Friday, 27 September 2013

Not just for decoration? The significance of jewellery in the Iron Age

It was reported last week that the Yorkshire Museum is trying to raise enough funds to buy an Iron Age bracelet found in North Yorkshire before it is sold privately at auction. The torc is one of two found separately in 2010 and 2011 by metal detector enthusiasts at Towton, near Tadcaster, UK and has been valued at £30,000. The torcs have been dated to about 100 BC to 70 BC and are the first examples of Iron Age jewellery found in the north of England.

I took a look in the online archive to find out more about Iron Age jewellery and came across "Iron Age Hoards of Precious Metals in Palestine – an 'Underground Economy'?" an article by R Kletter published in Volume 35 of Levant. In it the author investigates how hoards of precious metals discovered in Palestine may not only have been for ornamental purposes but perhaps also had social and economic significance.

The following is a excerpt from the article's introduction:

"Hoards containing objects made of precious metals (silver/gold), often buried underneath floors, are a source of immense fascination. They are extremely photogenic, even mysterious: we wonder about the living persons who once held them, and why they concealed and never retrieved such hoards. What happened to the owners? In view of this fascination with hoards, this study should open with an apology for not including beautiful illustrations: but the discussion will concern the economics rather than the art-history of hoards. There will not be an exhaustive description of each hoard, nor a detailed typology of the jewelry found in it. Many types of jewelry were manufactured and kept for long periods of time, and their artistic merits have already been discussed at length. Most of the Iron Age hoards from Palestine contain damaged or cut pieces of jewelry and shapeless silver pieces (‘Hacksilber’), rather than whole objects. Hence, they indicate amalgamation of wealth. This is an attempt to understand the meaning of such hoards in terms of economic conditions and possible economic developments in Bronze and Iron Age Palestine."

Although the author goes on the conclude that caution should be used when interpreting hoards of precious metals as anything but that, hoards of precious metals:

"What about the ‘underground economy’ mentioned in the title of this paper? One ponders over the place of hoards in human societies. In dragon-based societies, hoards govern the economy, and influence the neighboring societies of Dwarves and Hobbits alike. By modern economic theory, ‘underground’ hoarding is not logical – capital should be ‘put to work’ to raise more capital (e.g., by interest-bearing loans). There is a famous debate about ancient economics. According to Polanyi, the notion of gain was not crucial, economy was embedded in the society; markets in the sense of price-determining mechanisms did not exist, and modern economic theory is not valid. This has been criticized sharply, and some rule that ancient and modern economics are one and the same. Perhaps Iron Age hoards in Palestine were perfectly logical for a world in which banks were scarce and violent threats common. The age of plastic credit cards and virtual reality, still full of conflicts and wars, does not mark the end of the phenomenon of hoarding."

>> Read the full article for free

Monday, 23 September 2013

Digging deeper: The Personal Carriage of Arrows from Hastings to the Mary Rose

It's time to dig deep in the archives again and this week we will be looking at 'The Personal Carriage of Arrows from Hastings to the Mary Rose', the most popular article published in Arms & Armour.

The article is written by Jonathan Waller and John Waller and focuses on the often overlooked aspect of archery in the Middle Ages - how one transports one's arrows. It details the variety of manners in which this was done over the centuries - quivers, girdles, and cases all feature - and uses the specific (and fascinating) example of arrows used in King Henry VIII's campaign in France and the sinking of the Mary Rose in 1545.

The authors explain that "Certainly by the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, English arrows were fitted with smaller heads on lighter shafts. But how did Henry VIII’s principal archers carry their lighter sheaf arrows? We are very fortunate to have many illustrations of Tudor archers in the Cowdray Engravings. These engravings were copies of the original paintings in Cowdray House at Midhurst in Sussex. This was the home of Sir Anthony Browne, Master of Horse to Henry VIII. In this capacity he accompanied the King on his expedition of France in 1544. Sir Anthony commissioned five large paintings which accurately portrayed the king’s campaign in France and the events in the Solent in 1545 including the sinking of the Mary Rose. In 1785, these paintings were copied, at the behest of the Society of Antiquities of London, as engravings. These were published in 1788. This was very fortunate as Cowdray House was largely destroyed by fire in 1793 and the paintings with it. This left the engravings as the only detailed pictorial source of reference of Henry’s campaign and the sinking of his flagship the Mary Rose."

They go on to conclude that "When the principal archers, each with his bow in its case and a sheaf of arrows in their soft quiver, were about to embark they would cover the fletchings with its soft leather cover and close the top with its drawstring. Then tying their girdles around the middle of their quivers with a constrictor knot, to hold the arrows more firmly, they would wrap the remaining ends of the girdle around the soft body of the quiver and loosely tie the ends together. This would ensure the protection of their arrows by the collective strength created. It would also make it easier for them to carry both their bow and arrows on board and stow them in any space the archers were given for their berths on the ship. If and when they were called to action it would be a matter of seconds to release the girdle from around their quivers, uncover the arrows, sling the girdles over their shoulders, string their bows and they were ready for action. Associated with some spacers found on the Mary Rose, were traces of woven material, pieces of soft leather and what are described as strips of leather, some of which were tied around of the remaining arrows in spacers.

These are probably the remains of some Cowdray quivers and similar in construction to the ‘lost quiver’ examined by Grose. If the quivers were full and still tied at both ends, which we shall never know, this could perhaps mean that some of the archers on board the Mary Rose, never readied their arrows for combat. Records tell us that at no time before her sinking during the battle, was the Mary Rose at a fighting distance close enough to the French ships, during the battle, which would have allowed for advantageous deployment of her archers. We shall never know how many archers were standing to, bows in hand, arrows in their quivers at the ready, when the ship went down. What we do know is that some archers left their arrows in their quivers unused when the Mary Rose sank to the bottom of the Solent on that fateful day in 1545. Now, after 500 years, however, perhaps we have gone some way in shedding some light on the connection between Mr Grose’s ‘Ancient Quiver’ and the remains of the quivers on the Mary Rose, and helped explain the practicalities of the ways in which arrows could be carried and drawn."

>> Read the full article for free

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The Return of Aesthetics to Archaeology

Ancient Egyptian funerary mask at the
Oriental Museum, Durham University
Why is ‘aesthetics’ a dirty word in archaeology? Can its archaeological study be reinvigorated, particularly with the help of philosophers and anthropologists?
Come and join the discussion at a workshop to be held at the University of London’s Senate House on Thursday 28th and Friday 29th November 2013.
The workshop is organised within the framework of an AHRC-funded Research Network Group project focused on ‘The Ethics and Aesthetics of Archaeology’. 
This wider project brings together philosophers, archaeologists and museum and heritage practitioners in order to focus on the relation between ethics and aesthetics, and explore how this relation shapes the understanding and practice of archaeological stewardship. The main premise underlying our multidisciplinary project is the idea that research into the ethics of stewardship (including moral obligations, duties and respect) will be enhanced significantly by an increased understanding of the role played by the aesthetic character of historical objects in influencing the moral relations we have with them and their makers.
The project is directed by two members of staff from Durham University: Dr Elisabeth Schellekens Dammann (Department of Philosophy) and Dr Robin Skeates (Department of Archaeology). They are assisted by Dr. Andreas Pantazatos (Co-Director of the Centre for the Ethics of Cultural Heritage).
The London workshop is generously sponsored by the University of London’s Institute of Philosophy. It is open to all, free of charge. Visit our project website for further details.
If you intend to attend, do please let us know, by sending an email to Dr Elisabeth Schellekens Dammann.

Friday, 6 September 2013

The first free African-American settlement and resistance against slavery

It was reported earlier this month that archaeologists from the University of Maryland and Morgan State University have uncovered evidence that suggests Treme, in New Orleans, is not the oldest free black community (it was established in 1812) in the US as first thought. Findings from the dig at The Hill in Easton, MD including bits of glass, shards of pottery and oyster shells indicate that the community was established in 1790 by former slaves who had bought their freedom.
The founding of such communities presents the often overlooked theory of a cultural resistance to slavery, something considered by Kalle Kananoja in his article 'Pai Caetano Angola, Afro-Brazilian Magico-Religious Practices, and Cultural Resistance in Minas Gerais in the Late Eighteenth Century' which is included in a special issue of Journal of African Diaspora Archaeology and Heritage on Atlantic approaches on resistance against slavery in the Americas. In the issue's introduction, Ana Lucia Araujo explains that:
"The authors examine unexplored aspects of individual and collective actions led by enslaved men and women, by developing a broad definition of resistance that does not always encompass violence, but also includes cultural and religious forms of resistance. Using several kinds of primary sources and approaching resistance from an Atlantic perspective, the authors examine slave rebellions, runaway slave communities, slave and abolitionist networks, as well as African religious traditions...numerous studies addressed the issue of violent collective resistance against slavery, especially in the USA and the Caribbean. However, with some welcome exceptions, most recent scholarship that attempts to provide an international perspective to resistance and the fight against slavery also continues to privilege the English-speaking world and the North Atlantic region.
Moreover, by defining resistance as a synonym with rebellion and envisioning the Haitian Revolution as the only successful rebellion in the Americas, most book-length studies barely address the role of everyday forms of individual and collective resistance. As a result, despite their great value, these works fail to discuss cultural forms of resistance and address the role of women in slave resistance."

>> Read the full introduction for free

>> Read the full article for free

>> "Archaeology dig may uncover nation's earliest free African-American settlment"