Medieval coin hoard found in Hungary

A hoard of almost 7,000 coins, most of the medieval, has been unearthed in the village of Újlengyel, 30 miles southeast of Budapest, Hungary. This is the largest hoard of coins from the period ever discovered in Pest county.

The site first came to the attention of the Ferenczy Museum Center in 2019 when 150 coins, the most recent dating to 1455, were discovered. At the end of December 2020, a team of archaeologists and volunteers from the Community Archaeological Association explored the site with metal detectors and hit the big jackpot on a hill a little ways away from the original find spot.

Based on the grouping of the coins close to the surface, archaeologists dug a pit three feet square. Within its confines, the team unearthed a pottery vessel in which the coins had been stashed. Its round belly had been broken by ploughing activity and the coins disturbed. Unusual in these kinds of finds, the marks of the plough in the pot and the ground were still clearly visible, so archaeologists were able to follow the movements of the displaced coins.

The pot was too broken to keep together in one piece, so the coins and pot fragments were removed and brought to the museum for cleaning and examination. Ferenczy Museum Center experts counted almost 7,000 silver coins and four gold coins in the hoard. The oldest was a silver denarius of Lucius Verus (161–169 A.D.). There were also a dozen late Imperial silver denarii struck in Aquileia mint. The coins then leap to the 15th century, with issues struck by Matthias I of Hungary (r. 1458–1490), Vladislaus II (1490–1516) and Louis II (1516-1526). One notable piece is Vatican coin struck during the papacy of Pius II (1458-1464). These are extremely rare finds in Hungary. The four gold coins date to the reign of Matthias I. They were a surprise discovery, found by museum conservators hidden behind a textile that lined the belly of the vessel.

The total value of the coins was enough to buy seven horses in Pest in 1520, enough buying power to buy a luxury car today. The newest coin in the hoard dates to 1520, so it’s likely the hoard was buried around the time of the Ottoman wars (1526) which claimed the life of King Louis II. In the wake of his death, Hungarian nobles fought over the succession and instability reigned. In this troubled environment, stashing your money in a jar and burying it was a judicious savings plan.

9th c. temple complex found in southwest China

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a large temple from the State of Nanzhao (738-902) in Dali City, in southwest China’s Yunnan Province. The foundations of 14 buildings, 63 stone walls, 23 ditches and three staircases have been unearthed, More than 40 tons of tiles — roof tiles, eaves, cylinder tiles — that once adorned the temple buildings have been recovered, and more 8,000 pottery artifacts including vessels and inscribed tiles.

One of the inscribed tiles was discovered in the foundation of the main building under its Great Hall.

In the complex, the researchers discovered a tile inscribed with the characters “Buddha sarira enshrined by the government,” which indicates that the Buddhist relics of Nanzhao’s royal court are likely to have been enshrined and worshiped inside the temple. The complex is therefore believed to be a major religious site of Taihe, said the institute.

“Sarira” is a general term with a number of meanings, but is generally used to describe the bodily remains after a Buddhist cremation. The remains of Buddhist masters were often said to contain crystalline beads or pearl-like objects.

Nanzhao was a vassal state of the Tang Dynasty that at its apex covered parts of modern-day Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. Its capital was Taihe, today Taihe village a few miles south of Dali City. It is sometimes referred to as a slave state, because there appears to have been a caste system that had at least two factions — administrators and soldiers — and slaveowners were ranked among the wealthy elite even if they were cash-poor. Holdings of gold, livestock and enslaved people were determiners of societal rank, so much so that personal names often boasted of slave ownership.

The site has been surveyed before and archaeological remains have been found going back to the Warring States period (475–221 B.C.) The temple remains were unearthed last year. The recent dig also revealed a ceramic production area on the eastern side of the complex. Two kilns were found along with the remains of defective pottery and 9,200 kiln tools including, nails, gaskets and moulages.

The excavation helps reveal the layout characteristics of the temples built during the Nanzhao regime, the production status of the kilns and funeral customs of the royal family, according to the institute.

Inscribed tile. Photo courtesy the Yunnan Provincial Research Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology. Eaves tiles. Photo courtesy the Yunnan Provincial Research Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology. Buddha relief. Photo courtesy the Yunnan Provincial Research Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology.

3,000 grave goods unearthed from Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Northamptonshire

Archaeologists have unearthed almost 3,000 objects from 154 burials in an Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Overstone Leys, Northamptonshire. It is the largest Anglo-Saxon burial ground ever discovered in Northamptonshire. Most of the grave goods are jewelry, including 2,000 beads, 150 brooches, 15 finger rings, 75 bracelets and 15 chatelaines. There are also numerous weapons — 25 spears, 40 knives, 15 shield bosses — and utilitarian items like combs and cosmetic kits. Very rare textiles remains survived attached to some of the metal objects, mineralized by their corrosion.

A team from Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) has been excavating the site of housing development for the past year. In addition to the cemetery, the MOLA team has also discovered an Anglo-Saxon settlement with 22 grouped structures and another 20 found elsewhere on the 15-hectare site. There are also Bronze Age barrows and structures, so in total there are 4,000 years of occupation at Overstone Leys.

Simon Markus, MOLA Project Manager:

“It is rare to find both an Anglo-Saxon settlement and a cemetery in a single excavation. The excavations will help us understand the way people lived in both the Anglo-Saxon period, around 1,500 years ago as well as the Bronze Age, nearly 4,000 years ago. The human remains will tell us about diet, health and even the origins of the people themselves whilst their buildings can teach us what their day-to-day lives were like and how they utilised the local landscape in these two different periods.”

Overview of excavation at Overstone. Photo courtesy MOLA.

Marigold found with tobacco in Maya vessels

Traces of Mexican marigold (Tagetes lucida) have been discovered along with tobacco residue in Maya ceramic vessels. This is the first time a non-tobacco ingredient has been identified in a Maya tobacco container, and the first archaeological evidence that marigold was used in mind-altering plant mixtures.

Spanish chroniclers recorded the smoking of herbal blends among the Maya and Nahua, and dried marigold, on its own and mixed with tobacco, is still smoked today in Mexico. Maya smoking devices were usually organic materials like corn husks (business idea: tamale blunts) which obviously have not survived, but smoking was not the only way indigenous Mesoamericans took tobacco. It was also chewed, drunk, snuffed and administered via enema.

Nicotine residues have been found in small vessels indicating they were used to hold fresh/dried tobacco rather than the products of tobacco consumption (like spit from chaw, for example). The new study analyzed the organic remains inside 14 miniature vessels of four different forms ranging in date from 250-900 A.D. Twelve of the containers were excavated at various salvage digs over the past 15 years in Mérida, Yucatan. Two were unearthed in 2016 at the archaeological site of Ucanha.

Samples were drawn from the vessels and compared with ones in museum collections. The archaeological residues were compared to modern extracts of eight plants — two species of tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum and N. rustica) and six other plants known from historic and ethnographic records to have been used in Mesoamerica for their psychoactive properties, including Mexican marigold. This is only the second study to deploy metabolomics, the study of small molecules known as metabolites found inside cells and tissues, to ancient residues, and it blazes an exciting new trail in archaeology.

“While it has been established that tobacco was commonly used throughout the Americas before and after contact, evidence of other plants used for medicinal or religious purposes has remained largely unexplored,” [Washington State University researcher Mario] Zimmermann said. “The analysis methods developed in collaboration between the Department of Anthropology and the Institute of Biological Chemistry give us the ability to investigate drug use in the ancient world like never before.”

Zimmermann and colleagues’ work was made possible by NSF-funded research which led to a new metabolomics-based analysis method that can detect thousands of plant compounds or metabolites in residue collected from containers, pipes, bowls and other archaeological artifacts. The compounds can then be used to identify which plants were consumed.

Previously, the identification of ancient plant residues relied on the detection of a limited number of biomarkers, such as nicotine, anabasine, cotinine and caffeine.

“The issue with this is that while the presence of a biomarker like nicotine shows tobacco was smoked, it doesn’t tell you what else was consumed or stored in the artifact,” said David Gang, a professor in WSU’s Institute of Biological Chemistry and a co-author of the study. “Our approach not only tells you, yes, you found the plant you’re interested in, but it also can tell you what else was being consumed.”

The study has been published in the journal Scientific Reports and can be read in its entirety here.

World’s oldest known cave art animal found in Indonesia

The image of a wild pig on a cave wall in Sulawesi, Indonesia, has been dated to 45,500 years ago, making it the oldest known cave art animal in the world. The life-sized Sulawesi warty pig (Sus celebensis) was painted in dark red ochre on the limestone wall of Leang Tedongnge cave. It was outlined in profile and filled in with lines and dashes. There are two hand stencils over its hindquarters.

The pig was able to be dated thanks to a coralloid speleothem, a tiny calcite deposit known as cave popcorn, on one of its hind legs. Researchers chiseled the calcite from the wall and conducted  uranium-series isotope analysis on extracted samples. The results found the pig was at least 45,500 years old, and very likely older given the time it must have taken for the speleothem to form.

The pig is in exceptional condition despite its advanced age. At least two other pigs are part of the rock art panel, but much of their pigment has been lost from the natural exfoliation of the cave wall. The complete pig is on the left of the composition facing right towards the two partials who are facing off against each other. A fourth animal, of which very little remains to identify it, is above the pair. Researchers believe it may have been a fourth suid.

Evidence of human habitation of Sulawesi dates at least as far back as the Pleistocene, between 194,000 and 118,000 years ago. It’s not clear whether the folks who painted the pig were anatomically modern humans or another archaic human species like the Denisovans, but there are more than 300 caves and rock shelters with prehistoric wall art on the island. The Pleistocene rock art typically features animals native to Sulawesi — dwarf bovids and pigs — and hand stencils. Of these, pigs are the most popular subjects, present in over 80% of the representations.

The image from Leang Tedongnge, with a firmly established minimum age of 45.5 ka, would now appear to be the earliest known dated artwork in Sulawesi. It also represents the oldest reported indication for the presence of AMH on the island and perhaps in the wider Wallacean region (see below). We infer a similar minimum age estimate for the as-yet undated suid motifs visible on the rock art panel at Leang Tedongnge. As noted, together with the dated figure, these suid images seem to constitute a single narrative composition or scene—perhaps a depiction of social interaction between Sulawesi warty pigs. Furthermore, as far as we have been able to ascertain, the securely dated painting of a Sulawesi warty pig at Leang Tedongnge would now seem to be the world’s oldest surviving representational image of an animal. In addition, this dated depiction of an endemic Wallacean suid may also constitute the most ancient figurative artwork known to archaeology.