Thursday, May 3, 2012

Early Medieval Current Events

Does this perhaps sound like an oxymoron? Just when TAG5 (The Thursday Art Group of 5) thought we were just about finished with this period, Mary L. found some interesting information while perusing the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC section at her library branch.  The cover of the November, 2011 issue labeled “England’s Medieval Mystery” caught her eye.   Inside was the article titled “Magical Mystery Treasure, Buried in the English countryside.  Anglo-Saxon in origin.  Who hid it and why?” written by Caroline Alexander. 
One day, or perhaps one night, in the late seventh century an unknown party traveled along an old Roman road that cut across an uninhabited heath fringed by forest in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia.  Possibly they were soldiers, or then again maybe thieves―the remote area would remain notorious for highwaymen for centuries―but at any rate they were not casual travelers.  Stepping off the road near the rise of a small ridge, they dug a pit and buried a stash of treasure in the ground.
For 1,300 years, the treasure lay undisturbed, and eventually the landscape evolved from forest clearing to grazing to working field."
Saxonengland, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Then, in 2009, along came Terry Herbert with his metal detector looking for a lost wrench.  What he found was 3,500 pieces of GOLD, silver and garnet objects buried from 1,300 years earlier (ca 650-700 A.D.) worth over $5,000,000 (count those zero’s) for half the found items.  It was designated “The Staffordshire Hoard” and described as military in fashion as there was no women’s ornamentation in the lot. Combat was their way of doing business―or plunder and hoard as it is so aptly named.  When coming of age, a boy was given a shield and spear; the spear used for hunting food or for defense.  It was a very bloody time to live―not quite as “romantic” as has been portrayed in novels. 

Speaking of GOLD, seemingly it has always been thought of as precious; used in the art of metallurgy as magic and for magical functions; is engrained in myths; collected for wealth; used for talismans and holy relics to name a few.
Staffordshire treasure; Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons 

What does this all have to do with art history?  It’s the intricate carvings (some of which are just 1.6” high), inscriptions, bas relief, cloisonné and other adornments on these gold pieces that give a glimpse of the era’s art. Celtic knots, inlays of precious stones are all visual displays of their art. Visual art was their way of communicating as not everyone could read the written word. But symbolism/imagery, that was universal. 
An exercise the TAG5 uses is: While reading if a word, term or geographic name that isn’t totally understandable or familiar just simply GOOGLE it and see what the thread leads to.  (Example: Anglo-Saxons - who exactly were they?)

To read and find more information, type ‘England’s Medieval Mystery’ into NG’s search box at:  However, the best way is to find the actual National Geographic November 2011 issue because the detailed images are spectacular (they are not all on the website).  Also included are a maps and an historical timeline.
The good news: The bottom line is there will always something new to find out about things found.  The bad news: I'm afraid the only relecs our ancestors will find are plastic bottles and disposible diapers 1,300 years from now!

Mary B.

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