Thor’s hammer amulet found in Sweden

Archaeologists have discovered a lead Thor’s hammer amulet dating to the late 10th century in Ysby in southwestern Sweden’s Halland province. The hammer was unearthed at the site of future housing construction. Previous investigations at the site revealed archaeological remains from the Neolithic and Iron Age, but this is the first artifact from the Viking era discovered there. It’s also the first Thor’s hammer amulet found in Halland.

The amulet is 3 centimeters (1.18 inches) long and cast in lead in the stylized shape that represents Thor’s dwarf-crafted hammer Mjölnir. It has a hole in the shaft where a string or a tie of some sort was threaded through so it could be worn as a pendant. One side of the hammer’s head is engraved with an interlacing pattern.

These were popular accessories in the Viking era, worn as apotropaic amulets, calling on the protective power of Thor to ward off evil. About a thousand of them have been found in Scandinavia, the UK, Russia and the Baltic countries. When this one was being worn, the Halland area was beginning to convert to Christianity. A pendant like this had religious significance beyond its purported warding powers, because it was unmistakable symbol of adherence to Form Sidr (meaning “the old way” ie, the traditional Nordic gods) as opposed to the new way of Christianity.

Here is a 3D model of the hammer before cleaning and conservation. A more detailed one will be made after the conservation is complete.

Beet farmer harvests Bronze Age gold belt

A farmer harvesting sugar beets from his field near Opava in the eastern Czech Republic, dug up a unique gold belt dating to the Bronze Age. The finder, who wishes to remain anonymous, found the shiny yellow object crumpled into a ball. He rinsed it, straightened it out a little and realized this was an artifact of archaeological significance. He immediately contacted the Silesian Regional Museum and emailed photographs of the find to the head of its archaeology department, Jiří Juchelek who recognized that it was a unique ancient object.

The finder brought the artifact into the museum where Juchelek and his colleagues examined it with a spectrum analyzer to determine its composition. It is a gold alloy of more than 84% gold, 15% silver, copper and assorted trace elements. These percentages correspond to those found in other prehistoric metal artifacts in the area. Experts from other institutions were consulted regarding the decorative style of the diadem to help narrow down the date. The decoration indicates that it was made at the turn of the Middle and Late Bronze Age, ca. 1400-800 B.C.

The piece is 20 inches long and four inches wide and weighs 60 grams (2.1 oz). It is made of a single thin gold sheet decorated with a sequence of five large concentric circles adjacent to each other in the center. Smaller concentric circles fill the gaps above and below the large ones and line up in rows and columns at both ends of the belt. Triple borders incised with short, angled lines adorn the top, bottom and edges. Two swirls of gold on each end were likely wound together as a clasp.

The first hypothesis was that the thin golden sheet of metal, which is around 50 centimetres long, was a tiara. However, after examining the object in greater detail, experts now believe it was actually part of a belt:

[Jiří Juchelka says,] “We realized that it was too long to fit on someone’s head. So we actually think it is not a tiara, but something much rarer – a part of a belt.

“Belts at the time were made of leather and this was strapped to its front part. It was crumpled when the finder found it, probably as a result of agricultural activity, so it is a miracle it has been so well preserved. It may be missing a few tiny parts, but otherwise it is in perfect condition.”

Even producing a plain gold sheet of these dimensions in the Bronze Age would have required enormous technical skill. The elaborate decoration adds even more difficulty and can only have been accomplished by a superior craftsman. An object of such rarity and expense probably belonged to a member of the societal elite.

The finder surrendered the belt to the regional cultural patrimony organization. Once the piece has been evaluated and assessed for market value, our beet farming friend will receive a reward in the amount of 20% of the estimate. When study and conservation is complete, the artifact will go on public display at the Bruntál Museum.

Long, “damned” Roman inscription goes on display

Dr Samuel Gartland with inscribed stone from the early 3rd century A.D. Photo by Simon Hulme.One of the longest inscriptions from Roman Britain with an exceedingly rare mention of an emperor whose name was erased after his assassination has gone on display for the first time since its discovery in 1960. The 600-pound sandstone slab was discovered near the Yorkshire village of Bainbridge, known as Virosidum in the Roman era, where a Roman Fort was built in the late 1st and early 2nd century A.D. It had once been part of the wall of a 3rd century barracks, but was reused in the 4th century as a paver for a road leading out from the east gate of the fort. Face-down, thankfully, which helped preserve the inscription in excellent condition.

The large, heavy stone is intact, engraved with a 12-line inscription in Latin. Symbols are carved down the left and right sides. On the left from top to bottom are first the astrological symbol Capricorn, then Victory standing on a globe holding a wreath and lastly an eagle standing on a thunderbolt with a wreath in its beak. On the right are a crescent moon, a genius (guardian spirit) holding a horn of plenty under his left arm and a patera (libation bowl) in his right hand, poised to pour libation onto an altar at his feet, and lastly a horned animal believed to be a bull.

The inscription is a dedication stone recording the construction of the new barracks. It reads:

For the Emperor Caesar Lucius Septimius
Severus Pius Pertinax Augustus, and for the
Emperor Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus
Pius Felix Augustus, and for Publius Septimius Geta most no
ble Caesar, in the consulship
of Our Lords the Emperor Antoninus for the
second time and Geta Caesar; the
Sixth Cohort of Nervians which Lucius Vinicius
Pius, prefect of the said cohort, commands,
built [this] barrack-block, under the charge of
Gaius Valerius Pudens, senator of consular rank.

The Sixth Cohort of Nervii was an auxiliary unit of Belgian recruits. The titles of Septimius Severus and his son Caracalla date the inscription to 205 A.D. Severus’ younger son Geta gets two credits as well, which is highly notable because after Severus died in York in 211 A.D., Caracalla killed his little brother and ordered the damnatio memoriae, the complete elimination of Geta’s name and likeness from the public record. That order certainly reached Britain, and indeed it looks like someone tried to comply with the damnatio by erasing line 6, only that was the wrong line. Geta’s name is still out and proud on lines 5 and 8.

It is a unique survival of great significance to the archaeological record of Roman Britain in general and Yorkshire in particular. It is also extremely unwieldy. The Royal Engineers of the army regiment stationed at York had to be called in to raise it in 1960. They transported it to the University of Leeds where it was kept in the basement for 60+ years.

Dr Samuel Gartland, a professor at the University of Leeds’ School of Languages, Cultures and Societies, was behind the effort to give this artifact its first public showing. The University didn’t have to enlist army specialists this time, but a specialized crane was required to hoist the stone to a new display that finally does it justice.

On display by its side is a much smaller, rougher inscribed slab that was found in the same 1960 excavation. It too was built into the wall of the barracks and it too had been flipped upside-down to pave the road. It’s a centurial stone, a marker bearing the name of the centurion who commanded the soldiers who built that section of wall. The one reads:

Of the Sixth Cohort of Nervii,
the centuria of Julius Martinus

Typically centurial stones were plastered over, unlike the imperial inscription which was intended to broadcast the strength of Roman force in the area. The fort had been abandoned in the second half of the 2nd century, so when the Nervii arrived, they had a lot of rebuilding to do. The dedication to the co-emperors was one way of broadcasting that the Romans were back in full force.

Child’s terracotta whistle found at Assos

A tiny Roman-era terracotta whistle that was likely a cherished good left in a child’s grave has been discovered in a in the ancient Aegean coastal resort town of Assos in northwestern Turkey. The whistle is shaped like a stylized bird and is in excellent condition. It still whistles!

There is evidence of settlement on the hilltop overlooking the Aegean going back 7,000 years. The city of Assos was founded by Greek colonists in around 1000 B.C., Assos was a major artery of Aegean commerce for thousands of years and home to Aristotle’s first school of philosophy. The main civic structures — the agora, bouleuterion and theater — were built around 300 B.C.

The whistle was unearthed in this season’s excavation focusing on the Hellenistic-era agora and gymnasium and the Byzantine-era Ayazma Church. The church was built in the 11th century over the ruins of a 6th century church believed to have been dedicated to an unknown saint buried there in the 5th century. By the time the saint was laid to rest there, the site had seen many a burial. A necropolis at the site had been in use since the Hellenistic era. One of the ancient burials is thought to be the source of the little whistle.

In the examination made by the excavation team, it was determined that the bird figure made of terracotta found on the surface around the Ayazma Church is believed to be the ruins from the Roman period or before, said Arslan. In addition, they seem to be causal children’s toys of the time and were placed in children’s graves as a cultural ritual. This particular Roman whistle is estimated to be 2,000 years old.

The estimate is based on its design and material. Unfortunately the context was disturbed which is why the whistle was found close to the surface. The grave the whistle may have been buried in has not been found.

Ten new tombs found in Etruscan necropolis

Last fall, an emergency rescue excavation in the Etruscan necropolis of Monterozzi near Tarquinia in central Italy brought to light 10 Etruscan tombs dating to between the Villanovan and the Archaic eras (8th-5th century B.C.). As is sadly endemic in Etruria, the tombs had already been looted in the past and suffered significant damage from tunneling and from agricultural activity. That was the emergency necessitating immediate intervention: shoring up the walls and vaults before they collapsed.

Of the ten tombs found in the excavation, one of them had the “good fortune” of only having been looted in antiquity. Back then all thieves cared about were precious metals. They generally left pottery and other unshiny grave goods behind. This tomb still contained dozens of ceramics and other funerary objects.

Daniele Federico Maras, an official of the Superintendence for the territory of Tarquinia, explains “The tomb dates back to the first half of the seventh century BC. It is of the ‘twin’ type, i.e. consisting of two independent chambers side by side, almost identical to each other and open to the south-west on as many open vestibules, which can be accessed via a steep staircase.

“The roof of both chambers is of the slit type, with an ogive vault carved into the rock, closed at the top by a series of nephrite slabs, while along the left wall is a bed, carved in stone which, in the case of the northernmost chamber, is decorated with carved legs”.

The doors of the tombs had been sealed with slabs of nephrite, which had unfortunately been broken by the grave robbers so that they could gain access to the tombs – however, in a very unusual twist, they had been carefully closed again after they had been plundered, Maras says.

Perhaps this was part of a belated show of respect for the dead – or hoping that there wouldn’t be divine retribution for the desecration.

They were closing the tomb door after the corpse had fled, to coin a phrase. The two blocks of stone forming the roof of the north chamber were weakened by the looters’ entry into the tomb, and over time they collapsed.

Dubbed the Gemina Tomb (gemina is Latin for twin), it is located in the very heart of the Monterozzi necropolis, just a few hundred feet from two well-known tombs from the 6th century B.C.: the Tomb of the Bulls (famed for the fresco of two bulls, one minding his business while a couple has explicit sex behind him, the other ready to gore the couple having sex in front of him) and the Tomb of the Augurs (famed for its four frescoed walls that include a figure originally thought to be an augur).

Archaeologists had to sift through the rubble of the damaged tomb to recover the treasures the ancient looters deemed unworthy of theft. The excavation recovered a wealth of vessels painted in the Geometric Etruscan style, including an oinochoe decorated with a stylized fish on the shoulders by an artist known as the Painter of the Palms. There are also several engraved inky black painted Bucchero vases, Euboean cups of the chevron type, a clay figurine of a crying woman, fragments of wood and iron and of gold foil.

All of the pots were broken, probably deliberately by the looters hoping to find something gold or silver inside. The fragments were left where they fell, thankfully, giving archaeologists 2,600 or so years later to collect all of the pieces and puzzle them together. The restoration process will be complex with so many fragments, but when it is complete, the Gemina Tomb artifacts will go on public display.

Figurine of crying woman. Photo courtesy the Soprintendenza Archeologia Belle Arti Paesaggio Etruria Meridionale. Bucchero oinochoe. Photo courtesy the Soprintendenza Archeologia Belle Arti Paesaggio Etruria Meridionale.