Silesian bracteate hoard found in western Poland

A hoard of medieval Silesian bracteate coins has been discovered in the city center of Szprotawa, western Poland. There are about 100-150 coins minted between 1250 and 1300 in the hoard. Some of the coins were found in cylindrical stacks, indicating they were carefully arranged before being placed in a textile bag with some loose coins. The bag was then tightly tied to keep the coin stacks in place before being buried at a shallow depth on one of the main streets connecting the market square to the Głogowska Gate in the city’s 13th century defensive walls.

Silesian bracteates were minted on one side of a thin silver plate leaving an impression on the obverse that appears on the reverse as a negative. The silver had a high copper content, which is why the surface of the coins now has a green patina. The bracteates were of comparatively low value because of their low precious metal content and susceptibility to wear and tear. Rulers often recalled the coins and replaced them with new ones to refresh the value of the rapidly depreciating coins.

The historic center of Szprotawa is undergoing a comprehensive revitalization program that includes the reconstruction of all the communications infrastructure, new bicycle paths leading to a bicycle station, the renovation town hall, the secondary school, police headquarters and two historic churches. The work is being carried out under the supervision of archaeologists as the medieval city was all but levelled in World War II — an estimated 90% of Szprotawa was destroyed — making the archaeological material underground all the more significant.

Most of the finds so far have been the remains of 19th century tenement house cellars built after the demolition of the medieval walls, but earlier remains have also been uncovered, notably fragments from a 15th century bridge, pieces of the city wall from the early 14th century, the remains of a tower and a section of the medieval Głogów Gate.

The coins are of particular significance because of their dates. First recorded in around 1000 A.D. as a small settlement, Szprotawa was grated town rights in 1260 and full city rights in 1304. Its defensive walls were built by Silesian Piast Duke Konrad I of Głogów after he granted Szprotawa its town rights, so the coins were minted as the city came into its own.

Europe’s oldest functioning compass found in Estonia wreck

One of the artifacts recovered from the wreck of the medieval ship unearthed near the Old Town Harbor of Tallinn, Estonia, in 2022, is Europe’s oldest dry compass still in working order.

The cog was excavated from its location on Lootsi Street and transported to the Estonian Maritime Museum in four pieces. Archaeologists of the Estonian Maritime Museum and experts in ship conservation from Finland have been cleaning and conserving the cog in a purpose-built hall where visitors can see the work in progress.

The excavation and conservation process uncovered a number of finds in excellent condition, including leather shoes, wooden spoons and tools, preserved by the waterlogged mud of the harbor. The shoes were well-worn and repaired, so not cargo intended for sale. This suggests the ship was sunk in an accident and everyone who could escape did so, leaving behind their belongings. The compass and the well-preserved remains of two rats who apparently did not desert the sinking ship were the most surprising finds.

[Archaeologist Priit Lätti of the Estonian Maritime Museum] aid that Estonia’s medieval ships really stand out among other similar finds because they are not empty. Medieval ships found in Germany and the Netherlands are mostly empty, the researcher said.

“Ours are full of finds, and the finds are wall to wall, giving us clues about everything from eating habits on board to clothing to navigational equipment,” he said.

Archaic stone anchors found off Syracuse

Two stone anchors from the Greek Archaic Period (800-480 B.C.) have been discovered on the seabed off the coast of Syracuse, Sicily. They were spotted by a private individual who reported it to the Superintendence of the Sea of the Sicilian Region. The Superintendence followed up with a survey of the reported find site. They documented a three-hole triangular anchor about 27 inches long, and a second one with a single hole and ovoid shape.

The intervention was carried out on a marine area of about 250 square meters, which was surveyed and documented in order to verify the presence of additional archaeological finds. A protection operation that saw the two underwater units engaged, with the support of the vedetta V.7007 of the Naval Operations Section of the Guardia di Finanza of Syracuse, which ensured safety at sea during the dives.

“This type of intervention,” says Regional Councillor for Cultural Heritage and Sicilian Identity, Francesco Paolo Scarpinato, “confirms the importance of collaboration between public agencies and law enforcement agencies in safeguarding cultural heritage. Also of great value is the collaboration of private individuals that, over the years, has casually led to the identification of numerous artifacts, with the only common goal of recovering and enhancing our cultural heritage.”

The two anchors will be recovered and conserved for display in a local museum.

Obsidian from Neolithic shipwreck recovered off Capri

Maritime archaeologists have recovered a block of worked obsidian from a Neolithic shipwreck off the coast of Capri, Italy. Archaeologists from the Superintendency for the Metropolitan Area of ​​Naples recovered the first of a group of worked obsidian cores in a dive on Monday, November 20th. The presence of obsidian blocks in the area had been reported by divers in 2012, but not the specific location. They were located in October near the famous White Grotto of Capri by an underwater unit of the Naples police, and a month later the site was explored by maritime archaeologists.

The block they recovered measures approximately 11 by 8 by 6 inches and weighs almost 18 pounds. It bears traces of chiseling and processing, which is how archaeologists know it was trade material, not a random chunk of obsidian that made its way to the seabed on its own.

No remains of a ship were found, but the dispersal area of the obsidian was much larger than reported and at a depth of between 100 and 130 feet. That indicates the blocks were the cargo of a lost ship. The
Superintendency is planning an extensive instrumental survey of the seabed to look for the possible hull and any other cargo material around the find site.

The obsidian block was transferred to a warehouse of the Superintendency and awaits cleaning and conservation. Conservators will remove the concretions on its surface to analyze the block in detail.

It was in the Neolithic that obsidian began to be used to create sharp weapons and cutting tools. It chips as easily as flint, but creates a sharper edge. In the late 19th century, a major cache of obsidian blocks and more than 800 finished obsidian objects was discovered on a private estate in Capri. They were the remains of a 7,000-year-old obsidian cutting workshop. Recent analyses of those obsidian materials determined they originated in Lipari, a volcanic island in the Aeolian Archipelago north of Sicily whose rich obsidian flows were extensively quarried by Neolithic communities. The presence of Lipari obsidian in Capri is evidence there was an active trade over land and sea.

Unique medieval seal matrix found in Norfolk

Gilded silver seal matrix, late 13th-early 14th c. Photo courtesy Andrew Williams/Norfolk County Council.A metal detectorist has discovered a medieval gilded silver seal matrix with several unique features in a field north of Norwich, southeastern England. It was discovered in April near Horsham St Faith and dates to the late 13th or early 14th century.

The circular seal is .9 inches in diameter and the central motif is a crowned Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child. A monk on his knees prays to her right. A scroll running upwards from the tips of his joined hands reads AVE * MA (Hail Mary). The scene is set in a quatrefoil frame. Set in a beaded circular border around the edge of the die is an inscription in medieval Latin that reads TE: ROGO: IVSTICIE: SOL: PIVS: ESTO: VIE. That translates to “I beseech thee, holy sun of righteousness, be the way.” This inscription has never been found before on any other seals or objects.

Dr Geake, Norfolk’s find liaison officer, said: “It’s completely unique, we don’t have anything to compare with this inscription.

“The ‘sun of righteousness’, appears in the Old Testament, towards the end of a set of prophecies, and became a relatively common way of referring to Jesus Christ in the Middle Ages.”

The iconography of Virgin and Child with a kneeling monk is relatively common on seals, both private ones and ones used for official ecclesiastical documents, but there is no directly comparable example of this imagery on a circular seal. This matrix has another very unusual feature: the reverse is a recessed socket with a notched border that suggests it had a detachable handle that could be inserted and turned to lock it in place. Seals with sockets for handles are known on the archaeological record, but the handles were permanently mounted, not interchangeable.

[Dr Geake] believes it must have been owned by a monk and he would have exchanged the die with others, one of which was personal and another to reflect his official role in the monastery.

“It’s unique in two different ways – it’s interchangeable and it has this little, private prayer,” Dr Geake said.

“It’s a window into someone’s personal, emotional or spiritual world in the years before the Black Death.”