Roman mass-market consumer goods found

I read an excellent book a while back (mentioned in this entry) which looked at the fall of Rome from a consumer standpoint, as the “the loss of comfort” when the global Roman economy crumbled.

One of the goods he followed was mass-produced, low cost, high quality pottery. Pottery was a major consumer need for food storage, transportation, lighting, cooking, you name it. Roman production spread easily purchasable pottery from Britain to Africa to Asia, thereby extending consumer comforts far and wide across geographic distance and all social classes.

When the trade routes broke down and the Germanic tribes took over/destroyed production centers, high quality pottery basically disappears from the European archaeological record until the Renaissance. That’s such a major blow to quality of life it’s hard to conceive of today.

With that in mind, here’s a great example of the Roman consumer production machine, a pottery factory uncovered in Modena.

“We found a large ancient Roman dumping filled with pottery scraps. There were vases, bottles, bricks, but most of all, hundreds of oil lamps, each bearing their maker’s name,” Donato Labate, the archaeologist in charge of the dig, told Discovery News.

Firmalampen, or “factory lamps,” were one of the first mass-produced goods in Roman times and they carried brand names clearly stamped on their clay bottoms.

The ancient dumping in Modena contained lamps by the most famous brands of the time: Strobili, Communis, Phoetaspi, Eucarpi and Fortis.

All these manufacturers had their products sold on the markets of three continents. Fortis was the trendiest of all pottery brands and its products were used up to the end of the second century A.D.

Surprisingly familiar isn’t it? I could totally see Fortis brand lamps available at my local Home Depot. Now imagine losing something so basic for a thousand years.

Christie’s tries to sell stolen Nimrud earrings

Allegedly, at least. The former director of the Iraq Museum, Donny George, is absolutely convinced the 3,000 year old Neo-Assyrian gold earrings came from the excavation of Nimrud which he personally witnessed.

The treasures of Nimrud, considered one of the most spectacular finds of the 20th century and compared with the treasures of King Tut’s tomb, include eight pairs of seemingly identical earrings. Of the thousands of archaeological sites in Iraq, the ancient capital of the Assyrian Empire was one of the richest.

The highlight was the intricate gold jewelry, using techniques not seen again for thousands of years. […]

After the fall of Baghdad in 2003 and the subsequent looting of the Iraq Museum, US investigators and Iraqi officials tracked down the treasures of Nimrud to a vault within a vault in the basement of Iraq’s burned and flooded central bank.

Christie’s claims in the catalogue that they are “similar” to a pair found at Nimrud, but that the previous owner acquired them in 1969, a convenient date indeed given that the UNESCO convention on illegal antiquities — the standard cutoff for questionably-sourced artifacts — was enacted in 1970.

Donny George knows of no “similar” finds outside of the Nimrud pieces. That’s what made them so special: the quality was astonishing and entirely unique.

As of yesterday, the earrings were still listed on Christie’s site. Iraqi officials have petitioned to halt the sale, but the auction is next week so they don’t have much time.

Edit: Looks the CSM story got results. Christie’s withdrew the lot this morning. :boogie:

Update: Artifacts stolen by US pilot returned to Egypt

Back in February, I posted this ugly story of cupidity and disrespect about a US pilot who stole ancient artifacts from the Ma’adi Museum when he was deployed to Egypt in 2002.

He was arrested in February for selling stolen goods, but not with the theft itself, so in the end he pled to possession and sale and got a measly 18 months probation.

Anyway, a fraction of the stolen antiquities were returned to Egypt in an offical ceremony in Manhattan today.

Officials said the items, including several small urns on display at the ceremony, came from the Ma’adi archaeological site outside Cairo and date to 3600 B.C. or earlier.

“When (the military officer) stole these items from Egypt, he robbed a nation of part of its history,” said Peter J. Smith, head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s New York office. “The repatriation of the Ma’adi artifacts reunites the people of Egypt with an important piece of their cultural heritage.”

Unfortunately, most of the approximately 370 artifacts stolen have yet to be recovered. The shady dealer only bought 80 of them and he scattered them to the four winds. The rest could be anywhere.

Edit: Here’s a fun fact from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s press release about the return (emphasis mine):

n 2003, the owner of Sands of Time Antiquities, then located in Atlanta, Sue McGovern, purchased approximately 100 Egyptian antiquities from Johnson, who said he had inherited the large collection from his grandfather who had worked in Egypt in the mining industry in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. In fact, Johnson had used his diplomatic status to illegally ship the Ma’adi artifacts he had acquired in Egypt to the U.S., in violation of Egypt’s export laws, diplomatic protocol as outlined in the Vienna Convention, and U.S. law for smuggling the artifacts into the country.

On buying the collection, McGovern discovered inside some of the pieces, paper from a 1932 calendar with markings and numbers indicative of excavation notes (plot numbers, etc.).

In 2004, she sold some of the pieces to other antiquities dealers in New York, Holland and London, where an expert on the Ma’adi excavations recognized that the story behind their acquisition was false and notified the dealer.

So the dealer knew as soon as she got the goods that the backstory had to be bullshit, but she just kept right on trucking until she couldn’t deny it anymore.

Stone Age figurines uncovered in Russia

The engraved mammoth bones and Venus-style figures are not the first Stone Age artifacts found in the area, but they are the first ones found on the Zaraysk site.

The new artefacts, discovered by Hizri Amirkhanov and Sergey Lev of the Russian Academy of Sciences, include a mammoth rib inscribed with what appear to be three mammoths, a small bone engraved with a cross-hatch pattern, and two human figurines presumed to be female. […]

At Zaraysk, the two figurines were found carefully buried in storage pits. Underneath each was a round deposit of fine sand toward the south; toward the north, there was a deposit of red ochre – an iron-based pigment.

Each of the figurines had been covered with the shoulder-blade of a mammoth.

The variety of media and subjects are remarkable, but there is one particular item that is entirely unique. It’s shaped like a cone with its top removed, and pierced through with a hole. It is also richly engraved.

Researchers currently have no idea what it was used for.

World’s oldest stash

Researchers have found just short of 2 pounds of kind bud in a tomb in China’s Xinjiang province. The cannabis has been carbon dated and is 2,700 years old.

The 789 grams of dried cannabis was buried alongside a light-haired, blue-eyed Caucasian man, likely a shaman of the Gushi culture, near Turpan in northwestern China.

The extremely dry conditions and alkaline soil acted as preservatives, allowing a team of scientists to carefully analyze the stash, which still looked green though it had lost its distinctive odour.

This is the earliest weed found in good enough condition and enough quantities to test thoroughly, and it’s also the earliest researchers can confirm was used for its psychotropic properties rather than for more practical hempen usages.

Out of the 500 Gushi tombs, only two have marijuana in them, so either it was exclusively the domain of shamans or administered under their supervision.

There were no smoking implements in the tomb, so researchers could not determine whether the marjuana was ingested or smoked in some other way.

My theory: ancient Chinese apple bong.