Dustsceawung
Reflection on the remains of the past as a way of emphasising the transience of life was such a common theme in Old English literature that they had a special word for this motif: Dustsceawung, 'contemplation of the dust.'

I blog history things. I am particularly interested in medieval history and the history of science and medicine, as well as osteoarchaeology and palaeopathology. So you will probably see a lot of those topics here. My ask is always open for questions, suggestions, requests, or anything else you feel compelled to say.

Note: all images belong to me unless a source is listed. If material is incorrectly sourced or if you own the rights to material which you wish to be removed, please let me know.
8 March 2014
Anonymous:
Can we use one of your images in our newsletter and link back to your site, please? Specifically, Hans Talhoffer's Fechtbuch Illustration of the judicial duel between a man and a woman. The article is about masculine & feminine "dueling" as they relate to relationship problems & challenges in the 21st century. It's a great image & I thought it would be fun to use. Thanks, Toni Wheeler

No problem, Toni. Can I just ask that you also cite the edition of the book in which the images were published, as listed at the bottom of that post. Thank you, and best wishes for the newsletter!

8 February 2014

Photo Essay: The Secrets of London's Buried Bones

A series of photographs on the TIME website taken from an exhibit put on by the Wellcome Collection. Some of the photographs are very interesting, especially the syphilitic skull. However, do not take the captions at face value. They are simplistic and in some cases misleading (FYI you can’t tell how many children a woman has had from her pelvis). Still, it is worth a look.

29 January 2014

Yersinia pestis and the Plague of Justinian

Image Source

Back in 2011, the Yersinia pestis genome was successfully reconstructed using dental pulp taken from victims of the Black Death. (see this post and this post) Now we have evidence that the same pathogen was also responsible for the earlier pandemic known as the Plague of Justinian. The Justinian Plague of 541-543 AD has historically been something of a mystery. However, a paper published yesterday in The Lancet Infectious Diseases revealed that the genome for a different strain of Y. pestis has been reconstructed from the dental pulp of two suspected victims of this pandemic. Both individuals were excavated from an early medieval cemetery in Bavaria, Germany and have been radiocarbon dated to the sixth century.

Further reading:
Smithsonian.com
BBC News
The Guardian
NPR

15 January 2014
The Rosetta Stone
In honour of the British Museum’s 255th anniversary.
Perhaps the most famous object in the British Museum collections, the Rosetta Stone was discovered in 1799 by soldiers in Napoleon’s army, passed to the British government under the Treaty of Alexandria in 1801 and has been on display at the museum since 1802. The inscription is a priestly decree affirming the royal cult of Ptolemy V and appears in hieroglyphics, demotic, and Greek. The opportunity to compare the same text in these three languages was instrumental in the decipherment of hieroglyphics.
For more on the Rosetta Stone, its conservation, the text, and related objects see the British Museum website.

The Rosetta Stone

In honour of the British Museum’s 255th anniversary.

Perhaps the most famous object in the British Museum collections, the Rosetta Stone was discovered in 1799 by soldiers in Napoleon’s army, passed to the British government under the Treaty of Alexandria in 1801 and has been on display at the museum since 1802. The inscription is a priestly decree affirming the royal cult of Ptolemy V and appears in hieroglyphics, demotic, and Greek. The opportunity to compare the same text in these three languages was instrumental in the decipherment of hieroglyphics.

For more on the Rosetta Stone, its conservation, the text, and related objects see the British Museum website.

12 January 2014
Samurai armour, Edo periodThe Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
The body of the armour was made during the eighteenth century. It is composed of lacquered iron plates laced together with silk cord. The helmet is older, with an inscription on the interior dating to 1560.

Samurai armour, Edo period
The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

The body of the armour was made during the eighteenth century. It is composed of lacquered iron plates laced together with silk cord. The helmet is older, with an inscription on the interior dating to 1560.

Medusa’s head parade shield, 19th C.The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
This piece was originally thought to date from the Renaissance period, as it is an imitation of the work of sixteenth century Milanese armourer Filippo Negroli.

Medusa’s head parade shield, 19th C.
The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

This piece was originally thought to date from the Renaissance period, as it is an imitation of the work of sixteenth century Milanese armourer Filippo Negroli.

29 December 2013
Anonymous:
What does the word “dustsceawung” mean? Why is used to describe this genre of anglo-saxon literature?

The literal translation of dustsceawung is ‘contemplation of the dust.’ And that is essentially what it is describing, the contemplation of the physical remains of the past. ‘Dust’ is simply being used as a shorthand for the larger concept. This kind of substitution of a related word or of a part for the whole is known in modern English as metonymy. However, Old English is full of such metaphorical compound words, specifically called kennings. ‘Whale-road’ refers to the ocean for instance, and ‘sky-candle’ describes the sun.

15 December 2013

The Archaeologist Song

Just click the link.
You won’t regret it.
Unless it gets stuck in your head.
Which is very possible.

9 December 2013

Digitised Diseases Website

Organised by researchers at the University of Bradford, the Digitised Diseases project showcases pathological conditions of the skeleton using 3-D scanning technology. And the best part is that this resource will be freely available as an online database.

I have been following this awesome project on Twitter for some time and am understandably excited that their website launch is today!

There is also an article in yesterday’s Guardian with more details about the launch:

Online in 3D: the ‘grotesque beauty’ of medieval Britons’ diseased bones

15 November 2013

I looked up the etymology of ‘gun’ last night, and it was the best thing I’ve done all week

lifeasashakespeareancomedy:

jurynelson:

Middle English Lady Gunilda which was a huge crossbow that used powerful shot. It later became used for firearms like cannons and muskets. The Germanic woman’s name “Gundahild” , cognate to modern Scandinavian Gunhild, means “war” + “battle maid”.

THEY NAMED IT AFTER A GIRL

Gunhilde…

Well, would you look at that! I’m just going to reblog this and leave it here: interesting etymology regarding my username.

4 November 2013

Designer of the Bayeux Tapestry identified?

There was an interesting article posted a few days ago on medievalists.net regarding new research by Professor Howard B. Clarke of University College, Dublin. Clarke believes he has identified the man responsible for setting out the narrative structure of the Bayeux Tapestry: Abbot Scolland of St. Augustine’s Monastery in Canterbury. The video interview with Clarke about his research is also well worth a look.

Anonymous:
Hi there, would it be ok if i could use your image of the Vindolana chamfron for my dissertation? If so, could you could let me know how you would like me to credit you that would be great, thanks.

That’s absolutely fine, and thanks so much for asking and offering to credit. The name is E. Usher. Good luck with your dissertation!

18 September 2013
Painted Glass BowlVindolanda Museum
Imported from the Rhineland, the expensive glass bowl features a scene of gladiatorial combat including, most prominently, a retiarius fighting a secutor.

Painted Glass Bowl
Vindolanda Museum

Imported from the Rhineland, the expensive glass bowl features a scene of gladiatorial combat including, most prominently, a retiarius fighting a secutor.

 
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