Archive for June, 2019

Lahun pyramid opens to public

Sunday, June 30th, 2019

Egypt has opened the 4,000-year-old Pyramid of Lahun to the public for the first time. The mud-brick pyramid near the city of Faiyum was built for 12th Dynasty Pharaoh Senusret II who had done extensive works expanding water access and arable land in Faiyum during his reign (1897-1878 B.C.). He moved the royal necropolis to Lahun and built a workers’ quarter to house the people employed in the construction of the pyramid complex.

The pyramid was first excavated by Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie in 1889. The pyramid’s contents had been thoroughly looted by then (Flinders Petrie actually found the royal burial chamber via a tunnel dug by tomb raiders and only discovered the actual entrance by working backwards from there), but he did discover a gold and inlay royal uraeus in a flooded chamber, a piece of pharaonic regalia lost by the plunderers on their way out.

There are several unique features about this pyramid. Old and Middle Kingdom tombs typically placed the entrance on the north face, hidden behind a chapel. Senusret II had the chapel built in the usual location, but it concealed no entrance. Instead, the entrance corridor wasn’t in the pyramid; it was a vertical shaft under the tomb of a princess’ tomb 36 feet east of the pyramid’s south face. This was done to deter grave robbers, alas to little avail.

The pyramid was originally clad in white limestone with a black granite pyramidion topper. Some fragments of the latter have been found, but the limestone was stripped and reused for another construction project by 19th Dynasty pharaoh Ramesses II. Thousands of years of harsh elements did not improve its condition and extensive conservation had to be done to make it safe for visitors.

“The conservation work includes the removal of debris found inside the pyramid’s corridors and burial chamber and installing wooden stairs to facilitate its entrance,” Mostafa Waziri, General Secretary of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said in a statement.

“It also includes re-installing the fallen stones in the hall and corridor to its original location after restoration, as well as restoring the deteriorated stones of its floor and installing a new lighting system.”

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First undisturbed Roman shipwreck found in Cyprus

Saturday, June 29th, 2019

The first undisturbed Roman shipwreck ever found in Cyprus has been discovered off the coast of Protaras. The resort town of Protaras is famed for its diving and is reputed to have some of the best dive sites in the eastern Mediterranean. It was two divers who found the wreck, volunteers for the University of Cyprus’ Maritime Archaeological Research Laboratory (MARELab). They notified the Department of Antiquities which quickly raised the funds for an archaeological exploration of the site.

It is the wreck of a Roman merchant vessel carrying a large cargo of amphorae. The ship is believed to have originated in Syria and Cilicia. The undisturbed field of amphorae and any other remains of the ship will shed new light on the history of maritime trade between Cyprus and the rest of the Mediterranean provinces during the Roman era.

A team of MARELab archaeologists, students and volunteers is now thoroughly documenting the wreck.

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Drought reveals Bronze Age palace in Iraq

Friday, June 28th, 2019

Drought has revealed a 3,400-year-old palace from the little-known Mittani Empire at the site of Kemune in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The remains were covered by the waters of the Tigris in the Mosul Dam reservoir until last autumn when low water levels exposed the mud-brick walls of a large structure. Archaeologists from the University of Tübingen and the Kurdistan Archaeology Organization (KAO) in cooperation with the Duhok Directorate of Antiquities sprang into action and launched an emergency salvage operation to excavate the remains.

The area has been submerged since the Mosul Dam was built in the 1980s making archaeological exploration nigh on impossible. Archaeologists knew there was a Mittani city at Kemune because receding waters in 2010 had exposed a few remains, including a Mittani cuneiform tablet and sections of red and blue wall paintings, but they weren’t able to fully explore the site. Last year’s drought gave the team a window of opportunity to excavate Kemune for the first time. 

Beautifully situated overlooking the Tigris Valley, the palace that is now underwater was built on a terrace above the river. The eastern bank of the Tigris was 65 feet from its wall. A massive mud-brick terrace was built against the palace’s west side as a sort of giant retaining wall to keep the grand building stable on the sloping riverbank.

As Ivana Puljiz of the Tübingen Institute for Ancient Near Eastern Studies (IANES) reports, the site shows a carefully designed building with massive interior mud-brick walls up to two meters thick. She says some walls are more than two meters high and some of the rooms have plastered walls. “We have also found remains of wall paintings in bright shades of red and blue,” Puljiz says. “In the second millennium BCE, murals were probably a typical feature of palaces in the Ancient Near East, but we rarely find them preserved. So discovering wall paintings in Kemune is an archaeological sensation.” 

The palace ruins are preserved to a height of some seven meters. Two phases of usage are clearly visible, Puljiz says, indicating that the building was in use for a very long time. Inside the palace, the team identified several rooms and partially excavated eight of them. In some areas, they found large fired bricks which were used as floor slabs. Ten Mittani cuneiform clay tablets were discovered and are currently being translated and studied by the philologist Dr. Betina Faist (University of Heidelberg). One of the tablets indicates that Kemune was most probably the ancient city of Zakhiku, which is mentioned in one Ancient Near Eastern source as early as the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 1800 BC). This indicates the city must have existed for at least 400 years. Future text finds will hopefully show whether this identification is correct.

The Mittani Empire ruled the northern Tigris-Euphrates territory from around 1475-1275 B.C., although its power declined sharply after 1350 B.C. when the Mittani kings became vassals of the Assyrian Empire. Its history, chronology, rulers, conflicts and alliances are known almost entirely from non-native sources — Egyptian, Hittite and Assyrian — and from a few surviving inscriptions. Most Mittani archaeological material has been unearthed from only three ancient sites — Tell Brak (Syria), Nuzi and Alalakh (Iraq) — that were minor towns at the edge of the empire. The discovery of a major structure like this palace, complete with cuneiform tablets, is of enormous archaeological significance. 

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Bronze Age mace head found in Poland

Thursday, June 27th, 2019

A Bronze Age mace head found near the town of Dukla in southeastern Poland may be the oldest non-local artifact ever discovered in Poland. It was unearthed by metal detectorists on June 1st and its advanced age and unusual provenance was recognized by an archaeologist called to the scene. 

Krzysztof Wiśniewski, a truck driver at the open pit mine, is a member of the Galicja Exploration and Historical Association, a group of metal detector enthusiasts who organize search campaigns with all proper permits issued by the government. This campaign was seeking artifacts dating to the Second World War as there was believed to have been battles in the area during the German invasion in September 1939. They found some remains from World War I — a British uniform button, Austro-Hungarian buckle — a few shells and coins from the World War II era, but nothing particularly notable.

Then Wiśniewski saw a bronze object sticking out of the ground. At first he thought it was part of a candlestick or maybe a knob that had broken off some agricultural machine. When he went in for a closer look, however, he noticed the patina looked older. Others from the group crowded around to look at the piece, being careful not to touch it while they considered what it might be. They then called in Dr. Wojciech Pasterkiewicz from the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Rzeszów to examine the find in situ.

Even the expert was stumped by the find. He could think of no comparable artifacts found in Poland. Regional archaeological authorities were notified and a team of archaeologists dispatched to the find site for a more thorough excavation and exploration. Metal detectorists helped cover more ground in the area. Nothing else was found, making this one unique prehistoric object not just the stand-out artifact, but pretty much the only one there.

After researching the artifact, Dr. Pasterkiewicz believes it is a Bronze Age mace head dating to around 1000 B.C. No similar pieces have been found in Poland before, but there are comparable items found in the Middle East and other parts of Europe. A mace head from the Luristan region of western Iran dating to 1600-1000 B.C. with a similar albeit less pointy star-shaped design sold at auction last year. The best stylistic match is a late Bronze Age Hallstatt A culture mace head found near Cherkasy in central Ukraine. It dates to between 1200 and 1000 B.C.

The mace head would have been hafted to a wooden handle and used as a bludgeoning weapon or as a symbol of authority. How it made its way to southeastern Poland is unknown. 

“The Dukla Pass is a convenient low-ground passageway through the Carpathian mountains from current-day Slovakia to Poland so it is no surprise that a foreign army may have moved along it in the distant past,” Pasterkiewicz speculated.

“It could have simply been lost, or maybe it was used in battle,” he added.

Given the lack of any other prehistoric materials at the find site and how shallow its burial, I’m not sure the idea of a foreign Bronze Age army marching through Dukla is the likeliest explanation. It seems more of an una tantum, perhaps something lost much later by a collector. Or hell, maybe the archaeologists got it all the way wrong and it really is a tap or a handle or a valve dial.

By Polish law, archaeological artifacts are property of the state while finders and landowners receive a finder’s fee. The Dukla mace head will be analyzed for metal content which might tell us the origin of the ore and a date range for its casting. Once it has been studied, it will go on display in a museum in Rzeszów.

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Ruby Slippers conserved, reunited

Wednesday, June 26th, 2019

The iconic Ruby Slippers worn by Judy Garland as Dorothy in the 1939 cinematic classic The Wizard of Oz now in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (NMAH) have been conserved using funds raised in a Kickstarter campaign. The fundraiser was launched on October 17th, 2016, with a goal of $300,000. More 5,300 leapt at the chance to help revive the shoes and the goal was reached in less than a week.

In the two and a half years since the Kickstarter, backers have been getting regular updates on the conservation process, glimpses into a very complex, painstaking approach to studying, cleaning and stabilizing the Ruby Slippers. The NMAH blog has posted an overview of the painstaking conservation of the shoes.

When examined under a microscope, the sequins show themselves to be more intricate than they seem at a glance. They are composed of four layers: two outer layers of red cellulose nitrate coating with a silver backing under the top layer and a gelatin interior. The silver backing is what makes the sequins sparkle in the light. The nitrate coating has flaked off some of the sequins with time and use, but the museum did not repair the loss as it is part of their history as a working costume and witnesses to their age.

Objects conservator Dawn Wallace instead cleaned every single sequin on both shoes. The loose dirt was removed with a small, soft brush. The deeper-set grime was sucked up using a tiny vacuum attached to a pipette. Every thread tying the sequins was examined for weakness and when necessary strengthened with a single strand thread of red silk. They’re invisible to the naked eye and can only be seen in extreme close-up. Wallace also flipped upside-down sequins so that the reflective side was up and realigned ones that had shifted in position.

There were several pairs of Ruby Slippers created for the movie by famed costumier Adrian. The Smithsonian’s was used for the dance sequences and skipping down the Yellow Brick Road. They have felt padding on the bottom of the soles to muffle the sound of them striking the wood set. The ones used to click the heals together for the camera close-ups had no felt.

The different materials of the shoe — the leather, the netting, the threads — even the layers of the sequins all have different preservation needs. That makes determining the proper light, temperature and humidity conditions extremely challenging. A portion of the $300,000 raised was dedicated to the design and production of a new display case with sophisticated environmental controls to preserve the shoes.

The refreshed Ruby Slippers returned to public display in their new state-of-the-art case on October 19th, 2018.

One of the happiest ancillary benefits of the years spent conserving the Smithsonian’s Ruby Slippers is that the very specific expertise developed in the process could be used to confirm the authenticity of the pair stolen from The Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, in 2005. The Smithsonian does not authenticate artifacts, but when the FBI asked them to compare the ruby slippers recovered in 2018 to the ones in the NMAH agreed.

Investigating the materials and their condition, Wallace noticed many consistencies with the museum’s pair. But it was a clear glass bead on the bow of the left shoe that, for her, confirmed her initial reaction.   

Wallace had also spotted clear glass beads painted red while peering through a microscope during conservation work on the museum’s pair. Analysis and interviews with Hollywood costumers indicated that the painted-bead replacements were likely repairs made on-set during filming. 

“To me, the glass bead painted red was a eureka moment,” Wallace said. “That’s a piece of information that hasn’t been published anywhere and, as far as I know, isn’t widely known. It’s a unique element of these shoes, and spotting that bead was a defining moment.” 

Wallace also found that the wear, fading and flaking on the sequins of the recovered shoes matches that on the museum’s shoes, something that could not be counterfeited. 

But the most amazing discovery was the two pairs are even more closely related than anyone imagined they could be.

The museum’s pair is not identical. The heel caps, bows, width, and overall shape do not match; the shoes were brought together from two separate sets. But in examining the recovered shoes, conservators found the left to the museum’s right and the right to the museum’s left. When temporarily reunited, the four shoes created two matching pairs.

Conservators suspect the two pairs were mixed up by those nimcompoops at MGM when the studio sold off its patrimony at the 1970 auction.

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Water burial jewelry links Iron Age Finland to European exchange network

Tuesday, June 25th, 2019

Analysis of metal artifacts found at the Iron Age water burial site in Levänluhta, western Finland, has revealed links to an extensive exchange network stretching across Europe. This is the first-ever lead isotope analysis of copper artifacts found in Finland, and it sheds new light on the movement of materials through Europe in the Iron Age.

With at least 98 individual burials (a DNA study published earlier this month found they were closely related to the current Sámi people, the first physical evidence of Sámi settlement in southern Finland), Levänluhta is the largest water cemetery in Finland. It’s also unusual in that most of the people buried there (there are animal bones among the assemblage as well) were women and children, and they were buried whole instead of being cremated which was the common burial practice in Finland at the time. There’s no evidence of human sacrifice on the remains, no sharp or blunt trauma, nor is there evidence on the bones that they died from illness or famine. The water cemetery was in use from 300-800 A.D. when it was a small pond; today it’s a wetland.

No pottery was found, but there were 22 metal objects buried with the remains. Most of them were jewelry — finger rings, arm rings, neck rings, brooches, a chain — plus a bronze cauldron and some metal rods of undetermined nature. They date to the Merovingian period (ca. 550–800 A.D.) and the design and decoration styles indicate they were created in local workshops in Finland, but Finland didn’t have native sources of copper during the Bronze and Iron Ages, and no evidence of metal workshops or even settlements has been found near the Levänluhta site. Until recently scholars believed the ore itself was imported from southern Sweden. However, studies in the past few years have found that the metal in Iron Age artifacts discovered in Sweden were also imported from elsewhere.

All 22 metal artifacts were recently analyzed using portable energy-dispersive X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (pXRF) analysis, a non-invasive technology that determines metal composition. They were found to be copper or copper alloys (bronze and brass).

Eight of the pieces recovered from Levänluhta were analyzed using multi collector inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (MC-ICP-MS) to determine their lead isotope content. By comparing the lead isotope ratios in the artifacts to those found in domestic, Swedish and other European copper ores, scientists hoped to discover the origin of the raw material and trace their provenance.

Based on typology, the oldest piece of the eight was a small arm-ring with a flattened end (ca. 100 A.D), followed by the Westland-type cauldron (300-575 A.D.) and the piece of chain (ca. 400 A.D.). The other five objects analyzed were arm rings and neck rings dating to the same late Iron Age (550-800 A.D.).

MC-ICP-MS requires samples of the metal to work, so it is invasive, but researchers were able to make it minimally so drawing samples of just 7-10 mg. Because the samples were microdrilled from the artifacts, surface issues — wear, patina, corrosion — did not affect the results like they do pXRF analysis. The lead isotope and trace evidence found that the source of the copper ore was neither Finland, nor Sweden nor anywhere else in Scandinavia.

Based on the lead isotope ratios, the copper in the objects has its origins in the copper ores found in Greece and Bulgaria. These regions produced a large quantity of copper in the Bronze and Iron Age, which spread around Europe as various object forms, distributed as presents, loot and merchandise.  Metals were also recycled by melting old objects into raw material for new casts. It may be possible that metals that ended up in Finland during the Bronze Age were recycled in the Levänluhta region.

The findings of this project, funded by the Emil Aaltonen Foundation, demonstrate that products of the copper exchange network of continental Europe also reached Finland across the Baltic Sea, thus making it possible to link the region with the extensive copper exchange system known to have extended throughout Europe. The results also illustrate the temporally and technologically multi-layered nature of prehistoric metal artefacts: raw materials found their way here through a number of hands, most likely over a long period of time and across very great distances. In domestic artisan workshops, these metals of international origin were manufactured into pieces of jewellery in domestic Iron Age fashion, perhaps embodying the local identity and place of residence of the bearer.

The lead isotope study has been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports and can be read in its entirety online.

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Triceratops found at Denver retirement home

Monday, June 24th, 2019

Dinosaur bones believed to be from one the coolest of all dinosaurs, Triceratops, were discovered by workers at a construction site in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, in May. Crews had been digging at that site near a retirement community for five years and never found a thing. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, in the middle of May one of the workers reported to the project director that they’d uncovered what he thought were dinosaur bones.  The director and crew all had a look, debating whether they might be petrified wood rather than bones. Ultimately they decided to contact experts at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science to find out for sure.

When paleontologists examined the discovery, they recognized the unearthed limb bone and ribs as having belonged to a horned dinosaur, but further investigation was necessary to determine which type. There were several species of horned and armored herbivores. In order to pin down the type, paleontologists needed to find at least one of the three bones that made up the heavy shield on the back on the head.

The museum team excavated the find site and unearthed more bones, including ones from the arm and shoulder, parts of the skull, shin bones and pieces of pelvis. About 30% of the animal has been recovered, enough to determine that the bones are between 66 and 68 million years old and probably belonged to a Triceratops, and a big one at that.

“The truth is: we’re not 100% sure it’s a Triceratops at this point. So there’s a chance we could find out it’s something completely different, which I think is cool,” Bastien said. “We can’t rule out the possibility it’s a completely different species no one’s ever seen before.”

At this point, however, the museum is calling it a ‘Triceratops.’

Volunteers in the fossil preparation lab (within the museum) have already started working on clearing off parts of the dinosaur’s face.

“[We have] a good portion of the skull, which is really important in telling us how the animal lived,” Bastien said. “We were all surprised to see how massive, how beautiful those bones are”.

The excavation was so productive that the planned two weeks of digging extended well into a second month. Because there is no federal law regarding the preservation and excavation of paleontological or archaeological remains on private land, the construction crew had no legal obligation even to report the find, and certainly not to delay their work to allow excavation. Thankfully they were civic-minded enough to let the museum’s team do their thing and recover all the bones they could.

The fossils that have been recovered will now be fully excavated from the bedrock (they were raised en bloc, encased in plaster for their safety) and cleaned at the museum. The process is expected to take at least a year.

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Unique Roman gold coin found in Lower Saxony

Sunday, June 23rd, 2019

A Roman gold coin that is unique in the archaeological record has been discovered by a metal detectorist in the Stade district of Lower Saxony, Germany. Matthias Glüsing was scanning a field near Fredenbeck in December of 2017 when he found the coin. The field is known for its prehistoric burial mounds, but it was significantly northeast of the boundaries of the Roman Empire. The coin was a most unexpected find.

It is a Multiplum of the Emperor Constans, youngest son of Constantine I, and was minted in 342/343 at Siscia in the Roman province of Pannonia Savia. The mint at Siscia, modern-day Sisak, Croatia, was opened by Gallienus in 262 A.D. and remained in use as imperial mint until the end of Gratian’s rule in 383 A.D. The coins struck there during the 4th century bear the mintmark SIS or SISC.

While their obverse and reverse images and inscriptions were derived from high-value circulation coins, multipla were not meant to spend. They were special issues created to commemorate the ascension of a new emperor, a great victory and jubilee years that would be given to a very select group of the emperor’s most loyal supporters in a special ceremony. Holes found in some of the survivors indicate they were worn as pendants by their honored recipients. Very few were made; even fewer survive. None of this type have been found before.

This one was modeled after a gold solidus Constans struck celebrating his victory over the Franks in 342. At nine grams, the Multiplum is twice the weight of the solidus. Its discovery so far north in such good condition may be an indication that it was gifted to a Saxon war leader who gave crucial aid to the Roman emperor.  If so, it would be the earliest archaeological evidence of a Saxon military elite in what is now Lower Saxony. While there are references to a tribe north of the Elbe that can be interpreted as “Saxones” in Claudius Ptolemy’s 2nd century Geographia, the earliest undisputed account naming the Saxons comes from a speech delivered by future emperor Julian in 356 A.D. He names them as military allies of the Gallic usurper Magnentius who was acclaimed the new emperor by his troops after they killed Constans. The Multiplum predates that speech (and that alliance).

In recent months, the sensational discovery was intensively researched: At the site an excavation was carried out and searched with metal detectors. In addition, the archaeologists have evaluated historical maps and aerial photographs. “So far, there is good evidence to suggest that the gold coin was sacrificed in a special location characterized by a small moorland, a distinctive burial mound group, an ancient path and an impressive hill,” says [Stade district archaeologist Daniel] Nösler.

Lower Saxony requires that any metal detectorists who wish to search for archaeological materials or who search sites where archaeological materials are likely to be found apply for a permit. All would-be metal detectorists must take a free course to qualify for a permit, and they must contact the archaeologist overseeing the area they plan to explore ahead of time. This system ensures metal detector hobbyists have a proper grounding in how to approach archaeological finds and builds collaborative relationships between the amateurs and the professionals. Indeed, the finder participated in the follow-up archaeological excavation, scanning the wider site for potential areas of interest while archaeologists excavated the find site. Also, he is wearing an excellent t-shirt and I want it.

Presenting the coin (from right): Daniel Nösler (district archaeologist), Matthias Glüsing (metal detectorist and finder of the coin), district administrator Michael Roesberg and Hans-Eckard Dannenberg (Stade History Club). Photo by Christian Schmidt courtesy the Landkreis Stade.

The coin has been acquired by the government and will go on display at the Stade Schwedenspeicher Museum. The museum has recently opened a new permanent exhibition on the pre-history of the Elbe-Weser-Triangle, and they are going to have to rewrite some of their information in the light of this discovery.

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Nazi eagle from shipwreck must be sold

Saturday, June 22nd, 2019

A court in Montevideo, Uruguay, has ruled that a Nazi eagle salvaged from a German warship in 2006 must be sold within 90 days after more than a decade in storage.

The German battleship Admiral Graf Spee came off the line in 1936, an example of the Nazi government’s rearmament program thumbing its nose at the restrictions of the Versailles Treaty. It was a hair shy of 10,000 tons in weight, the limit allowed per the terms of the post-World War I peace treasty, but it displaced over 16,000 tons making it well in excess of the limits. It saw limited action in the Spanish Civil War from 1936-1938. In 1939 it was sent to the South Atlantic two weeks before the official outbreak of hostilities to target Allied merchant shipping as soon as the war started.

The Admiral Graf Spee was fast, maneuverable and heavily armed.  A combination that ensured that any French or British cruiser fast enough to give chase would be dangerously outgunned. In less than three months between September and December 1939, the battleship sank nine Anglo-French ships. It was engaged by the Royal Navy in the Battle of the River Plate off the coast of Uruguay on December 13th. This was the first naval battle of World War II and both sides took damage, the British more so than the German. Nonetheless, the Admiral Graf Spee had to limp into the neutral port of Montevideo with damage to the fuel system. Its captain Hans Langsdorff, deceived by British misinformation about phantom superior forces and concerned the ship’s cutting-edge technology would fall into Allied hands, scuttled the ship in the estuary of the River Plate.

The scuttled ship was not fully submerged in the shallow waters of the estuary. Whole gun turrets were visible for years before the ship sank into the silt leaving only the tip of the mast above the water line. In 2004, a salvage operation was funded by the government of Uruguay and private investors to raise as much of the wreck as possible to clear the shipping lane.

On February 10th, 2006, the eagle crest that once adorned the stern of the ship was recovered. The massive bronze bird, 6’7″ high weighing 800lb and with a nine foot wingspan, held a wreath encircling a swastika in its talons. This was a common feature on German battleships made before the war, but most of them were removed as clunky and impractical. The Graf Spree was already away on its mission when the war broke out, so it still had its giant eagle crest when it went down.

The salvage operation had already generated controversy over the disruption of a grave site and the fate of the recovered ship parts. The raising of the eagle with its Nazi symbolism writ large, was so hot a potato that the salvage team covered the swastika with a yellow tarp as it was craned out of the water. It was barged back to port — where tourists from a cruise ship got to take a bunch of pictures of it — and briefly displayed. The syndicate doing the salvage was keen to make a return on their investment; there was talk of the eagle and other recovered ship parts being sold to private collectors in the US and Europe willing to spend huge sums ($15 million was bandied about in 2006). Much controversy ensued, and the eagle was quickly stashed in a naval warehouse inside a sealed crate.

It has been locked in that crate ever since while thorny legal issues wended their way through the Uruguayan court system. Germany claimed ownership and protested any attempts to profit from its display or sale. It was amenable to arrangements for its exhibition in carefully curated museum context, but not sold to highest bidders with very questionable motives.

The Uruguay court ruled the eagle that has been stored in a wooden box in a naval warehouse must be auctioned off within 90-days and the proceeds divided among the investors of the project who recovered the relic from the bottom of the River Plate.

Uruguay’s El Pais newspaper reported that in the past there had been offers of between $8 million to $52 million (€9 million to €59 million) for the object.

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Unique Roman “licking dog” to be sold

Friday, June 21st, 2019

The glaring loophole in the 1996 Treasure Act strikes again, this time the victim is the unique Roman bronze statue of a dog with his tongue out discovered by metal detectorists in Gloucestershire in August 2017.

The dog is 5 ¼ inches high and 8 ½ inches long and is posed with his head looking upwards, his mouth open and his tongue poking out. Both the front shoulders are engraved with a stylized leaf or feather motif. Fur details are engraved on his jowls, paws, genitals and hind haunches as well. Holes found under his paws and a square hole in its belly indicate he was mounted to a base originally. It dates to the 4th century A.D.

The licking dog is believed to represent healing as the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius, had a canine companion. Dogs were believed to be able to heal injuries with their lick. An Iron Age temple to the local Celtic healing god Nodens, who was also a hunting deity and was associated with dogs in that capacity as well, was discovered at Lydney Park, Gloucestershire, not far from where the hoard was found. Seven votive dogs have been unearthed at Lydney and at some at Llys Awel in Wales as well, but none of them are comparable in size, quality of material, construction and decoration to this one. It is unique in the British archaeological record.

The rest of the hoard consists of a group of fragments, one bearing a partial inscription, furniture fittings, vessel handles, wires, mounts and fragments of what was once a figurine of a man wearing an intricately draped garment. There is one coin in the hoard, a follis of Crispus, the son of Constantine the Great, with globe-on-altar reverse. This type of coin was minted at Trier between 321-324 A.D., which means the earliest date the hoard could have been buried was 321. Archaeologists think the large number of scraps in the hoard indicate it was buried by a metalworker who intended to melt them down and never got the chance.

When the discovery was announced in September 2017, the hoard was at the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery where experts were studying it. After that, it was slated to go the British Museum for assessment by the Valuation Committee. Since then, I can find no reports of a coroner’s inquest to determine its treasure status, and the record in the Portable Antiquities Scheme database obviously needs updating because the hoard is categorized as “Undergoing further examination at a museum.”

As there is only one coin in the group and everything from furniture fittings to plaque fragments to the dog statue is made of a bronze (so not a precious metal), this unique object of British cultural heritage does not qualify as treasure under the Act. The proposed revision of the act would classify any Roman artifact of any estimated value no matter what its composition as treasure. In fact, the coin alone would qualify the hoard as treasure under the revisions, as single coins between 43 A.D. and 1344 satisfy the criteria.

The entire hoard is going under the hammer at Christie’s Antiquities sale on July 3rd. It is being offered as a single lot with a pre-sale estimate of $37,620-62,700. I can but hope that the price doesn’t skyrocket like it did with the Allectus aureus and that a local museum wins the bidding.

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