Tiny but mighty looted Thracian tomb excavated

A Hellenistic era Thracian tomb near the town of Rozovo has been found to be the smallest ancient Thracian brick tomb ever excavated in Bulgaria. It is a beehive tomb, known in Greek as a tholos (“domed”) tomb because of the progressively smaller stacked rings of bricks that create an interior false dome that looks similar to a beehive. The style and materials of the construction date it to the first half of the 3rd century B.C.

The Rozovo tomb is two miles from the Kazanlak Tomb, a 4th century B.C. tomb whose beehive dome is covered in elaborate murals depicting a funeral feast. The Kazanlak Tomb, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, is much larger and more expensively built and decorated than the Rozovo tomb, but they have one very important thing in common: they are the only beehive tombs ever found in Bulgaria whose domes are fully intact.

The Kazanlak Valley in central Bulgaria is famed for the great number of Thracian tombs in the area, most of them unexplored. There are an estimated 1,500 tumuli and only 300 of them have been officially excavated by archaeologists. All of those unmonitored, clearly distinguishable archaeological sites are frequent targets of looters hoping to find ancient funerary treasures which are eminently portable and in-demand goods on the illicit antiquities market.

The little beehive tomb slumbered undisturbed in the embrace of the burial mound above it for two thousand years or so until it was brutally assaulted by looters in 2010. Their filthy work was immediately noticed, but it another eight years would pass before the Kazanlak Museum of History was able to secure the necessary funding from the Bulgarian government for the urgently-needed salvage excavation of the tomb.

It was undoubtedly worth the wait. Even with all the wanton destruction wrought by those brutes in 2010 and their emptying the tomb of its contents, the architectural remains of the tomb itself are archaeologically priceless.

Lead archaeologists Georgi Nehrizov:

“It is curious that the treasure hunters’ digs were illogical and even a little. One of them was outside the burial chamber, and exposed its outer wall, which is totally pointless. Another dig came from the west, reached the burial chamber, and pierced its wall, which is also totally useless, destroying part of the dome room,” Nehrizov says.

He explains that the Ancient Thracian tomb near Rozovo is of the type of the Kazanlak Tomb, with a burial chamber and a small antechamber.

“This Hellenistic Era Thracian brick tomb is the second one after the Kazanlak Tomb to be discovered with a fully preserved dome. Several other such brick tombs have been found in the Kazanlak Valley [the Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings] but they are less preserved, and material from them was used for other structures in later periods,” Nehrizov explains.”This is the smallest tomb of this kind to have been discovered so far. The dome’s top is covered with a stone slab. It consists of 23 rows of bricks of various shapes and sizes. There are rectangular, square, and sectoral bricks, and some of them are very thick. Our excavations lead to the conclusion that the bricks were baked here on the spot depending on the detail that the architect and builder needed, and everything was made to fit together,” the archaeologist elaborates.

In front of the burial chamber and the antechamber, there was a shed covered with Laconian – type roof tiles, large flat tiles which were pieced together with curved tiles.

“Apparently, the shed was a wooden structure. Such sheds have been found in other Ancient Thracian tombs in the Kazanlak Valley such as Shushmanets, the Griffins’ Tomb, the Helvetia Tomb, but here the shed seems better preserved. The treasure hunters didn’t dig from the south,” Nehrizov adds.

On the outside, the Rozovo Tomb was plastered with river stones shaping what the Bulgarian archaeologists refer to as a “coat”, which both solidified the structure and prevented atmospheric water from penetrating the tomb.

Stephenson’s Rocket in 3D

Stephenson’s Rocket, an iconic steam locomotive from the early days of train travel has been laser-scanned in all its 13-feet-long, three-ton glory. It is the largest object in the collection of the Science Museum Group ever to be 3D scanned.

Built in 1829 by Robert Stephenson and Company, Rocket won its manufacturers a lucrative contract with the Liverpool and Manchester Railway when it slaughtered the competition at the Rainhill Trials on Thursday, October 8th, 1829. It did 70 miles back and forward over a 1.5 mile track with an average running speed of 12 miles per hour and reaching a peak speed of 30 miles per hour. The competition favorite, Novelty, barely moved at all due to multiple joint failures. Sans Pareil was above the weight limit and guzzled fuel at triple Rocket’s rate and ground to a halt when its boiler ran dry.

Robert Stephenson, son of George Stephenson, aka the “Father of the Railways,” worked with his father and other partners to design innovative trains and railways. Rocket incorporated several technological innovations — a single pair of driving wheels, multiple boiler fire-tubes, pistons angled close to horizontal rather than vertical, etc. — which made it faster, more stable and more fuel-efficient than its competitors. These features would be replicated (and improved upon) in future steam locomotives.

Thanks to the 3D model, Rocket can now be studied in detail from anywhere in the world. Audiences can move this three-tonne locomotive around with ease on screen, peer underneath and explore the innovations which made Rocket the fastest locomotive of its time. […]

Working with Science Museum Group colleagues, a team from ScanLAB spent 11 hours recording every angle of Rocket to create the 3D model using over 200kg of camera, lighting and scanning equipment. Scanning and photography was particularly challenging due to Rocket’s colour, glossy texture and complex shape.

The 3D model was created from 22 high resolution LIDAR scans and 220 gigabytes of photographs (more than 2,500 individual pictures). The ScanLAB team processed the data for six weeks to generate a point cloud of spatial coordinates, color and intensity values for 750 million points. The 3D model is just the beginning. The point cloud information and scans will be set to other uses as well, including an augmented reality environment.

1903 Oldsmobile runabout still running about

A 1903 Oldsmobile runabout, still running after 115 years, is going under the hammer at the H&H Classics Auction on October 17th. The pre-sale estimate is £34,000 to £37,000 ($44,361 – $48,275), double the car’s original sticker price adjusted for inflation.

Made by the Olds Motor Works, in Lansing, Michigan, it was exported to Australia soon after it was first purchased. The runabout went walkabout for six decades before making its way to England. Since the 1960s, it has been a regular in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, a fitting participant for a run that was founded in 1896 to celebrate the passage of the Locomotives on the Highway Act which raised the speed limit for “light locomotives” from four miles per hour to 14 and abolished the requirement that all cars be preceded by a pedestrian waving a red flag.

Previous Locomotive Acts, The 1896 act untied those chains and basically made driving cars on the roads possible. The draconian regulations that discouraged motoring were replaced with a more reasonable regulatory framework to ensure safety of pedestrians and other vehicles — the 14 mph speed limit, front lights to make the car visible at night, a bell to make its presence heard night or day, restricted access to bridges as determined necessary by local authorities, etc.

Mr. Hugh Luttrell of Tavistock proposed the new speed limit on the grounds that:

Unless there were some limit these carriages might travel at a speed dangerous to the public. For they would only come under the provisions against furious driving – and this law – was extremely difficult to carry out. Policemen were now largely influenced in their idea of furious driving by the amount of exertion a horse was making. It would be quite possible to drive a rapid horse at ten or twelve miles an hour without being had up for furious driving, while to whip a slow horse into ten miles an hour would very likely appear as furious driving. These carriages would go as smoothly at one rate as at another, and it would therefore be extremely difficult to say what was furious driving. For these reasons he contended for a limit of speed, and he thought 14 miles an hour a reasonable maximum.

Makes sense to me. You can tell easily if someone is attempting to whip a horse into a frenzy. Accelerating a car even to the danger point is much harder thing to detect. All of the notes from the parliamentary debate over the Locomotives on the Highway Act are a fascinating glimpse into the transition from animal-powered road transportation and steam-powered rail transportation to motorized road vehicles.

Automobiles were still in their infancy as modes of conveyance seven years later, a fancy for the rich rather than a practical means of transport (an issue raised in the parliamentary debate over the matter of how much tax to charge per vehicle). The average yearly income in the United States was $489 in 1903. The Oldsmobile runabout cost $650. So even though it was the bestselling car in the US between 1902 and 1905 with 4,000 sold in 1903, its 4.5 horsepower couldn’t come close to comparing to the popularity of the literal kind. In 1903, 900,000 horse-drawn vehicles were sold.

Painted 2 c. B.C. tomb discovered in Cumae

French archaeologists have discovered a vividly painted tomb from the 2nd century B.C. in the necropolis of the ancient of city of Cumae. Painted tombs from this period have been found before in the Cumae necropolis, but most of them were painted in bands of red and white. One had funerary boxes decorated in a painted marble effect. This one is the only tomb from the 2nd century B.C. that has been found painted with figures, not just in Cumae, but in all of the Campania region.

The wall to the right of the entrance to the tomb has a nude servant carrying a jug of wine. A krater, a vase used to mix wine and water, is on a stand on his left. Left of the door are a situla (a bucket-shaped vessel), a wooden table and an amphora of wine on a stand. The side wall is also painted but has suffered from plaster loss making any figures impossible to discern. It appears to be a landcape. Because elements of large meal are visible, archaeologists believe it’s a banquet scene. The pigments on the remaining plaster are in excellent condition.

Figural painting was popular in tombs from the late 4th, early 3rd century B.C., but had been out of favor for at least a century when this tomb was built. The motif of a funerary feast was also passé, something seen in the oldest tombs. The owners of the tomb must have had retro tastes, because they certainly had the money to buy whatever they wanted in tomb decor. Only the elite could afford such elaborate painted walls.

No human remains were found. There are three funerary beds, however, so there were probably three people buried in there, although it’s possible all of the beds were not occupied. The tomb was built in one fell swoop, not constructed in stages or added to over years. In addition to its elaborate wall paintings, the tomb structure itself is relatively complex, with a number of vaulted chambers built from volcanic tuff.

The fact that this unusual wall painting has survived is an incredibly lucky break given that the tomb was disturbed by looters, likely in the 19th century when many of the stone-sealed tombs in the 2nd century B.C. area of the necropolis were broken into and robbed. The treasure hunters left sufficient remnants behind — human remains, alabaster perfume bottles, gaming dice, bone and bronze fittings from a wooden box — to enable researchers today to date the tomb.

In order the preserve the delicate, rare fresco which would be endagered by the elements and people of ill-intent, archaeologists removed it from the walls and collected all the fragments they found on the ground. The work will be reassembled in the laboratory.

Cumae, about 15 miles west of Naples, was renown in antiquity as the oldest Greek colony in the West, founded in the 8th century B.C. It had particular importance to Rome because it was the residence of the Cumaean Sibyl, the prophetic priestess of Apollo who sold prophecies from an even more ancient oracle than she to Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, King of Rome. The Roman senate and later the emperors protected and consulted the sacred Sibylline Books for hundreds of years until they were destroyed in the early 5th century. Virgil gave the Cumaean Sibyl a key speaking role in the Æneid. Aeneas appealed to Apollo through her for prophetic tips about what he would face in Italy and for instructions on how to descend into the Underworld to speak to his father Anchises.

400-year-old shipwreck found off Portugal

Archaeologists have discovered a 400-year-old shipwreck off the coast of the port town of Cascais 15 miles west of Lisbon, Portugal, whose cargo attests to the thriving trade between Portugal and India in the 16th and 17th centuries. The find was made as part of a decade-long project funded by the town of Cascais, the Portuguese government and navy, and Nova University in Lisbon to explore the mouth of the Tagus river, an epicenter for wrecks from the heyday of Portugal’s spice trade with Asia.

The ship sank between 1575 and 1625 on the voyage back from India. It was found on September 4th 40 feet below the surface; the depth helped preserve the ship and its contents unusually well for the warm Portuguese coastal waters. Divers discovered nine bronze cannons bearing the Portuguese coat of arms, Chinese ceramics from the Wanli period (1573-1619), peppercorns and cowrie shells which were used as currency in the slave trade.

The mayor of Cascais, Carlos Carreiras, described the discovery as one of the most significant archaeological finds of the past decade. He said that although the cargo ship had yet to be identified, it could prove significant to the town.

“It’s an extraordinary discovery that allows us to know more about our history, reinforcing our collective identity and shared values,” said Carreiras. “That, in turn, will certainly make us more attractive and competitive.”

The discovery comes 24 years after experts found the wreck of the Nossa Senhora dos Mártires (Our Lady of the Martyrs), which also sailed the spice route and sank off Lisbon in 1606.

According to the survey team, who have been mapping the areas since 2009, the latest wreck is in better structural shape than the Nossa Senhora dos Mártires.

This Reuters TV story has wonderful film of divers exploring the wreck. The visibility is excellent so you can get a close look at the remains of ship and its contents. Also heads up for the outstanding photo bomb from an indignant cephalopod at the 27 second mark.