Recreating the Colossus of Constantine

Fragments of the Colossus of Constantine (ca. 313 A.D.) in the courtyard of Palazzo dei Conservatori. Photo courtesy Musei Capitolini.In the entrance courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori at the top of the Capitoline Hill in Rome, visitors are greeted by the gigantic head, hands, forearm, shin, knee and feet of the Emperor Constantine. They are what remains of a colossal acrolithic statue of Constantine that once sat ponderously in the western apse of the Basilica Nova, the great civic building started by Maxentius in 307 A.D. and completed by Constantine after his victory over Maxentius in the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 A.D.

The head, arms and legs of the colossus were carved out of white marble. The body of the emperor, posed seated and enthroned, was made of a wooden framework over a brick core. The body was then bronzed, possibly gilded, in a glittering contrast to the marble extremities. The head alone is more than eight feet high. Extrapolating from the surviving fragments, the intact statue was an astonishing 40 feet high.

The statue was built between 312 and 315 A.D., with the facial features and hands reworked (there are two right hands) around 325 A.D. It was destroyed in Late Antiquity, its bronze looted and melted down, the marble parts broken and abandoned in the ruin of the basilica. The marble pieces were rediscovered in 1486 and placed in the courtyard of Palazzo dei Conservatori by Michelangelo when he was building Piazza del Campidoglio in 1536–1546.

In 2022, the Factum Foundation in collaboration with the Musei Capitolini and supported by the Fondazione Prada, embarked on a new digitization project to document the fragments and recreate a full-scale replica of the Colossus of Constantine for a new exhibition. In March of 2022, the ten fragments in the courtyard were recorded in ultra-high resolution with photogrammetry and LiDAR technology. The data was used to create a 3D model of the fragments and fill in the missing blanks.

Factum Arte experts worked with museum curators to recreate the statue’s original pose (back when it had one right hand and one left hand) and draping of the paludamentum cloak that covered the emperor’s body. Existing (much smaller) statues of emperors and gods in the same enthroned pose were used as references. By May, the team was ready to go from digital modeling to physical reconstruction.

It was decided to visually distinguish the facsimile fragments from the digitally reconstructed body and cloak.

The recorded digital data of each fragment was rematerialised as 1:1 3D prints, which were used to make positive casts in reinforced resin. The surface was coated with a custom gesso mix and painted to resemble the original marble, weathered by the exposure to the elements. The result was perfect facsimiles of the original fragments.

The recreated sections of the body were made in polyurethane, coated in several layers of resin mixed with marble powder and mica, to achieve a clean neutral marble-white colour. The cloak was made in milled polystyrene, coated with acrylic resin mixed with bronze powder, over which a distressed gold foil gilding was applied.

The final tally was 30 sections of the Colossus. They were craned into the exhibition room at the Fondazione Prada where the statue was assembled for the exhibition Recycling Beauty.

This video gives a glimpse into the digital reconstruction process.

In this video, archaeologist Darius Arya goes into detail about the history of the Colossus, its original context in the Basilica Nova and visits the recreation. It’s awe-inspiring to see the iconic fragments put back together.

Maya nose ornament made of human bone found in Palenque

Archaeologists have discovered an intricately carved Maya nose ornament made of human bone at the Archaeological Zone of Palenque in southern Mexico. The curved nose ornament would have been worn by priests and rulers during religious ceremonies to embody K’awiil, Mayan god of maize and fertility.

It is small at just 6.4 cm long by 5.2 cm wide (2.5 x 2 inches) and 5 cm thick at its thickest point on the bottom of the piece. It was created from the anterior section of distal tibia, where the leg and ankle form a joint. The natural crest of the tibia is a neat match for the center line of a nose.

The bone’s curvature also projects over the bridge of the nose, eliminating the separation from forehead to nose and giving the wearer a straight profile that came to a point like an ear of corn. The Maya elite practiced deliberate cranial deformation, flattening and elongating the foreheads of babies while their skulls were still soft, to reproduce this god’s head shape. Adding a nose ornament to an already-elongated and flattened head created a profile with a continuous and almost perfectly straight line.

It is carved with exceptional detail and precision. On the left side, the carving depicts the profile of a man wearing a headdress, wristbands, a necklace of spherical beads and ear plugs with a pendant. The man’s left arm bears the Maya glyph for “darkness” or “night.” His right arm extends over the center crest and continues on the right side of the nose ornament where it holds a long, thin rod vertically. At the bottom of the rod is a representation of a skull placed on top of a bundle of cloth.

The crest of the bone with which the nasal ornament was made appears as the limit of a portal that the character crosses to communicate with the gods and ancestors, a common scene in Mayan art from the Classic period (250-900 AD).

“Another aspect to highlight is the bundle that the character carries. Funeral bundles were a common practice among the ancient Maya, which are present in the iconography”, indicates [director of the Palenque Archaeological Project (PAP), Arnoldo González Cruz].

He explains that the nose ornament was part of the attire of the elite of the city, because it appears in several sculptural representations, such as the sarcophagus of the Temple of the Inscriptions, the Oval Tablet of House E and the Throne of Temple XXI, being carried by the ajaws [kings] Yohl Ik’nal, Sak K’uk’, Pakal I and Pakal II.

The object was discovered during conservation work at the palace complex in the heart of the ancient Mayan city. It had been buried in a pit under a stucco floor as part of a ritual deposit made to mark the completion of a building in the Late Classic period (600-850 A.D.). It was buried in dark earth with seeds, the bones of fish, turtles and small mammals, pieces of a bone awl, obsidian blades and large pieces of charcoal.

Ancient figurine offering found at Templo Mayor

Fifteen Mezcala-style anthropomorphic figures. Photograph by Mirsa Islas, Courtesy of the Templo Mayor Project. A stone offering box containing a ritual deposit of 15 anthropomorphic figurines has been unearthed at the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan in Mexico City. It was found under the platform of the rear façade of the temple in a layer that dates to the reign of Aztec emperor and king of Tenochtitlan Moctezuma I (1440-1469 A.D.),

The anthropomorphic figures are sculpted in the style typical of the Mezcala culture who inhabited what is now the northern Guerrero state of southwestern Mexico between the Preclassic (700-200 B.C.) and Classic (250-650 A.D.) periods. The Mezcala style is distinguished by an abstract, geometric design even in the facial features of its anthropomorphic figures.

The Mexica conquered the area in the mid-15th century when Moctezuma I significantly expanded the Aztec empire. The Mezcala culture was long gone by then, but the Mexica prized their artifacts, going so far as to excavate ancient sites seeking out Mezcala sculptures. Several offering groupings of Mezcala figurines, some more than 1,000 years old by the time the Aztecs pillaged them, have been found at the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan with more than two dozen of the anthropomorphic sculptures carefully placed in rows facing south inside two stone boxes.

The most recent discovery of figurines was contained in a quadrangular stone chest that was meticulously excavated between January and July of this year. Dubbed Offering 186, the box contained 14 male anthropomorphic figurines and one miniature female figurine. Carved from green metamorphic stones, the largest figurine is just shy of a foot high, while the smallest miniature is just one inch high. The remains of facial paint representing the Mexica god of rain, Tlaloc, were found on one of the figurines. Archaeologists believe this was part of a deliberate reset of religious signification by the Mexica of the ancient cult figurines.

The box also contained two rattlesnake design earrings, 135 greenstone beads, sea sand and 1,942 seashells, snail shells and coral. The sand and shells came from the Atlantic shore, an area conquered by the Aztecs of the Triple Alliance (the combined forces of three Mexica city-states, Tenochtitlan, Tetzcoco, and Tlacopan) under Moctezuma I.

“In classical Nahuatl, these chests were known as tepetlacalli –from tetl , stone, and petlacalli, reed box. In their homes, the Mexicas used to keep their most precious belongings in reed chests, such as fine feathers, jewelry or cotton garments, and if we see it from the Templo Mayor, which represents a sacred mountain full of maintenance, we can imagine the priests storing in these ‘stone flasks’ the quintessential symbols of water and fertility: sculptures of the rain gods, green stone beads, shells and snails”, concludes López Luján.

Large Roman building found in Swiss gravel pit

Archaeologists have discovered a large complex of stone walls from the early Roman Empire in the Äbnetwald gravel quarry in central Switzerland. This is the first time in nearly a century that the remains of a large Roman stone building has been found in the canton of Zug.

The first walls were discovered at the beginning of the year in an excavation of the gravel mound near Cham-Oberwil. The gravel mound has been quarried since the 1990s and archaeologists have been investigating the newly-exposed top layer for potential findings since then. The archaeological team has now uncovered more than 5,000 square feet of a building complex with multiple rooms.

In addition to the architectural remains, archaeologists unearthed fragments of artifacts. Among them are pieces of utilitarian objects (bowls, millstones, workmanlike amphorae that held food staples like wine, olive and the infamous garum fish sauce) as well as more luxurious objects like imported terra sigillata dishware and blown glass vessels. There was also a single fragment of gold that likely was originally part of a piece of jewelry. These artifacts were not produced locally and thus bear witness to the reach of Roman trade networks.

The team also found bronze and copper coins, and one silver denarius struck by Julius Caesar in 49-48 B.C., shortly after he crossed the Rubicon and took Rome when Pompey, both consuls and much of Roman Senate fled the city. The coin has an elephant stepping on a horned serpent on the obverse and religious implements on the reverse. Caesar had his name stamped under the elephant. He struck what is now known as the “elephant denarius” with his military mint using silver from the treasury, obviously without approval of the Senate.

It is unclear what the function of the building was. The remains of several villa rusticas (country estates) have been found before, and the presence of high-end terra sigillata and glass vessels suggests elite people visited or lived at the site.

“We were also amazed that the top bricks were even visible above ground”. Christa Ebnöther, Professor of Archeology of the Roman Provinces at the University of Bern, puts it this way: “Only a few structural relics of this kind from the Roman period are known in the pre-Alpine region – in contrast to other regions. What is also astounding is the relatively good preservation of the remains». The entire extent of the Roman buildings in the Äbnetwald is not yet known. […]

It is not surprising that the Romans chose the elevated position near Äbnetwald as the location for their buildings. It offered an excellent view and overview of the surrounding landscape, which served to supply water and food. The fact that the gravel hill near Oberwil was already inhabited several thousand years before the Romans came, testifies to the attractiveness of this location.

3,000-year-old priestly tomb found in Peru

Archaeologists have unearthed what they believe is an elite priestly tomb at the Pacopampa archaeological site in the Cajamarca region of northern Peru. It dates to the Pacopampa I phase, ca. 1200-1,000 B.C.

The tomb consists of a large circular pit ten feet in diameter and 3.3 feet deep. The body was placed at the bottom of the pit, his legs partially flexed, with small spherical ceramic bowls incised with geometric designs, a carved bone spatula and other offerings, including a seal in the shape of a hand. He was then buried under six layers of black soil mixed with ash.

Two more seals were found in the upper strata along the edges of the tomb. One features an anthropomorphic face design facing east; the other a jaguar facing west. Archaeologists hypothesize that the seals were actually paint stamps, used for the body painting exclusive to the Pacopampa elite.

“He is one of the first priests in the Andes to have a series of offerings,” [archaeologist Juan Pablo Villanueva] said, adding that “the funerary context is intact.” […]

“The find is extremely important because he is one of the first priests to begin to control the temples in the country’s northern Andes,” Japanese archaeologist Yuji Seki, who has been working at the site for 18 years, told AFP. […]

Seki said the find helped demonstrate that even that long ago, “powerful leaders had appeared in the Andes.”