Archive for March, 2021

Engraved megaliths found in France

Sunday, March 21st, 2021

An excavation in Massongy, southeastern France, has unearthed a Neolithic stone circle with engraved stones. The Chemin des Bels site has two distinct occupation areas from the Middle Neolithic period: a small village and a large megalithic complex. It was occupied for a short time — just a few centuries — but during that period, the complex was went through five distinct stages.

The stone megaliths were installed in a deliberate, organized fashion. Its builders had a clear plan at every stage of redevelopment. The core megalith is a five-ton slab about 11 feet long, 3.6 feet wide and 3.3 feet high. It was carved to a point on one end, suggesting it may have originally been a menhir, but if so it was it stood somewhere else and was transported to Chemin des Bels because it has always been on its side at this location. The massive slab was then encircled by standing stones about three feet high. Eight of those standing stones remain today, but archaeologists estimate that there were at least 15 in the circle when it was originally constructed.

That was phase one of the site and it was brief, lasting a few decades. In phase two, the standing stones were knocked down and buried. The center slab was not, however, and in phase three pebble platforms were built around it. In the fourth phase the associated village was built just a few feet away from the megalith. It developed further in phase five before the site was abandoned.

During the excavation of the stone circle, archaeologists discovered that some of the megaliths were engraved with abstract geometric designs. In order to document the carvings, the team used Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) which captures even the smallest of engraved elements not visible to the naked eye by taking a series of pictures from a stationary point but using a moving light source.

The RTI analysis found that the stones were engraved at different times. The large slab was carved in three stages. The first designs were cup marks, about 20 of them in a loose U formation. Then some smaller divots were removed using the percussive piquetage technique around the cups and under the U. The piquetage punctures form a rectangular band. Lastly, a set of overlapping chevrons were engraved on top of the slab.

First, about twenty cups were hollowed out, forming a sort of large U. Then, numerous stakes were arranged around certain cups and below the U, these puncture-shaped removals form a large rectangular band. Finally, at the top of the slab, a series of intertwined rafters have been engraved.

Two intentionally broken slabs (before burial?) Bore multiple traces of geometric engraved lines. The RTI system makes it possible to trace the chronological order of these drawings. In both cases, we can see quadrangular, cruciform or herringbone patterns. One of the possible interpretations would be that these patterns represent an agricultural parcel landscape. The “Chemin des Bels” site is located a few hundred meters from the Chablais massif. From the plateaus of this massif, the agricultural landscapes must have resembled those engraved on the stones.

The “Chemin des Bels” is located in a vast set of known megalithic sites which has left many traces around Lake Geneva. However, its remarkable state of conservation, the proximity of a contemporary village as well as the wealth of associated material, testifying to successive redevelopments over a long period, make it a megalithic site of exceptional interest.

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New virtual tours of 8 Rome museums

Saturday, March 20th, 2021

Eight of Rome’s civic museums are offering new virtual tours. Available in Italian and English, to tours allow visitors to explore the museums floor-by-floor, in aerial views, through video, audio and information panels.

It’s a curated approach. Select objects on display and important features of the museums themselves are highlighted. You navigate by clicking on arrows, then click on hotspots targeting an object or area and the label/information pops up. If there is video or audio, clickable icons appear on the screen.  You can also bounce around using the map icon in the bottom right. It’s a little awkward to navigate and it’s not the kind of virtual tour that allows you to browse objects on display for hours because even when the collections are huge like the ones in Capitoline very few pieces are hotspots. It’s more about moving through some extremely cool spaces and seeing some celebrated pieces.

This is most effective for the smaller museums, particularly the Museo delle Mura and the Ara Pacis because the collection is comparatively sparse and the structure itself is the focus of the tour. The reliefs of the Ara Pacis are so complex, being able to zoom in on an area virtually and read detailed explanations is very satisfying. The Museo delle Mura was one of my favorite discoveries on my 2018 Rome trip and the best part was getting to clamber through the walls. The virtual tour gives you even more of that unbelievable view from the roof of the Porta Appia and connected defensive walls.

Here are the new virtual tours:

Musei Capitolini
Museo dell’Ara Pacis
Museo Napoleonico
Mercati di Traiano – Museo dei Fori Imperiali
Casino Nobile di Villa Torlonia
Centrale Montemartini
Museo delle Mura
Museo di Roma

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Rainfall exposes bronze bull at Olympia

Friday, March 19th, 2021

A small bronze figurine of a bull from the Geometric Period (1050-700 B.C.) has been discovered at the Temple of Zeus in Olympia. Heavy rainfall had exposed one its horns which caught the sharp eye of archaeologist Zacharoula Leventouri. The bull was excavated and removed to the laboratory of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Ilia where it was cleaned and conserved.

The figurine is intact and in excellent condition. Atop its stylized slim form are comparatively large forward-facing horns like an aurochs, the iconic wild bull which at the time this figurine was made still roamed southern Greece. It was found in the sacred grove of Alteos, the open-air enclosure that was the earliest precinct dedicated to Zeus at the site in the 10th-9th century B.C. (The classical Doric temple was built much later in the 5th century B.C.) The wee bull was a votive offering, one of thousands made by the devout of Zeus at the Olympia sanctuary during the Geometric Period.

The bull, like the horse, was one of the most important animals for human survival and the creation of civilization until modern times. Thus he acquired this special role in the worship of the gods of antiquity, that is, to be a beloved object which was dedicated by the faithful to their consolation, by supplication or as a sign of pleasure.

Like dozens of similar figurines depicting animals or human figures, the bronze bull seems to have been offered by a believer at the time of the sacrifice, as evidenced by the strong burn marks on the sediments and sediments removed during its purification. A large number of figurines found in the thick layer of ash from the altar of Zeus that covered the entire ​​Alteos area is exhibited in the second room of the Archaeological Museum of Olympia and is indicative of the importance of the Sanctuary of Olympia as a Panhellenic center.

The figurine will now be studied by archaeologists to narrow down its typology and chronology.

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19th c. Frenchman’s life writ on his uniquely preserved skin

Thursday, March 18th, 2021

Warning: this is a grisly one. The preserved heavily tattooed skin of a man held in a private collection in London has been studied for the first time, revealing tantalizing glimpses into his life.

Pieces of tattooed human skin were preserved as medical oddities in the 19th century, as anthropological specimens in the case of indigenous peoples of the Pacific, Asia and North America (tattooed Maori heads were sold as oddities), and as pathology specimens for Europeans thanks to the prevalent association of tattoos with criminality. The Wellcome Collection has about 300 examples, from flowers to dates to pinup girls, collected from “sailors, soldiers, murderers and criminals.”

The subject of this most recent study isn’t a snippet of skin with a tattoo or two on it. This is the entire front of an adult male’s skin excised from ankles to top of the head, including face and ears. The genitalia were not preserved which made sex difficult to determine absolutely, although heavily tattooed women were exceedingly rare in the late 1800s so it’s reasonable to believe he was male on that basis alone. There is no evidence of breasts or facial hair. In the end it was the receded hairline typical of male pattern baldness that confirmed the likelihood of this having been a man.

This is the only known example of a full-body incised tattooed skin in Europe. The only other examples are in Japan, where in the late 19th century after tattooing was outlawed men would get the funding to complete their body suits by agreeing to donate their flayed skin after death to the sponsoring collector or institute.

He was heavily tattooed with images and text on his limbs and torso, hence the extensive flaying and preservation. The word “BONHEUR,” French for happiness, was tattooed in capital letters above his genitalia. Researchers refer to him as Monsieur Bonheur as his name is not known.

Whoever removed the skin did an expert job, removing it just two sections using a pattern of incision that was once common in medical autopsies. CT scans confirmed that only the skin was removed, no other tissue. The edges of the skin, including the “Bonheur” area above the pubis were then sewn back together with a post-mortem stitch to give it a unified appearance. The operation had to have been performed by someone with medical training and experience.

The skin was then mounted to a wooden board with flat-headed nails around the perimeter of the body and stuffed with horse hair to give a three-dimensional fullness. This work was rough compared to the surgical precision of the skin’s removal. It suggests the intent was display, not anatomical preparation.

When the remains of M. Bonheur were acquired by the present owner in Paris in the early 2000s, there was no documentation attesting to its age or the history of the person who it was attached to in life. The seller claimed it was the skin of a murdered hanged in Marseilles whose skin had been excised and nailed to the door of the court as a cautionary tale. This is not a plausible account, to put it mildly, and is typical of the tall tales associated with human skin curiosities like book bindings.

Because of postmortem discoloration and distortion of the skin, some of the tattoo groups were darkened and overlapping black outlines and black shading made them hard to discern. In the darkest areas, it was impossible to see if there were any tattoos at all. In order to penetrate the penumbra not just of the tattoos but of the treatment, the research team examined the skin using CT scanning, multispectral imaging, X-rays and infrared reflectography. The skin and hair were also analyzed using digital microscopy.

Researchers determined that there were between 55 and 60 pictorial tattoos and nine text elements. Image motifs include florals, animals, daggers piercing hearts, swords, flags and human figures (women and men). Human figures — full bodies, busts and faces — are the most common. The men feature a variety of facial hair and outfits, include clown hats and turbans. Some of the women have different hairstyles and what appear to be hats; some are nudes. One of the female images has the name Flourine tatted underneath it. That name appears in a second tattoo as well, so it’s likely M. Bonheur had a romantic relationship with her. An anchor and the text “Vive La Flotte” (“Long live the fleet”) indicate he was in the navy at some point.

There is some indication that he might have had less than positive relations with law enforcement. An image of two crossed swords labelled “Mort aux Commissaires” (“Death to ‘Commissioners'”) is believed to refer to the Commissaire de Police Judiciaire, basically the police commissioner. Then there’s the more metaphoric approach: a tattoo of a uniformed man chained to a pillar with a bird delivering him “liberté” in his beak. The date 1883 is on the base of the pillar. Perhaps the date of his incarceration or release?

 If the date on the pillar to which the tattooed figure in the (convicts?) uniform was chained, ‘1883’ did indeed refer to a date of release from prison or military servitude, then it would appear that for this individual that day never came. The portion of flayed skin then appears to have come into the possession of others who placed it on display. The practice of displaying tattoos would accord with an established nineteenth century tradition whereby heavily tattooed (living) individuals exhibited themselves for entertainment (Oettermann 2000). If this suggestion is true, it implies a European example of the ‘sideshow mummy’ phenomenon that was prevalent in the USA during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Here unclaimed, embalmed bodies were exhibited for profit in circus sideshow and fairground attractions, commonly with a fictional or at least highly embellished story attached in order to increase their interest and profitability (Conlogue et al. 2008). In this respect, the story attached to M. Bonheur that was told to its current curator at the point the skin was purchased may in fact be of some antiquity and would also be consistent with this interpretation as ‘marketing’ for such an attraction.

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Almost-looted medieval treasure goes on display

Wednesday, March 17th, 2021

An exceptional hoard of 10th century jewelry that almost disappeared into the penumbra of online antiquities trafficking has gone on display for the first time at the Archaeological Museum of Córdoba. Its existence was only suspected last year when a local archaeologist saw photographs of some of the pieces for sale on social media and notified the National Police. The treasure was ostensibly discovered on La Amarguilla, a farm in the Andalusian town of Baena, southeast of Córdoba, but the story is self-serving with many glaring omissions.

According to the experts consulted, the treasure was buried inside a bag or a ceramic container in the ground. Indeed, all of the pieces were stained by soil, indicating the treasure had been dug up only recently. The police investigation took place in the Córdoba municipalities of Lucena, Luque and Baena, where the treasure was finally found in an industrial warehouse. The person who had it in their possession took the police to an estate in Baena where they claimed to have found it.

However, the individual’s explanations regarding the original site of the buried treasure reportedly failed to convince archaeologists and consequently, no excavation has been undertaken to determine whether other elements are still to be discovered there.

This is the 16th known jewelry hoard found in Andalusia and it stands out among them for the quality, quantity and rarity of its pieces. The Amarguilla Treasure is comprised of 623 jewels, beads and gems. There are 98 pieces of jewelry made of precious metal — gold, silver or gilt silver — of an unusual variety of designs. There are pendants, bracelets, hairpins, dress ornaments, rings of caliphal type, chains and broken necklaces. A large group of beads and pearls found in the hoard were originally part of the necklaces or bracelets. There are 17 hard stone (mostly quartz and rock crystal) beads, four cylindrical pink coral beads, 36 glass beads of different colors and 476 river seed pearls. No other documented Andalusian jewelry hoard contains any seed pearls.

Among the notable pieces are two intricate gold filigree pendants, one in a circular, one in a bell shape. Circular examples have been found before in hoards. The bell-shaped one is unique on the archaeological record. The greatest standout jewels are a circular pendant with the Star of David inside and two bangles, one silver, one gilt, with animal head terminals. The Star of David pendant is made with a filigree so delicate and precise that required great technical virtuosity from the goldsmith. It is unique; there is no other piece like it extant. The bangles are made of four twisted tubes silver with four threads twisted between them. The terminals are serpent heads constructed with very fine granulation.

The style of the jewels dates them to the 10th century. It was likely buried in the beginning of the 11th century during the upheaval of the civil war that broke out in 1009 and would drag on for two decades and ultimately bring about the demise of the Caliphate of Córdoba. The other Andalusian hoards also include coins that made it possible to pin down the latest possible date they were buried. That this hoard does not strongly suggests they were surreptitiously sold before authorities got wind of the discovery. Coins are more common, making them easy to move because people don’t ask a lot of questions when they emerge on the market. The jewelry is extremely rare and much harder to sell without arousing suspicions, which is exactly how the Amarguilla treasure came to light in the first place.

The Jewels of Amarguilla exhibition is temporary, running through June 6, 2021, but the treasure will go on permanent display at the museum.

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Massive shellfish feast on Orkney dated to 5th-6th c.

Tuesday, March 16th, 2021

A pit filled with ancient shells at The Cairns site in South Ronaldsay, Orkney, has been radiocarbon dated to the 5th or 6th century. The Iron Age community at the site cooked 18,637 shellfish in the pit, ate them, and then threw the shells back in, all in one massive clambake. That’s more than half of all the shells found at The Cairns, all devoured in a single party.

The site director at The Cairns is University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute lecturer Martin Carruthers.

He said: “This is an astonishing number of shells for a short-lived, single-event context. This suggests it may have been part of a special food event, a feast involving the whole community of the site or even beyond.”

The majority of the shells, which were analysed by UHI Archaeology Institute Masters student Holly Young, belonged to limpets (84 per cent), with common periwinkles making up the rest.

The new radiocarbon dating results confirm that the great periwinkle gorge took place at the same time that a souterrain (an underground passageway) next to the pit was in use. It’s possible the association was more than temporal, that souterrains may have played a role in social and religious practices of feasting at the site. A second cache of shells was found on top of the stone slab roof the souterrain.

The first phase of occupation at the Cairns was in the Neolithic. In the Middle Iron Age (1st century B.C. – late 2nd, early 3rd century A.D.), a broch, a drystone roundhouse, was built, as were other dwellings and enclosure ditches around the settlement. As new structures went up in the settlement, the original broch fell into disuse and was partially built over. When the Iron Age community was throwing its shellfish party, the broch had been infilled. The souterrain was constructed going from outside to inside the former entrance to the broch.

Archaeologists also discovered whale bones from this period of activity. One bone from a giant fin whale, the second largest species after the blue whale, was carved into a vessel containing a human jawbone. It was positioned at the entrance to the broch next to red deer antlers and a broken quern, and the placement indicates they way they were laid out held symbolic value. More than 100 whale bones have been found from the Iron Age occupation of The Cairns, the largest collection of prehistoric whale bones.

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6,000-year-old gold objects found in Hungary

Monday, March 15th, 2021

Archaeologists have discovered more than a dozen gold artifacts in three Copper Age graves at the Bükkábrány lignite mine in northeast Hungary. About 6,000 years old, these artifacts date to the early centuries of goldsmithing in Europe. The oldest gold jewelry in the world found in the Varna Necropolis, on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria, dates to between 4,600 and 4,200 B.C., six to two hundred years before the Bükkábrány pieces.

The mine site has been excavated since 2007 when large trunks of swamp cypress from the Miocene era were discovered not petrified, but mummified from having been encased in sand eight million years ago. A natural valley formed by the Csincse river, the area has seen human occupation from the Neolithic to the Middle Ages. There is archaeological evidence of millennia of human settlement, including communities from the middle Copper Age Bodrogkeresztúr culture. The latest excavation unearthed 34 Bodrogkeresztúr-era graves, identified by the characteristic pottery style.

Most of the graves were modestly furnished, but three adult women were buried with prestigious gold ornaments. The gold objects found inside the three graves include hooped and conical pendants. The hoops are tabbed with four holes in each tab. Archaeologists believe they may have originally been mounted onto a headdress. Gold was still extremely rare in the Carpathian Basin at this time and while similar pieces have been discovered at other Copper Age sites, these objects are exceptional for the quality of gold and craftsmanship.

A fourth burial of note did not have any gold artifacts, but contained the remains of an adult man buried with a cracked stone blade, a polished stone axe and copper pick weighing two pounds. The pick was almost certainly not a practical implement. That much metal weight would have been exorbitantly expensive and it was probably more of a leadership symbol like a scepter than a tool.

It is not clear from the style of manufacture whether the objects were made locally or imported. They will be studied further and conserved at the Herman Ottó Museum in Miskolc.

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Too Much Johnson, now with commentary

Sunday, March 14th, 2021

Too Much Johnson was one of Orson Welles’ innovative theories that failed so thoroughly in practice that audiences wouldn’t get to see it for 75 years. It was meant to be an accompaniment to a play of the same name, an 1894 farce of adultery, false names and mistaken identity adapted from a French original by William Gillette who would go on to become hugely famous portraying Sherlock Holmes on stage more than 1,300 times. Welles’ theatrical company, The Mercury Theater, was staging the play with his trusty stable of actors including Joseph Cotten and Arlene Francis. His idea was to create a Keystone Kops-style slapstick silent movie introduction before each of the three acts. He filmed it on shoestring budget in 10 days and edited 25,000 feet of highly flammable nitrate film in a hotel room to create a 66-minute rough cut.

It was never shown. The Stony Creek Theater in Branford, Connecticut, where the play was staged, was not equipped to project the film. Welles had heavily edited the play to blend seamlessly with the filmed intros, so without it the theatrical production flopped too. That was August 1938, a month after the Mercury Theater’s radio productions began, two months before one of those radio productions would adapt a certain H.G. Wells alien invasion story into a news broadcast style and make headlines around the country. Suddenly very much in demand, Orson Welles packed up the 10 reels of Too Much Johnson and went on with his life, cutting the sweet deal with RKO that would result in his immortal third movie, Citizen Kane.

He thought the never-seen experimental film had been destroyed in a fire at his home in Madrid in 1970, but thankfully he was wrong about that. Too Much Johnson, all 10 reels of it, was found in a crate of old Welles films that had been abandoned in the Pordenone warehouse decades earlier. Nine of the reels were in surprisingly good condition. The tenth was decomposing rapidly and had to receive specialized treatment by film conservators.

The film society that rescued and identified the collection in the shipping warehouse crate reached out to the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, which is world-renown for its film conservation department. They secured a grant to restore the picture and in October 2013, Too Much Johnson finally had its world premiere at a silent movie festival in Pordenone. It made its US debut days later at the George Eastman House in an exclusive showing for museum members. Too Much Johnson had its cable television premiere on Turner Classic Movies in May 2015. The National Film Preservation Foundation digitized the restored film and made it available online with notes on the sidebar explaining how the film was designed to interact with the play.

The Eastman showings had special features only seen there, including a new piano score by Philip C. Carli who used the original Mercury Theater stage score for inspiration, and a voice-over commentary by Anthony L’Abbate, preservation manager, and Caroline Yeager, associate curator, of the George Eastman Museum who worked on its restoration. The museum has now released their special edition of Too Much Johnson on Vimeo.

“For the first time, people from all over the world will have access to this unique material with the voice-over commentary and musical accompaniment, previously only available for in-person screenings,” said Peter Bagrov, curator in charge, Moving Image Department, George Eastman Museum. “The original commentary was written by the museum and has been performed all over the world. It is essential for the understanding of this unfinished work by one of the great masters of cinema; the context it provides enhances the viewing experience for everyone.”

The voice-over commentary includes a story of the print’s discovery and the meticulous preservation process, as well as the history of the film’s creation—its casting, the filming locations in New York City (many of which are now gone), and why it never made it to the big screen.

It opens with a brief introduction about the film’s conservation and the research that went into piecing together how the film was shot. At 6:44 the movie begins, and as someone who has watched three versions (the TCM version, the NFPF version with side notes and this one), I can unequivocally state that this voice-over commentary is essential. It adds so much to the viewer’s understanding of the movie, what is going on in the story, where the scenes are being filmed. It turns a fascinating glimpse into Welles’ nascent directorial genius into a full-featured documentary. I wish every commentary were recorded by film conservators instead of woolgathering directors and verbose actors.

Watch it here.

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Nemi ship mosaic/coffee table goes on display

Saturday, March 13th, 2021

A section of mosaic flooring from one of the Nemi Roman ships, lavish floating palaces built by the profligate Emperor Caligula, that for decades was used a coffee table by a couple in New York City has gone on permanent display at the Museum of Roman Ships in Nemi. Antique dealer Helen Fioratti and her husband Nereo acquired the opus sectile mosaic in Italy in the 1960s. The broker claimed it had belonged to the noble Barberini family, but there was no ownership record. The Fiorattis had it mounted in a marble frame and put it on a pedestal in their living room where it served as coffee table and much-admired conversation piece in their Park Avenue apartment for 40 years.

Its secret identity was first rediscovered in 2013 when Dario Del Bufalo, an expert in ancient marbles and author of several books on the subject, was in Manhattan for a book signing. His book on porphyry included an old photograph of the mosaic, which has unusual circular tiles made of the precious dark red marble. He was able to authenticate the panel as one of the luxurious decorations salvaged from the ships thanks to those circles of porphyry and a crack that had been restored. The museum that housed the Nemi ships burned down in 1944 in a battle between Allied forces and the Nazi troops occupying the museum. The hulls of the ships, raised in an arduous lake-draining operation the late 1920s and early 30s, were destroyed in the fire, an incalculable loss, as were many of its salvaged parts.

The mosaic was not in the museum at the time. It was removed before 1944 eventually, nobody knows how, wound up in an antiques shop in Rome couple of decades later. After a four-year investigation, the mosaic was seized by the Manhattan DA’s office and returned to the Italian consulate in October 2017. It has been displayed at temporary exhibits in Italy since its repatriation, but now has a permanent home with the other rare surviving artifacts from Caligula’s great floating palaces.

Lake Nemi was sacred to the goddess Diana. She was worshipped in a sacred grove on its slopes as far back as the 6th century B.C., and the Temple of Diana Nemorensis was built on the north shore around 300 B.C. By the time of Caligula, it was a popular pilgrimage site. By Roman law, no ship could sail on sacred waters. Caligula probably complied with the letter of the law by keeping them mostly anchored. He also built temples on board — both ships had rotating statue platforms believed to have been used for cult figures — which gave him another loophole to the no sailing on sacred waters law. As a devotee of Isis who was syncretically identified with Diana, he likely used his superyachts on her sacred lake to throw lavish parties for religious festivals like the Isidis Navigium, an annual celebration invoking the protection of Isis on sailors at the opening of the navigation season on March 5th.

Despite being built to the exacting standards of Roman seagoing vessels — their hulls were clad in lead sheets to prevent the depredations of shipworms which do not live in freshwater lakes and both ships were equipped with long steering oars — Caligula’s barges couldn’t have done much sailing on the lake even if hadn’t been a sacrilege to do so. Nemi is a small, roughly circular lake formed from the crater of an extinct volcano. Its average width is 1 kilometer. The barges were 73 x 24 meters and 70 x 20 meters, so it only would have taken a voyage of 14 ship lengths to cross its full width. They were lake palaces, not a means of transport, and if they left the shore at all, they were at most rowed (in the case of the smaller boat) and/or towed (the larger had no means of propulsion) to the center of the lake.

Suetonius cites Caligula’s opulent taste in ships as an example of his profligacy in The Lives of the Twelve Caesars:

He built two ships with ten banks of oars, after the Liburnian fashion, the poops of which blazed with jewels, and the sails were of various parti-colours. They were fitted up with ample baths, galleries, and saloons, and supplied with a great variety of vines and other fruit-trees. In these he would sail in the day-time along the coast of Campania, feasting amidst dancing and concerts of music.

The Nemi ships had the same luxurious decorations and amenities, even though they had nowhere to go, as attested to by the floor mosaic which is of highest quality in materials and craftsmanship. 

Today the museum houses 1/5th scale replicas of the ships, although last summer the mayor of Nemi was making noises about asking Germany to fund full-scale replicas by way of reparations. The problem with that notion is that there is no direct evidence that the Nazis burned the ships. Allied planes bombed the museum striking at the German anti-aircraft artillery nest which was deliberately installed there in the hope that priceless archaeological patrimony would act as a shield. The bomb drop did minimal damage to the exterior of the museum, and hours later museum staffers saw Nazi occupiers with torches walking around inside just before the fire broke out the night of May 31st. The Germans cleared out that night. US ground troops arrived four days later. 

Here’s a silent but deadly (in a good way) British Pathé newsreel documenting the exposure of one of the ships in 1930.

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Unique Bronze Age ceremonial sword found in Denmark

Friday, March 12th, 2021

Archaeologists have discovered a unique Bronze Age ceremonial sword in the village of Håre on the Denmark island of Funen. The sword dates to the Bronze Age Phase IV, about 3,000 years ago, which makes it an extremely rare find, but what makes it unique is that it is completely intact, from bronze blade to wood grip. Even the plant fibers it was wrapped in are extant.

The site was excavated as part of a year-long project to survey the 37-mile-long route of the Baltic Pipe gas pipeline. Odense City Museums archaeologists were on the last leg of their excavations in west Funen when they discovered the remains of an ancient settlement where the sword was ritually deposited 3,000 years ago.

The swords was removed to the Odense City Museums for cleaning and conservation in controlled conditions. Because of the diversity of materials used in its construction, the sword had to be dismantled to see to the different preservation needs of each piece. The fiber grip winding, which may be bast from linden wood, was unraveled and the wood and horn components separated from the metal of the blade. Samples were taken to identify the materials. The sample from the plant fiber will be radiocarbon dated to determine when the sword was made.

The sword weighs almost three pounds (1.3 kilos), a large and very expensive amount of bronze to secure at that time. The grip was cast together with the blade shaft of the sword and covered in wood and antler/bone for a comfortable hold. The metal was likely imported from Central Europe and then crafted by a local blacksmith. The sample from the bronze alloy of the sword will be tested to identify its exact composition and its source location.

When conservation and study is complete, conservators will reassemble the sword and put it on public display, probably at the Odense Møntergården museum which has permanent exhibits on the ancient history of Funen.

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