Archive for September, 2019

Sapphire ring maybe worn by Caligula for sale

Monday, September 30th, 2019

An ancient Roman sapphire ring once believed to have belonged to the Emperor Caligula is being sold by royal jewelers Wartski, best known as the foremost dealers and experts in the Fabergé Imperial Eggs and jewels after the fall of the Romanovs. It is an engraved sapphire hololith, meaning a ring carved from a single stone, with a gold band mounted on the inside, likely during the Middle Ages. The engraving is a left-facing profile of a beautiful woman believed to represent Caligula’s wife Caesonia.

The ring was in the famed intaglio gemstone collection assembled by George Spencer, 4th Duke of Marlborough, in the second half of the 18th century. Before that, it was part of a smaller but also renown group of engraved gems collected by Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, in the first half of the 17th century. Via marriage and descent, Lord Arundel’s gemstone collection was added to the extremely fine pieces the Duke of Marlborough had bought from dealers and private owners on the continent.

The Marlborough Gems, as the great collection became known, were sold by the 7th Duke, John Winston Spencer-Churchill, at auction in 1875 to raise money for the renovation of Blenheim Palace. Many of them were bought by David Bromilow, Esq, and then sold again by his daughter at an 1899 auction. The collection was thus broken up and dispersed — the Getty dropped major ducats on a dozen or so of them earlier this year — and there are Marlborough gems whose whereabouts are unknown today. This ring was one of them.

Sapphires, hyacinthus to the Romans, is a hard stone to carve and is very rarely seen in intaglios. Third century grammarian Gaius Julius Solinus describes it in his Polyhistor:

Among the things we have spoken of, the hyacinthus, which has a shining sky blue colour, is to be found. It is a valuable stone if discovered without blemish, for it is not a little subject to flaws. It is frequently either tempered with a violet colour, or covered with cloudiness, or softened to a white wateriness. The best type is not blunted by too solid a colour, nor over-clear with an eager transparency, but sweetly draws its bloom from both, dyed with the right proportions of light and purple. This stone perceives the winds and changes with the sky: it is not equally bright when the day is cloudy as when it is clear. In addition, the stone is colder when put into the mouth. It is certainly not suitable for carving, as it defies all grinding. Yet it is not utterly invincible; it can be scratched and inscribed by a diamond.

Nowadays the deeper the blue, the more desirable the sapphire, but Solinus’ description of the most prized sapphires as a delicate balance of transparent, sky blue and light purple matches the color of the ring exactly. His comment also indicates that the extremely fine carving of the female profile on the ring had to have been done with a diamond. That’s how valuable and rare it was: diamonds were the tools used to make it.

The hololith will be on display at Wartski in London from the 1st to the 7th of October, after which it will be available for sale. Wartski doesn’t do pre-sale estimates because they don’t want to scare off potential buyers, but it is in the neighborhood of £500,000 ($615,000).


Unique head-shaped vessel found in Bulgarian grave

Sunday, September 29th, 2019

A unique brass vessel in the shape of a man’s head has been discovered in a Roman-era grave in Bulgaria. The grave was discovered in the Kral Mezar tumulus near the village of Boyanovo in southeastern Bulgaria. The tumulus had been repeatedly looted over the centuries and agricultural activity had altered its shape and size, so a salvage archaeology mission was undertaken in 2015 to excavate it thoroughly.

Inside the tumulus archaeologists discovered three burials — a sarcophagus, a brick grave and a tomb. The limestone sarcophagus with a pitched roof lid (found broken on the side) dates to around 150-200 A.D. Sarcophagi are rare finds in Roman Thrace and are believed to have contained the remains of non-Thracians. The tomb was built of stone and brick with plastered and painted interior walls. It was heavily looted, but the extant funerary goods include bone spindles, needles, glass beads, glass and ceramic fragments and clay lamp fragments. A silver denarius from the reign of Caracalla minted in 202 A.D. was found on the tomb floor. Because of the textile-making grave goods, archaeologists believe this was a woman’s tomb.

But it was the third burial, the brick grave, that contained a truly striking artifact. The rectangular pit was lined with bricks coated with a thick layer of white plaster. Marks on top of the brick walls indicate there had once been wooden beams across the top forming a flat roof. This type of grave was popular in Roman Thrace, particularly in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

The body had been placed in a wooden coffin of which only a few iron nails survive. The skeletal remains are still articulated and just shy of six feet long (1.82 meters). Osteological analysis found the deceased was an adult male about 35-40 years old at time of death. Inside the grave was a bronze coin of Caracalla minted in Hadrianopolis 198-217 A.D., fragments from a glass flask, the remains of two pairs of hobnailed shoes, a balsamarium and a strigil.

“In our opinion, the grave belongs to a Thracian aristocrat, who has practiced sport in his everyday life, rather than to a professional athlete,” Daniela Agre, an archaeologist at the National Archaeological Institute with Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, who led archaeological work at the site, told Live Science. […]

“We think that the tumulus was used as a family necropolis and the deceased was a part of this family,” Agre said.

The strigil is brass, of a type found in other Bulgarian graves from the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The balsamarium is also brass, but it is far from a type seen in other Bulgarian graves of the period. In fact, it is unique in the archaeological record of Roman Thrace.

This type of container is believed to have been used to hold scented oils or perfumes for use in the baths, which is why they’re often found coupled with strigils which would have scraped the oil off the skin to clean and exfoliate.

It is 4.7 inches high, 4.2 inches wide and is shaped like the head of man wearing an animal-skin skullcap. The visible features of the animal’s head — nostrils, eyes, canine teeth in the lower jaw — suggest it was a feline. A neck draped with robes forms the foot of the vessel with a flat bottom made from a single metal sheet. There’s a hole in the top of the head for a hinged lid that is now lost. On either side of the opening are loops where a swing handle was attached. There’s still a handle attached through one of the loops; the other side of the handle is broken.

The man’s face is broad with shaved cheeks and a neatly shaped goatee. His nose viewed from profile has a proud aquiline bump. Seen from the front, it is bent to the left and widened at the base, suggesting that it has seen the business end of more than a few clenched fists. Five vessels with comparable features are found in museums in Los Angeles, France and Germany. Scholars believe these features — the bent aquiline nose, the goatee, the skullcaps, the lock of hair on the back of the head — represent the heads of boxers or wrestlers. The Boyanovo piece is distinct from these comparables because it does not have the lock of hair and because of its feline skin cap. The former is likely necessitated by the latter; the sculptor couldn’t include both the lock of hair and the incredibly detailed feline skin covering the back of the hair.

The find has been published in the latest issue of the American Journal of Archaeology and can be downloaded here.


Help save one of Ohio’s last Hopewell earthworks

Saturday, September 28th, 2019

Another of Ohio’s rare ancient Native American earthworks is being sold at auction today. Almost all of the Hopewell Culture earthworks in Ohio have been destroyed by development making Fortified Hill in Butler County of immense archaeological significance. When it was documented by Ephraim George Squier and Edwin Hamilton Davis in their 1848 work Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, the first major archaeological publication dedicated to Native American mounds, Fortified Hill was one of six Hopewell earthworks along the Great Miami River. Now it is the only one remaining.

The earthwork is on private property. It was acquired years ago by the late Dr. Lou Barich with the intent of protecting it from the encroaching development of nearby Dayton and Cincinnati. Unfortunately, he did not make those good intentions explicit in his will. He died this summer and some of his heirs are insisting on cashing out, so all of his property, including the four parcels that contain most of the Fortified Hill earthworks and extremely rare surviving gateways, are going under the hammer today.

In an effort to save the ancient earthworks for future generations, Dr. Jeff Leipzig, a friend of Barich, has stepped up and organized a variety of historical preservation groups to raise money for the auction. […]

Leipzig hopes the coalition can preserve the land as a public park, and limit excavation to responsible archeologists and historians, so as to permanently protect a rare window into Native America and the forgotten ancient world.

“It’s for science,” said Leipzig. “This isn’t gonna be somebody randomly digging up a mound and trying to find treasure in it, which is the risk… That’s the risk with any of these properties, people dig into them and they destroy them. They’re cemeteries, they’re spiritual sites, they’re sacred sites.”

Every minute and every dollar counts, so if you’d like to help the Archaeological Conservancy raise enough funds to get an ownership stake in the Fortified Hill parcels and keep the McMansions from obliterating this unique archaeological treasure, please pledge here immediately. (Sorry for the late notice. I only just read about this and it’s imperative that the funds be available by auction time.)


17th c. Mexican national treasure for sale

Friday, September 27th, 2019

A rare 17th century folding screen that is officially classified a national treasure of Mexico is being offered at an online-only auction by Sotheby’s with an estimated price of $3-5 million. Bidding is open through October 11th. The starting bid is $2,800,000. No bidders yet. As a national treasure the screen cannot leave Mexico, so whoever buys it is going to have to be local or willing to lend it to a local institution indefinitely.

The screen is more than six feet high and 18 feet long, composed of 10 joined panels on a wooden frame. It is double-sided. On one side is a violently active depiction of the conquest of Tenochtitlán. Key events are shown in the locations where they took place as if they had occurred in the same moment and are numbered for identification with a key in the bottom left. Cortés’ arrival is in the upper right corner. Moctezuma II, the last Mexica emperor, is on the fourth panel from the left on a balcony as his assassins below aim fatal arrows at him.

In a deliberately stark contrast, the other side features an overhead map of the new Mexico City, the capital of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, a grid of clean, airy streets lined with stucco buildings with red-tiled roofs, churches, schools, hospitals, public squares, a Roman-like arched aqueduct in the foreground, mountains and lake in the background. Devoid of people, this is the idealized vision of colonial Mexico. All the fire, feathers and fighting replaced with the calm cleanliness of European civilization.

Entitled Biombo de la Conquista de Mexico y Vista de la Ciudad de Mexico, it was painted by an unknown artist in the second half of the 17th century. The fall of Tenochtitlán was based on the account in the True History of the Conquest of New Spain, a popular memoir of the conquest of Mexico written by Bernal Díaz del Castillo, one of Hernán Cortés’ soldiers. The view of the colonial city was inspired by early 17th century decorative maps like the 1628 map of Mexico City by Juan Gómez de Trasmonte, now lost and known only from replicas.

The word “biombo” is a Hispanicized version of the Japanese “byobu,” literally meaning “protection from wind.” Byobu were luxury goods, first introduced to Japan from China in the 8th century, and imported into New Spain via the Manila Galleons that, in exchange for Mexican silver, transported Asian spices, silks, porcelain and other luxury goods from modern-day Cebu in the Philippines to Acapulco and many, many points in between. The trade between America and Asia had an enormous influence on Mexican decorative arts during the Viceroyalty period. Biombos took the Japanese form and replaced the pastoral landscapes, people and animals with narratives and urban locations that resonated strongly with the criollos (Mexican-born Spaniards) of the ruling class who commissioned them.

It is unquestionably of museum quality. The Museo Franz Mayer and the Museo Nacional de Historia in Mexico City each have biombos of their own on the same theme. This is the finest and largest example still in private hands.



Nedjemankh’s gilded coffin repatriated

Thursday, September 26th, 2019

The exquisite Late Ptolemaic gilded cartonnage coffin of the priest Nedjemankh was officially returned to Egyptian authorities in a ceremony in New York City Wednesday. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge for Homeland Security Investigations Peter C. Fitzhugh and Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Hassan Shoukry presided over the formal repatriation of the six-foot coffin that was looted from Egypt in the wake of the popular uprising that overthrew Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in January 2011.

The mummiform coffin decorated with thick layer of gesso reliefs and covered in an unbroken layer of gold was bought by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2017 for $4 million. The seller was French dealer Christophe Kunicki who gave the Met an export document from Egypt dated 1971 as proof that the exceptional, never-before-seen object had been legally removed from the country and been slumbering unknown in ye olde Swiss private collection. In February of 2019, after months of investigation, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit informed the museum that the export document was a forgery, the coffin very recently looted and the Met defrauded of four million dollars.

The investigation traced the movement of the coffin from its theft in the Minya region in October 2011 to the United Arab Emirates, Germany — where it was restored — the auction house in France and finally New York. This is just the tip of the iceberg and the investigation is ongoing, active in three countries.

At a press conference attended by Egypt’s minister of foreign affairs Sameh Shoukry on Wednesday, New York’s district attorney Cyrus Vance said the probe revealed “glaring inconsistencies” related to the coffin’s sale.

That the artifact first surfaced in 2011, a year that saw the revolution overthrow president Hosni Mubarak, “should have been a red flag,” Vance said.

Not to mention the reddest of red flags in the book, the Swiss private collection canard. I still can’t even believe I fell for that.

Vance said he had elaborated on details of the investigation “in the hope that folks in the industry will take note and perhaps use the lessons learnt in this case to better scrutinise their acquisitions.” […]

Vance said it was among hundreds of objects stolen by the same multi-national trafficking ring, and that “more significant seizures of prominent antiquities in the months and years to come” are possible.

Good. Can’t happen soon enough.


Iron Age gold snake-tipped collar found in Estonia

Wednesday, September 25th, 2019

A metal detector hobbyist has discovered a rare 1,700-year-old gold collar in Estonia.  On September 8th, Jegor Klimov was exploring a field at the ancient sacrificial site of Saaremaa as part of a search team led by archaeologist Marika Mägi when his metal detector alerted. The team had already decided to pack up and leave, but Klimov started to dig and revealed a tell-tale yellow glint. Archaeologists joined in and excavated a coiled up ring of gold with a serpent head on one end.

The collar dates to the Roman Iron Age, around the 3rd century A.D. Neck rings from this period were marks of high rank in Scandinavia, the more complex the design and construction, the more elite the wearer. Almost all the ones that have been discovered were found in bogs; none of them were found in graves. A few more simple arm rings and neck rings have been found in cremation burials. Studies of artifacts have found that objects buried in bogs were not, as a rule, the same as those buried in graves. Votive deposits were more precious, the best possible objects dedicated as sacrifices at sacred sites. Of the 60 or so extant gold neck rings from the Scandinavian Iron Age, almost all of them have been found in Sweden and Denmark. A handful have been found in Finland; one in Poland. This is the first of its kind found anywhere else in the Baltic states.

Very few artifacts from this period have been discovered in Estonia and gold objects from any period are extremely rare in the Estonian archaeological record. They can literally be counted on the fingers of one hand. At 175 grams in weight, this piece is the heaviest, most valuable gold archaeological artifact ever found in Estonia and must have belonged to someone of the highest rank among the Nordic elite. Its discovery supports the hypothesis that what is now western and northwestern Estonia had meaningful cultural contact with the peoples around the Baltic Sea and in Scandinavia as well as with the tribes in the modern-day Baltic states and Russia.

The Saaremaa piece may have been a bracelet, spiral collar or necklace. It’s difficult to say because, as is common with sacrificed objects, it was deliberately deformed, but its heavy weight and length suggests it was probably a neck ring.

“One can say that this is likely the most valuable single find,in the material sense, to be unearthed in Estonia,” Mägi explained to ETV news broadcast “Aktuaalne kaamera.” “It is believed that whoever wore these, they were a symbol of belonging to the highest echelons of society. So these are not regular bracelets. How this particular bracelet ended up in Saaremaa is an exciting question in its own right, and one we’ll likely never get a real answer for. This is a type of jewelry which throughout Scandinavia is considered one of the most significant items of the Roman Iron Age, and it is associated with royal power and royal families.”


Cimabue masterpiece found in French kitchen

Tuesday, September 24th, 2019

A painting that for years hung over a hotplate in a Compiegne kitchen has been identified as a 13th century tempera-on-panel by Cimabue. Its owner, a woman in her 90s, knew nothing about it. She thought it was a Russian religious icon and had no recollection of how or when she’d gotten it. Even though it had been perched over the hotplate for years, it was in good condition. When the elderly lady decided to move out and sell her 1960s home and its contents, she contacted a local auctioneer to see if there was anything worse selling. The appraiser had a week to go through the house before the owner sent everything to the dump.

She noticed the painting over the hotplate right away and thought it might be something special, an Italian primitive piece worth several hundred thousand euros, at least. She suggested they get expert from Paris to assess it. Old Masters specialists from the Turquin gallery in Paris examined the painting in detail, including under infrared light, and determined that it is was painted by Cimabue.

“It’s a major discovery for the history of art,” Pinta said of the newly discovered work measuring about 10 inches by 8 inches (24 centimeters by 20 centimeters). Other experts agreed.

The Florentine painter Cenni di Pepo (c. 1240 – c. 1302), nicknamed Cimabue, was a pioneering artists of the late medieval period who introduced naturalistic emotion and perspective into the two-dimensional, heavily symbolic Byzantine painting style. In so doing, he and contemporaries like his student Giotto were key to the transition of the static, stylized painting of Middle Ages into the Italian Renaissance. There are only 11 known panel paintings by Cimabue and none of them are signed.

The newly discovered panel, Christ Mocked, depicts Jesus surrounded by a jeering mob after his trial before the Sanhedrin, an event described in all three Synoptic Gospels. It was originally part of a larger piece, perhaps an altarpiece diptych, that depicted several small scenes from Christ’s Passion and death. It was dismembered and sold off in individual lots, a sadly common fate for rare early panel paintings during the frenzied souvenir collecting of the Grand Tour era. Scholars believe that two other panels from the piece are now in the Frick Collection in New York and National Gallery, London.

The Frick acquired its panel, The Flagellation of Christ, in 1950, but at the time it was loosely attributed only to the Tuscan school. It wasn’t confirmed as the work of the innovative medieval master until 2000 when the companion piece now in the National Gallery, The Virgin and Child with Two Angels, was rediscovered in the ancestral home of a Suffolk aristocrat and was accepted by the government in lieu of Inheritance Tax. The wood — type, carpentry and condition, down to the wormholes — and paint — material and style — comparison marked the two panels as having been painted at the same time by Cimabue.

After examining the French kitchen find, Turquin gallery specialists concluded with “certitude” it bore hallmarks of Cimabue’s work, Pinta said.

They noted clear similarities with the two panels of Cimabue’s diptych, one displayed at the Frick Collection in New York and the other at the National Gallery in London.

Likenesses in the facial expressions and buildings the artist painted and the techniques used to convey light and distance specifically pointed to the small piece having been created by Cimabue’s hand.

The work will go under the hammer at the Acteon auction house in Senlis, north of Paris, on October 27. It is estimated to sell between four and six million euros ($4.3 million – $6.6 million), but the sky is the limit really. This is the first time a Cimabue has ever come up for auction and museums and collectors with the deepest pockets imaginable are going to be gunning for it.


Assyrian reliefs (and beards) at the Getty

Monday, September 23rd, 2019

The British Museum has the largest collection of Assyrian reliefs in the world, with 240 panels on display and another 80 in storage. Only lack of space and funds keeps those 80 out of public view, not any inferiority of quality. Indeed, one of them, the Banquet Scene from the North Palace of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh, is regarded by many as the finest Assyrian single panel relief in the world. They used to be on display in a basement gallery but it was closed in 2006 and these priceless treasures have only rarely been exhibited at the BM or loaned to other institutions in 13 years.

Now 14 of them, including the Banquet Scene, the Royal Lion Hunt and the Attack on an Enemy Town, will re-emerge from the penumbra into the bright sunshine of Malibu where they will go display at the Getty Villa for three years. The Banquet Scene is one of the 12 gypsum bas-relief panels that form the core of the Getty’s new show Assyria: Palace Art of Ancient Iraq starting on October 2nd and running for three years.

The Banquet Scene and several other of the British Museum’s relief panels were discovered in the 1850s by Hormuzd Rassam in what was then Ottoman territory. Rassam’s team excavated the ancient Assyrian site of Nineveh near what is now Mosul, Iraq, for the British discovering the North Palace of King Ashurbanipal (r. 668-627 B.C.). The walls had been adorned with elaborate bas-reliefs of the king in action — hunting, fighting — and at leisure, although even his famed banquet scene directly references his deadly power as a king and warrior by including the decapitated head of the vanquished King Teumman of Elam hanging from a tree behind the queen.

Other reliefs in the exhibition were discovered in the palaces of  Kings Ashurnasirpal II (r. 883–859 B.C.), Tiglath-pileser III (r. 745–727 B.C.) and Sargon II (r. 722–705 B.C.) in the mid-19th century. All of the Assyrian royal palace reliefs were originally painted in vivid polychrome that would have emphasized the fine details, but even with the paint long faded, the exceptional quality of the designs still shines. The pattern of the king’s clothes, the ringlets in the hair, the muscles and bones of the animals, are carved with painstaking artistry. These were not just wall decorations, after all; they played a key role in conveying the all-encompassing power  of the king (in battle, at the hunt, in religious significance) in the most important public rooms and in his private rooms.

“The British Museum possesses the largest and most important collection of Assyrian reliefs in the world. The fourteen panels on view at the Getty Villa create a compelling overview of the subjects, styles, and artistic achievements of Assyria’s sculptors, including outstanding masterpieces such as the ‘Banquet Scene’ of the last great king of Assyria, Ashurbanipal, reviled as ‘Sardanapalus’ in the Old Testament,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “At the time of their discovery, taste in Britain—and Europe generally—hewed strongly to classical models, by which standard some saw these Assyrian monuments as unrefined; but this attitude soon subsided, and they are now universally appreciated as artistic achievements of great visual and emotional power. In our own day the historical and cultural importance of these sculptures has increased with the tragic destruction by ISIS of many of the reliefs that remained in Iraq.  We hope therefore that this display will raise awareness of the need to protect major heritage sites that remain at peril around the world.”

While the panels are on loan, the British Museum is working on creating a new space to display all of their Assyrian reliefs. That’s a very long-term project, however, and given the huge sums involved and all the red tape that has yet to be cut through in approving the project, it could be a decade or more in the future. In the short-term, the museum is building a state-of-the-art archaeological storage facility in Reading which is scheduled to be completed in 2023.

To complement the Assyrian exhibition, the Getty will be offering a free talk on one of the most striking iconographic elements of the reliefs: beards. Ancient facial hair expert (yes it is a thing and yes it is awesome) Christopher Oldstone-Moore will give a talk entitled The Meaning of Beards from Antiquity to Today on October 26th at 3PM. You must book tickets in advance but they are free. Even cooler, though, right before the lecture the Getty will be offering a drop-in program during which a stylist will recreate ancient beard looks from Assyria, Greece and Rome. Attendees will also be able to get their hands dirty — fragrantly perfumed and moisturized, actually — making their own beard or body oil using ancient scents. What better way to usher in No-Shave November than to get spruced up Ashurbanipal style.


Phallic stone found at Bronze Age site in Sweden

Sunday, September 22nd, 2019

An impressively endowed stone in the shape of a penis has been unearthed at a Bronze Age site in Rollsbo near Gothenburg in western Sweden. Archaeologists were excavating the site in advance of planned industrial development in the area when they came across the stone. It is 20 inches high and while they are reluctant to call it a phallus at this early stage in the archaeological investigation, the penile anatomy is rendered in such unmistakable detail that whoever erected it had to have done so with symbolic purpose.

When archaeologists began excavating the rock pile known as Ytterby 98, they thought it was a burial cairn not unlike the one in Gylland where the Roman bronze cauldron was recently unearthed. As they peeled back the layers, chains of placed stones appeared that are indeed similar to cairns, but one stone placed in the center did not fit the usual pattern. At first the team thought it was a paving stone. Additional excavation revealed the penis shape which is unique in this context.

The monument dates to the Late Bronze Age (1100-500 B.C.) and was built up between two rocky outcroppings. On the south side the paving leads to a lower level basin also filled with stone that appears to have served as a formal entrance to the monument. To the north of the monument are moss fields. Facing the moss field near the phallic stone are two boulders that are part of the circular edge chain. Between them lies a small circular red stone. Because it is completely unlike all the other stones on the site, archaeologists believe it was deliberately placed there and held some special significance.

Around the penis-shaped stone archaeologists unearthed five clearly defined layers of soot and carbonaceous materials mixed with stone. Two charred bones were found in one of the layers. These have yet to be analyzed, but are believed to be animal bones. Archaeologists hope that analysis of soil from the carbonaceous layer will find charred organic remains like seeds or plants that will be evidence of on-site burned offerings.

The stone was probably already reminscient of a penis naturally. Weathering and erosion had formed it into a recognizably phallic shape and then that shape was reinforced by carving. (The veins have to have been carved, right? I mean, damn.) Phallus form stones have been found before in prehistoric Sweden, particularly along important communication and trade routes, but this is the only one ever found at a likely sacrificial site. Given the context, archaeologists hypothesize that this site may have been associated with a fertility cult.


Rich Archaic graves found in looted necropolis

Saturday, September 21st, 2019

The ancient necropolis in Ahlanda, near Florina in the Greek region of West Macedonia has yielded more than 200 graves in just three months of excavations, several of them complete with important grave goods. The cemetery was used for centuries starting in the Late Bronze Age. The highest concentration of burials date to between the 6th and 3rd centuries B.C., but it was still very much active during the Byzantine years. The remains of two Roman farming operations have been discovered in the southern part of the site. Of the 209 burials discovered this summer, 131 date to the Byzantine era and 75 of them are from the Archaic period.

The cemetery was looted in antiquity and indeed, six of the graves unearthed this season had been relieved of their treasures by tomb raiders. They were stone-lined pits averaging 11 by 13 feet with inner masonry walls and cobblestone flooring. Even though their grave goods were long gone, the dimensions and construction of the tombs attest to the wealth and rank of the individuals interred in them.

The site has been excavated every summer for six years, but this is the first year in which bronze helmets have been discovered. Four helmets of the Greco-Illyrian type, open-face helmets that covered the head and neck, used in Greece from around 700 B.C. until the early 5th century B.C., were unearthed in four different graves. One of them was a stand-out because it was richly attired with weapons and armaments. In addition to the helmet, the warrior grave contained two fragmented iron swords, two iron spearheads, bronze greaves a wide-mouth bronze vessel with decorative handles in the form of human hands. Cinerary remains inside the vessel indicate it was a secondary burial, one of five secondary burials, all of them cremations, found in the necropolis.

Another first for this season’s dig was the discovery of the Archaic pottery figurine of a woman and the remains of a pottery Sphinx. Two Archaic vases were unearthed, decorated with a woman and a male bust with an animal head on top of the human head, likely a representation of Herakles.

There was also one gold artifact that by some miracle eluded grave robbers: a funerary mask. It was found in a grave topped with a slate cover. The grave had been disturbed, but the thieves neglected to abscond with the mask, a gold ring, a silver double fork, iron swords and spearheads, amber beads and a bronze pot.

The excavation of the Achlada cemetery is ongoing, part of a salvage archaeology project to rescue whatever may be found as the ancient site is located on private property belonging to a lignite mining operation.





September 2019


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