ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
2012-09-09 22:16

EAA 2012 conference report

I had a great time at the EAA conference, although I really would have liked a clone or two just for the extensive programme. How do you choose between so many interesting talks? I decided to go for the ”useful” option rather than the ”interesting” option. Obviously, it’s always better when these two categories mix. So in the end, I decided to go to the sessions ”Baltic urbanism”, ”Life in the city”, ”Famine, murrain and plague”, ”Settled and intinerant craft people” and sneak into the Scandinavian-related talks in ”War and warfare” and the wear traces talk in ”From bone to bead”. Obviously not all taks were relevant to me or memorable, but luckily, several were.

Read more... )
It was a good conference, and I managed to do some touristing too among all the conferencing, networking and socialising. I went on a day trip to Tallinn (gorgeous medieval city which made me miss Visby very much) and took a boat out to the 18th century fortress Soumenlinna (a great way to spend some hours). A visit is recommended.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
2012-07-04 19:21

Misc. links

I have re-surfaced after a really fun dance weekend, and while I am still very tired and have sore feet (it was so worth it!), there's no rest for the wicked (nor for anyone else either), as the big EEK project continues. Luckily I have been given an extended deadline, which was very welcome. I'm still in the recording stage, so I can't tell you if there's anything very interesting there, as these things usually first show up when you start number crunching.

But I've seen some interesting stuff online:

- Medieval horse harness with lots of bling found in Ireland. I'd love to see it in person, or, better yet, a reconstruction so you can see how shiny it would have been when it was in use.

- Excavations in northern Germany seem to have found the remains of Sliasthorp, a town connected to the Norse elite of the area. Sliasthorp lies near the trading centre Haithabu/Hedeby, similar to the situation of Adelsö and Birka in Sweden (possibly Uppåkra and Lund as well, although Lund was founded much later). This suggests that the founding of these trading places may have been directly associated with the elite rather than with traders. The trading places would also have been under control of the elite.

- And if you're interested in Flemish archaeology, Onroerend Erfgoed (the Flemish equivalent of English Heritage) has put up several of their publications online, which you can both search and browse. There is no English version of the site, but it seems fairly straightforward.

- The knitted 16th century cap collection of the Museum of London is now online. 73 caps, coifs, cap fragments, linings and earpieces have been photographed, with captions containing contextual and technical information. To browse the caps, please go to the Collections Online and enter ‘cap’ in the Keyword field with the date range 1500-1600 in the search fields.

- The seventh conference on experimental archaeology will take place in january 2013 at the University of Cardiff, Wales. Papers on any any topic related to experimental archaeology are welcome, but those that touch on the relationship between experimental and experiential* approaches are particularly welcome.The deadline for papers is July, although the webpage doesn't state if it's the first of the month or the end of the month. Hopefully the latter.

*: An experiment can be repeated by the same researcher or others. Experiential archaeology is about the experience, for example building an Iron Age house and live in it to see how the construction worked in practice. What most of the re-enactment community call experimental archaeology is in fact experiential.

- And a very interesting post from Bones don't lie discusses new research on using stable isotopes for sexing human remains. While there is an overlap in the ratios of iron isotopes between males and females, the overlap was not greater than a normal sex determination using the pelvis. Only one French assemblage was used for the study, and obviously more research is needed to see what the results are for other regions.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
2011-10-12 20:46

A couple of quick links

Work has been intense lately, but soon I'm off home for a week's relaxing, sewing (for a steampunk Halloween event), testing a couple of new cookie recipes, and meeting friends. I can't wait!

But first, a couple of quick links:

- “An Atlas of Medieval Combs from Northern Europe” by Steve Ashby. Published online on the open access journal Internet Archaeology.
Summary: As an aid to understanding chronology, economics, identity and culture contact, the early medieval bone/antler hair-comb is an under-exploited resource, despite the existence of an extensive literature borne out of a long-standing tradition of empirical research. Such research has been undertaken according to diverse traditions, is scattered amongst site reports and grey literature, regional, national, and international journals, and is published in a number of different languages.
The present article provides a general synthesis of this data, together with the author's personal research, situated within a broad view of chronology and geography. It presents the author's classification of early medieval composite combs, and applies this in a review of comb typology in space and time. It makes use of recently excavated material from little-known and unpublished sites, as well as the classic studies of familiar towns and 'emporia'. The atlas is intended for use as a reference piece that may be accessed according to need, and read in a non-linear fashion. Thus, it may act as a first port-of-call for scholars researching the material culture of a particular spatio-temporal context, while simultaneously facilitating rapid characterisation of freshly excavated finds material. It should provide a useful complement to recent and ongoing question-oriented research on combs.

- The UK based Medieval Dress and Textile Society (MEDSAT) has their autumn meeting Saturday 22nd October in the British Museum, London. I would have loved to go, as the theme of this meeting is "Reconstruction, Living History, Re-enactment" (programme). There are some interesting talks, and some interesting people - of any of you readers go, please let me know how it went.

- Keeping in the textile theme, the Smithsonian has developed a less destructive technique to date silk items, using the natural deterioration of silk’s amino acids to determine its age by calculating that change over time (a process known as racemization). Only a tiny millimeter-size sample is required, takes 20 minutes, and consumes only nanoliters of the amino acid mixture. The process is accurate within 50 to 100 years of the silk’s creation. How awesome is that! Even if it's not possible to do exact dating (for the Medieval and Post-medieval periods checking changes in fashion may be a better option), the small amount of silk needed makes it a far better dating method than radiocarbon.
ossamenta: Fossil of a pterosaur (Rhamphorhyncus longicaudus). (Flygödlefossil)
2011-09-21 20:00

Late September linksoup

Blogposts with links are often called linkspam, but personally, I think that's the wrong word. Spam is something I don't want, whereas interesting links will brighten up my day. Therefore, I will call these posts linksoup, since soup is delicious! :-)


I found an interesting blog today: Powered by osteons, written by a human bone specialist in Italy. Lots of Roman posts, but also a great variety of interesting stuff, such as the use of sulphur isotope analysis to research fish consumption and the age of weaning.

Contagions is a more specialised blog, about historic infectious disease. I had only time to poke around a bit, but found posts on trench fever and the black death. As some of you probably already have heard, dna from Yersinia pestis has been extracted from several skeletons from a plague pit in London, thus confirming that Yersinia was (at least one of) the bacteria that wrecked havoc in Europe in the mid-14th century. (More info, and some background to the debate)


Yersinia pestis: Isn't she cute!


On a Mesolithic site in Sweden, archaeologists have found human skulls on stakes, placed in a shallow lake near the settlement. For once, the use of "ritual" doesn't seem far-fetched. I can't wait to read the report on this site. The Mesolithic has a special place in my heart, ever since I studied prehistoric archaeology in Lund. So many rich sites in Scania and Denmark, with not only bone and antler but also wood. On the other hand, Mesolithic sites that only yield flint scatters, as is the case in most of Britain, is rather boring.
(More detailed information on the site and ceremonial deposit in the site blog - only in Swedish, though)

Going even further back in time, dinosaur feathers have been found in amber! Unfortunately I didn't see any when I was on the lookout for nice amber in Gdansk.

For those of you who are based near London, or a planning a winter visit, the new exhibition
Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination will be at the British Library from 11 November-13 March.

And don't forget to put a note in the calendar for 2013: a big Viking exhibition at the National Museum in Denmark (Copenhagen), the Museum für Vor- und Frügeschichte (Berlin) and the British Museum (London). The National Museum in Denmark has a blog on the ongoing work with creating the exhibition (Danish only).

Keeping on the historical side, I must recommend Reel history: a blog series on the accuracy on various historical movies. On a related note, the fabulous Isis* wrote a post on how the present fashion is reflected in historical movies.

*: I adore 18th century fashion (the movie Dangerous Liasons, anyone?) and someday I will get around to make a 18th century outfit.


Various useful sources I found online:
- Abstracts from the 15th meeting of the ICAZ fish remains working group in 2009 (pdf)
- London lives 1690-1800: crime, poverty and social policy in the metropolis. Digitised and searchable primary sources focussing on middle and lower class Londoners. The sources include over 240,000 manuscript and printed pages from eight London archives and is supplemented by fifteen datasets created by other projects.
- A ph.d. thesis which is right in my interest sphere: Marianne Erath, Studien zum mitelalterlichen Knochenschnitzerhandwerk : die Entwicklung eines spezialiserten Handwerks in Konstanz (Studies on Medieval craft of bone-turners: development of a specialised handcraft in Konstanz) (pdf)
- My colleague Jessica Grimm's thesis Animal keeping and the use of animal products in medieval Emden (Lower Saxony, Germany).
- Another interesting ph.d. - on medieval textiles and fashion rather than bone: Eva I. Andersson (2006) Kläderna och människan i medeltidens Sverige och Norge (Clothing and the individual in Medieval Sweden and Norway) (pdf)
ossamenta: (Book store = shiny!)
2011-08-21 19:37

Book review: Winchester - a city in the making

Winchester is an interesting town. The ”first” settlement was an Iron Age hill fort, then at c. 70AD the Romans came and established a town there. In the early and mid-Saxon period there seems to be a decline of the town, but in 662AD Winchester becomes the site of the bishopric, and then becomes the capital of the kingdom of Wessex. After the Norman invasion London takes over the throne (so to speak), but Winchester remained the site of the bishopric. And not just any bishopric: the See of Winchester was one of the wealthiest in Medieval England.

winchester book cover

The Northgate House, Staple Gardens and Winchester Discovery Centre (formerly Winchester Library) sites are located in the north-west corner of the Roman and Medieval town, within the walls*. The Saxon (and Medieval) street Brudene Stret (nowadays Staple Gardens) separates the sites. There is plot continuation throughout the Late Saxon, Anglo-Norman and High Medieval periods, which lent itself to comparisons between the plots both spatially and chronologically. However, in the early 13th century, the buildings on the northwest side of Brudene Stret were demolished and the area formed part of the Archdeacon’s residence.

The book gives an introduction to the sites, including documentary evidence from the Medieval period and land use over time. The next few chapters discuss the two sites by period: Prehistoric and Roman, Late Saxon (c. 850-1150), and Anglo-Norman/Medieval (c. 1150-1550). The latter two chapters are discussed by property, which would facilitate easy chronological comparison. Thereafter follows a discussion of the site in a wider context, again by period. Here the Late Saxon and Anglo-Norman/Medieval periods are combined and form a substantial chapter, discussing the creation of the town, building development, water supply, pit function, industry and craft (metal working, textile working, skinning and furriering**, bone and horn working), and the Archdeacon’s residence.

There is a short chapter on the scientific dating evidence, i.e. radio carbon dating and archaeomagnetic dating, a method which was chosen since there was an abundance of fired hearths in situ throughout the Saxon period. A large number of dating samples were taken to form a detailed phasing of the site, trying to find out whether the properties were laid out at the same time, or grew more organically. Other research aims included finding out whether the settlement existed before or after the ”official” foundation of the burh, and trying to calibrate the pottery dating sequence.

That’s half the book. The other half is devoted to the finds. Lots of pottery, from prehistoric to post-medieval, much building material such as tile, stone and painted wall plaster, 305 Roman coins, several ”small finds”, i.e. metal and bone objects, glass and shale. The small finds are significantly summarized in the book (a shame, as I found lots of worked bone mounts when I did my analysis, and I haven’t got around to check the cd yet - mea culpa), and the full report is included on an accompanying cd. In fact, all specialist reports, including scientific dating, are included in full on the cd. The finds section in the book also includes the ecofacts, i.e. animal bone (a lot, including evidence for a furrier’s workshop), molluscs (not many), charcoal, seeds and other plant remains (a lot, including evidence for dyeing, probably textiles), as well as human bone (mainly a small number of Roman infant burials), intestinal parasites (very few). There’s also a summary of an analysis of soil micromorphology, chemistry and magnetic susceptibility.

As with the Lankhills book, there are plenty of drawing and colour photographs throughout the book. I would recommend the book to anyone with an interest in urban archaeology from these periods.


*: The layout of the town wall didn’t change much over the centuries. Waste not, want not, I guess.
**: This is one of the sites I use for my tawyers and furriers talk at the conference in Gdansk in September. It’s (AFAIK) the second site in Britain where they have found dumps of bones from squirrel feet - one of the most common fine furs in the Medieval period and subject of a huge industry and trade. The other site is much later in the period: The Bedern in York (14th century).

B.M. Ford and S. Teague, 2011. Winchester - a city in the making. Archaeological investigations beteeen 2002 and 2007 on the sites of Northgate House, Staple Gardens and the former Winchester Library, Jewry Street. Oxford Archaeology Monograph No. 12.
ossamenta: (Book store = shiny!)
2011-08-16 16:35

Books! Lots of books!

First, thanks for the well-wishes. The interview seemed to go well: some things that they liked about me, and some things I could improve on. We'll see what happens.

The new Oxbow summer catalogue is out and I thought I'd give a shout-out to some that seemed interesting. A lot of the catalogue is on Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, which I'm not enough familiar with to tell which books are of general relevance and which are only for the artefact/regional specialists. If you are interested in those periods I recommend you check out their website. An exception was made for books of interest to re-enactors and people interested in making replicas of historical finds, as there were a few of those in the Roman section.

Cut for lots of books )
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
2011-05-06 17:03

Articles and essays for downloading

In this post I will put any of my articles and essays that can be downloaded. It is linked in the blog frame, so you don't need to bookmark it. There are some uni essays that I will put up here, but they need to be scanned and converted to pdf first. It may take a while, since it's not high up on my priority list.


- To eat or not to eat? The significance of the cut marks on the bones from wild canids, mustelids and felids from the Danish Ertebølle site Hjerk Nor (MA essay in osteoarchaeology, 2000).
The essay discusses the use of wild canids, mustelids and felids at Hjerk Nor, a Danish Ertebølle site with an unusually high amount of 'fur animal' bones. The bones from these species were studied in a microscope, and the placement of the cut marks were compared finds from two Neolithic sites in the Netherlands: Hazendonk and Swifterbant, and from one Neolithic and three Mesolithic sites in Denmark: Kongemose, Muldbjerg I, Præstelyng, and Tybrind Vig. All 'fur animal' species at Hjerk Nor were utilised for both skin and meat. Cutmarks deriving from dismembering and filleting were particularly plentiful on wild cat and otter.

Download as pdf.


- Identifiering av garverier i en arkeologisk kontext - metoder och möjligheter (MA essay in archaeology, 2010).
The essay deals with possibilities of identifying tanneries in archaeological excavations. The geographical and chronological emphasis is early medieval northern Europe, although the methods would apply for earlier and later periods and other regions as well. Documents, artefacts and pictorial evidence were examined to see what tannery indicators they could yield archaeologically. Crafts associated with the use of tanning products and tanning waste as raw material were also taken into consideration. As conclusion, the identification of tanneries is dependent on many different indicators, such as location, tanning vats, tools, dumps of horn cores, foot bones, lime and bark. Several of these indicators are not exclusive to tanneries, and it is therefore important to use as many indicators as possible in order to form a secure identification of tannery activity. The long association with shoemaking further complicates identification of tanneries.

Download as pdf. Note that this essay is written in Swedish, so it's of limited use for most people, but then again, there are lots of pictures of tanning tools, medieval images of tanners etc, which are less language dependent.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
2011-02-15 19:26
Entry tags:

Evolving English at the British Library

Yesterday was library day. I was in London from 10am to 6pm and visited three libraries. Thankfully, they all had the items I needed.

When I came to the British library I did a little detour to their Evolving English exhibition. I'm very glad I did: the first part was almost a medievalist's wet dream. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (the "Vikings raid Lindisfarne in AD793"-page)! The first page of Beowulf! Sumer is icumen in! one of the earlier (earliest?) editions of Canterbury tales! Hoccleve's Regiment of princes (with the illustration of Chaucer)! The exhibition also included early dictionaries (foreign languages (including native american languages) and slang) and bibles as well as several more recent items (i.e. later postmedieval and up to present) that I never bothered looking at - after all, I was in London for work, not pleasure per se.

The exhibitions ends on the 3rd of April, so there's still some time to see it.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
2011-01-14 19:40

Medievalist gets excited about old and not very clean underwear - news at eleven!

Thanks to fabulous Katrin Kania of Togs from bogs, I have seen pictures of extant medieval underpants! Medieval underwear has been a particular interest of mine for several years now. I gave a lecture on it at the Medieval Week in Visby in 2004, but haven't had time to pursue it much since.

Underwear are interesting because they are so seldom seen. Basically the only people in medieval illustrations that have visible underwear are working farmers, people in bed/childbirth and people being executed (saints, criminals, people who supported the losing side etc). There are also some topsy-turvy illustrations of women wearing the man's underpants, which often have been taken as proof for women wearing panties in the Middle Ages. This is a particular controversy. Since underwear is so seldom seen - and what we see on women are long shifts/chemises - we don't know what or if they wore any. Indeed, the early 19th century satirical illustration (can't recall the name, nor find a link - it's the one of people falling down a staircase, used for the Penguin classics edition of Vanity Fair It's Exhibition stare case) is rather clear on the absence of panties. The common objection, particularly among re-enactors, is that they must have worn something when they were menstruating. A counterpoint is that women in 18th C rural Scania did not wear anything under their shifts, but let the blood soak into their shifts and their hosen, as noted by Carl Linnaeus in his Scanian travels in 1749.

I will stop myself from going on about this, since I'm working from memory and as I said above, it's been a few years since I knew the details and the sources by heart. Perhaps there will be a future blog post.

Anyway, these extant underpants were found together with lots of stuff (playing cards, shoes, coins, glass, bits of clothes, iron and copper objects, you name it) in the fillings of one vaulted ceiling at Schloss Lengberg in Austria. The finds are dated to the 15th century. There is a nice photo in an article on the finds (pdf, in German). It's not possible to tell whether they may have belonged to a man or a woman, but they look just like men's underpants in contemporary illustrations.

And the (other) really exciting thing? At this year's NESAT (North European Symposium for Archaeological Textiles), Beatrix Nutz will give a talk on the 15th C bras that were found in the Lengberg assemblage. How awesome is that? Bras are also very rare in illustrations - the only thing I've seen have been suggestions of breastbinding - and merely to know that there are extant ones, now that sends good shivers down my spine in excitement. Can it be May soon?
ossamenta: (Book store = shiny!)
2010-11-22 19:33

Oxbow sale!

When I was an undergraduate, one of the high moments was when the Oxbow catalogue came to the library. Pure archaeology porn! Lots of books to put on the Christmas wishlist.

And then I moved to Oxford, and found that my route to work took me past their office. Even better, I found that you could go in there and browse their bookshelves! Sometimes there was a sign saying "SALE" (extremely tempting, and very dangerous for the bank account).

Today, the new winter catalogue came to the office. Not so many interesting books for me this time (which probably is good, as it does add up, and I have some travel plans to save money for), but I thought I'd give a shout-out to any re-enactors or craftsmen reading this.
The Salisbury Museum's Medieval artefact catalogues are on sale for £9.95 each:
- Harness pendants, seals, rings, spurs, tiles, coins, mortars, etc.
- Pilgrim Souvenirs and secular badges
- Bone Objects, Enamels, Glass Vessels, Pottery, Jettons, Cloth Seals, Bullae and other Base Metal Objects

And not forgetting the textile people:
- Dress in Anglo-Saxon England £14.95
ossamenta: Picture of an owl from a Medieval manuscript (Medieval owl)
2010-10-27 19:59

Hey look, it's an artefact!

Normally, bone artefacts should be separated from the animal bone, since different experts are dealing with these two categories. However, sometimes the artefacts are tricky, and not so obviously worked. Which is when I find them, bag them separately and put them aside to go to the finds specialist. And it's not only bone artefacts - I sometimes find pottery sherds. Although in those cases I assume the person sorting the finds from that context was very very tired that day. Most pottery sherds are rather easily distinguished from bone.

My latest find was a bone quill. It's a radius from a large bird, probably goose, but I need to check it against a good reference collection first. Quills like these were commonly used in the medieval period, not only by monks, but by other scribes too (court records, recipe collections, merchants' inventories etc). Here are instructions on how to make one yourself.


Medieval bird bone quill


And here's a close-up of the tip, with some soil still remaining in the marrow cavity:
Medieval bird bone quill - close-up of tip
ossamenta: (Book store = shiny!)
2010-05-08 13:46

Book review: Lübecker Kolloquium zur Stadtarchäologie im Hanseraum

Every second year the German town Lübeck hosts a big symposium on urban archaeology, focussing on the Hanseatic region, i.e. the parts of northern Europe where this mercantile alliance of cities and guilds formed a trade monopoly during the 13th-17th centuries.

Yesterday I saw that the Sackler library - the arts and archaeology library in Oxford - had bought five books with papers from those symposia, and naturally I was very curious. Two in particular merited browsing: Crafts and Luxury and Lifestyle.

The Crafts book was very interesting: an overvew of the archaeological evidence of various crafts in 43 medieval towns in 14 countries, ranging from Cork in the west to Novgorod in the east, and from Konstanz in the south to Bergen in the north. There are only two craft specific articles: on paternoster bead making (focussing on Konstanz) and on building construction in Pskov. Now, despite I’m saying overview, the papers are enough detailed to yield useful information for each craft that was discussed. Naturally all crafts in these towns have not been included, since many leave little or no identifiable remains at all. I found it very interesting to see what’s been found in other towns, particularly for ways to identify craft activites from archaeological remains.

The luxury symposium was held two years later, in 2006, and concern more ”shinier” items. Not to the level of royal luxury, but more well off merchants and nobility. The area and countries present are mostly the same as in the Crafts symposium. This book was not so relevant for me, since I’m mostly interested in everyday crafts, and while animal bones can be used to discuss status, this is hardly mentioned at all here. Still, the book would be very useful for archaeologists and finds specialists that are interested in ways to express high status through objects during the Middle Ages and Early Modern period and to archaeologically identify high-status households.

I can highly recommend these books not only for archaeologists, but also for re-enactors, as photos and drawings of many interesting objects have been included. Unfortunately there are no colour photographs, probably to keep the cost down. Even so, a quick search showed that the books cost €50 each, so I guess it’s more a matter of inter library loan and photocopying the relevant pages rather than actually buying the books. Language-wise, the papers are either in English or in German. It’s a rough 50-50 split, and all summaries are in the other language.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
2009-12-10 14:05

Scandinavian burial customs and African slaves (not connected, as far as I know)

To the benefit of those not reading the Swedish archaeology blog Ting och tankar, here's a link to a brand new Ph.D. thesis in archaeology, on Scandinavian burial customs during the Medieval and Post-medieval periods. It looks very interesting, and I hope to be able to have a look at it at the Lund university library when I am home over Christmas and New Year's.

Abstract excerpt: The main themes of the thesis are burial customs and social identities, and how medieval and post-Reformation graves can provide information on such as age structures, phases in life, gender relations and social organization. The study is based on nine groups of Scandinavian material, and it comprises four case studies. The first one deals with social zoning in medieval cemeteries and how age and gender structures varied within and between different social strata. The second concerns ‘atypical’ medieval burials, such as graves in which individuals have been buried in a deviant or peripheral position; and it also focusses on burials of the sick and the impaired. The third case study examines two mainly medieval burial practices: the use of charcoal and burial rods, and possible interpretations of their inclusion in graves. The fourth study deals with post-Reformation burial customs; how they differ from the medieval ones and what notions may have caused the changes in practice.


The Times had an interesting article today about burials of liberated slaves on St Helena, in the middle of the Atlantic. The cemetery was found during excavations for a new road to a planned airport, and approximately 325 inhumations have been excavated. Apart from the regular osteological analysis, isotope analysis are planned on the remains, to see where in Africa these individuals came from. After the analysis has been completed in May, the findings will be published by the Council for British Archaeology.