Showing posts from January, 2023

1000 years buried: Edward the Elder Silver sent to Rome in the time of Æthelstan and buried in a 928 hoard

Some ancient objects have amazing stories to tell. One such piece is an Anglo-Saxon silver penny which was excavated in Vatican grounds in about 1928. The penny has a fairly schematic portrait of the king, Edward the Elder, who reigned from 899 to 924. He, together with his sister Æthelflæd of Mercia, successfully conquered territory previously held by Danish vikings ( the "Five Boroughs" of the Danelaw and East Anglia) , a process completed in the time of his successor and first son (though his mother was not a queen), Æthelstan. Edward was born about 871, oldest son of Alfred the Great, and died on the 17th July 924 aged around 53, leaving fifteen children by three wives. Four of the sons would become kings and five of the daughters would marry into European noble houses. The obverse of the coin shows +EADWEARD REX around the simple portrait. The reverse shows the inscription BEORN  ƿ OLD Mo, in two lines (above and below three cross pattées across the centre) naming the m

The Bear Cuscus of Wallacea

Sulawesi was a gap on the map for me. I had visited Borneo to the west many times and seen the orangutans, gibbons, monkeys, elephants and squirrels that live there. To the east, I had visited Halmahera and Papua New Guinea, with their birds of paradise, cockatoos and marsupials (but no apes, monkeys, elephants or squirrels). After some days enjoying the marine life of the Bunaken National Marine Park, we visited the nearby Tangkoko Batuangus Nature Reserve to look for some of the endemic mammals and birds. From Manado we drove around the south side of the imposing Klebat volcano and then north on the west side of mounts Dua Sudara and Tangkoko. The entrance to the reserve is next to the coastal town of Batu Putih. View looking east from Borneo across the Celebes Sea to northern Sulawesi, westernmost extent of the marsupials. "Wallace's standardwing" marks the habitat of the westernmost bird of paradise. As we walked into the park, we stopped to look at an elegant Draco f

The Fang Crossbow, Gabon

The Fang peoples of Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and southern Cameroon had developed a range of functional and beautiful tools and weapons, mainly made of iron, but also, as is the case with their crossbow, from wood. Du Chaillu (1861) in his early account of the Fang peoples he met in Gabon wrote, " They have a great diversity of arms. Among the crowd today I saw men armed with cross-bows, from which are shot either iron-headed arrows, or the little, insignificant-looking but really most deadly, poison-tipped arrows. These are only slender, harmless reeds, a foot long, whose sharpened ends are dipped into a deadly vegetable poison which these people know how to make. The arrows are so light that they would blow away if simply laid in the groove of the bow. To prevent this, they use a kind of sticky gum, a lump of which is kept on the underside of the bow, and with which a small spot in the groove is lightly rubbed ." He described the crossbow as follows, " The handle of the

The Art of the Fang Short Sword

 Introduction The Fang peoples of the West Central African countries of Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon seemed to exert a fascination in the minds of Europeans from early 19th century accounts onwards (Bowdich 1819, Wilson 1843, Du Chaillu 1861, Burton 1876, De Brazza 1878, 1888, Kingsley 1897, Bennett 1899). This related to their reputation for intelligence and energy, their vigorous and distinctive culture, their migration towards the coast, and their impressive physical appearance. Mary Kingsley (1897) described them as "full of fire, temper, intelligence and go." Early visitors avidly collected Fang artefacts as attested by the large numbers of items in museums such as the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford, British Museum in London, Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, Musée d'Ethnographie Genève in Switzerland and The Metropolitan Museum in New York. Collections were made by missionaries such as J. Leighton Wilson (Wilson 1843); by traders such as Robert Bruce Napoleon Wa