Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Riches, horses found in graves of “amber elites”

Monday, December 27th, 2021

Archaeologists have unearthed richly furnished graves in a 3rd-7th century A.D. burial ground on the Sambian peninsula in Russia’s Kaliningrad oblast. They belonged to the elite of the late Roman, Migration Period and early Middle Ages, many of whom prospered thanks to the enduring trade in Baltic amber as well as other prized commodities like fur, homey and wax. The graves prove that a distinctive elite arose in the area in the 3rd century, two centuries earlier than previously believed.

A team from the Institute of Archeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences began excavating the Putilovo-2 cemetery site three miles from the shores of the Baltic in 2015 for the first time in 150 years. In four years of exploration, they have revealed a two-acre burial ground. Excavations expanded this year in anticipation of new highway construction in the area.

Most of them are cremation burials with cinerary remains interred in urns. They range from simple vessels buried in a small pit to large, elaborate urns buried in wooden boxes with extensive grave goods. The urns and coffins were covered with large slabs and then topped with stones. While the burials were extensively looted in the Middle Ages, both for their metal contents and for the slab stone reused by the Teutonic knights in castle construction. Ironically, slabs that collapsed into the graves ended up protecting the contents from looters as the broken slabs were no longer usable and thieves assumed there was nothing left under the busted roof.

Grave goods that have been discovered thus far include pottery, jewelry of bronze, silver and gold, fibulae in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, torques, bangles, belt buckles, amber beads, weapons and tools. Roman silver and brass coins minted in the 1st and 2nd centuries were found in large numbers in the 4th-5th century graves. By this time they weren’t simple currency so much as objects of great symbolic value. Archaeologists believe they may have been deemed to have currency value in the afterlife, which is why they were found in the graves of people of all ages and classes.

Four of the graves were marked as members of the local elite by their contents. One features a large urn buried with a jar, a spearhead, a bronze dagger, a fibula, scissors, a gold ring, an iron shield boss and a unique large set of glass game pieces for the board game Ludus latrunculorum. The game was popular throughout the Roman Empire and environs including modern-day Poland and Scandinavia. This set is extraordinary because there are almost 100 pieces that were preserved in a pouch. Nothing like it has been found in the Kaliningrad region for 170 years, and never before in the Sambian peninsula.

This man in this grave was so important that he was buried with not one, not two, but three horses. One of them still had its bronze bridle on its mandible and another was buried with his grooming kit bag. There were other horse burials in the cemetery, but this is the only triple header.

The excavation is scheduled to continue for another six months. The artifacts will be cleaned and conserved for eventual display in area museums.


Roman building with boar prints found in Corsica

Friday, December 24th, 2021

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of two buildings dating to between the 1st and 5th centuries in Penta-Di-Casinca, Corsica. The first is a masonry building with a circular structure connecting to a brick corridor. The floor of the passage is lined with terracotta tiles that bear the unmistakable evidence of a previous visitor: the hoof print of a pig or small wild boar stamped onto the tile when it was still wet. This is believed to have been a heating structure. Only the foundations of the second building have been unearthed. They are made of blocks of large, rounded river stones known as galets roulés.

The site is just over a mile from the sea shore, a half mile from the Fium’Alto river and six miles from the Roman city of Mariana, founded in 100 B.C. by general and seven-times-consul Gaius Marius as a colony for the veterans of his legions. The discovery of notable buildings at Penta-Di-Cascina suggest there may have been a second urban agglomeration close to Mariana.

The complex is distinguished by the quality of its structures. In particular, archaeologists have discovered several pipes for collecting and treating wastewater. In the center of the right-of-way, three gutters have been brought to light. Two, built in bricks and tiles, seem to work with the first building while a third gutter running through the entire excavation right-of-way intersects them. It is distinguished by the construction materials used: its walls are made of bricks and it is covered with massive shale slabs. These structures bear witness to the attention paid to water by the occupants and their standard of living.

Penta-Di-Casinca and its region have great archaeological potential. In the past, several occupations were identified and in 1972, a survey carried out near the excavation right-of-way revealed the remains of a building and a network of gutters and lead pipes which are part of the continuity of the discoveries that have just been made by Inrap. More recently, surveys carried out on the same locality have made it possible to estimate an area of ​​ancient habitat extending over more than three hectares. Building materials as well as a large quantity of ancient ceramics have been observed there.


Unfinished Roman-era statue found in Greece

Thursday, December 23rd, 2021

A rare unfinished statue from the Roman Imperial era has been unearthed in Veria in Central Macedonia, Greece. It was discovered last Friday in a rescue excavation of one of very few sites in this ancient city that has not been built on before.

The ancient city of Veria was an important political and military center under the Macedonian kings of the Argead Dynasty, most famously Alexander the Great and his father Philip II. It was second only to the Argead capital of Pella in importance, and after the death of Alexander’s son put an end to the Argead rule, Veria became the seat of the Macedonian Koinon (commonwealth). After the Roman conquest, the koinon was reshaped into a civic institution with a focus on the imperial cult run by local elites. Veria flourished under Rome, eclipsing Pella to become the main regional center. When Diocletian restructured the administration of the empire in 293 A.D., Veria became one of two capitals of the new Roman province of Macedonia. (The other was Thessaloniki.)

The statue’s style suggests it was carved when the city was prospering in the late 2nd or early 3rd century A.D. Just over three feet tall, the statue is missing its head and is still encased in some of the marble block from which it was carved. The nude youth wears a chlamys (cloak) draped around his left shoulder. As it is unfinished and headless, narrowing down the subject is impossible, but Statues of naked men were either athletes or gods in the Greek sculptural tradition, but the subject is unknown here due to its unfinished, headless condition. Hermes, one of the Dioscuri (the twins Castor and Pollux) and Apollo are all possibilities, as is Alexander the Great.

It is the work of a very skilled craftsman who, for whatever reason, never finished the piece. The sculptor, although he had advanced far in the creation of his sculpture, had reached a point almost at the final stage when he apparently decided to abandon the effort, unfinished.

This fact makes the discovery of the statue even more significant, however, since it gives art historians an opportunity to study not only the style, but the production techniques of these types of artworks.

The statue may have been meant as an exact copy or a freer recreation of a famous original; either way, it can help researchers understand the Veroia school of sculpture from a completely different point of view.


Bronze vessel from Beijing’s origins found in tomb

Monday, December 20th, 2021

Archaeologists have unearthed a bronze lidded vessel in a tomb from the Western Zhou Dynasty (1,046 – 771 B.C.) on the outskirts of Beijing that is believed to be the pair of one found at the site in the 1970s.

The bronze vessel is of the gui type, a wide-mouthed food container with a ringed base. inscriptions on the pot match ones found on a bronze vessel unearthed from a tomb at Liulihe site in 1974, except they’re flipped. The inscription in the lid of the newly-discovered pot is the same as the inscription on the bottom of the pot found in the 1970s. Archaeologists believe they were a matched set made by a single artisan who then mistakenly put the wrong lids on the vessels.

The character “yong,” which refers to the establishment of a city, was found within the inscription, explained Sun Qingwei, a professor at Peking University, direct evidence that one of the ranking officials of the king of the Western Zhou Dynasty had established a city in what is now Liulihe town more than 3,000 years ago.

Bronze vessels served an important ritual purpose for funerary offerings of food and drink and as household goods for the deceased in the afterlife, but in the Western Zhou the practice took on an added significance as status symbols. Only the elite were allowed to own bronzes. Later chroniclers record that the number of bronze “ding” (footed food cauldrons) allowed in graves was strictly apportioned according to noble rank in the Western Zhou, the emperor could have nine, lords could have seven, ministers five, etc.

Excavations at the site in the 1970s were disturbed by high ground water levels. New technology has developed since then to gradually drain and excavate archaeological remains in a way that preserves even delicate organic materials. The team excavated the tombs from outside of the burial chamber inwards. By working this way, they discovered overlapping layers of lacquerware and textiles. Archaeologists also discovered the first wooden arrow shafts from the Western Zhou Dynasty ever found in Beijing, and in another first for Beijing, were able to successfully recover silk patterned fabric from the early Western Zhou Dynasty.

Tomb M1902 was absolutely packed with precious offerings: copper lifting beams, bronze statues, bronze tripods, bronze swords, pottery, lacquerware, silks. Both the coffin and its occupants’ bones are preserved in good condition. On top of the coffin is the skeleton of a dog and a copper bell. It is complete and has never been looted or reused, which is extremely rare.

Tomb M1901 has not been fully excavated yet while the site is gradually drained, but archaeologists can see it was a very rich burial as well, containing a complete set of cart and horses.

The Liulihe residential district in southwestern Beijing contains the earliest remains of the urban settlement that would become Beijing. The tombs rich with artifacts found in Liulihe excavations over the past 50 years have shown that Bronze Age Beijing was the capital of the Yan vassal state of the Western Zhou Dynasty.

“The ongoing excavation will offer much crucial information on studies of the ritual and feudal systems of the Western Zhou period,” Chen Mingjie, director of the Beijing Municipal Cultural Heritage Administration, said. “It is also a key to see how early-stage cities were planned in China.”

Four rammed earth architectural foundations and seven large water wells have also been excavated in Liulihe this year, indicating that full use of ground water was considered by the city’s planners.

“The new findings in Liulihe will further portray a panorama of the Yan vassal state, which was a historical foundation of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei coordinated development today,” Shan Jixiang, head of the Chinese Society of Cultural Relics, said. “It will also demonstrate how diverse cultures mixed with each other and formed a united Chinese civilization.”


Emperor Wen of Han’s tomb found in Xian

Sunday, December 19th, 2021

A large tomb in the suburbs of Xian City, northwest China, has been identified as the mausoleum of Emperor Wen of the Western Han Dynasty (r.180 – 157 B.C.).

Local legend has it that a mountain known as Phoenix’s Mouth outside Xian City was the emperor’s tomb. The belief has been pervasive for a thousand years, as attested by 10 stone tablets on the mountain inscribed with honors to the emperor and a monument to mark his final resting place that was installed on Phoenix’s Mouth during the Qing Dynasty. However, numerous archaeological surveys have unearthed no evidence of ancient construction. The Phoenix’s Mouth is simply a natural hill, not an imperial burial mound.

What would prove to be Emperor’s Wen’s actual tomb was discovered a mile or so away from the mountain in 2017 during an emergency excavation to counter looting activity. It may have originally been a pyramid as was typical of imperial tombs of the era, but if so, the mound was flattened over the millennia. It’s also possible the Emperor ordered a less prominent tomb, as he was famed and respected for his frugal approach to leadership. It wasn’t recognized as an imperial tomb until excavations revealed its shape and monumental size (230 feet long, 100 feet wide).

The great central tomb, which has not yet been excavated, is surrounded by more than 110 offering pits and tombs. Only eight of them have been excavated so far, and in them archaeologists have discovered massive quantities of artifacts from the Western Han Dynasty, including more than 1,000 painted ceramic figurines, guardians of the imperial tombs, iron swords, copper gears from chariots, seals of government officials, gold ornaments, animal burials, bronze rings and coins. The pottery guardians and attendants, the chariot parts, the weapons and the seals highlight how the mausoleum complex was furnished to create a sort of shadow government for the emperor in the afterlife.

The wealth of offerings are associated with one of the major satellite tombs of the mausoleum. It belonged to Emperor Wen’s mother, Empress Dowager Bo, who died in 155 B.C., living long enough to see her grandson ascend the throne and making her the first grand empress dowager in Chinese history.

Ma [Yongying, a researcher with the Shaanxi Academy of Archaeology,] said that the discovery of the graves of Liu Heng’s empress and his mother further indicated that the grand tomb in the center should be the emperor’s long resting place.

“It is the earliest Western Han royal graveyard in which the emperor’s tomb was put in the center and was surrounded by burial pits,” he said.

The discovery of Baling also means that the whereabouts of all 11 Western Han emperors’ mausoleums in or near Xi’an, then the national capital known as Chang’an, have been confirmed, Ma said.

The grand tomb was a milestone in the evolution of Chinese royal mausoleums, said Liu Qingzhu, an archaeology researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The emphasis of previous rulers’ mausoleums was more on connections within their own families. For example, royal couples were often buried together.

“But Liu Heng’s tomb reflected that the country, represented by the emperor’s power, was the priority,” he said, adding that studies of the tomb also are a key to understanding the forming of China’s national identity.


Galloway Hoard rock crystal and gold jar bears bishop’s name

Friday, December 17th, 2021

An extraordinary carved rock crystal jar from the Galloway Hoard has been cleaned and conserved by experts at the National Museums Scotland (NMS), revealing it to be a Roman crystal jar wrapped in elaborate layers of gold thread from the late 8th or early 9th century. The base is inscribed with the name of an Anglo-Saxon bishop, strong evidence that some of the treasures in the hoard were taken from a church in the early medieval Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria.

The richest Viking assemblage of high-status objects ever found in Britain or Ireland, the Galloway Hoard was discovered by a metal detectorist in a field near Castle Douglas in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland in September 2014. After a major fundraising campaign, National Museums Scotland was able to acquire the hoard for an ex gratia payment of £1.98 million ($2,550,000) in 2017. Years of complex examination, conservation and cleaning ensued, revealing an astonishing wealth of rare objects including a silver pectoral cross with niello enamel decoration that is unique on the archaeological record, a gold bird-shaped pin, also unique, and a silver-gilt pot of a type known to have been produced in the Carolingian Empire which is one of only three known from Britain and the only one of them found complete with its original lid.

The pot was wrapped in woven textiles. To preserve them and excavate the interior as cautiously as possible, conservators had the pot CT scanned, revealing the treasures packed inside, including a 9th century Anglo-Saxon brooch, an Irish penannular brooch, a gold reliquary pendant and a hinged silver strap. Each object was wrapped in a precious textile like silk samite or fine leather.

While much of the Galloway Hoard outside of the pot has toured Scotland and is currently on display at  Kirkcudbright Galleries in the hoard’s home region of  Dumfries and Galloway, the vessel and its contents are undergoing a three-year project of meticulous conservation and research.

The project has already born extraordinary results. A 3D model created from X-ray imaging that captured the surface of the pot obscured beneath the fabric wrapping revealed it is not of Carolingian origin at all. The iconography of leopards, tigers and Zoroastrian symbols is typical of Sasanian Empire (224-651 A.D.) art, which means this vessel came from Persia, not continental Europe. Radiocarbon dating of textile samples from the three layers wrapped around the vessel found it was produced between 680 and 780 A.D., so it was 100-200 years old by the time the hoard was buried.

One of the objects inside the vessel was the rock crystal jar. When it was first removed, it was bundled in a textile wrapping that proved to be a silk-lined leather pouch. 3D X-ray imagining saw through the wrapping to the object within and revealed the Latin inscription on the base which read: “Bishop Hyguald had me made.”

Conservators painstakingly removed the pouch and cleaned the rock crystal. They found from the surface of the jar that it started out as the capital of Corinthian column made of rock crystal in the late Roman Empire. At some point over the next 500 years, the capital of the crystal column was converted into a jar and wrapped in gold thread.

There is the possibility that this jar still bears trace elements of the potion it once held and that its precise chemicals can be revealed.

[Dr. Martin Goldberg, NMS’s principal curator of early medieval and Viking collections] said: “The type of liquid that we would expect would be something very exotic, perhaps a perfume from the Orient, something’s that’s travelled in the same way that the silk has. There were certain types of exotic oil that were used in anointing kings and ecclesiastical ceremonies.”

Below are the 3D models of the rock crystal jar before and after conservation.


Neolithic children’s graves found in burial mound Denmark

Thursday, December 16th, 2021

An excavation at a gravel pit at Hedehusene, Denmark, has unearthed the remains of four children buried in a single grave from the Neolithic era, and of single child in a Bronze Age grave. The Neolithic burial dates to around 2000 B.C., the Bronze Age, to between 1700 and 1000 B.C.

The two graves were found in a burial mound. That the mound still contained skeletons in good condition is rare enough, but children’s bones are delicate and prehistoric child graves are vanishingly rare finds in Denmark. It isn’t until the late Middle Ages that children’s tombs become more common on the archaeological record.

The children in the Neolithic grave were young, three of them just three or four years old at time of death. The fourth was a little older. The only grave good found buried with them is a small flint dagger. The child in the individual grave was buried with a bronze bracelet.

“Right now it seems like it’s a graveyard dedicated to children. It is interesting in itself with a burial site with so far a time span between the individual graves. It seems as if one has known that it was a children’s graveyard. It’s a mystery why only children are buried here. However, we can not deny that adults have also been here. For example, we have found a bronze blade at the top of the burial mound, and it is not a typical grave gift for children.”

Katrine Ipsen Kjær explains that it is a known phenomenon that burial mounds were reused in the Stone Age and Bronze Age. When you had a deceased person again, you opened in to the burial mound, pushed the old bones aside and laid the body in to the other deceased.

The bones have been removed for further study. They will be radiocarbon dated to narrow down the date of the burial. If DNA can be extracted, researchers may be able to determine if there were any familial relationships between the deceased. It may also provide information about illnesses they may have suffered.

“Did you bury the four children from the mass grave within a short period of time or over a long period of time? A very short period could indicate a contagious disease,” says [archaeologist] Katrine Ipsen Kjær and concludes:

“It is rare that such old bones contain DNA. But we very much hope that the old bones can give us some answers, because we are dead curious.”


Earliest freestanding Buddha statues found in China

Wednesday, December 15th, 2021

Two statues that are the earliest known freestanding Buddha statues ever found in China have been discovered in an 2nd century tomb in the Chengren Village neighborhood of Xianyang City. Before this find, archaeologists believed that Buddhist statues appeared in China in the Sixteen Kingdoms period (304-439 A.D.).

A team from the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology made the finds in May during an excavation of a family cemetery from the late Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 A.D.). There were six tombs in the ground. The two bronze Buddha statues were unearthed in the northwest corner of tomb M3015.

One statue is a Buddha standing on a lotus flower. It is 10.5 cm (4.1 inches) high and 4.7 cm (1.85 inches) wide at the base. Gautama Buddha is depicted with his hair in a small, flat bun on top of his head and wearing a robe draped from the left shoulder to the right. His left arm is bent at the elbow, hand holding the corner of the cassock. His right hand is raised, but damaged.

The second statue is a depiction of the Five Tathāgatas, five Buddhas embodying different aspects of the enlightenment principle. It is 15.8 cm (6.2 inches) high and 6.4 cm (2.5 inches) wide. The Buddhas are seated on lotuses and also wear robes and hair buns.

The buns, faces and clothing of both works are typical of statues made in Gandhara (today part of Pakistan and Afghanistan), but technical analysis of the copper alloy used in their manufacture revealed that they were locally produced. That means that Buddhist art and iconography, transmitted from India over the Silk Road, were already well-established in China by the 2nd century.

Tradition has it that Buddhism was introduced to China in the reign of Emperor Ming of Eastern Han (r. 57-75 A.D.). Buddhist imagery appeared on objects in southwest and southeast China at this time, but only as decorative motifs on objects and buildings.

“The owner of the graveyard was possibly a county official or landlord, who had certain family influence and economic might,” [Shaanxi Academy of Archaeology researcher] Li said.

“The findings of the Buddha statues are of great significance to the study of the introduction of Buddhist culture to China and its localization in the country,” Li added.


Rare Viking sword and scabbard found in Orkney burial

Friday, December 10th, 2021

A weapon found in a burial in Orkney has been identified as a highly decorated 9th century Viking sword with a rare scabbard still attached. It was discovered in a 2015 excavation of the Mayback farm mound, and this year funding was secured for a detailed scientific analysis of the graves and their contents.

In March 2015, the owner of a farmstead on the northeast coast of Papa Westray, one of the North Isles of Orkney, came across human remains during home renovations and alerted county authorities. When the bones were confirmed to be human and ancient, archaeologists excavated the find site. The bones belonged to a simple grave dug into the sand. It was in crouch position on its right side and there were no surviving grave goods. Radiocarbon dating found the burial was from the Iron Age.

A month later, a Viking boat burial was found. It was a stone edged grave cut underneath a stone cairn. Organic materials from timber planks had stained the sand. Iron clench bolts and 200 iron fittings typical of clinker-built wooden boats indicate the presence of a boat, now decayed, that would have originally been about 16 feet long and 4.5 feet wide. It is one of only ten early Viking boat burials found on Orkney.

In August, a second grave richly furnished with weapons a few feet away from the first. Beneath the remains of a truncated rectangular stone cairn was a grave lined with slabs that had collapsed inward, covering the remains of the deceased. Despite the collapse, the skeletal remains were relatively well preserved, with only the feet heavily damaged. The body was buried in crouch position on its right side and a large iron sword laid across it, possibly still in a scabbard. An iron shield boss was found near the shoulder, indicating a wooden shield had been placed in the grave, leaving only the boss behind when the wood decomposed. Also buried in the grave with him was a spearhead or large knife, a group of iron arrowheads, some iron tools and some textiles. The type of burials and the artifacts inside the two graves indicated they belonged to first-generation Norwegian settlers.

Most of the Viking burials found on Orkney were excavated in the late 19th and early 20th century when archaeological practices were much cruder than they are now. The discovery of two important early graves gave archaeologists the opportunity to study graves from this period using the latest scientific methodologies, including DNA and strontium isotope analysis. The weapons were removed en bloc for meticulous cleaning and examining in laboratory conditions.

The bundle of arrowheads, which are still being excavated but it looks like there are about six of them, still have significant lengths of their wooden shafts attached. They have broad leaf-shaped blades likely used for hunting animals rather than battle and their position suggests they were placed in the grave in a quiver. They’re of a style produced in the 10th-11th centuries. An arrow bundle is an unusual find in a Viking grave. If any arrows at all are found, they’re usually individual deposits. Orkney, for some reason, has a bit of a concentration of quivers, with three of them found in Viking graves on the islands.

The sword was heavily corroded when found, and archaeologists are working so deliberately on the fragile artifact that they don’t know what the bottom looks like yet. To get a glimpse of the sword underneath all the rust concretions, the team used an X-ray. They identified the sword as Pedersen Type D, produced in the 9th century, and characterized by highly decorated hilts. The Mayback hilt is richly decorated with geometric design, a line of octagons that look like a honeycomb pattern with diamond-shaped accents.

X-rays also found that the a D-shaped buckle stuck to the sword by corrosion is an intricately decorated buckle in the Borre style, characterized by geometric shapes, interlacing design and stylized animal paws. The Borre style was widely manufactured in Scandinavia between around 850 and 950 A.D. Only 10 are known from Britain and Ireland, and this is one of only two known from Scotland.

Given very few Viking Age scabbards have survived, the Mayback example is a very important addition.

Most Viking Age scabbards are made up of an inverted fleece lining next to the blade. This would have been contained within a sheath made from thin lathes of wood, then bound – possibly with strips of a fine textile.

We know of at least 30 of these blades throughout the Viking world. Approximately half have been found in Norway, with others discovered as far west as Dublin, and as far east as Slovakia, Poland, and Russia.

However, the only other Type D sword is from the Isle of Eigg. That one was excavated in the 1830s.

The position of the sword within the Mayback burial is very unusual, as it was laid over top of the body with the hilt at the hip and the blade tip over the face, as opposed to the more common placement of the sword positioned alongside the body blade downwards.

Here is a 3D scan of the weapons burial:


Leather armor found in China is Neo-Assyrian

Thursday, December 9th, 2021

A study of the suit of leather scale armor discovered in Turfan, northwest China, has revealed that it was manufactured in the Neo-Assyrian Empire between the 6th and 8th century B.C., making it the oldest known leather scale armour in Eurasia. It was already a unique find because of the exceptional preservation of the organic materials and its near-completeness, but its origin makes it a very rare example of the movement of technology from West to East across Eurasia in the first half of the first millennium B.C.

The armor was found in an excavation of the Yanghai cemetery site in 2013. It was discovered in the tomb of an adult male about 30 years of age who had been buried on a wooden bedstead. Horse cheek pieces found in the grave indicate the deceased was a cavalryman.

The leather armor was underneath the funerary bed. Deterioration of the leather lining caused some scale loss and separation, so the armor was in two large fragments with a few smaller pieces. A thorn embedded into one of the scales shortly before burial was radiocarbon dated to between 786 and 543 B.C.

It was originally made of about 5,444 smaller scales and 140 larger scales, which together with leather laces and lining weighed between 4 and 5kg. The armor resembles a waistcoat that protects the front of the torso, hips, the sides and the lower back of the body. It can be put on quickly without the help of another person and fits people of different statures.

“The armor was professionally produced in large numbers,” says Patrick Wertmann. With the increasing use of chariots in Middle Eastern warfare, a special armor for horsemen was developed from the 9th century BCE. These armors later became part of the standardized equipment of military forces of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, which extended from parts of present-day Iraq to Iran, Syria, Turkey and Egypt.

While there is no direct parallel to the 2,700-year-old armor in the whole of Northwest China, there are some stylistic and functional similarities to a second contemporary armor of unknown origin held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (the Met). It is possible that the two armors were intended as outfits for distinct units of the same army, i.e. the Yanghai armor for cavalry and the armor in the Met for infantry.

It is unclear whether the Yanghai armor belonged to a foreign soldier working for the Assyrian forces who brought it back home with him, or whether the armor was captured from someone else who had been to the region.

There are cuneiform tablets recording the production of leather scale armor, but none has ever been found before in Mesopotamia. The only complete set of leather scale was discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922, but it was so fragile only a few scales could be studied. This find could be studied in detail, each scale counted and examined to explore its construction.

The study has been published in the journal Quaternary International and can be read in its entirety here.





January 2022


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