Staffordshire Hoard – huge Anglo-Saxon gold hoard found!

some of the hoard pieces

The UK’s largest haul of Anglo-Saxon treasure has been discovered buried beneath a field in Staffordshire.

Experts say the collection of 1,500 gold and silver pieces, which may date to the 7th Century, is unparalleled in size and worth “a seven figure sum”.

It has been declared treasure by South Staffordshire coroner Andrew Haigh, meaning it belongs to the Crown.

Terry Herbert, who found it on farmland using a metal detector, said it “was what metal detectorists dream of”.

It may take more than a year for it to be valued.

The Staffordshire hoard contains about 5kg of gold and 2.5kg of silver, making it far bigger than the Sutton Hoo discovery in 1939 when 1.5kg of Anglo-Saxon gold was found near Woodbridge in Suffolk.

Leslie Webster, former keeper at the British Museum’s Department of Prehistory and Europe, said: “This is going to alter our perceptions of Anglo-Saxon England as radically, if not more so, as the Sutton Hoo discoveries.

“(It is) absolutely the equivalent of finding a new Lindisfarne Gospels or Book of Kells.”

The Book of Kells and Lindisfarne Gospels are intricately illuminated manuscripts of the four New Testament Gospels dating from the 9th and 8th Centuries.

‘Just unbelievable’

helmet cheek plateMr Herbert, 55, of Burntwood in Staffordshire, who has been metal detecting for 18 years, came across the hoard as he searched land belonging to a farmer friend over five days in July. The exact location has not been disclosed.

“I have this phrase that I say sometimes; ‘spirits of yesteryear take me where the coins appear’, but on that day I changed coins to gold,” he said.

“I don’t know why I said it that day but I think somebody was listening and directed me to it.

“This is what metal detectorists dream of, finding stuff like this. But the vast amount there is just unbelievable.”

BBC correspondent Nick Higham said the hoard would be valued by the British Museum and the money passed on to Mr Herbert and the landowner.

A total of 1,345 items have been examined by experts, although the list includes 56 clods of earth which have been X-rayed and are known to contain further metal artefacts.

This means the total number of items found is likely to rise to about 1,500.

staffordshire hoard gold strip with inscriptionFollowing the initial find, Alex Jones, director of Birmingham Archaeology and his colleagues were invited to excavate the site, Birmingham University said.

Mr Jones said it was fantastic news for the region and raised the importance of heritage research.

“Being a partner in one of the most exciting archaeological discoveries of our time is something we can all be proud of,” he said.

Experts have so far established that there were at least 650 items of gold in the haul, weighing more than 5kgs (11lb), and 530 silver objects totalling more than 1kg (2.2lb) in weight.

Copper alloy, garnets and glass objects were also discovered at the undisclosed site.

Duncan Slarke, finds liaison officer for Staffordshire, was the first professional to see the hoard which contains warfare paraphernalia, including sword pommel caps and hilt plates inlaid with precious stones.

He said he was “virtually speechless” when he saw the items.

“I saw boxes full of gold, items exhibiting the very finest Anglo-Saxon workmanship,” he added.

Roger Bland, head of portable antiquities and treasure at the British Museum, said: “The most we can say is, I think we’re fairly confident it is likely to be a seven-figure sum.”

‘Truly remarkable’

sword fittingThe collection is currently being kept in secure storage at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery but a selection of the items are to be displayed at the museum from Friday until 13 October.

Dr Kevin Leahy, who has been cataloguing the find for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, said it was “a truly remarkable collection”.

He said it had been found in the heartland of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia.

“All the archaeologists who’ve worked with it have been awestruck,” he added.

“It’s been actually quite scary working on this material to be in the presence of greatness.”

He said the most striking feature of the find was that it was almost totally weapon fittings with no feminine objects such as dress fittings, brooches or pendants.

“Swords and sword fittings were very important in the Anglo-Saxon period,” Dr Leahy added.

“It looks like a collection of trophies, but it is impossible to say if the hoard was the spoils from a single battle or a long and highly successful military career.

“We also cannot say who the original, or the final, owners were, who took it from them, why they buried it or when.

“It will be debated for decades.”

SOURCE

Staffordshire Hoard Press Pack

UPDATE [more images]

Visit Staffordshire Hoard official website, as well as this FLICKR photo set, for more images and info !

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War dances in Ancient Greece

THE PYRRHIKE

The_Pyrrhic_Dance_by_GeromeThe most famous war dance in ancient Greece was the pyrrhike which became the national dance of Sparta, and persisted there long after Greece became a province of the Roman Empire and similar war dances had died out in other cities. The Greeks had several stories that accounted for the name of the pyrrhic dance. One said that it was invented by a Spartan called Pyrrhicus, though an alternative version claimed that Pyrrhicus was a Cretan. Another story connected the dance with the son of the hero Achilles, who bore two  names: Pyrrhus as well as Neoptolemus. After Achilles was killed in battle at Troy, Pyrrhus came to Troy to take his father’s place, and his greatest exploit was killing Eurypylus, leader of a force of Hittites that had come to help the Trojans. After he slew Eurypylus, he performed an exultant victory dance, and from his dance the pyrrhike took its name.

The pyrrhike and many other war dances were common among the peoples in the Greek world, as well as in neighboring countries between the tenth and seventh centuries BC Dancing had a practical purpose in the warfare of early Greece when warriors often fought in single combat, and nimble feet made the difference between a warrior dodging the spear that his foe hurled at him, and being impaled by it. In Homer’s Iliad, the Trojan prince Hector tells the Greek hero Ajax that he is not frightened by him, for he knows the steps of the “deadly dance of Ares,” the god of war.

hoplite-danceBy the mid-seventh century BC, however, the complexion of war had changed. Battles became contests between two battle lines of heavily-armed infantrymen called “hoplites,” and a good hoplite did not dodge or dance; rather, he stood firmly in his place in the battle line and shoved the enemy that faced him with his shield and thrust at him with his spear. Dance ceased to be an important part of military training, except in Sparta, which maintained its militaristic traditions long after it ceased to be a military power. By the end of the second century CE the pyrrhike was performed only in Sparta, where boys were still trained to dance it from the age of five. Yet the pyrrhike remained the dance most often portrayed in war sculptures and vase paintings.

ACCESSORY TO MILITARY TRAINING

hoplomachiaSpartan education, which was intended only for the warrior elite that controlled the state, aimed to produce superb soldiers, physically fit and skilled at handling arms. Hoplomachia (weapons training) between men was an important part of a warrior’s education, and it resembled a type of dance. When the philosopher Plato discussed the pyrrhic dance in the Laws, he described it as part of the hoplomachia. However, as pyrrhic dance developed in Sparta, youths who were being hardened for battle would first have their training session where they practiced their skill with the weapons of war, and then when it was over, they danced. A piper played the aulos, which had a timbre not unlike bagpipes, and the young warriors formed a line and danced to a quick, light dance step. While they danced, they sang songs which were composed by musicians who worked in Sparta in the seventh century BC such as Thaletas, who was credited with organizing the Gymnopaidiai (a Spartan festival). Hence, the pyrrhic dance was most likely not part of the weapons training, but was done to enhance the nimbleness of the warriors.

CHANGE TO PANTOMIME

banquetAnother literary source for information about the development of the pyrrhic dance came from an author named Athenaeus who wrote a discursive work at the end of the second century CE called Learned Men at a Banquet. In it, Athenaeus imagines banqueters displaying their knowledge on a host of subjects, including dance. According to the Learned Men at a Banquet, the Spartans, who had a penchant for war, still trained armor-clad boys from the age of five in the pyrrhic dance in the second century CE. The dance, however, was no longer truly a war dance by this time. Athenaeus described it as a kind of Dionysiac pantomime— the dancers performed an interpretative dance that related various myths of the god Dionysus, including his expedition to India and his return to his native state of Thebes.

Apuleius of MadaurosBy the time that Athenaeus lived, pyrrhic dances were staged for Roman tourists, and in fact, pyrrhic dancers sometimes performed at Rome to amuse the crowd in the public games as a prelude to the deadlier entertainments offered by gladiatorial games and wild beast fights. Julius Caesar staged pyrrhic dancing at Rome, and so did the emperors Caligula, Nero, and Hadrian. The North African rhetorician and philosopher, Apuleius of Madauros (c.123–c. 190 CE), whose novel, the Metamorphoses, or the Golden Ass, is the only Latin novel to survive in its entirety, described a typical dance entertainment staged in the amphitheater at Corinth in his own day. First there was a pyrrhic dance, performed by boys and girls, beautifully costumed, then there was a pantomime—a ballet on the “Judgement of Paris” in which the young Trojan prince Paris judges a beauty contest of goddesses—and finally, the pièce de resistance, a convicted murderess torn apart by wild beasts.

THE GYMNOPAIDIAI

Another famous war dance of Sparta was one performed for the Gymnopaidiai, which scholars first translated as “Festival of the Naked Youths.” The central feature of the festival, usually held in the heat of the Spartan midsummer in honor of the god Apollo, was a dance contest in which contestants danced naked. The contest was not just restricted to young boys, however, but was divided into three groups that were graded according to age: retired warriors too old for active service, warriors of military age, and youths still too young to serve in the army. Many scholars have come to believe that the word Gymnopaidiai should be translated as the “Festival of Unarmed Dancing,” for instead of wearing armor, as did the dancers of the pyrrhike, the dancers of the Gymnopaidiai wore nothing at all. The dancers pantomimed scenes from wrestling and boxing matches, but at all times, their feet moved in time to the music. As they danced, they sang songs by Thaletas and by another musician, Alcman, who plied his trade in Sparta about the same time.

ARMED DANCES OUTSIDE SPARTA

castor_pollux_adjThe pyrrhike may have been the national dance of Sparta where it was part of the regular exercise of warriors keeping themselves in good physical condition for battle, but it was found elsewhere in the Greek world as well. In Sparta, the pyrrhic dance was sacred to the divine twins, Castor and Polydeuces, whom the Romans knew as Pollux. In Athens, the pyrrhic dance honored the warrior goddess Athena, the patron goddess of Athens. It was part of the ceremony of the annual Panathenaic festival that was held in honor of Athena, as well as the Great Panathenaic festival when non-Athenians were allowed to compete in the athletic events. The dancers were called pyrrhicists and they were chosen from among the ephebes (youths over eighteen years of age).

Several relief sculptures have survived that portray the Athenian pyrrhic dance. One shows youths, naked except for helmets, shields, and swords, dancing a light dance-step; another shows them in a chorus line, presenting their shields. Their training for the festival was financed in the same way as dramatic productions; a well-to-do citizen was chosen as choragus (“leader of the chorus”) and he paid the costs and had general oversight of the production. Crete was another source of war dances, the best known of which was the dance of the Curetes. It had a legendary origin: when the mother goddess Rhea gave birth to the infant Zeus, she hid him in Crete in a cave on Mt. Dicte to save him from his father Cronus, and the Curetes performed their dance, which Rhea had taught them, to cacuretes-rheamouflage his hiding place. They whirled about their shields and banged them with their swords as they made great leaps into the air. This performance was a primitive ritual connected with the cult of Zeus on Crete, which was quite unlike the cult of Zeus on mainland Greece, for the Cretans believed that their Zeus died and was reborn with the seasons. The dance of the Curetes marked his rebirth.

In the ancient world, the Greeks and Roman saw a connection between the dance of the Curetes and the frenzied dance performed by the Corybantes, the priests of the Great Mother, Cybele, the ancient goddess of Phrygia in western Asia Minor, and there may be this much connection: both rituals went back to an ancient fertility religion. The dance of the Curetes, however, was not a dance of priests like the dance of the Corybantes, but of warriors, though neither dance seems to have had much in common with the pyrrhic dance.

BOOK OF INTEREST

APPENDIX – Excerpt from Xenophon’s Anabasis

XenophonXenophon (ca. 430 – ca. 354 BC) was a disciple of Socrates who—against Socrates’ advice—joined a force of soldiers of fortune who were recruited by the younger brother of King Artaxerxes II of Persia, Cyrus, who plotted to overthrow Artaxerxes and make himself king. But in the decisive battle fought at Cunaxa in Mesopotamia, Cyrus was killed and his Asian supporters melted away, leaving the force of Greek mercenary soldiers to find their way home. To make matters worse, the Persians invited the Greek officers to a parley and killed them, thinking that the Greek troops would be helpless without their leaders. But the troops chose new officers, one of them Xenophon himself and they made their way north to the Black Sea, and from there the survivors disbanded to find new employers.

When they reached Paphlagonia in Asia Minor, the ruler of Paphlagonia sent envoys to the Greek officers, who gave them a dinner, and the various ethnic groups in the little Greek army entertained them with war dances, with the dancers bearing arms. The Paphlagonian visitors were surprised that all the dancers wore armour as they danced, whereupon a dancing girl was brought on, who performed the “Pyrrhic” dance, a Spartan war dance named in honor of the hero Achilles’ son, Pyrrhus, otherwise known as Neoptolemus. The Paphlagonians were even more impressed. They wondered if the Greek women fought in battle side by side with the men, and the Greeks replied in jest that it was their women who had routed the king of Persia, Artaxerxes II. Xenophon describes the scene in a vivid passage in his Anabasis, which tells the story of how the ten thousand mercenary soldiers that Prince Cyrus recruited from among the Greeks and their neighbours—for not all the recruits were Greeks—marched into the interior of the Middle East and returned again.

“After we had poured wine on the ground to honour the gods, and had sung a hymn, first two Thracians stood up and began to dance in full armour to the sound of the pipe, making nimble leaps high into the air as they wielded their sabers. Finally one of them struck the other, and everyone thought the man was mortally wounded. His fall was artfully done, I suppose. The other man stripped him of his armour as the Paphlagonians howled, and made his exit, singing a Thracian war song known as the “Sitacles.” The other Thracians bore the fallen dancer away, as if he were dead. But he had been not at all hurt.

Next some Aenianians and Magnesians got to their feet and danced the dance called the Karpaia, wearing their armour. The dance was like this: One man is driving his oxen as he sows a field, his arms laid at his side, and he casts frequent glances around him like a person who is afraid. A robber approaches, and when the sower sees him, he grabs his arms and goes to meet him and fights to save his team of oxen. These soldiers did this to the rhythm of the reed pipe. And at last the robber ties up the man and takes off the oxen. But sometimes the owner of the oxen trusses up the robber. When that happens, he yokes him beside his oxen with his hands tied behind his back and drives off.


Then a Mysian came on with a light leather shield in each hand. And at one moment he danced, pantomiming a battle against two opponents. Then he wielded his shields as if he were fighting a single opponent. Then he would whirl around and do somersaults, still holding his shields. So it was a fine sight to see. Finally he danced the “Persian dance”—clashing his shields together, he would crouch down and then leap up. He did all this keeping time to the music of the pipe. Then the Mantineans and some others from region of Arcadia came forward, wearing the finest armour they had, and they performed a drill to a tune with a marching tempo played on the pipe, and they sang a warrior hymn. And they danced in the same way as they did in the processions with which they honoured the gods. And as the Paphlagonians looked on, they thought it odd that all the dances were performed wearing arms.

A Mysian who saw that they were amazed, retorted by persuading one of the Arcadians who had acquired a dancing girl to dress her in the finest costume he could, fit her with a light shield and bring her on to give a graceful performance of the “Pyrrhic” dance. Thereupon there was a roar of applause, and the Paphlagonians asked if the Greek women also fought side by side with their men. The Greeks answered that these were the very women who had routed the king from his camp.”


SOURCE:

Xenophon, Anabasis. Book 6

(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998): 466–470.

Translated by James Allan Evans.

Viking execution pit – 51 beheaded victim

viking-execution-pitThe mass burial took place at a time when the English were battling Viking invaders, say archaeologists who are now trying to verify the identity of the slain.

The dead are thought to have been war captives, possibly Vikings, whose heads were hacked off with swords or axes, according to excavation leader David Score of Oxford Archaeology, an archaeological-services company.

Announced in June, the pit discovery took place during an archaeological survey prior to road construction near the seaside town of Weymouth

Many of the skeletons have deep cut marks to the skull and jaw as well as the neck. “The majority seem to have taken multiple blows,” Score said.

The bodies show few signs of other trauma, suggesting the men were alive when beheaded.

One victim appears to have raised an arm in self-defense: “The hand appears to have had its fingers sliced through,” Score noted.

The heads were neatly piled to one side of the pit, perhaps as a victory display, the team suggests.

Unusually, no trace of clothing has been found, indicating the men were buried naked.

Even if their weapons and valuables had been taken “we should have found bone buttons and things like that, but to date we’ve got absolutely nothing,” Score said.

“They look like a healthy, robust, very strong, very masculine group of young males,” he added. “It’s your classic sort of warrior.”

The burial has been radiocarbon-dated between A.D. 890 and 1034.

During this time England was split between Anglo-Saxons, in the south and west, and Danish settlers, in the north and east.

The Anglo-Saxons were Germanic peoples who colonized England beginning in the 400s; founded the country on the island of Great Britain; and gave rise to the English language. Around the time of the mass burial, the Celts were still largely in control of the non-English regions of Great Britain: Scotland and Wales.

“You’ve got Danish and Saxon armies fighting backwards and forwards across England,” Score said.

The early English also faced the threat of longship-sailing Vikings, Scandinavian seafarers who pillaged coastal regions.

“It’s not just the odd ship” attacking, Score said. For example, “there’s a documented account of 94 longships attacking London at one point, and then they work their way down the coast.”

The team hopes chemical analysis of the buried men’s teeth will show whether they grew up in Britain or Scandinavia. (Related: “Vikings Filed Their Teeth, Skeleton Study Shows.”)

Wear and tear on the bones could also help reveal whether the executed were Viking oarsmen, since “strong physical exertion in a particular direction does affect the bones,” Score said.

“It might be possible to say they are overdeveloped in their upper body and arm strength … people who are doing a lot of heavy rowing.”

Anglo-Saxon Slayers, Viking Victims

The burial’s prominent location on a hilltop hints that a local group carried out the killings, Score said.

“Locations like this are classic sites for executions in late Saxon and medieval times,” he added.

Vikings, he said, had a different M.O.

“If you’re a Viking raider, you’re much more likely to leave people where you killed them in the town or on the beach,” he said.

Kim Siddorn, author of Viking Weapons and Warfare, suspects the executed men were indeed Vikings.

“I would say this was a Viking raiding party which had been trapped,” he said.

“They had left their ship, walked inland, ran into an unusually well-organized body of Saxons, and were probably forced to surrender.”

There was little to differentiate Vikings and early English warriors on the battlefield, said Siddorn, founder of Regia Anglorum, a historical-reenactment society.

“You would find it very difficult to tell the difference between a Viking and a Saxon if they stood in front of you in war gear,” he said

Both used spears as their primary weapons, with swords and axes as backups, Siddorn added.

But Vikings had surprise and, in some cases, numbers on their side.

“Whilst the Vikings were no better than the Saxons at fighting, they did come by the shipload,” he said.

“During the height of the Viking raids, it’s reasonable to say it was unsafe to live anywhere within 20 miles [32 kilometers] of the coast.”

SOURCE

Bloody Stone Age – War in the Neolithic

The perception that much of prehistory was relatively peaceful is changing. New research has identified evidence of violent assault in the Neolithic. What does this tell us about Stone Age life as a whole? Forensic archaeologist Martin Smith explains.
Whilst many Neolithic burials have been excavated during the last 150 years, they have received only limited study. Modern analysis of these remains by osteo-archaeologists is revealing shocking evidence for violent assaults involving clubs, axes, and arrowshot about 5,500 years ago.

Recent years have seen growing interest in conflict archaeology. Warfare has gone from being a subject rarely mentioned by archaeologists to one that is widely debated. Current  world events may have something to do with this, but it is also linked to advances in our ability to recognise evidence of violence, and a drive towards new theoretical approaches for making sense of it.

Most research of this kind has usually been concerned with more recent periods, but lately consideration is also being given to prehistory. In particular, we now have a growing body of evidence for aggression between groups and individuals during the Neolithic, most of which comes in the form of skeletal injuries. The fact that acts of violence sometimes occurred in this period now seems indisputable. However, assessing what this tells us about Neolithic life as a whole is harder.

Old wounds: new evidence
Many injuries to the skeleton are difficult to interpret, as there may be a number of ways in which a particular injury could be incurred. Fractured ribs, for example, can be sustained in various ways, mostly through accidents such as falls. It is generally impossible to be specific about the origin of these kinds of fractures in archaeological bone.

Some types of injury, however, may be more consistent with a particular cause. Fractures of the skull are a good example. Head injuries inflicted with weapons often produce patterns of fracture that are more easily recognised as such than wounds to other parts of the skeleton. Improved understanding of the properties of bone fracture has led to our recognition of a growing number of Neolithic head injuries consistent with violence, many of which might previously have been interpreted as damage after burial.
Such signs of violent assault are apparent throughout much of Europe, and not least in Britain. These include a number of healed head injuries apparently inflicted with blunt, club-like implements, as well as unhealed fractures inflicted very close to (if not actually at) the time of death. The latter include a mixture of sharp-force and blunt-force trauma, possibly inflicted with stone axes.

Then there are projectile wounds. This category is particularly unequivocal where fragments of arrowheads remain embedded in bone, although recent experimental research has revealed that it is sometimes possible to recognise such injuries even where the ‘murder weapon’ is no longer present. In a recent research project examining evidence of cranial trauma, Mick Wysocki, Senior Lecturer in Forensic Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Central Lancashire, and Rick Schulting, Lecturer in Scientific and Prehistoric Archaeology from Oxford University, produced a conservative estimate (based on the view that some examples might be misdiagnosed) that 26 out of 350 crania examined (7.4%) displayed traumatic injuries.

SOURCE

Holzminden camp – The Great Escape of 1918

It was certainly a Great Escape, even if it did not get the Hollywood treatment of Steve McQueen on his motorbike. The little known story of the prisoners of war who tunnelled out of a German camp in 1918 is to be told in a major exhibition that will show how they pioneered the subterfuge before their celebrated Second World War counterparts.

The story of the attempt by 60 officers to break out of Holzminden camp during the First World War has long been eclipsed by films about PoWs set in the Nazi era, such as The Colditz Story and The Great Escape, starring McQueen, James Garner and Richard Attenborough as captives at Stalag Luft III. From this week, however, the audacious bid for freedom will be featured in the Imperial War Museum London’s show ‘In Memoriam: Remembering the Great War’, marking the 90th anniversary of the armistice on 11 November.

‘Everybody’s heard of The Great Escape, but it will surprise our visitors to see that similar escape attempts took place in the First World War,’ said Terry Charman, senior historian at the museum. ‘Holzminden was the worst prisoner of war camp in Germany and had a reputation like Colditz for being inescapable. Its commandant, Karl Niemeyer, was particularly brutal.’

Holzminden, near Hanover, held 550 officers and 100 orderlies, and after it opened in September 1917 there were 17 escape attempts in the first month alone. All were unsuccessful. In November that year the prisoners began digging a tunnel that would run under the camp’s perimeter wall. They were assisted by three German administrators at the camp: a mailman who became known to the soldiers as ‘the letter boy’, a man who supplied torches and was dubbed ‘the electric light boy’, and a female typist who passed on information because she was infatuated with an airman.

The captives had a room at the barracks in which they made imitation German army uniforms and used a basic camera to forge identity documents. They also created an air pump out of wood and tin tubes from biscuit tins. The tunnellers worked in three-hour shifts, in teams of three, using trowels, chisels and a ‘mumptee’, an instrument with a spike on one end and an excavating blade on the other. The earth was moved in basins by a pulley system then hidden in the cellar roof.

One of the biggest threats came from the Allies’ own side, when new PoWs arrived and asked, within earshot of the Germans: ‘Are you building a tunnel?’ But it remained undiscovered and nine months later was 60 yards long and six feet deep. In July 1918, 60 officers began the escape attempt, getting away through a nearby field of rye. But the tunnel collapsed on the 30th man, blocking the escape route.

It meant that the next one, Major Jack Shaw, had to turn back. Of the 29 escapers from Holzminden, 19 were rounded up and taken back to the camp, partly because the alarm had been raised by a farmer whose rye field had been trampled. But the remaining 10 made a successful run to neutral territory, led by Wing Commander Charles Rathborne, who hid on board a train and reached the Dutch frontier after three days. The 10 great escapers were awarded medals at Buckingham Palace by George V.

Terry Charman said he hoped the exhibition would help to preserve the memory of the first great escape.

‘In Memoriam’ will also feature the Military Cross awarded to Wilfred Owen that was worn by the poet’s mother until her death.

The ‘In Memoriam’ exhibition runs from 30 September.

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