Anglo-Saxon burial ground sheds light on “Dark Ages”

June 17th, 2022

Archaeologists excavating a site along the new HS2 high-speed rail route in Wendover, Buckinghamshire, have unearthed a nationally important early Anglo-Saxon burial ground. Containing 138 graves with 141 inhumations and five cremation burials, it is the one of the largest Anglo-Saxon burial grounds ever discovered. It is also the richest, with almost 3/4s of the graves furnished with high-quality goods, including more than 2,000 beads, 89 brooches, 40 buckles, 51 knives, 15 spearheads and seven shield bosses.

Almost all of the skeletal remains were found with two brooches on the collarbone, used to fasten a garment at the shoulder. The brooches come in a variety of designs — silver coin brooches, gilt disc brooches, square-headed brooches. Other valuable grave goods include two cone beakers of the Kempston type with a raised horizontal trail decoration, a footed pedestal bückelurn (meaning “bossed pot”) with three protruding horns and decorated with cross stamps. The cross-stamped decoration was a common Anglo-Saxon motif; the three horns are unique. Also unique is a ceramic window urn with reused Roman glass embedded into the bottom.

Some of the items uncovered could have been imported from across Europe, such as amber beads, and various metals and raw materials used to make the artefacts. Two glass cone beakers were uncovered intact, which are similar to vessels made in Northern France, although they were also making them in England at the time. The beakers, which would have been used for drinking liquids such as wine, may suggest the people there had access to fine beverages from abroad. The vessels have decorative trails in the glass and are comparable to the “Kempston” type cone beaker, uncovered in Bedfordshire in 1891, with one currently on display in the British Museum.

One individual, a female, was discovered with a vast array of goods, the quality of which suggest that she was of high-status amongst the buried population at the site. She was buried with a complete ornate glass bowl made of pale green glass, thought to be made around the turn of the 5thcentury, so could have been an heirloom from the Roman era. Other burial items included multiple rings made of copper alloy, a silver ‘zoomorphic’ ring, brooches, discs, iron belt fittings and objects made of ivory. […]

Archaeologists noted how the goods with each burial appeared to be tailored to each individual – suggesting the items would have held some relevance and significance to the deceased and the mourners at the graveside.  A number of grooming items were discovered, such as toiletry sets consisting of ear wax removers and toothpicks, tweezers, combs and even a cosmetic tube that could have contained a substance used as eyeliner or similar.

One warrior burial is a particular highlight. The young man, about 17-24 years old when he died, was found with a sharp iron spearhead embedded in his spine. This was probably what killed him. Osteological examination suggests the blow came from the front.

The grave goods excavated date to the 5th and 6th century, so very soon after the Roman withdrawal in 410 A.D. The period between the end of Roman rule and the establishment of Saxon rule in the late 6th century is known as sub-Roman Britain. Contemporary written records from sub-Roman Britain consist of exactly three sources: two letters written by Saint Patrick in the 5th century (Confession and Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus), and On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain, a fiery polemic written by Saint Gildas in the first half of the 6th century. There are gaps in the archaeological record of this period as well, so the skeletal remains and grave goods are invaluable testaments to the lives and deaths of the Anglo-Saxon elite of sub-Roman Britain.

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Up close with the Ryedale Hoard

June 16th, 2022

The Yorkshire Museum is hosting a series of online expert lectures and curatorial talks dedicated to the Ryedale Hoard, the unique group of ritual bronzes used in ceremonies of the imperial cult in the late 2nd century that the museum was able to acquire last year. The hoard went on display to the public for the first time when the museum reopened in April. The lecture series runs in conjunction with The Ryedale Hoard: A Roman Mystery. There will be one online talk a month until the exhibition ends in March 2023.

Each episode in the series is first livestreamed on the museum’s YouTube channel and Facebook page. The lectures are following by a Q&A period where viewers can ask questions in the comments. The recorded lecture is then posted on YouTube.   

There have been two so far. The first video is hosted by Professor Michael Lewis, head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme at the British Museum, and delves into how Treasure is defined in terms of the 1996 Treasure Act. This is relevant to the Ryedale Hoard because it failed to qualify as official Treasure despite its undisputed antiquity and unprecedented archaeological importance and was only saved for the public patrimony thanks to Richard Beleson, a generous supporter of the Yorkshire Museum. Lewis lays out the processes of the PAS and explains how archaeological treasures can fall through the cracks, using examples some bloggers you know might have obsessed over once or twice.

The first talk doesn’t really get into the particulars of the Ryedale Hoard, however. That’s what the second one does. It is hosted by the Yorkshire Museum’s curator of archaeology Lucy Creighton. She covers the discovery of the objects by two metal detectorists, how they realized they had found something really special, then goes into detail about the objects themselves, holding them up to the camera to point out features that are not necessarily conveyed in still photographs. She points out a peg embedded in the hoof of the horse and rider figure that would have originally been slotted into a base with a flat surface, for example, and shows a piece of bronze found inside the head of the Marcus Aurelius bust that was once the back of the head.

The next online lecture looks excellent as well. Metals, Making and Magic: The Smith in Roman Britain will be delivered by Dr. Owen Humphreys on July 21st. Sign up here to receive notices of future lectures. I did last month, forgot all about it, and remembered only after I received the museum’s reminder email linking to the discussion. 

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1,300-year-old shipwreck found in France

June 15th, 2022

Archaeologists have discovered the wreck of a ship that navigated the Garonne river in southwestern France in the 7th-8th century. The wooden ship was unearthed buried under the bed of the Estey de Lugan, a silted-over stream outside the city of Bordeaux. The thick, water-logged clay has preserved the organic materials of the ship, including some rope fittings, for 1,300 years. There is almost no surviving written history chronicling navigation methods from the period, so the survival of this shipwreck is a unique testimonial to naval design in early medieval France.

The wreck is about 40 feet long, out of an estimated original length of about 50 feet when it was intact. The keel and dimensions indicate it was a cargo ship capable of both river and coastal navigation. It has a flat floor that would have allowed it to carry bulk goods. Both oak and softwood were used to construct it.

INRAP archaeologists will first document the ship in meticulous detail with photogrammetry, a 3D virtual model numbering and recording every individual piece of wood. The planks will be dismantled and numbered so that they can be reconstructed once stabilized and conserved.

The removal of the wreck will give archaeologists the unprecedented opportunity to study how it was constructed and how it navigated the waterways. The team will also be able to study the waterways themselves. The ship was found in a relatively remote area, a stream that was already non-navigable when it was documented in the 18th century. That a cargo vessel would take to a small stream off the Garonne attests to how these marshy areas near major waterways were used by trade vessels.

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Bronze Age hits keep coming at Sanxingdui

June 14th, 2022

The spectacular hits just keep coming in the excavation of sacrificial pits 7 and 8 at the Sanxingdui Bronze Age archaeological site in Guanghan City, Sichuan Province, southwest China. At least 10 of the artifacts unearthed are one-of-a-kind. Highlights among the most recent finds include a bronze altar, a box containing a large piece of jade and a sculpture five feet high that is the first artifact of its kind ever discovered at the site.

Nearly 13,000 objects made of bronze, gold, jade and ivory have been found thus far since excavation of the six sacrificial pits began in 2020. The vast majority of the artifacts were deliberately broken and bear marks from having been struck and burned before burial. Only 2,400 artifacts of the 13,000 were discovered intact. The archaeological team plans to make copies of the objects and experiment with different destruction and burning approaches to see how the ancient Shu people of the Yangtze River civilization decommissioned the Sanxingdui artifacts for sacrifice 3,100 years ago.

Speaking of which, four of the sacrificial pits (3,4, 7 and 8) have now been conclusively dated to the late Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 B.C.). Carbon-14 analysis of 200 samples taken from the pits returned a tight date range for the burial ages of between 1,131 B.C. and 1,012 B.C. Pits 5 and 6 are older, but still late in the Shang Dynasty. The excavation of pit No. 7 is almost complete. The excavation of pit 8 is about halfway done. The most recent finds come from these two pits.

The exquisitely-crafted bronze altar was unearthed this weekend from Pit No. 8. It is approximately three feet high and consists of a platform base with openwork decoration with a top section decorated with bronze mythical creatures in a sacrificial scene. The two pieces were found separately. The upper part was recovered on Saturday, June 11th, and the base emerged the next day.

The bronze five-foot bronze sculpture was also found in Pit No. 8. It was cast in three parts that were then welded together. The central section features an anthropomorphic head with bulging eyes and tusks on a snake body. (Human-headed snake figures are characteristic of the Shu culture.) The figure is positioned head-down, his raised hands holding the lower section: an urn-shaped wine vessel (lei) on a square base. The uppermost section is a zun, a trumpet-shaped drinking vessel, painted vermillion. The complex iconography attests to a mythological world dense with characters and imagery.

Another unique object was discovered in pit No. 7: a bronze box with tortoise shell-shaped lattice lids hinged together on one side that encased a large piece of green jade. The box has handles in the shape of dragon heads and two or three bronze streamers that look like realistic ties. Microtrace analysis revealed that the box was originally wrapped in silk.

Most of the objects recovered from pit No. 7 are smaller pieces, but no less artfully crafted. One piece found in the northeast corner of the pit this March was a paper-thin folded sheet of bronze. Literally paper-thin; the same thickness as a sheet of A4 paper. Ancient bronze craftsmen in China often cast objects by creating two opposing clay moulds and then pouring the bronze into the gap between them, which is why most of the Sanxingdui bronzes were very thick. The folded bronze paper cannot have been produced using this technology. Archaeologists will have to do a metallurgic analysis of it (and other fragments of thin bronze found in pit 7) to determine how it was made. Right now the preliminary speculation is that it was forged.

Sichuan has begun construction of a new museum in  Guanghan City to house, secure and study these remarkable archaeological materials. It is being built right next to the sacrificial pits and the current museum which is no longer adequate to house the massive collection of objects. The new museum will cover 55,000 square meters, five times the size of the current museum, making it the largest single museum building in southwestern China. It is expected to be completed in October 2023.

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Frog mass grave found at Iron Age site

June 13th, 2022

Archaeologists have unearthed more than 8,000 frog and toad bones buried in a ditch at an Iron Age site near Cambridge, UK. They were found in a trench 45 feet long adjacent to the remains of a roundhouse in the Iron Age settlement at Bar Hill. Frog bones have been found before at archaeological sites in England, but they are individual examples, a single frog bone here and there. A mass burial is unprecedented.

The frog grave was found about three feet under the surface. It was not a trash heap; only a smattering of household waste, mainly pottery sherds, was found in the ditch. The bones are mostly common frog and common toad bones, species that are widely distributed throughout the country. Mass burials of animal bones found at prehistoric sites are usually the result of ceremonial feasting, but an insatiable predilection for cuisses de grenouille is unlikely to be the case here.

The archaeologists say that, while there is evidence of amphibian consumption in Britain dating to the stone age, these bones have no cuts or burn marks. If the frogs had been boiled, however, this may not have left traces.

Evidence of charred grain found near the site suggests that its inhabitants were processing crops that would attract pests such as beetles and aphids, which frogs are known to eat. So perhaps the frogs were drawn to the area by the promise of food, the archaeologists suggest.

Other potential explanations include “a prehistoric frog tragedy”. The archaeologists say that frogs are known to move in large numbers in spring in search of breeding waters and these could have fallen into the ditch and become trapped.

According to one hypothesis, the unusual death toll might also have been caused by winter hardship. While hibernating frogs sometimes hide in the mud, extreme cold can kill them and perhaps they fell victim to a particularly severe winter.

The roundhouse was in use in the Late Iron Age (from 400 B.C. – 43 A.D.), but it is not clear when the frogs were buried within that range. It could have been an accumulation over an extended period of time.

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Wreck of 17th c. royal warship found off Norfolk

June 12th, 2022

Danckerts, Johan, c.1615-1687; The Wreck of the 'Gloucester' off Yarmouth, 6 May 1682. Photo courtesy  National Maritime Museum.The wreck of the warship HMS Gloucester which sank in 1682 carrying the future James II of England and James VII of Scotland, has been discovered off the coast of Norfolk. James survived. The 50-gun frigate and 200 souls on board did not.

The younger brother of King Charles II, James, Duke of York, was heir to the throne as Charles had no legitimate issue. James had converted to Catholicism in the late 1660s, however, and the news broke in 1673 when James refused to disavow Catholic doctrine and resigned as Lord High Admiral. With tensions over ostensible Catholic treason plots rising and parliament on the verge of passing a bill to exclude James from the succession, Charles dispatched his brother to temporary exile in Scotland in 1679.

In 1682, Charles, who had suffered a stroke and was feeling his mortality, asked James to meet with him in London. The meeting went well and Charles gave James permission to pick up his pregnant wife in Edinburgh and move in with him in the Palace of Whitehall. The HMS Gloucester departed Portsmouth for Edinburgh with the Duke of York and a passel of high-ranking noblemen on board.

HMS Gloucester ran aground on a sandbar off  Great Yarmouth in the early morning of May 6th. The weather was blustery and the sandbars in the area are constantly shifting making them hard to avoid, especially for a ship going at a brisk six knots. Pushed by a strong easterly wind, Gloucester was driven into the sand until the rudder snapped and the ship split down the keel. Less than an hour after hitting the sandbank, the ship was fully submerged. A few hours later, the majority of the 330 crew and passengers were dead.

James made it out unscathed, but not before playing a pivotal role in the delays that cost at least 200 people their lives. There was a flotilla accompanying the Gloucester — five other frigates and four royal yachts — and while the seas were choppy, a rapid rescue operation would still have been possible. James did not want to abandon ship at first, preferring to wait in the hope that it could be salvaged, and protocol required that royalty had to be evacuated before everyone else. He only left the Gloucester when it was minutes away from sinking under the waves. Even then he privileged the rescue of the strongbox containing his memoirs, putting it on a boat deliberately not filled to capacity to minimize the risk of it capsizing.

The exact location of the wreck was never documented, and 325 years would pass before its remains were spotted by divers Julian and Lincoln Barnwell and their friend James Little.

The Barnwell brothers are Norfolk-based printers, licensed divers and Honorary Fellows in the School of History at UEA. Lincoln said he was partly inspired to search for the wreck after watching the lifting of the Mary Rose on television as a child.

“It was our fourth dive season looking for Gloucester,” he said. “We were starting to believe that we were not going to find her, we’d dived so much and just found sand. On my descent to the seabed the first thing I spotted were large cannon laying on white sand, it was awe- inspiring and really beautiful.

“It instantly felt like a privilege to be there, it was so exciting. We were the only people in the world at that moment in time who knew where the wreck lay. That was special and I’ll never forget it. Our next job was to identify the site as the Gloucester.”

Another five years would pass before they were able to confirm the wreck’s identity when they recovered the ship’s bell. The find has been kept under wraps all this time because it is in International waters and maritime archaeologists wanted to be able to explore the wreck without drawing the attention of looters.

Artefacts rescued and conserved include clothes and shoes, navigational and other professional naval equipment, personal possessions, and many wine bottles.

One of the wine bottles bears a glass seal with iconography that connects it to a passenger onboard, Colonel George Legge, Master of Ordnance and Groom of the Bedchamber to the Duke of York.

Legge was the son of Elizabeth Washington, and the Washington crest on the wine bottle, with its distinctive ‘stars and stripes’, links it and the ship to the most famous member of the family, George Washington, the first US President. The design is found on the Purple Heart, a US decoration awarded in the name of the President to those wounded or killed while serving with the military.

Some of the wine bottles were recovered intact and still sealed with wine inside. Researchers will attempt to extract and analyze their contents while the investigation of the Gloucester’s archaeological remains and historical records continues.

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Brazenly looted Maya frieze restored

June 11th, 2022

A monumental stucco frieze looted from the Late Classic Maya site of Los Placeres in the jungles of Campeche is the final stage of a four-year restoration that aims to return it to the condition it was in before it was plundered.

Made between 450 and 600 A.D., the frieze features a central mask representing a youthful ruler guarded on each side by two deified elderly men, likely representing ancestors, extending to the ruler power and virility. It was vividly painted and much of the polychrome paint remained when it was looted in 1968.

The removal of the Placeres Frieze was one of the most brazen looting and trafficking operations of all time, if not the most. It all started with an art dealer in New York City. A former US Air Force pilot during World War II, the dealer heard about the façade hidden in the jungle and organized a team to loot it. His man on the ground was Lee Moore, an orchid collector who had traveled extensively through Central America pursuing his obsession.

But smuggling a stucco frieze more than 27 feet long and eight feet high that has been attached to a temple for 1500 years is far more complex than smuggling a rare plant. You can’t just hike through the jungle with it in your backpack. For this job, the looters had to clear a stretch of jungle and create an airstrip out of it to even make it possible to transport the massive frieze out of the country.

A looting crew was deployed to the Placeres archaeological site, then completely overtaken by jungle growth. They cleared the façade of plant matter, coated it in Mowilith, a polymer plaster, to keep the surface from disintegrating, then sawed it off the temple with wood saws. We know all of this because the entire operation was photographed in detail. That’s right. They meticulously documented their illegal destruction and theft of an ancient archaeological site.

The looters cut the frieze into 48 pieces and loaded onto a plane bound for Miami. Its eventual destination was New York City where it would be offered for sale to the Metropolitan Museum of Art which was then preparing a major exhibition of pre-Hispanic art. The price tag was $400,000.

The Met wanted to sleep on the idea for a while, so the façade was stored in the basement until the end of 1968 when one of the museum’s curators rejected the offer in horror at the Elgin-like brutality of the frieze’s theft. He contacted the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico and together they planned a sting to catch the dealer. In a direct confrontation, the directors of both museums demanded the frieze be returned to Mexico. The trafficker still tried to get out of it and here too the brazenness is just off the charts. He actually dared to ask they at least pay him $80,000 to reimburse him for the expenses he incurred building an airfield, brutalizing an ancient monument and illegally removing it from the country. They laughed in his face, of course, and finally he gave up. The frieze was returned to Mexico. Neither the dealer, the orchid collector nor any of the demolition crew were ever punished.

The frieze has been in the National Museum of Anthropology ever since. In 2018, conservators embarked on a comprehensive restoration of the frieze with the goal of returning it to the weathered but still richly colored condition it was in before it was outraged. Over the years it has developed an overall reddish tone and salts have accumulated marring the surface. Experts identified the pigments in the polychrome paint: iron oxides for the reds, carbon black for the pupils, white lime for other details. This information helped conservators target the unwanted elements for removal without damaging the original pigment.

The next phase of restoration aimed to stabilize the frieze which was still mounted to the metal framework that was crafted to support it when it was repatriated in 1969.

“Based on three-dimensional and volumetric calculations, we welded a new structure that supports each fragment with at least four supports”, so that the two tons that the relief weighs rest on a stable frame.

One advantage of the new structure is its mobile character, which will facilitate the maintenance of the piece and will promote the temporary rearrangement of the whole for museum installations.

Already stable, the piece underwent comprehensive cleaning, which required two years of work, between 2020 and 2021, to fully remove the polymer using products created at the CNCPC. 

The conservation is being done in full public view in the museum’s Mayan Room. It is expected to be complete by December,

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Bronze eagle and lightning cup found at Gallo-Roman sanctuary

June 10th, 2022

The excavation of an important Gallo-Roman sanctuary outside of Rennes in Brittany has yielded an exceptional Roman bronze cup decorated with the attributes of the god Jupiter, and a bronze figurine of the god Mars.

The site in the village of Chapelle-des-Fougeretz has been slated for development, triggering a comprehensive preventative archaeology excavation of more than seven hectares of the site. Since the dig began in March, archaeologists have unearthed remains from a Gallo-Roman temple complex built immediately after the Roman conquest in the 1st century B.C. and in use at least through the 4th century A.D.

The hilltop sanctuary, visible from Condate (modern-day Rennes) just five miles away and the major Roman road in the valley below, featured a large sacred precinct enclosed an all four sides by a gallery of colonnades 200 feet long. Within the precinct were two temples, one larger and one smaller, built in typical Romano-Celtic fanum style (ie, a square masonry temple with a central cella inside a square gallery). A cult figure of a deity inhabited the cella. The faithful would offer their prayers and votives in the gallery. The large temple was dedicated to the sanctuary’s primary deity (or deities); the smaller to deities of secondary importance. Welcoming pilgrims to the sanctuary was a forecourt with a well and two small chapel-like structures.

A bronze figurine of the god Mars unearthed at the site suggests that he was one of the deities worshipped in the sanctuary. In Gaul, the local iteration of Mars was not the bloodthirsty god of war so much as a protective healing deity. This was a votive offering left at the sanctuary.

The bronze cup was a votive offering as well, and a luxurious one at that. The cup was found upside down and intact with its two ornately decorated handles still attached. One side of the handle is carved with the relief of a face of a Cupid. Two wings are engraved on each side of the faces. The other end of the handle mounts are decorated with reliefs of eagles in profile. The curved part of the handle between the terminals feature stylized thunderbolts. These are attributes of the god Jupiter. Such a rich offering suggests Jupiter may also have been worshipped at the sanctuary.

Just outside the temple precinct archaeologists discovered the remains of a public bath building. Most of it is gone, its construction materials taken and reused many centuries ago, but some architectural features have been found, including the tell-tale remains of a hypocaust underfloor heating system and bathing basins. The baths were fed with water from a well dug a few feet away.

The excavation site will be opened to the public for the European Archaeology Days, June 17-19. INRAP archaeologists will give visitors the rundown on the ancient sanctuary and the results of the excavation thus far.

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Two pieces reunite to form rare Viking sword hilt

June 9th, 2022

Two pieces of a Viking sword hilt of exceptional quality and rarity have been reunited after 1200 years. The first piece was discovered last year by a metal detectorist in a field in Stavanger, southwestern Norway. It was a small irregular piece and the finder had no idea what it was, so he handed it in to the Stavanger Museum of Archaeology for further investigation. A year later, a friend of the finder returned to the field and found a large sections of an ornately decorated sword hilt. Museum conservators realized this was a match for the little fragment found the year before.

The hilt is from the most ornamented and heaviest Viking sword types, known as a D-sword. Only about 20 D-type sword pieces have been found in Norway, and they were either imported and/or copied meticulously by local smiths. The decorative style dates it to the early 9th century.

It is still difficult to see the details in the hilt, but the décor includes gilded elements of the typical animal styles found during the Iron and Viking Age, from ca 550-1050, according to the press release. The hilt also contains geometrical figures in silver, made with the so-called niello technique. This means that a metallic mixture of sorts was used to make black stripes in the silver.

Both ends of the crossguard are formed as animal heads.

“The technique is of a very high quality, and both the lavish and complicated decor and the special formation of the crossguard make this a truly unique find,” archaeologist Zanette Glørstad from the Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger, says in the press release.

The closest comparable example is a bronze sword hilt with silver gilt inlay and niello enamel discovered on the Isle of Eigg (now in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh ).

The hilt pieces were found in the Gausel area of Stavanger on a field adjacent to the farm where the richly-furnished tomb of a Viking woman was discovered in 1883. Dubbed the Gausel Queen, the elite woman was buried with 40 artifacts of exceptional quality — bronze, silver and gold jewelry, knives, drinking horns, a cooking pan, fittings from a reliquary box — including rare and expensive imports from Ireland.

The Queen was not alone. Other Viking graves have been found there, and many more are known to have been destroyed during agricultural work. Even with spotty old archaeological practices, accidental discoveries and looting marring the archaeological record, more and more varied Medieval Irish metalwork has been discovered in this area than in any other place in Europe. Archaeologists believe this part of the coast was one the major departure points for Viking ship voyages westward across the North Sea.

The hilt is now undergoing cleaning and conservation before it goes on permanent display at the museum.

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Rusty 14th c. saber wielded by Turkish raiders or Greek defenders?

June 8th, 2022

A medieval curved sword from the early 14th century has been discovered in a ruined monastery on the northwest Aegean coast 40 miles southeast of Thessaloniki. It was unearthed in an excavation of the ruins of Agios Nicolaos Chrysokamaros, a small fortified dependency of the Saint George the Zograf Monastery on Mount Athos just across the bay.  Very few late Byzantine swords have been found in Greece, and this is the only one to have been unearthed by archaeologists in its original undisturbed archaeological context.

The 14th century was a turbulent time on the Chalcidice peninsula, primarily due to conflicts between the Latins and the Byzantine Empire. The Catalan Grand Company, Aragonese mercenaries initially engaged by the Byzantine emperor who would later double-cross them, spent a solid two years between 1307 and 1309 sacking the monasteries on Mount Athos. Incursions by Turkish pirates, Balkan potentates seeking to chip away at Byzantine territory and the growth of Ottoman power kept the Aegean coast in constant turmoil.  There were 300 monasteries on Mount Athos in 1300. By the end of the 1300s, there were only 35 still standing.

The sword is heavily corroded and incomplete with a surviving length of 18 inches. It has a single edge and is curved throughout its full length. It was bent and burned in the raid that destroyed the monastery outpost. Several of the metal rings from the scabbard fused to the blade. They are the only part of the scabbard to survive.

This type of saber was used by both Byzantine and Turkish soldiers, so it’s difficult to know who wielded this weapon before it was buried.

[Excavation leaders] Maniotis and Dogas have identified three military actions in the 14th century that could have led to the sword being used there: attacks along the coast by Turkish pirates, which included the kidnapping in 1344 of administrators from the Mount Athos monastery; the occupation of the region from 1345 until about 1371 by the forces of the Serbian king Stefan Dušan, who aspired to conquer Byzantine territories in the West; and the siege of Thessalonica by Ottoman troops from 1383 until 1387, when the Chalkidiki region was often raided for food.

Maniotis can’t say for sure, but he thinks the sword may be of Turkish origin, and that it was used in a pirate raid on the monastery.

The excavation has revealed that the monastic outpost was very well fortified indeed, encircled by a granite block wall more than six feet thick. The tower was used as a shelter for villagers during military attacks and pirate raids, and to keep important religious relics and food stores safe. Evidence of severe fire damage was found in the same archaeological layer as the curved sword, indicating the tower was set alight in a raid.

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