Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Roman child buried with puppy found in France

Saturday, January 16th, 2021

A Gallo-Roman grave of a child buried with a puppy has been discovered in Aulnat, central France. Excavation at a site slated for  airport expansion unearthed the grave was found on the perifery of a settlement from the Gallo-Roman era. It dates to the first third of the 1st century A.D., the reigns of emperors Augusts and Tiberius.

The child was only one year old when he died. He was buried in a fitted wooden coffin about 32 inches long. The wood has long since rotted away, but the nails that held together and an ornamental iron plate have survived to attest to its structure and design. The casket was placed in a large pit (6.5 x 3.3 feet) and surrounded with a remarkable array of objects and offerings.

About 20 terracotta containers were placed around the coffin and on top if its lid. They were offerings that would have held food and beverages for the deceased’s funerary banquet. The remains of a pig cut in half lengthwise found inside the pit were part of that final banquet, as were three ham shanks, one pork butt and one ham. The remains of two hens with their heads cut off (not present) were in the grave.

Miniature vases and two glass balsamaria likely held unguents or medicines. They are currently undergoing chemical analyses to identify any residues inside the vessels.

The child’s most valued belongings were buried in the grave, one typical of any Roman-era graves: a copper alloy fibula used to pin clothing together. Another is a poignant testament to the child’s all-too-brief life: an iron circle and a bent rod believed to have been a hoop game. The circle was rolled along the ground using the rod to keep it running and vertical. It was found leaning against the coffin.

A puppy was placed at the feet of the deceased, one end of the iron hoop rod between its legs. The puppy was a beloved pet, as evidenced by his snazzy collar covered in 15 bronze appliques and one bell.

Last but not least, a single baby tooth lovingly placed on a shall was deposited in the grave. Archaeologists hypothesize this may have been the offering of an older brother or sister of the deceased.

This is an extremely rare burial for a toddler in the Roman era. With child mortality so high, children who passed away this young were usually buried informally, not in the community cemetery and not sharing the Detail of vessels. Photo by Denis Gliksman, Inrap.funerary practices their older relatives would. At this time and place, the dead were typically cremated. This baby was inhumed, probably near or on his home, but the richness of his grave furnishings, the lavish offerings, the high quality and quantity of vessels, animal remains and personal belongings are exceptional. Nothing like them has been found before in the graves of Gallo-Roman children in the region. The second most furnished child grave on the record had only 10 vessels and two small pieces of butchery. It is clear that this child came from a very privileged family.

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45 pre-Inca ceremonial pieces found in Tiwanaku

Friday, January 15th, 2021

A group of 45 pre-Inca ceremonial objects have been discovered at the archaeological site of Tiwanaku, western Bolivia. The objects include ceramic vessels and statuary, stone knives, bottles, a gold head with blue stone yes and lips that may have represented a deity and the remains of animals including fish, camelids and birds. They are at least 1,500 years old, and may date as far back as the 4th century.

Fifteen of the pieces were unveiled at a press event on Tuesday.

The Ministry of Culture, organizer of the event, specified in a technical report that the find is “made up of many components or ceremonial supplies” and that “it will allow to establish the ritual and ceremonial system that was deployed during the beginnings of Tiwanaku.”

The archaeological pieces “tell us that we are here in Tiwanaku, sitting in a gold mine of knowledge and information, not only important for us, but for the whole world,” declared Bolivian President Luis Arce, invited to the event.

The artifacts were discovered during an excavation last year in the Temple of Kalasasaya about a foot under the surface. The temple was built by the Tiwanakota culture in what is known as the Tiwanaku III Phase (375-750 A.D.). According to Julio Condori, director of the Tiwanaku Center for Archaeological, Anthropological and Administration Research, these artifacts are the most important find since the monumental edifices of Tiwanaku were rediscovered in the 1800s.

Located in the Andes about 45 miles west of La Paz near the southern bank of Lake Titicaca, Tiwanaku was the dominant empire  in the Andean region before the rise of the Inca. Its political, religious, cultural and economic influence stretched from what is now the border with Ecuador to the north to central Chile/northwest Argentina to the south. It rose to prominence in the first three centuries A.D. and became hub of trade in the region.  By the 6th century, it was the largest urban center in the region. A sophisticated network connected town in western Bolivia, northern Chile, southern Peru and northwestern Argentina, moving raw materials to Tiwanaku’s whose crafts guilds created manufactured goods for export over the same routes.

Tiwanaku society collapsed around the 11th century. Ceramic production ceased around 1000 A.D. and within a few decades of that most urban centers in the empire were abandoned. Its sphere of influence splintered into tribal chiefdoms until the Inca conquest in the 15th century.

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Engraved Stone Age plaque found in Catalonia

Wednesday, January 13th, 2021

A stone engraved with multiple animal figures in the Upper Paleolithic era has been unearthed at the prehistoric Coves del Fem near Ulldemolins, Catalonia, northeastern Spain. About 15,000 to 11,700 years old, the stone is intricately carved with at least six animals: a doe, a stag, two goats or bovids and two others as yet undetermined.

The plaque was discovered last summer during archaeological salvage in the wake of flooding. It is oval, about seven inches long and five wide and was engraved using a very sharp flint. The artist or artists were able to create impressive detail with the flint. Anatomical details like eyes, ears, noses, horns and fur are visible. The stag’s antlers are particularly impressive with their seven points.

The piece was among stone blocks found on the surface of the site after the floods eroded the strata. Researchers were examining the blocks because the prehistoric inhabitants of Coves del Fem used rocks and slates to make tools. They didn’t engrave them with art, however, so this stone came as a surprise.

Without a stratigraphic context, the engraving can only be dated by its style. The composition and execution compare to similar pieces found at other Paleolithic sites that do have well-established stratigraphic and absolute dates. The use of the cave to make tools took place long after the plaque was carved, between 6,000 and 4,500 B.C.

Its origin is still unclear but there are different theories about its presence in that area. “The river might have moved old remains and moved them to other, younger sectors,” she said adding that it was also possible that “maybe the younger communities, whose members tended to dig holes in order to keep their belongings there, touched older levels and moved that piece to their place.”

The piece is important as it appears to reference the ideological world of a community of hunters and collectors when engravings were symbolic representations. “It is known as ‘moving art’, it was not used to hunt or produce food, it is linked with the ideological world, with a way of ideological communication, but we do not know what it means,” the professor said.

She added that it might have been used to share rules with the rest of the community, or even to symbolize the tribe or the community. “What we do know is that for them, it had meaning and this meaning was shared with other individuals.”

Paleolithic art of this kind is very rare in Catalonia, which gives the piece oversized significance in the study of the Stone Age in the region. It also expands the known human occupation of the Monstant massif through the end of the Upper Paleolithic.

The piece is briefly on display at the Archaeological Museum of Catalonia from December 14th through January 24th. After that, researchers will continue to study it.

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Rare murals found in Tang Dynasty tomb

Tuesday, January 12th, 2021

Two Tang Dynasty (618-907) tombs with surviving murals were unearthed in northwest China’s Shaanxi Province. Archaeologists from the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology discovered the tombs last month in Buli Village, 25 miles from Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi Province today and the ancient capital of China during the Tang Dynasty. The tombs are intact with inscriptions identifying the owners and the murals, while damaged, contain imagery that is extremely rare in Tang Dynasty art.

One of the tombs contained the remains of a Tang Dynasty official. The single-occupant tomb was made of brick, encircled by a ditch and sealed with soil. It is oriented north to south and is 140 feet long with a sloped passage leading into the burial chamber. Archaeologists have found 102 funerary figurines, most of them depicting riders on horses, some standing individuals placed in niches.

The interior east and west walls are painted with a mural of caravan led by a blue dragon and a white tiger. Huren (a broad term meaning northern barbarians used by Chinese chroniclers to describe the nomadic peoples who were conquered and absorbed under the dynasty’s second emperor, Emperor Taizong of Tang (r. 626-649)) are depicted training horses and leading camels. Horses, canopies and attendants armed with bows and arrows follow. Below them are hunting hounds lying down, looking up at the caravan and running.

The quality of the painting is high with fine pigment and smooth brushwork. The people and animals are captured in dynamic movement. Horses and hunting dogs were very rare subjects for murals in Tang Dynasty tombs, and the epitaph explains their presence: the deceased, Kang Shanda, was the supervisor of horses under Emperor Gaozong (649-683). His father had held the same position and the family was very wealthy, rich in, the inscription says, cattle, horses and hidden treasures. He died in 671.

The second tomb is a joint burial of two royal family members. It is 110 feet long, north to south, cut out of the earth. The four walls of the chamber are decorated with murals. The raw soil walls were whitewashed and painted with scenes of feasting. One wall features dancers standing in the middle between two groups of musicians. Another mural features a table with dishes of food placed along it.

The epitaph identifies this tomb as that of Yang Zhishi and his wife from the Pangda family. Both the Yang and the Pangda families married into and were related to the imperial families of the Wu, Zhou and Tang imperial dynasties.

A mural depicting a scene of music and dance in the second tomb, owned by a royal couple, is in the typical style of the golden age of the Tang Dynasty.

The discovery of the two tombs has provided new materials for the study of murals and social customs at the time….

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Iconic Alexander Mosaic to be restored

Friday, January 8th, 2021

The iconic mosaic of Alexander the Great’s victory over the Persian forces of Darius III at the Battle of Issus will be restored in public view at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples (MANN). The project begins at the end of the month and will continue until July. A mutlidisciplinary team of experts will use the latest technology to study, clean and conserve the massive masterpiece.

The Alexander Mosaic is believed to be a copy of a Greek painting by Philoxenus of Eretria from the Hellenistic era (late 4th, early 3rd century B.C.). Pliny praised the work in his Natural History: “Philoxenus of Eretria, who painted for King Cassander a picture representing one of the battles between Alexander and Darius, a work which may bear comparison with any.” (Cassander was king of Macedon from 317 to 297 B.C., which narrows down the date of the painting.)

The mosaic was discovered in the floor of the exedra (an open-air sitting area) in the House of the Faun in Pompeii in 1832. It was made around 120-100 B.C. and is of unparalleled quality and size, a testament to the great wealth of the owners of the House of the Faun which is the largest and most elaborately decorated villa in the city. The villa occupied an entire insula (city block) and covered a whopping 32,000 square feet on two floors. The Alexander mosaic was a focal point of a dramatic visual axis down the length of the house, from the HAVE (“welcome”) mosaic on the threshold, through the 52-foot length of the atrium, the triclinium (dining room) and a small peristyle to the exedra that opened to the villa’s grand peristyle.

An estimated 1.5 million tesserae in four colors (white, yellow, red, blue/black) were arranged in fine opus vermiculatum style (meaning wormlike, for its tiny segments arranged in undulating asymmetrical lines) that used color gradations to create an incredibly detailed, smooth, realistic Detail of Alexander. Photo courtesy Museo Archeological Nazionale, Napoli.effect. It measures almost 9-by-17 feet and is 215 square feet in area. There are more than 50 people in the melee, with Alexander and Darius facing off above their armies. Alexander is astride his steed Bucephalus, leading the Macedonian cavalry; Darius stands in his chariot, his horses dynamically facing the viewer as they turn around in retreat.

In 1844, the whole mosaic was raised from the floor and transported by oxcart to what was then Naples’ Royal Bourbon Museum. They installed it in the floor where people, you know, walked on it, so in 1916 it was reinstalled on the wall where it has been on display ever since. It is a world-famous symbol of the museum, of Pompeii and one of the most-recognized images of Alexander the Great.

The Battle of Issus weighs seven tons and known issues include detaching tiles, damaged tiles, vertical and horizontal microfractures, and shifts in the underlay. Previous investigations have found that much of the deterioration in the mosaic may be due to the oxidation of the iron reinforcements and degradation of the mortar used to affix the tesserae to the background. It’s heavy weight and vertical placement put it in a constant battle with gravity as well.

The first step in the conservation process will to consolidate loose layers or mortar and tiles, doing a light cleaning of the surface and bandaging all the surface. The mosaic will then be removed with a mechanical lifting system custom-designed for this job. The entire mosaic will then be examined and analyzed to confirm the next actions to take. Between April and July, the support will be stabilized while the face of the mosaic, protected by planking, will be projected  onto a wall so conservators can see which area of the mosaic they are treating and the public can see them at work. The last step will be the removal of the bandages and planking, cleaning, any final consolidations and a new protective treatment.

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Netherlands’ Roman limes seeks UNESCO status

Thursday, January 7th, 2021

The Germanic Limes, the northern frontier line of the Roman Empire from the late 1st century to the second half of the third, ran from the North Sea to the Danube. The section in what is now the Netherlands followed the line of the Lower Rhine from the Oude Rijn estuary on the North Sea to the town of Bad Breisig in modern-day Germany. The Lower Germanic Limes ended there and the Upper Germanic picked up on the other side of the Rhine.

The Netherlands limes run from Nijmegen, the second oldest city in the Netherlands founded as a Roman military camp in the 1st century B.C., to Katwijk, founded by the Emperor Claudius in the 1st century A.D. as Lugdunum Batavorum. Between them are a wealth of Roman remains, both outdoors and underground, and museums, like the Valkhof Museum in Nijmegen, owner of the exceptional Nijmegen cavalry helmet, and its associated archaeological park site of a Roman military camp.

The Lower Germanic Limes was not a fortified structure-based border like Hadrian’s Wall. There were forts alone the line, but they dotted the natural boundary of the Lower Rhine. The remains of the forts and military camps along the limes in the Netherlands today form the largest archaeological monument in the country. Netherlands heritage organizations have nominated the Roman Limes as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The results of the campaign will be announced in 2021.

Whether it achieves World Heritage status or not, the limes are an absolute dream trip for the history nerd/hiking aficionado. Flat terrain, a myriad fascinating, little-photographed sites along the way, no crowds, uninterrupted stretches of ground and river for walking, biking and kayaking. I came across a video today promoting the Netherlands Limes for the UNESCO list, and I am now officially obsessed with walking this line.

That giant mask you see in the video is a monumental replica of the Nijmegen helmet by artist Andreas Hetfeld that was installed overlooking the city’s Waal river in April of last year. There’s a staircase inside it so you can climb up and look out of its eyeholes to see a panorama of the city. How cool is that? Even cooler, they had to transport it to its current location by barge. Check out this badassness:

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Horse mounting block is 2nd c. Roman carving

Tuesday, January 5th, 2021

A slab of marble used for a decade as a horse mounting block in a stable in Wiltshire, England, has been identified as a 2nd century A.D. dedication from somewhere in the Roman Empire’s territories in Greece or Asia Minor. How it got there is a mystery.

Carved and inscribed slab from 2nd century A.D. used as horse mounting block. Photo courtesy Woolley and Wallis.The slab was first discovered two decades ago in the garden of a bungalow in Whiteparish, but at the time the owner didn’t realize it was anything but a usefully heavy hunk of stone among many in the rockery. She eventually moved it to her stables and used it as a booster step. It wasn’t until recently that she noticed there was a laurel wreath carved into the slab. An archaeologist then examined it, rediscovering its ancient inscription.

There are two wreaths, respectively encircling the words “people” and “young men” written in Greek. Beneath the laurels the inscription reads “Demetrios (son) of Metrodoros (the son) of Leukios.” It’s a dedication from the people and young men of wherever this came from to the honor of Demetrios. The language and style of writing date it to one of imperial Rome’s Greek-speaking provinces.

Tracing its origins and movements will be a challenge. The owner has put the slab up for auction at Woolley and Wallis in Salisbury which has launched an appeal to the public for any information about its past.

“Artefacts of this type often came into England as the result of Grand Tours in the late 18th and 19th century, when wealthy aristocrats would tour Europe learning about Classical art and culture,” explained Antiquities specialist Will Hobbs at Woolley and Wallis. “We assume that is how it entered the UK, but what is a complete mystery is how it ended up in a domestic garden, and that’s where we’d like the public’s help.”

The bungalow on Common Road in Whiteparish was one of several built in the mid 1960s and the auctioneers are hoping that someone who perhaps lived in the area at the time, or who worked on the construction, might recall the origins of some of the rubble used.

“There are several possibilities of where the stone might have originated,” continued Hobbs. “Both Cowesfield House and Broxmore House were very close to Whiteparish and were demolished in 1949 after having been requisitioned by the army during the war. But we also know that the house at what is now Paulton’s Park was destroyed by fire in 1963 and so possibly rubble from there was reused at building sites in the area shortly afterwards.”

The slab was originally scheduled to go under the hammer at a February 16th antiquities sale, but the all auctions for January and February have been postponed for the time being. The pre-sale estimate is £10,000-15,000 ($13,600-20,400).

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Early Bronze Age necropolis unearthed in Brittany

Monday, January 4th, 2021

A preventative archaeology excavation in Plougonvelin, a city on the westernmost tip of Brittany, has unearthed an important necropolis from the early Bronze Age. More than 50 burials have been discovered so far, ranging in date from 2000 to 1600 B.C. This is the first Bronze Age funerary complex of this magnitude ever found in Brittany, a region famed for its Bronze Age tumuli.

The presence of prehistoric graves in Plougonvelin has been known since the 1950s, enough that archaeologists suspected there might be a necropolis. A team from France’s National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) began excavating the site of a planned real estate development in October 2020. In two months, INRAP excavated a half-acre of ground, unearthing 55 burials of notable architectural variety. There are cist tombs, wood caskets, cist tombs containing wood caskets, cairns, ones with its stone slab cover still in place, and at least one jar burial, likely of an infant.

The graves are arranged and organized in a deliberate manner. Sets of tombs alternate with empty spaces suggesting the deceased were grouped in a meaningful way. The groupings do not appear to have been chronological. Archaeologists believe the concentrations of burials reflect family or community ties.

The tombs are in good condition, and analysis of the rocks used to create them has found that the stone was locally sourced. The contents are a little worse for wear. Even the most carefully positioned stones and slabs allowed water and silt to penetrate over the millennia. Between infiltration of sediment and the highly acidic soil, the skeletal remains were dissolved.

Only one of the stone tombs retained enough structural integrity to preserve the skeleton of the deceased. The bones belonged to an adult woman positioned on her right side in fetal position. Her body had been placed in an organic coffin — perhaps a basket-like material — before burial in the stone tomb. The organic container has decomposed, but its ghost remains in the imprint of her body left in a layer of hardened sand.

That bottom sand layer is found in most of the cists. It was an intentional deposition, not infiltration of the elements. The Bronze Age Bretons lined the tombs with sea sand. The consistency of the feature suggests a symbolic or ritual reference to the sea which is just a few blocks away.

No surviving grave goods have been found, and in their absence establishing a chronology of the burial ground will be challenging. Researchers will study the arrangement and typology of the burials and compare them to other Bronze Age necropoli. The skeletal remains of the woman will also be studied with DNA and stable isotope analysis.

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Late Roman cisterns found in Metropolis

Sunday, January 3rd, 2021

Four Roman-era cisterns have been unearthed at the ancient Ionian city of Metropolis (no really) 25 miles southeast of Izmir in western Turkey. They date to the late Roman, early Byzantine period around 1,500 years ago and had an estimated combined water capacity of 600 tons. The cisterns were found preserved in excellent condition under more than 20 feet of fill.

The cisterns were built adjacent to each other in the acropolis, the highest part of the terraced hilltop city, for use as reservoirs in case a siege cut off access to the lower city’s water supply. The cisterns had thick fortified walls to protect the precious resource and would have supplied drinking water to residents, irrigation to fields and water to the public baths.

Professor Serdar Aybek from Manisa Celal Bayar University’s Archeology Department touched upon the importance of the new findings.

“We are excited to open a new door to the daily lives of ancient people that lived in the region 1,500 years ago. The new discovery of four cisterns in the acropolis prove the skills of the ancient masters of Metropolis in the field of water engineering,” he told Demirören News Agency (DHA). […]

“(We) estimate that the cisterns supplied water to the entire settlement on the lower slopes of the acropolis, and particularly to the upper bathhouse structure. The cisterns, which are approximately three floors tall, are also of great importance in terms of being the best-preserved monuments in Metropolis,” Aybek said.

The excavation of the cistern area has revealed large quantities of animal bones and pottery fragments. They are likely medieval and indicate the cisterns were used as giant dumpsters in the 12th and 13th centuries, which at least partially explains how these structures were so buried deeply.

The earliest evidence of human occupation at Metropolis dates to the Neolithic era. In the Bronze Age it was part of the kingdom of Arzawa that became a Hittite vassal state in the 14th century B.C., albeit a restless one. It joined forces with Mycenaean Greece against the Hittites several times, and Mycenaean cultural influence is evident in the remains of pottery discovered at the site. In the Hellenistic era it was part of the kingdom of Pergamum which was bequeathed by its last king Attalus III to the Roman Republic in 133 B.C. Under Rome, Metropolis expanded Most of the earliest surviving structures of the city date to the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

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Birdwatcher spies Britain’s largest Celtic gold coin hoard

Saturday, January 2nd, 2021

A birdwatcher in eastern England has discovered the largest hoard of Celtic gold coins ever found in Britain. The birder has been observing a glorious instance of aerial combat between a large brown buzzard and two magpies through his binoculars. When they moved out view, he glanced down and saw something in the groove of recently-ploughed soil. He picked up the circular piece, figuring it was an old metal washer, but when he wiped off the mud, he saw the glint of gold. What glittered in this case was in fact gold, a Celtic full stater from the middle of the 1st century.

After he spotted a second one a couple of feet away, the birdwatcher switched to another of his avid hobbies, running home to fetch his metal detector. He scanned the area where he had found the two coins and quickly found another two gold coins. Then he got a particularly a strong signal and began to dig down. Just 18 inches under the surface, he unearthed another circular object. It looked like a copper bracelet, but when he pulled it up a shower of gold fell on him like he was Danae. The circle was actually the rim of Roman vase or jug that had been filled with coins and buried.

Alas, the finder did not stop what he was doing to alert archaeologists. He filled two large shopping bags with what are estimated to be around 1,300 gold coins and walked home with them. He then called in the find to the coroner’s office. The coins are now being assessed before the inquest that will declare them treasure under the terms of the 1996 Treasure Act. As far as monetary value goes, each coin could be worth up to $880 dollars, depending on condition.

This is a new record for a Celtic gold coin hoard. The previous record-holder was a hoard of 850 coins discovered at Wickham Market, Suffolk, in 2008.

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