Archive for September, 2020

Shipwreck from 17th c. battle found in Denmark

Wednesday, September 30th, 2020

Marine archaeologists have discovered the wreck of the Delmenhorst, a Danish warship lost in the Battle of Fehmarn in 1644. It is the last of the ships from that battle to be found. It was discovered during an archaeological survey in advance of construction of the Fehmarn Belt underwater tunnel connecting Denmark and Germany. The wreck was in shallow waters — just 11 feet under the surface — 500 feet off the southern coast of Lolland near the town of Rødbyhavn.

The Delmenhorst was deliberately grounded by Danish forces towards the end of the battle when it became clear that Sweden was winning. They wanted to use its heavy cannon to defend the harbour of Rødbyhavn, but the plan failed when the Swedes set fire to one of their ships and sailed it into the Delmenhorst. The Danish warship caught fire and sank.

The Battle of Fehmarn took place during the Torstenson War between Sweden and Denmark-Norway. The war began in December 1643 with a Swedish invasion of the Danish Duchy of Holstein and ended in the humiliating defeat of Denmark in August 1645. King Christian IV of Denmark lost an eye in the war and Denmark-Norway lost piles of revenue, territories and its domination of the Baltic Sea.

The wreck was first spotted with side-scan sonar. Divers explored the wreckage and found a 20-foot section of keel, charred timbers, the bottom of the hull and ballast stones. Scattered debris around the remains of the ship included the melted, cracked and exploded remains of bronze cannon, evidence of the destructive powder of the Swedish fireships.

A few objects and samples have been raised from the wreck site, but the bulk of it will remain where it is. Because it is in such shallow water making it unhealthily accessible to tourists, the remains of the ship will be buried in sand for its own preservation. Archaeologists from the Viking Ship Museum have taken 30,000 photos of the wreck that will be used to create a digital 3D model that can be studied and exhibited at the museum without disturbing the site itself.

Refurbished Raphael Cartoon Court reopens

Tuesday, September 29th, 2020

The Raphael Court, the V&A gallery dedicated to the seven surviving tapestry cartoons created by Raphael, will reopen in November after a nine-month refurbishment. They’re getting in right under the wire to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death (April 6th, 1520). The upgraded Raphael Court features acoustic paneling, new furniture for more comfortable contemplation of the masterpieces and new LED lighting that reduces glare on the glass and massively improves their visibility.

The cartoons depicting scenes from the lives of Saints Peter and Paul were commissioned by Pope Leo X in 1513. He wanted monumental tapestries to decorate the lower walls of the Sistine Chapel, but to be worthy of the glorious frescoes by Michelangelo on the ceiling and wall behind the altar, the tapestries had to be designed by the greatest artist of the era instead of the staff designers in the workshop of Flemish weaver Pieter van Aelst. Raphael produced 10 elaborate cartoons the full size of the tapestries: 10 feet high and between 10 and 16 feet wide. The designs were rich in character, landscape and architectural detail and Raphael painted them with the same complex palette he used in all his works.

Tapestry cartoons were ephemera, used as weaving templates until they wore out. They were not considered artworks worthy of preservation, and even Raphael’s were only kept because van Aelst used them to make copies of the tapestries for other clients. By the early 1600s, only seven were left. They were acquired by the then-Prince of Wales (future Charles I) for £300, and managed to survive the Civil War, the Cromwellian Commonwealth and the Restoration. In 1865, Queen Victoria lent them to the South Kensington Museum in memory of her late lamented husband. That museum is now named after her and said husband.

In order to display them in a space suited to their original context, the V&A built the Raphael Court in almost identical proportion to the Sistine Chapel. The gallery was last refurbished in the early 90s.

The work on the infrastructure took place with the cartoons in situ as they are far too fragile to get moved around (as are the tapestries they were used to create, now in the collection of the Vatican but almost never displayed). Researchers were able to take advantage of the nine months to unframe the works, scan their surfaces in high-resolution 3D, use infrared imagining and composite photography to enhance our understanding of this unique group of monumental works by one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance. The 3D scans are of special interest with the cartoons because they were punctured in order to transfer the image in the tapestry, giving them a unique texture compared to other drawings and paintings.

All of this new data will be invaluable to researchers and conservators in the study and care of the cartoons. They are also being used to create new interactive features for visitors to the museum to access via QR codes or directly from the V&A’s website.

Imagery and a suite of new interactive interpretation will be available online, accessed in the gallery via QR codes, allowing visitors to engage with the interpretation on site using their own devices. Visitors will be able to zoom in and discover the design and making of the Cartoons and Raphael’s extraordinary creative process through detailed imagery and interactive features that highlight the significance and status of the Cartoons in multiple ways. Stories told will include the Cartoons’ function as full-scale tapestry designs for the Sistine Chapel, the ingenuity of Raphael and his workshop and their design process, the rescue, life and status of the Cartoons in England from their arrival in the 17th century, and the fascination they have provoked since then up to the present day. A new publication, edited by Dr Ana Debenedetti, will further contextualise the creation and afterlife of the Cartoons, shedding light on Raphael’s artistic practice and the organisation of his large workshop, the fate of the tapestries made for the Sistine Chapel, and the rediscovery and reception of the Cartoons, especially in Britain.

Dr Ana Debenedetti, Lead Curator of the Raphael Project and Curator of Paintings at the V&A said:

“The set of seven surviving tapestry Cartoons by Raphael comprise a unique Renaissance treasure, both in terms of aesthetic value and technical achievement. Cutting-edge technology, provided by Factum Foundation, offered non-invasive methods of studying such canonical works of art by allowing us to look beneath the visible layers of paint and discover Raphael’s creative process. It is a feast for the eye to be able to enjoy the extraordinary beauty of these monumental drawings which are over 500 years old. We look forward to sharing this enhanced experience with our visitors when the gallery reopens in November to mark Raphael’s 500th anniversary.”

4th century B.C. cistern excavated in Croatia

Monday, September 28th, 2020

A monumental cistern built by Greek colonists in the 4th century B.C. on what is now the Croatian island of Korčula has been fully excavated. The ruins of the ancient cistern were known to exist on Koludrt hill near the town of Lumbarda, but the full extent of this monumental structure was never explored until now.

Archaeologists have been working to clear it to document it thoroughly and preserve it for the future. It is an open-air structure and therefore susceptible to the elements and to damage from human contact. The plaster lining the stone basin, which was necessary to create a waterproof container, is of particular historical interest from an engineering perspective.

“The tank is huge, 10×17 meters in floor plan size and preserved height in the deepest part of 3 and a half meters. That’s a huge amount of water. Technologically, it is a fascinating object that is unique in the Mediterranean,” claims archaeologist Hrvoje Potrebica.

One of the puzzles is that it is open, has no traces of a roof structure, but monumental in its size – there is no Hellenistic building on the east coast of the Adriatic that could match it. That is why the cistern is big news in the world of archeology, and it was recorded with the most modern 3D scanner in the world.

“We currently have the most modern scanner in the world that recorded a tank with 430 million points. So our resolution is one millimeter, so we hope that we will get documentation and an exceptional means of monitoring,” explains Potrebica.

The cistern is also the find site of the oldest written document ever discovered in Croatia: the Lumbarda Psephisma, discovered in 1877. It is a record of the founding of the colony, a contract between the new colonists from Issa (a Greek colony on the Adriatic island of Vis) with the local Illyrian potentates Pyllos and his son Dazos. The inscription stipulates how much land the original colonists who fortified the town will be allotted, how much later colonists will receive and penalties for non-compliance. It closes with an extraordinary list of more than 200 names of the original colonists.

The Psephisma has been dated to the late 4th, early 3rd century B.C., around the same time the cistern was constructed. The water is held would have supplied all the colonists within the fortified walls of the town, perhaps even the very people named on the agreement.

Lydian atonement inscription repatriated to Turkey

Sunday, September 27th, 2020

A Lydian-era inscribed marble stele has been repatriated to Turkey almost three decades after it was illegally exported from the country. The inscription was looted in the early 1990s from the Temple of Apollo Aksyros in the ancient Lydian city of Saittai, today in the province of Manisa in western Turkey. In 1997, the stele was discovered in a raid on an antique shop in Florence. Italy’s Cultural Patrimony police confirmed its origin with Turkish Interpol, but because the open-air site has not been systematically excavated and documented, there was no hard evidence that it had been stolen and smuggled out of the country illegally.

Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Ministry spent the next 23 years pressing its claim in the Italian courts. On November 5th, 2019, the Florence Court of Appeal finally ruled that Turkey was the legal owner of the inscription triggering the repatriation process. After much diplomatic back-and-forth (and COVID-related delays), the stele was officially handed over to Murat Saim Esenli, Turkish Ambassador to Rome, on September 19th.

The ancient text itself points to its find site. It is an atonement inscription, a public allocution meant to expiate a sin. In this case, the sins of the children were visited upon the parents.

“Melita and Makedon stole Eia’s fishnet and other belongings. Therefore, they were punished by God. Their parents consulted Apollon Aksyros for their sake and made a vow.”

Saittai was one of the 10 cities in the Katakekaumene decapolis, a political union which prospered in the Hellenistic and Roman eras. It had its own mint under Roman rule and at least one emperor, Hadrian, visited it in person. It had temples to several deities, Apollon Aksyros among them. The date of the inscription is not known, but by the 5th century Saittai was the seat of a Christian bishopric and the ancient temples were no longer in active use.

The stele will go on display at the  Anatolian Civilizations Museum in Ankara.

Oldest Roman body armour found in Germany

Saturday, September 26th, 2020

Archaeologists have discovered the oldest and most complete Roman body armour at the site of the  Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in Kalkriese, Germany. Before this find, the earliest known examples of Roman lorica segmentata — iron plate sections tied together — were found in Corbridge, UK, and date to the 2nd century. Those were fragments. The Kalkriese armor is a complete set, and includes an extremely rare iron collar used to shackle prisoners.

More than 7,000 objects have been found at the Kalkriese battlefield site, from weapons to coins to items of everyday use. In the summer of 2018, a metal detector scan of the side wall of an excavation trench retuned 10 strong signals, indications of a large quantity of metal inside the bank. To ensure whatever was in there wasn’t exposed to the air and rapid oxidization, archaeologists removed the entire soil block containing the mystery metallics.

The first step was to scan the block to see what was inside and map out its excavation. The block was too big for regular X-ray machines, so  they transported the crate to the Münster Osnabrück International Airport where the customs office has a freight-sized X-ray machine. All they could see was nails of the wooden crate and a large black hole in the shape of the soil block.

In 2019, it was sent to the Fraunhofer Institute in Fürth which has the world’s largest CT scanner — a circular platform more than 11 feet in diameter that rotates while the X-ray apparatus moves up and down — more than big enough for the crate to fit and powerful enough to see inside the dense soil block. The scan revealed the remains of a cuirass — the section of a lorica segmentata where the breastplate and back plate are buckled together. The plates of the armour were pushed together like an accordion by the weight of the soil pressing on down them for 2,000 years.

Here’s a nifty digital animation by the Fraunhofer Institute generated from the CT scan data that reveals the armour inside the soil block.

Armed with the detailed scans, restorers were able to begin excavation of the soil block. They found that despite Kalkriese’s highly acidic sandy soil, the armour is relatively well-preserved. There is extensive corrosion of the mental, but the set is uniquely complete with hinges, buckles, bronze bosses and even extremely rare surviving pieces of the leather ties. The plates from the shoulder and chest have been recovered and restored. The belly plates are still in the soil block. There are no arm plates in this early design.

Iron plate armour was introduced by Augustus as an improvement on chain mail. It was relatively light (around 17 pounds) and because the plates were tied together with leather cords, they were much more flexible than chain mail. so it was the latest and greatest technology in 9 A.D. when Publius Quinctilius Varus blundered into a German ambush that obliterated three full Roman legions plus their auxiliaries.

The legionary who wore this armour apparently survived the battle because around his neck/shoulder area was a shrew’s fiddle, also known as a neck violin. This was an iron collar connected to two handcuffs that locked a prisoner’s hands in front of his neck. The Romans used them to shackle prisoners destined for slavery. This time the tables were turned, and the soldier died in shackles.

The restoration is ongoing and is expected to take another two years. Once it’s complete, the armour will go on display in an exhibition at the Kalkriese Museum and Park.

Reconstruction confirms accuracy of Fayoum child mummy portrait

Friday, September 25th, 2020

A facial reconstruction of the mummy of a young child has revealed that his mummy portrait was remarkably realistic. Mummy portraits, a funerary tradition specific to Greco-Roman Egypt, were painted on wood boards and placed over the face of a linen-wrapped mummified body. There are about 1,000 known mummy portraits extant today, most of them discovered in the Fayoum area of Lower Egypt, but less than 100 of them are still attached to their original mummy.

Because of the realism and individualized features of the portraits, they are believed to be representations of the faces of the deceased, but few studies have been done on matched portraits and mummies, and in the ones that have created facial reconstructions from the embalmed remains, the results have varied. Most of the portraits were (pardon the pun) dead ringers for the mummy; a few seemingly bore no resemblance.

The most recent study is the first to compare a child mummy to its portrait. The subject in question has been part of the collection of the  Staatliches Museum Ägyptischer Kunst (SMAEK) München since 1912 when it was donated to the Royal Bavarian Collection of Antiquities by renown archaeologist Sir Flinders Petrie. Petrie had unearthed it himself the year before during an excavation at Hawara, the entrance point to the Fayoum oasis.

The mummy is 30 inches long and artfully wrapped with criss-crossed linen bandages adorned with gilded plaster buttons. The portrait depicts a young child about three or four years old with large brown eyes and brown hair. X-rays identified the child as male. The hair is curly with two braids woven from center to ears just above the hairline.

Researchers CT-scanned the mummy and reconstructed the skull from the scans. They then used the scan data and 3D software to reconstruct the eyes, skin, nose and soft tissue. The reconstruction artist was not allowed to see the portrait or even get anything information about it so as not to influence the rendering.

The facial reconstruction shows a child with typical infantile facial features very similar to those of the portrait. On the biometrical level, the proportions between the dimension of the forehead to the eye line, the distance to the lower nasal aperture and the mouth opening were exactly the same between portrait and reconstruction. However, differences existed between the width of the nasal bridge and the size of the mouth opening with both being more slender and “narrow” in the portrait than the virtual reconstruction. […]

There are, however, certain distinct differences between portrait and face: on a subjective level, the portrait appears slightly “older”; on a biometric level, the width of the nose and the mouth are smaller in the portrait than in the face, which might explain the perceived difference in age.

Flinders Petrie thought the portraits were made ante-mortem because they had all been cut down to fit the mummy and because he found one that hadn’t yet been attached to a mummy. Some current scholars have also proposed that the portraits were made from life. While that makes sense for adults, it seems unlikely that so young a child would have a death portrait ready to go just in case. There is evidence of pneumonia in his lungs, so its seems he was stricken by a sudden fatal illness.

The study has been published in the journal PLUS One. It’s a good read and has excellent supplementary materials, including four videos of different stages of the reconstruction process.

Germanic princely grave found in Migration Period cemetery

Thursday, September 24th, 2020

The richly furnished grave of a Germanic prince buried with 11 animals and six women has been discovered near the village of Brücken-Hackpfüffel in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt. It dates to between 480 and 530 A.D. and was the central tomb of a large burial mound, now eroded.

The remains of the illustrious personage buried in the central grave have not been found yet. A soil block containing metal pieces believed to have been part of a cauldron was removed for excavation in laboratory conditions. The cinerary remains of the tumulus owner may have been buried inside of it. It must have been of major importance, because the six women were buried around the cauldron in a radial alignment like the rays of the sun. It is not yet known if they were deliberately killed or sacrificed themselves to accompany the deceased into death. The animals — cattle, horses, dogs — were buried after the central occupant was interred and the mound built, likely offerings to honor the deceased.

The burial mound is part of a Migration Period cemetery that was discovered by chance during construction of a chicken breeding facility. Almost 60 graves have been discovered. Grave goods excavated so far include the figurine of a Germanic deity, a glass bowl with swirl decoration in pristine condition, a glass spindle whorl, silver gilt fibulae, an iron sword and shield boss and a gold coin minted during the reign of Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno dating to around 480. The glass objects bear the signature manufacturing technique of Gallo-Roman workshops on the Rhine.

The fibulae were of a type produced by the Lombards, Alemanni and the Thuringii. The most elaborate of the fibulae still includes a fragment of textile that was captured and preserved by corrosion of the metal. Analysis of the fragment may narrow down its provenance. If it from a light cloak, it’s likely Lombard as their territories were more southerly.

By a stroke of archaeological good luck, the cemetery was in a depression on the landscape. Over the years, layers of soil built up over it, so even though the site has seen centuries of agricultural use, the graves were never damaged. They weren’t even any hints of their presence on the surface, so they’ve been preserved from the depredations of looters.

Excavations in situ and in the laboratory are ongoing. The precise location of the cemetery is being kept under wraps for security purposes.

8,400-year-old dog burial found in Sweden

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020

The remains of a dog buried 8,400 years ago have been discovered in the Stone Age settlement at Ljungaviken, Sölvesborg. Objects found with it are believed to be grave goods, suggesting the dog was a beloved companion and colleague. It is one of the oldest dog finds ever made in Sweden, and the only one found in the middle of a Neolithic settlement.

The bones have been examined by an animal osteologist, but he was unable to identify its breed as there is no modern dog directly comparable. The closest he could get was to say that it was “like a powerful greyhound.”

“We hope to be able to lift the whole dog up in preparations, ie with soil and everything, and continue the investigations at Blekinge Museum’s object magazine.” says project manager Carl Persson at Blekinge museum.

“A find like this makes you feel even closer to the people who lived here,” he continues. “A buried dog somehow shows how similar we are over the millennia – the same feelings of loss and loss.”

When the settlement was inhabited (around 6,700-5,700 B.C.), the site was beachfront property on a small island or peninsula. The site was probably used only part of the year, in the summer and autumn, prime seasons for fishing and seal hunting. Paleobotanical finds indicate wild plants like melons and raspberries were foraged for food. Rising sea levels flooded the beach, covering the settlement with layers of wet sand and preserving it in good condition for thousands of years.

Archaeological surveys in 2015 discovered evidence of 56 different structures — hearths, postholes, pits — from the Stone Age and later materials from the Bronze and Iron Ages. The dog was buried among the Stone Age remains.

Gallo-Roman wine vat found in Touraine

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020

Archaeologists have discovered a Gallo-Roman wine vat from the 2nd century near the village of Vaugourdon in Touraine, central France. A team from France’s National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) found the vat during an excavation of the site of a future fishery when they unearthed a deep rectangular pit built of roof bricks and lime mortar making it water-tight.

The Loire river valley is one of France’s top wine producing regions, with a history of viticulture that goes back to the Roman era. If the presence of grape juice is confirmed from presence of tannins in residues on the brick, this vat will be the earliest direct archaeological evidence of wine production in Touraine.

Winemaking in Roman Gaul, especially in this period, was predominantly based in the Mediterranean south of the country, and most evidence points to it creeping north to areas such as the Loire much later in the Roman period; as late as the 3rd century AD.

The famous saint, Martin of Tours, is a patron of vintners, vine-growers and winemakers and his wine-related hagiography is firmly linked to the area. He is credited with encouraging the spread of viticulture throughout the Touraine region, introducing Chenin Blanc and supposedly his donkey ‘discovered’ pruning by nibbling the foliage of a monastery’s vineyard (though there is an Ancient Greek myth where Aristaeus discovers this by watching a goat do the same thing).

But St Martin lived in the 4th century AD so this new site is as much as two centuries older.

The discovery of one winemaking site does not prove that viticulture was a large, flourishing industry in the Loire during this period of course but it does (potentially) show that limited viticulture was a reality and much more widespread in early Roman Gaul than former evidence suggested.

INRAP archaeologists have also discovered the foundations of a large villa near the vat. Fragments of marble and a well-preserved hypocaust system indicate this was a luxurious, expensive home. Its possible dates range from the 1st through the 3rd century A.D., so it may or may not be connected to wine production, but it likely belonged to a wealthy farmer, possibly absentee, who employed and housed numerous people on the estate year-round.

Farmer plows up a runestone

Monday, September 21st, 2020

A few years ago, Lennart Larsson was plowing a field on his farm in Hellerö, near Loftahammar, southeastern Sweden, when his tractor collided into a stone. It was large — six and a half feet long, more than three feet wide — and flat, so Larsson figured he’d set it aside as it might prove useful in the future. He move it to the edge of the field and there it remained until days ago. He was building a new staircase for an outbuilding and thought that large flat stone was just the thing for the job. When he raised it with an excavator, for the first time he noticed there were runes carved on the underside.

The Larssons contacted experts at the Västervik Museum who viewed the piece and confirmed it was a rare runestone. Runologist Magnus Källström then examined and translated the carving. The runes read: “Gärdar erected this stone for Sigdjärv, his father, husband of Ögärd.” In the center of the stone is a cross, which coupled with the inscription indicates this was a funerary stone, a memorial monument placed on the family’s property a few kilometers from the village burial ground. Around the text is a zoomorphic figure biting its own tail. The rounded style of the animal carving suggests a date of the first half of the 11th century.

The stone is believed to have fallen where it was originally placed. It is in very good condition, despite centuries of active agricultural use of the land above and around it. This stone is of national significance, and is a particularly important find for the region as the inscription names three individuals from different generations of a prominent family who lived at the site during the Late Iron Age. Previous finds of silver coins and a silver armband made in Gotland in the 11th century are evidence of the family’s wealth. The female name Ögärd has never been seen before, making it of notable interest for linguistic research.

The stone will now be cleaned and conserved. Authorities hope to put it on display in its original location in Hellerö, but it has a crack that threatens its stability which must be secured first. The county administrative board will then decide on its ultimate disposition based on the advice of conservators.




September 2020


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