Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Third EID MAR aureus emerges at auction

Thursday, October 8th, 2020

A previously unpublished gold aureus of the most coveted coin in the world, the EID MAR struck by Brutus in 42 B.C. to commemorate the assassination of Julius Caesar, is coming up for auction. With only two other authenticated examples, this is an incredibly rare coin, a once in many generations opportunity for whoever can afford the astronomical cost that will assuredly blow far past its presale estimate of £500,000 ($644,150). It’s also in incredible condition. Behold!

Previously unpublished EID MAR aureus coming up for auction. Photo courtesy Roman Numismatics.

Almost all of the surviving EID MARs, about 85 or so at most recent count, are silver denarii, a day’s wage for a Roman foot soldier. They are believed to have been struck for distribution to soldiers and officers of Brutus and Cassius’ armies in Greece before their final defeat by Mark Antony’s forces at the Battles of Philippi in October of 42 B.C. The gold coins were not paychecks; they can only have been sparingly handed out to the highest echelon of Brutus’ supporters. To the winner goes the spoils, as they say, and the EID MAR coins were spoils par excellence. Antony had them rounded up and melted down, which is why there are so few in circulation today.

The obverse features a profile portrait of Marcus Junius Brutus identified by the legend BRVT IMP (Brutus Imperator). The inscription on left of the portrait, L PLAET CEST, refers to the moneyer of Brutus’ mobile mint, Lucius Plaetorius Cestianus, who had the coins struck.

It was shamelessly hypocritical of Brutus to put his face on a coin to celebrate his murder of someone accused of wanting absolute rule when one of the charges against Caesar was that he had broken an ancient taboo and allowed his face to be put on coins. It was very much against custom in Republican Rome for living people to be portrayed on coins. There were a couple of coins with his likeness struck in tribute to him in the eastern provinces, which caused much grumbling a few years before the assassination. That grumbling turned to a mighty roar after Caesar was declared dictator for life in January of 44 B.C. Several coins were issued by his moneyers celebrating CAESAR DICT PERPETVO, some with his portrait wearing the laurel wreath alone and others veiled and wreathed, combining his religious role as Pontifex Maximus with his military role as triumphing general.

The reverse of Brutus’ coin bears the symbols celebrating the assassination of Caesar. In the middle is a pileus, the distinctive “liberty cap” given to freedmen on their emancipation day. The conspirators adopted this unmistakable symbol of freedom to mark their act as a tyrannicide, not a murder, but a defense of Republican freedom from a would-be king, just as Marcus Junius Brutus’ ancestor, Lucius Junius Brutus, had righteously killed Tarquin the Proud, the last Etruscan king of Rome, and founded the Roman Republic. According to Appian’s Civil Wars, the conspirators made this explicit in the immediate wake of the assassination:

The murderers wished to make a speech in the Senate, but as nobody remained there they wrapped their togas around their left arms to serve as shields, and, with swords still reeking with blood, ran, crying out that they had slain a king and tyrant. One of them bore a cap on the end of a spear as a symbol of freedom, and exhorted the people to restore the government of their fathers and recall the memory of the elder Brutus and of those who took the oath together against ancient kings.

The pileus on the reverse of the coin is flanked by two daggers. The two daggers are different — one is longer than the other and they have different pommel designs — are a reference to the two main leaders of the conspiracy, Brutus and Cassius who had fled Rome after the assassination and taken control of the eastern provinces from the Adriatic to Asia. They used the copious wealth of the east to keep 20 legions fed and paid, at least once with an assassination commemorative coin. If there was any doubt at all about the meaning of the daggers and freedman cap (there wasn’t), that was obliterated by the inscription EID MAR, an abbreviation of Eidibus Martiis, ie, the Ides of March, ie March 15th, 44 B.C., the date of the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar.

The EID MAR coin boasting of Caesar’s assassination was instantly famous. The two daggers and pileus appeared again on the reverse of a denarius minted in 67 or 68 A.D. The person who ordered it is unknown — a profile of the goddess Libertas was on the obverse — but is believed to be Galba who was actively plotting to snatch the imperial crown in 67 A.D. and did so after Nero’s suicide in 68 A.D. The inscription reads “LIBERTAS PR” on the obverse and “RESTITVTA” on the reverse, meaning “libertas populi romani restituta,” or “the freedom of the Roman people is restored.” Galba would have used his name on the obverse after he took the throne, so it’s likely this was struck as a propaganda piece to justify Nero’s violent demise before he assumed power.

Brutus’ coin also got a mention in Cassius Dio’s Roman History, written 250 years after they were struck.

Brutus stamped upon the coins which were being minted his own likeness and a cap and two daggers, indicating by this and by the inscription that he and Cassius had liberated the fatherland.

The EID MAR denarius consistently ranks at the top of numismatic wish lists. It is a unique combination of historical significance and rarity and good examples have set record prices for silver coinage at auction. The aureus is a whole other level of desirability, and has been since at least the 18th century when King George III got tricked into buying a contemporary fake. That fake is now at the British Museum, as is a fake denarius.

Also at the British Museum on long-term loan from private collector Michael Winckless is an EID MAR aureus that was pierced at the top around the time of its striking. Only important people got the commemorative assassination aurei, so that means a supporter very high up in the ranks, perhaps even one of the assassins himself, wore the coin as a medallion. (Its authenticity has been questioned in the past, but that was based on an assessment not of the coin itself, but of a plaster cast of it. It is accepted as authentic in the modern scholarship.)

The only other known authentic example is in the extensive numismatic collection of the Deutsche Bundesbank. It is on display at the bank’s Money Museum in Frankfurt. It is a much cleaner, properly centralized strike than the pierced aureus at the British Museum or the Bundesbank’s, and is far less worn. The aureus going up for auction on October 29th is even finer still. It is in near mint condition, with only a few of the dots surrounding the portrait on the obverse side worn down. It has been privately owned for centuries with documented provenance going back to the Swiss Baron Dominique de Chambrier in the 1700s. The auction includes many other coins from the decline of the Republic. Mark Antony, Lepidus and Octavian are all present and accounted for, as is Julius Caesar in the dictator for life coins and some posthumous issues.

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Grave of imposing Anglo-Saxon warrior found in Berkshire

Monday, October 5th, 2020

An excavation near the town of Marlow in southern England has unearthed the grave of an imposingly large and well-outfitted warrior from the 6th century. The grave was originally discovered by metal detectorist Sue Washington in March 2018. They began to unearth two round copper alloy vessels but stopped when they realized the objects were very old and fragile. They reported their discovery to the Berkshire Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Finds Liaison Officer excavated the find site.

It was a targeted dig to carefully remove the two vessels the finders had uncovered. In the process, the archaeologist also found two spearheads buried in close proximity to each other, a larger one on top of a smaller. When one of the bowls was lifted, a single bone from a toe was found. The presence of human remains and the objects recovered indicated this was an ancient grave. The bowls and spearheads were recovered for conservation and the site reburied for later exploration.

One of the vessels is a hanging bowl or bucket of the Gotlankessel type, characterized by its rounded, almost spherical shape and the triangular lugs that connect the curved iron handle to the rim of the bowl. It is undecorated. These types of vessels are believed to have been produced by workshops in the Namur region of modern-day Belgium. They date from the late 5th century through the 6th century.

The other is a flanged bowl with repoussé decoration around the flanged edge. This kind of decoration is typical of Late Roman designs but the bowl itself is likely an early medieval object inspired by Roman work. It dates to the first quarter of the 6th century.

Both vessels were heavily damaged by agricultural activity. Much of the flange of the bowl was in pieces and the foot ring was detached leaving a hole in the bottom. The hanging bucket is missing one of its lugs and its base was crumpled and fragmentary. Had the finders attempted to pull them out on their own, without question they would have caused irreparable damage to the fragile assemblage. Because they were so responsible and the objects were professionally excavated, conservators were able to piece them back together and remove much of the corrosion. The bowl is almost complete now, with only a chunk missing from the flange. The cauldron is a little worse for wear than the bowl. There are holes where the base curves into the sides and a large gap on one side.

The two spearheads made it through the centuries remarkably well. They were heavily corroded when found, but thankfully most of the original metal was found intact when the corrosion products were removed. Their styles date them to early Post-Roman period, around 450-550 A.D.

This August, archaeologists from the University of Reading and a team of volunteers did the first thorough survey and excavation of the find site. They found additional luxury objects including glass vessels, garment fittings and shears, and the full skeleton of the man who owned all those grave goods. He was buried with his sword still in its scabbard by his side, and it is in excellent condition. The scabbard is made of wood and leather and decorated with bronze fittings. It is one of the best preserved sheathed swords from this period ever found.

Dr Gabor Thomas, a specialist in early medieval archaeology at the University of Reading, said: “We had expected to find some kind of Anglo-Saxon burial, but what we found exceeded all our expectations and provides new insights into this stretch of the Thames in the decades after the collapse of the Roman administration in Britain.

“This the first burial of its kind found in the mid-Thames basin, which is often overlooked in favour of the Upper Thames and London. It suggests that the people living in this region may have been more important than historians previously suspected.

“This guy would have been tall and robust compared to other men at the time, and would have been an imposing figure even today. The nature of his burial and the site with views overlooking the Thames suggest he was a respected leader of a local tribe and had probably been a formidable warrior in his own right.”

The discovery of the Marlow Warlord may shed new light on a little-known period in the mid-Thames Valley. In the 6th century, this area was thought to be a borderland between the burgeoning tribal groups that would evolve into the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia and Kent. The presence of so important a figure may indicate there was a tribe here of significant local power that was later muscled out by or absorbed into the larger neighboring tribes that became kingdoms.

The remains of the Marlow Warlord will be studied further by University of Reading archaeologists in the hopes of learning more about the man — his age, where he was born and raised, what he ate, any health issues he may have had and how he died. The objects are still undergoing conservation. Sue Washington has donated the vessels and spearheads to the Buckinghamshire Museum in Aylesbury which plans to put them on display in 2021 when the museum reopens after renovation.

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The importance of woolly dogs and fish

Sunday, October 4th, 2020

A comprehensive new study published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology of archaeological remains of canids has found domestic dogs were ubiquitous among the ancient peoples of the Northwest Coast of what are now the United States and Canada, the product of dedicated domestication and breeding going back at least to the mid-Holocene (7,000 – 5,000 years ago). Wild canids like coyotes, foxes and wolves, on the other hand, are extremely rare. There is nothing like this density of domesticated dog remains associated with any other indigenous peoples elsewhere in North America.

Researchers from the University of Victoria examined 172,310 mammal bones unearthed over 55 years of archaeological exploration at 210 sites. Of those, 1,400 were canid bones recovered from 49 different sites. More than 99% of them came from domesticated dogs. The remains of domesticated dogs came in two distinct types: one small, Spitz-like breed and one medium-sized dingo-like dog. The small one was the Salish wool dog. The larger were “village dogs,” used for hunting and protection.

The study found the greatest density of domesticated dog bones on the east coast of Vancouver island, the mouth of the Fraser River and the Gulf Island, areas where traditional accounts and documented European encounters record the presence of the small dogs and their prized wool. It’s likely that these were centers of carefully controlled breeding — the woollies and the village dogs were kept strictly apart to ensure the healthy survival of the recessive gene that makes the characteristic coat — and that the dogs were traded to other groups.

Northwest Coast nations like the Coast Salish in what is now Washington state and the Tseshaht people of British Columbia, for millennia bred small dogs with dense, woolly coats specifically for the production of textiles. The dog wool textiles evolved from local objects of use and craft into a major currency for international trade. The cultural and economic importance of them to the Northwest Coast peoples explains why there is such a great number of domesticated canids on the archaeological record there and nowhere else.

In a related study published in Scientific Reports of recently-excavated skeletal remains of woolly dogs found on Keith Island, one of the Broken Group of islands in Barkley Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, researchers were able to use stable isotope analysis to discover what the woolly dogs ate. Spoiler: like kings.

“Our research indicates that Tseshaht dogs were eating and possibly being fed significant amounts of marine fish—specifically, anchovy, herring and salmon—amounting to approximately half of the food they consumed throughout their lives,” says Hillis.

“We were able to provide direct and detailed evidence for the consumption of marine resources by dogs and humans of Tseshaht territory,” Hillis adds. “Obviously, the role that humans took was substantial since dogs were not catching these fast-moving fish on their own,” he adds.

Nothing like fish oil to make a dog’s coat healthy and glossy.

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4th century B.C. cistern excavated in Croatia

Monday, September 28th, 2020

A monumental cistern built by Greek colonists in the 4th century B.C. on what is now the Croatian island of Korčula has been fully excavated. The ruins of the ancient cistern were known to exist on Koludrt hill near the town of Lumbarda, but the full extent of this monumental structure was never explored until now.

Archaeologists have been working to clear it to document it thoroughly and preserve it for the future. It is an open-air structure and therefore susceptible to the elements and to damage from human contact. The plaster lining the stone basin, which was necessary to create a waterproof container, is of particular historical interest from an engineering perspective.

“The tank is huge, 10×17 meters in floor plan size and preserved height in the deepest part of 3 and a half meters. That’s a huge amount of water. Technologically, it is a fascinating object that is unique in the Mediterranean,” claims archaeologist Hrvoje Potrebica.

One of the puzzles is that it is open, has no traces of a roof structure, but monumental in its size – there is no Hellenistic building on the east coast of the Adriatic that could match it. That is why the cistern is big news in the world of archeology, and it was recorded with the most modern 3D scanner in the world.

“We currently have the most modern scanner in the world that recorded a tank with 430 million points. So our resolution is one millimeter, so we hope that we will get documentation and an exceptional means of monitoring,” explains Potrebica.

The cistern is also the find site of the oldest written document ever discovered in Croatia: the Lumbarda Psephisma, discovered in 1877. It is a record of the founding of the colony, a contract between the new colonists from Issa (a Greek colony on the Adriatic island of Vis) with the local Illyrian potentates Pyllos and his son Dazos. The inscription stipulates how much land the original colonists who fortified the town will be allotted, how much later colonists will receive and penalties for non-compliance. It closes with an extraordinary list of more than 200 names of the original colonists.

The Psephisma has been dated to the late 4th, early 3rd century B.C., around the same time the cistern was constructed. The water is held would have supplied all the colonists within the fortified walls of the town, perhaps even the very people named on the agreement.

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Lydian atonement inscription repatriated to Turkey

Sunday, September 27th, 2020

A Lydian-era inscribed marble stele has been repatriated to Turkey almost three decades after it was illegally exported from the country. The inscription was looted in the early 1990s from the Temple of Apollo Aksyros in the ancient Lydian city of Saittai, today in the province of Manisa in western Turkey. In 1997, the stele was discovered in a raid on an antique shop in Florence. Italy’s Cultural Patrimony police confirmed its origin with Turkish Interpol, but because the open-air site has not been systematically excavated and documented, there was no hard evidence that it had been stolen and smuggled out of the country illegally.

Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Ministry spent the next 23 years pressing its claim in the Italian courts. On November 5th, 2019, the Florence Court of Appeal finally ruled that Turkey was the legal owner of the inscription triggering the repatriation process. After much diplomatic back-and-forth (and COVID-related delays), the stele was officially handed over to Murat Saim Esenli, Turkish Ambassador to Rome, on September 19th.

The ancient text itself points to its find site. It is an atonement inscription, a public allocution meant to expiate a sin. In this case, the sins of the children were visited upon the parents.

“Melita and Makedon stole Eia’s fishnet and other belongings. Therefore, they were punished by God. Their parents consulted Apollon Aksyros for their sake and made a vow.”

Saittai was one of the 10 cities in the Katakekaumene decapolis, a political union which prospered in the Hellenistic and Roman eras. It had its own mint under Roman rule and at least one emperor, Hadrian, visited it in person. It had temples to several deities, Apollon Aksyros among them. The date of the inscription is not known, but by the 5th century Saittai was the seat of a Christian bishopric and the ancient temples were no longer in active use.

The stele will go on display at the  Anatolian Civilizations Museum in Ankara.

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Oldest Roman body armour found in Germany

Saturday, September 26th, 2020

Archaeologists have discovered the oldest and most complete Roman body armour at the site of the  Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in Kalkriese, Germany. Before this find, the earliest known examples of Roman lorica segmentata — iron plate sections tied together — were found in Corbridge, UK, and date to the 2nd century. Those were fragments. The Kalkriese armor is a complete set, and includes an extremely rare iron collar used to shackle prisoners.

More than 7,000 objects have been found at the Kalkriese battlefield site, from weapons to coins to items of everyday use. In the summer of 2018, a metal detector scan of the side wall of an excavation trench retuned 10 strong signals, indications of a large quantity of metal inside the bank. To ensure whatever was in there wasn’t exposed to the air and rapid oxidization, archaeologists removed the entire soil block containing the mystery metallics.

The first step was to scan the block to see what was inside and map out its excavation. The block was too big for regular X-ray machines, so  they transported the crate to the Münster Osnabrück International Airport where the customs office has a freight-sized X-ray machine. All they could see was nails of the wooden crate and a large black hole in the shape of the soil block.

In 2019, it was sent to the Fraunhofer Institute in Fürth which has the world’s largest CT scanner — a circular platform more than 11 feet in diameter that rotates while the X-ray apparatus moves up and down — more than big enough for the crate to fit and powerful enough to see inside the dense soil block. The scan revealed the remains of a cuirass — the section of a lorica segmentata where the breastplate and back plate are buckled together. The plates of the armour were pushed together like an accordion by the weight of the soil pressing on down them for 2,000 years.

Here’s a nifty digital animation by the Fraunhofer Institute generated from the CT scan data that reveals the armour inside the soil block.

Armed with the detailed scans, restorers were able to begin excavation of the soil block. They found that despite Kalkriese’s highly acidic sandy soil, the armour is relatively well-preserved. There is extensive corrosion of the mental, but the set is uniquely complete with hinges, buckles, bronze bosses and even extremely rare surviving pieces of the leather ties. The plates from the shoulder and chest have been recovered and restored. The belly plates are still in the soil block. There are no arm plates in this early design.

Iron plate armour was introduced by Augustus as an improvement on chain mail. It was relatively light (around 17 pounds) and because the plates were tied together with leather cords, they were much more flexible than chain mail. so it was the latest and greatest technology in 9 A.D. when Publius Quinctilius Varus blundered into a German ambush that obliterated three full Roman legions plus their auxiliaries.

The legionary who wore this armour apparently survived the battle because around his neck/shoulder area was a shrew’s fiddle, also known as a neck violin. This was an iron collar connected to two handcuffs that locked a prisoner’s hands in front of his neck. The Romans used them to shackle prisoners destined for slavery. This time the tables were turned, and the soldier died in shackles.

The restoration is ongoing and is expected to take another two years. Once it’s complete, the armour will go on display in an exhibition at the Kalkriese Museum and Park.

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Reconstruction confirms accuracy of Fayoum child mummy portrait

Friday, September 25th, 2020

A facial reconstruction of the mummy of a young child has revealed that his mummy portrait was remarkably realistic. Mummy portraits, a funerary tradition specific to Greco-Roman Egypt, were painted on wood boards and placed over the face of a linen-wrapped mummified body. There are about 1,000 known mummy portraits extant today, most of them discovered in the Fayoum area of Lower Egypt, but less than 100 of them are still attached to their original mummy.

Because of the realism and individualized features of the portraits, they are believed to be representations of the faces of the deceased, but few studies have been done on matched portraits and mummies, and in the ones that have created facial reconstructions from the embalmed remains, the results have varied. Most of the portraits were (pardon the pun) dead ringers for the mummy; a few seemingly bore no resemblance.

The most recent study is the first to compare a child mummy to its portrait. The subject in question has been part of the collection of the  Staatliches Museum Ägyptischer Kunst (SMAEK) München since 1912 when it was donated to the Royal Bavarian Collection of Antiquities by renown archaeologist Sir Flinders Petrie. Petrie had unearthed it himself the year before during an excavation at Hawara, the entrance point to the Fayoum oasis.

The mummy is 30 inches long and artfully wrapped with criss-crossed linen bandages adorned with gilded plaster buttons. The portrait depicts a young child about three or four years old with large brown eyes and brown hair. X-rays identified the child as male. The hair is curly with two braids woven from center to ears just above the hairline.

Researchers CT-scanned the mummy and reconstructed the skull from the scans. They then used the scan data and 3D software to reconstruct the eyes, skin, nose and soft tissue. The reconstruction artist was not allowed to see the portrait or even get anything information about it so as not to influence the rendering.

The facial reconstruction shows a child with typical infantile facial features very similar to those of the portrait. On the biometrical level, the proportions between the dimension of the forehead to the eye line, the distance to the lower nasal aperture and the mouth opening were exactly the same between portrait and reconstruction. However, differences existed between the width of the nasal bridge and the size of the mouth opening with both being more slender and “narrow” in the portrait than the virtual reconstruction. […]

There are, however, certain distinct differences between portrait and face: on a subjective level, the portrait appears slightly “older”; on a biometric level, the width of the nose and the mouth are smaller in the portrait than in the face, which might explain the perceived difference in age.

Flinders Petrie thought the portraits were made ante-mortem because they had all been cut down to fit the mummy and because he found one that hadn’t yet been attached to a mummy. Some current scholars have also proposed that the portraits were made from life. While that makes sense for adults, it seems unlikely that so young a child would have a death portrait ready to go just in case. There is evidence of pneumonia in his lungs, so its seems he was stricken by a sudden fatal illness.

The study has been published in the journal PLUS One. It’s a good read and has excellent supplementary materials, including four videos of different stages of the reconstruction process.

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Germanic princely grave found in Migration Period cemetery

Thursday, September 24th, 2020

The richly furnished grave of a Germanic prince buried with 11 animals and six women has been discovered near the village of Brücken-Hackpfüffel in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt. It dates to between 480 and 530 A.D. and was the central tomb of a large burial mound, now eroded.

The remains of the illustrious personage buried in the central grave have not been found yet. A soil block containing metal pieces believed to have been part of a cauldron was removed for excavation in laboratory conditions. The cinerary remains of the tumulus owner may have been buried inside of it. It must have been of major importance, because the six women were buried around the cauldron in a radial alignment like the rays of the sun. It is not yet known if they were deliberately killed or sacrificed themselves to accompany the deceased into death. The animals — cattle, horses, dogs — were buried after the central occupant was interred and the mound built, likely offerings to honor the deceased.

The burial mound is part of a Migration Period cemetery that was discovered by chance during construction of a chicken breeding facility. Almost 60 graves have been discovered. Grave goods excavated so far include the figurine of a Germanic deity, a glass bowl with swirl decoration in pristine condition, a glass spindle whorl, silver gilt fibulae, an iron sword and shield boss and a gold coin minted during the reign of Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno dating to around 480. The glass objects bear the signature manufacturing technique of Gallo-Roman workshops on the Rhine.

The fibulae were of a type produced by the Lombards, Alemanni and the Thuringii. The most elaborate of the fibulae still includes a fragment of textile that was captured and preserved by corrosion of the metal. Analysis of the fragment may narrow down its provenance. If it from a light cloak, it’s likely Lombard as their territories were more southerly.

By a stroke of archaeological good luck, the cemetery was in a depression on the landscape. Over the years, layers of soil built up over it, so even though the site has seen centuries of agricultural use, the graves were never damaged. They weren’t even any hints of their presence on the surface, so they’ve been preserved from the depredations of looters.

Excavations in situ and in the laboratory are ongoing. The precise location of the cemetery is being kept under wraps for security purposes.

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8,400-year-old dog burial found in Sweden

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020

The remains of a dog buried 8,400 years ago have been discovered in the Stone Age settlement at Ljungaviken, Sölvesborg. Objects found with it are believed to be grave goods, suggesting the dog was a beloved companion and colleague. It is one of the oldest dog finds ever made in Sweden, and the only one found in the middle of a Neolithic settlement.

The bones have been examined by an animal osteologist, but he was unable to identify its breed as there is no modern dog directly comparable. The closest he could get was to say that it was “like a powerful greyhound.”

“We hope to be able to lift the whole dog up in preparations, ie with soil and everything, and continue the investigations at Blekinge Museum’s object magazine.” says project manager Carl Persson at Blekinge museum.

“A find like this makes you feel even closer to the people who lived here,” he continues. “A buried dog somehow shows how similar we are over the millennia – the same feelings of loss and loss.”

When the settlement was inhabited (around 6,700-5,700 B.C.), the site was beachfront property on a small island or peninsula. The site was probably used only part of the year, in the summer and autumn, prime seasons for fishing and seal hunting. Paleobotanical finds indicate wild plants like melons and raspberries were foraged for food. Rising sea levels flooded the beach, covering the settlement with layers of wet sand and preserving it in good condition for thousands of years.

Archaeological surveys in 2015 discovered evidence of 56 different structures — hearths, postholes, pits — from the Stone Age and later materials from the Bronze and Iron Ages. The dog was buried among the Stone Age remains.

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Gallo-Roman wine vat found in Touraine

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020

Archaeologists have discovered a Gallo-Roman wine vat from the 2nd century near the village of Vaugourdon in Touraine, central France. A team from France’s National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) found the vat during an excavation of the site of a future fishery when they unearthed a deep rectangular pit built of roof bricks and lime mortar making it water-tight.

The Loire river valley is one of France’s top wine producing regions, with a history of viticulture that goes back to the Roman era. If the presence of grape juice is confirmed from presence of tannins in residues on the brick, this vat will be the earliest direct archaeological evidence of wine production in Touraine.

Winemaking in Roman Gaul, especially in this period, was predominantly based in the Mediterranean south of the country, and most evidence points to it creeping north to areas such as the Loire much later in the Roman period; as late as the 3rd century AD.

The famous saint, Martin of Tours, is a patron of vintners, vine-growers and winemakers and his wine-related hagiography is firmly linked to the area. He is credited with encouraging the spread of viticulture throughout the Touraine region, introducing Chenin Blanc and supposedly his donkey ‘discovered’ pruning by nibbling the foliage of a monastery’s vineyard (though there is an Ancient Greek myth where Aristaeus discovers this by watching a goat do the same thing).

But St Martin lived in the 4th century AD so this new site is as much as two centuries older.

The discovery of one winemaking site does not prove that viticulture was a large, flourishing industry in the Loire during this period of course but it does (potentially) show that limited viticulture was a reality and much more widespread in early Roman Gaul than former evidence suggested.

INRAP archaeologists have also discovered the foundations of a large villa near the vat. Fragments of marble and a well-preserved hypocaust system indicate this was a luxurious, expensive home. Its possible dates range from the 1st through the 3rd century A.D., so it may or may not be connected to wine production, but it likely belonged to a wealthy farmer, possibly absentee, who employed and housed numerous people on the estate year-round.

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