Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Unique Roman game board found in 4th c. tomb in Slovakia

Saturday, January 6th, 2018

The accidental discovery of a 4th century burial in Poprad, Slovakia, in 2006 made national and international headlines for the exceptional richness of the find. Poprad, in the foothills of the High Tatra Mountains in northern Slovakia, is famed as a resort town and for its beautiful historic center, but this tomb was found by construction workers on a job site in an industrial area, not the historic center. Finding a tomb with a yew wood bed lined in sheets of silver was an unexpectedly thrilling surprise.

The individual buried was found to be a young adult male about 30 years old at the time of his death. He was born in the area where his body was interred, but he spent significant stretch of time in the Mediterranean. The tomb dates to around 375 A.D., just a few years before from Rome’s withdrawal west of the Danube and the end of the formerly friendly relationship between empire and the German tribes who inhabited what would become modern-day Slovakia.

Archaeologists think he may have served in the Roman army which was then hurtling towards disaster under pressure from barbarian migrations, both voluntary and Hun-driven, and dependent on the outer provinces and beyond for soldiers and mercenaries. He wouldn’t have been an infantry grunt. He was too wealthy and clearly a member of the elite of his own society. He was a person of rank, a prince or nobleman, the kind of person the Romans paid through the nose to fight for them as foederati, leaders of irregular units composed largely of their own men. The Visigoth king Alaric was one of those, until the emperor wouldn’t give him the command and lands he demanded so he sacked Rome to the bone not once, not twice, not thrice but four times. So was Childeric, King of the Franks.

If he did fight for Rome, that would explain his movements, his valuables, and one very special artifact found in his tomb: his game board. In a tomb full of shiny treasures and rare preserved organic objects like a wood desk, the discovery of the rectangular board with a proliferation of small incised squares and a few playing tokens of green and white generated enormous excitement. The type was unknown to the archaeologists and even after years of assiduous research, it is still something of a mystery.

“There were plenty of board games in ancient times with many variants, but reconstructing the playing technique is a very complicated process that only top experts can solve,” said the deputy of director of the Archaeological Institute in Nitra, Karol Pieta, as cited by the SITA newswire. Pieta lead the research on the tomb in Poprad. […]

“There has been not a playing board of similar type in Europe yet,” said Pieta for SITA. Games of this type were found in Greek and Roman temples on the floors or in the streets of ancient towns, carved into stone pavement. This portable wooden board game from Poprad is unique.

The team enlisted the aid of those experts, Ulrich Schädler, director of the (absolutely charming) Swiss Museum of Games on Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Excited by the find, he was eager to get a closer view of the game and went to Slovakia to study it in person. His report is nothing short of glowing.

“The board game from the tomb of the German prince in Poprad is a great discovery and contribution to the history of games in Europe. It’s the best preserved ancient wooden board game that has been found to the north of the Mediterranean Sea. Together with Roman glass playing pieces it was apparently a prestigious object that documented contacts of the dead with the Roman world,” said Schädler, as quoted by SITA.

An analysis of the playing pieces revealed that it is ancient glass from the east Mediterranean, probably from Syria. “So the game was apparently brought from the territory of the Roman empire to under the Tatras,” added Pieta for SITA.

The game board will go on display at an exhibition dedicated to the contents of the tomb later this year at the Podtatranské Museum in Poprad.

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Inadvertant looter returns Toronto’s oldest artifact to city 82 years later

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018

Jeanne Carter was a little girl in 1935 when the 10-year-old spotted an interesting stone object walking on the road towards Toronto’s historic Fort York, newly opened as a public park after centuries as a military installation. She picked it up, noted its neat triangular shape, mused that it might be an arrowhead of some kind, a souvenir perhaps, put it in her pocket and went about her business. She continued to go about her business for eight more decades, keeping the little object for all that time in her mother’s handsome long mahogany box of assorted treasures and knick-knacks.

That field trip to the new Fort York park turned out to be even formative that she realized. As an adult, Carter’s love of history inspired her to volunteer for the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). In 1957 she co-founded of a volunteer committee at the museum and led tours to countries all over the world. Today at 92 years old, she is the longest-serving volunteer at ROM. On a whim, because she had no idea just how much of a treasure her little treasure was, Jeanne Carter had the arrowhead examined by a historian friend.

“I thought it was an arrowhead or something, but nothing more than a souvenir,” said Carter, now 92.

A few weeks ago she learned it is not only an arrowhead, but also between 4,000 and 6,000 years old, originating from some of the region’s first Indigenous people from the Archaic period (8,000 to 1,000 BC).

“I nearly fainted,” Carter said of when she heard the news.

Her friend passed the arrowhead along to city historian Richard Gerrard who confirmed its advanced age and some unusual qualities.

“The material it’s made out of, quartzite, is strange for this part of Ontario,” Richard Gerrard, a historian with Museum and Heritage Services and a trained archeologist. “And finding anything that old sitting on the ground is special and has a wonderful story.”

The arrowhead, with slightly rippled, sharpened edges, would have been attached to a wooden shaft and used for hunting, but because of its age, it’s impossible to know what tribe would have used it, or any other details, said Gerrard.

Ancient arrowheads are not a common find in the area, not now and not in 1935. Only four total are known to have been discovered at Fort York, and the other three were all unearthed by archaeologists in official excavations. Unlike the archaeologists, Jeanne didn’t dig an inch to find hers. Historians think her smashing find was the result of construction work at Fort York. In 1935 the site was transitioning from active military to site to public part, so it’s likely that installation of infrastructure like a water or sewer pipe happened to churn the soil where the arrowhead lived and bump it to the top of the road for a little girl to treasure for her whole life.

She has been an outstanding custodian of the artifact, keeping it excellent condition and out of the digestive tracts of a number of children and grandchildren. When she realized how important it was, she immediately gave it to the city.

“I never dreamed it was important to Toronto or Ontario,” Carter said.[…]

The arrowhead is now among the more than 1 million historical objects and archeological artifacts held by the city. The vast majority are in storage, while some are on display at the city’s 10 site museums, like Fort York.

Many of the city’s artifacts were found in archeological digs at historic sites or development projects throughout Toronto, and will be held and preserved indefinitely.

“Material recovered archeologically tells the city’s story and reflects the First Nations presence over thousands of years,” said Wayne Reeves, the chief curator of Museums and Heritage Services for the City of Toronto. “No paper record was left by those early inhabitants, so knowing their story through archeological specimens is essential.”

The arrowhead is so special it will be one of the select few objects that go on public display. It is destined for exhibition at Fort York, probably summer of 2018, where Carter plans to be the first in line to visit it.

Meanwhile, another historic fort on the opposite side of the continent is doing something too cool not to report despite its utter lack of connecting thread to the above story. Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in Vancouver, Washington, is offering 19th century sabre training classes to the public. The sword was used by Army mounted dragoons in the 1850s and there were Army dragoons garrisoned at the fort at that time. Historians have confirmed that the men of E Company of the 1st Regiment of Dragoons were transferred to Fort Vancouver from Southern Oregon in 1855, likely fresh from the fight in the Rogue River Indian Wars. They were stationed there for about a year before being sent to Walla Walla where they built the eponymous fort.

That means when you sign up for Basic 1 (footwork, solo and partner drills, offensive cuts and thrusts, defensive guards and parries) or, for the more advanced student of the bladed arts, Basic 2 (more and harder solo and partner drills, perfecting technique), you’ll be tracing the steps of long-gone infantrymen, learning a skill that was their bread and butter even before the Civil War.

The classes will be held on seven consecutive Sundays from January 21st through March 4th. Basic 1 classes start at 3PM; Basic 2 at 5PM. The both run an hour and a half long. The fee is $100 per course, payable to Academia Duellatoria, a Portland historical fencing school whose staff will run the classes. Payment must be made by check or PayPal before classes start. (Contact Jeff Richardson of Academia Duellatoria at 503-888-9310 or by email) to book your spot. Training sabers and protective gear will be provided.

Here’s the best part: Anybody who sees both courses through to the end can join the fort’s team of volunteer reenactors at living history events. The class isn’t just a mechanical lesson on saber rattling. The whole point is to teach students about how the weapon was used by dragoons in the 1850s at Fort Vancouver and elsewhere, all the historical background you’d need to be able to relay to visitors in a reenactment scenario.

P.S. Oh man, Zorro and Italian longsword classes! Be still my beating heart. (Strictly a metaphor. Please do not jab me in the chest with the pointy end.)

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2nd. c. Chinese bronze mirror found in Japan in perfect condition

Monday, January 1st, 2018

Archaeologists excavating the Nakashima archaeological site in Fukuoka City, Japan, have unearthed an ancient Chinese bronze mirror in exceptional condition. Dating to about 1,000 years ago, the late Yayoi Pottery Culture period (300 B.C.-300 A.D.), the mirror was discovered in Fukuoka’s Hakata Ward. The modern-day city and its environs formed the core of the ancient state of Nakoku or Na, a small kingdom on the island of Kyushu that was governed independently of the state of Wa (the rest of modern-day Japan) from the 1st through the early 3rd century.

Nakoku had close ties to the Chinese Han dynasty and for centuries after its demise, most of what was known about Na came from reports in ancient Chinese chronicles. According to a chronicle of the Han Dynasty written by court historians during the Liu Song dynasty (5th century), in 57 A.D. the state of Na sent a high envoy to pay tribute to the Han Emperor Guangwu. In return, the emperor gave the envoy an imperial seal made of solid gold for his king, a version of the jade seals crafted for the emperors themselves. The gold block seal was discovered by farmers on Shikanoshima Island in 1784, confirming for the first time with archaeological evidence the story in the ancient histories. It was inscribed with sublime simplicity making it instantly identifiable: “From the King of] Han, presented to the King of Nakoku.” The seal is now on permanent display at the Fukuoka City Museum and the find site is an archaeological park dedicated to the discovery of the national treasure.

The bronze mirror isn’t 95.1% gold and doesn’t have an inscription from the Chinese emperor to King on it, but it is very much a rare and precious thing, thanks largely to how unprecedentedly intact and well-preserved it is. It dates to the first part of the 2nd century A.D., around the time when chroniclers record China and Na were engaged in the slave trade together (107 A.D.). Whether connected to that trade or another, a treasure for a high official bearing tribute or diplomatic gift, this mirror was a luxurious object then and is even more so now that it is an impossibly rare survivor.

The bronze mirror, manufactured in China during the Later Han Dynasty (A.D. 25-220), carries patterns that classify it as a “linked-arc mirror.” It measures 11.3 centimeters across, and its surface is inscribed with text that reads, “chang yi zisun,” which means, “to benefit future generations forever.”

The mirror was unearthed in April, together with earthenware from sometime around the middle of the late Yayoi period, from a depth of some 2 meters beneath a former village site.

While most ancient mirrors datable to similar periods are typically found broken and covered with patina, this specific one was found whole, unpatinated, and in such good condition that it still reflects the viewer’s face, albeit vaguely. It is believed a humid environment prevented it from oxidation. […]

Hidenori Okamura, a professor of Chinese archaeology with Kyoto University, said, “The find site is not a tomb, so the mirror may have been used in religious rites. The find will also serve as a material for precisely determining the shaky date of the late Yayoi period.”

The mirror is now on display to the public at the Fukuoka City Museum.

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Who wants to live forever? The First Emperor of China, that’s who

Saturday, December 30th, 2017

Many kings have a thing about immortality, usually with good reason because ruling was a high-risk job. The living incarnations of the gods, Egypt’s pharaohs were mummified to extend their physical bodies into the immortal realm. Alexander the Great was said to have sought out a yogi in India so he could discover the secret to eternal life (which he would turn out to need far sooner than he realized). Mithridates of Pontus was reputed to have ingested tiny amounts of every poison known to make himself unkillable (iocane powder was not reportedly among them) after his father was assassinated by poison, and Roman emperors deified their (less reviled) predecessors and were deified themselves posthumously as a matter of rote.

Qin Shi Huang, first emperor of a united China (reined 220–210 B.C.) and founder of the Qin dynasty which barely survived him by three years, had much in common with his fellow monarchs. He’d fought bloody wars his whole life, taking the throne of the Qin kingdom when he was 13 years old and fighting his way to becoming the ultimate victor of China’s Warring States Period 25 years later. Previous dynasts used the word for “king.” Qin Shi Huang literally coined the word for “emperor” which has been used by Chinese monarchs ever since.

As unrelenting as he was in battle he was equally driven to find the secret of eternal life. He covered several bases there, creating the wonder-of-the-world greatness of the Terracotta Army for his huge mausoleum complete with rivers of mercury (believe to be a boon to preservation of tissues). That was the failsafe, as it happens. Plan A was not to die at all, and just like his counterparts out west, he had good reason for his pathological fear of the reaper. He survived at least three foiled assassination attempts and several coups during his lifetime. In a twist that would make an ancient Greek tragedian weep tears of bitter jealousy and regret, the First Emperor died in a palace in the far east of his realm where he had gone to score an elixir of life from some Taoist wizards who said they knew of one hidden on a remote island under the watchful eye of a guardian sea monster. He never did make it to the sea monster. Something else killed him first: the mercury-filled “medicinal” poison pills given him by his physicians to give him eternal life. It was 210 B.C. and he was 49 years old.

If it has a whiff of the goat song, no-escaping-destiny about it as a conclusion to the story, it’s all the more goaty now that archaeologists have confirmed that Qin Shi Huang was all over the elixir of life from the minute his ample rump hit the throne. As soon as he claimed the title, the Emperor issued an order to all regional authorities that they seek out the secret to immortality and relay it to him. The poor local guys did the best they could and the Qin Emperor got numerous replies written on wooden slips, thousands of which were discovered at the bottom of a well in Hunan province in 2002.

Archaeologists have been studying the slips since then and the Qin tombs found at the site ever since and have collected remarkable evidence of how wide-ranging the search was, a personally committed and involved the emperor was in search for the elixir.

Zhang Chunlong, a researcher at the provincial institute of archaeology, said the emperor’s decree reached frontier regions and remote villages.

According to the calligraphic script on the narrow wooden slips, a village called “Duxiang” reported that no miraculous potion had been found yet and implied that the search would continue. Another place, “Langya,” in today’s eastern Shandong Province near the sea, presented a herb collected from an auspicious local mountain.

The discovery demonstrated the emperor’s centralization of authority.

“It required a highly efficient administration and strong executive force to pass down a government decree in ancient times when transportation and communication facilities were undeveloped,” Zhang said.

Archaeologists examine Quin wood slips. Photo courtesy Xinhua.It has taken a long time to examine the collection and pull them by topic. There are over 36,000 slips written using 200,000 ancient Chinese characters from 222-208 B.C covering subjects from politics to military plans to legal provisions and more. Archaeologists found 48 slips that directly reference medical questions, mostly the elixir but not solely. These document treatments that were popular then and are still part of traditional Chinese medicine today. They also revealed what a thoroughly well-developed health services system the Qin Dynasty had put together in such a short time. It was highly regulated. Doctors could only take patients under their care when told to do so by the government and all treatments had to be assiduously recorded for inspection. The patients were overwhelmingly wealthy members of the elite who could afford all theis doctorin’.

This is a remarkable collection of official archival records from a very short-lived (nyuk) dynasty that has other left very few written records behind. The slips aren’t just a fascinating combination of nostra, legends and alchemy from the period; they are also a thick slice of government administration preserved for more than 2,000 years, which is the kind of immortality I can 100% get behind. For many archaeologists and historians, this assemblage is as important as the terracotta warriors and mausoleum because every word lends new insight into how the First Emperor went about the business of governing his newly unified domain.

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Bronze Age toys found in Siberia

Friday, December 29th, 2017

Archaeologists excavating the Bronze Age burial ground of Itkol II in the Republic of Khakassia, southern Siberia, have unearthed two children’s toys from the Okunev culture. They’re the heads of figurines. One is a soapstone cylindrical piece about two inches long with finely carved facial features. The striking eyes and long eyelashes or brows may suggest a female face. The other is the head of an animal of undetermined type (horse? dragon? dog? seahorse?) carved out of horn or antler. No remains of the figurines’ bodies, likely made from an organic material or materials, have survived.

Each were discovered in a child’s grave. The burial itself was a simple commoner’s grave, so these were not elite grave goods. (The elite were buried in large, well-appointed tumuli, a distinctly fancier setting than these inhumations.) The lack of symbols, carvings or any other indications of a ritual or religious significance suggests the carvings weren’t talismans or charms to accompany the dead, but the beloved toys of an all too brief childhood.

The Okunev culture is seen as having links to Native Americans – and this is not the first time their toys have been found.

Indeed, the latest finds add to an intriguing collection. A figurine of a pagan god pulled out of a Siberian river by an angler was likely a child’s toy or rattle to ward off evil spirits. It has almond-shaped eyes, a large mouth with full lips, and a ferocious facial expression. On the back is ‘plaited hair with wave like lines. Below the plait there are lines looking like fish scales.’

Fisherman Nikolay Tarasov made ‘the catch of a lifetime’, said museum staff.

At the time of its discovery archaeologists were less definitive about which culture may have created the rattle or idol. The Okunev weren’t the only people in the area about 4,000 years ago. It also wasn’t certain that it actually was a toy, even though the press ran with the idea that it was a child’s rattle made to look fearsome. Many “oldest toy in the world looks like scary old fishgod!1” headlines ensued. At least these two pieces were found in undisturbed children’s graves in an extensively explored Okunev burial ground used by people of various social levels for centuries, so the speculation is a tad more grounded in archaeological context.

Soapstone dolly, ca. 4,500 years old. Photo courtesy the Institute of the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IIMK RAS).

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Even more bullae found in Doliche

Thursday, December 28th, 2017

The ancient site of Doliche near modern-day Dülük in southern Turkey has done it again. An international team of archaeologists led by Dr. Engelbert Winter of the University of Münster has unearthed more than 1,000 bullae or clay seal impressions from Doliche’s municipal archive.

Doliche was renown throughout the Greek and Roman world for its shrine to Jupiter. Jupiter Dolichenus was a syncretic iteration, a composite of the original Hittite sky/storm god Tesub-Hadad with the Greco-Roman god of lightning Zeus/Jupiter, but the mystery religion spread widely after the Romans conquered the city in 64 B.C. and had adherents all over the empire, including the most desirable adherents a sanctuary might want, i.e., emperors.

Dr. Winter and his team discovered evidence found more than 600 seals in the excavation of 2013. They were votive offerings made to the temple long before the Roman conquest — between the 7th and 4th centuries B.C.) which gave historians a rare chance to study the religious culture and imagery of the ancient city before the deity was absorbed into the Greco-Roman pantheon. The cache discovered this season is later in date (2nd-3rd centuries A.D.) and many pieces of it appear to be official administrative seals from the city archives. Their large size, their discovery in the city rather than the temple precinct and some inscriptions attest to their origin.

Engelbert Winter on the significance of this major distinction:

“The fact that administrative authorities sealed hundreds of documents with the images of gods shows how strongly religious beliefs shaped everyday life.”

“The cult of Jupiter Dolichenus did not only take place in the nearby central temple, but also left its mark on urban life,” he said.

“It also becomes apparent how strongly Jupiter Dolichenus, originally worshipped at this location, was connected with the entire Roman Empire in the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE: many of the images show the god shaking hands with various Roman emperors.”

The gods depicted on the seals are also rife with political and civic meaning.

“In addition to the images of the ‘city goddess’ Tyche, the depictions of Augustus and Dea Roma deserve special attention, since they point to the important role of the Roman emperor and the personified goddess of the Roman state for the town of Doliche, which lies on the eastern border of the Roman Empire,” Professor Winter said.

“However, the central motif is the most important god of the city, Jupiter Dolichenus. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE, his cult spread into large parts of the Mediterranean world, extending as far as Britain.”

“Therefore, it is not surprising that hundreds of documents were sealed with images showing a handshake between this deity and an emperor. It was a sign of the god’s affinity to the Roman state.”

Doliche’s deep bench produced other exceptional finds this year. Archaeologists discovered a brilliantly colored ancient mosaic floor underneath a later ancient floor in a three-aisled building complex. The mosaic is believed to around 400 A.D., and Winter thinks it is from a Christian church built there in late antiquity. Winter’s team has been excavating the church since 2015 and 150 square meters (1615 square feet) of the nave have been revealed this year.

But wait, there’s more!

The researchers also found the public center of the town of Doliche, which they had initially located by geophysical prospecting in the east of the city. “This assumption has been confirmed,” said the excavation leader. “We were able to expose parts of a very large building: it is a well-preserved mosaic baths of the Roman Empire. As there are hardly any Roman thermal springs in the region, this discovery is of great scientific importance. “The research team from Münster also brought new insights into the extent of the city area and the chronology of the city: A year on the settlement hill of the ancient city, The Keber Tepe, carried out intensive survey led to quite surprising results: “A variety of Stone Age finds indicate that Keber Tepe was evidently a very significant place from a very early age. Doliche then reached its greatest extent in the Roman and early Byzantine period.”

These kind of fantastically layered, information-rich finds are why Winter, his co-workers and sponsors have been going back to the site every year since 2001.

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Cremains of Roman soldiers found in cooking pots

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017

Archaeologists have unearthed remains of stone structures, Roman engineering and the cremains of several deceased legionaries in cooking pots at a Roman military camp just over half a mile south of Tel Megiddo in northern Israel. The monumental base (it was around 330 yards by 550 in area) is the only permanent, full-scale legionary camp discovered in the eastern Roman Empire. There are several in mainland Europe and we know there were major bases elsewhere in the Levant and east — Jerusalem, or rather, Aelia Capitolina, built on the ruins of Jerusalem after Titus’ razing of it in 70 A.D., had a large base — but they have yet to be found.

The site is known as Legio (later Arabicized to Lajjun) after the camp built in the first half of the 2nd century A.D. and for more than a century was home to the formidable Legio VI Ferrata, meaning the Sixth Ironclad Legion. In the wake of the Bar Kochba Revolt (132-135 A.D.), the emperor Hadrian kept them in the Legio camp to guard the strategically important supply, transport and communication lines between the coast and Jezreel Valley.

Legio VI had a proud history of fighting under some of Rome’s greatest generals. They were with Julius Caesar when he spanked Vercingetorix in Gaul, then with Marc Anthony and after his defeat in the Battle of Actium, they served under Octavian. The Ironclads were transferred from Syria to Judea just before the Bar Kochba Revolt and would remain there through most of the 3rd century. They were sent to the eastern frontier and Legio was dismantled by command of Diocletian at the end of the 3rd century.

The site has been excavated regularly for years. In 2013 and 2015, archaeologists unearthed numerous ceramic tiles stamped with the mark of the Legio VI Ferrata, and even stamped with the imprints of the hobnails from their caligae, the legionary’s sandal that earned Caligula his nickname because he charmed the legions fighting under his father Germanicus when he wore a miniature pair as a little boy. They also found individual hobnails from those sandals, scales from Roman armour and the remains of infrastructure like clay pipes, sewer channels and buildings.

This season’s excavation was even more dramatic: they discovered the remains of a monumental gate that led to the base’s the principia, the religious and military headquarters.

The principia was the heart of the Roman military base, a huge complex some 100 meters by 100 meters. Grand in size and in design, it had a huge colonnaded façade as well as a grand colonnade inside.

“The principia was not just the legionary commander’s headquarters; it was also the legion’s shrine. It included an open courtyard that housed a sanctuary for the legion’s standards, the revered symbol of the unit,” Strauss told Haaretz. […]

The principia was also the site of the treasury, the armory, and was where the scribes worked.

As is so often the case, the latrines yielded treasures of great importance. The excavation unearthed hundreds Roman coins, glass, pottery, animal bones and assorted other detritus that had been cast down with the excrement to the delight of archaeologists 1,900 years later.

They also found a hand-dug cave inside the camp that held a cooking pot filled with the ashes of a fallen and cremated comrade. It wasn’t even the only one.

“Cremation burials in cooking pots were a common practice among Roman soldiers at that time. We found this kind of burial all around the site,” Tepper told Haaretz.

Finding one’s final resting place in a cooking pot was not atypical of Roman burial practices at other Roman military sites, in Israel and around the Mediterranean, Tepper added.

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Roman coin hoard, lead coffin found by veteran’s group

Sunday, December 24th, 2017

A group of military veteran metal detectorists have discovered a hoard of 250 Roman coins and a Roman lead coffin in Ilminster, Somerset, England. Detecting for Veterans assembled in an Ilminster field (the exact location is not being disclosed for its protection) this year for its annual Christmas charity dig in aid of The Veterans Charity and Talking2Minds. Member Kevin Minto made the first modest finds — a button, a fragment of lead — and then hit the jackpot when he found a Roman coin.

Being a responsible and conscientious metal detecting enthusiast, the group founder, former 1st Battalion Light Infantry Veteran, Jason Massey immediately called the county Finds Liaison Officer to determine how to proceed without harming the archaeological context. He was told an archaeological team would be on the way, but to continue to detect and dig, but to be cautious and document everything he found.

Over the next four days, Detecting for Veterans worked the field assiduously, ultimately unearthing 260 Roman coins ranging in date from 270-305 A.D., and one ring and two brooches. They were then joined by the Somerset County archaeologist Bob Croft and discovered the Roman grave site. The lead coffin dates to around 400 A.D. and archaeologists believe it a young woman’s coffin. This is an extremely rare find; just six lead-lined Roman coffins have been discovered in Somerset. Only 200 have been found in the entire country.

Laura Burnett, the Somerset finds liaison officer, said lead was a “fancy and expensive” way of being buried in Roman times.

“They’re probably using locally produced lead from the Mendips – so it might have been a bit cheaper here than in other parts of the county – but it’s an expensive thing to be buried in.” […]

There are about 200 similar lead coffins finds in the country but only six have been previously been discovered in Somerset.

“This is a very special site, a rare discovery of lead coffins,” Mr Croft said.

“Lead ones that we know go from Shepton Mallet to Wiveliscombe, and this central part of Somerset – so this one is an unusual one.

If the hoard is declared treasure trove (and it will be), local museums will be given the opportunity acquire it for the amount of its official valuation which will be divided between the finder and the landowner. That would make a great gift for the charities supported by Detecting for Veterans.

Archaeologists are still exploring the site and plan to continue into 2018.

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Queen’s gold and worker’s footprint to shine in Penn Museum’s new Mespotamian galleries

Saturday, December 23rd, 2017

On November 1st, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology began its first major renovation since it was founded in 1887. The building, a grand historical treasure in its own right, is in dire need of upgrades, especially systems. Most urgent is the air conditioning system which doesn’t need upgrading because it doesn’t actually exist. The museum gets hot in the summer and the body heat and moisture from visitors exacerbates the problem, putting the delicate objects on display at risk.

The three-phase renovation will create a new exhibition space with state-of-the art climate control technology and 6,000 square feet in which to showcase the Penn Museum’s stellar Near East collection. A pioneer in the field of Middle Eastern archaeology, the Penn Museum was the first in the country to send a team to explore Mesopotamian sites in 1887. They’ve been back hundreds of times since and collected more than 100,000 objects, making the Penn Museum’s Near East collection one of the greatest in the world.

More than 1,200 of those objects will go on display in the new suits of three galleries — Towards Cities, Ur: The Great City, The World of Cities — dedicated to Mesopotamian history, giving visitors a panorama of the evolution and development of culture and urban life in the cradle of civilization through objects of enormous rarity and significance.

The artifacts getting an abode worthy of them include the splendid headdress of Sumerian Queen Puabi, made from 24 feet of gold ribbon, 20 gold rings and long strands of lapis lazuli and carnelian beads. It was found by Sir Leonard Woolley during his excavation of the Royal Cemetery at Ur in 1928. Other Royal Cemetery stand-out pieces will go back on display in the new galleries, among them the bull head fragment from an ancient lyre made of gold, silver, lapis lazuli and shell, the Ram in a Thicket statuette.

It’s not all glittering gold masterpieces of luxury materials. The breadth of the collection allows the Penn Museum to tell the story of how Mesopotamia moved from villages to large cities with massive populations and an unparalleled collection of wealth. Front and center in the new Middle East Galleries will be one of the museum’s most unusual Sumerian objects: a footprint left in a piece of wet mud brick in Ur 4,000 years ago. One of the world’s oldest wine vessels will be on display (a Neolithic pot discovered at Hajji Firuz Tepe, Iran, that dates to around 5400 B.C.), a baby rattle, a writing primer for children and many more objects that will give visitors a view into daily life from writing and record-keeping to agriculture, labour, meal preparation and burial practices over 10,000 years of Mesopotamian history.

The Middle East Galleries will take pride of place in the renovated museum, right next to the entrance hall. It officially opens to the public on Saturday, April 21, 2018.

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Turkey busts massive artifact smuggling ring

Friday, December 22nd, 2017

Istanbul police have recovered 26,456 ancient artifacts and arrested 19 people in the biggest anti-smuggling operation in Turkish history.

Among the items recovered were a golden queen’s crown with an inscription of the Hellenistic god, Helios, a bust dedicated to Alexander the Great’s conquest of India and a statue of a goddess dating back to the Hittite era 3,000 years ago.

The 26,456 objects recovered also included Egyptian-origin statues and Phoenician-type teardrop vials.

“The retrieved artefacts are… more valuable than the artefacts in the inventory of an average size museum,” Istanbul police said in a statement.

One of the seized artifacts is a rare bird: a 3,000-year-old Mycenaean sword ostensibly owned by the hero Achilles himself. It’s not rare that some random object would be attributed to a hero of Troy — that kind of faux relic was venerated in temples for hundreds of years — but very few of them have survived in any recognizable form.

This archaeological bonanza was the hard-won result of three months of painstaking investigative work and surveillance of key suspects. Operation Zeus switched from tracking mode to busting on December 12th when six men in northwestern Turkey’s Duzce province were arrested in the course of attempting to sell some of the trafficked artifacts. They were interrogated and named names leading to more arrests in four other provinces.

Police haven’t been to determine how such a vast number of high quality artifacts were acquired or where they came from, but we know they were intended to be sold on the black market through art dealers and shady outfits in multiple countries. Investigations are ongoing. The objects will be given to the Istanbul Museum of Archaeology for further study and conservation.

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