Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Marrying for love: Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville

History Extra


Elizabeth’s first clear contact with Edward’s court came on 13 April 1464, only a few months before the suggested date of their marriage. (Photo by Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

Henry VIII tends to be the monarch who gets frequently cited for breaking the royal marital mould by choosing his own wives from among his subjects. In particular, the narrative arcs of his relations with cousins Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard continue to fascinate, five centuries after his passion turned to hatred and he sent both of them to their deaths. However, Henry was only following the example set by Edward IV, the Yorkist grandfather whom he resembled in both looks and appetite. Edward may not have had as many wives as Henry, but his liaisons with women were just as complex and, perhaps, equally destructive on a national scale. Instead of following the traditional kingly route and negotiating for an influential foreign bride, Edward followed his heart and chose his wife for her personal qualities. Despite the scandal this created, the marriage proved successful and lasted until his death.


 “An unlikely queen”
Five years older than her royal husband, Elizabeth Woodville was an unlikely queen. Her legendary blonde beauty entranced the young king to the extent that he married her in spite of tradition, in spite of advice, perhaps even in spite of himself. While none could fault her personal charms, Elizabeth was considered an unacceptable choice for an English queen by most of Edward’s advisors. She was a widow, a mother already, born and married into Lancastrian families, the daughter of a mere knight, a man whom Edward had formerly held in contempt. She brought no dowry or international connections, no territories or promise of diplomatic support. What she did bring was her fertility, bearing the king 10 children in addition to the two sons from her first husband, Sir John Grey. Elizabeth also brought in a model of queenship that differed vastly from that of the woman she replaced, the Lancastrian Margaret of Anjou. Elizabeth may have begun her reign as unsuitable and unpopular but in fact, she was the perfect embodiment of the beautiful, submissive, fertile queen – an archetype of medieval literature.

Elizabeth Woodville, the wife of King Edward IV. The young king was entranced by her legendary blonde beauty. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

 Exactly when Elizabeth and Edward first met is unclear. They may well have been thrown together in the small, elite world of the English aristocracy, at court or some important event in the 1450s. The pair may even have known each other as children, as Elizabeth’s parents appear to have served in Rouen while Edward’s father was resident there as Lieutenant of Normandy. However, for much of Edward’s youth, Elizabeth was married and unavailable, a situation which only changed shortly before he became king. It is possible that he admired her before this point but, even if they had never previously seen one another, their attraction was quickly and decisively established. Edward’s victory at Towton in 1461 put the Woodvilles in a difficult position – the family had fought on the ‘wrong’ side and survived. Yet in June 1461, Edward stayed at their home at Groby, Leicestershire, and granted a pardon to Elizabeth’s father, heralding a new relationship between the family and the Yorkists. The newly-widowed Elizabeth is almost certain to have sought shelter under her parents’ roof, so this may well have been a critical moment in their relationship.

 Elizabeth’s first clear contact with Edward’s court came on 13 April 1464, only a few months before the suggested date of their marriage. She appealed to William, Lord Hastings, probably in his role as overseer of the Yorkist Midlands, for his assistance in a dispute arising with her mother-in-law. Legend has Elizabeth waiting for Edward under an oak in Whittlebury Forest, a helpless widow, hoping to plead for the inheritances of her sons. Perhaps he did come riding by, hear her problems and fall in love. When she became aware of his intentions and agreed to become his wife, knowing his position, she cannot have known what lay ahead, but she must have agreed to collude in his veil of secrecy. Her decision to marry the king cannot have been one she would have taken lightly. 

Elizabeth married Edward in secret, some time before September 1464. The exact date and circumstances of this event are still hotly debated among historians, especially because the choices Edward made were later used to undermine his dynastic line. The ceremony appears to have taken place in the chapel at Groby, with the collusion of Elizabeth’s mother, Jacquetta, Countess Rivers, although it was kept secret from her father at that point. This choice was hardly surprising, given the reaction Edward could anticipate to the match, but there is also the possibility that the ritual was intended as a means of seduction rather than a lasting commitment.

 Some historians have suggested that the king was, in fact, already married at this point. Almost 20 years later, after Edward’s death, the question of his children’s legitimacy turned upon a statement made by Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells, who asserted that a prior arrangement between Edward and Eleanor Butler, née Talbot, invalidated his marriage to Elizabeth. This argument was used to depose Edward’s eldest son Edward V and replace him with Edward’s brother, Richard III. Eleanor was already conveniently long-dead by this time, as were any other witnesses, so the plausibility of the claim rested upon what was known of Edward’s character. His contemporary reputation as a womaniser did little to allay this possibility, and the secret marriage to Elizabeth only added to the doubts. At the time, there was no way that Edward could have predicted his early death, or his brother’s actions, although by rejecting the usual practice of conducting a royal marriage in public, he called his motives into question.


King Edward IV by an unknown artist, late 16th century. There is no question that Edward was a great catch for a knight’s widow. (Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images)

 A desire to be together
Edward and Elizabeth were married for 19 years. Their relationship spanned a turbulent period, during which Edward lost and regained the throne, faced rebellion and was forced into exile. This meant that there were periods when the couple were separated, unsure whether or not they would see each other again. Edward also had mistresses, especially towards the end of his life, when he famously loved the company of Jane Shore. However, this was by no means unusual at the time, so would not necessarily have been a cause for conflict in the way that modern, post-Romantic sensibilities might anticipate. It was almost expected, for reasons of health and safety, that men would abstain from sleeping with their pregnant wives, but required sexual outlets elsewhere. While Edward might share another woman’s bed, he had made Elizabeth his queen and, unlike his grandson Henry VIII, he never intended to dislodge her from that position. Sex with other women would have been a diversion and a physical outlet, rather than an attempt to replace Elizabeth; it was advised by physicians as essential to health and might even have been welcomed by the queen later in life, or while she was indisposed. In spite of these issues, the marriage never appears to have foundered or weakened. Despite these difficulties and the opposition to their union, both were united in their desire to be together.

 Today, it is difficult to recover the intimate details of a private life that was not committed to letters or a diary. Yet, it is possible to look at the indications that suggest the marriage did work, on a personal level, and Edward’s ability to maintain the union in the wake of the contemporary dislike of Elizabeth’s family. In defying expectations that he had a duty to use marriage as a diplomatic tool, Edward prioritised love, perhaps lust, in a way that exposed his own feelings. There was no question that he desired Elizabeth and was prepared to take considerable risks to make her his queen.

 Yet amid all the controversy, Elizabeth’s own feelings are less transparent. A few of the chroniclers mention her initial resistance to Edward’s advances on moral grounds, refusing to become his mistress in a way that made him determined to make her his wife. However, this does not appear to have been as conscious a policy as that which Anne Boleyn would use six decades later. There is no question that Edward was a great catch for a knight’s widow. Apart from his considerable personal charms, to bag a king was the ultimate achievement as a career marriage, and brought unprecedented advantages to the Woodville family, something which Elizabeth must have been acutely aware of. But this may have been a realistic move, not a cynical one. It was the happy union of attraction and advantage that would have made the match so unique.

 Elizabeth bore Edward 10 children, with their youngest arriving just three years before the king’s death. Of their seven girls and three boys, only five daughters reached adulthood, the others falling victim to illness, or disappearing inside the Tower of London, as was the case with the two elder boys, Edward V and his brother Richard. The provision for the young Prince Edward’s education and establishment at Ludlow Castle in the 1470s show that his parents cared deeply about the way his learning was imparted, his leisure hours and the influences upon him. He was to be allowed time to play, to enjoy his dogs and horses, and to be well fed, well slept and preserved from the influence of those who might be uncouth, ill, or of evil intent. The royal family appears to have been a close, warm unit, which retained a sense of loyalty and mutual support throughout Edward’s reign and afterwards. Their household accounts and the glimpses offered by eyewitnesses capture their mutual investment in the life they had created together and fought to protect. The eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, continued to help her sisters and their offspring after she had married Henry VII and become queen.


'The Young Princes in the Tower', 1831. Of the 10 children of Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV, only five reached adulthood, the others falling victim to illness, or disappearing inside the Tower of London, as was the case with the two elder boys, Edward V and his brother Richard. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)

 A productive partnership
As 1483 dawned, Edward and Elizabeth might still have anticipated many years together. They had been married almost 19 years, the country was at peace and Edward himself was approaching his 41st birthday. He was middle-aged by contemporary standards, and although not as active and fit as his earlier years, had contemplated personally leading an army against the Scots just one year previously. The marriage had been placed under considerable pressure by Edward’s conflicts with his nobility, as rivalry was created by jealousy at the new-found wealth of the Woodvilles. Yet there are no surviving anecdotes that relate to conflict between the couple, or any lessening of affection. None of the gossipy stories that relate to the wives of Henry VIII, or those of Henry VI, Richard III and Henry VII, emerge about Edward and Elizabeth. Their partnership appeared complementary, harmonious and enduring, with Edward adopting a martial style of leadership, ruling by merit of his larger-than-life personality and Elizabeth taking the typically feminine role of the supportive and fertile but essentially apolitical queen.

 Edward’s premature death in April 1483 ended a productive partnership before it had fully come to fruition, before their eldest son was of age. Having been the ‘glue’ that bound the disparate elements of his court together, Edward’s absence proved to be the catalyst that precipitated civil chaos. Losing control of power, and of her sons, Elizabeth witnessed the deaths of her friends and relatives before peace was restored under her son-in-law, Henry VII. She retired to Bermondsey Abbey, spending her final days in seclusion before being laid to rest in a humble grave, at her own request, alongside Edward in St George’s Chapel at Windsor. They lie there today, permanently united in death, their marriage standing as a symbol of the strong rule they embodied in life.

 Amy Licence is the author of Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville: A True Romance (Amberley Publishing 2016)

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Pig in a Coffin, A Pregnant Goat, and a Dog That Died in Childbirth: What Were Bizarre Animal Remains Doing in an Anglo-Saxon Church?

Ancient Origins


A group of archaeologists carrying out a routine excavation at a Greek Orthodox church in Shropshire, England, made an extraordinary discovery on the final day of their dig – bizarre animal burials, a pit of human skulls, and the remains of an Anglo-Saxon church. So why were animals ritualistically buried on consecrated ground?

Discovery Takes Place on the Final Day of the Dig
The site was being investigated after Shropshire Council gave consent for housing adjacent to the church. The archaeologists were on a mission to find the remains of a wooden beam, post or other object that would help them to accurately date the site, before it was due to be sealed to make way for a road and car park. Luckily, on the final day of part of the dig, they found the determining piece of evidence that they were looking for: a 15-inch section of an upright wooden post, thought to be a door post. Project manager Janey Green, of Baskerville Archaeological Services, told Shropshire Live, “I had a hunch there was an Anglo-Saxon church here, the site was rumored to be Anglo-Saxon and the vital piece of evidence that we need to be able to prove that it is Anglo-Saxon came at the last hour literally!”

Janey Green and her team of excavators with the wooden door post found at Sutton Farm. Credit: Baskerville Archaeological Services

Animal Burials Pre-date the Christian Period
 Archaeologists also said the finds, which include a calf, a pig and a dog that died while giving birth, were "unprecedented". In total, two dogs, a calf, some birds and a pig were discovered on the site at the Greek Orthodox Church, on Oteley Road, along with the remains of an early medieval woman and a pit full of human skulls. Miss Green speculates the animal burials pre-date the Christian period, “It was a huge surprise to find these burials in a church graveyard. To find animals buried in consecrated ground is incredibly unusual because it would have been a big no no. The bones don’t show any signs of butchery and the animals appear to have been deliberately and carefully laid in the ground. The site is a few hundred meters from known prehistoric human burial mounds so they may be connected,” she told Shropshire Live.

She also suggests that it would be impossible for the remains dating back to the Victorian period, even though she thinks that the use of technology will help them to accurately define the dates of the finds, “Initially I thought I may have come across a whimsical Victorian burial of a beloved pet. But the Victorians usually left objects in the graves such as a collar, a letter or a posie of flowers and we haven’t found a shred of evidence of anything like that here. Neither is there evidence that the animals were fallen farm stock that were disposed of in modern times. The next step is to have the bones carbon dated and we’re hoping funds would be available for that,” she told Shropshire Live.


More than Six Months of Work
For the end, Ms. Green mentioned that the company had been working on the site for more than six months even though they managed to unearth the animal burials just recently. "We didn't in our wildest dreams imagine we would find what we have," she said. The company was called in as a condition of the planning consent given by Shropshire Council for homes to be built opposite. Ms. Green also stated that she did not know why the animals were buried together and speculates a number of theories, including a possible link to a nearby Bronze Age site. The remains will now be tested to determine their age before being re-buried on the site.

Top image: Janey Green of Baskerville Archaeology Services digging up bones in Oteley Road. Credit: Baskerville Archaeological Services

 By Theodoros Karasavvas

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Who Was St Dwynwen and How is She Associated with St Valentine?

Ancient Origins


February 14 is the day marked for lovers in many countries around the world, but in Wales there is another date traditionally associated with romance: St Dwynwen’s Day, January 25.

Dwynwen – pronounced [dʊɨnwɛn] – was the daughter of an early medieval king who became the Welsh patron saint of lovers. As you might expect, she has her own love story – although it’s not quite what we today would consider a romantic one.

As the earliest version of her tale goes, Dwynwen was deeply in love with a young man called Maelon Dafodrill, but when she rebuffed his premarital sexual advances, he became enraged and left her. Saddened and fearful, Dwynwen prayed to God, and soon enough her former suitor’s ardour was decisively cooled – he was turned into a block of ice. And for rejecting Maelon’s untimely advances, God allowed Dwynwen three wishes.

St. Dwynwen meets an angel. (FREE to use Clipart)

Her first wish was that Maelon should be defrosted at once. The second was that her prayers on behalf of “all true-hearted lovers” should be heard, so that “they should either obtain the objects of their affection, or be cured of their passion”. Her final wish was that she should never have to marry; she is said to have ended her life as a nun at the isolated church named after her, Llanddwyn, on the island of Anglesey.


Crosses on Llanddwyn Island. (CC BY 2.0)

Creating a Legend
Although it echoes other medieval saints’ lives, Dwynwen’s story only appeared for the first time in the writings of the self-taught polymath Edward Williams (1747-1826), better known by his bardic name Iolo Morganwg. Now Morganwg, depending on your point of view, was either a creative literary genius or a shameless forger. Either way, it seems certain that Dwynwen’s story is not medieval at all, but rather a product of Morganwg’s vivid imagination.

However, Dwynwen may well have been a real woman: she is mentioned in early genealogies as one of the numerous saintly daughters of the semi-legendary fifth-century king, Brychan Brycheiniog. Part of a Latin mass from the early 16th century states that she walked on water from Ireland to escape the clutches of the Welsh king Maelgwn Gwynedd – although fleeing to Ireland might have been a better plan.


The church of Llanddwynwen or Llanddwyn in the 18th Century. (National Library of Wales)

Our knowledge of the cult of Dwynwen is mainly based on two Welsh-language poems. The most famous was composed by medieval Wales’s greatest poet, Dafydd ap Gwilym, around the middle of the 14th century, and was certainly known to Morganwg. In it, the amorous poet calls for Dwynwen’s assistance as a “llatai”, or love-messenger, for him and his married lover Morfudd. Aware that his actions are, to say the least, morally dubious, Dafydd promises the saint that she won’t lose her place in heaven by helping the lovers. Indeed, ensuring that his back is at least metaphorically covered, he also calls on God himself to keep Morfudd’s interfering husband from interrupting the lovers in their woodland trysts.

The other poem, by the priest-poet Dafydd Trefor, dates from around 1500 and describes the pilgrims that thronged to her church to see her image and to seek restoration from her holy wells. Their offerings ensured that the church grew wealthy although Dwynwen’s fame – inevitably – receded after the Reformation. But she never slipped into complete obscurity.


An imaginary portrait of medieval Welsh-language poet Dafydd ap Gwilym. (Public Domain)

Modern Reworkings
Dwynwen’s re-emergence began in earnest when extracts from Morganwg’s manuscripts were published with English translations in 1848. As a result, her story slowly but surely gained a foothold in the Welsh imagination. In 1886, for instance, composer Joseph Parry wrote the music for “Dwynwen”, a rousing chorus for male voice choirs. And in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Welsh newspapers in both languages would occasionally relate the story of the “Celtic Venus”.

 In the 1960s, as the commercialisation of St Valentine’s Day continued apace, the first St Dwynwen’s Day cards were produced in Wales. Yet unlike her ice-melting prototype, the modern Dwynwen proved to be a slow burner. Indeed, by 1993 a commentator stated that attempts to create a Dwynwen tradition were withering away.


St. Dwynwen Church ruins on Llanddwyn Island. It was originally built in the 16th Century. (CC BY 2.0)

But in the current century St Dwynwen’s Day is once more flourishing, bolstered by the media and the same kind of special offers that you see around St Valentine’s Day. And although St Dwynwen’s Day is more familiar to those who speak Welsh than to those who don’t, even this is slowly changing.

Does it say something about the passion of the Welsh that they have two days for lovers, Valentine – “Ffolant” as he is known in Welsh – and Dwynwen? Probably not. But the relationship between the two is revealingly ambivalent.

St Dwynwen’s day is in part a protest against the globalising commercialisation of St Valentine’s Day. But it’s also an attempt to find a place in the same marketplace for a distinctively Welsh product. It certainly shouldn’t be seen as a repackaging of St Valentine’s Day for a Welsh audience – that would be like marketing St David as the “St George of Wales”.

A colorful depiction of a modern Saint Dwynwen icon. (Everyday Nature Trails)

If you find yourself in Wales on January 25, do make the most of the opportunity to follow your heart’s desires. The only advice I’d give you is this: don’t call Dwynwen the “Welsh Valentine”.

Top Image: A representation of St. Dwynwen by Jonathan Earl Bowser. Source: Wild Eyed Southern Celt

The article, originally titled ‘How St Dwynwen wrongly became known as the Welsh Valentine’ by Dylan Foster Evans was originally published on The Conversation and has republished under a Creative Commons license.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Researchers Wonder if Rich Viking Boat Burial Found in Scotland was Made for a Warrior Woman

Ancient Origins

A team of researchers who have been examining the horde of grave goods left in an amazing Viking boat burial have decided that the deceased individual was definitely an important person in their society. While shedding light on the origins, diet, and social standing, the interesting mixture of artifacts has also raised new questions about who the person was. For example, archaeologists are uncertain if the grave held a man or woman.

Found near a Neolithic cairn in the Ardnamurchan peninsula in western Scotland in 2011, the Viking boat burial dates to the late 9th or early 10th century. Live Science reports that it was the first to be found undisturbed on the British mainland and has provided some vital information on burial practices from the time. The researchers must have been delighted to unearth such a rich grave.


Some of the finds recovered from the grave (clockwise from the top left): broad-bladed axe, shield boss, ringed pin and the hammer and tongs. (Photographs: Pieta Greaves/AOC Archaeology)

Several of the goods were objects of daily life, items for cooking, working, farming and food production were all included in the grave. It also held a shield boss (domed part of a shield protecting a warrior's hand); a whetstone from Norway, and a ringed pin used to close a burial cloak or shroud, possibly from Ireland. As the researchers wrote in their article published in the journal Antiquity:

"The burial evokes the mundane and the exotic, past and present, as well as local, national and international identities […] when considering a burial like this, it is essential to remember that each of these objects, and each of these actions, was never isolated, but rather they emerge out of, and help to form, an assemblage that knits together multiple places, people and moments in time.”


The sword (top); the sword in situ (below); the mineralized textile remains (right); detail of the decoration after conservation (left). (Lower photographs: Pieta Greaves/AOC Archaeology)

The burial also contained a sword, an axe, a drinking horn vessel, a broken spearhead (probably fragmented in a funeral ritual), a hammer, and some tongs – the researchers say that all these have suggest a warrior burial, likely male.

However, Oliver Harris, co-director of the Ardnamurchan Transitions Project (ATP) at the University of Leicester's School of Archaeology and Ancient History, told Seeker “There is nothing female per se in the grave, though of course there are lots of objects — sickle, the ladle, the knife, the ringed pin — that are not male either.”



The ladle, sickle, spearhead, and knife. (Harris et al)

And with just two teeth remaining for the person’s body, the researchers cannot confirm the individual’s sex. As Harris said “The burial is probably that of a man — but as we only have the two teeth surviving, it is impossible to be definitive. So it is possible, but not likely, that this was the burial of a woman.”

It would not be unheard of for a Viking woman to have an elaborate burial however, as Dwhty has written previously for Ancient Origins about the Oseberg Viking ship burial:

“The Oseberg ship burial contained two human skeletons, both female. One of the skeletons belonged to a woman who was about 70 or 80 years old when she died. Investigations suggest that the woman probably died of cancer. It is unclear who this woman actually was, and some have speculated that she may have been Queen Åsa, the grandmother of the first Norwegian king. The second skeleton belonged to a woman in her 50s, though it is not known how she died.




Oseberg ship, Kulturhistorisk museum (Viking Ship Museum), Oslo, Norway. (Public Domain)

It has been suggested that the middle-aged woman may have been a slave who was sacrificed to accompany the older woman. This burial also contained the remains of 13 horses, four dogs, and two oxen, probably sacrificed as well to accompany the deceased into the afterlife. Although the damp conditions within the mound allowed for the ship and its contents to be well-preserved, the mound had been broken into by robbers and any precious metal items were taken.

Returning to the present study, the researchers completed an isotopic analysis of the teeth found in the Ardnamurchan Viking boat burial and discovered that the deceased probably grew up in Scandinavia and had to change his/her diet for about a year during childhood. Harris explained, “The switch in diet probably shows there was some shortage in food for a period of time leading people to eat more fish.”


The Viking’s teeth. (Harris et al.)

As for the boat itself, well, all that remained was 213 of its metal rivets; the wood decayed, though an impression left in the soil suggests that it had measured 16 feet (4.88 meters) in length. This would be consistent with the size of a small rowing boat.

 Perhaps the most elaborate (and disturbing) example of Viking ship burial practices was the 10th century chronicle of the violent, orgiastic funeral of a Viking chieftain. Holy man and jurist Ahmad Ibn Fadlan described the death rites of mourning Vikings in Bulgaria who had lost their chieftain. As Mark Miller wrote:

“In the Viking tradition, if it was a chief who died, he was placed in the ground while his burial clothes were prepared for 10 days, during which his followers drank and had sex with doomed slave girls “purely out of love.” On the day of cremation, the Viking’s body was exhumed, then his companions burned him, along with volunteer slave girls or boys who were slain, slaughtered dogs, horses, cows and chickens, food offerings, his weapons and his ship.”



‘The Funeral of a Viking’ (1893) by Frank Dicksee. (Public Domain)

After these extreme burial practices, the Vikings built an earthen mound over the burned vessel. Miller writes that archaeologists are still searching for the location of this grave.

He also reminds us that,

“this death rite or orgy that Ibn Fadlan described was for a chief, and it happened among the warriors and leaders of the Viking society who were in the Volga viking. Presumably the farmers, hunters, bakers, craftsmen and other plain folk—the great majority of Viking society—did not practice this lurid death celebration. Also, this was one Viking group at one point in the 260-year history of the Viking raids and settlements, and we have no way of knowing how many Viking groups practiced these wild funeral celebrations over their vast territories.”

Top Image: Funeral of a Rus' nobleman’ (1883) by Henryk Siemiradzki. (Public Domain) Detail: Post-excavation photograph of the cut at the Ardnamurchan Viking boat burial. (Harris et al.)

 By Alicia McDermott

Friday, February 17, 2017

After 60 Years, Archaeologists are Thrilled to Find a Twelfth Dead Sea Scroll Cave

Ancient Origins


A team of archaeologists from the Hebrew University were exploring a cave near the Dead Sea and claim that the cave once hosted Dead Sea Scrolls from the Second Temple period. Unluckily, the ancient parchments are missing, possibly looted by Bedouins during the 20th century, but their discovery is still seen as an important find related to the famous Dead Sea Scrolls.

Cave Number 12
 Until recently it was thought that only 11 caves contained scrolls. After the discovery of this cave, however, many scholars already suggest that it should be numbered as Cave 12. As happened with Cave 8, in which scroll jars but no scrolls were found, this cave will receive the designation Q12 with the Q (Qumran) indicating that no scrolls were found inside the cave.


Fragments of shattered jars believed to have contained stolen Dead Sea scrolls, found in cave 12 near Qumran. (Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld, Hebrew University)

The fascinating discovery was made by Dr. Oren Gutfeld and Ahiad Ovadia from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Institute of Archaeology, with the contributions of Dr. Randall Price and students from Liberty University in Virginia USA. The researchers became the first in over six decades to discover a new scroll cave and to accurately excavate it.

View of the Dead Sea from a Cave at Qumran. (Public Domain)

Dr. Oren Gutfeld, an archaeologist at the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology and director of the excavation, couldn’t hide his excitement in his statements to Times of Israel,

"This exciting excavation is the closest we've come to discovering new Dead Sea scrolls in 60 years. Until now, it was accepted that Dead Sea scrolls were found only in 11 caves at Qumran, but now there is no doubt that this is the 12th cave. Although at the end of the day no scroll was found, and instead we 'only' found a piece of parchment rolled up in a jug that was being processed for writing, the findings indicate beyond any doubt that the cave contained scrolls that were stolen.”

More than Just Storage Jars
The finds from the excavation don’t include only the storage jars which held the scrolls, but also fragments of scroll wrappings, a string that tied the scrolls, and a piece of worked leather that was a part of a scroll.

Cloth used for wrapping scrolls discovered in the cave. (Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld)

The discovery of pottery and several flint blades, arrowheads, and a decorated stamp seal made of carnelian, a semi-precious stone, also indicates that this cave was used in the Chalcolithic and the Neolithic periods. Interestingly, pickaxes from the 1940s, a smoking gun from the Bedouin plunderers who dug in the cave, were also found along with the ancient remains.


A seal made of carnelian stone and arrowheads and flint blades were among the other artifacts found in the cave. (Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld)

The Archaeological Significance The first Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947 by a Bedouin shepherd who unintentionally chucked a rock into a cave in the vicinity of Qumran. More texts surfaced in the years following during excavations in the Jordanian-held West Bank and were put on sale on the black market. This, however, is the first excavation to take place in the northern part of the Judean Desert as part of "Operation Scroll" - and archaeologists are optimistic to find new scroll material and evidence that will help to better understand the function of the caves.


The Damascus Document Scroll 4Q271 (4QDf). (Public Domain)

Speaking on the discovery, Israel Hasson, Director-General of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said,

"The important discovery of another scroll cave attests to the fact that a lot of work remains to be done in the Judean Desert and finds of huge importance are still waiting to be discovered. We are in a race against time as antiquities thieves steal heritage assets worldwide for financial gain. The State of Israel needs to mobilize and allocate the necessary resources in order to launch a historic operation, together with the public, to carry out a systematic excavation of all the caves of the Judean Desert."

Top Image: Remnant of scroll found in a cave near Qumran after it was removed from jar. Source: Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld, Hebrew University

 By Theodoros Karasavvas

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Would You Drink a Lumpy Beer? People Living in China 5000 Years Ago Did!

Ancient Origins


Researchers have discovered a 5,000-year-old beer recipe by studying the residue on the inner walls of pottery vessels found in an excavated site in northeast China. It’s the earliest evidence of beer production in China so far.

 On a recent afternoon, a small group of students gathered around a large table in one of the rooms at the Stanford Archaeology Center.

 Li Liu, a professor in Chinese archaeology at Stanford University and coauthor of the study on the beer recipe published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, recently stood before students and a collection of plastic-covered glass beakers and water bottles filled with yellow, foamy liquid. “Archaeology is not just about reading books and analyzing artifacts,” says Liu.

“Trying to imitate ancient behavior and make things with the ancient method helps students really put themselves into the past and understand why people did what they did.”


So That’s Why Barley Went to China
The ancient Chinese made beer mainly with cereal grains, including millet and barley, as well as with Job’s tears, a type of grass from Asia, according to the research. Traces of yam and lily root parts also appeared in the concoction.

Liu says she was particularly surprised to find barley—which is used to make beer today—in the recipe because the earliest evidence to date of barley seeds in China dates to 4,000 years ago. This suggests why barley, which was first domesticated in western Asia, spread to China.

A blend of milled malted barley for beer brewing. (CC BY SA 3.0)

“Our results suggest the purpose of barley’s introduction in China could have been related to making alcohol rather than as a staple food,” Liu says.

The ancient Chinese beer looked more like porridge and likely tasted sweeter and fruitier than the clear, bitter beers of today. The ingredients used for fermentation were not filtered out, and straws were commonly used for drinking, Liu says.

Mashing or Spitting At the end of Liu’s class, each student tried to imitate the ancient Chinese beer using either wheat, millet, or barley seeds.

“People looked at me weird when they saw the ‘spit beer’ I was making for class.”


Some of the students’ creations. (Youtube Screenshot)

The students first covered their grain with water and let it sprout, in a process called malting. After the grain sprouted, the students crushed the seeds and put them in water again. The container with the mixture was then placed in the oven and heated to 65º degrees Celsius (149º F) for an hour, in a process called mashing. Afterward, the students sealed the container with plastic and let it stand at room temperature for about a week to ferment.

Alongside that experiment, the students tried to replicate making beer with a vegetable root called manioc. That type of beer-making, which is indigenous to many cultures in South America where the brew is referred to as “chicha,” involves chewing and spitting manioc, then boiling and fermenting the mixture.


Madeleine Ota, an undergraduate student in Liu’s course, says she knew nothing about the process of making beer before taking the class and was skeptical that her experiments would work. The mastication part of the experiment was especially foreign to her, she says.

“It was a strange process,” Ota says. “People looked at me weird when they saw the ‘spit beer’ I was making for class. I remember thinking, ‘How could this possibly turn into something alcoholic?’ But it was really rewarding to see that both experiments actually yielded results.”

Ota used red wheat for brewing her ancient Chinese beer. Despite the mold, the mixture had a pleasant fruity smell and a citrus taste, similar to a cider, Ota says. Her manioc beer, however, smelled like funky cheese, and Ota had no desire to check how it tasted.

 The results of the students’ experiments are going to be used in further research on ancient alcohol-making that Liu and Wang are working on.

 “The beer that students made and analyzed will be incorporated into our final research findings,” Wang says. “In that way, the class gives students an opportunity to not only experience what the daily work of some archaeologists looks like but also contribute to our ongoing research.”


The “beer-making toolkit” from the site Liu and Wang are studying: (A) Pit H82 illustration in top and cross-section views, (B) funnel 1, (C) pot 6 in reconstructed form, (D) pot 3 in reconstructed form, and (E) pottery stove. (Wang et al.)

What Caused a Revolution?
For decades, archeologists have yearned to understand the origin of agriculture and what actions may have sparked humans to transition from hunting and gathering to settling and farming, a period historians call the Neolithic Revolution.

Studying the evolution of alcohol and food production provides a window into understanding ancient human behavior, says Liu.

Late Neolithic Period (ca. 2500 - 2000 BC) large gray mug of the Henan Longshan Culture. (CC BY SA 2.5)

But it can be difficult to figure out precisely how the ancient people made alcohol and food from just examining artifacts because organic molecules easily break down with time. That’s why experiential archaeology is so important, Liu says.

“We are still trying to understand what kind of things were used back then,” Liu says.

Top Image: A more modern beer – without the lumps. Source: Public Domain

The article, originally titled ‘Ancient Chinese recipe makes lumpy, tasty beer’ by Stanford University was originally published on Futurity and has been republished under a Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Leaving an Impression: Footprints Left by Children Found in Ancient Capital of Ramesses II

Ancient Origins


A group of German archaeologists has discovered many Pharaonic features in Egypt's Nile Delta, including the remains of a building complex, a mortar pit with footprints left by children, and a painted wall, as the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry announced Tuesday.

Newly Discovered Building Complex Described as “Monumental”
The head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Department at Egypt’s antiquities ministry, Mahmoud Afifi, announced yesterday that at the ancient city of Pi-Ramesses an excavation team from the Roemer and Pelizaeus Museum in Hildesheim in Germany has unearthed parts of a building complex as well as a mortar pit with children’s footprints. Mahmoud Afifi, impressed with the size (covering about 200 by 160 meters) of the newly discovered structure, described it as "truly monumental" and told Ahram Online that its layout suggests the complex was likely a palace or a temple. The buildings were discovered in the village of Qantir, situated about 60 miles (96.6 km) northeast of Cairo. The modern-day village of Qantir is located on the site of Pharaoh Rameses II's capital, "House of Ramses."

An excavated section of the newly-found building complex. (Ministry of Antiquities)

The Life and Legacy of Ramesses II
Ramesses II is arguably one of the most influential and remembered pharaohs of ancient Egypt. Ramesses II, the third pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty, ascended the throne of Egypt during his late teens in 1279 BC following the death of his father, Seti I. He is known to have ruled ancient Egypt for a total of 66 years, outliving many of his sons in the process – although he is believed to have fathered more than 100 children. As a result of his long and prosperous reign, Ramesses II was able to undertake numerous military campaigns against neighboring regions, as well as building monuments to the gods, and of course, to himself.


A statue of Ramesses II. Source: BigStockPhoto

One of the victories of Ramesses II’s reign was the Battle of Kadesh. This was a battle fought between the Egyptians, led by Ramesses II and the Hittites under Muwatalli for the control of Syria. The battle took place in the spring of the 5th year of the reign of Ramesses II, and was caused by the defection of the Amurru from the Hittites to Egypt. This defection resulted in a Hittite attempt to bring the Amurru back into their sphere of influence. Ramesses II would have none of that and decided to protect his new vassal by marching his army north. The pharaoh’s campaign against the Hittites was also aimed at driving the Hittites, who have been causing trouble for the Egyptians since the time of Pharaoh Thutmose III, back beyond their borders. According to the Egyptian accounts, the Hittites were defeated, and Ramesses II had gained a great victory. The story of this victory is most famously monumentalized on the inside of the temple of Abu Simbel.

Abu Simbel Temple of King Ramses II, a masterpiece of pharaonic arts and buildings in Old Egypt. Source: BigStockPhoto

 Promising Finds
Henning Franzmeier, the mission director, explained that magnetic measurements were carried out in 2016 and through those measurements the building complex was located, "Based on the results of the measurements carried out by the team last year to determine the structure of the ancient city, a field was rented out, beneath which relevant structures were to be placed," he told Ahram Online. The excavation team also unearthed a small trench that was laid out in an area where they suspect the enclosure wall can be spotted. "These finds and archaeological features being uncovered are promising. They can all be dated to the pharaonic period," Franzmeier added.

Result of a magnetic survey carried out at the site. (Peramses mission)

A Mortar Pit with Impressions of Children's Feet Last but not least, Franzmeier mentioned that just a few inches beneath the surface, a large number of walls were found, but what excited him the most was a mortar pit extending at least 2.5 x 8 meters (8 x 26 ft)


Remains of a multi-colored wall painting found in the pit. (Ministry of Antiquities)

In the pit, a sheet of mortar has been preserved at the bottom which shows some children’s' footprints mixed with the components of the mortar. "What's extraordinary is the filling of the pit, as it consists of smashed pieces of painted wall plaster. No motifs are recognizable so far, but we are certainly dealing with the remains of large-scale multi-colored wall paintings “ Franzmeier said as Independent of Egypt reports. An all-inclusive excavation of all fragments followed by permanent conservation and the rebuilding of motifs will be the subject of future seasons at this intriguing site.



Children’s footprints in the mortar pit. (Qantir-Pi-Ramesse Project; photographer Robert Stetefeld)

Top Image: A digital reconstruction of the city of Pi-Ramesses. (Ramesses the second)

Insert: Children’s footprints in the mortar pit. (Qantir-Pi-Ramesse Project; photographer Robert Stetefeld)

By Theodoros Karasavvas