Fish sauce, new amphora type identified on Roman wreck

The first in-depth analysis of the cargo of the 4th century Roman shipwreck found off the coast of Mallorca in 2019 has been published in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences. Researchers took a multipronged approach to the analysis, using petrographic analysis to determine the origin of the amphorae, residue analysis to determine their contents and wood and plant analysis on the ship’s hold. They were able to determine that the boat likely departed from Cartagena in southeastern Spain carrying a cargo of fish sauce, olive oil and wine in four different types of amphora, including one that hasn’t been found anywhere else before. It has been named a Ses Fontanelles I amphora after the find site.

Because the ship is exceptionally well-preserved, many painted inscriptions (tituli picti, on the exterior of the amphorae have survived. They identify the manufacturers, Ausonius et Alunni, and the contents: Liq Fos, short for liquamen flos (flowers of liquamen). At the time this ship was transporting goods, liquamen was a fish sauce distinct from garum, the fermented fish condiment that was ubiquitous in Roman repasts. (From the 5th century the two would become synonymous.)

Fish sauces were produced in large-scale fish processing centers all long the Mediterranean basin. Spain dominated the trade in the western empire in the 1st and 2nd centuries. Spanish garum amphorae have been found from northern Africa to Hadrian’s Wall. We know from the large number of amphorae found in the homes and commercial establishments of Pompeii that garum was the most popular with about a quarter of the amphorae containing garum. Liquamen was the second most popular.

The analysis of the ichthyofauna has contributed to understand that this fish sauce was basically prepared with small engraulidae particularly anchovies but with presence of sardine. It is possible that also a, so far, invisible cargo occupied part of the space in the galley (Munar Llabrés et al. 2022). These products were carefully stowed in the hold of the merchant ship using vine shoots and herbaceous plants as dunnage for protection.

Romano-German hybrid deity found in Stuttgart

Excavations at the site of a Roman fort in Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt have unearthed a heavily worn sandstone statue identified by the State Office for Monument Preservation (LAD) as a Romano-Germanic deity. The kneeling figure has a human head and arms, with hands placed on the hips and legs, but the legs are not human in form. They morph into the shape of a snake.

The LAD’s senior archaeologist, Dr. Andreas Thiel, explained: “The figure is a hybrid creature of the Roman-Germanic world of gods, a so-called ‘giant’. As comparable finds show, the figure was once part of a giant Jupiter column. These monuments combine classical antiquity with probably Germanic beliefs: Jupiter, throwing lightning bolts, rides on his horse over a figure crouching on the ground, usually naked and bearded, as can be seen, for example, in a group from Hausen an der Zaber in the Heilbronn district .” However, the creature beneath the horse is often depicted in a pose that seems to be supporting the horse above him. “These groups of figures crowned high stone pillars placed in public squares. “Jupiter is probably depicted here as the weather god and master of the forces of nature,” says Thiel.

Archaeologists have been excavating the site in advance of the expansion of a municipal school. The Roman cavalry fort in the area was occupied from around 100 to 150 A.D., and that grew into a wider civilian settlement occupied until around 260 A.D. The site had been excavated before, and indeed, in a 1908 dig on the edge of the current excavation another part of the high pillar was discovered: a large sculpted base known as the “Four Gods Stone” because it depicted the Roman deities Juno, Minerva, Mercury and Hercules. It was found in a well at the site, and the water helped erode the fragile sandstone to the point that you can’t really make out the figures of the four gods.

Today the Four Gods Stone is in the storage depot of the Württemberg State Museum as it’s not much of a show pony given all the wear and tear. Now that the giant has been found, however, the two pieces together increase each other’s archaeological significance exponentially.

Overall, it is a great stroke of luck that the newly found giant can be linked to a fragment that has long been stored in the Württemberg State Museum depot. This makes it possible to reconstruct a Jupiter giant column that was once placed in the area of ​​an important street intersection in the Roman settlement of Bad Cannstatt. For archaeologists, this is another piece of the puzzle of the state capital Stuttgart’s rich Roman past.

Bottles of cherries found at Washington’s Mount Vernon

Two 18th century glass bottles of cherries have been discovered in the cellar of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. The dark green glass bottles were found still sealed and upright. Their shape dates them to the 1740s or 50s, and since a brick floor was laid above them in the 1770s, that means they haven’t seen the light of day since before the Revolutionary War.

Mount Vernon Principal Archaeologist Jason Boroughs said, “This incredible discovery at Mount Vernon is a significant archaeological find. Not only did we recover intact, sealed bottles, but they contained organic material that can provide us with valuable insight and perspective into 18th-century lives at Mount Vernon. These bottles have the potential to enrich the historic narrative, and we’re excited to have the contents analyzed so we can share this discovery with fellow researchers and the visiting public.”

After the bottles were unearthed, each was carefully removed and transported to the Mount Vernon archaeology lab. Upon consultation with archaeological conservators, it was determined that removing the liquid contents would help stabilize the glass, which had not been directly exposed to the atmosphere for approximately two centuries. Cherries, including stems and pits, were preserved within the liquid contents, which still bore the characteristic scent of cherry blossoms familiar to residents of the region during the spring season.

The excavation is part of the Mansion Revitalization Project, a privately-funded $40 million comprehensive repair and preservation effort that will address long-standing structural problems, install a new heat, air conditioning and ventilation system and improve drainage around the cellar. Archaeologists are investigating areas that may be disrupted by the work to salvage any artifacts and remains.

The bottles will be at Mount Vernon until the end of the month, after which the bottles will undergo conservation while samples of the contents will be shipped to a laboratory for further scientific analysis.

4,200-year-old “zombie grave” found in Saxony-Anhalt

Archaeologists have found a Neolithic “revenant grave” near Oppin in Saxony-Anhalt. The deceased was pinned under a large stone to prevent him rising from the grave to wreak havoc with the living. Precise dating has yet to be done, but evidence suggests it is a Bell Beaker culture grave from around 4,200 years ago. If the preliminary dating proves accurate, this is the first deviant burial from the period discovered in central Germany.

Excavations in advance of power line expansion work uncovered the grave of an adult male between 40 and 60 years old. There were no grave goods interred with him. He was placed on his left side with his legs bent and a large stone across his lower legs. The stone is more than three feet long, a foot-and-a-half wide, four inches high and weighs 110 pounds. The heavy weight and broad coverage was intended to prevent the deceased from rising from his grave.

“We know that even in the Stone Age people were afraid of unpleasant revenants. People wanted to prevent that with magic,” said project manager and archaeologist Susanne Friederich. “There are graves where the corpse even lies on its stomach. Back then, people believed that dead people sometimes tried to free themselves from their graves. If it lies on its stomach, it burrows deeper and deeper instead of rising to the surface “There are also dead bodies lying on their stomachs who were also pierced with a lance, so they were practically fixed in the ground,” explained Friederich.

Friederich and her team unearthed another apparent revenant burial in the Oppin area last November, albeit a much more recent one, dating to the 2nd or 3rd century. Three heavy stones had been placed on the deceased’s legs. A bronze fibula was found in the grave, so he was no pauper. The skeletal remains of a woman were found nearby without anti-revenant measures. There’s also the outline of a house near the two burials, so it seems likely the two people may have resided there.

The skeletal remains have been recovered from the Neolithic grave and are being transferred to a laboratory in Halle for further study. Excavations along the expansion route of the power line are ongoing and they have a lot of ground to cover, more than 90 miles through Saxony-Anhalt alone (335 miles in total). The excavations are planned to continue through 2025. 

Roman colonnaded street found in Antalya

A long stretch of a Roman colonnaded street has been discovered in the resort town of Antalya, southern Turkey. So far a section of wall 100 meters (328 feet) long has been uncovered, but archaeologists expect to find much more, up to 800 meters (half a mile) of the colonnaded wall.

The massive wall was unearthed during an excavation of around the Hıdırlık Tower, a landmark of the city that was built in the 2nd century A.D. and is the one of the oldest surviving monuments in the city. Located at the intersection of the city walls and the sea wall, the original square base may have been built as early as the Hellenistic period (323 – 32 B.C.). It took its final form in the Roman era, (1st or 2nd century A.D.) when the circular second story was built, giving it the shape and height it has now.

Its original purpose is uncertain, but the currently scholarly consensus is that it was a mausoleum built for the family of Marcus Calpurnius Rufus, an important senatorial and consular family in the 1st century. The Byzantines converted it into a defensive tower, integrating it into the city walls. In subsequent eras it was also used as a lighthouse.

Today it is a beloved symbol of the city. Starting in 2020, the municipality embarked on a project of conservation and excavation, ensuring the long-term stability of the tower and archaeologically exploring the immediately surrounding area. So far, the remains of baths, mosaic floors and a Cretan ice factory have been unearthed. The city plans to build wooden walkways and an observation deck over the underground remains that will be Turkey’s largest.

The structural work on the tower is almost complete, and the observation deck is scheduled to open this summer. Meanwhile, the excavation is ongoing and archaeologists hope to uncover the full length of the surviving colonnaded wall.