Shakespeare’s Ophelia may have been real

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A coroner’s report from 1569 detailing the death of a child who drowned in a millpond whilst picking flowers, has led some historians to believe that the incident may have inspired the creation of Shakespeare’s tragic heroine, Ophelia. Jane Shaxspere, who may even have been a relative of the bard, was two-and-a-half when she died in Upton Warren on the river Salwarpe, in Worcestershire – 20 miles from Shakespeare’s childhood home at Stratford-upon-Avon. The coroner’s report is one of many such documents being investigated as part of a four-year research project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

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Britain’s ‘first building boom’

Researchers using a new type of dating technique have discovered what they believe may have been Britain’s first building boom, occurring some 5,000 years ago. New analysis of artefacts recovered from some of Britain’s first monuments has revealed a slow start to the Neolithic period, followed by a rapid growth in trade and technology as people stopped being nomadic hunter-gatherers and took up agriculture as a way of life. The new approach, which uses radiocarbon dating as well as other dating sources and powerful statistical analysis, has also revealed the emergence of trade across the British Isles and the development of new technologies, as well as evidence of more collective violence once enclosures were built.

 

Hitler letter on Jews shown in New York

A typed letter authored by Adolf Hitler in 1919, which calls for the “uncompromising removal” of Jews from society, has been shown publicly for the first time in New York. The letter, which is thought to be the earliest expression of the Nazi leader’s ideas on anti-Semitism, was written more than two decades before the Holocaust, while Hitler was serving in the German army. One section of the letter states that “Judaism is definitely a racial and not a religious group … the result of which is that a non-German race lives among us with its own feelings, thoughts and aspirations, while having all the same rights as we do”. The letter was purchased for £90,000 by the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, where it will later be displayed.


Turin Shroud labelled a fake by Italian art historian

Italian art historian Luciano Buso has claimed in a new book that the Turin Shroud, believed by many to have wrapped the body of Christ after his crucifixion and thought by others to be a medieval forgery, is in fact a 14th-century replica created by the early Renaissance artist Giotto di Bondone. Speculation has long been rife about the 14ft-long, sepia-coloured burial cloth, but Buso claims he has found Giotto’s signature hidden in the imprint of Christ’s face and hands, along with the number 15. According to the historian, other experts had missed the signature and numbers because they were created by cryptic patterns of brushstrokes that are almost invisible to the naked eye. In Buso’s opinion, Giotto created a new shroud after the original sheet used to wrap Christ’s body disintegrated or became damaged following centuries of travelling around the Holy Land and Europe.

House clearance tapestries could be worth millions

A house clearer who discovered two tapestries potentially worth millions of pounds while clearing the flat of a wealthy American woman in Mayfair, London, in 1997, has won the right to keep the embroideries. Ian Spencer, who paid £5,000 to clear the flat after the woman’s lawyer deemed everything of value to have been sold, found the tapestries wrapped in a pink bedspread. After a £400-sale of the pieces fell through, Spencer took the tapestries to S Franses Ltd in London, experts in tapestries, textiles and carpets, who recognised the value of the works. It is still not clear where the embroideries are from or what they depict.


Rare Indian artefacts sold at UK auction

A number of rare historical documents from India, including an illustrated history of Kashmir, original paintings, miniatures on ivory, and statues, have been sold at auction in Ludlow. The Kashmir manuscript, deemed by many to be the most important lot of the auction, contains nine paintings and is thought to have been commissioned by Ranjit Singh, the first Maharaja of the Sikh Empire and the ruler who annexed Kashmir; it sold for £11,700. Meanwhile, a portrait of Maharajah Rajinder Singh of Patalia, a man famously known for having 365 wives and being the first man in India to own an aircraft, was expected to fetch more than £9,800 but failed to sell.


Air bags used to stabilise earthquake-hit pyramid

An engineering company from Newport, south Wales, is currently working to stabilise the Pyramid of Djoser, Egypt’s oldest step-built pyramid, after it was identified as being at risk of collapse following an earthquake in 1992. The team is using 21st-century technology to make the landmark safe, including using pressurised air-filled bags to hold up the roof of the 60 metre-high pyramid. According to the managing director of the company, the earthquake had “essentially shifted everything sideways” and an eight-metre section had dropped out completely. The team has completed the first part of the repair but the final part will involve reclaiming as many of the fallen original rocks as possible and re-pointing them with authentic 2,700 BC mortar.

Ancient gold jewellery reunited in exhibition

Two caches of jewels found on the same hillside in Rhayader, Powys, more than 50 years apart, are on show together for the first time in a new exhibition. A Roman ring, bracelet and necklet from the first or second century AD were discovered in 1899 by James Marston, while 17-year-old labourer John Smith found Bronze Age torcs and bracelets whilst ploughing the same field in 1954. The finds will be on show at the CARAD Rhayader Museum and Gallery until 4 September 2011.

Faberge wedding present fetches £156,000

A Faberge clock given as a wedding present in 1903 has fetched £156,000 at auction in London. The clock, which fetched almost double its anticipated price, was designed in St Petersburg by Faberge workmaster Michael Perchin between 1898 and 1903 and given as a wedding gift by the Honourable Lady Miller, daughter of the 4th Baron of Scarsdale, to Laura Fordyce Buchan of Kelloe and Francis Stewart Hay of Duns Castle in Berwickshire in 1903.

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Winchcombe dig reveals medieval finds

Archaeologists working on a dig in Winchcombe have discovered more than 40 rubbish pits containing medieval pottery, animal bone and metalworking evidence. The remains are believed to date back to the 13th century.