Wari metallurgist’s tomb found in Peru

Archaeologists almost literally fell into the tomb of a 1,200-year-old metallurgist during an excavation in Huarmey, Peru. The team from the Warsaw University’s Centre for Precolumbian Studies was exploring a ceremonial square where religious rituals where known to have taken place and the remains of sacrificed llamas have been discovered. One of the students working on the site didn’t notice there was a deep hole near him until his leg fell into it. He was fished out unharmed and archaeologists decided to check out that hole deliberately this time.

The space contained the burial of a young man. Because of the location of the grave initially the archaeologists thought he was a sacrifice victim, but further investigation found no evidence that the man, about 20 years old at time of death, had been ritually killed. He was placed in the wet clay of the grave in a seated posture wrapped in a textile which has not survived. We know it was there because its pattern left an imprint on the clay.

When the first skeletal remains were unearthed, there were no grave goods found in the burial space. Complete excavation revealed that the youth was indeed buried with objects, a dozen used tools. It just took them a while to find them because they were all placed in one location: on his chest with his hands on top of them. They were tools, most of them bronze — a fine-toothed saw, an axe, several knives, a chisel — and had originally been bundled in fabric as well. Some fragments of that textile have survived.

Analysis carried out by Toronto University’s Branden Rizzuto showed that the tools were made of a rare type of bronze – copper alloy with arsenic, rather than more common tin.

[Dig leader Prof. Miłosz] Giersz said: “The alloy with arsenic guaranteed that these were really hard tools that could be used for a variety of farm and carving jobs.”

The most astonishing finding was an obsidian knife, as the material was rare in the Wari culture. Giersz explained: “Obsidian was considered a very valuable raw material in the Wari culture, as well as in other cultures of America, it was imported from a very long distance, this particular one from Quispisis, obsidian outcrops located over a thousand kilometers in a straight line north of Huarmey”.

There is extensive wear and tear on the tools which strongly suggest they were the tools of the deceased’s trade. Some of the teeth are broken off on the saw, others are bent. The saw is also decorated. There’s a rectangular grid design in the middle, a pattern seen on ceramic vessels from that period which is believed to have been a maker’s mark. Perhaps this was his maker’s mark as well.

Even stronger evidence that the young man was a professional metallurgist is the inclusion of slag in the burial. A byproduct of the smelting of ore, slag isn’t found at random in Wari tombs. Archaeologists believe it was a deliberate burial meant to symbolize his trade.

The ceremonial square where he was found is located at the foot of a mountain. At the top of that same mountain, the Polish archaeological team discovered an enormously significant tomb in 2012. The tomb was intact, unlooted and held the remains of 64 individuals, most of them women, high-ranking aristocrats of the Wari empire, including three royal women in their own individual chambers. It was the first unlooted Wari royal tomb ever discovered, and it was filled with grave goods, around 1,200 artifacts made from precious metals, alabaster and other luxury materials. It dates to the 8th century, so around the same period when a young metallurgist was buried at the foot of the mountain.

Did the Inca loot ancient mummies?

Excavations at the ancient site of Pachacamac on the Pacific coast of Peru have unearthed a 1,000-year-old cemetery. Université Libre de Bruxelles’s Center for Archaeological Research (CReA-Patrimoine) have been excavating the site 25 miles southeast of Lima for 15 years and have found numerous cemeteries. This one is in an area of the archaeological site that hasn’t been excavated before.

[The team] found a cluster of burials in foetal positions, wrapped in numerous layers of plant materials, nets and textiles.

“These burials were interred in groups” says Professor Peter Eeckhout (Université libre de Bruxelles, ULB) – director of the Ychsma Project – “interred in deep pits sunk into the sand, accompanied with ceramics and other offerings, then covered with wood and rushwork roofs”.

Previous excavations have found an unusually high proportion of disease in the skeletal remains. Inca sources claim the city was a religious center with a reputation for healing, making it a pilgrimage site for people suffering from illness. The latest find confirms those accounts. Physical anthropologist Dr. Lawrence Owens led the team that examined the remains.

“Most of the people at the site had hard lives, with various fractures, bad backs, bad hips…but the individuals from this cemetery show a higher than usual concentration of tuberculosis, syphilis and really serious bone breaks that would have had major impacts on their lives. Still, the fact that most of these are healed – and that disease sufferers survived for a long time – suggests that they were being cared for, and that even in the sites’ early history people felt a duty of care towards those less fortunate than themselves”.

Pachacamac was founded by the Wari around 200 A.D., but most of the major public buildings and temples were constructed by the Lima and Ychsma cultures between 800 and 1450 when the polity was absorbed into the Inca Confederacy. The Inca respected the local creator god and the city’s namesake Pacha Kamaq, incorporating him into their pantheon albeit as secondary to the Incan creator god Viracocha. They built several new temples in the city, expanding the facilities for pilgrims and spreading its reputation as religious healing center throughout the Confederacy.

As with most of the mummy bundles unearthed at Pachacamac (one salient exception was found last year), the ones found in the recently-discovered cemetery are not intact. They were damaged during the construction of a large building above the cemetery under Inca rule. It’s not just general damage caused by building work or the extensive looting that took place in the 17th century after the Spanish conquest. There is evidence here of targeted action against the mummies. Almost all of the mummies are missing their heads and some other specific parts.

This strongly suggests the Inca deliberately desecrated the city’s ancient dead, perhaps harvesting them for their own religious purposes. The Inca treated their own graves with reverence, but they were not related to the ancient peoples of Pachacamac and while they promoted some of the local traditions, they didn’t revere their dead as they did their own ancestors.

Face-to-face with a Neolithic dog

Using facial reconstruction technology to recreate the visages of long-ago people is a fashionable trend in archaeology. Now for the first time that technology has been applied to man’s best friend: a Neolithic dog whose skeletal remains were found in a tomb on Orkney.

Built between 3000 and 2400 B.C., the Cuween Hill chamber tomb on Orkney was first excavated in 1901. The cairn features a passageway leading to a central chamber with four small cells opening off it. The remains of at least eight people were found inside — five skulls in the central chamber, two in two of the side cells, one at the entrance — and the remains of numerous dogs. Skulls and bones from 24 dogs were discovered on the floor of the central chamber. Radiocarbon testing dated them to 500 years after the tomb was built, which means they were added to the cairn by residents, likely for symbolic or ritual purposes.

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) commissioned the Diagnostic Imaging Service at Edinburgh University’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies to CT-scan one of the Cuween dog skulls in the collection of the National Museums Scotland. Armed with the detailed scan, HES’s Digital Documentation team produced a 3D print of the skull. Forensic artist Amy Thornton used the printed skull as the base for a realistic reconstruction of the dog’s head. It was not an easy task.

Amy Thornton, who trained in facial reconstruction methods while undertaking an MSc in Forensic Art at the University of Dundee, said: “This reconstruction has been a particularly interesting project to be involved in, as it marks the first time I’ve employed forensic methods that would usually be used for a human facial reconstruction and applied these to an animal skull.

“This brought its own set of challenges, as there is much less existing data relating to average tissue depths in canine skulls compared to humans.

“The reconstruction was originally created in clay using traditional methods, with a 3D print of the Cuween Hill skull as the base to build the anatomy on to. The completed sculpture was then cast in silicone and finished with the fur coat resembling a European grey wolf, as advised by experts. The resulting model gives us a fascinating glimpse at this ancient animal.”

Osteological analysis of the bones found in the cairn indicate he was a big boy, the size of a large collie. Archaeologists think the dog were active members of the farming and herding communities of Late Neolithic Orkney.

Steve Farrar, Interpretation Manager at HES, said: “Just as they’re treasured pets today, dogs clearly had an important place in Neolithic Orkney, as they were kept and trained as pets and guards and perhaps used by farmers to help tend sheep.

“But the remains discovered at Cuween Hill suggest that dogs had a particularly special significance for the farmers who lived around and used the tomb about 4,500 years ago. Maybe dogs were their symbol or totem, perhaps they thought of themselves as the ‘dog people’.

Or maybe they interred their most beloved dogs in the symbolically important cairn for their own sake, as the most of elite pet cemeteries.

Galle Chandelier restored sans goldfish

A magnificent gilded bronze chandelier with a uniquely whimsical design is the subject of a new exhibition at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. The Galle Chandelier was made in 1818-9 by bronze caster and gilder Gérard-Jean Galle in Paris.  Acquired by the Getty in 1973, it has been on display at the Getty Center, one of the gems of its decorative arts collection, since 1997. Earlier this year it was removed for conservation and is now back on view in Flight of Fancy: The Galle Chandelier.

The new exhibition places the chandelier at eye-level so visitors can view the piece up close. On display along with it are images of some of the design details and prints and illustrations that explore Galle’s inspiration for the work. There are also be interactive video panels that will show a rendering of what the chandelier looked like with the candles lit.

Gérard-Jean Galle came from a family of casters and gilders. His father Claude was one of the premier producers of gilded bronze of his time, creating works for Marie Antoinette, among others. The son took over the family business after his father’s death in 1815, but expensive decorative ornaments weren’t in high demand in post-Napoleonic France. The restored Bourbon monarchy was constitutional now and keen to distance itself from the dizzying spending and ostentation of the Ancien Régime. While what was left of the old nobility did return, they did so in highly reduced circumstances, their ancient feudal powers gone and their lands worked by people they actually had to pay. The new money, businessmen and the professional class, didn’t have the same passion for festooning shiny gold geegaws in every possible nook and granny.

Galle’s skill and craftsmanship were certainly recognized. He won the silver medal at the 1819 Exposition des Produits de L’Industrie Française (Exhibition of French Products of Industry), but got little business from it. He tried the direct approach, writing a letter to Louis XVIII offering to sell  the works he had exhibited at the Exposition for a price that would be “modest for the government.” The government declined.

One of those objects was a chandelier that was either the twin of the one owned by the Getty or the very same. Galle called it a lustre à poisson (fish chandelier) and described it thus in the letter:

Fish chandelier: In the middle of a blue enameled globe scattered with stars is a circle with the signs of the zodiac and six griffins carrying candles … [below is a glass bowl fitted with] a plug intended for the removal of the water which one places in the bowl with small goldfish whose continuous movement will give agreeable recreation to the eye.

The idea of a live fish swimming in a bowl under a chandelier lit by 18 candles is certainly, uhh, innovative. I can’t imagine the fish would have had a good time of it. The globe design was a novelty as well. The gold zodiac symbols on the blue field remind me of the Montgolfier brothers’ historic hot air balloon which first took to the skies before King Louis XVI of France and Queen Marie Antoinette at Versailles in 1783.

Galle’s workshop stayed in business despite the royal refusal. He received a gold medal at the Exhibition of Products of French Industry in 1823 and finally did sale some of his pieces to Louis XVIII, earning the title fournisseur de sa majesté (supplier to his majesty), but it wasn’t enough to bring him any financial security. The Revolution of 1830 kneecapped his market yet again. He was forced to cut his workforce in half and the business ultimately went under. He died in poverty in 1846.

Flight of Fancy: The Galle Chandelier will run through April 19th, 2020.

Old Coke bottle sells for $110,700

To be fair, it’s a really, really old Coke bottle, a modified prototype of the curvaceous form that has become a pop culture icon. There are only three prototypes of the contour bottle known to survive, and this is the only one that is completely intact with nary a scratch, chip or any signs of wear whatsoever to mar its handsome green surface. In fact the hammer price is something of a bargain, all things considered.

It was born in 1915 when the Coca-Cola Bottling Company in Atlanta sought to differentiate itself from its competitors by replacing the plain, straight-sided bottles everyone used with “new bottle, a distinctive package” that would make Coke instantly recognizable. Once divorced from the drug store soda fountain counter, the beverage’s success in bottled form had spawned many imitators. Coca-Cola first tried to beat off the copycats with a distinctive diamond-shaped label in 1906, but because many stores kept their soda bottles in big buckets of ice, the paper labels often slipped off.

The 1,000 bottling plants franchised to produce Coca-Cola at that time were required to emboss their bottles with the famous cursive lettering trademark created by Frank M. Robinson, partner and bookeeper of Atlanta pharmacist Dr. John S. Pemberton who invented the soft drink in 1886. The problem was that as recognizable as the Coca-Cola lettering was, imitators were shameless about copying it for their sodas. Brands like Koka-Nola, Murphy’s Coca-Cola, Mo-Cola and Koke, either straight-up stole the script or modified it ever so slightly the public to dupe the public.

Coca-Cola launched a contest among the eight or 10 large glass works that supplied its current bottles to create a new design. Benjamin Thomas, co-founder of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company and developer of its worldwide bottling system, wrote that their mission was to create a “bottle so distinct that you would recognize if by feel in the dark or lying broken on the ground.” The proposed designs were to be sent to the bottling company headquarters in Atlanta along with a prototype bottle. Eleven bottles were submitted.

A committee of Coca-Cola bottlers and lawyers assembled in Atlanta in August of 1915 to pick the winning design. The bottle designed by staff machinist Earl R. Dean at the Root Glass Company in Terre Haute, Indiana, was the clear winner. He and his co-worker Clyde Edwards had been sent by shop foreman Alexander Samuelson to the public library to research the coca plant and kola nut, in the hope their shapes would provide inspiration. They didn’t. Instead, they came across an image of the curved, ribbed cocoa pod. Dean quickly drew up a sketch for a contoured, fluted bottle and within hours a few samples were created.

The first design did require some modification for practical reasons. The diameter of the base was smaller than that of the middle of the bottle. The former had to be widened and the latter slimmed down in order to keep the bottles from toppling over on the conveyor belt and so they’d fit into the bottling machines that were already in use. Root made the changes and created a new sample bottle for the Coca-Cola Bottling Company’s approval. The revised prototype was approved and a limited-run production followed to make bottles for testing in four bottling plants, two in Alabama (Birmingham and Anniston), one in Augusta, Georgia, and one in Nashville, Tennessee.

This was a top secret operation, with only the bottling plant owners and a few supervisors allowed on the premises during the trial runs. The bottles used were apparently destroyed after the testing (fragments from several of the bottles were found in the garbage dump of the Birmingham plant in an excavation in the late 1970s). The bottle’s new design worked like a charm. Cosmetic changes were made — the city was moved to the bottom of the bottle and the patent date to the middle of the bottle under the Coca-Cola logo — but the Coke bottle’s shape was set. The contour bottle was introduced nationally in April of 1917 and quickly became famous worldwide.

The bottle coming up for auction was discovered in an extensive collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia originally assembled by a retired Coca-Cola employee who had once worked for Chapman Root, founder of the Root Glass Company. The base of the bottle is stamped “Atlanta, GA, 1915” and under that is the date the bottle was patented by Alexander Samuelson (November 16, 1915). The Coca-Cola logo is on the bottom. The dates, placement of the trademark and its pristine condition indicate this was the modified prototype, not one of the first samples made at the Root factory, nor one of the bottles used in the test production. It is the only known example.

One of the original prototype bottles is owned by the Coca-Cola Company and was recently part of an exhibition dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the iconic bottle at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art. A second was sold at auction in 2011 for $250,000. Earl Dean’s first pencil sketch of the bottle sold at that same auction for $237,500.

“This bottle is a missing link in the history of Coca-Cola. From the moment it arrived in our hands, we knew it would create a buzz. It’s considered a highly important piece, not only by Coca-Cola collectors but also advanced bottle collectors,” Morphy said. The new owner of the bottle is a private collector who prefers to remain anonymous.

The auction took place over three days (April 12-14) and Coke memorabilia was only part of it. Most of the items were antique coin-operated games and gambling machines, Old West collectibles and assorted advertising. The catalogue is an absolute blast. It makes me yearn to create my own personal Coney Island in my basement.