Museum Asks For Your Help Reassembling Medieval Cross

medieval
Replica of the stone, image courtesy WIkimedia Commons

The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh is asking for your help in reassembling an early medieval carved stone.

The Hilton of Cadboll Stone was carved in Scotland around 800 AD by the Picts, a mysterious people who have left little in the way of a written record but created some incredible art. The stone was carved shortly after the Picts converted to Christianity and includes one of Scotland’s earliest representations of Jesus.

This particular stone has had a rough time in the past 1200 years. At some unrecorded date it was snapped off from its base, then later defaced by Protestant reformers. In 1676, the Christian cross on one side of the stone was chipped off and replaced with an inscription commemorating a local man, Alexander Duff, and his three wives.

While one side is still impressive, as you can see here, it seemed the rest of the stone had been defaced beyond all hope of restoration until a recent excavation at the original site uncovered the stones’ base.Unfortunately it’s smashed into some 3,000 pieces, and that’s where you come in. The museum has put every piece through a 3D scanner and is launching a website where you can try your hand at reassembling it.

The project is part of the museum’s upcoming exhibition Creative Spirit Revealing Early Medieval Scotland, which will open October 25. It focuses on the Early Medieval period (around 300-900 AD), an time between Scottish and Viking influence and marking the arrival of Christianity and emerging powerful elites. The online reassembly will begin on that date at the special website Pictish Puzzle.

The museum is especially calling for gamers to help out because, they say, gamers are better at manipulating 3D images and finding patterns.

Might be a fun break from killing zombies.

Arctic Explorer Gets Belated Recognition

arctic
Wikimedia Commons

When I took my family to the Orkney Islands of Scotland last year I saw this curious memorial in St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall. It’s for an Arctic explorer named John Rae. While the name struck a bell, I knew virtually nothing about him.

Most people don’t, and that’s a shame. Rae grew up in the rugged Orkney Islands in the 19th century. Although he trained as a doctor, the wilderness was his true love. He got work with the Hudson’s Bay Company, which owned large swatches of land in northern Canada and made millions off of the fur trade. Rae set off to Canada to work as a surgeon for the company, spending ten years at the remote outpost of Moose Factory.

Rae soon distinguished himself by spending large amounts of time with the Cree and Inuit, learning their languages and customs and gaining their respect for his ability to endure the tough conditions of the Canadians north.

When the Franklin Expedition, a Royal Navy group that was searching for the Northwest Passage connecting the Atlantic and Pacific, went missing in 1845, Rae was the man that was called upon to find them. He spent several years trying to track them down. In the course of his search he mapped many previously uncharted regions and found the Northwest Passage, the very thing the Franklin Expedition had failed to do.

In 1854 he learned from the Inuit that several years before, the last of the Franklin Expedition had died of starvation. The remaining survivors had resorted to cannibalism before they, too, succumbed. The site of the tragedy was deep in the back country and the Inuit refused to take him there.

When Rae filed his report, he was immediately criticized for not checking on the natives’ story himself and for daring to suggest that members of the Royal Navy would eat each other. His reputation was ruined. Even though another expedition did go to the site and concluded that there was strong evidence that the Franklin Expedition had resorted to cannibalism, the damage had been done. Rae died all but forgotten in 1893. Of all the great explorers from the Victorian era, he is the only one not to have been given a knighthood.

Now the Arctic explorer has been given some belated recognition with a new statue in Stromness, not far from where the local Hudson’s Bay Company office used to be. It was unveiled on the 200th anniversary of his birth.

You can learn more about the adventures of Dr. John Rae in this excellent article.

Medieval Birthplace Of Whiskey To Start Distilling Again

whiskey
Wikimedia Commons

A medieval Scottish abbey that’s hailed as the birthplace of whiskey will soon be the site of a modern distillery.

Lindores Abbey near Fife, Scotland, is the first place on record to have distilled whiskey, when in 1494 it received an order from King James IV. The abbey, founded in the 12th century, has been a ruin for centuries, first being sacked by a mob in 1543, and then thoroughly destroyed by John Knox, founder of Scottish Presbyterianism, in 1559.

Now the Scotsman reports that the owners of the land have launched a £5 million ($8.1 million) project to build a whiskey distillery on the site. Water will come from the abbey’s medieval well and the barley will come from adjacent fields. The distillery will open in two or three years and will include a visitor’s center.

Of course it takes time for whiskey to mature, so landowner Andrew McKenzie Smith is also looking into making gin and flavored liqueur, which mature more rapidly. The Smith family hopes the abbey’s legendary status among whiskey aficionados will bring in business, and are looking into teaming up with Historic Scotland to restore the abbey.

National Museum Of Scotland Takes New Look At Vikings

Vikings
How much do we really know about the Vikings? A new exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh asks this question and comes up with some interesting answers.

Vikings!” collects more than 500 objects from the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm to show a side to Scandinavia’s most famous culture that most people don’t know.

While most of the public is aware (hopefully) that those horned helmets are a product of Victorian imagination, some other facts about the Vikings may come as a surprise. For example, we tend to think of them as fierce pagans bellowing war chants to Odin and Thor as they cleaved their battle-axes through the skulls of whimpering Irish monks. As appealing as that image may be, in fact the Vikings converted to Christianity before much of the rest of Europe. There’s a beautiful ninth century silver cross pendant on display, and a house key with a crucified Christ on the handle.

Even the term Viking itself isn’t accurate. They were Norsemen who occasionally went “on a viking,” which means setting sail to trade or loot while the majority of the population stayed where they always did – at home fishing or growing crops.

There are also objects revealing their home life, like a folding bone comb and a little cat carved out of amber that some Norse kid probably used to play with. I’ve seen many of these objects at their permanent home at the Swedish History Museum (formerly the National Historical Museum) and can say that they are some of the best preserved and finest objects of medieval Norse culture you’ll see anywhere.

Visitors will get to some in-depth knowledge of Norse religion, shipbuilding, art, politics, the role of women and storytelling. A series of lectures are open to people who want to learn more. The exhibition is kid-friendly with lots of interactive displays. They can learn to spell their names with runes, dress up in period gear, or play Hnefatafl, a Viking board game of military strategy. If you can’t make it to Edinburgh, check out their online Viking Training School.

“Vikings!” runs until May 12.

[Image courtesy Swedish History Museum]

%Gallery-177128%

Remodeled Hunterian Art Gallery In Glasgow Reopens With Rembrandt Exhibition

Hunterian Art Gallery
The Hunterian Art Gallery, part of the Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, has just reopened after a nine-month remodel that expanded its exhibition space.

Its opening show is “Rembrandt and the Passion,” which showcases one of the Hunterian’s most famous works of art, Rembrandt’s “Entombment Sketch,” alongside the final painting of the “Entombment” (shown here courtesy the University of Leipzig) and about 40 other masterpieces.

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) was one of Europe’s greatest painters and printmakers. This exhibition explains how the “Entombment Sketch” served as the model for the later painting. Rembrandt had been commissioned to create a series of paintings on the Passion of Christ for the Prince of Orange. It was one of the most important commissions of his career and helped give him a permanent standing among Europe’s major artists.

Since the sketch is in Glasgow and the final painting is usually in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, this is a rare opportunity to see them side by side. The exhibition also examines Rembrandt’s studio, his painting process, inspiration and the techniques he used.

Besides its art gallery, the Hunterian Museum has a large collection of art and artifacts from all periods – everything from dinosaur bones to 19th century medical equipment – and a new permanent exhibition on the Antonine Wall, which was briefly the northernmost border of the Roman Empire in Scotland.

“Rembrandt and the Passion” runs from September 15 to December 2.