Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Head of Pan repatriated to Italy

Friday, October 25th, 2019

A marble head of Pan stolen 51 years ago has been returned to Italy. The statue head, which dates to the 1st-2nd century A.D., was looted in February 1968 from the Farnese Gardens on the Palatine hill. US Ambassador to Italy Lewis Eisenberg formally handed over the looted object to Culture Minister Dario Franceschini in a ceremony on Rome on Thursday.

Carabinieri special investigators spotted the marble head in a California auction catalog in 2016 and notified their U.S. counterparts.

U.S. attache Armando Astorga said the piece entered the United States in the mid-2000s, after spending many years in private hands in Europe.

So far, the investigation has not determined the original thief.

The Farnese Gardens were built over the in-filled ruins of Tiberius’ palace by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, grandson of Pope Paul III, in 1550. They were the first private botanical gardens in Europe, filled with rare plants imported from Africa and the Americas, grottos, aviaries, monumental gates, terraced balconies and staircases scaling the Palatine from the Campo Vaccino below. Alessandro Farnese’s collection of ancient statuary, assembled from finds on his own property and the acquisition of entire collections from other noble families, was installed in the botanical gardens.

The view from the garden included the Arch of Titus, the iconic three columns of the Temple of Castor of Pollux and the Basilica of Maxentius. In the 17th century the water supply to the Palatine was restored and the Farnese family expanded the garden to include fountains. Between the exotic plants, picturesque fountains, dramatic views and the Vatican museum-quality ancient sculptures, the Farnese Gardens became a popular stop for Grand Tourists of the moneyed classes.

The remains of the Roman and Imperial fora would be excavated in the 19th century, but by then the Farnese Gardens were almost as ruined as the great civic structures of the ancient city. When Antonio, Duke of Parma and Piacenza, the last Farnese of the patrilineal line died in 1731, Alessandro’s Palatine summer villa, botanical gardens and the greatest collection of ancient statuary assembled since antiquity passed into the hands of Antonio’s niece Elizabetta Farnese, Queen consort of King Philip V of Spain, and thence to her son Charles of Bourbon, soon to be king of Naples and the Two Sicilies. As absentee landowners, the Bourbon-Parmas neglected their Roman properties and by the mid-18th century the Farnese Gardens were already in decay. A century later, the villa and garden were largely in ruins.

The last King of the Two Sicilies, Francis II, sold the Farnese Gardens to Napoleon III of France. After the full Unification of Italy with Rome as its capital in 1870, the state bought the property and began to excavate it, seeking the remains of the ancient imperial palaces like the one Alessandro Farnese had so blithely filled in to make his garden. The archaeological site has been excavated off and on since then.

Just over a year after the head of Pan was stolen from the site, the Carabinieri Art Squad was founded on May 3rd, 1969. It was the first national police force division dedicated specifically to the protection of cultural heritage, anticipating by a year the UNESCO Convention combatting the illegal export and traffic in cultural artifacts. To mark the 50th anniversary of this important milestone in the fight against the illicit traffic in archaeological and artistic treasures, the Carabinieri are currently hosting an international conference on heritage protection. The head of Pan was repatriated on the opening day of the conference, a fitting celebration of the anniversary.

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House of the Bicentenary reopens after 36 years

Thursday, October 24th, 2019

One of Herculaneum’s greatest architectural and artistic gems has reopened to the public in grand style 36 years after it was closed in dismal condition.

Bicentenary House was home to Gaius Petronius Stephanus and his wife Calantonia Themis. It was one of the city’s finest private houses, with well-preserved mosaic floors and frescoes depicting mythological scenes and architectural and animal motifs.

The house gave onto Herculaneum’s main street and the entrance had a sliding wooden grill, which survived the volcanic inferno. “It is 2,000 years old. It is one-of-a-kind with its delicate decorations,” said Domenico Camardo, chief archaeologist at the Herculaneum Conservation Project.

Three stories high and 6,500 square feet in area, the House of the Bicentenary is considered Herculaneum’s most sumptuous noble villa (most of the ancient city remains buried under 60 feet of volcanic rock and the modern city on top of that). Its tablinium (reception room) is particularly splendid, with frescoes of the highest quality depicting scenes from mythology on the walls and an exceptional mosaic floor that combines opus sectile (prized stone materials like colored marbles custom cut and inlaid) and opus tessellatum (cube tiles at least 4mm long and wide).

The domus got its modern name because it was discovered in 1938, the bicentenary of the beginning of excavations at Herculaneum in 1738. Led by archaeologist Amedeo Maiuri, the open-air excavations during this period took place side-by-side with stabilization, restoration and exhibition of the sites. Artifacts found inside the domus were exhibited in the hall to the left of the atrium, which had been stabilized by crews of on-site masons and carpenters, as excavation continued in the rest of the villa. In the hall to the right of the atrium a sliding wood screen with a carved lintel, preserved by the eruption, was conserved and then displayed in situ for visitors. The tablinium frescoes and pavement were restored and that space was also opened to the public.

By 1983, the House of the Bicentenary was in dire straits from its exposure to the elements and its popularity with tourists. It was structurally unsound and the wall paintings were deteriorating at an alarming rate. The tuffa wall was breaking apart, the plaster layers separating off the walls, the paint layers flaking and turning to dust. Biological organisms, pollution particles, dirt and a coating from a previous restoration that was supposed to help preserve it but has instead accelerated the flaking were degrading the integrity and colors of the paint. The mosaic was lifting off the floor and had suffered significant tile loss.

In 2011, the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) embarked on a comprehensive new conservation project of the House of the Bicentenary in collaboration with the Archaeological Park of Herculaneum and the Herculaneum Conservation Project. The team focused on the tablinium, starting with extensive research, study and documentation of the site’s condition and using that data to tailor a conservation plan that would stabilize and treat the wall paintings, mosaic pavement and architectural surfaces.

For example, researchers were able to identify the materials and methods used by the ancient artists to create the frescoes and each those used in later restorations. This was a complex multi-layers problem that required thorough archival research of Maiuri’s photographs and written records, close visual examination, imaging technology, scientific tests in situ and in the laboratory. Environmental monitoring of different parts of the room and analysis of the salts and biogrowths revealed how temperature, water and salt in the air and ground contributed to organism growth and the damage to the plaster and paint.

The project has been so successful in stabilizing the grand domus that not only can the site itself be reopened to the public, but the passive environmental approaches, materials and technologies used by the conservation team will now be deployed on other structures in the ancient city.

“It was an occasion to develop new, innovative materials and methods for conservation that can be used in the site and elsewhere,” said Rainer, explaining that other frescoes at the site had been covered by the same, damaging coating [that caused flaking in the triclinium wall paintings].

Indeed, the wealth of information from the conservation project and ongoing monitoring of conditions at the House of the Bicentenary will be of invaluable aid to the other sites struck by Vesuvius in 79 A.D. that are experiencing the same kinds of deterioration issues.

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3,000-year-old Assyrian seal found Turkey

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019

Archaeologists have discovered a 3,000-year-old Assyrian seal cylinder in Turkey’s  southeastern Diyarbakir province. The seal was unearthed in an excavation at Zerzevan Castle, the ruins of a military base built by the Byzantine Empire in the 4th century.  The seal was discovered 13 feet under the surface of a field close to an underground Mithraeum that dates to the castle’s early days as an important military base. (Mithraism was extremely popular among soldiers who established the cave sanctuaries characteristic of the mystery religion all over the Empire.)

The seal has a unique inscribed godlike figure as well as a tree of life, a bird, and holy water in a vessel to nourish the tree of life, showing the importance of the seal, [noted Aytaç Coşkun, head of the excavation team].

Seals were often used in the ancient world to authenticate the source or authority of an object or document.

In continuous use as a military fortress until the Muslim conquests began in the 7th century, Zerzevan Castle protected the strategically important location on the ancient trade route between Amida (modern-day Diyarbakır) and Dara (modern-day Mardin). Major battles of the Byzantine–Sasanian wars (which continued off and on from 285 to ca. 628 A.D.) were fought at this site. At its peak, the castle covered 14 acres and included a civilian settlement with private homes, an extensive water system with canals and cisterns, a palace, an administrative building, a granary, arsenal, pagan sanctuaries and, later, a Christian chapel. The extensive ruins of the castle would house a small community again from the late 19th century through the 1960s when a village was founded in its environs. Archaeological excavations at Zerzevan Castle began in 2014 and have continued every year since.

This year’s excavation has born rich archaeological fruit. In addition to the seal, numerous bronze artifacts were found the date to around the same period. This suggests that the site was in use long before the construction of the castle in the 4th century, that there was an Assyrian presence, perhaps a fortified structure, perhaps a settlement, there before the Eastern Roman Empire was a twinkle in Constantine’s eye.

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London’s largest Bronze Age hoard found

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019

A Bronze Age hoard discovered at a site overlooking the River Thames in east London is going on display for the first time at the Museum of London Docklands. Containing 453 assorted bronze objects, the hoard dates to between 900 and 800 B.C. Objects in the hoard include axe heads, spearheads, tools and fragments of blades from swords, daggers and knives. There are two very rare and unusual pieces in the assemblage: decorated terret rings from horse harnesses. This is the third largest Bronze Age hoard ever discovered in the UK and the largest found in London.

The hoard was found during an archaeological survey of a site slated for gravel extraction in Rainham in the London Borough of Havering on September 21st, 2018. The site was known to have Bronze Age features from aerial photographs taken in the 1960s. Earthworks, field systems and an enclosure could be identified in the shots, and archaeological excavations confirmed the presence of numerous Bronze Age sites. It was a crop marking on the site that spurred the archaeological investigation in advance of development.

Almost all of the objects are damaged. Only 77 of the 453 are intact, most of them axe heads. There is no indication of why they were assembled and buried together in a pit.

“We do have quite a few weapons, a lot of tools that relate to woodworking, so gouges, chisels, things like that, [and] we have a lot of objects that are used in metal working – like ingots that would be melted down to be able to cast the bronze tools and weapons,” said [Kate Sumnall, curator of the exhibition], adding that while the hoard included bracelets there was otherwise little jewellery. Intriguingly some items, including a number of woodworking axes, are more typical of elsewhere in Europe.

“Our site is not a little isolated site, it is much part of a bigger European connection, with a lot of trade, a lot of movement, a lot of communication of ideas and also of goods as well,” said Sumnall, adding that the axes appeared to have crossed the Channel. “Either it is trading or it is people coming across, bringing their own stuff with them.”

According to Sumnall there are myriad possible explanations for the hoard, ranging from it being an offering to gods to being a rubbish pile of bronze goods that were thrown away as iron took over as the metal of choice. Another suggestion is that it could have been the stash of a travelling metalworker who travelled from settlement to settlement.

The hoard was declared treasure at a coroner’s inquest in July of this year. The age and number of artifacts guaranteed that outcome. The Museum of London then acquired the hoard.

It will go on display in a dedicated exhibition at the Museum Of London Docklands from April 3rd through October 25th, 2020. After that, it will move to the Havering Museum, a cool community-focused museum that opened in 2010 in a renovated historic brewery near the hoard’s find site.

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World’s oldest pearl found in Abu Dhabi

Monday, October 21st, 2019

The oldest pearl in the world is going on public display for the first time at the Louvre Abu Dhabi. It was discovered in 2017 at the site of a Neolithic settlement on Marawah Island off the western coast of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE). The pearl was radiocarbon dated to between 5800 and 5600 B.C. The lustrous natural pearl is less than three millimeters in diameter and is a pink in tone. It was found on the floor of a stone structure.

Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of [Department of Culture and Tourism] Abu Dhabi, said, “The Abu Dhabi Pearl is a stunning find, testimony to the ancient origins of our engagement with the sea. The discovery of the oldest pearl in the world in Abu Dhabi makes it clear that so much of our recent economic and cultural history has deep roots that stretch back to the dawn of prehistory. Marawah Island is one of our most valuable archaeological sites, and excavations continue in the hope of discovering even more evidence of how our ancestors lived, worked and thrived.” […]

Collapsed stone structures from Neolithic era on Marawah Island archaeological site. Photo courtesy Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi.The Neolithic sites on the island of Marawah were first identified in 1992 during a survey carried out by the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey, ADIAS. Subsequent excavations have shown them to include numerous collapsed stone structures, the earliest architecture yet discovered in the UAE. Aside from the priceless Abu Dhabi Pearl, significant finds from the key Marawah site have included an imported ceramic vase from the ‘Ubaid civilisation in Mesopotamia (Iraq), beautifully worked flint arrowheads and shell and stone beads. Numerous painted plaster vessel fragments were also discovered and represent the earliest known decorative art yet discovered in the UAE. At the beginning of 2020, a major new excavation will take place to uncover more of the settlement.

To be clear, it’s not the oldest pearl ever formed. There are fossils of pearls dating back to the Cretaceous (145-65 million years ago). It’s their interaction with humans that is comparatively young, and little wonder given how well-concealed they are. The Abu Dhabi is the oldest known pearl found in an archaeological context and therefore the earliest known evidence of pearling anywhere in the world. The previous record-holder for oldest archaeological pearl, unearthed at a Neolithic site in Umm Al Quwain (also in the UAE) was radiocarbon dated to ca. 5500 B.C. That pearl was even smaller — about 1.7 mm in diameter — and was found in a burial placed above the upper lip of the deceased. 

Diving for pearls was dangerous and difficult work, but pearls and mother-of-pearl objects have been found at multiple Neolithic sites on the Arabian Peninsula. The former had ritual and aesthetic value; the latter was necessary to make fish hooks to catch large fish. Archaeologists believe they were also important trade items, bartered, for example, with Mesopotamia in exchange for decorative ceramics like the one found at Marawah. Pearling remained a crucial element of the economy of Arabian Gulf communities for thousands of years. Abu Dhabi was a center of traditional pearl diving and trade well into the 20th century.

The pearl will be part of the 10,000 Years of Luxury exhibition, the first museum exhibition dedicated to the history of luxury in the Middle East. It runs from October 30th through February 18th, 2020.

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30 painted wooden coffins found in Luxor

Sunday, October 20th, 2019

A cache of 30 exquisitely painted wood coffins have been unearthed at the ancient necropolis of Asasif on the west bank of the Nile in Luxor. The sarcophagi were found one meter (3.2 feet) under the surface. They had been carefully stacked in two rows and are in excellent condition, the colors vivid, the lids still sealed and the contents well-preserved.

Asasif necropolis, located in the ancient site of West Thebes, includes tombs dating back to the Middle, New Kingdom and the Late Periods (1994 B.C. to 332 B.C.). This was not a tomb, however. This is a cachette of coffins, meaning the group was deliberately hidden (cacher means “to hide” in French) to deter grave robbers. It is only the fourth large cachette ever discovered, and the previous three were found over a century ago. They were buried in the mountain beneath a cliff in Deir al-Bahari, not in a tomb, and obviously it was an excellent choice of location because the sarcophagi were never looted and the dry environment has kept them pristine.

The coffins are believed to date to the 22nd Dynasty, some 3,000 years ago, and belonged to a single family of important priests to the gods Amun and Khonsu, the chief deities of Thebes (modern-day Luxor). There are men, women and children, each individually mummified, wrapped and placed in elaborately carved and painted coffins. The sarcophagi are richly decorated with hieroglyphics, figures of people and deities, birds, snakes, lotus flowers in vivid white, yellow, red, green, blue and black. There are scenes from the Book of the Dead, offerings to pharaohs and inscriptions identifying the deceased including one named individual who was a singer to the god Amun.

“It is the first large human coffin cache ever discovered since the end of the 19th century,” the Egyptian antiquities minister, Khaled El-Enany, was quoted as saying during a ceremony in Luxor.

It’s also the first sarcophagus cache ever unearthed by a team of Egyptian archaeologists. The other large chachette finds — one discovered Deir al-Bahari in 1881, one in the tomb of King Amenhotep II “KV35” in 1898 and one at Bab al-Gusus in 1891 — were made by foreign missions.

The sarcophagi will be transferred to the  Grand Egyptian Museum, the new museum near the pyramids of Giza scheduled to open next year.

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Herculaneum and its papyri live on video

Saturday, October 19th, 2019

During the first excavation of the Villa dei Papyri in Herculaneum, the team unearthed the villa’s entire library, more than 1,800 scrolls still tightly rolled and neatly stacked in shelves. That was in 1754, 1,675 years after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius instantly carbonized organized material in clouds of superheated gases and ash and then buried the city in 60 feet of hard volcanic rock. The volcano destroyed the city, and at the same time preserved the only complete ancient library in the world.

Naturally scholars were desperate to read those scrolls which could contain a wealth of long-lost texts. Early attempts at unrolling the scrolls did identify a few Epicurean texts, but unrolling carbonized papyrus almost certainly results in its destruction, and the vast majority of the villa’s scrolls were left to the hopefully more tender mercies of the future. Non-invasive technology like X-rays and CT scans were deployed, but with little success.

Ultrabright synchroton X-rays has been successful where other imaging techniques have failed, reading erased works by Galen, virtually opening a 17th century mystery box and recovering the image of a hopelessly tarnished daguerreotype. In 2015, the power of the synchroton particle collider was first deployed on Herculaneum papyri. It was a test of the possibilities and the results were very encouraging, albeit limited. The work proceeds apace, however, and two scrolls from the L’Institut de France are now being scanned by the Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchroton science facility.

The use of carbon ink is one of the main reasons these scrolls have evaded deciphering, according to [University of Kentucky’s Professor Brent Seales]. Unlike metal-based inks, such as the iron gall used to write medieval documents, carbon ink has a density similar to that of the carbonized papyrus on which it sits. Therefore, it appears invisible in X-ray scans.

“We do not expect to immediately see the text from the upcoming scans, but they will provide the crucial building blocks for enabling that visualization. First, we will immediately see the internal structure of the scrolls in more definition than has ever been possible, and we need that level of detail to ferret out the highly compressed layers on which the text sits. In addition, we believe strongly—and contrary to conventional wisdom–that tomography does indeed capture subtle, non-density-based evidence of ink, even when it is invisible to the naked eye in the scan data. The machine learning tool we are developing will amplify that ink signal by training a computer algorithm to recognize it–pixel by pixel–from photographs of opened fragments that show exactly where the ink is—voxel by voxel—in the corresponding tomographic data of the fragments. The tool can then be deployed on data from the still-rolled scrolls, identify the hidden ink, and make it more prominently visible to any reader.”

You can learn more about the study of the carbonized scrolls, past, present and future, in a live-streamed discussion from the Getty Villa. It will be shown on the Getty’s YouTube channel from 4-6PM PST (7-9 PM EST).

Speaking of Herculaneum and the Getty, Buried by Vesuvius: Treasures from the Villa dei Papiri, the seminal exhibition at the Getty Villa, ends a week from Monday. For those of us who haven’t been able to make it to Malibu to visit this extraordinary assemblage of statuary, frescoes, mosaic floors and more than a thousand of those famed carbonized papyrus scrolls, the Getty will be broadcasting a special curatorial tour of the exhibition live on its Facebook page on Thursday, October 24th, at 9:15 AM PST (12:15 PM EST).

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Roman chariot burial unearthed in Croatia

Friday, October 18th, 2019

In a first for the country, archaeologists have unearthed an extraordinary complete chariot burial with two harnessed horses near Vinkovci in eastern Croatia. The metal parts of the two-wheeled chariot and the horses’ fittings date the burial to the 3rd century A.D. and it must have belonged to an extremely wealthy individual with a prominent position in the Roman administration of Pannonia. It was discovered in a tumulus about 130 feet in diameter but only three feet high due to centuries of erosion.

This is not only the sole chariot burial ever archaeologically excavated in Croatian soil, but it’s also the easternmost burial mound. It was located along one of the most important Roman roads in the empire connecting the Italy to Pannonia and the Balkans to Asia Minor and has been documented in archaeological literature for 100 years. The family interred there built it to as a monument that conveyed their wealth and importance to all who passed on that busy thoroughfare.

The Roman town of Cibalae (modern-day Vinkovci) was an important one in imperial Rome. Founded as part of the Roman push to secure the Danube border, it was granted municipium status under Hardrian (r. 117-138 A.D.) and the status of colony (Colonia Aurelia Cibalae) under Caracalla (r. 196-217 A.D.). In the 4th century it was the birthplace of not one but two Roman emperors, brothers Valentinian I (321-375 A.D.) and Valens (328-378 A.D.).

It is no surprise that such an unmistakable feature on the landscape was struck by looters, but thankfully by lazy ones who never got to the exceptional chariot burial. They contented themselves with pillaging the two central graves which contains the skeletal remains of a man and a woman and were surely replete with valuable grave goods. The remains of a cremation and inhumation burials were also found in the embankment of the tumulus.

”This is a sensational, unique discovery in Croatia, as this is the first time in our country that this complex funeral custom from the times of Antiquity has been archaeologically investigated and documented.

Now, the long process of restoration and conservation follows, but so does the complete analysis of what’s been found. I hope that in a few years we’ll know more about the family whose members were buried in this area all that time ago, 1,800 years ago.

We’re also more interested in the horses themselves, that is, whether they were bred here or came from other parts of the empire, and what will tell us more about the very importance and the level of wealth of this family. We will achieve this through cooperation with domestic as well as numerous European institutions,” said Marko Dizdar, Director of the Institute of Archeology.

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Gold jewelry recovered from Elgin’s shipwreck

Thursday, October 17th, 2019

When Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, tore half the sculpted marbles off the Parthenon starting in 1801, he also helped himself to tons of sculptures from other temples and a vast array of antiquities around Athens.

(He did not have permission of Ottoman authorities for this brutal act of pillage, just for the record. The so-called Ottoman firman he claimed had granted him permission does not exist even though all imperial firmans BY LAW were meticulously archived and can be accessed to this day, and the almost-certainly fictional “translation” that does exist does not authorize the removal of pediments, metopes, friezes, caryatids or anything else attached to the Parthenon, only to inscriptions and loose marbles from the area around it. In fact, a local Ottoman official went to stop him when word got out that Elgin was prizing marbles off the structure. Elgin simply bribed him to let him get away with it, just like looters do today.)

His loot was packed into 17 crates and loaded on to his ship, the Mentor, which set sail from Piraeus on September 15th, 1802. Two days later, the ship began to take on water and headed for the nearby Ionian island of Kythera. While attempting to drop anchor off the coast, the ship collided onto the rocks of Cape Avlemonas and sank.

The 12 people on board were rescued by a passing vessel. The 17 crates of priceless ancient treasures  took a little more effort to rescue. Elgin spent large sums organizing a salvage mission performed by local sponge divers that eventually succeeded in raising the Parthenon marbles. They weren’t able to recover all of Elgin’s loot, however, and Greek archaeologists have returned to the Mentor several times over the years to look for lost artifacts. Maritime archaeologists have found amphorae, stone vessels, Egyptian statuary, coins and a number of British objects including bullets, pistols, watches and a compass.

This year’s excavation of the site focused primarily on cleaning, documenting and conservation of the wreck itself. The team cleaned the surviving section of the ship’s hull and took high-resolution photographs of the entire wreck site that were then stitched together digitally to create a photomosaic that will aid in the long-term preservation of the ship’s remains.

The moveable objects recovered from the wreck include small parts of the ship — wooden pulleys complete with surviving sections of rope — and artifacts it carried like remarkably intact glazed kitchenware and a section of a wooden leg. The two stand-out artifacts are exquisitely crafted jewels: a gold granulation ring and a pair of gold filigree earrings.

Gold granulation ring. Photo by P. Vezyrtzis, courtesy the Greek Ministry of Culture. Gold filigree earrings. Photo by P. Vezyrtzis, courtesy the Greek Ministry of Culture.

Section of wooden leg. Photo by P. Vezyrtzis, courtesy the Greek Ministry of Culture. Wooden pulley with mooring rope remains. Photo by P. Vezyrtzis, courtesy the Greek Ministry of Culture.

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Exceptional Roman necropolis unearthed in Narbonne

Monday, October 14th, 2019

An ancient Roman-era necropolis has been unearthed at the gates of Narbonne in Occitaine, southwestern France. Archaeologists from the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) excavated the site prior to development and discovered a burial ground covering half an acre that was in active use during the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. So far they have unearthed 300 tombs of an estimated 1,000.

Colonia Narbo Martius was the first Roman colony in Gaul, founded in 118 B.C. along the Via Domitia, the first Roman road in Gaul which linked Italy to the Iberian peninsula. They made a deal with the Greek colony of Massalia (modern-day Marseille) to acquire the land for the road and the new city founded at the important crossroads would prosper through trade, eventually eclipsing Massalia, which was conquered by Caesar in 49 B.C., and becoming the capital of the province of Gallia Transalpina. Indeed, the province would be renamed Gallia Narbonensis after its prosperous capital city.

The necropolis was located at the crossroads of two Roman roads just over a third of a mile east of the ancient city’s perimeter. It was designed in parcels, with masonry enclosures structured in specific groups. The groups, some of which border each other openly, others of which are divided by service roads, are characterized by small funerary monuments decorated with painted plaster and inscribed plaques. The inscriptions provide names and status — free or enslaved — of the deceased and attest to the largely Italian origin of the city’s residents. This was the cemetery of Narbo’s urban population, not the tombs of the elite, but the layout, construction and fine grave goods are evidence of widespread prosperity.

Most of the remains are cinerary, burned bones and ashes on pyres or enclosed in ceramic vessels placed on tiled or paved platforms.  They are often accompanied by delicate glassware — small bottles, unguentaria — and ceramic jugs and lamps. Charred organic remains from burned offerings have been identified, including of figs and dates. Personal items like jewelry and protective phallus amulets were discovered among the ashes.

The condition of the graves is exceptional. A tributary of the Aude river used to run nearby and layers of silt from regular flooding protected the remains. Archaeologists dug through 10 feet of alluvial silt, each successive flood sealing different burial phases and giving the team the chance to establish a chronology of the stages of use of the burial ground, the evolution of funerary rites and religious beliefs.

The state of preservation allows us, for once, to understand some of the ritual gestures; at the time of the funeral, at the pyre or in the grave, as well as in the context of the memorial practices, through offerings in honor of the deceased or meals consumed in the enclosures.

Rarely attested in Gaul, libation conduits were used in one out of three graves at Narbonne. Extending above the ground, these conduits are ceramic, sometimes amphorae, driven into the tomb to get closer to the deceased. They allowed the introduction of offerings. Some still contain cups used for libations and shells. The studies of them focus on identifying the libation practices through organic chemistry analyses.

The diversity of the funerary structures, their state of preservation, and the superimposition of floors and tombs make this a unique site in Gaul, which can be compared with sites in Italy, such as Pompeii and Rome. It offers a very rare opportunity to understand funerary practices in time and space. The Narbonne necropolis is already considered as a main source in the study of funerary practices in Roman Gaul, as well as for our knowledge of the working class in Antiquity.

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