Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

Brazenly looted Maya frieze restored

Saturday, June 11th, 2022

A monumental stucco frieze looted from the Late Classic Maya site of Los Placeres in the jungles of Campeche is the final stage of a four-year restoration that aims to return it to the condition it was in before it was plundered.

Made between 450 and 600 A.D., the frieze features a central mask representing a youthful ruler guarded on each side by two deified elderly men, likely representing ancestors, extending to the ruler power and virility. It was vividly painted and much of the polychrome paint remained when it was looted in 1968.

The removal of the Placeres Frieze was one of the most brazen looting and trafficking operations of all time, if not the most. It all started with an art dealer in New York City. A former US Air Force pilot during World War II, the dealer heard about the façade hidden in the jungle and organized a team to loot it. His man on the ground was Lee Moore, an orchid collector who had traveled extensively through Central America pursuing his obsession.

But smuggling a stucco frieze more than 27 feet long and eight feet high that has been attached to a temple for 1500 years is far more complex than smuggling a rare plant. You can’t just hike through the jungle with it in your backpack. For this job, the looters had to clear a stretch of jungle and create an airstrip out of it to even make it possible to transport the massive frieze out of the country.

A looting crew was deployed to the Placeres archaeological site, then completely overtaken by jungle growth. They cleared the façade of plant matter, coated it in Mowilith, a polymer plaster, to keep the surface from disintegrating, then sawed it off the temple with wood saws. We know all of this because the entire operation was photographed in detail. That’s right. They meticulously documented their illegal destruction and theft of an ancient archaeological site.

The looters cut the frieze into 48 pieces and loaded onto a plane bound for Miami. Its eventual destination was New York City where it would be offered for sale to the Metropolitan Museum of Art which was then preparing a major exhibition of pre-Hispanic art. The price tag was $400,000.

The Met wanted to sleep on the idea for a while, so the façade was stored in the basement until the end of 1968 when one of the museum’s curators rejected the offer in horror at the Elgin-like brutality of the frieze’s theft. He contacted the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico and together they planned a sting to catch the dealer. In a direct confrontation, the directors of both museums demanded the frieze be returned to Mexico. The trafficker still tried to get out of it and here too the brazenness is just off the charts. He actually dared to ask they at least pay him $80,000 to reimburse him for the expenses he incurred building an airfield, brutalizing an ancient monument and illegally removing it from the country. They laughed in his face, of course, and finally he gave up. The frieze was returned to Mexico. Neither the dealer, the orchid collector nor any of the demolition crew were ever punished.

The frieze has been in the National Museum of Anthropology ever since. In 2018, conservators embarked on a comprehensive restoration of the frieze with the goal of returning it to the weathered but still richly colored condition it was in before it was outraged. Over the years it has developed an overall reddish tone and salts have accumulated marring the surface. Experts identified the pigments in the polychrome paint: iron oxides for the reds, carbon black for the pupils, white lime for other details. This information helped conservators target the unwanted elements for removal without damaging the original pigment.

The next phase of restoration aimed to stabilize the frieze which was still mounted to the metal framework that was crafted to support it when it was repatriated in 1969.

“Based on three-dimensional and volumetric calculations, we welded a new structure that supports each fragment with at least four supports”, so that the two tons that the relief weighs rest on a stable frame.

One advantage of the new structure is its mobile character, which will facilitate the maintenance of the piece and will promote the temporary rearrangement of the whole for museum installations.

Already stable, the piece underwent comprehensive cleaning, which required two years of work, between 2020 and 2021, to fully remove the polymer using products created at the CNCPC. 

The conservation is being done in full public view in the museum’s Mayan Room. It is expected to be complete by December,

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Bronze eagle and lightning cup found at Gallo-Roman sanctuary

Friday, June 10th, 2022

The excavation of an important Gallo-Roman sanctuary outside of Rennes in Brittany has yielded an exceptional Roman bronze cup decorated with the attributes of the god Jupiter, and a bronze figurine of the god Mars.

The site in the village of Chapelle-des-Fougeretz has been slated for development, triggering a comprehensive preventative archaeology excavation of more than seven hectares of the site. Since the dig began in March, archaeologists have unearthed remains from a Gallo-Roman temple complex built immediately after the Roman conquest in the 1st century B.C. and in use at least through the 4th century A.D.

The hilltop sanctuary, visible from Condate (modern-day Rennes) just five miles away and the major Roman road in the valley below, featured a large sacred precinct enclosed an all four sides by a gallery of colonnades 200 feet long. Within the precinct were two temples, one larger and one smaller, built in typical Romano-Celtic fanum style (ie, a square masonry temple with a central cella inside a square gallery). A cult figure of a deity inhabited the cella. The faithful would offer their prayers and votives in the gallery. The large temple was dedicated to the sanctuary’s primary deity (or deities); the smaller to deities of secondary importance. Welcoming pilgrims to the sanctuary was a forecourt with a well and two small chapel-like structures.

A bronze figurine of the god Mars unearthed at the site suggests that he was one of the deities worshipped in the sanctuary. In Gaul, the local iteration of Mars was not the bloodthirsty god of war so much as a protective healing deity. This was a votive offering left at the sanctuary.

The bronze cup was a votive offering as well, and a luxurious one at that. The cup was found upside down and intact with its two ornately decorated handles still attached. One side of the handle is carved with the relief of a face of a Cupid. Two wings are engraved on each side of the faces. The other end of the handle mounts are decorated with reliefs of eagles in profile. The curved part of the handle between the terminals feature stylized thunderbolts. These are attributes of the god Jupiter. Such a rich offering suggests Jupiter may also have been worshipped at the sanctuary.

Just outside the temple precinct archaeologists discovered the remains of a public bath building. Most of it is gone, its construction materials taken and reused many centuries ago, but some architectural features have been found, including the tell-tale remains of a hypocaust underfloor heating system and bathing basins. The baths were fed with water from a well dug a few feet away.

The excavation site will be opened to the public for the European Archaeology Days, June 17-19. INRAP archaeologists will give visitors the rundown on the ancient sanctuary and the results of the excavation thus far.

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Largest cache of bronze statues found at Saqqara

Tuesday, June 7th, 2022

Archaeologists have discovered a cache of 150 bronze statuettes from the 5th century B.C. in the Saqquara Necropolis. This is the largest cache of bronze statues ever found at Saqqara and the first that dates to the Late Period. The figurines depict Egyptian deities like Anubis, Amun, Bastet and Osiris, as well as the ancient notables like the architect Imhotep.

The team from Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities also unearthed multiple burial shafts containing a total of 250 painted wooden coffins in excellent condition, less than two years after 100 exceptional wooden coffins were discovered there. Preliminary examination suggests the mummies inside the sarcophagi are mostly well-preserved as well. One of them contains hieroglyphic text on papyrus. Archaeologists think it may be passages from the Book of the Dead. They will be conserved and translated in the laboratory of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Other artifacts found in the Late Period burials were a sistrum — a percussion instrument used in religious rituals — and a group of bronze bowls used in the worship of Isis.

The team also discovered objects from earlier burials, most remarkably a pair of vividly painted wooden statues of the goddesses Isis and Nephthyst. Made around 1500 B.C., the statues depict the goddesses as mourners: sitting on their knees, their right arms bent over their faces. Their faces are gilded, and much of the original bright paint and gold is intact.

The bronzes, statues and coffins will be moved to the  Grand Egyptian Museum for study and conservation. If possible, they will be placed on display when the new museum opens later this year.

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Le Mans’ Roman walls are 50 years younger than realized

Monday, June 6th, 2022

The city of Le Mans in northwestern France is probably best known for the 24-hour endurance sports car race that bears its name, but it has the far greater distinction of having the best preserved late Roman defensive walls surviving in France and in the top three best preserved Roman walls in the former Empire. The only other comparable ones are the walls of Rome itself and of Constantine’s second Rome (ie, Istanbul).

The Roman walls of Le Mans cover an area of 8.5 hectares. There were 40 towers originally; today 19 of them are preserved, looming 50 feet high. The walls between them were built in a typical Roman technique: parallel brick facings with mortar between them. They average more than 30 feet high and are 15 feet thick at the base. To build these monumental defenses, workers used 400,000 bricks, 140,000 tons of rubble, 60,000 tons of mortar and 50,000 square feet of reused foundation blocks.

The masonry and brickwork are uniquely decorated. Contrasting colors of terracotta bricks, pink mortar, red sandstone, light sandstone, white limestone were arranged to create chevrons, columns, X-shapes, flowers and more. Researchers have identified 14 different motifs. Roman enclosures elsewhere do not have this feature, while other ancient structures in the Le Mans area do, so it seems this was a local aesthetic carried forward through this monumental undertaking.

Historians have long believed that the walls were built around 280 A.D. in reaction to the Crisis of the Third Century. Before the Crisis, 25 Gallo-Roman cities had fortified defensive walls. More than 80 Gallo-Roman towns built new walls in the late third and early fourth centuries. They are easily distinguished from walls built in earlier times because they are much thicker, higher, have more towers and were made with recycled construction materials. The foundations of Le Mans’ walls were built with the stone from the city’s public baths, deliberately demolished to provide construction materials for the new fortifications.

In 2017, a new in-depth exploration of the walls was undertaken by city archaeologists and historians. Samples were taken from the bricks and mortar of the walls in the attempt to confirm its date. Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), Carbon-14 analysis and archaeomagnetic dating of the samples all returned unexpected results. The wall was built in the 4th century, not the third, between 320 and 360 A.D. That means the massive fortifications were not built under pressure from barbarian raids and ineffectual imperial management, but rather during a period of comparative stability in the Late Empire.

The samples were only taken from one section of the wall. Archaeologists plan to analyze other sections as well to discover whether the fortifications were all built so late, or if some parts were begun in the third century and construction took place over many decades.

The Jean-Claude-Boulard-Carré Plantagenêt Museum in Le Mans is hosting the first major exhibition dedicated to the city’s exceptional Roman walls. The exhibition explores the wall’s meaning beyond its military application, its construction materials and methods, how it was altered between the 5th and 18th century, and its rediscovery in the 19th century.

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Early Iron Age swords found in Bavaria

Sunday, June 5th, 2022

Two extremely rare early Iron Age swords have been unearthed in Andechs, southern Germany. They were crafted in the Hallstatt period, the 8th century B.C., and are among the oldest iron swords ever discovered in southern Germany.

Well-preserved Early Iron Age sword, ca. 2,800 years old. Photo courtesy BLfD.

The swords were discovered in March during construction of a new firehouse in Andechs, Bavaria. Crews had only barely broken ground when they encountered two swords and fragments from three ceramic vessels less than 16 inches under the surface. The objects were grave goods, each sword buried in a separate grave with cinerary remains. The remains were concentrated in certain areas, suggesting they were originally placed in an organic container like a cloth bag that was then buried next to the weapons. Another six burials were found at the site, with grave goods including a bowl-head pin and bronze jewelry.

The swords straddle an important transitional stage from the use of bronze to the use of iron in weapons. They are both made of iron, but the earlier one was made in the shape and style of a bronze sword. The later one, made in the same century, had an adapted design to take advantage of the stronger, more stable metal.

The swords are 76 and 66 centimeters long and six centimeters wide. While the shorter one was probably mainly used as a stabbing weapon in man-to-man combat, the longer and heavier one was more suitable as a stabbing weapon that the fighter could wield from above – for example from horseback.

In the Bavarian State Office for the Preservation of Monuments in Munich, a team of restorers cleaned the swords with micro-fine blasting technology and examined them more closely. The blades are partially heavily corroded, the handles are missing. However, the restorers were able to identify traces of horn on one of the so-called handle tongues, which suggests a handle made of this material. Two of the four rivets that held the horn plates on the grip tongue are still preserved on the handle. Because no such remains of attachment can be seen on the other sword, restorers and archaeologists assume that the hilt was attached with a resin adhesive. It is no longer possible to trace what material it was made of. […]

The remains of a multi-layer linen weave textile were also found on the two blades, as well as the remains of a cord that must have been wrapped around it in several places. The weapons were presumably wrapped in cloth and given to the dead.

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Pompeii acquires historic foundry cast collection

Saturday, June 4th, 2022

The Archaeological Park of Pompeii has acquired a unique collection of more than 1600 sculptural models and casts from the historic Chiurazzi Foundry of Naples. Many of the casts were taken from sculptures discovered in the cities destroyed by Vesuvius (Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabiae) when archaeological methodology was haphazard at best, indiscriminately destructive at worst, so the Chiurazzi casts and molds are critical records of the Vesuvian discoveries themselves as well as of their wider cultural impact.

Neapolitan sculptor Gennaro Chiurazzi established the foundry in 1870. He had learned his trade as apprentice to the sculptor Pietro Masulli who had pioneered the practice of creating high-quality reproductions of ancient sculptures using the lost wax bronze casting techniques of classical antiquity as revived by 16th century master goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini. When he opened his own business, Chiurazzi picked up where his boss had left off, employing Masulli’s model of producing life-sized replicas of Greek and Roman sculptures. (There was no conflict. Masulli collaborated with his former pupil on works sold by the Fonderia Chiurazzi, and Gennaro would speak glowingly of his mentor throughout his lifetime.)

After Italian Unification transmuted the former Royal Bourbon Museum into the National Archaeological Museum of Naples in 1860, the now-public museum began granting permits to foundries and workshops to make casts of its vast collection of ancient art, including the myriad sculptures recovered in excavations of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae.

The Fonderia Chiurazzi quickly became pre-eminent in the field. Gennaro Chiurazzi refined his process, combining industrial production methods with meticulous hand-chiseled finishes to create museum-quality replicas not just of the ancient sculptures in Naples but also of Greek and Roman origins in the Vatican Museums, the Capitoline Museums, the Borghese Museum and the Uffizi Gallery, among many others. By the turn of the century Chiurazzi bronzes were internationally famous, winning awards at exhibitions like the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904 and getting commissions from governments and cultural institutions around the world.

The foundry was run by generations of Chiurazzi until it was sold in 2011 to an American company. Thankfully, the Chiurazzi Mould Collection containing more than 1,650 plaster casts, sculpture moulds and sketches created by the company over 140 years of production, were preserved by the new owners. This extraordinary collection contains casts of the greatest hits of ancient sculpture — the Farnese Hercules, the Laocoon Group, every bust in Herculaneum — to masterpieces of Renaissance and Baroque greats like Michelangelo and Bernini. Now they all belong to the Archaeological Park of Pompeii.

“The Chiurazzi collection in addition to the value for quantity and quality of the pieces represents an important testimony of the suggestion that the discoveries of Pompeii and Herculaneum aroused in the patrons of the time, who competed to secure a copy of the ancient sculptures, to be exhibited in their homes . – declares the General Director of the Museums, Massimo Osanna – The Archaeological Park of Pompeii could not miss this important opportunity to enrich its heritage, considering the close relationship between the assets of the Foundry and the site ”

“The acquisition of the assets of the Chiurazzi Foundry is part of a strategy of protection and active enhancement of the cultural heritage. – underlines the Director of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, Gabriel Zuchtrieghel – The” negatives “of the ancient sculptures, which will be exhibited to the public in order to restore the system of cultural and creative relations generated by the discovery of Pompeii, will allow them to experiment, also with the aid of digital technologies, new methods of artistic production. It is the intention of the Park to restart the activity of reproduction as well as sales of copies made in order to promote a culture-based economy and stimulate entrepreneurial skills in the fragile Pompeian context “.

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Stucco head of maize god found in Palenque

Friday, June 3rd, 2022

Maize god stucco head on fragments of tripod plate, ca. 1300 years old. Photo courtesy Palenque Archaeological Project, INAH.Archaeologists have unearthed a stucco head depicting the youthful Maya maize god in the Archaeological Zone of Palenque in Chiapas, southern Mexico. This is the first depiction of the maize god, one of the major deities of the Mayan pantheon, found in Palenque. It dates to the Mayan Late Classic period (ca. 700 -850 A.D.).

The stuccoed head was discovered last year during conservation work at The Palace, the ancient city’s central administrative and ceremonial complex. The excavation team was clearing fill from a corridor connecting House B with House F when they found an alignment of stones indicating deliberate placement. Just under a layer of soil, archaeologists found a receptacle containing the visage of the young maize god.

The sculpted face has a sharp chin with a cleft, prominent cheekbones, elongated eyes, parted lips and a wide nose. His forehead is flattened and rectangular, an elongated shape often seen in the skulls of Mayan elite who practiced intentional cranial deformation. Fragments of a tripod mount on which the stucco head was originally placed point to the offering have been presented almost like a severed head on a platter, a representation of the corn god found in codices and on artworks.

The face of the deity was oriented east to west indicating a deliberate deposition symbolizing the dawn and the corn growing when the sun kisses it. This was confirmed as the excavation progressed revealing that the head was part of a larger offering placed in a small pond with a stuccoed floor and walls.

According to Mayan cosmology, humans were created from corn so the maize god (dubbed Nal, the word for corn, by scholars even though the full name is not known) represented generative power. He also traveled through the underworld in a canoe, so Nal was associated the gateway to the afterlife as well. The offering was recreating Nal’s entrance into the underworld through an aquatic environment.

González Cruz explains that the archaeological context is the result of several events: the first consisted of the use of the pond as a mirror of water to see the cosmos reflected.

It is probable that these nocturnal rituals began under the governance of K’inich Janaab’ Pakal I (615-683 AD), and continued during those of K’an Bahlam II (684-702 AD), K’an Joy Chitam II (702-711 AD) and Ahkal Mo’ Nahb’ III (721-736 AD).

Later, perhaps in the reign of the latter, they shut that space in a symbolic way, breaking a portion of the stucco floor of the pond and removing part of the construction fill to deposit a series of elements: vegetables, animal bones, shells, crab, worked bone fragments, ceramic pieces, three fractions of miniature anthropomorphic figurines, 120 pieces of obsidian blades, a portion of a greenstone bead, two shell beads, as well as seeds and snails.

The placement of these elements was constituted concentrically and not by layers, covering almost 75% of the pit, which was sealed with loose stones. Some animal bones were cooked, and others had meat marks and tooth prints, so they were used for human consumption as part of the ritual, the researchers explained. A limestone slab with a small perforation — 85 cm long by 60 cm wide and 4 cm thick — was placed on top of the offering, but not before “sacrificing” the tripod plate, which was almost broken in half and a portion, with one of its supports, was placed in the hole in the slab.

Then came a semicircular bed of potsherds and small stones, on which the head of the deity was placed, which was supported laterally with the same materials.

Finally, the entire space would be closed off with earth and three small walls. This would have left the head of the young maize god inside a kind of box, where it remained hidden for around 1,300 years.

Because the head was found in a very damp environment, conservators are now drying it out in controlled conditions to ensure its long-term stability.

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Carved in stone: ancient Greeks being bros

Thursday, June 2nd, 2022

A carved and inscribed ancient Greek marble plaque in the collection of the National Museums Scotland has been translated and published for the first time. It is a list of ephebic friends, close classmates who went through the ephebate in Athens, a year of rigorous military and civic training, during the reign of the Emperor Claudius (41-54 A.D.).

Ephebic training began in the 4th century B.C. as a requirement for all young men eligible for admission as Attic citizens. If they were 18 years old of Attic parentage on both sides, the youths would be de jure citizens, but to actually exercise those rights (vote, be party to a lawsuit, attend the assembly), first they had to sign up for two years of military studies. The requirement was ultimately dropped, and by the 2nd century B.C., ephebic training was open to foreigners and the study of literature and philosophy was added to the curriculum. From around 39 A.D., anybody from anywhere who graduated from an ephebia was deemed an Attic citizen.

Lists of ephebic classmates have been found going back to the beginning of the program, but they reached peak popularity during the reign of Claudius with the proliferation of philoi lists, names of select ephebes who were particularly close classmates.

The inscription was published as part of the Attic Inscriptions in UK Collections (AIUK), an ambitious digitization project to add all ancient Attic inscriptions in UK collections and institution to the Attic Inscriptions Online (AIO) database. The stele’s precise origins are unknown. It was donated to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1887 by Scottish author and musician Alexander Wood Inglis, but there are no records explaining its previous history or how Inglis acquired it. AIUK researchers found a reference to the plaque in the National Museums Scotland catalogue and first thought it was a copy of a list from the same period now in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. When they retrieved it that it was a previously undocumented ephebic list.

Dr Peter Liddel, professor of Greek history and epigraphy at the University of Manchester, who led on the discovery, said: “Because of lockdown we were not able to travel to the museum until July 2021, and on seeing it we realised that this was not a copy of an already known inscription but it was a completely unique new discovery which had been in the storerooms of the NMS for a very long time, since the 1880s, and it listed a group of young men who called themselves co-ephebes or co-cadets and friends.

The top of the plaque is peaked and a worn relief believed to depict a small oil amphora of the type ephebes would have used in the school gymnasium. Under the relief the inscription begins:

In the archonship of Metrodoros, when the superintendent was Dionysodoros (son of Dionysodoros) of Phlya, Attikos son of Philippos, having inscribed his own fellow ephebes (and) friends, dedicated (this).

The 31 names are inscribed in two columns under the dedication. Attikos’ select bros in the ephebate were Aiolion, Dionysas, Anthos, Herakon, Theogas, Charopeinos, Tryphon, Dorion, Phidias, Symmachos, Athenion, Antipas, Euodos, Metrobios, Hypsigonos, Apollonides, Hermas, Theophas, (H?)elis, Atlas, Zopyros, Euthiktos, Mousais, Aneiketos, Sekoundos, Zosimos,  Primos, Dionys, Eisigenes, Sotas and Androneikos.

Dr. Liddel again:

“It turned out to be a list of the cadets for one particular year during the period 41-54 AD, the reign of Claudius, and it gives us new names, names we’d never come across before in ancient Greek, and it also gives us among the earliest evidence for non-citizens taking part in the ephebate in this period.

Several of the names are actually shortened versions (Theogas for Theogenes, Dionysas for Dionysodoros), conveying the lack of formality and camaraderie between the classmates. There appears to be a hierarchical element in the arrangement of names. Three of the young men at the top of the list are known from other inscriptions to have been the scions of prominent Attic families, and another one of the five (Dionysas, the second on the list) was the son of the superintendent.

The last name on the list wasn’t an ephebe at all. It was Caesar.

The word is in the genitive, signifying that the dedication was made in his reign, but also more broadly under his tutelage. In the Roman period, many of the ephebes’ activities emphasised veneration of the Roman emperor as a central part of Athenian identity.

That is a significant marker of the tectonic cultural shift from the origins of the ephebate as military training for young citizens of Attic city-states — direct civic engagement in the political structure of their native city transformed into elite schooling under the aegis of and beholden to the emperor in Rome.

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Yet another Roman phallus, but with a twist

Wednesday, June 1st, 2022

The Roman love for talismanic phalluses has erupted yet again, this time in the village of Higham, Kent. A complete silver phallus pendant of unusual design was discovered by metal detectorist Wendy Thompson on New Year’s Eve, 2020, and is has now been declared treasure.

This is the only complete silver phallus pendant ever recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme. (A t-shaped silver object believed to be a phallus pendant was found in the River Tees, but features are either missing or too worn to confirm its identity.) Phallus pendants were worn as amulets to ward off the evil eye and were particularly popular accessories for children and soldiers. Most such pendants are copper-alloy, not precious metal. Most of them also have testicles. This one does not. It does has have triangular section at the top of the shaft with engraved ribbing presumably meant to convey pubic hair.

According to the description in the Portable Antiquities Scheme database entry for the silver pendant, the presence of pubic hair and absence of testicles might indicate this phallus may have had a very different connotation than the typical fascinus.

The main phallic object class with pubic hair is the Flaccid phallic pendants. It is therefore likely that this pendant is depicting a flaccid macrophallus, rather than an erect one, with the possibility that, rather than representing the ability to target and defeat the evil eye, a lack of control and an almost barbaric sexuality is suggested.

Its unique features were detailed at a Coroner’s inquest held last Thursday at County Hall in Maidstone to determine whether the phallus meets the criteria for classification as treasure. (It does, because it was made before 1721 and of more than 10% precious metal.) It seems like it made for a fun inquest.

Coroner Roger Hatch described the item, detailing its “foreskin, shaft and pubes”, before reading a short report from the British Museum.

The report said it was hard to narrow down an exact date for the pendant but believes the phallic nature of it “points to the Roman era”.

It added: “This is the first silver item of its class and is a significant national find”.

The pendant will now be assessed by a valuation committee to determine its fair market value. The object will then be offered to a local museum willing and able to raise the valuation sum, which will be split between the finder and the landowner.

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Deep Roman well found in Germany

Tuesday, May 31st, 2022

Archaeologists have discovered a Roman-era well in an excellent state of preservation in the municipality of Grenzach-Wyhlen in southwestern Germany. Located on the bank of Rhine where it forms the border with Switzerland, the find site is opposite the Roman colony of Augusta Raurica, so it was archaeologically surveyed before construction of a housing development. Between June 2021 and April 2022, the excavation revealed the foundations of several Roman-era buildings and a stone cellar.

Just three feet in diameter, the well required specialized equipment and trained personnel to explore. They were able to explore the deep shaft of the dry stone well to a depth of 26 feet below ground level with the aid of a mechanical excavator. Contractors AchaeoTask then deployed custom scaffolding and safety devices connected to load winches to continue digging ever deeper.

All employees on duty had previously been trained in height safety and rescue technology. The work steps are complex: one person is continuously responsible for securing, a second person abseils down and fills the lowered bucket. After pulling up, a third person retrieves all the finds from the bucket. The well filling is finally recovered bucket by bucket. After every one and a half meters of “spooning out” and documenting, the Roman well shaft has to be strengthened for safety reasons. The joints and cavities are pressed out with mortar – a time-consuming and physically demanding work step that requires a ton of mortar for a three-metre shaft.

As of last week, the well has been dug to a depth of 38 feet and there is still no end in sight. They haven’t even reached any water yet. Any non-bone organic remains may have been preserved in a waterlogged layer at the bottom of the shaft.

The fill that has been removed thus far consists mainly of roof tile fragments, bricks and animal bones. The tile fragments were in the uppermost layer of the well fill. The animal bones begin below them. Archaeologists with the State Office for Monument Preservation (LAD) are currently examining the bucketsful of animal remains to identify the species, their ages at time of death and evidence of slaughter on the bone. The team hopes to get new insight into how the Roman-era residents bred, fed and butchered animals.

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