Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Roman safe found in villa in Spain

Saturday, April 10th, 2021

A rare strongbox from the 4th century A.D. has been discovered in the Casa del Mitreo, a Roman villa in west central Spain. The arca ferrata, a wooden chest armed with bronze cladding and iron spikes, was used as a safe for valuables — coin, jewelry, textiles, important documents — in Roman homes and businesses. Because they are mostly made of wood, only four others are known to survive. Three of the extant examples were preserved under the extraordinary conditions of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The only other arca ferrata found in Spain was discovered in Tarazona, Aragon, northeastern Spain.

The domus was dubbed Casa del Mitreo because of a sanctuary believed to be Mithreum was discovered nearby. The villa was built in the late 1st, early 2nd century and was remodeled and expanded several times over the next centuries. It was located outside the ancient Roman city Emerita Augusta (modern-day Mérida).

“It is unclear what the owner did for a living. But it is clear that it was probably a wealthy family because the surface of the house is around 3,386 square meters (36,447 square feet), with 15 rooms, including the bathrooms and the kitchen, as well as four other rooms,” said [Archaeologist Ana Maria Bejarano] Osario.

Osario said: “It is unclear what they did for a living, but it might be something related to commerce or business, and they could even have been using the four extra rooms themselves to sell their wares.”

The house also had two more rooms on the second floor, including the one that collapsed during the fire, the causes of which are unknown.

The remains of the arca ferrata were first discovered in 1994 during excavations in a room of a building that had suffered a fire in the 4th century. At the time, the condition of the exposed organic remains was precarious, so the team decided to leave it in situ and prevent further deterioration as much as possible.

It wasn’t until 2017 that a comprehensive conservation and consolidation project at the Casa del Mitreo tackled the burned room once more. It was fully excavated and documented, as were the paintings and artifacts inside the room. It is misshapen from the effects of the fire which collapsed the roof onto the coffer and drove it into the ground. Today it measures 9.8 by 4.9 feet, but its original measurements are unknown.

Archaeologists consolidated the remains to keep the metal parts from oxidizing and the wood from decay. It was removed intact and transferred to the Institute of Cultural Heritage of Spain (IPCE) of the Ministry of Culture and Sports where it will be studied, stabilized and restored for future display.


Late Imperial necropolis found in Corsica

Friday, April 9th, 2021

A late Imperial necropolis has been discovered in the center of the two of l’Île-Rousse on the western coast of northern Corsica. The burial pits were dug out of the rock and filled with different styles of grave. About 40 graves have been found, the majority of them amphora burials in which large storage amphorae were used as coffins. There are also some tile burials, where recycled edged roof tiles (tegulae) and joint covers (imbrices) were perched over the deceased.

There is evidence of human settlement at the site going back to the Neolithic and the Phoenician colony of Agilla was established was at the site by 1000 B.C. After the fall of Tyre to the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in the 6th century B.C., Carthage stepped into the power vacuum and took over support of its former dependencies, including the ones in Corsica. That ended with the Roman conquest of Corsica in the First Punic War in 238 B.C. Agilla became the Roman town of Rubico Rocega for the next 600 years.

After the fall of the Western Empire, Rubico Rocega was largely abandoned, used by smugglers and fishermen, until the founding of l’Île-Rousse in the mid-18th century. Very few remains from the Phoenician and Roman towns have been found, and this is the first archaeological excavation of the center of the modern city and the first precise confirmation that the Roman city was located at the site of modern-day of l’Île-Rousse.

The evidence from the necropolis demonstrates that the Roman city still had strong trade links to North Africa. The amphorae from the burials were mostly manufactured in Carthage, now a Roman province and the primary source of wine and olive oil imports to Corsica in the 4th century A.D.

No grave goods or funerary offerings have been found. The burials are oriented west-east, with the heads on the west side and feet to the east. The skeletal remains are not in great condition and there has been significant deterioration of the surfaces of the burial pits caused by the development of the town in the 19th century. The Church of the Immaculate Conception, completed in 1893, was built right next to the necropolis, and there was copious infilling done at the time to level out the slope of the hill.


3,000-year-old duck vessel found in Bulgaria

Tuesday, April 6th, 2021

A pottery vessel shaped like a duck or another water bird has been discovered in a Bronze Age grave near the town of Baley, northwestern Bulgaria. The vessel is an exceptional example of the highly decorated ceramics produced by the Encrusted Pottery culture, a Bronze Age people that settled the Lower Danube. Their graves are replete with the highly decorated and varied pottery after which the culture is named.

The Baley settlement was inhabited for about 400 years in the 2nd millennium B.C. Its necropolis was discovered by accident 40 years ago and archaeologists have been excavating it ever since. Baley is the only Bronze Age site in Bulgaria where the necropolis can be conclusively linked to a nearby settlement.

The 2020 dig unearthed 15 new graves richly furnished with the characteristic ceramics of the Encrusted Pottery culture, bringing the number of graves discovered at the necropolis up to 132 and making it the largest known Bronze Age necropolis in the Lower Danube region. Of the 15 newly-excavated graves, two date to the first half of the 2nd millennium B.C., 13 to the second half. Eight of them were intact with grave goods and cinerary remains.

“The Baley Bronze Age necropolis is offering [us new] information about the burials rites of the [earliest Ancient] Thracians and their beliefs and aesthetic sense. [The archaeological team] has found very richly decorated vessels. They were used simultaneously as burial gifts and urns in family tombs. The remains of adults and children were placed next to one another,” says [archaeologist Kamen] Boyadzhiev who was not part of the 2020 Baley field research team.

“A finely crafted vessel in the shape of a bird with rich encrusted decoration has made a very strong impression [from among the newest Baley necropolis finds],” he emphasizes. […]

The archaeological team explains that the remarkable bird-shaped encrusted ceramic vessel, which seems like a duck, has been found inside an urn.

“The other [impressive burial] structure consists of three urn vessel preserving the remains of the dead [which were] covered with lid bowls. Among the urns the ancient people had placed three vessels with tall handles and another bowl. In one of the urns, [we] discovered a vessel in the shape of a bird and a bone needle, and in another one – two bronze hair pendants,” the researchers elaborate.

Duck-shaped vessel found in Encrusted Pottery Culture grave, ca. 3,000 years old. Photo by National Institute and Museum of Archaeology.


Drone flight over the Mausoleum of Augustus

Monday, April 5th, 2021

After so many centuries of hardship and an arduous restoration, the Mausoleum of Augustus finally reopened in March. The response was huge. Tickets, which were limited by pandemic measures, sold out immediately. Things were looking up for the largest circular tomb in the world, and then it hit the wall of the latest lockdown.

Mayor of Rome Virginia Raggi commemorated the one-month anniversary of the all-too-brief reopening by posting a cool new drone video of the mausoleum on her Facebook page. It starts as an overhead of the exterior, then flies into the tomb itself. The footage conveys the scale and dimension of the site far more effectively than still photographs. As usual, I just wish it were longer.


2,300-year-old conical tomb found in Mexico

Saturday, April 3rd, 2021

A conical tomb from around 300 B.C. has been discovered in the town of Tepeyahualco, Puebla, southeastern Mexico. Tepeyahualco is four miles south of the archaeological site of Cantona, a pre-Hispanic settlement that was first populated as early as 1000 B.C. and grew into a fortified urban center of regional importance before it was abandoned for unknown reasons around 1050 A.D. This is the first tomb of this type to be discovered outside the five square miles of the Cantona archaeological zone.

The tomb was discovered accidentally by residents of Tepeyahualco harvesting volcanic tezontle and basalt rocks for construction. They thought the deceased might be crime victims and called the authorities. An excavation of the site ensued and archaeologists confirmed it was an ancient burial, not a crime scene.

The tomb is 5’2″ high and shaped like truncated cone that narrows to a bottleneck. It is 3’2″ in diameter at the base, widens to 3’7″ in the middle and narrows at the top to 1’6″. The walls are made of local stone that was shaped and polished on the side facing into the tomb while the outside was left in the basalt’s natural form. Fragments of pottery recovered from the tomb are of the Tezontepec Rojo and Payuca Rojo types, which date the burials to the Late Cantona I phase (300 B.C. – 50 A.D.) The shape and materials of the tomb narrow the date town to the Formative period, the earliest part of the Late Cantona I range.

Unfortunately, because the area has been foraged for building materials for decades, the tomb was damaged and the vault had collapsed. The remains of a second truncated cone tomb were found a few feet away, but it had been completely destroyed by stone harvesting and no skeletal remains were found.

The skeletal remains of four young men were found in the first tomb, disarticulated and no longer in their original positions due to the damage. The skull of one the young men had been reshaped in the tabular erect deformation: flattened in the back of the cranium and flattened on the forehead creating a high, bread head shape.

At its peak of expansion (600-900 A.D.), Cantona is estimated to have had a population of around 100,000, but very little is known about the people who lived there during its 2,000 years of occupation because only a tiny fraction of the settlement has been excavated. We know they traded obsidian over a vast network and that it was a ceremonial center for the region, as evinced by the 27 ball game courts found there. Unique among Mexico’s Mesoamerican sites, Cantona is completely asymmetrical in its design. From street grid to squares to pyramids to ball game courts, nothing is repeated, measured or evenly arranged.

The discovery of this system of truncated-conical burials to the south of Cantona, allows us to infer that, from the first phases of occupation of the pre-Hispanic city, its size covered a large area and that its settlers settled in the periphery carried out complex funerary practices, thus as recurrent customs in the American continent since ancient times, such as cranial deformation, the researchers indicated.

The analysis of the surface and the geographical characteristics of the Tepeyahualco region show the abundance of rocky landscape that can host this type of pre-Hispanic burial system, for which its current inhabitants have been participative and concerned about the care of the tomb. and its archaeological heritage, maintaining constant communication with the INAH Puebla Center and organizing itself into brigades, which aim to safeguard its cultural heritage.


Fragment of Greek warrior relief found in Bulgaria

Thursday, April 1st, 2021

A piece of a terracotta relief depicting ancient Greek warriors has been discovered at Sozopol on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria. The fragment dates to around 500 B.C. and features two hoplites at march. They both wear Corinthian style helmets and armored breastplates. The one of the left (the more intact figure of the two) carries a spear in his right hand and has a shield strapped to his back. He holds a horn to his mouth with his left hand. It is a section of a larger frieze that once adorned a temple to Apollo.

Sozopol was founded by colonists from the Greek city of Miletus in the 7th century B.C., making it one of the oldest cities of the western coast of the Black Sea. Dubbed Apollonia Pontica, it was dedicated to Miletus’ patron deity, Apollo, and was famous in antiquity for the 45 foot-high bronze colossus of Apollo sculpted by the 5th century B.C. Greek sculpture Calamis. It stood outside the Early Classical temple of Apollo Iatros (the healer) for 400 years until the Romans looted it in 72 B.C. and installed it on the Capitoline Hill. It was lost in the 4th century, likely melted down along with so many other pagan bronzes.

The temple of Apollo was located on what is now St. Cyricus Island. The first archaeological excavation of the site was done by French diplomat L. Degrand in 1904. Further investigation was interrupted by wars, and the island was a restricted military zone until 2005. Excavations began again in 2009 and have since unearthed materials from a Late Archaic temple as well as from the famous Early Classical temple complex.

Other fragments of the terracotta frieze were discovered in 2018 and 2019. A total of 20 fragments have been unearthed in the recent digs, all of them from the same scene. Degrand’s excavation also recovered a section of the frieze which is now in the collection of the Louvre along with the rest of the artifacts Degrand unearthed. The Louvre’s section is appears to be an exact match of the newly-unearthed one, albeit much less worn.


Huge pottery production complex found in Poland

Monday, March 29th, 2021

Archaeologists have found the remains of a massive Roman-era pottery production facility in Wrzępia, southern Poland. A geophysical survey of the five-hectare site found approximately 130 furnaces, which makes it by far the largest pottery production site of its type in Poland and one of the largest in Eastern Europe. The pottery was in operation from the late 2nd/early 3rd century to the 5th.

Two of the kilns have now been excavated, and the fragments found  indicate the facility specialized in one type of pottery.

“Our research shows that only storage vessels with characteristic thickened spouts were produced there. These were large vessels up to 50 cm in diameter and about 70 cm high. The vessels were most likely used for storage – e.g. food. type of vessels where they probably played the role of peculiar pantries “- explains archaeologist Jan Bulas. […]

Dishes fired in open furnaces were made with the use of a potter’s wheel, which became popular in this area at that time.

Veterans of the legions who settled beyond the Roman limes brought Roman technology (like the pottery wheel), craftsmanship and consumer goods which were adopted by the Germanic peoples, particularly by the elite who increasingly lived a Romanized lifestyle. We know from coin finds that there was a significant flow of Roman money to what is now Lesser Poland in the late 2nd, early 3rd century A.D. After a dip in the late 3rd century, transfers of Roman coinage picked back up in the 4th before coming to a halt in the middle of the 5th century.

This coincides roughly with the dates of the Wrzępia facility. Large-scale production facilities like the pottery attest to how Roman technology and mass-production of consumer goods spread outside the boundary of the Empire. The kilns were a local operation run by the Vandals who inhabited the area. Its large size and specialized production shows there was a thriving, active, complex economy in the area.

Excavation of the site has ended for now. Researchers will focus on cleaning, conserving and studying the artifacts they’ve recovered so far and hope to return next year to excavate as many of the 130 kilns as possible.


Curule chair found in Roman funeral pyre

Sunday, March 28th, 2021

The charred remains of a curule chair have been recovered from a 1st century A.D. funeral pyre in the town of Épagny-Metz-Tessy in southeastern France. Archaeologists discovered the remains of two Roman funeral pyres in a salvage excavation before construction of new residential buildings.

The first pyre is the oldest of the two. It contains the remains of a young child between five and eight years old at time of death. The pyre was furnished with a great abundance of goods, including 17 ceramic vessels, 10 bronze vases and four glass vessels containing the remains of food offerings (lentils, beans, pork, rooster, wine). It was the child’s final banquet, and it was a grand one. Other goods were use items — three copper alloy strigils, bone game tokens — and furnishings (the funeral bed, boxes).

The second pyre was far more elaborate. The deceased was an adult of relatively advanced age, and clearly someone of immense wealth and rank. His grave contained 20 ceramic vases, at least 20 glass containers, 46 bronze utensils and kitchenware containing the remains of wine, lentils, beans, beef, pork, hare, rooster, partridge, duck and fish. There were strigils in this grave too, silver ones, plus a pair of gold earrings and a fragment of a textile embroidered with gold thread.

Amidst all these fine treasures, one object stands out for its symbolism and rarity: an iron curule chair with bronze decorations.

The X-shaped seat is composed of two iron frames with “S” uprights, articulated and intended to work with a set of leather or fabric straps stretched to allow seating. The feet are flat circular shapes and arranged perpendicular to the uprights which themselves have a rectangular section. The two sets of crossbars have round sections. The heads of the uprights are divided into two lateral tabs forming a semicircle framing a rod of round section; a washer is affixed halfway up the rod. The end of the latter is put down to fix everything.

The curule chair is one of the major symbols of power in Rome. Of Etruscan tradition, its use is reserved in Rome, initially, to the high magistrates (consuls, praetors) holders of the imperium, that is to say the power to order and to punish. Under Augustus, it is one of the attributes of the emperor. Two types of seat are referenced. On the one hand, the sella curulis strictly speaking, recognizable by its “S” shaped legs: initially reserved for the civil magistracy, it became a luxury household item reserved for an elite from the 1st century AD. On the other hand, the sella castrensis with its “X” profile which is the prerogative of military officers.

Curule chairs are found carved on funerary stele where they symbolize the deceased’s important civic role, but the chairs themselves are vanishingly rare finds in funerary contexts or any other, for that matter. A grand total of eight folding x-shaped chairs have been found in Roman burials France, and this latest discovery is only the fourth full-featured sella curulis.

Of the eight examples listed in France, seven are cremations. This practice makes it almost impossible to determine the sex of the deceased. As for the only burial, it is attributed to a woman.

Thus, if the presence of the seat would be statistically more in favor of a male subject, the hypothesis of a deceased cannot be ruled out and the presence of the earrings would moreover plead more in favor of this possibility.


Spider god mural found in Peru

Friday, March 26th, 2021

Archaeologists have discovered a mural depicting the spider god of the pre-Hispanic Cupisnique culture in the Lambayeque region of northern Peru. The mural was applied to the mud brick wall 50 feet wide 16 feet of a sacred structure. It was painted in ochre, yellow, grey against a white background. It’s hard to make out now that so much of it is lost, but the yellow zig-zag bits are the legs of the spider god. The vertical ochre stripe down the middle of the legs is the abdomen. The ochre gum-drop shape surrounded by a yellow boundary and topped by a blue rectangle is interpreted as the hilt of a knife or dagger.

The spider god was associated with rainfall, fertility and hunting. Archaeologist Régulo Franco Jordán hypothesizes that this temple, which was built close to the river, was dedicated to water deities.

“The spider on the shrine is associated with water and was an incredibly important animal in pre-Hispanic cultures, which lived according to a ceremonial calendar. It’s likely that there was a special, sacred water ceremony held between January and March when the rains came down from the higher areas.”

The Cupisnique occupied the northern coast of Peru between around 2000 and 500 B.C., and several of their adobe temples have been discovered in Lambayeque. Unfortunately callous agricultural expansion has taken an enormous toll on the region’s irreplaceable cultural heritage. The Early Cupisnique brick temple at Ventarrón was consumed in a fire set by farmers burning their sugar cane fields. Its murals, radiocarbon dated to 2000 B.C., the oldest absolutely dated mural art in the Americas, were completely destroyed.

The recently-discovered huaca, dubbed Tomabalito, also suffered extensive damage when neighboring farmers attempted to expand their avocado and sugar cane cultivation. Using earthmovers, they leveled an estimated 60% of the ancient temple complex. The existence of the temple only came to light in November 2020, when Régulo Franco Jordán, discoverer of the Lady of Cao burial, was informed of the appearance of monumental mural. He inspected the find himself, and identified it as a Cupisnique construction based on the characteristic conical adobe used to make the wall. He believes it’s about 3,200 years old.

Jordán reported the discovery to regional cultural heritage authorities who initiated an emergency archaeological intervention. The aim for now is to conserve what’s left of the mural and of the site. While archaeologists are investigating, authorities have applied for the area to be declared a protected site. They have also filed a complaint against the people who bulldozed the site.


Roman villa with large mosaic found in Spain

Wednesday, March 24th, 2021

The remains of a grand Roman estate with a large floor mosaic has been unearthed in the town of Rus in southern Spain. Found in the El Altillo neighborhood, the villa was in use between the first and fifth centuries, with the bulk of the construction documented thus far dating to the fourth century. The mosaic features motifs like guilloche knots and fleurs des lis in at least three colors.

Tesserae from the mosaics were discovered during recent agricultural activity in an olive grove half a mile from the center of town. They were reported the municipal authorities and the city commissioned archaeologists from the University of Jaén to do an emergency investigation of the site. When a geophysical survey and collection of material on the ground determined the site had significant archaeological potential, exploratory excavations followed.

The immediate goal was to document rooms with mosaic elements that might be in danger from agricultural work and/or looting. The investigation also aimed to map out the structures and uses of the ancient villa, exploring adjacent properties with the permission of the landowners to get a preliminary overview of the site.

The team found that the Roman estate was an expansive one and combined a large private residence with industrial areas. The mosaic covers the floor of the main reception room of the private residence. It was originally 30 feet wide and 60 feet long when intact, which would have made it one of the largest Roman mosaics ever discovered in the southern Iberian peninsula.

Across the property from the residence were production facilities for olive oil and a pottery kiln where roof tiles were made. There is also a burial area that dates to the Late Imperial period.

The city is excited by the prospect of an important archaeological asset attracting tourism, especially one connected to the area’s long tradition of olive oil production. It is working on drawing up new rules and processes to protect the remains that have been unearthed and to continue the excavations, in the future with the aid of volunteers from the community. The city council also hopes to have the site declared an Asset of Cultural Interest, which would give them access to funds to support additional exploration and preservation of the villa and its remains.





April 2021


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