Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Tortoise and her egg found in Pompeii

Friday, June 24th, 2022

The remains of a tortoise and the egg she never laid have been discovered in Pompeii, but here’s a twist: she was not killed in the eruption of Vesuvius, but rather of natural causes sometime between the earthquake that struck the city in 62 A.D. and its destruction in 79 A.D. This is not the first tortoise found in Pompeii, but the others have been found in wealthy homes or gardens. She was found in a shop.

The discovery was made in an excavation of the Stabian baths on the Via dell’Abbondanza, Pompeii’s longest and busiest street. The site had once been a small building adjacent to the baths, but it was reduced to rubble by the earthquake. Eventually, the rubble was removed or compacted and the building was reconstructed as a shopfront attached to the baths.

In the southwest corner of the shop, behind a square basin that survived the earthquake, archaeologists found the remains of a female Testudo hermanni. She made tunneled her way into the room looking for a secure place to lay her one egg. She died there, likely as a result of dystocia, or egg retention, caused by a deficiency in the environment — lack of appropriate nesting materials, unpropitious climate — or her diet. Unless the egg is laid (or removed by human intervention), the animal dies.

The discovery of the tortoise is evidence that even the houses in the very heart of the city’s busiest thoroughfare were immediately rebuilt after they were reduced to rubble by the earthquake. Instead, they were abandoned and so devoid of human presence that wild animals made homes for themselves there instead. When the shopfront was rebuilt after the earthquake, nobody the poor tortoise and she was buried in the construction fill that raised the floor level.

The tortoise was removed in three phases. First the carapace, which at just 5.5 inches long indicates the specimen was immature. (Adult carapaces are in the 8-10 inch range. Her youth could have also played a role in her inability to lay her egg.) The egg was removed with the carapace. The skeleton of the tortoise was removed next, and the plastron, the ventral part of the shell, last. The remains were transferred to Pompeii’s Applied Research Laboratory for further study by archaeozoologists.


Antikythera Hercules’ head found 120 years after his body

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2022

Divers exploring the 1st century B.C. shipwreck off the islet of Antikythera, iconic as the source of the oldest analog computer in the world, have recovered the head of a Hercules statue whose body was found by the sponge divers who first discovered the wreck in 1900. The marble head is heroically scaled (twice life-sized) and even encrusted with sediment and marine life, the thick hair, curly beard and facial features identify it as a Hercules of the Farnese type. The headless body is in the permanent collection of the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

The Farnese type depicts a Hercules leaning against his club that is draped in the skin of the Nemean lion. In his right hand behind his back he holds the apples of the Hesperides, the recovery of which was the last of his Twelve Labors. This, presumably, is why he is weary. A copy of a 4th century B.C. bronze original by Lysippos, the type was hugely popular and copied throughout the Greco-Roman world in different materials and sizes. The Farnese marble is signed by a Greek sculptor, Glykon, and dates to the early 3rd century A.D. It’s not known whether Glykon was working in Greece or if he had a shop in Rome catering to its wealthy elite who had an endless thirst for copies of Classical Greek originals.

The 2022 season of underwater archaeological research on the Antikythera shipwreck also recovered the plinth of a marble statue with legs still attached and numerous pieces of the ancient ship itself, including many nails and the lead collar of a wooden anchor. The divers also recovered extremely rare human remains: two teeth embedded in thick clumps of concretion. If all goes well, genetic and stable isotope analysis of the teeth will shed new light on the crew who sailed the merchant vessel 2,000+ years ago.

These finds were only made this year because the team was able to remove two enormous 8.5-ton boulders covering a portion of the wreck, a challenging proposition under the easiest conditions, never mind 165 feet under the sea. Divers can only remain at that depth for 30 minutes, so moving giant boulders is both mechanically difficult and dangerous. It was necessary, however, to give archaeologists access to previously unexplored areas of the wreck.


1st c. Roman sanctuary found in Netherlands

Tuesday, June 21st, 2022

The remains of a 1st century Roman sanctuary have been discovered in the town of Herwen-Hemeling on the Roman Limes in the eastern Netherlands. While Roman sanctuaries have been found before in the Netherlands, this is the first discovered on the Lower German Limes. It is also by far the most complete, with surviving altars, structures, sculptures and sacrifice pits.

The first remains were encountered late last year by archaeological volunteers surveying a clay mining area. They reported the find to the Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency which stopped clay extraction and arranged for a professional excavation. The dig immediately revealed several intact fibulae of different types, followed by an avalanche of archaeological materials like fragments of weapons, harness fittings, roof tiles stamped with the maker’s names and votive altars both intact and in fragments.

The sanctuary was used mainly by soldiers. This is clear from the many stamps on the roof tiles, because the manufacture of roof tiles was a military activity at that time. Many fragments of horse harnesses, armour and the tips of spears and lances have also been found at the site. High-ranking Roman officers erected dozens of votive stones to give thanks to a god or goddess for fulfilling their wishes. These did not always relate to winning battles. Simply surviving a stay in these northern regions, sometimes far from home, was often reason enough to give thanks.

What the sanctuary at Herwen-Hemeling demonstrates very well is how much migration there was during that period. The men who came here to offer sacrifices had been in Hungary, Spain and Africa. And they brought their gods with them.

Architectural finds include a well with a large stone staircase leading down into the water. Thanks to coins and inscription fragments found within, archaeologists were able to date the well to an impressively tight range of 220-230 A.D. These are rare survivals, having somehow managed to dodge the fate of so many other Roman structures in the Netherlands and elsewhere: being recycled as building materials after the collapse of imperial rule.

Dating of the artifacts indicates the temple complex was in constant use from the 1st century through the 4th. The unprecedented number of stone fragments from hundreds of years of votive altars and statues have been found, many with legible inscriptions that name deities and the men who dedicated the altars to them to fulfill a vow made and/or in gratitude for an answered prayer. Among the named deities are Hercules Magusanus (a syncretic Romanized local god), Jupiter-Serapis and Mercury.

There were at least two temples in the sanctuary, one larger and one smaller in Romano-Celtic fanum style. The larger temple had a tiled roof. Fragments of reliefs and painted plaster indicate both were vividly painted with polychrome walls. The sanctuary was built at the junction of the Rhine and Waal rivers on a natural hill that the builders then heightened artificially. It was a stone’s throw from the Castellum Carvium, an auxiliary fort on the south bank of the Lower Rhine, and a slightly longer stone-throw from the next Roman auxiliary fort six miles away in the village of Loo. (Both of those sites are known only from portable archaeological material — bronze vessels, bricks, horse fittings — because whatever was left of the forts after the structures were used as quarries was destroyed by Rhine floods.) Interesting note: the name Carvium was a Latinized derivative of the Germanic word Harh-wiha meaning “sacred space” and archaeologists have long hypothesized that it may have been a reference to a nearby sanctuary. Hypothesis confirmed!

The artifacts recovered from the site are going on display in a dedicated exhibition at the Valkhof Museum in Nijmegen from June 24th through the 30th of September.


Pre-Roman burial found under Este parking lot

Monday, June 20th, 2022

Archaeologists have discovered an rare early Iron Age tomb with bronze and pottery grave goods under a mall parking lot in the town of Este, near Padua in northern Italy. The artifacts date the tomb to between the end of the 5th and the 4th century B.C.

The town of Este is the type site of the proto-Italic Este culture who inhabited what is today the northeastern Italian region of Veneto from the Bronze Age (10th c. B.C.) until Rome took over in the 1st century B.C. The Adriatic Veneti, after whom the region is named, also settled the area. The tomb is consistent with the burial practices of the Veneti.

The preventative archaeology excavation took place between May and July of 2019 during work on the water system of the shopping center. Pre-Roman tombs had been found in the area in the late 19th century and again when the mall was built in 1982. Several more tombs were unearthed, and with a tight deadline and construction looming, archaeologists removed all archaeological materials in soil blocks for excavation in the laboratory.

The full excavation and conservation of the contents of one of the tombs, Tomb 6, has just been completed and the finds announced for the first time. It is a cremation burial placed in a cist formed of slabs of pink limestone native to the Euganean Hills overlooking the town. Inside the cist was a situliform vase (pottery shaped in the truncated cone typical of situlae, or buckets) used to hold the cinerary remains of the deceased. The red clay pot is decorated with bands of black. Two stemmed ceramic drinking cups with a similar black band design were also inside the box, as were another cup and a glass. A fibula of the Certosa type among the grave goods provided the key clue for the preliminary date of Tomb 6.

The most compelling elements of the funerary furnishings are also what made it extremely challenging to excavate: bronze artifacts including a long scepter and a bronze belt. The scepter was placed on the bottom of the cist and is in four pieces. Stuck to the body of the situliform vase was a finely engraved bronze belt. Archaeologists believe this was a ritual “dressing” of the ossuary, a funerary practice encountered in previous tombs of the ancient Veneti. The belt is in fragments as well and all that remains today are the rich bronze fittings — a large rectangular front plate, the terminals and gauge ring — which were likely originally mounted to an organic material, now decayed.

There is bronze inside the urn as well. In addition to the bone fragments and ashes inside the vase, the excavation revealed numerous fragments of bronze sheeting, some bearing the tell-tale signs of combustion. Archaeologists believe this was a belt too, worn by the deceased on the funeral pyre. The largest of the fragments is engraved with a representation of a winged animal that is frequently seen in Venetic funerary contexts.

The remains and objects in Tomb 6 are undergoing further study for scientific publication. Meanwhile, archaeologists will turn their thorn scalpels and teeny brushes to work on the other tombs recovered from the necropolis in 2019.


House of Ceres, horse skeleton back on display

Sunday, June 19th, 2022

The skeleton of horse and the beautifully frescoed House of Ceres have gone back on display at Pompeii after new restorations that focus on integrating them into the “widespread museum” concept of Pompeii as a museum where visitors can see remains and artifacts in the contexts in which they were first discovered. The vision of Pompeii as its own museum has been common since the city was first excavated, but for centuries any exhibition in situ was not conservation-friendly. The newly-reopened spaces seek to redress that imbalance.

The House of Ceres was first excavated between 1951 and 1953. It got its name from a terracotta bust of Ceres, goddess of the earth, in one of the bedrooms off the atrium. The bust is far more ancient than the home. It is of a statuary type typical of the late 4h century B.C., so it must have been purchased as an antique by the homeowner. Archaeologists believe the bust was a cult figure that was part of a small household shrine.

The domus reopened to the public on the 14th of June after a program of restoration of the villa’s interior and gardens. The roof structures over the atrium were rebuilt and integrated into a new lighting system powered entirely by green energy photovoltaic tiles that recreates the natural light that would have illuminated the space through high, skinny windows and open areas of the roof. The elaborate, brilliantly colored Second Style frescoes have been cleaned and relit, as have the floor mosaics. New display cases exhibit artifacts found in the villa. The garden have also been redone, using the cult of Ceres as inspiration to plant organic spelt and wheat.

Across the street from the House of Ceres is a stable with the skeleton of a horse discovered there by archaeologist Amedeo Maiuri in 1938. The horse is 53″ high at the withers and was used to transport goods. Maiuri mounted the horse on its feet atop a metal structure which degraded over time and stained the bones with oxidation products.

To restore Maiuri’s horse, the bones were first laser scanned to create a 3D model, then disassembled for cleaning, restoration and reconstruction in the laboratory. The skeleton was repositioned by experts so it could be displayed in a scientifically correct position with a very cool new transparent support framework that alleviates pressure on the ancient equine bones and adapts easily to the microclimate. The structure is also easily unmounted, in individual parts or as a whole, for future interventions. A new 3D tactile model of the horse has been installed for visually impaired visitors.

“In Pompeii the work of study, protection and enhancement according to the model of the” widespread museum “continues – explains the Director of the Park Gabriel Zuchtriegel – In the house of Cerere, in addition to restoring the spatiality of the house, distinguished from some rooms with very refined decoration in II style and previously only partially usable, a lighting system was created that is 100% powered by a system of photovoltaic tiles and therefore with zero environmental impact.

In the next block, visitors will be able to admire the skeleton of a horse in its original position. The restoration of the skeleton was characterized by a multidisciplinary intervention that saw restorers and archaeologists at work, constantly supported in every phase of the interventions by an archaeozoologist. This exhibition also foresees a fruition according to accessibility and inclusiveness criteria. I thank the Director General of the Museums, Massimo Osanna, for his presence on this occasion, also because these are two interventions launched under his direction in Pompeii. “


Anglo-Saxon burial ground sheds light on “Dark Ages”

Friday, June 17th, 2022

Archaeologists excavating a site along the new HS2 high-speed rail route in Wendover, Buckinghamshire, have unearthed a nationally important early Anglo-Saxon burial ground. Containing 138 graves with 141 inhumations and five cremation burials, it is the one of the largest Anglo-Saxon burial grounds ever discovered. It is also the richest, with almost 3/4s of the graves furnished with high-quality goods, including more than 2,000 beads, 89 brooches, 40 buckles, 51 knives, 15 spearheads and seven shield bosses.

Almost all of the skeletal remains were found with two brooches on the collarbone, used to fasten a garment at the shoulder. The brooches come in a variety of designs — silver coin brooches, gilt disc brooches, square-headed brooches. Other valuable grave goods include two cone beakers of the Kempston type with a raised horizontal trail decoration, a footed pedestal bückelurn (meaning “bossed pot”) with three protruding horns and decorated with cross stamps. The cross-stamped decoration was a common Anglo-Saxon motif; the three horns are unique. Also unique is a ceramic window urn with reused Roman glass embedded into the bottom.

Some of the items uncovered could have been imported from across Europe, such as amber beads, and various metals and raw materials used to make the artefacts. Two glass cone beakers were uncovered intact, which are similar to vessels made in Northern France, although they were also making them in England at the time. The beakers, which would have been used for drinking liquids such as wine, may suggest the people there had access to fine beverages from abroad. The vessels have decorative trails in the glass and are comparable to the “Kempston” type cone beaker, uncovered in Bedfordshire in 1891, with one currently on display in the British Museum.

One individual, a female, was discovered with a vast array of goods, the quality of which suggest that she was of high-status amongst the buried population at the site. She was buried with a complete ornate glass bowl made of pale green glass, thought to be made around the turn of the 5thcentury, so could have been an heirloom from the Roman era. Other burial items included multiple rings made of copper alloy, a silver ‘zoomorphic’ ring, brooches, discs, iron belt fittings and objects made of ivory. […]

Archaeologists noted how the goods with each burial appeared to be tailored to each individual – suggesting the items would have held some relevance and significance to the deceased and the mourners at the graveside.  A number of grooming items were discovered, such as toiletry sets consisting of ear wax removers and toothpicks, tweezers, combs and even a cosmetic tube that could have contained a substance used as eyeliner or similar.

One warrior burial is a particular highlight. The young man, about 17-24 years old when he died, was found with a sharp iron spearhead embedded in his spine. This was probably what killed him. Osteological examination suggests the blow came from the front.

The grave goods excavated date to the 5th and 6th century, so very soon after the Roman withdrawal in 410 A.D. The period between the end of Roman rule and the establishment of Saxon rule in the late 6th century is known as sub-Roman Britain. Contemporary written records from sub-Roman Britain consist of exactly three sources: two letters written by Saint Patrick in the 5th century (Confession and Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus), and On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain, a fiery polemic written by Saint Gildas in the first half of the 6th century. There are gaps in the archaeological record of this period as well, so the skeletal remains and grave goods are invaluable testaments to the lives and deaths of the Anglo-Saxon elite of sub-Roman Britain.


Up close with the Ryedale Hoard

Thursday, June 16th, 2022

The Yorkshire Museum is hosting a series of online expert lectures and curatorial talks dedicated to the Ryedale Hoard, the unique group of ritual bronzes used in ceremonies of the imperial cult in the late 2nd century that the museum was able to acquire last year. The hoard went on display to the public for the first time when the museum reopened in April. The lecture series runs in conjunction with The Ryedale Hoard: A Roman Mystery. There will be one online talk a month until the exhibition ends in March 2023.

Each episode in the series is first livestreamed on the museum’s YouTube channel and Facebook page. The lectures are following by a Q&A period where viewers can ask questions in the comments. The recorded lecture is then posted on YouTube.   

There have been two so far. The first video is hosted by Professor Michael Lewis, head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme at the British Museum, and delves into how Treasure is defined in terms of the 1996 Treasure Act. This is relevant to the Ryedale Hoard because it failed to qualify as official Treasure despite its undisputed antiquity and unprecedented archaeological importance and was only saved for the public patrimony thanks to Richard Beleson, a generous supporter of the Yorkshire Museum. Lewis lays out the processes of the PAS and explains how archaeological treasures can fall through the cracks, using examples some bloggers you know might have obsessed over once or twice.

The first talk doesn’t really get into the particulars of the Ryedale Hoard, however. That’s what the second one does. It is hosted by the Yorkshire Museum’s curator of archaeology Lucy Creighton. She covers the discovery of the objects by two metal detectorists, how they realized they had found something really special, then goes into detail about the objects themselves, holding them up to the camera to point out features that are not necessarily conveyed in still photographs. She points out a peg embedded in the hoof of the horse and rider figure that would have originally been slotted into a base with a flat surface, for example, and shows a piece of bronze found inside the head of the Marcus Aurelius bust that was once the back of the head.

The next online lecture looks excellent as well. Metals, Making and Magic: The Smith in Roman Britain will be delivered by Dr. Owen Humphreys on July 21st. Sign up here to receive notices of future lectures. I did last month, forgot all about it, and remembered only after I received the museum’s reminder email linking to the discussion. 


Bronze Age hits keep coming at Sanxingdui

Tuesday, June 14th, 2022

The spectacular hits just keep coming in the excavation of sacrificial pits 7 and 8 at the Sanxingdui Bronze Age archaeological site in Guanghan City, Sichuan Province, southwest China. At least 10 of the artifacts unearthed are one-of-a-kind. Highlights among the most recent finds include a bronze altar, a box containing a large piece of jade and a sculpture five feet high that is the first artifact of its kind ever discovered at the site.

Nearly 13,000 objects made of bronze, gold, jade and ivory have been found thus far since excavation of the six sacrificial pits began in 2020. The vast majority of the artifacts were deliberately broken and bear marks from having been struck and burned before burial. Only 2,400 artifacts of the 13,000 were discovered intact. The archaeological team plans to make copies of the objects and experiment with different destruction and burning approaches to see how the ancient Shu people of the Yangtze River civilization decommissioned the Sanxingdui artifacts for sacrifice 3,100 years ago.

Speaking of which, four of the sacrificial pits (3,4, 7 and 8) have now been conclusively dated to the late Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 B.C.). Carbon-14 analysis of 200 samples taken from the pits returned a tight date range for the burial ages of between 1,131 B.C. and 1,012 B.C. Pits 5 and 6 are older, but still late in the Shang Dynasty. The excavation of pit No. 7 is almost complete. The excavation of pit 8 is about halfway done. The most recent finds come from these two pits.

The exquisitely-crafted bronze altar was unearthed this weekend from Pit No. 8. It is approximately three feet high and consists of a platform base with openwork decoration with a top section decorated with bronze mythical creatures in a sacrificial scene. The two pieces were found separately. The upper part was recovered on Saturday, June 11th, and the base emerged the next day.

The bronze five-foot bronze sculpture was also found in Pit No. 8. It was cast in three parts that were then welded together. The central section features an anthropomorphic head with bulging eyes and tusks on a snake body. (Human-headed snake figures are characteristic of the Shu culture.) The figure is positioned head-down, his raised hands holding the lower section: an urn-shaped wine vessel (lei) on a square base. The uppermost section is a zun, a trumpet-shaped drinking vessel, painted vermillion. The complex iconography attests to a mythological world dense with characters and imagery.

Another unique object was discovered in pit No. 7: a bronze box with tortoise shell-shaped lattice lids hinged together on one side that encased a large piece of green jade. The box has handles in the shape of dragon heads and two or three bronze streamers that look like realistic ties. Microtrace analysis revealed that the box was originally wrapped in silk.

Most of the objects recovered from pit No. 7 are smaller pieces, but no less artfully crafted. One piece found in the northeast corner of the pit this March was a paper-thin folded sheet of bronze. Literally paper-thin; the same thickness as a sheet of A4 paper. Ancient bronze craftsmen in China often cast objects by creating two opposing clay moulds and then pouring the bronze into the gap between them, which is why most of the Sanxingdui bronzes were very thick. The folded bronze paper cannot have been produced using this technology. Archaeologists will have to do a metallurgic analysis of it (and other fragments of thin bronze found in pit 7) to determine how it was made. Right now the preliminary speculation is that it was forged.

Sichuan has begun construction of a new museum in  Guanghan City to house, secure and study these remarkable archaeological materials. It is being built right next to the sacrificial pits and the current museum which is no longer adequate to house the massive collection of objects. The new museum will cover 55,000 square meters, five times the size of the current museum, making it the largest single museum building in southwestern China. It is expected to be completed in October 2023.


Frog mass grave found at Iron Age site

Monday, June 13th, 2022

Archaeologists have unearthed more than 8,000 frog and toad bones buried in a ditch at an Iron Age site near Cambridge, UK. They were found in a trench 45 feet long adjacent to the remains of a roundhouse in the Iron Age settlement at Bar Hill. Frog bones have been found before at archaeological sites in England, but they are individual examples, a single frog bone here and there. A mass burial is unprecedented.

The frog grave was found about three feet under the surface. It was not a trash heap; only a smattering of household waste, mainly pottery sherds, was found in the ditch. The bones are mostly common frog and common toad bones, species that are widely distributed throughout the country. Mass burials of animal bones found at prehistoric sites are usually the result of ceremonial feasting, but an insatiable predilection for cuisses de grenouille is unlikely to be the case here.

The archaeologists say that, while there is evidence of amphibian consumption in Britain dating to the stone age, these bones have no cuts or burn marks. If the frogs had been boiled, however, this may not have left traces.

Evidence of charred grain found near the site suggests that its inhabitants were processing crops that would attract pests such as beetles and aphids, which frogs are known to eat. So perhaps the frogs were drawn to the area by the promise of food, the archaeologists suggest.

Other potential explanations include “a prehistoric frog tragedy”. The archaeologists say that frogs are known to move in large numbers in spring in search of breeding waters and these could have fallen into the ditch and become trapped.

According to one hypothesis, the unusual death toll might also have been caused by winter hardship. While hibernating frogs sometimes hide in the mud, extreme cold can kill them and perhaps they fell victim to a particularly severe winter.

The roundhouse was in use in the Late Iron Age (from 400 B.C. – 43 A.D.), but it is not clear when the frogs were buried within that range. It could have been an accumulation over an extended period of time.


Brazenly looted Maya frieze restored

Saturday, June 11th, 2022

A monumental stucco frieze looted from the Late Classic Maya site of Los Placeres in the jungles of Campeche is the final stage of a four-year restoration that aims to return it to the condition it was in before it was plundered.

Made between 450 and 600 A.D., the frieze features a central mask representing a youthful ruler guarded on each side by two deified elderly men, likely representing ancestors, extending to the ruler power and virility. It was vividly painted and much of the polychrome paint remained when it was looted in 1968.

The removal of the Placeres Frieze was one of the most brazen looting and trafficking operations of all time, if not the most. It all started with an art dealer in New York City. A former US Air Force pilot during World War II, the dealer heard about the façade hidden in the jungle and organized a team to loot it. His man on the ground was Lee Moore, an orchid collector who had traveled extensively through Central America pursuing his obsession.

But smuggling a stucco frieze more than 27 feet long and eight feet high that has been attached to a temple for 1500 years is far more complex than smuggling a rare plant. You can’t just hike through the jungle with it in your backpack. For this job, the looters had to clear a stretch of jungle and create an airstrip out of it to even make it possible to transport the massive frieze out of the country.

A looting crew was deployed to the Placeres archaeological site, then completely overtaken by jungle growth. They cleared the façade of plant matter, coated it in Mowilith, a polymer plaster, to keep the surface from disintegrating, then sawed it off the temple with wood saws. We know all of this because the entire operation was photographed in detail. That’s right. They meticulously documented their illegal destruction and theft of an ancient archaeological site.

The looters cut the frieze into 48 pieces and loaded onto a plane bound for Miami. Its eventual destination was New York City where it would be offered for sale to the Metropolitan Museum of Art which was then preparing a major exhibition of pre-Hispanic art. The price tag was $400,000.

The Met wanted to sleep on the idea for a while, so the façade was stored in the basement until the end of 1968 when one of the museum’s curators rejected the offer in horror at the Elgin-like brutality of the frieze’s theft. He contacted the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico and together they planned a sting to catch the dealer. In a direct confrontation, the directors of both museums demanded the frieze be returned to Mexico. The trafficker still tried to get out of it and here too the brazenness is just off the charts. He actually dared to ask they at least pay him $80,000 to reimburse him for the expenses he incurred building an airfield, brutalizing an ancient monument and illegally removing it from the country. They laughed in his face, of course, and finally he gave up. The frieze was returned to Mexico. Neither the dealer, the orchid collector nor any of the demolition crew were ever punished.

The frieze has been in the National Museum of Anthropology ever since. In 2018, conservators embarked on a comprehensive restoration of the frieze with the goal of returning it to the weathered but still richly colored condition it was in before it was outraged. Over the years it has developed an overall reddish tone and salts have accumulated marring the surface. Experts identified the pigments in the polychrome paint: iron oxides for the reds, carbon black for the pupils, white lime for other details. This information helped conservators target the unwanted elements for removal without damaging the original pigment.

The next phase of restoration aimed to stabilize the frieze which was still mounted to the metal framework that was crafted to support it when it was repatriated in 1969.

“Based on three-dimensional and volumetric calculations, we welded a new structure that supports each fragment with at least four supports”, so that the two tons that the relief weighs rest on a stable frame.

One advantage of the new structure is its mobile character, which will facilitate the maintenance of the piece and will promote the temporary rearrangement of the whole for museum installations.

Already stable, the piece underwent comprehensive cleaning, which required two years of work, between 2020 and 2021, to fully remove the polymer using products created at the CNCPC. 

The conservation is being done in full public view in the museum’s Mayan Room. It is expected to be complete by December,





June 2022


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