Pristine Roman blue glass bowl found in Nijmegen

January 21st, 2022

Archaeologists excavating the site of a comprehensive housing and green space development in Nijmegen’s Winkelsteeg area have unearthed a spectacular Roman blue glass bowl that is in flawless condition. It is at least 1,800 years old, and there is not a chip or crack on it.

Such dishes were made by allowing molten glass to cool and harden over a mold. The stripe pattern was drawn in when the glass mixture was still liquid. Metal oxide causes the blue color.

This bowl was once a showpiece for early Nijmegen residents. [Lead archaeologist Pepijn] Van de Geer thinks it is a masterpiece that deserves to be displayed in a museum. “I have seen similar glassware in Italian museums.”

Nijmegen was founded as a Roman military camp in the 1st century B.C., and a civilian settlement of the local Batavi peoples formed next to it. By 98, the settlement of Nijmegen was the first city in what is today the Netherlands to receive the designation of municipium (Roman city rights) making its residents Roman citizens.

The bowl was not of local manufacture. It was produced in a workshop of fine glasswares in a large Roman city. The Roman city of Vetera (modern-day Xanten), just over the border in Germania, was known for its glass production, and it too was in Batavi territory so there would have been established lines for the exchange of goods. It is of such high quality, however, that it could well have originated in Italy and been traded north, or have been acquired by a Batavian legionary who brought it home with him when he retired from the Roman army.

The Winkelsteeg excavation has also unearthed graves from the Roman settlement and a smattering of grave goods, including vessels, cups and jewelry. Remains of dwellings are sparse — mostly traces of wood construction — but archaeologists are documenting residues and soil discoloration to draw up a map of the neighborhood’s houses.

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Roman statue of Venus found in Croatia

January 20th, 2022

Archaeologists have discovered a Roman nude female statue believed to be of the goddess Venus at the site of future hotel construction in Zadar, Croatia. It is incomplete; a section three feet high from the knees to waist survives out of what was likely a larger-than-life-sized statue more than six feet high. Preliminary analysis indicates it dates to the 2nd century.

The right knee is bent and the leg slightly forward. Fragments of a hand are on the left thigh, and there are fragmentary traces near the groin and waist as well. Archaeologists believe there was likely a second figure in the group, perhaps the god Mercury. The pose of the legs and the hand on the thigh are similar to a headless and armless statue of Venus that is now in the Split Archaeological Museum. That Venus Victrix with Erote was unearthed in the 18th century in the ruins of the palace of Emperor Diocletian in Solin, ancient Salona which was the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia and Diocletian’s birthplace as well as his retirement home.

Zadar, 100 miles north of Salona, was also a prosperous city under the Roman Empire. The statue was found six feet below the surface in the remains of an urban villa, an elegant home with luxury features that would have belonged to one of the wealthy residents of Zadar. The Venus statue was probably one of several that decorated the atrium of the villa.

The excavation thus far has revealed a marble slab floor of about 850 square feet. It extends past the excavation area on three sides, so it could be much larger. Archaeologists also unearthed a wall lines with grey marble tile and a surviving section of mosaic floor about 40 square feet in area. The mosaic is geometric, with two black stripes against a field of white tesserae.

They also found a hole in the floor with a broken marble surround that led to drainage canal 36 feet long. The drainage canal contained a number of pottery fragments and even more tubules, hollow ceramic bricks used as heating pipes in the walls of Roman villas.

The location of the villa and the details of the mosaic coincided with the results of research by Professor Boris Ilakovac 60 years ago. Before constructing the neighboring building of Božidar Rašica, he researched the foundations of buildings demolished during and after the Second World War.

Professor Ilakovac found two villas in a row there; they touched each other’s outer walls and had an identical mosaic decoration in the atrium. All this tells us that here, a hundred meters from the ancient Forum, several representative residential buildings were later, possibly in the early Middle Ages, demolished and only now being revealed in their full beauty.

The statue of Venus has been transported to the Homeland Museum in Biograd where it will be conserved and studied in detail.

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Bejeweled woman buried with child found in Siberia

January 19th, 2022

The skeletal remains of a richly adorned woman and a young child have been discovered in a burial mound in the Chinge-Tey archaeological site of Siberia. Grave goods found include gold earrings, an iron knife, an engraved wooden comb connected by a leather loop to a bronze mirror and a rare gold pectoral piece in a crescent shape. The burial dates to the 6th century B.C. when the valley was occupied by the Scythian Alda-Bielsko culture.

The mound is no longer a mound today, damaged to the point of being almost leveled, and was only detected thanks to aerial laser scanning that spotted the circular structure more than 80 feet in diameter. Archaeologists excavated the former mound and discovered a wooden burial chamber in the center. The heavy, elaborate chamber was built on a framework of interlocking beams with a wooden floorboards and topped with three layers of beams to form a roof. The skeletons of a woman aged around 50 years old and a child two or three years old were inside the chamber.

The Chinge-Tey site is in the Turano-Ujukska Valley which has been ycleped the “Siberian Valley of the Kings” because of the proliferation of large burial mounds packed with rich grave goods that have been discovered there.

“A particularly interesting monument was the golden pectoral, a crescent or moon-shaped ornament hanging at the neck” – noted in an interview with PAP the head of the Polish part of the expedition, Dr. Łukasz Oleszczak from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. He emphasized that such objects, known from burial mounds in southern Siberia, have so far been found almost exclusively in men’s graves.

“They were considered a symbol of belonging to some social group, caste, perhaps warriors – men at least. Placing him in a woman’s grave is a very interesting departure from this custom. It certainly proves the unique role of the deceased in the community of inhabitants of the Valley of the Kings” — believes the archaeologist.

At the same time, he pointed out that the woman was buried in the central part of the tomb located in the immediate vicinity of the great mound belonging to – as researchers believe – the prince of nomads. “It seems that, like the other dead buried in this mound, she belonged to the princely retinue,” said Oleszczak.

There are traces of even more grave goods, bronze objects buried around the mound. A few pieces have been found — a bronze ice ax, animal-shaped figurines — using a metal detector, but archaeologists believe there were many more than were scattered during agricultural work at the site in the 20th century.

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No sale for the half billion Caravaggio villa

January 18th, 2022

Villa Aurora, the 16th century mansion in Rome that contains the only ceiling painting ever created by Caravaggio, failed to sell at auction today. With an estimated value of €471 million ($534 million) and despite the valuation of the Caravaggio painting alone at  €310 million ($351 million), not a single bid was made. The auction had been scheduled to run for 24 hours, but without even one offer to open the festivities, the auction was immediately shut down and rescheduled for April 7th.

Named after a much larger ceiling painting in the house (a depiction of the Roman goddess of the dawn, Aurora) by another Old Master Guercino, the villa was built as a hunting lodge for Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte, Caravaggio’s early patron. It is right off the Via Veneto today, one of the most prestigious addresses in Rome now, but when it was built on the former Gardens of Sallust bounded by the ancient Aurelian wall, it was basically the countryside. It has been in the Ludovisi family since the 1620s, and was the sole part of the once huge Ludovisi estate that the family kept after selling the rest of it off in the late 19th century.

Even the person selling it, the Texas-born widow of the Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi, had to be forced to do so in an inheritance dispute with her late husband’s sons from his first marriage. The prince’s will granted his wife Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi 50% ownership of the villa and the right to live there until her death. The Ludovisi sons disagreed on both points and contested the will. After years of legal wrangling and liens, the court ordered in September 2020 that the villa be sold to resolve the issue.

The price was set by the court based on the valuation of an expert appraiser who pointed out that the heritage value of the villa is incalculable. More than 38,000 people signed a petition asking the Italian government to buy the property using EU funds, but even if they were inclined to spend half a billion on a villa, there’s no legal mechanism for that until an offer is made. Once an offer to purchase is lodged, Italy has the right of first refusal and can snipe the sale for the offering price.

The base price is expected to drop 20% to €376.8 million euros ($427 million) when the villa goes back under the hammer in April.

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14th c. painted burial vault raised

January 17th, 2022

One of the 14th century painted burial vaults discovered last year under the street in front of the Church of Our Lady in Bruges, Belgium, has been lifted whole and moved to a new location for conservation and eventual display. Similar vaults found before in Bruges were filled with lightweight clay aggregates to preserve the interior wall paintings and reburied for their own protection, but the most recent discoveries have to be moved due to the planned construction of a new pumping station on the street where they were found.

Raising a 700-year-old masonry vault presents numerous  logistical challenges. They were built to order, as it were, hastily constructed so that a body could be buried within 24 hours of death. The lime plaster coating the interior was painted when still wet and quickly sealed. Past attempts to raise burial vaults have failed and damaged the priceless paintings, so the City of Bruges created a multi-disciplinary committee of scientists, archaeologists and specialist conservators to coordinate the removal of the best-preserved vault first.

The wall paintings were fixed using Japanese rice paper to prevent plaster loss. While conservators were working on the interior, the exterior base was reinforced with a new poured concrete slab to make it possible to lift the entire vault even in cold, wet and windy weather without the bottom falling out of it.

The vault is now inside the Church of Our Lady where it will be meticulously conserved. The restoration process begins with a controlled drying period. It is a Goldilocks situation. The temperature and humidity levels must be strictly maintained to ensure the tomb doesn’t dry too quickly (because the paint will flake off the contracting walls) or too slowly (because mold will form).

It will be conserved in public view, pandemic permitting, in the church museum where it will go on permanent display when the restoration is complete.

Here’s a time-lapse video of conservators working on the vault before it was raised.

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Peacock mosaic found in early Christian basilica

January 16th, 2022

A 6th century mosaic floor featuring peacocks and an Greek inscription has been discovered in Arsuz, a town in Hatay Province, southern Turkey. The floor was part of the Church of the Holy Apostles, a Byzantine-era basilica, and was commissioned by a freed slave who thanked God for his manumission in the inscription.

The remains of the Church of the Holy Apostles first emerged in 2007 when landowner Mehmet Keleş was planting saplings in his orange grove. Subsequent excavations revealed a three-aisled basilica church with mosaic floors, stone graves and human remains. A mosaic inscription identified the site as an ancient church dedicated to the apostles. There is evidence it was in use through the 12th century.

Located on the Gulf Issus 70 miles from the great city of Antioch, Arsuz was founded during the Hellenistic era and by the 1st century B.C. when it was annexed by Rome, it was an important port city on the Mediterranean coast of what is today Turkey. It became a regionally significant religious center in late antiquity, the seat of a bishopric and home to a monastery founded in the mountains outside the city by the ascetic hermit Theodosius of Antioch.

The mosaic with peacocks and the inscription were discovered in the most recent dig season and the excavation is ongoing. Eventually, the Hatay regional government plans to build a roof over the remains and open it to visitors as an open-air museum.

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Three Ming Dynasty mural tombs found

January 15th, 2022

Archaeologists have discovered brick chamber tombs decorated with rich murals dating to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in the city of Changzhi, Shanxi Province, northern China. Three tombs believed to be family tombs from the early Ming Dynasty were found. Two of the them are intact. The roof of the third, a rectangular brick tomb with a vaulted ceiling, has collapsed, damaging the walls and contents, but the remains of a mural are still visible.

The Shanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology began excavating the site last year in advance of road construction. They encountered a tomb on the southeast, one on the north and one of the southwest of the site. The rectangular tomb with the collapsed ceiling was the southeastern one. The other two are brick with pyramidal roofs. They are in good condition, with the murals — very similar in style and subject — still in vivid color.

The murals depict religious motifs and scenes from daily life, reflecting the idea that people would live much the same lives after death as they had before. The central burial chambers are painted with florals and faux architectural features including wooden doors, lattice windows, pillars, eaves and rafters that mimic the style of a residence from the period.

The murals also include celestial imagery. There’s a star on the roof. On the eastern wall is a red disc with a bird in the center that represents the sun and the mythological crow or phoenix associated with the sun. On the opposite wall is the moon, a white disc on which the mythological Jade Rabbit stands under a tree, constantly pounding the elixir of life.

A brick octagonal structure discovered in the excavation appears to have had some ritual function connected to the tombs. It is five feet in diameter and has six niches on its interior walls where statuettes and other objects were placed. The excavation unearthed 18 objects including large ceramics, bronze coins and bronze mirrors.

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Rare Roman wood figurine found in railway dig

January 14th, 2022

The archaeological program surveying the site of the HS2 high speed rail construction have unearthed another rare artifact: an early Roman carved wooden figure. It was discovered in July 2021 at Three Bridge Mill in Twyford, Buckinghamshire. It was in a water-logged ditch from the early Roman era, preserved from decomposition by the anaerobic clay fill of the ditch.

When it first emerged from the excavation trench, archaeologists thought it was just a random piece of wood. As they painstakingly removed the soil, they realized it was a carved anthropomorphic figurine. It was carved from a single piece of wood as is more than 26 inches high (67 cm) and seven inches wide. Today the arms below the elbows and the feet have decayed, but much of the carved detail survives on the head, the tunic that gathers at the waist and the shaped calves.

The style of carving and the figure’s tunic-like garment suggested it was made in the early Roman period. Shards of pottery from the ditch confirmed that assessment when they were radiocarbon dated to between 43 and 70 A.D.

The occurrence of carved, wooden, figures in British prehistory and the Romano-British period is extremely rare.  In 2019 a wooden limb, thought to be a Roman votive offering, was found at the bottom of a well in Northampton. Examples of full Roman carved figures have been recovered in Dijon and Chamalières in France. A wooden carving, the ‘Dagenham Idol’, was recovered from the north bank of the Thames is 1922 and has been dated back to the Neolithic period and an early Iron Age carved figure was recovered from the banks of the River Teign, Kingsteignton in 1866.

Jim Williams, Senior Science Advisor for Historic England, said:

“This is a truly remarkable find which brings us face to face with our past. The quality of the carving is exquisite and the figure is all the more exciting because organic objects from this period rarely survive. This discovery helps us to imagine what other wooden, plant or animal-based art and sculpture may have been created at this time. Further analysis has the potential to reveal more detail, perhaps even providing clues about where it was made.”

The figurine is now being examined and conserved in York Archaeology’s conservation laboratory. A small fragment of the figurine that was found broken off next to it will be radiocarbon dated and subjected to stable isotope analysis to determine, if possible, its place of origin.

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Celtic gold “rainbow cups” found in Brandenburg

January 13th, 2022

A group of 41 Celtic gold cup-shaped coins have been discovered near the village of Baitz in Brandenburg, northeastern Germany. These are the first and only Celtic gold coins ever discovered in Brandenburg.

Rainbow cups are bowl-shaped coins made of precious metals that are found in the territory of the Celtic La Tène culture of central Europe. (They received their moniker because they were often discovered by farmers when ploughing their fields after heavy rain, so a folk legend sprang up that gold cups would be found wherever a rainbow had touched the ground.) They are often decorated with Celtic iconography. The ones discovered in Baitz are smooth, with no decoration on the surface. It is the second largest hoard of smooth rainbow cups ever found.

There was no Celtic population in Brandenburg — a settlement from the early Germanic Jastorf culture occupied the site — so these precious objects likely reached the settlement over Iron Age trade networks.

They were discovered by Wolfgang Herkt, an officially appointed volunteer archaeologist trained and overseen by the Brandenburg State Office for the Preservation of Monuments and Archaeological State Museum (BLDAM). He first came across a group of 11 coins, and a follow-up excavation turned up another 30 for a total of 41 gold coins. There are also silver and copper cups. The bronzes may have been counterfeits; bronze coated in a thin layer of gold have been found before in cup hoards, a deliberate deception to pass off false coinage as the genuine article.

The rainbow cups are scheduled to go on display at the Brandenburg State Archaeological Museum in the spring.

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Famed Mozart portrait returns to Verona as 3D clone

January 12th, 2022

An iconic portrait of the child prodigy Mozart in his red coat and white peruke playing the harpsichord has returned to Verona in clone form: a full-scale replica produced from a ultra-high definition gigapixel image printed in 3D.

The painting was made by Verona painter Giambettino Cignaroli in 1770 when Mozart, then just 13 years old, was traveling in Italy. It stayed in Verona, first in the collection of Pietro Lugiati for 18 years, then in the collection of the Philharmonic Academy of Verona until 1856 when it was acquired by a Vienna collector. It wound its way from Austria to France after a 1962 sale to a French collector. His descendants sold it at auction at Christie’s Paris in 2019 for a whopping 4,031,500 euros, four times the pre-sale estimate.

Its current owner, the private collector who shelled out those millions two years ago, allowed the original to go on display in Verona last year at the Sculpture Gallery of the Castelvecchio Museum. Tech company Haltadefinizione took was allowed to use the Gigapixel scanning technology it pioneered to create a version so minutely identical to the original painting that it can be studied by scholars.

The surface of the painting was captured with a robotic system developed by Haltadefinizione together with the technological partner Memooria, able to map the work in all its forms thanks to digital imaging technologies designed for monitoring the paintings. The procedure used made it possible to detect the materiality of the work and return a three-dimensional imprint with precision in the order of ten microns. Thanks to the data obtained, it was possible to implement an innovative 3D printing process, through which the pictorial surface was faithfully duplicated in physical and chromatic terms, giving shape to a real clone identical to the original.

“We are happy to have given our contribution on the occasion of the anniversaries dedicated to Mozart” says Luca Ponzio, founder of the tech company. “Making works of art accessible to the general public, be they physical or digital replicas, is one of our goals and we strive every day to improve and develop new digitization and printing technologies”.

The three-dimensional models represent an important source of information for the research and monitoring of the works, but they can be understood as an innovative way to enjoy art by exploiting the possibility of observing the three-dimensionality of the surface in a virtual model or by creating physical reproductions.

The distinctive gilded frame has also been recreated in meticulously accurate detail by artisan laboratory B. Restauro of Reggio Emilia.

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