Friday, February 13, 2009

Anno Domini 946

It's the year Königen Editha died, the first wife of Otto the Great. Otto, you will remember, was Duke of Saxony, and crowned emperor in 962 of what was later called the Holy Roman Empire. Editha was, by all accounts, beloved by her people and is often call heilige Editha although her canonization is unofficial. Since the building of the Magdeburg Cathedral, there has been a sandstone sarcophagus there dedicated to her. Since work on the cathedral was begun in 1209, many years after her death, it has always been assumed that the monument was nothing more than a cenotaph: an empty tomb erected to her memory.

But now the Saxon-Anhalt Landesamt für Denkmalpflege und Archäologie has a different opinion. According to Rainer Kuhn, in charge of the dig at the cathedral, bones found in the sarcophagus are indeed, probably those of Otto's former queen. He calls the find the most important middle ages discovery of the last decade in Germany, maybe in all of Europe. This sensational find was announced and presented to the world just under two weeks ago, but not in Magdeburg. Instead, the discovery was announced in neighboring Halle. And here the plot thickens.

Magdeburg Mayor, Lutz Trümpter, is furious that the find wasn't announced in his city. Matthias Puhle, chief of the Landesmuseumsverbands is likewise hot under the collar and called the transportation of the bones to Halle, a "Nacht und Nebelaktion" referring here to a code word used by Nazis for secrecy in the transportation of those destined for concentration camps. (The expression gained notoriety when it was used as the title of the French documentary film about the camps, original title, Nuit et brouillard.) Giselher Qaust, (I think it's his real name) the Domprediger in Magdeburg, called the removal of the remains Leichenfledderei which we could translate as grave robbing. Pretty strong Tabak. Have the archaeologists anything to say for themselves?

Jawohl! According to the official press secretary for the dig, the cathedral community was properly informed of the transport. And while the Burgermeister complains that he only learned of the discovery of the remains on January 21, back in Halle, they're saying that the Burgermeister wasn't the least bit interested in the dig. The museum chief Puhle was likewise disinterested and offered no financial support for the project. We'll probably never know the "truth" here, but for me the situation rings a bell. I close my eyes and I see the following all too common scene:

So my money is on the archaeologists. And since they're holding all the cards, or in this case, bones, things will probably go their way. The next step for them will be to analyze the mineral content of the bones and compare it to known samples of people who grew up in Wessex, England as Editha did. If it's a match, then the likelihood that the bones are hers is close to 100%. If not, then it's still a pretty cool cathedral and probably worth a visit when the archaeologists have completed their work, packed up and gone back to Halle.


Em said...

Archaeologists are a sly bunch.

Most governments agree, scientists invented global warming out of greed, and evolution just to insult us.

I'd be interested in how Act 3 wraps up.

Charlie H said...

Your faculty member should have said, "Memo? Who reads memos?!"

Anonymous said...

I am sending you a private email via your relative in the states at USU.