Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The history of middle-class wine drinking

History Extra

Should politicians tell people what and how much to drink? Recent government decisions to try and impose a minimum price for alcohol sales in England and Wales have taken the campaign against what is seen as excessive consumption into intriguing new territory. (Scotland and Northern Ireland have been having their own debates about how far the law can intervene). The focus now is not only on places where people go out to drink but also on domestic consumption. And middle-class consumption of wine is receiving much more attention too.

Ironically it has been attempts to increase rather than decrease wine consumption in Britain that have figured more prominently in the past – at least since the 19th century. Prior to that, wine, as the imported tipple of the mainly well-to-do, had seen some regulation and had at times been caught up in trade disputes, especially with France. Increased duties were imposed on imported French wine to try and harm French commerce. Spanish and Portuguese wines, by contrast, were generally favoured as these countries were more consistently allies of Britain.

But by the mid-19th century, British champions of free trade challenged such use of tariffs as diplomatic weapons. Good trade relations – sealed amicably, no doubt, over bottles of good vintage – helped prevent future wars, it was argued.

James Nicholls of Bath Spa University, a specialist on the history of alcohol consumption, hails the 1860 Treaty of Commerce – in which import duties were reduced on all wine – as a turning point. William Gladstone, the treaty’s chief architect, spoke openly of what he hoped would be a change in British drinking habits – away from an obsession with beer – so that wine would no longer be a “rich man’s luxury”.

At the same time he was sensitive to the fears of Victorian temperance campaigners that cheaper wine would encourage drunkenness. More wine drinking was meant to civilise British drinkers, claimed Gladstone. His measures were intended for the “promotion of temperance and sobriety as opposed to drunken and demoralised habits”. Other changes – forerunners of the modern ‘off licence’ system – allowed grocers and restaurateurs, rather than just pubs, to sell alcohol. They were intended to weaken the “unnatural divorce between eating and drinking”.

 Behind all this lay cultural assumptions about alcohol consumption that always lurk in these debates. We have tended, says James Nicholls, to “imbue different drinks with different ethical values”. Whereas some have been linked to the bad habits of the lower orders – think of Hogarth’s image of social catastrophe in Gin Lane, or modern debates about lager louts – wine was never associated with boorish drunkenness in this way.

Though there was an initial increase in wine drinking (what’s been called ‘the era of cheap Gladstone claret’), British café society, combining wine-drinking with eating, never took off as Gladstone might have hoped. It was only in the 1960s that there was, as Nicholls puts it, a “greater democratisation of wine drinking”. More wines became available from around the world, and supermarkets added competition. As a result, wine sales have steadily increased, while beer consumption has declined.

So Gladstone might have been pleased by today’s spread of wine into British drinking culture. It is no longer the reserve of the rich. But he would have worried about the evidence that consumption – for some individuals – is rising rapidly. Health professionals, today’s equivalent of 19th‑century temperance campaigners, no longer seem to share the old assumption that wine-drinking is inherently less harmful than other kinds of alcohol.

Extra But reversing this trend will not be easy. Policing what goes on in pubs has been far easier than controlling what people do in their own homes. The long contest between political and moral control and Britain’s ‘drinking culture’ is entering a fascinating new phase.

Chris Bowlby is a presenter on BBC radio, specialising in history

This series is produced with History & Policy.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

15th-century manuscript with 'alien' characters finally decoded

Fox news

By James Rogers

The Voynich manuscript's unintelligible writings and strange illustrations have defied every attempt at understanding their meaning. (BEINECKE RARE BOOK AND MANUSCRIPT LIBRARY/YALE UNIVERSITY)

 Scientists have harnessed the power of artificial intelligence to unlock the secrets of an ancient manuscript that has baffled experts.

Discovered in the 19th century, the Voynich manuscript uses “alien” characters that have long puzzled cryptographers and historians. Now, however, computing scientists at the University of Alberta say they are decoding the mysterious 15th-century text.

 Computing science Professor Greg Kondrak and graduate student Bradley Hauer applied artificial intelligence to find ambiguities in the text’s human language.

The first stage of the research was working out the manuscript’s language. The experts used 400 different language translations from the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” to identify the language used in the text. Initially, it seemed like the text was written in Arabic, but the researcher's algorithms revealed that the manuscript is written in Hebrew.

“That was surprising,” said Kondrak, in a statement. “And just saying ‘this is Hebrew’ is the first step. The next step is how do we decipher it.”

Kondrak and Hauer worked out that Voynich manuscript was created using ‘alphagrams’ that use one phrase to define another so built an algorithm to unscramble the text. “It turned out that over 80 per cent of the words were in a Hebrew dictionary, but we didn’t know if they made sense together,” said Kondrak.

MYSTERIOUS MANUSCRIPT'S CODE HAS BEEN CRACKED, 'PROPHET OF GOD' CLAIMS The initial part of the text was then run through Google Translate. “It came up with a sentence that is grammatical, and you can interpret it,” Kondrak explained.

 The sentence was: “She made recommendations to the priest, man of the house and me and people.”

The full meaning of the text will need the involvement of historians of ancient Hebrew. The vellum, or animal skin, on which the codex is written has been dated to the early 15th century.

The research study is published in Volume 4 ofTransactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics.

There have been multiple attempts to decode the Voynich manuscript. In 2014, for example, researchers argued that the illustrations of plants in the manuscript could help decode the text’s strange characters. In 2011, a self-proclaimed “prophet of God” claimed that he had decoded the book.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Dan Jones on the Templars and ‘Knightfall’

History Extra

Historian, presenter and author Dan Jones. (David Levenson/Getty Images)

Q. Who were the Templars?
A. To understand the Templars you’ve got to go back to the First Crusade. The Templars were originally formed in the city of Jerusalem to protect Christian pilgrims from the west as they travelled around the Holy Land. Their role later developed so that, instead of just protecting the pilgrims, they began fighting in elite units in crusader armies. They also had a sideline in a huge variety of commercial, business and financial enterprises, ranging from medieval banking through to commodity production (shipping, property leasing, etc). Most famously, they were brought down in a spectacular series of trials in the 14th century.

Q. What can you tell us about the new TV series Knightfall?
A. Knightfall is a historical drama (where history and drama are equally weighted). It’s a story about what I consider to be the most interesting part of Templar history – the fall of the order, and how it was brought down by a propaganda-driven attack led by King Philip of France. Historical drama these days is usually obsessed with origin stories, but what Knightfall does is look at the story of the Templars at its end. It’s a fascinating period of time, and it’s one of the reasons why the Templars have struck a chord with people across history.

The story follow the lives and experiences of a group of Templars in Paris who are dreaming of getting back into their former roles. In episode one, we learn that the holy grail [a mythological artefact closely linked with the Templars throughout history] has gone missing; this launches the action of the next nine episodes. It’s a very human story, with many of the characters projecting their own hopes and fears onto finding the grail.

Templars wear their distinctive uniform in this scene from 'Knightfall'. (Image credit: History)

Q. What’s the real history behind the fall of the Templars?
A. To understand the fall of the Templars, you need to understand a little about the failure of the Crusader states [Jerusalem, Tripoli, Antioch and Edessa]. In 1291, the Mamluks – a cast of Egyptian slave soldiers who had conquered Egypt and Syria – swept through these states into the eastern Mediterranean and the Crusaders lost their foothold in the Holy Land. A lot of blame was attached to the Templars because of this – their duty had been to protect the Crusader States and they had manifestly failed.

Fifteen years later, the order was destroyed by King Philip IV of France. He took aim at the Templars for a variety of reasons – partly because he was having a long-running battle with the pope (and the Templars, as loyal servants answerable to the pope, were an indirect way of attacking the papacy), and partly because he fancied a slice of the order’s wealth. On Friday 13 October 1307, agents of the king turned up at Templar houses with a list of mostly bogus and maliciously concocted accusations against the order. They were accused of worshipping false idols, spitting on the cross, sleeping with one another, denying Christ, spitting on the image of Jesus, kissing one another in lewd induction ceremonies – anything you could think of that would push the buttons of a conservative Christian mind-set in 1307.

The result was a long-running inquisition, which ran from 1307 in France and spread across every other kingdom in western Christendom. By 1312, the Templars were declared to be institutionally corrupt; they were abolished, rolled up and their property was given away. Two years later, in 1314, the last grandmaster was burned at the stake and that was the end of the order as it had been known in the Middle Ages.

Q. The plot of Knightfall follows a grail quest. How did the Templars become linked with the holy grail?
A. The first links that we know of go back to Arthurian legends and specifically the legend of Parsifal [Percival] by Chrétien de Troyes, which was rewritten in Germany between 1200 and 1210 by a man named Wolfram von Eschenbach. Wolfram placed into his story something called the Gral (the grail), which the Templars have been repeatedly linked to ever since. Although we’re not quite sure what the grail is in Wolfram’s tale, we do know that it’s defended by knights that look very similar to Templars. In my reading of the story – and I think a lot of historians would read it in the same way – the grail is a metaphor for Jerusalem. And who were better to guard Jerusalem than the Templars?

The grail itself has its own history; there is a long history of people being fascinated with it – from Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur through to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. I think it’s understandable that the Templars and the grail became linked together – the Templars are one of the church’s most controversial orders and the grail is a symbol of the church’s history.

Q. Why did you include this mythological part of the Templars’ history in the series?
A. If we were to just disregard all of the myths and legends, the question would be: why are we making a show about the Templars at all? Why not the Knights Hospitaller? Why not the Teutonic Knights? Why not any of the other military orders? There is a reason that the Templars keep coming back to us and part of that is because they have been consistently linked with these legends and myths, which are just as much a part of their history. For TV, it’s natural to link those two elements together.

The characters in 'Knightfall' (pictured) are a combination of real historical people and characters from established Templar mythologies, says Dan Jones. (Image credit: History)

 Q. Are the characters in Knightfall based on real people from history, or are they fictional?
 A. The characters are a combination of real historical people and characters from established Templar mythologies. There are a whole host of characters who are absolutely based on historical figures – King Philip IV and his wife Joan I of Navarre, Isabella of France, and Pope Boniface VIII. There are also a huge range of fictional characters that originate from the fact that the Templars can be traced right back to the origins of the Arthurian stories in the 12th and 13th centuries. In 1200, fictionalised Templars were appearing in Arthurian legend all the time, so in Knightfall we meet Templars called Gawain, Landry, Parsifal and Tancrede. They are all searching for the holy grail.

Q. Are there any female characters in the series? How are they presented?
A. Absolutely – no one in their right mind would make a TV show with no strong female roles! The roles of women in the Middle Ages are quite sensitively explored in Knightfall and are some of the most interesting in the show.

 In the first instance, we have the wife of Philip IV. She is referred to as Queen Joan in the show, but her real name was Juan. In the show, she’s imagined to be having an affair with Landry, the lead Templar, although this aspect is fictional. We also meet her daughter – Isabella (the future wife of Edward II) who would become known as the ‘she-wolf’ of France and one of the great medieval queens.

Q. How did you get involved with Knightfall, and what was your role as a historical consultant?
A. I first got involved with the show shortly after it was given the green light by History, and from the outset I was reading the scripts and providing informal feedback. As the show went into pre-production and then production, I came on board in a more official capacity to advise wherever I was needed. This involved anything from answering plot points from the writers’ room, to working with the actors on any queries they might have, to working with the prop, costume and set design departments.

Q. How historically accurate is Knightfall? A. Everyone involved in the show wanted to know as much as possible about the history of the Templars. Sometimes decisions were taken because of a desire for historical fidelity; sometimes decisions leant the other way.

What you see with Knightfall is a blending of history with established legends. Some of the storylines are invented, but one of the questions I was able to answer in those instances was: “Is it plausible that this could have happened?”

Q. How do Templar history and myth come together in the show?
A. The first scene of the first episode is a great example. It’s 1291 and the Templars are evacuating the city of Acre – the setting for the fall of the Crusader states to the Mamluks.

This aspect of the story is true and is based on original chronicle sources that document the Templars evacuating the city. The aspect of the story that’s not based in historical evidence is that the Templars are attempting to move the holy grail. Despite this, I think it’s remarkable how much the writers have stayed faithful to the original chronicles of the time. It’s a really interesting mish-mash between reality and fiction. That’s true of most historical dramas.

Q. As a historian, what’s your verdict on blending fact and fiction for the purpose of historical drama?
A. I think anyone who turns on a historical drama expecting to see something with the narrative architecture and factual veracity of a scholarly article has totally failed to understand the form and the medium that they are watching. The whole idea of historical drama (the clue is in the name) is drama as well as history. The job of the director – and everyone involved in the production – is where to find the balance. There will be people who are personally happy with a great ‘Hollywood story’ with historical props and costumes.

Then there will be people who want a story that is incredibly slow-moving but is absolutely faithful to every historic detail. From a numbers perspective, the former is more effective for television.

I think a lot of people assume that filmmakers who ‘get things wrong’ in period pieces must be stupid. That is absurd. If you’ve ever encountered an enormous television production, you’ll realise that it’s brought together some of the most talented directors, costume designers, actors and screenplay writers. Not all of these people can be stupid and wrong; instead, there is a carefully understood and constantly evolving sense of how to make historical drama that serves both components. Sometimes it is done well, sometimes it is done not so well. But it is never done blindly.

 Q. Why do you find the Templars so compelling?
A. For me, it’s because their history has so many different facets. It’s got faith, it’s got tragedy, it’s got fake news and it’s got incredible battles. The Templars are a window into the world of crusading, but they also have this fascinating mythology that I find as interesting as the factual history. Ultimately, they are a great case study for understanding why certain subjects become so compelling generation after generation.

Dan Jones is a historian, TV presenter and author. His latest book, The Templars: The Rise and Fall of God’s Holy Warriors, is out now. He was a historical consultant for the new historical drama Knightfall, currently airing on History in the US, Canada, Southeast Asia and Italy. A UK air date is to be confirmed.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

5 things you (probably) didn't know about the crusades

History Extra

Here, Dr Aysu Dincer Hadjianastasis from the University of Warwick brings you five lesser-known facts about the crusades...

1) When caught in the crossfire, women didn't hesitate to don arms and armour
Whether women took active part in battle during the crusader period is a much-contested issue. While there is some evidence that corpses of Latin women wearing armour were spotted among the dead on the battlefield, historians have queried whether precious war gear would be ‘wasted’ on women who were unlikely to receive military training.

 However, in desperate situations, whether the women had an interest in fighting or not, they simply had to find ways to defend and protect themselves. Thomas of Beverley's poem on the deeds of his sister Margaret offers a fascinating insight to a female pilgrim's fight for survival in a dangerous place. Margaret had travelled to the Holy Land on pilgrimage and was in Jerusalem when it was besieged by Saladin in 1187. The poem tells us that she was able to avail herself of a breastplate but in the absence of a helmet she simply improvised with a cauldron!

On the Muslim side, Usamah talks about an instance when a castle owned by his family was attacked and conquered by the Ismailis. The Ismaili leader tells Usamah's cousin Shahib that he will turn a blind eye if he goes back home, gathers his belongings and leaves the castle. As Shahib goes back home to collect his valuables he is startled by a figure who enters the house wearing a mail hauberk and a helmet, a sword and shield. The figure throws off the helmet, and lo and behold, it's Shahib's aging aunt. She berates Shahib for his cowardice and for letting down the family honour by considering running away and leaving all the women behind.

It is interesting that both sources were written by men, who praise women for their ingenuity without the slightest trepidation – despite the fact that these women's actions dealt a sound blow to accepted medieval gender roles!

2) During the crusader period medical knowledge was highly valued and constituted one of the crucial points of contact between eastern and western cultures
The memoirs of Usamah ibn Munqidh (1095–1188), The Book of Contemplation, are a goldmine of information about daily life in the Holy Land and include many anecdotes (some serious, some less so) on various forms of cultural exchange between the Latin crusaders and the natives of the Holy Land.

 It would be fair to describe Usamah as a person who was ‘born’ to the crusades. Born on 4 July 1095, he spent his long and adventurous life living side-by-side with the residents of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. In one anecdote, Usamah talks about an artisan from Shayzar named Abu al-Fath, whose son was suffering from scrofula [a tuberculosis infection of the lymph nodes in the neck]. While Abu al-Fath was in Antioch on a business trip with his son, a Frankish man noticed the sores on the boy's neck and offered them a remedy (“burn some uncrushed leaves of glasswort, soak the ashes in olive oil and strong vinegar”).

While the anonymous Frankish man seemed to be genuinely motivated by his wish to cure the boy, he was also keen to keep the ‘copyright’: Abu al-Fath had to swear by his religion that he wouldn't make money out of anyone that he cured using the recipe.

It appears that the remedy was indeed new to the Muslims, and as it cured Abu al-Fath's son its success ensured further circulation. The remedy was passed on to Usamah, who tells us that he himself used it on a number of sufferers. Through his memoirs, the remedy found its way to future generations.

c1275, a knight of the crusades in chain mail is kneeling in homage, his helmet being held above his head. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

3) Some crusader medical advice included remedies that were hardly palatable
 For instance, the 14th-century anatomist and royal physician Guido da Vigevano offered slug soup as antidote to aconite poisoning. In 1335 da Vigevano produced a text (Texaurus Regis Francie) urging the French king Philip VI to launch a new crusade. The text includes technical plans, drawings for siege engines and a wind-propelled chariot, as well as medical advice, including the above-mentioned solution to aconite poisoning – which despite sounding unpleasant, is actually very ingenious.

Aconite, commonly known as monkshood and still found in cottage gardens, is a highly poisonous plant and during the crusader period it was used by the Muslims against the crusaders. Why slugs, though? On noticing some slugs that were feeding on aconite leaves, da Vigevano seems to have experienced a light-bulb moment. He collected and boiled the slugs, concocting a soup out of them, which he first tested on animals. After achieving satisfactory results he took some aconite and tried the antidote himself.

Da Vigevano proudly reported that while the first two doses made him vomit, by the third dose he was free of the poison. Sadly, he never found out whether it was worth going through this nasty trial, as Philip VI's crusade failed to materialise.

 4) When all was lost and they were taken hostages, negotiation skills were all that mattered to crusaders
These skills undeniably came to the fore during the Seventh Crusade (1248–54). Initiated, led and largely financed by King Louis IX of France, the Seventh Crusade was one of the most logistically sophisticated expeditions to the East. While it held great promise at the start, it ended in abject failure.

Louis IX's acts during the crusade were documented by his close friend Jean de Joinville, who was privy to most of the negotiations and decision-making. Joinville provides us with one of the liveliest and interesting accounts in crusader history: he was obsessed with detail, blessed with a prodigious and photographic memory and had a passionate interest in clothing. To top it all, he had a barely concealed crush on Louis IX's wife, Queen Marguerite of Provence, who was also on crusade. Most chronicles of the crusades offer their audiences countless tales of individual bravery and sacrifice – Joinville does this too, but also gives us a king battling a bout of dysentery so severe that a hole has to be cut in his drawers.

Louis IX of France was captured in Egypt during the Seventh Crusade in April 1250. (Photo by Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images)

After a doomed expedition up the Nile to take the town of Mansurah, the crusaders try to retreat to Damietta but are forced to abandon the attempt. Joinville's party realise that they are running out of options and have to surrender. A crusader among the group clearly sees this as an act of cowardice and argues that rather than giving themselves up as hostages they should all let themselves be slain and go to paradise. Joinville bluntly reports: “but we none of us heeded his advice”.

Instead, once he is taken hostage Joinville does everything he can think of so that his life will be spared: he strikes a kinship with a Muslim man, lies to his captors that he is the king's cousin, fabricates a relationship to Emperor Frederick II and quotes Saladin when it suits him (“never kill a man once you had shared your bread and salt with him”). In the end it's Queen Marguerite's powers of negotiation that save them: she hands Damietta over to the Mamluks in exchange for her husband’s life and Louis pays 400,000 pounds for his army to be released.

5) The royal women of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem played crucial roles in political life, which sometimes meant that they had to endure successive marriages

 Royal marriage was an important political tool in the survival of the kingdom. The prize for the highest number of marriages goes to Queen Isabella I of Jerusalem, who married four times. All her husbands, bar one, were eliminated from the picture quite dramatically. She was forced to divorce her first husband, Humphrey of Toron, who was not only extremely reluctant to step up to the throne but also perceived to be too young, too intellectual and somewhat effeminate by the nobility. The divorce meant a loss of face for Humphrey, but at least he remained alive.

Isabella's second husband, Conrad of Montferrat, was not so lucky: he was assassinated by the much-feared Assassins, an Ismaili sect. Isabella married her third husband, Henry of Champagne, while heavily pregnant with Conrad's child and just a week after his death. This marriage lasted for five years and ended when Henry died falling from a castle window. Isabella's final husband, Aimery of Lusignan, died of “a surfeit of white mullet”: quite a preventable death.

How do we explain these serial marriages and what do we know about the woman who endured them? Was Isabella a helpless, romantic victim who was simply acting as a vessel in the transmission of legitimacy? Indeed, her life corresponds to the most turbulent period in the history of the crusader states: she witnessed the rise of Saladin and the fall of Jerusalem; she saw the Third Crusade come and go and Cyprus conquered, colonised and turned into a new kingdom.

The man who married Isabella would be king, so he had to be an experienced political ruler and an exceptional military leader. The decision wasn't Isabella's to make, however, as the barons were the active kingmakers, but she appears to have accepted their choices. By the end of her reign the kingdom had found stability and her eldest daughter's right to rule was secure.

Similar to Margaret of Beverley's cauldron-come-helmet in 1187, Isabella’s marriages can be seen as improvisations to protect the kingdom. The cauldron saved a pilgrim; Isabella's marriages ensured the survival of the kingdom at a perilous time.

Dr Aysu Dincer Hadjianastasis is a teaching fellow in medieval and early modern history at the University of Warwick.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

A Jewel in the Aegean: Greeks Used Advanced Engineering to Create a Monumental Island

Ancient Origins

Excavation work directed by the University of Cambridge on the island of Keros, a remote and unpopulated Greek island in the Cyclades, has unearthed an intricate series of memorial structures and technological worldliness that was previously unknown.

 Most Impressive Ancient Manmade Structure of Aegean Discovered
Keros may be forgotten and isolated nowadays, but it has a glorious historical background. Ongoing excavations around the island of Keros have revealed the technological excellence of the small group of Greeks who lived there 4,500 years ago as The Guardian reports.

 Archaeologists suggest that the ancient Greeks shaped the island into terraces covered with 1,000 tonnes of specially imported gleaming white stone brought from Naxos Island almost 10 kilometers (6 miles) away. The headland was shaped like a pyramid due to the fact that the extraordinary builders of Dhaskalio magnified this shape by creating a series of massive terrace walls that stood proudly and dominated the Aegean. It was the most impressive manmade structure in all the Cyclades archipelago in antiquity, while the pyramid of terraces stood proudly and could be visible from far off. According to the archaeologists, the island’s remains make it one of the most important archaeological sites of the Aegean Sea during the Early Bronze Age.

The island was sculpted with terraces and white stone to make it dazzle for miles around. (Image: Cambridge Keros Project)

 The Engineering Miracles and Secrets Wait to be Revealed
The island was considered for years by historians and researchers from Cambridge University as the “world's oldest maritime sanctuary,” but the new excavations have revealed that the headland of Dhaskalio – which was once attached to Keros and is now a small islet because of sea level rise – was totally covered by astonishing monuments. “The islet, with its narrow causeway to the main island, may have become a focus because it formed the best natural harbor on Keros, and had an excellent view of the north, south and west Aegean, “study co-author Dr. Colin Renfrew stated via The Guardian.

Constructions on the island. (Image: University of Cambridge)

According to the researchers, beneath the surface of the terraces “hide” undiscovered feats of engineering and craftsmanship to match the structure’s majestic exterior. Archaeologists from three different countries take part in the ongoing excavation work, which has produced clear evidence of a complex of drainage tunnels that were created a thousand years before the legendary indoor plumbing of the Mycenaean palace of Knossos on Crete.

Sophisticated and Highly-Advanced Metalworking Spotted
Furthermore, archaeologists have noted to spot traces of advanced metalworking. The first evidence of metalworking at the site was discovered in excavations almost a decade ago as The Guardian reports. The new discoveries, however, have unearthed two impressive workshops full of metalworking debris, and various items including a lead axe, a mold for copper daggers and dozens of ceramic fragments from metalworking equipment including the mouth of a bellows.

A stone mold for making copper daggers was found at indicating a metal workshop. (Image: Cambridge Keros Project)

Archaeologists will reportedly return to the site to excavate an untouched clay oven, unearthed during the very end of the last season. Dr. Michael Boyd from the University of Cambridge and joint director of the excavation, pinpointed that metalworking proficiency was manifestly concerted at Dhaskalio during a time that access to both skills and raw materials was very limited. “What we are seeing here with the metalworking and in other ways is the beginnings of urbanization,” he said via The Guardian. And continued, “Far-flung communities were drawn into networks centered on the site, craft and agricultural production was intensified, and the architecture became grander, gradually overshadowing the original importance of the sanctuary. Excavated soil reveals food traces including pulses, grapes, olives, figs and almonds, and cereals, including wheat and barley.”

Wall of imported Naxian marble, Trench I, Dhaskalio (Image: Cambridge Keros Project)

Evi Margaritis of the Cyprus Institute added to Dr Boyd’s statements, “Much of this food was imported: in the light of this evidence we need to reconsider what we know about existing networks to include food exchange,” The Guardian reports.

Ultimately, the excavations are being recorded digitally, using the iDig programme running on iPads for the first time in the Aegean as The Guardian reports. This creates three-dimensional models using photogrammetry recording of the entire digging process, giving everyone that’s participating access to all data in real time.

Top image: Dhaskalio promontory (Keros Island, Greece) shows evidence of extensive earth and metal works to sculpt its natural pyramid shape. Source: Cambridge Keros Project)

 By Theodoros Karasavvas

Friday, January 26, 2018

Has the King Arthur Gene Been Traced?

Ancient Origins

If stories of King Arthur and his knights are based on real people their DNA markers should still be with us today. New DNA research has perhaps found the King Arthur gene.

 The Genetic Lead
R1b-L513 is a DNA Celtic tribal marker just discovered in January 2011. Now, Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) from Houston, Texas with lead researcher Mike Walsh, have confirmed this DNA strand connecting men’s Y DNA Chromosome pattern with about 400 ancestral families who were related to each other from around 500 to 1200 AD.

 When matching DNA marker R1b-L513 with surname heraldry, one gets this remarkable pattern of symbols. This is but a small sample of 400, R1b-L513 surname family coat of arms dominating this DNA group.

Some of the coats of arms belonging to the 400 ancestral Celtic families.Coat of arms sources for Cook, Moody, Miller, Lyons, Patton, Henderson, Garvey, Beatty, Duff, Taylor, Ward, Nicholson, and Sears are from; Hay is from; Campbell is from The General Armory; Jones is from; Short is from; Tiernan, Elwood, McCool and Rafferty are from Gamble is from; St. Clair and Warenne is from; Abbot is from; Edwards is from American Heraldry Society; Walsh is from Cheshire Heraldry; Gardner is from; Williams is from; and Coffey is from Burk’s General Armory.

A Tribal Tale
This writer’s ebook, The Tribe Within found on, suggests King Arthur’s story is a tribal one going back centuries when Rome was conquering northern France around 50 BC. One tribe affected were seafarers called the Veneti (pronounced Weneti). After a war with Julius Caesar which almost annihilated them, the Veneti left for Ireland. What connects them together is their tribal symbol above and DNA.

 Coinciding with Geoffrey of Monmouth’s account of King Arthur is a forgotten story from early 6 th Century Brittany. This tale begins in 410 AD. While Rome’s army is retreating from Britain, an unknown Christian monk opens a university: Cor Tewdws (College of Theodosius).

Cor Tewdws has seven great halls, over 400 houses, and more than 2,200 students attending annually before Vikings destroy it in 987 AD. Engraved Celtic stones placed at each great hall’s entrance mark individual tribes and still can be seen at the ruins today in LLantwit Major, Glamorgan, Wales. According to the Welsh Triad, around 500 AD Cor Tewdws’ Headmaster is St. Illtud, a “cousin” of King Arthur.

The Celtic Stones from Cor Tewdws, at St Illtud, Llantwit Major, Glamorgan, Wales. ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

This writer believes in the early 6 th Century Cor Tewdws’ mission was to re-unite seven tribes of pre-Roman Brittany [Osismi, Unelli, Curiosolitae, Armoricani, Namnetes and Redones (all suspect DNA Tribe R1b-DF41) then found in Cornwall and Devon, England] and Veneti (R1b-L513) and send them on a quest to reclaim their ancestral lands in Brittany, France.

Evidence from Saint Padarn’s Life
One monk is assigned to recruit the Veneti. The Life of Saint Padarn is a collection of short stories written several hundred years after this monk’s death, found at . By assessing the names recorded from the monk’s travels, doing independent research, and incorporating overlapping DNA results, a combination of Veneti sub-tribes and surnames start to emerge. The dots start to connect revealing a lost history which this writer believes is the historical background to what later became the basis for King Arthur’s mythology.

St. Padarn displays same black on white symbols found on most R1b-L513 coat of arms centuries before Bretons claim it as their own. Image: ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Padarn’s search takes him to seven kingdoms. Padarn’s first visit is to Brycheiniog in Wales where King Caradoc Freichfras is named in Life of St. Padarn. The Pritchard surname is first recorded in 1521 with the name David Aprycharde, in the Oxford University Register. The surname derives from “son of” (or in Welsh, “Ap”) Richard. According to, his ancestry can be traced to Gwenllian, daughter of Brychan whose Dáirine tribe was from Ireland.

Gwenllian’s son is Caradoc Freichfras. In Life of St. Padarn , Caradoc becomes king of Broërec, Brittany. Caradoc’s family continue in Wales while a new line starts in Brittany which would eventually become Wilson.

Coat of arms of Pritchard (left) displaying Veneti symbols; reverse of Walkenline de Ferrers’ coat of arms (right), father of Henri de Ferres Breton-Norman-English ancestry who will eventually take the name of Wilson. Both Pritchard and Wilson are related before 500 AD [Both are from the same branch of R1b-L513]. Pritchard coat of arms source: and de Ferrers’ Source: C

According to Welsh studies another Dáirine kingdom is Dyfed where King Tryffin Ab Aled Brosc resides around 500 AD. Brosc’s lineage (according to Wales Genealogy records) produces the family name of Phillips [R1b-L513]. Phillips families are directly related to House of Aubigny of Brittany which develop Breton surnames.

Pillips source: Heritage Registry Genealogy; D’Aubigny source: CC BY-SA 4.0 )

A Welsh Arthurian Connection
Padarn then encounters the Venicones of North Wales. Padarn is not able to convert King Owain Ddantgwyn (Whitetooth) of Gwynedd to Christianity, but he is allowed to enroll Prince Maelgwyn to Cor Tewdws. Maelgwyn is named directly in Life of St. Padarn (and spelt “Maelgwn”) as the next King of the Northern Britons. Owain’s wife is Guenevere Lodegreaunce. Maelgwyn is also associated with the Arthur legend.

Left; coat of arms of Owen Tudor, (grandfather of Henry Tudor (King Henry VII – Veneti symbols on his coat. Source: CC BY-SA 3.0 ). The Tudor house of Wales is said to have originated with King Owain’s line. The family name of Tudor is similar to a lost university in Wales. Right; also associates Ross (Breton) and Rose (Welsh) families with Tudor. Both Ross/Rose are R1b-L513. (Coat or arms source:

In Padarn’s story, he travels to the land of Agam’s Cross where he overcomes Graban (as it is spelt). This perhaps refers to Dál Riata King Gabrán mac Domangairt in what is now County Antrim, Ireland. FTDNA Clan Donald’s Mark MacDonald first identified R1b-L513 as Dalriada signatures. This group established the Scottish kingdom of Dalriada in 470 AD. About a third of 400 family names have been identified as R1b-L513 Dalriadan.

Left; Ferguson crest, one of many Dál Riata R1b-L513 families. Note Veneti symbols at the base of the crown. Right; Dalriada flag represented in both Clans Campbell and MacMhathain (Matheson) [both R1b-L513]. Sources:

Another name from Padarn’s tale, Terillan, is found in Irish Annals as King Tighearnán Sea llachan who is from a north-west Irish kingdom called Bréifne which display the same symbols and follows the same DNA patterns from Ireland to Brittany.

Following the same DNA markers, St. Padarn’s 7 th encounter is with Corcu Loígde, a small kingdom on Ireland’s southern edge. They pay no tribute to the larger Osraige Kingdom. They are a branch of Dáirine. This writer believes the “Dáire” name comes from Veneti’s capital city of Darioritum in Brittany, France as told by Julius Caesar. According to Táin Bó Flidais , this group is one of three warrior-tribes of Ireland.

 Does St. Padarn, DNA, and heraldry bring us to the Legendary King Arthur?
Irish Annals states Corcu Loígde’s king is Eochaid Apthach. Padarn’s tale speaks of one final adversary: a tyrant called Arthur who later will become a great admirer of Padarn. In another of Padarn’s stories the name Eithir map Arthat (in Welsh) appears. A surname traced from the 6 th Century from Corcu Loígde’s sub-tribe from Irish Annals is Mac Giolla Chiarain. This name will evolve to become Herron [R1b-L513].

Both Herron (source: and Hamilton (Source: family names are related R1b-L513 before 500 AD. Hamilton family research reveals it is of Breton-Norman-Scottish ancestry. Hamilton too has Veneti symbols inside the stars on its coat of arms.

DNA evidence suggests Veneti warriors along with other soldiers of kingdoms Cornwall and Devon, England “migrate” to what is now Brittany. This “Briton” force is a multi-national, Christian army re-claiming their ancestral territory.

In Padarn’s story Arthur traversed the countries on each side . Historians say this “migration” is the result of Britons fleeing Saxon invasion. However, Gary German at the Centre de Recherche Bretonne et Celtique says that’s not true. German states that according to three separate studies, these peoples were not fleeing Anglo-Saxons as is so often repeated in history books but were, in fact, invading Brittany.

 According to One World Tree, and, Nominoë’s line, Brittany’s first king, goes back to Bors and in 520 AD, Lancelot appears from his lineage. Nominoë’s ancestry would create the House of Dol in Brittany and later House of Stewart [R1b-L513] in Scotland.

But what surname comes closest to Eochaid Apthach, King of the Corcu Loigde ... King Arthur? As in King Arthur’s tale, his line ends with him. Yet, his brother, Duach, is recorded in two Irish sources: the Book of Ballymote and the Book of Lecan. Both were compiled about 1400 AD. From the pedigree chart, next to Eochaid’s name in red, the reader follows the right side of Duach’s family tree to a modern name which may send shivers down the spine. The modern name of Kennedy emerges. This name is another R1b-L513 family name.

Top image: King Arthur monument in Tintagel, Cornwall.(left) (Source: CC0), Excalibur in Brocéliande Forest, Brittany, France.(right)(Source: ( CC0)

By Anthony Murphy Barrett

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Objects with Viking Rune Inscriptions Unearthed in Denmark’s Oldest Town

Ancient Origins

Ancient objects with rare Viking rune inscriptions have been discovered in Denmark. Experts suggest that the runic inscriptions could possibly shed new light on a very important period of the early Viking age.

Comb with Rare Runic Inscription Unearthed
One of the objects that archaeologists unearthed in Denmark is a comb with a rare runic inscription of the word “comb. The object dates back to around 800 AD and it was discovered during excavations of a Viking Age market place in Ribe – the country's oldest town. The comb’s considered extremely valuable as only a handful of runic texts from this period exist nowadays.

 Close to the comb, archaeologists also found a runic inscription on a small plate of bone or antler. According to the archaeologist and excavation director to Søren Sindbæk from Aarhus University, both objects illustrate best the missing details from a key period of Viking history, “These are the runes we’ve been missing. We’ve waited generations to be able to dig into this,” he says via Nordic Science.

The 3.8 by 1.8 centimeters bone plate had been burnt and otherwise deteriorated after more than 1,000 years in the ground. (Image: Søren Sindbæk)

Find May Shed New Light on how Vikings Used Runes
By runes, historians describe the letters in a set of related alphabets known as runic alphabets, which were used to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter. The Scandinavian variants are also known as futhark or fuþark. The earliest runic inscriptions date from around 150 AD. Archaeologists believe that runes changed drastically at the start of the Viking Age, but they are not sure – as there is not any clear evidence – exactly what standardized written (and even spoken) language looked like during that period, or even what the Vikings actually used runes for.

 The two new finds, however, double the number of runes from Ribe and increases the chance of archaeologists to understand their use better, “The new finds will help us in understanding the ways in which the Vikings used runes, and why they reinvented the art of writing," Sindbæk stated in an interview with IBTimes UK. And continued, "Was it developed as a tool for magic? For labeling property and other business in trading towns? Or for sending messages over long distances? This is hard to know if you only have a handful of inscriptions to go by, so even two more inscriptions makes a lot of difference."

Runes are engraved on both sides of the comb. One side has the verb ‘to comb’, the other has the noun, ‘comb’. (Image: Søren Sindbæk)

Runes Belonged to a Bronze Caster
Next, Sindbæk pinpointed that the discovery of the bone plate took place while he was excavating a small house that was known to have been a bronze foundry. At first, he could not understand what it was but soon the mystery was solved, “The engraving is so fine that you can’t immediately see the text, but I thought to myself, ‘what if it is an inscription?’ But then I thought, ‘no, that’s too optimistic,’” he said as Nordic Science reports. “It’s expertly crafted and we don’t find so many of its kind, so I couldn’t shake the idea. In the end I convinced myself that it had to be runes,” Sindbæk added, who was proven to be right.

  Text’s Hard to be Deciphered but Leaves Hope for the Future
Sindbæk explained that it was really hard for him and his colleagues to decipher the text as both ends were missing. Archaeologists don’t how big the original piece would have been, or in what context it was used. “A guess is that it was once part of a casket,” says Sindbæk via Nordic Science.

The text lacks certain features, which mark the beginning and end of each word. “Just like if we today wrote asentencewithoutanyspaces. It is decipherable, but difficult to read. But this does not mean that the work was sloppy. The runes were clearly etched by a steady hand with detail indicative of an experienced engraver,” Sindbæk told Nordic Science.

However, he’s being optimistic that the new finds will help him and his team to give answers to all these questions that have been unanswered for centuries, “These finds may help us in solving a famous enigma: why did people in a northern corner of Europe, often believed to be brutes and barbarians, invent and use their own alphabet?” he told IBTimes UK, demonstrating once again the incredible archaeological value of the new finds.

Top image: The comb was discovered in Ribe, West Denmark. (Source: sciencenordic Credit: Søren Sindbæk)

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Born for Valhalla: How Viking Children Learned the Art of War

Ancient Origins

By ThorNews

 We know from the sagas that Viking boys were trained in the art of war. The Viking’s success in killing and oppressing everyone who stood in their way was no accident: The warrior mentality followed a Viking from birth until he proudly stepped into Valhalla.

 Even little boys knew that they could only become real men through warfare. According to the Eddic poem Rigstula, children learned a variety of skills and combat techniques. The poem tells about the boy Jarl who “tamed horses, made arrows, shaped shields and brandished spears.”

 The name Jarl (English: Earl) indicates that the boy comes from a chief’s family, but children from farming families were probably also playing war games.

 Historians believe that even three-year-old boys played with wooden swords and threw spears covered by a piece of leather so that they should not hurt themselves or others.

When the children grew older, they could be lucky and get real weapons of iron forged in a child’s size. Norwegian archaeologists have found several such weapons, including a small sword and an ax in a child’s grave.

Viking longswords (not child-sized). (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Wrestling and Snowball Fights
Besides playing with weapons, wrestling was one of the most popular games and something boys were doing throughout the year. Through wrestling matches they practiced speed and agility, and the training was a good preparation for future close combat situations.

Through wrestling the children also learned game rules and discipline. The Vikings had to promise that they would not hurt each other intentionally during play. These rules were taken very seriously and strictly enforced. Those who broke the rules committed níð and were often called níðingr – one of the worst epithets in the Viking Age.

When it was snowing, children built ramparts and fortresses that they used as battle arenas. Snowball fighting was not only entertaining but also effective training in siege techniques and different throwing skills.

A Matter of Honor
The most important of all was that the young Viking learned about the warrior society’s code of honor. The Norsemen were convinced that a number of Norns (goddesses) spun the threads of life and that every human life was predestined.

No man could change his destiny and only the brave warrior would come to Valhalla. A Viking therefore had to fight like a man and die like a man if the gods had decided it.

Time Travel: It is uncertain whether young girls got training in the use of weapons, but it is not unlikely. (Image: NRK Super)

 In every battle, one of two things will happen: either you will fall, or you will survive. Therefore, be brave because everything is predetermined. Nothing can kill a man if his time has not come, and no one can save the one who is destined to die. So a farmer exhorts his son in Sverris saga while they are walking together down to the longship waiting at the coast.

In the same way, to die in battle was the most honorable a thing a Viking could achieve. The ability to plunder was also highly respected – unlike ordinary thefts which were considered cowardly actions.

Early Debut
Viking boys had to prove that they had the courage and skills before they were considered as grownups. If they belonged to a powerful family, they could prove themselves worthy by participating in a battle or go on Viking.

Young Vikings practiced wrestling and close combat. (CC BY-ND 2.0)

 The sagas mention that Olaf Tryggvason (c. 963-1000 AD) killed his first man when he was nine years old.

 Olaf Haraldsson (995 – 29 July 1030 AD), who later became Olaf the Holy, went on Viking when he was twelve years old.

Although the saga writers are exaggerating in their eagerness to glorify the heroes, they provide an image of how the children already at an early stage had to live up to the expectations the Viking society demanded.

The sagas say nothing about whether young girls were trained in the art of war. This may be because they were written down after Christianity was introduced in Scandinavia and that “warrior women” were not tolerated.

Top image: These Norwegian children have traveled back to the Viking Age and practice archery. (Source: NRK Super)

The article, first published under the title ‘Viking Children Learned the Art of War ’ originally appeared on ThorNews and has been republished with permission.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

‘Real Game of Thrones’ Story Is Told In This Interactive 15th Century Scroll

Ancient Origins

The Game of Thrones continues to attract an audience and many people interested in it also have a passion for history and the true stories that inspired the series. Now you can gain some new insight into the who’s who of the Wars of the Roses and their legendary ancestors by exploring a digital version of English royal family genealogy as depicted on the Canterbury Roll.

 The Canterbury Roll provides a handwritten 15th-century story of the beginnings of England. It starts with suggesting English royals have descended from the biblical Noah, to the legendary Brutus of Troy, and then it traces their heritage until King Edward IV. As you can see by examining the digital edition of the Canterbury Roll, fiction has mixed with history in this document.

A section of the Canterbury Roll, a medieval scroll depicting the genealogy of the English royal family. (The University of Canterbury)

Live Science reports that the online version of the medieval scroll has been made available thanks to the work of a team of researchers and students at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. They joined up with some experts from the United Kingdom to translate and interpret the scroll. The scholars from the UK are especially interested in exploring how the document was altered during the Wars of the Roses, when the document changed hands between the warring houses and one house may have altered the story of the other.

Chris Jones, a medieval historian and a researcher on the project from the University of Canterbury, discussed the importance of the Canterbury Roll in a statement:

"It's visually striking. The Wars of the Roses are what 'Games of Thrones' is based on, and this is the Wars of the Roses laid out across a 5-meter [16 feet], visually spectacular document. It is not the only manuscript roll from this period to exist in the world, but, uniquely, it features contributions from both [of] the key players in the Wars of the Roses — it was originally drawn up by the Lancastrian side in the conflict but it fell into Yorkist hands, and they rewrote part of it."

As Thomas de Fauconbergh beseiges London (setting fire), he is attacked by Edward IV and his troops. (Public Domain)

As Bryan Hill explained in an Ancient Origins article discussing the Wars of the Roses and the Game of Thrones:

“The two houses in conflict with one another in the Wars of the Roses were the House of York and the House of Lancaster. In Game of Thrones, the House of Lancaster is thought to be the Lannisters while the House of York, the Starks. The war between the Starks and the Lannisters is similar to the Wars of the Roses between the English houses of Lancaster and York that took place between 1455 and 1487. Like the Starks, the Yorks were northerners, while the Lancasters, like the Lannisters, were from the south. Not only do the Lancasters and Lannisters share almost the same name, they also share an almost identical symbol: a Lion(s) on a red background. The name of the wars comes from the symbols associated with the two families; the white rose belonging to the Yorks and the red rose to the Lancasters.”

Wars of the Roses – key players in the Houses of Lancaster and York. (AGZYM)

The digital version of the Canterbury Roll is still a work in progress, but it already provides an interactive depiction of the scroll. Viewers have the option to click, zoom, and read passages on the scroll in English and Latin, as well as explore notes and expert interpretations of the document. It is expected that the full 5-meter document, along with its translations, will be available online by the end of 2018.

 Top Image: Detail of ‘Plucking the Red and White Roses in the Old Temple Gardens’ (c.1908) by Henry Arthur Payne. (Public Domain) Insert: Detail of part of the Canterbury Roll, a medieval scroll detailing the genealogy of the two houses in the Wars of the Roses. (The University of Canterbury)

 By Alicia McDermott

Monday, January 22, 2018

Search for Long-Lost Monastery Linked with the Medieval ‘Book of Deer’ May Be Over

Ancient Origins

The monastery where the significant Scottish text called the ‘Book of Deer’ was created disappeared from the pages of history about 1,000 years ago. After a decade of excavations looking for the site, archaeologists believe they are finally on the correct path.

 According to The Scotsman, an excavation team working with the Book of Deer project have unearthed a hearth, charcoal, pottery, post holes, and a layer of stone near Old Deer in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Carbon dating places the site to between 1147 and 1260, in the medieval monastic period and the stone and post holes suggest a circular building was once located at the site.

 Archaeologist Alison Cameron of Cameron Archaeology, who led the dig, called the results of the carbon-dating “extremely exciting”, saying:

 “A medieval date for this hand-made pottery suggests the building underneath the layers where the pottery had been found might also be medieval in date. The date for the charcoal is 1147 to 126

A stone hearth was one of the archaeological features uncovered during excavations. (BBC ALBA

BBC News reports the recent excavations were aimed at exploring a field near the ruins of Deer Abbey. Focus was placed on that location because a geophysical survey found underground anomalies there. Before the excavations in the field, archaeologists were looking for the monastery in a church graveyard. As Ms. Cameron said: “This is a site that we don’t know anything about. The possibility of locating one building and perhaps more nearby would be of national importance. The team are very excited about this.”

 Bruce Mann, an archaeologist for Aberdeenshire Council, expressed his hope for the discovery of the monastery to The Scotsman. He said, “These latest discoveries may at last hint that the mystery has finally been solved. More work obviously has to happen, but regardless of what this finally turns out to be, it is a significant find for not only Old Deer, but Aberdeenshire and beyond too.”

Further clues to the monastery’s location were scribbled in the margins of the Book of Deer in Scots Gaelic. The writings suggest that the monastery was in eyesight of Deer Abbey – the building the monks moved to when they had to leave their home at the monastery. The National reports the monks left the monastery before or during the Reformation, when the building may have already been in ruins.

Deer Abbey in Scotland. (Public Domain)

The notes added to the margins of the Book of Deer are what set the text apart. As Ancient Origins previously reported, the Book of Deer:

“is said to be the only pre-Norman manuscript revealing tenth century northeastern Scottish culture's society and religious traditions, and is the earliest known Gaelic document in existence […] the greatest intrigue for those drawn to this ancient text lies within the handwritten notations made in its margins and other blank areas, and not necessarily within the text itself. The notations, also referred to as 'notitiae', are written in the type of Gaelic typically spoken by the upper classes in the early twelfth century region of Buchan […]”

Dr. Michelle Macleod, lecturer in Gaelic at Aberdeen University, explained some of the significance of the Book of Deer:

“There are some deviations in the language from the shared common Gaelic of Scotland and Ireland which had been used in earlier manuscripts. These deviations, of which there are several, are the first written indication that the languages are separating and would be an indication of what people were likely saying. The Book of Deer is a tiny book but it has left a huge legacy for us, not only in the north-east but for the whole of Scotland. We had to wait another 200-300 years after the Book of Deer to find any more evidence of written Scottish Gaelic.”

Folio 5r contains the text of the Gospel of Matthew from 1:18 through 1:21. Note the Chi Rho monogram in the upper left corner. The margins contain Gaelic text. (Public Domain)

Anne Simpson, chair of the Book of Deer Project, further emphasized the importance of the book, by saying: “The book is as significant as the Book of Kells in Dublin but it is still amazing how even people locally don’t know about it. We have been looking for the monastery for a long time, so there is a great deal of excitement about the discoveries.”

The Book of Deer Project is a program which began in the 1990s. Apart from the excavations and other research, members of the Book of Deer Project are trying to get the book back from Cambridge University for a year-long exhibition at Aberdeen University. Cambridge University has owned the manuscript since the early 18th century.

Folio 1 verso from the Book of Deer (Cambridge University Library, MS. II.6.32), showing the four evangelists. (Public Domain)

Top Image: The notes in the Book of Deer are the first written examples of Scottish Gaelic and they hint at the location of the monastery where it was written. Source: The Book of Deer Project

By Alicia McDermott

Sunday, January 21, 2018

What Comforting Items Did Vikings Have That Are Still the Height of Luxury Today?

Ancient Origins

By ThorNews

In the largest and most richly equipped Viking burial mounds discovered in Norway there are usually found beds and several types of bird feathers and down from pillows and duvets, including eagle-owls’ feathers. This demonstrates that wealthy Viking aristocrats slept as they lived: quite comfortably.

Modern technology and knowledge makes it possible to separate feathers and down from different bird species, and according to the Norwegian research portal, there have been discovered remains from a variety of birds – including the Eurasian eagle-owl, Northern Europe’s largest owl.

There have also been discovered everything from the exclusive down from the common eider known for its extreme insulating properties, to “common crow” feathers.

Eiderdown is regarded as the most exclusive and is even today highly sought after for duvet manufacturing. Only about 0.56 ounces is collected from each nest, and it takes 18 to 35 ounces to produce one duvet, equivalent to down from about sixty nests.

This clearly shows that back in the Viking Age, bird feathers must have been a really exclusive commodity, and that the luxury of owning a pillow and duvet was reserved for only the wealthiest in the Norse society.

Feathers in Metal
In some Viking burial mounds there are found prints of different feathers in metal. If a sword was placed on a pillow next to the buried person, it corroded over time and the feathers got covered with rust.

An approximately one centimeter long well-preserved fragment of a bird feather found in a grave dating back to the Viking Age. Even after many hundreds of years, it is possible to see the colors and that this is a crow feather. (Image: Jørgen Rosvold, NTNU Unversity Museum, Trondheim)

Researchers are now investigating Swedish and Norwegian younger Iron Age graves, among others the magnificent Oseberg Viking ship buried in the year 834 AD, to determine which bird species the feathers come from.

The researchers are analyzing fragments dating all the way back to the year 570 AD, and throughout the Viking era. There is so far not found older feathers and down, but this does not mean they were not used in duvets and pillows.

Copy of the bed found in the Oseberg ship burial chamber where two elderly women were found lying next to each other. (Image: Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo)

Inside the buried Oseberg Viking ship, two elderly women were found in a separate burial chamber just behind the ship mast.

The chamber was decorated with a stunningly woven tapestry and the two women were placed next to each other in a made bed – with duvets and pillows.

Five other beds were also discovered in the Oseberg ship grave – all most likely equipped with duvets and pillows filled with bird feathers, ensuring that the two women would sleep comfortably in their Afterlife.

Top image: Reconstruction of the Myklebust Viking ship burial chamber c. year 870 AD, Norway, probably containing King Audbjorn of the Fjords. The king’s head is resting on pillows filled with bird feathers. (Source: via Thornews)

 The article, first published under the title ‘Vikings Filled Their Pillows and Duvets with Eagle-Owls’ Feathers’ by Thor Lanesskog, was originally published on ThorNews and has been republished with permission.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Hadrian’s Travels: Rome’s Absent Ruler

Made from History

Bust of Hadrian

 Perhaps more than any other emperor, Hadrian took a decidedly ‘hands-off’ approach to governing. His reputation as a man of the people helped boost his popularity, as did his enduring building projects, from an arch in Athens to a defensive wall crossing the entire breadth of northern England, just south of the Scottish border.

 Taking Rome in a Different Direction
In contrast to his predecessor Trajan, who greatly expanded Roman territory into Eastern Europe and the Middle East, Hadrian was more concerned about maintaining the integrity of the Empire than gaining more ground. In fact, Hadrian withdrew from Trajan’s conquests in Parthia and Mesopotamia, and was markedly less warlike than the previous Emperor.

 A skilled administrator, he spent more of his time outside of Rome than in the capital, visiting the outposts of the Empire and mingling with common soldiers. In fact, a full year had passed since succeeding Emperor Trajan before Hadrian came to Rome in 118 AD.

 Hadrian’s Wanderlust
Yet in Rome Hadrian felt less than welcome. The Senate was hostile to the new Emperor and despite gaining some public favour by cancelling large amounts of debt, Hadrian’s thoughts were elsewhere: with the defences of the Empire. So Hadrian left to oversee the borders of Roman territory — from tours of Gaul to Germania to Britannia, where he had soldiers build the famous 80-mile wall.

 From Britain Hadrian journeyed to Hispania and then northern Africa, where he quashed a Moorish rebellion in Mauretania. He then went east to Crete, Syria, Pontus and Asia Minor. A life-long lover of Greek culture, Hadrian toured the Hellenic territories of Thracia, Greece, Athens, Sicily and Moesia as well as Dacia and before finally returning to Rome in 125 AD.

 But it wasn’t long before Hadrian’s feet began to itch again and he went back to Athens in 129 AD. As a dedicated Hellenophile, Hadrian spent a total of three winters in Athens. As a token of his appreciation he had a library, forum and arch built for the city.

Hadrian’s Arch in Athens in front of the Acropolis. Credit: Joanbanjo (Wikimedia Commons)

Following Athens the Emperor visited Pamphylia, Phyrgia, Cilicia, Syria, Cappadocia, Pontus and Antioch before arriving in Judea in 130 AD. It was with the inhabitants of this land that Hadrian would face his greatest struggles.

 But first Hadrian continued to travel — from Judea to Egypt, back to Syria, Asia (Western Anatolia) and Athens again before returning to Rome.

Hadrian’s Plans for Jerusalem
There had long been bad blood between Rome and Judea, especially since the Great Jewish Revolt of 66 AD and the Kitos War of 115 – 117 AD between Jewish rebels in the diaspora and Roman citizens in Cyprus, Egypt, Libya and Mesopotamia, the latter of which took place under Trajan’s reign.

But Hadrian’s dreams for Jerusalem would only make matters worse. He planned to turn it into a Roman city, replete with a temple of Jupiter on the site of the Great Temple. Moreover, Hadrian’s Hellenistic outlook did not agree with Jewish practices such as circumcision, which he had banned. The final straw was the collapse of Solomon’s tomb due to Roman construction work.

The Third Jewish Revolt
So began the Third Jewish War or the Bar Kokhba Revolt, which lasted from 132 – 136 AD, a bloody conflict that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths on both sides and the destruction of nearly 100 Jewish cities and almost 1,000 villages. It all but eradicated the Jewish presence in the Jews’ own homeland and is considered by some scholars to be the start of the Jewish diaspora.

15th century representation of Hadrian expelling the Jews from Jerusalem.

By Graham Land
Graham is an editor and contributor at Made From History. A London-based writer originally from Washington, DC, he holds a master's degree in Cultural History from Malmö University in Sweden