Stolen 16th c. armor returned to Louvre

March 5th, 2021

Two pieces of opulent 16th century armor stolen from the Louvre almost four decades ago have been recovered. Bequeathed to France by Baroness Adèle Von Rothschild in 1922, the helmet and backplate were stolen from the Paris museum the night of May 31st, 1983. The circumstances of the theft have never been explained, and there was no trace of the pair until earlier this year.

A military antiques expert alerted police after being called in to give advice regarding an inheritance in Bordeaux in January and becoming suspicious about the luxurious helmet and body armour in the family’s collection.

Police officers from the Central Office for the Fight Against Trafficking in Cultural Goods looked up the helmet and cuirass back piece in TREIMA, France’s national database of stolen cultural property, and confirmed that they were the objects stolen from the Louvre 38 years ago. Bordeaux prosecutors are now investigating how they came into the possession of the family.

The two pieces are made of iron damascened with gold and silver relief decorations including nudes, floral swags, grotesques and a mounted warrior on a rearing horse in the foreground of an architectural cityscape. They were part of a complete set of ornamental armor made in Milan between 1560 and 1580. They were luxury goods, not practical protective devices, used by the elite for ceremonial purposes or parades.

The helmet is of the burgonet type, named the Duchy of Burgundy where the design originated. It is characterized by a rounded dome with a peak above the face opening a crest running from just above the peak to the back of the head. It was lightweight compared to the close helmets and did not obscure the wearer’s vision.

“I was certain we would see them reappear one day because they are such singular objects. But I could never have imagined that it would work out so well — that they would be in France and still together,” said Philippe Malgouyres, the Louvre’s head of heritage artworks.

The recovered armor will go on display in the Objets d’Art rooms in the Richelieu wing of the Louvre after the museum reopens.

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Byzantine doorway found in Lesbos castle

March 4th, 2021

Archaeological surveys at the medieval castle of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos have discovered a massive Byzantine-era doorway. The doorway is 3.2 meters (10’6″) high, 2.05 meters (6’9″) wide and two meters (6’7″) deep. It was was made of nine slabs of locally sourced gray-white marble mortared together. There was a wooden door attached originally, although all that remains attesting to it are cavities in the lintel where it was hinged. There are some areas of decorative carving surviving —  ribbons and a convex wave on the sides, a convex cornice across the top. Coins found date it to the 7th century A.D. making it the oldest

The urban settlement Mytilene dates back at least to the 7th century B.C. (Pseudo-Herodotus’ entirely unreliable Life of Homer places its founding way earlier, in the 11th century B.C.). In its long history it has been conquered by Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Genoese, Venetians and Ottomans before becoming part of modern Greece in 1923.

The earliest confirmed building phase of the castle took place in the 6th century in the reign of Justinian I (r. 527-565), but it may have been constructed on top of what was once the city’s acropolis incorporating elements of its ancient sanctuaries. Much of the medieval castle was built by Francesco I Gattilusio, a Genoese pirate who was given Lesbos by Byzantine Emperor John V in 1355 as a dowry when Gattilusio married the emperor’s sister Maria Palaiologina. The fortress fell to Ottoman forces under Mehmed the Conqueror in 1462 and it took heavy damage from Ottoman bombardment. Sultan Bayezid II repaired and expanded the castle in the early 16th century. Lesbos remained an Ottoman territory until late 1912 when it was taken by Greek naval operations in the First Balkan War.

Today the castle complex is one of the largest in the Mediterranean covering 60 acres. The complex is divided into three parts: the Upper Castle is at the top of the hill where the ancient acropolis stood; the Middle Castle mostly dates to the Gattilusio expansion; the Lower Castle was believed to be an Ottoman addition, built in 1644 by Sultan Ibrahim to strengthen the fortifications of the northern port as he embarked on what would become a 24-year-long war in the Aegean against the Republic of Venice.

Very few remains from the early Byzantine period are extant. They include a small gate on the northeastern wall, the eastern wall of the Upper Castle and the cistern in the Middle Castle. The discovery of the doorway, therefore, sheds new light on the architecture of the castle in its first phase. Archaeologists also believe it may be connected to the Byzantine settlement of Melanoudi, a residential settlement within the castle’s defensive walls whose location was previously unknown.

The doorway had been buried for centuries under layers of ash generated by another discovery made at the site: a 16th century bathhouse built by another pirate, Ottoman admiral and Lesbos native Hayreddin Barbarossa whose father had fought with  Mehmed the Conqueror and settled on the island after the conquest. The remains of vaulted hot, warm and cold rooms of the bath complex were found, as well as the remains of the fire pits beneath. It is the oldest bath found on Lesbos, which has quite a few thanks to its centuries under Ottoman rule.

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Longest longship installed in Copenhagen museum

March 3rd, 2021

The world’s longest Viking longship, the Roskilde 6, is being installed for a new exhibition at the National Museum in Copenhagen that starts June 25th. The Roskilde 6 has been traveling for years, touring Germany, England, Canada and the US. Last Friday it arrived packed in 27 boxes and curators have been piecing it back together.

At 37.4 meters (123 feet) long, twice the length of Columbus’ flagship La Santa Maria, it is the longest Viking ship ever discovered. The keel alone is 32 meters (105 feet) long, the longest keel ever found on a Viking ship. It was 13 feet wide at the widest point and had a shallow draught of just 33 inches.

Roskilde 6 was discovered in February 1997 by workers dredging the Roskilde harbor before construction of an extension to the Viking Ship Museum. Nine shipwrecks from the late Viking and early Medieval periods were discovered at the site. Roskilde 6 had been dragged into the shallows and partially dismantled along with a half dozen ships to serve as defensive barriers in the harbor of Roskilde Fjord.

Today about 20-25% of the longship survives, the timbers preserved for centuries in the waterlogged mud of the fjord’s shoreline. Dendrochronological analysis indicates the ship was built after 1025, and the type of oak points to it having been built not in Denmark but in Norway, near Oslo. It was in active use for at least 15 years, as there is evidence of repairs using timber felled from the Baltic area in 1039.

Roskilde 6 was an ocean-going warship, not a ceremonial one like many of the ship burials which were built solely for funerary purposes, and the high quality of its materials and workmanship points to it having been part of the royal fleet. Its large size required adaptations to ensure it would be flexible enough to navigate the choppy water. The keel was actually made of three parts connected by long scarves. The planks of its hull were barely more than an inch thick, which made it comparatively light in weight for its length.  The floor planks were riveted together and half-frames placed on top of them. The keelson, of which a 10-foot section has survived, was fastened to the hull with meticulously carved horizontal double knees.

The ribs over the hull at regular interviews correspond to where the thwarts (the rowing benches the oarsmen sat on) were placed, making it possible to calculate the full length of the warship and the size of its crew. Early Viking ships were small, fitting crews of 40 men. This one had a crew of 100, 80 rowers, two men per oar.

The preserved timbers have been mounted on a steel skeleton to give visitors a realistic view of its impression dimensions when it was intact.

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Locked letter virtually opened by dental X-ray scanners

March 2nd, 2021

X-ray microtomography (XMT), a scanning technology used in dental research, has virtually opened a letter that has been securely closed for 300 years. The technology more intense X-rays than CT scanners that are able to read the metals — iron, copper, mercury — in traditional inks. Once the volumetric dataset was produced, computer modeling was able to “unfold” the letter without damaging the document itself.

Dated July 31, 1697, the letter was written by Jacques Sennacques of Lille to his cousin Pierre Le Pers, a merchant in The Hague, asking for a relative’s death certificate in flowery prose that fails to mask his impatience at how long cousin Pierre has been ghosting him.

Dear sir & cousin,

It has been a few weeks since I wrote to you in order to ask you to have drawn up for me a legalized excerpt of the death of sieur Daniel Le Pers, which took place in The Hague in the month of December 1695, without hearing from you. This is {…} I am writing to you a second time in order to remind you of the pains that I took on your behalf. It is important to me to have this extract you will do me a great pleasure to procure it for me to send me at the same time news of your health of all the family.

I also pray that God maintains you in His Sainted graces & covers you with the blessings necessary to your salvation. Nothing more for the time being, except that I pray you to believe that I am completely, sir and cousin, your most humble & very obedient servant,

Jacques Sennacques

I beg you to send your response to Mr Sennacques, king’s councillor in the bailiwick of Lille, Rue St Etienne in Lille

From Lille, the 31st of July 1697

The intricate folding of letters so they become their own secured envelopes, a practice known as letterlocking, was widely used before the introduction of the Uniform Penny Post spearheaded by reformer Rowland Hill in 1840 and the invention of the first machine to fold and gum envelopes by his brother and Controller of Stamps Edwin Hill. The folding methods could be incredibly complex, some with tabs and adhesives to deter any unauthorized attempt to open a letter. Before this study, the only way historians could read locked letters was to cut them open.

X-rays have been used before to scan historical documents for hidden or illegible text, but they were either single layer documents like scrolls and pages of books, or were folded once or twice and most. The letterpackets are far more complex, folded many times in multiple directions and often creating dense layers of text.

The four letterpackets examined in the study are part of a great collection of undelivered mail recently rediscovered in the Museum voor Communicatie in The Hague. The wooden trunk lined with waterproof sealskin belonged to The Hague postmaster Simon de Brienne and his wife, deputy postmaster Marie Germain, who together were responsible for delivering mail to recipients in The Hague. At the time, recipients paid postage, which was determined based on number of pages and distance, and if a letter was refused or the addressee was dead or could not be reached for whatever reason, the letters were supposed to be returned. The Briennes saved them, hoping that somebody would eventually claim them and pay the charges owing.

In his will, Brienne bequeathed his earthly goods to the administrators of estates of Delft until his descendant should “renounce the errors of the Roman church,” convert to Protestantism and move to Holland. They never did, so the trunk stayed in government hands until the estate was finally liquidated in 1922. The trunk entered the collection of the newly-created museum in 1926.

Since then, a few of the letters were accessed by researchers, a few more went on display on occasion and the assemblage was partially catalogued, it was not generally known until 2012 when it was rediscovered by scholars researching the lives of French actors and Huguenot exiles in the Dutch Republic. It contains 3,148 letters sent between 1689 and 1707 from France, Spain, Flanders and Brabant. The senders represent a vast cross-section of professions and classes, from dukes to merchants, actors to spies, refugees to ambassadors, and are written in English, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Danish, French and Latin. Of the letters in the trunk, 577 are unopened letterpackets.

The study has been published in Nature Communications and can be read here (pdf). Explore the Brienne Collection on the Signed, Sealed & Undelivered website dedicated to this treasury of early modern correspondence.

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Rare Bronze Age spearhead found in Jersey

March 1st, 2021

A rare spearhead complete with surviving traces of its wooden shaft from the Late Bronze Age has been discovered on the Channel Island of Jersey. It dates to around the 11th century B.C. and is the largest and most complete spearhead ever found on the Channel Islands.

Metal detectorist Jay Cornick found the spearhead on Gorey beach last summer and had no idea it was so ancient. He thought it might be related to Mont Orgueil (aka Gorey Castle) which looms over the beach and originally dates back to the 13th century. He reported it to Jersey’s Finds Officer and Jersey Heritage experts examined and conserved it.

Spearheads from this period have been discovered before on the island, almost always in hoards, but they are usually broken into pieces or very heavily worn and are also much, much shorter. Comparing the length of other Bronze Age spearheads found on Jersey to this one is like comparing a Great Dane to a Chihuahua. Also remarkable was its exceptional condition. It was so pristine that conservators really only had to clean it.

It was during the cleaning process that the remnant of wood inside the shaft was found. Conservators were able to remove it and send it to the York Archaeological Trust for radiocarbon dating. YAT identified the wood as field maple, a type commonly used to make tools during this period, dating to between 1207 B.C. and 1004 B.C. Metal was extremely valuable and hard to come by in Bronze Age Britain. Most tools were still wood or stone, which is why spearheads from the period are generally much smaller. This was a precious treasure, not a utilitarian object. Archaeologists suspect it was deposited for ritual or ceremonial purposes shortly after it was made.

The spearhead is now on display at the Jersey Museum & Art Gallery.

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Earliest surviving mummification manual discovered

February 28th, 2021

There are numerous sources for the funerary rituals and spells Egyptians used to aid the dead over the threshold of the afterlife. They were written on papyrus and linen mummy wrappings, painted on coffins and carved on walls, texts now known collectively as the Book of the Dead. Mummification was an essential part of Egyptian funerary practice, the means by which the body would be able to rejoin the soul in the afterlife, but very little written material detailing the process has survived. Egyptologists believe this was deliberate, that the sacred art was transmitted orally from embalmer to embalmer.

Only two papyri dedicated to mummification were previously known, but now a third has been found in an unexpected context: in the middle of a medical text on herbal treatments and swellings of the skin. Written back and front over 20 feet in length, it is second longest surviving Egyptian medical papyrus. The Papyrus Louvre-Carlsberg (so named between it is in two parts, one in the collection of the Louvre Museum and the other University of Copenhagen’s Papyrus Carlsberg Collection) dates to around 1450 B.C., which makes it the oldest of the three mummification papyri by a thousand years. It is the earliest known Egyptian herbal treatise. The section on mummification covers details the other two never address.

University of Copenhagen Egyptologist Sofie Schiødt has translated and interpreted the papyrus for her doctoral dissertation.

“One of the exciting new pieces of information the text provides us with concerns the procedure for embalming the dead person’s face. We get a list of ingredients for a remedy consisting largely of plant-based aromatic substances and binders that are cooked into a liquid, with which the embalmers coat a piece of red linen. The red linen is then applied to the dead person’s face in order to encase it in a protective cocoon of fragrant and anti-bacterial matter. This process was repeated at four-day intervals.”

Illustration of face embalming. Photo by Ida Christensen, University of Copenhagen.Although this procedure has not been identified before, Egyptologists have previously examined several mummies from the same period as this manual whose faces were covered in cloth and resin. […]

The importance of the Papyrus Louvre-Carlsberg manual in reconstructing the embalming process lies in its specification of the process being divided into intervals of four, with the embalmers actively working on the mummy every four days.

“A ritual procession of the mummy marked these days, celebrating the progress of restoring the deceased’s corporeal integrity, amounting to 17 processions over the course of the embalming period. In between the four-day intervals, the body was covered with cloth and overlaid with straw infused with aromatics to keep away insects and scavengers,” Sofie Schiødt says.

The papyrus is scheduled to be published in 2022.

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Four-wheeled ceremonial chariot found at Pompeii

February 27th, 2021

Today’s Pompeii news is even showier than yesterday’s. A uniquely well-preserved ceremonial carriage has been discovered in a grand villa in the Pompeiian suburb of Civita Giuliana. The chariot is complete with four iron wheels, bronze and tin relief panels, carbonized wood elements and even the imprint of organic fittings like ropes and floral decorations.

This is an exceptional discovery, not only because it adds an additional element to the history of this dwelling and the story of the last moments in the lives of those who lived in it, as well as more generally to our understanding of the ancient world, but above all because it represents a unique find – which has no parallel in Italy thus far – in an excellent state of preservation.

Transport vehicles, including chariots, have been found at Pompeii, but this was something else entirely. Known as a pilentum, ancient sources including Livy and Virgil refer these carriages being used for special occasions (parades, festivals, sacred rites) only. The rear of the chariot is decorated with medallions that depicts satyrs, nymphs and erotes. Livy and Virgil mention their use by matrons and priestesses, so it’s possible it was used in rituals associated with womanhood, carrying a bride on her wedding day, for example.

Modern excavation of the luxury villa half a mile northwest of the city walls began in 2017 after looting tunnels were discovered. The dig has been exceptionally productive, unearthing the remains of the first complete horse ever found at Pompeii, a carbonized wood bed and two people, all of which were cast in plaster. The carriage was found in the portico facing the stables where the horse was discovered.

The portico is an exceptional find in its own right. It had two levels opening onto a courtyard. The ceiling collapsed during the eruption of Vesuvius, but its wooden beams were carbonized and preserved by the intense heat, leaving the interlaced network of timbers on the ground in their original positions. A door on the southern end of the room which opened from the portico to the stable was also preserved. Analysis of the ceiling wood found it was English oak, widely used in the Roman era for structural purposes. The door was found to be beechwood.

The ceiling timbers were removed for conservation and it was in the layers beneath that the iron chariot emerged. Archaeologists first encountered the curved iron top edge of the carriage. Its large size and shape telegraphed that the object was a significant one, and as the excavation proceeded at a cautiously slow pace over the course of weeks, its unprecedented importance was revealed. Its survival is nothing short of miracle. The chariot managed to avoid getting obliterated by the collapse of the ceiling in 79 A.D. AND the tunnels dug by the looters were within a hair’s breadth of hitting it. They would have torn it apart like locusts had they known.

From the moment it was identified, the excavation of the chariot has proved to be particularly complex due to the fragility of the materials involved and the difficult working conditions; as a result, it was necessary to proceed by means of a micro-excavation conducted by the restorers of the Park, who are specialised in the treatment of wood and metals. At the same time, whenever a void was discovered, plaster was poured in as part of an attempt to preserve the imprint of the organic material that was no longer present. Consequently, it has been possible to preserve the shaft and platform of the chariot, as well as the imprints of ropes, thus revealing the chariot in all of its complexity. […]

With the in situ micro-excavation completed, the various elements of the chariot have been transported to the laboratory of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, where the restorers are working to complete the removal of volcanic material which still engulfs certain metal elements, and to begin the lengthy restoration and reconstruction of the chariot.

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Pompeii fresco restored to glory

February 26th, 2021

An elaborate fresco adorning a garden wall in the House of the Ceii has been restored to splendor after more than a century of deterioration caused by the elements, poor maintenance and faulty restoration techniques.

Excavated between May 1913 and August 1914, the House of the Ceii is notable as a rare surviving example of a home from the later Samnite era (2nd century B.C.). Its fine paintings were more recent additions, commissioned in the decades before the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. An electoral slogan painted on the façade promotes the campaign of Lucius Ceius Secundus for duovir (one of two judicial magistrates), and archaeologists believe he was the owner of the home when the frescoes were added to its small viridarium (pleasure garden).

On the east and west walls are Nilotic scenes — pygmies, crocodiles, hippopotami and buildings in Egyptian style on the banks of the Nile — and individual figures — one carrying a basin, one walking with a stick — in natural landscapes. The north wall, the large focal wall of the viridarium, was painted with an vivid menagerie of wild animals. Against a rocky lake landscape, animals red in tooth and claw hunt each other down: a lion chases a bull, dogs attack a boar witnessed by a second boar while two deer flee ahead of them, a leopard attacks two rams. All around this animal combat are trompe l’oeil architectural elements painted to look like marble reliefs, urns, fountains, statues with garlands forming the border. Along the bottom of all three painted walls are a profusion of greenery and birds against a deep red background.

This is a fine example of the Fourth Pompeiian Style which was the dernier cri in the decade before the eruption. It featured large-scale landscapes, still lives and scenes from mythology framed in faux architectural elements with ornamental motifs. Similar scenes of wild hunts have been found in the amphitheater of Pompeii and the homes of the very wealthy. Its presence in the House of Ceii may have been an attempt to recreate the kind of wildlife parks created by Eastern kings and adopted as status symbols by the richest Romans.

The lower parts of the frescoes were particularly susceptible to damage from the capillary effect drawing water up from the ground. The moisture leaves salt deposits on the surface (efflorescence) which causes severe damage to the paint layer. Over the past year, conservators have undertaken a program of consolidation to keep as much of the paint layer attached to the backing as possible, and cleaned the deposits by both chemical and mechanical means. The most stubborn efflorescence could only be removed with a laser.

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Ancient Chinese face cream made of beef fat, stalactites

February 25th, 2021

Analysis of a jar of face cream unearthed in an ancient tomb in northern China has revealed it was made of beef fat and minerals derived from white stalactites in limestone caves. Found in the tomb of a nobleman from the Spring and Autumn Period (ca. 771-476 B.C.), this face cream is the earliest evidence of use of cosmetics by a Chinese man.

The cream was inside a small bronze jar discovered in tomb M49 at the Liujiawa archaeological site, capital of the Zhou Dynasty vassal state of Rui (700-640 B.C.). The tomb’s funerary furnishings included a set of bronze weapons identifying the deceased as a man of aristocratic class, and the ornately decorated bronze jar which was placed in the outer coffin near the man’s head. Just over two inches high, the vessel is u-shaped with two handles and a lid. The lid was still snugly sealed.

These types of vessels have been found before in tombs from the Early Spring and Autumn period, and archaeologists have hypothesized that they held cosmetics, but it could not be confirmed scientifically. The discovery of a sealed jar made it possible to analyze the contents to determine whether they were indeed cosmetics.

When the jar was opened in laboratory conditions, it was found to contain lumps of a yellowish-white material. The substance was analyzed with a variety of technologies including mass spectrometry, X-Ray diffraction, isotope analysis, acid extraction and scanning electron microscopy. The results revealed that the white particles consist primarily of monohydrocalcite (MHC) while the yellowish element was a lipid. MHC is mostly found in lake deposits or caves, and the isotope values pointed to the latter. Analysis of the fatty acids in the lipid sample identified it as ruminant animal fat, likely bovine.

MHC in a soft mud form known as cave moonmilk was harvested from limestone caves, perhaps as part of Taoist ritual. Caves held symbolic significance as the womb metaphors and stalactites were believed to have been formed from the liquid souls of hills. The glossy whiteness of the best stalactites were compared to the most precious jade and valued for their medical as well as cosmetic properties. Stalactites and moonmilk were collected, ground, dried and processed to create the most pure powders.

Cosmetic manufacturing had already become a specialized industry for the supply to the nobility in the early stage of the Spring and Autumn Period, and the involvement of a sorcery/alchemy‐related ingredient (e.g., the collection of cave minerals) enriched the aestheticism with mystic elements. In fact, historical records from the pre‐Qin period described face whitening through cosmetic use as a source of cultural pride. The whitened face with unnatural complexions could conceal defects on the skin and mask a layer of luminous homogeneity, enhancing the facial bilateral symmetry in contrast with the black eyelashes and black hair. Also, the whitened face eliminates wrinkles, creating an identity of youthfulness and beauty with a manner of majestic which is appealing to the aristocratic class.

Another interesting point lies in the male’s use of white cosmetics, which has scarcely been described since the Spring and Autumn Period (mostly female figures were described). In accord with our findings, historical records also suggested the pre‐Qin period (pre‐221 bce) was an emerging era for white makeup cosmetics advocating facial attractiveness with white luminance. This aesthetic taste of the aristocratic class involving cave minerals reflected the increasing awareness of aesthetics and metaphysics in the Spring and Autumn Period that had influenced the subsequent aesthetic taste in history. […]

Residue analysis verifies the earliest cosmetic cream product in China: not only has it pushed back the historical description for cosmetic use of ruminant adipose fat (most likely cattle fat) to the early phase of the first millennium bce, but also it highlighted the special MHC use resulting from the exploitation of cave minerals along with the Taoist School Cave Cultus which adds mystic elements to the aestheticism of cosmetics. The special ingredients and the popularization of similar bronze vessels disclosed the rise of an incipient cosmetics industry in the Spring and Autumn Period which still acts as an important part of our daily life. This archaeological residue study showed that apart from being a culinary ingredient, animal products were also explored in the handcraft industry of cosmetics‐making. It has also deepened our knowledge of natural mineral usage, revealing a special aesthetic taste in the early Iron Age of ancient China and has contributed to the worldwide study of cosmetics development.

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Domus with marble “carpet” found in Nîmes

February 24th, 2021

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a richly decorated Roman villa from the imperial era in Nîmes, southern France. The find site is slated for development, and a preliminary survey indicated the presence of Roman remains. The subsequent excavation unearthed parts of two Roman villas from the 1st-2nd century, and while the boundaries of the dig were limited to the area of the future apartment building, almost the entire reception room of one domus was revealed.

The room is richly appointed. One section of the floor is decorated with hexagonal tiles laid in a honeycomb pattern. At one end is a square mosaic “carpet” in the opus sectile style. An array of different multicolored marbles from all over the Empire were cut into shapes and inlaid in a checkerboard pattern.

In an extremely rare find, the painted plaster coating decorating two walls of the room had collapsed inwards onto the floor. The back of the plaster was scored in chevron shapes to aid in adhesion, and trace materials stuck to the back indicate it was applied to earthen walls. The face of the plaster layer is frescoed in large panels of red with black inter panels.

Neighboring spaces underscore the luxurious features of the domus. Four pilae stacks (stacks of square tile used to raise the floor to allow heated air to circulate underneath it) are the telltale remnants of a private bath. One room’s concrete floor is decorated with marble cabochons inset in a grid pattern. In the courtyard are the remains of a semicircular fountain basin originally covered with prized white Carrara marble.

Settled since the Bronze Age, the Roman city Nîmes was founded in the 1st century B.C. as Colonia Nemausus, a colony for retired veterans of Julius Caesar’s Egyptian campaigns named after the principle deity of the local Volcae Arecomici people. The domus was found 300 or so feet from the Maison Carrée, a Roman temple dedicated to August Caesar’s grandsons Gaius and Lucius in the first years of the first century that is so intact and so beautifully restored it looks like a replica.

Located in the heart of historic Nîmes, the remains of the villas have been much damaged and interfered with by subsequent construction. Even so, archaeologists hope studying the surviving structural and decorative elements will shed new light on the buildings and their organization in the block of the Roman city.

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