Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Looter caught with Roman gold, silver hoard

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

An unnamed and unauthorized metal detectorist found a late Roman gold and silver hoard in the forest near Ruelzheim in Germany’s southwestern Rhineland-Palatinate state and dug it up so he could sell it on the black market. The authorities are not releasing specifics on how this scofflaw was discovered hoarding an ancient hoard except to note that “the looter rendered up [the pieces] himself – but only under pressure from investigators.” That means they caught him first and persuaded him to surrender the loot. The police have reason to believe he may have already succeeded in selling some of the pieces overseas. They will continue to investigate the case, looking for missing artifacts. No announcement was made regarding whether the looter would be charged with any crimes.

By German law, all excavations for archaeological material must be authorized in advance by the government heritage authority. Different states have differing laws on the particulars. Some allow finders to keep half the value of a find, if not the find itself. The Rhineland-Palatinate is not one of them. Searching for ancient artifacts with a metal detector is a misdemeanor office. Removing any artifacts discovered without reporting them rises to the level of fraud, and selling them can result in a charge of receiving stolen property.

Certainly if monetary value plays a part in determining the severity of a property crime in Germany as it does in the US, this looter is going to be in big trouble. The hoard includes three dozen beautifully detailed solid gold brooches shaped like leaves even more gold square pyramids that archaeologists believe all once ornamented a ceremonial tunic of an important Roman official. There’s also a silver dish with the remains of gilding still visible that was cut into pieces, possibly to be used as hacksilver, a solid silver bowl with gold accents inset with semi-precious stones, a crumpled and folded highly decorated silver plate that may have been a chest cover. A set of silver and gold statuettes and pieces of fittings are the remarkable survivors of what was once a curule seat, a commander’s portable folding chair.

The hoard dates to the early part of the fifth century A.D., a time when Germanic tribes banged away at each other and at the weakening Roman Empire. The Battle of Mainz took place in 406 A.D. not far from where this treasure was buried and it was a watershed event in the collapse of Roman control of Europe. Pressured by Huns in the east, migrating allied tribes including Alans, Suevi and Vandals assembled on the east bank of the Rhine. The Franks sent a raiding party across the river and succeeded in killing the Vandal king Godigisel, but the Alans turned the tide and defeated the Franks. The tribes then crossed the Rhine into Gaul on December 31st, 406, breaching what had been for centuries one of Rome’s strongest boundaries and pillaging Mainz, Rheims, Amiens and Strasbourg among many other Roman cities. It marked the end of Roman political and military control in northern Gaul and ushered in the Migration Period.

It’s no wonder why someone might have sought to bury his most precious treasures under these circumstances. The jewels from ceremonial clothing, the elaborate silver and gold folding chair and the exquisite silver tableware all point to them having been the belongings of an important magistrate or even royalty. These were the highly recognizable attributes of Roman political authority. They were buried near a former Roman road, whether by its original owner of by marauders who wanted to keep it safe from competing marauders, in a relatively shallow hole. It’s a testament to how dangerous the roads were that nobody made it back to reclaim so vast a treasure.

The age and nature of this hoard makes it a unique find in Germany, worth at least a million euro on the market and worth far more than that in historical value. It would be worth inestimably more if it had been excavated with respect for its context. Instead, the looter pulled whatever he could out of the ground, having no care whatsoever for archaeological integrity. According to state archaeologist Axel von Berg, the curule chair, for example, was “brutally torn out of the earth and destroyed.” The site itself was deliberately damaged. Boy would I love to see this thief prosecuted just for doing that.

Meanwhile, some people are getting excited over the prospect that this could be part of the legendary Nibelung hoard, the Rhine gold that features in Norse and German sagas and Richard Wagner’s opera cycle based upon them. The evidence for this is nonexistent, of course. The fifth century dating and the location somewhere in the vague area where the Rhine may have once flowed but doesn’t any longer is all it took for the legend buzz to start.

The treasure will soon go on display in Mainz and Speyer.


3,600-year-old “feathered coffin” found in Luxor

Sunday, February 16th, 2014

A joint Spanish and Egyptian archaeological team excavating the area around the tomb of 18th Dynasty official Djehuty in the Dra Abul-Naga necropolis on Luxor’s west bank has unearthed a beautifully preserved wooden sarcophagus decorated in an elaborate feather design. This coffin type is known as a Rishi coffin, rishi meaning “feathers” or “wings” in Arabic. Anthropoid wooden coffins shaped like humans with linen-wrapped bodies painted in feathers first appeared in 13th Dynasty (1803 – ca. 1649 B.C.), but the oldest ones surviving date to the 17th Dynasty (ca 1600 – 1550 B.C.). Archaeologists believe this coffin dates to around 1600 B.C.

The range when feathered coffins were in regular use is known as the Second Intermediate Period (1800 -1550 B.C.), a turbulent time when the Canaanite Hyksos invaders ruled the eastern Nile Delta and the central monarchy was too weak to assert its control over local governments. According to the Spanish National Research Council’s (CSIC) excavation team leader José Manuel Galán, “This style of coffin is rare because it was in use for only a short period of time when Egypt was not unified. Thus, very few have been found in its original place and have been well documented in the archaeological context.”

This is the 13th season of excavations in the north section of Dra Abul-Naga where Djehuty, overseer of the treasury of Queen Hatshepsut (ca 1470 B.C.), was buried. This year’s work began in January. The team found three burial shafts, the first two of which had been broken into in antiquity. The third burial shaft was dug four meters (13 feet) into the bedrock ending in a chamber that was found still sealed with uneven mud bricks. When excavators removed the bricks, they discovered the rishi coffin inside.

The coffin is two meters (6’6″) long, 50 centimeters (20″) wide and 42 centimeters (16.5″) high. It was discovered intact with the paint colors still brilliant. The feathers drawn on the lid represent Maat, the Egyptian creation goddess of truth, order and law, who weighed the soul of the dead against an ostrich feather to determine whether they would reach the afterlife. The sarcophagus is painted to look like the body is being wrapped in paid of wings, like Maat, who is sometimes depicted with feathered arms, is holding the deceased from behind in a protective embrace.

A funerary inscription stretches from the chest of coffin lid to the foot. It prompts offerings to a man named Neb, presumably the inhabitant of the coffin. His full name and exact titles have yet to be deciphered, but he was a high ranking official of the 17th Dynasty. The mummy is still encased within the sarcophagus and appears to be in good condition.

This finding, along with others conducted in the same area, confirm that Dra Abu el-Naga was where were buried the members of the royal family and their courtiers Dynasty XVII, 1600 B.C. A little known period and at the same time, key to understanding the origin of the Egyptian empire, and the structure and functioning of the administration in the new capital city of Thebes.

For more about the Djehuty Project, including excavation diaries for each season and photo galleries (almost all of which is in Spanish), check out the website.


Ichthyosaur fossil captures oldest reptile live birth

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

University of California, Davis, paleontologists have found the oldest fossil to capture a vertebrate live birth. The specimen contains the fossil of Chaohusaurus, a Mesozoic marine reptile that is one of the oldest ichthyosaur species, and her three babies in the process of being born. It is 248 million years old, about 10 million years older than any other such fossils. The particular moment captured also strongly suggests that, contra the traditional view, live births in Mesozoic aquatic reptiles first evolved on land rather than in the sea.

The fossil was discovered in the lab attached to another fossil, a predatory fish called Saurichthys, that had been excavated from a quarry in south Majiashan, Chaohu, Anhui, eastern China. The two were separated by layers of mudstones; they were not alive at the same time. Because nobody realized mother and her babies were there when Saurichthys was collected, the mother is missing her skull, the front of her body and the end of her tail. Paleontologists were able to estimate her length and dimensions comparing her to more complete specimens that have the same size vertebrae and pelvic bones. Her body was about a meter (3’3″) long and her skull about 12 centimeters (4.7″) long.

Fortunately, most of the birthing action was captured and the bones are very well preserved. There are three offspring in the fossil frame: one neonate, its body largely underneath the mother’s, one embryo inside the mother’s body cavity and one literally in the middle of being born, with the head outside of the pelvic girdle and the body still inside. Very rarely for an embryonic fossil discovery, the two embryos have clearly articulated skulls, and the one mid-birth even has 23 upper teeth and 16 lower teeth preserved.

“The reason for this animal dying is likely difficulty in labor,” said Ryosuke Motani, lead study author and a paleobiologist at the University of California, Davis. Motani believes the first baby was born dead, and the mother may have died of a labor complication from the second, which is stuck half-in, half-out of her body. “Obviously, the mother had some complications,” he said.

The embryonic skulls are pointing towards the mother’s tail and it’s highly unlikely that all the embryos were in breach position. That means Chaohusaurus were born head first, a feature of live births on land since having the head come out first in water would result in high rates of suffocation. This is why marine mammals today are born tail first.

That’s not to say that this particular family tragedy occurred on land. All evidence, including the fish fossil it was found with, suggests it was a marine birth. What it means is that live birth evolved from land-lubbing ancestors of Chaohusaurus rather than having evolved after the reptiles moved into the sea full time. By the Middle Triassic, ichthyosaurs like Mixosaurus had embryonic skulls that faced the mother’s head, which means they were born tail first, an adaptation that must have developed in the water.

Being in the middle of this evolutionary process may have made birth a particularly dangerous proposition for Chaohusaurus, leading to high infant mortality and attendant danger for the mother. That’s speculative, however, until more fossil evidence is found to support it. Perhaps we’ll be lucky and there will be additional information on the question found in one of the more than 80 new ichthyosaur fossils found in the south Majiashan fossil quarry.

The paper on this fascinating and poignant discovery can be freely read online in the journal PLOS ONE.


800,000-year-old footprints found on Norfolk beach

Friday, February 7th, 2014

Researchers have discovered footprints left during the Early Pleistocene between one million and 780,000 years ago on a beach in Happisburgh, Norfolk, on the east coast of England. These are the oldest hominid footprints ever found outside of Africa. They’re also the only Early Pleistocene human fossils ever found in the UK.

They were revealed last May at low tide after rough seas had beaten the sand off the foreshore exposing laminated silts that were soft sediments a million years ago. A team of researchers from the British Museum, Natural History Museum and Queen Mary University of London were exploring the shore as part of the Happisburgh Project when they spotted a large group of circular and elongated hollows. They look very much like human footprint fossils from the Holocene era, so the team decided to examine them more closely.

There was little time to document and study the find in depth. The scouring of the sand cover left the silts exposed to wave erosion that could flatten out the hollows in a matter of weeks. Because the tide carried sand and sea water into the hollows and a near constant rain made it impossible to clear them sufficiently for traditional field measurements to be taken, the team used laser-scanning and multi-image photogrammetry (MIP) to capture high resolution 3D images of the surface. On their hands and knees in the hard rain, they cleared off sand and scooped out water, trying to empty the hollows enough that they could be photographed and scanned.

Their heroic efforts were successful. A total of 155 hollows were identified and at least partially measured. Analysis of the MIP images found that orientation could be determined on 49 of them and they were oriented north-south. On 29 of the prints, the arch and either the heel or the front of the foot was visible which made it possible to determine they were going south. Twelve of the hollows were clearly outlined enough to be thoroughly measured. These ranged in dimension from 30–50 mm (1.2″-2″) deep, 140–250 mm (5.5″-9.8″) long and 60–110 mm (2.4″-4.3″) wide, all within the range of juvenile to adult hominid foot sizes. One footprint even has visible toes. Extrapolating from the foot size, the people who left the prints are estimated to have been between .93 meters (3′) and 1.73 meters (5’8″) tall.

Dr Isabelle De Groote, an anthropologist at Liverpool John Moores University who studied the prints, said: “We have identified at least five individuals here.
“It is likely they were somehow related, and if they were not direct family members they will have belonged to the same family group.
“The footprints were fairly close together so we think they were walking rather than running. Most were directly alongside the river in a southerly direction but also there were some going in all different directions like they were pottering around.
“If you imagine walking along a beach now with children then they would be running around.”

Since no hominid bones have been found, we can’t be certain was species left the footprints. One possibility is that they were relatives of the species Homo antecessor, or Pioneer Man. Homo antecessor bones of similar age have been discovered at Atapuerca in northern Spain. They walked upright and were of the same general height range as the estimates from the footprints. Homo antecessor appears to have become extinct around 600,000 years ago.

It’s incredibly fortunate for us that this important find was made and documented in two weeks, because just as the experts feared, coastal erosion completely removed the prints by the end of May. They’re gone now, and who knows what other remains of major international significance are going with them.

You can read the paper on the find in the online journal Plos One. It’s eminently readable, not too jargon-intensive and quite short. I highly recommend it.


Proof found of Amenhotep III-Akhenaten co-regency

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

There has long been a debate among historians and Egyptologists over whether Amenhotep III and his son, the future Akhenaten shared a co-regency towards the end of the father’s reign, with some experts positing a power sharing arrangement lasting as long as 12 years or as short as two years. Much of the recent scholarship on the controversy has argued against the co-regency theory altogether. There has been no solid archaeological evidence to resolve the debate, but on Thursday Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim, Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities, announced that inscriptions found in the Luxor tomb of Vizier Amenhotep-Huy provide conclusive evidence that Amenhotep III shared power with Akhenaten for at least eight years in the waning days of the elder’s reign.

The inscriptions were carved onto architectural remains, collapsed walls and columns, in tomb number 28 in the El Asasif area of Luxor. Some of the inscriptions depict scenes of father and son together in the same space as one follows the other. There are also cartouches — the prenomen or throne name of a pharaoh surrounded by a protective oval — of both pharaohs next to each other. Traditionally, viziers’ tombs always bear the cartouche of the pharaoh they served under.

As if that weren’t bonanza enough, the inscriptions date to a very specific time: the first Heb-Sed of Amenhotep III. The Heb-Sed was a feast like a royal jubilee celebrated by a pharaoh 30 years into his reign and then every three years after that. Since Amenhotep ruled for approximately 38 years (1388–1351 B.C. or 1391–1353 B.C.). Records survive referring to his 38th regnal year and some historians believe he may have begun his 39th but died very soon into it. That means father and son were co-regents for at least eight years.

Amenhotep III has the most surviving statues of any pharaoh, 250 of them from the beginning of his reign all the way through to the end. The ones towards the end depict an ailing man. Forensic examination of his mummy found evidence of arthritis, obesity and a plethora of dental caries and abscesses which must have been excruciatingly painful. He was in his 50s at the time of his death, so it makes sense that after ruling over Egypt since he was a boy, he enlisted his son to help him when his myriad illnesses made the business of pharaohing increasingly difficult.

The vizier’s tomb was first unearthed in 1978. A multi-national team led by the Instituto de Estudios del Antiguo Egipto de Madrid have been excavating, recording and studying the architectural elements of the tomb since 2009. You can read more about on the website of the Vizier Amenhotep-Huy Project. It’s in Spanish, but if you can’t read it in the original it’s worth it to use an online translator to explore the excavation diaries for each season. There are some great videos of the digs too.


One of the oldest temples in Rome unearthed

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

A team of archaeologists excavating the site of Sant’Omobono in the historic center of Rome have unearthed the foundations of one of the oldest temples in Rome. In the shadow of the 15th century church of Sant’Omobono just east of the Tiberine Island, archaeologists and students from the University of Michigan, the University of Calabria, the Museum of London Archaeology and the City of Rome dug a trench 15 feet deep to reveal the remains of an archaic temple from the 6th century B.C. when Rome was still ruled by Etruscan kings. Along with the remains of the first temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, also built under the reign of the kings in the 6th century B.C. and destroyed in 83 B.C. during Sulla’s second civil war, these are the oldest temple ruins found in Rome.

Because the depth of the trench was seven and a half feet below the water table, the walls had to be shored up with metal sheeting and multiple sump pumps to allow the team to dig through the ancient layers. That’s why Alison Telfer, the Museum of London Archaeology expert, joined the team this season, because of her expertise in excavating waterlogged environments thanks to years of digging in soggy London.

After weeks of excavation, the team found three levels of masonry and a step. The stonework is exceptional, dry wall construction of precision-cut volcanic tufa blocks that are still beautifully flush even after millennia.

Terrenato says the archaeologists had to fight claustrophobia to be able to spend as much as 8 hours a day at the bottom of that trench.

“You’re in a very deep hole, and although you know in theory that the sheeting is going to hold everything up, there is a primal part of your brain that tells you to get out of there, if the walls come closing in there’s not going to be any way out for you,” he says.

The foundations of the temple of Fortuna were visible for only three days — for security reasons, the team could not leave the trench open and it had to be filled up again.

To the west of the temple remains was discovered a large bank of clay that is so straight is can’t have been formed by human hands. Archaeologists believe it may have been built up against a vertical structure that is now gone, perhaps a wooden form that was removed or wall that has long since decayed. It could have been a river wall to protect the temple from flooding or perhaps used during the construction of the temple. About halfway down the clay bank, the team unearthed a group of vessels that are thought to have been votive offerings, sacrifices to the gods that were placed on the site when the bank was being built.

The area in which the temple remains were discovered was known as the Forum Boarium, meaning “cattle market,” a center of trade on a bend in the river that was both a natural harbour and a crossing point of the Tiber. When the temple was built, Rome was already trading with the likes of Cyprus, Lebanon and Egypt as well as Italian peoples including the Latins, Etruscans and Sabines. The temple was deliberately built on the harbour so that it would welcome visitors and merchants, standing as a symbol of good will and fair trade guaranteed by the deity.

Archaeologists believe the temple was dedicated to the goddess Fortuna. It was dismantled in the early Republican period, around the 5th century B.C., and replaced with twin temples dedicated to Fortuna and Mater Matuta, a Latin mother goddess whose temples have been found on other ports. The temples were added to and rebuilt over the centuries through at least the second century A.D. In the sixth century an early Christian church was built on the site. The podium of the twin temples, made out of tufa slabs, still survives. It is now part of the foundation of the church of Sant’Omobono.

And that’s not all this archaeological site has to offer. Since it was first discovered during the burst of Fascist construction in the city center in the 1930s, the Sant’Omobono area has revealed evidence from 17 different phases of human occupation, from pottery sherds that date to between the 16th and the 12th centuries B.C., some of the earliest artifacts ever found indicating human habitation of the spot that would become Rome, to the remains of wattle and daub structures from the seventh century B.C.

To read Alison Telfer’s short and ever so sweet weekly reports on the dig, see the Museum of London Archaeology website. Keep an eye on the Sant’Omobono Project’s publications page for upcoming papers on the newly discovered temple and other finds from the season.


Two new Sappho poems discovered

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Although the 7th century B.C. Greek lyric poet Sappho of Lesbos was one of the most revered poets of antiquity and highly prolific, by the Middle Ages most of her works were lost. Only one complete poem and parts of four others have survived, including three fragments among the Oxyrhynchus Papyri. Now two new poems have been found on a 3rd century A.D. papyrus in private hands.

The anonymous owner brought the papyrus to Oxford University classicist and papyrologist Dr. Dirk Obbink who recognized its enormous significance. The condition is exceptional. Harvard classics professor Albert Henrichs calls it the best preserved Sappho papyrus known to survive. The two poems are 20 and nine lines each, with a total of 22 lines preserved in their entire length. The last seven lines are missing three to six letters from the beginning and end of verses and there are only traces of the last line remaining.

The subject matter is even more exciting than the condition.

One of the two recovered poems, Prof. Henrichs notes, speaks of a “Charaxos” and a “Larichos,” the names assigned by ancient sources to two of Sappho’s brothers but never before found in Sappho’s own writings. It has as a result been labeled the Brothers poem by Prof. Obbink.

“There will be endless discussion about Charaxos and Larichos, who may or may not be Sappho’s brothers,” Prof. Henrichs commented. One important point in that debate will be the Brothers poem’s clear implication that Charaxos was a sea-going trader. The historian Herodotus, writing about two centuries after Sappho, also describes Charaxos as a wayfarer—a man who traveled to Egypt, where he spent a fortune to buy the freedom of Rhodopis, a beautiful slave he had fallen in love with. Upon his return home, Herodotus relates, Sappho brutally mocked her brother’s lovestruck folly in one of her poems.

The Brothers poem contains no such mockery, but rather depicts an exchange between two people concerned about the success of Charaxos’ latest sea voyage. The speaker — perhaps Sappho herself, but the loss of the poem’s initial lines makes this unclear — advises that a prayer to Hera would be the best way to ensure this success, and expounds on the power of the gods to aid their favorites. The poem’s final stanza speaks of Larichos, presumably Sappho’s younger brother, “becoming a man…and freeing us [Sappho’s family?] from much heartache.”

The second poem is an appeal to the goddess Aphrodite, possibly a prayer for aid in securing the affections of a new lover.

The source of the papyrus is not known. It’s most likely to have come from Egypt where the dry climate preserves papyrus like the Oxyrhynchus fragments.

Dr. Obbink has published a paper about the discovery which is available online here (pdf). It includes a transcription (not a translation) of the text, so those of you who can read Aeolic Greek can read the full poems.

UPDATE: The Telegraph has a translation of the Brothers Poem!

Still, you keep on twittering that Charaxos
comes, his boat full. That kind of thing I reckon
Zeus and his fellow gods know; and you mustn’t
make the assumption;
rather, command me, let me be an envoy
praying intensely to the throne of Hera
who could lead him, he and his boat arriving
here, my Charaxos,
finding me safely; let us then divert all
other concerns on to the lesser spirits;
after all, after hurricanes the clear skies
rapidly follow;
and the ones whose fate the Olympian ruler
wants to transform from troubles into better –
they are much blessed, they go about rejoicing
in their good fortune.
As for me, if Larichos reaches manhood,
[if he could manage to be rich and leisured,]
he would give me, so heavy-hearted, such a
swift liberation.


Grog was made from local and imported ingredients

Friday, January 17th, 2014

A new study on residue found in Scandinavian artifacts from 1500 B.C. to the first century A.D. has revealed that the wide variety of ingredients used to make Nordic grog ranged from local fruits, grains, herbs and spices to grape wine imported from southern or central Europe. The ancient sources on the grog question are all Greek and Roman, written a thousand plus years after the earliest archaeological evidence. They aren’t exactly objective either, clearly disdaining the barbarous northern rustics and their uncouth alcoholic beverages. First century B.C. Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus said the Celtic fermented brew was made out of “barley rotted in water.” His contemporary Diodorus Siculus said they strained their thick drinks through their mustaches.

These descriptions are less than useful from an archaeological perspective. They are aren’t geographically specific beyond referring to peoples north of the Alps and don’t delve into the details of the ingredients. To find out what Bronze and Iron Age Nordic grog was made of, therefore, researchers turned to artifacts discovered in burials and hoards from Denmark and Sweden.

Four archaeological samples were chosen. The oldest is a jar buried with a warrior in a tumulus in Nandrup, Jutland, northwest Denmark, that dates to Period II of the Nordic Bronze Age (ca. 1500–1300 B.C.). The second is a strainer found in a hoard in Kostræde, southwest of Copenhagen, which dates to the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1100–500 B.C.). The third sample came from a large bronze bucket (situla in Latin) found in the grave of a high-status woman in Juellinge, on the island of Lolland, southeast Denmark. It dates to the Early Roman Iron Age (ca. 200 B.C.). The last artifact tested in the study is a long-handled strainer-cup from a bronze wine-set from the Early Roman Iron Age (first century A.D.) that was buried next to a ring fort in Havor on the Swedish island of Gotland.

All four of the artifacts have ancient residue still attached in sufficient quantities to be tested for their composition. Researchers used a combination of analytic techniques including microscopic examination, infrared spectrometry and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry.

In the Nandrup jar, the residue was entirely composed by pollens — lime tree, meadowsweet and white clover — indicating the presence of a honey product. It wasn’t just honey, though. The residue is from an evaporated liquid and given the lack of any other elements in the residue, researchers believe the vessel contained unadulterated mead.

Honey was a rare and expensive commodity in the days before hive cultivation. Pure mead was reserved only for the elite, although the more ingredient-rich hybrid drinks could also be high status. The incredibly well-preserved grave of a young woman, a priestess or ritual dancer, from the same era found at Egtved in Jutland contained a birch bucket with residue of bog cranberries, cowberries, wheat grains, bog myrtle filaments, lime tree pollen, meadowsweet, and white clover. So it seems she was buried with the same mead the warrior had in his grave, but with the addition of barley beer and fruit elements.

The Kostræde sample returned birch tree resin, beeswax, pine resin, azelaic acid (probably a derivative of oleic acid, found in a variety of plants, but could also come from grains like wheat, rye, and barley), juniper, herb bog myrtle, grape wine and eucalyptol, a compound found in mugwort, cranberry and rosemary. In the Juellinge residue, testing discovered the remains of barley, bog cranberry, lingonberry, juniper, herb yarrow, grape wine, bog myrtle and yeast. The Havor sample was found to contain birch tree resin, plant products, grape wine and eucalyptol.

This is the first chemical proof of the use of bog myrtle, yarrow, juniper, birch tree resin and grape wine in Nordic grog. It testifies to the hybrid nature of fermented beverages in Bronze and Iron Age Scandinavia, how diverse the ingredients were. The discovery of the wine elements is particularly significant.

It demonstrates the social and ceremonial prestige attached to wine, especially when it was served up as ‘Nordic grog’ in special wine-sets imported from the south. It also points to an active trading network across Europe as early as the Bronze Age in which amber might have been the principle good exchanged for wine. The presence of pine resin in the beverages likely derives from the imported wine, added as a preservative for its long journey northward.


Tomb of pharaoh from Abydos dynasty found

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

Penn Museum archaeologists have discovered the tomb of a previously unknown pharaoh from Egypt’s Second Intermediate Period, ca. 1650 B.C., in Abydos. The new pharaoh’s name is Woseribre Senebkay and his tomb was found next to that of 13th Dynasty pharaoh Sobekhotep I last week.

The tomb of Senebkay consists of four chambers with a decorated limestone burial chamber. The burial chamber is painted with images of the goddesses Nut, Nephthys, Selket, and Isis flanking the king’s canopic shrine. Other texts name the sons of Horus and record the king’s titulary and identify him as the “king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Woseribre, the son of Re, Senebkay.”

Senebkay’s tomb was badly plundered by ancient tomb robbers who had ripped apart the king’s mummy as well as stripped the pharaoh’s tomb equipment of its gilded surfaces. Nevertheless, the Penn Museum archaeologists recovered the remains of king Senebkay amidst debris of his fragmentary coffin, funerary mask, and canopic chest. Preliminary work on the king’s skeleton of Senebkay by Penn graduate students Paul Verhelst and Matthew Olson (of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations) indicates he was a man of moderate height, ca. 1.75 m (5’10), and died in his mid to late 40s.

This is a highly significant discovery because it confirms that there was an independent ruling dynasty in Abydos contemporary with the dynasties ruling northern and southern Egypt. The northern 15th Dynasty rulers were Hyksos, invaders from what are today Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Down south in Thebes the 16th Dynasty was native Egyptian. Right around the time the Kingdom of Abydos ended, ca. 1600 B.C., the Thebans began a war to expel the occupiers in the north and re-unify Egypt. The war lasted 50 years. The Hyksos were defeated and the New Kingdom founded.

This Abydos Dynasty may have been a kind of buffer state between the two. They used the Anubis-Mountain area of South Abydos as a royal necropolis conveniently located next to the richer tombs of Middle Kingdom pharaohs like Sobekhotep I. There are approximately 16 tombs from the Abydos dynasty in the necropolis which range in date from 1650–1600 B.C., making Senebkay one of the first to be buried.

The archaeological team has located 10 of the possible 16 tombs. Six of them have been excavated; four have been detected by ground penetrating radar but not entered yet. Four of the six explored tombs had been gutted by ancient looters, but tomb number five had the remains of Senebkay. The cedar canopic chest that held his organs was, shall we say, borrowed from Sobekhotep I’s tomb. We know this because his name is still on it, although Senebkay’s people tried to obscure the name by gilding the chest.

That’s not the only piece of Sobekhotep’s funerary regalia to get recycled. The 60-ton red quartzite sarcophagus originally in his tomb was discovered in the sixth tomb of the Abydos kings. Archaeologists haven’t yet found a cartouche or any other information that might identify the pharaoh who pilfered the massive sarcophagus, but they think that wasn’t the first time it was re-used by the Abydos rulers.

The short-lived dynasty fills in a hole in the Turin King List. The ancient papyrus from the reign of Ramses II (ca. 1200 B.C.) has been damaged. There are two partial king names that read as “Woser…re” that top a list that originally had more than a dozen king names but now all have been lost.

The Abydos kings were nowhere near as wealthy and powerful as their neighbors to north and south. Senebkay’s limestone tomb is small and poorly appointed. The painting is colorful and lovely, but it’s fairly unsophisticated and sparse. This is probably why they recycled older pharaoh’s fancy gear.

Interestingly, this isn’t the first time archaeologists have stumbled on these tombs. Legendary Egyptologist Flinders Petri unearthed four of the tomb in 1901-1902, but he didn’t recognize them as royal or even high-status tombs because of how modest they are.

The excavation season is over for now, but team leader Josef Wegner of the University of Pennsylvania believes they will discover much more about the Abydos dynasty when they return in the spring. King’s tombs are usually flanked by the tombs of queens, courtiers and other important officials.


Adena Mound dated to first century A.D.

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

The burial mound of the Adena culture on west side of the Scioto River in Chillicothe, Ohio, has been radiocarbon dated to the first century A.D. The Adena culture extended from around 800 B.C. to 200 A.D., a time known as the Early Woodland period, and until now, that thousand-year range was as specific as archaeologists could get in dating the Adena Mound. There were multiple ancient American mounds in the area, but this particular mound is the type site, the find considered the most representative of the culture. In this case, it’s also the source of the name of the ancient peoples because the mound was located on the estate of Ohio Governor Thomas Worthington, an estate he named Adena, the Hebrew word for “delightful place.” Thus the pinpointing of its age sheds a whole new light on the early history of Ohio and the United States.

There is nothing left of Adena Mound today. Almost 27 feet high, 140 feet in diameter with a circumference of 445 feet as measured in 1901, the once dominant mound is now a slight bump in the road in a Chillicothe subdivision. In the 1840s, archaeologists excavated the Mound City tumuli north of Adena Mound and Chillicothe group of mounds south of it. They tried to do the same to Adena Mound, but the Worthington family (the governor himself died in 1827) refused to allow any digging. It wasn’t until the property was sold to Joseph Froehlich in the waning days of the 19th century that the virgin mound, topped with mature trees, was cleared and excavated.

It was William C. Mills, curator of archaeology of the Ohio Historical Society, who took on the job. According to his published account, he was saving the mound’s archaeological importance in the nick of time because Froehlich wanted to use the fertile alluvial valley soil for farming and so planned to destroy the mound. According to a letter Mills wrote to a colleague in February of 1901, however, he had approached Froehlich proposing a dig as soon as the property left Worthington hands so he wasn’t so much a savior as an opportunist at best, instigator at worst.

In June of 1901, Mills signed a contract with Froehlich to excavate the mound and dump the compacted earth from which it was built in a nearby cut of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Froehlich cleared all the trees from the surface first, then Mills’ team started at the top and dug down in five foot sections. He found three strata, layers of construction and use. The first and earliest layer was made of dark sand from neighboring Lake Ellensmere. It was packed together so hard diggers had to use pickaxes to budge it. The second layer was lighter sand mixed with soil. The third was leaf mould, most likely a natural accumulation from when the mound was covered with trees.

Mills found human remains in both construction layers. The earliest stratum had 23 burials, the second 13. The burial practices differed significantly between the two stages. The first round of burials were concentrated at the base of the mound and were considerably more elaborate. The deceased were wrapped in bark and/or textiles and buried in crypts made of logs. The second period burials were spread out and had no log crypts. The grave goods were also far more dense in the first period. Twenty of the 23 burials included funerary objects while only four of the 13 second period burials included funerary offerings.

One particular burial stood out. Burial 21, found at the north base of the mound, was an adult male buried in a large sepulcher made of logs up to 17 inches in diameter. The floor was made of bark and the roof of smaller logs and brush. Grave goods buried with this man included 500 shell beads, once sewn to a loincloth, three strings of bone beads and freshwater pearls, a raccoon effigy carved out of a shell, seven flint spear points, three flint knives and three antler spear points. It was what he held in his left hand that made Mills’ heart sing: it was a pipe carved into the effigy of a man, deity or anthropomorphic figure of some kind.

The Adena Effigy Pipe, as it became known, is the first representation of a human in Ohio history. Carved out of pipestone, a form of catlinite native to the hills along the Scioto River which is soft when first quarried but hardens when exposed to air and heat, the Adena Pipe is one of a kind. Plenty of Adena pipes have been found, but they’re relatively simple tubular pieces with a widened bottom for the bowl and a hole at the top for a mouthpiece. This is the only Adena pipe ever discovered to be carved in the shape of a person. It is eight inches tall and weighs a pound, significant heft for a pipe. The figure wears large ear spools in his pierced ears (round jewelry had been found in burial mounds before, but the Adena Effigy Pipe provided the explanation for their use) and an unusual loincloth decorated with carved lines in the front that may be stylized animal figures and a feather bustle in the back.

Last May the Adena Pipe was named the official state artifact of Ohio thanks to the indefatigable lobbying efforts of four years of Fourth-graders at the Columbus School for Girls. Still, its precise date remained as much a mystery as the dates for the rest of the mound. Along with former Ohio State University provost Richard Sisson, the Columbus School for Girls helped raise the funds to finance the new C-14 dating.

It was Mills’ foresight that made the new dating possible. Despite the horrifying destructiveness and hastiness of the dig — the mound was busted down to nothing by the end of 1901 — and the vague disposition of the human remains, at least one set of which appears to have been shipped to the Smithsonian while the rest are lost, Mills made a point of keeping several pieces of black locust tree bark used to line the central burial in the mound and fragments of coarsely woven cloth found within. There was nothing he could do with them at the time. They weren’t pretty, so no institution would be interested in displaying or studying them. There was no radiocarbon dating in 1901. Even after there was nearly 50 years later (Willard Libby led the team that discovered carbon-14 dating in 1949), for decades the sample size required to date organic materials was so large the Adena Mound specimens could not be tested.

Advances in technology now make it possible to obtain dates from much smaller samples. Using two pieces of bark and a piece of the textile, researchers were able to obtain three dates. The bark samples both dated to around 40 A.D. The cloth is older, dating to 140 B.C. Archaeologists believe it was an heirloom textile used to enshroud the dead.

Bradley T. Lepper, Mills’ heir as curator of archaeology for the Ohio Historical Society and co-author of the dating study, explains its significance:

If we are to understand the historical processes that led to the rise of the Hopewell culture from its roots in the preceding Adena culture, we first have to be able to place key events into a reliable chronological framework.

The Adena Mound, as the type site of the Adena culture, is an important cultural landmark in Ohio’s past. Knowing its relationship, in time as well as space, to the other earthworks in the Scioto Valley will help archaeologists eventually write the history of this important chapter of our past.