Gold, carnelian necklaces found in Bronze Age double grave

A double grave from the Late Bronze Age containing three gold and carnelian necklaces has been unearthed at the archaeological site of Metsamor in western Armenia. The skeletal remains of two adults were discovered in a cist (a stone-lined box built into the earth) that also contained the rare remains of a wooden burial bed. The grave dates to 1300–1200 B.C.

Excavations in the necropolis were carried out in grave No. 23 (chamber dimensions 2.50 x 2.10 m). It is well preserved, covered with a flooring of medium-sized stones. Under it, a burial chamber lined with medium and large stones, oriented from east to west, was unearthed. In the burial chamber on the burial bed, in a twisted state, two human skeletons were found, touching in the area of ​​the pelvic bones. One of the skeletons lay on the right side, the other on the left. In the same layer, 10 solid ceramic vessels were found. Some of the vessels were under the stretcher. As a result of soft tissue rotting, the osteological material ended up on the vessels. In the lower layer, 8 more ceramic items were found, of which the rarest is a small bluish-green glazed vessel with two through holes in the upper part of the body. Cylindrical and spherical beads, bead separators, pendants made of gold, carnelian, amber and tin were found on the neck and chest of the skeletons. Bronze bracelets were found on the wrist of one of them, and tin buckles were found in the abdomen.

A ring made of thin tin wire was found on the wrist of skeleton No. 2. Preliminary research shows that the skeletons of a man and a woman were excavated in the grave chamber. A preliminary study of the archaeological material makes it possible to date the burial to the last quarter of the 2nd millennium BC.

The Bronze Age citadel of Metsamor was built on a hill overlooking the Ararat plain. We don’t know by whom, exactly, as the inhabitants were not literate and left no written documentation behind. In the past decade, a joint team of Polish and Armenian archaeologists excavating the citadel and the lower town have found evidence of occupation in settlements from the Early Bronze Age through the Middle Ages.

When it was at the peak of its population and size in the 4th to the 2nd millennium B.C., the settlement occupied more than 10 hectares and was encircled by cyclopean walls. It continued to expand and grow, reaching nearly 100 hectares in the early Iron Age (11-9th century B.C.). With at least seven temples in the citadel, Metsamor was one of the most important political and cultural centers in the valley.

The necropolis was a third of a mile east of the cyclopean walled perimeter of the settlement. It has been excavated since the 1960s, revealing more than 100 burials from the Middle Bronze Age to the Iron Age. The cist and box graves predominate, but there are also kurgans (burial mounds) and cromlechs (stones arranged in a circular pattern on top of a burial chamber).

The double grave was excavated in the September-October 2022 excavation of the necropolis. The deceased were around 30-40 years old when they died. There is no evidence that the grave was ever reopened, which means the couple died at the same time. There is no obvious cause of death to explain this timing.

The grave is richly appointed and by a lucky break, was never looted in antiquity, a rarity in this context. Only a few of the graves in the necropolis have managed to avoid grave robbers over the millennia, which makes this burial even more significant because of the density of archaeological material that might shed new light on the funerary practices, trade links and lifestyles of Metsamor’s Bronze Age inhabitants.

Mudlark finds Bronze Age toddler’s shoe

A 3,000-year-old toddler’s shoe discovered on a foreshore in North Kent may be the oldest shoe in the British Isles. The previous record-holder, found in a quarry in Somerset in 2005, was a mere 2,000 years old. The tiny shoe may also be the smallest Bronze Age shoe discovered anywhere in the world.

It was discovered by archaeologist Steve Tomlinson while mudlarking last September on a beach he prefers not to name. The ovoid piece of leather looked to him like the sole of a small shoe and he and fellow archaeologist Emily Brown speculated that it could be early Medieval based on the type of shoe construction. Following a hunch that this little object could be something very old and meaningful, Tomlinson sent it to Scotland for carbon dating. The results of the radiocarbon analysis found that their speculation had been far too restrained. The shoe is not early Medieval, but rather dates to between 888 and 781 B.C., the Late Bronze Age period.

The shoe is 15 cm (six inches) long which would make it a UK toddler size 7 (US toddler size 8-8.5), the size worn by children about two or three years old. A micro-CT scan of the shoe revealed it was made of at least two layers, maybe three. An X-ray found that the bottom of the shoe is imprinted with a woven textile pattern, indicating it was wrapped in fabric for a long time.

During the last few months the shoe has been conserved by Dana Goodburn Brown (pictured), an accredited Archaeological Conservator at DGB Conservation.

She says: “This late Bronze Age shoe is awaiting further possible scientific investigations and conservation stabilisation treatment. If allowed to dry out with no treatment it would likely to shrink and become very brittle. Further analysis might be to identify the type of animal the leather was made from, or indeed different animal leathers might have been used to construct the child’s shoe. […]

“A further look at the textile impression and pattern of the woven material as seen on the X-radiograph taken by James Elliot at the Canterbury Christchurch Diagnostic Radiography Dept might reveal more information about the textile associated with the shoe. The type of leather might be determined by looking at the pattern of pores for the hair follicles, if visible, and/or DNA analysis. Whether and how the leather was treated to last (tanning), or rawhide might be discovered through chemical analysis. If adhesive was used to stick the layers together, may also be found.

When the scientific analyses are complete, the shoe is expected to go the British Museum.

I hope it is of some consolation to my mother that 3,000 years from now someone may finally find that little white and red checked shoe I threw out the window of a moving vehicle and enshrine it in one of the world’s foremost museums.

Iron Age burials found under Highlands cottage kitchen

Human remains discovered under the floorboards of a historic beach cottage kitchen in Applecross in the west Highlands of Scotland have been confirmed to date to the Iron Age about 2,000 years ago. The remains, found during renovations on the building in 2015, were initially believed to be around 200 years old, but radiocarbon dating revealed them to be 10 times older.

The bones were discovered when the floorboards of the kitchen in the Old Estate Office, a listed property built around 1820 on the shoreline of Applecross Bay, were torn up. Under the floor construction crews encountered a skull. The property owners called in archaeologist Cathy Dagg to excavate the find site. The team found more than they expected.

“When we got there and started cleaning it up, we realised there were a lot of skeletal remains there. When we laid them out we realised we had three lower jaw bones, so it was a multiple burial.

“There was a huge number of bone fragments because it was very mashed and really hard to work out what belonged to each skeleton.” […]

Although they were not full skeletons, archaeologists were able to determine that the bones had belonged to a total of six different people.

Applecross is home to the remains of an Iron Age broch/roundhouse that was reused and rebuilt in phases for hundreds of years. Excavations of the broch have found a wide range of artifacts, but no burials. The soil of Applecross and the west coast of the Highlands in general is very acidic, an inimical environment for the survival of bone. The only human remains discovered in six years of digs were a few fragments of burned bones in a cist found in an industrial metalworking area northwest of the broch mound.

Ms Dagg explained that the burial site had been so well preserved because it was on a raised beach with no soil.

“It was very dry,” she added. “We don’t get Iron Age burials surviving because our soils are very acidic over here so they spoil the bone.”

The six skeletons had been further protected by being under the property for hundreds of years, during its time as a merchant’s house, an estate office and a family home

Today the Estate Office is available for vacation bookings as a self-catering beach house and is a quaint stone cottage with creamy clean interiors. The company paid for the excavation and for the radiocarbon dating, so I wonder if they’ll start leaning into a more gothic pitch now that the renovation has exposed the Iron Age burial ground under the wide-plank hardwoods and stainless steel double fridges of the cottagecore kitchen.

France’s first public ladies room restored

The Lavatory de la Madeleine, the first public toilet in France, has been restored to its belle époque splendor. Visitors will be able to urinate surrounded by floral stained glass windows, glossy mahogany paneling, brass taps, painted ceramic ceiling tiles, mirrored hexagonal pilasters and mosaic floors. They can enjoy period Art Nouveau posters and a display case of other period ephemera while they wait.

The toilets were built in 1905 underneath the Place de la Madeleine in 8th arrondissement of Paris by bathroom designers Porcher. They were showpieces, meant to convey the elegance, beauty and innovation of French design to meet the most lowly of public needs. Inspired by the luxurious public lavatories of Victorian London, it was decorated in Art Nouveau style whose characteristic stylized botanicals adorn the tiles, stained glass and paneling. This Madeleine facility was a women’s restroom. The men’s equivalent across the square is no longer a bathroom, repurposed to install technical equipment for the metro. The ladies room was converted into a unisex facility in the 1990s when some of the stalls were converted into urinals.

The Lavatory de la Madeleine were granted historic monument status in March 2011, just in time to be closed by the city. The mayor of the 8th arrondissement protested the closure, believing the bathroom could be a draw for tourism, but the city found that the traffic was too low (350 visits a day) to justify the maintenance costs. It was also impossible to make the toilets accessible while maintaining their historic character due to the entrance staircase and small stalls.

In 2015, the city council agreed to restore and reopen six exceptional historic toilets in Paris, in the Madeleine facility. Madeleine posed many challenges. It had been used as a rubbish dump after its closure and water infiltration problems caused damage so extensive that it has taken all this time to repair, and they’re not quite done yet. The mosaic entrance is still cracked and is now being studied to determine the cause of the problem before it is restored next year.

The restoration of the woodwork, glass and tiles was finally completed last month but the toilets, sinks and taps have been replaced with similar modern models. An old shoe-shine chair, preserved on the site, adds to the impression of entering a grand “throne room”.

This elevated excretory experience will cost you, unlike the other 435 public toilets in Paris which are free of charge. “You get what you pay for” applies here, however, perhaps better here than in any other context I’ve ever heard of. The €2 fee will cover the cost of an attendant and maintenance personnel tasked to clean the bathroom after every single visit. This will ensure it does not fall into gross disrepair again.

52-foot complete Book of the Dead papyrus revealed

A 52-foot-long papyrus scroll of the Book of the Dead discovered in the necropolis of Saqqara is the first complete ancient papyrus found in Egypt in 100 years. It was found last year inside the coffin of man named Ahmose who died around 300 B.C., the early Ptolemaic era (305-30 B.C.). His tomb was discovered just south of the Step Pyramid of Djoser (ca. 2611 B.C.), a landmark which remained a popular site for burials of the Egyptian elite for millennia.

The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities announced the discovery of the papyrus a month ago, but much to everyone in the world’s crushing disappointment, there were no photographs released. News stories were forced to use photos of other papyri to illustrate the story. That’s why I didn’t post about it at the time, to spare you the heartbreak of reading about something so cool without getting so much as a glimpse of it.

After the scroll was stabilized and moistened by experts in the laboratory of the Egyptian Museum, it was carefully unrolled. The Ministry has now released the first photographs of the complete papyrus and they are nothing short of breathtaking. The condition of the scroll is unbelievable. The details of text and illustration are sharp and undamaged. I only wish the pictures were bigger and covered more ground. Here’s hoping for a full scanning and digitization in ultra-high resolution. The unrolled scroll has now gone on display in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

The Book of the Dead is a set of religious funerary texts that were meant to guide the deceased into the underworld. It includes incantations of the gods, songs, prayers and a roadmap of what the souls of the dead will encounter during their journey — the judgment of the gods, punishments, rewards, etc. Any ancient Egyptian who could afford it paid priests to produce a customized Book of the Dead mentioning the deceased by name. Ahmose’s name appears in the script 260 times.

The text is written in hieratic, a cursive form of hieroglyphics that was the predominant writing system in daily life. It is the longest hieratic papyrus from this period ever found in Saqqara. The text is primarily written in black ink with a few highlights in red. It contains 113 chapters from the Book of the Dead written in 150 columns of various lengths and widths. The first 15 inches of the scroll are blank space; the book then opens with a large scene depicting Ahmose worshipping Osiris. The penmanship is excellent and the columns divided to form neat groupings with space for accompanying illustrations. This indicates the book was written by accomplished (and expensive) professionals.