Roof of Mamertine prison church collapses

The roof of the church of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami (Saint Joseph of the Carpenters) collapsed on Thursday afternoon, reducing to rubble one of the most beautiful original parts of the church: the wooden coffered ceiling built in the 1600s. It was the central vault which weakened and took the roof down.

San Giuseppe was built by the guild of carpenters starting in 1597. It was completed in 1663. The facade and apse were redone in an extensive 1886 renovation. Today the church suffers from structural issues (to state the obvious) and is mostly closed to the public during regular hours.

The church was built over another church, San Pietro in Carcere, which in turn was built over (and named after) the Mamertine Prison. Known in antiquity as the Tullianum, it is one of Rome’s most ancient prisons. Legend has it that it was built by the fourth king of Rome, Ancus Marcius, in the 7th century B.C.; its factual history can be traced back to the later Republican era when a variety of rebels, pretenders, usurpers and individuals deemed enemies of the Senate and the People of Rome were imprisoned there. Gallic leader Vercingetorix withered away to nothing in the Tullianum before being executed at Julius Caesar’s triumph. Jugurtha, King of Numidia, starved to death in that dank hole. Both Saint Peter and Saint Paul did bids there before their martyrdoms.

Located steps from the Capitoline overlooking some of Rome’s most iconic ancient marvels, the church makes an evocative setting for photographs and is an extremely popular wedding venue today, structural problems notwithstanding. Two were scheduled for this weekend, in fact. The timing of the roof collapse is therefore as fortunate as a tragedy can be. Only the priest was on site at the time, and he was taking siesta in his quarters so wasn’t in the church itself.

First responders arrived immediately after the collapse, alerted by the enormous boom and the column of smoke. Staff and visitors to the Mamertine were briskly removed and there were no injuries. The firefighters’ preliminary estimates are that three quarters of the roof came down in the collapse and they have a crane up right now taking down the remnants that are in imminent danger of falling. Basically, by the time the situation is stabilized, there isn’t going to be a roof to speak of.

The damage to the interior of the church is impossible to assess right now. It’s engulfed in massive broken beams and debris. No damage to San Pietro in Carcere or to the ancient Mamertine underground is known, but there has been a report of damage to a chapel adjacent to the prison.

Here’s an aerial view of the giant hole in the church roof:

Intact Minoan tomb found on Crete

The pit that opened up under the truck. Photo courtesy the Lassithi Ephorate of Antiquities.When an olive farmer in the village of Kentri near Ierapetra, southeast Crete, parked his truck in the shade of one his olive trees, the ground, oversaturated by a leaky irrigation pipe, retreated under its tires. Don’t worry. No harm came to the truck. A four-foot pit opened up underneath it is all, and when the farmer peered inside, he realized he and his truck had just made an archaeological discovery.

He alerted the Lassithi Ephorate of Antiquities, the local heritage ministry, and they dispatched a team to do an emergency archaeological excavation of the pit. More than eight feet under the surface, archaeologists found an ancient chamber tomb entirely intact and undamaged by looters or faulty irrigation. It had been dug out of the soft limestone. Access to the chamber was provided by a vertical tunnel that was then sealed with clay masonry.

The tomb is 13 feet long with a vaulted ceiling and is divided into three carved niches each with its own funerary arrangement. In the southernmost area was a large covered larnax, a chest used as a coffin in the Minoan and Greek Bronze Age. When archaeologists lifted the cover, the saw the articulated skeleton of an adult.

In the second niche just in front of that larnax were a group of pottery vessels: 14 small ritual amphorae and a large krater (used to mix water and wine). The third niche in the northernmost area of the tomb held another larnaca. This one was broken and had no cover. Skeletal remains were found inside of it, but the skeleton was eroded after having been exposed. In front of the coffin were another 8 vases, six of them ritual amphorae.

All of the ceramics are intact and in good condition. Enough so that experts were able to date to the tomb based on the ceramic typology. It dates from 1400 to 1200 BC, the Late Minoan IIIA-B period.

“The positive thing is that they were not emptied by thieves and this will help archaeologists get as much information as possible. This is a great day for Ierapetra. When you see that in a 4 meter hole there are such important antiquities you feel awe,” Argyris Pantazis, deputy mayor of Local Communities, Agrarian and Tourism of Ierapetra, told cretapost.

Rare clan seal found in Scottish castle dig

An excavation at the ruins of Dunyvaig Castle on Islay, in Argyll, Scotland, has unearthed a rare 17th century artifact: the seal of Sir John Campbell of Cawdor. The lead seal bears the Cawdor coat of arms with a stag head and a galley on the obverse, and is inscribed “IOANNIS CAMPBELL DE CALDER.” On the reverse is the date 1593 and the initials DM.

It was a student who found the object. University of Reading undergraduate Zoë Wiacek was one of a team of 40 archaeologists, other scientists and students who have been excavating the site for three weeks as part of a yearly summer school dig on the island. Towards the end of the dig, Wiacek discovered the seal under the rubble of a collapsed stone wall. She realized it was significant but did not know what it was. When the lead circle was removed and the soil brushed off, the inscription identifying it as Sir John’s seal was revealed.

Originally built in the 13th century, very little of the original structure remains. What’s left today is largely the 16th century castle built by the Clan MacDonald of Dunnyveg. Sir John Campbell came to own it several decades later in 1612, when Angus MacDonald sold him Dunyvaig and several other family holdings on Islay. Some of the MacDonald family were not in agreement with the laird’s choice. They occupied the castle and made Cawdor fight for it. He didn’t take possession until 1615.

Given the date of the seal, it’s possible it was lost during those three years of sieges and battles. It could also have been lost in the chaos of another fight 30 years later. In 1646, MacDonald descendant Alasdair MacColla took the castle, leaving his 76-year-old father Colla Ciotach in charge of defending it against the inevitable Campbell counterattack. He did the best he could, erecting new turf walls over the collapsed masonry walls and holding on to the castle until 1647 when he was defeated and executed by hanging from the castle walls.

Sir John Campbell of Cawdor was dead by then, however. He died in 1642. If the seal was lost in the 1646 raid, it would have been an heirloom rather than a legal signature.

Archaeologist Dr Darko Maricevic, director of the excavation at Dunyvaig, said: “This is a remarkable find. Not only is it a beautiful and well-preserved object, but it comes from the floor of a building that we can now confidently date to the Campbell occupation.

“So buried below this floor, we will have the story of the MacDonald’s – the Lords of the Isles – to reveal.”

Roddy Regan, an archaeologist at Kilmartin Museum, added: “Seals are extremely rare finds. This discovery conjures up an image of a Campbell garrison fleeing from the castle when under attack, dropping and losing one of their most precious items, or maybe the seal had once been hidden within a wall niche and long forgotten.”

Boston Tea Party cartoon sells for $37,500

The rare cartoon of the Boston Tea Party printed by engraver and soon-to-be convicted counterfeiter Henry Dawkins sold at auction on Saturday for $37,500. One of only seven known copies, “Liberty Triumphant or the Downfall of Oppression” was published in the immediate wake of the act of rebellion which saw members of the secret organization Sons of Liberty dump more than 92,000 pounds of East India Company tea into Boston Harbor on the night of December 16th, 1773. The exact publication date is not known, but it was after December 27th, 1773, and before April of 1774.

The condition of this copy is excellent. The last one to come up for auction was not. It had stains, tears, had been mounted to a board and the title was missing. Even so, it still sold for $27,000 because of the rarity and historical significance of the piece. It’s no surprise that such a clean, intact print sold for $10,000 more than that.

Whoever won the auction has chosen to remain anonymous at this time. All we know is that it was a phone bidder. I would suspect a dealer because the Heritage Auctions listing says that the new owner is already “proactively entertaining offers.”

Bidding opened at $18,000. Two minutes later it was all over. HA captured the fast-paced excitement on video so you can watch it all go down.

Perfectly preserved Ice Age foal found in Siberia

The remains of an eerily intact foal has been discovered in the melting permafrost of Siberia. Preserved in the ice for tens of thousands of years, the baby horse was found by paleontologists from Yakutian North-Eastern Federal University in the Batagaika crater in Yakutia, Russia. Scientists identified the foal as a Lena Horse, a species that inhabited the area 30,000-40,000 years ago and has no genetic link to the freaking adorable wild horses that roam Yakutia today.

The little fella was two months old when he died. There is no physical evidence on his body of what caused his premature death. As a matter of fact, there are no blemishes of any kind, no decay, no damage from scavengers, no tissue loss, not even hair loss. Its ears, tail, nostrils and nostril hairs are untouched by the passage of 40,000 years.

Researchers at the North-Eastern Federal University were able to collect a wealth of samples from this perfectly intact horse. They took hair, tissue and fluid samples from the foal and detailed measurements. The foal is 39 inches high at the withers. The research team also took samples of the soil covering the find site.

“We’ll study content of its bowel to understand the foal’s diet. The autopsy will be carried later”, said [head of Yakutia Mammoth museum Semyon] Grigoryev.

Deputy Head of the North-Eastern Federal University Grigory Savvinov said the foal must have fallen into a natural trap.

In this trap scenario, the foal would have fallen into water and drowned. The water would then have quickly frozen over, preserving the benighted creature in perfect condition.

Here’s a short video of the research team examining the foal. The closeup of a cut in the skin where a sample of tissue was removed at the 1:29 mark is something else.