4,000-year-old pyramid complex found in Peru

An excavation of ancient mounds on the Cerro Colorado hill on the outskirts of Barranca, a port city on the central coast of Peru, has unearthed a monumental temple complex more than 4,000 years old.

A joint team of archaeologists from Peru and Poland excavated two of the four known mounds on Cerro Colorado. The initial small-scale surveys quickly encountered dried bricks and stone blocks. More extensive excavation unearthed a brick and stone pyramidal building. The blocks were bound by a mixture of grass and mortar. It was the grass of the mortar that was radiocarbon dated to between 2500 and 2200 B.C.

This was a period when agriculture became widespread among Andean cultures via contact with Amazonian peoples who had established agriculture-based communities thousands of years earlier. With farming came urban settlements and monumental structures, including temple pyramids. The largest Andean pyramidal temple constructions from the 3rd and 2nd millennium B.C. are at the ancient site of Caral 20 miles southeast of Barranca. The discovery of the Cerro Colorado temples expands the known geographic range of these complexes to the Pacific ocean.

Even after the cultures that built them fell and the pyramids’ original religious functions were abandoned, the sites were still recognized as sacred for millennia. In the recent excavation, archaeologists discovered burial bundles at the top of the highest mound. Radiocarbon dating of organic remains from the burials date them to between 772 and 989 A.D., at least 3,000 years after the pyramids were built, when the area was part of the Wari Empire.

One of the graves contained the remains of a young boy around six years of age when he died. His intentionally deformed skull marks him as a member of the elite, as does the extraordinary textile his body was wrapped in: a ten-foot-long rectangle decorated with zoomorphic motifs that is unique in the archaeological record of the Andes. His burial at the peak of the ancient mound also attests to his high social rank.

The colonial clergyman and researcher of South American cultures, Antonio de la Calancha (1584–1654), vividly described the surroundings of the city of Barranca. De la Calancha said it was full of sorcerers and witches.

“He even went so far as to say that there was a ‘witchcraft university’ in Barranca. He also mentioned a temple where these sorcerers would gather to meet a ‘demon’ who would then scold them for praying in Spanish and dealing with Spaniards in general” – [excavation co-leader bioarchaeologist Łukasz] Majchrzak said. The Europeans of the time referred to the pre-Columbian gods as demons.

“The unique location of our site, the lack of analogous places in Barranca, and finally our finds indicate that the temple mentioned by the chronicler was located on Cerro Colorado” – emphasized the archaeologist.

According to him, this means that pre-Columbian religious traditions were continued there more than a hundred years after the start of the conquista. This means that Cerro Colorado has been a place of worship for almost four thousand years.

Is this Vitruvius’ basilica?

The remains of a large, luxurious public building from the Roman era have been unearthed in the northern Italian city of Fano. Located just opposite the ancient city’s forum, the remains consist of at least five rooms with more than six feet of the walls’ height preserved. The walls are five feet thick and coated in lime mortar. Marble slabs decorate the sides. The floors are also adorned with large slabs of expensive imported marble in green and pink.

The building dates to around 2,000 years ago. A fragment of an inscription that still bears traces of its original rubrication (the red pigment rubbed into the letters to make them stand out against the marble) was found. Only two letters are preserved on the fragment: a V on one line and an I on the line below it.

The location across from the site of the ancient forum, the scale of construction and the richness of the marble inlays of the floor and walls mark it as a major Roman public building of the Augustan era (1st c. B.C. – 1st. c. A.D.) There’s even an outside chance that this is the much-sought Basilica of Vitruvius, a civic building designed and constructed by the 1st century B.C. architect, military engineer and author of the seminal treatise De Architectura.

Vitruvius, who served under Julius Caesar in the 50s and late 40s century B.C., wrote De Architectura in the 20s B.C. It is considered the first book on architectural theory and is the only one from antiquity to survive today. After its rediscovery and publication in 1486, it became the primary reference for European Renaissance architects. In all ten books of the treatise, Vitruvius records only one building that he designed and executed personally: the Basilica of Fano, completed in 19 B.C. in what was then the Roman city of Fanum Fortunae (named after a now-lost temple of Fortune). It was located at a strategic trade junction where the Via Flaminia met the Adriatic and was an important urban center worthy of the innovative architectural grandeur of the Vitruvius’ basilica. In Book V.1.6-10, Vitruvius describes the basilica, listing its features and measurements in detail and extolling its distinctive proportions and symmetry which were markedly different from the typical Roman basilica of his time.

It was destroyed in the Gothic invasion of Fanum Fortunae in 540 A.D. Architects and artists have been recreating it in illustrations and models since the 15th century and many attempts have been made to find archaeological traces of the basilica to no avail. Chances are, this will be another false alarm, and even if it is a real candidate, getting firm evidence either way will be extremely challenging.

Excavation of the site will continue as soon as funds can be secured. A 2021 geophysical scan of the whole street, felicitously named Via Vitruvio, found indications of numerous walled spaces of different forms and dimensions under the street, but they are likely from various different eras, not a single Roman building.

Medieval gold jewelry, silver coin hoard on display

The Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (the National Museum of Antiquities) just announced the discovery of a unique hoard of medieval gold jewelry and silver coins. The hoard consists of four gold earrings, two strips of gold leaf and 39 silver coins. The coins date to between 1200 and 1248, which indicates the hoard was buried around the middle of the 13th century. The jewelry, however, was already 200 years old when it was buried with the coins, a much prized heirloom collection.

The hoard was discovered in 2021 in Hoogwoud, North Holland, by Dutch historian and metal detectorist Lorenzo Ruijter. He reported the find to regional heritage authorities. He had to keep his discovery a secret for two years while experts at the National Museum of Antiquities cleaned, conserved and investigated the hoard before announcing the sensational find.

Gold jewelry from the High Middle Ages are extremely rare finds in the Netherlands, so the four 11th century earrings are the most significant pieces in the hoard. They are large, about two inches wide, and crescent shaped. Two of the four pendants have intricate filigree decoration. The other two are engraved with decorative scenes. One of them was damaged (probably by agricultural activity) and is incised with a floral motif. The other pendant is engraved with the image of a man’s head surrounded by radiating lines. This represents a portrait of Christ as Sol Invictus. Only three gold earrings similar to this have been found before in the Netherlands.

Only one side of the earrings is decorated and the suspension loops are so delicate compared to the weight of the jewelry that archaeologists believe they were not worn through pierced ear lobes, but rather worn on a head scarf, hood or head band. This type of adornment is seen in German illustrations from the period.

The two strips of gold leaf fit together, so they were likely part of the same decoration. Small textile fibers still attached to the leaf suggest the strips bordered a garment, likely a seam or a waistband.

The 39 silver coins are small pennies from Holland, Guelders and Cleves, the Diocese of Utrecht and from the German Empire. Traces of textiles found with the coins indicate they were originally buried in a bag or wrapped in cloth. The most recent of the coins were struck in 1247-8 by William II of Holland when he was elected King of Germany after Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II was excommunicated by Pope Innocent IV. William died in 1256 in Hoogwoud where the hoard was found. He was in the area engaged in one of several of his wars against the West Frisians when he and his horse fell through weak ice into a frozen lake. His West Frisian enemies killed him before the cold lake could finish what it had started, and buried him under the floorboards of a local house. That gives the hoard enormous archaeological significance in the history of Holland as a region and of the Netherlands.

The hoard is on display at the museum until mid-June of this year. It will go back on display in October as part of The Year 1000 exhibition. These are temporary loans, however. The hoard itself is still property of the finder.

Oldest known Odin reference found on hoard bracteate

A runic inscription on a gold bracteate discovered near Jelling in 2020 is the oldest known mention of the Norse god Odin. It dates the Norse pantheon back to the beginning of 4th century A.D., 150 years before the previous record-holder, a buckle from the second half of the 5th century discovered in Nordendorf, southern Germany. Before the bracteate was discovered, the oldest inscription to mention Odin ever found in Denmark was on an amulet carved from a piece of human skull dating to the 7th century.

The bracteate features the profile portrait of a man with a thick braid and a beaded headdress over a horse at gallop. A swastika, often associated with Odin in Norse iconography, and a horseshoe are on the left of the profile. The medallion is bordered by three concentric circles of different decorations rimmed with a tight spiral design. The quality of decoration is exceptionally high. The runes on the bracteate read: “He is Odin’s man.” The “he” in question is unknown, but likely referred to the ruler or king who is depicted on the bracteate. Another word in the inscription reads “Jaga” or “Jagaz” and may be the name or nickname of said Odin’s man.

The hoard of 22 gold objects discovered by a metal detectorist a field at Vindelev outside of Jelling in South Jutland, is one of the largest and most significant gold hoards ever discovered in Denmark. Except for two Roman gold coins mounted as pendants and one bangle with elaborate gold granulation, the hoard was composed of gold bracteates: round medallions made from thin sheets of gold carved with figures from Norse mythology. Bracteates were worn as pendants by the elite during the Migration Period (375-568 A.D.), but they were typically small pieces the size of pennies. The ones in the Vindelev Hoard are much larger, the size of saucers, and the decoration is of much higher quality than is typically found on bracteates.

Several of the bracteates had a runic inscriptions, and since the discovery of the hoard was first announced in September 2021, runologists have been working to decipher them. Because of wear and tear on the bracteate, there was significant loss of runes, making interpretation difficult. Even when inscriptions on bracteates have been found intact, they are often single words or garbled copies of copies that have lost their original meanings.

It is the National Museum’s runologist and script researcher Lisbeth Imer who, together with linguist Krister Vasshus, made the discovery.

“The runic inscription has been the most difficult to interpret in my 20 years as a runologist at the National Museum, but the discovery is also absolutely fantastic. It is the first time in world history that Odin’s name is mentioned, and it takes Norse mythology all the way back to the beginning of the 4th century. This makes the Vindelev find even more spectacular. I have not seen such well-executed runes and such a long text on a Danish find from this period since the golden horns [i.e., the Golden Horns of Gallehus]. It may become a key to understanding other prehistoric runic inscriptions that we have not been able to read so far, ” says Lisbeth Imer. […]

Apart from runic inscriptions, we have no written sources from Denmark in the fourth century, so we do not know much about who this “Odin’s man” and “Jaga” or “Jagaz” are, but everything points to him being very important in 400s. The amount of gold in the Vindelev find is enormous, and the gold bracteates are both much larger and thicker than corresponding bracteates. They were probably worn in some form of mayor’s chain, which emphasized the wearer’s status.

The gold is imported from the south, and the bracteates are also modeled after the Romans, suggesting a strong network down through Europe. The king had contact with many other parts of both Denmark and Europe, because similar or stamp-identical bracts have been found both on Funen, in North Jutland, West Jutland and in northern Germany – not to mention the emperor’s medallions, which have also been found in Vindelev. They have parallels as far away as central Germany and Poland.

Bronze Age bone skates found in China

Two pairs of animal bone skates made 3,500 years ago have been discovered at the Gaotai Ruins in northwest China’s Xinjiang region. Made of ox and horse bones, they are the first bone skates found in China.

Archaeologist Ruan Qiurong, of the Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archeology, told reporters that the newly-found skates are almost exactly the same as ice skates from prehistoric Europe, which can be interpreted as new evidence of a theorized exchange of information between the ancient west and east in the Bronze Age. They are also rare physical material for studying the origins of ice skating in China, he said.

Each blade is perforated twice at the front and back. Leather straps would have been threaded through the holes and tied to the wearer’s shod feet. The front of the skates come to more of a point while the back widens to a blunt end. They are flat compared to modern ice skate blades, but the carving and curvature of the bone still formed enough of a cutting edge to allow the wearer to glide in the melt created by contact with the ice surface.

The Goaotai Ruins are part of the Jirentai Goukou site, a Bronze Age settlement and high platform tomb of the Andronovo culture of cattle-herders. The remains of the settlement are about half a mile from the tomb area where the skates were found. Between 2019 and 2022, archaeologists excavated the high platform tomb, uncovering a stone-built tomb complex that is the largest and best-preserved Bronze Age tomb ever discovered on the Eurasian steppe. The settlement and tomb date to between the 16th and the 15th century B.C.

The high platform mound has a square base covering an area of 3.7 acres that is enclosed by a stone wall. On the ground outside the wall are 17 lines paved with laterite (a rock type that is high iron oxide) in a radial pattern that looks like a sunburst when seen overhead. This may be an indication that the culture practiced a form of sun-worship.

The bone skates are not the only archaeological firsts made at the site. Last year’s excavation unearthed more than 40 pieces of wooden vehicles buried in two groups. There are 11 solid wooden wheels surviving, plus component parts of a cart including shafts, axles and carriages. Archaeologists believe they were used in the construction of the platform mound and then deliberately dismantled for burial. These are the earliest wooden wheels discovered in China.

Excavation of the tomb unearthed a wealth of other artifacts, more than 2,000 objects and remains in total. Most of them are pottery and stone tools. The pottery is handmade and comes in a profusion of different shapes and sizes — cylindrical pots, round pots, pots with folded shoulders, pots with high necks, clay cups. A smaller proportion of bronze, bone and iron tools were also discovered, and numerous bones of domestic animals (cattle, sheep, horses). Archaeologists believe the prevalence of animal remains is evidence the tomb belonged to an elite herding family of the Andronovo culture.