Sunday, February 28, 2010

Laser surgery technique gets new life in art restoration

A laser technique best known for its use to remove unwanted tattoos from the skin is finding a second life in preserving great sculptures, paintings and other works of art, according to an article in the American Chemical Society's monthly journal, Accounts of Chemical Research.

The technique, called laser ablation, involves removing material from a solid surface by vaporizing the material with a laser beam.

(Art conservationists cleaned the two angels on the left with traditional restoration methods. They cleaned the one on the right using an advanced laser technique, which produced better results.)

A team led by Dr Salvatore Siano at the Applied Physics Institute-CNR in Florence, Italy, studied the results on several works of art. Among them are Lorenzo Ghiberti's gilded bronze panels Porta del Paradiso, or Gate of Paradise, and Donatello's Renaissance bronze statue of David.

Dr Siano said the work on the Gate of Paradise was the most important so far. "This was the first time a well recognised masterpiece was treated with laser cleaning," he said.

The team says the technique is now having a significant impact in the field of cultural heritage conservation. Wall paintings are the most recent application, and were a real test of the developing method, as Dr Siano explained: "This is a more delicate situation than metals or stone as the pigment is much more fragile."

The researchers point out that laser cleaning of artworks began about a decade before the techniques became well known for removal of tattoos from skin or removal of paints in industrial applications.

So why is laser cleaning preferable to traditional chemical or mechanical methods? Dr Siano said the absence of chemical agents makes the process more predictable. "Using chemicals means using something that can react all the time, even after one or two years.

"And if you compare it with mechanical means, the laser is able to distinguish what must be removed in a way that is much more selective than traditional techniques."

The difficulty is in choosing the right laser and sometimes, if it doesn't exist, having to build it. "When the laser doesn't exist you design the laser," said Dr Siano.

The pulse frequency and duration have to be very precisely selected for each task. "The pulse duration is really crucial because it determines the time for the localised heating. Sometimes a long heating is harmful and sometimes a short heating is harmful," explained Dr Siano.

It is crucial the laser is deployed in the right hands. "A laser can be used for very fine cleaning with precise discrimination but it can also be used to destroy the layer.

"This is not just micro-sandblasting," said Dr Siano, who also teaches the technique to students at the Restoration School of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence.

"If the restorer doesn't have experience it's better to avoid their intervention," he warned.
Problems have had to be overcome. Discoloration of stone and metal after laser cleaning slowed the spread of the technique. The team says this has been addressed with a new generation laser and careful selection of the parameters set.

Underwater irradiation has been found to be very effective for archaeological silver which has developed a mineral shell. "In water you can increase the effect of the laser; it's a kind of underwater micro-explosion or micro-fragmentation.

"It's a very effective method. If you use a scalpel you have no way of ensuring discrimination between the encrustation layer and the original surface underneath."

Dr Siano's team has not yet tested the method on any easel paintings but it is something he is thinking about. "We need more observation and more insight before starting on anything, for example, by Botticelli.

"But maybe they don't need any cleaning anyway," he quickly corrected himself. Despite their successes, the team clearly do not want to imply any of the masterpieces are in particular need of the laser's attention.

Click here to read the full article: Advances in Laser Cleaning of Artwork and Objects of Historical Interest: The Optimized Pulse Duration Approach

Saturday, February 27, 2010

China, Kenya to search for medieval Chinese ships on Kenyan coast

China and Kenya have signed an agreement to jointly explore the Kenyan coast for wrecks of ancient Chinese merchant ships.

The three-year project, funded by China's Ministry of Commerce, will explore Kenya's coasts around Malindi City and the Lamu Archipelago.

"Historical records indicate Chinese merchant ships sank in the seas around Kenya. We hope to find wrecks of the fleet of the legendary Zheng He," said Zhang Wei, deputy curator of the National Museum of China, Thursday.

Zheng He was a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) eunuch who led a merchant fleet of hundreds of ships to Kenya twice in the 15th Century.

Kenyan lore has long told of shipwrecked Chinese sailors who wound up settling in the region, marrying local women, and sharing their knowledge of farming and fishing. Previous archaeological digs have proven that Chinese-descended people existed in the area, according to Zhang.

Moreover, Zhao Jiabin, director of the Underwater Archaeology Center at the National Museum of China, said that ship debris and ancient chinaware from China's Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties were discovered during archaeological forays in the coastal regions of Kenya, including Malindi.

The wrecks that will be investigated under the current agreement are believed to have been part of a massive fleet led by Zheng that reached Malindi in 1418. At least one of the ships sank near the Lamu Archipelago.

Zhao Hui, director of the School of Archaeology and Museology at Peking University, said that the project was borne out of five years of discussion, and will involve searching for, excavating, and documenting cultural relics.

Exploration work will be conducted for up to three months each year. According to Idle Omar Farah, Director General of the National Museum of Kenya, the first group of Chinese archaeologists is due to arrive as early as July. As a consequence of the climate conditions in Kenya, cultural relic excavation can only be undertaken during its two dry seasons: from June to September and from December to February.

Medieval scholar examines anti-French poem from the 12th century

A medieval historian is researching on a 12th century Anglo-Norman poem that is filled with anti-French propaganda, which call the French lazy, arrogant, cowardly, greedy and liars, as well as "cruel beyond measure, capricious and faithless."

The poem, known as the Roman des Franceis, was written by a cleric named Andrew of Coutances sometime between 1180 and 1194, a period when the kings of England and France were frequently at war with each other.

The poet describes the French as "more vilely than dogs" and "happy perjurers in God's name."

The text is being edited and translated by Professor David Crouch of the University of Hull. It is among several texts which show that the Anglo-Normans had a very negative view of their French counterparts.

Professor Crouch says that the poem is of great interest to historians because of its "racial rhetoric", which was deployed by Anglo-Norman intellectuals in support of their kings' bitter political and military struggle.

In the late 12th century the French king Philip II attacked Normandy on several occasions and supported a revolt against the English ruler Henry II led by Henry's own children.

It is believed that many pieces of propaganda were written by people on both sides of the conflict, to boost their own moral and denigrate their opponents.

"Intellectuals were deployed to compose diatribes against the enemy," said Professor Crouch. "This poem was poisonously undermining the French and their national legend while promoting the legend of King Arthur."

The poet refutes criticisms of King Arthur and celebrates a legendary victory over Frollo, the French ruler who is portrayed as lazy and incompetent:

"Lying flat out without stirring himself
Frollo got the French to equip him
For that is the way of the French
Getting their shoes on while lying down."

Having described at length the cowardly nature of the French, he even claims, wrongly, that Paris derived its name from the word 'partir', which means to flee.

He calls the French "serfs" and "peasants" in an attempt to suggest that they are a race without
nobility, adding: "People remind them often enough about this source of shame, but they may as well have not bothered; for they take neither offence or account, as they know no shame."

Extracts from the Roman des Franceis by Andrew de Coutances:

On King Arthur leading the English against France:

Arthur besieged Paris, doubt it not at all!
He had a large force of
Well trained and equipped knights,
So he fiercely attacked the city.

The English went on the attack,
And the French defended like cowards,
They gave up at the first onset
And shamefully ran away.

It was from this flight [partir] that
Paris got its name, there is no concealing it,
Originally the place was called Thermes
And was indeed very famous.

On France’s humiliation:

Arthur took homage from the French
And he established as a release-payment
A four-pence charge for being a peasant
To be paid as their poll tax.

People remind them often enough about
This source of shame, but they may as well not have bothered;
For they take neither offence or account,
As they know no shame.

Such a Frenchman as does value virtue and honour
Will not like it of course,
But so far as he is the more ashamed
He will boast twice as much

So know that, wherever you go,
Believe a Frenchman not at all;
Seek indeed and you shall find
But you find no prowess if there’s none to be had.

On French culinary habits:

A man who dines with the French
Should grab whatever he may
As either he will end up with nuts
Or will just carry off the shallots

A Frenchman would need to own the world
To live as well as he would like.
Because that is something that cannot happen
The French know to hold what provisions they have.

That’s the way they are in their own land
But when they’re abroad they’re even more greedy
And shamefully gorge themselves at every table
Whenever they get near one.

And whenever hosts have them in their homes
They realise the French are such men
So greedy and so avaricious
That he ought to drive them off with kicks.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Website for Anglo-Saxon monasteries of Wearmouth-Jarrow to be redeveloped

The website for the twin Anglo-Saxon monastery of St Peter’s in Wearmouth, Sunderland and St Paul’s in Jarrow is to be redeveloped. The new media company Numiko announced on its blog earlier this month that they had the winning bid to redesign the website

The twin monasteries of Wearmouth-Jarrow were founded in the seventh century, by Benedict Biscop. Bede described them as 'one monastery in two places' and in it’s day it was one of Europe's greatest cultural centres. Wearmouth-Jarrow was exceptional because of its size, its great wealth and its extensive library.

Benedict Biscop was a cosmopolitan traveller who visited Rome six times, and was inspired to found his own monastery, bringing craftspeople, teachers and treasures from across Europe to create Wearmouth-Jarrow.

The monastery had one of the best libraries in the world at the time - which gave Bede, Wearmouth-Jarrow’s greatest scholar, access to ideas from all over the world. He in turn, produced several works critical to our understanding of the Anglo-Saxon period.

Wearmouth-Jarrow is the United Kingdom's nomination for World Heritage Site status in 2011 which if successful, will have great economic benefits for North East England.

Darren Navier, creative director of Numiko, commented: “It’s an exciting opportunity for us to get involved in the largest project and support the drive for the site to gain World Heritage status.”

Numiko will create 3D virtual experiences, allowing users to get a feel for what it used to be like for the monks that lived at the monasteries. The site will also have lots of regular features such as news & events, an image gallery, interactive maps and learning resources.

The new site will be launched in March. Click here to go to the Wearmouth-Jarrow candidate World Heritage Site website.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Father James Boyce passes away at age 60

Father James Boyce, an important scholar of medieval liturgy and music, has passed away after an illness. He was 60 years old. He was the chair of the Department of Music and Art History and a professor of music at Fordham University.

Father Boyce began his career at Fordham as an assistant professor of music in 1985 after earning his doctorate in musicology from New York University. He rose to associate professor, and became chair of the department in 2006. Recently he was named full professor.

He was a member of the Carmelite Order and a priest at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Tenafly, N.J.

Father Boyce’s area of expertise was the study of Medieval Latin liturgy and the Carmelite liturgical tradition, from historical, legislative and spiritual perspectives. Most recently, Father Boyce published Carmelite Liturgy and Spiritual Identity: The Choir Books of Kraków, a 500-page book, on Carmelite choir books that he discovered in a small Kraków convent.

Last September we published a news article about the book, which involved sevral years of research in Poland. Father Boyce said, “It was a voyage of discovery I really had no clue what I would find. People had said the books were all 18th century. But when I saw the work, I gasped. These books—the earliest ones—were 600 years old. Now that’s old, even for our order. It was then I realized how valuable they were.”

In addition to his doctorate degree, Father Boyce held a bachelor of arts in French and bachelor of music in piano from McGill University; a master’s degree in musicology from NYU; a master’s in theology from Washington Theological Union and a master’s of music in piano from Catholic University of America.

“Fordham has lost a multitude in Father Boyce,” said Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the University. “Not just a scholar of music, he was an accomplished musician himself, a generous mentor and teacher of music, and a genial colleague. The University, the church and the world of musical scholarship are all poorer today. He will be missed greatly by the Fordham family and by his Carmelite brethren.”

Michael E. Latham, Ph.D., interim dean of Fordham College at Rose Hill, recalled Father Boyce not just as a scholar who attained a national and international reputation, but as the kind of person who taught extra class sections to support the work of his junior colleagues.

“A dedicated, compassionate teacher, he was a leader in his department,” Latham said. “He was, in all respects a wonderful, caring devoted colleague.”

Click here to see our article about his book Carmelite Liturgy and Spiritual Identity: The Choir Books of Kraków.

Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Binghampton University receives $75000

Binghampton University has awarded $75 000 to its Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies to create a series of interdisciplinary programs about economics and trade in medieval and early modern society.

The award is the largest share of $250 000 in funding that the New York state university announced today towards ten different faculty projects to foster campus-based academic research.

The Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies will use to award to create an interdisciplinary institute, “Global Trade and Commerce: Historical and Cross-Cultural Perspectives,” which will include a conference and other associated events throughout the year. This programming is intended to promote the cross-cultural study of evolving global markets and the challenges of international trade, transport, commercial banking and credit from the 4th through 18th centuries.

According to Karen-edis Barzman, director of CEMERS, the program will be taught through a series of conferences, lectures, workshops and courses on campus. The department plans to produce a four- to eight-part documentary series on the subject to be broadcast on local TV station WSKG, with the help of funding from PBS.

“Of particular interest to WSKG is the added focus on the commodities behind this expansion of trade, particularly those consumable products we take for granted today as cheap sources of energy and snack foods for a global market, like coffee, sugar, chocolate and tobacco,” Barzman said.

The conference, “Negotiating Trade: Commercial Institutions and Cross-Cultural Exchange in the Medieval and Early Modern World,” will focus on the social, economic, legal, and administrative institutions that mediated between local and foreign merchants, state officials, creditors, money exchangers, and brokers. We have conceived “institutions” as a broad category including formal, informal, permanent and temporary organizations, associations, conventions, and practices. The scope of the conference is both global and interdisciplinary; two keynote addresses, 2 plenary papers and over 40 additional presentations will make possible cross-regional comparisons and the analysis of convergences and differences from a broad range of disciplinary and methodological perspectives.

In addition to the conference in September 2010, the institute will host various workshops and colloquia on topics related to the globalizing of trade and capital in the medieval and early modern world. A primary consideration will be the commodities behind this expanding trade, many of which are popular items taken for granted today – spices and stimulants of non-European origin (sugar, coffee, tea, chocolate, spices), which were transformed from humble comestibles at the edges of the “civilized” medieval world to luxury commodities in trans-regional, early modern emporia and, finally, to “staples” (cheap sources of energy and pervasive “snack” foods) in the current global culture and economy. Global markets in wheat, flax, rice, tea, tobacco, cotton, wool, silk, porcelain and other raw materials and crafted items (subsistence and luxury) will also be considered in this year-long initiative that crosses multiple disciplinary boundaries, even as the merchants and goods to be considered crossed sovereign borders of incommensurate and sometimes irreconcilable cultural differences.

Faculty and graduate students working with the program will also collaborate with middle and high school teachers from the Teacher Center of Broome County to help bring elements of the curriculum to secondary-level schools, Barzman added.

Other projects being funded range from the development of a new minor in immigration studies to improvements in Binghamton’s online courses.

“We looked for ideas that were interesting, engaging and provocative,” said S.G. Grant, dean of the School of Education. Grant led a four-person committee of faculty from the School of Management, Harpur College and the Watson School that recommended 17 of the 38 faculty-submitted proposals to Provost Mary Ann Swain, who then decided which projects would be funded.

Proposals were recommended based on their ability to generate work collaborations among the faculty of Binghamton’s six schools and their potential for future external funding, Grant said.

“We also looked at the potential impact a proposal would have both on campus and off campus,” he said.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Historic Govan: Archaeology and Development

The intriguing history of Govan was today revealed in a book, Historic Govan: Archaeology and Development, launched by Fiona Hyslop, Scotland's Minister for Culture.

According to medieval legend, Constantine, a 7th-century King of Strathclyde, founded a monastery under the rule of Columbanus in Govan. During the Middle Ages, Govan was the site of a ferry which linked the area with Partick for seasonal cattle drovers.

The book is the latest in the Scottish Burgh Surveys produced by Historic Scotland and the Council for British Archaeology. Written by Dr Chris Dalglish and Professor Stephen Driscoll, it is a guide to understanding Govan’s rich history and archaeology. It looks at the significance of Govan’s heritage including details of important sites, buildings and areas of potential.

This is the first book looking at the consolidation of Govan’s history and heritage since TCF Brotchie’s The History of Govan written a century ago in 1905.

Fiona Hyslop, Minister for Culture said: “Govan has a rich and fascinating history, from its beginnings as an early Christian centre to its celebrated role in ship-building on the Clyde. The burgh has one of the largest collections of early historic sculpture in Scotland, dating from the tenth century, located in Govan Old Parish Church, which stands upon one of the oldest Christian sites in Scotland.

“It also has an impressive and diverse Industrial heritage, including the magnificent former Fairfield Shipyard office building, for which Historic Scotland has provided grant assistance towards its conservation and conversion to new use. This project reflects the ongoing regeneration of the area, and how heritage can drive this forward.”

She added, “Govan Cross has remained the focus of the community as a place of assembly and public activity despite the sweeping changes introduced by industrial and urban development. Modern Govan’s strong community identity must owe something to this deeply grounded sense of place”.

The Scottish Burgh series identifies the archaeological potential of Scotland’s historic towns to provide information to planning authorities when considering development proposals within these areas.

Stephen Driscoll, Professor of Historical Archaeology at the University of Glasgow said: “Few People realise that Govan is more ancient than Glasgow or that a thousand years before the titans of naval architecture colonised its shore it was the ceremonial centre of the Kings of Strathclyde.

“We hope that as a result of our efforts, the historical richness and cultural significance of Govan’s past will be more widely appreciated, but our main hope is that our survey will prove useful in the challenging work of remaking Govan.

“This is an important time for Govan and we hope that the accomplishments of past generations will serve as a source of confidence to the community and equally that the historical legacy will inspire those engaged in the regeneration process to produce a new Govan worthy of the old.”

Recent studies of the archaeology of Govan have revealed the presence of a Christian church. Two associated Christian burials are radiocarbon dated to the 5th or 6th centuries making Govan the earliest known Christian site in the region.

At this time Govan is believed to have formed part of a kingdom ruled from Dumbarton Rock, known as Alt Clut, the rock on the Clyde. During the Viking Age, perhaps following the sack of Dumbarton Rock in 878, Govan is believed to have been one of the major centres of the Kingdom of Strathclyde.

According to John of Fordun, Constantine, a 7th century King of Strathclyde, founded a monastery at Govan, where he died and was buried. In 1855, an elaborately carved sandstone sarcophagus was found during digging in the churchyard. It now resides inside the church. It may have been used to contain the body or relics of Constantine, though the style of carving indicates an origin in the 10th or 11th centuries.

King Constantine is first mentioned in the 12th-century Life of St. Kentigern by Jocelyn of Furness, where he is said to have been to son of Riderch Hael. He is likely a literary invention, though the early church in Govan is dedicated to a Saint Constantine, about whom nothing else is known

Govan's earliest recorded name may be found in the Historia Regnum Anglorum attributed to Symeon of Durham. This is a 12th century Latin source, but one believed to be based on much earlier materials, which records a place near Dumbarton Rock named Ouania.

The earliest references to Govan are found in connection with the Christian church. In 1136, when Glasgow Cathedral was formally consecrated, King David I (1124–53) gave to the See the lands of Partick and also of the church at Govan (on opposite sides of the River Clyde), which became a prebend of Glasgow.

The Govan Old Parish Church was rebuilt in 1762, 1826, and again 1884-1888. Within it and its roughly circular churchyard is one of the finest collections of Early Christian stones in the United Kingdom, dating from the 10th and 11th centuries.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Historic Minaret collapses in Morocco

A 400 year old minaret has collapsed in the Moroccan city of Meknes on Friday, killing 41 people and leaving 75 injured. The tragedy has called into question the safety of Morocco's medieval sites.

The Lalla Khenata mosque minaret in the Bab el Bardiyine neighbourhood of Meknes collapsed during Friday's prayers, burying most of the 300 worshippers gathered there.

Interior ministry officials blamed the incident on heavy rain that had weakened the minaret.

Khaled Rahmouni, a Meknes, whose home is near the mosque told the Reuters news agency: "About 300 worshippers gathered inside the mosque for the Friday afternoon mass prayers. When the imam was about to start his sermon, the minaret went down."

The lightly injured were hospitalised in Meknes while those with serious injuries were taken to Fes, 60km north of the town, state television station said.

Angry residents accused authorities of ignoring warnings about the dilapidated state of the mosque.

"We told them many times before that there were widening cracks on the walls and that its minaret had begun tipping over but they ignored the warning," one man, who gave his name only as Mohammed, was quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying.

Mohamed and other residents said they believed the accident could have been averted if the warnings had been heeded.

In the wake of the tragedy, the Moroccan government has announced they will double spending this year on rebuilding decaying mosques. They had already launched a plan in 2006 to repair or build 641 mosques, of which 87 are threatened by ruin, at a cost of 255 million dirhams.

Judges are investigating why the minaret fell but Islamic affairs minister Ahmed Toufiq denied the government was responsible and blamed bad weather. "A crack appeared in the minaret wall in January and we dispatched an expert and her findings did not specify the need to shut the mosque down," he said. "The mosque needed restoration and we planned to do it but continuing rains prevented us from doing it before the disaster. So there is no human responsibility for that because there was no neglect of duty."

King Mohammed VI has also given instructions to conduct an urgent appraisal of all Morocco's old mosques. The country has over 50 000 mosques.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova expressed profound sympathy Sunday and said UNESCO's expertise was available to the Moroccan authorities in their restoration efforts.

"I am deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life of people who had gathered to worship at the mosque. I extend to the families of the victims my deepest sympathy and that of the entire Organization," she said.

"As immediately indicated by His Majesty the King, this fatality will be responded to with a review of the condition of Morocco's ancient mosques. UNESCO supports the prompt measures taken by the Kingdom of Morocco to restore the damage and to prevent further risks in this and other sites, and offers its collaboration in the inventory and analysis of sites that have been planned," she added.

UNESCO adds they can international experts to help speed up the diagnostic process and is already in contact with the Moroccan Authorities to jointly define the initial and most urgent steps.

The medieval city of Meknes was founded in the 11th century by the Almoravids as a military settlement. It became a capital under Sultan Moulay Ismaïl (1672–1727), the founder of the Alawite dynasty. The sultan turned it into a impressive city in Spanish-Moorish style, surrounded by high walls with great doors, where the harmonious blending of the Islamic and European styles of the 17th century. UNESCO added it to the World Heritage List in 1996.

Treasures from Medieval York: England’s other capital - at the British Museum

The British Museum is hosting temporary exhibition of medieval artefacts from the collection of the Yorkshire Museum in York.

The Yorkshire Museum is closed for a £2m refurbishment. The exhibition marks the first time a regional museum has been invited to show its collections at the British Museum.

Jonathan Williams of the British Museum says, "It’s mutually beneficial. It’s a great opportunity to show things we don’t have and show to an international audience.”

One of medieval England’s most powerful cities, which rivaled London in size and importance, York was the main administrative and judicial centre for the North of England.

York was one of Medieval England’s greatest cities, rivalling London in size and importance. The city was the main administrative and judicial centre for the north of England and was an important focus for international trade.

"York was the focus for power, authority, religion, arts and wealth other than London. York was not only a city of religious significance but the capital of the North,” adds Mr. Williams.

The display features swords, jewellery and coins from the Anglo-Saxon and Viking periods. Highlight objects include the beautiful Middleham Jewel, the York Helmet, the remarkable Gilling Sword, and the magnificent Vale of York Hoard.

The York Helmet, dating from the 700s and possibly owned by a member of the Northumbrian royal family, is one of the most extraordinary Anglo-Saxon objects to survive in the UK. It was found by the operator of a digger starting work on a shopping centre in 1982.

A Viking gold arm ring, probably worn by a Viking royal or favoured warrior, was discovered in very different circumstances – in the sock drawer of a York builder after his death.

The 1,000-year-old Gilling sword, one of the best preserved Viking swords ever found, is a two-edged iron sword with a handle decorated with silver. Nine-year-old Garry Fridd discovered the sword in 1976 while playing in a stream at Gilling, near Richmond.

The Vale of York Viking Hoard, the most important find of its type in Britain for more than 150 years and recently jointly acquired by the two museums, was found by metal detectorists.

This collection consisted of precious metal objects – including 600 coins, complete ornaments, ingots and chopped-up fragments known as hack-silver – in 2007. The gilt silver vessel in which these were contained was the most spectacular single object of all.

Another metal detectorist found the Middleham Jewel, dating from 1460 and an outstanding example of medieval craftmanship. The diamond-shaped pendant includes a valuable sapphire. Engraving suggests it was made for a pious woman with worries about pregnancy or epilepsy to contain a religious relic.

A showcase for how the British Museum and the Yorkshire Museum work together in different ways, the display features objects which were conserved and researched at the British Museum.

The exhibition is now open to the public until June 27, 2010. Click here to go to the British Museum website.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Wars of the Roses: Triumphs and Defeats - Richard III Foundation Conference

The Richard III Foundation is hosting their 2010 conference on October 9th from the Dixie Grammar School in Market Bosworth. The one day event will feature several speakers and an archery demonstration at the nearby Bosworth Battlefield Centre.

"For 2010, our conference is entitled Wars of the Roses: Triumphs and Defeats," says Joe Ann Ricca, Founder and CEO/President of the Foundation. "When one thinks of how tumultuous this period of history was, and the anniversaries that this year will mark, it seemed the likely choice. Professor Ralph Griffiths, a member of our scholarship committee, will speak on Richard, Duke of York and his bid to become king. It is the perfect topic to coincide with the 510th anniversary of the Battle of Wakefield. John Sadler, long time friend to the Foundation, and independent history, will be speaking on the Battle of Towton. This will coincide with the release of his new book on Towton this coming April, and our conference for 2011.

"The Battle of Bosworth, and the good efforts of the Bosworth Battlefield Centre is an area that the Foundation has been keenly watching and providing whatever assistance we can. We are looking forward to hearing Richard Knox, LCC discuss his involvement in the recent work on Bosworth. Our honorary patron, Robert Hardy will be acting as discussant of the various topics."

The Richard III Foundation, Inc. has been hosting conferences since 2002, featuring speakers who are leading experts in the medieval period. Joe Ann Ricca adds, "Despite the current status of our economy, for 2009, our attendance increased. It is not uncommon for the attendees to compliment us not only on the quality of topics we cover, but we feel we give good value for the cost. Since our initial event in 2002, we have those participants who still follow us and anxiously ask when’s the next event."

Click here to go to the Richard III Foundation website for more information about the conference.

Bosworth Battlefield conference adds more insights into its rediscovery

Medieval historians and archaeologists held a conference over the weekend to discuss the rediscovery of the battlefield of Bosworth, which saw a pitched battle in August 1485. The scholars met at the County Hall in Leicester, with live video of the conference being streamed over the internet.

The video of the conference can be accessed here.

Joe Ann Ricca, President of the Richard III Foundation, commented that the conference "provided a wealth of information and was one of the most exciting and thought provoking events to take place. Its importance for British history is paramount."

Dr Glenn Foard, who led the archaeological team that found the battlefield, presented a paper about how the site was discovered. Other prominent medieval military historians were also on hand - Anne Curry, Matthew Strickland, Robert Hardy, Derek Allsop and Steve Walton - with papers and commentary about various aspects of the battle.

Speaking to, Steve Walton explained, "archaeological work over the last 2 years has uncovered nearly 30 lead roundshot from the Battle of Bosworth, both securely locating the battle 2km southwest of Ambion Hill along Fenn Lane, but also reorienting our understanding about the battle. While it was possible to find that artillery had been at the battle in a small number of the contemporary records, it had never been given much attention then or by modern authors. Now, with nearly three dozen roundshot ranging from 30-96mm in diameter staring at us, it forced artillery to the fore in the battle."

Walton adds that the paper he gave, Gunpowder weapons in the late 15th century & their battlefield use, "looked at what kind of artillery was common at the time that could have shot those munitions, as well as the scanty information on artillery in the Wars of the Roses and in the English arsenal. I ended with some very preliminary remarks on the performance and damage that guns of the time could have done -- leading again to the conclusion that artillery was incredibly powerful (as in, high energy), but since the 'blast radius' of each ball was so limited, the salvos fired at Bosworth were not likely 'decisive', though they did certainly shape how the battle evolved."

Anne Curry's presentation - The armies and the battle: the documentary evidence - looked at the half-dozen important accounts of the battle, as well as letters and government records, to see how their material can now be viewed with the new archaeological findings. Various issues that are now being addressed include the movement of various forces, the use of archers and artillery, and even the length of the battle.

Joe Ann Ricca notes that the research so far has only shown "the tip of the iceberg of much more that will be revealed." Several issues need to be examined, she adds: "I want to know where Richard’s strategic position was and what caused him to leave it. I have viewed the area for many years, and have seen the new location twice and to me, it all makes sense.

"But there is folkore and tradition that must be examined as well. What is the difference between the well that was in the village of Cheepy vs. the current one that is on the battlefield centre’s site. It is more modern than the one in Cheepy.

"We must examine the road system of that time, including where the Roman Road lay and what materials did it consist of? There is so much more to be examined, and while the work revealed at the conference was exciting, there is much more work that needs to be done."

This BBC report about the Bosworth Battlefield has been made available on Youtube:

Click here to see our early article: Exact Location of the Battle of Bosworth Revealed

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Renaissance Literature Handbook, by Rebecca Steinberger

Rebecca Steinberger, Ph.D., department chair and associate professor of English at Misericordia University, has published her second book, an edited collection of essays and resources for students and teachers of Renaissance literature.

The Renaissance Literature Handbook, published by Continuum Press, is one in a series of Literature and Culture handbooks designed for those studying the arts. Each handbook offers a series of collected essays and reference materials covering a certain period of English literature, including volumes on Victorian, 17th Century and 18th Century English literature.

In 2006, Steinberger received a call from a colleague in England asking if she would be interested in being a co-editor for the Renaissance-period handbook. “For each book, the series editors were looking for both an editor and submissions from both sides of the Pond, and I was thrilled to be asked to take the American lead role,” says the Shavertown, Pa. native whose career is devoted to teaching and research on English literature. “This series is the first of its kind that provides an educational guide on single periods of literature.”

Dr. Steinberger says she was honored to be asked to cover the Renaissance period, because it is such a “rich and lengthy” literary period. The Renaissance extended from 1485 to 1689. It was a robust and tumultuous time, and included the reigns of King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth, who was succeeded by James VI from Scotland.

“It was a high time for the arts and literature, and a time when publishing was taking off,” she said. “It offers a lot for students to learn and for professors to cover. This handbook brings a variety of resources together, including a glossary of key terms, time lines, historical context essays and critiques, and an appendix including notes on contributors as well as a guide to digital resources.”

Over the past four years, Dr. Steinberger has been involved in requesting and reviewing submissions from widely known scholars from both continents, compiling reference material and editing final copy. The completed 233-page book was first printed in the United Kingdom, and sold out in the U.S. “Before I had even seen a copy, I went to the Modern Language Association Conference in Philadelphia,’’ she said. “When I walked up to my publisher’s exhibit, I saw other handbooks in the series, but not mine. When I asked about it, I was told it had already sold out and there was a long list of orders. It was great feeling.”

Dr. Steinberger’s first book, “Shakespeare and Twentieth-Century Irish Drama: Contemplating Identity and Staging Boundaries,” was published in 2008. She is currently editing a collection of essays, “Encountering Ephemera from Shakespeare to Swift: Scholarship, Performance, Classroom,” a guide for teaching ephemeral matters in the classroom. The essays collectively work to define ephemera — materials or works that are designed to be short-lived and without lasting significance, as a complex and multi-faceted critical category in terms of its literary, cultural and historical significance.

She plans to edit a third collection of essays, in collaboration with two friends in honor of a mutual friend and literature colleague, Adam Max Cohen, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and scholar in Early Modern Cultural Studies. Cohen recently died from a brain tumor at age 38 and the volume will include some of his yet unpublished works.

Her current research includes the study of terror as a thematic thread through British literature. She is working on a book exploring the impact of historical violence and cultural conflict on the lives of those living in London and the resultant impact on literature. “Panic on the Streets of London: Cultural Conflict in the City,” is expected to be published in time for the London 2012 Olympics.

Dr. Steinberger received her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Wilkes University and her master’s in English with a concentration in Medieval and Renaissance drama and Irish literature from the University of Scranton. She holds a doctorate in English literature and criticism from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She joined the Misericordia faculty in fall 2000 and received tenure and promotion in 2006. She was appointed chair of the English Department in 2008. She teaches a variety of classes that include Ancient; Medieval Literary Texts, Modern World Literature, Restoration and 18th Century British Literature, Irish Drama, Theatre in Performance, Literary Theory and the Gothic Tradition and Shakespeare.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

£15.7 million given out to repair 154 churches in England

English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) announced this week more than £15.7 million to support urgent repair work to 154 churches across England, including many dating back to the Middle Ages. The grants were awarded under the organisations’ joint Repair Grants for Places of Worship scheme.

Nationally, since 2002, £123 million of grants have been awarded for more than 1,300 Ghistoric places of worship through the partnership scheme, which is the largest single source of funds to help congregations to care for historic churches, chapels, synagogues and other historic places of worship.

Dr Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said; “We are delighted with the continued success of this important national scheme which has helped to restore and preserve some of the country’s most historic places of worship.”

“Historic places of worship are at the heart of their communities. They give us beautiful public spaces where people can find peace or companionship, enjoy exhibitions and concerts or benefit from practical services such as post offices, shops, nurseries. We are thrilled to be working with the HLF to support over 150 of England’s most significant places of worship as they are repaired for the use of our generation and the enjoyment of our children and grandchildren.”

Carole Souter, Chief Executive of the Heritage Lottery Fund, said; “England’s places of worship are a key part of our heritage but largely rely on the hard work and generosity of local communities and volunteers to keep them in good order. This money will help support the passion and commitment of those communities and safeguard these precious and important buildings.”

£1.4m is being given to churches and chapels in Norfolk and north Suffolk to help fund repairs, church leaders called for local communities to support their historic buildings. Norfolk has more than 600 medieval churches - the highest concentration anywhere in the world.

Eleven Norfolk churches and two in north Suffolk are set to benefit from the latest round of grants. Norfolk Churches Trust secretary Malcolm Fisher said that while the latest grants will go a long way towards getting repair work under way at local churches, there is not enough cash available for all of the schemes which need it.

He said: “There is certainly not enough funding available for churches. It's a ridiculous situation where £10m a year comes from the government through English Heritage for church restoration across the whole country - Norfolk could easily swallow up that whole amount year on year.

“In this day and age, that amount of money is nothing. When substantial work needs doing on a medieval church, it is always going to cost an amount which is way beyond the ability of local fundraising.”

The medieval church of St Andrew in Great Ryburgh, near Fakenham, was awarded £129,000 and the Rev Robin Stapleford said that without such a grant, it would be nearly impossible to pay for the work.

“It is for quite routine roof and wall repairs, but in a medieval church like ours, which is nearly 700 years old, these problems do occur and they are costly.

“We have a church council of just seven or eight people who organise our fundraising, so without this type of funding it would be almost impossible for us to get such projects under way,” he said.

The Church of St Mary the Virgin in Sedgeford received £98,000. The building dates back as far as the end of the 12th century. There are several interesting features, including traces of early medieval wall paintings.

The oldest church in Warwickshire – St Peter’s Church in Wootton Wawen, near Stratford – received £48,000 to repair its tower, north wall and west gables.

Dating back to the early 11th century, the crumbling Saxon ruins are based in a parish of just 700 villagers. The funding forms part of an appeal for £100,000 to restore the distinctive “white” sandstone building structure.

Vicar Lawrence Mortimer, said: “The grant represents a significant percentage of the total and it’s great for such a small village. We will be applying to other agencies but a lot will have to be done locally by tapping into the enthusiasm of those who love the church and would hate to see it fall into disrepair.”

The East Midlands Church of St Martin of Tours in Bilborough will receive £107,000 which will help to address the urgent need for repairs to the tower roof structure and coverings, the parapet wall and other high level tower masonry.

Reverandd Amanda Cartwright, priest in charge of Bilborough and Strelley, said: “The Places of Worship Grant supported by English Heritage and Heritage Lottery Fund is an incredible gift to St Martin’s Church and the local communities of both Bilborough and Strelley.

“Without this grant the future of this church would have been unsure, the funds required for the restoration work were way beyond the resources of the local community. For over 500 years people of this community have worshipped in this church. It is set at the heart of the parish and community, and holds a special place in many people’s hearts.”

Friday, February 19, 2010

Uneasy Communion: Jews, Christians, and the Altarpieces of Medieval Spain

Highlighting a rare instance of artistic collaboration between Christians and Jews in the Middle Ages, Uneasy Communion: Jews, Christians, and the Altarpieces of Medieval Spain, on view at the Museum of Biblical Art in New York City from February 19 through May 30, 2010, explores the coexistence of these two groups in 14th- and 15th-century Spain and provides a nuanced picture of interfaith relationships and dialogue during this period. Over 30 panel paintings, manuscripts, ceramic tiles and Jewish ceremonial objects from this period will be on display in this groundbreaking exhibit.

Curated by Dr. Vivian B. Mann, Director of the Masters Program in Jewish Art at the Graduate School of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Uneasy Communion is a fascinating study on how retablos (large multi-paneled altarpieces) and related artwork produced during the 14th- and 15th centuries belie commonly held assumptions that Jews were not artists during the Middle Ages; that most medieval depictions of Jews were negative stereotypes; and that Jews lived apart from Christians, an unknown "Other." Instead, these works attest to the intimate knowledge Christians and Jews had of one another in the small towns and cities of medieval Spain. They also document the growing conflicts between the Church and the Jewish community and hint at the cataclysm to come in the Expulsion of the Jews in 1492.

"This exhibit intends to fill a gap in the scholarship of Jewish-Christian coexistence in medieval Spain, which to date has not used the art of the period as a source of valuable information," said Dr. Mann. "Art created by both Christian and Jewish artists, though, offers valuable glimpses into both the understanding of the Other and the ever-present conflict."

"Uneasy Communion provides the museum-goer with a rare opportunity to look at a unique moment in the artistic and social milieu of late medieval Spain," said Paul Tabor, MOBIA's Director of Exhibitions. "Paintings from multi-panel altarpieces as well as Latin and Hebrew manuscripts from major collections in Europe and the United States demonstrate the cooperative relationship between Christian and Jewish artists, some working in the same atelier, producing art for the Church and the Jewish community."

Uneasy Communion explores the last two centuries of Jewish life in Spain from the vantage point of religious art and demonstrates the cooperative relationships that existed between Christians and Jews who worked either independently or together to create art for both the Church and the Jewish community. Their co-existence, or convivencia, is defined as the mutual interpenetration and creative influence that existed alongside mutual friction, rivalry, and suspicion. Religious art was not created solely by members of the faith community it was intended to serve. Jewish and Christian artists worked together in ateliers producing both altarpieces as well as Latin and Hebrew manuscripts. Jews and conversos (Jews who had converted to Christianity) were painters and framers of these altarpieces, while Christians illuminated the pages of Hebrew manuscripts.

MOBIA examines this exciting moment of artistic collaboration by providing a glimpse into the lives of these communities which lived side by side. As a result, the exhibit also unveils the darker side of this co-existence, exposing the constant tension between acceptance and prejudice, between cooperation and conflict.

Uneasy Communion features a complete retablo along with 15 panels on loan from renowned national and international institutions, including the Museo de Zaragoza, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The Hispanic Society of America. These works depict scenes of the early life of Jesus or episodes from the lives of saints. In the panel Christ Among the Doctors (early 15th century) Jewish worshippers are seated along the walls of a contemporary synagogue; such as the one recently discovered in Lorca (Murcia).

Also on view is the panel Interrogation of a Jew (1485-87) an example of a scene from Christian history which the artist peopled with his Jewish contemporaries. The scene is staged just inside an arcuated gate that marked many of the entrances to Jewish quarters or juderías. Judas, the Jewish witness in the foreground, is bearded and wears a cloak in accord with governmental dress regulations.

Maimonides' Guide to the Perplexed (1348), will also be on view. The Guide is a manuscript of vital importance in showing that inter-religious ateliers, or workshops, produced works of art and manuscripts for both Christians and Jews. Ferrer Bassa (d. 1348), the chief artist of the workshop, used the same figure styles and decorative motifs in both Christian and Jewish works. In mixed ateliers, the influence of both Christian and Jewish models can be seen in a miniature of the Maimonides' manuscript that is based on a Byzantine composition of four evangelist symbols.

Located near Lincoln Center at 1865 Broadway at 61st Street, MOBIA presents critically acclaimed art exhibitions while offering an array of affordable arts enrichment programs to visitors of all ages. MOBIA celebrates and interprets art related to the Bible and its cultural legacy in Jewish and Christian traditions through exhibitions, education and scholarship. Admission to MOBIA's exhibitions is free for members and children under 12 and pay-what-you-wish for adults, with a suggested admission of $7.

More details on the Bosworth Battlefield Location

Leicester County Council has released more news about the precise location of one of Britain’s most famous medieval battlefields.

The latest discoveries, announced by Leicestershire County Council pinpoint the exact location of Bosworth Battlefield, where Henry Tudor and King Richard III clashed on 22nd August 1485, and shed new light on the way the battle was fought and where King Richard III died. The exact location, which has been the topic of much debate amongst historians for years, was discovered as part of a groundbreaking archaeological survey to locate the Battle of Bosworth, funded by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Battlefields Trust archaeologist, Dr Glenn Foard, said: "Using the new techniques of battlefield archaeology we have recovered evidence which proves exactly where the iconic English battle was fought. The site, never before suggested as the battlefield, straddles the Roman road known as the Fenn Lane, near Fenn lane farm. It is three kilometres south-west of Ambion Hill and a kilometre west of the site suggested by Peter Foss.

"The crucial archaeological evidence came from our systematic metal detecting survey. There may be relatively few finds from the battle, each of which has taken the team dozens of hours to locate, but several of the objects are amazing. The most important by far is the silver-gilt boar, which was Richard III’s own badge, given in large numbers to his supporters. But this one is special, because it is silver-gilt. It was almost certainly worn by a knight in King Richard’s own retinue who rode with the King to his death in his last desperate cavalry charge. It was found right next to the site of a small medieval marsh - and the King was killed when his horse became stuck in a mire.

"Other objects discovered as part of the survey include silver coins of Charles the Bold of Burgundy, a silver-gilt badge found close to where we believe the Duke of Norfolk was killed, and the largest collection of round shot ever found on a medieval battlefield in Europe. These artillery rounds, which range in size from 30mm - 94mm have redefined the importance of artillery at Bosworth and open a new, archaeological avenue of research into the origins of firepower on the battlefields of Europe."

The full and final report will be announced at an academic conference tomorrow (20th February) to be held at County Hall in Glenfield, Leicestershire.

Finds from the Battle of Bosworth will be available for the public to view in a new gallery in Bosworth’s award-winning exhibition at the County Council’s Heritage Centre from this Easter. An outdoor interpretation trail, which will include a view of the battlefield will be developed for Autumn and will be accessed from the Battlefield Heritage Centre.

Bosworth Battlefield covers many fields, all of which are privately owned and are not accessible to the public at this time. Leicestershire County Council, English Heritage and the Battlefields Trust are working with landowners to explore options for safe access for the public.

David Sprason of Leicestershire County Council said: "The Battle of Bosworth is one of the most important moments in British history and Leicestershire County Council is incredibly proud to have secured the funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to discover the true location of this pivotal battle. Now begins the exciting step of interpreting these findings at the Battlefield Heritage Centre, which will include an outdoor trail and a re-designed exhibition gallery with hands-on exhibits, where the archaeological items will be officially on display to the public from Easter. Thanks must go to all those involved with the project, including landowners, the survey team, volunteers and all the staff who have played their part in changing history."

Chair of the HLF committee in the East Midlands, Christopher Pennell, said: "HLF is delighted to have funded this project which is providing Bosworth not only with a first rate Heritage Centre but also with a stream of exciting archaeological discoveries which will transform the story to be told about this pivotal battle in the nation’s history. Bosworth and its Battlefield will be transformed into a top quality heritage attraction where thousands of visitors will enjoy the area’s history and what can be learnt from our past by groundbreaking investigations. This project demonstrates again - as did recent successes at Melton, Snibston and Market Harborough museums - what can be achieved for heritage, for tourism and for the economy by HLF working with a County Council which cares about Leicestershire’s past."

Exact Location of the Battle of Bosworth revealed

A 500-year-old mystery has been solved as archaeologists have revealed the exact location of the Battle of Bosworth.

Just ahead of a conference taking place this weekend, where the official announcement was to be made, Glenn Foard, the archaeologist who led the search for the battlefield, has told The Times that the Battle of Bosworth 'was settled round the back of Alf Oliver’s arable farm, just off the old Roman road from Atherstone to Leicester.'

The site lies about two miles to the northeast of the Bosworth visitor centre on Ambion Hill, where the battle was previously thought to have occurred.

Dr.Foard said to The Times, “My best guess is that Richard’s last charge came down the Roman road there,” he said, pointing to where occasional cars passed one side of the field. “He is then driven back into the mire and killed somewhere near here.”

Close to the road behind a bank of earth topped by saplings is Mr Oliver’s Fenn Lane farm, occupying the space where Dr Foard believes that Henry Tudor’s retinue would have been deployed. Dr Foard’s team started to survey the field in September, six months after they found the first hard evidence for the site of the battle half a mile away. By then they had pollen evidence and scientific dating to suggest that the dip in the next-door field was the remains of Bosworth marsh, drained in the 16th century.

It was Carl Dawson, a retired university lecturer with a metal detector, who found a silver boar - only 1½in (38mm), described as "a snarling beast rippling with muscle definition and with gilded highlights on its tusks, tail and bristles." The boar was the emblem of Richard III. Only one similar one is known, in the British Museum.

“If we were looking for any artefact at all and if there’s any location we might want to find that artefact, then it’s the white boar badge of Richard III next to the marsh,” Dr Foard said. “This is almost certainly from a knight in Richard’s retinue, who rode with him to his death on that last charge.”

Leading experts and willing volunteers have spent the past four years on a ground-breaking study to pinpoint the place where battle, which took place in 1485. The battle marked the end of the War of the Roses and started the Tudor dynasty.

The archaeologists used landscape mapping, soil sampling, metal detection and examined documents. The team has searched 1,076 miles (1,731km) with metal detectors, making 2,201 finds.

The study was extended beyond the three years originally planned, and in the closing stages the team discovered the crucial evidence they were looking for, including the biggest collection of cannonballs ever found on a medieval battle site.

See also:

Site of the Battle of Bosworth discovered

Conference to announce true location of Bosworth Battlefield

Thursday, February 18, 2010

1001 Inventions: Discover the Muslim Heritage in Our World - Exhibition in London

Coffee, computers and piston engines - could we imagine a world without them? These are intricate parts of every day life for most of us and the knowledge that led to them was either invented by or passed down through the ancient Muslim world. That is the theme of an exhibit in London's Science Museum and it's a far cry from the view held by some that the Muslim and Western World represent a "clash of civilizations."

The exhibition, called 1001 Inventions: Discover the Muslim Heritage in Our World, traces the forgotten story of a thousand years of science from the Muslim world, from the 7th century onwards. The free exhibition, which runs from the 21 January to 25 April 2010, will look at the social, scientific and technical achievements that are credited to the Muslim world, whilst celebrating the shared scientific heritage of other cultures.

Featuring a diverse range of exhibits, interactive displays and dramatisation, the exhibition shows how many modern inventions, spanning fields such as engineering, medicine and design, can trace their roots back to Muslim civilisation.

Prof. Chris Rapley, Director of the Science Museum, commented: “The thousand year period from the 7th century onwards was a time of exceptional scientific and technological advancement in China, India, Persia, Africa and the Arab world. This is the period in history that gave us huge advances in engineering, the development of robotics and the foundations of modern mathematics, chemistry and physics. With over 15,000 objects in our collection spanning many different cultures, the Science Museum provides the perfect context for this exhibition, as a place which encourages innovation and learning amongst visitors of all ages.”

Even coffee makes it into the exhibition, as is was first developed as a drink - in the Arabian Peninsula, in today's Yemen. Professor Salim al-Hassani of the University of Manchester and Chairman of the 1001 exhibition says the coffee beans were actually brought to Yemen from the Horn of Africa, from Ethiopia. "Well of course, coffee was invented in the very early years of Islam - a guy called Khaled in Ethiopia, a young man looking after his sheep," al-Hassani said. The sheep seemed to like the beans. So the young man took the beans to Yemen - the story goes - and the drink was developed and spread like wildfire.

And there were many other inventions or innovations passed on by the early Muslim world from the 7th Century onward, says Hassani. "One of them is the invention of the university. This was done in the year 850 by a young lady called Fatima al-Fihri in the city of Fez in Morocco," al-Hassani said. "The first university as we know it in the world, giving degrees and so on."

Some says these important achievements have been forgotten amid the news often coming out of the Muslim world today that focuses so much on strife and terrorism. But, ask just about anyone on the streets of, say, Cairo or Damascus today and they haven't forgotten - they'll readily tell you about Islam's glory days - not just its conquests but its cultural, scientific and technological innovations.

These advances came at the height of the Islamic empire's glory when it spread from the Middle East, across North Africa to southern Spain and beyond. A time when Muslim scholars and inventors were at the forefront, says Hassani. "During that time, there were enormous contributions in science and technology that we have forgotten about and that comes to us from other civilizations," al-Hassani said. "And, it came to use over a very important civilization and that is the Muslim civilization."

One of the focal points of the exhibition is a six-metre high replica of the ‘Elephant Clock’- a visually striking early 13th century clock whose design fuses together elements from many cultures and is featured alongside a short feature film starring Sir Ben Kingsley as Al-Jazari, inventor of the fabled clock.

Professor SalimAl-Hassani, explained: “The Elephant Clock is an early 13th century machine which gives physical form to the concept of multi-culturalism. This engineering marvel featured an Indian Elephant, Chinese Dragons, a Greek water mechanism, an Egyptian Phoenix, and wooden robots in traditional Arabian attire. It embodies cultural and scientific convergence of civilizations and is an appropriate centre-piece for an exhibition about the roots of science and technology.”

Anne Marie Brennan teaches forensic biology at London's South Bank University and is fascinated by these innovations. "Everybody has to love the elephant clock," Brennan said. "The elephant clock is wonderful because it is like a United Nations clock. It has all the elements of different civilizations and I like it as a scientist because it shows that science doesn't have to be boring and sterile and plain, but it can be decorative and it can also pay homage to the cultures that bring it forward."

Other exhibits featured in this interactive exhibition include:

  • Model of an energy efficient and environmentally-friendly Baghdad house.
  • A large 3 metre reproduction Al-Idrisi’s 12th-century world map.
  • Model of Zheng He’s Chinese junk ship – originally a 15th century wooden super structure over 100 metres long.
  • Medical instruments from a thousand year ago, many of which are still used today.
  • Model of a 9th-century dark room, later called Camera Obscura, which Ibn al-Haytham used to revolutionise our understanding of optics.

The exhibition began on January 21st and drew 15 000 people in its first week. It will run until April 25th 2010, with a short closure between February 25th and 12th March 12th. Click here to go to the 1000 Inventions website.

10th century Arabic inscription found in Jerusalem

A 10th century Arabic inscription was discovered in excavations in a private house in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, according to a statement released Wednesday by the Israel Antiques Authority.

The house is located north of the Crusader period Church of St Mary of the Germans. Part of the church’s foundations and the remains of a building, which dates to the time when the Ayyubids ruled the city after capturing it from the Crusaders (13th century CE), were uncovered in the excavation.

The inscription was found on a fragment of a marble plaque (20 x 20 cm) and consists of three engraved lines of square Arabic script that is characteristic of the first centuries of the Islamic period. Professor Moshe Sharon of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem deciphered the writing based on two similar inscriptions that were previously discovered in the country.

According to Professor Sharon, “The inscription that was found now, which dates to the year 910 CE, and other such inscriptions, commemorates the granting of an estate by the Abbasid caliph to one of his loyal followers in Jerusalem. We know from this type of official inscription that the caliph used to give land to his followers who were, for the most part, retired army veterans, and even exempted them from paying taxes for the receipt of the property”.

Annette Nagar, the excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, who discovered the inscription, says, “The reign of the Abbasid caliph Al-Muqtadir (also known as “Emir of the Faithful”; 908-932 CE) was characterized by repeated wars for control over Israel with the Fatimids, who ruled Egypt,. The caliph probably granted estates as part of his effort to strengthen his hold over the territories within his control, including Jerusalem, just as other rulers did in different periods”.

In addition to the inscription, numerous ceramic vessels, glass vessels and coins that range in date from the Second Temple period to the Middle Ages were discovered in the excavation. Noteworthy among the pottery are the oil lamps decorated with Arabic inscriptions that were found in the foundations of the Ayyubid structure and on its floor.

The house’s owner planned a renovation and — as required by law — brought archaeologists to carry out a salvage dig meant to prevent harm to valuable antiquities.

The finding will help scholars better understand 10th-century Jerusalem, populated by Muslims, Christians and Jews, and the methods used by Muslim rulers to solidify their control.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Canterbury Celebrates a Thousand Years of History

A unique glimpse into 1000 years of Canterbury's history was unveiled by broadcaster and renowned historian Dr David Starkey at Canterbury Christ Church University last week.

Funded by the National Heritage Lottery Fund, the exhibition Canterbury: England’s Crucible, will bring the City’s history to life in a way that has never been tackled before. Especially designed for children and families, the exhibition uses 20 exclusively created, giant art panels to tell the city’s story alongside local archaeological gems, a free city trail and interactive fun to explain the city’s significance throughout the ages.

Speaking at the unveiling, Dr Starkey said: "As residents of Canterbury we don't know how lucky we are. Canterbury is one of the most remarkable areas on God's earth. More has happened here than anywhere else.

"It is not only a crucible of history, but quite literally the crossroads for all British and European history during these 1,000 years. This exhibition is about the nature of our place and our sense of our past. It is not simply what is under our feet, but something that is inside us."

Mike Butler, Arts Manager for Canterbury Christ Church University, said: “The exhibition is a great way to discover how the City became a World Heritage Site. Come and enjoy a journey some of the most important years of the city's history from the arrival of St Augustine to the Viking raids on the city, the building of the Norman castle, Becket's Martyrdom, the Black Death and Henry VIII's destruction of St Augustine's Abbey.”

The exhibition will host local archaeological finds loaned by the Canterbury Archaeological Trust, including a full human skeleton from the medieval period. A large model of the city in the 16th century will also be on hand for children to explore, as well as a specially illustrated book, free city trail and storytelling sessions.

Canterbury: England’s Crucible will be open to the public until 27 March at the Sidney Cooper Gallery, St Peter’s Street, Canterbury. For more information visit

The Early Franciscan Movement (1205-1239): History, Sources and Hermeneutics

A collection of selected essays by Fr. Michael Cusato, O.F.M., director of the Franciscan Institute at St. Bonaventure University and publisher of Franciscan Institute Publications, has been published in Italy.

A specialist of medieval Franciscan history known for his innovative and thought-provoking readings of the texts of Franciscan history, he has written numerous articles on the subject. This volume, The Early Franciscan Movement (1205-1239); History, Sources and Hermeneutics, is a sampling of his essays on early Franciscanism.

At the heart of the struggles and tensions within the early Franciscan movement, contending narratives vied with each other for a hearing and a following within medieval Franciscan history.

That struggle was essentially between two different visions of Franciscan life. The earlier minorite vision of Franciscan life was sensitive to and critical of the socio-economic realities operative in the Spoleto Valley at the turn of the 13th century; these friars desired to live with and be at the service of the minores of their time.

Another vision preferred a more institutionalized form of the charism, stressing the apostolic (and predominantly clerical) usefulness of the Franciscan order to Church and society through the excellence of its preaching, acuity of its learning and radicality of its asceticism. These two versions of the Franciscan charism, while complementary expressions of the vision of Francis, were not easily reconcilable or compatible with each other. Both represented spiritual visions; but the social formation and location of the friars from which each of these visions originated were not the same, thus conditioning their contrasting perspectives on the forma vitae and explaining at least some of the differences and resulting struggles.

This volume gathers together and updates previously published essays on topics related to the contested story of early Franciscan history (1205-1239), treating subjects such as the Franciscan approach to power and authority, the attitude of Francis toward Islam and the Crusades, the Privilege of Poverty, the connection between the two versions of the Epistola ad fideles, the relationship between the chartula and stigmata of Francis, the centrality of the Sacrum commercium, and the fall from grace of Elias of Cortona.

Fr. Michael holds a doctoral degree from the Universite Paris IV-Sorbonne and joined the Franciscan Institute in 1999. Copies of his new book can be ordered from Noel Riggs in Franciscan Institute Publications at (716) 375-2105.