Farmer wins big on gilded horse head

Way back in the short-n-sweet days of this here blog, almost a decade ago now, I reported on the discovery in Germany of an exceptionally well-preserved bronze horse head from a Roman-era equestrian statue. Archaeologists unearthed the life-sized equine head made of gilded bronze and a single human foot from the same statue near Waldgirmes in the central German state of Hesse on August 12th, 2009.

Waldgirmes is not mentioned in the historical record, but there was a Roman town there. The remains of a forum are the oldest known stone building foundation in Germany. Roman coins found at the site bear the profile of Publius Quinctilius Varus, the first governor appointed of the newly-official Roman province of Germania in 7 A.D. and notorious loser of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest two years later.

The style and quality of the horse head date to the earliest period in the area’s Roman history. The horse’s bridle is decorated with reliefs of Mars, god of war, and Victoria, personification of Victory. It was likely part of an equestrian statue of the Emperor Augustus which stood in the settlement since its foundation in around 4 or 5 A.D. and was destroyed by the victorious Germanic tribes after the Battle of Teutoburg Forest. They dismembered the symbol of imperial domination and tossed the head and foot into a well. Very much contrary to their intent, the waterlogged environment preserved the broken pieces in exceptional condition.

At the time of the discovery, the state of Hesse paid the landowner of the find site 48,000 euros in recompense for the head and foot in accordance with the regional cultural patrimony laws, but the farmer was not satisfied that the accounting was accurate. Comments like this one from Eva Kuehne-Hoermann, Hesse’s state minister for science, at the Frankfurt unveiling of the gilded horse head: “This bronze sculpture counts among the best pieces to have ever been found from the area of the former Roman empire. Nowhere else is there a finding of this form or quality.” might have tipped him off.

A new ruling from a regional court backs the farmer’s position.

The Limburg regional court said Friday that, according to state law at the time, the farmer was eligible to half the value of the head, which an expert estimated at around 1.6 million euros. He would also be entitled to interest.

That makes for a grand total of 773,000 euros (nearly $904,000) owed to the landowner by the state government, plus any interest that has accrued in the nine years since the discovery. The ruling can be appealed so it’s not necessarily the final determination.

Cache of 18th c. rockets found in India

A cache of more than 1,000 18th century artillery “rockets” has been found in the village of Bidanuru in the Shimoga district of Karnataka, southwestern India. Workers found the early shells while digging out an abandoned dry well. The iron cylinders used by the King of Mysore, Tipu Sultan, to fight against the British forces that would, after his death, conquer the subcontinent, were recognized by the diggers as the king’s rockets and archaeologists were called in to the excavate them.

“Excavation of the open well led to unearthing of over 1,000 corroded rockets that were stored during Tipu’s times for use in wars,” R Shejeshwara Nayaka told Agence France-Presse from the site, 240 miles north-west of the state capital, Bangalore.

“Digging of the dry well where its mud was smelling like gunpowder led to the discovery of the rockets and shells in a pile.”

It took three days for the 15-member team of archaeologists, excavators and labourers to unearth the armoury and ammunition.

Tipu Sultan came to throne already in a state of war against the British. His father Haider Ali had fought them off an on (mainly on) since 1767, and after his death from cancer on December 7th, 1782, Tipu Sultan picked up where Haider Ali had left off fighting the Second Anglo-Mysore War. His success on the battlefield forced the British to sue for peace in 1784, the last time they would come to the treaty table as supplicants in India.

Tipu was known as a strong warrior from an early age. His father, keenly conscious of his own illiteracy, had ensured his son had the very best education, particularly in military matters, available. French officers in the employ of Haider Ali tutored his son in arms and combat and they were apparently damn good at it. Tipu first accompanied his father on campaign, the invasion of Malabar, when he was 15. By the time he was 16, he was commanding cavalry corps and competently, no less.

Haider Ali began using iron rockets in the 1780s — he had more than a thousand men in his rocket corps — but it was in the Third Anglo-Mysore War (1790–1792) that Tipu Sultan turned it up to eleven, increasing his rocket men to 5,000, developing the iron-encased artillery shell to peak power and precision and pioneering its use in mass rocket attacks against the British East India Company and its Indian allies.

Measuring around 10 inches long, the enclosed iron tubes were filled with gunpowder and tied to the end of a bamboo shaft. That made them portable and compact enough to be launched by an individual soldier. The black powder combusted inside the iron chamber and acted as a propellant to give the shells lift and reach. Some would burst in the air at the target; others would bounce on the ground until the charge was spent.

Mysorean rockets were significantly more accurate and nimble than European artillery. Their range was over a mile and they could be aimed with great precision. European rockets weren’t made of iron and so were not strong enough to stay intact and contain the combustion of the powder so they had a more limited reach. They were the first iron-encased rockets to be successfully deployed in combat and indeed were so successful that the British took note, using them as the prototype for their own foray into the iron rocket business, the Congreve rockets developed by Sir William Congreve in 1804 and immediately put to use in the Napoleonic wars.

Some of Tipu Sultain’s rockets have been unearthed before near the current find site, but never in so great a number. Tipu, whose father had conquered Karnataka in 1763 and absorbed it into the Kingdom of Mysore, appears to have used the spot as a hidden weapons depot to use against British forces in a pinch. It was not enough to save his kingdom or his life. Tipu Sultan died on May 4th, 1799, while valiantly defending his fort of Srirangapatna during the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War. The British victory was decisive, ending the Kingdom of Mysore, installing puppet princes from the feudal dynasty Haider Ali had ousted who reigned in name only until India became an independent republic in 1947.

The cache will be conserved and displayed in a “rocket gallery” in the Shivappa Nayaka Palace Museum in Shivamogga city, a palace built, as it happens, by Haider Ali, even though it bears the name of the Nayaka dynasty he overthrew.

Remains of sacrificed child found at Templo Mayor

Archaeologists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) have unearthed the remains of a child sacrificed by the Aztecs at the foot of the Templo Mayor in the center of Mexico City. This is the second child burial found at the Templo Mayor. The first was discovered in 2005.

The child was a boy between eight and 10 years of age at the time of his death. INAH experts believe he was sacrificed to the god of war Huitzilopochtli sometime around the late 15th century during the reign of emperor Ahuízotl (1486-1502). Osteological examination by physical anthropologist Jacqueline Castro found that his teeth were heavily worn and he had suffered from multiple infections in his mouth.

His body was adorned with a ring-shaped wooden breastplate called an anahuatl, a mark associated with Huitzilopochtli as well as a few other deities. He also wore two rectangular wooden ear decorations, a pyrite piece and a necklace with five green stone beads thought to be Guatemalan jadeite and some blue beads made of an unknown stone. He had copper bells, shells from the Caribbean Sea and green stone beads on his ankles. The discovery of bones from two bird wings is another indicator that he was offered to Huitzilopochtli because a previous child sacrifice found at the site included the wings of a forest hawk, an animal linked to the war god due to its ocher and blue coloring.

The excavation that revealed this burial was spurred by the discovery of a gravestone bearing the relief of a golden eagle that predates the child’s death by decades. The tombstone is from the reign of Moctezuma I (1440-1469), so was not related to the sacrifice. It was just a coincidence that so significant an artifact was found that the team explored the area further and found the remains of the child.

The location of the burial, dubbed Offering 176, at the foot of the steps of the sixth stage of the Templo Mayor built during the reign of Ahuízotl is highly significant. It is within the Cuauhxicalco, a circular building which Spanish chroniclers recorded was the site where the remains of Mexica rulers were deposited. Perhaps in connection with its location, the tomb itself is unusual in shape and construction. The pit is cylindrical, lined with volcanic rocks mortared together with stucco. Of the 204 tombs discovered at the Templo Mayor, this is the only one with these particular features. Building the tomb required raising stone slabs, filling the square with soil and building another stone square on top of it.

The remains of the child sacrifice found in 2005, Offering 111, showed evidence of his heart having been removed during the ceremony. Whether this child too suffered the same fate is not known at this time.

Rare seal of Byzantine empress found in Bulgaria

Archaeologists excavating the medieval fortress of Lyutitsa near the town of Ivaylovgrad in southeastern Bulgaria have discovered a rare lead seal of Byzantine Empress Irene, consort of Emperor Andronicus II Palaeologus (r. 1282–1328). Only two other seals of Empress Irene are known to survive, both of them now in the British Museum. This is the only one of three to be found in Bulgaria.

The seal depicts Irene, born Yolande of Montferrat, on one side in her full regalia as Byzantine Empress. The other side is an image of the Virgin Mary seated with the Christ child on her lap. Irene’s name is stamped on both sides.

“The find is extremely valuable and shows that Lyutitsa was an important [medieval] Bulgarian city, whose governors had correspondence even with the rulers of the largest medieval states,” Bulgaria’s National Museum of History says.

Assoc. Prof. Vladimir Penchev, numismatist at the Museum, has pointed out that Yolande of Montferrat was Empress of Byzantium in 1284 – 1317.

Yolande of Montferrat was born in 1274 in the March of Montferrat (also known as Margraviate or Marquisate of Montferrat) in Northern Italy, a state of the Holy Roman Empire which became the Duchy of Montferrat in 1576.

Yolande was the daughter of William VII, Marquess of Montferrat, (1240 – 1292) and Beatrice of Castile (1254 – 1286), who was his second wife.

On her mother’s side, Yolande of Montferrat was the granddaughter of King Alfonso X the Wise of Castile (1221 – 1284) and Violante (Yolanda) of Aragon (1236 – 1301), after whom she was named. Alfonso X was the King of Castile, Leon, and Galicia in 1252 – 1284.

In 1284, the 10-year-old Yolande of Montferrat was married to the widowed Byzantine Emperor Andronicus II Palaeologus, upon which she converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and adopted the name “Irene” meaning “peace”.

Maya paintings found in Yucatan cave

A team of archaeologists has discovered important Maya cave paintings in a Yucatan cenote. Led to the sinkhole deep in the jungle by locals who knew of it as a sacred site of the ancient Maya, archaeologist Sergio Grosjean Abimerhi and his team found paintings covering an area almost 50 feet long and more than 16 feet high on the cave wall.

They feature a surprising variety of motifs. There are handprints (both negative and positive), birds, crosses, geometric designs and human figures including a warrior, recognizable by the shield he holds in one hand and a sword in the other. This proliferation of elements is remarkable and unique among the cave paintings found in the Yucatan.

The archaeologist said his team is motivated by this new discovery because it will provide new information about Mayan customs, “though we don’t yet know what these cave paintings mean nor to what period they belong.”

He said they have contacted researchers at the National Anthropology and History Institute (INAH) and other specialists with whom they will meet in the coming days at the site in order to identify the elements.

“Right now we’re unable to reveal the exact location, because unfortunately in the Yucatan, the looters and vandals are always a step ahead of us,” he said.

Grosjean, a certified diver, said that to study the meaning of the pictures, the team will take photos and then, “if the authorities allow it,” they will carry out a sustainable project giving visitors access to the site, and with that, they will “create jobs for local residents.”

Sustainability is key to preserving the archaeologically important site. Grosjean laments that there has been little interests shown at local, regional and federal government levels in proper conservation of Maya sacred sites and respectful use of them as tourist attractions. Some sites have even been converted into resorts with no care for their preservation or historic significance.

This short Spanish-language video shows the tiny hole the team dove through to emerge into the cave and the impressive span of the art works.