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Gold coins unearthed from the Haihunhou Tomb
Image credit Jiang Dong/China Daily
 
In a Chinese Government press release, the excavation of the Haihunhou Tomb in Jiangxi Province, south-east China, has now been completed. The Haihunhou Tomb was constructed for the Marquis of Haihun (Liu He, 92bce – 59bce) during the Western Han Dynasty (206bce – 24ce) and contained a plethora of artefacts including gold coins, jade, lacquer ware, bronze bells and inscriptions written on bamboo and wood.
 
According to Chi Hong, Head of the Department of Culture for Jiangxi Province, the contents of the Haihunhou Tomb will go on display after conservation work on them has been completed.
 
 
Dated 65/70-80ce the writing on this Roman wooden tablet reads Londinio Mogontio. Translated it means In London, to Mogontius
Researchers believe the tablet is the earliest ever hand-written reference to London. It predates Tacitus’ mention of the City in his Annals, which were produced about 50 years later
Image credit The Museum of London Archaeology
 
BBC News reports that –
 
Roman tablets discovered during an excavation in London include the oldest hand-written document ever found in Britain, archaeologists have revealed. The Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) said it had deciphered a document, from 8 January AD 57, found at the dig at Bloomberg’s new headquarters. The first ever reference to London, financial documents and evidence of schooling have also been translated.
 
Over 700 artefacts from the dig will go on display when the building opens.
 
More here.
 

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Suffragette film producer Alison Owen surrounded by Law Scrolls in the Act Room of Victoria Tower, the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) London
Image credit Houses of Parliament/Jessica Taylor

The age-old tradition of recording and enshrining British law on vellum is to continue after almost coming to an end last week when the House of Lords decided to stop the enshrinement of British law on vellum for reasons of cost. Fortunately the British Cabinet Office has intervened and is to provide the necessary financing from its own budget for this thousand year-old tradition to continue.

Vellum is not a paper (which is generally made from vegetable fibres) but from carefully prepared calf-skin. Probably the most famous use of vellum in Britain are the several extant copies of the Magna Carta, drawn up some 800 years ago and sealed by King John, and the Lindisfarne Gospels. A more recent use of vellum was for the marriage certificate of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Catherine Middleton in 2011.

Watch the preparation of vellum by Paul Wright, a parchmenter, here.

 

 
 
The British Museum has just announced plans for a new exhibition entitled Egypt: Faith after the pharaohs.
 
The exhibition begins in 30 BC, when Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire after the death of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, and continues until AD 1171 when the rule of the Islamic Fatimid dynasty came to an end. The remarkable objects in the exhibition have been uniquely preserved in Egypt’s arid climate, and many have never been on display before. Their survival provides unparalleled access to the lives of individuals and communities, and they tell a rich and complex story of influences, long periods of peaceful coexistence, and intermittent tension and violence between Jews, Christians and Muslims.
 
The changes in people’s private lives are shown through everyday objects – delicate fragments of papyrus preserve some of the earliest surviving Jewish scriptures and lost Christian gospels. Colourful garments and accessories show what people wore, and soft-furnishings show how they dressed their homes.
 
Together, the objects in the exhibition show how the shift from the traditional worship of many gods to monotheism – the belief in one God – affected every part of life. Egypt’s journey from Roman to Islamic control reflects the wider transformation from the ancient to medieval world, a transition that has shaped the world we live in today.
 
The exhibition runs from 29 October 2015 – 7 February 2016. More here.
 
 
Oldest know fragments of the Koran discovered recently at the University of Birmingham
 
Sean Coughlan, Education correspondent for the BBC, reports on the astonishing find of what might be the oldest know fragments of the Koran –
 
What may be the world’s oldest fragments of the Koran have been found by the University of Birmingham. Radiocarbon dating found the manuscript to be at least 1,370 years old, making it among the earliest in existence.
 
…tests, carried out by the Oxford University Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, showed that the fragments, written on sheep or goat skin, were among the very oldest surviving texts of the Koran. These tests provide a range of dates, showing that, with a probability of more than 95%, the parchment was from between 568 and 645. “They could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam,” said David Thomas, the university’s professor of Christianity and Islam.
 
More here.
 

The Cotton MS. Augustus II. 106 of the Magna Carta. One of only four surviving exemplifications of the 1215 text Source Wikimedia Commons

The Magna Carta: “The greatest constitutional document of all times; the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot.”

Lord Denning.

See also our earlier feature Encasing the Magna Carta.

 

 
The Magna Carta of 1215. This document is now held at the British Library
Source Wikimedia Commons
 
And still when mob or Monarch lays
Too rude a hand on English ways,
The whisper wakes, the shudder plays,
Across the reeds at Runnymede.
And Thames, that knows the moods of kings,
And crowds and priests and suchlike things,
Rolls deep and dreadful as he brings
Their warning down from Runnymede!
 
From Rudyard Kipling’s What Say the Reeds at Runnymede?
 

Mongol invaders (left) fire on Takezaki Suenaga (on horseback) while a tetsuhau or ceramic projectile bomb explodes overhead
From the 13th century Mōko Shūrai Ekotoba (蒙古襲来絵詞) Japanese handscroll of the Mongol Invasion of Japan

Museum of the Imperial Collections, Tokyo Imperial Palace
Source Wikimedia Commons

Tasuku Ueda, Staff Writer, for the Asahi Shimbun, reports on the possible discovery of Kublai Khan’s invading fleet to Japan –

Matsuura, Nagasaki Prefecture: A wreck found off Takashima Island here is likely part of a Mongol invasion fleet that came to grief in a typhoon more than 700 years ago. The discovery was announced Oct. 2 by archaeologists with the University of the Ryukyus and the Matsuura City board of education who are researching the Takashima Kozaki underwater historic site.

Numerous artefacts have been recovered from the seabed from wrecks of fleets dispatched in 1274 and 1281 to invade Japan. In both invasion attempts, battles were fought in northern Kyushu. The fleet of 4,400 vessels sent by Kublai Khan in 1281 was wrecked near Takashima Island in a storm the Japanese dubbed ‘Kamikaze’ (divine wind) for ultimately saving their homeland from the Mongols.

An earlier report in Archaeology by James P. Delgado describes the discovery by Kenzo Hayashida of the Kyushu Okinawa Society for Underwater Archaeology (KOSUWA) of a, “…tetsuhau or ceramic projectile bomb. KOSUWA has recovered six of these from the wreck. They are the world’s earliest known exploding projectiles and the earliest direct archaeological evidence of seagoing ordnance.” Delado writes –

Chinese alchemists invented gunpowder around A.D. 300, and by 1100 huge paper bombs much like giant firecrackers were being used in battle. Chinese sources refer to catapult-launched exploding projectiles in 1221, but some historians have argued that the references date to later rewritings of the sources. In his recent book In Little Need of Divine Intervention, which analyses two Japanese scrolls that depict the Mongol invasion, Bowdoin College historian Thomas Conlan suggests that a scene showing a samurai falling from his horse as a bomb explodes over him was a later addition. Conlan’s research masterfully refutes many of the traditional myths and commonly held perceptions of the invasion, downplaying the number of ships and troops involved and arguing that it was not the storms but the Japanese defenders ashore, as well as confusion and a lack of coordination, that thwarted the khan’s two invasions. But his suggestion that the exploding bomb is an anachronism has now been demolished by solid archaeological evidence. Moreover, when the Japanese x-rayed two intact bombs, they found that one was filled just with gunpowder while the other was packed with gunpowder and more than a dozen square pieces of iron shrapnel intended to cut down the enemy.

More here and in Archaeology here.

 

 
A pre-Columbian Aztec manuscript, probably written near Puebla, Mexico at the end of the fifteenth century
©
Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana
 
Mary-Ann Russon, writing for the International Business Times, reports on the Vatican Library’s project to make 4,000 ancient manuscripts available online for free –
 
The Vatican Apostolic Library is now digitising its valuable ancient religious manuscripts and putting them online via its website, available for the public to view for free, as well as turning to crowdfunding to help it complete its work. The Vatican Library was founded in 1451 AD and holds over 80,000 manuscripts, prints, drawings, plates and incunabula (books printed prior to 1500 AD) written throughout history by people of different faiths from across the world.
 
The library also includes letters from important historical figures, drawings and notes by artists and scientists such as Michelangelo and Galileo, as well as treaties from all eras in history. The ancient documents are now being preserved under the DigitaVaticana programme using FITS, the format developed by Nasa to store images, astronomical, and astrophysical data, and until now, only 500 manuscripts and 600 incunabula were available to view on the Vatican Library website. Now, the Vatican has teamed up with Japanese firm NTT Data to digitise a further 3,000 manuscripts by 2018.
 
More here.
    
 
Bamboo strips dating from circa 305bce. When correctly aligned the strips reveal a table for multiplying numbers up to 99.5
Image credit: Research and Conservation Centre for Excavated Text, Tsinghua University, Beijing
 
The sources of our knowledge lie in what is written on bamboo and silk, what is engraved on metal and stone, and what is cut on vessels to be handed down to posterity
Mo Tsu (墨子) Chinese philosopher (470-391bce)
 
Nature reports that –
 
Five years ago, Tsinghua University in Beijing received a donation of nearly 2,500 bamboo strips. Muddy, smelly and teeming with mould, the strips probably originated from the illegal excavation of a tomb, and the donor had purchased them at a Hong Kong market. Researchers at Tsinghua carbon-dated the materials to around 305 bc, during the Warring States period before the unification of China.
 
Each strip was about 7 to 12 millimetres wide and up to half a metre long, and had a vertical line of ancient Chinese calligraphy painted on it in black ink. Historians realized that the bamboo pieces constituted 65 ancient texts and recognized them to be among the most important artefacts from the period. “The strips were all mixed up because the strings that used to tie each manuscript together to form a scroll had long decayed,” says Li Junming, a historian and palaeographer at Tsinghua. Some pieces were broken, others missing, he adds: to decipher the texts was “like putting together a jigsaw puzzle”. But “21 bamboo strips stand out from the rest as they contain only numbers, written in the style of ancient Chinese”, says Feng Lisheng, a historian of mathematics at Tsinghua. Those 21 strips turned out to be a multiplication table, Feng and his colleagues announced in Beijing today during the presentation of the fourth volume of annotated transcriptions of the Tsinghua collection. When the strips are arranged properly, says Feng, a matrix structure emerges. The top row and the rightmost column contain, arranged from right to left and from top to bottom respectively, the same 19 numbers: 0.5; the integers from 1 to 9; and multiples of 10 from 10 to 90.
 
“Such an elaborate multiplication matrix is absolutely unique in Chinese history,” says Feng. The oldest previously known Chinese times tables, dating to the Qin Dynasty between 221 and 206 bc, were in the form of a series of short sentences such as “six eights beget forty-eight” and capable of only much simpler multiplications. The ancient Babylonians possessed multiplication tables some 4,000 years ago, but theirs were in a base-60, rather than base-10 (decimal), system. The earliest-known European multiplication table dates back to the Renaissance.
 
Full article here. Chinese writing developed from characters written on bamboo strips using a brush loaded with a carbon-based ink. Chinese texts are still written vertically and read from top to bottom today. For further reading see Written on Bamboo and Silk by Tsuen-Hsuin Tsien. The University of Chicago Press, 1962.
 
 
A scholar carrying a bundle of bamboo strips. Reproduced from a tomb tile dating from 300bce and now in the collection of the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto
 
 
Merlin Building Stonehenge
Manuscript illustration, England, second quarter of the 14th century (British Library, MS Egerton 3028, fol 30)
 
The International Council on Monuments and Sites UK has announced details of its Annual Christmas Lecture and Reception for 2013. This year’s event will take place in London on the 12 December with a lecture entitled Stonehenge – whose culture? delivered by Julian Richards, archaeologist, writer and broadcaster –
 
Stonehenge is the most important and studied prehistoric site in Europe, yet still remains an archaeological enigma. But it is also an international cultural icon, its stones instantly recognizable, providing inspiration for medieval manuscript illuminators, artists such as Turner and Constable, among others, and generations of writers, photographers and craftsmen. It seems as if everyone has wanted a piece of Stonehenge, literally so in past centuries, and today the question of ‘Stonehenge – whose culture?’ is as passionately argued over as ever before. ‘Heritage’, tourist magnet or living temple? In 2013 Stonehenge is a place that still inspires passion.
 
Details and booking form here (PDF).
 

Folio 27r from the 18th century Lindisfarne Gospels contains the incipit from the Gospel of Matthew
Source Wikimedia Commons

The Lindisfarne Gospels book is one of the greatest landmarks of human cultural achievement. Created by the community of St Cuthbert on Lindisfarne it is one of the best examples of Medieval creativity and craftsmanship.

The Lindisfarne Gospels Durham exhibition presents for the first time the extraordinary full story of the Lindisfarne Gospels, exploring how and why this masterpiece was created, its influence on Medieval Europe and how artistic traditions from Britain and the Mediterranean mainland came together in North East England.

At the centre of the exhibition in Durham University’s Palace Green Library is the gospel book itself, written in honour of St Cuthbert. In addition many fabulous artefacts from Anglo-Saxon England will be on show including ornate gold objects from the Staffordshire Hoard, intricately carved stone from Lindisfarne and silver from Hexham, alongside some very special medieval manuscripts such as the St Cuthbert Gospel and the Durham Gospels. These items place the Lindisfarne Gospels within a wider context of Anglo-Saxon creativity and show how incredibly complex and elaborate Medieval craftsmanship was.

The Lindisfarne Gospels, Durham exhibition, is now open to the public until 30 September 2013 (10am – 10pm daily). More here.

 

Timbuktu manuscripts showing mathematical and astronomical observations. Source Wikimedia

Writing in The Guardian today, Luke Harding reports on the torching of a library in Timbuktu containing thousands of priceless ancient manuscripts.

Islamist insurgents retreating from the ancient Saharan city of Timbuktu have set fire to a library containing thousands of priceless ancient manuscripts, some dating back to the 13th century, in what the town’s mayor described as a “devastating blow” to world heritage. Hallé Ousmani Cissé told the Guardian that al-Qaida-allied fighters on Saturday torched two buildings where the manuscripts were being kept. He added: “This is terrible news. The manuscripts were a part not only of Mali’s heritage but the world’s heritage. By destroying them they threaten the world.”

The manuscripts were being kept in two different locations – an old warehouse and a new South Africa-funded research centre, the Ahmed Baba Institute. Both buildings were burned down, the mayor said. Asked whether any of the manuscripts might have survived, he replied: “I don’t know.” The manuscripts survived for centuries in Timbuktu on the edge of the Sahara hidden in wooden trunks, boxes beneath the sand and caves. The majority are written in Arabic, with some in African languages, and one in Hebrew, and cover a diverse range of topics including astronomy, poetry, music, medicine and women’s rights. The oldest dated from 1204.

Full article here.

 

 
The 18th century Pleasures of the East handscroll by Furuyama Moromasa (古山師政)
 
Forth One reports today that –
 
A rare Japanese scroll which is more than 44ft long has been discovered in the special collections section of Edinburgh’s Central Library.The giant painting by the artist Furuyama Moromasa is called Pleasures of the East and dates back to the early 1700s. The work was gifted to the library in the 1940s by a relative of Henry Dyer, a Scottish engineer who played a major part in the industrialisation of Japan.

Edinburgh City Libraries and National Museums Scotland have now submitted a joint application to the Sumitomo Foundation for conservation funding. Culture and Sport Convener, Cllr Richard Lewis said: “For many decades this scroll has been held in the Central Library special collections without anyone realising its true significance. “It is only through the passion of our library staff and the knowledge of National Museums Scotland experts that this beautiful work has been brought to light. “If we are successful in getting funding to restore this painting to its former glory, then we are very much hoping that it can go on display to the public in Edinburgh at a later date.”

 
Full story here.
 
 

Leaves from a Psalter by William de Brailes. The Making of the Folio Society facsimile limited edition – the first ever medieval manuscript printed on vellum

The Folio Society of Great Britain has announced the publication of the first medieval manuscript to be printed on vellum. Seven surviving leaves from a 13th century psalter, created by William de Brailes, have been restored to their original glory in this first-of-its-kind facsimile edition. The Folio Society reports that –

William de Brailes was at the forefront of a great artistic flourishing in 13th-century England. One of the very few illuminators to sign his work, his name appears in several records between c.1230 and 1260, making him the best-documented artist of the period. Little is known of his personal life other than that he lived and worked in Oxford and that he had a wife – a fact somewhat at odds with two portraits of himself in a tonsure, which would suggest he had taken monastical vows. De Brailes’s consummate skill as an artist and craftsman is evidenced in seven leaves that survive from a Psalter completed around 1240. Regarded as the finest examples of his work, six of the leaves belong to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and the seventh to the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York.

The Folio Society is proud to announce the publication of a limited facsimile edition of all seven Leaves from a Psalter by William de Brailes. These are no ordinary reproductions – the leaves are restored to their original glory and printed on vellum using a revolutionary and now patented printing process.

More here.

 

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