Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Peacock mosaic found in early Christian basilica

Sunday, January 16th, 2022

A 6th century mosaic floor featuring peacocks and an Greek inscription has been discovered in Arsuz, a town in Hatay Province, southern Turkey. The floor was part of the Church of the Holy Apostles, a Byzantine-era basilica, and was commissioned by a freed slave who thanked God for his manumission in the inscription.

The remains of the Church of the Holy Apostles first emerged in 2007 when landowner Mehmet Keleş was planting saplings in his orange grove. Subsequent excavations revealed a three-aisled basilica church with mosaic floors, stone graves and human remains. A mosaic inscription identified the site as an ancient church dedicated to the apostles. There is evidence it was in use through the 12th century.

Located on the Gulf Issus 70 miles from the great city of Antioch, Arsuz was founded during the Hellenistic era and by the 1st century B.C. when it was annexed by Rome, it was an important port city on the Mediterranean coast of what is today Turkey. It became a regionally significant religious center in late antiquity, the seat of a bishopric and home to a monastery founded in the mountains outside the city by the ascetic hermit Theodosius of Antioch.

The mosaic with peacocks and the inscription were discovered in the most recent dig season and the excavation is ongoing. Eventually, the Hatay regional government plans to build a roof over the remains and open it to visitors as an open-air museum.

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Rare Roman wood figurine found in railway dig

Friday, January 14th, 2022

The archaeological program surveying the site of the HS2 high speed rail construction have unearthed another rare artifact: an early Roman carved wooden figure. It was discovered in July 2021 at Three Bridge Mill in Twyford, Buckinghamshire. It was in a water-logged ditch from the early Roman era, preserved from decomposition by the anaerobic clay fill of the ditch.

When it first emerged from the excavation trench, archaeologists thought it was just a random piece of wood. As they painstakingly removed the soil, they realized it was a carved anthropomorphic figurine. It was carved from a single piece of wood as is more than 26 inches high (67 cm) and seven inches wide. Today the arms below the elbows and the feet have decayed, but much of the carved detail survives on the head, the tunic that gathers at the waist and the shaped calves.

The style of carving and the figure’s tunic-like garment suggested it was made in the early Roman period. Shards of pottery from the ditch confirmed that assessment when they were radiocarbon dated to between 43 and 70 A.D.

The occurrence of carved, wooden, figures in British prehistory and the Romano-British period is extremely rare.  In 2019 a wooden limb, thought to be a Roman votive offering, was found at the bottom of a well in Northampton. Examples of full Roman carved figures have been recovered in Dijon and Chamalières in France. A wooden carving, the ‘Dagenham Idol’, was recovered from the north bank of the Thames is 1922 and has been dated back to the Neolithic period and an early Iron Age carved figure was recovered from the banks of the River Teign, Kingsteignton in 1866.

Jim Williams, Senior Science Advisor for Historic England, said:

“This is a truly remarkable find which brings us face to face with our past. The quality of the carving is exquisite and the figure is all the more exciting because organic objects from this period rarely survive. This discovery helps us to imagine what other wooden, plant or animal-based art and sculpture may have been created at this time. Further analysis has the potential to reveal more detail, perhaps even providing clues about where it was made.”

The figurine is now being examined and conserved in York Archaeology’s conservation laboratory. A small fragment of the figurine that was found broken off next to it will be radiocarbon dated and subjected to stable isotope analysis to determine, if possible, its place of origin.

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Celtic gold “rainbow cups” found in Brandenburg

Thursday, January 13th, 2022

A group of 41 Celtic gold cup-shaped coins have been discovered near the village of Baitz in Brandenburg, northeastern Germany. These are the first and only Celtic gold coins ever discovered in Brandenburg.

Rainbow cups are bowl-shaped coins made of precious metals that are found in the territory of the Celtic La Tène culture of central Europe. (They received their moniker because they were often discovered by farmers when ploughing their fields after heavy rain, so a folk legend sprang up that gold cups would be found wherever a rainbow had touched the ground.) They are often decorated with Celtic iconography. The ones discovered in Baitz are smooth, with no decoration on the surface. It is the second largest hoard of smooth rainbow cups ever found.

There was no Celtic population in Brandenburg — a settlement from the early Germanic Jastorf culture occupied the site — so these precious objects likely reached the settlement over Iron Age trade networks.

They were discovered by Wolfgang Herkt, an officially appointed volunteer archaeologist trained and overseen by the Brandenburg State Office for the Preservation of Monuments and Archaeological State Museum (BLDAM). He first came across a group of 11 coins, and a follow-up excavation turned up another 30 for a total of 41 gold coins. There are also silver and copper cups. The bronzes may have been counterfeits; bronze coated in a thin layer of gold have been found before in cup hoards, a deliberate deception to pass off false coinage as the genuine article.

The rainbow cups are scheduled to go on display at the Brandenburg State Archaeological Museum in the spring.

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Bronze Age stone game board found in Oman

Saturday, January 8th, 2022

A rare game board carved into stone has been discovered at a Bronze Age archaeological site near the village of Ayn Bani Saidah in Oman.

Archaeologists from the University of Warsaw’s Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology (PCMA UW) in collaboration with Oman’s Ministry of Heritage and Tourism are excavating the Qumayrah Valley in the mountains of northern Oman to explore the remains of Bronze Age and Iron Age campsites, graves, dwellings and tower structures were identified there in previous surveys. The most recent fieldwork season, which concluded in December, unearthed a large building from the Umm an-Nar period (2500-2000 B.C.). Inside one of its rooms was the stone game board.

The board was engraved with a rectangular grid of two rows of seven surviving columns. Inside each square of the grid is a shallow cup-hole style depression. The stone is broken at one end, damaging the seventh square on the top row. Games boards of this type have been found at Bronze Age sites in India, Mesopotamia and the Eastern Mediterranean. They are extremely rare, and usually found at important economic centers.

“Ayn Bani Saidah is strategically located at a junction of routes connecting Bat in the south, Buraimi and Al-Ayn in the north, and the sea coast near Sohar in the east. Along this route there are some major sites from the Umm an-Nar period. So we hoped that also our site will be in the same league,” explains [PCMA UW archaeologist] Prof. Bieliński.

Latest discoveries prove the archaeologists right. “The settlement is exceptional for including at least four towers: three round ones and an angular one. One of the round towers had not been visible on the surface despite its large size of up to 20 m in diameter. It was only discovered during excavations,” says Dr. Agnieszka Pieńkowska of the PCMA UW who is analyzing the Bronze Age remains within the project. “The function of these prominent structures present at many Umm an-Nar sites still needs to be explained,” she adds.

But new discoveries have also been made in other Bronze Age buildings. “We finally found proof of copper working at the site, as well as some copper objects. This shows that our settlement participated in the lucrative copper trade for which Oman was famous at that time, with mentions of Omani copper present in the cuneiform texts from Mesopotamia,” says Prof. Bieliński.

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Pompeii horse skeleton restored after decades of neglect

Friday, January 7th, 2022

The skeleton of a horse found at Pompeii in 1938 that was damaged by being on mounted display at the site is being restored. The horse was unearthed by archaeologist Amedeo Maiuri, director of Pompeii from 1924 until 1961, in an area south Via dell’Abbondanza believed to have been a stable. The excavation revealed a small square masonry structure, likely a manger. A little ways away the skull of an equine emerged, followed by the neck and vertebrae. Beneath them, the rest of the body — ribs and legs — were found. It was a horse 4’5″ at the withers, which was used to haul goods.

The approach taken to such discoveries at the time was the display them in the original context where they were found, in keeping with the “museumization” effort to convert the archaeological site into one big open-air museum. The horse skeleton was therefore mounted in a standing position on a metal armature. It was left in place and neglected for decades. Some of the bones have degraded and the metal support oxidized, staining the bones in contact with it.

Modern technology will help remedy these historic curatorial errors. The skeleton has already been laser scanned to create a complete 3D model. The model will then be used as a guide for the skeleton to be disassembled so the bones can be restored, cleaned and stabilized. Missing parts will, if possible, be 3D printed and put in place. The entire horse will then be reassembled in a scientifically correct position on a new armature made of new materials better suited to the microclimate.

Perhaps the coolest part of the plan is the creation of a 3D-printed tactile model of the horse for the visually impaired. Visitors will be able to explore the model through touch, with accompanying explanations in Braille.

Here’s a timelapse video of the skeleton being scanned and of the early 3D model.

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Cowardly Lion dog found in Rome tomb

Monday, January 3rd, 2022

A terracotta dog bearing a startling resemblance to the Cowardly Lion as portrayed by Bert Lahr in The Wizard of Oz has been discovered in ancient tombs in the Appio Latino neighborhood of Rome. Three small tombs were found in a preventative archaeological excavation before water line maintenance on Via Luigi Tosti, a mile south of the Porta Latina gate in the Aurelian Walls. They date to between the 1st century B.C. and the 1st century A.D.

Discovered just a foot and a half under the current road level, much of the tombs’ structure has been damaged by later construction. Blocks of yellow tufa wall remain of one tomb, a section of opus reticulatum (diamond-shaped tufa bricks) survives in a second, and the stone plinth of the third. Evidence of combustion on one of the tombs may explain their destruction and ultimate abandonment.

Archaeologists believe the three tombs were part of a modest complex of tombs constructed using the front of an abandoned pozzolana (the volcanic ash that was a key ingredient in the extraordinary longevity of Roman concrete) quarry. It was an early iteration of what a century later would grow into a group of sizeable above-ground tombs and underground chambers. Today that short stretch of the ancient Via Latina is an archaeological park dedicated to the tombs, but the recently-discovered ones are older and closer to the city. The tombs and catacombs in the Via Latina archaeological park date to between the 2nd and 4th centuries and are a mile further southeast along the Via Latina.

The terracotta dog likely predates the tombs. It was found in an earlier archaeological layer that also contained copious fragments of frescoed plaster. It depicts the head and forequarters of a dog, his pointy ears standing straight up and expression alert, for all its Bert Lahriness. This type of artifact is usually seen as an architectural feature, a decorative spout used to channel water away from the roof, but this particular example has no holes in it, so it cannot have been used for that purpose.

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Inscription found inside Etruscan helmet

Saturday, January 1st, 2022

Archaeologists have found an Etruscan inscription inside a 2,400-year-old bronze helmet that was discovered 91 years ago in a tomb in Vulci, on the Tyrrhenian coast of Umbria in central Italy. It is an exceptionally rare find. Of all the known Etruscan helmets found in funerary contexts from the 6th through 3rd centuries B.C., there are no more than a dozen with inscriptions, and this one has been hidden in the plainest of sight: on public display since 1935 at the National Etruscan Museum of the Villa Giulia in Rome.

Discovered in Tomb LV of the small necropolis of the Osteria just north of Vulci in 1930, the bronze helmet can be dated from its typology and in comparison to the other grave goods in the richly furnished tomb to the middle of the 4th century B.C. This was a contentious time in the Italian peninsula, with local peoples vying on the battlefield for territorial control and against invaders like the Celts who sacked Rome in 390 B.C.

In 2019, the helmet was re-examined to assess its conservation needs and fully recorded as part of an effort to digitize the absolutely massive holdings of the Villa Giulia (plan at least three whole days if you want to see everything, like bare minimum, seriously). The new study revealed for the first time the existence of an inscription on the interior of the helmet.

The epigraph was inscribed inside the neck roll of the helmet after its manufacture. It is a complete sequence of seven letters reading HARN STE. (The space is there because there’s a rivet between the N and the S, but  Harnste is a single word.) While it is impossible to say with certainty that this was a personal name inscribed by the helmet’s owner like your mom Sharpied your name on the waistband of your undies when you went to camp, only the owner would be familiar enough with the inside of his helmet to put a name on it.

Vulci was famous in its time for its bronze work and the helmet was assumed to be of local manufacture when it was first discovered, but more recent scholarship and closer examination of the helmet points towards it having been made in Perugia where the vast majority of helmets of this type, midway between the early Etruscan Negau type and the Celtic Montefortino type, have been found. The name “Harnste” also provides a linguistic link to Perugia, as the name of an Etruscan woman “Harnustia” was found in an epigraph near the  Hypogeum of the Volumni in a suburb of Perugia.

The Villa Giulia museum has temporarily put the helmet in a new display case so visitors can examine it up close. After the Epiphany, it will be returned to its usual location, on display with other objects recovered from Tomb LV.

Here’s a 360-degree video of it in its temporary display location.

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Decapitated horse found in Merovingian grave

Thursday, December 30th, 2021

Archaeologists have unearthed a Merovingian-era cemetery in Knittlingen, southwestern Germany, that includes a beheaded horse laid to rest alongside his warrior rider. The excavation revealed more than 110 graves containing the remains of the local elite.

Today’s Knittlingen was founded in the Merovingian period (the first written record of it is Carolingian, dating to 843), but there is archaeological evidence of settlement going back to the Neolithic era. Graves from the Merovingian burial ground were first discovered in 1920 during construction of a narrow-gauge railway that was never completed. When real estate development was planned at the site in the 1980s, an archaeological survey encountered a few more graves, but the development did not move forward and the site was not thoroughly excavated until this summer.

The  Baden-Württemberg State Office for Monument Preservation (LAD) employed contractors ArchaeoBW to explore the area. As expected, the team encountered prehistoric findings, post holes, pits and trenches from Neolithic structures and fragments of ceramics dating to around 5000 B.C.

The main focus of the excavation, however, was the Merovingian cemetery. The goal was to uncover all of the inhumation burials at the site, and even though excavations will continue through the spring of 2022, archaeologists believe the cemetery has been fully revealed.

The graves were laid out in regular rows in largely chronological order, but the graves of some of the more notable members of the societal elite were out of sequence, buried within a circular ditch. Some of the graves were simple cut holes, but some individuals were buried in wooden coffins, and there were also more elaborate wooden chambers built to contain the remains of people of highest status.

While the cemetery was extensively looted in the Middle Ages, archaeologists were able to recover a wide range of funerary artifacts, including pearl necklaces, fibulae, earrings, arm rings, disc brooches, belt fittings and utilitarian objects like knives and combs. Weapons — swords, spears, shields, arrowheads — were found in male burials. Pottery containing the remnants of food were interred as funerary offerings.

“Despite their fragmentation due to the ancient robbery, the finds give indications of the social status of the dead,” said [LAD officer Dr. Folke] Damminger. The comparatively rich burials from the second half of the sixth century are remarkable in Knittlingen. One woman was buried with almost complete fibula outfits typical of the time. A gold disc brooch worn individually from a somewhat younger grave, on the other hand, heralds the fashion of the seventh century. Some of the men’s graves identified the deceased as cavalrymen. A decapitated horse was buried in the vicinity of one of these burials. Bronze bowls testify to table manners based on the courtly model.

The accessory ensembles of the late seventh century, on the other hand, looked somewhat more modest. It is not known whether this is due to a decline in prosperity or to a change in the staging of the funerals of the local elites.

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Mummy of Pharaoh Amenhotep I digitally unwrapped

Wednesday, December 29th, 2021

The mummy of Pharaoh Amenhotep I is a unique survivor of the destructive fashion for unwrapping mummies in the late 19th and early 20th century. It has managed to survive the 140 years since its discovery untampered with, thanks largely to the pristine beauty of its wrapping, complete with floral garlands and lifelike wood and cartonnage face mask. It is still pristine, but now thanks to CT scanning, the mummy of Amenhotep I has been unwrapped virtually.

Amenhotep I was the second pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty, who ruled Egypt for two decades, from ca. 1524 to 1504 B.C. His original tomb has never been found, but his mummy was discovered in 1881 at the Deir el-Bahari Royal Cache in Luxor, hidden by priests of the 21st Dynasty to protect royal mummies from being damaged or destroyed by tomb raiders. The mummy was found in a wood coffin inscribed with the pharaoh’s name and recording that Amenhotep I had been rewrapped twice by 21st Dynasty priests of Amun. The pristine wrapping, therefore, was not original to his burial, but a later restoration dating to his reburial in the Royal Cache.

(Three thousand years later, Gaston Maspero, noted French Egyptologist and director-general of the antiquities of Egypt from 1881 until 1914, took over where the priests of Amun had left off. In his dogged pursuit of antiquities traffickers, he arrested the men who had secretly found the Deir el-Bahari cache of royal mummies and they confessed to their find under torture. Maspero quickly had the mummies moved to Cairo to protect them from tomb raiders. He was also responsible for the decision to keep Amenhotep I’s exceptional wrapping intact.)

The mummy was X-rayed in the 1930s and again in the 1960s, but the technology wasn’t refined enough to provide much in the way of information about the pharaoh’s body. CT scans allowed the creation of a 3D model that can be visualized in its different compositional layers.

“This fact that Amenhotep I’s mummy had never been unwrapped in modern times gave us a unique opportunity: not just to study how he had originally been mummified and buried, but also how he had been treated and reburied twice, centuries after his death, by High Priests of Amun,” said Dr. Sahar Saleem, professor of radiology at the Faculty of Medicine at Cairo University and the radiologist of the Egyptian Mummy Project, the study’s first author. […]

We show that Amenhotep I was approximately 35 years old when he died. He was approximately 169cm tall, circumcized, and had good teeth. Within his wrappings, he wore 30 amulets and a unique golden girdle with gold beads.”

“Amenhotep I seems to have physically resembled his father: he had a narrow chin, a small narrow nose, curly hair, and mildly protruding upper teeth.”

Saleem continued: “We couldn’t find any wounds or disfigurement due to disease to justify the cause of death, except numerous mutiliations post mortem, presumably by grave robbers after his first burial. His entrails had been removed by the first mummifiers, but not his brain or heart.”

The scans also revealed that contrary to previous scholarship (including Saleem’s), the 21st Dynasty priests had carefully repaired mummies damaged by looters at the end of the 20th Dynasty, not used them as mines of prestige funerary materials. All of Amenhotep’s jewelry and amulets were preserved in the linen wrapping.

The research has been published in the journal Frontiers in Medicine and can be read in its entirety here.

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Jersey acquires world’s largest Iron Age hoard

Tuesday, December 28th, 2021

The world’s largest Iron Age coin hoard, discovered on Jersey nine years ago, has been acquired by the Government of Jersey for £4.25 million ($5.7 million). The Council of Ministers dipped into the civil asset recovery fund (moneys confiscated from criminal activities) to pay Her Majesty’s Receiver General, administrator of the Crown estate in Jersey, for the right to keep their own patrimony.

The Le Catillon II hoard was discovered by a pair of metal detectorists in February 2012. They had been searching that field for 30 years, looking for a coin treasure based on a tale they’d heard from the previous landowner’s daughter that she and her father had found coins in a jar buried in the field when she was a little girl. After three decades of fruitless searching, Reg Mead and Richard Miles found 60 coins of the Coriosolite tribe in what is now Brittany in one location. They dug down and encountered the top of what would prove to be a massive group of Celtic coins.

The find site was then thoroughly excavated by archaeologists who wrapped the mass of coins, hardened by corrosion into a half-ton block, and raised it in one giant chunk for excavation at the Jersey Museum in view of the public. Initial estimates of how many coins were crammed in there ranged from 30,000 to 50,000.  As excavation continued, the estimate increased to 70,000; this turned out to be the accurate figure. Conservators then encountered a surprise: a section about the size of a shoebox containing six gold torcs. They also found other pieces of jewelry, glass beads, a leather purse and a woven bag containing silver and gold jewelry. It took five years to fully excavate the block. The last coin was removed in 2017.

Treasure finds on Jersey are legally complicated because of its status as a self-governing Crown Dependency. The finders wanted the Le Catillon II hoard declared treasure under the UK’s legislation or, if the French law was applied, that it belonged to the finders and landowner. They tried to make a case of it, to loosen up the Crown Dependency chains a little bit, but nothing came of it, and a decade later it came down to a buyout. The hoard’s value was initially estimated at £10 million, so at least they got charged the friends price.

The historic collection of coins will now remain in Jersey Heritage’s care.

Part of the financial settlement included a £250,000 payment to Jersey Heritage for their work towards dismantling the coins, and an additional £250,000 which will be used to establish a trust. […]

The Crown will now undertake the work to establish an independent trust to promote scientific and educational research into the historic discovery.

Chief Minister John Le Fondre said the purchase was made “in the interest of the island”.

He said: “This is an outcome which will ensure that this unique part of Jersey’s history remains in the island for this and future generations.”

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