Massive lion sculpture found in Cambodia

September 11th, 2020

Workers digging at the site of a new water pumping station in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, have discovered a massive stone lion. A crew from the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) was digging near the Wat Phnom temple when they came across the ancient statue lying on its back 13 feet below street level. It measures more than eight feet in height and was found broken in two parts.

The lion appears similar in design to the massive statues that guard the main pagoda and main stupa of the Wat Phnom temple. The temple lions are not as massive as this one, however. Hab Touch, director-general for tangible heritage at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, speculates that the newly discovered lion was part of a different structure at the site, something large like a bridge. It could also have originated elsewhere and been moved to the location later.

National Museum director Chhay Visoth told The Post that he cannot make any assumptions about which era the stone lion was made in because experts needed time to check the composition of the ancient stone.

“We cannot make assumptions of the lion that we found during mine clearance for the reservoir plan because we don’t have any connections regarding this statue.

“Normally, we can know the date of an artefact by identifying other things around it,” he said.

Viosth said it’s suspected that the lion was created at the same time as Wat Phnom or sometime after Cambodia was a French protectorate.

That’s a rather elastic range. Wat Phnom was built in 1372. Cambodia became a French protectorate in 1863. The sculpture is now being studied by experts at the Ministry of Culture. They might be able to determine its possible age with a tad more precision, but with no contextual clues from an archaeological excavation, it will be difficult to confirm.

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Monumental pool complex found outside Rome

September 10th, 2020

Archaeologists have discovered a monumental pool dating to the 4th century B.C. near the Giardino di Roma neighborhood 10 miles southwest of Rome. The stone sunken pool is a massive 48 meters (157 feet) long and 12 meters (39 feet) wide was discovered during a preventative archaeology excavation at the site of a future residential and commercial real estate complex.

Its function is unclear. The most plausible current hypothesis is that the monumental pool was part of a system of water management, a large reservoir or settling tank. It could also have had an agricultural purpose — an ancient hydroponics farm. Then there’s always the old fallback of unknown ritual purpose. The outer walls were made of tufa blocks and an inclined ramp connects the pool to the street level of the time. This was not a Roman-style public bathing facility or anything else familiar on the archaeological record. The two-hectare site is replete with layers of building and structures and artifacts that have been discovered range over eight centuries starting in the 5th century B.C.

At the time the pool was built, the area was already an important crossroads connecting the city of Rome and its first colony, Ostia, which according to legend was founded by Ancus Marcius, fourth king of Rome, in the 7th century B.C.

The artifacts recovered may provide additional clues to the usage of the pool and other structures over different historical phases. One of the remains found may be of particular import: it’s a wooden fragment, preserved in the watery bottom of the pool, inscribed in Etruscan. At the time, the Etruscan language was used by Latin communities as well, including Rome.

“The excavation, in all its grandeur, reveals an important place” – explains superintendency archaeologist Barbara Rossi – “which lasted for over eight centuries, as demonstrated by the quantity and above all the quality of rediscovered structures, such as the monumental basin from the fourth century BC, found in all its expanse.”

“An in-depth study of the large number of materials that this investigation has returned to us and continues to return to us – wood, terracotta, metal objects, inscriptions – will reveal the secrets of this extraordinary corner of the greater Rome area.”

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Silla grave with full set of jewelry found

September 9th, 2020

The grave a Silla aristocrat bedecked from head to toe in jewelry has been unearthed in Gyeongju, South Korea. This is the first Silla tomb since the excavation of the Great Tomb of Hwangnam in 1973-1975 to be found with the deceased buried in a full set of accessories from gilt bronze coronet to gilt bronze shoes. The burial dates to the first half of the 6th century.

Gyeongju was the capital of the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C. – 935 A.D.) and at its zenith in the 7th-9th centuries, it was the fourth largest city in the world. Located in the Hwangnam area of Gyeongju’s historic center, Hwangnam Tumulus No. 120-2 was excavated as part of a city project to explore important archaeological remains from its history as the Silla royal capital. Last May a gilt bronze shoe was discovered. Now the tomb’s complete treasure has been revealed.

The grave is wooden chamber tomb surrounded by a stone mound, a type characteristic of the Silla Kingdom. At the head of the grave were placed numerous pottery vessels.  The individual is believed to be a woman based on the accessories but the skeletal remains are too degraded to draw a firm conclusion. A gilt bronze crown on a round frame was folded flat and placed on the face of the deceased. The round frame is decorated with three twig-shaped ornaments and two pieces of deer antler ornaments at the top. Heart-shaped holes pierce the tips of the decorative elements. On both sides of the round frame are gold pendants adorned with jade and gold beads.

The deceased wears thick gold hoop earrings in both ears. A beaded breast band covered the chest. Around the waist is a silver belt. Both wrists are covered in silver bangles. One of the bracelets on the right wrist is festooned with more than 500 tiny beads just a millimeter in diameter. The right hand has silver rings on every finger. The left hand is still in the process of being uncovered, but there is one silver ring on it as well.

The gilt bronze shoes are decorated with openwork cut-outs in T shapes. These were ornamented with coin-shaped gilt-bronze accessories. The shoes would not have been worn in life. They were created specifically as funerary adornments.

The CHA said the height of the owner of the tomb is estimated at 170 centimeter, as it is 176 cm from the middle of the gilt-bronze cap to the shoes. But the sex of the deceased was difficult to discern at the moment, it added.

“This is a small-sized tomb, but the owner has the full set of accessories. It is expected to be possessed by a noble or royal-blooded person,” a researcher from the CHA said. “We’ve found many new things from this project. We will keep studying the case.”

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400-year-old chamois acts as model for ice mummy research

September 8th, 2020

A chamois preserved for 400 years in the Ahrntal glacier in Italy’s South Tyrol will give researchers new information on how to conserve ice mummies that are increasingly at risk of exposure and decay due to glacier melt.

The goat-antelope died at an altitude of 10,500 feet and the ice preserved much of its skin. It was discovered by world champion skier and alpine enthusiast Hermann Oberlechner in the Val Audrina at a location so remote it can only be reached by a six-hour hike. The receding ice had exposed the hairless, leathern skin and Oberlechner realized this was not your usual animal carcass. He took a photo and mailed it to a park ranger and they notified cultural heritage officials of the find. (I mean, I barely get a bar a mile away from home where there’s moderate tree coverage, but he can send pics 10,000 feet up the Alps?)

On August 26th, a team of Alpine Army Corps troops and experts from Eurac Research helicoptered to the Val Aurina to recover the carcass. The goat was chiseled out of the ice and fragments of its glacial context saved for further analysis.

The goat was transported to a Eurac laboratory in Bolzano where it will be studied further with the aim of establishing the most effective protocol to conserve ice mummies exposed by rapidly receding glaciers. Researchers will also investigate how best to protect ancient DNA in mummified remains.

In mummified specimens, DNA has often degraded and is present only in minimal amounts. In fact, faced with a new discovery, the first question experts encounter is how to examine the mummy while continuing to preserve it, without damaging its ancient DNA. Every action has irreversible consequences on DNA fragments, which makes experimenting with new techniques on human finds impossible. Contrastingly, an intact animal mummy is a perfect simulant for research – especially if its conditions are similar to those of the world’s other ice mummies, of which Ötzi and the Inca girl Juanita are among the most famous. “Thanks to our previous studies we know the optimal physical and chemical parameters for preservation from a microbiological point of view. In the laboratory we will bring the chamois to those conditions and focus on their effects on DNA. With repeated in-depth analysis we will verify what alterations the DNA undergoes when external conditions change,” explains Marco Samadelli, conservation expert at Eurac Research. “Our goal is to use scientific data to develop a globally valid conservation protocol for ice mummies. This is the first time an animal mummy has been used in this way,” adds Albert Zink, Director of the Institute for Mummy Studies at Eurac Research.

This video shows the painstaking process of removing the chamois mummy from its icy grave, how it was exposed, how ice chips and organic materials were bagged and how the body was transferred onto a custom-made stretchery thing (not a stretcher at all, really, more like plastic bed with ribs so it could be covered with a tarp without touching the remains).

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Mammoth graveyard breaks world record

September 7th, 2020

The number of remains in a mammoth graveyard discovered in Xaltocan, Mexico, has risen to 200 with no end in sight. It now officially eclipses the previous record-holder, Mammoth Site at Hot Springs South Dakota which has skeletal remains from 61 individuals, as the world’s largest site of mammoth bones.

Skeletons from Columbian mammoths were first discovered in October 2019 during an archaeological salvage program at the site of Mexico’s City new airport, a former military base that will become the General Felipe Angeles International Airport. When the announcement of the findings were first reported in May, the team from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) had found skeletal remains of around 60 mammoths — adult male, female and juvenile — and of other Pleistocene megafauna including bison, horses and camels.

The site was a prehistoric lake. Animals were drawn to the water and many were trapped in the marshy shore. The largest density of bones has been found at the shoreline. Animals died in deeper parts of the lake less frequently and their remains were not as well preserved as the ones who stuck in the mud.

There are so many mammoths at the site of the new Santa Lucia airport that observers have to accompany each bulldozer that digs into the soil to make sure work is halted when mammoth bones are uncovered.

“We have about 200 mammoths, about 25 camels, five horses,” said archaeologist Rubén Manzanilla López of the National Institute of Anthropology and History, referring to animals that went extinct in the Americas. The site is only about 12 miles (20 kilometers) from artificial pits, essentially shallow mammoth traps, that were dug by early inhabitants to trap and kill dozens of mammoths.

Initial discoveries at the Santa Lucia site found no evidence of humans taking advantage of the natural trap to hunt big game, but recent finds indicate they may have butchered animals at the site.

While tests are still being carried out on the mammoth bones to try to find possible butchering marks, archaeologists have found dozens of mammoth-bone tools—usually shafts used to hold tools or cutting implements—like the ones in Tultepec.

“Here we have found evidence that we have the same kind of tools, but until we can do the laboratory studies to see marks of these tools or possible tools, we can’t say we have evidence that is well-founded,” Manzanilla López said.

The site is so enormous that teams have really only scratched the surface so far. The plans for construction of the new airport are still on the books with a projected completion date of 2022, but there may be delays as the archaeological work keeps going.

Mexican Army Capt. Jesus Cantoral, who oversees efforts to preserve remains at the army-led construction site, said “a large number of excavation sites” are still pending detailed study, and that observers have to accompany backhoes and bulldozers every time they break ground at a new spot.

The project is so huge, he noted, that the machines can just go work somewhere else while archaeologists study an area.

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Mask of Dionysus found in Turkey

September 6th, 2020

A terracotta mask of the Greek god Dionysus has been discovered in the ancient city of Daskyleion, in western Turkey. It was discovered in the city’s acropolis and is believed to have been a votive offering to the deity. It is around 2,400 years old.

In addition to his numerous duties as god of wine, fertility, theater and madness, Dionysus was the god of masked revelry.

Legend has it that wearing such a mask is a way of paying homage to Dionysus, the Greek god of carnivals and masquerades, by allowing you to free yourself from secret desires and buried regrets. Dionysos is said to have concealed both his identity and his power and is considered a patron of the arts.

Located on the bank of a river about 20 miles inland from the coast of the Sea of Marmara, Daskyleion was, according to ancient chroniclers like Strabo and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, first settled around the time of Trojan War. It was settled by the Phrygians in the 8th century B.C. and was conquered by the Lydians a hundred years later. Legend has it that the city was named after the Lydian King Daskylos. Daskyleion was conquered by Cyrus the Great of Persia in 547 B.C. and became the capital of the Persian satrapy of Hellespontine Phrygia. The acropolis was built around 500 B.C. The city was briefly captured by Sparta in 395 B.C., but it was quickly reconquered and remained in Persian hands until Alexander the Great took it in 334 B.C.

The remains of the ancient city were discovered in 1952. Excavations ran from 1954 through 1960 and resumed again in 1988. They have been ongoing ever since.

[Excavation leader Kaan] Iren said that this year, a cellar was unearthed in the Lydian kitchen in the city’s acropolis. “Work continues to obtain seeds and other organic parts from the excavated soil in the Lydian kitchen and its surroundings through a flotation process,” he added.

Through more research, the cuisine and eating habits of the region from 2,700 years ago will be better understood, the archaeologist said.

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British Museum acquires lost Hokusai drawings

September 5th, 2020

The British Museum has acquired a set of more than 100 illustrations by Japanese master Katsushika Hokusai that were lost for 70 years. Hokusai, today internationally famous for his iconic Great Wave print, created 103 drawings in 1829 for a book called Great Picture Book of Everything but for reasons still unknown to this day, it was never published.

His hand-inked preparatory drawings were acquired by French Art Nouveau jeweler Henri Verver (1854-1942) who was one of the first European collectors of ukiyo-e woodbloock prints, an art form that Hokusai embraced and transformed. They last appeared on the public record in 1948 when they were sold at auction and then disappeared into the penumbra of anonymous private holdings. The collection emerged again last year and the British Museum was able to arrange their purchase thanks to a grant from the Art Fund.

As might suit the illustrations for a book about everything, the drawings depicts a variety of subjects including mythology, literature, animals, plants and landscapes. Most of the drawings refer to subjects from ancient China, India, Southeast Asia and Central Asia, motifs that appear nowhere else in Hokusai’s oeuvre.

They were made during a period of great hardship in Hokusai’s life. He was 70 years old and had suffered a stroke, been widowed and was close to destitute because of his grandson’s gambling debts. He produced very little artwork during this time, which makes the drawings all the more significant.

Tim Clark, Honorary Research Fellow of the British Museum, said, “These works are a major new re-discovery, expanding considerably our knowledge of the artist’s activities at a key period in his life and work. All 103 pieces are treated with the customary fantasy, invention and brush skill found in Hokusai’s late works and it is wonderful that they can finally be enjoyed by the many lovers of his art worldwide.”

The 103 drawings and the original wood box they came in have been digitized and can be browsed in extreme close-up in the British Museum Collection online.

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Trove of gold harness fittings found in Kazakhstan

September 4th, 2020

Archaeologists have discovered a large number of gold harness fittings associated with a burial mound at the necropolis of Eleke Sazy in East Kazakhstan. The 850 pieces were artfully designed and executed by the master metallurgists of the Saka culture, a semi-nomadic Scythian people who inhabited the Eurasian Steppe from the 8th century B.C. The objects have been preliminarily dated to the 5th-4th centuries B.C., the Middle Saka period.

All of the pieces are zoomorphic in design, depicting stylized animals, like deer and elk. A group of pendants in the form of a mythological feline-like creature with large round ears are of a type never encountered before. The gold is of extremely high quality. Most Saka harness fittings are made of thin gold foil. These are crafted from thick sheet gold.

The objects were not discovered in the burial mound itself, but adjacent to it. Archaeologists believe they were left as offerings to the spirit of the ancestor who was buried in the kurgan. The richness of the deposit attests to the great reverence in which the deceased, likely a Saka ruler, was held. In an extremely rare find, evidence of a bronze and gold smithy was discovered 165 feet away from the kurgan.

Located on a plateau a mile above sea level in the Tarbagatai Mountains of East Kazakhstan, the Eleke Sazy complex was remote enough to make archaeological exploration challenging. Local legend held that the hillocks sprinkling the area were kurgans, the site wasn’t surveyed by archaeologists until 2011. Official excavations began in 2016 and over the course of several dig seasons, international teams of archaeologists discovered more than 350 burial mounds, ranging in date from the Early Saka to the Late Turkic period, spanning 1,500 years.

Most of them had been looted repeatedly for more than a thousand years, but in 2018, the intact grave of a young Saka man was discovered in side burial in Kurgan Number Four. He was only around 18 years old when he died, but was so richly furnished in gold jewelry — more than 5,000 gold objects were found in the grave, including a torc weighing more a kilo and thousands of beads just a millimeter long that were sewn onto his trousers and shoes — that he was dubbed the  Golden Man. (He’s actually the second Saka Golden Man. The first Golden Man was discovered in the Issyk kurgan in 1969. These are the only two unlooted graves of Saka nobles ever discovered.)

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Bronze Age urn unearthed in Donegal

September 3rd, 2020

Archaeologists have unearthed a Bronze Age cremation urn at the site of a planned hospital in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, Ireland. The urn was found in a small ring ditch on land that has been previously used for community gardens. It dates to approximately 4,000 years ago.

Because the urn and the cinerary remains it contains are extremely fragile, specialist conservator Susannah Kelly was enlisted to remove it for cleaning and stabilization in laboratory conditions. Still caked in soil in situ, the urn was wrapped in plastic wrap and an outer layer of resin bandages so it could be removed whole without risking the loss of any material.

The urn has been taken Dublin where Ms Kelly will conserve it.

An osteoarchaeologist will examine the cremated remains to try to find out more about the person or persons whose remains are in the urn.

[Excavation director] Tamlyn McHugh said the dig was a great opportunity find out more about our history and highlights the importance of having archaeologists work on sites like this ahead of a development.

In this case, they found a number of different kinds of burial types from the Bronze Age, she said.

At least three different kinds of burials typical of the Bronze Age were found at this site: cremation in urns, inhumation and a flat cemetery, which are pits filled with charcoal and bone.

The cremated remains contain several larger fragments of bone that will hopefully give osteoarchaeologists the opportunity to determine whether the deceased was an adult or child, or even if the urn contained the remains of more than one person.

All archaeological remains and materials have been removed and construction of the hospital will go ahead as planned. The find site of the urn will return to its former use as allotment gardens.

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Mayor’s heart found in the fountain dedicated to him

September 2nd, 2020

A zinc coffer containing the heart of the first mayor of Verviers, Belgium, after Belgian independence has been found during restoration of a fountain dedicated to his memory. The monument on Place Verte in downtown Verviers is currently undergoing restoration. The bronze elements have been removed for cleaning and stabilization. Last month, workers found the inscribed mental box ensconced in a cavity behind a stone that was removed. The engraving reads: “The heart of Pierre David was solemnly placed in the monument on 25 June 1883.”

The Walloon city of Verviers was hard hit by the upheavals of the French Revolution, the region’s economy devastated in the wake of annexation to France in 1795. After the final defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, the former French territory was given to the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, but Dutch rule was overthrown in the Belgian Revolution of 1830.

Verviers’ economy had begun to rebound as part of the sillon industriel, the Walloon industrial backbone. The city was a major center of wool production, and water management played an important role in its development. Numerous fountains were built in the city and today Verviers bears the title of the Walloon Capital of Water.

Born and raised in Verviers, Pierre David was first elected mayor under French rule in 1800, serving eight years. He was elected the first bourgmestre (mayor) of the city after Belgian independence and  rebuilt the city after it was damaged in the revolution. He refused all pay for the job, an unusually generous posture He was re-elected mayor in 1836 and served until he was killed suddenly in a freak accident. He fell in his hayloft and suffered a fatal blow to the head. He was 68 years old.

After his death, city officials asked his family for his heart to entomb it in a monument dedicated to his memory. They agreed and a surgeon performed the task. The heart was sealed in a glass jar with alcohol to preserve it while the city raised funds to build the monument. That took a lot longer than expected. During the 44-year wait, the city rang bells annually on the date of his death in memory of him. When the completed monument was finally inaugurated in 1883, it was, fittingly for Verviers, a fountain. The Monument David featured a limestone and bronze bust of the late mayor sculpted by Clément Vivroux, and in a cavity near the bust, the heart was laid to rest.

Over time, the story of the heart of David entombed in the David Monument crossed over the blurry dividing line between fact and legend. Restorers were not expecting to find it.

The Verviers Alderman for Public Works, Maxime Degey, said “an urban legend has become reality: the casket was in the upper part of the fountain, right near the bust of Pierre David, behind a stone which we had removed during the fountain’s renovation”.

Quoted by broadcaster RTBF, he said the casket found by the builders on 20 August was “in really impeccable condition”.

The casket has gone on display in an exhibition dedicated to David, his heart and its monument at the Verviers Museum of Fine Arts. Also exhibited are his funeral mask, photographs, a portrait and the municipal register attesting to the removal and preservation of the heart. It runs through September 20th.

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