripts, mainly) as collateral. The £20 was kept in a locked chest under the vigilant eye of three custodians until a withdrawal was made. The books or other valuables the debtor was using as collateral were then placed in the chest until the establish repayment deadline. If the debtor did not manage to pay back the loan on time, his stuff was sold immediately and the sum owed returned to the chest. If the items sold for more the amount owed, that went into the chest too. The debtor got none of it.

The university loan chest system was widely practiced in institutes of higher learning at that time. Billingford didn’t invent it;...

Archaeologists have unearthed remains of stone structures, Roman engineering and the cremains of several deceased legionaries in cooking pots at a Roman military camp just over half a mile south of Tel Megiddo in northern Israel. The monumental base (it was around 330 yards by 550 in area) is the only permanent, full-scale legionary camp discovered in the eastern Roman Empire. There are several in mainland Europe and we know there were major bases elsewhere in the Levant and east — Jerusalem, or rather, Aelia Capitolina, built on the ruins of Jerusalem after Titus’ razing of it in 70 A.D., had a large base — but they have yet to be found.

The site is known as Legio (later Arabicized to Lajjun) after the camp built in the first half of the 2nd century A.D. and for more than a century was home to the formidable Legio VI Ferrata, meaning the Sixth Ironclad Legion. In the wake of the Bar Kochba Revolt (132-135 A.D.), the emperor Hadrian kept them in the Legio camp to guard the strategically important supply, transport and communication lines between the coast and Jezreel Valley.

I hope you’ve all had a grand, warm, lucrative, family-and-friends filled Christmas Day. As it has been a tad busy, I’m going to keep it short with a little gift post in the form of pretty pictures. You might recall my recent article about The Portrait of Achille Deban de Laborde (1817). As I was in the neighborhood visiting family, I popped into the Clark Art Institute to enjoy its exceptional collection of Winslow Homers, George Inneses, Renoirs, Monets, Sisleys, Alma-Tademas, Sargents, Renaissance Old Masters and about a thousand other art historical gems.

I also made a special pilgrimage to the 18th century French portraiture room to see the youth in a replica of his father’s Napoleonic uniform. He is just as sweet and soft-eyed as he looked in the official release pictures.


A group of military veteran metal detectorists have discovered a hoard of 250 Roman coins and a Roman lead coffin in Ilminster, Somerset, England. Detecting for Veterans assembled in an Ilminster field (the exact location is not being disclosed for its protection) this year for its annual Christmas charity dig in aid of The Veterans Charity and Talking2Minds. Member Kevin Minto made the first modest finds — a button, a fragment of lead — and then hit the jackpot when he found a Roman coin.

Being a responsible and conscientious metal detecting enthusiast, the group founder, former 1st Battalion Light Infantry Veteran, Jason Massey immediately called the county Finds Liaison Officer to determine how to proceed without harming the archaeological context. He was told an archaeological team would be on the way, but to continue to detect and dig, but to be cautious and document everything he found.

Over the next four days, Detecting for Veterans worked the field assiduously, ultimately unearthing 260 Roman coins ranging in date from 270-305 A.D., and one ring and two brooches....

On November 1st, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology began its first major renovation since it was founded in 1887. The building, a grand historical treasure in its own right, is in dire need of upgrades, especially systems. Most urgent is the air conditioning system which doesn’t need upgrading because it doesn’t actually exist. The museum gets hot in the summer and the body heat and moisture from visitors exacerbates the problem, putting the delicate objects on display at risk.

The three-phase renovation will create a new exhibition space with state-of-the art climate control technology and 6,000 square feet in which to showcase the Penn Museum’s stellar Near East collection. A pioneer in the field of Middle Eastern archaeology, the Penn Museum was the first in the country to send a team to explore Mesopotamian sites in 1887. They’ve been back hundreds of times since and collected more than 100,000 objects, making the Penn Museum’s Near East collection one of the greatest in the world.

More than...

Istanbul police have recovered 26,456 ancient artifacts and arrested 19 people in the biggest anti-smuggling operation in Turkish history.

Among the items recovered were a golden queen’s crown with an inscription of the Hellenistic god, Helios, a bust dedicated to Alexander the Great’s conquest of India and a statue of a goddess dating back to the Hittite era 3,000 years ago.

The 26,456 objects recovered also included Egyptian-origin statues and Phoenician-type teardrop vials.

“The retrieved artefacts are… more valuable than the artefacts in the inventory of an average size museum,” Istanbul police said in a statement.

One of the seized artifacts is a rare bird: a 3,000-year-old Mycenaean sword ostensibly owned by the hero Achilles himself. It’s not rare that some random object would be attributed to a hero of Troy — that kind of faux relic was venerated in temples for hundreds of years — but very few of them have survived in any recognizable form.

This archaeological bonanza was the hard-won result of three months of painstaking investigative work and surveillance of key suspects. Operation Zeus switched from tracking mode to busting on December 12th when six men in northwestern Turkey’s Duzce province were arrested in the course of attempting to sell some of the trafficked artifacts. They were interrogated and named names leading to more arrests in four other provinces.

Police haven’t been to determine how such a vast number of high quality artifacts were acquired or where they came from, but we know they were intended to be sold...