Archive for August, 2020

Intact 17th c. shipwreck found in Gulf of Finland

Friday, August 21st, 2020

Divers have discovered the nearly intact wreck of 17th century merchant ship at the mouth of the Gulf of Finland. A team of volunteer divers from Badewanne, a non-profit organization dedicated to documenting shipwrecks from World War I and World War II in the Gulf of Finland, spotted the wreck on the sea floor at a depth of 280 feet. The area was extremely active during the world wars and is replete with the remains of minesweepers, U-boats and other casualties of naval conflict, so on the descent the team assumed it was one a relic from the first half of the 20th century. They were shocked to find it was a wood sailing vessel from the 17th century.

The cold, dark, shipworm-free waters of the Eastern Baltic preserved the vessel in extraordinary condition. It has taken some small damage from a pelagic trawl that swept over the deck bow to aft, pulling out the masts, some deck timbers and the transom between the hoekman (statues of prosperous Dutch merchants flanking the stern). Some of the damaged parts of the transom and hoekmen are still in situ on the bottom of the ship behind the stern. There is no damage to the hull so the ship cannot have been dashed onto shoals. The ship probably capsized in a storm.

Its pear-shaped stern identifies it as a cargo vessel of Dutch manufacture called a fluyt. With their shallow draft, ample cargo space, narrow deck and absence of armament, the three-masted ships were fast, capacious, able to sail inland waterways and, thanks to an innovative pulley and tackle system operating the sails, they were easily manned by a small crew. They were the cheap, efficient workhorses of the Dutch East India Company in the 17th and 18th centuries and dominated the Baltic trade routes.

Badewanne team will continue documenting and investigating this significant wreck in co-operation with Finnish Heritage Agency of Antiquities and other partners, Including Associate Professor Dr. Niklas Eriksson, Maritime Archaeologist, Univ. of Stockholm, Sweden:

“The wreck reveals many of the characteristics of the fluit but also some unique features, not least the construction of the stern. It might be that this is an early example of the design. The wreck thus offers a unique opportunity to investigate the development of a ship type that sailed all over the world and became the tool that laid the foundation for early modern globalization,” says Dr. Eriksson.

You can see a brief but crystal clear video of the shipwreck here.


Urartu child buried with dragon-head bracelets

Thursday, August 20th, 2020

The remains of a child wearing a dragon-headed bracelet on each arm have been discovered in an ancient necropolis near Van, eastern Turkey. The burial was unearthed last year in an excavation at the Castle of Çavuştepe, about 15 miles southeast of Van, where archaeologists have been exploring a 2,750-year-old necropolis.

Van, then named Tushpa, was the capital of the Urartian kingdom that ruled what is now eastern Anatolia from the 9th century B.C. until the early 6th century. The necropolis dates to the reign of Sarduri II (r. 764–735 B.C.) who built the fortress of Çavuştepe at the peak of Urartu’s power in the region. The remains of defensive walls of the citadel, a royal palace, a temple, the king’s tower and service areas were unearthed in excavations from 1961 to 1986, but the necropolis was unknown until the latest program of excavations began three years ago.

The necropolis was where the elite of Urartu who lived in the castle citadel were interred. Archaeologists have unearthed burials with large amounts of jewelry including silver necklaces, dozens of earrings, a lion brooch and a belt decorated with mythological characters. The small child, only three years old at time of death, buried with rich furnishings was certainly a member of the Urartu aristocracy. The finely-crafted dragon-headed copper bracelets are unique finds in the region. Beads from a necklace, originally threaded on a now-decomposed string or leather cord, surround Dragon-head bracelet. Photo by Mesut Varol, Anadolu Agency.his neck. At his head is a small ceramic bowl with food offerings still inside.

His lavish grave goods are evidence that the Urartu elites buried young children with meticulous care to send them well-accessorized to the afterlife.


Sold: One of the world’s oldest names

Wednesday, August 19th, 2020

A clay tablet inscribed with one of the first known proper names in history sold at auction last month for £175,000 ($229,000). The 3×3-inch baked clay tablet dates to around 3100 B.C. and is engraved in the archaic Sumerian pictographic script dubbed Uruk III. It was kept in the archive of the Temple of Inanna in Uruk in what is now southern Iraq, one of 77 pictographic tablets found there that were written by the same hand.

The Kushim Tablet, baked clay, pictographic script Uruk III, ca. 3100 B.C. Photo courtesy Bloomsbury Auctions.The topic of this administrative record is beer production. The pictograms take the reader through the process, starting with a sheaf of barley on the center bottom of the tablet. To its left is a brick building with a chimney (the brewery). To its left is a sheaf again now inside a vessel. The dots and lines are numbers which reveal the impressive scale of this business: 29,086 measures barley over 37 months were to be delivered to the temple. Taking receipt of the beer was one Kushim, represented by the symbols “KU” and “SIM” written in the upper left above the vessel with the barley sheaf.

There has been some scholarly debate over whether Kushim was a title rather than a proper name, but Kushim’s name appears on 17 other tablets, and some of those instances include the title “Sanga,” meaning temple administrator. So not only is Kushim one of the world’s first personal names written more than 5,000 years ago, but it might even be a signature as Kushim recorded his duties as administrator at the Temple of Inanna.

The tablet was most recently part of the epic Schøyen Collection, the largest private collection of writing materials in the world spanning 5,000 years of history. Norwegian shipping heir Martin Schøyen has been selling some of his collection over the past few years, and this very special lot was part of a selection on The History of Western Script sold by Bloomsbury Auctions in London in celebration of Schøyen’s 80th birthday.

It first emerged on the record in the 1950s when it was acquired by renown antiquities collector of Hans Erlenmeyer. The Erlenmeyer antiquities were sold at auction in 1988.  It was the Erlenmeyer sale with its collection of 78 5,000-year-old pictographic clay tablets that sparked Schøyen’s interest in adding archaeological primary sources to his collection. He was only able to acquire two of the tablets at the auction itself, but in subsequent years he collected whole groups of pictographic and cuneiform tablets. Schøyen acquired the Kushim Tablet in 1993 from Quaritch, rare book dealers who had bought it at the 1988 auction.

The rest of the 77 pictographic tablets from Uruk that were written by the same hand, possibly Kushim himself, are all in institutions — the Freie Universität Berlin collection, the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Louvre. The Kushim Tablet is the greatest gem among the group and the only one of the 17 mentioning Kushim that was in private hands. It was bought by an anonymous US private collector.


Two little piggies found at Bronze Age site in Poland

Tuesday, August 18th, 2020

Two small Bronze Age pig figurines have been discovered at the archaeological site of Mount Zyndram in Maszkowice, southern Poland. The clay pigs are the first zoomorphic figurines discovered at the Bronze Age settlement which is about 3,500 years old.

The site is a defensive settlement surrounded by a stone wall. It was occupied off and on from the early Bronze Age through the late Iron Age. The massive stone wall built atop the plateau is the oldest example of stone architecture in Poland. Archaeologists have also discovered dwellings from this first phase of occupation. The pigs were found inside one of the dwellings.

Just a few centimetres long, the figurines are shaped like pigs, with a visible snout and ears. Their soft earthy colour with pinkish tones makes them look even more like pigs.

One of them is darker than the other, which could result from an accidental difference in the firing process used to harden the clay figures after their shape was formed.

Although they were found inside the same house, the figurines’ slightly different style may be a sign that they were made by two different people, Przybyła suggests.

The clay pigs’ function is unclear, but researchers generally think of these kinds of finds as children’s toys or objects used in a cult – or both, as some items may have served both purposes.

The objects could have been used to tell a story with a special significance for the people of the time.


Rats are excellent historic preservationists

Monday, August 17th, 2020

The moated brick manor house of Oxburgh Hall has been through a myriad cycles of growth, decline, expansion, dereliction and reconstruction since it was first built in 1482 by Sir Edmund Bedingfeld. It came within a hair’s breadth of demolition in 1952 before it was saved at the very last minute by Lady Sybil Bedingfeld who gave it the National Trust. It is currently undergoing a £6million program of repairs to the roof, structural timbers and tiles, 14 dormer windows and its 27 brick chimneys. It is a massive feat of engineering (wrapping a building surrounded by a moat that cannot be drained in full scaffolding is … tricky) and conservation.

The work on the roof is so extensive that temporary roofing was rigged to allow all of the 17,000+ tiles and coverings to be removed for structural work on the timbers. The floorboards were painstakingly lifted, numbered and removed, exposing the underfloor for the first time in centuries. The floorboards date to a Victorian-era renovation, but builders at the time simply laid them over the 16th and 17th century ceilings, leaving the underfloors entirely undisturbed. Archaeologists expected to find some old discarded fragments under the floors — newspapers, candy wrappers, buttons, pins — and their expectations were quickly met when they discovered a box of Terry’s Gold Leaf chocolates, complete with all the packaging and wrappers, missing only the chocs themselves.

A few weeks later they found some old rats’ nests and it turns out the rodents at Oxburgh Hall had excellent taste in bedding. There were fragments of 16th century sheet music and of a 16th century English edition of the King’s Psalms. Next to the nests was a large fragment from a 15th century illuminated Bible, only slightly gnawed. It contains a passage from Psalm 39 from the Vulgate highlighted with blue and gold letters.

Upon closer examination, two of the nests were found to contain more than 200 fragments of luxury textiles including silk, satin, linen, velvet and leather. There are pieces with fine embroidery and ribbons. They date to the late 16th, early 17th century and were probably snippets of larger sections. The rats recognized their high-end qualities and made off with as many remnants as they could get their tiny little hands on.

One of the largest pieces is browny-gold slashed silk, with each of the slashes revealing gold thread. Slashing was very popular for men’s clothing during the 16th century and was used for doublets, jackets and sleeves. It was placed over a textile of a contrasting colour which would be revealed through the slashes. We have the rats to thank for the remarkable condition of these textiles; begin kept below the floorboards for hundreds of years has prevented them from decaying and has allowed us to find out so much more about life at Oxburgh Hall.

That was in May. Two weeks ago, builders hit a motherlode, not in the rats’ nests but it was in a nearby void in the attic. It is a full leatherbound copy of the King’s Psalms published in 1568 and is in exceptional condition, even if was the source for the fragments found in the rats’ nests. There is only one other copy of this book known to exist and it’s in the British Library.

The Kynges Psalmes was originally written by John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, in the 1st half of the 16th century and first published in England c.1544. Fisher was executed by Henry VIII for refusing to accept him as the supreme head of the Church of England and is honoured as a martyr and a saint by the Catholic church. Interestingly, this edition was translated into English from Fisher’s Latin by none other than Katherine Parr, who tweaked the emphasis of some of the text (perhaps in collaboration with her husband) in order to emphasise Henry VIII’s religious authority, obedience to God, and military prowess. The English version of The King’s Psalms, which we have at Oxburgh, was therefore highly regarded by Protestants.

This is of particular significance because the Bedingfelds were Catholic, and staunchly so. They were persecuted, fined and harassed for their recusancy. Oxburgh Hall is famous for its priests’ hole, a trapdoor in the floor that is the most popular stop for visitors to the estate.

Russell Clement, general manager,said: “We had hoped to learn more of the history of the house during the reroofing work… but these finds are far beyond anything we expected to see. These objects contain so many clues which confirm the history of the house as the retreat of a devout Catholic family, who retained their faith across the centuries.

“This is a building which is giving up its secrets slowly. We don’t know what else we might come across or what might remain hidden for future generations to reveal.”


Celtic burial ground found in Nîmes

Sunday, August 16th, 2020

Archaeologists excavating the site of future apartment building construction in the center of Nîmes have unearthed a small Celtic burial ground. Dating between the 6th and 5th centuries B.C., burials include three cinerary graves, two ceramic ossuaries and a bone pit. Grave goods of knives and fibulae suggest the deceased were probably men.

The necropolis was a small but deliberately planned space. It runs along a central north-south axis about 130 feet long which was probably a walkway between the graves in antiquity. There’s evidence of an east-west axis about 120 feet long, but it’s not clear if it was an agricultural enclosure or part of the funerary complex. Each grave is rectangular and separated by ditches. The ditches served as the foundation for thick timber and earth walls. Most of the enclosures were disturbed by later construction, but two of the five are intact and adjacent to each other, joined by the short sides of the rectangle.

The location relative to the Iron Age settlement is ambiguous. The necropolis was about a third of a mile from the agglomeration that would become Nîmes, far enough away to make it unclear whether the tombs belonged to residents of the town or of the countryside. What is certain is that after the burials stopped, the necropolis was converted to viticulture. Around 50 vine pits have been discovered, all regularly arranged in the east-west orientation of the shorter ditch. The vine cultivation dates to the early 2nd century B.C., after which the vineyard was replaced by an orchard.

In the Imperial era, a Roman road was built through the necropolis, following the lines of the funerary enclosures. It was just outside the city walls, a few hundred feet from the south gate. The road through the former burial ground would have crossed the main road out of town, the Via Domitia.

Interestingly, while the site appears to have been used for farming in the Middle Ages and there is no evidence that anybody even knew it had ever been a burial ground, but its ancient purpose saw a brief revival in the modern era. The skeletal remains of three individuals were unearthed in the excavation. Archaeologists believe they were likely Protestants, and therefore prohibited from burial in the consecrated ground of a Catholic cemetery. There was a sizeable Protestant population in Nîmes during the 16th and 17th centuries, but its churches (called temples) were either destroyed or repurposed after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.


Mystery portrait identified as Mary Boleyn

Saturday, August 15th, 2020

A painting in the Royal Collection previously known only as Portrait of a Woman has been identified as a portrait of Mary Boleyn, older sister of Anne Boleyn and mistress of her future husband Henry VIII. The identification was made thanks to researchers with the Jordaens Van Dyck Panel Paintings Project (JVDPPP), a multidisciplinary study based in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Brussels of oak panel paintings by 17th century masters Jacques Jordaens and Sir Anthony Van Dyck. The portrait is in the style of Flemish artist Remigius van Leemput, so not one of the two artists on the project’s masthead, but Leemput worked in Van Dyck’s studio and he specialized in making copies of the master’s paintings, especially his portraits of the British aristocracy. Not all of the originals have survived, so  van Leemput’s work is of particular interest to the researchers both for comparative purposes and to get as close to lost originals as possible.

The JVDPPP examined it and another 13 portraits of women, collectively known as the Beauties, by van Leemput that are in the Royal Collection. The other 13 are contemporary portraits, however, aristocratic 17th century women garbed and coiffed in styles of their time. The unnamed woman in Portrait of a Woman is the only one in 16th century clothing and hairstyle.

They examined it in September of 2019. Dendrochronological analysis on the oak support found that it was cut from the same Baltic tree around 1629 as the only other portrait of the 14 whose sitter was previously unknown. Archival research revealed a key clue tying the two portraits together: photographs of two paintings in private collections with inscriptions identifying the 16th century woman as Mary Boleyn and the 17th century one as Lady Herbert, ie, Margaret Smith, wife of Thomas Carey who was Mary Boleyn’s great-grandson. A few years after her portrait was painted, her husband died and she married Sir Edward Herbert.

Sir Oliver Millar, then Surveyor of H. M. The Queen’s Pictures, wrote in his 1963 book The Tudor, Stuart and Early Georgian Pictures in the collection of Her Majesty the Queen that in the 19th century the painting was believed to be one of several copies of a Hans Holbein portrait of Anne Boleyn. By 1861 it was listed in the catalogue as a “portrait of a lady” and the sitter has been anonymous for nearly 160 years until this discovery.

Desmond Shawe-Taylor, Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, told the Sunday Telegraph: “It’s absolutely fascinating. We don’t have the resources to apply technical examination like dendrochronology to the whole collection, which is 7,000 paintings, so it’s wonderful to collaborate with the JVDPPP to help us in that way. One of the things that I’m endlessly trying to do is to group the paintings properly to sort out their history and their relationship to each other.

“When a stray is reunited with the family, there’s joy in heaven. It disproportionately increases the value and understanding of the whole group.”

Describing the paintings as “absolutely beautiful”, he said that the set could now be reunited.

Justin Davies, a British art historian and JVDPPP co-founder, said of the research: “It’s been a voyage of discovery. The results were remarkable and unexpected. Six of the 14 panels had been made from the same oak tree. The tree had started growing in south-west Germany before 1393 and was cut down between 1651 and 1671. In itself, this result constitutes a world record – six panel paintings from the same tree had not been recorded before.”

He added: “The remaining eight pictures are four pairs of two in terms of their trees of origin. “

The newly-identified Mary Boleyn portrait now hangs in the bedchamber of Mary, Queen of Scots, at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh.


Intact 1,300-year-old burial found in northeast Mexico

Friday, August 14th, 2020

The skeletal remains of a man buried at least 1,300 years ago have been discovered in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, Mexico. It is one of the first known intact pre-Hispanic graves in the region found outside of a cave.

The remains were discovered on July 8th during construction of a raised water tank for the community of San Lorenzo de las Bayas. Located in the Sierra Madre Oriental mountains, remote San Lorenzo is connected to the nearest city, Ocampo, by a 25-mile dirt road. Significant archaeological sites, including ancient open-air settlements and cave art, have been found there thanks solely to the reports from local residents who are very conscious of their cultural patrimony. This is the first known intact burial found in the area. The workers promptly notified the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) of the find and two days later archaeologists were on site. The team excavated the grave and also supervised the ongoing construction of the reservoir.

The remains were found to be of an adult male between 21 and 35 years old at time of death. He was buried in a seated position with his knees bent. His body had been wrapped in a petate, a bedroll made from palm fibers, which has now disintegrated, but it preserved his bones in their original burial posture. Buried with him was a tripod molcajete, a ceramic mortar with three support legs typical of the Classic Period, ca. 400-700 A.D.  It is by the side of the skeleton now, but was probably originally on top of the grave.

The remains were recovered and transported to the osteological laboratory of the Centro INAH Tamaulipas where they will be cleaned, conserved and studied to narrow down his age, determine if he had any illnesses, his possible cause of death and whether his skull show signs of deliberate cranial deformation. Archaeologists spotted signs of at least two more burials at the site, so INAH plans to explore it further in future digs.


Jupiter column found in Roman well in Germany

Thursday, August 13th, 2020

Archaeologists have unearthed a Roman well containing the remains of a column with depictions of Jupiter and three goddesses in a lignite mine in Kerpen, Germany. Columns with figural depictions of this kind from the Roman era are extremely rare in the Rhineland. The well was exposed when the opencast mine pit was 50 feet deep.

The timber-sided well and its fill were discovered in the Hambach mine and archaeologists from the Rhineland Regional Council’s Office for Monument Preservation in the Rhineland (LVR-ABR) called in to excavate it. Inside they found the remains of marble carving of Jupiter seated on a throne. It was heavily damaged with only the throne and lower body of the god extant, but its dimensions indicate the column was around 16 feet high when intact.

A relief at the foot of the column is also believed to depict Jupiter, but it too is damaged enough to make identification tentative. Another relief carved around a cylindrical drum shows three goddesses: Juno, consort of Jupiter, Minerva, goddess of wisdom and an extremely rare depiction of Nemesis-Diana, a composite of the goddess of vengeance and the goddess of the hunt. She is identifiable as such because she wears the short dress of Diana and is accompanied by a wagon wheel, an attribute of Nemesis. There is evidence of the worship of Nemesis-Diana in the Roman Empire, but iconographic representations are scarce. This is the first one ever discovered in the Rhineland.

The remains of Jupiter columns have been found before on Roman villas in Germany. Archaeologists believe they probably adorned the courtyards of wealthy homes. The quality of construction of the well suggests it too was part of luxury estate. Its foundation is composed of large sandstones each weighing several tons. They had to be transported to the site. The cost of moving such large stones would have been exorbitant and affordable only to the elite.

Similar wells found in the area mostly date to the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Ceramic fragments found in the backfill of the well indicate that it was in use until the 5th century. It’s hard to say when the Jupiter column parts were deposited in the well. It could have been as early as the 3rd century, perhaps as a result of destruction wrought by Germanic invasions, or the representations of Roman deities might have been damaged and drowned by Christians in late antiquity. Archaeologists hope the well-preserved wood elements of the well will provide an absolute date on its construction.


14th c. gold and silver coin hoard found in Bohemia

Wednesday, August 12th, 2020

A hoard of 435 gold and silver coins from the 14th century was discovered by a couple on a walk in the woods near Kladruby Monastery in  western Bohemia, Czech Republic. Well, technically, the hoard was discovered by a wild pig who started the excavation. The couple came across a two gold coins and one silver in the brush next to a large flat stone. When they lifted the stone, they saw there were many more coins underneath it. They reported the find to the Museum of West Bohemia in Plzeň and archaeologists unearthed the whole hoard.

There are 92 gold coins weighing a total of 326 grams and 343 silver coins in the hoard. The silver coins are of the groschen type which were common in Bohemia and central Europe in the 14th century. Most of the ones in the hoard were minted in Bohemia during the reign of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. They are very worn so must have been in wide circulation. The gold coins, on the other hand, are in excellent condition. They are ducats of Charles I of Hungary, of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, of Albert III, Duke of Austria, and Rupert I, Elector Palatine and gold florins from Louis I of Hungary.

Archaeologists believe the coins were buried in the ground in the late 1370s. While the reason why someone hid the treasure is likely to remain unknown, it was most likely linked to the nearby Monastery in Kladruby.

“The monastery was located on a strategic medieval trade route between Prague and Nürnberg. And since the discovery was made not far from there and close to the royal town of Stříbro, it is very likely that it is somehow connected to it.”

The Kladruby Monastery, a Benedictine abbey established by Vladislaus I, Duke of Bohemia, in 1115, was rich from the beginning, endowed with numerous properties and titles. Its wealth and power increased geometrically, peaking in the 14th century when the monastery’s income and territory were at royal levels. It had its own network of defensive castles on its feudal estates and was often mired in conflict with the nobility of the area.

Because of the vast sums that flowed into the abbey’s coffers and its military power, the question of who would be appointed abbot was of enormous political import. This came to blows in 1396 when John of Nepomuk, vicar-general of the Archdiocese of Prague, appointed the candidate supported by his boss the archbishop and the Pope instead of the one selected by King Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia. The king had John tortured, thrown off a bridge and drowned. He was immediately revered as a martyr and canonized a saint.

The coins are now being conserved and catalogued. They will go on display at the Museum of West Bohemia in Plzeň at the end of this year or the beginning of 2021.






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