Viking age boat burials found in Sweden

According to the New York Times, two tenth century burials and their boat were found under a group of modern houses in in Gamla Uppsala, Sweden.

One has been damaged. The other is intact. The remains of a man in the stern of the boat, burried with a horse and a dog in the bow of the boat. The boat also contains a sword, spear, shield and ornate comb, suggesting that the deceased were of some consequence.

Hooking Up: 12th Annual Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age

This year’s symposium explores the connections between historic and current approaches to data linkage in regard to manuscripts and manuscript research. Hooking Up addresses the topic from a variety of angles and considers how the manuscript book operates as a vehicle for information retrieval and dissemination from the technology of the page and the textual apparatus of a book, to the library, and finally, the internet. We will also consider such questions as how medieval practices of memory shaped information retrieval and gathering, how did the technology of the manuscripts book—in all its many forms—facilitate or hinder information processing, how can medieval solutions inform modern technologies, and how do modern technologies illuminate medieval practices? The program will also feature sessions highlighting projects that are advancing linked data technologies for manuscript researchers.

See: Penn Libraries 12th Annual Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age

Saint Patrick, Saint Bridget, and the Brewing of Beer

Despite the idiocies of Saint Patrick’s Day in the U.S. (by which I mean the consumption of green beer rather than blessed Guinness, and the over-enthusiastic endorsement of imbibing while Irish, there is a genuine, and historical, connection between Ireland and beer, or cuirm, in Old Irish. For one thing, there’s a long and documented history of Irish brewing that is very legitimate. So legitimate, in fact, that beer laws occur in the medieval corpus of traditional Irish law known as the Senchus Mór, which was colloquially known as Cáin Padraic, or Patrick’s Law, since the bodies of traditional Irish civil law and church law were said to have been combined and written down upon instructions from St.Patrick.

The Senchus Mór discusses, in some detail, the correct process for making beer. The beer was made from malted barley, produced by steeping barley in water for a specific time, then draining off the liquid from the barley. The barley is then spread, carefully, on a clean and level floor to dry. At this point the malted barley was known as brac or braich. As the brac dries on the floor, it is carefully raked into orderly ridges, so that each grain in turn is exposed to light and air. Then it is dried in a special kiln called an aith.

At this point, the malt or brac was either stored in the form of grains, or carefully ground and then formed into cakes. Brac was so valuable a commodity that it was used as currency, including the payment of rent. When the brewmaster, a truly respected craft and position, was ready to make ale, the brac was crushed to form a fine meal, and water was added to make a mash, which was in turn fermented, boiled and strained. The same yeast or leaven was used for bread making and brewing and both brewing and bread-baking used brac as raw material. Brac was so important that there were purity tests to determine its quality.

There are, all over Ireland, small horseshoe shaped mounds. They are now mostly covered by grass, but beneath the grass are burned, cracked stones clearly damaged by fire, arranged in a central pit, or trough. There are thousands of these fire-marked pits all over Ireland, though they appear particularly common in Cork. You’ll even find these pits marked on the official ordinance survey maps. Carbon dating suggests that most of these pits, known as fulacht fiadh in Ireland, were built between c. 1500 B.C.E. – c. 500 B.C.E. We don’t honestly know what these pits were used for; there have been many suggestions, including cooking meat by boiling it, dye work, and, most recently, an archeologist has suggested they were used for the brewing of ale.

In Irish tales like Mesca Ulaid, or “The Intoxication of the Ulsterman,” vast banqueting halls were filed with a hundred vats of ale, ale made expressly for the occasion of the feast. In such instances, the guests are said to “drink the banquet,” which gives us a fair idea of the importance of ale. In this particular tale, the men of Ulster get outrageously drunk and go on the Medieval equivalent of a pub-crawl, stopping and participating in ale-feasts all over Ulster and into the territory of Connaught.

Beer, and brewing were so very important in Ireland that St. Patrick had a personal brewmaster; one Mescan. St. Bridget was a famous brewer; indeed one of her miracles is that one year at Easter she brewed enough beer to fill the vats of all the nearby households. It is then quite appropriate on Saint Patrick’s Day to contemplate Saint Patrick, and Saint Bridget, and yes, beer. When asked what heaven was like, Bridget is said to have responded, poetically, with a poem now preserved in an eleventh century manuscript:

I should like to have a great ale-feast for the King of Kings;
I should like the Heavenly Host to be drinking it for all eternity.

So when you raise a pint of black today, and mutter sláinte, give a thought to Patrick and Bride, as St. Bridget is familiarly known.

Irish MS. Fragment Translates Medical Text by Avicenna

A family in Cornwall with Irish connections discovered an early printed book printed in London in 1534/1536 that had been owned by the family the sixteenth century. The small pocket-sized book is Latin manual regarding administration. At some point in the past a 15th century Irish manuscript on parchment was cut up, and a section was used to reinforce the binding of the printed book, a fairly common practice as bookbinders recycled medieval manuscripts.

Pádraig Ó Macháin, a University College Cork (UCC) Professor of Modern Irish was alerted to the existence of the MS. fragment and contacted the owner. Professor Ó Macháin is one of the founders of Irish Scripts On Screen (ISOS), a digital repository of manuscript images. He could determine from photographs that Irish text was an extract from a medical text. In August of 2018 John Gillis of TCD was given permission to carefully remove the manuscript fragment from the book’s binding, and digitize it for ISOS.

With the help of Professor Aoibheann Nic Dhonnchadha of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, a specialist in the study of Medieval Irish medical texts, the Irish text was identified as a translation of a section of The Canon of Medicine, sometimes called The Canon of Avicenna by Persian physician Ibn Sena (980–1037), better known as Avicenna. The Canon is a Medieval medical encyclopedia, a core text for Medieval physicians. The fragment is from Book 1 of The Canon of Avicenna translated into Irish (with some scribal departures) from the Latin translation of Gerard of Cremona (d. 1187). The sections of

This is the first known early Irish translation of Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine. The status (or existence) of the rest of the manuscript that the parchment was taken from is unknown; I can’t help but wonder if additional fragments of the MS. were used to reinforce other books.

The images of the Avicenna fragment are available at the Irish Script on Screen site. A seminar about the fragment is being held at UCC today: Avicenna in Ireland and Medieval Medicine. See also

15th-century manuscript reveals links between Gaelic and Islamic worlds  and Fifteenth century manuscript reveals links between Gaelic and Muslim worlds

The Avicenna fragment attached to the book binding
Image Credit: Pádraig Ó Macháin
The Avicenna fragment removed and opened
ISOS images

Merlin tale Fragments Discovered in Bristol archives

Seven fragments of parchment written in Old French have been discovered inside an unrelated 15th century work, in the archives of the Bristol Central Library in the UK. The fragments

tell the story of the Battle of Trèbes, in which Merlin inspires Arthur’s forces with a stirring speech and leads a charge using Sir Kay’s special dragon standard, which breathes real fire.

The fragments seem to be from a version of the Estoire de Merlin, one that is slightly different from the standard text. There are some images of the text in the Guardian.

Ava A Woman from Scotland 4,250 Years Ago

In February of 1987 William and Graham Ganson were working in a quarry at Craig-na-Feich near Achavanich, in Caithness, Scotland. Their machinery dislodged the capstone of a prehistoric short cist , slightly damaging the stonework on the south corner and consequently exposing human remains and ceramic vessel known as a Beaker. The Gansons contacted the local authorities, and the Highland Regional Archaeologist Robert Gourlay began a preliminary excavation on February 19, 1987.1)Hoole, M., Sheridan, A., Boyle, A., Booth, T., Brace, S., Diekmann, Y., Olalde, I., Thomas, M., Barnes, I., Evans, J., Chenery, C., Sloane, H., Morrison, H., Fraser, S., Timpany, S., & Hamilton, D. (2018). “‘Ava’: a Beaker-associated woman from a cist at Achavanich, Highland, and the story of her (re-)discovery and subsequent study.” Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. 73–118. https://doi.org/10.9750/PSAS.147.1250. p. 73. Subsequently identified as Hoole 2018 with a page reference.

The cist contained the beaker, three pieces of worked flint (one small scraper and two flint flakes), and a cattle scapula, carefully arranged around the partial skeletal remains of what was once a young woman. She was lying on her side, with her legs and arms curled up. Robert Gourlay was unable to complete the study or publish his findings due to constraints of time and work. He passed in 2007, and his preliminary research languished until 2014 when Maya Hoole began to reconstruct Gourlay’s research from records at Highland Council Historic Environment Record. Hoole collaborated with other researchers to re-examine the excavation, the finds, and what they could tell us about the woman whose remains were so very carefully laid to rest. This particular cist was named the Achavanich Cist. The woman was later dubbed Ava by researchers, in allusion to the location where she was found, Achavanich.

A cist2)A cist is “A stone-lined grave, especially a tomb consisting of a pit lined with stones and often having a lid of stone or wood.” It derives from Welsh cist faen, stone chest. Welsh borrowed cist from Latin cista, box. s.v. cist <a href=”https://ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=cist”><cite>American Heritage Dictionary</cist>. is a four-sided stone structure made by stacking stones to form walls and then covering the structure with a capstone. They were generally associated with burials. This cist was itself placed into a pit deliberately made in the underlying stone; this is an unusual feature. The contents of the cist were a carefully constructed and decorated beaker, of the sort constructed by the European cultures referred to as Beaker people because of their habit of creating decorated ceramic beakers often found in burials. It is likely that Ava was placed in the cist shortly after her death, in a tightly curled, contracted position.3)Hoole 2018, 90–91]. You can see an attempt at a 3D reconstruction by

Skeletal analysis determined Ava’s sex; skeletal analysis coupled with dental analysis lead researchers to decide that Ava was between 18–25 years at the time of her death. DNA analysis of a bone sample supported the conclusion that Ava was female. Ava’s DNA aligns more closely with Bell-Beaker peoples from inland Europe not with DNA from Scottish Neolithic samples (Hoole 2018, 86). Researchers concluded that Ava’s ancestors arrived in Britain only a few generations before she was born, and that Ava’s ancestry was in Continental Europe. In short:

Ava was a relatively recent descendant of a population of Beaker users who migrated into Britain from continental Europe around 2500 bc (Hoole 2018, 88).

Facial reconstruction of Ava by Hew Morrison

Further analysis of DNA associated with skin pigment caused researches to conclude that Ava “probably had a somewhat intermediate level of skin pigmentation, darker than what is normally observed in most modern British individuals, and possibly something more like modern individuals from southern Europe” and likely had black hair and brown eyes (Hoole 2018, 87). Facial reconstruction artist Hew Morrison was able to use careful measurements and DNA data to create a likely facial reconstruction for Ava.

The flint scraper and the two flakes disappeared in the transfer of the cist finds between museums. The cattle scapula was analyzed and researchers concluded that it doesn’t appear to have been used as a tool, and that it was most likely deposited with flesh on it, as a food offering in the form of a shoulder of beef.

Decorated pottery Beaker found with Ava.

Beaker buries with Ava; Image: Maya Hoole

The beaker separated into pieces shortly after it was found and removed from the cist. Because it was removed by the stone workers, researchers can’t be sure how it was placed in the cist, though it seems likely that it was upright. It was created by layering “straps” of clay (flattened coils of clay) which were then placed on a clay base, and then smoothing the clay. The way the shards broke suggests that the exterior was smoothed up, and the interior down. The pot was decorated using combs; three or four different combs were used to create designs in specific areas (Hoole 2018, 97).

The residue on and in the beaker was analyzed for pollen traces and other chemical clues to the use and contents of the beaker. No cereal pollens were found (despite an earlier analysis that reported cereal pollens). Tree pollens (birch, alder, pine and hazel) were present, as were heather, meadowsweet, marsh St. John’s-wort and sphagnum moss pollen, among other grass and herbaceous plant pollens. These were likely present in the area when the cist was built and the beaker was placed inside. Meadowsweet was used a flavoring and a medicinal plant, as was marsh St. John’s-wort, suggesting to the researchers that their presence may have been medicinal. The presence of microscopic charcoal grains in high levels may be because of burning used to clear the area where pit was cut into stone, or as a residue of a ritual practice. The general assumption is that at the time Ava’s body was placed in the cist, the cattle scapula was fully fleshed, and probably cooked, and the beaker contained liquid; both then were meant to sustain her in the afterlife.

The woman who has been dubbed “Ava” had been between 18 and 25 years old when she died, at some time between 2275 and 1945 BCE based on radio carbon dating of fragments from the cattle scapula and from Ava’s bones. Ava had been 1.71m tall with brown eyes, black hair, a complexion similar to that of modern individuals from southern Europe {Hoole 2018, 106–07). Ava descended via both parents from immigrants into Britain, possibly from what is now the Netherlands, but probably grew up within the Caithness region. Her ancestors likely arrived a few generations earlier; this is supported not only by the DNA analysis but with the style of the Beaker found in her cist (Hoole 2018, 107).

Once Maya Hoole managed to re-assemble the remaining records of the original 1987 excavation, she was able to engage the interest of other archaeologists and researchers, as well as the public. You can see the initial 2016 BBC coverage Effort to unlock secrets of 3,700-year-old woman ‘Ava’, the updated 2018 BBC coverage Giving life to a woman found in a 4,250-year-old grave in Caithness, the Website Maya Hoole created to share information with the public regarding The Achavanich Beaker Burial, and the research paper (cited throughout this post) “‘Ava’: a Beaker-associated woman from a cist at Achavanich, Highland, and the story of her (re-)discovery and subsequent study.”

Maya Hoole is active on Twitter as @MayaHoole.

References   [ + ]

1. Hoole, M., Sheridan, A., Boyle, A., Booth, T., Brace, S., Diekmann, Y., Olalde, I., Thomas, M., Barnes, I., Evans, J., Chenery, C., Sloane, H., Morrison, H., Fraser, S., Timpany, S., & Hamilton, D. (2018). “‘Ava’: a Beaker-associated woman from a cist at Achavanich, Highland, and the story of her (re-)discovery and subsequent study.” Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. 73–118. https://doi.org/10.9750/PSAS.147.1250. p. 73. Subsequently identified as Hoole 2018 with a page reference.
2. A cist is “A stone-lined grave, especially a tomb consisting of a pit lined with stones and often having a lid of stone or wood.” It derives from Welsh cist faen, stone chest. Welsh borrowed cist from Latin cista, box. s.v. cist <a href=”https://ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=cist”><cite>American Heritage Dictionary</cist>.
3. Hoole 2018, 90–91].

December from the Da Costa Hours

We often think of December as the entry to winter and to Christmas. In the middle ages, typically, winter featured much more dramatically than Christmas. The calendar pages in Books of Hours showing the labors of December most often feature an image of hog butchering, a boar roast, or a boar hunt (sometimes they feature an image of St. John boiling in oil, or the baking of bread) as December labors of the month.

showing a boar being butchered

Morgan library MS M.399, f. 13v Belgium, Bruges, ca. 1515; Simon Bening. Image credit: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, Graz/Austria.

This wintery scene is a detail from the December calendar page from the Da Costa Hours (Belgium, Bruges, c. 1515) now in The Morgan Library. (MS M.399, f. 13v). The landscape is snowy, and the people are dressed warmly. In the front, a man is slitting the throat of a boar with a knife, while to his right a woman is catching the blood, “bleeding out” the butchered pig. (Today it’s more common to suspend the the pig head-down; medieval images often show the boar on the ground, or on a low trestle table, or yes, suspended.) Behind the woman catching the blood, another woman stands outside of an inn. The inn has a sign showing a star or perhaps a sun. The windows are lined with three people watching the pig slaughter. In the distance, there’s a man with a team of horses and a wagon. The distant scene looks very cold; there’s some show-through of the art on the reverse of the page.

The boar was an important food source, though largely for the wealthy, especially the domesticated boar. The other popular image for December calendar pages was of the boar hunt. While the head was regarded as a trophy, nothing was wasted, and all was used, from the bristles to the trotters.

 

 

 

Celtic Chariot Burial Discovered in Wales

Terret ring still showing enamel traces. The lines pass through the terret rings, preventing them from tangling with each other.

This burial in Pembrokeshire is the first such discovered in Wales. Mike Smith was using metal detection equipment when he discovered the chariot. Smith, beginning in February, discovered several pieces of Iron Age Celtic metalwork, including parts of a horse harness, bronze bridle fittings, and a brooch. Several of the items still had bright red enamel. After Smith informed the National Museum of Wales of his find, the Museum and Dyfed Archaeological Trust began an excavation in June. The discovery of two iron (and rusted) chariot wheels confirmed that the site was a ritual chariot burial. These burials, which typically include the chariot, the fittings, the driver, sometimes the horses, and various necessities for life in the next world, were reserved for aristocratic burials. You can see more pictures in this BBC article.

November from the Da Costa Hours

The traditional labors of November are knocking down acorns for swine to feed, or hog butchering. This November calendar image from The Morgan Library’s Da Costa Hours MS M.399, fol. 12v shows neither. Instead, it shows a farmyard and people preparing flax (though there are some pigs grazing in the background).

Flax is a fiberus plant grown for both the seeds (for food for people and animals) but more importantly, for the fibers, used to make linen. While wool was the most common fabric in the Middle ages in Europe, linen was also used for clothing and household textiles since it made durable light-weight cloth that was particularly suited for warmer weather and undergarments.

Harvesting and processing flax was usually done during June and July, though this isn’t the only November book of hours image to feature flax production. The two men in the fronts are beating flax that has been soaking in water for several days; this process was called retting. After retting the flax is beaten which loosens the fibers from the flax stems. Behind the two men, on the left, a woman inside a shed is using a scutching knife to scutch the flax, that is, remove the outer woody covering from the fibers. She’s sitting, and you can see two bundles of processed flax on the floor next to her. Although it isn’t shown, the next stage of converting flax to linen would be hatching, which meant drawing the flax through tines on a board, combing the long fibers so that they could be spun before being woven into linen.

Behind the shed and the woman scutching is another shed; possibly a threshing barn, since it looks the man standing in the doorway has a raised arm and is holding something, perhaps a flail?

In the center part of the image you can see doves and chickens scratching in the straw just outside what may be the threshing barn, as if the wheat straw and chaff had been discarded by the thresher. Across the way the top of the building is a dovecote, with the ground floor a barn for pigs. In the background, you see other pigs. In the very back in the center of the image is possibly a house with a fire, and figure before the fire warming, as a foreshadowing of winter and the labor of February which often shows someone sitting before a fire and warming themselves.

The Da Costa Hours were illuminated by Simon Bening (1483/84 – 1561); they were produced in Ghent, Belgium c. 1515. This image is strikingly similar to a November bas relief image in the London Rothschild Hours in the British Library (British Library Add MS 35313, f. 6v).1)British Library Add MS 35313 is variously identified as the London Rothschild Hours and the Hours of Joanna I of Castile.

I am not the only person to notice this similarity between November in the Da Costa Hours and November in The London Rothschild Hours.

The London Rothschild Hours BL Add MS 35313 f. 6v November calendar image. c. 1500.

The most obvious similarity is in the foreground figure of the two men beating flax; even the positions of the figure and hands on the implements is strikingly similar. Notice that one of the men is now bare-headed. The similarities do not end there; look at the pigs in the barn, the roaming pigs, and the man in the background that appears to be threshing grain with a flail inside a threshing shed. The woman feeding the pigs is unique, but the dovecote above the barn is strikingly similar. Behind the woman feeding the pigs swill from a bucket, to the right is a woman using a scutching knife to scutch flax, again, a similar detail.

Another similar, almost identical scene, is in a breviary; Morgan Library MS M52. The November calendar page has a similar scene at the bottom of F. 7r:

November calendar page Morgan Library M. 52 f.7r. Breviary; Belgium c. 1500

This breviary image shares some details with the London Rothschild hours. The woman feeding the pigs, the barn and tower above the pigs, the clothing of the two men beating the flax, the threshing shed and the man with the flail in the background, are all strikingly similar to the November image in the Rothschild London hours. The woman clothed in green with the scutching knife on the left is strikingly similar to the woman clothed in green using a scutching knife in the Da Costa Hours November image. The hats on the two men beating the flax in the foreground are strikingly similar to the hats on the two men in The Da Costa hours image.

The British Library Add MS 35313 London Rothschild Hours or the Hours of Joanna I of Castile (sometimes called Joanna the Madc. 1500 has this attribution:

The miniatures in the Hours of the Cross and the Hours of the Virgin and perhaps the Calendar scenes are attributed to the Master of James IV of Scotland and his workshop; the miniatures in the Suffrages and prayers are attributed to the workshop of the Maximilian Master, both active at Ghent.

The Morgan Library breviary from Belgium M.52 has this:

M.52 (“Breviary of Eleanor of Portugal”), in Latin, Franciscan for Rome use (Ordo breviarii, calendar). Flanders, probably Ghent or Bruges, ca. 1500–1510, illuminated by the Master of the Older Prayerbook of Maximilian (Alexander Bening?) (A) and the Master of James IV of Scotland (Gerard Horenbout ?)

The Morgan Library description of The Da Costa Hours has this:

Ms. book of hours for indeterminate use (Hours of the Virgin) and the use of Rome (Office of the Dead); written and illuminated in Ghent, Belgium, ca. 1515.
Decoration: 75 full-page miniatures (including 12 calendar illustrations), 15 small miniatures, 12 historiated borders with zodiacal signs.
Artist: Simon Bening and workshop.

The British Library’s London Rothschild Hours and the Morgan Library’s breviary share two artists;the Master of James IV of Scotland and the Master of the Older Prayerbook of Maximilian. The Morgan Library also suggests that the Master of the Older Prayerbook of Maximilian may have been Alexander Bening (sometimes called Sanders Bening), the father of Simon Bening, the principle artist of the Da Costa Hours.

References   [ + ]

1. British Library Add MS 35313 is variously identified as the London Rothschild Hours and the Hours of Joanna I of Castile.

October from the Da Costa Hours

A village scene on a cobblestone street showing three men haggling over an ox, a woman watching a man on a ladder harvesting grapes

MS M.399, fol. 11v October from The Da Costa Hours, The Morgan Library Credit: Image courtesy of Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, Graz/Austria.

Sometimes the calendar images in a book of hours departs from the more common labors of the month. This is the case with the Morgan Library’s Da Costa Hours image for October. The more common labors for October in books of hours finclude ploughing and sowing in colder climates, transferring the new wine into casks and barrels for aging in warmer wine-growing areas, or even, a late harvest of grapes in the warmer Mediterranean climates, which is one of the labors in this image from the Morgan Library’s MS M.399, fol. 11v, the October calendar image from the Da Costa Hours.

The Morgan Library’s Da Costa Hours calendar image for October shows a village street with cobblestones. An ox is tethered to the wall of a building; three of the men appear to be discussing price; they are huddled together and one seems to be receiving coins from another man, who has his hand in his purse.

Immediately behind them, a man on a ladder is gathering grapes growing up a wall and over an arbor. A woman, her hands wrapped in her apron, watches somewhat anxiously from the street below the ladder. Beyond her, farther down the street, a man with a staff in hand and a basket on his back approaches a building with what appears to be a sundial set in the gable. The contents of the basket aren’t really clear; they appear to be yellowish brown, and round; possibly grapes, or even nuts or apples.