Archive for October, 2020

Snake altar found in ancient Lycian city

Tuesday, October 20th, 2020

A cylindrical altar carved with the figure of a snake winding around it has been discovered at the archaeological site of Patara in southwestern Turkey’s Antalya district. Archaeologists unearthed the altar in an excavation of the Roman-era public baths near the ancient city walls. The marble altar was originally associated with a tomb and would have been used to leave offerings of food or drink to the gods for the benefit of the deceased. Its find site at the baths, built under Nero in the 60s A.D., and the style of the carving dates it to the Roman era, about 2,000 years ago.

(Fun fact: the dedicatory inscription found on one of the doorways between the frigidarium and the tepidarium gives all credit for the construction of the baths to Vespasian. The surviving parts read: “The bath was built from scratch by the ultimate ruler, sacred Flavius Vespasianus… during the time of military governor Sextus Marcus Priscus by using the security funds collected from the people and with contributions of the military unit with all of the ornaments and decorations and swimming pool.”

Epigraphers discovered that the initial lines of the inscription were scraped off and Vespasian’s name engraved over the erasure. The long arm of the Roman senate’s damnatio memoriae of Nero, perhaps? Or maybe just a courtesy carve-out to pretend the emperor who repaired the bath and the aqueduct that supplied it was the one who built it. The “from scratch” bit does seem a little heavy-handed.)

Located on the Mediterranean coast of southwestern Lycia, the Hellenistic city was founded in the 8th century B.C. and prospered as a harbor city connecting trade from the Mediterranean to the interior via the Xanthus River which flowed through the city in antiquity. Patara, which according to the legend was founded by Apollo’s son Patarus, was renown for its Temple of Apollo and oracle. The former was second in importance only to the temple at Delos; the latter only to the oracle at Delphi. Apollo himself was said to live there, summering at Delos but enjoying the fine winter climate at Patara. Because of this, ancient chroniclers claim, the priestess only worked the oracle at Patara in the winter.

Snakes are central to the mythology of Apollo, particular to his oracles. Apollo slew the Python, the underworld deity who relayed messages from his mother Gaia to petitioners at the Delphic oracle, and replaced him as the god of record in Delphi. Python’s priestesses kept their jobs under the new administration, and the main priestess of the oracle at Delphi was thereafter called the Pythia.

The remains of the famous Temple of Apollo have yet to be discovered, but a large bust of the god unearthed just inside the city gate is believed to have adorned it. The city’s association with Apollo is also evident in its coinage. He appears on drachms from the 2nd century B.C. all the way through to imperial coinage of the emperor Gordian III in the 3rd century. Several of the Gordian issues feature a serpent coiled around a tripod cauldron. One features Apollo standing inside his temple with a serpent-wrapped column to his right.

The altar will now be cleaned, conserved and studied and when the work is complete, it will be exhibited at the Demre Museum.


Autograph album to beat all autograph albums for sale

Monday, October 19th, 2020

The American descendant of that autograph album from 17th century Germany doesn’t have its lavish illustrations, but its signatories are even more famous, covering in their lifetimes the entire span of US history from the presidency of George Washington to that of George H. W. Bush. The pre-sale estimate for the “most remarkable autograph album ever offered for sale” is $30,000-35,000, but the live auction  is still a couple of days away and the online bids are already up to $26,000.

It was compiled over the course of 50 years by Lafayette F. Cornwell of Yonkers, New York. He began collecting autographs when he was a teenager and continued for the rest of his life. Unlike any teenager I’ve ever known but very much like his fellow 19th century teen autograph collector Adeline Harris Sears, he planned for the long-term, deciding to arrange the signatures by category rather than chronologically. The result is the names, like those in Adeline’s incredible Signatures quilt, grouped by field of endeavor instead of chronologically.

Most signature albums at the time were limited in scope, often focused on political figures like senators and cabinet members. People with connections or good luck managed to get a bunch of big shots to pass the book around and sign it. Cornwell’s autographs include the names of many nationally prominent politicians, but collected over decades in many places, and the names of famous people from all walks of life — presidents, first ladies, inventors, social activists, military leaders, entertainers, writers, scientists, aviators, musicians, opera singers, explorers, cartoonists, industrialists, lawyers and statesmen.

Born in 1863, Cornwell was 17 when he began collecting autographs in December 1880, leveraging his location in New York state to get access to famous people visiting New York City.  King Kalakaua of Hawaii signed in 1881 on a trip to New York. So did Oscar Wilde and US President Rutherford B. Hayes (the first time; Hayes signed twice, for some inexplicable reason). Frederic Batholdi, sculptor of the Statue of Liberty, signed in 1886 when he was in town to see his masterpiece unveiled in New York Harbor.

It wasn’t just the ability to stalk celebrities at the country’s greatest port of call that filled the pages of Cornwell’s autograph book with such an astonishing depth and breadth of signatures. In 1889, he moved to Pueblo, Colorado, where he would open the Cornwell Jewelry Company shop in 1896. He made a name for himself as a jeweler and watchmaker of great skill. He was made assistant chief watch inspector for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, Missouri Pacific, Colorado and Southern Railroad, so he traveled widely, fixing railroad employees’ watches to keep the trains running on time and doubtless encountering a passel of notables on his journeys.

Even during Cornwell’s lifetime, his remarkable album received well-deserved recognition when it was featured in the “New York Times” Sunday magazine section of November 13, 1927. The unnamed reporter describes how Lafayette Cornwell, a (former) jeweler from Yonkers, NY, managed to gather the signatures of no less than eight presidents (Grant, Hayes (twice!), Arthur, Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson and Hoover) and several First Ladies, including Mary Lincoln (who signed the album with a very rare form of her signature, “Mrs. Abraham Lincoln”). In addition to Union and Confederate Generals, admirals, WWI aces, explorers, opera singers, or inventors like Steinmetz and Edison and celebrities including Houdini, Valentino and “Buffalo Bill” Cody, many famous women are also represented: Lucy Stone (who penned, “The consent of the governed woman is as necessary to the success of the principle of a representative government by the people as is the consent of the governed man”); Helen Keller (“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow”); Jane Addams (“The new Humanitarianism! The Progressive Party!”); and the great thespian Sarah Bernhardt whose autograph Cornwell obtained only after agreeing to her specific demand. As the “Times” reports: “Sarah Bernhardt’s signature was placed last, at her own insistence, Mr. Cornwell says. The French actress received him in her private [railway] car at Pueblo, Col., while on her American tour in 1911, and granted his request—but she specified: ‘I write the last! No one must write after me!’ So the great French actress placed her signature on the last flyleaf in the album and, to make assurance double sure, pasted the flyleaf to the back cover,” There it still remains, permanently affixed to the back cover, more than 100 years later.

There are more than 400 signatures in Cornwell’s autograph album. He gave the book to his niece Mabel in 1933, two years after the last dated signature and 12 years before his death. In a letter to her that is also included in the auction lot, he wrote an encomium to his life’s work.

“To my dear Niece, Mabel Bentley Barteau, 17 Livingston Ave. Yonkers, NY…To you I take great pleasure in presenting this Book of autographs of distinguished persons in all walks of life and various countries. It represents many years of strenuous efforts and the traveling of many thousands of miles and much expense in meeting and securing of the autographs of the persons of note here inscribed and the sentiments they express. Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, Your Uncle, L.F. Cornwell.”


I can haz Nazca line?

Sunday, October 18th, 2020

A massive geoglyph of a feline has been discovered lounging against a hillside in the Nazca Desert of southern Peru. The cat is in profile, except for his head which is facing front, and is in a horizontal orientation 37 meters (121 feet) long. It was drawn on the steep slope of the Mirador Natural hill in lines up to 16 inches thick. Its design style identifies the feline as a Late Paracas period glyph (ca. 200-100 B.C.) which means it predates the ones created by the Nazca people. Cats were a popular zoomorphic motif on Paracas textiles and ceramics.

El Mirador Natural got its name (meaning “natural lookout point”) because its rocky peak is a perfect location to view several of the great geoglyphs of the Nasca Pampa in one fell swoop. Archaeologists and technical staff from Peru’s Ministry of Culture were maintaining the site when they discovered the figure. The line drawing etched into the hillside had suffered from heavy erosion and was all but invisible to the naked eye.

Last week, the cat got groomed. Experts cleaned and conserved the drawing so that it can once again be seen in all its gigantic glory. Now the lookout has become the lookee.


The mnemonic powers of disc-on-bow brooches

Saturday, October 17th, 2020

Between the 6th and 8th centuries, high-status Scandinavian women wore distinctive pieces of jewelry known as disc-on-bow or button-on-bow brooches. Intricately gilded and inlaid with red garnets from Sri Lanka and India, the fibulae have been found exclusively in female burials or as stray finds divorced from their original contexts. A new study published in the European Journal of Archaeology contends that the brooches, introduced at the dawn of Viking raids on Ireland and Britain, and used a hundred years after they were no longer being produced, were not just luxury goods telegraphing the wealth of the wearer, but symbolism-laden connections between the elites, their past and their religious beliefs.

The first examples of them date to the late 6th century, and there’s a clear evolution from smaller, simpler pieces to large, elaborate ones. By the end of the 8th century, they were so big and heavy that they could not have been worn with ease and are thought to have been intended for use only on special occasions.

Ritualized or extraordinary costumes, including jewellery, are intrinsically linked with class, social roles, or certain forms of behaviour or postures. Dress, power, and ideology are, thus, mutually integrated elements. Found in what seems to be exclusively female burials, the brooches may have been particularly important as family heirlooms, passed down between women in the same lineage. In this perspective, the disc-on-bow brooches may represent objects associated with the perpetuation of stories relating to genealogy and family identities, and hence the control and perception of time. […] Such objects would be particularly effective if they possessed exclusive identities referring to ancestors, genealogies, and origin myths.

Disc-on-bow brooches make notable appearances as iconographic motifs on objects associated with ritual. Women wearing the brooches are carved on amulets and the gold figure foils engraved with images of important people/deities that have been found at aristocratic dwellings and sites of religious significance in medieval Scandinavia. In these depictions, the brooches are worn horizontally on the neck just below the chin with the head plate pointing to the right of the wearer. This placement matches the position of the brooches found in graves in Norway.

One of the most stunning examples is actually a stray, having been found atop a boat burial mound in Melhus, central  Norway, in 1901. Later excavation of the tumulus found it was a double burial of one man and one woman, so while it was not found in situ around her neck, it was almost certainly part of this noblewoman’s funerary accessories. The Melhus brooch dates to the late 8th century when these types of jewels reached their apex in size and complexity. Of the 53 disc-on-bow brooches discovered in Norway, 24 were made in the late Merovingian period, between 725 and 800 A.D. At 9.4 inches long, the Melhus brooch is the largest ever discovered in Norway, which means it was made at the end of the period of production.

The dating, context, ornamentation, and fragmentation of the disc-on-bow brooches points to an increase in such complex referential practice, with a marked change in attitude towards these brooches and their separate parts from around ad 700. During Phase 3, the development of the brooches becomes quite extreme: they reach almost unwearable proportions, the garnets, interlace, and Style III decoration increasingly covers all possible surfaces. This, and the growing number of carefully divided brooches and re-used fragments, suggests that the disc-on-bow brooches became gradually more significant as social and symbolically-charged objects actively integrated within ongoing political and social practice. […]

[T]he context and use of the disc-on bow brooches entail aspects of power and hierarchy. Mnemonic objects benefit those families and individuals that have access to and ownership of the inalienable objects in question. As not everyone has equal access to such objects, their possession and display may be perceived as representing a noble good, legitimizing social hierarchies, privileges, and distinction. Access to such heirlooms could, thus, be associated with family memories and personal identities, but also remove signal rank, distinction, and authority.

The possession of heirlooms associated with high social status or genealogy may increase in significance at times when inherited status is threatened by groups or individuals who have acquired higher status through, for example, new political institutions, new forms of economic transactions, or the vagaries of war (Lillios, 1999). This would fit the context of Norse society in the late Vendel period and early Viking Age, from the early eighth into the ninth century. The intensification of the North Sea trade, and the raiding and colonization on the British Isles may have contributed to a more volatile political situation in the Norse homelands, compromising traditional inherited status. This could have resulted in an increased emphasis on the mythical concepts and social distinction represented by exclusive objects. This could explain why the brooches grew to enormous sizes and featured increasingly lavish decoration during the eighth century, and why they were kept in circulation by some families well into the Viking Age. This could, in turn, indicate that similar ideas are detectable in other material categories, as notions and definitions of relevant timeframes and pasts could affect different social groups, with varying reactions and counter-reactions.


Hittite cuneiform texts digitized

Friday, October 16th, 2020

A team led by researchers at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz will be fully transcribing, translating and digitizing a vast collection of 30,000 Hittite-language cuneiform tablets engraved on clay in Anatolia 3,500 years ago, fired and preserved. The project has just been funded to the tune of EUR 520,000 and is expected to take three years.

“This enormous funding can also be seen as recognition of Mainz as a research hub, where Hittitology has been a mainstay since the 1960s,” said Professor Doris Prechel of the Department of Ancient Studies at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and partner in the collaborative project. The Hittitology Archive at the Academy of Sciences and Literature in Mainz holds the world’s largest collection of transliterated Hittite writings, in other words, texts which have been converted from the original cuneiform into the Latin alphabet. “We have a fantastic starting point here, and with the digital thesaurus we can achieve a breakthrough for Hittitology worldwide.” Prechel and her group at JGU will be contributing to the project by compiling a collection of texts on summoning rituals. These rituals mostly took the form of magical invocations designed, among other things, to gain the goodwill of the gods and protect the royal family or the political system from danger.

The cooperation partners intend to bring the remains of the Hittite culture into the 21st century. A large proportion of the 30,000 clay tablets and fragments found in the then Hittite capital of Hattusa and documented on over one million index cards are already available in digitized form. They will now be suitably adapted and provided with commentaries. The collection of texts will be accessible online via the new Hittitology Platform Mainz. It will also be possible to integrate any new cuneiform texts found at Hittite sites in future. Thus, the new platform will be a kind of living archive of cuneiform transcripts and make available a completely new way of accessing source texts for researching the culture and history of the Hittites.

The project will have other research applications as well because Hittite is the oldest known surviving Indo-European language, the language group that includes all of the languages of Europe, northern India and the Persian Plateau. Most people in the world spread out over all the populated continents speak one.

The current Hittitology Platform Mainz already has a large database of digitized Hittite tablets, but it’s a little unwieldy to navigate, is mostly in German and if there are any photographs in the digitized entries, I haven’t found them yet. It will be greatly expanded over the next three years.


Polish nationalist sword found in Bulgaria

Thursday, October 15th, 2020

A sword in a Bulgarian museum has been identified as a 19th century Polish nationalist sabre. It was discovered near the city of the Veliko Tarnovo in northern Bulgaria where curators from the Archaeological Museum saw it had a Polish inscription. An expert from the University of Warsaw recognized the inscription Vivat Szlachcic Pan i fundator wojska (“Long live the Noble Lord and founder of the army”) and engraved iconography as one wielded by Polish patriots during the January Uprising against Russia’s autocratic rule.

The January Uprising (1863-1864) was one several attempts by Polish patriots to re-establish the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth in the Russian Kingdom of Poland. Russian Poland was carved out of the Duchy of Warsaw at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. The kingdom was supposed to be largely autonomous, nominally under the rule of the Tzar, but governed by its own parliament, defended by its own army and bound by the Polish constitution. Tzar Alexander I and his successor Nicholas I had other plans, and between the two of them, they quashed the country’s traditional religious and political freedoms and made it a puppet state of the Russian Empire.

Nationalist resistance to Russian rule grew in the wake of its losses in the Crimean War. In January 1863, pro-Russian Polish aristocrat Aleksander Wielopolski, adjutant to the Polish viceroy, ordered  the conscription of Polish nationalists into the Imperial Russian Army for 20 year terms. He knew the movement for Polish independence was working up to an uprising and thought strongarming its young men into military service would break up the movement. Instead it triggered the very uprising he was trying to prevent.

It was the longest uprising for Polish national unity under Russian rule, but it too ultimately collapsed under the weight of Russia’s superior military strength. The results were brutal — executions, mass deportations to Siberia, punitive taxation, the complete erasure of the Polish language in government and schools and the replacement of all Polish government officials with Russians.

The newly-discovered sword was inscribed during this period. The curved karabela type, a Polish sabre used during the halcyon days of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 17th and 18th centuries, was an emblem of Polish culture and independence. During the uprisings of the 19th centuries, they were engraved with slogans and imagery harkening back to the Commonwealth.

[Professor Piotr Dyczek] added: “The sabre was probably the spoils of an officer of the Tsarist army who participated in the suppression of the January Uprising in 1863 and 1864, who then fitted it with a silver hilt typical for a shashka – a sabre with an open hilt with a split pommel.”

Presumably that Russian soldier took the sword out of Poland after the uprising was suppressed. At that time, Bulgaria was under Ottoman rule as it had been since 1393, but a decade after the January Uprising, Bulgaria had an uprising of its own in April 1876. Russia was a fan of this one, though, since wresting the Balkans out of Ottoman hands would extend their sphere of influence which had been whittled away by the Crimean War. They jumped on the opportunity and the Russo-Turkish War began in 1877. It ended when the Imperial Russian Army took Tarnovo in July 1878. The Polish sword was probably used (and lost) in that battle.


Torlonia marbles exhibit opens. Seriously!

Wednesday, October 14th, 2020

Four years after the agreement was signed to display a selection of ancient sculptures from the unparalleled collection of the princely Torlonia family, one year after the announcement that would finally go on display in March 2020, and seven months after that date came and went, the Torlonia marbles exhibit has actually opened. Ninety-six marbles of the 620 in the collection have gone on display at the Palazzo Caffarelli, a newly-renovated venue that is part of the Musei Capitolini system.

This is the first time the general public has been able to see any of the Torlonia masterpieces in person since the 1940s. The Museo Torlonia, the private museum in Trastevere where the  ancient statues, reliefs, vases and busts the Torlonia amassed primarily by buying entire collections from impoverished Roman nobility, closed its doors in 1976. Not that they were ever wide open. Founded in 1875, the museum was very exclusive, with access granted to invited guests, dignitaries and scholars. So 101 years after the private museum opened, it was shut down on the pretext of roof repair. In fact, the Torlonia illegally converted the building into apartments and tossed the priceless collection into the basement to collect dust.

Since then, the state has tried to acquire the or at least arrange for its permanent display but for decades all dealmaking attempts and court cases failed. The 2016 agreement was a major breakthrough, but new problems cropped up when the pater familias Prince Alessandro Torlonia died in 2017. Those were sorted out just in time to hit the COVID wall. We’ll see if the Torlonia marbles manage to stay on display as planned this time. The exhibition is scheduled to run through June 29th, 2021.

The Torlonia Marbles: Collecting Masterpieces is arranged in five sections. Room 1 is dedicated to the Museo Torlonia. It includes the famous 1884 catalogue of its 620 marbles which was the first catalogue of an ancient sculpture collection to use photographs of all the works instead of illustrations. Room 2 features works excavated from Torlonia properties in the 19th century. Section 3 covers three rooms and is dedicated to the many marbles acquired from the 18th century collections of the Albani family and sculptor Bartolomeo Cavaceppi. Section 4 (in four rooms) features works collected by Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani in the 17th century. The final section spotlights pieces from 15th and 16th century collections of distinguished Roman families.

In a nod to the seminal catalogue that first documented the collection of the Museo Torlonia, a catalogue of the exhibition has been published that covers the artworks on display in exhaustive detail, from provenance to restorations to the latest research. Essays by specialists contextualize the pieces, delving into the history of antiquities collecting and museums themselves. The catalogue is available in English and can be bought online.


Merovingian-era settlement excavated in France

Tuesday, October 13th, 2020

Archaeologists have unearthed a full Merovingian settlement complete with church and burial ground in Pontarlier, eastern France. Grave goods including weapons and jewelry indicate the settlement was a prosperous one, not a sleepy pastoral village.

It was strategically located near the village of Pontarlier, formerly the ancient waystation of Ariolica on the Roman road between modern-day Orbe, Switzerland, and Besançon, France. Pontarlier became even more important after the Burgundian invasions of the 5th century as a key trading center linking Burgundy’s territories to Switzerland, German and Lombard northern Italy. It was also the only reliable pass over the Jura Mountains well into the 17th century.

The site was occupied for 150 to 200 years in the 6th and 7th centuries. The settlement was built quickly according to a plan found in Germanic territories from this period in Switzerland and Bavaria, but never before in France. Ten large rectangular buildings were at the center, each supported by massive corner poles three feet in diameter. These large structures had two distinct areas: one half partitioned into smaller spaces, the other half wide open. The former is believed to have been the living space for humans, the latter for animals.

The church was built a little ways apart from the large dwellings and the smaller structures at the center of the village. Based on the size and position of the postholes, we know the church was a wooden building about 65 feet long and 46 feet wide designed on a basilica plan. It is one of the oldest churches in the Jura Mountains and its architecture is unique in the area for its time. No other examples are known in France or Switzerland.

One tomb was found inside the church, and three more next to it. The prime location indicates these may have been members of the family that founded the village and/or sponsored the construction of the church. The women buried near the church were laid to rest with expensive jewelry like a fibula with cloisonné garnets, gold-plated earrings and glass beads. Another 70 graves were unearthed located in different spots throughout the settlement.

The settlement’s economy appears to have revolved around raising livestock. A cattle slaughter site a few thousand square feet in area has been found a few yards from the village. Radiocarbon dating results confirm that it was in use at the time the village was occupied in the 7th century. Of the thousands of bones at the slaughter site, most are from oxen and horses. The village likely bred the livestock for slaughter.

The non-local house plans, the rapid founding and growth of the village suggests the population was transplanted, not naturally evolved in the area. This was a frequent practice for conquering peoples like the Burgundians and Franks. They seeded their new territories with their own people, and this spot at a key transit area for trade between Italy and France would have been crucial to claim and control as quickly as possible.

The site was abandoned as quickly as it was built. The departures appear to have been orderly and non-violent, so the population was either consolidated with that of Pontarlier or moved away for other reasons (easier defense, better economic opportunity, etc.).


Mosaics from luxury Roman villa found under luxury Roman condos

Monday, October 12th, 2020

The Domus Aventino is a high-end condominium complex offering all technology, comfort, amenities, energy efficiency and round-the-clock of new construction in the historic surroundings of Piazza Albania at the foot of Rome’s Aventine Hill. Three buildings, built in the 1950s and for decades headquarters of a bank, were converted into 180 luxury apartments and penthouses. Installation of new earthquake-resistant foundations in 2014 revealed ancient remains which were excavated by archaeologists from the Special Superintendency of Rome. Elaborate mosaic floors from an Imperial-era villa demonstrated that the luxury dwellings of modern Rome stood on two hundred years of luxury dwellings of ancient Rome.

There is evidence of human occupation at the site going back to the prehistory of Rome, the 8th century B.C. when legend has it Romulus founded the city. The excavation also unearthed a wall of volcanic tufa blocks that may have bene the base of a guard tower built between the 4th and 3rd century B.C. when the Servian Wall was constructed looping around the foot of the Aventine Hill. Just a few steps away on the Viale Aventino is an extremely rare surviving archway from this wall in which a throwing weapon like a ballista or a catapult could be positioned to defend against marauders.

The site seems to have first changed from public defensive structure to private use around the middle of the 2nd century B.C., although the material from this period is too sparse to determine how it was used. Within this large perimeter, the floorplan of a domus emerged with identifiable areas for sleeping and for daytime use, storage areas and open-air gardens. Over the two centuries, six levels of floors were superimposed on each other. The full stratigraphic record was brought to light in one location of the house, and analysis of the six layers found that the home was restructured about every 30 years. Every generation put its stamp on this villa, altering it and refurbishing it to meet new needs and fashions.

The oldest mosaic floor dates to the late 1st century B.C. and features black and white tiles arranged in a hexagonal pattern. The next two chronologically date to the second half of the 1st century A.D. and the beginning of the 2nd. A partial inscription (the black tiles that formed the letters were reused in later renovations) dates to the reign of Trajan (98-117 A.D.) and records three patrons of that particular mosaic pavement, suggesting it may have had a semi-public use at this time, as in for members of an association.

Black-and-white geometric mosaics from the era of Hadrian (117-138 A.D.) were found in good condition, but the real stand-outs are five mosaics dating to the Antonine dynasty (150-175 A.D.). These were the first ones encountered by the finders and they are dazzling in their array of iconographic elements and color accents. One floor has a black-on-white figure eight pattern that has never been seen before. A few painted walls from this phase have also survived.

The Antonine mosaic floors undulate today, a result of centuries of earth movement culminating in structurally damaging subsidence that likely caused the abandonment of the villa in the early 3rd century. In addition to the floors of the domus, archaeologists discovered hundreds of artifacts including lacquered bowl fragments, a hairpin, a key and an amphora used to store garum, the fermented fish gut sauce that Romans put on everything.

The excavation, conservation of the mosaics and walls in situ and the creation of an exhibit environment to allow the public access to the exceptional remains were privately financed by the developers of the complex who are happily using the extreme coolness of their ancient basement in their promotional materials. The Hadrianic and Antonine mosaics are on display, enhanced by a light projection system that fills in some of the blanks in the mosaics and visually recreates lost frescoed walls and furnishings of the domus. They’re calling it an archaeological treasure chest, opened to the public two days a month, then closed back up to protect it (and the luxury penthouse owners).


6th c. B.C. bronze horse harness found in Poland

Sunday, October 11th, 2020

Metal detectorists in north-central Poland have discovered a complete bronze horse bridle that date back 2,500 years. Also buried with the hoard was a bronze axe. This is the first Iron Age horse harness of its kind discovered in Central and Eastern Europe.

Arkadiusz Kurij had scanned a forest near Toruń with fellow WELES Historical and Exploration Group members with no success. He returned to the rendezvous point and suddenly his detector signaled loudly. The group began to dig, but stopped when they found the first bronze pieces. WELES explores in cooperation with the Regional Monuments Protection Office  (WUOZ) in Toruń, so as soon as they realized they had discovered archaeological artifacts, they notified the authorities and carefully reburied the site to cover up evidence of digging should anybody with less noble intent happen upon it.

Archaeologists excavated the find site and recovered a highly decorative harness made of numerous tubular elements linked together with rings and decorated with round shields with central bosses. A total of 156 bronze harness parts made of sheet metal and wire were unearthed. It is complete in every particular, missing only the bit that went in the horse’s mouth. Bits found in Scythian horse burials were made of wood, so that one missing piece may have decomposed.

Microtraces of organic remains on the artifacts indicate the fittings and the axe were wrapped in burdock leaves and placed in a leather bag. The bag was then deliberately buried in the sandy soil of a hill near the bank of the Vistula River. The hoard weighs one kilo (2.2 lbs) in total, which was a lot of metal in the Iron Age. The hoard could have been intended to be melted down and used as raw material.

The design style of the harness is typical of metalwork by the Iron Age Scythian cultures of the Eurasian steppe, perhaps traveling north and west towards the territories of the Lusatian culture. The moved into southern Poland through the Moravian Gate in which is now the Czech Republic during the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age (7th-6th century B.C.). The socketed axe found in the cache is of local origin. How it made its way into the harness bag is unknown, but it may suggest encounters between Scythian horsemen and the local population.

The objects will be analyzed, studied and conserved by a multidisciplinary team of researchers coordinated by the Institute of Archeology of Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń. The team hopes to be able to narrow down the date when the harness was buried. Conservation and analysis is expected to take at least nine months, after which WUOZ hopes the objects will go on display in a local museum.





October 2020


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