ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
This was the 10th anniversary of the Professional Zooarchaeology Group, and it was held in Fort Cumberland, a 18th century fort in Portsmouth where (parts of) Historic England have their offices. There were lots of good talks, celebratory cake and wine, a guided tour of the fort, and a very interesting workshop on identifying dogs from wolves and foxes, as well as sexing dogs.

cut for serious length )
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
Now, this really fills me with confidence:

"This is a digital copy of a book that was prcscrvod for gcncrations on library shclvcs bcforc it was carcfully scannod by Google as pari of a projcct to make the world's books discoverablc online. "

At least I can make out the wrong letters in that sentence, but when I was after stuff that was written pre-standardised spelling... I was very glad the Bodleian had the original book.
ossamenta: Tanner from Medieval manuscript (Vitgarvare (Nürnberg 12brüderstiftung))
A classic, but unfortunate (often recurring even) episode in any writer’s life is the need to add a reference or text, and you have only a vague idea where in your copious amounts of papers it may be. As it turned out, my first two guesses were totally wrong, so I went googling instead. This turned out to be lucky.

Setton’s book The papacy and the Levant was far more detailed than my original source, which only said that when alum* was found in Italy in 1461, trade in alum from the Near East ceased. Apparently, the reason the other alum trade ceased? Papal monopoly on the Italian alum trade. If you bought from the Turks, it was a non-pardonable sin. Previous alum sources had been in the Greek islands and in Turkey and beyond. But that was now under control by the Ottoman Empire, who could and did charge a lot for it. Genoese merchants had grown rich on the alum trade in previous centuries, but I’m not sure how much that affected the Pope’s decision (nepotism and ancient enemies and all that) and how much was fear of the slowly encroaching Ottoman Empire/Islam and how much was mere greed.

As [personal profile] oursin says: it’s always more complicated. And often, complicated makes it so much more interesting!


*: alum is used for curing leather, and produces a white skin. The craftsmen were called tawyers in English, but vitgarvare (white-tanners) in Swedish**.
**: and in German, for that matter (Weissgerber).
ossamenta: Tanner from Medieval manuscript (Vitgarvare (Nürnberg 12brüderstiftung))
... would probably not smell sweet at all, but nevermind that.

One of my continuous "pulling my hair out-frustrations" regarding the essay writing has been trying to find out when tanners emerge as a separate craft. According to Ælfric's Colloquy, from the 10th century, tanners not only made the leather, but also made shoes, belts, harnesses etc. Interestingly, the translator in the pdf linked above uses the word "tanner", where the original has "sceowyrhta" (shoemaker). The town law of Visby (on Gotland, present day Sweden), from 1332-1335) has a section on fees for craftsmen in order to practice their craft. Tanners are mentioned specifically, which has lead to interpretation of this as evidence for a tanners' guild. This would be quite interesting, since the earliest guild charters for tanners in Sweden and Denmark are from the 1630s.

Archaeological evidence for this shift to specialisation is scant: so far I've only heard of one site in Novgorod, which contained waste from both tanning and shoemaking, until the 12-13th centuries, when layers of animal hair and ashes disappear, suggesting that the site was now only occupied by specialised shoemakers, and that tanning occurred elsewhere (Hald 1972).

What we do have instead are written sources (not many, admittedly). Bynames could be used as craft signifiers, and hopefully we can also attach an address to that person. Well, we have to have a broad definition of "address" here. A street name if we're lucky, otherwise a parish. And coming back to the subject line: names. Specifically craft signifying bynames. Already in 1150, a Johannes coriarius witnessed a grant of land in York. Coriarius is usually translated as tanner*, except in one British dictionary, where it also is translated as currier**. Currier is the word used by Lisa Liddy, when discussing leatherworkers in Medieval York (Liddy 2003). This is rather problematic. As a currier is a specialist within the tanning craft, this would suggest that the York leather industry was highly specialised during the 12th century. As comparison, in Sweden, curriers (lädertågare) only occur in Stockholm during the 17th century. I wonder why the person writing the dictionary included currier when no other dictionary does? Other problematic definitions include pellifex/skinner, who sometimes is a whittawyer, sometimes a furrier, and sometimes a tanner.

Of course, these definitions are only properly valid for the high Middle Ages, and may have changed slightly since the Viking Age/Early Middle Ages, which is what I'm writing about. How will we ever know? Extrapolating backwards is tricky, as there are thousands of things that may have changed, most of which never occur to us when we try to set the likely variables.



*: Niermeyer's Medieval Latin dictionary (2002), Mittellateinisch Wörterbuch (1999), Woordenboek van het middeleeuws latijn van de noordelijke Nederlanden (1981). Coriarius is absent from the Danish Medieval Latin dictionary. I have not been able to find a dictionary for Medieval Latin from Swedish sources, though.
**: Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British sources (1981)



Hald, M. (1972) Primitive shoes. An archaeological-ethnological study based upon shoe finds from the Jutland peninsula. Danmarks Nationalmuseum, Köpenhamn, ISBN: 87-480-7282-6.

Liddy, L. (2003) ”Current documentary knowledge”, i Mould, Q., Carlisle, I. & Cameron, E. Leather and leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York. The archaeology of York: The small finds: 17/16. York Archaeological Trust and The Council for British Archaeology. ISBN: 1-902771-36-2. pp. 3222-3226.

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ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
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