Jan 29, 2014

Things that talk

The Caistor-by-Norwich astragalus. Image: Christer Hamp.
This object is an astragalus, the ankle-bone of a roe deer. It was probably used as a game piece and was placed, along with a number of other such pieces, in a 5th-century cremation urn buried in an Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Caistor-by-Norwich, Norfolk. On it is scratched six runes which can be transliterated (roughly, because of font limitations) raihan. Thus this unattractive little object preserves what is probably the earliest known record of writing in England.

Jan 17, 2014

Security Issues

Image: The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek MS 132.F.21, fol. 555r (detail)
In the 14th-century Middle English romance Emaré, the female protagonist is endangered when her evil mother-in-law, in a nefarious plot to do away with Emaré, repeatedly intercepts and replaces letters written from and to Emaré’s husband. The intercepted letter is a familiar plot device in traditional narratives; and Hamlet uses it in Shakespeare’s play to save his own life and send Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths. It has particular resonance, however, for societies experiencing anxiety over the security of information.

Jan 4, 2014


Last month, when messing around with this website, I did something (or Blogger did) to make several recent posts disappear. Of course, I immediately went into digital-illiterate panic mode, especially when I realised that I had not been very diligent in archiving drafts of those posts. Then I calmed down and restored the posts simply by searching for them and recovering them from Google’s cache, whereupon I ceased cursing Google and became grateful to it instead. But this little incident started me thinking again about the issue of preservation, which concerns not only archaeologists and archivists but also information technology managers. How does information survive?

Fadden More Psalter, cover. Image: National Museum of Ireland.