Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Glendalough: Round tower

Round Towers generally date to the period from the 9th to 12th centuries and probably served a variety of functions, from acting as a belfry to call monks to prayer to a refuge in times of strife. In all but one surviving case they have doors at first-floor level to accommodate either pole valuters or beard-rapelling monks, or (less likely) access by rope ladder [here | here].

Glendalough’s round tower is about 30m tall with an entrance about 3.5m above the present ground level and is constructed from mica-slate and granite. Having suffered damage in a lightning strike, its conical roof was rebuilt in the 19th century using the original stones. Internally, the tower held six wooden floors, each connected by ladder and lit by a single narrow window. The topmost floor had four windows, facing the cardinal points.

Much of the detail about the individual sites has been rather shamelessly taken from some excellent sites & I urge you to go and explore them too:

To view the 3D Images you’ll need a pair of red/blue glasses. These can be purchased relatively cheaply from Amazon [here].

Glendalough: Round tower 3D

< Back to Main Post < Index of Glendalough Posts

To view the 3D Images you’ll need a pair of red/blue glasses. These can be purchased relatively cheaply from Amazon [here].

< Back to Main Post < Index of Glendalough Posts

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Glendalough: St Kevin’s ‘Kitchen’

If there’s one image that typifies Glendalough, it’s the unique survival that is commonly known as St Kevin’s ‘Kitchen’. This stone roofed oratory dates broadly to the 12th century, though it appears to have had a complicated building history. If I understand it correctly, the church started as a nave-only structure with a sacristy and chancel added later. The integral belfry with four small windows and conical cap seems intended to mirror the adjacent round tower. It is this feature – resembling a chimney – that led to it being rebranded as a kitchen rather than a church. Seeing as it dates to about a half a millennium after the time of St Kevin, he wasn’t cooking up dinner for anyone there either.

Much of the detail about the individual sites has been rather shamelessly taken from some excellent sites & I urge you to go and explore them too:

To view the 3D Images you’ll need a pair of red/blue glasses. These can be purchased relatively cheaply from Amazon [here].

Glendalough: St Kevin’s ‘Kitchen’: 3D

< Back to Main Post < Index of Glendalough Posts

To view the 3D Images you’ll need a pair of red/blue glasses. These can be purchased relatively cheaply from Amazon [here].

< Back to Main Post < Index of Glendalough Posts

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Glendalough: The Gateway

Some time ago I was invited to speak at an event in south County Dublin and, seeing that I had some time on my hands and was in the right general vicinity, I took the opportunity to carry on to the end of the M50 and off into Wicklow to renew my acquaintance with the wonderful monastic site at Glendalough.* Last time I’d been there was when I was an undergraduate, so a return visit was long overdue.

Glendalough (the valley of the two lakes) was founded by St Kevin in the 6th century. However, none of the standing structures date to this early time. The gateway is a unique survival. Today it is a roofless structure with rather fine granite arches in the north and south walls, along with projecting ante. It appears to originally have been two-stories tall and had a wooden roof. Just inside the gateway, and butted up against one of the ante, there is an incised cross on a large sub-rectangular stone that is usually interpreted as demarcating the boundary of the sanctuary.

To document my excursion, I also brought along my camera, tripod, and an adjustable mounting that allows me to slide the camera along the focal plane. When used together, I can capture near-identical photographs that are then combined (with the right software) to create 3D anaglyph images. In this series of posts I’m going to present a number of my images and place the 3D shots in a set of dedicated appendices. While I’ve been fascinated with 3D photography for most of my life – and actually taking 3D images for several years now – I had a special reason for wanting to try it out here. Some time previously I had seen a number of late 19th/early 20th century stereogram images of the gateway at Glendalough and it impressed me that there had once been a time when such sets of views were a common tourist purchase. While tourists and pilgrims still come to the site, stereograms have had their day. It just lodged in my head that the next time I got to Glendalough, I’d take 3D shots. Ironically, not one of my attempts to get a viable 3D shot of this gateway actually paid off.** Instead, (and with the permission of the owner, Conor McDermott) I append the original stereograms reconfigured as single-image anaglyphs.

* For a given value of ‘general’

** To be most effective, this method of creating anaglyphs depends on the camera being the only thing to move between shots. Thus, where there is substantial movement of people or even swaying foliage, the results can range from 'minor annoyance' to 'completely unusable'. Unfortunately, my photographs of the Glendalough gateway fell into the latter category. Maybe next time ...

Much of the detail about the individual sites has been rather shamelessly taken from some excellent sites & I urge you to go and explore them too:

To view the 3D Images you’ll need a pair of red/blue glasses. These can be purchased relatively cheaply from Amazon [here].

Glendalough: The Gateway: 3D

< Back to Main Post < Index of Glendalough Posts

Original images courtesy of Conor McDermott, personal collection

To view the 3D Images you’ll need a pair of red/blue glasses. These can be purchased relatively cheaply from Amazon [here].

< Back to Main Post < Index of Glendalough Posts

Out and about in Glendalough, Co Wicklow. A Table of Contents of the Posts

Some time ago I had the opportunity to visit the Early Christian monastic site of Glendalough, Co. Wicklow for the first time in a couple of decades. I saw the sights, I took some photos. I even turned some of the photos into 3D anaglyphs. I intended to follow all of this up with a series of posts for this blog, extolling the virtues of this magnificent site, presenting my images, and telling a few stories along the way. That was 2015 and I’m only getting around to completing it now, in 2017.

The purpose of this post is to act as a Table of Contents to the various posts. As each post is published, the corresponding links will go live, so if you can’t reach an individual post, do come back later!

The Posts
Glendalough: St. Mary's Church - or Lady Chapel
Glendalough: St Saviour's Priory

*           *           *

The 3D Photos
Glendalough: St. Mary's Church - or Lady Chapel
Glendalough: St Saviour's Priory

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Gleninsheen Gold Collar

The Glensinsheen Gorget (collar) is considered to be among the finest gold ornaments ever produced in Ireland. It dates to the Bronze Age and is thought to have been created between 800-700 BC. It was discovered in the Burren at Gleninsheen, Co. Clare by a young boy out with his dog. He spotted ‘something’ in a fissure (or ‘grike’) between two areas of limestone pavement (known as ‘clints’) and retrieved this treasure. Unfortunately, not everyone was as enthused with his discovery and, thinking it was a piece of coffin furniture, he was forbidden from bringing it inside his home. It languished under a bush for a number of years before it was identified as archaeological and was passed on to Adolf Mahr, then head of the National Museum of Ireland.

It’s a wonderful piece of complex ornamentation that would have been utterly striking when worn in the Bronze Age, but it’s the story of its discovery and near loss to scholarship that draw me back to it time and time again when I visit the museum. Go see it for yourself and be seduced by this incredible piece of artistry and craftsmanship, but spare a slight shudder at the thought of how close we came to losing it forever …

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A pair of cheek-pieces of unknown type from Ireland – request for information

My good friend B G Scott is researching Iron Age horse harnesses. He is currently looking for parallels to the cheek pieces illustrated below. Please feel free to share this with friends and colleagues who may be able to help. You may either contact him directly, or all messages/comments on this blog and other social media outlets will be passed back to him. Thanks to all who can assist on this - it is much appreciated.


*           *           *

The cheek piece shown in these rather poor pictures is one of a pair, unprovenanced except to ‘Ireland’. The arms end in simple animal heads, and there is no decoration anywhere. It seems likely that the two strap tags do not belong with the piece.

I have not been able to locate a parallel to date, and would be most grateful if any colleagues have come across anything similar.

All assistance gratefully received and fully acknowledged.

Best wishes
Dr Brian G. Scott

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Phoenix at the National Museum of Ireland

The National Museum of Ireland has many wondrous, beautiful, and rare objects on display. Just think of the spectacular Bronze Age gold display, the Ardagh Chalice and the other amazing artefacts in the Treasury, the prehistoric pottery, along with the Viking and medieval material upstairs. Most people are unaware that the museum also boasts a mythological rarity … their very own phoenix. This mosaic gem is near the very Dandy Lion on the ground floor, near the centre of the Bronze Age gold exhibit. I’ve long thought him a particularly arrogant bird, rising up with flame-feathered wings outstretched and an imperious look in his eye. On more recent consideration, I’m not sure if he’s not just using a cloak of superiority to mask his discomfort at having an especially barbed and sharp tongue … it must be the source of much distress and suffering. Go visit the museum & spare a thought for the phoenix.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Dandy Lion at the National Museum of Ireland

The National Museum of Ireland at Kildare Street, Dublin, is simply stuffed with treasures – room after room and case after case of the very finest and most important artefacts from this island. When faced with such a rich and beautiful selection to catch your intellect and imagination it can be easy to miss interesting little treats hiding in plain sight. On my last visit to the Museum, I renewed my acquaintance with this rather dashing mosaic lion. He’s easy to miss in the Bronze Age gold display, but he’s certainly worth the time to notice and appreciate. I particularly like the jaunty twist of his goatee and the calm, assured look in his eye.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Wreck of La Belle and the archaeology of French Texas

Last November I had the good fortune to be in Austin, TX. Although I was there in my guise of IT guy to attend the Tableau conference, I had a little free time to myself got the opportunity to visit The Bullock Texas State History Museum. Should you get the chance, I would heartily recommend a visit. For those who can’t make it (or need some encouragement to go) I offer this brief collection of posts, showcasing some of the exhibits. To my mind, the premier exhibit in this fascinating museum is La Belle: The Ship That Changed History.

The story started in 1684, when Louis XIV sent Robert Cavelier de la Salle off with four ships and 400 people. The plan was to head to North America and establish a colony at the mouth of the Mississippi. The new colony would become the focus of lucrative trade routes and everyone would get rich … very rich! Well … that was the plan … and things didn’t quite go to plan. To be fair, I’m rather stretching the meaning of the phrase ‘didn’t quite go to plan’ here. Poor Robert accidentally sailed past his destination, lost ships to mishaps and marauders, and was eventually murdered by his own crew … as I say, not quite to plan! In 1686, La Belle, was wrecked in a storm and sank into the mud of Matagorda Bay. What was a disaster in 1686 proved to be a remarkable discovery in 1995 when the ship was located by archaeologists. The lengthy ensuing excavation allowed the recovery of 1.6 million artefacts, along with a sizeable portion of the ship’s hull. The museum provides a wonderful website with some beautiful photography that I urge you to visit (here). From a European perspective, this is a fantastic survival of post-Medieval French maritime history that also provides insights into trade practices and social conditions of the period … it just happens to be located on the other side of the planet …

The Ship
La Belle was a three-masted ship that measured approximately 54ft in length, 15ft wide, had a 7ft draft, and carried around 35 people. It was designed for navigating shallow coastal waters as well as sailing up rivers as part of De la Salle’s programme of exploration. Interestingly, La Belle was never intended to sail across the Atlantic. Instead, she was supposed to have been packed up in the belly of Le Joly, another of his ships, for assembly in the New World. As it turned out, the other ships were already too full with other supplies and La Belle was constructed at Rocheford, in France. As it was a ‘kit ship’, the main timbers were each carved with a combination of letters and Roman numerals to match so it could be reassembled in the correct way. I was particularly taken with the system used – the central reference point was the mainmast and ribs forward of this were numbered IA-XIIA (Avant) while the ribs behind were labelled ID-XVIID (Devant).

Obviously, the lower portion of the hull and side of the ship have survived well, but items of rigging have also been found. The three-holed wooden artefact on the left (above) is a deadeye ‘block’ or pulley used in the adjustment of the ship’s sails. The example on the right is a fiddle block variant. Owing to constant use and wear, these pieces were usually made of durable hardwoods, such as oak or lignum vitae.

This is a single block, the simplest form of block pulley used on board ship.

This 1:12 scale model of La Belle gives a clear indication of what it would have looked like when new and is cut away to reveal the layout of the internal compartments and their contents, based on surviving documents and the archaeological evidence.

Items for daily life in the Colony
One of the points that the exhibit makes very well is that while the individual artefacts all have important and interesting stories, it is the totality of the finds that give us insights into what Europeans thought was necessary to create a sustainable colony in North America. This collection included necessities such as cooking pots, plates, bowls, a surgical kit, a collection of carpentry tools, along with unworked iron to make nails and other necessities.

This collection of brass cooking pots and a colander was found nested inside each other, along with a ladle and a pair of candlesticks. They had been stowed in the ship's hold inside a large chest.

Even in the New World the necessity of grinding grain to make bread remained the same as at home. This rotary quern will be familiar to archaeologists on this side of the Atlantic. For anyone not familiar with the artefact, a upper stone is turned by hand against a stationary lower stone and the grain is ground to flour in action between the two. As this example has no central perforation to introduce grain into the mechanism or a partial hole near the edge to facilitate a wooden handle, I presume that it’s the lower stone.

The excavation found four barrels of axe heads, but no axe handles. The assumption is that the colonists would have made handles once they landed and then used them to create houses and a defensive compound. They would also have been prized trade items, used for exchange with the indigenous population.

La Belle contained a large collection of combs, many of which were probably intended as trade goods. However, this pair of combs preserved together in a wallet were most likely the personal property of a sailor or colonist. In particular, the fine comb on the left is thought to have been for checking for lice.

As well as the stamped decoration on the handle, this shallow bowl or porringer has the name ‘C. Barange’ inscribed on its side, possibly the name of one of the sailors.

Trade items
While some artefacts may be seen both as useful to the colonists and as trade items, much of La Belle’s cargo, and that of the other ships in his fleet, would have been intended only for trade. The largest portion of these trade goods would have been glass beads, but they also brought bells, knives, finger rings, mirrors, combs, and vermilion dye. De la Salle traded these for food, horses, guides, along with furs and hides that he intended to send back to France.

During an earlier mission through Canada, De la Salle learned that the Native population liked and valued glass beads, so he ensured that his expedition to the Mississippi carried them in their hundreds of thousands.

Over 500 knives were recovered during the excavation, many of which were intended for trade purposes. These included straight knives, carefully wrapped in paper, and folding-clasp knives.

On the left is a sample of the 1600 brass hawk bells recovered during the course of the excavation. While designed to be worn by trained birds of prey in Europe, they were traded to the Native population to be sewn on to clothing. On the right is a selection of the 1603 brass finger rings, also for trading, recovered from the wreck. These are known as ‘Jesuit rings’ owing to their religious iconography.

Attack and defence
De la Salle and his colonists knew that they were going to an environment that was hostile to them, so the expedition was well stocked with weapons. Bronze and iron cannon were carried in the hold of the La Belle. These were intended to protect the fledgling colony, while a number of deck cannon and swivel guns protected the ship. Smaller weapons (for both hunting and defence) included two different types of firearms, supplied with a number of different forms of shot and ammunition. As the industrial capabilities necessary to produce projectiles and powder did not exist where they were going, and could not be independently manufactured by the colonists, they brought as much as they could with them. It is interesting to reflect that of the 86 barrels retrieved during the excavation, 33 contained shot, while a further 16 were filled with gunpowder.

On the left is a brass powder flask for pouring measured amounts of gunpowder into a firearm. To the right are a selection of three surviving gunpowder cartridges, each originally holding a pre-measured charge of gunpowder.

The guns on board were flintlocks, which required a gunflint as part of the mechanism to create a spark and expel the projectile. This image shows a collection of rather lovely examples. Even after all these years in archaeology, it still strikes me as so strange, seeing this most quintessential of prehistoric technologies still used until (relatively) recently. I put it down to having spent too long among the prehistorians. 

Two of the flintlock muskets recovered from the wreck.

This firepot is a remarkable survival, not simply that the ceramic vessel is intact, but that the wooden lid and fuse holder are also preserved. If this example had been used, a grenade would have been placed inside the pot with the fuse sticking out of the top. When thrown, the pot and grenade would have exploded upon impact.

The colony at Fort Saint Louis faced difficulties from the outset and by 1688 La Salle and most of the settlers were dead and the settlement was in ruins. The remains of the site were discovered by the Spanish officer Alonso de León the following year. De León ordered the burial of the cannon and burnt the surviving buildings. Eventually the location of Fort Saint Louis was lost and the eight iron cannon (one pictured above) that defended the settlement remained buried until accidentally discovered by a ranch foreman in 1996.

This is one of three bronze cannon found in the hull of La Belle. All three have dolphin-shaped lifting handles and bear the crest of the Admiral of the French Navy.

The story of La Belle is part of the much larger history of the French colonisation of Texas. It’s a remarkable tale and is much less well known than it should be (or at least it was to me ... again, I blame it on consorting with the prehistorians). I’m not going to attempt to give even an outline, but instead direct the interested reader to the Wikipedia page [here]. I’ve tried to present some of the highlights of this wonderful exhibition, but there is much more to see here and in the museum as a whole – if you get the opportunity to visit in person don’t let it pass you by!

In a lot of my posts I add the suggestion that if you like my writing, I’d be grateful for a donation. Nothing too extravagant – just the price of a pint or a coffee (but I’ll probably just spend it on books). In this case, I’d also add that if you were so inclined, you could consider throwing a few of whatever your local currency is in the direction of the museum: here.