Archive for September, 2019

Archaic head found in Paestum temple

Friday, September 20th, 2019

A fragment of a late-archaic stone head has been unearthed at the ancient Greek Temple of Athena at in Paestum, near Salerno in southern Italy. The three-quarter profile portrait of a face is made out of sandstone. What’s particularly significant about this modest piece is that the posterior surface is unfinished. Archaeologists believe that it is an architectural feature, perhaps from the metope of the temple, which would be the first remnant of the metope discovered in the sanctuary of Athena.

Paestum was founded by Greek colonists around 600 B.C. and is famous for its three  Doric temples dedicated to Hera and Athena. They are some of the best preserved early Greek temples in the world. The Temple of Athena was built around 500 B.C., after the first temple dedicated to Hera but before the second.

Before this find, the only stone reliefs from Paestum area temples came from the 6th century B.C. Temple of Hera at Foce del Sele, outside of Paestum. The temple itself is destroyed, but about 70 of the metope relief panels have been discovered and are now in the Paestum Archaeological Museum. The earliest Temple of Hera in Paestum, known as the “Basilica” due to a historic misconstrual of its surviving colonnade as a Roman building, is estimated to have had around a hundred sculpted reliefs in the frieze above the architrave, but no trace of them has been found. The discovery of the sandstone face opens up new possibilities that the Temple of Athena may have had a similar frieze.

The team of archaeologists from the University of Salerno has been digging in the southeast of the structure, an area where painted terracotta architectural fragments, some of the oldest material remains from this part of the site, are believed to have been found. The discovery sculpture is an indication that the sacred enclosure of the temple, excavated in the 1920s and 30s, still has surprises in store for archaeologists.

The excavation is open to the public every weekday between 12:00 and 12:30. Visitors can see the archaeologists at work, ask questions and learn about the archaeology of Paestum from the horses’ mouths, so to speak.

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1,600-year-old ceremonial pots found in Bolivia

Thursday, September 19th, 2019

Archaeologists have discovered more than two dozen pottery vessels at least 1,600 years old at the ancient site of Tiwanaku in the Andes of western Bolivia. The vessels were discovered within the inner walls of the Kalasasaya temple courtyard behind the Ponce monolith (a monumental statue more than 11 feet tall that was once adorned in luxurious textiles and gold jewelry). The Minister of Culture and Tourism, Wilma Alanoca, notes that this is the first time in 60 years that such ancient objects have been discovered inside the Kalasasaya precinct.

The pots, decorated with animal motifs, were buried in a circle above platforms where the remains of prehispanic structures have been found. The circular shape in which they were buried may indicate they were an offering accompanied the funerary rites of high-ranking person.

Julio Condori, director of the archaeological center, said the vessels date from the time of Tiwanaku III, between A.D. 400 and 600, and include iconography of fish and birds.

He said the initial discoveries allowed one to “rethink what the actual function of the Kalasasaya temple was and redefine the interpretation of its origin.”

Located near the southern shores of Lake Titicaca, Tiwanaku is one of the largest archaeological sites in South America covering about 1000 acres. The city was founded around 100 A.D. and reached its zenith in the 9th century with a population between 10,000 and 20,000 people.

Tiwanaku is one of Bolivia’s most important archaeological sites, but while it has been excavated for more than a century, most intensively between 1950 and 1980, the digs have not revealed much about the original design and structure of the city.  Collapsed walls and monuments were extensively rebuilt and reinstalled, including toppled monoliths and the walls around Kalasasaya, but not in a historically accurate manner. This excavation is part of a larger program of conservation and exploration that aims to discover what previous digs did not: the original placement and purpose of monuments like the Gate of the Sun and structures like the Kalasasaya courtyard walls. The excavation season has only just begun. The team has been digging for two week and will continue to dig for another six weeks.

As of noon yesterday, three pots have been recovered from the site and will be conserved for exhibition in a future museum to be built at Tiwanaku. Archaeologists think there are at least 25 pots total.

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Roman “pendants” turn out to be makeup tools

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

Three artifacts for years classified as lunate (crescent moon-shaped) pendants have now been identified as Roman makeup tools. The copper alloy objects were discovered in Wroxeter, Shropshire, in the 1910s and 1920s (these finds were not documented and no further details are known about the time and location of the discovery), in an excavation of the site of Viriconium Cornoviorum, modern-day Wroxeter.

At its peak, Viriconium was Britain’s fourth largest city in Roman times with a population of more than 15,000. It was abandoned in the 7th century and the small village today of Wroxeter grew up around the parish church in the Middle Ages. Roman remains were discovered in 1859 and the site became one of England’s first archaeological parks. Today visitors can explore extensive remains of the public baths and the basilica (the last includes the largest piece of free-standing Roman wall in the country), as well as a reconstructed town house and a museum showcasing the daily lives of people in a bustling Roman town with associated legionary fortress.

English Heritage curator Cameron Moffett discovered the objects’ mistaken identification while cataloguing artifacts in the collection of the Wroxeter Roman City museum. Moffett recognized them as tools used to make and apply cosmetics. A distinctive eye-shaped scoop with a piece that fits inside it is what distinguished them. It’s a mini-mortar and pestle, basically. The lower part was used to hold charcoal, ash, a dark powder of some sort. A drop of oil was added and the two mixed together with the top piece to create a paste. That was then applied to the eyelid with the pestle. A suspension loop (which is what deceived previous curators into thinking they were pendants) was attached to make it easily portable.

This particular grinder-applicator type device is unique to Britain. They were locally produced starting in the 1st century, a response to the new influx of cosmetic products from the Mediterranean that accompanied the Roman occupation.

Cameron Moffett, English Heritage Collections Curator, said:

“Being able to re-identify these pendants as cosmetic sets is hugely important to our understanding of the women who lived and worked at Wroxeter Roman City – these small objects literally changed the face of Britain.

“When we think of the Roman period, conversation is often dominated by the masculine realms of influence, from Emperors and politics to battle tactics, but of course women played a key role. It’s these functional, everyday items that really paint a picture of relatable women, to whom make-up was wholly accessible, following the trends of the time and using tools so similar to the ones we use today.”

This is giving me major Janet Stephens vibes, like when she recognized that some Roman hairstyles were likely stitched together rather than pinned based on her experience as a stylist, a thorough examination of the hairstyles on carved busts of prominent Roman women, research into the ancient sources and into the objects found in archaeological beauty kits. Whoever catalogued the Wroxeter artifacts in the 1970s saw the suspension loop and called them pendants, even though the shapes and grinding sets were clearly not the same as other lunate pendants from the Roman period. As Janet Stephens and Cameron Moffett have found, questions of adornment, fashion, women’s beauty routines have often been disregarded as subjects for serious archaeological study, leading to mistakes and faulty assumptions that have gone unexamined for too long.

In more common ground with Janet Stephens, English Heritage has created a YouTube Roman make-up tutorial. The tutorial uses Empress Julia Domna (whose thick waves and intricate curled hairstyles are seen on many a coin has featured on Stephens’ channel as well) as an inspiration and includes a demonstration on how to grind and mix eyeliner using a replica of one the Wroxeter tools.

The video starts with a discussion of general grooming as it would have been practiced by a Roman woman. The model gets strigiled! If loving strigil demos is wrong, I don’t wanna be right. The replica of the mortar and pestle makes its appearance at the 8:15 mark. It really is a nifty little tool. The makeup artists uses it as a stamp to apply the kohl by pressing down firmly rather than spreading. At the 9:40 mark, the host meets with Cameron Moffett who shows her the original tools themselves and discusses their significance as examples of the vast quantities of consumer goods that became available throughout the Roman Empire, even at the far reaches of it.

The video is part of a series of historical cosmetic application tutorials on the English Heritage channel. So far they’ve covered Georgian (male and female), Victorian, Elizabethan and 1930s makeup.

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Leonardo da Vinci’s mechanical lion recreated

Tuesday, September 17th, 2019

A mechanical lion made by Leonardo da Vinci which once paid dazzling homage to the King of France has been recreated 500 years after the master’s death. The wood, metal and rope lion is 6’7″ high and 9’10” long is now on display at the Italian Cultural Institute in Paris.

The lion automaton was commissioned in 1515 by Pope Leo X as a gift for the new King of France, Francis I. The immediate impetus was the new king’s triumphal entry into the city of Lyons, whose emblem is the lion, on July 12th, 1515. The city gave Francis a lion of pure gold, and the pope rolled with the theme. The lion was also a shared motif between the parties as the pope’s chosen pontifical name (Leo) and the designer’s given name (Leonardo from the Old German “strong as a lion”). The lilies symbolized a connection between France and Leo X. Leo, born Giovanni de’ Medici, son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, was a native of Florence, and a stylized lily was on the coat of arms of both France (fleur-de-lis) and Florence (giglio Fiorentino).

Lyons had a thriving community of Florentine merchants and bankers. Their patron was the pope’s nephew, Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici, lord of Florence, and soon-to-be father of Catherine, future queen consort of France and mother to three kings of France. It was Lorenzo who brought the lion, manufactured by Leonardo in Florence, with him to the Lyons extravaganza.

Leo had good reason to curry favor with the new king. By 1515, the Papal States and France were on opposing sides on the War of the League of Cambrai and at the same time Francis was making his processional entry into Lyon, his army was poised to cross the Alps and retake the Duchy of Milan. Leo’s attempts at rapprochement began as soon as Francis ascended the throne in January 1515. On February 22nd, the pope officiated at the wedding of his brother Giuliano de’ Medici to Philiberta of Savoy, Francis’ maternal aunt. The extravagant lion was the embodiment of the hopefully expanding bonds — familiar, commercial, political, military — between the powerful families and states.

Leonardo’s da Vinci’s walking lion was written about for decades after its smash hit debut by the likes of Vasari and even Michelangelo, but detailed plans for it, if they existed, have not survived even amidst the hundreds of pages of anatomical, architectural and conceptual notes left behind by the Renaissance man. The best account we have comes second-hand from painter Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo who in 1584 wrote that Francesco Melzi, Leonardo’s student and favorite who would accompany him to France for the last years of his life, described the mechanical lion thus: “once in front of Francis I, King of France, he made walk from his place in a hall, a Lion, made with admirable artifice, and after stopping, opened its chest full of lilies and diverse flowers.” Lomazzo later wrote that the lion was made to locomote “by power of wheels,” likely a reference to the internal gear system rather than the wheels near its feet.

The recreation now on display in Paris is based on a few sketchy notes and designs in the Codex Madrid I. Researchers from the Leonardo 3 Museum used partial diagrams, including one of a pulley and wheel connected to legs, as a foundation, but many additional extrapolations were necessary to fill in what is basically a giant blank. One important assumption was that the lion walked by means of a system of springs and gears Leonardo would have known from Italian watchmakers and from Arabic automata that were then popular in Venice.

The lion will be exhibited until October 9th.

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Is this Captain Cook’s Endeavour?

Monday, September 16th, 2019

Its identity has yet to be conclusively determined, but a shipwreck in Newport Harbor, Rhode Island, is a good candidate for Captain James Cook’s famous ship, the HMS Endeavour. The Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP) in collaboration with the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) have been exploring the shipwreck this summer. The exposed timbers have been 3D-scanned and some artifacts recovered.

The Endeavour is best known as the ship commanded by Cook on the first voyage to the Pacific (1768-1771) during which he circumnavigated New Zealand and traveled the eastern coastline of Australia, making the first known European contact with indigenous Australians. Endeavour paid a high price for her Australian jaunt, running aground on the treacherous shoals of the Great Barrier Reef and needing extensive repairs.

While her captain became an instant celebrity upon his return, Endeavour toiled in obscurity, first on a Falklands run and then, after being sold to private owners, as a troop transport for British soldiers and prison ship in the Revolutionary War. Just seven years after her return from her epic three-year Pacific voyage, Endeavour was scuttled in the British attempt to blockade Narragansett Bay and prevent a French naval assault.

The exact location of the wreck was not recorded in 1778 and its very identity was lost because the ship had been renamed to the Lord Sandwich when it was sold. RIMAP divers recorded the presence of the wreck in 1993, but it was only known as one of at least 13 ships scuttled by the British. In 1999, researchers discovered that the Lord Sandwich was the Endeavour.

The latest excavation has been able to confirm that the latest candidate for the wreck of the Endeavour does date to the 18th century. Divers retrieved sheaves from the rigging, wood fragments, leather, textiles, glass, pottery, coal, charcoal, ballast stones and gun flints. The team was able to expose a section of the ship’s structure sufficient to confirm that the timbers are similar in size and arrangement to those know to have been used on the Endeavour.

Principal investigator Kathy Abbass, of the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project (RIMAP), said the positive identification of the wreck would probably depend on several things, rather than a single archaeological find.

“We do not think we are going to find something that says ‘Captain Cook slept here’ — that is not likely,” Abbass told Live Science. “But if we find some of the smaller stuff that is consistent with how we know she was used — as a transport and as a prison ship in Newport, then we know we have got her.”

Abbass said archaeologists were focusing on the construction of wreck’s wooden hull and traces of its later uses in the hope of confirming its identity as Cook’s Endeavour.

“We can be excited about the fact that things look promising,” she said, “[but] we are not saying yet that it is her, it just looks very likely that it could be,” she said.

The excavation did find a definitive answer to the question of how the ships were scuttled. The commonly-held belief was that holes were cut in the bottom of the hull and the ships sank. For the first time, divers did discover a hole in the hull near the keel, proving that cut holes were indeed used to sink the ships. They were random holes, indiscriminate destruction, but carefully positioned to sink the ships as efficiently as possible.

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Monumental Notre Dame tapestry saved in a wind tunnel

Sunday, September 15th, 2019

A monumental royal tapestry that once adorned the choir of Notre Dame has pulled through the cataclysmic fire that destroyed its roof this year thanks to the quick response of conservators and extraordinary measures taken to prevent its ruination.

At 82 feet long and 24 feet wide, the tapestry covers more than 2000 square feet, the entire length of the cathedral’s choir. It was commissioned by King Charles X in April 1825 especially for the choir of Notre Dame. It was woven by the prestigious Savonnerie manufactory which had been Europe’s premier maker of knotted-pile wool carpets since the 17th century. Designed by Louis Saint-Ange Desmaisons, it is decorated with a Gothic-style shrine filled with sumptuous liturgical objects — candelabra, crosses, lantern, censers, ewers, books — and in the central arch a pillar with the symbols of the four evangelists — the bull for Luke, lion for Mark, a youth for Matthew and the eagle for John — plus tiara, miter, stoles, holy water, cross, another censer, another books, a crook, candlesticks and more. Florals, crosses, urns, cornucopias, vines, grapes and a central sun embedded in a massive cross covers the rest of the vast piece in brilliant colors dominated by gold.

After Charles’ abdication in the wake of the July Revolution in 1830 and the election of Louis Philippe I as King of the French, the royal arms woven into the tapestry were deemed impolitic. They were replaced by the sun, bristling with rays, very distinctly unlike the ancient regime sun motifs, and flowers. The tapestry was completed in 1838 and donated to Notre Dame in 1841 on the occasion of the baptism of the king’s grandson Philippe of  Orléans, Count of Paris.

For decades the monumental tapestry was unrolled for use in major ceremonies, from the wedding of Napoleon III to Eugenie and the baptism of their son the imperial prince, to visits of dignitaries and special masses. By the late 19th century, however, it had been significantly damaged during restoration work on the cathedral and needed extensive repair. The Savonnerie manufacturers wove replacement panels and the repaired tapestry was once again deployed for an important function: the visit of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra on October 7nd, 1896.

It was saved for extra special occasions after that. Fifty-eight deacons lay prostrate on its wool pile for their ordination in 1938. It got national exposure at the first televised mass at Notre Dame on Christmas of 1948. It was laid out in 1980 for the visit of Pope John Paul II. In January 2014, it was part of a special exhibition along with gold liturgical vestments and other precious objects given to the church by Charles X, Louis-Philippe and Napoleon III.

Between these very, very rare unfurlings, the tapestry, in two pieces since the 19th century, was rolled up and stored in trunks on each side of the choir. When the roof of the cathedral ignited on April 15th, molten lead and burning timbers rained down into the church. The trunks kept the tapestry from being burned by the lead and wood, but they could not keep the water used to douse the fire from penetrating the wool fibers. When the tapestry was rescued from the rubble six days after the fire was extinguished, it weighed three tons. It weighed one ton before that horrific day. It had absorbed two tons of water as firefighters desperately struggled to control the inferno.

With no time to waste, the tapestry was transported to the Mobilier National, the organization charged with conserving the nation’s furniture and art.

“Rolled up, it would have been a bacterial soup” that could have quickly started rotting, said Herve Lemoine, head of the Mobilier National.

“Once it was unrolled, we had to dry it in a huge wind tunnel and then freeze it to keep mould from developing,” Lemoine told AFP this week.

It was loaded into a large container whose temperature was gradually lowered to -35 degrees Celsius (-31 Fahrenheit) over a 24-hour period before it was brought to the Mobilier National’s labs in Paris.

The tapestry, still showing water damage and pre-existing issues like moth damage and tears, will briefly be unveiled for the public during an open house at the Mobilier National during the European Heritage Days on September 21st and 22nd.

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Zuul destroys shins at the Royal Ontario Museum

Saturday, September 14th, 2019

The skull and tail of the newly-discovered and awesomely-named Zuul crurivastator went on display at the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada earlier this year and I’m only finding about it now, consarnit. The exhibition opened in December of 2018 and closed in May and was a shin-smashing success.

The fossil was discovered in the Judith River Formation on the outskirts of Havre, northern Montana, by accident on May 16th, 2014. A commercial fossil company came across it while removing rock overlying a tyrannosaurid fossil. Because it had been buried beneath more than 40 feet of rock, it was an in exceptional state of preservation. It was raised in two blocks, skull and torso in one, tail in the other. The fossil company cleared the rock over a small portion of both sections before the specimen was acquired by the Royal Ontario Museum in 2016. Museum exports have been working to fully clear and study the fossil ever since.

In 2017, they published the first paper announcing the discovery a previously unknown genus of dinosaur and naming it Zuul crurivastator, meaning “Zuul, destroyer of shins,” because paleontologists are a) awesome and b) know their Ghostbusters. Royal Ontario Museum paleontologist David Evans even called up Dan Akroyd, who turns out to be a big dinosaur buff, to get his buy-in. Akroyd approved heartily, as if anyone wouldn’t.

It is the most complete ankylosaurid (armored dinosaurs with mace-like tails) fossil ever found in North America, with its skull and tail club both intact and with preserved armature plates, soft tissues, skin impressions and dark films believed to be keratin. Skull and tail club almost never are found from a single specimen, and the level of soft tissue preservation gives paleontologists an unprecedented opportunity to learn more about the evolution of the animal’s skin and armor.

The team had a bit of a head start preparing the skull and tail which is why they were able to chisel away at much of the stone encasing them in a mere two years, but the belly and hips are still in a block of stone that weighs 15 tons. It will take years of applying tiny jackhammers to all that rock before the full fossil is ready for its close-up. The all-too-short exhibition of the head and tail helped the museum crowdfund financial support for this ambitious project that goes beyond the preparation and examination of the fossil to utilizing new technologies to explore its structure and surroundings.

The incredible preservation of Zuul’s skeleton gives us the opportunity to use cutting-edge molecular palaeontology techniques to search for original proteins and other organic biomolecules in the soft tissue. We’ll also be using radiometric dating analyses to study the age of Zuul and the surrounding rocks, and will describe the other plants and animals from the quarry that lived in the same ecosystem as Zuul.

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Roman bronze cauldron found in central Norway

Friday, September 13th, 2019

A Roman bronze cauldron has been discovered in a burial cairn in Gylland, central Norway. After removing the top layer of stones from the cairn site, archaeologists found a layer of slabs in the center. When they lifted one of those stones, they found the cauldron. It has been placed on a small flat stone. Around it and inside it were fragments of burned human bone. Underneath and on top were pieces of birch bark, indicating it had been wrapped in bark before burial.

It was in poor condition, likely crushed by the weight of the hundreds of kilos of stones pressing down upon it for centuries. To excavate the fragile object and its soil fill in controlled conditions, the cauldron was snugly wrapped and transported whole to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s conservation laboratory.

The burial dates to around 150-300 A.D. It is of a type known as  Østlandskjele, meaning “eastern boiler” because they have been found mostly in Roman Iron Age graves in eastern Norway. They were mass-produced in Italy or in Roman Germania and arrived in Norway via trade networks or in gift exchanges. As imports, they were valuable prestige items reserved for the elite of Scandinavian society and often used as a cinerary urns, an indicator of how highly prized they were.

The discovery in Gylland testifies to the power and prosperity in this region in Roman times.

“This wealth was probably linked to the passage of traffic and Gylland’s proximity to important land resources like bog iron, which was the basis for the extensive iron production in Trøndelag in Roman times,” says Moe Henriksen.

Mass-produced though they were and as many of them have been found, particularly in the east, these cauldrons are still very rare survivals. Only about 50 of them have been discovered in the entire country, and the last one to be found in central Norway was discovered in the 1960s. That one contained gold finger rings, a sword, arrowheads and bear claws as well as cremains.“This wealth was probably linked to the passage of traffic and Gylland’s proximity to important land resources like bog iron, which was the basis for the extensive iron production in Trøndelag in Roman times,” says Moe Henriksen.

The latest find has been x-rayed and contains no metal objects. It could still contain organic remains, however, in addition to the burned bones of the deceased. The soil inside the cauldron will be excavated thoroughly with a brush and sieved to detect even the smallest fragments.

Here is video of the slab being lifted revealing the cauldron for the first time. (Unrelated sidenote spurred by a challenging experience repaving a garden path, that slab looks like slate to me. I’m impressed that it made it through the millennia without chipping to bits given the weight of stone on top of it.)

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Ancient “Lovers of Modena” are both men

Thursday, September 12th, 2019

A new study has discovered that the famed Lovers of Modena are two men, not a man and woman as previously the believed. The couple found buried hand-in-hand in a 6th century necropolis in Modena, northern Italy, in 2009 were initially thought to be male and female based on osteological examination of the bones, but the remains were not in very poor condition and that initial assessment has now been conclusively shown to be erroneous by a new technique analyzing the peptides on tooth enamel.

The site in a suburb of Modena (Roman Mutina) was not originally a cemetery. The earliest layer has remains of Roman buildings, most notably a calcara, workshops where limestone was fired in kilns to produce lime for mortar. Ten feet above that the necropolis begins with 11 burials. A third layer, separated from the second by a thick alluvial silt deposit believed to have been caused by a flood of the Tiepido river, contains seven graves but they were all empty, believed to have been dug right before a major flood in 589 and never occupied.

The double burial was in the second layer. The head of the individual believed to be female was facing its companion, while the other was looking away. His vertebrae indicate the head was rotated after burial, so he was probably facing his gravemate in the beginning and shifted, perhaps in one of the Tiepido floods. Their hand position was not the result of random post-burial shifting. The individual initially identified as male had the palm of his left hand facing up. The individual initially identified as female had his right hand placed palm down inside the hand of his comrade.

There only artifacts found in the grave was a bronze ring next to the body believed to be male. It indicated the man was a cives romanus (Roman citizen). All of the graves in this layer were very modest, simple trenches dug in the ground with the bodies buried in the bare earth.

Because the bones were in such bad condition, DNA could not be extracted. Researchers employed a new technique that analyzes the proteins in dental enamel. The individual believed to be female had AMELY (amelogenin, Y-linked) in his enamel proteome, a gene that encodes the amelogenin protein that is only found in the Y chromosome. AMELY was also found in the second skeleton, by the way, confirming that he was indeed male.

His youth (he was around 20 years old when he died) played a role in the subtle presentation of the sexually dimorphic features. There are very few pre-modern burials in which adult couples are buried in an embrace, and of those few, none of them (before now) was known to be male-male. Between that, the age of the deceased, the condition of the bones and the fact that the bodies were deliberately buried holding hands, the idea that this was a heterosexual romantic couple.

There is no explicit evidence of a romantic relationship between the two men and indeed it’s highly unlikely that in the Christian culture of Late Antiquity male lovers would be buried hand-in-hand to reflect that relationship. Sex between men was prohibited by law starting in the early 5th century and religiously proscribed long before then. Nonetheless, the holding of hands is an expression of connection and commitment. Several of the bodies unearthed at the necropolis bear weapons-related injuries, so it’s possible it was a war cemetery and the “Lovers” were actually fighters, comrades who died together in battle and were therefore interred together. They could also have been close relatives.

The study has been published in the journal Nature and can be read here.

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Unique grave of Roman-era warlord found in Czech Republic

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

The richly furnished grave of a man from the early 2nd century A.D. has been unearthed in the town of Uherský Brod, in the southeastern Czech Republic. It is the richest Roman-era grave ever found in Moravia.

The burial was discovered by accident during sewer works, unfortunately as a result of it having been damaged by heavy machinery. A sharp-eyed worker spotted a bronze object amidst the soil in the bucket of his excavator and reported it to the archeological department of the Moravian-Silesian Museum in Uherské Hradiště. Construction work was halted as archaeologists examined the piece and the disturbed soil where it had been dredged up by the digger. The artifact was identified as a bronze pan, and a matching bronze ladle was found in the soil.

A full salvage excavation ensued. The team unearthed the source of the bronze set: the grave of a wealthy man, almost certainly a warlord. There were bronze spurs at his feet and four bronze buckles fastened his robe (long-since decayed). The larger bronze buckle from his belt was found at his waist, as were a bronze knife with a decorated handle and a bone brooch.

The area of the grave that had been damaged by the mechanical digger also contained grave goods. In the area above the deceased’s head was a broken ceramic vessel. The bronze pot and ladle were stored inside of it before their brusque removal.

These grave goods were not locally made. They were expensive imports from the Roman Empire, which suggests the man was someone of rank, wealth and importance. They are rich enough to indicate he may have been regionally important, a chieftain or warlord.

At the time of this burial, Moravia was occupied by the Germanic Quadi people who, according to Tacitus, had a monarchical system and were ruled by a kings from the ranks of their own nobility. The Quadi were subdued around 18 A.D. by the armies of Tiberius Caesar commanded by his nephew Germanicus. After that, their rulers were client kings of Rome.

The Marcomanni and Quadi have, up to our time, been ruled by kings of their own nation, descended from the noble stock of Maroboduus and Tudrus. They now submit even to foreigners; but the strength and power of the monarch depend on Roman influence. He is occasionally supported by our arms, more frequently by our money, and his authority is none the less.

The newly discovered grave attests to the spread of Roman cash and luxury goods even beyond the formal boundaries of the empire.

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