Bronze hand is first document in Basque language

A bronze hand from the 1st century B.C. discovered on Mount Irulegi near Pamplona in northern Spain is the first document written in the Basque language. The Hand of Irulegi is a flat bronze plate cut from a single sheet of bronze into the shape of a life-sized right hand with five fingers. It is 5.7 inches long and engraved with 40 symbols on four lines across the back of the hand. Metal composition analysis found that the bronze is an alloy of 53.19% tin, 40.87% copper and 2.16% lead, a proportion typical of ancient bronze.

It was unearthed in June 2021 in the vestibule of a mud-brick house from an Iberian settlement at the foot of a hill topped by a medieval castle. Ceramic fragments, coins and the bones of domestic animals were also discovered inside the dwelling. The finds date to the first quarter of the 1st century B.C. This was a troubled time in the Roman province of Hispania. The Sertorian War pitted rebel Roman general Quintus Sertorius and his Iberian allies against the forces of the Roman Senate, led by generals Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus. Mount Irulegi was caught in the crossfire. Pompey’s troops burned the settlement to the ground. The hand and other artifacts were found under this burn layer.

The inscription was not visible on the surface when the hand was first recovered. Archaeologists thought it might be a helmet fitting at first, but the inscriptions emerged after cleaning. This spring, epigraphers and experts in Indo-European languages examined the inscription. The found the writing is the Paleohispanic family, but not the Iberian or Celtiberian semi-syllabaries. Instead it is an example of a subsystem that is unique to itself, albeit with elements adapted from Iberian scripts.

For example, the inscription includes the symbol T, which has already been identified on two coins, supporting the theory of the existence of a particular subsystem, as such a sign does not exist among the rest of the Hispanic script systems. In addition, the system of letters and semi-syllabary of the Hand of Irulegi includes two vibrating signs, which makes it possible that it is an adaptation of the Iberian script, as the Celtiberian script lacked one of them. How, when and where the Vascones adapted the Iberian script is unknown, but it does completely rule out the theory that they were a people who lacked a writing system, as had previously been thought, but that “they knew the writing and had made use of it, if not extensively then at least not negligibly.”

The phrases on the Hand of Irulegi are separated by dots or marks (interpunctuations), but none of the identified words appear to correspond to personal Basque names, and since the names of Paleohispanic gods are largely unknown to experts, they believe that some of the words may refer to Basque divinities or places.

What epigraphers have distinguished is the first word of the text: sorioneku, which is very similar to the Basque word zorioneko, formed by the sequence zori (fortune) and on (good), which can be translated as “of good fortune or good omen.” The rest of the inscription raises more questions, the researchers admit. They do though believe they have detected some recognizable words such as es (ez in modern Basque), an adverb of negation, and perhaps also a form relatable to the verb egin (to do).

“What is beyond doubt,” conclude [linguists] Velaza and Gorrochategui, “is that the exceptional Irulegi inscription proves that the Basques were using their language in that territory in the 1st century BC. And, taking into account the scarcity of firm testimonies for the establishment of the linguistic map of the area and of the protohistory of the Basque language, its discovery creates an inescapable basis for any debate on the question. The Hand of Irulegi constitutes the first document undoubtedly written in the Basque language.”

Before this discovery, the Vascones, the late Iron Age Iberian tribe whose language was the ancestor of modern-day Basque, were believed to have no written language beyond a few words used only on coins until the introduction of the Latin alphabet by Romans. The Hand of Irulegi inscription upends that hypothesis.

Henry VI quarter noble is oldest English coin in Canada

A gold coin found in Newfoundland is the oldest European coin ever found in Canada. The coin was discovered on a beach on the south coast of Newfoundland this summer by local amateur historian Edward Hynes. He reported the find to provincial archaeologists as required by Canadian law and experts identified it as a quarter noble minted in London between 1422 and 1427, during the reign of King Henry VI. It therefore predates the arrival of Europeans on the island by 70+ years. The previous oldest-known European coin discovered in Canada, a half groat found at the Cupid Cove Plantation Provincial Historic Site, dates to 1491.

John Cabot explored the area at the behest of King Henry VII in 1497, and European fishing boats soon followed, lured by the enormous shoals of cod in the northern Atlantic waters. Portuguese explorers claimed Newfoundland and Labrador for the nascent Portuguese Empire in 1501-1502. Seasonal cod fishing camps were used by Basque, English, French and Portuguese fishermen thereafter until the first permanent European colony on Newfoundland would be founded by Britain in 1583, 160 years after Elizabeth’s great-great uncle minted the quarter noble.

The mystery of how the coin came to be where it was discovered is likely to remain for some time.

“It’s difficult to explain at this point why it’s there, who dropped it. It’s not the sort of thing that you’d expect to be hanging out of the pockets of migratory fishers,” says Brake.

According to the former curator of the Bank of Canada’s Currency Museum, Paul Berry — who worked with the team studying the find — it was likely no longer in circulation when it was lost, but that doesn’t help provide answers as to how it got there.

Once conservation and study of the coin is complete, it will go on public display, likely at The Rooms museum in St. John’s. The find site, which is being kept secret to prevent would-be looters from harrying it, has not been archaeologically excavated yet, but may be in the future.

Hypocaust system in pristine condition found in Bonn

The remains of an underfloor heating system in exceptional condition has been discovered in the remains of a Roman building in Bonn, Germany. Private homes and baths with luxurious hypocaust heating are not uncommon finds in Germany — the upper classes were the first to adopt Roman culture and creature comforts in outlying territories — but this one is unique for its untouched state of preservation. The original floor is still in place over the hollow space, supported by regular pillars of tile (pilae stacks). Usually the floors over hypocaust systems have collapsed and the cavity filled with soil or debris. This is an extraordinary example of an undamaged hypocaust structure that appears, pardon the climate control pun, frozen in time.

The Roman building was unearthed in an archaeological survey at the site of gas and water works. An ancient Roman building was known to be in the area since finds first emerged in the 19th century, so archaeologists excavated the planned rout of the replacement gas and water pipes. Parts of the structure emerged quickly; it was closer to the surface than anyone realized. Three rooms were discovered, and painted wall plaster fragments indicate they were elaborately decorated.

The documentation of the cavity [in the hypocaust room] turned out to be difficult because it can only be seen through a narrow hole in the Roman floor. With the help of video cameras, it was possible to capture most of the cavity. In order to be able to understand the size of the cavity more precisely, the LVR-ABR carried out a measurement with the georadar. With this method it is possible to identify structures in the ground without the need for excavation. The radar image showed that the underfloor heating was located under a room with an apse. However, the full extent of the room and the heating system cannot be recorded here either, since the conditions on the surface limit the space for measurement.

Excavations at the end of the 19th century and in the 1920s and 1950s had already revealed walls and rooms that belonged to a stately Roman building. The building has so far been interpreted as a Roman country estate, a villa rustica. However, the new findings also make other functions appear possible. “Perhaps we are also dealing with a small bathing facility here, south of the Bonn legionary camp,” says Berthold. In order to be able to say more precisely, the results of the excavation must first be evaluated.

To preserve the hypocaust system in situ, archaeologists will be refilling the cavity using liquid soil, a special material that solidifies in a space but is easy to flush out like a liquid whenever needed. This will prevent the ground from subsiding and the cavity from collapsing, while making the invaluable site readily available for future archaeological explorations.

Terracotta dancers, musicians found in Northern Wei tomb

A tomb from the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534 A.D.) containing a rich group of pottery figurines has been discovered in Datong, Shanxi province, northeastern China. Tomb 113, unearthed in the center of a group of tombs, contained dozens of burial objects, mostly earthenware figurines. The figurines are led by pottery horsemen. Behind them is a full entourage of labourers, animals, objects of daily life, bullock carts and 10 Hu figurines, musicians, acrobats and dancers posted in dynamic forms.

Typical of Hu figurines from the Northern Wei, the players have deep, wide-set eyes and short, high noses. They wear long robes with round necks and narrow sleeves. The robes have slits at the bottom sides revealing the performers’ boots. A set of three female musicians is particularly striking. They are all seated and wearing a high cloche-shaped hat with a cross-shaped groove down the front and back. The hat is tied around the back of the head, and a little skirt covers the back of the neck underneath the hat’s tie.

Pingcheng (modern-day Datong) was the capital of the Northern Wei Dyanasty from 398 until 494. Under pressure from drought, repeated famines and incursions from the proto-Mongolic Rouran Khaganate to the north, Emperor Xiaowen moved the capital to Luoyang in 494 A.D. over the protests of his court. Luoyang had been a capital for several ruling dyasnties going back millennia and the Yellow River basin area was extensively settled and cultivated, unlike Pingcheng which was in the nomadic steppe. It remained a regional administrative center through the 520s, but its population and prosperity plummeted after the move.

The quantity and quality of pottery found in Tomb 113 indicates he was someone of high status in Northern Wei society. The style of the pottery vessels date it to the last years of Pingcheng as the capital.

Ancient Egyptian amulet seal found in Turkey

An obsidian amulet of Egyptian origin has been unearthed in the Roman-era remains of the ancient city of Amastris in northern Turkey. It was discovered in a Roman structure built out of marble in the 2nd century A.D. The amulet is the only artifact recovered from the structure.

The amulet is a pyramidal stamp seal with a square base. it is two centimeters (.78 inches) high with (.35 inches). The sides are carved with letters in demotic script. The base is incised with a figure of the Egyptian god Bes.

Bes was unusual in the ancient Egyptian pantheon because images of him appear in private homes, not just in religious and funerary contexts. He was the protector of the household, warding off evil spirits and paying particular attention to pregnant women and children. Much like an apotropaic figure from Greek mythology, the gorgoneion or head of Medusa, Bes was depicted facing forward with a fierce expression, mouth open and tongue out. This too makes him unusual among his peers in the pantheon as Egyptian deities were mostly depicted in profile.

The presence of Bes and the demotic inscriptions identify the object as a talisman carried to protect the owner from any and all manner of ills.

“We see that there is a figure depicting the god Bes, whom we know from the Egyptian religion, depicted with incised lines at the base of the work. On the upper part of the work, we see that there are letter characters and talismanic words from the ancient Egyptian religion called demotic. The letter characters on the work probably represent this meaning of protection. As a kind of talismanic object, we can define it as an object that a person wears to be protected from evil and diseases or in whatever sense he wants to be protected. We can say that it is the only example of its kind found from the Roman layer in Anatolia during excavations,” [Associate professor Fatma Bağdatlı Çam, head of the Archeology Department of the Faculty of Literature at Bartın University] said.

Çam stated that the discovery of the artifact is an important and exciting development for archaeologists.

“We will investigate what this seal means and whether the person wearing it is a priest, a religious official, or whether someone carries it for health and safety purposes. Perhaps we will find out whether a soldier in the legion brought it here (after) his mission in the east.”