Did King Harold Survive the Battle of Hastings?


King Harold, shot in the eye

The team of surveyors who found the body of Richard III is hoping they’re on a roll. Their next mission is to prove that King Harold II survived the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and lived to a ripe old age in a monastery.

The Bayeux Tapestry shows Harold–last king of the Anglo-Saxons–shot in the eye with an arrow. The Carmen de Hastingae Proelio, possibly written shortly after the battle, adds that he was set upon by four knights and dismembered.

Norman propaganda! some say. (Hey, watch it! Those are my ancestors you’re talking about.)

Stratascan–a geological survey company that found Richard III buried under a parking lot–is going to look for Harold at Waltham Abbey Church in Essex, where he lived another 40 years as a hermit after the battle before dying in his 80s of natural causes. The story is found in the 12th century Vita Haroldi.

It’s not an absurd theory. William left Harold’s sons alive and even freed them upon his death, and it wouldn’t be unusual for a victor’s history to say one thing while the defeated tell another story. In this case, the English version of the story is certainly far less probable, but not impossible.

“We have the Norman story put through the Bayeux Tapestry – the English story is a different one,” said [amateur historian Peter] Burke, 64. “You put things together and it begins to build a picture that is quite solid. If everything backs you up in history, you should look at it. You shouldn’t just leave it,” he said.

Mr Burke, who is a stonemason and fiction author, said that he was “absolutely convinced” that the scan would find King Harold’s body and he has funded the search with £2,000 of his own money.

He will lead the scan to a site near the east wall where there are thought to be some symbol markings. This site is roughly 15 yards away from King Harold’s reputed tomb at the High Altar.

English Heritage granted permission for a ground-penetrating radar to scan the area. Debbie Priddy, the inspector of ancient monuments in the East of England, said they “were happy to give consent for this work which involves no disturbance to the nationally important archaeological remains of the abbey church”.

If the scan does provide evidence, excavation may still be a while off due to the consecrated nature of the site. English Heritage would need to advise the Secretary of State to consent to excavation, in an effort to “conserve archaeological remains for future generations”.

“I’m very hopeful we will find something,” said Mr Burke. “I’ve always thought you should question things. You shouldn’t just take history at face value. [The Battle of Hastings] is one of the biggest events in English history. Whether it will go as far as rewriting history books, I suppose they’ll have to,” he said.

Although Mr Burke said that he expected criticism over the search, members of the Waltham Abbey Historical Society have said the king’s remains are unlikely to be found because the site has been frequently disturbed for building works.

Baal Cultic Complex Discovered in Israel

This is a pretty big find, and the connection to Baal seems likely:

A massive cult complex, dating back about 3,300 years, has been discovered at the site of Tel Burna in Israel.

While archaeologists have not fully excavated the cult complex, they can tell it was quite large, as the courtyard alone was 52 by 52 feet (16 by 16 meters). Inside the complex, researchers discovered three connected cups, fragments of facemasks, massive jars that are almost as big as a person and burnt animal bones that may indicate sacrificial rituals.

The archaeologists said they aren’t sure who was worshipped at the complex, though Baal, the Canaanite storm god, is a possibility. “The letters of Ugarit [an ancient site in modern-day Syria] suggest that of the Canaanite pantheon, Baal, the Canaanite storm god, would have been the most likely candidate,” Itzhaq Shai, a professor at Ariel University who is directing a research project at Tel Burna, told Live Science in an email.

The artifacts include fragments of two masks. “The burna mask fragments, both of noses, are quite interesting, because they are quite large, although as seen in [a photo], they were clearly meant to be worn,” Shai said.

“It is difficult to determine exactly who the masks are depicting and whether it is a specific image. In general, masks are known to have been used in cultic ceremonies and processions.”

The researchers also found massive “pithoi” vessels (large storage jars), some almost as big as a person. “Along the eastern edge of the exposed area of the building, a row of sunken pithoi, with several smaller vessels found inside of them, were found,” said Shai. Two of the vessels were imported from Cyprus, as indicated by their design.

Read more.

Worship of the Baalim draws the condemnation of God in Judges, 1 Kings, and elsewhere in the Bible. Baal was a Canaanite thunder god (Hadad), but the name could also refer to various local gods.

Remarkable Digital Reconstruction of the Palace of Ashurnasirpal II

The Metropolitan Museum of Art created this video flythrough of the spectacular Northwest Palace of Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II (reigned: 883 to 859 BC) in the city alternately known as Numrud, Kalhu, and, in the Bible, Calah. The ruins are about 20 miles south of Mosul, Iraq. The palace walls were covered n reliefs (many of them now scattered throughout the world in various museums) depicting his reign and conquests.

Genesis 10: 8 Cush became the father of Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.” 10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, and Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar. 11 From that land he went into Assyria, and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and 12 Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city. 13 Egypt became the father of Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naph-tuhim, 14 Pathrusim, Casluhim (whence came the Philistines), and Caphtorim.

Ancient Monastery Discovered In Israel

They haven’t found a church yet, but the size, construction, and layout of a compound in the hills south of Beit Shemesh suggests a Byzantine-era monastery of the 6th century.

The discovery was made a few weeks ago during surveys conducted in advance of a construction project.

“Blocked cisterns, a cave opening and the tops of several walls were visible on the surface,” the archeologists said. “These clues to the world hidden underground resulted in an extensive archaeological excavation there that exposed prosperous life dating to the Byzantine period, which was previously unknown.”

Zilberbod and Libman said the compound is surrounded by an outer wall and is divided on the inside into two regions, including an industrial area and an activity and residential area.

Additionally, an “unusually large press in a rare state of preservation that was used to produce olive oil was exposed in the industrial area, as well as a large winepress revealed outside the built compound consisted of two treading floors from which the grape must flowed to a large collecting vat.”

Despite not finding a church or inscription of any kind indicating religious worship, the excavation’s co-directors said they still believe the site served as a monastery.

“It is true we did not find a church at the site… or any other unequivocal evidence of religious worship; nevertheless, the impressive construction, the dating to the Byzantine period, the magnificent mosaic floors, window and roof tile artifacts, as well as the agricultural-industrial installations inside the dwelling compound, are all known to us from numerous other contemporary monasteries,” they said. Based on that criterion, the archeologists noted it is possible to reconstruct a scenario in which monks resided in a monastery that they established, made their living from the agricultural installations, and dwelled in the rooms and carried out their religious activities.

“At some point, which we date to the beginning of the Islamic period (7th century CE), the compound ceased to function, and was subsequently occupied by new resident,” they said. “These people changed the plan of the compound and adapted it for their needs.”


Ancient Christian Text “Charm” Found

papyrusA 1500 year old fragment of papyrus was discovered University of Manchester’s John Rylands Library. One side is a piece of “scrap paper”: a receipt for payment of a grain tax. On the other side of the receipt someone had written Biblical passages from the Psalms and Matthew, including a passage from the last supper.

The paper would have been folded up and worn in a pouch or some other receptacle, like folk charms or Jewish phylacteries, in the hope of warding off evil. These charms are a fascinating intersection between Christianity and older “magical” practices that were a more common part of popular piety than many realize.

The document had been in the collection since 1901. Dr Roberta Mazza made the find:

“It’s one of the first recorded documents to use magic in the Christian context and the first charm ever found to refer to the Eucharist – the Last Supper – as the manna of the Old Testament.”

She said it was “doubly fascinating because the amulet maker clearly knew the Bible, but made lots of mistakes”.

“Some words are misspelled and others are in the wrong order – this suggests that he was writing by heart rather than copying it.”

When she says “first” she means “oldest discovered.”

HT: Archaeology Magazine and reader Des Farrell

UPDATE: The most excellent Rod Bennett took exception to the language of “magic” in the original article and in this post, and we debated it in some depth on my private Facebook page. (NB: Although I only “friend” people I know on that page, this particular discussion is public.)

The Tunics of St. Ambrose

The Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio in Milan, first consecrated in 379, was built by St. Ambrose at a site where Christians had been executed. For at least a thousand years (and almost certainly longer) the church has held several silk tunics which tradition associates with the great saint and Father.

Now, a team of archaeologists from the University of Bonn, along with restorers, are studying and preserving the tunics.

“These are marvelously beautiful vestments of sumptuous silk that have been ascribed to the saint,” says Professor Dr. Sabine Schrenk of the department of Christian Archaeology at the University of Bonn. One of them has intricate depictions of hunting scenes with trees and leopards, while the other valuable textile is keptrather simple. There is yet no conclusive proof that these tunics date to the late 4th century, though they certainly cannot be dated very much later. Hence they are very significant testimony for the Late Antique and Early Christian periods.

In the course of many centuries, time took its toll on these famous textiles. “If these fragile silk threads are to be preserved for a long time to come, it is critical to remove harmful layers of dust,” says Cologne textile restorer Ulrike Reichert, who has headed her own restoration workshop in the Dellbrück neighborhood for many years, specializing in preserving early silk textiles. The cloth is painstakingly cleaned with a tiny vacuum cleaner and delicate brushes. “For this we have had to carefully free the material from the protective glass that had been laid over it,” says Professor Schrenk’s colleague Katharina Neuser.

Professor Schrenk and the team of restorers have taken their mobile lab to Milan several times in the last two years, with support from the Gielen-Leyendecker Foundation, to learn more about the origin and history of these textiles beyond the restoration works. “These pieces were revered as the tunics of St. Ambrose probably by the 11th century,” says Professor Schrenk. Aribert, the Archbishop of Milan, arranged for the placement of a textile band on the site where the tunics were kept. “It’s a kind of woven museum label indicating the significance of the relics,” says the Bonn scholar. Presumably, however, a red cross had already been sewn onto one of the vestments much earlier, as an indicator of their significance for the Church.

These tunics have been kept and exhibited in various ways over the centuries. For a while they were stored packed in a chest, sandwich-like, between two other layers of fabric. Until the Second World War, the relics were kept in a frame mounted to an altar in the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio; they then got new glass frames in the Basilica’s museum, where they remained until a few years ago. To protect them from the light they were then placed in storage drawers. “The pressure of heavy glass plates only aggravated the effect of many centuries of deterioration,” says Professor Schrenk. So the decision to have these valuable silks restored was made.

While the project’s researchers and restorers have already made tremendous progress, they will still have their hands full in the coming years. “Based on the textiles, the Ambrose project reveals the evolution of early relic worship in a surprising way,” says Professor Schrenk. The project will also shed new light on the economic history of Late Antiquity. It is well known that silk was not yet produced in 4th-century Europe and Asia Minor; the expensive thread was imported from China. However, Professor Schrenk is skeptical about the scholarly consensus that all silks of the time were woven in the eastern Mediterranean, primarily in Syria. “Milan at the time, being the emperor’s residence, had access to ample patronage, and used silk in grand fashion. I would be very surprised if there had not been silk workshops there at the time,” says the archaeologist.


Richard III Was A Heavy Drinker

Not only do we now know that Richard III did, indeed, have a twisted spine, but a study of his remains indicates that the last years of his life showed a marked increase in consumption of wine and exotics foods such as “swan, crane, heron and egret.”

The study appears in The Journal of Archaeological Science, and concludes:

The recent discovery of the remains of King Richard III, one of the most controversial characters in British history, provides an opportunity to use scientific methods to assess conflicting historical and literary descriptions of his life. Our data comprise isotope results from different parts of the skeleton in order to reconstruct a life history of his diet, exposure to pollution and geographical movements. Most significantly, we demonstrate a substantial shift in his bone isotope values towards the end of his life. As we are dealing with an individual with known provenance and with, in parts, a detailed documentation of his diet and location we can test and extend our interpretations of skeletal isotope analysis. The isotope changes evident between Richard’s femur and rib bones, when assessed against historical documentations, suggest a significant increase in feasting and wine consumption in his later years. This is the first example where the intake of wine has been suggested as having an impact on the oxygen isotope composition of an individual and thus has wider implications for isotope-based archaeology.

Heavy consumption of wine and beer was more common in urban environments where clean water might not always be available. The daily allotment for someone of the upper class might be about a liter a day. Much of the alcohol in the middle ages had lower alcohol content and came from second and maybe even third pressings. However, the first pressing, with the highest alcohol content, was reserved for the tables of the elite, such as Richard.


Richard III’s 3D Spine

Because nothing is really real until it’s modeled in 3D, a team at the University of Leicester created a 3-D model of King Richard III’s spine. Here it is (hold down the left mouse button and move the cursor left or right to rotate):


The bones have been subjected to more detailed analysis since their discovery, providing the following new insights:

  • Richard III had a severe scoliosis, with a particularly pronounced right-sided curve
  • Richard’s scoliosis had a “spiral” nature
  • His right shoulder would have been higher than his left, and his torso would have been relatively short compared to his arms and legs
  • But he had a “well-balanced curve” – meaning that his head and neck were straight and not tilted to one side. In consequence the condition would not have been immediately visible to those he met, particularly if he wore well-designed clothes or armour
  • The Cobb angle – a measurement used to assess the level of spinal deformity in scoliosis patients – was 65-85 degrees. This would be considered a large curvature these days, though many with the condition today undergo surgery to stabilise it
  • His scoliosis would have started to develop during the last few years of growth
  • The researchers have already established that Richard would have been about 5ft 8 inches tall without his scoliosis – about average for a man during medieval times. However, his condition meant he would have appeared several inches shorter than this

Using the new data, the 3D modelers were able to recreate the spine as it would have been during Richard’s life, rather than flat, the way it was discovered. The analysis proves that he was not a hunchback, but that one shoulder was higher than the other. The 65-85-degree curve is pretty serious (one of my children is in a brace to correct a 25-degree curve), but it would not have prevented him from engaging in battle.

In other news, Richard III will be reburied in the protestant Leicester Cathedral, seized from the Catholic Church during the Reformation, in a burial service this Catholic king would not have recognized, for a religion (Anglicanism) that didn’t exist when he died.

A group of his descendants had protested, saying he should be buried in York, but a judge ruled against their case.

Richard III had already been buried with full Catholic rites, but the Leicester site was chosen for proximity to his ignominious death, not because he had any connection to the city. Richard was a Yorkist through and through.

The re-interment is already shaping up to be more spectacle than rite: According to the University of Leicester, “it will be a Christian service celebrating his life with partners from other faiths, including Roman Catholic. It will include the multi-faith and multi-cultural communities of Leicester and modern-day England.”

RelatedSome Thoughts on Richard III, History, and Catholicism


Bones of the Irish Viking King

Okay, so I’m covering this story partly because it lets me use a headline that sounds like a Robert E. Howard story, and Robert E. Howard was The Greatest Writer Ever Yes Even Better Than Shakespeare. Did Shakespeare ever do anything that could be illustrated by Frank Frazetta?

Game, set, match, Mr. Shakespeare.

Anyway, archaeologists have found some remains in Scotland that they believe may be from Irish Viking Olaf Guthfrithsson, King of Dublin and Northumbria in the 10th century. Or someone he knew. It’s a little fuzzy.

The connection seems a bit iffy to me, but we’ll have to wait for the full report to be published next year to see how they support their theory. Here are the details:

The remains, which were excavated by AOC Archaeology Group at Auldhame in East Lothian in 2005, are those of a young adult male who was buried with a number of items indicating his high rank. These include a belt similar to others from Viking Age Ireland.

This artefact signals that the body was that of a man who may have spent time in the household of the kings of the Uí Ímar dynasty which dominated both sides of the Irish Sea from about 917 until at least the middle of the 10th century.

Olaf Guthfrithsson sacked Auldhame and nearby Tyninghame – both part of a complex of East Lothian churches dedicated to the eighth-century Saint Balthere – shortly before his death in 941, and the proximity of the burial to the site of the conflict along with the high-status items found with the body, and the age of the skeleton, has led archaeologists and historians to speculate that it may be that of the young Irish king or one of his followers.

And here are the bones:

Guthfrithsson was a member of the Uí Ímair dynasty of Norse-Irish kings. Ireland was heavily Christian by the time the Norse started raiding in the late 8th century, and Guthfrithsson was certainly a pagan king. His coin bears the image of the raven, symbol of Odin.

Guthfrithsson penny with bird symbol.

Mostly I’m just glad this post is over now so I don’t have to keep trying to spell “Guthfrithsson.”

Have a nice weekend.