Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

New findings confirm temple of Artemis site

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018

The long-lost sanctuary of Artemis Amarynthia was discovered in 2017 after more than a century of searching and ten consecutive years of excavations by the Swiss School of Archaeology in Greece. This season’s findings confirm that the archaeological remains discovered last year are indeed part of the important ancient temple complex located about six miles from the prosperous town of Eretria on the island of Euboea in central Greece.

The previously excavated buildings are two galleries that define the temple from the east and north, as well as a sacred fountain. […]

The research was focused on the central site of the sanctuary to reveal the ancient temple and the altar. Significant finds in 2018, such as a copper quartz figurine, part of a statue of Artemis and a new sculpture base bearing the names of Artemis, Apollo and Leto, as well as another base, strengthen the view that the temple is in this area and is expected to be identified in the coming years.

The Swiss and Greek archaeologists also investigated the remains of earlier building phases dating from the 10th to the 7th century BC, such as an elongated building over 20 meters in length, dating back to the Early Archaic period, and resting on an arched building.

The monumental Archaic building with its powerful pilasters built over the Geometric-era arched structure would have dominated the landscape of Amarynthos at that time. It’s not certain what this building was used for, if it was an early religious site dedicated to the worship of Artemis or had a different purpose altogether. It has some architectural features in common with the temple of Apollo Daphnephoros of Eretria, but the temple to Apollo in use from the late Archaic through the Hellenistic period at Amarynthos and believed to have been connected to the famed temple of Apollo at Delphi has been found in another location well to the west.

The sanctuary of Artemis was all but destroyed in the 1st century B.C., its religious significance diminished to nothingness. Recent discoveries suggest there may have been a renewal of religious worship at the site in the 2nd century A.D. but if so, it was of short duration. By the 3rd century, the temple of Artemis Amarynthia was permanently defunct.

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Pebble mosaic found in 4th c. BC Greek bathhouse

Monday, August 13th, 2018

Archaeologists have discovered a pebble mosaic in a 4th century B.C. bathhouse in the ancient city of Ambrakia (modern-day Arta) in northwest Greece. The mosaic predates the bathhouse but matches it thematically, depicting animals and settings with connections to water.

Discovered during excavations of the Small Theater archaeological site, the mosaic adorns the floor of a circular space just northwest of the theater. It is more than 12 feet in diameter and was made using small white, off-white and dark river pebbles. The weren’t painted or treated, but shine from the natural polish imparted by untold aeons spent in the river current. Decorative accents were created using amber and red pebbles. One small section in the northwest section of the mosaic shows evidence of having been repaired in antiquity.

The mosaic is bounded by a spiral border one foot wide and in the center stars a five-tentacled octopus (pentapus?) with anime-large eyes. South of the cephalopod is a swan, wings spread as if attempting to take flight, with a rope around its neck that is held but a cupid figure standing on its right. In the southeast section is a dolphin with a cupid on its back. A female figure leads a swan in the west section, while in the northern section another cupid holds a swan by the leg. Also on the west side are two squirrels playing with something, toy or animal, that cannot be identified. To their right is a water fowl. The human figures have strips of amber pebbles over their torsos and arms, possibly representing scratches, and their lips are conveyed with pale yellow/cream pebbles. Facial features and details on the limbs are figured using very small pebbles.

A similar pebble mosaic floor was found under the eastern section of the theater in the 1970s. It also depicts winged cupids, swans and dolphins, but there are marked differences as well — the way the pebbles are embedded, the lack of color differences that convey dimension — which suggest it is older than the recently-discovered mosaic. It was raised in 1976 and moved the Archaeological Museum of Arta.

In a press statement, the Arta ephorate said the dating was based on architectural evidence and on comparisons with pebble mosaics found at the Ancient Corinth baths, dated to the mid-4th century.

The supervision of the excavations is carried out by archaeologist Nektarios-Petros Gioutsos and three conservators have already taken measures to preserve and stabilize the new find.

Arta, in western Greece, has been inhabited continuously from antiquity to the present, and the layered remains of older settlements are still visible in various parts of the present city. The Small Theater is situated in the center of the modern city.

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British Museum uncovers origin of looted objects, returns them to Iraq

Sunday, August 12th, 2018

Researchers at the British Museum solved a mystery both ancient and modern when they discovered the origin site of eight artifacts looted from Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Thanks to their efforts, the objects are now on their way back to Iraq.

The orphaned artifacts were in custody of the British Museum after having been seized in a police raid on a London antiquities dealer in May 2003. The dealer had no proof of ownership — I guess he hadn’t gotten around to forging a “Swiss private collection” document yet — or any other documentation about the artifacts, so they were confiscated by the authorities and were in storage for almost 15 years.

The cold case was heated up when the Metropolitan Police reformed its art and antiquities squad. The squad gave the objects to the British Museum this year in the hope that its experts might be able to figure out where the pieces came from so they could be repatriated. As it turned out, the British Museum was uniquely well-positioned to uncover the truth about these objects.

The eight artifacts consist of three fired clay cones with Sumerian cuneiform inscriptions, a fragment of a white gypsum mace-head inscribed in Sumerian, a polished river pebble with a cuneiform inscription in Sumerian, one red marble and one white marble stamp-seal amulet from the Jemdet Nasr period (ca. 3000 B.C.) in the form of a reclining sheep and one banded white chalcedony seal of a reclining sphinx from the Achaemenid period.

It was the three cones that gave the British Museum the information they needed to pinpoint the origin site. The all bore the identical Sumerian inscription, one that is also know from other inscribed ancient artifacts. It reads: “For Ningirsu, Enlil’s mighty warrior, Gudea, ruler of Lagash, made things function as they should (and) he built and restored for him his Eninnu, the White Thunderbird.” This inscription identified the cones as coming from the archaeological city of Girsu (modern-day Tello) in southern Iraq where the Eninnu temple once stood. The temple was sacred Eninnu’s patron god Ningirsu.

The great temple complex is in the Tell A area of Tello where ongoing excavations have found artifacts and remains elucidating the plan, size and design of the temple. Archaeologists from the British Museum have been excavating Tell A since 2016 as part of the Iraq Emergency Heritage Management Training Scheme, a program set up in response to the IS destruction of cultural patrimony that trains staff from the Iraq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage in the latest techniques of rescue archaeology. The initial survey of Tello in 2015 and 2016 found dozens of looter pits. They were shallow and appear to have been targeted, small-scale efforts probably done at night by a few individuals rather than the massive looting operations that ran roughshod over Iraq’s ancient sites in 2003.

The British Museum team at Tello found broken cones identical to those seized in London. Their shape was an imitation of tent pegs and they were originally placed in holes in the temple wall, offerings to the Sumerian Thunderbird, the lion-headed god who roared thunder and flashed lightning bolts from his body. That’s how the researchers were able to discover not just the site where the objects had been looted from, but the actual wall they had been inserted in originally.

On Friday, August 10th, the artifacts were officially returned to the Iraqi ambassador Salih Husain Ali in a ceremony at the British Museum.

Iraqi ambassador Salih Husain Ali … said the protection of antiquities was an international responsibility and praised the British Museum and its staff “for their exceptional efforts in the process of identifying and returning looted antiquities to Iraq. Such collaboration between Iraq and the United Kingdom is vital for the preservation of Iraqi heritage.”

St John Simpson, the assistant keeper at the Middle East department of the museum, said: “Uniquely we could trace them not just to the site but to within inches of where they were stolen from. This is a very happy outcome, nothing like this has happened for a very, very long time if ever.”

They will be returned to the national museum in Baghdad and reunited with many objects from the recent excavations, and may eventually be loaned to a museum near the site.

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Glossiest Neolithic axe found in Orkney

Friday, August 10th, 2018

An excavation the Ness of Brodgar, a Neolithic archaeological site on the Orkney island of Mainland, has unearthed the glossiest stone axe I’ve ever seen, and prehistoric axes are one of my obsessions so I’ve seen quite a few. Even the professional archaeologists from the Ness of Brodgar Trust and the Archaeology Institute of the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) who have been excavating the site for years and have seen far more Neolithic axes than I were struck by the sheer beauty of this piece.

The axe was found by Australian UHI archaeology student Therese McCormick on August 3rd. She was on a bit of a slog, digging through the dense, complex layers of floors in Structure Ten which is the largest Neolithic building in the north of Britain. It was built around 2900 B.C. and used until the abandonment of the Ness of Brodgar site around 2,400–2,200 B.C. Structure Ten was deliberately demolished after a rager of a ceremony that featured the ritual slaughter of hundreds of cows and deposition of their bones. This appears to have been the Ness of Brodgar’s Neolithic last hurrah, the site’s closing ceremony.

The stratigraphy of Structure Ten is therefore as important as it is challenging. Therese was working on the west end of the 82 x 66-foot structure in a test pit exposing the stratigraphy of floor depositions and leveling events when on her last day of excavation she discovered the stone axe. Made of banded gneiss with a distinctive orange band that curves at the wide end in parallel to the curvature of the cutting edge, the axe’s beauty was noticeable even when it was still covered in soil. When it was cleaned and dampened with water, the color and texture stood out even more, set off by its high-gloss polish.

The axe shows signs of extensive use. One side of it has been re-sharpened. The other was not and and is heavily worn. The sharp edge and wear pattern indicate its primary function was an axe blade, but tell-tale divots on both sides of it indicate it was also used as a sort of mini anvil. Strikes against it left small, rough dents in the surface of the stone.

Site director Nick Card said: “It is nice to find pristine examples of stone axes, but the damage on this one tells us a little bit more about the history of this particular axe.

“The fact that the cutting edge had been heavily damaged suggests that it was a working tool rather than a ceremonial object.

“We know that the buildings in the complex were roofed by stone slabs so this axe was perhaps used to cut and fashion the timber joists that held up the heavy roof.”

This is the second stone axe found in the same area of Structure Ten. One was unearthed in 2012 just above the find site of the current discovery. It too was uncommonly handsome, a shiny black granite not usually used to make axes, and had been used and reused. It had broken at one point and the cutting edge recreated on the smaller tool.

The Ness of Brodgar excavation is in dire need of funding. If you’d like to support the archaeological exploration of one of the most important Neolithic sites in Britain, you can donate online here.

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Archaic remains, artifacts found at Apollo temple site

Thursday, August 9th, 2018

The uninhabited Cycladean islet of Despotiko is tiny in dimension but immense in archaeological importance thanks to the sanctuary of Apollo built there in the 6th century B.C. during the Greek Archaic period. The sanctuary was heavily damaged in the 5th century by Athens in retaliation for Paros’ support of Xerxes during the second Persian invasion of Greece, but excavations have found archaeological evidence of extended rebuilding through the late Hellenistic period (2nd century B.C.).

Located almost exactly at the center of the Cyclades, Despotiko has sightline views of eight of the islands and was connected to Antiparos and Koimitiri by an isthmus when the temple was built. The thorough excavation of Despotiko began in 1997 and has continued ever since, systematically bringing to light a temple complex much larger, longer-lived and more significant than archaeologists had realized.

This season’s excavation has unearthed the remains of three more structures raises the tally of buildings in the complex to 22. Archaeologists now believe that the Despotiko temple may have been the largest in the Cyclades, eclipsing in size the much more famous Sanctuary of Apollo on the island of Delos, mythical birthplace of Apollo and Artemis.

The dig explored areas surrounding the archaic sanctuary, focusing on a site just south of the main temple and two buildings labelled Z and P. One of the three structures discovered is a rectangular two-story building 26 x 10.5 feet found underneath the westernmost rooms of the temple complex. It was built in the 6th century B.C. and intriguingly still contained a grid and cooking pot in their original location. Archaeologists also found original floors and sealed off entrances.

Another structure, dubbed Building T, is just barely a rectangle at 25.6 feet x 24.4 feet. There are two rooms, each with their own entry and their own front yards. (Is it weird that my first thought was “nice setup for an Airbnb”?) The last of the newly-unearthed structures, Building Y, is 25 x 20 feet. Its design is reminiscent of a church nave with an entrance on the south side and walls three feet thick.

In addition to the architectural remains, the dig also discovered a wealth of artifacts, almost all of which are estimated to date to the 6th century B.C.

Like every year, this year’s findings were rich. More than 15 lamps and 15 fragments of vases with engraved inscriptions (APL, APOL) were found, fragments of amphorae and red-colored craters, everyday vases such as basins, bowls, pans, bottles, and many metallic objects (a bronze lance, nails, russets, hooks, etc.).

From this year’s discoveries what stood out were the fragment of the head of an archaic kouros, a fragment from the ankle of a kouros and scraps of two piths with embossed decoration, one depicting a warrior and the other a dance show.

While the excavation shed new light on the early history of the Despotiko sanctuary, restorers set to shoring up the masonry of two previously unearthed buildings and on raising a part of the main temple of Apollo up from the ground. After four weeks of work, columns, lintels and walls are vertical, recreating some small portion of the sanctuary’s height and making it once again visible from Antiparos.

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Complete set of hipposandals found at Vindolanda

Wednesday, August 8th, 2018

A set of four iron hipposandals has been unearthed in the archaeological motherlode that is Vindolanda, the Roman fort and settlement just south of Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland. The set was discovered by a volunteer in a system of ditches adjacent to a late Antonine stone wall (180-200 A.D.). There were three main phases of construction in the Antonine era with new ditches dug for each which narrows down the date of the hipposandals to between 140 and 180 A.D.

These iron hoof coverings were used to protect the feet of military and pack animals, horses, perhaps even oxen. They were clunky and would have hindered movement, but they would have helped the animals keep their footing in mucky, wet, slick and snowy conditions. It’s possible the hindrance of movement was a feature rather than a bug; an animal at pasture wearing these clodhoppers would be effectively hobbled and incapable of wandering off. They also served as a barrier against injuries accidental and deliberate, as from caltrops.

Hipposandals have been found before, particularly on battlefields where they were shed by cavalry mounts, but a complete matched set of four is an extremely rare discovery. The hoof protectors are in excellent condition, showing so little wear and tear that the treads on the underside are still clearly visible.

More than 7,000 volunteers have played an essential role in the excavation of Vindolanda since the program began in 1970. Volunteers have helped unearth everything from the thousands of leather shoes and writing tablets the site is best known for, to the bronze hand from the shrine of Jupiter found a few months ago.

Because the Romans were in Britain for between 400 and 500 years, Ms Birley said, teams could dig at the site for the next 150 years and still unearth Roman treasures.

“Basically, over the years, nine forts have been built on this site – every time new Roman arrivals came, they covered over the remains from the last fort with clay and turf to make solid foundations for their fort,” Ms Birley explained.

“This means things were well preserved. One of the hipposandals has a hairline fracture so the set may have been thrown in the ditch because one was damaged.”

The hoofwear has been conserved and will go on display at the Roman Army Museum in February of next year.

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Bronze Age citadel dwarfing Troy unearthed in Romania

Tuesday, August 7th, 2018

Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a massive Bronze Age citadel in the town of Sântana, Arad county, north-western Romania. An international team of German and Romanian archaeologists has been excavating the site, first explored in 2009, for two years and only a small fraction of it has been exposed. More than half of the site has been measured and mapped extensively via magnetic survey, however. Out of 90 hectares, 55 have been documented magnetometrically, allowing the team to map the fortress from outer defenses to the citadel’s main structures.

The fortress was enclosed by a moat more than 13 feet deep outside of an earth rampart an estimated 70 feet high. These intimidatingly looming ramparts protected a palace in the interior. This massive structure was about 330 feet long and 130 feet wide. The palace and other structures inside the citadel were made of mud/clay and wood.

Rüdiger Krause, professor at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, and Romanian professor Florin Gogâltan, from the Institute of Archeology and History of Art of the Romanian Academy in Cluj-Napoca, came to the conclusion that the “Old Citadel” in Sântana was built in the 14th century BC, about 3,400 years ago.

“The citadel in Sântana is one of the largest fortifications built during the mentioned period. Our purpose is to find out why this fortification was made, why this construction was needed,” the German professor said, according to Aradon.ro.

The discoveries also made the archeologists believe that the “Old Citadel” in Romania is much bigger than the ancient city of Troy.

“Troy had an area of 29 hectares, the Citadel in Sântana covers 89 hectares. The buildings of Troy were made of stone. At Sântana, the buildings were made of clay and wood, a sign that civilization was more developed and adapted to the building materials it had,” Florin Gogâltan explained. “We are facing one of the biggest and impressive fortresses in Europe.”

And they want to give it its due. The director of the Arad Museum is advocating the construction of a new museum in Sântana on the site itself. The entirety of the site is not likely to be fully excavated — the current German-Romanian project is slated to last one more year only — but what has been revealed is in excellent condition. Local government officials are very much into the idea of creating a tourist attraction that would bring an infusion of cash to the area as well as international recognition of this unique and highly significant archaeological treasure.

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Third Lod mosaic found during construction of Lod mosaic museum

Monday, August 6th, 2018

The construction of the Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Center, a permanent home for one the largest and most intact (not to mention one of the most beautiful) Roman mosaic floors ever discovered, has resulted in the discovery of yet another exceptional mosaic floor. Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) archaeologists unearthed the colorful depiction of fish, birds and plants in just one month of work.

This is the third one found at the site where the first mosaic floor was found in 1996. The second was discovered in late 2014. This embarrassment of archaeological and artistic riches was once part of a large luxury home dating to the early 4th century A.D. in the ancient city of Lydda which under the Roman Empire was a district capital and important center of trade. The first and largest mosaic covered the floor of the main reception room/triclinium. The second adorned an internal courtyard. The newly-discovered mosaic covered the floor of another smaller reception room/triclinium next to the one where the largest and first mosaic was found.

“The archaeological excavation that we carried out this month was relatively small, but contributed significantly to our understanding of the villa building,” said [excavation director Dr. Amir] Gorzalczany. “Thankfully, the main central panel of the mosaic was preserved. The figures, many similar to the figures in the earlier mosaics, comprise fish and winged creatures. A fairly similar mosaic was found in the past in Jerusalem, on the Mount Zion slopes. The Lod mosaics, however, do not depict any human figures that are present in the Mount Zion mosaic. It is quite probable that the same artist produced both mosaics, or that two artists worked from a similar design.”

“This type of mosaic is better known in the Western part of the Roman Empire,” Gorzalczany explained. “Also noteworthy are the rectangular marks that may denote the placing of the couches on which the participants of the banquet or feast reclined. These marks are common in similar villas and are an indication of the use of the space in the reception halls.”

One corner of the mosaic was first spotted by archaeologists in 2014 at the time the second mosaic was discovered. Except for that one corner, the rest of the space was underneath a neighborhood parking lot and as the residents were none too keen to lose their handy spots, it took years of discussions before the mosaic could be excavated. Once the team was given the go-ahead, they had a brief window to excavate and salvage whatever they found before the property was returned to the residents.

When the new Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Center opens, the first two mosaics will be displayed in situ exactly where they were found. This third one will also be on display, but not in its original location.

In this video you can see experts from the IAA salvage the mosaic, rolling it up like a carpet.

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Gold trove found in ancient tomb in Kazakhstan

Sunday, August 5th, 2018

Archaeologists have discovered more than 3,000 gold ornaments in an ancient burial ground in Kazakhstan. The objects were found in a tumulus in the Eleke Sazy plateau of the Tarbagatai Mountains in eastern Kazakhstan, a site known for its 200 burial mounds of the Saka culture dating to the 8th-7th centuries B.C.

The Saka culture, a nomadic people who inhabited the Eurasian Steppe, areas of modern-day Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, in the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age. The Saki were not purely nomadic. Some subgroups founded permanent settlements with large burial grounds, planted crops and mined metals. Their processing of those metals was highly sophisticated, allowing them to produce meticulously constructed jewelry and other artifacts which they traded to neighboring populations on the steppes. They also buried large quantities of them with their leaders.

The artifacts unearthed in the grave are exceptional examples of Saka goldsmithing.

Among the finds are earrings in the shape of bells, gold plates with rivets, plaques, chains, and a necklace with precious stones.

Gold beads decorating clothes were made with the use of sophisticated micro-soldering techniques, indicating an exceptional level of development jewellery-making skills for the period.

There were also gold horse fittings, spearheads and chains. Archaeologists believe the combination of jewelry and weaponry indicates the occupants of the tomb were a husband and wife couple, either rulers or at least high-ranking elite of Saka society. They can’t be sure because they haven’t even gotten to the graves yet. This immense amount of treasure was found in the excavation of the burial mound. There is likely more to be found when they reach the actual interrals.

Such a rich find made after two years of excavations at the site extends hope that there are other graves of similar importance still be unearthed among the 200 known. It’s likely that the burials were plundered on a wide scale in antiquity, however, so discovering another haul of this magnitude is far from a sure thing.

The treasures from the burial mound will be cleaned and conserved before going on display in September during the annual international archaeological conference Altai, the Golden Cradle of the Turkic World.

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Rare dog sarcophagus rescued from museum pound

Friday, August 3rd, 2018

The National Archaeological Museum in Athens has pulled a once-beloved dog from storage and put it on display for the first time since it was discovered 81 years ago. The small sarcophagus adorned with a sculpture of a pet dog dates to the mid-3rd century A.D., the Roman period. It was unearthed in 1937 on the north side of the National Garden in downtown Athens. The ancient Greek road from Athens to Mesogeia, the interior region of the Attic peninsula, ran along what is now Vasilissis Sophias Ave, the north border of the National Garden. As we know, Romans often used the road out of town was for burials, and while no other wee dog sarcophgi have been found in this area, excavations done during construction of the subway station at Syntagma Square just a couple of blocks away did reveal other Roman-era animal graves.

The dog sits on the lid of the sarcophagus, his front legs crossed in a dignified posture, comfortably ensconced on his plush striped bed. His collar is studded with gemstones — circles, squares and diamond-shaped — and a bell hangs from a loop in the front. The collar, bedding and bell unmistakably identify the dog as somebody’s cherished pet rather than a symbolic representation of a deity or a funerary sacrifice.

Funerary monuments to dearly departed dogs are unusual but not unheard of in the Roman archaeological record. Most of them are stele engraved with just an inscription and sometimes a low relief of the animal and an inscription clearly identifying them as grave markers for the pet. The British Museum has a wonderfully expressive example of a marble epitaph plaque inscribed with a poem written from the perspective of the dog who was buried under it.

Gaul gave me my birth and the pearl-oyster from the seas full of treasure my name, an honour fitting to my beauty.
I was trained to run boldly through strange forests
and to hunt out furry wild beasts in the hills
never accustomed to be held by heavy chains
nor endure cruel beatings on my snow-white body.
I used to lie on the soft lap of my master and mistress
and knew to go to bed when tired on my spread mattress
and I did not speak more than allowed as a dog, given a silent mouth
No-one was scared by my barking
but now I have been overcome by death from an ill-fated birth
and earth has covered me beneath this small piece of marble.
Margarita [“Pearl”]

Animal figures have also been found on the funerary reliefs of children, see for example this sweet memorial to “To Helena, foster daughter, the incomparable and worthy soul,” at the Getty.

Complete three-dimensional sculptures of dogs on sarcophagi are a horse of a different color. They are so rare that only one other example has been found on the Attic peninsula. It too is in the collection of the National Archaeological Museum, but it’s still in storage.

The marble pooch was rescued from the pound on Monday and will be on display through October 21st only.

A selection of artifacts from the museums store rooms have been placed on display for the Unseen Museum exhibition, each for a period of two months. The particular artifact complements the temporary exhibition “Hadrian and Athens: Conversing with an Ideal World” that opened on November 27 and will run for a year.

In August and until October, museum archaeologists will conduct tours for visitors that focus on the habits of ancient Athenians, including their strong ties to pet animals. These will be held on three Sundays (August 19, September 16 and October 21) and two Fridays (September 14 and October 19), starting at 13:00. To attend the presentations, visitors must first obtain a ticket on arrival.

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