Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Folded gold diadem found in Tamil Nadu burial urn

Thursday, August 11th, 2022

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has discovered a burial urn containing a gold diadem and numerous iron objects at the Adichanallur archaeological site in Tamil Nadu, India. The diadem was found in a massive earthenware urn eight feet in diameter. The urn was filled with soil, and the diadem was at the bottom of the urn along with a complete skeleton and other grave goods.

[T]he urn contained a number of objects that were made of gold, bronze or iron. As many as 20 iron objects — two inside and 18 outside the urn burial — were unearthed. On the outside, it contained 11 arrow heads, two spear heads, one hanger, an iron plate, a chisel and a long spear of 1.75 metre with a decorated handle.

The bronze objects included a circular sieve, a cup with a stand, and two bowls. Interestingly, the cup had a moulded decoration. The urn also had a number of pots, and red and black earthen wares of varying sizes. As per the ASI expert, the urn also contained paddy husks.

Clay jar burials were first encountered at Adichanallur in 2004. So far 169 urns containing human skeletal remains and rich grave goods have been unearthed at the site. Radiocarbon dating of the human remains revealed that they were buried between 905 and 696 B.C.

Scottish archaeologist Alexander Rea, the first Superintendent of Archaeological Survey of Southern India, found numerous gold artifacts, including 20 diadems, in his excavations of Adichanallur between 1899 and 1905. He documented the find site of the diadems with meticulous detail in his 1902 excavation report.

This year the ASI surveyed the area pinpointed by Rea in the 1902 report with satellite mapping before excavating in the hope they might expand on Rea’s exploration and find any archaeological treasures he missed. The burial urn containing the diadem was discovered 27 days after digging commenced.

The diadem doesn’t look like one anymore. It has been repeatedly folded up leaving it just 3.5 cm (1.4 inches) long. This was done deliberately, a ritual destruction of the diadem after the death of the wearer so that nobody would be able to wear it after him.


First inscription mentioning “Gordion” found in Gordion

Tuesday, August 9th, 2022

An inscription bearing the name of the Phrygian capital of Gordion has been discovered in the remains of the ancient city about 40 miles southwest of Turkey’s capital, Ankara. The name is known from ancient sources, but this is the first inscription ever found to mention the name “Gordion.”

Gordion was the capital of the kingdom of Phrygia which ruled Western Anatolia area from the 12th century B.C. until the Persian conquest in the 7th century B.C. According to legends cited by ancient historians like Herodotus and Arrian, Gordion was founded by Gordios, maker of the intractable knot that Alexander the Great “untied” so handily by slicing through it. Gordios’ son and successor was the King Midas who turned everything he touched into gold. They were already legendary figures by the time of Homer, but the archaeology of the site indicates it was part of the Hittite Empire in the Bronze Age, not an independent kingdom.

A historical King Gordios succeeded by his son King Midas do make an appearance in the 8th century. The historical Midas built what would become known as the Midas Mound Tumulus in around 740 B.C. for his father Gordios. At 180 feet high and almost 1,000 feet in diameter, it is the second-largest burial mound in Turkey. It was excavated in the 1950s and its double-layer wood and limestone funerary chamber was found with rich furnishings and food offerings still intact. (A few years back, a rather tasty mead-beer hybrid was recreated from a chemical analysis of the residue inside one of the cauldrons found in the chamber.)

Gordion faded in the Hellenistic period but was still populated during the Roman period when its location on a major road lent it significance. After the 4th century, there is little evidence of occupation except for limited habitation of the citadel mound in the 13th and 14th centuries. A small village west of the citadel was the only settlement in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The ancient city was rediscovered during construction of the Berlin-Istanbul-Baghdad railroad in 1893. Archaeologists Alfred and Gustav Körte who excavated the site in 1900 were convinced it was Gordion but they never found any conclusive archaeological evidence to prove it. Subsequent archaeological explorations also came up empty-handed. Until now.

The team found a Phrygian stone inscription in the area called “the outer city” in Gordion this year. The inscription, dated to the years when Greek King Antiochus I (281-261 B.C.) reigned in the Hellenistic Period, is the first and only inscription in which the name Gordion is mentioned.

The inscription, which is thought to be related to a tumulus tomb, is also notable for being the longest inscription ever found in Gordion. It features a Persian male name, as well.

The stone is now being conserved and the inscription fully translated before publication.


Unique Scarborough Roman complex reburied

Monday, August 8th, 2022

The large Roman complex with a unique never-seen-before layout unearthed in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, last year has been reburied for its own protection. It was discovered in an archaeological survey at the site of a new housing development. The complex includes a circular central room with four rectangular rooms leading off it in a rough cross shape. There are also a bath house and other outbuildings. It may have been a villa or a religious building, or both at different times, but whatever its purpose, the quality of design and construction are so high it could only have been the handiwork of the top architects and craftsmen in Northern Europe.

When the find was first revealed, housing developers Keepmoat had already redesigned the project to move a planned open greenspace to the archaeological site. That way construction could continue around it without disturbing the Roman remains. Keepmoat was in discussions with Historic England about how best to manage the site for the long term as well. They planned to apply for designation as a national historic monument and to integrate it into the public open space of the development in such a way as to protect it while still making it accessible to the public.

Unfortunately time was not on their side. As soon as the find was announced, the remains proved vulnerable to predators. The fenced-in site was broken into by “nighthawks” (illegal metal detectorists who operate under cover of darkness) literally hours after the story hit the press on April 14th. Thankfully the damage was mostly to the fence and land around it, not to the ancient structures, and Keepmoat increased security in response.

More than a year has passed since then, and following Historic England’s recommendation, Keepmoat has now reburied the archaeological remains. They do plan to do something on the greenspace to explain the ancient treasure beneath its topsoil.

A Keepmoat spokesperson said: “To inform visitors of the significance of the findings, we have submitted a landscaping design to the Local Planning Authority which will incorporate an interpretive depiction of the remains.”


Actaeon devoured by his dogs found in Roman theater

Sunday, August 7th, 2022

A marble block carved with a relief of Actaeon being devoured by his hunting dogs has been unearthed at the Roman theater in the ancient city of Prusias ad Hypium in modern-day Konuralp, northwestern Turkey. The Actaeon block was discovered in the orchestra of the ancient theater along with many other highly decorated architectural fragments such as entablatures that were once part of the stage structure.

In the myth Artemis transforms Actaeon into a stag to punish him for having seen her bathing naked. She sets his pack of 50 loyal dogs on him and no longer able to recognize him as their master, they tear him apart. The relief depicts Actaeon still in human form being devoured by three dogs. Acanthus leaves decorate the scene which is surrounded by an egg-and-dart border.

Other remarkable finds are the superstructure blocks belonging to the stage building with tragedy, comedy, and drama masks, similar to which have been found in the same area before, and the structure blocks with floral decorations.

The pieces are similar is some detail, particularly border motifs, to a large block found at the theater in 2020 whose central relief is a head of the gorgon Medusa.

Prusias ad Hypium was founded as “Hypios” in the 4th century B.C. by settlers from Heraclea Pontica, a prosperous center of trade on the coast of Bithynia. It was conquered by King Prusias I of Bithynia in the early 3rd century B.C. and renamed the city after itself. The first theater was built around this time. The city was part of the great bequest of the entire kingdom of Bithynia by Nicomedes IV to the Roman Republic in 74 B.C. Rome added the “ad Hypium” to the name and over the next two centuries Prusias ad Hypium grew in population and wealth. It was granted the right to mint coins and no fewer than three Roman emperors, (Hadrian, Caracalla and Elagabalus) visited it in person in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

Archaeologists have begun cleaning and conserving the newly-discovered blocks from the orchestra section of the theater. Some of the blocks awaiting treatment will be kept in the archaeological park for visitors to see.


Bronze uterus, mint coins found at sacred baths

Thursday, August 4th, 2022

The excavation of the ancient sacred baths at San Casciano dei Bagni near Siena in Tuscany has unearthed a treasury of votive objects including an extremely rare bronze uterus and more than 3,000 freshly minted coins.

Votive offerings made to sacred sites associated with healing were often shaped like the body parts that were afflicted with illness or pain. The bronze uterus was likely a fertility offering. It dates to the period between the violent demise of the Roman Republic and the establishment of the Roman Empire. Terracotta uteri are relatively frequent finds in Etruscan and Roman temples dedicated to fertility gods, but bronze examples are vanishingly rare.

Other bronze votive body parts found in this year’s excavation include a leg from the knee down, a bronze penis, a realistic bronze ear and a more stylized, roughly designed ear that is exceptional because of its inscription. It records the name of Aulus Nonnius, the man who dedicated the ear to the sanctuary in the first years of the Roman Empires.

This summer is the sixth season of digs at the baths, and the area under excavation has been enlarged to cover previously unexplored sections of the complex, revealing for the first time the full dimensions of the sanctuary and shedding new light on the many phases of its history.

Evidence was unearthed of a major collapse in the Great Bath area in the late 3rd century. A sinkhole seven feet deep opened in the ground, causing the surrounding structures — bathing basins, colonnades, buildings — to collapse. This natural disaster was considered a prodigy (an omen heralding an impending calamity) by the Romans, and they quickly moved to appease the disgruntled deities by raising a new altar inside the sinkhole itself. They then built a new, smaller basin over the rubble with a set of stairs leading into the bath.

This season’s excavation reached over a mile away from the core of the ancient sanctuary to unearth the remains of a portico built in the 16th century when the Medici dynasty ruled Tuscany. People seeking healing still sought out the ancient sacred spring, although I’m not sure the Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Federico Borromeo, would have visited the bath repeatedly in 1600-1 to cure his persistent “cheek ache” had he known he’d was keeping company with votive penises and uteri.

But the real surprise, revealed to ANSA by archaeologist Jacopo Tabolli with a sneak preview, has arrived over the last few weeks with the discovery of the real size of the sanctuary here that belonged to the Etruscans and was renovated by the ancient Romans in the early centuries of the Empire to make it more lavish and monumental.

It was such an exceptional place that the [Rome] mint was ordered to produce a trove of shiny coins made of silver, orichalcum and bronze, perhaps for the emperor’s own offerings to honour the gods tasked with watching over his health and that of the many noble Romans ready to travel to this sacred site.

“It’s a site without equal in Italy or in the ancient Mediterranean,” said Tabolli with visible excitement. […]

“It’s an exceptional discovery because of the size of the area of the sanctuary, which is much larger than we could have imagined, with several holy buildings, altars, pools,” he explained.


Bejeweled Bronze Age grave found in Hungary

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2022

Archaeologists have unearthed the richly furnished grave of a young high-status woman in a small Bronze Age cemetery near the town of Mány in northern Hungary. It was one of several graves discovered at the site in a preventative archaeological exploration along the route of planned highway construction. The team of archaeologists from the Szent István Király Museum discovered eight burials from the Middle Bronze Age Tumulus culture which dominated Central Europe between 1600 and 1200 B.C. 

The grave of the young woman was unique for its luxurious contents. She was buried with 38 objects — mostly jewelry and garment fittings — made of bronze and precious metal. She wore a ring on every finger, bangles on both wrists, bronze spirals and a gold spiral ring found near her skull that was likely a hair tie. Also found buried with her was the bronze blade of a dagger with three rivets that attached the blade to the now-missing handle (likely an organic material like wood that has decomposed). Two long, serpentine bronze pins with broad circular terminals were found at her shoulders, likely part of her clothing. While no textile remains have been identified so far, the metal adornments are so copious that archaeologists believe they can reconstruct the garment she was buried in. Several small pieces of pottery typical of Tumulus culture graves were unearthed as well. 

There were no raised tumuli or other markers of the graves. The area has been thoroughly cultivated over the centuries, flattening the mounds over the burials. The remains were found less than 12 inches under the topsoil, so it was only fortunate happenstance that any graves could be found with contents undisturbed, especially since the other seven burials only contain fragile pottery grave goods.

In addition to the burial ground, archaeologists also discovered remains of a Bronze Age settlement at the site, as well as traces of Iron Age Celtic occupation.

This video is in Hungarian and has no captions (translated or otherwise), but you can see the full complement of recovered artifacts from the grave bagged and tagged in the laboratory.


“Pregnant mummy” not pregnant after all

Sunday, July 31st, 2022

The pregnancy of the 1st century B.C. mummy in the collection of the University of Warsaw turns out to have been a false alarm. The (premature) pregnancy announcement was made in an April 2021 article by some members of the Warsaw Mummy Project who based their conclusions on their analysis of new high resolution X-rays and CT scans. The results were questioned at the time by other scientists, including the WMP co-founder Kamila Braulińska and the radiologist who CT scanned the mummy, Dr. Łukasz Kownacki.

Now another team from the Warsaw Mummy Project has published a paper that decidedly contradicts the pregnancy interpretation. They contend that what looked like a head, arms and legs of third term fetus are actually bundles of mummification material, and they have the receipts in full-color and 3D.

“Our article contains a number of spectacular images and links to films depicting the interior of an ancient mummy, including those made with the use of holographic techniques, which are the latest trend in medicine” – told PAP the main author of the publication – bioarchaeologist, co-founder of the WMP – Kamila Braulińska from the University of Warsaw .

The researchers found that there is no fetus in the pelvis at all – as suggested by the authors of the 2021 report – but four bundles.

“They were placed there by ancient embalmerists. In the bundles there is probably at least one mummified organ of the deceased. It is a well-known practice in ancient Egypt” – emphasized Braulińska. The remaining ones may contain body fragments or other remnants of the mummification process.

The authors of the new publication think the first team misinterpreted three of the bundles as fetus parts because they did not consult an expert in radiology to interpret the images. Perhaps in part because of this lack of specific expertise, they were not able to extract the richest, most detailed models from the imaging data, even though both teams used the same data and the same software.

“In this way, we showed how much the analysis of three-dimensional effects and their interpretation depend on the skills of the software user, who can achieve excellent visualization effects also without being a radiologist” – Dr. Kownacki told PAP.

For the needs of the latest study, the possibilities of radiological analyzes available at the Imaging Diagnostics Department of the European Health Center Otwock were used, including unique medical holographic software for the so-called Mixed Reality, as well as radiological server solutions.


Muses in the Getty lab

Saturday, July 30th, 2022

The J. Paul Getty Museum has created a fascinating online exhibit about the challenging conservation of a group of reliefs from a lost Roman sarcophagus. Muses in the Lab: Conserving a Roman Sarcophagus on Google Arts & Culture is an easily scrollable, annotated and illustrated play-by-play of the conservation of a fragmentary high relief from a large sarcophagus that features a woman seated next to three standing muses.

The seated woman was likely the deceased. Facing her is Terpsichore, muse of dancing and choral song holding a lyre. Beside her in the center of the composition is Thalia, muse of comedy, holding the top of a comic mask. She wears a netted catsuit similar to ones seen in sculpture of comedic actors in costume. On the right is Euterpe, muse of music and lyric poetry, holding her double-pipes in both hands.

A second group of fragments from this sarcophagus are from the right front corner. Melpomene, muse of tragedy, stands in front of a draped curtain holding a tragic mask. The right end of the sarcophagus is attached to this fragment. It features a low relief of a beaded man holding a book roll. There’s also a bundle of book rolls at his feet, suggesting he may be a representation of a writer, likely a tragic poet given his location next to Melpomene.

The main group is 54 inches high by 88 inches wide and would have been the central scene in the front of a massive sarcophagus.  Its style dates it to the mid-3rd century A.D. The Getty acquired it from a New York art dealer in 1972. They knew nothing of his history before that and there is still no information about its origin. Both the front scene and the right corner were on display together from 1974 until the 1980s when they were taken down and put in storage.

Conservators revisited the reliefs in 2018 as part of the reinstallation of the museum’s antiquities collection. They found that the quality of the carving was exceptional, almost entirely in the round and every single surface, even the ones in the background behind the figures, is polished and shaped. The marble sculpting is so extraordinary that conservators believe it was done in Rome itself. If that is true, it would be the largest sarcophagus of its type known to have been produced in Rome.

Unfortunately, the fragments had not fared well in storage. They were in poor condition, with cracked, discolored joins from all kinds of different materials applied in past restorations. The pinning methods used to hold the reliefs together had damaged the marble and were no longer stable.

In order the correct past mistakes and reassemble the reliefs with modern conservatorial principles of non-invasive reversibility, the Getty team had to separate all of the fragments, remove the bad joins and pins, then put it all back together again. There were almost 50 fragments so it was a challenging job. During the painstaking cleaning of the fragments, conservators were delighted to discover the remains of the ancient polychromy, mostly purple, that added detail and vivacity to the sculpture.

When it came time to piece the fragments back together again, the conservation team took an innovative approach. They inserted steel sleeves into the already existing holes and fitted pins into the sleeves. Magnets were placed inside the ends of the pins and the sleeves. That way the fragments connect via the magnetic pins, meaning there is no need for adhesives and the fragments can be dismantled in minutes. Lastly, they created a custom mount that works with the new pinning system to keep the group secured.

The right corner group with Melpomene and the bearded man was not added to the display for practical reasons. The corner piece would make it necessary to block out a display place the equivalent of the large sarcophagus, most of that empty space. The group of four are discretely mounted to the wall.

The online exhibit lays out the complications of the restoration process, how conservators have to devise new solutions to fix their predecessors’ mistakes, the role modern design and technology can play to improve the display and long-term care of formerly abused antiquities.


1,765-square-foot Herakles mosaic found

Tuesday, July 26th, 2022

Archaeologists have discovered a 1,765-square-foot floor mosaic depicting the 12 Labours of Hercules in the Roman baths of the ancient city of Syedra on the southern coast of Turkey. It dates to the 2nd century A.D. and is unique for the life-sized dimensions of the human figures. Every one of Hercules’ contests against an assortment of man-eating creatures and enormous quantities of cow manure get a scene in the mosaic, although some parts were destroyed in antiquity. The sections that remain are in good condition.

The mosaic was first unearthed in 2019, but the excavation was not completed at that time and the art work was reburied for its protection. The excavation resumed in late 2020 and the full extent of the mosaic revealed, 26 feet in width and 72 feet in length. It fills a rectangular room with a semicircular recess at one end like an apse. This design is typical of the caldarium (the hot room) in other baths.

Syedra was founded by Greek colonists in the 7th century B.C., but first makes an appearance in written records in the 1st century as the location of Pompey’s final war council in 48 B.C. The epic poet Lucan and the historian Florus mention his stop-over in Syedra, “on a lonely rock in Cilicia,” where he met with the handful of senators who still stuck by him after he was defeated by Julius Caesar in the Battle of Pharsalus. The topic of discussion was whether Pompey should go to Egypt or Parthia to seek sanctuary and support against Caesar. According to Lucan, Pompey wanted to go to Parthia, but was browbeaten by Lucius Cornelius Lentulus into going to Egypt instead and securing the aid of boy king Ptolemy XIII. Pompey had barely set foot on Egyptian shores when Ptolemy had him killed and decapitated in a doomed attempt to curry favor with Caesar.

The small port city rose to greater prominence in the 2nd century. It sided with Emperor Septimius Severus against Pescennius Niger, governor of Syria, in the latter’s attempt to overthrow Severus in 193 A.D. When Severus crushed Niger at Issus in May 194 A.D., he punished the cities who had supported Niger by removing their privileges and titles while rewarding his own supporters (or former opponents who hurriedly shipped him enormous sums of appeasement money). In the 1990s, an excavation unearthed fragments of a stele inscribed with a letter from Septimius Severus wrote to the loyal people of Syedra in the second half of 194. Now on display in the Archaeological Museum in Alanya, the reconstructed stele reads:

Imperator Caesar Lucius Septimius Severus Pertinax Augustus, Pater Patriae, Pontifex Maximus, in the second year of his tribunician power, imperator for the fourth time, consul for the second time, proconsul, to the magistrates, council and people of the Seydrans, greetings.

How much zeal you displayed in resisting the attack of those impious and godless men who, using Super [an officer of Niger’s] as their guide to the route, turned aside to your city too, I previously learned and praised you for your perseverance. However, Super has already incurred his due punishment, having paid for the wrongs he committed against you, and the centurions who, you say, also accompanied Super will not escape unpunished either.

But it is fitting that you, since matters have gone as they have, and your fellow citizens who at that time were forcibly torn from their ancestral city [ie, conscripted into Niger’s army] but have now for the time being returned and are residing with you, should sacrifice and feast and take pride in the acts of bravery that you previously performed, reflecting that you have made yourselves more glorious by such actions, and that you have confirmed your already existing goodwill towards the Romans.

The city reached its peak of prosperity during this time. New defensive walls were built, as was the great public bathhouse, a temple, water cisterns and a theater. The population rose to about 5,000, which was a lot to fit on a lonely rock in Cilicia, but still rather petite by Roman urban standards. Its richly-appointed baths are a testament to how much wealth was passing through even so small a city when it was in imperial favor.


Recycled glass mosaic tiles point to ancient city’s revival

Monday, July 25th, 2022

A new analysis of Late Roman-era mosaic floors discovered in Bodrum, on the southwest coast of Turkey, has found evidence that the ancient city of Halicarnassus experienced a revival of good fortune at the very end of the Roman Empire.

Halicarnassus was famous in antiquity for the Tomb of Mausolus, so famous that the name of its owner entered the vernacular as a generic word for a grand above-ground tomb. Completed in 350 B.C., the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that drew tourists from around the Hellestic world and was still standing in the Middle Ages. Today only a smattering of ruins remain.

The city had been part of the Achaemenid Persian satrapy of Caria since the 6th century B.C., but the kings and queens of Halicarnassus were native Greek-Carian and operated more as autonomous allies. The reign of Mausolos (377–353 B.C.) and his sister/wife/successor Artemisia II was considered the golden age of Halicarnassus. They made it the capital of Caria and poured money into improving its infrastructure, dredging and deepening the harbor, paving the streets and building high defensive walls and towers. They built a theater, temples, public buildings and clad them all in gleaming white marble.

The city continued to prosper during the reigns of their sister and brother (who were also married) and their children, but the golden age of Halicarnassus came to an abrupt end when the Persians set fire to the city before retreating from the besieging forces of Alexander the Great in 334 B.C. According to Cicero, Halicarnassus never recovered from the Persian destruction and was all but deserted in his day (1st century B.C.) Natural disasters and attacks from Mediterranean pirates damaged the city even further in Late Antiquity and while the city had importance as a bishopric under Byzantine rule, it no longer bore any resemblance to Mausolos’ and Artemisia’s gleaming marble city. In the early 15th century, what the earthquakes hadn’t taken of the great Mausoleum, the Knights Hospitaller helped themselves to. They used its stone to build a fortress, Bodrum Castle, which still stands today.

The post-Alexandrian decline of Halicarnassus was the received historical wisdom until recently. The first hint that this might be inaccurate was the discovery of a luxurious late Roman villa built on a bluff overlooking the Mediterranean. Mosaics from what would later be identified as the House of Charidemos were first unearthed in 1856. Unfortunately the archaeologist who excavated it, Charles T. Newton, who also excavated the paltry remains of the Mausoleum, pried the floors up and shipped them to the British Museum. Archaeologists returned to the site in the 1990s and uncovered more rooms decorated with a variety of mosaics, including geometric motifs, Europa and the Bull, Aphrodite being conveyed in a cockleshell, Dido and Aeneas, a nymph riding an ichthyocentaur (like a centaur only with a fish body/tail instead of horse body), and a dedication to the homeowner, which is how we know his name. The modern excavations also dated the villa to the mid-5th century, a period when tumbleweeds were supposedly rolling down the empty streets of Halicarnassus.

The new study examined 19 of the tesserae from the House of Charidemos’ mosaics using archaeometric analyses to learn more about what the tiles were made of and how they were produced. Seven of them were glass, 11 were stone and samples were selected from a range of colors. Analysis found that six of the seven glass tesserae were made of recycled glass.

The characterisation of the glass, stone, and ceramic tesserae from the House of Charidemos in Halikarnassos shows that a diversity of the materials were used for the production of the mosaics in private contexts during the late Roman–early Byzantine period in Anatolia. The comparison of the glass composition with other sites in Anatolia showed similarities in the use of base glass materials. […] The very tight elemental distributions between the samples of similar colours reflecting the same base glass composition could support a hypothesis of secondary workshops specialised in the production of certain colour of tesserae.

That suggests Halicarnassus either never was a ghost town or it recovered rather well since the bad ol’ days Cicero describes. The fact that so luxurious a villa with such high-end decorative arts was built in the city using city artisans and recycled raw materials even at the threshold of the demise of the Western Empire, indicates the city was experiencing something of a revival of fortune, in fact.





August 2022


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