Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Neolithic well may be world’s oldest wooden structure

Monday, February 3rd, 2020

A prehistoric wooden well found in the Czech Republic has been tree-ring dated to 5256–5255 B.C., making it not only the oldest known wood well in Europe, but as far as we know the world’s oldest wooden structure. Discovered in 2018 during construction of the D35 highway near the town of Ostrov in western Czech Republic, the well was below the water table which kept the oak timbers from disintegrating to nothing and ensured the ring record was readable.

The 6th millennium B.C. saw the widespread transition in Europe from nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyles to the cultivation of plants and raising livestock for foods. A necessary corollary of the vast societal transformation to the sedentary lifestyle was the building of permanent structures to house people and animals, and that required the use and able working of wood.

Wells are uniquely valuable archaeological examples of the Neolithic’s advances in timber construction, because the longhouses that characterized the new permanent settlements are today detectable only from their impact on the soil – postholes, ground plans — as the wood has long since rotted away. Because wells are, by definition, waterlogged, their timbers can be preserved in ring-countable condition for thousands of years and therefore be absolutely dated against tree-ring chronologies. For this area, the tree-ring width chronology has been established going back to 5481 B.C. from Czech oaks preserved in alluvial deposits.

The well is square, its surviving walls 80×80 centimeters (32×32 inches) wide and 140 centimeters (4’7″) high. It was built by inserting planks into longitudinal grooves carved into thick corner posts at 90-degree angles. There are seven rows of planks extant. The wood of the corner posts is older than the rest of the structure. Their trunks were cut down in autumn/winter of 5259 or early winter 5258 B.C.

The trees — at least two feet in diameter — had to be felled, split and finished with precision, very advanced work to accomplish with tools of stone, bone, horn or wood. The tool marks preserved on the surface of the wood confirm the well was made by carpenters with sophisticated tools and methods.

Twelve Neolithic water wells are known to survive in Europe, most of them in eastern Germany. Four of them were discovered recently in eastern Germany just 100 miles north of Ostov. Published in 2012, the four wells at Altsherbitz, Brodau and Eythra were dendrochronologically dated to between 5200 and 5099 B.C. They were built with mortise and tenon joints or notched timbers that interlocked or cogged at the corners.

The Ostov well was recovered from the highway site en bloc so that archaeologists could excavate it in laboratory conditions at the University of Pardubice. The team has been soaking the wood in water to keep it from drying out, and in a new one for me, they’ve dumped 600 kilos (1322 lbs) of sugar into the water. The sugar solution seeps into the wood and eventually replaces the water in the cells with sugar, preserving it even once it’s out of the bath. It will take about a year for the wood to soak in the sucrose solution, after which the timbers will be dried slowly for the next six months. The well will then be reconstructed and put on display at the East Bohemian Museum in Pardubice.

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High priest tombs found in Egypt

Saturday, February 1st, 2020

Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities made the first announcement of an archaeological discovery of the new year on Thursday. The find is a group tomb for the high priests of Thoth, their families and top officials of the 15th nome unearthed at the Al-Ghoreifa site in Egypt’s Minya governate. Archaeologists found 16 tombs containing 20 sarcophagi dating to the Pharaonic Late Period, 664-399 B.C., in use for three dynasties. Five of them are anthropoid limestone engraved with hieroglyphics and five are wooden coffins in good condition decorated with the names of their owners.

An inscription on one of the stone sarcophagi is dedicated to the Ibis-headed god of writing and wisdom Thoth (Djehuti in Egyptian) who was often represented as a baboon as well. Thousands of mummified ibis and baboons have been found at this site in previous excavations, so the tomb was probably built to house the priests of Thoth.

Of the five stone sarcophagi, two are still sealed and in excellent condition. One belonged to the son of Psamtik, head of the royal treasury and priest of Osiris and Nut. The second is dedicated to Horus and is decorated with the goddess Nut spreading her wings. The inscription identifies its owner as Epy. One of the coffins, belonging to Djed, is particularly significant for the importance of the titles inscribed on the lid: royal treasurer, bearer of the seals of Lower Egypt and sole companion of the king.

The mission also discovered sets of limestone and alabaster canopic jars made to house the organs of the mummified, 10,000 ushabti figurines made of faience, most of which are engraved with the names of the deceased, and 700 amulets. Many of the amulets are scarabs, but there are a variety of other subjects including one rare winged cobra made of pure gold. A great variety of pottery vessels used for funerary and religious purposes were found. One unexpected discovery were tools left behind by the workers who made the tomb. Archaeologists found stone-cutting tools, wooden hammers and baskets made of palm fronds.

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7th c. B.C. chariot burial found in central Italy

Friday, January 31st, 2020

A high-status Iron Age chariot burial has been discovered in the town of Corinaldo, near the Adriatic coast of Le Marche in central Italy. All human remains had decayed, but a profusion of exceptional grave goods date the burial the Orientalising period, between the late 8th century and early 6th century B.C.

The site, slated for construction of a new sports complex, was identified as archaeologically significant first by aerial photography, then with non-invasive geomagnetic and electrical resistance surveys that gave the excavation team key information on where to open trial trenches. They unearthed a large funerary area (half a hectare, ca. 54,000 square feet) with three large ring ditches. Roman tombs were also found there, but ring ditches long pre-dated them. In the central ring ditch was a pit surrounded by a circular moat almost 100 feet wide, a perimeter that may indicate there was once a tumulus atop the burial. The grave itself is 10.5 by 9 feet and contains a mass of objects, among them a bronze helmet, iron skewers, bronze vessels, more than a hundred ceramic vessels and an iron-wheeled chariot.

The wealth of grave goods, the chariot and the likelihood that the burial was once covered by a mound point to the deceased having been a member of the aristocratic elite of the Piceni, an Italic people who inhabited central and northeast Italy between the Appenines and the Adriatic before the rise of Rome. Little is known of the Piceni Culture in northern Le Marche, so the richness of this discovery will shed new light on the people who dominated the prehistory of the area. The pottery alone indicates active trade between the Piceni of this area and what is now northern Apulia (the heel of Italy’s boot).

Ongoing investigations at the site and analyses of the archaeometric, environmental and archaeozoological material will strengthen our understanding of the site’s importance in terms of its chronology, ‘structural’ characteristics and ritual or cultural aspects. They will also reveal contemporaneous relationships within the broader populated landscape, promising new insights into the role of the Nevola Valley in the Iron Age settlement dynamics of the Marche region. Inevitably, questions remain about certain aspects of the tomb’s morphology, including the possible existence of a covering mound as opposed to a circular ditch and bank, perhaps supplemented by standing stones or timber uprights.

Still under debate, too, is the unknown position of the body within the royal tomb. Comparison with similar aristocratic interments farther to the south suggest differing possibilities, perhaps with the body placed at a higher level immediately above the grave goods, or within a shallow pit nearer the centre of the ring-ditch; the royal corredo (funerary assemblage) at Corinaldo did not occupy that central position or yield any skeletal material. In either case, it seems probable that the body was placed somewhere at or near the ancient ground surface. If so, it would have had little chance of surviving the centuries of subsequent ploughing that have removed all traces of any above ground mound.

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Rare Iron Age warrior grave found in Sussex

Wednesday, January 29th, 2020

A rare Iron Age grave furnished with weapons has been discovered in Walberton, West Sussex. The site of a future housing development was being excavated by a team from Archaeology South-East (ASE) when they unearthed the grave dating to between the Late Iron Age and the early Roman era (1st century B.C. – 50 A.D.).

No human remains were found, disintegrated over time in unwelcoming soil. A roughly rectangular dark stain on the soil is all that’s left of the wooden bed or container that the deceased was interred on or in. At one of the short ends of this stain, just outside its perimenter but well-within the grave itself, were four pottery vessels made from local clay. They are utilitarian items, of a type that would have been used to make and store food in the 1st century. Between two of them was a spearhead. At the other end of the grave were additional metal pieces, their form and function currently unknown.

Along the long side of the stain there was an iron sword inside a scabbard made of an organic material (as yet unidentifed). The scabbard was decorated with a copper alloy mount at the mouth. Initial conservation and X-rays of the sword reveal the mount was an elaborate, detailed ornament that would have stood out dramatically when worn.

Warrior burials from this period are extremely rare in Sussex, and with so little data to go on, their cultural significance is unclear.

Jim Stevenson, the ASE archaeologist who is managing the post-excavation investigations into the burial, said: “There has been much discussion generally as to who the people buried in the ‘warrior’ tradition may have been in life.

“Were they really warriors, or just buried with the trappings of one?

“Although the soil conditions destroyed the skeleton, the items discovered within the grave suggest that the occupant had been an important individual.”

Studies of the grave and its contents are ongoing.

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Mummy was stabbed in the back, study finds

Tuesday, January 28th, 2020

A new study of a famous mummy that has been the centerpiece of the Ulster Museum in Belfast since 1835 has revealed that she was murdered by being stabbed in the back.

The mummy and her sarcophagus were acquired in Thebes in 1834 by Thomas Gregg, a wealthy lawyer and owner of Ballymenoch House in Holywood, today part of metro Belfast. Like many wealthy European tourists, Gregg sought out a human souvenir on the thriving Egyptian mummy market. The country was well-stocked with thousands of years worth of remains to dig up for the trade in mummies, a trade established in the Renaissance when mummy became an essential ingredient in any respectable pharmacopoeia. The market expanded geometrically in the early 19th century as the fashion for all things Egyptian exploded in the wake of the Napoleonic wars.

Gregg had it shipped by boat to Belfast and donated it to the Belfast Natural History Society, now the Ulster Museum. On January 27th, 1835, the case was opened and the mummy unwrapped before a riveted audience. Mummy “unrollings” were a popular entertainment in the 19th century, and the inscribed case, fine linen wrappings and well-preserved remains complete with auburn curls generated much buzz in the media and among scholars at the time.

The event was presided over by the Reverend Edward Hincks, who when not occupied by his clerical duties had dedicated his considerable intellectual prowess to learning and deciphering ancient languages, including Persian cuneiform, Akkadian cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphics. He translated the inscriptions on her coffin which revealed her to be Takabuti, a married woman between 20 and 30 years of age, who died around 600 B.C., the late 25th Dynasty. Her father was Nespare, priest of Amun, her mother Tasenirit.

Takabuti has been a fixture of the museum’s Egypt gallery ever since and one of its most popular exhibits. The mummy has been extensively studied. In recent years she’s gotten new x-rays, CT scans, hair sample analysis and radiocarbon dating. The most recent study included DNA analysis and new, more detailed  CT scans.

The scans show a clear stab wound in the upper back of her chest wall near her left shoulder that was the cause of death. Material seen in previous scans that had been thought to be her heart was in fact material the embalmers packed into the fatal wound. Her genetic haplotype, H4a1, has never been found before in Egyptians, modern or ancient.

The team, whose findings are made public on the 185 year anniversary of Takabuti’s unwrapping in 1835, also show that her DNA is more genetically similar to Europeans rather than modern Egyptian populations.

The team show Takabuti had an extra tooth – 33 instead of 32 – something which only occurs in 0.02% of the population and an extra vertebrae, which only occurs 2% of the population.

And Takabuti’s heart, previously thought to have been missing, was identified by the state of the art technology used by the researchers as intact and perfectly preserved.

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Elongated Etruscan goes on display in San Gimignano

Monday, January 27th, 2020

The Tuscan hill town of San Gimignano is famed for its stunning array of medieval towers. While only 14 of the 72 tower houses built by competing noble families as symbols of their wealth and military strength survive today, they make an indelible mark on the town and preserve the medieval architectural character which has been lost in the larger, more developed cities like Florence and Siena. Today zoning regulations prohibit the alteration of historic buildings and spaces, keeping the center of the town’s medieval layout — from streets to squares to structures — remarkably intact.

But the town itself long pre-dates the era that has come to characterize it. A new exhibition at the Archaeological Museum of San Gimignano turns the spotlight on the town’s ancient history, and it features a never-before-seen artifact from its Etruscan past: a dramatically elongated Hellenistic statuette of a magistrate making an offering. The figurine was discovered in 2010 during construction work on private property on the hillside that leads from San Gimignano to the Elsa river valley. Crews carrying out the digging work first noticed traces of bright green, then saw a long, flatish piece of bronze. That green rectangle turned out to be a bronze figure of a man placed face-down in prone position.

The renovation ceased while regional authorities organized an excavation which revealed an extraordinary Etruscan open-air sacred space in active use from the 3rd century B.C. until the 2nd century A.D. The figurine was buried next a large stone square monolith that served as an altar for religious rites. There are extant traces of fire on the stone from burned offerings. Archaeologists recovered coins, ceramic fragments and unguentaria. The sacred area was next to a spring, so might have been dedicated to a water/earth deity.

The statuette, remarkably intact in virtually pristine condition, depicts a highly stylized elongated figure dressed in a toga draped over one shoulder, his right arm, chest and torso exposed, reaching below his knee. He is shod in flat-soled calcei booties with laces crossed over his feet and around his ankles and lower shins. In his right hand he holds a phiale mesomphalos (a libation vessel with a bump in the middle because the underside has a hollow you put your finger in to steady the flat plate when pouring out liquid offerings). His left hand, attached to his body, is turned palm-out. His facial features are finely detailed, his hair combed forward, his eyes large, his lips full over a pronounced chin dimple. The toga over bare chest, shoes, his posture and the phiale identify him as a magistrate engaged in a ritual offering.

It is an Etruscan votive figurine which can be dated from its stylistic elements to the middle of the 3rd century B.C., made by the artisans of neighboring Volterra who were renown for the bronze casting skills. A piece in this style found in Volterra in the 18th century was dubbed the “Shadow of the Evening” because of his loooong stretched out body and normal sized head. This figure has been yclept the Shadow of San Gimignano, or the Offeror. Elongated Etruscan bronze statuettes are rare, and at more than two feet tall and weighing almost five pounds, the Shadow of San Gimignano is an exceptional example, larger, heavier and more detailed than comparable works. It is also the only one excavated from a sacred context.

Almost 10 years after its discovery, the Shadow of San Gimignano has gone on public display for the first time. Hinthial: The Shadow of San Gimignano opened last month and will run through May 31, 2020. Hinthial means sacred or soul in Etruscan, and the exhibition is structured as an immersive voyage through an Etruscan/Roman sacred landscape with the Offeror as its culmination.

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Vesuvius turned a man’s brain to glass

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020

The skull of a young man who died in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. has been found to contain the remains of his brain, but not in any of the mummified, saponified or even Heslington varieties seen before in an archaeological context. His brain was turned to glass.

The skeletal remains of an adult male about 25 years of age when he died were discovered in a small room believed to be the caretaker’s bed chamber in the Collegium Augustalium, the headquarters of the cult of the deified Augustus,  in 1961. The bones were on top of a bank of volcanic ash from the eruption. Pieces of the wooden bed he had been lying on were visible inside the bank. He was found in prone position face down, or rather what-was-left-of-his-face down. The heat of the pyroclastic surge had made his skull burst. Section of his exploded and charred skull were found in a rough semi-circle around the top of the bed. The bones of his chest were encased in a solidified spongy mass, likely formed by the combination of lungs and organs with volcanic material. Small bits of pumice are embedded in there.

The entrapped chest was unique for a victim of Vesuvius’ 79 A.D. eruption, as was another feature: a glassy black material filling the cranial cavity and encrusted on the inner surface of the bone fragments. While there were areas on the left tibia and a rib fragment that were partially glass-like in appearance, they were much less glossy and largely retained their original structure.

University of Naples Federico II forensic anthropologist Dr. Pier Paolo Petrone was studying the Collegium Augustalium remains when he noticed the black glassy texture in the cranium.

“I noticed something shining inside the head,” he told the Guardian. “This material was preserved exclusively in the victim’s skull, thus it had to be the vitrified remains of the brain. But it had to be proved beyond any reasonable doubt.”

Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry analysis of the protein content of the glassy material in the cranium found fatty acids that are specific to brain tissue, suggesting that Vesuvius turned this man’s brain was to glass.

From the results published New England Journal of Medicine:

Proteomic investigation of the glassy material inside the skull identified several proteins that are highly expressed in human brain tissues (Table S1). Adipic and margaric fatty acids, components of human hair fat from sebum, were detected exclusively in the glassy fragments (Table S2) but not in the adjacent ash or in charcoal from the archaeological site. Fatty acids that are typical of human brain triglycerides were also found in the putative brain material. These substances are common to animals and plants (Table S3); however, no evidence of plants or animals was found at the site from which the victim was recovered.

Features suggesting a maximum temperature of 520°C were detected on charred wood from the Collegium (Fig. S5). This suggests that extreme radiant heat was able to ignite body fat and vaporize soft tissues; a rapid drop in temperature followed. The detection of glassy material from the victim’s head, of proteins expressed in human brain, and of fatty acids found in human hair indicates the thermally induced preservation of vitrified human brain tissue.

Vitrification is a rare phenomenon on the archaeological record. Most of the vitrified material that has been discovered is charcoal, dry wood that converted to glassy hardness in an inferno of around 310-530°C.

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Extremely rare Assyrian rock reliefs found in Iraqi Kurdistan

Sunday, January 19th, 2020

A team of Italian and Kurdish archaeologists have discovered 10 exceptionally rare Assyrian rock reliefs at the archaeological site of Faida in northern Iraqi Kurdistan. The reliefs were carved into the banks of an ancient canal four miles long that was dug out of the bedrock in the 8th-7th century B.C. to irrigate fields. Most known Assyrian bas-reliefs were discovered in royal palaces. The last time Assyrian reliefs carved onto rock faces, not on palace walls, were found was 1845. They were discovered by French consul Simon Rouet at the nearby ancient sites of Khinis and Maltai.

The panels depict a ruler, believed to be  Neo-Assyrian King Sargon II (r. 722–705 B.C.), leading a parade of Assyrian deities and animals. He is stands at both ends of the procession (Tablet 1 of the Epic of Gilgamesh: “He walks out in front, the leader, and walks at the rear, trusted by his companions”). The statues of seven Assyrian deities are carried in the parade on the backs of animals. Ashur, head of the Assyrian pantheon, rides on a dragon and horned lion. His wife Mullissu is on a throne supported by a lion. Ishtar, the “Queen of Heaven,” goddess of love and war, is on a lion. Her twin brother the sun god Shamash is on a horse. Moon god Sin is also on a horned lion, and storm god Adad is both a horned lion and a bull. Nabu, god of wisdom, literacy and scribes, is on a dragon. The animals bearing the representations of the gods face right, the direction of the current that flowed through the canal.

Sargon’s new capital, Dur-Sharrukin (modern-day Khorsabad), was 40 miles south of Faida, and the great metropolis of Nineveh (modern-day Mosul), a regionally important center of religious worship and trade since the 3rd millennium B.C. and the largest city in the world with an estimated population of 100,000 at its peak under Sargon’s son Sennacherib, was 10 miles southwest of Dur-Sharrukin. Improving the arability of the area around these important population centers was a priority for Sargon and his successors. Sennacherib would build a canal 30 miles long to bring water to Nineveh, a section of which was built with arches and cement and may have been the world’s first aqueduct.

We’re incredibly lucky the reliefs are still there. The tops of three of them were spotted by British archaeologists in 1973, but constant turmoil between the Kurds and the Iraqi government followed by the Iraq War made further exploration impossible. In 2012, archaeologists took advantage of a small window in the conflicts to discover another six reliefs. Then in 2014 ISIS occupied the area. The front line was 15 miles away from the precious reliefs, but thankfully they were so little known they weren’t subjected to the Islamic State’s greed for looting artifacts and selling them on the antiquities market or destroying them.

ISIS was kicked out in 2017, and in September and October of 2019, the Land of Nineveh Archaeological Project (LoNAP) was able to return to fully document the finds.

“The reliefs suggest that politically charged scenes of royal power and its divine legitimacy might have been commonplace,” said Harvard University archaeologist Jason Ur, who is researching ancient water systems in the region. The discovery shows that these works of art were “not just in the imperial palaces but everywhere, even where farmers were extracting water from canals for their fields.” […]

The expedition itself used advanced technologies, including laser scanning and digital photogrammetry, to record every detail of the stone panels and their context. A drone provided high-resolution aerial photos that will allow researchers to map the entire canal network.

These unique reliefs are still under constant threat. Looters damaged one of the panels last May in the attempt to steal it. Construction of a stable by a local farmer inflicted further damage on another panel. Increasing development is a major threat as well — the ancient canal was cut through when a new aqueduct was built in 2018 — and erosion is a constant enemy. The canal was cut into a hill and it is entirely full of layers of earth deposited as the hill eroded. LoNAP’s ultimate goal is to preserve the site — reliefs, including those of Khinis and Maltai discovered in 1845, and the canal system itself — as an archaeological park with UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.

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4,000 axe-monies returned to Mexico

Thursday, January 9th, 2020

A collection of 3,990 Mesoamerican copper coins dating to between 1200 and 1500 has been returned to Mexico. The coins belonged to a US private collector who acquired them at a Texas coin fair in the 1960s.

Mexican authorities notified the FBI of the existence of the coins in 2013 when they were taken to Spain for an auction. Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) then began authenticating the coins in order to request their return.

As both countries were by then signatories to the UNESCO convention (Mexico in 1972 and the United States in 1983), the return process was completed six years later.

[Mexican Consulate in Miami spokesperson Jessica] Cascante did not divulge the name of the collector who obtained the coins in the 1960s, but said that he did so before it constituted a crime and turned them in voluntarily.

The press coverage describes the coins as “tongue-shaped” but in fact they were shaped like miniature axes. They were hammered from a copper-arsenic alloy blank into the shape of a hachuela, a hatchet or small axe, hence the term axe-monies. They were beaten so thin that they could easily be stacked and bundled, easily circulated and easily hoarded. Indeed, most of them have been found in hoards or caches, often in graves, sometimes still bound in packets or bundles. This collection was likely a single hoard.

Axe-monies arrived in western Mexico around 1200. The metalcraft was apparently imported from the Andes (modern-day Ecuador and Peru), where arsenical copper was hammered into axe-like shapes (longer styles in feather shapes have been found at Andean sites) with the same thin, stackable properties. They are archaeologically significant, therefore, not just for their age, currency value and general coolness as axe-shaped coins, but because they attest to an exchange of monies and metallurgic technology between the ancient Mexican and Andean peoples.

Chroniclers from the 16th century document axe-monies used as tributes — one Geurrero province owned the Aztec king 80 hachuelas a year — and depict merchants at the tiyānquiztli, the outdoor markets held in towns’ central squares at least weekly, carrying objects that look like hachuelas. A 1528 inventory of tribute from Michoacán stored in the arsenal of Mexico City lists 113 cases of copper axe-monies. In a 1548 letter, Francisco López Tenorio, the Spanish governor of what is now Oaxaca city, four new hachuelas were worth five Spanish reales, but once they were worn down, their value plummeted to 10 for one real. They would then be collected, melted down and remade.

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Rich Roman cemetery found at school site

Wednesday, January 8th, 2020

A rich Roman cemetery has been discovered at the site of new school construction in Somerton, county of Somerset, southwest England. The remains of more than 50 individuals, adults and children, dating from 43-410 A.D. were unearthed. The quality of the graves and the goods interred indicate these were people of wealth and status.

Located on a ridge between two rivers, the Yeo and Cary, Somerton has been populated since prehistory. Most of the archaeological evidence of Somerton’s pre-Roman occupation consists of enclosures, field boundaries, crop marks and earthworks, not building structures or artifacts per se. It’s not until the Roman era that archaeological remains attesting to it having been a heavily permanent settlement. At least nine significant Romano-British farms or villas have been discovered. This indicates Somerton was an important agricultural hinterland for the urban center Lindinis (modern-day Ilchester),a 1st century Roman fort that by the 4th century had grown into a prosperous walled town replete with luxury homes. A Roman road has been discovered that linked Somerton to Lindinis nine miles to its south.

Burials believed to date to the Roman period have been found before — two in the vicarage garden in 1951, six in 1889 — but the dating is not firm. This is not only the first time a full Roman cemetery has been found in Somerton, but the first modern archaeological excavation of a Roman cemetery in all of Somerset. The excavation and analysis of the findings will shed new light on the transition from Iron Age British to Romano-British to Romanized life and death in Somerset.

The graves were dug in clean rectangles and then lined with local stones. After people were laid to rest, the graves were sealed with flat slabs. One of them was capped with a tented stone roof. These types of graves were expensive and time-consuming to build, rare in Roman Britain and extremely rare for a whole burial ground to be full of them.

The grave goods include pottery, jewelry, coins, a carved bone artifact (probably a knife handle). One large pot contained a chicken wing bone, the remains of a funerary offering. Small nails found at the foot of most of the are likely the remains of hobnailed boots. While the organic material has decayed, the position of one woman’s head suggests it was originally resting on a pillow.

[South West Heritage Trust archaeologist Steve] Membery believes the people who have been found would have lived and worked in a nearby Roman villa. The villa has yet to be discovered but what is believed to be an outhouse and a barn associated with it have been found.

Evidence has also been uncovered of an iron-age settlement predating the Roman cemetery. Membery said one of the most interesting elements of the cemetery was that it showed how local people adopted Roman burial customs. Bodies were squashed into the oldest graves but laid flat, in the Roman style, in the later ones, and grave goods were placed close to the head.

DNA analysis will be carried out to try to learn more about the people who were buried at Somerton. It is thought likely they were British people who had adopted Roman customs after the invasion.

The school construction was delayed during the excavation, but it will pick up again next month. The artifacts and human remains have been salvaged and will be studied further.

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