The daily lives of medieval townsfolk have been brought to light by an extraordinary haul of graffiti found in Norwich Cathedral.
Messages have been scratched into the walls of the historic buildings over hundreds of years, but few people have ever stopped to work out what they say.
Archaeologists have now started a major project to decipher the extraordinary messages, and have found a mixture of musical pieces, pious exhortations and even supernatural curses.
While most church-goers these days would never even contemplate defacing the walls of a Norman cathedral with graffiti, medieval residents of Norfolk had a far less protective attitude to their monuments. Read more.
A facelift of the Colosseum in Rome that began last fall has revealed centuries of graffiti. Removing the accumulated grime and calcification, experts discovered layers of inscriptions on the section of a wall seen here—designs in red and faded gray from antiquity, and lettering in black left by visitors in modern times.
Built in the first century, the Colosseum may have held crowds as large as 50,000 people. Its numbered entrances and covered passages were designed to get spectators in and out quickly and to separate the high and mighty from the hoi polloi.
The wall in this picture flanked a passage that led to an upper tier. There, women, children, and slaves perched in the cheap seats to watch the bloody spectacle of gladiators and wild beasts battling for their lives on the arena floor 60 feet (18 meters) below. Read more.
Think of it as the earliest version of the Facebook wall post: Ancient Pompeii residents revealed their social networks through graffiti on actual walls.
Now, a new analysis of some of these scribbled messages reveals the walls of the wealthy were highly sought after, especially for political candidates hoping to drum up votes. The findings suggest that Pompeii homeowners may have had some control over who got artistic on their walls, said study researcher Eeva-Maria Viitanen, an archaeologist at the University of Helsinki.
“The current view is that any candidate could have chosen any location and have their ad painted on the wall. After looking at the contexts, this would not seem very likely,” Viitanen told LiveScience. Read more.
History is often shaped by the stories of kings and religious and military leaders, and much of what we know about the past derives from official sources like military records and governmental decrees. Now an international project is gaining invaluable insights into the history of ancient Israel through the collection and analysis of inscriptions — pieces of common writing that include anything from a single word to a love poem, epitaph, declaration, or question about faith, and everything in between that does not appear in a book or on a coin.
Such writing on the walls — or column, stone, tomb, floor, or mosaic — is essential to a scholar’s toolbox, explains Prof. Jonathan Price of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Classics. Along with his colleague Prof. Benjamin Isaac, Prof. Hannah Cotton of Hebrew University and Prof. Werner Eck of the University of Cologne, he is a contributing editor to a series of volumes that presents the written remains of the lives of common individuals in Israel, as well as adding important information about provincial administration and religious institutions, during the period between Alexander the Great and the rise of Islam (the fourth century B.C.E. to the seventh century C.E.). Read more.
CULPEPER With the steady hands of a surgeon, architectural conservator Chris Mills slowly unveils history one painstaking step at a time. His goals are to reveal and protect the Civil War-era signatures, drawings and scribbling found throughout the Brandy Station Graffiti House.
The circa-1858 structure is believed to have been used as a hospital by Confederate and Union forces during the war. For unknown reasons, patrons decided to mark up the walls with signatures, drawings and anything else that crossed their minds. Mills’ challenge is to remove the post-historic paint and whitewash that subsequent owners attempted to cover the markings with, as well as stabilize the fragile plaster.
“You don’t want to mess with the graffiti itself, everything affects it,” Mills said of the tedious process. In addition to removing the cover layer with tools such as a razor and an elongated cotton swab, he stabilizes the plaster by injecting a synthetic resin and pinning it till it dries.
The room he is currently working in, coined the J.E.B. Stuart room because of a signature in the room, has posed a unique challenge to Mills because of a colored lime wash applied directly to the plaster in parts of the room. Read more.
Graffiti daubed on the walls of a flat by the Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten could be as important as the discovery of early Beatles recordings - or even the Lascaux cave paintings.
The wild scrawls in a flat once occupied by the punk pioneers give a unique insight into the origins of the 1970s musical movement.
As musical memorabilia, the graffiti is hugely significant - and academics studying it say it could also be important as a work of art.
They even suggest it is worthy of comparison with the world’s most famous graffiti, the prehistoric paintings on the walls of the Lascaux caves in southern France.
John Schofield, of the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, and independent researcher Paul Graves-Brown say the graffiti, found behind cupboards in the property in Denmark Street in London, is ‘a direct and powerful representation of a radical and dramatic movement of rebellion.’
The researchers carried out a detailed analysis of the graffiti’s content and its cultural significance.
Though they admit it could be considered offensive, they argue that its presence confirms the Denmark Street flat as an important historical and archaeological site. Read more.
Graffiti is now a fairly common part of our culture’s dialogue, but did you know soldiers in the Civil War also tagged, doodled, and conversed with one another on walls? Inside a two-story home in Virginia, historians are slowly uncovering one of the largest collections of Civil War graffiti that has ever been found.
Now known as the ‘Graffiti House,’ the home served as a field hospital for the Confederacy around the time of the Battle of Brandy Station and later became a headquarters for Federal forces. Soldiers from both sides signed their names and drew inscriptions on the walls during the war, resulting in a collection of over 200 individual pieces that cover the upstairs rooms from floor to ceiling. Read more.
A new research project led by Professor Jennifer Westerfeld, of the University of Louisville, Kentucky, is taking a look at a unique set of graffiti scribbled onto the walls of a 3,200 year old Egyptian temple.
The temple was built at Abydos by Seti I, a powerful Pharaoh who pushed the borders of the Egyptian empire as far as modern day Syria. It contains two courtyards, two hypo-style halls, chapels and an enigmatic structure known as the Osireion, – which may commemorate the Egyptian story of creation.
Today this complex is covered in a large amount of graffiti dating from ancient times up until the medieval period. Westerfeld believes that a community of nuns contributed to this defacement, writing on its walls around 1,500 years ago. Read more.