Urartian ruler buried with 4 horses found

The grave of a man buried with four horses, cattle, sheep and his dog has been discovered in the ancient fortress site of Çavuştepe near Van in eastern Turkey. The burial is about 2,800 years old and likely belonged to a member of the ruling and/or military elite of the Kingdom of Urartu. This is the first instance of an individual buried with animals on the Urartian archaeological record.

Excavation leader Professor Rafet Çavuşoğlu:

“This place has always brought firsts to us about the Urartian burial tradition. Today, we have encountered one of those firsts. In the studies we carried out with our expert team, we found an in-situ [in its original place] tomb. We saw a human being buried with his animals. Pieces of pottery were found right next to it. Here we also found an oil lamp with a bulb that we have never seen before. It also gives important tips about lighting.”

The citadel, known as Çavuştepe Castle today, was built by the Urartian King Sarduri II (r. 764–735 B.C.). The site includes remains of Sarduri ‘s royal palace, a temple, fortification walls and utility buildings (storehouses, workshops). The tomb was discovered during excavations of the citadel’s necropolis where last year the remains of a child wearing dragon-headed bracelets were unearthed. It contained the skeletal remains of an adult male (human), and partial remains of the animals. Of the four horses, two of them have complete skulls and jaws.

The grave is still in the course of being excavated. The bones will be removed for analysis and dating in the laboratory

Gun that killed Billy the Kid sells for $6 million

The gun used by Sheriff Pat Garrett to kill Billy the Kid on July 14th, 1881, sold at auction Friday for $6,030,313. In brisk bidding from around the world, the Colt .44 revolver blew past the pre-sale estimate of $2-3 million to set a new auction sale record for a firearm.

The six million dollar gun was actually on Billy’s side at first. It belonged to Billy Wilson, one of the Kid’s gang, when Pat Garrett captured the surviving members of the gang at Stinking Springs on December 23rd, 1880. Garrett confiscated Wilson’s Colt and his Winchester rifle and used them in the line of duty. Billy the Kid was brought to trial and sentenced to death on April 13th. Fifteen days later, he escaped from Lincoln County courthouse jail killing two deputies on his way out. Garrett tracked Billy the Kid to the Pete Maxwell ranch in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, and shot him to death.

The Winchester rifle Garrett took from Wilson was also part of this auction, as were two of the weapons Kid stole during his escape from the Lincoln County Courthouse: the shotgun he took from Deputy Bob Olinger and then used to kill him, and a Winchester 73 he stole from the open armory on his way out the door.

Another famed weapon belonging to an icon of the West was also sold at this auction: Wild Bill Hickok’s trusty Springfield Trapdoor rifle that was buried with him in Deadwood after his murder by the coward Jack McCall in 1876. It is the only firearm thoroughly authenticated as having belonged to James Butler Hickok. His name (“J.B. Hickock”) is carved on the left side of the stock, his monogram (“JB”) on the right.

Deadwood’s expansion collided with Wild Bill’s resting place in 1879. The town’s first cemetery, Ingleside Cemetery, was cleared of its dead and became the Ingleside neighborhood. All the exhumed remains were moved to the new Mount Moriah Cemetery. Hickok’s body was moved by four men, including Bill’s old friend Charlie Utter and the rifle was not reburied. Soon thereafter it was in the possession of one John Bradley of Spearfish, South Dakota, who used it for years. It stayed in the family until 1993 when it was sold to Jim Earle.

The pre-sale estimate for Wild Bill’s rifle was  $150,000-$250,000. It sold for $475,312 more than double the high end of the estimate.

Only known Roman chandelier restored

A large circular ceramic oil lamp that is the only known surviving Roman chandelier has been restored and put on display in the Archaeological Museum at Elda on the Mediterranean coast of southeastern Spain. The chandelier is more than a foot and a half in diameter and originally blazed with 32 points of light fueled by olive oil. A maker’s mark on the lamp identifies it as having been manufactured in the 1st century A.D. in the workshop of Lucius Eros, a local potter who did posterity the favor of engraving his name on the molds used to make all of his ceramic lamps.

Founded in the 5th century B.C. as a fortified hilltop settlement in the El Monastil mountain range overlooking the Vinalopó River. The Iberian oppidium prospered from farming, hunting and forestry. The area was also rich in raw materials for ceramic production, and by the 1st century B.C. there were active commercial pottery kilns at the site and a distinctive El Monastil style had emerged.

Come the Roman defeat of Carthage, the area fell under the Roman sphere of influence. The modest Iberian town flourished thanks to its advantageous position on the river and midway along the Via Augusta than ran the length of southern Spain from Narbo (Narbonne) in the Pyrenees to Gades (Cádiz) on the Atlantic. The Romanized town, dubbed Elo, thrived off trade with Roman territories in Italy, France and North Africa, and ceramic production increased. With three kilns and a large workshop, Lucius Eros was one of the more successful potters in 1st century Elo.

In 1989, Antonio M. Poveda, professor of Ancient History at the University of Alcalá de Henares and director on sabbatical from the Elda Museum, discovered pieces of Roman pottery from the 1st century A.D. in El Monastil, in the exact spot where Lucius had his workshop. Among the artifacts found were the remains of what had been ceramic oil lamps with multiple spikes with a hole through which the wick would have emerged. Between 2009 and 2010, more fragments of at least two of these large lamps were recovered, which also featured ducts through which oil was introduced.

According to Poveda, “this type of lighting product must have been difficult to manufacture, requiring specialized potters, such as Lucius Eros’ staff. Because of their expense, they would not have been abundant, being reserved for the illumination of large rooms in the homes of the wealthy or in institutional buildings.” The archaeologist believes that Lucius’ workshop would mainly receive orders from large nearby cities, such as Ilici (now Elche) or Lucentum (now Alicante).

17th c. fluyt shipwreck identified

The 17th century fluyt discovered in the Gulf of Finland last summer has been identified as the Swan, built in 1636. It was a carved timber transom, preserved in the cold and shipworm-free waters of the Eastern Baltic that solved the mystery. This is the first time a 17th century has been identified from markings on its transom.

The merchant vessel was found on the seabed 280 feet beneath the surface by divers from the Finnish organization Badewanne which documents and maps the many shipwrecks from the World Wars that litter the Gulf of Finland. The ship had been damaged by fishing trawlers. Its three masts had been pulled out and some of the deck timbers. The wooden transom, once mounted vertically above the stern post and tiller, had broken off and fallen face down onto the seabed under the stern.

Fluyt ships typically carried a transom plate that was engraved with key data about the ship — the name in figure form, the year of construction, often the coat of arms of the vessel’s home port — so it was important to get a look at the face of the transom. With a 20-minute limit on dives and just a few days to do them in, Badewanne divers were unable to turn the heavy timber over last year.

They returned to the find site this summer for a two-week diving camp to explore the wreck while filming a documentary about it, and this time they were able to turn the transom over, revealing the engraved image of a swan and the year 1636. At the time carving on the transom was often a visual depiction of the name of the ship to make it recognizable without requiring literacy. The large swan standing in profile above the 1636 construction date was not a random decoration, therefore, but rather the ship’s name. The corroded circle is likely the attachment point of a lantern, now lost.

The diving team took detailed measurements and photographs of the wreck. The images were stitched together to create a detailed photogrammetric 3D model of the wreck. Extrapolating from the model, researchers were able to calculate the original dimensions of the ship before its sinking. The team hopes to be able to find documentary records of the fluyt now that they know the name, year and measurements.

According to Niklas Eriksson, a maritime archaeologist at Stockholm University specialising in fluits, the ships were identified at the time on the basis of the information engraved on the transom. Pieces of the transom have been found in marine archaeological research in the past, but this is the first time, according to Eriksson, that all transom information is available.

“More detailed investigations are likely to reveal the coat of arms that will show the ship’s home port,” Eriksson said.

The real reason for the sinking of the ship may never be clear, Polkko said, noting that there are a couple of manual water pumps on the deck of the wreck. This suggests the crew may not have had time to pump water out fast enough.

“At that time, grain was transported in the hold of the ships. If a lot of water gets in there, it could block the pumps,” Polkko explained.

Repatriated looted glazed bricks go on display

A group of 51 painted glazed bricks from the little-known Mannaean civilization that were looted from ancient site of Qalaichi in northwestern Iran will go on display for the first time in Bukan City, five miles from where they were plundered four decades ago.

The bricks were manufactured in the 8th or 7th century B.C. and are each about one square foot in dimension. They feature a variety of decorative motifs, from simple monochrome paint, floral and geometric designs to depictions of sphinxes, antelopes, birds of prey, rams and lamassus (winged bulls with human heads).

They were illegally exported to Switzerland before 1991 when an Iranian dealer attempted to sell them to the British Museum. They were too obviously looted even for the BM, and the dealer was unable to unload them to anyone else either. The bricks stayed in a warehouse in Chiasso, just over the Swiss-Italian border, until 2008 when the contents of the facility were seized due to nonpayment of the storage bill. The Swiss authorities confiscated the bricks and Tehran’s National Museum formally requested their return. Iran’s Cultural Heritage Ministry subsequently filed suit and it has taken more than a decade for it to finally come to fruition.

The Mannaeans occupied large parts of what are now the Iranian provinces of Kurdistan, East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan between around the 10th and 7th centuries B.C. The small polity was neighbored by the powerful empires of Assyria and Urartu and would ultimately be fragmented in the conflicts between the two great powers. Qalaichi was occupied between 9th and 7th centuries. It was abandoned after the Mannaean kingdom was conquered by the Medes in 615 B.C. and disappeared as a culturally distinct group.

It seemed to disappear from the archaeological record too. The first breakthrough took place in 1936 with the discovery of the Mannaean site at Ziwiye in Kurdistan. The Mannaean settlement at Qalaichi first emerged by accident in the 1970s when a farmer ploughing his fields churned up a decorated brick. Word got out and the looters descended like locusts with bulldozers, taking advantage of the upheaval of the Iranian Revolution and Iran-Iraq War to viciously plunder the site from 1979 until archaeologists were finally sent in 1985 on an emergency salvage mission.

The archaeological team unearthed numerous glazed bricks and a broken stele with a 13-line inscription in Aramaic that is the tail end of a treaty. It’s mostly a very detailed curse against anyone who would dare remove the stele (eg,”May seven cows suckle a single calf, but let it not be sated”), but it conveys that of the two parties to the treaty, one, the Mannaean side, supported by Haldi, god of war and patron deity of the Urartian royal dynasty, and an unknown second party, supported by Hadad, god of storm. It also states the Mannaean name for Qalaichi: Z’TR.

Unfortunately that one dig would be all the professional archaeology the site would get for another 15 years. The war made the area too hot and the looters came back to violate Qalaichi’s patrimony uninterrupted until a second official excavation took place in 1999. The filthy products of all this devastation were sold on the international antiquities market with plenty of takers among private collectors and museums. Mannaean material remains are exceedingly rare and every piece counts in shedding light on its culture. The homecoming of 51 of the bricks stolen during the long periods of destructive looting thus takes on even more importance.

The Repatriated Boukan Glazed Brick Collection from Switzerland exhibition will open at the Haghighi Museum in Boukan and then move to the Iran National Museum in Tehran as soon as COVID allows.