Archive for September, 2018

Late Roman gold coin hoard found in Como

Monday, September 10th, 2018

A unique hoard of gold coins from the late Imperial era has been discovered in downtown Como, Lombardy, northern Italy. The coins were unearthed on Wednesday, September 5th, in an archaeological excavation at the site of the former Cressoni Theater which is being redeveloped. They were contained in a soapstone amphora which has a big chunk missing so the pile of glimmering coin within was clearly visible at first sight.

The amphora was transported to the conservation laboratory of the regional archaeological Superintendency where it is currently being excavated. The coins were tightly packed in little stacks. It will take a long time to complete the job because the contents have to be removed one piece at a time paying close attention to stratigraphy. Layer analysis will be key to determining if the coins were deposited in the same era or over a period of time.

So far 27 gold coins have been recovered and examined. They all date to the 5th century. Coins from this period are very rare because currency didn’t flow as efficiently through the imperial economic system. The quantity and quality of the coins are exceptional, especially for the late empire. The 27 were minted in the reigns of the Emperors Honorius (r. 384–423), Valentinian III (r. 425-455), Leo I the Thracian (r. 457-474) and his short-lived co-emperor Libius Severus (r. 461-465).

No such hoard has even been unearthed in northern Italy before. The gold is in an excellent state of preservation making the images and engravings on the coins and thus the engraver, year and sponsor relatively easily to discern.

There are an estimated 300 coins in the amphora (which is itself of major significance because it is of a previously unknown design), and not just coins. Archaeologists have reason to believe there may be other precious objects deep in the amphora hidden amidst the dense coin clusters, small pieces like pins, figurines and ingots. One gold bar has already been found and two other objects yet to be identified.

Whoever placed the jar in that place “buried it in such a way that in case of danger they could go and retrieve it,” said Maria Grazia Facchinetti, a numismatist — or expert in rare coins — at a Monday press conference.

“They were stacked in rolls similar to those seen in the bank today,” she said, adding the coins have engravings about emperors Honorius (r. 384–423), Valentinian III, Leon I, Antonio, and Libio Severo “so they don’t go beyond 474 AD.”

“All of this makes us think that the owner is not a private subject, rather it could be a public bank or deposit,” Facchinetti added.

The find site is just a few feet away from the forum of the Roman city where merchants, banks and temples would have done brisk cash business. It was also an elite residential neighborhood, however, so it’s not out of the question that a private individual rolled up his own wealth.


More treasure from Yukon. Kinda.

Sunday, September 9th, 2018

Not as old nor as unique as the atlatl but in the category more traditionally held to be treasure is a cache of coins found in Dawson City, Yukon, by construction crews building a new recreational trail. The stack of 23 coins was found a foot under the ground. There are both Canadian and American coins ranging in date from 1864 to 1902.

“These are coins that would have been in common circulation during the [Klondike] Gold Rush,” said Christian Thomas, special projects archeologist from the Yukon government.

“You don’t find money usually, abandoned at some of these historic sites… people usually kept their money with them and wouldn’t abandon those kind of valuable objects,” he said.

It’s no treasure trove, though. The coins have a face value of about $9.50, which Thomas said would not have gone far in gold rush-era Dawson City, when a pound of butter was selling for about $5.

“They probably would have been worth more in Seattle,” Thomas said.

Apples were a dollar apiece in Dawson City in 1898. Eggs ran a whopping three bucks a pop. Thus proving the point so artfully articulated by Deadwood‘s Al Swearengen that the real money in a gold rush is to be made not by prospecting, but by selling crap to prospectors. Adjusted for inflation, the coins’ face value today totals about $243.

There’s no chance of identifying the owner. Anybody could have buried them in that spot. At the time of the gold rush, that area of town, known as the Menzies Addition, was in the bustling downtown where masses of people came and went all the time. They don’t call it a rush for nothing. The residents were largely transient folks with temporary gigs like day labourers and miners who had come to Dawson City with high hopes of striking it rich in an instant only to find nothing but drudgery and bare subsistence. Most of them would give up and leave within a year.

None of the buildings from that time have survived because they were largely transient too. There are no extant property records either, which means no surveyed plots, clear property lines, or real estate sale/lease contracts naming names. The documents that do exist are property tax records. They tell many a sad tale of foreclosure after foreclosure, indicating the transitory nature of settlement in Dawson City during the Yukon gold rush.

The coins are being kept in the Dawson City town safe for now while they await their final disposition. They may wind up at the Dawson City Museum.


Roman mosaic floor found in Switzerland

Saturday, September 8th, 2018

Construction of a new water pipe in Avenches, Switzerland, has unearthed a Roman mosaic floor of high quality and technique. The mosaic is about five feet by five feet and consists of geometric, floral and animal designs surrounded by a border of yellow tesserae. The thick border is dotted with larger marble tiles of different colors cut into irregular shapes. In the center of the mosaic is a medallion featuring two birds perched on a kantharos (a drinking cup).

The Roman settlement of Aventicum was founded around 15 B.C. and became a provincial capital as was an official colonia. It was a trade hub whose prosperity shows in the remains of several large-scale public buildings including an amphitheater, a theater, a temple complex and baths. The area where the pipeline is being installed was an outlying neighborhood along the ancient road between the western gate and the city’s temple complex. Judging from the remains of dwellings that have been found there, it was a wealthy enclave.

It has been only archaeologically surveyed a few times before now. The area under the Avenches bypass road was first excavated in the 1960s when the old road was widened. The remains of a temple enclosure, a sanctuary portico and the ancient town’s main road were discovered then, as were the remains of several buildings along the Roman road. Four years ago there was a significant dig 500 feet away from the current site and a handful of trenches were dug in 2005 and 2008.

The new dig covers far more ground. Since work on the municipal project began in April, crews have dug a trench a third of a mile long and archaeologists from the Roman Site and Museum of Avenches (SMRA) have been on site the entire time to monitor the work. The mosaic floor was part of a building built on the side of the decumanus maximus (the main road through town).

The mosaic is still in situ for now. The pipes will continue to be installed there and any ancient remains left in place will be damaged or even destroyed. In this case, the mosaic will be cleaned and documented before it is moved to the Roman Museum of Avenches.


Complete atlatl found in Yukon’s melting ice

Friday, September 7th, 2018

A helicopter pilot who had just dropped off some researchers at the melting Yukon ice patches near Carcross, Canada, found an incredibly well-preserved atlatl at the base of one of those ice patches. It’s not just the spear tip, but the entire hurling weapon from pointy front to the butt of the shaft. It is the first complete atlatl ever found in Yukon, as far as we know.

A few moments after the researchers he had flown to the site set out to explore the area, the pilot spotted the spear. He called out to them that he’d found something they should look at.

At first, Jennifer Herkes didn’t realize what had been found — she thought it was a piece of an atlatl dart.

“I thought, ‘Oh yeah, that’s neat,'” she recalled.

Then she saw it wasn’t just a piece — it was the whole spear.

“My heart rate started increasing, and I got goose bumps all over. I’d never seen anything like that before, it was amazing,” said Herkes, who is the heritage manager for the Carcross/Tagish First Nation in Yukon.

“The feathers, the sinew, the sap they would have used as, like, a glue to attach the stone point to the wood shaft — all of it is completely intact.”

The find is of immense historical significance. It is at least 1,000 years old and because every element is present, it can shed unique light on how the Indigenous people of Yukon made and used weapons, how they hunted, what materials were available to them and more.

Then there’s the cultural significance.

“When you have a full complete spear like that, it really allows people to connect with their heritage and what their ancestors were doing on the land, thousands of years ago,” she said.

“Everybody gets really excited. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to pull my phone out to show pictures to different people. It’s a pretty great way to bring the community together.”

It’s a pretty great picture. The spear looks like it was made yesterday. In order to keep it looking so pristine, the atlatl has been placed in cold storage. That will keep it from decaying. It did thaw, however, when the ice patch it was embedded in melted, so it will require attention from conservators to ensure its long term preservation. The Carcross/Tagish First Nation and the Cultural Services Branch of Yukon’s Department of Tourism and Culture will study how best to conserve it.

“We’ll do our best to keep it as fully intact as possible, because I think that’s where the true value lies — in being able to have that fully intact piece of history,” she said.


Medieval game board brick found in Vybord

Thursday, September 6th, 2018

Archaeologists excavation the Vyborg Castle in Russia’s Leningrad Oblast near the border with Finland have unearthed a brick that was used as a game board in the Middle Ages. It appears that the game grid was engraved on the brick before it was fired. The brick was discovered in an underground passage in the northern section of the castle that connected the storehouse to the moat, and may even have extended all the way in to the city of Vybord.

The game board is for a game named tablei, which translates to “mill,” was similar to a Nine Men’s Morris. Two players with nine pieces each, one side black, one white, faced off over a simple grid.

In the game, each player aims to claim the other’s men, much like the pieces in chess. When a player builds a “mill” — a row of three men—on the grid-like board, they are rewarded with an opponent’s game piece. Once a player is down to just two men, they are unable to form mills and their opponent claims victory.

Located on the Finnish border with Russia, Vyborg Castle was built in the 13th century and extensively renovated in the 16th. It began to fall into disrepair in the 17th century and switched hands between Russia and Finland several times before being annexed by the Soviet Union in 1944. Neither the USSR nor the Russian Federation did much in the way of upkeep of the once-vital strategic stronghold and its city. This is the first time a thorough, dedicated archaeological excavation has been done at Vyborg. Before then there were only small-scale surveys accompanying basic construction and repair work.

The dig has been exceptionally fruitful. Last month archaeologists found a bag full of 38 two-kopeck coins dating to the reign of Tsar Alexander I (1801-1825) under a parapet wall. They have also laser scanned the underground passage and made a 3D model of it.


14th c. Venetian gold ducat found in Sweden

Wednesday, September 5th, 2018

Archaeologists have a most unexpected discovery in an excavation of the medieval port town of Elleholm in southern Sweden: a 14th century Venetian gold ducat. It is the first coin from medieval Venice ever found in Sweden.

It was minted during the rule of Doge Andrea Dandalo, the the 54th doge of Venice who reigned from 1343 to 1354. On the obverse is a depiction of Jesus Christ surrounded by a pointed oval of light known as a mandorla (almond). The reverse features Saint Mark giving a standard to the Doge.

Elleholm is an island in the Mörrumsån river so small the town occupied pretty much the entire surface area. It was founded around the castle of Sjöborg and there is tree-ring evidence from the remains of a bridge that it was an active port already in 1343 even though it was only given official municipal rights in 1450. The castle is first mentioned in historical sources in 1424. There was excellent salmon fishing in the river and while the island was small, there was enough river around it to make viable shipping lanes.

The Blekinge region was Danish territory then. The Archbishop of Lund (Lund was a Danish diocese) inhabited the castle and owned the city until the Reformation kicked out the Catholic bishop in 1536 and Elleholm was transferred to the Swedish crown. It saw a lot of action in its short life. The city was raised in 1436 by the forces of Swedish nobleman Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson during his rebellion against the Kalmar Union (the union of Sweden, Denmark and Norway under one king, Eric of Pomerania). It was destroyed again in 1524 during the Scanian rebellion of Søren Norby in support of Christian II of Denmark who had been forced to abdicate the year before.

The see of Lund was suppressed in 1553 and by 1600 the once-prosperous port town was abandoned. It wasn’t ideally located for a major shipping center. It was upstream and so small that bigger ships couldn’t comfortably reach the island itself. With larger ships, larger cargoes and greater volumes of trade, successful ports had direct access to the sea. The city of Elleholm was never rebuilt and today there aren’t even any remains of it above ground.

It was only excavated once before in 1924 and that was a small exploration of the castle. Blekinge Museum and Kulturen, a folk history museum in Lund, began digging at Sjöborg in 2016 and have continued every season since then. Their discoveries have revealed a whole new picture of the history of this mysterious site.

The gold ducat and another artifact found in the dig — a Flemish lead seal dating to the first half of the 14th century — are evidence that Elleholm did international business from close to its inception, more than a century earlier than scholars previously believed it to be active.

“To find the first coin ever found in Sweden from the medieval Venice here, suggests it was an international trading port,” Marcus Sandekjer, head of Blekinge Museum, told The Local. […]

“Of course when you find coins from Italy in the Archbishop’s city, it’s tempting to think that it has something to do with ties to Italy and to the Pope,” Sandekjer said. “But that is just a hypothesis.”


Dorothy’s lost ruby slippers go home

Tuesday, September 4th, 2018

One of four surviving pairs of the iconic Ruby Red slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz have been found 13 years after they were stolen from The Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

The museum occupies the house where Judy Garland was born and lived until she was four. It was fully restored before the museum opened in 1975 and today boasts the world’s largest collection of Judy Garland memorabilia with a particular focus on Wizard of Oz memorabilia. The ruby slippers were loaned to the museum by collector Michael Shaw. The museum wanted to put the shoes in the safe every night, but Shaw refused. The slippers were too fragile to be handled by anyone other than himself, he believed, so he put the slippers in a Plexiglass case on a podium 15 feet from a window.

It was a daring crime. In the wee hours of August 28th, 2005, a person or persons unknown smashed open the window with a baseball bat, smashed the Plexiglass display and made off with the slippers. The entire break-in, robbery and escape took less than a minute. The alarm never went off and the security cameras were not functioning. No fingerprints were left behind. The only clue, if you can call it that, was a single red sequin that had fallen off the shoes during the robbery.

The community, which takes great pride in the town’s claim to fame as Judy Garland’s birthplace, was shocked by the brazen heist. Rumors circulated that it was the boldly stupid act of teenagers on a dare, that the shoes were hidden away in a cellar, that they’d been thrown down one of the area’s empty mine pits.

Hoping that the thieves would willingly return the slippers in exchange for cash, the museum offered a $250,000 reward. There were no takers. Over the years the rumors proliferated. In 2011, police searched the home of a San Diego collector. In 2015, Scuba divers explored the Tioga Mine Pit and came up empty. That same year a Wizard of Oz superfan offered a $1,000,000 reward for anyone who could identify the thief and the location of the slippers. Again, there were no takers, although plenty of people from psychics to frauds to weirdos tried to claim the reward with an avalanche of cockamamie stories.

The police continued to investigate, hoping that the wild goose chases would at least keep the real perpetrators from thinking the authorities were on their tails. Last year, there was finally a break in the case.

The FBI said a man approached the insurer in summer 2017 and said he could help get them back. Grand Rapids police asked for the FBI’s help and after a nearly year-long investigation, the slippers were recovered in July during a sting operation in Minneapolis.

The FBI said no one has yet been arrested or charged in the case, but they have “multiple suspects” and continue to investigate. As they unveiled the recovered slippers at a news conference Tuesday, they asked anyone with information about the theft to contact them.

“We’re not done. We have a lot of work to do,” Christopher Myers, the U.S. attorney for North Dakota, said.


Head of Aurelian found in Bulgaria

Monday, September 3rd, 2018

Archaeologists have unearthed a marbleized limestone head thought to be of the Emperor Aurelian in the ancient Roman city of Ulpia Oescus near the village of Gigen in northern Bulgaria. The statue head dates to the 3rd century A.D. and shows the signs of having been used in construction in late antiquity or the early Middle Ages. The ears were damaged in the attempt to use a head as a building block, but a round, bumpy head does not make a good brick, ears or no ears, so it was dumped in a pit for archaeologists to find centuries later.

“The hairstyle, the depicting of the chin, the way the eyes are depicted all speak of the fact that this statue is from the 3rd century AD, the period of the so called barracks emperors, or soldier emperors in the Roman Empire (235 – 284 AD),” [lead archaeologist Gergana] Kabakchieva explains, as cited by Bulgaria on Air TV.

“Based on the size of the head, we can assume that the statue it came from was slightly smaller than life-size, probably about 1.5 meters (5 feet) tall,” she adds.

“This statue was the work of a sculptor from a local atelier in Ulpia Oescus. From Oescus, we have data about the earliest [Ancient Roman] sculptor’s workshop (atelier) in today’s Bulgaria. It dates back to the reign of Roman Emperor Nero (r. 54 – 68 AD), that is, the middle of the 1st century AD,” the lead archaeologist elaborates.

Oescus began in 9 A.d. as a permanent fortified military encampment during the reign of Augustus. Legion were stationed there until 102 A.D. when they were moved at the end of the Dacian War. A civilian settlement of veterans was built on the site and granted the status of colonia by the emperor Trajan, one of only three coloniae in modern-day Bulgaria. The emperor’s middle name, Ulpius, was integrated into the new name of the town.

Located in the most fertile area of the Danube valley on the mouth of the Iskar river at the intersection of several Roman roads, Ulpia Oescus became one of the most important cities in the province of Moesia Inferior. It was a center of trade, religious worship and the arts. The city had one of the largest sculpture workshops in the province. The only colossal Roman statue ever found in Bulgaria was made there.

A clear indication of how important Ulpia Oescus was is that Constantines’s Bridge was built there. The bridge was the largest on the Danube, a mile and half long, 19 feet wide, and the largest river bridge in the empire. Constantine himself attended its opening.

The excavation also unearthed a previously unknown section of the palace Constantine stayed in for the ribbon-cutting ceremony on July 9th, 328 A.D. It’s a marble colonnade on the western side of the main residence of the city. Constantine may have walked through that very colonnade when entering the building.

The bridge didn’t last long. It was destroyed in 355 A.D. during a barbarian invasion. The city was destroyed by the Huns under Atilla in 411. They later tried to rebuild the city as a settlement named Hunion, but it didn’t take. The invasion of the Avars in the late 6th century ended all attempts to rebuild any part of the city. In the 10th century a village from the First Bulgarian Empire was built over the ruins. It was abandoned in the 14th century.


Massive fire strikes National Museum of Brazil

Sunday, September 2nd, 2018

The National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro was struck by a massive fire today and it shows no signs of abating. Founded in 1818, the museum moved into the former residence of the Portuguese royal family in 1889. Every floor of the historic building is completely engulfed in flames. Firefighters are still struggling to get it under control now before it reaches a storage area that contains chemicals. There are no reports of any injuries (or worse) so far. The fire broke out around 7:30 PM after the museum had closed for the day, so all the visitors were gone and hopefully the employees were as well.

The museum is one of the oldest and largest in the Americas and has a vast collection of more than 20 million artifacts, including the oldest human remains ever discovered in Brazil, the 12,000-year-old skeleton of an adult woman known as Luzia. It also houses an internationally important library with more than 470,000 works, 2,400 of them extremely rare.

Brazil’s President Michel Temer released a heartbreaking statement: “It is incalculable for Brazil to lose the collection of the National Museum. Two hundred years of work, research and knowledge were lost. It is a sad day for all Brazilians.”

And for the world. :cry:


13th c. tiles found under floor of Bath Abbey

Saturday, September 1st, 2018

The floor of Bath Abbey has long been in a parlous state, and the abbey itself lacks the most basic facilities to accommodate its community and visitors. Basic as in bathrooms. It has none. With the floor on the verge of collapse, Bath Abbey raised funds from donors and secured a major £10.7 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to repair the floor, install a new heating system, build out the previously unused underground vault space, add all kinds of new facilities from bathrooms to catering kitchens to rehearsal rooms for the choir to a Discovery Center that will showcase the rich history of the church. The total budget for this ambitious project is £19.3 million.

Bath Abbey’s floor is made of 891 memorial stones, more than any other church in England, which made addressing the floor’s rapid deterioration both more pressing and more complex. The stones had to be removed one at a time and carefully conserved. While they were being treated, the unsound surface could be repaired, the new underfloor heating system installed and the memorial stones put back in their original placement. The new heating system, incidentally, will harness the same natural resource that inspired the Romans to build the famous public bath that gave the city its name: geothermal energy from hot springs.

To take full advantage of the unique opportunity to explore the archaeological underpinnings of the church, contractors Wessex Archaeology were brought in to dig through the layers of history underneath the floor. Six and a half feet under the floor, archaeologists discovered the remains of a 13th century floor with brilliantly colored tiles.

The floor is composed of exquisite tiles which are attributed to the Wessex School; a series of designs derived from tiles laid at Clarendon Palace, east of Salisbury. Other examples of these tile designs are known from Bath, Wells, Bristol and Glastonbury.

The three golden lions on a red shield is the coat of arms of the Plantagenet kings. The three red chevrons on a gold shield is the coat of arms of the de Clare family, powerful Norman marcher barons who held the earldoms of Gloucester and Hertford as well as land in both Wales and Ireland. The family line came to an end when Gilbert de Clare, 8th Earl of Gloucester and cousin of Edward II, died at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

The tiles were installed in the largest and most glamorous iteration of the cathedral. The first church on the site was an Anglo-Saxon monastery built in 757 A.D. That was destroyed by the Normans during a rebellion against William II. In 1088, construction began on a new church a much grander scale. The Norman cathedral was so big that the current Gothic abbey could fit in its nave.

By the end of the 15th century that great church was falling to pieces. Oliver King, Bishop of Exeter and Bath and Wells, undertook its restoration in 1500 after being told in a dream “Let an Olive establish the crown, and let a King restore the Church.” He took that to mean that he should restore Bath Abbey and support Henry Tudor’s bid for the throne. The new church was completed in the late 1530s, decades after King’s death and just in time for the next Henry Tudor’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. The monastery was indeed dissolved, but the cathedral made it through.

Visitors to Bath can see the archaeologists at work on and under the floor in a couple of weeks. The Abbey will be offering behind-the-scenes tours from September 13th through 15th as part of Heritage Open Days. The tours are free but you have to book ahead of time.

This video shows the new floor tiles on the day of their discovery, August 30th. Cai Mason of Wessex Archaeology gives an overview of the find starting around the 35 second mark.





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