Another lavish Macedonian burial found in Greece

Silver vessels used for burial in AigaiArchaeologists excavating the ruins of Aigai, the royal seat of Macedonian kings like Alexander the Great and his father, Philip II, have uncovered two large silver vessels, one of which contains human remains.

This is the second time bones have been found in containers in the middle of town rather than in the nearby cemeteries. Last year the bones were found along with a gold wreath. This time, in a handsome silver vessel similar to others found in the royal tumulus decades ago.

So clearly the people re-interred in these places were wealthy, possibly Macedonian aristocrats, possibly even members of the royal family.

Archaeologist Stella Drougou said the new find is “very important, as it follows up on last year’s.”

“It makes things very complex,” she said. “Even small details in the ancient texts can help us solve this riddle. We (now) have more information, but we lack a name.”

Drougou told The Associated Press that the fact the funerary urns were not placed in a proper grave “either indicates some form of punishment, or an illegal act.”

“Either way, it was an exceptional event, and we know the history of the Macedonian kings is full of acts of revenge and violent succession.”

The remains in the silver vase have not yet been analyzed, so we don’t know the date, gender, age of the deceased.

One of the excavators speculates that the bones found last year belonged to Alexander the Great’s illegitimate son, Heracles. He was assassinated and buried in a secret location during the wars of succession after Alexander’s death.

There’s no way to know for sure, though. All we know is they were the bones of a teenaged male, but without an inscription or some other specific evidence of identity, speculation is all we’ve got.

Emmett Till’s casket donated to Smithsonian

Emmett Till and his mother, Friday was the 54th anniversary of Emmett Till’s lynching. To mark the occasion, his family announced the donation of his original casket to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Chicago native Emmett Till was just 14 years old when he was beaten, tortured and shot in the head for allegedly whistling/flirting/touching the hand or waist of a white woman (the witnesses’ stories are inconsistent on what actually happened) while visiting his uncle in Money, Mississippi. The case drew national attention and is considered a seminal event of the Civil Rights era.

The picture seen 'round the world of Emmett Till's open casket His casket played a pivotal role in this history, as his mother, Mamie Till Bradley, insisted against all kinds of pressure from Mississippi authorities that it be open for viewing and photographing. “I wanted the world to see what they did to my baby,” she has famously said, and she got her way.

A picture of the mutilated boy published in Jet magazine went around the world, publicizing the horrors of the Jim Crow South and galvanizing the fledgling Civil Rights Movement.

His murderers, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam (the husband of the white woman in question and his half-brother), were acquitted in minutes by a jury of all white men, despite Till’s uncle’s testimony that they had dragged him out of the house and other witnesses who saw them with Till and heard Emmett’s cries shortly thereafter. The killers even admitted it in Look Magazine once the trial was over and died entirely unrepentant.

He was buried in Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois, and then exhumed in 2005 when the case was reopened in hopes of confirming other participants in the crime. As is customary with exhumations, Emmett’s body was reburied in a new casket. The original one was supposed to be preserved for a memorial museum, but instead it was tossed into a shed by the incredibly creepy cemetery manager who seems to also have embezzled the memorial donations.

That manager and several gravediggers made the news recently for having dug up hundreds of bodies, dumped them and resold the plots. Emmett’s body seems to have been spared, but his casket was not. It was found rusting in a garage full of broken headstones, lawn care equipment and assorted trash. There was apparently a family of possums living in the casket.

Till's casket in the garage Till's casket in the garage, detail

Now the casket, its glass viewing window still intact, is safe in the hands of the Rayner and Sons mortuary, the same funeral home which first prepared Emmett’s body for burial. They will send it to the Smithsonian’s Museum Support Center for restoration and conservation until it can be displayed in the new National Museum of African American History and Culture when it opens in 2015.

Hugest Viking hoard in 150 years goes on display

The Vale of York Hoard was found in a a field in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, in January 2007 by a father-son team of British metal detector hobbyists, and after 2 years of fundraising, was purchased by both the Yorkshire Museum and the British Museum, who will alternate putting it on display.

The hoard is a thousand years old, and contains precious artifacts from Afghanistan, Ireland, Russia and Scandinavia, courtesy of the Vikings’ vast reach and plundering skills. The artifacts include 617 silver coins, silver ingots, jewelry, and an intricately carved gilt silver cup which alone is worth £200,000 (ca $325,000).

Gilt silver cup from the Vale of York hoardMuch of the hoard, which contains 67 objects [not counting over 600 coins], was preserved inside the gilt silver vessel, made around the middle of the 9th century, close to where the present-day Franco-German border runs. It was probably intended for use in church services and was believed to have been looted by Vikings from a monastery.

The artefacts were extraordinarily well-preserved because they had kept in a lead container. The hoard also contains coins relating to Islam and the pre-Christian religion of the Vikings.

The whole hoard went for a jaw-dropping £1,082,000 (ca $1,760,000) which will be divided between the two finders and the landowner who allowed them to metal detect on his property in the first place.

Preservationists have only just begun the process of cleaning and restoring the hoard. They’ve been using a porcupine quill under a microscope, believe or not, to clean out the intricate designs.

The really ol’ ball and chain

A rare complete set of prison shackles were found by official Thames mudlarks (yes, there are official mudlarks, 50 or so people licensed to dig for artifacts in the mud on the Thames shores) on a warf in southeast London. It’s the only known full set of irons to have been found via excavation.

At first mudlarks Steve Brooker and Rick Jones thought they’d find a cannon ball. They almost discarded it because they see so many cannon balls they’re hardly worth digging up anymore. Our heroes followed up, however, and found instead something unique.

The padlock is skillfully made with the screw-thread carved after the padlock had been cast. English padlocks of this time were not made in this way suggesting it was made somewhere in continental Europe, possibly Germany.

The long spike on the padlock would have pointed toward the other leg when it was fitted around the ankle, Sumnall said.

The shackles are about 300 years old, and since they were found locked without a key, may have ended up in the Thames with someone poor soul actually attached to them. There were no human remains, but they could easily have been scattered by the currents.

The 17.64 lb fetters were well-preserved by the thick anaerobic Thames mud so they’re in excellent condition. They’re on display right now for a limited time at the Museum of London Docklands.

Gilt Roman horse head found in Germany

In a scene straight out ancient Rome’s versions of “The Godfather”, German archaeologists have uncovered the beautifully preserved horse’s head from a Roman equestrian statue.

The life-size statue is gold-plated bronze, and they also found the foot of the rider, thought to be Augustus.

“This bronze sculpture counts among the best pieces to have ever been found from the area of the former Roman empire,” said Eva Kuehne-Hoermann, Hesse’s minister for science, at the unveiling of the head in Frankfurt on Thursday. “Nowhere else is there a finding of this form or quality.”

It dates to 3 or 4 BC, the time when the Roman outpost in the area was founded. Five or so years later, after Rome’s dramatic defeat in the Battle of Teutoburg Forest, German tribesmen dismembered the statue and threw the head in a well.

That turned out to be good news for us, because the water in the well actually helped preserve the head for us to find. Restoration will still take a couple of years, but once it’s done, the pieces will be exhibited in a museum in Hesse.