A couple of weeks ago, I and my husband visited the lovely Diocesan Museum of Eichstätt. Apart from the normal sacral art on display, were a few important medieval vestments. The most interesting of them all is the so-called chasuble of St Willibald dating to the 12th-century. Goldwork embroidery was either made in Byzantium or in Cyprus according to the meagre information displayed in the museum and the literature.
Originally, the shape of the chasuble would have been bell-shaped. The yellow silk twill dates to the 12th-century as well and was either made in Italy or in Byzantium. Although the chasuble is attributed to St. Willibald, he never wore it. St. Willibald was the founder of the diocese of Eichstätt und lived c. AD 700-787. Being the son of a Wessex chieftain and with a host of saintly relatives, he seems to have been predestined for the job!
Depicted on the back of the chasuble are Jesus and Mary with 10 Apostles. Each figure is depicted under a Romanesque arch. The persons are identifiable through their stitched Greek names above the arches.
The embroidery is worked on a strip of red silk twill. The goldthreads are couched down in pairs in a characteristic slanting couching pattern. Today, we are used to a couching pattern forming a brick pattern. However, a pattern forming a simple slant was very popular in the medieval period. As a rule of thumb: medieval embroideries where a single goldthread has been couched down are older than those where two (or more) goldthreads are couched down with each couching stitch.
In this detail of Mary, you can see that her face and hands are stitched with small silken stitches. The literature states that these are stem and chain stitches. However, it looks more like irregular split stitch to me for the hands and typical "contour-following" split stitch as seen in Opus Anglicanum, for the face. Especially the latter can look like very fine chain stitches.
The literature also states that Mary and Jesus were originally the only figures where the halo, architecture and clothing were further decorated with pearls. However, if you look carefully at the picture of the Apostle, you spot pearls there too. Just imagine what these embroideries once looked like with all the pearls still intact! As the pearls were padded with the beige string (linen or cotton) you see almost everywhere in these embroideries, the pearls would have sat proud of the surface catching the light better.
The front of the chasuble was incredibly difficult to photograph due to a piece of modern art being right behind it. But you get an impression from the picture above. It is the same type of goldwork embroidery as seen on the back. Interestingly, many more pearls have survived on the front.
Unfortunately, it is unknown how this splendid piece of Byzantine embroidery ended up in the Cathedral treasury of Eichstätt. However, Eichstätt was an important Diocese in the Middle Ages and still has a Catholic University and Seminary.
Müller-Christensen, S., 1955. Sakrale Gewänder des Mittelalters. Hirmer, München.
If you want to study any form of European embroidery, you will need to be able to read languages other than English. When you solely rely on the literature available in English, you will miss a lot! For all sorts of reasons, people are often afraid to tackle a language they don't speak (well). However, with a bit of elbow grease, a camera or scanner, free software on the internet and a computer with Microsoft Word, you will be able to tackle text written in foreign languages. And it is good for your brain too. Plus you will have many guaranteed giggles along the way!
Still not convinced you can do it? I, Dr Jessica Grimm, have sucked at languages in school as I am dyslectic, but I love reading and research. And I have come to love (foreign) languages too. Once I stopped beating myself up (and learned to shrug it off when others negatively commented) over the many writing mistakes I make, I discovered that I am actually good at writing and associating. This means that I quickly pick up words that are related to words in Dutch (my native language), English (my second language), German (my third language) or French/Latin (rudimentary knowledge). Some of you will now think that I must actually be an ace at languages. NOPE. If you still don't believe me, you can leave a comment below. My mum, who IS an ace at languages, reads this blog too. And she will happily fill you in on all the language drama of my school years. And now, let me show you how I translate texts written in a foreign language in five easy steps!
Step 1: Start by scanning or photographing the text page by page. Although the OCR software needed later in the process has a capacity to work with multiple pages, you get less muddled-up results when you work page by page. Should you scan or photograph? That depends on two things; 1) when your text contains pictures it is better to photograph and 2) if your camera is poor, it is better to scan. Scans are saved as PDF and pictures as JPEG.
Step 2: Now you will need to convert the PDF or the JPEG into written language. This is done by feeding your PDF or JPEG into OCR software. I like to use this website. You are allowed to convert 15 pages an hour for free. The website itself is available in many languages, just set the correct one at the bottom of the page. Upload a page (PDF or JPEG), set the correct parameters and push the convert button. Your text will now appear in the window below. Mark the text, copy and paste it into Microsoft Word.
Step 3: For the next step, you will have to make sure that you have installed the corresponding language pack in Microsoft Word. This is free when you have a Microsoft Office subscription. Once you have all your OCR converted text pasted into your Word document, you'll need to check against the original text. This is the most time-consuming part. But it is also the part where you will snatch up words that might come in handy should you ever visit the country in which the language is spoken. Think of reading captions in a museum exhibition.
Step 4: Once you have checked the whole text, mark it and set the font and size. This step is very important! On your screen, it might look like the whole text is written in the same font and same size, but this is never the case. If you proceed to the next step without making sure the font and size are corrected, you will get a very poor translation!
Step 5: And now the fun starts! Let Microsoft Word translate the document. It works best to translate foreign languages into English. But translating into Dutch, German or French is ok too. Depending on the original language and the writing style of the author, you might end up with a near-perfect document that you can already easily read. However, as scholarly literature often has rare words in it, you usually will end up with a few hilarious translations you will have to correct. These were the best ones in my latest translation of a Swedish text:
- the priest wears a maniac on his left arm (maniple)
- party mite for a mitre petriosa
- calving scene for calvary scene
- cow cover for cope
It took me a whole working day to get to this stage of translating a 21-page Swedish text (that's A4 in Calibri 11pt). That is not bad when you compare it with the "olden method" of using a dictionary!
Over the past three weeks, I have compared two orphrey figures of St John (Another John and his identical twin, comparing face and hands & comparing the clothing). In this final blog post, I will compare the or nue and the additional goldwork embellishment. For me, "slow looking" at historical pieces of embroidery is a great form of CPD (Continuing Professional Development). It comes close to the old way of learning where an apprentice would copy the works of the master. Especially when it comes to or nue, copying a piece from the late 15th- or early 16th-century has proven to be essential in mastering this exquisite embroidery technique. In the process, I probably solved the mystery of the two St Johns.
At first glance, the or nue of the red cloaks looks pretty similar. However, when you look at the red cloak in the above pictures: which one gives the better illusion of being three-dimensional? For me, it is ABM t2165 and this is not due to being in a better condition. The folds are more realistic. This is achieved by using one extra shade of red for the shading and the ever so slight curving in the lines of stitches that form the folds. Contrary, the folds of OKM t90a are very straight and the shading is crude. Just like with the silk shading of the green undergarment, the stitcher of ABM t2165 knew what he was trying to convey. The stitcher of OKM t90a just filled the different parts of the design and hoped for the best. The stitcher clearly did "not see" it. As the clothing as a whole (green undergarment and red cloak) was rendered in the same way within the same piece, it is clear that the same stitcher was responsible for the silk shading and the or nue.
When we look at the cup St John is holding, we see marked differences. And this is interesting in itself! Where the way the clothing was embroidered was apparently very standard (green for undergarment and red for cloak), the stitcher could go wild with the little details. Note: you can clearly see that the cup is "part" of the or nue of the red cloak.
The cup of ABM t2165 is expertly worked with a lovely rim worked of a curved pair of goldthreads (two rows on the front and only one row on the inside of the cup) and topped by a single row of twist. The cup has a clear outline achieved with shading on the right and couched red silk on the left to hide the turns of the goldthreads. The "seam" between the stem and the cup is decorated with foliage formed by a pair of couched goldthreads and couched brown silk. The foot of the cup is ornately faceted with couched pairs of goldthread and a rim of twist. The whole cup is clearly recognisable as a Gothic cup of the time. Contrary, the cup of OKM t90a is crude with poor shading and fewer details. The twist is either made with an extra strand of yellow silk or these are the very visible couching stitches.
The clothing of St John is further embellished with goldthreads stitched over the silk shading and the or nue. In both cases, normal goldthread and twist were used. But, as seen with everything else (bar the face!) the stitching on ABM t2165 is more refined.
Looking at all the evidence, I don't think the two versions of St John were stitched by the same embroiderer. Not even several years apart. The stitcher of ABM t2165, although not an expert with faces, is clearly the better artist with an expert understanding of how to suggest the third dimension. I get the feeling that ABM t2165 is the work of a single artist, whereas OKM t90a is the work of two stitchers. One mediocre stitcher for the figure and an absolute ace for the face. Could they be produced in the same workshop? Yes. After all, in a large workshop such as that of Jacob van Malborch in Utrecht (AD 1500-1525), many different stitchers were working on the commissions. But something isn't quite right ...
OKM t90a was certainly stitched by or in the workshop of Jacob van Malborch as we have the work contract from AD 1504. The reason why ABM t2165 is ascribed to Jacob van Malborch is due to the ink inscription on the orphrey beneath the loose figure: I.F.I.S. According to Saskia de Bodt, these letters stand for: I(acobus) F(ecit) I(pse) S(anctam) or Jacob made this saint. Now, ABM t2165 contains four saints in total. Two still attached to the orphreys and two loose ones of which one is our St John. The two attached figures are quite different in style from the two loose figures ...
St Peter and Mary Magdalene have very pretty faces, but crude silk shading for the undergarments. And simple reduced shading of the or nue with very straight lines for the folds. Sounds familiar! These figures are comparable with OKM t90a. Those that were definitely made by or in the workshop of Jacob van Malborch. The two loose figures of ABM t2165 are not. And a tiny remark in the online catalogue entry proves my point: "Het borduurfragment is groter dan de uitsparingen in de linnen ondergrond. Mogelijk was er eerder een andere Petrus op aangebracht." (The embroidery fragment is larger than the voided areas on the linen background. Maybe originally a different St Peter was once attached.). If St Peter is not original, why should St John be? When vestments wore down, repairing them by patching them with parts of other worn down vestments and/or by adding new parts was common practice (even in rather recent times to make them saleable on the antiquities market). It is very well possible that ABM t2165 is the results of such recycling!
Leeflang, M. & K. van Schooten (eds), 2015. Middeleeuwse borduurkunst uit de Nederlanden. Utrecht: Museum Catharijneconvent.
Last week, we looked at the very fine silk embroidery used to render the face and hands of St John. Today, we will have a look at how his clothing was stitched. We will start with the silk embroidery and look at the or nue and further embellishment with metal threads next week.
The green undergarment and the lining of his red mantle are stitched in silk. This is the same form of vertical silk shading, or tapestry shading, as seen in the face. Last week, we saw that the face of OKM t90a was more finely stitched than that of ABM t2165. We now see a contrast between this finely stitched face and the embroidery of the undergarment and the lining; both are stitched less fine. Contrary, in ABM t2165 there is no such difference; both face and garments are stitched the same way.
We know that the fact that the figures and the background were separately made in these orphreys, lead to labour division and thus sped up the embroidery process. In larger workshops, the different jobs were likely awarded according to skill. The stitcher who could realistically render columns and vaults and who was an ace in counting worked the architectural backgrounds. His colleague, who was world-class in shading, worked the figures in tapestry shading and or nue. And I have proposed in the past that there was a third person. A highly skilled one, probably near-sighted, who worked the very fine faces. This seems to have been the workflow for OKM t90a. Contrary, when the workshop was a one-man affair (with an apprentice or journeyman) labour division was less or even absent. I think this is what we see in ABM t2165.
Here you see the upper part of St John's green undergarment. One thing strikes: the silk on OKM t90a is in much better condition than on ABM t2165! How did that happen? Is it simple "wear and tear"? Then the silk of the or nue should have similarly deteriorated. Interestingly, the or nue of OKM t90a is in worse condition than that of ABM t2165. Maybe the silk used was of different quality? Or the linen ground fabric? It looks like the linen of ABM t2165 is a tat more finely woven than that of OKM t90a. Maybe this led to higher abrasion when stitching. Or was the stitcher to blame? As an embroidery teacher, I was often amazed how threads could wear rapidly when used by certain students and not at all whit other students. It is likely that the condition of your skin plays a major role. Was the stitcher of ABM t2165 forced to work with rough winter hands?
When we look at the actual stitches, it becomes clear that the maker of ABM t2165 worked very methodical. The stitches go over five horizontal fabric threads and you can clearly see rows forming. Not so with OKM t90a. This is all a bit more irregular. When you look at the dark red patch under the green sleeve (next to his belt) you see three tiny stitches. The other dark red stitches in the vicinity are much larger.
Interestingly, the shading of the sleeve of the green garment is much better on ABM t2165. You really get the impression of a heavy fabric falling in soft rounded folds. Whilst the embroidery on OKM t90a is crude as if the stitcher did not understand how fabric drapes. In both cases, the suggested folds are the result of shading in the satin stitching followed by additional couching on top.
In my eyes, the expert rendition of the hair (and probably face) in OKM t90a combined with the sloppy stitching of the folds of the green garment doesn't make sense when we assume that this was done by the same stitcher. Especially not as this isn't a simple case of speeding up the process. The number of stitches on both sleeves seems to be similar. Contrary, the similarities in the stitching of the hair and the green garment on ABM t2165 make it likely that these were stitched by the same person. Who was very apt at stitching garments, but maybe not so good at faces. Maybe the stitcher's eye-sight was no longer good enough to stitch the very fine details needed for the face?
And here you see the bottom part of the green undergarment and the red lining. Interestingly, you can see that both stitchers used the very regular stitching for the dark red part of the lining. The green stitches, on the other hand, look rather crammed towards the left-side on OKM t90a. The stitcher of ABM t2165 kept a much more regular stitch going.
The more I compare these two pieces, the more questions I have! Please do let me know what you think in the comments below.
Last week, we looked at two identical orphrey figures of St John held at Museum Catharijneconvent in the Netherlands. From my analysis, it became clear that they were not made with the same pricking. However, they did have the same "origin source" which I called a model book. What these model books looked like, we don't know as they have not survived. Today we will look in-depth at the actual embroidery. How are the different parts of the figures worked? Could this have been done by people in the same workshop or even by the same person? Let's look at the evidence.
Above, you see a close-up of the faces of the embroideries. It becomes clear that the design drawing differs for both. What is really sad is that the fine silk shading of the faces has completely deteriorated. By working a copy of the orphrey of St Lawrence, I came to understand that the quality of the silk shading in the faces determines the quality of the embroidery. You often read in the literature that the or nue is the most difficult embroidery technique used in these pieces and thus defines the quality. This is not true. After all, or nue is a counted thread technique and as long as you are not colour-blind and you have ample dexterity, you will be able to copy medieval or nue to the highest level. Not so with the very fine silk shading of the faces. Unless you started learning this technique at a very young age (many Chinese for instance start at age three!), you will not be able to reach the highest level in medieval silk shading.
Here is a close-up of the face of St Lawrence. The actual face is about 2,5 cm in height. I call the embroidery technique silk-shading, but this is not quite accurate. This is not the silk-shading as taught at the Royal School of Needlework. You can clearly see rows of stitches. And these rows correspond to the shape of the face and give it the illusion of 3D. Splitting threads is not a necessity. It probably happened, but it wasn't aimed for. This variety of silk shading is closer to certain types of Chinese silk embroidery. Again, just like the or nue, it is for the most part a counted thread technique. Additional details are stitched on top of this foundation of silk-shading stitches. Note the multiple colours in the eyes: blue-grey iris, darker pupil, white of the eye and pink of the corner of the eye!
Back to the heads of St John. The reason that the faces often not survive is due to the fact that the lighter shades of silk were achieved by bleaching the silk. This weakens the fibre. Luckily, the ginger hair of St John did survive. And here we see marked differences in embroidery quality. The stitch direction in ABM t2165 is plain vertical. Contrary, the stitching in OKM t90a gives the illusion of curls. The silk thread has been split into a very fine fraction and multiple colours have been used to achieve this realistic imitation of hair. It is therefore likely that the face of OKM t90a was once more finely stitched too. I even get the impression that the design drawing hints at this too.
Furthermore, the halo of OKM t90a is more elaborate too. Whilst for ABM t2165 the halo is plain with no shading, there is elaborate shading in the halo of OKM t90a. But there are similarities too. Both halos are framed with a fine couched down twist.
Although nearly all the stitches have gone, let's have a look at the hands. They are usually stitched in the same technique as the face (but not always: sometimes the silk-shading pierces the underlying or nue, as is the case with St Lawrence). What you can see in the above close-ups is that the stitches of the silk-shading orientate themselves on the grain of the linen fabric. This underlines that this form of silk-shading is indeed different from our modern form of silk-shading.
Next time, we will compare the stitching on other areas.
Saint John the Evangelist is a popular figure in medieval embroidery. He is often present on the more elaborate vestments with multiple figures. Small wonder that some of these "Johns" look pretty identical. After all, there is only so much variation in depicting a figure that needs to be instantly recognisable. Almost like a caricature. Furthermore, it is likely that designs and prickings were used more than once. Today we are going to look at two Johns kept in Museum Catharijne Convent in the Netherlands. Some scholars have argued that they were made by the same workshop with the same design drawing or even the same pricking. However, I am no longer so sure.
These are the two Johns. On the left, is a loose figure which is part of an orphrey. And on the right is a complete orphrey which is part of a dalmatic. It is also one of only four orphreys that historical sources identify as being made in AD 1504 by (the workshop of) master embroiderer Jacob van Malborch working in Utrecht between AD 1500-1525. Being able to connect the other John to this famous embroidery master or his workshop is somewhat important. As there are many different aspects to the comparison of the two Johns, I am only going to compare the design drawing in this blog post. Future posts will examine the actual stitching.
Making tracings from the original embroideries and placing them on top of each other is sometimes done in the literature to prove the use of the same design and/or pricking and thus the production in the same workshop. Minor differences between tracings are always explained by the "uncertainties in the steps of copying" between the different stages of pattern transfer:
- copying the design from a model book onto the medium that will become the pricking (how well does the copyist follow the lines of the original?)
- pricking the holes of the pricking (how well does the pricker follow the lines?)
- rubbing pounce powder through the holes of the pricking (did the pricking move?)
- connecting the pounce dots with paint (which decisions were made by the painter?)
- the actual embroidering (skill of the embroiderer)
Theoretically, you can end up with very different results when the same design drawing or even the same pricking is being used. But what are minor differences and when are differences too large that they can no longer be explained by the "uncertainties in the steps of copying"? Are the above tracings proof of the use of the same design drawing and/or the same pricking? Were both embroideries made by the same workshop?
Firstly, let me explain how these tracings were made. My husband used CAD software and the high-resolution pictures available from the online catalogue of Museum Catharijneconvent. He then made both drawings the same length, whilst keeping their proportions. He also tilted them somewhat to achieve the best fit. Not ideal. But remarkably similar to the tracings which were made by curators of Museum Catharijneconvent from the original pieces. They encountered a problem too, which made their tracings not ideal either: the loose figure could be traced flat whilst the figure on the dalmatic needed to be traced whilst hanging. As the professional pictures in the online catalogue were likely all corrected for perspective distortion by referencing with actual measurements (common practice in archaeology), they are probably better to use as tracings than the original embroideries.
When you now look at the two tracings it becomes immediately clear that some parts of especially the top half of the Johns are quite similar. Other parts differ more greatly. The faces are different, especially the placement of the eyes and the extend of the hair. And whilst the bottom seam of his clothing and his foot match, there is no way that the bottom half of the clothing and the folds can be made to fit. When I used the same pricking for the 30 little stars I painted onto silk twill fabric for my recent online workshops for the Diocesan Museum Bamberg, I did not end up with differences of this magnitude. I am therefore pretty sure that we can rule out the use of the same pricking.
But what about the use of the same design drawing? I am pretty sure that the same model book was being used. Unfortunately, none are left to us and we have no idea what these model books looked like. Contrary, prickings and design sketches have survived as backing of these embroideries. I can imagine that from a smaller picture in a model book, the embroiderer made a design drawing the size of the desired embroidery (not all orphreys have the same size and thus the figures needed to be drawn taller/shorter, wider/thinner). By using a grid, it is easy to transfer a design to the desired proportions. And whilst you need to be quite precise whit the detailed parts of the design (upper part of John), you could probably fudge the simpler bottom a bit to speed the process up. This might explain the differences in the tracings.
So, not the same workshop? Who knows. Normally, you would keep your pricking for future use. After all, paper or parchment was expensive and making the thing was labour intensive. However, prickings are fragile. They don't last forever. Maybe a new design drawing and a new corresponding pricking was made from the same copy of the model book in the same workshop. We will probably never know. In my eyes, the tracings cannot be used to support the theory of the same workshop beyond a doubt. But what we really need is a test. At some point, I will set up a workshop in which all students will use the same complex pricking. After all the embroidery is done, we will compare the outcome. In this way, we will know the margins of error when the same pricking is being used by embroiderers of different ability.
P.S. this series of blog articles on the Johns from Utrecht are inspired by a mail thread between me and art historian Stephan Kuhn. He wrote his MA-thesis on the vestments of St Martin in Emmerich. Presently, he is working on his doctoral thesis, but hopes to return to the Emmerich vestments with a proper paper.
Tomorrow evening, you have a chance to become one of the lucky people who gets a spot in the second run of my medieval goldwork course! And what a course it will be! I am excited about some upgrades in the materials we will use and the new platform Padlet. In addition, my research continued and the information of a couple of great new books is finding its way into the hand-outs. And thanks to the students of the first run, I will make some updates in the instructions as well. Read on so you'll know where the sign-up link will appear.
The 15 kits have all been packed. I've tried to reduce the use of plastic as much as possible. However, customs like to know what is in a kit and if they can spot contents at a glance, they are more likely to not open every little bit of the kit. Let's see how it goes. Other things simply need a bag in case they spill. The plastic that was used is of the "eco" kind. I know: not ideal either, but a tiny bit better.
And now the important bit: the sign-up link will appear at the top of the course page. You might need to refresh the page several times before it appears. You will only be able to pay with PayPal. And I won't be able to ship kits together to safe on postage. Shipping is still disrupted and the risk of losing multiple kits in one shipment is simply too large.
You might also have spotted some changes to my website. I've tried to make it less cluttered and hope that information can now be more easily found. One major change is that I have made category pages for my blog articles. If you hover over the blog category at the top of my page, a sub-menu will appear (see picture above). Over the next couple of weeks, I will go through all my past blog articles, clean them up and the ones about historical embroidery will be linked to these category pages. These pages will be nice little rabbit holes for a rainy day!
Today I am going to introduce you to a recreation project you might not have heard about. And that would be a shame! Dr Alexandra Makin, the writer of a book I reviewed, is working on a historically accurate reconstruction of a part of St Cuthbert's maniple. The original was stitched around AD 909-916, a good 100 years before the Kaisergewänder, and is thus probably the oldest more or less complete goldwork embroidery surviving in Europe. Trying to reconstruct any of these very early goldwork embroideries comes with a myriad of challenges of which finding the right materials is a large chunk. Alexandra describes the project in a series of YouTube videos. But beware: you might spend a LOT of money :).
Alexandra also curates a blog on early medieval (mostly) textile topics. Each month, a guest-writer is invited to write about her research. She has asked me to contribute a blog for December. When you enter the universe of the St Cuthbert recreation project, you soon realise that such an undertaking isn't a solo flight. It wasn't back in the 10th-century and it isn't today. Many people contributed with their specialism: dying silk threads with natural dyes, weaving the right silken open canvas, finding the right silk, vintage goldthreads, magical scissors from Japan, etc. You will be introduced to so many amazing people and (nearly) lost arts. Enjoy!
Sometimes, medieval goldwork embroidery has been purposefully flattened after it was finished. This is for instance the case with the Kaisergewänder in Bamberg. Burnishing or hammering finished goldwork embroidery was probably done to enhance the smoothness of the surface to make it resemble gold leaf or goldsmithing work. Whilst the flattening is clearly visible on high-resolution pictures, and certainly revealed in a cross-section of the goldthread, we do not know how it was done. Did they burnish the finished surface with a rounded piece of bone? Did they actually hammer the threads flat? Time for an experiment:
Hmm, not at all the result I was expecting ... Is this due to the difference in materials? Or is there another way to flatten goldthreads? Or what if they used pre-flattened goldthreads (called flatworm) in the first place? I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter! Please leave your comments below.
P.S. My husband and I are getting vaccinated this week! From today, Bavaria allows everyone, regardless of priority, to get vaccinated by their family doctor if they want to. Bittersweet: due to widespread vaccine-scepticism in our rural area, we got an appointment right away. Feeling immensely grateful!
In the past, I have rarely written about anything else than embroidery. And I don't intend to write more often about non-embroidery topics. However, tomorrow is an important day for me and my husband. The village council will meet and debate the litter data my husband and I have collected for the past three months or so. What did we do? Each year, we commit to a certain challenge for Lent. It is usually the "no cookies" or "no chocolate" 40-day challenge. But with the unpleasant pandemic restrictions, I did not want to restrict myself any further this year. Instead, we were looking for something to make a positive impact on our community. At the same time, as the weather improved, more and more people visited our beautiful lake. Not being able to leave the country means that many Germans now recreate in the Alps. This has a negative impact on this sensitive ecosystem. Especially littering has become a huge problem. So we decided to dedicate several hours each week to clean-up using the Litterati app. As archaeologists, we are perfectly skilled to analyse the litter data collected and advise our village council. Tomorrow, they will debate several data-based solutions we have come up with. For those of you who read German easily, you can find our analysis on this website.
Those of you who have visited my studio here in Bad Bayersoien, know what a beautiful place this is. Our village is actually located in Nature Park "Ammergauer Alpen". Protected wildflowers and certain rare animal species are living here. The lake is part of a bog landscape. And along one side of its shore, is one of Europe's largest habitats for European vipers. Especially at this time of year, these beautiful black snakes sunbathe right next to the walking trail. Unfortunately for them, women who need to pee, tend to go into the shrubs and woods of viper territory. It is a wonder that so far no one got bitten! How do we know it is women who like to pee here? They leave hundreds of tissues ... You might think that a paper tissue dissolves easily and does not harm nature too much. However, these tissues are no longer made of paper, but of bleached cellulose. And they don't easily decompose. And it doesn't stop at the tissues. Some even leave sanitary towels, tampons and adult diapers there!
You are forgiven for thinking, since we live so rural, that we don't have clean free public toilets here and that these women need to pee somewhere. Thankfully, we have a spacious toilet block right opposite the kiosk (from the trail, you are never more than 500m away from them!). The toilets are clean and free to use. Why are the woods then so popular? Probably because people park after a long drive and don't have time to search for the toilets. Not everyone knows that there are clever apps for your phone that tell you where (free) toilets are located. A good solution for our lake would be to place signs that point people in the right direction. Using a bit of humour could persuade people to walk that 500m (picture a woman squatting being bitten by a viper :)).
Another huge problem is the many cigarette butts being thrown away carelessly. Again, many people assume that they decompose. Wrong. They are made of cellulose acetate. Filled with the toxins of smoking, this substance falls apart in smaller and smaller bits. Just like micro-plastic, it lands in our drinking water and cannot be removed in water treatment plants. We all drink cigarettes each day when we make ourselves a cup of tea or coffee. Getting these cigarette butts removed from our environment is absolutely paramount. We are slowly but surely poisoning ourselves.
How can we persuade people to dispose of their cigarette butt correctly? Again: we hope to use humour! There is a German company that makes Kippsters. These are ashtrays with two see-through compartments. Above the two compartments is a yes/no question. People can "vote" using their cigarette butt. If our village decides to invest in a few of these kippsters, I am going to sponsor one. And I already know which question I want to get answered: Was King Ludwig II queer?
Maybe, I have inspired you to start cleaning up in your own community using the Litterati app (or maybe you are already doing something similar!). The app was originally invented in the US, but it has had the biggest following and impact in the Netherlands. Watch the inspiring TED-talk with Jeff Kirschner, the founder of Litterati. Due to the pandemic, they regularly organise webinars on the topic of littering and data-based solutions. Archaeology with modern litter :).
What were the strangest finds in the past couple of months? Well, you would be amazed at how many fake nails are lost. Or how about a small device to re-set your pacemaker? And this morning we found a urinary catheter in its original packaging! When we tagged our pictures in the Litterati app, it turned out that we were not the first in the world who had found one ....
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