Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Denver Art Museum returns Koh Ker statue

Sunday, February 28th, 2016

The Denver Art Museum has returned a statue looted from the archaeological site of Koh Ker to Cambodia. The Torso of Rama was one of many sculptures from the Prasat Chen temple looted by the Khmer Rouge during the Cambodian civil war in the early 1970s and sold through unscrupulous dealers to major museums and private collections in the US. The Denver Art Museum acquired it in 1986 from the Doris Weiner Gallery in New York and had it on display until last December.

A spokeswoman for the museum confirmed on Friday, 26 February, that the work had arrived in Cambodia. “As part of our own collections research, the Denver Art Museum contacted our museum colleagues in Cambodia to gather more facts on the Torso of Rama piece in the museum’s collection,” the museum’s director, Christoph Heinrich, said in a statement. “We were recently provided with verifiable evidence that was not available to us at the time of acquisition, and immediately began taking all appropriate steps to deaccession the object and prepare it for its return home. In addition to our return of this piece, during this process we have crafted a collaborative relationship with our Cambodian colleagues, and are looking forward to developing cooperative projects and programs that will benefit museum goers and collections in Denver and Phnom Penh.”

I apologize for the tiny pictures (you know this hurts me more than it hurts you), but this repatriation is such momentous news I couldn’t not post about it. The Torso of Rama was the last Prasat Chen statue in a US museum. The Metropolitan Museum of Art returned the Kneeling Attendants in May of 2013. Sotheby’s returned the statue of warrior Duryodhana in December 2013. The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena returned Duryodhana’s enemy Bhima in 2014. At the same time, Christie’s bought back a statue of Balarama it had sold twice, once in 2,000, once in 2009, specifically to return it to Cambodia. Last year the Cleveland Museum returned a statue of the monkey god Hanuman. Now the Denver Art Museum, the last public holdout, has finally caved. American museums are officially no longer in the business of taking advantage of the Khmer Rouge’s brutalizing of the 10th century capital of the Khmer Empire.

That leaves only three or four statues missing from Koh Ker (exact numbers are hard to pin down). We don’t know where they are because they are almost certainly in private collections. Unfortunately that means they can remain hidden indefinitely as long as sales are arranged privately rather than through auctions or in some other manner that attracts publicity. Given what two major international auction houses and four US museums just went through, I doubt the holders of these stolen artifacts will do anything that draws attention to their loot.

Anne Lemaistre, Unesco representative to Cambodia, reached out to those shadowy figures in the wake of Denver’s return of Rama.

“To have all of the statues returned to Cambodia is something Unesco has been working hard to achieve, and we appeal to anyone who may currently have one of the remaining statues in their private collection to follow the nice gesture of the Denver museum and return it,” she said.

The return of Rama will give Cambodia the opportunity to reconstruct the figure grouping at the eastern gate of Prasat Chen. Rama and Hanuman are believed to have stood there, along with two other monkey deities locked in battle that are now in the National Museum of Cambodia. This New York Times graphic from 2013 explains where scholars believe the looted statues were originally located in the temple complex. All of the statues in that graphic are home now. :boogie:

11,000-year-old engraved pendant found in Britain

Friday, February 26th, 2016

Archaeologists excavating the Early Mesolithic site of Star Carr in Yorkshire have unearthed a shale pendant with engraved lines. This is the first pendant with an engraved design from this period found in Britain and it’s the only engraved pendant made of shale ever discovered in Europe. It was found in a sediment layer that was once shallow water about 30 feet from the shore of the paleo-Lake Flixton. The organic material in the sediment is still being dated, but preliminary estimates date the sediment deposit to around 11,000 years ago.

When it was first discovered it just looked like a piece of stone. The hole that marks it as a pendant was clogged with sediment and the very faint engravings weren’t visible. It was only when it was lifted out of the ground that the sediment fell out of the perforation and the engravings were spotted.

Just one side of the shale is engraved with very small lines at angles from each other of a kind defined by the first excavator of Star Carr and expert in Early Mesolithic art Grahame Clark as the barbed lines type C. They were incised on the stone. Incision was the most common method of Early Mesolithic engraving (as opposed to boring and drilling) and geometric designs engraved on portable objects were typical of the period in northern Europe.

A perforated, engraved shale pendant is unique; the usual materials were amber, antler and bone. Grahame Clark’s Star Carr excavations in the 1950s and the current excavation, which began in 2013, recovered a number of unengraved shale beads, distinct from the pendant because the perforation is in the center rather than the top. The hole in the top suggests the object was suspended from a necklace.

The team studied the engravings with integrated light microscopy, reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). SEM and RTI proved particularly effective at identifying the order of engraving and showing the impressive precision with which these angled lines, some of which are teeny tiny, were inscribed. They found that the central groove was done before the lines parallel to it, then the tiny right angle lines, then the grooves perpendicular to the central one, the tiny lines connected to them and then the rest of the lines in the field. The groups of lines were engraved in at least two, possibly more, phases.

The order of engraving is significant because it may be an important clue to the purpose of the lines.

Evidence from surviving traditional shamanic societies in northern Asia and elsewhere – where similar markings (often on wooden ceremonial batons) are still used – suggest that the lines on the recently discovered Mesolithic Yorkshire pendant probably represent the number of large animals (perhaps, in this case, red deer) killed on hunting expeditions. However, some of the lines could also represent the number of ritual songs and dances performed by the group when it returned with the dead deer to their camp. [...]

Modern ethnographic parallels suggest that the proper recording of kills and associated rituals would have been seen as essential to guaranteeing future hunting success.

The deliberate faintness of the engravings may have been in order to ensure that the information on the pendant remained, in effect, a secret record of kills and related rituals that was accessible only to particular individuals or groups.

Evidence of ritual activity at the site abounds. The most recent excavation has unearthed six ritual headdresses made from the skulls and antlers of red deer, and earlier excavations turned up 21 more of them. Given the rarity of the pendant and the great effort made to engrave it, it’s a strong possibility that it is related to the rituals practiced in prehistoric Star Carr.

The pendant was 3D scanned so it could be virtually examined from all sides. You can explore it yourself with this 3D scan viewer. A most wonderful paper full of details about the find can be read in its entirety here.

Earliest complete Bronze Age wheel found at Must Farm

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016

The Must Farm excavation has unearthed yet another unprecedented archaeological treasure: a Bronze Age wooden wheel so complete even a stump of its axle survives. It dates to about 1,100-800 B.C. and is the earliest complete Bronze Age wheel found in Britain. A wheel from around 1,300 B.C. discovered at the Flag Fen site two miles away in the 1990s is the oldest in Britain and Copper Age wheels from around 2,500 B.C. have been found in continental Europe. The Must Farm wheel is one meter (3.3 feet) in diameter and about 3.5 cm (1.4 inches) thick which makes it the largest discovered in Britain. The Flag Fen wheel is incomplete — it’s a crescent with the center missing — and .8 meters in diameter.

The wheel was made of three wooden boards held together by two horizontal bracers that are secured with dovetail joints. The radial structure of the hub identifies it as oak and those half-moon dugouts on either side of it were probably decorative elements that also had the practical side effect of decreasing the weight of the wheel which would be especially important in a watery environment. The less weight on the wheel the less likelihood of sinking incidents. There’s charring on the surface of the wheel, but it’s radiant charring which means it wasn’t actually on fire but rather near it.

It’s very similar in design to the Flag Fen wheel, so there’s no question that it’s a wheel, not a shield or tray or any other round, flattish wooden object. The Flag Fen wheel is also tripartite and also held together by horizontal bracers. It was made of three different kinds of wood: alder for the outer rim, oak for the axle and braces and ash for the dowels. We already know the Must Farm axle was also oak. Further analysis of the wheel will determine whether it too was made of more than one kind of wood.

Mark Knight site director of the excavation, said the discovery of the wheel helped create a much more detailed picture of the way those families lived in 1100-800 BC.

“This was a settlement built on a river that exploited dry land,” he said.

“The wheel is perfect, beautifully made in panels and stitched together. It was probably part of a chariot or a cart and, alongside the other discoveries, illustrates that this was a complex community that exchanged goods, created wealth and was thriving.”

The wheel was found nestled in sediments a few yards from the largest round house. The spine of what is believed to be a horse was found in January in the same area. He may have pulled the chariot or cart this wheel was once attached to. It’s too early to say for sure what its use was. While it’s in unprecedented shape for its age, the wheel is in delicate condition. The area where it was found is not as well preserved as the rest of the site and the wood is beginning to flake. It will be removed in its entirety and conserved in laboratory conditions.

Archaeologists found other wooden artifacts in the same spot: a wooden platter, a wooden box, small bowls with food remains still inside (nettle stew again, Mom?), tools and textiles.

4,300-year-old Chinese cockroach prints found on Japanese pottery

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

The exterior surface of pottery can be a surprisingly rich source of information about ancient flora and fauna. Dents and holes that were once assumed to be insignificant have in the last 25 years been discovered to be impressions left by seeds, nuts or insects. In ancient Japan, for instance, sometimes soybeans and adzuki beans were used in the production of pottery. By examining the cavities they left behind, archaeologists were able to narrow down when cultivation of these staples began in the area.

Using X-ray and CT imaging and scanning electron microscopy (SEM), the team of Professor Hiroki Obata at Kumamoto University examined potsherds discovered in the Odake shell mound in Toyama Prefecture which dates to the early Jomon Period of Japan (5,300 – 3,500 B.C.). They found more than 500 Egoma seed cavities on the surface. The team then examined potsherds from the Motonobaru archeological site which dates to the late Jomon Period (2,500 – 1,300 B.C.). They made a silicon replica of the surface which they scanned with a scanning electron microscope. This “impression replica” system allows researchers to examine the original surface in greater detail.

This time they found the imprints of cockroach egg cases. The cases were 11 mm long and were characteristic of the smokybrown cockroach (Periplaneta fuliginosa) which is from southern China. Historical sources — literary references and artistic depictions — record the presence of the smokybrown cockroach in Japan during the 18th century, but earlier references were thought to be domestic roaches. Since the pottery fragments are 4,000 and 4,300 years old, they indicate smokybrown cockroaches reaches Japan at least 3,700 years before they appear in the historical record.

Pottery fragments from Motonobaru analyzed last year found 173 impressions of the maize weevil. That’s half the total number of ancient maize weevils ever found in Japan.

“The maize weevil is a type of harmful insect that eats stored starch food materials such as acorns or chestnuts, which are known to be typical stored food for that period in Japan. The existence of many maize weevils and cockroaches shows that these ancient humans lived settled lifestyles,” said Professor Obata. “With this latest research, we have revealed that there were cockroaches in human living areas from a period older than was previously believed. More and more information about ancient human life is being found from potsherds. Soft and small items have some difficulty remaining in the soil for a significant amount of time, but they can be kept safe within these pottery fragments. Like little time capsules, potsherds are packed full of treasures which help to reveal the story about the living conditions of ancient humans.”

Hoards of Cheshire go on display in Liverpool

Sunday, February 21st, 2016

Two hoards of Iron Age and Roman coins and jewelry discovered in 2012 and 2014 have gone on display for the first time at the Museum of Liverpool. The Museum of Liverpool and the Congleton Museum secured a £65,400 ($93,400) grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to acquire both hoards and create an exhibition that can tour the area. That exhibition is now up and running and will be shared between the institutions. It moves to the Congleton Museum in July.

The Malpas Hoard was discovered at a metal detecting rally on January 9th, 2014, near Malpas, Cheshire. It’s a group of 35 coins, seven Iron Age British gold coins and 28 early Roman coins. The British coins are gold staters struck between 20 and 50 A.D., three of them of the western regional series inscribed “EISV” and four of the northeastern series inscribed “VEP CORF.” This is remarkable because western coins circulated in Gloucestershire and surrounding counties where the Dobunni tribe lived, significantly to the south of Malpas, while northeastern coins circulated in Corieltavi territory of Lincolnshire and Leicestershire, significantly to the east of Malpas. Individual coins in the series have been found in the northwest, but this is the first hoard. It’s also very unusual to find a split of regions in a single hoard.

The Roman coins are silver denarii, most of them from the Republican period. The earliest was struck in 134 B.C. by the moneyer Augurinus in Rome. The most recent were struck in the reign of Tiberius Caesar (14-37 A.D.). This group is typical of the kind of money introduced to Britain from the time of the Roman conquest in 43 A.D. Experts believe the hoard was buried shortly thereafter, in the 40s or 50s A.D., because the Tiberius coins are in very good condition and show few signs of wear so they can’t have been in circulation long.

The Knutsford Hoard was first discovered by a metal detectorist Alan Bates in May of 2012. He and archaeologists from the National Museums Liverpool and Cheshire Archaeological Advisory Service returned to the find site in June and removed a soil block containing many more coins for excavation in the lab. The final tally is 101 silver denarii, two sestertii, three gilded silver trumpet brooches and two silver finger rings. There was also a group of pottery fragments, including 21 from an orange-ware vessel. The earliest coin is a denarius issued by Mark Antony around 32-31 B.C.; the latest a denarius from the reign of Commodus dating to 190-191 A.D. That suggest the hoard was buried in the late second century.

Trumpet brooches, so named because their open ends and tubes look like trumpets, were a popular style in the 2nd century and appear to be associated with the Roman army. These are heavy, expensive examples, made in a mould and decorated with British-style scrolls and curvilinear designs. They are parcel-gilt: the background of the scrollwork is gilded while the scrolls themselves are left in silver.

The finger rings are silver with intaglio carnelian stones. One of the carnelians has been engraved with a winged figure, possibly Mercury or Victory, facing left with one arm raised. The carving on the other stone is no longer visible. It appears to have been file away. They’re very small, just 25 and 26 millimeters wife, so they may have been women’s jewelry. On the other hand, intaglio rings were often used to stamp wax seals which was more of a man’s game at the time, so it’s possibly they might have been intended for a man to wear on his pinky.

Liz Stewart, curator of Archaeology and the Historic Environment at the Museum of Liverpool said: “These two hoards provide fascinating evidence about the wealth, trade, lifestyles and identities of people in the North West in the early Roman period.

“It’s very special to be able to acquire and display these items for the region and to explore the long history of the area with our visitors.”

To celebrate the new exhibition, the Museum of Liverpool will host a conference on February 27th from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM that will be open to the public and free of charge. Experts from all over the country will discuss the hoards, their historical context and what they can tell us about life in first and second century northwest England.

Tarkhan Dress confirmed as world’s oldest woven garment

Friday, February 19th, 2016

The Tarkhan Dress isn’t really a dress. It’s a linen chemise nowadays, although when it was new it may have been longer. The hem is gone so there’s no way of knowing. The garment was discovered during Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie’s 1913 excavation of a 1st Dynasty tomb in a 5,000-year-old cemetery at Tarkhan, Egypt, 30 miles south of Cairo, only neither Flinders Petrie nor anybody else realized they had found it. Sixty-four years would pass before somebody did.

The mud-brick niched tomb had been extensively looted in antiquity. There was little left inside besides a set of alabaster jars, two wooden tool handles and pottery (which is why they dated the tomb to around 2,800 B.C.), and what Flinders Petrie described as a “great pile of linen cloth.” The pile of dirty linen went to University College London whose modest collection of Egyptian artifacts would expand by orders of magnitude when they bought Flinders Petrie’s enormous collection in 1913. The university museum is now the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.

In 1977, the pile of “funerary rags” was sent to the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Textile Conservation Workshop for cleaning and conservation. The conservators discovered the Tarkhan Dress buried between 17 different kinds of textiles. At first they thought it was just another rag, but when they followed one seam they found another rag stitched to it, and then another. That’s when they realized those three rags were in fact a tunic with two sleeves. It was inside out and showed signs of wear, namely creases at the elbows and armpits. The v-neck linen shirt with tiny pleats on the bodice and sleeves was in excellent condition, considering its age. Conservators stitched it onto Crepeline silk so it could be placed on a dress form and displayed the way it was worn thousands of years ago.

Because of the age of the tomb in which it was discovered, the garment was hailed as Egypt’s oldest garment and the oldest woven garment in the world, but because the tomb was not intact and the linens from the burial chamber had been jumbled and dumped by looters, its context couldn’t provide a reliable date. Radiocarbon dating the garment was out of the question in 1977 because back then the test required a sample the size of a handkerchief. Some of the linen in the pile was analyzed in the early 1980s by the then-new technology of accelerator mass spectrometry carbon dating which dated it to the late third-millennium B.C., but the results were too broad to satisfy and the samples weren’t taken from the dress itself.

Last year, a tiny 2.24 milligram sample of fabric was taken from the Tarkhan Dress and radiocarbon dated at the University of Oxford. The testing found there was a 95% probability that the garment was made between 3,482 and 3,102 B.C. Modern AMS dating is usually more precise than that, but the tininess of the sample made a wider range necessary. As the 1st Dynasty is thought to have begun around 3,100 B.C., there’s a good chance the Tarkhan Dress pre-dates the Early Dynastic period and the first pharaohs to rule over a unified Egypt.

Textile fragments made of flax (Linum usitatissimum) are known from at least Egyptian Neolithic times, while weaving on horizontal looms is evidenced from at least the early fourth millennium BC. Iconographic representations in Second Dynasty Egyptian tombs at Helwan (in Greater Cairo) show the deceased wearing similar types of garments to the Tarkhan Dress, indicating that the depiction of clothing was based upon contemporary fashions rather than idealised. [...]

The Tarkhan Dress … remains the earliest extant example of complex woven clothing, that is, a cut, fitted and tailored garment as opposed to one that was draped or wrapped. Along with other textile remains from Egypt, it has the potential to provide further insights into craft specialisation and the organisation of textile manufacture during the development of the world’s first territorial state

For all you sewers out there, the Petrie Museum has patterns and instructions on how to create your own Tarkhan Dress. It assumes a basic grasp of skills (like how to pleat) and terminology (what is this whip stitch you speak of?) so it’s not for beginners. Should you take the plunge, I am in a position to guarantee you one glowing blog review and probably at least a good dozen comments.

7,000-year-old upright burial found in Germany

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

In 1962, construction workers in Groß Fredenwalde in Brandenburg, northeastern Germany, accidentally discovered human bones. An excavation unearthed the skeletal remains of six people dating to around 6,000 B.C. when the area was populated by the hunter-fisher-gatherers of the Mesolithic period. The site was re-excavated between 2012 and 2014, and archaeologists unearthed three more burials, these dating to between 6,400 and 4,900 B.C. All told, nine individuals were found in at least four graves, which makes this the oldest known cemetery in Germany and one of the oldest in Europe.

Mesolithic finds tend to be stone tools. Graves are rare and cemeteries are far rarer. This one is on the top of a hill. Archaeologists believe this was deliberate, that the Mesolithic people who buried their dead there over thousands of years chose the spot because it was so prominent in the landscape. In addition to whatever spiritual value the hilltop might have held, from a purely practical perspective it is easy to find, an important feature for a cemetery in use for 1,500 years. Also the area is replete with lakes, which made it resource-rich for a forager cultures.

One of the burials discovered during the recent excavation is exceptional: it’s a young man who was buried standing upright about 7,000 years ago. The burial process was done in several phases. First the young man was placed into a vertical pit five feet deep, his back leaning against the wall of the pit. The pit was then filled with sand to a point above his knees which ensured the body would remain standing. The grave was then either left open or only cursorily covered. Scavengers helped themselves, leaving bite marks on some of the arm bones. Once the body was thoroughly decayed and the upper body had fallen apart into the pit, the grave was filled all the way to the top. A fire was then lit on top of the tomb.

This is an unprecedented find in Central Europe, although there may be comparable burials in the Olenij Ostrov cemetery in Karelia, northwest Russia.

“The burial is unique in central Europe and therefore it is difficult to find a specific reasons for such treatment,” [excavation director at the Lower Saxony Department of Historic Preservation Thomas] Terberger told Discovery News.

“The young man also received grave goods and this is indicating an unusual, but honorable treatment of the body,” he added. “On this background, I see no good argument to interpret the burial as a kind of punishment.”

Another exceptional grave found near the standing burial is an infant burial in which ocher powder was scattered for ritual purposes. The entire grave was excavated in a solid soil block and transported to the University of Applied Sciences Berlin. The remains are in excellent condition, a very rare circumstance with infant remains because there wee, soft bones disintegrate easily. This is easily the best-preserved infant burial every discovered in Germany.

All of the remains found in this cemetery are so well preserved that researchers are optimistic they will able to determine people’s diet using stable isotope analysis. They also hope to recover viable DNA that will allow them to map the genome of the last hunter-gatherers in Brandenburg during the transition to farming. (The first farmers reached Central Europe from Southeast Europe about 7,500 years ago, so these remains date to both before and after that pivotal point.)

The study of the vertical burial has been published in the current issue of the journal Quaternary.

Early Roman wall fresco found in London

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

Archaeologists with the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) have discovered the remains of an elaborate wall fresco from the late 1st century A.D. which makes it one of the earliest extant frescos in Roman Britain. The team was excavating in advance of construction of an office building at 21 Lime Street in central London when they found the painted wall lying face down in the ground. Ian Betts, MOLA’s building materials specialist, identified it as likely a frescoed surface even though the painted side wasn’t visible by the characteristic markings on the daub to which the plaster was applied. To keep any surviving paint from flaking off, conservators removed the fresco in 16 sections, cutting out blocks of soil around them. That way the painted plaster surface was protected by the soil that’s been protecting it for 2,000 years.

The 16 soil blocks were moved to the conservation lab where experts set immediately to work micro-excavating the soil before it dried. The revealed a fresco 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) wide and 1.5 meters (5 feet) high with a painted surface just a single millimeter thick. Solid red panels bordered with thin cream pin stripes are divided by a central section that depicts a stylized candelabrum with deer perched on the top level eating greens, a pair of parakeets underneath them and some fruit underneath them. The background is black and green with vertical cream stripes on the edges. The design is the first of its kind found in Britain. The closest example of it was found in a villa in Cologne, Germany.

The painter had to have been a highly skilled master craftsmen employed by people of signficant wealth. He used natural earth pigments accented with expensive cinnabar red, a mercuric sulphide pigment which was mined in Spain and had to be imported to London. This was top quality work that would only be seen in the most luxurious homes of the era. Small fresco fragments have been discovered before in Lime Street, so it must have been a toney neighborhood in early Roman London where the Joneses kept up with each other by decorating their walls with the most expensive continental-style artworks. This fresco adorned the wall of a public room in the house, perhaps a reception room, where it signalled to all visitors the homeowner’s wealth and taste.

While small pieces of frescoes are more common, a large section of painted wall like this is a very rare find. This is the first such discovery in 30 years. It survived, in classic archaeological irony, because of its destruction. The house whose wall it decorated was demolished in around 100 A.D. to make room for London’s second forum and basilica, the civic and commercial epicenter of the city and at three stories high occupying two hectares of land, the largest building north of the Alps, larger than St. Paul’s Cathedral. The frescoed wall was toppled and fall paint side down into the soil. The forum was built on top of it, preserving it for posterity.

The basilica, forum and most other public buildings were systematically destroyed by Roman troops in 300 A.D. to punish the city for its support of the usurper Carausius. The only civic structure left standing was the defensive wall. After the revival of London’s fortunes in the Middle Ages, a market sprang up on the site of the old forum. In 1881, the current Leadenhall Market was built there. The remains of one of the basilica’s arches were discovered during construction and in the 1980s more forum remains were found on the 21 Lime Street site. MOLA excavations in 1990 and 2001 found sections of the floor of the forum’s east wing. The most recent excavation had to dig 20 feet under the surface to find the toppled wall.

MOLA experts are still studying the fresco and its context. They hope to be able to reconstruct a view of what the neighborhood looked like in the early decades of Roman London before the construction of the forum.

Remains of monumental Roman arcade discovered in Colchester

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

The remains of a monumental Roman column arcade 120 meters (394 feet) long have been unearthed in the old town center of Colchester in Essex, England. The Colchester Archaeological Trust has been excavating the site on 97 High Street in advance of construction of a new apartment building. The site was known to be inside the precinct of the ancient Roman Temple of the Deified Claudius and small finds have been made in the area over the past 60 years, but because there was an office building on the spot a thorough excavation was not possible. When the offices were demolished to make way for the new block of flats, archaeologists were able to fully explore the site and realized for the first time just how massive a structure the arcade was.

Colchester is the oldest recorded Roman town in Britain. The Romans built a legionary fortress there after the conquest of Britain in 43 A.D., and six years later the town was renamed Camulodunum and founded as a veteran colony. It was the first capital of Britannia province. Public buildings — a theater, the town council house, a forum — were constructed befitting the new capital. A large temple completed after the death of emperor Claudius in 54 A.D. was dedicated to him as the Temple of the Deified Claudius. It was the largest classical temple built in Britain and the only one in the province known to have been dedicated to Claudius.

The city was destroyed in the Boudiccan revolt of 61 A.D. The residents fled to the safety of the temple whose cella (inner chamber) had thick, windowless walls and massive bronze doors. Boudicca’s Iceni warriors besieged the temple for two days before storming it and putting it to the torch along with the rest of the town. Camulodunum was rebuilt after the revolt was suppressed. New city walls were built between 65 and 80 A.D., and around the same time the temple was rebuilt within an even grander temple precinct. Later additions expanded the temple and precinct. At its peak in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the Temple of the Deified Claudius had a massive monumental arch in the center flanked by an arcade of 14 columns on each side. The vast scale of the temple and precinct was unique in Britain.

Phillip Crummy, the [Colchester Archaeological Trust]‘s director told The Telegraph: “This arcade is the largest of its kind in Britain. Its closest rival in terms of size stands in what was Gaul, in northern France, and shares some of the architecture we can see in Colchester today – but that is only around 70-metres long.

“The original arcade and its grand columns are similar to those you see in Bath, at the Roman Baths. It really is an extraordinary find and confirms the grandeur and richness of its Roman culture.”

Large sections of the temple were intact through the Saxon period when it became known as King Coel’s Palace. By the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, the “palace” was in ruins, but the Normans used the base of the temple as the foundation for Colchester Castle, now a museum. The temple podium is still visible in the vaults underneath the castle.

Remains of the monumental central archway were first discovered in 1931. Subsequent investigations in 1953 and 1964 unearthed more of the arcade, but the remains were reburied. It wasn’t until a 2013 evaluation of the site that a large section of the massive foundations of the arcade was discovered. On June 12th, 2014, the archaeological team surveying 97 High Street found a collapsed brick and stone pier from the monumental arcade. Made of alternating layers of brick and stone, the column was found inside the Norman-era layer. It’s evidence that at least part of the colonnade was still standing when the Normans arrived. Archaeologists believe the Normans stripped the prized marble facing stones of the arcade to use in the construction of the castle and then toppled what was left of the column.

Flying Trade Group, the developers who are constructing the new apartments on the site, plan to preserve the foundations and columns of the arcade in the ground floor of the building. They will install a café with glass panels in the floor that reveal the ancient remains. The café/archaeological park will raise money for local and international charities including World Food Aid.

If you’re anywhere near Colchester on Saturday, February 13th, you can surprise your history nerd sweetheart with a romantic early Valentine’s Day outing to the Claudius Temple arcade excavation. From 10:00 AM until 4:00 PM, visitors are welcome to view the site. All 13 meters (43 feet) of the arcade’s foundations will be visible with special labels, lighting and projected digital reconstructions installed just for the day.

Massive illegal dumpsite found in Roman catacomb

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

Roman police have discovered tons of refuse, everything from household trash to industrial waste, illegally dumped in the 2nd and 3rd century A.D. catacombs of Tor Fiscale, an archaeological park in east Rome. Situated on the Via Latina near the junction with the ancient Appian Way, the Tor Fiscale park is part of the vast Appian Way Regional Park. The small park is dense with archaeological riches. It is at the crossroads of six Roman and one Renaissance aqueduct whose arched galleries dominate the landscape alongside the 13th century tower that gives the park its name. It is replete with remains of ancient luxury villas, homes, tombs and underground caves dug out of soft volcanic tufa. Initially carved to quarry the stone, the caves were used by early Christians for gatherings and burials during the imperial era when the religion was viewed with suspicion and its adherents sometimes persecuted.

Authorities came to suspect something was rotten underground during an investigation of illegal car scrapyards and waste disposal rackets in the area. On January 26th, about 20 people — police officers, personnel from Italy’s Regional Environmental Protection Agency (ARPA), municipal workers and members of the archaeological speleology organization Sotterranei di Roma (Undergrounds of Rome) — worked together to explore miles of the underground tunnels. They found a shocking amount of waste, including old refrigerators, mattresses, electronics, tires, batteries, hundreds of bags of organic materials full of various molds that may have been used in the cultivation of mushrooms.

In one of the deepest tunnels, they found a veritable lake of greasy black goo that is likely used motor oil. On the surface alone this lake of hydrocarbon pollution covers about 200 square meters (2,150 square feet), and preliminary analysis found the lake is more than a foot deep, so the total volume of toxic filth in this one spot alone is something in the neighborhood of 800 cubic meters (28,250 cubic feet). At some points the vaults of the tunnel appear to be impregnated with the goop, suggesting it was dumped from above rather than transported deep into the caves. The team took samples of the fluid to identify it and they will examine the surface to locate the entry point. There will also be extensive testing to assess whether the oil has seeped into the water table.

After making the shocking discovery, police used drones to fully explore the network of bat-and-mice-infested tunnels to try to establish the extent of the dumping.

It is thought that local businesses and residents have been using the site to cheaply dispose of their unwanted goods for years. Police even discovered that unscrupulous dumpers had drilled shafts down into the caves from above, which they used as rubbish chutes to quickly dispose of their unwanted goods.

Authorities have closed the entrances to the caves on Via Demetriade and Via di Torre Branca, but of course that won’t stop people from using their homemade garbage chutes. The municipal police are investigating the case in the hopes of finding who is responsible, at least most recently, for this ruthless assault on Rome’s cultural history and environmental health.




July 2016
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