Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Howard Carter the artist

Sunday, November 9th, 2014

Before Howard Carter became the world-famous archaeologist who discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings, he was an artist. In fact, it was pretty much all he knew how to do. Howard, the youngest of 11 children of Samuel and Martha Carter, was sick a lot in his youth. The many and varied miasmas of London were considered injurious to his health, so he was sent to live with his aunts in Swaffham, Norfolk, where his father and grandfather had been gamekeepers on the Hamond family estate.

Because of his sickliness he was never enrolled in school. His father, an artist who carved out a successful niche for himself painting portraits of the gentry and their pets, tutored Howard on regular trips to Swaffham, teaching him how to draw and paint. One of Samuel Carter’s patrons was William Amherst Tyssen-Amherst of Didlington Hall, an estate eight miles from Swaffham. As a boy, Howard visited Didlington Hall when his father painted Lord Amherst’s portrait, and this is where he first became exposed to Egyptology.

Amherst was an avid collector of Egyptian antiquities. He, his wife Margaret Mitford (whose father had a passion for all things Egyptian as well) and their seven daughters traveled frequently to Egypt, constantly acquiring new artifacts. A whole wing of Didlington Hall was dedicated to housing his vast collection. Seven statues of the lion-headed warrior goddess Sekhmet guarded the door of the museum, one for each of the Amherst daughters. Those statues are now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Amherst family didn’t just give Howard Carter the chance to explore Egyptian art through their extensive collection. It was their recommendation and contacts that secured him his first job in Egypt. He was just 17 years old when he was hired as a tracer — someone who copies inscriptions and art work found in excavations onto paper for later study — for the Egyptian Exploration Fund (EEF) in 1891. This was an essential job in the age before color photography. Watercolors were the only accurate recreations of tomb decorations available.

Carter’s first assignment was the Beni Hasan excavation where the princes of Middle Egypt were buried. He immediately distinguished himself with his artistic ability and dedication, often working all day and then spending the night in the tomb. Carter began to learn archaeology on his next assignment at El-Amarna under pioneering Egyptologist Flinders Petrie in 1892. He was still an artist, recording artifacts as they were discovered, but Petrie allowed him to dig too, and Carter made some signficant finds.

In 1894, Carter was appointed Principle Artist of the EEF’s excavation of the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari. For five years Carter made drawings and watercolors of the wall reliefs in the temple. One of his watercolors from this period, The Temple of Hatshepsut (1899), is going up for auction at Bonhams’ Travel, Exploration and Natural History Sale in London on December 3rd.

Carter also joined in the excavation of the temple and learned restoration techniques as well. He did such a fine job that in 1899 the Egyptian Antiquities Service offered him the job of First Chief Inspector General of Monuments for Upper Egypt. He was 25 years old, had no formal education, and was now the supervisor of all archaeological excavations in the Upper Nile Valley. Carter did great work, installing the first electric lights in six Valley of the Kings tombs and at the temples in Abu Simbel.

His extraordinary run of success came to a halt in 1905 when a group of drunk and belligerent French tourists became violent towards the Egyptian guards at Saqqara. Carter told the guards they could defend themselves. The tourists complained to people in high places and the diplomatic hotshots insisted Carter apologize. He refused. In retaliation, Carter was shipped off to an obscure site with not much in the way of archaeology. Rather than twiddle his thumbs in exile, Carter resigned.

For the next two years, Howard Carter had something of a hard scrabble existence. He sold his watercolors or guided tours to make a living. Then he hit the jackpot. French Egyptologist Gaston Maspero, Director of the Egyptian Antiquities Service who had given Carter the Chief Inspector General job, introduced him to George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon. Carnarvon had deep pockets and was keen to fund archaeological excavations. He got the necessary licenses and made Carter the Supervisor of Excavations in Thebes.

During this time, Carter painted Under the Protection of the Gods (1908), a composite fantasy that depicts a vulture — representing the goddess Nekhebet, protector of Upper Egypt — above a solar disc wrapped in a cobra — representing the goddess Wadjet, protector of Lower Egypt. It’s likely that the iconography of the watercolor was inspired by some of Carter’s finds in Thebes, including the 18th Dynasty Tomb of Tetaki and a 15th Dynasty tomb with nine coffins.

The Carter-Carnarvon partnership was very successful. By the time World War I began in 1914, Carnarvon had amassed a hugely important collection of Egyptian antiquities. That same year he secured a 15-year license to excavate the Valley of the Kings and Carter got to work. He painted The Valley of the Kings (1914) the first year of excavations. Excavations were disrupted by war, but Carter still managed to dig in 1915 and 1917.

In 1918 excavations restarted in earnest. For the next four years, Carter scoured the Valley of the Kings for the tomb of a previously unknown pharaoh whose name he had discovered. It became something of an obsession with him, but in 1922 when the tomb continued to be elusive, Carnarvon got sick of funding what seemed like a fool’s errand and told Carter that he had one digging season left. Three days after the last excavation began in November of 1922, Carter’s diggers found the top of a staircase. Three weeks later, Carter peered in through a small hole in the doorway and saw the “wonderful things,” that would take the world by storm and make him immortal.

Carter never forgot the people who helped him overcome his humble beginnings. His connection with the Amherst family continued throughout his life. William and Margaret Amherst’s eldest daughter Mary, known as May, wife of Lord William Cecil, took her family’s fascination with Egypt to even greater heights. Between 1901 and 1904, she personally funded and ran excavations at Qubbet el-Hawa in Aswan. Howard Carter was Chief Inspector for Antiquities then, and he helped advise her.

In 1906, the family was left financially devastated when their solicitor and land agent, Charles Cheston, was found to have embezzled hundreds of thousand of pounds to support his gambling habit. Cheston committed suicide. Lord Amherst was forced to sell the collections he had spent decades building into some of the greatest private holdings in the country. His library went first, auctioned by Sotheby’s in 1908 and 1909. William Amherst died two months before the second sale.

May, heir to her father’s estate and title, had no choice but to continue the sell-off. In 1910, the estate itself, home and park, was sold to Colonel Herbert Francis Smith. May refused to sell her father’s Egyptian collection, however. She held on to that resolutely for a decade until her death from breast cancer in 1919. Only after May was gone was the legendary Amherst collection of Egyptian papyri, statues and other artifacts put up for sale at Sotheby’s in 1921. It was Howard Carter who catalogued the collection that had first inspired his great vocation. At the time of the sale, even though some individual objects had been sold piecemeal before then, the Amherst Egyptian collection was the third largest private collection in England.

In 1950, Didlington Hall, broken and neglected after requisition during World War II, was stripped of its last valuables when the interior fittings were sold at auction. The house was demolished and thus what had once been one of Norfolk’s greatest treasures was lost forever.


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Yorkshire Hoards on Google Art Project

Friday, November 7th, 2014

The Google Cultural Institute and the York Museums Trust have joined forces to create an exhibition of hoards discovered in Yorkshire. The Yorkshire Hoards exhibition gives audiences the chance to view buried treasure from the Bronze Age (1000 B.C.) to the Civil War (1650 A.D.). The entries are arranged in chronological order so you can take a virtual trip through Yorkshire history, and descriptions are accompanied by high resolution photographs and video.

Hoards were buried for different reasons in different periods. Bronze Age axe hoards, for example, were buried near bodies of water which suggests there was a ritual purpose behind it. Iron Age and Roman coin hoards are often indicators of unrest, earthly goods buried to keep them safe from danger until the owner could return. Some of them were clearly savings, however, the ancient version of stuffing it in your mattress. Valuables were added to over time, in those cases, instead of being buried in one fell swoop.

Hoards are a great way to explore a region’s history, therefore, because they’re concrete evidence of how people dealt with external threats, their religious practices, the geographic range of their connections, what kind of containers they used, etc. It’s also just cool to be able to zoom in on a great many beautiful artifacts and coins that haven’t previously been photographed in high resolution.

The York Museums Trust is also collaborating with Google to present an online highlight reel of one of their museum’s exhibitions: 1914: When the World Changed Forever, a World War I display currently enjoying great success at the York Castle Museum. Objects include a horse’s gas mask, weapons and an ingenious Zeppalarm device that connected to a home’s gas line and lit a light bulb and sounded an alarm when the gas company turned down the supply to dim the lights and warn of an impending dirigible raid.

The Google exhibitions are just the tip of the iceberg. The York Museum Trust has embraced digitization on a grand scale, placing 160,000 objects in its collections, thousands of which are not on public display, in a freely accessible online database. More than 50,000 of the entries include high resolution images of the objects, all of which are in the public domain so you can download them and use them as you wish. More photographs will be uploaded as they are taken.

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Pharaonic temple found under house in Egypt

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

The remains of a 3,400-year-old temple from the reign of Tuthmose III (1479-1425 B.C.) have been found underneath a house in the Egyptian town of Badrashin 25 miles south of Cairo. It was discovered two weeks ago under shady circumstances. A group of seven men dug nearly 30 feet (nine meters) under their home, even going so far as to secure wet suits, oxygen tanks and diving masks so they could keep digging after they hit the water table. The Tourism and Antiquities Police heard about the clandestine dig and arrested the men for illegal excavation. They were detained briefly but had to be released because the area where they were digging was not a designated archaeological site.

It is now. The entire Hod Zeleikha neighborhood has been declared an archeological site and is now under the control of the Antiquities Ministry. The unauthorized amateur excavation has been replaced with an official dig by archaeologists from Egypt’s antiquities ministry and workers from the state-owned Arab Contractors Company. After pumping out the groundwater, the team discovered seven large limestone blocks engraved with hieroglyphic inscriptions, the bases of several columns and a piece of a colossal statue. The colossus fragment is 6.2 feet high and carved out of pink granite. It depicts a seated person.

The hieroglyphics date the structure to the New Kingdom period (1539-1075 B.C.) and at least some of the inscriptions date to the reign of the pharaoh Tuthmose III (1490-1436 B.C.). The reign of Tuthmose III is considered a golden age in Egyptian history. The stepson and nephew of pharaoh Hatshepsut, Tuthmose III was technically pharaoh from the age of two, co-ruler with his stepmother. In practise he didn’t rule until Hatshepsut died 22 years after they ascended to the throne. He ruled another 32 years after Hatshepsut’s death. Under his reign, the Egypt empire reached its greatest extent, from northern Syria to the Fourth Cataract of the Nile in Nubia.

The recovered artifacts have been transported to Saqqara for conservation and study. Archaeologists hope the inscriptions and future discoveries will reveal more about the history of Egypt under Tuthmose III. The ministry plans to continue the archaeological survey of the site and excavate more of the temple.

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2,200-year-old altar found on Italo-Greek shipwreck

Friday, October 31st, 2014

Divers have recovered an altar that was used for on-board sacrifices from a 2,200-year-old shipwreck off the Aeolian Island of Panarea just north of Sicily. Such altars have been found before on land and one was discovered in the shallow Adriatic waters around the Croatian island of Hvar, but this is the first one to be found on a shipwreck.

The wreck was discovered in 2010 by researchers from Sicily’s Superintendent of the Sea Office using sonar and a remote operated submersible. The 50-foot ship, dubbed the Panarea III, and its cargo of amphorae were at a depth of 426 feet (130 meters), deep enough to keep it out reach of treasure hunters and naval traffic. The submersibles weren’t able to dive deeply enough to retrieve any objects from the wreck, so this year the Superintendent enlisted technical divers from the non-profit Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) to explore the site and recover a few artifacts. They also had the aid of two high tech submersibles with gripper arms.

They found a well-preserved wooden portion of the ship’s keel and recovered 16 artifacts — amphorae, pottery vessels, fishing plates and the altar — from the wreck, all of them in excellent condition. Divers didn’t realize what the altar was when they first saw it on the edge of the amphora field. It looked like a little pillar initially. When they blew away some of the accumulated silt, they found the bottom of it was mostly buried. About a foot in diameter at the widest point and three inches high, that was actually the top of the altar, a basin used to burn incense in ritual offerings. The base of the pedestal was found next to it. There are metal supports embedded in the base, probably the remains of fasteners to keep it from going overboard at the first swell. It’s engraved with three Greek letters (ETH) and there’s a decorative wave relief around the edge of the basin.

Archaeologists dated the objects to between 218 and 210 B.C. Because the cargo was mostly Greco-Italic jars but with Punic amphorae in the bow of the ship, archaeologists believe it was a Greek trading vessel that traveled between Rome and Carthage, possibly supplying the fleet of Roman consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus who was commander of Sicily from 214 to 211 B.C. These were dangerous times to be a merchant in the Mediterranean. The crew of the Panarea III had eminently good reason to bolt an altar to the ship’s deck and make copious sacrifices to the gods.

The Second Punic War started in 218 B.C. and while the most famous military encounters between Carthage and the Roman Republic involved elephants, alps, the Fabian strategy and pitched battles with body counts so disastrously high to this day they are ranked as among the most costly battles in human history, Carthage and Rome threw fleets of ships at each other too. Rome was rather more successful on water than they were on land in the first eight years, winning major naval encounters around Sicily and Sardinia.

Marcellus was successful on land as well, particularly when given command of Sicily. He besieged the city of Syracuse, then allied to Carthage and a powerful potential foothold for Hannibal in his struggle to conquer Italy, for two years (214 B.C. – 212 B.C.) by sea and by land. It took so long to take the city because it was ably defended by high walls and the ingenious inventions of Archimedes. After the Romans finally found a weak point in the wall and broke through, a soldier came upon Archimedes in his study and killed him despite Marcellus’ order that the great mathematician not be harmed.

The artifacts recovered from the shipwreck will be conserved and eventually put on display at the Aeolian Archaeological Museum of Lipari

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50,000 artifacts found in tunnel under Teotihuacan temple

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

When last we saw the tunnel underneath the Temple of the Feathered Serpent in Teotihuacan, the remote vehicle Tláloc II-TC had forged 65 feet ahead of the point where humans could tread and identified the presence of three chambers with its infrared camera and laser scanner. Wednesday Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) announced that archaeologists have reached a space just before the three chambers and have discovered there a massive cache of sacred objects.

The tunnel was discovered by chance in 2003 after heavy rains opened a hole more than two and a half feet (83 cm) wide in front of the Adosada platform, a 4th century structure inside the Citadel that faces the temple. Fifty feet under the hole, archaeologists found a tunnel almost 400 feet (120 meters) long. Excavations began in 2009, with initial explorations done with ground penetrating radar, laser scanning and two robots.

The technology was only the beginning. The tunnel was expertly sealed by the residents of Tenochtitlan in the second century A.D., filled top to bottom with soil and rocks. The heavy lifting was done by at least 25 workers at any given time, one of whom was Julio Alva, a descendant of 17th century Nahuatl chronicler Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, himself a direct descendant of Ixtlilxochitl I and Ixtlilxochitl II, rulers of Texococo, and of Cuitláhuac, the penultimate ruler of Tenochtitlan. Alva and his comrades worked tirelessly to remove 970 tons of earth and stone to make way for the remote vehicles and archaeologists to explore the tunnel.

INAH archaeologists have now reached the 103 point where they have encountered a space 13 feet wide and 26 feet long filled with an extraordinary wealth of objects: 50,000 artifacts, including organic remains perfectly preserved in the low oxygen environment. There are more than 4,000 wooden objects, bones and fur from large cats, beetle skeletons, more than 15,000 seeds from different plants and the remains of skin, possibly human, which will be submitted for laboratory analysis.

On the non-organic side are beautifully carved stone sculptures, four of them anthropomorphic figures two feet tall made from greenstone, scores of shells from the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, imported Guatemalan jade, rubber balls, pottery, pyrite disks and a wooden box filled with dozens of elaborately engraved conchs. There are beads, complete necklaces, amber and dozens of obsidian blades and arrow heads.

All of these offerings were interred in the tunnel between 150 and 200 A.D., a period known as the Miccaotli phase when Teotihuacan’s plan was being vigorously altered with previous buildings taken down and new ones erected that would redesign the city. With no written records to go by, archaeological remains are invaluable to the study of Teotihuacan’s culture and history.

This space is 18 feet deep, and given its location close to the end of the tunnel in front of the three chambers, archaeologists think the explosion of artifacts is a strong indicator that there are significant burials in those chambers.

[Archaeologist Sergio] Gomez, who works for Mexico’s National Anthropology and History Institute, said he hoped to find a royal tomb at the end of the tunnel. “Due to the magnitude of the offerings that we’ve found, it can’t be in any other place,” he said.

“We’ve been able to confirm all of the hypotheses we’ve made from the beginning,” he added, saying ongoing excavations could yield more major discoveries next year.

Here’s a video that takes you down the tunnel and shows some of the highlights of the recent discoveries. There’s no narration but there is some music well worth muting.

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Restoration on unique Medusa mosaic almost finished

Friday, October 24th, 2014

The only known surviving opus sectile mosaic of Medusa is finally being restored five years after its discovery in the ancient Odeon theater of Kibyra, in southwest Turkey’s Burdur Province. The 1,800-year-old masterpiece of the mosaic arts was unearthed during an archaeological excavation in 2009, but on the advice of Culture and Tourism Ministry experts was quickly covered with five layers of sand and gravel to preserve from the elements it until proper treatment could be arranged.

At 36 feet in diameter and 14 feet at the widest point, it’s the largest mosaic still in situ in Anatolia. It is almost entirely intact, with an estimate 95% of its thin marble tiles still in place. Authorities are keen to keep it in its original context so visitors can enjoy the rare pleasure of seeing it the same way the ancients did rather than removed from its orchestra pit semi-circle and placed in a museum. The Kibyra Odeon could seat 3,600 people and was used for musical and theatrical events as well as serving as legal court and legislative chamber during the cold months when its roof made it the most comfortable structure in town suitable for public use.

Last year the Medusa mosaic was uncovered for the first time since its discovery to allow conservators to perform a detailed feasibility study. This year, the Culture and Tourism Ministry funded the restoration based on the recommendations in last year’s report. Regional archaeologists are working with an Istanbul conservation company to restore the mosaic. They’ve been working on it for two months and expect to continue for another month.

According to Düzgün Tarkan from the archaeology department of Mehmet Akif Ersoy University in Burdur, the mosaic has survived some very hard times.

He said they believed that the mosaic had suffered from a large fire in the ancient era. “In its original, it was covered with a wooden roof. This is why we believe that the timbers that fell during the fire burned the mosaic for days. The marble pieces that form the mosaic received great damage. Now we are merging them and the broken pieces are being attached to the mosaic.”

You can see in the images from last year’s study that there are areas where the opus sectile marble veneers are in fragments. That’s apparently the result of this devastating days-long fire that took down the wooden roof that once covered the Odeon. Some of the marble plaques that characterize the opus sectile style (as opposed to the small, regular squares of the opus tessellatum style) are just a single millimeter thick. It defies belief that all those shards remained in place so archaeologists could painstakingly piece them back together and reinstall them on site. Clearly Medusa’s petrifying visage really did protect her.

Once the mosaic is stabilized, it will be covered with a layer of glass (or a transparent material of some kind) to protect it from grubby tourist feet and hands, bad weather and all manner of other potential damage sources. That way visitors to the Odeon will be able to walk on Medusa’s face without hurting her.

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Missing head of Amphipolis sphinx found

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

The hits just keep on coming at the Amphipolis tomb excavation. Archaeologists have crossed from the second chamber with the Persephone mosaic floor over the threshold into the third chamber. Lying just six inches on the other side of the marble threshold they found the decapitated head of one of the sphinxes that stands guard in the tomb’s entryway. There is some damage to the nose and lips, but otherwise the head is remarkably intact.

The head is about 24 inches high and depicts the serene visage of a beautiful woman. Her hair is long and wavy, falling over the left shoulder and tied around the head with a white band. Traces of red paint are visible to the naked eye in her hair. She has a column or pillar on her head, a shorter version of the architectural support the caryatids in chamber two sport on their heads, that would have abutted the stone arch at the entry. It’s a tight fit. At a glance, I’m not entirely persuaded that the head really does fit the sphinx — if you look at a photomontage the proportions seem off — but it’s impossible to draw any conclusions from images alone, so I’ll defer to the archaeologists on the ground.

The entire neck is still there, including the join area where it was ostensibly broken off the sphinx’s body. It could match the breaking point on the trunk of the eastern sphinx. Additional fragments of the wings of the sphinxes were also discovered around the head. How these pieces got inside the tomb especially in such great condition is a mystery. It seems too preservative to be vandalism, and why would a looter bother to move a head and wing fragments to the comparative safety of the interior?

Besides the head, archaeologists discovered the northern section of the marble threshold which is seven feet long and more than five wide. Dug into the marble are two deep curved depressions that experts believe once held metal rails that facilitated the movement of the heavy marble doors. The western wing of the door was also found, broken in two pieces. Limestone flooring is extant on both sides of the threshold. On the east side the wall intersecting with the floor appears to have collapsed. The west side of the floor has been damaged by falling blocks of limestone.

Those blocks will be removed over the next few days, clearing the way for archaeologists to continue the excavation of the third chamber, shoring up the roof and walls as they go, as they head towards the entry to the fourth chamber.

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Amphipolis mosaic is abduction of Persephone

Friday, October 17th, 2014

The east side of the mosaic in the second chamber of the 4th century B.C. tomb in Amphipolis has been uncovered revealing the red robe of the laureate figure and a young woman behind him wearing a white tunic tied under the bust with a red ribbon. She looks backwards, her red hair flowing, her left arm raised, hand open as in a wave. She wears handsome jewelry, a bracelet on her left wrist and a necklace of red beads around her neck. The red robe of the charioteer and the newly unearthed figure identifies the scene as the abduction of Persephone by Hades.

The laureate figure is the god of the Underworld, not, as was first posited before the entire mosaic was revealed, as the soul of the man interred in the tomb. Hermes leads the chariot in his role as psychopompos, guide of souls, as he is traditionally depicted on other artistic presentations of the Persephone myth. Her looking back in anguish with raised arm is also a characteristic posture, see for instance the Persephone krater in Berlin’s Altes Museum, an Apulian red-figure volute-krater made in 340 B.C., within a few decades of the estimated date of the tomb. This is the first time a figural floor mosaic has been found in a Macedonian tomb.

The scene, complete with Hermes running before the chariot and a red-haired Hades carrying away an equally red-haired Persephone as she reaches behind her for help, is also depicted in the royal tomb of King Philip II of Macedon at Aigai (Vergina). It is a mural, not a mosaic, a very rare instance of surviving Greek wall painting. Archaeologists suspect the duplicated theme is not a coincidence, that it may be an intentional reference to the art work in Philip’s tomb.

General Secretary of the Ministry of Culture Lina Mendoni described the potential connection in a press conference on the find:

“The scenes are linked with the cults of the Underworld, with the Orphic cult – the descent in Hades – and the Dionysian rites. The Head of the house of Macedon was the archpriest of these cults. I remind you of the recent research of the National Center of Scientific Research “Demokritos” in the residues of the mask found in the remains of bones of Philip. According to experts was the mask, which he wore Philip in Orphic rites. Therefore, the scene in our case has symbolic importance, which may indicate a relationship of the “occupier” of the tomb with the Macedonian House. The political symbolism is very strong in all periods.”

Connected to the rulers of Macedon or not, whoever was buried in this tomb was someone of great wealth and importance. That was clear from the sphinxes in the entrance, confirmed by the caryatids and ultra-super underscored by this mosaic of exceptional quality.

The mosaic covers the entire floor of the room and is 4.5 by 3 meters (14’9″ x 9’10″). In order to preserve the work as excavation continues, workers have placed a layer of styrofoam over it and wood paneling over the styrofoam. A false floor will be built 15 inches above the protective layers so that archaeologists can start the slow process of unblocking the door to chamber three on the north edge of the mosaic.

Here’s a neato 3D rendering of the tomb highlights as rteal.orged this far from Greek Toys:

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Iron Age Celtic chariot fittings found in hillfort dig

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

Archaeologist from the University of Leicester have found a hoard of rare bronze fittings from a Celtic chariot while excavating the site of an Iron Age hillfort on Burrough Hill near Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire. The fittings date to the 2nd or 3rd century B.C. and were deliberately buried as a religious offering.

The hillfort has been excavated by the University’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History since 2010 as part of a five-year project to give students a chance to gain hands-on field experience while exploring the Iron Age occupation of the fort and the transition into the Roman period. In fact it was a group of four students who found the treasure. The first piece was unearthed in a deep pit they dug near the remains of a house. The rest were discovered nearby.

The fittings were put in a box and placed on a bed of cereal chaff with iron tools laid around it. The box was then burned, with the chaff possibly providing kindling as well as a cushion for the sacrifice. Once the fire was out, the offering was covered in a layer of burnt cinder and slag. Archaeologists think it could have been part of a religious ceremony marking the change of a season, or perhaps something related to the construction of the nearby house.

These are incredibly rare and highly prized objects, a matched set of chariot fittings that could only have belonged to someone of very high status, a lord or warrior. Cleaning revealed intricate decoration on the bronze pieces, including a triskele motif of three interlocked spirals popular in Celtic art.

It’s unclear what the purpose of the iron tools was. Archaeologists suspect they may have had a horse grooming function. One of them has a looped handle and bent end with shallow notches that suggest it may have been the Iron Age equivalent of a curry comb. Two curved blades could have been hoof trimming tools or used in the production of harness parts.

Dr Jeremy Taylor, University of Leicester Landscape Archaeology professor and co-director of the Burrough Hill field project could barely contain his awe at the importance of this find:

“This is the most remarkable discovery of material we made at Burrough Hill in the five years we worked on the site. This is a very rare discovery, and a strong sign of the prestige of the site.

“The atmosphere at the dig on the day was a mix of ‘tremendously excited’ and ‘slightly shell-shocked’. I have been excavating for 25 years and I have never found one of these pieces – let alone a whole set. It is a once-in-a-career discovery.”

The objects have been removed to the University’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History for cleaning, conservation and analysis. They will be put on display briefly at the Melton Carnegie Museum in Melton Mowbray, from Saturday, October 18th through Saturday, December 13th. Once the lab work is done, a permanent display will be arranged.

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Large mosaic found in Amphipolis tomb

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

The excavation of the Kasta Tumulus in Amphipolis has already uncovered two headless sphinxes guarding the entrance, two pilasters underneath the sphinxes with the remains of black and red paint on the capital, a pebbled mosaic floor and in a second chamber beyond the portal, two caryatids. Now the Greek Culture Ministry has announced they also found a large, elaborate, colorful floor mosaic in the second chamber.

While the floor mosaic in the entrance chamber is made of irregularly shaped marble fragments set in red mortar, this piece is a pictorial mosaic of immense skill and artistic merit.

The mosaic, 10 feet long and 15 feet wide, depicts a horseman with a laurel wreath driving a chariot drawn by two horses and preceded by the god Hermes. According to a Culture Ministry announcement on Sunday, Hermes is depicted here as the conductor of souls to the afterlife.

The mosaic is made up of pebbles in many colors: white, black, gray, blue, red and yellow. A circular part, near the center of the mosaic, is missing, but authorities say enough fragments have been found to reconstruct a large part.

Hermes, in his characteristic hat (petasos) and winged sandals, holds a caduceus as he leads the chariot and its noble driver from the east side of the chamber to the west. Around the central scene is a thick decorative frame almost two feet wide with geometric double meanders and squares framed with running spirals above and below.

The mosaic covers the entire floor of the second chamber excavated so far and archaeologists are hopeful that more of it will be revealed as they gradually dig away the soil filling the space to the east and west of it. Progress has been slow because the structure is delicate so the walls and ceilings have to be shored up with retaining walls and wood and steel beams as archaeologists cautiously remove the fill a little at a time.

The mosaic dates to the last quarter of the 4th century B.C., a range in keeping with the speculation that someone connected to Alexander the Great may have been buried in this tomb. As of yet, no names or inscriptions of any kind of found, nor any graves, for that matter.

North of the mosaic is a marble threshold of the door that leads to the third chamber. Archaeologists are still working on removing the soil from the third chamber in small sections, but they have identified another door, which means there is probably a fourth chamber behind it. If there is any burial to be found in this tumulus, it’s likely to be in one of these two chambers. So far archaeologists have found three fragments of a marble door, a hinge and bronze and iron nails in a removed section of the soil in the third chamber. The door fragments are additional evidence that the site is indeed a Macedonian tomb (as opposed to, say, Roman, which at least one archaeologist has posited).

To get a better idea of the floor plan of what’s been uncovered so far, see this page. The whole site is an absolute gem, with clear explanations of past discoveries and regularly updated with new information and photographs from the tomb as excavation progresses.

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