Celtic city gate virtually reconstructed

A new 3D virtual reconstruction of the Celtic gate on Staffelberg in Bavaria has been created based on the latest information discovered during excavations in 2018 and 2019. This is the first time it has been possible to document a Celtic city gate in such rich detail.

Staffelberg’s high, rocky plateau made it an ideal location for defense. The first traces of human occupation go all the way back to the 5th millennium B.C., but it reached its peak of population and importance in the late Iron Age when the Celtic oppidium of Menosgada was built on top of the plateau. It was occupied from 150 B.C. until 40 B.C. when it was burned and abandoned. The monumental gate was built around 130 B.C.

The excavation revealed high city walls and a tower three times higher than the walls at the gate. The remains of the walls are up to four feet high. No walls that high have been discovered at any other Celtic oppidia. Archaeologists also discovered a section of paved road that the oldest known in Bavaria. A footprint from the Celtic era, probably left by a construction worker, was found on the road.

Fragments of more than 30 human skulls were recovered. Archaeologists believe the skulls were placed in niches and on wooden posts in the gate. Ancient sources describe Celts adorning their gates with skulls.

“Everything indicates that the nobility who lived on the summit plateau of the Staffelberg wanted to show what they could afford with this gate. It is a demonstration of its richness and the high level of technology,” explains Dr. Markus Schußmann, who led the research excavation at the west gate of the oppidum…. According to current knowledge, the residents probably set the oppidum on fire themselves when they abandoned it around 40 B.C. Using the traces left by the foundations, the charred wood of the gate and the iron nails and fittings in the ground, the archaeologists meticulously did detective work to reconstruct the presumed structure of the complex.

Bavarian State Office for the Preservation of Monuments, emphasizes: “The Celtic Gate opens our eyes to the pre-Christian past. It reveals a lot about the life of the Celts: for example, that traffic on the oldest known street in Bavaria was on the right at the time.”

Viking hoard dodges auction bullet

Here’s an intriguing case of unintended consequences in cultural heritage law.  Meet the Everlöv Hoard:

The Everlöv Hoard is a large group of more than 950 silver objects –912 coins, 40 pieces of jewelry — from the Viking Age discovered in southern Sweden’s Skåne province in the 1980s. The oldest coin dates to the 9th century, the youngest to 1018, indicating the hoard was assembled in the late Viking era. The composition of the objects mark them as a single deposition, but the original find site is unknown.

Many of coins are from Bavaria, which is unusual in Swedish hoards. The hoard also contains an unusually high number of Anglo-Scandinavian coins, ie, coins struck by Scandinavian kings in imitation of the ones struck by the king of England. Among the objects are several extremely rare pieces: a buckle with intricately enlaced zoomorphic figures decorated with filigree and granulation, a Slavic lunula and an oversized jewelry bracteate minted by Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor, aka Saint Henry the Exuberant.

The discovery was not made in the usual way; nobody found it by metal detecting or in a happy ploughing accident. It was not dug up at all, in fact. The current owner found it in a chiffonier that had been passed down through generations of the family. (Side note: finding a Viking silver hoard in an old piece furniture has to be in my top 3 greatest lifetime fantasies.)

The hoard was catalogued and briefly exhibited in 1986 at Lund University’s Historical Museum. The museum didn’t get to keep it, however. They didn’t even get to study it. The hoard remained in private hands and was never exhibited again nor made available to researchers.

According to the Swedish Historic Environment Law, any archaeological finds are property of the state and must be reported to county officials. The state can then choose whether to redeem them for a fee. A version of this law has been on the books for centuries, so whoever found this hoard and stashed it in the chiffonier was breaking the law, but that person has been dead a long time. If an ancient artifact qualifies as an inheritance — like, say, if it was found inside heirloom furniture — then ownership goes to the individual who found it.

The state tried to redeem the hoard anyway when it emerged in the 1980s, but the atypical circumstances made it a thorny legal issue and a court ruled that the hoard was owned by the person who found it in the chiffonier. As the law is currently written, there is no mechanism for the state to claim an archaeological object on the grounds of its cultural importance regardless of how or when it was discovered, so that was that. The hoard all but disappeared.

Earlier this month, news broke that the Everlöv Hoard would be sold at auction on April 29th. Even worse, it was being offered in individual lots, so the whole hoard could have been scattered to the four winds. An uproar ensued as archaeologists and researchers protested the sale. The hoard as a whole is far more significant than the sum of its parts, especially the Bavarian through-line which might indicate a previously unknown trade route linking Sweden and southern Germany. Besides, the case could create a dangerous precedent wherein bad actors could claim a fresh find was a surprise legacy.

Literally the day before the scheduled auction, the Everlöv Hoard was saved from dispersal by the Gunnar Ekström Foundation for Numismatic Research and the Sven Svensson Foundation for Numismatic Research who pooled their resources and bought the whole kit and kaboodle behind the scenes. The auction is off and the hoard will now enter the collection of the Royal Coin Cabinet at Stockholm’s Economy Museum where it can and will be studied to the nerdiest heart’s content.

Terrible Tilly lighthouse for sale

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse off the north coast of Oregon is perched on a storm-tossed rocky island that can only be reached by helicopter. It is covered in bird guano and sea lion excrement and the windows are all boarded up. The sea lions have knocked down the door. The interior is being used as a columbarium, a depository for human cinerary remains, including those of the parents of the current owner. It is a National Wildlife Refuge and cannot be visited during nesting season from April to September. And all of this can be yours for $6.5 million.

Terrible Tilly, so dubbed for its terrible storms and dangerous navigation conditions, was commissioned by Congress in 1878. Construction on the remote basalt stack in the middle of stormy seas was challenging, and the lighthouse took a year and a half to build. One man, a surveyor, was swept out to sea and drowned in the planning stage, cementing Tilly’s Terrible reputation before the first brick was laid.

The first-order fresnel lens was first lit on January 21st, 1881. By the time it was decommissioned in 1957, it had become the most expensive lighthouse in the United States to operate. Tilly then passed into private ownership, changing hands several times. It was acquired by the Eternity at Sea Columbarium in 1980, but they lost their license in 1999 for violations including proper storage.

Legal difficulties notwithstanding, the columbarium is still the crux of the sales pitch.

The plan is for the lighthouse to appeal as an alternative to scattering cremated remains at sea, by encasing them in titanium urns in a bank of niches.

David Adams, a funeral business consultant with the Johnson Consulting Group in Scottsdale, Arizona, who is brokering the sale, is aiming for an official pitch by Memorial Day.

“It’s going to have to take somebody with an entrepreneurial spirit,” he said.

The cremation rate in the United States was low when Morissette, a 77-year-old Oregon resident with a background in real estate development, purchased the lighthouse over four decades ago. The rate reached 56% in 2020 and is rising, the Cremation Association of North America said.

“I find it intriguing some people still like the romance of scattering ashes at sea: ‘Dad’s out in the ocean and Mom’s still floating with sharks,'” Adams said.

“Although romantic in many regards, it is somewhat final. There is no real place to focus on, to go back and memorialize,” he said.

The lighthouse, he added, “gives them a specific focal point.”

Well yes, but a specific focal point that can only accessed half the year and then only by chartering a helicopter. On the other hand, what a view:

Phoenician necropolis found in southern Spain

A Phoenician necropolis from the 4th or 5th century B.C. has been unearthed in Osuna, southern Spain. The necropolis, discovered during water utility upgrades, contains limestone vaults that are in an excellent state of preservation. It is a unique find because the only comparable necropolises that have been unearthed so far are coastal, dotting the area around the ancient Phoenician colony of Cádiz. Osuna is inland, about 55 miles east of Seville.

An archaeological investigation of the site has revealed eight burial vaults with stairways and entrance atria. These were elite graves, and unprecedented in what would have been practically the hinterlands of Phoenician Spain.

The lead archaeologist, Mario Delgado, described the discovery as very significant and very unexpected. “To find a necropolis from the Phoenician and Carthaginian era with these characteristics – with eight well tombs, atriums and staircase access – you’d have to look to Sardinia or even Carthage itself,” he said.

“We thought we might find remains from the imperial Roman age, which would be more in keeping with the surroundings, so we were surprised when we found these structures carved from the rock – hypogea [subterranean vaults] – perfectly preserved beneath the Roman levels.”

Phoenicians settled southern Spain from around 800 B.C., not long after the founding of Phoenicia’s greatest colony, Carthage. They set to work exploiting the region’s rich and untapped deposits of tin, gold and silver and expanding their trade networks. The trade of metals and consumer goods (fish, textiles) made the Phoenician settlements of what is now Andalusia enormously prosperous. Archaeologists believe that the rich tombs found on the coast were built for the shipping dynasties that ran Phoenician commerce.

The mayor said that while more research needed to be done, the luxurious nature of the necropolis suggested it had been built for those at “the highest level” of the social hierarchy.

“The operation isn’t over yet and there’s still more to be discovered,” she said. “But the team has already come up with reliable information that attests to the historical importance of all this. Both the graves themselves and the ritual spaces that are being examined suggest that this wasn’t any old burial site.”

18th c. gold box recovered 19 years after manor raid

An 18th century gold box stolen from the Rothschild estate of Waddesdon Manor 19 years ago has been recovered. The box was one of more than 100 stolen by a gang of masked men in blue boilersuits in the wee hours of June 10th, 2003. They broke a window and raided the Rothschild collection of small boxes, rings, bottles and watches, stealing millions of dollars worth of highly portable precious objects in less than four minutes.

The manor had excellent security and the thieves were so precise in targeting the high-value pieces that police believe they were professionals working on commission. They disappeared without a trace and the police investigation went nowhere. Only a handful of the looted objects have been found in the two decades since the theft.

Last August, one of the stolen gold boxes resurfaced at a small regional auction. The auction house contacted the Art Loss Register (ALR), an international database of stolen art, as part of their due diligence process and ALR experts flagged it as one of the boxes taken in the Waddesdon raid. Staff at Waddesdon confirmed the identification.

The gold box that has surfaced is a French bonbonniere dated 1775-1781 and made in Paris, a centre for the production of gold boxes in the 18th century. These small circular boxes were personal accessories, kept in a pocket, in a boudoir or salon, and used for sweets. Often embellished with painted or enamelled scenes, this one has a miniature of an unknown woman holding a basket of roses on its lid. It is decorated with gold piqué (inlaid) stars on a dark blue ground and has a tortoiseshell interior. […]

The box has now been returned to Waddesdon and will go on display from 27 April in the Rothschild Treasury, a gallery that houses more than 300 objects made from rare and precious materials that celebrates the Rothschild family as collectors of extraordinary objects.

This is serendipitous timing for this particular gold box to return home to Waddesdon, as it was acquired by Alice de Rothschild (1847-1922). Alice was the sister of Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-1898), who built Waddesdon, and she inherited the Manor and its contents from him. This spring Waddesdon is marking the centenary of her death by celebrating her life, collections and legacy with Alice’s Wonderlands – a comprehensive programme of exhibitions and displays that highlight her pivotal role in Waddesdon’s history.

Pippa Shirley, Director of Collections, Historic properties and Landscapes at Waddesdon says “I am absolutely delighted that this box has returned, and very grateful to the Art Loss Register for its part in its successful recovery. The 2003 theft was deeply traumatic for everyone at Waddesdon – I remember it vividly – and this feels such a positive outcome and gives us hope that the other boxes may yet come back to us. It is also such a happy coincidence that it should reappear in the year in which we are celebrating Alice de Rothschild and her extraordinary contribution to the collections here.”

The bonbonnière will be in the most august of company in the Rothschild Treasury gallery. It goes on display next gifts of jewelry from Queen Victoria, gold tableware, a Boucheron diamond and pearl tiara, and a carved amber casket from 1660 the glows like fire in the light and is believed to have been purchased by the founder of the Rothschild dynasty, banker Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812). There’s also a literal august object: a cameo portrait of Augustus Caesar’s grandson Gaius.