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 Witch marks in the Tithe Barn at Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, England
Image credit Peter Williams/PA
 
The public is being encouraged to help map Britain’s historic obsession with the paranormal by searching for ancient scratchings in old buildings, used as charms against witchcraft and evil spirits.
 
So writes Maev Kennedy in The Guardian yesterday –
 
Historic England would like help to find more of the marks, typically concentrated around entry points seen as vulnerable such as windows, chimneys and doorways. Faint symbols have been recorded in buildings and sites across England, including Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, the Tower of London, and Wookey Hole caves in Somerset – where a tall stalagmite has been shown to tourists for centuries as the petrified body of a witch.
 
Full article here.
 
 
A Roman sewer discovered by a contractor below the corner of Church Street and Swinegate in York, England. Photographed in 1972 it was hailed as one of the city’s most important finds
 
More old photos of underground York here.
   

The Huge History Lesson
©
Trustees of the British Museum
 

The ancient site of Palmyra, parts of which have now been destroyed by Daesh vandals Reuters/Mohamed Aza

Lancaster University has asked us if we’d reblog this article by Professor Natasa Lackovic. Here are the first three paragraphs of Professor Lackovic’s article; the rest can be found here.

“Details are still emerging of the scale of destruction  on the heritage site of Palmyra in Syria. Now work is beginning by archaeologists at Oxford and Harvard, determined to create a digital record of the ancient sites that remain. They are planning to get thousands of 3D cameras into Syria and Iraq that can be used by people on the ground to take 3D images of the countries’ cultural heritage.

“This work is part of a growing trend to create heritage archives that can be used to support young people learning about world cultures. Online photo banks of heritage artefacts are growing. In the UK, there are quite a few heritage–based visual resources that can be used in the classroom, such as  The British Museum’s project “teaching history with 100 objects” and the Wessex Archaeology collection.

“Recently, special attention has been placed on 3D heritage visualisations, especially in the emerging area of 3D printing for education. The start-up project Museofabber  aims to 3D-print museum collections and use them in the classrooms, inviting teachers to send in requests for objects to be printed. Other 3D printing initiatives include 3D miniatures made by the Virtual Curation Laboratory and 3D printed bones at the University of Western Florida.”

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Two collided bullets from the Battle of Gallipoli (1915-1916)
 

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.

 

 
A ninth century glass and silver ring from a woman’s Viking burial site in Birka, Sweden
 
A ninth century glass and silver ring from a woman’s Viking burial site in Birka, Sweden is thought to have originated from an area following the Islamic religion. The ring is inset with coloured glass and engraved ‘for (or to) Allah’ in the ancient Arabic Kufic script.
 
Bruce Bower, writing for ScienceNews reports –
 
More than a century after its discovery in a ninth century woman’s grave, an engraved ring has revealed evidence of close contacts between Viking Age Scandinavians and the Islamic world.
 
Excavators of a Viking trading center in Sweden called Birka recovered the silver ring in the late 1800s. Until now, it was thought that it featured a violet amethyst engraved with Arabic-looking characters. But closer inspection with a scanning electron microscope revealed that the presumed amethyst is colored glass (an exotic material at the time), say biophysicist Sebastian Wärmländer of Stockholm University and his colleagues.
 
An inscription on the glass inset reads either “for Allah” or “to Allah” in an ancient Arabic script, the researchers report  February 23 in Scanning.
 
More here.
   
 
The Essex County Council Headquarters
©
The Heritage Trust
 
Nearly a year ago, a passer-by in Chelmsford, Essex, England happened to glance up at a couple of sculptured stones above the entrance to Essex County Council’s Headquarters. Standing there, and looking at the stones more carefully, he was astonished to see that they bore motifs of left- and right-facing swastikas (also known as the gammadion cross or cross cramponnée). Using a freedom of information request, lodged with Essex County Council, the (unnamed) passer-by wanted to know why the ‘potentially offensive and upsetting’ symbols were on the Essex County Council building. Good question.
 
According to its English Heritage listing, the building, bearing the swastikas, was built by J Stuart of Portland stone between 1929 and 1939. English Heritage describes the building as having an “imposing external architectural quality”. It is understood the swastikas were added between 1928 and before the outbreak of World War II in 1939. The person requesting the information said the timing of the swastika symbols “…struck me as strange seeing as the Nazi party formed in 1933 and by March 1938 were beginning an invasion into Austria.”
 
Architect J Stuart must surely have know of the swastika’s use by the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (formed in 1920 with Hitler as one of its chairmen) but it was to be nearly twenty years before the outbreak of the second World War in 1939 and the subsequent hatred the swastika motif was to generate. The motifs in Chelmsford may, therefore, have been incorporated into the facade of the building as purely innocent embellishments, if not recognition of the sacred and auspicious symbols they are afforded in  Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. Indeed, according to the Wikipedia entry here the motif “…appears as a decorative element in various cultures since at least the Neolithic…”
 
 
Swastika motif on the stone porch of St Mary’s Church, Great Canfield, Essex
©
The Heritage Trust
 
That is not quite the end of the story however as there is another example of the use of the swastika in Essex. On the stone porch of St Mary’s Church at Great Canfield there is a short frieze employing the swastika motif. To the left of the frieze is a face (possibly depicting Odin) with two birds (Huginn and Muninn?) at either side. St Mary’s is a classical Norman church built between 1100 and 1150 but may have been built on the site of an earlier church (hence the pagan motifs). During the war it would have been so easy (even understandable) for someone, like our Chelmsford passer-by, to demand the removal of the Great Canfield swastikas on the grounds that they were offensive. History is never that clear cut however; it is a tapestry added to over centuries, faded in places and with holes in others, and we should be ever wary of pulling it down when it seems to offend, or does not quite fit in, with our present perceptions of the world around us.
 

Six students from De Montfort University take part in the Crytek Off the Map project. The project involved building a 3D representation of 17th century London before The Great Fire.

 
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.
    
 
Dead soldiers in a trench, Hill of Cividale on the Italian Front
Photographer unidentified, November 1917. Hulton Getty Collection
 
What is Stonehenge?
 
What is Stonehenge? It is the roofless past;
Man’s ruinous myth; his uninterred adoring
Of the unknown in sunrise cold and red;
His quest of stars that arch his doomed exploring.
And what is Time but shadows that were cast
By these storm-sculptured stones while centuries fled?
The stones remain; their stillness can outlast
The skies of history hurrying overhead.
 
Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) World War I poet.
 
 
 
First World War soldiers training at Stonehenge
 
Soldiers at Stonehenge: Salisbury Plain and the journey to the First World War, is the title of a new exhibition due to open at the Stonehenge Visitor Centre on the 5 November 2014. The exhibition will tell the story of the (then) world’s largest military training camp at Stonehenge and the estimated one million men who, between 1914 and 1918, were trained there.
 
Dermot Martin, writing in the Salisbury Journal, reports that –
 
Records show 180,000 men were stationed at any one time on the plain during the First World War. Their personal stories, photographs and original objects will form the basis of the exhibition but evidence of their presence can still be seen across the wider Stonehenge and Salisbury Plain landscape.
 
Robert Campbell, head of interpretation at English Heritage, which is staging the exhibition, said: “The task of these men was to overcome the horrific stalemate of trench warfare and to replicate conditions on the Western Front, soldiers dug intricate networks of trenches which were then pounded by shellfire. The exhibition will explore this aspect.” The war left its mark on the ancient archaeology of Salisbury Plain and the exhibition includes finds on loan from Wiltshire Museum including cap badges, rifle cartridges, aircraft parts and highly personal items such as a spoon and even part of a bottle of Australian hair tonic.
 
Full Salisbury Journal article here.
 
 
A French postcard (circa 1916) depicting a Bristol Monoplane flying over Stonehenge
Private collection Great Britain
   

Delft biblical wall tile showing the Temptation of Christ in the Wilderness. Dutch, 17-18th century? 131mm x 131mm
Private collection Great Britain

Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.
And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.
And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.
But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

Matthew: Chapter 4, 1-11. King James Version.

This wall tile shows the Temptation of Christ in the Wilderness. The Devil is offering Christ stones to be turned into bread (note what seems to be a wooden cross on the left hand side of the roundel). The tile has an interesting history; it was discovered in a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan by cleaners while sorting through the temple’s unwanted bric-a-brac. Given the long (400-year) relationship between the Dutch and the Japanese it’s not surprising that an object with a biblical theme should have found its way to Japan. It’s a mystery, however, why such an object should have ended up in a Buddhist temple in Kyoto. Perhaps one of our readers can shed more light on the subject.

 

 
STONEHENGE FROM THE NORTH
 
The Battle for Stonehenge: A BBC 2 Culture Show Special will be screened on Saturday, 21 June from 8:00pm on BBC 2 –
 
Stonehenge is our most famous prehistoric monument; a powerful symbol of Britain across the globe. But all is not well with the sacred stones. MPs have described the surrounding site as a ‘national disgrace’ and ‘shameful shambles’. Now, after decades of disputes over what should be done, English Heritage has just 12 months to create a setting that this unique monument deserves. But Stonehenge is more than a tourist attraction; it is also a temple.
 
In this hour-long Culture Show special, Alastair Sooke shows that Stonehenge has long been a place of conflict and controversy, and that passions still run high at the monument where druids, archaeologists and scientists all battle for the soul of Stonehenge.
 
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
 

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