Thursday, September 24, 2015

Franks Casket - Northumbria AD 700

One of the topics I have chosen to examine from the "There and Back Again" chapter of The Making of Middle Earth is the picture of the Franks Casket toward the beginning of the chapter. Though Snyder notes the important inscriptions on the "casket," which is essentially a fancy box, I was curious about its origins, name, and uses. Through conducting research on the website of the British Museum as well as Wikipedia, I found the answers to my questions. First of all, the casket originates from AD 700 in Northumbria, a medieval kingdom in what is now northern England and Southeastern Scotland. It showed up in France and was eventually given to the British Museum, where it was named "Franks Casket" after one the prominent benefactors of the museum. I was fairly disappointed by the origin of the name, as I was expecting something significantly more relevant to the actual artifact. While I won't go into the various types of inscriptions on the box because Snyder summarized those rather nicely, I will say that the front of the box has nothing to do with the other inscriptions. Upon examination, the box was shown to depict a riddle on the front face. According to the British Museum, the riddle reads, "The fish beat up the seas on to the mountainous cliff; the King of terror became sad when he swam onto the shingle." Essentially, this riddle is supposed to lead to the conclusion that the box is made of the bone from a beached whale, and researchers have indeed determined the box is made from whalebone, with certain silver features. While it was most likely created in a monastery and then given to someone there, researchers are unsure when exactly the box arrived in France or what the use was originally supposed to be. I found this piece to be simple and yet beautiful. Somebody obviously put a lot of thought and effort into the creation of this box, and it would be wonderful to know exactly why it was created, why certain inscriptions were included, why it was made of whalebone, why it came to France, etc.. Some of this information is known to an extent, such as the influence of Roman, Jewish, Christian, and Germanic cultures, but there is still a significant amount of mystery surrounding the history of this box. I have included the link to the British Museum below!

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