Archive for February, 2018

Warwick high school scores a Roman villa

Wednesday, February 7th, 2018

King’s High School in Warwick is going to have the coolest (in the history nerd sense of the word) campus in the county, possibly in the country, after the remains of large Roman villa were unearthed at its new location on Banbury Road. Archaeologists discovered the villa during a preventative excavation before the construction of the new school building. The wall foundations indicate the villa was more than 28 meters (92 feet) long and 14.5 meters (48 feet) wide making it the largest building seen in the region up until that point. It’s the size of a medieval church.

It was built of local sandstone in the 2nd century A.D. and remained in use into the 4th century. It was not purely residential. Archaeologists found corn drying ovens inside and outside the walls, which suggests the villa performed agricultural duties. On the other side of the structure there are wall divisions that were likely living quarters, so the villa served as both dwelling and workspace. The building was likely part of a larger estate that stretched to the Avon river and the Roman roads.

Caroline Rann, who has been leading the winter-long excavation, added: “Very rarely do archaeologists discover a new villa, and this fantastic building could never have been predicted.

“Thanks to the Warwick Independent Schools Foundation and their construction team, Speller Metcalfe, who have gone out of their way to assist us, we can now start to build a better picture of Roman Warwick.”

Simon Jones, secretary for Warwick Independent Schools Foundation, which runs King’s High and Warwick School, said: “This is an exciting find and an invaluable experience for the schools, with pupils and staff having had opportunities to see the excavations at first hand.

“The county archaeologist’s team have been only too happy to share their enthusiasm and worked with us to ensure the find has not had undue impact on POC progress.

“The find will become part of the history of the new school building and of the foundation as a whole and will, we hope, inspire budding archaeologists for generations to come.”

The school plans to preserve the remains of walls in situ as the campus goes up around it. I hope they do one of those transparent floor things because that would be awesome. As of now, they’re planning to create exhibitions and a portfolio of educational materials for the public and, of course, the lucky, lucky students. There will also be a formal archaeological report released. The first phase of the construction is scheduled to be completed in September 2019.

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Remains of 19th c. Chinese immigrants found in Lima

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018

They weren’t found buried in a huaca this time. The remains of three 19th century Chinese immigrants were discovered by work crews from Calidda, a natural gas company in Lima, Peru. The bodies, buried in plain wooden coffins, were found less than a meter under the surface in Lima’s Carabayllo neighborhood where the Calidda crew was installing new pipelines.

Archaeologist Cecilia Camargo excavated the remains after which they were transported to her laboratory for study and conservation. She believes based on their clothing that the three individuals were adult men, but that is educated guesswork at the moment. Osteological analysis will have to be performed to confirm, and whether any conclusion can be drawn will depend on the condition of the bones. There were grave goods found inside the coffins — opium pipes and lighters, mainly — but they don’t provide much information about the people interred.

Zelaya examines another of the immigrants' bodies. Photo by Guadalupe Pardo, Reuters.After the final abolition of slavery in the mid-19th century, Peru was desperate for cheap labour to work their most terrible jobs: the sugar and cotton plantations in the foothills of the Andes. Chinese immigrants stepped into the breach. They were woefully mistreated and were not allowed to be buried in municiple and church cemeteries because they were not Catholic. As a result, they were inhumed wherever a surreptitious spot could be found. Camargo thinks more such human remains will be unearthed in the Carabayllo area.

In other news from Peru that you probably read about elsewhere because it made headlines around the globe, the trucker who drove over the Nazca Lines, leaving tire marks on the delicate geoglyphs, has been arrested and charged with damaging an archaeological monument. There are signs warning drivers that they’re on the boundary with a forbidden zone and to keep out of the area of the Nazca Lines, signs he either deliberately ignored or didn’t see. Security personnel in the Pampas de Nazca caught him in flagrante, as it were, and reported him to the National Police of Peru. A judge released him on his own recognicance. Should he see trial and be convicted, he could receive up to six years in prison.

The good news is the damaged Lines are repairable, the Ministry of Culture’s manager in Nasca, Johny Isla Cuadrado, announced Wednesday.

“The truck left an affectation of medium grade, that is, repairable. We have people trained to restore the surface of the land and make traces of damaged geoglyphs,” Isla said in conversation with El Comercio.

The archaeologist added that the Nasca Lines have been affected for decades, including by the construction of the Panamericana Sur. “In the era of terrorism, a military camp was established in an area of ​​geoglyphs next to the road,” Isla recalled.

Ana María Ortiz de Zevallos, head of the Decentralized Culture Directorate of Ica, said that since 2015 they have funds from the US Embassy for the conservation of the Nasca geoglyphs. With this money, figures of historical value have been repaired in recent years.

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UK bars export of rare Georgian baby house

Monday, February 5th, 2018

Following the recommendation of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), Britain’s Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism has placed a temporary export ban on a rare early Georgian miniature baby house sold at a London auction last May. The owner has applied for an export license so the rare piece will leave the country unless a buyer in the UK can scare up the sum of £78,000 (£65,000 plus £13,000 VAT, about $109,000 total). The ban defers the license application until May 1st. If an interested party is found to have a realistic shot at raising the money, the ban can be extended until August 1st.

What makes this little house worth the effort to keep in the country is that it’s one of only 30 known English baby houses built before 1760 still extant. It was constructed by an anonymous craftsman between 1720 and 1740 in Palladian style, probably modeled after a real house in Richmond although the specific house is unkonwn. Most of it is mahogany, with details in oak and softwood. The windows are glazed. Three hinged doors open to reveal nine rooms on three floors, each with their own fireplace. The central column of rooms are incised with lines to make it look like the walls are wood panelled. The hinged doors have locks, and top quality ones at that. Counting its base with elegantly turned feet, the baby house is 6’8″ high, 4’5″ wide and 2’2″ deep.

Like other examples of exceptionally detailed and luxurious miniature houses like the Dollhouse of Petronella Oortman (ca. 1686-1710) now in the Rijksmuseum, this Georgian house was not a toy. They were fine, expensive pieces and either kept as curios for adults to enjoy, or used to encourage their young daughters to learn how to run a household.

The concept of the miniature house came to England from the Netherlands and Germany in the early 18th century, and was intended for training the young daughters of wealthy families in household management. Miniature furniture, and utensils in silver, pewter and porcelain, were supplied by toy merchants, while girls were encouraged to develop sewing skills by making clothes for the house’s dolls.

Due to their intricate and expensive design baby houses were more a training tool than a plaything for children until the early 19th century, when the design was simplified and production increased, resulting in the dolls’ houses of more recent time

Its earliest history is a mystery, but by the 19th century it was at Grove House, Tottenham, home of the Forster family of Quaker educators, philanthropists, reformers and abolitionists. (Fortuitous connection to an earlier blog entry: Prison reformer Elizabeth Fry was inspired to take up the cauuse after she visited Newgate Prison at the behest of William Forster.) It may have belonged to William’s sisters Elizabeth and Sarah Forster. Their nephew, William’s son William Edward, a Member of Parliament who in the fine tradition of his family introduced the Education Act of 1870 and would later become Chief Secretary for Ireland, received it by descent and left it to his daughter Florence. It stayed in the family one more generation after her before being sold to a dealer and entering a private collection.

RCEWA member Peter Barber said:

“This captivating and little altered house in miniature takes us into the elegant eighteenth century home while also shedding unique light on the education of young middle class girls at that time.”

The RCEWA made its recommendation on the grounds of the house’s outstanding significance for the study of the history and material culture of childhood.

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Tomb of high-ranking 5th Dynasty priestess found in Giza

Sunday, February 4th, 2018

Archaeologists have discovered the beautifully painted tomb of a high-ranking priestess of the 5th Dynasty (2465-2323 B.C.) in the shadow of the Great Pyramid in Giza. An inscription on the purification basin identifies her as Hetpet and lists her many titles, among them Priestess of Hathor.

The tomb was found in the Western Cemetery (so named because it is west of the Great Pyramid of Khufu), highly desirable eternal real estate reserved for high officials of the Old Kingdom. No funerary artifacts remain in situ, but the dry dessert climate has preserved the wall paintings in excellent condition and they provide a rare and important view of ritual, activities (hunting), work (blacksmithing) and social interaction in 5th Dynasty Egypt.

The newly discovered tomb of “Hetpet” has the architectural style and the decorative elements of the fifth Dynasty with an entrance leading to an L-shape shrine with a purification basin.
On its western rare end there is a rectangular arcade lined with incense and offering holders. There is also a naos with a yet missing statue of the tomb’s owner.

The tomb has very distinguished wall paintings in a very good conservation condition depicting Hetpet standing in different hunting and fishing scenes or sitting before a large offering table receiving offerings from her children.

Scenes of reaping fruits, melting metals and the fabrication of leather and papyri boats as well as musical and dancing performances are also shown on walls.

Among the most distinguished paintings in the tomb are those depicting two monkeys in two different positions. Monkeys were domestic animals at the time. The first scene shows a monkey reaping fruits while the second displays a monkey dancing in front of an orchestra.

This is not the first time Hetpet’s name has come up. A collection of 5th Dynasty objects bearing the name “Hetpet” was found by a German expedition in 1909 and shipped to Berlin. This could potentially be the contents of her tomb.

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Thieves ransack stores of Canterbury Archaeological Trust

Saturday, February 3rd, 2018

Thieves have broken into the Kingsmead stores of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust and made off with coins, metal artifacts, bone artifacts, tools and more than 850 Anglo-Saxon beads. They ransacked the storage warehouse, leaving it a shambles and making it hard for the Trust’s staff to sort out exactly what was stolen. A conservative estimate is at least 1,500 pieces. It was not a one-time deal. They broke in four times at the end of January, on January 18th, the night of the 22nd-23rd, then on the 23rd and 24th. They went so far as to cut a hole in the side of the building and yank out copper wiring from the walls.

It would serve them right if they were panting with exertion when they broke through that wall, because what they didn’t know is the exterior wall they broke through contained asbestos. I hope they inhaled deeply. Sorry not sorry. The disturbance of old asbestos only adds to the Trust’s burdens in recovering from the mess the thieves left behind, unfortunately, on top of all the other work that needs to be done. Only expensive hazmat abatement specialized are equipped to handle asbestos removal, and they don’t come cheap. Neither do plumbers and electrician, and that hole in the wall cut through electric and water pipes as well.

[T]he attacks in Canterbury appear to have purely financial motives. The two thieves also stole copper cables from the building during the burglaries and one of the men was caught on camera stealing beer from a local shop. […]

“The combs are so fragile that in their hands they will disintegrate,” added [Trust director Paul] Bennett.

“They may end up on eBay or car boot sales for pennies whereas their real place is in a museum. They are our legacy for future generations.

“These two people have been allowed to run rampant and steal our material. They are a couple of low lives who live locals. They must have a huge swag bag.

“It is the heritage of Canterbury trampled and trodden on by a pair of thieves. We have been caught up in a whirlwind of thievery.”

A supporter has started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to help defray the costs of dealing with the break-in. It has a £1,000 goal, which while modest will contribute meaningfully to the expense of added security, personnel time and repairs. It’s about a third of the way to goal after one day.

CAT is asking collectors and enthusiasts who know their coins and beads to keep a sharp eye open on eBay and other sites where the looted objects might be offered for sale, also to share the Facebook post to get the word out as far as possible about the theft. CAT staff are updating a photo album with pictures of the stolen objects as they figure out what’s gone. That will give you an idea of what to look for on sites like eBay that don’t ask too many inconvenient (or any) questions about the source of the antiquities up for bid.

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LiDAR reveals hitherto unknown vastness of Maya civlization

Friday, February 2nd, 2018

Researchers using LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) technology to explore the Maya Biosphere Reserve in the Petén region of Guatemala have found evidence of large public buildings, homes, royal palaces, roads and other structures far more extensive than anyone had any idea existed. More than 60,000 man-made features invisible to the naked eye under the thick jungle canopy have been identified. The scans were done from helicopters. Researchers took aerial shots of the tree tops and then digitally removed the trees, thus peeling back nature’s reclamation of land that the Maya had developed and populated to an astonishingly advanced degree.

The reserve covers an enormous area of 8,341 square miles, almost three times the size of Yellowstone National Park. Within it lie the visible archaeological remains of great Maya cities like Tikal and Holmul. Researchers scanned 10 sections of the reserve totaling more than 800 square miles, a fraction of the Maya Biosphere Reserve but big enough to generate the largest amount of LiDAR data ever collected for an archaeological study.

The results suggest that Central America supported an advanced civilization that was, at its peak some 1,200 years ago, more comparable to sophisticated cultures such as ancient Greece or China than to the scattered and sparsely populated city states that ground-based research had long suggested.

In addition to hundreds of previously unknown structures, the LiDAR images show raised highways connecting urban centers and quarries. Complex irrigation and terracing systems supported intensive agriculture capable of feeding masses of workers who dramatically reshaped the landscape.

The ancient Maya never used the wheel or beasts of burden, yet “this was a civilization that was literally moving mountains,” said Marcello Canuto, a Tulane University archaeologist and National Geographic Explorer who participated in the project.

Tulane University archaeologist Francisco Estrada-Belli, a Maya expert who has made some extraordinary finds on the ground as well as participating in the aerial study, calls the LiDAR data “revolutionary” and expects it will take a century to thoroughly examine and fully understand the sheer masses of information discovered by the scanning technology. The conclusions that can be derived from the material that has been sifted through are exploding what we thought we know about Maya civilization.

Already, though, the survey has yielded surprising insights into settlement patterns, inter-urban connectivity, and militarization in the Maya Lowlands. At its peak in the Maya classic period (approximately A.D. 250–900), the civilization covered an area about twice the size of medieval England, but it was far more densely populated.

“Most people had been comfortable with population estimates of around 5 million,” said Estrada-Belli, who directs a multi-disciplinary archaeological project at Holmul, Guatemala. “With this new data it’s no longer unreasonable to think that there were 10 to 15 million people there—including many living in low-lying, swampy areas that many of us had thought uninhabitable.”

Virtually all the Mayan cities were connected by causeways wide enough to suggest that they were heavily trafficked and used for trade and other forms of regional interaction. These highways were elevated to allow easy passage even during rainy seasons. In a part of the world where there is usually too much or too little precipitation, the flow of water was meticulously planned and controlled via canals, dikes, and reservoirs.

Among the most surprising findings was the ubiquity of defensive walls, ramparts, terraces, and fortresses. “Warfare wasn’t only happening toward the end of the civilization,” said Garrison. “It was large-scale and systematic, and it endured over many years.”

This is only the beginning of the project. Over the next three years, the PACUNAM LiDAR Initiative will scan 5,000 square miles of the Guatemalan lowlands, spreading north to the Gulf of Mexico where Maya city states rivalling the ones to the south engaged in some of those centuries of conflict and alliance shifts that necessitated the construction of so many defensive structures.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, February 6th, the National Geographic Channel will premiere a special on the LiDAR research entitled Lost Treasures of the Maya Snake Kings which is a bit of an eye-roller, but there you have it. The Snake Dynasty of Calakmul (which is in Mexico, not Guatemala and so was not scanned in this phase of the project) is undeniably cool, and their influence extended well into the Petén region of modern-day Guatemala, so I get the impulse to put them in the center frame.

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Anglo-Saxon bed burial cross gifted to museum

Thursday, February 1st, 2018

The gold and garnet pectoral cross found in a bed burial of a wealthy young Anglo-Saxon girl has been donated to University of Cambridge’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA). Landowners Gosvenor gifted the rare and valuable piece to the museum under the terms of the 1996 Treasures Act, forgoing the ex gratia reward the landowners of a treasure find are entitled to. In this case, the reward for the cross along was likely to be more than £80,000, so this is a significant donation for a company to make on a purely pecuniary level.

That’s nothing compared to its historical value. The 7th century grave was discovered in 2011 by the Cambridge Archaeological Unit in the village of Trumpington Meadows just three miles south of Cambridge during a survey excavation of a site slated for development. The teenager had been laid to rest on a bed, probably the one she had slept on in life, adorned with her most precious gold and garnet jewels. While most of her bed was gone, its wood frame and straw mattress decayed to nothingness, the iron brackets did survive to bear witness to what had once been her final resting furnishings. This was only the 15th bed burial ever found in Britain.

At her neck, archaeologists found a gold and garnet pectoral cross. Intricate in design with the highest quality craftsmanship, the cross is only the fifth of its kind ever found. The finely worked gold and cut garnets are reminiscent of several pieces in the Staffordshire Hoard and archaeologists believe they were reserved for the wealthiest, most important people, which would make the young lady one of the elite of Anglo-Saxon society, perhaps even royalty.

The early date of the find is also immensely significant because the cross marks the girl as one of the earliest Christian Anglo-Saxons known. Christianity spread throughout Anglo-Saxon society from the top down, so it’s eminently possible that she was an early convert. The presence of additional grave goods characteristic of pre-Christian funerary practices underscore what a transitional time. Those grave goods, including another splendid piece of gold and garnet jewelry (a pin), an iron knife, glass beads and a chain which hung off her belt, are also part of the MAA collection now.

The cross and other grave goods from the very rare bed burial will be put on temporary display while a new bespoke display case is created to show off the cross to its full advantage.

The Museum also hopes to host public lectures at which the context and significance of the cross will be explained.

“Our ultimate goal is to ensure that the importance of this magnificent and mysterious cross is recognised locally, nationally and internationally through research, exhibition and publication,” added [MMA Senior Curator Judy] Joy.

“The Trumpington Cross offers unique insights into the origins of English Christianity and we feel very lucky to be able to put it on display at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology just a few, short miles away from where this beautiful artefact was discovered.”

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