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Inventing History : forgery: a great British tradition (British History)
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Mick Harper
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We have been having our run-ins with the Megalithic Portal (easily the world's premier website for all things Megalithic) since time immemorial -- they gave a waspish but welcome welcome to THOBR twenty years ago. Hatty especially has had her run-ins with Angie Lake. Our differing approaches to matters is summed up by one of this week's offering here https://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=24338[

Angie Lake writes: This 'grave' of a legendary dog is worth a visit if you are in this area of Wales. Though I can't find proof that it is ancient, it certainly looks so. There is a modern statue of the dog Gelert who supposedly saved a prince's baby son - although the story is a tall tale dreamt up in the 19th century. There's a notch in the hills to the south, which would be handy to align the tall slender stone with, if Bedd Gelert was proved to be an ancient site.

and then quite properly cites the official blurb

"The tomb, or what is said to be the tomb, of Gelert stands in a beautiful meadow just below the precipitous side of Cerrig Llan: it consists of a slab lying on its side, and two upright stones. It is shaded by a weeping willow, and is surrounded by a hexagonal paling. It is thought that the place name actually refers to Celert, a sixth century saint from the area. The 'Legend of the dog' was 'known to most people' by the time George Borrow visited Beddgelert in 1854 as part of the journey through the country he published in 1862 as Wild Wales."

That is not so different from our own treatment of the same place in Missing Persons p 242 and yet is also somehow miles away

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‘Tradition’ is one of those concepts that exists on the edge of history proper. The tradition is real enough, how far back it goes and what gave rise to it may not be as advertised. Historians do cite ‘tradition’ but generally in an ‘academic chat’ sort of way because tradition cannot be pinned down with a citation. Gerald of Wales, more a cited source than a historian, claimed Beddgelert was a Culdee foundation, which would make it very old indeed. The archaeological evidence for an ancient Beddgelert, Chaldean or otherwise, is disappointing despite archaeologists being given a good steer

It is thought that the early medieval (Celtic) clas previously occupied the site of the later Augustinian monastery

‘It is thought’ is a variant of ‘traditional’. Archaeologists have to produce tangible evidence and have not been able to do so. Help had to be sought from a third branch of academia’s hydra-headed approach to the past, the place-name specialists. They use a different methodology, making it up as they go along

The village is probably named after an early Christian missionary and leader called Celert or Cilert

Or, failing that, what about a dog?

The folk tale of the faithful hound “Gelert” is often associated with the village. A raised mound in the village is called “Gelert’s Grave” and is a significant tourist attraction. But the grave was built by the late 18th-century landlord of the Goat Hotel, David Pritchard, who created it in order to encourage tourism. Similar legends can be found in other parts of Europe and Asia.

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I wonder if we did right not sending them a review copy as we have always done in the past.
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Mick Harper
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After spending so much time elevating the Franks Casket into Exhibit Number One in Missing Persons, it came as a bitter blow to receive this today

This precious whalebone artefact produced in about eighth-century Northumbria belongs to the category of minor arts and has been marginalised as attention has been diverted to other more well-known works.

It's that bastard Sutton Hoo again. But it's not all water lost under the bridge

However, it should legitimately be considered as one of the greatest examples of carving from the early Middle Ages. Its iconography is striking due to both its complexity and the variety of fonts which it displays. Moreover, the Casket stands as a surviving repository of visual and verbal messages which recall the vivid tradition of literary riddles which was part and parcel of Old English Literature.

Also a new interpretation. We haven't had one of those for ages.

If the archer and his mission are put into a biblical context, new light might be thrown on one who bravely protects himself and another who takes shelter in the fortified building assailed by a group of vicious soldiers. And a story might emerge which justifies the scene’s prominent position on the lid.

They used to be Hengist and Horsa, the founders of the Anglo-Saxon nation that was to create the largest empire the world has ever seen, so this is another comedown. Honestly, if this keeps up they'll be shifting it over to the V & A as a product of the arts-and-crafts movement. 'Rustic of course, Jeremy, but passionate and keenly felt. Note the pre-Raphaelite influence in the treatment of the grieving Norns. Positively Ophelian in its intensity."
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Mick Harper
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The Book of Margery Kempe. The part where Margery (the first woman to write her autobiography in English) goes to meet Julian of Norwich (the first woman to write any sort of book in English). Margery was a rather anguished person, constantly wondering which of her many and varied impulses came from the devil. Julian’s response to her is full of encouragement and Margery’s admiration of Julian shines through. A meeting between two extraordinary women in the 15th century and we have an account of it. The last book that made me cry, Susannah Clarke, Guardian Review

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. One world record (first woman autobiographist in England) meets second world record (first woman writing books in English). Margery is then responsible for a third world record (second ever book published in English by a woman) in which she studiously records her admiration for Julian who has inspired Margery thereby creating a fourth world record (earliest literary mafia in England). And between them they produce a fifth world record (earliest extant copies of English women's literature).

Count the forgeries? More than my life's worth.
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Mick Harper
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]

The Braunston Goddess
Sculpted stone in Rutland. The stone is at the west end of the village church, against the tower. The stone was found in 1920 during renovations. It was face down and being used as a doorstop. The date and origin are unknown. http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=35617

Not to readers of Missing Persons who will hazard a guess... 1920, local chappie?
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Mick Harper
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You Are The Museum Director (No. 1339)

You are perusing that day's mentions of your institution when you come across this

Interazione fra testo e immagini nel Cofanetto Franks by Nicoletta Onesti
A new interpretation on the Franks Casket runic inscriptions and images 10 Pages 2360 Views

The name is familiar so you look it up on Wiki and read, sure enough

Even though the bulk of the Franks Casket has a place of honour in the British Museum, its most important panel lies, neglected, at the back of a lower shelf in the Bargello Museum in Florence. Most visitors would take no notice of it.

As the Director of the Bargello, what do you do next?
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Mick Harper
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I find it hard not to concede that what archaeologists mostly say makes fair sense in the context of the evidence of the spade. I may not always agree with them, but I’d be aghast should they start reconstructing the past from legend, hearsay and myth that was guessed at by people who inevitably had their own agendas for putting together the stories they told. Geoff B replying to a fruitcake on the Megalithic Portal

Curiously this is exactly what they do, leastways in the matter of the European Dark Age. Since there is no historical evidence, historians use legend, hearsay and myth to reconstruct the period 400 AD to 1000 AD. Archaeologists then dig up things from that period but since they are the junior discipline they are not allowed to disagree with the history so they either confirm it by 'interpreting' what they find in accordance with it or report that they cannot 'as yet' confirm it.

Historians can then claim that the history is confirmed by the archaeology. Even more junior disciplines like linguistics and numismatology fall into line. The rest of the world is then brought up on these stories so there is no-one left save Applied Epistemologists to tell the emperor that not only does he wear no clothes, he himself does not exist. But who shall guard the Applied Epistemologists from hubris? Or 'fruitcakes' as we are generally called.
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Hatty
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Or 'fruitcakes' as we are generally called.

I've just been called Crackpot on Twitter by an Early Medieval historian from the university of York because I questioned the age of inscriptions in 'a barbarous language' thought to be 'Celtic-British' on Roman tablets found in 1979 at Bath. I can't make a crack back as he's blocked me.

But far more exciting is a Gilgamesh portion inscribed on a tablet. It's not new news
Hatty wrote:
scholars were well aware that new fragments of the poem could possibly turn up — modern readers are most familiar with a version discovered in Nineveh in 1853 — and during the war in Iraq, as looters pillaged ancient sites, they finally did. The Sulaymaniah Museum acquired the tablet in 2011, as part of a collection purchased from a smuggler

but the U.S. Attorney's Office is now involved after the tablet was seized from the Museum of the Bible in 2019 and forfeited. It had entered the U.S. illegally

The government’s investigation showed that in 2003 a U.S. antiquities dealer (the “Antiquities Dealer”) purchased the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet, encrusted with dirt and unreadable, from a family member of a coin dealer in London. The Antiquities Dealer and a U.S. cuneiform expert shipped the tablet into the United States by international post without declaring formal entry.

But now the fun starts.

A hundred and fifty years after being "discovered" in 1853, reportedly in the ruins of the library of King Assur Banipal in Nineveh, we find the first mention of 'Gilgamesh' in connection with said tablet

After the tablet was imported and cleaned, experts in cuneiform recognized it as bearing a portion of the Gilgamesh epic

We are not told how much the antiquities dealer and his cuneiform expert mate had paid for the tablet in 2003 but they made sure to provide a false provenance document which stated

the tablet had been inside a box of miscellaneous ancient bronze fragments purchased in an auction in 1981. This false letter traveled with the tablet as it was sold several times in different countries, and a later owner provided the letter to the Auction House in London. In 2014, the Auction House sold the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet to Hobby Lobby in a private sale and an Auction House employee carried it on a flight from London to the United States and then transferred it to New York.
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Mick Harper
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From Missing Persons

Foreseeing Libri’s conviction, he had the collection [of French fakes'n'forgeries] discreetly shipped to England in 1849, and sold to the Earl of Ashburnham(cf. Delisle, pp. xl-xlii)

That rings a bell. Any connection to the Ashburnham Collection? I only know the name because it is a kind of portmanteau term used to cover the fakes’n’forgeries the British state has felt it necessary to concoct over the years

The Ashburnham family lived in the house for less than eighty years until John, 1st Earl Ashburnham sold the lease to the Crown in 1730. It became the repository for the Cotton Library of historic legal and constitutional manuscripts originally assembled by Sir Robert Cotton, to which was later added the Old Royal Library. These books and manuscripts now form the heart of the collections of the British Library.

Ash burn’em, they do like their little jokes. One year in:

A fire in Ashburnham House on 23 October 1731 damaged many items: a contemporary records Dr. Bentley leaping from a window with the priceless Codex Alexandrinus under one arm. One manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was virtually destroyed. The manuscript of Beowulf was among those that suffered damage, a fact reported in The Gentleman’s Magazine.

They later acquired the world’s oldest epic, a cuneiform Gilgamesh. They found that one in the ruins of downtown Nineveh’s Ashurbanipal Library. They do like their little jokes.

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I presume Gilgamesh was pinched from the Bible to provide the world's earliest epic but I haven't gone into it.
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Mick Harper
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It is vital we grind the very finest corn from Beowulf before we set about counting the angels on pinheads

The Abduction of Aeschere: A Few Words Regarding a Few Words in My Translation of the Grendel's Mother Episode
Ted Morrissey Lindenwood University
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Mick Harper
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The Dating and Datability of Beowulf in an Historical and Eschatological Context Erica Steiner


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But, as shown above, Beowulf is likely to have originated (in the Nowell Codex version) in the first decades of the tenth century, a date traditionally rejected due to the idea that an Anglo-Saxon poem concerned with heroic Danes could not have been in circulation at a time when Danes were engaged in the harrying and settlement of England

And yet, the manuscript itself was transcribed in such a period of renewed Scandinavian aggression in the reign of AEthelred Unraed

Wundini is no longer considered a genuinely early form, mod is a shorthand expression for something like 'inner aristocratic warrior nature' that is found all throughout Beowulf to denote the thought patterns and actions of the elite person

This theory may be swiftly dismissed simply by acknowledging that the portrayal of the Danes in Beowulf was not heroic, since they were unable to prevent the depredations of Grendel, and furthermore were engaged, at least sometimes, in the heathen worship of idols

By the second quarter of the tenth century there was clearly a well established Anglo-Scandinavian society in the Danelaw but one that was comprised of migrant populations of Scandinavian elites whose numbers were more likely to have been in the hundreds rather than the thousands, and yet who were able to lay such a lasting impression on the northern and eastern regions in which they had settled

'foolish' in prose contexts, and 'bold' in poetic, mere and sund play on their dual prosaic and poetic meanings ('pool' and 'swimming' versus 'sea' and 'sea/sound' respectively) in such a way that the composer of Beowulf firmly....

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[etc etc until at least the sixteenth century]
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Hatty
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A fire in Ashburnham House on 23 October 1731 damaged many items: a contemporary records Dr. Bentley leaping from a window with the priceless Codex Alexandrinus under one arm. One manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was virtually destroyed. The manuscript of Beowulf was among those that suffered damage, a fact reported in The Gentleman’s Magazine.

This may be an example of using a pair of examples to mislead. The manuscripts are bracketed together although only one of the pair was seriously damaged.

It seems that the fire at Ashburnham House wasn't quite as catastrophic as generally believed.

most of the collection survived in some form, and the reaction to it formed part of the impetus for the creation of the British Museum in 1753. Miraculously, only thirteen manuscripts were completely destroyed, mostly from the Cotton Otho press

https://fragmentology.ms/documents/Fragmentology/1/Fragmentology_1_Dunning_Hudson_Duffy.pdf
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Mick Harper
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But the significant bit is the date. This is supposed to be the kernel of the state archives all gathered together in 1730 at the specially purchased Ashburnham House. It's state of the art. What will eventually become the British Library. Only, whoopsadaisy, only a year in and it goes up in smoke. Ashburnham turned out to be eerily well-named. But handy for various excuses

"Er, no sorry, we haven't got that one, it was lost in the fire."
"That one? No, but we've got a copy."
"It's a bit burnt but you can still see this bit."
"We'd like to be more exact only a year wasn't quite long enough to make a full inventory. You can't get the staff."

Three hundred years hasn't been quite long enough to carbon test the ones that were saved for the nation. The uncarbonised ones, if you will. You can't get the staff.
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Mick Harper
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9th Century Dark Age or 17th Century Revolutionary Polemic?

Secrecy and the Hermeneutic Potential in Beowulf (PMLA, 2018) Benjamin A. Saltzman 2018, PMLA

Beowulf is a poem that confronts the limits of knowledge in various forms: the unknowability of death, the secretive behavior of its monsters, the epistemological distance of the past, and our inevitably fragmentary understanding of the poem itself. In the process, the poem also tells us something important about the methods and possibilities that it imagines for the work of discovery and, I argue, literary interpretation more broadly.

It is common for scholars to address the poem as a text whose secrets need uncovering, but in this essay I take the poem’s own engagement with the mechanics of secrecy as a cue for thinking through our own methods as literary critics in encounters with texts of the past. If we take the poem’s treatment of secrecy as a guide for its hermeneutic potential, then we find that it invites a kind of reading that rigorously, yet humbly acknowledges how little we can actually know
.
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Wile E. Coyote


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Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook on their podcast, "The Rest Is History." have held a poll on who was the best British monarch.

It was all very modern, with the poll held on twitter, with 84,000 votes cast.

And the winner was Athelstan. Personally I would have gone for someone that actually existed, but that only goes to show how limited my thinking has become since joining the AE forum.

Elizabeth 1st was second, or rather first in the women's section, for those that feel that the odds are so heavily stacked against female monarchs they need their own literary fiction award.
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Mick Harper
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How many were black, that's what most of us will want to know. And if not, why not? We may have to take a leaf out of the Egyptian playbook and introduce some Nubian kings. And queens of course, and possibly West Indian rather than Nubian but the details are unimportant.

Egyptologists call their black pharaohs 'the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty' but I'm sure we can come up with a less dismissive term. Though I would recommend their device of having a six hundred year Third Intermediate Period, a Dark Age as we would call it, slid in somewhere along the line in case traditionist fuddy-duddies object to having their history messed around with.
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