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Anglo-Saxon Painted Angel Gabriel

angelgabrielThe Guardian reported that builders, accompanied by guardian archaeologists, removed part of the floor in the nave of Lichfield Cathedral and discovered an exquisitely carved limestone angel. The angel was found in three pieces, and is missing part of his robe.

The discovery of this early ninth century sculpture is exciting, not only because it’s a lovely piece of sculpture, but because we don’t have much Anglo-Saxon era sculpture, and because this one retains a fair amount of the original paint, as you can see from the image to the right. There’s some speculation that the angel, identified as
Gabriel (I suspect because he seems to be carrying a staff, a mark of the messenger, one of Gabriel’s functions), is the left panel of an Annunciation scene, but no other sculptures have been found. I’m particularly delighted by this discovery because while I “knew” that medieval sculptures of this sort were usually painted, it’s quite lovely to actually be able to see the colors.

Update 2/27/2006: Even the Parthenon was painted, so why not an angel from the the tomb of St. Chad?

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The Perfect Corpse: Nova on Bog Bodies

Yes, it’s tonight, and no, I hadn’t heard about it before. But PBS’s science show Nova is airing a documentary on bog bodies, featuring Tollund man, described on the program’s web site as “the most famous bog body of all” (he isn’t). The Nova shows usually repeat so I expect there will be other opportunities.

It’s a Carnival

My body in the bog post, The Girl of Uchter Moor, got linked at the History Carnival XI, under the category “Fun and Phantasmagoria. Cool — I’m ashamed to admit that this is my first exposure to a blog carnival; I think it’s a very clever idea, and while it’s a lot of work, it looks like fun as well.

detail from the Gundestrup cauldron showing a carynx

Gallic Carnyx Find

Last week both Mirabillis.ca and Celtica Studica linked to stories about an incredible find of five Celtic battle trumpets, or carnyxes (singular carnyx). The 470 objects and fragments of objects, (the find is stupendous in terms of the objects) were found at the end of September during a dig at Naves, in Correze in southern France, in a ditch hollowed out of a Gallic-Roman temple. Their find doubles the number carnyxes (or really, pieces of individual carnyxes) we have. Four of the carnyxes end in boar’s head bells, the fifth, a snake.

You can read about the find yourself here; it’s a remarkable collection, which would be notable for the other artifacts even without the carnyxes. This article has a picture.

Head of the Deskford carnyx.
Head of the Deskford carnyx.

This isn’t the only time carnyxes have been found. Sometime around 1816, in a field in Deskford, near Leitchiston, in Banffshire, Scotland, the remains of a carnyx were found, one of only 5 to be found Europe-wide, until now. Dating as far back as between 100 and 300 C. E., the fragment was the “head” or bell of the carnyx, featuring a wild boars’ head (see the image on the left), was made of beaten bronze sheets and brass findings. At Deskford, in north-east Scotland, the finest example of the surviving carnyx parts was found, amongst other offerings, in a peat bog.

The carnyx is held vertically when played, so that the sound emerges from the bell of the trumpet, about 10 feet from the ground, well over the head of most men. When properly played, the carnyx is both loud and penetrating. Diodorus Siculus, discussing the Gauls, wrote “Their trumpets again are of a peculiar barbarian kind; they blow into them and produce a harsh sound which suits the tumult of war” (Hist. 5.30); later, Polybius in a description of the 225 B. C. E. battle of Telamon describes the terror of the Romans at the onslaught of the Celts. He emphasizes

the dreadful din, for there were innumerable hornblowers and trumpeters and, as the whole army were shouting their war-cries at the same time, there was such a tumult of sound that it seemed that not only the trumpeters and the soldiers but all the country round had got a voice and caught up the cry

(Hist. 29.5-9; Cited in Cunliffe, Barry. The Ancient Celts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. 103).

detail from the Gundestrup cauldron showing a carnyx
Detail from the Gundestrup cauldron showing a carnyx

The carnyx is frequently featured on ancient Celtic coins, on Roman sculpture, even on sculpture in India. Perhaps the best known example of the Celtic war trumpet in art is on one of the interior panels of the Gundestrup Cauldron (see image to your right). In the late 1990s John Kenny reconstructed a playable carnyx based on the fragments found in Deskford. He subsequently recorded several CDs featuring the carnyx, even working with performers like Kathryn Tickell, who features the ancient horn on her album Ensemble Mystical, on the “Burning Babe” track. You can hear a bit of John Kenny playing one here, or on his Voice of the Carnyx album here.

Iraq, Archaeological Looting, and the Coalition

I’ve posted about the heart breaking destruction, damage, and looting of Iraq’s archaeological treasures, and cultural history before, here and here. The looting and destruction has worsened under the Coalition. This article in The Guardian from Zainab Bahrani, a University of Columbia archaeologist describes the current situation. Don’t miss the links at the bottom of the article, and you might also take a look at Dr. Francis Deblauwe‘s chronicle of the damage done to date.

Sedgeford Torc

Sedgeford Torc c.200 BC – 50 BC 200 BC – 50 BC  Image courtesy JMiall and Wikipedia Commons

The Snettisham Torc is probably one of the most famous British Celtic artifacts, with good reason. It’s gorgeous, and exceedingly well made. A fair number of torcs have been discovered as parts of hoards in Britain, many of them in the Iceni territory around Norfolk. The so-called Sedgeford Torc was discovered in 1965. Recently archaeologists in Sedgeford, Norfolk, near the site of the original find the torc was part of, found what appears to be the missing terminus link of the torc. You’ll no doubt notice that despite the damage, the quality and style of the Sedgeford torc is strikingly similar to that of the Snettisham torcs, suggesting that they might have been made by the same artisan or group of artisans.

I’m less than convinced by the Boadicea/Boudicca link, though I grant you the location and quality of the torc would make it appropriate. And the description of Boudicca from Tacitus Annals 14., chapters 29-38 does refer explicitly to a torc, and they are associated in texts and iconography with high social status. Boudicca was an Iceni queen, who responded to Roman abuse with a rebellion in 60 A.D. that managed to burn Colchester and much of London before it was stopped. She probably died from a suicide dose of poison. Tacitus writes that Boudicca wore a torc, which of course encourages speculation that this torc was “hers.”

Another Sutton-Hoo?

Archaeologists in Prittlewell, Southend, Essex, England have found a seventh century Anglo-Saxon royal tomb, complete with grave goods. The burial is being compared to the 1939 Sutton Hoo finds, though that included a ship as well as the king and grave-goods, so the comparison seems a bit excessive. You can see pictures of the grave-goods here, including gold and glass ware. All that remains are the grave-goods, which makes identification a bit difficult, but it’s still quite a find.

Stonehenge, Lasers, and Axes

Various carvings of knives and axes, the usual lattice and ring-and-cup designs have been known to exist on several of the stones at Stonehenge since the early 1950s. But recently Wessex Archaeology archaeologists used a high-end Minolta scanner to scan one of the uprights. Their scans, enhanced, appear to reveal two axe heads, of the sort seen on stones in Scotland. I can’t see it myself, but you can read about it in the November issue of British Archaeology or on this site.