Hitting the history headlines this week is the news that Camelot historians believe they have finally discovered the location of King Arthur’s Round Table – and it could have seated upwards of 1,000 people! The recent discovery of an amphitheatre in Chester, complete with execution stone and wooden memorial to Christian martyrs, has led the researchers to conclude that the city was the site of Arthur’s court and Round Table.
Staying with the theme of discoveries, an 18th-century ship has been uncovered at the site of the World Trade Center in New York. The 30-foot wood-hulled vessel was discovered 20-30 feet below street level – the first large-scale find of its type along the Manhattan waterfront since 1982.
Meanwhile, British archaeologists have discovered one of the biggest canals ever built by the Romans, at Portus, on the mouth of the River Tiber. According to Simon Kay, director of the dig, the 90-metre-wide canal was so large there may have been an island in the middle, and a bridge to cross it.
Elsewhere, the severed head of an aboriginal warrior, sent to England from Western Australia after his death at the hands of a settler in 1833, has been laid to rest in a traditional ceremony, in a memorial park thought to hold the remains of the rest of his body. Leaders of the Noongar tribe campaigned for decades to have the head returned to the country, and it was finally repatriated in 1997 – debates have raged ever since about where it should be buried.
Staying overseas, archaeologists in Jerusalem have discovered a tiny clay fragment dating back to the 14th century BC and thought to be part of a tablet from a royal archive. The piece, which is just 2.8 centimetres long, two centimetres wide and one centimetre thick, was uncovered outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls.
Back in England, five activists clad in black veils poured an oil-like substance around the relic Hoa Hakananai’a – a 1,000-year-old carving of a human head and torso – situated in the British Museum. The move was made by the group Culture Beyond Oil in protest against the British Museum’s sponsorship deal with BP. The statue was not damaged.
In other news, Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks has gone back on display at the National Gallery after an 18-month conservation project. Gallery experts are now convinced that the piece was painted entirely by Leonardo, and not, as previously thought, partly by a small group of assistants.
Art was in the headlines again this week after a hand-coloured image of Edvard Munch’s Madonna was sold for £1.25 million at Bonham’s – the most expensive print to be sold in the UK and the second-most expensive sale of a print in the world. The work is signed and dated 1895.
Also in the newspapers was the planned auction later this year of a hoard of objects found in the attic rooms of Chatsworth House. Among the 20,000 articles going under the hammer are a marble fireplace designed by the home’s architect, William Kent, a Victorian back-scratcher, bookcases and candelabras. The three-day sale, planned for 5-7 October 2010, is expected to raise around £2.5 million.
Further north, a collection of Scotland’s most valuable cultural treasures have been selected for display on a new Unesco website, which catalogues important artefacts. Among the objects on show are a collection of hand-drawn maps by Timothy Pont, used to create the first Atlas of Scotland, and the country’s earliest surviving book, John Lydgate’s The Complaint of the Black Night, 1508.
And finally, one of man’s four-legged friends made history news this week when researchers found the earliest archaeological evidence of a tortoise being kept as a family pet. The 130-year-old tortoise leg bone was discovered at Stafford Castle among the remains of cats and dogs. Researchers believe the castle’s caretakers had kept the tortoise as a pet.