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15th century skullSeven 15th century skeletons have been found buried on a site that was once occupied by a Franciscan Friary in Aberdeen. The remains of the seven men have now been sent to Glasgow University for analysis. Marischal College occupied the site since the 16th century adding to its historical significance and the remains of many more burials have been found during the dig, including at least five other skulls. Walls of the various structures that existed over the centuries have been discovered, as well as fish bones, pottery and other objects. It looks like this site’s going to be extremely rich in archeological finds so I’ll look out for more information about it. There’s a video of a news report here. From Aberdeen City Council:

Walls and cobbled surfaces associated with the medieval friary have been uncovered – including parts of the early 16th century friary complex. Greyfriars Church itself survived until the early 20th century.

Walls of 17th-19th century university structures have also emerged and been recorded. Numerous objects have been found during the dig, including two complete pottery vessels dating from the 15th or 16th century.

The Franciscan Friars (known as Greyfriars because of the colour of their clothing) came to Aberdeen in the 1460s and it is likely that these burials took place not long after this date.

The graves had been cut deeply into the natural geology. The hands of the men were clasped as if in prayer and may have been bound into that posture with cloth, which has since decayed in the soil. These men were probably Franciscan friars and would have been buried in their habits, which were probably made from coarse wool cloth.

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A quaint little story here which could completely change the way we think of the history of our cheese forever! Stilton will never be quite the same again! Or perhaps it will… From BBC News:

An historian in Cambridgeshire has challenged the East Midlands’ exclusive right to produce Stilton cheese after discovering a 17th Century recipe.

Richard Landy was researching the Bell Inn in the village of Stilton, when he found a recipe for Stilton cheese.

Entitled “Recipe for Stilton”, Mr Landy said it confirmed the cheese originated in Cambridgeshire.

On the cheese theme, I thought I’d take the opportunity to post a recipe from 1591 for cheese tart. I love reading historical recipes – the turn of phrase is always so poetic. This one is from A.W. :A Book of Cookrye Very necessary for all such as delight therin

To make a Tarte of Cheese: Take good fine paste and drive it as thin as you can. Then take cheese, pare it, mince it, and bray it in a mortar with the yolks of Egs til it be like paste, then put it in a faire dish with clarified butter and then put it abroad into your paste and cover it with a faire cut cover, and so bake it; that doon, serve it forth.

http://alphainventions.com

I found an interesting article yesterday by David Smith, technology correspondent for the Observer, considering the dangers of the internet when trying to preserve information for history.

Historians face a “black hole” of lost material unless urgent action is taken to preserve websites and other digital records, the head of the British Library has warned.

Just as families store digital photos on computers which might never be passed on to their descendants, so Britain’s cultural heritage is at risk as the internet evolves and technologies become obsolete, says Lynne Brindley, the library’s chief executive.

Writing in today’s Observer, Brindley cites two examples of losses overseas. When Barack Obama was inaugurated as US president last week, all traces of George Bush disappeared from the White House website, including a booklet entitled 100 Things Americans May Not Know About the Bush Administration, which is no longer accessible…

…Historians have become increasingly concerned that while the Domesday Book, written on sheepskin in 1086, is still easily accessible, the software for many decade-old computer files – including thousands of government records – already renders them unreadable. The ephemera of emails, text messages and online video add to the headache of the 21st-century archivist.

This really is pretty enlightening as I always had the vague idea that the internet was a godsend for ordinary people’s personal opinions on events to be easily recorded. Now it’s clear that, although the beauty of the internet is that ideas can be circulated quickly and universally, at the same time it also means that this information can be deleted and forgotten just as quickly! While a written page has to be at least burnt to be destroyed and forgotten, digital information can be lost with the click of a button or due to technology becoming obsolete – a bit worrying I must admit!

English Heritage archaeologists have revealed the findings of a large survey of over 20,000 old aerial photographs taken of the stretch of coast between Whitby and the Scottish border. Many of the sights date back to the first and second world wars, although some even reveal medieval activity. From The Yorkshire Post:

At Hartlepool, mounds of waste material from medieval salt production – evidence of one of Teesside’s earliest industries – were also uncovered during the survey.

The survey also revealed four wrecks on the mud flats at Amble, in Northumberland.

Although their existence had previously been recorded, the actual location of the wrecks was not known until the English Heritage survey took place. It is not known from when the wrecks date, but they are clearly visible in aerial photography dating back to the 1940s.

In addition, a pattern of shallow rectangular features around medieval St Cuthbert’s hermitage, on the Farne Islands, was identified during the survey. Although their exact origins are not known, it is thought that these unusual features may have more to do with the activities of the lighthouse crews than with the medieval use of the island.

There are a few pretty interesting photos from the survey online and a further article on TimesOnline. With any luck, this survey will open up many brand new areas to be archeologically investigated and so I hope we’ll see plenty of new finds reported from these sites soon.

Listening to the radio over the last couple of days, there has been a lot of talk about how traditional British names are becoming less and less popular and names like Norman, Walter, Percy, Gertrude, Edna and Ethel will soon be forgotten.

Gurgle.com studied the most popular names of 1907 with those that have made the grade over the past five years.
In 1907, 1,048 babies were named Gertrude but none were in 2005. Baby Normans declined from 1,991 to two.
Many babies are named after celebrities or given made-up names now, rather than being given relatives’ ones, as often happened in the past, Gurgle.com said.

I understand it is sad to lose names that used to be so popular, but I feel that this sort of story isn’t really news. Surely names come in and out of favour constantly, so its strange to get upset over the changes in popularity between only 1907 and now. I’m sure back in 1907, people could have complained about the loss of the popular names of 1807. In fact, I think that the popularity and unpopularity of names at a certain time is partly what gives each generation its sense of identity.

Sarah Stone, editor of Gurgle.com, said: “Not so long ago it seems we all knew a Great Uncle Harold or Aunty Irene, but sadly it seems these names could soon be lost forever.”

Yes that may be true, but in the same way in a few years time we’ll all know an Uncle Paul and an Aunty Sharon and eventually those names will go ut of fashion and people will know an uncle Ryan and an aunty Rachel. The same rules apply over time!

More than anything else, we should be celebrating the fact that many names do stick and stay popular for hundreds of years, (often due to the royalty connection – i.e. names like Elizabeth, Philip and Charles) and some of the most popular names in 2007 were Jack, Thomas and Oliver for boys and Grace, Ruby and Olivia for girls. Most of these names have been popular at many other points in history and so I reckon this suggests that names do come back. Perhaps in another hundred years, there’ll be new born baby Ednas and Walters again.

BBC Article
Popular Baby Names – Although this is US information, its pretty interesting to look up the most popular names for each year since 1880.

It seems all of my favorite literary figures are being remade into films at the moment! My two top characters for historical entertainment are Sherlock Holmes and Robin Hood and now, it was announced today that Sienna Miller is to star as Maid Marian in a remake of Robin Hood, called Nottingham. She said:

It’s happening. I just found out. It’s the most exciting news in the world. It’s ridiculous. But there’s this looming actor’s strike, so it’s not 100% sure that it’s going to be made, but it’s looking pretty certain.

She will star alongside Russell Crowe as the Sheriff of Nottingham and the film will be directed by Sir Ridley Scott, who worked with Crowe on Gladiator, so the film does have its share of big names. It’s apparently going to be from the sheriff’s perspective, focusing on a love triangle between Maid Marian, Robin Hood and the Sheriff, and casting Robin himself as the villain. I think this is an interesting take on it, that doesn’t just stick to the stereotype that’s been remade over and over again and so far it looks like it’s got a little more promise than the Sherlock Holmes film. Although that’s probably just because Sherlock Holmes seems sacred once you’ve actually read the stories as opposed to Robin Hood who’s origins are open to interpretation.

Again, I’ll try to reserve judgment till its out, but its looking good so far!

As an avid fan of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, I was really excited to read about the upcoming film adaptation, to be directed by Guy Ritchie. It’s planned to be released in 2010 and apparently is not going to be based on any of Conan Doyle’s stories, but on a currently unreleased comic book by Lionel Wigram. There isn’t much information about this yet but the film is described as removing some of Holmes” “Victorian stuffiness,” and “including playing up his skills as a bare-knuckle boxer and expert swordsman.” It’s clear they want to update Sherlock Holmes and make him more ‘adventuresome’ for a more action-packed movie.

Now I don’t want to rubbish the idea without giving it a chance (I just can’t help myself), but I do wonder whether what makes Sherlock Holmes so popular is his inherent Englishness, witty dialogue and deductive skills. And I think we’ve got to remember that the popular perception of Holmes as a stuffy Victorian gentleman isn’t quite true as there are countless gripping and exciting moments in the stories. And these moments of action contrasted with long periods of thought and uncertainty and also Holmes’ loyal and meaningful friendship with Doctor Watson, make them even more enthralling than if the stories were just long explosion-filled shootouts, sword fights and handsome cab chases. I mean the man does wrestle with his arch enemy, Professor Moriarty, push him off the edge of the Reichenbach Falls making Dr Watson believe Holmes is dead in “The Final Problem” and then return in disguise three years later, making Dr Watson faint in “The Empty House”. Isn’t that enough action?

 The

 What I don’t want them to lose in this adaptation is the sort of things that make me love Sherlock Holmes so much. He seems a cold hard man but has a strong underlying friendship with Dr Watson and in ‘The Adventure of the Three Garridebs’, he believes Watson has been shot and nearly panics, showing his emotion for the first time and when he realises Watson isn’t badly hurt, says “If you had killed Watson, you would not have got out of this room alive.”. Watson writes afterwards,

It was worth a wound—it was worth many wounds—to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain. All my years of humble but single-minded service culminated in that moment of revelation.

It is this poignant depth of character alongside just the right amount of action that makes Conan Doyle’s stories so remarkable and popular and I just really hope this isn’t lost.

I know it probably seems like I want to keep the character of Sherlock Holmes the same as the one I know and love, but I just hope they can add action and excitement to the film, introducing the stories to a wider audience, while retaining Conan Doyle’s beautifully original depth of character. I reckon this might be one of those films that’s enjoyed more by people who haven’t read all the books so I’ll try to reserve judgment till I get more information. Anyway, it’s nice to see someone taking up the Sherlock Holmes character again and I’m almost surprised that nobody’s thought of doing it before.

A 15th century tunnel in Canterbury Cathedral has been cleared and reopened after being used for storage for over 40 years. The tunnel was originally built to lead to the site where Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170, so that pilgrims could visit the site over the centuries without walking through the cathedral and disturbing the monks. Extract from the BBC website article:

The Very Reverend Robert Willis, Dean of Canterbury, said the tunnel would give proper access to people in wheelchairs to the Martyrdom – one of the most important parts of the Cathedral.
“The Cathedral has hundreds of steps which can make life difficult for anyone who finds it hard to climb up and down steps,” he said.
“Now it has been cleared and reopened, it also gives tantalising new vistas of two central areas of the Cathedral.”

Canterbury Cathedral

Thomas Becket was first Chancellor and then Archbishop of Canterbury under King Henry II and the two became good personal friends, which made their dispute, eventually ending in Becket’s murder, even worse. The King expected Becket to be adaptable to his demands, however once made Archbishop, Becket turned more towards the church and was prepared to stand up to the king. Henry wanted to increase the power of the crown by removing the special ecclesiastical courts that existed to give churchmen more lenient sentences when convicted of crimes. Thomas Becket protested and the relationship between the two deteriorated, causing Beckett to flee to France for 6 years. Becket went one step too far when he excommunicated the bishops that had supported the King and this sent Henry into a rage. Some of the King’s knights chased Becket into Canterbury Cathedral and, during a service, hacked him to death with swords, splitting his skull on the steps of the altar.

This primary source text is part of the account of the murder by Edward Grim, a monk who was at the scene.

Then the unconquered martyr seeing the hour at hand which should put an end to this miserable life and give him straightway the crown of immortality promised by the Lord, inclined his neck as one who prays and joining his hands he lifted them up, and commended his cause and that of the Church to God, to St. Mary, and to the blessed martry Denys. Scarce had he said the words than the wicked knight, fearing lest he should be rescued by the people and escape alive, leapt upon him suddenly and wounded this lamb who was sacrificed to God on the head, cutting off the top of the crown which the sacred unction of the chrism had dedicated to God; and by the same blow he wounded the arm of him who tells this. For he, when the others, both monks and clerks, fled, stuck close to the sainted Archbishop and held him in his arms till the one he interposed was almost severed.
Then he received a second blow on the head but still stood firm. At the third blow he fell on his knees and elbows, offering himself a living victim, and saying in a low voice, ‘For the Name of Jesus and the protection of the Church I am ready to embrace death.’
Then the third knight inflicted a terrible wound as he lay, by which the sword was broken against the pavement, and the crown which was large was separated from the head. The fourth knight prevented any from interfering so that the others might freely perpetrate the murder.

The death of Thomas Becket from the Luttrell Psalter. Courtesy of The British Library.

The death of Thomas Becket has been seen by Christians ever since as a martyrdom and the King has always received the blame, although it is unclear exactly what was said between Becket and the King and the orders that were given to Beckett’s murderers. Nevertheless, pilgrims ever since have flocked to the famous cathedral to pay their respects to the martyr, eventually causing the construction of the tunnel in the 15th century.

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