Archive for August, 2021

Section of Hadrian’s Wall found in Newcastle

Wednesday, August 11th, 2021

A new ten-foot section of Hadrian’s Wall has been discovered in Newcastle, northeastern England. The section was found during routing water main replacement works under West Road, just outside Newcastle’s city center.

What is now Newcastle was founded as a Roman fort and small associated settlement on the north bank of the River Tyne in the 2nd century A.D. It was to be the eastern terminus of Hadrian’s defensive wall and the fort was built to defend the important bridge crossing the River Tyne. The bridge was dubbed the Pons Aelius (Aelian Bridge) after the family name of the emperor who had visited the area in 122 A.D. and conceived of a continuous wall crossing the breadth of northern England.

Construction of the wall began at the Pons Aelius and moved westward. It had reached the fort at what is now Chesters 30 miles west when the decision was made to build an eastward extension to Wallsend, three miles away. Newcastle was no longer the easternmost point of the wall, but it does boast the oldest remaining wall sections from the first phase of its construction.

The newly-discovered section is from the earliest phases of construction, as attested by its large blocks of stone. Smaller stones were used in later construction and repairs.

Philippa Hunter from Archaeological Research Services Ltd said: “Despite the route of Hadrian’s Wall being fairly well documented in this area of the city, it is always exciting when we encounter the wall’s remains and have the opportunity to learn more about this internationally significant site.

“This is particularly true in this instance where we believe that we uncovered part of the wall’s earliest phase.

The wall will remain in situ and Northumbrian Water will work around it. The water main route will be redesigned and angled so that it avoids the wall entirely and leaves a cushion of space around the excavation trench.

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Frescoed ancient fast food joint opens in Pompeii

Tuesday, August 10th, 2021

The elaborately frescoed thermopolium discovered in Pompeii’s Regio V excavation in 2019 opens to the public for the first time on Thursday. The Regio V thermopolium was one of more than 80 small eateries in Pompeii which served beverages and hot food, albeit one with particularly rich decorations and the only one to be fully excavated by archaeologists.

The snack bars were mostly used by poorer residents of ancient Pompeii who rarely had a kitchen in their homes. Typical menus included coarse bread with salty fish, baked cheese, lentils and spicy wine.

Customers ordered prepared foods at an L-shaped counter painted with brightly colored frescoes of a nereid riding a sea horse, a food counter with amphorae leaning against it and pots on top of it (thermopolium inception), two ducks hanging upside down, a rooster and a snarling black dog on a leash. The vessels embedded in the countertop contained the remains of some of the dishes on offer at the shop, including duck and a paella-like combination of proteins (pork, goat, bird, fish and snail). Remains of wine and fava beans were found in one of the large storage amphorae.

After the initial investigation in 2019, archaeologists returned in 2020 to complete the excavation with the aim of restoring the room and decorative elements and protecting the frescoes from the elements by building a new wooden roof over the counter.

Visitors will be allowed access to the restaurant every day between noon and 7PM. Advance booking is not required to visit the thermopolium, but it is required for visits to its neighbors: the active archaeological excavations taking place at the House of Orion and the House with the Garden.

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Roman tomb stele found in ancient Parion

Monday, August 9th, 2021

A carved funerary stele dating to the 1st century has been unearthed in the ancient Greek city of Parion, Kemer Village, in northwestern Turkey’s Çanakkale province. It was discovered in the town’s southern necropolis in an area which had been damaged by mechanical diggers during construction of a primary school in 2004. Many of the graves were damaged in the process, but the stele and burial chamber of Tomb 6 were found in comparatively good condition covered with five large stones.

The stele is approximately three feet square and features a funerary banquet scene set inside an architectural border of fluted columns left and right. To the left is a seated female figure attended by a female servant (disproportionately small to distinguish attendants from their masters). Above her to the left is a calathus, a basket type used to hold skeins of wool or bring in the fruit harvest that was associated with women, marriage and fertility.

The central figure is a reclining man. Before him is a sturdy mensa Delphica, a tripod table with legs carved to look like animal legs. The table is heavy with fruit. To his right are two servants, one serving a beverage from a large krater, one groom with, presumably, the master’s horse. Above the servants to the right are a chest and box, representing the household’s wealth.

A Latin inscription on the bottom of the stele identifies the couple in the relief: “Lucius Furnius Lesbonax, who was freed by Lucius, had this burial stele built for himself and his wife, Furnia Sympnerusa.”

Four burials containing the remains of 10 individuals were discovered around Tomb 6. One was a child, the other nine were adults. Each individual was buried with their own separate grave goods.

Pointing out that the stele is a significant find, [excavation leader Professor Vedat] Keleş said: “This stele showed us that the southern necropolis of Parion was heavily used during the Roman and earlier periods. At the same time, when we look at the condition of the tomb stele and the city, it shows us that the ancient city was a rich one in the Roman period, as it was a colonial city.”

“The names on the stele are also very important. For instance, Lesbonax is not a Latin name. His wife’s name is also not a Latin name. These are Greek names. We can even say that Lesbonax was someone who lived on the island of Lesbos. We understood that they were slaves and were later given Roman citizenship. We understood that when the Romans came to this city, they enslaved those who were here and then gave them citizenship,” he added.

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Lion devours barbarian on key handle

Sunday, August 8th, 2021

A bronze key handle has been discovered to be a rare depiction of execution by lion, the only one of its kind in Roman Britain. The handle was unearthed in 2016 under the floor of a late Roman home in Leicester. It was heavily encrusted with soil, so its complex decoration wasn’t recognized until the handle was cleaned.

The object features a central “barbarian” figure with the characteristic wild hair, thick beard and outfit (trousers worn under a bare chest). A lion is wrapped around his body and bites his head. Beneath them are four nude youths, the older two protectively embracing the younger. It dates to the 2nd century, and is the most detailed representation of damnatio ad bestias, criminals condemned to be mauled to death by wild animals in the arena, ever discovered in Roman Britain.

Many Roman towns in Britain possessed either an amphitheatre or a theatre, where such spectacles could have been witnessed by large crowds. The town house where the key handle was found stands next door to the newly-discovered Roman theatre in Leicester, and it is tempting to think that life did indeed imitate art and that the holders of the key had witnessed such scenes at close quarters.

Lions are portrayed on other key handles from Roman Britain and probably symbolised security and the protection of the household. This sense of security extended beyond the life of the key as a functional object, as the detached handle clearly continued to be valued. It was placed upright in the makeup of a new floor laid long after the heyday of the opulent house it had once secured, in the hope that it would still offer protection.

[University of Leicester Archaeological Services] post-excavation manager and co-author, Nick Cooper, added that the key handle was one of the most significant finds from Roman Leicester and would be displayed to the public at Jewry Wall Museum in Leicester, following completion of major refurbishment work expected to be completed by 2023.

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Treasures emerges from ancient bath sanctuary

Saturday, August 7th, 2021

Excavations this summer in San Casciano dei Bagni, a picturesque Tuscan hilltop town 40 miles southeast of Siena  renowned for its hot springs, have discovered archaeological treasure including hundreds of gold, silver, orichalcus and bronze coins, a bronze putto, a marble relief of a head of a bull, five bronze votive figurines, miniature lamps, a bronze foil belt and other religious offerings that mark the baths as a uniquely rich religious sanctuary beyond its importance as a thermal resort.

The perpetually 42°C (107.6°F) hot springs at San Casciano dei Bagni have been in continuous use since the Etruscans occupied the area. The thermal pools are used as an open-air bath adjacent to the ruins of the Roman spa built there under Augustus, but centuries of water and hot mud have taken their toll on the archaeological remains and complicate management of the ancient material as well as the modern spa facilities.

Last year’s excavations, carried out between July and October under COVID health protocols, explored an abandoned wilderness a 20 meters south of the pools. They unearthed a section of a multi-layer Roman sanctuary built in the Augustan era that contained three altars dedicated to Apollo, Isis and Fortuna Primigenia respectively, and a marble statue of Hygieia. Inscriptions invoke Apollo in his role as god of healing. A wall of large, well-cut blocks underneath the Augustan-era sanctuary suggests it was built over an even more ancient sacred place dating at least as far back as the Hellenistic era, and possibly of even earlier Etruscan origin.

The sanctuary was heavily damaged in a fire in the 1st century and was rebuilt and expanded. The altars were deposited on the edge of the large bath around the end of the 2nd century. The sanctuary was restored again in the early 4th century and a few small annexes added, but by the end of the century the ancient sanctuary was destroyed. Columns and altars were laid horizontally over votive offerings, including the statuette of Hygieia. This was likely related to the Christianization of the area.

The finds made this year were deposits left by worshippers at the site. Archaeologists believe the quality and quantity of offerings point to the sanctuary having been of great regional importance, a Romanized expression of a far more ancient rite of veneration of the hot spring where the faithful could have direct experience of the deity by bathing.

The coins were minted in the reigns of Augustus, the Flavian emperors, Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius. The bull was carved into one of the blocks of the pool. Created by a master craftsman, the putto wears the sacred bulla around his neck and has an ancient inscription carved on his right thigh dedicating the offering.

Perhaps the most unexpected surprise of the dig season was found on the surface of the sacred basin. It is covered in “footprints” carved into the travertine. Traces of lead and silver were found inside of them, so when they were new, they would have shimmered silver-white in the water. The footprints are of varied sizes — adults, youths, children — and were carved as if they’d been left by sandaled feet. There are also bull hooves and ears with the human tootsies. This unusual devotional iconography may be linked to Isis and Serapis. It’s also possible the faithful “walked in the footsteps” of the gods in the bath basin as a means to secure their good health.

The excavations of the last four years are part of San Casciano dei Bagni’s Roman Baths Project which aims to create an open-air, accessible archaeological park with on-site laboratory space at the ancient bath site. The first priority is repairing the outflow of the thermal waters both to preserve the archaeological remains and, ideally, to restore the thermal function of the original Roman elements. There’s a lot of mud (and whatever has been trapped in it for thousands of years) to get through before that can happen.

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Alignment of 13 menhirs found in Switzerland

Friday, August 6th, 2021

An alignment of 13 menhirs has been discovered still standing upright in Saint-Léonard in the canton of Valais, southwestern Switzerland. The rare stones were found during an excavation in advance of real estate development.

The standing stones have not yet been dated — Carbon-14 analysis on the organic material in the archaeological layer is still ongoing — but archaeologists believe they were erected in the Late Neolithic (ca. 2500 B.C.). The area was very active in the Neolithic era and one of the most important prehistoric sites in Europe, featuring numerous Late Neolithic dolmens (collective burials), engraved stelae and standing stones, is less than four miles west of Saint-Léonard in the town of Sion.

Menhirs discovered in alignment and still standing are extremely rare, even in a locality known for its Neolithic remains. The most recent find in Sion was smaller with just six vertical stones standing. An array of this magnitude hasn’t been found since the Petit Chasseur was found in Sion in 1964.

The excavation is almost complete. When it’s done, the plan is to remove the stones and transport them elsewhere for additional studies. Canton and city authorities will determine at that point what to do with the menhirs. This sounds … suboptimal. That they are standing in position is hugely significant, archaeologically speaking. Destroying that original context on the pretext of studying the deracinated stones in “the best conditions” strikes me as a decision grounded more in cleaning the way for construction than in any archaeological good judgement.

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Wicker fruit basket found in submerged tomb

Thursday, August 5th, 2021

Hot on the heels of the discovery of the ancient military shipwreck at the site of the submerged Egyptian-Greek city of Thonis-Heracleion, marine archaeologists from the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology (IEASM) have discovered a 4th century B.C. tumulus with beautifully preserved funerary offerings including a wicker fruit basket still containing said fruit.

The tumulus was discovered in the north-east entrance canal that connected the port in the basins of the Nile Delta to the Canopic branch of the Nile. It is a large hill about 60 meters long by eight meters (197 x 26 feet) wide that in antiquity would have looked like an island among channels in the basin. The IEASM team unearthed a large number of bronze statuettes, many of Osiris, god of the dead, in the surrounding channels, but on the island itself the deposits were primarily imported Attic red-figure pottery. There were hundreds of ceramic deposits layered thickly on top of each other. Under the tumulus were more deposits, high-end miniature ceramics including mini-amphorae made in Greece.

The team also discovered evidence of burning on the tumulus, a single large burning event, a closing ceremony of sorts, after which the site was sealed and people banned from entry and devotional activities. That was in the 4th century B.C., and Thonis-Heracleion would continue to be Egypt’s primary Mediterranean port for another two hundred years before Alexandria became dominant.

The tumulus, first sealed early and then submerged, preserved organic material as well as pottery and bronze. There was a wooden banquet sofa preserved in very good condition, and wicker baskets still containing grape seeds and doum fruit, the oval fruit of the doum palm, aka the gingerbread tree, a palm tree native to northern Africa. Doum palm trees were sacred in the ancient Egyptians and the fruits were traditional funerary offerings. Doum seeds have been found in the tombs of numerous pharaohs and in 2007, archaeologists found eight baskets of doum fruits in the tomb of King Tutankhamun that Howard Carter had apparently set aside in the treasury room but never documented.

“They have lain untouched underwater (for) 2,400 years, maybe because they were once placed within an underground room or were buried soon after being offered,” IEASM said.

The discovery “beautifully illustrates the presence of Greek merchants and mercenaries who lived in Thonis-Heracleion, the city that controlled the entrance to Egypt at the mouth of the Canopic branch of the Nile,” IEASM said.

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Incompetent thief jailed for attempted robbery of Roman gold coin hoard

Wednesday, August 4th, 2021

One of three men who tried to steal a huge hoard of Roman gold coins from the Rhineland State Museum in Trier in 2019 has been sentenced to 2.5 to 3.5 years in prison for the bungled robbery. The trio broke into the museum ON MY BIRTHDAY (rude and disrespectful) by climbing scaffolding and prying open a window. They sledgehammered a door down and then two of them entered the gallery while the third stood guard. They were not able to break through the reinforced glass display case. When the alarm went off and the police arrived, the thieves fled empty-handed.

A 28-year-old Dutch man was later identified from DNA found on a gym bag at the crime scene. He was deported to Germany in late 2020, charged and confessed to having been an accomplice, although he denied having been one of the guys who made it inside and tried to break the display case. His confession and claim to have been the guard only is what got him the light sentence. The other two are still at large.

The hoard of 2,518 aurei was discovered September 9th, 1993, when an excavator dug up a broken bronze vessel full of soil and gold coins during construction of a hospital parking deck. That’s the coin count now, anyway. The hoard has had to deal with would-be looters before. News spread locally and treasure hunters descended on the find with metal detectors pocketing an unknown number of scattered coins before archaeologists could get to the site. The prospect of legal repercussions and difficulties converting ancient Roman coins into easy cash spurred many of the looters to return the ill-gotten coins to the Rheinisches Landesmuseum, although an estimated 100-200 are still dispersed. One of the looters is known to have paid his beer tab with them that night.

Archaeologists spent 20 years fully documenting and cataloging the treasure. They found coins minted over the course of more than a century. The aurei bear portraits of 27 emperors and a dozen empresses and imperial family members. More than 80 previously unknown coin types were found in the Trier hoard, including a portrait of Didius Julianus who ruled Rome for three months (March-June 193) after literally buying the throne when the Praetorian Guard, who had assassinated Pertinax, auctioned it off to the highest bidder.

The oldest dates to the reign of Nero in 63/64 A.D., the youngest to that of Septimius Severus in 193-196 A.D. Given the end-date, archaeologists believe the hoard was buried shortly after that outside date. Trier, Augusta Treverorum in antiquity, was the main city of the province of Gallia Belgica. [Fun fact: Didius Julianus was governor of Gallia Belgica 20 years before his face was stamped on a gold coin during his nine weeks of glory.] With its population, prosperity and political importance, it was in the cross-hairs of plenty of Germanic invasion waves, plagues and the emperor-usurper-counter-usurper rondelets.  The monumental Porta Nigra gate and the defensive walls of the town were built between 180 and 200 A.D. during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

The total weight of the hoard is 18.5 kilos (41 lbs). In buying power at the time, this much gold would have paid the annual salaries of 130 Roman soldiers, and it was almost certainly not an individual’s personal wealth, but rather an official treasury, meticulously administered and added to over time.

The largest preserved Roman Imperial gold hoard ever discovered, the Trier Gold Hoard is the centerpiece of the Rheinisches Landesmuseum’s 12,000-coin collection. Since the robbery attempt, it has been out of public view while security systems are reviewed.

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Gold, garnet Anglos-Saxon pyramidal mount found

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2021

An Early Anglo-Saxon pyramidal mount with cloisonné inlay garnets has been discovered in the Breckland area of Norfolk by a metal detectorist. The rare object dates to between about 560 and 630 A.D., when the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk formed the independent Kingdom of East Anglia in the aftermath of the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain.

A petite piece at 12mm x 11.9mm (0.4in x 0.4in), the gold pyramid has a square base and is inlaid on all four sides with three cloisonné garnets in two different styles on opposite sides: a stepped t-shape and a diagonal t with a wavy crossbar. The pyramid has a flat square top with a single cloisonné garnet. The borders between the pyramid’s facets are much thicker than the slim lines that divide the cells on the sides. The garnets have waffle-pattern foil backing, a technique often seen in Anglo-Saxon jewelry (e.g., the Staffordshire Hoard). One of the garnets on the side is missing and some of the others have suffered cracking and chipping. They are all of either Indian or Sri Lankan origin. Under the base of the pyramid is a slightly convex crossing the middle. The inside of the pyramid is hollow and currently full of soil.

[Finds liaison officer Helen] Geake said: “It would have been owned by somebody in the entourage of a great lord or Anglo-Saxon king, and he would have been a lord or king who might have found his way into the history books.

“They or their lord had access to gold and garnets and to high craftsmanship.”

While Anglo-Saxon pyramidal mounts have been found before — primarily as one-off finds rather than in a funerary context — it’s not entirely clear what their function was or where exactly they were mounted. The bar crossing the underside suggests it may have been a scabbard mount, used to secure the sword into the scabbard by threading the strap through the bar on the base of the pyramid

Pyramidal mounts were created and used from the late 6th century until the early 8th. They went from short, squat pyramids on square bases to taller, slimmer versions with a variety of shapes including circular, hexagonal and octagonal. The recently-discovered example is from the early period.

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Gold necklace found in Roman baths in Bulgaria

Monday, August 2nd, 2021

A gold chain necklace with three beads has been discovered in the Deultum National Archaeological Reserve in southeastern Bulgaria. The chain is broken and may have had more beads on it originally.

Founded in 69 A.D. by the Emperor Vespasian to the veterans of Legio VIII Augusta who had played a key role in securing the throne for him during the Year of Four Emperors, Deultum was the second Roman colony on the Balkan Peninsula and the first Roman city in what is now Bulgaria. It was strategically located on a major river with Black Sea access the ancient Thracian town of Develt. The port town prospered from trade and copper mining, growing into a large, well-planned city with numerous temples, civic buildings, an amphitheater and large public baths.

The necklace was discovered in one of the rooms of the ancient city’s public baths. Another significant treasure was unearthed in the adjacent room last October: a 2nd century earring with tiny glass balls at the end of three gold pendants artfully made to look like pearls. The earring bears a distinct resemblance to those worn by an elegant woman in one of the Fayum mummy portraits. They are not related, not part of a scattered hoard or owned by the same individual. The necklace was in a burned layer from the 5th century.

The gold jewelry discovered in the baths illustrates the wealth of the city and its established trade relations with other parts of the Roman Empire. Women in what is now Bulgaria wore the same fashionable accessories as women in Roman Egypt and Italy.

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