Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Garage sale toothbrush cup is 4,000 years old

Friday, November 30th, 2018

A pottery vessel bought at a garage sale for a pittance turns out to be a 4,000-year-old archaeological treasure. An avid collector of antiquities and oddities, Karl Martin bought this pot and another at a car boot sale in Willington, Derbyshire, for £4 (a whopping five bucks and a dime at the current rate of exchange). He thought it might be old, very old even, and he liked its simple line painted animal figures, but he didn’t research it further at the time. He just put it to use in his bathroom to hold his toothbrush and paste. Martin says he even got a few toothpaste smears on it and thought nothing of it.

He didn’t follow up on his old toothbrush pot, even though his passion for antiquities had inspired him to get a job at Hansons Auctioneers two years before his bargain purchase. He was at work, in fact, when he saw line painted pottery that reminded him of his old toothbrush holder and asked Hansons’ antiquities expert James Brenchley to look at his pot. He identified it as an ancient piece of pottery made in the Indus Valley area in around 1900 B.C.

James Brenchley, head of antiquities at Hansons Auctioneers, said: “This is an Indus Valley Harappan Civilisation pottery jar dating back to 1900 BC. This was a Bronze Age civilisation mainly in the north western regions of South Asia.

“Along with Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, it was one of three early cradles of civilisations of the Old World, and of the three, the most widespread. The civilisation was primarily located in modern-day India and Pakistan as well as Afghanistan.”

“I do come across items like this from time to time and was familiar with the painting technique. It was probably brought back to the UK years ago by wealthy travellers.”

Martin decided to put up for auction at Hansons’ antiquities sale November 26th. He made a tidy profit considering his £4 investment but it was no windfall. The hammer price was £80.

“Perhaps I should have held on to it. I feel a bit guilty about keeping my toothbrush in it now.”

Uh, yeah friend. Of course you should have kept it. I’ll take free and clear title to a cool ancient pot over a hundred bucks any day. Besides, you owed it a little mantelpiece display or something after all those years it suffered watching you spit into a sink.

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Sarcophaghus found in Luxor tomb opened live

Monday, November 26th, 2018

In a first for modern archaeology, Egyptian officials opened an intact sarcophagus in front of a cadre of international press on Saturday. The wood sarcophagus dates to the 18th Dynasty (1550 B.C.-1300 B.C.) is in excellent condition, its still-bright paint covering both lid and base. Fortunately for the government and the assembled representatives of the fourth estate, there was something inside. When the lid was raised, the well-preserved mummified remains of a woman, possibly named Thuya, were found inside.

It was discovered by archaeologists from the French Institute of Eastern Archeology (IFAO) and the University of Strasbourg in the necropolis of El-Assasif on the west bank of the Nile just north of Luxor (ancient Thebes). Located between the Valley of the Queens and the Valley of the Kings, the Assasif necropolis was used as a burial ground for nobles and important pharaonic officials mainly during the 18th, 25th and 26th dynasties from around 1550 to 525 B.C. Two intact sarcophagi were discovered in Tomb TT33. The other one, which also dates to the 18th Dynasty, painted in Rishi (feather) style, was opened by experts in scholarly privacy without the whole Al Capone’s vault spectacle. It too contained a mummy in apparently good condition.

In the five months of excavations at El-Assasif this year, a third sarcophagus was unearthed by the Egyptian archaelogical mission in Tomb TT28. The tomb was carved into the rock during the Middle Kingdom (1975 B.C.-1640 B.C.), but was reused in the Late Period (664 B.C.-332 B.C.). The sarcophagus dates to the 26th Dynasty, is made of black wood and is intricately carved. The engraved decorations are inlaid with gold foil. Hieroglyphics identify him as Thaw-Inkhet-If, overseer of the mummification shrine of the Temple of Mut, one of the four most important temples in the Karnak Temple Complex.

It was found in a burial chamber painted with vividly colored scenes depicting the tomb’s owner and family. Another chamber in the tomb contained a group of mummies carefully stacked in the small space, likely family members.

All three mummies found in the sarcophagi will be examined further in laboratory conditions. They will be analyzed for more precise dating and X-rayed to discover more about their lives and deaths.

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Fisherman finds tombstone of 12-year-old Roman girl

Sunday, November 25th, 2018

A fisherman has discovered the tombstone of a 12-year-old Roman girl in the Sava river in Kranj, northern Slovenia. Jure Meden was fishing the Sava near Kranj’s medieval old town last week when he spotted a rectangular block of stone. He contacted the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia and it sent archaeologists to take a look at the stone. They saw that it had a Latin inscription marking it as the gravestone for a young lady named Aurelia who died when she was 12 years old in the 1st or 2nd century A.D. Her bereaved father commissioned the stone.

There is archaeological evidence of human occupation going back to the Bronze Age and there were settlements on the site in the late Iron Age. The town of Carnium, which would become modern-day Kranj, was officially founded where the Sava and Kokra rivers meet by the Romans. An earlier Celtic burial site is located in the southern part of the town overlooking the left bank of the Sava, but Roman cemeteries have not been pinpointed. While Roman grave markers are not uncommon in Slovenia, this is the first one known to have been found in Kranj.

It’s not clear whether the stone was transported any significant distance by the high water or whether there’s a nearby cemetery. Wear on the stone indicates it has been in the water a very long time. There’s a divot at the top of the tombstone that suggests there was another feature above the inscription, possibly a small statue, mounted to the stone.

The stone is in quite decent condition considering it has spent centuries under running water. To prevent any further deterioration, archaeologists wasted no time getting the gravestone out of the Sava. Two days after it was found, firefighters raised the stone from the river and transported it to the Restoration Center of the Institute of the Slovene Academy of Sciences and Arts in Ljubljana for conservation and further study.

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Celtic coin hoard found in Slovakia

Saturday, November 24th, 2018

Archaeologists have discovered a hoard of Celtic coins from the early 1st century in the village of Mošovce, northern Slovakia. Forty silver tetradrachms were found scattered over a steep slope. This is the second largest coin hoard discovered in the area and the one with the oldest coins.

They date to the end of the La Tène period and were buried in the early 1st century around the turn of the millennium when the Romans occupied the area. The collapse of the Celtic civilization and the Roman invasions created social instability that may have spurred the burial of the coins, either to protect precious savings or as a ritual deposit to buy the protection of the gods.

They were originally buried in one place, wrapped in an organic material. The archaeologists identified the burial site. It broke down due to soil erosion, exposing the organic material to decay and the coins to scattering. Very few coin discoveries are made in their original context by archaeologists like this one was. Night hawks and looters run rampant, and if they get to a site at all, archaeologists are often beaten to the punch by treasure hunters. Because the coins and find site were untouched, the team was able to discover the extremely important burial location.

Tetradrachms are silver coins weighing nine to 10 grams, about four times the weight (and therefore value) of the smallest denomination, the drachma. In the 1st century, tetradrachms were the most valuable coin denominations minted in what is now northern Slovakia.

It is highly probable that they are minted from silver originating from a Carpathian (Slovak) deposit. The economic power of Celts in the Slovak area was to a considerable extent based on using natural resources, especially gold, silver and iron. The Turiec region belonged among the key economic and cultural centres of Celts in Slovakia, [Deputy Director of the Archaeological Institute of Slovak Academy of Sciences Karol] Pieta added. […]

Celtic coins are the oldest coins minted in the Slovak area. The finding proves that Slovakia is full of significant archaeological discoveries still hidden under the ground, thinks Matej Ruttkay, director of Archaeological Institute of SAV in Nitra.

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First Celtic chariot burial found in Wales

Wednesday, November 21st, 2018

The first Celtic chariot burial ever found in Wales has been discovered in a Pembrokeshire field by a metal detector hobbyist. When floods made his usual haunt impassable this February, Mike Smith surveyed a new site in southern Wales. (The exact location is being kept secret for its protection.)

“My first find was a Celtic horse harness junction piece,” said Mike. “When I found it my friends said I would never top it, but the next day I went back and found the rest…”

As Mike dug down eight inches into the soil he found other decorative pieces, including bronze bridle fittings, a brooch and the handle section of tools.

Though they were green from corrosion, the bronze pieces were covered in bright red enamel decoration which had not faded with time.

The small metal objects weren’t the only thing at the site. Smith’s metal detector signaled the presence of a much larger metal anomaly about 10 feet long. Mike alerted the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff that he had found horse fittings and gotten a signal alerting to greater metal quantities under them. He suggested that it could be a chariot burial. The experts were doubtful as no such thing had been found in Wales before.

All speculation aside, the significance of the bronze pieces spurred the National Museum of Wales to organize a joint excavation with the Dyfed Archaeological Trust at the find site in June. The team, Mike Smith included, only had a week’s worth of funding to do a geophysical survey and dig test pits. They hit paydirt right away. Just 10 inches below the bronze and enamel artifacts archaeologists unearthed the rims of two iron chariot wheels. A tooth from a pony next to two bits confirmed that this was a chariot burial, the first of its kind ever found in Wales.

They haven’t even reached the 10-foot metal Smith’s detector alerted him to, and already they’ve unearthed 35 fragments of enamelled bronze. The geophysical survey indicates there is far more to this site even than a uniquely important chariot burial.

Survey work uses a technology called geophysics which maps structures buried under the earth and revealed a 12m circular earthwork around the burial, known as a ring ditch.

Two other burials in ring ditches were also found nearby and soon a complex of ditches, walls and other features were detected.

Researchers believed that a huge and previously unknown Celtic settlement had been found.

“The actual field is very large and it is only in the corner of this field, but the settlement is also going into other nearby fields,” said Mike.

There are no estimates for how large the settlement could be, but the National Museum staff believe it to be larger than Castell Henllys near Crymych, which is just over an acre in size.

After the week was up, the chariot was covered back up to keep it safe from the elements and from treasure hunters. Archaeologists plan to return for a more in-depth excavation next year when the cash more fluid and the weather less so.

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Very fine Leda and swan fresco found in Pompeii

Monday, November 19th, 2018

If it seems like the excavation of Pompeii’s Regio V is generating international headlines once a month, that’s because it is. The last discovery is a beautiful fresco depicting the mythological interspecies impregnation of Leda by Zeus in the guise of a swan. It was found on the wall of a cubiculum (bedroom) during stabilization work on buildings fronting the Via del Vesuvio. The bedroom is near a corridor where a fresco of Priapus weighing his phallus was found last summer.

The fresco is likely inspired by a famous Greek statue by the 4th century B.C. sculptor Timotheus depicting Leda, artfully draped so as to be basically naked without technically being naked, protecting her god/swan lover from an eagle swooping down on him. While the statues have Leda standing and she’s languidly seated in the fresco, the combination of the gossamer fabric “covering” one breast and the heavier folds caught between her thighs is characteristic of Timotheus’ style.

In the newly-discovered fresco, the swan in on her lap facing her, his swimsuit area very clearly positioned directly against hers. Leda looks directly out at the viewer with a sensual, alluring gaze. The mythological motif is used to create erotically stimulating decor for the bed chamber where, as Massimo Osanna, Director of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, charmingly puts it in an interview with ANSA, “in addition to sleep, there could be other activites.”

Sex sells is a cliche for a reason, as Greek mythology has born out for centuries, and Timotheus’ cygnal sex scene was extremely popular. More than two dozen Roman copies of the sculpture are extant, and variants have been found in everything from frescoes to silver reliefs at Roman sites around the Bay of Naples.

The scene – full of sensuality – depicts the union of Jupiter, transformed into a swan, and Leda, wife of King Tyndareus. From her embraces, first with Jupiter and then Tyndareus, would be born the twins Castor and Pollux from an egg (the Dioscuri), Helen – the future wife of King Menelaus of Sparta and cause of the Trojan War – and Clytemnestra, later bride (and assassin) of King Agamemnon of Argos and brother to Menelaus.

At Pompeii the episode of Jupiter and Leda enjoyed a certain measure of popularity, as evidenced in various domus, with varied iconography (the lady is generally depicted as standing, not seated as in the new fresco, and in certain cases she is not depicted in the moment of intercourse). Among the varied depictions we have are those in the Houses of the Citharode, of Venus in the Shell, of Queen Margherita, of Meleager, of the Coloured Capitals or Ariadne, of the Ancient Hunt, of Fabius Rufus, of the Fontana d’Amore, and perhaps also in the Houses of L. Rapinasius Optatus and of the Golden Cupids.

For the structure’s own security, there will be no further excavation of the domus, which means we aren’t likely to discover anything about its owner beyond his extremely expensive taste in art. There is discussion right now of how best to preserve the two exceptionally high-quality frescoes that have been discovered — Leda and Priapus — and it may even require removal. This drastic measure used to be done all the time but is a very rare choice now that archaeology is no dedicated to treasure hunting for the benefit of benefactors and institutions. Experts will study the frescoes in situ and determine if an emergency salvage is necessary.

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Enthroned Zeus returns home to Baiae

Saturday, November 17th, 2018

A statue of Zeus that was part of the ill-gotten antiquities in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum has returned to its place of origin, the Archaeological Park of Campi Flegrei at the Castle of Baiae on the Gulf of Naples. The museum acquired the statue in 1992 under the tenure of Marion True who would later be tried for her long history of buying looting antiquities from shady dealers. The Getty bought it from Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman, wealthy private collectors who had a $60 million collection of antiquities. They got this statue and many, many others like it from infamous loot dealer, perjurer and cheater Robin Symes.

The lack of export paperwork or ownership history was no deterrent to these acquisitions, and the Getty only agreed to return the statue in 2017, five years after a missing piece of it was found by local archaeologists in the ancient resort town of Baiae, modern-day Bacoli. The statue was repatriated in June 2017 and put on display at the National Archeological Museum in Naples. In late October it was loaned to Archaeological Park of Campi Flegrei so it could take part in a new exhibition of artworks that once adorned the villas of the rich and powerful at Baiae and environs.

Fresco of Zeus enthroned inspired by Pheidias sculpture, Casa dei Dioscuri, Pompeii. National Archeological Museum of Naples.Zeus Enthroned is a 29-inch-high marble statue dating to the 1st century B.C. and is likely of Greek manufacture. It was inspired by the colossal gold and ivory statue of the god at the temple of Zeus at Olympia made by sculptor Pheidias in 430 B.C. It was one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. First century orator and philosopher Dio Chrysostom wrote about it in glowing terms in his Olympic Discourse:

For verily even the irrational brute creation would be so struck with awe if they could catch merely a glimpse of yonder statue, not only the bulls which are being continually led to the altar, so that they would willingly submit themselves to the priests who perform the rites of sacrifice, if so they would be giving some pleasure to the god, but eagles too, and horses and lions, so that they would subdue their untamed and savage spirits and preserve perfect quiet, delighted by the vision; and of men, whoever is sore distressed in soul, having in the course of his life drained the cup of many misfortunes and griefs, nor ever winning sweet sleep — even this man, methinks, if he stood before this image, would forget all the terrors and hardships that fall to our human lot.

The temple of Zeus was abandoned in the 4th century when emperor Theodosius I banned the Olympic games and all the religious rituals attendant to them in 393 A.D. It’s known when the statue was destroyed.

By then, Pheidias’ masterpiece had been considered the pinnacle of Classical Greek sculpture for 700 years and it was widely copied in the Greco-Roman world. A fresco of Zeus enthroned holding a statue of Nike (Victory), a scepter with an eagle by his side a fresco was found in the Casa dei Dioscuri in Pompeii and is now in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. A statue 11 feet high created in the 1st century A.D. and discovered at the villa of Emperor Domitian (now at the Hermitage Museum) meticulously copied the original, using marble, gilded wood and stucco to capture the beauty of the chryselephantine technique.

The Zeus Enthroned sits on a throne, a high-backed one, and rests his feet on a stool. His right arm is raised high, his left by his side. His raised hand likely held a high scepter and his left a thunderbolt. If it precisely matched the Pheidias statue, however, the left hand would have held a statuette of the goddess of Victory. The attributes are long missing as is the right hand so it’s hard to know what he carried.

Evidence of marine life is rife on the right side of the statue and its condition is far more deteriorated there than on the left side. The statue was likely resting on its left side in the sand of the seabed. The sand protected it from the elements. Before then, it was probably part of a home shrine in one of the elegant country villas that were so popular among the wealthy of the late Roman Republic.

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Ice Age art found under modern graffiti

Friday, November 16th, 2018

University of Tübingen archaeologists have discovered Ice Age art hidden under graffiti in two caves near Rully, eastern France. Created at least 12,000 years ago, the two works depict a horse and a prehistoric deer. They used stone tools to carve the deer into the cave wall. The horse was drawn with a black paint.

The research team has been studying caves in southern Burgundy, an area where Neanderthals and modern humans are believed to have lived at the same time, for more than two decades. There are a significant number of Paleolithic sites at Rully but cave art had never been found before in 150 years of paleological exploration. The sheer frequency of prehistoric sites suggested there was cave art to be found, however, so the Tübingen researchers kept looking. They hit paydirt in the Grottes d’Agneux, thanks to technology and special expertise.

The researchers worked with an expert on prehistoric cave art, Juan Ruiz of the University of Cuenca in Spain. They analyzed the cave walls using modern scanning techniques. Because the images had been covered with later graffiti from the 16th to 19th centuries, the archaeologists used special image-processing computer programs to reconstruct the original works underneath the other layers. They also compiled many individual photos into a photogrammetric documentation of the works in order to give them a more three-dimensional look.

Using carbon-14 dating methods, the archaeologists were able to date charcoal found in the cave – and the creation of the art – as far back as 12,000 years ago – to the Upper Palaeolithic period. This method measures how much time has passed by the radioactive decay of the 14C isotope originally present in the ancient wood. French authorities inspected the cave art and confirmed its legitimate interest in mid-2018; further research is planned.


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Another piece of Antikythera Mechanism found?

Thursday, November 15th, 2018

The Antikythera Mechanism, the oldest analog computer in the world, was a mind-bogglingly intricate mechanism of interlocked gears which could calculate the date of eclipses, Olympic games, positions of astronomical bodies and more. Found fused in a lump that looked like a rock with some bronze flecks in it, years would pass before researchers understood that the lump was actually 87 parts of a mechanical computer corroded together. When all the pieces were puzzled together, they were found to total up to around 50% of the original device.

The mechanism was found in 1901 at the site of a 1st century B.C. shipwreck off the coast of the island of Antikythera. It didn’t stand out at the time because in the year since the wreck had been discovered, divers had collected an astonishing number and quality of marble and bronze art works, jewelry, glassware and other artifacts, likely destined for the Roman market. They ranged widely in date. The mechanism dates to the second half of the 2nd century B.C., so it could have been as much as a 100 years old when it was loaded onto the doomed ship.

Between the passage of time, the action of salt, currents, traffic, earthquakes etc., the remains of the wreck scattered and decayed. The flashiest, most obviously finds were collected in 1900-1901. In 1976, Jacques Cousteau and his crew spent two days diving the site. And that was it until 2012 when divers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities used the latest technology to survey the wreck site. Because of the wreck’s dangerous position 200 feet under the surface of the Aegean at the bottom of a steep slope, the Return to Antikythera project is the first scientific study of the site since it was discovered by sponge divers in 1900.

The 2017 expedition picked up where the team left off in 2016, the trench where the partial human skeletal was found. Other ship gear was discovered there in 2016 — lead pipes, counterweights, tools — as well as many pottery fragments from different types of vessels. Several significant finds were recovered the next year, including a bronze arm from a life-sized statue and a marble leg on a plinth, believed to have been part of a male nude.

Among the smaller pieces and fragments was a disc thick with corrosion products and concretions. The tell-tale green of corroded metal was visible through the rock-like encrustations. The disc is about three inches in diameter and has four short protrusions at each of the corners. The object was X-rayed and holes were found in the protrusions. The X-ray also revealed a bull engraved on the surface.

Further study is needed to identify it as one of the missing pieces of the Antikythera Mechanism. All we know for sure right now is that it was mounted on something, hence the little arms with pinholes, but it could have been a decorative mount for furniture, for example. If it was part of a geared mechanism, it doesn’t follow that it was THE mechanism discovered in 1901. There’s a chance there could have been a similar device on board. The ship was absolutely heaving with very high-end goods. However that is a very slim chance indeed because nothing even remotely like the Antikythera Mechanism has been found before or since. Mechanisms of comparable complexity wouldn’t appear again until the Middle Ages.

Based on the evidence so far, it looks exactly like other parts of the Mechanism, which had clearly been found incomplete. Based on the etching of the bull that can be seen with scanning, it may well be the gear that predicted the position of the zodiac constellation of Taurus.

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Three stolen Moundville artifacts recovered

Wednesday, November 14th, 2018

It’s been almost 40 years since thieves broke into the Erskine Ramsey Archaeological Repository at the Moundville Archaeological Site near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and made off with 264 Native American artifacts, a fifth of the total number of artifacts excavated at the site and an agonizing 70% of the museum-quality pieces. Clay vessels exemplifying eight centuries of Mississippian artistry and craftsmanship were gone without a trace.

Thirty-eight years passed. Not a single one of hundreds of stolen objects was found in all that time. An FBI investigation turned up nothing and ended in the late 1980s. This May, a private organization of archaeologists and other donors decided to heat up this long-cold case by offering a reward for information leading to the recovery of any of the stolen artifacts. The Associates for the Return of Moundville Artifacts ultimately raised enough money for a $25,000 reward and established a confidential tip line (still active at 205-348-2800) for would-be informants to call. Nobody expected it to work.

It worked. Less than three months after the reward was announced, three clay pottery vessels stolen from the Erskine Ramsey Archaeological Repository in 1980 were returned to the Moundville Archaeological Park.

“We were all thinking we’d go to our graves without anything turning up from this burglary,” said Jim Knight, curator emeritus of American Archaeology for the Alabama Museum of Natural History at UA, at a press conference held to announce the find Monday. “This is one of the most exciting things that has happened during my archaeological career.” […]

“I didn’t have a whole lot of hope for actual recovery,” said John Abbott, director of Museum Research and Collections for the Alabama Museum of Natural History. “In fact, I was stunned when there were some that turned up.”

As the investigation is ongoing, authorities are not commenting on the how and why of the vessels’ recovery. All they’ll say is that nobody has claimed the $25,000 reward.

The pots were made for ceremonial use and are in impeccable condition. Whatever adventures they’ve experienced over the past four decades have not damaged them in any way. There are no chips, fractures or scratches. The original museum marks are still on them.

All three vessels depict religiously significant iconography. One features a skull, skeletal forearms and hands with crosses inside. Two are incised with images of a winged serpent, a combination creature like a sphinx or chimera with the tail of a rattlesnake, the antlers of a deer and bird wings. In the Mississippian culture at Moundville, the snake god was the lord of the underworld.

Bill Bomar, executive director for University of Alabama Museums, noted the advances in research into iconography, symbols and art that have taken place since the theft nearly four decades ago. UA faculty and students will also be able to study whether the vessels originated or were traded here.

“All of this has advanced in the last 40 years, and we haven’t had these artifacts to do those kinds of studies on,” he said. “Hopefully with these, and any additional ones that are recovered, our information about Moundville is going to increase greatly.”

The pieces will go on display at Moundville Archaeological Park shortly.

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