Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Coin collection buried by Holocaust victim found

Saturday, July 27th, 2019

The search is on for the legal owner of an exceptional collection of coins found in a cellar in Hungary that was buried by someone who almost certainly died in the Holocaust. The coins were found in the town of Keszthely 120 miles southwest of Budapest this February when the current homeowners were digging a hole in a cellar. They dug out five glass jars, each filled with coins and carefully sealed. The jars held 2,800 gold and silver coins from all over the world ranging in date from antiquity to the 20th century.

Almost half of the coins are from Pannonia, which was a province of the Roman Empire that covers modern-day western Hungary, according to Ferenc Redo, an archaeologist and coin expert.

The others are mostly antique coins from around the world, including pre- and post-revolutionary France, 19th century German territories, and both Tsarist- and Soviet-era Russia.

Many are from even farther afield, including South America, Africa, Asia and British-ruled India.

The house where the collection was found was in the ghetto in 1944 and given the presence of early 20th century coins, it’s almost certain they were buried by their Jewish owners in the desperate hope they might return to reclaim them at the end of the war.

The homeowners turned the coins in and they are now in the custody of Keszthely’s Balatoni Museum. There was also some jewelry stashed with the coins, some engraved. The engraving provides a key clue to the possible identity of the collection’s owners: the Pollak family, successful traders who lived in Keszthely before World War II.

The Holocaust struck like a whirlwind in Hungary. Even though Hungary had passed draconian anti-Jewish laws for decades (it was the first European country to do so after World War I), the government resisted Nazi pressure to expel/deport/murder its Jewish citizens on the grounds that the “Jewish problem” would be better solved by slaughtering them after the war was over, because their labour and skills were needed during the war.

That’s how Hungarian Jews managed to survive most of the war without being destroyed. Ghettoized, entrained, marked and immiserated, most assuredly, but still alive. As late of the spring of 1944, there were 800,000 Jews in Hungary, one of the largest extant Jewish communities in Europe at that time.

That changed in March 1944, when German forces occupied Hungary. The tides of war had turned against Germany and the Hungarian government was actively making peace overtures to the Allies. Hitler wasn’t having that, so the relatively hands-off alliance ended and occupation began.

Adolf Eichmann came in and did his monstrous thing. With the sickening efficiency that had become his trademark, he divided the country into six zones and emptied each in turn of its Jews. Deportations began on May 15th. Between then and July 8th, 440,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps, mostly Auschwitz.  Three thousand people a day, every day for six weeks, arrived on cattle cars at Auschwitz, 90% of them killed on arrival. The influx was so great that the crematoria could not keep up.

According to the 1941 Hungarian census, there were 755 Jews in Keszthely, about 6% of the town’s total population. On May 15th, 1944, 768 Jews from 319 families were locked into the ghetto, a few blocks centered around the town’s handsome 19th century neoclassical synagogue. On June 20th, 719 of the Jews (the rest used for slave labour) were moved to the Zalaegerszeg ghetto, then to Auschwitz. Twenty-two members of the Pollak family, five of them children, were among them. By the time the deportations ended in July, 829 Jews had been deported from Keszthely. When the war was over, only 64 of them had survived. Today just a dozen Jews live in Keszthely.

The museum plans to digitalise the collection and enlist archivists and historians to scour the Pollak family tree in search of descendants.

If no owner can be found, the collection will revert to ownership by the state.

“We also hope the exhibition will spread the word about the coins, and that a legal owner will turn up,” Havasi said.


6.5-foot sauropod femur found in France

Thursday, July 25th, 2019

The massive thigh bone of a sauropod has been found in France. Researchers from the National Museum of Natural History in Paris discovered the femur at the paleontological site of Angeac-Charente near Chateauneuf-sur-Charente in southwestern France. Unearthed in a thick layer of clay, the bone is in excellent condition. It is 140 million years old, 6.5 feet long and weighs 500 kilos (1100 lb), as much the average horse.  A large pelvic bone was also found in the same clay layer near the femur.

Ronan Allain, paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in Paris, added: “We can see the insertions of muscles and tendons, scars.

“This is a very rare find as large pieces tend to collapse on themselves, to fragment.”

Angeac-Charente is the richest site of dinosaur fossils in the country, with more than 7,500 bones found there from an estimated 45 different species of dinosaur since excavations began in 2010, including bones from stegosaurs and a herd of ostrich-like dinosaurs. In addition to whole fossils, more than 66,000 bone fragments have been found there, as well as plants and dinosaur footprints. The site is near the vineyards of Cognac where the famed eponymous brandy is produced, but in the Jurassic the area was a marshland, ideal conditions for capturing, preserving and mineralizing the bones of gigantic animals and other organic remains.

Sauropods first appeared in the Triassic, but became widespread in the Late Jurassic period. They are the largest known herbivorous dinosaurs are among the largest animals ever to roam the earth. The femur is so large that it will take a week to recover and require a crane to raise.

National Museum of Natural History paleontologists are working to reconstruct a sauropod skeleton from the fossils recovered at Angeac-Charente. So far they have more than 50% of a complete sauropod, a composite of bones from several individual specimens unearthed at the site.


Unique goods from Iron Age warrior grave to go on display

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019

The unique funerary furnishings of a late Iron Age warrior found in West Sussex will go on display for the first time at Chichester’s Novium Museum in January 2020. The grave was discovered in 2008 during an excavation  in advance of a new housing development in North Bersted, near Bognor Regis, West Sussex. Archaeologists had found evidence of occupation — boundary ditches, postholes, building remains — from the Bronze Age through Roman times, but the grave was entirely isolated, not part of a settlement or cemetery. It was discovered just 16 inches beneath the surface.

He was buried in supine position orientated northwest to southeast. Aligned at the end of the grave above his head were three large intact pots. Analysis of the pottery, which was new when buried and was probably made in Normandy, dates the grave to 50 B.C. Against his right side were a bronze shield boss, bronze helmet, a spearhead, a sword, deliberated reheated and bent as a ritual “decommissioning,” its scabbard and two sheets of elaborate bronze latticework.

Iron bars and pieces therefrom were found overlying the grave crosswise. These are the remains of iron hoops which bound the deceased’s coffin and an addition iron-framed structure that was placed on top of the coffin. No remains of the wood from this coffin were discovered.

At first archaeologists thought the bronze latticework may have been part of the shield decoration as they were too big to be cheek-pieces for the helmet, but additional study found that it was actually a headdress, a ceremonial modification for a military helmet. In its day, the headdress would have gleamed like gold and been adorned with plumes of horse hair.

Nothing comparable to this grave has been found anywhere else in Britain. The bronze  headdress is unique, and the sword is of a type entirely unlike the ones in the British Isles of the period.

The remains shifted after deposition, but not due to interference with the grave which was undisturbed. The skull was found left of the body and the left humerus had shifted a foot and a half away from the scapula. These shifts could have been caused by the weight of the shield and other bronze pieces after the body had begun to decompose, or he may have been propped up on a pillow, now rotted away.

The skeleton was not in good condition. The surviving bone was soft and brittle, and the cancellous bone (the spongey type of bones found in the vertebrae, ribs, pelvis, hands and feet) was to all intents and purposes gone, extant only as stains in the soil. That soil was lifted for excavation in the laboratory in the hope of finding bone fragments; there weren’t any. The left side of the lower body was in the best state of preservation. The green staining explained why: the bronze of the artifacts he was buried with had helped preserved the bone it touched.

Even with the damage to the remains, osteological analysis determined that the man was about 5’4″ tall and was between 30 and 45 years old when he died. He experienced hardship when he was a boy — grooves on his teeth are evidence of childhood malnutrition or an acute illness like high fever — but his early challenges did not keep him from living an extremely active life as an adult. Strong muscle and ligament attachments on the legs indicate habitual horse riding and on the right humerus indicate his right arm was far more developed than his left. Given the grave goods, this is likely the result of extensive weapons training and use. There was no evidence of trauma, healed or perimortem on any surviving part of his skeleton. Fun fact: he had no wisdom teeth. Not removed or lost; they never existed. It’s a genetic thing.

His origins are unclear. He may have come from eastern England and fought in Gaul, or he may have been a Gaul who ended up in Britain. The design of the headdress is distinctly Celtic. That and the Norman pottery points to him having spent time in Gaul. It’s possible the warrior made his way to Britain from the continent as part of a Roman contingent or as part of the Gallic anti-Roman resistance. Or both at different times, for that matter.

In Book 4 of Commentarii De Bello Gallico, Julius Caesar claims that Britons had consistently sent support to the Gauls during the Gallic Wars, and that therefore he was going to put a fleet together to just check things out across the channel. Ask a few questions here and there, look around, you know, sort of get the lay of the land. Backed by a couple of legions and as many ships as he could lay his hands on, of course. When the Britons caught wind of his plans they sent ambassadors to beg Caesar for mercy in advance, “to promise that they will give hostages, and submit to the government of the Roman people.” Ever magnanimous, Caesar agreed and sent one of his top men, the Belgic chieftain Commius, whom he had appointed king of the Atrebates, to escort the ambassadors back to Britain and keep the locals from getting antsy should a Roman army happen to land on their shores. That was in 55 B.C.

Three years later Commius, betrayed Caesar’s legate Titus Labienus, had switched sides and fought with Vercingetorix at the Siege of Alesia. In 50 B.C., he would strike a deal with Rome and head back to Britain where he founded Calleva Atrebatum, modern-day Silchester in Hampshire, about 60 miles northwest of Bognor Regis. So it’s entirely plausible that the North Bersted warrior was one of Commius’ contingent come to settle only to be thwarted by death.

Dr Melanie Giles, senior lecturer in archaeology at the University of Manchester, told PA: “It really is absolutely a unique find in the British Isles and in the wider continent, we don’t have another burial that combines this quality of weaponry and Celtic art with a date that puts it around the time of Caesar’s attempted conquest of Britain.


Marble torso found at Forum dig

Saturday, July 20th, 2019

The excavation of the Via Alessandrina, a 16th century road that runs from Trajan’s Forum to Nerva’s Forum in the heart of Imperial Rome, has turned up a large white marble torso. It is almost five feet high, even missing its head and lower body, and depicts a male figure wearing a draped garment.  Unlike the marble head that was unearthed on the same dig at the end of May, this piece was not recycled into a medieval wall, nor are the two statue parts related to each other in any way.

This one was found among rubble in an area that had been abandoned after a collapse during a period of demolitions that took place in the area in the 9th century. Previous excavations in 1998 and 2000 Archaeologists believe that the torso is from one of 60-70 statues of Dacian warriors that decorated Trajan’s Forum when it was built in the early 2nd century A.D.

Trajan’s Forum was the last, largest and most grandiose of the five imperial forums (Caesar 46 B.C., Augustus 2 B.C., of the Peace 75 A.D., Nerva (97 A.D.). There’s evidence that the plan for the new forum was actually conceived in the last years of the reign of Domitian (r. 81-97 A.D.), but if so, he only made a start at the job. The slopes of the Quirinal Hill had to be leveled to carve out the 4.2 hectares of space the Forum of Trajan would occupy. Its primary practical function was likely the administration of justice whose complexity had far outgrown its earlier spaces in the Caesar’s and Augustus’ fora. It was also a glorious reflection of Trajan’s victories against the Dacians (101-102 A.D., 105-106 A.D.). Trajan’s booty from the defeat of the Dacians funded the construction of the forum. It was completed in 112 A.D.

In the location where the Forum of Augustus and the Forum of Trajan was a courtyard with a columned portico on three sides richly decorated with colored marbles (the columns were veined green marble, the pavement slabs alternating green and pinkish-red). Above the columns was an architrave decorated with a bas relief of griffons and topped with gilded bronze inscription celebrating the construction of the forum by Trajan with the proceeds of the Dacian wars. The statues of the Dacian warriors adorned this portico.

The existence of a grand space connecting the old forum of Augustus with the shiny new forum Trajan built was only discovered during excavations in 1998-2000. Those excavations also unearthed pieces of statues very similar to the recently-unearthed one. They are now on display in the Market of Trajan – Museum of the Imperial Forums. The latest find will be conserved and studied and then will join its compatriots on display in the museum.

In tangentially related news, for the first time since I can remember, the forums are now open to visitors. Instead of having to stand at modern street level looking down over balconies, you can now go down the ever-gated stairs and walk four of the five Imperial Forums, plus the Republican-era Roman Forum. The new Forum Pass allows visitors to walk a three-mile route over footbridges. The single ticket costs 16 euros, purchased online or at the ticket office at the base of Trajan’s Column. From there you walk through Trajan’s Forum and then, through a series of medieval cellars that are all that remain of the buildings in the Alessandrino neighborhood that was destroyed in the 1930s of the Via dei Fori Imperiali above, you cross the street to the Forum of Caesar. From Caesar’s Forum you walk to the Forum of Nerva, then to the Curia and into the Roman Forum and the Palatine.

It’s an awesome walk, and for the longest time people weren’t allowed down to the ground levels of any of the fora. The loophole I found last year was a nighttime sounds and lights shows walking the same route. It was really fantastic, but it was, well, nighttime, so you’re experiencing less the pure archaeological site than the rare views of silhouetted ruins against the night sky and projected images that convey how the buildings looked in their heyday.


Kayaker finds Roman glass, pottery off Kent coast

Thursday, July 18th, 2019

In a new addition to the annals of random people finding ancient artifacts, a sea kayaker has discovered pieces of Roman glass, pottery and tile off the coast of Ramsgate, Kent. The kayaker was in shallow water at low tide and with the clear day, he was able to just reach in and pick up the objects including a beautiful cobalt blue glass vase that looks like it could have been made yesterday, large pieces of high-end Samian ware pottery and a roof tile with a human fingerprint smudged on the surface.

Mark Dunkley, a marine listing adviser with Historic England, said it was the sort of find which just did not happen in the UK. “It is the rarity of the material and the quality of the material that is really significant. In my experience this stuff just does not exist in an underwater context anywhere around Britain. It is a really significant find.”

The style of the artifacts dates them to the end of the first or beginning of the second century, a period when this area had two important Roman forts guarding the Wantsum Channel, a strait used by the Romans as a major trade route linking the English Channel and the Thames estuary.

While it’s possible these objects could have washed to shore from an ancient shipwreck, it’s just as possible that they were discarded or buried along the shoreline but what was dry land then has now eroded into the coastline. Archaeologists from Historic England planned to explore the find site on Wednesday but the tides made it impossible. The revised plan is to investigate the location in August when the tides are more quiescent.


Prehistoric treasures found in Hungarian cave

Wednesday, July 17th, 2019

Precious artifacts and bones dating to the Bronze Age have been discovered in the Baradla dripstone cave in northeast Hungary. A team of archaeologists from Eötvös Loránd University has been excavating the cave for four years. Lajos Sándor, a metal detector hobbyist working with the team, was scanning part of the excavation path, an area he’d scanned many times before, when he unexpectedly got a strong signal from behind the rocks. The archaeologists excavated the spot with their special wooden tools and unearthed bronze artifacts, ceramics, human and animal bones from two periods: the Bükk culture from ca. 5000 B.C., and the Bronze Age Kyjatice culture from ca. 1200 B.C.

The Bükk culture artifacts are pottery fragments with ornate geometric decorations. They abstract patterns and yellow, red, white and black paint distinguish them from the kind of ceramics made by more local peoples. The Bükk were great travelers who came to the northeastern hills from the Hungarian Great Plains, bringing their crafts and well-developed agricultural knowledge.

From the latter period is a distinctive grouping is of 59 decorated bronze pieces, most of the disc-shaped, some sparrow-tail shaped. They were found in a hollow near an underground stream covered with a stack of rocks.  The way they were piled suggests they may have been mounted on a garment that was folded up and covered with the rock stack. If it existed, the garment has rotted to nothingness over the millennia; not even small traces of it were found.

The animal bones were found heaped up in piles indicating ritual feasting and/or sacrifices took place in the Baradla cave. The human remains are thought to date to the Neolithic era.

These all point to the Baradla cave having been a sacred place thousands of years ago. [Lead archaeologist Dr. Gábor] Szabó said:

“These days, the cave walls are covered in black soot, but back then they were glowing white, it had to be a beautiful space. Even today, smelling the air of the Baradla cave, you feel that it is a mystical place. It is an astounding interior.”

Szabó thinks that similarly to Stonehenge, the Baradla cave must have been an ancient holy place where communities arrived even from far-away lands to witness the rituals performed there.

“This place could have functioned as a destination for pilgrimages. Sacrifices were made, sacred places were established, there were initiation rituals – the quality ceramics, the piles of animal bones, remains of food materials serve as proof for that.”

The find is all the more remarkable because the cave has been picked over by looters since the 1700s and has been studied and excavated by researchers for 150 years.  Today Hungary’s most famous stalactite cave, thousands of tourists tramp through it every day. The treasure was secured by the cave’s mineral output, covered by 8-12 inches of limestone, and by its conversion into a tourist site as the thick limestone was paved with a layer of concrete. The two combined to keep the treasure out of view of looters for centuries.

Animal and human bones will be subjected to isotope analysis and radiocarbon dating. The cave’s constant temperature of 53.6ºF is cool enough for good preservation of bone, so there’s a chance researchers might be able to extract viable DNA as well. The bronze and pottery artifacts will be taken to the Hungarian National Museum for conservation and eventual display.

This season’s archaeological excavation will continue through August and the team will return for the last dig next year. After that, the cave will be developed into a treatment center for people with respiratory conditions. It’s not clear to me how this asthma cave scheme will be pulled off, as the cool temperatures and 100% humidity make it unlivable for people today just as it was for people 7,000 years ago, but that’s the plan.


Villa of the Papyri

Monday, July 15th, 2019

The Getty Villa in Malibu, built to house oil billionaire J. Paul Getty’s extensive collection of antiquities, is a replica of the Villa dei Papyri, a huge, ultra-luxurious home discovered in Herculaneum in the 18th century. The collection has only grown in size and quality since the Getty Villa was completed in 1974, and the museum has hosted a myriad world-class exhibitions of artifacts on loan from all over the world. Only an exhibition dedicated to the model for the Getty Villa was lacking, and there has never been an exhibition dedicated solely to the Villa dei Papyri exhibition anywhere.

It is more than appropriate, therefore, that the first one of its kind would debut at the Getty Villa. Buried by Vesuvius: Treasures from the Villa dei Papiri runs through October 28th and features a breathtakingly beautiful assemblage of statuary in bronze and marble, frescoes, engravings and artifacts from the villa or associated with its study.

The Villa dei Papyri was discovered by well-diggers quite by accident in 1750. It was excavated by Karl Jakob Weber, a Swiss military engineer who was charged by Charles III of Naples with the first organized excavations of Pompeii and Stabiae as well as Herculaneum. In keeping with his education a an architect and engineer, Weber took a systematic approach to excavation, as opposed to previous diggers who were there to score treasure and gave not a single rat’s ass about the archaeological contexts in which the artifacts they plundered had been found. They used tunnels to break through walls and floors, cleaned out whatever they could and bored into the next space. Weber also had to use tunnels as the ancient city was buried under 100 feet of volcanic ash turned to solid rock and there was a modern city on top of it, but he was cautious and deliberate about it, following the architectural layout of the spaces to minimize damage and maximize understanding of the full scope of the massive villa.

He was also an excellent artist, as luck would have it, and Weber’s drawings of the finds were included in the multi-volume folio of illustrations, Le Antichità di Ercolano, which was a huge hit in mid-18th century Europe and directly influenced the revival of Greco-Roman motifs in the decorative arts.

Weber’s floor plan of the Villa dei Papyri, its accuracy confirmed by more recent excavations even as they expanded into previously undiscovered areas, published in Le Antichità was used by architectural firm Langdon and Wilson to create the Getty Villa in Malibu. The unknown details and additional spaces for the museum were based on fully excavated Roman structures from Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae.

“The Villa dei Papiri is one of the most luxurious private residences of the ancient classical world ever discovered and one which had an important role in the early history of archeology. Especially important are its unique collection of ancient bronze statuary and antiquity’s only surviving library of papyrus scrolls, which provide an unprecedented insight into the philosophical interests of its aristocratic Roman occupant – none other than the father-in-law of Julius Caesar,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “Among the most impressive of these finds is a rare bronze sculpture of a drunken satyr, which, as part of a collaborative conservation project with the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (MANN), is undergoing analysis and conservation treatment in our conservation studios before going on display in the exhibition.”

Potts adds, “For several decades, we have worked closely with Italian colleagues and institutions in conserving, protecting, researching and celebrating Italy’s extraordinary cultural heritage. We are delighted now to be collaborating with MANN, the Parco Archeologico di Ercolano (PA-Erco), and the Biblioteca Nazionale “Vittorio Emanuele” di Napoli (BNN) in organizing this exhibition. We have had several successful collaborative conservation projects with MANN over the past few years including, most recently, their monumental funerary vessel (krater) from Altamura in 2018, and three of their splendid bronzes: the Ephebe (Youth) in 2009, the Apollo Saettante in 2011, and the over-life-size sculpture of Tiberius in 2013.”

This video provides a fascinating glimpse into the conservation of the Drunken Satyr. At the end you see a view of the underside which was torn apart by the volcanic impact. It’s amazing how well the bronze survived when you see how Vesuvius battered it.


Oldest Christian document from Roman Egypt identified in Basel

Saturday, July 13th, 2019

A researcher at the University of Basel has identified the oldest Christian document from Roman Egypt in the papyrus collection of the University of Basel. Accounts of Christian life from this early period are sparse and tend to lean towards extreme situations like ascetics renouncing the wiles of society or bursts of persecution. This letter paints a far more quotidian picture of a Christian family living in the small urbs along the Nile in the desert of central Egypt, and it turns out they lived a lot like their non-Christian neighbors did.

The papyrus P.Bas. 2.43 has been in the possession of the University of Basel for over 100 years. It is a letter from a man named Arrianus to his brother Paulus. The document stands out from the mass of preserved letters of Greco-Roman Egypt by its concluding greeting formula: After reporting on day-to-day family matters and asking for the best fish sauce as a souvenir, the letter writer uses the last line to express his wish that his brother will prosper “in the Lord.” The author uses the abbreviated form of the Christian phrase “I pray that you fare well ‘in the Lord’.”

“The use of this abbreviation – known as a nomen sacrum in this context – leaves no doubt about the Christian beliefs of the letter writer,” says Sabine Huebner, Professor of Ancient History at the University of Basel. “It is an exclusively Christian formula that we are familiar with from New Testament manuscripts.” The name of the brother is also revealing, Huebner goes on to explain: “Paulus was an extremely rare name at that time and we may deduce that the parents mentioned in the letter were Christians and had named their son after the apostle as early as 200 AD.”

Huebner has narrowed down the letter’s date to around 230 A.D., making it 40-50 years older than the previous earliest-known Christian letter, and traced its origin to Theadelphia in the Faiyum area of Egypt. It was part of the Heroninus archive, a collection of more than 1,000 papyri from the 3rd century pertaining to the administration of an agricultural estate in the area. The largest single papyrus archive from Roman times, it was split up and sold in the early 20th century and is now scattered through several institutions.

Here is the translation of the full letter:

“Greetings, my lord, my incomparable brother Paulus. I, Arrianus, salute you, praying that all is as well as possible in your life.

[Since] Menibios was going to you, I thought it necessary to salute you as well as our lord father. Now, I remind you about the gymnasiarchy1, so that we are not troubled here. For Heracleides would be unable to take care of it: he has been named to the city council. Find thus an opportunity that you buy the two [–] arouras2.

But send me the fish liver sauce3 too, whichever you think is good. Our lady mother is well and salutes you as well as your wives and sweetest children and our brothers and all our people. Salute our brothers [-]genes and Xydes. All our people salute you.

I pray that you fare well in the Lord.”

1 A gymnasiarch was the supervisor overseeing the gymnasium, a position of great significance particularly in the training of athletes for prestigious competitions, and developing into a wider role in municipal affairs of the metropolis of Roman Egypt. Prominent individuals vied to serve a term of one year or more during which they would have to give freely of their time and money. It was like the urban praetor role in Rome; the more sumptuous their contributions, the greater the title and the greater the honor.  If a gymnasiarch died before the term was up, his son would take over and serve it out. A court case (its records survive in papyrus fragments) in 155-6 A.D. attests to the importance of the office, how it conferred life-long, inheritable status, and how people could buy their place in the gymnasiarch rota from the heirs of a deceased one.

That was in the halcyon days of the Antonine dynasty, however. Things took a sharp 180 come the economic and military doldrums of the late Severan emperors. At the beginning of the 3rd century, trade slowed and money was so tight even among the city’s elite that people qualified for the role started working assiduously to avoid it. When he couldn’t dodge the expensive bullet, the new gymnasiarch served only one year and the expenses were shared by other incumbents to the office.

Against that backdrop of economic uncertainty and looming Crisis of the Third Century, I’m wondering if Arrianus is tossing his brother a bit of a hot potato when he tells him that side of the family can’t deal with this gymnasiarchy situation at the mo.  They seem to have been a locally notable family, incidentally, with two important offices (gymnasiarchy and city council) ongoing concurrently.

2 An aroura was a measure of arable land equal to a square of 100 Egyptian cubits.

3 I think this is the first time I’ve written about a letter in which somebody actually asks for garum to be sent! So many shipwrecks and residue-tested amphorae later, we get a glimpse of the demand behind the inexhaustible supply of brine-fermented mashed fish guts in the Roman world.

Huebner has published the letter in a monograph, Papyri and the Social World of the New Testament, now available for pre-order from Cambridge University Press.


1st bull sacrifice found in Selinunte

Friday, July 12th, 2019

An excavation at the ancient Greek site of Selinus (modern-day Selinunte) in western Sicily has unearthed ancient votive sacrifices of bull horns and antlers. This is the first evidence of bull sacrifice discovered in Selinus whose acropolis is peppered with temples ranging in date from the earliest years of the city’s founding in the 7th century B.C. until its conquest by Carthage in the 4th century B.C.

An international team of archaeologists and students from New York University and University of Milan has been excavating the temple precinct for 13 seasons. This year’s dig expanded on three trenches along the sides of Temple R and Temple C. Built in the early and late-6th century B.C. respectively, R and C are among the oldest temples at the site, and the excavation focused on exploring the most ancient phases of the sanctuary when the temples were constructed.

Temple R libation altar. Photo courtesy the University of Milan.On the east side of Temple R, the archaeological mission unearthed the remains of the western wall of a cult structure with limestone foundations and a crude raised brick platform that dates to the last quarter of the 7th century B.C., predating construction of R. The square structure was approximately 15 feet long and included had two shrines. The discovery a votive deposit of red deer antler (Cervus Elaphus) just outside its perimeter indicates the building had a religious purpose. It appears to be the oldest cult building in the urban sanctuary of Selinunte. It was deliberately but carefully demolished when Temple R was built.

The excavation also revealed initial phases of construction of R, including two post holes, used to lift the stone blocks and a hollow libation altar in excellent condition. Most notably, the team unearthed a votive deposit of two bull horns (Bos Taurus) from a large adult animal. This is the first archaeological evidence for the sacrifice of bulls in the great urban sanctuary of Selinunte.

The trench between Temple R and Temple C has revealed the foundations of C, exposing how the slope of this side of the acropolis was artificially construction to support the monumental temple. This layers are well preserved and shed new light on how the temple was built, particularly the construction of the foundations and crepidoma (the platform on which the temple superstructure was built). Here archaeologists found additional votive deposits of exceptional quality made of gold, silver, ivory and one Egyptian faience falcon.


Bronze Age warrior tombs found in Sidon

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019

Archaeologists have discovered the graves of Canaanite warriors from the 19th century B.C. in Sidon, Lebanon. The tombs were unearthed by a team of British Museum researchers who have been excavating the Frères archaeological site for 21 years and have discovered 171 ancient burials over the decades. The two found this season are particularly well-preserved.

The graves contained the skeletal remains of two adult males. The goods interred with them — bronze daggers and belts — identify the men as members of the warrior elite. The feet of sheep or goats were buried by the men’s feet so the animals would accompany them to the afterlife.

[The head of the British Museum’s delegation Claude] Doumet-Serhal said the daggers were not used for fighting, but were significant because they showed the warriors belonged to the society’s elite: “The Canaanites did not bury in such a way unless the dead belonged to the aristocratic and elite class of the Canaanite society.”

DNA taken previously from other Canaanites graves at Frères compared to the DNA of 100 Lebanese showed 95 percent were of Canaanite descent, Doumet-Serhal said, adding, “We were never divided. We were all Canaanites, then we were Phoenicians, then the Romans came, then the Byzantines, then the Arabs.”

This year’s dig season ends next week. The bronze artifacts found in the graves will be conserved and stored for future display in Sidon’s archaeological museum which has been under construction since 2014. The city’s 6,000 years of occupation and rich archaeological record has not been well represented until now. Almost all of the important artifacts unearthed in Sidon are in the National Museum in Beirut. The new museum will finally do the city’s history justice as a combination museum and archaeological park, with the city’s 6,000 years of archaeology visible under the ground floor and objects exhibited on the first floor.

“The belt and the daggers excavated will be placed in this Sidon museum next to all the pieces and artifacts discovered in this site over the course of 21 years,” Doumet-Serhal said.





August 2019
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