Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

3,800-year-old wetland potato garden found in Canada

Friday, December 30th, 2016

Archaeologists have discovered a prehistoric garden with 3,800-year-old tubers still in situ near Vancouver, Canada. This is the first direct archaeological evidence that the Holocene hunter-gatherers of the northwest coast cultivated plants as well as hunting and gathering it. The site, discovered during road work, was low-lying wetland 6,000 years ago. The anaerobic soil preserved the remains of an astonishing 3,768 wild wapato tubers (Sagittaria latifolia), also known as Indian potatoes.

Wapato tubers were a dietary staple among the indigenous people of the Fraser and Columbia rivers — the garden site is in what is now the Katzie First Nation territory — and were recorded by early ethnographers. Harvested between October and February, the tubers provided much-needed sustenance during the coldest of the winter months when supplies were scarce. The newly discovered ones long predate any such records, of course, and even the waterlogged soil couldn’t keep them in eating condition for close to 4,000 years. They’re black and brown now, although some the starchy interiors of some of the roots have survived.

Adjacent to the wetland garden is a dry site on a sandy ridge that contains the remains of two rectangular dwellings dating to the Middle Component (5,300–4,250 years before the present) and a fire pit that was so actively used during the Middle and Late Component (4,100–3,200 B.P.) that archaeologists unearthed more than 12 metric tons of fire-altered rock (FAR). Late Component artifacts were also found at the dry site, including more than 90,000 stone beads.

The tubers were wild plants, not domesticated, and wapato plants can grow deep underground all on their own. It’s an assemblage of rocks that makes it clear that this site wasn’t just a very prolific wild potato patch, but a cultivated wetland garden ingeniously customized by the indigenous people of the area to enhance harvest yields. The key evidence of cultivation is the rock pavement which is too uniform and densely packed to have been the result of natural processes like water carrying small stones to the lowest lying land. Archaeologists also found fragments of 150 fire-hardened wood tools, some still embedded in the rock pavement, used to harvest the tubers en masse.

The rock pavement controlled the depth to which the wapato rhizomes could penetrate, allowing harvesters to more easily locate and release the tubers from the mucky substrate. The context, breakage pattern, and direct association with the rock pavement suggest that the wooden tips are the distal ends of digging sticks. Their stratigraphic provenience and orientation imply that wapato harvest involved pushing or thrusting digging sticks into the pavement, where a prying or rocking motion was used to break the wapato tubers free from the mat of rhizomes and muddy substrates. Once released, the tubers would float to the water’s surface. When thrust through the pavement or caught between the pavement stones, some of the digging sticks broke and the tips of the fractured sticks were left in situ or discarded in the adjacent midden area.

The rock pavement in the garden is made of mixture of fire-altered rock and cobbles. It’s likely that the FAR were first used in the large hearth pit on the dry site and then recycled after they’d been shrunk by fire to too small a size for use in roasting. This was nothing if not an efficient system. Radiocarbon analysis of the fire-hardened wood found at the wetland garden indicate it was in use 3,800 years ago. By 3,200 years ago, it had been abandoned, thousands of tubers left in their watery garden for archaeologists to find.

You can read the full report on the site published in the journal Science Advances here.

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Calvatone Victory rediscovered at the Hermitage

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

An ancient Roman bronze statue lost since World War II has been rediscovered at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. The gilded bronze statue of Nike, goddess of Victory, was created in the second century A.D. to commemorate the victory of co-emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus against the Parthians in the war of 161-166.

The Victory was found in four pieces: the body, torso, right hand and the sphere. The head was discovered first, churned up in February 1836 by farmers working the fields of a private estate near the town of Calvatone outside Cremona in Lombardy, northern Italy. The estate’s owner, Luigi Alovisi, was fascinated by the golden head and had people keep looking for more parts. On March 14th, 1836, they found the body, missing the left arm and leg, and a sphere with both of her dainty feet perched upon it. The inscription on the sphere — VICTORIAE AVG. / ANTONINI ET VERI / M. SATRIUS MAIOR — identified its age and that it was dedicated by local dignitary Marcus Satrius Maior to the emperors.

Italian restorers put the existing pieces back together, revealing a statue 170 cm (5’7″) in height. Even though it was incomplete, its size, quality and the elegant balancing of the winged Victory atop a sphere immediately classified it among the masterpieces of antiquity. Very few ancient bronzes survived melting down, and the Calvatone Victory not only managed to avoid the forge, it kept a large proportion of its gilding.

In December of 1841, Luigi Alovisi sold the Victory to King Frederick William IV of Prussia for 12,000 Austrian lire and a noble title. German restorers picked up where the Italian ones left off and all the statue’s missing parts — left arm, left leg, wings — were recreated and attached. Now complete, it became a favorite subject for artists to draw and sculptors to copy. A plaster cast of the sculpture was created in 1871 and another eight made after the turn of the century. Some of the copies are in museums in Berlin, Rome, Cremona and Moscow even today.

Up until 1939, the Calvatone Victory was on display in the Altes Museum in Berlin. Along with many other precious works, it was moved to the cellar of the new Royal Mint building for its protection when World War II broke out. It remained (relatively) safe there while its former home at the Altes Museum was destroyed by Allied bombs. It was in the chaotic aftermath of the Battle of Berlin in 1945 that the Victory disappeared, one of thousands of artifacts lost to looting by German Army deserters and Red Army troops.

Its whereabouts were unknown for the next 70 years. Recent research by Hermitage staff into declassified Soviet files and newly discovered documents found that the Victory was specifically targeted for removal from the mint cellar by a Russian expert in ancient art. The cellar had flooded in the waning days of the war, and the Calvatone Victory was one of many pieces stored there to suffer damage. Packed into one of 40,000 cases full of art, the Victory wasn’t assigned an inventory number. By the time it arrived at the Hermitage in 1946 and was entered into inventory there, its real identity was lost and it was mistakenly assessed to be a 17th century French sculpture.

The statue is not in great condition. The heavy gilded iron wings attached by the Berlin restorers in the 19th century fell off during its wartime service in the cellar, and there is evidence of damage from bombs and water.

Hermann Parzinger, the director of the SPK, and Michail Piotrowkij, the general director of the Hermitage, have agreed to collaborate on the sculpture’s restoration.

Parzinger thanked the Hermitage for its transparent handling of the research, and for a history of successful collaborations on exhibitions surrounding works displaced from German museums during World War II. “With the Victoria of Calvatone sculpture, our successful and mutually trusting scholarly collaboration has gained another milestone to mark.”

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Remains of 2000-year-old cats found in Denmark

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

Danish archaeologists have found the skeletal remains of three ancient housecats in Aalborg, northern Jutland. At 2,000 years old, they are by far the oldest domesticated cat remains ever discovered in Denmark. The cat bones were found during an archaeological survey before construction of a new university hospital in Aalborg East. The bones of two of the three cats could be dated from their archaeological context to the 1st century. They will be radiocarbon dated to confirm their age.

The settlement was located on the foreland at the narrowest point on the Limfjord, an area which today is considered a marginal area for agriculture. During the Iron Age it was rich pasture land, however, and the settlement took advantage of the excellent grazing to raise livestock. The remains of longhouses from that period have been found at the site, with rare surviving chalk floors and equally well-preserved animals bones, teeth and other zooarchaeological material.

Excavations took place in 2014-2015, but they found so many different kinds of animal bones that scientific analysis identifying them were only completed this year. Most of the bones came from sheep and/or goats, cattle, horses, livestock that would have been raised, slaughtered and eaten in the settlement. A large number of fish bones attest to the sea-side settlment’s use of marine resources. No remains of game were found, suggesting hunting was not a major source of food for the Iron Age residents.

There are comparable animal remains at other settlements on the fjord, but the cats are unique. The Limfjord was an important thoroughfare during the Iron Age. Trade networks moved weapons, luxury goods and exotic animals from the south and west of Europe to what is today Denmark. The cats almost certainly came from the Roman Empire.

A genetic study reported in the journal Nature this September suggested that cats, all of ancient Egyptian lineage, spread over Europe in waves, reaching northern Europe by making themselves useful to the seafarers of the Viking era.

Cat populations seem to have grown in two waves, the authors found. Middle Eastern wild cats with a particular mitochondrial lineage expanded with early farming communities to the eastern Mediterranean. Geigl suggests that grain stockpiles associated with these early farming communities attracted rodents, which in turn drew wild cats. After seeing the benefit of having cats around, humans might have begun to tame these cats.

Thousands of years later, cats descended from those in Egypt spread rapidly around Eurasia and Africa. A mitochondrial lineage common in Egyptian cat mummies from the end of the fourth century bc to the fourth century ad was also carried by cats in Bulgaria, Turkey and sub-Saharan Africa from around the same time. Sea-faring people probably kept cats to keep rodents in check, says Geigl, whose team also found cat remains with this maternal DNA lineage at a Viking site dating to between the eighth and eleventh century ad in northern Germany.

The discovery of the three cat skeletons in an Iron Age settlement on North Jutland poses a challenge to that view. Of course, the scenarios are not mutually exclusive. It’s entirely possible cats were introduced to the fjord via trade with Rome, direct or otherwise, but didn’t establish themselves until a thousand years later.

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Ancient tomb with vibrant frescoes found in Jordan

Monday, December 26th, 2016

Workers expanding a waste-water sanitation system in the village of Beit Ras in northern Jordan have unearthed a Roman or Byzantine-era tomb decorated with vibrantly colored frescoes. In rich reds, greens, yellows and pinks, the oil frescoes depict people and their animals in daily life, agricultural workers, grape vines and scenes from mythology. There are Greek inscriptions above the While some areas are eroded, on the whole the art is remarkably well-preserved and provides a unique insight into the funerary rituals of the city of Capitolias in late antiquity.

The tomb includes a cave with two burial chambers. The larger chamber contains a basalt stone rock-cut tomb decorated with raised etchings of two lion heads and with several human bones enclosed. [...]

The inscriptions and some artifacts found in the tomb are being analysed to give a more accurate time-frame of when this tomb was built and who it was built for. [...]

Her Excellency Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Ms. Lina Annab, following a visit to the site, confirmed that the Department of Antiquities will continue to excavate, expand and prepare the site for future visitors. Her Excellency also confirmed that due to the tomb’s archaeological value, the site has been closed off to visitors and on-lookers to protect the archaeological integrity of the tomb as more tests are being run to ascertain more information about its significance.

The ancient city of Capitolias was founded in the 1st century A.D. under the reign of either Nerva or Trajan. The planned city, dedicated to and named after the god Jupiter Capitolinus, prospered. By the 2nd century it was encircled by a defensive wall and continued to grow in regional significance. It was one of the cities of the traditional Decapolis, a group of 10 cities that were centers of Greek and Roman culture in the Levant. Capitolias was populated through the Umayyad period in the 10th century, and there are records of Latin titulars assigned to the city as late as the 14th century.

The site wasn’t thoroughly excavated until the 1980s, and there were limitations on how much of the area could be explored without interfering with the modern village. Very few structures have been found — a smattering of the surface remains of the city walls, a marketplace, a colonnade, an aqueduct — but there’s little left of most of them. The largest single surviving ancient structure is the 2nd century Roman theater.

Other archaeological finds, large numbers of glass fragments from the 3rd-5th century which are evidence of a major secondary glass production industry in Capitolias, indicate Capitolias was economically prominent in the region well into the Byzantine era. The newly discovered tomb may fill in more blanks about this same period.

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Getty acquires beautiful, storied intaglio

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

I sometimes daydream about what it would be like to be the Getty with its wondrously Midas-like resources. Imagine going to an auction looking to buy an object estimated to sell for $10,000-15,000 and being able to walk out with it even though the final hammer price with buyer’s premium is $508,765. The J. Paul Getty Museum did just that with an exquisite 1st century A.D. Roman intaglio gemstone sold earlier this month at Sotheby’s London.

The gem—made of sard, a reddish-brown translucent quartz—is exquisitely engraved. The identity of the artist is uncertain, although the scholar Marie-Louis Vollenweider has suggested it is the work of Aulos, one of the finest engravers working in the circle of the imperial court of Emperor Augustus in the late first century B.C., who signed several other gems of related style. The beautiful gilt mount dates from the eighteenth century.

“The gem’s superb quality, impressive size, and excellent condition will enhance our holdings of engraved gems, one of the strengths of the Museum’s antiquities collection,” said Timothy Potts, director of the Getty Museum. “It will go on view in the Villa’s reinstalled galleries alongside other engraved gems, including our amethyst Apollo attributed to the engraver Solon and the engraved gem of the head of Demosthenes signed by Apelles.”

The figures have been identified as pretty much every couple in Greco-Roman mythology at various times — Paris and Oenone, Phaon and Sappho, a muse and comic poet. The Getty is leaning towards Aphrodite and her handsome lover Adonis. Sotheby’s stayed on the safe side describing it simply as a “Standing youth conversing with a seated maiden.”

This piece has an illustrious and adventurous history, which at least in part explains the crazy price. Its first documented owner was Pierre-Jean Mariette, an 18th century Parisian art dealer who wrote the first modern sale catalogue. From Mariette it passed into the fabled collection of cameos and intaglios assembled by Charles Spencer, 3rd Duke of Marlborough, and his son, also named Charles, who enlarged the collection. One of the George Spencers, it’s not known which one, bought this particular intaglio. The collection of engraved gems and cameos was so important that the 4th Duke of Marlborough gave them pride of place in a monumental family portrait by Joshua Reynolds on display in the Red Drawing Room of Blenheim Palace. The Duke holds a large cameo in his hand, while his son, standing to his left, carries a red morocco leather case under his arm, one of ten such cases that held the gem collection.

The Marlborough Gems remained in the Spencer-Churchill family until 1875 when money troubles compelled the 7th Duke to sell the entire collection, more than 800 pieces, to wealthy colliery owner David Bromilow. After his death, Bromilow’s daughter Julia Harriet Mary Jary sold the collection piecemeal at a Christie’s auction in 1899. The great collection was dispersed so widely that scholars are still trying to track down more than 500 of the pieces.

This one could so easily have disappeared too, but its ownership history is remarkably well preserved. It was acquired by Frankfurt industrialist and art collector Friedrich von Gans. He died in 1920 and by that time the intaglio was in The Hague in the newly established art gallery of Kurt Walter Bachstitz, a Jewish German-Austrian dealer. Bachstitz’s business was very successful, with offices in New York and Berlin. He and his wife moved from Germany to The Hague in 1938 fleeing Nazi persecution.

It wasn’t a long reprieve. Come the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, Bachstitz was quickly targeted by Hans Posse, director of the Sondernauftrag Linz, the organization in charge of stealing/coercing art and antiquities for Hitler’s Barbie Dreamhouse museum in Linz. Posse bought the intaglio in 1941 for far less than its market value. It was stashed in the salt mines of Altaussee, Austria, along with thousands of other priceless pieces including Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece. The intaglio was found there by the Monuments Men who, in accordance with Allied policy, returned it to the Netherlands Art Property Collection even though it was privately owned when the Nazis snatched it.

Kurt Walter Bachsitz petitioned the Dutch government for restitution of his property, but except for one painting Jan Steen, the government kept everything. Their position was that Bachsitz was well-connected (his Protestant wife’s brother was Hermann Göring’s art buyer) and was not subject to Nazi coercion in 1940-1, so all the stuff Posse bought at bargain-basement prices was just normal business. Bachsitz’s heirs are still fighting to find and reclaim his lost artworks today. The intaglio was restituted to his heirs this year and they put it on the auction block. The hammer price must have been a pleasant surprise for them.

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Rare ancient gold Odin amulet found on Lolland

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

A rare ancient gold amulet decorated with the face of Odin has been discovered in Magletving on the Danish island of Lolland. Local metal detectorist Carsten Helm and his two young sons, Lauritz (10) and Luke (12), were scanning a field when they unearthed a small gold disk about two centimeters (.8 inches) in diameter, a type of medallion known as a bracteate. It has a loop at the top for hanging from a chain and is bordered with gold thread. The Helms continued to scan the field and within 130 square meters (1400 square feet) discovered another gold pendant, three gold pieces probably broken off of a necklace and several chunks of silver, likely fragments of jewelry that could be broken into smaller weights and used as currency.

They reported their finds to the Museum Lolland-Falster. Museum experts tentatively dated the treasure to around the 6th century. That was a turbulent, dangerous time when people had good reason to bury their most precious belongings for their safety. There were also extreme weather events in the year 536 A.D., referred to in ancient sources as a gelid year without sun. Likely caused by a massive volcanic eruption or a meteor strike throwing up so much ash it darkened the skies, the year of darkness devastated crops and caused widespread famine, especially in the north. Such a calamity might inspire terrifying comparisons to the Norse myth of Ragnarök, the destruction of the world in which the sun turns black and the “Mighty Winter” descends. The treasure could have been an offering to the gods, perhaps even by a single person, to ask for their protection from marauders or the end of the world.

It’s the gold amulet that is the most exciting piece to archaeologist. On the front of the disk the large face of a man takes up most of the space. Beneath it is a horse and to the side is a left-facing swastika, believed to be a solar symbol in pre-Christian northern Europe. The face is identified as Odin’s because the iconography has been found on other bracteates accompanied by the runic phrase “The High One,” one of the nicknames for the Norse god of war and king of Asgard.

What makes it particularly compelling is that it is an extremely early depiction of a subject from Norse religion. It may be presenting Odin in his role as a shaman. The shaman’s soul journeys through the world of the spirits, represented by animals like birds, fish and horses. Odin’s face hovering over the horse could therefore be a representation of Odin’s soul traveling to the spirit world. Another possible interpretation is that this is Odin represented as a horse doctor. One of his magical attributes was the ability to heal sick horses. In more detailed scenes with this iconography, Odin touches the horse with his hand and foot, a laying on of limbs, as it were, to convey healing magic.

This kind of Odin amulet is rare, with a total of about 1,000 having been found in northern Europe and only two others on Lolland. The last such amulet found on Lolland was discovered in 1906.

The treasure is on display at the Maribo County Museum until December 20th. After that brief exhibition, the artifacts will be sent to the National Museum for further study and valuation as treasure trove. Once it is declared treasure trove, Carsten Helm and his sons will receive a finder’s fee that is at least the equivalent of the gold value.

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Previously unknown ancient city found in Greece

Monday, December 12th, 2016

A team of archaeologists from the University of Gothenburg and University of Bournemouth has discovered the ruins of a previously unknown ancient city near the village of Vlochós, about 200 miles north of Athens. A smattering of ancient remains were known to be on Strongilovoúni hill on the plains of Western Thessaly, but they were believed to belong to a small rural settlement. Fortifications, more than eight feet high in some places, are visible on the hill, as are the remains of towers and city gates. The new discoveries lower on the hill were obscured by layers of silt and sediment deposited by the river Enipeas.

This year archaeologists launched the first major systematic exploration of the hill, which has also been virtually ignored by scholarly research other than a few tangential descriptions of the archaeological remains. The Vlochós Archaeological Project (VLAP) is remedying this oversight starting with a non-invasive investigation of the site using technology like Network Real Time Kinematic GPS for precise measurements, drone photogrammetry and ground-penetrating radar.

During a mere two weeks in September, the VLAP team discovered that this supposedly sleepy backwater was actually a thriving polis.

“We found a town square and a street grid that indicate that we are dealing with quite a large city. The area inside the city wall measures over 40 hectares. We also found ancient pottery and coins that can help to date the city. Our oldest finds are from around 500 BC, but the city seems to have flourished mainly from the fourth to the third century BC before it was abandoned for some reason, maybe in connection with the Roman conquest of the area.”

[University of Gothenburg PhD student and fieldwork leader Robin] Rönnlund believes that the Swedish-Greek project can provide important clues as to what happened during this violent period in Greek history.

“Very little is known about ancient cities in the region, and many researchers have previously believed that western Thessaly was somewhat of a backwater during Antiquity. Our project therefore fills an important gap in the knowledge about the area and shows that a lot remains to be discovered in the Greek soil.”

The fortifications on the hill were built in the late Archaic to the Hellenistic periods (ca. 500-200 B.C.), but there is evidence of repairs done in the Late Roman/Early Byzantine eras, so if it was entirely abandoned for a stretch after the Roman conquest, it was reoccupied, or at least strengthened by the end of the Roman period.

The exploration of the site will continue next August during the second season of the project. Archaeologists hope a thorough ground-penetrating radar study will answer some of the questions about the development of the city.

Here is some picturesque drone footage of the remains on the hill taken from 1500 feet above ground level.

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Ancient necropolis found in Bordeaux city center

Sunday, December 11th, 2016

Archaeologists have discovered an exceptionally large and diverse ancient necropolis in the center of Bordeaux. The site, known as Castéja, hosted the first school for deaf girls in France (the main building built in 1862 is a historic monument). More recently it was the city’s central police station. The police station was closed in 2003 and in 2014 the property was sold to developers for an ambitious mixed incoming housing project. An archaeological survey was commissioned in advance of new construction.

So far around 40 graves containing the skeletal remains of about 300 people have been unearthed. Archaeologist and excavation director Xavier Perrot thinks the number of burials will increase as the excavation proceeds, perhaps even doubling. The burials begin in late antiquity (the 4th century) and continue through the early Middle Ages. There are a variety of tombs: ancient tile graves, amphora burials for babies, inhumations with traces of wooden coffins, brick-lined burial pits. Archaeologists also found two Merovingian-era sarcophagi and some very rare medieval coins.

The contents of the graves are unusually diverse for the period. Some are individual burials, while others contain multiple bodies piled on top of each other in a haphazard fashion. They appear to have been tossed in the grave hastily, which suggests they have been victims of mass violence, or more likely, of an epidemic. The Plague of Justinian, a pandemic that swept through the Byzantine Empire before spreading to the Mediterranean port cities and the rest of Europe in the mid-6th century, is a possible culprit. The remains will be subjected to a battery of laboratory tests to determine the dates of those burials and identify the epidemic, should there be one to identify.

Very few burial grounds this densely packed with remains are extant from antiquity. There are maybe three or four comparable sites in France and one in Bavaria, and none of those are as large as the Bordeaux find.

“This is an important operation. We see the evolution of the urban fabric and changes in burial arrangements with inhumations in the ground, in coffins, sarcophagi, a funerary space that evolves with a pit, multiple burials”, said Nathalie Fourment, regional curator of archeology at the regional Direction of Cultural Affairs (DRAC).

Excavations began early last month and were originally scheduled to end on January 20th, but because of the importance of the find, DRAC is negotiating an extension with property owner Gironde Habitat.

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Dutch return head of Julia Domna to Italy

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

The head of a statue of Roman Empress Julia Domna that almost wound up on the auction block in Amsterdam has been returned to Italy after the Carabinieri Art Squad determined it had been recently stolen. In May of 2015, a man and a woman attempted to sell statue head through Christie’s Amstersdam office. The appraisers and experts were immediately suspicious, as they well should have been, and Christie’s lawyer called the Art Squad.

The piece, one foot high and dating to the 2nd century A.D., wasn’t on the Art Squad’s list of stolen and looted artworks, but their experts were able to trace its origins to Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli, the imperial country retreat/enormous palace built by the Emperor Hadrian in second and third decades of the 2nd century. A number of Severan dynasty portrait busts were unearthed at the villa during excavations in the 1950s, evidence that it was used by the imperial family well into the 3rd century. It was last on display in 2012 at an exhibition held in the Museum of the Canopus. Someone apparently stole the head after that, possibly from storage.

The auction house cooperated with the investigation, suspending the sale so the Art Squad and the Dutch police could work together to research the head. In addition to confirming the true origin of the object, the joint investigation identified two Dutch citizens who were illegally in possession of the statue head. Armed with all the evidence, the police confiscated the portrait and returned it to representatives of the Carabinieri Art Squad. It will be kept with authorities in Rome while the legal case proceeds. When it’s all over, Julia Domna will go back to Hadrian’s Villa with all her family members.

Born in what is today Homs, Syria, to a wealthy family of senatorial rank, Julia Domna was the second wife of Septimius Severus (r. 193-211 A.D.). He chose her because she had been prophesied to marry a king, and Severus was a rising political and military star with ambitions for the imperial throne. They married in around 186 A.D. Their union was by all accounts a happy one. She was intelligent, highly educated, a patron of philosophers and politically astute. Severus relied on her counsel and very unusually for the time, took her with him on military campaigns.

Julia Domna bore him two sons, Caracalla and Geta, who hated each other bitterly. She tried to smooth things over between them and their father — Caracalla co-ruled with his father from 198 until his death — to ensure a smooth succession, never a simple thing at the best of times, and certainly not when a new dynasty was in play. When Severus died in Eboracum (modern-day York), he left the empire to both Caracalla and Geta. His last words to them, reported by Cassius Dio, “Be harmonious, enrich the soldiers, and scorn all other men.”

This was not advice the young men chose to follow to the letter. Caracalla had his brother killed by members of the Praetorian Guard before the year was out. He did follow his father’s dictum when it came to soldier pay, showering them with bonuses so generous that he soon had to debase the currency. It didn’t buy him security, though. In 217, he was killed by a disgruntled soldier egged on by the Praetorian Guard Prefect Macrinus, that same Macrinus who would just happened to become the next emperor.

During Caracalla’s six years of solo rule, his mother did all the grunt work of being emperor. Caracalla was on campaign most of the time, so it was Julia Domna who took on the onerous duties of administering a vast territory where every single legal dispute, no matter how picayune, was adjudicated by the emperor. The amount of paperwork the imperial administration had to deal with was staggering, hence the staff of thousands of slaves, freedmen, clerks, translators, etc. necessary to keep the wheels turning. Caracalla showed a mark disinterest in this aspect of the job, while his mother proved willing and able. After she heard of his assassination, Julia Domna committed suicide.

Her distinctive style, evident in her portraiture, and her great power and influence during the reings of her husband and son, make her busts among the most recognizable. The one, the only forensic hairdresser Janet Stephens covers Julia Domna’s styling in videos on her YouTube Channel.

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Roman-era pet cemetery found in Egypt

Monday, December 5th, 2016

Egypt is replete with animal burials. From crocodiles to baboons to falcons to dogs and cats, literally millions of mummified animals have been found in ancient Egyptian tomb complexes from the pre-Dynastic era through the Roman period. These were not companion animals, but sacred animals bred and raised for sacrifice, which is why they have been found in such industrial quantities. They were sold to pilgrims and buried as offerings in religious rituals.

An excavation in the ancient Red Sea port town of Berenike has unearthed a unique assemblage of animal burials that is not a religious deposit, but rather an actual pet cemetery. The burials have been excavated since 2011 under the direction of Steven Sidebotham in cooperation with the Polish Centre for Mediterranean Archaeology, Warsaw University. Almost 100 intact animal skeletons have been discovered since then on the outskirts of the Early Roman town. Artifacts discovered and the stratigraphy of the site date the pet cemetery to between the late 1st century the first half of the 2nd century A.D.

Berenike was in its heyday then. First founded by Ptolemy II Philadelphus (r. 283-246 B.C.) as a military outpost to protect the trade in African elephants from Ethiopia, by the Early Roman period in the 1st century, it was a key pivot in multiple trade routes connecting India, the Arabian Peninsula and Upper Egypt. The port in the Ptolemaic fort area bustled even harder under the Roman Empire, eventually becoming its own district with its own dedicated prefect.

When animal burials began at the site in the 1st century, the area was an undeveloped ground between the town and the Ptolemaic fort. It’s part of a large zone dubbed by archaeologists the “Early Roman trash dump.” The garbage proved helpful because the most recent burials had to be dug into the trash which dated them to the 2nd century.

The vast majority of the animals buried — 86 complete skeletons — were cats. Three of them were double burials and all of those double cat burials contained one adult and one juvenile feline. The next most popular burial subject was the dog, with nine skeletons unearthed. Monkeys — three grivets, one vervet monkey, one olive baboon — came third. Few grave goods have been found, although some of the animals were buried with accessories like iron collars found on three cats and a vervet monkey, and two cats found with an ostrich eggshell bead by their necks.

Study author Marta Osypińska writes in the journal Antiquity:

Most of the well-preserved, complete animal skeletons are free of any pathologies. Particular attention has been paid to any evidence for the intentional killing of the animals — a practice known from the Nile Valley animal mummies — but there is no indication of this in the Berenike assemblage.

On the basis of the type of burial, the absence of mummification, the diverse species list and the absence of human inhumations, it is suggested that the Berenike cemetery reflects different intentions and cultural practices compared to the Nile Valley animal deposits. In my opinion, the described features suggest that the Berenike finds should be interpreted as a cemetery of house pets rather than deposits related to sacred or magical rites.

Romans were known to be deeply bonded to their dogs. Tombstones dedicated to a beloved pup have been found all over the Empire. One of the dogs buried at Berenike burials, a young moolosser-type dog that is so much larger and more massive than the local dogs that it was probably imported from Rome or Greece, died of osteosarcoma, the earliest known example of the cancer in dogs. Its last meal was fish and goat meat. The owner placed its body in a basket and covered it with broken pottery to create a sort of homemade sarcophagus effect.

The tenderness and thoughtfulness evinced in these burials argues against the animals having been dumped on the trash heap, nor do they have the typical twisted necks of the animals killed for mummification and sacrifice.

Another specific feature of the Berenike cemetery is the very high percentage of cats. These animals were deeply respected throughout the pre-Roman periods, but such practices were never adopted by other societies. In Roman Europe, the cat initially became popular in the first century AD and its spread was aided by the Roman army (Toynbee 1973). Thus, could we suspect that the eclectic evidence (both Egyptian and Roman) from Berenike reflects the adoption of the cat as a pet in this multicultural community? Naturally, there are plenty of reasons for keeping cats in a port-town, but the general segregation of the kitten and adult inhumations suggests a more complex relationship than pragmatic coexistence.

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