Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Bronze Age tombs with international luxury goods found in Cyprus

Wednesday, December 1st, 2021

Archaeologists have unearthed a Late Bronze Age double-chamber tomb containing an unprecedented wealth of imported grave goods at the Late Cypriote city of Hala Sultan Tekke site near Larnaca, Cyprus. The tombs date to between 1400 and 1300 B.C. No other archaeological site on Cyprus has ever come close to such a profusion of luxury goods from all over the Mediterranean world.

The site of the Late Bronze Age town of Dromolaxia Vizatzia has been excavated for decades, revealing the presence of a major town with a thriving industry in pottery production and textile manufacture. Massive amounts of murex shells point to it having been a production center for the prized indigo blue dye later known as Tyrian purple (Tyre didn’t start producing it until around 1200 B.C.).

University of Gothenburg archaeologists discovered the tombs in 2018. The tomb is shaped like a figure eight and the first season’s dig unearthed 13 skeletons from the two chambers. Grave goods included vessels produced locally as well as jars, alabaster, small jugs and a feeding bottle in Late Helladic and Minoan styles imported from the Aegean. The most spectacular among them was a large Mycenaean krater painted with two chariots drawn by four horses and 10 men with swords. Faience and alabaster vessels were imported from Egypt, as were a pair of pierced ivory discs that were part of the deceased’s garment.

The find required painstakingly careful excavation because of how fragile the bones were from more than 3,000 years spent in the salty soil around Larnaca Salt Lake. In the four years since the double-chamber tomb was discovered, archaeologists have unearthed the skeletal remains of another 142 people, for a total of 155 individuals, some of which were burned. The bones and grave goods were layered over each other, evidence that the tombs were in use for generations.

Hundreds more rare artifacts have also been found, including a bronze knife with an ivory handle, silver and bronze jewelry, Nuragic tableware imported from Sardinia and a large Minoan hollow bull figurine that is the first of its kind ever discovered in Cyprus. At least three large female figurines with bird faces have been found. They all have two piercings in each ear. One wears three ceramic and one bronze hoop earrings through them, one has three ceramic hoops in hers and the third and largest has only one earring remaining in situ.

Another outstanding find is a hematite cylinder seal from the Old Babylonian empire. It dates to the 18th century B.C., which means it was already an antique, at least 300 years old, when it was buried. The seal depicts a deity, people and animals and has a three-line Akkadian inscription mentioning three names: the Mesopotamian deity Amurru, and two kings, father and son. That seal traveled more than 600 miles to wind up in a grave in Cyprus three centuries later.

Egypt was represented by gold jewelry — a diadem, a bead necklace, a lotus-shaped pendant with stone and faience inlay — and a scarab engraved with hieroglyphs that dates to the reign of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. Also by the remains of a Nile Valley fish found among other animal bones. Gemstones found in the tomb were world travelers too, including carnelian from India, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan and Baltic amber.

“The finds indicate that these are family tombs for the ruling elite in the city. For example, we found the skeleton of a five-year-old with a gold necklace, gold earrings and a gold tiara. This was probably a child of a powerful and wealthy family,” says Professor Peter Fischer, the leader of the excavations.

The finds include jewellery and other objects made of gold, silver, bronze, ivory and gemstones and richly decorated vessels from many cultures.

“We also found a ceramic bull. The body of this hollow bull has two openings: one on the back to fill it with a liquid, likely wine, and one at the nose to drink from. Apparently, they had feasts in the chamber to honour their dead.”

The exceptional geographic range and quality of the grave goods found in the double-tomb attest to the pivotal role Dromolaxia Vizatzia played in Late Bronze Age Mediterranean trade networks.

The skeletal remains will now be studied and DNA extracted for analysis.

“This will reveal how the different individuals are related with each other and if there are immigrants from other cultures, which isn’t unlikely considering the vast trade networks,” says Peter Fischer.


Roman necropolis found under Arras supermarket

Monday, November 29th, 2021

A large necropolis from the late Roman empire has been discovered under the wall of a supermarket in Arras, northern France. Archaeologists surveyed the site in advance of construction of an extension to the supermarket, and in July 2020 unearthed a lead sarcophagus that can by stylistically dated to the 4th century.

Archaeologists excavated further this fall and discovered that the necropolis extends beyond their remit. Only the southern perimeter of the burial ground has been found. To the west, the graves continue under the supermarket. They continue eastward crossing into the neighboring property, and northward as well, albeit with less tomb density that suggests the northern perimeter is near.

Most of the tombs are laid out along a southwest/northeast orientation, and while they are relatively densely packed together, there is almost no overlap between the cut graves. The burials unearthed so far are inhumations and they are notably devoid of grave goods. Only two graves contained any objects at all, most strikingly an adult woman buried with a rich array of jewelry including a pearl necklace, earrings, copper and bone bangles and copper finger rings.

With the exception of one double burial containing the remains of one adult and one child, each grave held a single individual. Almost all of them were laid to rest in wood coffins, attested to by the surviving iron nails and metal brackets nailed to the corners of the grave’s wooden formwork. Even the two people buried together in one grave were each placed in their own wooden coffin.

Another lead coffin was discovered, not far from where the one was found last year, with the same stylistic features that mark its date of manufacture. In the burial plot next to it was a limestone sarcophagus, its cover still in place, intact and so effectively a seal that no water had penetrated the interior. When archaeologists raised the lid, they found no sediment or water at all, just the skeletal remains of an adult female.

The individuals buried correspond, at first glance, to a natural recruitment. We meet children, including very young children, and adults; men and women. No particular distribution was observed according to the age of the deceased, the graves of children being mixed with the graves of adults.

Founded by the Belgic Atrebates tribe in the Late Iron Age, Arras was dubbed Atrebatum by the Romans when it was conquered by Julius Caesar in 56 B.C. and made the capital of the Atrebates. It was also a castrum, a fort garrisoning Roman legions, as was targeted by Germanic tribes when they began their incursions into the territory in the late 3rd century. The city retracted to its defensive ramparts in response, but in the 4th century it remained an important military and commercial center, residence of the prefect of the Batavian mercenaries charged with the defense of northern Gaul and famed for its high-quality textiles that were exported throughout the Roman world.

It was during this prosperous period in the 350s A.D., that Atrebatum was first evangelized by Saint Martin of Tours who had himself served in the Roman cavalry since he was a teenager. Any success he may have had fell by the wayside along with Arras’s prosperity come the 5th century. The city was all but destroyed by Germanic invaders during the Crossing of the Rhine (406-407 A.D.), and again by Atilla during the Hun invasion of Gaul in 451. Between the two events, the Franks, foederati of the Roman Empire, took control of the area. Evangelization resumed targeting the new Frankish masters when the Diocese of Arras was established in 499.

Excavations in the 1980s unearthed a large early imperial cemetery containing more than a hundred cremation burials from the 1st and 2nd centuries. These graves contain a variety of goods, including the remains of food offerings, coins, jewelry, grooming tools, pottery and glassware. The newly-discovered cemetery underscores the profound shift in funerary practices from the High Empire to the Late even among non-Christians.

The biological study of the population will confirm or invalidate a natural recruitment of the buried population and supplement the observations made in the field concerning the organization of the sepulchral space according to the age and sex of the deceased.


41,500 year-old ivory pendant is oldest of its kind in Eurasia

Sunday, November 28th, 2021

An ivory plaque decorated with a curve of incised dots is the oldest known punctate ornament discovered in Eurasia. Advanced in radiocarbon dating have made it possible to directly date the mammoth ivory pendant to 41,500 years ago, which predates by at least 1,500 years the previous understanding of when decorated ivory pendants began to be produced by the earliest Homo sapiens to arrive in Europe.

“It is the oldest known [jewelry] of its kind in Eurasia and it establishes a new starting date for a tradition directly connected to the spread of modern Homo sapiens in Europe,” the researchers wrote in the study.

The pendant was likely worn around someone’s neck, but we can’t be certain, said study lead researcher Sahra Talamo, a chemistry professor at the University of Bologna in Italy, who specializes in human evolution and radiocarbon dating.

The researchers noted that the pendant was created at a time when anatomically modern humans were first developing jewelry and other forms of body adornment around the world. Why humans started using jewelry at this time is a mystery that researchers are trying to understand, Talamo said.

There are very few man-made pendants made from animal ivory older than this. Some simple pierced animal teeth and mammoth ivory engraved with ]geometric line patterns were produced by Homo sapiens as they began to spread over the continent. The aligned punctuations were a new type of decoration. Other examples of this type of decoration found in southern France and Germany have not been absolutely dated; their chronological attribution is based on stratigraphy as recorded in excavations from the early 1900s, which is less than precise compared to modern methodologies.

The pendant was found in the Paleolithic layers at Stajnia Cave in Poland in 2010. Broken into two pieces, it was originally a small oval just 4.5 cm high, 1.5 cm wide and 4 mm thick (1.8″ x .6″ x .16″). It is pierced through by two drilled holes and decorated with at least 50 sequential puncture marks that form an irregular curve. The dots could signify something, a calendar for example, or a headcount of hunted animals, or they could be an abstract natural pattern, like a leopard spot.

The study was published in Scientific Reports and can be read in its entirety here.


Pre-Inca mummy bound in rope found outside Lima

Saturday, November 27th, 2021

Archaeologists have discovered a pre-Incan mummy in excellent condition in the Cajamarquilla archaeological site about 15 miles inland from Lima, Peru. It is estimated to date to the Chaclla culture which developed in the high Andes around Lima between 1200 and 800 years ago.

The mummy of what appears to be an adult male was found in an underground chamber tomb. The body was placed in fetal position and bound with ropes that kept the mummy in a tight crouch that it still retains today. It was buried with grave goods including pottery, stone tools and gourds containing organic remains.

“The main characteristic of the mummy is that the whole body was tied up by ropes and with the hands covering the face, which would be part of the local funeral pattern,” said [archaeologists Pieter] Van Dalen Luna, from the state university of San Marcos.

The remains are of a person who lived in the high Andean region of the country, he said. “Radiocarbon dating will give a more precise chronology.”

Situated on the trade route linking the high Andes to the urban settlements on the coast, Cajamarquilla became a regionally important center of commerce in the Late Intermediate Period (1000 – 1470). Its prosperity was reflected in the sophistication of its adobe construction and complex city planning with large public buildings, boulevards and squares.

The rope binding funerary practice is typically found among the late pre-Hispanic peoples of the high Andes. The mummy is therefore evidence that Cajamarquilla was inhabited not just by coastal peoples from the immediate area, but also by people of Andean origins. The exchange of trade likely resulted in a multi-ethnic population.


9,000-year-old necklace of 2,580 beads reconstructed

Friday, November 26th, 2021

A necklace discovered in the 9,000-year-old grave in Ba`ja, just north of the Red Rose City of Petra in southern Jordan, has been reconstructed from more than 2,580 beads. This is the first time researchers have been able to do an authentic reconstruction of so ancient and so elaborately crafted a piece of jewelry.

The necklace was found in 2018 in the richly furnished grave of a female child on her left side in crouch position. Dubbed by archaeologists Jamila of Ba`ja, she was between eight and ten years old when she died. A lump of red pigment was found between her legs and chest, and the outer surface of all of her bones were stained red. The lump of pigment was not the source, nor was any pigment applied directly to her bones. It seems either her skin or her clothes were stained red and when they decomposed, the stain colored her bones.

The beads from a multi-string necklace connected to a central mother-of-pearl ring spacer were found in the chest, neck and left shoulder. Most of the ca. 2,600 beads were small ring discs made of red limestone, with a few barrel-shaped and cylindrical beads of the same material. The red-dominant bead strands are interspersed with white cylindrical beads made of fossilized clam shell, five blue disc beads and two black hematite spherical beads. A larger oval double-holed hematite bead was probably the closing clasp.

The cist grave is also exceptionally rare. It consists of more than 80 sandstone slabs and fragments, with three large slabs as the main structural elements — two upright on the sides, one on top of them covering the chamber– and dozens of deliberately smashed oval slabs stacked in three layers above it.

The child’s special treatment in death strongly suggests that she was assigned a high social status from a young age, which suggests the existence of hierarchical societal structures in Neolithic Ba`ja otherwise unseen in the relatively uniform funerary architecture of the site. Because the elaborate construction and rich grave goods are so archaeologically significant, archaeologists carefully documented the structure and contents of the grave in situ, then recovered it all piece by piece for study and reconstruction at the Old Petra Museum.

An international team of researchers collaborating as part of the CARE (Cultural Heritage, Archaeological Research, Restoration and Education) project assessed and conserved the beads and worked to reconstruct the cist tomb itself in the museum. Now that the reconstruction is complete, the necklace has gone on display at the Petra Museum.


Unique Achilles mosaic found in Rutland

Thursday, November 25th, 2021

An exceptional mosaic depicting scenes from the clash between Achilles and Hector at the end of the Trojan War has been unearthed at Rutland in the East Midlands. It is one of only a handful of mosaics with this motif known to survive and the rest are on continental Europe. This is the first mosaic depicting Achilles and Hector ever discovered in the UK.

The presence of the mosaic was first discovered last year by Jim Irvine on a family walk on his father’s land. He saw some Roman pottery fragments in a wheat field. When he examined satellite imagery of the spot, he saw a cropmark delineating a building beneath the surface. A little digging revealed a small section of a mosaic. Irvine notified Leicestershire County Council and county archaeologists followed up, excavating a small trench to get a better idea of the mosaic beneath the surface. They were able to determine that the mosaic was in good condition and was figural with people, horses and chariots.

That type of complex figural imagery is rare in Britain, and experts from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services were enlisted to document the mosaic exposed in the trench in August 2020. The trench was then expanded, revealing additional figures that identified the mosaic as containing scenes from the Trojan War. After a year of lockdown and fieldwork backlog, archaeologists and students from the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History returned to the site this September to excavate the full mosaic floor.

It is enormous, 36 feet by 23 feet, and was likely a grand dining room. Within a guilloche pattern border are three comic-book style panels showing the clash between Greek hero Achilles and Prince Hector of Troy. The top panels depicts the chariot battle between Achilles and Hector. The middle panel shows Achilles dragging Hector’s corpse behind his chariot while Hector’s father, King Priam, begs Achilles to return the body for proper burial. The third panel features the exchange of Hector’s body for its weight in gold. A Trojan servant balances a huge scale on his shoulders with Hector’s corpse on one side and a bowl of gold on the other. Priam adds more gold vessels to meet the ransom requirement.

This last panel proves that the source was not actually The Iliad, because Homer’s account of the death of Hector has Priam ransoming the body with a cart full of rich gifts after he begs Achilles to think of his own father and have mercy. Before that plea softened his heart, Achilles had said he would never give the body back not even for its weight in gold. The story of the scale with Hector’s body on one side and a pile of gold on the other comes from a lost play by Aeschylus (Phrygians, or the Ransom of Hector) now known only from marginalia and fragments.

The room was part of a large villa in use between the 3rd and 4th century. While only the mosaic room and another building next to it have been excavated so far, geophysical surveys have found numerous outbuildings — barns, a circular structure, a possible bath house. It was probably the villa of a wealthy, classically educated individual. Fire damage and later burials indicate the villa was reused after it was abandoned.

The mosaic is highly detailed, and specific features show that it is the work of highly skilled mosaicists.  The range of colours used, the attention to fine detail and the way that some figures transgress the guilloche boundaries suggest that this presumably high status floor may have been sourced from an illuminated manuscript that was in the possession of the villa owner. It also raises the possibility that this person had an understanding of the classics and wanted to share that knowledge with their friends and guests.

Leicestershire Fieldworkers will be hosting a zoom webinar on the mosaic by one of the excavations’ lead archaeologists, Jennifer Browning, on Thursday, December 2nd, at 7.30PM GMT (2:30PM EST). Register here.


3,000-year-old drain pipe found in China

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2021

The remains of a 3,000-year-old earthenware drainage pipe have been unearthed in Xi’an City, capital of northwest China’s Shaanxi Province. The drainage pipe was made of four cylindrical pipes 10 inches in diameter linked together to form a section 10 feet long. It was discovered in an excavation of the ancient site of Haojing which dates to the Western Zhou Dynasty (1045 B.C. – 771 B.C.).

Haojing was one of the twin capitals of the Western Zhou Dynasty. It was located on the east bank of the Feng River; the other capital, Fenghao, was on the west bank. Haojing was founded by King Wu of Zhou (r. 1046-1043 B.C.) and contained the royal palace the administrative center of government. Fenghao contained the Zhou Dynasty ancestral shine and formal gardens.

The archaeological site of Haojing today covers 3.5 square miles. The foundations of a dozen Western Zhou rammed earth buildings have been excavated since the 1980s. Since the spring of 2019, archaeologists have focused their attentions on the foundation of Building No. 14, one of the larger rammed earth building bases at the site. So far they have unearthed 13,000 square feet of rammed earth remains, including rammed earth foundations and walls up to five feet thick. The 10-foot pipe was found in the foundation.

The rammed earth foundation of Haojing No. 14 building is generally slightly rectangular in the north-south direction, with a length of about 53 meters and a width of about 34 meters, with a total area of ​​more than 1,800 square meters. It is a large, high-level building. The southern and central western parts of the building site are relatively well preserved. On top of the rammed earth platform, there are 8 rammed earth wall foundations arranged in an east-west direction. There are 8 houses in total, of which 2 are larger in the middle, with the main room (hall), and 3 on both sides. The house is narrow and is a wing room, which is the same width as the wing room of the Hogyeong West Friday Palace, which was excavated in the mid-1980s. It’s roughly the same.

A three-meter-long pottery drainage pipe was found on the south-central edge of the building site. It is made up of four circular pottery pipes, one large at one end and one small at the other end. The pottery water pipe is decorated with rope pattern on the outside, the inside is plain, the diameter is about 25 cm, and the length varies. It is the best-preserved drainage pipe found at the site.


World’s oldest jewelry found in Morocco

Saturday, November 20th, 2021

Archaeologists in Morocco have discovered a set of shell beads that date to between 142,000 and 150,000 years ago making the perforated shells the world’s oldest known jewelry.

The 33 sea snail shells were unearthed excavations from 2014 to 2018 in the Bizmoune Cave less than 10 miles inland from the Atlantic coast of southwest Morocco. About a half-inch long, the shells are longer than T. gibbosula shells found at other sites in North Africa. The perforations are mostly natural holes that were chipped into ovals and circles. The edges of many of the holes are smoothed and polished, wear and tear from strings being threaded through the perforations. Residues of red pigment and ochre suggest that at least some of the shells were painted.

The beads serve as potential clues for anthropologists studying the evolution of human cognition and communication. Researchers have long been interested in when language appeared. But there was no material record of language until just a few thousand years ago, when humans began writing things down.

The beads, Kuhn said, are essentially a fossilized form of basic communication.

“We don’t know what they meant, but they’re clearly symbolic objects that were deployed in a way that other people could see them,” he said.

The beads are also notable for their lasting form. Rather than painting their bodies or faces with ochre or charcoal, as many people did, the beads’ makers made something more permanent, Kuhn said, suggesting the message they intended to convey was a lasting and important one.

The study has been published in the journal Science Advances and can be read here.


Silver plate with Scythian gods found in barrow

Friday, November 19th, 2021

Archaeologists have unearthed a unique silver plate engraved with images of Scythian deities and eagle-headed griffins near the village of Devitsa in the Ostrogozhsky District of western Russia’s Voronezh Oblast. This is the first artifact depicting the Scythian pantheon to be found so far north of the Scythian tribal centers.

The plate was discovered in a richly furnished warrior’s tomb in the barrow cemetery of Devitsa V. The necropolis on the bank of the Devitsa river today consists of 19 tumuli, but the site has been extensively farmed and many ancient barrows were destroyed over the centuries. It has been excavated regularly since 2010, and this year’s fieldwork focused on barrow number seven.

Barrow seven was one of the largest in the necropolis before agricultural work whittled it down. It was about 130 feet in diameter and more than four feet high when it was intact. The central grave has thankfully managed to survive, albeit not without damage. The tomb in the center of mound is 24.6 x 16.5 feet, the largest surviving grave in the necropolis. It was made of 17 oak pillars and covered with half-oak beams. The roof had fallen in, and the collapse had the happy side-effect of preserving grave goods that would otherwise have fallen prey to the looters who plundered the tomb in antiquity. It dates to the 4th century A.D.

Inside the tomb were the skeletal remains of an adult male about 40-49 years of age at time of death. His grave was richly furnished with precious metals, weapons, horse tackle and pottery vessels. Next to his head were numerous small gold hemispherical objects that had originally been stitched to his garments (now decomposed). An iron knife, spearhead and three dart heads were next to him. A horse rib believed to be the remains of a ceremonial offering was also found by his side.

The equestrian accessories were located in the southeast corner of the grave and include pieces from three harnesses: bits, cheek pieces, girth buckles, iron bridle browbands and iron, bronze and bone pendants. Each of the three harnesses was adorned with two bronze cheek pieces in the shape of wolves’ heads. Next to the harnesses was the jaw of a young bear, symbolic of the Scythian bear cult that was popular among the tribes of the Middle Don area.

In the northeast of the grave several feet away from the skeleton was the rectangular silver plate about 13.6 inches long and three inches wide at its widest point in the center. It had been nailed to a wooden plank with a myriad small silver nails. The wood has almost entirely rotted away.

In the central part of the plate as the scientists suggested a winged figure facing of a Goddess of animal and human fertility, the Goddess known as Argimpasa, Cybele, the Great Goddess is depicted. The Upper part of her body is stripped, there is a head wear, likely crown with horns, on her head. The Goddess is surrounded from both sides with the figures of winged eagle headed griffons. The depictions of such type where the traditions of Asia Minor and ancient Greek are mixed, archaeologists found many times during the excavations of the Scythian barrows of Northern Sea region, Dnieper forest-steppe region and Northern Caucasus.

The left side of the plate is formed by two square plates decorated with the depictions of syncretic creatures standing in a so-called heraldic pose (in front of each other, close to each other with their paws). From the right side two round buckles are attached to the plate on each of which one anthropomorphic character with a crown on his head standing surrounded by two griffons is depicted. Although, who are those characters and which item was decorated by this plate is still an open issue.


Decorated Roman dagger found at Alpine battle site

Wednesday, November 17th, 2021

A Roman dagger discovered near the village of Tiefencastel in the Alpine canton of Graubünden has been restored revealing rich decoration of inlaid silver and brass. Its cross-shaped handle dates it to 50 B.C., an extremely rare type of which only four examples are known.

The pugio was found in May 2019 by metal detectorist Lucas Schmid who volunteers to employ his hobby on behalf of the Archaeological Service of Graubünden (ADG). He was scanning an area of the Crap Ses Gorge in the Oberhalbstein Alps where Roman legions battled the Rhaeti in 15 B.C. and established a summer military camp to control the Septimer Pass. Roman lead sling bullets and weapons have been discovered there since 2003.

Schmid found the heavily corroded dagger a foot beneath the surface. It was complete, albeit missing its scabbard. next to a gladius, the short double-edged sword that was standard issue for Roman legionaries and local auxiliaries. He alerted the ADG to his finds and archaeologists followed up with an excavation at the site this September. In one month, the team unearthed hundreds of military artifacts, including hobnails from caligae, coins, fragments of shields, lead sling bullets and spearheads.

“It is not only the outstanding individual objects such as the dagger (a pugio) that are interesting, but also the large number and composition of the found objects,” study team member Peter-Andrew Schwarz, an archaeologist at the University of Basel, told Live Science in an email.

The slingshots are marked with the letters that show which Roman legion made them, — while the shoe nails and some other weapons, including some of the spearheads, are clearly also of Roman origin, he said.

The archaeologists have also unearthed fragments of swords, parts of shields and spearheads that were part of the armament of the opposing Rhaetians, he said.

The significance of the discoveries has spurred the ADG to launch a five-year investigation of the site that will culminate in an exhibition of the finds. The Canton of Graubünden has made a series of three short videos documenting the restoration of the dagger. It’s in German and has no subtitles, alas, but it’s cool to see the process even if you can’t understand what is being said.





December 2021


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