details courtyard Alhambra

Unknown details identified in the Lions' Courtyard at the Alhambra

Through drawings, researchers from the University of Seville, the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland) and the University of Granada have identified details hitherto unknown in the muqarnas of the temples of the Lions' Courtyard at the Alhambra in Granada, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
templetes Patio de los Leones Alhambra Granada, España
Lions' Courtyard at the Alhambra, Granada (Spain)

In order to better understand and facilitate the conservation of these fourteenth-century architectural elements, following a review of numerous repairs performed over the intervening centuries, a novel methodology was followed based on three complementary graphic analyses: first, outstanding images from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries were reviewed; then new computer drawings were made of their muqarnas, following the theoretical principles of their geometrical grouping; and finally, a three-dimensional scan was made to ascertain their precise current state from the point cloud obtained.

The comparison of drawings has allowed us to verify for the first time that the muqarnas of the two temples have a different configuration and different number of pieces. In addition, geometric deformations have been detected in the original Nasrid design, identifying hitherto unknown pieces, plus other deformations due to the various repairs from major threats that the temples and their muqarnas have survived for centuries, despite their fragile construction.

"For the first time, this article documents and analyses details that were hitherto practically absent from the scientific literature", says Antonio Gámiz, professor at the University of Seville and co-author of this work.

The muqarnas are one of the most unique architectural episodes of the Nasrid Alhambra and of medieval Islamic art because of their sophisticated three-dimensional geometrical construction. They are small prisms that are grouped together and create a great diversity of spatial configurations, adapting their composition to very diverse architectural situations in cornices, arches, capitals and vaults. They reached a virtuous zenith during the reign of Muhammad V (1354-1359 and 1362-1391) when crucial works were undertaken in the palaces of the Alhambra.

This research was supported by the Patronato de la Alhambra and Generalife.

Full bibliographic information

Antonio Gámiz Gordo; Ignacio Ferrer Pérez-Blanco; Juan Francisco Reinoso Gordo (2020): The Pavilions at the Alhambra's Court of the Lions: Graphic Analysis of Muqarnas. Sustainability, 12 (16), 6556 (Special Issue Cultural Heritage and Natural Disasters) MDPI, Switzerland. ISSN 2071-1050. DOI: 10.3390/su12166556

Press release from the Universidad de Sevilla and the Universidad de Granada on the study that has identified details hitherto unknown in the muqarnas of the temples of the Lions' Courtyard at the Alhambra in Granada.


Tell es-Sin

New findings on the Byzantine necropolis Tell es-Sin in Syria

New findings on the Byzantine necropolis Tell es-Sin in Syria

A study published in the journal Bioarchaeology of the Near East reveals the features of the population that was buried in the necropolis of Tell es-Sin in Syria, a Byzantine archaeological site dating from the 5th to 7th centuries AC. located in the left side of the Euphrates River. The principal researchers of the new anthropological study on Tell es-Sin -in the middle of a transit area for the ancient Byzantine forces and the Persian Sassanids- are Laura Martínez, from the Faculty of Biology of the University of Barcelona, and Ferran Estebaranz-Sánchez, from the Faculty of Biosciences of the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

Other participants are the researcher Juan Luis Montero-Fenollós, lecturer from the University of la Coruña and director of the excavation project in the site of Tell es-Sin, and other experts from Maison de l’Orient et de la Méditerranée (France), the Yarmouk University (Jordan) and the Mykolas Romeris University (Lithuania).

Tell es-Sin represents one of the most important necropolis from the Fertile Crescent to the Near East

Ancient Syria’s Hill of Teeth

The site of Tell es-Sin -from Arabic “Hill of Teeth”- covers an area of twenty-five hectares is divided into the acropolis, the lower town, and necropolis -which covers seven hecctares. It is in the south-eastern of the current city of Deir ez-Zor -frontier between Syria and Iraq- and it is considered a kastron, that is, a place with administrative and military functions. Both the size and urban structure of the site and its fortified nature suggest it would have been an ancient polis whose ancient name is still unknown.

Tell es-Sin represents one of the most important necropolis from the Fertile Crescent to the Near East, but authors say “it is still very much unknown”. The new study wants to focus on the knowledge of frontier populations in the Byzantine Empire during the 6th-7th centuries, a period in which necropolis and skeleton remains are not abundant.

A fortification in the middle of the military Near East

“Mesopotamia was a strategic defensive area regarding the entrances and invasions from the Persians and the Arabians. In this context, Tell es-Sin could have been affected by the territorial and military reorganization by the emperor Justinian, who promoted fortifications of lime populations in the middle of the 6th century”, notes Laura Martínez, lecturer at the Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences at the Faculty of Biology, and first author of the study.

The first archaeological excavations of the Byzantine necropolis of Tell es-Sin date from 1978 and were led by Asad Mahmoud, general director of Antiquities and Museums in Deir ez-Zor at the moment. In 2005, the study of the first Syrian-Spanish archaeological mission -coordinated by the University of la Coruña- highlighted the relevance of the necropolis of Tell es-Sin, which was part of the Eastern limes Diocletianus together with Tell es-Kasra and Circesium (current Buseira). The experts identified a total of 170 hypogea in a necropolis that could have about one thousand tombs.
Tombs and Byzantine archaeology in Syrian territory

As Ferran Estebaranz-Sánchez notes, “samples from Tell es-Sin represent an heterogeneous and biased series of skeleton remains corresponding to tombs that were sacked during the years. This anthropological study wanted to provide information on the sex, age of death, height and other morphological variables of the excavated individuals in the site using traditional biometrics”.

The analysed sample -only a small part out of the total burials in Tell es-Sin -includes human remains from ten excavated hypogea in the Syrian-Spanish mission. A total of 71 individuals were analysed (at least, eighteen would correspond to men, and twelve to women).

According to the experts, they did not observe bias regarding sex or age in the studied remains, and they highlight the lack of children compared to other areas (they could have been buried in other niches in the entrance of the tomb). Likewise, there is at least between one and five individuals buried inside every niche (the average is three bodies per niche, including sub-adults and adults), according to the model of collective burial typical from ancient Syria.

Despite the fragmented state of the remains, the team could estimate the height of most individuals. “The average height we estimate considering the upper long bones is 174.5 for men and 159.1 for women. These figures are similar to those estimated with the diameter of the femur head: 176.1 cm for males and 164.5 for females”, notes Estebaranz Sánchez.

“In conclusion -he continues-, the estimated height for the Byzantine population in Tell es-Sin is similar to other contemporary Byzantine populations”.

About 25% of the individuals presented cribra orbitalia and 8.5% of porotic hyperostosis, alterations in brain bones associated to anaemia or lack of iron or vitamins,  rickets, infection and other inflammatory conditions.

The prevalence of degenerative joint diseases was low, according to the study. Regarding dental samples, about 2.8% of teeth presented caries, lower figures compared to other contemporary byzantine sites in the area that could be related to a low sample analysed in Tell es-Sin.

Tell es-Sin: the end of a site with the arrival of Islam

The end of the site of Tell es-Sin -in the first quarter of the 7th century AC- coincided with the wars against the Persian Sassanids and Islamic Arabian tribes. Despite the conditions of the site of Tell es-Sin and the current situation -after the ISIS occupation- the discovery and excavation of graves that were not sacked is essential to study the knowledge of this population.

“This is why we are now analysing the buccal microstriations to infer the diet of the population and therefore complete the biocultural model of frontier populations with great ancient empires”, conclude Laura Martínez and Ferran Estebaranz Sánchez.

Article reference: 

Martínez, L. M.; Estebaranz-Sánchez, F.;  Khawam, R.; Anfruns, J.;  Alrousan, M.;  Pereira, P.; Pérez-Pérez, A.; Montero-Fenollós, J. L. “Human remains from Tell es-Sin, Syria, 2006-2007”Bioarchaeology of the Near East, April, 2020.

Press release from the University of Barcelona


Thomas Becket 2020

Thomas Becket 2020: a year-long programme of events for the 850th anniversary of his murder

2020 programme commemorating the murder of Thomas Becket unveiled

  • 2020 is the 850th anniversary of the murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury
  • Year-long programme of Becket2020 events unveiled
  • British Museum to host first ever major UK exhibition on Thomas Becket’s life, death and legacy
Thomas Becket 2020
Reliquary, Limoges, c. 1200. The image on the front panel shows the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. © The Trustees of the British Museum

A year-long programme of events marking the 850th anniversary of one of the most shocking crimes in European history, the murder of Thomas Becket, are unveiled today. ‘Becket2020’ will see venues in London, Canterbury and beyond host a range of events across the year to commemorate his murder - a moment which changed the course of history. The programme includes performances, pageants, talks, film screenings and religious services, and culminates in the first ever major UK exhibition to explore Becket’s life, death and legacy which will open at the British Museum in October.

Thomas Becket 2020
A second Reliquary, Limoges, c. 1200. The image on the front panel shows the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered on 29 December 1170 – 849 years ago tomorrow. He was killed in Canterbury Cathedral by four knights with close ties to his former friend King Henry II, as eye-witnesses looked on. Becket was quickly canonised a saint by the Pope and his shrine at Canterbury became a major centre of European pilgrimage before being destroyed on the orders of Henry VIII in the early years of the English Reformation. In both the Roman Catholic and Anglican Church he is recognised as a saint and a martyr.

Canterbury Cathedral at night – © Canterbury Cathedral

In 2020, Canterbury will be the centre of activity celebrating Becket. A major new production of T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral will be performed for the first time in Canterbury Cathedral in October and is a joint initiative with The Marlowe Theatre. The Cathedral will also host a special choral evensong service to commemorate Becket’s martyrdom on the 29 December 2020. Elsewhere in the city, other highlights include Saint Thomas Becket – World Celebrity Healer at The Beaneya community creative project focusing on mental and physical health and wellbeing in the context of Becket’s fame. In July, Canterbury’s fifth annual Medieval Pageant and Trail will take place, and this year commemorates Henry ll’s pilgrimage to Canterbury to perform penance for his association with the murder of Becket.

Thomas Becket 2020
Pilgrim badge from the shrine of St Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. This badge depicts the scene of Becket’s martyrdom. © Museum of London.

London, the city of Becket’s birth, will also host a range of important events. Thomas Becket (title tbc) at the British Museum will be the first time Becket’s life, death and legacy has been explored in a major exhibition in the UK. Opening in October, it will showcase an incredible array of over 100 objects associated with Becket, including manuscripts, jewellery, sculpture, stained glass and paintings, and will feature artefacts from the Museum’s collection as well as important loans from the UK and around the world. It will present Becket’s tumultuous journey: from London-merchant’s son to Archbishop; and from a revered saint in death, to a ‘traitor’ in the eyes of Henry VIII, over 350 years later. Highlights include a number of beautiful sacred reliquaries which once contained precious relics of Thomas Becket. These were taken across Continental Europe and speak to the profound international spread of his cult.

Thomas Becket 2020
Pilgrim badge, pewter, a standing figure of St Thomas Becket, wearing archbishop's vestments and holding a cross-staff.  Becket's shrine at Canterbury was the most popular in England.  14th century. © Museum of London.

Also in the capital, The Museum of London will display a selection of their extraordinary collection of pilgrim badges. For over 300 years, Londoners flocked to Becket's shrine in Canterbury often returning with a badge as a keepsake. The Museum of London will use examples to illustrate Becket’s extraordinary life and his connections to the capital. Visitors will be encouraged to undertake their own mini-pilgrimage through the museum’s Medieval London Gallery from 14 February to October 2020. In June, the Becket Pageant for London will be a landmark community project centred around a new 70-minute stage-work and set against the iconic backdrop of medieval Guildhall Yard. The event will seek to re-imagine the only known Becket pageant, performed in London in 1519, and will be a playful musical entertainment for a modern audience. His Grace The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby, The Archbishop of Canterbury, will preach at Southwark Cathedral in December 2020, in commemoration of Thomas Becket's final sermon which took place at the same site shortly before his death. The Cathedral will also host an art installation by artist Michelle Rumney during Lent.

Naomi Speakman, co-curator of Thomas Becket at the British Museum, said: “the story of Thomas Becket’s life, death and legacy has all the hallmarks of a Game of Thrones plot. There’s drama, fame, royalty, power, envy, retribution, and ultimately a brutal murder that shocked Europe. These events had repercussions that have echoed out through time, and we’re delighted to be telling this important story for the first time in a major exhibition.”

Thomas Becket (title tbc) is at the British Museum from 15 October 2020 until 14 February 2021.

Canterbury Cathedral – © Canterbury Cathedral

Becket2020 programme of events.

This is a draft programme of events, to which others are in the process of being added, based on information derived from partners.

Canterbury Cathedral will take the lead on the leaflet and website for Becket 2020.

Events:

23 January - 'Lecture: 'Thomas Becket and the Young Henry III' by Professor David Carpenter, Professor of Medieval History (King’s College London)

7.00pm Claggett Auditorium, Canterbury Cathedral Lodge.

Free to Historical Association members and students; £3 for others

14 February (to October) – Becket 2020 pilgrim badge display at the Museum of London (free)

St Thomas Becket is an internationally renowned figure but his connections to London are rather less well-known. For over 300 years, Londoners flocked to Becket's shrine in Canterbury often returning with a pewter badge as a keepsake. Hundreds of these pilgrim souvenirs have been recovered from London excavations and mudlarking activity along the Thames and the museum holds the largest collection in the country.

The Museum of London will use some of its pilgrim badges to illustrate St Thomas Becket’s extraordinary life and his connections to the capital. Visitors will be encouraged to undertake their own mini-pilgrimage through the museum’s Medieval London Gallery from 14 February to October 2020. The display will deal with Thomas Becket the man and his early life in London, his exile and murder, the impact of his death and rise in miracle cures and finally, Becket’s shrine and the Jubilee of the Martyrdom in 1220.

25 February - Lecture on Becket & London by Prof Caroline Barron, Mercers' Hall, London

26 March - "The two Thomases" talk by Dean of Hereford, Hereford Cathedral

27 March - Annual Thomas Becket Lecture, a talk by Lord Rowan Williams on ‘Bede and Canterbury’ to anticipate the opening of the Medieval Canterbury Weekend (Venue: Canterbury Christ Church University).

3-5 April - Medieval Canterbury Weekend. 3-5 April 2020. Includes 'Becket was a Londoner' lecture on 5/4/20). Venue: Canterbury Christ Church University https://www.canterbury.ac.uk/arts-and-humanities/school-of-humanities/medieval-canterbury-weekend/medieval-canterbury-weekend.aspx

April to October 2020 - Canterbury Cathedral Eastern Crypt set aside as Pilgrimage Chapel for Becket2020

16 May – 27 September - ‘Becket - World Celebrity Healer’ exhibition at The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge, Canterbury https://canterburymuseums.co.uk/events/saint-thomas-becket-world-celebrity-healer/

18 May - ‘Church, Saints and Seals, 1150-1300’ (a one-day conference at Canterbury Cathedral and Canterbury Christ Church University).

24 May - Friends of Southwark Cathedral pilgrimage set off from London to Canterbury Cathedral. Arrive 1st June

30 May - Day of Prayer and Pilgrimage, plus Beacon Event (Canterbury Cathedral)

25 June–2 July – King’s Week (The King’s School, Canterbury) will include Becket-themed events.

27 June – Becket on Film screenings (Dr Tim Jones, Canterbury Christ Church University)

Late June (one of the final two weekends) - London pageant, Guildhall Yard (Emmeline Winterbotham)

4 July - Canterbury Medieval Pageant and Family Trail (An annual Becket-themed community event, led by the Canterbury Business Improvement District, involving community groups, re-enactors, and heritage organisations across the city).

4 July - Blessing of Becket Copes at Evensong (Canterbury Cathedral)

4 July – An evening screening of the 1960s film ‘Becket’ at the Gulbenkian (Venue: University of Kent, Canterbury).

5 July – Canterbury Cathedral major service for the Translation of Becket. 10.00 Eucharist, 15.00 ecumenical service

6th July - 31st Dec 2020 - "The Two Thomases" Exhibition at Hereford Cathedral

7 July - St Thomas Day

19 July – Canterbury Cathedral’s ‘Night of the Cathedral’ event 17.30 - 21.00

July (date TBC) - Film Screening by Dr Tim Jones of the 1970 anniversary of Becket’s martyrdom (Venue: Canterbury Christ Church University).

26 August - Pilgrimage Visit to Canterbury Cathedral from the Friends of Hereford Cathedral

Late August / September – A 3-week exhibition and series of talks on Kentish saints (Venue: Centre for Kent History and Heritage, in partnership with Canterbury Archaeological Trust, the Kent Archaeological Society and other local partners):

  • Monday 31 August: St Martin's: An introduction to the cult of saints: Dr Sarah James (University of Kent)
  • Tuesday 1 September: St Paul's: Early Episcopal Saints: Dr Diane Heath (CCCU)
  • Wednesday 2 September: St Mildred's: Anglo-Saxon female saints: Dr Hilary Powell (CCCU)
  • Thursday 3 September: St Dunstan's: ‘Conflicting convictions:  martyrs of the 16th century’: Dr Doreen Rosman (retired, University of Kent)
  • Friday 4 September: St Peter's: Late medieval minor and failed cults: Dr Sheila Sweetinburgh (CCCU)
  • Saturday 5 September: St Thomas RC church: St Thomas of Canterbury: Professor Rachel Koopmans (York University, Toronto)

September - A Sandwich to Canterbury relay walk (incorporating local parishes between Sandwich and Canterbury - tbc).

September – The Annual Education Day hosted by the Canterbury Tales Attraction with local partners.

September – Heritage Open Days will have a Becket theme.

19 September - Canterbury Cathedral Friends ‘Friends Day’, for members only, with a Becket theme (Venue: Canterbury Cathedral).

27 September - Lees Court Singing Compline for Becket at Canterbury Cathedral

3 October - Joint Evensong Portsmouth & Dio Pilgrimage (Canterbury Cathedral)

15 Oct 2020 onwards - British Museum Thomas Becket exhibition, London (end date and title TBC)

22-24 Oct 2020 - Murder in the Cathedral in Canterbury Cathedral. Major joint production with Marlowe Theatre.

27-29 Oct 2020 - Canterbury Cathedral: Big Draw and Childrens Pilgrimage activities

11-13/14 November – ‘Thomas Becket: Life, Death and Legacy’ Conference (Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury Christ Church University and University of Kent – dates and keynotes confirmed including Prof. Anne Duggan, Prof. Rachel Koopmans, Prof. Alec Ryrie, Prof. Nick Vincent, Dr Paul Webster; Venue: Canterbury Cathedral; funded by the British Academy).

29 December – Special choral evensong service to commemorate Becket’s martyrdom (Venue: Canterbury Cathedral).

Other Canterbury events in planning include:

  • Annual Anselm Lecture (University of Kent at Canterbury – date tbc).
  • St Dunstan’s Church, Canterbury, will produce a leaflet on Henry II and Becket.
  • St Thomas’s Church, Canterbury, will have a musical event, a possible exhibition and has a strong interest in pilgrimage.
  • The Canterbury Society will also host a Becket-related talk.
  • The St Dunstan’s underpass in Canterbury will have a new mural depicting medieval pilgrims through to modern students.
  • Canterbury Archaeological Trust Activities: (1) a workshop on Canterbury in the age of Becket, with object handling; (2) holding one or more walking tours of Canterbury in the age of Becket; (3) running an East Kent tour of individual sites (monuments, churches, etc.); (4) developing Apps for 20 centuries of Canterbury; and (5) producing a new book on Canterbury and a new map of Canterbury.

Other events to be aware of:

  • Lambeth 2020. 27 July - 1 Aug 2020 (University of Kent and Canterbury Cathedral)
  • The Open Golf, 12-19 July 2020 Sandwich, Kent
  • Canterbury Festival (17-31 October 2020)

 

Press release for the 2020 programme commemorating the murder of Thomas Becket from the British Museum


Ancient DNA from Roman and medieval grape seeds reveal ancestry of wine making

Ancient DNA from Roman and medieval grape seeds reveal ancestry of wine making

wine France Roman era
A vineyard by Pic Saint Loup Mountain in southern France. Credit: S. Ivorra CNRS/ISEM

A grape variety still used in wine production in France today can be traced back 900 years to just one ancestral plant, scientists have discovered.

With the help of an extensive genetic database of modern grapevines, researchers were able to test and compare 28 archaeological seeds from French sites dating back to the Iron Age, Roman era, and medieval period.

Utilising similar ancient DNA methods used in tracing human ancestors, a team of researchers from the UK, Denmark, France, Spain, and Germany, drew genetic connections between seeds from different archaeological sites, as well as links to modern-day grape varieties.

It has long been suspected that some grape varieties grown today, particularly well-known types like Pinot Noir, have an exact genetic match with plants grown 2,000 years ago or more, but until now there has been no way of genetically testing an uninterrupted genetic lineage of that age.

Dr Nathan Wales, from the University of York, said: "From our sample of grape seeds we found 18 distinct genetic signatures, including one set of genetically identical seeds from two Roman sites separated by more than 600km, and dating back 2,000 years ago.

"These genetic links, which included a 'sister' relationship with varieties grown in the Alpine regions today, demonstrate winemakers' proficiencies across history in managing their vineyards with modern techniques, such as asexual reproduction through taking plant cuttings."

One archaeological grape seed excavated from a medieval site in Orléans in central France was genetically identical to Savagnin Blanc. This means the variety has grown for at least 900 years as cuttings from just one ancestral plant.

This variety (not to be confused with Sauvignon Blanc), is thought to have been popular for a number of centuries, but is not as commonly consumed as a wine today outside of its local region.

The grape can still be found growing in the Jura region of France, where it is used to produce expensive bottles of Vin Jaune, as well as in parts of Central Europe, where it often goes by the name Traminer.

Although this grape is not so well known today, 900 years of a genetically identical plant suggests that this wine was special - special enough for grape-growers to stick with it across centuries of changing political regimes and agricultural advancements.

Dr Jazmín Ramos-Madrigal, a postdoctoral researcher from the University of Copenhagen, said: "We suspect the majority of these archaeological seeds come from domesticated berries that were potentially used for winemaking based on their strong genetic links to wine grapevines.

"Berries from varieties used for wine are small, thick-skinned, full of seeds, and packed with sugar and other compounds such as acids, phenols, and aromas - great for making wine but not quite as good for eating straight from the vine. These ancient seeds did not have a strong genetic link to modern table grapes.

"Based on writings by the Roman author and naturalist, Pliny the Elder, and others, we know the Romans had advanced knowledge of winemaking and designated specific names to different grape varieties, but it has so far been impossible to link their Latin names to modern varieties.

"Now we have the opportunity to use genetics to know exactly what the Romans were growing in their vineyards."

Of the Roman seeds, the researchers could not find an identical genetic match with modern-day seeds, but they did find a very close relationships with two important grape families used to produce high quality wine.

These include the Syrah-Mondeuse Blanche family - Syrah is one of the most planted grapes in the world today - and the Mondeuse Blanche, which produces a high quality AOC (protected regional product) wine in Savoy, as well as the Pinot-Savagnin family - Pinot Noir being the "king of wine grapes".

Dr Wales said: "It is rather unconventional to trace an uninterrupted genetic lineage for hundreds of years into the past. Instead of exploring broad patterns in genetic ancestry, as in most ancient DNA projects, we had to think like forensics scientists and find a perfect match in the database.

"Large databases of genetic data from modern crops and optimized palaeogenomic methods have vastly improved our ability to analyse the history of this and other important fruits.

"For the wine industry today, these results could shed new light on the value of some grape varieties; even if we don't see them in popular use in wines today, they were once highly valued by past wine lovers and so are perhaps worth a closer look."

The researchers now hope to find more archaeological evidence that could send them further back in time and reveal more grape wine varieties.

Archaeological excavation of Roman farm at Mont Ferrier site in Tourbes, France. Grape seeds closely related to Pinot Noir and Savagnin Blanc were excavated from a well dating to the first century CE. Credit: M. Compan, Inrap

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Toss it if it’s 481 years old – but not if it’s a year older

Toss it if it’s 481 years old – but not if it’s a year older

Norway conserves archaeological finds from 1537, but not when they’re from 1538 or later. That means we know less about people’s everyday lives during the last 481 years.

Stoneware from around 1700. This was thrown in a bin. Photo: NIKU, Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research

These have been the rules since Norway set the protection limit for archaeological deposits in the country’s first cultural heritage law in 1905.

This law deemed that archaeological material originating before 1537 should be protected. Anything later was no big deal.

The chosen date was anything but random.

The Protestant Reformation came to Norway in 1537, and with it both the Middle Ages and a large part of the country’s self-determination disappeared. The Catholic Archbishop was key to providing a kind of balance of power between Norway and Denmark, but that soon ended when he was chased out of the country.

When the first Cultural Heritage Act was adopted as a new and independent Norway was being formed, the archaeological heritage and material history originating during Danish and Swedish rule weren’t seen as worthy of protection.

"The individuals who designed the law had a perception of the Middle Ages as Norway's golden age," says Christopher McLees. He recently completed his doctoral degree at Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) with a thesis that addresses this seemingly strange protection limit.

The age limit for buried archaeological deposits hasn’t changed since the original law was passed and remains part of Norway's current cultural heritage law. McLees believes this is a problem.

The scope of historical knowledge that we are losing is steadily widening as the material remains of the lives of previous generations are being neglected and destroyed.

People are surprised

In recent years, excavations of cultural layers containing newer objects and building remains have been occurring at Trondheim Torg, right in the heart of the city. This is only happening because archaeologists received a rare exception to the rule. Normally, excavators would have free rein to go ahead with construction in the post-Reformation deposit layers here.

“Passers-by who hear this are surprised – and appalled,” says the new Doctor McLees, who works as an adviser and researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU). He has been familiar with the issue for decades.

He and others have had to watch while several-hundred-year-old history was destroyed forever at construction sites. This time, archaeological finds from the 16th century and later are also being recorded. They include trash, products, tools and built objects left by craftsmen and other ordinary people, who lived and worked in what were then the city outskirts before Cicignon's reconstruction of Trondheim after the great fire of 1681.

Archaeologists have been granted an exception to the Norwegian Cultural Heritage Act in downtown Trondheim and can save objects that date from after 1537. Photo: Steinar Brandslet, NTNU

Others besides random people on the street are surprised as well. Archaeologists from other countries are often astonished when they hear about the strict distinction, where objects from one year must be conserved, but objects from the following year are not. Denmark implements a flexible age limit, in which archaeologists argue for conservation on a case-by-case base. Sweden’s limit is currently set to 1850 and adjusted over time.

Economic reasons

The age limit for conserving cultural remains set in 1905 went beyond merely historical and national-romantic reasons, and those were the economic aspects. Norway was full of objects and buildings that were several hundred years old. Not everything could be protected if room was to be made for our current age.

“Then, just like now, society didn’t want to incur additional costs,” McLees says.

And it costs money to take care of old things. Impinging on property rights and imposing constraints on development were factors that probably also contributed to retaining the 1905 age limit.

Special rules

But several other types of protection and special exceptions besides the Cultural Heritage Act exist. These include shipwrecks and cargo more than 100 years old, and all Sami cultural remains originating prior to 1917. Exceptions are made for special cultural monuments and environments of more recent vintage – so they can’t simply be destroyed.

It’s quite paradoxical that standing buildings from before 1650 are automatically protected, while cellars – and sometimes the foundations of buildings that burned down or that people intentionally let fall into ruin because they were in the way of something else – are not.

Norway Cultural Heritage Act 1905 1537
Baby crib. All Sami objects older than 100 years are protected. But they are among the exceptions in Norway. Photo: Åge Hojem, NTNU University Museum

Everyday life disappearing

In the past, protection has often focused on conserving special or grand objects rather than preserving the history of the common folk. Ethnologists, historians, architects and cultural historians have dominated the decision making in terms of what to conserve. They have often prioritized and valued written, aesthetic and visible sources more highly as sources of knowledge about our recent past.

“Archaeology and the invisible buried material remains of daily life have ended up low on the list of priorities,” McLees says.

Archaeologists are interested in more than impressive churches, the king's gold or flashy buildings. They want to uncover the history hidden underground and how ordinary people like you and me actually lived in the past – the kinds of clothes they wore, what they ate, the tools they used, and the things that occupied them in their daily lives. In this context, a cooking pot or a shoe can tell just as exciting a story as a gold ring or a beautifully painted portrait.

“This is also a part of history that people today can relate to,” McLees says.

Often, it’s probably easier to understand conserving a striking mansion than the buried ruins of buildings and backyards in parts of the city where people on the lower rungs of society lived and died. But what would tell future archaeologists most about your everyday life – your mobile phone or a Picasso painting?

Protections changing – for some things

Internationally, cultural heritage agencies have long been aware of the need to conserve the material history of our most recent past. Norway is also undergoing an awakening in the academic and management realms of heritage protection, and post-Reformation archaeology is gaining greater significance.

The Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage has prioritized ten themes in recent history and plans to protect important cultural monuments within each of them. The conservation strategy includes defence and war history, industry, old traffic routes and particularly important post-1537 archaeological sites, including cultural layers in cities and towns. Separate rules have been established for national minorities, such as the Kven and Roma peoples, who are entitled to extra protection of their past.

"The Directorate for Cultural Heritage’s proposal is at least in part a delayed response to the fact that the Norwegian authorities have actually committed to conserving more of our cultural heritage through the European Malta Convention," McLees said.

Hermetically sealed

Although McLees welcomes this much delayed measure, he is not optimistic about the effectiveness of the conservation strategy or the future management of Norway’s recent archaeological heritage.

“The criteria for selecting the objects for permanent protection haven’t been specified. This form of protection will put a hermetic lid on the selected cultural monuments. They’ll continue to gradually deteriorate, and won’t be able to be used as sources for research or historical writing,” he says.

The 1537 age limit will also stand in most cases, and the remaining material sources of the past 500 years of history will continue to disappear and be neglected.

McLees believes the stories written about our near future will still have gaps and be inadequate.

“They’ll leave out what has always been indispensable in the lives of human beings through the ages – material objects.

Source: McLees, Christopher. Materialities of Modernity and Social Practice in Trondheim c.1500-1800: An Archaeological Contribution to the Study of Post-Medieval Norway.

 

Press release from Gemini Research News, by Steinar Brandslet / NO


Crusades genetics DNA Sidon Lebanon

The Crusades: genetics tells a story of war and love

Crusaders made love and war, genetic study finds

First genetic study of the Crusaders confirms that warriors mixed and had families with local people in the near East, and died together in battle

 

The first genetic study of ancient human remains believed to be Crusaders confirms that warriors travelled from western Europe to the near East, where they mixed and had families with local people, and died together in battle. Researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute and their collaborators analysed ancient DNA extracted from nine skeletons dating back to the 13th century, which were discovered in a burial pit in Sidon, Lebanon.

The results, published today (18 April) in the American Journal of Human Genetics, confirm that while the Crusaders mixed with local people and recruited them to their cause, their genetic presence in the region was short-lived.

The Crusades were a series of religious wars fought between 1095 and 1291, in which Christian invaders tried to claim the near East. It's known that nobility led the Crusades, but historical records lack details of the ordinary soldiers who travelled to, lived and died in the near East.

In recent years, archaeologists uncovered 25 skeletons dating back to the 13th century within a burial pit in Sidon, Lebanon. All of those found in the pit were male and had been violently killed during battle, as seen by the blunt force injuries to their skulls and other bones. Their bodies had been disposed of in the pit and burned.

Nearby, an isolated skull was found. The head may have been used as a projectile that was catapulted into the opposition's camp to spread disease and slash morale, illustrating the brutality of the battles.

Clues found alongside the skeletons in the pit, such as European shoe buckles, a coin and carbon-14 dating analysis, led archaeologists to believe the human remains were Crusaders.

In a new study, researchers at the Wellcome Sanger Institute produced whole-genome sequences of the ancient skeletons' DNA and confirm they were in fact Crusaders.

The team report that three individuals were Europeans of diverse origins, including Spain and Sardinia, four were near Easterners who had been recruited to the fight, and two individuals had mixed genetic ancestry, suggesting they were the descendants of mixed relationships between Crusaders and near Easterners.

Dr Chris Tyler-Smith, from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said: "Historical documents tell us the names of the nobility who led the Crusades, but the identities of the soldiers remained a mystery. Genomics gives an unprecedented view of the past and shows the Crusaders originated from western Europe and recruited local people of the near East to join them in battle. The Crusaders and near Easterners lived, fought and died side by side."

However, the researchers believe the Crusaders' influence in the region was short-lived as European genetic traces are insignificant in people living in Lebanon today.

When the researchers sequenced the DNA of people living in Lebanon 2,000 years ago during the Roman period, long before the Crusades, they found that today's Lebanese population is genetically similar to the Roman Lebanese, suggesting the Crusades had no lasting impact on Lebanese genetics.

Dr Marc Haber, from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said: "The Crusaders travelled to the near East and had relationships with the local people, with their sons later joining to fight their cause. However, after the fighting had finished, the mixed generation married into the local population and the genetic traces of the Crusaders were quickly lost."

In the study, the team worked with archaeologists at the Sidon Excavation site to transfer bones of the nine skeletons from Lebanon to a laboratory in Cambridge dedicated to ancient DNA. Here, small portions of the surviving 800 year-old DNA were extracted from the temporal bone in the skulls by DNA extraction experts. An ultra-sterile working environment was set up by the scientists to prevent contamination of the samples with their own DNA, which would render them useless.

The ancient DNA samples were particularly difficult to extract and sequence as the bodies had been burned and buried in a warm and humid climate, where DNA degrades quickly. Recent advances in DNA extraction and sequencing technology made studying the ancient and damaged DNA possible.

Dr Claude Doumet-Serhal, Director of the Sidon excavation site in Lebanon, said: "I was thrilled to discover the genetic identities of the people who lived in the near East during the Crusades. Only five years ago, studies like this would not have been possible. The uniting of archaeologists and geneticists creates an incredible opportunity to interpret significant events throughout history."

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Publication:

Marc Haber et al. (2019) A transient pulse of genetic admixture from the Crusaders in the Near East identified from ancient genome sequences. American Journal of Human Genetics. DOI: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2019.03.015

Funding:

This study was supported by Wellcome (098051).

The Wellcome Sanger Institute

The Sanger is one of the world's leading genome and biodata institutes. Through its ability to conduct research at scale, it is able to engage in bold and long-term exploratory projects that are designed to influence and empower science globally. Institute research findings, generated through its own research programmes and through its leading role in international consortia, are being used to develop new diagnostics and treatments for human disease and to understand life on Earth. Find out more at http://www.sanger.ac.uk or follow @sangerinstitute

About Wellcome

Wellcome exists to improve health by helping great ideas to thrive. We support researchers, we take on big health challenges, we campaign for better science, and we help everyone get involved with science and health research. We are a politically and financially independent foundation.

 

Press release from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

A history of the Crusades, as told by crusaders' DNA

Crusades genetics DNA Sidon Lebanon
This image shows the bones of the Crusaders found in a burial pit in Sidon, Lebanon. Credit: Claude Doumet-Serhal

History can tell us a lot about the Crusades, the series of religious wars fought between 1095 and 1291, in which Christian invaders tried to claim the Near East. But the DNA of nine 13th century Crusaders buried in a pit in Lebanon shows that there's more to learn about who the Crusaders were and their interactions with the populations they encountered. The work appears April 18 in The American Journal of Human Genetics.

The remains suggest that the soldiers making up the Crusader armies were genetically diverse and intermixed with the local population in the Near East, although they didn't have a lasting effect on the genetics of Lebanese people living today. They also highlight the important role ancient DNA can play in helping us understand historical events that are less well documented.

"We know that Richard the Lionheart went to fight in the Crusades, but we don't know much about the ordinary soldiers who lived and died there, and these ancient samples give us insights into that," says senior author Chris Tyler-Smith, a genetics researcher at the Wellcome Sanger Institute.

"Our findings give us an unprecedented view of the ancestry of the people who fought in the Crusader army. And it wasn't just Europeans," says first author Marc Haber, also of the Wellcome Sanger Institute. "We see this exceptional genetic diversity in the Near East during medieval times, with Europeans, Near Easterners, and mixed individuals fighting in the Crusades and living and dying side by side."

This image shows the bones of the Crusaders found in a burial pit in Sidon, Lebanon. Credit: Claude Doumet-Serhal

Archaeological evidence suggested that 25 individuals whose remains were found in a burial pit near a Crusader castle near Sidon, Lebanon, were warriors who died in battle in the 1200s. Based on that, Tyler-Smith, Haber, and their colleagues conducted genetic analyses of the remains and were able to sequence the DNA of nine Crusaders, revealing that three were Europeans, four were Near Easterners, and two individuals had mixed genetic ancestry.

Throughout history, other massive human migrations--like the movement of the Mongols through Asia under Genghis Khan and the arrival of colonial Iberians in South America--have fundamentally reshaped the genetic makeup of those regions. But the authors theorize that the Crusaders' influence was likely shorter-lived because the Crusaders' genetic traces are insignificant in people living in Lebanon today. "They made big efforts to expel them, and succeeded after a couple of hundred years," says Tyler-Smith.

This ancient DNA can tell us things about history that modern DNA can't. In fact, when the researchers sequenced the DNA of people living in Lebanon 2,000 years ago during the Roman period, they found that today's Lebanese population is actually more genetically similar to the Roman Lebanese.

"If you look at the genetics of people who lived during the Roman period and the genetics of people who are living there today, you would think that there was just this continuity. You would think that nothing happened between the Roman period and today, and you would miss that for a certain period of time the population of Lebanon included Europeans and people with mixed ancestry," says Haber.

These findings indicate that there may be other major events in human history that don't show up in the DNA of people living today. And if those events aren't as well-documented as the Crusades, we simply might not know about them. "Our findings suggest that it's worthwhile looking at ancient DNA even from periods when it seems like not that much was going on genetically. Our history may be full of these transient pulses of genetic mixing that disappear without a trace," says Tyler-Smith.

That the researchers were able to sequence and interpret the nine Crusaders' DNA at all was also surprising. DNA degrades faster in warm climates, and the remains studied here were burned and crudely buried. "There has been a lot of long-term interest in the genetics of this region, because it has this very strategic position, a lot of history, and a lot of migrations. But previous research has focused mainly on present-day populations, partly because recovering ancient DNA from warm climates is so difficult. Our success shows that studying samples in a similar condition is now possible because of advances in DNA extraction and sequencing technology," says Haber.

Next, the researchers plan to investigate what was happening genetically in the Near East during the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age.

But they also hope that these kinds of studies will become more commonplace--and more interdisciplinary. "Historical records are often very fragmentary and potentially very biased," Tyler-Smith says. "But genetics gives us a complementary approach that can confirm some of the things that we read about in history and tell us about things that are not recorded in the historical records that we have. And as this approach is adopted by historians and archaeologists as a part of their field, I think it will only become more and more enriching."

This image shows the bones of the Crusaders found in a burial pit in Sidon, Lebanon. Credit: Claude Doumet-Serhal

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This work was supported by The Wellcome Trust.

The American Journal of Human Genetics, Haber et al.: "A transient pulse of genetic admixture from the Crusaders in the Near East identified from ancient genome sequences" https://www.cell.com/ajhg/fulltext/S0002-9297(19)30111-9

The American Journal of Human Genetics (@AJHGNews), published by Cell Press for the American Society of Human Genetics, is a monthly journal that provides a record of research and review relating to heredity in humans and to the application of genetic principles in medicine and public policy, as well as in related areas of molecular and cell biology. Visit: http://www.cell.com/ajhg

 

Press release from Cell Press


Breaking down Beowulf

Breaking down Beowulf

Researchers use statistical technique to find evidence that Old English poem had a single author

Illustration from Hero-myths & legends of the British race, by John Henry Frederick Bacon

It's been a towering landmark in the world of English literature for more than two centuries, but Beowulf is still the subject of fierce academic debate, in part between those who claim the epic poem is the work of a single author and those who claim it was stitched together from multiple sources.

In an effort to resolve the dispute, a team of researchers led by Madison Krieger, a post-doctoral fellow at the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics and Joseph Dexter, who received a Ph.D. from Harvard, turned to a very modern tool - a computer.

Using a statistical approach known as stylometry, which analyzes everything from the poem's meter to the number of times different combinations of letters show up in the text, Krieger and colleagues found new evidence that Beowulf is the work of a single author. The study is described in a April 8 paper published in Nature Human Behaviour.

In addition to Krieger, the study was co-authored by Leonard Neidorf from Nanjing University, an expert on Beowulf whose numerous studies include a book on the poem's transmission, as well as Michelle Yakubek, who worked on the project as a student at the Research Science Institute, and Pramit Chaudhuri from the University of Texas at Austin. Chaudhuri and Dexter are the co-directors of the Quantitative Criticism Lab, a multi-institutional group devoted to developing computational approaches for the study of literature and culture.

"We looked at four broad categories of items in the text," Krieger said. "Each line has a meter, and many lines have what we call a sense pause, which is a small pause between clauses and sentences similar to the pauses we typically mark with punctuation in Modern English. We also looked at aspects of word choice."

"But it turns out one of the best markers you can measure is not at the level of words, but at the level of letter-combinations," he continued. "So we counted all the times the author used the combination 'ab', 'ac', 'ad', and so on."

Using those metrics, Krieger said, the team combed through the Beowulf text, and found it to be consistent throughout - a result that lends further support to the theory of single authorship.

"Across many of the proposed breaks in the poem, we see that these measures are homogeneous," Krieger said. "So as far as the actual text of Beowulf is concerned, it doesn't act as though there is supposed to be a major stylistic change at these breaks. The absence of major stylistic shifts is an argument for unity."

The study is just the latest effort to pin down Beowulf's often-mysterious background.

"There are two big debates about Beowulf," Krieger explained. "The first is when it was composed, because the date of composition affects our understanding of how Beowulf is to be interpreted. For instance, whether it is a poem near or far in time from the conversion to Christianity is an important question."

The second debate among Beowulf academics, Krieger said, is related to whether the poem was the work of one author, or many.

"The first edition that was widely available to the public was published in 1815, and the unity of the work was almost immediately attacked," Krieger said. "From high school, everyone remembers the battle with Grendel and Grendel's mother, and maybe the dragon, but if you go back and read the whole poem, there are weird sections about, for instance, how good Beowulf is at swimming, and other sections that go back hundreds of years and talk about hero kings that have ostensibly nothing to do with the story. So the way we read it now... seems very disjointed."

Beowulf dragon stylometry Harvard University
"Now he belched forth flaming fire." An illustration of Beowulf fighting the dragon that appears at the end of the epic poem. Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1908), Stories of Beowulf, T.C. & E.C. Jack, p. 93

One piece of evidence that has factored into debates about unitary composition can be seen just by looking at the text.

"The handwriting is different," Krieger said. "At what I would call a random point in the poem, just mid-sentence, and not really an important sentence, the first scribe's handwriting stops, and somebody else takes over. It's clear that the second scribe also proofread the first scribe, so even though currently nobody really things that these two guys were different poets, or were joining together parts of a poem at this random mid-sentence location, it has helped contribute to a narrative according to which the writing of Beowulf, and maybe its original composition, was a long and collaborative effort.

For the nineteenth century, the prevailing view among academics was that the poem must be the work of multiple authors. It wasn't until the early 20th century that another author - one whose name is all but synonymous with epic storytelling - began to challenge that idea.

His name? J.R.R. Tolkien.

"Tolkien was one of the greatest champions of single authorship," Krieger said. "He was a very prominent Beowulf scholar, and in 1936 he wrote a landmark piece, "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics," that really revived the idea that it was the work of a single person."

At the heart of Tolkien's argument, Krieger said, was the way in which Christianity is reflected in the text.

"The Christianization of Beowulf is very interesting, because every single character in it is a pagan, even in these odd digressions" Krieger said. "Beowulf is from southern Sweden and goes to Denmark to help other pagan Germanic peoples fight monsters... but it's overlaid throughout with a Christian perspective and infused with Christian language." Computational evidence from the study supports Tolkien's view, from a new perspective. "Arguments based on the poem's content or its author's supposed belief system are vital, of course, but equally important are arguments based on the nitty-gritty of stylistic details. The latter also have the merit of being testable, measurable."

Though he acknowledged it's unlikely the new study will be the end of the debates about Beowulf's authorship, Krieger believes it can shed important new light on English literary traditions.

"If we really believe this is one coherent work by one person, what does it mean that it has these strange asides?" he asked. "Maybe one of the biggest takeaways from this is about how you structured a story back then. Maybe we have just lost the ability to read literature in the way people at the time would have understood it, and we should try to understand how these asides actually fit into the story."

Going forward, Krieger and colleagues are hoping to apply the stylometry tools developed for the study to other literary traditions and other landmark works.

"Even works as well-studied as the Iliad and the Odyssey have yet to be analyzed using a full array of computational tools," Krieger said. "The fine-grained features that seem to matter most have never been examined in a lot of traditions, and we're hoping to spread these techniques that we think could change the way similar problems are approached."

Krieger also hopes to use the techniques to understand the stylistic evolution of English across history.

"Putting Old English in context is the springboard," he said. "This is the birth of English literature. From here, we can look at what aspects of style evolved - not just grammar, but at the cultural level, what features people enjoyed, and how they changed over time."

Aside from their ability to shed new light on works of literature, Krieger suggested the stylometry tools used in the study might also have some thoroughly modern uses - including spotting troll farms and fake news online.

"In retrospect, we know many thousands posts on Facebook were written by the same Macedonian troll farm during the 2016 election," he said. "If we had some way to identify that posts were likely written by the same author, that would obviously be very useful in deterring misinformation campaigns."

Ultimately, though, Krieger believes the study is a prime example of how ancient texts still hold secrets that can be uncovered through the use of modern tools.

"This is the first step in taking an old debate and refreshing it with some new methodology," he said. "It's a new extension of the whole critical apparatus, and it's exciting that an area probably assumed to be very traditional can in fact be at the cutting edge of work that spans the humanities and sciences."

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This research was supported with funding from a Neukom Institute for Computational Science CompX Grant, a National Endowment for the Humanities Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant, a New Directions Fellowship from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, and a Neukom Fellowship.

 

 

Press release from Harvard University


Cambridge University Cambridge Digital LIbrary Heidelberg University medieval manuscripts

Cambridge and Heidelberg announce major project to digitise treasured medieval manuscripts

Cambridge and Heidelberg announce major project to digitise treasured medieval manuscripts

Hundreds of medieval and early modern Greek manuscripts – including classical texts and some of the most important treatises on religion, mathematics, history, drama and philosophy – are to be digitised and made available to anyone with access to the internet.

In a major collaboration announced today (March 28), Cambridge University Library, 12 Cambridge colleges, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Heidelberg University Library and the Vatican Library have come together as part of a two-year £1.6m project, funded by the Polonsky Foundation, to digitise more than 800 medieval manuscripts.

The project between two of Europe’s oldest universities, both renowned for their medieval collections, will see the digitisation of every medieval Greek manuscript in Cambridge and all those belonging to the Bibliotheca Palatina collection, split between Heidelberg and the Vatican. It will provide a unique insight into the chronological range of Greek manuscript culture, from the early Christian period to the early modern.

Dr Suzanne Paul, Keeper of Rare Books and Early Manuscripts at Cambridge University Library, said: “The Cambridge and Heidelberg collections bear witness to the enduring legacy of Greek culture – classical and Byzantine – and the lasting importance of Greek scholarship.

“The works of Homer and Plato were copied and recopied throughout the medieval period and the early biblical and liturgical manuscripts are profoundly important for our understanding of a Christian culture based on the written word.

“These multilingual, multicultural, multifarious works, that cross borders, disciplines and the centuries, testify to a deep scholarly engagement with Greek texts and Greek culture that both universities are committed to upholding.”

Once digitised, the Cambridge manuscripts will join the works of Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Stephen Hawking and Alfred Lord Tennyson on the Cambridge Digital Library. Since its launch in 2010 – with the digitisation of Newton’s Principia Mathematica making headlines around the world – the treasures of Cambridge’s Digital Library have been accessed more than 13.5 million times.

Dr Veit Probst, Director of Heidelberg University Library, said: “Numerous discoveries await. We still lack detailed knowledge about the production and provenance of these books, about the identities and activities of their scribes, their artists and their owners – and have yet to uncover how they were studied and used, both during the medieval period and in the centuries beyond. The meanings of the annotations and marginalia in the original manuscripts have yet to be teased apart. From such threads, a rich tapestry of Greek scholarship will be woven.”

With more than 38,000 volumes digitised to date, Heidelberg’s Digital Library has been visited by scholars and members of the public in 169 countries, outlining the global appetite for digital access to collections which would be impossible for most to access directly.

The current status of these collections presents significant challenges to scholars both in terms of cataloguing and conservation, with the medieval bindings of many manuscripts in a fragile state. The current catalogues for them date from the nineteenth century; many of those for the Cambridge manuscripts were written by the scholar M.R. James, Provost of King’s College, Cambridge, but best known for his ghost stories which remain popular to this day.
Of the Cambridge Greek manuscripts, around 210 are held at the University Library, 140 at Trinity College, and a further 60 spread across 11 other colleges and the Fitzwilliam Museum. Of the Bibliotheca Palatina Greek manuscripts, 29 are in Heidelberg and 403 are in the Vatican Library, having been transferred there from Germany as a spoil of war in 1623.

Dr Jessica Gardner, Cambridge University Librarian, said: “Opening up some of the most important Greek medieval manuscripts to not just scholars, but the widest possible audience, is another key milestone towards our goal of sharing Cambridge’s treasured collections with the world.

“I would like us to get to the stage where the University’s entire medieval collections are digitised. This project is testament to what can be achieved when Cambridge’s libraries, colleges and museums work in tandem – while at the same time building ever-closer relationships with a distinguished European research library like our own.”

Dr Leonard S. Polonsky CBE, Founding Chairman, The Polonsky Foundation said:“Our Foundation is proud to support this important collaboration between the ancient universities of Cambridge and Heidelberg, which represents a significant development for both institutions. For Heidelberg the project will complete the virtual reconstruction of the Palatine Library that is being carried out with the Vatican Library.

“For Cambridge it is the first phase of a collaboration among the University Library, Cambridge colleges and the Fitzwilliam Museum to digitise their collections of Western medieval manuscripts. Benefiting from the extraordinary opportunities afforded by digitisation, the project brings together the treasures of these great institutions and makes them available to researchers and the wider public in innovative and attractive ways."

Cambridge University Cambridge Digital LIbrary Heidelberg University medieval manuscriptsPress release from Cambridge University, by Stuart Roberts