Lincoln Imp drain found under toilet trap door

As if the fact that Tracy and Rory Vorster found a hidden trap door on a ledge above their toilet in their home in Lincoln weren’t cool enough, when they opened it, they found a slab of stone carved with a grotesque face bearing a striking resemblance to local icon, the Lincoln Imp. A hole in the open mouth suggested it had been a drain of some sort, or perhaps a urinal. When it was examined by an expert at the Lincoln Civic Trust, the initial impression was confirmed: it was a drain from the middle or late 14th century.

[The couple] said the discovery is an example of why Lincoln is “amazing”, adding they are “proud” of their house’s history.

Mrs Vorster said: “You look at the outside of the house and that is historical enough but to now find something inside is amazing.”

Mr Vorster added: “The whole of the house has kind of a hollow walling, so we immediately thought there could be more. In fact, we’re almost certain now.

“The previous occupant had been here for over 20 years, so surely they knew. But we had absolutely no clue it was there.”

The Lincoln Imp is a carved stone grotesque with cow ears, cow horns, taloned hands, a hirsute body with crossed legs perched atop a pillar overlooking the Angel Choir of Lincoln Cathedral. Probably carved in the 13th century, the imp soon became the popular favorite of the cathedral’s grotesques. Legends rose around the charismatic little devil. In one account, he and an imp friend were sent by Satan to wreak havoc in northern England. They were breaking furniture, smashing stained glass and bullying the Bishop in Lincoln Cathedral when an angel rose from a hymn book and turned the most defiant, rowdiest imp to stone.

Today the Lincoln Imp is the mascot of the city. The city soccer team is nicknamed “The Imps” and feature the Imp on their logo. Copies of the Imp are found all over the city, and it even reached Oxford University where a reproduction of the Imp was mounted to the wall of the Front Quad of Lincoln College.

The Vorsters’ house is on Vicar’s Court, a building founded by the college of priests in the 13th century in the Minster Yard just south of the cathedral. Part of it was demolished in the English Civil War, but among the remains today are a select group of rental homes owned by Lincoln Cathedral. A survey of the historic homes in Lincoln published in 1987 records “grotesque mask which forms the drain” in a Vicar’s Court house.

Ancient agora of Abakainon found in Sicily

The remains of an imposing Greco-Roman era public structure have been unearthed in the small village of Tripi, in the Messina area of northeast Sicily. The stone block construction and a terrace identify the structure as the stoa, the open passage between colonnades that overlooked the agora, the political and commercial center of the Greek city. This discovery is key evidence confirming that modern-day Tripi was the location of the ancient city of Abakainon (Abacaenum to the Romans).

Unlike many other cities in Magna Graecia (the regions of southern Italy colonized and influenced by Greek settlers), Abakainon was not founded by colonists from Greece. It was part of the Greek sphere of influence, but it was a city of the Siculi, the local tribe of eastern Sicily and the island’s namesake. The date of its founding is unknown, but may go back as far as 1100 B.C. Ancient sources and numismatic evidence record the city as a thriving concern by the 5th century B.C. It was an important city, rich in agriculture and trade, and controlled a large territory from the Tyrrhenian Sea to the foothills of Mount Etna. It minted its own coins and was allied to Carthage in the First Punic War, putting it in the crosshairs of Rome.

Its alliance with Carthage and later its submission to Rome led to its destruction and subsequent disappearance. This was the accepted narrative until recent times. However, the discovery of coins during recent excavations seems to challenge this established story. Since the second half of the last century, there had been credible speculation about the true location of Abakainon in the territory of Tripi and its actual size. Excavation campaigns promoted by the current municipal administration have now unequivocally confirmed the presence of an ancient city of significant size and wealth, shedding new light on the history of this site.

Tripi has a population of just 750 today, and the mayor is leaning heavily into its glorious ancient history as a means to stimulate tourist interest and a revival of population and business.

In Tripi, every corner of the village evokes the ancient grandeur of Abakainon, from the triumphal entrance surrounded by ceramics and fountains, to the bar in the heart of the old town, a community meeting point, to the traditional summer symposium. The castle, a witness to past eras and legends, offers spectacular views of the Aeolian Islands, while the urban architecture scattered throughout the hamlets of Casale, San Cono and Campogrande recalls the ancient layout of the town. Monumental necropolises from the late Classical and Hellenistic periods, such as that of Contrada Cardusa, testify to Abakainon’s prosperity and flourishing past. Here, early excavations uncovered gold jewelry and fine ornaments, evidence of the wealth and taste of the ancient inhabitants. The museum, currently being refunctionalized, preserves these artifacts, transforming itself into a kind of thousand-year-old jewelry store.

Today, with the holding of the referendum to change the town’s name to Tripi-Abakainon, the village also wants to definitively revive its social, economic and cultural development, thus sealing its rediscovered identity.

Colossal telamon stands again in Agrigento

A colossal telamon (an architectural support shaped like a man, also called atlas or atlantid) that once held up the entablature of the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Agrigento, Sicily, stands again. One of only two almost complete remaining telamons of nearly 40 that had supported the 5th century B.C. Doric temple, this statue is the only one to be reinstalled in its original location. The other survivor looms large inside the Regional Archaeological Museum of Agrigento.

Construction of the Temple of Zeus began around 480 B.C. after the allied Greek colonies of Sicily defeated Carthage. Agrigento deployed thousands of enslaved Carthaginian prisoners on massive public works projects, the Temple of Zeus first and foremost. Construction came to an end when the city was conquered by Hiero I of Syracuse around 472 B.C. The temple was never completed, but even with the roof unfinished, it was the largest Doric temple ever built.

The structure was damaged when Carthage besieged the city in 406 B.C. and sacked it after their victory. Earthquakes took their toll too, and in the 18th century the sandstone blocks, unusually small for such a monumental building, were plundered to build the pier of Porto Empedocle.

Only a few walls, scattered stones and column capitals survive today at the temple site. In 2004, a team from the German Archaeological Institute of Rome undertook an extensive cataloging project to record every single element of the temple still in situ. More than 90 stones were identified as parts of at least eight telamons. One telamon had about two thirds of its original stone elements found among the grouping. Those stones were used to reconstruct the telamon.

Architects designed a 40-foot steel structure with shelves on which the stones are placed. There are only small gaps between the blocks so this is an ingenious solution to display the colossus in vertical position with a roof over his bent arms just as he would have been when the temple was still standing.

This is a video of the unveiling to give you a sense of its great scale.

Temple of Zeus horse frieze raised from seabed off Sicily

A large marble relief believed to have been part of the frieze of the Temple of Zeus in Agrigento, Sicily, has been recovered from the seabed off the coast of the resort town of San Leone two miles south of Agrigento’s famous Valley of the Temples. The relief features a rampant horse, an iconographic representation associated with Zeus whose chariot was drawn by the Four Winds in the form of horses. Its dimensions and composition suggest it was a detail from the timpanum, the relief over the front entrance to the temple.

The Temple of Zeus was erected by the tyrant Theron, ruler of the Greek colony of Acragas (now known as Agrigento) and a large part of Western Sicily from 488 B.C. to 473 B.C. He built the temple after his victory in the Battle of Himera in 480 B.C. Ancient sources note that the timpanum pediment had a pair of prancing horses.

The relief fragment is made of a massive block of Proconnesian marble and is 6.5 feet by 5.2 feet and more than one foot thick. It lay at a depth of 30 feet and had previously been documented as an underwater archaeological artifact, but it had never been closely observed and the record described it as an unfeatured basin. In October 2022, divers explored the object, photographing it extensively and creating a highly detailed 3D photogrammetry composite image. The photographs captured the real significance of the piece, revealing the carving of the horses.

Relief recovered from the seabed. Photo courtesy BCsicilia.Sicily’s Superintendency of the Sea ordered the piece be recovered so that the thick layers of concretions could be cleaned off and its details uncovered. It took three attempts to successfully recover the heavy relief. (Turbulence in the sea foiled the first two attempts.)

19th c. pearl shells unearthed in French Polynesia

An archaeological team from the University of Sydney has discovered pearl shells connected to the French colonization of Polynesia in the 19th century. The three complete pearl shells were found under an iron axe head at the site of missionary school on Aukena, one of the Îles Gambier of French Polynesia. The intact shells are evidence of how the missionaries trained schoolboys to process saltwater oysters for export.

In collaboration with members of the local cultural association Te Ana Pouga Magareva, the team excavated priests houses and a boy’s school associated with missionary churches on the islands of Aukena and Akamaru. At six different sites excavated in October and November 2023, the team unearthed more than 1,500 objects from daily use items — plates, bowls — to consumables — medications, alcohol — and remains from meals of fish, bird and shellfish.

The richest trove of finds came from the priests’ house at the Church of Notre Dame de la Païx at Akamaru. Hundreds of fragments of glass were recovered at the site, equating to dozens of bottles of gin, champagne and wine, as well as perfume and medicine imported from France, Britain, and the Netherlands.

Another distinctive find was hundreds of complete and fragmented pearl shells (from the Pinctada genus), which were cultivated to be worked into objects like buttons and decorative inlay, offering a glimpse into the island’s former pearl shell industry. […]

Traditionally, in French Polynesia, pearl shells were used for fishing lures, tattooing needles, pendants and figurines. By the 1840s, they were harvested en masse and exported around the world. The missionary endeavour in Mangareva was supported by Polynesian people cultivating and preparing thousands of tonnes of the valuable shells.

The iron axe and oyster shells found at the boys’ school on Aukena indicate the children in the school were being trained not just to make saleable finished pearl shell goods for export, but to farm the oysters, raise them to useable size, harvest and process them.

Excavations at Akamaru, Aukena and Mangareva will continue next year.