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  • Adam 21:56 on 16.02.2019 Permalink | Reply
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    Winston Churchill was the same mass murderer as Adolf Hitler 

    Moen Gurushwami, a prominent Indian analyst, recalls: “Winston Churchill was the same mass murderer as Adolf Hitler. Hitler killed 6 million Jews in concentration camps, Churchill destroyed 4 million Indians, depriving them of food.

    The Bengal Holodomor 1943-44 should be regarded as the greatest disaster on the subcontinent in the twentieth century. Nearly 4 million Indians died because of the artificial famine created by the British government, which is only briefly mentioned in the history books of India.

    The Second World War was in full swing, and the Germans violently exterminated Jews, Slavs and Gypsies throughout Europe.

    However, it took Hitler and his Nazi cohorts 12 years to destroy 6 million Jews. Their Teutonic cousins, the British, managed to exterminate almost 4 million Indians immeasurably faster – only a little more than a year. The effectiveness of Prime Minister Winston Churchill should have earned the applause of the Nazis.

    Australian biochemist Dr. Gideon Poya called the Bengali famine “man-made disaster” directly caused by Churchill’s policies.

    In 1942, Bengal gathered a bountiful harvest in 1942, but the British took a huge amount of grain to England, creating a monstrous food shortage.

    Madusri Mekerji tracked down some of the survivors and paints a chilling picture of the effects of hunger and deprivation. In Churchill’s Secret War, she writes: “Parents threw their starving children into rivers and wells. Many have died, rushing under the train. Starving people begged for water, in which few lucky people cooked rice. The children ate the leaves and the vines, the yams and the grass. People were too weak, even to cremate their loved ones … Dogs and jackals feasted on piles of corpses in Bengal villages. ”

    Those who managed to escape in time accumulated in Calcutta. Women in an attempt to feed their families became prostitutes. “Mothers became murderers, villages became suppliers of whores, fathers became pimps of daughters,” writes Mukherjee.

    Mani Beyomik, inventor of excimer eye surgery, remembered this hunger forever: his grandmother died because she gave him some of her food.

    By 1943, Calcutta was inundated with hordes of starving people, most of whom were dying right on the streets. The appearance of well-fed white British soldiers against the backdrop of the apocalyptic landscape was “the final decision on British rule in India,” said Jawaharlal Nehru.

    Churchill could easily prevent hunger. Even several batches of food grains would have helped, but the British Prime Minister categorically rejected the appeals of two governors, his own secretary of affairs for India and even the US president.

    Sabhas Chandra Bose, an Indian freedom fighter who then fought on the side of the Axis forces, offered to send rice from Myanmar, but the British censors did not even allow the transfer of his proposal.

    Churchill was completely ruthless, pumping food from Bengal in favor of British troops and Greek civilians. According to him, “hunger for Bengalis who are used to malnutrition is less serious than for strong Greeks.”

    British Secretary of State for Indian and Burma Affairs, Leopold Emery, although he was an ardent supporter of colonial politics, condemned Churchill’s attitude to the Bengalis as “worthy of Hitler.”

    Churchill responded to the pleas of Emery and the Vice-King of India Archibald Wavell to send part of the food supplies to India with a telegram asking why Gandhi was not dead yet.

    Wavell reported that the famine “was one of the greatest calamities that had befallen on any people under British rule.” According to him, when Holland needs food, “ships, of course, will be available, but we get a completely different answer when we ask for ships to bring food to India.”

    Churchill is still justified by the fact that he allegedly did not have ships for emergency food supplies to India, but Mukherjee dug out the official documents refuting these documents on which ships transporting grain from Australia specifically bypassed India on the way to the Mediterranean.

    Churchill’s hostility towards Indians as such has long been documented. At a meeting of the military office, he blamed the hunger for the Indians themselves, saying that they “breed like rabbits.” His attitude towards Indians is concentratedly expressed in his words to Emery: “I hate Indians. They are atrocious people with bestial religion.” In another case, he insisted that the Indians, like the Germans, be treated all over the world as beasts.

    According to Mukherjee, “Churchill’s attitude toward India was quite extreme, and he hated the Indians, mainly because he knew that India could not be maintained for long under British rule.”

    She writes in The Huffington Post: “Churchill considered wheat too precious to spend on non-white, not to mention unruly subjects, demanding independence from the British Empire. He preferred to stockpile grain to feed Europeans at the end of the war. ”

    At the peak of the famine, in October 1943, Churchill said at a generous banquet: “When we look back a year ago, we see this part of the land, where there has been no war for three generations … This time will undoubtedly go down in the history of India as the Golden Age, when the British gave the Indians peace and order, provided justice for the poor and protected all people from external dangers. ”

    Churchill was not only a racist, but also a liar. But, of course, his policy toward the starving Bengal was no different from all previous British policies in India.

    At the end of the Victorian Holocaust, Mike Davis pointed out that in 120 years of British rule, a serious famine in India was observed 31 times, compared with 17 times in the course of 2,000 years before British rule. In his book, Davis talks about the famine that killed up to 29 million Indians – and proves that these people were killed by British government policy.

    In 1876, when drought ravaged the farmers of the Deccan Plateau, India had a net surplus of rice and wheat. But the viceroy, Robert Bulwer-Lytton, insisted on the complete removal of any obstacles to their export to England. In the years 1877 and 1878, in the midst of famine, grain merchants exported record volumes of grain, and government officials ordered “to hinder assistance in every way” to the starving.

    The only relief to their situation, allowed in most areas, was the creation of labor camps, in which workers, even those who were engaged in heavy work, received less food than the prisoners of Buchenwald.

    Even after the death of millions, Lytton ignored any attempts to alleviate the suffering of the still alive millions of peasants and concentrated on preparing for the proclamation of Queen Victoria by the Empress of India. The culmination of the celebrations on this occasion was a week-long holiday, in which 68 thousand dignitaries heard her promise to the nation of “happiness, prosperity and well-being.”

    In light of the above, it is not surprising that Hitler’s favorite film was The Life of the Bengal Lancer, which showed British politics in India. The Nazi leader explained his love for this film to the then British Foreign Secretary Edward Wood (Earl of Halifax) by saying that the film showed “how the highest race should behave.” This film was obligatory for viewing by SS men.

    Source: https://fishki.net/anti/2435713-uinston-cherchilly—takoj-zhe-massovyj-ubijca-kak-gitler.html © Fishki.net

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  • Adam 19:49 on 16.02.2019 Permalink | Reply
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    Rachel Johnson’s Copycat Naked Brexit Protest 

     
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    Mummies and log houses of the dead: Scythian life and death 

    My adventures with the Scythians began 20 years ago. Professor Yuri Chistov of Peter the Great’s Kunstkamera Museum in St Petersburg opened this wonderful world to me when he encouraged me to study the human skeletons from the incredible burial ground of Aymyrlyg. Located at the southernmost end of Siberia, near the border with Mongolia, this vast cemetery contained the burials of some 600 people of the Scythian world. The majority were buried within rectangular tombs made from logs – the log houses of the dead.

    Interior of a log house tomb from Aymyrlyg. Drawn by Libby Mulqueeny, Queen’s University Belfast, and based on an excavation photograph archived in the Photographic Archive of the Institute for the History of Material Culture, St Petersburg.

    Aymyrlyg was a community burial ground used by these Iron Age mobile pastoralists over many generations. During the summer they probably spent their time traversing the steppes with their livestock, returning to the valley in which Aymyrlyg lay during the colder months. A clue to this seasonal pattern of movement can be found in the condition of the bodies, some of which had been treated in such a way that suggested processing for temporary storage. The remains of certain people had been reduced to small parcels and in some cases the soft tissues had been removed. These were the bodies of those who had died far from the cemetery during the summer months and required storage before the autumn journey back to the valley where the dead could then be buried at Aymyrlyg.

    The mummified adult male recovered from Barrow 5. Photo: V Terebenin, State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

    We know the Scythians were skilled at mummification processes from the evidence apparent in the bodies of those buried in the spectacular royal tombs at Pazyryk in the Altai region of southern Siberia. These individuals had been trepanned, disembowelled and, in some cases, had soft tissues removed from various parts of the body. Evidence of coarse stitching is still visible in the mummies.

    Cut marks indicative of disarticulation at the right hip of a 25–35-year-old man from Aymyrlyg. Photo: Eileen Murphy, Queen’s University Belfast.

    In Book IV of his Histories, the fifth-century BC writer Herodotus gives the impression that the Scythians were a bloodthirsty bunch who spent much of the time marauding in bands across the steppe lands. Among the Aymyrlyg population there were clearly those who had suffered a violent death, particularly from a lethal battle-axe blow to the skull – this weapon displays a marked similarity to the modern-day ice pick and was highly efficient in dispensing death.

    Seventh-century BC battle-axe with gold overlay decoration from the ‘royal’ tomb at Arzhan-2. Photo: V Terebenin, State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

    The man from Barrow 2 at Pazyryk displayed evidence for at least two such blows to his head as well as very early, but indisputable, evidence for scalping. We should not be surprised at all by this finding. Herodotus tells us, with what might be detected as a certain amount of glee, that the Scythians scalped their enemies and hung the scalps on their horse harnesses as a symbol of battle prowess.

    The head of the man from Barrow 2 at Pazyryk. Two battle-axe holes are evident and the scalp has been cut off from the top of the forehead to the back of the neck. Photo: Yuri Chistov, Kunstkamera Museum, St Petersburg.

    While most of those who had died violently were adult males, some females and teenagers at Aymyrlyg also displayed weapon injuries. The suggestion of warrior women should again be of no surprise to us since Herodotus described in detail the Amazons – a tribe of female steppe warriors. Indeed, numerous burials of women accompanied by weapons have been discovered across the Eurasian steppe lands.

    Battle-axe injuries in the skull of a 35–45-year-old man from Aymyrlyg. No evidence for healing was visible and it is probable the man died as a result of these blows. Photo: Eileen Murphy, Queen’s University Belfast.

    While the evidence for violent death is certainly compelling, it needs to be appreciated that relatively few people buried at Aymyrlyg had died in this manner – around 3% of the adults. In many ways it was even more interesting for me to find potential evidence of care and community support within the burial ground that somehow didn’t quite fit with the stereotypical image we have of the Scythians. Certain individuals displayed serious physical impairments or evidence of chronic disease that would have made it difficult for them to have fully embraced daily tasks necessary for survival. Two women displayed evidence for the same congenital hip defect that would have rendered their affected legs practically unusable. In both cases the affected limbs had wasted away through lack of use and the women would have needed supports to help with their mobility. Another woman had evidence of a long-standing substantial soft-tissue growth in one of her eye sockets. Undoubtedly her sight would have been affected and she may also have suffered from other impairments invisible to us. The lives of these three women would no doubt have been particularly challenging.

    Notably enlarged left eye socket in a 17–25-year-old woman from Aymyrlyg that is suggestive of the presence of a soft-tissue tumour that may have been associated with the condition neurofibromatosis. Photo: Eileen Murphy, Queen’s University Belfast.

    The Scythians may have left us with amazing works of art and great inventions but for me it is these individual stories that make the study of their past so rewarding.

     
  • Adam 19:28 on 16.02.2019 Permalink | Reply
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    Darius, Herodotus and the Scythians 

    High on most people’s list of the lessons taught by history would be the inadvisability of invading Russia. Napoleon’s Grande Armée and Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa both famously serve as warnings of what can go wrong. The vastness of the steppes, the refusal of the enemy to meet in pitched battle, the savagery of the winters – all have regularly combined to frustrate the ambitions of even the mightiest empires. In ancient times, before the building of settlements in what are now Ukraine and Russia, the challenges that faced any would-be conqueror were even more severe.

    We have no cities – nothing that we need worry you might capture. We have no crops – nothing that we need worry you might destroy. Why, then, should we be in any rush to fight with you?

    These words were supposedly spoken two-and-a-half thousand years ago by the king of a people named the Scythians, the nomadic lords of a vast swathe of territories that stretched from Central Asia to Eastern Europe. His defiance was flung in the teeth of the most powerful man on the face of the planet: Darius, the Great King of Persia.

    Impression of the Darius seal cylinder seal showing Darius I. Found in Egypt, 6th–5th century BC.

    Military adventures had long been a specialisation of the Persians. For decades, victory – rapid, spectacular victory – had appeared their birthright. Their aura of invincibility reflected the unprecedented scale and speed of their conquests. Once, they had been nothing, just an obscure mountain tribe confined to the plains and mountains of what is now southern Iran. Then, in the space of a single generation, they had swept across the Middle East, shattering ancient kingdoms, storming famous cities, amassing the largest empire that the world had ever seen. A man such as Darius was not lightly defied.

    The landscape of southern Siberia that Darius would have faced. This photo includes a Scythian burial mound. © The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, 2017. Photo: V Terebenin.

    Unsurprisingly, then, in the face of Scythian intransigence, he had decided to take the offensive. In 513 BC, Darius crossed the Bosphorus at the head of a vast army, bridged the Danube, and struck deep into what is now southern Russia. He did so not merely to uphold Persian interests, but in defence – as he saw it – of the moral balance of the universe. Truth, the principle of light and order which animated the entire cosmos, was always under threat. The spreading filth of the Lie, were Darius not there to stem and purge it, risked splashing the radiance of all that was good with the poison of its sewage. Accordingly, then, alerted to the fractious character of the the Scythians, he had recognised in their savagery something ominous: a susceptibility to the seductions of demons. ‘They were vulnerable, these Scythians, to the Lie’ – and so Darius, ever the dutiful servant of the Truth, had felt himself called upon to pacify them.

    Gold plaque of a mounted Scythian, in the words of Darius, possibly ‘vulnerable to the Lie’. Black Sea region, c. 400–350 BC. © The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, 2017. Photo: V Terebenin.

    In the event, he failed. Darius’ expedition did not suffer the humiliating rate of attrition endured millennia later by those of Napoleon or Hitler, but it did meet with stalemate. Although the Persians destroyed whatever of Scythian settlements and crops they could, they were unable to annex any territory, and ultimately, as winter drew in, found themselves with no choice but to withdraw. Darius himself, unsurprisingly, drew a veil over the whole business. The details of his expedition went unmentioned in any of his inscriptions. Forts that he had built deep within Scythian territory were abandoned. As the expedition passed out of living memory, it might very well have ended up forgotten altogether.

    That it did not was due to a Greek who, some eight or so decades after Darius’ invasion of Scythia, wrote about it as part of his ‘researches’ – his ‘historia’ – into the wars between the Greeks and the Persians. Herodotus, when he put words into the mouth of the King of the Scythians, or imagined himself in the mind of Darius, was not relying on authentic testimony – but what he could find out about the Scythians, he did. The result was indeed, just as Herodotus had hoped that it would be, a supreme work of enquiry – not merely the world’s first work of history, but its first work of ethnography as well. It is thanks to Herodotus that a people who wrote no history themselves were enshrined in the memory of more settled people, and it is thanks to Herodotus that the efforts of archaeologists to redeem the Scythians from oblivion could to be cross-referenced with the writings of a man contemporary with them.

    A glimpse inside the exhibition.

    As a translator of the Histories, I always found that the Scythians lived most vividly for me in its pages. In my efforts to understand what they might truly have been like, I felt like Darius, in pursuit of a quarry that seemed destined forever to evade my clutches. That is why the British Museum’s exhibition has proven such a revelation – and so moving. At long last, I have seen the gold, and the clothes, and the horse fittings, and the tattoos, and the very nail clippings of a people I had always thought would exist for me only on the pages of Herodotus. Unlike Darius, I have got to grips with the Scythians at last.

     
  • Adam 19:27 on 16.02.2019 Permalink | Reply
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    Making connections: black people and cultures in Asia 

    The British Museum holds a vast collection related to black heritage where many stories and perspectives of black people and cultures throughout world history can be explored. Working in the Asia Department, I would like to share some of the varied links between black history and Asia that some might find surprising. I have worked with my curatorial colleagues to select six objects that highlight these intriguing connections.

    1. Chinese exports to Africa

    Chinese ceramics have been exported throughout the world for hundreds of years. Glazed pottery such as this distinctive jade-green coloured bowl was popular in parts of Africa and notably used as table ware.

    Stoneware bowl with green glaze and unglazed centre. Made in Longquan, China, Ming dynasty, c. 1400–1500. Found in Malindi, Kenya.

    Made in China during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) this bowl was found in Malindi, on the coast of Kenya. Malindi was an important centre for trade with the Middle East but also with China and India. It is likely that this bowl travelled from its production kiln site in Longquan and passed through this successful port to enter East Africa. Chinese export porcelain was also used as architectural decoration for the face of tombs along the East African coast at Malindi and Mambrui. Longquan kilns made similar wares for the domestic market in China too.

    2. Dark-skin figures in ancient China

    In Tang dynasty China (AD 618–907) pottery figures of people and animals were used to furnish tombs for the deceased. The racial identity and occupation of this male tomb figurine with curly hair and dark-skin has confused scholars throughout the years. Is he African or Southeast Asian? A groom or a dancer?

    Green and brown glazed earthenware figure. Made in China, Tang dynasty, AD 618–906.

    In 1959, J G Mahler first referred to this figurine as being part of the ‘K’un-lun boys’. In contemporary Chinese literature, this group were described as having ‘woolly hair and black skin’ and believed to be from the Malay peninsula. However, this term was also used to describe enslaved Africans sold to China during the Tang dynasty.

    It is difficult to say for sure if the figure is of African or Southeast Asian descent. However, our curators agree that his hand clenched above the shoulder suggests that he was more likely to be a drummer or a dancer at the head of a procession, instead of a groom for an elephant or lion. This figure is on display in the Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery of China and South Asia (Room 33).

    3. African and Southeast Asian textile traditions

    The tradition of making batik is well-known in various Southeast Asian countries. This art form of applying a wax resist prior to dyeing fabric is also very popular in West Africa, where it has influenced a variety of cultures and inspired new motifs. This cotton sarong stitched into a tube is decorated in the Javanese batik technique. Produced on the north coast of Java, it draws on patterns and symbols from a variety of sources, including, Java, India, Europe and China.

    There is a similar cloth in the Museum’s collection of African textiles, which has design motifs inspired by this Javanese batik for African markets. If you compare the two cloths, you can see many similarities in design.

    Sample of machine woven cotton cloth decorated using the batik method. Made in Manchester. Found in West Africa.

    Interestingly, the African textile was made in Beving’s Manchester-based textile company, Blakeley & Beving Co. However, it was likely sold back to African markets where it was subsequently found in West Africa. The Charles Beving collection forms one of most important collections of 19th- and early 20th-century African textiles in the British Museum. You can find out more about some key objects in the Sainsbury African Galleries (Room 25) in this blog post.

    4. North Korean art and the African-American struggle

    There are many depictions of black people in North Korean art. In Africa, many of the large-scale sculptures and monuments dedicated to famous independence leaders have been made by North Korean artists. These relics of the engagement remain today as Pyongyang continues to portray warm relations with African nations through art. However, more frequently African-Americans can be seen present in North Korean propaganda imagery. It seems their presence in art is to display solidarity against inequality and American policies.

    Choi Langsong and Ko Youngchol, From Mt Paektu to Mt Hanla. Linocut print, 1990.

    This woodblock print in the collection shows an African-American man marching alongside Korean activist Lim Sugyong in front of the map of Korea. On 31 July 1989, the Chicago Tribune reported that Lim led a march of ‘some 300 activist from about 30 countries’. As part of the National Leaders of the University Students Association, they hold a banner that reads ‘Our nation is one. Our wish is unification’ expressing their desire for Korean unification during the 7th International Youth Student Festival, 1989.

    As the composition of this print is similar to photographs of the march, while the identity of the man is still a mystery, his presence and participation is certain. Africans and African-Americans continue to appear in North Korean imagery to represent an international camaraderie.

    5. Afros in Japanese art

    Tetsuya Noda is a unique Japanese artist who specialises in woodblock prints and a series of silkscreened diary entries. This print from his Diary series titled Sept. 13th ’73 represents a visual snapshot of a moment in his daily life.

    Noda Tetsuya (b. 1940), Diary: Sept. 13th ’73. Four-colour lithograph on Arches paper, 1973. Reproduced by permission of the artist.

    At first glance, this appears to be a half-length portrait of an African-American woman wearing her hair styled in an afro, and wearing a white t-shirt with a design of a woman’s bare breasts. For me, this really invokes thoughts about second-wave feminism in the US during 1970s and the portrayal of a woman in control of her own body. The hairstyle is also evocative of the iconic image of activist Angela Davis, who wore her in a picked out afro.

    However, as fascinating as this print may be, the racial identity of the woman becomes subjective and ambiguous in nature the longer you observe it. Originally, nothing was known about this young woman. However, a trip to Japan to visit the artist in October 2017 has revealed that the young woman in the image is in fact Israeli. She is the niece of a friend of the artist in Israel and she is wearing what was the latest fashion from USA.

    6. African kings in Bengal

    There are many stories of the African diaspora in medieval India. The reign of the Bengal Sultan Rukn al-Din Barbak Shah (1459–1474), saw the arrival of a large number of enslaved Abyssinians (from modern-day Ethiopia), as well as soldiers and military administrators, brought by the sultan to serve in his army. Some would go on to hold positions of power, including Sayf al-Din Firuz Shah who became a Bengal sultan. A former army commander, Sayf al-Din was of Ethiopian descent, and ruled from 1487 to 1489.

    This fragmentary inscription, carved in a style of calligraphy typical of Bengal, bears the sultan’s titles. It reads, ‘may God perpetuate his kingdom and authority’. It comes from the doorway of one of Gaur’s most famous monuments, the Firuz Minar, from which the call to prayer was announced. The frieze is on display in the newly refurbished Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery of China and South Asia (Room 33).

     

    I am grateful to my colleagues Jessica Harrison-Hall (Head of China Section), Yi Chen (Curator: Early Chinese Collections), Alexandra Green (Henry Ginsburg Curator for Southeast Asia), Eleanor S Hyun (Curator: Korean Collections), Timothy Clark (Head of Japanese Section), Alfred Haft (JTI Project Curator for Japanese Collections) and Imma Ramos (Curator: South Asia Collections) for their assistance in writing this post.

     
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    How clocks work (in 5 easy steps) 

    Old clocks and watches are fascinating even without knowing how they work, but just a simple explanation provides a much deeper appreciation. The timekeeping function of mechanical timekeepers can be explained as just five elements:

    1. Energy source

    All machines, including timekeepers, need energy to work. The energy is usually stored in a weight or spring. When it is wound, energy is transferred from our muscles and into the driving weight (as it moves up against the force of gravity) or the mainspring (as it tightens up). This energy is released into the timekeeper as the weight drops or the mainspring unwinds.

    Musical chamber clock by Nicholas Vallin. London, 1598.

    Musical chamber clock by Nicholas Vallin with 3 driving weights and 3 counterweights (needed to stop the rope from slipping), London, 1598.

    2. Wheels

    Two trains of wheels (timekeeping and striking), of a Japanese stand/lantern clock, 17th–18th century.

    An interconnected series of toothed wheels and pinions, known as a train, transmits the energy through the timekeeper. The energy source moves slowly and the wheel at the furthest end of the train moves quickly. This is the opposite of a car gearbox, where the engine revs quickly and the wheels on the road rotate more slowly.

    3. Escapement

    A verge and crownwheel escapement, on top of a longcase clock movement by Ahasuerus Fromanteel, London, c. 1665.

    The escapement is connected to the quickly moving end of the train of wheels. Like a turnstile which allows one spectator through at a time, the escapement allows one wheel tooth to pass through (or ‘escape’) at a time. Without it, the wheels would whiz until the weight hit the floor. The ticking of a timekeeper is the sound of the escapement stopping a wheel tooth.

    4. Controller

    An early pendulum timepiece by J Bernard van Stryp, Antwerp, c. 1660.

    The controller is connected to the escapement – it controls the rate at which it allows the teeth to pass through. As each tooth passes the escapement, it gives the controller a little push to keep it going. A common controller is a pendulum, which is just a hanging weight – give it a push and gravity makes it swing, at a steady rate. Because gravity is essentially constant, pendulums are great for good timekeeping.

    5. Indicator

    This is the part of the timekeeper that tells us the time, usually hands on a dial. A clock striking a bell gives an aural indication of time – sometimes from many miles away.

    Gilt-brass cased clock-watch with alarm, by Hans Schniep. Speyer, Germany, c. 1590-1610

    Gilt-brass cased clock-watch with alarm by Hans Schniep. It has a single (hour) hand as a minute hand would be superfluous as the watch was only accurate to about 15 minutes a day. Speyer, Germany, c. 1590–1610.

    These five elements apply to (almost!) all mechanical timekeepers from the most ancient to the modern. They can vary wildly, but are there if you look! Here’s a handy video that takes you through these elements on a Swiss clock in the Museum’s collection:

    …and if you happen to have taken a clock apart, here’s another handy guide on how to put it back together!

     
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    World’s earliest figural tattoos discovered on 5,000-year-old mummies 

    Tattoos on the Predynastic female mummy from Gebelein

    Dating to between 3351 to 3017 BC, tattoos of animals and motifs have been discovered on two naturally mummified bodies from Egypt. Using infrared technology, figural tattoos of a wild bull and a sheep were identified on the upper arm of a male mummy, while linear and S-shaped motifs have been identified on the upper arm and shoulder of a female mummy; these are the oldest tattoos ever found on a female individual.

    The use of the latest scientific methods, including CT scanning, radiocarbon dating and infrared imaging, has transformed our understanding of the Gebelein mummies.  Only now are we gaining new insights into the lives of these remarkably preserved individuals. Incredibly, at over five thousand years of age, they push back the evidence for tattooing in Africa by a millennium.

    Daniel Antoine, Curator of Physical Anthropology

    These naturally mummified individuals are from Egypt’s Predynastic period, the era preceding the country’s unification by the first pharaoh at around 3100 BCE. All visible skin on these mummified individuals was examined for signs of body modification as part of a new program of conservation and research.

    Infrared image of the male mummy known as Gebelein Man. (Lower left: Detail of the
    tattoos observed on his right arm under infrared light. Lower right: The mummy and tattoos under normal lighting conditions.)

    The male mummy, known as ‘Gebelein Man A’ has been on display in the British Museum almost continuously since his discovery around 100 years ago. Previous CT scans showed that Gebelein Man A was a young man when he died (18 – 21 years of age) from a stab wound to the back.

    Dark smudges on his arm, appearing as faint markings under natural light had  remained unexamined. Infrared photography recently revealed that these smudges were in fact tattoos of two slightly overlapping horned animals. The horned animals have been tentatively identified as a wild bull (long tail, elaborate horns) and a Barbary sheep (curving horns, humped shoulder). Both animals are well known in Predynastic Egyptian art. The designs are not superficial and have been applied to the dermis layer of the skin, the pigment was carbon-based, possibly some kind of soot.

    Detail of S-shaped tattoos on Predynastic female mummy from Gebelein.

    The female mummy, known as ‘Gebelein woman’, has several tattoos, a series of four small ‘S’ shaped motifs can be seen running vertically over her right shoulder. Below them on the right arm is a linear motif which is similar to objects held by figures participating in ceremonial activities on the painted ceramics of the same period.

    Detail of stick-shaped tattoo on the right arm of Predynastic female mummy from Gebelein.

    It may represent a crooked stave, a symbol of power and status, or a throw-stick or baton/clappers used in ritual dance. The S –motif also appears on Predynastic pottery decoration, always in multiples.

    A ritual scene painted on a Predynastic pottery jar depicts multiple S-shaped motifs
    and a man holding a curved implement.

    The application of tattoos to the human body has enjoyed a long and diverse history in many ancient cultures. At present the oldest surviving examples are the mainly geometric tattoos on the Alpine mummy known as Ötzi (4th millennium BC) whose skin was preserved by the ice of the Tyrolean Alps. Based on the radiocarbon dates, the Gebelein tattoos are, approximately contemporary with Ötzi (3370-3100 BC), and can therefore be considered among the earliest surviving tattoos in the world.

    These finds demonstrate conclusively that tattooing was practised during Egypt’s Predynastic (c. 4000-3100 BC) period by both men and women. As the oldest known tattooed figural motifs, they add to our understanding of the range of potential uses of tattoos at the dawn of Ancient Egyptian civilization and expand our view of the practice of tattooing in prehistoric times.

    The full findings have been published today in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

     
  • Adam 19:11 on 16.02.2019 Permalink | Reply
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    The Hindu festival of Holi 

    The Hindu festival of Holi is a colourful and vibrant celebration of the arrival of spring. It is celebrated across India and Nepal, and among the Hindu diaspora around the world.

    Krishna squirting coloured water at Radha. Painting, Pahari School, early 19th century.

    The three main myths associated with Holi involve the Hindu gods Vishnu, Krishna or Shiva. People in various parts of India focus on different forms of each of these myths. One of the most popular stories concerns Vishnu and his devotee, Prahlada. According to one version of this story, Prahlada was the son of an evil king named Hiranyakashipu who demanded that everyone should worship only him. Prahlada refused to worship his father and instead continued to pray to the god Vishnu. Holika, King Hiranyakashipu’s sister, grew angry at Prahlada because of his devotion to Vishnu and decided to kill him. She had been previously blessed by the gods so that she would not be harmed by fire, so she tricked Prahlada into sitting on her lap while she sat in a fire. Prahlada survived this ordeal because he prayed to Vishnu, while Holika perished. ‘Holi’, the name of the festival, is derived from the name ‘Holika???.

    Another story linked with Holi is about Krishna’s love for Radha. Krishna’s skin was dark blue because a demoness had tried to poison him when he was a baby, and Krishna was worried that Radha wouldn’t like him because of his appearance. His mother, Yashoda, playfully suggested that he smear some brightly coloured powder on Radha’s face. After Krishna did this, Radha fell in love with him and they were later married.

    A king with his favourite in a garden with attendants at Holi festival. Painting, Rajasthan School, mid-18th century.

    There are two main parts to the festival of Holi. The first part is called Holika Dahan and falls on the night of the full moon during the month of Phalguna, which falls between February and March. Bonfires that have been built with an effigy of Holika on top are lit, recalling the moment that Holika perished in the flames while Prahlada survived. The following day, people gather outside to sing, dance and throw coloured powder and squirt coloured water at one another, which recalls the moment when Krishna rubbed coloured powder onto Radha’s skin. It is a day of fun and jollity when traditional social conventions are disregarded.

    The playful throwing of coloured powder is commonly depicted in miniature paintings, and the British Museum has some beautiful examples. Some show the playful moment between Krishna and Radha, while others depict rulers and their attendants in their palace gardens throwing coloured powder and using long metal syringes called pichkari to squirt coloured water at one another.

     
  • Adam 19:09 on 16.02.2019 Permalink | Reply
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    Rembrandt’s depictions of women 

    17th-century Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669) was a keen observer of the natural world. While contemporary artists idealised the world around them in their art, Rembrandt’s prints and drawings reveal a fascination with depicting unmediated reality. Rembrandt’s representation of women in particular demonstrates how he rejected the artistic conventions of the day.

    Left: Rembrandt, Diana at the bath (print study). Drawing, black chalk with some light brown wash, c. 1630-1631. Right: Rembrandt, Diana at the bath. Etching, c. 1631.

    Left: Rembrandt, Diana at the bath (print study). Drawing, black chalk with some light brown wash, c. 1630–1631. Right: Rembrandt, Diana at the bath. Etching, c. 1631.

    This black chalk drawing of Diana is the artist’s earliest known study of a female nude (c. 1630–1631). Traditionally Diana, the chaste mythological goddess of the hunt, was portrayed in art as an epitome of female beauty. Drawing from a live model, Rembrandt depicts Diana caught in a private moment, her sagging, wrinkled skin on view. In the etching made after the drawing, Rembrandt details the surface texture of Diana’s dimpled thighs. Rembrandt removes Diana from the mythological narrative, and depicts the earthy flesh of the model before him. Rembrandt thus blurs the boundaries between myth and reality – in the drawing, only the roughly sketched quiver of arrows hanging behind the figure identifies her as the goddess Diana.

    Left: Rembrandt, Woman lying awake in bed. Drawing, pen and brown ink, c. 1635-1640. Right: Rembrandt, Young woman sleeping. Drawing, brush and brown wash, c. 1654.

    Left: Rembrandt, Woman lying awake in bed. Drawing, pen and brown ink, c. 1635–1640. Right: Rembrandt, Young woman sleeping. Drawing, brush and brown wash, c. 1654.

    Rembrandt’s drawings of the domestic realm offer an intimate look at the women in his life. The pen-and-ink drawing, Woman lying awake (c. 1635–1640), is thought to represent his wife Saskia van Uylenburgh. She may have been confined to bed during child birth, or because of ill-health – she died in 1642, eight years after their marriage in 1634. In the drawing, Rembrandt concentrates on the drapery folds, turning a private moment into a careful examination of line. Rembrandt often used his wife as model for his historical and mythological paintings.

    Almost 20 years later, Rembrandt depicts a young woman sleeping, almost certainly Hendrickje Stoffels, his common-law wife from his late years. The graceful brush-and-wash drawing evokes intimacy with minimal details – his loose brushstrokes, characteristic of his late style, frame the composition. The three drawings of women by Rembrandt span early, middle and late periods in the artist’s life – they have distinct functions, styles, and media. From a detailed representation of Diana’s flesh, through the careful study of drapery in Saskia’s bed, to a tender portrayal of the sleeping Hendrickje, they all exhibit an intimacy and directness that is characteristic of the artist.

    Left: Rembrandt, Adam and Eve (state II). Etching, 1638. Right: Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve. Engraving, 1504.

    Left: Rembrandt, Adam and Eve (state II). Etching, 1638. Right: Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve. Engraving, 1504.

    In representations of the Fall of Man throughout western art, style takes on both theological significance and erotic charge. Traditionally, the first couple was depicted as an embodiment of ideal proportions and beauty – Albrecht Dürer, for example, modelled his figures on Greek statues to emphasise that humans were made in God’s image. Rembrandt was an avid art collector, and owned a portfolio of prints by Dürer. He took inspiration from the German artist’s composition, but rendered his figures in a characteristically unidealised way, adding a layer of psychological depth to the narrative. Rembrandt’s Adam and Eve lack the grace and beauty of Dürer’s figures – their hunched posture and contorted faces suggests the pair is shown at a critical moment of decision. Rembrandt emphasised the human element in his religious scenes – lifelike details provide fresh insight into well-known narratives. By including details observed from life (from live models and domestic moments, to exotic animals that passed through Amsterdam) Rembrandt’s careful study and unflinching representation of the natural world makes his work accessible and intriguing to the modern viewer.

    Rembrandt’s depictions of women elicited harsh criticism in his lifetime and in the subsequent centuries. Shortly after his death, Dutch poet Andries Pels (1631–1681) complained that Rembrandt deliberately chose to represent ‘vulgar peasant women’ in place of a ‘Greek Venus.’ British author Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786–1846) wrote in the 18th century that Rembrandt’s ‘notions of the delicate forms of women would have frightened an arctic bear.’ The reception of Rembrandt’s women says more about the tastes and conventions of the day. In 19th-century France, for example, artists and printmakers were drawn to Rembrandt’s unmediated representations and innovative techniques. Rembrandt’s women have always been a source of fascination, and his stark and intimate portrayals of women make them captivating to modern audiences.

    The British Museum holds one the most comprehensive collections of Rembrandt’s prints and drawings. Prints and drawings cannot be on permanent display due to the light-sensitive nature of works of paper. However, the collection can be viewed in the Department of Prints and Drawings Study Room by appointment – you can find out more about making an appointment here.

     
  • Adam 19:08 on 16.02.2019 Permalink | Reply
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    Visualising Toussaint Louverture 

    In the second half of the 18th century, Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) was France’s richest colony. Sugar, coffee, cotton and indigo produced by the enslaved population made a significant contribution to the wealth of France. Although resistance to slavery – through poisoning, infanticide and everyday acts of disruption – had long been widespread, challenges to the plantation system were violently repressed.

    The French Revolution provided the context, however, for more systematic and sustained emancipation struggle. Led initially by the free people of colour of Saint-Domingue, whose aim was equality with the colony’s white inhabitants, this spread from August 1791 to a wider revolt among the enslaved black population.

    A key figure in the events that would become the Haitian Revolution was Toussaint Louverture, a formerly enslaved man who would rise to the rank of Governor-General of the colony. Louverture led his armies against the British, French and Spanish, and eventually sided with France to abolish slavery – including in the neighbouring Spanish colony of Santo Domingo (now the Dominican Republic), which he occupied to unite the island of Hispaniola.

    John Kay (1742–1826), Toussaint Louverture in A Complete Collection of the Portraits and caricatures Drawn and Engraved by John Kay Edinburgh From the year 1784 to 1813. Etching, 1802.

    Louverture’s success riled Napoleon Bonaparte, who sent an expeditionary force in 1801 to reestablish French rule and restore slavery. Louverture was arrested in May 1802, and exiled in France where he died in prison the following year. Meanwhile, Louverture’s general Jean-Jacques Dessalines reignited the revolutionary struggle, defeated the French at the Battle of Vertières in November 1803, and declared Haitian independence on 1 January 1804.

    Haiti became the first independent black republic in the world, and the second nation in the western hemisphere (following the USA) to gain its independence in an anti-colonial war. Unlike the American and French Revolutions, however, the struggle in Haiti was motivated by a quest for universal as opposed to selective emancipation. This aim was rooted in an inclusive understanding of human rights that extended to all, and depended on the ending of both colonial rule and enslavement.

    Known in Haiti as the ‘Precursor’, Toussaint Louverture is celebrated widely as the military genius, political strategist and diplomatic tactician who transformed a revolt into a revolution, and laid the foundation for Haitian independence. His achievement served as an inspiration and warning across the Americas, and continues to motivate radical and anti-racist movements throughout the world. He has been widely represented since his death in literature, historiography and the visual arts.

    Lubaina Himid’s mixed-media Toussaint L’Ouverture (1987) uses a collage of words from contemporary newspaper headlines – ‘RACIST’, ‘TORTURE’, ‘ABUSE’ – to underline the contrast between the promise of universal emancipation won by the Haitian Revolution and the persistence of racial inequalities in the modern world. ‘The news wouldn’t be news,’ the piece declares, ‘if you had heard of Toussaint L’Ouverture.’ Inspired by her reading of C L R James’s Black Jacobins, Himid also produced a series of watercolours on the Haitian revolutionary leader. Playfully domesticating her subject’s life by bringing Louverture’s wife into the frame, Himid asks: ‘but who does the laundry?’ In another piece, Himid subverts conventional city guidebooks by raising a statue of Louverture in Trafalgar Square, using his imagined presence to foreground alternative Black histories of European capitals. Himid’s work challenges the silencing of Haiti in British historiography (an amnesia all the more surprising given the key role played by British troops in the struggle against Louverture between 1793 and 1798 in revolutionary Saint-Domingue). It also stresses the continued relevance, for parallel struggles today, of the historic Haitian fight against slavery and colonialism.

    Nicolas Maurin (1799–1850), Toussaint Louverture published by F S Delpech in Iconographie des contemporains depuis 1789 jusqu’à 1829. Lithograph, 1833.

    The award of the 2017 Turner Prize to Himid has brought her work to a wider audience, and has increased general awareness of the stories of the Haitian Revolution. In fact, Himid’s representations of Louverture are part of a wider catalogue of visualisations that began during his lifetime, and then proliferated after 1803 as his reputation continued to grow. There are no surviving formal portraits of Louverture, so therefore much of the commentary on these images focuses on questions of the true likeness of their subject. For instance, illustrations in an account of the Revolution by a British army officer present at the time, are often thought to have been drawn from life, but it is the distinctive profile of a lithograph by Nicolas Maurin (above), produced 30 years after Louverture’s death and rejected as a likeness by its subject’s surviving son Isaac, that has achieved iconic status. Stories of newly discovered contemporary portraits are not uncommon, but equally important for understanding Louverture’s afterlives are the many subsequent visual representations. These range from Cham’s caricatures in Le Punch à Paris in 1850 to much more recent works by Kimathi DonkorEdouard Duval-Carrié and Ulrick Jean-Pierre.

    Jacob Lawrence with pictures from The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture, teaching a group of children at Lincoln School, New Rochelle, USA, 1941. Photo by Ray Garner, courtesy of the Harmon Foundation, National Archives photo no. DM-H-HNE-16-7[2].

    One of the most striking contributions is Jacob Lawrence’s pivotal The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture, produced in 1938 in the final years of the Harlem Renaissance and in the wake of the US occupation of Haiti. The series of 41 images illustrates the continued transnational impact of Haiti in debates about African-American identity. Lawrence’s series is in dialogue with earlier representations of the Haitian Revolutionary leader, a number of which the artist consulted in the 135th Street branch of the New York Public Library (now the Schomberg Center).

    Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000), General Toussaint L’Ouverture from the series The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture. Screenprint, 1986. © Estate of Jacob Lawrence. ARS, NY and DACS, London 2017.

    The striking profile in image 20 (above) is drawn from Maurin’s lithograph, while image 26 is reminiscent of the earlier work of Edinburgh artist John Kay from 1802 (earlier in this post). Lawrence’s use of a comic-book aesthetic anticipates subsequent accounts of the Haitian Revolution and the lives of its leaders in comics like Corpse Talk by Adam Murphy, Drums of Freedom by the Guyanese creator Barrington Braithwaite, or the new graphic history by Rocky Cotard and Laurent Dubois.

    Louverture’s increasing visibility as global revolutionary figure suggests that he is achieving a transcultural iconic status rivalled only by Che Guevara. Yet this presents clear challenges: does it imply the final stage in what some see as Louverture’s conscription to forms of neo-colonial modernity; or does it contain the residual potential for reignition, in the present, of the Haitian revolutionary’s struggle for universal emancipation, not least in Haiti itself?

     

    The Asahi Shimbun Display A revolutionary legacy: Haiti and Toussaint Louverturesupported by The Asahi Shimbun, is in Room 3 until 22 April 2018.

    Charles Forsdick is co-author, with Christian Hogsbjerg, of Toussaint Louverture: A Black Jacobin in an Age of Revolution (Pluto, 2017). The biography contains a dossier of recent representations of Louverture, including works by a number of the artists mentioned in this post.

     
  • Adam 19:06 on 16.02.2019 Permalink | Reply
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    A Vodou drum at the British Museum 

    Gerdès Fleurant describes the significance of this type of drum in Haitian Vodou practices.

    Vodou, the science of universal knowledge, and a ritual practice that comes from West Africa, influences all aspects of life in Haitian society. Such influence is most marked in the realm of the arts, i.e. music, painting, literature, dancing, dress and lifestyle. The music, which consists of drumming, singing, and dancing, indeed a central pillar of the ritual setting, is essential for the success of a ceremony. Vodou encompasses many rites, or styles of worship, but it is usually subsumed under two major rites – the Rada, which is considered cool, and the Kongo-Petwo, seen as hot.

    Vodou boula drum. Haiti, early 20th century.

    To appreciate the role of the beautiful drum on display in Room 3, we should focus on the drumming in the Rada rite to which it belongs.

    The Rada rite uses a battery of three conic drums which play in constant dialogue with each other, known respectively, according their size and function within the musical ensemble, as oun (the largest), ounto (the middle), and ountoki (the smallest). This smallest drum is also known as boula, and this is the type of drum on display in Room 3. Two other instruments complete the ensemble: the ogan (bell) and the ason – the sacred rattle played by the oungan or manbo, the officiating priest or priestess and/or chorus leader.

    The boula plays with two small sticks a continuous and regular pattern and produces a high pitch. The middle drum uses a straight stick and a curved one like a half moon, and produces a tenor tone. The largest plays with a bare hand and hammer-shaped stick producing a grave sound that punctuates and supports the singing of the chorus of ounsi (participants), and choreographs the dancing faithful in the peristyle (Vodou temple).

    Drumming is the heartbeat of the lakou (Vodou community), and indeed according to its practitioners, it is the voice of the ancestors, for it leads to transcendence and propels the people to a level that connects to their roots in Africa.

     

    Kate Ramsey explains how the US Occupation of Haiti between 1915 and 1934 created the circumstances that led to the drum’s unlikely journey to the British Museum.

    In 1930, John Stavers, a Lieutenant-Colonel in the British Army, donated a drum to the British Museum. The entry recording that gift is spare, identifying it as a ‘Voodoo drum taken in a police raid at Aux Cayes’, on the southern coast of Haiti.

    1930 British Museum donations book entry recording the arrival of the Vodou drum.

    More precisely, as Gerdès has mentioned above, this was a boula drum, played for Rada spirits in ceremonies of the Haitian Vodou religion. Whose drum had this been? Why was it taken away? How did it come into Stavers’ hands? The brief log entry seems to raise more questions than it answers. Yet this drum has stories to tell about the interlinked histories of Vodou, US imperialism and museum collecting during this era.

    John Stavers in 1918. © IWM (HU 126889)

    We know through the research of British Museum Curator Kate Jarvis that Stavers had travelled by steamship to Jamaica in 1927 and thus likely acquired the drum during this trip. When he disembarked in Kingston, Haiti had been under US marine occupation since 1915, and would remain so until 1934. US expansionism in the Caribbean was in high gear during the first decades of the 20th century, as Washington sought to turn a region long colonised by western European powers into an ‘American sea’. Officials justified taking over Haiti, the second oldest independent nation in the hemisphere, by attributing a ‘disorder’ that they pledged to ‘clean up’. Disbanding the Haitian army, marines trained and officered a newly formed civil-military gendarmerie – the ‘police’ cited in the entry recording Stavers’ donation.

    Members of the Haitian Gendarmerie after winning an Olympic bronze medal in the men’s team free rifle event in 1924. They are joined by a supervising officer of the US Marine Corps. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-B2- 6236-9.

    For decades before this, writers hostile to Haiti’s existence had constructed lurid fantasies of ‘vaudoux’ or ‘voodoo’ to argue that ‘civilisation’ went into decline there after former slaves and free people of colour overthrew French colonial rule in 1804. At times drawing upon such images to defend US military presence and policy in Haiti, marines also targeted Vodou as a locus of anti-occupation insurgency. In so doing, they enforced statutes that Haitian authorities had rarely applied, raiding ceremonies, arresting practitioners, and confiscating drums and other sacred instruments and objects. According to the letter of the law, such items were then supposed to be destroyed. However, the boula that Stavers brought back to London is evidence that, in fact, marines frequently kept the drums they took in raids as prized trophies, or passed them on.

    While it is possible that Stavers came into possession of the boula in Jamaica, the specificity of his donation entry suggests that he may have visited Les Cayes at some point himself, especially given the active steamer route between this southern Haitian port and Kingston at the time. Either way, the boula’s transatlantic passage points to how confiscated drums circulated far beyond Haiti during and after the 19-year occupation. Mirroring Stavers’ bequest, many marines upon returning home donated or sold drums and other sacred objects seized in raids to anthropology, natural history and military museums. Often these were among the first, if not the earliest, Haitian acquisitions of such institutions. They arrived as icons of a religion that US officials never recognised as such, and that had become the subject of widespread international fascination and fantasy, intensified by years of occupation.

     

    The Asahi Shimbun Display A revolutionary legacy: Haiti and Toussaint Louverturesupported by The Asahi Shimbun, is in Room 3 until 22 April 2018.

    Dr Kate Ramsey is Associate Professor of History at the University of Miami and author of The Spirits and the Law: Vodou and Power in Haiti.

    Dr Gerdès Fleurant is Professor Emeritus at Wellesley College and author of Dancing Spirits: Rhythms and Rituals of Haitian Vodun, the Rada Rite.

     
  • Adam 19:03 on 16.02.2019 Permalink | Reply
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    Gems, rings and lapidaries 

    When I started working at the British Museum a few years ago, one of my first emails was from two members of the public about an engraved medieval ring. The couple wanted to find out the inscription on a ring in the gallery which they wanted replicated on their wedding bands because the text they’d read meant a lot to them. Medieval people were no different in their personal approaches to jewellery, and many different phrases and gems are to be found on existing pieces. But these weren’t purely for reasons of romance or fashion and the choice of stone was of great importance to the medieval owner. In this blog, I’ll be telling you about some of the pieces of medieval jewellery I care for in my job as curator.

    The symbolic properties of gemstones in the Middle Ages lay in the biblical description of the heavenly city of Jerusalem, as described in the Book of Revelation. The city was described as made ‘of pure gold’, with each foundation of the walls embellished with a gemstone, such as ruby and amethyst, and each of the twelve gates being made of a pearl. The properties of these gems, and others, were recorded in tracts on stones known as ‘lapidaries’. These treatises are connected with bestiaries, books which provided detailed accounts of different beasts, tied to a Christian, allegorical story.

    Folio 96r of the Aberdeen Bestiary. England, c. 1200. © University of Aberdeen.

    As a stone which originated from a ‘beast’ the pearl is recorded in both bestiary and lapidary. The Aberdeen Bestiary, written in 1300 described the oyster as a ‘stone’ within which the pearl was formed:

    When it [the oyster] rises from its resting-place to the surface of the sea, it opens its mouth and takes in some heavenly dew, and the rays of the sun shine around it; thus there grows within the stone a most precious, shining pearl indeed, conceived from the heavenly dew and given lustre by the rays of the sun. The stone, therefore… symbolises Saint Mary.

    Both freshwater and seawater pearls were used in the period – the freshwater variety could be found in rivers in Britain, Ireland and France, and seawater pearls were from the Mediterranean and further afield. Few medieval pearls have survived on objects in the Museum’s collection and this earring shows us why.

    Gold earring with crystal, pearls and emerald. Halkida, Greece.

    The gold earring is set with a clear crystal and an emerald. Below these are suspended two gold trumpets, each with a pearl at its end. When we look closer we find that the pearls have been drilled and are held in place by a thin gold wire forming a delicate pin.  Originally, it would have had three of these projections. For archaeological jewellery, such as this earring (which was from a hoard of merchant’s goods found in Halkida, Greece), the pin and pearl could easily become lost or damaged.

    Finger ring set with a cabochon sapphire. England, 13th century.

    One stone which has been discovered in medieval tombs is the sapphire. Particularly popular for bishops’ rings, sapphire set rings have been found in the grave of Walter Gray, Archbishop of York (d. 1255), and said to have been found in the grave of William Wytlesey, Archbishop of Canterbury (d. 1374). You can see the incredible detail on this example which was found in the Somerset village of Cannington. The sapphire is very large and it is set in its uncut, highly polished form.

    Detail showing the sides of the finger ring, decorating in openwork with engraved birds. England, 13th century.

    Below the stone, the decoration is openwork, with birds with spread wings and turned heads. Under this, two open-mouthed beasts bite the base of the birds connecting to the hoop. The animals have round, bear-like, ears and tiny dots representing the mane or fur. Along the hoop is engraved Latin text, ‘Ave Maria Gratia Plena DMI’ or ‘Hail Mary Full of the Grace of the Lord’. Bishops were given a ring for their investiture ceremony, which symbolised their vow to serve the church faithfully. The sapphire, then, was a logical choice, as it represented chastity in marriage, as the churchman was married to God.

    Unlike the uncut polished stone in the sapphire ring, this next ring is set with a diamond, cut to form a pyramidal shape projecting from the bezel. In the 1400s the use of the cutting wheel meant that diamonds could have different outlines and facets could be cut into diamonds more easily. The stone was associated with purity and was popular with royalty.

    Gold finger ring with a diamond and engravings. England, 15th century.

    This diamond is set into a chunky 15th-century English ring. It is a type called ‘iconographic’ because it is engraved with images of saints.

    Gold finger ring with a diamond and engravings depicting the Virgin and Child (left), and St Thomas Becket (right). England, 15th century.

    On one side is the crowned Virgin Mary holding the infant Christ and on the other is St Thomas Becket, kneeling at an altar with a sword impaling his head.

    Illustration of the gold finger ring with a diamond and engravings depicting St Thomas Becket (left), and the Virgin and Child (middle). The illustration shows the diamond setting on the right. England, 15th century.

    It is said that in the 15th century the tradition of an engagement ring set with a diamond came into practice, although the exact date is not known. In 1477 the Archduke Maximillian of Austria married Mary of Burgundy and her betrothal ring was set with a diamond.

    Gold amulet ring, 16th century.

    One of the oddest medieval stones is the ‘toadstone’. You can see it on this 16th-century ring. It is a smooth, shiny dome which is a mottled brown colour. O M Dalton, in his 1912 catalogue of the Museum’s ring collection, tells us that ‘the toadstone was supposed to be carried by the toad in his head, whence it might be cut out, or to be thrown out of the mouth if the creature was placed upon a piece of red cloth’. This stone was worn to protect the owner from kidney stones, to protect newborns and to identify poison. However, the stone had no connection to a toad whatsoever, but instead is the fossilised tooth of a fish, Lepidotus maximus.

    You can see Naomi discussing these beautiful pieces of jewellery in this video:

     
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