Archive for the ‘Treasures’ Category

Mushroom picker finds Bronze Age helmets

Wednesday, September 19th, 2018

A forager gathering mushrooms near the village of Trhovište in the Kosice Region of eastern Slovakia last year found a Bronze Age deposit so rare that even that distinguished archaeological treasure hound Monty couldn’t help but be impressed: two Bronze Age helmets plus accessories. The helmets, discovered stuck to each by thousands of years of corrosion, were buried with a matched pair of cheek protectors and two spiral arm guards.

The objects are made of bronze and based on the style are around 3,200 years old. The helmets were constructed from two sheets of bronze fashioned into curved plates slightly flattened on the top of the head. The plates are joined down the middle of the head by a central trident crest that has a hole through which a plume could be threaded. The sides are decorated with concentric circles, a shape also seen on the cheek pads. There are also holes on the bottom side through which the cheek pads were attached.

The finder, who wishes to remain anonymous, brought the helmets and associated gear to the Eastern Slovakia Museum in Košice this January. The museum reported the discover to the regional authorities. Museum archaeologist Dárius Gašaj and a regional heritage official searched the find site for any information the context could provide and any other artifacts that may have still been there. The pieces had been buried together at one time in a single hole. There were no other objects found.

Bronze Age helmets are rare in Europe and vanishingly so in Slovakia. Only three examples in this style of manufacture are known, all of them discovered in the Eastern Alps significantly to the west of Slovakia. Archaeologists believe they may have been made in a workshop in the northern Apennines and then wound their way through the Alpine passes eventually reaching the Carpathian basin. The spiral arm guards were likely produced locally. They are of a type that has been found before in Slovakia.

The armature will be studied and conserved further by experts at the Eastern Slovakia Museum where it has made its public debut as part of a display on ancient armour.

The origin of the helmets from Trhovište remains unclear. They were probably traded objects imported for the highest society elite – military chiefs. The helmets were used and repaired. They were more a symbol of the status of the bearer, a symbol of his position and power than protective equipment.

The display also includes the back part of some plate armour plate that was found long ago in Čierna nad Tisou and also some fragments discovered in Šarišské Michaľany.

Similar helmets have been found in Lúčky, Spišská Belá and Žaškov but they were made only from one sheet of bronze. They originated between the 12th and 10th century BC.

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Very good boy discovers Bronze Age hoard

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018

Very good boy Monty was enjoying the many sights and scents of the Orlické mountains on a walk with his owner near the northern Bohemian village of Kostelecké Horky this March when something caught his nose. He began digging frenetically to get to it. Monty’s owner, Mr. Frankona, watched as the pup unearthed a sickle-shaped artifact. By the time the two of them were done, they had picked up 13 bronze sickles, three axes, two spear points and several bracelets.

Frankona handed them in to the Museum and Gallery of Orlické Mountains in the nearby town of Rychnov. Experts examined the group and determined the objects are more than 3,000 years old. Made of bronze, they are in excellent condition despite their advanced age. They are intact with no damage from extensive use or from the millennia spent underground.

“In addition to its professional value, the discovery has a high aesthetic value. It is a find of whole tools and jewels, it is beautiful and there are several stories behind it. Most likely, it is a sacrifice and leads us into a world that is only rarely opened on the basis of material finds. The other level of his knowledge is indicative of intense contacts and acceptance of patterns from southern neighbors – there is a habit of storing all objects. Equally important is the evidence of technological excellence and aesthetic feelings of local craftsmen, ” explains Martina Bekova, archeologist at the Museum and Gallery of the Orlické Mountains.

In the vicinity of the find, archaeologists carried out another survey using a metal detector. The discovery is really unique. The surrounding terrain has been greatly changed in the past, and it can not be ruled out that something has already been destroyed or that the layers still conceal some surprises. The vast majority of treasures will be found by amateurs. The explanation is quite simple – depots, whether they were meant as hidden treasures, reserves, warehouses, sacrifices – were practically always deposited outside commonly populated sites and outside the burial ground. Only rarely will there be a common archaeological research, which is dedicated to housing estates and burial grounds.

This kind of find is very rare in the region. The last time anything similar was found in Eastern Bohemia was in 1953. Mr. Frankona received a reward of 7860 Czech koruna ($360) from the government of the Hradec Králové Region. No word on whether he cut Monty in on the deal.

The artifacts went on display in the Journey to the Beginning of Time exhibition at the New Castle museum in Kostelec nad Orlicí on September 13th for a week. September 21st is their last day as part of the show. After that, the bronze objects will be studied and conserved. Once they are stabilized, they will go on permanent display at the New Castle.

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Late Roman gold coin hoard found in Como

Monday, September 10th, 2018

A unique hoard of gold coins from the late Imperial era has been discovered in downtown Como, Lombardy, northern Italy. The coins were unearthed on Wednesday, September 5th, in an archaeological excavation at the site of the former Cressoni Theater which is being redeveloped. They were contained in a soapstone amphora which has a big chunk missing so the pile of glimmering coin within was clearly visible at first sight.

The amphora was transported to the conservation laboratory of the regional archaeological Superintendency where it is currently being excavated. The coins were tightly packed in little stacks. It will take a long time to complete the job because the contents have to be removed one piece at a time paying close attention to stratigraphy. Layer analysis will be key to determining if the coins were deposited in the same era or over a period of time.

So far 27 gold coins have been recovered and examined. They all date to the 5th century. Coins from this period are very rare because currency didn’t flow as efficiently through the imperial economic system. The quantity and quality of the coins are exceptional, especially for the late empire. The 27 were minted in the reigns of the Emperors Honorius (r. 384–423), Valentinian III (r. 425-455), Leo I the Thracian (r. 457-474) and his short-lived co-emperor Libius Severus (r. 461-465).

No such hoard has even been unearthed in northern Italy before. The gold is in an excellent state of preservation making the images and engravings on the coins and thus the engraver, year and sponsor relatively easily to discern.

There are an estimated 300 coins in the amphora (which is itself of major significance because it is of a previously unknown design), and not just coins. Archaeologists have reason to believe there may be other precious objects deep in the amphora hidden amidst the dense coin clusters, small pieces like pins, figurines and ingots. One gold bar has already been found and two other objects yet to be identified.

Whoever placed the jar in that place “buried it in such a way that in case of danger they could go and retrieve it,” said Maria Grazia Facchinetti, a numismatist — or expert in rare coins — at a Monday press conference.

“They were stacked in rolls similar to those seen in the bank today,” she said, adding the coins have engravings about emperors Honorius (r. 384–423), Valentinian III, Leon I, Antonio, and Libio Severo “so they don’t go beyond 474 AD.”

“All of this makes us think that the owner is not a private subject, rather it could be a public bank or deposit,” Facchinetti added.

The find site is just a few feet away from the forum of the Roman city where merchants, banks and temples would have done brisk cash business. It was also an elite residential neighborhood, however, so it’s not out of the question that a private individual rolled up his own wealth.

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14th c. hoard found in clay pot in Bulgaria

Thursday, August 23rd, 2018

An excavation of the Kaliakra Fortress on the coast of the Black Sea in northern Bulgaria has unearthed a small clay pot full of coins, jewelry and other valuables hidden under a floor in the Middle Ages. A team of archaeologists headed by Bonnie Petrunova, director of the National History Museum (NHM) in Sofia, discovered the pot on August 17th, 2018, in a room that was burned in the 14th century, conveniently providing the outside date range for the burial of the hoard.

The pot, filled with soil as well as treasure, was moved to the NHM to be excavated in laboratory conditions. After painstaking removal of the soil, archaeologists found a total of 957 objects: 873 gold and silver coins, 11 fittings and buckles, 28 silver and bronze buttons, 11 gold earrings, one gold ring, a second metal ring and four gold beads studded with gems.

The coins include both Ottoman and Bulgarian silver issues. A majority of them, about 60% of them are Ottoman. Most of that 60% date to the reign of Sultan Bayazid Yildirum (1389-1402). A fraction of them are older, dating to the reign of his predecessor Murad I (1362-1389). Of the Bulgarian coins, 25% were minted under the reign of Ivan Alexander (1331-1371). They are very small, a symptom of the economic crisis in Bulgaria at the time. There are nine coins minted in Vidin by governor John Sratsimir. A few Byzantine silver pieces are also in the mix, including several very rare hyperpyroni.

The gold coins, much fewer in number, include 20 gold hyperpyroni of the Byzantine Empire, one the last gold coins issued of the empire. They are so debased and flimsy that it’s hard to identify them. Experts have been able to spot John V Palaiologos and his mother Anna of Savoy (regent during the minority of her son from 1341 until 1347), John VII Palaiologos, Andronikos II Palaiologos and Andronikos III Palaiologos on the obverse of some of them. There are also eight high quality Venetian gold coins, the classic Zecchino d’Oro, each made of 3.5 grams of 24-carat gold. Most of them were issued by Doges Marco Cornaro (1365-1368) and Andrea Dandolo (1343-1354).

The date range of the coins coincides with the evidence of the torching of the space to confirm the treasure pot was hidden under the floorboards at the end of the 14th century, a turbulent period in the history of the fortress who political fortunes are reflected in the coinage. The area was part of the Despotate of Dobruja, an autonomous principality in the fractured Bulgarian Empire. Under the control of Dobrotitsa, who gave himself the title “Despot,” the principality achieved its greatest power and territorial extent. Dobrotitsa made Kaliakra his capital and deployed his navy on the Black Sea in alliance with Venice against Genoa. He fought Murad I, who by the end of his reign would conquer much of modern-day Bulgaria. Dobrotitsa’s son Ivanko changed his father’s policy as soon as he ascended the throne in 1386, signing a peace agreement with the Ottoman sultan, another with Genoa and moving the capital from Kaliakra to Varna. The changes did not lead to stability and in 1388 Ivanko was killed fighting the Ottomans at Varna. Mircea I of Wallachia stepped into the vacuum of power and Wallachia, former vassal state of Dobruja, ruled the principality off and on until the Byzantine Empire took over in 1413.

To all this political instability and conflict, the Tartar invasions added yet more. A chronicler of the late 14th century records how the Tartars invaded Varna in 1399. Other Black Sea coastal towns also suffered their wroth, Kaliakra among them. It’s possible that the hoard was actually buried by a Tartar, in fact. The objects appear to have been collected from different people in one event rather than accumulated by a single individual over time. The Tartars of Aktav held the fortress in 1401 when they were defeated and dispatched. As the house in which the treasure was buried is a high-end one, it’s conceivable that a Tartar commander sequestered it for himself and was living there when the 1401 attack drove him out and burned down his dwelling.

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Irish farmer finds prehistoric gold digging a drain

Sunday, July 1st, 2018

A farmer in Ireland has discovered four solid gold bracelets dating to at least as far back as the Bronze Age. A mechanical digger operator hired by farmer Norman Witherow was digging a drain in a field near Convoy, County Donegal, on Saturday, June 23rd, when he found four ring-shaped object encrusted with thick clay. They were about two feet beneath the surface, hidden under a rock that had thankfully protected them from being damaged by the digger.

Witherow, not having any idea what they were other than that their shape and size suggested they might be bracelets, took them home and rinsed them off in his kitchen. They were gold in color, but he couldn’t tell if they were made of gold or copper or another yellow metal. The tubular shapes had a smooth surface and looped around, the closed terminal ends overlapping each other. Witherow put them on a scale and found they weighed 1.7 ounces.

He showed the pieces to a friend in the jewelry business and she responded with enthusiasm that they were something special and should be reported to the authorities. Witherow called the Donegal County Museum and reported the find to Assistant Curator Caroline Carr. She did an initial examination of the find site and on Tuesday, June 26th, called the National Museum of Ireland. The next day Maeve Sikora, the museum’s Keeper of Irish Antiquities, met Witherow in Dublin and took possession of the bracelets. National Museum experts also surveyed the find site for evidence of how, when and potentially why the objects were deposited.

Sikora’s initial examination of the gold objects suggests they may be from the Bronze Age (2500-500 B.C.), but they could be even older. As far as their use, they could be jewelry — bracelets, arm bands — but they could also have been used as a form of currency. It’s all hypothetical at this early stage of the investigation.

The National Museum will continue to study them, assess their gold content and seek more information about their origin and deposition. It is keen, however, to put them on display as quickly as possible, so expect some (maybe even all) to be on view as soon as the initial analyses are completed. The research will proceed after they’re on display.

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Britain’s oldest gold bought at car boot sale

Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

Some of Britain’s oldest gold has been declared treasure two years after it was found in a box of assorted watch parts bought by John Workman at the Berinsfield Car Boot sale in south Oxfordshire. The Oxford Coroner’s Court ruled on April 17th that the folded gold strip dating to the Early Bronze Age qualifies as treasure on the grounds of its prehistoric age and its high percentage of precious metal content.

The number of objects of this age and type discovered in Britain can literally be counted on the fingers of one hand. They date to around 2400-200 B.C., which make them the earliest gold artifacts in Britain. The strip is now in two pieces but that happened after it was folded and lost. Even put together the two pieces do not make up the complete original and because there is no find site or any way of locating it, the odds of finding missing fragments are infinitesimally small.

There are punched dots along the edge of the tapered end and three circles pierced through another terminal in a triangular shape. These could be decorative features or evidence that the gold was once mounted to something — a scabbard, jewelry, clothing. A similar strip found near Winchester in 2000 and now in the collection of the British Museum is also perforated at the terminal in a triangular shape.

Mr Workman spotted the unusual piece and showed it to friends who had interest in metal detecting and was encouraged to get in touch with the British Museum.

[Oxfordshire Finds liaison officer Anni] Byard described the piece as ‘exceptionally rare’ and said ‘very rare doesn’t seem to do it justice’.

She added: “As soon as I heard about it I knew it was Bronze Age and realised it was pretty unusual and quite rare.

“Because they are so rare we don’t know what they would have been used for, it could have been on the side of a sword or could have been worn around the neck as jewellery. We just don’t know.”

Now that it has been ruled official treasure, the gold strip is property of the crown and will be assessed for fair market value. A local museum will be given first dibs at acquiring it for the assessed value, the award to go to the finder. The Oxfordshire Museum is keen to secure the piece for the county. The monetary value won’t be prohibitive. The Winchester strip was valued at £2,000, and while this piece is a little larger and gold has increased in value since then, it should still be well within reach of the Oxfordshire Museum. Its historic value, of course, is inestimable.

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Teacher and student find Harald Bluetooth silver

Monday, April 16th, 2018

Metal detector enthusiast Rene Schoen and his student, 13-year-old Luca Malaschnitschenko, were exploring a field near the village of Schaprode on the island of Ruegen in Northern Germany when they came across a circular piece of metal. At first Schoen thought it was a random bit of aluminium. After cleaning off some of the dirt and taking a closer look, he realized it was a coin.

Schoen is a volunteer with the Mecklenburg-West Pomerania state archaeology office, so he immediately reported the find. State archaeologists identified it as a silver coin from trading settlement of Hedeby. To prevent the treasure-hunters descending like locusts, they asked Schoen and Malaschnitschenko to keep their find a secret until the Office could arrange a thorough excavation of the site.

The coin was discovered in January, and archaeologists only broke ground this weekend. Still, in this brief period the team has excavated more than 4,000 square feet of the find site. The results have been nothing short of spectacular. They have unearthed a treasure far beyond the expectations set by a single silver coin, a hoard that could very well have belonged to King Harald Gormsson (r. 958-986), aka Harald Bluetooth, himself.

Braided necklaces, pearls, brooches, a Thor’s hammer, rings and up to 600 chipped coins were found, including more than 100 that date back to Bluetooth’s era, when he ruled over what is now Denmark, northern Germany, southern Sweden and parts of Norway.

“This trove is the biggest single discovery of Bluetooth coins in the southern Baltic Sea region and is therefore of great significance,” the lead archaeologist, Michael Schirren, told national news agency DPA.

The oldest coin is a Damascus dirham dating to 714 while the most recent is a penny dating to 983.

The find suggests that the treasure may have been buried in the late 980s – also the period when Bluetooth was known to have fled to Pomerania, where he died in 987.

“We have here the rare case of a discovery that appears to corroborate historical sources,” said the archaeologist Detlef Jantzen.

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Tut, Tut, Tut

Sunday, April 1st, 2018

The only American stop of a touring exhibition of more than 150 exceptional artifacts discovered in the tomb of 18th Dynasty Pharaoh Tutankhamun is now open to the public at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. Much like it blockbuster predecessor exhibitions, King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh is shaping up to be a monster best-seller, so even though it will run through January 6th, 2019, if you are in Los Angeles or can plan to be there, book your tickets early and often.

The objects on display are funerary treasures that were interred with the young king. Through the artifacts, visitors will learn about King Tut’s life, his death and the afterlife they were intended to accompany him into. This is the largest group of Tutankhamun’s burial treasures ever to travel. Fully 40% of them have never been outside of Egypt.

The show also coincides with the centennial of the tomb’s discovery, so there are historical photos on display from Howard Carter’s find of a lifetime.

“Each artifact presented in King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh is important to the story of King Tut – helping us to learn how they were used in his daily life and in preparations for his journey to the afterlife. Especially notable is what the discovery of his tomb meant to the world of archaeology and the insights gained from the state-of-the-art technology and scientific analyses of King Tut’s mummy and artifacts,” said California Science Center President Jeff Rudolph. “It is our honor to be the first institution to host the exhibition that will hopefully inspire people around the world to see the exhibition and visit the upcoming Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza to see more of these wonders of ancient Egypt.”

That last plug for a museum that won’t even be open until 2020 tells you why Egypt is willing to part with so many priceless objects it hasn’t been willing to part with, even for a temporary stretch, over the last century. The tour is one big, beautiful, shiny, rapturous lure for tourists in the US and Europe to make their way to Cairo once the new museum next to the pyramids is complete and open to the public.

And now, the reason for this post. Bring on the glorious artifact porn!





Be sure to click on the thumbnails to see the full-sized versions because they are in fantastically high resolution and look amazing.

This is one is more from the annals of “how the sausage is made,” in this case how the artifacts were unpacked an installed after their arrival in Los Angeles. It’s just such a beautiful, haunting image. It could be a stand-alone art piece.

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Buy your own hoard of (shady) nickels

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

If you’ve dreamed of uncovering an untouched coin hoard but never found anything more than a few tin buttons no matter how many fields you’ve scanned, now you can make your dreams come true, as long as they involve paying for it. A full hoard good to go complete with the canvas bag it was stored in is coming up for sale next month at Heritage Auctions all in a single lot.

As individual pieces, the 1883 No CENTS Liberty nickels in this hoard aren’t all that rare or expensive. You can get one for a few bucks, and even uncirculated condition versions can be had for a few hundred. It’s the juicy, dirty history behind that lends them a rakish charm while at the same time keeping their value low.

Designed by Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber, who also designed the very similar Liberty Head half-dollar, the 1883 Liberty Head nickel had one feature that made it problematic: the only reference to its denomination was the Roman numeral V inside a laurel wreath on the reverse. But labeling a coin’s value as “five” isn’t exactly specific, especially when there are gold half eagles in circulation with busts of Lady Liberty on the obverse and laurel wreaths on the reverse worth five dollars.

Because of this wee oversight, people of less than honest intention immediately began to collect the nickels as an investment in the counterfeiting possibilities. A little gold-plating, a minor modification to the edges of the nickel so it more closely matched the fiver, a distracted retailer and next thing you know, you walk away from a nickel transaction with $4.95 in change jangling in your pocket. One Josh Tatum was reputed to have been adept at passing off gold-plated nickels as five dollar pieces. His system was foolproof: as a deaf-mute, he would simply present the coin, say nothing, take his change and get out of Dodge. Arrested and tried for fraud, because he never claimed to have paid using a five dollar coin, Tatum was never convicted. Or so the legend goes, anyway. The legend also says the expression “you are joshing me” (meaning “you’re kidding me”) springs from these events, but the idiom predates the 1883 coin by at least decades, so many grains of salt are in order here.

The Mint saw the error of its ways and within months issued an updated coin 1883 Liberty Head nickel with the word “CENTS” on the reverse, leaving a lot of speculators with collections of No CENTS nickels. That’s why they’re not worth all that much on the market today, because they were so widely hoarded by people hoping to get in the passing of fraudulent currency game. The versions with “FIVE CENTS” on the reverse are far rarer and more expensive today because nobody bothered to collect them.

Still, a group of 297 1883 No CENTS Liberty nickels stored in a single bag is not something you see every day. The bag is awesome in and of itself, printed in black text on the front: “New York / Lead Company’s / HIGHLY FINISHED / DROP SHOT / Tower & Office / 63 Centre St / New York / 3”. An attached period label even notes the exact date the coins were stashed in the bag — October 2, 1889 — so more than five years after the issue. They apparently stayed in the bag, untouched, unknown and unpublished, for more than a century until they were acquired by numismatist, US coin expert and rare coin dealer Jeff Garrett in 2009.

The nickels will be sold at the U.S. Coins Auction to be held April 25-30 during the Central States Numismatic Society annual convention. Bidding opens online on April 6th.

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Digging the Carnoustie Bronze Age Hoard

Saturday, February 10th, 2018

If you’re at a loss on how to fritter away some time this weekend, I have a solution for you. Watch a couple of videos about the hoard of Bronze Age weapons discovered at the former Newton Farm in Carnoustie, eastern Scotland.

The first video captures the excavation in GUARD Archaeology’s Glasgow laboratory of the soil block containing the hoard. When I first wrote about this story last February, the only video available of the painstaking excavation of the 175-pound block of soil was a continuous scene a few seconds long of archaeologists scratching at the soil in minute movements. This video, uploaded to YouTube in December, summarizes the excavation and finds. There’s still minute scratching, which is awesome, but there’s so much more, plus descriptions of what you’re seeing.

In addition to the sensational weapons hoard, postholes and pits from two Neolithic rectilinear timber halls, one the largest Neolithic structure ever discovered in the British Isles, and gulleys and hearth remains from at least 12 Bronze Age roundhouses were found at the site. There wasn’t a great deal of information about these finds in February 2017, but in May, GUARD Archaeology Project Officer Alan Hunter Blair delivered a lecture packed with details, photographs and diagrams of the structures. That lecture is now available on YouTube.

He also covers the discovery of the hoard, its excavation in the lab and includes great pictures of the organic remains like the pouch the spearhead was found in and the fragment of strap still attached to the pommel of the sword. That part begins around the 15:45 mark.

I should warn you that he speaks very quickly, which is both a blessing and a curse. The former because it keeps the video nice and short at about 20 minutes; the latter because he zooms through it without looking up from his paper so delivery is a little dry and rushed. The information is fascinating, however, and the visual aids illuminating so it’s well worth watching.

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