Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Arrest made in Canterbury break-in!

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

The good news keeps coming regarding the break-in at the Canterbury Archaeological Trust. Kent police have made an arrest and recovered more of the missing loot. On Monday, March 19th, the police received a report of a man “acting suspiciously” in front of a building on Sturry Road.

Officers attended and located a 36-year-old man of no fixed address who was arrested on suspicion of burglary.

A number of historical artefacts were recovered by attending officers, which are believed to been reported stolen in January from the Canterbury Archaeological Trust in Kingsmead Road.

So that confirms the ignorant clown theory. I seriously doubt this one drifter was able to cut through the walls of the Kingsmead stores and make off with thousands of artifacts on his own, however. That strikes me as a little above the acting-suspiciously-on-the-street pay grade. I’m thinking patsy.

The suspect is being held in custody as the investigation continues.

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Antioch mosaics rediscovered at Florida museum

Sunday, March 18th, 2018

The Museum of Fine Art in St. Petersburg, Florida, has rediscovered two ancient mosaics from Antioch that for reasons unknown were buried under the east lawn behind the sculpture garden. On March 7th, they were excavated and, along with three other Antioch mosaics in the museum’s collection, will be conserved in full view of the public in an outdoor conservation laboratory on the east lawn.

The ancient city Antioch, modern-day Antakya, Turkey, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Rome, Constantinople and Alexandria as one of the great metropolises of the Roman Empire. Part of the Syria province, one of the richest of the Eastern Roman Empire, it was founded in the 4th century B.C. by Alexander the Great’s general Seleucus I Nicator. It became the capital of the Seleucid Empire and continued to be a center of Hellenistic culture long after the collapse of the Seleucid dynasty in the 1st century B.C.

Its mosaics are outstanding examples of Hellenistic art. At a time when the fashion in the Western Roman Empire was for black and white mosaics, the trend in Antioch was for a pictorial, colorful style with narrative depictions of scenes from mythology, prismatic rainbow effects and complex trompe l’oeil 3D patterns that mimicked naturalistic Greek paintings of the time, very few of which have survived. Even as traditional Greco-Roman polytheism was replaced by Christianity, brilliant color, pattern and naturalistic figures (animals and florals replacing scenes from Classical mythology) still flourished in the city. Roman Antioch produced exceptionally high quality mosaics from the beginning of the second century A.D. until the destruction of the city in a series of earthquakes between 526 and 528 A.D.

Between 1932 and 1939, Princeton University archaeologist George W. Elderkin, directed yearly excavations at Antioch and its environs during which hundreds of mosaics were unearthed. As was typical at the time, the right of excavation granted by the Syrian Antiquities Service also stipulated to a partage (meaning division or sharing in French) system as regards any recovered artifacts. The sponsors, in this case Princeton University, the Worcester Art Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Musées Nationaux de France (ie, the Louvre), would be entitled to a portion of the finds, including the mosaics.

The excavations ended in late 1939, before the contract was up, due to the outbreak of World War II and the secession of Hatay province from Syria. It was annexed by Turkey, which had far stricter laws regarding the export of antiquities and obviously was not bound by the terms of the Syrian excavation concession. After a tense negotiation with the new bosses, the partage system remained in place, only the government of Turkey got what would have been Syria’s share. Many of the raised mosaics from the Princeton Antioch excavations of the 1930s are now in the Hatay Archaeology Museum in Antakya.

Their share of the artifacts were divvied up among the sponsors. Princeton University got a large number of the finds, not just mosaics, but also sculpture fragments, terracotta figurines, lamps, glass and pottery vessels, jewelry, bronze, bone, ivory and iron tools and decorative elements and some 40,000 coins. Some of the mosaics were installed in various university buildings and the Princeton University Art Museum. The library got the massive coin collection. Much of the rest, 300 boxes and trays worth, was placed in storage.

Over the years, Princeton sold some of the Antioch pavements to other institutions. The Museum of Fine Art in St. Petersburg bought its five from Princeton in 1964, one of the first acquisitions of the museum before it was even open. (It would open to the public in the Spring of 1965.) Two wound up on display, one in the Membership Garden, one embedded in a fountain in the Sculpture Garden. One was placed in storage under the stage of the Marly Room. The remaining two were buried under the east lawn in 1989. While this choice was documented at the time, there are no references to the reasoning behind it, and people just sort of forgot about the two priceless Antioch mosaics under the lawn.

That changed with the appointment of Kristen Shepherd as executive director of the museum in January 2017. She had studied in the Membership Garden when she was a high school student and had fond recollections of the mosaic installed there. When she took up her new job, she researched the mosaic and was delighted to find there were another four from the Antioch excavations in the museum. She quickly found the one in storage and the one in the basin of the fountain and the records of the burial of the two remaining mosaics. The records were sparse, however, and didn’t include the precise locations.

Shepherd sought out former directors and museum staff to see if they had a better idea of where the mosaics had been buried and last year a test pit was dug which revealed the corner of one of the two. She also started fundraising, creating the Antioch Reclaimed: Ancient Mosaics at the MFA project to conserve the mosaics and reinstall them in a manner befitting their archaeological and artistic significance. The March 7th excavation, which required heavy equipment to lift the mosaics on their reinforced concrete beds, also discovered an additional fragment from the fountain mosaic that had not been recorded.

Of the two buried mosaics and the largest of the five came from Room 4 of the House of the Drinking Contest, named after the spectacular mosaic pavement of Room 1, now in the Princeton University Art Museum, whose central panel depicts Herakles and Dionysus knocking back the gifts of the vine. It comprises most of a rectangular floor decorated with a geometric pattern of four-pointed stars. The second is a rectangular panel raised from the East Portico of the House of the Evil Eye. It is a geometric piece as well, featuring diamond shapes over a grid pattern.

Of the three remaining fragments, two are also geometric and one has a figure and an inscription in Greek. The figural piece was raised from Room 20 of the House of the Menander. From Room 1 of the House of Ge and the Seasons comes a fragment with an elaborate combination of guilloche and meander patterns that was part of the border of a pavement mosaic. The last of the five came from Room 5 of the House of Iphigenia and is also geometric border, this one depicting cubes in one-point perspective. All five of the mosaics are generally dated between around 100-300 A.D. and are made of limestone and marble tesserae.

The Antioch Reclaimed project will proceed in three phases. The first is the excavation of the mosaics from the garden, the raising of the one embedded in the fountain and the cleaning and conservation of all five mosaics in the outdoor laboratory. Once the mosaics are looking their best and have been stabilized, in phase two they will go on display in a temporary exhibition that explores their history as part of the Hellenist tradition of mosaic art. That’s scheduled for the Fall of 2020. Phase three is their permanent installation. The site hasn’t been determined yet, but the Membership Garden is due for a renovation and they could well end up there, although I hope in a more protected and conservation-appropriate environment than the old setup.

The museum doesn’t all have the funds needed to complete all three phases yet, but they do have a $50,000 matching challenge on the table right now, so now’s a good time to donate, if you’d like to support the project. To donate any amount, click here. If you donate $50 or more, you’ll get a behind-the-scenes tour of the mosaic under conservation led by Michael Bennett, senior curator of early Western art. The tours are being offered on March 23nd and 24th at 11:30, 1:30 and 3:30, so if you want in on this, you don’t have a lot of time.

If you think embedding a mosaic in a fountain or burying a couple in the garden is a less than optimal way of treating an ancient artifact, then consider the example of Princeton itself which took an even more opprobrious approach to one of the Antioch fragments it did not sell off. It was installed on the exterior threshold of the entrance to the Architecture Laboratory in 1951 where it was pummeled by the New Jersey elements and the tromping of thousands of feet for six decades. When, as was inevitable, the tesserae were dislodged or loosened, layers of cement were slapped on top. It continued to be brutalized in this manner until finally in 2011 it was raised and conserved. Significant portions of it were lost beyond repair. This video shows the whole process — the raising, conservation and its final installation on an indoor wall in the School of Architecture.

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Objects stolen from Canterbury Archaeological Trust recovered

Saturday, March 17th, 2018

Great news to report on this day of lucky shamrocks: most of the estimated 2,000 artifacts stolen during a destructive break-in at the Canterbury Archaeological Trust’s Kingsmead stores have been recovered. Kent Police received a tip that the loot had been dumped in a derelict house on Military Road. Officers from the Canterbury Community Policing Team and Canterbury Archaeological Trust staff went to the property and discovered boxes full of the stolen artifacts, including coins, axes, coins, metalwork, jewelry, carved bone artifacts and the full complement of more than 850 Anglo-Saxon glass beads.

Almost all of the archaeological material stolen in the raid is now back where it belongs. In other good news, because like so many thieves who steal cultural heritage these guys were a bunch of ignorant clowns who had no idea what to do with the material once it was in their grimy clutches, they didn’t even remove the objects from their labelled bags. That will make it a comparatively easy task for the museum staff to inventory and re-archive them.

Not found in the stash were the stolen educational materials, replica Bronze Axe axe-heads, replica Beaker pots and coins, that are actually expensive to produce although not worth much in terms of market value. See above re ignorant clowns.

Trust director Paul Bennett said: “We are hugely relieved to have got back such vital material which is of huge importance to the history of the city.

“We were overwhelmed by the support we got from around the world after we were raided. To get back such a significant proportion is fantastic and we would like to thank the police for their quick response.”

The raid on the store left property scattered about and a huge job for staff and volunteers to catalogue what was missing.

“The thieves probably didn’t know what to do with it because many of the items don’t have great monetary value. Some of the missing items may probably end up being sold at fairs.

“But we still hold out hope of getting some more of it back.”

The police investigation continues in the hope of recovering all of the stolen objects and, of course, the culprits. They have yet to be identified and the authorities are keeping mum on whether they have any leads to specific individuals.

The Canterbury Archaeological Trust is moving from Kingsmead, now afflicted with exposed asbestos and stripped copper wires thanks to the savage break-in, to a new facility in Wincheap later this year. The trust hopes to create a resource center there that will make their collection both more secure and more widely available to researchers and the public.

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Remains of huge Iron Age feast found in Scotland

Friday, March 16th, 2018

An archaeological excavation on a cliff overlooking Windwick Bay in South Ronaldsay, Orkney, has discovered the remains of an Iron Age feast of gut-busting dimensions and the party favors were top-notch. The site, known as The Cairns, contains the remains of an Iron Age broch, a circular multi-story tower with thick stone walls forming a massive defensive structure. The dig is an ongoing project of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute which has been exploring different aspects of the broch complex every field season since 2006.

Found in North Scotland, both mainland and island, brochs were in use from around 600 B.C. through the 2nd century A.D. Radiocarbon analysis dates the demise of The Cairns broch to the mid-2nd century. Settlements often sprang up around a broch, and The Cairns is no exception. The remains of several buildings have been found right up against the defensive walls, and the close integration of village and tower suggest that the settlement was planned from the time the broch was constructed rather than a later ad hoc development.

Even after the broch fell into disuse and then ruin, the site’s structures were either demolished and new ones built over them, or repurposed in whole or in part. The entrance chamber to the broch, for example, became part of a souterrain. One of the broch village buildings, Structure K, was derelict and had no roof when it was used for the production of metal jewelry on a large scale during a single event.

Dig director Martin Carruthers:

The remains of this episode include furnaces, bronze waste; bronze splashes and droplets, crucibles, and very significantly: moulds for casting fine bronze objects. Over sixty moulds and mould fragments have been recovered. These were used to cast a variety of objects ranging from simple bronze rings, to distinctive decorated dress pins, called ‘projecting ring-headed pins’, and penannular brooches, which are the lovely open-ring, cloak brooches that are sometimes referred to as ‘Celtic’ brooches.

The volume and nature of the items being produced suggests that this was a socially significant collection of prestigious items aimed at denoting the identity, and status of those who were to wear the items; badges of their belonging and importance within the community. Importantly, it is the entire suite of materials found together, as well as their precise distribution pattern within the trench, that indicates strongly that this material relates to an in situ metalworking event, rather than a secondary event, such as merely the refuse disposal of old moulds, or even their ritual deposition.

Radiocarbon dating found that this event took place between the mid-3rd and mid-4th century A.D., after the demise of the broch. Adjacent to and overlapping the metalworking area in Structure K, the team unearthed a midden replete with animal bones. The remains of more than 10,000 animals, domesticated cattle, sheep and pigs as well as red deer, otters and horses, were discarded on this spot. Extensive evidence of cooking — carbonized soil, ash, fire-cracked cobbles used to heat up water in pots — was also found in the midden, as were some crucibles and metalworking moulds that connect the metalworking event and this gargantuan party.

Martin Carruthers explains the significance and potential meaning of this connection:

The close stratigraphic association between the fine metalworking and the feasting raises the question of what exactly was going on here. One possibility that I like very much is that the feasting could be the spectacular social event at which the products of the jewellery-making were handed out, or gifted, to their intended recipients by those who had sponsored the metalworking in the first place. We may therefore be peering into the social circumstances of the jewellery-making and the distribution of its products amongst the community at The Cairns. If this is so, then it is a fascinating insight into the moment at which objects like the pins, brooches and rings started off on their biographies, their journey through people’s lives.

This is a very rare opportunity to see more clearly the initial nature of the social and political significance of these objects from their start-point. It would mean that the sharing or gifting of the jewellery was surrounded in the circumstances of a big social occasion, a massive party, if you like. We are seeing their birth and the important role they played in the power-play and social strategies of Iron Age groups and individuals. With the circumstances of the jewellery-making we are able, for once, to investigate the intended status and significance of these items within the context of their birth, rather than depending on the information we usually get, which is based on the discovery of these objects much later in their lives, in fact at the end of their lives, when they went in the ground, perhaps many decades, or more, after they were originally made and worn. Most theories about the brooches and pins and their role in society have been based on what we glean from them in this end-state, but the assemblage of metalworking evidence from The Cairns; the moulds, crucibles, and other items, together with the massive remains of the feasting allows us to grasp what was going on at the point in time when these jewellery items were instigated. […]

At one level, perhaps, everyone in the community was involved in the feasting, but only some were ennobled by receiving a pin; a ring, or a brooch. So it may well be that we are looking at the strategies for creating and maintaining the concept of the entire community at the same time as signalling social difference, and hierarchy within the community of this post-broch period. If so, the excavations are really coming up trumps in terms of allowing us to peer into the social circumstances of Iron Age communities.

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Local social history museum acquires Iron Age gold coin hoard

Wednesday, March 14th, 2018

Eden Valley Museum in Edenbridge is acquiring an Iron Age hoard of gold coins that was discovered by metal detector hobbyist Jonathan Barber in October of 2016 near the village of Chiddingstone in the Sevenoaks District of Kent, England. The exact find site has not been disclosed for its own protection. The 10 coins were dispersed, not found in a single cluster even though they were buried together. They are believed to have been scattered in later centuries through agricultural activity.

The coins are all of the same type: Gallo-Belgic gold staters minted by the Ambiani tribe of northern France whose main settlement, Samarobriva, is the modern-day city of Amiens. The Ambiani were defeated by Gaius Julius Caesar when he fought the Belgae in 57 B.C. and submitted to him only to join in the uprising against Roman occupation led by Vercingetorix of the Arverni in 52 B.C.

The Ambiani were famed minters, their coins being widely distributed throughout northern France and southern England. The type of coin in the Chiddingstone Hoard is known as a “Gallic War Uniface,” struck during the general time period of Gallic Wars (ca. 60-50 B.C.) in northern France and imported into Britain a few years later. High quality coins made of solid gold, they were in wide circulation in the south of England and a number of them have been found there. Finding a group of ten together, however, is extremely rare.

Interestingly, the obverse is smooth. There is no image or text stamped on it. The reverse features a stylized Celtic horse facing right. Hence the name “Uniface” because there is an image only on one side of the coin. Comparable Iron Age coins struck by Celtic tribes normally had a head on the obverse representing a local ruler or deity. Experts believe the obverse was left deliberately blank as a political message. The Gallic allies fighting against Caesar claimed no sole ruler. They were trying to get rid of one.

The smallest coin in the hoard has a diameter of 15mm. It is also the heaviest, weighing in at 6.16 grams. The largest is 19mm in diameter but is just a hair less heavy at 5.98 grams. The lightest of the coins weighs 5.96 grams and is 18mm in diameter. They’re a remarkably uniform bunch, all in all, with just 4mm and a quarter of a gram variance among them.

When the coins were unearthed, the finder alerted the Kent Finds Liaison for the Portable Antiquities Scheme who recognized the Iron Age gold coins and submitted them for consideration as treasure. One declared treasure, the coins were assessed for fair market value by a committee of experts at the British Museum. Local museums are given first crack at acquiring the treasure for the price of the valuation, a fee which is then split between the finder and landowner.

Claire Donithorn BA, resident archaeologist at the museum said, “These will be our first significant Iron Age exhibits. They date from precisely the time when Britain emerged from Prehistoric to Historic Times. Our aim now is to keep the hoard together and to ensure that it stays in the Valley for us and for future generations.”

Experts in the British Museum examined the coins and identified them. The Eden Valley Museum was then offered the chance to buy them. The Museum leaped at the opportunity. Claire Donithorn said, “These coins are an important part of the history of the Eden Valley. They show that the Valley was connected to great events in European History – the Gallic Wars. Whoever buried them may have been involved in those wars and was probably living here in the Valley.”

The museum needs to raise £13,000 to acquire the coins and to create a secure display for them. Grants from the South East Museums Development Programme, Arts Council England/V&A Museum Purchase Grant Fund and the Headley Trust put £11,315 in the kitty, which gets them almost all the way there. While the fundraising isn’t quite complete, the museum is close enough to move forward with the plan. The Chiddingstone Hoard will go on display starting April 11, 2018.

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5 mirror frames found in Roman villa in Bulgaria

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018

Archaeologists excavating an outbuilding of a Roman villa near the town of Pavlikeni, northern Bulgaria, have unearthed five lead mirror frames dating to the late 2nd or early 3rd century. The small round frames suggest there’s more to this villa than archaeologists realized.

The villa, thought to have belonged to a Roman Army veteran, was first built at the end of the 1st century/beginning of the 2nd century. In addition to being a country estate, it was also used for ceramic production during its relatively brief lifespan. The complex stood for less than a century before being pillaged and razed by the invading Costoboci during the Marcomannic Wars (170-171 A.D.). It was rebuilt but the second iteration lasted even less time, being abandoned some time after 235 A.D., likely during the incursions of the Goth and Carpi tribes into Roman territory south of the Danube around 238.

The 35-acre site has been excavated every season for four years. In the 2016 season, a geophysical survey found evidence of Roman construction materials — roof tiles and basalt quarried from the nearby extinct volcano today known as Chatal Tepe — outside the main building. Excavations in 2016 and 2017 revealed a square building 5.65 meters (18.5 feet) wide and 6.35 meters (20.8 feet) long. It had an east-facing entrance, a wise choice in a region where western winds blow very hard and very cold, with an antechamber supported by wooden columns. The columns have not survived, but their stone bases have. There were two hearths in the structure, one in the antechamber, one in the main room. The mirrors were discovered in the interior hearth.

Three of the mirror frames are identically sized and have the same decoration: a stylized depiction of a wine krater with vines growing out of it. Three of the five also have the same inscription lettered in Ancient Greek. At first glance, archaeologists thought it read “ТYXH KAΛH,” which expresses a wish that their owner have a good fate. Closer examination after cleaning revealed a different phrase, with a very different implication of what this building’s purpose may have been.

“Some of the mirrors have inscriptions, reading, ΨΥΧΗ ΚΑΛΗ, not ТΥΧΗ ΚΑΛΗ, as I originally thought. That means a ‘good soul’. Mirrors are generally discovered in shrines,” lead archaeologist Chakarov has told ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com.

The discovery of the lead mirror frames has added a new hypothesis about the function of the building where they have been found, namely, that it might have been a temple of some kind. The initial hypothesis, which is still being considered, is that it was a residential building.

“The find consisting of lead mirror frames points towards the possibility that the building in question might have been a temple. The earlier hypothesis that it was a residential venue still stands, though. A final hypothesis is yet to be decided upon after all discovered material has been processed,” Chakarov explains.

Other materials found at the building including pottery fragments and coins which indicate the building was in use in the late 2nd, early 3rd century A.D., so about four decades before its final demise.

These intriguing finds are the work of a team of volunteers led by Kalin Chakarov, archaeologist from the Pavlikeni Museum of History. Nobody is taking a paycheck and without the 40 volunteers from Bulgaria and four other countries, there would have been no 2017 excavation.

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Roman cemetery found at Netherlands highway site

Friday, March 9th, 2018

An archaeological survey at the site of new highway construction in Bemmel, in the southern Netherlands’ province of Gelderland, has unearthed a large Roman cemetery with an intriguing mystery about it. There are 48 graves dating to the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D., some with stone funerary caskets intact and containing very high quality grave goods. The size of the burial ground, how complete it is, the quantity, variety and quality of the graves make it unique in the archaeological record of the Netherlands. This was a cemetery for the elite.

Excavations were carried out in February, but kept secret to fend off treasure hunters. It was immediately clear to the archaeologists that this was a special find. The cemetery was discovered just 20 inches under the surface, and yet, it was entirely unspoiled, graves intact, grave goods in excellent condition, even the skeletal remains of a baby, which very rarely survive, were found. These were cremation burials as was the Roman custom at this time. The ashes were buried with grave goods and covered by burial bounds. Out of the 48 graves found, tufa funerary caskets were found in six. Four of those urns were completely intact. This is the first time so many cremation urns have been found in one place in the Netherlands. Also notable is that the grave goods were buried in tiled chambers of their own, not in pits adjacent to the person they were buried with, which was the customary practice.

The mysterious part is that Roman burial grounds were usually just outside the city walls, but there is no Roman city known in the Bemmel area. It would have had to have been a town with a sizable population of wealthy people and by now you’d think some archaeological evidence of such a settlement would have been discovered.

The discovery of the cemetery and artifacts were announced to the public by the Rijkswaterstaat [RWS], the Ministry of Water and Infrastructure Management, for the first time on March 8th.

Among the funeral gifts were such luxury items as imported painted earthenware jars, plates and cups, and tableware consisting of glass bottles and decorated bronze jugs, cups and dishes. Although personal items did not usually accompany their owners in death, the archaeologists found clothing pins, mirrors, a pair of scissors and even a complete perfume bottle with its contents intact, RWS says.

Among the more unusual items were fragments of four parchment roll holders and a stone grave monument with a depiction of a woman.

Such gifts are more typical of Roman cities like Nijmegen, or high-ranking Roman officials in Belgium, Germany or France, RWS said. The best explanation therefore is that these were the inhabitants of a Roman villa near Bemmel, which would make it perhaps the most northerly position of a Roman villa in all of the Roman empire.

The artifacts are currently being cleaned and conserved. On April 27-9, a selection of the grave goods will be exhibited to the public in Bemmel as part of the city’s Romans Week. Next year, the discoveries will be displayed at the Museum Vet Valkhof in Nijmegen.

The Dutch-language video shows the dig site and one of the caskets as it was found in situ and removed en bloc to a laboratory for careful excavation. Below is an English transcript (Google translated, so there are bound to be errors).

We see a motorway from the air and a title appears: Archaeological research. Crossing the Ressen-Oudenbroek junction (ViA15) An archaeologist is in his car on his way to work. He says: “We are actually the beginning of the construction, we get everything out of the ground.” He walks through a muddy pasture and says: “We make everything safe and ensure that there is no more archaeology in the ground so that the road can get there.”

Together with a number of colleagues, he is sitting on his knees in the mud. They dig with small scoops and he continues: “You have a well plan, which is on the GPS. Those are just the rectangles that you expand. You put four markers in the grounds you are going to dig. That’s it. It starts with the beeping of the metal detector. Then we heard a very loud signal and then we were already looking at each other: this will be beautiful. I called my colleague, I say I’ve never seen this. So he came and he said, they look like coffins. No, dude, this is not possible. We spent a week and a half working on those pits and then we found this. Then you know right away that you have something special. And then you’re going to dig.”

The archaeologists are standing at a pit with a wooden box. A crane slowly lifts the crate out of the pit. The archaeologist says: “What we got from the ground is a tufa stone casket. There was a big pit next to it, there were the grave gifts. And then there appears to be a whole grave field. It is just a complete burial ground from Roman times. That is really great. I have never experienced it yourself that you find urns. Then you also know right away that it is the elite. You are not simply buried in an casket. You actually feel as happy as a small child.”

The archaeologist visits the archaeological restorer who is cleaning the casket and continues: “The beauty is, we write history here. This is not written. That is what you actually do with archaeology. Everything that is not known, we make a story of that. This is also what you do it for. It’s nice to write a whole story, but if you find such kind of finds that makes your profession really fun.”

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Rome Metro construction reveals centurion’s villa

Saturday, March 3rd, 2018

Archaeologists have unearthed the large, luxuriously appointed 2nd century domus of a Hadrianic military commander at the Amba Aradam station on Rome’s future Metro C line. This is the same site where the military barracks were discovered in 2016, and in fact the villa is connected to the barracks dormitory via a corridor with a staircase. The villa was found 12 meters (40 feet) below the surface, three meters beneath the barracks. This is the first villa of a military commander ever discovered in Rome.

The domus is an imposing 300 square meters (3,230 square feet) in area over least 14 rooms. They are lavishly decorated with black and white mosaic floors with floral motifs, animals (a very smart-faced owl among them) and a scene of a satyr and a winged Cupid either fighting or frolicking. The villa also boasts marble tiles in contrasting colors and frescoed walls. One of the rooms was heated, likely a private bath, as evidenced by the telltale piles of bricks under the flooring that allowed the heated air to circulate. As was typical of the Roman villa, the rooms were arranged around the atrium, a square courtyard in the middle of the house in which archaeologists found the remains of a fountain.

On the other side of the barracks is another structure built later than the barracks and commander’s house. Replete with brick pavements, water conduits and tubs, the building appears to have been a service area where supplies were stored and kept as cool as possible. There archaeologists also discovered surviving wood objects, mainly construction tools like the forms used to build the foundations and discarded carpenter’s beams. The team has also found everyday use objects, gold rings, the carved ivory handle of a dagger, amulets and bullae that have helped archaeologists create a timeline of the remains and identify numerous reconstructions of the compound over the years.

Like the barracks, the domus and service area were abandoned and, the second half of the 3rd century, they were destroyed, their walls cut down to four-foot stumps. This likely took place in 271 A.D. when the Aurelian Walls were being fortified and anything outside of the perimeter that could provide refuge and access to the enemy was demolished.

The black and white mosaics, marble floors, fountain and frescoed walls that remain are too fragile to be left in situ while the new station is built underneath it. Therefore the entire site be dismantled, moved to a temporary location and then returned to their original location.

You can see some excellent footage of the excavators at work and of the villa in this video:

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Oldest known figural tattoos found on Gebelein Mummies

Thursday, March 1st, 2018

Ötzi the Iceman has competition for the world’s oldest tattoos from two pre-dynastic Egyptian mummies in the British Museum. Gebelein Man A and Gebelein Woman are two of six mummies unearthed in 1896 by British Museum Egyptologist Wallis Budge from their shallow sandy graves near modern-day Naga el-Gherira in southern Egypt. Covered in warm desert sand at the time of their burial, the six natural mummies were very well-preserved and the first complete predynastic bodies ever found. They were acquired by the British Museum in 1900.

They’ve been on display for more than a century, but nobody realized Gebelein Man A and Gebelein Woman had tattoos until a recent infrared examination. All that’s visible to the naked eye on Gebelein Man is a faint smudge on his upper right arm. Infrared photography revealed the smudge is actually a tattoo, and a figural one at that. It depicts two horned animals, one with a long tail and elaborate horns identifying it as a wild bull, the other with the curving horns and a shoulder hump characteristic of a Barbary sheep. The iconographic references are recognizable because they come up regularly in the art of Predynastic Egypt. This is just the first time they’ve come up in body art. The animal figures are thought to symbolize strength, still today an immensely popular motif in tattoo art.

Gebelein Woman’s tattoos at first glance do not appear to be figural. IR revealed the presence of four S-shaped figures running over her right shoulder and a bent line a little further down her right arm. Again, both of these motifs are found on predynastic painted pottery. However, the linear piece may not be an abstract design. It is similar to objects held in the hands of figures believed to be participating in religious rituals. Researchers think they may be clappers used in ceremonial dance. It could also be a staff symbolizing her holding high office. It’s possible they and the s shapes served a spiritual function on her body as well, marking her as a woman of status, advanced cult knowledge or singling her out for protection.

Dating to between 3351 and 3017 B.C. (Ötzi died around 5,300 years ago, so the Iceman and the sand people are roughly the same age when accounting for margins of error), the Gebelein mummies can each claim new records in the history of tattooing. Gebelein Man has the earliest figural art; Gebelein Woman is the oldest known tattooed woman in the world. Ötzi’s tattoos are patterns of dots and lines.

The results of the study have been published in the latest issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science, but the issue is in progress and the article is not yet available online.

Daniel Antoine, one of the lead authors of the research paper and the British Museum’s Curator of Physical Anthropology said:

“The use of the latest scientific methods, including CT scanning, radiocarbon dating and infrared imaging, has transformed our understanding of the Gebelein mummies. Only now are we gaining new insights into the lives of these remarkably preserved individuals. Incredibly, at over five thousand years of age, they push back the evidence for tattooing in Africa by a millennium.”

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Late pharaonic necroplis found in Minya, Egypt

Saturday, February 24th, 2018

Archaeologists have discovered a previously unknown necropolis from the late pharaonic and early Ptolemaic periods in Minya, 150 miles south of Cairo. Burial grounds have been found in the area before. Late last year, archaeologists embarked on an excavation with the aim of discovering the rest of the necropoli at Minya, and soon struck paydirt. They unearthed tombs of priests of Thoth, inventor of writing, god of wisdom and the patron deity of the 15th nome (province) of Upper Egypt, known as Khmno, and of its capital city Ashmounin. They also found burials of the priests’ family members.

Canopic jar. Andalou Agency.One of the tombs belonged to a priest identified in the hieroglyphics on his canopic jars as Djehuty-Irdy-Es, a Haras Sa Aissa, meaning one of the Great Five, a title reserved the senior priests of Thoth. The four alabaster canopic jars, all in excellent condition, still contain the remains of the deceased’s mummified organs. Their lids represent the heads of the sons of Horus. The priest’s mummy was found wearing a gilded bronze collar depicting the winged sky goddess Nut.

Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) and leader of the excavation describes the mummy thus:

The mummy is decorated having a collection of blue and red beads as well as bronze gilded sheets, two eyes carved in bronze and ornamented with ivory and crystal beads.

“It is seen stretching her wings to protect the deceased, according to an ancient Egyptian belief,” Waziri said, adding that four amulets of semi-precious stones were also found decorated with engraved hieroglyphic texts, one phrase says, “Happy New Year.”

That amulet, a scarab, was discovered on New Year’s Eve in what is either a fortuitous coincidence or a sign that the ancient gods aren’t quite dead yet. The mummy is in a relatively good state of preservation but has suffered some moisture damage.

A large group of people, likely the priest’s family, was buried close by. The sarcophagi of 40 family members were found in the tombs. These are very high quality, expensive limestone coffins, many of them anthropoid and engraved with hieroglyphics that include the owners’ names.

All told, so far the team has explored 13 burials. In these other tombs archaeologists have found more sarcophagi, statuettes, pottery and other funerary artifacts, including more than a thousand intact faience ushapti figurines plus hundreds more broken into pieces and the excavation is far from over. According to Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anani, the density of finds is so significant that it will take at least five years to fully excavate the necropolis.

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