Outbreeding

From the Washington Post:

Medieval Catholicism explains the differences between cultures to this day, researchers say

A sweeping theory published Thursday in the journal “Science” posits a new explanation for the divergent course of Western civilization from the rest of the world: The early Catholic Church reshaped family structures, and by doing so, changed human psychology forever after.

The researchers claim that they can trace all sorts of modern-day differences between cultures – from donating blood to strangers to paying your parking tickets – to the influence of medieval Catholicism.

“The longer the duration under the church will predict greater individualism, less conformity and obedience, and more cooperation and trust with strangers. Our findings have big implications,” said Joseph Henrich, one of the researchers.

The research, conducted by George Mason University economists Jonathan Schulz and Jonathan Beauchamp and Harvard University evolutionary biologists Henrich and Duman Bahrami-Rad, tells a new story about how human cultures turned out so differently from one another.

That story begins with kinship networks – the tribes and clans of densely connected, insular groups of relatives who formed most human societies before medieval times. Catholic Church teachings disrupted those networks, in large part by vehemently prohibiting marriage between relatives (which had been de rigeur), and eventually provoked a wholesale transformation of communities, changing the norm from large clans into small, monogamous nuclear families.

That cultural overhaul, the researchers argue, prompted tremendous changes to human psychology.

Read the whole thing. I had heard that the Catholic prohibition on marriages under the fifth degree of consanguinity was at least partly responsible for the transformation of European tribalism into nationalism; it makes intuitive sense, and it’s good to see that the theory is getting some serious attention, although I’m sure that more research is needed. 

Agincourt Museum

From History Extra (hat tip: Richard Utz):

True-to-scale battle numbers and 15th-century life: look inside the revamped Agincourt museum

As a renewed Agincourt museum is set to open near the site of the pivotal Hundred Years’ War battle between English and French armies, History Extra spoke to Professor Anne Curry about the historical facts that drive the new attraction.

It’s one of English history’s most celebrated victories, a battle in which Henry V’s invading force toppled a numerically superior French army near Agincourt. With the help of Shakespeare and company, this triumph of the Hundred Years’ War has come to represent an ultimate battle against the odds.

The scale of the military upset is just one of the myths that will be redressed for visitors to the revamped ‘Azincourt 1415’ which opens on 17 September at the Centre Historique Médiéval in Azincourt in north-east France.

Professor Anne Curry of the University of Southampton, whose work focuses on the records for the English and French armies in 1415 at the battle, explains how when the museum first opened in 2001 it held to an “old-fashioned interpretation” that Henry V’s forces were outnumbered by as many as five to one. Professor Curry has worked with the Centre on the new exhibition.

“There had been a tendency to use printed works of the 16th century rather than returning to the sources that for the period itself, such as financial records of the Crown on both sides of the channel, or royal orders,” says Curry. Such sources can show us that Henry V set out with 12,000 paid soldiers, yet when counting the losses documented through sick lists and also the garrison left to defend the French port of Harfleur, the actual number of men available to Henry V for battle is closer to 8,500. French forces would have numbered around 12,000.

More at the link

L’Anse aux Meadows

Flags of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, and the United Nations, at the L’Anse aux Meadows visitors’ centre. 

As promised, a post about L’Anse aux Meadows, an archaeological site of some importance, located at the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland and maintained as a National Heritage Site by Parks Canada. The site, discovered in the 1960s, offers indisputable proof that Scandinavians settled in the New World around the year 1000, almost five hundred years before Columbus landed in the Bahamas; for this reason it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also quite popular and provides a lot of the branding for local tourism (the Viking Trail, the Viking Lodge, the Great Viking Feast, etc.)

Several Icelandic sagas describe voyages made by the Norse from their settlements in Greenland to mainland North America in search of needed supplies, chiefly timber. The explorers visited places they named “Helluland,” “Markland,” and “Vinland” – and since the nineteenth century archaeologists have tried to identify them. It is reckoned that “Helluland” is Baffin Island, and “Markland” somewhere on the coast of Labrador. Vinland was more elusive: the sagas describe it as a place where wild grapes grew, which could be on the southern shore of of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, or south of that in New England. 

Vínland, with an acute accent over the “i”, means “wineland,” which would be a natural name for a place with wild grapes. The Norwegian husband-and-wife team of Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad, however, hypothesized that it was simply “Vinland,” without the accent, which would mean “pastureland,” with northern Newfoundland being a promising site. Visiting L’Anse aux Meadows in 1960, he was shown a series of low turf walls that the locals referred to as “the Indian mounds.” Excavations throughout the 1960s showed that these were the remains of buildings similar to those found in Iceland and Greenland and dating from around AD 1000. What really established the site as Norse, however, were such discoveries as a spindle whorl used for weaving, a stone with a depression in the middle (interpreted either as a lamp or a pivot stone for a door), a bronze fastening pin, and the remains of a forge that had produced iron slag, and the remains of iron rivets used for boat repair. No Natives at this time used such technology. 

Remains of the Viking buildings.

As it turns out, L’Anse aux Meadows is probably not Vinland, which really ought to have a long “i” and mean “Wineland,” as the sagas suggest. Birgitta Linderoth Wallace points out, in Westward Vikings, that the word “vin” as “pasture” had fallen out of use by 1000. She suggests that Vinland was likely somewhere in northern New Brunswick, and that L’Anse aux Meadows is Straumfjord (“Current Ford”) mentioned in Erik the Red’s Saga, a sort of base camp that served as a gateway to Vinland and a place to gather goods before shipping them back to Greenland. The inhabitants at the site did not practice agriculture, but they could spend the winter there if need be, in the substantial turf buildings they had constructed.

Model of the site.

Will we ever discover where in “Vinland” the Norse actually came ashore? Wallace claims that it’s unlikely. Any temporary camps the Norse may have set up in New Brunswick would have left little evidence behind, or at least such evidence would be indistinguishable from sites of Native provenance. Even items of Viking origin would not be proof of an actual encampment, but simply of trade (such items can travel a long way from their point of origin, through many intermediaries). 

Parks Canada reconstruction of Norse buildings at L’Anse aux Meadows.

L’Anse aux Meadows was not occupied for very long, perhaps less than ten years in total (at least, if you don’t subscribe to the most recent scholarship on the place). Our guide claimed that the Ingstads, and subsequent archaeologists, have actually found very little at the site, evidence that it was deliberately abandoned (if it were suddenly and hastily abandoned, the occupants would have left a lot more stuff, since they wouldn’t have had time to clean it up). He also claimed that the abandonment was as a result of the conversion of the Norse to Christianity, which also took place around the year 1000. With conversion, trade with Europe became much easier, obviating the need to sail to Vinland, although Wallace suggests, from evidence uncovered in Greenland, that the Vinland explorers were already Christian. Either way, it was likely just as easy to sail to Norway as it was to Newfoundland, where more interesting goods could be acquired, and where there was a bigger market for Greenland’s walrus ivory. And in any event, Wallace estimates that maintaining the site was too expensive in terms of manpower – it would have required some 5% of the adult male population of Greenland, which was simply too much.

Reconstructed forge, L’Anse aux Meadows.

It is certainly worth a visit if you ever get there. The Visitors’ Centre is excellent, with thorough and informative exhibits, and a great gift shop. The reconstructed buildings, complete with re-enactors, are also a lot of fun. 

But part of me wonders whether it isn’t somewhat ethnocentric to make such a big deal about L’Anse aux Meadows. The place is significant, but far more significant is Port au Choix, an archaeological site which we visited as we drove up the northern peninsula. It features six thousand years of continuous occupation by successive Native peoples, including the Maritime Archaic people, the Dorset people, the Groswater people and the Beothuks, all of whom fished and hunted seals. This place deserves to be better known.

The trouble is that it would be politically very difficult to have re-enactors playing Indians. Even the diorama, you’ll notice, does not feature three-dimensional figures.

Treasure

From the BBC (hat tip: Chris Berard):

Detectorists find huge Chew Valley Norman coin hoard

 

A huge hoard of silver coins dating back to the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings could be declared as treasure.

The 2,528 silver coins were found in the Chew Valley, north-east Somerset, by a group of metal detectorists.

Lisa Grace and Adam Staples, who unearthed the bulk of the hoard, said: “We’ve been dreaming of this for 15 years but it’s finally come true.”

The British Museum said it was the second largest find of Norman coins ever in the UK.

Mr Staples, from Derby, added: “It was totally unbelievable – to find one would be an exceptional day metal detecting.

“To find two unrelated coins would be almost impossible. And when there were more beeps, from two to 10, from 50 to 100, to wow how many are there?

“From then on it was just crazy.”

More at the link. Sure wish I could make a find like this! 

Sutton Hoo

From the East Anglian Daily Times:

Sutton Hoo unveils new £4 million transformation

The National Trust has finally revealed its largest ever investment at the world famous Sutton Hoo royal burial ground – and the public will today be able to enjoy an improved visitor experience.

Thanks to the £4 million renovation of the historic site, visitors will be more intimately connected with the story of one of the most significant archaeological finds in British history.

Since the discovery of the ship burial in 1939, the story has unfolded with every dig made but unfortunately was overlooked at the time due to the impending conflict of the Second World War.

Now archaeologists and historians, alongside Mike Hopwood, visitor experience project manager, Ian Barnes the National Trust head of archaeology and Nick Collinson the general manager of Sutton Hoo, want the story of King Raedwald’s final resting place in East Anglia to finally be heard and given the attention it deserves.

Tens of thousands of people visit the site alongside the River Deben every year and the trust is hoping that the renovations will inspire even more interest in the fascinating tale of royal sophistication, privilege and status.

More at the link, including plenty of images.

Hermits and Anchorites

Mary Wellesley in the London Review of Books revisits a distinctive aspect of medieval piety:

The cell was the size of a large cupboard. There wasn’t enough room to lie down. I’d come late on a winter afternoon; the light was seeping away. What light there was came through the ‘squint’ – the small window that looked onto the sanctuary. It was a cruciform shape and through it I could see a single candle standing on the altar. I turned on the torch on my phone. In front of the squint was an oak shelf with a dark circle on its edge where the wood had been rubbed smooth. Above it was a notice that read: ‘Please put nothing on the ancient sill. This was the prayer-desk of the anchorites for several centuries.’ I knelt in front of it. If the floor had been at the same height in the medieval period, the desk would have been too high for an anchorite to rest their elbows on. Had the indentation been made by pairs of hands gripping the edge of the ledge? I wondered at those pairs of hands. This cell had been a coffin to its inhabitants – once inside, they were never to come out. They may have been buried beneath my feet, in this tiny anchorhold in the church of St Nicholas in the village of Compton in Surrey.

An anchorite or anchoress permanently encloses themselves in a cell to live a life of prayer and contemplation. The word comes from the Greek ἀναχωρεῖν (‘anachorein’) meaning ‘to retire or retreat’. Anchoritism emerged in the late 11th century in tandem with a monastic reform movement and a growth in spiritual enthusiasm that is sometimes referred to as the Medieval Reformation. In the Middle Ages in England, as elsewhere in Europe, the practice was not uncommon – there were around a hundred recluses across the country in the 12th century; over the 13th century, the figure increased to two hundred. Women significantly outnumbered men, by as much as three to one.

I came out of the church into the empty churchyard. Except for the sound of passing cars, I was alone. The anchorites who had lived in the cell probably rarely felt that. Anchorites withdrew from the world in one sense, but anchored to their church, they were at the centre of community life. Anchorholds were often situated in prominent places in medieval English towns – sometimes along the routes of liturgical processions. In London there were many cells along the old city walls. As Claire Dowding has noted, they formed a ‘ring of prayer’ encircling the capital.

Life as an anchoress began with a death. On entering their cell for the first time, the recludensus (novice recluse) would climb into a grave dug inside the cell. The enclosure ritual is a piece of macabre high drama. In places the liturgy is indistinguishable from a funeral service. When the moment for enclosure arrived, the anchoress-to-be would process with the celebrant, choir and others out of the church and into the graveyard, as the choir sang ‘In paradisum deducant te angeli’ – traditionally sung as a body is conveyed to a grave. The procession would arrive at the cell built onto the side of the church, usually – in England – on the north side, where the wind was most biting and no direct sunlight fell. Some ordines (liturgical directions) state that the recludensus should pause at the opening of the cell and the bishop should say, ‘Si vult intrare, intret’ (‘if he/she wishes to go in, allow him/her to go in’). An antiphon drawn from the Book of Tobias was sung, concluding with the words, ‘Be of good courage, thy desire from God is at hand.’ The anchoress would then climb into the grave, where she was sprinkled with earth – ashes to ashes, dust to dust – and the door of the cell was bolted.

More at the link.

Medieval Details

Currently reading Frederick Forsyth’s The Negotiator (1989). I was pleased to note that the late great Maurice Keen has a cameo role in it:

When Simon and Jenny came back he nodded benignly and told them: “You’re with Dr. Keen, I believe. Corner of the quadrangle, up the stairs to the top.”

When they reached the cluttered room at the top of the stairs their tutor in medieval history and introduced themselves, Jenny called him “Professor” and Simon called him “Sir.” Dr. Keen beamed at them over his glasses.

“Now,” he said merrily, “there are two things and only two that I do not allow. One is wasting your time and mine; the other is calling me ‘sir.’ ‘Dr. Keen’ will do nicely. Then we’ll graduate to ‘Maurice.’ By the way, Jenny, I’m not a professor either. Professors have chairs, and as you see I do not; at least not on in good repair.”

He gestured happily at the collection of semi-collapsed upholstery and bade his students be comfortable. Simon sank his frame into a legless Queen Anne chair that left him three inches off the floor, and together they began to consider Jan Hus and the Hussite revolution in medieval Bohemia. Simon grinned. He knew he was going to enjoy Oxford.

Alas, the author should have consulted with Keen about the contents of his book. On page 187 we read:

He had a light lunch in a small sandwich bar off the street, called Crutched Friars, where monks once hobbled with one leg bound behind them to cause pain for the greater glory of God, and he made up his mind what he would do.

Needless to say, the “Crutched Friars” didn’t use that type of crutch, at least not habitually. Their name derives from the Latin Fratres Cruciferi, meaning “cross-bearing brethren,” and refers to the staves that they carried with them, which were surmounted by crucifixes.

It’s somewhat like how Edmund Crouchback, younger brother of King Edward I, was not actually deformed, but simply a crusader, “crouchback” being a corruption of “cross-back,” referring to the crosses that crusaders would stitch onto their clothing.

Paleoichthyology

It’s a real word, referring to the study of fish in the past, as detailed in a recent Atlantic article:

The Medieval Practices that Reshaped Europe’s Fish

In Europe, aquatic animals have been traded at least since the days of the Roman Empire. But it was during the early Middle Ages, with the arrival of widespread Christianity, that the animals became a popular source of protein. That’s partially due to the roughly 130 days a yearwhen the faithful were exhorted not to eat meat, because fish didn’t count in that category.

At the same time, expanding agrarian populations were cutting down forests to create fields and diverting rivers to fill defensive moats around castles and towns, Hoffmann writes in one paper. From the ninth century a.d. to the 11th, the number of grain mills built along rivers in England exploded from about 200 to 5,624. Species that came into fresh water to spawn, such as salmon and sturgeon, began declining. New regulations, such as King Philip’s, were put into place to manage fish populations. A Scottish statute from 1214 required all dams to include an opening for fish and barrier nets to be lifted every Saturday, for instance. Soon highly sophisticated aquaculture ponds stocked with carp also provided regular access to fish for the landed elite.

This decline in freshwater populations coincided with a sudden, commercial-scale boom in sea fishing, which began around a.d. 1000 and is known as the “fish event horizon.” In one study, archaeologists collected cod bones in London from 95 Roman, medieval, and postmedieval sites. The number of bones jumped circa the year 1000, and isotopic sampling showed that in the following centuries, fish came from farther and farther away, indicating long-distance trade. In the southern English town of Southampton, the remains of marine species (such as cod) began to outnumber freshwater species (such as eel) by 1030.

That “fish event horizon” could have been caused by a number of forces. It came at a time of population growth, urbanism, new ship technology, and increased trade, says the archaeologist James Barrett, from the University of Cambridge. But, he adds, “I’ve argued consistently that this must also be about human impacts on freshwater and migratory fishes. The degree of vulnerability of fishes depends on how bounded the ecosystem they occupy is.”

In other words, because their habitat was smaller, freshwater fish were more likely to respond to human pressures sooner. When the reliable stocks of freshwater fish began dwindling, hungry Europeans turned to the much larger oceans. And while those populations had larger ranges, humans still had an impact.

Prince Arthur

Arthur Tudor, that is, whose death (in 1502) left Katherine of Aragon a widow after five months of marriage. Would the English send her back to Spain with her dowry, and be deprived of an alliance with a country that had just discovered the New World? Would Katherine lose the opportunity to be queen some day? By no means! The English arranged for Katherine to marry Arthur’s younger brother Henry, who succeeded to the throne in 1509 as King Henry VIII.* But Katherine’s daughter Mary displeased Henry – Henry Tudor had won the crown in 1485 through right of conquest, and Henry VIII really wanted a son to carry on the dynasty. Katherine, however, produced a series of miscarriages and stillbirths, which Henry began to believe was punishment for violating Leviticus 18:16: “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness.” (Indeed, the English had to get special permission from the papacy for the marriage to happen, and they based their argument partly on Deuteronomy 25:5: “If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her” – you can see how Biblicism had already become standard in formulating Christian policy.) Henry’s petition for a divorce from Katherine was denied, in part because the papacy had had to grant an exemption for the marriage in the first place, and in part because Rome was then occupied by Charles V, Katherine’s nephew, and was in no position to grant Henry any favors. 

Thus was founded the Church of England, with Henry as its head, and the power to grant his own divorce.**

To return to Prince Arthur, I noticed an article in Town and Country magazine just now (likely inspired by the success of a new television series, The Spanish Princess, about Katherine). Excerpt:

The Cause of Prince Arthur Tudor’s Death Remains a Medical Mystery

The Prince of Wales’s unexpected passing changed the course of European history, but we still don’t know exactly how he died.

Also known as the sweating sickness and simply the sweats, the so-called “English Sweat” which claimed Arthur, Price of Wales’s life has remained a medical mystery for centuries.

Reaching epidemic proportions on no less than five occasions during the late 15th and early 16th centuries, sweating sickness was highly lethal. Physician John Caius, whose book about the illness remains the most famous account from the time period, noted that death could occur within 3 hours of the onset of symptoms, and that those who survived the first 24 hours would usually make a full recovery (though surviving did not, evidently, prevent the patients from contracting the disease again.)

Sweating sickness was confined almost exclusively to England during its outbreaks, ravaging the wealthy more often than the poor. And yet, for all of its virulence, the sweats seemed to disappear almost as suddenly as they appeared in the first place, with no known outbreaks after 1578.

While the disease’s disappearance no doubt saved thousands of lives, it has also stymied modern medical investigators hoping to understand what claimed the life of Arthur and so many of his subjects.

Part of the trouble stems from sweating sickness’s symptoms—fever, chills, aches, delirium, and, of course, intense sweating—which are common to a number of diseases including influenza, scarlet fever, and typhus, yet never seem to fit exactly in strength, duration, or combination with any known medical issue. The most common modern theory suggests that the outbreaks may have been a form of hantavirus, similar to a hantavirus pulmonary syndrome that struck the American southwest in the 1990s. Exactly why the virus, if that was indeed the cause, would disappear so suddenly is not known, but some scholars suggest that it could be a result of the virus evolving in a way that made it less deadly or less easily spread to humans.

More at the link, including an image of the now-lost east window of St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster, which was commissioned for Arthur and Katherine’s engagement. You can see the couple in the lower right and left of the window; you can also see St. George on the left, another piece of evidence about his national importance in the late Middle Ages.

* Somehow this episode reminds me of a scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “But I don’t want to think I’ve lost a son, so much as gained a daughter! For, since the tragic death of her father… I want his only daughter to look upon me as her own dad, in a very real, and legally binding sense.”

** You can always tease an Anglican about the sordid origins of his Church. However, he will respond with the claim that Anglicanism represents the via media between Catholicism and Protestantism, a tolerant Big Tent of a religion that eschewed fanaticism (although Queen Elizabeth, whose Settlement inaugurated the rhetoric of the via media, did condemn numerous Catholics for religious reasons).

Spain

In the first half of the twentieth century, if you were an American medievalist and wanted to pick a country to specialize in, you would probably pick England, or France. Those were judged to be the most important and influential medieval polities – particularly England, whose language, Common Law, and system of governance were the direct antecedents of America’s own. France, for its part, was the birthplace of Gothic architecture, troubadour poetry, the Crusades, chivalry, “feudalism,” and other such archetypically medieval motifs.

Spain did not enjoy such status. It was on the periphery of Europe, and its New World descendants were all Third World countries.

Obviously, we don’t hold such values anymore; in fact, the positions have reversed. It’s old-school and “conservative” (even “racist“) to specialize in medieval England. Spain is much cooler, reflecting the protected status now afforded to Hispanics in the United States, and the importance we currently place on Diversity.* For medieval Spain was famously Diverse, featuring Muslims, Christians, and Jews living side-by-side in what is known as the Convivencia. The kingdom stands a riposte to the idea that the Middle Ages were characterized by intolerance and fanaticism, and act as a multicultural model for our own day. That this happy situation was brought to an end by Christian fanaticism offers further confirmation of academic prejudice.

Although… was the Convivencia a myth? As with all historical phenomena, opinions differ, and the debate will continue for a long time to come. One dissenter is Dario Fernandez-Morera, whose book, The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise (2016) is reviewed by Lawrence Farley (hat tip: Rachel Brown):

The enthusiasm for the glories of tolerant Islam is suffused throughout modern scholarship, to the point of embarrassment. It is difficult not to conclude, after one looks at the actual historical facts that the scholars ignore and suppress, that their enthusiasm for Islam finds its roots in their distaste for Christianity. It is certainly not rooted in the historical evidence itself.

In this vision of Islamic Spain (renamed by the Muslim conquerors as “al-Andalus”), all three monotheistic faiths got along famously and all three enjoyed cultural flowering and prosperity under the watchful eye of a tolerant Islam.

In this version of history, the Christians of Spain were a benighted, primitive, and ignorant lot, who fortunately for them, ended up under Islam, which then offered them previously undreamt of opportunities to learn tolerance and culture. In this paradise Jews, Christians, and Muslims coexisted in a happy sunlit land, enjoying the benefits of convivencia—at least until the horrible Christians spoiled it all at the Spanish Reconquista, which recovered the land for Christendom and brought again the blight of intolerance and darkness to their land.

Read the whole thing. I like his Gone with the Wind references.

* Not that I’m embittered, mind, but I don’t like it when people who study Spain still complain that their specialty doesn’t get any respect.