Archive for December, 2018

Glorious Bronze Age bulla found in Shropshire

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

A gold bulla discovered by a metal detectorist in the Shropshire Marshes was one of the stars of the Portable Antiquities Annual Report unveiled at the British Museum on Tuesday. About 3,000 years old, it is the most south-westerly example of Bronze Age gold ever found in Britain and is one of only eight extant bullae found in Britain and Ireland. The only other bulla ever discovered in England was dredged from the Irwell ship canal in the 18th century, was sold for a couple of pounds and disappeared from the record. It is an exceptional piece.

This kind of jewelry is known as a bulla after the Latin word for bubble because it’s hollow inside. It is crescent-shaped with wedge-shaped sides and was created using at least two pieces of gold sheet. The top edge has collars on either side that were filled with clay or compacted soil, either deliberately or over the centuries it was buried. Between them is a tunnel which would have been used to thread a chain or necklace through to hang it as a pendant. The front and rear plates that make the body of the pendant are a single sheet of gold plate fixed at the mid-point of the top edge. A base plate closes the two sides of the plate. The fixing points are concealed so the plates and tube collar look like a single piece.

The components were probably soldered together as the use of solder is well-established in metal objects from this period in Britain. The composition of the bulla was tested with XRF-analysis, but the presence of solder — which in Bronze Age objects is higher in copper or silver than the rest of the piece — could not be conclusively identified.

The most striking element of the bulla is the decoration. Every surface is engraved with geometric designs filled with cut parallel lines and concentric curves. They are so precise, so even that the maker must have used a compass or divider to mark them out and then cut them using a graver with a 45 degree cutting edge. There are no punched or repousse patterns as have been found on other bullae. The deep grooves carved all over the piece suggest the gold sheet is comparatively thick and that the decoration was done on the completed pendant rather than on the sheets before they were put together.

To top it off, the lines go in alternating horizontal, vertical, semi-circular and diagonal directions, creating a dynamic graphic look as well as an incredible play of light that makes the gold reflect in different shades that underscore the intricate shapes. This is work of the highest quality, the greatest possible workmanship, material and design that is all but incomparable in a British context.


Game board carved into rock shelter 4,000 years ago

Monday, December 10th, 2018

A pattern of holes cut into the floor of a rock shelter at Gobustan National Park in southwest Azerbaijan were used as a board game 4,000 years ago. Known today as 58 Holes or Hounds and Jackals, the game spread like wildfire over the ancient Middle East. A set was found in the tomb of 12th Dynasty pharaoh Amenemhat IV who died in the late 19th or early 18th century B.C. The board game carved into the rock shelter is from around that time. It can only be generally dated based on the age of the rock art outside the shelter to the second millennium B.C. when the area was occupied by nomadic cattle herders. If it can be more precisely dated to that time, then it will be the oldest 58 Holes game board known.

It was identified by Walter Crist, research associate at the American Museum of Natural History, who was looking for instances of the game in Azerbaijan last year. He had seen a photograph in a magazine of a 58 Holes game at an archaeological site near Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, but when he arrived to examine it he discovered to his dismay that the site had been buried under a housing development. He went to Gobustan National Park, as a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its more than 6,000 rock engravings carved over 40,000 years of human occupation in the area since the last Ice Age, instead.

Park archaeologists were aware of the pattern in the rock shelter’s floor, but they didn’t know about 58 Holes.

The holes are cut into the rock of the shelter in a distinctive pattern that shows how they were used, Crist said. “There is no doubt in my mind — the games played for about 1,500 years, and very regular in the way that it’s laid out,” Crist said.

Though the rules of 58 Holes are unknown, many think it was played a bit like modern backgammon, with counters, such as seeds or stones, moved around the board until they reached a goal.

“It is two rows in the middle and holes that arch around outside, and it’s always the fifth, 10th, 15th and 20th holes that are marked in some way,” Crist said of the pattern cut into the rock shelter. “And the hole on the top is a little bit larger than the other ones, and that’s usually what people think of as the goal or the endpoint of the game.”

Players may have used dice or casting sticks to regulate the movement of counters on the board, but so far, no dice have been found with any ancient game set of 58 Holes or Hounds and Jackals, he said.

Very few Western archaeologists have explored Azerbaijan’s Apsheron Peninsula and little is known about its connections to the societies of the Egypt, Mesopotamia and the Near East in the second and first millennia B.C. The discovery of the game board is more than just a new datum in the history of play; it could be evidence of far broader cultural exchange.


Mantegna works reunited after centuries apart

Sunday, December 9th, 2018

A rediscovered painting by Andrea Mantegna has been rejoined with its companion piece for the first time in centuries. The Resurrection of Christ is now on the wall above The Descent of Christ into Limbo at London’s National Gallery in its Mantegna and Bellini exhibition. The two works were originally the top and bottom parts of a single painting but were separated at an unknown time in the distant past.

The Resurrection of Christ panel painting has been in the collection of the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo for more than a hundred years. It had been in storage since the 1930s after art historian Bernard Berenson assessed it to be a late 15th or early 16th century copy of the lost original. In March of this year, Accademia Carrara curator Giovanni Valagussa was cataloging works in the collection created before 1500 when he noticed the painting seemed to be of very high quality for a copy. He was also intrigued by the unusual placement of a horizontal strut. These wooden supports were common in panel paintings to keep the wood planks from separating and warping, but they’re typically placed at the top and bottom of a painting, not in the middle. That oddly applied strut gave Valagussa the idea that the The Resurrection may have been part of a larger piece. Even for famous painters like Mantegna, artist in residence at the Gonzaga court in Mantua, Renaissance collectors were far more cavalier about cutting up artworks to fit their spaces and decorative motifs better.

When he examined the painting more closely, Valagussa found a key clue. In the bottom center of the piece, disguised by the inky darkness of the cave, there was a thin gold cross. It was just there; not connected to anything, almost a reflection of the cross at the top of the staff Jesus holds as he emerges from his tomb undeceased. He also spotted tiny cut marks at the bottom which had never been noted before.

The clues of the gold cross, the cuts and the wooden strut inspired Valagussa to seek out other known works of Mantegna dealing with the subject matter. He also had the panel’s surface infrared scanned. The CT scanner found that the soldiers’ full technicolor armor was painted over nude figures, a method Mantegna employed all the time.

With the evidence of a Mantegna authorship piling up, Dr. Valagussa sought out a possible work that would have been part of a large original. Jesus’ long weekend in Limbo between his death and resurrection was a popular subject often paired with depictions of the resurrection. Mantegna had made several paintings of Jesus visiting Limbo. One of them, now in a private collection after having been sold at Sotheby’s in New York for almost $30 million in 2003, also included a long staff in Jesus’ hand. When The Resurrection of Christ and The Descent of Christ Into Limbo were lined up to together, the gold cross of the former was perfectly perched on the staff of the latter, and the arches stones of the cave entrance matched up exactly.

Dr. Valagussa contacted Dr. Keith Christiansen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, John Pope-Hennessy Chairman of the Department of European Paintings and the world’s foremost expert on Mantegna. Christiansen studied the work assiduously and conclusively attributed it to the master himself, not his workshop, not a copyist. It would be impossible for a copy to match the undoubted Mantegna work so precisely. It had to have been cut in half.

Since the painting’s true authorship was rediscovered, The Resurrection of Christ has been restored in preparation for display. The owner of The Descent of Christ Into Limbo, an anonymous private collector who is not keen to let his $30 million masterpiece out of his hands, was prevailed upon to loan it to the National Gallery so the two works could be reunited at long last.

Mantegna and Bellini runs through January 27th, 2019. Next March it will move to the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin.


Iron Age speared corpse burial found

Saturday, December 8th, 2018

Excavations near the Yorkshire town of Pocklington have discovered two rather gruesome Iron Age burials. One of a younger man who was speared repeatedly in the grave. The other was a senior man buried in a chariot with two horses. Both burials date to the 3rd century B.C.

The young man was between 17 and 25 years old when he died which appears to have been from natural causes. What happened to him after his death was not so natural.

A detailed examination of his skeleton shows that, probably after his death, his body had been ritually pierced by nine spears (five with iron tips and four with bone ones). He had also received a potentially lethal blow to his forehead, delivered with a wooden club or other similar weapon.

It’s not clear why his body was treated in such a manner. His grave and goods indicate he was a respected individual, a warrior. It’s possible he was “killed” again by weapons of war to convert his natural death into a warrior’s one. He could also have been deemed a danger, so much so that his corpse needed rekilling as in the case of vampire burials. The spears were left in the body, a tactic common in revenant prevention practices. Lastly, he could have been actually killed by the spears, placed in the grave alive and then speared to death. Ritual murders are not unheard of in Iron Age Britain, but their victims are usually found buried in bogs. The distinctive blow to forehead could have been struck first to silence and still the intended victim.

Fourteen other speared corpse burials have been found in Yorkshire. They contain between four and 15 spear jabs. The Pocklington burial was in the middle as to the number of times the deceased was pierced with spears, but it is at the top of the heap when it comes to condition. It is one of the most complete speared-corpse burials ever discovered.

Less than 200 feet away from the young warrior’s grave, archaeologists found the burial of a man who was in his 60s or 70s when he died. He was buried in his chariot yolked to two adult ponies. They weren’t dead. Not yet.

However, it is likely the animals were put in the grave alive and then yoked to the chariot, as if in motion. It appears the grave was then filled up with earth around the two live ponies, the chariot and the dead man.

Probably when there was sufficient earth in the grave to prevent the animals from moving, they were killed and decapitated. Their heads were then removed from the grave, perhaps even to “stand guard” outside the mound that was then constructed over the elaborate burial.

The archaeological evidence shows the man was sent off to the next world, not only in his chariot pulled by his still-standing ponies, but fully clothed and wearing a fine bronze brooch.

He was lying in a foetal position on his highly decorated 35cm diameter bronze, wood and leather shield and surrounded by the bones of six piglets, whose flesh had almost certainly been devoured during the man’s funeral feast.


Mammoth ivory headband found in Denisovan cave

Friday, December 7th, 2018

Researchers have discovered pieces of a 50,000-year-old headband made of mammoth ivory in the Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains of southwestern Siberia. Curved and pierced at the sides, the wide band of ivory was worn tied around the head. Only one of the two fragments found thus far still has the hole the tie was corded through. The wear and tear indicates the headband was used thoroughly before being discarded at the site, not broken in manufacture.

Named after a hermit who inhabited the cave in the 19th century, this is the type site for Denisovan hominids, the place where in 2008 the finger bone of a juvenile female was found that had neither Neanderthal nor modern human DNA. Osteological remains of Neanderthal and Denisovan people have been found there, as have artifacts and tools used by early modern humans. It is the only site known to have been occupied concurrently by Neanderthals, Denisovans and modern humans.

The Novosibirsk Institute of Archeology and Ethnography has a permanent camp in this uniquely important paleontological motherlode. Past excavations have unearthed numerous mammoth ivory artifacts — beads, rings, bracelets, arrowheads, pendants, a sewing needle so well-crafted it can still be used today — but this is the first diadem. The ivory itself is 50,000 years old. Ivory can be crafted for years after the mammoth’s death, however, so the headband has been tentatively dated to between 45,000 and 50,000 years old. To narrow down the date of its manufacture and use, researchers will radiocarbon date other organic remains found in the headpiece’s archaeological layer. They will also attempt a more precise technology called optical dating which determines when a layer was at the surface by analyzing its photons.

Even with the ballpark dating, the diadem is far and away the oldest of its kind known. Other mammoth ivory headbands have been discovered at Paleolithic sites in northern and eastern Siberia. Some are more elaborately designed with decorations carved on the ivory. Dates on those pieces range from 20,000 to 28,000 years ago.

This headband isn’t decorated and there’s no evidence it held any specific symbolic meaning. Its size indicates it was worn by a man, one with an impressive noggin, and researchers think it was a practical object, a means to keep the fellow’s hair out of his eyes.

[Novosibirsk Institute of Archeology and Ethnography researcher Alexander Fedorchenko] explained that some 50,000 years after it was made, it fitted his own temple and the back of his head.

Its diameter could have changed with years due to gradual straightening of the curved part, he said.

‘Mammoth ivory plates were first thoroughly soaked in water to become more ductile and not crack during processing, and then they were bent under a right angle,’ he said.

‘Any bent object tends to return to their original shape over time.

‘This is the so-called memory of the shape effect. We must remember this while trying to judge the size of the head of the tiara’s owner by its diameter.’ […]

The tiara is a gift for trace evidence experts as it shows all possible ways of processing mammoth ivory used by ancient men from the Denisova Cave, like whittling, soaking in water, bending, grinding, polishing and drilling.

‘These are all possible technologies from A to Z typically used in the Paleolithic time, but which are usually associated with activities of Homo sapiens.

‘Here we likely deal with another, more ancient culture, because there was not a single piece of bone belonging to a Homo sapiens found in the cave’, said Fedorchenko.

The team is hopeful that more fragments of the headband will be found as excavations continue. Ivory is durable and inedible. If there’s more of it to be discovered, chances are good that it will be.


Bronze Age jewelry found in Slovakia

Thursday, December 6th, 2018

Archaeologists excavating in the village of Hozelec in northern Slovakia have unearthed a unique trove of Bronze Age jewelry. The site was excavated from April to July of this year as part of a study of Hozeleck’s history, but nobody expected to find Bronze Age artifacts. The team discovered small fragments of bronze spirals, funnel-shaped pins and three bronze discs.

The funnel-shaped objects are highly unusual because they seem to be made of a white metal. It’s possible that it’s bronze with a high tin content in the alloy. Another possibility is that the alloy was treated by some means, perhaps etched with an organic acid or heated to the exact temperature necessary to raise the white metal to the surface. Either way, the whiteness of the funnel pins indicates advanced metallurgic techniques that were previously unknown in Bronze Age finds in Slovakia.

Rarest of all, remnants of leather were found attached to the spirals, funnels and discs. This is likely all that’s left of the bag the spirals and funnels were buried in, with the perforated discs used to sew the top of the bag shut. The organic remains were radiocarbon dated to approximately 3,000 years ago. That dates the metal artifacts to the Middle or Late Bronze Age. It’s also only the second time ever that Bronze Age hide has been found in Slovakia, and the last time was 40 years ago.

The Bronze Age pieces were discovered early in the dig. Artifacts of much younger age were discovered in subsequent weeks, including Celtic buckles, a spade, firearm and horseshoes from the Middle Ages, a 1616 solidus coin, a link chain, a copper hook, knives and assorted other objects that were likely accidentally lost.

The finds have been put on temporary display at the Spiš Museum’s Historical Town Hall. Museum experts will study them further before a permanent exhibition is arranged.


A Roman sarcophagus fit for a pug

Wednesday, December 5th, 2018

A marble sarcophagus in which a young Roman man and then a show business pug (retired) were laid to their putative eternal rest could not perform its duties. The remains of both are long gone, and the coffin sold for its handsomely stark design, good condition and its checkered past.

The sarcophagus was made in late 3rd, early 4th century Rome (the city, not the Empire in general). The vertical striggilations around a central tabula ansata (tablet with handles) were typical design elements for sarcophagi of the period. The tabula is inscribed with seven lines of Latin that translate to: “To the Spirits of the departed. To Gaius Messius Sequmdinus [i.e. Secundinus], who lived 17 years and four months.”

Young Gaius’ family could afford an expensive marble sarcophagus and a prime burial location. It was unearthed in 1828 on the Appia near the tomb of Cecilia Metella by Richard Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville, 1st Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. The grandson of one Prime Minister (George Grenville) and nephew of another (William Grenville), Richard Grenville was an Oxford alumn, Member of Parliament, Privy Councillor, Knight of the Garter and holder of a number of other sinecure positions granted by his uncle.

He’d already climbed the political ladder as far as he could be bothered and squandered absurd amount of cash on a variety of dissipated pursuits when he hit the continent for the Grand Tour. He was past 50, so not your usual British Grand Tourist. More like a fugitive from irate creditors. Still he spent, indulging his penchant for archaeology by excavating the burial sites outside the walls of Rome. Gaius Messius Sequmdinus’ sarcophagus was a good enough find to schlep all the way back to Buckinghamshire. His remains, on the other hand, were left behind.

In 1837, Gaius Messius’ coffin was pressed into service again when the Duke’s beloved pug Harlequin died of advanced old age. The Duke was inconsolable over the loss of his dog. Harlequin was placed in the sarcophagus and buried on the grounds of Stowe House, seat of the Dukes of Buckingham.

Unfortunately for the pug (and for the family, I suppose) the next Duke of Buckingham was as terrible with money as his father had been. He was such a spendthrift that by 1847 he was forced to take a page out of Daddy’s book and run to Europe to dodge the creditors he owed a million a half pounds. The next year there was nowhere left to run and the patrimony of the Grenvilles and of all those heiresses whose maiden names got integrated into the hyper-hyphenation was sold to the highest bidder in a much-celebrated auction at Stowe.

The sarcophagus is listed as a lot in the catalogue, but it’s almost incidental. The real star is Harlequin.

A Roman sarcophagus, found by the late Duke of Buckingham, in an excavation made by him at Rome, in 1828, near the tomb of Cecilia Metella. It then contained the skeleton of the Roman youth whose name it bears – the bones of which were carefully replaced in the earth. It recently stood in the flower-garden at Stowe, and in it were deposited the remains of the late Duke’s favorite dog, who died of extreme old age in 1837. This trifling circumstance is mentioned because to all the Duke’s numerous visitors and friends, this little dog Harlequin was well known as a most sagacious and intelligent little animal; and his attachment to his master was very extraordinary. He was a native of Bologna, of a very rare family called the red-nosed pugs. He was small in stature, but of the utmost symmetry of form. His latter years were embittered by the effects of a quarrel with a large poodle, arising from jealousy, and in this encounter, he lost one of his eyes, by a bite from his furious rival. When the Duke met with him at Bologna, he was a chief actor in a travelling showman’s company; but he could be seldom prevailed upon to display his talents in dancing, after he was purchased from his former master, and promoted into a higher grade of society.

It wouldn’t do to have an actor in the family donchaknow. Fortune-dissipating wastrels, sure. We’ll crank those by the score until there’s nothing left to squander, but a trained dancer is a step too far.

The sarcophagus sold at Sotheby’s Ancient Sculpture sale on Tuesday for £40,000 ($51,000) edging out the high side of the pre-sale estimate by £5,000.


He died with his thigh-highs on

Tuesday, December 4th, 2018

The skeleton of a man wearing high boots have been found lying face-down deep in the mud of the Thames. The remains were unearthed by Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) Headland Infrastructure archaeologists at the at Tideway’s Chambers Wharf site in Bermondsey, part of a construction project building a new “super sewer” for the city of London. The new Thames Tideway tunnel will be the first major update of London’s sewer system since the Victorian era and the first to conduct the excretions, filth and fatbergs of a city of nine million away from the river that runs through it instead of directly into it.

Digging on the Thames foreshore means going through layers of dense waterlogged mud, the kind of medium adept at preserving organic material that would otherwise decay. The soft tissues of the man decomposed, but his leather boots are still going strong. They date to the late 15th or early 16th century. The tops of the boots are folded down to the knees, but would have reached thigh height when pulled all the way up.

They aren’t the sexy pirate thigh-highs. These were practical garments, not fashion statements. Made of leather quarters stitched together with flax thread, the boots had no heels and the one flat sole was strengthened with “clump soles,” at the front and back. They were also stuffed with a plant material that hasn’t been identified yet (perhaps moss) to insulate and customize the fit.

So much leather was expensive and was often reused. That kind of investment clothing wasn’t likely to be deliberately included in a burial. The position of the body — face-down, with one arm above his head with the other bent back on itself to the side — suggests an accidental death. Osteological examination found no evidence of perimortem injuries or any cause of death. His bones did reveal that while he was a young man by our standards, less than 35 years old, he had worked hard during his short life.

“We know he was very powerfully built,” says Niamh Carty, an osteologist, or skeletal specialist, at MOLA. “The muscle attachments on his chest and shoulders are very noticeable. The muscles were built by doing a lot of heavy, repetitive work over a long period of time.”

It was work that took a physical toll. Although only in his early thirties, the booted man suffered from osteoarthritis, and vertebrae in his back had already begun to fuse as the result of years of bending and lifting. Injuries to his left hip suggest he walked with a limp, and his nose had been broken at least once. There’s eviden[ce] of blunt force trauma on his forehead that had healed before he died.

“He didn’t have an easy life,” says Carty. “Early thirties was middle age back then, but even so, his biological age was older.”

He also had deep grooves in his teeth caused by repeatedly holding something or pulling something over the biting surface of the teeth. Fishermen and sailors were known to have passed rope between their teeth. If he had a river-based job like fishing, sailing, dock work or mudlarking, that would explain the boots. They would have been waders, an important tool very much worth the expense for a worker who had to wade in the deep, sticky muck of the Thames day in and day out.


Byzantine gold coins found in pot in Cesarea

Monday, December 3rd, 2018

Archaeologists have discovered a bronze pot containing 24 rare 11th century coins from the Byzantine Empire and the Fatimid Caliphate. One gold pendant earring was included with the coins in the pot before it was buried between two stones on the edge of a well in an Islamic-era home.

The coins are very high value. There are 18 Fatimid dinars composed of 24K gold, five coins of Byzantine Emperor Michael VII Doukas (1071 – 1078 A.D.) and one of Romanos III (1028 – 1034 A.D.), both of 22K gold. This is an unusual mixture of investment-sized denominations. It strongly suggests whoever buried this hoard was a merchant or trader of some sort. Large, highly recognizable and highly valued denominations were used to make deals on large quantities, not as walk-around cash. They were not in circulation in Cesarea. They were barely in circulation anywhere. The Byzantine coins almost never left the boundaries of the Empire period. Only a few of them have been found in Israel before.

Even the bronze pot the treasure was buried in was expensive and special. Usually hoards were wrapped and buried in wood or pottery. The bronze container would have had significant value just on its own. There’s evidence it once had a matching bronze lid, but it was stoppered with a makeshift piece of ceramic when it was hidden.

Hoard found buried between two stones at the edge of a well. Yaniv Berman, courtesy of the Caesarea Development Corporation.Based on the date range of the coins and the mixture of Caliphate and Byzantine mintings, archaeologists postulate that the vase was buried at the end of the Islamic period during the wars of the First Crusade in the late 11th and early 12th century. King Baldwin I of Jerusalem had conquered his crown in July 1100 and quickly stuffed more cities under his shiny new monarchical belt. Cesarea fell on May 17th, 1101. The city founded by Herod the Great was important under Roman, Byzantine and Caliphate rule, a prosperous center of trade with public fountains and gardens. When it was conquered by the crusaders, it had a majority Muslim population many of whom fled the town to avoid a sticky fate.

According to contemporary accounts, most of the inhabitants of Caesarea were massacred by the army of Baldwin I, king of the recently created Kingdom of Jerusalem.

“The cache is a silent testimony to one of the most dramatic events in the history of Caesarea – the violent conquest of the city by the Crusaders. Someone hid their fortune, hoping to retrieve it – but never returned,” the archaeologists said. “It is reasonable to assume that the treasure’s owner and his family perished in the massacre or were sold into slavery, and therefore were not able to retrieve their gold,” they added.

The cache constituted a small fortune, since at the time just one or two of these coins were equivalent to the annual salary of a simple farmer, said Robert Kool, an [Israel Antiquities Authority] coin expert.

The most recent coin in the hoard is one of the Byzantine coins of Michael II Doukas, minted in the last year of his reign. The dinars have not been cleaned yet. Their inscriptions will provide precise dates.

For a brief period in honor of Hanukkah and the traditional gift of “gelt,” gold coins, the hoard is on display at the Caesarea Port. The exhibition ends when the last Hanukkah candle goes out and the find will continue to be conserved, stabilized and studied.


Ohio university returns looted mosaics to Turkey

Sunday, December 2nd, 2018

Bowling Green State University has agreed to repatriate 12 mosaics to Turkey after discovering they had been looted from the ancient site of Zeugma. The university bought the mosaics in 1965 for $35,000 from New York antiquities dealer Peter Marks. There was little paperwork on the provenance of these mosaics, but the claim was that they were from Antioch, modern-day Antakya also in Turkey, raised by Princeton University archaeologists in an approved excavation in the 1930s and exported legally as their share of the finds according to the old partage system.

Those excavations, led by eminent archaeologist George W. Elderkin, discovered literally hundreds of mosaics in elite villas of the ancient city which had been one of the most important in the Roman Empire. Many of them were lifted, divided among the sponsors and either stored, exhibited or installed as architectural features. Princeton had a bit of mosaic fire sale in the early 1960s, and many smaller institutions scored Antioch mosaic panels at that time.

So the Antioch origin wasn’t an outlandish proposition in and of itself, but there was some shadiness. For example, the fact that 11 of the 12 mosaics panels were pulled up in a haphazard fashion with ragged, broken floral and geometric pieces attached the main figural panel should have raise red flags. It didn’t.

Many decades later in 2012, the sections were conserved so they could go on display in a handsomely lit underfloor installation covered with a thick coating of protective glass in the newly opened Wolfe Center for the Arts at BSGU. Dr. Stephanie Langin-Hooper, then assistant professor of ancient art history at BSGU, was asked to find out more about the mosaics and present her findings at a symposium dedicated to the artworks. She invited colleague Dr. Rebecca Molholt, an expert in Roman mosaics at Brown University, to work with her in researching the pieces.

They looked for the mosaics in Princeton’s enormous archaeological archive documentating more than a hundred excavations including the Elderkin digs. They couldn’t find the BGSU mosaics anywhere in the archive. When they looked further afield, they discovered the far more likely source was ancient Zeugma, only this was no approved excavation and partage arrangement.

“That site had been extensively looted … and comparing photographs of looted sites, we were able to pinpoint the exact location, the particular room in a mosaic house, where the fragments came from,” Ms. Langin-Hooper said. “A lot of the mosaic was looted and BGSU does not have all of it. Some of the mosaic, we don’t know where it is. It could be at another university, or lost or who knows, but there was enough there, the particular geometric patterning, the coloring, the size of the tesserae, the individual tiles, everything was a match.”

The pieces of chiseled stone and glass depicting masks of ancient Greek figures and birds surrounded by geometric and floral patterns in yellows, whites, reds, greens, and browns, formed part of a frame of a mosaic panel known as “Gypsy Girl,” a symbol for the city of Gaziantep. The professors discovered that 11 of the pieces, measuring about 12 by 12 inches, were part of the same floor. The 12th piece, 2 by 3 feet in size, depicts the mask of an ancient Greek female figure and was determined by Ms. Langin-Hooper and Ms. Molholt to have come from the same villa.

“Its edges are straight and even, indicating that they were cleaned up and possibly repaired or restored, sometime before the mosaic was purchased by BGSU,” Ms. Langin-Hooper wrote in an article.

To BGSU’s major credit, they contacted the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism and informed them of the recent findings. Ministry experts investigated the mosaics and confirmed that the professors’ were right.

“As a public university, we have a special obligation to contribute to the public good. That obligation extends to the global community,” Rogers said. “The preservation and care of the mosaics has been a priority for BGSU for the last 53 years. We have relied upon the expertise of scholars to guide us, both when we acquired the pieces and now. Thanks to the work of Dr. Langin-Hooper and others, it is clear today that the best place for these precious artifacts is back in the Republic of Turkey at the Zeugma Mosaic Museum. We greatly appreciate the collegiality of the Turkish Ministry of Culture in working with us through this process.”

The agreement was signed on Monday, November 19th. Its terms stipulate that the mosaics will be crated, packed and transported the long way home. The cost will be paid by Turkey’s directorate. When they arrive, conservators will puzzle the mosaic panels together with other pieces found during legal excavations at Zeugma in the 1990s. BGSU will receive high-quality replicas of the mosaics and a plaque explaining the whole story. It hasn’t been decided yet where they will be displayed.





December 2018


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