Ancient municipal archive building found in Doliche

Archaeologists have discovered the municipal archives of the ancient city of Doliche near modern-day Dülük in southern Turkey. A team of University of Münster archaeologists unearthed more than 2,000 clay bullae, seal impressions affixed to official documents and private contracts, in this summer’s excavation. Many seals and impressions have been found at Doliche before, but at different locations in the city. Now for the first time the remains of the municipal archive building have been unearthed, one of very few ancient archive buildings from the Roman Empire ever discovered.

Doliche was famed in antiquity as the home of the shrine of Jupiter Dolichenus. Jupiter Dolichenus was a composite of the Greco-Roman god of lightning and the Hittite storm god Tesub. Rome conquered Doliche in 64 B.C., and over the next few centuries, the cult of Jupiter Dolichenus spread widely throughout the Empire, reaching its peak of popularity in the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. A shrine dedicated to Jupiter Dolichenus was found as far away as the fort of Vindolanda in northern Britain.

The city’s patron deity was frequently represented on seals going back as far as the 7th century B.C. More than 600 stamp and cylinder seals left as votive offerings at the deity’s shrine in Doliche between the 7th and 4th centuries B.C. were discovered by the University of Münster team in 2013. Another thousand were unearthed in the 2017 excavation, these dating to the apex of the cult’s popularity in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Unlike the earlier cache, many of these seals and stamps were administrative in nature, used as official signatures on government and private documents. They were found in the city center, not in the temple precinct, but the actual archive building was not discovered until this year.

Only the lower layers of the foundations remain of the archive building, which are made of solid limestone blocks, adds [University of Münster archaeologist] Engelbert Winter. “However, they reveal a sequence of rooms that come together to form an elongated building complex,” he describes. However, the exact size cannot yet be measured. So far, the building has been proven to be eight meters wide and 25 meters long. The width of the walls also shows that it was multi-story. The international research team uncovered the building parts over a period of eight weeks last summer.

The archive documents themselves were destroyed in a major fire. In 253 AD, the Persian king Šāpūr I destroyed numerous cities in the Roman province of Syria, including Doliche, as a result of a war between the Roman and Persian Empires. The city center, which also included a bathing complex and a monumental temple, was not rebuilt after the fire. “This is a stroke of luck for archeology, as the condition from the time up to 253 AD has been preserved,” emphasize the researchers.

Three decades later, Labyrinth Mosaic returns to Giannutri

More than 30 years after it was removed, the famous Labyrinth Mosaic has returned to Giannutri, the southernmost island of the Tuscan Archipelago. In black and white tiles, the mosaic depicts the intricate labyrinth of Knossos. Hero Theseus confronts the Minotaur in the center while Ariadne waits off to the side, holding the ball of thread that will lead Theseus out of the maze and back to safety.

The mosaic was uncovered between 1928 and 1934 in excavations of the 1st century A.D. villa of the Domitii Ahenobarbi family, a prestigious plebian family with a long line of consuls going back at least to the early 2nd century B.C. who married into the Julio-Claudian dynasty. The emperor Nero was born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, the son of Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and Agrippina the Younger, great-granddaughter of the emperor Augustus. In the late Republic and early Empire, when the Ahenobarbi were at their peak of wealth and influence, they had no fewer than three pleasure palaces on islands in the Tuscan Archipelago, each with their own ports for the family’s sailing ships. One of the luxurious seaside villas on the island of Giannutri. It was a vast complex with utilitarian structures (cisterns, latrines) and elegant residential ones (peristyle gardens, reception rooms, baths). The rooms were large and its decorative marbles and mosaics of the finest quality.

The find site of the mosaic — in front of the entrance to the villa — was private property and open and exposed fully to the elements. By the time the Superintendency surveyed the condition of the mosaics in 1989, they had deteriorated significantly. Authorities decided it was necessary to remove the most significant one, the Labyrinth, to prevent further deterioration and conserve what remained. The lower half of the mosaic was already completely lost, and had the mosaic remained in situ, the rest of it would not have survived for long. It was detached in 1991 and stored.

A decade later, the mosaic was transferred to a conservation laboratory in Rome where the scattered black and white tiles were re-added to the mosaic using archival photographs from its discovery as guides. It was moved to the warehouse of the National Archaeological Museum of Florence in 2002. It was only displayed publicly twice, exhibited briefly in 2003 and 2004. It has remained in the National Archaeological Museum of Florence for 20 years.

In 2022, the Archaeological Superintendency of Tuscany began to plan the return of the mosaic to its place of origin on Giannutri. First it was subjected to a new cleaning and conservation. There was some limited damage (shifting of tiles), but the adhesion to the panels was still strong; there were no cracks, no accumulated salts. The mosaic was consolidated and a new support structure installed to anchor the mosaic panels.

The mosaic was transported to Giannutri this summer where it was installed in the cryptoporticus area, not in its the original location. The cryptoporticus is completely covered, providing protection from the elements.

Marble “Apollo lizard-killer” found at San Casciano

The excavation of the ancient Etruscan and Roman sacred baths at San Casciano dei Bagni in Tuscany has unearthed another extraordinary treasure: a marble statue of Apollo Sauroctonos (Apollo Lizard-killer), depicting a youthful Apollo leaning against a tree about to catch a lizard climbing up the trunk. It’s a Roman copy of a bronze original by the renown Greek sculptor Praxiteles, one of about forty known to exist.

The statue of Apollo was discovered this summer on the edge of the Great Bath, the hot spring sacred to the Etruscans and Romans. Life-sized at around six feet high, it was broken into sections but the pieces are large and most of them have been recovered so that the statue can be reassembled almost entire.

Apollo was one of the major deities of the sanctuary. The hot springs and mineral waters were believed to cure illness, and the gods connected to health were worshipped there by people seeking cures. Apollo was the god of healing and diseases, so petitioners left votive offerings — coins, figurines, sculptures of afflicted body parts, effigies of the gods — to petition a cure for what ailed them. The lizard Apollo is hunting in the statue had medical relevance as well. Lizards were key ingredients in medications for diseases of the eye. Bronze votive figurines of lizards have been found in the San Casciano baths, offerings from people with ophthalmic complaints.

One of the extraordinary group of bronzes discovered in 2022 was a dancing Apollo figure from the oldest basin at the sanctuary. It likely dates to around 100 B.C. Based on its size and style, the marble Apollo Sauroctonos probably dates to the 2nd century A.D. It was broken in the early 5th century A.D., when the Christianization of the territory led to the temples and statuary being toppled into the basins and the sanctuary closed.

Another noteworthy discovery made this summer is a travertine votive altar with a bilingual inscription in Latin and Etruscan. It dates to the 1st century A.D. The inscriptions reference the sacred hot springs, a testament to the coexistence of Etruscan and Latin cultures at the sanctuary well into the imperial era.

50 intaglio gems found at Roman site in Northern Italy

Archaeologists have unearthed 50 intaglio gemstones and 3,000 coins, including one rare piece from the Roman Republic, in the remains of a theater at the ancient Roman town of Claterna, in Ozzano dell’Emilia, near Bologna. The gems are engraved with images of deities and important structures, including the theater where they were discovered. The stones were locally produced, suggesting there was a workshop in the city that specialized in intaglio production.

The stand-out coin from the thousands is a quinarius, a silver coin of the Roman Republic dated 97 B.C. The obverse features a laureate head of Apollo and is inscribed with the name of the moneyer, C. Egnatuleius. The reverse features a winged Victory adding a shield to a trophy. A carnyx, symbol of Gaul, leans to the left. “ROMA” is inscribed beneath. This is a representation of Rome’s military victory over the Cimbri who had swept over the Alps from Gaul to invade northern Italy. They clashed with the forces of the formidable Roman general Gaius Marius at the Battle of Vercellae in 101 B.C. The Cimbri were annihilated — 100,000 warriors dead, women killing their children and then themselves, the few thousands who survived enslaved.

The Roman city of Claterna, less than 200 miles southeast of Vercellae, was founded on the site of an Etruscan-Celtic settlement in the first half of the 2nd century B.C. Its location at the crossroads of two major Roman roads — the Via Aemilia and the Via Flaminia Minor — brought it a constant stream of travelers and trade. It was elevated to the rank of municipality in the 1st century B.C., the first example of urbanization and the largest city in the area for centuries after. It was home to several luxury villas as well more modest dwellings, industrial glass and metalworking facilities and mansios (post stations along the Roman roads where official travelers could get food, lodging and fresh horses). In its heyday, the city covered an area of 30 hectares not counting the suburbs.

It was targeted by repeated barbarian raids in the calamitous 3rd century and gradually became depopulated until it was finally abandoned at the beginning of the 6th century. Its ruins were buried under farmland and its location forgotten, making it a rare example of a Roman urban center that was never built over. The first excavations began in 1891, uncovering the remains of roads, baths, sewers, bronze artifacts and the mosaic floors of grand villas. These discoveries were reburied for their protection. A systematic program of large-scale excavations began in 2005 and is ongoing today to explore what is the largest non-stratified archaeological area in Northern Italy.

London workhouse had painted walls, fireplaces

The remains of an early 19th century London workhouse suggest that it did not start out the bleak, uncomfortable environment so vividly described by Charles Dickens and other Victorian writers. The plastered walls were painted a soothing light blue; the rooms were heated with fireplaces; even hot water bottles were available.

Since early this year, archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) have been excavating the two-acre site before construction of a new state-of-the-art ophthalmology center. It is part of a five-acre site that includes St. Pancras Hospital, originally St. Pancras Workhouse, named after the neighboring Church of St. Pancras in what was then a suburb of London.

The workhouse was built in 1809 to accommodate 500 indigent people, often families. An infirmary was added three years later, and by the middle of the 19th century, the population of the workhouse had increased more than threefold, fluctuating between 1,500 and 1,900 at its peak. Additions to the workhouse and infirmary were built to keep up with the number of residents. The workhouse was finally shut down in 1929 and its surviving buildings folded into the hospital.

As the name suggests, the idea of the workhouse was that the state would provide relief to the poverty-stricken in the form of a roof over their heads and enough food to survive in exchange for their unpaid labor. Church parishes were part of the administration of relief initially and there was some flexibility in the treatment of indigent families and individuals. That came to an end with the 1834 Poor Law.

By the 1830s, conditions inside the workhouses were dangerous, cramped and prison-like. Infectious diseases were rampant, beds were crammed into every possible space and inmates worked long hours on industrial production lines. Other means of relief, like parish disbursements that did not require institutionalization, were discouraged and the poor encouraged to sell whatever scraps they still owned to be allowed into the workhouse. Children were separated from their parents and the workhouses turned to profitable enterprise administered by businessmen. All workhouse inmates, adults and children, were assigned to painful, repetitive hard labor like crushing bone to make fertilizer, or picking oakum.

The area currently being investigated was known to have had some workhouse structures, but they did not survive. They were damaged in the Blitz and demolished after World War II. The MOLA team has been excavating the site where these buildings once stood and expected to find their foundations, ground floors and associated artifacts.

The new evidence suggests the St Pancras workhouse may have started out with a greater interest in support than deterrence. Williams said: “While the facilities are spartan, the inmates were not there to be punished … There were gardens, an infirmary and nursery. These acknowledge their needs as much as the heated rooms, or the pale blue paint on the walls.”

The finds include institutional crockery – with plates bearing an image of St Pancras and the words “Guardians of the Poor St Pancras Middlesex” – and the remains of a bone toothbrush with horsehair bristles, suggesting the importance of personal hygiene.

Inmate hygiene, comfort and even basic needs like a modicum of heat fell by the wayside after the Poor Law and the explosion of the population at St. Pancras. Henry Morley, a friend and collaborator of Charles Dickens, mentioned St. Pancras Workhouse in an article entitled The Frozen-Out Poor Law published in Dickens’ publication All the Year Round in February, 1861:

A woman, during the intense frost, was met in the evening carrying home her weekly quartern loaf from Saint Pancras Workhouse. (Was it not there that guardians of the poor, not long ago, excited wrath among parishioners by putting themselves on the parish for hot dinners at their weekly meetings?). The woman was met shivering with cold; she had been waiting for her dole, from twelve o’clock till half-past four, in a room with a stone floor, which she declared had not been warmed in any way. “I could have stood it better,” she said, “if there hadn’t been such a dreadful could draught from them wentilating places all round the floor.” The “ventilators” out of which the cold blast came, were the pipes of the disused warming apparatus. If was desirable to use that apparatus for the benefit of paupers, even when the thermometer wavered between freezing and zero. […]

A vestryman is asked whether this woman’s story, not the first or the tenth of its kind, could be true ; were the poor really exposed to so much suffering when they came for relief? “Yes,” he replied, ” and wilfully. I have tried to effect a change, but only three would side with me. The rest thought that if the poor creatures were made too comfortable, more would come.” We take our illustration from St. Pancras simply because it is natural for anybody to look to St. Pancras of evil repute, when he wishes to lay his hand on any sort of abuse incident to the administration of the Poor Law. But the illustration serves for the whole system, which makes workhouses discouragements to poverty, and gaols encouragements to crime.