This year offered medievalists many interesting stories, with scholars starting to unlock the secrets of medieval artifacts.
1. Voynich Manuscript partially decoded, text is not a hoax, scholar finds
Since it was discovered in 1912, the mysterious Voynich Manuscript has been argued about by scholars on what it was all about. There were many wild theories, while others believed it was a fake. This year, when Linguistics professor Stephen Bax wrote about how he deciphered a handful of words from the text, it was picked up by media around the world.
“The manuscript has a lot of illustrations of stars and plants. I was able to identify some of these, with their names, by looking at mediaeval herbal manuscripts in Arabic and other languages, and I then made a start on a decoding, with some exciting results.”
2. British Museum hosts Vikings exhibit
When one of the world’s most famous museums hosts an exhibition about one of the most popular topics from the Middle Ages, it is bound to draw huge crowds. That was the case with the Vikings: life and legend exhibit, which ran from March to June and took in 288, 351 visitors.
The exhibition made news on a few occasions, including posts about research projects associated with it, and some of the fascinating artifacts that were on display. Meanwhile, the exhibit also drew protests over the museum associated with corporate sponsors.
3. Who should own this medieval treasure?
The ownership of a collection of medieval treasures worth an estimated $250 million was decided earlier this year. The dispute was between a German museum and a group of descendants of Jewish art dealers who sold the collection to the Nazi government in 1935. In March 2014 an overseeing Commission made its ruling.
4. Norse Rune code cracked
Runologist K. Jonas Nordby was able to decipher the jötunvillur code, which can be found in some Norse inscriptions dating back to the Viking Age.
“It’s like solving a puzzle. Gradually I began to see a pattern in what was apparently meaningless combinations of runes.”
5. Alfred the Great or Edward the Elder? Pelvic bone ‘most likely’ belongs to Anglo-Saxon King
Researchers believe that a pelvic bone found discovered over fifteen years ago belongs to an English king: either Alfred the Great or his son Edward the Elder.
“Given the age at death of the individual, and the probable male identity, the plausible candidates are King Alfred, King Edward the Elder, or the brother of King Edward, Æthelweard. All were buried in the Abbey. However, historical evidence indicates that only the coffins of Alfred and Edward were at the site of the High Altar. The discovery of the bone in a pit dug into the graves in front of the High Altar makes it far more likely that it comes from either Alfred or Edward.”
6. The Origins of the Shroud of Turin
Historian Charles Freedman’s article on the holy relic offers some new insights into what the Shroud of Turin actually was.
7. Beowulf, translated by J.R.R. Tolkien
Nearly 90 years after he first made the translation, J.R.R. Tolkien’s version of Beowulf was published this year. It is a story that he once described as “a poem by a learned man writing of old times, who looking back on the heroism and sorrow feels in them something permanent and something symbolical.”
8. Early copy of the Qur’an discovered
Researchers in Germany have discovered that a manuscript of Qur’an written between 20 and 40 years after the Prophet Muhammad’s death, making it one of the earliest copies of the Islamic holy book known to be in existence.
9. Jacques le Goff passes away at the age of 90
One of the world’s most important medieval historians, Jacques le Goff, passed away this year. Many medievalists will have read and been deeply influenced by his writings and scholarship.
10. Medieval couple holding hands for 700 years
Finally, while this story was not as serious as the others mentioned in this list, this archaeological find got noticed across the world. Archaeologists discovered the pair during a dig to uncover a long lost chapel in Leicestershire, England.
Honourable mentions go to Netflix goes epic with Marco Polo, Earliest known piece of polyphonic music discovered, Nine blows to the head killed Richard III, and Database of UK surnames has reached 45,000 entries dating back to the Middle Ages.
See also Top 10 Medieval News Stories of 2013