Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Arrow with pristine fletching found in Norway glacier

Monday, May 16th, 2022

The volunteers and archaeologists of Norway’s Glacier Archaeology Program have discovered a 1,700-year-old arrow that is so well-preserved that not only are the steering feathers still attached to the back, they aren’t even ruffled. The find site was an ice patch in the Jotunheimen Mountains where a Viking-era arrow was first spotted in 2007. When it was finally recovered in 2013, it was the only object found at the site.

In 2019 the patch was struck by a rapid melt and a second arrow emerged. This one was about 1,500 years old and in even better condition than the Viking arrow. The sinew wrapped around the base of the shaft to the arrowhead was still tightly in place, as were remnants of the fletching. Archaeological fieldwork at the site ultimately recovered another five arrows, including one made in the Stone Age ca. 4,000 years ago.

Of the arrows found in the 2019 season, one was still frozen to the ground and had to be melted free with careful application of lukewarm water. Even frozen in place, the arrow’s exceptional state of preservation was immediately evident.

“It is probably the best preserved arrow we have found so far,” said [Innlandet County archaeologist Lars] Pilø…. For instance, the sinew, wrapped around the front end of the arrow shaft to reduce the risk of fracture on impact, is still “wrapped tightly” and in place, he said. The remains of the thread and tar used to craft the arrow are also present.

“No wood species determination has been made, but the shafts of this type tend to be made in pine,” Pilø added. “Hopefully, it will be possible to find out which birds the feathers come from, what animal the sinew came from, etc.”

Because the arrow is so uniquely intact, the team has decided not to radiocarbon date it as they would have to sacrifice part of the arrow to take a sample. The style is well-known from Scandinavian bog offerings and graves, so the date range can be comfortably narrowed down to between 300 and 600 A.D.

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Hieroglyphics on Maya vessel deciphered

Sunday, May 15th, 2022

Archaeologists have translated the hieroglyphic on a Maya vessel unearthed last fall in Yucatán, southeastern Mexico, and identified the name Cholom, a nobleman of the ancient city-state of Oxkintok.

The ceramic bowl was discovered near the town of Maxcanú in October 2021 during salvage excavations along the route of the controversial Maya Train. It was in its original archaeological context inside a pre-Hispanic dwelling, and a plate was found next to it. They date to the Late Classic period (600-800 A.D.).

The 11 glyphs engraved on a band around the top of the bowl translate to: “The lord says, on its surface it has been carved, in its bowl or pot, in its cup, for atole, for Cholom, the sajal.” Atole is a traditional hot beverage made from corn hominy flour blended with water, sugar, cinammon and vanilla.

A sajal was a spokesperson/scribe for the ajaw (the king or ruler). They were not members of the royal family, but they were part of the high elite, educated to write and read the Maya hieroglyphics system, and to relay the orders and proclamations of the ajaw. A similar vessel was found in the same section of the train project whose surviving inscription points to it having been made for a sajal, but that was the only identifiable glyph on the vessel. There was no surviving name connecting title to an individual.

The name Cholom breaks down into “chol” (Mayan for “to unleash”) and “om” (person who unleashes). The glyph for Cholom has been documented on another ceramic piece from the Maya city of Oxkintok. On that vessel he is described as uylul, meaning “hearer.” Oxkintok was a regionally important city, inhabited from the Late Preclassic through the Late Postclassic periods (ca. 600 B.C. – 1500 A.D.) It is less than five miles from Maxcanú where the bowl and plate were discovered.

Archaeologists do not yet know if the earthenware bowl and plate were purely utilitarian or had ritual uses. Analysis of any trace material or residues might answer some of those questions. They are both Chocholá style ceramics, a type found in northern and western Yucatán characterized by bas-relief hieroglyphic dedications including the name of the owner and purpose of the object.

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46 eagles in vivid color revealed on temple ceiling

Saturday, May 14th, 2022

Restoration work at the Esna Temple on the west bank of the Nile 35 miles south of Luxor has revealed painted inscriptions and images in vivid original color. The walls, ceilings and columns were caked in a thick coating of sand dust, grime, salt efflorescence and bird and bat guano and remains accumulated over the centuries, obscuring the inscriptions to the point where they were all but invisible to the naked eye.

Of particular note are the paintings on the middle ceiling above the entrance hall. More than 45 feet high, the ceiling is painted with 46 eagles in two rows. Twenty-four of them have eagle heads, representing the goddess Nekhbet and Upper Egypt. Twenty-two have cobra heads, representing Wajit, goddess of Lower Egypt. The temple inscriptions were documented and photographed by French Egyptologist Serge Soniron between 1963 and 1975, but the ceiling with the 46 eagles was never recorded or published.

Another find of great note was a simple Greek graffito drawn in red ink. It was found in the western wall frieze in the temple axis and was completely covered in layers of black soot. The inscription records the day and month, Epiphi 5, which would have corresponded to late June or early July during the reign of the Emperor Domitian (81-96 A.D.) Archaeologists believe this is the date when construction of the Esna Temple was completed.

Built primarily in the Ptolemaic and Roman eras, the temple was dedicated to the ram-headed god Khnum, god of the Nile and creation and one of the oldest deities in the Egyptian pantheon. It was already famed in its own time for full-coverage hieroglyphic inscriptions, including the last known one ever recorded, commissioned by Roman Emperor Decius in 250 A.D.

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Museum acquires unique Leasingham Horse Brooch

Friday, May 13th, 2022

The Leasingham Horse Brooch, a Roman-era copper alloy brooch in the shape of a three-dimensional horse that is unique on the archaeological record, has been acquired by the Collection Museum in Lincoln.

The brooch was discovered by metal detectorist Jason Price in a field near Leasingham in the summer of 2019. It is complete with the original hinged pin, which is in and of itself very rare. The long, stylized head of the horse is lowered at the end of an arched neck engraved with 14 grooves representing a neatly arranged mane. A saddle or saddle blanket is on the horse’s back. Carved and modelled in the round in a 3D design that has no known cognates. The closest comparable object is a brooch in the British Museum which is a slightly rounded plate brooch mounted on a bar, so really very different in concept and execution.

Because it is not made of precious metal, this unique 2,000-year-old artifact would not be declared Treasure and the finder got to be the keeper. Thankfully, Price arranged for the Leasingham Horse Brooch to go on loan at the Collection Museum and now that’s where it will stay permanently, thanks to the Friends of Lincoln Museums and Art Gallery who donated the necessary funds to acquire the horse from Price.

Dawn Heywood, Senior Collections Development Officer at the museum, said: “The brooch is an incredibly rare find in Britain, and the first three-dimensional horse brooch to be recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme finds database.

“This style of horse brooch is now identified as the ‘Leasingham type’, so we are privileged to have had the opportunity to acquire the first of its kind for the museum collection”.

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Iron Age farmers were buried in high style

Tuesday, May 10th, 2022

The necropolis of a modest Iron Age agricultural settlement excavated in Blainville-sur-Orne, Normandy, northwestern France, has proved unexpectedly rich in grave goods. In use for three centuries (540-250 B.C.), the necropolis consists of 121 inhumation graves, six cremation graves and two funerary enclosures with human remains inside and around them. The inhumed individuals were for the most part buried in coffins or formwork built in a pit and were buried with copious metal jewelry.

An area of more than seven acres was excavated in advance of development, revealing traces of human occupation (lithic remains from stone tool processing) at the site going back to the Paleolithic. The first burials date to the Early Bronze Age, but it was in the Iron Age that a large necropolis grew on the left bank of the Orne, one of the largest ever found on the Caen plain. At the edges of the necropolis, the excavation unearthed an agricultural building from the 6th century B.C. and a Bronze Age network of roads that was significantly expanded in the 5th century B.C.

Agricultural use of the site increased later in the Iron Age, so by the 3rd century B.C., the site was extensively enclosed and dotted with storage pits for a large harvest. Analysis of the plant remains in the storage pits identified barley, millet, wheat, emmer, peas and beans. Animal remains of cattle, goats, pigs and sheep found in enclosure ditches attest to a variety of livestock in the settlement. They were not the only sources of food. Shells from 33 species of marine invertebrates — mussels, cockles, oysters — point to the settlers having relied on shellfish as dietary staples.

Last but not least, the dig revealed evidence of metallurgical activity both targeted to the settlement’s agricultural purposes (production and maintenance of tools like ploughshares) and artisanal purposes (production of jewelry). One enclosure ditch was found to contain an extremely rare cache of 29 ingots of silver, gold and copper alloy dating to the 50-30 B.C. These were likely not intended for goldsmithing, but rather as a form of currency.

The majority of grave goods recovered from the necropolis are also metal. Of the 167 objects unearthed, 101 are copper alloy jewelry. One individual was buried wearing a neck torc and ankle bracelets, all copper alloy. Ankle bangles were definitely in fashion in this community, as other skeletons were found wearing even thicker and more decorated examples. One individual had an ankle bracelet made of lignite.

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Two more Nuragic giants found in Sardinia

Sunday, May 8th, 2022

A new excavation of a prehistoric necropolis of Mont’e Prama in Cabras, western central Sardinia, has unearthed the fragmented remains of two giant statues from the Iron Age Nuragic culture. Two large torsos, a head and other fragments recovered indicate the statues were of a form known as Cavalupo-type boxers, characterized by their nude torsos, short skirts and the curved shield they hold over their heads or in front of their bodies.

The necropolis was first discovered by accident in 1974 when farmers stumbled on ancient tombs and a funerary road. The tombs date to between 950 B.C. and 730 B.C. when the Nuragic civilization, named for the “nuraghe,” stone towers of indeterminate purpose they erected all over the island, was the dominant culture on Sardinia. Subsequent excavations at Mont’e Prama discovered thousands of fragments of monumental sculptures that were reassembled as much as possible to reconstruct 28 statues representing different types of fighters — 16 boxers, five archers and five warriors. They are now on display at the Giovanni Marongiu Civic Museum in Cabras.

The statues were not originally placed in the necropolis. They were brought there from somewhere else and deliberately broken. The limestone to make them was quarried not far from Cabras, but the original locations where the finished statues were erected are unknown, as is their purpose and the reason for their destruction. It’s not even clear when they were broken, whether it was the result of an internal struggle between Nuragic communities or by invaders like the Phoenicians of Tharros in the late 7th century B.C. or the Carthaginians in the second half of the 4th century B.C.

After the earlier excavations in the 1970s and early 1980s, there was a lull of 30 years before archaeologists returned in 2014. Over the next two years, thousands of fragments of more sculptures were found and two boxers were recomposed from them. Archaeologists are back again now, and this time they’re taking a multi-disciplinary approach, working with anthropologists, restorers and architects to gather as much information from the context as possible and to recover the fragmentary sculptures with a conservatorial perspective.

“While the small and medium-sized fragments are found daily, documented in situ lying on the ground and then recovered,” said the Superintendent, Monica Stochino. “The two large and heavy blocks of the torsos will need time to be freed from the sediment that envelopes them and so we can prepare what we need for their safe. “The discovery,” adds the Superintendent, “rewards the constancy and validity of the archaeological method of progressive exploration through preliminary probing and systematic investigation phases, measured and carried out in the ways and times allowed by the availability of resources and the parallel elaboration of excavation projects, restoration and exhibition of the finds and enhancement of the site.”

The current excavation will continue throughout the spring, and the Superintendency has already secured funding to the tune of 600,000 euros for the next excavation. They’ll be pouring four times that amount into an even more daunting project: the restoration of sculptures found in fragments during the 2014-2016 dig. The museum will be expanded and updated to accommodate the influx of Nuragic giants.

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Tour Persian Persepolis

Saturday, May 7th, 2022

The Getty has added new virtual experiences to dovetail with and enhance its new exhibition Persia: Ancient Iran and the Classical World which opened at the Getty Villa Museum last month and runs through August 8th.

The exhibition looks at the relationship between Classical Greece and Rome and the Persian Empire over three dynasties (Achaemenid, Parthian and Sasanian) and 1,100 years (550 B.C. – 650 A.D.). The cultural links between the three ancient powers were strong notwithstanding their often bellicose political relations.

“The military rivalry between the ancient Persian empires that controlled much of the modern Middle East, and the Greeks and Romans of the eastern Mediterranean, determined the geopolitical map of Eurasia from Britain in the west to the border of India in the east for over a thousand years. In the early 5th century BC, against all odds, the Greeks repulsed a series of Achaemenid invasions that would have changed the cultural trajectory of Europe. Two and a half centuries later, Alexander the Great’s conquest of the East brought down the Achaemenids but also inspired an epochal cross-fertilization of the two cultures and traditions. The rise of the Romans as the major Mediterranean power from the 2nd century BC made a clash of titans inevitable. More than once the destinies of Europe and the Middle East hung on the outcome of mighty battles between the Roman emperors and the Parthian and Sasanian kings. Yet throughout all these violent vicissitudes, an active exchange of goods, languages, ideas, faiths, and artistic visions, reflecting a strong mutual respect, flourished in both directions. We see this most vividly in the imperial imagery celebrating their kings and rulers that was propagated by both the Persians and their Greek and Roman adversaries. As we ponder the most significant turning points in Eurasian history, there was perhaps no more momentous encounter than that between Persia and the Classical World,” says Timothy Potts, Maria Hummer-Tuttle and Robert Tuttle Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum.

“The many spectacular objects on view are extraordinary expressions of Persian political and cultural identity, many of them among the most famous masterpieces of Persian art. I hope this exhibition will convey how fruitful the intermingling of very different artistic and other cultural traditions was for both cultures, as can still be seen in aspects of our visual arts today.”

The exceptional collection of artifacts on display include architectural reliefs, intaglio gemstones, cuneiform seals, jewelry, precious serving dishes and royal sculpture on loan from institutions all over the Unites States, Europe and the Middle East. Many of the artifacts are on display in the US for the first time.

The objects in the exhibition are enhanced and contextualized by a cutting-edge immersive film offered to visitors at the Getty Villa. The movie takes viewers on a tour through the royal palace complex in the Achaemenid capital of Persepolis in its heyday before Alexander the Great burned it to the ground in the 330 B.C. It uses the same technology used in the Disney+ series The Mandalorian to give a 360-degree HD viewing experience for people lucky enough to see the exhibition in person.

For people without easy access to Malibu, the museum has created Persepolis Reimagined, an online interactive digital tour of Persepolis so we can virtually fly into the capital, through the bulls guarding the Gate of All Nations, into the Apadana (audience hall), through the Palace of Xerxes, the Southeastern Palace, the Royal Treasury and the Hall of 100 Columns. At each stage there are clickable interactive elements that go into further detail about the features and in some cases, what remains of those features today. It is easy to navigate, beautifully modeled and strikes a good balance between richness of content and digestibility.

Potts adds: “I am especially pleased that visitors to the exhibition will also be able to explore some of the highlights of ancient Iranian art and architecture through digital technologies. Two innovative digital experiences—one an immersive on-site experience at the Villa; the other accessible online—will allow visitors to walk in the steps of a Persian dignitary through a digital reconstruction of the spectacular Achaemenid palace of Persepolis. These new tools, in partnership with the latest scholarship, can provide dynamic, interactive engagement with distant places and cultures, and we hope to expand their use in the future.”

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Found: sarcophagus of Protector of the Divine Flank

Thursday, May 5th, 2022

A sarcophagus discovered in Izmit, western Turkey, bears a funerary inscription identifying it as the final resting place of a Protector of the Divine Flank, a high-ranking officer in the imperial guard. It is one of only eight Protectores’ sarcophagi ever found, and the only one to be discovered in Turkey. It is also the only sarcophagus among the eight to contain undisturbed human skeletal remains and grave goods.

The sarcophagus was unearthed in a salvage excavation before construction of a new building for the General Directorate of Izmit Water and Sewerage Administration. Between 2017 and 2019, the excavation revealed a Roman-era walled necropolis including 51 tombs made of repurposed tegulae (roof tiles), two amphora burials and five large sarcophagi, the Protectore’s among them. Archaeologists also discovered 99 coins, a bronze statuette and artifacts made of terracotta, glass, metal and stone. The necropolis was less than a half mile from the city gate. The monumental sarcophagi all face south and the inscriptions are meant to be read by passersby, so the road into the city must have run through the southern side of the necropolis. Inscriptions indicate the necropolis was in active use between the 2nd and 4th centuries A.D.

The Protector sarcophagus telegraphs its owner’s profession even before you read the text. On the upper right, there’s a man on horseback attacking an enemy with a spear. On the upper left stands a soldier with a plumed helmet, spear and shield. The Latin inscription on the front translates to the following:

“To the spirits of the dead. I, Tziampo, Protector of the Divine Flank, restored my monument, originating from regio Pieucensis, province of Dacia Minor. I lived 50 years. And I want that nobody will be permitted to be deposed here except my son Severus or my wife. I served as horseman for nine years, as ordinarius for 11 years, and protected as protector for 10 years. But if another (person) dares to open (the sarcophagus), let him give the fiscus 20 folles and the city 10 folles. On the whole, I served for 30 years. Farewell, passers-by.”

A follis was a bronze or copper coin introduced by Diocletian around the time of his Currency Decrees, ca. 301 A.D. The fiscus was the emperor’s personal treasury. It looks like nobody ever had to pay Tziampo’s fine, however, because there are only two bodies inside, believed to be the Protector and his wife. Not even Severus made the final cut.

The title of Protector Divini Lateris began as an honorific granted by Emperor Gallienus (r. 253-268 A.D.) to officers who had distinguished themselves in loyal service to him. It was an attempt to curry favor with the troops and to privilege personal loyalty to the emperor during the turbulent Crisis of the Third Century. By the time the sarcophagus was inscribed during the reign of Diocletian or his successor Constantine I, the Protectores were a powerful cavalry association attached to the imperial court, comparable to and in competition with the Praetorian Guard. Protectores reached the very pinnacle of power. Diocletian was commander of the Protectores when he ascended the imperial throne, as was Constantine I.

This inscription contains even more remarkable information: Tziampo’s place of origin has never before been recorded. The province of Roman Dacia was originally divided into Dacia Superior and Dacia Inferior. Superior was later divided into two provinces and Inferior was renamed. Then all the three would be united into one known as Tres Daciae. Aurelian lost most of Dacia in the early 270s. After the withdrawal of Roman troops and administration west of the Danube, a new province called Dacia Aureliana was established in the Balkans. Diocletian split Dacia Aureliana into two — Dacia Mediterranea and Dacia Ripensis.

All of this talk of proliferating Dacias is to say that this inscription is the sole known reference to a Roman province named Dacia Minor, nor are there any known references to a Pieucensis region. Perhaps it was a vestigial reference to Dacia Inferior, which would make Tziampo Romanian.

Underlining that the sarcophagus is an important heritage, Kocaeli Museum Director Serkan Geduk said,

“The sarcophagus is of great importance not only with the information contained in the inscription but also with two skeletons and small finds found in situ. Because the inscriptions on the protections of the Roman emperors known until now have survived without any other material remains. For the first time, an inscription of an imperial bodyguard; It has survived as a whole with two skeletons in the sarcophagus and grave gifts. In this sense, the Tziampo sarcophagus is the first in the world in this field. It is a great chance for us that this sarcophagus and the necropolis area around it have survived to the present day,” he said.

The necropolis, its five great sarcophagi still in situ, is being converted into an open-air archaeological site. It will be covered to protect it from the elements.

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1st ancient solid marble bathtub found in Turkey confiscated from smugglers

Wednesday, May 4th, 2022

A Roman-era marble bathtub from the 3rd century was confiscated by police in Karacasu, western Turkey just as it was about to be sold by smugglers. This is the only solid marble bathtub ever discovered in Turkey.

The basin is 5’11” long and weighs one ton, so by no means a portable antiquity. It is decorated with two bas relief lion’s heads holding rings in their jaws, a popular motif on bath and fountain basins as well as tub-shaped sarcophagi. (Or as waterspouts on temple eaves. Or as pulls on furniture.)

The find site is unknown, but experts believe the tub was locally produced in the ancient city of Aphrodisias. Now within the municipal boundaries of Karacasu, Aphrodisias was the largest and richest urban center in the region at the time when the bathtub was made. It was also home to a major sculpture workshop, and the quality of marble and of the carving in the lion heads suggest it was produced there.

A basin of this size with high-end carving was likely used in the private home of a wealthy individual. Public baths also used tubs, either because the bathing facility was too small to have a hypocaust heating system which was very expensive to install and operate, or to hold cold water for people to dip into quickly when closing their pores in the frigidarium.

Provincial Culture and Tourism Director Umut Tuncer examined the bathtub and emphasized that the ancient city of Aphrodisias is a very special area, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. […]

Tuncer said that the tub would be restored and displayed at the museum. “We believe that it will attract the attention of art lovers. There is a bath structure in all of our ancient cities. These places were actually used as public and social spaces.

The culture of hot water, bathing and cleaning was an important part of the period. We have seen everything we expected to see in this tub. […] The richest ancient city of the region is Aphrodisias. The city also had a large sculptor school. We can see the curves that reflect the facial expressions, muscles and mimics in the sculptures in the Aphrodisias Museum,” he said.

The ruins of Aphrodisias have long been a target for looters. Gendarmerie teams are constantly patrolling for illegal excavations, using drones with motion-sensitive thermal cameras to scan the ancient city for suspicious treasure-hunting activity.

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Funerary altar of 13-year-old girl found in Rome

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2022

Utility works in Rome have discovered the 2nd century marble funerary altar of a young girl. It is intact and in excellent condition. The find was made during work on the water network on Via Luigi Tosti, the street a mile south of the Porta Latina gate in the Aurelian Walls where the terracotta dog bearing a startling resemblance to the Cowardly Lion was unearthed earlier this year.

Found 6.5 feet below road level, the altar is carved out of white marble. It is topped with a bas relief of two songbirds on each side of bunch of grapes or fruit basket. Stylized half acanthus leaves bracket the pediment. Songbirds and fruits symbolized bounty and abundance and were common motifs in Greco-Roman funerary art, referencing the real garlands that would be draped on the exterior walls of temples and altars. The front of the altar is inscribed with a dedication to a daughter lost too soon.

VALERIA

P F

LAETA

VIXIT ANNIS

XIII M VII

The inscription records that the deceased, Valeria Laeta, lived only 13 years and 7 months. It’s not clear what the P stands for, but the convention suggests it was her father’s initial because the F stands for “filia” meaning daughter.

Fragments of a white marble sarcophagus were recovered next to the altar. It too was carved with an intricate relief depicting a lioness turning towards the horse rearing over her back (only the front two legs of the horse survive) while a hunting dog attacks her from the front. The fragment was part of a lenos, a tub-shaped sarcophagus echoing the troughs used to press grapes. Lenoi came to prominence in the second half of the 2nd century and elaborately decorated versions like this one were produced for the elite.

In the same trench was a small columbarium, a structure containing niches for cinerary remains. It is just 13 by 10 feet and built into a bank of volcanic tufa stone. Its walls are made of a concrete masonry core faced in opus latericium (brick cladding) of very high quality. The walls were then plastered and painted yellow and red to mimic marble slabs.

All of these elements were part of a larger complex of funerary structures built along the ancient Via Latina, one of the oldest Roman roads that led south from the Eternal City 125 miles to what is now Benevento, 30 miles north of Naples.

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