ossamenta: Medieval manuscript showing a man trimming the thickness of a hide with a knife (Pergamenter)
A while back, I was writing up sites that are assumed to have been parchment production places. Some have pretty solid evidence, others are more towards speculation. The only site in Sweden, Alvastra, is a bit inbetween. There is a stone building a kilometre away from the Cistercian Abbey of Alvastra that may be a parchmenters' workshop (previously believed to be a burial chapel, thereof the name Sverker's Chapel). The main evidence seem to be a combination of a stone trough (where hides could have been soaked in lime for de-hairing) in the building and the remains of an oven (for lime-burning?) outside. Not as good evidence as the early Medieval monastery at Portmahomack where they found tools, but you could find alternative explanations to the trough and oven.

One popular booklet about the site states: "During excavations of a grange [monastic farm/workshop] in England, a stone trough was found, similar to the one at Sverker's Chapel. This trough has preliminarily been interpreted as a tank for temporarily keeping fish, before they were to be cooked." And as this is a popular booklet, the author never mentioned the name of that English grange... To add to my irritation, said author died just as I was beginning my PhD, so I couldn't even ask her if she remembered what site it was.

Have you any idea how many monastic sites/sites vaguely related to monasteries have been excavated in the UK up to the year that booklet was published? Quite a few... (understatement). So I did some googling, and it couldn't be Meara, and was probably not Byland. And being not in the UK with easy availability of site reports etc, I more or less gave up finding this mystery site.

And then, the other day, I read an article about food production at monastic sites in England, and the author* wrote "Excavation at Abingdon Abbey's Dean Court grange revealed two stone-lined tanks built within the kitchen in the late fourteenth century, apparently for the temporary storage of fish prior to cooking (Allen at al. 1994, 289-301)." and my eyes popped! This must be my mystery site!

Luckily, the reference was published in the Oxfordshire archaeology journal Oxoniensia, which has all but the most recent volumes online (unfortunately some of the scans are very pale, so they can be a bit hard to read), and I quickly checked it out. So now my question is: was the Sverker Chapel intended for cooking or for (leather-related?) crafts? I need to think a bit more on that one.

*: Unfortunately called "James Bond" and I can't find out any contact information/work place/anything about him, as any search word combination I can come up with also tags the movies and books. Did you know that at least one James Bond movie is filmed in a monastery? (I just wish he used a middle initial or something...)
ossamenta: Text from medieval manuscript (Palaeography)
As I briefly mentioned in my last post, this summer I participated in a summer school in Scandinavian manuscript studies at Copenhagen University. The course is organised by the Arnamagnæan Institute at Copenhagen University and the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies in Reykjavik, and it alternates between Copenhagen and Reykjavik.

There are three levels: basic, advanced and master. Basic gives you a good grounding in Scandinavian manuscript production, palaeography (i.e. handwriting style) for both Icelandic and Danish/Swedish, including all the abbreviations*, how to describe and interpret illuminations in a manuscript, Medieval Danish and Swedish language (there were no classes in Medieval Icelandic, since basic knowledge of Medieval Icelandic was in the course requirements**), as well as more specialised topics such as how to use change in language/grammar and palaeography to date Icelandic manuscripts, the use of runes in manuscripts, and post-medieval Icelandic palaeography.

*: Since parchment was very expensive in Iceland, they used abbreviations a lot, both to shorten the time spent writing and the amount of parchment needed for a text. In some cases almost 70% of the words on a page are abbreviated!
**: I was given an exception for this. There were some classes where you definitely needed a working knowledge of Icelandic, but most were fine without it.

ink drawing of a man in the lower margin of a medieval manuscript
A little man in the margin of the Kings' Saga (AM81fol, fol.95r, 16th century). Click to embiggen.

The advance class focussed more on the text; how to transcribe medieval texts properly including how to code for the abbreviations in the most "academic" of transcription styles. Most texts in ordinary transcribed books are transcribed more loosely, either by marking all abbreviations in italics (but not showing what the abbreviation signs looked like), or for a more popular publication, just typing the text as it was intended to be read (assuming that the editor has interpreted the abbreviations correctly...).

Small medieval manuscript (10x8cm) lying on a cushion
This tiny lawbook (10x8cm!) contains King Valdemar's law for Sjælland. (AM455 12mo, fol.4v-5r, 1275-1325). Click to embiggen and read the famous first line "Meth lagh scal land byggæs" (with law shall land be built).

The master class is for the select few who have taken both classes before and who really want to dive into manuscript analysis. This year they worked on a late medieval text on Virgin Mary legends, transcribing them in various ways. I really liked that their work was not just considered an exercise, but that it will be put online for other researchers to use.

rectangular medieval manuscript. No illuminations, only black text.
Collection of prose. Tall rectangular format so there won't be unnecessary blank space when you write short rhyming lines (AM191fol, fol.83v, late 15th century). Click to embiggen.

We had two excursions: one to Roskilde for the cathedral and the Viking ship museum and then to Gammel-Lejre, a pre-Viking Age high status site, which some people think is the location for Beowulf.
The second excursion was part of the runes-day: we had a guided tour of several rune-related persons and tombstones at Assistens cemetery in the centre of Copenhagen.

Lots of people within a stone setting in the countryside. Pasture and the occasional trees.
The whole class at the stone setting/burial area at Gammel Lejre. The museum is one of the buildings in the background. Click to embiggen.

It was a really interesting course. I particularly liked that we had so many opportunities to see and handle manuscripts (thirteen workshops, six with manuscripts). You get an entirely different feel for the books than when you only see them on a computer screen. Not that I don't appreciate the ongoing digitization of manuscripts - it's such a help for knowledge gathering in all sorts of ways. If you want to see the manuscripts we worked on, they are online at Handrit.is. It was a very mixed bunch of people: mostly from a "medieval studies" background - I think I was the only archaeologist - and from all over: Denmark, Norway, Faroe Islands, Poland, Czech republic, Germany, Britain, USA, and probably more places too. I surprised a fair few of my classmates (the not-Danes) when they found out I didn't rent a place in Copenhagen for the course, but commuted each day from Sweden. But the South Campus is very convenient for the metro, so it took just about an hour door to door. Definitely worth it!

medieval manuscript with a repaired hole - text goes around it.
Darned parchment from AM37 4to, 15th/16th century. Click to embiggen.
ossamenta: Medieval manuscript showing a man trimming the thickness of a hide with a knife (Pergamenter)
This last week has been fun but busy: in the day I'm taking a summer course on Scandinavian manuscripts at Copenhagen University (more on that later), and in the evenings I've been going through the Swedish National Archives medieval charters database, from which I will select charters for scientific analysis. Consequently, my eyes are tired and my mouse-finger sore. But I still have lots of records to go through, so I suspect that next week will follow the same pattern.

Being somewhat naive, I assumed that the database would contain the charters that the National archives had in their stores, and did my calculations on the total sum/year/town when I prepared my grant applications and talked to the conservators. That was not quite the case... :-(

It turns out that the database contains charters that were written in or sent to places and persons in Sweden (present-day, i.e. including those parts that were Danish in the Middle Ages). Once I got a look at the individual records I found out that some of those charters are in the Vatican Library, Lübeck, Berlin etc. Others turned out to be later copies or even post-medieval prints, which makes them perfectly functional if you're after the actual words, but useless for my purposes. Some are written on paper, not parchment (useless for my protein analyses, useful for other parts of the PhD).

At least there's some good news: Even if in some cases only half the records in the database actually correspond to a parchment document in the National Archives, I'm still within my sample number allowance. Unfortunately, many of the 12th and 13th century records from Lund are lost (turned out to be later copies), but I hope the samples from those charters can be switched to samples from books.


ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)

January 2019

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