Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Iron Age settlement unearthed in Norway

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

A unique opportunity to excavate an undeveloped field on Norway’s Ørland peninsula has revealed the remains of a large and wealthy Iron Age settlement. The site is adjacent to Norway’s Main Air Station which is expanding to make room for 52 new F-35 fighter jets the government recently purchased. By Norwegian law, the property must be surveyed by archaeologists before construction begins, and because this site is so extensive (91,000 meters squared or more than 22 acres), the survey is a major project with more than 20 staff working for 40 weeks at a cost of 41 million Norwegian Krone ($4,700,000), not counting the additional costs for room and board and large excavators.

The excavators are necessary to strip a very thin layer of topsoil which has been churned up by farming. The land has been farmed for centuries, going at least as far back 1,500 years ago when it was right on the bay. Now it’s a mile inland. Its former position on the coast made it an important location for Iron Age Norwegians.

“This was a very strategic place,” says Ingrid Ystgaard, project manager at the Department of Archaeology and Cultural History at NTNU University Museum. “It was a sheltered area along the Norwegian coastal route from southern Norway to the northern coasts. And it was at the mouth of Trondheim Fjord, which was a vital link to Sweden and the inner regions of mid-Norway.”

Excavations have already confirmed that the people who lived there were prosperous, as testified to by the quality of their garbage. Archaeologists were delighted to find middens — ancient garbage pits — on the site, because they rarely survive so long in the acidic soil of Norway. Thanks to its coastal history, the site’s soil is composed of alkaline ground-up seashells which has allowed delicate organic remains like animal and fish bones to survive to this day.

“Nothing like this has been examined anywhere in Norway before,” Ystgaard said.

There are enough bones to figure out what kinds of animals they came from, and how the actual animal varieties relate to today’s wild and domesticated animals, she said. The archaeologists have also found fish remains, from both salmon and cod, and the bones from seabirds, too.

These finds will give archaeologists a unique glimpse into the daily lives and diets of the Iron Age residents. Other artifacts found in the middens include a blue glass bead, several amber beads and a shard from a green drinking beaker that was imported from the Rhine Valley. These are expensive pieces, a testament to the wealth of a settlement that could afford to trade for such high-end goods.

The precision work of the excavators has peeled back the top layers of soil a centimeter at a time revealing discolorations and holes in the soil that are basically a blueprint of the structures in the settlement.

So far, these marks in the soil show that there were three buildings arranged in the shape of a U. The two longhouses that were parallel to each other measured 40 metres and 30 metres and were connected by a smaller building.

The 40-metre longhouse contained several fire pits, at least one of which was clearly used for cooking. Other fire pits may have provided light for handwork, or for keeping the longhouse warm.

Ystgaard believes there are probably more archaeological remains outside the 22 acres available to them to survey, perhaps a burial ground and harbour with the remains of boat houses, but they have more than enough meaty material to sink their teeth into on the airbase site. The opportunity to explore how the Iron Age site was laid out — where the houses were, where the fireplaces were, where the garbage pits were — is precious and rare and they intend to take full advantage of it.


Five homes, one laundry reopened at Pompeii

Saturday, December 26th, 2015

Five dwellings and one laundry facility at the ancient site of Pompeii have been reopened to the public after an extensive program of restoration: the House of the Cryptoporticus, the House of Paquius Proculus, the House of Sacerdos Amandus, the House of Fabius Amandio, the House of the Ephebus and the Fullonica (laundry) of Stephanus. The restorations were part of the EU-funded Great Pompeii Project, created to address the precipitous decline of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, which focuses on repairing the most significant and at-risk structures. Work was taking so long that in October the EU threatened to pull funding if they didn’t get cracking, which is why the announcement that these six major restorations have been completed was made with much fanfare two months later.

The House of the Cryptoporticus is a lavishly decorated building complete with a luxurious four-room bath complex. In its heyday it was part of one of the largest homes in Pompeii which was divided in two around 20 years before the apocalypse. Eighteen women and children fled to what they hoped was safety in the House of the Cryptoporticus during the 79 A.D. eruption of Vesuvius. Unfortunately there was no such thing as safety in Pompeii that day and they all fell victim to the volcano’s wrath. It was also severely damaged during Allied bombing in 1943, particularly the peristyle (quadrangular garden).

The frescoed walls and mosaic floors of the cryptoporticus (exterior covered passageway), the bathing rooms, the summer triclinium (dining room) and the oecus (main hall or salon) have been restored. A fresco in the peristyle that managed to survive World War II in relatively decent condition has been returned to its former splendor. It’s a religious shrine, a lararium, with a portrait of Hermes in a niche to the left where offerings would be left. A large looping snake dominates the wall. It is surrounded by green boughs. A beautiful peacock and a small altar with a snake wound around it complete the picture.

The House of Paquius Proculus is known for its electoral graffiti, one of which gives the house its name. It’s not a large home, but it has some of the most beautiful mosaic floors in the city. Black-and-white and color mosaics adorn the floor of the atrium with scenes of animals and geometric borders. A black dog chained to a door bares its teeth on the floor of the entryway to dissuade any who would step foot on him with malicious intent. The triclinium has lost most of its mosaic floor, but in the center is an exceptional survivor: a Nilotic panel of pygmies fishing, one of whom falls into the water where hippopotami and snapping crocodiles await him eagerly.

The House of Sacerdos Amandus has a spectacular triclinium with floor to ceiling frescoes in the third style depicting the adventures of mythological heroes Hercules, Perseus, Odysseus, Daedalus and Icarus.

The House of Fabius Amandus is a modest structure, a typical example of a middle class Roman home. That’s significant in and of itself, but it’s also decorated with fourth style red panels on a yellow field with architectural features and with lovely mosaic floors.

The House of the Ephebus, named after the bronze statue of a youth that was once part of a fountain in the sumptuous structure. It was the home of wealthy merchants and it shows. It’s actually three houses joined into one, and is replete with high quality mosaic and fresco decorations of floors and walls. Restorers reconstructed the reclining couches of the triclinium. The summer triclinium in the garden is decorated with erotic frescoes of Egyptian theme and surrounded by columns.

The Fullonica of Stephanus was excavated from 1912 to 1914 and is a fascinating composite of private and commercial, a patrician house that was fully restructured and adapted to use as a laundry. A room west of the vestibule is decorated in brilliantly colored fourth style frescoes. Large panels of bright red with decorative borders are topped by architectural features with garlands and birds on a white background. Archaeologists believe this was the main office of the fullonica where people checked their garments in and out.

The impluvium (the sunken pool meant to catch rain water from the open roof) in the atrium was converted into a wash tub with the addition of walls. This was likely the delicate cycle of antiquity since the tougher, dirtier, badly stained fabrics were stomped on by laundry employees in larger tubs out back. There are three large square tubs in the main laundry facility and five oval tubs. Clothes were soaked in a mixture of water and unrine. Urine with its precious ammonia was a key element in ancient cleaning. It was collected from animals and humans, harvested from public bathrooms.

After the fabrics soaked for a while, they were trampled by the laundry workers. Then the cloth was treated with fuller’s earth — a type of clay that served as a fabric softener — and rinsed very, very thoroughly. Garments were laid out to dry on the roof or outside the entrance before getting ironed in the fullonica’s man-sized press.

Visitors to the restored fullonica will see a demonstration of how fabrics were treated in ancient Roman laundry facilities. Special tours covering all six of the newly reopened homes will be offered from now until January 10th.


Otzi has the world’s oldest known tattoos

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015

Otzi the Iceman, the exceptionally well-preserved 5,300-year-old mummy discovered by hikers in the Otzal Alps on September 19th, 1991, is officially the world’s oldest known tattooed person. You might have assumed that to be the case considering he died around 3,250 B.C., but there was another candidate for the title: a South America mummy of the Chinchorro culture believed to have died around 4,000 B.C. who has a line of dots on his upper lip forming a pointillist mustache.

The Chinchorro people lived along the Pacific coast of what is today Chile and south Peru between 7,000 and 1,100 B.C. Chinchorro mummies, both natural and deliberate, have been found from early in the date range. They are the oldest known human mummies but only one of them is known to have a tattoo. The mummy with the mustache tattoo was discovered in the bluffs of El Morro overlooking the city of Arica, Chile, in 1983. It’s a male who was around 35–40 years old when he died. Radiocarbon testing of a sample of lung tissue in the 1980s returned a date of 3,830 years BP (before the present).

So according to the radiocarbon dating, Otzi is significantly older than the Chinchorro mummy, but a simple mistake in the scholarship misread 3,830 BP as 3,830 B.C. and the error was unwittingly picked up and repeated by subsequent researchers. The new erroneous date was then transposed to 5,780 BP, which in turn was mistakenly read as 5,780 B.C. in a later study. And thus a simple reading error was compounded over 20 years of scholarship to add 4,000 years to the Chinchorro mummy’s age.

Now that this error has been spotted and corrected, Otzi’s tattoos are confirmed to be the oldest known. As an aside, the Princess of Ukok who is famed for her intricate, highly artistic tattoos of fantastical animals and dates to 400–200 B.C., is 13th (or so, there are three other Pazyryk culture tattooed mummies from the same date range) on the list of oldest known tattoos.

Otzi’s tats are nothing like the Princess of Ukok’s. They are simple in design — groupings of parallel lines and crosses — and were not decorative. There are 61 lines and crosses tattooed on his body, the last of them discovered recently almost 25 years after the Iceman’s body was found. The tattoo was hidden in the darkened skin of his ribcage and was only identified thanks to a new study that used multispectral photographic imaging techniques to scan his entire body in a range of light from IR to UV.

Most of the tattoos are in areas that radiological studies confirm must have been painful due to degeneration and chronic illness, which indicates they had a therapeutic purpose rather than a symbolic one. The ribcage tattoo isn’t on a worn joint, his legs or his spine like the others, but Otzi suffered from several afflictions that could cause chest pain — gallbladder stones, whipworms, atherosclerosis — so it too could have been intended to alleviate pain.

The tattoos were made by cutting fine lines into the epidermis and then rubbing charcoal dust into the cuts. Since almost all of the tattoos are on acupuncture points, researchers believe the cutting may have been an early form of acupuncture which first appears on the historical and archaeological record in China around 100 B.C. but documenting what was already an established practice by then.

Although Ötzi is the oldest tattooed human, the paper’s authors conclude this will likely change: Ötzi’s tattoos are indicative of social and/or therapeutic practices that predate him, and future archaeological finds and new techniques should someday lead to even older evidence of tattooed mummies.

“Apart from the historical implications of our paper, we shouldn’t forget the cultural roles tattoos have played over millennia,” [study co-author Lars] Krutak says. “Cosmetic tattoos — like those of the Chinchorro mummy — and therapeutic tattoos — like those of the Iceman — have been around for a very long time. This demonstrates to me that the desire to adorn and heal the body with tattoo is a very ancient part of our human past and culture.”


Tomb of Tutankhamun’s wet nurse, maybe sister, opens

Monday, December 21st, 2015

The tomb of Pharoah Tutankhamun’s wet nurse Maia was opened to journalists Sunday for the first time since it was discovered in 1996. It will be opened to the public next month. The rock-cut tomb is in the necropolis of Saqqara, about 13 miles south of Cairo, and was discovered by French archaeologist Alain Zivie in 1996.

The tomb consists of the cult chambers with three decorated rooms and the underground, mostly undecorated, burial chambers. The first room of the cult chapel of her tomb is dedicated to the life of Maia.

She was the wet nurse of the king, educator of the god’s body and the great one of the hareem. Nothing is known about her parents. Tutankhamun is depicted on one of the tomb’s reliefs featuring the boy king sitting on Maia’s lap and the king is mentioned several times in the tomb’s inscriptions.

There is also a badly damaged scene showing Maia in front of the king. The second room is dedicated to the burial rites associated with Maia. Maia is shown in front of offering bearers. She is depicted as a mummy in relation to the opening of the mouth ritual and she is standing before the underworld god Osiris.

This large and elaborately decorated tomb could be an indication that Maia was not just an important figure because she nourished the young king, but because she herself was a member of the royal family. Recently an ostracon was found in the tomb that titles Maia “Mistress of Women,” a significantly higher title than wet nurse, even when the nursee is a future pharaoh. Zivie believes the depictions of Maia on the reliefs share “the same chin, the eyes, the family traits” of Tutankhamun. The tomb of Akhenaten, Tutankhamun’s father, in Tel el-Amarna has a wall carving showing the burial of Maketaten, second daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, which is attended by a woman breast-feeding a baby. She is identified as Meritaten, the eldest daughter of Akhenaten, and the baby’s she’s feeding may be Tutankhamun. If true, that would make Tutankhamun’s wet-nurse his sister or half-sister.

The necropolis was extensively reused starting in the 7th century B.C. as a cemetery for mummified animals. Between the 30th Dynasty (380-343 B.C.) and the Roman period, Saqqara was a major center of animal cult worship and networks of galleries were carved out of the rock of the plateau to house the mummified remains of huge numbers of cats, dogs, bulls, ibises, baboons and more. In 2011, archaeologists discovered an incredible eight million animal mummies, mostly dogs but some cats and mongooses as well, in a catacomb near the temple of Anubis just to the east of the Bubasteion.

The area where Maia’s tomb was found is known as the Bubasteion, identified in Papyrus documents from the Late Period as the sanctuary of the cat goddess Bastet. Unlike the massive dog catacomb which was dug in the Late Period, the Bubasteion recycled the New Kingdom rock-cut tombs. Alain Zivie, then part of the French Archaeological Mission of Saqqara (FAMS), now director and founder of the French Archaeological Mission of the Bubasteion (MAFB) which has been excavating the necropolis since 1986, was the first to recognize in 1976 that the rock-cut tombs were originally created not for animals, but for important courtiers and high-ranking officials of 18th and 19th Dynasty Egypt.

The MAFB team has cleared more than a dozen tombs that were filled with debris and sand and whose original walls were obscured by Ptolemaic-era walls and pillars erected to support the rock ceilings which by then were in danger of imminent collapse. The new walls and pillars added in the conversion of the tombs to cat mummy catacombs helped preserve the original wall decorations — reliefs and paintings — and even hid some of the original burial gifts behind them. Maia’s tomb was full to the ceiling with sand, rubble and Ptolemaic modifications, which is why it has taken close to 20 years to fully excavate, clean and shore up the structure to make it safe for visitors.


A look inside a crocodile mummy

Sunday, December 20th, 2015

The British Museum has performed a new study of a 2,500-year old crocodile mummy which is now on display for the first time in 75 years. Scanning Sobek: Mummy of the Crocodile God, is one of The Asahi Shimbun Displays, a series of short exhibitions that explore objects in a new light. In this case, visitors will get to see the crocodile itself and the new information about the creature’s life and death revealed in the study.

The mummy is a Nile crocodile that dates from 650 – 550 B.C. and is four meters (13 feet) long. It was mummified after death, dried in natron and then coated in beeswax and pitch before being wrapped in linen bandages. The mummy was a representation of the god Sobek, the crocodile-headed deity which symbolized the power of the pharaoh, fertility, military strength and protection from harm. Crocodiles, which lay as many as 80 eggs in one clutch and which ferociously protect their young, carrying hatchlings on their backs or even in their mouths, were seen as great generators and guardians, powers that took godly form in Sobek and the pharaoh. The British Museum mummy has more than 25 mummified hatchlings on its back, representing that combination of generative and protective power evinced by the Nile crocodile.

It was one of about 300 crocodile mummies discovered in the Per-Sobek temple in Kom Ombo, a site about 30 miles north of Aswan in southern Egypt, and in the neighboring animal necropolis of el-Shatb. The Kom Ombo temple was the largest and most important center of worship of Sobek in Egypt during the Ptolemaic and Roman eras. Built in the 2nd century by Ptolemy VI Philometor on the site of an earlier temple to Sobek by 18th Dynasty Pharaoh Thutmose III (r. 1479–1425 B.C.), the unique symmetrical double temple had two sections, the southern one dedicated to Sobek, the northern to falcon god Horus the Elder. The necropolis, with hundreds of crocodile graves cut into the hard rock, was in continuous use from the Middle Kingdom through the Greco-Roman period.

The temple bred sacred crocodiles, the mummified eggs and juveniles used as votive offerings to the god. Sacred crocodiles bred at the temple were treated with kid gloves, adorned with jewels and hand-fed. Worshipped as the incarnation of the god himself, they lived out their natural lives and were mummified after death. They were probably as tame as fearsome Nile crocodiles could get. In Book XVII of his Geography, Strabo describes priests feeding a sacred crocodile in Crocodilopolis, modern-day Faiyum, the largest center of cult worship for Sobek.

[T]here is a sacred one there which is kept and fed by itself in a lake, and is tame to the priests. It is called Suchus; and it is fed on grain and pieces of meat and on wine, which are always being fed to it by the foreigners who go to see it. At any rate, our host, one of the officials, who was introducing us into the mysteries there, went with us to the lake, carrying from the dinner a kind of cooky and some roasted meat and a pitcher of wine mixed with honey. We found the animal lying on the edge of the lake; and when the priests went up to it, some of them opened its mouth and another put in the cake, and again the meat, and then poured down the honey mixture. The animal then leaped into the lake and rushed across to the far side; but when another foreigner arrived, likewise carrying an offering of first-fruits, the priests took it, went around the lake in a run, took hold of the animal, and in the same manner fed it what had been brought.

The Kom Ombo temple was in ruins from Nile flooding, earthquakes and centuries of stone quarrying for building projects when it was cleaned, restored and rebuilt as much as possible by French engineer and archaeologist Jacques de Morgan in 1893, then acting Director of Egyptian Antiquities. A selection of the surviving crocodile mummies from Kom Ombo are on display in the new Crocodile Museum near the temple that opened in 2012. The British Museum’s crocodile mummy was discovered during Jacques de Morgan’s work on the site and donated to the museum in 1895.

The mummy was scanned at the Royal Veterinary College using high-resolution computer tomography. The scans were used to create a 3D model displaying the details of the crocodile’s insides and the contents of his stomach confirms at least part of Strabo’s account.

Not all organs were removed by the embalmers and the stomach contents – the remains of the crocodile’s last meal – are still present. The crocodile appears to have been fed select cuts of meat prior to death, including a cow’s shoulder bone and parts of a forelimb.

Exact replicas of these bones – 3D printed from the scan data – are displayed next to a four-metre CT scan visualisation of the crocodile. The bones were found inside the stomach along with numerous small irregular-shaped stones, which the crocodile swallowed for ballast and to assist digestion, as well as several unidentified small metal objects.


Tutankhamun’s restored gold mask back on display

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

The gold funerary mask of Tutankhamun has gone back on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo after two months of restoration to repair a botched reattachment of its false beard. The beard fell off last summer when the mask was returned to the display case after workers replaced a burned out light bulb. Anxious to get the mask back on display as quickly as possible, museum staff hastily reattached the beard with a sloppy thick application of epoxy that hardened into an unsightly layer.

When the news got out a few months later, at first museum officials denied any damage had happened before admitting that someone had blundered. They brought in a team of German and Egyptian restorers led by Christian Eckmann and secured a donation of 50,000 euros from the German Foreign Ministry to fund the restoration. After months of analysis and preparation, work began on the mask this October.

Researchers took the opportunity to study the mask thoroughly. It was 3D scanned and examined inside and out with a microscope in the hope that it might answer some questions about its composition, like what materials and techniques were used to put it together, and whether there is any evidence supporting the theory most recently proposed by British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves that the mask was first made for Queen Nefertiti and then hastily modified for Tutankhamun after his unexpected death at age 19.

The biggest challenge was determining how best to remove the epoxy layer to liberate the false beard from its clumpy prison. Restorers wound up sticking with simple tools that would have been available to the original makers in 1,324 B.C.: wooden tools and heat. The adhesive was slightly warmed to soften it and then removed by careful scraping with the wooden sticks, spatulas and other tools which are soft enough they won’t scratch the gold. It took two weeks to remove the beard and another six to figure out how best to reattach it in a responsible, reversible way.

Egypt’s Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty said the reattachment came after studies explored the best materials to use for the work.

“We indeed found them to be the natural materials which the ancient Egyptian used; they are still the best tools: beeswax,” el-Damaty told reporters in Cairo on Wednesday. “It was prepared well and the beard was attached very successfully.”

The false beard wasn’t really attached when Howard Carter discovered the tomb in 1922. It looked like it was in place, but the support had broken in antiquity so when Carter moved the mask it was in two pieces. The mask and beard were displayed separately until 1946 when for the first time he beard was glued in place. That wasn’t the only time glue was used. Restorers found multiple thin layers underneath the epoxy one. The restoration team will publish a full report of the analysis, study and restoration of the mask and beard.


6th century foot prosthesis found in Austria

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

Archeologists from the Austrian Archaeological Institute (OAI) have discovered a rare foot and lower leg prosthesis dating to the 6th century A.D. at the archaeological site of Hemmaberg, near the village of Globasnitz, Carinthia, southern Austria. Several churches were built on the hill in the late Roman, early medieval period and was a popular center of pilgrimage. There are several burial grounds associated with the site, one of which is a small cemetery of 29 graves from the Frankish period between 536 and around 600 A.D. It was in this cemetery that the skeletal remains of an adult male between the age of 35 and 50 with a missing lower left leg was discovered in 2009.

He was buried with a scramasax and a pennanular brooch in a grave next to the northern wall of the church. The skeleton is in excellent condition, intact except for the missing left foot and bottom of the left tibia and fibula. Where the missing bones would have been archaeologists found a circular iron band just under three inches in diameter. Two small iron rivets closed the band and decayed remains of wooden slats inside the ring were fixed to the ring with four iron nails. The shortened ends of the left tibia and fibia have dark stains that may be all that’s left of whatever organic material, probably wood or leather, that connected the prosthesis to the leg. The wood remnants and the position of the band in the grave indicate the device may have been a wooden leg with the iron band on the bottom.

Osteological investigation revealed the man had major dental health issues, with cavities throughout his mouth, and he sustained a broken nose that healed before his death. Evidence of arthritis was found throughout this body, but particularly in his shoulders, hips, left knee and wrist, and spine. He also had rotator cuff disease in his left shoulder. The left foot and the ends of the left tibia and fibula were missing entirely, providing clear evidence of amputation, and small circular holes are likely an indication of infection of the remaining lower leg bones.

To try to determine how long the man survived following the amputation, Binder and her colleagues turned to the X-rays, as cut marks on bone can disappear as soon as two weeks after an amputation procedure. The X-rays showed significant changes in the bone density of the femur, tibia, and fibula on the left side of the body as compared to the non-amputated right side. But osteoarthritis in the left knee suggests the man was indeed still using his left leg following the amputation, with the assistance of a prosthesis.

Because he was buried near the church — of the 29 burials, his was the closest to the church wall — he must have been a high status individual. That status is confirmed by the grave goods, which while not uncommon in Germanic burials from late antiquity, are unique among the Hemmaberg burials. His right and left hip joints show tell-tale signs of regular horseback riding. The muscle attachment sites of hip and knee and the osteoarthritis of the spine also indicate the man spent a lot of time riding horses. He also has a healed injury on his right tibia — a huge hematoma — that was likely caused by blunt trauma. Wounds of this kind are commonly found when men on horseback are attacked by men on foot.

The oldest known surviving example of a prosthetic device is a wood and leather big toe replacement found in Thebes on the mummy of Tabaketenmut It dates to around 1065–710 B.C. and shows signs of wear so we know Tabaketenmut walked on it in life; it wasn’t added by the embalmers after death.

There’s textual evidence of prosthetics in antiquity. Herodotus (484–425 B.C.) tells the story in Book Nine of the Histories of Hegesistratus who cuts off half his foot to escape imprisonment and fashions “a foot of wood” to wear after he heals. Legendary or not (probably the former), the story indicates prosthetics were known in 5th century Greece. Pliny’s Natural History (Book 7, Chapter 29) recounts the exploits of 3rd century B.C. Roman general Marcus Sergius, hero of the Second Punic War, who fought through a great many grievous wounds, including the loss of his right hand which deterred him not one bit. “He had a right hand made of iron, and attached to the stump, after which he fought a battle, and raised the siege of Cremona, defended Placentia, and took twelve of the enemy’s camps in Gaul.”

Archaeological evidence from classical antiquity, however, is very thin on the ground. In the 19th century, a prosthetic lower leg made of a wooden core covered in sheets of bronze was unearthed from a Roman burial in Capua dating to around 300 B.C. Unfortunately it no longer exists — it was bought by the Royal College of Surgeons in London and destroyed in the Blitz in 1941 — and any human remains found with it were not recorded so there’s no evidence of wear on the leg or stress on the bones that can confirm it was a functional prosthetic limb rather than a post-mortem addition for aesthetic purposes.

Only three other archaeological prosthetics are known until the 16th century: a leather and wood foot found in a 5-7th century A.D. burial in Switzerland (probably not used in life), a bronze foot found in a 7th-8th century burial in Germany of limited use at best, and the iron and wood prosthetic from the 6th century found in Hemmaberg. That’s why it’s such a significant find, because surviving ancient prosthetic are so rare and skeletal remains that can tell us something about how the person who wore the device and how it was used are rarer still.


Update: listen to the Tintignac Carnyx

Monday, December 14th, 2015

In 2004, archaeologists discovered a hoard of ritually destroyed weapons — a dozen swords, scabbards, spearheads, a shield, bronze helmets, an iron helmet shaped like a swan — a cauldron, animal remains and seven carnyces. Before then, the remains of only five examples of the Celtic man-sized wind musical instrument that was widely used as ceremonial and highly intimidating war trumpets in the two centuries before and after Christ were known to survive. The most complete of them was the Deskford Carnyx, discovered on a farm in Deskford, Banffshire, Scotland in 1816, and it was only the bell (the part at the top that the sound comes out of) shaped like a boar’s head. The tube and mouthpiece were long gone.

One of the seven found at Tintignac, on the other hand, was almost entirely complete. The Tintignac Carnyx was broken into 40 pieces. When puzzled back together, it was found to be just an inch short of six feet long with a single missing section of the tube. The bell was a boar’s head with protruding tusks and large pointed ears. Once restored, the Tintignac Carnyx proved to be the first virtually complete carnyx ever found.

While the restored carnyx went on display in various museum exhibits, archaeologists, musicologists and instrument makers worked together to create an exact playable replica. A replica of the Deskford Carnyx has been played by trombonist and carnyx expert John Kenny since the 1990s, but every part of it except for the intricate head had to be created from scratch with the help of ancient sources and artworks like the Gundestrup Cauldron (2nd-1st century B.C.). The completeness of the Tintignac Carnyx gave researchers the unique opportunity to study almost the entire instrument from mouthpiece to bell.

When I first wrote about this more than three years ago, acoustics experts had determined that adding a 10 centimeter length of tube could make a significant difference in the resonance frequencies which determine the range of playable notes. At that time they were working on graduating from mathematical models to replica construction. There was a working replica by 2012. Here’s a brief video of it being played outdoors as vertical as John Kenny with his head tilted all the way back can hold it.

That’s the way the men on the Gundestrup Cauldron play their carnyces, and that’s how the replica of the Deskford Carnyx is played, but the researchers working on the Tintignac replica realized the vertical posture didn’t quite fit its engineering.

The lower parts of the Deskford Carnyx were modelled upon the images of the Gundestrup Cauldron, where we see three men playing the instrument vertically. The structure of the Deskford head makes this interpretation logical – but the Tintignac Carnyx is clearly a different beast. The lower tubes are completely straight, terminating in a fixed, integral mouthpiece. This makes it virtually impossible to play vertically, thus although its head looks like the Gundestrup instruments, it must have been played at an angle closer to horizontal. The magnificent head of the Tintignac features gaping jaws and huge, delicate ears – and yet the structure is far less complex than the Deskford head, with its hinged jaw, sprung tongue, soft palette and brain cavity.

An extremely fine replica of the Tintignac Carnyx made of hand-hammered bronze made by artisan Jean Boisserie debuted in November 2014 in the church of Naves, the town next to where the original carnyx was discovered. John Kenny played the Tintignac replica and the Deskford replica before a rapt crowd in the picturesque 14th century church.

This French language news story (turn on CC and click on the settings icon to set it to auto-translate; the captions come out crazy, of course, but most of them convey the general meaning) shows the replica visiting the field where the original was excavated and includes short clips of John Kenny playing both Tintignac and Deskford. At around the :56 mark you can see the Tintignac carnyx played in its close to horizontal position. There are also views of Jean Boisserie hammering bronze in his workshop and talking about how refined Gallic bronzework was in the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C.

The European Music Archaeology Project (EMAP) in association with the University of Huddersfield will be bringing these ancient sounds to life in a £3.5 million ($5.3 million) ancient music research project which will release a series of new recordings on Delphian Records. The carnyces will get their own record, as will the earliest known Scottish bagpipe music, prehistoric bone flutes, ancient Scandinavian instruments, Etruscan litus and cornu (recreated from tomb reliefs) and more.

You don’t have to wait to hear the sweet blasts of the Tintignac Carnyx, though. Here are three short audio recordings of John Kenny on Boisserie’s beautiful bronze carnyx.


Caesar fought here? 1st c. B.C. battlefield found in Kessel

Saturday, December 12th, 2015

Archaeologists from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU) have discovered what they believe to be the site of a bloody battle fought by Julius Caesar against the Tencteri and Usipetes tribes in 55 B.C. The site is at the confluence of the Maas (Meuse) and Waal rivers about 75 miles inland near modern-day Kessel, in the southern Netherlands province of Brabant. It’s the earliest known battlefield discovered in the Netherlands.

Archaeological remains are rich in the area, unearthed for decades by amateurs and now collected at Amsterdam’s Allard Pierson Museum. The discoveries strongly suggested a significant violent event took place there in antiquity. Between 1975 and 1995 many late Iron Age weapons and artifacts were found there during dredging operations on the Kessel side of the Waal — 20 iron swords, spearheads, a cavalry helmet of Gallic origin that is the oldest ever found in the Netherlands, Germanic belt buckles, cloak brooches — as well bones from more than 100 individuals. The weapons and artifacts stylistically date the 1st century B.C., but only recently has radiocarbon analysis of the skeletal remains confirmed they date to the same Late Iron Age period. Osteological analysis of the bones show clear and copious sings of cutting injuries caused by swords and penetrating wounds caused by spears.

Stable isotope analysis of the tooth enamel from three individuals unearthed at the site confirm that they were not native the Meuse-Waal area but came from elsewhere. The Tencteri and Usipetes weren’t locals; they were Germanic tribes on the move, pressured by the Suevi people encroaching on their home territories to cross the Rhine and migrate west. The isotope analysis is ongoing and additional tests should reveal with more precision where they spent their childhoods.

The Kessel skeletal remains are mainly of men, but there are also women and children among them, all of whom died at the same time in what archaeologists believe was a single violent event rather than a series of events when the dead were buried in the same place. It seems there was a battle followed by a massacre after which the bodies of the dead were thrown in the Maas riverbed, as were their weapons. Some of the swords were found to have been deliberately folded or bent, a common ritual practice symbolizing the destruction of the object before burial.

Caesar wrote about a battle that fits this bill in Book IV De Bello Gallico.

The following winter (this was the year in which Cn. Pompey and M. Crassus were consuls [55 B.C.]), those Germans [called] the Usipetes, and likewise the Tenchtheri, with a great number of men, crossed the Rhine, not far from the place at which that river discharges itself into the sea. The motive for crossing [that river] was, that having been for several years harassed by the Suevi, they were constantly engaged in war, and hindered from the pursuits of agriculture.

The Usipetes and Tencteri in turn drove the Belgic Menapii tribe from their homes by tricking them into thicking they were leaving only to double back and catch the Menapii unawares. The Germanic tribes killed the Menapii, seized their ships and used them to cross the Rhine (possibly the Waal which is a distributary of the Rhine) where they wintered comfortably on Menapii supplies.

Caesar heard of this and became concerned that the movement west of the Usipetes and Tencteri would get the Gauls all het up. Indeed, his scouts discovered that Gallic peoples were already beginning to deal with the Germans, appeasing them with money and valuables and drawing them further into Gaul itself. The Usipetes and Tencteri attempted to negotiate with Caesar, offering their fighting skills in exchange for being allowed to keep the lands they’d just taken, for new lands or for support against the Suevi who were driving them from their homeland.

Caesar wasn’t keen but agreed to a temporary truce while they worked out a possible resettlement option. The Germans panicked at the sight of Roman cavalry and attacked anyway. Caesar, now considering the truce ended by their treachery, put his game face on.

Having marshalled his army in three lines, and in a short time performed a march of eight miles, he arrived at the camp of the enemy before the Germans could perceive what was going on; who being suddenly alarmed by all the circumstances, both by the speediness of our arrival and the absence of their own officers, as time was afforded neither for concerting measures nor for seizing their arms, are perplexed as to whether it would be better to lead out their forces against the enemy, or to defend their camp, or seek their safety by flight. Their consternation being made apparent by their noise and tumult, our soldiers, excited by the treachery of the preceding day, rushed into the camp: such of them as could readily get their arms, for a short time withstood our men, and gave battle among their carts and baggage wagons; but the rest of the people, [consisting] of boys and women (for they had left their country and crossed the Rhine with all their families) began to fly in all directions; in pursuit of whom Caesar sent the cavalry.

The Germans when, upon hearing a noise behind them, [they looked and] saw that their families were being slain, throwing away their arms and abandoning their standards, fled out of the camp, and when they had arrived at the confluence of the Meuse and the Rhine, the survivors despairing of further escape, as a great number of their countrymen had been killed, threw themselves into the river and there perished, overcome by fear, fatigue, and the violence of the stream. Our soldiers, after the alarm of so great a war, for the number of the enemy amounted to 430,000, returned to their camp, all safe to a man, very few being even wounded.

Caesar’s numbers are exaggerated. Archaeologists believe the real number of Tencteri and Usipetes was somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 and he couldn’t have killed them all. Plutarch says that there were survivors who were taken in by the German Sugambri tribe, much to Caesar’s irritation.

So, is the Kessel battlefield the one Caesar describes in De Bello Gallico? The evidence of a battle having taken place there between Gauls or Romans and Germans in the 1st century B.C. is strong. Whether it’s the specific battle described by Caesar, that’s more challenging to determine. I think they’re relying a little heavily on the presence of slaughtered civilians matching Caesar’s description of the battle’s aftermath. It seems to me you’d need coins, legion references or maybe remains of the camps to narrow down the time and combatants more precisely before you can comfortably claim, as the VU press materials do, that this is the “first time that the presence of Caesar and his troops on Dutch soil has been explicitly shown.”

The finds are currently on display in the Allard Pierson Museum and will be exhibited at least through next month.


Farmer stumbles on intact Etruscan tomb

Saturday, December 5th, 2015

On October 25th, a farmer plowing his field near Città della Pieve, a small town 30 miles southwest of Perugia in central Italy’s Umbria region, opened a hole in the earth. When he peered inside, he saw the carved head of a man with his arm extended holding a plate. The farmer had stumbled on an Etruscan tomb form the late 4th century B.C. and the man with the outstretched arm was the lid of a funerary urn.

The hole was covered and the Superintendency for the Cultural Goods of Umbria alerted to the find. The city cops and Carabinieri (the police branch of the military) secured the site, setting a guard there overnight to keep people of greedy intent away from the tomb until the Superintendency was able to dispatch an archaeological team. Regional archaeologist Clarita Natalini lowered herself into the hole Mission Impossible-style and found she was in a small space about 16 by 16 feet containing at least two cinerary urns and two sarcophaguses.

The tomb was full of soil and debris from ancient collapses. Archaeologists started excavating from the entrance point into the tomb rather than starting from the cluttered burial chamber. They removed the dirt from the dromos, a long corridor leading into the tomb, and found heavy stone double doors guarding the room. The doors were carefully removed for study and to give the team a large enough opening to get the rest of the contents of the tomb out the way they came in more than 2,000 years ago.

One of the two sarcophaguses has a long inscription in Etruscan on the side with the word “Laris” identifiable in the carving. “Laris” or “Lars” was the name of an aristocratic Etruscan family that boasted a king among its famous ancestors. The name on the inscription has now been adopted as the name of the tomb since it likely refers to the person laid to rest inside of the coffin. At the foot of the sarcophagus was a statue head broken at the bottom of the neck. It depicts an adult male, bald, and still retains traces of the original polychrome paint. The pupils have been filled in.

The second sarcophagus also had an inscription, but it was damaged during one of the collapses. Archaeologists have collected the fragments, but there are thousands of them, so it will be difficult puzzling this jigsaw back together.

Apart from grave goods, which include pottery, miniature votive vases and two intact ceramic jars, likely used to store food for the afterlife, the archaeologists found four urns with cremains.

Made from fine grained alabaster marble, three of them are finely sculpted. The lid portrays the half naked deceased with a flower necklace reclining on two cushions as if at a banquet. He bears a patera, a shallow ritual offering dish, in the right hand.

The use of alabaster marble, the style of the burial and clues from the inscriptions suggest the burial belongs to an aristocratic family from the nearby Etruscan stronghold of Chiusi, Natalini said.

The last artifact to be removed was a large sarcophagus recovered on Saturday, November 28th. Unopened with the lid still sealed, the sarcophagus weighs more than three tons. Removing it from the small space while ensuring its safety was a challenge that required special expertise and equipment. Perugia fire fighters were deployed to lift the sarcophagus using air-filled pontoons that stretch from just a few centimeters thick to eight inches after inflation. The heavy piece was lifted onto a wooden sled on the floor and was then pulled out through the dromos which is just 35 inches wide.

All of the contents of the tomb have been moved to the Civic Museum of Santa Maria dei Servi for conservation.





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