The National Trust for Scotland has opened its brand new Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway, Ayrshire – Scotland’s first major museum opening in three years. The £21 million project, which has taken six years to complete, boasts a collection of over 5,000 historical artefacts, including original manuscripts and other related memorabilia.
Scotland hit the history headlines again this week after the remains of what archaeologists believe to be a small Neolithic farm or croft were unearthed at the site reserved for the new Forth Replacement Crossing. The dig has also uncovered the remains of a circular house and a number of items, including pieces of Neolithic pottery and a flint arrowhead.
Elsewhere, an international team of archaeologists has claimed that Peruvian foraging societies were chewing coca leaves as long as 8,000 years ago. The revelation, published in the journal called Antiquity, states that ruins beneath house floors in northwestern Peru showed evidence of chewed coca as well as calcium-rich rocks, which would have been burned to create lime then chewed with coca to release its active chemicals. The discovery could push the first known use of coca back by 3,000 years.
In Jamestown, Virginia, experts believe that 400-year-old fragments of personalised clay pipes bearing the stamped names of eminent Elizabethan men such as Sir Walter Ralegh may provide new insights into Jamestown’s early pipemaking industry. The pipes may have been produced to impress investors in the Virginia Company, which supported the town, although it is unclear whether any of the products ever reached England.
Back in the UK, engineer and former BBC presenter Garry Lavin has suggested a theory to explain how Stonehenge’s giant stones were moved to their current site more than 3,000 years ago. Lavin believes that giant cylinder wicker baskets could have been used to move the 60 stones, each weighing up to four tons, from the Welsh Preseli Mountains to their final Wiltshire destination, 200 miles away. According to Lavin, the baskets would have been able to float, allowing engineers to cross rivers on their journey.
Meanwhile, fresh concern for the stability of Italy’s ancient buried city of Pompeii has been raised after two more walls gave way this week, less than a month after the city’s House of the Gladiators crumbled to rubble. The first casualty was a seven metre-long stone wall surrounding a villa known as the House of the Moralist; the other was sited along one of the site’s main streets, the Via Stabiana. Experts have confirmed that neither wall was of significant artistic value and have blamed the events on recent heavy rain.
In other history news, compilers of the new online Oxford English Dictionary have claimed that the influence of Wales on the English language has been underestimated, with Welsh words such as ‘Taffy’, ‘cariad’ and ‘penguin’ adopted by the English. According to the team of experts, Welsh poet Dylan Thomas is responsible for 635 entries in the online dictionary.
Elsewhere, a retired electrician living in southern France who once worked for Pablo Picasso has revealed that he has 271 pieces of the artist’s work, said to be worth around £50.6 million. Seventy one year old Pierre Le Guennec says that Picasso gave him the works as gifts, however the artist’s son has dismissed his claims and Le Guennec, who installed a number of burglar alarms for Picasso, has been interviewed by police.
In auction news, a bracelet owned by Wallis Simpson, the woman behind the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936, has been sold at Sotheby’s for £4.5 million. The diamond panther bracelet is the most expensive Cartier item ever to be sold at auction.
And finally, an unnamed Devon man is all set for a very happy Christmas after buying a picture in an oak frame from a Devon antiques shop for £30, and then selling the artwork for £48,000. The Hoh-Hok Houseposts at Karlukwees, is signed by Walter J Phillips, one of Canada’s most famous artists, and sold at auction in Toronto for nearly five times its estimated value.