Intact double-chambered Etruscan tomb opened in Vulci

An intact double-chambered Etruscan tomb has been opened at the Casale dell’Osteria necropolis in the Archaeological Park of Vulci, central Italy. It is approximately 2,600 years old and contains a rich collection of pottery, amphorae, utensils, cups and a bronze cauldron. The objects are all in excellent condition, including a tablecloth that was used in the Etruscan religious ritual of the “last meal,” a food offering burned inside the tomb before it was sealed.

The tomb, dubbed Tomb 58, was first discovered in April of this year, the same time when another richly furnished Etruscan tomb was opened, revealing the exceptionally rare remains of the final food offering, skewers still on the brazier. The entrance was blocked by multiple slabs of tufa which had to be excavated carefully, one at a time. It wasn’t opened until this month. On October 27th, archaeologists opened Tomb 58.

They found a large tomb with two chambers dug into the soft volcanic tufa. The first chamber contained four Etruscan transport amphorae for local wine. The second chamber contained amphorae and ceramics from eastern Greece, Ionia, Corinth and local production including black bucchero pottery. Archaeologists believe the two amphorae in Chamber B came from the island of Chios, the most prized wine in the Greco-Roman world. A tripod bowl and iron objects were also found in Chamber B.

Also very important is the architectural layout, which “Appears to be characterized by a septum spared in the rock that creates an archway between the dromos, that is, the short corridor with steps, and the vestibule, from which there was access to the two chambers, the front and the left: the one, usual, on the right is missing, evidently because the space had already been occupied by other tombs.”

Simona Carosi, archaeologist in charge of the Archaeological and Nature Park, emphasizes how this find “gives us back in an unusual way the actual funerary banquet, as the Etruscans had laid it centuries and centuries ago.”

Coin hoard linked to massacre found in Scotland

A hoard of coins that may have been cached by clan chief Alasdair Ruadh ‘Maclain’ MacDonald just before he was killed in the Glencoe Massacre in 1692 has been discovered under the fireplace at “the summerhouse of Maclain” site in Glencoe.

The summerhouse was believed to have been a hunting lodge or feasting hall used by Maclain during his five decades as clan chief. The University of Glasgow excavated the site this August. Archaeology student Lucy Ankers found the hoard underneath the remains of the grand stone fireplace. It was a ceramic pot containing silver and bronze coins dating from the late 16th century to the 1680s. Most of them were minted by British rulers (Elizabeth I, James VI of Scotland/James I of Britain, Charles I, the Commonwealth, Charles II), but there was also a bronze coin of Philip IV of Spain, a brass coin of Louis XIII of France and a rare quattrino of Pope Clement VIII.

The dating of the coins strongly suggests they were buried at the time of the massacre. Maclain was known to have traveled internationally and could have picked up coins in the Papal States, Spain, France and the Spanish Netherlands.

Maclain was the chief of the Glencoe MacDonalds, a clan loyal to the former King James VII of Scotland and II of England, deposed by William III in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The Jacobite clans in the Highlands rose against William III in 1689 and were defeated. The king demanded they take an oath of allegiance to him by January 1st, 1692, or else be declared traitors. The MacDonalds waited for permission from James before taking the oath and while they did swear allegiance to the new king, by the time they did so it was January 6th and Secretary of State Lord Stair took the opportunity to make a bloody example of the Glencoe MacDonalds.

On February 13th, 1692, troops under the command of Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon (the Campbell clan and the MacDonalds had a long-standing feud) descended upon Glencoe with orders to kill anyone under the age of 70. MacLain was the first to be killed. Then dozens more men, women and children were put the sword. Estimates vary from 30 to more than 80 dead.

The shocking brutality was subject to international condemnation and a Scottish Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry was formed to investigate the massacre as a “murder under trust,” ie, killing in cold blood after a surrender had been arranged or hospitality accepted. Nothing happened to anyone involved in the slaughter as a consequence of the inquiry.

Historians believe whoever buried the coins may have been killed during the massacre, since they did not return for them.

Other finds from the structure included musket and fowling shot, a gun flint and a powder measure, as well as pottery from England, Germany and the Netherlands and the remains of a grand slab floor.

Historians speculated the coins may have been buried two weeks later – on the morning of the massacre. Survivors ran up a side glen during a blizzard, and may have encountered the property.

Dr Michael Given, the co-director of the University of Glasgow’s archaeological project in Glencoe, said: “These exciting finds give us a rare glimpse of a single, dramatic event. Here’s what seems an ordinary rural house, but it has a grand fireplace, impressive floor slabs, and exotic pottery imported from the Netherlands and Germany.

Bronze Age “charioteer’s belt” found in Siberian tomb

A rescue archaeology excavation at the site of railroad expansion in the Askizsky region of Khakassia in Siberia has unearthed the grave of a Late Bronze Age man buried wearing a “charioteer’s belt,” a flat bronze plate with two curved hooks at the end reminiscent of a yoke used to harness draft animals. This device is believed to have been used by charioteers to tie their reins to their waists so their hands were free for combat.

The tomb is dated to between the 11th and the 8th century B.C., a time when the Lugav culture was dominant in the area. The site under excavation contains material remains of a cemetery as well as a settlement from this period, and the Lugav barrows in the cemetery can be grouped into three stages — the transition to the Lugav culture, the Lugav middle stage and the late stage, when characteristics from the next culture (Tagar) appear mingled with the Lugav features. The charioteer’s tomb is from the middle stage.

It is a square masonry tomb with an earthen mound built on top of it. The deceased was buried with a bronze knife, bronze jewelry, including a necklace with rectangular pendants typical of Lugav culture, and the belt.

Aleksey Timoshchenko, an archaeologist at the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Live Science in an email that the object was found in its original placement at the waist of the person in the undisturbed grave.

“This fact, along with direct analogies in burial mounds of China, allows us to determine their purpose a little more confidently,” he said.

No chariot remains have been found in Siberian burials from this era, and for years the hooked bronze belt was classified by Russian archaeologists as an unknown object. Its use was identified by comparison with artifacts found in Chinese chariot burials and bronzes from the Zhou Dynasty (11th-3rd century B.C.).

Late Roman, early Saxon cemetery found in Leeds

An ancient cemetery that contains burials of both late Roman and early Saxon funerary traditions has been discovered in the town of Garforth, near Leeds. The excavation has unearthed the remains of more than 60 men, women and children from the significant transitional period between the end of Roman rule in 406 A.D. and the formation of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in the 6th-8th centuries.

There’s a clear distinction between the Roman graves, which were aligned east-west and the Saxon ones, aligned north-south. The Saxon burials contain typical grave goods like weapons and pottery that are different from the funerary offerings typical of the Roman burials. There are also a few burials that appear to indicate early Christian beliefs.

The most notable find was a lead coffin from the late Roman period. It contained the skeletal remains of an adult woman. Lead coffins were expensive, both in raw materials (large sheets of lead) and the expertise to craft them, so she must have been a member of the elite.

The cemetery was discovered last year, but was kept under wraps to give archaeologists the chance to excavate the site secure from would-be looters. An archaeological investigation was triggered before development of the site due to the proximity of late Roman stone buildings and early Anglo-Saxon structures. Some ancient remains were expected to be found, but the discovery of a large cemetery from such a historically significant transitional period came as a happy surprise.

After the retreat of Roman forces from Britain, what is now West Yorkshire was part of the Kingdom of Elmet, a British kingdom rather than an Anglo-Saxon one. Even bounded by Anglian kingdoms to the north and south, Elmet was unusually long-lived for a Brittonic kingdom, extending well into the 7th century when it was finally annexed by the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. This is the first Anglo-Saxon cemetery ever discovered in West Yorkshire.

David Hunter, principle archaeologist with West Yorkshire Joint Services, said: “This has the potential to be a find of massive significance for what we understand about the development of ancient Britain and Yorkshire.

“The presence of two communities using the same burial site is highly unusual and whether their use of this graveyard overlapped or not will determine just how significant the find is. When seen together the burials indicate the complexity and precariousness of life during what was a dynamic period in Yorkshire’s history.

“The lead coffin itself is extremely rare, so this has been a truly extraordinary dig.”

The excavation is now complete, and researchers will now focus on analysis of the skeletal remains. Bones will be radiocarbon dated to establish the timeline of the burials. Stable isotope analysis will also be performed to determine the geographic origins of the deceased. About half of the burials were younger than adult age, and there were several double burials, so researchers will be looking for evidence of disease as well.

Unusual Roman cremation burial magically sealed with bent nails

A 2nd century cremation burial in the ancient mountain-top city of Sagalassos, southwestern Turkey, contained a never-before-seen combination of deliberately bent nails, covering tiles and a layer of lime. These features, found individually in other burials in the ancient Mediterranean, collectively suggest the use of magic to keep the deceased from interfering with the living.

Founded in the late 5th century B.C. when the region was part of the Achaemenid Empire, by the 2nd century B.C., Sagalassos was an urban center of the Hellenistic Attalid Kingdom that was bequeathed to the Roman Republic with the death of King Attalos III in 133 B.C. Augustus incorporated it into the Roman province of Galatia in 25 B.C., and the city thrived in the Roman Imperial era. Major public buildings, city squares and streets were constructed and a new pottery industry mass-producing what became known as Sagalassos Red Slip Ware prospered, transforming Sagalassos into the pre-eminent city of the region. Under Hadrian the city saw another boom of public construction. The library, nymphaeum, Temple of Apollo and the enormous baths were built starting under Hadrian. The baths were completed and the theater built under Marcus Aurelius.

The city declined in importance in late antiquity, but continued to produce its eponymous pottery into the 7th century A.D. when it was severely damaged by an earthquake. It was much reduced in population after that and became largely agrarian until it was finally abandoned altogether in the 13th century when its fortress was destroyed by the Seljuk sultanate. Many of its remains were left undisturbed in subsequent centuries, and the Catholic University of Leuven has been systematically excavating the site since 1990.

In 2010, KU Leuven’s Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project embarked on a new exploration of the northeastern periphery of the city. The area was originally dedicated to agricultural terracing, but as the city expanded in the Hellenistic period, it began to be used for funerary purposes. The excavation ultimately uncovered inhumation and cremation burials dating from the late Hellenistic (c. 150–25 B.C.) continuously through the Late Roman (c. 300–450/475 A.D.) period.

The unusual cremation burial was in situ, the human remains burned on a pyre and then buried. The distribution of the charred bone remains indicate they were not collected or moved, which is atypical for 2nd century cremations.

Usually the cremated bones were moved into a cinerary urn before burial. Instead, here the pyre was covered with 24 flat bricks arranged in four rows. The undersides of the tiles were discolored from the heat, meaning they were placed on top of the pyre while the embers were still smoldering. The bricks were then covered with a thick layer of solidified lime, not the thin, temporary layer typically used to cover the cinerary remains before they were recovered for burial. This lime layer over the bricks permanently sealed in the cremated remains as much as a solid coffin or tomb would have.

Grave goods found include a 2nd century coin, a few small ceramic vessels dating to the 1st century, two blown glass vessels and a hinged object. Stratigraphy indicates they were buried in the first half of the 2nd century A.D., a time when these types of artifacts were common in burials.

Not at all common are 41 broken and bent nails found along the edges of the burn area. Twenty-five of the nails were bent deliberately at a 90° angle and the heads twisted off. Sixteen were deliberately bent or twisted but still complete with their heads. They could not have been used for a practical purpose (for example, in the construction of the pyre) and their distribution around the pyre’s perimeter points to them having been placed.

“The burial was closed off with not one, not two, but three different ways that can be understood as attempts to shield the living from the dead — or the other way around,” study first author Johan Claeys(opens in new tab), an archaeologist at Catholic University Leuven (KU Leuven) in Belgium, told Live Science in an email. Although each of these practices is known from Roman-era cemeteries — cremation in place, coverings of tiles or plaster, and the occasional bent nail — the combination of the three has not been seen before and implies a fear of the “restless dead,” he said. […]

Claeys thinks that the man in this strange cremation grave was likely buried by his next of kin in a ceremony that would have taken days to prepare and carry out. The set of beliefs that encouraged people at Sagalassos to bury this man in an unconventional way are best understood as a form of magic(opens in new tab), or an act intended to have specific effects because of a supernatural connection. It is possible that his odd burial was made to counteract an unusual or unnatural death; however, the researchers found no evidence of trauma or disease on the bones. Unfortunately, even though the “magic cremation” overlaps in time with other graves, Claeys said that “it cannot be established with certainty whether or not any family members were buried nearby,” as DNA is usually destroyed by high temperatures in ancient cremations.

“Regardless of whether the cause of [the man’s] death was traumatic, mysterious or potentially the result of a contagious illness or punishment,” the researchers concluded in the study, it appears to have left “the living fearful of the deceased’s return.”

The burial findings have been published in the journal Antiquity and can be read here.